Wednesday, December 19, 2007


John and I got up early on Christmas Eve, and headed into town for breakfast at Cypress Creek Cafe. Of course Miss Bobby, a local octogenarian, was already there in her favorite booth, as she is every morning, holding court. One of these days, I'm going to get my nerve up, go introduce myself, and ask her to tell me her story. I've always been the type of nosy person who wants to know how couples met, and that sort of thing. Now I'm dying to get the scoop on everyone in Wimberley - how did they get here, what did they leave behind, and how did they choose this particular place?

The rest of the day was spent in preparation for the big event, and introducing John and Austin to the wonder of the new Whole Foods store. We roasted a beautiful beef tenderloin and some broccoli that had been tossed with garlic and olive oil for our Christmas Eve feast, and served them with a nice horseradish sauce, mashed potatoes, hot curried fruit compote, and a luscious apple pie that John had nabbed on his quest the previous day. After dinner we headed into town to attend the candlelight service at the Presbyterian Church, then wandered over to the Emily Ann Theater to walk the Trail of Lights.

The Emily Ann is another one of those unique places that makes Wimberley so special. I believe it was established by a couple as a memorial to the beloved child they had lost. It serves a variety of purposes throughout the year. In spring it is the site of a huge butterfly launch. In summer it provides an open air stage for a play about the founding of Wimberley, as well as several Shakespearean productions. And best of all, in winter it is the place where all of the different organizations in the area set up individual holiday light displays, and you can follow a walking path through them all. My favorite this year was a scene where life-sized papier mache deer sat roasting huge marshmallows over an open fire, while big possums hung upside down from a nearby tree limb, looking on. Speaking of marshmallows, at the end of the trail, you come to the fire pit where they burn a huge yule log each evening, and visitors can sit roasting marshmallows and sipping hot chocolate. We opted to come home and make hot chocolate here instead, so we could try out the fabulous homemade marshmallows that we had picked up at Whole Foods. We took it downstairs with us to sip while we watched our annual Christmas movie together. Again, you are probably picturing "It's A Wonderful Life" or "White Christmas", but no, I'm afraid not. I don't remember exactly how it started - I think maybe one year someone gave John a copy of "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" for Christmas. Since most of my family usually spends the night with us on Christmas Eve, we often have some time to kill after all the festivities are over, but before we are ready to turn in. John stuck that movie into the VCR, primarily for the entertainment of the teenagers and the men in the family. They had such a good time watching it that the following year he went out and bought another bad Sci-Fi film for them to enjoy, and ever since, the guys have been competing to see who could come up with the most bizarre "B" movie for everyone to watch. This year it was "Reefer Madness - The Musical", which surprised us by being not terrible.

* * * * *

Well, it's finally Christmas morning, and as usual, I am the first one awake. Up until this point, I haven't really minded not having a tree up, but suddenly I miss it terribly. This is the time I always enjoyed it most. I just love sitting here in the quiet, early hours, with everyone else still asleep, enjoying the beautifully lit tree in a darkened room, with mounds of wrapped presents underneath, and each person's stocking so full of goodies that they are overflowing into the chairs around them. To me, this is the magic hour, and it's all downhill after this. Other than missing the tree, I think this has been a near-perfect Christmas. Somewhat bittersweet though, knowing that my baby girl will soon be moving off to California, and might not be able to come home for the holidays a lot of the time. As much as I enjoyed having a small, simple Christmas this year, I also love having a large and boisterous family, and will be especially thankful to have them all around me on those occasions when the kids can't be here. Either I was extra sensitive to it this year, or else Wimberley just has more retired people than I'm accustomed to, but it seemed like every time I turned around, I heard people asking each other "Where are you spending the holidays this year? Will you be with your kids?" Way too often, the answer was "No, afraid not". It made me savor this time with them all the more.

Once the last package had been ripped open, John and I went into the kitchen to prepare our traditional Christmas breakfast of bacon, eggs, and those cinnamon rolls that come in the pop-open can with a little pot of icing in the bottom - not exactly a gourmet feast I'm afraid, but all efforts to upgrade the menu are strongly resisted. When we had finished eating, John and the kids wandered off to play with their new toys, and I tried to straighten up the disaster that was our living room. Then I couldn't resist going for a long walk outside, for it was an absolutely gorgeous day (probably in the 70's!). Mid-afternoon we joined up again, in order to enjoy our final family tradition - heading out to the movies to see a newly released blockbuster. Growing up, it seemed that more often than not, it was usually the latest James Bond film. This year it happened to be "Memoirs of a Geisha". After that, we wandered around town, as we always do, desperately hoping to find at least one restaurant open, so we wouldn't have to go home and eat leftovers. One year my whole family was visiting us out in west Texas, and we ended up at a big truck stop in Odessa. We had such a good time that it sticks out in memory as one of the highlights of all our holidays together. This year the only game in town was one of those all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets, which we usually avoid like the plague, but this time we weren't so picky. I thought everyone else in the world adored eating Christmas leftovers, but this place was bursting at the seams with people who obviously felt the same way as us. It turned out to be the perfect ending to a perfect day. The only thing that could have made it better, we all agreed, would have been some strolling waiters singing "Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra", as they did in the movie "A Christmas Story". We entertained ourselves by periodically erupting in contagious snickers, just at the thought of it!

Friday, December 14, 2007


Originally, Austin was planning to spend a full week in Dallas, hanging out with his best buddy from middle school. I was shocked when he called to say he was coming to Wimberley earlier than planned. Apparently he wasn't having as much fun as anticipated. Back in the early days, his buddy had just been a fun-loving, goofy kid who made average grades, and was only interested in girls, clothes, and hanging out with his pals. His father was some kind of financial consultant to the rich and famous, and was determined that his son would follow in his footsteps. Dad kept threatening to send him to private school, so he would be around the "right kind of people". We thought that was pretty funny, since our school district was nothing but upper-middle class, and you had to have well above a 4.0 GPA to even be close to top 10% of the class. Shortly after we moved away, Dad did in fact send him off to boarding school in Switzerland, so he could begin making "contacts", with summer programs at Oxford as well, so he and Austin were rarely able to get together. When Austin found out that his buddy would actually be in Dallas while we were there, he couldn't wait to see him, but I guess his father's brain-washing campaign was more successful than any of us anticipated. Austin said the entire time he was there, the guy talked about nothing but the future of investment banking, how much he was going to hate his job, but how rich he would end up being, and whether he should buy a Mercedes or a BMW.

Now, I will admit that I have occasionally felt twinges of doubt with regard to our parenting skills. I sometimes wonder if we cheated our kids by not pushing them harder, by not filling their every waking moment with private lessons and educational pursuits, and by not demanding that they be the best at everything they do. How would they compete against kids who have? But then I usually come to my senses and think "Nah, that would suck." What could be more wonderful than having kids who not only like themselves and love what they do, but who also still like hanging out with their folks upon occasion? Besides, look what happened to all those other wunderkinds who were determined to prove to Daddy that they could run with the big dogs - they're mostly in jail! Anyway, that's what Austin is claiming to be his reason for coming home early. Truthfully, he was probably worried that we were having too much Christmas fun without him. We had Taco Soup and warm focaccia bread for supper after the boys arrived, then we all snuggled up on the sofa together to watch "The Polar Express". It just doesn't get any better than that.

The next day Austin and I headed to San Marcos to finish up the last of our shopping. I needed to stop in at Hill Country Humidor to get a gift certificate for John's stocking. He loves going to that place because it's run by an old hippie with a ZZ-esque beard, who's a lot of fun to gab with. This guy has definitely perfected the art of living "the good life". He posts no hours of business on his shop door because he refuses to be held to a schedule - he opens when he damn well pleases! His bookkeeping system is rather unique as well, but ingenious. To pay for my gift certificate, I pulled out a credit card, but he said "Oh sorry, no can do. Has to be cash or a check for a gift certificate." I said "Oh really, why is that?" He demonstrated by taking the $20 bill I handed him and dropping it into a little zip-lock baggie, along with the stub from the certificate. Apparently, when John comes in to spend the certificate, he will simply pull the baggie out of his file drawer and hand him the $20 to spend. Makes perfect sense to me!

While I was doing that, Austin popped into Paper Bear to finish up his list. This store is every merchandiser's worst nightmare - their philosophy is cram as much merchandise as you can into as little space - but for some unknown reason, it works. Maybe it's because this is a college town, and students aren't all that particular. Or maybe it's because it makes you feel as if you are on a safari or a treasure hunt. I think I love it because it reminds me of shopping at my neighborhood Five and Dime as a kid. All I know is, whatever you are looking for, odds are, they will have it. When we had completed our shopping, we headed back to Wimberley to meet up with John, who had spent the morning comparing the offerings of our local pie companies, of which there are at least three. Once Alexis got off from work, we headed out to participate in one of our annual traditions - attending some type of Christmas theater production. Now, most people would immediately think "The Nutcracker", or perhaps "A Christmas Carol", but I'm not married to most people. We were headed for the Alamo Draughthouse in Austin, to attend the special Christmas performance of "Mister Sinus Theater". If you were ever a big fan of "Mystery Science Theater" on TV, where they had that guy and two little robots sitting on the front row at the movies, watching old, really bad sci-fi flicks, and providing rude remarks and commentary throughout, then you would love Mr. Sinus, because it is a live, comedic spoof of the TV program. However, if you hated that show, or have never even heard of it, then you just wouldn't get this one at all! John and the kids adored it, and I adored watching them and their reactions.

