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Sunday, May 20, 2018

MAN CAVES VS SHE SHEDS!

A reasonably new craze has taken a grip here, and perhaps everywhere.  It is the 'She Shed'.  Supposedly, in response to the 'Man Cave', we are seeing adverts where the said venue has burnt down, and the insurance company is promising complete restoration, including contents.  Other commercials are showing how to run the cable television to the remote building and then there are those with decorating ideas.  A small 'Wendy House' at the bottom of the garden has not really been of particular interest to me.  

I do not, have never had, and frankly thought I did not have in my future, a 'She Shed'.  One radio presenter made a reasonably good point, when his female host suggested it was a 'fun' idea.  "What was the purpose of the 'Man Cave', originally?" he asked, rhetorically, so it would seem, as he then continued, "It is because you, as in you women, have the whole of the house.  The kitchen is yours, the living room is yours, the bedrooms are yours, to do with as you please.  What was ours, was the garage!  The original 'Man Cave'.  Why do you need somewhere else?"  This caused much laughter from both presenters, and from me, sitting alone in my car.  My own personal space.  My 'She-Shed'. 
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"You are in my way", said Dana, as I asked why he was standing in the middle of my kitchen, with a cup of coffee in his hand. It appeared that I was using the counter top that he required in order to 'doctor' his coffee.  (An odd saying but one used regularly in my house.)  "But the kitchen is supposed to be my area", said I, with a slight hint of a smile in my voice.  "Not when I want to doctor my coffee", came the same smiling response.  The 'She Shed' was starting to show some appeal.

Coffee was an item that was on my list this week.  Not that it is an item that I purchase from anywhere but Joe's, but because we had an 'instant win' prize in Randall's, the local supermarket, game of Monopoly.  Unlike any other game of 'Monopoly' I have ever played, this has a constant run of 'chance' cards, and there is never one that sends you to jail.  I suppose that would only be an option should you steal another person's pieces! The 'Monopoly' game lasts for a few months, and I think this is the third year (at least) that we have played.  

Although Randall's is not my first port of call for a large shop, as it is a little more pricey than other stores, there are some items in which they specialise, and they have an excellent ongoing deal on their bagels!  Dana and Samantha enjoy a bagel, of differing varieties, each morning, courtesy of yours truly, who seems to be the breakfast chef.  For some reason, between the hours of nine and ten 'a.m.', the back room of the office has been proclaimed a 'She Shed' and it is my domain, unless (as there is always an 'unless') Dana needs to make breakfast for the dog!  (You can see who takes priority here!) 

This years game of 'Monopoly' started in February.  Dana came to the office with three or four 'pieces', and he gave them to Samantha. As is her way, she shared the load with her mother, and we opened them. Prizes vary from 'instant win' items, to money off items, and 'codes' which can be input electronically, and other instant prizes can be won.  Sometimes, the prize is another two pieces.  With every 'piece' there are four pictures which can be placed on the board so, in effect, the game is more like 'Bingo', but who am I to suggest that there is a discrepancy, after all, I am merely a 'guest'! Towards the end of the 'game', there are opportunities to get '3x' the pieces on each purchase.  It is at this stage of the game when you really want to stand behind someone in the queue, who has just bought a month's load of groceries, and states that they are not playing the game, then turns to the next person in the queue (Samantha) and says, "Are you?"  Sometimes, the '3x' is on top of a 'double point' purchase, and you walk out with around seventy pieces.  This is where the 'Monopoly' becomes 'roulette'.
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However, I digress.  Perhaps another reason why I should have a 'She Shed'!  The bottom line is that although we did not win the 'big' prize, (and I really do not know what it was; probably an amount to make you independently wealthy,) we did 'win' quite a lot.  The 'game' became a bit of a 'treasure hunt' in that we had to go searching for our prizes, which included for us, in the region of, a dozen tins of tomato sauce, four bottles of aspirin (?), a dozen or so packets of gravy mix, coffee, jerky, potato chips, salad, and a lot more which I did not commit to memory.  Kitchen towel!  How could I forget the kitchen towel!  Perhaps it is because the kitchen is no longer my own!  A dozen rolls of kitchen towel could be considered a 'big win', I suppose!

The 'game' finished just in time.  Our daily walks to collect our prizes (and towards the end of the game, purchases were not necessary as they were giving pieces on redeemed items!) were coming to an end, as the temperature was rising rapidly, and walks were to be replaced with swims!  The dog was disappointed this week, as his daily constitutional consisted of Dana walking him around the office complex, once, and a couple of trips to the post box, which is about twenty yards from the front door!  The overnight temperatures were such that the water was not too cold.

On our return to the office, on Monday, we had to stop by the supermarket.  Dressed in my office attire, rather than the shorts, t-shirt and cap that I wear to walk, I am not always recognised as the same person, until I open my mouth.  We went to the customer service desk, as although the kitchen towels were quite a big win, the little 'Bingo' pieces had proved to be quite worthwhile, and Samantha had to collect a $5 gift card, and $5 cash.  We approached the desk, and waited.  The customer service assistance was busy in another room, talking to someone.  Eventually she appeared, looking rather miserable.  Perhaps it was her insurance agent to whom she was talking, and she found out that the contents of her 'She Shed' was not covered!  "We are not sure what to do with these?" I said as Samantha handed her the completed 'board'.  Her face did not change.  Perhaps the whole 'Shed' was not on the insurance policy!  One of the shop assistants came over to the desk.  "They did real good this year", he said to the lady behind the desk.  "Yes", I agreed, "We were playing diligently".  No change.  The shop assistant walked way.  Samantha remembered the expression from last year.  "But 'She Shed's weren't a thing last year", I blurted!

"You are in my way", said Dana, as I asked why he was standing in the middle of my kitchen, again.  "The 'She-Shed' is becoming more and more attractive", I said, as I moved, towards the sink.  "You are in my way", said Dana, as he came over to the sink to rinse out the coffee grounds from the filter.  "That's it!  Costco have a really good deal on garden 'houses'," I said, with attitude.  My husband continued to walk around my kitchen as if it were his very own 'Man Cave', and I retreated.   "The kitchen is yours", I said, and all that sail in her, which means cooking, cleaning, stocking the pantry....".  I regained ownership rather more quickly than expected!
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The weekly trip to Costco is something that Dana would find most unappealing.  One trip a year is somewhat of a treat, as on the odd occasion when he accompanies me, he enjoys the selection of samples on every corner, but he calls himself a 'hunter-gatherer' and does not 'contemplate' very well in a supermarket.  If an item he would like is offered my many suppliers, and he has to compare the quality with quantity and price, he quits!  However, to Costco Samantha and I went on Saturday.  

Smoothies were being prepared by a lady towards the back of the warehouse, in her attempt to sell the latest model of food processor.  "You can do anything with this.  Make soups, smoothies...", and she rattled off a list of wonders that could be prepared.  "Cocktails for the ladies when they come over to spend the afternoon in the 'She Shed', I countered.  I had given her a new angle! I settled for the smoothie!

In the middle of the store stood a shed.  Perhaps big enough to put a couch and a television, maybe a fridge, and a small (very small) table, it did not compare to the venue I recently 'reclaimed'.  A cocktail party would really not be an option, unless it was a very, very small gathering!  Samantha stepped inside, and as she knew I would, I shut the door, and put down the latch.  I felt rather ashamed, not at my action, but at being watched by several children, who looked on in a state of shock, as someone the age of their grandmother, was 'being silly'.  I opened the door, and received 'the look' from my daughter, and an even more distasteful glance from the youngsters.  "So, what do you think?  Enough light?" I said, desperately trying to regain ground, and maturity!  It did not work.  

As if to add insult to injury, as we continued along the aisles, I managed to spill my smoothie, all over the floor.  It did not look pleasant, as it had been made with avocado and mint.  A young boy passed by with his father.  He gasped and then asked his father if I had perhaps had an 'accident', although not using the same words.  His father looked rather more embarrassed than me, and the 'She Shed' was back on the menu!  Only this time it would be a 'hide-out'!

