Friday, August 08, 2008

Last Friday: An All Day Date!

August 1, 2008

Oh was it ever hot.
Hot, hot, HOT.
Steaming outside, and my back had spasmed so hard I was uncomfortable no matter if I stood, sat, or stretched out flat.
It was best to just keep moving; walking seemed to help a bit so Bernie and I ignored the weather and headed for the three mile trail through the woods.

On our way to the trail head we passed our neighbor's garden, with photo worthy flowers everywhere.
Pride of Barbados still blooms beautifully there.

The first time I saw this wooden path I was so happy: At last I could walk through the woods without fear of trodding on heaven-knows-what lurking in the foliage.
I love that every time I walk, I see something new.
Isn't this an odd plant: berries on a single stalk?

This time of year I look up a lot. The spiders seem to float in the air around us; this spider in the proper head down position, with her diminutive Mister watchfully positioned above her.

We joke about the rare web with two or three males: do they wish their polyandrous brethren ill, or rejoice in their company?

Dead Bird Point (AKA Otter Point): A gentle unexpected cooling breeze rippling the water.
The greenery flanking each side of the path is sparked with shaggy amethyst blossoms; not thistles, and not quite asters either.
The light playing on the matte finished arrowhead shaped leaves causes them to glow in the deep forest shadows.
More of the purple gems...
The decomposed granite path is groomed regularly; leaves and branches are swept up and fresh fine gravel is added where needed. It only stays pristine for a moment; the forest is determined to reclaim it back to a natural state.

It serves me well to note what has fallen upon the path, and my eyes now easily discern what is flora and what is fauna in the dappled light.
That isn't a branch ahead on the path's right hand side!
Snakes have a particular style of manners: They stop and stare, then it is "Hello to you, I must be leaving..." and they turn and silently retreat from your presences.
Bernie used to hunt snakes in the California deserts, his mother driving in the night as he watched for snakes illumined in the car's headlight. Seeing a snake or lizard, they would stop and he would attempt to capture the snake, to later sell to pet shops.

The experience taught him that snakes wish only to retreat.
If only the WOULD race up to attack; Bernie noted to me as we walked.
The snakes never did, you always had to chase them as they were hell bent on a rapid retreat.

A new sort of mushroom had sprung up further along on the path.

One was the size of a large marshmallow.

Next to it was a tinier version, not fully "mushroomed" out, and only slightly larger than the tip of my thumb.

The larger one, side view. Not a chance of an "under the petticoat" photo shot here.
The red whirligig flowers that had given me trouble with a macro shot before still refused to cooperate. Now how is it possible that I could get that close to the tiny mushroom with precise focus, and a few steps later I can't get a clear shot of this flower?

It has taken two years for it to finally register in my head that this flower IS all the way open when it looks like this.

The walk ended, we returned home to wash up and make a trip to the gym. Perhaps a soak in the Jacuzzi will help the back? A dunk in the pool? Anything is worth a try. It doesn't help much, but at least we are cool.

When we return home, I am hobbling still.
And there is a message: a realtor would like to show our house. We decide to go out to eat to kill some time...and of course not mess up the kitchen!

Besides; after two months of dacronian thrift we can now celebrate. We have jobs to go to in Utah. Let's go out to eat!

For seven years the back of Kingwood has had little to offer in terms of restaurants. We had found one Chinese restaurant with a fabulous spicy eggplant dish, which we frequently order from home on Saturday or Sunday evenings. One rather ordinary Mexican restaurant served Margaritas that pack a wallop; otherwise the menu items were actually rather bland.

We would drive across the bridge to another town to eat crawfish beside the lake, eating on the deck as gulls cried overhead and as the sun set over the water we could pretend it was the ocean and we were back at home in San Diego.

It seemed so odd that with so much shoreline there was but one restaurant capitalizing on the view, and that being a place best suited for drinking long neck beers and wearing cut off shorts, and everything on the menu was deep fried.

A few years back Kingwood opened an exclusive gated development; custom manors to be built overlooking the lake, and each home rose up as a mansion. Such wealthy homeowners would need restaurants suitable for dining with equally privileged guest, and over the course of two years the forest on the edge of the lake was cleared and a new town center was created to serve the newest residents.

We had watched the building go in and waited for the restaurants to open, taking walks and reading signs announcing the new restaurant's themes. One by one they began to open, and we kept saying that we needed to go there and try them out.

I was thinking of the newly opened Mexican restaurant; we were in tee shirts and shorts, which should be fine in such a place.

