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July 27, 2000
Texas hair

I just returned from my appointment at Jose Eber salon -- now I sport big hair, somewhere between Mary Richards and Sue Ellen Ewing.

The scary part is that as I walked through the Galleria shopping center back to the car, no one pointed & stared.

Maybe I found the secret to fitting in.


October 29, 2000
In search of the Hill

Keith and I had a nice few days R&R in Texas Hill Country this past week. According to the brochure, "nothing compares in beauty to the glorious Hill Country." Something to do with towering oak trees, fields of blue-bonnets and, oh yes, the Hill! Keith and I were determined to find it. I'm pretty sure we spotted it, somewhere between the towns of Welfare and Comfort.

We also visited the major tourist Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, which has a pleasant main street with boardwalks and in keeping with the German settler theme, brewery pubs in which they force visitors to drink things like "double honey blonde bock". Fredericksburg was also full of antique-y shops; and Keith and I both purchased black cowboy hats.

It was quite a Hill, when we found it, covered with towering oaks and waving blue-bonnets (or would have been, in spring), and looked huge and, well, towering after the flats of Houston. However it truly was just a bump. Or as Inspector Clouseau put it so eloquently, a "buoomp".

We also visited San Antonio again, and scoped out the Lone Star Palace, which will be the site of the Bank Christmas party come December. It is a large western-themed premise, with a huge patio overlooking the Alamo. During the holidays the Alamo and all the surrounding (towering) oak trees are covered in lights. This should be spectacular.

The other great adventure of the holiday was being pulled over by a state trooper. I admit feeling great fear, as if we were pulled over by the sheriff of Deliverance. This great big man was unbelievably po-lite and apologized profusely to Keith, after Keith assured him he has only been traveling at 35 mph and not 60. The officer meekly blamed the error on his new radar machine. And here I thought we were in for a whuppin!

Texas continues to thrill, day after day.

Love to all from us all


March 14, 2001
Not in Kansas... or are we?

Today it got dark, and we had a tornado warning for Harris County, which includes Houston. When I turned on the TV, a special news bulletin was advising us to hide under a mattress to prevent injury from flying debris. So, I phoned Keith. He opted to stay at work and bank. I had been planning to drive down to the vet's to pick up Chance's dog food, but that would have to wait.

Meanwhile, I explained to Chance all the tornado/thunderstorm mattress procedures. We got water and the phone and put them in our storm shelter/master bathroom.

Oops. The power went out. Phone no good. I've decided that cellular phones are (or should be) the new god. We have flashlights but no batteries. Candles... but how do you find the matches in the dark? The rain and wind start. Where's the mattress?

Chance was out of food. It was boring sitting in the dark with a candle and a beer. So after putting my back out getting the now-manual double garage door open, Chance and I set off into the storm. The storm was concentrated in north Houston and our vet is in the south, so as we drove through lakes and puddles and around fallen branches and trees, it got lighter and lighter. The rain stopped. We saw blue sky...and sunshine. As Gordon "Hotdog" Cooper said, on the last of the Mercury 7 missions into space: "Oh, what a heavenly light."

Keith arrived home safely and we went to the Thai restaurant until the power returned. Electricity is a wonderful, miraculous thing. Cell phones, electricity, and sunshine after the storm...we have much to be thankful for.


May 4, 2001
Gotta love Americans

Keith often meets up with Charlotte and her dog Jellybean when he takes Chance out for his afternoon walk.

Charlotte's husband was devastated, Keith informed me on returning yesterday, because while out for a drive with Charlotte in his red Corvette convertible, the plexiglas top (put up in consideration of Charlotte's hair) was not properly secured so flew off into the street. It's now all dented and scratched up and Mr. Charlotte is depressed. He wants to continue to use the damaged top to remind him of what a dufus he is.

Keith mentioned to Charlotte that we bought a little house in BC. Usually any mention of Canada is a conversation-killer down here but Charlotte was rather interested.

"What language do they speak?", asks Charlotte.
"English," Keith responds.
"Oh!" says Charlotte. "That's handy."

I love these people.

Ciao for now!


June 6, 2001
Along came Allison

I guess we'll always have a soft spot for Allison, our first real Tropical Storm, who blew in from the gulf yesterday, just 5 days into our official hurricane season. Fortunately there has been no loss of life so far, just water and lots of it. Allison dumped 10.2 inches of rain on a community called Friendswood, just south of Houston, in just a few hours. Co-workers of Keith returned there yesterday to find most of their neighbours paddling around in dinghies. Closer to home we just had the usual flooded underpasses, downed branches and power outages. I once worked with an artist named Allison, who had a big heart but also tended to wreak havoc wherever she went, though to my knowledge she never made cars float.

