Friday, December 29, 2006

Article: Happy New Year!

The holiday isn’t over for my family. We eschew the standard celebrations to focus on the turning of the calendar. As the glittering ball falls in Times Square--delayed one hour--we blow horns and pop poppers. By 12:10, the floor is completely covered with confetti. Then we sit down to exchange gifts.

It wasn’t always this way. I was raised non-Christian. By that I mean that while we didn’t believe in any gods or supernatural phenomena, our heritage was Christian. My mother’s family was some sort of German Protestant and my father’s was Greek Orthodox. My grandparents even had me baptized. But neither my parents nor later my stepfather were religious. Still we put up a bright aluminum Christmas tree every year and celebrated in the Christian manner.

I continued the tradition with my first husband who hadn’t given religion enough thought to know what he was. When Coral was born on December 23rd, I put her bassinet under the tree for a Christmas photo. The kids’ father didn’t have much of a sense of humor about social norms and Christmas was on the boring side while we were together. After our divorce, it got more fun. One year I hid the presents and told the kids Santa was sick. The Easter Bunny stood in for him but didn’t understand that the presents were to be left under the tree.

Then I met Rick who is non-Jewish. He is, however, more Jewish than I am Christian. He said it made him uncomfortable celebrating Christmas. He was raised Jewish and his mother and sister are followers of the religion. They wouldn’t like him celebrating Christmas. It didn’t matter to me so we switched over to Chanukah.

Chanukah is a beautiful holiday. The kids loved eight days of gifts. Candle races were a big event each night as we tried to guess which would last the longest. But most nights of Chanukah fall on workdays and Rick’s work ethic is warped. He couldn’t make it home at dusk for Chanukah dinner. After a few years I told him we weren’t celebrating his holiday if he wasn’t there. We were switching back to Christmas.

Rick couldn’t get home in time for Chanukah but neither could he celebrate the Christian holiday. We examined our options. I loved the thought of celebrating the solstice. The official start of winter, to me the solstice symbolizes its end. The days grow longer bringing the hope of summer Coral opposed the move since December 21st, two days before her birthday, seemed no better than two days after. Even when she was small she resented the proximity of a major celebration to her special day.

The solstice was out anyway because it falls before Christmas so we’d have to face awful crowds while shopping. Also, it could fall on a workday--we knew that didn’t work.

The logical choice was New Year’s Eve. Gift shopping could be done the week after Christmas, taking advantage of sales, and New Year’s Day is a holiday. We set up our own unique tradition. We decorate the living room top-to-bottom with ribbons, streamers, New Year’s banners and a silver ball hanging from the fan in the middle of the room. While we wait for midnight we play games, have silly string or marshmallow gun fights, race windup toys and other crazy stuff.

At midnight we shoot off as many poppers as we can. We clink glasses full of champagne or sparkling cider. We yell and hoot. We turn the fan on and start the ball spinning--normally trailing a heavy cargo of silly string and streamers. Then we get down to the serious business of present opening.

Everyone spends the night at our house. It keeps them safely off the road and allows us to continue celebrating in the morning. The new year dawns on a day of play and family fun. It’s the perfect holiday for us. I hope y’all enjoy yours as much. Have a happy and safe new year!

Photo: New Year's decorations before the comencement of celebrations.
Photo: Everyone has to wear a silly hat. Here are Coral and Celeste comparing choices.
Photo: Monica and Celeste divide up the poppers for the big moment.
Photo: Every year I take a photo of Philip and Coral holding the photo I took of them the year before. The new photo then goes in front of the old photo in the same frame. If you look deeply enough, you can see all the way back in time.
Photo: I'd like to think Celeste regrets her part in the making of this mess but I'm sure she doesn't.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Article: The graduate

December 23rd marks a big day in my daughter Coral’s life. It’s her twenty-sixth birthday but that’s not it. It is the day she officially graduates from UT Austin with an M.A. in Linguistics. She’s not going to her graduation ceremony but she has already started celebrating.

Since she officially finished all school related activities on Monday, Coral has made two broad pronouncements. The first is that I should allow her to wear her lip ring in my presence. I will never be happy about that lip ring so I don’t see how that’s going to happen. The second is that she will resent me forever for making her complete her degree. She says the only thing the degree is good for is to allow her to write M.A. after her name. Like all mothers where education is concerned, I know she will thank me in the end.

Coral has had an interesting academic career. She started kindergarten a year early due to the timing of her birthday and our financial situation, I couldn’t afford another year of daycare. She attended kindergarten at a private school where age wasn’t the only criterion for entry and started public school with the first grade. I remember it like it was yesterday.

In the weeks leading to the big day, I explained to Coral about what the first grade would be like. I bought her new clothes and school supplies. We visited the campus with her brother serving as tour guide since he had just finished the first grade and knew all about it. “Don’t worry” I told her, “I’ll drive you the first day and help you find your class.” She humored me for a while but eventually dealt the death-blow of five-year-old independence: “I’d rather take the bus.”

