Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scavenger Hunt

When I decided to take vacation time to extend the Thanksgiving holiday to a full week off, I knew that I wanted to go shopping one of the days, but not Black Friday. Initially I thought about seeing if little brother wanted to go computer shopping with me, but first he injured his back and then I did the same, so I decided that could wait until another time.

I thought about going to San Marcos and hitting my favorite outlet stores, but I just could not get excited about the idea of clothes shopping.

The only thing that sounded like fun was a ramble to the little towns close by. I decided I was overdue to get myself over to LaGrange and check out the shops on the square. And, if I was heading east, I could hit the antique mall in Giddings on the way back home. If I still had any steam left at that point, I could drive on over to Elgin and hit the antique mall there. Now, that sounded like fun, so that was the plan.

I did not plan to have a sleepless night the night before. Whatever I've done to my back, it is not letting go and I could not find a comfortable position to sleep in for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a stretch. Mojo and I spent a good portion of the night on the couch and finally returned to bed about 4 a.m. when, exhausted, I managed to drop off to sleep. That lasted all of an hour before an impressive lightning storm began rattling the windows and two little dogs started madly scrambling for cover and I spent the remainder of the night holding both of them securely against me and assuring them that we LIKE the rain and the thunder that comes with it.

So I was dragging this morning and I had no choice but to get up and get with it, because I had made an appointment to stop by and sign my application papers for membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy on my way out of town. Since it was a nice, cool morning, I decided to take the dogs along with me. My brief stop to sign papers turned into an hour's visit with the chapter registrar, who remembers a lot of the same people I remember from when I first moved to Bastrop. She and I are also distant cousins through my Lentz line and we both like chatting about family history. It was almost 10 o'clock before we pointed Big Red toward LaGrange.

Naturally on the way to downtown LaGrange, I had to stop by Weikel's bakery and pick up a few cinnamon rolls. I was glad to find that the little gift store Honey Bee's that was formerly in the neighboring store front and had somewhat disappeared with the opening of the new building, has returned. It carries some unique clothing and I was glad to see it fully stocked and back in action. I wasn't interested in clothes shopping this time around, but I'm sure going to head over there when the mood hits.

First stop on the square was the Hallmark store. This little town Hallmark is one of the best ones around and has a wonderful gift selection. Kitty cornered across the square are several little stores that I love to visit, especially Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe and The Shops on the Square. I found a great scarf and did a lot of looking in the other little stores before ending up at Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe. This little store was a pure surprise the first time I visited. Here you can find all kinds of things, from a wide selection of K-cups coffees and teas to cookbooks, to wine accessories, to top of the line cooking utensils. Today I met the owner, who was super nice. When I bought a small appliance, she gifted me with a scones mix to make up for the fact that I was missing a sale that would start on those appliances on Friday. She answered my questions about various brands of cookware she carries and when I get ready to buy, I will probably go back and buy from her. She gives the kind of customer service that makes you want to return, even if you might find the product cheaper at the big box store.

I was hungry at that point, so I headed to Giddings and decided I would indulge in a Whataburger. I was lucky that the parking lot had a nice grassy area adjoining and I let the two dogs out to stretch their legs before heading inside to order. I placed an order to go, planning to eat in the car and keep the kids company. I waited on a bench across from the order counter and was people watching, when I realized that I knew one of the people I was watching. In a county we don't represent and where neither of us would normally be expected to be on a work day, I and one of the attorneys I work for were both indulging in burgers for lunch at the Giddings Whataburger. It just goes to show you never know who you are going to bump into when you are playing hooky from work.

Whistle-Stop Antiques was my next stop. I can't believe how long it took me to check this place out, because it is a great way to spend a couple of hours, poking into corners and prowling for treasures. I found a great book on Texas Courthouses architecture and a sweet little tatted baby bonnet.

Today's haul

The little baby's bonnet caught my eye because I have been interested in antique tatting lately. You don't see much of it, but I've been able to acquire a tatted collar and a small tatted doily and now this lovely little bonnet, priced at a mere $5. I didn't at first realize that there was a note attached to the inside with an old safety pin. It made me a little sad when I did notice and read it. The note identified the baby for whom it had been made and the lady who had done the work in 1916. It always makes me sad to see family heirlooms end up in antique stores with no one left to care about their history.

About this time my back indicated it had had enough and the dogs were getting restless, so we opted to skip the Elgin Antique Mall. At least until Friday when, if memory serves, their Christmas sale should be beginning. If I have enough energy after the art show Friday morning, maybe I'll wander over to Elgin and see if I can save another heirloom from someone else's family.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Living With a Neurotic Cat

Well, the official verdict is in. I have a cat with emotional issues.

Now there's a surprise. Have you ever known a cat without emotional issues?

