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.

Monday, November 30, 2009


November 30, 2009

My muse has suffered lately. Rather than the words flowing straight from my brain, down my neck, across my shoulders, along my arms, through my fingertips, and straight into the keyboard, I have struggled. But not now. I have ideas for new entries out the (metaphorical) wahzoo.

Write already, then.

But no. I have no time. The end of the semester is upon me. I have wall-to-wall grading and no room for much else.

Here is a start on the cascade of ideas that have come to me lately. The first is a commentary concerning Michaela Salahi and Teddy Buenger.

Who really deserves fifteen minutes of fame more?


I would definitely vote for Teddy, wouldn't you?

And for the discerning among us, why the period before Fri?

Saturday, November 28, 2009


November 26, 2009

Stuart Holden, Houston Dynamo midfielder, is collecting "gently used" shoes (any type other than flip flops) to donate to the Star of Hope Mission (for the homeless) in Houston. If you would like to clean out your shoe closets, please contact me to make arrangements for me to get your "old" shoes. If you can get them to me by Friday, I have a friend who will pick them up next weekend.

Stu's goal is 500 pairs, let's surpass that!

Monday, November 23, 2009


November 23, 2009

Alright. Back off. I am not talking about coupling here. This afternoon, for the first time since I was in junior high at Alvin Jr. High School, I played a complete game of chess (Awkward confession: my friends will say that the only reason I played chess back then was because John Dupre also played chess. I can't say that I remember one way or the other).

Laying off chess for thirty-five years probably doesn't strike most of you as odd. Many of us took part in things during those graceless and best-forgotten years of our early youth that we abandoned and never returned to. I, however, happen to coach the Jane Long Middle School Chess Team.

I was willing to take up chess again when Davis joined the club eight or nine years ago, but I blinked, and before I could get the pieces arranged on the board, he far surpassed me in skill level. Needless to say, he dared not deign to play me (or perhaps more accurately, I quaked at the thought of playing him).

Since then, I have watched a lot of chess. I carted Davis around the state to tournaments and three times he played in the national tournament. Thus, when the opportunity arose to hang around with Erin's friends and meet some new kiddos interested in chess, I took on the challenge. I also, cunningly, recruited Spencer K., one of Davis's friends and teammates who goes to college here in town to do the heavy lifting. All fall I ducked playing. Last Monday, I took over someone else's game when he had to leave, and finished well. It gave me the confidence to sit in--start to finish--on a game today.

I have to say that I went down material and position fairly quickly. Luckily for my record, my opponent played too conservatively, leaving a crack open for me to make some gains, and then finally eke out a win in the end game. I may have to rest until January before I play again. I'm thinking hard about that "old dog," "new tricks" saying.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


November 18, 2009

The phone rings. The voice on the other end says, "Can we make the trade in the back parking lot by the outdoor basketball court?"

I receive a text, "I need starts. Can you set me up?"

An e-mail asks, "Where will you be at 5:45 and can I catch up with you there?"

I find myself passing baggies at curbside, then driving away. People at church slip things into my jacket pocket as I stand in the vestibule ushering. I meet up with people in strange parts of town after dark, but only for a minute.

If the fed tailed me, I think my behavior would raise suspicion.

What I'm really doing is moving lanyards and lanyard supplies around town. Sometimes I'm a "clucker" and sometimes I'm a "bagman" or a "mule." Mainly, I'm just trying to guarantee "merchandise" and an "easy score" so people will know I've "got it going on."

[NOTE BENE: I looked up these street slang words on the White House Drug Policy website to make sure I was using them correctly. Here's what I think I said: Sometimes, I'm a middleman and sometimes I'm a supplier or a courier. Mainly I'm just trying to make sure that my friends can get lanyards as well as beads and other supplies without having to wait too long so that we raise more money for neuroblastoma research more quickly.]

