Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Update: Jimmy the Bagpiper will be playing the pipes for Alex and Chris in a few short weeks...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Making Nice, and Not So Nice...

I attended the 80th birthday party of a family friend on Friday night. It was a lavish birthday dinner, held in a private dining room in an Italian restaurant in North Dallas, where a couple dozen friends and family, some of whom had flown in for the event, roasted and toasted the honoree.

I was seated at a table with two women about my age. I’m 57, and M, directly to my left, and B, directly to M’s left, both appeared to be in their late 50's or early 60's. We introduced ourselves and made small talk over bread and salad, M and B explaining that they were lifelong friends, now neighbors, who had come to the party together, yada yada yada. But when the pastas and salmon and tenderloin were delivered and passed around the table, M and B began to talk about politics.

“Oh, I don’t care who runs, as long as it’s not that one with the name,” M said.

B said emphatically, “I agree!”

“Who’s that?” I asked, guessing I already knew the answer.

“Oh, what’s his name...Obama!” said M.

“I like Obama,” I said, buttering some bread, “but I gather you don’t. What’s your objection?”

Both women looked horrified.

“Do you know his middle name is Hussein?” M asked.

“So?” I said. “What do I care if his middle name is Hussein?”

“He’s a MUSLIM!” M exclaimed, staring hard to see what effect this pronouncement might have on me.

I laughed.

“In fact, I believe he’s a Baptist,”
I said (I was wrong, according to Wikipedia, Obama’s a member of the United Church of Christ, a protestant Christian denomination). “But even if he’s not...well, my firstborn is on the FBI’s list of international terrorists, because she happens to have the same name as one of the 325,000 people on that list, and every time she flies anywhere, she has to allow extra time at the airport because she receives extra scrutiny because of that...”

“What are you talking about? That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about,” M snapped.

“My point is, Obama’s middle name being Hussein doesn’t make him a Muslim,” I said, “but even if he were a Muslim...so what?”

“He IS a Muslim,” M said, “And do you know what they believe?”

“No, tell me,” I said, and I admit I was eager to hear her answer.

“Welllllll...they believe their people will all be together in the hereafter!” she exclaimed.

I looked at her, truly perplexed. “Isn’t that what most religions believe?” I asked.

“He’s a MUSLIM!” M said again, and B nodded.

“But what’s so bad about that?” I asked. “What are you worried will happen if Obama is elected?”

“I’m worried he’ll have this whole country on our knees at 4:00 PM every day, or whatever it is they do!” M exclaimed.

Uh-huh. That would be really, really bad, as opposed to, say, a college kid shooting and killing 33 of his classmates and professors...

“Well,” I said brightly, “He’s got my vote!”

M abruptly stood up and left the table, hurrying from the room. Maybe she needed to use the restroom, or maybe she became so upset by our conversation that she had to leave. I tend to think it was the latter, and while I’m normally a “smooth the feathers” sort of person, in this case, if my saying I’ll vote for Obama upset her that much, after she introduced the topic of politics...well, that’s her problem.

Eventually, she returned to the table.

“Don’t mind me,” she said, all smiles now, making nice.

“Oh, I don’t”, I said, and I smiled back and made nice myself, as I helped myself to some more pasta.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The taxman, money, and style...

I’m no accountant, but I did Chris’ taxes a few weeks ago, and Mike’s this morning, and then spent several hours this afternoon doing my own.

I really hate doing my taxes. Last year, I had an accountant do them, and this afternoon, deep into the return, I was wishing I’d turned everything over to him again. However, I managed to finish on my own, and am now drinking a much deserved icy Corona with lime...and I’ve been thinking, again, about money. I’ve said before that money doesn’t much interest me, and it doesn't, which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy having it, because of course I do, but...I’ve never been much good at hanging onto it. I’m more interested in the fun that can be had with it than in simply having it...

My firstborn, Alex, is marrying her fiancé, Chris, in a small private ceremony in A’s backyard at the end of May. “Mom, can you find someone to marry us?” Alex asked a few weeks ago. Alex and Chris aren’t religious, and don’t want a person of the cloth to preside over their ceremony, and yet they don't want to just go to city hall and be married by a Justice of the Peace. They want someone to come to A's, perform the ceremony, and leave: maybe a 10 minute gig, tops.

