Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oh, no! Poor Hatch!

Hatch, NM got hit with still more flooding. Looks grim for the chilies.

Monday, August 28, 2006

In Other Culinary News...

...the Hatch chili crop is okay.

Austin is Good to Us

Eating breakfast on Saturday at El Sol y La Luna. We found it by driving to a part of Austin called SoCo and picking a place with a bunch of cars out front. SoCo is fun, hip shops and restaurants and El Sol y La Luna turned out to be a great choice. The Huevos Rancheros were good (and the serving, for one, was only large, not huge.) While we were sitting there, Bob said, 'The guy at that table looks like Howard Waldrop.' This was pretty amazing because 1. it was Howard Waldrop and 2. Bob has never met Howard.

I went over and said, 'Excuse me, are you the famous Howard Waldrop?' and Howard looked up thinking, I suspect, 'what the hell?' and then saw it was me and said, 'Are you here?' meaning have you moved? He introduced me to a bunch of cool people including Brad Denton, Bud, Krista and a couple of other people (one of whom is going to give me really good advice on Margaritas.) I got to introduce Bob to Howard. Bob has heard Howard stories for the last couple of years and loves "Night of the Cooters." Since Bob is the kind of guy who is forever saying about some character actor, 'He was the guy in [name of movie] who said [game over man, or whatever the guy said.] He is tailor-made to read Howard's stuff.

We saw Talladega Nights at the Allamo Drafthouse. The Allamo Drafthouse is a movie theater (there are several around the city) that shows first run movies. Every other row of seats has been replaced with a long counter. They sell beer and wine, appetizers, sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, deserts, a full course restaurant meal in other words. As well as popcorn and movie candy. I had a Shiner Bock, since we were in Texas. Bob had white zinfandal, which seemed to me to be a bit fancy for a Will Farrell movie.

I meant to blog all this yesterday, but we looked at neighborhoods and houses and saw the movie and then went to Gueros. Bob's boss's wife took me to Guero's on Friday and we had Margaritas and I fell in love. So I took Bob. I'm not a terrific fan of margaritas. I can go a couple of moths at a time without drinking, but I like my mixed drinks to taste like alcohol. Most margaritas in Ohio are made from mix and they're sweet. Walter Jon Williams makes a good margarita. The margaritas at Guerros aren't sweet. They have a long list of different margaritas, the way a lot of places today have a long list of 'martinis.' I like some of the drinks that people call martinis--I'll have a cosmo or a sakitini. But to me there are gin martinis and vodka martinis and they have dry or sweet vermouth in them (or both, if you like.) The big discussion involves onions and olives. That's the way Guerros is about their margaritas. You can get a strawberry or mango margarita at Guerros, but the list is just different tequilas and lime juice, sometimes with a splash of agave or cointreau. They are served in a short glass rather like places used to use for soft drinks before they got supersized, not one of the fancy margarita glasses. I am reliably informed that there are lots of places for equally good or better margaritas in Austin. I don't know. Bob had three and I had two in a couple of hours and then we staggered home and I didn't blog anything.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Images of Texas

Friday, August 25, 2006

Eatin' Barbecue in Austin

Tonight we ate at Rudy's. It's a Bar-B-Que place not far from our hotel. It's a local chain, now, but apparently the original was a gas station that started selling barbecue and the one we ate at was sort of a cross between a gas station and a restaurant. Rudy's could end up being something of a theme park restaurant--you know, one of those places where the decor is as much a thing as the actual food, but at least at this point, the gas pumps out front are just your average, working gas pumps. Not cute antique ones.

Barbecue is almost a religious matter to some people. Barbecue sauce is a big part of it, of course. In part of the Carolinas, barbecue sauce is thin, vinegar-based, with black pepper in it. It's not sweet. In parts of South Carolina, it has mustard in it. In Memphis, the classic barbecue sauce is vinegar and peppers, although today most places make a tomato based sauce. Kansas City barbecue sauce is the kind that most people mean when they say 'barbecue sauce.' The stuff we buy in jars in the grocery store is usually based on Kansas City sauce. Carolina barbecue is traditionally pork. Texas barbecue is, not surprisingly, often beef.

