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Sunday, September 17, 2017

ICE CREAM AND BOURBON!

Preparing the house for a family of four was the first task this week. Did I prepare for an English family abroad, or make it like an old fashioned English hotel, with cereals, bread for toast, and lots of eggs.  It was not really a dilemma and by the time I had finished cleaning, and clearing away things that would prevent me from being nick named 'Grandma don't touch', I decided to go all American!  

I made banana bread on Tuesday morning, put all the toys in the newly created 'toy box', laid a couple of books and cuddlies strategically on the bed, which was made up for a three year old, and finally headed into work.  

Prolific as work had been, so it stayed!  I did not slow down until I was forced to do so by my daughter, who wanted to get on the road before quitting time traffic made it difficult to get to the airport in time.  

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting and hatObviously, I was dressed for work, but chose shoes with wedges to make it easier to walk.  Into the main terminal we walked, holding the banner sporting cartoon characters, and balloons attached. Samantha had created the 'welcome' sign, so it was, of course, very bright and artistic.  Standing next to us, by the 'International Arrivals' gate, was a family of four.  They, too, had a banner, although it was not as bright and did not have balloons.  The writing was obviously done by the children, (which would no doubt have been adored by those they were meeting,) and was rather light in comparison to our very heavily coloured penned words.  As we unfolded our banner, the father of the family instructed his children to do the same.  Pointing to the balloons, the father seemed to be somewhat intimidated by our presence, and whispered to the children before disappearing.  We stood and watched the doors open, and attempted to peer inside the large hall behind the automatic shutters.  "I think I saw them" said Samantha, with excitement.  The father of the children with the insipid banner returned, with a vase of flowers.  "Come on", I said, jokingly, "Let's go and find an enormous plant.  Game on!"  We did not, but the father looked rather smug with his purchase, and we let him have his 'fifteen minutes'.

It was quite remarkable how well behaved the crowd seemed. There was no need for barriers, as everyone stood well away from the exit, and no one had to be told to 'stand back' even once.  There was a line of different colour tiles, which denoted no more than a pattern that was throughout the floor, and no one went over.  I could not imagine the same at Heathrow!

After what seemed an eternity, out of the door came Richard, Steph, and a buggy containing two little boys.  We stood with the banner on the floor so that Oliver could see the balloons, and then came the words that melted my heart.  "I want to go in your car, Grandma!"

The walk to the car hire facility was not long, but it was outside and it was hot.  The boys were stripped of their sweatshirts and their red faces finally paled down.  After refusing to pay for an upgrade, and saying no to an insurance package that would have covered anything from a meteor to a whole planet descending on the vehicle, we made our way to the cars.  One look at four adults, two children, a variety of bags, car seats and a buggy, the lady who was assigning the motors looked at the 'booked' car, and shook her head. Around the corner came a seven seater, which could have carried an under five's football team!  

As the elder of my two grandsons had insisted on coming with me, we put his car seat on the trolley that had been used to take the luggage from the customs hall, and in he got.  The authorities would have probably pulled me in for questioning, and asked for my credentials, as my excuse of, "I did this thirty years ago, so I know what I am doing", would not have sufficed.  Along I rolled the trolley, car seat atop, child atop that, and into the first lift we went.  Out we stepped, and into the second lift we went.  Over the cobbled stones, into the car park, down the ramp, and into the next level we went.  Eventually we reached 'Auntie Matnee's' car, and attempted to put the seat into the car.  The instructions were not particularly clear, and were on the underside of the seat.  Therefore, should we wish to re-read step two, when step one was complete, we would have to start again!  It must have been like watching an old 'Laurel and Hardy' movie.  The mechanism to keep the toddler in place may well be 'child proof', but the fitting of the contraption was 'adult proof'!

Driving back to the house was not as easy as driving to the airport, as the traffic had mounted to a crescendo and was not moving.  It took a long time to get home.  When we arrived at the house, I took Ollie to his room, and realised that the toy box was probably not a good move for a three year old.  Each and every box was opened, and three words were repeated over and over.  "Daddy, make this", he said as he pulled out the larger boxes, followed by the smaller, and finally all the jigsaws.  The roller-coaster that I had purchased the day before my birthday, was dragged downstairs, in pieces, and had to be put together 'now'!  Eventually, the day took its toll on the little man, and he finally fell asleep in his 'special' bed, after he had been read a story from one of the books that had once been in his daddy's bedroom in England.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, close-upDana did not arrive home until both boys were in bed, and we had settled down to have some dinner.  Richard and I went to the local store to get some food, and 'America' took over.  "I don't want to go too mad on sweet stuff", said my son, as I asked if he wanted dessert.  "But, I must have these. Oh and these. Oh and these", he continued, as he picked up every variety of chocolate covered pretzel that was on the shelf.  "Oh and I had forgotten about these. Oh and these. Oh and these", was all I could hear as we turned into a new aisle.  We drove home with two chickens, a couple of containers of salad, and enough sweets to cover the 31st October callers, for ten years!

I went into work late on Wednesday morning, after taking everyone to IHop for breakfast.  The smiley faces on the pancakes were nothing compared to those on the face of my son, and grandson.  A whole new world opened up, and food became a new novelty.  I had to return to work, and waded through the mountain that I had left on Tuesday.  However, I was very focused and managed to leave around three, for a couple of hours at the pool, before returning to turn the mountain into a smaller hill!

Ollie finally met his 'Poppa Dana', and was quite enamoured.  My husband has the ability to imitate Donald Duck, and this is quite the favourite with the little man.  He sat on Dana's lap, quite willingly, and picture opportunities were rife!  It was a wonderful sight.

The office was an 'in and out' place on Thursday, with Samantha going in early to do some filing, and me spending less time there than with the kids. We set off to Round Rock Donuts, where everyone sampled the wares, and the giant donut for which they were famous was shared.  We then went to 'Catchair', which is a soft play children's paradise.  I ran in and found the big slide, which I slid down to the delight of my grandson.  I am not sure if the kids or the adults enjoyed it more.  As children of school age were in the classrooms, the place was quite empty, which allowed me to bounce, slide and play without tripping over too many small people!  We came home after a couple of hours, and I returned to work for a while.  I had introduced the family to the office neighbours and came home to find them chatting with my home neighbour, Jen. Oliver had told her his life story, such as it was, and introduced me with a full history!  

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, screen, office and indoorI had made cookies on Friday morning, as it was one of our server's birthdays, and it did not seem fair to buy a cake to present, when everyone else receives special home made treats.  After all, we are in America, and anyone can buy cookies!  Made to a Martha Stewart recipe, I felt that I had met the standard!  Ollie and Richard had sampled the two that did not make it into the box and gave me the 'thumbs up'!  We went into the office to take in the treats, and the boys came too!  

Dinosaurs are not really my thing, but they were on every bend of the park which we visited on Friday morning.  Grandma was on duty, and had to climb and bend and scoot across most of the uneven terrain, in order to see everything that needed to be seen.  It was very hot, and whilst I have acclimatized, I am still not used to spending hours outside not by a pool! I was an explorer, a pirate, a pilot and much more as I climbed up and down climbing frames and rides.

Dana and I had our first experience, together, baby sitting on Friday, as the older kids went out for dinner and some fun.  Ollie sat and watched a film and a third with Dana, before reluctantly being walked back to his room, where I read him a story, and watched as he fought tired eyes.  Although he was awake for the whole tale and insisted he was not tired, he was asleep before I left the room.  

Saturday was fun!  After demolishing the rest of the banana bread, Ollie was ready for a day out with Grandma, Auntie Matnee and Jamie!  Mummy and daddy were going shopping and thought it might be easier without the boys.  Getting his car seat into the car was not so hard.  The baby seat was not so easy.  The seat belt has to strap behind, and under, and over and under, several different hooks.  If you let go of the seat belt, the inertia takes charge, and it whips back into the seat.  Up and down the baby went, as if he was in a roller coaster.  To the left, to the right, it was like he was in a 1980's line dance song!  Across, upside down, flip, and back, went the seat, with baby laughing as he was hurled around in his safety contraption.  The authorities were not around again, thankfully, as we eventually, after nearly 30 minutes of 'starting again', got the seat in place.  "How do you....?"  Getting the buggy to fold was not easy.  We pushed every button, clicked every clicker, folded every fold, and finally gave up.  This outing was very soon not to be!  A phone call to the experts did not work, as they were out of range, so my daughter did the next best thing.  You-tube is really very helpful!  "Just take the straps and pull".  The only thing we did not try, was to take the straps, which are clearly marked, "Pull up", and pull!  It worked like a charm!

