Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Because I'm a sucker this year and surely will be the next

I've been reflecting on the best and the worst of the year, this 2008. I'm going to write about it tomorrow and I thought about drafting it tonight but when I got home I was reminded of something in my life that, year after year, doesn't change and won't change.

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Wrong or right (wrong), I love that face, love her mischievousness, her bad-girl-ness.

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I'm such a sucker for that guilty facial expression on her face that when I got home this evening I got down on the ground, rubbed her belly and told her that I love her, love her, love her. After I scolded her, of course. But the problem is that she only gets cuter when I scold her and my heart, it just melts. So, after the completely ignored scolding, and the full heart melting, I stood up, opened the freezer and got her a frozen treat. Because I am so darned smitten with her.

I'm weak, okay? I know it. I think in the grand scheme of things that if loving this girl's bad-girl-charm is my weakness, then so be it. Her bad-ness? It tickles me to no end and delights me further than that.

It is what it is. Who charm your socks off?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to 713

This morning I woke up in my own bed, which was wonderful and familiar and cozy and that should tell you that we have returned from New Mexico. Sadly, after studying map after unchanging map, we realized that the only real (time efficient) way to get back to Austin and Houston from our cabin in New Mexico was along the dreadful Highway 285 south through the vast nothingness we endured the week before.

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For 350 miles. The only difference was the wind. Oh, the wind. It blew so consistent and so strong that I couldn't take my hands from the steering wheel, the entire drive a fight to stay in my lane. And with the wind, the tumbling tumbleweeds being blown across the road. Tumbleweeds were the only punctuation to the otherwise empty scene before us.

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It was CRAZY BORING. Cheyenne's eyes say it all.

But we survived it and spent the night in the windy ghost town of Pecos and then pushed forward for nine hours to home yesterday.

Ah, home. I have a stack of mail to go through, piles of laundry to wash, an entire duffel bag of sweaters and jeans that I did not wear that needs to be unpacked. (Note to self: Consider making a resolution for 2009 to halt this terrible over-packing syndrome.) My dining table became a landing pad last night. On it is an assortment of dog collars, Christmas gifts, two pillows, one Santa hat and one can of chicken broth. Not sure why that can of chicken broth didn't make it into the pantry last night but it will get there some time today. But not anytime soon though because instead of dealing with any of it, I'm going to turn my back on it all and take a nice long nap.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

These three

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Atop Sandia Mountain, 12 degrees and the wind blowing like madness, they actually stayed still for ten seconds to pose for me, bless them.

And so this is Christmas

When I woke this morning, I opened my eyes and gasped at the sunrise. My bedroom is on the second story and out my window I could see long stretches of golden pinks and oranges beyond the tree tops and over the snow-topped mountain range in the distance. I smiled to myself and quietly watched the changing colors for a while before Cheyenne stirred.

With a hot cup of coffee in hand, and Cheyenne wearing her jingle bell collar, she and I set out for our Christmas morning walk. The snow crunched beneath my boots and the air was cold on my cheeks. All around us only the sound of her bells and my footsteps. As we walked, I remembered my mother and realized this is my first Christmas without her. My heart turned heavy with both love and sadness. The sudden weight of it was almost unbearable. Out there in the quiet and winter splendor, I began to pray and in prayer I poured out my love and my sadness, my joy and my gratitude. Before I knew it, I was praying out loud, my voice mixing with the trees, the sky. Snow began to fall every so lightly and in that moment I understood that I was heard and I understood that this moment was one of beauty given to me and the heaviness in my heart began to feel less of a burden and more of something solid and of immeasurable value. I thought of the children sleeping in the cabin, how happy our Christmas Eve was, how over-joyed and filled with love I was sitting at the head of the table saying grace over our Christmas Eve dinner. And I thought of how grateful I am to have this Christmas day.

I thought of how time passes and how precious each moment.

When we returned to the cabin, all still quiet above the heavy slumber of the kids, I poured another cup of coffee, grabbed the phone and sat outside and dialed the ten familiar numbers to my dearest friend's home. There are so many Christmases past between us. I recall the years of calling each other Christmas morning and reporting what we got. Christmas was different for us then; we were young and enjoyed most of all being on the receiving end of Christmas gifts. Years later, it's about what we give. We talk and remember and give each other our time on this morning. For as far back as I can recall, this phone call has been in my Christmas morning and I relish her voice and the rhythm of our conversation on this day.

Then I dialed my dear friend in Houston and she and I talked about our mornings and our days and there was that wonderful combination of love and excitement in our voices. As I described to her my morning and our Christmas Eve and the children's laughter, she said, I just know that Ed is up there smiling down on all of you right now, probably wearing his red Orvis Christmas pants. Yes, I smiled, I'm sure that he is. And I was sure and I am sure and I can see him now in those thick red corduroy pants with the embroidered green wreaths. I could hear her smiling on the other end of the line.

