School

Decision Time, Part III

Read Part I here

Read Part II here

On Day Three we got down to business, driving around looking at neighborhoods, apartment complexes and libraries.

I cannot overemphasize Luke’s reliance on public libraries to feed his insatiable appetite for knowledge. He checks out stacks of books at a time, almost all non-fiction, almost all on political or historical topics. Access to a good library is fundamentally necessary to his happiness and quality of life. Unfortunately, the little neighborhood libraries in San Antonio are geared more toward families and young children. None of them met the needs of our young revolutionary.

Our search for the right neighborhood was no more successful than Luke’s search for the right library. We found a few pretty ones, but nothing really clicked for us.

We did check out a local H-E-B, which is where virtually everyone in San Antonio gets their groceries, and we had a small, childish laugh when we discovered what H-E-B stands for.

We had contacted some apartment complexes in advance and arranged for viewings. One of these was up on the far north side, which we had not yet visited. Driving into this part of the city on Loop 410 was a surreal experience. The farther north we drove, the more San Antonio’s unique Hispanic flavor was replaced by ubiquitous chain stores and restaurants: Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Pappadeaux. It looked like North Richland Hills. Add some mountains and palm trees and it could have been Temecula. As we left the freeway loop and continued north on surface streets, it became more and more clear that a completely different culture presides up there. Before our trip someone told me that “living outside of 410 is like living in a real-life Truman Show,” and now I know what they meant.

And here I have to grudgingly admit, not without a certain small amount of self-loathing, that this part of the city falls more into our comfort zone than the colorful southern parts do. It checks all of the boxes: easy access to wild green spaces and hiking areas, sunny yards for a kitchen garden, boarding stables for Mahogany. This is most likely where we will end up, or at least start out.

When we got to the apartments that we had arranged to look at in this area, the office manager was out. We walked around on our own to get a feel of the place and realized fairly quickly that it wasn’t what we were looking for. The complex was built onto a hillside, and the driveways and parking spaces were so steep they looked like a transmission/parking brake endurance challenge. The location itself was uninspiring as well.

As we walked back to our car, the manager passed nearby in his golf cart on his way back to the office. He stared at us like he thought we were tweaker transients looking for scrap metal to pilfer.

We figured we might as well go in and talk to him since he was supposedly expecting us, so we changed course and headed to the office. I told him that I had spoken to someone on the phone about looking at the apartments.

Maybe he really did think we were transients or something, because he treated us as if we were wasting his time. He launched condescendingly into a list of requirements – income verification, criminal background check, rental history and so on – as if each one were a “gotcha” that would obviously disqualify us. By the time he realized that we were actual potential customers and adjusted his tone accordingly, we had lost all interest in doing business with him.

Those apartments weren’t right for us anyway, but the experience felt like a bad omen. For whatever reason, our appearance apparently wasn’t up to the local standards. What’s even the point of moving if we’re just going to end up in the same kind of conformist gatekeeping nonsense that makes DFW so visually appealing but culturally uninteresting?

The only other place that we had wanted to visit on the far north side was the “highest elevation point in San Antonio.” That turned out to be kind of a letdown too. The highest point in San Antonio is a restaurant parking lot that isn’t very high.

We chilled there for a while and talked about our impressions of San Antonio. The one thing we know for sure is that DFW isn’t where we want to be. It absolutely has its good points, but it’s a slow death of the soul for people like us. Here’s an example: in the four and a half years that I have lived in the Metroplex, I have not managed to have a single meaningful, get-to-know-each-other conversation with anyone there, and it hasn’t been for lack of trying. They are mostly a polite, pleasant people who are happy to chat about the weather and other superficial topics. I’ve had fun conversations, clever conversations, informative conversations. But whenever I try to bring up any deeper philosophical topics, they either laugh uncomfortably and change the subject, wander off, or tell me straight up that they cannot understand what I’m talking about. I’ve begun to suspect that there is actually no deeper level in their minds at all, even though that goes against everything I believe about the human soul. And yes, I realize how douchey and Iamverysmart I sound right now, but this is a profoundly alienating environment for us. Like, if it turned out that the entire population of DFW were actually androids like in The Stepford Wives or The World’s End, I would just be like, “Well, that explains it then.”

Anyway. Luke said that the absence of good libraries in San Antonio was a dealbreaker. I said that he just needs to give up on the little local branches and start looking at college libraries. We weren’t too far from UTSA at that point, so we drove over to look at its Peace Library.

Luck was just not with us that day. The library closed at 6pm, and we reached its door at 6:04. Still, the idea of having access to college and university libraries satisfied Luke. We agreed to give San Antonio a shot, and if it doesn’t turn out to be the right place for us, well, there’s a whole wide world out there just waiting to be explored.

