Merry Christmas!

However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, even if you don’t celebrate, I celebrate you. I know that not everyone is happy at this time of year. We’re stressed, we’re facing challenges, we miss people who are far away or who we’ve lost. I’m glad you’re here, and I wish all good things for you. You may not know it, but every day there’s someone whose life you affect in a good way.

Above is LAST YEAR’s photo, our last Christmas at The Compound. Behind us is a mural on the wooden garage doors that Lindsey generously painted using Where the Wild Things Are as her inspiration. I worried the new owner might replace the doors or paint over it, but he considers it part of the charm of the property.

I usually don’t post our holiday photo until it’s been sent to our friends and family in our Christmas cards. I was still mailing our 2014 cards at EASTER–in fact, I never finished mailing them!–so I never published the photo.

This year, I’ve barely begun mailing cards, but I’ve learned from my mistake. You can see below how our family has grown at Houndstooth Hall, with Debby, Harley, and Stewie in Fairy Cottage. Tim lives in Fox Den with Pixie, Penny, and Pollock. Though Margot is no longer with us, Tom and I made sure she was with her sisters Guinness and Anime for one more family photo (thank you, Lynne!). And thank you all for continuing to read my scant entries here or on Facebook. I look forward to the good things the new year will bring for us all!

Sugar’s sweet, and so is she…

The night Rhonda and Lindsey brought their newly adopted dog home in February of 2007, Tom, Tim, and I went to RubinSmo Manor to meet Sugar. Of course I had my camera, and Lindsey, photo pro that she is, warned me that she’d already tried to photograph her and Sugar did not like the camera. And as kids do to prove their parents wrong, Sugar immediately became a willing subject and let me get a couple of photos. This is the first one I ever took of her.

There have been hundreds more through the years as Sugar came to be a frequent visitor to The Compound. On Friday nights, if she thought The Brides were being too slow to leave the house, she’d get amped up and remind them that It’s Craft Night: They are WAITING for us at THE COMPOUND! She was part of the pack that included Margot, Guinness, and Rex, and tolerated a few doggy visitors and fosters through the years. There were two things that would make her forget that she was a dog of great dignity: when the laser pointer was brought out and when Tim cradled her in his arms on his lap. I never saw anyone else allowed to hold her that way.

In the fall of 2009 she met her BFF at first sight, Pixie. They were completely wrapped up in each other and ignored the rest of us. Fortunately my camera was handy and Lindsey grabbed it and shot a series of photos of them.

Sugar played so hard at The Compound on visits and when we dogsat her. We wondered what she’d think of Houndstooth Hall. Would she understand it was still her home away from home? She was getting older, a little slowed by her arthritis, and not as prone to a good romp as she once was. But after some initial hesitation, she found a new reason to enjoy being with us: a bigger yard with so many interesting things to smell and places to explore. I loved watching her as she found her favorite spots to sniff and hide.

It was an honor the last Monday of September to be with Lindsey and Rhonda at RubinSmo Manor when they brought out the laser pointer for Sugar again–to see her chase the beloved “red dot” one last time. Then they gave her the gentlest, most loving of goodbyes so she could leave to find her old pal Rex and her grandfather Sam at the Rainbow Bridge.

You are missed by all who knew and loved you, Sugar. I’m grateful that once again you let me turn my camera on you.

Run free, sweet girl.

Saying goodbye to a house

I remember so vividly my earliest associations with The Compound, though it wasn’t called The Compound then. My friend Jeff liked to drive around on weekends and look at houses for sale. This was before everyone had cell phones, and he had a phone in his car, which I found so sophisticated. He wasn’t looking to buy another house, although he was always interested in bargains on properties, and if he’d done all he planned to do and hadn’t died too young, he’d have been an extremely wealthy man today, because he correctly predicted the Midtown real estate boom.

