Sunday, July 31, 2005


Lately I’ve been jonesing for us to make some more wine. We had missed strawberry season and blackberry season, but looking on a Texas agriculture site, it said that we were in the middle of plum season. “Plum wine?” Doug asked skeptically. “Sure, like the Japanese!” I replied. I even bought a bottle at the grocery store so he could try it. Liking it, the hunt for plums began.

One thing to know about making wine, you really need to get the freshest, ripest fruit around. Often times this means going to a farmer’s market or local grower. The fruits that are sold in the grocery store are picked early and then ripen on their way to the store. As a result, grocery store fruit isn’t as high in sugar content and you want a high sugar to make good wine.

Second thing to know is that peaches are the marquee fruit in central Texas, particularly this time of year. Occasionally you see farmers pitch tents on the side of the road to sell their wares, but what is more common is to head out towards Fredricksburg, buying peaches direct from the growers. These growers usually have various peach products for sell as well – from cobblers to jams to peach ice cream. It’s a big tourist draw.

We decided before heading out of town we’d see if we could find what we needed at the Sunset Valley (formerly Westlake) Farmer’s Market. We’d pass right by it and it would save time if they had plums. Plus Doug wanted to make mead and we knew we could find the necessary raw honey at this place. Now this Farmer’s Market is fun to go to but you have to realize it’s not your typical Farmer’s Market. Usually you think of rows and rows of vegetable stands from local growers. This one has maybe 2-3 dozen local vendors, but only a half dozen that sell vegetables. You can however, buy baked goods, lavender hand soap, pastries, meat, soy dogs, dog treats and green tea. But plums seemed to be out of the question. So we decided to head towards Fredericksburg and the hill country after all.

On our way to find a hill country plum grower, we stopped in Dripping Springs to see our friends Karen and Tom and their new log cabin. By log cabin I mean that it’s 3000+ sq. feet, and has a basement and a loft. Needless to say it was nice, as was their log barn. Just before we arrived their newly purchased Longhorn bull calf arrived, but the little fellow took off to a back pasture to hide from Karen’s four dogs. We stayed long enough to admire the house and see a bit of the 40+ acres, but then we had to get back to our quest for plums.

Our first stop was a pretty big and well-known vegetable stand on the way to Blanco. While we didn’t find any plums, we did find bottled rain water and peach ice cream – Yum! The guy at the stand said that plum season was June and we were a few weeks late. He recommend that we head north, past Johnson City (as in Lyndon B.) to another grower who grows plums. So we took our ice cream and rain water and headed to the other grower.

At the other grower we encountered a lot of great smells – the wife was baking peach cobbler and pies. They had peaches, apples and plum jam, but unfortunately, they confirmed we were about three weeks late for plums. However the grower did tell us that his wife made peach wine and peach brandy; we started asking her about it. She said you made peach brandy just like you make peach wine, but when you put it in the secondary fermentation you add a box of white raisins. This didn’t sound exactly right to Doug as he thought brandy was distilled (we later found out Doug was right), but still, Doug decided to make two batches of peach wine – one with raisins and one without. We decided to buy two big boxes of peaches – each about a half bushel, but when we went to pay, we found out that he only took cash and check. The raw honey guy had wiped us out of cash and I had forgotten my checkbook, so we had to drive about 10 miles north to Marble Falls to an ATM machine and then we came back for the peaches. The grower recommended buying #2 peaches to save money – they are more bruised and maybe a bit smaller, but who cares if you are just making wine?

We were almost ready to head back home but first we needed lunch. We decided to try Opie’s, a barbecue place in Spicewood. The best barbecue we’ve ever had was at Coopers in Llano, which is about 80 miles of secondary roads from Austin. One thing to know about Texas barbecue restaurants is that one is usually spun off from another – either someone ready to try their own hand at the business or someone is in a feud with someone else and starts their own. We knew that Opie’s was a spin-off from Coopers, so we were looking forward to trying some.

Fortunately the grower at the peach stand warned us it wasn’t nearly as good as Coopers and we found out he was right. We sampled some smoked prime rib which was pretty good, but the brisket was dry and as Doug said, the ribs were a joke. The sauce was interesting, however. Texas barbecue sauce is usually really thick and peppery. This was a thin sauce and you could taste the vinegar – I’m assuming this sauce was in the North Carolina-style which is supposed to use vinegar, but since I’ve never tried North Carolina sauce, I don’t know for sure. I liked the sauce but I don’t know if it was for the favor or if it was because it hid the meat. Needless to say, we won’t be in a hurry to head back to Opie's.

