Sunday, December 25, 2005

I'm in Cyberspace - for a Second Time!

Blogging hasn't produced a book deal yet, but it has conjured up a column. I've been a devote of BookThink site for some time and Craig, the editor asked if I'd be interested in writing for him. My second submission appeared today and the editor had some very nice things to say! Talk about the perfect Christmas Present!

You can find it, and the comments on the Book Think site , however since it appeared in Craig's freebie newsletter I can also include it on my blog.

Witches, Mice and Cats - Oh My!

When it comes to children’s books it is not Lions, Tigers and Bears - Oh My!
Instead it’s Witches, Mice and Cats- Oh Yes!

There is something about these three subjects, be they in a picture book or a fiction / chapter book that usually guarantees a sale. A "chapter book" for those who do not hang around school libraries is a child’s novel, called a "chapter book" or a "fiction book" to differentiate it from a picture book. Not only do they appeal to the collectors of children's literature and baby boomers bent on nostalgia but they are also tempting to people who collect anything witch, cat and mice related. Any picture or chapter book with a copyright date prior to 1963 is worth up if picking up the subject is witches, mice or cats and the book is in decent shape.

When it comes to witches, the wee ones rule. Little Witch, a chapter book by Anna Elizabeth Bennett will easily net you $50 on E-bay. Avoid the "I Can Read" series with the same title by Deborah Hautzig. The Littlest Witch by Jeanne Massey is another book you'd love to have fly into your bag. Weeny Witch by Ida DeLage is also a winner. DeLage wrote a series of picture books about an old witch that sometimes do well and sometimes do not. Then there is Little Left Over Witch by Florence Laughlin. This one is copyright 1978, which again proves that when it comes to bookselling all rules of thumb have their exceptions.

Patricia Coombs wrote numerous picture books about a little witch named Dorrie - snatch any that come your way. Prices vary widely, but a copy of Dorrie's Magic, the first in series just sold for $295.00 on E-bay. It didn't seem to matter that it was ex-library, had been rebound and was quite shabby.
Sally Watson is the author of Witch of the Glens - another that will easily sell for over $100. There is a paperback reprint, but her die-hard fans want a hardback. She wrote historical fiction; keep an eye out for her.

Witch on a Motorcycle by Marian Frances and Blue Nosed Witch by Margaret Embry do not command terribly high prices but they are tried and true sellers.

Of course old and ugly witches abound too. The Old Black Witch series by Wende and Harry Devlin is the top seller. The Develin's also wrote a series of holiday picture books - Cranberry Thanksgiving, Cranberry Halloween, Cranberry Christmas and so on so be on look out for them too. Librarians tend to weed by letter of the alphabet so you'll often several books by the same author piled next to each other at a FOL sale.

The queen of the Mice books is Mousekin by Edna Miller. Again, there are many in this series so don't pass up any of them. The Holy Grail is Mousekin's Golden House, in which Mousekin goes to live in a Halloween pumpkin. It will definitely top $50 and if you are lucky enough to find a really clean copy you're holding a three figure sale in your hands. There are assorted other Mousekins, most with a holiday theme. No matter the title, never pass up the royal little mouse.

Rumer Godden, a very prolific author of adult and children's books claims a couple of mouse books to her credit - Mouse House and Mouse Wife. Graham Oakley wrote the Churchmice series in the 1980s, he is currently out of print and many of his books sell in the $20+ range. Oakley very common at the library sales. The books are now 20 -25 years old, which puts them right smack in the weeding rotation.

Jill Barklem is the author of the Brambley Hedge series. Set, in the England these feature little mice in seasonal adventures. Some aren't worth much, but do well in lots, other titles - The Collected Works, The Baby Mice of Barmbley Hedge sell for $20 and more. Barklem spilled over into bric brac so when you are trolling the thrifts and estate sales keep an eye out for mugs and other assorted china pieces Her style is somewhat similar to Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books.

Beatrix Potter, by the way is now in the public domain and is not worth bothering with unless you stumble across a first edition, something that is unlikely to occur at a FOL sale.

The Basil of Baker street series are regaining their popularity. Written by Eve Titus in the late 1950s, early 1960s they are about a mouse size Sherlock Holmes. These have double appeal since Sherlock Holmes collectors want him too.

I do realize I have omitted the most famous mouse of all - Mickey Mouse. He falls under Disneyana, not mice so I will leave him for a Disney expert.

When it comes to cats, even folks who never bother with kiddie lit know that a first edition of The Cat in the Hat will put food on the table for many, many months. However, the points on a Dr. Seuss book are complicated to extreme and way beyond my knowledge base. If you are lucky enough to find one, contact Craig. Quickly.

For the rest of us there is Esther Averill and her Jenny and the Cat Club series. Jenny and the Fire Cat was a Weekly Reader book club book and is common as dirt but the others are collectible. Prices have fallen a bit since some of her titles are once again in print but she is still a strong seller. As a rule, never buy Weekly Reader Book Club Books - they are to children's books what BOMC books are to adult book sellers.
Carbonel, King of the Cats by Barbara Sleigh has also been reprinted (reprints are the bane of my existence) but there is a still a market for the original edition. Once again, her other books are also collectible - she wrote a couple about witches and magic too. There is a sequel to Carbonel, Carbonel and Calibor which blessedly is still out of print.

Artist Peggy Bacon wrote childrenÂ’s books to pay the rent, and The Ghost of Opalina, written in 1967 would easily pay part of yours. I once found a copy in a thrift shop, bought it strictly because it had a cat on the cover and sold it on E-bay for $150. She is also the author of The Good American Witch, which does not go for what Opalina does but it will pay for a good meal in a nice restaurant. Look for Peggy Bacon among the art books too - she has quite following among print collectors.

Have you discerned a pattern that many folks who write witch books also write cat books and sometimes they combine the two in one story? Ruth Chew did that.. She is the author of the Would Be Witch, Witch's Buttons, Wednesday Witch, The Witch's Cat and more along the same line. She is not as sought after as she once was, but does well in lots, even in paperback.

As with any book, a first, with a dust jacket not ex-library will net you the highest price. Nevertheless, as with all children's books ex-library copies are often the only copies out there so do wander by the childrenÂ’s book section at the next Friend of the Library Book Sale.
Remember your mantra is "Witches, Mice and Cats - Oh Yes!"

December 25, 2005

A Happy Holiday to All and to All a Good Day (and Good Night).

This has been an eventful year and I'm thankful for everyone whose blog I read and for everyone who reads mine. My life has been enriched a thousandfold.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Dreaded Christmas Letter

This is the year I choose just which parts of the Holiday Season I wanted to observe. I love getting Christmas Cards and I love Christmas letters - they are so addictive so I wrote one and send cards to the women on my Besty Tacy List.
Dec, 2005

“When I am an old woman I will wear purple”
Write Christmas letters!

I don’t feel old, but according to Madison Avenue I am. To make up for not being a desirable advertising base I shall consol myself by composing the dreaded Christmas Epistle.

2005 was a year of milestones. Christine and Katherine both graduated from college in May. In typical fashion, they picked colleges 1,500 miles apart and said colleges scheduled their graduations on the same day. We elected to attend Christine’s in San Antonio. Lana is a graduate of Trinity and never thought she would have a legacy. Their father went to Miami. Katherine is going on to Graduate school so we told her we would catch her at the Master’s level.

Afterwards, Katherine moved to Fort Lauderdale to begin work on her Master’s in Marine Biology at NOVA University. She has a job and an active social life and despite having endured
Hurricane Wilma still adores South Florida.

Christine heeded the call of “Go West Young Girl” and packed car, baggage and cat and moved to Los Angeles. In the space of a month, she had an apartment and a job with benefits. . She’s poor, thanks to low starting salaries and the astounding cost of living in Los Angles. However, her job comes with liberal travel benefits and she is having a good time. She did tell me that life consists of getting up, going to work, coming home, going to bed, getting up, going to work, and repeat and repeat and repeat. I told her that is what being an adult is all about.

Much to everyone’s amazement Lana sold both her motorcycle and her SUV. She now drives a sporty sedan and would if she could, play golf 24/7. She is busy rebuilding the Texas Medical Center and enjoys her job, except when the alarm clangs in the morning.

I am at the “can’t change jobs because I need my pension” stage of life, but luckily, I still like my job, though it is exhausting. Trust me, teachers need all those breaks and holidays we get Bookselling on Amazon keeps me busy and I opened up an E-bay store this fall. My blog is still current and I am finding great satisfaction in honing my writing skills. It is as eclectic as I am and can be found at http://www.http:/

In June I offered to help a bookseller who was very ill pack up some books. Things snowballed and when she died in October, I’d learned more about cancer, hospice, , home health care and courage than I ever thought possible. While it is not something I care to repeat anytime soon, it is also one I feel privileged to have been a part of. I also meet yet another big hearted internet community and enriched my life with some new friends.

All our traveling was stateside this year. We went to Duluth, Minnesota and had a lovely visit with a couple we’d meet on the motorcycle trip we took in 2004. We had our first look at the Great Lakes and got to wear sweaters in June. July took us to North Carolina for the every 5 year family reunion – our first since my father died. We had some mis-adventures with B&Bs and fell in love with the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. My E-bay bookselling pal and I made assorted book buying trips to such exciting towns as Waco Port Arthur and Boerne.

