Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween and other things....


Today is Halloween, traditionally a very happy day in my book. I love everything about this day; the decorations, the snack size candy (even though you can get it all year long, it seems to taste better this time of year), the carved pumpkins illuminated by candles, the costumes on young and old alike....and on it goes. Now that D and I no longer have little ones to take "trick or treating", we often leave the bowl of candy on the front porch and take to the streets of Magnolia to witness the magic. Tonight will be no exception.

We carved our two pumpkins the other night. The exercise is as much about "harvesting" the pumpkin seeds (D roasts/salts them in the oven and we snack off of them for days) as it is about avoiding a sliced finger as we create strange faces in the flesh of pumpkins. I admire what very talented carvers can do with these orange orbs; well beyond the triangular cut-out eyes and nose and goofy grin (see above).

I think back to last year, 2008; D and I arrived in Amsterdam in the early morning hours of Halloween Day. We flew into Florence several hours later to begin our visit with Laura who was studying abroad in Italy for the year. Halloween was no big deal in Florence. We saw nary a pumpkin anywhere. We saw one family in costume with two young children in tow and that was about it.

Today, thoughts pull me from too much focus on Halloween except as I write this blog. I keep thinking about the big celebration upcoming just two weeks from today, Chris and Heather's Wedding Day. So much to think about, remember, plan for, ponder; my mind is a swirl of emotions. Early this morning Chris headed out for his day-long Bachelor Party, his Best Man picking him up at 8 AM for a day of events and celebrations. Is all this really happening? The days unfold and we move closer to a very important event. We're blessed to have so many family and friends journeying from near and far to honor these two wonderful people.

And so I sit and think, look out on the day, muse, and am grateful for the season and the bounties of life.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beauty in the Ordinary

Wet leaves on a sidewalk remind me there is beauty in the ordinary, the overlooked canvas beneath our feet.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hoping and Praying....

He remarked today, "My, you've taken time off from work to travel to Spokane (for Fall Family Weekend) and yet here you are taking me to the doctor three days in a row this week."

"Yeah, Dad, you're right. It's the vagaries of my crazy work schedule. Thank goodness I've got the time."

Indeed.

This week I don't work until Friday. If I had looked forward to a block of free days, the universe clearly had other plans for me. My Dad, fortunately not sick-sick, has needs that involve visits to multiple medical specialists this week. As the doctor-daughter, I accompany him and as he acknowledges, "know what ropes to pull" to make the most of his appointments.

The goal is to get him feeling better. I believe we may be making some progress. Slowly.

I have to admit that I'm hoping beyond hope that his health holds steady. Two weeks from now Denny and I leave town for our son's wedding. Mom and Dad won't be attending, a fact that makes me sad but one that I accept. Traveling at age 92 when both are in fragile health is ill advised.

As Dad and I drive back and forth to the clinic this week, I'm finding myself praying mightily that he rallies. Please; no calamities of health for neither Mom nor Dad while we are out of town celebrating this once in a lifetime event.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall Family Weekend

A week has passed since the last post; sounds almost like a confessional. The days have been very busy with a three day trip to Spokane last weekend and other things of which I'll write later....

Fall Family Weekend is an annual event at Gonzaga University and this year D and I were honored to be joined by Chris and Heather making the days even more special. Until now, Chris had never visited Ms. Laura at G.U., much to her chagrin. She has wanted to share her college experience with him for a long time and didn't want it to be on Graduation Day (spring 2010).


Here we are posing with Spike, G.U.'s bulldog mascot.

The weather was stormy on Friday; rain came down in buckets as we did our walking tour of campus. By Saturday, the moisture laden clouds had moved on and we were treated to crystal clear skies and chilly fall air; perfect for a trip to the Green Bluff farms north of town. The harvest is on; hayrides, u-pick pumpkins, freshly pressed apple cider, and colorful fall leaves billowing down from windblown trees. Naturally we enjoyed great food, on and off campus.


The autumn leaves were gorgeous.









We enjoyed hearty breakfasts.




























Pumpkins and blue sky always mean autumn to me.











Ever had a pumpkin do-nut?



How about an apple perfectly sliced and
drizzled with caramel?




