Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

September 17, 2011

My Gardening Efforts

Filed under: At home,Austin,Family — Tags: , — Janice @ 11:56 am

This year has just been the year where I’ve hoped to keep the garden alive and there has been no wild plans of installing new beds or even improving the ones I have with new plantings or cultivation.

I haven’t even been all that successful in keeping things alive. Last weekend I trimmed out some large parts of my monster rosemary bush that have died in the drought. Beside the house stands a dead American beautyberry, a drought-resistant Texas native, that couldn’t take the heat and the lack of water this summer (especially after following the bitter freezes of last winter). My little Japanese maple is making a valiant effort to live in the back and we’ve watered it thoroughly as often as we are allowed, but it has curled and withered leaves.

Last weekend while I was finally out looking at the garden, since the temperatures had dropped below 100 for the first time 3 months, I looked at one flower bed we have out front and thought about my great-grandmother Williams’ flowers. I think I’ve written about them before, but a quick look through previous Septembers doesn’t reveal the post, so I can’t link to it.

Back in the 1970s, Mother tells that my dad’s grandmother, Mattie Lett Williams, gave her some bulbs to plant. Grandma Williams was in her late 80s or 90s by then. Mom planted by the side of our house and waited for spring for them to produce blooms, but nothing came up. I believe that Grandma had told Mom that they were a spring-blooming bulb. Nothing happened for a period of years and Mother had pretty much forgotten about them.

In August of 1978, Grandma Williams died at 95 years old. In just a few weeks, bright cheerful red blooms burst from the ground where Mom had planted those bulbs. It was one of those fun little signs from heaven that we all look for. From then on, every year about the time Grandma died, these bulbs would pop up in late August or early September.

When I got into Master Gardening in the 90s, I learned that these bulbs are called oxblood lilies or schoolhouse lilies. Schoolhouse because of their color and because they truly are a fall-blooming bulb and pop up around the beginning of the school year. Mark has renamed them “Mammaryllises” since our “Mamma Williams” gave them to us.

A unique feature of the mammaryllis is that it gives no warning that it is about to come up. Unlike so many other plants, it has no leaves or greenery or shoots before the bloom. They all come up almost instantaneously and suddenly there is a complete plant with leaves and a stem and multiple blooms all at one time.

So I stood at the parched garden last weekend and wondered about the bulbs and whether I’d have any blooms this year. They are in a garden close to the street and technically on our neighbor’s property, but we put it in and maintain it and enjoy it. It doesn’t get a lot of water, though, because it is mostly full of natives that can tolerate the drought. I wondered if we’d see a bloom at all and expected the bulb to take a year off and wait until times were better next year.

Then on Wednesday morning this week I got a text from Mark: Mammarylisses are blooming!

I got home and took some pictures:



They are probably not bright enough or dense enough to be seen from the street by passersby, but I can see them when I look out my front window toward the street. They are red and robust and energizing. They make me feel like life does continue even through the worst drought and heatwave I’ve ever lived through.

Grandma/Mamma Williams and Mom in the 1950s. She was already in her 70s here. And she had another 25 years to go!


September 11, 2011


Filed under: Music — Tags: — Janice @ 9:29 pm

I’m very glad that football is back on the air. I hope that I don’t post about it at all, though (except this) because I have discovered from my old diaries how boring it is to even read “Dallas won” years later. Just doesn’t affect me after the fact.

But I am enjoying it to the fullest this weekend and that is why I haven’t written.

August 26, 2011

The EYB at the Nutty Brown

Filed under: Music — Janice @ 5:47 pm

It’s bad enough that I don’t write, but when I DO write and don’t get it posted, that irritates me a lot. So, yes, I wrote this sometime within the last week because I went to this show a week ago…

I just don’t go out that much anymore. I’ve gotten old and/or lazy and don’t go see new bands or even old bands I like. I am leery of new venues and reluctant to go to old venues. There’s a few shows from time to time I make the effort to go to and I’m always glad I did, but that doesn’t make me any more eager to go to the next one.

One of the record reps I deal with emailed me a while back and asked if I would come to see the Eli Young Band when they played the Nutty Brown Café for their CD release. I said that I would, but I wasn’t too excited about the prospect. This band is a band from Denton that were climbing the charts and touring across Texas when I was with the radio station. Their music never really fit the true “Texas country” genre that we promoted, so we never played any of their music in our regular rotation. They did play our music series at least a time or two and I had them on my show a couple of times. In fact, I’m pretty sure Mike Eli was one of the last interviews I did while I was there.

