Thursday, June 29, 2006

Temporarily Homeless

Temporarily Homeless

I’m temporarily homeless – we had the exterminator out for extensive flea treatments which requires that all humans and animals vacate the house for 6 hours and that contents of the kitchen vacate the cabinets. The cats got locked in the garage – and yes, it does have an air-conditioner! The contents of kichen got piled on tables.
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Not wanting to join them, I went out with laptop in tow and went forth to check out the thrift shops and wi-fi cafes of Houston.

First stop, breakfast at The Daily Grind, a battered building in an area that is rapidly gentrifying. Many business folks were grabbing a bite to eat before starting out on their daily grind. The computer geeks were all sitting at tables for 2 along one wall. I wondered about that till figured out that was where all the outlets were located! The humans who came to chat gathered at the larger tables in the center of the room. Around 9ish the clientele changed from shirts and ties to young mothers and their children who gathered for coffee and moral support. By 10am the Moms were gone (nap time) and the students and road warriors showed up. The students for their first meal of the day and the road warriors for their mid morning coffee break and e-mail check. Houston has many self employed entrepreneurs who office out of their homes, cars and know the location of every free Wi-Fi hot spot in town.

10am meant the thrift stores were open so I took off. Pickings, with the exception of the library used book table were slim indeed. No books, bad books or horridly overpriced books. I even came up empty at Half Price Books, though I did dispose of 2 boxes of books there. Anything that reduces the number of books at our house is, in the words of Martha Stewart, A Good Thing. A very good thing.

The library didn’t open till noon and I arrived a few minutes prior. Once the doors were unlocked, I was nearly trampled by the people anxious to secure a seat at one of the public computers. I am so glad I no longer work in public libraries. From what I’ve seen, their job seems to be more and more that of computer use referee and tech expert. Given the driven look in the eyes of some of the people headed for the computers, I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to tell them they had to relinquish their chair to another patron. I’ll stick to school libraries where the kids listen to me – at least most of the time.

By then it was lunch time. Decided to leave the librarians to their never-ending battles and retired to Te House of Tea for lunch (and free wi-fi). The Te House is located in the Montrose, Houston’s version of Greenwich Village or SoHo. Most of the businesses in that part of town are quirky and fun places to while away the hours. Excellent lunch, computer access and people watching. A group of students studying for the bar exam, retired, ex-hippes reading and sipping tea and a few school teachers on the lam.

Then home again, home again to put the kitchen back together again. I thought I got rid of so much stuff when I had the garage sale, but from the looks of what came out of the cabinets I didn’t do nearly as through a job as I should of!
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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Boom! Boom! Boom!...It All Fell Down!

My Beloved imploded a building today. All 15 stories came down in a heap in 14 seconds flat. Broaddus, the company she works for is building a new hospital in the Texas Medical Center and the building had to go to make room for a new and bigger building. That sort of thing happens often in the Texas Medical Center which is anticipating an upsurge in clients as the baby boomers age.

While any implosion is a logisitcal nightmare, this one had more than most since it was to take place in an area chock full of hospitals, all of which were full of critically ill patients. It's also on the route of Houston's only Metro Rail Train, adjacent to Rice University and only a stone's throw away from the zoo. Elephants and hippos don't like loud noises!

It turns out that when you stage an implosion you also stage an implosion party. On the 26 floor of an adjacent building with a full breakfast buffet and a birds eye view of proceedings. Despite the dictated early arrival time (5:45am ) just about everyone eagerly sent in their RSVP. After all, how often does one get to see a building fall down?

Needless to say, 90% of the spectators were men! Why?

Because a building implosion is the ultimate in toys for the boys!

And it all went off without a hitch!

The only casualties were 3 windows at the adjoining hospital!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Small Towns

Small Towns

Took a break and I am visiting my Mother who lives in Hendersonville, NC and my brother who lives in Landrum, SC. Hendersonville, though it is really a small town; tries to be a city but Landrum is proudly nothing but a small town.

It’s a delightful change from Houston. Of course, I had to check out all the thrift stores for books. Folks are friendly. At one shop the cashier flipped though my choices and commented on them in such a way that I knew she’d read a couple of them too. Such a nice change from the surly checkers in Houston who take one’s money with nary a smile (or a word of the English language). Folks smiled, called out hellos and really seemed to mean it when they said ‘Come back now”.

Landrum, Tryon and Columbus are spread along the SC & NC border some 10 miles apart from each other. At one time, they were all railroad towns and their main streets still border the tracks.

