Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kelsey's basketball tournament

Yesterday Doug and I drove to Waco to watch my oldest niece, Kelsey, play in the championship game of the MT Rice basketball tournament. This tournament features the top basketball programs from across Texas. We were joined there by my entire family. Kelsey's mom, stepdad, sisters and my parents were there since Thursday. My sister Stacey, her fiancee and my nephew drove from Arkansas Friday night.

Kelsey's team, the Grapevine High School Lady Mustangs, are in blue and she is #14. They lost to Midway High School, which hosted the tournament. Evidently the girl Kelsey guarded for most of the game is the daughter of the coach who lead the Baylor University girls' basketball team to a NCAA championship.

Queen of Austin Magnet

Leslie, the homeless transvestite and former mayoral candidate, is the epitome of how Austin keeps it weird. Now, with the help the Queen of Austin magnets, you can dress Leslie in the outfit of your choosing. Today, Leslie is dressed in a denim mini, tiara, a pageant sash and is carrying Lone Star beer.

We originally saw these during a white elephant gift exchange. When we didn't end up with them, we bought a set at Book People. Stay tuned for other interesting outfits.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas plates

Not everyone received jewelry this year. I also fused glass into 7-inch plates. Here are some of the ones I gave. Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph two of my best plates before wrapping and some of the others didn't photograph well.

Christmas jewelry

This year I got into glass fusing and jewelry making. As such, most of the Christmas presents we gave were hand crafted. Below are samples of pendents I fused and then made into jewelry.

The jewelry below, I didn't fuse, but I did make.

Holiday happenings

Our Christmas holidays were fairly busy. I spent a good portion of last week finalizing presents and wrapping presents. Wednesday was the annual Girlfriends' Christmas Lunch, where about 20 of us get together to gab, eat and exchange presents. That evening we volunteered at the Zachary Scott Theatre's performance of Santaland Diaries. We've seen it at least once a year for the last 6 years; after a two year absence, Martin Burke returned as the Macy's elf and was in rare form. It was probably one of the best performances of the play that we've seen.

Friday night we attended a Christmas party at our friend's house and had a great time. Saturday was a few last minute things and time to chill, as Sunday we woke early to drive to Dallas. I wanted to go to the Galleria to the Franklin Covey store for a day planner, but when we got there, we saw the store is closed on Sundays, even if it is Christmas Day. However, we found a neat little tea store, Teavana, where we sampled some wonderful teas and even bought some.

After, we headed to BJ's Brewpub in Addison and met our good friends, Hugh and Rose, for lunch. We had a great time catching up. Rose (pronounced Ho' see) is from Brazil. I'm jealous because in a few weeks she and Hugh are heading to Brazil for a few weeks. It's been two years and Rose is looking forward to the beach. They are talking about getting married (for the second time) when they are in Brazil.

After two hours, it was tie to get on our way. Rose and Hugh had last-minute preparation and we needed to check into our motel. We got about a 30 minute nap and then headed to my sister's (Chris) house. My parents had already arrived. After a little while my brother-in-law's (Mark) parents and brother and his wife arrived (Josh and Susan). We had our traditional tamales and tortilla soup Christmas Eve supper and the nieces opened presents from Josh and Susan, and Josh and Susan weren't going to come over on Christmas Day. Kelsey and Allison, my two oldest nieces, played X-box football, with Doug and Mark coaching.

Yesterday we got up early, checked out of the motel, and headed to Chris' house. We had breakfast and then the girls started opening presents. As always, it was controlled chaos. Still, it's always fun watching the girls open their presents.

Once everything was opened, and the wrapping cleaned up, Chris and mom started cooking and we sat to watch Christmas Story with the girls. Unfortunately, now that they are teens, they'd rather spend time in their rooms. Mark's parents (Nancy and John) come over for Christmas lunch. After, the girls opened presents from them. By now it was close to 4 p.m. and Doug and I decided we needed to head home. We left the animals without a keeper and needed to get back.

We arrived about 7:30, fed the animals and had our own gift exchange, opening presents from Doug's parents, aunt and each other. We were in bed by 10.

This morning we got up to do errands and after-Christmas shopping. This year we didn't buy any trim-a-tree before Christmas and instead, purchased ornaments and decorations for 50-75% off. We even bought a new Christmas tree. I bought our current one in 1995, when it was all I could afford. While not quite as bad as the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, it is rather sad, and each year we talk about getting a new one. We just couldn't pass up buying a 7.5 foot pre-lit tree for just $100.

We also went into Spec's, a new wine/liquor store in Austin. We've heard about it as it's a big deal in Houston. Their customer service was great and they had some selections and gourmet groceries. We still think Grapevine Market has a better wine selection, but Spec's is better with liquor. Chris had bought Doug this thing to infuse rum (said it makes rum taste like adult kool-aid), so I insisted we buy rum and use the present.

The afternoon has been quiet. Doug gave me a photo printer and wanted to go check on the rebates. Dexter, who got a thing of catnip in his stocking, has been all lovey to me this afternoon, cuddling on the couch with me.

We had a good Christmas and are looking forward to a great 2007.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Not dreaming of a white Christmas

The temperature is in the 70s and I am wearing shorts. It’s Saturday and school is done for the semester. I finally have time to decorate the house for the holidays. I dig out my Johnny Mathis Christmas CD. As a little girl I learned from my mother that it’s not Christmas without the Johnny Mathis Christmas album. I couldn’t even name one non-Christmas song he sings, but still, every year, he has to play while I’m decorating the tree.

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” Johnny croons while I’m rearranging furniture to find a place for the tree. The song seems somewhat disingenuous as sweat runs down my back. Song after song paints a picture of a winter wonderland, while I’m wondering if I’ll have to turn the air conditioner back on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the mild winters of central Texas, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Then again, growing up in Arkansas, we never saw a white Christmas. I ask Doug if we would have a white Christmas if we spent it in Missouri, but when he tells me it would only be a 50% chance, I decide to forget it. Cold without snow just isn’t worth it.

Of course, the holidays in Texas is not something off a Christmas album, not even the Jimmy Buffett album I play after Johnny finishes singing. Forget turkey, ham or roast beef; two of the Christmas parties we’ve been to this year featured barbecue as the main dish. Christmas Eve is celebrated with tamales and Mexican food. We have performances of The Nutcracker and Handel’s Messiah, but since this is Austin, we have wicked tales of a naughty Macy’s elf.

The tree, the lights, the decorations, the parties – in some ways Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are. Still, I am sad as I listen to my Christmas tunes. We have the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but no sleigh rides, no snowmen, no chestnuts roasting on the open fires. Jack Frost would melt before he could take one nip at my nose. I wonder how the season might be different if we had the white Christmases of the songs. Would they be more traditional? More fun? More special?

I sigh and take a step back to look at the tree. I wipe the perspiration from my forehead. “Not bad,” I think as I look at the tree. Years ago Doug and I decided against the decorator tree, with every bulb matching and in its proper place. Instead, most of the ornaments have special meanings for us, like the ones we got in Hawaii or the ones from Disney. There are wine ornaments, beer ornaments and ornaments friends gave us. Half the fun of decorating is the memories. I still remember certain ornaments from my mother’s Christmas tree. This would be the stuff I would want to have once she passes – the Christmas stuff from when I was little. The ornaments she made 60 years ago; the ornaments I made 30 years ago. The baby Jesus in the manager that I would spend hours rearranging, like a doll in a dollhouse. Even the annoying chirping bird ornament that would drive our cat crazy as he climbed the presents in search of the bird. These are the fragmented memories from Christmases past.

At this moment, I think maybe it doesn’t matter if we have a storybook holiday. What does a white Christmas really matter? Maybe the best type of Christmas is the one we create with our own traditions, barbecues, sunshine and all.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas letter

Very hectic this week. I gave three finals on Tuesday and was frantic to get them scored and get the grades in. Then I attended a 3-day seminar on Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It was at the university and one of my grad school profs was a facilitator. It was a great experience. On Wednesday night Doug, the dogs and I met up with some friends to do the Trail of Lights and dinner at a dog-friendly place. This weekend we still have to decorate the house for the holidays and wrap presents. Needless to say, it's been busy and the blogging hasn't happened. We did, however, get our Christmas cards, along with our annual letter, mailed. The letter is below. I hope to have more blog time next week.

