Monday, June 26, 2006

Energy and philanthropy

After a busy busy weekend with guests, I am exhausted. Today we did nothing. OK — I did some laundry, cleaned up, made a return to Target, did some reading. But in the grand scheme of things, it felt like very little.

The weekend was nice — Maddie's friend, Juliana, and her mother, my friend Ann — were here. We ran like crazy — to the zoo, the beach, out to eat, the movies. It was fun — nice to see friends, good to catch up. Maddie planned the itinerary, full of everything she loves to do best. But by Sunday we opted out of the visit to the science center; we were all glad to stay put. We substituted a trip to get ice cream, and no one complained.

Their visit made me homesick, made me miss friends terribly. But we have to get over it.

So today I was still catching up. But I have enough energy to be impressed with Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. I was off Bill Gates and Microsoft for awhile. But they've redeemed themselves. And I like Buffett's attitude about his kids' inheriting money; he says they should have to earn their own fortunes. I'm guessing his kids got quite an education and have been well provided for; they won't be suffering from their lack of inheritence.

Once again, proof that there is indeed humanity in our culture. You just have to seek it out.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Receding clouds, dryer days ahead

Or so we hope. The rain has ceased here, but it's in the forecast again, and there are still flash flood warnings for the southeastern part of the city.

Dan Rather is leaving CBS; not news at this point, but noteworthy. His career started there in 1962; it's been a sad end to one of the longest, at one time most well-respected reporting careers at a major network. We've seen a lot of changes in the past year and we'll likely see more. Sorry, but I don't predict good things for Ms. Couric. But I could be wrong — maybe I'll love her?

Heard a story today on NPR about dialects and accents, so I went online to take this Are You A Yankee or a Rebel quiz. My result: "32% Dixie. You are definitely a Yankee." And I even answered one with the appropriate Houston response; yes, I now use the term "feeder" rather than access or frontage road. When in Rome, or should I say, when in Houston. Though I can honestly say I've never been to a drive-through liquor store.

Guests arriving on Thursday, so we have to get things in shape around here. I wouldn't want people to see how we actually live — I'd prefer they see the fake house.

Too bad it won't include a swimming pool and landscaped back garden ... sigh ... this week we can blame it on the rain.

Monday, June 19, 2006

When it rains, it floods

It has rained since Saturday. Rained a little that day, rained a lot last night. And this morning, it rained a lot more. In fact, we got six inches of rain in just over an hour.

The rain was coming down all night. This was a torrential downpour. And it hadn't let up at all by the time I had to drive Alison to summer school. I listened to the closings on the radio in vain; her class was on. So we left ten minutes earlier than usual; I hope hope hoped that there would be less traffic, that fewer people would care to brave the streets.

I wish I could have been one of those people that had stayed home. Even the streets of the subdivision are full of water; it made me nervous to drive through them. Water was gathering on the street I take to the Interstate, and since I take the feeder road, the water on the right-hand side was way up. You can only drive on the middle of the road for so long before you have to get over to the right.

Got Alison to school — she wisely wore her rain coat for the run into the building — and the parking lot was much emptier than usual; many families decided not to risk it. Back in the subdivision, half an hour later, the water was up over the bottom of some driveways; the bottom of some mailbox posts was covered.

Southeast Houston has 11 inches of rain in a short period of time. Ground, drains are already saturated and can't absorb it. In the city, around the inner loop, the roads were closed — the 610, the Gulf Freeway were closed, with water over three lanes, over the exit ramps and feeder roads. Buildings are flooded. This storm has been likened to Hurricane Allison — not as strong, but the same type of storm. We've seen footage of rescues, of abandoned cars all morning.

It's scary. It's frightening to think that you can't find safety in your home. It's terrifying to be out on the roads in this. And I wouldn't if I didn't have to, that is for sure. Forces of nature are incombatible, it seems; we are at their mercy.

The rain here has stopped, for now. It's in the mid-70s, cloudy, overcast, wet, but the rain is no longer coming down. I'll be interested to see what the streets look like when I leave to get Alison in a couple of hours.

We suffer without rain, we suffer with too much. Thank goodness my family is safe, but I worry about others who might not be.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Little Bits of Random

It was an ordinary week. Nothing much of note happened.

Or so it would seem. Drove Alison to summer school every day, with differing traffic. We leave the house each day before 7.15 a.m. Most days we are there by 7.30, but yesterday, Thursday, we weren't even off the access road on 290 by 7.30. Weird — today I was driving home by 7.32. The traffic here is beyond comprehension.

