Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Girls Day Out

Saturday was our annual Valenta Family Girls Day Out. We do it once a year while the men of the clan play golf at the Bluebonnet Country Golf Club in Navasota, Texas. Some years we go to Houston and shop 'til we drop and some years we go to the Texas Antique Weekend in the Round Top/Warrenton area. This year we chose the antique festival.

Blue Bubble Gum Shaved Ice
Saturday was also the day before the first cool front of the season passed through Texas and cooled the temperature to something tolerable. I emphasize the word before because Saturday was hotter than hell! It was stupendously, breathtakingly, sizzling hot. Within moments of getting out of the cars we were very sticky and drenched with sweat. But there was shopping to be done so we sallied forth into the hot September day. Inside the tents the heat was brutal. Many of the vendors had fans which were definitely a godsend. Outside in the sun I can't even begin to tell you how hot it was. It was difficult to catch your breath it was so hot. We drank lemonade, iced tea, and water all afternoon to stay hydrated.

Grams, Nancy & Jeanne
This year seven of us made the trek out into the crowds of the Texas Antique Weekend. Our group consisted of two carloads. In one car were my sisters-in-law, Nancy and Jeanne and Nancy's daughter-in-law, Autumn. In the other were my daughter-in-law Marie, my daughter Katy, Our Little Princess, and Grams. This was the first time Autumn has joined us for our girls day out and it was fun to have her along.

The Texas Antique Weekend is held twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Hundreds of vendors from all over the United States gather along the two-lane highway from Warrenton to Round Top and beyond. You can find anything for sale. And I mean anything.

We stayed as long as we could stand it, but by the middle of the afternoon it was just too hot. We decided to hunt down the one vendor that Katy wanted to see and then head for air conditioning.

We left Round Top around 4:30 and headed back to Houston hoping to take quick showers, cool off, and order dinner in. 

We were on Beltway 8 only a few miles from the exit to Nick and Marie's house when another driver lost control of his pick-up truck and crashed into the side of Marie's Chevy Tahoe. We watched in horror as the pickup truck bounced off of us and crossed another lane of traffic, jumped a curb, knocked down a tree, went through shrubbery and into a fence at an apartment complex before coming to a stop.  All the while, never hitting his brakes.

Marie maintained total control of her vehicle and managed to get off Beltway 8 (which is actually a three-lane access road at this point because the highway is under construction) and turned into the entrance to the apartment complex. We quickly assessed everyone in our vehicle, including Our Little Princess, and determined that no one had any visible injuries. We started looking for our cell phones, which we couldn't find because everything in the vehicle had gone flying.

Two very kind motorists who had seen the accident stopped. One of them called 911 before we even got out of the car. Marie walked over to check on the driver of the other car who was, miraculously, unscathed. Both of the witnesses waited and gave statements to the Houston Police. We also asked for an ambulance so the EMTs could check out Our Little Princess who hit her head pretty solidly on the side of her car seat and on Katy, who is 11-weeks pregnant.

The policemen who came to the scene assured us that the driver who hit us was not drunk and did not appear to be under the influence. The driver's wife arrived a few minutes later and told us that he was on his way home from work. We think that he may have fallen asleep at the wheel, since he never hit his brakes.

Katy called her OB/GYN's 24-hour hotline service on Saturday and was told to watch for specific warning signs of miscarriage. As a precaution, she saw her OB/GYN today for bloodwork and a sonogram. The baby's heartbeat was still good. They did go ahead and administer a RhoGAM shot to make sure that the trauma did not cause any complications related to the RH factor and possible mixing of blood cells between the baby and mother. We were all pretty shaken up. Yesterday my back and shoulders were extremely stiff and sore.

Marie was amazing. I would have been a basket case. She was calm, cool, and collected. She never lost her cool and took care of business. I firmly believe this story would have had a very different ending if we had been in a smaller vehicle. That Tahoe took quite a jolt. I don't think a smaller car would have fared as well. And thank God for child safety seats. A bump on her head was nothing compared to what could have been.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grams Made Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Grams and Grandad are off to Houston later this week. It's time for Grandad's three-month follow-up visit with the electrophysiologist who did his cardiac ablation. I'll update on that after we see the doctor.

After that, we will meet up with other family members for one of my favorite weekends of the year. On Saturday, Grandad's family has it's annual golf tournament at Bluebonnet Golf Club in Navasota.  While they play golf, my sisters-in-law will join Katy, Marie and me for a day in Round Top for the Texas Antique Festival. Watch this space next week. I promise there will be lots of photos.

Katy, Travis and Our Little Princess will join us at Nick and Marie's house in Houston on Friday. In preparation for the trip, I spent this evening baking cookies which will be a nice treat for Our Little Princess. I doubled this recipe and it sure did take me a long time to bake them. (Note to self -- buy another sil-pat. It takes too long with only one.)

This is a very old recipe that's been around for years. The only change I've made is that I now use unsweetened all-natural peanut butter.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Beat together the butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, or about 2 to 4 hours.

Take tablespoonfuls of dough and roll into balls with hands. Place about 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets. (I use a sil-pat instead of greasing the cookie sheet.) Using a dinner fork dipped in flour, lightly press cookies, flattening and forming a criss-cross pattern on each cookie.

Bake at 375° until golden brown, or about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for a minute; transfer to rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen peanut butter cookies. 

I couldn't resist a taste test as they came out of the oven. They are delicious. Now I'm going to have to resist them for the next several days. It would be a shame if there were none left for Our Little Princess.

Since we'll be traveling, I probably won't be posting any new blog entries for the remainder of the week. Word is that we'll be having our first cool front of the season sometime this weekend. I can't wait for that first glimpse of fall when the air smells of promise. I hope you get a little bit of fall in your neighborhood too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Grams Made Pumpkin & Sausage Soup

Grams woke to a rainy day and rain-cooled temperatures in the seventies this morning. It feels a little like autumn has arrived. I know that I'm only dreaming. The cooler weather is only the result of the overcast skies. As soon as the sun comes out it'll be back in the nineties. But this respite from the heat motivated me to make soup.

This is a low-carb pumpkin and sausage soup recipe. Warning: low carb does not mean low fat! I've had this recipe a couple of years and, I'm sorry, I don't remember where I got it. I've altered it a little. The original called for five cups of chicken broth, but I reduced it to two because I like the soup thicker.

