Monday, March 31, 2008

I love our neighborhood

I really do. We've lived in this particular neighborhood for almost 11 years. We bought our first house, all 800 square feet of it, a month after we got married. When it was time for a larger house, we waited until we found one in the 'hood that we liked, which meant that we moved about half a mile south of our old house. At the time of the move, our current house, at 1550 square feet, seemed like a mansion. Of course, back then we only had one kid, not three, so there was plenty of room to spare.

But I digress.

Our neighborhood isn't one of the "glamorous" ones, and we don't have the most desirable zip code in town - that would be 78704, at least according to those who live in it - but it's got its own character and feel to it. Most of the houses were built in the late '40s and early '50s and most started life as 2 bedroom, 1 bath cottages. There are still some original residents, and it's interesting to hear about their experiences raising families in the little tiny houses. I think most parents today shudder at the thought of sharing a bathroom with their children, I know I do, but that's exactly what those families did. And they all lived to tell the tales.

Our house started as one of the two bedroom cottages, but someone who owned it previous to us added on a master bedroom and bathroom and ginormous closet, for which I am eminently grateful.

But all this isn't why I love our neighborhood.

I love it because of the people who live here. Everyone I meet and talk to loves living in this little section of Austin. They take pride in our area. We have two very committed neighborhood organizations that sponsor things like lighting luminarias along the main street through the 'hood at Christmas. If you've never seen a mile-long line of candles at night, I highly recommend it.

For the past five springs, the neighborhood associations for our area have sponsored a big day at the park called the Violet Crown Festival. There were bands and artisans and lots of food and kids' activities and a dunking booth and a silent auction. The proceeds all went to pay for what is called the Wall of Welcome.

I should add here that one of the cool things about our area is our neighborhood shopping center. It's got a little grocery store that's been owned by the same family since it opened, more than 50 years ago. It's got a family owned pharmacy run by a dad and his two sons. The dad has owned the store since it opened. It's also got a dry cleaner, barber shop and deli (which wins food awards). The shopping center really is the heart of our area - you can't go there and not run into someone you know. It's a real throwback to what Austin used to be like.

Back to the Wall of Welcome, which is really what this whole post is about.

For five years, an artist named Jean Graham has worked on this huge mosaic that covers the wall behind the shopping center. Neighborhood residents contributed tiles and turned out to help her put everything in place. It's a source of real pride for everyone here.

This Saturday was the official unveiling of the wall, and the neighborhood turned out in force to celebrate. I was amazed at how many people were there - several hundred, at least. And they all came out just to visit and enjoy the event. The kids had a grand time running around with friends from school and making violet crowns in the art tent. There was food and music and jugglers. I got all teary eyed at the sight of everyone there.

The event made me realized, again, that we have picked the right place to live and raise our family, even if we are outgrowing our house. I can't imagine living anywhere else in Austin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I have lots of ideas for posts floating around, but some of them require downloading pictures from my camera, which seems exhausting. Others are about things I'm not quite ready to share with the world. So instead, I offer some little stories about Campbell, who is quite the ham these days.

Someone, probably one or both of the girls, has taught him to pretend to snore. Yesterday he was sitting on the sofa next to me and he suddenly flopped over so he was lying on his belly. I patted his back and asked him if he was tired. His response was to pretend to snore. I cracked up, which meant he did it over and over again. Campbell did it again when I tucked him into his crib last night. I thought maybe his pretending to snore meant he would go right to sleep. But instead he spent 30 minutes bouncing around and singing.

During the news last night, I sat down on the coffee table to watch a piece that interested me. Campbell toddled through and climbed up next to me. He scootched over so that he was right next to me, crossed his legs at the ankles, and slid his arm through mine. He sat like that next to me for a good two minutes, which is a record for sitting still. It was so cute that I wanted to eat him up.

For Easter, the kids' aunt and uncle gave them glider planes that you shoot across the room with a rubber band contraption. I've kept Campbell entertained today by flying a plane across the room and sending him off to fetch it. Campbell thinks it's the best game ever.