Taking the baby out of the seat was easy. Keeping the straps in place was not, and the seat belt whipped back into its cavity, so that we knew we would have to start again.  "Let's feed the ducks", sounded like a good idea, but once said, it could not be taken back. To get to the ducks meant a walk down five turns of very steep, rocky terrain.  Mummy joggers can do it easily, with one hand on the push-chair, and one holding the dog, with a toddler in tow!  I slipped down like I was on ice, and wondered how I was going to get back up the sharp incline, in my flip flops.  Water, was all that was on offer when I reached the top, although an oxygen mask would have been greatly appreciated.  A quarter of a mile is not that far to walk, on the flat, but with a forty five degree angle, of uneven paving, pushing a buggy, it took me a long time!

"Don't....".  Too late was the call.  I am out of practice, as my last baby was born nearly thirty one years ago.  The pouch containing the pureed vegetables was on the table, without a lid, and the baby was practicing his 'high five' flat hand!  The people on the next table ducked in time, but I was not so quick.  It is amazing how much one tube holds!  

An ice cream later, we were back in the car, and on the way to Walmart!  Perhaps both boys could fall asleep in the buggy. Or perhaps not!  Jamie started to cry.  I am loathed to admit what I did next, but it is over now, and everyone I have told has laughed! "Perhaps he needs changing", came the helpful advise. In the cereal aisle, I checked his nappy, and sure enough, there was reason to change.  He was so comfortable in the buggy, I did not want to move him.  Modern day pushchairs are like self contained apartment units, and it was so easy to cordon him off and get him changed.  Nothing left the area, and the old diaper was swiftly placed in the plastic bag, and then into the special pouch of the travel bag, so that it could be disposed of later. In the bag were lots of wet wipes, which were used for hands as well as other delicate places!  A swift operation it was!

We finally arrived home, and after depositing the goods in their respective places, we got ready to go to the pool.  I was allowed to swim my laps, before playing some wildly imaginative game which had been invented within seconds of my arriving at the other side of the pool.  Two hours seemed to fly by, and it was only when his mum face timed him did Ollie realise she was not there!  

Image may contain: 2 people, close-upPoppa Dana was on call Saturday night, as he had been since Wednesday, when Ollie had decided he was 'flavour of the day!'  It was a new experience for my husband and he seems to have fallen into the roll rather well.  He knows most of the words to all of the cartoon shows which have been screening through our television, and can sing, with precision, each chorus of "You're welcome", from Muana!  He is the one who has to put his grandson into the car, and take him out.  It is a delight to see.  

Saturday night was rather civilised, with Jamie sleeping in the buggy, and Ollie hibernating next to him, as we ate dinner at Macaroni Grill.  Richard was child no. 3, as he took advantage of the ability to draw on the table cloth with a crayon, and drew pictures, and wrote slogans, to his heart's delight!

Sunday morning, I woke exhausted.  I had forgotten how there is no stopping with three year old boys, and the constant 'up and down' takes its toll, especially when not used to it.  However, I would not change it for anything!

With another week of fun and frolicking to be had, I am going to make this an American Adventure to be remembered by all, (although Jamie will have to live vicariously through pictures,) and shall fall in whenever required for next week's projects, in between work.  I shall be an expert by the time it is all over, and shall be much fitter for the experience.  After an afternoon at the pool, and another night of baby sitting, I shall have to go into work at least for a while, tomorrow, and hope that I can have some time off to make some more precious memories, and find some new adventures to report in ............ another story!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

WE'RE ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE!

I was not satisfied with the website showing me that my flight would be on time, on Friday evening, and called the airline to make sure.  "You will get an email.  Houston airport is opening later today, and internal flights are pretty much back on track".  We were going to Colorado, and had managed to get a flight out of Austin on Friday, after close of business!  I was rather excited, as it would have meant two full days of vacation; quality time for my husband and me, after my having been away for two weeks.

Still not quite satisfied that all was going to plan, I decided to double check.  The opening of the airport had been delayed for a day, and my internal sonar was working overtime.  Checking the website for the airport, I saw that it was, indeed, opening, and hoping to have all internal flights up and running by Thursday evening, definitely by Friday morning, and all looked well. However, (and I am prone to say it was divine intervention,) I felt prompted to click on the link that took me to the Facebook page of said International Airport, something I do not normally do, as it is normally followed by a myriad of comments.  The second 'comment' down was the key to all I had feared.  "Yes...but...United have cancelled my Friday evening flight".  Into the airline web page I went, and on to the call center I got!  

Surprisingly enough, I reached the same person to whom I had been speaking earlier.  "No, everything....um...oh yes....hmmm", was not particularly reassuring, but she continued.  "I can get you...um no.  Well, you can go through....um no.  Okay, Newark, but....no way back.  Washington, oh yes....um no".  The conversation was one sided, and her rhetorical questions were listened to without much confidence that a solution would be forthcoming.  "Saturday morning, through San Francisco.  Yes or no?"  This was not rhetorical and needed an immediate answer.  I ran into the next office, and shouted to Dana, who was oblivious of the problem, as he did not realise it was this weekend that we were taking off!  He concurred that this would suffice, and we were booked on the first available flight out of Austin, to connect us to a flight going to Denver.  "What would have happened if I had not seen the comment, as I didn't get an email?" I asked, purely to satisfy my own curiosity.  "We would have put you on the next available flight, or connection.  Probably Monday morning".  Upset as I was that we were losing a day of our much looked forward to break, I pondered on the fact that thousands had lost more than a few hours 'quality time' with their loved ones.  We could make up the time at a later date.  Many others in the Houston area would never get than opportunity.  

Friday morning came with a nice surprise.  Our flight on Saturday was fully booked, and therefore we had been upgraded to first class, which included breakfast.  A silver lining!  We set off to the airport a little after six Saturday morning, and were on the plane and ready for take off, just before seven. Breakfast was rather delicious, and consisted of a spinach quiche, (which was more like a broccoli vol-au-vent, but no one was quite sure as to what the 'green stuff' actually was,) fruit, yoghurt, and a biscuit.  Coffee and pastries followed.  We watched a film on my phone, and landed in San Francisco a little early.  I went in search of a cap for Samantha as she had mislaid the one I bought her last time. With her initials now being SF, I managed to get one in a burnt orange colour, which was quite apt, as the college football season was about to start, and the University of Texas has a new coach, hopefully breathing life into a rather defunct team. Our flight to Colorado was on time.

Exiting Denver airport is always a challenge.  We had to get to the car hire facility, and I waited for Dana to tell me with whom we were booked, so that we could find the correct 'meeting point'.  I asked the man at the 'information desk' on the best way to leave the building, and he told me to 'get the train'.  Our mistake last time had been to get off at the wrong stop, but this time we had our instructions and did not deviate.  The car was booked through a third party, and the page that my very articulate and practical husband had printed, did not show the firm from whom we were to collect! My look of despair was not unnoticed by the man to whom we asked for help.  The helpful chap at the Avis desk looked up our name and eliminated his company, and another.  "Where's the next page?" he asked, as Dana handed him the part of the reservation details he had.  The look of "Can you believe it", formed across my face, and I did not have to say anything.  I was not very successful at trying not to intimate that my husband was incapable, but the chap at the desk gave me a knowing glance.  Dana is normally the epitome of organisation.  I then broke all my own rules, and looked up the name of the 'third-party', on the Internet on my phone.  Dana had his laptop out and was trying to connect, when I gave him the number to call.  "Thrifty", was the reply, as to which car hire company we were to collect the vehicle.  "Yes, you are!" came my response!  

