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See, I do have a life!

Things I Did Not Feel Like Blogging About This Weekend

1. Greg Abbott’s pathetic plea for attention. It’s one part wish fulfillment and one part right-wing pornography. It also has a certain “be careful what you wish for” element to it, specifically with the proposal that only a seven-justice super majority can invalidate a “democratically enacted law”. You know what would still be on the books if this were already in place? Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And while it was a 7-2 vote that struck down the portion of the Affordable Care Act that would have coerced states into expanding Medicaid, the rest of the law would have never been in any jeopardy if seven votes had been needed to kill it. Even I don’t think Greg Abbott is dumb enough to have not realized these things, but it would be nice for someone in the media to have made mention of them. For that matter, it would be very interesting for someone with more time and expertise than I have to review some landmark Supreme Court cases to see which would not make the cut under this, and ask Abbott about them. Or we can just treat this like the joke that it is and ignore it. Either way is okay by me.

2. The new accounting standards that make Houston’s financial situation look worse. I’d advise everyone to scroll down to the part of the story where a couple of accounting experts basically say that it isn’t telling us we didn’t already know. I myself plan to wait till Mayor Turner proposes some concrete actions on the city’s finances before I get all worked up about it.

So what did I do this weekend instead of blog about these things? My weekend involved putting away Christmas decorations, watching football, finally accepting a nudge from Microsoft to upgrade my PC to Windows 10 – I’d done it before on my laptop and it was a disaster, but that was months ago and the PC is a newer machine, so I was less worried about it, and it went through smoothly – and about 97 loads of laundry. How was your weekend?

UPDATE: This analysis by Ian Millhiser in ThinkProgress of what Abbott’s constitutional fantasies would mean in reality is exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s Mel Torme time again

Every year on Christmas Day, I link to my favorite Christmas story, which stars Mel Torme. It is often shamelessly ripped off a lot, which is a Bad Thing that one Should Not Do. So click over and read it, and may your heart grow three sizes today. Merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine.

Thursday video break: And all through the house

I’ve posted this video before, and here it is again:

I’m nowhere close to being tired of this, so look for it again next year. Happy Christmas Eve!

My annual salute to Mel Torme

Every year on Christmas Day, I link to my favorite Christmas story, which stars Mel Torme (a more recent posting of it is here). Apparently, this story is so popular now that it gets ripped off a lot, which sure seems to be contrary to the Christmas spirit if you ask me. But let’s not worry about such things this morning. Merry Christmas to you and yours. May your days be merry and bright, and may the new year bring you all the joy you can handle.

Your Mel Torme Christmas moment

Every year on Christmas Day, I link to my favorite Christmas story, which stars Mel Torme. Apparently, this story is so popular now that it gets ripped off a lot, which sure seems to be contrary to the Christmas spirit if you ask me. But let’s not worry about such things this morning. Merry Christmas to you and yours. May your days be merry and bright, and may the new year bring you all the joy you can handle.

Observing a milestone

Thirty-five years ago today, the course of my life was completely changed.

I didn’t know that at the time, of course. Oh, I knew that my life at the time had changed, but I had no way of knowing how profound and permanent that change would be.

March 6, 1978 was my first day at William A. Morris Intermediate School, also known as IS 61. I was in the sixth grade. Before that, I had been a student at Sacred Heart Elementary School, a first-through-eighth school that had educated two prior generations of Kuffners (and employed two of them as teachers, one of whom had been my second grade teacher). All three of my siblings were at Sacred Heart. I had always assumed I would graduate from Sacred Heart. Transferring to a different school – a public school, no less – was never in the picture.

But a funny thing happened that year. I’d always been one of the top students in my class, and that was still the case. What was different was that I was bored, because the curriculum didn’t challenge me. In the sixth grade, we were still doing basic arithmetic, which I’d had down cold for years. We didn’t do any hands-on science. I don’t recall us reading any books of interest. There wasn’t anything to hold my attention.

