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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Texas Wave, or The Other One-Finger Wave

The Texas wave is a road greeting, usually between strangers.   It consists of lifting the index finger off the steering wheel as you cross paths with an oncoming vehicle.  You never see the Texas wave in cities, but it's universal on rural roads, at least in Texas.  I don’t know about other states.  The wave involves very little actual motion and is never accompanied by a smile or any other change in facial expression, although someone disposed to be extra-friendly might add a casual nod. 

The Texas wave is also seen on long stretches of highway in sparsely populated areas, like West Texas, where the sight of another human being is infrequent enough to trigger a gesture of polite acknowledgement. 

Of course, in the city the most common gesture is the third finger wave.  Congested traffic and frayed nerves tend to ignite more negative emotions.  But out in the country, we are still glad to see each other, if only in passing.

I'm curious - is the Texas wave common in other states?  Is there a road greeting unique to your area?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bellydance Recital Looms Ahead

My blog description states that my goal is to dance in the recital, and it looks like that will happen.  I’m looking forward to it with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.
With less than three months to go, Miss K is getting serious about rehearsals.  She sent out a firmly worded email to everyone who signed up to be in the recital, known as GBDAC (Give Belly Dance a Chance).  Her message had three major points:
(1)    Attendance becomes critical from now on.  “Your fellow dancers will be relying on you to be there so that they can be sure of their spacing and so that I can be mindful of the overall look.”
(2)    She will need to start calling individual corrections, “e.g., ‘Harriet, keep your arms up!’  I won’t be ugly….just direct and efficient.  If you are going to have a problem with that, let me know now….” 

(3)    Trust her judgment when lining up dancers for a choreography.   “I will make sure everyone gets a chance to be seen…but I also have to make sure that those who know the dance best and execute the steps cleanly are in critical places.”  She added that it’s a big stage and everybody will be a star.

The last two points are apparently sensitive issues with some students.  I was a little surprised about that.    

For instance, about point No. 2 - I mean, don’t you expect some correction?  She’s the teacher, and you’re the student, right?  True, we are not used to being corrected by Miss K.  She doesn’t take the time to make individual corrections during regular classes.  She knows exactly what she’s going to cover, has the music ready, and barrels through class like a freight train.  You just hang on for dear life.  Barring someone collapsing onto the floor, which hasn’t happened yet (and if it did, that someone would probably be me), nothing slows down the class.  I like that.  We learn more, drill more, and it’s a great cardio workout.  I’ve been in classes where the teacher goes around to every student to make adjustments, or she stands around deciding what to do next or looking for music, and a lot of time gets wasted. 

About point No. 3 - I didn’t realize we had prima donnas in our midst.  They must be among the advanced dancers.  Those of us who are still on the bottom rungs of the belly dance ladder want to be as inconspicuous as possible.  We’d all be in the back row if we could.

Miss K wrapped up her message with some inspirational cheerleading:

“Over the years, I have watched the attitudes of the public shift in our favor.  While some will always question the art of belly dance, many have come to appreciate it.  It is – I believe – because of well-rehearsed presentations like GBDAC that this has happened.  So we’re going to have a blast!!  AND we’re on an eternal mission!!

On with the show!!!” 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Feasting and an Easy Snack Recipe

We spent a pleasant Easter Sunday afternoon with my husband’s family.  His mom was recently widowed, so it’s her first big holiday alone.  I’m lucky to have such nice in-laws – not a mean one in the bunch.  After lunch we settled in the living room to chat.  But when James and his brother launched into a long conversation about cars, my mind drifted and, eventually, so did my body – back to the kitchen. 

