Thursday, December 28, 2006

13 Depressing Sights or Places to Be on Dec. 25 & 26

1. The Laundromat. At 8am , enroute to feed my friends cats I passed a Laundromat. Not only was it open but inside sat a lone man – doing his laundry.

2. A stack of unsold Christmas Trees. The Houston Garden Center near
our house appears to be the resting place for the surplus trees. The weather was damp and the sky was gray and that added to general gloom of the sight.

3. The cars in front of the X-rated video store. It too was open and while the parking lot was not SRO there were definitely customers inside. Of all the places to spend Christmas Day, a “Private Viewing Booth” is truly last on my list – right above “a prison cell”. Not that I’ve ever (knock wood) seen the inside of either them.

4. Christmas cards that arrive on Dec. 26th. They always look forlorn.

5. Wrapped Christmas gifts under the tree. On Dec. 24th they appear mysterious and festive. On Dec. 26th they appear tired and shabby.

6. Store shelves after the “Dec. 26th” holiday bargain folks have picked them clean. I’ve always wondered what happens to all the unsold decorations. Could someone enlighten me?

7. Stacks of leftover Christmas goodies in the grocery store. Who could possibly want a about to be stale sugar cookie bell sprinkled with red sugar?

8. A lone Christmas TV Ad that slips by and is still running on the 26th. I’m so over those ads anyway and ones that aren’t pulled on the 25th are not only tiresome, they are ludicrous

9. Bus terminals. Depressing under the best of circumstances. On Dec. 25th I would assume that they are soul stupefying.

10. Movie theaters. In Houston they tend to do a good business – mostly because I think folks need a break from to much “Christmas Cheer” and “Christmas Togetherness”. Movies are something a family can do together but it does not require conversation or any sort of interaction.

11. Pro sports events. I don’t feel any sorry for the athletes, they are paid such obscene amounts of money, nor sorry for the announcers who also earn a hefty salary. However, I don’t think the camera men and other behind the scenes folks make enough mega bucks to take the sting out of being away from their family.

12. Obligatory news stories of the “Troops at the Front Lines”. Those boys and girls belong home, celebrating the holiday with their parents or their wives and children. Especially the latter – so many of them are the parents of little ones. It’s the little ones that make Christmas a magical time.

13. Martha Stewart Magazine. No matter how hard we all try, Christmas never quite measure up to the yardstick held so firmly in her hand!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thumbs and Pointers

For Christmas this year, we not only have our two daughters we also have the boyfriend of one and for a couple of days the BFF (a charming gay man we’ve known since he came out) of the other. Two lesbians, 1 queen, 2 breeders living in sin and unattached eldest twin – gender bending hits a new level.

At a recent library meeting, we had a presentation on “thumbs” and “pointers”. Those of us who are digital immigrants use our pointer fingers to operate all these new
gizmos and gadgets, those of us who are digital natives use their thumbs. 4 of the current members of the household are natives and 2 are immigrants (there are also 5 cats but they appear to be indifferent to the controversy).

The 6 people are accompanied by 6 cell phones (each with a different ring tone), 5 laptops and 5 iPods. When several cell phones ring at once, the colophony of sound is overwhelming.

Every morning the “thumbs” drift downstairs, grab a coke from the fridge and fire up their laptops to check e-mail and pursue the daily news and weather. Need a phone number? Don’t need the yellow pages – Yahoo has the information. What time does the movie start? Don’t need the paper, don’t need to call the theater, just check on line. Plane delayed? Ask Southwest to send a text message so that airport times can be calculated. Where’s the museum? Don’t need a paper map - Mapquest suffices nicely. Anything good on television? Hope on over to and check the listings.

This morning I looked up and all six of us were sitting around with our laptops checking our various e-mails, blogs, Hollywood gossip sites and news sources.

The Houston Chronicle , our daily paper newspaper? It lay unread and ignored on the dining room table. Times they are a’changing.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holdiay MeMe

For some reason I'm having trouble coming up with original thoughts and original posts. I thought once I was on winter break and had some extra time that my brain would go on overdrive. Nope, my brain is on winter break too. Thank goodness for Memes and the Thursday 13. Nothing like a good writing prompt to prime the pump.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate, the real thing, made with milk, Dutch process Cocoa and topped with a dab of real whipped cream.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? No Santa any more. I wrap. I hate it. It’s a ploy to sell increase Hallmark’s profits and kill trees.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? None. At least this year!