Sacred Heart had only two classes per grade. There was one teacher for each class. I was lucky to get Sister Rita Flynn as my sixth grade teacher, because she was well-known as the better teacher of the two. The other teacher, Sister Dolores, was the kind of nun that gave nuns a bad name – in retrospect, she was basically a sociopath, who had no business in a classroom. Sister Rita was calm and low-key, and unlike Sister Dolores was not known for using corporal punishment. More importantly, however, she noticed that I was bored out of my mind.

I don’t remember how far along we were in the school year before Sister Rita started talking to my parents about better educational alternatives for me. I do remember that early on, she told me to just work through the math textbook on my own. In a couple of weeks, I had moved several chapters ahead of the class, but it was still arithmetic, and it still wasn’t teaching me anything I didn’t already know. I just know that at some point after Christmas, I was being told that it was time for me to go to a different school, one that would actually challenge me.

You’d think I’d have been happy about that, but I wasn’t. As bored as I was, Sacred Heart was what I knew, and I didn’t want to leave what I knew for something I didn’t know. It was scary, and I don’t do change that well under the best of circumstances. But Sister Rita was insistent, and her urgency on the matter convinced my parents to overrule my objections. And so, on March 6, 1978, I walked for the first time into IS 61 to get acclimated as a new student, in what we would call their gifted and talented program, though they had some other label for it.

To say the least, it was a revelation. In math, they were doing pre-algebra. The English class had just finished “Great Expectations” – I was thankfully exempted from the notoriously difficult test that ensued. We had science labs. I was put into a French class. And I was introduced to Larry Laurenzano, who decided that my impending orthodontic work pointed away from playing a brass instrument, which is how I was given a saxophone and a beginner’s guide to it. Suffice to say, I was challenged. And it was awesome.

What changed for me then wasn’t just my academic coursework, but my trajectory as a student. In the eighth grade, I did was most of my peers in the G&T program did, and took the entrance exam for Stuyvesant High School. I got into Stuy, and later on as a National Merit scholar I drew the interest of Trinity University, which was recruiting National Merit scholars. From Trinity, I came to Houston as a grad student in math at Rice. I’ve been here ever since.

I truly don’t know where I’d be today if my life had not taken that particular turn. I feel pretty confident that I would have gone to one of the Catholic high schools had I graduated from Sacred Heart. Maybe Monsignor Farrell, maybe one of the premier Catholic schools in Manhattan, Regis or Xavier. I did actually look at those schools while at IS 61, but never gave either of them serious thought once I discovered that neither of them had an instrumental music program – I wasn’t going to go any school that forced me to discontinue playing the saxophone. Had I gone to Farrell or Regis or Xavier, I feel equally confident that I’d have wound up at the University of Notre Dame. I mean, I’d have been a lifelong Catholic school student who was also a lifelong fan of Fighting Irish sports. Hard to imagine a path that wouldn’t have led to South Bend. I did apply to, and get into, Notre Dame as a Stuyvesant student, and gave it a serious look. What eventually soured me on it was that nobody told me about a scholarship offered by the local alumni association that I might have won until after the application deadline – I’d have never heard about it at all except for the fact that my dad happened to mention that I’d gotten into ND to a colleague of his who was an alum and who asked if I’d applied for this scholarship, which of course I hadn’t. Trinity’s incredibly personal and focused recruitment effort – they had the chair of the music department writing to me about their symphonic band, even though I was never going to be a music major – really stood out by comparison, and it helped tip the scales in their favor. Had I gone to Notre Dame, I have no earthly idea where I’d be today, or what I’d be doing. I find it hard to conceive of a scenario that would have led to me winding up in Houston, whether in the fall of 1988 or any other time.

So yes, I can honestly say that thirty-five years ago today, my life changed for good, and for the good. And I can say that the person who is most responsible for putting my life on that different path is Sister Rita Flynn. Sister Rita was close to retirement in 1978 – I think she hung up her spurs a few years after I passed through her classroom, and I think she passed away a few years after that. I don’t remember when I last saw her. I know I told her at least once that the transfer had been good for me, and that I was glad she pushed me into it, but I doubt she ever knew just how profound an effect she had. I can’t tell her now, so I’ll tell you. I’m eternally grateful for what she did for me. I can’t imagine my life turning out any differently, and I’m so glad for that. Sister Rita, wherever you are today, thank you. Thank you very much. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for you.