Tryon is the crown jewel, the upper crust, the cream of the crop. It has a charming, nicely resorted main street, with a couple of good antique shops, some stores that cater to the locals , a several small restaurants and a coffee shop/ internet café that serves a tasty latte. The stores have window boxes bright with red geraniums and there are orange day lilies everywhere. The streets are bordered by nicely kept stone and wooden houses with lovely yards and lush and colorful gardens. The streets run along a series of gently rolling hills up above the main street.

Landrum is the town that is solidly middle class but rising in the world. It has antique stores too, but a couple of them are barely a step up from their junque store origins. The restaurants don’t have any fancy drinks but the coffee is good. Downtown still has a few empty storefronts and the hardware store looks more utilitarian than quaint. Some of the houses need a coat of paint and the landscaping tends more toward scruffy lawns rather than English cottage gardens. However, there is a store selling fancy candles and handmade, good quality pottery so you know the town is on the up and up.

Columbus is the poor relation of the three, the one who is poor white trash and lives in the trailer park over yonder. The two block main street houses not one but two tattoo parlors and two tiendas, which cater strictly to the migrant Hispanic population and whose windows are adorned with “Dinaros al Mexico” signs. There only one coffee shop that looks down at the heels and assorted dusty, empty buildings.

Interesting how three towns so close together can be so different.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Big Love

Big Love

I’m not a TV fan but I found myself hooked on Big Love. Big Love, which ran on HBO is about a polygamous Mormon family – father, 3 wives and their 7 children. As I watched it I kept drawing parallels between their life and the current kafuffle about gay marriage. Odd connection since the Mormon Church isn’t know as a bastion of gay rights.

Multiple wives, just as gay love tends to raise up visions of orgies, partner exchanges and all other sorts of swinging sexual escapades. The TV series showed that there was no such thing going on. In fact, the family is as ordinary as the day is long. They bickered over little things, had in-law problems, maxed out credit cards and shared family meals. Nobody enjoyed a three way, swung from the chandeliers or reveled in the naughty bits.

Polygamy, much like homosexuality is an anathema in this country. I certainly can’t condone 14 year old girls being forced to marry 65 year old men, any more than I could condone 14 year old boys being with 65 year old men. However the show, other than some scenes shot as “The Compound” didn’t focus on that aspect. All 3 of the wives and the man all entered into a polygamous marriage freely and of their own will. It just felt “right” to them. Nobody recruited them, forced them or brainwashed them. They all appeared to be intelligent women with minds of their own. It’s same with gay love, nobody “recruits” us, it just feels like the right and natural thing.

The family on Big Love is forced to hide behind a façade, the houses are connected via a common back yard yet from their front doors they appear to the neighbors as one couple and two single Moms. Friendships with people who don’t follow “the principle” are discouraged and the children speak to their friends in half truths and little white lies. Much energy is spent in hiding the truth and pretending to be what they are not. That’s how it is with gays who aren’t “out”. They mumble their pronouns, pretend to be single when they are not and are vague about what they did last weekend.

Odd isn’t it that two such disparate groups with such opposing viewpoints and beliefs really have so very much in common?

Random Ponderings

Random Ponderings

Why; when the line is 20 deep and it’s 15 minutes till the post office closes; do some people choose that moment to dither over their choice of stamps? Do they really think the envelope opening machines at the light company have eyes?

How can anyone undertake an airplane journey these days without a good book? Or an ipod, a computer or needlework? Given the delays that come with air travel how can anyone sit and do nothing for hours at a time? I’ve noticed the same phenoneum when called for jury duty.

The left lane is for cars who are going the speed limit – or in Texas for cars who are going well above it, not below it!

Commercials – why are they so loud? They aren’t supposed to be but when a golf tournament broadcast goes from a quiet murmur to a loud shout it’s quite apparent that it is otherwise.

The shrub has decided that the country needs an amendment forbidding gay marriage.
It would seem that with the war in Iraq, the rise in gasoline prices, the state of infra-structure, the impending hurricane season and the ineptitude of FEMA that there would be more important things to worry about. The frightening thing is that the shrub only has to pull out his favorite minority-whipping group and his supporters start to rally round the flag boys, rally round the flags. I guess fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice same on you no longer applies.

There is nothing better than a cozy rainy Sunday. Somehow sitting on the couch, reading a book or surfing the net with my beloved near by makes all the minor distractions of the world fade away.

Working in the Real World

I’ve spent the past two weeks as librarian in residence for a curriculum writing team. I t has been great fun but very intense. I ’m not used to sitting and thinking from 7-4:30 every day!

And it’s given me a taste for what work is like for the rest of the world. I’ve spent all my working life in either public libraries or schools in one public service position or another.
I arrive at work at 6:50 and the kids hit the library doors at 7am. They are in and out all day and once they leave we still have teachers popping in and out for one thing or another. The day is pretty much spent being at the beck and call of someone else. It doesn’t bother me, it’s the nature of the beast when one works in a library.

