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Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Belly Dance Costume - On Sale!

This has been another one of those weeks, maybe couple of weeks, when life has interrupted the usual course of events and I haven’t had the time or “ganas” (Spanish word meaning the desire to do something) to write my blog. Things go along smoothly and then, wham! Out of nowhere, something happens, and your peace of mind and schedule go to hell in a hand basket.

But I’m not going to do any navel gazing. We all go through switchbacks along the rocky road of life, which is the price we pay for being here. Like everybody else, I just stumble through the best I can.

Anyway, I’m going back to the topic of belly dance. We’re gearing up for another feverish round of rehearsal classes after a month’s hiatus.

In the meantime, I’ve been obsessed with costumes. I have spent hours looking at costumes on internet sites, especially Dahlal. Buying clothing online is always iffy. At Dahlah the costumes are usually unique and made to order. But they also have a selection of costumes that are already made and therefore on sale. Each of these sale costumes has specific measurements for ribs, upper hip, lower hips, skirt length, etc., so unless they exactly match your own, which is unlikely, some alterations are inevitable.

My idea was to buy a costume that was fancier than my gold one, but lighter than the fuchsia one. I chose one that was silver and pewter and black, a rather elegant color scheme, I thought. Finally it arrived. I could tell as soon as I picked up the box that it was indeed lighter. I could dance Elsekka in this without a problem. It fit well, too, except for a couple of minor things that I probably could have done myself. However, the last time I attempted a simple alteration, with my fuchsia costume, the first thread I snipped caused a shower of tiny beads to fall to the floor. It took a long time to pick them out of the carpet. Suzie the seamstress had to put it all back together. So no more self-alteration attempts for me.

When I tried on my new costume, Suzie immediately saw that the skirt was too short. That much was clear in the full length mirror in her sewing room. How did that happen? Well, apparently, you can’t get an accurate reading from dropping a tape measure from your own waist to the floor. I don’t know why, but it’s true. The skirts on my two other costumes are a good four inches longer. So now we were faced with the problem of making the skirt longer, a skirt that is embroidered and finished at the hem. Suzie decided the only way to do it was to make an underskirt that will fall below the original hem. She said if she just tacked something onto the hem to make it longer, that’s exactly what it would look like. And that would be, well, tacky.

In addition to lengthening the skirt, Suzie is going to make some accessories. She suggested making gauntlets out of black stretch velvet, a matching headband, plus add some of the black velvet to trim the bra top. It will tie it all together and make for a sophisticated look, much different from the fuchsia costume. I can’t wait to see the finished product!
Next: the mysterious art of stage make-up

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lady the Black Lab

I don't usually blog about the humane society where I volunteer.  But we are about to release a special edition of our newsletter.  It's about a dog named Lady.  Don't worry - it has a happy ending.  Read on.  

from Bulverde Area Humane Society Special Edition Newsletter, Summer 2011:
Lady was abandoned
by her owners.


The Dream

Thirty years ago Bulverde resident Dolores Caldwell had a dream.

She and several other community activists recognized that the Bulverde community needed an animal shelter, a safe haven.

A place for dogs and cats to rest between homes.
A place for animals to learn to trust again.
A place where our neighbors in need could find help.
A place powered by dedicated volunteers.

The Bulverde Area Humane Society officially opened on June 22, 1996.  By 2011, with a downturned economy, unemployment, and foreclosures, BAHS found that our neighbors needed us more than ever.

Almost daily our helpline counselors received calls about pets wandering the streets or abandoned in empty homes by owners who could no longer make their monthly mortgage payments.

Although it was difficult, our counselors could handle these calls. Because for every horror story they heard, they could tell another kind of story, one of redemption and love.

Lady’s Story


This note was in a ziplock
bag attached to Lady's collar.
Let me share one such story with you.

In mid-April Bulverde resident Gloria discovered a big black dog in her back yard.  The black lab looked well cared for, and she was very friendly.  Surely she belongs to someone, Gloria thought.

Then she noticed the zip lock bag taped to the dog’s collar.  Inside the bag Gloria found a note that read:  “My name is Lady!  I need a home, please.”