Have yourself a Mel Torme Christmas

Every year on Christmas Day, I link to my favorite Christmas story, which stars Mel Torme. Apparently, this story is so popular now that it gets ripped off a lot, which sure seems to be contrary to the Christmas spirit if you ask me. But let’s not worry about such things this morning. Merry Christmas to you and yours. May your days be merry and bright, and may the new year bring you all the joy you can handle.

Monday video break: Tonight’s the night

I’ve posted this video before, and here it is again:

I’m nowhere close to being tired of this, so look for it again next year. Happy Christmas Eve!

It’s all about me!

The Leader newspaper did a feature story on me that’s in this week’s edition. If you want an unvarnished look at what I do on this site, complete with an action photo of me at the computer, this is for you. Even better, there’s a picture of me with Tiffany and the girls, who are the real brains behind the operation here. Check it out.

It isn’t Christmas without Mel Torme

Every year on Christmas Day, I link to my favorite Christmas story, which stars Mel Torme. Apparently, this story is so popular now that it gets ripped off a lot, which sure seems to be contrary to the Christmas spirit if you ask me. But let’s not worry about such things this morning. Merry Christmas to you and yours. I’ll have a somewhat Christmas-themed weekend link dump later today, and I’ll be back with the usual stuff tomorrow.

Saturday video break: And all through the house

I’ve shown this video before on Christmas Eve, and since that happens to be Saturday this year, it all comes together beautifully:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday still photo break: May the Force be with you

We have some family in town, and today Audrey and I took them to the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit at the Health Museum. It was a combination of models and costumes from the “Star Wars” movies, with behind-the-scenes videos on how some of the special effects were done, plus interactive exhibits on robotics and magnetism that aimed to help explain how this sort of technology works in the real world. And it gave me the chance to take these pictures:

That malfunctioning little twirp, this is all his fault.

I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2: let the Wookiee win.

Those of you who are into that sort of thing – and you know who you are – should check it out. We’re now resting up before heading out for White Linen Night. Hope you’re having fun today, too.

Quantifying my elitism

Apparently, Charles Murray’s latest bit of faux-populism has spawned a meme. Let’s see just how much of an out-of-touch elitist I am, shall we?

1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?”

Yes, but only because I absorb vast quantities of pop culture by osmosis. I can also talk about “Jersey Shore”, “Dancing With The Stars”, and “American Idol”, even though like “Mad Men” I’ve never seen a single episode.

2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?”

Yes.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?”

Drew Carey. And Johnny Olson once kissed my great-grandmother. Top that!

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end?

I regularly see bits and pieces of it – Tiffany often has it on in the afternoon – and have probably seen one all the way through, but couldn’t swear to it in court.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga?

I took some yoga classes for awhile, but it never really suited me. Among other things, I’m the least flexible person you’ll ever meet. So, while I can speak non-stupidly about yoga, I don’t think I rise to the “hold forth animatedly” standard.

5. How about pilates?

Yep. It’s my main form of exercise other than walking.

6. How about skiing?

Once every four years, during the Winter Olympics, maybe a little.

6. Mountain biking?

Dude, I live in Houston. I don’t even know what a “mountain” is.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?

Apparently, this refers to some NASCAR guy and not the helmet-haired former football coach. I saw them mention him on a recent “Fox NFL Sunday”. Does that count?

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you?

Yes. See the answer to Question 1 and my pop-culture-osmosis ability.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly?

Sure, but outside of mysteries and children’s books I’ll be faking it.

10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel?

No, but I’ve read all of The Slacktivist’s excellent writing about them.

11. How about a Harlequin romance?

Probably not a branded Harlequin, but I’ve read a few similar trashy romance novels of some other stripe.

12. Do you take interesting vacations?

We visit my parents in Portland every year. Does that count?

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada?

No, but I could probably find the Sierra Nevada on a map if I had to.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor?

Never heard of the place.

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV?

Sure, why not?

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?

Sure. I’ve been on two, a Windjammer and a Carnival, and would love to do an Alaskan cruise some day.

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo?

Heard of it? Sure. Have any desire to visit it? No.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club?

