Saturday, January 31, 2015
Friday, January 30, 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
- Bud had a fever and spent much of the time napping . . .
- except when he was building a Lego (The Tower of Orthanc) from the Magic Trunk;
- Sis also had a Lego (the Corsairs' ship from LOTR);
- but she also spent a ton of time outside with the neighbor girl across the street sledding down neighbor's yard, working on yesterday's fort, building a tunnel in the snowbank, making snowballs, drinking homemade hot chocolate, playing with the other kids from the cul de sac;
- we watched Guardians of the Galaxy, again (we watched it and Maleficent the last couple of nights);
- Bud and Mama played Infinity, then Sis and Mama played Infinity;
- I crocheted using the Crazy Stitch a blanket for the downstairs cats;
- I snuggled with Patron, who slept behind my knees on the couch;
- Mama cleared the driveway and sidewalk with snowblower and cleared off our cars;
- I made chicken stock from yesterday's baked chicken and then made chicken noodle soup;
- we all nibbled on yesterday's ANZAC biscuits (which are delicious but too spread out--something went wonky with the recipe; I'll post it later);
- we talked to Gommie about her injection (for her newly-diagnosed spinal stenosis; it went very well) and then about Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, which she is studying up on to be ready for her visit in two weeks;
- and we're slowly getting ready to resume a somewhat limited schedule tomorrow--Sis will go to school (which is delayed two hours) and Bud will be home with me trying to get better; only Mama will do her usual work thing.
The blizzard arrived but not with the strength expected; the worst went further east. So, while it was and still is windy and snowing ( I wouldn't want to drive in it. And we're glad that Mama and the kids are home) , the accumulation is definitely under a foot. In fact, in some places, like at the fire hydrant and on the bench and on the sidewalk under the tree, there isn't even any snow. Still pretty and enough for snow ice cream but not too much work ( shoveling out a fire hydrant from two feet of snow can be a ton of work. And you can't use the snowblower. So we got lucky.)
In the photo below, you can sort of see it coming off the roof and how it stuck to the window and the side of the house but also how there isn't too much accumulation on the deck, swing set, and ground near the little fence.
Monday, January 26, 2015
We're all home safe and ready for the storm. Fully stocked and prepped, we have arts and crafts, movies, Legos, games, and such. We're actually looking forward to all the accumulation, anywhere from one to two feet, but not to the wind which might gust above 70 mph. School has been canceled for tomorrow and, eventually I'm guessing, for Wednesday. I'll keep you posted, unless we lose power.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
When I woke up, it had doubled--one to two feet!!!!
We're having snow! Probably a blizzard.
I've posted a lot about snow and preparations--how to get ready, what to do in it for fun (and here), and just general tips for novices--and we're checking off our list as we get things done. Mama is out with the kids at the store; I'm home with a tight back (nothing serious) and a healthy regard for black ice. The trickiest part for us is if we lose power. We don't have a generator (we think about it every season and then decide we don't need it.) But we have a propane stove to use on our easily ventilated porch, if need be. Otherwise, we have lots of blankets. (Our chimney is old and not up to code for using--the flue is too narrow for both a fire and the exhaust from the furnace and it would be too expensive to widen it including altering the roof; but, if there's no electricity to run the furnace, I suppose we could light a fire. That would be last resort. No worries, we keep the chimney clean and in working order. And have carbon monoxide monitors on all floors.)
For now, we're just waiting and taking bets on when it comes, how much, and how it affects school. The kids are dreaming of days off and mountains of snow. I'll be sure to post pictures.
Unless we lose power!
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Via Smitten Kitchen, Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste
Friday, January 23, 2015
Thursday, January 22, 2015
(The idea came to me because a creative date time was a topic of Hibernate recently; it'd been a long time since we'd met for lunch.)
