Thursday, August 31, 2006

Antiquing, Texas-style

A friend decided it was time to introduce me to the world of Texas antique shops. Destination: Brenham, just an hour west on 290.

Brenham is charming, a little downtown of turn-of-the-century (turn of the last century, that is) storefronts. it's like a piece of Americana, the type of small-town feel that one only gets in mid-America. It's that certain ambience that doesn't exist out where we live in suburbia.

The streets were lined with antique shops. They clearly aren't about making big money; signs all indicated that most would be open at 10 a.m, yet when we arrived — just after 10 — most were still closed. So we popped in where we found an open door and a friendly face. Some stock lovely vintage furniture, others stock kitsch. I loved both; what, after all, is better than a day full of nostalgia? I loved flipping through old 45's, dishes and glassware, fragile fabrics and cowboy-themed memorobilia.

I came home with my arms full — two classic kitchen canisters, a set of enamel-ware, and my favorite find: a kitchen bowl with a Dutch-like pattern. The attraction? It is a pattern I grew up with, as both my mother and my grandmother had dishes with this pattern. It was my dad's ice cream bowl; he ate a bowl of ice cream every night before bed in this bowl. (And yes, as the girls noticed, it is definitely much too big for ice cream. Not that anyone is commenting ...)

Yet another day that makes me feel more at home here in the Lone Star state.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Anniversary of a disaster

The world came crashing down for the citizens of New Orleans one year ago today. I remember so clearly walking home after dropping the girls off at school, discussing this very scenario with Melissa. My dad told me this possible phenomenon was discussed in urban geography courses forty years ago. So when it actually happened, we weren't surprised, necessarily.

But that doesn't mean we weren't stunned. The level of devastation was shocking. The stories of people abandoned, trapped in their attics, alone, no help on its way. It was tragedy on a level that was hard to comprehend. Much like the tsunami the Christmas before — it was an event that sucked the very life out of a city, a country, and we were left helpless on the sidelines, too paralyzed with shock and grief to properly respond.

I saw the after-effects up close when we visited Houston the very next week on a house-hunting trip. The hotel lobby, full, in the middle of the day, of adult men, clearly sitting there with nothing to do. The people carrying laundry in grocery bags. A table full of donations of toiletries and literature on where to get relief. Signs on the sides of roads advertising temporary jobs.

Even two months later, when we visited again to finalize details on the house, we got glances inside hotel rooms and saw clear evidence of people who had been living there for weeks, months. There was the sweet woman at breakfast who asked us if we, too, had been displaced by Katrina. When asked if she would be returning to New Orleans, to collect her things, she smiled and said, sadly, "There's nothing there to get." Her family was from New Orleans; her mother, she said, had refused to leave. Her husband had loved it there. But he had already passed away, so she wouldn't be returning. For her, life was now in Houston.

Fast forward, and today there are still 118,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, if you will, living in Houston. Many of them are here permanently — thye've found jobs, reinvented their lives. The children enrolled in the Houston schools are being held back, not doing well on standardized tests. These people are victims of crimes, they are the perpetrators of crimes. And we know, because the fact that they were displaced by Katrina is always part of the story.

The recovery is slow; areas like the French Quarter, the Garden District and Bourbon Street are nearly back to normal. But so many other parts of the city, virtually obliterated by the flood waters, will never be the same. People tell of working to restore their homes, only to be the sole house on the block that is rebuilding. What happens to these neighborhoods? Will there be businesses, jobs and services for them? Will the city recover?

Such a loss. Certainly for the residents of the city, but for all of us, for the entire country. With a death total over half of the casualties in the 9/11 attacks, it is the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history. But where is the million-dollar payout for these victims? Where is the government relief? Why are their lives and their tragedy less important?

I'll be watching, along with the rest of the world, hoping that New Orleans recovers in some sense. Maybe not just the same, but a city still. We need it; we need to see New Orleans come back.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday, Sunday

In Germany, Sunday was the day I dreaded most. I felt isolated there; weekdays I had a routine: take kids to school, take care of the baby, pick up kids, help with homework, shopping, German lessons, and so on. Saturdays there were errands to run, things to do. But Sundays ... it was strange. We didn't go many places — everything was closed. We didn't go to church; I couldn't quite muster up the energy necessary to attend services in German. (It was all I could to to speak and understand casual conversation, but to focus on a one-hour talk? Impossible.)