The car hire facility was manned with machines.  A television screen showing the representative, was what we had to use. The girl on the screen appeared to be completely bored with all and sundry, and twiddled with her hair, as she found our booking, and asked a series of questions, that appeared to be redundant.  Finally, the machine spewed out seven pieces of paper, and Dana had to scan his credit card, and virtually tick a lot of boxes.  The girl on the screen appeared to have fallen asleep by the time he had finished, and sat up abruptly when Dana said, "What next?"  

The car was not the one we booked, and I was ready to go back inside and insist on a complimentary upgrade, as the downgrade was not what we ordered, and if they did not have another car, in our range, then they needed to make things right. My husband did not want to waste the time.  

Having been to the Woolly Hotel, we knew what to expect and were not disappointed.  It was as welcoming as the first time we were there, and the room was beautiful.  We booked a table at Teds, unpacked, and changed for dinner.  


Happy hour was an hour and a half, and my complimentary beverage, for Saturday, was a gin and tonic.  "Lots of tonic", I said as the waitress took my order.  It was still not enough, as after four or five sips, I felt the giggles coming on!  Of course, I blamed it on the altitude, and not having eaten much, but the shaking head of my husband, and the comments, by text, from my daughter, (whom he felt fit to inform,) did not concur!

Dinner was delicious.  Bison was on the menu and I was ready to eat!  I had the prime rib, and Dana had the pot-roast.  Full to the brim, we returned to the hotel, and after a cup of tea, I fell into a deep sleep.  I had not really considered the fact that not only was I jet-lagged, having arrived back only three days previously, but we had also gone through another two time changes.  Denver was an hour earlier than Austin; California, two!  Although we were only in San Francisco for a couple of hours, my internal body clock was going haywire!  

We breakfasted early on Sunday morning. There were a few people in the restaurant, but the crowds had yet to gather.  I put together a small 'care package', consisting of various pieces of fruit, for our journey, and we headed back to the room to 'drop off and pick up'.  

Travelling along the highway to Colorado Springs allowed us to see Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rockies in North America!  We stopped and asked for some 'viewing options' at the 'information' kiosk, and were directed to the Garden of the Gods.  The rock formation was quite amazing.  We parked, and climbed, took photos and were wowed by the views.  It was spectacular.  The reason we had chosen to return to Denver was to have a relaxing weekend, with some sightseeing and this was perfect.  It is the very kind of scenery that divides the old me from the Englishwoman abroad!  I know the 'western' movies were not all filmed in this country, but from those I have seen, the topography is depicted very well.  Imagining the battles of the 'wild west' being fought, is quite easy when in the surrounds such as we were.  One of my first thoughts was the difference of opinion the different people would have had.  I could imagine the nineteenth century town dweller marveling at the roads.  The efficiency would have made their lives so much easier, and the invention of the motor vehicle would have enhanced it so much more.  Then I thought of the indigenous race whom had roamed the land for years before the new residents arrived. They probably would not have been so much in awe of the progress, and despaired at the carbuncles that changed the landscape.  Perhaps I am wrong. However, the places I am now visiting, in my adoptive land, bring to life the history in places I never dreamt of seeing first hand.  I had come full circle from one of my first posts, (if not the first,) about my trip to see Mount Rushmore, and how I was encouraged to write a 'diary on line' of the different route my life had taken.  I felt quite emotional.  With all the places in the world I would like to see, which I believe I may never see, (although, never say never,) I am satisfied with having the whole of this continent to explore! However I digress! We planned to be back shortly after noon, and write our blogs, before perhaps having a swim and enjoying 'happy hour', before going to dinner.

Scuppered plans seemed to be the norm for the weekend!  After our delayed start, I should have guessed that not all would have been plain sailing.  We detoured slightly before going back, to get to Woodland Park, which was on the other side of the mountains, and then headed back.  

The road we took back was different to the one we had taken to. Dana decided that the scenic route might be worthwhile.  After thirty minutes on the road, we noticed that we were still on the same road.  "We should have hit the highway by now", said my husband, who was adamant that the map was wrong.  I was shown that we had not taken a wrong turn, on a chart that was as clear as mud!  

"Is it Twin Peaks where you can't leave town?", asked Dana, trying to sound jovial.  I was aware of what he was talking about but was unsure as to whether it was the right show.  Mild panic set in as I spotted what appeared to look like the same cadre of motor cyclists coming towards us, and the same looking hut on the side of the road.  Pulling myself together, as I tried to convince myself that I am not prone to believing science fiction, especially when it is depicted on a television series, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Three cups of coffee and a couple of tall glasses of juice were not sitting well!  "Did you see that horse lying down?" asked Dana, as he looked at the map again.  "Doesn't that indicate he is dead?" I asked, not knowing much about horses, but remembering this bit of trivia.  "Hmm, think so", said Dana, sounding very much like a character from one of those said sci-fi mysteries.  "You would think someone would notice", said I, hoping to get a different reaction. "Hmm, think so", came the robotic reply.  The road, which had been two colours, green on our side, gray on the other, had turned to all gray, and back to dual hues again.  Panic attempted to overwhelm me again!  The topography started to look scarily familiar.  What appeared to be the same group of motor cyclists rounded the corner. We drove, and drove.  The road changed back to one colour, and back to two, again.  Each time we turned on a hairpin bend, the mountains ahead had the same peaks.   I shuffled in my seat.  We had been driving for over an hour, with the speed signs on the road going from 35 to 25 and back again, at eerily equal intervals.  We finally came to an oasis.  There was a cafe.  I breathed a sigh of relief, and then plummeted back into the abyss, as we drove past, without a 'by your leave', and saw the same view as we turned the corner.  "Why didn't we stop?" I asked.  "Didn't know you wanted to", came the reply.  

Eventually, after about ninety minutes, we saw a sign to the highway.  Not wanting to have my hopes dashed, I waited with baited breath until we came to some traffic lights, and actually saw said highway to the left.  "Eureka!" I shouted, finally feeling that we had escaped some terrible day terror!  We headed towards Denver.  "39 miles" read the sign.  We were only about sixty miles away in the first place, and we had been driving for an hour and a half!  The view suddenly started to look different.  It had been beautiful on our expedition, but I had lost interest after a while!  We saw the tall buildings of the 'mile high' city, and headed home!

Dana showed me where the 'map' had gone wrong when we were back in our room.  The road had veered to the right.  We had stayed on the straight line.  There could not have possibly been a sign we missed!  It was definitely an error with the map, or the city council, or the road signers, or anyone else that could be responsible for us not taking a wrong turn.  The fact of the matter was that we had gone 'straight ahead', and traveled so far out of our way that we had actually left the outskirts of the faulty map, and re-emerged on the page somewhere far up and over!  We decided that this small hiccup could be remedied only one way.  Ice-Cream!  As we had missed lunch, and the 'care package' had been devoured along the way, before dinner, we would have dessert!  The Stone-Cold Creamery was in town, and we drove out to get some comfort food!

Behind the counter was a 'newby'.  He was trying his best, but someone should have pointed out that the traditional offer of, "Would you like to try", should never been spoken to those under the age of consent!  Two young girls, of approximately seven, with a lady whom we supposed to be their grandmother, came in after us. Dana (who assures me did not make the second mistake of the day) said that it was okay to serve them before us, and the helpful assistant asked the fateful question.  "That one.  Oh and that one.  Oh and that one".  Thankfully, there were only about twenty to choose from, and forty spoonfuls later, they made a choice.  This gave us time to choose, change our mind, go for another trip around Colorado Springs (sarcasm noted) and back again, before we were asked, "What can I get you?"

Happy hour was more happy than the previous day.  I asked for a rum and cranberry, but forgot to mention, "top up on the cranberry".  It was very strong!  "How is the dog?", I asked my daughter when she called to tell me something that had happened, so significant I remember not.  "I miss him!", I said.  "Edward", called Samantha.  "My mother is drunk.  She said she misses the dog!"  The same message was sent to Dana!

Dinner was, again, delicious.  I chose the Kansas Strip, another cut of bison, and together with fries and a salad, I could not have asked for a better dinner!  We took the car to the petrol station, and then went back to watch college football!  