In Memphis the style is often 'mop'--that is, smoked in a pit and periodically mopped with barbecue sauce as it cooks. Traditionally, a string mop, the kind used to clean kitchen floors, is the utensil used to apply the sauce. But in Memphis and in a lot of other places, the meat can be slow cooked 'dry'. That is, spices are rubbed on the meat and it's cooked over a wood fire, but there's no sauce. The sauce is served on the side and when you eat it, you add sauce as you see fit. I'm kind of a wet barbecue person myself. I make pulled beef brisket barbecue for sandwiches but I make it in an oven and without a smoker or a pit. And I live in Ohio. In the barbecue religious wars, I'm sort of the equivalent of a Buddhist in Northern Ireland. I'm just completely out of the whole debate.

But I was excited to try Texas barbecue.

You go into Rudy's and you get in the queue line and snake through to the counter (passing coolers of IBC soft drinks and Shiner Bock) where you order your dinner in increments of a half pound. A half pound of brisket, brisket lean, chopped beef, sausage, turkey, or you order by the number of ribs. (They will let you order a quarter pound.) The meat is dry barbecued--rubbed in spice and smoked until it falls off the bone. The counter guy calls the order back to the cutter--'quarter brisket and two St. Louies,' or a quarter pound of sliced cutter's choice brisket and two St. Louis style ribs. The cutter slices the meat, wicked fast, slaps it on a giant piece of waxed white butcher paper, and the counter guy grabs it and puts it in a big tray with four inch high sides. The tray is sort of like a cafeteria tray aspiring to become a milk cart. To that he adds cheap white bread. The bread is sitting there in the package. It's like generic Wonder bread.

They have sides. Beans, creamed corn, potato salad, creamed corn. There's sweet tea (that ubiquitous Southern staple which has spread across the Midwest in the last decade.) There are fountain drinks. There's a big vat of barbecue sauce (spelled 'sause') which customers dispense themselves into a styrofoam cup. There are pickles and onions. There are napkins.

And that's it. You haul your milk carton style tray back to a long table, find a seat and make sandwiches of barbecue on white bread, pour sauce over it and eat it. Around us were lots of families. A couple of them were Vietnamese. The place is loud, the floor is concrete, the portions are beyond what any human should eat and the food's not expensive. It's all ambiance, but not in the haute cuisine sort of way. Outside it was over a hundred degrees and inside the air conditioners were refrigerating the air. The ribs are good but the brisket seems to be the real reason to keep coming back. It's smoky and still moist, with a peppery-spicy taste. The sauce seemed to me to be a perfectly good sauce--ketchup based with brown sugar and maybe some mustard, although I don't know. It was very good. I'm very full. So's Bob.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

On the Road in Austin

I have only been here for about six hours, but so far, Austin does not seem very Texas. The wait staff in the restaurants speaks uninflected middle American and the three woman at the next table were discussing Project Runway in voices with less Texas than Dan Rather. (I <3 Project Runway.) But Bob says when we go to the IHOP for breakfast tomorrow--a ritual because it's on his way to work--the voices will be much more Texan. The wait staff at the lunch and dinner restaurants was mostly people in their twenties and Austin is a boom town and a college town. I suspect that the amount of money we are able to spend for our dinner has us floating in that strata of college-educated middle class. The IHOP, on the other hand, is cheap and filling. The tips aren't great. Blue collar rather than relentlessly middle class.

There are, I will admit, a lot of pick up trucks. A surprising number of them are white. Big, shiny white Texas pick-up trucks. Not all of them, mind you, but white just isn't a color I associate with pick-ups. In the parking garage at the airport, Bob's little rental car was hidden behind a pick-up truck that hung out beyond the parking spot, a big extended cab eye-watering white thing with a shiny black brush guard that appeared never to have come within twenty yards of an actual bush.