Gloria tried not to judge whoever wrote that note.  Yes, it’s terrible to leave a dog to fend for itself.  But maybe the owner thought Lady had a better chance of finding a home this way.  Maybe the owner was afraid to leave Lady at a shelter, not knowing what her fate might be.  Gloria and her husband wanted to keep Lady.  However, their two other dogs had other ideas and wouldn’t accept the newcomer. 

Desperate, Gloria called the Bulverde Area Humane Society.  As is often the case, we were full, and we asked for her patience until we had an opening.  A few days later we called Gloria to tell her we now had room for Lady.  Gloria was relieved, but she was also a bit apprehensive.  What would shelter life be like for Lady?

This is not an uncommon concern.  People think dogs in a shelter are lonely and depressed, with little human interaction.  But visitors to the Bulverde animal shelter find the experience to be uplifting.

The Haven


Lady and friend playing
at the BAHS shelter.
When people enter our spacious, tree-shaded grounds, they see that the dogs are happy and well cared for.  Some say the grounds are sacred; you can feel the energy of the love between the animals and their human caretakers.

You see, every morning at 7 a.m. a cadre of volunteers makes a pilgrimage to the shelter.  Every day the dogs get out for hours of time romping with their play groups and splashing in their wading pools. 

Every day they are walked, trained, groomed, and loved by volunteers.  Nutritious food awaits them when they return to their pens. 

Daily we see the trust grow, the human/animal bond develop, the light brighten in their eyes.

Gloria’s fears were soon relieved.  She found that Lady had adapted well at BAHS.   She splashes in her pool, wrestles with her buddies, retrieves her tennis ball, and bolts to her handler when called. 

One day soon her new forever family will come for her.  As she leaves, she will know somehow that here was a place where she was loved.  One of us will wave goodbye with a tear and a smile as she moves out of our lives and into a new and better life.

There will be no regrets.  This is why we are here.  And other animals are waiting who need us.




When we went to press, Lady Luck had been selected for evaluation and training as a military working dog.  She is currently at boot camp.  A few days later we were informed that she was officially accepted into the program.  She has what it takes:  intelligence, eagerness to learn, and high motivation, namely, the reward of playing with her tennis ball!   Imagine that a dog abandoned on the streets may now be in service to our country.

If you'd like to know more about the Bulverde Area Humane Society or follow Lady's story in the future, see

Friday, June 24, 2011

How I Lost 15 Pounds and Keep It Off

People seem to be really interested in how I lost 15 pounds and have kept it off.  Even my doctor.  I just had my annual physical, and she wanted to know how I did it, although I think she was more concerned that I wasn't doing some drastic, off-the-wall diet. 

This is what I do, 90-95% of the time.  The other 5-10%  of the time, I eat whatever I want, in moderation.  It's been surprisingly easy to stick to, because I know I can eat what I want sometimes.  Nothing is forbidden.  Plus I feel great and look better. 

·        Eat plain oatmeal for breakfast, with ½ pat of real butter.  I use those individual packets, regular flavor (if you want to call that a flavor), cooked with water.  

·        Eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day, several servings.

·        Eat mostly fish and chicken; avoid red meat.

·        Avoid processed foods.  This includes most canned, bottled, and packaged items except those that contain one simple ingredient like rice or noodles. 

·        No fast food.

·        No sodas, including diet ones.  Drink mostly water.

·        Eat 5 or 6 times a day to keep from getting ravenous between meals.

·        Eat sweets and desserts only occasionally.

 I love sweets.  Here's something that satisfies my sweet tooth, plus it's delicious and easy.

Cassie's Smoothie Recipe 


A cup or so of frozen fruit (peaches, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, mango, etc.)
½ to 1 fresh banana
¼ -1/2 cup orange juice
1 8-oz yoghurt, regular, nonfat or low fat.   I’m partial to the HEB brand peach-mango flavor.

Let the frozen fruit thaw on a plate for 5 or 10 minutes.  Then put all the ingredients in a blender and blend.  You may have to stop and mix it a few times, because of the frozen fruit.  You don’t need to add ice.  It comes out thick and creamy and frosty.  If you need sweetener, add a bit of sugar or Splenda.