No.

19. How about the Rotary Club?

No, but Tiffany has – she got a Rotary scholarship that helped her get through grad school. Boy, talk about your conflict of elitism there!

And though you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you that I once attended a Knights of Columbus dinner at which my godfather and great-uncle Mike was being honored, and once attended a K of C fish fry in El Paso with my best college buddy. Where does that fall on the plebe/elite spectrum?

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town?

Nope, I’m a big city boy all the way.

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees?

Never thought about it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Where I lived on Staten Island was pretty blue collar back in the day.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line?

I was a grad student for almost three years. You do the math.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

Yes, several. Is it elitist of me to say I know devout members of other faiths, too?

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor?

No, but I’ve been to three refineries and a chemical plant.

25. Have you worked on one?

No, but I worked for several years on a help desk that supported those refineries and chemical plants.

So now you know. How much of an elitist are you? And how much of one do you suppose Charles Murray is?

Saturday video break: Happy anniversary

Tomorrow is my twelfth wedding anniversary. What else could I post but this?

No ties or pianos will be given, and no singing police officers will be involved in our celebration, but I feel confident that it will be happy anyway.

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning

This was published in May, but I just came across it the other day.

The new captain jumped from the cockpit, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the owners who were swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know, from fifty feet away, what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

There are many things that frighten parents. Strangers, germs, crime, etc etc etc. For the most part, I don’t fear these things. Reading this story, on the other hand, scared the crap out of me. I’d have been as clueless as the people in that first paragraph. According to the author:

Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).

I’m haunted by those numbers. I’m not the nervous type, but I’m going to be a lot more vigilant around swimming pools from now on. Read it, and read the comments, and see if you don’t feel the same way.

Back in the saddle

I’m back from my secure undisclosed location (the Hudson River Valley in Dutchess County, New York – it was gorgeous, and I’ll have more to say about it shortly) and as I work my way through a zillion unread items in my feed readers and just generally catch up on the news, I’ll be getting back to regular posting. My sincere thanks to Greg Wythe for keeping an eye on things and posting some updates, to the makers of WordPress for their “Schedule” feature, and to you for sticking around. I’ll be back with more later.

Saturday video break: Vacation

This is approximately how I feel about being in nature:

But for better or for worse, it’s where I’m gonna be for the next few days. Barring anything unexpected, I will have little to no Internet connectivity during this time. (Yes, I’m quivering at the thought, but I’m trying to be brave.) I’ve got posts scheduled to publish for the duration, which will end Wednesday night, so there will be some updates even without me being there. Isn’t technology grand? See you Thursday.

Goodbye, old friend

Harry

Harry

This morning, Tiffany and I took our dog, Harry, to the vet. He did not come home with us. We’d known this day was coming for awhile. Harry was 15 years old, and his health had declined in recent months. We’ve been preparing the girls for it, telling them how Harry was going to be with God. We made the appointment for today last week, after a checkup confirmed that his time was short. We told family and friends what was going on. We did what we could to make his last few days as happy as they could be, which mostly meant extra hugs and treats, including some filet mignon (!) that my sister-in-law brought for him yesterday. We knew it was coming. We told ourselves it was the right thing to do, and it was. It was still one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.

I did not grow up with pets. Other than a month of cat-sitting for an absent roommate one summer during college, I’d never had to care for an animal before January of 1997, when Harry came into my life. My buddy Matt, who had been my housemate for six years in Houston, had just moved to New York for a job, and I was somewhat at loose ends. My boss at the time, who was a devoted dog lover, had been trying to convince me to adopt a pooch. Whether by fate or by accident, a friend of hers found this furry stray on the street, and the two of them had been foster-caring for him. Both had two dogs of their own, so they wanted to find someone else to keep him. Mary Ann, my boss, worked me over for a week before I finally agreed to give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing. The first full day I had him, a Monday, I let him into the back yard of the house I was renting to do his business, and when I checked on him five minutes later, he was gone; apparently, there was a hole in the fence of which I’d been unaware. I took a quick look around, but saw no sign of him. I called Mary Ann in a bit of a panic, as I was already late for work, and she drove over to look for him as I headed to the office. She found him – he must have just been exploring, and came back – and I took him for walks instead of letting him into the yard after that.

