Dear Lorena,

I want to express my most sincere appreciation for you and offer my support to you as your son Carlos serves our country.  I know that he has charted his own path in order to honor and defend our nation, sacrificing much personally, thinking and working for the freedom we sometimes take for granted .  In doing so, you and he both have become people that I can point out to my own children as people who are upstanding, brave and selfless.  Your loyalty, dedication and love of this nation is evident in so many of your actions whether you realize it or not and I have the utmost admiration for you and Carlos and all that you do. 

Again, on this Veteran's Day, I thank you both.



Thanks so much Nancy.  It brings tears to my eyes every time I think of Carlos going to Afghanistan but at the same time I am so very proud.  Let us all pray that Carlos along with all the other troops come back well.  I appreciate your beautiful thoughts and find comfort in your words.  We do love this country and consider ourselves incredibly blessed to live here.  You have a great Veteran’s Day too!

God bless America!


My coworker and new friend Lorena and her family came to work in the United States as migrant farm workers 50+ years ago.  She spoke no English when she first arrived and was educated in a vast series of migrant school classrooms around the country while working in the field with her family from the time she was five years old. She said to me recently that her dad was the hardest working man she ever knew. 

Several of her siblings served in the military...her sister retiring from the United States Airforce, defending the country that allowed them to work and essentially thrive as a family. Her son Carlos proudly carried that tradition on, attending a private military high school, being accepted to and attending the Citadel for several years, and is now being deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard shortly after Thanksgiving of this year.

This is just one of many instances of my friends honoring, serving and protecting the people and country that we love so much.  There is really no way to express the depth of my gratitude for what they do. 


Breathing Is Good

I'm sitting in my fluffy white girlie bed in my apartment in the Hill Country Galleria. I have my windows open overlooking the walking trail. It's about 68 degrees out there and the sound of the cars whizzing down Bee Cave Parkway sounds strangely comforting.

Daddy's Crested Butte painting hangs above my bed as my headboard. Haji Baba the horse silhouettes my wall of windows. Phil's paintings surround me with their spirits watching over, looking forward and reaching up.

I realize I no longer have a heavy feeling in my chest. My head is not cluttered. My heart is not racing. I'm breathing normally and without thinking about it. Is this what they call "calm"? It's a very unfamiliar feeling and I like it a lot.

Wake Up! Part II

Last night I dreamed that some Southern judge and his wife visited me. There were other people with me and a bunch of noisy unruly little kids that were ignoring everything I said to them. The judge brought me this complicated bunch of settlement checks that I was supposed to send out to various parties. I understood the whole transaction but the checks kept getting mixed up and swept off the conference table ending up in a hodge podge of piles on the floor.

The whole time I'm trying to organize the checks and get the kids to behave, the judge was telling this long funny story and his wife kept interrupting him until he finally told her to "just be quiet!" I left in the middle of the story to go find a set of plans that I was supposed to be holding onto for someone. The plans blew out of my hands while I was on the top of a parking garage and I needed to go and find them. I had to race down a bunch of confusing stair wells in several office buildings to make my way to the side of the one building where I thought the tube of plans had maybe landed.

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.” Sigmund Freud


School Days

Yesterday I sorted through boxes and boxes of old school papers and artwork, trying to decide what to keep, what to photograph and what to just toss. It being the night before my youngest starts his Senior year, this keepsake I came across made my heart skip a beat. This is a letter from Anna's kindergarten teacher. We were blessed to have this introduction into the Lake Travis School system.

"Dear Parents,

I give you back your child, the same child you confidently entrusted to my care last fall. I give him back pounds heavier, inches taller, months wiser, more responsible, and more mature than he was then. Although he would have attaained this growth in spite of me, it has been my happy privilege to watch his personality unfold day by day and marvel at this splendid miracle of development. I have thrilled at each new achievement, each new success, each new expansion of self. I give him back reluctantly for having spent the nine months together in the narrow confines of a crowded classroom we have grown closer, have become a part of each other, and we shall retain a little of each other.

Ten years from now if we meet on the streeet, your child and I, a light will spring to our eyes, a smile to our lips, and we shall feel a bond of understanding once more. This bond we feel today. We have lived, loved, laughed, played, studied, learned, and enriched our lives together this year. I wish it could go on forever, but give him back I must. Take care of him for he is precious.

Remember that I shall always be interested in your child whoever he becomes. His joys and sorrows I'll be happy to share. Please call me if there is anything further I can ever do for him.

I shall always be your friend. "



My well is dry. I don't mean this as an expression! I have no water in my well. The fact that the well is dry will absolutely impact the potential sale of my house. Ya think? I have a cistern/tank that will be filled sometime in the next few days. Until then, we are on bottled water and "if it's yellow, let it mellow" mode. Gross, I know.

Here's the way I've been looking at my place for quite some time:

Plan A:
Keep it with all the worries and baggage that go with it.

Plan B:
Sell it and get out from under it ASAP

Plan C:
(Now, there's a Plan C)
With the well issue, I'm having to consider what Plan C might be. The house looks great now and I have started to show it the love it had ben lacking. I need to continue on the inside and move onto the outside, the barn, the wellhouse, the trails, the wildflowers and the trees.

It's funny how you fix up the place like you would like it to be just when you are trying to unload it. Well maybe that's not the case here now. I might have to embrace this place and hang with it for a significant period of time. Things I've envisioned at this place over time have included...

- Rainwater collection (really?)
- Outdoor kitchen/oven/pit/grill
- A huge vegetable garden
- Goats and chickens
- Bird and butterfly gardens
- Sculpted hiking trails
- Screened shelter with fans and hammocks and stone patio near the outdoor cooking area.
- Hot tub/no...COLD tub

I'd like water flowing from my pipes inside my house too. Is that too much to ask?


Colorado 2010

The kids and I are heading out to Santa Fe to visit Lis and then on to Mark's place. It occurred to me that I wrote some stories last year that I never posted. I think it will be fun to see last years memories up next to my fun this year. I've had a great year with all kinds of unexpected twists and turns...almost all good, but even when not so good, turned a light on for me and moved me onward and upward.

July 19, 2010
Guess one lone coyote might sound, to me, like an bugling elk, but Paul heard it too and says, no it was a coyote. Either way it is a lovely sound to hear out your window at night with the coolness creeping in through the screens.

Today, fishing was on the agenda, so Paul, Sherry, James, Daniel and I headed up the "the meadows". Daniel doesn't remember any of this but he did actually fish in Colorado as a 5 year old. This time Paul is going to introduce him to fly fishing. They get him a license at 3 Rivers in Almont and we head out. We stopped at what used to be Spring Creek Resort, and I can't even be sad or nostalgic because it's simply not there anymore. Even the Big Rock doesn't look the same. I'm relieved actually, because I feared that this trip might make me feel sad in some ways, but it hasn't and I only feel happpy and relaxed for the first time in quite some time. I have no cell phone reception and the only people I want to communicate with beside Lis are here with me. Peace at last...

So I watched Paul teach Daniel to fly fish and even though he didn't catch anything he said he likes it and wants to do it again. It's so beautiful out here and I love watching them walk up the river, casting. It's like watching a memory; a dream; a lovely memory and a dream come true.

As soon as Sherry stepped into the river, a couple of cows roamed down from a little valley across from her. One was mooing...bellowing, actually and looking directly at her like "Get the blank out of my stream!" It was so funny! Then 15 or 20 more cows/calves showed up behind the noisy one along with a cowboy hearding them to somewhere. From high on the nearest peak I could see across the stream, another bunch of cows emerged from the trees herded by another cowboy and 3 dogs. I live in Texas and I never see cowboys actually doing cowboy work. Marie would love this!

Ok, so I just heard the Elk Whistle/Coyote's definately a coyote...but it's a little disturbing and somewhat lonely sounding if you ask me.

July 21, 2010
So we have heard stories over the years about the crash of an airplane during WWI above the Taylor. Krissy downloaded the coordinates on the hand held GPS and we headed out to try and find it. It was said to be a short but steep hike up the mountain. Um...yea...steep. Gretch passed because of her existing foot injury. I huffed and puffed until my quivering legs threatened to leave me stranded on the mountain. Paul, Sherry and all the kids made it up. There is debris and some large chunks of the plane up there along with a plaque and 7 or 8 flagpoles with American flags flying.

Our old friends, the Woodleys, had a guest for dinner who's dad apparently went down over Colorado during the war. They hiked up there and found his dad's name on the plaque. In all the years that we spent up here none of us know of this crash site until fairly recently (maybe 20 or so years.) None of us could ever get the correct directions to it either. Paul was told where to look and spent hours wandering around up there some years back and never found it. Funny thing is that the plane was said to have broken apart before impacting the mountain. We found parts and pieces at the base and there is a rumor that the Cumbys have a propellor in their garage.

After the big vertical hike, big burgers at the gas station and a sweet ride home to Mark's, I go to "my room" and there is a beautiful wind blowing through all of my windows. I strip down and put on my fleece and have an uncontrollable urge to take a long, lovely nap, so I do.