See, we'd spent the morning worrying about one of our NYCats, Patron, who has had some intermittent stomach issues this week, culminating in a trip to the emergency vet this morning for fluids and antibiotics. It was only the ER vet because our regular vet is closed on Thursdays and we didn't want to wait a day for fluids. We also had him ultrasounded to follow up on our vet's concern about an abdominal mass. Turns out there is some intestinal thickening, either from something straightforward as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. Let's hope a change in diet and rest will reveal the former. Either way, we're planning on going the slow medicine/palliative route; no one wants invasive or extensive treatments on an almost 15-year-old cat. And if we can keep his symptoms under control, he's been pretty happy. We knew this might be coming and we are better equipped to handle it, both from increased wisdom and experience, than we were with our cat Morgan, but it was still a pretty quick onset and a little disheartening. He's home now and eating and purring and pretty happy; we've closed him and his brother Mojito in the basement alone to keep the Connecticats from harassing him.
marinated cabbage and tofu salad, special grilled cheese sandwiches on that incredible oatmeal bread, an incredible vegan chocolate mousse and our favorite butterscotch pudding! Mmmmmm! And a great chat with Selma and Noelle, the owners, about their upcoming trip to Italy, a new knitting project, and the secret ingredient in the mousse. Restorative. And we brought some pudding home for Sis, who loves it, too.
If and when it snows this Saturday (or Monday or Wednesday . . . ), maybe we'll make some more.
In a medium-sized pot, warm 1 cup milk and 2 cups heavy cream together with 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar. In a larger pot, combine 3/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook to form a caramel. When sugar is golden brown, remove from heat and add milk mixture gradually. It will boil up suddenly and violently, which is why the caramel must be started in the larger pot. Be sure heat is off and all is combined. Set aside.
Separate eggs; you will need 6 yolks. Reserve whites for other purposes. Slowly whisk hot milk into yolks, being careful not to curdle them. Add 1 teaspoon Kosher salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir well.
Ladle into 6 ovenproof custard cups set in a pan. Fill the pan halfway with water, being careful not to get any into the pudding dishes. Bake at 325F for about 30 minutes or until no longer wobbly. Let cool; chill.
Serve with creme fraiche or whipped cream.
Best of Bloodroot, Vol. 1 Vegetarian
I've never played in a recital, a childhood rite-of-passage for so many. Mine will be in my fifth decade! The kids are very supportive and excited for me. When I said I was thinking about it, they chorused, "You have to! Play, Mom, play!"
Who can say no to that audience?
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
3/4 cups lentils
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes, with some juice
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 pound pasta--pretty much any shape works, though the smaller is better (even broken spaghetti)
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a rolling boil, add the lentils, and cook, covered over medium-high heat, until nearly but not entirely tender, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, the olive oil, the tomatoes, the salt and the pepper. Reduce the heat, cover and continue to simmer briskly for another 10 minutes, stirring a few times, or until the lentils are fully tender.
Add pasta. Cook, covered, at a steady simmer, stirring several times and scraping the bottom of the pot when you do. Cook until the pasta is just done, stirring more frequently as it gets closer to the point of being cooked.
When pasta is cooked to taste, add seasonings of choice and serve, perhaps with a garnish of Parmesan cheese.
Monday, January 19, 2015
In one little block on Kissena Boulevard, we did some grocery shopping for our own New Year's celebration, looked at the Chen Family shrine (actually Gong's family name), ate dim sum, and went to a traditional Chinese bakery. Whew. Plus got leftovers for dinner tonight and snacks for several days to come.
As always, the grocery store was packed. Stores in Flushing, in my experience, are always packed. And I'm always the tallest, whitest person there. It's not a shock like it used to be--if you're Caucasian, how often are you the only one? Sure, it happens to Mama everyday in Connecticut but never to me. Years and years ago, I used to feel very out of place, very unwanted, very in the way, and very sure that whatever I was doing was a complete social offense. Now, not so much. I realize I'm just not that important. And I'm good at staying out of the way. Other things about Chinese groceries I've been to: there are always very strong scents, usually from the open-air fish market, but also from the row after row of mounds of vegetables. We bemoan American love of processed food, but the Chinese have packaged crap in spades. Also, today, I noticed three different packages with the same cathedral on the front . . . . cathedral?? I think it was to denote that the snacks inside were European in some way (they were all cookies, though a couple were traditional Chinese cookies.) Interesting. The kids picked up lots of foods they like--dried seaweed, udon and soba noodles, lychee gummies, Pocky, lychee drink, coconut gels, Asian pears, dried squid, prawn chips. Mama also restocked our pantry with soy sauce, noodles, and other things for new year's. I picked up some snacks--dried persimmons and those Chinese "cathedral" cookies--for a New Year's party I've been invited to in a few weeks. It's the Year of the Ram, so Ma bought us Ram decorations for the house.