16 ounces country-style breakfast sausage
½ cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
15 ounces pumpkin, canned
1 can low sodium chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup sour cream
½ cup water

Over medium heat brown the sausage breaking into small bits. Drain fat. Add the onion, garlic, Italian seasoning and mushrooms and sauté until vegetables are cooked.

Add the canned pumpkin and the broth, stirring to mix well. Cook at a low simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream, sour cream and water.

Servings: 8

Notes: Per 1-cup serving: 376 calories. 15 grams protein, 32 grams fat (14 saturated) and 9 grams carbohydrate (2 grams dietary fiber).

Winsome Weekends

Here's what I'm enjoying today.
  • A rainy Saturday
  • My baby boy home for the weekend to help out with chores around the house
  • Pumpkin & Sausage Soup for lunch
  • A second cup of coffee and time to enjoy it
  • Anticipation of a weekend away with the family (only 6 more days)
 Grams is wishing you all a winsome weekend. Enjoy!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back 2 Blogging Day Five

This is the final day of my Back 2 Blogging exercise. Today's topic is what blogging means to me. I'm not a particularly introspective person so before today I haven't given much thought to what blogging means to me. But here goes.

As a teenager I dreamed of being a great writer. I wanted to write poetry or a great novel. Later on, in my job I wrote fund-raising brochures, solicitation letters, press releases, and a few procedures and technical manuals. Then for a couple of years I wrote lesson plans and training presentations.

I've always been a talker. When I worked full time I worked in a small office with twelve to fifteen other women. Every day we ate lunch together, drank coffee together, stopped by each other's offices to chat, trade stories and generally share our lives. When I stopped working, all of a sudden I was home alone for eight to ten hours every day. And since my husband travels between Houston and Corpus Christi, sometimes I was home alone for days on end. I started blogging to have something to do in the daytime besides laundry and housework.

Really, for me, it's simple. Blogging gives me a place to use my voice ... a place to speak my mind ... to get things off my chest ... to brag about my grandkids ... to embarrass my kids ... to tell funny stories ... to pass along gossip ... to comment on current events ... to share my political views ... to preserve family history ... to reconnect with old friends ... to meet new people ... along with a variety of other things.

I've seen others write about the sense of community they get as bloggers. I haven't really experienced that yet, although I'm beginning to feel more a part of it since I joined the SITS Girls and the BlogFrog Community. I never dreamed that there were so many bloggers in the blogosphere.

So, I may never write the great American novel, but I have my own little corner of the blogosphere where I am sure I can get published. No need to wait on anyone else's approval.

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Back 2 Blogging is presented by The SITS Girls and sponsored by Electrolux, Standards of Excellence, Westar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back 2 Blogging Day Four

Today's Back 2 Blogging assignment is to write a post about a woman who inspires me. This assignment has been hard for me. I've thought about it all day. It's not that there are no women who inspire me. Quite the contrary, I am inspired by many, many women. So rather than a long post about a specific woman, I'm going to write about some of the women who have inspired me throughout my life.

My Granny, Helen Dotsie Skelton, was extremely influential in my formative years. We often lived with her in her tiny little house. She was patient, kind and loving. She told us stories every night at bedtime. From her I learned the stories of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Billy Goats Gruff, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Three Little Pigs. But mostly I learned that she had time for us, even at the end of the day when she was undoubtedly tired to the point of exhaustion. We used to fight over who would get to sleep with her. She made the best oatmeal cookies I've ever eaten and a yummy small sugar cookie she called a teacake that would just melt in your mouth. On Sunday, if she didn't have a ride, she would walk more than a mile to church, sometimes twice. She was dirt poor but always had money to buy her grandchildren a YooHoo or an RC Cola and a candy bar. She would sit in the yard with us and let us serve her mud pies and grape Koolaid from an aluminum teapot or she would give us an old spoon and tell us to go dig in the yard. She would fill several number 3 washtubs in the yard with water and let us play in them. She had a yard full of beautiful plants including hydrangeas, lilies, daffodils and jonquils all planted and cared for by her. She fed any and all stray cats that showed up at her back door and more than a few stray kids. She made our days with her carefree and magical.  She made me feel loved and safe.

When I was in junior high school, we had a next-door neighbor named Mrs. Read who taught me and my younger sister to embroider. She was quite elderly and lived alone, but she had family nearby who came by regularly to spend time with her and take her out. She didn't have to, but she took the time to spend time with two young girls who were starved for attention. She would invite us over for tea and cookies served on fine china with embroidered napkins. She taught us about graciousness and friendship. I've tried to pay it forward with the girls in our neighborhood. She made me feel worthy.

Throughout my years in school I was fortunate to have a number of wonderful teachers who really went the extra mile. The one who stands out most was Mrs. Livsey my high school PE teacher. It was years before girls played competitive sports. We only played intramural sports. But I have always loved sports and embraced everything from flag football to tennis to basketball energetically, if not skillfully. She once told me that I was the kind of student who made teaching worthwhile for her. She made me feel capable.

There were several women who worked with my church youth group who were glowing examples of inspiring women. Mickey Rigby was one of them. She was warm and loving and fun. She would have dozens of us over to her home for fellowship on Sunday evenings and she was always right in the middle of whatever we were doing. She played games with us, cooked for us, went to summer camp with us, and was a wonderful example of a fun-loving Christian wife and mother. Two other ladies of note were part of that same church leadership, Thelda Jefferies and Jimmie Lou Vanzant both spent a lot of time showing the young girls of our church how to properly conduct themselves. They were the most beautiful and glamorous ladies I knew and they both were a great support for me. These women taught me to give of myself.

Catherine Doss was the director of the day care center where my children went to day care from the time they were two years old until they started school. She took me under her wing and taught me important things about being a young mother. Things like, it's okay for boys to play with dolls because boys have to learn to be daddies just like girls have to learn to be mommies. She comforted both my children and me when they had separation anxiety. She helped me deal with one of my children biting other children and one who didn't like anything in her environment to change. She was a wise woman and I would have had a much harder time leaving my children and going to work without her. She taught me how to be a good mother.