When we were planning last year’s road trip to Austin, someone told me that we should definitely check out Enchanted Rock. We didn’t make it that time, but we did add it to the list of stuff we eventually wanted to do. So for this trip our plan was to leave San Antonio on the afternoon of the third day, spend the night at a campsite at the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and spend as much of the fourth day climbing around and exploring as we felt like before heading home.

This should have been completely doable. I had submitted my vacation request about a month in advance, after clearing the dates with my supervisor. My request sat in the system, unadressed, until three days before we had planned to leave. It was declined.

I had mentioned this road trip to various managers over the course of the month and no one had given me any indication that it would be a problem. I have a new supervisor now than the one that I had originally cleared the vacation with, but still. I had requested less than half of the vacation time I had accrued – four days out of the week-and-a-half I could have asked for – and somehow that was too much.

Anyway, long story short, I spoke to my new supervisor and got my four days of vacation, but not the same four days that I had requested. So even if I had rolled the dice and reserved a campsite at Enchanted Rock far enough in advance, it wouldn’t have done any good because we ended up not being there on the night we thought we would.

We ended up just playing the whole thing by ear. When the sun set on the third day we were sitting near a fountain in a courtyard at UTSA, still discussing our life goals. Our tent was in the trunk, and we still wanted to see Enchanted Rock, so I called a KOA near Fredericksburg and tried to reserve a campsite. They were booked full for Spring Break, but they recommended a nearby park that offered no-frills tent camping. I called there and was able to secure a spot.

It was an hour’s drive to the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park. When I checked in the receptionist asked if we were going to Enchanted Rock. I said we were, and she advised me to get there as early as possible, since she had heard that the lines were already really long by 7:30am. If I had known how useful that bit of advice would turn out to be, I might have hugged her right there. For real, she saved our whole day.

Camping tech has come a long way since my childhood days of heavy canvas tents and dim kerosene lanterns. We just bought a basic 4-person Coleman Sundome for this trip, but I love it. The most challenging part of putting it up was the brisk wind that kept trying to blow everything away. Once we got it assembled and staked down, the wind was a non-issue.

Lighting tech is on a whole new level these days. Our little $10 LED lantern was almost too bright on its brightest setting. The half-brightness setting was easier on the eyes and still lit up the whole interior when we hung it from the handy loop in the center of the tent.

The lantern really proved its value when it turned out that these primitive tent sites had no access to electricity. It runs off of a lithium battery that lasts forever, recharges via USB and doubles as a portable charger. So it provided plenty of light for setting up the tent and eating the supper we’d packed, recharged my camera’s battery while we slept, and then (partially) recharged itself on the half-hour drive to Enchanted Rock the next morning.

But that’s a story for the next post.

Read Part IV here

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Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Family, kids, Life, Road trip, School, Travel, Weather, Work Life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Graduation

Elizabeth’s high school graduation ceremony took place in the Fort Worth Convention Center. Her dad and…uncle-in-law? Not sure how to say that. Anyway, Steve and his sister’s husband, Brent, drove out from Anza for the occasion.

This was my first time inside the Convention Center. It is big.

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The ceiling is a spiderweb of catwalks and gantries. I want to play tag up there!

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I enjoyed the ceremony, but I think the most entertaining part of it was listening to Steve and Brent discussing their strategies for surviving a terrorist attack. DFW is a bit more diverse than Anza.

Getting a photo of Elizabeth receiving her diploma pushed my camera’s zoom to its limits.

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After the ceremony we went next door to the Water Gardens to cool off.

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There was much frolicking among the menfolk.

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Luke was looking rather dashing.

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Congratulations, grown-up girl!

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Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Celebrations, Family, kids, Life, School | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Difference a Year Makes

Yesterday was our one-year Texas anniversary: one year ago yesterday the kids and I rolled into Bedford to start a new life. We knew, or hoped, that it had to be better than what we were leaving behind, but we had very little idea of what to expect here. It was a leap of faith, for sure. So yesterday, after we registered Luke for his new school year, we went out for celebratory burgers and ice cream sundaes and spent our meal talking about everything we love about Texas and how awesome life has become over the past year. I felt like throwing confetti.

Mahogany, on the other hand, is DONE with this Texas summer heat. I have never seen her looking so thin, sun-bleached, bug-chewed and totally lacking in enthusiasm.

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I wormed her to be on the safe side, but most of her pasture-mates look about the same, especially the darker-colored ones. This heat is hard on horses. But today I noticed that her summer coat is starting to shed out, which reminded me that the days must be getting shorter. Funny, that used to be such a big deal back in Anza. Now I live my life almost entirely by electric light and have only a vague grasp of what time the sun sets and rises on any given day.

