Joseph Gordon-Levitt

has become my favorite young actor. He was cute and funny in Third Rock, but I've seen four of his films recently that just knocked my socks off. The guy can act, and is choosing kick-ass scripts. If you haven't seen Brick, The Lookout, Mysterious Skin, or the Shadowboxer, be prepared for some raw, thought-provoking scripting, directing, and acting. Definitely not for children.

Each of these movies were nominated for and won beaucoups of film awards. I can't wait to see the next script he picks. He isn't precious, doesn't believe in celebrity, and again, those screenplays are just unbelievable and he does a phenomenal acting job in each.


Ladybird's Legacy

I had the honor to sing for a colleague's memorial service yesterday. The setting was the National Wildflower Research Center, established by Ladybird Johnson. Now a part of the University of Texas at Austin, it is a contemplative retreat, sustained by green technology, and a repository of precious wildflowers and seeds, sculpture, and education. It is a place to renew one's hope and reconnect with what is most beautiful about Texas. There is a water catchment system that irrigates the beds, and paths throughout the acreage, with commemorative benches placed here and there.

Ladybird was well-loved in this town, a gracious gentlewoman who has brightened not only Texas, but the U.S. with her love and sowing of wildflower seeds along our highways. There is nothing more breath-taking than driving around Texas in March or so, if we've had enough rain over the winter, and drowning in bluebonnets, Indian blankets, Indian paintbrushes, evening primroses, winecups, and all the other gorgeous weeds that grow here.

She was key in putting in the infamous 8.5 mile Hike and Bike Trail along both sides of the Colorado River that runs through the middle of town. To call the Colorado River at that point "Town Lake" is a misnomer. However, it opened up the opportunity to rename Town Lake as Ladybird Johnson Lake. A most fitting complement to the wildflower research center. Along the trails you can find trees with labels to tell you what they are, Stevie Ray Vaughn's statue, an off-leash dog park, benches, serious and not so serious walkers and runners, lots of jogging baby strollers, and the largest urban bat population that lives under the Congress Street bridge.

She was a lovely and loving woman, and we are much the better for her good works. The Wildflower Center was a stunning and appropriate gathering place to celebrate the life of our friend in joy and beauty.

Yay for Brahms!

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a musician's musician and composer. He practiced counterpoint (think Bach Two-Part Inventions) for two hours every day before he put pen to manuscript to compose his own work. I call him the hemiola king. Makes singing interesting. Basically, it's shifting the metric pattern from a 3/4 or 6/8 (triple) time signature to what sounds like a string of duples. In other words, you're banging along 1 2 3 1 2 3 and the accent shifts to 1-2 3-1 2-3. You have to hear it...

At any rate, tonight was first rehearsal of the season for the Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble (AVAE), and we're doing a full program of Brahms, featuring the Liebslieder Waltzes. Brahms' style was Classical Romantic, rather than full-out Romantic. He respected the older forms of music (imitation, canon, fugue, et al) and adapted them to structure his work, as opposed to say, Wagner, who wrote what is known as program music--sometimes called a tone poem--which tells a story, or conjures an image, and may be through composed, which simply means the architecture doesn't divide up into neat sections. Think Prelude and Liebestod--restless movement away from a tonal center, never quite landing on a cadence (think the A-men at the end of most hymns).

Brahms wrote for nearly every genre except opera. His lieder (songs) are de rigeur for any singer, and his piano pieces are difficult, but supremely satisfying--you get to use the full range of the piano, and thunder away all your anger or depression. The symphonies are quite pleasant, but perhaps his best known work is Ein Deutsches Requiem (The German Requiem) for chorus and orchestra, which regularly shows up in every chorus' season. It isn't religious so much as spiritual. His tonalities reach deep inside your psyche and resonate with exquisite passion for the listener and the singer.

If you are in Austin on November 8, come listen. You'll hear lots of hemiola :)


Elderblogger badge by Kay/Ronni

A shoutout to Kay of Kay's Thinking Cap for coming up with the idea for the elderblogger badge. She modestly credits Ronni Bennett for helping with the code, but it's all about the collaboration, eh?

I'm psyched that I qualify for the badge, and display it proudly. If you're too young to be an elderblogger, there's another badge at Time Goes By that says "Elderbloggers Rule," and if you meet the criteria, you can show your support for the elderbloggers in your life. Start a trend--go check it out.

Kay features the "Groaner of the Week" and "Kay's Wonderful World of Weird Words," both of which appeal to the twisted wordsmith that lives in my soul. It shouldn't come as much of a shock that she is also a big fan of the annual O. Henry Pun-Off here in Austin, just one of the cool things to do here. She subscribes to The Pundit, in the punny sense of the word. She turned me on to the fact that the pun-offs are up on YouTube, which means endless merriment and fascination, if you can stomach them. An extra helping, please!

I met some articulate, thoughtful, and sometimes hysterically or quietly funny elderbloggers during the week of guesting on TGB, and I'll slowly add their links to my list so you can enjoy them, too.


Fried Okra Productions--what it means

Several folks have asked me why I chose the title Fried Okra Productions. There are two parts to the story.

My maternal grandparents had a great deal to do with instilling independence and self-reliance in their granddaughters. My grandfather came from a farming community in North Texas, and my grandmother's father was a school teacher and wood cutter in Arkansas. I learned how to cook from hanging with my Mamaw in her kitchen in Greenville, Texas.

Papaw always had a kitchen garden, plowing and planting the right-of-way situated between their house and the railroad tracks. Every year they grew squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, peppers of all kinds, onions, and lots of other yummy veggies. Mamaw put up much of the food, shelving it in a little storeroom Papaw built especially for that purpose off the kitchen. Her piccalilli was the best in the state.

She did use recipes, but frequently measured dry ingredients with her hand: a handful of flour was about one cup, and the depression in the palm of your hand was about one teaspoon. That's how I learned how to make cornbread. A handful of flour, one of cornmeal, a teaspoon each of salt and sugar, two to four teaspoons of baking powder, one egg, and a cup or so of "sweet milk," as opposed to buttermilk.

The oven would be preheated to 350 degrees, and some sort of shortening or fat would be in the baking dish in the oven heating while the ingredients were being mixed. When she was ready to pop it into the oven, she would take out the baking pan, pour the grease into the mixture, stir, and pour all back in the pan. At about 20 minutes, she would stick a kitchen knife (not sharp) into the middle of the pan, and if it came out clean, it meant it was ready. If some of the batter stuck to the knife, it needed another 10 minutes or so. At that temperature, the color of the crust was a pretty good indication of doneness. I also learned that when it was cooked, the loaf would pull away slightly from the pan.

My favorite dish was Mamaw's fried okra. Mamaw's was always delicious. The okra had to be fresh and whole. She would prepare a plate or small paper bag with cornmeal and a bit of salt. Then she would cut the stem end off, and slice the pod crosswise into bite-sized morsels. Grease would be heating in a cast iron skillet, and she would cut and shake only enough for one layer in the skillet at a time.

The okra would be turned from time to time to brown crisply and evenly, then scooped onto a paper towel to absorb the excess grease. These crunchy little nuggets had a nutty flavor, and I adored them. These days, it's usually pre-breaded, using flour, and not especially noteworthy. Nothing like the "real" thing.

Mamaw's fried okra, along with Papaw's fried squash, which was prepared similarly, were the mainstays of summer meals. A typical "Mamaw supper" was fresh black-eyed peas, cornbread, collard greens, green scallions, and fried okra. For dessert, we'd crumble a piece of cornbread into a glass of sweet milk. Healthy and scrumptious.

The love and good eating made a lasting impression. I still cook using my hands to measure. That's the first part of the story.

The second part is a relatively recent adventure. Fred Tackett, musician/composer extraordinaire, who is now part of the legendary Little Feat, introduced me to the original group back when they first got started. Over the years, I've come to know and love the other band members. At one of their Austin concerts, I learned that drummer Richie Hayward's son, Severn, who was also Fred's son's best friend, had sustained extensive traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a horrific auto accident, and that they were having a difficult time getting the therapy he needed to function.

As fate would have it, my brother in law is heavily involved with the Brain Injury Association of Texas, or BIATx, and proposed combining the two groups to benefit both Sev and BIATx. The idea was accepted, and we formed Fried Okra Productions to manage the endeavor.

Things were proceeding apace when I suffered a f2f meeting with a concrete garage floor, which resulted in a broken arm, two sprained wrists, and a torn ACL in my good knee. That put me out of commission for quite some time, and the collaboration has been on hold ever since. I would love to get the benefit going again, but it will take more time and energy than I can spare at the moment.

Not to let a good title go to waste, I decided it would be appropriate for my blog. Now, if I can just find a good photo of fried okra prepared properly...

Chris Pirillo rocks!

I owe Chris Pirillo from Lockergnome an apology. He responded promptly to my earlier comment that Ronni Bennett's session at Gnomedex was omitted from the resultant broadcast. This was not the case at all, and I am mortified that I even considered jumping to a conclusion without considering the sheer magnitude of potential technical glitches in mounting the conference and getting the results out to the public. Really, that I jumped to a conclusion, period. That's not the way to foster problem-solving communication.

Had I read Gnomedex's philosophy before thoughtlessly drawing incorrect conclusions, I would have saved myself considerable embarrassment. I wholeheartedly support their mission.

Chris' reply deserves a more prominent location than the comments section. Here's his comment:

"Ah, no... the videos that are there now aren't the "official" videos. :)

We had conversion problems and are trying again with the source Mini DV tapes... trust me, we take Ronni and her message very seriously. ;)"

Thanks Chris, for being so gentle with a jaded, crusted, old lady ;) I'm extremely excited about exploring solutions to these issues, and I applaud your efforts.

Thank you, Ronni!

Imagine my shock when Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By, invited eight elderbloggers to cover for her while she was away at Gnomedex and on vacation, and I was one of the eight! She chose quite a variety of bloggers, each with a strong voice and writing style (according to her lead-in *grin), and the posts have been marvelous. I heartily urge you to drop by and sample the pinch hitters and get TGB on your "must-visit" list.

Ronni has become the "grande dame" of elderblogging, and thoughtfully articulates the various issues of aging, particularly in a societal context. She is a strong proponent of tapping in to the wealth of knowledge and information of the Boomer generation, and a stunning voice in assessing the disconnect among the generations and more importantly, the commercialization of the myth of "eternal youth."

That she presented at Gnomedex (not to mention SXSWi and other techie conferences) and turned heads to focus on how elders are labeled as un-persons is an indication of the depth of her involvement. That Gnomedex put other presenters up on YouTube, BUT NOT RONNI, leads me to think that they need to take her much more seriously. I may call up Gnomedex and take them to task for slighting her. From all second-hand reports, she was easily the classiest act there.

That she is generous and confident in her own self is evident in her invitation to share her space with other bloggers.

It was a huge honor to be tapped. Thank you, Ronni, for your generous gift and your tireless commitment.


Soggy Central Texas

Yes, it's raining again. This time it's the residue from Erin. That means bands of heavy rain with short respites in between. Since the water table is still full, we are automatically in a flash flood warning anytime it rains.

It also means the temp drops a bit. I don't think we've had a 100 degree day yet. Freaky. A few years ago we had 100 days of 100+ temperatures, a high bake.

I don't mind the rain, it's the mold that gets to me. Where there's moisture, there's mold, and my new allergy/asthma doctor has given me a ream of material and action plans and many new medications and devices (nasal irrigation is just plain weird) to help the old bod deal with the onslaught.

That's all OK, except for one thing: Linus can't come in my bedroom anymore. Maybe I'll get some of that special spray, for icy winter nights when he can't stay outside. The worst is no snuggling. I'm not willing to give that up. We nap nicely together.


Mea Culpa

I apologize. I'm mortified. I espouse elder design and this blog is a good example of how NOT to design for elders. What was I thinking? Mushed up green peas? And the font size--I can't even read it myself.

I will not take on shame or blame, I will count it a lesson and find some time to make it easier to read muy pronto.

There are some scintillating writers in elderblogland. You already know of Ronni Bennett and Rosemary Daniell. I was recently introduced to the Joy of Six and Freydblog. Both writers craft exquisitely poignant gems that connect past, present, and future. Wise women all. You know that flash you get when a raw emotion zaps you out of the blue? Wrap that in a technicolor silk scarf of words, and that's kinda how they write.

Elder design. Ran into a new manifestation of the need to be mindful of a few limitations: eyeglasses. Specifically, frames that are so trendy the screws are extra tiny. Really. And the tiny screwdrivers in the eyeglass repair kit are too large. Even the facile young woman who tried to find one that would fit became frustrated.

I fixed them myself. With dental floss. Good thing I had my vision appointment this morning, the string has frayed to a mere wisp. We won't get into the two kinds of eyedrops business.

Nowadays I have three pairs of glasses to lose: everyday progressive lenses, computer with $10 discount store frames, and sunnies--UVA/UVB protection PLUS current ones are so over four prescriptions ago.

Which brings me to the second experience with elder design. Cellular phones. I need one with bigger buttons. Everyone will need one with bigger buttons sooner or later. The occasion was calling in two prescription refills. Do you know how many numerals there are in a prescription number? This pharmacy assigns twelve...with a dash thrown in. What are the odds a 60+ will successfully complete this transaction? Twice. With different numbers. Then comes the pickup time scheduler. "Is that a.m. or p.m.?" My fingers are so clumsy I have no idea whether I'm supposed to collect my prescriptions at 7:00 a.m. or p.m.

I'm being silly, but the point is that both of these experiences have little to do with cognition, and much to do with physical changes. Just because we are 5% down on our fine motor skills doesn't mean we're stupid. As a matter of fact, in a recent article about aging and the brain (I'll have to find the url) the author pointed out that some cognitive areas improve with age. Duh. How do you think the human race evolved? Somebody was smart enough to survive long enough to teach the youngsters how to evade a saber-toothed tiger, tell the chanterelles from the amanita phalloides, or build the latrine downstream. It's crucial to pass along collective wisdom. Like, what happens to you when you eat an amanita muscaria. I know, strictly from observation. The muscariats don't know, because they turn white, pass out, and wake up with nasty headaches and only remember snatches of weird dreams. That bit of wisdom is known by very few, but could possibly deter anyone else from attempting the same experiment. It turns you into a zombie--don't do it. There were only plain old mushrooms in my salad today.

The good news is that there is research leading to the development of brain exercise software and techniques to help the gray matter keep cranking it out.
I like being smart. I don't plan to stop, because as I get older, I always want someone intelligent to talk to, even when I'm alone.

Flashback: Stockholm, 1996. A friend shared a Swedish homecooked meal of chanterelles and reindeer in a savory sauce over mashed potatoes, with other veggies. It was divine. I do love the edible ones, especially the ones in my salad today.


Designing for elders

I had a lovely Monday morning surprise. The July & August 2007 edition of the information and communication tech (ICT) magazine interactions--New visions of human-computer interaction was brought to my attention by a colleague. There is a special section on elder technology, and what has become one of my all-time favorite headlines: "Innovations for graying times--designing for seniors." Is that not priceless?

And not just one, this baby has eight, count 'em, eight articles, under the guidance of guest editor Jonathan Livingston from The Memory Project. Each author offers a vision of the "needs/attributes/solutions" approach to elder technology. These brilliant writers have created elegant, articulate pieces that will feed my current obsession with cross-generational tech design quite nicely.

I love being full of untapped potential.

Getting hot in the kitchen

Literally and figuratively. Literal as in kitchen with western window, so heat gain from cooking with gas is not appealing. Not to mention keeping up with the garbage...I'll say no more.

Figurative in that I am incredibly honored to have been invited by Ronni Bennett, a new shero, to be one of eight guest bloggers on "Time Goes By."

I gotta get my kitchen in order. No question it's gonna get hotter.


Cat thinks he's a bird, takes up residence in tree

Linus defending his dinner. Dogs can't get to it, but other cats, squirrels, raccoons, and opossums can climb or fly up. They mysteriously appear out of nowhere when the kibble comes out. They're usually courteous, and wait until Linus finishes before polishing off his leftovers.

One year, a raccoon learned how to open my screen door with his clever little hands, and would take a swan dive into the plastic bin where I stored 20# sacks of cat food. He got away with it three times, each time with greater brio. The last time, he defiantly chattered at me when I asked him to leave, and took great umbrage when I scooted his rear out the door with a broom.

Opossums are so ugly they're cute. Especially the babies. Mama possums have 2-4 in a litter, and they follow mom everywhere in single file, their little rat tails bringing up the rear.

I hear they're good eating, but I'll pass on killing and cleaning one.

There's an armadillo who lives down the alley, but those guys are diggers. I've never seen an armadillo climb. Maybe some day he'll get curious about our little menagerie and join the fun.

A pair of beautiful, mauve-pink Inca doves live in a nearby tree. More prevalent are the white-wing doves, considered "trash" birds, because they eat up all the other birds' food. We have a whole flock of the white-wings. Waking to the sound of doves "cooing" is most life-affirming. Similar to waking to the sound of waves crashing on the Pacific coastline.

One of my favorite critters from childhood is the Texas horned lizard, or as we call them, horny toads. It breaks my heart that they're on the "threatened" list. We've destroyed so much of our biodiversity I can hardly bear it. All I can say is "STOP IT, DAMMIT!"

Spiders. That Attack.

Did that get your attention? It certainly did mine not long after I moved to Sydney. This 'lil page was in a Sunday supplement, and I immediately tore it out and taped it to the wall. The worst I ever encountered was the orange and green alert boxes above.

Thank goodness. A Sydney funnel-web spider (see above, if you dare) will rear up on its four hind legs, and leap at you, his front four legs clawing the air straight at you. Not a sight I would relish f2f. Gorgeous, nonetheless. As was so much else there. I loved it. I loved those people. I loved that place.

Zona Rosa Writing Day

(Publishing an old draft)

Today would have been Zona Rosa day, except it's Labor Day, which I'm taking to heart and working on my blog. The workshop is scooted to next Saturday, and I'll be there, listening to remarkable writing and sharing what I've done. Need to carve out some time for more extended pieces than blog posts, right after I get my house in order. Now how much of that is excuse, and how much is being pushed out the door by accumulated detritus? The following was from the August workshop...

Today was the first Saturday of the month, which means the sub-rosan Zona Rosa Austin meeting. It always feels good to do timed writing, it's like going to the gym and working out.

For me, it's the short ones. Two ten-minute exercises before lunch wore me out. I highly recommend stretching writing muscles using this technique, setting different periods of time.

La Zona Rosa herself, Rosemary Daniell, has hinted that there's a hot new book out there with stories by a galaxy of insanely good and sensually seasoned women writers, including herself. You can be sure I will buy a copy. At Book Woman, of course.

As soon as I get the press kit, I'll post it.


Sunburns? In Texas? In August??

In my little cubicle at work, I now have a soft, soothing rug under every bit of it. It won't totally lie flat yet, just breaking it in. Keep my head down, get the work done, and the office will settle in. Just In Time. That's all that matters.

So we've had so much rain, everyone showed up with a sunburn on Monday. So? So? Why is that so mind-blowing? Because by August One in Central Texas, everything and everyone is burnt to a toasty crisp. Did you feel the earth shimmy a little when you had the awesome revelation that weather phenomena associated with our current environment is trying to pull the rug out from under us as we write?

Glad I have my new rug.

It's seafoamy and rivery and calming and softening. We're just gonna make it comfy. That's good.

So maybe next time another Motherly Natural environmental krrrrrnk! we'll ALL get hustling and clean things up. And I'll have a rug to ride out on.

Cause I'm all shook up...ooowe-e-e...yuh..yeah, yeah, yeah.
(Repeat to Fade)

P.S. Austin really is a fun place for this to happen. We sit on an ancient, crumbled, worn-out fault line. Thus all the springs and rivers and lakes and the Hill Country. I declare my heart is there...another song.