Then we went to lunch. I've posted about dim sum before and the foods were much the same, though now the kids know what they like. Sis loves shumai and fried dumplings, lotus buns and custard buns, mango dofu, and don tot (custard tarts.) Bud likes shumai and chicken feet and various rice noodle and tofu skin wraps with various fillings. Mama eats all that, plus tripe soup! I had boiled greens, steamed chive dumplings, steamed vanilla cake, almond dofu, and coconut dofu. And we took home a little of all of it.
For any of you who might be going to China, some dim sum tips:
- First, I don't know if mainland dim sum is anything like American dim sum, so watch others and follow along;
- tables are big and round and unless your group is big, if the restaurant is crowded, you'll be seated with others;
- hold on to that little "scorecard." The staff will stamp it with a different stamp for each basket you buy. If you wander the restaurant to look at items on the sidelines, like stews, take the card with you;
- feel free to point and stare and sniff and then refuse the item, or take it, as you desire;
- things aren't always what they seem--there's always an almond-coated ball that looks like a sweet to me, but contains fish. There's lots of fish and even more shrimp, in everything;
- sweets and savories all come around at the same time, so if you want it, TAKE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT, because lots of times, you might not see a dish again;
- if you run out of tea in your pot, turn the lid upside down on the top and put the pot near the edge of the table;
- tapping on the table with two fingers (index and middle) is the sign for thank you (for example, if someone pours you tea--the youngest pours--you tap your fingers next to your cup);
- usually, they'll give you to-go boxes--if the food is on your table, it's yours.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
But the weather intervened. Even with the temperature above freezing, there is black ice everywhere. It took us an hour to go barely a town over . . .and then the highway closed. So we stopped, ate a big pancake breakfast, and headed home.
It's foggy and rainy and slushy, perfect day for staying in.
We'll try to get together another time.
In related news: ice is great when it's hockey, which we saw last night in a terrible blow-out game; we had fun anyway.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Thursday, January 15, 2015
- Last night, Sis started taking American Sign Language classes with me. As you know, I've been taking one-on-one ASL since last May. And I've gotten pretty good, much better than I expected. I can hold my own in a conversation with my teacher (and her husband, who is harder to follow because a). he's faster and b.) I don't sign with him as often) without resorting to spelling everything. It's the farthest I've ever gone with a language as far as conversational abilities, but then I took ancient Greek and Latin and only reading-skills of French and German. But all my self-study of Italian and Mandarin never paid off like this. See, I've always wished I could speak in another language. I just shouldn't have gotten so hung up on the "speaking" part. Sis blew through the alphabet and numbers and will pick it up quickly, I think. We don't call her "Eagle Eyes" for nothing.
- Sis is selling Girl Scout cookies!!! As usual, Mama is making the most progress, with donations to the soldiers from her co-workers, but Gommie and Pop made a sizable contribution, too. Thanks!!
- Today, Mrs. K (their 1-2nd grade teacher) and her daughter, who also babysat for us some, came over for a post-holiday visit before said daughter goes back to college. The kiddos had a wonderful time sharing card tricks and piano songs with them. We also drank hot chocolate and ate some of the Christmas sugar cookies I had stored in the freezer.
- Bud is prepping for kung fu performance season, which always kicks into high gear for Chinese New Year. There will be extra practices and perhaps three performances . . . .
- . . . the week after Gommie is here. Yep, Gommie is coming! She'll be here almost a week during February break. Yay! Gommie, shall we all go see Matilda in town?? We'll see if we can get tickets.
- Also coming up: celebrating Chinese New Year with the in-laws before they head to Thailand (which means Mama and Goo, hopefully, will be making the dinner on the actual holiday), and I go on a drawing retreat.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
This year's concert was almost exactly the same and, despite prior knowledge, his cello still sat in the auditorium until later in the evening. But we were prepared. The kids brought decks of cards to do magic trick swith their friends During the concert, Bud sat as first cellists--there are only two--and Sis said seats weren't earned but were based on sitting next to someone you wouldn't chat with. I guess Bud is too chatty even to sit next to the viola-players. Sis is nestled amid the violinists so that all you can see are her bangs; she too is chatty apparently and wasn't sitting next to any of the friends I know.
The songs were "Jingle Bells" and "Ole Joe Clark" which I have heard dozens and dozens of times on various instruments. Music only parents would clap for.
Still, it's a great opportunity, this elementary school orchestra and I look forward to many more.
