Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One degree and 25 years of separation

Heather of Simple-Green-Frugal, the impresaria of the Brazos County Farmers' Market and locavore extraordinaire, visited her blogosphere compadre Chile Chews in Tucson, Arizona, en route from Texas to Aptos, California, for holiday break. Heather also visited another kindred spirit, Beany, in San Diego.

Talk about coincidences! Via Heather's blog, Chile told me that we were southeastern Arizona hiking companions 25 or so years ago. After exchanging e-mail addresses, we are now enjoying the process of getting reacquainted. Chile and I walked the trails in the Huachuca Mountains and at least once enjoyed a wonderful backpacking trip in the Chiricahua Mountains, birders' paradises both. Good times. When did we get to be women of a certain age? She's now living an enviable low-impact, vegan, frugal lifestyle in Tucson. There is much to emulate and learn from Chile's blog. On the issue of self-propelled transportation, we are exactly in sync. And as for diet, well, I intend to strive for a healthier one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out of the hallowed halls and into the world

Nine of the graduate students for whom I am administratively responsible graduated with doctorates this month. These are intelligent, analytical, persistent, no-nonsense types: they need to be so to earn a doctorate in engineering.

I am so proud of them. For all, their graduate career was characterized by challenges overcome, unfairness absorbed, frustrations dealt with. There were difficult, and sometimes unreasonable, advisors. The culture shock. The oppressive volume of paperwork. The red tape. The seemingly conflicting rules. The late nights. The papers published.

But when they walked across that stage and allowed themselves to be hooded, I was bursting with pride. I could sense what it must be like to be a proud mother. And they should have been also.

The majority were international students, excelling in very difficult courses taught in a language other than their native tongue, but also overcoming the cultural differences, the homesickness, the multiple demands on their time, financial constraints. Imagine being dropped in Beijing, Istanbul, Seoul, Hyderabad, or Taipei and negotiating the demands of graduate school, as well as dealing with cultural differences.

There were a few nontraditional students, sometimes battered by life, but finally taking control, committing, then pushing them through graduate schools.

Variously, I was in loco parentis, sometimes a coach, sometimes a dispenser of tough love, sometimes an advocate, sometimes a shoulder to cry on, and always a bulwark against the juggernaut and bureaucracy that is this enormous state university.

Last Saturday, I volunteered to serve as a graduation marshal, lining up masters students in alphabetical order. They seemed to leave a vacuum in their wake as they silently and quickly filed out of the gym-cum-staging area en route to the arena floor in their regalia.

Go forth!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Streamline moderne, late-era art deco

Art deco from Bryan and Vernon, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Streamline art moderne is my favorite. A few more example of art deco architecture in downtown Bryan, Texas.

Print shop office, Bryan Avenue, Downtown Bryan, Texas

Streamline art moderne: La Fonda Hotel, Vernon, Texas, with wide-radius curves, long horizontal elements, and glass block. Love it!

Service station, Bryan, Texas

Law office, Bryan, Texas

S&S Auction house, downtown Bryan, Texas

Faux art deco, highway sign, Cline's Corner, New Mexico

Faux art deco, Route 66 Casino Roadrunner cafe, west of Albuquerque. Interestingly, I sat at the counter next to a friendly trucker of the shaved head/Van Dyke beard/sunglass variety. Going against stereotypes, I enjoyed a trucker's breakfast of Indian fry bread, green chiles, eggs, and beans with coffee. Meanwhile, he tucked into a camper's breakfast of oatmeal, dried cranberries, and coffee.

Updated December 6, 2009.

Fabulous collection of streamline modern architecture.

Wonderful collection of streamline moderne design.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I consider myself a Liberal progressive, even more so since the "L" word morphed into an epithet, courtesy Rush, his dittoheads, and their AM radio talk show host brethren.

But two similar events, one before the Will Rogers' watershed age of 40, one after, instigated some self-assessment. In my early twenties, I worked as a daily newspaper reporter for a substandard salary as a daily newspaper (which involves a seven days/week work regimen, late night meetings, early morning deadlines) in a medium-sized town, ferreting out red-banded produce and subsisting on a pasta-heavy diet out of necessity. Once, in the grocery checkout line, a woman leaned over me to ask the cashier if she could buy lobster with food stamps. Lobster! I looked at my cart filled with blue boxes of mac and cheese, black-spotted bananas, and store-brand oatmeal…and had a recalibratory moment.

