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OK, for semi-tropical Houston this weather is C-O-L-D.  I get up this morning and find ice on the inside of my balcony sliding glass door.  Condensation near the bottom the glass has frozen, including clogging the tracks with ice.  I won’t be able to step out out onto the  balcony without applying a hair dryer to the ice.   And the city is having rolling blackouts to conserve power, so firing up a blow drier is probably not the most public-spirited thing to do.  I’ll see if afternoon sun makes the problem thaw out on its own.

This reminds me of the time I went with a friend to a 99’s (women pilots) convention in Oklahoma City in February and they were having a severe cold weather event.  I don’t think there was one square inch of that hotel over 60 degrees, and in our room, the sliding patio door completely frosted over.  On the inside.

Domestic thicket

It is now crowded, but quietly and pleasantly so, in my living room.  I dragged in every plant from the balcony except the rose bush.   The rose won’t mind several nights of hard freeze.  Everybody else is more or less tropical and they would mind.  So it’s green stuff everywhere in here.   The parts of a new Ikea desk are everywhere too and  I had to put enough of it together to clear enough floor space to spread the tarp for the larger plants.  The lesser ones are all over my writing desk.  The Aloe Vera has a rosette of pointy, serrated blades almost a yard across:  not the perfect plant with which to adorn a writing desk in use.

It’s possible to swaddle up a balcony full of  plants well enough to survive a cold night or two, but that didn’t sound like a great idea this time.  We have the prospect of four nights in the 20’s.  And this weather came roaring in with north winds strong enough to rock the water in the swimming pool.  I’m pretty sure that my usual system of draping the plants with old sheets, secured by kitchen clips, would have (a) resulted in airborne sheets and (b) left me worrying in the middle on the night about welfare of the plants.

Houston has interesting weather.  My balcony plants get moved indoors about twice a year, one time (or more) in the winter for a long hard freeze, and some years another time (or so) in the summer when a hurricane  is on our doorstep and any pot plant left outdoors would turn into flying debris pummeling anything downwind.   They will shed a few leaves and possibly a whitefly or two, but I like my plants inside, where I can commune with them, much more than I like them being turned into weather-stricken salad.

Wild side

My condo community is fairly sedate.  The people with demanding 9-5 jobs, those of us with home offices where we need to get some work done, the retired folk, and the Medical Center people trying to make up for lost sleep all like it that way. But somebody around here must have had a lively night recently, maybe on New Year’s Eve.  This notice is up on the bulletin boards:   MANAGEMENT HAS A PAIR OF BLACK SLING-BACK SIZE 7 1/2 PUMPS IN LOST AND FOUND.  IF YOUR CLOSET IS MISSING THESE COME TO THE OFFICE FOR THEM.

Wild Prints

Seen at the local park on Kelving Street on this cold morning:  a dog owner with two whippets, both with dog-blankets snapped on.  One of the dog-blankets was a zebra print.  The other was leopard.  Very snazzy;  most likely Christmas presents to the dogs.  The owner was nondescript in an old coat.

Giant Hamster Ball

A hamster ball is the well-known plastic sphere the rodent can run in and exercise on the loose without getting lost in the house – or eaten by the house cat.   I once saw a hamster who knew that in the safety of the ball  he could chase the cat.  It unnerved the cat.  Way to go, hamster.

Yesterday in the playground at Roberts Elementary school they were having a festival with fun and games including a people-sized hamster ball:   a huge, transparent, honeycombed sphere rolling around with a kid scrambling along on the inside, and a  grown-up walking along being a spotter on the outside.

There’s a way cute video of such fun on YouTube.


I love everything about my French press coffee maker, with one silly exception.   When I take it apart to wash it, the slender carafe reminds me of  glassware in college chemistry lab years ago.  And that reminds me how many beakers and other glassware I broke and had to pay for.  I even managed to drop a long thermometer exactly down a sink drain wherein the thermometer cracked.  A new one to finish the experiment cost me $25 and a ferocious scowl from the old man who ran the chemistry stock room.

Since then, either my luck or my dexterity has changed for the better.  I owned a cheap pair of binoculars specifically for bird-watching in slippery places.  The binocs never got dropped or drowned.  They had one close call when I was with a friend way out on a breakwater in Charleston Harbor and a nuclear sub glided by.  With only the conning tower visible, the sub pushed up a wake that took us by surprise.  But we didn’t get washed off the breakwater gear and all.   The binocs finally broke of old age.

