Sunday, June 24, 2007

a night at the symphony

Our Friday:
3-4:30 PM I finish listening to The Fellowship of the Ring on CD while showering, creating an outfit, and doing my hair for the evening to make the cheap meal and free concert in the park seem much more of a date than just something to do.

4:30 Sam comes home. I continue playing with my hair and put on some make up while we talk about funny things people have said to him at work

5:30 Sam and I gather an array of ponchos, tent flies, umbrellas, and blankets to keep us dry in case the forecasted intermittent thunderstorms decide to pop up during the concert.

5:45 Sam and I discuss our siblings' love lives and our own courtship experience on the long drive into Southwest Houston. The fastest way to get there is via a toll-road, so we opt for the slower, but more scenic (and free) Westheimer parkway.

6:30 We arrive at Vic's Backyard BBQ for dinner because Sam has gotten a 50% off coupon for his birthday from his work. The decor is mostly neon beer-brand lights, antlers (both on and off the bucks they came from), and photos of famous celebrities of the 40's-60's. We pick up a tray on our way in, order our main course-- a bacon cheese burger for me and chicken fried steak for Sam-- and point out which "side dishes" we want from the aluminum cafeteria-style vats of mixed vegetables and macaroni and cheese. The man behind us fills his tray with eight Coronas.

7:00 We drive further in to the city, through the very pretty university and museum district. We go around the round-about twice, passing our exit the first time, and almost getting hit by on-coming traffic.

7:35 We get to the park. We easily find free, close parking. We are given programs and red bandannas with Target brand (the free concert sponsor) targets all over it. We are early enough to get a great seat right at the front of the lawn and begin alternately reading our programs and people watching.

8 PM Four senior citizens just 10 feet to our right argue over whether they should move off the grass and under the pavilion or stay on the lawn. Eventually the ladies win and one of the men gets up to carry their chairs and cooler to the pavilion. The other man stubbornly declares it would not rain, reclines his chair as far back as it will go and refuses to budge.

8:10 Sam points out that the guest conductor for the evening (James Gaffigan) is the assistant conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra and has participated in the Blossom music festival.

8:15 The old man's friend comes back to retrieve an extra blanket. The old man still doesn't move.

8:20 Sam and I decide we will attend the 4th of July free concert which includes "A Star-Spangled Salute," a Texas Sing-A-Long Medly, the 1812 Overture (we both hope for real cannons), and a fireworks display

8:25 The old man's wife comes up to the lawn and says while flapping her arms about, "There's a nice breeze down there." Man: "What?!" Wife: "A BREEZE! (arms flap more wildly) AIR!" Man: "There's a breeze right here! We're outside!" The wife goes back to her seat.

8:30 The concert begins with the William Tell Overture. Immediately a huge grin comes across my face as I remember playing with my dad and brothers and sister while listening to this. I tell Sam about it: "Here we would prance around and Daddy would spin us." The music gets to the foreboding part. "I would always get so excited because I knew the storm was coming and my little stomach would be all a-twitter." The "storm" rages in the symphony; I'm almost laughing and can't keep from bouncing my feet. "Dad would toss us onto the couch and we would jump off in time with the music. We'd squeal as he'd catch us and throw us about." The storm calms. "More twirling" The trumpet sounds the call for the "race" in the now infamous Lone Ranger theme part. "We'd all line up and sometimes ride our wooden horses or yard sticks and race around the house, Daddy coming up behind and poking our sides to scare us silly. We bounced the house so much and scratched the record so badly it wouldn't play any more."
Sam points out to me a bassist who flings his head back at every emphasis in the music. It's hilarious to watch. I point out the little shoulder shrug the conductor does as he conducts the "ba-da-bum. ba-da-bum. ba-da-bum-bum-bum"-- obviously a member of the hip-hop generation. By the time the song gets to the part where it has ending after ending I'm so giddy I can hardly stand it and I cheer and whistle when the piece is finished.

8:45 The piano is moved in and the symphony plays Mozart's Piano concerto No. 22. During the third movement I think of how many times I've used this piece to calm me down, ease my worries, accompany my homework, or remind me that life is good and beautiful.
The old man is asleep.