Happy Holidays To All Our Friends And Family

Like many of the previous years, 2006 has been a year of transitions for us. This summer Dara finished her thesis, which examined blogging and opinion leadership, and graduated with a MA from Texas State University-San Marcos. Because a long-time PR professor retired without notice, Dara was offered a one-year faculty appointment. This fall she taught four classes (three different courses), including three senior-level classes. She has found this both challenging and rewarding. We are unsure what next school year will bring as the university decided that the position Dara is filling must be held by someone with a PhD. However, there is always a chance things might change and Dara is staying open to a variety of possibilities. While she enjoys teaching, she also misses life at a PR agency.

In January Doug started a contract with GTECH, a company that develops lottery software. He had several opportunities early in the year to fly to the company headquarters in Rhode Island. This was the first time he got to explore New England, although there wasn’t much exploring after he found that Foxwoods Casino was only an hour away. This was Doug’s first opportunity to play live poker for money and he did well. Unfortunately, the rest of the year kept him in Austin. Doug’s contract with GTECH just finished, but he has several job opportunities in the works. If he doesn’t already have a job by the time this letter reaches you, we expect that he will have one secured in January.

In May we traveled to northern California to tour wineries in Napa & Sonoma. Three days of wine tasting was nirvana for us. We were able to try some high-end wineries, like Opus One and Silver Oak and got to visit some of our favorites, like Hess. Dara was delighted in stopping at a few champagne houses. The weather was great and we are ready to go back.

The only other travel this year was in June when Doug went to Kansas City. His father had bypass surgery and Doug went up there for a week to be with him. While it was a rough time, Jim, Doug’s dad, seems to be doing well now. We expect him to be out fishing in the spring.

This year we continued our involvement in the Women of Wine and the Men Who Adore Them and Dara volunteered during the Texas Food & Wine Festival. We continued our volunteer work at the Zachary Scott Theatre, which is always rewarding and allows us to see some great shows. Doug continued with his hobbies of brewing beer and playing poker and is trying to convince Dara they should take a weekend trip to Louisiana to play at some casinos there. Dara, in the meantime, picked up the hobby of glass fusing, which is where pieces of glass are heated in kiln to a high temperature until they fuse together. Dara started by making pendants and earrings. This turned into taking beading and other jewelry classes focused on jewelry design. She also started fusing glass into plates. She really enjoys it and is delighted when people compliment her work, especially when they don’t realize she made it. There are always errant bits of glass and beads around the house, but Doug is good humored about it. After all, all non-essential closet space in house is filled with homebrewed beer.

This is just a quick review of the past year. To keep up with our day-to-day activities, feel free to check out our blog at

We wish everyone a happy holidays and a great 2007.

Dara & Doug

Friday, December 08, 2006

Laying off

This morning Doug got the news we've been expecting every week for the last two months. His project has been cut where he works and he's unemployed. He's really not upset about it, as the company was extremely dysfunctional. Since he's been expecting it, he's been job hunting when and as he could. He's actually been contacted by several companies wanting him to submit resumes. He had a very promising phone interview yesterday and will have a face-to-face with that company next week. The other jobs haven't made interview decisions yet. While these jobs are all contracts, some are long-term; the interview yesterday was for a 2-year gig, at a company we've heard good things about. In the last 6 weeks we've seen more interest in his type of job, particularly at the higher-level, than we have anytime in the last 5 years. It's been encouraging. At this point, he'll get to focus on the job hunting and have time to do some things around the house and enjoy the holidays. My last day for the semester is Tuesday, although I did sign up for a 3-day Stephen Covey seminar next week through the university.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Funny Lance video

Yesterday morning Lance Armstrong was on the JB & Sandy radio show, helping out with the Bikes for Kids charity. They started talking about YouTube and Lance mentioned this video someone made about him. Of course, I had to look it up. It's hilarious, but it is not for the easily offended.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Visiting the over-hyped

Last night we went to a long-time Austin institution and a brand new, institution (although it will never quite be “Austin”). We were a little disappointed in both.

First, we went to Dot’s Place. For those who don’t know the story, Dot’s was a little, tiny diner that for years, served home-cooking to a crowded restaurant during lunch. I will admit that we had never been to it for two reasons, 1. we thought it was only open for weekday lunches and 2. it was tucked away and we could never find the place. The restaurant was in this old building, which burned down in 2004. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of insurance, the restaurant didn’t have any and couldn’t afford to rebuild. It took two years, and several community fundraisers, to get Dot’s back in business. She opened in October in Pflugerville, not far from our house. Since we now knew where it was, and since she was open for dinner on Thursday and Friday nights, Doug and I have wanted to try it. However, there always seemed to be long lines. Last night we decided to go.

Normally, we don’t go out to eat when we do home cooking. Occasionally we like to go to Hoover’s and we do take out-of-town guests to Threadgill’s (we like to tell them the Janis Joplin story). Normally, I figure that I can just as easily cook this stuff; then again, we don’t cook it too often because the grease just smells up the kitchen. It’s this strange dichotomy I have being a southern girl who has moved away; I like the idea of home-cooking, but reality is, given a choice I would rather have gourmet Italian, French, etc. than eat collard greens.

Immediately, I saw chicken ‘n dumplings on the menu and was excited. I love me some good chicken ‘n dumplings, especially on a chilly night. I got that and peas & carrots; Doug got chicken fried steak. We thought the pecan pie looked good, and since everything is cafeteria style with a long line, we decided to get a piece to split so we wouldn’t have to go back through the line if we wanted dessert.

First, what I got was not chicken ‘n dumplings, it was chicken and dumplings. I got a serving of dumplings with a chicken leg and thigh. This makes a ton of difference. Cooking the dumplings with chunks of chicken is what gives it flavor. My dumplings tasted like a big floury gob of dough. No veggies, no meat, just dough the thick, gravy-like broth. It had no flavor. I finally cut my chicken off the bone, added it to my dumplings, and added salt and pepper (and I NEVER usually salt my food – I had to here, just to give it flavor). My peas & carrots were cold, with the carrots being mushy (so you know it was true southern-style). Doug also said his corn was cold. I tried his chicken-fried steak and it reminded me of all the reasons I don’t like chicken-friend steak – it was tough and tasted like battered shoe leather. The pecan pie was decent, but you could tell it was something they bought from their distributor; it was not home made. Overall the food was pretty bland and boring and at $20 for both of us, the price wasn’t anything special. We did, however, like the rolls. Seriously, we thought Dot’s Place was seriously over-hyped and don’t plan to go back any time soon.

Not ready to go home, we decided to go to the new Ikea. It’s only the third in Texas and the hype about it opening has been huge.

Pulling in the parking lot, the enormity of the place was a bit daunting. I had not been into an Ikea and thought it would be a bit like Crate and Barrel, with all sorts of cool kitchen gadgets and neat home furnishing ideas. This was not the case. The first part of the store focused on furniture, with several rooms set up. This was great if you want to buy a whole room of furniture, but looking at the design took away actually noticing things like the candlesticks or other possible Christmas gifts. The kids running around, jumping on the furniture didn’t help either. Ikea has the store set up like a big maze – you have to walk along the path they set out for you, meandering through the different sections of the store. You can’t just walk in and go look at lamps, you have to go through all the rooms, then past the couches, bathroom ideas, kitchens, etc. before you finally get to the lamps. There are short cuts to different sections, but you have to be quick to catch them.

We thought the prices were pretty good, but really, none of the merchandise was “oh wow.” Actually, Doug and I agreed that if we were back in our 20s and just starting out with our first apartment, we’d like the store. But for where we are now, it’s just not what we are into.

I think today we’ll focus on low-hype places. I think our big plan is to go to the gem show to look at beads for jewelry and then tonight we’ll to a friend’s house for chili.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bah, humDoug

I swear, when it comes to gift giving, Doug takes all the fun out of the process. He does this, I think, just to make me mad.

A few things to understand -- one, we both go out of our way to find just the right gifts for each other; two, Doug is a great gift giver; and three, Doug is a horrid gift receiver. He's also a little hard to buy for as he usually just goes and gets what he wants. I am always getting asked what he wants and I never know what to tell people. He is supposed to be making a list, but it could be a bit before that happens. There have been a few times when I have gotten him great gifts, like a certificate for a glider ride, or a day at the spa, and he doesn't use them before they expire. I've learned now not to get those things for him, or if I do, it's not a gift certificate, I actually book something for him.

This morning I call Doug. "You are getting the BEST Christmas present," I tell him.

"That's nice," he responds.