To be continued....


It's odd, but when I first found out that John had to go back to Houston from Dallas, to work a few more days, I almost decided to go with him. I was afraid I would be bored here by myself, with nothing to do. Then I decided it might be a good time to work on my year-end summary for work, start a garden design, get caught up on bookkeeping, etc., so I loaded one whole suitcase with the notebooks and materials I would need for all these projects, and hauled them to Wimberley with me. Well, I've been here for four days now, John and Austin are coming in this afternoon, and so far, I haven't done doodley on any of those projects!

On Monday Lex had a day off from work, so we decided to do a girls-day-out in Austin. Most people in the rest of the country know Austin only as the capitol of Texas, and probably picture it as a somewhat stately place full of politicians. Others may know of it as the home of the University of Texas, and picture it full of Longhorn football fans. I chose to go to school there primarily because, back in the seventies, it was populated more by hippies than sororities and fraternities, and that suited me just fine. Since I was working my way through school, I couldn't have afforded a sorority even if I'd wanted one, so it's a good thing I didn't. Somewhere along the way, the people of Austin were smart enough to realize that having so many neat funky shops, hotels and restaurants, as opposed to the national chains populating most other metropolitan areas, made Austin more interesting, and somewhat unique. They decided to promote and encourage this by coming up with the "Keep Austin Weird (support local businesses)" slogan that you will see plastered on many a bumper hereabouts.

We started our day off at the new Whole Foods Market corporate headquarters that opened recently. Oh-My-Gosh, talk about foodie heaven! I think I like it even better than Central Market, which always makes me feel like a rat in a maze. This store has normal back-and-forth rows in the center, which are fairly easy to navigate, but around the perimeter are what I can only describe as satellites of decadence. In the seafood section, I could have sworn I had been transported to Fisherman's Wharf. The counter was quadruple the size of any I had seen in a grocery store, was raised on a dais, and the fish mongers were all clad in those orange rubberized overalls with suspenders, like you see on fishing boats. I expected them to begin tossing huge fish carcasses through the air to one another at any moment. In addition to the extensive selection of fresh seafood, which looked as if it had leaped straight from the water onto those trays of ice, there was a separate kiosk filled with every possible variety of prepared seafood dish, ready to eat or take home with you. The meat section was equally as impressive, but what really sent us over the edge were the chocolatier and the bakery sections (I have a notorious sweet tooth, Alexis is a fresh bread junkie). We thought we had died and gone to Europe! Then there were the mini-restaurants scattered throughout the store, where you could belly up to the bar and watch as they prepared the sushi, pizza, stir-fry, or whatever it was you were craving for lunch. To top it all off, they have their own parking garage underneath the store, complete with a moving sidewalk to carry your cart down, or you can opt for grocery valet service, if you prefer. It's a good thing I don't live in Austin. I could drop a butt-load of money in that place.

Next we went over to S. congress Ave., to stroll through all the funky shops that I missed on my last go-around. I found another piece of Bauer pottery that I could actually afford, and an old paperweight for John that had a picture of a covered wagon in it and said "Midland, Texas", which is where we lived for many years. I took Alexis to lunch at the little Italian bistro I had enjoyed so much last time, picked up a fresh baguette at Texas French Bakery to go with our dinner, then we went home and spent the evening pouring over a great new book I had found at Uncommon Objects, which describes hundreds more interesting shops and restaurants in Austin, that I didn't even know about!

Tuesday was spent running errands, shopping for groceries, and leaving phone messages for excavation contractors. We have decided that having our driveway resurfaced will be our Christmas present to one another this year. Unfortunately, we can't seem to get anyone to come out, or even return our calls. One guy did come out several weeks ago, but then he never got back to us with an estimate. I was quite excited when one of these guys actually returned my call first thing the next day, and even more so when he proceeded to set up an appointment with me for that same day (this has to be a good sign!). Since he wasn't due here until 11:00, and I knew better than to expect a contractor to be punctual, I decided to do some picking up around the house while I waited. As I was doing that, it suddenly occurred to me that my Christmas tablecloths were actually hanging in the coat closet, so at least I could get to those without too much difficulty. Then, as I was spreading them on the dining room table (a small red fringed one layered diagonally over a large green plaid cloth), I happened to glance up at the corner curio cabinet where I keep my teapot collection. Was it possible that my Christmas teapots were stored in the cabinet down below? YES! Hallelujah! I pulled out a few to place on the table, put one on the sideboard, and a couple on the mantle. Then I decided to light my piney-smelling candle, and next thing you know, I'm singing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."!

I was even more impressed with this contractor when he showed up for our appointment precisely on time, but my happy little bubble burst when he handed me his estimate. Apparently we can either spend $5,000 every couple of years to regrade the driveway and add new gravel, or we can bite the bullet and have it paved with asphalt, which should last 20 years or more if we just reseal it on a regular basis. When I told Alexis how much that would cost, her reaction was "Shit! I could buy a car for that!" After he left, I was feeling kind of blue, so I decided I really needed to head over to Juan Henry's for a mini mushroom quesadilla and a diet coke with fresh lime slices in it. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, a quesadilla is the Tex-Mex version of a grilled cheese sandwich - several varieties of grated cheese sandwiched between two flour tortillas and sauteed in butter until crispy on the outside, oozey on the inside.) That did a lot to cheer me up. Next I decided to explore the local library, which was surprisingly good for such a small town. I got myself a library card and checked out a couple of books about Wimberley history, plus one about Christmas in Texas that described all the different cultures that settled here, and how they celebrated the holidays. By the time I got back to my recently decluttered and bedecked house, I was feeling quite jovial again. I spent the afternoon cooking up a big pot of chicken gumbo, then read my books all evening, and now, here I sit on Thursday morning saying "My, how time flies!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007


We met Alexis in Dallas on the Saturday before Christmas, and celebrated with my family that evening. John had to go back to Houston to work for a few more days, and Austin wanted to stay in Dallas to hang out with some old buddies, so the next morning I drove to Wimberley with Alexis. Of course, our first evening there, we had to go to our favorite little Mexican joint, Juan Henry's. Actually, I guess you can't really call it a Mexican joint anymore. Originally, the proprietor owned two restaurants. One was just off the town square, looking out over Cypress Creek. It was called John Henry's, and served burgers, chicken-fried steak, and such. The other one, out on River Road, was called Juan Enriquez's, and was strictly Tex-Mex. One year John Henry's suffered serious flood damage, and rather than trying to rebuild it, the owner combined the two restaurants, and the two names, at the River Road location. Thus, Juan Henry's was born. Still our favorite place to eat! After dinner we went back to the house, and I just can't describe what a thrill it was to see my little house twinkling festively up on the hillside. Once we were inside, we curled up in our cozy chairs by the fireplace, with our fuzzy lap throws tucked around us, and I presented Alexis with her first Christmas present. This wasn't an ordinary gift, though.

Years ago, when we moved to Indonesia, Austin was just starting kindergarten, and Alexis was in third grade. Although I didn't keep a journal at the time (picture me slapping my forehead and saying "Doh!"), I did try to write weekly letters home to the grandparents, filled with everything the kids were doing. I didn't want them to completely miss out on watching the kids grow up. Just for my own entertainment, I tried to make the letters as humorous and interesting as possible. Now, fast forward about ten years, to the time when John's mother had just passed away, and we were trying to empty out her house before selling it. The one glimmer of light in a horrible, horrible task, was to discover a little bundle of 25 airmail envelopes, with my handwriting scrawled across the front. Could it be? Oh Joy, Oh Joy! She actually saved some of my letters! Because things were in such a turmoil at that time, I didn't tear into them immediately. Instead I took them home with me, put them up on the shelf in my closet, and savored the pleasure that I knew was in store for me.

Funny. I thought I remembered every single thing about those years in Indonesia, but apparently there was quite a bit that had slipped my grasp, and which came rushing back as I read through those letters. For instance, I had completely forgotten about the time when Austin was six, and we were all sitting around the dinner table. Out of the blue, Austin said "Dad, do I have any ann-brothers?" John said "That depends. What's an ann-brother?" Austin replied "Well, you know how Granny has all those ann-sisters she's always talking about? Since I'm a boy, does that mean I have ann-brothers?" Now, how on earth could I have forgotten that? And what about the time when the two Hall boys had just arrived on the compound, and had come over to play? Not long after they showed up, Alexis stuck her head into my room and whispered "Mom! I think I'm in love!", referring to the elder brother. Austin, on the other hand, ended up in tears, because the younger brother, Kevin, told him that all our video games were stupid. Alexis fell out of love rather quickly, but Austin and Kevin have been best friends ever since, and intend to go into business together some day, designing video games!

I was planning to just sit there reading my book, while Alexis read all the letters, but every time she laughed, or gasped, or said "Oh my gosh!", I had to stop and ask her what she was reading about at that point, and that would get us talking about the various events and the people involved. By the time she folded the last letter and put it back into its envelope, it was way past my bedtime, but what a wonderful time we had!


