Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day weekend 2008

For some reason, the cicadas got off to a slow start this year, or so it seemed to me. I missed hearing them many nights this summer when, at least in my mind's ear, they had previously filled similar summer nights with their song. I'm not sure what's happened, but suddenly, in late August, with temperatures hovering in the high 90's, they've apparently decided to make up for it, and night after night, as I move from room to room in my cool, air conditioned house, which is shut up tight against the oppressive heat, I can hear them singing in the trees outside my windows. Their song, lush and rhythmic, comes in swells, and reminds me again that it is one of the things that I love about living in the south. When I first moved to Texas, in 1983, I could count on a subtle change in the weather after Labor Day weekend. Even though the temperatures stayed hot during the day and warm at night, it was as if a little of the air had been let out of the season, and you sensed that cooler weather was on the way. I don't remember when that changed, but it hasn't been like that for some time now. This oppressive heat will hang on for several weeks before giving way to the cool, crisp days of fall. Fall is my favorite time of year, and fall in Texas is well worth waiting for. Once it arrives, there will be weeks of clear, bright, sunny days, with temperatures in the 70's, followed by crisp, cool, starry nights, with just enough chill in the air to have a fire in the fireplace.

Nevertheless, although there are still a few weeks of summer ahead here in Texas, I like to use Labor Day weekend as the excuse to change out the colors of summer for the colors of fall, inside and outside my house.

And having spent some time yesterday and this morning doing that, this afternoon Kath, A & I went to see the 2006 French thriller, Tell No One, which I highly recommend. It's an indie sleeper, which is absolutely amazing to me, as it's an excellent film. I'm not sure why no American jumped on this story, from Harlan Corbin's book of the same name, but I'm happy they didn't. I don't think anyone could have done it better than Guillaume Canet. If you get a chance, go see it.

Afterward, we went back to my house for dinner. I'd invited Chris & Stephanie, who'd punted the movie because they spent the day moving from their apartment into a house they've rented in the neighborhood. I called Chris from Central Market.
"Do you want to come over and have dinner, after the movie, at about 7:30?" I asked.
"Um, I'd like to come over, but I don't think we can because we're going out for dinner," Chris said, and then asked, "What are you having, anyway?"
"Well, I was thinking of avocados stuffed with shrimp salad," I said.
"Oh, man, I'd LOVE that!" Chris exclaimed. A little history here: when Chris was 5, jumbo shrimp with red sauce was probably his favorite food in the world. He looked forward to eating shrimp like other kids looked forward to a cheeseburger and if he went with me to the grocery store, that's what he always wanted as a treat. So I knew he'd enjoy this dinner if they could come over.
"Yeah, shoot, no, I can't do it," he said, "because I've promised Stephanie we'd go out."
"It's OK honey, another time," I said, and we said goodbye and hung up.

In a couple of minutes he called me back.
"Can you save me one?"
"Can you save me a stuffed avocado?"
I started laughing.
"Christopher, we are talking about ripe avocados and fresh shrimp! It's going to be delicious tonight but it won't last beyond tonight..."
"Yeah, I know....." he said and paused, then said,
"Can I come by at 7:30 and have one?"
I laughed again. "You can come by at 7:30 and have as many as you like."

And so he did. Stephanie didn't eat, as they were on their way out to dinner when they stopped by, but Chris had two stuffed avocados, and if they hadn't been on their way out to dinner, I'm fairly certain he'd have eaten more. Chris & Mike's best friend, Jon, stopped by as we were finishing a light dinner, which, for the rest of us, consisted of hatch jack cheese quesadilloes, shrimp stuffed avocadoes, white wine, and for dessert, blood orange, passion fruit and lemon sorbeto. Not exactly the traditional Labor Day cookout, but a terrific Labor Day weekend nevertheless.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, beautiful boy!

Happy Birthday Alexander! Wow, you are SIX today. I can hardly believe it. It seems like I've just blinked a few times since you were born, but obviously that's not so, because you're a big boy're in first grade, and you can swim and spell and read and write and tell jokes...FUNNY jokes...wellllllllll...Dr. Seuss said it better than I ever could:

In Katroo, every year on the day you were born
They start the day bright in the bright early morn
When the birthday Honk-Honker hikes high up Mt. Zorn
And lets loose a big blast on the big Birthday Horn.
And the voice of the horn calls out loud as it plays:
"Wake Up! For today is your Day of all Days!"

Then, the moment the horn's happy honk-honk is heard,
Comes a fluttering flap-flap! And then comes THE BIRD!