Mark golfs, Paul fishes, the kids and Gretchen play a loud marathon of Scrabble and I doze and have odd but not unpleasant dream. I officially have a room here. I like the sound of "Nancy's Room". Sweet.


Work: It Can Be Fun!

About an hour after I got to the office the other day a city utility worker came in to tell us there was a water main break nearby and that they were shutting off the water. He said we would likely be without water for the rest of the day. That reminded me about the drought in the summer of 2009 when pipes were breaking all over the city because of the dry contracting soil. I find it strange that people weren't allowed to water their yards and because they didn't, their pipes broke and flooded everything.

I'm sitting on the beautiful front porch of the Littlefield office because we are locked out of the building. In addition to being without water, the electricity went off at about 2:30. For unknown reasons, 4000 people were without power. Jeff said "Four more degrees and everybody gets to go home". We waited around for an hour or so as the temperature crept up. Finally we all gave up and checked out at around 3:30. No lights, no phones, no computers, no water, and no AIR CONDITIONING = no work! No electricity also means no alarm system, so the accountants manually locked the doors. They are the only ones with keys, and they aren't here, so here I sit.

I arrived at the office at my usual 7:30 and when I realized that it could be awhile until we could get in, I ran up to Taco Shack for coffee and breakfast tacos. As usual there was a line of cars fifteen deep wrapped around the building making their way through the drive thru. I decided to park and eat in. There weren't many people eating inside but there were several that obviously use this place as their morning office. They spread out their work and pull out their lapto and their smart phone, eat a nice breakfast taco or some migas and refill their coffee cups over and over. I like the idea of working like that. Casual and relaxed and I bet, pretty productive. Nobody distracts them. They are in their own little world, removed from it all and yet in the midst of a cool Austin vibe.

As I sat on the porch of Littlefield, the six 3' by 5' American flags displayed on the columns and the giant 9' by 18' one hanging vertically down the middle blew softly in the light breeze. It was amazingly pleasant out there. The rain the other day washed the dust off of the trees and I had the illusion that things are lush and green. I could see water flowing in Shoal Creek that I could not see before the storm. The huge expanse of St. Augustine on the front lawn and the enormous landmark oaks were no doubt, grateful for the rainfall. Since we are in extreme drought conditions, there has been talk of the possibility for no measurable rainfall here until September.

I must have scared off the squirrels or at least confused them by sitting out here. Normally as I sit in my office looking out the french doors onto the porch, the squirrels scurry back and forth in little packs. Seriously, one day a line of six little guys ran across the porch and did that little circling thing they do around and around up into the oak trees.

I like to open the door in my office and let in some fresh air early in the morning. I keep thinking a squirrel might come inside. I did not expect a big ol' grackle to fly in though. That was pretty funny except for the part when it crapped on the wood floor then landed on the back of my chair. I was glad that Jeff was in South Carolina and that I had closed the door to his office. After the grackle flew back out the open door, I began to wonder what I would have done if he hadn't! I can picture everyone in the office trying to shoo the bird out while looking at me and shaking their heads.

For the past few days I've been thinking about the Independence Day cookout that we're going to have at the office. Kimble wheeled the big gas grill out to the front porch under the flags to be the chef for the day. He had suggested that I order everything that we'll need since there is is so little prep space in the little kitchen. It never really occurred to me that I could order everything from Central Market and pick it up or have it delivered. That is awesome! I ordered market hamburer patties, gourmet hot dogs, a tray of lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. We had a cheese tray for the burgers, shredded cheese and chopped onions for the hot dogs and fresh bakery buns for all. Of course we had potato salad, coleslaw, beans, pineapple upside down cake and cherry and apple pie with ice cream.

Jeff got to the office just in time for lunch and, coincidently, just as the postman was delivering the mail. Jeff insisted that he join us for lunch and kept calling him "post office man". Wonder how many time in his career has Steve the postman been invited to an office cookout.

Jeff is always the life of the party and can talk about any subject. He had us all in stitches talking about guarding America's cheese stockpile when he was in the army and how a lot of the world's problems could be fought with cheese. "Bomb them with cheese!" More stories I'll capture in another installment of this blog will be Jeff's "Karma and The Fish Pen" and Kimble's story about "The Lady Boys" of Bonham, Texas (he corrected me...they were the "Lehde Brothers") a family of butchers with a perpetual and ongoing backyard barbecue with an open door policy.

Jeff handed me a list the other day detailing what he wanted me working on. It contained about fourteen items, some ongoing, some new ones. The last item on the list said "Play Bingo X 5".


Words With Friend

Don't you just love this descriptive forecast? Is it raining on you yet? Please describe to me what that's like!!


Hi 97 °F

My Friend:
As the gentle breeze carries the cool temperatures of the north woods of Canada into the broad expanse of Minnesota, there is a hint of rain as the air is endowed with moisture, seeking a collision with warmer air wafting up from the deep south to cause a release of a soft rain that will help sustain the 10,000 gleaming sky blue waters. The dark shafts of rain can be seen in the distance as the weary clouds release their loads. The Spring gardens are full of life and have myriad of green pallets.

How’s that?
I’m off to a meeting—yea!! :)

Spectacular! You make me smile.


Local Color

Kathleen and I had a little adventure in Austin the other day. We played Bingo. Maybe it sounds a little odd or out of character and perhaps it is, but we do like to experience local color where ever we are and this qualifies without a doubt.

Bingo halls are everywhere. It's likely that you have driven past large ex-supermarkets with waving flags, hugely lettered signs spelling out B-I-N-G-O and an overflowing parking lot on a Friday night. If you are like me you really never considered stopping to see what it was all about. You probably didn't give it a second glance or a second thought really.

I am not without curiosity so a new acquaintance of mine offered to show me what the game of Bingo is all about. Kathleen and I have no idea what to expect but we are game. We find my guy quickly when we walk into the giant non-smoking side of the hall. People are milling around and the long rows of tables are occupied here and there with single players and some with groups or couples who have come to play together.

Our Bingo tour guide is just the nicest of guys and has the gift of being part salesman, part comedian, part teacher and part businessman making him the ultimate host. He's just this lovely big ol' East Texas sweetie who has, what my friend Bill would call "The Teddy Bear Factor", meaning that people in the hall gravitate to him as one would a long time friend, seeing him as trustworthy, forthright and lovable. With all of this and the addition of his red tie and vest, he is nothing short of precious and endearing.

Apparently I had a misconception that the people here playing Bingo would be similar to the segment of the population that I found in the casino in Lake Charles last week. I had never been to a casino in my life and after that experience, I really have no desire to go to another one. I wandered aimlessly around that pretty upscale casino watching people play the Slots and Craps and various types of Poker and nothing about that experience appealed to me or even entertained me very much. I like "people watching", but even that didn't appeal to me at the casino.

Kathleen and I arrived at the Bingo hall shortly before the start of the first session because our host had told me earlier in the day that we should get there and get into the "Zen of the game" before the session started. I thought he was kidding me, but he was dead serious, explaining to me how Bingo is a quiet game that lets people just focus on the squares, the game, the numbers and the fellowship, allowing them to shut out all thoughts of their crappy jobs, bad marriages, financial woes and every other worry they might have in their life.

I am amazed by the diversity of the people here in the Bingo hall. I'm telling you, the ethnic diversity alone is pretty astounding, but the range in the age of the players is also eye opening for me. Our host whisked us past a fifty or even sixty-ish year old, possibly Filipino woman with a machine, multiple paper cards and a bevy of ink daubers in every color laid out in front of her on the table. Our host jokes with her like one would with his sister-in-law or something and says "I would seat y'all at this table, but she's mean!" They both laugh and she is just adorable.

I look around me and find that I am in an environment I really didn't expect to find in a Bingo Hall. It is super clean, organized, fun, and safe-feeling to this old girl. I think Kathleen is surprised as well. She had locked her purse in the trunk of her car, choosing not to bring it in with her. There is nothing rif-raffy about this place that maybe I expected. It seems like everyone is represented here. I see groups of sorority/fraternity kids, well dressed and diamond studded. I see single 50-ish year old men and women playing alone and happily not looking for a hook up. A young white woman sits behind me, a young black woman sits to her right, and a young hispanic girl sits one row down and to my left (and by "young" I mean they are each probably between 25 and 30 years old.) An older semi disabled woman comes in just prior to the second session. She is obviously a regular player and is treated like a queen by the staff. The staff, from what I've seen are all very friendly and energetic as they chat and joke with the players as they wander up and down selling pull tabs and extra game cards. They bend over backwards to make sure everyone is having a good time.

Our host explains "the roadmap" which is a list of the games that will be played during all the sessions that evening. He sets us up with electronic Bingo machines for the first session. These machines automatically mark some internal cards per game for you. You just hit a button when the number is called and watch the card populate. The machine keeps track of how close you are to winning with your cards moving up in the order as they get closer to a possible win. Neither of us wins during this session, but it gives us a really visual demonstration of how the games are played. The first session consisted of five games and lasted a little more than an hour.