So I wasn’t thrilled to go to the show, but I said I would go and I did go Friday night. An intern that has been working for us this summer, Katie Wolters, met me out there for the show and we had a really good time. The last time I had seen EYB was also at the Nutty Brown and they were a little too polished and rehearsed and “hair gel country” for my tastes. This time they were much more accessible and had great songs and melodies and they toned down the sparkle and made it a great show. I enjoyed them.

Afterward, my record rep wanted us to say hi to the band so he took us backstage and did the introductions. The guys were nice enough to remember me and called me an “early supporter” of their music. That was nice, but I can’t say that I was at all. Certainly no more than they deserved. I didn’t give them any breaks, I guess I should say. But they have already had a couple of songs make the national charts and the new one, Crazy Girl, is going strong and should do better now that the album has been released.

Here’s me and Katie and the band:


Funny, it is a little fuzzy because the format was small. The only other picture I have with the band is the same way.

It was also a surprise to see my friend Keith Davis is playing with the band on their current tour (he’s not pictured). And my friend Ryan James wrote a song on their album and he came out and played  it with them, too. I had several nice surprises like that during and after the show. It was fun to see many old friends that I hadn’t seen since my radio days.

I’ve said this before that it is hard for me to really be INTO a show anymore. I’m always critiquing and thinking about it’s commercial viability, etc. And these days I’m also thinking “Lord it’s hot” and “I wish I could sit down” and “How much longer?” I hate to have lost that connection with the music that I used to have, but that is the way it is with most shows (not all, but most). Viewing it even from that perspective though, these guys had a great show and I expect they are going to be known more in the months to come.

August 21, 2011

Reunion Past

Filed under: Music — Janice @ 5:33 pm

I’m a week past the reunion and still living among the wreckage the reunion brings. After a few weeks of late nights computing and putting things together for the family, my office is piled high with notebooks and unread mail, papers and trash. My car hasn’t been cleaned out and still has the card table that needs to go back to my friend Denise this week. I have many thank you notes to write and information that was given to me at the reunion that needs to be documented and entered into the family record. And I just need some more rest! That one day off after the reunion was not enough, apparently, to make me feel like I can tackle any of these things, because they all sit here undone.

Next on the list, really, is to sort through the pictures I took and see what needs to be sent out in my annual “Cunningham letter.” Each year I write a wrap-up letter for my mom and aunts so they know what they missed in Comanche. I will probably post it here or on my regular webpage, too, in case the world needs to see it. Actually, the world may get a slightly edited version, their version usually includes some family gossip that can’t be told to everyone!

August 15, 2011


Filed under: At home,Food — Janice @ 10:26 pm

I’ve been thinking today about the changes in our world as it applies to retirement. I was emptying a big box of financial things and company newsletters that had belonged to my dad (he died almost 5 years ago and I’m finally getting around to sorting through this pile). I found a list of men in his company, organized by year and retirement dates. I don’t know that they were forced to retire when they turned 65, but I assume this was at least a list of when they would be turning 65. It was pretty amazing to see this long list with about 20 to 25 men turning 65 each year and being scheduled for retirement.

My dad and mom regularly went to retirement parties at Dad’s company (Colorado Interstate Gas, Co.). I know they didn’t go to 25 a year, but I guess they went to most of the parties for men that daddy worked with and I know that they even sometimes traveled to Colorado for these parties for men that worked in those offices.

Before I go further, you’ll notice I have said there were men’s names on this list and they went to men’s retirement parties. I know some women worked at CIG, but if they were anything other than secretaries, I never heard about them. This was a company of men and, considering that their jobs were in land surveying and pipeline construction, that makes sense. I wonder if there are women in those kinds of companies now at least in the engineering department?

These lists made me wonder about companies in our time and how often someone gets to retire. Especially get to retire after 20 or 30 or even 40 years with the company? I think Daddy had worked for them for 37 years when he retired and he retired before he was 65. I know of only one or two people in my entire company that are over 60.

On the other side of the equation, I can understand the government’s bad position with Social Security benefits and people’s long lives today. On Dad’s list, he had marked through the names of men who had died. The list seemed to be from about 1980 and included the men who had retired within the last 10 years and many of them were already dead. Even among the list of those slated to be retired in the future, lines had been drawn through plenty with notations that they had died and what killed them. Morbidly, Dad had written “heart attack” or “car wreck” or “cancer” beside many of them. Even just 30 years ago, living to retirement or much beyond was a great accomplishment. The life span average hasn’t increased, but it seems more and more that if you DO make it past 65 your chances of living past 75 are increasing.

