Saturday, March 8, 2008

GUINNESS (11/07)

It's time to face facts. We are officially empty-nesters now. When Austin first went away to college, he came home way too often to hang out with all his buddies and girl "friends" who were still in high school, and the nest just didn't seem all that empty. Naturally, those visits got further and further apart as time wore on, but then he would be home full-time in the summers and for holidays. Last summer, though, he was off in Germany studying, and now he has an internship at HP, so I doubt if he will be home at all next summer. Between the job and his studies, we can barely get him to answer emails these days, and with Alexis off in San Diego, the nest is beginning to feel very empty indeed. It has made us suddenly nostalgic for the good old days when they were small, and has started us thinking about grandbabies. Since we are old-fashioned enough to believe it is preferable to get them married off first, and since neither of them is even in a relationship right now, we may have a while to wait.

In the meantime, John has turned his attention to the next best thing - wanting a puppy. Since he was never actually in charge of any of our previous dogs, it is easy for him to just remember the pleasant things about pet-ownership, and gloss over the not-so-pleasant. I remember it all. Quite vividly. So, each time he brings it up, I tell him "Fine, you can go get one any time you want. But just remember, this time it is your dog. That means I get to take it on walks when I feel like it, or snuggle and play with it whenever I'm in the mood, and the rest of the time I get to ignore it and all of its messes completely. And I don't have to take it to the vet or make arrangements for it when we want to go out of town on the spur of the moment. Comprendez?" Somehow, in his mind, that translates to "My wife is mean. She won't let me have a dog." He probably would have bought one eventually, but then something wonderful happened. Guinness!

Now that Austin has some money coming in, and an apartment, he decided it was time that he had a dog. He went to the SPCA and found a precious little reddish-brown, short-haired female mutt, and named her after his favorite beer. Finally I know what my father-in-law meant when he said "If I'd known how much fun they would be, I would have skipped over having kids, and gone straight for grandkids!" It didn't take but five minutes for us to fall madly in love with her, but seeing the hoops that she has put Austin through brought the reality of pet-ownership back into clear focus - especially for John. Hearing Austin talk about sleeping on the floor next to her all night long when she was sick, had me thinking "Better you than me!" It still hurt, to hear about her misery, but it wasn't near as gut-wrenching as being there in person, with those poor little puppy dog eyes looking up at you pleadingly, and feeling completely helpless. And hearing about Austin's trip back to school with her, immediately after she had been spayed, when he had to gently lift her out of a crate full of poop and barf, so as not to disturb her stitches, had John practically gagging in sympathy. We were hoping she would outgrow her severe motion sickness, but it has been a continual problem. The vet was able to prescribe something for the vomiting, but she still floods Austin's car with drool each time they have to go anywhere (a side effect of motion sickness in dogs). He hates to put her through it, and the pills are outrageously expensive, so they stick pretty close to home.

Needless to say, we were ecstatic when he called out of the blue last week, to say that he and Guinness needed a break, and wanted to meet us in Wimberley. John and I almost fought over who got to take her out for walks and potty breaks, and even enjoyed it when she dragged Austin out of bed at the crack of dawn, and he proceeded to bring her upstairs to our bedroom and encouraged her to leap up into the middle of our bed. Still, we are also quite happy that it's not our faces that she is whacking with her big paws every singe morning, and that we are not the ones desperately trying to figure out what to do with her over the holidays, when we want to go somewhere that she can't come along. Yep - being a grandparent is gonna be great!

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Talk about a sea change! Being away from Wimberley for five weeks had me going through more mood swings than a menopausal woman, and had poor John walking on eggshells. However, the minute we drove over the magic pass that leads into Wimberley from San Marcos, I could feel the clouds being lifted. As we stepped through the front door, I had an overwhelming sense of coming home, and couldn't resist shouting "I love you, little house! I'm so happy to see you again!" Then I turned to John and asked "Do you know how much I love this little house?" He replied "Yeah, 'fraid so."

On our way to dinner, we passed my favorite little stone house that looks as if it has been there forever, and I cried out "I just love that old cistern, with its little windmill. Can you take a picture of that for me someday? And that old stone wall. I adore that old stone wall!" After dinner we returned home, and as we turned into the neighborhood, we passed a property that used to be a B&B, and who's current owners happen to keep some goats. When I caught sight of them, I squealed "And those tree-climbing goats, too! I'm just mad about those tree-climbing goats. Could you please get me a picture of one of them some day? I would love to have one hanging in the house." John replied "I promise, you will get your dang goat picture one of these days." Yes, it's good to be home.

