going home

Most things about this move have been wonderful. The one major black fly in my chardonnay is being so far away from my peeps. So a week ago, I went home to visit my family. James stayed here and held down the fort (that being the dogs, since we’re incapable of putting them in a GD kennel for a few days). I didn’t make it to Houston on this trip, but I still managed to eat queso four times (not kidding).

I flew from San Francisco to Austin. If we’d managed to work in a layover in Portland, it would have been the most hipster flight ever. My plane was diverted to San Antonio because the Austin airport was closed due to bad weather, and we didn’t have enough gas to circle waiting for it to reopen. Didn’t get upset because a) what can you do and b) my parents, brother and Tex-Mex were waiting for me once I actually made it to Austin, only 1.5 hours late.

We spent our visit talking, laughing, eating, drinking and chilling on the back porch watching it rain. It was perfect.


An adorable two year old was seated two rows in front of me. He was incredibly well-behaved, entertaining those of us in the back of the bus the whole flight. He didn’t fuss when we unexpectedly landed in San Antonio or when we took off (again) for Austin. As we began our descent into Austin, for real this time, he Exorcist-puked–all over himself, his father, his father’s backpack, the aisle–and started wailing. Since we were back in the baby section (yay), the parents of the 15 other crying babies started passing the father wet wipes and towels. Interesting fact for us non-parents: the smell of baby puke is fairly indistinguishable from the smell of a fat hairy biker’s puke on 10-cent wing night. Once we landed, a flight attendant came out in a face shield and hazmat suit to clean things up. It was all very dramatic, but since I was traveling alone there was no one to receive my eye rolls. Unacknowledged eye rolls are the saddest eye rolls.

We took evening rides on my parents' mule (not to be confused with the animals two shots above) and were treated to deer, rabbits, raccoons, raptors and lightning bugs.

Each evening, we took a Mule ride (the four-wheeler, not the four-legged conveyance) on the back roads and were treated to deer, rabbits, raccoons, raptors and lightning bugs. Lightning bugs! I hadn’t seen those since I was a kid and thought they had gone the way of the dodo.


It took me maybe 100 shots, but I managed to capture an image of one in my parents’ back 40. See center of picture.


The front of my parents’ house at night. It’s not blurry in reality. Ends up, I don’t make a very good tripod.

Mom downstairs at the job site. Dad and Tohner (Artisan Builders) are building a 10,000 square foot house.

We checked out a couple of Dad and Tohner’s (Artisan Builders) projects. This house is the biggest mofo house I’ve ever seen. Literally 12 of the house I live in could fit inside.


A close-up of one of Tohner’s art pieces. Who knew Martinelli’s apple juice bottles would make for such cool light fixtures? This piece has four. At night, the ridges on the bottom of the bottles make cool designs on the wall.

While Rowan just wanted to drive.

Rowan, ready to drive. We talked about Star Wars. He asked how old I was when the first movie came out (a year older than he is now). He hasn’t seen the first one yet–when he does, I want to know how the scene in the bar holds up for today’s six or seven year old. It was always my favorite part.

But it was still a good idea to check for cars in the rearview mirror. Molly was mostly checking out how awesome she looks in sunglasses.

Molly was supposed to use the mirror to check for cars, but she mostly used it to check out how awesome she looks in sunglasses.

Folks in Brenham are astir about the Blue Bell ice cream shut down.

To say Blue Bell Creameries is a major employer in Brenham would be an understatement. These signs are in practically every fourth or fifth yard.


I turn to her and say: Texas. She says: What?


I said: Texas. She says: What.

They've got big long roads out there.

They’ve got big long roads out there.

And donkeys.

And donkeys. Or maybe burros.

And wee rabbits.

And wee rabbits.

Last meal in Texas. Surprisingly decent queso at Bergstrom Airport's fancy Earl Campbell's Sports Bar.

Oh, and queso. Liquid gold. Texas cheese. This fine specimen came from Earl Campbell’s Sports Bar in the Austin airport. The chips were straight out of a Tostitos bag, but the queso was surprisingly good. Or maybe it’s just that there’s no more legit queso until the next trip home. Some day I shall crack the code of restaurant queso (the special ingredient is plastic!), and the West Coast will be mine.

10- year blog anniversary: people and places

horsiesToday is my blog’s 10th birthday. This is the last historical listicle.

It might seem odd to honor the memory of someone you love by making a bacon monstrosity, but Mason would have approved. In fact, he would have been there eating it with us if he could have.

I always knew I’d eventually go to the Museum of Natural Science with kids I share a little DNA with. Ends up, they were Tohner’s offspring.

Before moving, one of my constant refrains was that the Houston of my youth, the memories of which kept me tethered to the city, was quickly disappearing.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have much love for the place of my birth and the people who live(d) there.

I’ve posted a lot about our travels:
road trip to Grand Canyon
traffic in southern California
a family trip to Carmel and Big Sur
a ghost in New York

More recent travel posts were about our trip home to Texas. It’s different traveling home than it is traveling away from home. Maybe, in the long run, that’s what this blog is about.

10-year blog anniversary: potpourri

all workWe’re almost to the end of this journey back in time. One more post tomorrow, and then it’s back to the present.

This post is about how pussified writers (and many artists, actually) have become. How they need constant reassurance and stroking to put pen to paper, when so many who came before wallowed in obscurity (and even filth) but still managed to crank some good shit out.

You would be amazed how many people google “did phil collins witness a murder?” They find an answer in this post, which was born from a question my brother Mason submitted to my fake advice column on houstonist.com called “Ask a Dilettante.”

I’ve always promised to be honest in this blog, and I’ve mostly succeeded. This was a rare creative writing entry not based on reality.

First I fell in love with Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Then I got a cold splash of reality that maybe it was a little more fiction than reality. Then I realized that most memories are at least a little bit fiction, even when we’re recounting them shortly after the fact, because we’re constantly placing events in the context of our own reality. And my reality is likely different from yours, even when we’re standing right next to each other and maybe I’m a little closer to you than I should be and it’s making you slightly uncomfortable.

Back in the day (2012, in fact) Google search terms that brought people to my blog would show up in a list on my admin dashboard. They were always way more interesting than my blog, so I was sorry when Google went dark on search terms.

10-year blog anniversary: let’s get political

dangerContinuing our look back at past posts:

Once, I was interviewed on the radio (Houston’s Pacifica station, natch) about the Fight stupidization campaign. This is the post that helped make that happen.

While most posts have been based on perhaps unearned bravado and an affinity for my own opinion, every once in a while I sought outside sources. This was my most researched post, and it’s about the first amendment.

The most read/shared post in this blog is about guns. Go figure. I thought it would be one of my odes to Michael McDonald.

10-year blog anniversary: so much awkward


When I’m not experiencing awkward moments, I’m imagining them. Here are a few things that happened–and some that didn’t–over the past decade.

Check out this series of events from 2006. These are the oldest posts to make it into the 10-year blog review. Read in order. Enjoy the non-sarcastic mention of myspace. And see how much more wound up I used to be. Reading this stuff almost gave me a tension headache.
Keith Hill, person-to-person
You’ve got the wrong Crystal Jackson
Or maybe you don’t

When you’re a person of a certain age who doesn’t have kids, some folks assume that means you’re a perpetual child yourself. Not exactly.

What do you do when you really need to go? You Cloo. Assuming you’re willing to pee in the house of a murderer.

Sometimes I don’t even have to have the awkward experience to write about it. Meet Bob and Linda.

The post that required the most personal humiliation was my remarkable experience on a whale watching trip here in central California.

this blog is 10 years old on Sunday


That’s like 1,000 years in blog-time. This is my longest-lived writing project and most meaningful one, even though it’s mostly just poop jokes.

To commemorate the occasion, for the next few days I’m going to share some favorite posts from the 965 I’ve written so far. Yes, I actually scanned back through a decade of this bullshit. Then I got a headache.

After the posts have been posted and Carol Burnett is mopping the place up, I’m going to give away a Fight stupidization. t-shirt in black, XL. I only have two left–I’ve been saving them for random encounters with LouisCK or Neil deGrasse Tyson–but I think this occasion is worthy. More to come on that.

Thanks for reading. It’s nice having company on this trip.

Mill Creek Redwood Preserve

palo colorado road

There’s a road off Highway 1 halfway between Carmel and Big Sur called Palo Colorado. The lower section is a redwood grove with old cabins and the occasional odd structure nestled among the trees. Like most mountain roads around here, it’s one lane, so when someone’s coming you have to pull off to the side. Drivers fall into two categories: speeding locals who want you to get out of their way and gawking interlopers who need to get out of your way. Eventually the road begins its climb. Instead of trees and cabins next to you, you have trees and a steep drop into the canyon. Mill Creek Redwood Preserve is 6.8 miles up the road–this is the view from the “parking lot,” which is really just a wide spot next to the road that can fit maybe six cars in a line if people don’t park like jerks.

mill creek

You sign up online for a permit (link below) and wait for them to send you the okay, which you print out and put on your dash. The limit is eight permits a day, so there’s never a crowd–something that’s getting harder and harder to find lately. We were the first in–you have to sign a clipboard when you arrive/depart–and only saw four people in the three hours we were there.


The trail in the 1,500-acre park was built by hand over a 10-year period by a dude from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District with help from AmeriCorp volunteers and prison crews. From the park’s website, “The craftsmanship is reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps era of trail building during the Great Depression.”




Glorious trees. Redwoods, oak and madrone.

the birds

And a cacophony of bird sounds.


rocky trail

The trail is 5.5 miles round trip. The elevation gain is less than 250 feet, so this is a fairly easy trek. You cross a creek 8 or 9 times by bridge (and the creek wasn’t even a crick when we did the trail last weekend, so the bridges were mostly unnecessary). Still glad I had my walking stick because there were a few rocky spots and I’m a klutz.


You know you’re getting close to the end of the trail once you emerge from the trees.


Your reward is comfortable seating to take in the view.


And it’s a helluva view at 2,000 feet. Even when the ocean is socked in by fog, as it was on this day.


Yes, under that foggy cloud (cloudy fog?) lies the Pacific.


I accidentally dropped a wet wipe on this lizard. Other wildlife included butterflies and moths and the previously mentioned birds. We also saw a ringtail cat (a type of raccoon),  but it had shuffled off this mortal coil leaving behind its lovely tail and desiccated corpse. We kept an eye out for mountain lions, since we’ve seen one near this park before. No dice, but we did see a bunch of hipsters (a PBR, if you will) just up the road at Bottcher’s Gap Campground. We’d hoped to enjoy the canyon view for a few minutes, and I needed to make a pit stop–there are no facilities at Mill Creek. But the lot was full and there were too many jorts and oversized glasses, so we rolled back down the road. It took 20 minutes to drive the 6.8 narrow and windy miles to Highway 1, where we left blue skies behind us and headed off into the fog.

Mill Creek Redwood Preserve
Bottcher’s Gap Campground

festival festivities

Pacific Grove is having its annual spring celebration this weekend: multiple bands, local dance troupes, kids doing karate, dogs dressed in costumes, funnel cakes, crafts for sale, adults corralled in a beer garden (PG was dry until the mid-60s and evidently still frowns on people walking around with beers in their hands) and rides for the kids.

We attended last year’s event, which was just a couple of weeks after we moved into our house. I think we were still shell-shocked. This year was a lot more fun.


Moonalice is the headlining act both days. They play psychedelic roots-rock, have amazing technical prowess (live streaming most shows free online) and are fond of marijuana.


This is Barry Sless. He is very talented.


John Molo (drummer) is the tallest member of the band and also seems to have the most fun.


James and I ate a funnel cake today because that’s kind of the rule of going to a festival like this. It was very windy, as it often is this time of year, and a huge amount of powdered sugar blew off the funnel cake and onto my face. And everything else. It looked like I’d taken a dive into a vat of cocaine. But it sho tasted good. Humiliation doesn’t really impact my taste buds. Hope the dude running the drone got some good footage.


I thought this guy making a smoothie with pedal power was the most hipster thing I saw today, then I noticed the bike valet. Actually, it may be a tie.


Pure joy.


I bet it’s illegal in California to set your orange balloon free.

Finally, there were a lot of guys who appeared to be doing a Michael McDonald impersonation. Perhaps it’s inevitable if you’re an older white man who still has thick hair and a beard.

We’re probably going to go again tomorrow. It’s not often there’s music and dancing in the streets around here.



Point Sur Lighthouse

Last night we went on a moonlight tour of Point Sur Lighthouse in Big Sur. They do the nighttime tours once a month or so, to coincide with full moons.

You can’t make a reservation. Instead, you park just off Highway 1 on the west (ocean) side of the road near the gated entrance, each car lining up after the one that arrived before it. Forty-five minutes before the tour starts, they open the gate and let in one car at a time to drive the narrow, rutted road to the base of the large volcanic rock where the lighthouse and other buildings sit. There’s little room for parking, so they limit the tour to 40 people. If you don’t make the cut off, that’s a sad drive back to wherever you came from.

We arrived 30 minutes before the gate was scheduled to open and an hour and 15 minutes before the tour was to start, and we were maybe the 10th car in line. When we saw there were five or six people in the vehicle ahead of us, we worried we might not make the cut. So you can imagine the expletives that flew when we saw a couple of cars zip past the line we’d been sitting in for 20 minutes to circle around and start their own line on the other side of the gate. Oh hell no! They aren’t even facing the right way on the road! This will not stand! If they get in and we don’t, Imma flip my shit! Etc.

Lucky for us, the dudes running the show are hip to that little trick. When they opened the gate, they let in those of us facing south first. Kudos to the lighthouse volunteers for getting it right.


the drive in from the gate to the lighthouse


the walk up is less than a mile with a 360 foot elevation gain – not too strenuous because the volunteers stop pretty regularly to share interesting information – be warned that the wind is eye-wateringly strong in a few places, so in addition to dressing in warm layers, a hat or scarf that covers your ears is highly recommended


the first peek of the lighthouse (center of photo)


the entire property is being lovingly restored by a group of volunteers –  tours and purchases in the gift shop help fund the process, though right now they need to raise about $3 million to restore the last building (the big one in this shot) – it’s a triplex that once housed three lighthouse-tending families (a ghost in a blue jacket with gold buttons hangs out there now – not sure what he thinks about the restoration)


as with most of the coast around here, there’s a fairly steep drop-off and rocks waiting below


the lighthouse








James and a sunset captured twice


inside the lighthouse, first floor


second floor of lighthouse – prisms for light (and visual awesomeness)


this all looked very astronomical


sometimes tour groups get to go up and outside the light – not at night, though


the light, after taking a long flight of stairs to the top of the rock


a juvenile blue whale washed up on shore below the lighthouse – this is its jawbone (hard to see because we were down to a few flashlights at this point and the full moon was mostly hidden by clouds)


nice touch in one of the renovated buildings – though James and I often fantasize about living in Big Sur, we agree we wouldn’t make it very long as lighthouse keepers – a cold, lonely and windy existence that might make one cray-cray (redrum)


this is what 45 is

[This post is in no way an invitation for the god of ridiculous blog coincidences to shoot a tragic foot situation my way.]

When I was a little kid, I heard a story about someone working in a factory who put their hand where they shouldn’t and all four fingers were chopped off. Only the person didn’t know right away because their brain hadn’t processed the information–instead, they saw four bloody, severed fingers and thought, “Huh. That’s weird. Where did those fing–HOLY FUCK!”

I used to think about that story a lot because, for years, I had a nagging fear I’d lose a finger or toe and be forever relegated to the freak show. When you’re still in your first decade, losing part of your physical being seems like the ultimate horror, followed closely by a boy seeing your panties during co-ed square dancing in the cafeteria, which they made you do whenever it rained and you couldn’t have recess outside. You’re too inexperienced with the world to know there are much, much worse things you can–and will–go through.

Let’s fast forward to today. I was doing a bit of yard work, trimming the hedges (not a euphemism) with freshly sharpened hedge trimmers. I cut the stuff down, it fell on the ground, I dragged it over to the yard waste can, then I chopped it into smaller pieces where it lay so I could fit the maximum amount possible in the can.

I was wearing flip flops, of course, and as I made fast work of the debris, it occurred to me that if I wasn’t careful, I might chop off a toe instead of cutting through a branch. And unlike the effect it would have had in my childhood, that thought wasn’t scary. Sure, it would hurt like hell and probably bleed a lot, but other than getting a great blog post out of it and maybe eating some sympathy ice cream, it wouldn’t have a major impact on my day-to-day, my foot modeling career never having taken off.

Tomorrow I turn 45. For most of us, by the time you reach that age you’ve seen some shit, man, and come out the other side. Battered, bruised, a bit gravity-ravaged–but still kicking. Those childhood fears are mostly inconsequential–except for the thing under the bed. That one is still quite healthy.

So I wonder–if I get to be an old lady–what will I think about the things I worry about today?

this duck says "just relax"

this bird says: just relax, baby, and ride with the tide–and maybe wear real shoes when gardening