Thursday, May 31, 2007

Scenery, Part 3

Now for a little something different. We shall call it:

Scenery Designed by Hell

The entire area of Hutto and Round Rock is dotted with these hideous houses. I ask you, if your son or daughter declared their intentions upon entering college to be an architect, would you not expect that they would learn something other than the design of a cardboard box? All of these houses, from the back, look like a square cardboard box. They remind me of the boxes that would be turned over to me when I was a child and the family acquired a new appliance. Square with little square holes cut in for windows. The one level houses look equivalent to the box that might have held a television set, while the two level houses look very reminiscent of the box that brought the washing machine. There are even apartments in these towns that look the same, but have three levels. Think the box that brought the refrigerator.

And don't make the mistake that the fronts of these monstrosities look any better. Boring, bland, cardboard box design. I have to tell you, if it was my kid that designed these blights on the landscape, I would be exploring the possibility of suing the school that gave him or her their degree and implied that they had talent. They are also crammed up next to each other and then surrounded by ugly privacy fences that look like the slightest puff of wind would topple them. The chimneys are little square columns that teeter drunkenly on the rooftops. And the sad part is these are upper middle income housing that are going for ridiculous prices.

Excuse me while I go rinse the bad taste out of my mouth with a little bit of pine tar soap. I don't know which is worse - that the builders keep churning out this dreck or that people actually zoom in and buy them while construction is still in progress. Tasteless builders, tasteless buyers. And when I drove through one of these neighborhoods this afternoon, a sign proudly proclaimed that this was the So-and-So division, "a restricted neighborhood where deed restrictions are enforced". Well, gee, that's comforting. You not only buy an ugly house, you have to keep it that way.

Now back to our original theme, namely:

Scenery Designed by God

This photo does not begin to do justice to the beauty of this field alongside the Sayers Road. Now this is an architect who knows what he's doing.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scenery, Part 2, and Other Musings

So, when I'm not looking at corn and checking the progress of the cotton crop, I enjoy the odd stretches like this one where the trees meet over the road and make a canopy.

I must admit the last 10-12 miles of my commute are not so pleasant. Highway 79 between Hutto and Round Rock is under construction. I believe they are widening the road and it's a total mess right now. However, those 1o miles or so are nowhere near as bad as the 42 miles of road construction I used to drive. (I swear the road crews in Austin complete one stretch and then go back to the beginning and rip up what they built and start over.)

Which brings me to the gripe of the day. Every other day or so they block off one lane of the highway, forcing all the commuting traffic to creep through in the one lane left. The odd thing is, they never seem to be actually doing anything in that blocked off lane that would account for the need to make it off limits. I think there are some folks out there that get their jollies by random placement of orange traffic cones to create the most aggravation possible. But then again, if I had to work out in the recent rain and hot Texas sun, I might create some havoc myself.

Good news for the day - I finally am done with May. For two weeks I've been working nights and weekends and it's over. For awhile, anyway. Maybe I can get back to being a human being again.

Good news for the week - I have officially dropped FOUR sizes since the beginning the diet. At least from the waist down. From the waist up, I've dropped 2-3 sizes (depending on the label). I spent part of Memorial Day trying on clothes at Beall's (in an effort to distract myself from the depression that set in with the loss of Xana). I could not find anything that fit me until it occurred to me that maybe it was because I had gone down another size. Sure enough, I have moved into a size 8 where slacks are concerned. A small ray of light in a very dismal day.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scenery, Part 1

The corn is as high as an elephant's eye in the Rices Crossing area right now. There are stretches where the road is banked by head-high corn on both sides and you can't see anything else, except the sky above you. I love it. Guess that's my Granddaddy Hodge's blood in me.

The fields are muddy after all the rain, so I wasn't able to get out in the middle of the corn to take a picture like I wanted to do. I wanted to get far enough in that I could see nothing but corn. But I was able to get right up next to the edge of the field and look down toward the end.

The ears are plumping up and I'm sure that means picking is not far behind and thrashing the cornstalks is not far behind that. But for now, I'm enjoying my corny daily drive.

(Why do I hear a dry chuckle in my mind? My grandfather always seemed amused when I was around. He's probably getting a big kick out of the city grandkid's love of the country in her middle years.)


By Request

Another few photo tributes from the Xana archives. This one, by request from a Xana fan, was snapped one night when she wanted to look up some special dog treats on EBAY .

And this one must have been taken while she was dreaming of those dog treats.



Monday, May 28, 2007

Xana the Great

1995 - May 28, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Halt, Who Goes There?

Don't expect to get away with anything around our house. The little dogs are watching.