Did I ever tell you about Pearl? There's an artist here named Betty Rhodes, who does impressionistic oil paintings. I happened across her work at the Wimberley Square Gallery. Although she does all sorts of paintings, the ones that really grabbed me and wouldn't let go were her paintings of goats. One in particular kept calling to me. Her name was Pearl, and the picture was a close-up of her little face. I really wanted that painting, but unfortunately, the gallery wanted about five times more than I was willing to pay. That's when I started pestering John to take a photo of one of our neighbor's goats for me.

* * * * *

Since I spend most of my time analyzing and writing about others, especially poor John, I suppose it's only fair that I occasionally turn the magnifying glass upon me and my foibles. For example, I can be notoriously slow on the uptake. Our kids love to tell jokes, then look over at my confused expression, and make that hand motion that implies something swooshing straight over my head. I really hate that hand motion. Also, I frequently miss things that are staring me straight in the face, especially if my mind is elsewhere. On more than one occasion, I have stood there staring at John for a while, then said "You look different today, but I can't put my finger on it. Did you get a haircut or something?" Then he tells me that he has shaved off the beard and mustache that he has kept for over a decade. A friend from college came to visit once. After taking one look at John, she turned to me and exclaimed "You didn't tell me he was bald now!" My reply was "He is?"

I have also been in deep doo-doo on numerous occasions, when I have gone out of town for a couple of days. I would come back, and immediately zero in on the fact that the sink was full of dirty dishes and the laundry hamper was overflowing, but somehow overlook the new flower bed that had been installed or the new computer sitting on my desk. Fortunately, I eventually learned to recognize certain warning signals that helped keep me out of trouble. First, I must pay close attention if John is walking along beside me, then suddenly stops dead still for no apparent reason. If he then stops talking, and begins staring at me intently, possibly with a little smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth, I should begin scanning the area immediately! If I do not spot whatever it is quickly enough, he will develop that nervous twitch, where his head tilts to one side and tries to direct my gaze. If' I'm completely oblivious and miss all these signals, his eyes will widen and his brows will arch up, as if to say "WELL?"

Yesterday was one of those when I completely missed all of John's signals. He even went so far as to tell me to go turn on the little lamp in the corner, before we left for dinner, which was quite out of character for him. I went to the lamp, and then was distracted by an electrical outlet that was dangling from the wall by its wires. I came back towards John, and started to ask him about the outlet, when I realized that he was staring at me with a God-You-Are-Hopeless look on his face. He grabbed my shoulders and marched me back to the lamp, and that is when I started screaming. For there on the wall staring back at me, just above the lamp and dangling socket, was Pearl.

I spent the rest of the evening sitting next to Pearl, just gazing at her precious face. That's when it finally dawned on me, what it must have been that drew me to her in the first place. She is staring back at me intently, head tilted to one side, a slight smirk on her lips, and brows lifted, as if to say "WELL?"

LEAN ON ME (9/07)

Woo Hoo! I have my house back! Want to know the definition of true friends? True friends are people whom you can call up and say "Don't you want to come visit us in Wimberley this weekend? Oh, and by the way, while you are here, would you mind helping to unload that big container full of furniture in our driveway, and putting our house back together?", and their reply is an enthusiastic "Sure, we'd love to!" Paula and Tim are those kinds of friends.

They showed up at noon yesterday, bearing hamburgers for our lunch. Immediately after eating, John and Tim went to work bringing all of the furniture in, and Paula and I got to visit for a while on the upstairs porch. When they had the last piece in place, the men retired to the downstairs porch, and Paula and I started putting lamps and gee-gaws back in place, making beds, putting books on shelves and pulling the kitchen back together. Once we had finished with all of that, it was time to get cleaned up. We reconvened upstairs for a little wine and cheese, while we deliberated over the most important decision of the day - where to eat dinner.

It took some time, but we finally decided on The Leaning Pear Cafe, which opened this past March in a little 19th century stone building down on River Road. Apparently the young owners chose that name as a derivative of "the leaning pair". At the same time that they were trying to get the restaurant up and running, the husband had a serious health scare (the same one that Paula and Tim had early in their marriage), and they were forced to lean upon one another in order to get through it all. They have embraced the eating seasonally and locally philosophy, have put a lot of effort into making contact with local farmers and cheese-makers, and have even installed a galvanized metal cistern, to keep their garden quenched. Everything they serve is delicious, but their innovative soups (different ones each day) are the bargain of the century. Opening a restaurant in a small town like Wimberley is always a risky venture, but I'm happy to say, it looks like the Leaning Pear is here to stay.