When I am not "working" these days, I'm actually working. I push my green pen around on exams and push ideas out of my head into my students heads. Unbelievably, I have only four more class days left, plus finals. I hope I don't have work left when I've run out of semester.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


November 15, 2009

Many of you don't care, but I got the official release from my three-month vow of silence on The Repore. Read the latest, if you are adventurous.

As long as you are clicking, head over to Erin's Dream Lanyards, too. I have a guest today, who starts her story this way:

Second graders don’t really understand boundaries very well- they love to touch and hug and feel and love maybe a little too much for the comfort of most. But it’s part of what I love about my job. And these little sweeties can’t get enough of my lanyard! The symmetry and shine of the beads, the interesting feel of the patterns, the glimmer of something around my neck. Kids can’t resist. My lanyard gets handled a lot over the course of a typical school day. (more)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trick and Treat

November 13, 2009

I clicked on the New York Times article, "Good Dog, Smart Dog" with great curiosity. I learned that:

"The matter of what exactly goes on in the mind of a dog is a tricky one, and until recently much of the research on canine intelligence has been met with large doses of skepticism. But over the last several years a growing body of evidence, culled from small scientific studies of dogs’ abilities to do things like detect cancer or seizures, solve complex problems (complex for a dog, anyway), and learn language suggests that they may know more than we thought they did."

That's it. Understanding Teddy and Willie is tricky. I should try harder. Perhaps they had great skills. Maybe they could become seizure alert dogs or follow in the footsteps of "Jet" who can identify his hypoglycemic owner's plunging blood sugar and will either stare at her intently or repeatedly drop a toy in her lap until she snaps out of her dissociative state and does something about it. For a moment I held hope, but I spoiled the moment with google (does this happen to you?). I decided I needed to find the original reference (and accompanying ranked list of dog breeds) to Stanley Coren's work on dog intelligence. My mistake.

According to Coren, author of "The Intelligence of Dogs", there are three types of dog intelligence:

  • Adaptive Intelligence (learning and problem-solving ability). This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.
  • Instinctive Intelligence. This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.
  • Working/Obedience Intelligence. This is breed dependent.

If you click on the link you will notice that it has 100 dog breeds broken into six categories, from "Brightest Dogs" to "Lowest Degree." Optimist that I am, I clicked from the top down. Penbroke corgi, Uma's category, came up 11th, which just goes to show that intelligence and pleasantness don't necessarily correlate. I finally found Rhodesian ridgeback at 62nd, but had to search to the very last category--number 90--to find shih-tzu. I haven't felt as disappointed since my softball coach put me eighth in the batting order even though I was the fastest player on the team (I was certain I would be a dangerous base runner, and thus deserved the number one or number two slot). I got no comfort when a dog expert tried to explain to me that shih-tzu's didn't need to be smart. They were bred to sit on the emperor's lap and eat from his hand. A nice life, but frankly, Walter and I had hoped for more than "lowest degree" for our precious.

This new discovery led us down an interesting path on Wednesday evening. We returned home around 8:30 that night and found someone had jiggered open the dog food cabinet.

Walter has lived in that house for thirty dog-filled years with sometimes as many as four dogs in residence at a time. For three long stretches, we owned Top Ten breeds (German shepherd, Labrador retriever, and rottweiler). Never, during any of those years, did a single dog manage to finagle its way into the food source.

We began our investigation, photographing everything that looked relevant:

We circled the first object. It looked dragged, but except for the tiny bit of scrap cardboard lying nearby, it revealed no visual evidence of tampering. The fact that it wasn't ripped to shreds gave weight to the non-dog theory of the perpetrator. We moved through the house, considering our prime suspects and accumulated the following line up (based on the facts of the case). None of them would admit to anything (click on each mugshot to personally assess the look of guilt on the faces).

That was before we returned to the first (actually only) piece of evidence. Walter picked it up to return it to its storage place and found that the suspects had cleverly covered their trail. From five of six sides, it looked like an ordinary, off-the-shelf, unopened box of Milk-Bone biscuits. The sixth side was a different story altogether.