Even if we'll always have to wait to retrieve the cello.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Today the Hibernate workshop begins and our project is to create a winter to-do list (I won't tell you too much about the class, proprietary as it is, but I think I can post my list.) I thought of a SARK poster, How to be an Artist, that I've had for years, and a new poster created by Miranda Altshuler of Karen Maezen Miller's 10 Tips for a Mindful Home. Heather herself made a list and now I've made mine.
I doodled it a bit with the supplies Sis and Bud gave me for Christmas, to reflect on it, sit with it. This is what I mean:
- Create something--crochet, a meal, a blog post, a doodle
- Learn something--practice piano, ASL, juggle, read a book or the papers (selectively)
- Connect with someone--in person, on the phone, even electronically
- Show some love--hug my kids, kiss my wife, pet my cats
- Help--a neighbor, community, my hospice work, Girl Scout troop, historic house
- Move--as simple as walking around, or more intentional like the treadmill or swimming
- Meditate--30 minutes, especially listening to Sharon Salzberg cds, or doodling
- Continue a work-in-progress--could be housework, an organizational project, whatever
- Rest and relax--not just sleep at night, but play games, watch movies, what's that Danish word, "hygge?"
- Listen--with compassion and respect and gratitude.
It's a good list, one I've tweaked since writing the original a few years ago, written during another of Heather's workshops (but not, if I recall, as part of it.) Of course, I rarely get to all of it, but it's a good reminder of what keeps me balanced and, consequently, helps keep our family balanced.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
So we went to the Big Apple Circus instead.
It's a one-ring show in a real tent, with no seat further than 50' from the ring.
Better yet, they only use domesticated animals like horses, dogs, and rabbits--some of them from rescue organizations--instead of lions, tigers, bears, and elephants. So, we could attend, in all good conscience. (All of which is ironic, because we live not far from P.T. Barnum's home in CT and even attended the UU congregation of which he was a member!)
Mama and I had known about it, going back to my first days in NYC and further for her but, until about a year and a half ago, hadn't been coming into the city for shows. Now was the time.
And it was wonderful!!!!
As we waited for the show to start, in the lounge, there was a young magician doing card tricks. Bud was quite taken with his repertoire and watched intently. Then Bud showed his own trick, which the magician liked. So he explained one of his own tricks to Bud. Wonderful! (Bud's in his room practicing now.)
Trampoline artists. People juggling each other with their feet. Trapeze artists. Aerialists. A contortionist. A quick-change act. A group diabolo demonstration. A dog-and-pony act, with a camel and llama, too. A clown who played xylophone on himself and juggled a ball on pans to play "Ode to Joy" and got us all singing "Brother John" and "Happy Ba-bo" (he was a gentle French clown, not crass or buffoon-like; I liked him.) But my favorite was Tato, who not only helped with the contortionist act by folding into a tiny box with another woman, but did this amazing juggling routine . . . while standing on a wibbly-wobbly rolla bolla!! She juggled tennis rackets and balls and clubs and rings!! And not even on solid ground. LOVED it!!!
Of course, I remember going to the bigger aforementioned circus as a child, really the only game in town. It was huge and we had seats way up high; it's one of the first times I remember having a sense of vertigo. Of course, it was highly entertaining and quite the spectacle. But I'm not sure I loved it and I think we only went the once. I was never that interested in clowns (or trapeze artists or trained animals.)
Interestingly, when I worked at the high school after getting my MA, I became, quite by accident, the advisor of the Clown Club. The previous advisor had been fired, when they discovered he had lied on his teacher application a few years earlier; no one would take it over and so, since I could juggle, I agreed to step in. I recall that we met a few times to do magic tricks--I even went to a local magic store to get some props--and then we had a gig at a school even for younger children. I even wore a classic black-and-white clown suit, with big ruff and pom pon buttons, my hair in pig tails and my big converse sneakers. I juggled and the teen clowns did their own gigs. I had quite forgotten that until we went today.
I think I enjoyed today as much as, perhaps even more than, the kids did. But I imagine we'll all be pulling out the diabolo and juggling balls tomorrow.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
But not in the pipes.