I overate in a big way yesterday.  Mashed potatoes, ham, brisket, seven-layer salad with guacamole, cheese-and-broccoli casserole, key lime pie, cupcakes with jelly bean "eggs" on top.  (I didn't eat any cupckaes, but made up for it with three slices of key lime pie.)  My contribution was deviled eggs and fresh asparagus.  I wasn’t sure James’ family would be keen on asparagus, so I thought about making some Hollandaise sauce to go with it.  Anything tastes good with a dollop or two of Hollandaise sauce.  So I got online to look up recipes.  They all looked pretty simple and called for only a few ingredients, all of which I actually had on hand.  Then I looked at the nutritional information.  I was aghast.  Each serving was loaded with 465 calories!  I didn’t think it was possible to cram that many calories into a couple of tablespoons. 
Besides the fat content, another problem arose with the Hollandaise sauce idea.  The recipe cautioned that it is actually quite tricky to make.  All kinds of culinary calamities can occur.  If you cook it too fast, the eggs scramble and the milk curdles; if you cook it too slowly, it separates (whatever that means).  So I decided not to do Hollandaise sauce.  It turned out his family loves asparagus, so there was no need to disguise it.
I bought three bunches of fresh asparagus, and only used two for the Easter feast.  I also brought home some leftover asparagus.  So now I’ll be on the internet for more asparagus recipes.  How about asparagus quiche, asparagus omelets, or asparagus soup?  It all sounds good. 
While I’m on the topic of cooking, I discovered a delicious recipe for a snack that is chock-full of protein.  And it includes chocolate.
It meets just about all my criteria for a perfect recipe: 
·        few ingredients--two, to be exact;
·        no actual cooking involved
·        tasty
·        nutritious
·        fast and easy to make
·        stores well (except so far there’s never been anything left to store)

Here it is:
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Balls, a healthy snack (really!)

1 tablespoon (more or less) peanut butter or almond butter
1 scoop (more or less) chocolate  flavored protein powder (comes with scoop)

Mix together and form a ball.  Done. 

Ingredients for chocolate-peanut butter balls.
You can put it in the fridge to form a firmer ball, if desired, but I don’t see the point.  About the protein powder, I use Cyto-Gainer Lean Muscle Maximizer, chocolate malt flavor, only because we already had it on hand.  James makes shakes out of it after he works out at the gym.  We have the giant economy canister, but it is sold in smaller sizes.  You can find it at health food stores and at the bigger grocery stores.  I’ve seen it in our new HEB Plus.  And there are other brands. 

This is great for those mid-afternoon or mid-morning hunger attacks.  It sounds fattening, but it’s really not as long as you don’t make one the size of a golf ball.
Do you have any good quick-and-easy snack recipes?  What about suggestions for my leftover asparagus? 

