- 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.)
And then, in a fit of mad inspiration, Gommie decided we should pack up then and there 24 hours after we arrived, and head to the cabin in the woods, Wildwood (named after the street where Pop grew up.) I don't think I have ever traveled on Christmas Day before and was shocked at a). the number of places open and b). the number of people out and about. But because of this, we could stop at my favorite place, Buc-ee's! We got iced tea, a few souvenirs, some snacks for the cabin including "beaver nuggets" (kinda like that old Sugar Smacks cereal), and a nice clean restroom break.
We had lunch at nearby Woody's Barbecue, which was crawling with customers. Chopped beef, brisket, sausage, potato salad, cole slaw, blackberry cobbler, and iced tea. They didn't have bacon-wrapped quail, as listed on the menu so we went back another day and brought home four little ones--Bud ate them all!
We also purchased fireworks, which we shot off a few nights later. No Roman candles like the one that blew up in Pop's hand when I was the kiddos' age, but a few bottle rockets, sparklers, and fountains, which looked great against the pitch black night sky.
Then it was off the black top, then off the County Road, then off the GPS, as we headed into the bottomlands beloved by Pop, who has always liked playing in the mud.
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.