Ordinary women inspire me. Women who do a lot with a little inspire me. Moms who support their families through illness and difficulties inspire me. Women who work hard to make a living and still find a way to show their children the beautiful things in life inspire me. Women who find a way to overcome the life they came from inspire me. Women who just get up and put one foot in front of the other to do what has to be done day in and day out inspire me.

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Back 2 Blogging is presented by The SITS Girls and sponsored by Electrolux, Standards of Excellence, Westar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back 2 Blogging Day Three

Today's B2B assignment is all about post titles. I've been asked to re-publish a post with a title that I'm particularly proud of and explain why. I've chosen The Truth About Texans. I think it's an effective title because it catches your attention and makes you want to find out what the truth might be.  Here it is in it's entirety.

A 1997 television commercial for Frost Bank, titled The Code, features a young boy standing in front of a corn field talking about what it means to grow up as a Texan. It goes something like this --
"I'll be as hearty of mind as I am of body. I'll be a straight shooter and a square dealer. My family name will be sacred and my word will be as good as any contract. I'll remember the Alamo. I'll stick by my friends and I'll eat more chicken fried steak."
Grams is proud to be a Texan. I was born in the piney woods of east Texas and have lived on the coastal plains of South Texas most of my life.

For a good part of my early life we lived with my granny in a little house that was described as being at the corner of plumb and nearly -- plumb out in the country and nearly in the creek. Now, Grams is a typical suburban housewife.

When you grow up in Texas you learn early about the Texas mystique. Every middle-school student in Texas is required to take a full semester of Texas History. And honestly, I should be embarrassed to tell you that I was an adult before I realized that everyone in the USA doesn't actually study Texas history. Imagine that!

Texas is where Colonel Travis drew a line in the sand before the battle of the Alamo. It's where "Remember Goliad" became the battle cry for freedom after Colonel Fannin and his men were massacred. Once a sovereign nation, Texas entered the union by treaty rather than by annexation. The dome of the Texas Capitol is the only state capitol that is taller than the dome of the United States Capitol.

And Texas is big. How big? In square miles, it's 268,601, second only to Alaska (which is at least partly ice). In population, there are an estimated 24,326,974 Texans, second only to California.

 Texas is so big that it has five distinct areas, each very different in ethnicity, culture, topography and climate. It's is the land of charming small towns, quiet back roads and three of the ten largest cities in the USA. There are places in East Texas where you would swear you were in the Old South. Driving across the Panhandle you might think you're in the high plains of Nebraska. And there's no place like the Texas Hill Country, where every Texan loves to go to float the river and get away from it all.

Texas has many more dubious distinctions. We're famous for counties where dead people cast votes in presidential elections. We own more guns than any other state in the union ... two for every man, woman and child. And it's legal to carry a concealed weapon, if you have permit. It's the home of Dealey Plaza where JFK was assassinated as well as the home of the Enron debacle. And, yes, George W. Bush is a Texan.

Texas is home to ranchers, roughnecks, astronauts and scientists. We've got NASA, the Riverwalk, the Dallas Cowboys, the San Antonio Spurs, Galveston and Padre Islands and the old Spanish Missions.

We have world-class medical centers and we lay claim to the best cancer treatment center in the world. Our universities are second to none. Almost one quarter of the oil produced in the U.S.A. comes from Texas. 

Everyone knows that the women of Dallas have their own style. And, those ladies down in Kingsville, home of the King Ranch, have a look of their own, too. Texas women are known for their big hair and their big hearts. Western wear is appropriate for Saturday night and Sunday morning. Cowboy boots can be worn by women and men with jeans, dresses or tuxedos.

High school football is our game of choice. There's not a better sports rivalry anywhere than the rivalry between the fighting Texas Aggies of Texas A&M University and the Longhorns of the University of Texas.

And our food is uniquely ours. We have our own kind of barbecue and we don't put beans in our chili. Tex-Mex is our brand of Mexican food. We like our steaks chicken fried. And, oh by the way, we drink our tea sweet with ice ... and we start drinking it when we're still in diapers.

Porch sitting is an art in Texas. There's nothing better than sitting on your porch watching a blue norther bring a bit of cool air after a long, hot Texas summer. And if you don't happen to have a porch, just pull up a folding chair in the garage and watch from there.

We're flag-waving patriots. Our kids still say the pledge of allegiance every morning in schools across our state. There are 23 major military installations in Texas and we love and support the men and women in uniform. We're proud to be Americans and we're proud to be Texans.

And, yes, we have our own way of saying things. We say "howdy" and "y'all." We might invite you to "come in and sit a spell" or tell you we were "just fixin' to" do something. If we don't believe what you're telling us we'll tell you "that dog won't hunt." We "run with the big dogs" and live in a place than can be "hotter than the hinges of hell." And if you ask for directions don't be surprised if they sound something like "turn left at the Dairy Queen and keep going until you get to the place that used to be a Wal-Mart." And a someone pretending to be something they're not might be referred to as a "drug store cowboy" or "all hat and no cattle."

Contrary to what you may have heard, all of us don't ride horses, wear boots or carry sidearms. Most Texans don't want to secede from the union. And, hey, some of us even voted for Obama. But hush, don't tell anyone, we don't want to spoil our image.

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Back 2 Blogging is presented by The SITS Girls and sponsored by Electrolux, Standards of Excellence, Westar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back 2 Blogging Day Two

As I told you yesterday, this week I'm participating in a blogging exercise. Hopefully, by the end of the week I will have gained some new skills and some focus that will help improve my blog.

- What posts have you debated writing because the topic made you feel vulnerable? There are two kinds of topics that make me feel vulnerable. I debate writing about current events and giving political opinions and I don't usually write negative things about specific people, particularly not about my husband's family members. The second is not because I feel vulnerable, but because it would invade their privacy. Trust me, there are things I would like to get off my chest, but I know it just wouldn't be right.

- How do you feel when you publish a post that is important to you? When a post is important to me, I get excited and hopeful. I get that anticipatory feeling, hopeful that my readers will read and comment.

- How long does it take to write a post like that? Most of my posts take from 2-4 hours to write. On a few occasions, I have spent as much as an entire day crafting a post to make sure it says exactly what I want it to say. And, sometimes I decide that I should "sleep on it" before I publish it.