After dinner we came back to the house. The Sanfords have been dying to try out our fire pit ever since it was completed, but each time they came, we were either under a burn ban, it was blazing hot, or it was pouring down rain. Since the temperature had dropped down into the "frigid" seventies when the sun went down, we all agreed that it was time to break in the pit. We stayed out there watching the stars come out, swapping tall tales, enjoying our good friends and good life, until the fire was nothing but a few glowing embers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Things always look brighter when the weather starts to turn, and it is absolutely delicious out here this morning. It may climb up to around 90 by this afternoon, but right now it's closer to 60, and I am loving it - feels like fall! August seems to last forever in Houston, and September is even worse. By then the rest of the country is getting a break in temperatures, but there the nighttime lows are still in the 80's. However, here on the porch it feels just luscious, and my mood barometer has swung back to its usual Little-Mary-Sunshine position.

I've been thinking about our good friends Jack and Alma - the first ones I ever met who were actually living the good life - my role models. I never realized until now just how much our lives have paralleled one another. I met John when I first got to college, at the ripe old age of seventeen. I had barely been outside of Texas when he married me and whisked me off to live in Indonesia. I believe Jack was just out of college himself when he met his young Cajun sweetheart at a dance in Houma, Louisiana, and carried her off to travel the world. Like us, they had a daughter first, then a son, and the kids became quite adaptable, moving every couple of years as their fathers worked their way up the corporate ladder. The kids became adolescents, and Alma and I both learned what it was like to be part-time single parents, as our husbands had to spend more and more time traveling overseas. I would imagine we both spent a lot of time day-dreaming about the day when all of that would finally change.

When Jack and Alma were in their mid-50's, Jack took early retirement, and they moved to the countryside outside of Lafayette to build their dream-house. Jack returned to his Iowa farm-boy roots by planting a huge garden, and kept Alma supplied with wonderful fresh produce to use in her fabulous Cajun cooking. Alma returned to her roots by joining up with a group of ladies who met weekly to practice their French - the language of their forebears. They both became very active in their church and in the small community of Sunset, and were part of the instigating force behind getting a local lending library off the ground. Jack accepted the occasional odd consulting job at first, but when it started to feel as if he was back to working full-time, he finally decided to retire for real.

They had twenty wonderful years in Sunset, but when they were in their mid-seventies, after one too many hurricanes had swept through Louisiana and left them a huge mess to clean up, they decided it had become too much for them to handle at this point in their lives. Selling the place just about broke their hearts, and the move almost gave Alma a nervous breakdown, but they made the transition amazingly well. They now have a beautiful home in the heart of Lafayette, much closer to old pals and activities, and have become friends with everyone in their new neighborhood. Jack still has a beautiful garden, they both volunteer and attend an exercise class, and they are the healthiest, most active octogenarians I've ever come across, still traveling from one end of the country to the other to visit friends and family, and to take the occasional Elder Hostel trip. My idols.

If you had asked me five or six years ago, when John had to undergo angioplasty two years in a row, I wouldn't have given you two cents for the odds that we would ever make it to Wimberley. I was convinced that I would be widowed young, and that I would be stuck in the suburbs forever. However, since buying this place, John has passed all of his stress tests with flying colors. If I can just get him retired from his angst-laden career and moved up here, I think his health will improve even more. I see no reason why we can't expect a good ten or fifteen years together here, which is a hell of a lot longer than we've ever lived anywhere else, and I am determined not to waste another minute of it worrying about "What if?" When it finally becomes too much for us, then I can only pray that we will handle the transition half as beautifully as Jack and Alma did.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


You can tell it's fall now, not by the weather, but by the fact that when I come out here on the porch each morning, I'm having to wait longer and longer before it's actually light enough to see the notebook in my hands and begin writing. That's OK with me though. While I am waiting, with nothing to see but the stars and nothing to hear but the creek and cicadas, it forces me to become very still. It's my Hill Country version of yogic meditation, I suppose.

Unfortunately, this morning my mind is drifting in very depressing directions. It was probably triggered by the TV incident last night. There was a new series starting that John wanted to see, and it's a good thing we got back from dinner a little early, because when he first tried to turn the TV on, he couldn't get a picture. I sat there watching as this gizmo guru had to juggle back and forth between several different remotes, try a zillion different button combinations, and go back and forth between all the different pieces of equipment, turning things on and off, on and off, before he finally hit on the right combination a good fifteen minutes later. I turned to him in panic and said "You absolutely cannot die before me. I forbid it! If you do, I will have to gather up everything electronic we own, dump it out in the front yard, and just stick a sign up that says 'Free For The Taking'."

