Mother’s Day: Remembering Mom . . . and Dad

This morning was going so well.  Soon after letting Annie out for her morning “go”, I decided to try out the new sprinkler on the thirsty front yard.  The spray and puddles soon attracted a variety of birds and even a squirrel that wanted to play in the rhythmic splashes on the sidewalk.

Then into the garage I went to pull a big bag of potting soil out of the hatchback in order to re-pot a monkey’s paw fern that had crashed onto the patio from its precarious perch from a nail not-so-carefully driven into a pergola post.  But the beans that had been soaking overnight for frijoles a la charra were on my mind, so I headed back inside to get them started cooking.   When I returned to the pots, I happily found that the fern could be separated, and I could share part with a friend.  In the front yard, the water continued soaking the dry ground.

With my hands covered with potting soil, I headed out front to turn off the water, only to find that ants had started another hill in the corner of the side flower bed.  Back to the garage I went for the Sevin.

With the ants taken care of, my puttering continued–filling pots, frying pieces of salted pork for the beans, sweeping the front sidewalk of the remaining puddles and twigs from the oak tree.

Enjoying my puttering on this unusually fresh southeast Texas morning.  Moving back and forth task to task until one and then the other was completed.  Even now as I write, it’s back downstairs to check on the nearly ready beans.

Enjoying my house.

Then one of those moments comes over me.  I know it’s Mother’s Day.  This is the second without Mom.  Last year wasn’t like this.

It’s the house.

Driving back from Kansas, a Christmas ago, less than two months after Mom had passed away, I had Annie in the car with me, and all of a sudden, for no obvious reason, I stopped the car, started to bawl, and said to her,  “I’m going to get us a house.”


My parents spoiled me.  When you’re the last one by a ways, you get spoiled.  I didn’t see it that way so much when it was happening, but they kept it up even after I came back from four years in the military and should have learned to take care of myself.  The house on the farm, and later, the one in town.  Mom. Dad. Home.  Always there for me.   After a weekend or holiday spent with my folks, I almost always cried  after I got into my car and was heading down the road.  (There are some of those N.A.R.T.H.-type psycho-wackos that would say that’s why I’m gay, but if so there’s a helluva lot of spoiled straight people out there too.)

Even after Dad was gone, when I’d spend time with Mom at the house in Abilene, it’d be hard to leave, and later, when she wasn’t able to care for herself, she’d say things to show she still worried and cared about me, like when one of the last times I saw her, she said, “Don’t stop quilting.  You might need that to take care of yourself some day.”  Behind me now set two tables  piled with two sewing machines, fabric, and all  sorts of quilting supplies, not quite ready to start–or finish–a project.  When the things on those tables are organized, most everything in my house will have found its place.


The full realization of why getting this house was so important never really hit me until this morning.

After my mom was gone, I no longer had a home to go back to.  Not that she’d even lived in her own house for the last years of her life.

So many things that I do now remind of my mom and dad.  (I can hardly breathe right now–remembering.)  My dad.  My dad’s blue striped overalls.  When I was a very little kid, I used to hang onto the loop on the side (the one that would hold a hammer) when I went along with him almost every Saturday to the grocery store.  Those beans downstairs.  I learned to cook, and not be afraid to experiment, from watching and helping Mom in the kitchen.  I could still pluck and dress a chicken if I had to.

Not long after I moved in to my house, I “had” to get a wooden bowl for the Christmas nuts, not only the bowl, but add to it the old flat iron that I already had and a hammer to crack the nuts.  A similar set for nut-cracking was what my parents had had for as long as I can remember.  The once kerosene lamp, turned into an electric one by an uncle, which sat forever on the desk in the house on the farm, after being passed around the family for awhile, came to me and now is on my desk in the corner of the living room, not so different from its place back on the farm.

My house has already become more than a nice place to live; because of it, I am able to live in a way that I couldn’t in an apartment.  More than ever, I realize how much of my own self comes from my mom and dad.  Because of them, I pushed myself to buy a house, and I’m sure that they would be happy for me, knowing that I’m “home” again.

(And the beans are done, the cilantro added.  And my first attempt at barbequed ribs on the big-ass grill is happenin’.)

Some People Have Kitchen Gardens, Mine Is a “Kitschy” One

Kitschy Garden, May 8, 2010

The saying is, “A watched pot never boils.”  For me, that “watched pot” is my little garden plot, which has become one of the joys of owning my first home.  (It’s hard to believe it, but next Saturday makes six months that I have actually been living here.)

