Archive for December, 2008

Rice Owls win Texas Bowl?!?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

During high school, I watched a LOT of football games. Not because I was suddenly living in Texas and people are crazy about Texas high school football, but because I marched in the band. For four years, I went to every football game. And it was mostly fun, in part because the Galveston Ball Tornadoes were generally one of the best teams in the district and they won a lot. One year, I learned that big stadia like The Astrodome have miserable acoustics and that marching on Astroturf is harder than you would expect, because the football team went to state.

By the time I got to Rice in 1989, I was done with band and sick of going to football games. In fact, I didn’t manage to attend a single Rice game while I was there. While I missed out on seeing classic MOB (marching owl band) half-time performances, I didn’t miss much else, because the brainy Rice Owls were NOT one of the strongest teams in the Southwest Conference.

As recently as 2005, the Owls won just one of ten games. They don’t win whole seasons, they play in very few bowl games, and you won’t see them on national television. Rice is a “smart” school, not a “sports” school, and I’m okay with that.

Rice winning Texas Bowl

In that historical context, the Rice Owls 2008 season has seemed pretty surreal. They apparently won 8 of the first 11 games. (I say “apparently” because we weren’t following the team closely. Why would we?) The last game of the regular season — the “Bayou Bucket” against intown rival University of Houston — got picked up by CBS to air nationally on College Sports TV. Watching the Owls play on TV — and win — was novel and fun!

The Bucket victory got Rice into the Texas Bowl, which aired nationally last night on NFL Network. (I know, it’s cable, but it’s still national!) Our friends Rob, Mike & Susan, their kids, and my cousin Sharon all came over to watch the game over hot pizza from Star and cold beer.

boys watching the game
Tibbs and the men folk watched the game…

Elizabeth and Robert

… while Elizabeth, Robert, and John read, battled light sabers…

Elizabeth talked with Dora
… and talked with a “Dora” show

Even Ben & Rebecca got in from San Antonio before the game ended. We had a good time, and Rice beat Western Michigan 38 to 14, winning their first bowl game since the 1954 Cotton Bowl. HOOT!

Freecycle rocks!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

I woke up this morning with an urge to purge. My goal was both to make some year-end donations to Goodwill and also to free up more space in the house.

Today’s first candidate: a 1980s-era Cuisinart food processor and accessories that my Gran’mom handed off 8 or 10 years ago. I know we used it once to make salsa, and another time to make tzatziki (be sure to discard the seedy center of the cucumber or it will be too runny!). But mostly the box of blades and accessories functioned as The Kitty’s warm nest atop the kitchen cabinets. While a food processor has utility in concept, I was ready to accept that if we’ve only used it twice in nine years, it should go.

I pondered gifting it either to my sister in law, or to a pregnant friend who will soon be making baby food for three. But when I turned it on to make sure it still worked, it didn’t. I guess the motor seized after ages of nonuse. A broken Cuisinart isn’t much of a gift, so the motor base will go to the environmental service center for recycling. But what to do with all the blades and accessories? Enter Freecycle.
Freecycle logo

Freecycle is intended to enable the “reuse” portion of the reduce-reuse-recycle triad. You offer items up for free (Free cat fur with Cuisinart blades!) to an email listserv and if anyone is interested, they email you back. There are Freecycle lists in several cities, and our local list has 1,800+ readers. I offered up the Cuisinart blades, acrylic rack, cookbook, and quilted penguin appliance cover. Within 10 minutes, I received emails from three would-be takers. I exchanged emails with the first one to arrange pickup. He came by a few hours later, and sent me a thank you note tonight. Yay!

Adventias: Rattling the trust…

Monday, December 29th, 2008

It’s beautiful today — sunny and 64 — and Bill and I walked to lunch together. When we got home, I should have taken a nap. We stayed up too late watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy last night and I’m tired. But instead I checked messages.