Friday, April 22, 2011

More Small Town Tales: the Bulverde Post Office

Bulverde, Texas, post office
I went to the Bulverde post office yesterday.  It’s in an old, picturesque building, what you might imagine a small town post office looks like.  Inside it’s about the size of my kitchen.  A total of 438 old-timey post office boxes line one wall.  The scarred wooden floor creaks when you walk on it.  The post office used to be somebody’s house in New Braunfels, a town about 30 miles to the east, and somehow it was transported and plunked down in the middle of downtown Bulverde.  Nobody remembers when this happened, just that “It was a long time ago.” 
The Bulverde post office has had its share of controversy.  Some time back there was a flurry of outraged letters to the editor of the local paper, complaining that the post office was not displaying a photograph of President Obama.  It seems that during the previous administration, George W.’s photograph was on the wall.  Accusations and insinuations flew.  When someone got around to asking the local postmistress about it, she said, “They haven’t sent us a picture.  We’ll put one up as soon as they send it.”  There were no more letters after that.
Anyway, I was there yesterday to mail a small package of baby clothes to Bolivia, where I used to live many years ago.  The clerk set the package on the scale and said cheerily, “Okay, let’s see here….”  Then she frowned.  “Hon, did you say Bolivia?”
“You spell that B-O-L, right?”
“Right.  Don’t tell me…”
“That’s funny.  Bolivia isn’t on the meter.”
My heart sank.  The same thing happened right before Christmas.  At that time a different clerk asked similar questions:  “Are you sure it’s Bolivia?” 
 “We have Brazil on here.  Are you sure it’s not Brazil?” 
“No, it’s Bolivia,” I said.  “It’s in South America like Brazil, but it’s not Brazil.”    The clerk looked doubtful, so I added, “I know it’s there because I’ve been there.” I was hoping I didn’t sound annoyed, although I was. 
The customer in line before me had been mailing a package to Indiana, and that was exotic enough.  “My daughter moved up there and now I have two grandbabies there, too,” said the customer.  “What’s your daughter doing all the way up there in Indiana?” asked the clerk.  They had a brief conversation about the new grandbaby and why the daughter was in Indiana.  I didn’t mind.  This is what happens in a small town post office.
If Indiana threw her off, she really didn’t know what to make of a place in South America called Bolivia.  She decided to call the post office at Spring Branch, a town a few miles north of Bulverde.   Spring Branch is no bigger than Bulverde, but it does boast a modern brick post office which is no doubt better staffed. 
Her side of the conversation went like this:
“We have a customer here who wants to send a package to Bolivia, and I can’t find it on the Pitney-Bowes.”  Pause.  “B-O-L-I-V-I-A. ”   Pause.  “I asked her that, and she said, no, it’s not Brazil.” 
She looked at me and said, “They don’t have it on their machine, either.  They’re getting the supervisor.”  She repeated the problem to the supervisor, then listened and said, “Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.  Well, I’ll be darned.  OK, can you repeat all that so I can tell the customer?”  She grabbed a pencil and took some notes, then hung up the phone. 
“Here’s the deal,” she told me.  “The only way you’re gonna send something to Bolivia is in an envelope.  They’re not taking any packages right now.” 
“Really?  Why is that?  I just mailed a package there two months ago.”
“I don’t have any idea.  That’s just what they told me.”  So I left without mailing any Christmas gifts.  Back at home I looked on the U.S.P.O. website.  It indicated that until January 10, 2011, Bolivia was not accepting international packages from any mail service.  No explanation was offered.  So I mailed the gifts after January 10.  By then Bolivia had reappeared on the Pitney-Bowes meter.
So yesterday, the same thing was happening.  This clerk went through the same routine, calling the Spring Branch Post Office and telling me Bolivia wasn’t accepting any packages.  She suggested I try UPS.  So I got back on the highway and drove to the nearest UPS office.  I explained the situation to the UPS clerk.  She assured me that UPS could indeed mail a package to Bolivia.  She set it on the scale, punched some buttons, and studied the computer screen.  She said, “You might want to sit down before I tell you this.”   
“How much?”  I asked.
“Two hundred fifty-five dollars.  You might be better off just mailing it first class.” 
So I drove back to the Bulverde post office.  The clerk there found a plain cardboard box for me to repack the items in, and finally I got it sent off for $19.95.  When it arrives is anybody’s guess.  I just hope the clothes still fit the baby by then. 
At the top of the blog is a photo of the Bulverde Post Office.  And right across the street from it is a pecan orchard where I always see two longhorns grazing.  I snapped a photo of one of them as well.  Interestingly enough, just on the other side of the orchard is an airstrip.  You can fly small planes and even helicopters in and out of it. 
So you have old and picturesque next to bucolic next to modern.  That’s life in Bulverde. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Backyard Wildlife: Cardinals

The cardinals are back.  They’ve built a nest again this spring on the patio.  Last week both male and female spent a few days flying back and forth carrying strings and straw for the nest.  Now the nursery is ready, nestled inside a clay sconce on the back porch.   From the outside, the twigs appear to be in wild disarray, like a little boy’s hair when he wakes up.  But when you look inside, you see a perfectly sculpted hollow. 
I worry about these birds.  I’m sure they think they’ve found a good spot for raising babies.  After all, it’s sheltered from the wind and rain.  The nearby pond provides a steady source of water, which is crucial in these times of drought.  And the nest is safely off the ground where predators can’t get to it. 
But we have two dogs.  Mofo doesn’t care about chasing anything down, even things she can easily catch, like frogs.  But Cooper, the black and white blue heeler mix, is a different story.  Normally, she's the gentlest of dogs.  But when she’s on the hunt, she becomes relentless.  No matter that she’s 12 years old, which makes her seventy-something in people years, according to the chart in the vet’s office.  The prey instinct is still strong in her.  She’s always sniffing around rocks and bushes looking for something to maim or kill.  I worry not so much about the parent cardinals—they know to keep out of a dog’s way.  But I worry about the fledglings when they are learning to fly.  If one flutters to the ground even for a moment while Cooper is around, it is doomed. 
So far this has never happened.  For several years now the cardinals have made nests in our Mexican sconces.  One year instead they nested in the ficus tree on the patio (which, alas, may never hold another bird’s nest - see my blog “The Heirloom Ficus.”)  This made for fascinating birdwatching, because the ficus was right outside our bedroom window.  We could peek through the blinds and look right into the nest.  Often we were looking right into the eyes of the female cardinal as well.  She’d stare back indignantly as if asking, “Well?  What are you looking at?”
Now the female is spending a lot of time on the nest.  All you can see of her through the twigs is the flash of her orangey beak. One day soon the eggs will appear, and after that there will be naked hatchlings craning their scrawny necks.  Then there’s the cute fuzzy stage.  Then one day they are simply gone.  Just like that.  We never see them take the leap from the nest, no matter how vigilant we are.  From my meager research, I’ve learned that baby birds often need a few test flights before they can actually fly away.  They land on the ground and hunker down under a bush or tree, while the parents hover nearby and keep away any dangers as best they can. 
But I’ve never seen this stage with our baby cardinals.  They are speedy indeed with the flight program.  There they are, fat and sassy in the nest, and the next time we look, they have disappeared.  I know Cooper hasn’t gotten them, or we’d find their little feathered carcasses wherever she discarded them.  (She likes to kill her prey, not eat it).  Happily, so far they’ve made a successful getaway.  Still, I worry.  
P.S.  I just went outside to take pictures, and there are two perfect little eggs in the nest!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Song by Wael Kfoury