I've had an on-again, off-again issue with somebody in the household who periodically decides that rather than use the litter box (any one of the 3 available), he/she will just use the bath mat or the pile of laundry sitting by the washing machine or the dog bed or just about anything else soft that is handy.

That sometimes includes furniture, and therein lies the problem. Two chairs in particular are favorite targets and I have to keep waterproof mats in place as a precaution. Because I have new living room furniture and I don't trust the heathen cats in the slightest, I have no choice but to keep everything draped in plastic when I'm not home to monitor their activity.

In the past this sort of behavior would have resulted in certain parties being ejected from the house. But since moving to the forest and losing two cats to what may have been coyotes, and having declawed these three to save my furniture from being shredded, and having the conviction that once you have made the commitment to take on a pet you don't just drop them at the pound when there's a problem, I am obligated to try to find solutions to their "emotional issues".

So, the first step was to try and determine just who the culprit is. I had my suspicions from the beginning, but I'm a fair pet parent and wanted to make sure.

I was fairly sure that Dixie was not the source of the trouble. The first round of this annoying behavior occurred well before she became a member of the family. Plus, she seems to love her litter box and spends an inordinate amount of time there, so litter box avoidance did not seem to be a problem for her.

One down, two to go.

Boo was a definite possibility, since he is a neutered male and neutered males can sometimes have chronic urinary infections. In fact, we have been down the antibiotic route with him on several occasions. When cats with urinary infections experience pain in the litter box, they may associate the pain with the litter box and seek alternative places to relieve themselves. Two weeks ago when we suddenly had another round of inappropriate elimination, I took him to the vet for a checkup.

Now, Boo does not like the vet. He is normally the most loving and cooperative cat, but let the vet start prodding and probing and he turns into a mini lion of horrendous disposition. This requires a few minutes in the "happy box" (an option sort of on the same order as that happy gas the dentist gives you to relax your nerves before he starts the drill) before they can get anywhere with determining the state of his health. Add to that a urine extraction, urinalysis and sonogram to check the state of his internal organs and this becomes an expensive proposition. (I should also mention that since his first round of urinary tract issues I've been faithfully buying him special food that helps keep stones from developing and since it is impossible to separate the cats' food, all three of them are eating this very expensive gourmet food.) For a cat I acquired free, he has turned out to be as expensive as raising any kid.

It turned out that Boo did have a mild infection. I opted for a pricey long-term antibiotic injection. Ever since the cat bite experience of 2006, I do not poke my finger down a cat throat for any reason, so pills are out. In about a week, Boo's mood improved and he obviously felt better. Money well spent, but I was still doubtful that the potty problem had been resolved.

I was doubtful, because I always figured the real culprit was Scout. I've always known she is a bubble off plumb.

So, I kept my fingers crossed, but my eyes open. For a couple of weeks, all was well. And then, one day, when I was in the room with her, Scout carelessly hopped up on one of the protected chairs and proceeded to squat. We had words and she kept her distance for a few days.

A few days later, the whole episode was repeated. That time, I was close enough to aim a swat at her butt, missed and cracked my knuckles against the hard frame of the chair. My hand was already in a mess from a bout of poison oak and now it became swollen and a beautiful shade of green.

I was not a happy Mommy. I found myself considering that trip to the pound. I kept MY distance from HER this time until I had a chance to calm down.

I decided I had better rule out any medical causes for her behavior, so off we went to the vet yesterday for another round of diagnostics. Fortunately she cooperated with them and we skipped the expense of the "happy box" and she willingly offered up a urine sample, so we skipped the extraction expense. The results came back with a clean bill of health - except....

The vet caught something I had missed. Scout had been compulsively grooming herself and had removed most of the hair on her stomach. We talked about other odd behavior I had noticed. Scout compulsively chews the edges of magazines and newspapers. She frequently walks the floor, yowling plaintively and her eyes will become hugely dilated. Dixie and Boo periodically jump on her and beat the stuffing out of her. While she was a model citizen during the two week evacuation, it nevertheless was probably a factor in her behavior.

Diagnosis? I have a cat with stress issues. Now what?

Well, I was saved the expense of added medical procedures, but we decided to try the calming effect of adding pheromones to her environment. I've placed very expensive diffusers upstairs and downstairs. She did express a lot of interest in the things as I was assembling them, so I'm hoping we have some positive results in the near future.

While I had plenty of litter boxes available, they are all clustered in one area and we've decided I should move one into a separate area where she might feel less likely to be attacked by the other two while she is attending to her business. Probably be a good idea to try different litter, too.

Well. How nice. I have a cat with a stress disorder and I have to be extra nice to her to re-establish her sense of security and I have to pick up even more special items on my twice monthly visit to the pet supply depot.

Do I know how to pick 'em or what?