That rules out friends of the family, who'd want to mingle with us for the rest of the afternoon. I have a terrific friend, Sherri, whom I count on for resources in situations like this. She and I were sitting in a friend's back yard on a sunny, Sunday afternoon a month ago, drinking wine and talking, when I asked her if she knew anyone who could/would perform a nonsectarian ceremony and leave. Sherri speed dialed a friend on her cellphone as we sat there, and 2 minutes later...voila...the ceremony was in the works!

I spoke with the guy this week, to discuss details, and he sounds great. He’s not a man of the cloth; he can legally perform marriages in Dallas County; he’s available on the date of the wedding; he's comfortable with coming in, performing the ceremony, and leaving; and he's happy to do it. After we’d discussed these basics, I asked him his fee.

“For a friend of Sherri’s, there’s no fee,” he said. Well, he’s a friend of Sherri’s, and I hope he’ll end up being a friend of mine, but I haven’t even met him yet, and I won't ask him to marry my daughter and her fiance without recompensing him for his time. That might save a little money, but it's so not my style.

I had coffee with A and told him about it.

“What were you thinking?” A asked me.

“I was thinking a hundred bucks would be a steal,” I said.

A nodded. “Cash,” he said.

“Yep,” I said, “A crisp new bill...”

We may be divorced, but on things like this, we’ve always seen eye to eye. And that’s a good thing...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Public Service Announcement: Bag o'lint

This Old House stuff here today.

A few posts back, I wrote about replacing my clothes dryer, because the old one just wasn't drying the clothes on the automatic sensor cycle anymore. I got a new (to me) used dryer on
Dallas Craigslist only to discover it had the same problem....


I don't believe in coincidences, and neither does Kath, who's living with me. So today, Kath went up on the roof to check out the condition of the dryer vent pipe. On my house, that pipe is about 4" in diameter and maybe 15' feet long. That's right, 15 feet, and Kath found that pipe stuffed, chock-a-block full, with at least 23 years worth of lint. I know it's at least 23 years worth, because that's how long I've lived in this house, and although I've been up on the roof a number of times over the years to attend to various home maintenance chores, I've never cleaned the dryer vent pipe, nor have I ever hired anyone to do it. Kath pointed out there was probably lint from Mike and Chris' baby blankets in that pipe, and Mike and Chris are now 21...

At the very least, a blocked ventpipe will cost you money, because it'll cause your dryer to run longer, by reducing the airflow through the vent. This is what was happening with my new, used dryer, and may well have been the problem with the dryer I replaced. But blocked ventpipes can do things much worse than causing a dryer to become inefficient. With natural gas clothes dryers, the build-up of lint can keep carbon monoxide from escaping, causing it to back up inside your house instead, and that can be fatal. Also, blocked ventpipes can, and do, cause dryer fires.

Your eyes may be glazing over by now, but bear with me. There are now more clothes dryer fires each year than chimney fires. The
Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1998 (the most recent year for which I was able to find stats on this rather grim topic) clothes dryers were involved in over 15,000 fires that resulted in 20 deaths and almost 400 injuries.

On the roof, Kath poked a long metal rod into the pipe to loosen the lint, pulling out as much as she could. Then, back in the house, she reattached the dryer vent hose to the pipe, turned on the dryer, and blew out as much lint as possible. She repeated this process until she could see the bottom of the pipe from the roof. The bag full of lint in the photo is just a small part of what was in the pipe.

Soooooooo...go clean your dryer vent pipes, or hire someone to do it. Housefires are things best avoided (this I know, from firsthand experience). And oh yeah...for what it's worth...my new, used dryer now works BEAUTIFULLY.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter 2007

Xander came over this morning and dyed eggs, and he also found the chocolate bunny with 8" ears hidden for him in the dining room, behind the plantation shutters.

For most of the time that I was married and for several years after that, I prepared the same meal for Easter lunch each year. I kept it simple: I’d marinade a leg of lamb ahead of time in a Julia Child rosemary-mustard sauce, and I always served it pink, with mint sauce on the side, as well as fresh steamed asparagus with homemade Hollandaise, a tossed salad, and I’d make a strawberry tart or maybe an apple pie for dessert. The week after Easter, I’d turn the leftover lamb into a delicious lamb curry, and I have to say, I liked that traditional meal and I liked the leftover lamb curry.

But this year I felt like doing something different. There’ll be five of us for dinner today: Chris and Stephanie, Katharine, A and me. Mike is finishing up his sophomore year at UA Tucscon, and Alex is in Germany, visiting her fiancé, and anyway, she’d be having her own Easter lunch or dinner in Chicago if she were in the states.

