Sunday, May 31, 2009


Well here’s a rarity – two blog postings in the course of one day! In this case one topic rapidly led to another. In my futile attempts to control the course of my life, I frequently stumble into superstitious behavior. For this I blame my grandmother. She was adamant about certain things. Does your palm itch? Well, you’re going to come into some money. Drop a knife? Well, that means you’re going to have a fight. I always told myself that I didn’t take these superstitions very seriously, but now I’m beginning to wonder.

I have my own set of irrational beliefs and when I acquire one its almost impossible for me to discard it. Most of my superstitions have something to do with Mizzou sports and how my behavior affects the results of a football or basketball game. They can vary; I’m not of the “I must wear my Mizzou socks today” school. My compulsions are more anecdotal. If I’m watching a game, and I do something (leave the room, turn down the sound), and then the team scores, well I’m usually doomed for the rest of that game to repeat that activity. I don’t dare disregard it, because then if the team loses it’s my fault. I can’t have that on my head!

So Mizzou basketball goes to the elite 8 in the NCAA tournament, and I end up watching the end of the game through a crack in the door, because when I left the room they briefly pulled ahead. I turn off the sound on the TV to answer the phone and the Mizzou softball team scores, so I watch the rest of the game with the sound turned off. It sounds crazy, I know, but I’m afraid many sports fans will nod their heads in recognition. Sports and superstitious behavior seem to go hand-in-hand.

Asia was not good for me in this department. The Chinese are superstitious and they take their superstitions very seriously. It is part of their culture. I definitely was drawn to their beliefs, especially when it came to jade. Jade is said to guard a person’s health and well-being. Chinese children wear jade bangles and jade pendants, to ward off the Chinese version of the evil eye. If you are wearing a jade bracelet and it breaks it’s not a bad thing. It means the jade protected you from something evil, and it was destroyed instead of you being harmed. It just means its time to buy a new jade bracelet!

I made the mistake of wearing a jade ring while flying several years ago. Now I can’t get on an airplane without wearing that ring. If I did I feel like I would be tempting the gods. My rational mind tells me to cut it out, but I can’t take that chance.

How does this all relate to my previous post? Well, obviously I’m trying to control things that anyone will tell you can’t really be controlled. But we persist in attempting to do so, just like we persist in pretending that we know what the future holds.

I wonder right now if I need my superstitions more than ever. With so many things up in the air I need what little I have in the way of illusive control. I don’t really think this is that bad. I’m not washing my hands repetitively or checking to be sure the stove is off before I leave the house. I’m just clinging to another illusion that comforts me. I’m not ready to shove off completely into the void just yet!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Change Life Future

I’ve had a mildly profound thought in my head for several days now…”this is a blog thought!” I keep reminding myself. Any kind of writing is a funny thing. Once you get in the habit, potential topics come to mind usually when pen, paper or computer are far away (i.e. when I’m running, walking, driving in the car). I can, of course, whip out my handy Smartphone and type myself a memo in there, and sometimes that’s what I do, but its just as likely that instead the thought, whatever it may be, will wander around in my brain until I get the time and inclination (like now!) to put it down on paper.

So here’s the thought – none of us know what the future holds. Trite, huh? Yes, but think about it; most of the time, most of us THINK we know what the future holds. We conduct our lives as if we do, and we make assumptions about where we will be in six months, a year, ten years from now. But Lee and I have been living with the CERTAINTY that we do NOT know what the future holds now for a long time, at least since last October or so, when we first started to realize that we would soon be leaving Hong Kong.

What does this do to our view of the world? Well, for me, it’s meant that in some ways I’ve sort of shut down. As different possibilities have come up and then dissipated, I’ll entertain them for awhile, and then I’ll forget about them. I don’t seriously think about where we will be six months from now, or certainly in a year. I just don’t know, and it gets too exhausting to continually imagine one scenario after another, only to watch each possibility fade away.

Lee is different from me in the area. I think he truly thrives on the uncertainty. As each possibility raises its head, he gets excited, starts researching houses in the area, imagines sailing on nearby bodies of water, wonders about cold winters or lack thereof. I will briefly entertain thoughts about that area of the country, and then I kind of forget about it. I may even invoke a short prayer for a couple of days “oh please, please, please let this be the one”, but then I give up.

My view of the future has by necessity become small. I think about what I will be doing next week, next month, three months from now. Beyond that, I don’t think much at all. I care about finding rewarding activities to fill my time here in Austin, but I don’t think too much about what I might be doing a year from now. Who knows? We certainly don’t.

