Friday, August 29, 2008

Texas Summer Sky

Looking up at a beautiful Central Texas summer sky, from our family vacation to San Antonio back in May.

Have a great weekend!

SkyWatch Friday

Plans for the Long Weekend

Actually, we don't have any really big plans this weekend, other than to enjoy the extra day and to prepare for Hurricane Gustav ... just in case!

Cat is spending the night with a friend from school tonight, so Cowboy will probably get to pick something special for dinner. And we'll probably end up playing "Goldfish" (Go Fish) until an hour or so past normal bedtime.

Cowboy's asthma started up again on Wednesday, so he and I haven't had nearly enough sleep the past couple of nights. I'm hoping we'll get to sleep in a little in the morning before we get up and start into Saturday cartoons and chores. No big plans for after church on Sunday, although we may try to find a park or someplace to do some walking and burn off a little energy if the weather holds (and everyone is feeling up to it).

Labor Day we'll either head over to spend some time with Mom, or go pick her up and bring her to our house if Gustav decides to come a'visiting. We saved Mom some homemade ice cream from last weekend. If we have to pack her up for a few days due to an approaching storm, I'm planning on using that as bait!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Willie's Back!

After dropping the kids off for school this morning, I was surprised to see Willie perched up on his fence rail, watching the traffic go by. We hadn't seen Willie in well over a month, and I figured he had moved on to a better, buggier locale.

Willie the Woodpecker
You see, Willie is a red-headed woodpecker that we started watching early this summer. I hadn't seen one up close in years, so when I first saw him perched on a white fence rail across the street from the kids' summer camp, I was ecstatic. The next time I spotted him, I was quick to show off my discovery to the kids. "Oh, that's just Willie," was the lackadaisical reply I got.

Willie the Woodpecker
Apparently, Willie had been showing up around the place for a couple of weeks, and all the camp kids had seen him so regularly that the excitement had long since worn off.

Willie the Woodpecker
Apparently, the same could not be said for Willie, who this morning seemed to inspect me rather curiously before he left the fence and headed back to the trees in search of breakfast.

Willie the Woodpecker
I remember that, upon learning the redhead's name, I asked the seemingly logical question, "Why didn't y'all name him 'Woody'?" Cat's immediate response was one of those dumbfounded, "Are you an idiot?" looks that only daughters can properly pull off, followed by a multi-syllabic, "Daa-a-a-aaad! Woody is a silly old cartoon. Willie is real!"

Willie the Woodpecker
I'm not sure where Willie spent the second half of his summer, but it's good to see that he's still alive and well. And real.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cat 'n Cowboy Go Texan

While reorganizing some older photos on the PC at home, I ran across this one from earlier in the year, and I just had to share it. Every year in February (usually corresponding with the kick-off of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo), we celebrate a thing known locally as "Go Texas Day." The schools encourage the kids to dress "western," the lunchrooms all serve barbecue, and even city slickers pretend for a day that we're all just a bunch of cowboys down here in Texas.

Go Texas Day, 2008
The fun part is that the kids always try to get me to "go cowboy" with them. And since I can get away with it (I wear jeans to work every day already, and during the winter often wear my boots at least half the time), I'm happy to oblige. WW snapped this quick before-school shot of us in our "Go Texas" garb this year... right before Cat and Cowboy convinced me to change into my Texas flag shirt (to match them).

Cowboy's exultant response after I changed: "Look, we're all three twins now!" Heh.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Homemade Heavenly Goodness

Well, as too often happens, we spent the majority of the weekend running errands and doing chores: searching for the right size of locker organizer, picking up extra uniform shorts for school, a stop at Academy for bench cushions (Baylor homecoming is only a couple of months away — gotta be ready!). And then there's the never-ending pile of laundry to tackle.

We did manage to squeeze in a little fun, though. A Scrabble game, bits and pieces of a Sunday afternoon Scooby-Doo marathon... and making a bucket of homemade ice cream!

It was our very first time to make it ourselves, and I'll admit that our recipe turned out to be just a tad sweeter than my tastes would prefer. But boy, was it good! Cat and Cowboy felt obliged to ruin theirs with all sorts of "taste enhancers": M&M's, chocolate syrup, crumbled up Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, etc. Kids today just don't know a good thing when it lands on the tips of their noses. Or all over their cheeks and chins, either!

I had forgotten how wonderful homemade ice cream was. It immediately brought up memories of summer weekends in East Texas at my grandparents' house. We would sit outside on the back patio with infinite patience (yeah, right) while Pappaw busted up the milk cartons of ice with his ball peen hammer, then poured the creamy goodness into the bucket and started up the magic that would turn it into ice cream.

I barely remember the hand-crank ice cream maker that Pappaw used to have. He would often encourage us to help crank it, but I don't think I ever lasted more than three or four turns. But what I really remember is that old motor-driven bucket he had. I remember when we were still small, he would have us come and help hold the top down with a couple of short planks of wood while the thick ice cream inside would gradually slow the churning motor to a standstill. I remember the smell of the rock salt he would pour over the layers of splintered ice in the bucket. And I remember constantly making checks by the back door to see we could still hear the motor running, 'cause once it went quiet it was almost time for heaven.