The days and weeks seem to speed by faster and faster – yet another symptom of growing older but not up (to quote the Bard, Jimmy Buffet). Considering how quickly this year flew by, 2006 should be gone in the blink of an eye.

We hope it brings you much joy and happiness.

The Stages of Christmas

Being off work gives me the time to muse and ponder. We appear to at the time of our life where we are having an "Un Christmas".

When you are child Christmas is the high point of the year. You can't wait, you listen for Santa Claus, you help pick out the perfect tree and thrill at the sight of the ornaments reappearing each year. Christmas is cookies, carols, presents all add up to total and utter excitement.

You go to college and Christmas means going home, sleeping late and relaxing. Yes, the tree and ornaments are important but so is sleeping late, eating your Mom's cooking, catching up with all your friends and of course presents ( you fervently hope for some of the green folding kind).

Then there is "Our First Christmas" together. You put up a tree, by your first ornaments, shop for the perfect present and cook your first Christmas dinner. Much to your amazement, it turns out quite nicely; thank you very much.

You have your own children and pressure begins. You want their Christmas to be magical, perfect in the best Norman Rockwell, Leave it to Beaver, Tiny Tim, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street tradition. You bake, you decorate, you take them to see Santa Claus, you spring for a velvet dress for the annual picture and Nutcracker expedition. You scour the stores for that one Rainbow Brite Color Kid they do not have and want so desperately. You take them tree shopping and decorate it while carols play in the background. You wrap presents, watch the children shake them, find stocking stuffers and take a zillion pictures. It’s all great fun but somehow you never quite measure up to your expectations.

Said children grow up, go to college and graduate and begin their own lives.
Trying to figure out what clothes are acceptable or what the latest electronic gizmo that’s needed by Generation Y is an exercise in futility so you opt for gift cards. Baking seems rather pointless, what with the extra 20 lbs that you are suddenly packing.

And then you realize Christmas isn’t about all the stuff, the trappings and the trimmings. It’s about realizing your children are all grown up and doing a good job of making their own way in the world. It’s about having a few days of leisure, looking Your Beloved napping on the sofa and realizing that life is very, very good indeed.

Christmas – no tree necessary.

Why We Don't Have a Tree This Year

My Beloved spent 3 years remodeling a major mall. Christmas began in mid October and she was responsible for coordinating the construction without affecting the retailers’ bottom line. This was accompanied by non stop Christmas elevator music and crowds of shoppers. By the time the job was over her only opinion of Christmas was a resound "Bah Humbug".

Our Christmases are always been spent at her Mother’s house. In the best Southern Matriarchal tradition, the family gathers at the appointed hour for food and festivities. Her mother has an unsurpassed knack for decorating and the house always looks like a stage set for Southern Living or a Christmas store window. Food's really good too.

Our girls live on the respective coasts and arrive home on Wednesday the 21st of December.

“Shall we go get a Christmas Tree?” I propose.

“Nope, not tonight, we are having dinner with our Dad, he’s about to leave town and then we’re going out with friends”.

Thursday morning they both drift downstairs at around noon both looking a little worse for the wear.

“Want to go pick out a tree?” They both scrabble for aspirin bottle and return to bed. Looks like they celebrated a bit too heartily the night before.

They reappear at dusk; we go out to dinner with them and some of their friends. We go home; they head out with said friends.

Friday morning we come downstairs to find one friend has spent the night and all three of them are scrabbling for the aspirin bottle.

“What about a Christmas Tree?” I ask.

“Can’t, we’re having lunch with A., then Uncle Bill is taking us to dinner, then we’re going out with K & V.”

That brings us to Saturday, Christmas Eve Day. One gets up early to meet some friends for breakfast. The shock of seeing the sunrise is so great that she must go back to bed to recover upon her return. Her sister opts to sleep till 1pm.

“Christmas Tree?”

“I’m going to the movies” says one, “I’m spending the afternoon with A”says the other.

”What time is dinner?” – unlike Christmas trees, which would require their participation they have a stake in dinner which doesn’t.

“6” I say – “everything you asked for, turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.”

“Great, we’ll be home – can we bring A, K and V?”


Since I’m not feeling like being the Little Red Hen this year, there won’t be a tree at our house.

And you know what, that’s perfectly OK with me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

You Get What You Pay For....or Money Talks

My Beloved is recovering from sinus surgery. Her doctor of choice specializes in plastic surgery to the rich and famous and the ladies who lunch, though he has a small group of ENT patients. My Beloved also likes her hand held so I've been accompanying her to the follow up visits.

It's interesting to compare this office to that the emergency rooms that I spent so much time in this past fall.

The walls of this waiting room are painted that of so flattering pink, the lighting is dim and the chairs are cushy and comfortable - no rows of plastic airline waiting room seats for this guy. Not one single tattered copy of Readers Digest or a 3 year old People Magazine. The waiting room is stacked with pristine copies of W, Harpers Bizarre, Town & Country and Vogue.

His staff is all young & slim, with short skirts, high heels and collagen lips. It is obvious they get a hefty staff discount on his services. Instead of scrubs printed with puppies and kittens (size XXL) they wear white lab coats with their names embroidered (in pink) over the left pocket.

The clientele is Anglo, female and over 40. The combined cost of their jewelry, purses and shoes is most likely more than the GNP of some third world nations. Every hair on their head is professionally colored and styled, every nail carefully painted and filed.

This office hasn't one single notice about letting the staff know if your insurance has changed. They know most of their clients are here by choice and will be paying in cash. The brochures (glossy and professional done) do mention a payment plan option, if you should need it.

I flashed back to one of the emergency room visits I made with my friend Pie. It was a Saturday, she'd fallen and we ended up at the closest hospital.

The chairs in the waiting room were hard, uncomfortable and there wasn't an empty one to be found. The floors were battleship grey linoleum, the walls green and lighting harsh and florescent. The noise level was deafening a combination of blaring televisions and ringing cell phones. The clientele was as diverse as the city of Houston and the majority of the people were Hispanic or African American. Many extended families, many whining children who had colds or earaches. The staff was harried, overworked and wore comfortable shoes and baggy scrubs.

There weren't many signs about insurance there either - but not because the people would be paying cash, but because most of the people couldn't pay at all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

All We Want for Christmas.....

Torrential rains blew through today. A veritable winter monsoon descended on the Houston metropolis. At 9:30, just as I ‘m explaining the STAR test to a group of 3 graders the lights go out. And stay out. It is very dark in the library which has only a few narrow windows.

No STAR testing will happen, no books will be checked out, no internet will be surfed, no stories will be read. I pull out my portable treasure box (a very fancy cigar box I got in a thrift store), drop a set of keys in them and we play “What’s in the Box”. The keys give way to a stapler, which gives way to my watch, which gives way to my cell phone.

It is still dark and in tromps a kindergarten teacher and her kids. It is their library time. Just what they thought I could accomplish is beyond me but it is her library time and she is going to have it. I resort to story telling and a from memory retelling of “The Polar Express”.

Lunch time rolls around. The first couple of grades get a hot lunch, since it was already cooked, the older grades get peanut butter sandwiches. I’d planned two Brownies and Ice Cream reading celebration lunches. We decide that brownies and ice cream taste better in the dark.

The lights come on at 12:30 but the rain is coming down harder, in fact it’s horizontal and we have open walkways ( a legacy of a building partly built in the pre air conditioning days). We also have thunder, lighting and a tornado warning. The sidewalks are flooded, the grounds are one massive puddle and the street in front of the school is hubcap deep in water.

Principal gets on the intercom and requests that all teachers keep their students in the classrooms. 10 minutes later a class shows up at the door. The kids are wet to the knees and their shoes are ruined.

“Didn’t you hear the announcement?”

“Yes, but it’s their library time.”

“But look how wet they are”

“Yes, they walked through rather than around the puddles”.

Of course they did, they are kids, all kids are genetically predisposed to plow through any body of standing water. The inmates appear to be running the asylum.

We proceed, at least we can check out books. They leave.

Another class shows up. ”Didn’t you hear the announcement? “

“Yes, but it’s not raining as hard as it was”

She’s right, we’re down to puppies & kittens as opposed to cats and dogs. However, from the looks of the sky, Tigers and Wolves are expected very shortly.

We suggest they go back before they arrive. We’ve turned all the computers off because the lights have begun to blink again.

Phone rings.

Teacher on the other end “Can we come to the library”.

“Didn’t you hear the announcement?”
Teacher “Oh I forgot”.

I check with the nurse who is across the hall. She’s having much of the same, complete with gashed chins and knees from kids who have slipped on the slick cement walks.

We e-mail the principal “Just what part of “wet” do they not understand?

Principal get back on the intercom. This time everyone finally gets it.

Forget the two front teeth, all we want for Christmas is some common sense!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Home Again, Home Again,Jiggity, Jig

The hospital threatened to keep My Beloved overnight but we dug in our heels and convinced them otherwise. We both knew from experience that I'd be doing most of the nursing care and we'd both rather be in the comfort of our own home.

So, here we are with pain meds, a DVD of The Thomas Crown Affair (Rene Russo is hot!), 6 sleeping kitties and a very high tech method to reduce swelling given to us by the hospital.