Went to the Woodlands Mall to return our .mac package; when I tried to register it told me the access code was already in use. These numbers are totally random in appearance — not likely that someone could just guess it. And the package was sealed. Weird.

Browsed at the Woodlands, but didn't buy anything (except for Fathers Day gifts for the dad). I found the *cutest* marked down Ralph Lauren outfit at Foley's (our Ayres/Famous Barr alternative, soon to be Macy's). But even marked down it was pretty pricey. And I can't be sure that I like it that much.

Found out that two of the guys from ZZ Top live in the Woodlands, from our overly chatty clerk at Ayres/Foleys/Macys. (The new cards will be in the mail soon; corporate folks are coming in to start the transition. I'm surprised I don't this guy's marital status and birthday.)

Oh — got rear-ended exiting I-45 (the north freeway) onto Spring Cypress. We weren't going very fast, and the guys who hit me were very nice. Damage is very minor, but I'm sure it will require an entirely new bumper. Didn't call the police, and their boss has called twice to assure me that they will take care of it (I think they want to avoid the iinsurance company). So now I have to take the car in for an estimate and have it in the shop. Grrrr. But considering how fast people drive and how many accidents there are, I should consider myself lucky.

The pool deck is done — yay!! Now Maddie complains that the pea gravel hurts her feet. Um, it's too late to change it?

And I'm a single parent no more — the prodigal father returned from his business travels. The girls, who were wonderful all week, fought ridiculously over the temperature in the back of the van driving to dinner. It had nothing to do with said temperature, but was all about control; the fight started before the car even had a chance to cool down. What is up with that? As Gary mused, is he the problem?

So, the weekend begins. Rain in the forecast, so we'll be looking for something fun to do. Watch Crash? Furniture shopping? Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

High heels, long hair, cruel attacks

Headline on CNN Website: Has Ann Coulter gone too far?

Are you kidding? She is really something, that one. Not only do I tire of her vicious right-wing attacks, but this image she tries so hard to hone — every photo of her with the long hair draped over her shoulder, the attempt at the smouldering looks. I take it she sees herself as the hot sexy conservative alteranative.

But all that aside, the swipes at the 9/11 widows were uncalled for. Does she reallly believe that, or does she just try to write something as controversial as possible in order to stir up some publicity for her book? Which debuted as No. 1 on, if I'm not mistaken.

I am a firm believer in free speech. But why does she go after these women in such a vitriolic manner?

I guess you could say I'm not a big fan.

And all you've got going for you is the hair, babe; high heels and short skirts do not a beauty make. You're not quite as attractive as you think.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Welcome to the working week

In a moment of insanity, I agreed to do some freelance work for a local real estate publication. This is a problem? Well, not really, but I am coming to terms with the fact that a) I'm not really feeling motivated and b) I don't work well at home. Neither one of these is really news to me. I'm also a huge procrastinator, so I have not really started (though I did do a bunch of reading yesterday in preparation for my article). Lease to buy options (boring ... I really do better with lifestyle/human interest pieces).

Gary left for Germany yesterday. The girls and I went to church yesterday, out to lunch, to the pool. Watched the Tonys — I don't live in New York, only get to see a Broadway show every few years, yet I love the Tonys. They are so much more real than the Oscars or the Emmys ... OK, who am I kidding. But I love them anyway. The show Jersey Boys won so many times that I am singing "Can't take my eyes off you" over and over. Since Harry Connick is leaving The Pajama Game this month, thus thwarting my plans to see him on stage this fall, now I think I want to see Jersey Boys, if I can figure out someone to watch the girls and get Pete to meet me and Gary in NYC.

An added bonus to the Tonys: They run on schedule, not lingering on and on. No over the top, 10-minute thank you speeches. These actors/actresses seem to have their egos a little more in check.

They're working on the pool deck today. Progress. What will I complain about when it's done?

We finally, finally made up our minds about vacation. And Alison is upset because it puts us in Lafayette on a weekday. But I'm not sure how to fix that. Gary can't take two and a half weeks off work, and we all — Alison included — want to go to SWUUSI, a UU family camp in Oklahoma. Those dates aren't flexible, so there you go.

Must finish the laundry then get to work. Real work. Only the lure of a paycheck is making it worthwhile.

