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2010 in Review

As we embark on another year, it always feels good to review happenings of note from the last (at least the things we can remember or that we took the trouble to write down).  This list is not exhaustive but captures highlights. In making this list, we are reminded how rich our lives are, how much fun we have, how much love there is, how much wonder and beauty. We should do this more than once a year.

On the Homefront:
Interior home updates this year included new fixtures and tile in the full bathroom shower and a new, smaller, sleeker fridge in the kitchen (thank you City of Austin energy rebate!). If we could just get the tub refinished now (paint is steadily peeling off), bath time would be totally luxurious.

Lots of work in the backyard this year, including the addition of more gutters and 2 new rainbarrels (for a total of 3) in Amo’s water reclamation effort. We should be able to tend our plants better now during the hot/dry season. And we’re officially advertising our efforts with our new Certified Wildlife Habitat sign from the National Wildlife Federation. Maybe neighbors will make a note and change their habitats.

The wee ones are well, keeping us entertained and sufficiently snuggled on a daily basis. The dogs are good travelers, and have accompanied us to Arlington and Gonzales (more about those trips below). I’ve enjoyed making doggie sweaters out of old sweatshirt sleeves.

Captain, aka ‘MonkeyCat,’ is great and both pups had their teeth cleaned early in the year – Busy lost 6 teeth due to poor dental condition, but her snaggle-toothiness only makes her cuter. I’m still trying to get her to let me brush the remaining choppers, but she wriggles and squiggles and keeps her mouth SHUT. *sigh*

In & Around Austin:
Amy & I got iPhones, and I was eager to finally try geocaching. We subsequently caught the bug, frequently squeezing mini-adventures in our urban landscape among our regular errands and travels about town. It is amazing the way it makes you look at your surroundings differently, and we’ve learned quite a bit about our fair city along the way, as folks tend to place caches in historic and culturally significant places. We’ve also had a blast finding caches on our wider travels while visiting family and camping.

I won free tickets to one of the last tapings of Austin City Limits in its original studio home, for the Roseanne Cash/Brandi Carlile show. We grinned maniacally the entire time, as neither of us had been there before and we are HUGE ACL and Brandi fans. Such intimate and professionally-produced musical experiences are rare – we felt so fortunate to be in the historic music venue before it closed up shop. AND, we were on TV, and part of that recording FOREVER. Amen. “People used to make records, as in the record of an event: the event of people playing music in a room.” – Ani DiFranco

We also said goodbye to the Dobie Movie Theater on campus, which closed in 2010. We made a point to go and see a film on the last day it was open and say goodbye to the tiny theaters decorated with gargoyles, egyptian hieroglyphs, and library shelves by UT theater students. I hope the indie theater scene in Austin fills the hole this leaves.

Something we decidedly didn’t lose was the Cactus Cafe on campus, another historic music venue, tiny and super-intimate compared to the Austin City Limits studio. To celebrate the persistence of this place that faced closure by UT admins, we attended our friend Elizabeth Jackson’s All Out Accordion event there. Cool beyond words to be in a room mostly filled with friends and acquaintances, hypnotized by the wild and varied stylings of musicians covering so many genres, ladies and gents, from so many cultures. Squeezebox smorgasbord delight.

At the Paramount Theater downtown, we saw funny ladies Sarah Vowell (writer, satirist) and Margaret Cho (comedian). Amo heard Sally Ride (first American woman in space, 1983) speak at a UT lecture. I love this “prominent ladies” series we seem gravitate towards in our entertainment choices.

Nearby in Blanco, we spent another blissful Easter Sunday with Amo’s mom, friends and Framily at Juniper Hills farm. Good company, good food, bountiful sunshine, and more cascarone fun, leaving a confetti trail in our wake for days.

Later, in the heat of the summer, we suited up again to man the booth at the Lavender Festival with friends, hawking Sibby’s wares and testing our survival skills. We were decidedly better prepared this year than last – I finally invested in a serious sun hat that made subsequent summer hikes bearable.

We waved flags and marched with friends in the first Queer Bomb parade (alternative to over-commercialized and hetero-conserva-tized Austin Pride parade that has dominated the scene for years).