- What is stopping you from publishing a post that makes you vulnerable?  Unlike many other bloggers, my hesitation is not that I want to avoid controversy or worry about offending readers. I think what I think and you think what you think and that's really okay with me. Honestly, my hesitation is that I don't want to come across as stupid or uninformed. On the few occasions that I do write these posts, I try to check, check, check and double-check my facts.

The rest of today's assignment is to re-post one of the posts that I wish had gotten more exposure. This was hard for me because I think several of my posts were pretty darn good. As of today I've been blogging for a year and I've written 142 posts. So there were a lot to choose from. I started by reviewing all of them and narrowed my selection down to the five entries that I think are best. I did ultimately choose one, but it was tough.

I've decided to re-post I Learned A Few Things From Those Baptist Ladies. It's about how opportunities for women have changed within my lifetime. Here it is in its entirety.

Grams was born in 1954. That makes me a baby boomer. I grew up in the sixties and came of age in the seventies. Mine was pretty much the last generation of women who didn't really expect to work. While many of us went to college, we thought we would marry, have babies and be stay-at-home moms. That didn't work out for most of us. We ended up juggling full-time jobs along with our traditional roles as wives and mothers.

As a baby boomer, I had a front row seat to the events of the last half of the 20th Century. I was in first grade when John Kennedy was elected president. I was 9 years old when he was assassinated. I learned to take cover under my desk during the Cuban Missile Crisis and I was only 8 years old when Marilyn Munroe died. I attended segregated schools until I was 10. I was 13 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I was 15 when Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon in the same year that all those "hippies" gathered at Woodstock. I was a senior in high school when the Israeli athletes were killed at the Munich Olympics. I watched as Watergate brought Richard Nixon's presidency to an early end. I remember when Saigon fell and the last marines left Vietnam. Burning bras and burning draft cards were beamed into my living room along with the race riots and anti-war protests of the sixties and my television set gave me a front row view.

Of all the changes that have taken place in my lifetime, in my humble opinion, the most important has been the changing role of women. The women of my mother's generation were the last of the old-fashioned "Mrs. Cleaver" type women who stayed home, made dinner and raised children. Today's young women don't realize that the opportunities they have were not available just a generation ago. They don't even have to think about it.

I'm definitely glad to have seen the liberation of women. Most women of my generation thought that if they did work for a few years it would be as a secretary, a nurse or a teacher. There were not a lot of other choices. Today's women can dream of being anything and can actually achieve those dreams. My daughter-in-law is a rig supervisor for a major oil company. She works on an oil rig in Canada where she supervises a crew of men. And if her pay and advancement in the company are any indication, she's damn good at it. Just a few years ago it would have been unheard of for any female to hold such a position. Yet she didn't even hesitate to go for the job she wanted.

I love to tell people that I was raised Southern Baptist, but I overcame it. Truth be told, I mostly say that to aggravate my mother, but religion is a topic for another day. What I want to say is that I learned some important things about how to be a woman from the ladies of the Baptist Church. And I worry that many of those traditional things are in danger of disappearing.

The ladies of the Baptist Church always took food to the house when someone died. They gave bridal and baby showers. They brought casseroles when someone was sick. They cleaned each others houses when one of them had a long-term illness. They hosted graduation teas. They babysat for each other and sat with sick parents. In short, they supported each other as only women can. I am afraid that these things are being lost in the brave new world of today's women. I'm even more concerned that these traditions are not being passed on to our daughters.

So next time you're invited to a bridal shower or baby shower, put on your Sunday best and take your daughter with you. When your neighbor has a new baby, take a casserole. When there's a death in the neighborhood, organize the neighbors to provide a meal. Host a tea for a girl you know who's graduating. Offer to babysit for a friend who needs a night out. Be there for other women and teach your daughters by your example.

With a lot of support from other women ... Grams made it. Let's make sure the next generation of women makes it too!

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Meet Thelma & Louise! Participants in the B2B exercise have the opportunity to win this a Turquoise Sky Washer and Dryer from Electrolux, valued at $4,000!! These lovely ladies will be given away thanks to sponsors Standards of Excellence, Westar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back 2 Blogging Day One

This week Grams is participating in The SITS Girls 5-day exercise called Back 2 Blogging. The assignment for Day 1 is to re-publish my original blog entry and answer the following questions.
  • How has your blog evolved since the beginning? 
  • If you could go back to the beginning of your blog and change something about it would you? What would you change?
My original blog entry, published Monday, September 14, 2009, was titled Martha and Rachel Taught Me To Cook.

Wow! I didn't realize that my blog will be a year old tomorrow. My blog has evolved to include posts with recipes and instructions for crafting. And, I've been doing a series of posts called "The Women on My Walk" dedicated to women who have been influential in my life. I've recently added a semi-regular post called The Sunday Funnies where I share some of the hilarious things that I've experienced in real life.

If I had it to do over again, there isn't actually much I would change about my blog. I would have started with a post about blogging and what I was hoping to accomplish with my blog. But, honestly, I wasn't sure what I wanted then. I had been unemployed for almost a year and needed someone to talk to and something to do in the daytime. I guess I started blogging to stay sane. It's given me a place to say what I need to say from time time to time and to share stories and pictures with my friends and family. Those were things I needed.

The name of my blog is intended to be a play on words. "Grams Made It" is a reference to cooking, sewing, and crafting ... it's also my state of mind. I originally thought it would eventually evolve into an online store where I would sell hand-sewn baby items. I just haven't ever gotten around to that, partly because of the technicalities involved in running an on-line business and partly because I've gone back to work part time.

Technically speaking, this original post should have contained links to Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart web sites, both of which are valuable references for beginning cooks. A couple of photos would have been good too. I always think photos add interest and keep the eye moving down the page.

Here's the original post in it's entirety.

That's right. I've learned to cook. And I learned from watching daytime television mavens Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray.

When I lost my job at 52 years old, I had very little cooking experience. Seriously, I was the most spoiled working woman ever. My darling husband did all the cooking. I never had to do it, so I never learned.

In the early 90's when my kids where in high school and middle school, my father-in-law had a heart attack. This led to my husband staying several days at the hospital with him. I dutifully came home at night and attempted to make dinner, usually spaghetti sauce from a jar, etc. Anyway, on the third day when the kids got home from school they asked if I would take them to the hospital. I was very touched and thought to myself "How sweet is that ... they want to visit their grandfather." So I took them to the hospital. Upon arrival in the cardiac ICU waiting room they both made a beeline for their dad. The first thing I heard them say was "Dad, you have to come home. Mom's been cooking!" At that stage of my life, even opening a jar and cooking spaghetti was a challenge and I didn't know how to do anything else.