No matter how long I live here, Texas weather never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday it was in the mid-eighties all day, and I was wishing I had packed some shorts this time. We opened all the windows and turned on the ceiling fans before we went to bed, and still I was kicking off the covers because I was so hot. This morning I woke up to the sound of wind slamming doors shut and blowing everything in the house around, and suddenly I'm shivering and grabbing for the quilt. Obviously it has "come a norther", as my friend Paula says. Now I'm back to sitting on the porch in my flannel-lined overcoat with gloves and ear-warmers on. Oh well, at least it feels more like Christmas now. It also looks more like Christmas - meaning it's totally grey and overcast. Maybe that's why I actually like dreary days. They make me feel festive because they remind me of the holidays. Snow is so rare around here that for us it's considered a freak occurrence - about like a tornado or hurricane. Schools let out, businesses shut down, cars bounce off of one another - talk about fun! But not something we actually associate with Christmas.

Hard to believe it's been a whole year since we bought this house. Closing date was just a couple of days before Christmas. We loaded our truck up with the bare essentials, drove to Wimberley to sign the papers, went straight to the house, unpacked and sort of camped out here overnight, then went on to Dallas to spend Christmas with my family. So, this is our first Christmas actually spent in the house, and I get to stay for two solid weeks! We sure have managed to fill up all that empty space in a short period of time. Of course, a lot of it belongs to Alexis, but it won't be long after she leaves before John manages to fill up that space as well. Apparently my husband abhors a vacuum, and just isn't happy until every house we buy is absolutely stuffed with stuff. Personally, I liked it better when there were still some empty spaces. We didn't even bother to set up the tree this year because we couldn't find anywhere to put it! I keep reminding John that we will have to combine these two houses into one some day, but that boy just loves to shop. What a pair we are. He loves clutter, I just hate it. He likes dark and cozy, I need light and airy. He's Victorian frou-frou, I'm Arts and Crafts simplicity. In order to save my sanity, and to keep from turning into the wicked witch of the west, I suggested that he could decorate the downstairs (his office, TV room and guest bedroom) any way he chose, if he would let me decorate the upstairs (the kitchen, living area and master bedroom), and agree to keep it a clutter-free zone. I just hope there will still be space for actual guests in the guest room, by the time he's finished.

When we were here for Thanksgiving, I managed to get some garland with red bows looped across the porch railing, and icicle lights strung from the eaves, but that's about as far as we got with our Christmas decorating. Alexis was right in the middle of all her final projects for school, and had them spread over every surface in the house. I didn't have the heart to make her put it all away, just so I could start decking the halls. Besides, we weren't even certain where most of the Christmas stuff was stashed. My sisters didn't really believe me when I said I was okay with not having a tree up for the first time ever. They think I must be depressed or something, but as long as I can come home in the evening and see the twinkle lights up on the porch, then come inside and light up my pine scented candle and listen to some carols, I'm as happy as a little clam. After all, I've been doing the Christmas thing at work since last August, so I've had a pretty good dose! One thing I just love about my job at the nursery is that, once I get everything set up for Christmas, there's not much left for me to do, and I can reduce my hours just when I need the extra time to do my own shopping and holiday preparations. By mid-December there is nothing left for me to do at all, so they have me take vacation until after New Year's - perfect for entertaining house guests or going out of town. This is certainly a far cry from my days working in retail and for florists and caterers, when this was their most frenzied time of all! Because I had so much time off, it only made sense to spend it all in Wimberley. It looks like John and Austin will both be able to spend time here as well, so we are all quite excited - one more step towards feeling more like Wimberleyites, and less like visitors.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WE GIVE THANKS, continued

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and my first guests begin arriving this afternoon. I always go through several distinct stages during the holidays. When they are still a month or two away, I have thoughts like "Wouldn't it be a blast to have the entire gang here in Wimberley with us for the holidays?" I'm completely laid back and enthusiastic about it at that point, but as the time draws closer, I start thinking about all that needs to be done, and a slight sense of unease begins to creep in. What am I going to feed them all for those eight meals? Can I get all the groceries I need here in Wimberley, or will I have to haul some of it from Houston? Do I have all the spices, pots, and pans I need here? Where will everyone sleep? That's when I start making lists. Lots and lots of lists. My husband likes to tell people that I make lists of all the lists I'm going to make, but he exaggerates. When I feel comfortable that I have every single thing that needs to be done written down on paper somewhere, and I have all my lists assembled in front of me, I start thinking "Oh shit, how will I ever get all of this done? There just aren't enough hours in the day!" That's when unease progresses towards mild panic, and I begin making schedules - cooking schedules, cleaning schedules, chore and errand schedules for each member of the family... You get the picture. John once referred to it as switching into "Maximum-Martha-Mode".

We are beyond that stage now, and on to full-blown panic! Once the cooking and cleaning are under control, I start thinking about the people themselves, and all the clashing personalities involved. That's when I slap my head and say "What was I thinking!" I was just sitting here on the porch this morning, praying "Please God, don't let anything happen to spoil this get-together. It may be the last one where we are all here, so please, let it be wonderful!" Then suddenly I remembered that scene at the end of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life", where everyone in town is offering up prayers at once, for the well-being of Jimmy Stewart and his family. I got really tickled thinking that I'm probably not the only one who is sending up a prayer for my family to behave themselves this year. In fact, God is probably being bombarded with them from all directions about now! The good news is that, once the doorbell rings, the panic completely disappears, to be replaced by squeals, hugs, and jumping up and down. Yes, there will probably be tears at some point, and there will most certainly be hurt feelings, but this is the only family I've got, and that's just how it goes. The only families that never have to deal with this are the ones on TV!
* * * * *
Well, the week is over, and it's time to head back to Houston. I started to say "head home", then I realized that Wimberley is finally starting to feel more like home than Houston - especially after spending a whole week here with all the family, and celebrating a holiday here. Yesterday I started hanging garland on the porch, so we could take a photo for our Christmas cards, and that just clinched the feeling. Every time I started to get a little blue about having to leave, I just reminded myself that I only have a couple of weeks left to work, and then I get to come back here for Christmas, and that just cheered me right up!

I'm still amazed that Mom and Dad actually came, and that the visit went more or less smoothly, all things considered. They said the drive down wasn't nearly as bad as they were expecting, and they truly seemed happy to be here, and delighted to see what a wonderful home we have here. The weather was perfect, so we set up long tables out on the porch for our feast. I tried a new Tex-Mex Turkey recipe this year that had tamales in the stuffing, and served it with an enchilada gravy. What a hit! Even Bud, who rarely pays any attention to what he's eating, asked for the recipe.

Although Mom and Dad didn't arrive until immediately before the meal, once that was over with, I think Mom felt like she had accomplished what she set out to do, and now it was time to go home. Ever since they moved into their new house with my sister, Mom has bemoaned the fact that the living room is at the rear of the house, and she can't sit on the sofa and keep tabs on what is going on in the neighborhood. We thought she would absolutely adore sitting out on our porch , being able to see the little church house down the way, watch the comings and goings at the antique store and bakery across the road, watch the deer munch their way across the yard each evening, and especially, enjoy all the birds that she loves so much as they congregate in the trees just an arm's length away. Imagine our surprise the next day when she announced "The book says fresh air is bad for me." For as long as I can remember, Mom has preceded most statements with "The Book Says". I'm still trying to figure out exactly which book that is. From that point on, she never set foot on the porch, and if we forgot and left a window ajar, or turned a ceiling fan on, we would look up to find this little tented mound in a chair, with a blanket covering her from head to toe.

Dad, on the other hand, seemed to thrive up here. He hadn't been able to sleep for weeks prior to coming here, but actually managed to stay in bed an entire night before the visit was over with. He joined us on the porch each morning to watch the sun come up, loved going to the cafe for breakfast, and bonded with John out at his cigar-smoking table each evening. All in all, I think the whole weekend was well worth the effort!

Since it is Thanksgiving, I think I should wind up by saying what I am secretly most thankful for, in addition to my large, loving, wacky, wonderful family. I am thankful for the book Simple Abundance, which set me on the road to finding my voice. It taught me that it was OK to be just a little bit selfish, and made me realize that if I stopped trying to be the person that everyone in my family wanted me to be, and just concentrated on being me, then I would be a much happier, complete person. That led me to going back to school, which led to my wonderful job at the nursery. It also led to my pushing for the move to Wimberley, which gave me something to write about! And though I knew from childhood experience that anger and bitterness were contagious, I soon discovered that happiness and enthusiasm were also contagious. Mine spread to my kids and my husband, improving their lives as well. So thank you Sara ban Breathnach, we owe you one!

