Sunday, December 27, 2009


December 29, 2009

Of course, Christmas was different this year. Walter and I made efforts to ease the burden by threading the needle between re-creating all the Buenger Christmas traditions just the way Erin would have wanted them and avoiding Christmas altogether. On the whole we had a pleasant holiday.
We did approximately the same thing as we do every Christmas, with some modifications to dull the things that were the most painful for various family members. At Walter's request we did not put out stockings this year. I found the Christmas CDs which Erin and I listened to incessantly between the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas day too much and opted for the holiday channel on the sat radio instead. We always have a nontraditional tree, usually a large yaupon. This year we brought the ficus in and decorated it.

We had a surprise visit from our nephew Matthew (in from Rotterdam) who couldn't make it to his intended destination Thursday evening because of the bad weather. It was a joy and a pleasure to have him share our church outing and some tamales before he headed back to Magnolia ahead of the worsening weather. After he left we opened family gifts with my mom, Kat, Annabelle, and Emma, and on Christmas day had a marvelous standing rib roast with my family and the Tjoelkers to share it. I think our gift giving was a little subdued this year, which was okay because it brought us in line with what was normal rather than playing out the theme of our (my) usual excessiveness.

One thing we did that we have worked on for several years, and perhaps mastered this year was the reduction of Christmas waste. By using fabric bags and reusable decorated boxes and baskets for almost all of the gifts, I can honestly claim that this was what we threw away after the family gift exchange:

One of the highlights of Christmas was choosing and delivering gifts for all of our young friends. This year Walter is serving as President of the Texas State Historical Association. Since most of Erin's friends are taking Texas history this year (as mandated by the state), we thought they might appreciate their own Texas Almanac, four pounds and 736 pages of fun.
The first edition of the Texas Almanac was issued by The Galveston News in January 1857, only 12 years after it became a state. Now the TSHA publishes it. We ordered and delivered three dozen of these fine books and had a great deal of joy writing out the inscriptions to each one of Erin's special friends (and a few relatives as well).

Many of Erin's friends thought of us as well, and we received a variety of touching gifts from them (including some Bad Elf Ale which we haven't had a chance to try yet). I personally received the gift of more chocolate than I can eat alone (you can imagine what that mountain looks like. . .I took the privilege of taunting you by snapping a shot of some of the more interesting ones).

We (Walter, Davis, and I) decided not to waste the opportunity of having so many different kinds of chocolate in the house. We are conducting a chocolate tour and taste test over the next week or so. Every night after dinner we try a sample and rate it on five dimensions: sensory (how it looks and smells), sweetness, bitterness, smoothness, and resilience (how long the taste remains after swallowing). Last night we began the circuit with Lindor Truffles/Extra Dark , 60% coca chocolate shell with a smooth filling. Before tasting I read the package description aloud:

"Since 1845, our Master Chocolatiers have offered passion and meticulous craftmanship to create the finest chocolate . . . This delicious Lindt Chocolate Shell
enrobes* an irresistibly smooth filling. Once you break the shell, the filling will start to melt, and so will you. 160 years of our passion all for that one moment of yours."

*my emphasis added.

I will let you know our assessment when we are done.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fill Up

December 22, 2009

Today was the last day that Albertson's was issuing bonus stickers for the cookware project Friends of Erin have been working on this fall. I had enough stickers to add four more pots to the nine I had already redeemed, but not enough for a fifth.

I scoured my canvass shopping bags and jacket pockets to make sure I hadn't overlooked any. In fact, I distinctly remembered having ten or twelve stickers that I had tucked somewhere. I finally found them in a pair of corduroy pants that I had just re-hung in the closet after wash day. Unbelievably, they were faded, scrunched up, and not very sticky, but not destroyed. I stuck them in. Still not enough for a fifth pot.