I had voice mail from Sarah declaring angrily that:

I’m having a Kitty Litter Emergency and I need transportation Right Now!

and a text message from Mom asking:

Who has title to granmom’s car? She is having snit. Please advise. Mom

I tried to call Gran’mom but she didn’t answer, so I called Mom instead. Mom said that Gran’mom had run her blood pressure up and among other things, asserted that I had abused her power of attorney to transfer her car title to my name. Mom reassured me cheerfully that she surmised that Gran’mom was confused.

I reckon so. Last week, Gran’mom asked me (and Chris and Sharon and Mom) to help her find an attorney who could “straighten out her car title” and get it transferred from Florida. When I explained that she moved to Texas in 2000 and she didn’t buy this car until 2006 and it was automatically titled in Texas, she said “I’ll try to believe you.” I encouraged her to write herself a note to help her remember. I think she wrote the note, but I’m not sure it helped.

I tried Gran’mom again and got her. After an excruciating conversation in which I was more indignant than helpful (did I mention that I’m tired?), and argued unsuccessfully that wanting a different litter box is not an “emergency,” I eventually elicited Sarah’s explanation for the car title issue:

Because I had trouble using my car title card on Saturday

After I said I didn’t understand because there’s no such thing, and she asked why I think I know everything, and I asked if she meant her driver license, she continued:

I was trying to cash a check at Target, but maybe they make everyone stand on their head

Actually, Target’s store policy is not to cash checks. I expect that the cashier explained that Saturday. But by Monday, the fact that she was unable to cash her check was best explained in Sarah’s head by the supposition that I had secretly retitled her car.


I think there’s still a part of me that can see that as really funny. But most of me finds the mishmash of confusion and paranoia really unsettling and exhausting. Lack of trust and annoyance are becoming pervasive themes in our conversations. When she asks whether she took her meds, and I explain that we went to the nurse station ten minutes ago, she says “I’ll try to believe you.”

Part of me empathizes with her plight. How hard is it to accept what others tell you when your senses tell you something different? How frustrating must it be — after decades of being smart and perceptive — to suddenly have people challenging your perception of reality?

The other part of me wishes she would know/trust/acknowledge that I am being good and honorable and helping her faithfully. Unfortunately, the very impairment that makes her dependent on this arrangement prevents her from appreciating it. I need to trust that I’m serving her well no matter what she says. But when I’m tired, I struggle not to take her frustration personally. I guess it’s time to take some deep breaths and go get a little more sunshine.

It’s done… Chris and Shawnacy wed!

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

In one of my first blog posts, I mentioned that my brother Chris got engaged. We expected him and Shawn to marry within the year, but then the hurricane came, and as Chris put it, “the gulf ate my best man.” They put wedding plans on hold for a while. Until now!

Last night, I received this text message:

Are you free to join us at a JP 4pm to do the wedding thing?

Well, of course I had to be. And so were Jean, Chuck, Sarah, Bill, and Chris’ friend Scott. Here are some of my favorite photos of Chris and Shawn’s wedding ceremony this afternoon:

wedded bliss
Shawnacy & Christopher in quintessential wedded bliss

wedding ceremony
Judge Gorczynski performed the ceremony

Pretty new bands to aid with tracking when they migrate

I’ve posted another dozen or so photos in a FaceBook photo album, which is a straight-forward place for Chris and Shawn to share them with online friends. Let me know if you have any trouble accessing them there.

In 2009, Chris and Shawn intend to have a wedding celebration party with family and friends. For financial reasons, it will probably be in early summer. But it was important to them to marry in 2008, in part, to reclaim with happiness a year that has brought so much sadness. I’d say this is a good way to end 2008 on a high note! Congratulations Chris and Shawn!

Adventias: Catching up with old friends…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

My Gran’mom has had wonderful friends, including some great Girlfriends. There’s Monnie from her college days at Westhampton and Marie from grad school at MCV. There’s Betty Mc from her days as a medical technologist, and Alice, her walking buddy from Mt. Dora. As it is for many of us, the years scattered Sarah and her friends across the country, making phone calls, cards, and letters the primary modes of contact.