Holidays were spent close to home this year: Thanksgiving dinner with Framily around the ping-pong table couldn’t have been better (our friend Stephanie snapped an awesome pic of the spread, shown below), and New Year’s Eve & Day with Framily on a friend’s farm in Bastrop was warm & fuzzy with wine, the wood-burning stove, and sparklers for all.  I could have done without Dick Clark’s mangled mug on TV (please let the man retire/rest), but hey, that’s what everyone else in America looks at as the year changes over, right?


Amo bought a cute silver 2006 Yamaha Vino scooter from friends relocating out-of-state, so we’ve got 2 transpo options between us now (1 car, 1 scootie). She’s an old hat at scooting, but I’ve never ridden one before – invigorating! We’ll need to get more gear so that we’re both properly outfitted.

Celebrating Us:
We celebrated Amo’s birthday this year by inviting friends over to watch Enter the Dragon in the back yard, with cold beer and kiddie pools to stave off the summer heat.

In September, we marked our 7th year together with one of our favorite things: good local food. We traveled to Pflugerville to check out the European Bistro, which is owned and operated by one of my old work acquaintances. Pure Eastern European bliss: hungarian paprika chicken, pork chop and german potato salad, hefeweisen, wine, and cheesecake. We swore over dinner it was the best meal we’ve ever eaten.

On my birthday weekend, we ventured downtown for a delicious dinner at La Condesa, followed by cocktails and live bluegrass from the Carper Family in the historic Driskoll Hotel lounge. Several friends joined us the following day for a geocache trek through downtown, culminating in burgers, fries, and drinks at the Cedar Door.

Further out:
I went to Atlanta twice, once in March to spend a long weekend visiting my pregnant sister and the Cofields in anticipation of the latest addition to the family, and then later to greet my first nephew upon his arrival on July 1st. Conveniently, my sister had a c-section scheduled, so Amo & I were able to plan travel dates accordingly. Everything went smoothly. Little mister was adorable right out of the box, and didn’t mind being passed around among doting parents, grandparents, and aunts. 

In August, Amy went on a 3-week epic journey by van and boat through Alaska with a group of her colleagues. From Seattle/Bellingham, she floated through the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway to Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau. Hit the roads in “Vinny-Van-Go” through the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse & Tok, back to AK to Fairbanks, Denali NP, Anchorage, and the Seward Highway. Check out the Flickr site of the Alaska Adventurers if you want to see more photos.

We traveled several times to see Amo’s family, including a day trip to Sea World San Antonio this summer and Christmas in Arlington. On one Fall visit, we snagged nephew Dylan for a road-trip to Denton, where we met up with Uncle Frank for dinner, a quick wander through the Environmental Science bldg. on the UNT campus, and then back to the county square for ice cream and a stroll around the bustling courthouse grounds. We don’t see Frank or Dylan often enough, and it was great to get them both in one weekend.

Camp-outs with various Framily combos: Palmetto State Park (birders), Lost Maples (quick weekend getaway), and Bastrop State Park (annual group gathering) all lovely as usual. 

The weekend after Thanksgiving we went to Fort Huachuca, AZ to visit the James gang. First time staying on a military base. The surrounding landscape was surprisingly beautiful, and my sister indulged me with a visit to the base museum. Amo & I geocached, too, wandering some hiking trails and ridges for a scenic overlook and fun find tucked among the rocks. But mostly, we just giggled at the baby boy, whose cuteness and pleasant disposition make him a total joy to behold. 

After Christmas proper, we headed out to a friend’s cabin on the Guadalupe River between Belmont and Gonzales, TX for a 5 day writing retreat. We felt so revitalized by it, we are seriously considering making it our holiday tradition. Peace. And quiet. Very little distraction. An amazing gift from our friend, really. We did indulge in a day-trip into Gonzales, cruising the junk & antique shops, and exploring the old jailhouse museum. Totally fun. 

Music Notes:
Darling New Neighbors had a fabu year with wonder-drummer Karl, including lots of fun gigs around Austin, a couple of SXSW house parties, a Girls Rock Camp showcase at Cafe Mundi, a couple of San Antonio shows, and working up a new EP soon to be released.