This summer project has been totally the opposite. There is time for a cup of coffee upon arrival, I can take a break whenever I want and we have many opportunities to toss ideas back and forth. We can actually go out for lunch like grownups – no 20 minute meal snatched in between a bathroom break, a quick phone call and an unsuccessful battle with the copy machine.

The teachers I’m working with are a hand picked group, the best of the best. They teach because they love it, it’s all they have ever wanted to do and they are masters of their craft.

Teaching is a funny biz. Many women (and it’s almost always women) go into the profession for all the wrong reasons. Despite all the advances of the past quarter century you still hear “teaching is a good job for a woman”. Women become teachers because they think it will dovetail with plans for a family. They teach till the baby comes and then drop out, with plans to go back when the youngest starts school. They teach because they “love children”. Actually, the best teachers are those who like children and can inspire them to do better than they ever thought they could. Others become teachers because they can't phantom what to do with a degree in English or Art or General Studies.

Those who really do excell have the inborn passion to teach – and you can’t “teach” that – it’s apparent from day one who is gifted and who is not. Classroom management can be learned, as can pedagogy skills but only someone who is born to the profession can make learning come alive and their classroom a welcome and nurturing place.

This is the caliber of the teachers I’ve been working with. Somehow they manage to look beyond the endless forms and paperwork, the ever increasing mandatory state testing and the salaries, hours and working conditions that would incite rebellion in any other profession.

It’s been a pleasure and a joy to work with these teachers. I’ve learned so much and I’m in awe at what they accomplish in their classrooms. The United States needs to attract and more importantly keep these kind of people in the classrooms. Otherwise we’ll never keep our place in the sun.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

It didn't rain!

The garage sale was advertised to start at 8 and fby 6:30 folks were cruising up and down the street. I arrived at 7 and started divesting my car of load number three . The boxes hit the driveway and the bargain hunters attacked.

The top sellers? All those wretched mugs! Granted they were only 25 cents each, but I can't imagine anyone needing any more mugs! Crap sells!

I'd advertised that we had many boxes of books and kitchenware and that attracted a diverse crowd indeed. We had the usual groups of Hispanic families in vans, all of whom snapped up the skillets and baking dishes. We didn't have nearly as many children as I have seen at other sales, but then we hadn't any toys nor children's clothes.

We also attracted a group I always dub "the aging hippies". Men, who are on the other side of 50 with gray hair, beards, sandals and baggy shorts. They went directly to the books and bought them by the armload. Two dealers showed up, one is a friend and once she realized whose books they were, she didn't give them a second glance. The other dealer Scoutpaled a couple of titles and left in disgust.

We also had a visit from one of the traveling Tamale vendors. A couple pulled up with a cooler full of homemade tamales which they peddled to us (I declined, My Beloved is having tummy trouble) and our other customers. They had several takers and then shopped our sale and bought a few items themselves. Then it was off to the next sale. They are a Houston institution and they certainly have come up with a way to make going to garage sales profitable!
After it was all over I was left with 1 box of Harley Davidson clothes and 4 Pampered Chef items I decided to E-bay , plus 2 boxes of leftover stuff and 7 boxes of books & videos . Not bad considering I took 3 car loads of junk over to my friendÂ’s house.

I loaded up the leftovers, abandoned the STUFF at the nearest thrift shop and took the books to Half Price. I'd thought about taking the books in a box or two at a time, since the more books you bring in, the less they give you. It was hot so I figured the hell with it and took it all in , just to get rid of it. They gave me $30 for the bunch.

After subtracting the cost of the ad and adding in the $30 that HPB gave me I made $226.25. Not bad for a mornings work , or given the heat, a mornings baking.

The best benefit? Empty spaces in the cabinets!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Garage Sailing From the Opposite Side of the Fence

Friend of mine and I are having a garage sale tomorrow. At her house, since she has a big front lawn and nice long driveway. I love my house but we have no front lawn at all – and the street is so very narrow. It means I have to haul my stuff so I’ve been lifting that barge and toting that bale.

It’s been all about cleaning out cupboards and loading up the car. I filled it twice and it is full again, waiting for tomorrow morning. 6 boxes of kitchen stuff is outta here. I am downsizing – there are just 2 of us, I don’t need 6 skillets and 5 pie pans. The clothes closet got a pass through and the Amazon inventory a drastic culling.

I’ve an ad in the paper and a posting on Craigslist. Heaven would be an aspiring bookseller who offers to buy all the books. I could tell them that I used to be a bookseller but decided to get out of the business. Do you think I’d be struck dead for lying?

So the house is 3 carloads lighter when it comes to STUFF. I love purging stuff, we have to much of it as it is.

And it better not rain!!!!