For the second session, we decide to play the traditional paper card way. Our guy brings us a full pack of sheets for the second session and an ink dauber for each of us. Each sheet contains 12 bingo cards. You play one sheet per game, the color of the sheet corresponding to the color indicated on the road map. The caller announces the game and the wild numbers before he starts pulling balls. The games could be "Double Postage Stamp", "Granny's Quilt" or "3 Lines Hard Way, No Free Space" or a multitude of other games which are named based on the pattern required to win the game. I screwed up my first game just by marking my wild numbers wrong. I thought the caller said "any number with a two" was wild when in fact he said "any number ending in a two" is wild. Ok, Nancylou, pay attention!!!

I thought that Kathleen and I would probably run the risk of getting reprimanded for being too loud, 'cause we do tend to get loud and silly when we are together. But we managed to behave ourselves even with the "6 beers for 6 quarters bucket" of Costa Rican beer we had in front of us. I've known Kathleen for at least 15 years and she said to me "I don't think I've ever seen you drink a beer, Nancy". Well you never saw me play Bingo before either, did you?

We are playing and looking over each other's shoulder to see how our games were going. I'm distracted from time to time looking around at what's going on in the hall and watching in fascination at how some of the other players keep up with multiple "three up" sheets while simultaneously playing machines and buying extra cards for the next game. At one point Kathleen jabs me with her elbow to jolt me out of my people watching to tell me to mark the new number that was up on the monitor.

All in all I found this Bingo thing to not only be fun and friendly, but somehow it was also relaxing, mesmerizing, surprisingly exciting and in no way "as common as a grandma in a Bingo hall!"

Off The Beaten Path

  • Picture me driving around Austin in a red 1966 Chevy Impala convertible with the top down, because I've actually done that several times in the last few weeks.
  • My son is not interested in the the mainstream Prom, so he and his girlfriend and several others dressed up and had an evening picnic in the park.
  • I have a new acquaintance...a sweet and groovy single mom who has a pet prairie dog named Thomas.
  • On my way to Lake Charles the other day, I was so happy to be on the other side of beautiful Beaumont until traffic slowed to a snail's pace because there was a bass boat in the middle of the freeway.  Just a boat, no trailer, nobody parked on the side of the road grieving over their lost big boy toy.  Just a busted up boat blocking my lane.
  • Anna and I got home late yesterday and she was completely unpacked by dark.  This morning I made migas. We are drinking coffee and watching the ultimate chick flick "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days" She spills her coffee like she does every morning and I just roll my eyes at her.  She tells me she only spills her coffee at home, but that she once dropped her TV remote into her cup in her dorm room.  She says it still works but that it's kind of sticky.
  • Kathleen and I are going to play Bingo on Friday night. 
  • Daniel gave me a new journal for Mother's Day. A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson on one of the first pages says "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail". 

Splendor In The Grass?

I whacked my knuckle on my right ring finger and it's swollen and black and blue and I can't get my ring off.  I have a huge bruise below my fingers in the palm of my left hand. Waaa waaa waaa.  Boo hoo for me.  The source of all my "agony" is this -- I bought a gas powered 25 cc trimmer (aka a "weed eater") God, I'm such a girl...It is insanely dry in the Hill Country and my land is over grown with flammable material and I need to tame my place and get the fuel away from my house before it burns to the ground in a lightening storm. Ok a little drama never hurt anyone!!

I pride myself on following written instructions exceptionally well.  The assembly instructions for this trimmer confuse me though since I am replacing the original "spool" with one from another manufacturer. The instructions for replacing the spool talk about trimmers that are "left rotation" and "right rotation" and tell me to choose the nut from the package that threads most easily onto the shaft (after, obviously, I have removed all of the factory made parts from the original  trimmer spooler). Exsqueeze me?  I love the phrase "A fool with a tool is still a fool".

Ok barring all further details, I get the unit assembled, then disassembled, then put back together with the new spooler and now I have to load the line.  For right rotation machines, I need to go counter clockwise, for left rotation machines I need to load clockwise. The owner's manual doesn't tell me which one I have so how do I know unless I have line loaded and can watch it rotate? And here's another problem...Yes, if I see that I have a right rotating machine when I'm looking from the top, when I flip it over so it's upside down to load the line -- which way do I interpret the instructions? Counter clockwise from the bottom is opposite from counter clockwise looking from the top. Shit. It takes about one minute of eatin' weeds to figure out I got it bass ackwards.

Ok. I admit I feel a certain surge of power when I start up the beast with a couple of expert (ok, instruction-led) adjustments to the throttle and some pulls of the cord. Yep definately more powerful than my Black & Decker battery operated baby that I killed.  That little girl would have been no match for all this tall dry grass and brush that I need to deal with this year.

I do four or five twenty minute sessions. When I come inside to get a drink of water, I can't hold the glass because my hands and forearms are shaking.  I am happy I have some of those Ozarka sport water bottles to suck water from. I'm hot, I'm sweaty, I'm itchy, I'm frustrated, I have so much more to do, I have grass in my panties and yet I HAVE THE POWER!!

Day Two begins with me not even remembering how to get the beast started again. I'm up early because of the heat.  After multiple attempts, I reread the instructions and finally get it cranking. I do three or four more sessions by 1:00 p.m.  It hits a record high for the day at 95 degrees, today, May 1, 2011. When I'm completely and utterly whipped, I take a shower and come out to sit and cool off and find that a cold front has come through and dropped the temp about 25 degrees or more.  It's cool and dry and breezy all the dry grass I chopped down is blowing down my hill. 


My sister reminded me yesterday to look at all kinds of things that are happening around me and to me and to express my gratitude for them.  Gratitude has a lot of power, she says.

Where to begin?  It's Easter Sunday and I'm sitting on my bed looking out at the vines growing up over my window screens as they blow in the hot Spring wind.  The KVET Sunday Gospel show is playing on the digital clock radio that I've had since I was fourteen years old.  I have a huge goblet of ice water and my favorite tea cup full of coffee with half and half sitting on my night stand next to a sage scented candle softly burning. For these things, I am grateful.

On any given weekday morning, I give thanks for individually wrapped packages of  Chips Ahoy, a big bag of apples and a full container of Goldfish crackers.  The lifetime supply of foil that I bought at Sam's is nothing short of Heaven-sent.  I tell Daniel I only have 300 or so more school lunches to make for him.  I am thankful for PB & J, turkey and sliced cheddar and foot long hoagy bread.

I am ever so thankful for the vibrate feature on my cell phone.  Sandra the cat lays next to me on my bed, draped lazily over my charging phone, until a text comes through and sends her leaping up in terror, her crazy green eyes bulging in confusion.  She looks at me like I did it! This cat drives me nuts most of the time, but at this particular moment, I am thankful that she is here with me.

Over the past few years I have enjoyed a myriad of changes in my life.  Over the past several weeks, I have experienced some fairly dramatic alterations in my everyday existence.  A sudden change in employment, which at first induced confusion and fear, rapidly became a refreshing, entertaining and down right comforting adventure.  Severance pay from my former employer, the sale of my old RAV4 and my new pay rate has suddenly given me some breathing room in my paycheck to paycheck world.  My word of mouth grapevine led to a call from a friend of friend that is interested in buying my place. With gratitude I recall the words "Wealth is not about having money, it's about having options."

I have a fearless spirit for which I am grateful.  My fearlessness, while not always a good thing, has allowed me to move foward often not knowing what will come next or how.  I live by saying to myself these days, "Go for it.  What's the worst that can happen?" I am grateful for courage and for options.


Yep, Still Funny!

Why is it that the grossest things can make you laugh the hardest?  Marie came to the office one afternoon with one of her young grandsons in tow. He had been sick for a couple of days with a stomach bug. She took the morning off to stay with him, but seeing that he was feeling better she brought him to work with her so she didn't use up any more sick leave.  Mid-afternoon he was feeling puny again so they took off.

Gary came down to the reception area and I told him that story as I answered the phone.  He said "He didn't barf here did he?" (meaning barf in the reception area). I assured him it didn't get to that point and even if it had, Marie would have done what every mom does and would have held out her two cupped hands and caught it before it hit the carpet.  Of course, if this happens at home, you call your big family dog over to help clean up. We are by this time laughing with red faces, but Gary kicks it up a notch.

"Ya know, I used to have two big dogs and a cat and I never once had to clean out a litter box." He describes beautifully the way his dogs' ears would perk up at the sound of kitty litter being rearranged and raked and tossed around. The dogs would wait ever so patiently until the kitty emerged from her throne, then race to get the homemade delicacies.

I ask him if they then raced back to him to lick his face and thank him for providing them with their own special little chef. Gary's eyes start to glaze over and I think maybe I'm going to have to hold out my two cupped hands for him at this point.  He's laughing, but he's backing away from me out the door into the lobby.  Was it something I said? He shakes a finger at me, squints his eyes and groans with a smile and he's gone.

