Provincialism in the Purest Sense of the Word

One of my personal pet peeves involves people from other places who think that wherever they live is the only civilized place there is, and while frequently never having travelled to Texas, proceed to tell me all about its pitfalls. I remember once being at a party in Westchester Co (upscale, suburban NYC) with a lot of yuppie types who worked in the publishing and arts industry. One woman said to me, "You must be relieved to move away from the desert." Now, this woman knew I had just moved there from Houston, which has a tropical coastal climate similar to Rangoon, and so I replied, "While I am excited to be in New York, not all of Texas is a desert. Only the furthermost western areas are like that." She countered with,"but it's so close." Now I know, to be charitable, she : 1)had no idea what she was talking about, b)was just trying to make conversation, c)was probably trying to save face, and d) I was feeling ornery. But really? The conversation took a turn for the worse, when she said,"But Arizona is a desert!" To which I replied, "Um, gee, Arizona is over 1000 miles away from Houston !" (1,174 miles from Houston to Phoenix, most of it still in Texas.) I do realize all this poor woman had to go on were her experiences driving from Conn to N.Y. To N.J., and thinking that Texas, N.M. And AZ were of similar scale. But this was supposedly an intellectual, artistic gathering, I was alarmed by her lack of basic geographic knowledge.

It's not just New Yorkers, the ignorance about Texas and Texans is pervasive. Upon meeting my future father-in-law for the first time, he greeted me with a dismissive "Welcome to the big city". He lived in suburban Washington, D.C. at the time (population 632,323 including suburbs) and I lived in Dallas-Ft Worth (population 6,700,991 including suburbs- 4th largest urban area in America, and ten times that of Washington, D.C.) Now I do know that Washington is the Capitol of the U.S., and thus truly the center of the world (to Americans), but a more accurate greeting could have been "Welcome to our nations Capitol!" or "Welcome to the center of the universe!"

Once when I was in consumer sales I was at a corporate meeting in Cincinnati Ohio. All the young sales managers got into a heated argument at a bar one night over who was the most educated and spoke most eloquently. The conversation quickly turned from trying to out rhetoric each other, into ridiculing each other...There were many insults aimed at various regional dialects, even though most of us had worked diligently to lose the one we were born with. (Who decides which regional dialect sounds the least educated? Why is a New Jersey or Alabama dialect considered more intelligent than a Texas accent?) As the evening progressed, tempers heated up, and I found myself defending my use of the word "stuff" by quoting Shakespeare :

 "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

Every one's mouths gaped and their eyes blinked, like fish out of water. They didn't even know what I was talking about.

I do realize that people can't help being ignorant if they are not fortunate enough to travel. I blame the media for perpetuating stereotypes for humor, to make points, as a kind of short-hand for reality. Mainstream media frequently depicts Texans as a bunch of fat, cowboy hat wearing tobakky chewing bigoted uneducated idiots (and our current governor, bless his heart! who can't debate to save his life-along with news stories about teachers being forced to teach creationism as a science, have done nothing to dissuade that) ....However, most Texans I know can explain to you the basic geography and climate of major regions of the USA, as well as quote Shakespeare. Like many states, we have coastlines, mountains, forests, rivers, and prairies. We also have 3 cities that are in the top 10 (in terms of population) for the USA, fabulous universities, museums, airports, art galleries, restaurants, corporate headquarters, telephones, roads, and flushing toilets - just like any place in the western world.   

Yes, I Moved Back to Texas for Tex Mex

Tex-Mex is the national cuisine of Texas. (Some would argue barbeque or chicken fried steak....more on those, later. Combined, these three items are considered the "trifecta" of Texas cuisine.) Tex Mex is entirely diffferent from California Mex, New Mexico Mex, or Mexican Mex. Real Tex-Mex is preferably eaten in a run down mom-and-pop local restaurant in the barrio that makes Anglos feel tantilizingly sketchy just to go there. Chain restaurants will do if you are desperate (such as visiting another state and need a quick fix) or if the chain started as a local family owned business and grew. Tex-Mex is beef-centric, corn-based, and uses a wide variety of spicy peppers(jalapeno, serrano, hatch,red, chili,etc) liberally. The traditional Tex-Mex meal involves enchiladas (always made of corn tortillas, filled with cheese or meat, topped with sauce and cheese, rolled and baked. An enchilada is cheezy and soft and melts in your mouth. You eat it with a fork.), hand foods such as crispy tacos (the semi-circle above, a fried crispy corn tortilla, filled with spicy meat and lettuce, tomato, cheese), tostadas or chalupas (fried flat corn tortilla, layered in refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and hot sauce), rice and beans. You drink iced tea or margaritas with this meal.

