Friday, June 21, 2013

Too Darn Hot

Today (June 21st) is the solstice, the first official day of summer. Time to go indoors.

Houston (love it though I do) is not the place to be in summer. It's hot. It's humid. On really bad days, the air is such a warm wet presence you feel as if you need gills.

If I had the means, I would move somewhere cooler in summer. Somewhere like England, where the average high temperature in June is 65.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  65! we won't see 65 until December. Our average is 91, and today it's 93!

And all that warmth brings with it bugs. Lots of bugs. Great big bugs with scary red eyes.

Cicada - harmless, but really, really ugly
But at least cicadas don't bite. That makes them better than the mosquitoes. And boy do we have mosquitoes. Tip: Citronella candles are useless. Stay inside and wait for fall.

So sun, surf and sand? No, I will be spending the summer in the shade, drinking gallons of iced tea, reading mystery novels and waiting for the temperature to drop back into the upper 80's.

Friday Fun Video
Sums up my feelings about summer in Texas.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Art of Gift Giving

This past weekend was my birthday. It was a very low key celebration with my family. My present was a bag of cherries. I know people who might find this disappointing, but cherries are my favorite fruit. And a bag of cherries that I don't have to share, sheer bliss.
Mine. All mine.
This got me thinking about gift giving. There are those who think gift giving has to be a big production (fancy paper, sparklers, etc).

I once dated a man who was of the opinion that you showed people how much you cared by the amount of money you spent. He gave me a pair of earrings with the receipt, so I would know exactly how much he had spent on me. And also, how much I should spend on him. (Just one of many reasons he's an ex.)
And then there are the spoilsports who think it's all a massive waste of time and we would all be better off if we just exchanged gift cards.

But shopping for other people is one of my favorite activities. It's much more fun than shopping for myself. And I prefer having a price limit, because it means you have to be creative.

Rules for Gift Giving

Toys are not limited to adults. I have had amazingly positive results giving toys to adults (particularly men). Why should kids have all the fun? One of the best presents I ever received was a Lego pirate ship.
Corollary rule, when giving toy guns, you must give two. There's no point in a gun fight where there is no opponent. One of my best Christmas presents ever, I gave my father and brother (combined age well over 70) marshmallow guns. This was a total hit, and the dog was thrilled too, because he ate all the marshmallows that hit the floor.
Cost is not important, thoughtfulness is. I gave a friend herb plants from the nursery (Total cost $6.00) because I knew she was starting an herb garden.  Not an expensive gift, but I showed that I was paying attention to her life. Later that year, she made me pesto.
Don't give people what you want. Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer gave Marge a bowling ball,inscribed with his name, for her birthday? She started going bowling and leaving the kids with him, (and nearly starting an affair with her bowling instructor). Serve him right. 

Try to get people something nicer than they would normally buy for themselves. That beautiful scarf, that they would never buy because it's too expensive. The large bottle of their favorite fragrance. Or in my case, a whole bag of cherries.

Give things they can use. My mother will probably disinherit me if I give her another tchoke she has to dust. So I give her wine, her favorite almond-scented body lotion, and flowers (Technically, not a a useful item, but they don't have to be dusted.)
Sometimes inspiration strikes. Two years ago, my father gave me a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish paperweight. It turned out to be the gift I never knew I wanted.  Things like this can be amazing, but they can also backfire. Be careful.
If someone has a cat (or dog) do not give them cat/dog themed stuff. I admit, this is a personal pet peeve of mine. I have the living, breathing, shedding animal in my house. I don't need statuettes, cookie cutters, tea cozies, calenders, sweaters or other cute animal-themed stuff. Thank you.
And lastly, everyone flubs it now and again, so get gift receipts, and don't take it personally. You tried, and it is the thought that counts.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Stepping out of routine

On my little jaunt to the hill country last week, I was playing with the radio stations and stumbled on a county station playing The Derailers, who have made my shortlist of favorite country bands. A band I would never have discovered, had I done what my brother keeps telling me to do and put all my music on an i-pod. "Then you can take you music with you wherever you go." In other words, I could stay in my cocoon of "things I know I like".

But I don't want to stay wrapped up in my own little world. It's why I travel, for the thrill of breaking routines and discovering new things; things I would never have discovered otherwise, like The Derailers.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

― Terry Pratchett

This is why I have a love/hate relationship with the Amazon. As you know, if you buy something on Amazon, the next time you log on, Amazon will recommend things based on what you purchased. So if you buy a murder mystery, your recommendations will be flooded with murder mysteries. In a way, this is good, it helps you find more things in a category. But it doesn't compare with going to a library or bookstore and roaming the stacks, where you just might find ANYTHING.

Maybe Amazon could have a "surprise me" button in the recommendations section. Push it and you would get completely random recommendations. It would be like playing roulette. They might even turn over more stock.

I appreciate routines. Routines are important. They center and ground people. They help us maintain the illusion of stability in a chaotic universe. But too much routine becomes a rut, and ruts close you off from new experiences. Which is a long winded way of saying that I'd rather deal with 5 stations full of static, that hold the possibility of something new, than an i-pod filled with music I've heard 30 times already, even if I love it.

Friday fun video

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Recovering Grammar Nazi

Language is a marvellous thing. It's not just a useful way to let other people know that there is a bus heading their way, or bargain for a cabbage at the market. It is flexible. It can be incredibly exact and clinical,  dreamy and poetic, or just the basic prose of everyday life. In what other format can you express so much, with only 26 letters and a few punctuation marks?

