Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dear Ann Curry

I was sad this morning when you announced that it would be your last day as a Today Show co-host. I had heard all the rumors about you being reassigned, but I kept hoping it wasn't true. I was really saddened to hear your comments and especially to hear you apologize. You should not feel like you failed in any way and you definitely have no need to apologize. That is simply not the case.

The Today Show has always been my choice for morning television, so I have watched you in all the roles you've had in your 15 years on the show. You have been great in all of them, but it's your coverage of big stories about humanity that outshine all the others. No one covers real news with more heart than you.

Shame on NBC for not sending you off in grand style. Where was the video montage of your 15 years of service to the Today Show? Interviews like those with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and President Mahmod Ahmadinejad of Iran and your trips to Sudan and Myanmar are unequaled in broadcast journalism. And watching you climb Mount Kilimanjaro and trek to the South Pole were so inspiring for me and for women everywhere. NBC should have definitely showcased your work this morning.

I'm looking forward to watching you do hard news again. In my opinion, your talent and skills were often not fully utilized on morning television. Yes, you clearly can interview anyone including rock stars and movie stars. And, by the way, you really rocked some awesome fashions during this gig on Today. But your real strength is your ability to talk with and, when necessary, confront powerful world leaders without backing down. You look them right in the eye, ask the tough questions that need to be asked, and hold them accountable until you get an answer. And you do it with grace and aplomb.

You have been and will continue to be a wonderful role model for little girls with big dreams. I hope my granddaughters, who are 1 and 3 years old, will be able to look at your career and know that they can grow up to be anything they want. 

You have a heart for providing real insight on meaningful stories. So, while I'm sorry I won't be seeing you every morning, I can't wait to see where you go from here. As we say in Texas, "Go get 'em, Annie."

Helping the princesses keep their cool

Summer has definitely arrived in South Texas. We've been experiencing really hot days with temperatures above 100 degrees. We had intended to take the princesses down to the Corpus Christi Bayfront to play on the new playground equipment at Cole Park and then to the splash park down near the Bayfront Plaza.

We scrapped those plans when we learned that it was paint the park day. The park was full of volunteers who were painting all the tables, the benches, and the amphitheater. We just didn't want to cope with wet paint and crowds. But we do appreciate their efforts.

So, instead we went to our nearby dollar store and picked up a small wading pool. Is there anything cuter than little girls playing in a wading pool? I think not.

Grandad and I unfolded the lawn chairs, he opened a beer and I poured myself a glass of wine. We had a front row seat to the best show in town as our little princesses splashed and played while the sun went down. Some of the neighbors wandered over and kept us company. It was fun for everyone.

We've been dealing with really hot weather here in South Texas. We've already had several days with temperatures above 100 degrees. But, thankfully, most of us are prepared for that kind of weather. Our homes are air conditioned and we have the fans blowing. We also know that we need to keep the kids inside during the heat of the day and make sure everyone drinks plenty of fluids.

I know there are many others who are not so fortunate right now. My thoughts are with my bloggy friends in Colorado who are dealing with horrific forest fires. Stay safe my friends. We are thinking of you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How old am I?

Friday was my birthday. You know you're getting old when you can't even remember how old you are. At breakfast yesterday my sister-in-law asked me how old I was. I replied "48" without even thinking about it. When everyone at the table got funny looks on their faces I realized that what I should have said was "58." Oops!

One thing I can guarantee is that, if I am going to lie about my age, I will claim to be older than I am. Here's the reason. I think I look okay for 58. If I try to pass for 48, I don't look good at all. But if I say I'm 68, people will think I look damn good for that age.

On Thursday evening, we met Katy & Travis in Three Rivers so the girls could spend the weekend with us. We had dinner at Taqueria Vallarta. Three Rivers is pretty close to halfway between their home and ours. We have tried several restaurants over the years we've been meeting there to swap the kids. We've had a very hard time finding a place that we all like. We like Van's Barbecue and we stop there a lot. But they close early, so if we are meeting later in the evening it doesn't work. Plus, in the summertime, Travis' daughter Mady is usually with them. Mady is vegetarian which makes eating at a barbecue restaurant limited to potato salad and cole slaw. Even the beans are cooked with meat. Taqueria Vallarta was delicious! We'll definitely be stopping there again. Taqueria Vallarta has a 100% rating on Urban Spoon.