I did have one little rush of nostalgia a few days ago. I was on the closing crew at work, and when my shift ended I stepped out into the muggy late-night heat and suddenly realized that if I were in Anza I would be up on my roof with the kids, enjoying a cool mountain breeze and watching the Perseid meteor shower that comes around every mid-August. In Anza you can see ALL the stars, and the Perseid shower is always worth staying up for. In DFW, stars and meteor showers might as well not exist at all.

Elizabeth’s registration day was Tuesday. She cannot wait for the new school year to start. I really like her campus.

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But I’m writing this all out of order. When I wrote my last entry, Luke was still in California and Elizabeth hadn’t left yet. Luke returned on June 28 and Elizabeth flew out on July 2. With her gone, neither Luke nor I felt much like celebrating on the Fourth, but we were pleasantly surprised by a nice view of fireworks from our north-facing windows.

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We fell into a pattern during the eight weeks that one or the other kid was in California. None of us at home wanted to do anything fun that the absent person would miss out on, so we kept putting off all significant outings and family activities until we were all together again. By the end of the two months, this had a seriously negative effect on my overall happiness. Stuff that I usually shrug off at work was stressing me out, I was losing patience with poor Luke at home, and I started having trouble concentrating on even simple tasks. I didn’t feel like myself again until Elizabeth came home and we fell back into our comfortable family routines.

Luke and I did have one nice little hike while Elizabeth was away. We had been wanting to explore a particular trail ever since we moved into our apartment, and a sudden stretch of cool weather made it too tempting to put off.

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Yesterday, after the anniversary sundaes, we showed Elizabeth the trail.

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It felt like the perfect casual celebration of our first year in Texas.

We’re looking forward to Year Two!

Categories: Animals, Family, food, Horses, kids, Life, School, Weather | Leave a comment

Icepocalypse

After living in Anza for 23 years, I’m used to all kinds of weather. August monsoons, April snowstorms, June frosts, triple-digit-temperature heatwaves, hailstorms, earthquakes, the howling Santa Ana winds . . . I thought I’d pretty much seen it all.

This week, Texas showed me something new.

It started Thursday afternoon, a freezing rain that turned to ice when it came into contact with any surface. I didn’t think much of it, other than to be mildly amused as the first ripples of alarm spread across local news stations and weather channels. The kids’ school district announced that school would be closed Friday. How adorable, I thought. A little sleet and the Metroplex shuts down.

The next morning we awoke to a lovely winter scene. Trees and plants were glazed in a sparkling clearcoat of ice, and snow blanketed rooftops, lawns and streets. Festive!

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Except that it wasn’t snow, it was a white, granulated ice that turned the roads and sidewalks into skating rinks. The gray clouds didn’t clear on Friday, and the temperature only rose enough to create a thin, deadly layer of water atop the ice. Driving anywhere was out of the question.

The first stirrings of bemusement, the vague idea that I was dealing with something new, came to me Friday afternoon. For one thing, the road past the house was still a sheet of ice. Back in Anza, folks would have been out on the dirt roads with their tractors, making sure that everyone could get to a paved road. The paved roads themselves would have been passable by noon, without any plowing. At 4000ft elevation snow doesn’t last very long on black asphalt once the sun comes out, which it always does after a storm.

But the city doesn’t clear neighborhood roads here, and other than scattering sand and salt there wasn’t much they could do about that thick layer of white ice even on the main roads. Granted, there are several grocery stores within walking distance of our place, so not being able to drive out wasn’t a life-and-death issue like it can be in isolated places like Anza. I’ve heard that a lot of people in DFW were without power for hours or days after the storm, but ours stayed on, thank goodness. For us it was more of an inconvenience than a disaster. In retrospect I wish I had taken more photos, but I was too busy with not going outside and stuff. Brr.

On Saturday, that thin layer of melted water had refrozen to harder, slicker ice. The roads were worse than before. The heavy cloud cover remained. I had planned to run some errands with the kids on Saturday, but I cancelled everything and we stayed home. My car was still encased in ice anyway.

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One other thing about DFW roads: they are designed to prevent flooding. This area gets heavy rainfall, and flooding is a real problem in some areas. So the roads are not flat like SoCal roads, they are noticeably higher in the middle and lower along the sides to keep water running off into the storm drains instead of puddling. Trying to drive my little Saturn on those roads would have been like bowling an entire game of gutterballs.

By Sunday, bits of asphalt were peeking through the ice. I broke the Saturn out of its shell of ice, and the kids and I ventured out to return some library books and buy some groceries. We did not die. It really could have gone either way, though.

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The views from the Bedford Library looked like Christmas cards.