A Tropical Storm is just a notch below a hurricane. For any budding weather geeks, there is more info and some groovy satellite animation at http://www.wunderground.com/tropical/.

Allison is a bit of a slug and is still hovering around Houston today, and while we don't expect more high winds, heavy rainfall is predicted. Allison gathered lots of moisture on her journey through the gulf and is--shall we say--still retaining water.

Hope all is well with you!


June 9, 2001

Allison turned out to be that most destructive of tropical storms... a slow one. This means she looped back very slowly over Houston before making her way east, throwing down tons of water onto 28 SE Texas counties for eight hours and more without stopping. So, this is our first experience with an official national disaster.

Not to make a joke of it, because there are still people stranded on rooftops and little "islands" throughout the city, unable to go home or even to contact their families. I'm a little surprised that they have been waiting so long (some have already spent a wet night on their roofs)-- I had a little fantasy that government emergency teams leapt into action and rescued people with all alacrity in situations like this. Not the case, I'm afraid. It's all a bit of chaos.

We lost power for about 7 hours overnight, so our only clue that things were seriously amiss was the enormous amount of rain that deluged us. Meanwhile, airports are closed, buses are not running, newspapers are not getting out, movement around the city is severely restricted, hospitals are being evacuated, and Whole Food Market is closed.

A flash flood, I learned today, means you are driving carefully home from work in a terrible rainstorm, and while crossing an innocent intersection are hit by 10 ft. waves of water. Several of Keith's co-workers were stranded or flooded last night. The problem is that the ground is saturated, so any new rainfall has absolutely nowhere to go (but into your home or car).

What a fortunate fluke that we are (so far) living in a flood-free area. Last night you wouldn't have wanted to drive around the neighbourhood, but our homes are dry and we are all safe.

By all reports this flooding is unprecedented in Houston. Keith and I are slavishly watching "Doc", our local weatherman, who actually smiled a moment ago because the predicted overnight rainfall may not occur.

Judith and Elaina & Julia: many of the streets and intersections we drove so happily around during your visit to Houston have cars floating in them, water up to the roof.

Again, I can only say we are thankful, and hope there will be some way to help our Houston neighbours over the next few days of recovery.

In awe,
Pat (with love from Keith and Chance too)


June 16, 2001
Stormy weather

...the devastation just goes on and on. It's been a week now and hundreds of people have received no relief whatsoever. The city of Houston, it seems, was totally unprepared-- even their emergency offices were flooded. (Duh!) The latest horror stories are coming from a couple of large hospitals, both of which sustained heavy flood damage and power outages and had to evacuate patients. Many people lost their lives.

I was downtown last week and it is a mess. Even the drive (along Woodway-Memorial) was a bit scary-- mud and silt everywhere. Downtown is more than its usual mess of torn up streets, with pumps and huge ventilation hoses everywhere. Most of the theatres were also flooded, and about 15 parking garages.

I don't know how we escaped-- I guess we can thank Chance (and chance), who really picked out this location & house (dog-friendly landlord and big fenced yard).


June 18, 2001
Après le deluge

I thought you might be interested in a couple of photos of the flood. The picture with the skyline in the clouds is Memorial Drive, the route Keith takes to work each day. Of course the water has now subsided and most of the roads and expressways are passable, though many covered with silt and mud. Downtown is torn up more than usual, as crews try to drain and dry the flooded office buildings. The Bank of America building, for example, has 50 million gallons of water to be pumped out from its underground garage and utility areas.

Flooding along Memorial Drive.


Many flood victims still have had no relief, particularly in east and north Houston. Families have had to remove all carpet and drywall from their homes, in addition to damaged items like appliances, books, beds etc. All this goes curbside; unfortunately the city of Houston lost dozens of garbage trucks in the flood and so this refuse sits there still, in a huge line, blocks long. The Red Cross arrived early on but were totally unprepared for the scope of the disaster, so there were fiascoes like people (whose homes were stripped or destroyed) standing in line all day in the heat at a relief center, only to put their names on a waiting list.

Of course everyone helps everyone. There are major fund drives and volunteer activities throughout the city. It just surprises me still that most of the relief work so far has been done by churches, individuals and corporations and not by any government disaster organization, despite Houston's chronic flood problems.