The great Birthday Bird!
And, so far as I know,
Katroo is the only place birthday birds grow.
This bird has a brain. He's most beautifully brained
With the brainiest bird-brain that's ever been trained.
He was trained by the most splendid Club in this nation,
The Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation.
And, whether your name's Alexander or Paul,
When your birthday comes round, he's in charge of it all.

And here comes your cake!
Cooked by Snookers and Snookers,
The official Katroo Happy Birthday Cake Cookers.
And Snookers and Snookers, I'm happy to say,
Are the only cake cookers who cook cakes today
Made of guaranteed, certified, strictly Grade-A
Peppermint cucumber sausage-paste butter!
And the world's finest cake slicers, Dutter and Dutter
And Dutter and Dutter with hatchets a-flutter,
High up on the poop-deck, stand ready to cut her

Today you are you! That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
Shout loud "I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I'm not just a clam or a ham!
Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am! That's a great thing to be!
If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!"

Now, by horseback and Bird-back, and Hiffer-back too,
Come your firends! All your friends! From all over Katroo!
And the Birthday Pal-alace heats up with hot friends
And your party goes on!
On and on
Till it ends.

When it ends,
You're much happier,
Richer and Fatter.
And the bird flies you home
On a very soft platter.

So that's
What the Birthday Bird
Does in Katroo

And I wish
I could do
All these great things for you!

Happy Birthday Alexander!

Monday, August 25, 2008


So I went back to the ophthalmologist today for more vision tests and a thorough, in-depth exam of my eyes, and...woo hoo! for now I'm in a sort of holding pattern. My left optic nerve is definitely quite a bit bigger than the one on the right, and I didn't do as well on the visual field tests on the left as I did on the right, but...hold your breath (I was definitely holding mine)...the overall results were good enough that for now, I don't have to do anything differently. No glaucoma eyedrops yet, hallelujah! Just close monitoring every six months to chart any changes. Eventually there will, of course, be changes...but for now, things are OK, and I'm happy about that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

it's hatch chili time again...

It's Hatch chili time again. For those of you who don't live in the south, well…all I can say is, you're missing out. What this means’s harvest time for the famous chilis grown in Hatch, New Mexico, something every foodie looks forward to at this time of year. Hatch is a small town of about 2000 residents, approximately forty miles north of LasCruces, NM, in the Rio Grande Valley. The beautiful picture above, showing fields of ripening chilis, is from a website about the Hatch Chili Festival.

I have to admit, when I lived in the north, this wouldn’t have particularly interested me. I didn’t grow up eating peppers of any sort, not even bell peppers, say nothing of hot peppers. When I moved to Texas in 1983, I didn’t even like Mexican food, or so I thought…turns out I hadn’t actually had any real Mexican food, but happily, living in Texas, that was soon to change, and in no time at all, I was a complete and total convert. Of course, most Mexican food isn’t particularly hot, but peppers are always an option, starting with jalapenos. The first couple of times I tried those, I remember my eyes watered as I wondered why on earth anyone would willingly eat them. But jalapenos sort of grow on you. Within a year, if an abundance of jalapenos didn’t appear with any Mexican or TexMex food I’d ordered, I somehow felt I was being cheated. For what it's worth, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson might have felt something similar, as both are known to have grown chilies. In fact, twenty-five percent of the world eats chilies every day.

I haven’t become such a convert to hot foods that I enjoy the feeling that my mouth is on fire. The burning sensation in chiles comes from a collection of compounds called capsaicinoids and the shorter the molecule chain, the hotter the pepper. Coincidentally, in general, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it will be: most of the worlds hottest peppers are under 3" long, although the Naga Jolokia, officially the world's hottest pepper, can grow up to just over 3".

But back to the hatch chilis. When people talk about Hatch chilis, they aren’t talking one specific pepper but rather a variety of peppers grown in Hatch. People say there’s something magic in the air of New Mexico, and maybe there’s something to that, because chili connoisseurs seem to agree that there’s something about the sun and the soil and the waters of the Rio Grande that produces exceptional, unique chili peppers each year. At the beginning of the harvest season, green chilis are used in enchiladas, rellenos, and stews, and as the days go by and the peppers turn red, they are dried and used in sauces. Green or red, mild or hot, hatch chilis are delicious.

This afternoon I went to Central Market, which celebrates the Hatch Chili Festival with everything from salsa to brownies made with various hatch chilis. And tonight for dinner I had a hatch chili burger with hatch jack cheese, grilled medium rare, with a side of hatch macaroni and cheese, washed down with an icy Shiner Bock.