Monday morning had a fairly civilised start. We went to the restaurant for breakfast at six thirty, and were ready to leave the hotel an hour later.  With the car dropped off, and finding our way, (by signs, although Dana insisted I ask the guy at the information desk, just in case I misread them....yes, in case I misread them,) to the terminal, we were ready to board our flight.  It was most uneventful, and whilst we did not receive complimentary breakfast, we did enjoy pastries, by way of the 'care package', I had put together, in case the eggs, toast, bagels, waffles and fruit were not enough to keep us going until we arrived in Austin, shortly before one!

I spent a very pleasant afternoon by the pool, chatting to one of my neighbours, while Dana went to the office.  It rounded off the weekend perfectly.

The rest of the week went rather quickly, despite us being a man down.  Samantha and I managed to get things back to where they needed to be, and by Friday, our end of the business was in good shape.  I spoke to many people who had either been displaced, or knew of people who had been displaced in the Houston area, including a guy who lost a colleague during a rescue mission. When I asked, "How are you?", and he answered, "Trying to keep our head above water!", I knew it was not a metaphor!

I spent the week outside of working hours, and the weekend, preparing for my grandsons' visit.  Samantha's old bedroom is barely recognisable, as it is neat and tidy, and ready for a three year old to recreate the havoc that his auntie left behind!  Tuesday cannot come fast enough, and I am sure I will have plenty to say about how the boys did this, or the boys did that, or how did I ever keep up with one boy, let alone two, in ........... another story!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

THE ANIMALS WENT IN TWO BY TWO!

After having spent a very enjoyable evening with my dear, long time friends (at last a phrase to replace 'old') David and Judy, who had also invited another, even longer time friend, Sally with her husband Mike, (our friendship, in comparison, is in its infancy, but long may it last,) I drove home past midnight, with a 'loudspeaker' connection to Dana. After I had put down the phone, I received a call from Samantha who was about to disown her mother for staying out so late!  She advised me that due to the catastrophic hurricane, Harvey, which had hit the east coast of Texas and devastated the greater Houston area, and surrounds, as well as several areas around our counties, the airport was not operational. I had seen the desperate images of the floods on television over the past few days, together with those of  the courageous heroes who helped rescue many.  I decided to wait until morning to do any research.

I woke before my mother's 6:50 am alarm, and opened the laptop, injecting the 'dongle' into its side, so as to give me Internet access.  Eventually, the signal caught whatever it is it catches and the blue light showed that I was ready to surf! 

It is never pleasant thing to see the word 'Cancelled' on the screen, next to your flight details.  I was not quite sure what to do next and did not consider there would be an option before 'check in' time. I was surprisingly calm.  However, my mother was not!  "What time do you think you can call?  Do you have a number?  What will you do.....?" and so on and so forth.  The kettle had boiled but before making the preferred morning beverages, I checked to see if I had a number for customer service in the UK.  I found a number, and then went to my reservations, to check my confirmation code.  Relief, then further panic, hit me all in a couple of seconds.  I had been put on another flight, flying through Chicago.  However, the plane was a different 'model', and there were seats facing both ways! I tried to save a seat but it would not keep my selection, so I quickly found a number and called. After the salutations from the lady on the other end of the line, I explained my predicament.  As she was trying to fulfill my special request, e.g., window seat, left side, facing forward, for which she achieved one out of three, I asked how things were there.  "Oh I am in South Dakota so I am okay.  We do have four hours of mandatory overtime today.  I only have two hours left. Yay me!". I was most appreciative to at least have a forward facing seat!

It had not realised quite how internally concerned I had been, but as I told my mum the outcome, I became very jittery and giggly.  I should have known that a replacement flight would have been arranged, but could not think straight! 

The rest of the day, until check-in time, was very pleasant.  I had packed, and repacked, so as to make the cases of even(ish) weight, and had a leisurely breakfast.  Steph called to say that she and Richard were taking the boys to her grandma's as they have a pool and the weather was very hot.  I agreed to meet then there, and set off around one.

The weather was hot, and the surroundings were perfect.  The water was slightly colder than ice!  Her grandma had met me on her way out to lunch and told me that it would be a lovely day for swim and had I brought my 'gear'.  I replied in the positive and bid her farewell. 

"Catch him as he jumps off the board. We do it all the time", was the instruction from the side!  Ollie jumped off the diving board, into my arms, and we both went under.  I lifted him up so he would be above the water, but could not get my head up, as he was pushing me down.  Eventually, I reached the surface, and swam to the side.  Although only about four feet, it seemed like a mile!  Ollie had his arms around my neck and was struggling to get to his dad.  I was exhausted by the time I reached the edge and lifted my grandson to dry land.  I should not have worried about the long term negative affect it would have on him as after he told his parents that the water was very cold, (an understatement,) he looked at me and said, "again!", to which I replied, "Ask daddy!"

The rest of the afternoon was lovely.  I must have seemed most ungrateful, not accepting everyone's help to get me checked in, but my level of paranoia was beyond normal and I needed to get the seat problem settled.  Amazingly enough, when I opened the 'app' on my phone, (which I am loathed to do unless in an emergency,) my original preference had been saved.  Although to the right of the plane, I was facing forward.  Eureka!  Or near enough!

Bidding farewell was not easy.  Ollie was rather tearful, which made my leaving so much more sad. I promised I would see him soon when he came to my house, and this seemed to appease the little chap.  Jamie just smiled with a big grin when I said cheerio.  After tight hugs, I got in my car and drove, through tears, back to mum.

As my flight was an hour later than originally planned, I left my mother's a little later,  Traffic was horrendous but I got to the car hire place in plenty of time, and then to the airport.  The lady at the check in desk was most concerned about the perils that Houston had been going through and we chatted for a while, which was very nice, but not usual.  There were no other passengers at the security check point, and I was in the lounge in record time!  Samantha 'face timed' me as she drove to work (hands free of course) and before long I was settled in my seat for the first leg of my flight.

Although the lines are usually much longer when negotiating immigration at Houston, familiarity is much preferred.  O'Hare would not be my choice if given one!  I did not get a 'Welcome Hone, ma'am', but a surly guard who was not satisfied that I had nothing to declare.  It was when I told him that I had several balls of 'yarn' that I was bringing back, he finally gave up.  The customs official was quite satisfied that my wares were not contraband!  I handed my bags back to the handlers and tried to find my way to my next point!

The trains were not particularly well marked and I nearly got on the wrong one.  "Where in Texas..... Tracie", asked the guard at the next check point.  I told him Austin, and he asked how the city had fared in the storm.  He seemed relieved that it was not damaged, and we commiserated over the tragedy that had hit Houston.  The line behind me grew, but it mattered not.

"No!  This is the only lounge on this terminal! Give me your boarding pass!". I was rather astounded at the lady at the desk, as I asked if there was another lounge in the C Concourse, and how long would it take to walk from here to my gate.  I dutifully handed her my pass.  She snatched it and then looked at me with a big smile and almost sang, "Oh, you are a Polaris customer".  Apparently that is what I had been graded having been upgraded!  I am not sure how shocked I looked but if it was as much as I felt, my face must have shown horror!  "Ha ha", she attempted a giggle, "There is a Polaris lounge on the C Concourse. But we would love to have you here".  I almost said, "You would?  You must be joking!", but instead told her that I would try the new lounge instead.

Plush lounges I have seen.  After all, I had the opportunity to go into the Emirates at London Gatwick airport and never wanted to leave, but the new Polaris lounge was second to none!  Despite, once again, having eaten everything not only on the menu, but almost everything on the plane, I could not resist some of the culinary delights on offer!  Half an hour was not enough time! 

Dana arrived at the terminal as I was descending on the escalator.  He ran to the stairs going up, and jumped on the moving steps.  I called him and he turned, ran down, and managed to catch his heal on one of the sharp metal edges.  Instead of our usual embrace, I watched him hobble over to a chair and helped him to sit down.  With blood pouring from his foot, rather than a hug, I gave him a tissue and went about finding more to stop the flow!  My bags were retrieved by a fellow passenger, and we drove home, where I dug out my meagre first aid kit before we had even said 'hello'.  He rejected my offer to suture the wound, but at least found it amusing. However, I was home, and safe, which was more than many people in the Houston area could say.

The rest of the week was quite a blur.  Jason, in our office, had handed in his notice and was due to leave on Friday, but Dana told him on Thursday that he could have an extra day!

