Saturday, December 31, 2005

Moving on to first day

The entire First Night stuff seems to be in a state of disorganization. Several different people have been speaking to the press. Every time there's new promotional material out, different streets are denoted as being closed to traffic. Although parades are seldom skipped, this one may not even have any sort of music at all. I think we'll just watch both sets of fireworks from the house and be stodgy and watch the Univision Spanish new-year stuff on television.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Elusive trinkets

Although they were featured in a month's worth of ad supplements from each of the major drugstore chains, those Johnson & Johnson commemorative Band-Aid tin boxes never were found. Now, those zippy "made in the U.S.A." Scotch-brand tape dispenser (bulgy apple green, lavender, pink, and blue, as I recall; four colors, anyhow, and all I want is a green one and a purple one) are, despite all the ads, not yet to be found anywhere, either.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Touching bottom

As to soft-sided reading material here's all that remains: 2 issues of Granta, one of which has been started. Return to Akenfield has been read and the author even interviews Blythe. Akenfield was a present to REH and got passed around to everybody. Apparently it has remained in print all these years since 1969. We've found the articles on the college-enrollment and -aid game and the tale of the slot machines worth handing on (Atlantic Monthly). What I Heard About Iraq in 2005 (Eliot Weinberger) is disheartening (LRB); Alan Bennett's diary is, as always, fun and perceptive.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"Always support the bottom"

That's what the big aluminum-foil roasting pan has embossed upon its bottom, visible from above. It's probably advice useful in many contexts. We've saved a criss-cross wire support from a more expensive pan that can usually be used with cheaper pans with a little creative re-crimping of the pan's edges (or should they be called "lips"?). The reusable support when reversed makes a good, strong armature for raising a potted houseplant up away from a shelf so that there's better air circulation and less chance of condensation.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A "free gift"

Found in the mailbox today in a tidy little plastic case is what purports to be a free copy of H&R Block TaxCut software. Is this a widespread mailing? Why to this household? For the past several years, I've been happy downloading IRS electronic forms and then double-checking my work with the free TaxAct software. Sometimes there are last-minute changes in the tax forms. Will this TaxCut update the way that TaxAct does?

Monday, December 26, 2005


Tomorrow is devoted to The Unpleasant, under which rubric will fall the dental ordeal.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Peace and pleasantness

This day has been full of both. Austin shrank to its former dimensions and seemed full of friendly people, with even those not personally known felt to be acquaintances by sight from one lifetime or environment or another. There was some succumbing to temptation at Book People, but not in the stationery part of the world. Nobody yet has ever matched the selection of periodicals at Congress Avenue Books, though, during the great era of 'zines. K. has been reading aloud a lot of the Jael and Sisera episodes from the Last Chronicle of Barset and they're very funny. (I like this site listing and annotating illustrations, displaying them where possible.) Now, if only the main plot would end in the way that every reader has wished it to and not be so sad.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


The 15 December LRB Short Cuts column, by Peter Campbell, begins: "It’s the time of year when the kinds of things that are done with light are very like those which, if done with a spray-can, would have boys up in front of the magistrates." He speaks of "electric graffiti" and contends that bright light does not discover, but drives away, beauty. He praises shadow. I enjoy the ways that people decorate their houses and yards but to me artificial light has nothing at all to do with this time of year. For me it's candles and kerosene lamps and fires in fireplaces and stoves and a fresh tree standing in a bucket of wet sand. It's more olfactory than visual. I like a night sky lit, if at all, by the stars and the moon. A sky like that hasn't been seen in Austin or anywhere near it for a long, long time. I do love electrical commercial displays (neon and its kin, running lights, billboards at night). I'd give a lot to see the old El Mat(amoros) Quetzelcoatl sign lit and snapping its jaws again.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Peace descends

A fair proportion of the noise-making populace of Austin has gone somewhere beyond the city limits. It's easy and pleasant to get around and do the sorts of things in the sorts of places that we enjoy but the greater temptation is just to be home, cooking and reading and yard-sitting and talking. So much for all those movie-going plans.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why I need an appointment-maker

Although the memory is excellent and the organization and efficiency are in the top percentiles, I truly hate to commit myself to be at any given place at any given time unless I'm being paid to do so or have a personal commitment or obligation. For recurring appointments (e.g., the dentist), if the next one isn't made at the end of the current one, then someone else has to step in and place the call and set the date and time for me. If the supply of those who understand and are willing ever dwindles or disappears, I'll probably be forced to find someone to pay to perform these chores; I can't imagine ever being able to do them myself. Anyhow, it turns out that after Christmas and before New Year's is a good time to make various kinds of appointments at those establishments that are open at all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Auld lang syne

It's wonderful to hear from people that it's wonderful to hear from, even if it's just once a year, even if some of the news is sad. We're the most boring people we know, at least to the superficial onlooker, but at least life is rich and we're never, never, ever bored.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


That's how many buds have shot up from the dumped paperwhite of years ago.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Which is creepier?