4. Do you hang mistletoe? In a house with 11 foot ceilings? No!

5. When do you put your decorations up? We avoid it as long as possible. One year we didn’t do it at all. This year they go up on the 20th when the girls come home and can help. The Little Red Hen moved out some time ago.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Crispy turkey skin and Southern cornbread style dressing with gravy.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: The arrival of the “Care Package” from Holland. In the pre-Internet, Campbell’s Soup Cuisine 1950s and 60s we couldn’t buy Dutch cheeses, sweets and cookies in the United States. Every year my Grandparents filled up a big box full mouth watering treats, which always arrived just before Christmas. Whenever we opened it I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder when she helped open the Christmas barrel from the family back in the East.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I can’t remember. It could not have been too traumatic.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? All the Family Gifts get opened on Christmas Eve – that’s part of my Dutch Heritage. When the girls were smaller the Santa gifts were opened on Christmas Day. Now only the stockings are saved for Christmas Day since said children are 24 years old.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? We are among the Live Tree Holdouts. Inspired by a chapter in the Betsy – Tacy books I always took the girls shopping for an new ornament when they were growing up. One of these days they will take them and hang them on their own trees. Both adore Disney so it’s heavy on the Hallmark inspired Disney ornaments. My Beloved used to ride a Harley-Davidson so we also have a very large collection of Harley Davidson Christmas ornaments.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? In balmy 75 degree Houston? Not likely. Looks like we’re going to have a wet Christmas.

12. Can you ice skate? I grew up in Miami, now live in Houston. Enough said

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? A mind is a terrible thing to loose! I adore a pair of garnet earrings My Beloved gave me a number of years ago. They suit me perfectly.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? People take stock of their lives, make positive changes and appreciate each other.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Peppermint Bark! This year Pepperidge Farm has these wonderful new cookies with chocolate icing sprinkled with pieces of crushed up peppermint. Totally addictive. I hope they are a Christmas only item!

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? I have been through so many changes in my life and the traditions have changed too. I am always off during the holidays (a teacher perk) and My Beloved always takes some time off too. Normally our lives are so rushed and hectic that a week of no alarm clock and spending time together is a lovely treat. Better than any vacation. Her family lives in town so we normally don’t travel. We don’t do much – just hang out at the house and catch up on odds and ends but it is always a soul nourishing time.
My mother always sends us Chocolate Letters – that’s a Dutch tradition. They used to come in the Christmas box from Holland but now they can be bought stateside. My girls (and My Beloved) always look forward to their arrival.

17. What tops your tree? A couple of blown glass pink flamingos!

18. Which do you prefer giving or Receiving? Receiving – I can never think of what I want. My life is very full and very complete.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I used to love Christmas music. That’s USED to – before every radio station in town started playing it 24/7 for 2 months prior to the big day.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?? To sticky. Yuck. They should be smashed and sprinkled on a chocolate dipped pretzel.

13 Musings on Hospitals

My Beloved’s back went out so lucky me got to accompany her to the Doctor’s office, which is part of one of Houston’s major hospitals.

1. Pulling into the parking garage and encountering 4 employees who are obviously loitering outside (in the rain no less) smoking cigarettes and drink soft drinks does send a positive message to prospective patients.

2. I understand why hospitals need linoleum floors but why do they have to be battleship grey in color?

3. Hospital halls are very, very long and battleship gray or beige linoleum only add to the sense of endless corridors.

4. It’s easy to tell the nurses from the pharmaceutical sales representatives. The nursing staff wear Crocs & scrubs, the sales reps wears pencil toe 3” heels and $500 suits. I wonder whose feet hurt the worse at the end of the day?

5. When did mint green and dark purple become mandatory accent colors for the medical profession?

6. I realize that hanging around a waiting room can be boring to the extreme but what is wrong with a book or a magazine to while away the time? Why must the room be dominated with a big screen TV with the volume turned up LOUD?

7. Especially on a weekday morning when the only choices appear to be game shows and Fox News. Don’t the receptionists get tired of the constant drone of sound?

8. And speaking of waiting rooms? Who selects the chairs? May they one day have to sit in one for 2 hours while cursed with back pain.

9. Potted Poinsettia plants (slightly whilted) are mandatory décor during the Christmas season. The red of the flowers clash with the purple of the mandatory accent trim.

10. Hospitals have lots of bathrooms. That’s a good thing.

11. They don’t have an unsecured wireless network. That’s a bad thing.

12. Food in the hospital restaurants costs twice as much as a meal in the real world. They must assume that everyone who enters the doors earns a doctor’s salary. NOT!

13. Is there any other place on earth where both so much happiness and so much sadness are contained under one roof?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

13 Things I Don't Like About Christmas

I’m feeling rather Scrooge Like this week. Most likely our unseasonable high temperatures and humidity have some bearing on this.