Houston is still very much a disaster area, in a tragedy that has been announced, unprecedented.  Our hearts and prayers go out to all those in and around the area.  Thankfully, I heard from the son of the couple with whom we went to the Indian restaurant on my first Sunday in England, and they were relatively unscathed.  It was a frightening time for all, and I was concerned as it had been heading our way.  However, we were spared.  I hope and pray all will settle down before I sit down to write .... another story!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

DON'T DO THAT!

I was up with the proverbial lark on Monday morning.  Although the days of waking up to an alarm for my mother are unnecessary, she still sets it each morning, in case she should sleep in past the breaking of dawn!

With the weekend, and the third birthday party turning into a memory, I had another week ahead of me.  Purposely, I had not made too many arrangements for my first week, as I was not sure what 'results' my mother would receive when she had her blood tests the previous week, and did not want to make plans, only to have them cancelled.  

It was a lovely surprise when I opened the door, and saw not only Beverly, but also Jodi, as they had come to take me out to Watford to go shopping.  Perhaps not the most exciting adventure for some, but for me, an absolute necessity.  After each of us giving the others our news, and catching up on some gossip, we entered the shopping mall, and I took out my list.  "Hey, how are you?", I asked the girl at the check out.  "We don't do that here, Trace!" Jodi reminded me. "Okay", said the girl, completely confused by the question.  "Have a great rest of the day!", I chirped after the transaction, and received another "We don't do that here, Trace!", and another glum look from the cashier.  Each shop I went into, I engaged the cashier in conversation, and each time, Jodi repeated the motto.  It was rather amusing.  

Having purchased half of what was on my list, we headed to the cafe for lunch.  As we walked through to the back of the restaurant, I thought I heard my name being called.  There, in the queue, was my nephew and great-niece.,  It was a lovely surprise, as they were going on holiday the next day, and I didn't think I would see them again until Christmas.  "Can I ask how he is?", I jokingly asked my advisor!  

My cheese and tomato sandwich was, indeed, just what the doctor ordered.  Back in Blighty, less is definitely more!  A basket of chips (fries) and I was in seventh heaven!  After lunch, and more 'catch up', we walked back to get the car.  Surprisingly, I noticed my friend Judy with her daughter and grandchild.  This was turning into "reunion" visit, having seen so many people in passing.

By the time dinner arrived on Monday, which was prepared and served by my mother, I felt as if I could not eat another thing.  I was starting to feel the effects of 'living at home', and whilst being force fed home cooked meals, dessert and chocolate, (a little bit wont hurt you, says my mum) does not sound like purgatory to some, it can be a little daunting.

"Hey, how are you?" was received with a little more enthusiasm at the supermarket.  However, without Jodi being behind me to let me know "We don't do that here, Trace!", there was no stopping me.  "Are you having a good day?", I asked with renewed encouragement, and was answered with a slight shrug and mournful eyes.  "Only four days to Friday!" I announced joyfully, but this proved too much for the cashier, and the look of  "Christmas is months away. Please stop", was enough to halt my filling the area with mirth and good cheer!  "Joy to the world", would have been an overkill, in the middle of August, but I was in a good mood!  "Have a great rest of the day", I said with a big smile, and was ready to duck as I expected something to be thrown in my direction as I left! "What were you talking to the girl about?" asked my mother as we got into the car.  I told her about our one way conversation, and she replied, "We don't do that here, Trace!"  

I was delighted to accept the challenge of 'grandchildren watching' in the afternoon, and we played in the garden until Steph had finished working.  Ollie had decided that clothes were not a good option for the afternoon, and I was a little concerned about the weather being too chilly, but Steph was not perturbed.  

"How are you doing, today?", I asked the woman at the counter.  "Fine.  How can I help you?", came the blunt reply.  I wanted to know if I could exchange Samantha's 'bag for life', but she was unsure, and referred me to a cashier. "Hey, how are you doing today?", I asked the young man behind the till.  "Good thank you, madam.  How can I help you?", he asked, rather confused as I did not have a basket to 'check out'.  He, too, did not know whether the 'bags for life' were replaceable, and referred me to his supervisor.  The supervisor did not look old enough to be let out alone, let alone be of an age to be employed.  If we were in the end of the nineteenth century, he would have been put down a mine, or used (as was Oliver Twist) by villains to squeeze through small windows to enter a house, in order to open the door and let the rest of the 'gang' in. However, a supervisor he was, and no doubt of an age to do the job with conviction! (No pun intended!)  "Hey, how are you doing?", I asked with the same enthusiasm.  "Um fine.  How can I help you?"  I asked if he could replace Samantha's 'bag for life'.  "We don't do that here!", he said, confusing me, as I had never met him before, but then realised he was talking about the bag, rather than my greeting!  Apparently, the 'bags for life', were for the life of the promotion, rather than the life of the one buying the bag!  I chose not to press the issue, as it really was not worth it, and thanked him for his time and told him to "Have a great rest of your day!"  

I went with Steph and the boys to the park in the afternoon, and 'grandma' was quite happy to follow Ollie down the slide.  However, whereas the three year old knew that the muddy puddle at the bottom was to be avoided at all costs, he failed to tell his grandmother!  Sliding off the end into the mire caused great excitement, and amusement.  However, the next slide was not for grandmas, or at least not for those with any hips!  Fortunately, I was not stuck fast!  However I did have to manoeuvre to release my post elementary school legs from the contraption.  This, too, caused a lot of amusement.

We were half way through the week, and I was going out with my friend Lesley.  As usual, we had a great evening, catching up.  It is always such a blessing to see her, as we have known each other for in excess of half a century, and still manage to find so much to reminisce about, hardly ever touching on the same subject twice!  Always too short an evening, we said cheerio, with the promise to catch up whenever we could!

Busy was I on Thursday, with several places to go, and watching a ticking clock.  The ride to my sister-in-law, Rose, was not too bad.  I followed my written instructions, and did not panic when, once again, I failed to recognise my surroundings, once I was 'off the beaten track', and bypassing Stanstead airport!  Arriving a little before eleven, I backed into her drive, just in time to meet her daughter-in-law, who had arrived with flowers.  "It's her anniversary today, isn't it!", was the rhetorical question, as I felt that I had failed.  I pride myself on remembering dates, but this year I have felt they have all rolled into one, and I cannot remember that!

Rose took me out for lunch, and we chatted quite enthusiastically on many subjects.  It is always fun!  Being grandmothers has not changed our outlook on life, but we do find it amusing how different things are!  It was a wonderful day, and over too soon, but I wanted to avoid the traffic which, thankfully, was not as bad as expected. I came home for a while, before heading out to Richard.  

I arrived a little before six, and the kids were in the bath.  Richard arrived at the same time, and Ollie was delighted to see his daddy from around the corner of the tub!  My cousins Lesley and Natalie arrived soon after, and we had a lovely family reunion, and had to fit in lots of 'catch up' in a very short period of time. I was expected at Sheri at 7:15, and Steph had a client at 7:30, that evening.  

Sheri had made dinner, and met me outside her mother's apartment as she had to direct me to a place to park.  Her mother and mine occasionally meet in the queue at the supermarket, but the chance meetings have wained over the years, as both have had health problems.  We all sat down and Sheri explained to her mum that I write about my life.  Attempting to describe the concepts of a blog, I likened it to a diary.  "People all around the world can read it, and this week, you will be in it, mum!", said Sheri to Shirley, whom I am not sure quite understood the concept, but made a good effort to do so.  So, in the spirit of friendship, and enhancing the 21st century education of the elderly, "Hello Shirley!"  Once again, the evening was over too soon, and we vowed to meet again whenever we could!

I was thoroughly exhausted Friday morning!  Off to the supermarket we went, as mum needed 'a few bits'.  For someone who lives, for the most part, alone, and whose appetite, apparently, is not as good as it was, the supermarket make quite a good profit from her visit!  "How are you doing, today?", I asked the cashier. "Not you again!" was the look of despair upon her face.  "We don't ..." was followed with, "I know.  One can but try!"  I did tell the terrified girl to enjoy the rest of her day, and made my way back to the car!  