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Some frozen rozes at the Hurst Library:

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On Monday the schools were still closed. While most of the busier roads were fairly clear, a lot of smaller roads were still iced over. My computer sits next to a large window facing the backyard, and as I worked I could hear the leaves falling from the trees. They were still frozen solid, so each leaf fell with an audible “clunk.” I feel that leaves should not “clunk” when they fall. It was mildly unsettling.

Monday night I snapped this pic:

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If anything, the icicles have gotten longer since the storm.

As I write this (8am Tuesday), it’s 20º outside and the yards and rooftops are still blanketed in white ice.

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The schools are back in session though, so I guess the roads are clear.

The shortened winter days put my afternoon/evening walks on haitus a couple of weeks ago, and the icy ground has made weekend hiking and riding next to impossible since the storm. The forced inactivity is starting to make me feel cranky and depressed. But the sky is blue, and I see actual sunshine up in the treetops. Maybe I can make time for a walk today.

I don’t want to end this post on a grouchy note, so here are some nice statues I saw up in Grapevine the weekend before last.

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Categories: Family, kids, Life, School, trees, Weather, Winter | Tags: | Leave a comment

Everything But Money, Part VII: The Modern Woman’s Dilemma, Continued

This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

** ** **

The easy answer is to proclaim that woman’s mission in life is to be a mother. Most women want to be mothers, but they were also trained for many other professions. Is is possible to be a good chemist and a good mother? Can a mother be in two places at the same time? What about the needs of the children? And what about the country’s need for talent of all kinds? If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men? And what right have men to ask their mates to deny their talents and devote themselves to housekeeping?

Some people have suggested that a woman should get a full education, then marry, raise her children, and after about ten years, go back to her career. The children would then be taken care of by some member of the family, or a maid. The chances of resuming her career after ten years, however, are not very good.

Perhaps the husbands of such women should stay home and raise the children. The husband as breadwinner is only a convention based on the assumption that he is the stronger of the two. In this age of technology we don’t need strong people; we need skilled people.

Perhaps there should be all-day schools that would take care of the children from 7am to 6pm.

Perhaps women should postpone going to college until after their children are old enough to be looked after by others.

Perhaps those college girls who feel very intensely about a life devoted to science or the arts should be encouraged not to get married at all.

At any rate, we have worked ourselves into a situation we did not anticipate when we proclaimed liberty and justice for all and built an educational system to promote it. Perhaps we did not truly believe that woman could become the equal of man. Well, she is, and, in many instances, superior. Man had better find a just way of giving her her due.

There are many fine mothers who want to stay at home but are forced by economic necessity to neglect their children and go out to work. Society should subsidize these women adequately and keep them at home. We cannot have Papa on the night shift and Mama on the day shift, leaving kids to shift for themselves.

There are also many mothers who use work as an excuse to get away from the responsibilities of home. They rationalize themselves into a job that will provide the “luxuries” they claim the children need. Most children would rather have the mother at home than any “luxury.” A key to the house is not a substitute for the welcome of a mother at the door. Unwarranted mother absenteeism is an unhealthy condition in the house.I am not talking about leaving the children with Grandma or some other competent and devoted person while the parents grab a few hours or days together. I do refer to chronic neglect in so-called “rich” homes where children of educated parents are being raised by semiliterate strangers. It does not make sense for an intelligent mother, presumably aware of the emotional, aesthetic, spiritual and physical needs of children to turn hers over to the care of a housekeeper. One of the most revealing comments was made by a youngster who, when his mother said, “Don’t tell me what to do. I know how to bring up children,” replied, “You do? Were you once a maid, Mom?”

** ** **

It’s unfortunate that in the half-century since this book was published, we seem to be no closer to resolving these issues. In many ways we’ve lost ground: instead of working together for a mutually beneficial solution, resentment and hostility seem to be mounting on all sides.

One thing I do take exception to is Mr. Levenson’s question, “If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men?” Is he suggesting that parenting isn’t an intellectual pursuit? That intelligence and wisdom and knowledge are wasted resources in the upbringing of the next generation of humanity? I don’t think that’s true AT ALL. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another thing I’d like to add is that the father can make or break a mother’s sense of fulfillment and contentment in her role as homemaker. In my opinion, any man who gets his wife pregnant and then abandons her to her domestic fate while heedlessly continuing to enjoy freedom and recreation without her has earned himself a spot in the Special Hell. If both husband and wife aren’t ready to shift their priorities to accommodate the needs of children, then they should not become parents. Period. It’s not like the world is underpopulated, or needs more neglected children.

I could rant almost indefinitely on the subject, but this post is already too long. I’d enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives, though.

Categories: books, Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage, School | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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