Anyway while we're still officially in "recovery", everyone is doing well. People in Houston this past week have reminded me of Calgarians when a massive snow storm hits: lots of good Samaritans and a remarkable sense of humor through it all.

We all get a wee bit nervous now when we hear thunder though.


June 24, 2001
Don't believe it

We had a beautiful cool (relatively speaking) evening in Houston tonight. Not too hot, a warm breeze, a leafy yard and a patio that hasn't been used much lately. The City of Houston, in an attempt to battle the recent mosquito plague, has been spraying like mad (this morning at 3:30am, for the third time in two weeks, a little pick-up truck drove up and down our streets, leaving a cloud of pesticide in its wake. Ironically, it sounds like a 700 lb. mosquito).

So, I dabbed myself with my new cedar pouf-- this is meant to replace all the powerful non-organic bug sprays by leaving a fragrant layer of cedar dust on vulnerable areas-- and we headed into the twilight.

10 minutes later I came screaming into the house. I admit it: I am covered with welts and bites. Not only where I "poufed" but also through my clothes. I can barely write this (scratch scratch).

There is a lesson to be learned from this. Please write and tell me when you figure it out.


July 4, 2001

Greetings from Independence Day 2001 in Houston. I have to say that Keith and I --total foreigners-- almost understand the emotional upheaval that this day brings to Americans. OK, to outsiders it might seem a self-centered, decadent, corporation-loving son of a country. But it's also trying hard, wants to do right, sincerely cares, is uncontrollably creative, and truly doesn't understand why all is not as perfect as it should be.

The first set of fireworks were at about 9 this evening. We took Chance up to Woodway Ave. and watched an unobstructed fireworks display from the sidewalk, and we three looked to the skies as people in a hurry roared by. Why do fireworks cause goosebumps (or is it only me?)? Everywhere but in a Canadian household like ours this day was duly celebrated. Keith and I bowed to tradition by having a barbecue: steak marinated in bourbon.

I guess I'm trying to say that we have, after only a year of living here this time, a better understanding of the love and respect that Americans have for their country, and why this can lead to extremes. An emotional attachment to the US is encouraged and is very inviting.

From a more personal standpoint, I love the fundamental difference between Americans and Canadians. Americans believe most of all in the individual, so strut through life without caring what you might think. Canadians always have that candid camera on their shoulder, keeping tabs and judging. So we tend to tip-toe a little, and care maybe a little too much about others and what they might think.

Viva la difference.


August 17/01

After returning from the Okanagan and its wildlife (sandpipers, quail, wasps, skunks and Alfredo the neighbourhood kitty), the difference between OK and Houston critters was quite striking.

The other night Keith called me into the bedroom urgently...(hey, watch your mind!) and there, hanging out on the wall, was a gecko. Just a wee little fellow, practically transparent. Our policy is to welcome all critters that eat insects (even spiders of moderate size). In the yard we also seem to have hundreds of tiny frogs, which I hope dine on pesky insects that dine on my plants. Sometimes they hop into the house, so we have frogs, geckos AND cockroaches sharing our VCR.

St. Louis Encephalitis. This is the latest deadly virus that local mozzies can spread. They are night-biters, apparently, so I feel relatively safe. Chance and I water the plants in the morning. Chance's watering is a little more... protein-enhanced than mine. The other day we had a visitor named Hunter. This was a big, VERY un-neutered black lab who somehow escaped his yard and was rescued crossing Woodway, our nearest busy street. While Hunter cooled his heels in our back yard (and challenged every pee-point of Chance... have to be a dog or dog-owner to understand that one), we negotiated with his owners via cell phone. Just after Hunter and I bonded (outside, where I received multiple mosquito bites and who knows how many were St. Louis-related) the owner appeared in his long black Mercedes. Like dog, like car.

Our final critter critique: the pig barbecue restaurant just re-opened (vegetarians, stop reading here). This is the interesting looking BBQ joint that is quite near our house, with a big pink 3-D pig poking out of its front entrance. I had the 3-meat plate (wanting to experience all the finer things of life) and got a heaping plate of pork, sausage and ribs; plus corn & black bean salad and coleslaw... for $8.75. I feel aggressive enough to go meatless for at least the rest of the week.

Y'all already know it's hot down here, in the 100's lately. But can you explain this: why, when I buy fish, do I sound like Elvis Presley?

"I'd like a half pound of the catfish filets please, and a few crawfish.... ThankeeoooVirrrryMuuch." ...I'm mystified. It's only at the seafood counter, and it comes out before I can control it. Any theories that might explain this phenomenon are welcome.