There are many other menu items in the traditional Tex-Mex menu, such as burritos (large flour tortilla filled with beans and meat, rolled, eaten with fingers dry), fajitas and street tacos (soft flour or corn tortillas filled with spiced grilled or shredded beef, chicken, or pork, sauted onions, jalepenos, peppers, cilantro, tomatoes), chalupas (a narrow rolled corn tortilla, filled with a small amount of spiced beef and fried. It is about the size of a large cigar.), guacamole (mashed up avacado with hot sauce or tomatoes mixed in), queso (cheese dip- melted cheese and spices, you dip tortilla chips into this), nachos (take the tortilla chips, spread them out onb a plate, layer with beans, cheese, jalepenos, and bake till gooey. Dip in salsa when finished.), quesodillas (2 flour tortillas filled with cheese and /or meat, pan sauted, like a grilled cheese sandwhich) and salsa (see my post on that topic).

Much conversational time and energy among Texans is spent arguing which Tex-Mex restaurant is better, and why. It is not uncommon for natives who have moved away, say to New York or Paris, schedule frequent vacations home just so they can eat the local cuisine. Or move back altogether, for the food.


Old Hipster, Indie Hipster

My super cool, artsy gay friend who lives in NYC (and sometimes France) just visited me here in my little town in the hinterlands. A journalist/writer, he had some work to do, locally, and arranged his schedule to accommodate his work needs as well as a visit to me and the fam. We've been close friends since middle school, back when he was a smart nerdy boy who wore khaki pants, had pink cheeks, a too-short haircut, and talked incessantly about fantasy characters, dolls, opera stars, and Star Trek. I was a nerdy little girl with bushy hair, braces, and knock-knees who wore uncool child-like dresses  and had a crush on him. We both loved writing stories, museums, music and art, ethnic cuisine, theater, literature. Over the years, our relationship has ping-ponged back and forth : sometimes he was the cooler one , attractive and hip; sometimes I was. Lately we're both navigating middle age and the ensuing changes in one's youthful attractiveness and sartorial expression.

It's true that my friend is winning the coolness wars at the moment, at least. Never try to compete with the attractiveness of a gay man. He is slim, handsome, and current on the all the NYC and Euro male fashion trends. (Hubster is not doing so badly himself, for a suburban dad; he works out twice a day and is extremely buff. Local housewives have commented on noticing his physique when he mows the lawn with his shirt off.) But it was also true from this latest visit that my uber kewl gay friend thinks I have morphed into his mom. you know, bc I have a 9-5 job ( I can't go clubbing all night), I have boring bills to pay like a mortgage (can't blow my cash on clothes, cars, travel, attending the arts, etc), spend all my free time driving kids around or attending their sporting events (no time for the gym). It's such a drag, this hetero-normative suburban reproductive-centered life.

How cruel the world is to women as they age! There is that moment in one's 40's when a women's aging suddenly accelerates, while men hold steady and even look better. Less raw, more finished than they did in their 20's. When men get gray hair, it's "distinguished", when women do, they are "crones". This is the time for the mid-life crisis, when many a shallow selfish man casts off the mate who aged due to bearing him children and making him a home. I remember learning in a "History of Women" class back in college, that this problem was solved, historically, by the frequent and common death of one spouse or the other. No worries of "the seven year itch" when wives were statistically like to die in childbirth, and men in battle or farm accidents. Hence the Wife of Bath and her six husbands......

I'm trying, though, to be my own version of "cool". It is definitely not the aging gay man's version of "cool", but its the best I can do. Stay tuned......


Spring Break in Italy

Part of my recent mid-life crisis was to sit myself down and figure out how to live my life more intentionally. By that I mean, figure out what it is that I really want - NOW!! and find a way to do it , get it, be it. I'm not advocating being selfish- I'm coming out of that 20 year long tunnel known as "mommy-dom" wherein I totally gave up every personal desire and need, including sleep, adult food, and clean fashionable clothing, all subverted for the common good known as "parenting children". Like many folk at mid-life, I am trying to figure out the next chapter. I can't really handle the sports, archaeology and other physically taxing hobbies of my youth. I can still paint but for some reason am having trouble getting back into it.

I subscribe to a wide variety of blogs, some of which focus on clearing out the clutter- of one's house, one's mind, one's life. The goal is to focus and enjoy - not to live a Spartan existence, but to be deliberate in one's choices. These blogs inspire me to figure out what is important, and to not waste time on the unimportant.  Life really came into perspective for me with the death of my parents recently, who both passed away before 80. If I follow the trend, I have fewer than 30 years left.....maybe only 20-25 good ones. Think how fast the previous 20 years just whizzed by; I'm not being morbid, just wanted to live what I've got left to the fullest. I write a lot about bucket list ideas here in my blog, but that's because as a mom, I feel I've lost myself somewhere.....and on auto-pilot in my life. I was still driving the 9 mpg minivan long after the kids had their own cars. Why?  I had loved poodles all my life but hadn't owned one since a child. Why? I love to travel but hadn't taken advantage of the fact that I have a captive audience of willing, eager students and those educational tour companies exist that send the teacher for free once 6 students have paid. Why have I not put a trip together years ago? My favorite color is blue, but I was living in a home decorated in red and rust, and it was dark and depressing. Why?