Incessant Christmas Carols. Clear Channel Radio starts their Christmas Medley about mid- October. The medley consists of The Little Drummer Boy, Have a Holly- Jolly Christmas, It's the Most Magical Time of the Year and White Christmas. Play and repeat. Over and over and over again.

Christmas makes school children wild and crazy. Very wild, crazy and rambunctious. Everyone is so ready for the winter break (which is a good thing about Christmas) and tempers are short.

All of network television goes on hiatus and we are treated to one re-run after another, not to mention one sapppy Christmas special after another.

It marks the beginning of the College Bowl season. This was fine when the bowls consisted of Sugar, Orange and Rose. Somehow, I have trouble taking The Chick-Fil-A Bowl, The Bowl and the Meineke Bowl seriously.

Said re-runs and bowl games are interrupted by Christmas themed commercials. The musical backgrounds for said commercials are selected by Clear Channel.

The traffic! It’s bad enough in Houston under the best of circumstances.

The pressure! I don’t think even Martha Stewart has a Martha Stewart Magazine Cover Page worthy Christmas. If this is such a blessed time why does every magazine and newspaper include lists and tips on surviving the season?

Mugs! Who decided that Christmas Mugs are a suitable gift for all holiday occasions? They must have unlimited cupboard space. May they be pelted with them.

Tacky Decorations. Christmas seems to be a license to kitsch. In Houston, it’s spawned a rash of giant blow up lawn art. The fat Santa’s were bad enough but this year the best yards are sporting a giant snow dome with moving figures and Styrofoam snow. Did I mention our weather is unseasonably warm?

Food – to much, to sweet, to high calorific. I don’t want to see, let alone taste another slice n’ bake, sugar sprinkled star cookie for a very long time.

Holiday Decorated Sweats, Shirts, Vests and Sweaters. Perhaps this is a Texas thing but Christmas seems to result in woman wearing sequins in the daytime. A 50+ woman with a double F chest has no business wearing a shirt adorned with a snowman who has appliquéd goggley eyes atop each nipple. Don’t get me started on twinkling Christmas light earrings and Reindeer headbands.

Slim pickings at the thrift stores and garage sales.. Slim pickings are not good for acquiring inventory.

Long, long, lines at the Post Office. Which has Clear Channel Radio playing.
Did you know that they really do play “Holly Jolly Christmas” once every 15 minutes?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

I Go Shopping!

My Beloved, who just got a major promotion & I went to Austin for her annual company meeting and Christmas Party. The party was "and spouse . One of the "benefits" about her being out at work is that I get included in these sorts of things. This is both a blessing and a curse.

I am not interested in clothes and fashion. I'm a librarian at a poor school so I wear very casual things to work and jeans and polo shirts around the house. Clothes keep me warm in winter and cover up the parts that haven’t aged well in summer. We do not attend church so I haven't needed "nice" clothes in years. The bulk of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores and garage sales, with my 2 main criteria being “does it fit” & “is it machine washable”.

I'd planned to wear a pair of velveteen pants and silk shirt and a velvet vest. We joined some of the company folks for breakfast who were also in Austin for the meetings and festivities. I took one look at the quality of the clothing they were wearing (all men) and decided the outfit I had would not do at all.

Everyone on my Betsy-Tacy list-serv always raves about Nordstrom. I decided to venture forth to the one in new upscale mall (they just entered the Texas market last year) in search of something to wear.

Turns out the Ladies of Betsy Tacy List are correct. Nordstrom is everything they said and more.

I called to find their hours expecting to hear a recorded voice intoning:
"Welcome to Nordstrom's, for Spanish press 1, for hours press 2, for directions press 3, if you know your parties extension please enter it now”. Instead; a real live person answered the phone. Said person was not in India, they were in Austin. I did not have enough time to take advantage of their personal shoppers so she suggested I come in and ask a salesperson for help.

I wandered into ladies clothing, found a saleslady and said "dress me".

Once she got over the shock of encountering someone as fashion impaired as myself she rose to the occasion. She spent over an hour with me, she got a top from here, a skirt from there and finished it off with the perfect jacket. By the time, we were finished I’d spent a lot of money but I had fabulous outfit. She personally took me to shoes, purses, lingerie and makeup and helped me find just the right things. The only reason we didn't visit jewelry is because that was the one thing I already had. In fact; I brought my necklace with me and told her I wanted something that went with it.

I asked for makeup suggestions (I am also makeup impaired). She consulted a colleague and they decided Trish McEvoy was the brand for me. Down to cosmetics I went. They were right – even though my newly opened Nordstrom account now has a rather large balance – the experience was worth every penny.

