Saturday, October 13, 2007


Our daughter is now a college freshman, and I am starting to feel old. Things have begun to ache when I get out of bed in the morning. We went to visit Alexis on parent weekend at her school, and all that walking up hills and staircases caused my knee to go out. The doctor says "it's just arthritis". I can't be getting arthritis already - my parents are the ones with arthritis!

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We just found out that John's mother is dying of lung cancer. For years she and John's dad had talked about moving to the Hill Country themselves, where George would renovate an old house and Theda would sell her paintings and woodcarvings in craft shows. Unfortunately, George had a major stroke as soon as he retired, and Theda spent the next seven years caring for him at home. And now, cancer. It just isn't fair! What if that happens to us? What if we just keep talking about moving, but don't actually get around to it, until one day we wake up and realize it's too late - we are no longer physically up to it?

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John has started lusting after a motorcycle. A big Harley Davidson store went in near our house, and he keeps dropping by "just to look". Our dearest friends were in town for a visit last weekend, and while the girls went shopping, the guys went to look at bikes. As we were getting ready for bed that evening, John said "You don't know how close I came to buying a Harley today. I told the guy he would have to throw in a gift certificate to a motel though, 'cause if I bought one, I'd be needing a place to sleep!" I just looked him in the eye and said "You can have a Harley - but not until after we get a place in the Hill Country. I've been dreaming of that way longer than you've been wanting a motorcycle." The very next weekend, he suggested we make a trip down to Wimberley to start looking!



I fell in love with the Texas hill country the minute I set foot on the University of Texas campus in Austin, and I've been trying to get back there ever since. I arrived as a proper young lady in 1971, intending to major in Home Economics and work as a fashion merchandiser until I settled down to become a wife and mother. I started out wearing dresses, stockings and makeup to class every day. I also spent hours trying to tame my naturally curly hair into a sleek do. Then I discovered freedom.

Austin in the 70's was a place of new ideas: women's rights, anti-war demonstrations, environmental issues, vegetarians and health foods, street vendors and hippies. I never quite went so far as to become a real hippie (just couldn't get into that free love and drugs stuff) but I certainly sympathized with many of their issues, and it wasn't long before the dresses and stockings were discarded in favor of jeans, sandals, peasant blouses and wild curly hair.

Career plans got sidetracked when I fell in love with an engineering student who happened to be a waiter in my dorm. We married the minute I graduated, and began the nomadic life of oil company employees. As we moved from Indonesia to Bahrain, we talked about someday finding jobs in the Austin area and moving back. When we lived in Houston, then in west Texas, we took frequent weekend trips to the hill country with our two children. We went rafting and "toobing", and explored the many small towns in the area, to see which were our favorites. When we moved back overseas, we talked about buying a little cottage in the hill country, to use as our home base during our lengthy home visits each summer. We somehow never got around to it, but I never gave up on the idea. Meanwhile, I became obsessed with reading books about people who were actually living "the good life" - people like Helen and Scott Nearing in Vermont, Eliot Colemon and Barbara Damrosch in Maine, Frances Mayes in Tuscany and Peter Mayle in Provence. And I kept dreaming.

All of this reading eventually led to an epiphany - an honest-to-goodness, gen-u-ine, life altering revelation. One day I was standing in front of my bookcase, gazing at all of my favorites, and thinking about what I had learned from each. Suddenly it occurred to me that there was a common thread running through them all - something I dubbed "seasonality". For instance, in her book Simple Abundance, Sarah ban Breathnach taught me that by bringing the seasons indoors to decorate my home, I would rarely grow tired of where I lived. Eliot and Barbara, who's TV show Gardening Naturally had so inspired me, taught me that just as it's easier to write sonnet than free verse, it is also easier to cook well with seasonal limitations, for they spur one's imagination. Ferenc Mate told me, in his book A Reasonable Life, that if we ate only "what is grown within a thousand miles of our bloody little houses", we might have the great pleasure you get from expectation and waiting, that special joy you feel on Christmas morning. Now if only we could find a place in the hill country, and put into practice all this new found wisdom!

Next thing you know, we were back in the states, our kids were in junior high and high school, and again we were spending all of our free time heading to hill country towns like Boerne, Fredericksburg, Blanco and New Braunfels. Each town has a distinct flavor all its own. One is very German - a great place to eat sausage and dance to an oom-pah band. Another is the best place to go rafting, but the area we felt most drawn to was the area around Wimberley, midway between two college towns. It seemed to be the area that attracted the glass-blowers, the potters, the musicians and bona fide characters. In fact, it was easy to imagine that many of the hippies who sold jewelry and crafts on "The Drag" in Austin during the 70's, were still alive and well in Wimberley! (I never saw quite so many vegetarian dishes on restaurant menus anywhere else.) I admit I had harbored some ambiguity about moving to a small town. I longed for the sense of community and the slower lifestyle they seemed to offer, but worried that we might also run into narrow-mindedness and prejudice - two things we had tried very hard not to teach our kids. With so many artists and environmentalists living in the area, I felt hopeful that we could have the best of both worlds here.

