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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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Captain’s chair


Captain’s chair

Originally uploaded by Melly Belly

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Specimens


Specimens

Originally uploaded by Melly Belly

We visited the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata a couple of weeks ago, and got inspired.

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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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Yard transformations

Then2007 Pre-move-inNow
2008- 2009 hardscape, firepit, and shedio

(more…)

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Dog (and Cat) days of summer

While Amo methodically works her way through all the parks at Disneyworld with her family, I’m happy to be having a more subtle summer adventure: hibernating indoors with the pets, reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. I have taken total advantage of the situation, using my role as the primary caregiver as an excuse to jump straight into my pj’s at about 5:30pm and snuggle in with critters and book.

Captain is watching

Captain is watching

Boo-snoose and the T

Boo-snoose and the T

Mickey Mouse, eat your heart out!

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Spring at Vassar Dr.

I think Mel and I are finally seeing the benefits of our 2 years’ worth of back-breaking, Texas sweatin’, green thumbing in the backyard! This year, native plants have seemed to silently agree that they like it. Let’s hope they stay alive during the upcoming Austin summer months….luckily, we have a rain barrel at the ready to collect any precipitation and/or grey water we can provide. Every little bit of water conservation helps during the hot, dry summers. Here are some pics to document the progress so far:

Our man William Bozarth (of the shedio fame) constructed this new gateway to the backyard (lockable, sturdier, and downright prettier):gate

As you head toward the back, you pass my experimental native grass prairie-scape. Tiny, but I just want to see how our soil/yard could potentially be turned into full-on, Texas prairie…the way our neighborhood landscape used to look, pre-1965. First pic shows the week after I constructed it in March; the next one is last week! This week, it is even taller and more filled-in. Amazing what a little rain will do. I have native wildflowers that I hope will pop up as a nice forgotten surprise in spring, 2010! I’m not really sure what I expect from it, aesthetically, but I do know it’ll help hold in moisture better and water our slabby foundation during the hot months. Plus, native grass roots are GREAT for erosion control and need no maintenance! Go natives!
prairie 1

prairie 2

We’ve tried our hand at the easiest erosion control method on the steep-ish hill between us and our neighbor’s fence: diggin holes, planting some native plants, and covering it all in mulch! We chose spreading, hill-grabbing plants like bamboo muhly, frogfruit, and texas bettany.

slope control

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