2010 Starts in Less Than an Hour, Houston Time

Happy 2010! Here in northwest Harris County the firecrackers–big and small–are constantly popping.  The fireworks stands started cropping up before Christmas, and evidently there were plenty of customers.  The constant blasting started shortly after dusk and hasn’t let up.  This is a big difference from past years when I lived in the city proper and the sound of firecrackers was more sporadic because it’s illegal to shoot them off.  Some still do it, of course, as well as shooting actual firearms.  I can put up with it, and suppose the same will occur when the 4th of July comes around.

Annie hates it and hasn’t ventured far from my side since the first cracks from the fireworks began.  Now she’s sitting on my lap in almost near panic mode, shivering and panting.  I don’t remember her being so frightened by fireworks before, but she has been nervous when it thunders ever since a lightning bolt struck very near us when we were walking home from the park last summer.

They say the way your house looks on New Year’s Day is the way it will stay most of the time for the following year.  I have downstairs in good order.  I finally emptied out the final four boxes from moving that remained and got the contents put away.  Upstairs I started painting this room, which will be the guest room; it’s small, so should be finished by Saturday, even if I don’t work very hard at it.

Here the tradition is blackeyed peas for New Year’s.  I don’t like them all that much so I bought a can of field peas to mix in.  That with some vinegar makes them passable.

The big question now is will we say “Twenty-ten” or “Two thousand ten”?  Whichever–I hope this popping of fireworks brings in a year that will be one where people show respect and love for one another.

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Wednesday Wanderings: Blue Fleece Pants, Christmas Road Trip, Swimming, and Bowl Games

Cold, clear day for a road trip on I-35

Taking out Annie in the morning has definitely changed since I moved to my house, especially during cold weather.  When I lived in my apartment, I’d wake up, get dressed in jeans, shirt, jacket or coat, and maybe even gloves and a ski cap.  Then I’d get the leash on Annie, and we’d go down the three flights, and finally, out to the sidewalk, and walk to the corner.  Now I pull on my fleece pants and a sweatshirt, and we slip down the stairs and out the back door.  I look at my plants while Annie finishes her “business” and back inside we go.  With the 8-foot fence, we’re protected from any wind or neighbor’s view, so it doesn’t matter that I’m still wearing my fuzzy fleece pants with the blue and white snowflakes.

So here I am still in my fleece pants happily thinking about the upcoming New Year’s Day and that I’m in my own cozy home after a Christmas road trip to Kansas.  We made the trips going and coming back each in a one day, but while the drive up to central Kansas never seems too long, the return always becomes drudgery, especially the last boring leg from Dallas to Houston.  I’m sure the reason the trip up is better because of the anticipation of the arrival and seeing family and the old home state.  This time, we had good weather driving through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas both ways, but the snowy effects of the winter storm that went through the region were evident all the way from near Wichita into Denton, Texas, where the last remnants lay in the ditches and shaded areas.

Despite the cold wintry weather, we had a very pleasant Christmas.  It was the first Christmas that I had spent together with all my siblings since I was a kid out on the farm and the first time that we had all been together since my mom’s funeral last November.  It was an enjoyable time because it was one of the times when aside from the holiday itself, there was no stressful reason for us all to get together.

The red and gold rug looks great at the entry

I hit the jackpot when it came to presents this year.  Everyone was thinking about my new house, and the gift cards to Home Depot and Lowe’s will definitely be put to good use.  I also got sets of screwdrivers and other tools that I will use.  I’ve been saying, “When you have a house, you never seem to have enough screwdrivers.”  I guess everyone had been reading my mind.  I also got a nice rug that matches the colors of my living room–red and gold.  There was a bit of color planning, but part of it has just been evolution.

One of my current do-it-yourself projects

I had been looking for a coffee table, but a bench I had seemed to be just the thing.  It’s the second “project” that I’ve been working on in my garage.  (I realize now that I am going to enjoy having a garage more than just for parking the car.)   I picked up the bench from a what-not shop at leat ten years ago.  I used stain, both latex and acrylic paint, and now I am finishing it with coats of polyurethane so that it will take the hard use I’ll give it in front of my sofa.  Actually, I’m surprised at how nice it has turned out.  Maybe I’ve got a knack!

Having a coffee table is a definite necessity for a place to put the remote controls and the munchies when it’s time to watch the bowl games, and I will be watching them until the last one is over.  This thing with Texas Tech’s football coach is something else.  Well, just as I’m writing this, I checked ESPN and see that Mike Leach has been fired.  I couldn’t see how they could let him get away with that, but coaches have done this sort of thing for a long time and for many there are no repercussions because of how much power these guys (and women, in some sports) wield.  How is it that in many states the football coaches of public universities are the highest paid state employees?  Mack Brown of the University of Texas makes $5.1 million.  I don’t care whether football pays for itself or not; there is something wrong when an employee makes more than the bosses, in this case the president of the university or even the governor of Texas.