Enjoy!  I have one of these almost every night, usually as dinner.  Later I might need a snack to stave off hunger, depending on how late I have the smoothie.

A few months ago I wrote in more detail about my eating plan in two blogs posted in March.  If you want to know more, they are entitled "On Jemileh and My So-Called Diet" and "FAQ's About My So-Called Diet." 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Getting Existential: To Do or Just to Be?

I’ve noticed a distressing trend in my blogs, namely, that there is no trend.  No unifying theme.  Yes, I started out wanting to write about my belly dance experiences, but then I’ve drifted off into other topics.  But I want to be focused.  I really do.  I envy people who are focused.  I wish I were like that. 

Take Jane Goodall.  Here is a focused woman.  She sat there in the jungles of Africa, squatting in the fork of a tree, pen and notebook in hand, watching a troop of chimpanzees and writing down everything they did.  It sounds so beautifully simple.  She was all alone, no distractions, just Jane and the chimps.  I admire her.  I wanted to be her. 

And consider Beethoven.  He was a mess.  You’ve seen his hair; his lodgings were no better.  Papers and unopened mail littered the floor, along with half-eaten meals and dust bunnies.  So far it sounds like your average teenager’s bedroom.  But, get this:  supposedly, he didn’t empty his chamber pot for days.  It was right there under his piano so you’d think he’d notice.  But either he didn’t notice or just didn’t care.  He had more important things to do.  Now that’s focus. 

It seems that to really excel at something, you need this kind of concentration. 

True, many creative types manage to juggle kids and spouses and even regular jobs.  Stephen King did that for awhile.  Before his first book was published, he toiled as a high school English teacher.  I can vouch for the thanklessness of that job.  During free periods between classes, he wrote horror stories instead of exchanging horror stories in the teachers' lounge about his students.   Then Carrie got published and everything changed.  He quit his day job and became a full-time writer. 

According to his book On Writing, his day begins with a long walk in the Maine woods.   After his walk he sits down and writes all morning.  After lunch he reads.  That’s it.  What a life.  His wife takes care of the mundane things like cooking, laundry, and housework.  Not that Stephen King is the best writer in the world, but he’s a great storyteller and has made tons of money with his books.   

So excellence in writing, as with so many other endeavors, requires focus.  The problem with such single-minded attention to one thing is that you have to give up everything else.  I would have to give up dancing and my work with animals, not to mention other favorite activities, like reading and napping. 
Back to my blog problem.  I feel I’ve reached a fork in the stream and need to make a decision.  Do I tighten up the blog with more focus and stay with it, or do I turn to more serious writing?  As I sit on the fence mixing metaphors, time is passing.  Carpe diem and all that. 

When I started the blog, I thought I could do both, that is, write the blog and something more serious.  But I learned that it takes a lot of energy to write.  I can maintain that kind of focus (there’s that word again!) for only two to four hours a day.  Then I have to do something else.

It's not that I want to become rich and famous like Stephen King, although that would be nice.  But I do care about accomplishing something.  And my blog, I must admit, is accomplishing squat.  It doesn’t promote a product or publicize a business.  It doesn’t provide useful information.  It doesn’t help anybody with a problem.   

But to get all existential about it, do we really have to justify our existence with accomplishments?  Isn’t it enough to just be?  To extend kindness within our little sphere of influence?   To enjoy our little hour upon the stage, with a minimum of strutting and fretting?    

Maybe it’s an American thing to feel we have to be busy all the time.  Maybe it’s an American idea that we must accomplish something, especially if it is recognized by the public.  Is it because we want the applause?  Is it just a big ego trip? 

I suppose it’s human to want to leave some kind of mark, something to show we’ve been here.  And what better mark to leave than a book?  However, many are those who want to say they’ve written a book, but few are they who actually want to do the work of writing one.  Besides, in today’s world of e-books and self-publishing, writing a book doesn’t mean as much as it used to.    