Monday, December 10, 2007


When it comes to pain tolerance, my parents are at opposite ends of the spectrum. My father is your classic stoic. He has a serious blood disorder that necessitates weekly transfusions, but still he grows weaker by the day. He refuses to give in to it though, and when I go to visit them, I must sneak my suitcase out to the car in the middle of the night, or he will insist upon carrying it for me. My mother, on the other hand, is what you might call hyper-sensitive. One time my whole family was at a Mexican restaurant together. Because one side of the table was too close to the wall, the waitress was having to hand our plates across to us. She was handling them with her bare hands, but when she started to hand one to my mother, Mom asked "Is that plate very hot?" The waitress replied "No ma'am, it's fine." Mom reached for the plate, then let out an ear-piercing shriek. Rolling my eyes, I said "Oh give me that!" and I set it down before her, with no difficulty whatsoever. The waitress began to stammer her apologies, saying "I swear, I didn't think it was that hot!", to which I just replied "Shush, don't worry about it. She's fine." Her only real health problems are heart and diabetes related, but both of those are well under control, now that my sister is supervising their diets. Before Carolyn took over, Mom and Dad both thought that Ding Dongs and Dinky Twinkies made a mighty fine breakfast. Unfortunately, the folks don't really travel anymore. They hate being away from their own bed and their doctors, and I can't say that I blame them. However, they are dying to see our place in Wimberley, just once, so I suggested that we all celebrate Thanksgiving here together.

A few days before they were to arrive, I headed to the grocery store to buy all the fixings for our Turkey Day feast. That's when it occurred to me that perhaps I should check in with my sister, just to be sure they hadn't changed their minds about coming. Carolyn giggled as she told me about their visit to the doctor the previous day. When he asked Mom what their Thanksgiving plans were, she replied pitifully "Well, we were supposed to go to my daughter's house in Wimberley, but I'm just too sick, so I suppose we will have to stay here by ourselves." The doctor just stared at her for a moment, then said "That's a bunch of bull. You are healthier than 90% of my patients." I would give anything to have seen her face at that moment! As they were preparing to leave, he went on to say "As a matter of fact Kathryn, I insist that you go to Wimberley. It's doctor's orders!" When they got home, and Dad proceeded to tell Carolyn what had transpired, Mom interjected "He only said that because I didn't tell him everything that was in my head!" (a Freudian slip perhaps?) At first she was in a snit, but after a while she became almost cheerful, and said "Oh well, if the doctor says I have to go, I guess I have to go!"

The next day, since I had done as much as I could to prepare for their arrival, I decided to treat myself to a whole day in Austin. My plan was to check out all the great garden shops I had heard about. One of my favorites is called Big Red Sun. I am always inspired by it not only because they are so fun and funky that they personify everything that is Austin, but also because they suffer from the same restrictions that we do where I work - being landlocked in an older, urban neighborhood. After all, any nursery can do well when you have unlimited space to work with, but it takes true talent to keep increasing sales each year when you are stuck between two houses on a residential street!

Around mid-day I headed over to S. Congress, thinking I would allow myself one hour to check out all the neat shops there. Two and a half hours later I was still there, and I hadn't even made it through half of them! I guess I will have to come back one day soon, and spend an entire day on this one street alone. My favorite discovery was one block that contained a great little Italian enoteca where I had lunch, as well as the Texas French Bakery, and a little shop called Farm to Market that had wonderful fresh produce and all kinds of gourmet goodies. All three epitomize what I am trying to accomplish by learning to cook and eat with seasonality - using simple but tasty recipes that adapt to a variety of ingredients, using what's fresh and in season, and discovering what's handcrafted or produced locally. Perhaps they are a sign that the tide is moving away from mindless consumption of junk on the run.

to be continued...

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Yesterday was my 52nd birthday, but we've saved the celebrating for tonight, when we will finally be going to check out The Little Texas Bistro, in Buda. I can't wait - it has been getting rave reviews from everyone. Since the time for planting wildflower seeds is upon us, I think we may head over to Wildseed Farm in Fredericksburg, to stock up. Should be a fun day all around!

* * * * *
Although my husband is better than most men I know about "getting in touch with his feminine side", he can occasionally be such a typical male that it is almost painful. As we were about to head out to Fredericksburg, I pulled out my trusty little map of the Hill Country, to look it over. John walked into the room, and I said "Well, it looks like we just need to head to Blanco, then we can take either of these two roads west to Fredericksburg. Wanna take a look?" He just flipped his hand towards the map and said "Nah, I don't need to. I know how to get there." Well, I already know how this story goes, so I surreptitiously folded up the map and slipped it into my purse, just in case. It was about 9:30 in the morning, it was a gorgeous day, and we were both in jovial spirits as we headed out. There is one main road that goes through Wimberley, and it splits in two as it heads north out of town. The left fork goes to Blanco, the right to Dripping Springs. John took the right fork. In my sweetest voice, I said "Honey, isn't Blanco the other way?" He replied "We don't want to go to Blanco. We want to go up to Johnson City." We do? Well, he did recently drive all around this area with his brother Mike when they were touring the vineyards, so maybe he knows something that I don't. "OK Sweetie, whatever you say." As we were driving through Dripping Springs, I spotted a store called Cowgirls and Lace. I told John that I had heard good things about it, so he stopped and we browsed around for a bit. We left around 11:00, and I said "What a great shop! I'm so glad we came this way."

We continued on our merry way. Some time later, we came to another fork in the road. The sign said Johnson City was to the right, but John turned left. I said, still in a pleasant voice, "I thought you wanted to go through Johnson City?" He replied "Nah, this is the way we need to go." Next thing you know, we were driving through Blanco (I thought he didn't want to go there), and I was starting to get worried, and hungry. Then I saw signs for Canyon Lake. OK, I've been to Canyon Lake before, and it was only a thirty minute drive from Wimberley. Why has it taken two hours for us to get there? Could we be driving in circles? John must also have suspected that something was seriously wrong, for he hesitated a bit, then took the next cut-off. He turned to me with a big smile on his face, and said "Isn't this fun, getting to explore some of the surrounding countryside?" I said "Yeah, I suppose, but I'm really getting hungry. I was hoping to try one of the neat restaurants in Fredericksburg, but I don't think I can wait that long." John spotted a little barbecue joint that was connected to a liquor store, and pulled into their parking lot. I ordered the chicken plate, and he a barbecue sandwich, then we went to sit down. A bit later, the waitress came over and said "We don't have nothin' but dark meat. That OK?" Well no, not really, but "Alright". We sat a while longer, then she came back and told me "The chicken that's done just don't smell quite right. You wanna wait for us to cook up a new batch?" I reply "Tell you what, maybe I'll just take one of those breakfast tacos instead. They don't have any meat in them, do they?"

Finally we were on the road again, and after going through Boerne and Comfort, which are not even close to being on a direct path between Wimberley and Fredericksburg, we pulled into town. There's a neat place there called A Rather Sweet Bakery, run by a women named Rebecca Rather. Articles about her have popped up in several of my magazines lately, and I was dying to check out her shop. However, after being content to just mosey along for the past several hours, John suddenly had a bee in his bonnet, and whizzed down Main Street so fast that I was unable to spot the bakery. Instead, we stopped at a filling station just on the other side of town, for a soda. I told John that I was going to ask the clerk which road we needed to be on to get to the farm. He said "Don't bother, This is it. We're on it." I asked "Are you sure?" He replied "Yes, I'm sure!" So, off we go. About forty-five minutes later, in a voice that was no longer quite so pleasant, I said "Are you absolutely sure this is the right road?" Finally, he pulled off to the side and said "Gimme the damn map!" He spent about five minutes just trying to get it unfolded, ripping it in the process, stared at it for a few minutes, tossed it into my lap, and drove on. My lower lip started to poke out a bit. A while later, he pulled off the road again, grabbed the map, mumbled something about what a shitty map it was, then drove on. My lip poked out a bit further. Finally he did a u-turn, and stopped at another filling station. Did he ask for directions? No, he just bought another map! By this time, my lip was sticking out so far, I was having to hold it in my lap. After studying his new map a while, he said "Well, how on earth did that happen? Can you believe it? We've been driving in the wrong direction!" And then he had the nerve to chuckle. I must have made a choking noise, because he finally turned, and actually looked at my face. In a shocked voice, he said "You look pissed. Why are you pissed?" In a voice that was not the least bit pleasant, I said "You are such a cliche! If you had just asked for directions when I first suggested it, we could have been there hours ago! But nooooo! You don't need no stinkin' directions. You know you're on the right road." He just grinned and said "Well, actually, I was on the right road - just headed in the wrong direction."

I guess I should explain about that grin. It happens to be a magical grin, and has saved his sorry skin on many an occasion. Next thing you knew, I was laughing too. We finally made it to the farm, after only about five hours on the road, but when it was time to head back, I knew I'd better pull out the big guns. I said "Listen buster. If you don't get me back in time for our dinner reservations tonight, I'm not even going to the grocery store this week. We will just eat out every meal, three meals a day, for the entire week. Is that clear?" Know how long it took us to get home? About forty-five minutes!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Well, this has certainly been one hell of a weekend. Just last week, it seemed as if everywhere I went, people were complaining about all the hurricane Katrina evacuees that had invaded their city from New Orleans. This week, they got a taste of their own medicine. When we first heard that another hurricane was already forming, and it might be headed this way, I half-jokingly asked John if he had our evacuation plan plotted out. He replied "Yeah, and it's called Wimberley!" When they started talking a category 4 or 5 hurricane, and we had to spend the entire day disassembling the garden center where I work, taking down all my displays and demolishing everything I had accomplished in the last couple of months, to prepare for the storm, we were no longer joking. I won't go into the boring details, but when I tell you that the trip, which should have taken us three hours to make, ended up taking about 14, you will understand why I was ready to get down on my knees and kiss the ground when we finally made it to Wimberley. Because the horror of Katrina was fresh on everyone's mind, the entire city of Houston decided to evacuate. The only reason we made it out at all was that we were headed west, not north. Many people finally gave up and just went back home to face the hurricane. Thankfully for Houston, Rita turned at the last minute, and they avoided a direct hit. Not so fortunate for others.