"It's really awesome, don't you care?"

"Not really, Christmas is too far away. The present is out of my control."

He's got me there. "But it's so cool, I'm dying to tell you, but I won't." This is true. I have a hard time keeping gift secrets because I think they are cool. Once, many years ago, I told Doug I was getting him a puppy, just so I had something to focus on. In reality, there wasn't a puppy, but instead, a surprise party for his birthday. However, I did have him convinced so much that he even thought he heard the pup in our bedroom.

"You know," I continue, trying to bait him, "you don't even know if this present is from me, your mom, your aunt or someone else."

"This is true, but it's still out of my control."

Ugh! He makes me so mad. How much fun is it keeping a secret when the other party just doesn't care? I know it still seems early to be thinking about Christmas, and we are both so busy in the next two weeks, but please, play along with me. It takes away all my fun if you don't. I swear, he does this just to aggravate me.

But the present really is cool.

Monday, November 27, 2006

End of semester count down

Sometimes I wonder if students realize that teachers too are counting down to the end of the semester. I'm at the point where each day I'm ticking off how long is left. For me, it's two more days of classes before finals. With four classes, I'm teaching more classes than some of my students are taking. They may have tests, projects and papers, but we teachers are the ones who have to grade them all. Starting tomorrow, I will be a grading maniac, trying fast and furious to get things graded, all the while still prepping and writing the finals for my classes. In the meantime, I have students begging for second chances, asking what they can do to bring up their grade. Or others, arguing that something is "not fair." Students are still at the point where they don't realize how tough the world really is.

Of course, in the meantime, unlike them I am an adult and have responsibilities. Holiday shopping and planning, Christmas cards (the pressure of picking the right ones and making sure the list is updated and no one is left out) and decorating. Where do we put the tree this year, as the kegarator is in the spot we normally have the tree? Then there are the Christmas parties. We've gotten invitations to three thus far and are checking schedules before we RSVP. And travel reservations and who will watch the dogs. Doug is good in providing input and doing specific chores when nagged, but writing and addressing Christmas cards, or hanging garland around the house, is just not his forte. Luckily, he can get boxes out of the attic and string lights on the tree.

I am so ready for the semester to be over, but I'm not ready for the holidays. Why must one come with the other?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Busy this week and next

Doug’s folks have been here since Wednesday and it has been several busy days. You can read details of our travels Barbara’s blog. When not out doing something, Jim, Barbara and Doug have been watching football. I’ve never really been able to watch sports on TV, even football, so I have been using the time to play elf and work on Christmas presents.

What I really need to be doing is working on school work. Next week is the last week of classes. I have projects for one class due on Tuesday and then that class is taking the writing part of their final on Thursday

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey talk

Have you ever noticed that when you are roasting a turkey, the bird never quite cooperates with you? The rule of thumb is that it should cook 20 minutes per pound; however, the turkey seems to either be done way ahead of schedule or way behind. Today my 12 lb. turkey was done way ahead of time, like in 90 minutes, cooked at 350 degrees. Luckily, two things worked for me:

  1. I had prepped several side dishes yesterday. They were in the fridge, ready to be popped into the oven. The other stuff were simple and I could throw them together on the stove.
  2. I had my digital thermometer plugged into the bird. Not only did this save me from over-cooking the bird, it also allowed me to pace when I put those said side dishes into the oven so that they would be ready when the bird was.

Overall, it was a pretty stress-free day in the kitchen. Doug's parents arrived yesterday from Chillicothe. There was enough food to feed 10 people, unfortunately it was only the four of us. Damn, Tyler Florence for making everything look so yummy on TV and being so good looking I want to watch you cook. I made his turkey, his sweet potato casserole (Cindy, we forgot your suggestion to add the rum, darn it!), his cranberry orange sauce, his pumpkin cranberry pie (Cindy, your suggestion for the cranberries worked great), and a variation on his gravy. Pretty much the only thing on the table not from Tyler Florence was the stuffing, the spinach artichoke souffle from my friend Claudia, and the mashed potatoes.

Did I mention we have a TON of leftovers?!?

Other than that, the day was fairly quiet. Doug is watching his third football game for the day, the Chiefs vs. Broncos. I'm uncertain whether he wishes he was in Kansas City or not. While he and his parents watched tv, I was working on Christmas gifts.

Tomorrow we plan on bumming around a bit, hitting a few speciality stores but nothing major. Doug's dad wants to watch a few of the college games tomorrow. There really isn't a lot going on tomorrow. I think between Black Friday and the Texas/Texas A&M game here in town, no one is putting on special events. Saturday, however, we plan to go to a few different street fairs/art festivals in town.

Monday, November 20, 2006

We’ve found our perfect job

As any of our regular readers (meaning our moms, other family members, and friends who we harass to read) know, there are two things that are true: 1. I am a blogger; and 2. Doug loves beer.

No only do I blog, updating a few times a week, I research blogging, specifically how blogs are used in public relations and mass communication. Want to know about bloggers as opinion leaders? Ask me, that was my thesis. I won’t claim to be the end-all, be-all of blogging, but I know more than the average bear. Virtual communities, opinion change and blogs spark my imagination.

As for Doug, he is not the typical beer drinker. He is a beer connoisseur. Want to know the difference between a stout and an IPA? Ask him. With Doug, it’s not just about the drinking of the beer, it’s about the experience. This is why he became a homebrewer. His stuff is good, better than many of the commercial beers available in Texas. One reason is his curiosity about beer – he’s always reading brewing magazines and you never know when he’ll suggest a day trip to the Spoetzl brewery (Shiner beers) or some brewpub. Last Sunday we drove to Blanco to tour the Real Ale brewery. This tour was unusual as they allowed Doug to climb on the catwalk and see how the whole process worked. Doug thought this was real cool. His only disappointment – the tasting room was out of Fireman’s 4, one of his favorite brews.

Other things that are true: we like to travel, we like to go to festivals, we like to tour wineries and we like to attend and throw parties. This is why when we saw this article, we knew we had found our perfect job. What could be better suited for us than to travel across the country, going to festivals, touring breweries, sampling beer and then blogging about it?

Starwood Hotels, the company behind the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, is looking for a Chief Beer Officer. They want someone to travel, sample craft beers, represent the hotel, promote the hotel’s Best Brew program and then blog about. How cool would that be? We’ve already talked about creating a blog, and then maybe a book, about Texas brewing. Might as well expand that nationally and get paid to do it. We’re hoping that Starwood will like idea of couple blog team. If anyone has an “in” at Starwood, put in a good word for us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bits and pieces

As of today, Doug and I have been together 8 years. We are going to have a quiet celebration tonight. Work has been so hectic for both of us that we didn't want to do anything big.

The IKEA opens today in Round Rock. It's the first in the area and third in Texas. Folks have been camping out in front of the store since Monday. I'm curious to shop in the store, but not that curious.

General Hospital's Luke & Laura are renewing their wedding vows after 25 years. As my mom reminded me in an email yesterday, I checked out of school to watch the original. Truly, I think stupid stuff you did 25 years ago shouldn't still be held against you. Quite honestly, it's been 15 years since I've watched a soap opera.

Speaking of soap operas, this time of year turns into a student soap opera. I get all sorts of stories on why students haven't been doing well and why they deserve a chance to bring their grade up. With other stuff going on, I had several tough conversations yesterday. I also had a guest speaker cancel on me last minute. Let's just say yesterday was rough and I'm glad it is over.

No update on Doug's job situation. Every week he thinks it will his last. It probably will be in the next few weeks. He has had some interviews, but everyone is waiting a few weeks.

Doug's parents are coming next week for Thanksgiving. I'm just looking forward to not having a pile of grading. Every weekend for the last few weeks has been a huge stack of grading. Even this weekend will be 30 papers, project brochures and a stack of case studies. I am looking forward to a few days off for Thanksgiving. Of course, everything piles up again on the 30th, which is the last day of class. Yes, teachers count down to the end of the semester as much as the students do.

My thesis advisor has asked me to consider turning my thesis into a series of papers and presentations. He is willing to work on it so we can get it done; he thinks we can get some of the work published. I'm actually juiced about the idea. I was prepping my final lecture about PR trends. This is where I discuss blogging and new technologies. Every semester I have to update this lecture, especially this semester. Last semester You Tube was a passing mention regarding viral marketing; this semester it is a part of our discussion, along with social marketing and Web 2.0.