I hate to admit it, but I think I was almost as excited as my own kids were this past weekend when I heard the sound of that ice cream motor turning. Is it ice cream yet?!?

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Midsummer's Afternoon

A quick post before heading out early for Parent Orientation at the kids' school. Here are a few more pictures from last weekend's coyote hunt.

This ruddy fellow looks so much like a dried chili pepper that it makes my lips burn to look at him. I don't know if he's some sort of Amberwing or something else entirely.

This little butterfly was much more shy than the fritillary I posted before. He only sat still long enough for me to get off the one shot before taking wing again and fluttering out of range.

I loved the little green nose and big green lips on this one. Looks almost like something straight out of a Pixar animation.

Unfortunately, I don't know enough about dragonflies or butterflies to even venture a guess as to what kind any of these are. They shore were purty, tho!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Post-It Notes == Torture Devices

Notes written on little scraps of paper are the bane of my existence.

I just fielded the fifth call of the day from Mom (and probably around the twentieth since I was there on Saturday) about "Jim the carpet guy." And for the fifth time today, I've gently reminded Mom to throw that note away.

Back when I first began helping take care of Mom, I started trying to get her to write down any questions or subjects that she wanted to talk to me about, so that she wouldn't lose track of them between the time they first came to mind and whenever we next talked or saw each other. She started using a pad of baby blue Post-It Notes that she found somewhere around the house.

A couple of months later, I begain to realize what a mistake that was. Notes that had been dealt with or answered would be set aside, to be buried under the shifting dunes of paper that had accumulated around the house. Post-Its would appear seemingly out of the blue about something we hadn't talked about in weeks, but to Mom they were often brand new issues. So I quickly went on an expedition to hunt down and destroy all Post-It notes around her house.

Next we tried a new approach. We got her a legal pad to keep all her notes and questions in one place, and I would mark off topics and questions that were no longer relevant each time I visited. That worked fairly well for a while, until she found a couple of other notepads or spiral notebooks lying around the house, and the collection began to spread again.

A few months ago, Mom suddenly started using little scraps of paper again for notes. I'm still not sure what event or memory restarted this trend. But with the absence of pre-cut Post-It Notes, she just made her own scraps by cutting up old papers and using the blank backsides.

Which brings us back to the present, and the current "carpet guy" issue. A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Mom saying that she had finally talked to "Jim the carpet guy" and he would be over "this Wednesday." This was a complete surprise to me, in that we had never talked about a carpet guy coming for anything, so I asked what he was coming to do. That stumped her for a moment, until she found her note and replied he was coming to clean the upstairs carpet.

Okay. At least she hadn't inadvertently ordered new carpet or anything, right? This we could deal with. The problem: she had written down neither an estimate for the service nor a phone number for the man, only his first name and a company name — which I wasn't able to locate in any online directories. Red flag!

The man did show up on Wednesday as the note promised, but I had Mom feign illness and ask him (through a closed door) to leave his business card so that we could reschedule at a later date. Everything worked out, I retrieved the business card for my records, and she decided she didn't really want to spend the money on carpet cleaning at this time anyway. Problem solved.

Until last weekend, when that first scrap of paper reappeared with the ominous foretelling that "Jim the carpet guy" would be coming "this Wednesday." And for some reason, that one scrap of paper just can't seem to find its way into the waste basket. Instead, it keeps popping up unexpectedly all over the house, urging Mom to call and ask once again what she needs to do to get ready for the carpet guy.

I'm convinced that little scraps of paper were originally invented as evil, sadistic torture devices.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wile E. Coyote

(With apologies to ol' Carnivorous vulgaris of Loony Tunes fame.)

We were driving back home from lunch last Sunday when we spotted what we first thought to be a stray dog running along beside the road up ahead. As we got closer I slowed, half expecting it to dart across the road in front of us.

When it did turn, though, we got a big surprise. This was not just a stray dog, but a coyote. It took one look at our car and then dashed across the road and into the field beyond. He quickly hid in the knee high grass, with only his head visible as he cautiously watched us slowly pass by.

As soon as we were past, I sped back up and hurried the half mile or so back to the house. While WW and the kids headed inside to clean up and start the afternoon activities, I grabbed my camera and rushed back to the edge of the brush where we last saw him. Unfortunately, other than a few tracks in the mud alongside the bayou, I was unable to find any sign of that wily coyote. He was long gone, likely headed "upstream" in search of better hunting grounds.

Of course, I already had my camera out and had put on a pair of old tennis shoes, so I didn't let the chance go to waste. I got a few decent shots of the only wildlife available: the birds and the bees (plus a butterfly or two).

This Northern Mockingbird was quite interested in my search, but stayed just out of sight of my lens for most of the excursion. We tend to see mockingbirds pretty much year round here along the gulf coast (they are our state bird, you know). But I have yet to get a decent picture of one in flight, showing off that distinctive white wing stripe.