Fast-forward to today. I still live modestly and work hard. I have a demanding job running an engineering program at a big university, and I often work late at night at my technical editing consulting business. Sometimes I come home so drained it's all I can do to feed my animals and fall into bed. I bicycle to work, mostly brown bag it for lunch: still frugal after all these years. Luxuries are few to nonexistent. My only vacation in years was the road trip to Arizona for a wedding.

Into the rental house next door moves a couple. She told me she does not work, just "sits at home and gets fat." And smokes. Cigarettes are an expensive habit. This couple apparently have not paid their utility bills for several months, although it appears that he works. Their gas was cut off. On one of the few days I drove to work (as I have to carry in seminar refreshments), before I even shut the door of truck, she was out her door and halfway up my driveway, asking for a handout, lit cigarette in hand. I had been working until 1 a.m. that morning on a technical paper, worked a hard 10-hour day at the office. In addition, the day before, I had overhead her, without provocation, speaking about me to a neighbor using words prevalent in Rap lyrics.

I refused to give her money, both out of exhaustion and hurt feelings. I referred her to restaurant within close walking distance—my former employer—which was looking for waitstaff. She, with no intention of following up, whipped out her cell phone and demanded their number. When I said that she would have to apply in person, she again demanded their number, with no intention of ever following up. From where does she get this sense of entitlement?

Is it rebellion against societal slugs that turns otherwise rational people into vituperative Conservatives?


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Following are three actual e-mail messages from a prospective student inquiring about the graduate engineering program I coordinate. He seems not to realize that e-mail is now considered a virtual means of formal business communication, and that textese is denigrated. It is probably a good idea to write to impress from the outset, especially regarding a graduate program that so highly values publication in refereed journals.

Dear sir/madam,
I was directed towards u by mr. [name of female staff person]. I m highly interested to pursue my masters from [university name].....i want to specialize in welding as i already have a bachlors. So i wud like to know how it wud be possible to take up this course at yr end??

[he failed to sign his message]

As he was referred by an undergraduate advisor, I inferred he was already on campus. Response to my request that he telephone:

Sir i wud have loved to obeyed u but alas i m from [country whose language of instruction is English]. moreover that sound lag on the telephone is something i m very uncomfortable with.

It would be the best for me if u cud explain my chances in the mail. i hope i m clear to wat i meant.

[again neglected to sign e-mail message]

Response to my e-mail in which I corrected his written English and used "(Ms.)" before my name in my e-mail signature to hint at my gender. Note the allusion to shakespeare (sic):

Respected sir/madam,

I am extremely sorry for my dismal electronic mail which supposedly had innumerable errors as pointed out by you. Thank you for correcting me. This is the first time I have been told the correct way to email to a course advisor.

I am aware that I am not perfect in english language so I used , by my highest regards to him, shakespeare's freedom of expression.
Secondly i would like to direct your attention to the fact that in [his native country], we do not have any one language of instruction in schools [not true] as we believe language is no bar for education but is only a medium for education. I have been studied in a medium other than english but still my GRE verbal marks(560) are about your requirement for giving toefl.
Lastly, in attention to your doubts regarding my cognizance in achieving bachelors, i have a grade point of 3.97 (university gold medalist, Prime Minister's scholar awardee) and my majors is not in english but in machines.

However, as my tradition goes, i would still be deeply apologetic for my informal letter content.

My Highest Regards,
Mr. [his full name, which could not be discerned from his e-mail address]

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rock work

My favorite architectural feature, aside from the wonderful streamline art deco, is freeform rockwork:

Rock work mosaic on building housing an auto repair shop in Vernon, Texas.

Note embedded wagon wheel, among other artifacts.

Corner detail, Vernon, Texas.

Oakdale Park campground, Glen Rose, Texas

Friday, September 11, 2009

Flagstaff, Arizona. Don't forget Winona

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

Bobby Troup, songwriter

At about the same time that I received an invitation to the Flagstaff, Arizona, wedding of a friend's daughter, I rented the Pixar movie, Cars. Three separate waves of nostalgia converged: to see friends from Sierra Vista, Arizona, a lovely town from which I moved in 1995; to visit Flagstaff, where I went to college; and to take a road trip duplicating some Route 66 (actually, I-40).