Anything, and I mean the smallest anything, that changes in our yard catches their attention the instant they go through the door. Tuesday mornings are always startling to them, because the neighbor across the street always puts his trash bin out the night before and it looms up out of the morning darkness.

The neighbors down the street kept them rattled for two days during which a huge Mayflower moving van sat on the street and people were moving things out of the house. The dogs did not approve one little bit.

Friday morning I busied myself trimming bushes and cutting sprouts out of the flower beds while my septic serviceman was diagnosing and dealing with our problem in that area. Just as he finished, the heavens opened up and it's been raining off and on ever since. So I have small piles of trimmings scattered around the front yard that I haven't yet been able to pick up and put in the trash can. Every time we go out in the yard, I am told that they don't belong there.

Tonight I am in trouble because I took the Scouts up on a deal to put a small American flag in my yard on patriotic holidays for the next year. A young man installed a flag this evening and forgot to clear it with the dogs. It was thoroughly inspected, growled at, circled and recircled as they evaluated this new instrusion into their environment. They still don't believe there was any necessity for it in our lives.

So, best keep your nose clean around here. Any deviation from the accepted norm will be prosecuted. Mojo and Coco are on the job. Don't say I didn't warn you.


What a Delightful Mess

My trip to Oak Hill Cemetery yesterday and the purchase of the new history book of the area has already paid off for me in a genealogical sense. I've discovered another tangled web of family that can't really be described in a coherent manner.

I already knew I had a massive family tangle in my Mason and McAfee lines by virtue of the fact that my great-grandfather Mason's daughter by his first marriage married the half-brother of his second wife.

Now it turns out that I have another tangle in my Mason line. Until last night I knew next to nothing about the family of Burl Mason's first wife. I had not really pursued that line since I had no blood connection to it. I thought.

Turns out that the Fariss line intermarried heavily with my Mason kinfolk and the snarl of family connections will entertain me for awhile. I just have to hit the high spots here so you know what I'm dealing with. (This is what we genealogists call "fun".)

Burl's first wife Pinkie Fariss was not, as I had thought, the daughter of the James Fariss who was killed in the train wreck in Smithville. She was the sister of that James Farris and of the Cass Farris who was severely injured in the same wreck. Also killed in that wreck was a William F. Ashley, who was the widower of Burl's sister Hulda Ellen.

Follow the bouncing ball, if you can.

William Ashley, the widower of Hulda Ellen Mason Ashley, remarried to Mary B. Adkins. Mary B. Adkins turns out to be an older sister of Pinkie Fariss (first wife of Burl Mason). Mary Fariss had married first to L. C. Adkins and one of their daughters, Mary E. "Bettie" Adkins, married John William Mason, the brother of Burl and Hulda. With me so far?

But wait, there's more.

Another Fariss sister, Jane, married five times and one of those husbands was a James C. Byrum. Jane's daughter Nora, by another husband named Crockett (I think), had a son named James. This James ends up being raised by his grandmother Jane and takes the name Byrum. (It is not made clear whether he assumes this name or if his mother took the name of Jane's husband and this James was illegitimate or just what happened here. But the book specifically notes that the grandson James Byrum moved to Rusk. I may just have to look up the contributor for this bit of family story and get a clearer explanation.)

James Byrum of Rusk, Texas, was married to Annie Mae Mason, daughter of Burl and his second wife Nettie McAfee Rose Mason.

At this point I am willing to bet that my Aunt Sallie Mobley who married a Thomas Fariss is going to end up being connected to this same Fariss bunch. I've never pursued him either, but now I may just have to do a little digging around and see.

{Rubbing my hands together in satisfaction.}


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pre-Memorial Day

I waited a little too long to snag this picture, but better late than never. Last week my commute was dressed up by field after field of yellow coreopsis. Truly gorgeous and I kept forgetting my camera. The color is beginning to fade, but I managed to get a shot from the highpoint in Fairview Cemetery of this field.

At the top of the hill were several clumps of the same bright yellow, so I also snagged a close up.

The main focus of my day was the annual picnic at Oak Hill Cemetery, close to McDade. It was the 100th anniversary of the formation of the cemetery association and they were celebrating with the publication of a history of the families who founded the now vanished community of Oak Hill. The community fell victim to the formation of Camp Swift during the second World War.

Some of the founders of Oak Hill were relatives of mine in the Mobley and Dunkin lines. I've visited this outstanding example of a "scraped grave" cemetery many times, but I had never before attended the picnic. This year, with the need to add a book to my Bastrop County history collection, and with the possibility of getting a rare visit with my cousin Maxine Alcorn, I headed for the cemetery.

