Wine Fest

wf-bottles.jpgPeople watching is great sport, whether at the beach or a societal event attended by well-heeled patrons of good causes. Last night I attended the Montgomery County Women’s Center’s Wine Fest, their annual fund-raising event supporting the good services they provide for battered women in my county. Always a good opportunity to observe human behavior, the Wine Fest also features food samples from local restaurants and a tasting selection of fine wines sometimes in the thematic way of last year’s Texas vineyards, or simply like last night’s broad samplings of Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Ports, and more.

While I’m not a wine connoisseur, I know enough about tasting to understand the protocols involved. So it’s interesting to watch the rich and wannabe-rich patrons go through the rituals of sampling the goodness of the grape. Some properly swirl the wine first, smell the fragrance, then swish a small amount in their mouths. More interesting, however, was the one gentleman who I’ll aptly name Bubba. With obvious intent to quench his thirst, Bubba took the glass and downed the whole sample in one swallow. He then looked around the table, either looking for another, more proper-sized sample or perhaps seeking a lime, for he downed that glass as though knocking back a Tequila shot. Each to his own, I say.

wf-steward.jpgEqually interesting were the reactions of nearly everyone tasting wine, whether liking the vino or not. Their typical reaction: “Mmmm….nice (or good or excellent).” I kept waiting for someone to comment “Um, this might taste better on my salad than in a wine glass” for those wines still a bit young to be entering the world now. There was also the plight of one wine merchant who could not attend yet still offered a table of selections. Women’s Center staffers pitched in to serve the absent viners wares, but it was obvious they were clueless about wine. When patrons asked what wines were offered, the fill-ins responded, “We have red, white, and bubbly stuff.” But that didn’t stop anyone, since by evening’s end all that merchant’s bottles were empty, with me doing my part to help on the “red.”

wf-tomato2.jpgAs usual there were good and bad wines, and I admit to visiting one particular table three times to sample the same Merlot from South Australia, which I thought was delightful (the fact that the wine steward was very cute had *nothing* to do with this…purely the merits of the wine). You know you’ve connected with a wine steward at a tasting when they eventually offer to pour you a whole glass instead of the usual small sampling. Unfortunately, by that time I’d hit my limit of wine and dared not accept her generous offer. Noticeably missed from the year before were some interesting fruit wines made from raisins, blueberrys, or black raspberrys. Sounds strange, but were nice dessert wines.

By the time I left and headed to Starbucks for some sobering black brew (both in taste and price), I’d sampled enough wines and taken enough pictures until next year’s event. I just prayed I would forget my wine tasting protocols at the next stop and not swirl, sniff, taste, then obliquely comment about the Columbian beans’ bouquet and aftertaste. I wouldn’t want to lose my status as a regular there and be thought pretentious. I’ll save that for the next wine fest.

Ferry Tales

When you take a break and wander off, you’re supposed to engage in activities that are relaxing, unwinding, or qualify as moments that take your breath away. Some may find this a bit corny, but I enjoy riding the Galveston ferry. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s full of thrills and dangers that only a bored tourist would likely enjoy. Just my cup of tea.

ferry1.jpgOur ferry service shuttles cars and passengers from the eastern end of Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula and has been running more or less consistently since 1930, ceasing usually for hurricanes and other rough weather. The three-mile crossing takes folks over to a long stretch of mostly nothing. I’ve yet to figure out why people want to go over there. It’s a very long way to anything, and seems mostly desolate miles of sand, bogs, and seagrass. Several times I’ve crossed in the ferry via car and driven miles into the peninsula, trying to find the allure for thousands of cars and people crossing Galveston Bay on the ferry. There are a few houses, but other than the same proverbial reason the chicken crosses the road, it’s a mystery to me.

ferry2.jpgOn a pretty weekend, the car lines to the ferry are snaked many ferry loads deep (each ferry takes about 80 cars), so I find it best and most relaxing to bypass the hot lines and park in the pedestrian lot.

Energy or Wisdom

beetle.jpgThe Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, once commented “Youth is wasted on the young.” That’s not far from the truth. Even though wisdom gained in later life could have been put to good use when young, age is not the limiting factor it used to be, provided we take care of the hardware along with the software.