Sometimes we were invited out for coffee; sometimes there was a carnival or outdoor festival. But the girls' friends tended to not be available for playdates. It rained a lot, so the weather was often dreary, thus we didn't go out a lot. And our children were very small — we had an infant. Thus Sundays were usually a dismal grey day with little to do. The house was clean, thanks to the housekeeper, and since it was rental, there weren't any projects to take care of.

On occasion I'd luck out and find a movie on the Danish channel (they used subtitles rather than dubbing everything as the Germans did). I saw the movie "Breaking Away" on one of those days; I'm not sure if I remember it fondly because it's a good movie, because it takes place in and was filmed in Bloomington, Indiana, (my adopted home state), or because it filled a void at a time when I needed it. Whichever it was, the movie remains a favorite.

I know, I know, I should have appreciated the uninterrupted family time. But you know, I had a lot of uninterrupted time. I was alone a lot. Gary worked long hours, and by the time the weekend rolled around, I was craving some sort of activity, some connection. It was better in springtime or summer, on those rare days when it was sunshiney, and we could go for bike rides and get outside, go to the beach. But for most of the year? I seem to recall only the long days without much to do.

It is better here. I know it's hot — oppressively so — but we have a backyard swimming pool to combat that. And things are open. Plus there's church, where I do get that connection. And now that the girls are older, I don't feel the same sense of being overwhelmed with them that seemed to take over my very being when they were small.

Why the sudden burst of nostalgia? I suppose it has something to do with hitting the six-month mark. We're here, we're settled and we're starting, just starting, really, to feel a part of things. I know a few people; not the same way I did in Lafayette, but still, I have people to talk to. I have a job, one that takes me places, gets me out of the house a bit. And the girls are making friends. And on a weekend when we had no real plans, I didn't feel the pain of nothing to do, but managed to relish the time and relax.

Progress. It's not always measured in large steps, but sometimes in the little things. It's all just a matter of time.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

And the winner is ...

So glad I went to the networking luncheon ... because I won the door prize! It is a bag filled with miscellany from the community college, including a lanyard, mini stapler, pen, mirror, pad of paper, and very, very cool star-shaped, five-color highligter!

Does life get any better than that?


Big day today: I'm off to the Cy-Fair American Business Women's Express Lunch. One of those networking lunches, which is really good for me. The magazine is brand-spanking-new, so not many people know about it. And I know virtually NO ONE, so it's good for me to get out there, be seen.

And, as an added bonus, it gets me out of shorts and into something snappy. It's good to get to wear all one's outfits.

Tomorrow I am going to a seminar at the school district on — surprise — how to work with the school district. Sounds fascinating, but necessary.

Other than that, not much going on. I could write of my challenge to clean all the baseboards (one room down, 11 to go ...) or about how I did all the laundry yesterday, which taught me that my linen closet has a hard time holding all the clean towels at ocne — apparently some need to sit in the hamper.

And I'm nearly done with Anita Shreve's A Wedding in December. Not totally satisfying. I'm ready for something new. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And speaking of something inappropriate ...

Spent the morning at the Sampson Elementary VIPS (very important parents = volunteers) orientation. It was mostly blah-blah-blah, a bunch of introductions. There were more than 120 parents (moms) there, and a lot of people were missing; it's a different deal than Miller, that is for sure. This PTO has about 12 subcommittees — one organized bunch. Super moms — frankly, they scare me. I think I'll just lie low. Most chairs chose not to make mini-presentations, but my favorite mom (big mouth, loud, take-charge, I-love-my-kids-more-than-you-love-yours mom) had to make a speech, had to take far more than her allotted five minutes because HER committee is the most exciting, more important than the others. Yea, yea, yea; whatever.

I do wish I had known we were taking pictures for volunteer nametags; I might have not let my hair retain its natural curl in order to blend in with the humidity; I might not have spent 20 minutes walking over in afore-mentioned humidity. Can't wait to see this photo.

But my favorite moment? When the moderator, after the mini-speech by the Hispanic mom, said, "Thanks. And love that accent!" Don't you people have any class?

And then there was last night, parent night at the middle school. One teacher mentioned she was pregnant; she said it was her second and she likely would not be having any more (OK, first of all, too much information!). Then a father pipes up with, "Why?" Um .... none of your business? Do you not know which boundaries are not to be crossed?