When I lost my job I spent many, many days just sitting in front of the television. Finally, after the shock wore off, I realized that the only right thing for me to do was to take over the running of the household. That meant learning to cook.

I watched Martha Stewart every day. Martha teaches proper technique. If you want to know how to do something right, watch Martha. What I learned from Rachel Ray is that anyone can do it. Rachel just jumps right in and does it. She doesn't worry about cutting everything to exactly the same shape or size. She'll tell you "Just run your knife through it and chop it up."

Basically, Martha taught me HOW to do it and Rachel made me realize that I COULD do it. Thanks Martha and Rachel!

Today when I say "Grams Made It" I may be talking about dinner.

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One of the advantages of participating in the B2B exercise is the opportunity to win Thelma & Louise, a Turquoise Sky Washer and Dryer from Electrolux, valued at $4,000!! These lovely ladies will be given away thanks to sponsors Standards of Excellence, Westar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Sunday Funnies

Last week Grams told you about having the "sex talk" with our daughter when she was in third grade. I think I may was well go ahead and tell you about a similar conversation with our son Nick.

When Nick was in the fourth or fifth grade our local parish church offered a class in christian sexuality. There were separate classes for boys and girls. Children had to have special permission slips signed to attend. They covered the basics of the reproductive system and, obviously, taught abstention. We signed Nick up for the classes thinking it would open the door for discussion and we wouldn't have to cover the basics ourselves.

Anyone who knows Grandad knows that it would have been virtually impossible for him to talk to our son about the changes that were taking place in his body. He's just not comfortable with that kind of conversation. And I definitely didn't feel qualified to tell him about about male arousal and his body. I thought this method would work extremely well and it would provide the opportunity to answer his questions and discuss sex without embarrassment. And it did. I was very pleased to learn that a good portion of the lessons the boys took concentrated on respecting girls and not pressuring them for sex.

Now, fast forward to his senior year in high school when he had his first serious girlfriend. After they'd been going out a while I started to suspect that perhaps they were having sex. I thought it was time to raise the subject again. I know that no matter what you teach your kids about abstaining from sex, you also better teach them how to handle it once they become sexually active. Basically, I wanted to make sure that, if he was having sex, he was using protection and being as safe as possible. So, one night I waited up for him to come home.

Nick and I are both night owls. Grandad goes to bed early. We were in the habit of sitting and talking when he came home from a date. So he was not surprised that I was still up when he came home.

Now, you should know that I'm a very direct person. I don't beat around the bush. When I have something to say, I just say it.  So I did. I just asked him straight out, "Nick, are you sexually active?"

He got this odd look on his face and said, "You mean with other people?"

I completely lost my composure. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Seriously, I had to get up and go into the other room. It was a good ten minutes before I could go back into the living room, finish the conversation, and make my point that if they were having sex, he needed to be taking appropriate precautions.

And that was that. It was quite a while before I had another conversation about sex with him. Heck, it was quite a while before I could look at him without wanting to bust out laughing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering September 11, 2001

Grams has given a lot of thought to writing something to commemorate the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001. I'm certain that there are those who will not agree with my point of view. Please feel free to disagree ... after all this is America.

The repercussions of those senseless acts of violence continue to reverberate around the world. When the planes crashed and the towers came down, for the first time in many years, America united. We were grieving and angry, but we were united. We flew our flags, sang patriotic songs, and said "God Bless America" while we vowed to "never forget."

We were angry and we hated the people who committed these atrocities. But nine years later the long-lasting effect of these acts of terrorism is an unhealthy atmosphere of bitterness and hatred towards people who are different from us, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with September 11. As a result, hatred is accepted and nastiness has become pervasive and accepted in our society.

So pause today and remember those who lost their lives while doing nothing more than most of us do every day. Remember where you were and what you were doing that day. Weep for those who lost loved ones and those whose lives will never be the same. Fly your flag and remember how neighbors were brought together in the wake of September 11. Remember how you wanted to gather your family around and hold them close, how you had to call your kids or your parents just to say you were okay and to see if they were. Then think about how senseless it all was and how all the hatred won't change it or bring one person back.

Yes, we must be vigilant, we must be prepared, we must never be blindsided and surprised like that again. But hate changes us and our society into something dark and ugly.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bluebonnets May Be A Brilliant Idea

Grams and Grandad had our house built back in 1984. It's a small ranch-style house in the northwest suburbs of Corpus Christi. We moved in on Grams 30th birthday and we've always loved our house and our neighborhood. Plus, considering that Grams is now 56 years old, it won't be too long before we invite all the neighbors over to celebrate with us as we burn our 30-year note.

Electrical outlet located right above 1980's wash basin.
We had no experience with building a house and had no idea what we were doing. We chose the house plans out of a book and didn't know that we really should have paid a little closer attention to the details. That lack of experience showed up in some interesting little quirks in the house. For example, in both of our bathrooms the electrical outlets are located exactly above and just to the left of the wash basin. It's neither convenient nor safe. And, in addition, in the master bedroom there are two doors about two feet apart. One of them leads into the master bath and the other leads into the walk-in closet. The problem is that the cable outlet is on the right hand side of the bathroom door and the electrical outlet for the television is on the left in between the two doors. It's just a small inconvenience, but over the years it's become a major irritant for me.

The other place where our lack of experience showed is in the direction our house faces. The front door faces due east meaning that the sun sets in our back yard. So on most evenings when we might want to use the back yard and patio for grilling and sitting outside, it's hotter than the face of the sun. It's so hot we rarely go back there between the middle of May and the end of October. It's not unusual for the temperature to exceed 105 degrees on the patio around five o'clock in the summertime.

Mexican Bird of Paradise
For several years we tried to grow a vegetable garden in the back yard and I had a small rose garden that we eventually moved to the north side of the house. The sun gets so hot back there that by late-June anything we've planted has been seared to a brown crisp. In some years it's just not possible to water enough to keep most things alive.