I was surprised at how many pollinators were out and about in the heat of a midsummer Texas afternoon. I found quite a few carpenter bees, among other insects, hovering happily around the flowers that were soaking up the results of our recent rainfalls.

Carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica, I believe):

I also got close enough to get a few decent shots of this handsome fellow, a Gulf Fritillary.

Although the residential areas around our neighborhood are growing like weeds, there are still quite a few sections of natural growth nearby where we can occasionally spot deer, raccoons, skunks and armadillos — or more often just the tracks and traces (or scents) of them. And we've had a late night visiting possum or two in the back yard. But that coyote was a first for us, and it was an even bigger surprise seeing him on the prowl in broad daylight. I hadn't seen a wild coyote since I was working summers and weekends on the farm back in high school and college. It was exciting to see, and to point it out to the kids, even if I didn't get to capture it on "film."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

As the Mind Wanders...

I was born and raised in Texas, lived here all my life, and I'm awfully proud to be from what we lovingly call "God's country." Not that there haven't been times in my life when I've wanted to escape to somewhere — anywhere — else. But fate and numerous life choices have conspired to keep me here in the Houston area, and I know this is where I'm intended to be at this point in my life.

Over sixteen years ago, and after years of pleading, the beautiful and eternally patient love of my life finally relented and became my Wonderful Wife. From the outset, Tiffany and I told all our friends and family that we didn't plan to have kids, and we meant it. So imagine everyone's surprise seven years later when we announced the impending birth of our firstborn. Little Cat came into the world squalling and demanding our utmost attention, and she's had it since day one. Two years later, little brother Cowboy galloped in to claim his stake in our hearts, and our lives seemed complete. We had our clan, our house was full; we were happy right where we were.

So imagine our surprise when, a couple of years ago, we found ourselves becoming new parents again, of a sort.

For a number of years, my mother had been driving from Houston to East Texas every other weekend to care for her own aging mother. Mammaw was widowed, was almost blind, and had been gradually declining in health for some time. However, she was able to stay in her small town home with the help of a small team of local ladies (what we now call "care providers") who took turns staying with her, cooking, administering medicines, and basically becoming her round-the-clock companions.

A year or so before Mammaw's death, we began to notice gradually increasing bouts of depression, confusion and forgetfulness in Mom. At first we attributed it mostly to stress and depression, and since she lived alone and was out of town every other weekend, my sisters and I largely had to depend on Mom's own reports to keep us up to date on how she was doing. Unfortunately, it took us quite a while to realize something was really wrong, or just how wrong it was.

About two and a half years ago, we found out that Mom had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. Things had gotten to a point that — being the only family member still in the vicinity — I had to step in and start taking over at least partial care of her. The title of Jim Comer's excellent reference and support book, When Roles Reverse: A Guide to Parenting Your Parents, is so very descriptive of the changes our lives have taken the last few years.

Mom is stilling living on her own in the townhouse that has been her home since we moved to Houston in 1981. However, we have regular care providers who come over twice a week to visit, help her with little things around the house, check on her medicines, take her to the grocery store and any other errands that are needed, and generally provide a non-family link to the outside world. I am less than an hour's drive away, and I go over every other weekend to visit, to help with things around the house and to manage the finances. And we normally talk on the phone at least once a day. We continue to watch the gradual deterioration, and we all know it will be a long and painful ride. But we are managing and even slowing the symptoms with prescription medicines, and are working together to try to manage the constant confusion and loss of memory caused by the disease.

In the meantime, my own kids are growing up faster than I can believe. Life is certainly never dull here in our little corner of the world!

A New Start

How to begin a new blog? I suppose the best way is to figure out for myself why I'm writing it, then just dig in and get started.

After three years (give or take a bit) of regional and political blogging, I think I've finally figured out why I kept starting and stopping, taking off for weeks or even months at a time. While I really enjoy the challenge of trying to write on a regular, if not daily, basis, I often found myself dreading the task of rifling through dozens of news articles each day to find something interesting and/or important enough to blog about, then discovering that (1) everyone else in the blogosphere is posting on the same subject, (2) I haven't done my homework or bothered to think the topic through sufficiently, or (3) only a handful of people are going to read what I spent so much time researching and writing — except for the rare occasions that someone from the other side of the red-blue divide takes notice and begins a campaign of harassing comments, hate mail and attempts to get the blog banned or shut down for one reason or another.

Instead, I want to write about what I know best: life. My life, in particular. And my family, and our interests and foibles and fun. Basically, about what goes on in our seemingly insignificant little corner of this world. And the goal isn't to rank high on Technorati or the TTLB Ecosystem with high-profile, controversial posts. Or even to gain record numbers of daily readers.

My main goal here is simply to take a few minutes to write and to share. And if I get a few hits each week just from family members or friends who are wondering what we're up to these days, I'll be happy and count myself blessed.

I can't promise that politics and current events won't ever enter into discussions here, but I expect those posts to be few and far between. Mostly I'll be writing about family, food, photography, and whatever else I may stumble upon as the mind wanders.