My usual 'hide-out' area was rather busier than usual on Saturday afternoon, although no surprisingly so.  The pool had a few more visitors than I am used to, but it did not stop me from swimming. I swam my self-allotted amount of laps, and then sat down to read.  Everyone finally left, and I started to doze.  The breeze was refreshing and the solitude relaxing.  Who needs a 'She-Shed', I thought.  If I was married to a man who was content to go out into the garage with his friends to watch 'the game', and drink a few beers, then I think I would be more than happy to have my friends over for cocktails in any other room in the rest of the house!  Why have less space?  I am sure there will be many answers to that rhetorical question!  As I dozed, I was aware of people coming to invade my privacy but was delighted to see that it was my next door neighbours, with their six month old son, who had not yet ventured into the pool.  Who needs solitude?  I enjoyed every minute of their company.

Today it is raining.  My 'She-Shed' would have to be very 'weatherproof' to withstand the downfall that we had this afternoon.  The thunder ricocheted through air, and the tornado watch would have had me in a real cave, rather than a mere 'Man-Cave'.  An internal cupboard, rather than a freestanding 'box' would be preferable.  

As my afternoon will now not be reading by the water, I shall have to come up with an alternative.  I could watch the programme I recorded yesterday morning, which included footage of a wedding.  (No, you cannot escape mention even on this page!)  I could make a cake.  (My carrot cake this week was hailed by my other-half as 'spectacular' - another reason for him abandoning the kitchen.)  I could just sit and think, "What can I write next", for ........... another story.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

FEELING HOT, HOT HOT!

If the question that I am often posed, "What is the biggest difference you notice, living in the USA?"  was asked his week, it would be "The heat".  Definitely the heat.  There was little else I could think about this week, as on Sunday evening we noticed that our house was not cooling down.  The thermometer on the wall was showing a higher figure than usual, and the fan on the air conditioner was constantly running.  On the readout under the temperature were the words that no one wants to see.  'System malfunction.  Call your service engineer'.

After a night that seemed to last forever, with fans whirring throughout, we went into work and Dana called the company whom he has been using for over a decade.  He was most unsatisfied with the outcome.  Once, a smaller, very reliable establishment, they have now, it appears, hit the 'big time' and no longer have the level of 'personal service' that we enjoyed.  Of course, we understood that they are a business. Of course, we understood that they have to pay their workmen.  Of course, we understood that times change.  I was extremely disappointed with their attitude last time they attended.  Bigger can, sometimes, mean better, but in this case, it did not.  He called another, larger, company.  They were very personable.  Dana took an hour out to meet them at our home, and discuss options.  We were going to need a brand new unit.  Our unit was old, outdated, and not particularly 'energy saving', and all the repairs in the world would not have been able to bring it up to standard.  After a modicum of research, as is my husband's way, he realised that we were going to have to bite the proverbial bullet!

"Wednesday morning.  They will be there on Wednesday morning", came the response to my question, "When?"  Two more nights.  Could I last two more nights.  I started to melt!  I did not have what is colloquially known as a 'melt down', although that was probably more literal in my case, but I felt as if I were melting.  The thought of two more nights without the cooler was not pleasant.  "But you said they had a unit.  Why not sooner?"  If ever I had thought the training for Sheriffs was apt, it would have been now.  The phrase "You what now?" had never been more likely to emit from my lips as it was on Monday.  Suddenly, I realised the importance and relevance of this previously misunderstood expression.  It was almost my reaction to "They have to organise the crane".  A crane?  We were having an air-conditioner fitted, not building a high rise.  A crane?  It appears that the compressor is on the roof and something has to be lowered down, and....and...and.  Enough!  If a crane was needed, then so be it!

I continued with my morning.  Ironically, the air conditioning in my office was working overtime!  As we do not have the thermostat in our office, there are occasions when they need to blast  their room to make it cool.  We are the recipients of the same, and I have put up a cardboard cover over the vent to stop the surge.  However, occasionally, there is a blockage in the ceiling, and we are the victims of a small flood in our back room.  At some time, recently, the engineers had reorganised the vents, and I found that the cardboard was now under empty space, and the vent had been moved forward.  Cold air blasted down upon me, and I had to find some more cardboard, and duck tape, to redirect the wind!  I was beginning to feel like a duck out of water!

My call to a prison was rather amusing.  I am always amused by such things, as it is so far outside what would have been the normal course of events in England.  For example, and I digress knowingly, entering a courthouse still makes me feel slightly unnerved, but I have become less fragile about the event. Walking into a courthouse at home would still, I believe, make me feel a little uneasy.  Calling a prison is something that I am not sure I ever did!  After introducing myself, I asked if I could have the name of the designated representative of the 'inmate'.  A  law was passed a couple of 'sessions' ago, requiring there be one to accept on behalf of the prisoner, should we send documents via certified mail. "Do you have a number, ma'am?"  I did indeed.  I had been provided with that.  "So you are looking for....", and he said the name.  "I am, indeed", I answered.  The helpful gentleman then asked for my name, which I gave, although unsure as to why the question was posed.  "No ma'am.  Your name is not on the visitation list".  I tried hard not to laugh.  "I don't want to visit him.  I want to send him a court document!"  Harder than suppressing my laughter was the need to say, "Although if you have air conditioning, perhaps I could bring it down, and spend the night in a cell?"  Probably not a good idea, to either mention it, or put it into action, but it made me, again, realise how desperate I had become!  Fortunately, the helpful gentleman was amused at his misunderstanding and put me through to the postroom.  

"She is not going to be happy!" I heard Samantha say, as we returned from out lunchtime walk.  It appeared that the crane could not be contracted until Friday!  Happy, or unhappy, as the case may be, was not the adjective that would first come to mind.  My initial reaction was not an adjective, but a verb.  Devastated would be more appropriate.  Traumatised would have worked well!  Friday was four days away.  More to the point, four nights away.  

It is quite amazing how quickly one adapts to one's surroundings, and circumstances, when the need arises.  The box in which my repaired suitcase arrived had still not been sent to the shed.  I placed the 'spare' fan upon the box and angled it towards the bed.  The fan that sits in my room was also raised, on storage boxes, that were sent as 'gifts' when Dana made a couple of online purchases.  I created my own air-conditioning, as we do not have a ceiling fan, as there are no connections for anything on the ceiling!

Tuesday night I became a little more creative.  I had put ice in ziplock bags, into my cooler, and placed that on the bed during  day.  Although the ice had melted, it did cause a vacuum, and cooled the room slightly.  The melted ice was replaced, and the bags were placed around the bed.  I was not quite in the league of Grizzly Adams, but I could adapt!

I had cancelled my nail appointment on Wednesday, but then reactivated it as the 'crane' dictated!  The room where I sat was wonderful.  The crosswinds caused havoc with the curtains and tissues, but I was smiling.  I hoped the breeze would continue into the night.  It did not!  However, I had hatched a new plan.  I had a lot of small water bottles in my cupboard. (Samantha and I keep them on hand and give to those who stand on street corners, displaying cardboard posters with 'anything helps' written on them.  I am sure a lot are not in need, as Dana knew of someone who 'panhandled' in his lunch hour, as he 'earned' more from his lunchtime antics than from his regular job, but it is hot, and if they are that dedicated....and there are those who are genuinely grateful. Another 'different' aspect of my life, however, I digress, again.)  I put a few bottles in the freezer and then wrapped them in towels, and placed them around the bed.  It was like sleeping in an icebox, but at least I slept.  I actually needed a cover!  I was getting good at this!

By Thursday, I had received another tip, from my ingenious daughter.  Place a bowl of ice in front of the fan, to cause a 'mist'.  I do not leave the fans on during the day, but when I came home, I put this pan into action.  Frozen water bottles were replaced, ice blocks were in place, and I had created the home made air conditioner that I wished I had on Monday!  However, the ice melted quicker than anticipated, and my fridge did not reproduce the frozen blocks as quickly as the heat in the house devoured them!