That's all for now.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Austinite featured in negative campaign ad

I thought Rick Perry's radio spots spoofing the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" campaign were negative, but they can't hold a candle to the ad below. The Statesman reports that the bimbo asking the senator to call her is an Austinite. Curious, I went to YouTube to see the commercial. It has to be one of the most negative political ads I've seen in a long time. No wonder the candidate lost. Commercials like these make us laugh, but one has to wonder when the negativity going to end and what impact it has on us and our society.

Remake of Office Space

I'm a huge Office Space fan. You will never realize how funny (or sad) the movie is until you have worked at a technology company. Many of the scenes hit a bit too close to home. I also think it's cool because the movie was filmed in Austin and Dallas (the

Someone on YouTube recut the movie trailer to make it a slasher movie. Seriously, I could see this happening too. I think, however, you have to be a real Office Space fan to get this.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Quiet beauty

It's 7 a.m. Everything is quiet; the hustle and bustle of the day has not yet begun. I am one of the few on campus at this time of the morning and am trudging up the steps to my building, bracing to face a full day of teaching. This time of the semester the days are speeding up exponentially and the teachers are as busy and worn out as the students. We are near Thanksgiving, but the weather hasn't complied. It's foggy this morning, a nice change from the mugginess. The high will be in the 80s.

Something catches my eye and I stop. I spider web glistens with morning dew. I can't remember the last time I saw something so intricate and beautiful. I take a photo with my cell phone. It doesn't do it justice, but I know by the time I can get a real camera, the web will be down, cleared away by someone trying to clean up. Life is short; now is all we have. Enjoy the quiet beauty of nature while you can.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Enjoying autumn in Austin

Fall is a great time in Austin. A few weeks ago it finally cooled down enough to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows. The nights are cool, at times down right chilly, but the days are sunny and in the 70s. We are even getting some rain--not enough to declare an end to our draught, but still a relief from our long, hot, dry summer. This afternoon Dexter joins me in my home office. I'm grading papers while he spies on the outside world, wishing he could sneak out and enjoy the great weather.

Funniest movie in a long time

This weekend we were one of the millions to see the new Borat movie. While we used to go to the movies every week, this year we haven't. Nothing really sparked our interest . Until now. Borat was hilarious. We went Friday evening and it was a great way to end a stressful week. We haven't laughed so hard in a long time. I would recommend seeing this one in the theater, simply because it's the type of movie where audience reaction is key.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Growing older

I’ve been wearing glasses since third grade. If it weren’t for innovations in optical technology, my glasses would be 10 pound Coke bottles and I would be a bigger nerd than I already am. When I was in 10th grade I finally got contacts and haven’t taken them out since. I still wear glasses around the house, but vanity, thy name is woman and my preference is contacts.

This is why I’m having such a difficult time adjusting to the fact that I now, at least occasionally, have to wear low-level reading glasses. There, I’ve said it.

Not that I’ve seen an optician about this. I noticed it in jewelry class, trying to string beads. Putting tiny thin wire through a little bitty hole drove me nuts. The store where I took the class had reading glasses to barrow, so I did. I was embarrassed to have to wear them and embarrassed that they were ugly. Then I took another jewelry class and was cussing that I couldn’t see wire I was working on. I made a comment about how I was too young to have to wear reading glasses and some old biddy across the table said, “hone, we all grow old.” One of my classmates from the first class saw the death glare I was giving the biddy and how I had changed the grip on my wire cutters just enough to do some serious damage and intervened. “She’s only in her mid-30s,” my classmate interceded as she nodded toward me. The biddy agreed; I was too young to have to wear reading glasses. Small victory, as I knew it was inevitable. I’m growing old

Two weeks ago Doug and I went to the local Mexican Flea Market, on Hwy. 290. Any cheapo thing you need, they have it. Doug was looking at a much needed pair of sunglasses. He’s forever losing his. While he was looking at sunglasses, I noticed they had reading glasses and started trying on a few pairs. I finally found a pair of 1.00x that were kind of cute, or at least not horrid. I’m not sure what 1.00x means, but they were the ones that worked best; 1.25x were just a bit too strong. While I was adamant that didn’t need them to read, I was still very depressed that I even needed them for beading. The vendor took pity on me and threw in another pair for free. I’m not sure if Doug was playing a cruel joke, but the second pair, a snazzy red number, ended up in my book bag with all the student papers I have to grade. They are on my desk at school, in case I ever break down and decide I have to use them for more than beads.

Of course, the last couple of weeks have been crazy busy and making jewelry has been out of the question. Working with the students, I don’t feel old, unless of course I make references to things they know nothing about (like carving Ivory soap figurines in Girl Scouts) or I start thinking how they weren’t born until I was in high school. I figure mid-30s isn’t that old. Then IT happened. The culmination of the glasses and growing old. I was mistaken for a mother of a college student.

One of my students, a 22 year old senior, was with me after class Tuesday. We were heading to my office but I had to stop first at the quick pick dining place to grab a sandwich to take with us. The student and I continued our conversation during the ordering of the food and the checkout, when a friends of the student came up. “Hey B! How’s it going? It’s been sooooo long! Is this your mother?”

Immediately I turned to glare at this student. She was young, looked like a freshman. I stared her up and down, trying to burn her image in my mind in case she was a PR major and took my class. I turned back around, grabbed my food and credit card, and walked off. Either I look way older than I am, or this girl thought I gave birth at 14. My student, realizing her friend’s faux pas, rushed after me. “Ms. Q, there is no way you look like you are my mother!” The rest of the walk to my office my student tried to reassure me that the other girl was just an airhead. I’m still not sure I buy it.

Last night didn’t help either. Doug and I volunteered for the opening night of Plaid Tidings at the Zachary Scott Theatre. Before the show we had dinner at Austin Java. Because service is quick and we had time to kill, we thumbed through this week’s Austin Chronicle, the arts, entertaining and alternative political newspaper. The dim lighting in the restaurant, combined with the 9 pt. Helvetica type the Chronicle uses, did a number on my eyes. I gave up trying to read any article and looked at the ads instead. The reading glasses would have been handy, but I’m definitely not at the point where I’ll carry them with me at all times. After all, I’m only in my mid-30s. I’m not ready to grow old yet.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I guess I don't exist
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Here's a neat Web site that tells you how many people in the U.S. have your name. According to the site, there are 10,499 people with my first name and 3,630 people with my last name, but 0 people with my first and last name. I guess my name is so unique that I don't even exist. Then again, how can I exist when my mother doesn't? I searched both her married and maiden name and got 0 matches. In fact, according to this site, there are 0 Voithofers. Not sure how that could be when my great grandmother had 16 children -- that should have been enough to make a dent in any database.

Before you think that no one exists, there are 16 people in the U.S. with Doug's name; use his full first name, and it goes up to 143. If you search for Doug's dad, using his full first name, there are 1,298 -- I bet Barb (382 people) is glad she only has to deal with 1 Jim.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Tricks & Treats

Yesterday was a busy day, as is every Tuesday for me. Needing to talk to other faculty members, it was 5:30 before a left the university, which was still earlier than many days. It wouldn't have been bad except the Halloween commute was hell. I hit south Austin at 6 p.m. and it took until after 7 p.m. before I crossed the 15 miles to the north side of town.

Stuck in traffic, I called Doug. "You aren't going to believe what the dogs did," he started. They got into the Halloween candy for the trick or treaters. It was high on the counter, but they managed to get the box and eat two dozen full-sized chocolate bars. "Are they alive?" I asked, having always been told chocolate was lethal for dogs. "They are lucky I haven't killed them," Doug answered. After 5 minutes of my questioning him, I hung up and called the vet. The vet was gone for the day but the assistant tried to answer questions. She said she thought milk chocolate was better than dark or baking chocolate, she didn't know what symptoms I should look for and suggested I call the emergency veterinary clinic.

I go through the story again about the dogs, including their size, the type of candy and how much they ate. I'm put on hold for a few minutes as they are asking my questions to others at the clinic. Finally I'm told that is a lot of chocolate for the size of our dogs. Since we didn't know exactly when in the day they at it, don't worry about inducing vomiting. It could be they ate it in the morning and have been throwing up all day. We were to expect vomiting and diarrhea and to make sure they had plenty of water. We were also supposed to watch for extreme lethargicness or hyperactivity. At this point, there was little that we could do, but if the symptoms seemed severe, we were to bring them to the emergency clinic. I thanked the lady and called Doug back.