From there we headed back to Austin. On our way we saw a roadside tomato stand and stopped to pick up tomatoes. The next stop was the homebrew store to get yeast and what we needed for wine. Doug was excited as he was able to buy two 3-gallon carboys, which are a great size for making wine, for $9 each. Regular price is like $40. Our final stop was the grocery store so that we could stock the fridge and get bacon so that Doug could have his BLT’s (hold the lettuce).

We got home, unloaded, sanitized our equipment and started making the mead and wine. Doug fiddled around the stove and figured out what needed to be done while I started working on the peaches. We didn’t have to peel them, but we did have to cut out the bad spots, pit and mash them. I thought it would take maybe an hour to get the peaches done, but four hours, a gnarled hand, and a couple of nicks later, I pitted the final peach. Thank goodness Doug helped between doing things on the stove, or I would have been up all night cutting peaches. It was only after I was done that Doug told me it was 48 lbs. of peaches. I’m glad he told me after I had put down my paring knife. We finally got to bed after midnight.

Actually it was quite fun working on the wine and mead together. And I did peel and freeze a few peaches to make cobbler for beer night. I’m looking forward to see how our wine turns out. If it’s any good, folks might be getting some as Christmas presents!

Hell with sinking ships, loose lips land Doug in dog house.

This had been a great weekend, probably the best since the return from Hawaii in May. I decided to blow off the 10 hours of work that I brought home and enjoy the weekend. Dara and I headed into the Hill Country on a day trip on Saturday.

Dara was at her Southern Belle best and teased me that I had never had fried green tomatoes. I was Jonesing for bacon and tomato sandwiches, so at an orchard's roadside stand, we picked up huge tomatoes and I was guilted into going back and purchasing 4 green tomatoes to go along with the 4 huge Heritage ones purchased previously.

Sunday morning, Dara cooked a wonderful omelet for breakfest, complete with artichokes, kalomata olives, swiss and feta cheeses, diced onions, garlic and spinach. For a sauce dara mixed sour cream, pesto and an avocado I had sliced up. It was complete decadence.

I fired up the smoker about 10:00 to smoke a brisket for dinner, as well as to have left overs for lunches next week. We were able to get brisket on sale for only $1.99 a pound Saturday and after 6-8 hours of smoking will make for some outstanding sandwiches next week.

For lunch Dara fried the green tomatoes and I cut the tomatoes and fried the bacon for sandwiches. Dara talked me into cutting up another avocado to go over the bacon and tomato sandwiches. It added an interesting twist to the classic.

Unlike some of the other Southern foods Dara has introduced me to, such as fried pickles, this wasn't a hit. I have a goal to try at least one new dish or restaurant each week and this was one of several culinary experiences for the week. The fried green tomatoes were certainly edible and possessed an interesting tartness from the tomato that contrasted nicely with the bread crumb coating Dara used when frying. However, we agreed that it wasn't an "Oh, WOW" type of experience.

Unfortunately, I didn't stop while ahead. Dara asked me if I wanted to add the left over fried green tomatoes to the brisket meals for lunch next week.

What my brain was thinking was that this can't be good to reheat in the microwave. What my mouth said was "I don't think reheating is going to improve it any."

DAMN!!!!!!! I just insulted the culinary traditions of the Southern Belles of Dixie. I might as well have said that glue factory nags run at the Kentucky Derby, demolition derby junkers race at Talladega, Vespa's are better than Harley's, or that Southerners don't know how to BBQ, because they don't use Tofu.

I am now held in lower esteem than Charles Manson, all because of Fried Green Tomatoes.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Riding the storm out

We normally don't get a lot of rain in Austin -- summer or otherwise. But lately we've had some very weird flash thunderstorms and the one this afternoon was a doozey. This tree was one the the things we loved best about our backyard. It shaded the house, allowed privacy from our neighbors behind us, who, because of the slope of the field between us can see into our backyard. It was also one of the largest trees around and according to our neighbor, one of the few original trees from when they cleared the land for the housing development.

Funny thing is, it wasn't like there was a big crash or anything when it fell. The storm was loud with booming thunder. Normally you don't get a lot of that here -- usually there is just rain. But the monster thunder had Allegra scared, and since I didn't want to be on the computer and the satellite was out, we crawled into bed so that she could cuddle. I'm looking at the blinds and can see the play of the shadows and then they weren't there. I got up to take a look and that's when I saw it. My heart was broken as I loved that tree. We used to have a swing under the tree and we liked to take a glass of wine out there. We've been talking about putting a deck in that corner but were trying to figure out how to design around the tree.

For as sad as we both are for losing it, we are at least glad that it didn't land on the house or do more damage to the roof. And we are glad the storm wasn't worse. It sounded a lot bigger than it was. Allegra hid in the bathroom for awhile but she's okay now.