I had a doctor's appointment this morning, so Campbell stayed with my friend H and her little girl L, who is 10 weeks younger than Campbell. It may be the last time H ever offers to let him stay there - I think he taught L some bad tricks. First, working together, they managed to get the front door open. H's son W told her that the babies were loose, and she found them on the front porch, making a break for it. Later, she caught them with markers, which Campbell was teaching L how to get open.

Little trouble-maker.

I just looked up to see that Campbell has managed to knock the screen out of the front window and he's busily pushing things out the open window onto the front porch.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Scenes from Albany

Even though I haven't lived in Albany since I was in first grade, I still consider it my hometown. I've spent enough time there through the years, including one summer while I was in college, that I can get around pretty easily. I took these pictures on my trip up for my grandmother's memorial service.

This is the pond in front of my grandparent's house. Actually, there are two ponds, divided by a small bridge of land. The second pond belonged to my grandfather's brother's property. I spent countless hours floating around on the first pond in the old rowboat, whacking carp on the head. I guess my parents didn't worry too much about my drowning, considering that the pond is probably four feet deep, max. After my grandmother's memorial service, my grandparents' ashes were scattered in and next to the pond. Given that the pond is still half frozen, we were a bit worried we'd be scattering ashes on the pond, not in it.

This is my grandparents' house. They built it almost 30 years ago, after selling the Big House. It very much has the feel of a cabin in the woods. During the summer, the deck would have furniture on it that we'd spend pretty much all day hanging out on. We ate countless meals out here in the evenings, with hamburgers cooked over my grandfather's gasoline-fueled fires.

This is the back of the "Big House," which was my grandfather's family's home. The current owners were home, so I didn't feel I could walk around the front of the house to get a picture. My grandparents built their little house behind the Big House. I loved staying here when I was little; the house was magical. I'd wander off into the ballroom, which was shut up most of the year, and bang away on the grand piano. I'd explore all the closed-off bedrooms and storage rooms in the basement, which were filled with treasures like comic books and table hockey games. Or I'd spend hours on my perch in the window seat of the library reading.

This is the pool where I learned to swim. It's part of the Big House's property and is between that house and my grandparents'. The pool seemed so big when I was little, especially when dad was trying to get me to jump off the diving board, but really, it's postage-stamp sized. The rock walls around it were part of the old stone barn. The whole property - the Big House, the pastures, the polo field, the ponds, the back fields - was once a working dairy farm called Wyebrook Farms. My dad and his brothers and step-brothers grew up working on the farm.
And finally, the New York State Capitol. It's a pretty cool building, but I've never seen it without scaffolding or cranes around it. You can't see it in the picture, but the south wing of the building is covered in scaffolding due to roof repairs. The building has 76 steps up the front and 17 steps up the back. When Teddy Roosevelt was governor, he used to walk over from the governor's mansion and run up the front steps. He'd grant an interview to any reporter who could keep up with him. The grounds were pretty quiet the day I was there, save a few vendor selling St. Patrick's day gear in advance for that afternoon's parade.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It was 11 years ago today,

at almost exactly this time that the Reverend Doctor Claddis pronounced me and B husband and wife. How fast time has flown. It feels like I've been with B forever, instead of 13 years total, but the years also seem to have gone by in a flash.

Unlike last year, we're not doing anything fancy. Nor am I putting on my wedding dress. I know it still fits - I don't need to prove it.

The girls heard us wishing each other happy anniversary this morning and asked what we were going to do to celebrate. I told Ella we were going to say "Happy Anniversary" and "I love you," and then I was going to take a nap. She giggled.

B was going to send the kids away for the night, but I vetoed that. Just because it's our anniversary, the kids shouldn't be away on Easter morning. They're supposed to wake up and run outside in their jammies to look for their eggs. Plus, my m-i-l wanted to take them to her church's Easter service, and there was NO WAY I was letting that happen. They'd come born again or something.

So we'll pack the kids off to bed tonight and watch a movie or something. Big times at our house!

Monday, March 17, 2008

14 hours later

. . . or why I hate to travel.

After missing my flight on Saturday, I made absolutely sure to be at the airport nice and early on Sunday. I arrived at 12:30 for my 2:00 flight. The trip down to JFK was short and painless, but that's when the fun stopped for the day.