Now I am sitting here, thinking about all the other responsibilities related to this four acres - the well, the septic system, the garden we have yet to put in, the porch rails that are already covered in mold, even though they were just painted recently, the porch floor and the asphalt driveway that both need to be resealed, the gravel section of the driveway that needs to be graded and topped up, the water catchment system that needs to be installed and maintained. The list goes on and on, and then it starts all over again in the blink of an eye. Could I take care of all this if something happened to John, and I was on my own? Would I even want to? Where else could I live that would be as inspiring, but less of a burden? There's not exactly a lot to choose from here in Wimberley, that's in town and affordable. Would I have to go somewhere else? Would the kids ever forgive me if I sold this place? Would the grandkids want to come visit if I lived in a boring place full of old folks? Hoo-wee! Mamma's got de blues.

Monday, March 3, 2008

NEW EYES (9/07)

As we inched ever closer to John’s possible retirement, I found myself studying him, wondering how he would adjust to our new life in Wimberley. So many men of our parent’s generation did not transition well from career to retirement, and now I’m beginning to see that same difficulty amongst our contemporaries.

It’s a very hard thing to predict. My father worked seven days a week from the time he was about 14 years old. He didn’t read for pleasure, he didn’t have hobbies, and he didn’t have many close friends. The only things he did for fun were spend time with family, play cards occasionally, and take an annual fishing trip to Colorado. I could never imagine him not working, but guess what? He absolutely adored retirement! Come to find out, the only reason he never read or had hobbies was that in his entire life, he had never had what you would call leisure time. Once he was finally free to do as he pleased, he became an avid gardener, joined a bowling league, played bridge with friends twice a week, and read everything he could get his hands on - even my mother’s romance novels!

John’s father was another story altogether. He was a devoted golfer and had a wonderful workshop in his garage where he built furniture and grandfather clocks. Everyone always said George would be the perfect retiree since he had so many things that he enjoyed doing. However he loved his job as well, and seemed in no hurry to leave it. We were all taken completely by surprise when he announced one day, with no warning whatsoever, that he had taken early retirement. That was nothing, however, compared to the shock we got when he proceeded to plant his rear in his lounge chair, and gave up all of his hobbies. The mystery of his strange behavior was not unraveled until he had his first major stroke a couple of years later, and doctors explained to us that he probably had been having small ones for quite some time. Perhaps confusion at work, or near accidents in his workshop, and an effort to hide them from others, had led to the decisions he made. If only he had sought help when he first noticed the symptoms, he might have avoided, or at least postponed, the major stroke that left him completely helpless for seven years, and totally destroyed his and Theda’s plans for a happy retirement.

John surprises me continually. If we had stayed in Houston, I think he might have ended up much like his father. However, buying this house in Wimberley, in order to fulfill my dreams, seems to have altered his course even more than mine. In Houston, after our son left for college, John began paying someone to do the yard, and was content to spend his weekends in a chair, either in front of the TV or at his computer. He also spent way too much time, at least in my opinion, sleeping. Once we got the Wimberley house, the tables started to turn. Suddenly I had to make him come inside during the hottest part of the day, and I was trying to convince him that it was a waste of time to be out there digging holes for shrubs until we could be here full-time to take care of them. He turned to me in frustration one day and said “You just don’t understand! I can’t sit around doing nothing while we are here. I need projects!” All I could do was stare at him, mouth agape, and think “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?” His activity levels aren’t the only thing to have been affected, though. Wimberley also seems to have unleashed his inner artist.

When we were first married and living in Indonesia, John bought a 35mm camera and started piddling around with photography. He even had a darkroom set up for a while, but after we had kids and his career kicked into high gear, he no longer had the time or the inclination. Suddenly, after all this time, he’s pulling out the camera again. Even more surprising, he’s hopping out of bed at dawn and running down the road to catch a shot of the mist rising off the creek, or he’s tearing off in the car to go back to a place he spotted the day before, hoping that the light will be better this time. When I was driving us back to Houston last week, he was dozing in the passenger seat next to me. When he awoke, he caught a glimpse of some clouds through the window, and suddenly he grabbed his camera, rolled down the window, and became completely engrossed with snapping photos of some formation that had sparked his imagination. I just smiled, and said “You’re looking at the world with brand new eyes, Babe!”