Hope you are all thriving and surviving the strange summer of '01

Please write.


September 11, 2001

Just to let you all know, we are all safe and sound and horrified here in Houston. Keith's sister & family arrived yesterday evening at 7 pm via Newark.

Keith's office building (the Chase tower, Houston's tallest building) is closed for security reasons. Of course we know a number of people in New York and are concerned for their safety, but they do not live or work in the part of Manhattan that was hit.

Thank you so much for thinking of us.


October 14, 2001

Hello y'all,
I was out on the patio this morning and there was a sound all around me... like a gentle Dolby bowl of poppin' Rice Krispies. But, there was no giant bowl of cereal. It's just October in Houston, and the nuts are dropping. The tiny acorns and other seeds are falling onto all the patios and roofs of the neighbourhood. Remember when Keith and I first came to Houston, house-hunting in October, 1999? The nuts used to pop onto the roof of the car as we drove around town. Keith would declare: "Nut!" 

Keith is golfing this morning. Summer's over at last and it is quite pleasant; though we've recently had some heavy rains onto saturated ground, so there was some minor flash-flooding, and one of the bayous overflowed. We've also had tornadoes touching down all around us. In my little hurricane guidebook (The Joy of High Wind), it says that a hurricane coming close sounds like a freight train, so if we hear that train a'coming, we must hide in our shelter (the master bathroom).

From talking to many of you on the phone, the September 11 tragedy has been almost as devastating to Canadians as to Americans. Houston is jittery, no question, but there is also a renewed sense of unity ...and a somewhat clearer perspective. Gun sales are up, yes, but road rage incidents are down, as are divorces. As US bombs flatten Afghanistan, at home we are a kinder, gentler people.

Flags are flying everywhere. Debate rages in the press and on TV here-- this freedom, I hope, being one of the human rights the US is attempting to protect. Well, I now know the words to the national anthem, God Bless America, and at least one verse of America the Beautiful. I'll leave you with the 4th verse of that song:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Love to all!


December 3, 2001
I'm an Alien...

...and I'm ok.
We got our green cards on Saturday

It took a week, a winter week
In slushy Montreal
Theodore, the goalie, was the
Premier etoile.

Oh I'm an Alien and I'm ok.... etc.

Actually, the green card itself (no, not green) should arrive in the mail within the next few months or years, but its equivalent is the stamp in our passports, which grants us the same rights and privileges (working and paying taxes).

It was one of the more tedious weeks I've spent-- a lot of hurry up and wait. The actual interview at the consulate was trial by boredom, as we sat in a faceless blank room with other applicants for an unexpected 4 hours. Then we raised our right hands and swore that the information provided is correct and that we will have our tattoos removed, and that was pretty well it. Oh, they also make you carry around huge chest x-rays, all through the city in the snow and to the airport and through security... for no reason at all. Interesting way to weed out the undesirables.

I wish we had been able to enjoy Montreal a bit more. Old Montreal, when it's a little warmer and drier, may be quite beautiful and we did manage to have some fine dinners. The hockey game we went to was against Atlanta and the new Molson Centre was pretty much full; obviously the Habs are still a major event no matter who is playing. It's strange that absolutely nothing is in English only... even in Hungary there is the occasional such signage, but not in Quebec. We had few language problems, though the accent is pretty hard to understand after high school Paris French.

Anyway I'm legal in the US, and is it my imagination or am I changing... transforming... whatcha think?

Love to all,


June 30/02
Clay farming in Texas

Greetings y'all,
Last night Keith and I went to the Aerial Theater in Bayou Place to see a Texas "roots" band called the Flatlanders. This theater looks like it could (and does) host plays like Glass Menagerie, except that the floors are concrete and the seating temporary. Out in the foyer there are about half a dozen bars and concessions. You can take a beer back to your seat. So we got a beer and a wine ("chardonnay, merlot or blush") from the Willie Nelson look-alike bartender and found our seats.

The crowd consisted mostly of men in hats (the visor pointing to the front thank you very much), young men with prison/marine haircuts, older men with very long hair tied neatly back or braided, and burly guys with the Texas version of a Beatle haircut. The gals in the room were either small and frail or, shall we say, had very good posture. One of the burly Beatle fellows was sitting in front of us. He had biceps the same size as his thighs and one arm was draped around his girl, a young and fragile 90-pounder. His t-shirt said "clay farmer" on the back. Well, as we waited for the music to start this drove me to distraction. What exactly is a clay farmer? Is it related to a little-known but thriving Texas pottery industry? Is it a euphemism for something indelicate?