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And now, I sit here by the fire, Christmas tree lit up, wrapped packages of all shapes and sizes pouring out everywhere from beneath, my big brown Cheyenne asleep and softly snoring at my side. The morning is still very quiet, very peaceful. I hope your day is as content as this morning is for me.

Merry Christmas! You know I love you. XOXO

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snapshot of Christmas Eve day

Biscuits are baking in the oven, the children are sleeping, the dogs are chewing on their bones and outside the sun is shining and the air is cold and everything is quiet and looks clean and new and feels full of peace. Happy holidays indeed.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Differing opinions

Not as excited about the snow as I am.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Have I mentioned that we're never leaving? Oh, you think I'm kidding but what you don't know is that I'm in love. I am in love with the sun and the sky. I know it's hopeless but I can't help myself. Do you blame me?

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My nephew and I went to town yesterday to pick up a few things and after I snapped out of my romantic awe of the sunset, we went to Walmart, where once inside I was knocked out by all the Christmas sites and sounds and suddenly was all Christmas tree, Christmas tree, we have to get a Christmas tree! And ornaments, we have to get ornaments! And my nephew, he was taking steps to distance himself from me and mumbling, Um, calm down Aunt Alison.

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Of course we came home with a Christmas Tree! And my friend Mindy's little puppy was all kinds of curious over the ornaments hanging from the tree, and he helped himself and we were all, Piedmont, NO!

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Cheyenne didn't give a hoot about the tree or the ornaments because when she noticed that Piedmont was wearing a sweater, she was all OHMYGOD THE SWEATER, I have to get rid of that sweater. She chewed and pulled and growled, and held him down and would not stop until we stopped laughing and realized she wasn't going to stop, so removed the sweater. It was freaky to watch. And cute. But still freaky, even though I thought it was mostly cute.

But that was yesterday.

Today we drove to Santa Fe and walked the dogs all over the plaza and bought 12 pounds of silver jewelery that we don't need and sweatshirts and tee-shirts that we also don't need and then we had the best lunch in the entire world because 1) it was on a heated balcony overlooking the plaza and 2) the hatch chili soup was caviar and champagne but a lot less expensive.

And when we got back to our little cabin, it started snowing. And snowing. And snowing. And according to the forecast, it's not going to stop. Have I mentioned that we're never going to leave?

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nowhere exists

Being in this little cabin up in the mountains, snow all around, the cold outside and the warmth of the fire heating up this whole place, this is so nice, so relaxing and beautiful that it is almost enough to make me forget about the drive it took us to get here.

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It started off okay, leaving Austin early in the morning, seeing the beauty of the Texas Hill Country at dawn.

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Cheyenne didn't care much for the beauty of the Hill Country at dawn.

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All too soon, when we turned North off of I-10, we found ourselves facing mile after mile of this. Mile after mile of nothingness, with more nothingness ahead of us for as far as we could see.

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In the middle of the nothingness, there was this welcome sign.

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My nephew wasn't so enchanted when we entered the Land of Enchantment.

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When that nothingness was over, we headed straight into more nothingness. Hello? Is there anybody out there? I don't think so.

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After a hundred thousand years, the sun started going down, casting a different light on the nothingness, and we said things like Oh, that's pretty and then we went back to our boredom with the whole nothingness surroundings.

And then the daylight was gone and we drove through the mountains and had no idea how pretty our surroundings were since we could not see them. But we arrived at our little cabin and the tires crunched on the ice and snow in the driveway and we all poured out of the car and stretched and walked and were so happy to be using our legs again after TWELVE HOURS in the car, most of them driving through in the middle of nowhere. But this morning, we could see where we were and it's not nothing, it's something. And it's wooded and there's snow on the ground and a fire in the fireplace and we're never going to leave.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seasonal joy

Tonight I'm sitting on my couch with a load of clothes in the dryer and the candles on my coffee table flickering and burning brightly. The television is off. The windows are open. And as loud as these little laptop speakers will allow, I'm listening to Johnny Mathis sing Calypso Noel.

It's a song of praise and rejoice and delightful faith. It's a song of joy for the season.

Sing we Noel, sing we joyously Noel
Joyously sing of the news we have to tell
Sing we Noel, sing we joyously Noel
Joyously sing of the news we have to tell

I am making a Christmas mix CD for the drive to New Mexico, where I'll spend Christmas with my little tribe in a rented cabin in the mountains. Among others on the CD, I have Alabama, The Eagles, Stevie Wonder and Bob Seger. Josh Grobin, Robert Earl Keen, Stevie Nicks and John Lennon. Not the classics I grew up with but the Christmas songs I found along the years, the ones I've discovered and made my own along side the classics.

