Monday, December 19, 2005

This past weekend, we snuck in a roadtrip to Austin, Texas...hooray! We had heard that Austin was a fun town, and now we can verify that for fact (in our opinion). ;) What a great weekend! We drove in Friday afternoon and out again on Sunday. While there, we discovered the quirky shops on South Congress, wandered two great museums and dined in some EXCELLENT restaurants (and you know it's all about the food as far as Jennifer is concerned).
On Friday, we explored a bit to get our bearings. The assistant manager at our hotel recommended Tex-Mex at Guero's on South Congress for a late lunch. Delicious! All we had was soup (saving room for dinner later), but we could tell the ingredients were very fresh and wonderfully prepared. Afterwards, we wandered the boutique-y shops along that street. We could tell how artsy and young the city is just from that one street. The shops were really fun to browse, with everything from vintage clothes to local art to western wear (more on that later). That night, we went the fine-dining route for a three course meal at the Driskill Grill...quite posh for a "grill" (maybe too posh for us, actually) but also delicious food. Markus can highly recommend the hazelnut creme brulee (claims it's the best he's ever eaten). They sat us at a table next to the Christmas tree so Ellie could appreciate the lights, but she slept through the entire meal. None of the other diners ever knew there was a three-month-old baby in the restaurant...what an angel!
Saturday morning, we toured the LBJ Presidential Library, which was incredibly well-done and covers a fascinating period in US history. Before our visit, we hadn't been aware of the sheer amount of ground-breaking legislation Johnson introduced from civil rights to arts to education. Incredible! VERY interesting museum and well-worth a visit if you are ever in Austin. Saturday night, despite the cold temps, we walked the city's Trail of Lights in Zilker Park. Though the weather was generally too cold to enjoy much of the outdoors, Austin really seems to have a lot to offer in that department. Rowing or paddling the Colorado River, jogging along Town Lake, playing in Barton Springs or Zilker Park...and Markus desperately wanted to cycle the winding hills of the posh neighborhoods overlooking the city. That night, we ate at the Castle Hill Grill, which was relaxing and casual with fabulous chow. The winning plate was the entree Meditteranean salad. YUM!
Sunday was our last day, but we made use of the morning by visiting the Harry Ransom Museum on the UT campus. They were hosting an Ansel Adams exhibit with over 150 of his photographs. Beautiful! They also own the first photograph (a heliograph) and a copy of the Gutenburg Bible as part of their permanent collections. Very impressive for a university museum. Must have some wealthy alums contributing there! And the last food recommendation...lunch at the South Congress Cafe. Their potato enchiladas are amazing!

Last fun little tidbit: Jennifer now owns a pair of cowgirl boots! She just couldn't resist the temptation. After all, one must have something to show for a short stint of living in Texas. ;)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reflecting back on Katrina.
We've been using this site to keep friends and family more or less updated on our daily grind, but tonight, I need to pause for reflection on the storm that greatly influenced where we are now and what our daily grind has become: Huuricane Katrina. The average person on the street in an unaffected region seems to think Katrina is all over and done with now that the Gulf Coast isn't in the media anymore. Let me assure you, it's not. I was on the coast over the Thanksgiving week, and the devastation is still very real. Among the pictures you see here (taken about a month after the storm), two are from New Orleans in the Uptown area where we lived and the other three are from Ocean Springs, MS, the little town next to Biloxi where my dad lives. The stilts on the beach used to be the yacht club. The houses are pretty self-explanatory.
Over three months later, people are still trying to get their lives back in order. There are simple cases like ours. People have been displaced although their homes suffered no damage, and their lives are in limbo. The new place isn't home, but when home will be available again is unknown. The limbo is especially hard on kids, who abruptly left their school and friends in New Orleans to start over from scratch elsewhere; months later, they must transition again as parents bring them home to New Orleans once more. Their schools are there and open, but many of their friends and often some of their teachers will not be moving back. We will be moving out of the country in the next couple of months, but right now, we have two households: one very temporary-feeling on near Houston and another past-life home in New Orleans. Visiting that home over Thanksgiving felt very surreal, like stepping into a picture of where we used to live, seeing our "old" things ("old" because we don't have them now).
Our home in New Orleans was miraculously spared. Everything in our part of town is completely fine. It's amazing, especially when driving to it through areas that still look as ravaged as if WWIII had just happened there. New Orleans East was one such place. I never saw it on the news, but it still looks terrible. The place is deserted. The buildings are standing, but the windows and doors were blown out by wind and water. Trees are matchsticks. Cars at the defunct dealerships are covered in the grey film that indicates they had once been covered with water, their windows also blown out as if by a bomb. In areas like that (and all along the Misssissippi Gulf Coast), people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Even those who were fortunate enough to have flood insurance face limited reimbursement. The maximum amount allowed is $250,000, and, as you can imagine, nice beach homes cost a lot more than that. Countless people are paying mortgages on homes that are no longer there. We heard awful stories about insurance companies denying obvious claims, the worst being a family who had only one pillar left where their home had once been and an insurance agent who said he'd have to get a structural engineer out to verify that the home couldn't be salvaged (what home?!). And then there are thousands who had no flood insurance at all and have had to start from zero, going from a home of their own to a FEMA trailer and some donated clothes. As time passes, there is a growing sense of frustration among those who just want to get on with their lives. Apparently, psychologists are defining a new type of post-traumatic stress disorder for Katrina victims, a type that sets in later and is conflicted, because one is still grateful for the positives while justifiably distressed about the negatives.
Despite all this, life goes on. One of the most pervasive sentiments that has remained in Katrina's wake is a general attitude of gratitude among the survivors. Even those who lost everything they owned are thankful not to have lost their lives. There have been too many kindnesses to number. As "displaced Americans", we have experienced generosity and genuine kindness that surpasses what one could have ever anticipated.
It's the holidays. It's the time of year when people feel more generous toward their neighbors, and we remember to be thankful for all that we have. During this time of reflection on the past year, we had to take a moment to ponder the storm that changed so many lives, including ours. She's not in the news much lately, but Katrina can still be felt on the Gulf Coast. May the new year bring peace and renewal to those affected most.

It's been several weeks of trying, but I finally caught her beautiful smile on camera! I even caught her grinning in her sleep. What a cutie pie! Ellie is three months old now. Somehow, it seems she's been with us for so much longer. What did we ever do without her (besides sleep through the night)?

Daddy-daughter time

Friday, December 02, 2005

Today, Ellie got a new place to play and nap.
Apparently, so did Oscar.

An update on Jennifer's dad:
Over the past weekend, Barry experienced some extreme pain, so extreme that doubling the dose of his prescription painkiller did little to help. Monday morning, he went to his doctor for a scheduled appointment (he was set to get his catheter for the chemo), and the doctor decided to admit him to the hospital to try to get the pain under control. He was given morphine, which unfortunately made little difference. Finally, they were able to isolate the cause of his pain (problems related, ironically enough, to his painkiller), switched him to a different drug, and VOILA! Much better within minutes. Hooray! This left Barry open to begin chemo without any further delays. He completed round one this Thursday and is home doing well (being vigilantly supervised by Mary and Donna). If the positive trend keeps up, he'll have a round of chemo every two weeks for six months. The battle with his cancer begins!