Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weekend Trip Back “Home”

Approximate Trip Routing Map by: Google

Suna and I planned a trip back to see some of my family this weekend. Unfortunately, life intervened in a minor way. Suna had a conference where she could see some of her old friends, and I had a leadership training session with Toastmasters Saturday morning. All that means we left about 16:00 for a four-hour trip to Brazosport.

Since we had plenty of daylight this soon after the Solstice, I decided to show Suna the little town where I lived my first four years of elementary school, Brazoria. I needn’t have bothered. I didn’t recognize anything about the town. Even the old school was missing. I could have been on Mars for what I knew about my home town.

A Chemical Flare at Dow

Feeling a little odd, we went on to the hotel and checked in. From the room, we could see a flare at Plant B, part of the huge petrochemical installation that forms the heart of the Brazosport economy. That and the smell of hydrocarbons in the air made me feel like I was home again—and remember why I left. Although in the name of full disclosure, I must admit I do hold Dow Chemical stock.

After looking out the window and unpacking, we decided to get a bite to eat. We went looking for seafood, but the closest place was closed.

The Hometown Café in Angleton, Texas

Right across from it was El Toro, a TexMex café we used to eat at when I was a kid. Like Brazoria, El Toro was nothing like I remembered. It has a full bar, great margaritas, and about three times the seating capacity. There is even a painting of Superman flying across the ceiling. About the only thing that is the same is that the food is every bit as good as I remembered. The portions are a little smaller, but that is a good thing.

Suna Visiting with My Family

By the time we finished eating and got back to the hotel, it was almost 22:00, and we were tireder than we expected.

We lazed in bed for a while this morning before heading to Angleton to visit my nephew, his daughter who was visiting from California, and her new baby, my great-great-nephew. How can that be? I’m not that old.

Suna Has a Gift for Bocce

Anyway, Suna wanted eggs for lunch, and my brother Jim recommended the Hometown Café. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. Really, it doesn’t look like much from the inside either. But the food is decent, the prices are good, and the service is friendly. Texas Monthly has even named it on to the 40 best small town cafés in Texas.

We finally arrived at my nephew’s house about 13:30—roughly 3-½ hours early—to find the party well under way. We chatted. We played a variant of bocce ball. We tried to stay dry and in the shade. We had a really good time. We ate some more. We visited.

Finally, we headed home. And here I am again—tireder than expected.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father′s Day

Packaging for The Vampire Tarot Photo source: Cult of Personality

Father’s Day is one of those quaint traditions that I never paid that much attention to. I know it was important to Dad, so I always make a point of calling him some time during the day. Other than that, it′s always been yet another way for Hallmark to make money. No biggie.

This year, Tubaboy and Beccano chipped in and bought me The Vampire Tarot. It’s really cool—well thought out and beautifully illustrated. I’ll try to do a more thorough review either here or on Tarot Obsession soon.

Other than that, yard work in the Texas sun. It wasn’t that bad. It still hasn’t hit a hundred degrees yet. And once it does, the grass won’t grow enough to worry about mowing that often.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wine Tour

View Larger Map Route from Live Oak (A) to Fall Creek (B) to Llano (C) and Back (D)

OK. “Wine Tour” may be a little bit of an exaggeration. We only stopped at one winery. But it was a wonderful day trip with a bunch of people Suna and I had never met.

The tour was organized by Congregation Shir Ami, the Jewish community who share the facility with us at Live Oak. I was a little apprehensive about not knowing anyone, but someone said, “We know what it’s like to be the outsider,” and the proceeded to make us feel like we belonged. They even insisted we join their group photo by the bus at Fall Creek.

We left Live Oak about 09:30, which meant we had to get up as if this Saturday were a work day. But we did it. We weren’t even the last ones to arrive. That is always something of an accomplishment for me. We spent much of the trip to Fall Creek getting to know those sitting around us and commenting on how much better even everyday sights look when seen from a tour bus.