Thinking the worst was behind us, John and I set out to have a pleasant extended weekend in Wimberley. Saturday morning we headed out for our usual walk, and before I got five steps down the driveway, I stepped on some loose gravel, and my feet flew right out from under me. I came down hard, with one leg twisted back under me, and took most of the skin off my knee and shin. John was very solicitous, but you could tell he was secretly thrilled that for once it was me, and not him, who had done something klutzy and been injured. If only he could have left it at that! A couple of hours later he was puttering around in the garage, and when he walked in front of his car, the license plate slashed his calf and laid it open. When the kids were small and had assorted injuries, I used to wonder how you would know for sure whether one was serious enough to warrant stitches. When I looked at John's leg, which bore a close resemblance to a butterflied pork chop, there was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. I just yelled "SHIT!", grabbed a huge beach towel to wrap it in, stuffed him into the car, and once again we were off to the emergency room, where he received a dozen stitches. The good news is that when you have a gaping, bleeding wound, they work you in much quicker, and we were out in time to keep our movie date with our friends Dan and Betty. Quite convenient, since the movie theater is practically next door to the hospital, but somewhat humorous since John and I had both injured our right legs that morning, and Betty's right knee was acting up from arthritis, so we hobbled down the stairs of the theater in unison. They took us to their favorite Mexican restaurant afterwards - a great little neighborhood joint called Herbert's Taco Hut. By this time, John's pain deadener had worn off, and he was more than ready for a giant margarita.

The rest of the visit was fairly uneventful, except that I kept imagining that I felt something moving around under my bandages. I had been too chicken to allow John to peel back the main skin flap when he cleaned up my wounds, and now I feared that I might have maggots moving around under there or something. Much to my relief, I discovered that it was just miniscule pieces of gravel working their way to the surface - a process which continued for weeks, if not months.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

LIFE ON THE PORCH, continued

Wow, today is 9/11. Kind of gave me the chills when I realized that. Hard to believe four years have passed since that day. And what have we accomplished in our war on terrorism? Not much, I'm sad to say.

It feels absolutely delicious out here on the porch this morning. When I first came out, about an hour ago, it was still quite dark, with such a solid cloud cover that no stars were visible. Although I couldn't see individual streaks of lightning, it was as if there was a strobe light show pulsating behind the clouds. The rooster was crowing steadily at first, but suddenly he stopped. That's when I realized there was a constant whooshing sound some distance away, that was growing steadily louder, as if it were coming towards me. Could it be? Woo Hoo! It's actually raining! Too bad the strong rain only lasted a few minutes, to be followed by a light drizzle off and on. But beggars can't be choosers. It's finally light out, but the cloud cover is pretty solid, with a layer of fog tucked down in all the crevices between the hills, just like a blanket. The breeze is the most wonderful thing I've felt in months.

We had two hummingbird feeders hanging on the front of the porch, but one lone bird was hogging them both, and wouldn't allow anyone else near them. We decided to move one of the feeders around the corner, and John sort of hid it behind a column, out of sight from the other feeder. At first, no one at all was using it, but moments ago a little hummer discovered it. I was just about to congratulate myself for outmaneuvering Mr. Selfish, when suddenly he appeared out of nowhere and dive-bombed the poor newcomer, scaring him away. Oh well, at least we tried.

We had another front-porch-feast yesterday. Originally some friends from Houston were going to be our house-guests this weekend, but they had to cancel at the last minute. That left us with just two local couples that we barely knew, so I was a little nervous. John and I are both on the shy side with strangers, but we handle it in totally opposite ways. He gets very quiet and hardly opens his mouth all evening. I turn into Chatty Cathy, and talk enough for both of us, for fear there might be one of those dreaded voids in the conversation. That's why I usually like to have at least one couple at the table that are somewhat verbose. I needn't have worried though, because everyone in this group was very sociable, and very interesting. Wimberley just seems to attract interesting people, with great stories to tell. The problem with having spent so many years socializing with the same old people (oil people move around a lot, but keep running into the same people wherever they go!), is that although you are comfortable with them, you tend to hear the same old stuff over and over again. The neat thing about my plan for these feasts is that I'm constantly adding new names to the invitation list as we meet more people here, as well as keeping all our old friends on the list. Different ones show up at each feast, and in different combinations, so it's never the same ol' same ol'. The only thing that upsets me is that we never got to bring John's mother Theda here. She would truly have been in her element! She would have just thrived here amongst all these artists and eccentrics, and would have had such a blast at our feasts, holding court with all these interesting people.

* * * * *

Well, I survived another summer, and John is just going to crack up when he comes out here and sees me. I've been complaining about the heat for so long - couldn't wait for it to cool down. Yesterday (10/6) we finally got our first cool front of the year, and what am I doing? Sitting on the porch wearing a coat, gloves and ear warmers, and still I'm shivering - and it's probably only in the 50's! What a wimp. Can't help it though. When you've spent the past five or six months in the breezeless, sultry, mosquito-infested upper nineties of Houston, this nippy breeze is quite a contrast. I'm not complaining though, for it invigorates me like nothing else. All summer I haven't had the slightest inclination to start on any of our projects around here, but now I can't wait to go on my morning walk and see what's happening around the place, then come back and do some painting or gardening or something.

John bought a big old bag of birdseed recently, and stashed it out in the carport. The next evening we walked out the back door, and our entire garage and driveway were just full of deer. Apparently a few had managed to knock the bag down and tear it open, then, just like a teenager's party with illicit beer, word somehow spread throughout the deer community. There was a party going on, and we were definitely the crashers! John went out the next week and bought some seed in a tightly sealed, hard plastic tub, and this time he stored it on our lower porch, which is completely fenced in except for a small opening at one end where the steps are. The following week, when we were back in Houston, we got a call from our daughter Alexis. She said a raccoon had found the tub and managed to get the lid off, then scattered about half the seed on the porch (who would have thunk?). She ran him off, and sealed it back up again. The next morning she opened her bedroom door, and was about to step out on the porch, when "what to her wondering eyes did appear?" A porch full of deer, and one was staring her right in the face. The rest of them scattered immediately, but he just stood there staring at her for a moment, then actually snorted in her face, before turning and sauntering away. She didn't admit to this, but I bet she almost wet her pants! We now store the birdseed indoors.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

LIFE ON THE PORCH (summer '05)

OK, I've decided that the peace and quiet of a country dawn is a total myth. Peaceful, yes. Quiet? No! If I knew how to identify different bird calls, I could probably list about twenty that I'm hearing right now. First of all, there's the rooster. I thought they only crowed at dawn, but this guy's liable to go off any time of the day. Then there is something honking - I think one of the neighbors must have geese. There are definitely some doves cooing in the mix, and Paula said she heard whip-or-wills. I hear some kind of chattering noise - could be a bird, or maybe cicadas? There are so many others I don't recognize, it's a veritable symphony! Of course, on top of the birds tweeting, there are dogs barking, donkeys braying, horses neighing and an occasional car going by on the highway. The one thing that's missing though, I'm so sad to say, is the sound of our creek. Apparently in the summer, when it hasn't rained much, the water level goes down and it no longer falls over the spillways. I'm so disappointed!

* * * * *

Being here in summer is way different from being here in winter and spring! Number one is the fact that it's hot. Damn hot. Africa hot... Number two is the creek. Apparently June was, like, the driest month in the recorded history of Texas, so the creek has practically no water in it now. So much for that great swimming hole we thought we had discovered. When we first bought the house, we went exploring along the creek. Most of our frontage is a sheer drop straight off the side of the road, but we did find one spot where an almost hidden pathway led somewhat precariously down to the water. There we discovered, much to our delight, a natural stone chute where water gushed down into a nice deep pool - the perfect place from which to launch oneself in a "toob". Along the side of the pool was a broad stone ledge - an ideal place to spread a picnic. Though it was January when we made our discovery, we couldn't resist plopping ourselves down and peeling off our socks, in order to dangle our feet in the frigid water as we imagined all the fun we would have here come summer. Of course, actually having some water in the creek was somewhat critical to this fantasy.

I know John is chomping at the bit for me to get started on landscaping this place, but I'm just not masochistic enough to be out there digging holes in solid rock at this time of year. Besides, I think the wise thing to do is to sit back and study what is already here and watch how it changes through the seasons, before you jump in and start tearing things up. Also, anything I plant right now will probably get torn up if we do the remodeling John has in mind for later, so what's the point? Another downside to summer is that the breezes out on the porch are a lot more scarce, and I find myself wishing that the original owners had installed some ceiling fans out here.