Why is it that everybody has a funny vomit story?  Why is it that vomit stories usually come up at the dinner table? The kids and I once heard someone refer to vomit as "lumpy gravy" that phrase is pretty much all it takes to set us off at dinner somewhere. One year during the office Thanksgiving pot luck, someone told a vomit story and before it was all said and done we made it a requirement that you had to tell a vomit story before you could sit in our area for lunch.  Guess what?  Nobody even hesitated...and nobody stopped eating throughout probably fifteen horrifically graphic, sound effect-laden narratives of wet, smelly, projectile hell.
"Let's just say, there were lime jello shots involved!"
        "OH gross!!"
        "Really delicious spinach casserole. Y'all should try some."
"And so my buddy made this strange noise then just blew beets down the back of the front seat and down the back of my head! We had to hose out the car before we took him home."
        "Ugh ha ha ha ha"
        "Did y'all try the creamed corn?  Who made that?  It's really good"
"We were fishing and he was just chumming the water and lost it.  He puked the rest of the trip."
        "Ewwww...that's disgusting."
        "Can somebody pass me the gravy?"
But on a serious note, let me just say really really sucks to be the only person in your household with an iron stomach.  This trait just means  you are the one that gets to clean up every single disgusting pile or puddle that happens. This is reason enough to limit the number of pets and kids you decide to have.  It is reason enough to look forward to living alone!

There have been times in my life that I wished I had hazardous waste protective clothing and a wet vac -- goggles, gloves, jumpsuit and a respirator -- now you're talking! With two kids, a weak stomached spouse, two to five cats and a shit-eatin' dog, I sometimes wanted to upchuck myself just to see if anyone would notice.  I knew, however, I would have to clean up after myself or get a whole cycle of throw up started again.  Here are some facts that I've become aware of over the years:
  • Kids only barf in the middle of the night, and they can always make it to your bedside before they do.
  • Cats only barf at night as well so always feed your cat dry food and throw them outside before you go to bed.
  • Dogs can have digestive problems at any time given the fact that they eat, well, cat crap, used kleenex, long grass and their own bedding, so always get up quick if your dog is panting or whining, or if he stands up and starts making that hollow, heaving, obviously-about-to-blow sound.
All of the above means something very ugly is about to happen to your carpet!


Wake Up!

My friend made his early morning call to me on Monday and told me about a store he went to on Sunday afternoon.  It's a place called Ax Man Surplus.  He said it had a strange assortment of things for sale and so I'm picturing something like "Big Lots" because he said they were selling things that he described as close out  items. He talks of how there were tiny motors, pulleys, steel ball bearings, boxes and containers of every kind, spy cameras and microphones, and a torpedo dressed as a shark hanging from the ceiling. The buddy he was shopping with was picking up a hodge podge of gear that his students could use on their Rube Goldberg projects at the high school.

I'm giggling sleepily at his descriptions of colorful springs and itty bitty bottles and boxes of cup hooks; of rolls of wire and synthetic pillow stuffing and sugar dispensers; and of light switches, saw blades and bags labelled "build your own baby". I sit up in bed.  "Um...What? Did you just say build your own baby?" I think he's just making stuff up to see if I'm still awake (he does that sometimes, but usually he'll start talking about linoleum or the patina on the hinges of his bathroom door until I start laughing).  But he continues, "Yea. It was really weird!"  Ok, I still don't get it, so I just have to ask "What was in the bag?"  "Arms and legs and a body and a head and little shoes. It was so weird, Nancy. One of the bags had a motor of some sort in it too" he says.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or give into the shivers that are running up my spine. I pull the covers up around me and sit in the dark on my bed listening to the coyotes howling, my cat crying and the rooster crowing outside my open window.  He says, "Well, I better go start my day Sweetie.  I'll call you again later. Go back to sleep for a little while longer." Amazingly, I do -- and I dream of trying on bizarre ski clothes with Anna; I dream of cleaning out a rabbit cage; and I dream of potatoes levitating in a yoga studio.

At this point, I'm not entirely certain that this crazy story wasn't just one long, very strange dream...


Who Knew?

Until very early this morning I was unaware that a dirty air filter could render a furnace inoperable. It's hard to believe, I know, but if the filter is full of dirt and grime, the furnace can't pull air efficiently through it and it will just shut down.  Now I know.

Until very early this morning, I was completely out of touch with the inner workings of an electric pencil sharpener. Who knew that if the little plastic tab on the tray that holds the shavings breaks off then the sharpener will not turn on? Well, now I know.

Until very early this morning, I had no idea that the air ducts in my house could be harboring as many as three trash bags full of dust and lint.  A company can come to my house with an octopus-like vacuum device and suck it all out of there.  Good to know.

Until very early this morning I did not know that REI took real impressions of rock faces of popular climbing sites in order to build their in store rock climbing walls. That never even occurred to me, so I am happy to know that.

Until very early this morning I never grasped the fact that if you are on your homemade rock climbing wall in your garage or in your basement, that you don't have a belayer, so if you fall you will probably get hurt. Ok, actually until recently, I had no idea people had rock climbing walls in their garages and basements, but now I know.

Until very early this morning I had always wondered about those people who have a sort of internal clock.  I wondered what happens to them when the time changes. Turns out that they are precisely an hour late and wake up thinking about air filters, air ducts, electric pencil sharpeners and rock climbing walls.  Now I know. Very, very good to know.

Go Fish!

Texting with Anna today while she and a friend avoid Mardi Gras...

12:52.  AnnaMy friend Liz and I just got fish.

12:53  Me: Fish? Please explain further.

1:01  Anna: We have 3 goldfish!

1:02  Me: Ok that's cool. Pets. Are they coming home with you tomorrow?

1:04  Anna:  Haha, yes, pets. An no Liz and I share them so they are in her room.

1:05  Me: ok. Y'all are funny.  Have you named them yet?

1:47  AnnaYes, Phillip, Westly, Nelson

1:48  Me: That's hysterical!! LMOA

1:51  Anna I know we saved some Walmart

1:52  MeAnimal activists are you?

2:01  Anna: No but all of the beta fish were dead...

2:02  Me:  Oh no!

3:09  Anna:  Our fish died... :(

3:12  AnnaThat was the shortest fish life ever...

3:15  Me:  Oh no! Did y'all have a fish bowl?

3:18  Me:  Maybe not the shortest fish life.  Guppies eat their babies as soon as they hatch!


In memory of Tom Adams

For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.  -- Matthew 6:21

For some unknown reason I feel the need to roll back time to Friday afternoon while Tommy sat with Marie at the front desk sipping iced tea.  I have had sort of a bad day and I need a little pick me up. I walk up and the sight of that ol' boy just puts a smile on my face and he quickly makes some wisecrack about how crappy the refrigerators at the office smell and that makes me laugh!  Tommy ventured out from the house to go for a haircut.  He tells me he likes it high and tight and really, there is nothing that would ever suit him better than that.  His head was meant for a crew cut; his attitude was meant for a Marine; and his heart was meant for Marie.

Tommy is endearing in a crusty, redneck, hardass, old coot, butt head sort of way. I don't know why, but his "Grumpy Old Man" vibe somehow works and people are drawn to him.  What was it that someone said to Marie recently?..."Yea, I know Tom Adams. He's my cousin.  He should be in Huntsville!"  Seriously, he's not a criminal, he's just, well, Tommy!! Marie has told me various stories of how her older grandsons mimic Tommy from time to time and it leaves the family in stitches until they are in tears.  He has a presence that will endure long after he is gone from this earth.

I have this vision of Marie retired and likely alone someday.  She will bolt up out of bed from a sound sleep and start organizing things that might be needed to get someone through their day.  She will realize, with a start, that she is organizing and planning and focusing on herself and she will scratch her head and think really hard about what she needs.  Marie has never had this freedom, this health, this time, this selfishness and she is puzzled by it.  Her girls, her son in laws and her grandkids will come by everyday to see her and will want to do things for her to make her life easier or more pleasant only to find that there is nothing they can do that Marie hasn't already done for herself.

Marie has a heart of gold and knowing her is something I will always treasure.


Oh What a Beautiful Morning

I sit here rocking on the deck listening to the sound of the water spilling over the waterfall in the pool and am annoyed by the sound of the pump and the churning of the compressor at the house next door.  What is a beautiful and tranquil looking setting is in fact, anything but that.  A walk to the water's edge near the creek brings me ever so much closer to the pump and sound of the wind and the drizzle of leaves falling from the oak trees is masked by motor noises. 

In search of peace, I retreat, retracing my steps from my pre-sunrise walk.  I find my granite slab that rolls off the side of the road and park myself there.  At 5:00 a.m. this morning the only sound was that of my own foot steps and then, in a childlike scary moment, I imagine another set of foot steps following closely behind me and others walking towards me from somewhere in the darkness and I shiver. 