Nathan Adrian helped Team USA win Duel in the Pool

With all the preparations for the Christmas trip, I missed out on the swimming news (not even on ESPN information banner), but Team USA won big over a European team made up of top swimmers from Great Britain, Italy, and Germany at the Duel in the Pool in Manchester, England on December 18th and 19th.  One of the big winners in the event was Nathan Adrian, who became the first American to swim under 21 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle race and helped the U.S. team set a world record in the 400 free relay.

OK, I suppose now it’s time to get out of these blue fleece pants and hit the shower before the day gets away from me.

Christmas Eve in Kansas–Brrr . . . It’s Cold Here

Merry Christmas to all!  It’s almost noon here Christmas Eve Day in Kansas.  No snow here but Annie and I tried to take a little walk down my sister’s street, but even though the both of us were bundled up, the bitter north wind with a temperature of 21 degrees chased us back inside within less than five minutes.  My head was already aching from the cold.  It doesn’t take much of this weather to remind me why I live in hot, humid Houston.

The awful winter weather in the northeast part of the state will delay some of the family from arriving today.  My nephew said they drove 6 miles to Lyndon and had to turn back home because the strong wind was blowing freezing rain, making the driving treachorous.

However, we’re warm and toasty inside waiting for stew or soup or whatever my sister has on the stove for lunch.  “Vegetable soup,” she says.

Houston Newspaper “Chronicles” the Life and Times of Annise Parker, the City’s New Mayor-elect

From the front page of today's Houston Chronicle

Now that initial surprise is wearing off that the fourth-largest city in the U.S. will soon have a top official who is gay, more in-depth stories about mayor-elect Annise Parker and those close around her are appearing in the media.  Today’s Sunday Houston Chronicle included articles by Joe Holley on Parker as well  as her partner Kathy Hubbard.  While the article on Kathy appeared both in the print and online editions (read it here), the article “Not So Shy Now” about the mayor-to-be appeared only in the print version as the lead photo story on page one that jumped to page eight, which it filled completely.  The Chronicle‘s sister paper, The Dallas Morning News, carried a shorter, redacted version of the Holley article online.

By reading news media and blogs from all over the world, it is evident that Annise Parker’s recent election here in Houston has grabbed the attention of those far afield from the Bayou City.  As of yet, no archives of the longer version seem to be available.  I have saved mine to pdf files (because I think it’s a piece of history work keeping).

William Yang’s Photographs of Matthew Mitcham on Exhibit

Matthew Mitcham as captured by photographer William Yang

Not only are paintings of the popular Beijing Olympic gold-medalist on exhibit (see previous post), now images of the popular diver from Australia by photographer William Yang are on display at Maunsell Wickes at Barry Stern Galleries in Sydney.  Check out more of Yang’s photos of Mitcham at the Maunsell Wickes site.  If you’re actually in Sydney, the exhibit of Yang’s photos of Mitcham runs until December 24th in the galleries in Paddington.  An interview with the photographer discussing working with Mitcham can be found at the Australian website samesame, which just announced their Top 25 Most Influetial Gay and Lesbian Australians.  The list, of course, included Mitcham.

I Want My Gay TV (Part V): Satellite TV–Read the Fine Print and RuPaul–Draggin’ in Another Season of Reality Television

When I moved to my house, I decided that I wasn’t going to lug along my bulky Zenith TV, which I’d had for about 13 years.  It worked well enough, but I had been browsing the electronics aisles for more than a year ladmiring the flat screens.  Anyway, there was a small set with a built-in DVD player in my bedroom that I could take along and use for a while.

But when I had most of the furniture in place,  a desperate corner in the living room just longed for a big-screen TV, so I made excuses to myself about why I didn’t have to wait and could shell out the money for another expense to add to all those others that came from moving into a new place.  The Sears near my old neighborhood had an even-better-than-online price on a Sony that I had been reading up on.  And result is obvious.  They didn’t have one in stock, but would have by the following Saturday, so  I’d have to wait a few more days with the internet and a small radio made to be used in the shower, which had been given to me as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago and that I had stumbled upon hidden in some drawer during the move.  My God! More than a week without TV!  Had Hurricane Ike returned?  And what about the small TV?  No luck there either because I hadn’t yet ordered any type of cable service.

There were a number of choices, but finally I decided on satellite with DirecTV, which I ordered through AT&T.  I was trying to bundle up with my cell, internet, and regular phone services.  Also the house already had the DirecTV dish in place with all the wiring.  The price was right for the Choice Xtra:  $29.99 per month, and with all those HD channels.  I like as many ESPNs as I can get and I wanted Logo (the gay channel), and the Choice Xtra gave me those.