"Do the dogs seem overly hyperactive?" I asked. "Yeah, they keep barking and jumping around because the doorbell keeps ringing with trick-or-treaters." I realized this conversation was going nowhere and decided to focus on my 5 mph drive.

Finally I arrived home. Doug had locked the dogs outside so he could pass out what was left of the candy without the dogs rushing the door and scaring the little kids. It was after 9 when we turned off our porch light and let the dogs in. With all the excitement of the night, and being on a sugar high, they were a bit wound up. "What do you think?" the nervous mom in me kept asking Doug. He pointed out there was little we could do. We went to bed at 10 and I decided we would keep the bedroom door open so the dogs could go out if they needed to relieve themselves, and that the dogs could sleep on the bed so that we could tell right away if something was wrong.

At 2:30 in the morning I woke up to get a drink. Crawling back into bed, I reached down to pet Allegra. No movement. I felt her chest for breathing and a heartbeat and couldn't feel it. I put my head on her chest, I didn't hear anything. I became frantic, thinking I had a dead dog on my bed. I called her name and suddenly she lifted her head, banging me in the forehead with her cone. She was alive, just very much asleep. I then turned my attention to Dante, who was very much alive and wanted petting.

It's now afternoon and the dogs seem fine. I haven't noticed any of the symptoms I was told to look for. They have survived their Halloween treats and have tricked their mom into worrying about them.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Austin bloggers speak at Texas State University

Wednesday I played host to three well-known Austin political bloggers, Pink Dome, In the Pink Texas and Burnt Orange Report. They came to Texas State University, as part of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication's annual Mass Comm Week, to discuss blogging, citizen journalism and the impact blogs have on Texas politics. For a summary of the discussion, read the article in the student newspaper, The University Star. I think we had a good turn out, given that it was raining and students tend not to even go to class in the rain.

One of the things that struck me was the assertion that blog did not influence opinion, but did influence opinion leaders. That idea intrigued me. From my thesis research, I would agree that bloggers are not opinion leaders, but I didn't look beyond the general public. It would be interesting to take it a step further and see if blogs did influence, or at least keep certain issues top of mind for, opinion leaders. Of course, like Lazarsfeld found in the Decatur study, pinpointing who opinion leaders are is a difficult task.

The guest bloggers also said that politicians should be concerned about them, not because they are bloggers but because they are engaged and active voters. It was interesting to hear how politicians try to act like these blogs aren't important, yet on the other hand are active readers.

This was the second year we had bloggers as part of our Mass Comm Week. Last year Jon Lebkowsky and a group of marketing/PR folks, discussed the influence of blogging on corporate reputation management. My hope is that each year we have guest speakers who can add to the discussion of the role of new media in mass media.

Fall allergies and Allegra

It's no secret that Austin is one of the worst cities in regards to allergies. Many of us suffer and take allergy medicine ranging from Allegra to Zyrtec. Only some allergy sufferers can't take this medicine and these sufferers, like Allegra, just have to suffer.

In this case, the Allegra I am discussing is my dog. She was not named after the allergy medicine, but her name foreshadowed her condition. She has airborne allergies, which are particularly bad in the fall. Unlike humans, dogs get itchy when they have allergies. Allegra gets to the point where she scratches off her eyebrows and looks like a radiation victim. At one point we were giving her expensive allergy shots several times a month, but ended up taking her off of those as they weren't doing a lot and we had to keep her on them year around.

This year has been particularly bad regarding her allergies. When the prescription meds I take average $4/pill, I am not giving them to a dog. We were giving her Benedryl, but that only helped some with her scratching, and basically left her stoned all the time.

Doug and I finally decided we would get her one of those collars where she couldn't scratch her face and couldn't reach her paws to chew on them. Of course, in some ways she looked worse; it didn't help that he and I started calling her "conehead." Doug was even embarrassed to take her for a walk with the big cone around her neck. Allegra, being a smart dog that gets into a lot, figured out in just a day how to pop the collar off. This became a running battle until I got an idea -- tape the cone together with duct tape. After all, duct tape can pretty much fix anything. So now we have a pathetic-looking dog with no eyebrows and red patches on her skin, with a plastic cone duct-taped to her neck. Can we get any more white trash?

Of course, she plays it to the hilt. She thinks now that she has a cone, we should allow her to sleep on the bed. Doug, feeling sorry for her, allows this. She has trouble getting through the doggy door with the cone, and is always bumping into walls, tables and people. Most of the time I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Last night Doug's friend Robert was over to sample the homebrew and started making fun of Allegra and her cone. She must have gotten mad at Robert because this morning she figured out how to pop off her cone, duct tape and all. I thought I would let her be for a bit and didn't rush to put it back on. However, a half hour later she came to me panting and all bloody from scratching.

I snapped her cone back on and reapplied the duct tape. It's not pretty, but at least it's not bloody. Poor Allegra, fall allergies and she can't even take Allegra.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Late night ramblings

It's never good when one is wide awake in the middle of the night, but since I couldn't fall back asleep, I figure now is as good of time as ever to blog. I hate it when I can't sleep. I fell asleep just fine, but at 1:30 I woke up and when I wasn't able to fall back asleep, decided to get up and get on the computer. I should have taken melatonian; now it's too late as I have to be up in a few hours. Even the dogs are restless. Maybe that's why I couldn't fall asleep. Two adults, two dogs and 1 cat locked in the same room and the only one asleep was Doug. Now I'm in the living room, Dante is chasing Dexter and Allegra is outside, getting into something.

This is a busy week. As school, we are having our annual Mass Comm Week, where we host professionals from various fields of journalism and mass communication. I am on the Mass Comm Week committee and was able to secure several of the week's speakers, to whom I have to play host. In addition, I have to teach my regular classes and manage extra credit opportunities for my student who are attending Mass Comm Week sessions. For example, I normally don't go to San Marcos on Wednesdays, but I am going down this morning because there are several sessions where my students get extra credit for attending. A group of my students is handling the PR campaign to promote our graduate program and they are going to be there for the grad school panel, so I should go and see if they are doing okay. This afternoon I am hosting the bloggers (of course) and the interviewing workshop. Additionally, I have a lecture to prepare before tomorrow at 8 a.m. and papers to grade. No wonder I can't sleep.

At least Doug is sleeping. Monday night was his turn at insomnia. Basically we are at the point of waiting until he is told to leave his current contract. He has been doing ITIL work, which is an IT process improvement methodology. Early last week the company where he is contracting decided to kill its ITIL initiative. One of the people Doug works with/for was given her two weeks notice (was written into her contract). The company also cut all the ITIL project codes, so no one can meet with Doug because they can't charge out their time. But they haven't cut Doug. In the meantime, the company had purchased an expensive enterprise software package, which had some detractors. The champion of the product was the former (emphasis on former) CIO. Of course the detractors are still around. Doug and the team gave a demo on the product Monday. There were three phases to the project and they were only able to get the requirements for the first two. Of course the decision maker, who is one of the detractors, was all upset that the demo didn't focus on phase three, even though Doug could never get the scope of phase three. During the demo, the guy didn't acknowledge Doug and the team, instead asking all his questions to some other guy. Yesterday he wouldn't even say hello to Doug when Doug passed him in the hall and wished him good morning. To top it off, the girl Doug works with/for who was given her notice, told him yesterday she didn't know if he would get paid this week because they didn't have cost codes to charge his time to. While he was firm with her, Doug should be glad I wasn't there because I would have told her that was illegal and would have asked if should I call the Texas Workforce Commission now, or when I didn't get paid.

This is all very Dilbert and I feel bad for Doug. The only reason he hasn't quit is that if he waits until the terminate the contract, he can collect unemployment. In the meantime, he has some people calling about other job opportunities and his name has been submitted for a few positions where he looks to be the leading candidate. It's just waiting for the interviews. The good news is that I'm hearing the job market for IT is starting to pick up in Austin and the pool of good, talented people is getting thin. Doug is just so specialized now in process improvement that the trick will be finding the companies that need his services.

But that's something to ponder another day. Seems like the dogs have settled down and I need to do the same and see if I can get a couple hours of sleep.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bits and pieces

I have been very remissed in posting lately. Time is flying by so fast. It's hard to believe it's mid-October and midterms. It's also hard to believe it's mid-October and we are still running our air conditioning. We actually had it off for a few days late last week, but the past few days have been extremely muggy. We have had some rain, but not to the extent of Houston and Dallas.