Monday, November 07, 2011

A Trip Home

Sometimes you just have to make a pilgrimage back home and touch base with your roots. When I got word last week that there was a 90th birthday party scheduled Saturday afternoon for a very dear friend in Smiley, David and I juggled our schedules so we could be there.

I've not been venturing very far from home lately, so I was happy to have an excuse to point Big Red south and drive the familiar route. I left a couple of hours earlier than necessary so I could stop at a bookstore in Gonzales on the way. It turned out to be a great little store and I found myself wishing there had been something like it when we lived in the area. I picked up three Gonzales County history books to add to my reference library. Great start to the day.

The birthday party was being held in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church in Smiley. The last time I was there was for Daddy's memorial service and not exactly an occasion for wandering around looking for memories.

This time I was able to poke around, look in closets, check out the remodeled class rooms, and play a song on the grand piano. They didn't have a grand piano when I was a regular pianist there, otherwise it was a familiar feeling looking over at the old Hammond organ where Miss Reba would reign on Sunday mornings while I tried vainly to be heard. Miss Reba held the opinion that the piano should only be heard during the offertory. At least if I made a mistake, the only one who knew it was my poor father, who sat with his ear at the back of the upright that I played.

The focus of the day, of course, was the 90th birthday celebration for Thelma Barnett, a lady who does not look a day over 75, and is one of the finest persons I have ever known.

Thelma, on the left, and her sister Evelyn Mutschler, on the right, were good friends of my parents back in our Smiley days. Evelyn was the mother of one of my class mates and Thelma was the mother of David's best friend in grade school. They are the last remaining siblings from a blended family of 11 children. I had the pleasure of visiting with their children, grand-children and there may have even been the odd great-grandchildren floating around.

I had a really good time sitting in an alcove chatting with the two life-long friends, Thelma's son Keith and little brother. This is the now.

And this is the when (probably about 1980), before wives, kids and jobs turned them into respectable adults.

David stepped into Daddy's place at the pulpit and I sat at the organ, although I did not take a chance on cranking it up. (I did crank it up and play a few songs after Daddy's memorial service.) When Miss Reba was away, I would shift to the organ, so it is an old friend and I would dearly love to tuck it under my arm and whisk it away, even though it would fill the better part of my garage. It is a grand old lady and there is still life in her.

I didn't take a chance on sneaking the organ home, but I did pilfer a souvenir for myself. Keith, David and I were sitting and chatting, when I idly started checking out the books in a small bookcase in the alcove. It suddenly dawned on me that three books in the top shelf were calling my name. I knew they were books that we had left behind, because I had clear memories of them from way before Smiley. I remarked to the boys that "those are my books!" and went to pull them out and take a look. Sure enough, my name and address from Oak Hill (1960-1962) were inscribed on the fly leaf in my childish scrawl.

Although I figured it would be easy for me to simply tuck them under my arm and no one would be the wiser, you will be relieved to know that I trotted into the fellowship hall and asked permission from the pastor to reclaim my property. He was happy to send them home with me.

The church parsonage is immediately south of the church, so I wandered over to take a photo of the house where we lived for 9 years. It hasn't changed all that much. There is a metal roof now and the flower beds are gone.

Otherwise, it looks much the same.

about 1966, me, Daddy & David

On the way out it was obvious that the place to be in Smiley on that Saturday night was next door at the Volunteer Fire Department. They were having a fund-raising barbecue and I think most of Smiley was there. Unfortunately, we had to forego the opportunity. It was getting late. We drove out to the cemetery to check on Daddy's grave before heading back to our regularly scheduled lives.

Once in awhile you need to go back where you came from and find out that the good folks you remember are still there, small town life is still good, and that no matter how far away you roam physically and mentally, there is still a place that remembers when you were a geeky kid who played the piano for Sunday services. It is a little weird when someone mistakes you for your parent, though. It happened to both of us. We are a few years older than our parents were when we moved away from Smiley. There were several folks who got caught in a time warp when they saw us.

It's funny. I've lived in Bastrop for most of my life, but "home" will always be Smiley.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Well, in the ways of the great Internet, a previous post I had been working on went *poof* and disappeared. So, we will take a slightly different approach since I've forgotten what ground I had covered.

This far after the fire and the panic and the evacuation and the eventual return to home, life has returned to a certain normality for those of us who had homes to return to. The definition of normal has been redefined for Bastrop, however. Now normal involves watching the skies on windy days, turning in your neighbors who decide to ignore the burn ban, learning to avert your eyes from the burned timber when you have to drive east, and clearing brush and dry pine needles out of your yard in an effort to reduce future fire hazard.

Just as you think you've made some progress in regaining control of your nervous system, you get word of yet another friend or acquaintance who lost everything and has decided to rebuild or decided to relocate and your stomach drops all over again. You think you are coping fairly well when one morning you step out the front door and your heart jumps to your throat before you realize that you are facing fog and not smoke. You tell yourself that everything is okay and to settle down and then you jump to attention when you hear a siren out on the highway or a helicopter passing overhead. We citizens of Bastrop have a long road of recovery to travel.