Time for another song, this one by my very favorite Middle Eastern singer, Wael Kfouri, who is Lebanese.  We were in Las Vegas last fall for a convention related to my hubby's business, and I saw all these posters and billboards for someone named Wael Kfouri.  I was surprised that an Arabic singer would play Vegas.  I'd never heard of him before.  After that, I learned that Miss K had been playing his songs in belly dance class all along.       

I had a hard time choosing which Kfoury song to post - there are so many good ones, and his voice is beautiful.  He sings in a more traditional style than many popular singers, even though he's young.  

This one is called "Tabki Eltoyoor."  It's about "love and hurt."  Haven't we all been there?   (Maybe more than once?)  Take a listen:

I found the translation.  Keep in mind Arabic doesn't translate easily to English.

The birds cry, flowers wither, sun sets and only darkness prevails
The words are lost, it’s a pity she was able to forget and her eyes to sleep
A dream dies, and all I find is the wind
And misery is born and wounds are all that’s left.
Maybe tomorrow she'll be back , but I disbelieve my hopes
The love died
I collect my wounds, my preoccupations and my sorrows
Stay up for nights while she sleeps

All the time we spent together were easy for her to forget
The honesty is gone, where is the trust
How many times with these hands did I heal my beloved
Who forgot all that we had
My sorrows are big, as big as mountains
The wounds are deep, as deep as the seas
My mistake was being naive and always forgiving
I collect my wounds, my preoccupations and my sorrows
Stay up for nights while she sleeps

Sigh.  Lovely, isn't it? 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Doe That Likes Tortillas

Dick and Susan are neighbors who live across the back fence from us.  Susan is an animal lover like me.  We both have rescue dogs, and we both love watching our backyard wildlife:  birds of all kinds, frogs and toads, jackrabbits, squirrels, and deer.  But today I want to tell the story of Miss McDougal, a deer who is probably alive today because of Susan.
Susan had been feeding a small herd of does for some time.  They show up on her lawn almost every evening for the grain she sets out for them.  One day she saw that one of the does had a badly fractured leg.  Her right ankle was swollen and bloody, but what horrified Susan was the jagged bone protruding from the skin.  The other deer pushed the injured doe aside, and she didn’t get any of the grain.  After awhile, she hobbled away through the trees. 
Susan didn’t expect to see her again.  She even hoped she wouldn’t return, so she wouldn’t have to watch her suffer.  But the doe kept coming back, so Susan felt compelled to help her all she could.  She shooed away the other deer so the doe could get to the feed first.  The doe seemed to know Susan was helping her.  In time, she let Susan stand within three or four feet of her.  Susan named her Miss McDougal.
One day Susan saw that the protruding bone was simply gone.  After that, the wound began to heal.  Now Miss McDougal still has a limp, but she gets around fine.  Susan showed before and after photos of the fracture to her veterinarian.  He has no idea how she can stand and walk on that leg with the chunk of bone missing. 
Sometimes Miss McDougal shows up outside Dick and Susan’s dining room window and looks in until Susan gets herself out the front door with her dish of food.  And sometimes Susan stands outside and calls Miss McDougal, and she will emerge from the trees and trot across the street.  Apples and tomatoes have been added to the menu, but Miss McDougal is especially fond of tortillas, as you can see from the photo.  