Friday, June 09, 2006

This and that

I know that what happened in Iraq yesterday is important and could change the direction of things. But did I really need to wake up this morning to a photo of a corpse on the front page of the paper?

Arrest made in the school bus vandalism prank in Lafayette. Good — I didn't see the humor. Nor, I'm sure, did the school district, as they paid to repair the damage to the buses, paid teachers and staff for an extra day, paid subs for the teachers and staff who had plans they couldn't change, dealt with the logistics of adding a day to the school year. Hilarious.

The pool tile is done — they were here until after 8 last night finishing up. Yay! Next comes plaster, then the deck. The landscape crew is here today to get started; they'll have to reschedule since much of the pool work remains to be done, but they will get our irrigation system functional again so the entire front yard doesn't die in the meantime.

We need to go choose our landscape rocks, return an overdue book to the library, go to the pool. Mundane stuff. I'm getting my hair done (at last, you say); thank goodness I got it in before the Cat BBQ tomorrow night. An official office function — this is more fun than the Lafayette office, anyway. Parties!

Had some neighbors over last night — met them last weekend and they are moving into a house just up the road. They have a 16-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and 7-year-old daughter. The kids got along, and I really like the parents. Looks good for our future social life. I kind of miss having one.

Ordinary day. That's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

To Hell With all That

To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan

After reading this book, I have one big question: What's your point?

Flanagan, the anti-feminist, has set out to convince us that the women's movement has done women a disservice in showing that women might be dissatisfied with merely performing perfunctory household duties. Being a housewife should be celebrated, she says; women should be glad to fix dinner and do the laundry. Child-rearing has been elevated to an art and needs to be scaled back a notch, back to the days when being a wife was first and foremost and the children a mere by-product.

Excuse me? She really expects me to believe this tripe?

And she is the poster child?

Flanagan writes of the evils of nannies, the amount of discomfort they can bring to a household. And this in the same book where she devotes an entire chapter to the relationship she has with — you guessed it — her nanny. The woman she hired to care for her children for three years when she wasn’t even working. It is the noblest thing to be home with one’s children, she says, and points out that she stayed home with her children. But in the same breath she tells us that she had a 9-5 nanny and that she was practically paralyzed, unable to function, between 7 and 9 a.m. before the nanny’s arrival. She makes it clear that children need their mother their when they’re sick in the night … but that she did not actually put the sheets in the washer — that was the nanny’s job.

She talks of the amount of satisfaction a woman should get from taking care of her home and her family. Then tells you of the maid and gardener who actually do most of said housework.

Sometimes it seems as if her point is to make it clear that she is a woman of privilege — she can afford to be home, yet can pay all this household help. She and her husband can send their two boys to a soigné preschool, one whose very élan was disrupted by an outbreak of head lice. What — parents of children who go to public kindergarten aren’t disrupted by such things? Do we merely take it in stride?

Flanagan’s writing style, praised by some, is a bit pretentious for me (“soignée"? "élan"?). She seems more interested in painting a picture of herself as having made the right choices than in looking at what is good for all women. Her own mother tossed aside the apron in the early '70s in order to have a job and some time for herself, and all Flanagan can see is that she felt abandoned. In retrospect, can’t she see that maybe it was the only way for her mother to survive?

I don’t see a need to pit working mothers against stay-at-home moms — we all have our children’s very best interests at heart. To her credit, Flanagan does confess the realities of her life — the privilege that eludes most stay-at-home mothers of preschoolers — but she doesn’t quite see that they set her apart. She honestly sees herself as an ordinary sacrificing mother, even when she had full-time help. And today, as a staff writer for the New Yorker, she does not consider herself a working mother.

Not a book I could recommend. And not only because I didn’t agree with her point, but more importantly, because I couldn’t discern that she had one.

An inconvenient truth

Houston was the first stop on Al Gore's book tour to promote his new book and film, An Inconvenient Truth. We joined the sold-out crowd at the Hobby Center in downtown Houston to listen to the man who should have been president talk passionately about what we, human beings, have done to this planet and what we must do to save it.

And I'm so glad I did. The man portrayed as "stiff" from 1992-2000 was anything but. He was greeted with thunderous applause — clearly there are people who long for a different presence in politics. He was energetic, lively, captivating and funny; he spoke with great enthusiasm and ardor about his crusade to bring awareness to global warming and educate people about what must be done in order to turn this potential cataclysm around. The talk was fascinating and entertaining. Which leads me to wonder:

Where was this guy in 2000?