I believe that we are who we chose to be. Nobody is going to come and save you. You've got to save yourself. Nobody is going to give you anything. You've got to go out and fight for it. Nobody knows what you want except you, and nobody will be as sorry as you if you don't get it. So don't give up on your dreams.

OK, so this is a somewhat overly dramatic inspirational quote I got from pinterest. It's aggressive tone probably says more about me than I care to admit.....But who cares? It speaks to me, and I keep a copy of it by my computer and look at it and think about it, every day. Why wait till retirement to live my life, buy a new car, take that trip I always wanted, redecorate the house (throw out the chewed on, dog-pee-stained furniture...never could figure out why old folk redecorated. Always thought when I was young, "Why bother? Your life is almost over." Now I know. It's bc you cherish the dream of being able to sit down on a sofa that is not crunchy with food stains.) Carpe Diem, as Robin Williams says in "The Dead Poets Society". I might die tomorrow. Nearly everyone knows someone who spent their entire lives waiting for retirement, only to die or develop a limiting health problem shortly after the official retirement date, and to have wasted their entire life , waiting to retire - to do the fun things. This is not a new theme; it's as old as time. PBS and corny old movies have a lock on this topic, with two aging stars experiencing love among the ruins. How cute.

I am serious, however, and was driven to action by my therapist who said to me, "What is it that you want?" So I sat down and made a list: 1) I wanted a new beach cruiser bicycle - a nice one . Had no money, so I thought and thought.....and remembered a ziplock sandwich bag of broken 14k and 18k jewelry I'd been saving, my whole life. Odd, mis-matched earrings, chains that were torn - stuff going back to my early teens, age 12 or 13. In spite of my many travels, I'd hung on to this collection of jumbled junk, and with gold currently fetching high prices, I took it in, sold it all, and had a really nice chunk 'o change. Bought the bike. Booked the trip.


Thoughts on the Obesity Crisis from a Working Mom

 FYI: This is not real food

A recent NYT article spoke to the seriousness of the "obesity crisis" by showing the CEOs of all the major pre-prepared, packaged/snack food companies in America meeting to discuss the issue, and in a public show at least, demonstrate they are willing to work together to develop solutions.


This conclave of food scientists is examining the issue from the perspective of re-engineering the foods they sell - originally designed to make people eat as much as possible, by enhancing fat to salt ratios, "mouth feel" and other aspects of snack foods - to manipulate eaters into eating enough (to buy the product and keep sales steady) but not so much as to make themselves sick. This is tackling the problem from the wrong direction.

The problem is multi-fold, and won't be solved until several key aspects of the way Americans now live are addressed. It is not as simple as telling people to eat less, exercise more, or mandating schools to stop selling junk food and replace soda with milk.

When I was a kid, my stay-at-home mom cooked from scratch- every day. We never ate out. My mom hated to cook and she cooked only a few dishes over and over- but everything that we ate was made from simple, identifiable ingredients. Chicken and beef, vegetables, bread, milk, eggs. My mom loved sweets and we always had a home made cake or pie for dessert. But we also were expected - in fact, forced, for my mother wanted a quiet peaceful home - to play outside. Two hours or more after school, every day. All day long during summers and weekends-sun up to sun down. We rode bikes, walked over to a friend's house and jumped on their trampoline or swam in their pool. We played "kick-the-can" with other kids in the neighborhood. Jumped rope, played hopscotch, roller skated. Even when my childhood friends and I were only 2-3 years old, we rode tricycles round and round the driveway.  There were no buses or moms driving us to school - we walked or rode our bikes.(I walked 2 blocks each way as a 6 year old, 4 blocks each way as a 12 year old, and 10 blocks each way as a 16 year old.) There were sidewalks everywhere and as a kid, you could safely get around town or play on them. In elementary school, we had two recesses with outdoor playground time a day , for 30 minutes each. (The teachers took turns supervising, and used this time as their conference/paper grading time.) We pushed ourselves on a merry-go-round, rode swings, climbed on monkey bars. In jr high and high school, P.E. was mandatory, and focused on learning different sports and leisure activities. You could choose to sign up for dancing ( aerobic, classical/jazz, country), tennis, softball, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, golf, archery, etc. The school cafeterias of  my childhood sold actual food: Monday was spaghetti, Tuesday was tacos, Wednesday was chicken fried steak, Thursday was fried chicken, Friday was fish sticks. Every meal came with salad, 2 veggies, and unsugared ice tea. The cafeteria ladies wouldn't let you buy an ice cream unless you cleaned your plate. My high school also had a 20 minute break after first block, and sold breakfast . I'm not saying it was perfect- they also sold cigarettes in the vending machines, the breakfast break was also a smoker's break. It was the 60's, man.