Sure enough Maxine and her sister Mary were there and so were some other cousins I had known of but never had the opportunity to meet. Dorothy Edwards and Dan Louis and his wife Joyce were all very enjoyable to talk to and welcomed me like they had known me all my life. Maxine, Joyce and I talked genealogy shop and Dan was interviewed by the local news folks by virtue of his participation in the history book project. A representative of the Texas Senate presented a proclamation in honor of the Cemetery Association's anniversary. And there were about four tables of food to choose from. In addition to the history book, a small community cookbook was for sale. A couple on guitar and autoharp played softly in the background. The turn out was a good one, despite the earlier rain, and we all had a great time visiting and eating.

These folks may not have known me to begin with, but many of them knew my grandparents and that was all the introduction I needed. I was accepted as a member of their group without question. I could not help but compare it to the chilly reception I received a couple of years back when I went to the Ridgeway Cemetery picnic. Today was an example of how these associations should behave in order to attract folks to support their cause. This was a good experience and I will probably be back.

On my way back home, I stopped at Fairview Cemetery and took the flower photos. The flags for Memorial Day had already been put on the veteran graves and several workers were trimming hedges and preparing for Monday. It always makes me feel good to see people taking time and making the effort to show respect for those who have gone on.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Really, I'm Fine, Go Away

I spent yesterday morning out at the Ford dealership getting an oil change and 60K maintenance. I've spent many such mornings at this dealer and have learned to go prepared. I've sometimes spread my genealogy all over the floor of the waiting room and worked on getting organized. I've done crossword puzzles, read books and knitted. A couple of years ago I hit upon the perfect way to pass the time. I take my personal DVD-player.

This is truly the perfect solution for the waiting room. A simple oil change takes almost an hour - just the right time to watch an episode from one of my boxed sets of vintage television shows. An oil change and additional maintenance will take 2-3 hours, perfect for a movie. Yesterday I made myself comfortable in the corner of the waiting room with The Pirates of the Caribbean 2, a movie I received for Christmas and had never had the opportunity to sit down and watch closely enough to be able to figure out what was going on. I had my travel mug loaded with Starbuck's coffee and settled down, perfectly content.

I usually don't have company in the waiting room, but yesterday there was a crowd. Two older gentlemen were having a lively conversation about something completely forgettable, another even older man happened in awhile later, and another woman joined us a little later after that. Everyone seemed to be fascinated at what I was up to. Mind you, I was sitting quietly in the corner minding my own business.

At some point, all of the men seemed to need to get up and walk around the room and happen close enough to me to check out what had my attention. Of course each one of them had to comment "that's neat" or some such remark that required me to unplug my earphone and inquire "Pardon?". One offered to bring me a cup of coffee and seemed disappointed when I indicated that I had already taken care of that matter.

The first two men eventually departed and the remaining fellow couldn't resist. He had to come over and start talking to me. So I put the movie on pause and unplugged and listened to him regale me with how rough his life was as a school bus driver and how he doesn't even own a vcr or dvd player. He finally ran down and I went back to my movie.

Things went fine from there except when along came a spot in the movie where Johnny Depp did something that hit my funny bone and I reflexively snorted. Everyone in the room turned my direction. I said "excuse me" and ducked down lower in my chair, trying to look invisible.

The nice thing is that I was still engrossed in my movie when they came to tell me they were done with my car. Fastest way I know to pass the time when you're stuck without wheels. Sure beats watching the hideous talk show they had going on the waiting room tv. I may start dragging the thing along with me for those interminable hours in the doctor's waiting room. And the bonus is that it drives everybody else crazy with envy that they didn't think of it, too.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mojo Has a Bad Morning

My little boy woke up okay this morning, but then an hour or so later I realized something was wrong. He was huddled beside my chair, shivering and looking miserable. He shrank from being touched. His little stub was tucked as tight against his bottom as was possible. I couldn't figure out what had happened in such a short period of time. He had only had a few bites of bacon and had barely been outside.

So I picked him up and tucked him in the chair beside me. For another hour he hid his face and flinched any time I put my hand on him. He was a miserable little boy. At long last I heard a gurgle in his tummy and the sound of a little bit of gas escaping. My little boy had a bad tummy ache.

I think part of his problem was how long it took me to realize he didn't feel well. When he knew I had finally caught on, he wanted me to sit and hold him. So I got a book and sat down and let him take a nap in my lap. When he woke up, his tummy ache was gone and he was himself again. Nothing like a nap in Mommy's lap to cure what ails you.

It was too bad that when he woke up and we went outside for a little potty break, he picked up two stickers in his foot. Mommy took care of that, too, but he didn't think it was at all fair that they hurt just as badly coming out as going in.