Every morning when I let Annie out, I take a few minutes just savor all of the green plants; some mornings there’s a surprise or two, like the two butter-golden blossoms on one the squash plants.  In the evenings, there’s more time to water and hoe a bit.  The garden is a small one, so almost every plant gets scrutinized quite often; hence, it seems as if nothing is growing very much.  I know it is, and even more proof is in the photos I’ve taken, like the one from my post from April 21st, which I realize wasn’t that long ago.  I had just planted the beans a couple days before that, and now I can see that soon they will have blossoms.  The first tomato plant that I set in now has five little tomatoes!

When there was no more space to plant in the garden, I couldn’t stop with the attention.  First came a painted tin chicken and some found drapery rods, which I’ve stuck in to help prop up the growing tomato plants.  Then I added a rooster hanger for a plant.  Take a close look at the picture, and you’ll find a birdhouse, another chicken, a trellis for the cucumber vine, and, definitely, the over-the-top kitsch de résistance, a whirligig with a cat catching a fish on a line from its tail.  Being protected on three sides by the fence and the garage,  I’m not sure how much whirling is going to happen with that metal gadget.

For sheer beauty, the Christmas cactus can hold its own against any other flower.

Besides all the action in the garden, the plants on the patio are slowly beginning to recover from move from the apartment and the numerous smaller moves into and out of the garage during the colder than normal winter.  The Christmas cactuses had been in house, though, until the cold was for sure over.   Unlike last year, when a few blooms kept coming one at a time long after Christmas was over, this year by mid-January, they all seemed finished with their winter pageantry.  Then after they had been out on the patio for about a month and a half, I noticed three small buds on the plant that gets bright red blooms.  After a run-in with the garden hose, which resulted in a number of broken limbs (Happily, this is a great way to increase the number of Christmas cactus plants.  Someone will be the lucky recipient of the already growing cactus.), there were just two buds.  One opened during one of the 90+ days of this past week.  However, the last one waited until today, a much milder, overcast Saturday, when I could enjoy, what I expect is this plant’s last gasp at blossoming until next winter.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can grow Christmas cactuses.  They don’t expect a lot from you, but when their time comes in the winter, they will more than reward you for the care you’ve given them.

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.

That Little Red Sewing Machine and Women on Tractors

(The following post is from a few months back, but it hasn’t gotten much mileage, and it’s one of my favorites. Now that people are writing and reading more about equality, I thought I’d re-post it.)

The Center Pinwheel for One of the Stars

The Center Pinwheel for One of the Stars

I’m piecing together another quilt.

Sometimes when I’m working on a quilt, I wonder how many other guys out there might be doing the same thing. I doubt very many. I’ve met a few others at quilt shows and guild meetings, but I’d say for every 300 women who quilt, there might be 1 guy who does it, maybe fewer. There are several out there, though, who make a living as quilters and quilt artists.

When I first started quilting eight years ago, I felt somewhat awkward going to fabric stores, but that didn’t last very long. Because I was so intent on getting what I wanted, I soon got over feeling out of place in a quilt store, where the only other guy was some husband standing near the door, ready to bolt when his wife had finished checking out at the cashier. The good thing about being a guy quilter is that everyone who works in the fabric store gets to know you very quickly. I say “the good thing” and mostly it is good because the large majority of the women quilters and those who work at quilt stores are really curious about what I’m working on, and, of course, want to make suggestions. There are a few, though, that give me the impression that I’ve invaded their space; these are certainly the minority. I suppose they are like some firefighters or macho truck drivers who don’t think a woman should be a part of their professions.

In thinking about this tonight, I remembered how lucky I am to have had the parents I had, and unusually amazing, for the humble, Republican-voting people that they were–to give me (well, “Santa gave me”) the Christmas gifts I asked for back in those Eisenhower years–whether it was a tool set or a baking set, an electric train or that little red metal sewing machine (or even the child’s set of China that I still have in its original box)–they never said, “No, you can’t ask for that, because it’s a girl’s toy.” I wonder how many boys’ parents have said that because they didn’t think some toy was “gender appropriate”.

But my parents were part of that group of neighbors and hometown people scratching out a living on quarter-section farms and small town businesses–people that didn’t judge the farmwife who got out on the tractor to plow the fields or on the combine to harvest the wheat because “that is man’s work”. To them, the work just needed to get done, and whoever did it, it didn’t matter.

I don’t know–economic hard times might not be such a bad thing; if some people had to work harder, maybe they’d have less time to be judgmental about other people’s lives.


You can see one of my quilts here.

Christmas in February? Or Maybe Even March? How About April? These Blossoms Bring Out the Spirit Even If They Are A Bit Confused

March 8th--The first of the yellow buds to open.  It's just the palest of yellow with a bright pink stamen.  The pinks are still going.  Their flowers seem to last a long time.

March 8th--The first of the yellow buds to open. It's just the palest of yellow with a bright pink stamen. The pinks are still going. Their flowers seem to last a long time.

April 1st--And it's no April Fool's joke.  This is a single blossom on a plant that was in full bloom before Christmas.