There is a new flavor of Icee being introduced - the Mexican Pilsner Pepper Beer. It is both cold and hot and if you drink enough you won't care. It was developed last night at our house when the guys forgot they were chilling down a couple of bottles.

Yankee or Dixie?

Are you a little more Yankee or a little more Dixie? Take this test and find out. I'm sure it surprises no one that I'm 100% Dixie. I think I was in college before I figured out that the crayfish that we dissected in class were the same things as the crawdads we hunted in the creek as a kid.

Be sure to post your score in the comments.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Blogging and self-censorship

Last week when I was at my friend Krag's birthday party, I got into a conversation about blogging with one of Krag's roommates. Being decidedly low-tech, I had to explain what blogging was, and why and how I was blogging Krag's photo from my cell phone. While he was intrigued by it all, he also seemed concerned about sharing one's thoughts with the world. "Can't everyone read it?"

I explained to him that yes, for some folks blogs can be limiting. I am very well aware that my mother, sister and Doug's mother all read the blog on a regular basis. There have been days when I've been upset, hurt or angry about something or have thought about posting something, thinking it could be sarcastic and funny, but then thought the better of it. There have been other times where I've thought about poking fun at one of my clients or talk about something related to client work, but realized that wasn't something I would want traced back to me. After all, folks have been fired for things they've written in their blogs. Doug gets horrified that I even mention the agency I'm working for this summer by name, but I figure I only mention it generally and in a positive light and that if anyone ever read it, they would know I work with a good group of people.

There are, however, a few blogs I've recently found where the self-censorship is subtle if non-existent. Waiter Rant tells funny stories of working in a restaurant. The entries gently poke fun of yuppie customers and it's no where near the tirade it could be. While the stories can border on the outrageous, he never mentions the restaurant or customers by name.

Opinionistas is written by an associate at a large Manhattan law firm. All names are hidden and the stories are funny yet sometimes depressing. You get the feeling that she really doesn't like her job and that's sad.

A blog that has very little self-censorship is 100 Reasons Why I Hate My Husband. This is truly venomous and you wonder why she stays married. Actually she's gotten a lot of hate email and as such has decided to quit posting, but the blog is still there.

So what are your thoughts about blogging and self-censorship. Are blogs better or worse if folks limit what they say?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Christmas in July

Normally I don't pay attention to the sales circulars in the mail but the other day one caught my eye. Tuesday Morning was announcing the arrival of their Christmas decorations! I was so excited that I had to thumb right through it. Then I tried to figure out how I could arrange it in the bathroom to ensure that Doug saw it.

Now anyone who has ever been to my house knows that it's decorated early American whatever. I think I was born without either the decorating gene or the shopping gene. Combine that with a man who thinks a 4-foot wine storage unit is perfectly acceptable as dining room decor, and the house is a hodge-podge. The perfect present for me would be to have the house queer-eyed.

Except for Christmas. I go all out in decorating for this holiday and the place is all decked out. I think the 100+ International Santa figurines and the Santa shower curtain prove that. While I wouldn't say the house belongs in House & Gardens Christmas, it's not tacky flea market stuff either. But part of the reason for this is that I've been collecting decorations for 10 years. Nothing makes me happier than finding just the right ornament to go on the tree -- whether it's a beer Santa or a surfing Santa we bought in Hawaii. I look year round.

Of course, one of my favorite things when living in Dallas was to go to the Tuesday Morning store near the corporate headquarters and shop for ornaments. If I went early enough in the season, I could find some cute stuff. The hotter it was outside, the better selection there was inside. Admittedly, we have been disappointed in the selection at the Austin-area Tuesday Mornings. Still, the idea of Christmas decorations made me giddy!

Later that night, after I figured out that Doug wasn't going to 'accidently' notice that Tuesday Morning started stocking Christmas stuff, I decided it was time to take matters in my own hand. So I walked into his office.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Nothing. I just thought you might want to see this," I said as I laid down the circular.

"Christmas?" Doug asked. I nodded. He looked at the circular. "Tuesday Morning? Isn't their stuff crap?"

"No!" I said as I grabbed the circular and walked out. I guess that I'll just have to leave shopping for Christmas ornaments in July to those folks who really appreciate it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Master or servant?

This has been going around for a couple of years, but I really think this list is funny. Especially as Allegra seems to be a little bit more border collie and can't sit still and Dante, our attention hound, is a bit more lab.

How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb?

1. Golden Retriever: The sun is shining, the day is young, we've got our whole lives ahead of us, and you're inside worrying about a stupid burned out bulb?