And just what is this high tech item? Why, a ziploc baggie of frozen peas! I wonder what the hospital markup is on those?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Observations in the Day Surgery Waiting Area

Small Children: Why do people bring small children? Small as in little children to young to be engrossed in a book or video game, can’t sit still and whine non-stop children? From the number of people in the extended family group it is quite apparent that someone could have stayed home with said child. Or at the motel room. Or taken said child to the zoo which is only half mile up the road.

Waiting : The number of people in this place without a book, magazine, a laptop or needlework is staggering. One does not wait here for a mere 10 minutes or so, you wait for a mind and butt numbing 4 or 5 hours. I cannot imagine doing nothing for that amount of time. I, being the classic Type A have my laptop, several magazines, a book and my Christmas cards.

DayTime TV: Just as mind numbing. Soap operas and game shows. This waiting room blessedly has nooks and crannies so it is possible to isolate oneself from the drone.

Telephone : There is only one. A woman with her appointment calendar open has it totally monopolized. She’s indifferent to the “3 minute” sign and the daggered looks of others who want to make phone call.

Computers : This waiting room has some exta plugs (a rarity) but no wireless networks. I know there are numerous ones in the hospital but they are carefully encrypted. Which I understand but it would be nice if they freed one up for their captive audience.

Coffee: Muddy.

But like Horton I'm faithful 100% so I sit, and I sit and I sit.

Report at 6:30 am.

And we wait. And we wait. And we wait.

My Beloved is scheduled for day surgery. Surgery Time: 10:30 am. Report time: 6:30 am. That means getting up at 5:30. That is normal for me on a workday, but My Beloved is not a morning person and arises much later. Nobody could ever tell us why a 10:30 surgery required a 6:30 arrival time.

We navigate the maze that is the Medical Center and arrive at the seventh floor desk. We are immediately directed to the first floor to fill out yet more paperwork. This is despite 2 pre-opt visits and yesterday evenings 45 minute phone call. Trailing bread crumbs in our wake we go downstairs, give more of the same answers and then follow our breadcrumb trail back to our original destination. Where we sat And we sat. And we sat. And we sat.

Horton the Elephant has nothing on us.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

One Neighborhood...Part 2

Oddly enough our local paper, Houston Chronicle is running a series on the very subject I addressed yesterday. The neighborhood they profile is half a mile from where I live. My route to the silent Starbucks goes right past the corner of Washington and Shepherd. Sometimes on the way to work I stop for coffee at a little place around the corner from Case Juan Diego. On cold mornings there is always a line of bundled up people waiting in line for food. The day laborer site at 11th & Shepherd is within walking distance of my house.

Across the street from our house is a cramped, falling down house that houses a succession of Hispanic men, most of whom commute to work on bicycles. I know one works nights because I see him coming home as I am leaving for work. We nod and smile at each other.

They have assorted women and children coming and going. Sometimes they stay for a few days. Try though I might I've never quite been able to figure out the relationships.

I've often wondered what they think of us, with our revolving collection of cars (My Beloved changes her cars at the rate some people change their shoes), the constant arrival of packages, and expensive hobbies of golf and travel.

No matter what the anti immigration folks say, we need each other. Without the men across the street and the day laborers standing on the street corner just blocks away the entire economy of Houston (and the US in general) would come to a standstill. Without them My Beloved wouldn't have the labor needed to complete the buildings she builds and I wouldn't have any children to teach. There wouldn't be anyone to clean our house, serve our meals at the local coffee shops and cafes or manicure the golf courses we play on

Almost every good thing we have in our lives comes from the sweat of their brows and the aches in their backs.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

1 Neighborhood, 2 Parallel, Never Intersecting Lives

The Houston Heights is, as I have mentioned in other posts a transitional neighborhood. It is located near downtown and appeals to those who like an eclectic neighborhood and loathe commuting. As with most transitional neighborhoods it is a mixture of the old and new, the rich and the poor, the falling down and the under construction and the Anglo and the Hispanic.

The same mix goes for the restaurants. There are a number of fast food places and independently owned cafes and coffee shops. Not much in the way of fine dining, due an early 20th century quirk, The Houston Heights is dry.

Normally on the weekend, we will go have breakfast at Java Java or one of the other cafes. The clientele there is much like us, gay & lesbian couples, single professionals reading the New York Times, young couples with one, very well cared for, doted on child, and retired folks with good pensions who have moved back into the city from the suburbs.

Dressed in name brand casual clothing, they talk in muted tones over their omelets, hash browns and lattes. They have the look that comes from time to exercise, money to pay for professional hair coloring and dental insurance.

Today I felt the need for my annual grease fix so I headed to Mickey D’s for a sausage biscuit and a potato cake.

I ran smack dab into the other population who live in the Heights.

I was the only English as first language person in the place. Actually, considering that I spoke Dutch before I spoke English it would be safe to say there was not one person, either in front or behind the counter who was born speaking English. The menu and all the signage was in both English and Spanish.

It was crowded with multigenerational, extended familes – mother, father, cousins, grandmother, children and assorted shirttail relations. Everyone dressed in that thrift store look – clothes that don’t quite match or fit. The women & girls like their clothes much to small and much to tight and the boys like their pants baggy and their shirts hanging to their knees.

Despite the fact that most people there were carrying an extra 20 pounds or more; food was being ordered with no thought to fat grams, cholesterol or future diabetes. The children carried much more poundage than their parents – the American passion for fast food is playing havoc with the offspring of the Hispanic immigrants. We see the same among the students at my school; so many of them, especially the boys are overweight.

No New York Times, no reading material at all and not much conversation. About the only activity was the chomping of jaws and fussing of the babies. Very little coffee was to be seen, most folks were drinking soft drinks. Mickey D’s prides itself on offering “healthy choices” but nobody appeared to very interested. Can’t say that I blame them – after all I skipped the orange juice in favor of hash brown cake!

It is interesting that these 2 very diverse populations live side by side, yet rarely collide. And it’s interesting to observe the businesses that have sprung up to serve them.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black Friday

The news footage of the shopping madness on the Friday after Thanksgiving is more and more disturbing each year.

People stand in line for 4 hours to be first in the door for a 5am opening. People push and shove. People fall down and trampled one another. People scream at the poor salespeople who all look like they, in the words of Jimmy Buffett wanted to be "someplace other than here".

The scenes remind me to pictures of the earthquake, the hurricane or the tusami victims. Only those people are desperate for food and water. The people at Wal-Mart are desperate for bargains, cheap DVD players, 50 % leather coats and disposable plastic electronic gizmos made in China by underpaid workers.

Many Americans really do have their values and priorities somewhat askew.

As for me, I'm glad I do most of my shopping on the internet. Not only is in person shopping time consuming and annoying, these days it's also down right dangerous!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What I'm Not Doing This Thanksgiving Weeknd

  • 1. Standing in line at 4am so I can be one of the first to charge Wal-Mart when they open the doors at 5am.

    2. Going to Garden Ridge Pottery on Thanksgiving Day to shop till I drop.

    3. Searching for an Xbox 360 – or any other video game for that matter.

    4. Watching a parade, either in person or on television.

    5. Attending a football in person. Since My Beloved is an “All Sports, All the Time” kind of gal I take the 5th when it comes to televised football.

    6. Putting up my Christmas Tree or decorations. That can wait till the daughters come home so they can help.

    7. Wrapping presents. Gift cards don’t need wrapping.

    8. Going through an airport metal detector.

    9. Cooking a mega course meal.

    10. Eating Green Bean Casserole. Or anything with marshmallows.

    What I am Doing

    Curling up on the couch with a good book, my laptop and some good blogs.

    Pure Bliss.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I've Got a Store!

Been selling books on E-bay for 5+ years now - started doing it to help pay college bills. College is now over and done with but I've still got some of the bills to pay so I'm still at it . Even if I didn't have college bills, I'd do it for extra money - it's fun and bets the heck out of tutoring and other standard part time teacher jobs.

This weekend I took it to the next level and opened up an E-bay Store. For quite some time
E-bay has been evolving from an all auction site to a combination auction and fixed price market. The sellers balked at first but E-Bay sweetened the pot with discount fixed price days and over time most of us have succumbed. It's not nearly as much fun as an auction - it's such a thrill when an unknown book takes off and sells for way more than you think it would have- but buyers seem to like the fixed price format. Appeals that need for instant gratification that dwells within all of us.

E-Bay's been offering stores for some time and they've tweaked the process enough that the contents can now be found by searching the site. I read up on them on BookThink and decided to take the plunge. Took some tinkering with my Auction Management software but it's up and running.

And folks are buying the books! Makes my thrifty Dutch soul smile to know that all my books are now earning their keep, rather than sitting in a box doing nothing but being Kitty lounging pads.

I've always wanted to own a bookstore. Granted, this isn't quite what I envisioned. It doesn't have a kettle on the hearth and a cat purring in a rocking chair. It doesn't have that delightful smell of books of days gone by piles of enticing books spilling out of the shelves when you turn the corner. But as one gets older one adjusts ones dreams to fit the circumstances.

You can find me on E-bay at Books by Guusje

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Silence Isn't Always Golden

It was chilly, grey, drizzly Saturday evening in Houston. Homeward bound, I stopped at Starbucks – I am addicted to their Gingerbread Lattes.