I looked into her steely blue eyes and saw no fear, no uncertainty and no dependence. On her first day of public school, Coral boarded the school bus with other kids from her daycare and went off without a backward glance.

Although the youngest child in her class, she was usually the tallest during those yearly years. School was easy for her. She did well and had lots of friends. The first hint of trouble came between the second and third grades. At that point she announced that she’d decided to take a year off. Since she was a year ahead in school, this would not be a problem according to her reasoning. It was a blow when I explained things didn’t work that way.

After Coral graduated from high school, she wasn’t particularly interested in college. She went to live with her dad, working a little and partying a lot. Then at nineteen she went to Venezuela to do a Spanish emersion program. She came back with a goal. She began attending junior college and got straight A’s. After that she attended UCLA where she received a B.A. with a major in Linguistics and Spanish, graduating with honors.

When Coral started the Ph.D. program in linguistics at UT Austin, I was the happiest mom in the world. She got an apartment near campus and continued to get straight A’s. But gradually her attitude changed. Her enthusiasm for linguistics began to cool. She no longer believed linguists applied scientific methods or critical thinking to their field.

She dropped her plan for a Ph.D. and decided to go for an M.A. Without the love for the field she had felt earlier, even that came into question. The last couple of quarters were particularly hard, not due to the material or the work but for lack of motivation. That’s where I came in. Mothers are made of motivation for their children and I’d been coasting while Coral supplied her own.

Finally it's over. Time to party. Time to reflect. Time to lament the worthlessness of the degree. I don't agree, over the course of her carerr, I'm sure her M.A. will bring opportunities and better pay. In fact, it will s tart paying off soon as she collects her graduation gifts. She's not going to be resenting me then. I'm hoping she'll thank me, if not for the degree then at least for the gift.

Photo: Five-year-old Coral graduating from kindergarten.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Article: Where the action is

I was driving up I35 in southern Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago when I spotted an intriguing sign. Traffic was crawling due to snow and ice so Sheldon and I decided to follow a whim and headed for Pauls Valley.

Pauls Valley is a cute little town though I’m not sure where the “Paul” or the “Valley” comes from. Part of the town’s charm stems from its many brick streets, more than any other city in Oklahoma. But the real attraction is the world’s first and only Action Figure Museum. The allure of such an unique museum drew us like a magnet.

We drove the snow covered brick streets to the museum eagerly but painfully slowly. We found our destination easily but were intensely disappointment to discover the museum was closed. Closed! Lousy snow. I knew I hated that stuff, all fluffy and sparkling and dangerous to drive in. “Closed due to weather” read the sign on the door.

But what goes up must come down, so Sheldon and I dropped by the museum on our drive back to Texas. Luckily it is open Sundays from 1:00 - 5:00. As we walked up to the door, Sheldon commented that our visit would take all of five seconds. Admittedly neither one of us owns a single action figure, but I knew Sheldon was wrong. What I didn’t know was how wrong he was, we spent about three hours in the museum. Sadly, during that time they had not one other visitor. Maybe it was the weather.

After paying the $6 per person entry fee, we were treated to a guided tour by an extremely well informed man. We saw thousands of figures and he knew what each one was, what year it was made and how many points of articulation it had. Points of articulation are a big thing for action figures, an indication of their value and collectability. Primitive figures have shoulder and hip joints that allow the limbs to swing back and forth and not much else. A good figure has movable wrists and elbows--possibly a posable finger or two--and can grasp a weapon or other talisman.

We marveled at the “Bat Cave” with its multiple versions of Bat Man, Robin, the Bat Mobile, even trusty butler Alfred. There was one of those ride-on toys that you see in front of grocery stores too. When I was a kid I always wanted to drop my quarter into the horse version but here I forked over the money for a ride on the Bat Mobile. It played the music from the old Bat Man TV Show.

The main attraction was the “kid’s room.” Our guide explained that it looked like the room of a 27 year old “boy” who still lived with his mother. Sheldon and I nodded knowingly, we were sure he was describing himself. This display contained more action figures than I imagined existed. The floor was completely covered with an intricate tableau of good verses evil action figures. The wall plastered with figures still in their original packaging. The most interesting item to me was “The Robot” from the TV Show Lost In Space. It rotated, waved its arms and said, “Danger Will Robinson!”

Along with several of those grocery store ride-ons, kids could enjoy a table set up with loads of figures they can play with and a dress-up area with masks, capes, feet or hair of cartoon and comic strip characters. Annoyingly, everything was kid-sized but Sheldon and I cobbled together primitive costumes.

We had a great time and only left because of the long drive we faced and the fact that the museum was closed. If you’re in the Pauls Valley area or you love action figures, I highly recommend a visit. You can find out more at: Click on the poster to get to the actual web page.