April 1st--And it's no April Fool's joke. This is a single blossom on a plant that was in full bloom before Christmas.

It’s just the most pleasant Saturday morning. It’s crazy, but every weekday morning when I have to pull myself out of bed, I tell myself, “Wait ’til Saturday,” knowing that I’ll be able to take Annie out for her morning “ablutions” (damn, I thought that word was spelled with an ‘O’, I guess I got it confused with “abolition”, ha) and crawl back into bed for another round of sleep. However, it seems that each week, by Friday, I’m ready to get myself into bed at a normal person’s bedtime, so Saturday morning, no matter the weather, I’m fairly awake and the warm bed doesn’t pull me back in.

There are never enough pictures of Annie!  She "sits" with the Christmas cactus.

Feb. 28th--There are never enough pictures of Annie! She "sits" with the Christmas cactus.

This Saturday morning is no exception. It’s quite pleasant outside, not warm at all but fresh feeling and fresh smelling (the air, not me–yet), but there are some clouds in the north that look as if they might bring some showers or, perhaps, keep the day on the grey-side. However, even the prospect of rain didn’t push me back under the covers, so while my coffee was brewing (Saturdays and Sundays only), I got all my plants–inside and out–watered.

Most of the time I have no plants inside, but late in December, because I was going out of town for the holidays, I brought in my Christmas cactuses, most of which were already in full bloom, although the flowers in each pot were in varying stages of being at their peak: the nearly white one had already passed its best moments; the fuschia had many blooms but some had already dropped off; the new yellow one, which I had just bought at the Farmer’s Market, was completely aglow; the true red one, which may be my favorite as a Christmas plant, had buds that were just starting to open; the smallest one, which comes from pieces that have dropped from the others, had the tiniest of buds on the ends of its leaves.

One gorgeous, but lone blossom.  This red plant was in full bloom right after Christmas.  This one came back out of jealousy, I think, because of the pink.

Feb. 28th--One gorgeous, but lone blossom. This red plant was in full bloom right after Christmas. This one came back out of jealousy, I think, because of the pink.

When I returned home ten days later, the Christmas cactuses looked a sad lot sitting there on the window sill, except for the red one, which is perhaps the hardiest; there were just a lot of dried-up blossoms hanging from the plants or already dropped onto the sill and floor. Even the little one had lost its buds, the ones I had been so curious to know what color (or wishful thinking–what colors) they would be. After about a week, even the Christmasy red had finished its blooming. “So that was that,” I said to myself, thinking that I would have to wait another year for the colorful show that these small plants make just once a year.

Feb. 28th--The yellow one has some buds too.  They are much slower to open than the others.

Feb. 28th--The yellow one has some buds too. They are much slower to open than the others.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, as I was watering them, I noticed something on the small plant that hadn’t bloomed. “Were those little nubbins on the ends of some of the leaves buds?” I hoped. “Or maybe just new little leaves.” But in a day or so, I could see for sure. Buds! So thinking what else I could do for good measure, I stuck in about half of one of the Miracle Grow fertilizer sticks that I had found hidden away. And just to be fair, each of the other plants got a piece too.


Feb. 21st--Taken with the still setting on my Everio Camcorder because my digital camera has decided to go retro and take pictures like it's the 60s on LSD--not bad quality for a camcorder still, huh?

Now here we are, February 21st, and this small Christmas cactus is giving out its happy show of color! Theses are just the first blooms, there are at least 10 more buds in varying stages, that will be opening in the weeks to come. And as if not to be outdone, both the yellow plant and the red on either side of this one have buds, though just a few. I’m anxious to see the yellow blossoms again, because I never really had time to appreciate them in December.

It’s amazing really, how nature will surprise us, and give us so much joy.

It’s these surprises and differences in nature that always seem to wow us. Why is it when it comes to people, so many of us search for those that are familiar and those who are most like we are, and tend to push away the ones who are different?

Why is it that we don’t find joy in the amazing differences that others have?

Feb. 28th--This bright pink Christmas cactus is just going strong.  No blossom has even dropped off since they started opening more than a week ago.

Feb. 28th--This bright pink Christmas cactus is just going strong. No blossom has even dropped off since they started opening more than a week ago.

OK, So Let’s Try Something New . . .

I think I got the short stick when it comes to any technological genes, but I try to work around that disability.

Santa brought (and Santa bought himself) a JVC Everio camcorder, and now he’s finally trying to learn how to use it and upload to the computer and youtube. Bit by bit he’s learning.

Tonight Santa finally got something uploaded to youtube (even though it’s supposed to be like “so easy”. Probably for “all others” it might be.

Anyway, this is a bit of a snowstorm from Christmastime in Kansas, just a couple of weeks ago.