Christmas Eve is a week away. I'll be far away from this couch and little recording session I have going for myself. I'll be with the children. I'll be in a small church outside of Albuquerque, rejoicing in the birth of Christ. I'll sing and pray my faith and gratitude.

With the spirit of the season, I can tell you that the other Big Man can't bring me anything more than what I have because I have no needs, no wishes, no Christmas list. I am so blessed and humbled by the gifts I've been given, by knowing that oh so soon, I'll celebrate Christmas with my little lambs. I can't wait to hug them, to discover again their worlds, to speak of my parents, to share them and call them there. We'll shed some tears and memories, we'll laugh, we'll love. We'll celebrate the glory of the season together, the glory of the Christ child. The Lord and 'ol Saint Nick will be there with us. Oh yes, they will be there. And ever so humbly and gratefully, we will give the gift of love we discover and share in His name.

Born to us in the little village
of Bethlehem on this day
is the little Christ child so pure and holy
he's sleeping there in the hay

Sing we Noel, sing we joyously Noel
Joyously sing of the news we have to tell!

Monday, December 15, 2008

An early Christmas gift

I was thinking about you earlier today. To be truthful, I've been thinking about you all day. I've been wondering what to get you for Christmas. I had no idea. I kept coming up short. My ideas weren't enough. They weren't meaningful enough, didn't connect enough, they kept falling short of enough.

Tonight though, I realized I was trying too hard. Gifts of this season are not about pomp and circumstance. Tonight, I realized that the gift I have for you is not one I can find in a store, purchase, wrap and hand over to you. Tonight I realized that what I have for you is something that was given to me. Two words, two magnificent words.

Be brave.

Every challenge I have faced in my life, from early years through high school and college and into my career, through heart break and loss, my father would calmly sit while I poured out my stress, confusion, sorrow and grief, and he would quietly but resolutely say to me, Be brave. Every challenge I've faced since losing my father, including losing my father, I've heard his words of advice echo back to me again and again. Be brave.

And with those words, I would realize that I could face what was before me, tackle the challenge or weather the fallout. They are not words of action or inaction, they are words of approach, of attitude.

And so I want to give you those words.

Whatever it is that you face in your life, the challenge, the sorrow, the confusion, the heartache, the destitution, the knots, the loss of faith, the hopelessness, I'm not going to preach to you, not going to advise you or make suggestions, I simply want to give you one of the greatest gifts given to me:

Be brave, my friend, be brave.

I'm not asking you to change your course or to understand something you cannot fathom at the moment. I'm not asking you to forgive or understand or extend an olive leaf. I'm not asking you to have faith or to put your troubles in the Lord's hands. I'm not asking you to seek therapy or to read this book or the other. I'm not asking anything. I'm simply offering these words: Be brave. And in giving you these words, in my heart and mind, I'm giving you my father's sage advice. Simplistic but powerful, in your darkest hour, you can do it. One minute at a time, one hour, one day. Be brave. You can do it, you can. You can face the moment, the day, the week, the future.

Please accept this Christmas gift from me, these two little words given to me over a lifetime, two little words I give to you now: Be brave.

Whether you need them today or hold on to them for the future. Forever and true, this gift of words will never fail you.

You know I love you. XOXO

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday afternoon

These two played at the park this morning and then went with us to lunch and then I dragged them on a couple of errands, one of which was to replenish Cheyenne's supply of bones and treats. When we got home, they each ate a treat and then positioned themselves on the couch for a long comfy snooze. Please note that there is very little room for me on the couch so I am not having a long comfy snooze.

Sleepy pups

Friday, December 12, 2008

London morning

Of all the photos I have of London, this one, haphazardly taken from the back of a cab on the way to the train station for our trip to Belgium, is hands down my favorite. Proving to me once again that less is more when it comes to preparation and set up for the photos I enjoy the most.

London morning

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter blooms

When I was in college, each November my father would send me a potted Amaryllis bulb and I would set the pot on a window sill and enjoy the path of the growing bulb from tiny green buds breaking through the potting soil to the stalks growing taller and finally the flowers bursting open.

I so thoroughly enjoyed having potted flowers during the holidays that each year I now buy myself a potted bulb and I again enjoy the process of bulb to stalk to flower. This year, I chose the Narcissus, or Daffodil. I missed much of the stalk growing process when I was away but the flowers didn't bloom until I got home. This morning when I awoke I could smell the blooms. In my mind, I can smell them right now. Heavenly.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The thing I will remember about Bruge, Belgium, the thing I believe I will hang onto the longest will not be what I saw or tasted but what I heard. The church bells. There are seven medieval and early gothic churches in Bruge, built between the 12th and 15th centuries. Baroque, Gothic, and Romanticism have all lefts marks in this medieval city and that can be seen in the churches, which are amazing as I think you can see from these photos. But what is heard is something so much more because it is above and beyond time and style. Sound does not change, the sound of a bell must be the same today as it was centuries ago.

