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Sunday, December 10, 2017

IT'S NOT UNUSUAL..........!

Arriving at work on Monday morning, there was a strange sense of unusual.  I could not put my finger on what was unusual, but something felt a little off skew.  I thought that, perhaps, it was because of the nearness to Christmas, and the festive lights that were appearing all around the area.  

Tuesday, the festive lights went out.  In fact all the lights went out.  Around nine-thirty in the morning, a few seconds after I had turned on the coffee machine, we were plunged into darkness.  I walked out into the corridor, and saw that the whole building had been affected.  Suddenly, there was a mass exodus, and most of the occupants left the building and headed for their vehicles.  I called the management agency, who said they would report the problem.  "I will email you when I find out any information", said the lady at the office.  Before I could point out that an email would be irrelevant as I did not have the electricity to power my computer, she had bid me farewell.


There was nothing I could do.  I could have vacuumed the office as I have a cordless hoover, but I had taken the cylinder home to clean at the weekend, and had forgotten to bring it back!  Perfect!  The vacuum cleaner was the only item of machinery that I could have used as it was not powered by an electric cable, and it was rendered as useless as an information containing email!

Spotting the postman, I walked out to retrieve the mail, and was informed that the power cut stretched from beyond the post office, and then south for about a mile.  I thanked him for the information, and returned to the office.

Fortunately, the phones were working.  The City of Austin's recorded message gave me several options, none of them relevant. I did not want to report anything, as I assumed it had been reported.  I merely wanted to know of any progress.  Eventually, I got put through to an operator, who transferred me to the correct department.  I said who I was, and where I was calling from, and asked if there was an update on the situation.  "I'm not seeing anything", said the young lady, who shall remain nameless to protect the naive!  I was quite surprised.  "So you are not showing a power outage, or you are not showing any progress?" I asked, wondering how much more information she needed.  "No. I am not showing you on my map.  Do you have an account number?"  I was rather perplexed as to what she meant.  "So you are not showing me, or my building?"  She could not find the address. My voice rose slightly.  "It is a little hard to miss our building, as it has two storeys and takes up about a third of a block.  No, she was still not seeing it!  She asked again for an account number, perhaps a name,  but I told her that she would not find anything to connect me to the building in their system, but as she could not find the building, it would be of little consequence.  We went back and forth for a while, with her trying to locate my details, and me explaining that I did not have a direct account for this address.  Throughout the conversation I repeated that there was no power, not only in our building, but for about a square mile.  It was a massive power cut, and all businesses, including the medical facilities to the north, and fast food venues to the south, were affected.  (I knew this from the postman who, in my opinion, was a reliable source!)  She was not seeing anything wrong in her system. She appeared not the be seeing anything in her system! In desperation I gave her the zip code.  "No...oh wait!  There is a huge power outage in that area".  Eureka!  "It will be restored at 11:04", she informed me, without any indication as to what had happened, and promptly hung up the phone!

I went for a walk to the supermarket.  I knew the supermarket was open, as I had received a call from a client who officed behind said store.  "Do you have power", I had asked, and she seemed a little perplexed.  "I mean, is your electricity on", I said, clumsily.  She confirmed it was all good 'across the lights' at the junction, although the traffic lights were 'out'.  By the time I returned, the lights were back on, but our computers were not.  The power cut had tripped our circuit breakers, and we were now at the mercy of the maintenance man. Our neighbours knocked to see if we had power to our sockets.  We shook our heads.  "We have the codes to get into the maintenance room", they said, and we nodded as if giving our agreement to use them.  "But they are on our computers", they added.  We waited.  

The power came on a little before midday.  We worked furiously until around seven and then came home, where I found my oven clock flashing.  I had not exaggerated when I said the outage was a square mile!

I took a variety of scones to Joe on Wednesday morning, and then another small box to my nail technician.  After my nails had been decorated in festive fashion, I drove back to the office, with a final batch of scones for 'the guys'.  The 'unusual' continued, as it was rather eerily quiet.  The phones did not ring, and the emails had subsided.  Dana told me to go home, as I had guests for dinner, and it would give me more time to prepare.  "Are you ready to go yet?" Samantha kept asking, and I realised that Dana had told her that when I left, she could leave too!  I did not tease her too much, and walked out of the door at 4:30pm.

The temperature dropped on Thursday.  Samantha and I walked to the supermarket, wearing sweatshirts and jackets.  Although it was not meant to drop below freezing, the wind was quite bitter, and we were not sure that the weatherman had been completely accurate. e returned feeling as if we had icicles on our nose and eyelashes! Although the lights were on, it seemed to get very dark, very early, outside.  Samantha mentioned this to Dana, who immediately checked his 'weather radar', and told her to, "Go home.  Go home now!"  The weather cell at which he was looking showed 'freezing precipitation', and lots of it!  "In other words, snow", she joyfully replied, and a large smile remained on her face, as she left the building.  We did not go home, immediately, but did leave around five thirty, just in time to see the first fall.  The two minute ride home took fifteen!  "Why is it taking so long", asked Dana.  I sighed.  "Call me cynical", I started, "But Austinites are not happy when it rains, and the traffic slows to a halt.  This is snow!  This is alien!"  