Here I go meandering again. 
I will end this essay by quoting Ray Bradbury in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing.  He said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  Is that relevant?  I think so.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My First Father's Day without My Father

            Like many baby boomers, I have attended the funeral of my father.  He died last October three weeks shy of his 87th birthday. 

At his memorial service, a photo montage sketched the trajectory of his life:  the toddler playing in his sandbox in 1924; the Boy Scout in Washington, D.C. for the 1936 national scout jamboree; the soldier standing in the snow in Montana, where he met and fell in love with my mother; the proud young father holding his babies; the smiling young man in the Stetson; the widower at age 36, standing with his three children; and finally, the elderly man nearing the end of his days. 

I want to tell you a little bit about him, this imperfect man who was my father.    

We grew up in Odessa, in the deserts of West Texas.  My mother died of cancer when I was seven years old, so Daddy was the only parent I knew for most of my growing up years.  It was just me, Daddy, and "the boys,” my brothers Tom and John. 

I was lucky to be the only girl.  Daddy had a tendency to put women on a pedestal.  I was treated a little more gently, a little more indulgently, than my brothers.  Nevertheless, I was expected to meet certain standards.  Most importantly, I was expected to act like a lady.  Ladies didn’t slump.  A lady stood up straight, even if she was the tallest person in the class.  Ladies didn’t use crude language.  Daddy scolded me once for saying, “Oh, crud.”  And heaven forbid that a woman should use a toothpick in public! 

My father, Bill Kimbrough, 1923-2010.
         I wasn't spoiled.  We didn’t have the money for that.  But I do remember one extravagance.  I was 14 years old and my first formal dance was coming up.  I had nothing to wear.  A few days before the dance, Daddy came back from Dallas with a beautiful dress he had bought for me at the Sanger-Harris store there.  Sanger-Harris!  Dallas!  In Odessa, JC Penney was the norm, so this was a special dress indeed.  The dance was one of those miserable adolescent events that most of us have experienced.  The boys milled around on one side of the dance floor, while the girls spent most of their time in the ladies’ room talking about the boys.  I was asked to dance only once that night, by our pastor’s son, and I’m pretty sure his mother put him up to it.  But inside, I felt like a princess.  I was wearing the beautiful dress from Sanger-Harris. 

My father was a lawyer.  He had a storefront office across from the courthouse that he shared with his law partner and best friend, Buddy Rogers.  I've heard people compare him to Atticus Finch, the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, and there are some similarities.  He was a lawyer in a smallish town in the South, a widower raising his young children by himself.  He valued books, education, and character more than expensive cars or clothes.  He was a man of few words, but he meant what he said.  In a place and time when the "n" word was in common usage, we were taught that everyone is worthy of respect.  

Daddy seemed to know a little bit about everything, and a lot about quite a few things.  He was always reading.  He could quote Shakespeare and poets (William Blake was a favorite), but he enjoyed less serious books, too, like the Lord of the Rings series. He also got a kick out of the parody of the series, Bored of the Rings. He tried to hide it from us (he didn’t think it was suitable for children), but we found it and read it anyway. 

 He was always learning, always ready to try his hand at something new.  Over the years his interests included dirt biking and needlepoint, martial arts and mysticism, gardening and Civil War history.  He loved guns and was an award winning sharpshooter, but he had no interest in hunting animals.  He had an active mind.  Even in his last few years of life, he was studying Spanish, swimming, attending a book club, and taking guitar lessons. 

Daddy was an alcoholic.  But at the time of his death he had been sober for some 40 years.  He attended AA meetings at least once a week during those years.  Maybe the AA’s emphasis on a Higher Power led to his lifelong search for spiritual truth.  He read everything from the ancient Chinese wisdom of the Tao Te Ching to New Age religious thinkers, looking for something he could believe in. 

He had a keen interest in history.  Every Sunday after church we would go out to eat, and over lunch he and my older brother Tom would engage in earnest discussions about the Civil War.  If I had paid more attention back then, I would know a lot more about it now. 