West Lake Bitches played their second (and to date, last) show overlooking the infinity pool at Juniper Hills Farm as a fond farewell to our Kansan friends Allyson & Holly, who decided to return home for family and school. In addition to our standard rockers, we wowed the crowd with our one-time-only performance of ICE ICE BABY, dance moves and all – I narrowly avoided hyperventilating before finishing the number. 

Amo volunteered again as a band coach at Girls Rock Camp, along with DNN band mate Elizabeth. They also played guitar & violin during the ceremony at Karl’s wedding. I have to say that Karl & Rendi’s wedding was the most fun, musical, giddy-dance-filled wedding I have ever been to. I shed the most of the tears b/c I was so moved by the dancing (parents, grand-parents, friends, every-freaking-body).

Amo also warmed up her honey-toned Collings mandolin in some new bluegrass practice meet-ups with other local ladies.

Professional & Personal Growth:
In my 3rd year at the law library, I experienced some notable positives: Our new and hopefully permanent director finally arrived, and got the go-ahead to recruit a half-time software developer (hallelujah). These seem sure signs of an upswing in my job satisfaction!

I recently decided to finally attend to my creative life, or perceived lack thereof, by diving in to the Artist’s Way program. 8 weeks in now, I’m experiencing progress and rediscovery of long-neglected interests, ideas, and talents. Laundry can wait – internal exploration and creative risk-taking is a priority. At least, this is what I tell myself every morning during my mandatory write-before-I-do-anything-else ritual.

Amo has been plugging away reliably on her dissertation, traveling all over TX to collect research data. She visited Amarillo, Harlingen, and Canyon, interviewing teachers and staying in quaint B & B’s, usually making points to seek out ‘cultural’ experiences and have some fun along the way (e.g., spray-painting at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo!).

Professional conferences took her to Denver, Sacramento, and Philadelphia to name a few. She’s preparing to finish up her PhD in May (very soon now), and has been hunting job opportunities, applying for positions across the country, and considering job possibilities here in town.

We may be leaving our beloved Austin sooner rather than later after all. But it is all a journey left to the unfolding of time to tell….

-Mel

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Looking back over the last year, we realized a lot has happened, and we’ve done A LOT.  Remembering is a good mental and emotional exercise.  We are so grateful to have such wonderful family, friends, and colleagues, who make our lives so rich and fun.  The paragraphs below include many highlights from 2009 – we know we didn’t get everything, but this gives a pretty good overview of our year.

On the Home Front, we made lots of improvements inside and out.  Outside work included painting of trim, fascia, and doors (goodbye country blue!); backyard landscaping to address erosion and improve drought tolerance including a retaining wall and fill dirt to level out the walkway to the side gate, crushed granite to line the walkways and reduce the amount of water-needy grass, experimental swaths of native prairie grasses, and a rainbarrel installation.  Inside, we had roller shades installed on livingroom and kitchen windows, put up new stylish curtains on pantries, got a new microwave (glue wouldn’t keep the old one together – believe me, I tried), and a new credenza in the living room.

Between the two of us, we’ve enjoyed many professional accomplishments:  Amo was elected to the ISEA board, received a hefty University Continuing Fellowship Award, and attended four professional conferences: ASTE in Connecticut, AERA in San Diego, CAST in Galveston, and an NSF P.I. conference in D.C..  Mel attended the OR09 conference at GA Tech in Atlanta (conveniently also visiting with family & friends).  At the Library, Mel initiated a web committee and introduced the use of several Web 2.0 tools (a library news blog, internal Sharepoint wikis, LibGuides); coordinated completion of a Library website refresh (including a major facelift on the homepage); agreed to chair a professional committee; and hired/managed her first full-time supervisee (this list helps me assuage the nagging feeling of getting nothing done at work).