I’ve had an inexpensive digital camera for years for the same reason:  it was no great loss if it fell into the Chattahoochee, Arkansas or Potomac rivers; drowned in a canoe-capsize in Clear Creek;  slipped out of my hands in the back seat of a radial-engine trainer doing loops and rolls;  bit the dust on a hiking trail;  or had a mishap when I was skittering around photographing interesting weather.  But nothing bad has ever happened to it .  The camera remains intact.  My coordination may be much better when marveling at the world than when struggling through Freshman Chem lab!

Cell Phone Parking Lot

The Lost and Found cabinet at the Circulation Desk sometimes approximates a cell phone parking lot. . .  but what that phrase means in Houston has more to do with Intercontinental Airport.  IAH has a scruffy but usable parking lot where you can await the arrival of your friends, family or business associates at no cost.  When they call you on your cell phone you drive over to the terminal to pick them up.  You can also use your cell phone to call a special Airport number for arriving flight information.  This is preferred to scads of cars circling around creating smog and gridlock.  It works especially well for international arrivals, since Customs takes an unpredictable amount of time.

Meeting a friend flying back from Frankfurt the other night, I followed conspicuous purple signage* to the cell phone lot.  There were twenty or so vehicles erratically pulled into parking spaces, drivers tapping on laptops or iPads or  dozing off while they waited.   It was rather dark in the lot – too dark for reading a regular book.  I wondered where the security officer that the Airport says would be around actually was.  But the other cars all had drivers – you are NOT supposed to leave an unattended car in this lot – and we formed a ragged flock near the entrance/exit gate, so it didn’t feel unsafe.  When my cell phone rang with my friend telling me she was out of Customs and on the way to the curb, the drive over to Terminal E only took a few minutes.   There was a a melee at the E pickup curb, with multiple lines of private and commercial vehicles and uniformed officers waving drivers to move along unless you had your passenger(s) in your sights.  But it worked out fine.  I collected my friend, she hadn’t had to wait (which, just back from Europe with her body clock saying 2 AM, would have been hard on her),  and I wasn’t out one red dime for parking even though I’d been at the airport for 45 minutes.  Really, the world/city/year is chock full of wonderful stuff!

*The signage at IAH calls it the Passenger Pick Up Waiting Lot, but “cell phone parking lot” has proven to be a more apt and sticky name.

Brushing Up

Running errands on New Year’s Eve, I drove past a gas station on Beechnut and my attention riveted to a youngish man in blue jeans and a denim shirt pumping gas into his car.  His clothing was so well-fitting and the shades of denim so nicely matched that he looked to have dressed carefully casually for a date or a party, or maybe for taking a date to a party.  A person running almost-late for a big date is likely to resort to multi-tasking, but I’ve never seen anybody do it this way:  he was pumping gas with one hand and at the same time, brushing his teeth.

Roses and Reindeer

Houston usually has roses in December, but this year at Winter Solstice it’s all kinds of flowers in bloom.  My friend Jan has a stunner of a peach-pink rose as big as a dessert plate nodding over her front steps.  My balcony has roses, a summer morning glory engaged in an encore performance, and sweet alysum that volunteered up from last year’s seed and put out a swarm of tiny purple flowers.  With daytime temperatures hitting the 80’s people are Christmas shopping in shorts.  The weather forecasters have high hopes that Christmas Eve will see lows in the 30’s and feel more like Christmas.

Warm temps aren’t holding down the Christmas decor.  Lights and trees and wreaths and yard art and cars wearing reindeer antlers.  I saw a great one the other day.  A late-model compact car had perky reindeer antlers adorned with little bells on each prong.  There was a soft brown deer-ear under each antler;  the car even had reindeer ears.  I wonder what an alien anthropologist would make of it…   Suppose a very alien anthropologist sees cars wearing reindeer antlers and ears, once a year.  Obviously it’s an annual religious ritual, one in which the mask of the reindeer god is assumed, and by so doing the car aspires to partake of the divine attributes of the reindeer god, chiefly, flying, but the religious ritual is contextualized in cosmology: the reindeer god is a deity from a mythical creation time when the world was snowy and blessedly cool.

Page 1 of the Houston Chronicle (Dec. 22) had an article titled “Dear Santa:  All we want is winter”  that  started, “The first day of winter felt anything but.  Houston set records both for high temperature… and a high minimum, with Tuesday’s low falling to a mere 68 degrees.”  Later it said, “The record heat caps a year in which Houston recorded its warmest month ever – August – and a temperature as warm as 94 degrees as late as Oct. 27, which had never happened before.”