Heather and Chris headed back to Seattle on Saturday, mid-day. D and I stayed on another day to take in a few more celebrations. A jammed packed McCarthy Stadium hosted a basketball scrimmage late Saturday afternoon. We were lucky to snag seats for this Go-Zags event.

video

Saturday night we enjoyed dinner out with Laura's boyfriend, Rex and his family. Rex had just learned great news about his career plans through ROTC. He scored his first choice; the airborne division, piloting helicopters. We're all very proud of his accomplishments.


Home on Sunday, a 4 hour drive across Washington state behind us, we were left with great memories and a camera full of photos. Loved it, all of it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hot Fudge Sundae Cures All

I love the dollar menu at McDonald's. Right now their hot fudge sundae is a buck and oh my, is it good. I know no one really cares what I had for lunch today but.... after taking Dad to a doctor's appointment, I figured that if there was a 3 hour bite out of my day, I'd make up for it with a treat. Tit for tat, right?

This little treasure above is the bomb. It's got to be the best deal in town right now. I'm still sailing high. Highly recommended ya'll.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Three Houses in Houston

Whenever I visit that big city in southeast Texas, I always make a pilgrimage to the three houses Denny and I called home during our 15 years in Houston. The effects of time and new owners may change the look but memories of time spent always bubbles forth as I go about my so-called "drive by". My recent trip was no exception.

When Denny and I were first married we lived on Graustark Street in a small, newly refurbished bungalow that smelled of fresh paint, inside and out. We were fortunate as young couple to own this house and we lived there during our last year of medical school and through most of our residency training. Our schedules were so crazy with on-call duties. The Graustark house was a place to crash, catch a good meal, watch a movie on TV, and recover from the grueling pace of work. I don't know how we managed to care for a cat and two dogs (no kids). But, we did. Somehow.
I fear this house is next on the list for the wrecking ball. Unoccupied, I also made note of the large expanse of grass to the left which used to be our neighbor's house. Someone has plans for this land; probably a bank of townhouses. The next time I drive on Graustark Street, there will be nothing left of what was. Ever moving forward.

Anticipating thoughts of children, we moved to a bigger house less than a mile from our first home; a beauty built in 1913. The Branard house, across the street from the Houston School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), whispered secrets about its past; this was a "happy house". I always felt like good things happened inside its walls and inside the gardens which were surrounded by an eight foot privacy fence. We loved restoring this home; we painted interior walls in bold colors, rebuilt a bathroom, contracted for a new garage and decking and tended the garden lovingly. We endured Hurricane Alicia in 1983 and the great winter freeze that knocked off a royal palm that had endured for decades until an unprecedented cold snap rolled through. When Chris was born, we planted a 5 foot magnolia tree in the front yard to commemorate his birth. Look at how big that tree is now.

With a second child on the way, another move to a bigger house felt like the right thing to do. This time we left the Montrose area behind and moved to West University Place, a separate city within the big city, near Rice University. This time we opted for new construction, a big home with a teeny tiny yard, lots of wide open interior spaces and more room than we ever anticipated. The house on Plumb Street was the perfect venue for entertaining; how many Christmas Day dinners did we host for our extended family?


We kept to tradition and planted a pair of magnolia trees on the parking strip in front of the house; one in honor of Chris and one in honor of Laura, the newest addition to the family. I'm glad to see that the trees are thriving.

We lived here less than four years. Seattle was on our horizon. Uprooting from family and friends and a city that could have been our permanent home was a major decision. We had our reasons and I know we made the best choice.

Don't the houses we once called home continue to call out to us? No matter what becomes of them, whether intact or converted into something entirely new, that space, that location still belongs to in our hearts forever.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dickies Peanut Patties

My four days in Houston passed all too quickly. I found myself back in Seattle (and back to work) before I was really ready. A week in the big city would have been nicer, but....the brief trip was great nonetheless. Although the focus of the trip was Second Seating, there was still time to eat great food (more later) and snack on treats that I hadn't enjoyed in decades.

To wit: this most fabulous pink peanut patty made in Tyler, Texas. I bought the only three on the shelf in a local Fiesta Supermarket and have already eaten my way through one and am into the second. They are huge and I am a glutton. These sugar and nut delights take me to a new heights; the sugar rocketing me quickly and the nuts sustaining the energy. Awesome.

More on other culinary delights from Houston soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Houston: "Second Home"

Writing today from Houston, my last full day in this most amazing city before I fly back to Seattle, I'm struck (again) by how much I love this place I once called home for fifteen years. I never come back to my "second home" without a whirlwind of emotions and a big question: What would our lives have been like if we had never left for a new city back in September of 1991? I'll never know but I always wonder.