Mmmmmmmmmm. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

stupid ads...

Having spent a fair amount of time putting together the pics for my post on bathroom remodeling has gotten me to thinking about the incredibly stupid Cialis ad (not that all erectile dysfunction ads aren't incredibly stupid, because they are)...but I've been thinking specifically of the ad where the couple ends up in two bathtubs out in the country. What's the deal? I've posted the pic here so you can see what I'm talking about. OK, the tubs don't appear to be plumbed in, takes approximately 40 gallons of water to fill the average tub...times two, equals 80 gallons...and a pint's a pound, the world 'round, so a gallon weighs approximately 8 pounds, 8.35 to be exact...times 80 equals 640 pounds of for starters, this inquiring mind would like to know: where'd the water come from? Did they bring it up on pack mules, and if yes, are those tired mules braying thirstily, just off camera? 'Cause if they are, that'd sort of kill the mood, for me. ("Oh, my darling..." "YEE-HAW!!!")

And it looks like the sun is going down, which means the temperature will be if those tubs are full of water, how are they going to keep that water warm? And how long exactly have those two people been sitting there? Because face it, it's one thing to be together in a tub, in which case I personally have generally been sufficiently distracted to happily lose track of all sorts of things, like whether the water's getting cooler...but even when a couple is...uh...happy together in a tub...after a while the water takes it toll and one begins to wrinkle and even, uh...shrivel up, so to speak. Which is also sort of a mood killer. Or are they sitting there, side by side, in EMPTY tubs? In which case maybe this should be an ad for
Aricept...and finally, how the hell did they get those tubs up there? Hmmmm, Cialis is supposed to last for 36 hours...the only thing I can think of is maybe the guy took some Cialis and then pushed 'em up there himself...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

more remodeling - master bath pics

OK, here's the shower BEFORE and AFTER
and close ups of one of the sinks BEFORE and AFTER...

After the fire I discovered some old carpenter ant damage in the wet wall in the master bath. The damage was fairly extensive and required replacement of a number of studs, floor to ceiling.
It would have been one thing if I'd discovered this at the time of the fire, when the whole house was a wreck, but I discovered the damage after the fact. The carpenter I'd hired to do various repairs had seen the damage but decided not to tell me about it, and had simply sheetrocked over it. I made the discovery when I was painting baseboards and I reached a section where the paint wouldn't adhere. I ran a finger along the baseboard to try to determine what the problem was. To my amazement, I managed to poke my finger right through the baseboard, because the back of the baseboard, as well as the studs, had been eaten by the ants. There was brand new sheetrock attached to the intact studs, hiding the damage. When I discovered this, I was furious, but I was also overwhelmed. I immediately tore out the sheetrock and removed the studs, but then I sort of hit a wall (no pun intended), emotionally, and for longer than I care to remember, I had exposed studs in the wet wall in the master bath.

Then, about a year ago, my friend Paul, who happens to be an engineer, came over for dinner one night. "Jude, what's up with that bath?" he asked. A couple of weekends later, he helped me out tremendously by coming over and replacing the studs, after which it was a piece of cake for me to replace the sheetrock. As much as I loathe taping, bedding and sanding, I can do it fairly well, and getting those basics out of the way really kicked this project off. Bathroom remodeling is notoriously expensive, but in addition to keeping costs down by doing a lot of the work myself, I got a lot of bang for the buck by keeping the existing cabinets, which are solid wood and in fairly good shape, and just replacing the countertop, sinks, and faucets. I replaced the 30 year old cracked, cultured marble countertop (nothing cultured about it) with brown marble with undermounted porcelain sinks and Hansgrohe brushed nickel faucets. Before the plumbers mounted the new countertop, I made a frame out of 1 x 4's (a much more difficult task than I'd anticipated). After truing it up (that was the hard part) I mounted the frame with wood screws to the existing cabinet, thereby raising the height of the countertop. To avoid having to resurface the front of the old cabinets, I simply put a trim piece over the joint. The trim piece is visible in the last pic. Voila! Decent bath at long last!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Mike & Chris!

23 years ago tonight you were born. You were approximately two weeks late, so I was very happy to have you finally arrive, albeit by C-section. You were big guys from the start (part of the reason for the Cesarean), weighing in at a whopping 8 pounds each (actually, Mike, you weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces, making you slightly heavier and a full 2 minutes older than Chris). From the beginning, you’ve been best friends, and it makes me smile to think that tonight you're in
Arizona wilderness, celebrating your 23rd birthday together under a starry August sky. Happy Birthday guys! I love you.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

family little (or not so little anymore) chickadees...