On the plus side are the hummingbirds. They are fabulous, and so much fun to watch. It's almost mesmerizing. Now that John has put up some feeders, there are more than ever. I never knew they talked (or should I say squeaked?) before. Did I mention that they are kind of mean though, and not at all nice about sharing? Another plus is the fresh peaches. Peach ice cream, peach cobbler, peach crisp, peach pie, peaches and cream, peaches with yogurt and granola... I haven't been on my morning walk yet, but I'm sure I will discover some exciting new things when I do. I can't wait to check on the wild grapes I saw down by the creek last time, to see how they are faring. People who say Texas has no seasons must only have been in the cities, and not in the Hill Country. Truth be told, there are more than four. Every time I come here something new is going on, and I can't wait to experience and record it all!

Sunrises are very strange, and not at all what I expected. When I first wake up, it's still completely dark outside, and sort of chilly. While I'm in the kitchen, fixing my tea, I start to notice some streaks of grey in the blackness, then a slash of pink here and there. Before long, it's light enough to make out the trees and the deer, and to see the pages of my notebook, but the sun itself doesn't peek out from behind the hills for another thirty minutes or so. Then suddenly it launches itself up into the sky as if it were being ejected from a toaster - from barely peeking to completely up in sixty seconds flat! At that point you would have to don your dark glasses if you wanted to remain on the porch, and the heat usually drives me inside. It is now mid-August, and for the first time in months, it's fairly pleasant out here - lots of cloud cover and a good little breeze. It almost fools you into thinking that fall isn't that far away. Unfortunately, I've lived in Texas way too long to believe it. The summers here are truly awful, but winter more than makes up for it. I'm praying that autumn makes its appearance here in the Hill Country a bit earlier than it does in Houston (November or December!). I guess I should adopt the European attitude of Salty and Sweet, and try to remember that I would never get such exquisite pleasure from the arrival of fall, if it didn't follow our tortuous summers!

To be continued.....

Monday, November 19, 2007

YOU KNEW HE WAS, continued once more

Well, we had to call a tow truck again yesterday. John went to take some stuff to the dump, then for some unknown reason, he felt the urge to try and see how Tom and Teri managed to get from San Marcos to us, sans pavement. I don't think he ever actually figured it out, bet he did get to drive up the Road from Hell again, and when he was almost to the top, he met another car coming from the opposite direction. There wasn't room for them to pass each other at that point, so John did the neighborly thing and tried to back up out of the way. His reward for that gesture was ending up with his butt in a ditch. Poor baby. He had to walk the rest of the way home in the blazing heat, and then face me and admit what he had been up to. When he called AAA, they told him they would send someone, but it would probably take an hour or more. A couple of hours later we got a call from the driver, to let us know he was fixin' to leave Austin! Of course, since they were sending someone who wasn't even familiar with this area, there was no way to explain where the car was located. When he got close he called again. Then we had to go meet him and lead him to it, so I was lucky enough to get to take yet another spin on my least favorite theme park attraction.

I was very proud of John and the way he handled all of this. Although he's never been one to get mad at me or the kids when we did something dumb, he has always been pretty hard on himself, and a situation like this could have put him in a funk for the entire weekend. I'm not sure whether it's maturity that has made him more mellow, or if it could be the Wimberley Magic at work on him, but somehow he managed to shrug it all off with a grin, saying "Guess I'm going to be in that damn book of yours again, huh?" We were starving by the time it was all over, so we decided to blow off the chores we had planned to do, and drove over to San Marcos instead to eat at one of our favorite little places with the great outdoor courtyard. We took in a movie, then headed back to Wimberley and stopped at the cafe in the square for some Blue Bell ice cream. They have live music outside on the weekends, so we sat on the patio, licking our cones, listening to "The Plucking Idiots", and watching the tourists stroll the square. I tell you what - grabbing a cone in Dallas or Houston was never anywhere near as much fun as this! This rates right up there with the time we had a gelato at a sidewalk cafe in Italy. We ended the day back in our rockers on the front porch, watching the stars come out, and wondering how on God's green earth did we ever get so lucky? You are probably wondering why I didn't flip out when I found out why he was on that stupid road in the first place. Well, what can I say? I knew he was an engineer when I married him.

Friday, November 16, 2007

YOU KNEW HE WAS..., continued (An engineer's version of backyard slip 'n slide!)

My husband is an engineer, as are most of his friends. Although I usually try to avoid making broad generalizations about any one group of people, I will go out on a limb here and say that, in general, there are a few characteristics that engineers hold in common, based on thirty years of close observation. (You probably think I have gone off on a tangent, but bear with me and you will see how this all ties together.) The first thing that comes to mind is that they can be somewhat anal about the organization of their tools and toys. They may be a complete sloth about some things, but as a rule, their CD, DVD and record album collections (which are probably huge) will be sorted by genre, and alphabetized within each category. In their garages and workshops, there will be a place for everything, and everything in its place. The walls will be covered in peg board, the floors will be sealed, and each tool will have a properly labeled home (possibly even with crime-scene-like outlines drawn around them).

Another trait they share is a passion for gizmos. They replace computers, cameras and stereo equipment on an annual basis, because the ones they bought last year are "obsolete". To give you an example, one year my husband asked, on his Christmas list, for a set of bumpers that you place in your garage, to tell you when your cars are pulled in just far enough for the door to shut behind them. When I went to our local auto supply shop to see if they carried them, the salesman said "Sure, but look what else we have - an electronic version that hangs on the back wall, and lights up whenever you car hits just the right spot in the the garage!" At first I was in a quandary, so I weighed my options. Now, on the one hand, I had the basic bumpers, made of hard, solid rubber, that would last forever. They needed no instructions for installation, there were no parts to break, and they were fairly cheap. They had only one job to do, and would do it well, without fail, indefinitely. On the other hand, the electronic version was much more expensive, was probably unreliable, had lots that could break and go wrong, and came with a nice fat instruction book on how to install it. When I looked at the situation that way, it was perfectly clear. "I'll take the electronic one!", I told the salesman. As John opened his package on Christmas morning, I relayed this story to our relatives who were looking on. They burst out laughing, thinking I was just kidding, until they heard John mumble grumpily under his breath, "I just hate it when she's right!"

All this brings me to our good friends Tom and Teri, who came to visit this past weekend. As I always do, I sent them my "Guide to Wimberley" in advance, containing lists of all the fun things to do and good places to eat in the area, as well as detailed instructions for finding our house. We expected them to arrive by 9 or 9:30 pm, and went out on the porch to watch for their arrival. After an hour or so, when there was still no sign of them, I started to get a bit worried. I was just about to go inside to give them a call, when I saw a car pause in front of the house, but it was coming from the wrong direction. Sure enough, it was them. Teri climbed out of the car, looking somewhat bedraggled. I said "What happened? Did you have trouble following my directions?" Tom replied cheerfully, "Oh, we didn't need them. I have this new portable GPS system for my laptop, and it told us exactly how to get here! Boy, you guys are really off the map, aren't you?" Well no, not really. Before I could reply, John said "I can't believe we didn't see you turn into the neighborhood over there. We were sitting on the porch watching for you." Turning to see where John was pointing, Tom said "Oh, I don't think we came in that way." I said "But you had to have!" Teri said "No, it couldn't have been that road. We haven't been on pavement since we passed San Marcos." John and I looked at each other with matching frowns of question, then simultaneously, our eyes grew wide with shock. I turned to Teri and said, "You mean to tell me you came in the back way? On that dirt road? With the giant potholes? In the DARK?!"

The next day, when we took them for a little drive around the area, and Teri saw how close our house was to that nice highway that led straight to town, she started ranting and raving about how Tom refused to even look at the directions I sent them. All he cared about was playing with his new toy! I patted her on the arm and said "Just let it go, Teri. After all, you knew he was an engineer when you married him."

to be continued...

Thursday, November 15, 2007


There are both good and bad points about the location of our house. One of the best things is the view. Our house sits up on the side of a hill, with the porches facing east. The property slopes down and ends in the middle of a creek. Nestled at the bottom of our basin is the Church Lady's house. I call her that because her house was originally a little white country church, which she hauled in and fixed up. She will never know how indebted I am to her, because, as my brother-in-law Bud once said, the scene I look down upon from my upper porch is "straight out of a Larry McMurtry western novel." Her house backs up to the creek, and she has a great little vegetable garden out to the side, with wild pumpkin and squash vines spilling through the fence onto the road. Her place is usually the destination of my early morning walks, and occasionally, if I am lucky, she will have hauled her little antique grocer's stand out to the side of the road, filled it with her excess produce, and attached a hand-written note that says "Help Yourself!"

One plus is that it is fairly easy to tell people how to find our house. We are located just off a main road that connects Wimberley to I-35, and as you turn into the neighborhood, we are directly in front of you, up on the side of the hill. Hard to miss. Another good thing is that although we have a good-sized creek on our property, and can enjoy the sound of it spilling over its little dams, it is located at the bottom of the hill, at the front edge of our property. Because our house is located towards the top of the hill, at the back edge of our four acres, I don't think we need to worry much about the house flooding. There will be times though, when the road into the neighborhood will be impassable, due to its low-water crossings, and we will be more or less stranded until the water level goes down. A neighbor once told us that if we were really desperate, there was actually a back way out of the neighborhood, but the road was "kind of rough". As is common with our Texas country boys, that was a gross understatement. Rough doesn't begin to describe that road. John and I decided to test our escape route one day, and let me tell you, I would have to be a lot more than nervous before I would ever attempt it again - I would have to be in absolute fear for my life. The dirt road was positively riddled with potholes - some of them large enough for a small car to get lost in. When we finally made it to the main road, I realized that I had been holding my breath the entire time, and experienced the same sense of elation I get when disembarking from a theme park attraction that my family coerced me into riding against my will.

