Archive for July, 2012

Rain, Rain DON’T Go Away!
July 26, 2012

I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again
I’m laughing at clouds
So dark up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I’ve a smile on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin’,
Singin’ in the rain

~Jamie Cullum, as sung by Gene Kelly

One year ago, Houston was in the grips of a drought that threatened to continue into this year. We were desperate for rain, and worried about a long term situation, like the one in the 1950’s that created the “dust bowl”.

Weather forecasters love drama like this, but as it turned out, their dire predictions of a lingering drought were baseless. Houston has had an abundance of rain this year, with much of it falling earlier this month. As of mid July, we have had much more rain than an average year in Houston, but compared to last year, our totals are WAY over the amount measured at this same date.

Inches and inches of rain have been measured all over town, with some areas flooding due to overflowing bayous. Accompanying the rain has been violent thunder and lightning, with one strike that killed two young men taking shelter under a tree (note to self: don’t do that when lightning is nearby).

In our garden, the overabundance of rain was causing so much standing water that we ultimately opted to install a sump pump to drain it out. It was either that or lose the new landscaping…which was not an option! That pump is awesome;  it really works well.

back yard before sump pump

Our old dogs, Shadow and Bailey used to tremble, pace, whimper and NOT want to go outside to do their business when it was raining. It started with Shadow, and since Bailey totally patterned on Shadow, he learned that storms were scary, too.

Happily, Mr. Tucker is not perturbed about rain, thunder or lightning (unless it strikes so close by that the house shakes and all the electronics beep). He’ll go outside with me under a large golf umbrella and “do his business”, and sleep through most all but the loudest thunder. It sure makes things a lot easier around here!

It’s funny, under normal weather conditions, people would be complaining about all the rain, but not this year. Well, maybe just a little. As compared to last year, when Facebook friends would excitedly post “RAIN!!”, this year, they are posting updates like, “Rain… AGAIN”. You can just hear them sighing those words.

But because last year’s situation caused so much of Houston’s verdant pine canopy to die out, most people are extra grateful for the abundant gift of rain that this year has brought. Everything is now lush and green in all directions.

However, now come the mosquitoes, which is the downside of a heavy rain. I promise not to complain…  Instead, I’ll just haul out the bug spray and hope that the brown bats we see swooping every evening will enjoy a feast!

Speaking of insects, along with the mosquitoes have come a colony of bees up on our veranda. Could their hive have been washed out, or destroyed when a tree fell? I didn’t connect the dots until just now.

Whatever the case may be, I am a little anxious about their taking up residence up there. I know bees are beneficial to gardens, but when stirred up, they can get very angry. Ouch! So it’s Budget Bee to the rescue!

As I write this, once again it is raining… but I don’t care. It just makes me feel like singin’!

(Pewperson will return August 10)

A Special Visitor
July 19, 2012

Home is a place in your heart… ~Glinda (in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of “Wizard of Oz”)

Lorna Grove called me recently to ask if it would be ok to stop by with her grandkids in the afternoon to show them the house where their dad grew up.

Of course I said yes, and they came over about 3 pm. Lorna and her husband, Arthur were the ones who built our house back in 1970. Their names and the date are inscribed in the cement in the port cochere.

Dr. Grove was a dentist, and one of his patients was a home demolisher. This patient would alert Dr. Grove whenever he encountered a building with interesting old architectural details. The Groves would then collect these assorted pieces before the demolisher did his business.

In such fashion, they amassed a barn full of beautiful things like a mid-19th century staircase from the British Mission in Montrose, as well as doors, beams and door surrounds from the same house.  Plus there are antique bricks from the Swift Cottonseed Plant on North Shepherd, a decorative carved stone frieze traced to the stonecutter who did so many of the carvings on the Rice University buildings and fireplace mantels milled from an historic Brazos River pecan tree. Supposedly, the wood from that tree was so dense that it broke the circular saw.

Then the Groves designed their dream house, modeled on the Kellum-Noble House in the Sam Houston Park downtown. Incorporating all these elements to create a one of a kind home, they described it as “Louisiana Colonial”.  With its stone frieze of cowboys herding longhorns, I think it is more aptly “Texas Colonial”.

