Monday, July 29, 2013

A Closet of One’s Own

I am now the proud inhabitant of a honkin’ big new closet. A 10 x 16 foot addition to one end of the house, to be exact. And yes, I am aware: if I need a bigger closet, then I no doubt have too much stuff. But more on that subject in a minute.
We took down the brick from the end of the house, extended the house ten feet, and cut a door in the wall leading into the existing bedroom, my son’s old room, that I had taken over for a computer room. If you have done much remodeling, you are aware that one thing leads to another; in this case the existing bedroom and bath wound up with a redo as well: new textured walls, fresh paint throughout, and new carpet all matching the closet. Not a bad deal, I must say. But here, let the pictures tell the story.
IMG_0006The bricks come down and saved to be used on the new outside walls.
IMG_0008 Getting the foundation ready.
IMG_0029 Pouring the cement.
IMG_0055 Framing up begins.
The door cut in the wall that connects the closet to the house.
Pedro laying bricks. He recycled the original ones and mixed in a new batch we were able to find that are a fairly good match. After a little time and weathering, they will blend in reasonably well.
After the computer room was all painted and finished, thanks to Raygena Barrett,  and the closet was finished,  it was time for the carpet. Jesus and his son Luis did a wonderful job adding that final touch.
Ray, Alex, and Pedro pose in their finished masterpiece. They also did the earlier remodeling on the house. Lueras Construction Company does beautiful work.
This is how it looks on the north side. And here is the finished end, which faces east, and then you see  the south side.
And here is the finished closet!
Empty it looks all shiny and new and perfectly neat. I really hated to move into it and clutter it up with all that stuff!  Now everything has a place. The sewing machine goes in the space you see in the picture above. The closet door is a pocket door, not the door you see, which is on a closet in the other room. All my clothes, shoes in their boxes, jewelry, ironing board, sewing materials, labeled boxes of photographs, cactus books, hobby supplies, and just about anything else that will fit into a basket to look neat and tidy are now in the closet. I even have a nifty three-step ladder/step stool so I can reach all the high shelves easily. And it has its own little air conditioner/heater so it will always be comfortable. I have even set up my 8-foot folding table to work on a project and had room to spare to get around it.
As to the issue of  having too much stuff, King Lear said it best when answering  hateful daughters Goneril and Regan over the question of how many knights he could keep when he told them, “O reason, not the need! Our basest beggars/ Are in the poorest thing superfluous.” I know I have been blessed with more than I need or deserve, but as I move into the closet I am making hard decisions and culling perfectly good clothes that I know I won’t wear again or don’t really need and taking them to the Thrift Shop where perhaps someone can really get some good out of them. I am finding I have a little harder time with little trinkets and treasures that I really don’t need but can’t quite let go of yet (see “Memories and a Coffee Can,” July 23), but I am getting there.
So now I have the luxury and comfort of going through baskets, drawers, and hanging things at my leisure, sorting, reliving memories, working, sewing, whatever. All those stories about people coming out of the closet? They have different reasons, of course. But I just may not want to come out of mine.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Memories and a Coffee Can

IMG_0708Amid the odds and ends that are my sewing supplies is an old steel coffee can full of buttons that I can remember being around forever. It may have belonged to my grandmother, but considering that the Duncan Coffee Company began in Houston, and we lived near Houston for the majority of our family’s life, it probably belonged to Mother.

IMG_0727The Duncan Coffee Company was opened in 1918, and the copyright date on the banner that says “Admiration,” is 1920. I doubt this particular can actually goes back that far,  But regardless of its age, it still presents a study in history, a glimpse of the way things used to be. Pictured on the can is coffee being presented in a silver service by a black maid to a white couple with the inscription “The Cup of Southern Hospitality.” The coffee being a part of southern hospitality I can relate to because Mother kept a pot of coffee on the stove all day just in case someone dropped by for a visit, which, in those days happened quite often. We did not, however, have a black maid who was expected to serve it. The can is steel, but I think the “steel cut” wording refers to a step in the processing of the coffee. But it is steel and came with the coffee vacuum packed as it tells on the other side, “Oven Fresh! One Full Pound of Coffee,” (not the 12 ounces, down from a full pound, that you see today) which had to be opened with the metal key that was attached to the lid. You can still see where it was connected on the lid. The key would be pried up and bent back so it would break off from its attachment. A strip of the metal had been scored around the top of the can with an overlapping tip left to be secured in a slit in the key, which would then be wound around the can detaching the lid from the rest of the can. When the key made it all the way around the can and broke the vacuum seal, the aroma of coffee would whoosh out of the can and would fill the kitchen with the smell of coffee. I can remember that; the smell of coffee always takes me home in my mind.