 No matter what our financial situation was, and it was usually precarious, we always took the annual family road trip.   In Yellowstone Park we watched from the safety of the station wagon as a bear knocked open the ice chest and ate up all our food.  We tramped across Custer’s battlefield in Montana.  We gazed up at Mt. Rushmore and saw herds of buffalo in the Badlands of South Dakota.  We drove up Pike’s Peak in Colorado.  Daddy taught me how to fish in a Rocky Mountain stream.  I still remember how excited I was that I caught more fish than my brothers that day. 

In the summer of 1970, just before my senior year in high school, we moved to Austin.  Daddy loved the fact that in Austin, green things actually grew on their own.  He planted everything he could in his back yard in Austin.  Some people might have called it a jungle, even a mess, but he reveled in the lush vegetation, so different from the barrenness of West Texas.  But he took the most delight in the garden spider that appeared every summer.  He kept it fat and happy by tossing grasshoppers into its web and watching as it scuttled over and wrapped it up for a future meal.  Whenever I visited, he led me outside for a demonstration of this. 

Daddy loved music and the arts.  When we were growing up, he dragged us to symphonies and ballets, and eventually I learned to appreciate them.  He could play five musical instruments, some better than others.  In Odessa, I fell asleep many nights to the sound of him playing his guitar in the next room. 

Daddy played the clarinet in the UT Alumni band until he was 80 years old.  Every year they marched at halftime at one of the UT football games.  

He loved bagpipes, too.  He took lessons, practiced, and eventually he became a member of the Capitol City Highlanders Pipe Band.  The leader of the pipe band played at his memorial service. 

In later years, Daddy got back to playing the guitar.  He ordered one custom-made from Spain. He didn’t care about the clothes he wore or the car he drove, but he wanted the finest guitar money could buy. Sometime in his last year of life, he couldn’t remember the chords anymore. But he still went to his guitar lessons, to listen as his instructor played the flamenco songs he loved so much. 

 Daddy loved wildlife and animals. In his last year, when there wasn’t much he could do anymore, he wanted his armchair positioned so that he could watch the birds outside.  He kept field guides for birds and insects by his chair, along with a pair of binoculars.

            The last time we spoke are in my thoughts today.  When I walked into the room where he lay on the bed he would not rise from again, this man with the booming voice and the loud, hearty laugh could barely croak, “I love you.”  I showed him the pajamas I brought for him.  I know he couldn’t care less about pajamas, but he smiled and whispered, “Beautiful.”

This was the father I knew.  This was the man who taught me to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, to feel the joy in the little things, to appreciate the humor and irony in life, to accept the good and the bad.  People always said I look a bit like him.  I don't know about that, but I do know I carry much of him on the inside.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Beautify a Plain Belly Dance Costume

I danced at Demo’s Restaurant again last night.  I was a bit nervous about it, especially since I hadn’t practiced since my Demo’s debut three weeks ago.  And why haven’t I practiced?  Because the build-up for that first performance was so intense that afterwards I gave myself a break.  For three solid weeks.  The good news is now I’m more relaxed about performing.  For the moment, that’s not my main concern.

I’m more concerned with my costume.  Last time, I wore my simple gold skirt and top, with a hip scarf added.  When a fellow dancer asked me why I didn’t wear my beautiful fuchsia costume, I explained that it's too heavy for the “Elsekka”dance.   Just to make sure, though, I did a test run in it a few days ago. 
I store the fuchsia costume in pillow cases (not plastic bags--that’s a no-no) and in its very own drawer.  Reverently, I lifted it out of the drawer and carefully slid it out of the pillow cases.  Then I put it on, in all its shimmering glory.  After admiring it in the mirror for a couple of minutes, I popped in the “Jemileh” CD and did a run through of that dance.  No problem at all. Jemileh is nice and slow.  Then I put on the “Elsekka” CD.  Just as I feared, “Elsekka” is not meant to be danced in a skirt that weighs five pounds.   The main issue is the turns.  As I turn right, the skirt naturally swirls to the right, too.  However, when I twirl back to the left, the skirt is still moving to the right.  The twirls and swirls don’t match up.  It’s a ballast problem.  So I’m back to my plain gold skirt and top-with-matching-arm-bands.

