Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Daughter, the Detective

I helped my daughter with a school assignment the other day. They were supposed to do a time-line showing past, present and future: a picture of her as a baby, a picture of her now and a picture of what she wants to be in the future. Influenced by my wife's obsession of reading mysteries, my little girl wants to be a detective, ala Sherlock Holmes. So I doctored up a photo of her to include in the project.

She loved it, as did her teacher.

I think she has all the qualities that would make up a fine sleuth: naturally suspicious (believes nothing she hasn't found out for herself), determined to follow through anything she has begun (which also means she can be as stubborn as a mule), and has a rock solid sense of what constitutes right and wrong (which means I'm constantly getting busted.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011


First off, a short update on my recent medical adventure to get that out of the way. I went to the doctor, an endocrinologist (my regular doctor had referred me to his office after seeing my MRI and saying, "Whoa, this is outta my league, I can't help you anymore!") a couple of weeks ago to discuss the MRI. He started going over all of the differences between a cyst and a benign tumor. After a few minutes, I stopped him and asked him why wasn't using the word "malignant." First, he said, tumors in this area (pituitary) were almost never cancerous, almost 99% not. Secondly, the MRI didn't show any of the indicators that might raise a red flag (I don't know why my regular couldn't have told me this.) So, he said we'd be doing another MRI in a year, to see if it has grown. For now, he wanted me to get some blood work done, to see if the cyst or tumor were affecting any of the hormones the pituitary produced. I went to go see him yesterday to discuss the results. Everything looked fine (except for the testosterone--but I already knew that, as that was what started this long strange trip to begin with.) So now I've got testosterone replacement therapy to start. I'm just wondering how it will affect me.
Will I become a raging barbarian, raping and pillaging my way into infamy? Will it turn my otherwise unassuming Dr. Jekyll persona into a ravenous, bloodthirsty Mr. Hyde? Perhaps I will finally be able to live up to my demonic moniker (demoniker?) I can't wait to find out!

And now, how about a little synchronicity?

Yesterday, my volunteer didn't show up to work. So I decided to throw in a few hours of sorting books until I had to leave for my appointment. These are all books that patrons have checked out, and then dropped back off at one of our locations. Our job is to pick them up, sort them and get them back to the branch they belong. So this gives you a decent snapshot of what people are reading. And let me tell you, it ain't highbrow literature. But every once in a while you'll come across a gem. Yesterday, I happened to pull out Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, which I hadn't heard of. I had heard of Angels, and Tree of Smoke, both of which I have been wanting to read.

It was a short little book, a novella, so I placed it on my desk to check out later, thinking maybe I might be able to fit it into my reading pile (with the added bonus of further irritating my wife, as she despises anyone who reads more than one book at a time--which I always do.)

So, last night as I'm perusing one of my favorite blogs, Enrique Freeque's Forum, I thought I'd check out some of the blogs Enrique follows. The Quivering Pen looked interesting. So I clicked on the link, and what do I find as the latest post? A review of Train Dreams! How cool is that?

Okay, you might have noticed I changed my blog's header. I'm never satisfied with what I come up with. I'm still not happy with this one, but I just got sick and tired of looking at the previous one. I'm starting to form some ideas in my head of what I might want it to look like, but need to play around with GIMP to see if I can pull it off. If you like manipulating images, but don't want to shell out the moola for Photoshop, I highly recommend GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program.) First of all, it's free! And you can't beat that. It's also works on just about every platform. And best of all, there is really no limit to what you can do with it; it's an extremely powerful application. The only drawback is learning how to use it. It's a little daunting at first. But there are plenty of good tips on the internet to help you get started.

Okay, that's it for now. But it just occurred to me that the testosterone might affect my reading tastes. I just hope I can finish The Recognitions before that happens.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Surveying the Damage

Yesterday we drove down to our place in the country. We had heard they would be opening Highway 71 that morning between Bastrop and Smithville, which is the route we always take. As we got into Bastrop, the air was so thick with smoke it was difficult to see. And it smelled as if everyone in town had decided to barbecue all at once.

On the other side of Bastrop, we started seeing some of the damage the fire had caused. We had feared the fire would take our favorite Chocolate shop. It did.

Roscar Handcrafted Chocolates was opened not that long ago by Frans and Roselly Hendriks, who hail from the Netherlands. Apparently, while visiting some friends who lived in the area, they so fell in love with Bastrop, they decided to move there and start their business. Frans is a master Chocolatier. His Tequila & Jalapeno truffle is a work of art and I could eat my weight in them (and probably have over the years.) And not only is he a genius in the kitchen but he and his wife Roselly are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. I sincerely hope they decide to rebuild.

