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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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A sense of place

Every March since 1987, Austin becomes the place where people from around the world flock for the annual South-by-Southwest (SXSW) festival & conference. Austin is many things, but SXSW defines a pretty big chunk of the city’s personality.  In 14 years, I’ve never splurged and bought a badge or wristband for this event, like so many thousands of people do every year, but I have had fantastic experiences in and around SXSW otherwise.  Fresh off SXSW2010, I’m reflecting on my life in Austin, growth & progress, and the spaces off the beaten path where I tend to find my bliss.

When I first moved to Austin, I was given the tip that “volunteers” were paid $50 a night to work the door at a SXSW music venue.  That sounded like a nice supplement to my minimum wage and the $$ I earned donating plasma.  I ended up volunteering for SXSW for 5 years  in a row (eventually, I had a job where spring break was paid vacation, so I was free to morph into a club-prowling night-owl, working downtown 5pm-2am ).

In 1996, I was assigned to the Driskill Hotel (a historic and reputedly haunted place) for a singer-songwriter showcase in 1996 (complimentary shrimp cocktails and chocolate covered strawberries from the kitchen next door made it feel even less like work).  The fact this venue was on the second floor was a blessing for a SXSW newbie like me – the drunken throngs couldn’t just wander in.  But boy, were they out there on 6th street when I exited the hotel around 1:30am!  Debauchery!

The next three years I worked at the Electric Lounge, Emo’s, and Liberty Lunch – (I don’t remember which year-which club), clubs where I saw some rockin’ shows over the years:  Sonic Youth, Sleater Kinney, the Butchies, the Donnas, Man or Astroman, Blond Readhead, Knife in the Water, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown are a few I recall, and they hosted poetry slams, puppet shows, and Beastie Boys dance parties, too.  Two of these places no longer exist, thanks to the  “progress” of  “downtown revitalization.”  ~Sigh~  Lofts and tech industry offices.  Yay.  “Let’s provide tons of new, expensive, chic housing downtown, and then reduce the number of entertainment options available.”  There is a flaw in this plan.  An equally disturbing cultural loss and administrative “whoops” is now being echoed in the pending closing of UT’s Cactus Cafe. But I digress…

One of my most persistent SXSW memories (not by choice, mind you) is the night I inadvertently screwed over one of  my favorite musicians:  I tried really hard to stick around to see Vic Chesnutt (I’d seen him previously at the aforementioned Cactus Cafe, as well as in Athens, GA venues), headlining at the Electric Lounge (I think that’s the right club)…alas, the volunteer pickup van wanted me and all the cash I was holding back at the cashier cash-out pronto.  In my frustration, I left without leaving Vic’s manager his payment check for the night (one of my cashier duties).  Double whammy – I missed his performance, and I jacked up his cash flow.  I heard he was pissed.  I hope he didn’ t hold a grudge.

On a lighter note, I think that was the same year it was freezing cold outside, and SXSW door duty was out on the curb – the club bouncers & I shoved pocket warmers in our skivvies and socks, and drank whiskey & hot chocolate all night – worked like a charm.  SXSW Survival Skills 101.

In 2000, The last year I volunteered for SXSW, I was assigned to work the Texas Union Ballroom (another UT Campus venue, although not currently endangered). Unfortunately, I wasn’t terribly present (fretting over my ornery 13yr old brother, who was living with me, and *not* thrilled I was working this gig) and didn’t pay attention while Daniel Johnston played.  Oh well.  That ballroom is a good space, and I’ve seen Ani DiFranco play and Maya Angelou speak there. I can’t complain.

So even though I haven’t club-hopped with my $300 badge to see all my fave bands play 30 minute sets at different locations around town, I had some really enjoyable & memorable experiences that solidified Austin as a place for me.  I got to be an insider in the night-club and music scene during spring break.  How cool is that?

The last few years, I’ve taken a different tack, enjoying the free peripheral events (much more laid-back, chummy little happenings just off the main thoroughfares officially booked for paying conference-goers).  There are shows at stores, restaurants, and clubs too tiny or seedy or off-the-beaten path to charge admission.  There are house parties all over the place.  The crowds are small, the free beer and festival food are great, the company (usually friends and acquaintances) is grand, and there isn’t much stress involved (worth big points in my book).  Maybe I’m getting lazy, but it sure is nice to not fight the crowds, to have room to explore, chat, sit, wander away and come back, whatevah.  I even performed at one of these shows, in front of people, in a costume, with a partner, in a clogging routine we made up to go with a song Amo’s band played, all on somewhat of a dare.  Good ol’ fashioned, from the heart, cheap-as-dirt fun.  Just can’t beat it.

This year, I didn’t look at the published SXSW schedule once (really, not even once).  I followed Amo & her band to 3 different venues (2 houses and one cafe).  DNN played three shows. We had the pleasure of seeing good friends unexpectedly.

The sun shone as we spent all day Friday at Cafe Mundi to support the Girls Rock Camp fundraiser and say goodbye to another favorite place (Mundi is closing today, thanks again you annoying s-o-b progress).  The local and international bands we saw gave spirited performances despite technical difficulties (who needs electricity anyway?).  We met up with our friend Sara from Atlanta.

We froze our booties off walking around on Saturday (crazy weather/temp swing is sooo Austin!).  We met up with our friend Abe from NYC, and wandered through the Austin Convention Center and into Flatstock (poster art show).  We ran into our friend and former landlord there – his family founded and runs the Austin Record Convention. They were selling records, so we bought a few for our newly-acquired turntable.

We passed back through the Rainey Manor house party (where we started) on the way back to the car, for a few more free performances by friend bands, free beer, and a sausage wrap.  Amo spontaneously asked the Garden Posse gals to screen-print her sweater.  Then home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

So even though this SXSW thing has grown exponentially, from a modest local music festival to an international music/film/interactive technology extravaganza (and many lament that it has grown too big for its britches), all is not lost to progress: there is still space where we can find intimate, moving experiences with people and places.  I am comforted to know that if I wander along the fringes, away from the epicenter of thronging masses, at the edge of progress, I will find what I’m looking for.

-Mel

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