Aruba was my first home, Houston my second, and Seattle, the third. Although there were years lived in Austin and upstate New York, these big three carry the weight of my life's experiences. The fact that I've lived in Seattle eighteen years, longer than in either of my two other homes, is a testament to the seeming escalation of time's passage. Time speeds up, doesn't it?

But, I digress.

Houston; much the same, much different. Memories swirl in my head. The roads are so open; traffic moves with intention. Everyone is going somewhere. Now. I've always loved the energy. Vibrant with life. Colors. Movement. Go.

The food is to die for. The weather; not so nice right now. Muggy beyond belief, like a jungle at times. I do feel well hydrated however!

My sister's show is the piece de resistance. Each time I walk into the space, there is something new. A gala of color, inspiration, and deep thought. Get thee Houstonians to the Second Seating exhibit. You won't be disappointed.

Tomorrow I fly back to my third home. Time whizzes by but I've lived each moment. Houston is.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fortune Cookie

I've been in Houston all of six hours and if my fortune cookie from dinner tonight is accurate, good things are coming my way. My sister and I ate dinner at Mai's (Vietnamese) which was glorious; garlic tofu, rice and egg rolls rolled in lettuce wraps with cilantro, mint and fish sauce. My fortune read: "Traveling to the south will bring you unexpected happiness." I'll take it. There's nothing quite like Houston. I'm thrilled to be back in the town that I once called home for fifteen very good years.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Worrying

Question: Is the act of worrying

a. an indulgence
b. a waste of energy
c. an attempt to control outcomes
d. hardwired into some people forever
e. all of the above
f. none of the above

My answer is e.

And, I speak from experience.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mint Dream

If you're in the mood for the perfect mix of mint and milk chocolate grab one of these little treats, lock yourself in a quiet place, and enjoy each delicious bite of this endorphin boosting blast of energy. Guaranteed to delight, this edible dream packs only 140 calories and will blast you into a better place.

I'm so excited to "find" these treasures again. Forty years ago as a teenager, I was in love with these clouds of minty marshmallow cream enrobed in chocolate. Then, for some reason, these delights disappeared from the shelves and I thought perhaps Mr. Russell Stover stopped production. Apparently not; you just have to know where to look. I found my stash at the pharmacy at Virginia Mason's Federal Way Clinic.

If you've never had a Mint Dream, you'd best remedy this situation. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Maple Syrup

I love maple syrup; the real stuff, the hardcore from-the-maple-tree, genuine golden grade A syrup. I've been hopelessly spoiled by the real deal ever since Mom, in the late 1970's, started ordering maple syrup from upstate New York by the gallon. When the gallon arrived she was quick to share bottles of syrup with family. Referring to the process as "canning up" the syrup, she would bring the entire gallon to a boil and then pour the syrup into quart sized or smaller mason jars. Some years she ordered 2 gallons of syrup and the line of "canned up" maple bliss in her pantry was a beautiful sight.

Soak up your pancakes and waffles in this heavenly drizzle and you'll soon have little use for Aunt Jemima ever again. No comparison.

This year our supply of maple bliss drifted to a dangerous low. We'd been working off a gallon purchased several years ago and were down to the last few ounces. Mom hasn't been in any position to order more but fortunately, buried in her flip file of addresses was the name and phone number of her contact in Attica, NY. Terry Harder.

Score.

After a few phone calls, leaving messages for Terry and getting no response I was ready to conclude he was no longer in the business of selling and shipping maple syrup. But then he called and said, "Oh, yeah; I remember your Mom very well. And, I'm glad to hear that at age 92 she can still enjoy maple syrup. I have a gallon right here on my counter and can send it out UPS tomorrow. Just send me a check for the amount when you receive the syrup."

Wow. The gallon arrived with a hand written bill three days later. Mom was delighted and reminded me to "can up that syrup" right away. So, I did.Factoid: It takes 40 quarts of maple sap to produce 1 quart of maple syrup.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Buffy the Lion King

There are two cats living alongside the residents at the adult family home where my parents reside. Animals are such great companions and these two felines delight not only my parents but cat loving visitors as well. If anything makes a house feel more like home, it's having a pet or two.