There's not a lot of accurate information to determine about a city in six hours, especially since Bob had to work so I got to hang around in the air conditioning at the extended stay suite while Bob went back to work. The Tex-Mex restaurant was very very fine. Hatch chilies. They have Hatch chili sauce on the menu and this is Hatch Chili Fesival Week at Chuy's Mexican Restaurant. I wanted to say to the waiter, 'Did you know Hatch is under four feet of water?! Do you know what that means to the chili harvest!' (Southern New Mexico and El Paso Texas have had rains like none ever recorded.) But I suspect that my waiter doesn't really know anything about Hatch. Has possibly never been there. I have, and other than chilies, there isn't much there. Except, now, the flooded Rio Grande. But still. I love New Mexican green.

Okay, I'm prejudiced against Texas. I have always said that since I have never followed all the rules of any religion, when I die I figure I'll end up at the Houston airport, since that's my idea of hell. Austin is 100 degrees today, but the humidity is about 30% and while it isn't exactly a dry heat, it's not unbearable.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What The House Actually Looks Like

Just because I've spent a fair bit of time cleaning (the place is so clean now that if it were any cleaner we could use it for surgical procedures) I want to show it off. So here's the house.

This is the room that was filled with boxes. The paintings and pictures on the wall were my grandmother's. My great aunt's husband owned a frame shop. I suspect they got a good deal.

Before we took up the rug to show the hardwood floors, this was the room we spent the most time in. Now it feels a bit like a gymnasium. I wanted to get a photo with the view out the back, but I have no photography skills and every time I take a picture out the window, of course the outside is so much lighter that it washed out the room.

I found this on the camera. It's the downstairs half bath, carefully accessorized with Adam. (Unlike the window treatments, Adam does not come with the house.) He hates photos of himself, but I figure since I found it on my camera, it's fair game.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Open House Redux

On Sunday we have an Open House. Stats show that something like 2% of sales crom from open houses--how stats show this I don't know but I keep reading that number--but everybody has one anyway. They are a 'selling your house rite of passage' I guess. I'm making chocolate chip cookies and iced tea and then the dogs and I will probably go to McDonalds again. Selling one's house, like getting married or being pregnant, is one of those things that is intensely interesting to the person going through it. I suspect it's pretty banal to everyone not directly connected to it.

What makes it so interesting is not the actual selling of the house. That's no more or no less interesting than selling anything else. There are blogs about real estate and there are people who follow those blogs, just as there are (many more) blogs about music and (probably many less) blogs about driving a taxi.

It's the way that it completely consumes our personal life. It's pretty much inescapable. Since I work at home, having my home become a house for sale affects my work. It affects my bedroom, because my bedroom is for sale and is now a commodity. It affects my refrigerator because 'if you can smell it, you can't sell it' means that cooking with Thai fish sauce is probably a bad idea.

I was about to say that it makes it feel as if my life was being judged because making judgements about my home feels perilously close to criticizing me. But the truth is, lots of women already feel judged about our houses. They are never clean enough, and if a realtive is coming, a thousand flaws can suddenly leap out. But putting a house on the market means that all of those house insecurities suddenly matter in a whole new way. The public is passing judgement. Years ago I saw a list of stressful events that insurance adjusters recognized as having statistically significant affects on mortality. They included death of a spouse, divorce, retirement, and moving. I don't think moving really ranks up there with divorce. But stressful? Yeah, having complete strangers come in and dismiss my house is stressful. Not knowing when someone is going to come and therefore not being able to go far from home (in case I have to come and get the dogs so they are gone for any showings) is a pain in the neck. Not knowing how long it is going to go on is Chinese water torture.

So I hope we're one of the 2% who sell their house from an open house.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lessons in Real Estate Cont'd.