I also noticed on the list a lot of men with the notation “fired in 1983.” I remember that terrible time. The company was making some serious cutbacks and letting a lot of men go. One especially was a family friend and I know it really bothered Daddy that the company was doing that. Though he was very grateful to get to keep his job, it was not the same after that point. There wasn’t as much work to do and he had that seem feeling of insecurity that I have had for the last 10 years. Fortunately, he did make it to an early retirement and got to enjoy a lot of travel and fun and grandsons over the next 16 years.

I don’t want to roll back the clocks to where men made up the workforce, but I wouldn’t mind having a corporate culture in our nation where employees weren’t laid off so easily and at the first sign of trouble. I would love for Social Security to be there to cushion retirement for everyone, but I also see that it can’t and changes need to be made. I really hope there is some Social Security left for me in another 15 years or so (that’s assuming I am able to keep working that long). That doesn’t sound like much time! It sure doesn’t sound like much time to put together a stock portfolio and a retirement fund.

August 14, 2011

Jiggity Jig

Filed under: Family,Food,Genealogy,Travel — Janice @ 10:17 pm

I’m very happy to be home and ready to sleep in my own bed again. I just wish I could have brought some of the rain back from Comanche County with me. Not only did we have the pleasant light rains yesterday morning that cooled everything for the reunion last night (and my cemetery jaunts yesterday), we had a big downpour this afternoon just at the end of the reunion when only the diehards were still on hand. I had a good long visit with Tommie Lee, a dear favorite cousin, but from a different family so not at the reunion, and learned about how bad things are for her daughter and son-in-law’s cows. Hay that was $50 a bale just a short while back is now going for $140 and climbing… and that’s IF you can find someone that has some. It is a desperate time for stock raisers. Fortunately, Roger, the farmer/rancher, has put in a crop and this rain should get it up enough to bale and have some feed for their cows.

Roger came by to see me while I was visiting and brought me four beautiful fresh peaches from a real tree. I can’t remember the last time I at a peach that wasn’t bought at a fruit stand or the store. It smelled and tasted exactly like my childhood. When I got them home I peeled them and Mark and I ate them before I even brought in all the bags.

I also brought home peanuts, a primary crop in Comanche. Tommie has a neighbor that is very generous and gives her LOTS of peanuts. She always give me peanuts, but this time she sent me home with THREE GALLONS of peanuts because he had told her there was more coming soon and she needed to clean out her refrigerator. I know George Washington Carver came up with 2000 uses for the peanut. I wish I knew one or two beyond “candy” and “snack” and “obsession.”

The visit at Tommie’s beautiful sweet house was the end of the day, there was lots before it, but it all began about 5 a.m. so I’m going to go to bed and see what I can remember about it all tomorrow.

August 13, 2011

Rain for the Reunion

Filed under: Music — Janice @ 10:42 pm

My best friend Beth called from Ohio this morning. I told her that I was in Comanche for the reunion “and it’s raining!” She said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I had to explain that, NO, this was wonderful. No one in Texas is going to be unhappy that it is raining.

It rained through the morning and things were cool and pleasant tonight at the reunion grounds. The group was probably smaller than usual and that could be expected with the heat this summer, but we all had a wonderful time enjoying hotdogs cooked over the grill and reuniting.

I followed through on most of my plans for the day. Rain changed things only slightly. I made it to the library for a good visit with my distant cousin Margaret, one of the founders of the library 50 years ago and their librarian that entire time, too. She showed me her current research projects and gave me some guidance on my queries.

Today I went to the Gardens of Memory cemetery and found the grave of our cousin “Bud” who died about 5 years ago. She was one of my absolute favorites from the reunion for all the years she was here. Beautiful, quick witted, acerbic… she also made the best pecan pies. I hadn’t been back to her grave since her funeral so I was glad I could find it and put some flowers out (though they may take them away soon because she didn’t have a vase and this is one of the more fussy perpetual care cemeteries). I also found the grave of my cousin Joe Lee. I had never been there to visit it.

I went to the Oakwood Cemetery in town, too. It is huge and I’ve only driven by it and never explored it much. I did find some graves of some of the oldest members of family. There are still a few people I would like to go back at some point and find their graves.

I went to the Comanche Museum next. It is a big museum. This time I went armed with my new little scanner and was able to scan some cool things, well, like this picture:


If you don’t know what these people are doing, they are “dirt sitting.” Yes, I need to write more in depth about the dirt sitting at my cousin John Reese’s ranch. He made a lot of money from it and I’m happy to have a great picture like this.