IMG_0732I remember buttons being a source of quiet activity during my early childhood. Mother would thread a blunt needlepoint needle with thread or yarn, affix a button at the end of it, and I happily concentrated on stringing buttons, checking my work, sliding all the buttons off, and then doing it again, only in a different pattern. I don’t know if this button can actually went to church with us, but I can remember stringing buttons while sitting on a church pew. And for those of you gasping in horror  that my mother would let me play with a needle, well, she did, and I am none the worse for it. It fed my creativity, kept me busy and quiet, and she knew I had enough good sense to know not to stick it my eye, for goodness’ sake.

IMG_0716 I dumped all those buttons out with every intention of getting rid of them but keeping the can. I sorted through them, even recognizing some from old garments, admiring the color or the pattern of the button, marveling that somewhere there is a machine or device or even a person to make these little things, remembering Mother and her sewing, my necklaces of buttons.

Well, I knew I would keep the can and still use it as a container for something.  But I couldn’t quite let go of those buttons just yet. So the can and some of its buttons are now back on the shelf, along with the other sewing things I reorganized and kept. My sewing tends to be mending and repairing, so who knows? I may actually need to replace a lost button, and I can go to the can and find just the right one. I see new buttons sold in scrapbook stores now to be used as page embellishments, but why buy what I have a bountiful supply of already? So some of them may wind up on a scrapbook page. And what could be more fitting than using buttons with a family history in a scrapbook of family memories?

But I will never use all of them, so some day the kids will have to deal with this little piece of family history. I will enjoy them until that time and let kids and grandkids decide what to do with them. Throw the can and its contents and its history away, I am guessing.

IMG_0705Or perhaps keep for yet another generation. One can hope.



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thinking About Seeing “Before Midnight?” Don’t Bother

Movie review time. I finally make it to the movie, and wouldn’t know know it- boring beyond belief.

I saw this overrated, self-absorbed, talkathon called Before Midnight when I went to the cactus convention in Austin, so it has been nearly a month since I endured  this third installment of the main characters’ lives, and I see it is now out of theaters, so my warning is woefully late for those of you who have already made the fateful decision  to go see this waste of time and money. The only reason I am even bringing it up now is that I am still coming across these wonderful, glowing reviews of the movie, which irritates me and makes me wonder if I saw the same movie the critics did, or if they all slept through it and were too embarrassed to admit they couldn’t review what they had not seen.

The friend I went with thought it was just wonderful and was positive that if I had seen the first two, I would have appreciated this one more. If the first two were anything like this one, I would have just gone to the dentist instead.

It seems it all started with Before Sunrise, followed by Before Sunset, following the two main characters, Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and the changes in their relationship. If this movie, in fact, portrays the “gorgeous imperfection of family life in the digital era,” as Nathan Heller fawns in Vogue magazine, then the digital era family is in trouble. Of being bored to death.

Nothing happens in this movie. All they do is talk and whine and ramble and insult each other. And they don’t come across as pleasant people to me. And I don’t know why they fell in love in the first place. Delpy is pretty, but bland, and has nothing new to say that women haven’t discussed ad nauseum before. Hawke needed a hair cut or at the very least a shampoo, had ugly teeth, and walked around as if his very body was whiny and nondescript, with droopy shoulders and wispy gait.

And- nothing happens in the whole movie. I go to the movies to watch a story unfold, to want to know what happens next. The issues discussed may have been relevant, but the movie came across as one long therapy session that should have stayed in therapy,  and as far as I could see by the end of the movie they had solved nothing, just grown weary of bickering and finally given up. And if that is the point, that is all well and good for those of you who like to watch people wallow in self-pity, but don’t tell me it is this wonderful movie. All the positive reviews remind me of The Emperor's New Clothes. No one is willing to call it the fiasco that it really is.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Porche-Dog Update

IMG_0722I should have said Destructo Dog the Second. When Mari came to live with us, she earned that designation with her penchant for chewing things. Porche is no slouch in that department, either.

