Thursday, September 29, 2011


A pretty simple subject line, a pretty complicated relationship.

There is no doubt at all that a part of me really wants the Yankees to take it all the way this year, and do so in a spectacular, mind-blowing fashion, in a way that only my mother could really, thoroughly enjoy. Then, of course, there's the homer in me, thrilled for the Rangers' best-ever season and wanting them to prove once and for all that a scrappy team from Texas can and should win the World Series. There's the realist in me, too, that knows the Phillies have a nearly unbeatable pitching staff (their number 5 starter went 11-3 on the season! NUMBER FIVE) and the best record in baseball and that they will be frightening to behold in the post-season. And despite my energetic joy in the schadenfreude that is the Red Sox, a niggling part of me knows the danger in a team like the Tampa Bay Rays getting "hot" right at the end.

The good part of this is that the month of October will not be dull, and even when football inevitably disappoints, baseball will be waiting to enrapture, and there will be incredible moments of distraction from now until the last light dims on this crazy season.

Last weekend, Randy and I went to see Moneyball, and I do believe it was the best baseball movie in a really, really long time. Which is saying something, because I love baseball movies. There are maybe a handful that I wouldn't bother rewatching, if that. And for all that so much of Moneyball was fiction (the way Art Howe was portrayed, for instance), I felt like it was the truest version of the way the game is today. How it is about stats and percentages and money and all of those things, but how it is still, despite everything, a romantic's game. It is a game of superstition, of knocking on wood and wishing on stars. They've tried, those money people, to make irrelevant the small market teams and the goofy-looking kids with big dreams and small hopes. They've failed. And it isn't as if being "big market" or having a huge payroll makes you somehow invincible to romance - if anything, we've seen the reverse of that, since that's where some of the biggest dramas play out, and a little kid's affection for a team has less to do with who makes what and more to do with the vagaries of a long season. No one is invincible, everyone could be a heartbreaker or have a broken heart.

There was so much up in the air in the last week. Even as teams clinched division titles, the questions of home-field advantage, wild card teams, who would face whom were left almost totally undecided until the white-knuckle final innings in the 162nd game of the year. This is why we watch baseball. This is why we're fans. This is why October, as the chill creeps in and summer's end becomes a reality, is one of the best months of the year,

Some good reads:

Bill Simmons diary of Game 162, in which you get the full impact of the Boston Red Sox' fall from grace.

Rich Lowry on Schadenfreude Gone Wild.

A wonderful interview with Mariano Riviera in the NY Post.

Mike Dodd: Baseball's best night ever?

Ross Douthat: The Baseball Gods Have Spoken

WSJ: Five Minutes of Perfect Baseball

Eric Karabell podcast: Baseball is awesome

John Romano (St. Petersburg Times in Florida): This was baseball history; savor it

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Today, after lunch, I decided to make brownies.

So this doesn't seem very notable, I know.  I've made brownies countless times, from a box and from scratch.  I love how simple brownies are, no matter how you make them.  Cookies take a lot of time, and while there is a wonderful payoff, sometimes you need simple and quick.

I love the smell in the house when I make them, that chocolate-y smell that seeps into other rooms right before the brownies are done.  This is a home smell, a being-a-little-girl smell.  It is, really, a Mom Smell.

For the last three years, as we learned to adapt to what Mom's diagnosis and decline meant, every time I bake something I think of her.  Saturday afternoons were usually when she would bake, though there was no hard and fast rule.  And there was always something in the house that she had made, some sweet, whether it be cookies (always chocolate chip), brownies, streusel cake, or sometimes banana or zucchini bread.  She experimented around the holidays - I remember the year she tried making candy for one of our classes as a treat, and that being the only time her experiment didn't work out as she intended.  Mom had a battered, splattered copy of a Betty Crocker cookbook in the house, and her little recipe box with all the tried-and-trues in it.  That was it.

Making brownies today really had nothing to do with Mom.  I like having chocolate in the house, and Randy loves brownies as much as I do, so it was really about satisfying a craving.  But once the smell hit, I was thinking of Mom, and how everyone always fought over the goodies she made us - even Dad got in on it, having quite the sweet tooth and soft spot for Mom's baking.

I feel like motherhood is less daunting when I do the things my mom always made special for me.  Today the Mom Smell of baking brownies brought my mother to mind, but it has already taken on a new meaning.  I can't wait to make brownies for my little boy or girl.  And cookies, and cookie cake, and cakes, and oh so many things!  Maybe my little one will one day recognize the "Mom Smell" his or her own childhood, and it will make them smile.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 and the Texas Fires (reposted from Blue Dot Blues)

I had a conversation last night with someone who said he understood that I was "concerned" by the fires, but it didn't follow that I had to let it be the only thing I talk about.

Last night was a good time to have that conversation, really.  The Republican primary debate on MSNBC really ate up my social media sphere - Facebook, Twitter, the blogs, all of it was consumed by the debate.  We had it on at our house, and while my husband and I worked on other things, we shouted snarky commentary back and forth across the house.  I'm a political blogger and I would have liked to sit up last night composing some thoughts on the debate, the primary field, why I don't like this candidate or that one.  And it wasn't just the debate.  There have been campaign announcements, there's a lawsuit over redistricting, there are plenty of things happening in Texas politics that would ordinarily flood this blog, as many of you know.