Against a gloomy, cloud filled sky it looked warm and welcoming – all amber lights and cozy ambience. Inside it was warm and some light jazz wafted out of the speakers. Thank goodness, they are not playing Christmas Carols. It is not yet Thanksgiving and I am already heartily sick of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”. Especially since I live in Houston, a city not noted for White Christmases or white weather of any kind.

The store was crowded: every table was taken. It was also silent – not one voice was engaged in conversation. Every person was intent over his or her laptop, and most had an iPod plugged into their ears. I am sure some were busy with e-mail and IMs were communicating, but not with anyone in the immediate vicinity.

I have always thought of coffee shops as places that fostered communication, exchange of ideas, discussion and discourse. Think Greenwich Village; think the Russian Revolution, England at the time of the Charles I. Coffee houses brewed not only coffee, they brewed new thoughts and visions.

No longer, now they are places where people sit, each encased in their own little world, neither seeing nor speaking to the people only an arms length away.

No wonder the American People are so complacent of the status quo.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Update From the Floodwaters

5% of your school population now consists of Katrina Evacuees. That's enough kids to cause some serious impact. All the non - bilingual teachers have at least 1 and some have as many as 4. Students who for all intents and purposes have not been to school at all this year - the storm hit a day or two after the New Orleans schools opened for the year. Some have had a week of schooling here, or a week there but that's about it.

And there are no records. None, zip, nada, zilch. No heath reports, no testing results, no IEPs, no ARD papers, no report cards and no birth certificates. We have to take the parents word and we've got some who aren't even sure what grade their child is supposed to be, never mind if he had any educational issues. Though, come to think of it, if you don't know what grade your child is in, he most certainly does some major issues (and baggage).

The kids are being tested and referred as quickly as possible - which given the amount of paperwork required means things are progressing at a slow drag. And so far, many of the kids who are reading far below grade level are not testing as learning disabled. They are just illiterate.

It's like sending me to school in Holland. I speak & understand the language fluently but I am for all intents and purposes illiterate since I don't read or write Dutch. I'm not mentally deficient, I've just never been taught to read Dutch.

It's the same with these kids. Nobody ever taught them to read.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I've Been Published (in cyberspace)

When it comes to book selling knowledge is power. There is always something new to learn and one of my favorite sites has long been Craig Stark's Bookthink forums and newsletters. As a result of some of the comments I've posted he asked me to write a column. It appeared today - and I'm quite pleased at how it turned out. It's in his freebie newsletter so I can reprint it here.

Panning for Gold: Children's Books at FOL Sales
By Guusje Moore

"Ex-library" is the kiss of death in some genres; not so with children's books. Bookstores specializing in children's literature are a recent phenomena. Though we all mourn the decline of the independent bookstore, 30 or 40 years ago it was rare to find a bookstore outside of a large urban area. Accordingly, with books published in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, ex-library is often all there is to be found. Yes, there are copies available that aren't ex-library, but for the most part they are few and far between.

The nostalgia factor is a unique feature of selling children's books. Buyers want to open that book they remember (library binding, pictorial cover), run their fingers over the soft library paper, take a deep sniff, and revisit the library of their childhood. They also want a copy of their favorite book to read to their children or grandchildren. When two bidders with nostalgia on their minds go after a book on eBay, the results can be excellent.

Condition matters, but not nearly as much as with adult books. Children's books often have rumpled pages with small tears at the bottom or a stray crayon mark or two. Note any such flaws in your description; don't necessarily pass on the book. Pricing is a definite advantage. At many FOL sales, the kid's books cost half as much as adult books.

So, what to look for at the next library sale? First, here's what to ignore: almost everything published in the past 10 or 15 years. Pass on current Disney books, TV tie-ins, biographies on flash-in-the-pan pop stars and athletes, and most of the paperback series. Leave everything to the young hordes except, say, a first/first of the first Harry Potter.

There are some occupational hazards of shopping in the children's books area. You may get whacked in the shins by an SUV-size stroller. You may witness way too many tired-toddler meltdowns. You may experience the good, the bad and the howling.

If you like to sell books by the lot, series books are worth picking up on bag days or other opportunities for volume buying. Look for Goosebumps, Animorphs, Babysitters' Club, Herbie Jones, Junie B. Jones, Bailey School Kids, and Arthur. Also worth buying are classic series such as Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, and books by Philip Pullman. (In fact, a first/first Pullman may be your winning ticket in the book-sale lottery.)

Little Golden Books and the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books are specialized categories. I rarely buy these because I don't know the field well enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Collectors of these series are extremely fussy as to condition, and they will catch any errors you make in your description. However, Golden Books written or illustrated by Eloise Wilkin are worth picking up; she has quite a fan base. Try selling her books in lots. She specializes in adorable, chubby, rosy-cheeked children.

Most children's non-fiction is worthless, with some exceptions. Grab anything written by Isaac Asimov. His books are likely to be found in the Science section (Dewey Decimal Number in the 500s), and he's collectible. It doesn't matter how old the books are; in fact, the older, the better! Asimov was very prolific, so it's a rare sale that doesn't have at least one of his books. Old books on space exploration-the ones that claim that "one day man will go to the moon"-have fans among gizmo geeks, who treasure the illustrations.

Another exception in non-fiction: Cookbooks (Dewey Decimal 641). Many juvenile authors had a cookbook tie-in. Look for Beany Malone, Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, Cathy Leonard, Boxcar Children, Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh. Many of these cookbooks had short runs toward the end of their series and are hard to find. Any cookbook entitled The So-and-So Cookbook is worth a second look. These books have a dual audience: series fans and cookbook collectors.

The only biographies worth picking up are in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. These are short biographies you may have read yourself. Bindings began with turquoise cloth and then moved to orange or light beige. The focus is on the youth of such notables as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Robert E. Lee. These books are held in ill repute by current librarians; you'll find multiple titles if a librarian has recently decimated that section. The books are easy to spot. Their size is distinctive, and the titles all follow the same pattern-Franklin Roosevelt: Boy of Four Freedoms, Herbert Hoover: Boy Engineer, Pocahontas: Brave Girl. They have been reprinted in paperback for the home-school market, but collectors want the hardbacks. For photos, check out


In History (900s), keep an eye out for Landmark Books. Published by Random House in the 1950s and 1960s, many of these books were written by well-respected historians such as Bruce Cantor and Frank Dobie. Potential customers include home schoolers and collectors. You may also find Landmark Books in Biography (920) and Social Science (300s). I have had especially good luck with the World War II titles. For flashpoints, check out Valerie's Living Books:
Sell the valuable titles individually, and put the others together in lots.

The only other 300s worth bothering are the 398s. It is often possible to strike FOL gold with fairy and folk tales. Watch for books illustrated by collectible artists such as Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, and Arthur Rackham. Libraries tend to hold on to these and weed them out only when space is a premium, so you may find some very old books in this section. Don't let shabby exteriors deter you. Inside you'll often find stunning illustrations printed on shiny paper.

Also in the 398s are the holiday books, another area worth mining. Tasha Tudor wrote and illustrated a book for almost every seasonal celebration. Not all of her books have been reprinted, and she has an avid following. She also wrote a couple of cookbooks.

You can also find Tudor's books in Religion (200s). Also worth a look in both 398 and the 200s are books by the author-illustrator duo Edgar and Ingri D'Aularie. They won a Caldecott award for their biography on Abraham Lincoln, but pass on that one because it's a common book. Their other biographies, however, are worth snatching up. Keep an eye out for their collections of fairy tales, folk tales, myths and legends. These are highly prized oversize books. The D'Aularie style is very distinctive.

You'll find stacks of worthless series books in the 300s and the 900s. These books quickly become obsolete nowadays and are being weeded out at a rapid clip. Books on individual countries, states and careers are a dime a dozen.
The 400s (Language) also aren't worth bothering with, except for books by Fred Gwynne Better known as Herman Munster from the TV show, he had a successful second career as an author-illustrator of children's books. He specialized in idioms, so librarians cataloged his books in the 400s. However, his titles look like picture books, so keep an eye out for them in that section also. His books appeal to both his TV fans and collectors of kiddie lit. Titles to look for include Chocolate Moose for Dinner and The King Who Rained.

I normally bypass the 700s (the Arts) entirely, other than horse books written by Marguerite Henry or illustrated by Sam Savitt. One other title worth grabbing is Noel Streatfeild's First Book of the Ballet. Ballet books illustrated with photographs of famous ballet stars can do well, but skip any books by Jill Kerment such as A Very Young Dancer or A Very Young Gymnast. Also resist any sports or craft books.

There are some poetry books of interest in the 800s. Pick up books illustrated by Tasha Tudor or other classic and collectible artists. Mother Goose books will be either in the 800s or 398. This genre has many collectible illustrators, such as Jessie Wilcox Smith and Marguerite D'Angeli.

I will leave for another time two other gold fields to explore in children's books: easy and fiction. Meanwhile, at your next library sale make your way though the elementary school teachers, the home-schooling moms, and the kids wrestling under the tables and check out the children's selection. You'll be glad you did!

Best of all he's asked for another column. What fun!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Mellow Book Sale

Since I'm a bookseller I normally attend Friends of the Library book sales on the first day, or the preview day. The Oklahoma Land Rush is nothing compared to booksellers hot on the track of E-bayable books. Running, stomping, pushing, shoving and shin kicking are not uncommon occurrences. The Scan Monsters grab their piles and run to the corners to look for gems and woe betide anyone who gets in their way.