I added this fringe belt to
my plain gold costume.

Lately I’ve been busy figuring out ways to jazz up the gold costume.  Online I purchased an inexpensive coin belt with matching necklace and earrings, plus a separate fringed belt.  I also got a beaded bra top that I plan to wear under the gold top in an arrangement that’s hard to describe.  You wear the bra top under the gold top.  Then you pull down the front of the gold top, hitching it under the bra.  Sort of like a tie-front shrug.  But I didn’t have time to test drive the bra/gold top combo, that is, actually dance in it, so I prudently decided to wait.  (I attached the new necklace to the bra top for extra decoration - see photo.)

Accessories I plan to add.
In fact, I was so short on time (my fault entirely – that monster called procrastination) that moments before we needed to leave for Demo’s, I was stitching the gold fringe belt onto my skirt while wearing it.  That may sound strange, but since both are stretchy, it’s really the only way to do it.  I made it to Demo’s on time.  My final pre-performance preparation was to drink half a glass of wine.  My four fellow (sister?) dancers and I made it through “Jemileh” just fine.  It turned out I didn’t have to dance “Elsekka” after all, because no other “Elsekka”performers showed up.
More about pimping* my costume in a later post.

* If you can pimp cars, why not belly dance costumes?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bandera, The Cowboy Capital of the World

In January of this year, my husband and I decided we needed a break. Three days was all he could spare from work, so we didn’t stray far. We spent a three-day weekend in the small town of Bandera, Texas.

Me at the Running R
(Sorry, photo is blurry.)
Bandera, population 957, bills itself as “The Cowboy Capital of the World.” They might more accurately call it the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” The area surrounding Bandera must have dozens of dude ranches, mostly catering to out-of-state or even out-of-country tourists who want to experience what it’s like to be a cowboy. Many of the cattle ranches in the area have turned to tourists in order to survive. The old-timers die off and their kids don’t want to run a cattle ranch. It’s much more lucrative to sell the ranch or turn it into a dude ranch for tourists.

We weren’t really interested in the typical dude ranch activities, like campfires, cowboy breakfasts, staged gunfights, and all the hokey cowboy stuff. That’s fine for kids or people from out of state, but I just wanted to do some horseback riding. The Running R Ranch, according to its website, is dedicated to horseback riding, not to the usual dude ranch activities. So we booked a cabin and on the appointed day drove out there.  

The drive from Bulverde to Bandera tells the story of the area. Huge ranches have been sold and developed into subdivisions with grand arched entries. Their residents usually commute to San Antonio to work. Eventually the subdivisions thin out into stretches of hill country with occasional working ranches. Real working ranches don’t have fancy stone archways or gates made of scrolled grillwork. They are usually marked by a plain wood-and-wire livestock gate and a mailbox.

After an hour-and-a-half of driving, we arrived in Bandera. The town itself is quite charming, if you like the Old West sort of thing. Much of it hasn’t changed since the 1890’s. We rolled past wooden sidewalks with hitching posts, the stone bank building turned boutique, the old general store, and saloons and dance halls. Then we turned off onto a winding road that eventually led to the Running R Ranch. Another mile up a dirt road and we arrived at a cluster of unassuming buildings.

After checking in at the tiny office, we drove to our cabin.  A couple of cats were hanging around on the wooden porch.  As soon as we opened the door, they darted inside and made themselves at home.  The cabin consisted of one simple room with a kitchenette, a small table with two chairs, two double beds, and a bathroom. Everything was made of wood: walls, floor, ceiling, and furniture. Between the beds was a furnace-type heater, which we were very grateful for during our stay. The fact it had no phone or TV was a plus in my mind.

We arrived just in time for lunch. It was served in a huge dining hall with long wooden tables and a blazing fire at the far end. The food was served buffet style, all you can eat, and it was yummy. The cook was actually a culinary school-trained chef, and the vegetables came from the ranch garden. We met a young couple from Switzerland who had spent the last month touring Texas in a rented car. Later in the weekend a group of young women from France showed up. In fact, except for a few staff members, we were the only native Texans around. Even the owners were from New Jersey.