Contrast this with how many Americans live today. Both parents work long work days out of financial necessity. Moms or dads come home late in the evening, tired and frazzled, and grab what they can to feed their families. Sometimes it is fast food from a drive-through, sometimes it is convenience food already prepared from the grocery store or restaurant. Always high in salt, sugar, fat, and preservatives- rarely fresh, simple ingredients. No veggies, nothing fresh. Middle class families often chauffeur their kids to activities after school- dance class, scouts, sports, etc - and grab something to eat on the go. In theory, this sounds like an even exchange ( in terms of calories in , calories out - the kids are in sports, right?) until you realize that this 45 minute activity once or twice a week is the only physical activity the child does at all, in their whole life. The schools my children attended have cut recess down to only once a day for elementary grades, and many days not even that. (All that mandated testing takes up time, and the school days are now longer as a result. ) Kids routinely ride the bus to and from school instead of walking bc mom and dad are working. Little children are placed in "after care" activities until a parent can get off work to pick them up, and they spend those 2 hours every day watching tv, doing crafts, or playing indoors. High school students are only required to take 1 year of P.E., and the P.E. classes at the school where I work consist of students being told to walk circles around the gym while the coach plays on his cellphone or laptop. You can walk by any time of the day and see half the students sitting down, talking, and the coach ignores them.  That's their P.E. exposure. The food sold at the cafeteria is the same meal, 5 days a week: pizza or chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, french fries, and a roll. Everything is covered in "gravy". It is all carbs, grease, salt, and beige. The cafeteria ladies don't even cook it - it comes pre-assembled in boxes and they just heat it up. I am not sure how this meal meets RDA requirements, or why it is deemed better than a sandwich and a piece of fruit. (Sidebar: I tried to convince my school to build a community garden- make it a class, let AG run it - to add to the cafeteria meals. No go.) Laws intending to cut out candy and junk food sold at the school are easily circumvented- my school has a "school store" (closed when the inspector comes around) that is located away from the cafeteria, open before and after school, that sells soda, candy, chips and other crap . It is located right where the students come off the bus and enter the building, and every morning the line is long as students load up on the snacks they want to eat all day - often using up all their lunch money here. After eating sugar and salt all day, they will come to class all hyped up, or else cranky and hungry, and ask if I have anything for them to eat. I routinely keep peanut butter and crackers to feed them. Even the "home ec" class taught at my school - now renamed "food science" , spends 90% of its time having students doing book work on nutrition and only 10% or less teaching them how to cook and plan healthy meals.

In my community, many poor families go hungry. Interestingly, their daily meals are healthier than wealthier folks' bc they can't afford to buy junk food, so they eat staples : beans, rice, vegetables, with a little bit of meat. Junk food is a treat not a daily item. It is a common phenomenon in  my town to see tremendously overweight white people and normal weight Hispanics.

The solution to our obesity crisis ( for both kids and adults) is to conscientiously and drastically change many aspects of our lives and how we live them. I am not saying moms need to give up careers and be stay -at -home moms cooking from scratch and supervising kids playing in the back yard...I am a working mother myself, out of necessity, and I fall victim to all these same scenarios. I do know that if someone in my neighborhood offered simple, made-from scratch meals - even the wretched 1960's style casseroles my mother cooked- at a reasonable price, and all I had to do was drive through, pick it up, go home and stick it in the oven  and serve with a bag of salad- I would do it, and pay a pretty price, too. Sure there are purveyors of frozen lasagnas and the like, but these are high in salt and other things that are not good to eat in excess. A great business opportunity awaits someone who can figure out how to do that; even better if organic. McD's and other fast food restaurants have paid attention to this trend and developed alternatives, but feeding your child packaged ( bathed in preservatives) apple slices with his chicken nuggets isn't enough. Schools need to bring back P.E., real food, and design after-care programs that let kids physically play outdoors. Cities need to build sidewalks, parks, rec centers, playgrounds.