Mom in particular has always been a cat lady; in Aruba she had dozens of them over her 26 years on the island. At one time, I remember counting fourteen cats of all colors, shapes and sizes eating their dinner from three large plates at the back of our house. These cats rarely ventured inside our house; they roamed the yard, chased lizards, lounged in the shade under the sea grape trees and showed up regularly for meals twice a day. They all had names, crazy names and most of the time, they made Mom happy. They were a 'lean and mean' group; Aruba cats were never fat; they spent too much time moving, chasing lizards, and keeping out of the way of neighborhood dogs. When Mom and Dad knew they'd be leaving Aruba, they acquired no more new cats and let natural attrition run its course, giving the last of the cats to neighbors and others when they moved stateside. That was over 30 years ago and Mom has never had another cat since.

Until now.

Imagine reaping all the benefits but none of the worries associated with having pets. These two cats bring such joy to my parents; they lounge on their beds, laps, and under the dinner table, begging for scraps of meat. They have free reign to roam the house and the grounds. No one seems to mind. "Buffy" is the long haired cat stretched out on the recliner."Panda" is the black and white cat.

"Buffy", the dominant male is now known as the "Lion King" ever since his haircut 6 weeks ago. His fur is so long that once a year he gets a professional shave in August. I've never seen a shaved cat and wish wish wish I had taken a picture of him in those early weeks after he was relieved of his long coat. By now his fur is growing in and he doesn't look quite so shocking. What he does resemble however is a miniature lion; the long hair around his neck left untouched and the tail shaved (ha!) almost to the tip with just enough plume left to make a grand statement. You'd never have known that he's also a 'lean and mean' specimen under all that hair; definitely not carrying any extra pounds this one. An Aruba cat after all.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Arapahoe

Yesterday I spent an hour or so at my parent's former home, the one they moved from three years ago when their abilities to live independently declined. For various reasons we call the house left behind Arapahoe. We still talk as if the house belongs to them, like a safety net or a place they could (maybe) go back to one day. And, they do go back from time to time for Easter brunches, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas celebrations; whenever we gather together as an extended family. The property now owned jointly by myself, my sister, and brother remains a lovely place for a quiet retreat, a family gathering, or a place for out-of-town visitors. In fact, my brother will be in town this weekend and where will he stay? Why Arapahoe, of course.

I'm at Arapahoe on a regular basis, checking this or that and if I'm wise I also get into the garage to start up the car. The battery tends to poop out if the car sits dormant for long and we've had endless encounters with AAA guys who respectfully jump start the battery or try hard to sell us a new one. We've probably gone through half a dozen batteries in the car's eight year lifespan. Finally my brother purchased a battery charger and I must say, it works great. We keep it in the garage on the ready and yesterday was one of those days when a charge was in order.

Whenever I'm hanging out at Arapahoe, I make busy. For the 45 minutes it took for the car battery to come to life on the end of cables connected to the charger, I cleaned up and then opened my eyes wider, looking for anything I could find to discard. Discard? Bad word in my Mother's vocabulary, music to my Dad's ears. I'm much like him; if it can be thrown out, let's do it. Now.

Lest my siblings worry that I'm up to no good at Arapahoe, when I talk discard, I mean perishables, worthless paper, empty cardboard boxes, expired this and that. Three years later, I'm still tackling ancient stuff in the freezer, bit by bit. Six months ago I went through the pantry and founds cans of vegetables and other stuff best used by 2006 that I weeded out. Progress is slow but I try to make headway, one bit at a time.

Yesterday it was the last of the items in the freezer side of the garage refrigerator that got my attention. I left the two glass jars of frozen blackberries alone; they're no good now but my heart wasn't up to hacking away at the contents under warm running water. There will be another day for that task. What I did find was a stack of old pie shells; most store bought in the those flimsy tins. Out you go!

But, on the bottom of the stack was a glass pie plate with a home-made crust, wrapped in a plastic bag and sealed with a twist tie. My Mother's work. I wonder when she made this unbaked pie shell; sometime before the summer of 2006, maybe considerably longer. To Mom, if it's frozen, it'll last forever. I unwrapped it and looked at the frozen dough, pressed into the pie plate for a long time. I etched the fluted edges and the imprints of her fingers on the bottom of the pie shell into my brain. My mother's last pie shell, never filled, never eaten.

Sentimental me.

And then, I dislodged the frozen dough from the glass pan, in chunks, into the trash.

Arapahoe offers up bittersweet experiences every time I walk in the door if I let myself go there.