This attitude is especially reflected in my relationship with this house. No matter how much I try, it has always seemed like a temporary home to me. So did the apartment in Hong Kong, but in a different way. Hong Kong was a temporary gift, with a fairly finite ending from the very beginning. I always knew we would leave after some period of time. Since the vast scheme of possibilities for our future actually include staying in Austin, we sometimes entertain ideas about major changes to this house. But all of that is on hold until our situation is resolved one way or another.

But the house really looks nice right now. We’re done almost everything we’ve needed to do to make the house both more comfortable for us and appealing to any potential buyers if it turns out that we leave. The yard is green, the deck is stained, the new plants are thriving (for the most part). Inside the walls look clean and bright, our artwork from Asia is beautiful, and the crazy master bedroom closet with the 10 foot ceilings functions much better with the Elka shelving system Lee installed. The slate floor in the bathroom is getting there… it turned out to be more of a hassle than Lee expected. It was difficult to make the slate level, and he didn’t realize until after the fact that slate needs to be sealed BEFORE you grout it instead of afterwards. Sigh.

The other thing we’ve done is contract with Orkin to spray for mosquitoes during the summer. It’s already made a huge difference. When we lived here before I could hardly go outside without being eaten alive. Now we can eat dinner outside and linger over a glass of wine and the bugs are nowhere to be found. Yay!

So, I think about what I will be doing next week, and next month. But I really don’t think about next year. I know this ties in with the lesson I keep on learning and relearning as I get older…Life is what happens while you’re making other plans…what happens when you stop making plans at all because life keeps jumping in your face and shouting BOO!? I don’t know….I guess you end up becoming a Buddhist whether you meant to or not!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Two Movies

We’ve watched two movies in the past two days. This is pretty unusual for us, but subscribing to Netflix and using their instant play feature makes watching movies pretty easy! I love our new setup. Lee bought a Mac mini-computer and hooked it up directly to our television. We can use it both as a DVD player and to watch things on the internet through our TV AND to watch our Slingbox! We actually used our Slingbox yesterday too – to watch the Cardinals play the Royals, since of course that game wasn’t carried in Texas. We’re really going to end up using the Slingbox a lot to watch Mizzou sports come this fall. It wasn’t too bad either…the picture is kind of blurry, but when you think of the technology involved its fairly mind-boggling. I’m sure we’re right at the beginning of this latest tech-twist. TV over the internet is the next big thing…

ANYWAY, back to the movies! As luck would have it, these movies turned out to be the antithesis of each other. Not in quality, they were both very good in their own ways. Not in style either, although they were both very different. But in the ethical and moral treatment of relationships, well they couldn’t have been farther apart.

The first movie we saw was called “Once”. Directed by John Carney and starring two unknowns, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, it’s the story of two musicians in Dublin and what happens when their lives intersect. It’s basically a musical. I thought the music was great; I plan to buy the soundtrack. The story involves this girl from Czechoslovakia and a Dublin man. The man has broken up with his girl friend, but still misses her and has written all these beautiful songs about their relationship. The girl has a husband back in the Czech Republic and her mother and her little girl live with her in Dublin. They end up finding a few more musicians and making a demo CD from the man’s beautiful songs. They really like each other, and are attracted to each other, but they control their passions and end up doing the right thing. The man goes to London to promote the CD and get back together with his girlfriend. The girl talks to her husband and he comes to Dublin where they will try to make their marriage work.

This story was beautifully done, and as Lee said, it was MORE romantic because they didn’t give in to their passions but were responsible to themselves, to each other, and to their families. They actually acted how people usually act, except in the movies! It was refreshing.

To see the second movie after seeing “Once”, was really disturbing. The second movie was called “Damage” and boyoboy was this an appropriate title! The director was Louis Malle, one of my very favorite directors. It starred Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. Everyone in the movie was gorgeous, as was their houses and their cars. Irons plays a member of the British Parliment. Throughout the movie he looks positively depressed and barely clinging to life. Binoche plays a very disturbed young woman. She is haunted by the fact that her brother killed himself because he was in love with her. She and the minister start an affair, and a gruesome little thing it is. Their sex is certainly passionate, but there is also something ugly and depraved about it, even while everything is shot very seductively and beautifully. She becomes engaged to the minister’s son, but that doesn’t slow things down at all. Eventually of course the son finds out, accidently dies in his shock (by falling over a banister), the man’s family and career are destroyed by his unfaithfulness, and the girl goes back to an old boyfriend (God help him).
Although Damage is a very highly rated movie and like everything else by Louis Malle it’s truly beautifully shot, it basically disgusted me. I’m certainly not a prude and I like sexy movies and even strange disturbing movies, but coming on the heels of Once I just had no patience for people acting this badly. The protagonists in this movie were no better than animals, and frankly they got what they deserved.