But we found parking in front of this establishment instead:

It was 99 degrees out...far too hot to walk the few steps over to the Mexican place.

Besides...what exactly was served at a South American Grill anyway?
It was far too hot to eat outside, so we chose to enjoy the waterfront view from inside.

It was still very early, only one other table had diners being served.
We studied the menu munching on fried plantains dipped in garlicky olive oil and parsley mix.
What a combination. I may never crave chips and salsa again!
The appetizer menu...(can I have them all???)
As usual, we probably should have just stuck to the appetizer menu. Delicious right sized portions.
But no. I couldn't resist a main course. I could barely finish it; it would taste great for lunch the next day.

(Smart me: I saved room for dessert! )
The vegetable side dish...grilled along with Bernie's steak dish, each tasting deliciously steak like.
Tres chocolate! Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!
Three small bites of each was all we could manage.
Sadly the heat outside would make them each into puddles if we took them with us, so we had to leave the uneaten portion behind.

(I still regret that.)
After sitting for the meal, my back was stiff again, so we braved the heat to stroll the area.
The splashy fountain had shots of water that randomly fired to various heights; children could chase about playing an aquatic form of tag I suppose.
An anole perched on the edge of a planter, colored green in response to the white bricks.
I wonder if it felt cooler in green skin than in brown?

Over the water thunderheads towered in the distance. The hot breezes twirled the sculpted sunburst overhead.

It is such a pretty place to visit. It felt modern European; on a more reasonable day it would be a perfect place to sit beneath the yellow umbrellas and enjoy a treat from the ice cream parlor or a drink from the soft drink cart.
You know your husband will do anything for you when he agrees to carry your purse because it is just too heavy with a complaining back.

What should we do now to finish out our date day?
We rent a perfect video:
Sitting on our couch we travel to cool clear tropical waters, enjoying the views of both the area and Miss Kate H. and Mr. Matthew M. in "Fool's Gold".
Perfect! We laugh and enjoy the bickering quips between the two stars who spend the whole movie in swim suits.
(Yes, that is our Texas born celebrity in his typical shirtless state on the television screen.)

(Sometimes when you go on a date, three really isn't a crowd after all.)
An all day date.
Now that is my idea of fun.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gifts in the mail (Or: Kindred Spirits in the Library)

Something wonderful is going on up north and most people don't even know about it.

A year long celebration is happening in the tiny Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.
I've never been to Prince Edward Island, (commonly referred to by it's initials PEI), but have often sighed over pictures of the place; it is a jewel box of a place from what I can see.

When I returned to Houston after my time in San Diego I found a box had been delivered to my house from Canada.

The many colorful stamps with a red haired lass and other stamps depicting a house with green gables provided a clue about what was inside.

A closer look at the girl on the stamp filled in all the details: This year is the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of the children's book "Anne of Green Gables", written by the prolific and highly regarded author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Montgomery's books about the adventures and misadventures of a young red headed orphan girl living at the turn of the last century has entertained at least four generations of readers. PEI was the setting for the story and when the book later was made into movies and television series, the lovely landscapes of Anne's world became familiar and beloved by a population much larger than the 14,000 inhabitants of the island today.

Inside the box was a book mark and an inviting bag of tea. The package was a gift/reward from a fellow blogger/ school librarian/PEI resident "Kathie" who writes the blog Island Sparrow . A month or so back she had a prize contest for people who would send her the names of their favorite children's books.

Kathie also had a mystery: One of her favorite books that she had read as a child was about a boy who had been taken captive by Indians. The boy was not accepted until he learned to hoot like an owl. Kathie said she could remember clearly the illustrations, but had never been able to find a copy of the book today, nor could she remember the title or author of the book.

She offered a "super reward" to anyone who could solve her mystery.
I read her post at reference desk, ( s-l-o-w night....) and pounced on the chance to win.
Using a myriad of highly sophisticated proprietary databases, and my own brand of "thinks different" approach to the problem, I soon had the title, author and illustrator of the work, as well as the name of the nearest public library with a copy in their collection.


I won!
(The title? "Hoot Owl". The illustrator turned out to the be same illustrator that Kathie has been writing about in her post. No wonder she remembered that book's illustrations!)

Anyway...good to her word, Kathie not only sent me a bookmark and tea, she upped the package content with a honest-to-goodness Anne of Avonlea/Anne of Green Gables signature straw hat with Anne style red braids attached!

How sweet!