I scheduled the DirecTV installers for Saturday, so that I would be off from work; it was one of those “they’ll be there between 1 and 5” deals.  The problem was the new TV wouldn’t arrive at the Sears store until some time that same afternoon, so I wouldn’t be able to pick it up until after the installers had been there.  Of course, like many of those situations where you have a time slot to wait for service people, these didn’t come until between 4 and 5.  It didn’t take them long to get everything hooked up and the little non-digital TV was tossing out the various channels.

Not long after they had left, Sears called and told me that my Sony had arrived, so I hopped into my car and went to pick it up.  When I got to the store, it seemed like everyone was picking up something, so I had a wait for my TV to come out.  I was a bit surprised by the size of the box, but it fit into back of the hatchback.  Even though the screen size is larger than my old TV, it must weigh about half as much, so while I had to maneuver a bit because of the size, it wasn’t long until I had it out of the box, in place in the corner which had been waiting for it, and finally hooked up to the satellite dish cables.

When I first started flipping the channels, I thought the picture looked a little fuzzy, but I decided that it probably was because I had been watching the smaller TV earlier.  I was so enthralled with the new TV and involved with figuring out the channel line-up that I really didn’t pay that much attention.  I thought the image should be better with an HD TV but because I hadn’t had one before and because satellite reception was also new to me, I figured everything was the way it was supposed to be.

Then about a week later, I was visiting someone who also has a Sony HD, and I thought “Wow, this picture is so much better than mine.”  They said to me, “Are you watching the HD channels?”  “I think I am,” I replied doubtfully.

When I got back home, I started looking at the manual the installers had left me and found “need HD equipment for HD channels”.  I thought that’s what I had.  I looked at the box but couldn’t see any indication.  Then I went back online to the DirecTV site that had the offer for the various service choices and, of course, at the bottom in special notation it says this:

††To access DIRECTV® HD programming, HD Access fee ($10/mo.), a DIRECTV® Slimline dish, DIRECTV® HD receiver and HD television equipment are required. Number of HD channels varies by package selection.

No mention of that option had been made when I talked to the salesperson when I ordered the service.  I’m really surprised because she had tried to get me to buy other services.  I definitely want the HD but I haven’t ordered it yet.  I’ll need time to be at home, and, I’m sure, to wait another four hours for the service people, and there will be charges for the installation for that Slimline dish, I bet, and for the HD receiver box.  If the picture is a little fuzzy until there’s time in January to do that, no big deal.

There’s another charge to watch out for on the DirecTV special offers.  When I got my first bill, I checked for all the specific charges.  One item was for Equipment Protection Plan.  I even got another letter from DirecTV telling me that I had signed up for the Protection Plan @ $5.99 a month.  I knew that I hadn’t signed anything, since I had ordered over the phone and no mention had been made about any such Protection Plan.  There was a number to call if I didn’t want this plan, and they told me if the dish or the receiver had a problem if I didn’t have this plan, it would cost $49.  It seems to me this protection plan is no different than those the stores like Sears and Best Buy try to sell you when you buy some type of electronics; it’s just another way to get extra money out of a customer.

Anyway, for the most part, I like my new TV.  The channel line-up isn’t much different that what I had with TVMax (read my post about TVMax) at my old apartment.  TVMax also had several ESPN channels and Logo.

Even though Logo has a lot of re-runs and shows I don’t watch, I like having the option of watching gay-themed TV shows and movies when I want rather than waiting for “a glimpse of gay” on other channels.  One of the hits of last season on Logo was a reality show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race”–sort of a transvestite  “American Idol” a la “Project Runway”.  The host of the show is RuPaul, singer/drag queen, most known for his/her hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.  It’s similar to “Project Runway” because not only do the contestants perform, and ultimately, there is a winner, but they share living space, so we see also how they interact when they off the stage and out of drag.

I’ve never been one to really get into watching drag performances (lip-synching) in clubs, but the contestants on this show have been well-selected both for their talent and their personalities, so it’s not difficult to be lured into watching the show week after week, pulling for one favorite or another.  The first episode of season two will air February 1st at 8 PM (Central).  Check out some teasers here.  I couldn’t stop laughing at this promo for the show which takes a jab at Sarah Palin’s book cover.  There are drag queens and there are airheads, and RuPaul is certainly not the latter.

Sunday Morning Musings: Great Day (Annise To Be Houston’s Next Mayor), Foggy Day (Wet, “English” Weather), Happy Day (House Getting Semblance of Order)

Fresh "calm" paint on the walls. How do you like the dark accent wall? And there's Annie resting on the bed.

During all the house-hunting, house-buying, moving, and now, finally, settling in, I’ve missed writing here and playing with photos because, even though I have added a few posts, I haven’t put a lot of time into them.