Better than my folks, though. They are in Hawaii right now. They are okay, but they definitely felt the earthquake.

Biggest issue we've been facing at our house is with our good car. It broke down on me Tuesday as I was leaving campus. Had to get it towed to a place in San Marcos. It's hard enough being without a car, it's even worse when the car is 45 miles away. It was the timing belt, other belts and other things. They are all fixed now and everything is okay.

Doug has been playing online poker recently, some cash games and some tournaments. He's doing well enough to pay for the car repairs and then some. Guess this is his last hurrah before the online anti-gambling law goes into effect.

The monthly Women of Wine party was this weekend. We had a New Zealand feast. Everyone seemed to have a great time. Sunday we attended another birthday party at Stubb's. Different gospel group, but they were good. Like last time, the food was mediocre at the best.

Speaking of mediocre, that would be a kind way to describe my Fantasy Football team. They are sucking wind and I'm about to give up on them. I've done so many trades and played so many ways, Doug says I've got a decent team. However, it looks like I'll finish Week 6 at 2-4. This week I benched Joe Horn (NO - WR). First 5 weeks he scored a combined total of 14 fantasy points. I was ready to get rid of him, but instead, just benched him. Yesterday, while he was benched, he scored 17 points. Go figure! Hines Ward (Pit - WR) hasn't been much better. Of course, the receivers who played for me yesterday only earned a combined 3 points.

Not much else going on. At least now everyone is caught up.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The church of Stubb’s

Today we celebrated Cindy’s birthday by attending the gospel brunch at Stubb’s. There were 17 of us there to wish our friend a happy birthday. Here is a photo of the birthday girl, complete with her tiara.

The Original Bells of Joy played today’s brunch. This awesome group has been around since the early 1950s and with their song “Let’s Talk About Jesus,” they were one of the first black gospel groups to hit the top of the charts. Below is a clip from their performance today. They were really rocking and you definitely felt the spirit move you. I didn’t get the name of the man singing, but he’s a long-time member of the band. Six months ago he had a heart attack and was flown to Houston where the doctors told him he only had 1 hour to live. Obviously, the Lord worked a miracle with him and today he sang several songs with the band.

After brunch, several of us walked around the Pecan Street Festival, browsing the various vendors, looking at the art and other items. Much of the stuff was the same thing they have each spring and fall. However, Sandy did find a statue she liked.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fantasy update

My fantasy football team had its first win this week, thanks in large part to Carson Palmer who earned 21 fantasy points. I went from 10th, or last, place to 8th. I'm not too happy with my wide receivers right now. Hines Ward didn't earn any points for me this week. None of my receivers are scoring many points for me this season. In fact, I'm the player in the league with the lowest number of points. I'm thinking I won't make the playoffs this year unless something changes.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Killer semester

My first semester teaching four classes -- three different courses, one of which is a writing course. I'm forever feeling like I'm grading papers and prepping lectures. Little time is left for blogging.

Thursday was the first test in my Intro class. Ninety-one students were all freaking out. Several students earned extra credit by participating in a focus group for students in my campaigns class. According to my campaigns class, the intro students were stressing out about my test.

As usual, the first students were done in 15 minutes. A few minutes later a student rushes back in. "Ms. Quackenbush, one of the girls blacked out!" I look out the door. Sure enough, one of my students left the test and was now in the prone position in the hallway. I look back to the class. Eighty-something students left in a crowded lecture room. There was no way I could step out of there during a test. The girls were buzzing around the passed out girl and someone called 911. I try to keep one eye on the girl and one on the class.

Then I remembered J. Every day he sits on the front, taking notes. An attentive student. He looks a bit older than 20, or at least has a maturity about him. His haircut and demeanor are military-issue and quite often he wears a t-shirt from a local fire department. "Excuse," I whisper as I walk towards him, "aren't you military or a firefighter or something?" He tells me he's a fireman and I tell him the problem. Two seconds later he's out the door.

Eventually the EMT arrive. The girl is awake, but shaken. She has low blood sugar and doesn't eat much. The Coke and M&Ms they are feeding her is as much as she's eaten all day. By this time, most of the class has finished the test and have seen the girl in the hall. Given nasty bump on her head, she agrees to go to the hospital. I offer J an opportunity to take his test another time, but like the trooper he is, he finishes his test.

I piece together the story from other students. The girl finished the test and as she walked out the building she collapsed on the concrete steps. She revives enough to be helped back into the air conditioned building, where one of the other girls called the EMT. Before the ambulance takes her to the hospital, I ask who her next teacher is. It's my friend G, so I call him and let him know one of his students won't be in class. I ask the girl if she wants me to throw out her test and allow her to take it another time. This is the one time I am willing to bend my absolutely no make-up tests policy. The girl shakes her head, saying she thought she did well on the test.

The girl leaves. The final three students finish their tests and we leave, talking about what happened. I walk into the Mass Comm office and folks what happened. "Guess you'll now have the reputation of giving hard tests now -- ones where the students pass out when they are done." The jokes are funny, but I am worn. "What to do when I student passes out during a test" wasn't in the faculty handbook and I hoped I handled the situation okay.

I head to my office where I take a minute. Then I start grading the tests. This semester is going to be a doosey.

Concert Luck

Saturday night we attended the Strings Attached Beatles White Album concert. It's difficult to describe Strings Attached, but it's sort of like chamber music, with violins and cellos, meets rock 'n roll. There are six shows a year, each with special guest stars, Austin muscians of note. The White Album concert featured 20 artists, such as Trish Murphy and Guy Forsyth. This concert was outside, at the Nutty Brown Cafe.

Before the concert, we were worried if it was even going to happen. All day the sky was ominous, with the threat of a storm. As we left Pflugerville for Dripping Springs, the sky broke open and it downpoured. However, we called Nutty Brown and it wasn't even raining there. As the show started, there was a light show in the background -- some city to the south was getting a huge lighting storm.

The concert was great; it was interesting to hear the various muscians put their own spin to the classic music. We heard some singers we weren't familiar with and they were great. Carolyn Wonderland, in particular, blew us away. Think Janis Joplin meets the Beatles; it was cool.

A drawing was held during intermission. Guess who was a winner? Doug's name was the last called, but of course, it was called. He won a backstage pass, but after 5 minutes of just standing around not knowing what to do, he came back to our seats, grumbling that he would have rather won the CD.

We really enjoyed the show and are looking forward to seeing more Strings Attached shows.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lucky bastard

Sometimes I get really annoyed with Doug. On these occasions he just laughs. He thinks I over react, but really, it's not fair.

Doug has this uncanny ability to win raffles. If we are somewhere and there is a drawing, he wins. I, on the other hand, never win. Once we were at a dinner event with 100 people. The event had door prizes -- about 90 of them. Everyone at our table, except myself, had won a prize. Doug had probably won two. Close to the end of the drawing, I gave up. "I'm not going to win anything," I said as I threw down my ticket. Doug picks up my discarded ticket. Next number called was my former ticket. I glare at Doug; he just laughs.

It's gotten to the point that I won't fill out raffle forms. I have Doug do it. Last month we were at a home and garden show and I have him register for a few things. Of course, he wins a draw for a $200 gift certificate for window treatments. Then he wonders why I hate him.

This weekend we took a glass fusing class. One of the projects in the class was to make a community bowl, meaning all the students make a part of the bowl and then the bowl is fused together. The teacher put all our names in a drawing and the winner got to keep the bowl. As I write my name and put it into the drawing I comment, "you know, Doug is going to win this." I went on to say how he wins everything and I never win anything. I think the other students thought I was joking. Later, the teacher draws the winning name and it was, of course, Doug. I look at him and growl. He laughs.

Even when he thinks he loses, he wins. At one raffle they called the number 6968. Doug looked at his ticket and has 8969. He didn't win. I looked at his ticket and realized something -- he's holding the ticket upside down. He was the winner. Go figure.

Doug likes to attribute his winnings to good living. He is so full of it. Then he tries to rationalize it, saying I should be happy when he wins as we both share in the winnings. I'm a constant loser and I should be happy? I don't get it.

The thing is, I should be winning. It runs in my family. Like Doug, my grandmother was lucky and always won things. From winning a turkey at bingo, to winning cash prizes, if she played, she won. I inherited her father's clock, her glass Virgin Mary, but not her winning streak. What is wrong with this picture?