2. Border Collie: Just one. And then I'll replace any wiring that's not up to code.

3. Dachshund: You know I can't reach that stupid lamp!

4. Rottweiler: Make me.

5. Boxer: Who cares? I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.

6. Lab: Oh, me, me!!!!! Pleeeeeeeeeze let me change the light bulb! Can I? Can I? Huh? Huh? Huh? Can I? Pleeeeeeeeeze, please, please, please!

7. German Shepherd: I'll change it as soon as I've led these people from the dark, check to make sure I haven't missed any, and make just one more perimeter patrol to see that no one has tried to take advantage of the situation.

8. Jack Russell Terrier: I'll just pop it in while I'm bouncing off the walls and furniture.

9. Old English Sheep Dog: Light bulb? I'm sorry, but I don't see a light bulb!

10. Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.

11. Chihuahua: Yo quiero Taco Bulb. Or "We don't need no stinking light bulb."

12. Greyhound: It isn't moving. Who cares?

13. Australian Shepherd: First, I'll put all the light bulbs in a little circle...

14. Poodle: I'll just blow in the Border Collie's ear and he'll do it. By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.

How many cats does it take to change a light bulb?

The Cat's Answer: Cats do not change light bulbs. People change light bulbs. So, the real question is: "How long will it be before I can expect some light, some dinner, and a massage?"

All of which proves, once again, that while dogs have masters, cats have staff!

BTW, his majesty, Lord Dexter, has staff -- just ask Doug. :-)

"Vive le Tour! Forever"

Austinite Lance Armstrong said these words today as he retired from cycling after winning the Tour de France seven straight times. After the race, he gave a quick speech, paying homage to his team, his support crew and his two biggest rivals, both of whom were on the podium next to him. Lance also had this to say:

"...the people who don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics'... I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. But this is a hell of a race. You should believe in these athletes, and you should believe in these people. I'll be a fan
of the Tour de France for as long as I live. And there are no secrets -- this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it.''

To me, that says a lot. It's really nice to see an athlete go out on top and go out with class.

Now that the Tour is over, what will I have to blog about? It's a good thing school starts in less than a month. :-)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The big winner!

Doug won today's poker tournament and recieved a five hundred dollar travel gift certificate. Maybe I can get him to blog about it later.

Doug playing poker

I just arrived to the game. They tell me he's doing well as he has the most yellow chips.

Pflugerville poker tour

Just got a call from Doug. He's playing in a poker tournament today. He plays in this poker league, where every night of the week there is poker at a different bar around north Austin/Pflugerville. They play for 12 weeks and at the end of the 12 weeks the top 8 players from each bar play in a day-long tournament. The winner of this tournament gets a trip for two some place. Doug just usually plays on Sunday nights at Hanover's (here in Pflugerville), where he was the top player for this last 12 week period. However, he has played a few games at some of the other bars in the league so he has an idea about the competition. He figures he has a 25% chance to place.

Anyway he called and said he's doing well in the tournament and thinks he's in the top third so far but didn't want to say much more because he didn't want to jinx it. He said the players are playing slower and more conservatively than they do in the regular games.

If he gets to the final table I may go watch him play. I might do that anyway. Only I know little about poker and I'm sure I'd have to be quiet.

Good days and bad days

Sometimes you have your good days and some times you have your bad days. Depending on who you were, today's stage of the Tour de France was either one or the other. Today was the individual time trial, where instead of race against the other riders, you race against the clock. If you were Austinite Lance Armstrong, it was a good day. If you were Danish rider Mikael Rasmussen of the Rabobank team, it was a very bad day.

Let me start off by explaining a bit about the Tour. The Tour is almost a series of races within a race. There are 21 different stages this year and each day the riders line up to see who will ride faster than the others. On any given day any rider can win or finish last in the pack. However the Tour is really a combination of all the races and Tour winners are the riders who have the best time across all 21 stages. The fastest rider up to that point wears a yellow jersey to signify he is the leader. In the first week or two of the tour there could be a different person wearing yellow every day or two. This year Lance pretty much wore the yellow after the first week -- no one else could really come close to his overall time. However, Lance had not won an individual stage. He had the fast combined time from all the stages, but other folks would win the individual stages and he was fine with that as he knew they were not a threat.

The individual stages are mainly races against each other, with all the riders starting together. However, usually at least a few of the stages that are time trials -- riders against the clock. Each rider starts out on his own, with the next rider starting 2 minutes later (there is actually 3 minutes between start times for the top 20 riders). The rider that has the worst overall time thus far starts first, while the person with the best time (Lance) starts last. The person who gets to the finish line with the fast time wins the stage.