With the crane due to arrive at 1pm, I thought I would have to spend the afternoon at home, and catch up with work into the evening.  However, the call from the engineers to say they were about twenty minutes out, came at 9:15am.  The crane was not needed until they had completed all the work inside, and so the job should be finished around two!  Samantha offered to house sit.  As she would be missed less than me in the office, Dana agreed.  Reluctantly, I had to agree too. I had actually planned out the four or so hours that I was going to have to waste and was slightly disappointed at having to stay at work, in the cool!

The messages came through thick and fast.  Every move the engineer made, including the use of my restroom, was reported.  "He has put a cover down to catch the dust.  I asked him if he knew my grandmother.  He looked very scared!"  This made me chuckle. I was delighted that they were so conscientious of creating less mess for me.  Perhaps he had met my mother and learned from her! More and more little tidbits came across my phone.  Eventually, around one, I received the big one.  "The crane is here".  You what now?  

When Samantha returned to the office, she was full of stories.  One engineer had been inside, while the other was out on the roof.  They were conversing in Spanish and she heard one call to the other to say, what she assumed was, "Speak English".  They came inside to finish the job once the crane had deposited the unit.  "Where are you from?" he asked, as she sat, crocheting on my sofa.  "England", she replied and gave a more specific location within the country.  "And what language do they speak there?"  I have always assumed it is the 'Engl', in English and England, that connect the two.  I have been asked this too.  I can only imagine the look she gave them.  It was probably one of 'those' looks, that will stick with them for life! Never again will they presume to ask such a question!

I did not get to experience the wonder of 'cold' until I came home on Friday, and the first thing that hit me as I walked into my house, was not the fresh blast of air, and the comfortable feeling, but the smell of something abhorrent.  "Oh that is just like a new car smell.  It is the new unit".  It was nothing like used car smell!  Apparently it was the 'glue' they used to putt things in place.  Again, Sheriff language was appropriate. "You what now?  Glue?"  Oh how last millennium am I!

The rest of the weekend was wonderful.  Whilst I was hearing stories from England that the heating was turned on, again, in May, I empathised in reverse.  

Image may contain: one or more peopleSunday was mother's day in the USA and the annual trip to Abuellos took place, where I received my annual t-shirt, and Samantha presented me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. an a card.  We ate lunch and returned home to a cool house with the smell of glue starting to become little more than a dull ache!

As much as I like the cool, I shall be venturing out into the warm to go swimming later, as my own mother's day treat, despite the fact, as I am reminded, I am a 'mum' and not a 'mom', but that doesn't stop me.  The weather is getting hotter and I am grateful that if the system was to 'go out', it 'went out' now and not during the summer, or indeed next week, when the temperatures are going to hit three figures.  How will I cope?  I will tell you in ........... another story!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

SHIFTING GEARS!

Returning from Buffalo was harder than I had imagined.  A weekend break is normally enough to recharge my batteries, no matter how short the break, and no matter how much energy I exerted on the trip.  However, although I rose with ease, as I was an hour 'in hand', I started to wain once I got into work.  

"I am jet lagged", was my excuse.  "But you only went to New York.  It is an hour's difference!"  I stuck to my excuse.  "I still went on a jet, and there was a time difference", I continued, somewhat tongue in cheek.  "But you only went to New York", came the same response.  "Only! Only!  I am an international traveler!  I traveled internationally this weekend.  I used my passport!"  Somehow, it all fell on deaf ears.  Remembering the days when we used to cross the channel into France, and not think it was really going 'abroad', came flooding back.  

Arriving back in Austin, I embraced the warmth.  Upstate New York is, of course, a different arena to New York City.  It is the same the world over.  A major city has a different feeling to a more rural area. (I mean no disrespect calling Buffalo, rural)  Most Capital cities in the USA, (not all, and I am not a geographical genius) are not the major cities.  Austin, being the capital of Texas, was a lot smaller when I moved here, and Houston (and Dallas, I believe) were far more populated.  My city has grown not only in population, but has expanded its boundaries.  Whereas my condo, at one time, was in North Austin, it is now considered 'Central'.  The temperament in Buffalo (not being a Capital city) was not dissimilar to that in Austin, or at least in my part of Austin.  

Unpacking my suitcase was the last task before heading out to work.  Most of the clothes I packed were put away, clean, as I did not wear them.  I thought I had traveled light, but I really never do. 

Work was relentless.  We had a steady flow of papers arriving, and the emails from last week were still in the Inbox, which were accumulating, as dust accumulate in hidden corners. It was difficult not to get overwhelmed, especially with the 'jet lag'.  "Welcome back", said one email, as if I had been on an extended vacation. Two days and a weekend seemed like a lifetime ago, and certainly did not seem like they warranted any king of welcoming back, but perhaps this person understood the strain of being an international traveler, and I welcomed the sentiment!  I was going to have to snap out of the doldrums and spring back into action if I was to get ahead of the game.

A game, indeed, it was, and one in which I did not have the advantage.  I was the 'underdog'.   However, one of my life's rules has been to 'support the underdog', and this time the challenge was to support myself.  The 'stiff upper lip' of the Englishwoman was going to have to prevail.  

"You what now?" I was asked by a Sheriff whom I called during the morning.  I wondered if this was part of the training.  With no disrespect meant to our law enforcement, I wondered if this was a phrase that was in the training manual, to perfect.  Each time I call, I am answered with the same.  Obviously, I am not understood, and that comes with the territory, but hearing my mother's voice in my head, it is very difficult not to correct them with the words, "Do you mean 'pardon'?"  "You what now?" is somewhat of an improvement on "Huh?", so I deal with it the best I can.  

"Good morning, Miss Tracie", came the familiar voice from the clerk at the courthouse in a much larger city than mine.  Always putting a smile upon my face, this particular clerk makes up for all the 'You what now?'s', 'Huh's', and 'Ma'am, I can't understand you's'.  

The day continued, and at six thirty, I decided enough was enough. I could not understand why, other than attitude, the day had  taken such a toll!  "Talking of tolls", I broke out, 'like a scabby head', as my grandfather used to say, "I think we went on a few", I told Dana as we were having dinner.  "When you were traveling internationally?", he asked, responding to my tongue-in-cheek with the same.  "No, we were still Stateside", I said, flippantly, and so it continued.

I felt a little more back to normal on Tuesday.  Perhaps it was because I had overcome the illusion, or perhaps it was because I was making 'French Macrons', and the procedure calls for 'banging the pans on the worktop' to release the air bubbles.   I am not sure what it did for the air bubbles, and I did not slap the pans on my counter top.  Instead, I used the floor.  "Whack", went the first pan, on all four sides.  It was very therapeutic.  Again, I am still not sure what this does to the air bubbles, but after following the recipe, it certainly gets rid of any frustration due to the delicacy that is needed!  After the little meringues were cooked, and placed on the baking tray, to cool, I headed out for another day at the office.

Quite determined to make good on the previous day, I was very focused.  I was somewhat disappointed that I felt I was in my usual routine.  For the first time, I embraced the fact that this was the norm for me now.  Every so often I have a 'paradigm shift' and come to terms with my 'not so' new life.  Normality is living in Austin, Texas, and not in England.  It was one of those shift days, and it was a little discouraging.  Had I lost the sense of adventure?  Would nothing be new and exciting anymore?  Was this the first day of the rest of my life?  Of course not.  Although focused, there is still time for the daily contests, and the expectation of meeting an up and coming 'superstar', if not already of stardom status! It is not the mere opportunity that keeps the excitement alive, but more the percentage of 'chance'.  

Clearing the 'inbox' was my priority, and it was achieved.  It was a warm day,  but not yet warm enough, in my opinion, to head to the pool, despite it being the first day of May.  The walk, however, was challenging, as the heat was starting to become 'hot'.  The dog was delighted, as he leapt along, in leaps and bounds.  