And it's really not fair that a Mojo should have to hurt in any way at any time. But if it should happen, it's good that Mommy can fix. He's kept close beside me all day, just in case.


Friday, May 18, 2007


That's what my brain feels like these days. Pure glutenous oatmeal. I've been working nights and weekends, trying to get the necessary programming and processing done to keep the gears moving for the 250,000+ letters we send out in May. When I'm in the office I'm answering questions, unpuzzling peculiarities of the new operating environment, keeping folks on track so the work doesn't derail, answering emails and returning phone calls. In short, when I'm in the office I don't get a darned thing accomplished that creates revenue.

I've long since come to grips with the reality that I do not have a personal life in May. I do not get to read my new miniatures magazine or watch my new DVD or go on a wild-goose genealogical chase on the Internet. I do get to listen to some fictional distraction via my collection of audiobooks while I drive to and fro, but that's about it for entertainment between May 1st and May 31st.

I said all of that to say this. I occasionally grab a minute to dash off a quick blog entry and then two days later realize that it is riddled with misspellings and redundant wording. Normally I spend a little more time editing before hitting that post button. I ask that you judge me not too harshly for the moment. My brains have been pummeled into oatmeal and I'm doing well to be stringing more than two words together without it turning into complete gibberish.

Mush, mush, mush.....


Thursday, May 17, 2007


On the way back from the doctor's office today, I made a quick stop at the main Half-Price Books branch to check on their supply of books on CD. Before I left, I made a quick sweep down the mystery book aisle because they sometimes display audiobooks on the tops of the shelves that they don't have in their audiobook section.

I happened across an interesting book atop the mystery aisle called The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death . The word "nutshell" sometimes refers to the miniatures hobby, so I stopped to take a look. Sure enough, it was about dollhouse miniatures. But it was more than that. It was a study of a series of miniature scenes that were constructed by a lady named Frances Glessner Lee to be used as teaching tools for criminal forensics. Each scene contains at least one body and multiple clues that the investigators should gather and evaluate. Each chapter of the book contains numerous photos of the crime scene and a diagram of the scene with point by point notes of things that should be of interest to the investigation.

Very strange this book. There are bodies hanging from rafters, drowned in bathubs and shot at close range with blood spatters all over the wall. Mrs. Lee based her work on actual case histories and included such minute details as sugar spilled on the kitchen floor and imbedded bullets in the ceiling. On the one hand, I admire the detail of her work. On the other hand, yuck.

Naturally I had to have the book for my comprehensive collection of dollhouse related books. It may be macabre, but also unique and irresistible for an old mystery fan like me.


Gone to the Dogs

When you hear the phrase "dog's life" what do you see in your mind's eye? I see the three lazy ones sleeping on the pillows of my, excuse me, their bed. Coco, with her fat belly positioned for the odd tummy pat. Mojo and Xana curled up in a hand-knit shawl. The only thing that disturbs them this morning is if I make a move to eat something. Then they are alert and on the prowl for handouts.

Work continues to press down on me oppressively. Hence the scarcity of posts. Two and a half more weeks until it's over. Unless I make a break for the Canadian border before then.

Hey, I have my passport. It could happen.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Everyone Needs a Teenaged Son

Who ya gonna call when you need the lawn mowed? Boo Cat, of course.


Friday, May 11, 2007

In Passing

Me & Aunt Nell

At the reunion last weekend my aunt and I discussed various memories of the past. Along the way she told me how she has started a notebook detailing the history of some of the family heirlooms that will someday pass on to her daughter and granddaughters. It reminded me of one of those embarrassing moments of my childhood.

My grandmother collected two full sets of china through weekly purchases of grocery store specials with the intention that each of her granddaughters (she had just two at the time) would inherit a complete set of china from her. I was probably about 8 or so when she told me that I would receive the pretty set with the pink roses when she "passed on". I was suitably impressed.

So I naturally had to share the news at the first opportunity. We were visiting my other grandparents in Elgin not long afterwards. I was overheard telling my aunt Linda all about the china I would someday get when my grandmother "passed out".

Grandma ended up giving me the set of china years before she did pass on. Its pretty pink roses always remind me of her. Which was the true inheritance.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Finest Kind

I don't know whether it is a colloquialism of Maine or if it was just Richard Hooker's invention in the novel M*A*S*H, but one of the characters in the book would say "finest kind" to describe the ultimate of something.

Well, here is the finest kind as pertains to dogs. They are not only great assistants, but they are great stress relievers. For me, anyway. You will notice that Xana is playing her keep away game. She likes to guard a milkbone from the other two. Drives Mojo crazy that she won't eat it and she won't let him have it.