Our birthday celebrations were low key. On Friday we took the girls to Sears Portrait Studios for a portrait session. It was like herding cats. The photographer, Christy, was awesome. She was so patient with the girls. Princess E wasn't uncomfortable at all. She posed like a model and there are some really good shots of her alone. Unfortunately, Princess J (Her Highness) was not so comfortable. The studio was a place she'd never been before and she didn't know the photographer. She was scared and cried most of the time. She did finally get some pretty good shots. We went to Sears because we had a Groupon. For $35 we get one 10x13 portrait and six sheets which can be a variety of sizes and shots. Here's the one we ordered for my living room.

When we left the portrait studio, we stopped at The Cupcake Shoppe and picked up cupcakes for my birthday celebration. We came home and had lunch followed by cupcakes. There could not be anything better than having our two little princesses sing happy birthday and help blow out the candles. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't take any pictures which is very unfortunate. Princess J had a pink strawberry cupcake which she squished between her fingers and smeared over her face and into her hair. It was awesome! Princess E had a white cupcake with sprinkles. Mine was white cake with chocolate frosting with sprinkles. Grandad abstained from cupcakes. His doctor has given him strict instructions to take off some weight. He's working hard at it and I'm proud of him. I know how hard that is and he's doing great!

We finished off the day by meeting our next-door neighbors for dinner at Railroad Seafood Station. We started with an avocado salad followed by fried shrimp served family style with a combination of sweet potato fries and regular fries. Their fried shrimp is my absolute favorite. It is very lightly battered and cooked just right. The princesses had dinosaur chicken nuggets with fries.

I will tell you more about the rest of our weekend later this week. I did finally get my camera in my hand so I could snap some photos of my own.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Autumn leaves are in my future

Anyone who has known me for very long knows that one of my dream vacations has always been to visit New England in the fall to see the autumn leaves. For the 32 years that I worked for our local United Way, we were generally discouraged from taking time off during the fall. It was our fund-raising season and, as the special events director, it was pretty much impossible for me to be gone for more than a day or two that time of year. 

While winters here are lovely and mild. One of the downsides of living in South Texas is the lack of seasonal changes. We don't really have fall or winter. In really cold years, we might have a few nights where the temperature drops below freezing. But it's never cold for very long. The other factor is that we don't really have trees with leaves that turn colors. Most of our native vegetation is mesquite and huisache. They are more shrubs than trees and have lovely blooms in the spring which make me sniffle and sneeze. But the leaves don't turn colors. 

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I always hate it when we're still having 90 degree temperatures and I start hearing that the leaves are turning and temperatures have dropped. When autumn rolls around each year, I change my screensaver to a beautiful shot of colorful autumn leaves. And for many years I told my friends that the first year I was retired we would finally take our fall New England trip. Since I left that job unexpectedly three years short of retirement, we were not in a financial position to take such a trip. But now, six years later, I'm finally going to get my fall leaf trip.

Grandad told me yesterday that he has to go to the home office, which is located near Boston, for three days in mid-October. Then he asked if I would like to join him and stay a few days in that area. I got so excited it made me giggle like a schoolgirl.

I immediately got online and started looking for information about where to go and what to do. We spent a week in the Boston area two summers ago. So we've done the Boston and the Freedom Trail, Salem, and Plymouth. We're looking for something different this time. Our trip will start from Boston on October 18 and we'll be there about a week. There are just so many options. I know that leaf peeping is very popular and that popular places are likely to be crowded.

So I'm looking for your advice. Have you been to New England to see the autumn leaves? Do you have any advice for us? Should we head north or south from Boston? Should we rent a car? Should we take the train? Should we join a tour?  New Hampshire? Maine? Vermont? Connecticut? Pennsylvania? So many options. Please share your experience and your expertise and opinions. I'll keep you updated as our plans develop.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

Grandad and I have spent a quiet Father's Day together. We started with church this morning followed by breakfast at IHOP. Then we hung out at Barnes and Noble for a while and did a little shopping. We spent the rest of the day watching movies at home. Both of the kids called their dad and he got a huge kick out of talking to Our Little Princess on the phone. Both of the grand-girls will be here on Thursday night for a visit. They'll stay until Sunday or Monday. We're both excited to the point of being silly about it.