Noticing the paucity of treats in the box, we quickly realized we had either been cheated by the manufacturer (cue dramatic music) OR our intruder was also a thief! We tried to interrogate the eyewitnesses, but they somehow seemed to know that "loose lips, sink ships."

Thousands of years of breeding peaked at that moment. How could anyone accuse a shih-tzu--the mainstay of the Chinese Empire and a dog destined for greatness as the comforter of rulers and royalty--how could anyone accuse her of petty thievery?!!?!

We never learned who entered our house and purloined our treats. For some reason neither dog ate their breakfast on Thursday morning. They were probably just exhausted from standing guard all night in case the thief returned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


November 11, 2009

I promise I will update with something fun and enlightening soon, but in the meantime, if you stopped by, click over to Erin's Dream Lanyards and read the latest news on the lanyard front.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crawl, Fly, or Climb

November 5, 2009

The gorgeous weather has somehow put a strain on the wildlife in the neighborhood.  I don't know.  Maybe the birds, caterpillars, and squirrels have been mesmerized by bright sunshine, clear skies, and exactly seasonal temperatures.  I've heard the geese go by, and I think they were headed in the right direction, but everyone else has been a little out of kilter lately.

It started with a confused caterpillar looking for a place to rest itself and spin its cocoon.  This, of course, happens every fall (I'll ask the neighborhood Master Naturalist for the species, if you are interested).  Unfortunately, the "usual" place this type caterpillar goes for the big transition is not available this year.  So it wandered around, in the middle of the road, no less, looking for a place to (literally) hang out.  The worried Master Naturalist became concerned when it kept crossing and re-crossing the road, so she carefully picked it up and took it to a Likely Place.  The caterpillar rejected that offer, so she carried it someplace else.  It took about an hour, but eventually the Caterpillar Rescue Operation was successfully concluded, with the caterpillar happily hanging upside down, spinning silk and the happy Master Naturalist retired to her lookout post on the porch, ever vigilant.

A day or two later, a flicker presented itself in need of aid.  M.N. found it, passed out, lying on the ground feet straight up in the air like a wiped out skier who missed the trail marker.  Apparently, it rammed itself into a window and knocked itself silly.  With great patience and tender hands, the Master Naturalist warmed it and coaxed it back to consciousness.

Pretty soon, even I had to get in on the act.  As I walked along the path between our houses, I came across a brown sparrow sitting there, looking at me.  Did I have the healing hands, too?  Amazingly, it let me pick it up and rode along in my cupped hands, just blinking at me.  I carried it towards the Master Naturalists command post, though at the last moment it took flight, healed from whatever trauma it had experienced.

These saves pale in comparison to the young squirrel rescue that happened next.  I was packing or unpacking my car (I have had so many lanyard workshops lately I can't remember which), when I saw a scrabbling squirrel trying to climb up the door to Erin and Davis's shed.  That confused me, but not as much as hearing it scream.  A horrible noise, a squirrel scream.  We (the Master Naturalist and I) observed it--maybe some blood, maybe an injured leg, who knows what else--and tried to make a plan (for those keeping score, the squirrel was not one of Willie's exercise clients).  We found a thick towel and a styrofoam beer cooler, and with a little luck, managed to secure the squirrel into the towel nest inside the cooler.  Amazingly, there is a squirrel specialist at the small animal clinic at Texas A&M.  They promised they would release the youngster back in our neighborhood if they could heal it, and that they wouldn't charge is either way (survival or not).

I felt a little guilty boarding a flight out of Easterwood Airport this morning, headed to Houston and on to Louisville, Kentucky.  Who will be the Master Naturalist's wing woman (or paw woman) until I get back on Sunday?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tread Water

November 2, 2009

The cruel time of the semester arrived, as usual. Long-time readers have come to expect these longer-than-usual gaps between posts in late October and all of November, just as happens in April. Non-students probably don't think of April and November as particularly cruel, but those of us either producing or processing stacks of exams, papers, reports, and homework assignments know that the lolly-gagging of September always gives way to the dogged run after Columbus Day.