 After lunch we put on our boots, jackets, and hats and slogged through the mud to the barn. The only other riders that afternoon were a mother from Minnesota and her bespectacled 13-year-old son. Neither had been on a horse before. David was the horse wrangler, and he certainly looked the part. He wore a long waterproof coat called a duster, plus the usual cowboy gear: boots, hat, and chaps.

David assigned horses according to our riding experience. I got an ill-tempered gelding named Copenhagen, who had a tendency to bit the horse walking in front of him on the trail. David advised me to keep him at least six feet behind the horse he was following.  The mom and son from Minnesota were a little afraid of the horses. After helping them mount, David gave a ten-minute riding lesson. He told them how to hold the reins, how to sit, how to steer, and how to stop the horses should they make a run for it (they didn’t).  

When he talked, and he talked a lot, David sounded like Tommy Lee Jones. During our ride we learned that he had spent all his life working on cattle ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. He considered it to be a step down to be leading tourists around on a dude ranch. But the ranches he used to work have all been sold and converted to something else. He had never owned a house or stayed anywhere longer than a few years. He'd never been married. During the ride he confided that he was "sweet on" Diane, the ranch owner from New Jersey.  

The weather was cold, wet, and miserable, and the rain never stopped. But the scenery was green and lovely. We rode into an adjoining State natural area with miles and miles of untouched hill country, along rocky trails winding among the cedars and oaks. We passed by crumbling rock outbuildings, leftovers from an old ranch dating back to the 1800’s. The owner had donated the land to the state rather than see it cut up into smaller parcels. The original rancher’s homestead, a stately two-story rock house, was now the residence of the park ranger.  Before the 3-hour ride was over, my rain resistant jacket had given up all resistance, and I was soaked.

It was snug in our cabin with the wind and rain blowing against the windows. On Saturday night we drove into town and hit a couple of bars and dance halls. It was mostly local ranchers and their wives who hit the dance floor. You could tell they had been dancing together for years. After a couple of beers, we headed back to the ranch. Bandera’s overzealous lawmen are famous for stopping out-of-towners and issuing citations for DUI’s. The unofficial Bandera slogan is “Come on vacation, leave on probation.” Most ranches encourage visitors to use the local taxi service. Its only job is to ferry visitors to and from town at night.

But we didn’t get pulled over, and it was a wonderful weekend. Maybe the weather gave us a taste of what it’s really like to be a cowboy: riding for hours through rain and cold, then spending Saturday night whooping it up in town. We weren’t exactly whoopers, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Mother's Grief

This is not like my usual blog.  Nothing lighthearted or amusing today.  Today I’m just speaking as a mother.

I think most mothers would gladly take on their children’s suffering instead of watch them suffer.  This is nothing new.  It’s been said many times.  I have nothing fresh or creative to add. 

Like all mothers, I wanted to protect my children.  I wanted to shelter them from "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."  But that’s impossible, and fortune is indeed outrageous.  Why does this or that happen?  Why does this affliction alight on one person, willy nilly, through no fault of their own?  How could it happen to your own child, the babe you held in your arms, so full of wonder and promise?    

But there it is.  In the bloom of life, with every blessing at hand--intelligence, ambition, character, vision—your child is struck down out of nowhere.  You watch the struggle to hold on to dreams that slip away.  You watch the eyes that shone with anticipation turn dull with resignation.  As a parent, you search everywhere for answers, but eventually you have to accept that you are helpless to make it better.  So you watch your child die by degrees.  There is no reprieve, no cure, no end to it.   
This morning I sat outside with my coffee for a few minutes and saw a hummingbird busy at the hummingbird feeder.  And when I went to fill the dog’s water bowl, I saw a frog hiding in the mulch, blending in so well I almost didn’t see him.  But I did see him and the hummingbird, and watched my dogs enjoying their kibbly meals as they always do, and it is these small joys that sustain me today.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Do You Choose a Writing Topic?