The moon is full and passing clouds takes the vision of my surroundings through a slideshow of pitch darkness and the lightest of nights, leaving me unsure and somewhat unsteady in the moving shadows.  I would like to say that my venturing out into the night was for the sole purpose of enjoying the peacefulness and the full moon, but no, that's not why.  The buzz of my silenced cell phone leaves my heart racing as I realize I've finally found enough of a signal so that an anticipated call can finally get through to me.

My friend from the great white north has also taken a walk out into the moonlight in search of a signal.  He finds one a short walk from his cabin along a highway teaming with logging trucks.  We regale each other about our weekend getaways; mine on a spring-like weekend with twenty-seven amazing women in the Texas Hill Country.  He, on the other hand, is on the North Shore of Lake Superior on an annual cross country ski weekend with two of his best friends.  I sit in the darkness of the South at 62 degrees.  He stands in the darkness of the far North at zero degrees.  He pauses my chatter to tell me he hears wolves howling nearby and holds the phone up in hopes that I can hear them.  I can't, but I find it quite endearing that he so wanted to share that with me. "Oh my God, Nancy, this is so cool!"

Yesterday, I walked around the area taking pictures and looking for writing inspiration.  My first stop was at the rope and log swings across the road from the house.  Swings are simply irresistable to me so I plop myself into the "single" swing with my hands full of pen, journal, phone and camera and almost flip over backward and fall out of the swing on my ass.  I catch myself just in time and find myself laughing out loud and all alone.  I tell my friend that story and he says he would have like to have seen that.  He tells me a story I've heard from him before about a rope swing which hung from an enourmous Ponderosa pine at his favorite place on earth in the mountains of Arizona.  The story is of a game with the purpose of terrifying a young one or a new friend. The kids would give a turn to the victim on the huge arching swing - get them swinging high and wild, then yell something about a giant monster bird coming at them.  Everyone would run screaming and leave the swinger alone and petrified and unable to stop the swing and save himself from certain death.

My weekend has been picture perfect so far, filled with laughter, "super heros", spectacular food, affection and art.  His is also off to a glorious start with beautiful yet icey weather, lunch at a beloved eatery on the lake front, a hike through the deep snow and the sighting of two bald eagles.   I say, "Oh! I want to do that!" He says, "Yes. I'll  bring you here.  It's on our list, Sweetie."

Yesterday morning when I was little foggy after the night of wine, boiling hot tub water and crazy yet "spiritual" naked women, I thought it was Thursday when in fact it was Friday.  My friend says to me "How much wine did you have exactly?"  When I told Lisa about this exchange, she said "Did you tell him just enough wine to time travel!'  Last night as Lisa and I were getting into bed we decided to leave the windows open.  Lisa says "Lower the blinds just in case the sun comes up tomorrow."  My sis has a way with words!  She speaks and I just write it all down. 

Well, the sun did in fact come up and our weekend ended with 27 brilliant, fun loving, talented and lovely women embraced in a tight circle singing "Oh what a beautiful morning" at the top our lungs. And so it is.


Donuts, Spudnuts and Fried Biscuits

Every year when we took our summer trip to Spring Creek, we would stop in Gunnison so Mama could grocery shop before we went up to the cabins.  When Paul and I were young and under foot, we would drop Mama off at the store and Daddy would take us to a bakery on Main Street for a donut.  Daddy loved donuts. On a lovely, sunny, cool day in July, the three of us ate sugar covered donuts, not those icky glazed ones, while sitting on the curb of Main Street in downtown Gunnison.  We marveled at the little stream of water that flowed behind us in a trough built into the sidewalk...we don't have irrigation ditches in Texas that I'm aware of. We would take our time and stretch our legs after being in the car for many hours and Daddy would always have some great stories or little bits of trivia that would entertain us while we wandered around up and down the sidewalks. At some point, we would go find Mama and load up the back seat with groceries and continue on to Spring Creek.

On the way home from Spring Creek, we always stopped in Alamosa, Colorado for gas.  Right next to the station was a donut shop called "Spudnuts". This area is known for growing potatoes, so the donuts at this shop were made from potato flour aka "spud" flour, hence the name.  I'm not sure that the donuts themselves were any better than any other freshly made donut...but then again, have you ever had a bad donut?  Fried dough with bad can that be?

With that concept in mind, I still make donuts at home by using a Coke bottle to cut a hole in cheap canned biscuits and then frying them up in my iron skillet.  The donuts are then shaken in a bag of powdered sugar, granulated sugar or sugar and cinnamon.  You can't help but eat them when they are too hot and they burn your tongue.

Texas Weather, A Chicken Event & Trailer Food

Apparently good weather in Central Texas is saved up for the weekends.  How great is that?  Last weekend, I sat on the deck in the 75 to 80 degree weather.  During this past work week however, we had three straight days where the temperature never went above freezing (oh my God!!!).   We had record cold lows and rolling blackouts which shut power down to my office for part of a day.  Yesterday practically the entire State of Texas was shut down because of actual "winter storms" and in some cases "the possibility of winter storms".  It did indeed snow at my house, a whopping half inch or so, most of it sticking to the roadways.  I made the poor decision to try to make it in to work only to find myself sliding down Highway 71 toward the Bee Creek Valley before changing my mind and heading home.

After completely enjoying this extremely rare Snow Day yesterday, the warm and springy 68 degree day today compelled me to get outside.  I left the house after hanging some clothes to dry on the deck.  With no particular plan in mind I heard an ad on KVET talking about the Chicken Event happening at Callahan's General Store.  Hell yea!! I think it goes without saying that this was simply not the sort of event that I could pass up.  I called Marie, my personal guide to all things Texas, to get specific directions and promise in return to ask when their baby guinea hens would be available.  She lost her entire flock which she called "The Dirty Dozen" (or were they "The Magnificent Seven"?) last year to dogs, coyotes, skunks or something over a period of a couple of months.  She can pick up some guineas later in March, they told me.

Callahan's is this great store out near the airport.  They carry so many different things it's hard to describe.  Of course today there was a big pen of probably forty chickens on the front porch in a simple big wire enclosure with a floor of hay.  A big barbecue grill loaded with brisket and sausage is cooking in the parking lot.  Right inside the door is a pen with a mama and baby goat next to a display of every size and shape of galvanized buckets and trays. You know how I love goats by now, so I lean over and scratch the baby one and look like a complete and utter goon talking baby talk to it.  I am however, wearing my ropers, so maybe I fit in just a little and maybe they'll think I'm in the market for a baby goat -- am I? I window shop iron skillets and dutch ovens in every possible size.  The selection of cast iron cookware alone here is amazing.  I see meat grinders and sausage stuffers, Chuck Wagon cookbooks and hoof cream, blue jeans and humane traps, seed catalogues and animal feed...really, probably everything a farmer or rancher in these here parts could possibly need (sorry, this place brings out some southern slang in me that's been itching to get out).

Did I mention that live music is playing from a stage near the front of the store? Nobody stands near the stage actively listening to the duo playing, but we all sing along as we shop and stop to clap after every song.  At one point the two guys announce a break and someone from Callahan's brings up a friend to do a live audition in the store. Seriously, I hear the guy say to the band, "...this is a friend of mine and he'd like to audition for you if you don't mind"...and off he goes!

I could buy so many things from this place but I'm restraining myself because really, I'm in the process of getting rid of stuff not acquiring stuff.  I like finding interesting journals and those are never very pricey and are always good to provide a little memory of an experience that will also be put to good use.  Callahan's has all kinds of little country looking types of stationary and very Texas themed note cards and post cards, but are lacking in anything journal-like.  The closest thing I find is a pretty good little lined steno pad with a spiral binding at the top.  The only real problem is that it has two characters dressed as cowboys about to have a is a cat and one is a rooster and the captions above each, respectively say "Chicken!" and the other, "Pussy!"...Funny, but not quite what I had in mind...I settle instead on a tiny little book on cafes in Texas.  I'll have some fun with that!  I mosey out, giving one last look at the chickens and the fruit trees in the parking lot, then head toward downtown Austin.

I've been wanting to hang out at the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery for sometime now.  Now, ok, if you're not from here, you are scratching you're head and saying to yourself, "Yea, now Nanc says she wants to hang out at a trailer park?  She already lives in a double wide in the middle of nowhere...what now?"  Ok, y'all don't get your britches in a bunch!!! (sorry residual southern slang spilling forth again).  "Trailer park eateries" are extremely hip BTW, and they absolutely fit the criteria of "Keep Austin Weird".  This one is on South First Street and is fenced in and a little more formal than the trailer parking lots on South Congress or Barton Springs (again, I see you scratching your head, so maybe you just need to come on over here for this particular Austin experience!).  You park within the fencing on a crushed granite lot.  There are only a few trailers open at this time of year,  but the place is still packed and the picnic tables near the street as well as the ones in the covered pavillion are full.  The back of the lot behind the trailers and pavilion is bordered by one of the Austin creeks, I'm not sure if this is Shoal Creek or Bouldin or what.