Motor allusions
Cars! so many visual vehicular allusions:

  • the mountains in the distance behind Flo's Drive-in resemble Amarillo's Cadillac Ranch, with its Caddys buried nose first in the earth at a 45-degree angle. See those tailfins?

  • the supports of Flo's V8 drive-in are connecting rods and pistons, and canopy is a valve cover.

  • Serving lugnuts, coolant, grease, Flo's Drive-In building itself is an air filter.

  • the window panes of the Radiator Springs courthouse resemble a piston and connecting rod.

Streamline moderne art deco: I'm crazy about it. The Pixar creators, assisted by consultant and Mother Road expert Michael Wallis, reproduce, or at least allude to, actual Route 66 art deco buildings, such as Ramone's body shop (patterned after the U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas and Doc Hudson's repair shop, with its curved walls and round windows.

For my own Route 66 quest, I packed up my camping gear, tent, and finest suit (for the wedding) and headed northwest. From Bryan, Texas, to the first Route 66 intercept in Amarillo, Texas, was a 500-mile drive, punctuated by an overnight stay in the ultra-maintained and inviting Rockin' A RV Park in Vernon, Texas, with one of the more incongruous sights on this trip: a yurt. It was a relief to find an RV park that welcomed tents with two large grassy areas, each campsite with electrical outlet and water. Nice, very nice, so much so taht I drove late into the night on the return trip to stay there again. On the return stay, I met a group of New Zealand exchange farm workers, all here on a temporary work visa, helping to harvest the Texas and Oklahoma cotton crop. Every year, Canada and New Zealand have an agreement to exchange a maximum of 5000 farm workers. These young men were on a visa that allowed them to work in the United States.

The yurt at Rockin' A RV Park and campground.


Pumped gas at Jesus Christ is Lord gas station and truck fleet, photographed because it reminded me of the Jesus is Lord Used Tire business in Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful novel The Bean Trees.

East and west of Amarillo, the miles and miles of wind turbines resemble an army of aliens, with their seemingly delicate blades turning slowing in the wind. Hard to believe they are each 30-stories tall.

One of many hundreds of wind turbines, this one in Tumacacori, New Mexico. The wind turbine farms stretched for longer than 10 miles along bluffs and hills on either side of I40/US66 west of Amarillo.

Enjoyed picnic lunch of avocado, cucumber and multigrain chips, the spectacular view (not done justice in these photos), and glorious crisp weather at the Painted Cliffs at the New Mexico/Arizona border highway rest stop at the Arizona/New Mexico border.

On to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the worst campground experiences in 40-plus years of camping, the Bates Motel of campgrounds. The owner was truculent, the waitress rude, the food in the little cafe terrible, neither the wifi not the commodes worked, the tent camping area was a scrubby piece of land without even a sole picnic table.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mortimer: hound changed my life


Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. Anatole France

I did not want a dog, but with a chance meeting, Mortimer came into my life and, for six years taught me, by example, unconditional love, living in the moment, relishing a good meal, showing affection enthusiastically and without reservation, stating one's preferences, indulging in a good nap, and most of all, the art of being gentle.

On a frigid January 1, 2003, en route to visit a Houston museum, I spied a pathetic dog walking painfully along Texas Highway 6 south of College Station. I had no idea what type of dog he was, only that he looked skinny, sick, sad and almost hairless. Doubling back, I saw him again, stopped, and, quite easily loaded him into the cab of my truck. He sat on the seat with his head hung low, looking out the back window. His skin itched terribly and he was missing most of his hair.


Back home, I fed and watered him, gave him a bath, and set up an appointment with my wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Katherine Wheeler. That evening, in my workshop, he found and climbed in a box that had shipped a computer. By that action, he taught me that cardboard boxes are where he found some shelter from the icy cold. I fixed up a nice warm dog nest until he was comfortable sleeping inside my house.

For many a veterinary visit, Dr. Wheeler warned me, "We have a long way to go with this dog." He had about every worm a dog could have, including heartworm. He had a nasty skin infection that made him itch and flake all over. He was worth every cent of that veterinary care.

But gradually with the combination of good veterinary care and TLC, Mortimer became himself: a comical, fun-loving, baying, sniffing, squirrel-chasing, headstrong, and most of all, gentle, hound. A Treeing Walker Coonhound, to be exact.