Today that person was Lance. He rode 33.4 miles in 1:11:46, meaning he averaged a speed of 28.2 miles per hour, up hills and around some tricky curves. This was his first stage win this Tour, and basically the last stage of the Tour. Tomorrow's final stage, the ride into Paris, is primarily ceremonial and no one will try to attack. While winning the Tour has nothing to do with winning stages, still you want the person that wins the Tour to have one at least one individual stage. The last time the Tour winner did not win a single stage was the other great American cyclist, Greg LeMond, in 1990.

So this was the good. Now for the bad -- Mikael Rasmussen. Rasmussen had never been thought to be a serious contender yet somehow he had become one. He was in yellow early on and won at least one stage. For quite a while he was second behind Lance and only earlier this week did he slip to third. Rasmussen was going to have a tough time trial today because Jan Ullrich, Lance's biggest rival for the past seven tours was in fourth place. Last year Ullrich finished fourth and wasn't about to let that happen again this year. Ullrich got off to a rocky start in the Tour, having a somewhat serious crash the day before the tour started and then again early on in the Tour. And unlike the Discovery team, where every rider works and focuses on Lance so that he can win, Ullrich's T-Mobile team doesn't have that cohesion and there were actually two other leaders in addition to Ullrich. If every member of T-Mobile had put his effort behind Ullrich then Lance might not have won 7 tours.

Ullrich, who is a powerful rider and does well in time trials, rode well today. Rasmussen, did not. Basically he looked like he cracked under pressure. He crashed early on in the race, landing on his right thigh. He got back up, and started on again. A little while later he decided something was wrong with his bike. He switched it, then switched it again and then again -- a total of four times. Reports said he thought the breaks were touching but the team mechanic found nothing wrong. After he changed his bike, Ivan Basso, the second place rider who started 3 minutes after Rasmussen, passed Rasmussen. Later Lance, who started 6 minutes after Rasmussen, passed him. Doug and I were watching the race and really started feeling bad for Rasmussen and started thinking it couldn't get worse, but it did. He crashed again, tumbling head first over the handlebars on an decent. It hurt just seeing it. Finally he crossed the finish line, but in doing so he dropped from 3rd to 7th place overall.

Tomorrow is the final stage of the Tour -- the ride into Paris -- and Lance Armstrong will retire after winning the most toughest athletic event in the world seven times. I doubt there will be another rider in my lifetime who can do this.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

See how "We Care"

One thing about being a contractor, you get paid good money, but you get paid sporadically. Blanc & Otus is better than most and I usually receive a check in the mail around the 20th of the month, for the entire previous month. June was a very busy month, so I have been anxiously awaiting my check. I'm thinking "we can pay off the Intrepid" while Doug is thinking "we can put it in savings in case the job at Cisco doesn't work out."

Well it came today. Or should I say that half of it came. In a plastic envelope from the San Francisco post office. Across the top it reads in big letters, WE CARE. The envelope goes on to read how the post office "makes every effort to properly handle the mail..." but that "...occasional damage may occur." It talks about how it handles more than 8 million pieces of mail and that sometimes the automation machinery jams and mail is damaged. They are sorry for any inconvenience they have caused me.

There is just something about the pat answer and the tone of the envelope that irks me. I don't think it would have been a big deal if it were a bill or junk mail, but this check is so badly damaged that it doesn't have the routing number or signature on the check. There is no way I can deposit it, which means that the San Francisco office has to cut another cut. Luckily we can wait on it, but still... I know that if a postal worker had to wait on his/her monthly paycheck because it was damaged, that worker would go postal! Saying "We care, but what do you expect, just deal with it" doesn't seem to cut it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Happy big ass birthday Krag!

Tonight we are celebrating the birthday of our friend Krag at Roaring Forks restaurant. It seems as though everyone who was anyone ordered on of the restaurant's "big ass burgers" (this is actually the name on the menu) and huckelberry margaritas.

They must be Raiders fans

Oakland Raider fans are known as thugs. This must be why Doug's buddy Small is a member of the Raider nation. But let's face it, when you think of cycling (bicycling, not motorcycling), you get this image of polite sedateness. In fact, it's hard to picture Europeans getting worked up in a frenzy about any sport. It's much easier to picture Europeans sports fans as reserved spectators of Wimbledon or the British Open than it is to picture them as face painted tailgaters.

