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.