I started dating Tiffany a few months later. She was charmed by Harry – she’ll tell you that she fell in love with him first – but couldn’t abide the fact that he had the run of the house, including the couches. So off to obedience school we went. It was clear that Harry had been through this before, and was basically humoring me. He managed to overcome my ignorance in these matters to pass the class. That didn’t stop him from hopping on the couch whenever we weren’t looking, mind you. One tip we got from the trainer was to put tinfoil on the couches as anti-dog devices. We preferred using tinfoil baking pans, since the air conditioning or ceiling fans would sometimes blow regular foil off the couch. The problem was that the pans didn’t quite cover the cushions sufficiently. Harry learned to nudge the pans aside enough to create dog-sized sleeping spots for himself. We always found it too funny to get upset about.

When we moved into the Heights later that year, the first house we lived in had a closet that Harry claimed as his space. We put his dog bed in there, and he’d retreat to it whenever he needed some quiet, or when there was a scary thunderstorm outside. Frequently, though, we’d come home to see that he’d dragged his dog bed out of the closet and into the middle of the floor in the next room. Always to about the same spot, too. This puzzled us until one winter day when, as Tiffany was standing over Harry on his bed in that spot on the floor, the heat kicked on, and she felt the warm air blowing down right on to where he was. Clearly, this was no ordinary dog.

We were a little worried when Tiffany was pregnant with Olivia that Harry would feel put out by the arrival of a human puppy. But he adjusted just fine, and was always protective of the girls. It probably helped that he learned early on that small children were even better food providers than big people, mostly because they were less squeamish about sharing what they were eating. When Olivia started on solid food, she would put her fingers into her mouth after taking a spoonful of cereal; this helped her learn how to swallow. When she took her fingers out of her mouth, she would hold her hand over the side of her high chair, and Harry would be right there to lick it clean. When she started eating Cheerios, Harry would station himself at her feet, knowing that a few of them would inevitably hit the ground. Olivia’s signal in those days that she was full would be to take whatever we’d put on the high chair tray, and toss it on the floor for Harry. We referred to it as his tribute; this occasionally made for some embarrassing moments at restaurants and other people’s houses, but everyone thought it was funny. Audrey did the same thing – when she started at the same preschool Olivia attended, one of her teachers asked if we had a dog. When we said yes, she said she could always tell, because kids in houses with dogs always dropped the last bit of their food on the floor.

Harry loved people, but he had not been socialized to other dogs, and at best tolerated them. He really hated anything with a rumbly diesel engine. Buses and garbage trucks were his sworn enemies. I’d be out walking with him when we’d hear one of them in the distance, and he’d freeze, on point. The noise would get louder, and he’d start running in tight little circles, and when the offending vehicle passed by, he’d just go ballistic. The first time my folks visited and took him for a walk on their own, we warned them about this, but nothing could adequately prepare them for it. One way I knew that he was starting to slow down was when he stopped barking at trucks and buses. It’s been long enough that when Tiffany read to Olivia a book called “Dog Heaven” (which I have not been able to bring myself to read), which talks about how in heaven dogs get to do things like chase squirrels and whatnot, Olivia said “But Mommy, Harry doesn’t chase things”. Well, he used to, it was just that he preferred things with wheels.

I suppose we’ll get another dog some day. Olivia has been asking when we’ll get a puppy. I don’t know about that, but another rescue dog would be fine. I’ve often thought about the people who must have owned and loved Harry before we got him. I’ve tried to figure out how he came to be wandering the streets. He was housebroken, healthy, gentle and affectionate, so I can’t believe he was a behavior problem, and he was just too lovable to abandon for whatever reason. I guess he could have just gotten loose and wandered off – for the first year or so, I half-expected to hear from the people who’d had him before, that they must be out there looking for him. But if they did, they never found him. And if there is someone out there who is still grieving for their loss 13 years ago, all I can say is that we took good care of him, we loved him very much, and we grieve for him now. Goodbye, old friend.

Happy 2010!