9:30 Intermission. Sam and I switch chairs so he can have the comfy one. A woman sitting in front of us returns from the concession stand with nachos and Sam and I say "Mmmmm" simultaneously. I make Sam try on the Target bandanna to see how he looks in a do rag. He looks like Prison Mike. The old man's friend comes over to him with a box full of ice cream bars. The old man looks at each one, reads its package, and changes his mind three times before choosing one. As his friend walks away he shouts, "Tell [my wife] it hasn't rained yet!"

9:45 The orchestra begins Beethoven's 7th Symphony. During the second movement I remember hearing the piece for the first time on a CD my best friend's Dad made for us our freshman year of college as a balm for our tried spirits. That too has been used to calm and comfort me many times since then.

Later (around the third movement) : The old man is sprawled and lounging, sucking on the fudge-sicle in one had and grabbing mint Milanos out of a bag on a cooler next to him with the other. I point him out to Sam who says that's what he hopes to be doing at that age.

The last movement: Sam and I reconfirm our position that the conductor seems to have a bit of hip-hop in his style. His stance is wide as he bounces in time. He nods his head and shrugs his shoulders, all the time looking relaxed and fluid. I watch, fascinated. Sam watches the flailing bassist to keep him awake.

10:40 We clap and cheer as the concert ends and we pack up. I am thoroughly pleased with the beautiful evening (we felt only a few drops the entire night) and the beautiful music. Sam and I are reminded why we come to the symphony so often -- every couple months or so. The old man struggles to roll out of a full-reclining position and stand up again, rubbing his back and knees. We all head to our cars.

Friday, June 22, 2007

scrapbooker's delight

Sam and I bought a printer this week. We had originally purchased one from OfficeMax but then found one with very similar features, free photo paper, and scrapbooking software for $30 less at Walmart. I've played with the software a little bit and here are two products. The first was made using one of their ready-made templates and the second is one I made on my own. It's a lot of fun, though I'm not sure quite what I'd do with it. I'm impressed with the huge array of backgrounds, fonts, and little scrapbooking tags, ribbons, and trinkets with which you can adorn your page.

Monday, June 18, 2007

everything's bigger in texas

Sam and I were driving to Dallas on Friday morning when we noticed a sign on our right which said, "World's tallest statue of an American hero." Our curiosity piqued, we kept our eyes open and in a few moments, there it was: a 67 foot tall statue of Sam Houston at the side of I-45 in his one-time home, Huntsville, TX.
Upon sighting it, I was at first shocked and then burst out laughing because, as you can see from the freeway picture, the statue is pretty abrupt and seems more than a little out of place. Well, at least to an outsider. Sam (Cosby, not Houston) took the statue a little more to heart having been indoctrinated with glorified stories of Houston's heroism in revolutionary triumphs like the Battle of San Jacinto where he and his men beat the pants off Santa Anna who had killed all their friends at the Alamo a month before. However, despite my amusement, I had to admit to Sam (Cosby, AND Houston) yet again that everything really IS bigger in Texas.
It's true. Texas has 3 of the United States' top 10 cities by population and 5 of the top 20. It's the second largest state in the Union both by area (to Alaska) and population (to California) and home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than any other state. The port of Houston is the sixth-largest port in the world. "Big" is an understatement when referring to Texas. As I thought about it, I came up with a few more things that are bigger in Texas.

1. Churches
Sure, California's got the Crystal Cathedral and Saddleback Church, but no one's got more big churches per capita than Texas. Big churches in Texas are just slightly less prevalent than LDS buildings in Provo, and that's just because they can hold more people. Lots more people. Take the BIG church that is the view out every single window in our apartment, Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church. When we first got here, we thought the church was the expo center we saw advertised, but no-- that's dwarfed behind the church which also has a large school with 3 wings and 4 portable classrooms. BIG. And there are countless others just like it. The best part is, they're full, so we have some wonderful neighbors.

2. Freeways
We thought I-10, which goes from the gulf coast through the center of Houston all the way to San Antonio, was a big freeway. It's got about 10 lanes, and like any other respectable large-city freeway, is currently under construction. This construction, which we assume will be finished by the time the area it serves grows by another 463% in a decade (I'm not kidding), is meant not only to update its 1960's construction, but also to widen it to a gargantuan "24 lanes, including feeder roads." BIG.

3. Houses
They are both tall and sprawling, for two reasons. First, there aren't any basements in Texas, due to the level of the water table, or something like that, so if you want three floors, they've got to go UP. Second, land here is plentiful and cheap. Sam's brother who lives in New Hampshire bought a condo for the same amount of money his high school buddy used to buy a beautiful, new 4 bedroom home here in Texas, and that's with an entry-level income. If you're at the peak of your career, you can be assured of getting a nice big dream home in Texas.