Father's Day makes me melancholy. I loved my dad a lot and he loved all six of his kids. But, as often happens, when I became a teenager our relationship became strained and contentious. Unfortunately, the strain in our relationship lasted well into his old age and my adulthood. He's been gone a long time now and the passage of time has softened my feelings. I think that's a lovely gift you get with age.

You see, my dad was an enigma. He was extremely tenderhearted but very quick to anger and he cussed like a sailor. If you were on the receiving end of his anger, it was terrifying. He was prone to violent outbursts. Just being in the vicinity when he was mad about anything was very frightening. I could tell you stories that would curl your toes, but, for today, I choose to remember the happy times.

Daddy loved to fish. One of my earliest memories is of him coming home from fishing on Saturday morning. He was carrying his rod and reel in one hand and his tackle box and minnow bucket in the other. There was nothing unusual about that except, this particular morning, there was a glint in his eye. He squatted down on the front porch and opened the top of the minnow bucket. Inside was a very small, very wild kitten that poked his head up as soon as the lid was opened. He had found several kittens living among the rocks near the dam where he fished. He could only catch one of them, so he brought it home. I have no doubt that he would have brought all of them if he could have caught them. My little sister and I were very excited to have a new kitten and that wild kitten was soon a beloved pet. 

Once we moved to South Texas and my brothers grew older and left home, I would often go fishing with him on Saturday mornings. We would go down to the bayfront and walk out on the breakwater and spend hours sitting and talking as we fished. Those were special times and made me feel very close to him. It made me feel special to get to spend one-on-one time with him.

Another of my early memories is of Daddy teaching me to swim. I must have been very little, because I could swim very early. But I remember him standing in the lake and helping me swim by stretching his arms out in front and supporting me under my stomach while I floated. Then he would walk along with his arms outstretched, supporting me as I kicked my feet and paddled my arms. Before I knew it, I was swimming.

My dad was employed as a civilian mechanic working on heavy equipment for the US Navy. He worked 7 to 4 with a thirty minute drive in each direction. He got up at 5 a.m. and my Mom made a full breakfast for him every morning. I will always associate the smell of frying bacon or sausage, fresh-baked biscuits, and coffee brewing with him.

When he got home from work he was always covered in grease. He would take his work clothes off in front of the washing machine and go straight to the bathtub where Mom had already drawn his bath. His hands were a working man's hands, rough and stained with grease.  When he retired and stopped working as a mechanic, it took years for the grease stains to fade away.

Because of the schedule he worked, we had dinner at 5 o'clock and the house had to be quiet by 9 o'clock. Woe be unto the child who received a phone call after nine. When the phone rang after 9, my mother answered it and made it perfectly clear that we were not allowed to have phone calls that late. Those callers rarely called back ... ever. When she got off the phone, she headed straight for our room and read us the riot act. We soon learned to tell our friends that we were not allowed late evening phone calls.

My Dad was a reader. I rarely saw him without a book in his hand. He loved Zane Grey and often had a paperback rolled up and stuck in his back pocket along with his red mechanic's rag. He read in the bathroom, he read at the table, and he read in bed. I got my love of reading from him. Why couldn't I also have gotten his "bird legs?" Instead I got my mother's tree trunk legs and my dad's love of reading.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings he would be up early, often waiting for the newspaper to be delivered. He would sit at the dining room table and drink coffee as he read the paper. He liked his coffee black and he drank it by "saucering and blowing." He would pour a little bit at a time out of his cup and into his saucer. Then he would blow on it until it was cool and slurp it out of the saucer. It was fascinating to watch as a youngster. Then he would take his newspaper and go back to bed where he finished reading it.

As soon as I got out of bed, I would make a beeline directly for Daddy and Momma's bed where I would climb in between them and beg him to read "the funnies" to me. Many mornings there would be three or four kids on the bed for him to read to us.

When the grand-kids came along, they loved to lay on the bed cuddled up to his big belly. This delighted him beyond words. He was as bald as Telly Savalas, but he had very thick chest hair. He always wore v-neck t-shirts. Almost without fail, the grand-babies would tangle their tiny fingers in his chest hair and pull. He would wince in pain and they would giggle. Smiling though the pain, he never stopped them. There was very little that he loved more than his grandchildren.