My neighbour had asked us to 'drop by' on Thursday, when we returned from work, to meet the newest addition to their family.  Baby Campbell was born a couple of weeks ago, and I had been itching for a cuddle, but they had been inundated with visitors, and I did not want to intrude.  As cold as it was outside, their unit was lovely and warm, and cosy.  The baby was gorgeous and I did get my cuddle! Being rather excited at the prospect of snow, because it probably meant a day off for baby's dad, the following day, (everything closes if there is snow, or the prospect of snow,) my neighbour, upon request, led me through the events of the arrival of the newling, and by the time we left to walk next door the ground was beginning to show signs of being covered in a thin layer of white!

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and natureBy Friday, the snow had stopped, but the trees were white and rather beautiful.  We decided that as this is Austin, and as it is December, we can call it a 'White Christmas'.  It is probably as near as we are going to get!  

The last working day of the week was slightly quiet to begin with.  I was starting to think that the 'unusual' was over.  However, there was more to come!  I received a call which showed the 'ID' as being in New Mexico.  "Do you serve papers in Kingsland, Texas?" was the question.  I replied that we most certainly did.  The response was, "Oh", and my reply was, "And you are not from Kingsland, Texas either".  The English accent replied that she was most certainly not!  We chatted for about fifteen minutes, discussing how we got to the USA, and both agreed that whilst we were very happy here, homesickness is always present.  We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to keep in touch.  Dana asked Samantha to whom I was talking, and she simply responded, "Her new best friend.  The woman is English, and lives here, so that's it!  You have lost her for at least another hour!"

There was no sign of snow on Saturday.  Although I needed to wear a jacket when I left the condo, it was discarded during the journey. We watched a demonstration in one of the warehouses, for a set of knives, and I became rather perplexed.  The knives that were being shown were all 'unbreakable' stainless steel.  The 'old' knife used in the demonstration, had a wooden handle which, apparently, is broken easily.  (I have a set of the knives that are, apparently, no good, and I have not experienced the fault but, hey ho!)  The demonstrator showed us how this one amazing piece of technology could cut through anything, steel, wood, a tomato!  Then, just for watching the demonstration, we were given a free gift.  An extra sharp knife, made by the company offering the 'life long' guarantee with their stainless steel unbreakable swords, and the handle on the freebie was made of wood!  In fact, I have one in the drawer at work, in two pieces!  My knives at home are not made by this particular manufacturer!  I took my gift and did not buy the product!  I was somewhat wary of the demonstrator, as when he inquired as to the origin of my accent, his changed from 'American' to Australian, and back again.  He said that he changes it at will, and could even pass as an Englishman.  Admitting that he was a 'good actor' did not endear me to the product he was promoting!  

Image may contain: 1 person, drinkIt was time to head out to the birthday party. Samantha's godson had turned 7, and we were going to do the right thing and 'show our face', despite the party being held in the depths of the countryside! This had to be an end to the 'unusual' this week, as we drove further and further into the rural land, and eventually came to our stop.  "Is it time to go yet?", I kept asking, aware of how long it would take to drive home, but we stayed for over an hour, and despite myself, I actually had a good time!  I hugged the child's grandmother and told her how good it was to see her again, and she smiled sweetly, and with enthusiasm said, "I'm sorry.  Who are you?"  When I said that I was Samantha's mom, (emphasis on the 'o', for good measure,) she apologised again, and returned the hug! Introductions were made by the child's step-father, whom I have also met several times, and he looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not gonna lie.  I don't remember your name!"  I obviously have made a lasting impression upon the family.  However, I did not take offence, as the child's mother simply calls me "Mom".  

The evening turned a little chilly again, and Dana and I headed out for dinner.  The restaurant was surprisingly busy, considering the temperature had dropped so drastically.  Normally, anything under 'light jacket' weather, causes Austinites to hibernate!  "Is there any room in the bar?" asked Dana, a sentence that always makes me laugh, as my husband is tee-total!  We had just been told that the wait would be the better part of an hour, but we knew that the bar area was 'open seating'.  "You can look", said the hostess, and we did.  Tucked away in the corner was an open booth, which we filled instantly!