Granted, I earn things through hard work, but just once I want my name to be picked in a drawing. I want to feel the adrenaline rush from having won something. I want to be lucky. Instead, that thrill goes to Doug. He's the lucky bastard and I'm envious.

Monday, September 11, 2006

5 years ago

I remember that morning -- it was surreal. It was a Tuesday and I already was worried about the future.

That spring it seemed like you couldn't go a day without hearing that one Austin company or another had layoffs. Even the PR agency I worked for, which had prided itself on never having a layoff, had let some folks go earlier that spring. It was tough for our clients, which in turn meant it was tough for our business.

In March Doug and I bought our first house; the afternoon of the closing I walked into my VP's office and asked him if there was any reason we shouldn't go through with it. "Dara, I'm your boss, but I'm also your friend. I would tell you if you had a reason to be concerned. Believe me, you are the last person in this office who needs to be worried about losing their job." In a strange twist of events, he was right.

Doug and I moved into the house the first weekend of May. We were excited and although we knew the economy was on a downturn, we were optimistic about our future. Doug worked at a start-up and he was spearheading a customer implementation project for big names in the real estate market, which were investors in Doug's start-up. On June 15, the weekend before Doug's project was to go live, the new CEO of the startup decided to pull the plug on the project with no warning. Doug was let go.

Still, I had a good job with the PR agency and we knew we'd be okay. Doug felt he could afford to be picky and find the right job. Then came Friday, Sept. 7. The founder and CEO of my PR agency flew in from Dallas. Business was down and a few months earlier we had been bought by a larger agency. The Austin office had to close. I was one of three people asked to continue with the company on a freelance basis to help close the office. I ended up being the last one out; I turned off the lights.

It was Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 and I was driving to the shell of an office. What once was bursting at the seams with 35 employees now only had three. I was listening to my favorite radio station on my commute when the deejays started talking about a plane flying into the first tower. I called Doug to tell him. I keep driving to the office and then the other plane hit. I called Doug again. I didn't think he was paying attention, but later I found out he turned on the tv after my first call. He saw the second plane on tv as it happened. He was stunned and couldn't speak.

I got into the office and shortly after I arrived, my colleague Jack arrived. We were both a little freaked out. Besides being concerned for our country, because we were out of work, we were concerned about our future. The phone rang. It was Doug. A plane just hit the Pentagon. We didn't know what to think. The third person in our office arrived. She was young, maybe a year out of school. We told her what was going on and it didn't seem to register.

Eventually the three of us left the office and went home. There was no work to be done that day. We knew our lives had changed.

It was 11 months later before Doug found a job, a contract position for the state. To date, Doug continues to contract, working for several months and then being out of work for several months, simply because the jobs are still not back. I started freelancing, working as a consultant for a marketing company, but it was a tough go, both in terms of lack of business and also in terms of the personality of the CEO. After two years I had to leave for the sake of my sanity. A year, and a retail job later, I started grad school. Now I'm teaching, but earning 30% less than what I was making five years ago and 50% less than what I could be making now, that is, if there were jobs at my level. Those are few and far between.

Quite honestly, Doug and I have struggled these last five years. Often we feel like we are treading water, just trying to stay afloat and not moving ahead. Still, we've somehow managed to stay together. That says a lot about us; many couples would not have survived the stress. We still have the house, and have several new, dear friends we've met since then. Without permanent jobs, we've found other ways to define ourselves, through our hobbies and interests, not through what we do. Things which were important then, like would we get married, what about the promotion, those all important stock options, are just not that important any more.

Often, I wonder what would have happened if 9/11 hadn't happened. How would our lives be different? It's difficult to say. Maybe things would be better, maybe not. But like most everyone else, we've had to learn to pick up the pieces, do the best with what we have left and hope that tomorrow is better.

Isn't it ironic

Saw this posting on Craigslist. A student wants to hire someone to write his/her term paper on ethics. Seems like the student has already flunked the ethics lesson.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Thank you for smoking

Doug got a new toy yesterday -- a smoker. It's small, but we hope that it will do well. Tonight we are attempting to smoke a brisket, but we may have started a bit late to have it ready for dinner. Doug is so looking forward to Sundays for the new few months, what with football and smoked meat.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Calling all bats

Last night there was a strange signal in the Austin sky. Austin was going batty and we needed the help of a super hero.

Actually it was the 2nd annual Bat Fest. Austin loves its festivals and we love our bats, which makes me wonder why it took us so long to start a festival to honor our bats. But finally we did, with the proceeds going to Bat Conservation International. Instead of the usual cars and trucks, the Congress Avenue bridge was crowded with arts and crafts booths, food and beer vendors, kiddie rides, music stages, and of course people, all doing their part to keep Austin weird.

Doug and I took the dogs down there last night and spent some time looking at the sights. One of the things we noticed was the Batmobile Corvette (okay, not authentic) and the Bat Signal on the Hyatt. It must have worked because we saw both Batman and Robin walking around the festival. I asked if I could get my photo taken with them, but they kept walking away. Maybe bats don't much like dogs.

Welcome to my fantasy

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play. Yes, I am now a coach of a NFL team. Okay, not a real team, but a fantasy football league team.

Last year Doug coached his first fantasy football team and really got into it. That's fine. I'm not much into football other than my blood bleeds Arkansas Razorback red. Even living in Austin, to me the proper way to do the hook'em horns sign is with the horns pointing downward. Doug, on the other hand, has always been a huge NFL fan and I try to go along, if, that is, going along means that I leave him in peace to watch football on Sundays.

Doug had such a great time with fantasy football last year, saying it really helped him to get more enjoyment from all the games, that he's playing again this year. Because they had an odd number of teams, Doug decided to put my name in the hat and draft a team for me. I was there, and I put the names of my players on the board, but let's face it, I don't know Ronnie Brown from Josh White. I know a few of the Chiefs players because Doug is a fan, I know a few of the older Dallas players from when I lived in that city and they were the only thing talked about (but most of those guys are retired), and I know the big names that everyone knows, like Peyton Manning. Let's just say I saw Doug Flutie's name on the draft list and thought, "didn't that guy retire 10 years ago?" I really don't keep up with this stuff.

Except I did know Matt Jones, a receiver for Jacksonville. Of course, he is a former Razorback quarterback who turned receiver in the pros. Luckily, I drafted him. Of course, no one else even cared about him except Doug. Even if he wasn't predicted to have a break-out year, I would have drafted him simply because he was a Razorback. Unfortunately Doug didn't let me draft my other favorite former Hog, Cedric Cobb, because Cobb may not even be picked up this year and even if he did, he wouldn't play much.

My roster is below. Make any comments you want, but keep in mind, I don't know who is who. I also picked last, so often I didn't get much of a choice. However, according to Doug, I had a pretty good draft and should be in contention to make the league playoffs. He's really hoping we come in #1 & #2 this year.

Running backs
  • Ronnie Brown, Miami
  • Julius Jones, Dallas
  • Chester Taylor, Minnesota
  • Lendale White, Tennessee

Wide receivers

  • Hines Ward, Pittsburgh
  • Joe Horn, New Orleans
  • Andre Johnson, Houston
  • Matt Jones, Jacksonville


  • Carson Palmer, Cincinnati
  • Jake Plummer, Denver

Tight ends

  • Randy McMichael, Miami
  • Chris Cooley, Washington


  • Josh White, Seattle


  • Indianapolis

Friday, September 01, 2006

That's hot

This week Austinites are excited about the weather. The temperature has finally started to drop. Several days were only in the 90s, instead of the 100s. Today's Statesman reports that this year was the hottest recorded August ever recorded in Austin. It's not that we set a lot of record highs, but we were consistently high and our lows were just not that low this year.

Yesterday was the History of PR lecture in my Intro to PR course. At one point I talk about how PR really shaped the idea of Manifest Destiny and the push west. I then mention Texas and comment about how great Stephen F. Austin must have been with PR to get all these folks to move to Texas, enduring our summers without air conditioning, much less electricity. At this point I ask the students would they move to Texas without air conditioning. For the first time, someone said yes. It's a guy on the front row who is usually into the lecture. "You would?" I ask in front of the class. "Yes," he answers, "that way I would have the whole state to myself." I think this guy is the epitome of a true Texan.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Talked out

My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Baker, wrote in my year book that she expected to see me as a talk show host. The comment meant I talked a lot. Others who know me agree. Still, today, I am talked out. I talked for 5 1/2 hours, and that just counted the students. It doesn't count talking to other faculty, the HR folks or Doug. Three hundred and twenty-five minutes of lecture. I'm sure by the end of the day my students were as sick of hearing my voice as I was. This evening I'm barely grunting.