I chose to drive to Joe on Wednesday morning, despite having a small pile of 'unfinished business' on my desk, and was glad I did so.  Gail was there, and the rest of the staff were rather 'impressed' with my offering of 'French macrons'.  It was affirmation!  Despite my daughter taunting me that hers are superior, the look of delight as they ate was enough to know success had been achieved.  Perhaps it really was the 'whacking' of the pans on the floor!

I took a sample of my wares into a neighbouring office, mainly as a peace offering, although not on the same level as the car-park wars.  "I am sorry", I started, and continued, a Jenny, my newest neighbor looked confused.  "I can't remember your name!"  It was an admission I did not take lightly, as I pride myself on my memory, and names are usually the last thing that escapes me.  She was very gracious.  "Wow, what a cool idea!", she said, giving me credit for a simple, but obviously effective resolution to one of her problems.  It appears that her office, like ours, does not have its own temperature gauge for the air conditioning, and although the neighbour with whom she shares, had said to come into her office at any time, and tinker with the controls, they had both written to 
management to ask for individual thermostates.  Instead of obliging with what was asked for, they provided one box outside both rooms.  The problem is that the box can only be opened by a maintenance man, and if they want the temperature altered, they have to call.  Why they were both not provided with keys to the box is a mystery, but management apparently considered them to be in conflict rather than in unison!  However, I digress.  I told her that I put a piece of card over my air vent, causing the air to continue to come into the room, but not on to me!  That recommendation, along with the 'French macrons', promoted me to level of genius!  I felt as if I had regained some of my super powers!

Later in the day, Dana told me that one of our clients was really traveling internationally, and was taking off the following day to spend a week in London.  Did I have any tips?  Did I!  What a silly question.  The email started with a few suggestions but grew into what could only be described as a yearning for my homeland, and a pride that could not be coupled!  "If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life!" I quoted, with such honour and esteem, it is a wonder I ever left!  My brief recommendations turned into a full itinerary that would take a couple of months to complete!  When away from Austin, I tell everyone of the wonderful opportunities, and how there is always something to do.  However, the modern cannot compare to the history that my homeland, and indeed capital city, holds.  I was rewarded with a gracious and most emphatic "Thank you!"

As beautiful as May had started, Friday saw the exception to the rule.  We headed to the office, and the skies started to darken.  By ten in the morning, it looked like ten in the evening, and the darkness was somewhat unnerving.  Clouds rolled in and there was not a bit of blue to be seen, let alone enough to  make a pair of trousers for a sailor (as the old addage says).  Rain was heading our way, and it was not going to be pretty!  I sent my son a message asking how he was, and told him all that was in store.  "Texas sized storm.  'Turn around, don't drown' warnings.  Stay indoors if possible.  Tornadoes maybe, and lots and lots of rain.  Welcome to Texas, y'all".  He replied.  "Take it in your stride now.  Fourteen years ago, it would have scared you!"  He was right.  Paradigm shift in play, yet again.  Although a tad concerning, it was not going to last, and it was, as they say here, what it was!  "It is what it is", said someone, as they entered the building, and comments were made about him being 'wet'.  Wet was somewhat of an understatement, as the puddles he created, just from standing still, were enormous.  The rain lasted all day, and the dog did not want to go for 'walkies'.  As enthusiastic as he was to come, Samantha stepped him outside for a couple of seconds, and he 'turned tail' and ran back in!

"Where is that beautiful accent from?" I was asked, after being given a demonstration in Costco, for a coffee machine. I replied, "Northwest London!"  Pride beamed.  Last week someone asked if I was Canadian.  That was a first!  "Don't ever lose that accent, honey!", she said, and I assured her that I would not!  A man approached and said something about foreigners and then stated something that I did not quite hear.  "And there is something new in the air, and it stinks!", he continued.  I responded, "It certainly does!  I walked away a little dumbfounded.  "What was that all about?" asked my daughter.  I was unsure.  In my opinion, it could have meant one of four things.  Firstly, that he was a xenophobe, secondly, a racist, thirdly for the current administration, and fourthly, against the current administration.  Whatever his standing, my answer would suffice for all!  A very strange encounter indeed!  However, I was not moved or concerned.

I swam in the afternoon.  Not a lengthy swim, but enough to get 'back in the saddle' to use a contradiction in terms.  I sat and I read my book, attempting to remember what it was all about, as I had not really picked it up since last season, and I remembered why I was reminded that some things will never seem 'the norm'.  The pool was a little cool, but nothing compared to 'Kingsbury Swimming baths' in the sixties, and the temperature outside was warm enough to dry me quickly!  Again, nothing compared to 'Kingsbury Swimming baths' in the sixties!

Dana and I went out for dinner, to an old haunt.  Texas Land and Cattle have been 'taken over', and are no longer what we remember.  We did not stay.  The girl who waited on us was not happy, but then she was not happy when we arrived, so our departure was probably not what caused her misery. The usually very busy restaurant was not very full, at a time when we had expected to wait.  It was rather sad.  Was Austin changing?  The Outback proved that it was not the case.  Busy, joyful wait staff, and a general "Welcome to Texas, y'all" attitude was felt.  

To have so much turmoil in a 'run of the mill' week, made me wonder how effective was the paradigm shift.  Did it exist at all?  Happiness, at least to me, really is a state of mind, and I am happy.  Would I be happier if I were to be able to pick up London, with all my family and friends, and place it neatly in the space between here and Samantha's house?  Heck yeah!  Is it going to happen?  Heck no!  However, one can dream!  Instead, I shall continue to embrace my paradigm shift and hope I emerge safely, a fact of which I have no doubt!  Here is to another week in Austin, another week of being a Londoner, and another week of being that Englishwoman abroad, and another week means ............ another story!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

CANADA DRY!

My week started with a message from my daughter.  "Are you up?"  She had taken Edward to the airport to catch a very early flight to Buffalo, New York, via Nashville.  I was up!  I came downstairs to find her at my door, with the dog. "He missed his flight!" she said, without a trace of sympathy, but as if it were inevitable.  Apparently, he was on standby for the next flight.  It was imperative he arrive on Monday, as he was to make a presentation on Tuesday morning  It was imperative he arrive in Buffalo, as we were going to join him on Thursday!  He missed the next flight.  Apparently, there was something wrong with the ticket, but he was assured of a flight to Chicago, and then one to Buffalo, which would get him in at somewhere around five, instead of eleven in the morning, which he had planned.

"My sister and Jim are arriving on Sunday", said Dana as I got to work.  I reminded him that I would not be landing back in Austin until Sunday evening, but I would make sure everything was in order before I left.   I wondered why I had ever agreed to go on this trip.  Apart from my in-laws arriving on the day I returned, Dana would be alone in the office for two days.  I was not sure I was ready to take this trip, and could not focus on my departure.

However, Thursday morning arrived despite all my concerns.  Samantha had stayed overnight at my house, and we were ready to leave the house by five thirty.  

The airport was tremendously busy.  We checked our bags, and went through security.  When they called us to board, I dutifully stood in group 2, as we had only been upgraded on the second, and shorter, flight.  I was not unduly bothered as we had a nice comfortable seat.  "Why are you standing there?" said my daughter.  It appeared that she had been 'promoted' to group 1, despite my having the status.  I found it all quite amusing, and then when I went to swap lanes, as I knew they would not 'split a party', she said, "And where do you think you are going!"  Our flight was on time, and we boarded the plane quite quickly.  Before long we arrived in Chicago, and made our way to the next gate.  Just before we landed in Buffalo, I asked Samantha with whom the car was rented, and what was the name of the hotel where were were staying.  I had, apparently, failed.  I did not have the papers she had printed, with all the information.  I remembered the car rental company, but the name of the hotel was not in my memory.  I had deleted the email and was now getting 'the look' from my daughter.  As I said, I was not focused on departing from Austin.