It’s a cruel irony spun by some higher power that we often cannot do things of youthful exurberance at a time in life when we are more mentally attuned to enjoy them. I became a father later in life than most folks (33) and I thought at the time, with a wry grin, that you either have children early in life when you have the energy but not the wisdom to deal with them, or later when you’re mentally better equipped but lack the energy to keep up with the physical demands of Mom- and Dad-hood.

statue.jpgAnd it seems the same irony exists in our later years, a time when we tend towards more intellectual pursuits yet still feel the tug of unfinished youthful business. I’m feeling the pull of wanderlust to hit the road and travel, perhaps even (albeit only daring to mention in a quiet whisper) vagabonding for a time. I can’t tell yet if these are true interests or merely distracting yearnings of unfulfilled youthful adventures. Whatever the reason, I’m finding that I need to pay greater attention to those fascinating hobbies of nutrition and physical conditioning, even Yoga for returning flexibility to these older legs (who of us in their youth ever considered Yoga a prerequisite to adventure?). It’s frustrating for my ready-to-go mind to wait on my body, a condition I never had to deal with before. But it is what is, and the path to nomadic adventure is clearly through this temporary obstacle.

“You’re as young as you feel” is one of those expressions I thought pretty lame in my youth. It made absolutely no sense to my logical mind. Either your young or your not. You enjoy your youth, spend your moment in the sun, then be content to sit in a rocking chair out of harm’s way, letting the next wave of youth spend their time. Order, not chaos in the grand scheme of things. As we all learn the hard way of course, life doesn’t exactly follow that path. With modern health advances and better (smarter) living we can extend our youth and the abilities to match that exurberance, provided we remain proactive and pay attention to the ever-increasing maintenance our bodies crave as we age. While I’m not going to go out and climb mountains as I did in my youth (okay, in Texas what we call them mountains most folks call foothills, but…), my activities are only limited by my willingness to prepare. In my youth I may have perceived a walk along the cliffs of Ireland as a journey with goal of completion, but now I see the same walk as a chance to go to a desolate place, ponder the beauty, and enjoy the journey more than the accomplishment.

elissa-hires.jpgEach spring when a young man’s fancy turns to girls, an older man’s eyes still notice these same girls, but every year it seems they keep getting younger looking (it can’t possibly be *me* getting older, therefore it must be reverse evolution). I see their youthful expressions and carefree attitudes and silently pray that they will understand life’s great secret in time to avoid middle-aged mud. If only they could realize now that with effort this happy and carefree state can continue, providing they make the right decisions along the way. But like most of us, their destiny is to spend time and effort later trying to find their lost youth. Unfortunately, as with most things involving young people, that’s something you can’t tell them (or rather they simply won’t listen). Their other destiny is to learn experientially on their own terms. My generation was no exception, and we dutifully ignored our parents and elders thinking we had all the answers and these old fogies were, well, just old coots. I’m going through the same process with my teenagers when we butt heads, and with a twinkle in my eye I tell them, “I can’t wait until you have kids.” It’s a Dad’s best and truest revenge.

Beach Bliss

beach-stroll.jpgNo other activity that I can think of matches the de-stressing benefits of strolling lazily along a beach looking for seashells. Something about the intensity of visually searching the sand to the sounds of constant surf combine into a total escape. Beach time offers a great way to detach from the “civilized” world’s pressures and stresses, even if only for a few moments.

I always favor beach combing in winter months for the solitude and perspective. A sense of place and peace pervades my soul in the presence of the enormity and grandeur of the ocean. Last weekend I visited the beach at Galveston, which while not on anyone’s short list for beach beauty, does have the requisite surf, sounds, and seagulls that still combine for a pleasant time.