Then she put some mustard on the gesture:

"We want to see a picture of you wearing this in your library!" Kathie added.

(You should never trust a Canadian. They are a sneaky bunch who will always slip a twist into an activity whenever possible. I personally think this is why they have two official languages in their country, English is for everyday use, and French for when they are plotting ways to tease Americans. They usually do their plotting and planning in those Provinces that we Americans can never spell correctly and therefore never visit. If you can't spell names like Sasakawa (which even spell check in blogger isn't sure is the correct spelling) Manitoba and Saskatchewan, you can hardly book a flight to the place, let alone go about asking for directions, right?
And don't get me started about that provinces with that they ambiguously referred to as Northwest Territory. I mean really, what exactly is it? Is it a territory or is it a province? Why not just call it a "state" or "Vast Desolate Cold Unpopulated Area" and be done with it?)

(B. and I even had to have a discussion about what Canadians call what we call "states" took a bit and we thought they were called "providences". I used that spelling in my original posting and have since corrected it after Lovella pointed out that actually they are called "provinces". I wondered what Vince did that made everyone be so in favor of him so I looked it up. Sure enough, it was from a French word, which as I noted above, is the language Canadians use when they want to be tricky....)

Where was I?

Oh yes, the hat.

Being a really good sport, and because I too LOVE Anne, I decided we here in Houston should also take a moment to take part in PEI's celebration.

With the cooperation of my fellow librarians, we declared "Anne of Green Gables/Avonlea/Lucy Maud Montgomery Day" at North Harris College.

Hope was on board, naturally. She is a kindred spirit of the finest kind. Cajun girls like her welcome fun whenever and wherever fun can be found.

Oh yeah...Let the good times roll!

New on staff Librarian Norma (who speaks with a native Spanish accent,) was also willing to be called "Carrots" for a bit.
(I think she preferred to be called "la zanahoria" though.)
Librarian Karen was good for a moment of channeling Anne to Texas.

Our Olia, the librarian with Ukrainian ancestry, was game too.
I wonder if the Anne books have been translated to Ukraninian? And if Canada would consider naming any future provinces "Ukraine" because it is also tricky to spell?

And here I am, as promised, decked out in a white summer dress, feeling decidedly "Anne-ish" as I go about my duties.

(Note to Lovella: About your haircut today: Have you considered going with a nod towards Anne's hairstyle, to show solidarity with your country's stylish icon? They can do amazing things with hair extentions now you know. It would only have to be that way until the end of 2008...that's only four more months, and you could enjoy wearing a hat every day to boot! I know you are proud to be a Canadian...this is your chance to prove it!)

(Tiggie, the Faithful Orange cat declined to participate.)
Party on, PEI!
We here in Texas salute you!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's A Colorful World (or: Librarians on the Loose!)

I got back from San Diego late Thursday night, collapsed Friday, and on Saturday was off on another adventure.

My fellow librarian Hope (of great office art and wine tasting blog post fame...) wanted to preview some of the Houston sights that I had talked about, in view of an upcoming visit from her mom.

It was hotter than heck, but what the heck, let's go!

Hope's mom LOVES butterflies.
That little bit of information had come up while we were at ref desk one evening, and I had mentioned that the Houston Museum of Natural History had an awesome butterfly exhibit.

I've actually dragged my readers to the Museum twice before to see Snakes Alive! on a date with Bernie, and also to see some gems and minerals.

How could I miss a chance to drag you readers along (once again) in order to see this?
I obviously couldn't.
Please settle in and plan to read on.

Inside the rain forest like exhibit we were surrounded by gems come to life:

(Wow! I actually got a shot with the little nectar sipping tongue curled out!)

Hope and I sat on a bench and watched the butterflies fluttering all around us. In front of us was a tall bush with arguably fifty butterflies at rest among it's leaves.

Butterflies swooped by our faces, considered landing on our knees, and made marvelous dance moves over our heads.

I was constantly hopping up to attempt to get a photo of a butterfly at rest.
The flowers were pretty interesting too, but I more interested in the butterflies.

Children were walking around with laminated guides to the butterflies, I wanted one too just so I could keep track of which kinds of butterflies I had seen.

A butterfly fast food restaurant? In McDonald's colors? Hmmm....maybe I should build a feeder like this in my garden!

Over ripe fruit: Not just for making banana nut bread any more!
(See the blog "Mennonite Girls Cook Constantly" for other great recipes ideas using fruit!)

Some of the butterflies were soooo big.