They love the days I work at home. They've been my constant companions today. We've watered plants and had water hose fights and we've run big circles in the yard. We've taken naps and stolen part of Mom's lunch. We've had a good day.

And Mom made a big dent in the back log of work.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007


How I wish for a boring day. It would be nice to be able to pile up on the couch with a book and a nest of dogs and just zone out for the day.

I finally got past the newsletter project and it was very well received. Seeing everyone at the reunion was great. A brief break on Sunday, between loads of laundry and cleaning up after some dog that has a serious gastric disturbance, and then it was dive into the usual May havoc at the office. This year is bad because we are also still in the infancy of the new computer system and the pressure of production has caused some weak spots to make their presence felt. We are 8 days into the month and already running seriously behind. Not so behind that we can't make it - just behind enough to be very frustrated.

The cats are in rampage mode. I caved in and bought another Siamese Beta and thought I had him in a safe place, but the cats proved me wrong. He now resides in the guest room behind a closed door. Xana had a sinking spell for several days and worried me that we were facing the end with her. She has rallied somewhat, but is a shadow of her former self. My car needs an oil change and a 60K maintenance, the lawn needs mowing, and the wind storm last week toppled an oak tree that needs to be cut up and hauled off. There are at least a half-dozen home maintenance chores that need to be taken care of, we are scraping the back of the pantry shelves because I haven't had a chance to go grocery shopping, and I still haven't managed to get that #*%*(&@ insurance policy canceled.

What happened to those long summers when I was a kid and spent days on end reading, practicing the piano and day dreaming? I would kill for a summer like that again, with nothing to do but indulge my whims. Who knew becoming a responsible adult would turn out to be such a drag?

First things first. I'm focusing on the May rush and then I may just decide to take a week off in June and be a slacker. Something tells me there are three little dogs who would love the concept.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Sign of the Times

There's a trend that is giving me a few chuckles lately. There is nothing more irritating than the incessant cell phone ringtones that erupt all around you and the folks within the office who get constant calls have generally switched to vibrate mode while at work.

Which has led to all the men in the office periodically clutching their pants pockets when the things go off. Looks like they are having some kind of spasm. What's really funny is to be in a group of them and have this semi-constant clutching making the rounds of the group. Makes it look like a big mosquito is flitting from one to another and they are slapping at it.

How did we live before those cell phones came into our lives? It was quieter and our men only made spectacles of themselves when they had an itch or were checking to make sure everything was still there.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Familiar Names in the News

Another middle-aged habit I've developed, though I plead the needs of genealogy rather than old age, is reading the obituaries. In addition to keeping track of the losses of distant relatives, I occasionally see a familiar name from the past. This morning is was James C. Fidler.

Old-timers will remember that Jimmy Fidler was the predominant meteorologist in Austin for a couple hundred years. He passed away on April 28th.

Another icon gone.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Middle-Aged Woman vs. Teenage Animals

I was ironing my work outfit this morning when a thought hit me. It seemed like a great idea until I realized that it meant I had officially hit middle age. Then I went {{gag}}.

The thing is that I need a light robe to go out and get the paper in the morning and wait while the puppies find the perfect blade of grass to drench. I have one, but it tends to get dingy in one or two wearings (what with cat and dog hair and slobbers). And I don't like to wash clothes mid-week. So this thought zinged out of left field that I should invest in a few house coats - the kind you remember your grandmother wearing. Snaps down the front. Hideous prints. One side of my brain went "perfect", the other side went into convulsions.

So I think my better sense has kicked in and I won't be shopping in the matronly loungewear department just yet. I may, however, invest in a second spring robe.

The animals are having their own little identity crisis this week. My stereo has been disconnected for months. Possibly even a year or more. I finally got the broken pieces fixed and David reassembled everything for me while I was in Salt Lake City. Last night I finally had a chance to try it out and to play a few 45 rpm records. The animals flipped out.

There were VOICES coming out of those boxes that have just been sitting there all this time! There were weird pops when the needle hit a faint scratch. Mojo scrambled up the stairs and sat on the landing until I shut everything down. Boo and Scout were spooked and scrabbling out of the room. I couldn't figure out what was so different from the sounds coming out of the television set that they've all heard run for hours every day of their lives. But they were very happy when I went back to the television for entertainment and turned off those disembodied VOICES.

So I guess we have a generation gap here. Middle-aged lady on one side and hep cats and hot dogs on the other. Nothing like being looked on with pity by your pets.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I Am a Daisy

How appropriate, since the Daisy is the flower for April births. (Also the forget-me-not.)

I am a

What Flower
Are You?