I found many many cousins at the museum, but was most pleased to find my little cousin Susie, who loved the schoolroom setting they have since she is about to enter kindergarten herself.


She is 5 years old and this is her sixth reunion. That’s the kind of dedication and devotion I like!

From the museum on to Newburg, Texas, which is actually the community that my family comes from. I visited the cemetery and was able to decorate the graves and visit everyone… my favorite great aunt Det (Susie’s great-great-grandmother), my great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and great-great-great-grandparents. And I wasn’t limited to the Cunningham family here, either. Plenty of other relations, too.

Finally, to the reunion grounds and lots of visiting and catching up with lots and lots of people I love and a few old coots. That is a joke. Maybe.

I need to go to bed, but my mind is still racing. I will be up very very early to be out to the reunion grounds as the sun comes up. There’s not very many things in this world that will get me out of bed that early on a day off, but the breakfast at the Cunningham Reunion is the best meal I have all year.

On the Comanche Trail

Filed under: Genealogy,Travel — Janice @ 12:08 am

I’m in Comanche, Texas, tonight. If you say, “Where?” you are not alone. It’s in Central Texas somewhere between Stephenville, Brownwood, and Lampasas. Of course, many people I’ve excitedly told about my trip didn’t know where those towns were either.

It takes about 45 minutes to get from my house to the North San Gabriel River on 183. At that point I feel like I’m finally on my way to Comanche. On to Lampasas and then… glorious rain! It was so great to see what rain was like again. There were scattered showers on to Goldthwaite and they brought the temperatures down considerably.

I stopped today at the Mills County Museum. I’ve passed it many times and wanted to stop, but it is closed or I don’t have time. Today all the planets aligned and I stopped in.

Some museums might have nice displays of what the town dentist’s office looked like in the old days, but they don’t really have much good history. This one was a great combo. Nice displays for people just curious about the past and some solid information for people like me, too. There was a very nice volunteer who helped me find obituaries and told me a lot about a cousin in our family who had been a POW in WWII.

I flipped through a big register of people who had stayed in the Mills County jail in 1945. Pretty interesting to see what people were arrested for then (mostly “drunk,” but also a murder, child abandonment, and “hot check” that I read as “hot chick” and didn’t know that was illegal). There also weren’t as many records kept as today. In some instances the “name” listed was just “old man” or “Negro.”

My great-great-grandfather’s brother George Washington Cunningham was the first sheriff of Mills County. He and his wife Eliza and their children lived at the jail and she cooked for the prisoners along with her family. An interesting way of life. I wonder what the prisoners were in for at that time (around 1890)?

After keeping the volunteer a half hour past their closing time, I went on to Brownwood and Grosvenor. My mom grew up in Grosvenor and my grandfather was the school superintendent there in the 1930s. Mom and I made a trip to the Cunningham Reunion in 1987 and had gone through there and she told me stories of those days. I hadn’t been back since.

Back to Brownwood and dinner at the best restaurant in Texas: Underwood’s BBQ. If I lived in Brownwood, I might get to try their chicken fried steak or a fried chicken dinner, but since I only eat there once a year, I always have the delicious barbecued steak.

I had cherry cobbler tonight. A few years ago I decided to try the peach cobbler instead. I called Mother that night and told her I had tried the peach instead of the cherry. She solemnly said, “That was a mistake.” She was right so it will always be cherry from now on (unless I have enough appetite to have both).

I had hoped to make it by a cemetery (or 3) before the sun set, but I didn’t make it. It got dark so I came on back to Comanche and checked into this wonderful hotel. It is mainly wonderful because it is nice and new and clean and IN Comanche. I spent a lot of years staying at run-down motels in Comanche or run-down motels in Brownwood or occasionally a nice place in Brownwood (40 miles from the reunion). I’ve also imposed on a cousin a few times, too. None of those are nearly as nice as this great hotel and I’m here for 2 great nights.

Tomorrow will be a full day with a trip to the cemetery to put out flowers on the graves, do some research at the library, drop by the Comanche museum, and then on to the reunion for visiting and hotdogs.

August 11, 2011

Live Music

Filed under: Austin,Music — Janice @ 10:38 pm

It has been so long since I’ve gone out to see live music and reported on it, I know I’m going to be a poor reporter. I wrote this in my head as each act went on and off, but now you’ll only get the condensed version.

Tonight was the 5th anniversary celebration of Jenni Finlay Promotions. Jenni is a great friend and I knew her when she was promoting records from a record company in Houston. She used to call me at the radio station and we finally met when she was in town and she met me at TC’s on the east side to see Mark play. Since then she’s moved to Austin, started a business, and become my neighbor!