As per usual when we're down in the single digits, the pipes in the outer wall of our kitchen have frozen. We've got the sink's hot and cold working again but not the dishwasher. (Oddly, it doesn't affect the pipes in the same wall that run to the bathroom above the kitchen; go figure.) This is a yearly problem that no about of special taping, blown insulation, preventative dripping faucet, or the like has ever stopped. Sometimes it takes awhile with the heat fans blowing to defrost the blockage. And with these temps over the next few days, it might be awhile before we're not running the heat fans. (Don't worry, we turn everything off when I'm not actively around watching them.)
But otherwise, we all have mittens and hats and heavy coats, including my big "Chicago" coat. And as this is CT not Chicago, it won't be like this for very long. (And even better, I'm not commuting in it like I used to, when my eyelashes would freeze together from the icy wind while I waited for the red line!)
Monday, January 5, 2015
Mama reminded me that I have a bean soup with lime, from Laurie Colwin, a black bean soup. So I'll be making that this week.
And maybe adding some molasses!
Black Bean Soup
No, much to their disappointment, this was not Hogwarts's Ordinary Wizarding Levels. Instead, it was the Unitarian Universalist Association's Our Whole Lives curriculum on sexuality, identity, and health for elementary school kids, including tools on coping with the expression of these in popular culture. (It's not the mysterious film we watched in segregated groups in 5th grade that was nothing more than a Kotex ad.) Mama and I were thrilled this was a topic that the UUA addressed and knew the kids would be taking it before they were even born. Our first congregation hadn't offered it in years, just one of the reasons we switched.
And so Sunday morning, before church, found them sitting in the OWL class.
No, I don't know how it went. "What happens in OWL, stays in OWL." They can tell me what they learned but not what other kids asked. The two teachers--especially trained by the UUA, a man and a woman--had given us parents a detailed handout about the different sessions (on such topics as puberty, sexual orientation, "lovemaking," health and safety, decision-making), complete with vocabulary list so we all used the proper terms.
Of course, hearing that many of their peers and classmates hadn't discussed sex or the like with their folks (and these are UUs! I expected it of my Catholic friends, who have begged me to tell my kids not to say a word to theirs, to preserve their "innocence."), we wondered if we had said too much too soon. Being a non-traditional family that created their children in a less-than-natural way, however, the topic arose pretty early. They asked; we told. In fact, they both read the main book of the course, It's Perfectly Normal, last year. (I highly recommend it; that, and the American Girl one, The Care and Keeping of You 1 & 2.) Now, as fully informed as any fourth graders, they just roll their eyes at me when the topic arises.
Most of the time.
"Mom," Sis asked on Friday, "why do all the songs on the radio talk about sex?"
Um . . . because it's geared to (and often performed by) hormonal teenagers who are exploring their bodies, identities, and relationships and/or adults nostalgic for (or stuck in) that phase?? Sis thought the song "Animals" must be about fluffy bunnies or something--not people smelling and preying upon and "eating" (I kid you not) each other--because she couldn't understand the lyrics.*
OWL came just in time.
*excerpt from "Animals" by Maroon V
Baby, I'm preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
I'm easing into it myself, with grocery run, prepping the pipes and yard for a deep freeze (snow Tuesday and 4F on Thursday morning!) and other chores, which includes quality time with as many cats as possible. Today I managed three out of four. Patron snuck up to eat Albus and Hermione's food and then came to see me on the couch! Albus, who was nearby, didn't budge until Patron started playing with some of his toys on the floor. At one point, I had them both chasing toy mice and balls around. And, until Hermione ran him off, I bet Patron was upstairs more than an hour or so. Progress! Mojito would have none of it.
So, tomorrow a consistently dwindling forecast for snow, certainly not enough to keep the kiddos at home.
But the perfect excuse for me to stay home and play toss with the cats again!
Saturday, January 3, 2015
- Pappadeux's--as we walked through the terminal of IAH to baggage claim, Bud spotted sushi--"let's eat there!" No way we're letting him eat sushi at the airport, especially because we knew we'd be going to Pappadeux's, the Cajun seafood place, for lunch! Bud got Alaskan King Crab legs and actually fell asleep at the table before they arrived (have I mentioned that we were up at 3:30 EST?)! But he awoke when they were placed before him and proceeded to scarf them down, with technical assistance from Mama. And would you believe that both kids tried fried alligator?? Tastes like chicken, they said. I was especially impressed by Sis's bravado; she isn't always so sure of new food. And I began my hiatus from vegetarianism with some cornmeal-fried catfish which I dipped in ketchup!
