Monday, December 29, 2008

How Was YOUR Christmas?

The Christmas Holidays have been good. You may have surmised that by the lack of posting here at the GeezerChron. That’s because, to paraphrase my Aunt Orene, “I don’t have TIME to post on the blog…and sit on my butt as much as I want to.”

I was off the whole week of Christmas, and what with last minute shopping and wrapping and hiding and chasing after little yapping dogs, I just didn’t make it to the computer. My oldest daughter was home starting on Wednesday, and the preparations for the Soderfest were in full swing.

Since the only tradition with our bunch is the fact that we get together and eat/play games and open gifts, the meal was to have a Texican flavor. Enchilada casserole (rolling the individuals up was a little too tedious), tamales, picante sauce (supplied by yours truly), chicken fajitas, pico de gallo, and assorted desserts and other good stuff to eat, including a cheesecake my sister made. Truly good eats. And not a trace of turkey and dressing.

We sat around and played Scattergories, a really entertaining game. It requires the players to think vertically, horizontally, diagonally, every way but straight linear.

Christmas Day at our house was quiet and fun; we opened gifts and everyone was happy with the gifts chosen for them. New clothes, iPod, television, digital cameras, and the piece de rĂ©sistance; a Wii game system! It was bought for our youngest, along with Guitar Hero, but we all know that EVERYONE will dig this for a long time. Already, the youngest is a Guitar Hero on the “easy” setting, besting the system in 35 out of 42 songs.

I played a little, and even kept up on a couple of songs, but long exposure to the not-really-like-playing-a-guitar game reduces my patience and concentration levels to the point of frustration. There are some recognizable songs on there, but I have played air guitar to “Black Magic Woman” and “La Grange” too many times to keep up with the artificial surrogate on screen. It’s for young folk.

The Wii Sports is much better suited to old geezers. There’s tennis, bowling, baseball, golf and even boxing. Time, space and attention span do not permit me to explain how all of these sports are simulated in a video game, but suffice to say, it’s more realistic than Guitar Hero. Even as I type this, my 18 year-old is playing some heavy metal song broken down to three buttons and a “strum bar”. I am listening to my iTunes on the computer with my new iPod earbuds, with Little Feat cranked up to “drown out all background”.

Christmas Day also includes another standard activity; going to my sister-in-law’s house. The menu there was also non-traditional. Texas BBQ brisket and ribs was the spread we partook in, with Mimi providing the brisket, Becky smoking ribs, and my wife supplied the “good potatoes”. Mimi’s famous cherry dump cake, Becky’s chocoholic pudding pie, and our razzleberry pie all vying for the attention of any and all local gluttons. Not wanting to repeat my failed attempt at professional grub-boating of this past Thanksgiving, I took up a position at the big people’s table this time, in hopes that my gastric region would not be compromised again. Unfortunately, early on it became clear that I am not the eater that I once was, and decided to stop when my plate was empty. That way I could partake of the desserts later and not explode. I also wanted one of those tender dinner rolls with some more of that tender brisket snuggled in there!

Turns out, I just barely made the dessert train, and completely missed the brisket & roll bus. I just couldn’t eat any more. Gifts were exchanged while quiet conversations and digestion went on all around the house. Well, the quiet was confined to the areas where the old people were; the younger set had reconvened to my niece’s room where they played Pictionary. There were eight teen and twenty-agers having fun with probably only half-full bellies. It seems like such a short time ago that it was me in that room, just waiting for another opportunity to inhale the great food still lurking in the kitchen/dining area.

By the time the final bell rang to send everyone home, I think the adults were all about festivitied out. After arriving back at the Soderberg Pomeranian Ranch, we all sort of veg-ed out until it was time to collapse in the bed.

Now for the New Year’s parades!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reflections on the Cat

The Egyptian word for “cool” is synonymous with “cat”. It has to be. “Suave”, “smooth”, “debonair”, all with an only slightly suppressed savagery that is just below the silky fur. And I think their reverence for the cat is evident in their art; everbody looks like cats, with the eyes and the long, lithe lines of the bodies and clothing.

While the ancients revered the cat, modern humans hold them in high regard for other reasons. Oh, the original reasons are there, they are so “cool”, but they can rub against an “owner” and show their unique brand of “affection”, that has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress. Also, when they’re young, they exhibit such fun and youthful abandon when they play, and you can’t help but say “awww” when they fall asleep on the spot.

I am not a cat lover, really. Not a cat hater, mind you, but I just don’t LOVE them. They’re cool and cute and all, and I’ll even admit that they even have “personalities”, but I draw the line at believing that they talk. Cats can’t talk. They communicate on a basic level, but when people tell me that their cat talks to them…no. I guess I’m just a couple of notches up the scale from a “Cat Tolerator”. See here for our latest foray into the cat's world.