Fascinating TEDx talk on the important connection between excercise and learning:

It feels as if every year we Americans work longer and longer hours at our jobs, at computers, sitting down. We have long commutes - in cars, sitting down - to and from work. We come home late, tired, and watch tv or surf the internet- sitting down. It is no wonder we are starting to develop the pear shaped bodies seen in the movie "Wall-E". (People often say to me, "You are a teacher, you have a short work day and summers off !." No I do not. I work 8-5 every day, and longer on several days a week. I work through lunch ("other duties as assigned"),  rarely have time to go the the restroom, routinely lose all my conference time to meetings, frequently have more meetings that run early or late before/after the school day, and am expected to give up several weeks each summer for "training". I bring home grading, read/write/work hours a week for lesson planning/development,  and recently am expected to complete several days-20+ hours- of online training, each school year, on my own time : nights and weekends.) As a society, we need to spend less time in front of computers (then shopping or eating junk food to alleviate our stress from working) and more time doing things/interacting with our co-workers, families, friends, and our bodies. We need to have movement breaks throughout the day so we can get up, walk around, use our muscles. As humans, we are hard-wired to eat as much as possible in case there is a famine, but we can also find substitutions to what we are currently eating that give us pleasure and are still good for us.

Another NYT article on healthy eating, living, and longevity


My Favorite Time of Year

Once the hoopla of the Super Bowl is over, I breathe a collected sigh of relief  and just b-r-e-a-t-h-e . For the previous six months, hubster has monopolized every tv in the house, watching football games in every room, and not content with that, roaming around yelling at all the different games on the various tv's. There is just no escape. The madness starts in August and goes non stop until February. Football games are on  Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon and now on Wed nights as well , plus all day on Sat and Sun. Football mania is all fine and good but in this house it's just too much. The dogs cower and hide under the bed. I just leave - go out to lunch, get a massage, go to a movie. Yet it feels forced, and the house is a stressful place to be.The stress seems to follow, like a cloud.

But this time of year - Feb through May, what we call "spring" - is the best season of the year. Post Super Bowl (the real end of the holidays ), post Hanukkah, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's. Deep winter and early spring are a peaceful time, quiet, calm, reflective. In Texas, it is also sunny and mild. The arts calendars are in full swing - there's opera, gallery exhibits, symphony concerts, author talks, foreign films, jazz festivals - something for everyone.
The farmer's market goes year round, pulling produce from south Texas. MMMM! I think I'll cook something.

Hip New Thing

The hot new thing to do is eat from a food truck. Long the purveyor of hearty lunch time junk food to construction workers, (here in Texas, it was mostly Mexican food , hot dogs, burgers, and fries), re purposed exotic gourmet food trucks have suddenly sprung up as a roving foodie adventure. One of my faves sells only banh mi - a  sort of Vietnamese hoagie. To stay current, you have to follow your fave food truck on Twitter - they will Tweet you where they will be parked each day. It's a like a double dose of cool - you gotta be in the know to know. Recently we had a food truck night-time event in town, where many different types of food trucks gathered down by the train station. Town officials expected a couple hundred locals to show up - but due to Twitter and word of mouth, over 20,000 people showed up. It was a traffic nightmare, but fun none the less.

Come to Texas !

Attention: all international, foreign, and otherwise Yankee readers of this blog ! Are you sick and tired of cold, gray, snowy weather? Fed up with high taxes, cost of living, inhabiting tiny apartments that cost a fortune, the soul sucking misery of urban blight, long winters, no fresh fruit? Do you have money to burn ? Need a job ? Want a vacation home in a warm climate? Come to Texas!
 A recent vacay in Florida drew my attention to the fact that many Florida homes and condos are owned not by "snow birds" from New York or locals, but by: (in descending order of ownership) Canadians, Europeans (chiefly Germans, although also includes Eastern Europeans, Brits, and Russians), and South Americans. (Data from a Florida Realtors website.) I started thinking to myself : What if all those people looking for a second home in a nice sunny climate, searching for an undiscovered place with plenty of cheap housing, decided to move to Texas ? All this could be yours ! 

Did you know : You can buy a small three bedroom single family home, complete with yard and a free membership in the community pool for under USD $130,000?  We have plenty of condos, beach homes, and other properties as well. Texas has 367 miles of shoreline. Mountains, canyons, prairies. A terrain and clime similar to southern France or Italy. Only one non-stop flight away from central Europe or South America. No, I am not an employee of any Texas marketing, realtor, business, or booster club. This is all part of my secret plan to oust the red neck conservative uneducated moronic hillbilly Republican Christian coalition tea-party hooligans from this state - or at least entice enough folks of different beliefs cultures, and political persauasions to move here, in order to tip the balance, so those other folk are out of power. Bwaa-haaa-haaa! Are you a gun-toting, government hating fundamentalist extremist ? Stay away.

Tired of the Snow ? I'm Just Sayin'.....

North Central Texas

Average January temperatures
High °F Low °F Place High °C Low °C
61 41 College Station 16   5
57 37 Dallas 14   3
56 33 Denton 13   1
57 35 Fort Worth 14   2
59 35 Killeen 15   2
52 30 McKinney 11  -1
58 36 Waco 15   2
54 30 Wichita Falls 12  -1


Come to Texas ! Please !