Even though much of 2009 was hotter than hell (literally), we still played outside alot:

  • Palmetto State Park camping with friends, twice, for birding, hiking, lounging, eating, drinking, laughing, eating, drinking, napping, storytelling, acoustical music playing, burning things, sharing.  Best campfire food experiment:  toasted marshmallows stuffed with homemade lemon curd.  yum!
  • Neighborhood park volunteer cleanup
  • Birding hike in Balcones Canyonland with neighbor friends
  • Water play – Barton Springing & pontoon boat play day out on Lake Travis with the posse
  • ~5 months of group training with friends, culminating in Mel biking on a relay team in the Danskin Triathlon
  • sweating it out at the Blanco Lavender Festival volunteering at our Juniper Hills Farms friends’ product tent, cured by blissful evening dips in their infinity pool
  • wandering streets and beaches of Galveston
  • hiking and picnicking with the posse at Reimer’s Ranch
  • riding our bikes as much as we could, to see free show at SxSW, explore the East Austin Studio Tour, and take weekend morning rides with our friends followed by diner breakfast grub-outs.

We have had much fun on the musical front:  we saw Amy Ray @ Stubbs, and Flight of the Conchords at Bass Hall (Amo won free tickets on KUT radio!); our West Lake Bitches garage band practiced for the first time in January and gave our first live performance for an audience (including strangers) on New Year’s Eve;  Amo’s bluegrass duo project the Honeytones (where she gets to vamp on her treasured Collings mandolin, newly acquired this year) has been gearing up for their first public performance;  Amo taught upcoming tweenage rockers at Girls Rock Camp; DNN news: the never-say-die band found a new best drummer Karl, celebrated the release of their second full-length self-produced album ROCKET, and played raucous fun show in San Antonio (among many other local shows at new venues like Club DeVille, Lambert’s, the Moose Lodge, etc.).

We celebrated well on the holidays: Valentine’s Day traditional dinner date at Little Thailand in Garfield (last time we would see the gregarious host/proprietor Mr. Dick Simcoe, RIP); Easter Brunch at Juniper Hills Farm; 4th of July swimmin’ & eating at Phe’s house in Arlington (mini-flag decorations included); Halloween candy give-out followed by backyard firepit fun with friends; Thanksgiving and Christmas in Arlington with family; New Year’s Eve WLB performance followed by dance party with unexpected drunk neighbors in attendance.

The family news bag was mixed this year:  In chronological order – Amo’s dad passed away unexpectedly (our friends planted a memorial tree in our backyard);  Phe turned 65 (we dined well and got cultured at the Dallas Museum of Art to mark the occasion); my brother-in-law enlisted in the Army, and shortly thereafter, he and my sister announced they were expecting their first child; my grandfather passed away.

Notable milestones: Inauguration of Barack Obama (hallelujah);  Amo’s birthday (swimming at Barton Springs, Paramount Marilyn Monroe movie, Tex-Mex at Polvo’s); new (ish) car – we love our Toyota Rav4; our 6 year anniversary (we got rings!); my birthday (Galveston b & b, beach-walking, seafood-eating).

Other travels and random fun: Amo went on family vacation to the Disney-parks in Orlando; Mel visited good friends in L.A.  We saw David Sedaris read; we put on costumes for our friend’s 40th birthday-Yacht Rock party and a pre-Christmas Wig party.  We dance a lot – it is good for the soul.

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One Year Ago today

One year ago today, I lost my dad. He passed away in his sleep, probably due to a massive heart attack or another, would be 3rd, stroke. As I’m sure we all were, I was shocked to get the phone call, around 8am that my mom found him already passed, in his room, the next morning. But, I know he would have so much preferred to go that way, in his bed, in his sleep, than to have another stroke/heart crisis and end up hospitalized. I always thought there’d be that small window of time; time for me to get up to Arlington in 3 hours, and say my goodbyes at a hospital. But, that was my wish, not his. He would have never wanted a final hospital goodbye. Not in a million years.

The last time I saw him was Dec. 28, exactly one month earlier, after Christmas, before New Years, and before his magical 2 week trip back to Hawaii with mom. He was helping me pack Christmas-loot into the trunk of my car, a few minutes before I headed back to Austin, and handing me off yet another one of his beautiful lanterns for my own collection, which is really his collection transferred. I talked to him a couple of times while he was in Hawaii and I was in snowy Connecticut on a conference trip. He sounded fantastic and was punnily joking on the phone, I’m sure. He sounded better than he had all year, more life-like. We thought he was improving and so did he.