I’ve spent the afternoon happy in my kitchen, listening to Leonard Cohen and drinking an icy bottle of Kirin Ichiban as I prepared the meal. Instead of lamb, I’m grilling flank steak that I’ve had soaking in a nice oil/red wine vinegar/soy sauce and Worcestershire marinade all day. To accompany the flank steak, I’ve prepared mushrooms sauteed in butter and vermouth; stuffed tomatoes; warm cracked wheat rolls for which I’ve made a flavored butter, adding dill and lemon juice; the traditional steamed fresh asparagus, with homemade Hollandaise on the side; and for dessert, Bananas Foster.

Happy Easter and Bon Appetit.

p.s. - Here's a pic of Chris, who enjoyed the new menu as well as a couple of bottles of Kirin Ichiban. I think it's fair to say, a good time was had by all.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

ice cream, love with the proper stranger, & other temptations...

Andy (Lost In Middle America, or simply Ab on my list of favorite bloggers, check him out) has written a terrific essay on making choices.

Temptation is, indeed, present everywhere, but I have to admit, until recently, I’ve been pretty successful at compartmentalizing my guilty pleasures. For example, although eating a pint of Cherry Garcia and having unsafe sex are similar in some ways...they’re both physical pleasures, and (like most physical pleasures), both tend to seem like a great idea in the heady moments of anticipation prior to indulging in either of them...they’re also very different in some ways: e.g., the possible repercussions of occasionally eating too much ice cream are very different from the possible repercussions of having unsafe sex, even once. (And yeah, I admit I’ve done both and managed to have no regrets in the morning, what does that say about me? Other than that I’ve been lucky, I mean...)

I loved Edna St. Vincent Millay’s
“My candle burns at both ends” from the moment I first read it, and I felt the same about Kerouac’s words: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time...”
And then there’s Langston Hughes: "She lived in sinful happiness and died in pain...she laughed in sunshine and danced in rain...”

In many ways, those poems were a sort of mantra for me, and yet...I’ve always thought there was a world of difference between Delbert McClinton belting out,
"I feel an old weakness, coming on strong..." and TS Eliot's cool words, "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go..."

But is there?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Nasher





I couldn't take pics of any of the Matisse, for obvious reasons, but...I snapped these on the grounds of the Nasher. And it does a soul good...well, it does my soul good...to walk around and drink in the beauty that these artists have created.

Disclaimer: I know absolutely nothing about art, and have never taken an art appreciation class in my life...I admit that I dunno even what, exactly, that entails...but I've been pouring over art, in books and museums, regularly since I was a kid...and again at this exhibit of Matisse, it was clear to me that Matisse loved women, and loved the female form. Picasso is highly acclaimed, and he is supposed to have said the wonderful statement "I wish that I could draw as well as a child". For what it's worth, I couldn't find that quote attributed to him on Google, but I did find the almost equally terrific "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Still, I've never been as big a fan of Picasso as I am of Matisse, and a big part of that is the way Picasso depicts people, especially women, which often seems disjointed and sometimes almost hostile to me. In 1999, the Matisse-Picasso show that eventually traveled across the country (it was at MOMA in New York in 2003) originated at The Kimbell in Forth Worth. I went 3 times in the slightly more than 3 months the exhibit was at The Kimbell, fascinated by the contrast between the two contemporaries/rivals, especially in their depictions of the female form.

Before I became a fan of his painting or his sculpture, I was attracted to Matisse's vibrant paper cutouts that he called "cutting into color".

In this exhibit, for the first time, I was able to see the origin of those dynamic forms that are such a large part of his work in the later part of his life.

All of which is to say, if you get a chance to see this exhibit as it makes it's way around the country, GO......

Sunday, April 01, 2007

hope is the thing with feathers...

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all...

Emily Dickinson

I'm sitting here thinking that the title of my previous post (money - that's what I want) does so not apply, right now. There is much on my mind these days, but very little of what I'm spending time thinking about has to do with money. I don't mean to be cryptic. Suffice it to say that when life decides to blindside you (as it does from time to time to all of us), with the result that someone whom you love is hurting, money and material things tend to pale and dwindle to their proper perspective...

So, in the interests of both distracting myself and actively seeking out at least a whiff of the heady springtime feeling of hope, I'm off on this beautiful, April afternoon to the Matisse Painter As Sculptor joint exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher.

More later.