Jeff wanted Tom and me to buy a house in Montrose, and though we knew it was the neighborhood we wanted to be in, we weren’t quite ready to make that financial plunge. Jeff liked to lure me into looking at houses to try to change my mind. Whenever a house appealed to me, he’d pick up the car phone, call the listing agent, and get details. Those rides usually ended with my saying too much house or too much money. We actually did see the red brick bungalow, with its sign indicating “quarters” behind it, and again, it was out of our price range.

A year later, when I actually went inside the house after Tom had seen it first with our realtor, I’d forgotten all about seeing it from the outside with Jeff. The price had gone down then (an impossibility in today’s market!), plus my mother had decided to chip in on the down payment because she wanted to make those “quarters” her apartment. We negotiated it down even further, and even then, our neighbor Ray later told my mother we could have gotten the owner to come down more (I’ll bet the seller’s kicking herself today for selling at all!). The problem was, from the minute I stepped inside the front door, I knew the house was mine. I couldn’t risk losing it by haggling over the price.

We were in the process of closing on the house when Jeff died, and he never knew we were moving into Montrose because by then he’d banished all but a couple of friends from his life, including me. The house had a lot of similarities to his own Montrose home. In fact, the light switch for his bathroom was in the hall outside the bathroom door, and it took me years before I stopped turning on my hall light thinking it was the bathroom switch.

All of that made me feel like I knew the house before I really did. When it was emptied of its former tenants and their possessions and cleaned, I went over one day to space clear it. (This is my own method that I developed over years and once did for other people’s homes and businesses, combining Native American and Balinese customs with some elements of feng shui.) I remember looking around and knowing that the house wasn’t really empty. A gentle spirit dwelt there, I thought I knew whose–not Jeff’s!–and I promised that Tom and I would be good caretakers of the house, and it would be a home. As I finished that day, I sat in the middle of the living room, just breathing it all in, and noticed the azaleas outside the windows were trembling. A gentle rain had begun to fall, the sun still shone, and I took it all as a good omen.

In time, I began to think of the house as my little jewel box, and that became its name: The Jewel Box. It was my shelter, my refuge from a world that was breaking my heart, as my friends died of their AIDS-related illnesses, and I was laid off from the job I loved. I needed it to be both anchor and port, and it was. Then when my mother moved (as she was wont to do often), Tom and I turned the apartment into a guest house and my business space (by then I was self-employed and starting to work more seriously on developing a writing career). We bought a couple of display cases to put in the apartment, so I could take my Barbies out of storage, and that’s how the apartment became The Doll House.

When I met “the boys” online–the men who would eventually be my most trusted friends and writing partners–and I would talk about the house and the apartment, they are the ones who began calling it The Compound. I don’t know which of them said, “You’re like the Kennedys at Hyannis Port,” which I thought was hilarious, and the name stuck. We began writing and then publishing books, and Tim moved to Houston and took over The Doll House. Sometimes readers would do a little online stalking of him, or of the mysterious “Timothy James Beck,” and so we encouraged the myth that we lived on this massive and well-secured property. It was always done with humor, but some people actually believed it and added to The Compound myth. That’s why, as a joke, whenever new friends would come to Houston to visit, we’d take pictures of them wearing blindfolds as they came onto the property–so they couldn’t reveal its true location. But we did seriously ask them not to post identifying photos of the house, because sometimes people can get a little wacky, and we ran into a few who couldn’t respect the boundaries we set.

We lived there nineteen years and six months–longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life–and there was never a day when I didn’t love it and know it was home. But that Midtown boom Jeff knew was coming changed the area around us so much and in ways that were spoiling the feelings that Tom, Tim, and I had for our neighborhood. Sometimes I wished we could pick up the house and put it somewhere else. All the improvements we wanted to continue making to the house and apartment became impossible when the skyrocketing property taxes ate into our budget. I think that was what finally decided me. The promise I’d made to that gentle spirit–to be a good caretaker–was one that I ultimately realized would be better fulfilled by someone else.

So we decided it was time for goodbye, and this wonderful home that had been our shelter, hosted so many friends and family, held a million beautiful and bittersweet memories–made us one last gift by helping us purchase our new home.