I was able to talk to him the night before he died, on the phone. He was eating a fantastic suth’n meal, home-cooked by the best chef I know, and was overall, chipper. I was asking him about drug expiration dates for my upcoming wisdom teeth surgery. Nothing more than a 4-minute shooting the breeze, giving the day’s reports, getting some medical advice, and then a “OK, love you too, here’s mom.”  And that was it.

I’m remembering him today. I’m walking, writing, and at noon, will go eat some Tex Mex and drink a margarita in his honor. Tex Mex and ‘Ritas, probably 2 of his favorite things.  Tonight, I will light a lantern.

-amo

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remembering Papa

me & Papa

Pronounced PAH-paw, this is the name I gave my grandfather on my mother’s side, being the first grandchild. My younger cousins haven’t kept the distinctly southern pronunciation, clipping it to a quick PAH-puh. Drawls be gone, I guess.

My Papa struggled to breath in his last years, first fighting pulmonary fibrosis and then lung cancer in his last few months, even though he had given up smoking 30 years prior.  He bravely completed almost 3 months of radiation and chemo therapy in an effort to extend his life-expectancy beyond the doctor’s predictions.  The treatment was harder on him than he expected, and it did not stop the cancer from spreading.  He passed on December 5th, less than 12 hours after I arrived at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital to give him my love and support.

I remember that whenever I called Grammie & Papa on the phone, if he answered, he almost always passed the phone to Grammie.  In his later years the sustained conversations left him uncomfortably short of breath.  But he never failed to contribute to the conversation – I could hear him in the background, responding now and again to the side of the conversation he did hear, which Grammie would then repeat back into the phone for me.  Funny, but it worked.

Grammie & Papa

Grammie & Papa

Grammie  & Papa have lived down on the Gulf Coast just south of Tallahassee for 20+ (or is 30+?) years, and I have many fond memories of time spent there with them: fishing and hauling in crab traps off the docks my Papa built (and rebuilt after every storm that washed it away); Papa cooking oyster stew or frying up whatever we caught worth eating (or trying to eat, like the stingray we were epicurious about); mountains of Papa’s homegrown tomatoes on the table, for afternoon snacks or the obligatory side on a dinner plate with beans and cornbread; his encouragement to take the john boat or canoe out on adventures in the bay with my brothers, cousins, and aunt, plundering oyster bars, exploring the estuaries, and scouting for alligators; hearing stories about bears, eagles, hawks, jaguarundi, alligators, and other critters prowling about; walks on the beach, gathering shells and sand dollars; staying in their trailer on St. George Island, aptly dubbed the “Sea Shanty,” with friends and family while we bummed around on the beach for days on spring or summer breaks; fiesty debates and witty repartees with my Papa, over this, that, or the other (the man was always ready to engage in the sport of rhetorical discourse).

I had the benefit of spending much of my childhood with both sets of my grandparents, and I’ve maintained close relationships with them over the years.  Unique among my peers, I am 37 and have just lost my first grandparent.  I know that I am lucky to  have known them so well, and to have such a wealth of memories from the time spent with them.

Amo & I had been planning to visit Grammie and Papa over the 2009 winter break, rather than doing my typical family visit to Atlanta.  Amo hadn’t met these grandparents yet, nor the Brown side of my family that resides in Florida, so we thought it was high time.  We had a road trip planned, with dogs in tow.  Plans changed rather quickly, and I made a solo trip on short notice.

The upside is that I got there in time to hold Papa’s hand, tell him how much he means to me, and remind him how special our time together has been.  And it was really a Brown family reunion – I got to see my uncle Mark for the first time in 20 or so years, and meet my second cousin Elizabeth (Bonnie’s daughter) for the first time.  I even spent more time with my brothers than I think I normally get to on a routine annual visit (go figure).

We may all get together again in June, on Father’s day weekend (and his birthday weekend), to spread Papa’s ashes in north Georgia, up around Chattahoochee National Forest and  Vogel State Park, the family vacation spot he was so fond of.

-Mel

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A pic trip in memorial to my dad, Mike Moreland. Words that speak of him: antique lanterns, cruise voyages, New York travels, fine dining, and time with family.

lanterns

Cruising!
New York City

Tea and Crumpets at the Ritz Carlton

Last visit to Austin, July 2008

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