I read the menues painted onto the front of Man Bites Dog and Torchy's Tacos.  Obviously very different places, I decide on Man Bites Dog, because the line to Torchy's is really long.  I love a good taco, but I also love a good hot dog, and this place is really really Austin Weird.  The special today at Man Bites Dog is called the "Cartoon" which is a beef frank topped with PB& J and a light sprinking of Captain Crunch. The guy working the trailer assures me it is awesome.  I am actually tempted to try it.  Ok, here's the deal, I did, in fact, order the specialty of the house, the Bacon Peanut Butter Burger, at Mutha's on Bourbon Street (they specialize in burgers and tequila), but no, I just can't bring myself to this level of hot dog mayhem, so I settle instead for the Buffalo Hottie, which has blue cheese, buffalo wing sauce and green onions. Hot, hot, and tasty and I give thanks to the fact that heartburn rarely happens to me!!!!

I'm watching two young men together in their hipster vests and scarves trying to decide what to order from Holy Cacao - Chocolate is Good For You. They decide on Cake Balls On A Stick. Okay.... This place also sells "Cake Shakes" made with your choice of cake and ice cream.  What the heck is Frozen Hot Chocolate?  They claim that Travel & Leisure Magazine voted them Best Hot Chocolate in the U.S., and I wonder if it was the "frozen" version. I kind of wish I had read that when I first got here, because I can't begin to think about ordering some of that to go with this crazy spicey dog I'm oinking out on.  Urp.

On the way home, I cruise down South Congress and see the trailer eateries set up there on this winter day. Among others, there are:  Coat & Thai, Mighty Cone, Wurst Tex, and, of course, Hey! Cupcake.


Paradise = Security + Freedom

Distant Summer Storm - Before the Drought
I sit here on my deck, January 30, 2011 at noon.  It's 70 degrees and sunny.  Birds are chirping and my neighbor's peacocks are bellowing and a light breeze blows through my handmade prayer flags hanging from the metal lattice of the deck wall.  I can tell that another Texas drought has begun (or actually, continues) because the lake is bordered by, from my vantage point, what looks like white sandy beaches.  I know if I were at the water's edge that the white sands would reveal themselves to be huge limestone outcroppings uncovered as the water evaporated in the Texas sun.

Sandra the cat lounges on the deck rail, her two front legs sprawled on either side, almost as if she's hugging it.  Her crazy green eyes droop in an ongoing cat nap and I wonder if she will snooze a bit too deeply and fall off the rail and down the slope below the deck.  I should check out the video feature of my phone just in case I could capture that fun and send it in to "Funniest Home Videos" and have a chance of becoming $10,000 richer.

To my left, 20 yards or so away, is my old white wooden picnic table shaded under a canopy of live oaks and engulfed, if it was a Spring day, in a meadow of wildflowers.  When in bloom, there are thousands of Indian Blankets, Indian Paintbrush, Mexican Hats, Primrose, and Bluebonnets.  The 9th grade wildflower project was tackled successfully on this acreage and the required 30 distinct blossoms were identified and mounted and submitted for grading.  Anna's teacher was skeptical that she was able to gather her lot strictly from her own "backyard" so to speak and she had to describe her home and its surroundings in order for him to understand that she did indeed select and harvest each and every one from our little four acre homestead.

My fire pit with its natural stone border and wrought iron grate is surrounded by tall dry grass.  The burn ban that has existed off and on over the past two years due to the drought, has left it lonely and untouched for long periods of time.  My Christmas tree from this year lounges near the pit awaiting a spectacular blaze on a drizzly cool night before the arrival of the dry summer heat.

The pit has provided many, many days and nights of loud and silly entertainment.  It has been used both to dispose of excess cedar and cords of wood have been purchased to feed my pyromaniacal tendencies.  New Year's Eve and the 4th of July memories, with the pit as a backdrop to my heavy artillery fireworks displays, will never be forgotten and will always be cherished.

A giggle escapes me now as I think about Jerry setting up a large artillery shell down on the first lower level  of the property below the pit, lighting it, then making a run for it up the rocky steps to watch the spectacle overhead.  Kathleen and I have enjoyed hours of fun throwing black cats one by one into the pit. It's always a surprise when they pop, because it's unpredictable when it will happen, depending on where the black cat lands in relation to the fire.  I will never forget the year that she and I sat on the deck watching Jerry and his artillery antics while Kathleen tossed M1000's over her shoulder off the edge of the deck...until one was tossed into a particularly dry heap of brush and sent me running for a bucket of water from the tank to drench the flames.  Yes...Good times!!!

Daniel's 13th Birthday -- Airsoft Party...Nice huh?

Daniel and his buddies have, at times, enjoyed this place in ways I never could have predicted. Around the 4th of July, Daniel and his best friend Paul have been know to strap tiny plastic army men to bottle rockets and launch them into outerspace.  They would do this one at a time, then go out on "recon" to locate the fallen soldier.  Daniel has had many "airsoft" parties here.  He invited usually around five guys over with their arsenals and they run around the land in teams playing games like "Normandy" with hideouts and forts and very specific rules of engagement.  This activity was all very cute and fun when they were elementary schoolers into early middle school, but the last time they did this (which was very recently) all I could see were a bunch of what appeared to be grown men in camo and goggles shooting at each other with automatic weapons!  I wondered if my neighbors would call the authorities and whether the Travis County Sheriff's SWAT team will come barreling down my easement road!

We moved onto this land about six or eight months following the F4 tornado that leveled parts of Jerrell, Texas and spawned another F4 that cut a wide swath from the edge of the lake, up the Bee Creek valley and across Highway 71 along the Pedernales River and beyond.  The kids and I, all of our pets and a few of the neighbors' dogs, spent several hours in our closet at the house we were renting at the time in Briarcliff.  While the tornado skirted us completely, it left us without phone service for several weeks as the tornado smashed through a limestone substation a half mile behind our house.

My land sits high on a hill overlooking the lake and with a very stark view, when first acquired, of the path the tornado took across the hill country.  Since I bought a manufactured home, anchored in bedrock or not, it is still vulnerable to winds unlike a stick built home. After a few weather related scares early on, I simply insisted on adding a storm shelter for peace of mind.  The only survivors of the Jerrell tornado were those in reinforced underground shelters.  It being the first day of summer vacation, many of the Jerrell victims were kids.

After a minor amount of reserach I settled on purchasing my "bunker" from a guy in Jerrell whose daughter weathered the storm alone in a shelter he had just recently built and installed.  Soon thereafter he founded "Jerrell Storm Shelters"  I call it my glorified septic tank, because that is really what it is, an eight inch thick, solid walled concrete box with a sloping front wall, creaky steel hatch, steel staircase into the chasm and turbine venting for air circulation.  In the heat of the summer with storms threatening, I ready the shelter by getting rid of any creepy crawlies lurking down there, bring down some folding lawn chairs, flashlights and pet crates, run a long extension cord from the well house and down into the vent so I can plug in a fan and my little 8 in 1 weather radio/light/tv thingy (yea, I know, I shouldn't rely on power staying on during a tornado, but this is kind of a gage of the where we are in the weather system).Generally, the steel door remains open while we monitor the sky.

Anna hates the storm shelter.  Not too many years ago, she was at home alone while some very tornadic weather rolled in late one afternoon.  The only thing I could tell her to do was to go into the shelter when she really felt in danger.  Unfortunately, I think she feels more in danger in the creepy darkness of the storm shelter than the in the deep dark green of a severe weather event.  That particular storm bypassed the house to the east and I was blessed with an incredible double rainbow as I scurried to the rescue of my daughter.  When I walked through the front door, she says, "Well that was annoying!!"

This land has provided me with some peace and tranquility and beauty for the last several years. I have always thought that, in the end, its purpose would be to provide me with some security as well.  Security along with freedom have come to mean so much to me at this point in my life.  I keep telling myself that it is time to sell this place and move forward and yet my actions are not advancing me in the direction.  Perhaps I will embrace this land just a bit longer and see where it leads me.

"Put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard" (Anne Sexton, poet).



Fresh What?
I was driving home one afternoon along Southwest Parkway which is a highly travelled road that dead ends into Highway 71.  Typically at this intersection, there are a variety of handmade signs advertising garage sales, cleaning services and homes for rent.  One sign catches my eye that still leaves me scratching my says "Fresh Caviar" and a phone number.  WTF?  I kind of want to call the number.  I'm feeling like this is a trap, though.  If I call the number I'll probably be hooked up with someone wanting to reel me into Amway or Arbonne. Still, I'm very tempted to dial the number.

Fun at Work #1
When I first started working for this company, there was a big conference being held in Austin for the Texas Recreation and Parks Society.  Our office would have an exhibit booth during the conference and our marketing people from headquarters sent boxes and boxes of giveaways, brochures, and equipment for the booth.  One day Marie wheeled up a big box on a dolly and dropped it near my desk.  I was talking to Ryan about something or other when I turned my chair to see what it was that she had left for me.  To my surprise, it was a giant box with the words "Blue Balls" printed boldly across the cardboard.  A little stunned and with uncontrollable laughter threatening to spill forth,  I turned back to Ryan and he made some wisecrack like "Yours?" as my forehead hit my desktop.