I drove to Borehamwood for 12.  Walking around the supermarket, I was a woman with a mission. Box of Thornton's chocolates for my husband, and some bags in which to wrap those things that needed plastic bag wrapping!  "Hey, how are you today?", I asked the employee as he was pushing a cart around, marking prices, and the like.  "Yep", was the response.  "Bin bags", I said, without giving any more information. "Aisle 11", was the super quick response.  "Have a good..........", was all I managed before he whisked off to another ailse.  

I met Maggie outside Tesco, and we headed up to the coffee shop.  Neighbour's when we lived in Radlett, we arranged a 'Jubilee' party many, many years ago.  We discussed the kids, grandkids, jobs and life in general.  It was a fabulous visit, and we promised to stay in touch.  "Your Matnee is a case!" she said, as only a Liverpudlian can. With probably only a former trace of her original accent, I could sit and listen to her all day!  

The afternoon was spent relaxing, unknotting some wool.  Some things are the same no matter which continent you are sitting upon! As I was untangling, someone knocked on the door.  "Ello darlin'!" said the kid standing on the doorstep. "We are tree surgeons, and wanna give you a price on yer trees back there.  We can 'ack 'em back for yer".  A tree surgeon? Call me a cynic, but I doubted this was the case.  The word 'hack' was not the only reason I had to question his qualifications!  Younger brother of the supervisor he could have been!  "Had them done a few weeks ago, thank you!", I said, wondering how my mother would have taken to this child calling her 'darlin' should she have opened the door. "But....oh, wrong 'ouse", he said and ran away!

Richard arrived home a short while after I arrived, and put dinner in the oven.  Steph and the boys had gone to a party at the farm, and she had very kindly made a lasagna, which we were going to share, whilst having some mother-son quality time.  After putting the world to rights, and enjoying dinner, which was scrumptious, we sat back to watch a film.  Steph called after a while, and asked for some help bringing in the boys.  Ollie bounded in the door, and proceeded to tell me something about his mum, his friend, and the party, all rolled into one.  I could not decipher the code, but the laughter was enough to know that it was rather amusing, and he had enjoyed the festivities!  He refused to say goodnight, as in his mind, he was not going to bed, but was going to party all night. However, once his head touched the pillow, he was fast asleep!

"There is something on the grass", my mother said to me on Saturday morning.  I went out to inspect this object, and came running back in, quicker than my legs would carry me. It was a rat! It looked as if it had been dropped, as it was not only very deceased, but almost decapitated. "What do you want me to do?", I asked, rather bravely.  I offered to bury it, or put it in a bag and transfer it to the dustbin.  We decided that as the bins were not due to be emptied until Tuesday, and the weather was looking to be quite warm, a burial would be the better option.  I was unsure as to why I had offered to do this, as I am not particularly partial to vermin, dead or alive.  Venturing out to the garage, in my father's rubber shoes, I retrieved a shovel and a fork, from behind a curtain of cobwebs (as they are not used anymore) and strolled down the garden to the end, where I proceeded to dig a hole.  The ground was very hard, and I should have used some water to soften it, but that would have meant walking back past, (albeit several yards,) the dead creature, and I only had enough bravery for one 'fly past'!  The hole dug, I walked across, timidly, to the corpse.  After dancing around for a couple of minutes, hoping from one foot to another, hoping it was a bad dream, I tried to scoop the body onto the shovel.  It was not easy.  Squealing and screaming as I did so, I tried from the tail end up.  This seemed to work, and once it was on the shovel proper, I ran, quickly, screaming and squealing, across the grass to the freshly dug grave.  Once in, I quickly covered the creature with earth, in case it should spring up and run away, dead as it was, and virtually decapitated!  In my mind, anything could happen. I did not wish it a good rest of the day, nor wish it a good journey to wherever rats go, as I ran as fast as I could to replace to tools in the garage, and then back into the house, where I closed and locked the door, as my mother stood and watched.  "You can leave the door open", she said. I was already back in my room, attempting to shake off the trauma!  

After an early lunch, I went back into the Watford shopping centre. Samantha had made a request after my visit at the start of the week, and I was unsure as to whether I would return.  Wandering from one end of the complex to the other, with a large smile upon my face, I ventured into a few stores, and made a few purchases.  "Hey, how are you today?", was met with a variety of responses from, "alright" and "huh", to "Oh thank you. I am okay.  How are you?"  The parting salutation of "Have a good rest of the day", was met with the same responses! 

Driving from the shopping centre to Richards was virtually traffic free, and I arrived earlier than anticipated.  My son was asleep, due to his suffering from a cold, and he had asked if I could watch the baby, while Steph and Ollie went to a party.  As I walked into the house, Ollie asked if he could have a bath!  It appears that my willingness to be made soaking wet, fully clothed, and make up plays with the toys that accompany my grandson in the tub, is of great benefit!  Twenty minutes later, and sporting a very wet t-shirt, which fortunately was too thick to be entered into a contest, I emerged wetter than the child who had been in the water!  Jamie and I had some quality time, and then his older brother arrived back, with his mum in tow, ready to go to another party, and"stay up very late!"

Mum and I enjoyed a quiet evening in front of the television and I was ready for bed at ten!

The weather in Austin on Sunday was quite wet, as Hurricane Harvey came through, albeit downgraded to a tropical storm. Samantha had said that whilst her house was surrounded by water, they had remained dry, and were able to go out.  Dana said he suffered a couple of power cuts, but all was well.  Mum and I went out for lunch, and enjoyed the warm sunshine!
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Tonight, I am visiting some more old friends.  Judy and David have been to Austin, and met Dana, so when I tell my husband of my plans, he is aware of whom I am talking about, which always makes it easier!  I am on the downward spiral now, gearing up to leaving Blighty and all those whom I hope will enjoy the rest of their day.  The hurricane has caused a lot of devastation, and I am hoping (somewhat selfishly) that flights will be as near normal as possible on Tuesday.  Not getting back home would be quite a challenge!  I am trusting that there will be alternative routes, should the cause arise, but if not, can you imagine how much I would have to say in ............ another story!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC!


"Why can't I go in that queue?"  I asked the security agent. "Because you are not pre qualified ma'am", was the answer.  I was quite adamant.  "Yes, I am", I argued.  "No you are not", was the firm reply.  I was not.  For the first time in I can't remember how long, I had not been pre-qualified and had to go through the 'other' queue.  I did not object, but I did notice a difference in 'service'.  Having to take out my laptop was not a great inconvenience, nor was taking off my shoes, but I did get rather befuddled due to the surprise.   Walking through the x-ray machine, and out the other side, releasing my hair from its clip as the female guard wished to see if I was hiding an armoured convoy in my head, (sorry for the flippancy, but I had just gone through an x-ray machine,) I wondered where my boarding pass could have gone!  Samantha was standing by the barriers, mouthing something to me.  I could not understand what she was saying.  My bags came out and my phone was ringing.  "The guard has your boarding pass".  Not knowing which guard, I alerted the person checking the x-rayed bags.  "Ma'am", I said, as she turned my way, and then turned back.  "Ma'am", I repeated, less confidently, as the word does not flow as it does with the natives.  "Ma'am", I said for a third time, with rather more urgency.  She turned.  I explained that the guard had my boarding pass, and she shrugged as if there was nothing she could do.  "Can you ask him to give it to me?" I said, not expecting to have a positive answer.  Reverting to the original strategy of ignoring me, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I walked forward towards the man with whom I assumed was my boarding pass.  "Get back", was the recommendation.  I assumed it was a recommendation as he had not yet asked why I was approaching him.  Samantha was still doing a mime at the edge of the barrier, doing her best to let me know where the boarding pass had been placed.  It was upon a flat topped pole. "Excuse me", I said in a very polite voice.  "Get back", came the recommendation once again.  "But my boarding pass...", I said in my very polite voice. "Get back", came the recommendation for a third time.  "But..". The next "Get back", was perceived as an order, rather than my previous understanding of the same phrase over the past few minutes.  What possessed me to ignore the orders of the security guard, for whom I normally have the utmost regard, is beyond me, but I called across to a fellow passenger. "Yes, you", I said, still politely, but with an air of authority.  "Get back", came the bark. "Yes, there, on the top", was my next instruction.  "Get back" came the snarl.  "Thank you", I said as I received my boarding pass, and then I smiled, and waved it at the security guard, who had not been particularly sympathetic with my predicament.  He was suddenly lost for words, although he looked as if he would like to say many!
Waving cheerio to my daughter, who had been looking on with amusement written across her face, I continued on to the lounge. "How are you?" was the question asked by the lady by the reception.  I assumed she was being polite and really didn't want to know my disposition, so chose not to answer in a negative fashion.
My flight was on time, and my seat was not challenged.  I sat by the window and waived cheerio to Austin as I headed, at several thousand feet across to the fourth most populated city of the United States, where I deplaned and walked through to the next lounge. "How are you?", was the question asked by the lady at the reception.  Once again, I assumed she was being polite and replied that I was "Good, thank you".  