Attention: all international, foreign, and otherwise Yankee readers of this blog ! Are you sick and tired of cold, gray, snowy weather? Fed up with high taxes, high cost of living, inhabiting tiny apartments that cost a fortune, the soul sucking misery of urban blight ? Do you have money to burn ? Need a job ? Want a vacation home in a warm climate? Come to Texas!

A recent vacay in Florida drew my attention to the fact that many Florida homes and condos are owned not by "snow birds" from New York or locals, but by (in descending order of ownership) Canadians, Europeans (chiefly Germans, although also includes Eastern Europeans, Brits, and Russians), and South Americans. (Data from a Florida Realtors website.) I started thinking to myself : What if all those people looking for a second home in a nice sunny climate, searching for an undiscovered place with plenty of cheap housing, decided to move here ? All this could be yours !

Did you know : You can buy a small three bedroom, single family home, complete with yard and a free membership in the community pool for under USD $130,000?  We have plenty of condos, beach homes, and other properties as well. Texas has 367 miles of shoreline. Mountains, canyons, prairies. A terrain and clime similar to southern France or Italy. Only one non-stop flight away from central Europe or South America. No, I am not an employee of any Texas marketing, realtor, business, or booster club. This is all part of my secret plan to oust the red neck conservative uneducated moronic hillbilly Republican Christian coalition tea-party hooligans from this state - or at least entice enough folks of different beliefs to move here, in order to tip the balance so those folk are out of power. Bwaa-haaa-haaa. Are you a gun-toting, government hating fundamentalist extremist ? Stay away.

Southern Style

When I was a little kid, we would go to a local amusement park named Six Flags, theoretically titled for the Six Flags ( i.e. nations, historical periods, or cultures) that influenced the history of the Lone Star State. There was Little Mexico with the giant sombrero ride and taco stands, (hey, we never claimed to be P.C.), a Wild Wild West Frontier Town that had a shootout every day and a steak restaurant, a bunch of others I can't remember ....somehow Space The Final Frontier seems to have been rolled in as Future-ville, also maybe something French although I can't remember what - a pirate ride named  after LaSalle?  Oddly, Germantown didn't even rate a section, although the German settlers were at one time among our state's largest, and contributed importantly to our local cuisine, which is why Texans eat Bar-B-Que and brats together. Somewhere in this mix was Southern -ville, with a faux Mississippi Riverboat ride. All that fun is now just a baby boomer's memory; Six Flags has since morphed into a national chain with cartoon character super hero based theme rides.

My point is that Texas does see itself as a part of the South; it was a member of the Confederacy, had slaves, shared an initial agrarian economy. Early settlers were from Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee. That's part of what makes Texas unique - this blend of cultures. Southern culture is just as important as the better known southwestern food, music, decor, religion, fashion, economic lifestyle in Texas, especially among older, moneyed Texans. The region of East Texas identifies closely with Louisiana and other parts south, and my own mother was a typical little old lady from East Texas who spent her life visiting flower shows, cooking southern food, shopping at Neiman's - all staple activities.

The magazine Southern Living has been  Bible of sorts for the lifestyle ever since I can remember . If you want recipes, gardening, shopping and decorating info, this is your go-to source.


Recently (at my hairdresser's, so typical) I discovered a new fave magazine that celebrates the southern lifestyle, Garden and Gun. What I especially like about this publication /website is that : a) it is very upscale  b)it covers other aspects of the culture, such as: the arts, literature, travel, history, culture/pop culture and shopping.

The Decorologist

Do you go a little stir crazy in the winter? Have you ever had a midlife crisis and suddenly wanted to change nearly everything about your life? Do you enjoy shopping, redecorating, planning, dreaming? Well, who doesn't? Most of my friends and relatives are in the midst of their own mid-life crises - quitting their jobs, getting divorces. So cliched but true. Hubster and I still like each other, most days, so I'm putting all that pent up energy into redecorating. Above is a picture of my family room, "before". I live in a 60's ranch house, spacious, suburban, and blah. Not funky or early enough to be mid century modern. Not recent or luxurious enough to be a mini mcMansion. It is a pleasant home however and I plan to stay here until I die or get an urge to retire in some exotic location. I have been trolling the web lately looking for redecorating ideas, and have discovered my new favorite blog : The Decorologist, aka Kristie Barnett. http://thedecorologist.com/  She also posts on Houzz http://www.houzz.com/photos/family-room

Spend some time on her website (my faves: Why Men fear Painting Panelling, Redecorate with What you Already Have) and you will gather some great ideas on the use of color, light, organization, and many other topics. I am planning to redo my den...trying to convince Hubster we won't regret it if we paint it. I'll keep you posted.

Oh the Humanity !