Fun at Work #2
I have been given the task of getting Jim set up to go on a tubing trip down in San Marcos with a bunch of clients and colleagues.  I load up the company truck with coolers full of beer...Shiner, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Tecate.  I sliced up a big baggy full of limes for the Tecate (I was told later that that was a huge hit!) I'm digging through the marketing closet looking for doodads that Jim can hand out down there.  I find lip balm with our logo on it and fill up a bag of those. I'm searching for a particular item that would be the perfect giveaway for this event...sunscreen.  Low and behold, I find a bag full of these little silver packages that I kid you not, look like packaged condoms.  My mouth gapes and I say out loud "Oh my God! Are you kidding me?" A head pops up over the cube wall and a young Landscape Architect says to me "We've got you covered!"  I fire back, "You DID NOT just say that!"  He says "No no no!  That's what it says on the package, Nancy!"  Holy moly, yep, the condom shaped sunscreen packages have the company logo on one side and "We've Got You Covered" on the other.

Let's Talk About Ducks
This guy I know was telling me about how he has done some wood carving from time to time.  He does a lot of woodworking and teaches a continuing education class at the high school with a friend of his a couple of times a year.  Many years ago, he was learning how to carve wooden ducks and was talking to his friend about it.  Several days later that friend presented him with a bag full of frozen duck heads (apparently, they live somewhere where duck hunting is a popular sport!) Obviously, this gesture was meant to help this guy I know in his quest to carve the perfect duck...or at least the perfect duck head.  Apparently the frozen duck heads were plopped into the freezer unbeknownst to everyone living in the house, and a shocked shreak was heard, probably throughout the neighborhood, when said frozen heads were discovered by an unsuspecting member of the household.  I'm thinking about what frozen duck heads might look like and whether they would really be a valid model for his carvings.  I wonder if his duck carvings came out looking like dead ducks...maybe that's what he was going for in which case, I'm just a little creeped out.


Out to Lunch

My mission today began with driving north to Georgetown and dropping off a proposal for landscape services for a landfill in Williamson County.  Good stuff.  Then I turn and head back down south to drop off yet another hearing notice in Austin. I'm wearing my oh so comfortable Naturalizer loafers today to avoid falling off of the curb like last time.  Attractive they are not, but they go amazingly well with my chocolate brown cords, henly long sleeve top and flowery Liz Claiborn overshirt.  I'm stylish beyond belief.  I'm a vision, really.

Parking is always an issue downtown, but it's also always fun to circle up and down 6th Street and Congress Avenue and to see all of those sights.The nine foot tall "Art Guitars" peek out from the sidewalks along Congress and seem to go unnoticed by most of the people walking by them.  I park in front of The Hideout on Congress.  It is packed with workers on their lunch hour.  This is probably one of those cool coffee places I've been searching for.  It advertises live music most evenings along with coffee, food and other beverage specials. Daniel's going to the UT game tonight, which means I don't have to rush home and cook dinner, so perhaps I'll mosey down there after work today.

So many types of people wander around down here at noonish.  Of course, there are plenty of suits indicating to me only that the legislature is back in session and that lawyers still exist in Austin, Texas.  I can't picture what other businesses here require this level of formality of attire.  Plenty of other people obviously on their lunch hour are casually dressed and are pressed for time.  I see several guys on both 6th Street and Congress with guitars and guitar cases strapped to their backs like backpacks.  I wonder if they are on their way to a studio to record, are they early early to set up or rehearse for a late night gig, or are they looking for a spot to pull up and play for a little cash.

I make my delivery and retreat from downtown and end up at The Shady Grove for lunch.  It's roughly 60 degrees and sunny and the perfect time for a late lunch alone outside where I can, as always, enjoy the sights. Shady Grove is on Barton Springs Road and is just as it sounds - shady, homey and relaxed.  What is now a brand new community of condos next door was once the Shady Grove RV Park which had beautiful shade trees and many airstream trailers housing permanent residents.

An old airstream continues to welcome you in to Shady Grove and is surrounded by those bright lime green and pink steele lawn chairs like everybody's grandmother used to have in her back yard.  Red rock walls decorated with wooden wagon wheels surround the outdoor dining area, which is packed on summer nights when the "Unplugged at the Grove" concerts happen every Thursday night.  Tin roofed overhangs, strands of lights with round white bulbs hang low over the rock patios and a flag pole in the middle of everything with both the U.S. and Texas flag leave me smiling and, for some reason, nostalgic.

Two women, in their mid-fifties probably, sit at a table nearest to me smoking cigarettes.  I find it somewhat interesting that smokers still exist.  The women are dressed in old and somewhat tattered attire, each in an oversized faded baggy sweater, poorly fitting jeans and Birkenstocks with socks. They have a couple of books in front of them and they are completely and utterly immersed in their iphones.  They chat with each other blindly, never looking up to take in the sights of Shady Grove or even to make eye contact with each other.

What is it about the iphone?  It has completely changed the way that people act in public. The way I see it is that they are interacting with the world and with a gazillion friends, family and,YIKES "followers", and yet simultaneously they are completely oblivious to those in their immediate vicinity where actual human contact could occur given the opportunity.  It seems to me that the iphone could quickly become a form of electronic birth control because people ignore the fact that there is a human being lying next to them in the bed while the iphone is fired up and permanently attached to the palm of one hand.  Well, I suppose if both had their iphones turned on (bad choice of words) then there might be a chance of making the magic happen. Picture that loving communication

----"U R 2 hot I U"
---- "1 sec..bout 2 B scrabble champ".

Sorry for the soapbox on this iphone tangent...random thoughts from an overactive imagination are at work here. Could it be possible that, because I don't have an iphone, that I really am out to lunch?


Sunday Gospel Spicewood Style

Perfect. I'm still driving the truck after having it inspected this week and I get in and start it up and KVET is playing the Sunday morning Country Gospel show.  Willie's singing "What a Friend You Have In Jesus." I'm making another attempt to go for breakfast at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.  It's rainy and gray and I'm up much earlier than I normally would be on the weekends.  I have a friend who thinks I sound cute when I'm sleepy, so he calls me on the weekends at like 5:30 a.m.  Oh, yea, I am simply adorable at that hour!

I drive out Highway 71 crossing the Pedernales River, which is very low again so the boat docks sit on green grass out of the water.  It's very peaceful and few cars are on the highway as I make my way to 281. I like coming over the hill into Marble Falls and catching that first glimpse of the Colorado River.  At this time of year, it's empty, but in the spring and summer there are lots of ski boats and fishing boats out on the water.  At Christmas time if you drive into Marble Falls at night, there is a very sweet Christmas light display that reflects off of the lake.

I pull into the parking lot and am happy to see that I am here before the church crowd.  There is no line to get in like there usually is.  I enter through the back door and am promptly seated in a tiny booth next to the counter.  Coffee is plunked down in front me before I can even say I want some.  It is just assumed that I would like some coffee this morning and of course, I do.  I'm a creature of habit, so I go with a standard order of again, two eggs over medium, this time with hashbrowns, bacon and biscuits.  She says, "Gravy?" Sure, why not.  This is not the kind of place where you should turn down the gravy!

A sign blows back and forth above the doorway that says "Try some pie!"  A paper flyer on the table list the pies available today, whole or by the slice:  Apple (regular), Apple (no sugar added), Cherry, Peach, Pecan, Fudge, Peanut Butter, Coconut Cream, Coconut Meringue, Chocolate Cream, Chocolate Meringue, German Chocolate, Banana Cream, Lemon Cream and Lemon Meringue.  Holy cow!

Uh oh, the cashier (Nancy) is telling a customer they don't take plastic...I'm in trouble because I don't do cash!  Yay, there's an ATM on the porch of the building.

I am served from the closed side of my booth Waffle House style.  The waitress never has to leave the closed space that holds the coffee pots and cups and the short order window to the kitchen.  The breakfast here is like no place else.  The biscuits are yeast style rather than being made with baking powder and even the eggs taste different and delicious. If this place wasn't on Main Street I would guess that there was a chicken coop out back.  I should get Daniel a donut to go because they are also freshly made and are about the size of small pizza!  Do all waitresses on the morning shift wear Harley t-shirts, because that seems to be a trend I've been seeing lately.  Oh wait, that girl's not wearing one...she's wearing camo, of course.  The owner of the Bluebonnet stands near the register talking to the locals about the last week of hunting season, comparing notes and swapping stories.

You pay your bill up front here, old style.  On the glass top counter sits a pile of Bluebonnet Cafe Cookbooks.  The Bluebonnet has been open for 81 years.  I chat with Nancy the cashier as I pay my bill...we are entertained by our shared name.  We talk about how there aren't many of "us" around.  She says she's Nancy Gail and I tell her I'm NancyLou and she likes that a lot.  She says she's happy that she wasn't named after her aunt Gussy May!!