4. Phonebooks
I have 3 of them, all new, all for only west Houston. Again, cheap land + lots of people = having 3 T-Mobile stores and 17 smoothie shops (Piccomolo gets two thumbs up, but I haven't yet been to Funky Monkey or Iggiz) within two miles of my front door.

5. Hair
Some people say it's the cowgirl in Texas women. I say its the humidity.

6. Trucks
Tons of them, and all jacked up. When Sam and I went to the DPS to get his license renewed, we pulled up next to one of these trucks. The bottom of it's body was at the same height as the rack on top of our station wagon.

7. High schools
Cinco Ranch High (the one where I would send my teenagers if I had them) covers 66 acres and the teachers use golf carts to get around campus. Need I say more?

8. The Sky
About half of Texas's population is located either in the Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston areas (with another good chunk in San Antonio). As such, once you get outside that, it's just fields and forests. I've seen many a big sky in my day on my innumerable road trips across Nebraska, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico, and I can say Texas's sky is just as big and beautiful as those of the great plains or the southwest deserts. Simply lovely. And big.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

books books books books books

A friend recently asked for suggestions for her summer reading list. Sadly, I never know what to say when I'm asked that. I'm not sure whether that's because there are too many or too few books right up front in my brain to know how to respond. To make replying a little less mentally taxing, I consulted my newly bought and assembled and already completely full (and overflowing into metal crate shelves) bookcase to find some favorite titles. Here are my selections with titles for both, as she put it, "poolside as well as thought-provoking material that leads to self-reflection and an [anonymous reader] more suited to the world's challenges." Please feel free to comment and add your own suggestions.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel-- good for both poolside and thoughtful times

The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe-- a (very) short satire on modern art

*I'd also recommend his satire on modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House

Jane Austen-- anything, though my personal favorites are Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb-- about breaking the 4 minute mile

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women put Motherhood Before Marriage by Edin and Kefalas-- an interesting piece of sociology. much of it can be browsed. it's not a continuous story, but there are excellent excerpts from interviews, and has one of my favorite tid-bits of research tucked in its back pages, "[After-school] programs range in cost from $1000 to $4000 per teen per year, but since experts estimate that the typical non-marital birth costs taxpayers roughly $3,750 annually over 18 years, these programs might eventually save, not cost money. Research also shows that programs which engage these at-risk youth in service-learning are especially effective, though the experts aren't sure why."

In the Company of Men by Nancy Mace-- about one of the first women to attend The Citadel, a military academy

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom-- a Christian Dutch woman and her family who are hiding Jews get sent to concentration camps. Fascinating and moving.

Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
-- a story in South Africa just before apartheid was enacted. written in beautiful language. In London, most of the people I went to church with were African. I LOVED to hear them speak. It was so simple and honest and pure, like singing. It's hard to describe, but you can get a sense of it from this book.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

saturday is a special day

Like most people I know, Sam and I really like Saturdays for what we don't have to do on them. With this luxury we slept in, read books, read the paper, browsed the internet, lazed. Sam made a delicious buffalo-chicken salad for dinner. But we also like Saturdays for what they allow us to get done. Today was a particularly productive day. Sam cleaned the battery terminals on our car and bought a fire extinguisher and I went grocery shopping. We also did some things together. First, we hung some pictures above our bed-- which is always more work than it seems it should be.

Then we bought a vacuum. It's no Dyson, but it sure sucks well and has some nifty tools. It is a little creepy to be able to see all the dirt in your house flying around in a little plastic tornado.

Our final accomplishment of the day was committing ourselves to two years of monthly bills to T-Mobile. We got a family myFaves plan. This means that I can choose any 5 numbers and call them for free. Other than Sam, I'm having a tough time deciding who they should be. If you want to be one of my faves, leave me a message in passionate language describing why I should pick you. In the mean time, Happy Saturday!