The Kellum-Noble House

The house has aged well; it’s still a beauty, and we love living in it. My one quibble is that there is a built in gun rack, but no linen closet! Oh well, books are now in the gun rack, and armoires contain our linens.

Lorna gave the kids a tour, showed them all the antique architectural details and told them the stories about where they came from. They ran upstairs to see the bedroom that had belonged to their dad and went outside to see the view from the veranda.

She loved our kitchen update and especially loved the back yard and front garden landscaping.

I had to explain why we demolished the pond that they had created using rocks from their farm to make a waterfall feature. The “cement pond” had developed a crack and wouldn’t hold water anymore, and some of the stones had come loose and were liable to collapse the entire structure.

Lorna told us that the rocks had collapsed once before, on the day there was a major earthquake all the way in Alaska. That same day, a cannonball that rested on the kitchen mantel tumbled to the floor. Thankfully, the antique brick floor is so tough, it didn’t even leave a mark.

I showed her that we still had the rocks from the pond, leftover bricks, greenhouse columns and flagstones from the previous back patio out behind the garage. She was pleased that we are incorporating them in the new landscaping designs.

She told me how sick she felt when she saw that the second owners had painted the antique bricks on the outside, the front door and window surrounds (which had been the natural wood from that same house where the staircase, etc. came from). These same people had also painted the powder room black!

The kids laughed when I mentioned that the garage apartment has a multitude of  electrical plugs, because they knew that’s where their grandfather’s workshop had been.

I asked Lorna to send me some photos from the early years, and she said she would. We are looking forward to seeing what the house looked like in its original glory.

It was so much fun to see the pride she took in “her” house, and her pleasure in the fact that we love it and care for it. When they left, she gave me a big hug.

I didn’t realize it until Lorna confirmed that, yes, we have now lived here longer than they did. Interesting. I hope that we enjoy many, many more years in our very, very special house…

The iBrain Shuffle
July 12, 2012

An earworm is a piece of music that sticks in one’s mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played~ Wikipedia

I support the youth choir at our church, and something our director said long ago has stuck with me. He talked about creating a personal soundtrack for the singers so that the classic, faith based songs they learn will stay with them for life.

In other words, he is hoping that these songs will imprint upon their brains instead of what passes for music these days. I know, I know, our parents said the same thing about OUR music in our day.

But seriously, I gave up on modern music trends years ago. It would have to be a pretty special song to lure me kicking and screaming to admit to a new favorite!

My family gave me an iPod not long ago, and Shannon helpfully downloaded songs from my favorite CD’s onto it (because I wouldn’t have any idea how to do that). It’s on my desk and shuffles away all day long, selecting a random mix of sacred to secular, classic to jazz, show tunes to folk songs, and so on. I guess it’s my own personal soundtrack, and I really do enjoy the variety.

But I don’t go outside with my iPod. When I’m out jogging I enjoy looking around and enjoying the sounds of nature, especially on quiet summer mornings, when there is little traffic.

What usually happens then is that a song will pop unbidden into my head and get stuck there. So my brain must be doing a shuffle of my own personal soundtrack and selecting the one that it wants. And then it commences to sing it all the way home, to the beat of my feet (which means a slower tempo in the summer…).

Last week’s choices?

Monday:  Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know, an 18th century German hymn, text by Johann Christoph Schwedler.

Tuesday:  The Coffee Song (They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil) as sung by Rosemary Clooney. ¡Café Olé!

Wednesday: What Made the Red Man Red, from Disney’s “Peter Pan” (the WORST song ever to be stuck in one’s head!)

Thursday: Green Grow the Rushes, O, an old English folk counting song

Friday: the first movement of Handel’s Dixit Dominus (no, my brain wasn’t singing in Latin, but rather merely humming the melody with a touch of harmony)

Saturday: Fortune Teller, the newer Robert Plant version with the booming percussion. That’s about the newest album in my soundtrack…

Why these random songs? I have no idea! It’s very interesting to see what my brain selects every day, and I am seriously referring to it as its own entity, because I do not willfully call these songs to mind.