Arriving in Buffalo, we walked through to the baggage claim and across the road to the car rental place, where we were asked if we wanted to upgrade to the equivalent, in my opinion, of a bus, as there were two of us with a case each!  I declined.  Obviously unaware that there would be a third person, the salesperson told me that a smaller car would not be comfortable with all our luggage.  We assured him that we did not need a larger vehicle.  I also did not need to purchase more insurance.  "But what if the key breaks in the lock?" he asked, quite seriously.  I assured him that I had checked with my insurance company and was covered for all eventualities.  He did not know that we have experienced a flat tyre, and survived!  Being completely unsuccessful in selling us any additional commodities, he pointed us in the direction of the car.

It did not have a key.  It had a fob, and I could not think of anywhere that it could get stuck, (no answer on postcards required,) and after loading in our two bags, ascertained that there would be ample room for Edward's luggage, should we all depart for the airport together on Sunday.  We sat in the car, and the trusty phone was taken out to plug in for directions, after calling Edward to ask he had any idea as to where we were staying!  

Fifteen minutes after starting the car, we were at the hotel.  Edward had retrieved his emails.  The hotel was actually booked in his name, and they had to get verbal permission so that we could check in!  We were given three key cards, and went to the room to wait for Edward to arrive.  He was saying farewell to his team and would meet us after work.

Once we were all safely established in the room, (one room, which was going to be a challenge, and which caused an interesting look from the receptionist,) we went in search of a Best Buy.  My super-duper new surface was dead, and the charger appeared to be at fault.  A new charger was rather expensive, and the 'geek squad' agent suggested I go to Microsoft to see if they could help.  The lady at Microsoft was a little disappointed, but not surprised, that I was not helped at Best Buy, as I had purchased it from them. However, despite a few comments about how the charger was considered an accessory, without additional warranty, and Best Buy were ultimately responsible for the replacement, as I had only had the blessed thing for a few months, they would swap out the charger. I was most grateful!

The Melting Pot is a restaurant at which I had been tempted to eat on many an occasion, but it is quite expensive, and the menu is not particularly easy to navigate at first glance, in the dim lighted reception area.  As we were on vacation, we decided to give it a go!  I am not sure I would opt for the four courses again, (although I only had one course, and picked at the others,) it was nothing if not interesting.  The main course was a great disappointment, but the cheese and chocolate courses were rather magnificent.  Fondue is all very well, but when you have choice cuts of beef, boiling them is not really a good option!

By the time we were ready for bed, having taken turns in using the bathroom as a changing room, (the door was frosted glass, which was a little odd,) we fell asleep, exhausted.

Friday morning started early.  It was warm, and bright.  We had breakfast and headed towards Niagara Falls.  We wanted to stop and see the rapids, before the falls, but missed the entrance into the small parking lot.  Following Samantha's directions always lead us on a magical mystery tour, and this was no exception.  We saw the 'warehouse district' of Niagara, and some undesirable spots.  However, once she recognised the power plant, and negotiated the route to get us to the 'other side', we came back on to the main road. Parking the car in a small area by the rapids, we walked for about two miles, over the bridge and up to the edge of the American Falls.  It was quite spectacular.  Samantha was a little nervous about leaving the car, as we had not seen any parking signs, and we did not want to come back to find it towed.  Although I was sure it would not, we all got back in and drove to a parking lot.  $5 for the day!  It was worth it for the peace of mind, and security.  

"I do not want to go on the boat!" seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Having been on two boats, with Samantha on two previous trips, it was not something I had thought would be enjoyable.  However, I relented, and bought the tickets.  I was pleased I did!  The Maid of the Mist takes you right into (well not right into, but nearly into) the Falls, and the ponchos provided are only good if you allow them to go down to the ground, and keep all your worldly goods inside the plastic.  You could not get wetter if you dive into the water!  Just colder perhaps!  It was freezing, with the wind whipping the water from the cascading Falls around the boat. Snow was still around the base and the view was quite spectacular.

After deboating, we went on to the observation deck, and then down to ground level. It was time to leave the USA, and walk across to the Commonwealth country, Canada!  I had wanted to walk through the turnstile the last time I had visited Buffalo, but Dana is not one for walking!  Warning signs were posted by the 'To Canada' sign, and we checked that we had all the necessary documentation to go 'International'.  

Half way across the bridge, there was a plaque on the railings, and two flags in the middle of the road.  We stopped before crossing the line, and Samantha expressed a reluctance.  I was coaxing her over, but she continued to waiver.  Edward was unsure as to why we found this so funny.  He was then commissioned to take 'the picture', where I took my daughter's hand, and we jumped into the new country!  Then we ran back and forth across the line, just to make a point!  Edward was still unsure as to why!
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Getting into Canada was a little laborious, as we had to wait to be called, with one person at a time being allowed into the room to be 'processed'.  At least it was not raining.  "Where are you from?  Why are you coming into Canada?  Do you have your green card?  How long will you be?"  All these questions were answered correctly, it would appear, as we were given permission to enter.

The view from the USA is wonderful; the view from the bridge was even better.  the view from the boat was incredible, but the view from the 'other side' was spectacular!  As breathtaking as it was at the border, it got better as we headed along towards Horseshoe Falls, which are the Canadian Falls.  Reaching the top of Horseshoe Falls, I watched as the water cascaded over, and found this to be somewhat calming as well as exhilarating.  I was quite awe struck! We walked, and walked, and walked.  We saw exactly how far into the falls the boat went, and realised we were really quite a long way out!  Nevertheless, it was far enough in!
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It cost three dollars (one each) to leave Canada, and come back across the bridge.  We jumped back and forth, again, and again Edward was unsure as to why.  "So we can say we have been to Canada lots of times", seemed to be an insufficient answer!  As we reached the turnstile, we followed the arrows into the immigration building.  Three men sat behind the desk and asked for our documentation.  "Where do you live?   Where is your country of citizenship?  Okay sir, you can go through.  Green card ladies?"  We showed what we needed to, and were admitted back, 'home'.  I asked if there would be a problem if we wanted to go back later in the day, being that we would be going back and forth, and was told that if we had the correct documentation, it would not be a problem. "Well that was the quickest, easiest and my favourite immigration process ever!", said Samantha.  "I told you so!" I said.
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The car was allowed to stay in the car park until midnight.  As there was no need to move it, we walked to the casino.  The buffet was calling Edward, and it seemed like a reasonable place to eat.  "Join the club and you eat for free", he said as we walked in, just after the security guard asked Samantha, "How old are you!"  When she replied, "31", he was so surprised, he did not ask for ID.  Once we had signed up to become 'members' of the establishment, we were given tickets to eat in the buffet.  The queue was, of course, lengthy, but there was seating for over six hundred people.  The waiting time to be seated was only about ten minutes, and we left Edward to take care of the beverage order, and went in search of dinner. The roast beef looked amazing, and as I had not eaten since breakfast, I was quite hungry.  With a total of ten miles on Samantha's watch calculator, I felt I was entitled to be a little peckish!  Apart from some mashed potatoes and a few more 'sides', I chose not to overeat, and really did not want anything else, apart from dessert.  It was all very delicious, and even moreso as we did not have to pay for anything!  

Once we had decided we had eaten enough, we walked back to the car.  Samantha collected her camera, and once again, we left the USA, and walked across the bridge.  The lights came on at 8pm, and changed colour at about twenty minutes after the hour, then twenty minutes after that.  We stood until nine, just outside the 'official' entry into Canada, as she took photo after photo.  Many people had come on to the bridge, but few went through immigration.  Once Samantha was satisfied that she had enough pictures, we walked back across.  Just as we crossed the half way mark, and stepped across the line, into the USA, the lights changed again, and started to rotate.  The Falls did look amazing in different colours, and my daughter, not really surprising her husband, ran back to get more photos, as the water took on a different aspect.  "What time do they turn them off?" I asked Edward.  "About midnight.  The lights only stay on until then".  "No", I said, "What time do they turn off the water?"  The  Edward look was received!  Like mother, like daughter!  Eventually, we headed back, followed the signs and entered into the immigration hall.  The same three men were sitting behind the desk. We were asked two questions. "What is your country of citizenship?" was the first, as we gave them our documentation.  "Still the same person?", my officer asked.  I replied that I was, and he waived me through.  Samantha was quite excited.  "That was the best ever immigration experience", she said, realising that no one who had not left the USA would ever understand the experiences we had encountered, and especially the experiences she had encountered during her labourious process of receiving a green card!  We walked back to the car, and the temperature had stated to drop, dramatically.