To be continued.....

Friday, November 9, 2007

JUST A LITTLE KINKY (summer '05)

I don't know how it is in other states, but in Texas, we take great pride in our "characters". Take Kinky Friedman for instance, who's running for governor of our fine state. (Don't forget, I'm transferring paper journal entries from the last couple of years to blog now, and haven't yet caught up to real time!) I don't know much about his politics, never read any of his books, and doubt if I could name any of the songs he recorded, and yet I'm a huge fan of his, and just stood in line for quite some time in order to shake his hand and get him to autograph an overpriced tee-shirt for me. Why, you might ask? Because he's living his life to the max and grabbing all the gusto he can get. He personifies the George Eliot motto I keep posted by my desk, "It is Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been". When we heard that they were hosting a campaign fund-raiser for him right here in Wimberley at the Wildflower Cafe (who's own motto is Keep Wimberley Wild), we just couldn't resist dropping in. Kinky wasn't the only unabashed character at this function. We had more than a few balding boomers chomping on big cigars. as well as a ZZTop look-alike and a six foot tall, sixty-something biker chick in black leather. We had grandmas and little kids, hippies and hipsters. I guess that's what I love about this place. To quote the cafe owner who was hosting the event - "We not only tolerate eccentricity here in Wimberley, we celebrate it!"

With a campaign slogan like "Why the hell not? How hard could it be?", I had assumed that Kinky was running for office merely as a lark. However, he seemed deadly serious as he told us that he loved Texas with all his heart, but hated the direction its government was heading in, and the fact that it was ignoring Texas' true heroes - the teachers, firemen and policemen. He said that Texas had given him so much, and he just wanted to do whatever he could to help her. You know what? I think I'll have to agree with the used car salesman who said "If that little booger manages to get himself put on the ballot, I just might have to vote for him!"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

DRIVING ME CRAZY (summer '05)

I hate our driveway at Seasonality. No, wait. That's not exactly true. I abhor our driveway at Seasonality. For one thing, it is steep. Really steep. Quite easy to walk down, not so easy coming back up. I wake up in the morning full of energy, and go out for a nice long walk. I'm pretty pooped by the time I get back to the house though, and when I get to the driveway and look all the way to the top, I'm half tempted to call my husband to drive down and get me.

Another problem is that it's made of loose gravel over caliche. The first lesson I learned was never to pause the car on your way up. As our driveway approaches the house, it splits in two, with one branch going in front of the house to a parking area near the lower level entrance. The other branch goes on up behind the house, where you enter the upper level. Well, the first time we came to the house, pulling a U-Haul trailer behind my little truck, my husband paused at the fork while deciding where he wanted to park. Big mistake. It took him fifteen minutes of maneuvering every which way before he finally got enough traction to get it going again. If I had been driving, we would have just had to slide back to the bottom of the hill, but he stayed perfectly calm and proceeded to give me a physics lesson about momentum that I didn't really take in because I was too busy freaking out. Finally he said "Never mind. Just haul ass and keep on going. You'll be fine."

Last but not least, it is fairly narrow, with drainage ditches along either side. Thank goodness we didn't have much stuff, because I'm not sure a full-sized moving van could have made it all the way up. Our friends Paula and Tim were here visiting Saturday, and brought their son and his fiance along. Chase drove them all here in his big one-ton truck with the extended bed. He made it up the driveway just fine, but got kind of jammed in the parking area, without much room to maneuver. When it was time to head out for dinner, Paula made him go down to back the truck out before she would get in. Good thing too, since one wheel ended up going off the edge of the driveway, and the harder he tried to get back on it, the worse things got. (It didn't help that he had eight people up on the porch watching his every move, yelling conflicting instructions at him, and making him very nervous!) When his truck ended up tilted at a 45 degree angle, and looked like it was ready to topple down the hill with him in it, we made him stop and get out, and we called a tow truck.

Now, coming from Houston, where there are usually about 20 tow trucks at the scene of any accident, we were a bit surprised to find only one company listed in the local directory. We were even more surprised when he answered our call with "Yeah, I can come, but I'm in the middle of a baby shower, so you'll have to wait till the shower is over." We tried the next town over, and he said "Sure, I'll have someone there in 45 minutes." Some time later he called back and said "Gonna have to push back that ETA. My driver hasn't shown up yet." Another 45 minutes went by and we called him this time. His answer to our inquiry was "Oh absolutely - he's on his way!" Just as it was about to get dark, we saw a red wrecker whiz by out on the highway. A few minutes later, it passed again, going the other way. Finally it came back, and actually entered the neighborhood, but went right past our driveway. Tim gave up and ran all the way down the driveway, and flagged him down just as he was about to go past us again. They stood there talking for a long time, and we found out later that when the driver saw the truck's position, he almost turned around and left. Tim gave him a pep talk, and a few ideas on how to approach it, and managed to convince him that yes, he really could do this! The women couldn't bear to watch, so we all went inside to wait it out. They did finally manage to pull the truck out of the ditch, but John said there was one point when it looked like both trucks would tumble down the hill, and the truck driver's two kids hopped out of his truck and ran for safety. As they finally drove away, Tim heard one of the kids say "Dad, you didn't charge near enough for that job!" The good news is, now John agrees with me that paving the driveway and putting in a better parking area for guests should be moved up to the number one position on our priority list!

I was thinking this morning about how funny it was that so many people move to the country wanting a slower-paced lifestyle, and then get so irritated when things actually do take longer than they were accustomed to in the city - like our tow-trucks. Living in Wimberley is going to be a lot like living in Indonesia was. We used to tease and say the Indonesians operated on "rubber time", because it was so very flexible! High-powered corporate types who were used to multi-tasking 24/7, and who expected things to be "done yesterday", did not adapt easily to rubber time. John and I were the perfect expatriates, because we are both rather laid back and can usually see the funny side of most of the little calamities that arise. For example, one time our housekeeper accidentally spilled some bleach in with our colored wash. We discovered it just as we were about to head out to a family/teacher volleyball game up at the school yard. We thought it would be pretty funny to show up wearing matching outfits covered in big white blotches. Most people did get a kick out of it. A few thought we should kick our housekeeper out on her ass, even if it was just an accident. Those people should not be living overseas - or in Wimberley. My laid back attitude is coming in quite handy here. For instance, instead of having a hissy fit about tow trucks and trips to the emergency room, I find myself thinking "Yippee! I feel another chapter for my book coming on!" Back in Indonesia, you could almost see which ones would survive, and which ones wouldn't, the minute they stepped off the company plane. All were dead tired after the arduous trip, but most could laugh about it and look upon it as an adventure. Those who got off the plane cursing everything, from the disgusting food to the corrupt customs agents, were in for a rough time. The lady who thought we should have fired our housekeeper was one of those. She had absolutely no sense of humor at all, and her skeletal structure must have been forged from steel, for she was the most inflexible person I have ever met in my life. She practically had to be carted away in a straight jacket after a very brief stay in Indonesia. John and I, on the other hand, had a blast, and our kids look back on it as the most wonderful adventure of their lives. I think we'll do just fine here in Wimberley.

Friday, October 19, 2007

LIFE AT SEASONALITY, Or "Are We Having Fun Yet?" (7/05)

Growing up in Dallas, I was deathly afraid of most everything out of doors. I remember at one point, wishing that we could just pour concrete everywhere, so there would be no more bugs, snakes or poison ivy left to worry about. Eventually, when I had my mid-life transformation and fell madly in love with gardening, I overcame most of those fears, and managed to find a healthy balance between curiosity and self-preservation. For example, when I first saw the throbbing masses of Daddy-Long-Legs spiders that like to congregate in the corners of our porch here in Wimberley, and who have the unnerving habit of doing synchronized, pulsating push-ups whenever humans are near, I found them rather unsettling. However, our friend Tim explained to me that although they have a deadly venom, their mouths are so tiny they are incapable of biting you, and they eat lots of mosquitoes. Now, my buddy Tim is notorious for his hatred of spiders, so if he doesn't mind these, then I can live with them too (although I'm ever watchful for ones with overly large mouths). The same is true for the occasional bat seen lurking up in the eaves. As long as he doesn't try to dive-bomb my Big Texas Hair, I can live with him. But when I came out one morning and found a huge, hairy black spider the size of my fist, I didn't bother to get a closer look to see what kind it was - I just got-the-hell-out-of-Dodge! You see, I have a healthy balance between curiosity and self-preservation.

I sometimes wonder if men aren't genetically deficient when it comes to this trait. Maybe, when God was creating our genetic code, he thought to himself "Well, I only have so much room on this thing. If I'm going to give the males an extra super-duper urge to go out and multiply, I'll have to delete something else. I suppose I can take away some of their common sense, and give it to the females instead. That way, the women will have enough for both of them."