Of course it was interesting to think about the girl and how she was so self-destructive, and how she managed to wreck such havoc, but then again, although Juliette Binoche is beautiful I found it hard to see what made her into such a home-wrecker. Oh well, I guess she’s just not my type!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shakespeare's Pizza Forever!

It’s a problem…ever since we left Columbia we’ve been on a quest. Is there anywhere in the world where the pizza even vaguely approximates the heavenly pies that you get at Shakespeare’s Pizza? Hong Kong pizzas were laughable. Pizza Express wasn’t too bad, if you avoided the smoked salmon and Peking duck offerings. Isola had a pretty mean (and very pricy) black truffle pizza. Baci and Goccia both had decent offerings in the pizza department. But it was pretty standard for us to declare that when we started thinking the pizza in Hong Kong was good, it was time for a visit back to the US.

Shakespeare’s pizza is special. It’s hard to say exactly what makes it so excellent. The crust is definitely part of the allure. Bready, but not too doughy. Crusty, yet eminently chewable. Toppings baked to perfection. Funky, noisy, eclectic atmosphere…amazing taste. We know we’re a bit prejudiced; after all its pizza from HOME! But we’ve taken people to Shakespeare’s that have strong other-city loyalties and elicited a positive response (thank you Erik!) so we know it’s not just us. Where-ever we go, we miss Shakespeare’s and long for a slice (or three, admit it) of artichoke and tomato for us, a veggie pizza for Sarah, and pepperoni and jack cheese for Dan.

Here in Austin you wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to find good pizza. Austin Pizza is…okay, so is Brick Oven. But really, neither of them comes close to our standard. However, the Chronicle recently published the “People’s Choice” of best restaurants in Austin, with winners in many different categories. Best pizza was a place called “Home Slice” on South Congress. So the other night we decided to check it out.

First positive, a huge crowd, and a funky décor. We decide to sit at the bar, where we can watch the pizzas being made (and didn’t have to wait for a table, which was good because we were hungry!). We order a spinach salad (good), and a couple of glasses of wine (a Barbera, quite decent), which come in jelly jar glasses. We design our own pizza – artichokes, tomatoes, basil, kalamata olives, mushrooms. We sit there and watch the dough being tossed around expertly and feel hopeful. We’ve been disappointed before. Our standards are high!

Then the pizza comes. It’s good – VERY good. Better than Austin or Brick Oven for sure. Is it Shakespeare’s caliber? Let’s say it was in Shakespeare’s neighborhood, okay? We were very happy, but we have our loyalties!

We told our server that we were comparing them favorably to our favorite pizza place in the entire world and another server overheard our conversation. “Shakespeare’s? Hmm, that’s interesting. We’ve had a couple of pizza dough makers here that used to work at Shakespeare’s”. Small world.

Anyway, if you come and visit us in Austin and you have a hankering for pizza, we’ve found the right place.

Shakespeare’s Pizza:

Home Slice Pizza:

Note: picture of Shakespeares by Ned Vail:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Prickly Pears

I’ve always thought prickly pears were ugly. Ugggllyy! Funny-looking, cactus-like plants, growing where cacti aren’t welcome. Usually kind of bent and worn looking, like random animals and perhaps a truck or two have run over them.

And people around here seem to love them. I guess they’re easy enough to grow, so people stick them in the ground where-ever they have a corner that’s too sunny and hot and difficult to water for anything else.

I remembered seeing prickly pears occasionally in Missouri as well, so I did a little research. Apparently prickly pears are one of only a few cold-tolerant cacti; some species are found as far north as British Columbia! Weird.

When we lived here before I don’t remember seeing the prickly pears do anything very interesting. They just sat there in people’s yards and off in the brush looking bent and neglected. But a couple of weeks ago while I was taking one of my neighborhood walks I noticed that the prickly pears were doing something unusual. They were blooming! Bright yellow flowers were sprouting on the tips of their cactus-like stumps and red bulbs started appearing after the flowers fell off. Not only that, but new, green, PRETTY growth was appearing on the tips of the pears. What was going on?

Austin has been in the midst of a drought most of this year and last. We moved back about the time that the drought broke, but it’s still very dry and the lakes and rivers are very low. Maybe the prickly pears are reacting to the extreme lack of water, followed by a wetter period. Maybe the pears thought – make flowers and grow while we can!

For around a week I’ve been saying to myself that I should take my camera when I go for a walk around the neighborhood so that I could take pictures of the developing blooming prickly pears and the other beautiful yards and gardens in the neighborhood. So far I haven’t remembered to do that, but I have been periodically throwing my camera in my purse like I used to do in Hong Kong. So, the other day when I ate lunch at Whole Foods I was in for a surprise.