However, the Waco Book Sale begins on a Thursday and since I've got this day job attending their preview sale is difficult to impossible. It's a 3 hour drive.

However, while helping my friend Pie I'd meet a number of her friends, some of whom became mine too. Wallacex lives up in the Waco area and we hit it off instantly. Not only were our Beloveds twins separated at birth, but My Beloved said we were too.

Wallacex encouraged me to come on up on a Saturday and since it meant we could hang out together and do some serious thrifting I decided to make the drive.

Booksales on the 3rd day are much calmer. It wasn't crowded, the only shoppers were readers looking for books to read, not books to sell. I went up and down the aisles without tripping over book trolleys or being run into by unruly children. It was obvious that the sale had been picked over but I still found some gems - mostly books that had been misfiled or books that had been over looked.

Once we finished we headed out to the thrifts. At one particularly grubby thrift I found a lovely stack of horse books illustrated by Sam Savitt. He's collectible so that find made my day.

Add in a couple of good meals and a day of excellent companionship and booktalking - Waco was well worth the trip!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

We’re in Bastrop, Texas for the weekend where my beloved is playing in a golf tournament. My golf is not anywhere near tournament standards so I’ve been left at my own devices and to ponder assorted stray thoughts.

Is there a special school for decorators of budget motel rooms? I can’t phantom what would possess someone to use a decorative border on a narrow boxy room with high ceilings. Especially a border consisting of lurid chrysansamums on steroids. And then adding insult to injury by commissioning bedspreads in the exact same pattern.

Parents who allow their children to run and up down halls shouting at 8am deserve a wing entirely reserved for them, where their children can only disturb other parents whose children are also galloping in the halls.

The term Continental Breakfast is French. It brings to mind just squeezed orange juice, coffee au lait and flakey, freshly baked croissant. It does not mean a clammy muffin, a stale doughnut and muddy coffee with powdered creamer. That is not breakfast, that’s a nutritional wasteland.

Burr haircuts are not attractive on overweight, pasty faced boys. Especially when they adding to their future cholesterol problem by gobbling vast quantities of chicken McNuggets.

Friday, November 04, 2005

America...We Have a Problem..

The latest from the floodwaters..

Directive to all district School Nurses - Hearing and vision screening for the Katrina Evacuees. Mission was not accomplished today - a newly enrolled first grade was unable to pass the vision test. Not because she couldn't see the chart, but because she didn't know the alphabet.

School nurse asks one of the PreK centers to send over a picture vision test.

I read "Pumpkin Circle" to the class containing the 9yr old first grader. Book has stunning photographs of pumpkins in all stages of growth and I have an actual pumpkin as an additional prop. Purpose of the lesson is seasons and cycles. Turn to a 2 page spread of a small newly sprouted pumpkin plant.

Child blurts out "what's that".

"A pumpkin plant" choruses the rest of the class.

"Plant" he says, looking confused.

"Yes, a plant, right after it's sprouted." I say, in my best teacher voice. "Have you ever planted a seed?"

"No" he says as if I'd asked him if he'd ever walked on the moon.

Gesturing toward my pumpkin "It is going to grow into a plant and produce pumpkins like this. We crave them at Halloween".

"Oh ", he says, looking at the pumpkin the same way Columbus must have looked at his first tomato plant.

He ponders the concept of a pumpkin while I keep reading. I finish up and start a discussion.

What season do we plant seeds?

"Pumpkin " he says proudly.

"What's another example of a cycle?"


"What holiday did we just celebrate?"


"What's another word for harvest ?"


How sad that a child could get through a couple of years of school without ever encountering the classic "plant a lima bean in a paper cup" science lesson.

At least he added a new word to his vocabulary, even if he's a bit wobbly on the actual definition.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

New Orleans's Dirty Little Secret......

In a previous post , I alluded the problems that accompany the students we've acquired compliments of Hurricanes Katrina.

Judging from the comments I received and from what I'm reading in the papers the problems appear to be universal. Just about everywhere schools are enrolling students who are at least 1 if not 2 or 3 years below grade level. Last week we got a first grader who will be 9 in December. The child, who ought to be in the 4th grade is to big for the chairs and can read only a few simple words. We've a second grader who doesn't recognize the pattern in Brown Bear Brown Bear - a book all our kindergarten kids can quote verbatim.

In Dallas the school officials had to go into the shelters and explain that yes, Texas does have compulsory attendance laws and yes, they are enforced.

My school is low income, mostly ESL Hispanic and 85% Free and Reduced Lunch. Many of students our are poor, speak limited English, have difficult home lives and parents are who are barely literate and speak little English . We do a good job with what these parents send us. My principal always says "Our parents send us the best the kids they have, if they had any better they would send them too". Our reading and math TAKS scores are in the 90+%.

We're used to poverty and what accompanies it, as are most the schools these children are attending. FEMA Housing vouchers aren't accepted in Yuppie Puppy neighborhoods. But these kids have us reeling.

Something is very wrong here. The Shrub proudly touts No Child Left Behind and Schools to Standard and Test em, Test em, Test em, scantron. The TAKS test certainly runs our schools, our curriculum and our lives and we live and die by the scores.

In New Orleans, an entire public school system appears to be totally ineffective and has been for quite a number of years. No attempts have been made to fix it, or even to try to fix it. Where are all the guidelines, the standards, the watchers? Why wasn't New Orleans held to same standard as Texas? Somehow New Orleans managed to hide the failure of their public schools till the levees broke.

The flood waters managed to sweep much of the Lower 9th Ward away but somehow education or the lack thereof managed to rise to surface and float out into the rest of the nation.

The cleanup should be interesting to watch. I hope, for the children's sake it's up to the standards of Mr. Clean.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Schools...... They are Changing...

Texas has sheltered the lions share of the Hurricane Katrina Evacuees, with Houston, Dallas and San Antonio picking up the majority.

The storms have moved on , the shelters are closing and back in New Orleans the 9th Ward is still uninhabitable. FEMA is giving out housing vouchers. Needless to say, apartments with 4 figure rents and 100% occupancy aren't interested so they are being dispersed into the poorer parts of city. From poverty to poverty.

Our attendance zone includes one such complex. And we're getting Katrina Evacuees at the rate of 3 & 4 a day. So far we have 20, and more are expected. It's playing havoc with our demographics.

We'd always heard the New Orleans public schools were in deplorable condition and that anyone who could opted out for private school. The children we're enrolling come from homes were there wasn't the drive, the initiative or the inner resources to accept anything but the mediocre education that was doled out. And mediocre it was. Every student has been at least 1 and often 2 or 3 years below grade level. Flunking appears to be only remedial intervention offered. We now have 5th graders (normally 10 going on 11) who are 12 going on 13. One showed up last week who just turned 13. We've a 2nd grader who is 9 going on 10. The first graders have been retained only once, but hey, it's early in their school career.

The children come with baggage that would be daunting without the complications of a major hurricane - poverty, 4 generation welfare mentality, emotional problems, fathers in jail, grandmothers serving as mothers, multiple step stair siblings with multiple fathers, prenatal drug exposure and every learning disability in the books.

And there in lies the real problem. These children need so many resource teachers, so many intervention specialists, so much diagnostic testing and so much counseling. And there isn't anyone to do it. Our resource and special ed teachers can barely keep up with their current students, our counselor hasn't enough hours in her day for her standard caseload and it takes weeks to get a child tested so he/she can receive services.

Our scenario is being played out in many schools throughout Texas. No funding appears to be forthcoming. Despite No Child Left Behind, many, many of these children are so behind that they can't even reach the starting line, much less finish the high stakes test race we call education.

When it comes to Iraq, No Cannons are being left behind but when it comes to education many children certainly are.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Refiguring My Life

I'm reconfiguring my life and it's left me feeling disoriented. For the past 5 months I'd been devoting much of my physical time and emotional energy toward helping my friend Pie. She's gone now and I'm very unfocused and at sea.

I'm filling in the holes in my day with the things I used to do. I've started going back to the driving range, and I played golf this weekend. It was just Par 3, we meet up with some friends, broke all the rules and had a most enjoyable time.

Had not one, but two Library Book Sales this weekend. Did well at both. I'm haunting the thrifts again and looking for books. Trying to write book descriptions. I've never liked doing those so my avoidance of that task is not at all out of the ordinary. Scouting for books is great fun, getting them listed is a tedious bore. But I can't call myself a bookseller if all I do it horde the printed word!

Now if I just master sleeping through the night I might be able to get back on track again. If it doesn't happen soon it will be time to explore better living through chemistry.

Monday, October 10, 2005

An Ordinary Day

I had an ordinary day today. My district gives us Columbus Day off - I do love holidays that most other people don't get! We had our first cool day since last winter, coupled with the first rain in weeks - a perfect day to stay home and putter. I balanced my checkbook, I packed some books, I read, I did laundry, I slept in, I sorted out coupons. I cut back my jungle of basil and made basil cubes (Basil, garlic, olive oil, puree to a paste in a food processor and freeze).
I ate what I pleased and didn't worry about the food pyramid.

It had been a very long time since I'd had a day without a single commitment.

I'm going to miss my friend Pie - during the day part of my mind would wonder : "How is she doing? "Should I go and check"? "What would be a good time to visit"? "Did her meds get delivered" ? Hope she's having a good day today".