I first started wondering about this dilemma when I heard the story of the ancient countries that had been at war for generations. One day the women on both sides were finally fed up with the situation, and agreed to meet and discuss their options. They made a pact to refuse to have sex with any of the men, as long as the fighting continued. Voila! The war ended.

My doubts were further strengthened when I first saw one of the Darwin Awards books, and realized that the male idiots out-numbered the females about ten to one. My theory was clinched after hearing the stories my husband and his buddies would swap concerning their high school escapades. I mean, who else but a teen-aged boy would run around naked on the roof of the school on Easter Sunday? My daughter has always been rather mature for her age, and had very little patience for the antics of teen boys she knew. One evening at dinner, she was complaining about some who were bragging about getting naked on the roof of the school over the weekend. First my husband's face turned blood red, then we made the mistake of making eye contact, and both burst out in guffaws, spewing food across the table. Alexis just stared in horror, then said slowly, in a voice dripping with disgust "Oh-God-Please-No!" When asked what on earth possessed him to do such an idiotic thing, John replied with a perfectly dead-pan expression "Not much else to do in Odessa on Easter Sunday."

When our friends Mark and Ann, who have lived in the Hill Country for years, first came to visit us at Seasonality, they had lots of good tips to share with us. OK, I could have done without the snake stories, but being a woman with common sense, I just made some adjustments to how I was planning my garden. Originally, I was going to have large island beds packed full with perennials and ornamental grasses. Trouble with that is, they would be perfect hiding places for who knows what, and I would have to be poking my hands into them all the time, in order to trim the perennials. My revised plans are for a xeriscape garden using lots of sculptural plants, with plenty of space between them for me to see where my hands are going!

My husband had a different reaction to their advice. When we were showing them around the property, they pointed to some Salt Cedar plants and said "You'll want to get rid of those. They're pretty invasive." The next day, he went out during the hottest part of the day, and started yanking clumps out with his bare hands. Of course, he was sweating like a pig, so he then used those same hands to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Not long after that, he came into the house complaining that his eyes were starting to burn and water. He took one of his allergy pills, but that didn't help at all, and things went from bad to worse. I took him into town to see the pharmacist, who recommended Benedryl and eye drops. He barely made it through dinner, then said his eyes felt like they were on fire, and he didn't think he could take it much longer. I decided I'd better haul him to the emergency room over in San Marcos, and luckily, they were able to give him some drops to deaden the pain, until the reaction eventually died away.

The next weekend, my common sense approach actually did more harm than good. We were expecting house guests momentarily, when John decided to take his new mucho-macho-weed-whacker out to play, and started chopping down all the tall grasses up close to the house, again in the hottest part of the day. Since my John is a real-men-don't-wear-goggles kind of guy, I wasn't too surprised when he came back in dripping blood a short while later. Apparently, the weed-eater had caused something to fly up and nick the inside edge of his nose. Unfortunately, he's also a cardiovascular disease, blood-thinner taking kind of guy, and when the bleeding still hadn't stopped a half hour later, I started trying every old fashioned remedy I could think of. I made him stick his head down between his knees, had him squeeze his nose shut, and even dropped ice-cold car keys down the back of his shirt. When nothing worked, I called our friendly pharmacist again, and she told me to stuff his nose with cotton and apply ice. Still no luck. Finally I gave my daughter the choice of staying home to entertain our guests when they arrived, or taking John back to the emergency room. She chose to make the ER run. I stood watching them drive down the hill, and just as they reached the main road, she suddenly stopped. I feared that John had started to hemorrhage or had passed out, but the car turned around and made its way back up the hill. Apparently, once John was able to stand up and take his head out from between his knees, the bleeding stopped.

The next day, when we were regaling our guests with this story, they said "Cold keys? Where on earth did you ever get that idea?" Actually, I saw someone do it to my sister Carolyn one time, and it worked like a charm, but as I was recalling this, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps it wasn't for a nose-bleed. Maybe it was for the hiccups. An interesting aside to this story is that by cutting down the grasses around our house, John instigated a massive invasion of scorpions over the next few days. I doubt seriously if those particular house-guests will be back to see us any time soon.

Did I mention the time that I caught him using a big propane blow torch to kill weeds on our property? Luckily, there had been a lot of rain recently, so he didn't burn the entire place down. Unfortunately, once again he wasn't wearing gloves, and the handles of the torch got so cold, they actually burned huge blisters on his palms. I just pray that he doesn't end up as an entry in the next edition of The Darwin Awards.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Well, I was right. Carolyn and I did have a blast while she was here. We did so many fun things - went to play Bingo at the VFW hall (where I won $120!); went to the Corral Theater - an outdoor, walk-in movie theater, where you sit in lawn chairs and a family of four can see a first run movie and get all their snacks for about twenty bucks; went to Wimberley Market Days and shopped 'til we dropped. We tried out several neat restaurants in the area, and went to farmer's markets both here and in Blanco, to get fabulous fresh stuff for our own little front-porch-feasts. In fact, we ate anything we wanted, took naps in the afternoon, and I still managed to lose a little weight at the end of the week! I was amazed - there must be something in the air here that agrees with me. It was very hard going back to Houston at the end of the week, even though I was quite anxious to see John after being apart for almost a month. I'm not a person who shifts gears and focus easily. I seem to really immerse myself in whatever I'm doing, and trying to transition to something else is about like trying to swim up from the bottom of the ocean. Thank goodness I have Mondays off. That gives me a little time to segue back into work mode.

Now that John has started a consulting business, the first adjustment will be getting used to having him work from the townhouse we have rented in Houston. I think I could grow to like it. It's certainly better than having him out of the country all of the time. I don't ever want to get used to that again - way too hard on a marriage! On Monday , we both finished up what we needed to do by mid-afternoon, so we decided to walk over to the hardware store together, then stopped at the gourmet deli next door to get a couple of things to go with our dinner. I started thinking, "Yeah, I could really get used to being right in the middle of things like this, being able to walk to grocery stores, the library, restaurants, ice cream or gelato parlors, or just about anything else I need, having a beautiful pool and park-like area right outside my front door, that someone else has to take care of. This is the life!" I worked Tuesday and Thursday at the nursery, and spent Wednesday meeting with a couple of people who wanted me to do garden designs for them. I got totally immersed in all of that, then suddenly it was Friday, we were on our way back to Wimberley, and I was fretting because I wasn't able to jump right in and start on those designs while everything the clients and I discussed was still fresh in my mind. Paula and Tim are arriving today, and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm sure we will have a wonderful weekend, but by Monday I will probably have forgotten everything the clients said, and will have to do that long swim back up to the surface again. Will I ever get accustomed to making these constant transitions? I'm beginning to wonder.

* * * * *

Sundays just plain suck - trying to psyche myself up for going back to Houston and to work, when I feel like I've just barely arrived in Wimberley and started to settle in. There are so many projects here I'd like to do, people I'd like to get to know, places I'd like to explore. But I never seem to accomplish much of anything before it's time to head back. You spend the first day cleaning, then you have to go to the grocery store, the hardware store, the emergency room (more about that later). Thank goodness we've been able to have three-day weekends of late, so we can get most of that out of the way on Fridays. On Saturday, you have a tug-of-war with your conscience - do I do something from my list of chores and projects, or do I do something fun? Since I'm a firm believer in the "moderation in all things" policy, I try to keep a balance and do a little of both. In fact, I was reading something about Thomas Jefferson recently, where he was describing his life at Monticello, after he retired from politics. He said he had developed a routine where he spent the time from dawn until breakfast on writing and correspondence. The hours between breakfast and lunch were spent working about his property. Afternoons and early evenings were spent visiting and dining with friends. After that, he read until bedtime. Sounds like a brilliant plan to me, and one I hope to adopt when we finally move up here full-time.

But now it's Sunday morning, and time to pack up and head back to Houston. Again I'm torn in two. I don't actually have to work at the nursery on Mondays, so theoretically, I could stay here a day longer. But it's so hard to just jump directly from this life back into my other one. It helps, knowing I still have a day off when I get back, in which to do laundry, pick up around the townhouse, get groceries, and work on garden designs.

* * * * *

My life seems to be just full of transitions these days. I go back and forth between working as a merchandiser at the garden center, doing garden designs, and writing. I go from a townhouse in Houston to a country house in Wimberley. I swing back and forth from having a house full of kids in summer and on holidays, to being an empty nester the rest of the time. How did I get myself into this fix? What was I thinking? Probably this. Life at the townhouse is convenient, but Wimberley feeds my soul. It is now Friday, and normally I am off work from the nursery, but today I have a workshop to go to. The car is loaded though, and the minute I get out, we are heading for the hills. I can't wait. After all, seven days away from the Hill Country makes one weak! All joking aside, being there really does seem to feed and invigorate me. Not just physically, but creatively as well. When I'm up there, ideas are just popping into my head right and left, and I can't seem to get them down on paper fast enough. There's a bit of residual glow left when I first get back to Houston, but then it gradually fades away. I know it's completely gone when I can't think of anything better to do in the evenings than to sit in front of the television.