There is a site on the Web, “I Can Has Cheezeburger” has the “LOL Cats”; pictures of cats, mainly, in different poses with different expressions, captioned with intentionally misspelled and mispronounced snippets that are sometimes hilarious. Some of the pictures and captions indicate that the submitter is perhaps a cat lover with the “she said such-and-such” and “she looked at me and said, ‘That loooks like a great omlette, could you add some more mozerella, please’”. Sometimes it seems that the people who post the most unflattering pictuers of kittehs (the LOL Cats preferred spelling) may be in my camp.

My Dad has a cat, which may come as a surprise, especially if you know my Dad. In the past, if you asked him if he liked cats, his immediate reply would be, “Yeah, I like cats, I like ‘em FAST.” His favorite sport was catching uninvited tomcats in our back yard. He kept tennis balls by the back door, so when one came on the radar, he would creep out with ammo in hand to wing at the normally calm feline. When they realized they were under attack, they often sprang for the fence, and often underestimate the distance, crashing into the chain link with a satisfying “CHIINNGGG”.

His current status as a cat owner began when he got a black and white female Manx appropriately named Stump. The reason he liked the cat was the jacked-up hindquarters were reminiscent of a bobcat. Her disposition, while not mean, was also in line with that of the members of the lynx family. She was a killer. Of birds, and grasshoppers and lizards and rabbits. She was her own cat, but she respected PawPaw. Her replacement, Daisy, is a half-Persian, half-Manx orange predator equal to her predecessor. My Mom brushes her, when allowed, my Dad makes her eat all of her cat food in the dish before he gives her any more. He tells her when he spots a green lizard, and she knows the signal to attack. She has been known to kill and eat the most elegant of avian visitors to the property, including cardinals, hummingbirds and mockingbirds. A beautiful, fluffy cat, equally deadly under the fur.

Mark Twain penned “A Cat’s Tale” many years back for his daughters. It includes as many “cat-“ words as humanly possible, and still makes sense. “Catastrophy”, “cat calls”, “cat-pipe” and the main cat’s name, Catarauggus, are all used shamelessly. I don’t picture Twain as a cat lover who doted on his feline charges, but I think he liked them. No more, no less.

I like cats, too. When they are in kitten stage, they are sources of endless mirth with the antics displayed. As they grow, their feigned affection is soothing. My favorite trait of cats is their coolness. And my favorite activity is to crack the cool exterior, if even for a second. In neighborhoods, driving slowly, if a cat I spy, I wait until my car is right next to him to bark like a dog or honk the horn of my chariot and watch him come apart at the seams, albeit momentarily, only to regain the previously regal pose, but with a slightly irritated expression.

The only cat I can’t tolerate is the one that shies away or just won’t come to me. I mean, if you’re gonna have a cat around, you might as well enjoy it, right?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It’s REALLY beginning to look a REAL Lot Like…

I’ll say it, “it really IS beginning to look a LOT like Christmas,” only it looks like somewhere else, not here.

On the Texas Gulf Coast, we don’t get too much snow. That’s an understatement. When I was one year old we had a pretty good snow. Then, when I was in eighth grade, we had a really good one, too. I remember Kelly Hutchinson made himself a “snowburger” from one of the cars in the teacher’s parking lot. I’ll bet it tasted a lot like Texas City road film. In 1988, just before Christmas we had a really nice one, very dry and squeaky. You couldn’t even pack it into a snowball.

Looking back only a few years to 2004, the BLIZZ ARD of ’04, was a real treat. For those of you not in this area, we had a veritable white-out on Christmas Eve. Children and adults alike were outside, shivering and grinning, watching the white stuff blow in from the North. The whole area looked like a fairyland. A real and true White Christmas.

This one was a total surprise. I knew it was going to get cold, but a winter wonderland was quite unexpected. At 5:47 a.m., my daughter at Texas A&M texted me that it was snowing. YAY! How cool is that. Never get down here; put it outta your mind.

At about 3:30 p.m., she called and reported that it was snowing again in College Station, Texas, a couple of hours North and West of us. Really neat.

On the drive home, I heard sleet hitting the car on the passenger side, and as the drive progressed, by the time I got to my hometown, the big flakes were floating down intermingled with the freezing rain. An old excitement began to build in my gut; I can’t wait to get out in this, I hope it sticks!

As I understand it, the people who live with this all the time aren’t so excited by the prospect of any kind of frozen precipitation, but this is the Gulf Coast, and it’s rare for this kind of occurrence.