It was pretty nice outside so I decided to go up and eat on their rooftop. I know that sounds strange, but Austin is the “world headquarters” for Whole Foods and their store here is like a Disneyland for foodies. Their café is huge and includes a nice outdoor seating area and the above-mentioned rooftop as well. So up I went.

What should I see to my surprise but a whole garden of prickly pears, all in bloom! It was rather over-whelming and very beautiful. Of course here was my opportunity for prickly-pear pictures and I took advantage of that.

In Hong Kong I kept my camera with me because I never knew what strange and interesting sight I would run across. Here in Austin I’m not sure yet what I might run into. So far I’ve run into prickly pears. Well. That’s a start!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Getty Center in LA

Well. I think I’m finally maybe about to start to begin to get my life back in order. Funny that I should decide that while I’m in LA for the weekend and about to launch into a week that sees me flying back to Texas Monday, having guests Tuesday and Wednesday, and leaving for Minneapolis on Thursday! But the worst of the work on the house is over and it’s starting to feel more home-like. There are still things to be accomplished there, but they no longer feel as pressing and urgent. So, when we get back to Texas after Minneapolis I’m going to start to figure out what I want to do with my life. I can’t sit around waiting to see if we stay in Austin or move somewhere else.

Since the last time I posted we’ve moved into the house, I’ve gone to Missouri for Passover for a week, come back to Texas and worked. I’ve unpacked, put things away, cleaned and cleaned again, sorted, tossed, planted, put birdseed in the bird-feeder and generally worn myself out. That’s been part of the problem. I’ve spent so much time everyday working around the house that I just don’t have the energy to do much of anything else.

But yesterday I woke up at 4:30 am, drove to the airport, and flew to LA for the weekend. Lee is here all week working on a project so I decided to join him. It’s nice to get away from everything without any pressures at all to do anything except have fun! After Lee picked me up at the airport we drove him back to work and then I took the car and drove to the Getty Center. When the Center opened several years ago I read a review of it in the New Yorker and ever since then I’ve really wanted to see it.

To get to the Getty Center you take the freeway – 101 to 405. I can drive the LA freeways as long as I understand exactly where I want to go and plan out my driving so I know well in advance what lane I need to be in. I drive in the slower lanes and just pay attention. The Getty Center is right off of 405 and easy to find. You drive right in. Parking costs $10 but the museum itself is free. You take a nice tram to the top of the hill and there you are.

The museum(s) are situated around a beautiful courtyard, on a high hill overlooking LA. The buildings are modern, tan stone, blue windows, curved walls, straight walls….many interesting angles and lines of sight. I had a lot of fun playing with my camera, trying for interesting shots. I had read recently about making landscapes more interesting by putting something in the foreground to give perspective. I don’t know how successful I was but it was fun trying!

The buildings were labeled North, South, East and West Pavilion. Sometimes they were linked and sometimes you had to walk out into the courtyard to get from one to another. There were walkways leading off into the sides of the hills, where views and gardens, cafes and seating areas surrounded the pavilions on the outside. This made it easy to spend the day there without getting bored. I would look at art for awhile, then go outside and sit in the courtyard, or walk on a path and take in a view, or enjoy a garden.

The art was a mixture, with nice permanent exhibits and great temporary ones. My favorites were the French tapestries and furniture, the photo exhibit, the Japanese lacquer furniture exhibit, and the impressionists. The French exhibit was, I think Baroque and Rococo. It was over the top in colors and richness and detail. The photos were beautiful, strange and funny. A woman photographer was featured – Jo Ann Callis. There was a wall filled with pictures of confectionery by Callis that just cracked me up. No photographs were allowed in that portion of the exhibit so I bought a t-shirt with the pictures on it instead!

The Japanese lacquer furniture had a strange effect on me. It was beautiful, very ornate and of course, very Japanese. As I wandered through the exhibit I suddenly started crying! It really caught me by surprise. I know it’s because I miss Asia and Hong Kong…its okay. This repatriating thing is just kind of odd. It’s a little like grieving…no it’s a lot like grief, what am I saying! I’ve lost something, I have to mourn it, and eventually I will be able to just remember it fondly. What great memories! I’m looking forward to getting to that point, but I know I can’t force it.

Last night we went out for sushi – it was very, very good; that’s a great thing about LA. Today we’re going to Chinatown for dim sum and then we’re heading down the coast to San Diego to visit an old college friend of Lee’s. I think the sun is even shining now!


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