Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving at Linda and Jim's

Linda Dee is Sam's mother, mother-in-law to Julia. She is also a great cook. So when she and her husband, Jim, invited us over for Thanksgiving, we accepted, and fast. Here you can see Linda and Jim hard at work, finishing the preparations.

First we hung out in their back garden, which has been nicely redecorated, for a bit, with drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Here is Chris, philosophically regarding a cup of hot apple cider, for some reason.

And here are Julia and Sam, hanging out in the garden as well.

After a while we moved into the living and dining rooms to get serious about dinner and then, when all hunger had long since been banished, dessert. Here are Sandy and Jim, hanging around the table we had been assigned to. She is showing off a small fish ornament that she has just received as a party favor, and was quite delighted by.

Finally we all retired to some sofas to digest, groan, and arrive at a pleasant after-dinner lethargy. Here you can see Chris, me, and Julia in that phase. Finally we all recovered just enough to get some higher brain power back to work for a game of Taboo.

Thanksgiving Walks

We are eating Thanks- giving Dinner twice this year, on both Thursday at Linda & Jim Dee's and Friday at our house. So extra walking is required both to prepare and recover.

Julia came over early Wednesday with her two dogs to walk in Barton Creek with Chris, me and our two dogs. Our usual walk from our house goes into the green belt across the street, out to the edge of the bluff overlooking Barton Creek. Here is a view from the trail along the edge of the bluff, looking out over the valley of the creek.

Then the trail drops down a slope, running along a dry creek, down to Barton Creek, which is just a dry creek bed at this time of year, which you can see here.

We walked along that for a half mile or so and then back up a trail along another dry creek. Here is a photo of that trail.

That walk was pretty good preparation for Thanksgiving on Thursday, but we ate way too much, which will be the subject of another post, so I needed another walk.

Fortunately, my old friend and former student John Jirik is in town for Thanksgiving and wanted to do one of our traditional walks, where we walk around Lady Bird Lake and talk about Foucault, Bayart and light topics like that. So we met up Friday a.m., with my dog Ti in tow, and set out on the trail that starts by crossing under the Mopac Bridge on a footbridge full of walkers, joggers and dogs. That bridge also provides one of the best views of Autumn colors in Austin, as you can see here.

Here is another view of Lady Bird Lake from the other end of the bridge.
And here is a view of a particularly nice tree on the other side. After that I decided to get down to seriously walking and talking, so the iPhone went back in the pocket.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chapter 6. In which the author's inner druid emerges

Most mornings I round up a dog or two (depending on whether 15 1/2 year old Ally feels up to it), and walk through the neighborhood along Travis Country Circle. Just walking the street is pretty scenic these days, as the light shines down through the oaks and other trees along the street, as you can see in this first photo.

I usually walk down to Blue Valley Park by the headquarters of the Travis Country neighborhood association, which has a nice man made pond, which you see here, that runs between a ridge and a dry creek bed.

As you can see in the next photo, taking a picture of a rather active dog with the simple camera in an iPhone is a dodgy business, but this is Ti, my enthusiastic walking partner.

I am not sure she pays a lot of attention to the scenery, but I am very fond of it. I have a hard time getting enthused about exercise in a gym, on a human equivalent of a rat's running wheel, but there is something very good for body and soul about getting out and walking out of doors.

In fall in Austin, if you walk at about 7 am or 5 pm, or ideally both, the quality of light is quite amazing, as this photo shows. It illuminates all the trees in an almost magical way.

It definitely highlights my ongoing love affair with oak trees. When I went to university at Stanford, and was a pretty enthusiastic jogger, I would jog out to the foothills in back of the university and run around through the California scrub oaks that covered the hills.

You can see a nice shot of those foothills in a photo I borrowed from the Stanford U. website.

I remember some folklore at Michigan State among people who had been undergrads in the 1970s about a legendary, maybe entirely folkloric student group called the Zen Druids, who worshipped the oaks that weren't there. I think I can see why the original druids of Great Britain supposedly worshipped real oaks (we don't really know that much about druids) -- but they are much more impressive than a golden calf, for instance.

Sandy reminds me that she had some transcendental hours with the giant pecans on Lake Austin a few weeks ago when I was out of town. She assures me that it's okay to get mystic about trees. If you want a good riff on this, go look at Kipling's poem, Oak and Ash and Thorn.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


From 1979 to 1983, while Sandy and I were both finishing our doctoral disser- tations, and getting down to the serious work of having first Julia (1979) and Rolf (1982), I worked for the Office of Research at the U.S. Information Agency. I did surveys in the Southern Cone of Latin America on public opinion and media habits. Interesting work, but much more fun working on things like opinion about human rights under Jimmy Carter than on security concerns under Ronald Reagan. That seriously spurred the desire to finish those dissertations, get some articles published, and get on back to the university.