Of course, this is just a facade. Many of us remember the riots at soccer games several years ago. And watching the Tour de France, you wonder what planet most of these folks come from. Today Andrey Kashechkin, a rider for the Credit Agricole team, got punched in the face by a spectator during Stage 16 of the race. Evidently Kashechkin ended up with a bloody nose. In watching the various stages, particularly the mountain stages, I am practically biting my nails. Spectators block the road, moving at the vary last minute. They run along side the riders, sometimes they touch the riders, patting them on the back or giving them a push (this is illegal, btw). During the Alpe d'Huez time trial last year spectators spit on Lance. I guess it's ironic that they think we are uncivilized.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Willy vs. Charlie

On Saturday Doug and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite being a few weeks behind on our movie watching, this was the film I wanted to see this weekend as I still adore Willy Wonka. As a kid there were two kid movies I saw almost every time they were on tv -- Willy Wonka and Wizard of Oz. I think I can still sing all the songs in both movies. In fact, on the flight back from Hawaii, the airline showed Willy Wonka and I watched it yet again. Combined with the fact that Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors, I wasn't going to miss this.

From everything I've been reading about this movie for the past year, I knew Charlie was going to be different than Willy Wonka. In fact director Tim Burton kept insisting he wasn't making a remake of the original movie as much as a retelling of the original story. In fact the scriptwriter had never seen the original movie and based the script on the book. I also knew that with Burton and Depp, Charlie was going to be a bit darker than Willy.

Despite knowing on this before going, I have to saw after seeing it, both Doug and I were disappointed in the movie. There is something quite innocent and charming about the first movie that is lost in the second. Remember in Willy Wonka when the children enter the chocolate room and there is a look of awe on their face? It's just not there in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Veruca Salt, the spoiled rich girl, didn't seem as spoiled in this one. Or at least she didn't tell her dad "Daddy, I want it NOW!" on everything little thing she saw. As for Wonka, in the original Gene Wilder made him seem eccentric, but somewhat harmless -- like everyone's looney uncle. Depp, as one might expect, makes Wonka almost a freak. Much like you might wonder why a parent would let their child within 50 feet of Michael Jackson, you wonder why didn't the parents turn right around upon meeting Depp's Wonka.

The one thing Doug and I wondered was whether we would have liked the movie if we hadn't seen the original. I don't know, but I do doubt that 34 years later adults and children alike will be anxious to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every time its on tv.

BTW, in case you wonder what ever happened to the kid who played the original Charlie Bucket, Willy Wonka was his first and only movie he ever made. Today he is a vet in upstate New York and rarely grants interviews. He did, however, speak to NPR and if you get a chance, you should hear the interview.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Where is the Yellow spirit?

Something that I've noticed this year, compared to two years ago or even last year, it doesn't seem that Austin is that excited about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. A few years ago all you heard was the Tour. People wore yellow all the time, there were signs in people's yards, and shoe polish on cars proclaimed support for Lance. This year, not so much. In fact when Tammy and I were at the Tour watching party, we were two of the few people in yellow. After, we stopped by BookPeople to replace a poker book for Doug that the dogs ate, and still no yellow.

Yes, number 5 was big for Lance, as that Tour was a struggle for him and people wondered if he would pull it off. By winning 5, Lance did something that only a few others did. Then there was last year, by all accounts, a much better year for him. Of course, he was breaking a record, so number 6 was special to watch.

This year you are just not seeing the Yellow spirit around Austin. Maybe it's because he's in such a commanding lead, but part of me wonders if folks are just taking it for granted. Lance comes, he wins. I don't think people are realizing that this year is historic as well. Lance is breaking another record -- 7 wins in a row -- and I doubt that we will see that again in my lifetime. But more importantly, this is the last Tour that Lance will ride in. It is his last race and the end of his professional career. He's not going to do a Michael Jordan and un-retire several times. As of next Sunday, whether he wins or loses the Tour (and it looks like he'll win), Lance will be hanging up his yellow jersey and coming back home to Austin to be with his kids and work with cancer survivors through the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Very seldom do athletes go out on top and Lance is doing it with grace and style. This is something special to be watching and all of Austin should cheer him on.

Watching Lance race into history

I'm at Six,a bar downtown, with my friend Tammy for a Tour de France watching party. We are wearing our yellow and cheering on Lance.

Keeping Austin Weird at BookPeople

Yesterday we went to BookPeople, a really cool, hip, independent book store that epitomizes Austin. It's the kind of place where in the parking lot you will find pink pickup trucks with goat horns attached to the hood, parked next to a Lexus. Yuppies buy bestsellers from tatooed and pierced employees, while the latest new-age author signs books for customers who just spent $7 on a latte.

Doug was looking for a couple of specific books. When I noticed that they had someone there doing chair massages, I decided to head upstairs for a massage to see if she could work out the knot in my should that's been giving a problem for several days. This lady was definitely an Austin character. In between telling me about how grape seed and other holistic remedies would help my viral infection better than the meds the doctor gave me, she started telling me about a book she was reading (picked it off the shelf, hadn't actually bought it yet -- I wanted to remind her this was a store, not a library, but oh well). This book was all about hiding your assets and disappearing. The massage therapist was throwing around the idea of heading to central America and really liked the idea of Belize. She actually was giving me tips about how to get a fake birth certificate and how to get a legal passport from some small European country. I'm not sure that the massage was all that great, but now I know where I can go on Saturday afternoons if I need some advice on how to disappear.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's 1 a.m., Do You Know Where Your Animals Are?