I had a little shopping to do: Cascade, Cheer, some potatoes, and a couple of other items. I went through the check out, got some stickers and hoped for the best. I was still eight stickers ($80 worth) short of another pot, and didn't think that gratuitous shopping to gain stickers was a good idea, so I went to the cookware display, got the four good pots I could afford, and put a smaller, less handy pot in the basket to use up the remainder of my stickers.

Somehow the man in front of me failed the basic test of putting his groceries on the conveyor belt, so the checker mistakenly rang up part of his groceries and totaled them. She rounded up his $48 purchase and handed him five stickers. He looked back at me, saw I was collecting, and handed them over to me. The checker then proceeded to process the rest of his goods. Again it was short of the mark. Again she rounded up. The man handed me three more stickers. We eked out another good pot!

You would have thought I won the lottery. I ran back and traded the little pot for a fourteenth big pot (if you are doing the math, 14 pots = about $10,000 worth of groceries purchased by all of you who helped). Davis and I filled up Rosie's hatch and made the delivery to the Twin City Mission's Transitions program (helps battered women, often with children, and homeless families start new lives).

Thank you all for helping me find yet another way to be inspired by Erin so that I can let her death fill me up rather than emptying me out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Creep Out

December 19, 2009

One of the ways that I have filled my extra time--since I don't have to spend insufferable hours in clinic or in Houston traffic or even quite pleasant hours carting Erin to her many activities--is by keeping up with the news more. I read the New York Times fairly often. I watch the Rachel Maddow Show when dinner doesn't get pushed back too late. I fill at least part of my drive time listening to POTUS and C-SPAN on the satellite radio.

I think I've just creeped myself out.

I was reading Gail Collins Saturday column in the Times. I really like Gail Collins because she makes fun of ridiculous (I could say redunkulous here, because I looked it up in the urban dictionary yesterday, and I think I have the usage correct) things in a funny, but not really overtly mean way. I try to channel her when I post to Let's Do It!

Anyway, after talking about Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, Collins posed this question:

"People, when did it become necessary for average, conscientious-but-not-fanatic citizens to know the names of so many senators? There was probably a time when you thought “Max Baucus” was a brand of sausage."

So what did I do? Before I even finished reading her column?

I googled "US Senators" and found a link to this alphabetical list of our current Senators. I scrolled down and to my horror, she was right. I knew them. I knew which ones were Blue Dogs. I knew many of their home states. I could visualize their PR headshots. If hard pressed I could probably name a third of them with no visual prompt and only a sound clip as a clue (if you want to learn how to do this at home, start with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham).

This new found, but questionable knowledge came accidentally. This was not like the time I was in high school and thought I needed to improve my understanding of the world, so I got a bound notebook and started taking notes every afternoon when I scoured the Houston Post.

I guess I knew I had a problem over Thanksgiving when Davis asked me which Senator I thought was "Hot" and I didn't draw a blank. No one had to explain to me the irony in this post by Paul Krugman:, as I already could recognize the House Minority Leader and knew that he had a killer tan.

I'll stop here. If I have creeped myself out, I know I have creeped you out, too.

On a more regular note, I want to let you know that Erin's Dream Lanyards has raised at least $24,000 that I can track. This doesn't include donations made directly on line or through a variety of folks that have set up their own lanyard operations. Thank you for all of your support to help fund a cure.

I also want you to stay tuned. Nico performed at the Organ Guild Advent recital on Thursday. If he missed a single note, stop, or pedal during any of the numbers, I couldn't tell. He is truly amazing and is currently my favorite musician. I'm waiting on Mark and Elaine for the video of the performance which I will post as soon as I get it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


December 16, 2009

You know I don't have too much time to dawdle around the internet. I do keep track of friends who blog, using my google feed reader. I will also look at the newspaper online. Beyond that, I'm pretty tied up with other stuff. I did however stumble across the website called My sister and I get a big laugh out of dropping by the site from time to time, mainly because everyone in the photos are so absolutely awkward, and they are actually submitted by the families that are shown (or at least some, possibly devious, family member). Here are two fan favorites:

This one is called Eye Contact. Make sure you look for Aunt Telcia!