It's not just that I don't have time for a post (though that's absolutely true), but I don't have the brain for it either. I can't seem to notice pithy details or remember witty conversational exchanges. I did listen to an interview about the founders and president of Google on the radio driving home from a lanyard workshop in Spring yesterday, which I thought at the time was interesting and memorable. Maybe it was, but I have nothing to report.

I have permission from Davis to write an update to the Davhee Repore about Ripstick Love, but not only have I thought of nothing beyond the title, I fell asleep on the couch at 8:00 last night and forgot to return his phone call where we might have discussed some ideas. Ack!

I can report that I am six stickers short of being about to provide the women at Phoebe's home eight brand new skillets, thanks to everyone's contribution of Albertson's bonus stickers. And that we have almost two full months left to continue collecting. Keep collecting.

I can also report the arrival of a box of beads destined for re-purposing from Indiana! and continuing interest in beading popping up in various locales. Keep collecting.

Beyond this, I am merely treading water. I am hoping that my former skill of focusing and pushing through the piles in a systematic and orderly way returns soon, because treading water doesn't get the papers graded, the floor swept, or the blog written. For your own good, if I owe you a response to an e-mail, maybe you should send me a reminder. Otherwise, if you haven't heard from me, you can assume it was lost in the shuffle of that cruel time of the semester.

ADDENDUM: I did get to celebrate that I finished I, Claudius finally. Shortly after, I learned that there was a sequel, Claudius, the God. That discovery just reminded how much crueler November could become if I made a bad selection for our next Mother-Daughter reading Club Selection.

Thank goodness for seasonal chocolate or all might be lost.

Monday, October 26, 2009


October 26, 2009

(Disclaimer: no cats were harmed in any way in the research, preparation, or writing of this entry.)

Of course, you can read almost anything on the internet, even from seemingly sterling sources.

For instance, I read in the New York Times that "all the students at Luolang Elementary School, a yellow-and-orange concrete structure off a winding mountain road in southern China, know the key rules:

Do not run in the halls.
Take your seat before the bell rings.
Raise your hand to ask a question.

And oh, yes:

Salute every passing car on your way to and from school.

I also read that "careers in personal fitness training are growing dramatically in job demand and pay range each year. Since people are becoming more aware of health issues everyday and want to change the way they live, now is a good time to seek a career in personal fitness training" (, note bene: all quotes below also come from this internet source.)

Why is this important and worth mentioning? Willie has gotten off the dole and has taken a new position as a personal trainer for some feral cats. He takes his job seriously.

"The main responsibility of a personal fitness trainer [apparently] is to instruct and coach both groups and individuals in various exercises and activities." This he does with great enthusiasm, whether the cats are bunched together in a group or fleeing in individual directions.

A personal trainer should strive "to help his clients assess their physical fitness level and encourage and help them set and reach their fitness goals." Willie is willing to go the extra mile, or the extra lap around the garage, to make sure his clients reach their maximum physical potential and their fitness goals.

The article goes on to list a few things personal fitness trainers do:

  • "Motivating clients and team members"--I have never seen cats more motivated than the ones working out with Willie. He provides a one-on-one program tailored to fit the specific needs of his clients.
  • "Assisting clients in breathing exercises"--He is especially adept at raising heart rate and breathing function of his clients.
  • "Identifying specific training needs"--Young cats clearly need to work on quick climbing to avoid predators and reach their highest potential. He adds the personal touch of working with his clients in the privacy of their own neighborhood.
  • "Applying first aid procedures"--None needed, so far.
  • "Constructing instructional programs"--Willie acts as a particularly forceful motivator who helps push his clients to their limits.
  • "Leading various recreational activities"--Willie focuses on hide-and-seek and chase rather than on other more complex and equipment-dependent recreational activities. This allows his clients to avoid expensive gym memberships and investment in equipment that will soon end up in the basement, spare bedroom, or on Craig's list.
  • "Monitoring and communicating client progress"--Believe me, Willie watches his clients' progress during workouts as well as through the sliding glass door during down time. He communicates about it with anyone who will listen.
  • "Demonstrating each physical activity"--Willie falls a little short here. He is willing to run step for step with his clients. He is even willing to low crawl, following them underneath trucks and cars as the go through the obstacle course. He has not demonstrated tree climbing for them, however. I am proud to say that he did not overturn Marvin's truck when he stood up underneath it yesterday. Maybe, he needs to look into personal liability insurance for those occasions of strenuous.
Like all good personal trainers, Willie knows how to avoid pushing his clients to the point where they injure themselves.

Friday, October 23, 2009


October 23, 2009

Twenty-three. An odd number. And a Friday. That means lanyard workshop at my house! Come after school or after work. I'm looking forward to seeing you. We start about 4:00 and go until about 7:00, so there's plenty of time--even for busy people-- to fit in a little beadwork.

Here are some other things I want you to remember:

First thing:

Go Green with Erin's Dream Lanyards!

Not crafty?
Don't wear an ID badge?
Tired of being hit up for donations?
Want to help Erin's Dream Lanyards, but don't know how?

Do you have a tangle of beaded trinkets taking up space in your jewelry box? Don’t throw them away; send your old or broken beaded jewelry to Erin’s Dream Lanyard’s to be re-purposed into lanyards, necklaces and eyeglass chains. Just fill a flat rate box ($4.95) from the post office and mail it to 4138 Cypress Road, Bryan, TX 77807 (or a large one if you are ambitious or just an envelop would also work).

Green is the signature color of Erin’s Dream Lanyards and now it takes on additional meaning. Going green by recycling your jewelry is not only good for the environment, it will help raise money for the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation.

Another good idea:

I will continue to collect Albertson's stickers (as I wrote about at the end of my September 13 post, Ripple), redeemable for cookware to donate to Phoebe's Home and the Twin City Mission, through Christmas this year. If you are not collecting for yourself, consider collecting for others. Send me your bonus stickers (4138 Cypress Road, Bryan, TX 77807) and they will be put to good use.

And here is something else. . .

Laura Kendrick sits at the pinnacle of the EDL Beader Hall of Fame. She has recently launched a Facebook group called BE THE CHANGE, which encourages us to jump in and help out where ever we can in our community. I'd love it if Laura told me that Erin fans joined her group in droves.

And a fourth point to remember (from my post of October 13):

"One thing that is going on from now until the end of the year is the Yoplait yogurt Save Lids to Save Lives promotion. Yoplait will funnel at least $500,000 and up to $1.5 million to the Komen Foundation if you buy their product (This, if you are counting, is a whole pile of lanyards!)

I eat a Yoplait yogurt almost every day. I'm going to save the lids, wash them, and send them in. Every time I send them in between now and December, I'm going to add a letter, thanking Yoplait for its corporate social responsibility and telling them that September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness month and that they should consider a Gogurt! Save Kids campaign in 2010. I probably won't have much impact alone, but if the rest of you yogurt eaters out there saved your labels (to show your buyer power) and reminded Yoplait that Kids need their support, too, we could start a movement.

Walter, wanted me to make it clear that I don't want you to send me your yogurt lids. I want you to send them in yourself, with your own letter suggesting the Gogurt! Save Kids campaign for 2010."

Still looking for ways to help?

If you clicked on the link for "Ripple" you may have been reminded of the Erin Anthem, commissioned by A&M Methodist Church. There is still time to participate in that effort as well. Email Music Director Sterling Allen for details on how you can help (

Other than that, feel free to enjoy the beautiful fall weather wherever you are.