Much to Keith's chagrin I simply had to tap the guy on his (rock-hard) shoulder and ask about clay farming. It turns out that clay farmer is actually a person, as in The Clay Farmer Band. "What kind of music?", I ask. "Texas music", he replies. Clay works for burly guy (whose name is Bruce Thrasher) building swimming pools in Houston.

Finally our Flatlanders burst upon the stage. "I Thought the Wreck was Over!", they sang, in a mix of country, rock and blues. The band consists of three old guys who haven't recorded an album in thirty years (until now). Jimmie Dale Gilmore is thin as a skeleton with very long stiff grey hair. Joe Ely looks like Robert Blake (AKA Baretta). Butch Hancock could have lived on Dieppe Drive in the 50's. "My Wildest Dreams get Wilder Every Day" they sang, and "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me". When they slowed down for a ballad or two, the self-appointed pace monitor near the front would shout "Kick it up some!". And so they would.

[Judith, you would have loved this. I believe everyone, fans and band alike, eat regularly at Hyde's Cafe.]

The Flatlanders first album was called "More a Legend than a Band". The new one is called "Now Again". If any of you are fans of the late Townes Van Zandt, you would very much enjoy this music.

Check out:
http://www.twangzine.net/art/art-flat.html "Twangzine"s review of the band. 
http://www.virtualubbock.com/index.html Virtual Lubbock, birthplace of Butch Hancock (and Buddy Holly).
http://www.rockzilla.net/smith45.html "Rockzilla World's article about Clay Farmer.

Time to go kick it up some. See y'all later.


February 3, 2004
Super Bowl Farewell

Hi y'all,

Super Bowl XXXVIII (why do they use Roman numerals? To give the impression this is maybe the thousandth game?) has come and gone and Houston will never be the same. Well, maybe; if the few trees that were planted to prettify the place survive, and if the rapid transit trains (running on their 7-1/2 miles of downtown track) don't get completely demolished by Houston drivers. We had 10 or so collisions in the first two weeks-- eight of them caused by drivers illegally turning left into the oncoming train. Everyone is horrified-- though we all know how appalling Houston drivers are (all drivers except us).

And of course we have the host venue, Reliant Stadium; only $450 million dollars (and counting) to construct, most of it public money. It's awful nice, though. What else could we have used the money for anyway? (Sadly, the city's flood control plan has been declared "invalid" due to lack of funding. But it hardly ever floods Super Bowl weekend, after all.)

Downtown was allegedly like Mardi Gras most nights, with more than 100,000 people congregating each day of the weekend. Having never been to New Orleans I can only guess this means not only very crowded but also very ...intoxicating. By all accounts this was a mellow crowd however: fights only breaking out late (or early morning); and usually only a dozen or so. And the HPD are thrilled that there was only one homicide! Someone shot to death outside a restaurant on the main drag on Saturday night. Well done, HPD! However, there were at least 4 other non- Super Bowl related murders that weekend. Dang.

Main EventMain Event MAIN ST.

There was a celebrity watch. "Everyone" was in town. Apparently all you had to do was set up a red carpet outside a club and the crowds gathered to watch. One bar set up the carpet and erected viewing stands, and charged $75 a pop to gaze upon the stars. Worth it to see Paris Hilton in person!

Okay, I'm old and cynical now. Perhaps I would have found the spectacle... well, spectacular when I was twenty or so. But on to the big game!

Those who stayed awake after the first quarter were rewarded by what is being called one of the most exciting Super Bowl games ever. And we know how exciting they can be! Keith was there in the middle of the excitement, entertaining clients in one of the boxes, and he loved it all. However, not very many Houstonians actually attended the game, since there were only about 1000 (out of 69,500) seats allocated to the general public. So when announcers and entertainers shouted, "Hey Houston...!" it sounded a bit hollow to these ears.

Then there was Tom Brady, MVP etc. blah blah blah. How about that half-time show? Oh those rappers, clutching and crowing about the ho's, what fun! And then there was Teat-gate (as Jon Stewart from the Daily Show called it). I thought Janet Jackson's wee stunt (or "wardrobe malfunction", as Justin Timberlake called it) was the only interesting moment of a painfully long broadcast. Such a fuss about a breast. The battering of girls in rap songs pales by comparison; what was shocking beyond words and what prompted 600 outraged calls and emails to our local station was one innocent little split-second titty.

Houston is itching to host another Super Bowl, one with more XXX's. I wonder if Pat Boone will be available for the half-time show?

Love to all,


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