On top of all the usual heat and dryness, in 2009 we had a horrible drought and lost almost everything that was growing in the back yard including the carpet-grass and all of my angels' trumpets and lilies. Some of the grass has come back because this year we've had plenty of rain and it's been perfect for growing things. But other than some Mexican bird of paradise and some rosemary, nothing else survived.

Our Little Princess playing in the bluebonnets
Last spring, about the time we realized that most of the carpet-grass was not going to revive, we were driving around the Hill Country looking for a patch of wildflowers so we could take the traditional Texas bluebonnet snapshots of Our Little Princess. This gave me a brilliant idea. Instead of trying to replant the back yard, why not plant our own field of bluebonnets. (I use the term field lightly. Our back yard is tiny.) 

Bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, they're simple to plant and can be inter-seeded with existing growth. All you have to do is mow the lawn down to about 6 inches, rake away any thatch, hand broadcast the seeds, then stomp them down. You do this in September, water them occasionally, and they should bloom next spring. As a bonus, after they bloom, if you don't mow them down until the seed pods mature, they will re-seed themselves and will bloom again every spring. This should give us a lovely blooming yard while it's cool enough for us to enjoy it.

So this weekend, Grams is going on a quest for bluebonnet seeds. Hopefully, next spring we'll have a back yard full of beautiful Texas wildflowers. By the time the bluebonnets go to seed, we won't care what the back yard looks like. Isn't this a brilliant idea? Watch this space next spring for photos of my beautiful bluebonnet patch.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where (and How) the Magic Happens

Fellow blogger Laurin Evans is asking bloggers to dedicate a post today to how we do what we do. I signed up for this one-time meme so here goes. Oh, yeah, I was supposed to post it this morning. But at 6 a.m. I got a call to substitute today so I worked at my real job instead of my fun one.

I'll just start by saying that for Grams, blogging is not work. It's something I do because I enjoy it. When I'm working, I'm substitute teaching, and they actually pay me. I would love to blog for a living, but I don't have enough of a following to make money at it. And, I'm okay with that, for now.

Our Little Princess on a rainy day.
I blog from my life experience. My blog would have to be considered somewhat unfocused in that I don't write about one particular topic or area of expertise. I'm just writing about whatever is on my mind on a particular day or whatever inspires me. I share advice, opinions, recipes, craft projects, and a lot of pictures of my gorgeous grand-daughter, Our Little Princess. (Laurin encouraged bloggers to include photos of their pets, and since we don't have pets, here's a picture of Our Little Princess instead.) Occasionally I rant about one topic or another. It depends on what's upsetting me at the time.

For inspiration, I keep a simple, running list of ideas for blogs so I don't lose them or forget them. When an idea pops into my mind, if I'm not at home, I send myself an email from my cell phone so I won't forget to add it to the list when I get home. I have gotten into the habit of carrying my camera with me almost everywhere I go. Sometimes a photo is the best inspiration and all the reminder I need.

That's the back of my head,so you can see my view.
I write and publish this blog using an old Dell Latitude laptop that Grandad snagged from a business that was putting it out to pasture. I work in my living room while sitting on my sofa in front of the television. I often have my feet propped on the coffee table. Here's the view from where I sit. And, yes, the television is always on.

This is my view if Grandad is home.
I write at my own convenience, in between all my daily tasks. If it's Monday, I'm writing between loads of laundry. While I'm writing, I'm trying to decide what to make for dinner, reading emails, talking to my kids or my sisters on the phone, Facebooking, snacking, texting, watching television or movies ... you get the idea. I'm not very focused. Distractions don't bother me. Remember, I'm already sitting in front of the television. When I do get distracted, I just go back and read what I've written so far and I can usually just go right back to it.

I always have a drink of some sort on the end table right next to me.  In the mornings it's coffee, afternoons and evenings it's water, iced tea, or Crystal Light Lemonade. In the evenings, it might be a glass of wine.

So that's it. That's how I blog and where I blog. The only thing I would change if I could is I would like a shiny, new laptop with a wider screen. Maybe Santa will bring me one ... a girl can dream can't she?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Buzz Words

Grams loves words. I love their power to convey meaning and messages. I love the nuances of words and how the same words mean different things to different people. In fact, someday I would like to write a book about words, specifically about how families have their own languages and how words are used within families.

Today, I'm thinking about words used in business, marketing and advertising. You know them; you've heard them all your life. They're words like new, improved, super-sized, fun-size, etc.

Yesterday, we went to Starbucks for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Grandad wasn't feeling well so he waited in the car while I went in to get our drinks. As I got out of the car, he said, "Why don't you get us a couple of cookies." When I asked what kind of cookies he wanted he said I should get two different kinds and we would share them.

When I walked up to the bakery case, I noted that they only had one kind of cookie, oatmeal, really big oatmeal cookies called "outrageous oatmeal cookies." So I asked the barista if they had any chocolate chunk cookies that were not in the case. He went into the back and came out to tell me that the only other cookies they had were peanut butter mini-cookies which come "3 for the price." So I ordered one outrageous oatmeal cookie and three peanut butter mini-cookies. 

Now, lets talk about those cookies. It turns out that outrageous accurately describes the size of this cookie. The outrageous oatmeal cookie is at least five inches across. Certainly big enough to share. The "mini" cookies were a good three inches wide and thick and chewy. Basically, they were the size of a normal cookie. They were good. We split the oatmeal cookie and then each of us had our own peanut butter cookie. Tonight we split the third cookie for dessert.

I guess they were at least straightforward in calling the giant oatmeal cookie outrageous. It's outrageously large and outrageously high in calories, 370 calories with 120 of them coming from fat and a whopping 36 grams of sugar in each cookie. But I resent them calling a regular-size cookie a "mini" cookie and selling them at 3-for-the-price. There's nothing mini about these cookies, and if I'm going to buy three of them, I can pretty much guarantee that I'm going to eat all three. Each of these cookies tasty little gems contains 160 calories and 11 grams of sugar.

And while we're on the subject of descriptive words used in marketing and advertising, let's talk about new and improved. As a general rule, I hate and despise anything that's new and improved. You see, Grams is a very product-loyal consumer. For years I have used Colgate toothpaste, All Small & Mighty Laundry Detergent, Dove Soap, Oil of Olay Moisturizer, Dawn Dish Soap, and Bare Minerals makeup. Those are just the products that come to my mind right now. Once I find a product I like I don't see any reason to shop around and try other brands. That is unless and until they decide to take my perfectly good product and make it new and improved.