2010
Happy New Year, everybody! May this year be a peaceful and prosperous one, and may any alien species we encounter be benevolent.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us

Merry Christmas from all of us

From ours to yours, have a very Merry Christmas. I’ll have a Christmas version of the Friday Random Ten up later today, but that’ll be it till tomorrow.

Saturday video break: Happy anniversary

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary. If only we had a piano:

And no, I did not get a tie, pre-spotted or otherwise. Which is just fine. The anniversary itself, and what it means, is more than present enough.

Happy Easter!

People have been telling me lately that it’s been too long since I’ve posted a picture of the girls. So here you go:

Happy Easter! And now it’s time for a nap.

I say it’s my birthday

Apparently, this is a pretty busy week for blogger birthdays. Tuesday was Elise Hu and Stephanie Stradley; they both got cool presents befitting their bloggy stature to help them celebrate. Yesterday was Atrios‘ turn; I have no idea if he got any presents, but he does have his own Wikipedia entry, which is nice. And today is mine. (It’s also Justine Bateman‘s, but as far as I know she’s not a blogger.) I have it on good authority that there will be some baked goodies for dessert tonight, so I’m covered as far as presents go. One of the things I’ve learned by having kids is that it’s not really a birthday if there isn’t cake involved. Good to know I’m doing it right.

I say it’s my birthday

Apparently, this is a pretty busy week for blogger birthdays. Tuesday was Elise Hu and Stephanie Stradley; they both got cool presents befitting their bloggy stature to help them celebrate. Yesterday was Atrios‘ turn; I have no idea if he got any presents, but he does have his own Wikipedia entry, which is nice. And today is mine. (It’s also Justine Bateman‘s, but as far as I know she’s not a blogger.) I have it on good authority that there will be some baked goodies for dessert tonight, so I’m covered as far as presents go. One of the things I’ve learned by having kids is that it’s not really a birthday if there isn’t cake involved. Good to know I’m doing it right.

Birthday party for Rick Noriega

There’s a slightly belated 51st birthday party being thrown for Rick Noriega tomorrow at Marbella’s Banquet Hall, 6632 Harrisburg Boulevard, just off of I-45 and Wayside – here’s a Google map for you, and you can look at the invitation (PDF) for more details. Come on out and wish Rick a Happy Birthday and thank him for all he’s done as a public servant.

Quit stealing my recyclables!

So a few months ago, I noticed that when I put recyclables out to the curb on Sunday night, the bags with paper – mostly newspaper, but with other stuff as well – would be gone by Monday morning, before the trucks arrived. I further noticed, and subsequently confirmed with a neighbor, that I wasn’t the only one to whom this was happening. So, being slightly paranoid even though we routinely shred anything that has identifying information on it, I made it my habit to put the non-paper out on Sunday night, and the paper on Monday morning before I go to work.

Which is what I did this Monday. And then, while herding the girls out the door to go to school and work, I saw a gray pickup truck stop in front of my driveway, and an older guy in what looked like a vintage yellow Houston Rockets “Clutch City” t-shirt get out and start to pick up the bags with paper in them from my bin. What the hell?

I stepped out the back door and said to him “Excuse me, what are you doing?” He made some lame excuse about needing the paper for his nephew, said he wouldn’t take the paper if I didn’t want him to, and drove off. Sadly, I didn’t get his license plate number.

Anyway, Tiffany wound up calling the city’s 311 line to complain about this, and was transferred to the HPD non-emergency line; an officer came by awhile later, and explained this wasn’t a crime. Which we already knew – we just wanted to let the city know this was happening, since presumably it would affect its ability to make money off of recyclables if some “entrepreneurs” were getting to them first.

I have no idea what this guy was up to. The market for scrap paper isn’t exactly robust right now – if he’d been lifting the aluminum cans, I’d have understood. The most likely explanation would seem to be that he was fishing for identities for some kind of scam or another. Which at least justified my paranoia, however annoying it may be that his actual action wasn’t illegal. We may wind up dealing with the paper recyclables separately as a result of this. Like I say, we do shred, but why take a chance? Regardless, I thought I’d put this out there as a warning to folks in my neighborhood, and to anyone else who might be interested. Has this ever happened to you? Let me know.