As we drove a bit further we really started to see some of the terrible damage.

Kind of looks like a forest in winter time, and I was reminded of that Robert Frost poem. But that's not snow, its ashes. And this was only what could be seen from the highway. It was much worse elsewhere.

When we got to the house, the first thing I did was something I had promised myself I would do when my wife, daughter and I all held each other tight and cried this past Monday when we thought there was a chance we might lose our house. I knelt down on the front steps, hugged them and kissed the concrete floor of the front porch.

I know it doesn't look like much. But it means everything to me. It was my grandparents' home, and whenever we stay there on weekends, I can still see my grandmother whipping up one of her spectacular breakfasts: eggs (from their chickens,) bacon (cured in smoked in the little building which was their smokehouse and is still there,) homemade biscuits, and red-eye gravy.

Sitting on that front porch, I can still hear my grandpa tell the bigger-than-life stories from his youth, that I would listen to with rapt attention and never get tired of hearing, no matter how many times he repeated them.

I feel awful for all the people who lost their homes. Around 1400 homes were destroyed. Most only had time to get out with only the clothes they were wearing, the fire was moving so quickly. And many couldn't afford insurance, which means they lost everything. It's easy to discount the severity of a disaster when all you experience of it are images on a television. But when you see it up close like this, and were almost a victim yourself, it's a much different feeling.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wildfire in Texas

We left this morning to go to our cottage in the country and had planned to come back tomorrow. We came back tonight. There's a massive wildfire in that area, with over 14000 acres already burned and around 300 homes destroyed, and it's only been burning for around 8 hours.

We had gotten to the cottage around 11 a.m., and settled in for a relaxing weekend. My wife's birthday was yesterday, and we were waiting on her sister and her husband and step-son to show up, so we could drive into Bastrop to meet her parents for a belated Birthday dinner at a local Cajun restaurant.

They arrived around 3 pm, and we sat and talked until it was time to leave to go to the restaurant, which was around 4:45. They had mentioned seeing a fire on the way down, but said that it didn't look too bad, and so we thought nothing more of it.

As we started driving, I noticed quite a few cars headed our way, and mentioned to my wife how odd it was to see so many, since normally you would meet only a few on that road.

After getting on the highway, and heading north towards Bastrop, we started to understand why. The sky in front of us was black, as if a huge rain cloud had settled down low. We didn't get too far before the highway was blocked off, and we had to turn around. There were already many cars pulled to the side of the highway, and people were staring north, with a look of shock on their faces.

We pulled over, too, parking behind my sister-in-law and her family. We all got out and tried to figure out what to do. The smoke was so thick and wide, you couldn't see anything past it. It was as if the highway had just ended there, having reached Hell. As we stood there talking, we heard an explosion, and a whole new plume of dark black smoke billowed up just down the road. Probably someone's house, we assumed. I had never seen anything like this. My wife called her dad, who was already in Bastrop waiting for us. Apparently he had left before it had gotten this bad, and even though the highway was already closed, he managed to find an alternate route. I don't know why he didn't let us know about it. He tried to tell her of another way to get there, but she was having none of it. She told him that we would come back next week to see them, and then we drove back to Smithville, to grab something to eat there.

As we drove back, scores of cars were parked all along the highway, and I even saw a group of people on the side of the road, holding hands in a circle, praying. It was all very surreal. I wish I had taken some pictures, but I didn't think about it. As we got into Smithville, his "alternate" route wouldn't have worked anyways, as they had that blocked off as well, since it was headed straight into the conflagration. My father-in-law...I wonder about him sometimes.

After dinner, we went back to the cottage. We were debating whether or not to stick with our original plan, and stay the night. But looking westward, the clouds of smoke looked so close, that cinched it for us. We packed up the pooch, hopped in the car, and drove back to Austin.

Now that I'm back in Austin, and trying to catch as much coverage of it on the news as I can, it looks like the fire is going to miss our place, as it is just to the west of it (but not by much,) and is moving southward. Of course, that could change if the wind shifts. Especially since they're not even trying to contain it.

As I was putting my daughter to bed, she was very upset, and started crying, worrying about the cottage. It was my grandparents' house, and holds a ton of wonderful memories for me, and my daughter absolutely adores it. I tried to reassure her that it would be alright, but she wouldn't believe me, and even got upset with me for not being more worried about it. I told her I was more worried about all of the people who had already lost their homes and everything they owned. If we lost that house, of course I would be sad, but we would still have a place to live and life would go on. Most, if not all, of those people would not be that lucky.