And I will get back to that in a minute. Let me remind you that Porche came to live with us after Colten witnessed her unfortunate encounter with a vehicle that left her with a broken leg (“Colten Brings Home Another Dog,” January 9, 2013) and us with a hefty vet bill.

IMG_0556Seven weeks and six casts later, she was healed and almost as good as new. When she gets too tired or has run hard, she gives to that leg just a little, and probably always will. But I assure you it has not slowed her down.

She has methodically removed and chewed all pieces of wood, bones, antlers, and ceramic trinkets I painstakingly arranged for artistic effect in dish gardens, She rearranges and demolishes  pieces of wood, anthers, and skulls that I used for hardscape decorations in the outside cactus garden. And she digs holes the size of bar ditches when pursuing gophers, or just because it looks like a good place to dig.



But she is a sweet, ingratiating little dog who is hard to stay mad at. I shouldn’t say little, however, as she has gained 12 pounds and several inches in height since coming to live with us. We were told she was a pit bull/Lab cross, and I guess the Lab part is beginning to show in terms of her size. She can cover ground like a greyhound and reminds me of a thoroughbred horse as she trots about the pasture.

She is also a bit spoiled, spending more time on the sofa and our bed than the floor. But she is good about retiring to her kennel for the night, as does Mari. I suspect part of that is knowing she will get a treat when she goes into the kennel.

The only downside to her being a part of the family is Mari’s jealously of her where I am concerned. And I am afraid Porche has caused more wear and tear on Mari’s one back leg than is good, but Mari’s leg could be showing the effects of general use and strain from being three-legged. We will never know, but Mari gets extra special attention to make up for it.

So Porche has become a valued member of the family. Even if she has wreaked havoc on the yard. With time that behavior should wane. At least that’s what I’m counting on!


But I think we will keep her.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

So is it Bass Fiddle or What?

During the closing banquet at the cactus convention I attended last week (“Cactus Convention Field Trip to Westcave Preserve,” June 27, 2013) musical entertainment was provided by Dave Madden. My table was right up front by the three-piece combo, and I was delighted to see that a bass fiddle was one of the instruments in the band and made a comment to that effect.


My table, which was a fun table, consisted of no other native Texan besides me. New Mexico, California, and one naturalized Texan originally from New Jersey were represented. Upon hearing my comment about the bass fiddle, a couple of my tablemates thought that was pretty funny and gave me a hard time.

Well, what is it then, I asked, because all my life that is all I ever heard it called. And it made sense to me. It looks like a fiddle and it plays bass notes, so why not a bass fiddle?

An upright bass, or just bass, they smugly told me, and then smiled at each other with knowing looks. Texas-what did we expect? they were not doubt thinking, and probably lamented my lack of musical sophistication. Well, I do know it is also called a bass violin, and violins and fiddles are pretty much the same instrument, at least closely related.  I think the musician involved and musical genre being played dictates which term is used. Hah! I do know a little something.

I happen to love what a bass fiddle-oh, all right, upright bass- brings to music. The mellow notes and additional beat provide a different depth to the music that other instruments don’t contribute. And you don’t see them used much any more. Music, obviously, has changed over the years. What a shame, because they do add feeling and harmony to whatever selection is being played. They especially add to the emotions found in the blues.

So at one point I went over to the band, introduced myself to the bass player and told him how glad I was to hear and see a bass fiddle being used in the night’s music. When he heard me say bass fiddle, he shot a look at the drummer and they both laughed as if remembering an inside story-which they did not share!  But he seemed delighted that someone noticed that he was, in fact, playing a special instrument. I requested they play some blues, which seemed to also delight them, so I asked for their version of Stormy Monday, which I had grown up hearing from Bobby “Blue” Bland.


Stormy Monday was next. They did a lovely job, and I enjoyed it immensely. And the bass fiddle made it just right. The piano was quite nice as well. And the drums rounded out the sound.

So call it what you will; it will always be a bass fiddle to me, and it will always be a special part of a musical ensemble playing blues or any kind of music. Perhaps you have not been aware of its sound before, and will now have something to look and listen for as you hear music, live or recorded.

And if you are in the Austin area, you might even get a chance to hear music from this group,. They might even play Stormy Monday if you ask them.

They granted me another picture. Bryan Austin is the drummer, Michael Stevens plays that beautiful bass fiddle, and Dave Madden, the boss, is on the piano.

Check them out at