We used to have a bathroom. It was a perfectly nice bathroom with a slightly oversized tub that we didn't use very often. We tend to be shower people.

I went out and bought a plant and put out some candles. Now it has that 'spa feel'. 'Spa feel' is a good thing.

Open House

We have an Open House on Sunday. From watching all those house-selling shows on HGTV, it seems as if the Open House is the important thing that sells a house. But it turns out, something like 2% of all Open Houses lead to a sale. It's just that TV needs something dramatic. And getting everything done in time for the Open House is a great deadline to create some sense of narrative. None-the-less, we are having the traditional Open House. You're all invited. Beth, there will be cookies, of course.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Real Estate Lessons

I've learned a little about real estate in the last month. This is the second time we've sold a house, but the first time was twelve years ago and I'm a little fuzzy on the particulars. Other than remembering that we had over 50 showings.

I've learned that houses sell best in June. There's a big drop off in September when the kids go back to school. December is pretty dead. (I already knew that, but I sold the last house in December.)

I have read lots of articles about 'staging' the house. So my house is staged. The rugs on the first floor have been rolled up, professionally cleaned and stored, exposing the hardwood, which is in great shape because it was protected by area rugs. We've painted the master bath and the laundry room, replaced all the carpet upstairs, boxed up all the knicknacks, thrown out some old chairs and an old couch...the place has a bit of an echo, but it looks 'spacious' and 'uncluttered.' This weekend we cleaned all the windows. My realtor keeps saying the house is 'light and airy'. This is real estate speak for 'you can see out the windows and the walls aren't navy and burgundy.'

Living in a house that's for sale is a little like living in a museum of your life. An idealized version, so to speak. For example, in order to make sure that the bathrooms look 'crisp' (that's a term from staging) we never actually use the towels in the bathroom. Those are the 'for show' towels. We use towels and then every evening we wash them.

When someone is coming to look at the house, I bake cookies. Then when they walk in, the house smells like cookies. Realtors say buyers are 'buying a home, not a house.' Cookies are 'homey.' Some people put a little vanilla in the microwave. Some people use a bread machine. Because I think this is a real tease, I put some of the cookies out on a plate for people looking at the house.

Tomorrow, my real estate agent (who I think is doing a very good job, by the way) is having a broker's open house. I will be gone, with the dogs, from 11:30 to 3:00. It's hard to figure out where to take a couple of dogs for three hours, but luckily, Twinsburg has a dog park. It's fenced in so you can let the dogs run. I'll take my folding chair and an advance copy of Paul Park's The White Tyger (HAH!) and sit in the park for a couple of hours. If it gets too hot, we'll all pile back in the car and go to a drive thru. Smith really understands the concept of drive thrus. They are among her favorite things in the world. Usually because of the french fries.

Tomorrow is Day 4 on the market. I imagine that in a month I'll be unlivable.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Dil Goes Mmmm

Bob has an interest in Bollywood music and we've been listening to a CD of Indian pop. The whole business of getting house ready has been a strain, and it's been nice to have the cd to sort of bop around with. The music is upbeat. It's also in another language. The songs are often long, seven minutes for "My Dil Goes Mmmm." At any time they can range from incredibly cool, like the part near the opening of "Kajraare" where the male singer sings the drum part. (At least I think it's "Kajraare"...) That's a traditional way for Indian drum players (who historically tended not to be literate) to teach drum music. To incredibly cheesy, like the part in "Bunty aur Babli" where they break into rap. I remember when I was a kid, and they would have a plot of a tv show like, say, Ironsides or Mod Squad, which involved a rock band. The rock band was inevitably lame and utterly unconvincing. The rap in "Bunty aur Babli" is like that. Not surprising since the song is sort of a Bollywood disco song that has been produced to within an inch of it's life.