My skin is particularly sensitive to scents. Oftentimes a new and improved product will have a slightly different scent and my skin will break out in a lovely red rash everywhere my skin folds ... knees, elbows, armpits, and personal areas (you get the idea). Or the scent will make my nose run and my eyes water. So once I find a product that works for me, I'm loyal to that product.

And on the other side of the same coin, I feel cheated when I finally learn to like the new and improved product and the next time I go to buy it, the tagline says, "original formula." All I can think is "Really! You got me to buy a new and improved product. Now you're trying to sell me the "original formula. I've been had!"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Sunday Funnies

When Grams was a child, one of my favorite things was to climb up on my Dad's lap every Sunday morning. Daddy would drink his coffee and read the Sunday funnies to me. Sometimes, if I woke up early, I would climb into bed between my parents and he would read them to me there. It's one of the gentlest memories I have of my Dad. We loved Dennis the Menace, Little Orphan Annie, Alley Oop, Brenda Starr, Beetle Bailey, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Dick Tracy, and Superman. I think sitting with my dad while he read these comic strips aloud to me is one of the reasons I still love to read today.

In honor of my Dad and our love of the Sunday Funny Papers, I'm starting a new feature today that, as you can see, I'm calling "The Sunday Funnies." This will be an occasional feature of something funny, cute or humorous. Fair warning, my sense of humor is sometimes a little off. Many of these stories will be about things that happened when we were raising kids. Such is the case today.

Grams is a child of the 50s and 60s. It was a more naive and innocent time. I grew up in a strict and staunch southern baptist household. Discussion of and/or questions about anything remotely sexual were forbidden. While I knew, anecdotally at least, that other parents had "the birds and the bees" talks with their kids, we never had that conversation at our house. These topics were just not discussed in polite company.

In our house, sex education consisted of our mother telling us repeatedly that boys only wanted one thing and we were not to give it to them. The only actual conversation about sex that ever took place occurred when I was 20-years-old. I asked my mom if it hurt the first time you have sex. I remember her response verbatim. She said, "It's a little uncomfortable." That's it! That was the entirety of sex education I received at home.

In the 1960s, schools also did very little sex education. When I was in sixth grade, all the girls were kept after school one day and required to watch a movie about menstruation and the female reproductive system. There was no mention of sex or male anatomy or arousal or reproduction. It could not have been construed in any way as sex education. At 20 years old, I had very little knowledge of anything sexual.

A few years later, as a young mother, I was determined that this would not be the case with my children. I was going to teach them well. They would not go out into the world without knowing everything they needed to know. I read books and did research to prepare myself. I knew the day would come. Now, to wait for the right time.

Our daughter was in about the third grade when the mother of one of her best friends became pregnant. As the time for her delivery approached, Katy naturally became more curious. One day she came into my bedroom and asked "Mommy, how did that baby get inside Debbie's tummy?"

Here it was! The moment had arrived! I was ready! I was informed! I was primed! It was time for me to share my knowledge with my little girl! I was terrified! But I was calm and well-prepared.

Breathlessly, I sat down next to her on the foot of my bed and had "the talk." I explained in simple language that she could understand what happens when a baby is made. Her eyes got bigger and bigger. I really thought she was getting it. I was so proud of myself.

Then it happened. She looked at me with those big brown eyes and said three words I will never forget. "Mom, that's disgusting!"

I looked back at her and said, "Katy, hold that thought for the next twenty years."

What Grams learned that day was very valuable in the remainder of my child-rearing years. I will share that lesson with you now. When your kids ask you a question, answer it and then shut the hell up. They're not looking for explanations, they just want an answer. So, just answer the question they ask. It will turn out better for everyone involved if you don't elaborate.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is About Weight Loss Surgery and Me

Last weekend Grams wrote a post about eating at a local restaurant where one of my son's best friends is the chef. In that post I noted that I had ordered the spicy fried shrimp. I didn't even think about the relationship between what I ordered for dinner and my weight loss surgery, but then I got a comment about my weight loss surgery and it made me think about my relationship with food and the "post-op life."

Before at 300 lbs. and after at 180 lbs.
Grams has a few things to say about weight loss surgery ... about my own weight loss surgery. I don't claim to be an expert nor to give advice to others about how to live their post-weight-loss-surgery life. This is about me and only me.

Four years ago this month I elected to take the drastic step of undergoing weight loss surgery. The procedure that my surgeon and I decided on is called a Roux-En-Y, commonly known as gastric bypass.

I am 5'1" tall and have struggled with my weight since I gained 79 pounds with my first pregnancy in 1979.  In June of 2006 I left a job I had held for 32 years under less than ideal circumstances. I was three years short of my planned retirement age, but I just couldn't take the new management.

At 52 years old I faced the daunting task of looking for a job while weighing in at 300 pounds. To describe my emotional state as devastated and depressed would be an understatement of monumental proportion. Frankly, I just couldn't do it. I could not bring myself to send out a single resume or make a single phone call. I simply could not do it!

If you've never been significantly overweight (aka morbidly obese) maybe you don't know how it feels. Sometimes I felt invisible ... like no one could see me past the fat. Conversely, sometimes I felt like the center of attention ... like the fattest person in any room that everyone was staring at. I was in constant pain from carrying all that extra weight on my knees. I could not stop eating. If a couple of Oreos were good ... the whole bag was better. If an ice cream cone sounded good ... a large Blizzard sounded better. I had absolutely no control over what I was putting in my body. I was also drinking about a case of 20-ounce Diet Cokes a week.

Let me also say that dieting actually worked for me. I lost weight successfully on almost every diet I ever tried ... and I tried 'em all. I was not one of the people who could not lose weight by dieting. The problem was that I could not sustain the loss and keep the weight off. I would go on a diet and lose a significant amount of weight. But after about three months I just couldn't take it any more and I would be off on a binge. By this time I had quit trying. Emotionally I just could not face another failure.

I don't really consider myself to be a goal-oriented person. I'm just not. It used to drive my bosses crazy. Remember, I worked in nonprofit fund-raising so I had solid measurable goals for how much money to raise from specific groups of people and how many new contributions I had to get every month. And I thought it was bullshit! I always did my best. Sometimes I made goal and sometimes I didn't ... and the world did not come to an end.