If you are one of my animals, you are some place you shouldn't be. Last night I got up at 1 a.m. to take my cough medicine. As I walked into the living room, I turned on the light and grabbed a Kleenex. Laying there on the couch was Dante, acting like he owned the place. He didn't even bother trying to slink off the couch hoping I didn't see him. Instead, he sat there like, "what's up mom?" I just looked at him and said outloud, "boy, you are so busted."

He starts to get down as I continue my walk to the kitchen. Suddenly I hear a jingle bell coming from the doggie door. I know without looking that it's Dexter, coming in from outside. Since he doesn't have claws, and was raised in an apartment, we really don't like Dexter going outside, but if you've ever tried to train a cat, you know how hard that is. About his only deterrent for anything is the dogs, especially Allegra. I pretty much know that he starts and ends the night in the bedroom, but when we are asleep, he sneaks out the door, timing his return shortly before our alarms go off. Sometimes he even does it if we are just in the living room and not paying attention. A couple of weeks ago I put a big jingle bell on his collar, thinking it might attract Allegra's attention and she would keep him from going outside. It hasn't worked.

As I call his name to let Dexter know that he too is busted, Dante decides to redeem himself by giving the cat the what for. By this time Allegra wakes and comes from the bedroom to join Dante in chasing Dexter back into the bedroom. "Yeah, Dante," I think, "you're a big help. Not only are you on the couch, the cat walks right past you to go outside and you are sawing some logs." I really can't imagine what we would see the animals doing if we had a Webcam on them while we were at work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Back in Yellow

After a rest day, where the riders still spend several hours training on their bikes, Austinite Lance Armstrong is back in the lead of the Tour de France and is in wearing the yellow jersey. This was the first of the mountain stages, where Lance and the Discovery Team usually dominate. While the second place rider is only 38 seconds behind, the real threats are several minutes behind. Unlike two years ago, there seems to be little doubt Lance will win again.

Sandy Rivers, of the JB & Sandy morning radio show, my favorite Austin radio program, was at the Tour last week during the team time trial. He said that the television coverage doesn't do the event justice. He said that you knew the Discovery team was coming near, as suddenly there were helicopters, cars and motorcycles. Sandy said the team whizzed by so fast that he couldn't even which rider was Lance.

Sandy also talked about the French people and fans. For the past 5 or so years, we've read how the French don't really like Lance. In fact, in the July issue of Outside magazine there is a great article on stuff of the stuff Lance has had to go through with the fans and media since winning his first Tour in 1999. We are lead to believe that the French and maybe most Europeans, hate Americans and don't like Lance. According to Sandy, this is far from the truth. In fact, he told the story of seeing this little old lady on the side of the road during the team time trial. She was waving two flags -- one the American flag, the other the Texas flag. Thinking she was from Texas, Sandy went up to talk to her. Come to find out that she was French and a big fan of Lance. Sandy said that she was trying to say "Hook 'em Horns" in a thick French accent, and do the hand gesture to show her support.

There are 10 more real stages of the Tour, and one final, mostly ceremonial stage that is the ride into Paris. In Austin we will see the excite grow over the next week, waiting for one of our own to do what no one has done before -- win 7 straight Tours. And then he will come home for good. As Lance has been saying, the faster he peddles, the sooner he will be able to retire.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Weekend update

This afternoon I caught Dante in a candid moment. He was outside in the 99-degree heat, sunning himself. He actually was rolling around on his back, but stopped before I could snap a photo. It's interesting to think about the secret life of our pets -- what they do when we aren't watching them.

We did absolutely nothing this weekend. We've both been sick -- Doug has been sick for the last 10 days, and I started coming down with it Thursday. Just sinus-type gunk, but not allergies. We had thought about seeing our friend Paul to see how he was recovering from his cancer surgery, but decided we better not as we didn't want to give him anything. So Doug played online poker most of the weekend and I've spent most of my time reading or watching movies. We saw the remake of Stepford Wives on tv last night -- that was one rotten movie.

This will be a busy week. My office is moving downtown on Thursday. Friday night Doug & I are volunteering at the Zachary Scott Theatre. I'm just hoping I can breathe by then.