Suna by Fall Creek Grapes

Fall Creek is a family-owned vineyard that started as a hobby after the owner’s trip to France. He decided he wanted to grow grapes. Making wine was the next logical step. Now they don’t have enough wall space to display all their awards.

The tasting included a number of wines. The sign said six, but nobody was counting. I thought they were all good, which means Suna didn’t like some of them. We bought the Sweet Red, the chenin blanc, a cabernet sauvignon, and a few others.

From Fall Creek, we traveled to Llano to have lunch at The Acme Cafe on the Square in Llano. If you have eaten there, I don’t have to tell you how good it is. If you haven’t, I don’t think I can. It certainly isn’t the hole-in-the-wall-small-town-Texas eatery it looks like from the outside. I would have never thought of stopping in if it hadn’t been part of the tour.

The Acme in Llano

Everything they served was ample and delicious. Much of it was unique. Suna said her chicken salad was the best one she had ever eaten because of the hand-made vinaigrette. It appeared to have more herbs and spices than oil and vinegar.

I played it safe with a burger. I added chili, sauteed mushrooms, and jalapeños. I was little apprehensive when the waitress just shrugged and didn’t make a note when I asked for my burger well done. I hate pink burgers (probably because I’ve been to meat packing plants), and I’m not afraid to send one back. It was perfect and delicious, but that may be the only way they know how to cook ’em. One of our cohort later complained that he sent three back because they apparently didn’t know how to make a burger medium well.

On the way back, we sang Broadway tunes. We sang with gusto if not pitch. Have I mentioned I hate show tunes? Oh, well.

It was a great trip, but I’m glad to be home with a new case of wine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dinner with Friends and Family

Beer in a Scarf

It has been one interesting week. I started off by delivering a workshop on writing assessment questions. Two days were devoted to learning the new LMS we’re implementing at work. iTunes ate my library, including all the apps on my iPhone when I synced to the rebuilt library. That meant I couldn’t get to my work email on the phone for a couple of day.

While all that was going on, I still had to keep up with doing most of my assessment analysis. I don’t have a good client database built for this, so I use Microsoft Excel, which is a real pain. This morning, XL (I like to call Excel XL because its files are always extra large.) quit opening. It just crashes on load. Uninstalling and reinstalling Office didn’t help, and the problem exists only with XL. I spent most of the day trying unsuccessfully to troubleshot this issue.

You can see I was mighty happy to see the end of the week arrive. I invited two of my work buddies, who were visiting from California, to dinner at Mesa Rosa with the family. Suna and I had a really nice time chatting and exchanging stories.

RB and CR both ordered Negro Modelo, which came dressed in these little scarves. Unfortunately, I failed to notice the side of the beer they wanted me to take a picture of was facing away from me. The front of the scarf, which you can’t see in the photo, is tied in a cute little scarfy knot.

Unfortunately, RB had to catch a 06:30 flight home, so we couldn’t hang too long. But we did have enough time to put the work week fully behind me. I hope we can do more next time either of them visits Austin or I’m in California.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: Brains: A Zombie Memoir

Becker, Robin (2010). Brains: A Zombie Memoir. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. Cover Courtesy of: Harper Collins, Canada

Robin Becker’s first novel Brains: A Zombie Memoir stands the zombie genre on its ear. Literally. The ear happens to be on the ground, and the zombie stands on it before popping the tasty morsel into its mouth.

Becker anthropomorphizes zombies in Brains. Her main character is a professor of literature who retains his sentience through the transformation. Granted, I’ve known several professors whom I thought might be zombies, but the only one I was sure of was a civics professor.

Once she makes this single break from the genre cannon, all bets are off. Becker writes in a morbidly campy style that she admits is unlike anything she’s done before. Brains is a light, enjoyable read full of snickers and an occasional belly laugh.

The only negative is that Becker sometimes tries too hard to make her jokes work. She stacks the one-liners four or five deep, oblivious to Johnny Carson’s rule—Never do more than three jokes on a topic. Perhaps this is a lesson to learn from her first novel; perhaps it is simply the professor’s character. I have known several who couldn’t leave well enough alone.