The bells ring across the gabled roof tops, along the city streets, rippling across the surface of the canal waters, through the windows, over the chimneys, curving over the cobblestone and brick streets, the bells ring. The low vibration of the heavy bells and the higher sound of the smaller bells, ringing, ringing, ringing, dancing, climbing and floating. The hum and the peal of the bells, layer upon layer of their ringing moving through the air. Every half hour.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008


My personal hurricane is in Houston for a couple weeks. On Friday, after our long flight from London, he was in the shower and going on and on about how much he loves taking showers in girl's bathrooms because of all the different products girls have and how wonderful all the different smells. He's looking at my shampoo bottles and bath washes that are in the metal basket hanging from the showerhead. Then he notices the shampoo bottles on the shower floor and reaches for a bottle to untwist and sniff.

Um, those are the dog's shampoos.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reaching out... and connecting

My mother was very much in mind this afternoon when I took the train to Wimbledon. She always wanted to go to Wimbledon, for the tennis of course, but it never worked out that she could go. And here I was on a train there! I told myself that while I was there, I'd stop for a moment, pause and love her with my heart and with my thoughts. And I did that and I enjoyed doing that. It felt so wonderful to be somewhere where she wanted to be and I thought for a moment that if she couldn't be there, I know she'd want me to be there, for both of us. I missed her terribly in that moment, wishing we were sharing Wimbledon together, discovering it together. But, I also felt very connected to her at the same time.

When I returned to my temporary home here, I began packing my bags for the journey home tomorrow. I brought one gigantic suitcase with me and a smaller carry-on bag, one I packed for the trip to Belgium. When I unzipped the carry-on this afternoon to empty out the dirty clothes from that trip, there at the bottom of the bag was a gold roadrunner pendant that my father bought for my mother on a trip they took to New Mexico years ago.

I haven't used that bag since I went to Croatia last June and hauled it along with me on trains, planes, rented cars and a sailboat. I have never worn that pendant and my mother never borrowed my bag. A fondness for roadrunners, however, is something that she and I shared.

These things happen to me on occasion and I'm not about to question why or how. I just sit down, as I did this afternoon, and appreciate the wonder and mysteries of the world, then I say, I love you too.

Moving along

I spent half the day working in our London office yesterday and the other half was spent walking around the city and in and out of many many shops. Christmas time in London is over the top with sights and sounds. Spectacularly lit up Christmas trees everywhere, enormous decorations spanning over the broad streets, Regents Street and Oxford Street and smaller streets as well, such as Carnaby Street (see Snowmen below). Twinkling lights of blue or white or red are strung throughout the branches of the trees in courtyards and squares. Christmas music plays to the streets from the stores. I imagine even the grumpiest of people couldn't withhold a smile from the fanfare.

But the crowds, oh the crowds. Bad idea to walk Oxford Street in December. One loses individuality completely and becomes part of a massive crowd that pulses and groans with its own movement. Walk slightly to the right or left and you disrupt the process of this massive creature formed by the walking people driven by their shopping goals, like a car accident without the sound of metal and instead the sound of Scuse me, Pardon me and loads of grumbling. (I've been on both sides of that, unfortunately.) The smaller streets are much better but still it was all enough to have me decide to stay away from London today. Today I'm taking the train to Wimbledon, only one stop away from where I'm staying. There are many cute shops along the streets, and several brasseries to choose for my lunch, and I'm blissfully on my own to wander wherever I want to place my feet.

Of the photos below, my favorite is the Santa Claus. This is one of the Christmas display windows of Selfridges on Oxford Street. Santa is standing in the tube with the doors open and fully decorated Christmas trees filling the car to his left and right. His bag of goodies has fallen before him. Spilled out from the bag are a pile of small bottles of champagne all wrapped in the Union Jack. Clever.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yesterday's lunch

Amazingly good. Mouthwateringly good. Belgian waffles are a little piece highly caloric and suggary heaven. Eating one on a heated patio of a small cafe on a pedestrian street in Brussels with a wonderfully attentive and amusing French waitress, makes them all the better.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Two things about today:

1. This afternoon, I visited Europe's oldest shopping arcade which is in Brussels and was built in 1857. While there, I bought chocolates for my friend (you know who you are) from Belgium's oldest chocolatier.

2. This evening, I had a glass of vintage Veuve Cliquot champagne at Europe's longest champagne bar, in the St. Pancras train station, which is in London and a zillion years old but completely re-done and opened in 2007. The seats were heated.