I was asked by a close friend to take some time and make two lists: one of the things I did right when I got the evacuation order and one of the things I forgot. I am glad that I had pondered the possibility as soon as we moved out to the forest because I had already worked out the order of what I would rescue and I had made sure that I had enough pet carriers on hand and ready in the garage.

What I Did Right:
1. I isolated the cats immediately before they knew anything was going on and put them in the utility room or bathroom so they couldn't hide.
2. I grabbed my stash of reusable grocery bags and headed for the trunk where I keep a lot of the smaller family heirlooms that are not on display. I filled three bags with as much as I could of the contents of that trunk.
3. I filled another grocery bag with enough dog and cat food to last several days.
4. I threw - literally threw - clothes into a suitcase and made sure I included jeans, t-shirts, underwear and tennis shoes. Before I zipped the suitcase, I grabbed some breakable family treasures out of the china cabinet and tucked them down into the clothes to protect them.
5. I filled my briefcase with laptop, phone accessories, address book and the book I was reading. I keep my backup hard drive in my brief case, along with my work essentials, so I knew I would be able to function so long as I had an Internet connection.
6. I loaded cats in carriers, dogs in carriers and got them loaded into the car, then started loading the grocery bags full of family treasures. I loaded the briefcase and the suitcase.
7. My last trip into the house was to take down the ancestor portraits hanging in the stairwell and wedge them in and around the pet carriers in the back seat. I locked doors, turned off lights and took one last look around, trying to decide if there was anything else I could fit into the car, which at this point was packed fairly tight. It was time to leave.

What I Did Wrong:
1. I forgot all about picking up the folder I had prepared of important papers - like my home insurance policy. Thankfully some of the more important things had recently been moved to a safe deposit box.
2. I forgot all about the camera bag. I had been working on an inventory of all my antiques and collectibles. I had the list of possessions in a document on my backup drive, but all the photos I had taken to support the inventory were still on the card in the camera left behind.
3. I remembered the portraits hanging in the stairwell, but forgot to swing back through the study and pick up two other very important family portraits and I totally forgot about my mother's oil paintings.
4. I forgot all of my jewelry.
5. I forgot to shut off the air-conditioner or computer and the refrigerator/freezers never entered my mind.

In my defense on the last one, I had no idea when I left that it would be 6 days before I returned to my house or that the electricity would be off all that time. I was lucky that I got back to my house in time to empty the refrigerators and freezers before any of the food spoiled badly enough to render them unusable. A lot of folks had to endure almost another full week before they were allowed to return to their homes and a lot of appliances had to be discarded.

In the aftermath, I am maintaining a packed suitcase of essentials and my briefcase gets repacked every night before I go to bed. I moved a lot of small valuables (my parents wedding rings, for example) to my safe deposit box. On the first trip back to the house, we picked up my jewelry, my Grandmother Hodge's quilts, my father's sermons, my mother's oil paintings and assorted other family heirlooms and relocated them temporarily to a climate controlled storage unit. I am in the process of searching for a handier unit where I can store these kinds of things more or less permanently during periods of high fire danger.

I made an assessment of what I would have lost in the matter of my genealogy records and realized that I had fallen behind in keeping things filed and in getting new material digitized. I have embarked on a scanning project to get that situation corrected and I'm also working my way through the notebooks to get all extraneous notes transferred to my computerized files. It's going to take awhile to get caught up, but I'm making good, steady progress. I have also gotten serious about purging all unnecessary papers out of my genealogy and my personal files. So far I've taken 4 shopping bags full of paper to the shredding bins at the office and I'm gaining some storage space as a result. I'm back to work on the household inventory.

My evacuation plans have been modified to include emptying the ice bucket into the sink and turning off the ice maker (all the ice melted and ran out into the kitchen floor) and to keep the contents of the refrigerators and freezers down to what I will use in the near future. I am keeping a thermal bag handy to carry out any frozen meat.

I am keeping a pet emergency bag packed and ready to go, with a supply of food, bowls, and leashes.

I was very fortunate that I had a mental checklist in place before hand and was able to leap into action even as my mind was trying to blur into panic. I was caught somewhat unprepared in the matter of having my family records completely backed up, but I had about 75% of the data computerized and about 90% of the photographs scanned and triple backed up (one copy in the safe deposit box), so I would not have been completely wiped out of 40 years of work had things gone differently. I am working hard on getting the gaps closed.

I was very fortunate and I'm learning from my mistakes. Everything could be gone in the wink of an eye. Make sure you are as prepared as you can be so that when someone knocks on your door and says you have 20 minutes or less to get out, you know what to do.