Nordstrom is perfect for someone like me who does not like to shop and does not follow fashion. Here in Houston we had Foleys (which is now Macy's). You can’t find anyone to ring up your purchase, much less offer assistance and fashion advice. We have one Nordstrom in Houston, in a mall I loathe due to traffic but I'll deal with it the next time I need something other than kaki pants and a polo shirt.

I sent the store manager an e-mail telling her how impressed I was and received the most delightful ( and personal ) e-mail in response. It is so refreshing to realize that there are merchants out there who still subscribe to customer service.

My Beloved was delighted with the result. I meet the wife of the President of the company and the first thing she said to me was that she really liked my top and that she had one almost like it that she'd bought for her son's wedding – at Nordstrom no less!.

I am very glad I braved the doors of the mall. Now I had better have a good month on Amazon so I can pay for it all!

Jury Duty Part II

Well, I wasn’t chosen despite the fact that I really wasn’t trying to get myself struck. After much, much waiting around 63 of us were herded into a courtroom where we sat in numbered, assigned seats and were told that under no circumstances were we to forget our number. All reading materials were to be under our chairs, all cell phones were to be turned off and all talking was to cease. There is a great deal of similarity between jury duty and school or the army. Sit down, be quiet and do as you are told.

It was a drug case, possession of less than a gram of cocaine. Texas has mandatory sentencing laws (news to me, but I don’t really keep up with changes in the drug statues) and if guilty the defendant would have to serve at least 180 days in jail. There then followed 2 hours of the most painful hair splitting as various potential panel members questioned the judge and the lawyers and in return answered the questions posed by the legal teams.

Some of the possible jurors were having a great of trouble visualizing a gram.
The judge couldn’t give a clear explanation. Finally, in frustration she announces:

“Well it’s no wonder I don’t know anything about this –my undergraduate degree is only in education”.

That remark didn’t sit well with me, since one of my degrees is also in elementary education and I am perfectly capable of visualizing a gram.

I raised my hand.

“I have a degree in elementary education; in fact I’m a teacher and you just insulted me and every other teacher in the room. Teachers get enough grief and bad press and I never expected to hear something like that from an elected official.”

She looked taken back
“I didn’t mean to insult teachers”

“Well, you did”.

“Do you think my comments would it difficult for you to render an impartial verdict”


“Oh, I do apologize”

“Thank you”

After that exchange neither the defense, the prosecution or anyone else wanted anyone as outspoken as me on their jury panel.


The irony of it all?
I didn’t protest in hopes of getting struck, I was so angry at her statements that I couldn’t keep quiet. I'm tried of teachers being the whipping boy for all the the ills of society.

Friday, December 08, 2006

13 Observations About Jury Duty

Thirteen Things about Jury Duty

The parking garage was designed by architects in Europe where a Mini- Cooper is considered a big car. This does not translate well to Texaian where a Ford F10 is considered a small car. In this parking garage 2 Expeditions take up 3 parking places. Two Chevy trucks parked opposite each other create an aisle so narrow that a Hummer got stuck between them. It made me giggle.

The room is full of people waiting. The chairs resemble those in the airports (and are about as comfortable too) but the atmosphere is totally different. The airport always has a happy excited hum about it, of people coming and going, meeting up with family, going on their dream trip or heading out for new adventures. Not so the jury assembly room. The atmosphere is one of painful resignation.

The majority of the people are Anglo. This is not a jury of of “your peers” in a county where at least 50 % of the residents are African American or Hispanic. Of course you do need to speak English, be a US Citizen and have no criminal record so that would disqualify a number of the citizens of Harris County.

The information video is being played for the 3rd time. Nobody is listening.

I’m amazed at how many people have brought nothing at all to do. The better dressed a person is , the more likely they are to be occupying their time with something other than sleeping.

Having to be somewhere at 8 rather than 6:45 meant I got a sleep an extra hour. That’s a good thing!

There is no wireless access in this room. That’s a bad thing.

I wonder where the closest Starbucks is?

It’s only 3 weeks before Christmas and 1 week till my Christmas break. I sure hope I’m not chosen. I know this marks me as a “bad citizen”. The video says I’m very important. I’m not feeling especially special.

“Vor Daire” pronounced with a Texas accent sounds like the name of a small town in West Texas.

I hope my laptop battery holds old!

It’s easy to spot the cigarette smokers. They are all fidgeting.

The very large woman in front of me has her hair pulled back in a short pony tail. The bow is bigger than her head. That makes her a bow head. I would hate the thought that my life was I the hands of a bow head.

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