Miss McDougal eating a tortilla.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The "Gift with Purchase" Trap

I haven’t written since Tuesday because of one thing or another.  On Wednesday, I wrote a draft about a deer one of my neighbors has been feeding, but I didn’t want to post the story without her permission, so I waited until afternoon.  I don’t recall what happened that afternoon, but I didn’t get to finish the blog.  Which is why my ironclad rule is to finish my blog first thing in the morning, before I get distracted by emails or anything else. 
Then Thursday, instead of writing first, I ran some errands.  One of those crucial errands was to buy some makeup at one of those "GWP" (gift with purchase) deals.  My one indulgence makeup-wise is Estee Lauder foundation.  Otherwise I buy cosmetics at the drugstore or grocery store.  If there is a difference between their products and the department store brands, it’s not worth the 500% markup.  Anyway, the only place in town having an Estee Lauder GWP within the next two months was Nordstrom’s.  I marked it on my calendar, and the appointed day arrived, which happened to be Thursday.  So I put on my best T-shirt and my second best jeans and drove clear across town to Nordstrom’s. 
I ran the shoe department gauntlet without pausing, I’m proud to say.  Then I wound my way through a jungle of cosmetics counters to Estee Lauder and bought the foundation I came for.  I was absurdly pleased that they’d raised the price of a 1 oz. bottle of colored liquid from $28.50 to $36.50.  This meant the foundation was priced high enough to render me eligible for the “gift” without having to buy anything extra that I really didn’t need.  I’m fully aware that this is ridiculous, but there I am forking over my debit card.     
When I got home and examined my free gifts, I was disappointed to find that both lipsticks were orangey shades that would look ghastly on me.  And the eye shadow “quad” likewise wouldn’t work.  So the only usable items I ended up with were a couple of creams.  Was it worth it to spend half a day driving all over town just to get a “free gift” with purchase, which I mostly can’t use, plus miss my writing time?  No. 
To make matters worse, on the way home from my dispiriting shopping expedition, I stopped for lunch.  As I chomped into my Schlotzky’s, an electrifying pain shot from one of my lower bicuspids to the top of my skull.  Apparently, that cracked tooth my dentist has been warning me about for the last two years finally gave out. 
So the next day I showed up first thing at the dentist’s office.  It was a Friday, in the midst of the annual festivities that San Antonio calls “Fiesta.”  Yesterday was the Battle of Flowers Day, which means half the businesses in town shut down, and even the schools are closed.  The dentist's office was open only until noon.  Fortunately, he squeezed me in, and, not so fortunately, I underwent an emergency root canal then and there.  So there went my writing time for that day. 
And that is why I haven’t written for three days. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Writing, Perspective, and Eyewitness Testimony

I was re-thinking my blog yesterday.  One phrase in particular kept going through my head:  “orgiastic bacchanalia of drunken revelry.”  I used that phrase, among others, to describe the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. 
Shortly after I posted the blog, I started to question myself.  Does “orgiastic” mean what I think it does?  What about “bacchanalia"?  (And why do you put quotation marks inside a question mark but outside a comma or period?)  So I took out my Merriam-Webster and looked up both words.  This is what M-W had to say:
Orgiastic:  (1) of, relating to, or marked by orgies (2) characterized by unrestrained emotion: frenzied.
So far, so good.  Then I looked up “bacchanalia”:
Bacchanalia:  Roman festival of Bacchus celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry.  (Bacchus is the Greek God of wine.)
That’s what I wanted to convey, all right.  Of course, it wasn't necessary to follow “orgiastic bacchanalia” with “drunken revelry.”  My description is effusively redundant, but that captures the atmosphere of Sturgis at rally time.  Or so I imagine it to be.  

Writing is an inexact art, as I suppose all art is.  Not all writing is supposed to be creative, of course, and you could argue that if you’re writing about something that really happened (i.e., nonfiction), you should stick soberly to the facts.  But it’s also a fact that emotion and perspective are woven into the memory of an event. 
Consider eyewitness testimony.  Why our legal system continues to place so much weight on eyewitness testimony is perplexing, considering how unreliable it is.  When I worked for law firms, my job sometimes involved interviewing witnesses.  I was amazed that their descriptions of the exact same event were often completely different and even contradictory. 
Yesterday I based my entire blog on one conversation that took place in a corner of the kitchen at my husband's birthday party.  Maybe a half dozen people were present at this conversation, taking an active part or just listening.  I’m sure their recollections of the same conversation would be different from mine, depending on what resonated with them.  Of course, dozens of conversations took place throughout the evening, and a blog could perhaps be written about any one of them.  You could probably write a whole book about one single party, and I’m sure it’s been done.  And each person there would write a different book. 
Writing involves not only deciding what to write about, but what to leave out.  You can’t include it all.  The result would be unfocused and not very interesting.  You just write from your own unique perspective.  What else can you do?  That's all you’ve got to work with.   