The statistics were alarming. The damage done by our misuse of carbons is astounding — most of it in the last 30 years. Of the records set for 25 hottest years on record, the top 25 have all been set in the last 30 years. Glaciers and mountaintop snows are disappearing; Greenland and Antarctica have seen significant losses. We will all pay a price, with elimination of species, global climate, storms, and loss of land mass as ocean levels rise.

Experts in the field — scientists and climatologists — universally agree: This is real. There are no skeptics among those in the know.

But the good news is, it's not too late to change. We have the knowledge and the technology available to change trends and make a difference in the well-being of our planet.

Granted, anyone who heads out on the lecture circuit with an agenda will use only the facts they know will support their claim. And I suspect Gore is no different. But it's hard to discount the overall message of what he said. He used a lot of canned stories in his opening, but it was funny nonetheless. And in the Q&A, when asked about Iraq, he responded that Iraq is the single worst strategic decision ever made by the United States. A bold statement — one that, I confess, I would have to think about long and hard before making. But I think a case could be made. We're in a quagmire, with no end in sight — today's developments not withstanding.

But I digress. Overall, it was an empowering evening. I am revved up for midterm elections, for the campaign season of 2008. Something has to change; do Democrats have the power to retool their message and show that they really are the party with our best interests at heart?

Go see the film. An Inconvenient Truth — it's an eye-opener.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Am I really a Houston mom?

With our lack of a backyard pool, and temps in the 90s (gulp — it's only June!) we're off these days to the neighborhood pool. It's a funky, hanging-out kind of pool — no real deep end, no diving board, a curvy shape with a sort-of stream, but lots of lounge chairs and a mushroom-shaped fountain. For serious swimmers there's also a lap pool up the road, but for our crowd, this is sufficient. It's not terribly crowded (not when we go, anyway) and there's plenty of water.

I love to watch the other moms. These are mostly mothers of preschoolers and young grade schoolers, so already I don't quite fit in. They arrive loaded up with pool toys, strollers, swim diapers, and enough snacks to last til tomorrow — don't these kids eat at mealtimes?

And I love to watch the fashion parade — moms who arrive in bikinis and bronze themselves to an unhealthy glow, moms in cute but practical tankinis, moms who wear unflattering, frumpy old-lady suits — even when they don't have to. Too thin, too heavy, just right ... where do I fit in? My suit is cute — well, the one I wore yesterday for sure. Grabbed it off a sale rack at the end of last year. I'm not one to name drop or brand drop, but if I were, and I did, you'd know for sure that it can't be ugly.

I watched the moms at gymnastics yesterday, too. Women here are big on heels — with shorts, with jeans, with capris. Another minus for me. And I hope the sparkly look is only the one mom — she was the kind who looked all put together, even for dropping off for gymnastics, and she had sequins on everything — the tank top, the belt, the jean capris, the purse. She probably had them on the wedge heels she was wearing, too, but I didn't get a good look. I think I was temporarily blinded.

I know it's Texas, but come on; it's still the real world. I felt so inadequate in my shorts and sandals ... well, not really, but I have to wonder if that's what she's going for. Why else would you don all those sequins in the middle of the afternoon?

More thoughts to ponder — that and Caitlin Flanagan and whatever the HELL her point is. More later.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

On strip malls and spirituality

When the UU Church in Lafayette was searching for new space, Target moved into its new Super Target building, thus leaving available real estate at the corner of State Road 26 East and Hwy. 52. Some people were intrigued. Others said (and I paraphrase) it would be a cold day in non-existent hell before they would attend church services in a strip mall.

I confess, I was on board with that sentiment. Shopping for office supplies? OK. Spiritual awakening on Sunday morning? Nicht.

Yet, as we all have to do, I am evolving. We've been attending services at the UU Church in the Woodlands. The building is nestled in the woods, with tree tops visible through the very high windows in the A-frame sanctuary. There's a lovely garden in front where folks gather for coffee hour, complete with a pond and little bridge. It's relaxing and uplifting and a beautiful setting. The people are nice (I've joined a covenant gruup) and they have a very active high school group. But they have two services, with the better class for Alison during the second service, when there's no class for Maddie. The DRE just resigned and the minister is leaving at the end of the month.

All of this I could live with ... if it weren't a 40-minute drive.