If I could understand the lyrics of these songs, I'd probably hate them. The cheese factor would somehow become overwhelming. But right now, the only hindi words I know are dil and ishta (heart and I love, respectively.) I really like the idea of having a hindi vocabulary entirely based on Bollywood music.

Bunty aur Babli

Salaam, Namaste

My House is 'Listed'

It's very interesting to have one's house described in realtor speak.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Deep in House Prep

Above is what my house is supposed to look like when it goes on the market on Friday.

Unfortunately, we are having new carpet installed tomorrow upstairs. So below is what my house actually looks like this afternoon.

I feel like one of those design tv shows where everything has to be done in twenty-four hours. Of course, on Friday, the house will be painted and repaired and cleaned to within an inch of its life and we'll wonder why we're leaving it now that we finally did all those things we've been meaning to do for years.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ancient Visitor

A couple of weeks ago, Bob looked out and saw something on the neighbor's driveway. He went over to investigate and it turned out to be a huge snapping turtle. The turtle had crawled up from the pond behind their house, come around their house and was headed down the driveway. Snapping turtles are primative, mean and dangerous. They can bite through a thumb joint. When they draw their heads back part way in their shells the way this one has, it's easy to misjudge how long their necks are. And they strike fast, like snakes. So Bob did what anyone would do. He ran and got his camera.

He stayed well away while he took these pictures. And then the turtle, evidently fed up, turned and headed back to the pond. We were looking at the pictures last night and Bob noticed something just under the shell at the shoulders. "Parasites," Bob said. "I didn't notice those before."

"No wonder it's cranky," I said.

After a moment he identified the cluster of little translucent-looking stuff as leeches.

At least leeches don't hurt.

When I was a kid people said weird things about snapping turtles. The only way to kill them is to chop of their head, and If they bite you they won't let go even after you chop off their heads. And the strangest, when you chop off a snapping turtle's head, it's heart continues to beat and it won't actually die until after sundown.

I'm glad Bob didn't chop off this one's head. I'm even more glad he didn't get near enough to get bit.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bob Asked Me To Post This

He found it in a box of memorabilia. We call it "Geeks In Love."

Back then, Bob wore velcro shoes. Now Adam does. The power of genetics.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Sorting junk turns out to be really hard. Of course, it isn’t because the stuff is worth anything. It’s because it has all these feelings attached to it. I’m a tosser by nature, married to a keeper. For Bob this process has been exhausting and difficult. Every hour of sorting is like personal archeology. Some of it fun, like when he finds a notebook where he doodled in the margins and the doodles are way cooler than the notes. Sometimes we find stuff that’s painful. Sometimes I find something that makes me realize that I have edited my memories. That things were more complicated, or darker than I remember.

I like to throw things away because I like to shed my past. I take a perverse pleasure in getting rid of books, personal records, my S.A.T. scores and my report cards from my junior year of high school. With those report cards go my memories of my utter lack of compassion for the fat girl who was on the fringes of the group I hung with. She was annoying. She misjudged the tone of conversations. She was fat. She never looked anyone in the eye and when she talked to someone she would stare at the top of their head; a characteristic we made ruthless fun of between ourselves when she wasn’t there. Now I wonder what she was avoiding when she never made eye contact? What she didn’t want to see in our faces. I don’t have to wonder much.

She got pregnant after high school. I lived in a nearly segregated white town (there were two black families who had high school age kids. They were accepted because they were utter novelties, and we expected them to act completely white except for when they were black in ways that we approved of or that entertained us.) The fat girl’s boyfriend was black, although we never met him and I don’t even know if ‘boyfriend’ is an accurate term. He got her pregnant. Maybe she lived with him, maybe not. I was in college. Of the five of us, three were in college. One was married and working. And she was a single mom with a mixed-raced child in a small racist southern Ohio town. (One or two of the kids I went to school with probably had fathers who were in the Klan.)

I wanted to leave that town and she represented everything I feared and hated. And I hated her for it. I’m very happy to throw away a lot of the memorabilia from my high school.