The Night of the Hunter (Davis Grubb) was published in 1953. I read the book then and thought it was very suspenseful indeed. I can remember retelling the plot as a scarey story. I've never seen the movie and in a pretty much movieless existence didn't even know it existed. K., who never read the book, saw the movie and thought the same of it as I did of the book. Robert Mitchum is not like what I envisioned the preacher to be. The other characters do not seem like those in the book, either, apart, perhaps, from Lilian Gish. This must be out on video and surely the library or somebody has a copy of the book.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


The tree found in about two minutes at the Rudolph's lot in its traditional location (Bluebonnet and South Lamar) is up and smells great. The lot-keeper has a friendly arrangement with the 'phone business next door from whom he rents so it's not really necessary to park out back, it seems. How sad to see all those trailers gone, all those trees vanished, all that soil scarred and compacted, all for the sake of a giant Walgreen drugstore. We took a sort of Sunday drive and are very sorry to see tiny duplex houses from the 'teens and 'twenties made into single-family dwellings or, worse yet, demolished entirely. The small one- and two-story cheap apartments close in everywhere are being bulldozed or turned into condominiums. As we poked around looking at people's gardens, we were surprised to see how widespread this destruction is. Just off South Congress, the tiny houses from which people used to sell rabbits, pigeons, laying hens, and sometimes eggs are mostly gone. Every time I'm near the convention center downtown I'm reminded of the nineteenth-century houses with worn-away paint and old furniture on the front porches on which sat old men talking and smoking and enjoying the company of their many cats.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Unwarranted concern, it seems

This announcement by Southwestern in Georgetown was alarming. Since it reports that Stephen Aechternact is retiring from KMFA and that, although he has left the board of trustees, he is "now an executive with a large healthcare organization," perhaps the news is not so grave. It's generally thought to be a bad sign when a person disposes of long-cherished possessions and that's why the press release was tracked down. Our best guess is that the collection contains recordings of a great many works by obscure Scandinavian composers of the modern era.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The dumped

If only we'd given some thought to disposing of the paperwhite narcissus forced indoors all those years ago. Stuck between a sidewalk and a raised concrete surface, it sent roots down into a tiny piece of bad ground and has divided and bloomed profusely there every single year since. Already it has shot up five fat bud stalks, as usual the first seen anywhere in the yard for the season. On the other hand, maybe that bulb would not have been at all happy anywhere else.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Already hooked

La esposa virgen has concluded. Three eps along, Alborada has reeled us in. The plot's already so complicated that it's going to be tough to unravel. The settings and costumes are handsome. And we were going to take a break!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Or perhaps princesslings. It's possible to tell the difference between a male and a female adult monarch butterfly, but we can't find anything about the larvae. We still have some, and they're growing. Even though the majority of the milkweed leaves were frost-touched, the caterpillars are eating milkweed seed pods, of which there are many.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Club desvelado

We've been passing around the New Yorker article on feral swine by Ian Frazier, illustrated by Walton Ford, who produces those Audubon-like paintings with the modern twist. Javelinas are no longer thought to be related to pigs; their closest relatives are peccaries in the Southern Hemisphere. In Metropolis, the articles in New Orleans (reporting on the reasons for the street layouts and why they may be more important than structures) and on the High Line in Manhattan are making the rounds.

Monday, December 12, 2005


The Court has issued a writ of certiorari and taken jurisdiction in the Texas redistricting cases, with arguments to be heard in March. One suspects that, had the Justice Department decuments never been released, the three-judge ruling below would have stood, without further review.


In these cases probable jurisdiction is noted. These cases are consolidated and a total of two hours is allotted for oral argument.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tonettes and sea monkeys

Because they're listed as in limited supply, two Tonettes went into the gift pool, which is largely made up, as always, of mostly local stuff, but anyhow, nearly entirely books and other reading material, plants and gardening stuff, music in one form or another, and food, one way or another. But the outfit selling Tonettes is part of that vast and antique merchandiser of American fun and humor (see backs of old comic books) the Johnson Smith Company. Under consideration now are "professional" kazoos from Ray Hennig Music. Things You Never Knew Existed must be the direct-line successor of the old Johnson Smith catalogue.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Counters and ligatures

Matthew Carter, he of Carter & Cone Type, is profiled in the current New Yorker. I hadn't known that he designed Verdana. A Google search brings up results showing that this article is of great interest to many (5 December; "Man of Letters," by Alec Wilkinson).