- Christmas Eve, our first night in Houston, was spent doing the things my family always did, mainly looking at Christmas lights while singing carols and drinking egg nog. The kids couldn't get over all of the lights and plywood cut-out decorations and luminaries lining the streets. It was extra-special to me that we were all singing Christmas carols, which was always my favorite part of Christmas Eve. We also had shrimp remoulade, another family tradition, which Bud and Mama especially enjoyed. I had some tamales, a Texas tradition but not so much a family one except occasionally.
- The kids woke us up at 7 a.m.--luckily that was CST not EST! We started by reading the Christmas story, as told in Luke, which was always the most incongruous part of our secular celebration and even more secular family. Still, I found it with Google (there not being a Bible in the house) and read the requisite parts (one year, when I was in college, I read it in ancient Greek and Aunt Banana read it in Latin!) And then we did presents, one at a time, which gets easier with each passing year. Sis especially loved her sterling silver bunny necklace (with bling bead) in the recognizable James Avery bag from Gommie--later, she said she didn't need to see a real bunny at the cabin in the woods because she had her own! I got more lovely lotions and scarves and Mama liked her Art of Totoro book. Bud got a boomerang, which he would practice later.
- Our traditional breakfast included broiled til crunchy corned beef hash and poached eggs (we scrambled the ones for the kids.)
Wildwood--our days in the woods rather blur together so this is not in any particular order.
- Beavers. Pop spends a lot of time angering the beavers. And the kids helped! See, Pop has this big 12-acre pond in his woods, with a dam he can raise or lower to adjust the water level for his beloved ducks. See, Pop, who used to hunt, loves all kinds of ducks as much as Sis loves bunnies and Bud loves penguins. Especially wood ducks. And the pond, perhaps the whole property, is for the ducks and for him to watch the ducks. But the beavers don't like the water to move through the dam and will block it up every time they hear it. At night, the beavers clog the pipes with mud and brush; during the day, Pop shovels it away. And the kids loved helping. On the third night, Pop let the beavers win, since the water was at a good level. But each night he did affix his Go Pro camera to the dam to record the beavers building--he'd caught them on film once before but not during our visit. I did, however, see one swimming in the pond when we went to fetch the camera one evening.
- The kids loved going on walks with Gommie all around the property. They didn't ever spot a bunny, hence Sis's comment about her necklace, but they did find 5 empty turtle shells, which they dutifully carted back to the cabin to show us (at which point we made them scrub their hands!) It was actually wildlife-light this trip: no deer, no hogs. But we did hear an owl (though not while we were owling the first night) and see a hawk (actually screaming at and chasing away the buzzards.)
- It was very damp while we were at Wildwood, with rain and mist (indeed, I'm not sure we saw sun or sky in Texas during our whole visit), but Pop did take the kids out on the pond in the canoe twice. He said they polled it more than rowed, because of the lowered pond level. See bullet point on beavers!
- At one point we had three fires going: one in the outdoor fire ring, one in the cabin fireplace, and one in the smoker for hamburger lunch. Usually, though, it was just the first two. And we loved poking and feeding the fire. Sis liked us to sprinkle Rutland's magic dust on the fire to make it glow blue, green, and purple. I remember similar briquettes when I was a kiddo. On our last night, we even sat around singing camp songs. I wouldn't call my birth family a musical one, but we do like to sing.
- One of those rainy mornings, we made our own cookie recipes, using my 1001 Cookie Recipe from Domino Sugar. I'd made the dough in Houston before we left and picked up some add-ins when Mama and I went shopping at the (very) local store. I made an orange-chocolate fudge ball. Sis made chocolate chip cookies. Bud made strawberry jam thumbprints (Pop's favorite.) Mama made two cookies, both with ingredients from a gift basket Gommie had--chocolate pistachio toffee cookies and fruit-and-nut rounds. We also made a s'mores version with crushed graham crackers, milk chocolate, and marshmallows on top, but no one really liked that one. It was all good fun and a tasty treat. We left several in the freezer for Pop and Gommie to eat later.
- One of the interesting features of Pop's cabin is the outdoor shower spigot, with hot and cold running water. Yep, you can shower au naturel right there in nature (there are no walls or curtains.) It's an odd feeling to stand in hot soapy water in a 40-something degree chill. Only some of us--Pop, Gommie, Bud, and I--liked it.