I was 10 years old when we moved to South Texas. It soon became home to me, but even though he lived here the rest of his life, he never settled here. He always talked about going back to the Piney Woods where he grew up. But he soon took us exploring in South Texas. I remember Saturday afternoon drives to see the big tree at Goose Island and weekends spent floundering and crabbing in the Laguna Madre. He taught us to body surf on Padre Island. We would often spend New Year's Day beach-combing on the island and, if the weather was warm enough, we would go swimming. He got a big kick out of the mild winters here. I tasted my first alcoholic drink on a weekend trip with him to Matamoros, Mexico. It was a frozen daiquiri, all frosty and white with a cherry on top. He learned to bargain in the Mexican marketplaces and taught me too.

Every year, when he took his vacation, we would drive back to Bryans Mill, Texas where we spent two weeks visiting relatives and staying with his mother. That would be eight people piled into a station wagon driving 500 miles in one day. Not only did most of our cars not have air conditioners, none of them ever had a radio. Daddy was hard of hearing and it was just noise to him. We passed the miles by singing. We knew the words to all the traditional Baptist hymns. Daddy especially loved The Little Brown Church in the Woods and The Great Speckled Bird, which he would lead us in singing. We often made the same trip for Christmas. Then we sang Christmas carols.

My mom was a teetotaler, but Daddy liked a little nip now and then. He kept both peach and peppermint schnapps in the top cabinet above the sink in the kitchen. He had to stand on the countertop to reach it, which was impossible after he got older. After my marriage, when we would visit, he would take my husband into the kitchen and point at the cabinet asking him to get down a bottle and have a drink. Patrick could reach it without even a stool. They would take it to the table and share a couple of drinks while my mom showed her disapproval.

Sadly, Daddy never got to move back to his beloved Piney Woods until almost forty years later when it became his final resting place. He rests in the beautiful little cemetery in Bryans Mill, Texas. He is finally home surrounded by tall pine trees under blue skies. I know it's where he wanted to be, but I wish he was closer. It would be easier to visit more often.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy! Thanks for the lovely memories.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What is Grams Made Of?

When Katy and I were having our daily phone conversation today, she related the following story to me. Apparently there is a song that Our Little Princess likes to sing that says something like "everything is made of boogers." I've never heard this song, so I can't really share the lyrics accurately.

Katy says that last night this song led to a discussion of what different people are made of. When asked what Momma was made of, Our Little Princess replied that "Momma is not made of boogers, Momma is made of love."

The discussion continued with Katy asking "What is Omi made of?" (Omi is one of the other grandmothers.) The response was, "Omi is made of play dough." That makes perfect sense because Omi often makes homemade play dough for the girls. It is delightfully scented. The last one I played with was lavender scented.

Next up was the question, "What is Uncle Nick made of?" Our Little Princess giggled as she replied "Uncle Nick is made of boogers."

Then came "What is Grams made of?" But Our Little Princess couldn't decide what Grams was made of. Momma suggested that perhaps Grams was made of Starbucks, since it's my favorite place to go. Our Little Princess said, "Maybe." But a little while later she came back and said, "Momma, I know what Grams is made of. Grams is made of roses."

I'm not sure why she thinks I'm made of roses, but I'll take it. I could be so much worse.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Politics of Facebook

During the 2008 presidential election, much was said and written about the influence of the internet on the political process. Remember Obama Girl?

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Fair notice, politically and socially, I am a reformed conservative. Until the last election I was a card-carrying Republican. I was driven over the edge during the second administration of George W. Bush. Nowadays, my political convictions are liberal, very liberal. I don't think anyone's religious convictions should be the deciding factor in legislation. I think everyone's rights should be protected by the Constitution, including whether homosexuals are allowed to marry or women are allowed to have control over their own bodies. And I think everyone has the right to affordable health care. You can believe whatever you want to believe, but you should not be allowed to legislate away anyone's rights because of your religious beliefs.

My Facebook friends are a mix of people from all over the place. Some are former co-workers, some are neighbors, some are from my 1970's church youth group, some from an online weight loss surgery support group, some are family, some are friends, some are acquaintances, some I've never met in real life. There are Baptists, Catholics, agnostics, atheists, Democrats, Republicans, independents, straights, gays, lesbians, teens, seniors, and everything in between. We come from all kinds of backgrounds and hold all kinds of jobs. Recreational activities include a wide range of activities like running, biking, roller derby, reading, and scrap-booking.

And we are just as diverse when it comes to our politics. Below are actual posts from my Facebook News Feed. Every one of these was posted by at least one of my friends. None of them are mine, although I have been known to re-post the ones I like. As you can see, most, but not all, of my friends are of the conservative persuasion.  After all, I do live in Texas.