Tour Update

Today Austinite Lance Armstrong slipped into third place in the Tour de France, giving up the yellow jersey. This was to be expected, and the riders in first and second place are no threat to Lance. Having to defend the jersey is a lot tougher for the riders, so strategically, it makes sense to let someone else, who is not a threat, wear it for a few days. Tomorrow is a rest day and then the riders head to the Alps on Tuesday.

This weekend I've read several articles about Lance and his impending retirement. One common thread, which is also common in articles about his off-season habits, is Lance's fondness for Shiner Bock beer, Mexican food and barbeque. These are the three main food groups for Austinites. The articles made me think about a story a heard on the radio about three years ago on the JB & Sandy Morning Show. Sandy, who had known Lance for years, ran into Lance one night at the Salt Lick, a barbeque restaurant way out in the country south of Austin. Now you have to understand that the Salt Lick is really popular, but there is usually a wait. It's also BYOB and cash only, so you really have to pre-plan if you are heading out there. Many times Doug and I have gone there without beer.

Sandy talked about running into Lance at the Salt Lick. His U.S. Postal team mates were with him, as they were in town doing some spring training. Lance invited Sandy to join their table. When the meal was over, Lance remembered that it was a cash-only place, and he had more than a dozen folks at his table and not enough cash to pay for it. Sandy said Lance was momentarily embarrassed, until his (now ex-) wife assured him she could take care of the bill.

I'm not exactly sure what made me think of that story, except maybe that Doug & I got barbeque last night.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Good news!

We got good news about our friend Paul. Yesterday he had surgery to remove a tumor on his thyroid. They did some tests and it was benign. Yeah for Paul -- he will be back strumming his guitar in no time!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

He looks good in yellow

Austinite Lance Armstrong is in yellow. His Discovery team won the time trial today and now Lance is in first place in the Tour de France. Long-time Lance team mate, George Hincapie is in second place. In fact, five of the top 10 riders thus far in the tour are from the Discovery team.

However, given that there are 16 more stages, with the dreaded mountain stages more than a week away, chances are that Lance will give up the jersey. The thing is, the current overall leader gets to wear the yellow. This early in the race there could be a different rider in yellow every few days. In previous years Lance has let other riders and teams wear the yellow, if he doesn't see that rider as an overall threat. For example, if there is a sprinter who gains time on flat courses, like what are usually at the start, Lance is fine with that because he knows once they reach the mountain stages these sprinters will lose their legs, so to speak.

Next July will be so weird. The Tour and Lance have captured both mine and Doug's attention for the past several years. Every day of the Tour, I check the Internet several times while I'm at work, waiting for the results. I doubt that without Lance, the Tour will seem so exciting.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The next big break-through band

The other day my sister asked where she and her husband should go in Austin on Sunday night if they wanted to hear some good music and drink good beer. The answer is the Haake Ranch in Seguin (pronounced Sah Gheen), which is where we spent our afternoon and evening.

Our friends Paul & Paula invited us out to Paul's dad's place for a 4th of July celebration. It's about 75 minutes from Austin, unless you take the scenic route, which we did. Paula's sister Claudia came, bringing her youngest son, and some other friends and neighbors were there as well. Doug brought out two partial kegs of beer, which were excellent. Herman, Paul's dad, cooked the best brisket (or at least the most moist) I think I've ever tasted. There were plenty of fresh veggies and sides to go around. Eventually Paul and his dad brought out the guitar and banjo and played for us. You just can't help to smile when you hear banjo music. I actually think they are good enough to get some gigs if they wanted.

The only thing was that it was hot -- today's temperature reached 100. Since we brought the dogs, I stayed outside with them, but Paula brought a couple of fans, and sitting on the porch wasn't too bad. Still, I drank way more water than beer, just to stay hydrated. The dogs enjoyed the farm, but did keep looking inside Herman's house, wishing they could enjoy the air conditioning. They slept the entire way home.

We had a great time. Herman said we should come back in the fall, when it is really nice. I can't wait!

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Tonight Doug and I are at our friends Cindy and Greg making homemade pizza. This is a way cool dinner party!

Vive le Lance!

Today was the start of the final Tour de France for Austinite Lance Armstrong. Twenty-four days of riding close to 100 miles a day through all types of conditions and tackling some of pretty steep mountain climbs. Today was a time trial and while it was straight and flat, it was very windy. Lance finished 2 seconds behind the winner. I watched the pre-show and just seeing the replay of last year's Alpe d'Huez stage and seeing Lance battle not just the mountain but the crowd of almost a million spectators who were standing on the road, makes you realize why Lance is such a great athlete.

I really hope that Lance makes this Tour lucky number seven. There is an audio clip that they like playing on the radio. It is from the 2003 Tour and it is a French man, a racing fan, and he states matter of factly, "Lance comes, he wins."