An earth shattering event happened around here last fall and I was too wrapped up in personal stuff to report it. Big Tex, one of the most beloved and familiar icons of the Lone Star State, went up in flames. If you want to read the official news story concerning this event, see link below.

Big Tex originated  in the Dallas area sometime in the 1940's or 1950's as a  rather thin Santa Clause promoting a local business. Not finding success at that job and perhaps feeling discriminated against vis-a-vis all the other Santas out there on issues of weightism,  Big Tex somehow made his way, with a change of clothes, across town to the State Fair grounds, where he has welcomed visitors ever since I was a baby in the early 1960's. He was famous not only for his sartorial flair, but also for his mechanical drawl of "Howdy Texans!" which emanated from his hinged jaw that dropped, skeletally, as he spoke. (Imagine Craig Ferguson's sidekick Geoff.) Due to his height, he was often used as a landmark for various friends and families visiting the State Fair, as in "We'll meet by Big Tex at noon". No one could miss him. (P.S. He wasn't as tall as this image would seem to suggest, i.e. taller than the world's tallest Ferris wheel. He was 52 feet tall.)

Many natives, myself included, felt shock and awe as we watched the perpetually unfolding news images of smoke and flames pouring out of our beloved icon.  We couldn't bear to look, yet we couldn't tear ourselves away. In that special way that grief sometimes combines with dark humor, I couldn't help but being reminded of images from the original "Ghostbusters" movie, when the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man went up in flames. Proof of Big Tex's humanlike persona is that State Fair officials carried his remains out in giant body bag while thousands watched and mourned. Didn't want folks to gawk at his charred carcass, didn't want to leave the burned metal skeleton and fried electrical wiring around for folks to see. Since that day, there has been a public clamor to rebuild Big Tex. Someone somewhere traced down another head, long forgotten  in storage or a junkyard , that was made at the same time for Big Tex. Plans to create another oddly proportioned body for him have begun.


More Bucket List Thoughts - New Year's Resolutions

My mother went shopping on the day of her mother's funeral. This is no lie; I was there. As soon as we put poor old granny into the freezing winter ground, folks started clearing off, driving away, and mom turned to me and said,"Let's go to the outlet mall. I want to get some of them dollar panties." It was 40 degrees, raining, a cold gray January day. I'd just driven 7 hours to be at the burial, not to mention I was bereft with sadness. I declined. We ate lunch together, with little to say, a somber group in a small east Texas cafe. Then I drove home.

My own mother passed away this fall, and while I didn't go shopping on the day of her funeral - long story - I have been filled with an urgent sense of changing my life in many ways. To live more intentionally. To complete my bucket list - not just to travel, but to reconstruct HOW I spend my days. My mom dealt with every crisis of her life, real or imagined, by shopping. My plan is to find some other source of pleasure; to try to shop less and de-clutter my life of things I find no longer useful or fitting. I hope that by tweaking various aspects of my life I can line things up with my core values, how I want to spend time, and with whom. Reduce stress and increase happiness. I want to reshape my life - the rest of the life I have left. I'm not being morbid, dwelling on death, but I do have a new realization that I may have only 20 ? more or less? good years left. Think about how quickly the previous twenty years have flown by. Did you live them in accordance with your values, your hopes, your dreams, your goals for your life? Did you accomplish what you thought you would ? Did you have fun? What do you have left to experience? What do you wish you had done differently? I want to be more intentional for the next 20 years. Lord knows, for the last 20 years I was just putting out fires, raising my kids, not thinking about "me".

I'm just starting to explore this mid-life crisis, like running your tongue constantly over a sore tooth. All around I see pain and suffering. Friends and family members are quitting their jobs, getting divorced, trying to find meaning, joy, and pleasure where they still can. Buying sports cars, symbolically, in whatever form that takes. Some are sad because they never had children, but wanted to. Some have looked at their spouse and thought, "I really don't like this person, and never did, " or, "We have grown apart and no longer want the same things." While successful in their careers, some have felt their jobs have lost their meaning now that financial stability has been achieved. It is ironic that folks I know who didn't have children wish they had, and those who did have kids are tired not only from all the work involved, but from the loss of personal identity that comes from giving your all in shaping the identities of others. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Many baby boomers I know, myself included, feel like we've been slogging along the past 20-30+ years, showing up at work, fixing other people's problems, bringing home a paycheck, paying the bills, denying ourselves, doing the mundane chores at home, and all for what? Once you raise your kids they leave you . Once you have given your company your years of energy, they jettison you when you become old and tired. Where is the meaning in life? Where is the fun? This sense of weariness is shared by many I know at mid-life. A tromp-tromp-tromp march through our responsibilities.....is that all there is ?How do I remember who I once was? It's a cliche, but an important life stage, too- just as important as finding your own way, the first time, as a young adult. Reassessment.