Then I would remember, all her days from now on will be good ones. And I've a got a 2 hour hole in my day and bigger one in my heart.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Minnow Is in Port

My friend Pie's spirit has left her body around 5:30pm CST. She is now with all the others she has loved who have gone before her.

She always said that while she might be dying she was having to much fun to die. Up till Monday night she really was having to much fun to die, but after Tuesday it wasn't fun any more.

I will always remember her as she was last week, a wild woman with a wicked sense of humor and the kind of courage I'd never seen before. She is at peace and out of pain and with those she loved the most.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Gilligan's Island

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailin' man, the skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day, for a three hour tour, a three hour tour;
The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost;
the Minnow would be lost.

The ship took ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle,
with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire, and his Wife, the Movie Star, the Professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan's Isle.
So this is the tale of our castaways, they're here for a long, long time.
They'll have to make the best of things, it's an uphill climb.

My friend Pie and I were casual library book sale acquaintances. We ran into each other at book sales & the post office. We'd chat about books , E-Bay and this and that, the sort of things semi strangers talk about when they find themselves waiting in line.

At the last of the Spring sales she mentioned that her shoulder hurt and she was going to have to go to the doctor. I sent her a "how are you doing" e-mail, she fired back that she'd broken it and the doctors suspected bone cancer was the cause. She mentioned she couldn't pack her books so I offered to help out. And I did.

By July she'd broken her leg also, the bone cancer was advancing at a rapid pace and it was apparent that her house was unliveable due to the piles and piles of books heaped in and on every available space. So I started packing. And packing. And packing. 150+ boxes of books later you could see the floor.

And as the books staggered out the door our friendship deepened. She got sicker, I learned more about emergency rooms, home nursing , ambulances, hospice, caregivers than I ever thought I needed to know.

I also learned about humor, courage and that it's possible to face the unspeakable with a smile, a laugh and a joke. And that while one could be dying, one could also being having way to much fun to die. I learned that people who knew each other only through the internet could come together and become a family. And that pink plastic flamingos are as important as pain meds.

I told her that sometimes I felt like one of the passengers on the Good Ship Minnow. I signed up to pack a few books and here, 5 months later I was still on the island.

But now The Minnow is heading toward her final port. Pie is at the hospice in patient care hospital, sedated to almost unconscious because the pain is unbearable.

God Speed my friend, blue skies and fair winds on your final voyage and thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking me along on the ride.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Texas Trophy Wife

My Beloved won a weekend at La Cantera Golf Resort in San Antonio and since it's our 9th anniversary it seemed like a perfect time to take advantage of it. The golf here is primo and that is where she's spent the day. Me, I went thrifting and came back to hang out at the pools and the lobby and observe the march of the trophy wives.

Men who can afford trophy wives are usually avid golfers (both golf and trophy wives being an expensive habit) so resorts like this are prime places to observe the species in action.

La Cantera has multiple pools, including one that is blessedly adults only and that caused schism of the trophy wives. Those with children were relegated to the kid friendly area, those who hadn't bred yet were soaking up sun in the over 21 section.

However , despite the divide they all still had the "look". Tanned, very thin, high cheekbones (compliments of the best plastic surgeon in town), blond streaked hair pulled into a pony tail, well done boob job and very large diamond engagement ring. Since they were around water they left the tennis bracelet in the room. Designer bag, designer swim suit, designer manicure and pedicure completed the picture.

Many trophy wives feel need to cement their position (or ensure generous child support should they be displaced by a younger model) by quickly producing several slim blond children within a very short time period. Men take up trophy wives to feel "young again" and I guess having children the same age as your grandchildren by wife #1 are yet another way to recapture one's lost youth. The wives were all trailed by an au pair who obviously does the scut work. Trophy Wives never have that frazzled look that so many full time Moms acquire, nor do ever appear in public in anything but the most perfectly coordinated of outfits and full makeup. Full time, hands on Moms also tend to sport comfortable shoes, baggy clothes and hair in need of trim and are doing well to put on lipstick.

The childless ones were stretched out on the chaise loungers acquiring a future case of skin cancer - they never go in the water since it would ruin their hair. They sipped tall, frozen drinks adorned with little parasols and flipped through fashion magazines.

Later they retired to the lobby where they sunk into the overstuffed furniture and drank Cosmopoltians and other chi-chi drinks in the wide mouthed glasses with slender stems. The attire of choice was capri pants in tropical prints, matching shirts, dangleing earrings, a floating diamond necklace and high heeled sandals. Hair was released from the pony tail and worn shoulder length in an expensive tousle.

I've always wondered just how one becomes a trophy wife? Is this a career goal, something one is groomed to do by one's mother or is this a job one just falls into? In these days of feminism and career woman it's always a bit disconcerting to see women totally tieing their identity and their economic security to that of a man.

And just what happens to a trophy wife when she becomes slightly tranished and is put away in the cabinet in favor of newer, shinier version ?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Food shortages!

The grocery stores are starting to reopen so I set forth to replenish the larder. There was plenty of produce, bread , meat, milk and frozen foods (the stores in my part of town did not loose power for any length of time).

Some shelves were still bare, which I expected.
Canned Soup - The Campbells kids went to someone else's house to play
Water - it had rowed to another stream
Coca Cola - everyone decided to give the world (and themselves a coke)
Toilet Paper - well it is one of necessities of life
Batteries - the Energizer Bunny finally fizzled.
sausage - cooks up well on the barbie

Kitty Litter! Yes kitty litter and dry cat food were not to be found. Somehow I don't recall seeing those on any list of essential hurricane supplies.

But then we all who really runs the world don't we!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Woke up this morning to gray skies , light rain and a steady breeze. Cranked up the computer to find an e-mail from from my E-bay bookselling buddy who lives near us. They have power and there isn't any standing water in the streets. She said she's seen more rain during a summer thunderstorm. Hurricane Rita turned east and traveled up the Texas/ Louisiana state line.

My Beloved deems it safe to head home. When she makes up her mind, she is a Woman on a Mission. We load the car, corral the cats and barrel down Hwy 6. It's smooth sailing all the way to Houston. In the rear view mirror we see a constant stream of cars - it's apparent that others have the same idea. Since we were only 100 miles north of Houston we are at the forefront of the returnees.

All along the road we see abandoned cars in the north bound side, mute testament to the gasoline problems of Thursday's mass exodus north. The authorities are asking people to postpone their return but of course nobody is listening. Everyone wants to get home to their own bed. Plus, deep down we all remember what happened in New Orleans and thus feel a deep primeval urge to go home and protect our property.

We pull in and the house is just as we left it, other than some broken tree branches. Unload the cats who make a mad dash for their favorite chairs, turn on the TV and fire up our computers.

We have power, water, cats, intact windows, internet and satellite service. All is well in our little world.

And we are so very grateful.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Calm Before the Storm an apt phrase indeed. Rita is still churning in the Gulf of Mexico. It has been eerily still for the past 2 days, hot, humid, sticky, not a hint of a breeze. The kind of weather where you break out in a damp sweat just going out the door. It's been overcast and hazy, no clouds and grayish colored sky. Even the birds have been still. Not one drop rain and the plants are parched.

One of the worst parts of the hurricane is the........

Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting....
lyrics by Carly Simon

It's out there, you know it's out there and you can't do anything about it. You can't make it go away, all you can do is leave, and given the gridlock of the past 3 days that wasn't even an option for many. The TV switches to 24/7 coverage and you are drawn to it like a moth to a flame. There really isn't a great deal of news and the anchor people keep repeating the same thing over and over again. But you just can't turn away - for some reason pictures of reporters in rain slickers being blown about are so compelling. You feel like you are suspended in time, enveloped in jello, stuck in the muck. All you can do is wait for the oncoming train to come barreling down the tracks and hit you upside the head.

You can wait, watch and wait some more. It it truly an exercise in patience and a lesson that no matter what, Mother Nature always holds the trump card.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Trying to Reason...

Trying to Reason with the Hurricane Season by Jimmy Buffett

Squalls out on the gulf stream
Big storms comin soon.....
There's something about this Sunday
It's a most peculiar gray
strolling down the avenue that's known as a1a....
the wind is blowin harder now
Fifty knots or thereabouts
There's white caps on the ocean
And I'm watchin for waterspouts
It's time to close the shutters
It's time to go inside......

And a most unreasonable hurricane season it has been. Houston is about to get the "big one". Alicia was our last Strom of any consequence and she blew in (and blew out every window in downtown Houston on her way out) in 1983.

Rita looks to be big, mean and dangerous - a lady not to be trifled with. The powers that be decided that she shouldn't be and ordered and encouraged a major evacuation. 4+ million residents took to the highways, 4+ million residents came to a total stop.

My beloved started fretting about our 32 windows so we took off too. Her old boss; who lives in a small town about 100 miles north of Houston kindly offered to shelter us and our furry friends. I packed some clothes, my passport, my computer, my great grandmothers pearls ,the cats and off we we went.

The freeways were parking lots so we took the back roads out of town. Once we left the city limits we encountered pockets of gridlock but compared to many we fared very well. I used to be a long distance cyclist and spent many a mile on the north county roads during training rides. My beloved had ridden her motorcycle over them also and we had a County road atlas, which is much more detailed than a road map. We took back roads, patched roads, dirt roads and occasionally dead end roads but we reached our destination. Took us 7 hours to make what is normally a 2 hour trip. The folks on the freeways weren't moving at all so we feel fortunate to be someplace with A/C and wireless internet and confused cats.