My surgeon didn't give me a stated goal for how much weight to lose and I considered that a plus. I chose this surgeon for several reasons. Besides his experience and positive track record. the fact that he told me his patients get their protein from real food not protein supplements was a deciding factor for me. He has now changed his tune and encourages his patients to drink 1-2 protein shakes a day to help maintain their weight loss.

My original idea was to get my weight down to around 150 pounds, which would still make me overweight. The ideal weight for someone who's 5'1" tall is some ridiculously low number between 106 and 118. I weighed exactly 118 when we married in 1975 and I've never seen that number again, nor do I expect to see it again. I never had in mind that weight loss surgery would make me skinny. I'm not skinny ... I've never been skinny ... I'm never going to be skinny ... and I'm okay with that!

So why did I have weight loss surgery? One word ... control! I had to be able to control my relationship with food. I'm not a perfect weight loss surgery patient.

  • I don't use protein supplements very often and I'm much more likely to snack on a protein bar than to drink a protein shake. 
  • I take my vitamin and mineral supplements religiously. I never miss them and my annual follow-up blood work has always been exemplary. 
  • I eat normal food. 
  • Sometimes I eat fried food. 
  • I eat carbohydrates. THE HORROR! 
  • I eat chocolate almost every day. I stick to dark chocolate and I don't eat much, but I'm not giving it up. Someday they'll have to pry it out of my cold dead hand.
The control I've gained with weight loss surgery allows me to eat more reasonably. I don't feel the need to eat a whole bag of Oreos, but I will occasionally eat two of them. And, yes, sometimes I order fried shrimp. But, where I used to eat a dozen fried shrimp, french fries, cole slaw, bread, and sometimes dessert; now I eat 3-4 fried shrimp, less than half of a baked potato and part of a salad. Sometimes we still order dessert. But we order one dessert with 5 spoons and pass it around.

Today I weigh 196 pounds, up from my post-surgery low of 175. But I'm happy and active and I don't obsess about how much I weigh. I cook good, healthy food at home almost every meal. We still eat out two or three times a week. I can go hiking, chase my grand-baby around all week, and ride my bicycle. I used to wear a size 26; now I wear a 14. 

If you had weight-loss surgery, you bought the package, and that includes taking the appropriate dietary supplements. Failing to take them is stupid and can be life threatening. Beyond that, it's really between you and your surgeon and your success or failure is in your own hands and for you to measure yourself.

For many people, the post weight loss life is a lifestyle. For some I would even say it's an obsession. They must reach goal ... they must maintain their weight loss ... they must be skinny ... they must never, ever eat carbohydrates ... they must do whatever it is they must do. And I say, "Good for them!" If that's what you want or need and you're willing to do the work, go get 'em and good on you! But that's not me. It's not what I want or need and it's not the life I choose. I got what I want out of my weight loss surgery. I got control! And, whatever it is you want, I hope that's what you get.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's the Merry-Hearted Boys Who Make the Best Men

Grams has told you about many of the women on my walk. Now I want you to get to know my son Nick. Watching him turn into the man he is today has been one of the biggest joys of my life.

As a youngster he was always the class clown and had a reputation for disrupting class and giving teachers a hard time. He worked hard to overcome that and has grown into a good and decent man mostly through his own sheer will and determination, and his father's prayers. He managed to overcome a learning disability and earned two college degrees at the same time. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies from Schreiner University and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Technology from Texas A&M University. He earned both of them at the same time and played collegiate basketball and golf. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to be an engineer and he set his mind and focus on it and never stopped.

He has a natural athletic ability that was evident from a very early age. He learned to dribble a basketball about the same time he learned to walk.  And he's good at almost any sport he tries. He likes movies and video games.

He is kind and will never stand by silently and watch injustice. He stands up for what is right and decent. But he won't back down from a fight. When necessary he will stand up for himself, but never without fair warning. He once warned a guy in a bar who was trying to pick a fight with him "I have ADD and I'm off my meds. If I fight you I will not be able to stop."

The ease with which he understands advanced mathematics has always amazed me. (When my kids were in school, I was disappointed to discover that I don't know how to do fourth grade math.) He has an analytical mind and takes the time to mull things over and see them from different points of view. He's fair minded and a good friend. He has a large group of friends that he's been close to for years, some of them since nursery school.

He was always the sweetest child. He was the little boy who would pick flowers and bring them to me. When he was about seven years old he decided to run away from home. He only went as far as the corner of the driveway where he sat for hours tossing stones at the front door. He was always a cuddly baby and loved to sit on my lap and be rocked. When he was well into his teens, he would still occasionally drop his 6'2" body into my lap and wrap his arms around me. 

Like most parent and child relationships we had our problems. Against our advice and wishes, he withdrew from Schreiner at mid-term of his first year, walked away from his scholarship and basketball team, and transferred to Blynn Junior College in College Station to be near a girlfriend. When she broke up with him a couple of weeks later he was devastated and depressed. But after that semester he went back to Schreiner and completed his studies there. He even went back to the coach and got his position back on the basketball team. That made me very proud and gave me a glimpse of the man he would become.

The day Grandad had his heart surgery he was a rock. After everyone else had left that day, when our nerves were stretched taut after waiting for hours and hours, he walked through the restricted doors right to the coronary ICU nurses' station. He told the nurse straight out that we'd been there for more than 15 hours, we'd been told several hours earlier that we'd be able to see him soon, and then we had heard nothing more. He explained that we just needed them to tell us one way or the other. It would be fine if we weren't able to see him, but his Mom needed to go eat some dinner and get some rest. Like magic, the doors were opened and we were taken to see him.

He chose a wife who's just as smart as he is. Marie holds the same degree from TAMU that he does. And, did I mention that she's a beauty queen? She holds her own with him and doesn't take any crap from him ... and he likes that about her. He proposed to her at her graduation, in front of a packed house at Reed Arena. It was one of the sweetest and most romantic things I've ever seen. I was moved to tears and honored to be there.

I'm so proud of him and the life they are building together. They're not yet 30 years old and own a beautiful home in Houston. They both have good jobs and are building a solid life together. When I think of Nick, I think of the old Irish proverb -- "It's the merry-hearted boys who make the best men."