The second one doesn't need a title (only a warning for the easily disturbed):

Most of the entries aren't quite as, how can I put this delicately? Loony. And many just reflect the times they were shot (lots of leisure suits, Dorothy Hamil wedges, and guy hair hats).

When Kat was here for Thanksgiving, she spent quite a number of hours, culling through our old family photos, looking for shots that would qualify as "Awkward." Since we are an exceptionally photogenic family, she could only find about sixty-eight or seventy that we could use. I picked six, so I wouldn't bore you, but let me know if you would like me to share more:

What's worse, the look on "Santa's" face or my fashionable fringed, faux-leather vest?

No commentary needed.

Most of Elisabeth's teen photos come with the crossed-arms, glare pose.

And people really did wear their hair this way.
And not just for Easter.

Feel free to click on the shot for the full look at the glare and the hair.

Taken right after the seagull stunt double flew off for a break.

The sun is so intense on Texas beaches, we often have to wear two hats.

That time in my life when I was mom to a tribe of Elfin children.
(And a rare archival photo that catches Erin not smiling.)

Friday, December 11, 2009


December 11, 2009

Last Saturday, Lisa, Sam, and I drove to Katy Park on a cold, but clear morning to log the penultimate game of the soccer season. We entered the park from Morton Ranch Road and drove past all the small-sided fields towards Field 14. We dodged the usual number of errant soccer balls bouncing across the road, slowed to let pack-horse parents pulling coolers and carrying foldable chairs cross in front of us, and noticed how funny it was to see soccer players in shorts, wearing mittens and knit caps.

We also noticed this tethered next to Park Road, floating high enough to see from any point in the park.

Brilliant idea, we thought. A team would never get lost or whine that they couldn't find the field if they brought this enormous red balloon to every game and floated at the spot where they needed to meet for the pre-game warm-up. We wondered where we could get one.

It turns out that the reason the balloon was so visible was that it was eight-feet in diameter. Too big, even for a soccer-mom van to stow. How do I know how big it was, and how can I guess I probably couldn't afford it for the team?

The balloon was part of the annual DARPA Network Challenge.

What is DARPA?

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). The Agency manages and directs selected basic and applied research and development projects for DoD and pursues research and technology where both risk and payoff are very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions.

What is the DARPA Network Challenge?

The DARPA Network Challenge is a competition that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems. The Network Challenge winner will be the first individual to submit the locations of 10 8-foot balloons moored at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.

Unbelievably, a team from MIT edged out 4,300 other teams, found all ten balloons in less than nine hours, and won the $40,000 prize. You can read about their strategy here. When you consider ten balloons hidden somewhere in the United States, eight feet in diameter doesn't seem all that big any more.

If only.

If only we had know about the contest. If only we had figured out what we were looking at. If only we had accidentally spotted the other nine balloons spread out across the country. Oh well, if wishes were horses beggars would ride.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Report In

December 8, 2009

Cue triumphal trumpet sound clip. I finished grading the semester reports yesterday, leaving only Exam 3 (two-thirds completed), study question assignment 2 (0% completed), final exams (will receive on Friday), and final projects (will receive on Friday) to grade in the next week. If you think this is sarcasm, you don't know how deep a hole I have dug myself out of to get this close to finishing. I'm jubilant. Something about my ability to focus on the mundane duty of grading has wobbled this fall. At times, I've focused like a laser, but other times, I have read the same assignment over and over again, indecisive about its ultimate fate.

So this morning, I loaded another fifteen pairs of shoes (bringing the total to about 45 pairs), eleven bead trays, and my suitcase into my car. I'm taking Davis and Evi to dinner tonight, picking up Ruby so she can start her winter holiday, and spending the night on the south side of Houston, so I have a chance of making it on time to my 7:15 (A.M.!!!) lanyard workshop for fifty!