- And Sis and Mom, who are not on that shower list, both tried shooting Pop's .22 gauge rifle (a Ruger.) I bet you never thought to see that here on this blog?!! Gommie had mentioned that Pop thought they might like it and did we have any objections. Actually, I didn't. In fact, knowledge is power and I'd rather them know about guns and respect them . . . so that they can run the hell away if a friend ever pulls one out to "play" with. In our minds, there's not much point in forbidding them completely; target practice is harmless. That's not to say I'm a believer in "guns don't kill people; people do" (I don't even like recreational hunting.) I believe strongly in gun control. But I don't believe in gun abolition--well, I'd love that, but there's no point wishing for the impossible. So, we let Sis give it a try but, as it was an adult gun, she couldn't really aim. Mama, on the other hand, could--and did, making all her shots. And she'd never handled a gun before. (I remember shooting at targets at a Ducks Unlimited family picnic one time, maybe also at Deer Camp. I don't like the way the guns kick.) Bud listened to the safety lesson about never point it at anything you don't want to shoot and this is the safety mechanism and this is how it works, but he stayed inside otherwise. I prefer archery and so also passed.
- We always eat well in Texas, and the cabin is no exception. We even had our Christmas dinner there: prime rib, scalloped potatoes, asparagus. Sis loved the cheesy scalloped potatoes. Later, we'd have baked ham, hamburgers, hot dogs, pinto beans, ham and eggs, and, of course, s'mores. And those cookies.
- Surprisingly, Pop has Direct TV in the woods (but no cell coverage!) So we got to tape and later watch the Doctor Who Christmas special. All we can say, because of SPOILERS, is "MOFFAT!!!", the cry of fans everywhere. But we loved it and are glad about the very end.
After three rainy nights in the woods, we headed back to Houston on Sunday.
- We got back to Houston, through rainy weather, around midday and soon Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer arrived with Cousins Hungry. Yay!!! Sis and Bud really liked having cousins and Sis especially took to girl Cousin Hungry, who liked her back. Baby Hungry was sweet and wiggly--and he might even be a little bit ginger!
- With three kids old enough to know what was up, we opened presents first. Cousin Hungry was enthusiastic. Later, all three helped Aunt and Uncle open things. The kids especially liked the karaoke microphone Cousin brought with her, her foamy puzzle mat which was great for Twister and dancing, and the Duplo food sets we got her, great for tea parties and playing hotel.
- Afterwards, we went to Pappasito's Mexican Cantina (yep, same family, the Pappas, own it)--Bud loved the ceviche; most of us inhaled queso and salsa and guacamole. Besides my Tex Mex cheese enchilada combo with taco, rice, and refrieds, I really liked the hibiscus lemonade with its cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove simple syrup. Kinda like cold mulled lemonade. I think I'll give making it a try.
- And Aunt Banana had this great pound cake a la Paula Deen that she made. Yum! (Is this the recipe, Banana?)
- The adult children stayed up talking that first night, which was lovely, especially because a). I was a tense, PMS-y, tired, headachy grumpy butt the next day (sorry, Aunt B) and b). Mama and I weren't there the next evening.
Late that afternoon, Mama and I headed down to see Aunt Sis, who was in the hospital. Only, the next morning when we arrived at the hospital, we didn't find her there. After much concern (and a very unhelpful receptionist), we learned from a kind nurse that Aunt Sis had been released back to her nursing home. So we headed there.
- It's a long drive down to Aunt Sis's part of the world, four hours give or take all the stops we like to make at Buc-ee's, Whataburger, local barbecue places (for my favorite chopped beef, potato salad, pinto beans, banana pudding, Tex-Mex chocolate cake, and the apricot kolaches that Sis had been craving since we booked our ticket to Texas!), even Target (clean bathrooms and we always need something for the road.)
- We saw a few Red-shouldered hawks on our trip to the coast and a diving Cooper's Hawk, I think Pop said it probably was. Also buzzards, pelicans, egrets, and whooping cranes.
- We stayed at the Corpus Christi Omni, getting a $600 room for $100--on the 16th floor with a few of the harbor from the private balcony. Lovely. And tea was delivered to the room in the morning. It was a peaceful respite from the whirlwind trip and drive to look at that view by night and morning.