So when you think about it, it's no wonder that eyewitness testimony is so individual, and, therefore, “unreliable.”   


Monday, April 11, 2011

Going to Sturgis

The cookout party we hosted for my hubby’s birthday was a smashing success.  At least I had a great time, and I hope everybody else did, too.  We wondered how it would go, since most of the invitees didn’t know the others.  But it turned out to be a convivial mix of folks. 
Somehow the topic of the Sturgis motorcycle rally came up.  This huge bike rally turns the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota, into an orgiastic bacchanalia of drunken revelry.  I’ve been to the ROT Rally in Austin, a smaller version of the same, so I can only imagine what goes on in Sturgis.  Whenever James has expressed a desire to attend this annual rite of insane drinking, macho posturing, and sexual promiscuity, I’ve gently let him know that could only happen over my dead body. 
At the cookout, one of our neighbors was actually trying to convince me to let James go. 
He said, “We don’t even care about going into Sturgis—we’ll stay at a Best Western in Rapid City.” 
“It’s for the scenery – to see the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, and, ya know, those other scenic places around there.” 
Umm-hmmm.  “If it’s for the scenery, why not go any old time of year?”  Like in the spring or fall instead of August?  That sounds like torture to me—to be stuck on a motorcycle for hours at a time, a hot wind blasting your face and waves of heat shimmering up off the asphalt.  I don’t get it.  James has explained many times, “You’re close to nature on a motorcycle.  You feel it, you smell it, you see it up close.”
OK, then ride a bicycle.  It’s safer and you can actually smell the roses instead of get a blurry glimpse as you whiz by.  I understand that bicycles don’t have the panache of a motorcycle.  Motorcycles reek of danger, risk, machismo.  Bicycles conjure up skinny guys in funny helmets, who don’t seem to be having any fun.  They all seem to be wearing the same grim expression.  Think “motorcycle” and an entirely different picture springs to mind:  hairy, muscular dudes wearing tattoos and dirty jeans.  I suppose that type appeals to some women, but I suspect, like lifting weights, the display is more for the other guys than for the ladies.  Actually, James and his motorcycle friends are more like “Wild Hogs” than “The Wild One.”  They are just middle-aged (to put it kindly) guys who like to dress up like badass dudes on the occasional weekend.  Which is harmless. 
Plus, as some of the women at the party pointed out, while he’s gone to Sturgis, I can take that opportunity to do something I want to do, whether it’s shopping in Dallas, visiting an old college friend, or maybe holing up in a cabin somewhere and having my own little writing retreat.  They have an excellent point. 
At some point in this discussion, I look over at James, and suddenly I know.  “If I tell him he can go, he won’t want to anymore.” 
So this morning, I casually throw out, “Honey, it’s been awhile since you’ve been on your bike.  Why don’t you go for a ride with somebody?  In fact, why not just go ahead and take that trip to Sturgis?  I don’t mind.  Really.”
There was a slight pause.  Then my dear husband, who’s been vigorously campaigning for the Sturgis rally for years, said, “Nah, I don’t really want to go.  That’s a long trip for a motorcycle.” 
I look at him, pretending to be shocked.  Finally I shrug, “OK.  But if you change your mind, you have my blessing.”  I’m slightly disappointed.  I was already planning my own little getaway. 
There’s a lesson here somewhere.  When you push somebody to do this or that, their natural inclination is to resist.  Then one day, you get tired of pushing and just give up.  Suddenly there’s nothing for the other person to fight against anymore.  They might just slide into the position you’ve been trying to maneuver them into all that time. 
Interesting how that works.
Have you had an experience like this?  Leave a comment!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Heirloom Ficus Tree