He loved eating, walking, and sniffing. I never had to worry about his disposition around children. Although he was probably abused, and most certainly neglected, he was as gentle as could be. He communicated with me, sometimes by actions, sometimes by body language, sometimes by baying, his need for affection. He loved people. He sidled up to other people for affection, leaning against them. He tolerated other dogs. He was afraid of thunder, and sought comfort during thunderstorms at night.

In 2003, Dr. Wheeler estimated his age at 12; he would therefore have been 18 at the time of his death, July 11, 2009. The life expectancy of a Walker Coonhound is 12 years. He lived 150% of his expected lifespan. In those six short years, Mortimer brought me such joy, comfort, and stability. I laughed at his antics, he listened to my problems. He clearly conveyed his joy at simple things: a walk, his dinner, some dog bisquits, a squirrel sighting, the new bed I sewed for him. After a wretched day at work, a few moments of mutual affection dissipated all my stress. Mortimer was my stress-reliever. Mortimer would lean against the legs of anyone who petted him.

The world is a better place for Mortimer having lived in it. Which is about the best thing one could say about a living thing.

Mortimer the day I picked him up from the side of the highway, January 1, 2003.

Checking out squirrels, circa 2005.

The full-body lean!

Mortimer, Oakdale Park Campground, Glen Rose, Texas, May 2009.

Cooper appreciating Mortimer's characteristic hound-dog bay prior to a walk in Hensel Park.

Last walk with Cooper, July 2009.

Rest in peace, my forever friend! I miss you so.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Independence Day

Talk about a traditional Independence Day celebration! Independence Day eve was a Brazos Bombers college summer league baseball game. With a sandwich-eating contest. With an amazing fireworks display. Spiral rockets are the new thing in pyrotechnics. The next morning, I bicycled to the Brazos Heritage Society's annual fete in Heritage Park, Bryan. First was a kid's parade, with a young Statue of Liberty leading decorated bicycles and wagons in a circuit around the park. The most enjoyable diversion was a wonderful classic car show sponsored by the Studebaker Club.

Studebaker celebrating the rocket

1950s Studebaker


Classic country and gospel in the gazebo on a 100-degree day.

Then home to assemble a grill for a cookout.

My favorite part is the hardware blister pack labeled front and back with the letter designators of each nut, bolt, and washer. No more stapled plastic bags with mystery bolts.

Oh dear, the predrilled holes are an inch narrower than the handle bolts. Customer service will send the proper handle.

Done, sans handle.

That evening was cookout followed by a contra dance. Contra dancing is a speed-dating mixed with square dancing. It's a traditional dance, with dos-i-dos, allemandes, etc., with each person progressively dancing with every other person of opposite gender in the set. All with a caller and life band. After dancing, time out for watching morefireworks. Great fun.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nominated for Kreativ Blogger Award

Fellow blogger Her Artichoke Heart made my day by honoring me with a Kreativ Blogger nomination.

Seven things about me—

  1. Born in Brooklyn, NY.

  2. Was a cat person, now a cat and dog person

  3. Commuting to work via bicycle now for 25 years

  4. Enjoy knitting; use the Continental method, as taught by my mom.

  5. Bicycled across seven US states and one Mexican state.

  6. Enjoy puns.

  7. Can bicep curl 40 pounds, three sets of 10 reps each.

My must-read blogs—

  • Now in Buenos Aires
    A Texas expatriate and former colleague in water conservation discovering a new life retirement in Buenos Aires.

  • ¿What do I do all day?
    Observations on the adventure of living in Mérida, Mexico, as told by an American expatriate.

  • Laughing Purple Goldfish Designs
    Amazing Australian knitter, crocheter and crafter who repurposes and recycles yarn and other craft materials, all meticulously documented in photos and instructions.

  • Simple-Green-Frugal
    Recipes, references to local businesses, and general tips on living in a smaller environmental footprint in the Brazos Valley.

  • Empire State Building
    My favorite building: photos from every angle at all times of day and night.

  • The Sentence Sleuth
    Grammarian extraordinaire Bonnie Trenga, a sometime writer of Grammar Girl episodes, posts quizzes that sometimes stump me, as well as grammar lessons rich with examples, all with a sense of humor. Ms. Trenga is the author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier.