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When we were taking our daughter Alexis around to visit different colleges, two of her possibilities were in the hill country. One was the University of Texas in Austin. The other was Texas State University, in San Marcos. John and I both went to UT, and adored it, but it was a very different place thirty years ago. We thought it was humongous at 30,000 students, but that was nothing compared to the size it is now. The town of Austin is nothing like I remember it either. In fact, it's not a town anymore. It's a huge bustling city, with all the traffic and woes that go along with that.

When it came time for Lex to go tour the Texas State campus, John was tied up with work and couldn't get away. I had driven there from Dallas before, and it was just a straight shot down I-35, but I had no idea how to get there from our new home in Katy, so I went on-line and downloaded some instructions. We set out bright and early on a beautiful, sunny day, and went zipping along I-10 until we hit the town of Luling, famous for their annual Watermelon Thump festival (they even have a water tower that looks like a gigantic melon). At this point, our instructions said to exit I-10 and turn left, so we did. Then we drove, and we drove, and we drove, until finally I realized something had to be wrong. At last we came to a little filling station out in the middle of nowhere, and I stopped to go in and ask for assistance.

The lady behind the counter was chatting with a couple of cowboys when I walked through the door, but they all turned their attention on me as I approached the counter. When I asked if this was the road to San Marcos, the men started to grin. The lady asked, in her slow, Texas drawl, "Jew git those duh-rek-shuns awf that inner-nay-ut?" When I said yes, all three started chuckling, and she said "That figgers". Apparently I'm not the first to make this mistake, and we should have turned right at Luling, not left. I got back into the car, told Alexis what she had said, and we retraced our steps. Later, when John called to check on us, Lex told him of our misadventures. Since she hadn't gone into the filling station with me, I was shocked to hear her do a perfect imitation of the lady's Texas twang. I said "Oh my gosh, that's exactly what she sounded like! How did you know?" She got a funny look on her face, then replied "Mom, I wasn't imitating her. I was imitating you!" Well, shee-yut. Guess I've been back in Texas just a mite too long.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Well, that winds up my Beginner's Guide to Living the Good Life. Now it's time for me to figure out how to practice what I preach, as we move on to Part II of this blog, Seasonality in the Texas Hill Country.


I have been studying the people I come across - who is consistently happy, who is not - and I have come to the conclusion that too many people lead bulimic lives. No, they don't have eating disorders. They live their lives in a bulimic fashion - feast or famine, binge and purge, drought then deluge. They go to jobs they can barely tolerate, day after day, month after month, until they just can't take another day, then they blow a month's salary on a one week escape to paradise, so they can forget about it all. Trouble is, coming back is just such a bitch! Why do they put up with jobs they can barely stand? Because they are making big bucks. Why do they need big bucks? To afford the big escape, the big house, the big whatever. Of course, I am not talking about people who are just barely scraping by. I'm talking about people who actually have choices - people like you and me.

Maybe they do have an eating disorder, but it's not the one you have read about. It's the one where you don't get any real joy from your food. The one where you are always grabbing something on the run, or at your desk, or in front of the TV. Or maybe you think you are too fat, so you go on whatever plan is the current rage, and convince yourself that you can live without chocolate or peanut butter or wine for the rest of your life. You eat nothing but packaged, processed, frozen crap, that's been nuked in the microwave, for weeks on end until one day you just snap. Then you go nuts and eat everything that isn't nailed down, until you've not only gained back all the weight you lost, you've added a few additional pounds as well.

Personally, I prefer a life that has a little more balance to it, and I refuse to deny myself anything that I truly love or need - like chocolate. I have always been a big fan of the eating program that allows you to eat anything you want, as long as you control your portion size and don't go over a certain number of points each day. At first you tend to blow most of your points on junk, and then wonder why you are still so hungry and unsatisfied at the end of the day. Then gradually, you come to realize that if you use your points wisely, you can eat wonderful, satisfying, healthy meals, and still enjoy such treats as wine and peanut butter. No, I will never wear a bikini again (probably shouldn't have even when I was a teen!), but I'm about as healthy as you can get. I'm in my mid-50's now, get plenty of exercise by doing fun stuff that I enjoy, such as gardening or taking long walks in the Hill Country, don't have to take any medications whatsoever, and haven't needed any surgeries since my last baby was born twenty two years ago. I've found a balance I can live with, and I look forward to dinner every night with great enthusiasm, because I know it will be something delicious and satisfying and the happy highlight of my family's day.

We have never been in the habit of taking big vacations every year either, although we could probably afford it if we were careful with our pennies. It's not that I don't like to travel, because I do. It's just that I prefer to enjoy life every single day, and not just one week out of the year. Every day I try to find some balance between doing icky stuff and pleasant stuff. For every item that I manage to cross off of my nasty chore and errand list, I allow myself an equal amount of time doing something from my "fun list". Do a load of laundry, then I can read a chapter from my current novel or mystery book. Mop the floor, then I get to sit down with a cup of chai and the newest decorating magazine that just came in the mail. Run several crummy errands, then reward myself with a trip to the library or garden center. Cook really good meals for my family two or three nights in a row, then we get to go out for dinner, and I don't even have to come up with an excuse. We take several little weekend getaways throughout the year, and when we do take a longer vacation every few years, I don't even mind coming home afterwards, because I'm coming back to a life that doesn't suck!