Why must people be so clueless? And why don't people learn? One time, at a party when I was hugely pregnant, the wife of one of Gary's more moronic colleagues asked me if this pregnancy was planned. I tried the, "Why would you ask that?" response — you know, the one designed to embarrass people into shutting up? Didn't have the desired effect AT all — she proceeded to tell me just why she wanted to know, outlining in horrifying detail the circumstances of all her pregnancies.

Sigh. Some people do not learn. Don't people have any class? Sadly, we know the answer to that.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Happy Birthday, Sylvia!

Just another day ... or not? Today is the day, eight years ago, that we welcomed daughter No. 3 into our lives. Our little family was complete: mother, father, three little girls. After Maddie was born I felt so wonderful, I just had to do it again. And I was not disappointed. She has been an absolute delight in every way.

But she is at school today, so the celebration will wait until later. Much work to do today. I need to take care of some work stuff, tidy up a bit, run some errands. Need to finish A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve, but it's not capturing my attention like some of her books have. But I'll finish it — I always do, or I feel like I can't pass judgment.

I need to read something more substantial. I tend to lean toward very light fiction in the summer. It's easy to read by the pool, it's fun. But reading Bergdorf Blondes about did me in; what a mindless piece of nonsense. I know it's labeled a farce, but I just thought it was a waste; those characters had no redeeming qualities.

I have enjoyed reading the Betsy-Tacy books to the girls. Per a friend's recommendation (thanks, Gale!) I picked them up, and they are charming. Reminds of so much other really good children's literature: Eleanor Estes, Lois Lenski, Carolyn Haywood, Beverly Cleary. I love curling up with Sylvia to read them; even 12-year-old Maddie will join us.

Well, so much to do today. The time for dilly-dallying is over.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Organization heaven

The Container Store can make all my dreams come true.

I fantasize about having a perfect house. One where everything is neat and tidy, all the little cluttery pieces put away all the time. There are several obstacles to my achieving this; I can name three right away, but there are others — moi included. I have two desks, one in the kitchen and one upstairs, and at the moment, both are a mess. So it's not all the kids' fault.

When I visit the Container Store, I believe, even if only for a fleeting moment, that this dream is attainable. All I need are the proper containers and my perfect house dream will become reality.

I don't even really go nuts there; today I picked up some jars for the bathroom (decorative as well as functional) and CD shelves. But I spent lots of time browsing, getting ideas about achieving my dream home.

I love that these stores make us feel as if this perfect home is right there, available for the masses. Just like Target and IKEA, simplifying style, making cheap shopping chic, and marketing it on a budget.

Makes life fun; makes getting my life in order feel less like a chore and more like a project.

Hurrah for mass-marketed organization; hurray for capitalism that makes it all possible.

And hurray for me, for getting the CDs on shelves and my cabinets in order. There.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tragedy revisited

I wasn't too wrapped up in the whole sordid Jon-Benet Ramsey case way back in '97. Sure, I followed it — how could you help it? — but I wasn't glued to the details. My children were very small, but Alison was old enough to ask why that little girl kept showing up on television. So I turned it off; it was all too sad and too shocking to get wrapped up in.

Yet I listened when others formulated theories. And I confess, I was all too ready to believe the worst; I really just assumed that it was someone in her family. The intruder theory didn't hold water; there were just too many inconsistencies. So I bought into the bizarro scenarios: a crazed mother, a jealous brother, a psycho father.

And it was hard to believe that a killer in such a prominent, well-publicized case could go unpunished. Particularly if they were meeting with the police, pretending to be concerned. How perverse is that?

Fast-forward to, well, today, where there's been an arrest. Details on CNN say the alleged perpetrator has confessed. He's some sort of pedophile, apparently, and says her death was an "accident."

Just another puzzle piece in this notoriously unsolved case.

Mostly today, I've been feeling funny for not believing the Ramseys. I'm sorry that they've lived under this veil of suspicion for 10 years, suspected in the death of their own daughter.

Assuming, of course, that this guy really did do it, and that the family really is off the hook. Call me a skeptic, but he is innocent until proven guilty. So I'll not let go of my suspicions totally for the moment.

Such a sick and twisted story. The video of her in the child beauty pageants made me uncomfortable. She was just a little girl. But she shouldn't have had to live out some vicarious fantasy of her mother. And she shouldn't have had to die — certainly not in such a violent way.

A strange ending to a sad story. The end? Let's hope so.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back to School

Is it me, or is August 16, with outside temps in the 90s, a little premature for the start of school?