People use Facebook to share their political opinions and pass on their religious convictions. If it weren't for these posts on Facebook, I think it most likely that I would not even know most of these people's politics nor their religion. Being behind the keyboard makes people brave. They seem more likely to express themselves. Most of the people I know would probably never appear at a political rally or speak about their convictions in a public forum. There is something "freeing" about stating your opinions from the keyboard rather than from a soapbox.

Is that good or is that bad? I'm not sure. I think there is definitely value in being able to share opinions and ideas. I saw this on Facebook too and it covers how I feel about many issues.

A very close friend recently expressed to me that she hated Facebook because it allowed people to make comments from behind the security of the keyboard. On the other hand, I love it. But then I do love a good discussion.

How do you feel about Facebook and the political views expressed there?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer, fitness, and food

Summer has settled into a rhythm around here. It's hot and muggy outside. I'm keeping myself occupied indoors with housekeeping, organizing, and sewing. Grandad has been in Houston all week, so it's been extremely quiet. He arrived home just before midnight last night after his flight was delayed by six hours.

My mother-in-law is still in the hospital. She has been moved to the rehab floor of  Christus Spohn Shoreline Hospital where she is receiving therapy three times a day. They make her work very hard and she doesn't like it much. She is of the generation of women who has never done any kind of a work out except that which you get from raising five kids. This is a different kind of hard work. She was kind of disheartened on Tuesday when they told her she would have to be there at least one more week. They explained that she can't go home until she is able to take care of her personal needs including showering, dressing, and going to the bathroom on her own. That has given her something to work towards and her spirit of determination seems renewed. She has also begun to welcome visitors and answer the phone in her room. Connecting with people seems to really be helping. I'm so glad she's finally decided it's okay.

In an effort to keep our gasoline consumption low, I don't make special trips to the hospital unless she needs something. Grandad visits every day on his lunch break and I visit if I'm going to be in town so I can combine my trips. It's only 16 miles from our house on the interstate, but it adds up after a few days. That usually means I visit three to four times a week.

I'm trying to work some exercise into my summer routine. My next-door neighbor and I have been walking every other day this week. We're starting out around 8 a.m. and walking about an hour. It's very hot by the time we get back. Next week we are going to switch to an hour-long session in the pool in nearby Odem. They have an hour from 8-9 every morning set aside for senior citizens to pool walk or do water aerobics. It should at least be cooler. I'll let you know how it goes. My goal is to get 25-30 pounds off this summer and get back into my size 12 jeans. Since I generally eat healthy, I know that I've got to get back to exercising.

And, speaking of eating, I've been meaning to share this recipe for quite a while. It is adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. The first time I made it, I followed Alton's recipe exactly. It was too peppery for both of us, so here is my adapted recipe for Slow Cooker Pepper Pork Chops.
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar Splenda
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 pound ice
4 (1 to 1 1/2-inch thick) pork chops
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 ounces dried apple slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, julienned
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Combine the chicken broth, ½ cup kosher salt, brown sugar Splenda and peppercorns in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Cook just until the salt and sugar dissolve, then remove from the heat and add the ice. Place the pork chops into a 2-gallon zip-top bag along with the mixture and seal. Place in a plastic container and refrigerate at least three hours. (You can let it marinate overnight.)

Remove the chops from the brine, rinse, and pat dry. Season on both sides with the kosher salt and set aside.

Place the apples in the slow cooker.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the pork chops on both sides until golden brown, approximately 5 to 6 minutes per side. Once browned, place the pork chops into the slow cooker atop the apples. Spread the sliced onions on top of the pork chops.

Add the chicken broth to the skillet to deglaze. Add the black pepper and thyme and stir to combine. Pour broth mixture into slow cooker. Cook for 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low.
I hope you're all having a great summer. I'm working on my plans for "Grams Camp" which will be sometime later this summer. It's certain to include a trip to Cole Park's new children's play area, the Texas State Aquarium, a visit with Great-Grandma, nightly drives over Corpus Christi's "Rainbow Bridge," and plenty of time for cuddling and reading. This year it will be a little more of a challenge with both a one-year old and a three-year old, but I'm looking forward to it. How could it be anything but fun, fun, fun with these two? I'll put my plans in a detailed post later.

What are you planning this summer?