It’s difficult for me to make decisions, especially when faced with an array of equally desirable choices.  Right now I want to start writing seriously.  My problem is choosing a topic.   

For most aspiring writers, the problem is finding time to write.  Everything I’ve read about writing, and I’ve read a lot, recommends cutting everything out of your life except writing.  At the most, you may be allowed to keep one outside activity.  Sacrifice is the key word.  You must sacrifice your book club, your gym workouts, time spent with family and friends, cooking dinner every night, watching TV.  You must sacrifice all these and lay them on the altar of The Writing Project.   

But at this point in my life, I have the time.  I don’t have a job.  My children are grown and gone.  I have my own quiet space to write.  So the only thing holding me back is choosing a topic.  It’s not that I can’t think of a topic.  The problem is choosing one of several topics I’d like to write about.  

How do I go about doing that? 

A couple of days ago I was reading an article by a neuroscientist.  He talked about a phenomenon we’ve all experienced:  when you focus on a problem, the solution can be quite elusive.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you suddenly know what to do.  Or that name you couldn’t think of pops into your mind, hours or even days after you quit thinking about it.  According to the neuroscientist, your subconscious mind was working on it all along, unbeknownst to you.   

I’m hoping the same phenomenon works in decision-making.  So for the past couple of days I’ve tried not to think about what to write.  I just tossed it out there, like Noah releasing the dove.  I trust that my subconscious is grinding away at the problem.  So far, I haven’t had any revelations.  Perhaps the answer might not appear as a revelation.  Perhaps it will be more understated.  Perhaps I need to pay attention to subtle hints or piece together mysterious clues.  But then, doesn’t this bring me back to consciously thinking about solutions, instead of relying on my subconscious to do the work?    

No doubt I’m overthinking this whole decision-making process.  When the right topic comes along, I'll just know.  Or I need to close my eyes, choose a topic, and see where it goes.  Just jumping in sometimes works surprisingly well.

So here I am, still waiting for that revelation.  I’d settle for just a whisper or a nudge.  I’m trying not to dwell on it.  But it’s like telling yourself not to think about an elephant.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Jemileh" Video and Costumes by Bella

Happy first day of June, everyone! 

I haven’t written in a few days (again) because, as mentioned before, I had a perfect storm of duties and obligations coming to a head:  a board meeting, the quarterly newsletter for the humane society, the debut dance at Demo’s.  After all that, I was mentally and physically, well, not exactly exhausted, but darn tired and in dire need of a respite.  So I took a couple of days off after the Demo’s gig and did none of the above.  Then complications arose with the newsletter, and other stuff cropped up, the way they inevitably do. 
So here I am, about six days behind on my blog.  I still have my mind on belly dance.  More specifically, belly dance costumes.  On a belly dance forum I discovered Bella costumes.  Bella is the queen of belly dance couture, it seems.  She makes custom-order costumes that are simply gorgeous.  Mind-bogglingly gorgeous.  If that isn’t a word, it should be.  And, naturally, expensive.  To even look at the costumes on her website you have to register and wait for her to assign you a password.  Apparently she dispenses those sparingly and after a long wait, so I am still waiting.  However, if you google “Bella belly dance costumes,” you can ogle photos of some of her costumes.  There are even websites of people who sell their used Bella costumes, which are snapped up immediately.  You can try to get on THEIR email list, but some of those are closed to any new shoppers.  The used Bellas are usually worn just a few times by big-time professionals.  Check it out. 

 I don’t have much to offer today in the way of a blog.  I spent most of the morning writing another blog, but it’s long and unedited, and I don’t have time to get it print-ready today.  So I will do my usual fall-back:  play a song. 

“Jemileh” is one of the songs I danced to last Wednesday at Demo’s.  The choreography in this video is, of course, different from ours.  I think it’s lovely, though, especially the graceful arms.  I like this girl’s Spanish-flavor costume, too.  This is obviously an amateur event, what with people walking right in front of the camera and so on.  Oh, and in this video, “Jemileh” breaks right into another song, “Geceler” sung by the same guy.  It’s kind of a continuation of “Jemileh,” but we didn’t dance to the “Geceler” part.