It should be better. Three of my four classes are senior-level. At this point, I am trying to make sure we are all on the same page. My writing class, which is 100 minutes, should never again be all lecture. I will introduce our topic for the day and provide their assignment. On my campaigns classes, we will have more discussion and less lecture. Today was the exception. I have to believe that or else I will never get my own talk show.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dogs vs. kids

Have you ever seen the saying about my dog being better behaved than your child? This video proves it.

My least favorite time of the year

Living in central Texas, this has to be my least favorite time of the year. At this point of the summer, we've had more than two months with temperatures greater than 100 degrees. By mid-August the heat becomes oppressive, like one is weighted down with 50 pounds of chains. There is no escape. At 7 a.m. the temperature is already 78 degrees and the humidity engulfs you like a wool blanket. At 7 p.m. temperatures are starting to drop for the day -- it was 101 and now it's only 99 degrees.

In the car, at the store, in the office, in the classroom, you can't escape it. The back of your neck stays clammy from perspiration, while sweat runs down your legs. By late afternoon you notice the somewhat sickening smell of an unwashed body and you realize that it is you; your morning shower, deodorant and personal hygiene has lost the battle of the heat.

Unfortunately, the heat will remain for at least another month. It will be awhile before the temperatures slowly start to dip. It is the burden we have to bare for living in such a beautiful place with such mild winters. We all wonder what the cooler weather will bring. We are experiencing a severe drought right now. Water levels in the area lakes are dropping a foot a week. Business and tourism is suffering. We know it will end – it always does – but with the end of the drought comes a flood. The joy of rain, when it finally comes, will be short-lived as the rain becomes the enemy.

Last night we went to a pool party to celebrate the birthday of a friend. There was not much pool to the party as most people opted to stay in the air conditioning. Someone brings deviled eggs and I step outside to give one to Doug, who has opted to sit underneath the fan on the patio, next to the pool, rather than inside. Ninety seconds in the heat and I am sweating when I walk back into the house. Later, after the sun begins to disappear in the night sky, several of us are outside, dangling our feet over the edge of the pool. The water feels good and we decide to go for a swim. We change into our suits and jump in, realizing that the water is deceptive. It's not cool and refreshing, but warm and engulfing. It's like lukewarm soup, but at least we aren't sweating.

Today is the annual hot sauce festival. We like festivals and Doug likes hotsauce, but most years we pass on this event. It's just too hot to be outside in a crowd of people. We've yet to decide whether we are going or not, but it isn't too likely. Instead we will remain inside, in the air conditioning, praying for the god of autumn to bless us sooner, rather than later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chocoholics in the house

This weekend we had my (1 week) belated graduation party. The special treat was the chocolate fountain, provided by Austin caterer/personal chef, Cindy Feyereisen of Pretty Dishes. She is one of the best dessert chefs in Austin, and has done several cakes for me, all works of art. The chocolate fountain, however, was unique, interesting and quite fun.

Cindy brought the usual stuff, including strawberries, pretzels and nuts, but then she added unique flair. For one thing, she served kiwi on the tray. Kiwi and chocolate, who’d a thunk it? And dried pineapple chunks – yum! She also served a variety of spices that you could add to your chocolate-covered dreams – several kinds of chili powders, espresso, citrus salt, and a Chinese five-spice. It was absolutely to die for.

As you can tell from the photo, she did a wonderful job with the presentation. What you can’t tell, as they were cropped out, was how all the party guests just loved the fountain. All of us seemed to be chocoholics. My friend Mary said she wanted to do one for her birthday party this weekend. Luckily, Cindy was available, although Mary’s roommate is keeping the fountain a secret. Pretty Dishes is just starting to add the chocolate fountain as a party option, but it should be a success. I just hope Cindy doesn’t get too busy where I can’t hire her in the future. Maybe Doug and I should go ahead and plan our Christmas party now so I can book Cindy before the holiday season.

New school year, new faculty member

Wow. I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. Needless to say it has been busy around here.

Classes begin today at Texas State University. There are several new faculty members this year, including myself. The past two weeks have been spent learning a new course management system, various training and orientation sessions and other meetings. We had a faculty party last Thursday. Yesterday was the convocation/campus-wide faculty meeting with the president of the university. From there, we headed to a college faculty meeting with the dean. After that, it was the faculty meeting for the school of journalism and our new director. Then a meeting for us newbies with our departmental admin and academic advisor, going over important procedures.

In between all this stuff, I've had to take care of stuff, like getting a parking sticker and faculty ID card. Then there is all the piddling little things, like prepping for classes, planning out the semester, and developing syllabi. I am teaching three courses (four classes total) this semester. Even with the Intro class I've been teaching for a year, we've switched texts, so I have a total of three preps. Luckily my first classes aren't until tomorrow, as I don't have my first day lectures/materials ready yet.

Through it all, there is weird feeling of transition. I am back on campus, but this time as a teacher, not a student or as a student who is teaching. I get all the perks of faculty that I didn't get as a teacher when I was still a student. One of these is my office. I know it's small and windowless. Others have complained, but I am just thrilled to have my own office, one I don't have to share with five other people, one where I can hang my own photos on the walls.

Then there is the parking situation. As a student, I had to park way off campus and take a bus in. This added 20 minutes to my commute. Even when I was teaching, I was still a student. I would walk out of the classroom, cross the street, and wait for the bus with my students. They always thought it was weird. I didn't like it much either. This year, I have coveted faculty/red parking, complete with an access card so I can get through the gates and park next to our building. Evidently the faculty that complains about parking have not been a student on the campus. Of course, having 8 a.m. classes not only saves me from the traffic, it gives me the primo parking spaces.

The strangest part of the transition is what to call other faculty members. For two years they were my teachers and I called them Dr. Weill, Dr. Peirce, Dr. Niekamp, Dr. Rao, and so on. Now they are my colleagues and as such, the protocol is Sue, Kate, Ray and Sandy. It feels a bit funny and isn't easy to transition. Maybe I'll just call them "hey you" for awhile. :-)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Commence to speaking

Last night was graduation and I was selected as commencement speaker. The text of my speech is below.

Mark Twain once said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” For many of us, today’s graduation ceremony marks the end of our formal schooling; we will never again set foot in a classroom as a student. Others of us will continue on to graduate school, earning master’s and doctorial degrees. Whether today is the last day of school, or a mere pause before continuing studies, I challenge the class of 2006 us to remain students in our hearts and pursue the goal of lifelong learning.

What is lifelong learning? It is the continuing of education well beyond graduation. Knowledge is not gained only in the classroom. It can occur in the workplace, at home, and with wireless Internet access, even at McDonald’s. Lifelong learning means that we have an opportunity to continue our education without worrying whether a class will fit into our degree plan or whether some fact will be on a future test. The idea of lifelong learning puts our future education, and ultimately our own success, in our hands.

Often when we transition from school to the workplace, we place our education on a backburner. We learn what we need to know to do our jobs, but seldom do we strive to learn more; we become mediocre. Having been a working professional for 12 years before returning to graduate school, I often heard comments from co-workers that they were too busy to attend a specific training session, or that they would go back to school but only if their employer paid for it. While these people did okay in their jobs, they never quite excelled. The people who excelled in their jobs were those who valued education and took the initiative to learn everything they could.

One of the people closest to me has a philosophy of investing in himself; each year he takes 10 percent of his salary and applies to personal and career training. For each dollar he invests in his education, he receives that dollar back in form of a salary increase. If I had one piece of advice to give to graduates, it would be to invest in yourself and strive to be a superstar, not just mediocre.

Lifelong learning doesn’t have to be just career-related. We are now at the point in our lives where it is up to us to learn what we want to learn, when and how we want to learn it. Having a job doing corporate sales doesn’t preclude one from taking cooking classes if he or she wants to learn to be a gourmet chef. Someone with a degree is in mass communication can still study Japanese art if that is their passion. Some scholars argue that the true measure of learning is whether a student is passionate about a subject and continues to learn about that subject outside of the classroom. I would urge each of us to discover what things we are passionate about and learn all we can about those subjects. That is the true measure of lifelong learning.

Today may be the end of our schooling, but my hope for the class of 2006 is that it is the start of our education.