Her anniversary party always occurs on the Thursday before my reunion. It seems like I’m always crazy busy the week of the reunion (and this week has been no exception), but it was great fun to go with my friend Denise and see a great line-up of acts that Jenni works with and promotes. It all happened at the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos and it was great music at a great pace. No lag time, no changing of the bands, just 30 minutes from and artist, mostly solo, one right after another.

I got to see Owen Temple, who I hadn’t seen in a long time and I really like. He made an impression tonight with the song with the lyric “one day closer to rain.” I decided that is how I’m going to look at this drought. Instead of counting how long is has been since that last tiny shower we had on June 5 (67 days), I will see the glass half full and say we are one day closer to rain.

Next up was Betty Soo, accompanied by Will Sexton. I have heard some of her music on the web and on KUT, but I have never seen Betty Soo live. She is beautiful and has a fabulous voice and clever songs and lyrics. A winner.

Matt the Electrician played. I had booked him at the Shady Grove a few years back and that was the only time I had seen him before. This was a better setting where he could be heard so clearly. I was really in awe of how good his guitar sounded (and I don’t normally notice such things) when he commented that this was a brand new guitar that had just been completed (custom made) the day before. He also has witty lyrics and a cute song about needing a battery and having to go to WalMart to get it.

Will Sexton played and I have never heard him do a solo show, surprisingly. He is always the go-to guy for musicians to want in their band as a guitar player, but he was a great singer on his own. I liked his version of “All Just To Get To You” (Joe Ely’s).

Ray Wylie Hubbard played and you can’t ever go wrong with Ray. You can’t listen to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s albums and know who he is. You have to see him live and hear those witticisms that I’ve heard before, but they always make me laugh again. Commenting after an “singalong” song:  Maybe you need to take some of that money you spend on beer and get yourself a metronome and a pitch pipe.

Next up was Joe Pug. I have played his music in my current job. He is from Chicago and making a name for himself in Americana and sort of “adult pop.” He is living in Austin, now, Jenni tells me. He was nothing like I expected. I expected maybe a short bald, 40-ish, studious fellow, but he was a young, handsome, blue-eyed, folk singer. And I liked him too!

Finally James McMurtry to wrap up a stellar line-up. My bedtime and reunion preparations were calling me so I had to call it a night without staying for James, which is a shame because I knew he could bring the house down.

It was fun. And now I’m off to the reunion that has kept me from this blog for the last week or two or three or ten.

August 3, 2011

Austin’s Best Dressed

Filed under: Austin — Janice @ 9:25 pm

GQ magazine just named Austin the 18th worst dressed city in the country. Boston came in at #1. If you know me and my fashion style, you know I’m not going to care much what GQ says about my city or any city. I certainly don’t disagree with them if you are talking about cities that dress in a “GQ style,” but we dress in our own individual way here and that’s fine with me.

I remember when I got a job downtown a few years back and our office was in the same offices with a law firm. I was a little concerned that my laid back clothing and our laid back office (we booked music, we didn’t have to be GQ) would not fit well in their office. As I drove into work, I was taking my own personal survey of the men on the street and how many were wearing ties. My survey might not accurately reflect true figures though because I had to count a guy that had on a white shirt and a tie, but he also had on bulky plaid shorts and flip-flops. Should that “count”?

I needn’t have worried about how we fit into that office. The lawyers might put on a suit if they had a court appearance, but on non-court days they were in jeans along with their paralegals and office staff. Well, except for my friend that worked there who is always dressed to the nines, even if it is in jeans.

When my old roommate Diane and I moved to Dallas we would spot women and say “She’s Dallas!” That usually meant big hair and lots of makeup and a floral outfit of some kind. This was the 80s. We did our very best to fit into that scene. In Dallas there didn’t really seem to be much choice. Once I found my way back into radio there I did find a more comfortable style of clothing that works in radio nationwide.

But, boy, when we moved to Austin, it really didn’t matter what we wore anymore. It truly was something that we noticed all around us. I remember going to eat at a Macaroni Grill in the early days down here. In Dallas if we had gone to a Macaroni Grill we would dress up a tiny bit. And we did that here, too. At least not wearing shorts and flip-flops. Looking around we could see that was not a concern in Austin. Maybe I’ve never been to the highest priced restaurants in town, but those on the upper end of our living scale are still quite welcoming to the shorts-and-flip-flops crowd. Of course, the restaurants we are at the most probably don’t even require shirts and shoes, but then, they don’t have much service either.

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