Others seemed interested in posing.
Cats, squirrels and now posing butterflies.
What next....

Butterfly twosomes!

Charming well behaved children enjoyed an opportunity to touch dead butterflies that had been gathered by the exhibit volunteers. The volunteer patiently explained how butterfly wings get their color, and encouraged the children to gently stroke the silky wings.

I was so glad Hope and I could take the time to just sit and take in the exhibit. I have been there before when there was a bit of a rush, and you just can't really see how many butterflies there are unless you just sit and observe for awhile. They really were absolutely everywhere!

One tip to anyone planning a trip to similar exhibit: Wear red or hot pink. The butterflies were drawn to those colors, and regularly landed on people sporting those hues.

Another tip: Use your finger extended sideways in front of the butterfly that is feeding or resting, and sometimes they will step up on your finger, sort of like a parakeet does.

From the museum we went passed these three fountains where a quinceanera party was being photographed. A quinceanera party is the Hispanic traditional celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday. She is given one last doll, and changes from flat shoes to high heels and takes her place as a woman in society.

They are HUGE events in Houston; and you quickly learn that a photo being taken of a group of girls in fancy gowns that match, and another girl in a non-matching fancy gown, (often but not always white) and a bunch of guys in tuxedos usually isn't a wedding.

We headed to the Museum of Art and got a lunch there, then headed to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. It is my favorite gallery in Houston, and always has jaw dropping amazing pieces on display.

This time it was a display of Texas crafts; blown glass, wood carving, weaving, metal work...and this piece of cut paper art:

One piece of black paper.
I shot the picture before I read the sign: NO PHOTOGRAPHY.

Next we headed to High Fashion Fabric.

I'm still a sucker for this place!

I told Hope it is like the scene in every historical romance novel where the poor heroine is taken by the wealthy hero to a dress maker for a "fitting" wardrobe for her new dreamy life of luxury.
It makes me shake my head to realize that there actually are REAL people who go here to have exactly such wardrobes created.

Hope fell in love with this fabric and gave a Cajun insight into all of this loveliness.

Seems my Louisiana born friend has attended more than a few Mardi Gras extravaganzas in her day. She had heard of "the fabric shop in Houston" where people shopped for the fabric to create the amazing gowns and costumes for the various Mardi Gras balls and parades.

My English manor house ball room fantasy suddenly took on a New Orleans style twist.

I blew right past these fabrics; Hope crowed that she had seen some of them used in Mardi Gras costumes, and started telling me about what fanciful parade get ups and performances that she had seen where people were dressed in these wild fabrics.

Oh yeah....I did miss seeing the real Mardi Gras while I lived in the South.

I have been quietly mourning the fact that once I leave Houston I will no longer be able to make little fabric lust jaunt to HFF.
What ever will I do for inspiration?
(I've heard this sort of obsession crassly called "fabric porn." Yeah, that's just about what it is...I get totally turned on by the stuff.)

The good news is that I have learned the HFF is now putting pictures of all their amazing fabric on their website!

Oh goodie! INTERNET Fabric Porn!

Wonder if I should try to install a filter?

We pulled ourselves away and next headed down into the heart of Houston, AKA
"Houston Public Library"
The downtown main branch of HPL has been closed for about a year now while they did multiple millions of dollars of infrastructure improvement on the old building. I had read about the "new and improved" library interior design and was vacillating between skeptical and alarm.

Who better to go see "what was what" with than my fellow librarian Hope?

The retching sounds we made really did sound impressive in two part harmony. speckled tile floor and orange furniture with orange dots?

What is this...Switzerland or something, where EVERYTHING is orange?

And what the heck is with the painted concrete out front?
The whole thing looks like a Fisher Price toy gone amuck.
As citizens of Houston and card carrying members (OK, lapsed members) of the Texas Library Association all I can say is I felt deeply ashamed for our city's flagship library.

Every year the American Library Association features award winning library remodels and designs, and every year I wait to see how various cities have made their libraries classier and more welcoming structures.

When ALA see what Houston has done, we will be a laughingstock.

( I wish I had videoed Hope going off on the whole thing. I thought her head was going ot explode! You will be pleased to know that we both made it OUTSIDE of the library before letting fly with our evalutation of their remodeling efforts.)

We decided to take a peek at the park across from the library to wash the bad taste out of our eyes, so to speak.
The Caladiums were spectacular, and so fresh looking in the humid park.

It only took a few more minutes of walking about the downtown parks, and we were ready to head back home.