I haven’t really had the motivation to write much about politics.  One thing, being involved in something as wonderful, and, almost, all-consuming, as buying and moving into the first house I’ve ever owned, the emotional ride hasn’t left much room to get angry about the political defeats in Maine and New York or to worry about whether the healthcare system is going to be better or worse after the dust clears in Washington.

However, on the local scene, I’m pretty tickled that Annise Parker has been elected the new mayor of Houston.  (I’m not going to re-hash this topic.  Click onto my homepage to read more about the election.)

Looking from the bedroom into my bathroom. The copper wall decorations I brought back from Greece almost 35 years ago look just as great as they did when I bought them. Probably couldn't afford them now. Yep, and there's Annie posing.

Mostly everything that I’ve been doing has been “house, house, house”.  In a couple of days, I will have been actually living in the house for a month.  People have asked for pictures, and I will add more as time goes by (just to keep up the interest–heh, heh.)  I’d say the house from the front has a Georgian-style look to it.  Hence, the appropriateness of the weather we’ve been having lately.  This morning and the past couple of mornings, the area has had quite a bit of fog; then spells of rain come.  The ground is soggy, quite a difference from spring and most of the summer, when there was a scarcity of precipitation, and there were cracks in the ground.  It’s a great to be in my own house, somehow feeling all protected and cozy, when it’s raining outside.  I suppose that will wear off, but it’s something I never experienced living in an apartment.

Yes, writing here has had to be put a little on the back burner, because with the house come a lot of other “hobbies”.  Mind you, I was aware and looking forward to them.  Even with just the moving in, there have been other projects.  Physically, the house is in pretty good condition, so I haven’t had to do much.  Though I plan to paint all of the rooms sometime, I can stand most of the colors for awhile.  I couldn’t take the “pumpkin” color (some would call it terra cotta) in my bedroom, so even though I had started painting it something more cool and calm, I didn’t get it completely finished until last weekend.  Now it’s done, and I’ve even got the blinds put back up.

(There are so many new things to learn when you get a house, like valance clips.  Not only had I never thought about valance clips before, I would never have imagined that there are so many different kinds of them, and, that when you need to find replacements, that even though the blinds themselves are sold in the fourth largest city in the U.S., it is impossible to find the clips for those blinds locally!)

Foggy morning from my back yard (if you can see the fog). Yep, I have a fountain. And a dead tree that needs to come down.

I need tools.  It’s a good thing that Home Depot and Lowe’s are both less than a mile away, conveniently next to each other, and located before what I would call the slowest and busiest intersection in Harris County–the corner of 529 and Highway 6.  Yes, I live in the county now–definitely “the burbs”.  I had some tools–the typical ones, hammer, screwdrivers, and wrenches.  Now, though, I need yard tools.  So far, I got a saw.  I needed to cut back some of the limbs from the bottle brush trees (yeah, they’re trees not bushes) that were rubbing against the front of the house.)  And hedge clippers.  I don’t have a hedge but there was a huge clump of decorative grass that was spewing way over onto the driveway intertwined with the most devilish rose bush.  After a lot of whacking, the grass appears to have gotten a marine haircut and the rose bush, for want of a better word, has been circumcised.

Oh, yeah, I need some heavy gloves too.

After boxing up and moving so much stuff, especially stuff I’ve collected, I shouldn’t need or want more, but there are things I do need to help me furnish my house–that I didn’t have or need in an apartment.  I guess partly because of my taste and also the style of the house itself, I’ve started looking for pieces at antique stores.  Quite a few years back, antiqueing was one of my hobbies, but when the space ran out, perusing through antique malls and country festivals came to an end.  However, after looking at all the badly-made, somewhat pricey items which come from countries I’d rather not support if I don’t have to, I once again started looking at antique and second-hand stores.  It’s fun, and it’s possible to find something nice and well-made.  And, hey, every bit of the money that I spend at the antique store stays in the U.S.  Yes, so?  What if I’m a liberal and an isolationist?  We need to learn to use what we have and not send our money out of the country when we don’t have to.

"Stilllife--Hopalong Cassidy Cup and Other Kitchen Items". And I like the glass cooktop better than sliced bread!

OK, there my diatribe.  Anyway, yesterday I went to one of the antique malls here in Houston.  (There’s a nice new one in my new area.  Check them out if your anywhere near the northwest part of the beltway–Antiques on 8.)  I really was looking for a side table or some kind of chair to put in my bedroom, but what did I find?  A Hopalong Cassidy cup–just like the one we had when I was a kid.  I had been on the lookout for one of those for a long time.  I’ve even written about that cup before on here. (Check out “Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy”.)  But there it was.  I probably paid a little too much for it, but, really, when it comes something like that, I guess I’m paying for the sentiment and memories as much as anything.

Dang!  I’d better stop musing and get some lunch made.  It looks like the morning’s over!