I will always love it, will always hold it deep in my heart, and hope that anyone who’s lucky enough to live there will embrace all the sweetness and welcome it has to offer.

Gift from a valiant little friend

Many of you who read here know Marika and know that the last couple of months have been hard on her because she lost her companion of sixteen years, Dash. I was lucky enough to meet the plucky little Dash a couple of times in New Orleans before he moved to the Ozarks, where the mountains breathed new enthusiasm and adventure into his days. He was a greatly loved dog, the subject of many stories, and he’ll be remembered by everyone who ever knew him even if they only read of his exploits online.

When I told Marika that Anime’s rescue fell through and that Tom and I happily adopted this BARC dog as our own, I also told her some of Anime’s nutty behaviors that emerge as she gets more comfortable in our home. As it happens, some of them mirror Dash’s antics, so we both like to think she carries a little of his spirit inside her.

Marika wanted to make a gift of Dash’s blankets to Rescued Pets Movement. One is his soft blanket of pink hearts, and another is a “Supernatural” blanket that Marika received as a gift but that Dash claimed as his own. (If you know of Dash, you know that in a contest of wills, he was always going to win.) She told me to choose either of the blankets for Anime as a “welcome to your new home” gift from her and Dash.

Marika also sent Dash’s dog bowls for Anime, who was eating and drinking from whatever random bowls we pulled out of the cabinet, because we hadn’t anticipated getting another dog and haven’t had time to shop for her.

It’s hard to remember when there wasn’t an Anime here. She loves all The Compound dogs and can hold her own with Tim’s big dogs. She’s been known to entice even old lady Margot into playing, and both Guinness and Margot will let her curl up and sleep with them during their day naps. At night, Anime sleeps in a crate at the foot of our bed, and now she snuggles into Dash’s pink blanket.

I tried to get a photo of her sleeping on it, but as soon as she saw me, she was up and at’em.

Thank you, Marika, for honoring our dog with these gifts from your Dash. Soon RPM dogs will be riding comfortably on his other blanket, and I hope all of their forever homes have as much love as Dash knew in his life with you.

Merry Christmas!

Of course we didn’t decorate this year–unless you count stacks and stacks of brown cardboard boxes and a big pile of documents to be shredded festive?–but I do have three new ornaments that can’t be put away because all the Christmas bins are in storage. They include my yearly purchase of a sleigh bell, a holiday tradition since 1992.

There’s a little dog house ornament that served as my name tag on a gift I received at a party the RPM board members gave for the staff and our spouses/significant others. I not only work for amazing people, I have the thrill of feeling like I’m part of the solution to Houston’s homeless pet population–and I get to hang out every week with some of the best co-workers, volunteers, and donors any group could ask for. What a “job!”

And finally, that Snoopy dog house ornament is PERFECT. It was a closing day gift from our realtor George, who found our house and helped negotiate its purchase–and tucked inside it was a note letting us know he made a substantial donation to Rescued Pets Movement in honor of our new home. If you ever need a Houston realtor, let me know. George not only found the home that is perfect for us, he became someone we enjoyed getting to know along the way.

I have plenty more to blog about over the next few days, so watch this space. Thank all of you for reading, for commenting, for writing your own blogs and journals or FB posts and Tweets that I enjoy so much, and for making this another memorable year. Even with some losses, it’s been one of my favorite thirty-fifth years.

Now I need to finish decorating Tom’s birthday cake–happy birthday to my favorite Christmas kid!

A Movable Garden

We have let the little garden grow as it would over the past few months. The lantana is wild and overpowering, but beneath it, there are still other plants and flowers thriving.

It’s the playground of lizards.

The fragrance of the lavender soothes.

The mystery of it lures dog noses to snuffle their way in, and they often sample the flowers to see if the taste has changed since last time.

We will dismantle it when we go, moving its parts in pots, and then replant them at our new house. We hope they’ll thrive. We’ll create another small garden there.

Aaron would have turned twenty-one today.