But while we were there, we made some very good friends. Two of them, David (who I worked with) and Karen Gibson, came to visit last week, so we played hookey for a day, when we did not have any meetings or classes, and drove them out to Fredericksburg. Above is a picture of Dave and Karen with Sandy, at Wildseed Farms, which Sandy is fond of because she is very keen to grow more Texas wildflowers, and they have good seed packs. So we stopped there on the way to Fredericksburg. Here is a picture of their entrance, nicely landscaped.

The place seems to have gone well beyond wildflowers, however. They now have a lot of Mexican pottery, a "German" biergarten, etc. I did like one polychrome Mexican pot version of an armadillo, shown here, but I left him at Wildseed Farms. Take only photos, leave only memories -- that is my motto for both wilderness areas and tourist traps.

It was a gorgeous fall day with very nice leaf color, by Texan standards--not exactly the riot of color you get in New England in fall, but nice enough-- all along the way. Here is a photo of the central town square in Fredericksburg, looking toward the octagonal Vereinskirche, which was built in 1847, rebuilt in 1936. The original was both church and refuge or fort for the first against raids by Comanches who did not want German settlers in that part of Texas. However, the German settlers made a peace treaty with the Comanches, which is one of the very few treaties between white settlers and indigenous people in the USA which never was broken.

And here is a last photo of the original city library, a nice old stone building, like many in the town. We ate at George's German Bakery, wandered around a bit, and drove back to Austin, enjoying the fall scenery all the way.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

change begins at home

It is interesting to see how our once solidly Republican neighborhood, Travis Country, one of the first suburbs outside Austin, has changed. The first year we lived there, 1998, we had a party for grad students and gave detailed directions. One of them said, "You could have just said the only house on the street without a Bush (for governor) sign."

Here is how the neighborhood, Austin precinct 354, voted this year. Here is a quote from an email from Barb Colvin, our wonderfully well organized and well tempered Democratic chairperson (rather like Obama himself, come to think of it):

....for all your good work which helped make this dream come true....

Hi all,

About a dozen of us worked at the polls on election day, some as judges and clerks, others held signs and talked to voters. It was fun. Even the voter who called us "socialists". Almost as good as when I was called a communist while handing out Lloyd Doggett literature in 2204. Makes me kinda proud.

[I was one of those -- it was pretty fun. I guess I missed the guy calling us socialists.]

Here are some interesting results for P 354. I've rounded off the percentages and reported only D and R numbers. Democrats are listed first. Remember that our precinct is roughly split between Rs and Ds. We got out the vote and changed some minds. We did good !

President, Obama 56% - McCain 42%
Senator, Noriega 49% -Cornyn 46%
Representative, Doggett 60% - Morovich 36 %
District 47 State Rep, Bolton 53% - Keel 47%
Chief Justice 3rd Court of Appeals, Jones 58% - Law 42%
Precinct 3 County Commissioner, Huber 51% - Daugherty 43% (big upset)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

yes we could

It is a great day for the USA in lots of ways. A calm, competent, but visionary leader. A completely different image of U.S. leadership to the rest of the world. A potential giant step in healing U.S. racial divisions. And a nice reminder that this is still a country in which remarkable social mobility is still possible.


But now the real work begins. It was wonderful of Senator McCain to pledge to work with Obama. I just hope a lot of people join him. The country, and world, need it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I went off to Athens, Ohio (not Greece, for better or worse) last weekend to go to the Global Fusion conference on international communication. It is one of my favorite academic meetings, fairly small 100-200 people, so you get to actually meet and talk to new people. Great place for internationally oriented graduate students to give their first paper and meet other grad students and faculty. Great place for me to learn a lot of interesting new things, like how young Indians (South Asians) are flocking to the Bollywood island in the virtual world Second Life to meet each other.

It was also just after the peak of the leaf change season in southeastern Ohio. So the foliage was glorious as you can see in the first photo above, taken right our the backdoor of the Ohio University hotel we were in.

Athens is only about 50 miles away from West Virgina. I heard a fabulous local bluegrass music show on the campus radio station on Sunday, as we were driving back to the airport--you can really see the cultural connection to Appalachia.

Here is another photo, taken from the van that took us back to the airport in Columbus, OH. (Athens is very pretty and charmingly remote, but it is also a long way from the nearest airport in Columbus.)

And here is one last photo also taken from the van on the way back. Let's hear it for the modest but not bad camera lurking in my iPhone, so that I am seldom without a camera anymore.