It took us a long time to get back to the hotel as there were roadworks on the Interstate.  Back around the warehouse district we went.  It took us quite some time to get around to the road that eventually took us to the main highway.  'Turn left' said the voice in the telephone.  I got in the left hand lane. "No!" said Samantha, and I swung back into the middle.  'Get in the left lane', said the voice.  I obeyed.  "No!" said Samantha as the cars started to come towards me.  Back and forth I swayed across the road.  I am not too proud to admit that I was the one causing people to hold their breath, but fortunately, no one had to swerve.  On to the motorway we went.  'Stay in the right lane' said the voice.  I moved right.  "NO!" shouted Samantha, I obeyed.  "Yes!" shouted Samantha.  I obeyed.  It was at this time that I thought I had a police car behind me, and waited for the blue flashing lights to start.  About three miles down the road, the street lights came on and I saw that it was an ordinary van, with a roof rack!

I was not tired when I arrived back at the hotel, but after a cup of tea, and a modicum of reality television, I fell asleep.  

Saturday morning started the same as Friday, except it was raining and a lot colder.  Samantha and I went for a walk on the machine in the gym, then went back to the room.  Once ready, we headed down for breakfast, leaving a tired Edward fast asleep.  We had walked a total of fourteen and a half miles the previous day, and had worn the poor boy out!  After breakfast, we made the decision, finally, to return to the Falls, and go into Toronto, until we realised it was a much longer drive than anticipated, and it was, after all Saturday, which meant heavier traffic.  Back to the Falls we drove, and parked in the same car park.  Across the river we went.  "I wonder what these waterfalls look like lit up", said Edward, dryly.  "We can wait and see if you want?" I said, playing along.  "Dunno.  They turn them off later", he said, trying not to smile.  It is this type of comment that makes us realise he is not completely out of his depth with the two English women.  We  stopped at the checkpoint.  "Why are you coming to Canada?" we were asked.  Both Samantha and Edward were wearing caps which had been given to them from her father, depicting the name of a rather expensive watch brand.  "What do you do for a living?  You go first!" he asked Edward.  Mumbling, slightly, Edwards said he worked for a cable company.  "Not Breitling then?"  Once he established that the hat was a mere accessory, he seemed happy to let us in!  We had raced ahead of a bunch of girls who came in giggling behind us.  "Wait outside" they were told.  "One at a time. I don't care if you are together", he said.  It was pouring with rain, and I pointed out that this was the reason why I wanted to get ahead!  

Our first stop was the Bird Kingdom.  A giant aviary.  At first, I wondered why, then we entered the 'large aviary', and I knew.  Birds of all shapes and sizes, but all with wings, flew back and forth, or strutted in front of us.  The place had been 'set up' like a jungle, and it was quite amazing.  

From the Aviary, we headed across to the casino, where we stood in line, in our quest to find an Internet connection.  "How old are you?" said the security man.  Edward answered.  "And you?" he asked Samantha, and she replied.  "I am 57, not that you need to ask", I said.  To my surprise, he said, "Wow, really.  I beat you by a year.  Good on you.  Really?"  I felt rather elated.  After walking around the floor, and not being able to get connected, we left and walked around the back of the building, where surprisingly, we found a signal and checked in for our Sunday flight.  

The boat was one trip I had not wanted to take, although I did enjoy it very much.  The wheel was another trip that I did not really want to take, but I did.  Enjoy it, I did not.  Although the view was spectacular, I was not happy swinging in a pod, an hundred and eighty feet in the air.  The pod before was to house three people, but one lady walked in and out the other side, saying, "I can't do it".  Samantha was waiting for me to do the same, but I was very brave.  The voice that came over the loudspeaker gave us a safety message, and then let us know that we would go round three times, seeing wonderful views of the Falls.  I counted the turns of the wheel.  "This is turn four.  We are going around four times", I shouted, but no one seemed to take any notice.  A total of five rotations were made before they let me off, and I was probably the only person to complain that there were more than promised.  I am not sure I would say it was worth it, but at least I could say I took part!

We stayed in Canada for a few hours, before paying the dollar to get back on to the bridge that led back to the USA.  We jumped back and forth across the line, just so that we could say we had been international travellers several times, and then ran to catch up Edward, who did not play along.  However, he did ask if we wanted to go back to see the lights, as he had heard they look really good from the bridge!

The queue into the USA was short, but the wait was longer than anticipated, as there was a coach party having to go through, one by one, and a couple did not have the correct documentation.  However, once in, we were out very quickly.

We drove back towards Buffalo and stopped at a restaurant.  Longhorn steakhouse.  Of all the restaurants, we stopped at one that we could go to at anytime.  After a forty minute wait, we were seated, and the waitress took our order.  My steak arrived looking like a hockey putt.  A new order was put in.  By the time it arrived back at the table, I was not hungry.  I had eaten all my fries, nearly a loaf of bread, and a large salad, and it was getting late.  I apologised to the manager who brought it over, but she was very upset.  She said she had taken it off the bill, and asked if she could box it up for me.  I told her we were leaving the following day, but she still wanted me to take the boxed dinner.  "Chocolate cake.  Let me give you chocolate cake!" she insisted.  We left with a bag full of steak, fries and lots of chocolate cake.  

Back at the hotel, I got myself ready for bed, set up to make a cup of tea, and then realised that we had nothing upon which to put the cake.  Downstairs I went, in my pyjama trousers, boots and a jacket.  I forgot, for a moment, that I wasn't in Austin, until I received looks of "huh?"  Not wanting to draw any more attention to myself, I continued into the breakfast area, picked up three plates, and walked straight back to the lifts!  Once back in the room, I cut the cake and gave everyone a slice.  I went to get my tea, and came back to the bed.  I set down my tea, and then sat down on the bed, atop the chocolate cake!  I do not know why I left it on the bed, nor do I know why I didn't remember that I had left it there.  Samantha and I could not breathe as we were laughing so much. With chocolate cake all over the seat of my trousers, I looked rather interesting.  Once we caught our breath, I went and cleaned myself up, before returning to bed, having moved the cake.

Sunday morning was cold. So cold, the snow flurried around the area.  Samantha ran outside like a child at Christmas and jumped in the flakes.  It did not last long, but it was enough to create a modicum of excitement.  After breakfast, I sliced the steak and packed up some bread for sandwiches to be made later.  The remainder of the cake, of which there was a large amount, was packed away.  

We packed all the cases in the car, which was deceptively roomy, and headed towards the airport.  Edward took his cases and we bid our farewells.  His flight was two hours before ours.  We drove out of the airport and headed to Walmart to see if they had any last minute souvenirs.  They did not, but we did get some nice outfits for Samantha's friend Cori, who had given birth to a boy on Friday, whilst we were in Canada!  After leaving the superstore, we headed back to the petrol station and filled up the car, before returning it to the rental area.

I had been selected to go through the pre-check line, but Samantha had not.  "You can both go back through the other line, if you want to stay together", said the official.  I declined.  Samantha had no choice.  I didn't want to have to start taking off my shoes, or emptying my bag, so we split up.  Whilst waiting for Samantha to come through security, I called my mother.  

We walked up and down the concourse, and then settled down at the gate.  Samantha took out her crocheting, and saw another woman knitting.  "What ya making?" she asked.  Samantha showed her.  She was impressed.  While I went to the restroom, another lady had taken out her crocheting, and had asked Samantha if she had any scissors, which she did not, but she did have some clippers which the lady borrowed. "She needs to sit over here", I said,  "I know", said Samantha.  "This is the craft corner!"  