I called Dana to let him know that I was aboard, and as I was about to say farewell, a rather abrupt (yes, I always get them) female air steward came up to me and said, "Do you wanna drink?".  The emphasis was on the third word, as if I had been asked earlier and not made up my mind.  A little too loud, but this time with the intention of letting her know, I told Dana, "We are off.  Why do I always get the one that snaps!"  I smiled as sweetly as I could and asked for a club soda.  It was brought to me with a smile.

"Can you take a picture of the Unicorn I made for Lilly?" said Samantha as I called to say I was on the 'big' plane.  I told her that I would take a couple of photos before I handed over the sparkling crocheted horned horse.  As the conversation continued I realised that she meant 'on the plane', and struggled with the concept.  A 'well built' man (and I do not mean one who has attended the gym on a regular basis) was sitting next to me, and people were walking along the aisles, trying to get to their seats.  The stuffed animal was in my hand luggage, which had been neatly placed in the overhead bin, which had been closed as it was full.  Feeling rather less than delighted, I excused myself, opened the bin, managed to pull down the case and exhumed the creature.  It sat in my chair, it sat on the top above my television, and I then approached an air steward. "Would you mind....?" I asked, and then explained that the unicorn would be accompanied by a story of its travels.  Fortunately, he agreed and the picture was taken, with all the other female air crew looking on, giggling.  

Once in the air, I enjoyed my dinner before going to sleep for a few hours, and then got up before breakfast was served.  We landed about three quarters of an hour early and deplaned rather quickly.  

Once through immigration, and customs, I headed out to the lifts, where I managed to get to my required floor on the first attempt. Amazingly enough, there was a van waiting for my car rental company, and he took me on a magical mystery tour around the terminals before we ended up at the 'home base'.  "You rented a fiat 500.  Will that be okay.  You have a lot of luggage.  I like you nails!" said the girl, all in one breath.  I replied with a "Yes; yes; I do but there is only me.  Thank you. I had them done for my trip!" After signing a couple of waiver forms, and agreements, I was told to pick any car in zone one.  I did not pick the Fiat, but instead chose the same model as my mother has, albeit a different colour. With my 'damage' sheet filled with arrows and crosses, marking the various scratches and marks that I had found after a meticulous inspection, I went on my way.  

Arriving at my mother's a few minutes after midday, I was rather glad that the flight had come in early.  Once unpacked, fed (which was totally unnecessary,) and cleaned up, I layed down for a couple of minutes, which turned into half an hour, and slept quite soundly.

I was awakened to a phone call, from Steph, to say she was on her way home.  I drove, sensibly, across to the next town to see my grandsons, and found the journey to take almost as long as the flight, although it obviously did not!  Ollie was a little confused as he could not understand why I was here, being that he is coming to visit me in a few weeks.  "But I was coming to your house, in an aeroplane", he said, quite mournfully.  After his mum and I explained that I had to come and see him on his birthday, and then he could come to my house, he seemed to be a little more settled.

My first week has been quite busy.  Catching up with family, and running across from one town to the other to see 'the boys', I am ready for week two.  I took my great niece, Poppy, for a walk with her nana, (aka my sister,) and spent time with my niece, Emma. We met on Friday at Parent's Paradise, where Ollie and his other grandma came on later.  We all went into the maze of 'softplay'
and took it in turns sliding down the large slides.  However, I was the only one who was talked into going in the twisty tubey slide that is a little claustrophobic and tight! Dana and Samantha are holding down the fort, and although insisting that I have a nice time and not worry about work, have discussed most of the dynamics throughout the week!  

I received a call from the car hire company, asking how I was enjoying the vehicle.  "This is Enterprise", the caller said.  I was a little confused as to why they were calling.  I did not book the car through that particular company, but know that occasionally they work under the 'same roof'.  I asked why they were calling, and the very polite young man told me that it was because I had booked a Fiat and taken another model.  Feeling a little vulnerable, I explained that the lady at the desk had told me that I could take any car in zone one.  "Oh I see, and what colour was it?"  The list of soft profane words that omitted from my mouth, over the airwaves, to my son, were many!  He had managed to scam me rather well.  "I did not book with Enterprise", I said, without using any alternative language, and he admitted he could not remember the car rental company from whom I hired the car.  However, his job was done!

With Belgian buns, crisps, (chips for my trans-Atlantic brethren,) large sliced white bread and Branston Pickle (no translation possible, I am afraid) I am enjoying a culinary difference.  The change in pace is quite noticeable, as I feel as if I am only on day three when I have been here almost a week, and I am still waiting for the weekend to arrive on Sunday afternoon!  

Today was my elder grandson's third birthday, and I watched my son and his friends with their children, interact and chat about their kids' milestones.  My son's father and I looked on with pride as our boy took his boys and enjoyed the party like a parent should.  

I arrived back at mum's at the same time that my nephew arrived, with his family, and auntie Tracie was commissioned to French plait her great-niece's hair, just as I did her aunt when she was eight!  

Next week will be a little different.  I have am seeing a few friends, catching up with my childhood pals, and no doubt there will be a lot of reminiscing and laughter.  All shall be revealed, I am sure, in ...... another story!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

HOOKED ON A FEELING!

I could not concentrate on Monday.  Storms were very severe on Sunday night and the rain had not stopped falling.  This was not the reason for my lack in concentration, however, it was more that something was missing.  I was not sure what it was that was missing, but I was convinced I had forgotten to do something before making a trip back to Blighty.  

My new suitcases did stand taller than the old, and that was another dilemma.  Would they be suitable?  Did the airline have a policy on checked luggage?  Would I have to swap them out at the counter? I came to the conclusion that my severe panic was merely because I had booked my tickets several months ago;  I had 'plenty of time' to organise.  

Samantha's friend Jodi and her husband were flying in from Connecticut on Monday afternoon, having attended the wedding of her (Jodi's) brother-in-law, who lives Stateside.  I knew Samantha was going to take a couple of days off work, and I would have to don the cap of Sam for those days, adding to my fast and furious workload.  Coupled with the fact that I had to make sure everything was up to date by Friday, this sent me into a further tailspin.  I walked at lunchtime, as the temperature had dropped considerably, and the electricity in the air made it a little dangerous to be in water.  Jodi and Will landed a little late, but not enough to cause disruption to their plans.  

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, bridge, shoes, outdoor, water and natureDespite being rather busy, Dana and I managed to leave the office at six forty-five and headed north to the Outback restaurant, where we had a wonderful reunion with the kids.  Jodi is one of Samantha's oldest friends, having started school together at rising five, and she was one of Samantha's bridesmaids.  We chatted twenty four to the dozen, discussed the States and where we had visited, as Will lived Stateside as a child, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.  "Is there anything else I can do for you?", asked the waiter, as he cleared the table.  Perhaps it was the company that caused me to go back into my old ways, but I heard myself say, "Maybe a dance?"  The waiter looked absolutely horrified.  His mouth dropped, and the cutlery on the plates were heading in a downward position as his fixed grasp on the crockery had become rather weak. I attempted to remedy the situation, and told him I was only joking, but by that time, he was in a state of shock.  The relief did show across his face, but he disappeared from sight very quickly.  "How was everything?" asked a lady who suddenly appeared at our table. She quickly introduced herself as 'the manager', and we expressed our appreciation for our waiter.  She seemed somewhat relieved. "We do our best to make sure our customers are satisfied, and to meet their needs, as best we can", she added, and I wondered if the waiter had been totally satisfied with my explanation that I was indeed, joking. I chose not to revisit the matter!