Friday, June 08, 2007

bobby pins from sammy-kins

It's the little things that really prove someone's love, right? At least, that's what we learn from Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer and I'm prone to believe it. Take for example, the actions of my husband yesterday evening. He came home from a stop at the supermarket with a small package of bobby pins for me. But these weren't just any bobby pins. Some background: every time we've gone to the a super-walmart, -target, -Smith's, -Albertsons for the past several weeks I've looked for these special curved bobby pins that don't stick out from my head. No one carried them. Not one single curved bobby pin, just the shoddy plastic tipped nightmares. So yesterday when Sam was perusing the aisles of Kroger and saw the bobby pin section, he looked at every single package they had and brought me home a whole box of beautifully curved, head-hugging bobby pins. What a man.

las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso

The newest collection from the makers of the loveliest chocolates I've ever tasted

Thursday, June 07, 2007

an ideal husband: how sam measures up

It's funny to go back and look at my list of traits I'd like in a husband now that I'm married. Sam certainly meets the large majority of requirements. We both wish he had a little bit more of number 11, considering our current woes. Only number 50 seems to not be so important anymore, but that may be just because we're in Houston. I've been pleasantly surprised at just how well Sam does at some of these, like 67, 33, 22, 17, 12, and 5. And of course, he has all the essentials of the list, like 1, 2, 6, 27, 28, 35, 39, and 55. I love Sam!

this month is such a special one...

Yesterday was Sam's birthday. I made him this birthday cake. My parents birthdays are also this month. I wish they were here to help us eat this very large, very rich cake.

Happy Birthday Juners!

my (new) title

I felt like this new blog needed to be updated to better suit my current self. Don't get me wrong: I still feel like traveling teaches us about ourselves and that there are lots of fantastically cool ways to learn. It's just, after a few more years of school, work, loneliness, falling in love, traveling, changing, not changing, in general, after living and growing up, I've gotten to know myself a little better, and I've learned a few things.

I've learned that people are more important to me than most anything else. I don't think I did as well in school, read as many books, went to as many museums or lectures or concerts, or performed as well in my job as I could have had I not spent so much time being with people I liked and who made me feel good and valuable. I've also learned, and am no longer ashamed to admit, that I think its easier to get people to notice us and like us when we look decent-- not couture or over-done-- but I know I feel more confident and out-going when I'm not thinking about my old shirt.

Part of what makes this problem worse is that while I didn't do any of those things I mentioned as well as I might have, I didn't do them particularly poorly either. That provides very little motivation to really get cracking on my intellectual, spiritual, or career development. At some level, I'm having my cake and eating it too. And besides, most of the people I was spending my time with were much more diligent in their self-development than I and it was easy to just go along for the ride.

But when I finally let myself reflect, I still feel like I need to take a little more initiative in my growth as a human being. And when it comes to role models, I find several candidates in my favorite books. Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice. Anne, of Green Gables fame. Kitty from Anna Karenina. And Jo from Little Women.

My personal favorite is Kitty. She begins the novel as a flighty young woman, jealous and vain. Kitty gets so ill from the angst of unrequited love that she leaves the country to go to recover at a spa in Germany. There she meets a woman who is unselfish and self-sacrificing and yet so happy. Kitty tries to emulate her, but realizes she cannot maintain her friend's level of piety and service. Still, Kitty is changed for good.

It's at this point in the novel that I think Anne Shirley's comment that I've posted below my title is particularly fitting. Kitty wants to be good. She wants to be faithful. She wants to serve God and her fellow man. But she still wants to look pretty, and life's tests and trials seem to be marginally easier when we look good.

Kitty goes on to fall in love with a wonderful, hardworking man of the land. She's a doting wife and gentle mother. When her husband's brother falls ill, she immediately jumps in caring for both the dying man and her grieving husband, making everything better by the beauty and care she brings to their lives.

I guess I'm hoping my own story will have a similar ending. I probably won't ever read as many books, or have as many ideas, or know as many current events, or attend as many lectures as I could. But I hope I can make things beautiful like Kitty, and temper my pride like Elizabeth, and be full of gratitude like Anne, and make my big dreams fit my small life like Jo.

try number two

After a recent email conversation with my friend Liz, I decided to try my hand at blogging again. I'm a regular on facebook, but I like words and pictures and links to all go together, and a blog seems more suited to that.

I must be honest, I'm a little wary of keeping a regular blog. It seems a little presumptuous to me to think that anyone would care to check it regularly. Of course, there are blogs that I check regularly, mostly to keep up with friends and family, and I suppose that they would check up on my blog to do the same thing, but one can never be sure. So, I think if this blog succeeds (read: last for more than five posts like my last blog), it will be more because it is a satisfaction to me than because of its merit to anyone else.
With this in mind, welcome to my blog.