I had a four-hour layover at JFK, which was awful. JFK has got to be the nastiest, dirtiest, most crowded airport I've ever been to, ever. I waited 30 minutes in line to get a sandwich, which I then took to an out-of-the-way corner to eat while I read. I had been in my quiet little spot, lying on the floor on my coat, for about 30 minutes when I noticed the dead rat on the floor about 6 feet from me. I quickly found a different and not-quite-so-secluded spot.

While I was standing at the gate to board the plane, after four hours of waiting, the gate attendant announced that passengers could purchase an upgrade to First Class for a mere $150. I briefly considered the option but then decided not to.

What a mistake that turned out to be.

We all got herded onto the plane, ready to get going. Then we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes before the pilot announced the good news that we were 20th in line for takeoff. It was another 45 minutes before we finally left - a total of an hour and half of waiting. Once we were in the air, the pilot made another fun announcement - due to the strong headwinds, we wouldn't have enough fuel to make it all the way to Austin, so we'd be making a pit stop in Knoxville to get gas. I wanted to cry at that point.

Fourteen hours after getting to the airport in Albany, I walked through the door at home - at 1:30 in the morning. I was so tired that I didn't even check my e-mail when I got home, and as B can attest, that's saying something.

It occurred to me at some point during the interminable trip that in the amount of time it took me to get home, I could have flown someplace exotic and fun, like Australia.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Still in Albany

I arrived in Albany, NY on Thursday, and I'm still here. I was supposed to fly home yesterday and be at the house in time for bedtime stories, but there was a hitch in the proceedings. The hitch was my writing my flight time down wrong and showing up at the aiport 15 minutes too late to catch my flight. Unfortunately, it was the last flight for the day that could get me to Austin. So now I have a 1:00 flight today, with a FOUR-HOUR layover at JFK. I figure it's the price I have to pay for rampant stupidity on my part. The guy at the Delta counter gave me a number I can call later today to see if any other flights are available - ones that don't involve four hours at JFK. I either need a very short layover at JFK or one that's long enough to give me time to get into the city for a few hours.

When I called B to tell him what had happened, he laughed and called me a dumbass. There was nothing I could say in defense. I had been a dumbass.

This trip has been a difficult one, in a lot of ways, and I don't think I'm ready to write about that part of yet.

However, being here has cured me of my desire to live in the north, at least in the winter. I forgot about the ugly part of winter - the slush on the ground, the mountains of black snow piled in corners of parking lots, the drizzly days where it's not cold enough to snow and make everything pretty and white. In Austin, we rarely have days where the weather sticks in the 30s, but here, I don't think it's gotten out of the 30s the whole time. Brr.

I rarely wear socks, usually only when I run. I didn't pack any socks for the trip, and my feet have been frozen the whole time I've been here. At my grandparents' house I sat with my feet on the hearth letting the fire warm them up.

I look forward to getting home. I miss my husband and my kids and my own bed. I'm also out of clean clothes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wednesday morning miracle

The planets must have aligned, or the fates decided to smile, or all my good parenting karma built up this morning. I don't know how it happened or why, I'm just thrilled it did.

I dragged myself out of bed to run at 5:30. It was so dark out, thanks to the time change, but we all survived without incident. The weather was perfect for running - crisp, cool, and calm. We all knocked out five miles without a problem, and without getting a ticket for running through barriers in a road construction area.

On the way home from running, I stopped at the grocery store to stock up supplies for while I'm gone - frozen lasagna, taco-night fixings, sliced turkey, hot dogs - and went home to put it all away. Amazingly, despite its being almost 7:00, the house was silent. I put up the refrigerated foods, and headed off to a long, hot shower.

When I got out of the shower, everyone was still asleep, so I crawled back into bed. I managed to doze for about 40 minutes before I heard Campbell shouting in his room.

Honestly, it was such a good morning. I got to run, go to the store, take a shower, and take a nap all before everyone woke up for the day.