Once again, Sunday rolled around, and the end of the weekend is nigh, and will be gone in a flash, as if it never existed.  I really must make an effort to appreciate Friday nights, or at least Saturday mornings!  Looking out of my window, with the sun shining and the blue sky, it is hard to imagine 'home for the holidays', but that is what I shall look forward to next.  I have some 'holiday' baking to take care of this afternoon, and perhaps we shall go later and check on the tree that was decorated last week.  Despite enjoying the unusual in a strange sort of way this week, I look forward to normality for the next seven days, especially as the fervor of the holiday season comes to its crescendo.  Next week will be ....... another story!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN!

With the Thanksgiving celebrations becoming a distant memory,
the focus now is on the next, and probably one of the largest, celebrations of the year.  No matter to what belief system one subscribes, it is virtually impossible not to get caught up in the furor of the season.  The mountain of shopping to fulfill the lists has started to form.  Shops are now decorated on the inside as well as the outside, life size elves are running around helping customers, and you cannot step to the left, or the right, without being stabbed by the branch of a fir tree!  

I was still holding my own protest about listening to holiday music on the radio, until Friday, as my refusal to acknowledge anything that remotely pertains to the yuletide season does not start until the commencement of the month in which it is celebrated.  I recently saw a post on social media, complaining that the 'Spirit has come and gone, and didn't stay very long'.  I commented that it was still November and anything remotely noel-like felt within that month, or months preceding, were like 'braxton hicks contractions', during pregnancy.  They were false!  No doubt I am being called all sorts of names, and declared a heathen, but if you start preparing for something too early, it starts to lose its appeal before it happens!  (I would add that I am not remotely suggesting that anyone's belief or faith is not relevant, but am referring to the commercialism!) This is my opinion only, and postcards with rude gestures are not required!

Monday night was a challenge, albeit not one of large proportion.  We drove into our complex after leaving work a little late, and our orange bags were once again adorning our neighbourhood.  Everyone participates in putting out the orange bags, despite no one  (perhaps I speak out of turn when I say 'no') really seeing the festiveness of said bags.  It has become our own private joke!

I sent a picture to Samantha, and within a few seconds I received a video call from her and Edward, wowing over the decorations, for which they have been waiting in anticipation, apparently!  After several minutes of painful, exaggerated enthusiasm, we hung up!

My own rule was compromised as I drove across town to Joe's on Wednesday as most radio stations were playing 'seasonal' songs, and I do like company when on the road!  

However, despite my 'humbug' attitude, Friday did arrive, and I was able to sing along to the tunes on the radio, for the three minutes we were in the car on the way to the office.  

The plan for the weekend was simple.  It was the first week in December, and a tree was awaiting our arrival so that we could adorn it with silver and gold.  The said tree was along the highway, but we had not decided which one to choose, despite there being many vying for our attention!  During the period between Thanksgiving and this weekend, there had been a lot of activity along the '360 highway' corridor, and sparkles were visible on quite a few shrubs.

Saturday took us to Sam's and Costco, where there were giant snowmen, sparkling snowmen, inflatable, plastic and even bejeweled snowmen.  Snowmen with wives, snowmen with children and snowmen with dogs took up a vast amount of space.  Snowmen with their own snow machines (because we are unlikely to see temperatures drop to below jacket wearing weather) helped accentuate the 'spirit of the season' which had been dulled down due to it starting in July!  We purchased some of our wares, but not our decorations, and continued on to the next stop.  

Walmart was rather busy.  Children were running up and down aisles, shouting to their parents that they wanted this toy, or that.  Parents were ignoring pleas, pouts and tantrums.  Eight foot snowmen were looking down from above, with smiles, no doubt delighted that their off springs had no ability to make a noise!  We purchased some of our wares, but not our decorations, and continued to the next stop.

The Dollar Tree was as busy as the previous stores.  However, the children were not as demanding.  There was not the variety of superhero spacecraft, nor electronic spacemen to pilot them.  There were, however, decorations, and lots of them!  We bought tinsel and baubles , with a bell and some bows.  Our tree was going to be sparkly, and rather inexpensively adorned!

Instead of choosing one on the flat, we chose to climb the opposite side to where Dana and I climbed last week.  The ridges that lead to a flat surface, where the vista is spectacular, are quite a bit steeper and the summit higher than that of its partner.  We parked the car and started our ascent to the first ridge, where we found a small tree, and started to decorate. However, it was somewhat impossible to get any amount of decoration facing the road, without climbing gear and grappling hooks!  The part facing inwards and not visible to those passing, looked spectacular!  We undressed the little tree, and headed up to the top of the rock!

"Decorating a tree?", asked a lady, who had been admiring the view from the peak.  "Yes, but trying not to fall off the edge is a challenge!", I replied.  She said something to the young man that was by her side, and then commented, "Good for you!"