Once I return home and get busy with my tasks, the song of the day slips back into its place in the deep recesses of my brain, while the next day’s number gets loaded and ready to play. Shuffle indeed!

I wonder what tomorrow’s song will be?

“Smoke Gets In Your… Lungs!”
July 5, 2012

 

World Health Organization unit says diesel fumes cause cancer. ~headline in the June 13 Houston Chronicle 

Seeing this headline brought back vivid memories of London in the mid-1970’s, where, thanks to the ubiquitous diesel cabs and other such vehicles, I’d blow my nose, and black gunk would come out. Gross!

The photos that I took of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral back then are witness to the effects of diesel fumes in the atmosphere. All these beautiful landmarks were blanketed in black soot, dingy looking and just sad. Their glory was hidden beneath the grime. And realizing now that people were inhaling that nasty stuff, I have no doubt of the health repercussions…

I abhor diesel fumes, especially those belched from big, loud trucks that sometimes travel through my neighborhood while I am walking, biking or running. Yes, I understand that the “new” diesel supposedly doesn’t cause as many fumes, but I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Back when I worked at the Fondren Orthopedic Group, there was a fellow employee named Twyla, who was from a small rural town in central Texas. She was a country girl, through and through, and I recall her excitement about going to a “Truck Pull” event at the Astrodome. Twyla said something I’ve never, ever  forgotten, “I just LOVE the smell of diesel!” What a memorable quote!

Ugh!

Between all the diesel fumes I’ve breathed in over the years and all the second hand cigarette smoke I’ve been exposed to, I’m surprised that I’ve not been diagnosed with lung cancer. Knocking on wood here.

I have never, ever even attempted to smoke a cigarette. Not that I am a prissy sort of person, but rather my theory is that I missed the opportunity to experiment because we moved back to Houston when I was at that age when most kids do. So by the time I made my new friends, they either did or didn’t smoke. I was cool with the non-smokers, but didn’t want to embarrass myself with those who did.

Once, when I was in the 9th grade, I babysat for a couple who happened to leave an open pack of cigarettes in the house. I took one out and smelled it. I remember thinking that if I were ever going to try it, this would be the perfect time. If I gagged, who would know but me? However, I chickened out; just the thought of breathing in smoke seemed stupid and unappealing.

Second hand smoke? I’ve had my fair share of it, whether I liked it or not (NOT). My piano teacher smoked. My fellow employee with whom I worked in close quarters each summer in the Medical Records Department at The Methodist Hospital smoked. (ah, the “Master File” in the days before computers! That’s a totally different subject, suitable for a blog post of its own!).

After college, I worked in a Dallas law firm next to a woman who smoked. I was trapped, and couldn’t complain. And then there were the happy hours in bars filled with smoke, not to mention airplanes that had smoking and non smoking sections, but it didn’t matter. As the song title suggests, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes!”

I could go on and on about dating boys who smoked (pre Joel) whose cars were nasty smelling. I must have reeked when I got home, but it wasn’t because I smoked. How can people who smoke not smell it on themselves?

Well, I have gotten off on a tangent, but smoke is smoke, whether it’s diesel or cigarette or fire induced. Or mosquito spray spewed from a truck that we used to chase as kids in New Orleans. What were we thinking?

My older brother, Ray, passed away in 2005 from complications of oral cancer that resulted in his losing part of his tongue and jaw. He had to have all his teeth pulled (which was so sad, because he had inherited our dad’s perfect teeth), and never got over the disfiguration. He smoked and drank alcohol for years, which is an especially deadly combination.

I have heard and read about non-smokers who have been diagnosed with lung cancer and are perplexed about how that could happen. Believe me, I wonder about all the toxic vapors that I have been exposed to and why I have been spared!

Is it the pulmonary benefits of running? If so, then that’s a good reason to get out there and just do it. Except, whenever a diesel truck spews its smoke nearby, just RUN the other way!

Or hold your breath.