Since there is not much to do in an empty house, we decided to head over to Austin yesterday, in search of amusement. Now, in Houston, we had something very cool called the Art Car Parade. Basically, a bunch of crazy people decorate cars or build strange vehicles from scratch, then drive them very slowly (because that’s all they are capable of) down Allen Parkway, while hoards of people cheer them on. Surprisingly, the vehicles are not really the main attraction. It’s the people that are attached to them. You usually have a driver and several groupies, dressed to match the theme of the vehicle, who walk alongside it and ham it up for the crowds, occasionally tossing out treats. I used to think it was just about the most fun parade ever, but that was before I discovered the Red Bull Flugtag. If you were to take all of the Art Car vehicles, add wings to them, and shove them off of a thirty foot ramp, into a lake or river, that would be flugtag. And, lucky for us, it was held right here in Austin this year. Once again, we discovered that it was the people, not the vehicles, who made this an event worth attending. While Corey Morrow entertained on stage, and John wandered from one flying contraption to the next, snapping photos, I found a nice shady area back in the trees where I could sit and watch as an endless stream of lunatics paraded past me - everything from cowboys with giant cockroaches, to prancing goats, hillbillies and leprechauns.
When it was time for the entrants to begin lining up for takeoff, John and I returned to the viewing area up on a bridge that had been closed to traffic just for this event. It would have been perfect, except for one or two minor things. First of all, I’m certain it must have been 110 degrees in the shade that day, if there had been any shade on that bridge, which there was not. Second, it felt as if tens of thousands of people were crammed onto the bridge, with their stinky, sweaty bodies smashed up against ours. Just when I thought I could not take another minute of it, I noticed that down on the shore, opposite from the takeoff ramp, there were a few nice, shady spaces tucked between clumps of shrubs and trees, where one might sit on the bank and enjoy the show. John and I decided to check it out. Quite a few people had got there well before us, spread their blankets and set up their coolers and lawn chairs, but there was still room for us to stand up behind them and get a good view. Best of all, it was blessedly cool compared to the bridge. Just as we were patting ourselves on the back, to congratulate ourselves on finding the perfect spot, a party boat floated into view, and parked itself directly in front of us, blocking everyone's view. Talk about an angry mob! Some of these people had staked out those spots hours before, and were not willing to surrender without a fight. They began shouting “Move that Boat! Move that Boat!” When that didn’t work, they tried “Capital Cruises Suck!”, and other things that I’d best not mention. Finally one guy stripped down to his shorts and actually swam out to the boat, and explained to them that if they just moved one length to either side, they would be sitting in front of shrubs and not blocking anyone’s view. Alas, his pleas fell on deaf Red Bull VIP ears. When someone picked up a beer bottle and hurled it towards the boat, John and I decided it was time to leave. We wandered back up to street level, and managed to see one or two take-offs, both of which did nosedives straight into the water, then decided that since there was such a long wait between each take-off, and since we were so blasted hot, maybe we’d had enough fun for one day. Afterwards we wandered over to the Hickory Street Grill and had supper out on their shaded deck, which had two major things going for it, neither of which was it’s food. First there were fans that not only created a nice breeze, but also emitted a cooling mist. Second, and most importantly, since we were outdoors, and the tables weren’t too close together, it didn’t matter that we were quite sweaty and stinky ourselves!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

THE BLOB (8/07)

I am adrift in a velvet vastness, alone on my own tiny planet. A roaring mass hurtles towards me. I catch sight of the barest twinkle as it thunders past, then all is once again still, save for the sound of the Milky Way spilling over it's little waterfall. Was it a shooting star I glimpsed? Nah, it was just a car up on the highway. I'm sitting on the porch, just before sunrise, and the fog is thick as grits this morning. I can just see the outlines of the trees that are right up next to the porch, but beyond that, nothing but grey.

Good news - we finally have a roof! Unfortunately, they haven't refinished the floors or repaired the water-damaged walls, so we are still camping out downstairs in the guest room, and everything from upstairs is still sitting in the rented container out on our driveway, in the blazing August heat. I'm pretty sure I now have a bunch of melted make-up in one of my dresser drawers, but I can't remember if I left a bar of dark chocolate in my desk or not. I have visions of John unlocking the doors on the container, when at last the floors are dry, and having a molten mass of glass and plastic come oozing out at his feet. Guess that would help solve the dilemma of how we are ever going to fit two houses worth of stuff into just this one. The contractor stopped by yesterday and said the floor guy should be here on Monday, and it should only take him two or three days to refinish the floors, then his wall crew can come in and finish up. Now John has visions of us coming back up here next weekend and spending Labor Day (how appropriate) moving everything back into the house. I say, don't hold your breath.