Yes, it really did snow in Houston last night

It wasn’t a hallucination.

Falling snowflakes glimmered in streetlights, so wide that they billowed to the ground like parachutes, and so tantalizing that even awestruck adults reached out their hands or stuck out their tongues to catch one.

By Wednesday evening, the flakes were big enough to hold their shape for a moment on the street before melting into the pavement, and a dusting had collected on parked cars in some parts of town.

The flurries tied a record for Houston’s earliest snowfall ever and warmed the hearts of winter weather lovers who have pined for snow since it last made an appearance on Christmas Eve 2004.

“I’ve got a pot roast in the Crock-Pot, and I’m going to go home, change into my warmest pajamas and eat pot roast and enjoy what may be the only real winter day we have all year,” said Tina Arnold, an Illinois native who took advantage of the wintry backdrop to pick up Christmas presents Wednesday at The Woodlands Mall.

Since 1895, records indicate, snow has fallen this early just once — on Dec. 10, 1944.

And now it’s happened twice, though if you didn’t see it last night you probably missed it altogether. In that spirit, here’s a couple of views from my back yard, plus a picture from the last time it had snowed in Houston. Click on to see the images.

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Nostalgia alert

Dateline 1988, somewhere in San Antonio. The shaggy guy in the green shirt and ever-so-fashionable glasses is me.

Ten years later, at the Class of 1988 reunion. Tiffany and I had been married for all of three weeks at the time.

We’re at the 20-year reunion this weekend. Photos, memories, adult beverages, introducing the next generation to each other, all with (mostly) better hair. It’s a beautiful thing.

Family photos

While we were up in Portland, we asked my talented and indefatigable sister-in-law Cathy to take some family photos of us. She has professional equipment for the task, and a great eye. You can see a sample of the results here. Thanks, Cathy!

School days

It’s been too long since I’ve posted a picture of the girls. So here you go:

That photo was taken one morning as I was herding the girls into the car to go to preschool. Audrey was going through a phase of demanding to wear sunglasses before leaving the house. What can I say, some people are just born cool. We’ve just realized that later this month, Olivia will officially start pre-kindergarten. One more year, then she begins her journey at Travis Elementary. That was more than a little weird to contemplate.

Anyway, hope you like the pic. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

A warning about downtown parking

Olivia and Audrey and I spent a little time this afternoon at the public library grand reopening. It was fun for all, as they burned up some energy in the kids area that they otherwise would have expended at home, driving me crazy in the process. The only downer of the day was with the parking. We parked at the 1100 Smith Street garage, which was a very reasonable flat $3 fee for weekends, but almost didn’t make it out of the lot. The exits are unattended on weekends, which is fine, but the payment machines didn’t take credit cards or bills larger than $10. One poor woman had pulled over and was asking everyone if they could break a $20 – I think she finally got a taker as we were queued up.

Then it was my turn, and though I had a $5 bill, the stupid bill reader wouldn’t take it. After several failed attempts, I got out and swapped bills with the car behind me. That one still wouldn’t take, and I was contemplating how much it would cost me to just bust through the swinging arm when one last try finally worked. Oh, and it paid change in quarters; if there was ever a time to use dollar coins, this would seem to have been it, but no go.

So, my advice to you, the downtown weekend adventure seeker, is to avoid the 1100 Smith Street garage (located between Massa’s and Pappas Barbecue) like the plague. If someone from that garage reads this and is offended by my characterization, all I can say is that I’ve spelled out what you can do to make this right. All I know is I’ll be using the underground parking by Bayou Place next time. It may cost a bit more, but if so it’ll be worth it.

UPDATE: For more about the library itself, here’s Dwight’s review.

Olivia the star (gazer)

So last week, as I was about to chase Olivia off to bed, Tiffany stopped me and said “No, wait, there’s stargazing on the Esplanade tonight. Why not take Olivia out for a few minutes and let her look through one of the telescopes?”

(I’ll pause for a minute to explain that our neighborhood contains some amateur astronomy buffs, and when conditions are favorable they sometimes gather on the esplanade on our street and set up their equipment to look heavenward. This was one of those nights.)