And now all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best. ET and I both have something in common - we want to go home!

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Melting Pot has Congealed

Disclaimer- this is my opinion not that of my school nor my school district. It's not meant to be a slur on bi-lingual teachers. All bi-lingual teachers I've encountered have been caring, dedicated and go far and above the normal call of duty. One even writes a mean blog. And many are as frustrated by the system and it's results - or lack thereof as I am.

And on that note...let the rant begin......

We, like many schools have many, many students for whom English is not their first language, thus we have a bilingual program. The object is to teach the child in their native language so they can easily transistion to learning in English. Often it works, sometimes it doesn't.

When it doesn't the results are depressing to the extreme. The bulk of the students in the fifth grade bilingual classes are native born Americans. Yet, on the average their writing and reading level in English is that of a 2nd or 3rd grader and their conversational English isn't much better. They have been together since PreK, they are completely inbred and rarely make friends outside their own classroom. There are number of double retainees, meaning they are 2 years older than their peers - 12 going on 13. Many of these kids have multiple strikes against them - terribly dysfuntional home life, undiagnosed learning disabilities, families who don't value education, no motivation,no inner drive, parents who don't speak English and don't think their children need the skill either.

The result is- kids who drop out as soon as they can (if not sooner) and go forth into the world basically illiterate.

I don't know what the solution is, but the present system isn't working.

Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue

Last Saturday was Constitution Day. Bet you didn't know that did you? You would if you worked in a school receiving federal funds. We MUST observe Constitution Day. It's the law. Only school was not in session on Saturday so we were allowed to observe it on Friday. I guess it's a movable day, just like Memorial Day and Washington's Birthday.

It seems very ironic to be ordered to teach about a document stressing Freedom of Speech and the rights of the individual at a specific day, on a specific time. All schools teach "The Constitution" but we usually wait till it fits into the scope and sequence of the curriculum. This time of year, when it comes to Social Studies, Columbus is still sailing the ocean blue.

My principal delegated "The Constitution" to me, since I see all the kids and she could assure the Powers that Be that yes, we were properly observing the day, the event and most importantly the law.

Constitutional law is tricky enough to keep legions of lawyers employed. Try explaining it to Spanish speaking 5 year olds who aren't sure what country they live in , much less how it is governed. After discovering to my shock that even some of the 5th graders were none to sure of the name of their country:

I scaled the lesson back to the basics.
"Your classroom has rules, our country (and again, what is the name of our country?) has rules. We call those rules "The constitution". Then I read The Preamble, stopping to interpret every word. 200 years ago language was ever so formal.

Thus we observed the law, in letter if not in spirit. Whether the kids remember any of this is a totally immaterial question. It's another one of those sound bite government quick fixes that is supposed to solve all the education problems and only results in photo opts.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Old TV...It's Bad, It's So Very Bad....

My girls gave me a DVD set of "Dallas" for my birthday. Back in the late 70s, early 80s I was addicted to that show - right along with most of America.

But oh, it has not stood the test of time. It's more like a bottle of Ripple wine than an aged Merlot. The acting is wooden, the sets cheesy and the dialogue is contrived. And sexist, oh is it sexist - the comments the men make about "pretty girls" and "are you really a secretary" seemed normal at the time. Now they make my jaw clench.

The late 70s were not a high point when it comes to fashion or interior decoration. Plaids, prints and palms appear to have been the standard. Big hair, big purses and high heels at all times. The script supervisor appears to have been in the twilight zone - Pam, wearing a fur coat talks to Lucy who wears a bathing suit. At a formal ball some of the guests are in evening gowns and others in leisure suits (and oh were those ugly!). Artifical was the fabric of choice. Garish green gold and brown the predominant colors. .

In one episode JR sports a "beeper" and everyone marveled at the new technology. In Dallas phones have cords and secretaries type on IBM Selectrics. E-mail, laptops, cell phones, IMs, personal computers, and the internet have yet to make an appearance.

And yet, I'm going to watch it all the way through - just so I can once again find out who shot JR!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

And This is America?

Just like much of the rest of America I've been alternately depressed, astounded and ashamed at the debacle in New Orleans. Whenever I think we've reached our nadir we seem to sink a little lower. The Bush administration has egg on their face and dog doo-doo on their shoes. The head of FEMA prior claim to fame is running a horse camp. The Shrub is to busy planning future sitathons on Trent Lott's porch to worry about the citizens of New Orleans. His mother seems to have spent way to much time reading biographies of Marie Antoinette - but then they do share a similar hair color. And Houston's population has just increased by 50,000. All in just one week. What does next week have in store for us?

New Orleans has always inspired authors and this week is no different....

Don't You Know Me, I'm Your Native Son...
Notes from Inside New Orleans

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps. ......

click below to read the rest.

I told My Beloved that as soon as the city is back on it's feet that we are going back. The coffee and bengits at Cafe du Mond are calling my name.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

But It's Twilight on the City of New Orleans

But it's twilight on the city of New Orleans,
talk about a pocket full of friends.
Halfway home and we'll be there by morning.
With no tomorrow waiting 'round the bend.

Singing good night, America, I love you.
Saying, don't you know me, I'm your native son?
I'm the train they call "The City of New Orleans".
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

City of New Orleans by Steven Goodman

People are dying, people are stranded and people are looting. The Governor has asked everyone to evacuate the city. The city that so many have loved, lived in, visited and written about is drowning. The city that has inspired some of America's greatest literature, music and dance is no more. The city which preserved it's history has no future.

I am heartsick and the only thing I have lost is memories. The people of New Orleans have lost everything.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


The internet commuity is second to none. It's brought people together in ways we never thought possible. My friend "Pie" is a active member of a Question and Answer board on E-bay. When she became ill they rallied round as her personal support group. Cards, cakes, flowers, stuffed animals, phone calls and visits are pouring in - all from people who have known her for years but have never meet her in person.

Last night, with the assistance of some local members her yard was flocked- 30 plastic Flamingos, all adorned with the names of the donors arrived - complete with giant greeting card.

30 plastic pink Flamingos - $150. 1 heart full of joy - Priceless.

Pink Flamingo Kind of Love - Howard Rebecca Lynn c2002

Life is great without the clutter
Pass the apple butter
I can't believe this heat
Ain't it simple,ain't it clever
How good we go together
Like june bugs on a string
If our yard was an ocean
And we were sitting' in our lawn chairs
I wouldn't feel any more emotion
Then I do now,
all I want's a
Sprinkler on the garden hose and
Aim it at the patio
Iced tea,you and me
Pink flamingo (kind of love)
Let the clothesline be our fortress
Gas up the tiki torches
Sun up,sun down,
big dreams,small town
Pink flamingo kind of love

Pink Flamingo Kind of Love - Howard Rebecca Lynn c2002

The Circle Game

There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell

This song seems to summing my life at the moment. My friend "Pie" who is ill is really, really ill. In fact she's dying. At the same time our next door neighbors just welcomed their first child into the world - a healthy, longed for baby boy.

Thursday night I went to her house to help her with some odds and ends. Then I came home and cuddled a 2 day old baby.

The ending of a life and the beginning of one - all in one night.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

They Just Don't Get It

They just don’t get it.

Hospitals are very strange places. They are supposed to be set up to accommodate people who are in pain, immobile, handicapped and not in the best of heath. The elevators are all hung with signs proudly proclaiming their mission. The walls are adorned with pictures of happy, healthy ex-patients. But somehow they always manage to miss the boat.

My friend who is ill was admitted to the emergency room of one of the premier cancer hospitals in the nation. We arrived at 11am and she was not admitted to her room till after 7pm , giving us 8 hours to observe the wheels turning, creaking and frequently stalling.

To set the stage – she has a broken leg, a broken arm and her other arm is very weak and her hand has no strength due to complications from a cancerous tumor. She’s not exactly an ideal candidate for the Susan Koman Race for the Cure.

They plop her a room, drape one of those gowns over her clothing , hook her up to an IV with multiple tubes and then hand her a specimen cup and point her toward the bathroom.
The cup has a lid, she’s tethered to an IV and has extra layers of clothing to contend with.

We decide modesty be dammed and I go in to help her. We get the gown tangled in the IV tubes, I who have 2 good hands can’t get the cap off the wretched cup and there is no pee forthcoming. Time for the old camp trick of sticking your hand into warm water. It works. We break into gales of laughter and make so much noise we alarm the staff. I guess they don’t hear many hysterical giggling fits.

That taken care of she gets back into bed and tries to nap and I read. Hours crawl by. Dinner time arrives. Dinner, which is delivered consists of a turkey wrap, a carton of juice and a bag of baked chips, everything wrapped and sealed in plastic containers. And just how is she supposed to open it, much less eat it? I’d pilfered a couple of straws from the cafeteria so the juice is manageable. I chop the wrap into pieces with the oh so helpful (also hermetically sealed in cellophane) plastic knife and we manage somehow.

Half way through dinner the phone rings. It’s on a table, against the wall, a good 5 feet from the bed. Not only can she not answer it, but I can barely stretch the cord far enough so she can talk. It’s transportation. They will be “right down” to take her to her room. “Right Down” is hospital speak for 2 hours.