It almost makes up for the mornings when the kids wake me up at the crack of dawn and scream all the way through the grocery store. Almost.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Bella-est of Ellas

It's been a rough week for me, and it's only Tuesday. Sunday was especially hard. I spent the morning booking my plane tickets and my sister's tickets, and as I was picking out flights to Albany, it suddenly occurred to me that this may be my last trip to Albany for years and years. Now that Nona is gone, I really have no reason to visit there. I do have an aunt and uncle and some cousins living in Albany, but we're not all that close, unfortunately. It also really hit while I was making reservations that Nona is gone. We had to go to a house-warming party on Sunday afternoon, and I teared up in the car on the way to the party just thinking about it all.

Yesterday wasn't much better. It was the first day of spring break, and it was pouring. Plus Lily woke up with a runny nose, sore throat and fever. Sigh. Late in the day, when I had run out of ideas to keep the girls busy, I let them pick out a movie, provided they could agree on one. They selected Ella Enchanted, which is a cute little movie with Anne Hathaway.

The girls loved the movie, singing and dancing along with the musical numbers. I sat and knit and kept an eye on Destructo-Campbell. As an extra treat I also made popcorn, which was a big hit. The day ended well, with happy kids, but I was still blue.

When I climbed into bed, I stuck my hand under my pillow to fluff it up and found a note from Ella, written on her own card. It said:

Dear Mom,
Thank you for Ella Enchtd. I like the movie.
Love, Ella

Finding the note tucked in my pillows was just the nicest surprise. I thought it was incredibly sweet that Ella thought to write the note and then thought to hide it away for me. This morning, when Ella and I were snuggling on the sofa, I thanked for the note and told her it made me smile. She got that funny little look she gets when she's embarassed. Ella, without knowing it, really lifted my spirits.

Kids are good for something after all.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

In memoriam

My grandmother passed away on Friday at about noon. She was at home, with two of my uncles next to her when she went. They said it was very calm and peaceful, which is all any of us can ask, I suppose.

We were told last Saturday that it would be a matter of days, and as a result, I spent much of the week jumping every time the phone rang. But in an odd way, I'm glad I had that week. I spent a lot of time thinking about my grandmother and how much she has meant to me throughout my life. I told stories about her to the girls and to B and to my friends, which made me feel so much better.

I'm heading to Albany on Thursday for Friday's memorial service. Nona left instructions that she didn't want a funeral, just a small service for the family. She also left instructions that she wanted her ashes scattered around the pond that is in front of her house. I really love that she will be laid to rest there. She and my grandfather lived in that house for almost 30 years, and she spent every day looking out on the pond - it's a beautiful spot.

I'm sure this week's memorial service will be filled with lots of stories and tears and laughter, which is how it should be. It should be a celebration of her long life. I just know that I will miss her very much.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Mostly dead all day

I was mostly dead all day yesterday with the worst migraine I've had in years. It started Wednesday afternoon, and I would have liked to go to bed right away, but I had to meet B to take care of some financial stuff and sign a million documents.

Finally, at 8:00 I was able to take a pain pill and curl up in bed with an ice pack on my head. I had to get up early for an appointment with my new neurologist, which went ok, feelings of nausea aside. He countermanded all my old doctor's instructions and told me I could take Imitrex as needed and didn't limit the amount I could take. He also told me I didn't have to give up caffeine or exercise every day. He also didn't try to put me on any preventive medicines, which was a relief. I was glad not to have to argue with another doctor about why I didn't want to be on a daily medicine.

After my appointment I went home and tucked back into bed for the rest of the day. Fortunately, B, bless his little heart, was able to take the day off and stay home to help. He took Lily to her beloved "ballelet" class; it was "Parent Watching Day," so he was able to see the performance they had been practicing.

I emerged in time for dinner, ate some pizza - the first food I'd had since the day before - and immediately regretted it. After bathing the kids, I shooed them into the living room to B and crawled back into bed with another ice pack.

There were times in the middle of night that I truly thought the migraine would never end. I'd taken as much medication as I was allowed in 24 hours, but it hadn't worked. I wasn't sure what I should do next. Fortunately, I fell asleep after a few hours and woke up feeling moderately better.