As we had been upgraded, we got on the plane first, and took our newly made sandwiches and chocolate cake with us.  "Can I have a gin and tonic?" I requested, when asked if I wanted a drink.  "But I only want half the bottle, please",  The steward laughed.  "But the bottles are so small", he said.  I told him I knew exactly how big the bottles were, and please could I have half!  We watched a movie, had our lunch, and deplaned quickly once landed.  
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Our next flight was on time.  Samantha went to stand in group 1.  "Where are you going", she asked, as I stood next to her.  I was in group 2, again! We sat in the exit row, and ate chocolate cake whilst watching "The greatest showman".  Samantha's crocheting friend sat in front.  Once we landed, she told everyone that Samantha was amazing, and was considering asking for lessons!  I concurred that she was, indeed, very talented!

Edward was at the carousel when we landed, and I sent Dana a message when we had our bags.  He drove down, with the dog, and we loaded all the bags into the car before heading home.

It was an amazing weekend, and one I am glad I partook.  My in-laws did not come to Austin, as my mother in law had broken a couple of toes in a fall last week.  I got home to warm weather, a happy husband, and a place to rest my weary feet!  Despite having a fabulous time, it was good to be home.  Home. Strange as it still feels to say it, I was glad to back in Austin, at home! It is back to work tomorrow, and as Dana was alone for two days, there is bound to be a pile awaiting me.  However, it is warm, and I am hoping that I will be able to spend some time swimming this week, as summer has finally arrived.  Or has it?  No doubt, that will be all part of ............. another story!




Sunday, April 22, 2018

IN THE NICK OF TIME!

Language is the difference that pops up on a regular basis, and will probably be the one thing that fails to have me completely integrated!  As I mentioned, attire has changed, my cooking methods have become a 'joint venture' with Tex-Mex flavours mingling with traditional English fayre,  and it took nothing to get back into the swing of using 'imperial' measurements.  Completely conforming to the language is just not that easy!

I am guilty of what rather vulgarly called 'the butt call'.  I am also guilty of using the phrase, and have been asked by many who are not on this side of the pond, "What?"  My habit of not making sure the screen is locked before putting it in my bag, or making a fist around it when I am walking and do not have pockets, has become almost a trademark. Wrong numbers, being the 'last call' regularly get a return wrong number call.  

Some days are worse than others, and some weeks just seem to be full of discrepancies!  

The post office on Monday was very busy.  Tuesday was 'Tax Day' and all documents mailed had to have a post mark on or before said date.  I was mailing a certified letter to somewhere 'other than' where the majority were sending their bits of post.  "I will check the amount, but you will have it right.  You know the prices better than me", said the clerk at the post office.  It always makes me laugh when they give me credit.   I assumed the lack of clerks at the counter at one of their busiest hours, was due to the fact that the following day they would be open until midnight, postmarking all those envelopes that were brought into facility after the 'last collection' time marked on the free standing post boxes around and about!

Another aspect of  'Tax Day' is that it is rather quiet.  Over the years, I have noticed that 'T-day' and the day after, our intake is slightly slower.  This was a good thing for me, as I had to prepare for anywhere between six to sixteen guests on Thursday evening.  

I arose Tuesday raring to go.  I had made a list!  I didn't expect to stick to the list but 'made it I'!  After making some sweet shortcrust pastry cases, I set about making the lemon curd and coffee-chocolate pudding (as it is referred to by my husband) and cut up some vegetables so that I had less prep to do on Thursday.  As predicted, the day was not as busy as we have been accustomed, and we left the office rather early.  My kitchen was rather a mess and whilst dinner was cooking, I managed to clear away ready for the next round the following morning.

Interestingly enough, although I left England during a time when both metric and imperial measurements were being used, most of my cookery books are quite old, and only show imperial measurements.  Some of the newer acquisitions have both.  Most anything that I have borrowed from more recent times, are only in metric.  My scales measure in several options.  However, if the recipe is in grams, despite measuring everything in grams, (and therefore, not having to calculate or estimate,) I still do not feel comfortable.  At 5:30 a.m., on Wednesday, I was using grams and distinctly unhappy about the whole process.  

After following my own instructions, I completed all the tasks on my list and then realised that apart from the six to sixteen that were coming on Thursday, I had my regular Wednesday night visitors to feed that evening.  With all the food that I was preparing for Thursday, I had forgotten about Wednesday.  Spanish meatballs to the rescue!  (These do not have an ounce of chipotle, nor jalapeno in the original recipe, but the only olives I had available were stuffed with the latter, so I would presume I could rename them!)  After putting everything in the crock pot, I left for Joe's!

"What! no baked goods this morning?" came the cheeky question from one of Joe's staff.  I apologised, quite seriously, but as he saw my candidness, he apologised for teasing.  However, at the same time of his apology, his colleague rounded the corner and said, "What! no baked goods for us to sample!"  The former employee attempted to make light of the situation and, fortunately, I was not too overwhelmed to see the funny side of it.  I explained why there was no 'desserts', (I am always amused at the phrase 'baked goods',) and they were very gracious!  Desserts are known as 'sweets', a term my father used to use.   "What is for sweet?" he would ask.  However, as we know, 'sweets' to me are 'candy' to those around me, and so on and so forth.  

My trip back to the office was via the radio station. This time it was in Austin.  It was the station with the 'transposed' initials!  MotoGP was at the Circuit of the Americas, and I had won three day passes for two people.  Much as I would have enjoyed the event, Dana would not, and the only day that would have bee viable for me would have been Sunday.  Samantha said that Edward had expressed an interest in going to the race on Sunday, so she had claimed two tickets.  Jerry's son's boss (not quite tongue twister) is an avid fan, so I planned to give him the other four.

Upon my route returning to the office, I remembered that I had forgotten (never a good thing to remember) to ask Joe for a 'white chocolate latte' for my connoisseur daughter and so instead of turning right at the traffic lights to take me to the office, I made a detour, left, to the local Starbucks.  The drive-thru was not an option, as if I had turned I would have created a traffic hazard by blocking oncoming cars.  I drove in to the parking area, drove around and back again, as it was so busy.  I was amazed that at 9:45am, this facility was so well attended, but apparently, it is always completely full!  I stood in line.  A young girl and her mother came up behind me. "No ma'am", was the girl's answer to the question, "Would you like?"  I smiled.  I could never imagine using the word 'ma'am' in any instance, when talking to my mother.  "Please" and "Thank you", were the expected suffixes, as they are still!  Dana and I have often had this conversation.  "How did you show respect?" is answered with "By saying please, and thank you!"  However, the young girl did use a phrase that was always countered with "I want gets nothing!" when I was a child.  "I want a bantum bagel.  I want two bantum bagels and a cake pop.  I want two bantum bagels.....".  At this her mother stopped her.  "It is a snack.  We are having lunch soon.  A snack.  One bantum bagel and a cake pop!"  I was out of my league. A what bagel?  "No ma'am.  Two bantum bagels, a cake pop and a ......".  Negotiations were in full swing, and it appeared that as long as she put the word 'ma'am' after the word 'no', it was acceptable.  Back and forth they went, but as they were behind me, I had no idea what transpired at the counter!

I left work early.  It was another quiet day, and I had to make some desserts, sweet as they were going to be.  I could not steal from my Thursday night preparations, and made a batch of new pastry, and a key lime pie mixture.  The meatballs had cooked themselves and were simmering.  With guests arriving at 7pm, I was a little overwhelmed at 6:30!  I was on my knees on the kitchen floor, with my giant pastry board in front of me, rolling out dough.  Thank goodness for an oversized board! !  Seventy two cheese pastry cases were placed in the fridge, ready for the next morning, and twenty four gluten free cases for a couple of neighbours who are so inclined.  I told Dana to keep my guests out of the kitchen area, and dinner would be about ten minutes late, and my mixer was in the middle of the walkspace, whipping cream!