That's all for now, except to report that a 65-pound short-haired dog can retrieve the leftover Thanksgiving ham off the counter, without breaking the platter or making any noise discernible from the other end of the house, and reduce it to its essential ham bone in less than three minutes. An added bonus to such an act comes from the gas-production side-effect that could clear even your most intrepid unwelcome guests from the house for a full 24 hours after.

Friday, December 4, 2009


December 4, 2009

I performed last night with Emily Pulley!

On Tuesday, she was trying to make ends meet by singing a gig in New York at Carnegie-something-or-other (I know Andrew Carnegie was a steel baron, but I don't think she sang at a steel mill.).  She made it into the microplex last night to join me (and a few others) as we cracked open our Christmas crackers, claimed our crowns, joke sheets, and whistles and performed several stunning renditions of Christmas tunes with the Whistle-Blowers Assemble.  I dueted as whistle number 1.  Emily blended in at the number 4 whistle, and Walter jammed on number 5.  (Bob or Dorothy, if you can email one of the pictures you took, I will insert it here, hint, hint).  I'm pretty sure the world isn't ready for our version of "Jingle Bells," and I am absolutely, positively certain it is not ready for our "Ding Dong, Merrily on High." (At the risk of looking stupid, I encourage you to click on the photo and see all the delightful details.)

Seriously, for my less opera-y friends, here's what Fanfare says about her:  "Emily Pulley's radiant voice and electrifying acting have won her acclaim across the country."  And she really did perform at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night.  Read more about her here.  

We really enjoyed kicking off the holiday season (which promises to be a land mine field of sudden, stifled tears mixed with joyful memories) with dear friends, and I can't actually describe how wonderful it was to sit in the Anderson's home listening to someone sing who has such range and power.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Puzzle and Give

December 1, 2009

Here are two things I would really like you to consider:

The first involves the link between health and stimulating the brain by working puzzles and other mental activity. These two links explain how you can improve your health and well-being by spending time working crosswords, jigsaws, and jumbles. In general, mental exercise is as crucial as physical exercise.


The second idea I want you to consider is the less-documented, but equally intriguing, link between giving and well-being. The premise is that thinking of others reduces stress and may make us healthier along other pathways as well.

Furthermore, we may be born with the desire to help others:

Have you done your homework by clicking the links and reading? If so, I'm about to make you much healthier.

When I returned from a long day in class this afternoon, I found this [excerpted] email waiting for me:

You may remember me as the ‘closet Erin fan’ who ran the London marathon in 2008, and then a 5k race in memory of Erin , Christi Thomas & Locke Blanchard in May this year ?

[ASIDE: note that the writer competed in a marathon last year. That is a positive sign of personal health!]

I thought you might be amused to see the attached- a Christmas quiz written by my father and I. It is free to enter, but we are encouraging people to send in donations and our charity for this year is the Neuroblastoma Society here in England, and if you read carefully you may spot a small link to your blog towards the end- I wanted to share Erin’s amazing story with my friends and family! The quiz is probably quite ‘British’ in places, but I thought you might enjoy it, and by all means forward it on to anyone else who you think would enjoy it- there is no requirement at all for anyone to enter!

Rachel goes on to say:

This year’s quiz will be in aid of The Neuroblastoma Society, a charity which funds research and supports the families of those affected by this aggressive childhood cancer. In keeping with Pauline’s tradition, the winners this year will be able to nominate the charity we support next year. As ever, the quiz is free to enter, but if you would like to send a donation then we will forward it onto the Neuroblastoma Society. Cheques should be made payable to The Neuroblastoma Society, and a Gift Aid form is attached at the end of this quiz. To donate online please visit Good luck!

Click this Christmas Quiz 2009 link and earn a two-fer (three-fer?): a chance to do a wicked, cool puzzle and to help others, all while improving your own personal health. But wait, there's more: If you win, you get to name the charity that benefits next year, and I am positive that all of us have some cause close to our hearts that could stand a boost.