I didn’t write anything yesterday.  We’ve been getting ready for a cookout this weekend for my husband’s birthday.  Getting the house and yard ready has required a lot of work, all done in the space of the last few days.
I’ve been housecleaning like mad, rearranging, packing up clutter, doing all those little chores I’ve been meaning to do for months but haven’t. Yesterday I had the carpets cleaned.  The carpet guy went around with the black light they use in forensics to find blood stains.  It seems they also work for urine stains.  He found an alarming amount of dog urine throughout the house.  I always clean such accidents right away, but it seems they soak down into the padding and you can’t get them out with normal cleaning.  So he employed a urine-gobbling enzyme solution on the worst areas.  Wood floors are starting to look like an attractive option. 
Then there’s the yard.  This winter wreaked havoc on the landscaping.  Some plants didn’t survive in spite of the fact we scurried outside to cover them up on the coldest evenings.  So in the past few days we’ve made multiple trips to plant nurseries.  We’ve dug, planted, mulched, trimmed, weeded, and watered.  It’s exhausting and I hope we don’t have to do it again for another year.  What happened to the neighborhood kids who used to go house to house asking for work to earn extra cash?  I haven’t seen them in years.  The kids in our neighborhood have better cars and, I'm almost certain, more pocket money than I have. 
But the most devastating casualty of the harsh winter was the heirloom ficus tree.  It’s been in James’ family for over 40 years, beginning with James' grandmother.  It’s a heavy responsibility to keep the heirloom alive and well.  Up until this winter, it wasn’t a problem.  The tree was full and magnificent.  It provided sanctuary for numberless birds' nests, especially for cardinals.  We enjoyed watching the babies hatch and grow and the parents feed them tasty bits of worms and bugs.  Now the heirloom ficus looks all but dead.  Its branches are completed denuded, except a few green leaves sprouting down low on the trunk.  Needless to say, it’s not fit for public viewing–and may never be again—so it will be relegated to the garage for the Saturday cookout. 
I still have a long To Do list and need to get cracking.  It will all be worth it when we enjoy the company of our friends and family tomorrow.
P.S. I did make it to the Thursday night belly dance classes (two in a row) last night.  Today, I'm getting by on Tylenol and Icy Hot.   

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Elsekka, Here I Come

Back to belly dance –
I finally signed up for the Elsekka performance, on the last day of the deadline, along with another classmate.  It was an “I’ll sign up if you sign up” type of thing.  I didn’t want to be the lone beginner out there alongside Miss K and the accomplished advanced student.  I’m still going to be the least adept performer, but at least my classmate has as much stage fright as I do. 
Yes, I’m a bit jittery about it.  Every new snippet of this dance involves something I’ve never done before.  This last section involves standing on the toes, with one foot in front of the other, and bending the knees up and down while at the same time executing hip snaps.  Hip snaps are an elemental belly dance component.  You snap one hip upward, then drop it back down to neutral position.  If you’re wearing a coin belt, the snap is accompanied by a satisfying little jingle.  Of course, all the while you must maintain your posture and arm position, without bobbling around or, God forbid, windmilling.  Oh, there are so many ways to screw up!  And only one way to do it right!
Hip snaps are the easy part.  For me, the hard part is balancing on my toes while doing knee bends.  So last night at the gym I worked a bit on lunges, even though my orthopedic doc said lunges are a knee injury waiting to happen.  To minimize the possibility of tearing loose any knee cartilage, I held on to a piece of equipment as I did knee bends on my toes.  My quads are complaining today, which I take as a sign that the correct muscles got a work out.
Like everything else, mastering this small movement involves repetition, just plain old sweaty practice. 
Not long after I started studying belly dance, I was stymied by a basic step that nobody else in class seemed to have any trouble with.  You stand on one leg, knee bent, and simply point the other leg out and back in.  So all your weight is on one bent leg, albeit briefly.  At that time, my left hip was still bad.  I just didn’t have the strength (plus it hurt like the dickens) to do it.  So I practiced at home by holding onto a chair for support.  Eventually I could do this move without the chair and without pain.   
The happy unintended consequence of this and other belly dance practices is that now my hip is fine, at least 90% of the time.  Belly dance has done more for my hip than physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, and gym workouts put together.  This ought to be studied and written up in medical journals.  Seriously. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Grammar Police