Taking two weeks off work is going to put pressure on Dana, as he will have to wear most of my 'hats', and take back a few of his that he has placed upon my head over the past few years.  "It is what it is", he says, whilst calculating how much he can actually bring hone to finish, and how much sleep he will get during my absence. Having Samantha take two days off certainly made me appreciate how much taking on another person's load could disrupt one's schedule!

Despite the excitement of returning home, I started to think about what I will miss in my adoptive homeland.  Strangely enough, I find myself yearning for things I never thought I would.  When I go home, I want toast, made with nice English, white starchy bread. I want butter that has a higher cream factor.  I want proper chips, and chocolate, although not necessarily together, and I want people to understand what I am saying!  When I am at home, I miss Tex-Mex, chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes, Cholula hot sauce, and the somewhat diverse dialect.

"Have a safe day, ma'am", was the farewell felicitation of a Sheriff to whom I spoke on Tuesday.  It was a new slant on the norm.  It made me smile.   No sooner did I put the phone down from the law enforcement officer than it rang again, and I was connected with someone who was a little more confused.  "Are you a process server company?"  I responded affirmatively.  "Then you called me!"  The adamant male on the end of the phone was getting quite 'ticked' with me.  I explained that no one from our office, nor contractors associated therewith, had called him.  We did not have mention of him in our system.  He told me the name of the company from whom he had received the call, and I calmly explained that we were a different entity.  "What's the difference?" he asked.  "The name, for starters", I said, wondering if he needed me to reinforce this in dance!  "But you are process servers, so why did you call?"  It took a long time to explain that there were many companies in Texas, and many in the greater Austin area, that were in the same business.  "Give me their number then", he asked, and I told him I did not know who called him, and did not have a number for someone I did not know.  He did not seem to grasp the fact.  "So what did you want to give me?" I decided then to end the conversation and told him that we had no papers for him, and did not have a need to contact him.  Although confused, he seemed relieved.  I was somewhat concerned that I had led him into a false sense of security, but there was no other way to communicate we were not the people from whom he received the call.  On the plus side, it would appear that when querying by Austin Process Servers, we would be the name that appears!  

Samantha called a little later to ask if I would like to join her and her friends for a walk to the 'top of the Iron Bridge'.  The views, apparently, are spectacular, and whilst I have seen the city from Mount Bonnell, I had never ventured up the side of the crags that form the bank of the Colorado River, or Lake Austin as it is known at this juncture.  I told her that I was rather busy, but to let me know when they were leaving her house, and I would recalculate my options!

"Are you a process server company?"  I responded affirmatively. "Then you called me!"  The adamant male on the end of the phone was getting quite 'ticked' with me.  We went through the same conversation as we had earlier, and I ended with the same response.

I left the office on Tuesday and went swimming.  As I sat down to read for ten minutes, I received a call to say that Samantha and Co., were just leaving her house.  I didn't so much a run (as it is impossible in my Dollar Tree flip flops) as walk rather quickly back to the condo, to take a shower and get ready.  By the time I had found my sun glasses, they had pulled up behind my unit and I took my seat in the back of Edward's car.  


Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, mountain, sky, cloud, outdoor, nature and water
'Do not park in the row', was the sign on the side of the road.  We looked up and down the row of cars parked, and could not quite work out what it meant.  Which row?  The row that was not formed on the other side of the sign, or the row upon which the cars were parked.  I was with one American and three other Englishmen.  I had to stop thinking with the majority.  As we walked away, feeling a little nervous about leaving the vehicle in a 'row' of others, the meaning became apparent.  "Hedgerow", I commented as we started to climb the jagged rocks.  "What?" came the response.  I explained the shortened version of what the sign meant.  We had parked by hedges, and it was ordered that we did not park the car 'in' then.  "Why would you?" we all agreed!.  The view was, indeed, spectacular, and whilst I had been warned to wear 'proper walking shoes', there were many (younger, I might add) people in more flimsy footwear than my Dollar Tree flip flops! They managed to make the trek up the cobbled stones without losing their footing. However, upon reaching the top, I found there was another, less treacherous path, which I vowed to take my 'proper walking shoes' down, but which had a little more foliage, and perhaps more chance of encountering 'wild life'.  What a dilemma!  Edward and Samantha were attempting to recreate a picture that they had taken five years previously, and Will (who really is a master photographer) was only too happy to oblige. However, they could not agree as to which tree they stood against, and Will took many pictures of many trees!  The heat had started to return to its seasonable best, and we chose to leave the high top, and return home.  
Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, sunglasses, sky, mountain, outdoor, water and nature

"Do you want to see the city from Mount Bonnell?" was answered with a positive response. Another mountain, another view.  We parked the car in a row of other cars, and headed to the top.  The views, as always, were marvelous, and the houses below were the envy of all who surveyed.  

We arrived back at my house, with no Dana in sight.  Not having seen the inside of my condo, Will came in for the first time.  Jodi had stayed with us many years ago, but her stay was cut short due to us having to return for my dad''s funeral.  These were happier times, and they looked around with fascination.  "You have a pool table" said Will.  "You have a piano", said Jodi.  "Do you play?" they both asked in addition to their individual questions.  I told them both 'Yes".  I did not add that I play pool better than I play the piano, although not much better!  Jodi asked me to play something. I sat down on the stool, stretched my arms, rubbed my hands together, took a deep breath, and planted my fingers upon the ebony and ivory, for one blast of noise, and then clomped over the keys like a two year old on a toy.  Jodi was laughing heartily.  She understands my humour.  "That is as good as it gets", I told her!  

Jodi and Will left for England on Wednesday and Samantha was a little sad.  Everyone was going home but her.  It gets to us sometimes!  

"Are you a process server company?"  I responded affirmatively. "Then you called me!"  The adamant male on the end of the phone was getting quite 'ticked' with me.  I could not believe this person was calling for a third time, and decided to transfer the call to the one with the authoritative voice.  After explaining that there were many companies in the greater Austin area, Dana could no more make the caller understand that we were not the company that called him, than could I when I took the calls.   We just hoped the person who did call would make contact!

Saturday was different to our usual routine.  No Costco, no Dollar Tree, no Sam's Club.  Instead we headed to the mall for the Tax-free extravaganza.  School supplies and clothes were on offer for zero tax, and we thought it might be a good opportunity to stock up. Stock up on what we were unsure, but it was worth a shot!  I did manage to buy some moisturizer for my aunt, which whilst was not tax-free, did have a very big discount, as competition between the stores was rife!  Anything that was not included in the list of products not liable to tax this weekend, appeared to have quite a large discount applied!  

I still felt as if something was missing.  We were running a little behind schedule, and this caused me to continue 'tail spinning'.  I believed it to be somewhat psychological, but was not sure.  I was leaving for home on Monday, and that meant I had the whole weekend to get everything together.  However, my weekends, although not really structured, are far more structured than I care to admit! As I mentioned last week, I find I leave for the pool on a Sunday at two and rarely deviate.  I like to be there at two on a Saturday, mainly because I am the only one who sits in the afternoon shade! It is part of my routine, and if I am 'put out' for any reason, I find it hard to focus on other things.  I realised that I now need to focus on not being so focused!  We did not reach the pool until 3!  

As of this time, I am packed.  I have everything I think I will need, and have all my electricals charging, ready to be packed away.  I have shoes, I have clothes, and I have the couple of things that have been requested.  (Another reason for my thinking something is missing - there were very few orders.)

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, outdoor and natureHopefully, my next post will be from my mother's house, next weekend.  I have the rest of today and tomorrow morning to complete the few minor things I have to do.  I have a check list that is checked more than the traditional twice, and am confident that it is complete.  However, should I have forgotten something, anything, I have to remember, I am going HOME!  Perhaps I shall manage to relax over the next twenty four hours, and enjoy the sun and pool.  I have to remember that my 'tale of two cities', is not as gruesome as Dickens, and certainly not as gruesome as I have made it sound!  Safe travels to me and here's looking towards ...... another story!