It's raining again as I walk to the truck and I'm very pleased that I'm wearing my leopard and pink rose printed rubber cowboy style rain boots.  It's the perfect day and absolutely the perfect town to embrace this fashion statement of mine.

Phooey!  I realize outside of town that I'm completely out of gas.  I'll make it to the Spicewood General Store.  Now this place is an experience!  The signs painted on the windows say "We do fried!" and "Beer Ammo Bait".  Inside you can order breakfast, burgers and fried catfish while you are picking up your plumbing supplies, milk and, of course, your ammo and bait.  If you have a real emergency you can duck into the ladies' room where you'll find the toilet paper hanging on a chain over the door.  Make sure you pick up a t-shirt from here for next year's White Elephant Christmas party.  They say "Spicewood, Texas" on the front and "We're all here because we're not all there!" on the back...choose your style - plain black, tie dyed or (you guessed it!) camo.

"I cling to the old rugged cross and someday I'll trade it for a crown..." twangs through the speakers as I head home.


Out of Office

I'm out of the office delivering Hearing Notices for our Right of Way guys to several places in downtown Austin.  The first stop is at a law firm at 8th and Nueces.  Parking is at street level in a carport with the offices hovering above.  I start to pull into a space closest to the staircase and there is a homeless guy sleeping right in the middle of the parking spot.  Two Keystone tall boys sit next to his head on the concrete. I move down a few spaces and feel a little weird about walking right past him and up the stairs, but I really have no choice. I hand the notice to the paralegal at the front desk and let her know about the dude down below.  She just rolls her eyes, shrugs her shoulders and laughs in a perfect gesture that says to me "What's to be done?" 

I'm hungry and think I should head to Katz's Deli which is just two blocks from here. I know it is going out of business after 30 years in Austin and I just can't remember if its final day is January 2nd or 3rd, which is today.  Apparently it was yesterday and the icon with the slogan "Katz's Never Closes" is, um...closed. Opal Divine's is next door so that's where I end up.

There are few people in here.  This is clearly a happy hour type of place.  I've been to the Marina and Penn Field locations but never to this one. My waiter is in his mid fifties with a Willy-braid down to his waist. He makes me laugh talking about his brother.  He says he is happy that the holidays are over because he needs a break from him.  His brother is so funny that he laughed so hard that he's pretty sure he has injured himself and is having a hard time standing up straight because his stomach muscles are killing him.  I get that, but usually after a long visit with my sister it's just my throat and cheeks that hurt ( yea, ok, and sometimes my head!)

After lunch I continue on my quest to deliver the notices.  The next one goes to a corporation on 7th Street.  The intersection of 7th and Brazos has been under construction for awhile, but luckily I find a parking place nearby right across from the Driscoll Hotel. The Driscoll is one of the most haunted places in Austin.  One story involves a Senator's daughter in the late 1800's who died in a tragic accident as she played with a ball on the massive granite stairway in the lobby.  People claim to hear a ball bouncing on the upper landing of the stairway.

I walk around skirting all of the construction and trip on my heels as I walk behind a Whole Foods catering van making a delivery.  "You OK girl?" I try to look cool..."Yes. Thank you. I wore the wrong shoes for this." Smooth.  I take the elevator up and remember that this is the place that only accepts notices up until 3:00.  I have plenty of time.  I walk in and drop the notice in a basket labeled for them and note the time.  I'll have to attest to my delivery of all of these doohickees later.

My last stop is just a few blocks up and to the East; the Secretary of State's Office. I like coming  here because the guard at the security check-in desk is somebody I got to know pretty well when we worked at TxDOT.  She ws the guard there when the project that I was on tanked about 7 years ago. Since I was there for almost 4 years, she and I talked a lot in passing about our kids and what not. The Secretary of State's Office is, obviously, across the street from the Texas State Capitol.  On the back side, where I parked, is St. Mary's Cathedral which is just gorgeous. It was a very scenic stroll making this last delivery.


A Typical Sunday in Austin, Texas

I have been bantering back and forth with a friend in "the great white north".  He says he loves to find dark, little known coffee shops and will always stop the car and dive into one when it appears.  I set off on a mission today to find an off the beaten path, kind of creepy coffee shop in Austin.  How hard can that be?  I zigzaged around South Lamar with just one detour which was to poke my head in Half Price Books to get a copy of The Eiger Sanction, which was unsuccessful. A coffee shop across and a little down from there intrigued me since it was next to a tattoo parlor, so I steered my car into the parking lot, but it had closed at 3:00.

Oltorf Street has potential so I make a right and head toward Congress Avenue.  Nope. No coffee on Oltorf. Ok, so I have failed so far in my quest to find a little known coffee house in Austin today.  The old parts of the city I saw today didn't have anything, and the regentrified old parts were overflowing with trendy places.  I settle for a cruise down South Congress ("SoCo") which is always a cool thing to do.

I park on the circle and walk across Congress crossing the street by Amy's Ice Cream and Joe's Coffee.  The line to Joe's is a block long, so, that's not my idea of a good time.  I should have come earlier today in time for their "Sinner's Brunch" where the morning special includes a breakfast taco, a long neck, and a cup of coffee!

I hear live music coming from Guero's Live Oak Garden so I head there.  This place is just a little garden off of the sidewalk surrounded by a low rock wall attached to Guero's mexican restaurant.  Huge oak trees shelter wooden benches and picnic tables loaded with your typical Austin crowd, which is crazy hippy looking types, a smattering of young people with dreadlocks, quirky hat wearing women, hipsters, young DINKs*, dancing toddlers and lots of dogs.Yea, this is a pretty typical Sunday afternoon in Austin, Texas.  "What are you doing this afternoon?" "Think I'll go listen to some music somewhere. You?"  Shiner Beer, chips and salsa, live music on a sunny January day under the oaks is not a bad idea, ever.

--Sittin' on the dock of the bay, wastin' time--the band sings...

The lead singer says they are going to play one more, then during the break they are going to come out and make love to everyone. How can that line not make you smile?  Keep Austin Weird, I say!!! "Oh and we play at weddings!" he says.  Via Zunica is the name of the band if you have a need.

*Double Income No Kids - a term which shows my age.


Daniel and I did some re-arranging a couple of weeks ago and he moved the L-shaped workstation that Daddy (Ernie) built out of his room and back into the game room.  He needs all kind of space for his two monitors, fancy keyboard, mouse, speakers and, of course, the iPhone.  I like looking from the kitchen and seeing my son sitting in front of something built with my dad's hands.  Daniel never met "Granddaddy Ernie", but he loves that desk. 

As a result of the change, I ended up with Daniel's little corner hutch computer workstation.  I had been working off of a little 18" x 36" folding table and Daniel needed it to put in his room to be the base of the matching desktop that Daddy built to match the workstation.  It was built to sit on top of a couple of two drawer filing cabinets, but the little folding table works perfectly as the base of the desktop.

I sit in front of my computer and look around from time to time and love what I see here. My little hutch holds a stack of journals to the left of the keyboard;  a white clay wizard that Anna made in elementary school art class stands guard over them.  The wizard has a crystal ball in front of him which was a Christmas gift to me from Daniel.

I went through Mama's jewelry box recently and pulled out a couple of things that now are randomly scattered across my desk: Mark's college ID from Western State, a brass name plate engraved with an Indy car and inscribed with the words "Built by Clyde Adams Los Angelas", and two silver plated ornaments meant to dress up a pair of Mama's pumps in the 50's.

Hovering in front of my wireless mouse is a stuffed cheetah from Nell's tapping class at the Unity of New Hope retreat last year.  This one is a hard one to explain...ya kind of had to be there. One of two little shelves holds another elementary school art project, a big green frog with blue bulging eyes, mouth wide open with a long pink tongue lapping out.  An arrow head, next to a pink ribbon pin sit beneath a framed picture of a cat that says "Precious things are few - guess that's why there's just one you"...I'm sure that was a gift from my sister. My pink patchwork scarf quilted for me by my dear friend, the pieces signed in honor of lost loved ones and survivors of breast cancer, drapes around my keepsakes.

A Waterford crystal jewelry box -- a gift from my lifelong friend Kari, a ring box full of lavendar that my "mother's rings" arrived in and a metal sculpture of two people sitting on a porch swing adorn another shelf.  Up top is a picture of Daniel dressed as "Hamilton", the rat from Charlotte's Web, taken in kindergarten.  He has Spot, his live pet rat sitting in his lap.  Spot was the hit of the day for the "dress as your favorite storybook character" hallway parade at Bee Cave Elementary.  Front and center on the top shelf is a picture of the Adams family on The Big Rock taken in the mid '80's.

To the left of me is a painting by Phil of an adobe house in a stand of aspens with a Native American spirit watching over.  On my right side, is my huge painting of Crested Butte that Daddy painted, a view of the mountain at either sunset or sunrise...very pink and purple and light.