It’s nice having a handy husband.  James can fix anything around the house or yard and a lot of things on a vehicle.  And he usually has a really nifty tool just for that purpose, often a tool I didn’t know existed before.  For example, there’s a cunning device that works like a more efficient version of the good old coat hanger.  It’s a rod with a handle on one end and a little grabber thing on the other, like a very skinny arm and hand.  It’s just the thing for pulling hair out of drains.  When I think of all those hours I spent toiling over drains using bobby pins to dig out one gooey strand at a time....  I've found other household uses for "the grabber."  It did a creditable job of cleaning lint out of the dryer hose that vents outside.  (Although neighbors might have wondered what I was doing crouched behind the bushes for 20 minutes.)  Then I used it to retrieve socks that had fallen behind the dryer. 
I used to pride myself on my mechanical ability.  When I was a single mom, I could change the oil in my car, replace a toilet valve, and, my favorite, take a vacuum cleaner apart, remove whatever was clogging it, and put it back together.  Now I realize I have limitations.  The other day James asked me, “How long has the car been making this noise?”  I asked, “What noise?”  This is a fairly common exchange between us.  I just don’t notice. 
On the other hand, there are things that he doesn’t notice that jump out at me.  Like bad grammar and misspelled words, especially when used on public airwaves by people who should know better.  We’ll be driving somewhere, listening to the radio, and suddenly I exclaim, “Oh, my God!  Did you hear that?” 
“Hear what?” 
“The guy on the radio just said 'theirselves'!”  I’m beside myself.  “That’s inexcusable.  He speaks English for a living!” 
I obsessively point out grammatical errors on billboards and misspelled words on those little news banners that run at the bottom of the TV screen.  o matter that a hurricane is heading our way—they misspelled hurricane!  My daughter shares my horror at the abuse of the language.  Not long ago, she gave me a book entitled, I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar, subtitled "A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups."  It's full of pictorial examples and comments like, “Teaching children the wrong place to put apostrophes is child abuse.”  It’s nice to know there are others like us out there.
Sure, I understand the language is always evolving, and what was ungrammatical a few years ago, like ending a sentence with a preposition, is now perfectly OK.  And I realize the problem is not in the same league as terrorism or the price of gasoline.  But when a college graduate says, “I didn’t do nothing last night,” something is seriously wrong with our educational system.  For self-appointed grammar police like me, bad English, bad punctuation, and bad spelling is just another sign of civilization sliding toward an abyss of ignorance and incivility.  And it seems you can’t do nothin’ about it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Backyard Wildlife

Check out the little umbrella plant island below.  Can you see any frogs?  Believe it or not, there are six frogs on that island. 

Umbrella island with 6 frogs

You can see some of them in the photo below - especially the big fellow at the bottom.  They blend in well, don't they?  You should hear the din they make in the evenings!  Neighbors on all sides can hear them.  I just love "my" frogs.  I'm quite protective of them, especially now that I know frogs are disappearing at an alarming rate, all over the world.  The reasons are unclear but may have something to do with disappearing habitat and pesticides.  (Use organic gardening!)

Close-up of frogs

Garter snake in back yard

 Whoa - here's another bit of backyard wildlife.  This is a harmless garter snake.  He's only about as thick as my thumb.  He was just moseying around looking for bugs to eat.  He blends in pretty well, too.  If I hadn't been examining the ground for dog poo to pick up, I'd have missed him. 

Now, some of you probably hate snakes.  I've never been afraid of snakes.  Maybe that's partly because I grew up in West Texas where we have a lot of snakes.  I have a healthy respect for rattlers, cooperheads, and the like.  But the fact is 90% of snakes are harmless, and they eat critters we don't want around, like mice and bugs.  So leave them alone!  And if you've ever held a snake, you know they are not slimy and scaly.  They are warm and smooth.  And they don't bite unless you give them a good reason to. 

I don't have a problem with tarantulas or scorpions, for the same reason.  They were everywhere when I was growing up. 

Although I have to confess there was one time a scorpion scared me.  I was visiting my brother and his wife in Odessa, after I'd been living in Bolivia for several years.  In the middle of the night I went to the guest bath and saw a huge scorpion on the little rug in front of the toilet.  I thought about it for awhile and decided I didn't want to mess with it.  So I woke up my sister-in-law.  I stood there in the dark beside her bed and quavered, "There's a big scorpion in the bathroom." 

There was a pause as Sharla blinked up at me.  She finally answered, "So?"  Spoken like a true West Texas gal.  I'd been away too long.  So I slunk back to the bathroom, feeling ashamed of my cowardice.  I think Sharla took pity on me and took care of the scorpion after all.  Since then I've approached them fearlessly.  When my children were small, if I ran across a scorpion in the house, I'd catch it in a jar and give them a "Scorpions are our friends" mini-lecture.  Then I'd put it back outside.  Here's one excellent reason for saving scorpions:  they eat fire ants.  

Cockroaches are another matter.  Put me in a room with a big flying cockroach and I'll come running out screaming like a banshee.