On arriving home, the house was dark and empty; my Katiebelle had gone shopping with her boyfriend and his mom and sister, and my little one was at her grandmother’s waiting for Mom to pick her up. The little doggies were very excited, and I immediately let them out to run around. I don’t think they know what snow is, consciously, but they did realize that it was cold and that there were lots of little white things to chase. At that time, I noticed that the deck was beginning to show a little accumulation of the white stuff.

I know right about now in this post, Charley will be snorting contemptuously at the fascination and reverence I am reacting to the snow with, but he’s in Oregon and sees this stuff all of the time. He raises Huskies, and I don’t think you’re allowed to NOT have snow with those fine dogs. Bear with me, Charley!

So, I hurried back out front to watch the miracle (Gulf Coast, remember) falling from the sky. The road was empty except for me. Then Dennis across the street came out, grinning like a big goober. We “howdy-ed” and then began to revert back many years to a pure enjoyment of the magical moment. His sixth grade daughter bolted from the house all bundled up, followed shortly by his five year-old son. We stood under the streetlight and Tommy exclaimed loudly, “I WISHED for it to snow! And it DID!”

I thanked him, and went back to conversing with his grinning dad. It turns out that Dennis is a native Iowan, and he even used to be depressed at Christmas on first arriving on our Paradise on the Coast. He couldn’t get used to standing around in shorts and a t-shirt, swatting mosquitoes in celebration of the Yuletide.

The rest of the young people began to appear outside, bundled up in their multiple light jackets and socks on their hands. Remember, we don’t get too cold very often; around here, what passes for a snowsuit is a set of warm-ups stuffed with old underwear and free t-shirts from the blood drives!

Standing in the thoroughfare, we saw a silver Dodge ease up to the corner under the streetlamp and a slender form emerged and shuffled quickly across the lane to meet with her friends already playing out in the snow. My youngest had arrived home. The little shivering, giggling gang ran from house to house, scraping as much snow off of the cars and mailboxes as they could to form snowballs to lob at one another, and their dads.

I stayed out for perhaps an hour, then came in to thaw out. I couldn’t feel either pinky toe, and the melt had finally worked its way through the fleece jacket I was wearing. I used a blow dryer to try to get the feeling back in my toes.

Soon, cabin fever got the best of me; being cooped up in the house with the blizzard raging outside made me want to get out and make sure the food supplies were in, just in case we would be snowed in for a month or so. I also had to get the present for the gift exchange at work on Thursday and pick up the ingredients for the salsa I was scheduled to bring.

In the parking lot of the Christmas HeadquartersMart, the lights illuminated the steady blowing flakes, which had increased in size and intensity from earlier. It was like being somewhere besides Alvin, Texas. The few people inside seemed genuinely glad to be there, or at least the endorphins released by seeing snow down here were registering as seasonal elation on most every face I encountered.

The snow is all but melted, save for the patches still in the shade. The slush angels that my girl and her friends made are just memories and pixels in jpeg files by now.
But the surprise blizzard of 2008 will be fresh and cool in our hearts long after the feeling comes back to my toes.

NOW it feels like Christmas!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Eighteen Years, Just Like That!

This weekend marked a milestone with my middle daughter. She turned eighteen.

That evening many years ago, I was young and dumb, although I was getting to be an old hand at the “Dad” thing. Still, when a child comes out from where there was only belly before, it is fairly amazing.

This child weighed in at the top end of our scale of kid production, nine pounds and one ounce. She was a serious child, although at only a week of age, sitting in the car seat, she said, “Elvis”. No joke. At least it sounded like “Elvis”. For months, she hardly smiled.

When she finally did, she exhibited a quick, mischievous sense of humor. Quick to laugh, quick to tease, Katie remains the one to watch, especially if you don’t want to get pranked. She is able to make up “facts” very believably, and tell the truth in such a way so that it seems like a lie. And vice versa.

While most children take their first independent steps tentatively around the age of one, Katie decided at nine months that she would stand up in the middle of the room, without holding on to anything. This was not a lean-over-hands-on-the-floor-then-stand-up-slowly first step. Nope, not her. She got up on her knees, put one foot out, then muscled her way to standing just like that. From then on, she displayed a superior sense of balance. She went on to soccer, volleyball, water polo and swimming.

Which brings me back to Saturday, her birthday. She was in Angleton at a swim meet involving 15 different schools. She was swimming on the “A” team in the 400 meter relay. They came in second and she was party to the silver medal that they won. She also swims the 500 meter freestyle. She came in first in her heat, but later another girl had a faster time. Dang. But she netted another silver for her swim.