  • Loving Living Small
    Advice and ideas for living in style in spaces >1000 square feet.

Rules of this award—

  • Thank the person who nominated you for this award.

  • Copy the logo and place it on your blog.

  • Link to the person who nominated you for this award.

  • Name seven things about yourself that people might find interesting

  • Nominate seven Kreativ Bloggers.

  • Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.

  • Leave a comment on each of the blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Necessity is the mother of invention

Inspired by the wonderful Lauging Purple Goldfish Designs blog, I tried carving a crochet hook from a twig, big enough to comfortably recycle worn-out clothing into a crocheted rag rug.

Can you find the camouflaged crochet hook?

A bit out of focus, and still needing some refinements.

Brazos Valley Farmers' Market: cornucopia in a parking lot

Each Saturday morning, local producers of vegetables, fruits, preserves, plants, soaps, and crafts congregate the health department parking lot for the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market.

  • Corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans just hours from the field

  • Speciality soaps

  • Locally grown plants

  • Free-range eggs

  • Preserves and cannned goods, including salsa; candied squash; chow chow; green grape and jalapeƱo jam

This chef prepares traditional and nontraditional preserves.

Handmade soaps with heavenly aroma, including lavender, lavender-peppermint, and grandma's kitchen.

Tomatoes, peppers, squash, carrots, eggplant, onions.

JalapeƱos, banana peppers, tomatoes, watermelon.

Become a locavore!

Blogs of interest:
Brazos Valley Farmers' Market
Friends of the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market
Brazos Grows
Brazos Locavores

Monday, June 1, 2009

Another great play on words

She: "Do you think of me merely as a sex object?"
He: "No, I think of you also as a conversation piece."

Thursday, May 28, 2009




I traveled to Glen Rose, Texas, for the Lonestar Dulcimer Festival. Wonderful dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, music for three days in a tree-shaded park. An incomprehensible amount of planning goes into a three-day music festival with workshops, arts and crafts fair, contests, old-fashioned square dance, but it all comes off as relaxed...and so relaxing. The amazing Dana Hamilton, champion dulcimer player, is master of ceremonies, performs with the Sweet Song String Band, sits in with other musicians AND serves as square dance caller. How does he do it all? I loved every minute of it.

I also loved the campground, an old-timey private campground with a gorgeous, enormous pool bordered by intricate rockwork. The pool, OakdalePlunge, was dug in 1925 by mules! The young mother of the family camping next to me said her grandparents honeymooned at Oakdale Park in the 1950s, and spending time in the campground is a three-generation family tradition.

The Oakdale Plunge

For rent are cabins, most constructed with intricate mosaics of native limestone. I assume many were build during the Depression, when many public works projects showing such attention to detail were also built.

Intricate rockwork everywhere

My camping equipment is still in the ultralight backpacking and bicycle mode. I use a tiny brass gasoline-fueled Svea 123 stove and a 2.3-pound Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight tent. Such a tent is necessary for self-contained trekking, but not comfortable for car camping. I had such a great time, I ordered a large Coleman tent upon return home that Sunday evening.

Mortimer at his ease

The Monday after the festival, the veterinarian delivered some bad news about my gentle 18-year-old coonhound, Mortimer. He has a brain tumor. At that moment, pampering Mortimer became my uppermost priority. I planned to return to Oakdale Park with Mortimer and the new tent.


We drove the 150 miles to Glen Rose again the very next Saturday, and spent a wonderful weekend as the only tent campers in Oakdale. Mortimer immediately adopted the tent as his den.

Mortimer adopted the tent as his den

We climbed on the rocks in Big Rocks State Park, walked along the road, and just relaxed at the tent campground, which we had to ourselves, as other tent campers had been chased away by Saturday’s rain. As a coonhound, he has a keen sense of smell, and just loves tracking the path of animals through the brush, although he now has some trouble walking.

Oakdale Park, absent its rows of RV behemoths, hearkens back to a simpler time, when leisure was more about relaxation and nature and less about high-tech activities. The playground equipment includes a child-driven carousel, an old red FarmsAll tractor, and a collection of enormous half-buried rubber tires. There is a building dedicated to carving, an old-style amphitheatre, an enclosed meeting room, and several screened in ramadas.