- We arrived at the nursing home before my uncle did that morning and, for a bit, it looked like the visit might be challenging: Aunt Sis didn't know who I was. She was busy looking for my uncle. But then she recognized us and remembered the kids, even though they weren't with us. And we had a lovely visit. Especially considering that she had been in the hospital the day before for several days. Her eyes were bright and she had an appetite; though, she did have pain when people moved her leg or back, for getting dressed or in her wheelchair. We gave her the presents we brought--an artistic throw pillow painted with different colorful cats, a Van Gogh calendar, an English pub calendar (yes, two calendars--they brighten dreary walls), and artsy socks with Botticelli's Venus (in honor of her favorite artist, whose work we both saw on separate visits to Florence, my trip inspired by hers) and Van Gogh's sunflowers. She loved looking at all the images, especially the cat pillow and Van Gogh calendar. She even had me put her socks on. But she didn't quite remember the artists, though she said she knew the images were familiar. Uncle arrived with tipsy balls for Mama and me, one of my holiday favorites from my grandmother's recipe. We had two books for him--on cats and also the English language, which Mama had enjoyed on tape this year. We all chatted about the presents, trips to Italy and England and Connecticut, the kids (whom they both praised us for raising the way we were) and their activities (thank heavens for smartphones with their videos and photos, which we proudly showed off), the Christmas cards on the wall including ours, even sign language, which she says she has forgotten. The only time she just seemed sad was when we mentioned her youngest son; both times her eyes dimmed and Uncle patted her sympathetically, for he lives far away as a monk in France. When she grew tired, we said we'd let her rest while we fetched our lunch and would come back to say goodbye; if she was asleep, no worries. But after our lunch, she was bright eyed again and so Uncle got her into her wheelchair and we went to the cafeteria! This for a woman whom we thought might be at death's door. She sat at lunch and looked around, recognized people, ate her meal steadily with her own fork and drank from her glass unassisted, all the while talking and smiling. For more than an hour!!! I really couldn't believe it and soaked it all in. But soon lunch was over and we knew she'd need a nap. We took a few photos and kissed and hugged and repeated all of our "love yous" and then we left. I walked away well only because they couldn't see me crying. We learned today that she took a turn for the worse that evening and my uncle has enrolled her in hospice. Our last visit, as I'm sure it was, was a real gift.
While we were on the coast, Gommie and Pop had major trouble in Houston: a pipe under their driveway gave out and backed sewage up on their first floor, in tubs and sinks. Ugh. The repair would cost a fortune and the house was now without water. They had showered at dear Granny Q's and we moved to a hotel when we got back.
- Mel's--almost as soon as we arrived home, later than expected because of our nice long visit, we all headed to Mel's for dinner. Chicken fried steak!!! Mashed potatoes. Cream gravy. Rolls. Green beans. Black-eyed peas. Peach cobbler. Blackberry cobbler. And Bud had a big burger. But not as big as the Mega Mel's, which has pounds and pounds of meat and cheese. We saw two people order them but didn't stay long enough to see if they finished.
- The next day was our last day in Houston. We started it by heading to See Granny Q's husband in his new memory care facility. While there, the kiddos played some of their Christmas songs on the baby grand. I even played two of mine! Gommie enjoyed it and the kids didn't mind showing off.
- To pass time, we went to one of those indoor rec places. We whiled away the afternoon with bumper cars, air hockey, skeeball, etc. Every now and again, the kiddos would remember it was our last day and get sad and then they'd go ride another simulator. Keeping busy was the key.
- So we headed to the art store and got drawing supplies. We had introduced Gommie to Zentangling aka doodling when we were at the cabin, so we got her some pens and a sketch book. We spent the afternoon at the hotel drawing and watching football. I started crocheting on a blanket for Gommie using yarn she chose, a pretty hydrangea-like combo of blues, lilacs, and greens called sea glass stripes.
- We had dinner at Pappadeux's again but it didn't go that well. Bud didn't feel well, Sis's alligator was too spicy, and Mama and I kept hopping up to help Bud (a combo of drainage and stress/panic; a call to Dr. Goo helped.) I liked my fried catfish though. And my hibiscus lemonade.
- We drew some more and watched football, finally turning in to prep for our not-quite-as-early morning flight. Our trip to Texas was over. And there were fireworks all New Year's Eve to send us off.
Coming soon: recipes for pound cake, tipsy balls, cookies, scalloped potatoes.