The answer lies, I believe, in the Transcendentalist American writers Emerson and Thoreau. I always end up teaching this literary unit in January; it coincidentally falls around the time of making New Year's Resolutions. There have been years I focused on losing weight, exercising, and eating more healthfully. Years of working on the last two have failed to produce any results in the first category, and I need to try something different for a change. I have revisited my notion of a bucket list, but this time, not focusing on places I want to travel. I am re-thinking how I want to LIVE. What are my values? Am I living in accordance with them? What is giving me stress (that I can control ) and how can I re-arrange my life to live simpler, have less stress, more happiness? What do I want to do? How do I want to be? What will make me happy? I am fortunate that hubster and I still have good jobs and enjoy each other ( in spite of all the squabbling!) My health is not great but watching two dear friends go through chemo and cancer this past year has made me grateful my problems are not as severe. I've been reading a lot of blogs and books and done some research on this idea that getting rid of things no longer needed- whether cleaning out the attic of old baby furniture, or cleaning out my mind of negative thoughts - will help me in my goal.Simplifying. I know these choices are so conventional these days as to be cliche.....but where I live, deep in the heart of a red state where people trade up to a new monster SUVs every other year then complain about car payments and gas prices, I am taking a stand. This is what I've decided, so far:

1)De-clutter, embrace minimalism, focus on the few material things I value. Get rid of what I don't need, stop buying/accumulating. Make careful choices if I do buy. Do I really need any more kitchen gadgets? No I do not. I learned to cook in college when all I had was one large bowl and a big spoon, and I can make nearly anything with just those two items. Never use all the fancy gizmos, anyways. My house is filled to the brim with crap. Husband is an ADHD hoarder, my mother-in-law constantly "gifts" us with junk she doesn't want, either, and once you have kids, you've basically signed up for a 20 year period of acquiring impedimenta - toys, shoes, outgrown baby equipment, sports equipment, books, backpacks, video games, junker old cars.....the list just keeps growing. In my home, I have 3800 square feet, 16 rooms, a dozen closets - all filled to the brim. I feel like I'm in a nightmare where the more I try to straighten, clean, organize, sort- the more it just keeps accumulating. This is a reality, not an exaggeration. I used to spend every summer, holiday, and weekend tidying up , and I'm sick of it. Something in me has snapped, and I just can't do it any more. So my new year's resolution this year is to go through it all - once last time- and get rid of most of  it. This is more challenging than it sounds, not just for the sheer quantity of it all, but because hubster fights me every step of the way. I have to do it when he is not around; can't have garage sales. Have to haul it to Goodwill or the city dump. (As I recently did for 6 of the 11 couches we had.) An example: I was hauling down several large, empty boxes from the upstairs hallway. They'd never been used, been there for years. Hubster got all upset, dragged them back in. "You can't take those!" he said. "Why ?" I asked."We might need them- in case we move... someday." I replied, "Dear, we're not leaving this house till we go to the nursing home or the cemetery. At that point, we won't be packing up every thing we own and putting them in these boxes." He refused to relent. Boxes still in upstairs hallway. I'm waiting till he goes out of town, and will try again.

 A few blogs I really enjoy on these topics:

2)Live according to your values; figure out what they are. After years of being guilt-tripped into attending a mainstream church, all from my mother nagging me, even as an adult, I have now given myself permission to stop. My kids are grown, they have been "raised in the faith". My mother is now dead. As an ancient history major in college, specializing in the history of near- eastern religions, I don't believe in any of  the traditional mainstream western religions, anyways. It's a huge relief, a burden off my shoulders. Always "the good girl". When you give up conventional religion, you have to find something else of value to you. People can't live happily in a void. I had a friend, years ago, who identified herself as a Jewish Buddhist. I think you can take what is of value, what works, for you, and piece it all together like a quilt. The important thing is to think about it, read, study, and be intentional. We all need to find areas of one's life where we are not living authentically, whether that be religion, friends, work, materialism, hobbies, or whatever, and re-adjust our lives to line up with who we truly are. How many people buy exercise bikes, use them for a month, then consign them to the back room where they hang clothes on them? How many people try to dress, talk, socialize, or buy things to put forth an image that is not truly themselves? Along with Transcendentalist literature, I show my students Tom Shadyak's film "I Am." Powerful ideas. My students loved it.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau

3)Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff. What's the most important thing?  What is all that truly matters? After long months in therapy where I deposited my work related anxiety and woes onto my shrink, she said to me one day, "What's the worst that can happen?" Suddenly, it was as if a light was shining down from above- the worst that could happen to me was tolerable. I've decided that I can only do my best and let the chips fall where they may. I refuse to worry about things beyond my control.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

4)Let go, and let be. 

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.
Ralph Waldo Emerson