Ten minutes was all that was needed on Wednesday evening.  Dinner was a success, but anything I prepare appears to be accepted.  I have heard it said that the best meals eaten are those not prepared by yourself!  I rose early Thursday and followed another list of instructions.  I was going to be late for work, but I felt I was in control. My wonderful daughter mashed the potatoes for the shepherd's pie, and fish pie, and so as we would know the difference, scored the top of the meat dish with the usual fork 'railway' tracks, and wrote 'FiSH' on the other!  Such a clever girl. She must get her brightness from her mother!

Work was steady, and I left at a little before four. At a few minutes before five, I received a phone call from an Austin number, but one that was unknown.  It was a neighbour.  "Did you go to the pool today?"  I replied that I did not.  He said that I should.  Slightly stunned, I reminded him, politely, and hopefully without the ire that was starting to unnecessarily arise, that I was cooking for the neighbourhood, and had been at work all day.  He responded that he knew, and wanted to know what time to arrive.  "Did I not put it in the invite?" I asked, as I chopped apples, wondering why people do not read their correspondence.  "No", came the unexpected answer.  Whoops!  Had I had the time, I would have apologised more profusely, but he did not seem to be offended by my response, so I imagine the 'politeness' shone through.  I immediately deleted the number so as not to 'butt call'. Dana arrived home at around 6:15, and all was starting to fall apart.  I had lost a nozzle!  How could I pipe cream into my desserts without the extra nozzle.  He could not purchase one at Randall's as they do not have the required size, and I had to give myself a 'stiff talking to' in order to think straight.  Disaster averted, due to some common sense thinking, I continued with my plan and took Dana up on his offer to help.  "Wash up" came the command, and he did!

"Wow, I have literally walked into the Great British Bake Off.  This is what I have been so excited about!" came the expression of awe from my neighbour, Jenny. It was music to my ears.  I had, as usual, put the desserts on the desk in my living room, which was covered with a bright red cloth.  Cream horns, caramel covered profiteroles,  meringue baskets, and pastry cases filled with lemon cream, chocolate mocha cream, and apple (atop a caramel base).  On the table in the dining room were sausage rolls, pepper filled puff pastries, mushroom vol-au-vents, salmon mousse, two lots of individual quiches, (both with home made salsa fillings,) and the salmon rissoles.  In the kitchen were the pies, and a pepper stew for my non-meat eating guest.  

Image may contain: foodTwelve of us enjoyed the repast and I was very happy with the results.  I was thanked for the feast and I thanked them for indulging me.  My neighbours were quite amused at my gratitude for having them be my guinea pigs, and realised why I had declined when they offered to 'bring a dish'.  "D'y'all eat like this in England. Y'all don't have the reputation for being good cooks?" was one comment.  Admittedly, the said 'Bake-off' programme put that little rumour 'to bed' so to speak, but I did explain that before the advent of the 'Cordon Bleu in 76 weekly installments', and other elements, the focus was on 'hearty', and 'substantial', or at least that is what I believe.  'Out of the ordinary' was mainly for special occasions, and then it was sometimes too expensive to experiment.  

Although there was enough left for lunch, and to take to my work neighbours, everyone took a little food parcel home with them.  Of course I over catered to the 'nth' degree.  It is who I am!  Jenny had left her bag at our house, and Dana had taken it over to her.  "Tell Tracie., Adam (her husband) said the coffee dessert was the best thing he has EVER (and Dana put the emphasis on the word, as apparently she had exclaimed) tasted in his WHOLE (emphasis again) life!"  I was delighted, but surprised, and quite humbly, honestly humbly, said that he must not be very worldly, although it is not the first time I have been told this.  Amazingly, without blowing my own trumpet, but one cannot help it at times, this is my own recipe!  It is a variation on the lemon creme, and it is in grams!

Friday was busy.  Busy, busy, busy, and as much as I enjoyed leaving early on the previous two days, I worked until 8pm!  We chose to pick up a sandwich from the local deli.  "Where are y'all from?" asked the young lady, after she told me that she did not have an item available, due to my pronunciation.  I had asked for the Pecan chicken salad, stating 'Pee-can' rather than 'P'con'.  She was delighted to hear that I was from England, as she plans to study there.  I told her that she would have to get used to many different dialects if she does go to study in the motherland!

My son in law celebrated his birthday on Saturday, and Samantha wanted to buy him a new barbecue grill, as theirs had 'seen better days'.  We started our journey at Costco, where the options were not particularly vast.  We wandered around, and came to the bread section.  "But what is it?", asked a customer as the salesman was giving samples of bread.  "I am not sure", came the reply.  "Does it have gluten?" asked the customer.  "Yes!" replied the salesman.  "How do you know if you don't know what it is?" asked the customer.  "Because they would say if it didn't!" said the salesman. The question, it appeared, was, "What is semolina".  I came forward with an answer, feeling like the host on Jeopardy!  "It is a wheat based grain type product", I said, hoping I was explaining it properly.  "We used to have it as children in England.  Semolina pudding.  Mixed with milk.  Sometimes, my mum would put chocolate in it".  The lady looked impressed.  The salesman simply said, "Anything is better if you put chocolate in it".  The lady decided to try a piece of bread that had been made with Semolina.  "Never seen it before".  I pondered as to where it could be brought, and Samantha and I both said, "Sprouts!"  Rule number one when shopping at home, as a child, was to never mention a competitor when in another establishment!  Of course, nowadays there are so many specialty supermarkets, that the larger conglomerates will recommend other places to try.  I still felt a little uneasy.  I wondered if Costco sold semolina in their baking aisle.  No one else seemed to bat an eyelid!

After our departure, we headed to Home Depot.  I wandered around the tiling section as we are having to replace some tiles in our kitchen, and returned to see Samantha waiting for a grill to be lowered to the ground.  The fork lift that was being used was exceptionally slow, presumably for safety reasons, and we waited for what seemed an eternity.  Eventually, the safety screen was removed from the aisle, and the grill was placed on the trolley.  It was a trolley! Not a shopping cart!  As she paid, she was asked if we required help to get it into the car.  We did.  The man at the till called a colleague over.  After a few arm flaps, and a dozen excuses he walked outside in search of a more suitable person for the job.  We signaled that we were going to the car.  The person to whom he called also flapped a little bit, and walked towards the exit from where we had departed, but instead of coming to our aid, he went back inside the building. It is possible that he went in search of us, but as we were standing there, waving at him, it is highly unlikely.  We pushed the trolley flush with the car, steadied it with our feet, and rolled the box into the boot.  "Thank you.  We got it.  It's okay, no help needed", we called to the non-existent helper.  However, we did not take into consideration the older gentleman who was walking along the lane, and giving us rather disconcerting looks.  We carried on waving to an empty space in the hope that he would realise we were not speaking to him!

"Perhaps he didn't understand us", I said.  "Perhaps he did!" said Samantha!

Dana and I met the kids for dinner later that evening, and celebrated Edward's birthday without a great deal of fuss.  I explained to Edward that the carrot cake he was eating was in fact 'Passion cake'.  He said he did not wish to know such things, and talking 'passion' with his mother-in-law, was inappropriate.  Of course, he jested, but I continued, as is my whim!  "Technically, the frosting turns it from carrot cake into passion cake.  There, I bet you never thought you would learn something new on your birthday when you woke up this morning".  Edward looked at me as only Edward can look.  "I still haven't learned anything. You have made a statement that only you can confirm.  So it is not really a fact".  I continued with how I knew and my fact finding mission, and he could not accept the details, as they were "English.  From England". Oh the joys of not only an American son-in-law, but a genius!  We all enjoyed the evening, and the cultural differences!

Next week is going to be a little different. Samantha and I will be going on our annual 'girly' weekend, and Dana will be left with the dog.  Still one man down in the office, this may prove to be a challenge, but we are hoping that the 'guys' will step up and at least help with the phones, as they have done in the past.  Where are we going, and will be be understood?  Well that will have to be revealed in ...... another story!