But recently, dementia has interrupted Sarah’s friendships in at least two ways. First, people who are out of sight no longer spring to mind like they once did. And if they do, Sarah’s ability to translate intention into action is fairly impaired. The once-simple task of writing and sending a letter has become too overwhelming to manage.

As long as Sarah was in Galveston, her friends would still call her from time to time. But since the storm, none of them could know where to find her.

To fix this, I spent Saturday afternoon helping Sarah catch up. We initially pulled out her trusty red address book intending to write a holiday greeting or two. But it occurred to me that these addresses had been in there a LONG time and may not be current. I decided that we should call each friend first, both to confirm the address and visit. But I dialed the phone with some trepidation. Sarah is 92 and her friends are of a similar vintage. They could easily have moved, or worse.

Despite my misgivings, we had success! All three of the women we called were not only reachable at the numbers Sarah had, but even home to answer the phone. Betty and Marie each sounded great and were delighted to hear from Sarah. They seemed anxious to hear how Sarah had weathered the storm and eager to chat. She spent 20 minutes on the phone with each of them. Alice, it seems, has developed her own dementia and struggled at first to place Sarah, but eventually figured some of it out. Nonetheless, that three of Sarah’s oldest friends are still alive — two are even in good shape — is remarkable. What a relief!

After an hour of calls, Sarah was worn out but happy. I promised her that I would come back and we could call more of her friends another day. However, Sarah called me just a few hours later. She said she wanted to “congratulate” my on my “brilliant idea”, and went on to say that she hadn’t “had this much fun in ten years” (which means ten weeks, but that’s another blog post)! It’s proof that friendship matters at any age. And I’m glad that we put some “living” into her assisted living.

NYC fun with Amy…

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I just love to visit New York. Aside from it being where my husband spends three-quarters of his time, I enjoy exploring and pondering the many facets of urbanism in The City. I spent big parts of Saturday and Monday stalking cyclists and photographing innovative bike facilities in Greenwich Village and Times Square, but I’ll save those details for my work blog.

The best part of visiting New York is always that I get to visit our friend Amy. On Friday night, she met us at Ariyoshi Sushi, just south of Union Square. What cracks me up is that it’s located in the ground floor of Bill’s apartment building. Bill had been there seven weeks and not tried it yet… because it’s on the Broadway side instead of the 12th Street side. Silly husband. It turns out to be a great restaurant and we had a good time.

By Sunday, Amy had succumbed to a cold. We had planned to spend the day museuming together, but opted for dinner instead. So Bill and I hopped the Q train to Brooklyn.

Bill on the Q

We met at Amy’s favorite neighborhood restaurant, called The Farm. The menu reminds me of Gravitas in Houston, but the restaurant is much more intimate and the owners and staff are neighbors. Dinner was scrumptious and left me feeling like I’d been wrapped in a warm hug… or maybe that was Amy?

The Farm
The Farm on Adderley, I mean, Cortelyou

Amy and Bob
Amy and Bob at The Farm

For the flight home on Monday, after more bicycle-stalking, I decided that I wanted lighter reading than Century of the City, so I picked up the New York magazine’s year-end feature, Reasons to Love New York. Much to my delight, reason number 39 was all about Amy’s ‘hood:

What New Yorker with a repressed slacker-hippie side hasn’t fantasized about ditching Gotham for calmer, quainter San Francisco? Some locals have been satisfying that yen by simply moving to Ditmas Park, the Victorian-packed enclave south of Prospect Park. It isn’t just that the West Coast metropolis and the west-of-Flatbush hamlet share an abundance of turn-of-the-century painted ladies (which in Ditmas now fetch up to $1.8 million and reach their height of Gothic-Oriental grandness on both sides of stately Albemarle Road). You can also see similarities in the restaurant scene: The reigning culinary draw, the Farm on Adderley (1108 Cortelyou Rd.; 718-287-3101), references Chez Panisse (okay, that’s in Berkeley, not Frisco) in its strident locavorism and mismatched plates. And Ditmas’s tiny, cozy Cinco de Mayo (1202 Cortelyou Rd.; 718-693-1022) can hold its own in the Mexican brunch department against the Mission District’s Pancho Villa Taqueria (although the latter’s burritos are admittedly better)… [snip]

I was too amused to be annoyed that my airplane reading made me want to turn around and go back. And realistically, I always want to visit New York again. (I just don’t want to live there again.)