Language matters to me, a lot. And because language matters to me, I'm sensitive to misuse. In a way this is ideal, because I'm an editor. When I read things aloud, the errors practically jump at me from the page. Don't misunderstand, I'm not claiming perfection: into every editor's life, some typos must fall. I'm just trying to convey how attuned to language I am.

And sometimes I wish I wasn't, because listening to the news, or reading the newspaper can be painful.
My current pet peeve is the now common usage of the word "troop" as a synonym for "soldier".  A "troop" is a group of soldiers. It's like saying six pack is another word for beer. Think about it. Having 2-3 beers is a fun night out, having 2-3 six packs is a drinking problem.

So when I hear reporters (who should know better) say we're sending 50,000 troops to Afghanistan, I want to throw things at the television. This is counterproductive and just raises the blood pressure. I'm going to try and be more like Stephen Fry, who I think has the right idea.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hill Country Lavender

If you remember, the very first item on my list of Goals for 2013 was:

The festival was last weekend and I made the trip to Blanco to see all the purple flowers.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot in the way of flowers to see, actually. There is drought in the Hill Country, and the growers are trying very hard to just keep the plants alive. Still, there was lavender soap, essential oil, cookies, jams, lavendar spice rubs, sachets, and honey. I bought some soap and honey to support the growers and went exploring. After all, there is more to the Hill Country than lavender.

There's cattle

He let me take this picture, then sat down with his back facing the fence - he'd been photographed enough for one day
 And wildflowers

I don't know what it is, but the ants love it.
Blanco Courthouse - doesn't it look like the Munsters should live here?
Clay flowers
Cowhides, for that genuine Western look

Octopus suncatcher - isn't he cute?
Horses grazing, Johnson City
 And don't forget this is the home of Presidents

The LBJ state park is right around the corner
I stopped in Brenham along the way and had an ice cream cone. Actually, if you stop in Brenham, you must purchase ice cream, it's the law.

Black cherry, if you're interested. It was VERY good.
And what could be better than spending an afternoon with a book and a large iced tea, under the live oak?

I need this tree in my backyard. I would need to demolish the neighbor's house, but it would be worth it.

And now I'm back and rested and ready to start the week. Happy Monday y'all!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Tonys

I'm a Broadway baby, raised on musicals. I could sing the entire score of Sweeny Todd when I was 10. I know all the crowd pleasers, and few flops (Two by Two anybody?) but there is nothing quite like a good Broadway show.

Smash, a television show about a Broadway musical, was cancelled this year. It was a lot of fun. It was a musical in and of itself, and I enjoyed every last moment. But I am not among those who mourn its passing. I think it ended appropriately. The story was about bringing a show to Broadway, which they did, and the last episode was at the Tony Awards, an ideal ending point and culmination of the series.

But the reason I'm bringing all this up, is that this weekend is the Tony Awards! They are so much better than the Oscars, because the nominees actually do parts of the show, showing you why they were nominated at all. The music is great, and they are mercifully brief. (3 hours, including commercials). There is no red carpet, no after party nonsense, The Tonys move. Compare that with the insane, (and often inane) daylong coverage of the Oscars and you understand what I mean.

And as an added bonus, Neil Patrick Harris is hosting this year. He's done it before, beautifully, so I anticipate a great show.

Have a great weekend, and I'll meet you in front of the telly on Sunday!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Been to the movies lately?

I love going to the movies. I can immerse myself in the story and forget about the world for 90 minutes. Therapy for 8 bucks (20 if you include popcorn), not a bad deal.
I most recently say Now You See Me, which is about a group of magicians pulling off a bank heist (among other things).  All I can say is I was confused the whole time and I definitly did not see the end coming.  Great turns by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Woody Harrelson. David Copperfield was a consultant on the film, so the illusions are top notch. It was fun, but after you leave the theater, you realize the story doesn't make much sense, but that didn't stop The Matrix did it?
The latest Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a lot of fun. All the Trekkie geeks can talk about how it compares to a previous movie (I won't say which one, because I don't want to spoil it for anybody) and Benedict Cumberbatch (the villain) gets to chew the scenery and have a grand old time.
However, if you are the type who will get all upset about the physics not being correct, then don't go. It will only infuriate you, because the physics is completely improbable. But if you can let that go, it's one heck of a ride.
As much as I love a good space opera, I'm also a fan of French film, and I recently stumbled on My Afternoons with Margueritte. It's available on Amazon Prime, and YouTube (And probably Netflix, but I was having trouble logging on so I couldn't check.)  And it's too good not to share.
It's not dubbed, so you will have to read subtitles (désolé), but the characters will warm your heart. It's about kindnes and the transformative power of literature. If this sounds stuffy, I promise you it's not. It's actually a good film if you want to learn how to swear in French, because there is a whole lot of it.
But this is all just killing time until the movie I'm waiting for comes out:
Despicable Me 2!

Monday, June 3, 2013

New eyes

I can't see. Really, without corrective lenses I am pretty hopeless; I have to pick the alarm clock up from the bedside table in order to read it.  So I am dependent on my lenses.
Twice a month, on the first and the 15th I get a new pair, which I think of as "getting new eyes." For me it's a reminder to pay attention, to the world around me, to look for and notice details. And those details often make my day. Once, sitting in traffic, I saw that someone had drawn a smiley face on the underside of the bridge, that hidden smile made sitting at the light more bearable.
I love the way the backyard fence is turning the soft silver grey of weathered wood; how the my cat flirts with me when she wants something, trying to speak to me with her eyes and the set of her whiskers. And yesterday, the way the purple flowers just cried out for the purple glass vase.

There's such a lot to see, we just have to remember to pay attention.