Kath is here (well, not here in my house, but here in Dallas). She's hard at work, as usual. She deserves a long vacation to someplace wonderful, and one of these days I hope to hear she's planning to do exactly that. In the meantime...Alex and Chris are just back from Italy, where they spent almost a month. I enjoyed hearing about their trip in a long, wonderful phone call with Alex this evening. Then Chris (my Chris) came over to pack for his trip to Arizona tomorrow. Yes, he could have packed at his apartment, but he hung out with me and we spent a couple of hours talking about everything from camping to religion to PETA. I'm driving him to the airport early in the morning, and he'll fly to Tucson where he'll meet Mike and Brooke and they'll head out for a week of camping and hiking in Havasupai. Mike and Brooke did this trip last year (the pic here is from that trip), and Chris was so impressed with the pics and stories that he decided to join them this year. I'm so happy that they're doing this! And I'm especially happy because on Wednesday, the 13th, Mike and Chris will turn 23, and they'll be together to celebrate their birthday. I can't believe they're turning 23! And I am SO happy that they'll get to be together for it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

if God is God he is not good...if God is good, he is not God...

Lisa has written an excellent post on the pros and cons of religion. This started out as a comment on that, but when I exceeded 2000 characters, I decided to make it a rant. I agree that organized religion may be helpful in instilling ethics in young minds, but I take issue with the idea that it’s required to instill ethics in young people.

I’m a cheerful agnostic. When I was 5 or 6, I realized that I viewed most of what I was taught in the name of religion (Lutheran) as having about as much truthfulness and reality as Santa, and although I continued to attend church (I was a little kid and had no choice), it all seemed like so much group fantasy to me. I agreed to be confirmed on the condition that I be allowed to leave the church after that, if I so desired. And I did (desire to leave the church, and did leave it, at age 15). All of which is background to my saying that my four children were raised without religion. In fact, I’ll digress for a moment with a hilarious anecdote about how non-religious we were.

When the boys were 7, they became cub scouts. I was their den mother. There were 8 boys in our den; 4 Jewish boys and technically, 4 Christian boys, although 2 of them were Mike & Chris, who were being raised outside any church. One summer afternoon when they’d been out playing, Mike and Chris came running into the house, shouting, “Mom! Mom! Guess what!” They were sweaty and out of breath, but clearly excited and happy.

“What?” I asked.

“We’re JEWISH!” they exclaimed, in unison.

“Uh, no, actually, we’re not…” I said.

“Yes, Mom, we ARE! We’re JEWISH!” they said again, in the same confident, happy way that an adult might have announced he was holding a winning lottery ticket.

“Well it would be fine if we were, but we aren’t,” I said, and then I asked, “How did you come to this conclusion?”

The boys exchanged a look.

“Ms. D (mother of the neighbor kid with whom they’d been playing) TOLD us we’re Jewish!” Chris said.

“Huh? Whaddya mean, she TOLD you?”

Mike said, “Well, she asked what church we went to…Prestonwood Baptist or All Saints…and we said, NEITHER…and she said, “Oh, you’re JEWISH!”

I love that story. I did not see it as some sort of hunger for religion on the part of the boys. Their best friend then and now, a guy whom I refer to as my third son, happens to be Jewish, and I viewed it as their simply wanting to identify more closely with him. Maybe I was wrong. I don’t know. I do know that my children are now 32, 29, and 22. None of them attends church or has any interest in religion, insofar as I know; in fact, one of them purports to be an atheist. Nevertheless, I feel confident saying that anyone who's met them would agree that none of them has problems with moral ambiguity. Although we didn't raise them in any church, A and I managed to convey to them that there is right and wrong, good and evil in this world, and that each of us must either try to choose right and good or live with the consequences, a big part of which includes the simple act of having to look yourself in the eye in the morning as you brush your teeth.

Perhaps it helped that A had spent time early in his career working as a civil rights lawyer, but whether that played a part or not, discussing ethics and moral issues at the dinner table was part and parcel of our life, day in and day out, from the time the kids could hold a fork. And whatever it was, they are now four young adults who are honest, industrious, and for the most part thoughtful. If I had it to do over, perhaps I'd try harder to find a church that I could live with, because I believe religion can add a dimension, and even a richness, to life that remains elusive outside that context. Still, most organized religion puts me off, and I'll continue to argue that children can be raised to be ethical, industrious, thoughtful human beings without being raised in the church.