This morning, it was announced that 1386 homes have been destroyed in the Bastrop fire alone; FEMA is saying that 240 homes have been lost in other fires across the state since Sunday.  Late last night, around 1:30am, there were more evacuations in Grimes County as fires moved ever closer to homes there.  So far, we've heard of four deaths related to the fires - two in Bastrop, two in east Texas (where a mother and her child were found in a burned-out trailer).  It has been a little difficult to look beyond the destruction and hurt here in Texas to political banter.  Politics has a place, and it will still be there when the smoke clears.  We still have to have those discussions, we still have to care, we still have to work hard to protect our country.  Circumstances being what they are, though, we have to concern ourselves with the welfare of others in a more direct, immediate way.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?

Finally, there's 9/11.

The tenth anniversary is this Sunday.  Like a great many Americans of a certain age, the tenth anniversary holds some significance for me.  I was 21 years old when the attack occured.  My young adulthood has been informed by disaster, war, and terrible destruction.  There is a lot being written and said about the "children of 9/11," the kids who may only have fuzzy recollections of that terrible day but whose lives were altered by it.  There is less being said about those of us who came of age just as the world we grew up in was obliterated.  I have a lot to say about this, but today I have been thinking about how what happened that day directly informed how I would react to the fires in Texas.

On September 11, 2001, we did not have social media.  That term wasn't even in use.  Facebook didn't come about until 2004, Twitter after that, and blogging was in its infancy.  People were using the internet for information, but not communication, not in the way that we are familiar with now.  Think how much information might have been shared, and how quickly - yes, there would have been rumor and misinformation, as there always is when there is panic, but the years since 9/11 have proved what social media is capable of doing (some of you might have heard me talk about Twitter and the Iranian revolution - an entire country cut off from the world in every way, save that small grace).  I was on a college campus when the planes hit the towers and the Pentagon burned, and I was carpooling to and from school with a friend.  In the chaos of the campus shutting down and the confusion that spread over those north Texas acres, we couldn't find one another, because we didn't both have cell phones, and we had never had a conversation about what we might do if separated when tragedy struck.  And once we did meet up, we had to get in touch with our families and we had to find out who was okay and what was happening elsewhere.  If I am more communicative than some would deem appropriate over social media in times of crisis - that day is why.  What good does all of this technology do us if we are not using it to help each other, find each other, and keep each other informed? On 9/11, some of us learned how crucial that can be.  You might say that on 9/11, it became absolutely necessary.  That is a sad reality in some ways, but it is an important one nonetheless.

On Sunday, when the fire in Pflugerville was raging and the sky near my house was thick with dark smoke, I came home from an afternoon with a friend to find my husband pacing and nervous.  Our neighborhood has recently seen fire destroy two homes, and brush fires erupt with regularity along the fields and wild areas nearby.  So what was happening in Pflugerville rightly scared us both.  More than that, we have a great many friends in the Pflugerville area, and family across the rural areas of eastern Travis and Williamson counties.  We felt helpless, and that deep disturbing feeling of useless panic, so familiar to a generation shaped by 9/11, settled in pretty quickly.  I decided to look for ways we might help the people who were suffering, because by Sunday evening Bastrop County was wildly ablaze, Steiner Ranch was on fire, and we kept seeing photos of fire and smoke engulfing the Pedernales River and the Spicewood area.  And I wanted to make sure other people knew what was happening and where, and how they might help if they could.

In Austin, we haven't been hearing about the east Texas and Brazos Valley fires - when I discovered what was happening, I decided to keep looking for information and sharing it.  I know how the echo chamber can be - people who aren't in Texas may not be hearing much beyond what the nightly news shows choose to show, especially with so much of the east coast under water and the daily grind of life blocking out everything that isn't right in front of them.

It is important that we use our social networks for good.  Political punditry does have a place, and I feel it is a good (you may disagree).  The fact of the matter, though, is that helping each other, and keeping each other informed, is a greater good.  We have these tools.  Let's use them.

(I have been updating about the fires and fire relief efforts at Blue Dot Blues)

Friday, September 2, 2011


Mom and I had one thing that we routinely did together. We went to the library. Every three weeks, on Saturday morning, we would gather our books to return and spend an hour or so browsing. We did have distinctly different tastes, but from the time I was little and had my very first library card (a rite of passage more memorable to me than even learning to drive), Mom was always telling me to “broaden my horizons” and stop picking from the same section every time. This is undoubtedly how I ended up reading Stephen King as a 13-year-old.  Of course, I turned that around on her when I was older and she stuck to just a few fiction shelves. I don't know if Danielle Steel and Mary Higgins Clark had a more dedicated reader!

Mom was right, though. If there is a lesson to learn from her, it is that. Broaden your horizons. Mom was nineteen when she joined the Navy, to “see the world” as she used to say. And she did. She got to go to Florida and Texas and she worked in the Pentagon – how many little girls from Long Island, New York in the sixties dreamt they might be able to do THAT one day? Because she was brave, and believed she should broaden her own horizons, she got to go to Rota, Spain and meet my dad. The Irish Protestant from New York and the Irish Catholic from Kansas City, who might never have crossed paths otherwise. Broaden your horizons, indeed!

Even Mom's illness was one that imparted that lesson, really. It is a cliché – try new things, do what you love, be the person you never thought you could be. My mom believed that and she taught it to us all with her actions. She didn't believe in “can't.” I think the best proof of that is my brother Joe – when the doctors said he wouldn't walk, or ride a bike, and the teachers said he had to go to special classes, Mom said the exact opposite, and today he drives a car and is a published writer working on his masters in Early American History. It worked on all four of us – there is no better explanation for how we turned out, and I can only hope that my own child will have half of Mom's gumption and spirit.

Mom is in that place now where “can't” doesn't exist. The horizon there is so wide and so deep that there are endless opportunities to discover what it means. Given that it was who she was in life, I can only be grateful for the joy of knowing she is with the One who made that possible.