My migraine is gone, but I still feel completely wiped out. As soon as Campbell falls asleep for his nap, I'm going back to bed for an hour or so. Perhaps I'll feel better then. I'm just hoping it's another few years before I have a migraine like this again.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Heaven on a plate

When I'm stressed, I bake. It's what I've always done, or at least what I've done since college when I had a kitchen of my own to cook in. I don't usually eat what I've cooked, because when I'm stressed I stop eating. My neighbors often reap the benefit of my stress-induced baking fits. It's an odd combination of compulsions, I know, but I am what I am.

Given my dying grandmother, B's neck problems, and overwhelming work schedules, not to mention a house filled with kids, I've been baking a lot. Notice I say baking, not cooking. I have no interest in cooking; it took me until I was 35 to admit and accept that I don't like to cook. But I do like to bake.

Last night I made this recipe, from Pioneer Woman Cooks, and OH MY GOD it's good. I had showed PW's post to my friend H and told her I'd be making the dumplings at some point. When I put the dumplings in the oven, I called and left a message with H's husband for her that dessert would be ready in 45 minutes. And exactly 45 minutes later, there was a knock at the door.

Basically, you wrap slices of apples in refrigerator crescent roll dough, douse it in a sauce of sugar, butter and vanilla, pour Mountain Dew around the edges (I used Sprite because of my whole no-caffeine thing) and bake it for 45 minutes.

H and I both ate 1 1/2 dumplings with ice cream. We drizzled the butter/sugar/vanilla sauce from the bottom of the baking dish over everything. I think we both may have gone into some sort of dessert trance at some point. I can't account for 15 minutes of the evening.

I sent a plate of the dessert home for H's husband, who was suitably impressed. She said he raved about how good the pastry was, but she chose not to enlighten him as to what it really was. So now E thinks I'm a pastry chef. I can live with that.

It turns out the dumplings are just as good reheated for breakfast, minus the ice cream, as they are fresh out of the oven. I really love baked goods that can be both dessert and breakfast.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Enough all ready

I am thrilled that my vote in today's primary counts. Really, I am. But I'll be even more thrilled tomorrow when the campaign calls stop. We get an average of 6 a day. Fortunately, I have caller ID on the phone, so whenever I see an 866 number or an area code I don't recognize I let the call go to the answering machine. But that still means there are 6 messages I have to clear off later because the OCD part of me can't stand having old messages on the answering machine. I'm the same way with e-mails too.

Every time I grumble about this, like I did at 8:30 last night when the phone rang with a campaign call for the third time in half an hour, my husband suggests that I simply turn off the ringer. But it's just not that simple. First, if it's during the day, I need to have the ringer on just in case one of the girls' schools needs to reach me for something. Granted, in the four years that I've had a child in preschool or school, this has happened exactly ONCE, but it could still happen again.

Second, and this is the sad part and I'm not meaning to seem glib, my beloved grandmother is dying. Saturday we got word that she had stopped responding and wasn't eating or drinking. She had left instructions that she wasn't to be given food and water by artificial means, so she's being kept comfortable and we're just waiting for the inevitable phone call. Since getting that news, I jump every time the phone rings, and my heartrate goes through the roof. So having the phone ring so many times during the day with recorded messages from candidates and on behalf of candidates isn't doing my nerves any good. Each time the phone rings I'm sure it's my parents with sad news and I start preparing myself for the worst, only to see the 866 number on the caller ID.

This afternoon, once I finish a conference call for work, I'll be taking the kids with me to vote and then looking forward to the silence of the phone - at least until November.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gut check

I wavered about running this morning: I've had a low-level migraine for three days; Campbell was up twice in the night; and I just wasn't feeling the love. But I dragged myself out of bed and met the running chicks at 6:30.

It turned out to be a gut check kind of run. We stuck to the Trail this morning instead of heading for the hills of the Windsor Loop, and as a result I had several bail-out points. But each time I had the chance to cut the run short, I dug deep and kept going.

In the end, I ran the five-mile loop with three of my long-time running buddies, and I'm glad I stuck it out. I did the same loop on Monday without a problem, but today I wasn't sure I was going to make it without walking. I was still feeling the effects of the migraine, plus it was beyond humid. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other, thinking about how putting in the miles now will help me ramp up this summer if I get my NYC entry.

Plus, now I'm finished with my running for the weekend, and I don't have to go back out there until Monday. That's worth something.