Helping someone who is coping with cancer is definitely a reality check in just how inaccessible many “handicapped” facilities really are.

And that no matter how grim it gets there is always something to laugh about.

Even if it’s just a urine specimen cup.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Writing in a Stupor...

Such a 10 days it's wit:

  • Our Assistant Principal quit and we got a new one - all within the first week of school.
  • School is still in session and summer vacation seems oh so far away.
  • My car developed some odd and interesting problems
  • My computer keyboard gave up the ghost entirely. Even 3 hours on the phone to India (and all the kings men) couldn't put it together again.
  • The school district tech wizards decided everyone needed to change their password to a "strong" password. Which unleashed total chaos.
  • My friend who is ill ended up back in the hospital. Emergency rooms are not fun places to while away a Sunday.

Never has a Friday been so eagerly anticipated!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

1 Down, 179 to Go...

Today was the first day of school. One thing I like about teaching is that every year really is a new beginning. New kids, new teachers, new lessons, new inititives, new projects. Every 365 days you really do have a chance to experience "the first day of the rest of your life". I think that's one reason many teachers are optimists (you have to be to stay in the biz) - we really do have more opportunities than most people to write on the clean slate of life.

Many of my favorite kids came back (and a few that aren't). All teachers play favorites, anyone who tells you they don't is lying. Hugs and smiles all around. Our students pretty much like school. They get 2 good meals, routines and well expressed expectations. No matter what one reads about the spontaneity of childhood, children are creatures of habit. They like knowing what's going to happen and thrive on routine.

The library opened up first thing, we had full slate of classes and checked out 270 books. After many renditions of Alistar in Outer Space I have a sore throat and a sore back.

I think a hot bath is in order.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Why Teachers Dread In-Services

For parents, the school year begins with a trip to the mall for clothes and school supplies, for teachers it begins with a round of in-services. Sometimes they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are horrid.

I suffered through one today and I now have the perfect recipe for "a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad in-service".

Neglect to inform point people at the site what will be required in terms of equipment and logistics.

Stuff 100+ people into a small room. Do not add the presenters who are running late.

Require the 100+ people stand in a long line to sign in because you haven't enough sign in sheets.

Waste 50 minutes while the presenters try and figure which groups need to move to another room because there aren't enough chairs or tables.

Sort out the groups and discover you haven't enough handouts, journals and other essential supplies. Some people will have to do without. Which makes it impossible for them to participate.

Finally begin presentation. Pretend your audience is 7 years old, the same age as their students.

Assume your audience knows nothing about the topic. Do not change your assumption, even when it becomes very apparent that this is an incorrect assumption.

End the presentation early but inform the audience they must stay for another 45 minutes because it's supposed to be 4 hours long.

At that point all the teachers in the room got up to go to the bathroom and forget to return.

It was a total waste of a morning.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Feet hurt.
Knees hurt.
Back hurts.
Shoulders hurt.
Throat hurts.
Head hurts.
Brain hurts.

9 hours on your feet teaching an in-service will do that to a body!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Galloping Through the Day

Up at 5:30,dress, feed cats, tend to cat litter boxes, zip through Starbucks, at work by 7am. Hang flags, unpack stuffed animals and puppets (I have hundreds), set up new books, tinker with Accelerated Reader, catalog Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, try to help new teachers feel less confused, shuffle 2 months worth of mail and muse on math manipulatives, schedule classes, answer questions, questions and more questions. Lesson plans still await me. Set Outlook profiles, fiddle other teacher's computers - it's amazing what happens when you plug the thing in!

Leave work, duck in and out of the rain drops and zip in and out of the post office, office supply store, grocery store and dollar store.

Home to unload, opt for bread, cheese and fruit for dinner. Answer e-mails, list books, tend to auctions.

Head upstairs - I have books to pack before I sleep.

Can you tell summer break is OVER?

I expect to spend the next week in an exhausted stupor.

Friday, July 29, 2005

It's Over..........

If you ever read any teacher blogs, you'll note that in April they get cranky. By May they are permeated by a certain giddy excitement. During June and July they become very eclectic. But by August they should all be bordered in black. Our summer days are ticking away, today is my last.

I really do enjoy my job. I feel lucky that I get up every morning to spend my time with congenial staff and a principal I like and admire. When I think of people who spend 8 hours day trapped in a cube doing something repetitive, meaningless and boring I realize that I am fortunate indeed.

But it's the structure that I dread. During the summer my days are like custard, sweet, slippery and willing to take any form or format I wish. During the school year they resemble crackers - neatly divided into tight little squares with no wiggle room. Like crackers, if something unexpected comes up (broken car, illness, friend in town) the day falls apart and crumbles beyond repair.

No rolling over one more time after the alarm goes off, no lingering over coffee, reading an extra chapter in my book, lingering in the store, having a leisurely lunch with a friend.

Nope, it's back to split second timing, dumping in a load of laundry on my way out the door, hitting the grocery store during the 5 o'clock rush, flinging dinner together and dashing upstairs to pack the E-bay books. Always watching the clock and trying to grab the minutes as they slip way. And never, ever quite being all caught up.

Oh well, it's only 4 months till the Winter break!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again...

Vacation is over... not officially, as in "the contract says we have to be there" , but as in "off the clock in-services so I can get my flex days and my required non contract hours" . Most professions require continuing education but doctors always seem to be jetting off to exotic locations to learn the latest tricks of the trade. Lawyers get sent to seminars during the work day, ditto accountants. Teachers not only have continuing education on the clock, we have to get additional hours off the clock on our own time. Oh well, nobody ever said life was fair.

The 4 day class I'm taking is quite interesting, I'm learning a great deal but I'm also having to sit a great deal. I'm not used to sitting. In the library I'm on my feet most of the time and during the summer I'm not one to sit around and eat bon-bons.

You know, sitting around all day is very tiring!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Becoming Invisible

My friend who is ill has a broken leg and a broken arm and can't drive so I've been her chauffeur. Kroger offers electric go carts so we headed there to replenish her pantry and larder.

She got herself situated and off we went, she did the steering and me following with my own cart. My job was to get the groceries from the high and low shelves - grocery stores aren't made for people who shop sitting down.

They also aren't made for people who aren't ambulatory, but for some reason they are made for people who can't see. I don't see how anyone can ignore a go-cart but my friend (who is not the shy, mousy type) suddenly became invisible. We chanted "excuse me" , "please move", "Beg pardon" , "I'm sorry", "No, you need to move your cart too" (Texans are very polite) while traversing aisles 1-6.

By aisle 7 we cut to the chase "move".

By aisle 8 I wondered if Kroger carried bazoka horns - the kind the clowns use in the circus - we could have used one.

By aisle 9 friend contemplated rapping people on the ankles with her cane.

The kicker came as we left. Car was in the handicapped section. Standing there, blocking the way to the car and the door were 2 woman with their carts gossiping. One of them had a toddler which both of them were ignoring. We approached and it was pretty obvious we needed access to the car they were blocking. They ignored us.

We tried the loud cough approach. Didn't work.

"Excuse me" Didn't work either".

Finally resorted to "You have to move, you are blocking our car".

They moved - all of 2 feet and blocked the trunk. Toddler continued to run up and down the rectangle created by our car, an adjoining car, us and the gossip monglers. My friend couldn't maneuver the cart down the ramp for fear of running over him. I couldn't bring the groceries down. The ladies kept talking, the kid kept rambling about and we kept staring at them.

Finally we snapped out "Get your kid and move. We need to get into the car you are blocking."

They looked mildly put out that we dare disturb them and went on into the parking lot. Where they continued to stand. And talk. And ignore the child. I fully expected to the see story on the evening news "Child run over in grocery parking lot, film at 11".

Friday, July 22, 2005

Houston Never Ceases to Surprise

In many ways, Houston is a very tiresome city. The weather is ghastly - right now going outside is akin to walking directly into a 6 foot high damp and moldy sponge. The traffic is worse. There appears to be a little known law that makes it illegal to ever complete a freeway. It's about the only traffic law Houstonians adhere to. And then there is a our complete and total lack of zoning which has resulted in an "anything goes" form of city planning. In Houston you'll find a gas station next to a McMansion with a convenience store round the corner.

This lack of zoning results in a constant tearing up and redoing of buildings, parks, streets (hence the freeway law) with nothing ever staying the same. Much of the time this is very depressing, with historic buildings disappearing right and left. But sometimes the changes are exciting.

Herman Park is our equivalent of Central Park. Over the years it had gotten scruffy and down at the heels from over use. Houston has a habit of building grand public spaces but never budgeting enough money to maintain them properly.

I was a bit early for an appointment near the park and since it was early and not yet to steamy I took a walk. I hadn't been there in years, not since my girls outgrew the going to the zoo stage.

It had recently been redone and the changes were amazing. New plantings, new paths, some areas were wildscaped, others landscaped. The lake had new borders and benches and some very happy ducks. The trash was gone and grass green and lush - nice change from the hard brown, trampled vistas of old. The old statue of Sam Houston astride his horse now frames a stunning vista of relection pool from one side and the city skyline from the other.

The view Posted by Picasa

That's what makes Houston bearable, you turn the corner and discover something new and suprising.

Sam on His Horse Posted by Picasa