I am proud of my little Belle. So proud, it makes me want to dance like an idiot to an iPod commercial. Just to embarrass her.

I love her THAT much!

It's Beginning to Look a LOT Like

The Christmas Season and everything that it encompasses is commencing. The TV specials, the shopping, even the tree out front are all progressing to the culmination of the top commercial event of the fiscal year.

The stupid Rudolph special was on the other night. I have hated that show for over 40 years. I hate the voices, I hate the characters, I hate the sound effects, I hate the animation, I even hate the lighting.

The Grinch, the Jim Carrey version, was on this past week as well. I can take that one, but prefer the ancient Chuck Jones presentation with Boris Karloff as the narrator. That one is coming on soon, too. I feel it. There was some sort of Charlie Brown special on tonight, and Home Alone will be running on the UPN station probably 35 times between now and New Year’s Day. Frosty the Snowman, too (I’m rolling my eyes right now).

The biggest evidence that Yuletide is nearing is that I went to the local shopping maul. I spelled it that way on purpose, thankyouverymuch. The traffic reminded me of the last hurricane evacuation that we participated in, except for that time there were no red bows or wreaths or antlers on the front of the minivans.

The mall was exactly what I expected, from the last time I was there, about this time last year. There were a lot of baggy-pants-ed kids, along with various and sundry other temporary residents of this particular piece of real estate.

The masses were out en masse, so to speak…I was enjoying the tableau of humanity parading, shuffling, prancing and eventually dragging by on stone feet. I saw a guy that looked like Al Gore eating an apparently yummy cookie, which was so big that it had its own carbon footprint. There were young white guys with shaved heads looking like convicts with their faux-surly expressions. There was even a guy in the food court who was so cool! He had long, bushy blonde hair, a really full beard, and dark, dark Wayfarer sunglasses on inside the mall. He looked like a throwback to the 1970’s. A cool guy surfer or dissident or something.

The boys all had pants that were several sizes too big, and dumb gimme caps with the flat bill twisted to the side. If they only had a clue as to what the pants-falling-off fashion statement said about the wearer in prison, they’d likely wear a cumberbund or suspenders or something.

The young girls all had their pants too tight, with too much makeup. Of course there were the older women with too much makeup as well. There were two varieties of those. First, the ones looking like they were out on a day-pass from the Golden Acres Retirement home wearing their blouses with the tiny leopard print accented by the oversized amber beads.

The other variety was the group that acts like the ink on their birth certificate is still wet. The prime example of this one for Saturday was the lady who was 55 if she was a day, although her over-dyed, straightened, and styled hair, with the bangs cut off absolutely level with her eyebrows, belied the fact that she was trying WAY too hard to be young. The eyebrows looked drawn-on, too.

The one bright spot that I observed was a girl about twelve or thirteen, dressed conservatively, walking with her mom, holding lovingly onto her arm. She didn’t look fearful, or like a pitiful little momma’s girl. Nor did she appear to have any mental or emotional problems. It just seemed that she was enjoying a day at the mall with her mom, whom she loves. A ray of normal family interaction in a cloudy, turbulent storm of shoppers.

I had all of the holiday frenzy I could stand, and so headed home. The lights needed to be put up so our neighbors wouldn’t feel so ostentatious. We have several strings of big C-7 lights strung with matching colorful icicle lights. These go in the crepe myrtle tree in the front. The boxwoods would host the net lights, as they did last year.

I entered the garage with an expectant spring to my step, and strolled over to the shelf where the lights awaited. Except, apparently, the net lights had gotten impatient with the eleven months of waiting and had skipped to Mexico or something.

I “danged” my way out back to retrieve the ladder so I could put up the lights that I DID have. After planting the rickety ladder in the front flower bed under the crepe myrtle, I took a step on the first rung. It groaned. As I balanced a wad of lights in my left hand, my right hand clutched the graying wood. On the second step, I felt a give and heard a crack. That was it. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I quickly did the math; 250 pounds, over three feet of boxwoods , carry the four, plus thirty-two feet per second squared from half the height of a six-foot ladder, equals a big pain in my shoulder (at least) and several crushed plants and a string of broken lights.

My alternative was to get a long piece of PVC pipe with a notch in the end. I had my smallest daughter hold the lights and I pushed them skyward to the branches. That did the trick.

So we now have a sparse showing of lights, not easing the neighbors’ feelings of superiority, and a glimmer of the Christmas spirit. I guess this coming weekend, I’ll get to the “hustle and muscle” of trimming the tree.

Wish me luck. And some anti-inflammatory meds…