I didn't think it was just me.

None the less, I think my girls were ready to go back. They need some companionship, need to see some kids their own age. And, for the most part, they like school. They're good students and they're motivated.

Oh, but 6.40 a.m. seems so early to be waiting for the bus. Better them than me (!).

For Maddie, this is a big year: The switch to middle school. She has a locker, PE uniform, lunch at the snack bar. She can wear flip flops. Sit where she wants at lunch. She's excited.

Alison is a freshman — my god, where does the time go? She is jazzed because her journalism class will be producing the yearbook. She asked me if I'd come speak to her class as an "expert." Seems funny, somehow ... but sure, why not? I was a kick-ass yearbook editor back in the day. Oh — and there's that thing I'm doing now that might be relevant ...

Sylvia seemed happy enough — likes her teacher, saw her friends. She's easy to please.

I remember so well the first day of school. Every year, for the most part — I loved going back. I liked buying school supplies, planning my outfit for the first day. And yes, Tammy, I do remember what you wore the first day of fourth grade. Though I'm a little fuzzy on some other first-day ensembles. I remember the night-before-school-starts phone calls to sort out the details, but the outfits themselves escape me (though with a little prodding I'll bet they'd come back!).

A friend posed the question recently about what classes people loved. I liked English, history, music; I liked working on the yearbook and newspaper. But I'll be honest — I was mostly uninspired by my high school teachers. These people had a chance to really ignite in us a passion for learning, and mostly they slept-walked through teaching us. What they were best at was getting embroiled in gossip and controversy and teaching lessons the exact same way they had for the past 25 years. Or longer.

I had a great science teacher — Mr. McLaren was the best — but he didn't — couldn't, through no fault of his own — inspire me to study the sciences. And I really liked Mr. Moore in math. Alas, my talents did not lie in that area. My school had terrible business, history and language teachers. And our English teachers weren't always so hot, either.

Though on occasion we would benefit from the expertise of student teachers — don't knock the innovations of novices. I can name a few in particular who really inspired me, in art, history, and English. Even going back to grade school, these college seniors brought with them a passion that was evident. I'll always remember them and the gifts they shared. Don't know what happened to all of them, but I'm guessing that at least some of them went on to become very effective in the classroom.

College was a different story, then grad school ... but I'm jumping ahead. The girls had great first days, all three of them. I hope their passion for learning continues. It's the greatest gift we give our children, a love of knowledge.

It will take them to the stars.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What's up, anyway?

Too much .... life is in a frenzy right now, getting ready to go back to school, stuff around the house (clearing the summer clutter, from being home every day), stuff for work. There is so much I want to write about, and yet, I am not making time. Today there is a Chamber lunch, meet the teacher, drinks with colleagues, a trip to buy decorations for the locker (?) Exactly.

But I'll get back in the groove. Tomorrow, in fact. Stay tuned ...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Twelve years ago ...

I woke up that morning early, and the first thing I did was put a load of clothes in the wash. Somehow I knew I needed to catch up on as much housework as I could.

We were dressed and ready to go by about 5.30 a.m., so we sat in the living room and read the paper, checked out the television. Let me tell you, there was nothing good on at that time of day.

Finally got Alison up, had some breakfast, took a walk around the neighborhood to see if we could get things moving.

Aroudn 10 Gary decided to mow the lawn, figuring he might not have time later in the week. Alison and I popped in the movie Guys and Dolls. I snoozed a little, got a call from a friend.

"What?" she cried. "You're in labor? Shouldn't you be at the hospital?"

Ah, if only it were that simple. These things take time, and you're usually better off at home for as long as you can stand it.

By noon I knew we needed to go. Dropped Alison off next door and headed off to the hospital. And at 4.11 p.m. we proudly welcomed our second daughter, Madeleine Claire, into the world. She weighed 8 lbs 11 oz. She gave us a bit of scare when her heart rate dropped drastically during labor, but she pulled through.

Since then, she's given us another scare with her appendix. But she made it through that, as well. She has also given us 12 wonderful years as parents. She is bright, funny, clever and witty. Not to mention beautiful. She has a sense of who she is. She is loyal and kind.

We celebrated by going to the zoo and out to dinner — her choice. She's Maddie these days; the bigger name gets pulled out when we need emphasis or by those who don't know who her well.

She's the kind of daughter that would make any parent proud. And indeed we are.

Happy Birthday, Maddie!