Friday, December 09, 2005

Hotkaps and Biba

Tomorrow's when the plant coverings will come off. Thanks to the ice, they really do seem to have done their Hotkap job. In the shade, some of them are still mostly rigid with ice. Terrycloth seems to hold the water droplets. We did peek under them to see that the thyme did just fine. Nasturtiums seem to be so-so; chiles left outdoors not so fine (but if the pith didn't freeze, they'll probably come back); the milkweed looks iffy, but will probably generate new and better leaves if the past is any guide to the future. While I was looking for coverings against the frost I found an old Biba shopping bag, probably from circa 1968. How we loved that corduroy with no wales, in a mysterious raisin color and in a dusty greenish sort of peacock, especially. The original Biba eventually moved to the old Derry and Toms in Kensington, I think (yes; so it seems), and reopened the beautiful roof garden there. Coincidentally, there was an article about Biba in yesterday's NYT.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ice age

Last night was colder than predicted. A lot of stuff in pots came indoors. A lot of stuff stayed out, under sheets and towels. The coverings were rigid with ice to the point of being able to stand up for themselves. Clothespins and tent pegs helped keep almost everything in place. Gas pressure is unbelievably low. Trying to bring water to the boil is an exercise in patience.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Not a snapshot

This is not a snapshot and it's not a Polaroid. It's sepia in color. It was taken using a period camera and that's a period prop against a period backdrop. The paper's thick and the surface is a bit scratched. Those are fifth-graders. A half-size scanned version (viewable by clicking on this thumbnail image) of the original was uploaded for this entry.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


This morning we found three monarch larvae on the milkweeds. Those odd-looking aphids must have been monarch eggs. Two of these creatures are larger than the third.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Gilberts two

The soundtrack this week is mostly Hacienda SC-184 Los Dos Gilbertos: 23 Grandes Exitos Edicion Especial. There's not a bad track on it and it contains two great favorites: Por Una Mala Mujer ("she told me 'yes' but she didn't say 'when'") and Dime Que Si. There's also a version of Solamente Una Vez, and nobody can have too many of those. Bobby Pulido's Vanidosa and the other cumbia vallenata are sounding just fine, too.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Among some favorites

Thinking about one's least favorite holiday songs brings to mind the topic of the favorites. Some in no particular order are Fred Waring's Night before Christmas, sung around the piano, with the person playing pointing to the person to take the next part; I'll Be Home for Christmas (You Can Count on Me); O Come, O Come Emanuel; and Good King Wenceslas (sung with all verses). O Little Town of Bethlehem is a favorite, too, and sung mostly in the good old U.S. of A. We also loved to sing Button Up Your Overcoat at this time of year. (Most people know about the Waring Blendor, but how many remember Shawnee-on-Delaware or know that Waring wrote the Huston-Tillotson alma mater?)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Least favorite

Because somebody lately asked me and one song and one song only sprang to mind, I've been asking others when I think to: "What's your least favorite holiday song?" My answer was Jingle Bells. That's true for many others, it seems. But that's not really fair; I just dislike recorded versions of the song. I like to sing it myself, I love to hear kids singing it, and the arrangement played by the Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Band is an excellent one. The second one to be named would probably be the Russian carol of the bells, whatever it's called, although even with that, detesting recordings of it, I found it fun to sing. In fact, when it comes to songs of the season, sacred or secular, other than for cantatas and oratorios, which are not always easy to hear in live performance, I just plain don't like recordings. But I do like to sing and to hear others sing and play. Any recorded "seasonal" music played in the house at this time of year is baroque or Renaissance instrumental or choral music. It seems to go well with the smell of evergreens and baking. And we try very hard not to be exposed to stores playing the stuff we don't like to hear and not to listen to radio stations likely to be broadcasting it.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Squash has been on the menu for as long as solid food has been consumed. Summer squash, from small pattypan types on up. And winter squash, from giant Hubbard squash, the kind that must be chopped into pieces using an axe, on down. Baked. Steamed. Boiled. Cooked on top of rice. In chunks in soups and stews. This season it's been lots of acorn squash from the South Austin Farmers' Market. And here in Austin there has been squash in soup forever. All kinds go into caldo Azteca, the chicken soup that has every possible kind of vegetable in it, and rice, chiles, pico de gallo, and lime wedges on the side, along with corn tortillas. And Chez Nous for years, besides its daily soup special, had a wonderful pureed vegetable soup every day that certainly contained squash, and probably parsnips and mild turnips along with much else. I seem to remember that Apple Annie, besides its delicious carrot-ginger soup, used to have one incorporating sqaush from time to time. Over the past weekend, I ordered a cup of squash soup at a downtown restaurant, expecting it to be savory. Not only was it covered with a mountain of sweetened and perhaps also vanilla-ized whipped cream, the underlying soup itself was sweet beyond belief. This was not something that could be ingested beyond the first sip or so. The idea still sounded good, though, so we tried the Imagine brand of squash soup. It wasn't sweet, but did have an aura of uncooked cinnamon about it. We tried onions, poblano peppers, grated ginger, green bell peppers diced, and cayenne, but nothing really helped it. Campbell's Select Gold Label squash soup will be bought again. It seems to take to all kinds of additions. If it really does get chilly, we'll be eating plenty of it on those nights cooking just doesn't seem like fun. I think we'll try the black-bean soup as well.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Wish consultant

This was part of a Hallowe'en costume for a fairy godmother in a business-related context. Besides the magic wand, she carried a basket of twofers like these, which were eagerly sought. I'm just one of many, no doubt, who never discarded the coupon. It reminds me of my favorite fortune-cookie fortune, to be remembered forever because of its specificity: "Soon you will receive an entire wardrobe of new clothes." I'm still waiting. "Soon" may stretch on infinitely in the world of magic and fortunes.