Brick street in front of Action Figure Museum. Notice the snow and ice. Those are my tire prints.
The front of the Action Figure Museum. That's Sheldon taking video of something that doesn't move.
Part of the big room display. The whole thing was cramed with action figures so thickly that you couldn't even grasp what was going on.
This is "The Robot" from the Lost In Space TV show. He waves his arms and says "Danger Will Robinson!" when a light is flashed on him.
This is a balrog from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. This is one of the action figures they are most proud of.
Another shot of the Balrog action figure, this time fighting a Gandalf action figure. They are all to scale according to the movie. The Balrog even lights up and makes some kind of roaring noise.
This is me dressing up as some kind of action figure. Note how many points of articulation I have.
This is Sheldon trying to look "super." Good luck with that!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Article: Oklahoma is not OK

Sometimes I think I’d like to move to the area of the country north of Dallas and south of Oklahoma City. Probably not many people think that way but it’s something that crosses my mind periodically. Living here on the edge of the Hill Country, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would fancy the dreary, unadorned planes that lie along the northern border of our state. There’s only one explanation: horses.

Of course, horses and ranches abound in Texas, it’s not like north of Dallas has any monopoly there. I’ve got my little plot of land in Buda and a small herd of the critters myself. But, much as I like Hays County, it’s not the center of equine activities that the Red River valley is and sometimes I long to be closer to the action. That happened again earlier this month as I contemplated my drive up to Oklahoma City for the National Reining Horse Association finals.

If you haven’t seen a reining horse in action, you really should check it out. Go to to find out more about reining and when and where upcoming shows will be held. But the thing is, it’s no coincidence that the finals are held in Oklahoma City. That northern edge of Texas and southern boundary of Oklahoma is where all the big reining horse trainers are. Towns like Aubrey, Pilot Point, and Tioga Texas along with their Oklahoma counterparts are home a disproportionate number of great reiners. I’m not in that league but, well, sometimes I think that if I lived in the right place things might be different.

I know it’s just a crazy dream and my trip last weekend made that blatantly clear. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the show. It was great. Beautiful horses, lots of action. But the weather! Can people really live like that?

The drive started out well enough. My friend Sheldon and I left work early, around 5:00 on Thursday evening and headed north up MoPac expecting to be slogged down in rush hour traffic. It was windy and bitterly cold but the traffic just didn’t appear. When we hit I35 just south of Round Rock, we breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over and it wasn’t that bad...or so we thought.

We made good time all the way up to Ft. Worth. We stopped for dinner in the northern suburbs and it was there that we got our first real sign of trouble. A thin dusting of icy snow covered the median and lawns. Dallas and Ft. Worth don’t seem so far away, it always amazes me that it snows there. Sheldon was for turning back, even though he lived in Minnesota for three years he seems to be afraid of the snow. I pointed out to him that it wasn’t snowing now and probably hadn’t snowed since the morning. The roads should be cleared.

The drive from Ft. Worth to the Oklahoma border probably took us two hours even though it’s only about fifty miles. The roads became progressively more and more icy. We assumed that, as a state, Texas wasn’t prepared to deal with winter weather. Things would get better once we entered Oklahoma. Again our expectations proved false. The eighteen miles from Marietta to Ardmore took another two hours. We were now traveling in a caravan of mostly eighteen wheelers and going a whopping five miles an hour. We decided to stop for the night.

The morning dawned crisp and very cold but the sun was shining and I thought the ice would soon melt. It didn’t. Another five long hours passed before we reached Oklahoma City. We left the freeway and traveled on some smaller highways after leaving Ardmore. Most drivers don’t have any qualms about tailgating even when they’re driving on ice and can’t possibly stop. It seemed safer to drive on roads that weren’t as clear of snow but had a lot less traffic. We mad a couple of short stops too, mostly to gawk at “winter.” The snow and ice made for a beautiful landscape.

That drive was all I need to remind me of why I live in Central Texas. Pretty as it is, I can't stand the snow. And while I saw some horses out romping in their snowy pastures, the one time it snowed here my horses huddled beside the barn just waiting for it to pass. If I ever do achieve the level required to participate in the OK City NRHA finals, I know now that I won't be able to go. As bad as it was driving a car, I can't imagine pulling a horse trailer.

An ice-encrusted tree at a rest stop near Ardmore, OK.Close-up of the tree. It sparkled like glass.
An ice-coated barbwire fence.
Sheldon loves the snow. However he wore his riding boots which don't give much traction on ice.
My little vehicle, Grisie. She hates the snow too.
This is what Grisie and I saw on Friday morning. Trucks and cars stacked for miles and hardly moving at all. You'll notice that I took this shot while driving.
Once we left the main highway, we saw some interesting sights. Like this stack of old cars outside a junk yard in Lexington, OK.
How clever to make an old Volkswagon into an enormous black widow spider!