Olivia, of course, was amenable to this – hey, anything to delay going to bed for a few minutes. We got outside, and I pointed out the big telescope to her, and she was excited about looking through it. Her preschool class had been talking about the solar system that week, and so she could name a couple of planets, one of which was Saturn, which just happened to be visible that evening.

We were the first people to wander over and ask about using the scope, so Olivia was able to get a crack at it right away. There was a stepladder that we moved over for her to climb up so she could peer into the eyepiece, and once it got good and dark, she had a great look at Saturn, which she thought was very cool. She chattered about it quite a bit afterwards.

Oh, and did I mention that there was a reporter for the Houston Chronicle there as well, doing a feature story on neighborhood “star parties” like that one? And that she had a photographer with her? And that they and the telescope dude just about fainted at the prospect of photographing a cute little girl in her pink Minnie Mouse nightgown as she looked at Saturn through a big telescope?

Here’s the story. Scroll down a bit to see the picture.

I should note, by the way, that the Chron reporter asked me a few questions as well, but none of that made it in. Obviously, we can tell who has the real star power in this family.

The Answer

Today is my forty-second birthday, which I feel should bring me one step closer to understanding what life, the Universe, and everything is all about. If I get any blinding insights, I’ll be sure to share them. As always with my birthdays, the truly important things to note are that I share the date with Justine Bateman, and that I’m exactly one day older than Cindy Crawford. I mean hey, with references like those, how can I lose?

Today is also the first day of early voting in Texas for the March 4 primary. Those of you in Harris County, you can find early voting information and locations here (PDF). I highly recommend voting early this year, as turnout projections are incredibly high, and I wouldn’t want to get caught in the chaos that’s sure to occur on the fourth. Of course, that means you have to figure out who you’re voting for once and for all. I’ll post an incomplete list of people for whom I’ll be pushing the button tomorrow, for what that will be worth to you. Some choices are easier than others, but they’re all important. Please make sure your voice is heard.

Here’s a sorted list of the candidate interviews and Q&As I’ve done for the Democratic primary. I hope this helps you make your decisions. Thanks very much, and go vote!

Interviews:

US Senate – Rick Noriega

US House, District 10 – Dan Grant and Larry Joe Doherty

Harris County Judge – David Mincberg

Harris County Sheriff – Adrian Garcia

Harris County Tax Assessor – Diane Trautman

State Senator, District 11 – Joe Jaworski

State Representative, District 27 – Ron Reynolds and Rep. Dora Olivo

State Representative, District 140 – Armando Walle

State Representative, District 145 – Carol Alvarado

State Representative, District 147 – Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Representative, District 148 – Rep. Jessica Farrar

Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 3 – Dexter Handy

Written Q&As:

State Supreme Court, Place 7 – Sam Houston and Baltasar D. Cruz

State Supreme Court, Place 8 – Judge Susan Criss and Judge Linda Yanez

80th District Court (Civil) – Larry Weiman

125th District Court (Civil) – Jim Wrotenbery and Kyle Carter

174th District Court (Criminal) – Ruben Guerrero

190th District Court (Civil) – Bruce Mosier and Andres Pereira

215th District Court (Civil) – Fred Cook and Steve Kirkland

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 – Harold Landreneau

It’s possible I’ll get some more responses – I did send out more Q&As than this – and if so I’ll print them when I get them.

Audrey!

Today is Audrey’s first birthday. She is very mobile and active, though not quite walking yet. She is basically fearless about climbing on furniture, which points out to us just how little actual baby-proofing we had to do with Olivia. We’re starting to hear some recognizable word-like sounds in her babbling – she got a little plastic baseball and bat for Christmas, and she clearly says “bah” and “baw” to indicate one or the other. Like her older sister at that age, she eats just about everything (avocadoes are a notable exception), and in truly awesome quantities. She fights taking naps with determined fierceness, but usually goes to sleep at night without too much difficulty. She loves her big sister Olivia, and the feeling is mutual. She also loves us, as we do her. Our lives are more complex with her around, but they are also far richer and more rewarding. We are blessed to have her in our family.

Happy birthday, Audrey!