If you like brown, you’ll love Galveston beaches. For most of the year, the beach sand is a dark brown that perfectly matches the water, a lovely nondescript wet brown. I’ve been told by one person who witnessed the following phenomenon that a few times each decade or so a strange current overturning results in actual blue water along our coast. When it happens, it’s said to make you feel like you’ve been transported to a beach in Florida, where blue water is commonplace. But the rest of the time, we locals have to rely on the sounds and smell to create our beach experience. The water and sand colors are so close at times that when the surfs low and the wind still, you can squint your eyes and struggle to tell where the dividing line is between surf and sand.

beach-manowar.jpgYou see all types of people at beaches, although in the preseason there are gratefully fewer humans than usual and those that do venture forth are either fishers or life contemplators simply walking a mind-clearing beach path. Some people prefer walking barefoot at the surf’s edge to enjoy the sensation of sand and surf in toes, but as the picture at the right revels, it’s not a good idea to go sans shoes! The Portuguese Man O’ Wars washed ashore were plentiful, and while most were highly visible, there were handfuls of these little guys that you’d never see until too late. The sting of this seemingly innocent ocean floater can be fatal, although by the time they’re washed ashore, much of their dangling danger has been knocked off by the pounding surf. And no, I didn’t personally test this theory, preferring to keep my sneakers on as I strolled the packed, dark sand.

beach-house.jpgYears ago our family rented a beach front house on this same stretch of beach (picture at right). Sitting on that deck late into dusk sipping a cool drink was heaven. And although not quite as mind-emptying as beach strolling, at least we kept out of the sun and didn’t have to hopscotch the man o’ wars or other sand dangers (broken glass is unfortunately another frequent, invisible danger). The currents of the Gulf of Mexico head towards the Texas Gulf Coast making this strip of sand at times the gulf’s garbage dump. You never know what you’ll come across walking the beach, from organic items to trash to ship parts to full tree trunks floating from some distant, far beach island. I always wonder about the provenance of things unusual I come across beach walking. Sometimes it’s a single shoe, or cover of a book, or bit of foliage that obviously is not from our area.

beach-gulls.jpgI like this particular strip of beach which is beyond the 18-mile road out of town, meaning that only serious surfers or fishers venture this far away from the beer-and-bait shops and other tourist trappings located closer to Galveston. Most of the younger set, being more concerned with who sees whom, play closer to town, which is find by me. Even with few people, people-watching is still in great form. And then there’s the dogs, or I should say, the puppies. Dogs love the beach, and it’s my theory that regardless of the dog’s age, when they hit the sand and can run semi-free, they all become puppies once again. I watched two small dogs, one terrier blend and the other a bit larger mongrel, jumping up and down in their human owner’s truck in their excitement to get out. Door opened and these two “puppies” bolted full speed to the surf, yapping, and jumping in circles and trying to do everything at once: bite the surf, chase the crab, oh wait, chase the seagull, no wait, another crab, ohhh smell this thing, and what’s that? oh look! a dead fish! And on, and on. Meanwhile dog mom and dad took their time getting ready for a stroll, trusting that the two dogs had enough to keep them occupied in the immediate area. As I sat in my beach chair watching this entertaining display, I marveled at how easy dogs can turn on the happy thought doing something this simple. A lesson all us old dogs could stand to learn.

Winter’s White

sign.jpgSaturday a milestone of sorts occurred, but it’s not likely that you read about it in your local paper or saw it on the evening news. The first true sign of spring occurred on the cobblestoned streets of downtown Galveston, Texas. Yes, for the first time since last August or so, Gary wore shorts out in public. Normally, this small event has no effect on anything, but judging by the reactions of small children I passed who suddenly asked their mommies for sunglasses, winter’s white made the streets.

I’m not a sun worshiper by any stretch, but through hiking and other activities through the sun months I usually get a casual tan. Which means, of course, that each winter my legs bleach back to their native bright white, making the first day of spring in which I dare to venture forth in shorts an interesting contrast of colors: semi-tanned upper body blending with white legs like a two-tone ’57 Chevy Bel-Air. I kid about the kids and sunglasses, but not by much. At least I didn’t wear black socks with my hikers and thus avoided being confused with those guys from Florida walking around in Bermuda shorts, white shoes, and black socks. My fashion taste does have some boundaries.

sailor.jpgSaturday was a sunny, moderate day with a slight breeze. Ideal weather in my part of the world that gets blazingly hot and humid sooner than we’d all like. These halcyon days make us Houstonians feel like venturing out into the world like normal folks instead of holing up inside air conditioned everythings to survive the tropical heat. And so at the start of spring we get a brief opportunity to tan our winter white and get some much needed sunshine to warm our souls.