Dedicated folks in Lafayette drove from Delphi, Frankfort and Crawfordsville to attend services. They were often very involved, coming to myriad meetings during the week. But it's hard for me to drive so far, what with small people at home and a husband who works late (not to mention my penchant for sleeping in on weekends!) Social events are never nearby; being involved requires a major committment.

So I figured we owed it to ourselves to at least check out the UU church nearest us. We chose the Woodlands first because it's bigger, appears more organized and was recommended by a friend in Lafayette (her friend from grad school goes there). We initially steered clear of the closer church because it's so much more fellowship-y — no minister, no DRE, no paid staff.

It's also only 20 minutes away. So, today we decided to have a look. We were non-committal, and first impressions weren't good. It's in a strip mall — ie, no windows in the interior rooms, and the space was a health club before; serious remnants remain. The schedule is funky, with RE following the service.

All doubts disappeared when we heard the service. Today was a guest minister from Austin; he must have a huge church there, as he was very dynamic and a great speaker. And the people — everyone was friendly and welcoming. It's a totally volunteer-run church, which apparently makes people closer. Lots of activities, lots of social events, lots of interest groups.

And people who live near us — two families live in our subdivision, and one family is building a house just up the street from us. We offered our three months of experience in Coles Crossing to help the new folks with their pool construction, swapped phone numbers (they have kids the same ages).

Alison and Maddie prefer Northwoods; Gary and I see advantages to both. Not a bad dilemma to have. For now, we'll be involved with both, revisit the situation at a later date.

So we're working on our issues with strip malls. At the very least, we have options. And that's always a good thing.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ah, the weekend

We're down one kid for the weekend. Alison went on a UU weekend to Oklahoma City, to a youth group con. She loved the last one the attended. The van was to leave at 6.30 last night, so they said to arrive around 6 and get everything loaded up. We were there just after 6 and no one else was there — Alison panicked and Gary was searching frantically for a cell phone number. I told them both to just chill — we don't have to go all type A and start dialing the minute — nay, the second — we suspect something isn't right. Sure enough, minutes later someone showed up. This is a UU group, after all (!)

Last night Maddie and I (and sometimes Gary) watched the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice — loved it! Loved everything about it, from the dialogue (excellent adaptation) to the costumes to the actors. Colin Firth IS Mr. Darcy. Alison wants to watch the new version, and we will (the Netflix arrived!) Though I've heard it isn't nearly as good ... we shall see.

Should be out helping clean out the garage, but I needed a breather.

It's 90 out today; good day for a pool. Sigh ... is this my biggest problem these days? That I have no back yard pool? Exactly.

Back to the garage; real work beckons.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It's raining, it's pouring ...

Down comes the rain, to a city that has had more than it needs — all week it has poured, and we had more than four inches in one hour yesterday. Not so much in our neck of the woods, but that term is all relevant now, isn't it? Not only are there flash flood warnings in effect, bayous that are saturated, low-lying areas dangerously near calamity, but work on our pool is delayed. It's a near catastrophe. The workers are actually here, and were able to work much of the morning, but since the skies opened up again about 30 minutes ago, they're sitting on our covered patio.

The rain also means no gardener today, so the flower beds will have to hold onto their weeds.

We're supposed to go to the library today, but I think I'll wait until the downpour halts for a bit. This is no ordinary rain, so I'm not just being a sissy. It isn't like that gentle German rain, but very real stormy skies. Good news is that it should be over by the weekend.

Someone who read the freecycle ad came today to collect the empty moving boxes. The movers will make a box pick-up, but they told me they just incinerate them — !!! Can't do it, not when I know someone out there is getting ready to move and needs empty boxes. Such a shocking waste.

Yesterday we stayed in to watch a movie. Even with our collection of unwatched or seldom viewed videos and DVDs, it motivated me to join Netflix. Joined at the highest level — the Website assured me that it's the best deal as well as the most popular — and I certainly want to do the popular thing. The queue already has 40 titles, supplemented by suggestions from my children, such as War of the Worlds (Alison), Hoodwinked and Robots (Sylvia), and Mildred Pierce (!) (Maddie — the kid has taste!).

The pool workers have packed up their tools and are getting in the truck. I guess it's over for today. So sad ...

Rain, rain, go away ... please let them finish my pool and then I won't complain anymore (unless I can't actually use said pool, then I'll renege on that promise entirely ... I can't win).

Currently listening: Best of Dave Edmunds
Currently reading: To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan