Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

For Texans, eccentricity is normal, valued, healthy

I have often heard people refer to Texans as eccentric.

“This state loves a maverick,” Kinky Friedman. Texas singer/songwriter/gubernatorial candidate said. “Always has.” I suppose that’s true.

The word “maverick” came from the surname of a Texan. Samuel Augustus Maverick was a Texas lawyer, politician and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. His name became synonymous with those who were independently minded, supposedly because he refused to brand his cattle.

Truthfully, Maverick didn’t brand his stock because he just wasn’t interested in ranching.

Still, the name stuck and it was in Texas that the maverick mystique was born.

Texas is full of independently minded people, so many in fact that Austin writer and performer Gene Fowler wrote a book entitled, Mavericks: A Gallery of Texas Characters, that addresses our more famous eccentric Texans. In Fowler’s book, “Commodore” Basil Muse Hatfield, first Admiral of the Trinity River, is profiled.

“It’s all right to lie about Texas,” Hatfield said, “Because it’ll be the truth tomorrow.”

Hatfield is remembered for having taken a barge down the Trinity River when others said it couldn’t be done. He ran, unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator in 1941. His platform: a five-ocean navy.

Examples of Texas eccentricity can be seen in Houston at the annual Art Car weekend. The 26th Annual Houston Art Car Parade will be held May 11, 2013. Cars and trucks of all makes and models are decorated in ways limited only by the artists’ imaginations. To see more of Houston out-weirding Austin, visit www.orangeshow.org/artcar.html.

Speaking of cars, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo is home to ten Cadillacs half-buried, nose-down facing west. It was assembled in 1974 by Stanley Marsh III, helium millionaire, who owns the field in which the display stands. I can’t say there’s a point to the display, but it is something to talk about.

Commodore Hatfield, Friedman, the Art Car Parade and Cadillac Ranch are just a few famous examples of Texas bizarre behavior, but eccentric Texans aren’t necessarily of the headline-making variety.

When I take Highway 31 east to Tyler to see my family, I pass a piece of farm property marked by six toilets-turned-flower-pots outside the property gate. I have christened it “El Rancho de Seis Toilettas.” It took some kind of eccentric personality to decide, “Hey. I’ve got these six surplus toilet bowls. I think I’ll turn them into planters and put them outside my gate.”

Driving further along Highway 31 and into the town of Hubbard, there’s a big Victorian-era house on the main drag that is always decked out for whatever holiday happens to be approaching. Whether Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, this place looks like a party store threw up on the lawn. That level of decorating fidelity requires a homeowner to be retired or just a few tortilla shells shy of a taco dinner.

Eccentricity is not a bad thing at all and I certainly do not mean to imply that. Psychologists have begun to study eccentricity not as a behavioral defect, but as the mark of a more than well-adjusted individual who is happier and healthier mentally and physically than the “eccentricity-challenged.”

Eccentrics, notably Texas eccentrics, are just folks who know how to put on a show, have a good time and not give a hang about what the neighbors think.

Texans love their eccentric family members, so much so that we haul ‘em down from the attic and show ‘em off at dinner.

I have an uncle who is something of a mad scientist. He used to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. His specialty is optics. He’s quite good at it; even had a law of physics named for him with regard to beveling mirrors for lasers. He was on the committee for the American Society for Precision Engineering’s 24th annual meeting in October 2009 in Monterey, Calif. He is the president and chief executive officer of Dallas Optical Systems, Inc. Uncle J.M. also is our family eccentric. Nobody is better at telling funny stories than him. He’s a master of dead-pan, bizarre punch line comic timing, on par with Steven Wright and the late Mitch Hedberg.

My uncle was the one who, while in college, ended up on scholastic probation and got drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. While in the Army, J.M. took up boxing and was evidently pretty good at it, not that this is eccentric; it’s just interesting.

No one in the family is more talented at arc welding than J.M. He created all sorts of weird metal yard art way before it was in vogue.

In his youth, J.M. had been hit in the head with a golf club and thrown through the windshield of a car in an accident, blows to the head while boxing notwithstanding. He survived and ended up with degrees from the University of Texas. Yep. That’s Texan alright.

Marching to the beat of a different drummer is healthy. Non-conformists generally have a better outlook on life than most folks. Being a little weird is sometimes what it takes to survive when the world is not so kind.

I can’t point fingers at eccentric Texans without admitting that I am one. My eccentricity manifests itself every spring at a renaissance faire in Waxahachie. I’ve been doing it for seventeen years. To tromp around in period velvet garb in a muddy recreation of a 16th century English village, rain, snow or shine, performing improvisational street theatre takes either bravery or insanity and often a little of both. I couldn’t just join a civic theatre group to exercise my creative side. Nope. It had to be something of epic, eccentric, Texas-sized proportions.

It’s my therapy, and as any fellow eccentric Texan will tell you, doing what you love is the best kind of healing. Besides, it gives my relatives something to talk about and I always have an invitation to dinner from them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cowboy up: It’s not just a phrase, it’s a lifestyle

Written for the Fort Hood Sentinel's Tex Messages on February 17, 2011.

Cowboy up.

I was asked recently what that phrase meant. I have to tell you, it’s a new phrase in Texas phraseology, but it’s an old concept. For one to “cowboy up” –or “cowgirl up” for that matter—one must get tough, determined and face whatever comes with great deal of “grit.” And if you don’t know what “grit” is, just watch John Wayne in “True Grit” (or “The Green Berets”).

To “cowboy up” wasn’t always a nice thing to do, however.

Cowboys were, in the beginning, the undesirables of society. Herding cattle over long distances was dirty, dangerous and expensive. It wasn’t a job for so-called “nice people.”

Behold, the genesis of the cowboy.

Men, usually immigrants with no family, spent weeks and sometimes months on the plains driving cattle from Texas northward to wherever the trains were or the stockyards or both. They slept out in the open, fought off wild animals or other cowboys out to steal their cattle; they endured all kinds of nasty weather. And what little pay they got, they blew immediately once they got to town. They didn’t always survive the post-cattle drive bender, either. Some were killed in shoot-outs. Some ended up in prison.

If you know anything about livestock, then you know that working with cows is a challenge, put mildly. Cattle can be dumb as a box of rocks and about as much fun. If you have experience with dairy cows and hand-milking, you know how often a cow will purposefully kick over a bucket of milk or stand on your foot “accidentally.” And you are intimately aware of just how mean a dairy bull can be.

Longhorns are the meanest of the beef cattle, rivaling the bad attitude of a dairy bull in love. The difference is that longhorns are packing a pair of horns that can be lethal, and they’ll use ‘em on you if they can.

If you don’t know much about cattle, just watch the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. That’s a stampede, folks. And only a total fool would willingly get out in front of a bunch of spooked bulls in the name of proving one’s machismo, regardless of what Ernest Hemingway thought about it.

With all those factors in play, survival required a certain code. Those with a strong moral compass usually fared a whole lot better than those without.

Thus arose the code of the cowboy, made famous by cowboy celebrities such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. There are many such codes purported to be the “true” code of the cowboy, but I’m gonna list Gene Autry’s code, because Autry was my father’s favorite cowboy troubadour. So here goes, folks. Gene Autry’s Code of the Cowboy:

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man or take unfair advantage.

2. He must never go back on his word or a trust confided in him.

3. He must always tell the truth.

4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals.

5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.

6. He must help people in distress.

7. He must be a good worker.

8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits.

9. He must respect women, parents and his nation’s laws.

10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Cowboys (and cowgirls) are all these things. And they have a sense of humor, expressed most often in western wisdom. Some of the best cowboy proverbs are:

1. Don’t squat with your spurs on.

2. Don’t name a pig you plan to eat.

3. Country fences need to be horse high, pig tight and bull strong.

4. Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

5. Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

6. Life is simpler when you plough around the stump.

7. Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.

8. Meanness don't happen overnight.

9. Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.

10. Don't sell your mule to buy a plough.

11. Don't corner something meaner than you.

12. It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

To “cowgirl up” is the same as “cowboy up” but, obviously, meant for a different gender. If you read my column with regularity (and that doesn’t mean you take it in the bathroom with you, but I’m not offended if you do), then you know what I think of Texas women. To “cowgirl up” is the heart and soul of a Texas woman. It means you deal with what life hands you and you don’t whine or get all “high-maintenance princess” about it.

And by the way, there is no place in Texas for a high-maintenance princess. That kind of girly-girl is just plug useless, so put your big girl britches on and cowgirl up. And for heaven’s sake, learn to read an oil dipstick and a tire pressure gauge, would ya? You can be truly feminine and have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to maintain your car without the help of a man…but that’s a different soap box for a different day.

To “cowboy” or “cowgirl up,” you have to take a stand. You have to be strong, courageous and willing to make sacrifices. You have to face down danger, stress and quite possibly surly in-laws with grace. You have to be willing to do the right thing, even—or especially—when it’s not the popular thing to do.

Plainly said, to “cowboy up” kind of sums up what it is to be a Soldier or a member of a Soldier’s Family. And that Code of the Cowboy sounds a lot like Army values. So to “cowboy up” is also to “Soldier up.”

Guess we’re not all that different after all.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Texans, El Degüello means no quarter given in tough times

A fellow Texan and good friend of mine, Sarita Oertling, sent me a link to a video on YouTube featuring a Mexican cavalry tune, “El Degüello.” Here is the URL since Blogger won't let me embed it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX6KOvAeHGs

Ordinarily, I’d wait until early March, the anniversary of Texas independence, to write about this particular topic, but Sarita’s link haunts me to the point that the only way to exorcise the ghost is to write about it.

I must write about it.

If you know your Texas history, then you know that “El Degüello” was the last thing the defenders of the Alamo heard before they were slaughtered by the Mexican army. To hear the tune bugled is to know that the army playing it means to wreak havoc.

According to an online history source I consulted, “El Degüello is a bugle call of Moorish origin notable for its use as a march by Mexican Army buglers during the 1836 Siege and Battle of the Alamo. ‘Degüello’ is the first-person singular present tense of ‘degollar,’ a verb that means ‘to cut the throat.’ More figuratively, it means ‘give no quarter.’ It signifies the act of beheading or throat-cutting and in Spanish history became associated with the battle music, which, in different versions, meant complete destruction of the enemy without mercy.”

I’ve heard “El Degüello” many times. It is a bright, lilting brass piece that caused Davy Crockett to say to Col. William Travis, “Kinda pretty,” in the 2004 film, “The Alamo.”

It is pretty.

And it is chilling.

If you are not a Texan, then you probably did not take a Texas history class in seventh grade, so you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. But if you are and you did, then you know that General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana allegedly had fourteen military bands surrounding the Alamo playing “El Degüello” on March 6, 1836 so that the “Texians” (as we were known then) knew beyond any doubt that they would die that day.

In these uncertain times, I have thought a lot about the Texians. Uncertain times are a fact of life and every era in history is pock-marked by them; they are nothing new. But they are good for us to remember in that we look back on them and remember that tough times do not last, and sometimes tough people do not last either, but they go down swinging, and in the end, they usher in better times.

In the 1830s, Texas was in the grip of incredible tyranny. I sincerely doubt that the Texians had any intention of splitting from Mexico when they came to Texas, but as the government of the time proved ever harsher, it became apparent that change had to happen if for no other reason than the survival of the common man. During the 13-day siege of the Alamo, about 260 Texians stood up to more than 2,400 Mexican soldiers. In the end, 258 Texians died, but the Mexican army’s losses counted nearly 600. The Texians, though annihilated, certainly got their licks in on Santa Ana’s military might.

More than a month later, and against very similar odds, the Texas army dealt Santa Ana a decisive blow and scored a victory for a new nation: the Republic of Texas. We won, of course, by surprise, in 18 minutes. I’m not sure who was more surprised, Texas or Mexico.

And it changed a tune forever.

For me, and probably for many Texans, those first few measures of “El Degüello” make our spines stiff, causes us to form lumps in our throats and our hearts to swell. It’s less about the massacre of Texas heroes by tyrants than it is about having courage in the face of impossible odds; kind of ironic since the tune was meant to spell our doom. Now, it’s an anthem that means we need to get our boots and our bravery on, and get to work.

The news in the media about our current times is dim. It’s ugly. And, as with media hype and small dogs barking, it probably sounds much worse than it actually is. So let the bugles of “El Degüello” play. Play it loud. Heck, add a fiddle to the tune, because it is amazing what a little harmony will do. Remember the Alamo. And remember, though we might not come through this unscathed, we can survive this, because better times really are ahead.

Catching a wave in Texas

In Texas, we like to wave at you as we drive by. We might not know who you are, but we’re going to give you a wave because you might know us and then show up to church on Sunday in a pout because we didn’t wave back at you when you waved first.

I live in a small town in Central Texas. I have come close to getting carpal tunnel syndrome because of all the waving I do as I drive.

I don’t know 90 percent of the folks I’m waving at, but once in a while, I’ll see someone I do know.

My late neighbor, Cappy Eads, used to get most of my waves. You might not know who he was but if you follow the television show CSI, then you’ve seen his son, George, at work in Hollywood dusting dead folks for fingerprints. So Cappy got lots and lots of waves from me. He probably thought I was insane, but I was sure one day all that hard work would pay off and I’d get to wave at George. Hope sprang eternal anyway and George is living proof that Texas truly is “God’s Country.”

Waving lets people know we see them. People like to walk for exercise in my neighborhood and I wave to let them know I see them and I’m not gonna hit them. They wave back for a variety reasons. Sometimes it’s to say hello. Other times it’s to say “Thanks for not plowing me down with your car.” You know, neighborly stuff.

Waving also is our way of saying “thank you” for just about anything. If you let us cut ahead of you in traffic, we Texans will shoot you a wave, so long as you don’t shoot back. Road rage seems to be prevalent no matter where you go. This is unfortunate. It seems like everybody likes to get mad at everyone else for the smallest of infractions. That wave isn’t seen in our bigger cities anymore because it will get you shot on occasion.

And speaking of bad behavior, that wave also might be our own version of the single-finger salute except we’re going to make it both genteel and complex by giving you “all the birds.” I call it a military-encrypted “bird” and the onus is on the other driver to figure out which one is correct. It’s kind of like a sign-language version of “bless your heart” which, when used at the beginning of a statement, makes everything you are about to say all right, including questioning the legitimacy of another’s parentage.

“I know that ol’ boy’s mean. Bless his heart, his father was a bachelor all of his life,” one might say.

Gettin’ the picture here?

Men and women wave differently. Women will take a hand off the steering wheel and give you a complete, five-fingered, open-palm wave that you’d have to be blind to miss. Men, however, barely raise more than a few fingers off the wheel. Look close or you’ll miss it. It’s all about the “cool” for men when it comes to waving and driving. If you’re a man, don’t show too much excitement or the other driver will think you’re signaling approaching danger and likely drive into a ditch. If you mis-deliver a signal, you’ll hear about it the following Sunday in church. And so will everyone else in the congregation.

If you happen to see a Texas driver raise his hand, take a good long look. It’s probably a friendly wave, whether he’s waving his whole hand or just sticking up about four fingers off the top of the steering wheel in a laid-back, James Dean cool kind of way. More than likely, no harm’s meant at all. It’s just a little bit of Texas-friendly driving sign language letting you know we see you and we’re wishing you a nice day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

For goodness' sake, have some class

Few things chap my hide more than a woman who lacks class.

In Texas and the South, it is perfectly acceptable for a lady to stand up for herself, speak her mind in a gracious way, put a stop to rude behavior in a way that does not demean herself, and be who she wants to be.

It remains a distinct turn-off to see a "lady" act like a common street doxie. By this, I mean loud, drunk, and rude.

You don't have to be a doormat to be a lady. But you don't have to act like trash either.

A lady might be able to go hunting with the boys, drive a truck, wear her jeans and get muddy, ride a horse, go to medical school, be a soldier, become the President of the United States, be a construction worker, be a mother (or not), choose for herself her own future, and a whole mess of other things with class, grace, and decorum.

Being a modern, self-assured woman does not mean you have permission to be a jackass.

There. I said it. Jackass.

If it is not acceptable for a man to do it, a lady shouldn't do it either. What's good for the goose is most assuredly good for the gander. She doesn't get drunk and in someone's face because she lacks self-control--and clearly some manners--because she's "a modern, strong woman." A strong woman wouldn't do that. She'd realize she'd had some drinks over her personal limit and cut herself off at the bar before the barkeep has to make that decision.

She doesn't talk smack about other people either.

It is human nature to talk about our friends. But to talk about our friends with the goal of running them down in the eyes of others? No self-respecting lady with an ounce of class would do that.

Do we all slip and do that sometimes? Yes. And shame on us for having done it. That's why we recognize it, stop it, and do better the next time. A lady recognizes that and strives to be gracious in the present.

For the record and to be completely fair, a gentleman doesn't do any of these bone-headed things either.

If faced with the choice of reacting in anger or simply moving on and into better circles, choose the latter. It's more noble, whether you're a gentleman, a lady, or simply a forward-thinking adult human being.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Redneck black belts, Texkwondo make up Texas martial arts style

My husband, Frank, is a third degree black belt in taekwondo. He’s working toward his fourth degree currently. I think Frank’s been breaking boards and sparring for the better part of a decade. Through Frank, I’ve learned that there are a many different forms of martial arts. Taekwondo is Korean, as karate is mostly Japanese. Then there is judo, jujitsu and a whole mess of other fighting forms.

So at dinner one night we speculated on what a martial arts form from Texas would be like.

Redneck black belts.

That sounds like a title of a comedy film starring Larry the Cable Guy.

I only really know taekwondo and that’s pretty limited. I tried to take it up, but it’s a little tough right now to fit one more thing into my schedule, and I remain the Eternal White Belt, a danger mostly to myself.

But I got to thinking about a Texan form of taekwondo or “Texkwondo” if you will. I pictured sahng jeol bahngs (what others call nunchucks) fashioned out of beer cans and barbed wire. As the tiger and dragon symbolism figures prominently in taekwondo, it would likely be the armadillo and the rattlesnake in “Texkwondo.” And, as kung fu has leopard style, which relies on speed and angular attack, Texkwondo would have possum style, which relies on playing dead and hoping your opponent gets bored and walks away. Armadillo style would mean jumping in front of a speeding truck. Neither would be very popular or effective.

Taekwondo literally means, “the way of the hand and foot.” Texkwondo pretty much means, “the way of the hand on the gun.” And considering the approaches of possum style and armadillo style, that’s probably a good thing.

Buzzard style would be more effective. Vultures defend themselves by vomiting. Considering what they eat, the defense tactic works. So the next time someone attacks, just draw yourself up to your full height, throw back your head and spew. I’ll bet nobody will bother you after that.

In Texkwondo, one does not aspire to become a ninja. Oh no. One becomes a “ninjer.” You have to pronounce it correctly. “We got us a buncha ninjers hoppin’ over the fence. Run and git some th’owin stars, so’s we can defend ourselves.” The “r” is silent in the the verb “throw.”

Every form has some kind of weapon, whether the weapon is an SJB, a staff, some variation on a sword or a farm tool. The same would be true of Texkwondo. I imagine that, instead of throwing stars, we’d use spur rowels or conchos off a belt. Every Texas man carries a pocket knife, so there would need to be a form for that. And then there are wire cutters, posthole diggers and bug zappers.

The options are limitless.

In the normal martial arts, there are the different belt colors that denote a student’s progress and success. They are, in no particular order, white, yellow, orange, camouflage, purple, blue, brown, red and then black. I propose this belt system for Texkwondo: rope, canvas, denim and leather. And when all forms of attack fail in defeating your opponent, just take your belt off and commence to whoopin’ on ‘em.

Martial arts requires a lot of hollering. Hang out at a dojo and you will hear students yelling “YEEEAHHHH!” every time they throw a punch or a kick. In Texkwondo, it’d be, “HEY YEEEE’ALLLLL WATCH THIS!” because that’s usually the last thing anyone hears when a redneck does something stupid.

I thought I was original in coming up with redneck blackbelts. It seems I am not. Diemon Dave of Diemon Dave’s Ninja School beat me to it (http://www.diemondave.com/). I do not endorse Diemon Dave or his school because he is a bona fide weirdo, but he’s pretty funny, too. So visit at your own risk.

Diemon Dave is a Chuck Norris fan, in an almost frightening and unhealthy stalker way. That figures. Chuck Norris is the original “Redneck Black Belt.” And, by the way, Walker Texas Ranger himself was born in Oklahoma. Norris even came up with his own martial arts form: chun kuk do or, as I like to call it, “Okie Fu.” So there is something to the whole redneck black belt thing.

And so, in the spirit of Texkwondo, an oath: "Sir/Ma'am, I shall practice in the spirit of Texkwondo; with courtesy for my fellow Texans, loyalty to my state and the expectation that if I don’t, my juniors and seniors will whoop me with my own belt, sir/ma'am."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Size matters when it comes to Texas weather

Texas weather is a constant topic of conversation, especially among Texans, but recently I’ve seen some out-of-state folks wig out about it. September 2008 saw its share of killer storms, particularly on the Texas coast, and by the way we all reacted around Fort Hood when Hurricane Ike was on its way, you would have thought we were sitting on Galveston Bay. People bought every loaf of bread at one Killeen grocery store on the night before the storm. I was toodling around there with my shopping cart looking for croissants and orange juice for the Saturday morning before Ike hit when one woman stopped me.

“Aren’t you worried you won’t have enough food when the storm hits?” she asked with clear panic registering in her eyes.

“Ma’am, according to what I’ve seen, we’ll be lucky if we even see a storm cloud in this area,” I replied. “I would love to get some of the rain Ike’s bringing, but frankly, I don’t think we’ll get a drop.”

I’m pleased to say I was right.

Texas is a really BIG place. And when I say “big,” I mean MASSIVE. Most of Europe would fit inside our great state. So I assure you, we were in very little danger of experiencing much more than the spittle we got when Ike blew through. We’re a good 245 miles from Seawall Boulevard. That’s more than a 4-hour drive, give or take a pit stop here and there.

Having said all that, I gambled and won this time. Next time, I might not be so lucky, because, in Texas, the weather turns on a dime. Ike could have gone west as easily as it went north and then east. We stood the risk of power outages, damage and flooding, but not on the massive and frightening scale experienced by our Gulf Coast cousins.

The weather changes rapidly here and it doesn’t much care what we think of it. It is often said by Texans that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change. And predicting it is as much hillbilly hoodoo as it is science. October is a prime time to test this theory. It’s a month that can’t decide if it wants to be summer or winter. One day will be blazing hot and the next will be a chilly 40 degrees and rainy. And March in Texas is more of the same. One day the flowers are blooming; the next day, a frost has killed them. And sometimes it happens within a 24-hour span.

We have a tornado once in awhile in the spring and flooding is a concern any time it rains. Ice storms are a big threat in the winter and the threat doesn’t stop until about the first week in April. Last year, it snowed on Easter weekend in Texas and we have had more 75-degree Christmas Days than I care to remember. Need I say more?

If you talk “global warming” to a Texan, they are likely to look at you like you’ve got lobsters crawling out of your nose. Warming? Let’s talk global HEAT! It’s so hot that a college professor of mine once said had it not been for air conditioning, Texas never would have been civilized. I hate to admit it (he was from New York), but he probably was right.

Geography does figure in our constant climatic change. If it rains in Temple, it might not be raining in Killeen. Or we can get a frog strangler at Fort Hood, and Belton will not see a drop. It can be 98 degrees in Austin and 60 degrees in Amarillo, way up in the Panhandle of Texas on the very same day.

And another thing, we're not all desert here. The further west you go in the state, the closer you get to it, but not a single saguaro cactus grows here. That's Arizona, folks.

East Texas is mostly pine trees and dense forest. It looks more like western Louisiana, both in topography and culture. Central Texas is "Hill Country" and is rather dry, but pleasant most of the time. It's not desert by any stretch of the imagination. And South Texas is practically a tropical paradise, complete with palm trees and citrus fruit trees.

We’re not a tiny state like New Jersey that has fairly consistent weather from border to border and it takes about 8 hours to drive across only because the traffic is so balled up from point A to point B. Oh no sir. It’s closer to drive to Galveston than it is to Fort Bliss from Fort Hood. El Paso is a good 589 miles and 9 hours drive. The distance from Chicago to Tyler only is about 168 miles further than the distance from El Paso to Tyler, so you can see why Gulf Coast weather is hardly a reason for Central Texas to so much as blink.

So how do non-Texans make sense of all this? Do what the native Texans do: get a weather rock. If the rock is wet, it’s raining. If it’s dry, it’s not. If the rock is white, it’s snowing. And if the rock is gone, it’s a tornado. You can’t get much simpler than that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We're on the road to nowhere...in Austin

Folks, I don’t like Austin.

Just because I’m a Texan does not mean I like everything about this state and I despise Austin with a passion. I know that town’s our state capitol, but I get the hives every time I think about driving down there. Austin makes me scream. I don’t mean that I want to scream. Nope. I actually reach a point where I’m screaming my lungs out just driving through the city, and I can weave a verbal tapestry of obscenities that would make Cactus Jack Garner blush were he still alive.

It’s not the politicians, the hippies or the whole “weirder-than-thou” attitude that borders on snobbery that turns me off. No. My biggest beef with Austin is driving in it. Were the Fathers of Texas inhaling methane gas rolling in off the old stockyards when the Austin city planning began way back in the 1840s?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you need a crystal ball and a Ouija board just to find where you are going in Austin. Don’t bother using online driving directions or a global positioning system navigation computer when driving in Austin. The city streets and thoroughfares render both useless. I actually thought I heard a friend’s TomTom cuss while trying to locate our destination.

I really like all the fun stuff Austin has to offer. But I can’t freakin’ get there because I can’t find anything. It takes me two hours to reach a destination when it should have only taken one. Add to the chaos, this: I am directionally challenged anyway. That’s right; I can’t drive my way out of a paper bag when it comes to finding my way. Dump me in the middle of Austin and I might never return (though you might check the Congress Street Bridge; I’ll probably be hanging upside down with the Mexican free-tailed bats).

My husband likes to joke that I am actually Native American, from the Fockawee tribe, because I'm always asking, "Where the fockawee?"

I have to hold up my hands with my index fingers pointing up and my thumbs pointing inward to tell left from right. The backward “L” is right. I’m a reasonably intelligent person, but I get a little fuddled trying to find my way sometimes. Usually, I can correct the situation with a little help from my fellow Texans.

But not in Austin.

Several years ago, I had to travel to Austin to the Texas Vital Statistics Office to get a copy of my birth certificate. No problem, right?

Wrong.

The driving directions from my favorite online site said I had to take Interstate Highway 35 South to Exit 238A/Highway 290/FM 2222 and turn right on Koenig. What the directions failed to mention is that Koenig IS FM 2222. And Koenig is NOT on the first street sign after that exit (they are further down, but by then street signs are almost useless). My end destination was on 49th Street; West 49th Street to be exact.

Of course, I got lost. So I stopped at one of the bazillion coffee houses in Austin and asked the barista where West 49th was.

“I don’t know. That sounds like somewhere near the capitol building. None of our streets really make sense here,” he said.

No kidding, kid. No kidding.

Using common sense and tarot cards, I divined that if I followed 51st Street, I might come across one of the streets also mentioned in my now-worthless driving directions…and I was right. In the distance, Lamar Street beckoned like the Hierophant in the tarot card deck and eventually I was able to find North Loop, then Grover, then West 49th Street.

I walked in to the Vital Statistics Office and said to the clerk triumphantly, “AHA! I have found you! You cannot hide!”

“Curses. Foiled again,” she said, grinning. She said most people have trouble finding the office and that I was not alone in my frustration. So chalk one up to Austinites for having a sense of humor about the weirdness of their city streets.

I wish I could say I had good driving experiences in Austin, but I can’t. I firmly believe that once I download driving directions for anywhere in Austin from the Internet, thousands of hemp roast/latte-swilling hippies emerge from their communes in droves like lemmings to take down street signs and throw up random traffic cones just to mess with me. I’ll bet if I looked closely at the soil around a poorly placed one way traffic sign, I would find the tell-tale sign of recycled tire sandals running haphazardly toward Sixth Street.

Hey! I should try that! I might just find Sixth Street after all!

Don’t mess with Texas women: Love, lipstick, tools sum up fortitude of Lone Star ladies

Someone once asked me why Texas women get dressed up and put on makeup just to go to the grocery store.

I was floored.

You mean there are women who DON’T get dressed up and wear makeup to the grocery store?

REALLY?

I’m still shocked.

Texas women are taught from birth that if you look good, you generally feel good. So why not feel good all the time?

We’re also taught that if you go out in public looking less than your usual perfect self, you will run into the garden club gossip in the produce section and she WILL choose that moment to engage you in a lengthy conversation about how her child’s name ended up on this six weeks’ honor roll and she didn’t happen to see your child’s name on it this time. So, in a way, makeup is more than a tool to help you look your best; it’s a weapon of defense.

Texas women are a curious combination of femininity, grit and vanity.

Betty Sue Flowers is the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum and a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Somewhere deep down, I really feel that every Texas woman ought to own a pair of red boots—even if she never wears them,” Flowers has been quoted as saying, and red cowgirl boots would certainly be appropriate to symbolize us.

“Are Texas women really that proud?” you might ask. Oh honey, I swear on the soul of Mary Kay Ashe, we most certainly are. Texas women are Southern Belles on steroids.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, including our generosity, hospitality, creativity, penchant for drama and, of course, our competitive natures. If you were to pick one of the seven deadly sins to characterize a Texas woman, it would be pride…and we’re the first ones to admit it.

But don’t let the flawless makeup and perfect hair fool you. Texas women also are tough as tanks and about as subtle.

Just this month, 65 year-old Val Renfro of Fort Worth had finished shopping and was getting into her car when a man shoved her, grabbed her purse and ran off.

Val pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911.

On the 911 tape, Val can be heard shouting, “Put it on the hood, now! You give me my purse, right now.”

She then hit the purse-snatcher with her car.

Also heard on the recording, the man says her he’ll return the purse if she rolls down her window.

"Like hell I will,” she responds.

At one point, the purse snatcher got away, but other people joined the chase and eventually cornered the man near a movie theater.

“I was madder than hell is what I was,” Val said. “I didn't think about anything else except, ‘He’s not going to get away with this.’”

Don’t mess with Texas women.

But do love one if you are lucky enough to know her.

In the film, The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid as Jimmy Morris, a Texas baseball coach who makes the major league after agreeing to try out if his high school team made the state playoffs. He has to leave home for awhile and he’s worried about leaving his wife and children alone.

“Jim Morris, I'm a Texas woman, which means I don't need the help of a man to keep things running,” Lorri tells him without so much as a tear.

If there was ever a line that summed up a Texas woman, that’s the one. But don’t let that fool you either. “Need” is very different than “want.” We might not need a man, but we sure love having one around. And the love of a Texas woman is a powerful thing. If a Texas woman loves you, you know it.

What Lorri Morris actually was telling her husband was this: “Go. Live your dream. I can hold down the fort until you get back. It’s okay. I wouldn’t want less for you and you’d do the same for me.”

A Texas woman knows her relationship with the man in her life is a full and equal partnership. She knows what all the tools in your tool box do. She knows which one to hand you when you’re fixing the car, hanging a ceiling fan or re-roofing the house even before you ask. She’ll know which gun you need to take hunting and what hunting season it is, too. And she’ll know how to cook whatever it is you bring home. But you better clean it yourself. And that’s the unwritten code, by the way. If you go hunting, you kill it and clean it; she’ll cook it. The End.

My father always said, “It’s not enough for a woman to be pretty. She needs to have substance to back it up. Beauty without grace, grit and intelligence is worthless.” And that’s pretty much what every little girl in Texas is taught…or at least, that’s what she should be taught.

If you cry on the shoulder of a Texas woman, she not only will let you, she’ll bring you the tissue box and hold you until you pull yourself together. And she will never think less of you for having done it. In fact, she’ll just love you more. She knows life is hard, especially for men, and she’s not gonna fault you for shedding a few masculine tears. Again, she knows you’ll do the same for her, which brings me to my next point: if you love a Texas woman, you had better be pretty tough yourself.

Sheryl Crow’s song, "Strong Enough" had to be written about a Texas woman, especially the song’s following lyrics:

I have a face I cannot show I make the rules up as I go It’s try and love me if you can Are you strong enough to be my man? When I’ve shown you that I just don’t care When I’m throwing punches in the air When I’m broken down and I can’t stand Will you be strong enough to be my man?

Yep. That’s definitely a Texas woman.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How not to hate Texas

I know a gal who, bless her heart, is from Detroit, Mich.

She hates Texas.

She married a Soldier and bravely moved away from all kith and kin. I salute her grit for sticking it out this long. I wouldn’t let any man take me out of this great state (did it once; never again), so I can imagine what it feels like to leave a home and a culture you love.

Texas is not for everyone. I get that. Some folks feel about Texas the way I feel about New Jersey: blow it off the continent and good riddance.

Many of you reading this little pearl of Texas wit and wisdom need help in finding meaningful existence while exiled here.

Perhaps I can help.

You’re gonna have to work with me here and understand that Texas is what it is: big, wild and…well…Texas.

You’re gonna have to find one thing you like and start from there. For many Texas transplants, all it takes is finding a place in which time spent there is a pleasure. My friend likes Austin. The state capital is her little oasis of urban living replete with hippies, hybrid cars, Seattle-based coffee shops and politicians. She’s able to overlook the city’s many faults and find some solace there.

She’s not alone in her appreciation for that strange municipality. I understand quite a few people just looooove Austin. I’m not one of them. I think the town puts too much stock in “weird” and it’s not even a cool weird anymore. It’s a pretentious weird, lacking originality and rife with one-upsmanship in the pursuit of weirdness. It is no longer “weird” for weird’s sake. It is now “weirder-than-thou.”

Speaking of weird, I got thrown out of an Austin whole-paycheck foods market once. I can’t remember why I was there, but I was up to my Justins in people wearing clothing made from hemp. Just for grins, I stood in the deli section and hollered, “Where are the pork rinds and the skirt steak?”

You could have heard a pin drop after that one and they weren’t real polite in asking me to leave.

I despise Austin, especially driving in it while trying to find events or attractions. Finding anything in that city requires a crystal ball and Ouija board, and the tell-tale reek of patchouli will make your eyes bleed.

If small-town Texas is not your venti cup of herbal tea, I suggest you visit to Austin. You will forget you are in Texas completely, I guarantee it. Our capital is the least Texan city in Texas, followed closely by Dallas, which is another choice “less-than-Texas” escape.

I don’t care how many episodes of Dallas you watched in the 1980s, that was NOT Texas. If it had been, Sue Ellen’s brothers would have made short work of J.R. and the series would have been over before it started.

Texas newspaper magnate Amon Carter hated Dallas. The father of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram called it “Baby Manhattan” back in the early part of the 20th century. Many Texans say Fort Worth is where the West begins and Dallas is where the East peters out. And the city has been all highbrow about itself ever since that Neiman-Marcus department store opened up there in 1907.

There are trappings of Texas all over Dallas, but honestly, there is nothing really Texan about the city except it is actually in Texas. And frankly, there is nothing more ridiculous than a Dallasite dressed “cowboy casual” or "western chic" whatever the heck that means.

I lived there for 7 years and loved it. There was always something to do or see and the cultural events were fantastic. And, as always, what Dallas lacked, Fort Worth certainly had because, truth be told, Fort Worth actually has more cultural and arts events than Dallas.

Don’t say that out loud in Dallas. You won’t get on the A-list for parties if you do. You could go to Houston, but I don’t recommend it. I do, however, recommend we build a high-security fence around Houston, drop Kurt Russell in it and see how long it takes him to escape.

Nobody likes Houston, not even Texans.

At some point, however, you are going to have to come to terms with being in Texas. In that case, I suggest you go to San Antonio, which is urban, chic AND Texas all in one. It’s Texas on steroids and chili powder. I get all weepy at the Alamo and I can get an awesome cup of Seattle-based coffee shop caffeinated-anything just down the street on the Riverwalk. San Antonio just might help you make peace with your anti-Texas demons.

Other than that, I can’t help you. You may well have a case of TTRD or terminal Texas revulsion disorder. You can try chili transfusions, big hair teases and rodeo gestalt therapy, but ultimately you might just have to excise the problem at its source and hie-thee-hence to your home state. Texans won’t be offended. But we’re sure not gonna do an intervention, either.

Update: I wrote that column back in 2008. Since then, I've come to like Austin. In small doses, mind you; but it has gotten a lot less "hempy" in recent years. According to some Austin residents, there's a move on to lose the "small town boutique weird" identity. And honestly, I'm a little sorry about that. I don't want to see Austin become another "Dallas." Ever.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sweden comes to Texas or "Don't eat the black Swedish fish"

I went to Ikea down in Round Rock with my family recently. I like Ikea. All that Swedish practicality and quality home furnishings for prices competitive with Walmart is more than I can resist. I feel all “cool” and “chic” yet sensible walking around the rat maze that is that store. My daughters dig “Småland” even if the store only allows them an hour to play there while I shop. We like the food in the Ikea café. Much of my home is covered in shelves Ikea calls “Billy.” We’re hip, cool, and Scandinavian here in Salado because of Ikea.

The store has a lot of funny names for things, like FJÄLLTÅG, BESTÅ, and BILLY. Not that “Billy” is strange. I just think it’s odd to name shelving after your cousin, but this is Scandinavian logic we’re dealing with here, so who am I to question?

I like shopping expeditions that not only result in a purchase of something I think is useful, practical, and attractive, but also result in educating me on stuff I did not previously know. I learn all kinds of words in Swedish and Spanish, because everything is posted in three languages instead of just English and Spanish.

Quite frankly, I could live happily in the Ikea showrooms, as long as my daughters got to live in Småland. My husband, Frank, knows better than to even bring up Walmart when it comes to shopping for shelving, office furniture, and storage needs. We just head down to Ikea.

My vision of Ikea, however, has been recently shattered.

On our last trip, Frank wandered over to the Swedish Food Market to hunt down a few things we really did not need. While he was shopping, I happened to see these innocuous looking gummi candies I thought I recognized as "Swedish fish," and having had a good experience with the red ones, naturally I put a sample "black Swedish fish" in my mouth. It was in a sampler dish on a shelf marked "TÅRTA MÖRK CHOKLAD," and, thus, must be chocolate-flavored and "MÖRK" must be Swedish for "fish." I now know that they were NOT "TÅRTA MÖRK CHOKLAD," neither were they "Swedish fish." They were, according to my taste buds, "ammonia-soaked rubber @$$ fish" because that is what they tasted like.

The skid-mark left behind by the fish experience wore off my tongue after about an hour, and I was able to summon enough strength to do an online search of these vile things. They are, indeed, "Holland Herrings" or salty licorice fish. But I stand by "ammonia-soaked rubber @$$ fish." If y'all go to Ikea, be warned. Those clerks in the food market are messing with their displays for their own amusement.

If you are required to give a gift to someone you loathe, this is it.

I will continue to patronize Ikea, but I have to say that my trust has been violated, along with my tongue. I won’t blindly and blithely put anything in my mouth without thoroughly reading the English-language description of the cool Swedish label first. You’d think, growing up in Texas, I’d know that already, but the Swedish had led me to believe they could be trusted with something as innocent as a gummi candy. I never dreamed they’d pull a bait-and-switch with something…Dutch.

I’m considering a tersely worded email in several languages of my own, and including the phrase: “Min svävare är full med ålar,” which is “My hovercraft is full of eels.” I got that off an online site entitled “Useful Swedish Phrases.” It sounds threatening to me, so I think I’ll use it.

I don’t own a hovercraft, and even if I did, it might not be full of eels. But they don’t know that. And I think turnabout really is fair play.

Anyway, consider yourself warned. Don’t eat the black gummi fish. The after-burn left on your tongue will make your eyes bleed and scorch your nasal passages. Read the labels in your native language first. And memorize the Swedish word for “Help!” which is “Hjälp!” and pronounced “YELP!” in case you forget and eat something without examining it thoroughly first.

As for me, I’m gonna stick to eating Mexican food for awhile. It’s just safer.

Texas blondes are legendary, clever, dumb like a fox

Rumor has it that the best-selling hair color in the state of Texas is blonde, and has been since the discovery of peroxide as a lightening agent.

If you’re about to tell a blonde joke, stop it right now. Texas blondes aren’t stupid, and that includes Dallas gal Jessica Simpson for the simple fact that she’s making more money than all of us put together, and you can’t do that by being an idiot.

Texas blondes are legendary. Most were born blonde; some might not have been but saw the light eventually. Many “born blondes” go more blonde because as we get older, our hair turns a mousy, dishwater color that isn’t flattering on anyone.

At this point, I will caution you to NEVER ask a woman if she’s a natural blonde. That’s tacky and will get you deservedly slapped, whether she’s from Texas or not.

Our blondes run the gamut from trashy to classy, just as the color runs from dark gold to platinum. All Texas blondes have one thing in common: guts and grit.

Bonnie Parker of the infamous Clyde Barrow Gang was blonde. She also falls into the category of “Dallas Blonde.” A Dallas Blonde is sort of the “super-blonde” of the Texas variety. Whatever you may think of redheads, amp it up times 5 and you have a Dallas Blonde. She is rough, tough and brokers no nonsense from anyone. She will take you in a fist fight or go down swinging.

Parker took the Dallas Blonde reputation over the top. She was a ruthless criminal. She was a killer. Now that’s nothing to be proud of, but it does serve as a warning: do not mess with Texas women and certainly do not mess with a Dallas Blonde.

Whether from Dallas or Texas in general, our blondes are legendary.

Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, the nightclub owner during Prohibition who liked to greet folks with her trademark, “Hello Sucker,” was born in Waco. Guinan owned the 300 Club in New York City. Her club was famous for its forty scantily clad dancers, the celebrities who patronized it and her own brassy style. And Guinan was no stranger to jail. She claimed she never sold a drop of alcohol and that her patrons brought it with them. Still, she ended up jailed for selling booze. Probably not a wise idea to call a law officer “sucker.”

Mae West based her character in the film, “Night After Night,” on Guinan. And her biography was turned into a movie entitled “Incendiary Blonde.” And here’s a little geek trivia for ya: Whoopi Goldberg’s Enterprise 10-Forward bartender character in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was named “Guinan” after the lady herself.

The Texas Blonde is attitude personified. I once had a woman call me “bleach blonde” to my face. I said, “Nope. I’m a champagne blonde. And I’m guessing you run through your share of ‘chestnut brown no. 13B’ to cover up that gray in your part. So that’s kind of the plastic calling the plastic ‘fake,’ doncha think?”

Kinda left her speechless.

The Texas blonde is anything but dumb. Oh she might play dumb, but that’s a ruse, y’all.

I once heard about a blonde in New York who wanted to take a three-week trip to Europe. She went to a bank to see about a loan for the trip. The loan officer told her she’d need to put up some collateral for the loan.

“What is collateral?” the blonde asked.

“Collateral means you put something up for the bank to keep until you repay your loan,” said the loan officer. He knew better, but he couldn’t resist taking advantage. She was, after all, blonde.

“Can I use my car?” she asked.

“Sure!” said the loan officer. “How much money do you need?”

“I figure I’ll need about $5,000,” she replied.

“Great,” said the loan officer. “Bring me the car and I’ll give you the money.”

The next day the blonde drove up in a luxury car worth at least $100,000 and handed the loan officer the keys. Without a word, he handed her the money, puzzled that a woman driving a car worth that much money would need a loan to go to Europe.

“See you in three weeks!” she said, and off to the airport she went in a taxi cab. Three weeks later, the blonde returns to the bank. She hands the loan officer $5,000; he gives her the keys to her car.

“Before you leave, I just have to ask,” he said. “How is it that you needed a loan for a trip when you clearly are able to afford this car?”

“Simple,” she replied. “Where else in New York City can I park my car for three weeks and know it will be there when I get back?”

A word to the wise about blonde jokes: if you wouldn’t tell one about a specific group or culture, don’t tell ‘em about blondes. Whether we’re born blonde, enhanced or blonde by choice, the jokes are not only untrue about us as a whole, they’re cruel. Substitute another group for blondes and ask yourself: is the joke really all that funny? Probably not.

I can’t tell you why Texas has a preference for blondes. It’s like armadillos, Kinky Friedman, horned toads, chili, Bob Wills and the Alamo: it’s a part of the culture, we like it that way and seems like other folks do too. And there’s nothin’ stupid about that.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lost in translation: texting Texas-style

The thought of sending text messages on a cell phone in Texan makes my head throb.

A Yankee friend of mine once asked, “How would a person send a text message in the Texas vernacular?” I spent the afternoon mopping my brains off my desk after that one. The answer? IDK. I don’t know.

In Texan—minus instant message speak—it’d be “damifino.” Say it slowly, make that second “i” a long “i” and make sure the children aren’t in the room with you when you do it.

I promise, it’ll make sense.

I’m not sure how to make that work for text messaging, though. Try texting that while walking down the street and you’ll end up in a ditch.

But let’s cogitate on the subject for a moment, shall we?

Technology and Texas have a long-standing history. Texas Instruments produced the first calculator I ever held in my hands. I won’t tell you how long ago that was, but the thing cost about $100 and we had to drive all the way to Dallas to get it.

Let’s not go there. I’d rather not talk about how old I am.

Austin houses as much silicon as Silicon Valley. Houston and NASA are synonymous. You would think since Texas is home to so much geekdom we’d have that text messaging thing down.

Not so.

“Texan” is a rich, colorful amalgam of descriptions, humor and twang. It is difficult to distill something that prolific down to a mess of acronyms and maintain the vibrant colloquial texture and hue of the delivery. How can one convey “oh my gosh” as spoken by a Texan (oh mah gawsh) with just OMG?

I swear on the soul of Mirabeau B. Lamar it cannot be done.

Let us examine W. I mean, of course, the nickname we all use in reference to the 43rd president of the United States. Texans took that simple letter and turned it into “Dubya.” We turned the man’s name into a text message/IM speak moniker and then stretched it all out lengthwise.

Why use one letter when five will do? That, my friends, is the soul of speaking in fluent Texan. So you see the conundrum borne of trying to simplify that which cannot—should not—be simplified. But then, as with all things, there is one shining exception.

Y’all.

It was IM speak before there was instant or text messaging. It is, essentially, “you all” (singular) rendered to the efficient, succinct and lyric “y’all,” the plural of which is “all y’all.” And it holds within it the nucleus of all things Texas and Texan. It is brief, descriptive, and colorful, and it innately possesses that all-important twang even in print.

So, is it possible to send text message in Texan? Not entirely, but it is possible to put the Texas touch to it using the simple, versatile, quintessentially Texan pronoun “y’all”.

Other than that, the news is not good. I sincerely doubt there’s a SIM card made that could handle texting in Texan, and frankly, your fingers would fall clean off your hands trying to make it happen.

But if you find a way to do it, let me know. Until then, TTY’allL.

Happy New Year, eat your peas

Originally a Tex Messages column from January 6, 2011.

It is a Texas (and Southern) tradition to have a helping of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck in the year ahead. We’ve been eating them on the holiday for nigh on 300 years now. Before the black-eyed pea came to the Americas, it was grown in India and Asia. And the little pea was a symbol of good luck to ancient cultures, showing up first in the Babylonian Talmud, written in 500 C.E.

In Texas and the South, it has been said that our love of black-eyed peas peaked during the Civil War. When General William Sherman cut his swath through Georgia during his famous 1864 March to the Sea, Union troops burned everything considered a crop but spared what they called “field peas” because they were thought to be animal fodder and not fit for human consumption. It was then that we discovered they weren’t only fit for human consumption, they were quite made quite tasty with a little educated culinary assistance.

That’s a cowpea with a mighty impressive history and following, so much so that there is even a band named for them. I can’t imagine anyone hopping around on stage, singing and calling themselves the Zucchinis or the Rutabegas. Nope. Black-Eyed Peas wins for catchiness and popularity.

Some of y’all are probably gagging at the thought of eating black-eyed peas. Some of y’all are like me in that it’s about the only pea you can eat without gagging. Either way, it’s only fitting that I mention black-eyed peas as a Texas tradition, especially this time of year.

As I was preparing to pen this column, Sentinel writer, Mike Heckman brought up a good point during the discussion of the legume in the newsroom. “Why is it most people don’t realize that black-eyed peas need some flavoring before you eat them?” he asked.

Heckman is right. Most black-eyed pea enthusiasts know to serve the things with bacon, ham bones, and some diced onion. The peas should be generously seasoned with a hot chili sauce or a pepper-flavored vinegar. My mother and I like to dollop jalapeno jelly in our peas as an alternative.

I’m drooling on my keyboard as I write this.

If black-eyed peas are something you’ve tried and cannot come to terms with, give its cousin, the purple hull pea, a shot. General consensus in my family is that the purple hull has flavor to it, whereas the black-eyed variety does not.

We Texans love our peas so much that there is a festival dedicated to it in the middle of the summer in Athens. The Black-Eyed Pea Jamboree is a celebration based on the town’s alleged heritage as the largest producer of the peas in the world from the 1930s into the 1970s. To learn more about Athens and its love affair with black-eyed peas, visit texaslesstraveled.com/blackeyedpea.htm. I’ve been to the festival and it’s worth the trip.

Traditionally, you are supposed to eat your peas on New Year’s Day. Of course, you’re reading this about a week after the fact, but it’s never too late to test your luck. Go ahead and fix up a mess of black-eyed peas right now.

Supposedly, black-eyed peas are a good source of calcium, folate and vitamin A. The United States Department of Agriculture lists them in the category “meat/meat alternative” as well as “fruit/vegetable” in its nutritional information, which is good news for vegetarians and vegans.

All that being said, eat your peas. Not only are they good luck and in good taste, they’re good for you.

I suggest you make Texas Caviar, a Texas tradition from the mid-20th Century. Now I’m gonna admit something that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but Texas Caviar was invented by a New Yorker. Helen Corbitt was the director of food service for Neiman Marcus.

Corbitt was famous in the 1950s for her cookbooks. When she got to Texas, she took our love of black-eyed peas, gussied ‘em up and took ‘em over the Houston Country Club for New Year’s Eve. The dish was so well received that she took ‘em down to the Driskill Hotel in Austin, where it was dubbed Texas Caviar, or so the legend goes.

I made Texas Caviar for the first time this year. Y’all, it’s better than most salsas and packs about the same wallop depending on the spiciness of your peppers. So Happy New Year, y’all. And eat your peas!

TEXAS CAVIAR 1/2 onion, chopped 1 bunch green onion, chopped 1 green pepper, chopped 6 jalapeno chilies, minced 1 tbsp. garlic, minced 2 tomatoes, diced 8 oz. bottle Italian dressing 1/3 bunch cilantro, chopped 1 can Hominy, drained 2 cans black eyed peas, drained Combined all ingredients and refrigerate 2 hours. Serve with corn chips or tortilla chips.

I suggest you cheat and get some pico de gallo to avoid chopping up all the onions, peppers, chilies and cilantro. No need to fuss, just mix it up and enjoy.

It's been too long

Hey y'all...I owe all y'all an apology.

I haven't posted in way too long. I plan to remedy that now.

I lost my muse, lo these many months. I grieved leaving my job at Fort Hood so much that I just couldn't pick up my desire to write anymore.

Effective today, I'm gonna spend less time grieving and more time sharing the best of my columns with you until that muse comes back.

If you've stuck with me this long, you have my gratitude. Thanks for staying and understanding that sometimes even cowgirls get the blues.

That all being said, here goes. Here's to 2013, blue skies instead of blue eyes, and some sheer Texas poetic prose on this blog once again. J~