NYC meet and greet…

Friday, December 19th, 2008

For a change last weekend, I flew to see Bill in NYC, instead of the other way round. On Saturday night, his boss hosted a holiday gathering for the team up in Pelham. The dinner at La Fontanella was delicious, and Jeff (his boss) plied us all with a marvelous selection of adult beverages. The festive mingling at his house both before and after was lovely!

Bill with his team
Bill talking with Darren and Jaya

BJ and Jeff
Bill’s favorite boss ever, Jeff, and his wife, BJ

Hatshepsut and Richard
Bill’s sharp assistant, Hatshepsut, and her kooky husband Richard

Bob and Bill

Adventias: Out of sight can be out of mind…

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

During the years I was in middle and high school, my parents occasionally flew my brother and me to visit my Gran’mom and Gran’pop in Florida. I think they went with us once, but more often, they stayed home to work. As a result, Jean’s parents saw Chris and me more often than they saw her.

In 1988, Gran’pop’s smoking began to trigger strokes. He developed dementia and was moved to a nursing home. (Gran’mom said she knew there was a problem when she found him filing envelopes and putting checks in the trash.) Near the end, my mom flew to Florida to visit and say goodbye to her dad. But when Gran’mom asked whether Gran’pop recognized his visitor, he guessed, “Robin?”

When mom told me the story afterward, it really bothered me. I understand intellectually that the dementia was to blame, but I worried that I had somehow usurped her relationship. The event convinced me that “face time” affects perceptions of relationships.

Twenty years later, I’m worrying about the same thing with my Gran’mom. Moving Sarah to Houston makes it much easier for me to fulfill my role as her agent, and I obviously see her lots. But what about my mom and brother? As long as my parents live in Galveston — 50 miles away — it will be harder for Jean to visit. Calling daily will help, and I hope my mom will be able to come every few weeks.

Meanwhile, it will be easier for my brother and his family to spend time with Sarah now, and I’m relieved. A week before Thanksgiving, Sarah told Sharon that, “I haven’t seen Christopher in years.” It had really only been 3 or 4 weeks, but Sarah nonetheless perceived it as an eternity.

That’s why I was so pleased to have my brother accompany me last weekend. With the boxes unpacked, it’s time to get the photos and paintings hung to personalize her room. With more than a dozen items to hang, Sarah got overwhelmed easily. But Chris led her through the process gracefully, and she was grateful for the help.

Chris guides painting-hanging process

Sarah and Chris

Bob hangs Peterson still life

Zack in a box

I’m not ready for Sarah to forget our shared loved ones, but it’s already happening. The longer she stayed with Sharon and Sean, the less clear she was who they are. I was baffled one night at dinner when she referred to “the owner and her son,” and then horrified when she explained that she meant “the nice woman who has taken me in,” apparently no longer aware of the familial relationship. From that point, Sharon and Sean made a point to address her as “Aunt Sarah” but it hasn’t seemed to stick.

To be fair, Sarah interacted only infrequently with Sharon or Sean until this year, and newer experiences seem to be slipping away more readily than older ones. So while I am disappointed that she cannot remember who they are (How unfair when they’ve been so generous to her!), I probably shouldn’t be surprised. She may forget all of us eventually. But I fervently hope that my mom and brother can be present enough to stave off that fate as long as possible.

Seriously… snow?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

I spent the afternoon at a (cool) conference in the Uptown Galleria area, and came outside this evening to find it snowing. It’s not cold enough to stick or snarl traffic, but it is pretty coming down:

snow over Uptown

snow over Uptown

snow on my car


Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

wintry weatherI knew I was cold but I was startled when I saw the thermometer. This is weather we don’t see very often in urban Houston. It’s COLD! Thank heavens for my orange, stripey, self-heating, fur blanket!