For those of you who survive true winter, I realize this part of the world gets little sympathy for whining about our version of the season, and rightly so. Even though we don’t suffer through extreme cold, ice, or snow, we do live with an extreme monotone grey blah that permeates everything until spring shows up around March of every year. I’d take the bitter cold of a snowy blanket countryside any day over the weathered grey that never changes (except for the frequent, equally grey, cold rains). At least to my eyes that would be a refreshing change of scenery.

cafe.jpgPart of any trip to Galveston includes good food (hey, the definition of a good trip anywhere includes good food and eating illicitly, but I digress…), and Saturday was no exception. I ate lunch at a small restaurant I’d discovered several years ago, one named after our state “bird” – the mosquito. When you’re known for something worldwide, you tend to celebrate that thing whether good or bad. While mosquitoes are the epitome of bad, The Mosquito Cafe is exactly the opposite. A wonderful small caf

Beautiful Dreamer

Sometimes I dream in stories: detailed, articulated plays in my mind. Nothing psychologically disjointed, but vignettes of scenes with characters, plots, and often a theme running throughout. I’ve always wondered if these ideas are given to me to write, or merely entertainment. For the better ones, I use to try recalling them later in the day with little success, in hopes of working them into something. No matter how vivid the dream, evaporation was inevitable and usually within an hour or so of waking.

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

During one particular stretch of extraordinary story dreams years ago, I was determined not to let them escape unrecorded. Although I knew I couldn’t rely on memory to record them later, I thought there must be a way to capture the essence of the stories, and thus trigger my deeper memories into surrendering characters and details that seemed so real during dream time.

My first attempt was the most logical: condition myself to wake, then quickly write down everything, furiously scribbling before the muse yawned and left. It took a few nights of dreams before I actually awoke in the middle of one. Turning on the light, I grabbed my journal from the bedside table and furiously wrote down everything I could, as fast as I could. Satisfied I had caged the muse, I turned the light off and slipped into a deeper sleep, content in my success.

While my mother never admonished me to become a doctor in younger life, from the looks of my journal pages the next day, I missed that calling at least in the ineligible writing requirement. I sat and stared in dumb disbelief at the King’s English I thought was pouring forth from my pen the night before, only to realize that three-year-old son’s scribble book was more legible than this mess. The brain’s failure to connect with my hand’s motor skills combined to cause that story dream to evaporate forever. But I was undaunted and knew there must be other ways to trap my elusive muse.

So that night, armed with a mini-cassette recorder replenished with fresh batteries and a new tape, I went to sleep hoping I had the right gear this time. Sure enough, in the wee hours of the morning with the dream storming in my mind, I sat up, grabbed the tape recorder, and clicked the buttons successfully to earn a red light. I then proceeded to dictate everything I could remember about the characters, plot, location, and even some of the dialogue that sounded so brilliant in my compliant sleep-coma mind. Once again satisfied in accomplishing my goal, I collapsed, pillow-to-head for a few more hours of contented sleep.

Next morning, filled with confidence and fully trusting in technology, I grabbed the recorder and headed off to work where I had access to a foot-controlled micro transcriber. A beautiful machine for writers who like to dictate, the transcriber provides control of speed and pitch, as well as forward and reverse using a convenient foot pedal. Slipping in the mini cassette, I fired up WordPerfect and prepared to capture the details of what was surely a publishable story.

My first thought was one of gratitude…grateful I hadn’t given the tape to my secretary to transcribe. I’m not sure I could have lived down the subsequent ribbing that surely would have ensued. My wonderful dream thoughts could not be converted into editable words because my slurring voice on the tape sounded as though I’d had a few too many drinks. Sigh…

In the end I did manage to find a method useful, at some cost, for capturing these story dreams, and I still use this process on occasion. I don’t have as many story dreams as before, but the ones that come tend to be darker yet more intriguing than before. What works for me is to simply get out of bed and go into the kitchen table with journal in hand and begin to core dump what I could remember of the dream. The act of moving to the kitchen apparently wakes me enough to write legible notes, although I still have to write furiously or the details fade. The downside is my now-stimulated mind won’t let me go back to sleep. Not a significant problem if it’s an hour before the usual rising time, but this often happens at 3 a.m. But that’s okay. At least for a brief moment I manage to cage my muse into telling all, and that’s not a bad thing for a writer.