After some deliberation, we found another small shrub, which looked rather lonely and in need of attention.  We perceived that if we could get the decorations to wrap around the part facing the road, we would not only have exposure to the highway,  but also to the opposite rock, and the back would be visible by climbers, as it was on the path.  Perfect!  I was very brave.  Due to my inability to keep my balance on high planes, it was not easy for me to help with the wrapping around of the tinsel, but I pushed myself to my limit, and even managed to affix some bows to the front!  I had to steady myself a few times, and was satisfied that should I slip, the ten foot drop would not have been as bad as the thirty foot drop from the previous location which we had abandoned!  

With bells, bows and baubles in place, we stood back, on the path, and admired the back of the tree.  "Can I take a snap chat?" asked the lady who had commended us for keeping up the tradition earlier.  We agreed to the request, and she took some pictures, and voiced over, "This is how we decorate trees in Austin!"  The young man with her said that he was from out of town, and despite the fact she was from Austin, she seemed to get more joy from the experience.  

Samantha then went down to the lower ledge to take some pictures.  "Don't stand too far back", I warned, as he positioned herself to get the best angle.  Watching her was too much for me, but I had to remain where I was to get in the picture!  She returned momentarily and said, "Your turn".  I stood stunned for a while.  She wanted me to go down on to the ledge and take a picture. I was not sure I could do this, but obliged.  As long as I did not look down, I was fine!  

After we had collected our rubbish, we handed it to a good Samaritan who had taken it upon herself to clear up other people's mess.  She had requested the brown bag in which we carried our decorations, so that she could transport the trash to a dumpster, and I obliged.  We then crossed the road to take pictures of our tree from the ground level.  It was quite high up and no doubt better seen from an eye level perspective, but as we had climbed up and down the rock on one side of the road, we did not feel energetic enough to climb up the other side.  It had started to get a little hot, and even the inflatable snowmen would have had trouble keeping upright! 

Satisfied that we had fulfilled our mission, both by keeping up the Austin tradition, and making this a new one for us, (as it was our second year, we feel we can refer to it as a 'tradition',) we went back to the car and headed home.

Dana and I climbed the hill to the top of our complex on Sunday morning, and looked over at the beautiful views that adorn our neighbourhood.  This week has seen a slight enough change in the temperature to finally turn the leaves a different colour.  We are no 'New England in the fall', but the colours are just as spectacular!  Browns, reds, golds and still a hint of green make up the most wonderful sight.  The hill was no mountain, and the trees were not decorated (not even with our orange bags) but they needed not adorning, due to their natural beauty.  

With just over three weeks to go before the all too familiar saying  of 'thank goodness that is over for another year', is heard, there is a tinge of sadness on my part, regarding the commercialism that has overrun most everything.  Simplicity has left the building!  Mountains are not so much a natural phenomenon for us to climb to reach a goal, as much as an obstacle we have created which we try to get around!  Metaphorical they may be, but that is my opinion! All I can do is try to add a bit of humour to the diversities life throws at me, in ............. another story!




Sunday, November 26, 2017

A PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

"Do you have Thanksgiving in England", is a question that is posed every year.  "Do you know the origins of Thanksgiving?", I would like to reply, but I simply shake my head and offer a demure, "No". 

The origins are often not recalled, and the focus becomes something other than what was originally celebrated.  However, I recall going down this road before, so I shall cease preaching and step down from my soapbox to provide my Thanksgiving weekend, which was also not wholly original.  I wonder what the Pilgrims would have made of twenty first century events!

I had decided, once again, to prepare a simple meal on Wednesday night, but when I awoke on Tuesday morning, my head was filled with a novel idea.  I am not sure how many people would awaken on a mid-week morning, thinking, "If I used a cheese pastry to make quiche....", but I would consider that I am in the minority.  

The quiches were (even if I do say so myself) a great success.  I took them to Joe and they were devoured, and then to my nail technician, who enjoyed them, and then on to work, where the rest were eaten very quickly.  My downfall was not making the original batch, but preparing another batch on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning!  I am my own worst enemy.  However, my thought was to add a little bit of home to the American holiday!  Would the Pilgrim's call this progress?
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Thursday morning started early, with 'big bird' being pulled from his bath, and dried off, 'au natural', in a bucket!  He showed no emotion!  Potatoes had been peeled, and beans topped and tailed, although a list had not yet been made.  I made some pastry cases and meringues to take to Dallas the following day, and then started preparing the rest of the vegetables.  As always, I thought of the Pilgrims, and their probably naivety to broccoli cheese and the addition of modern day marshmallows to the sweet potato!

The trip to Randalls was not on the agenda, but I went with Samantha who needed to buy some items from the dessert, which she was going to make that morning.  I overheard the cashier saying that he was not going anywhere this year, and friends with whom he normally spends the holiday, were going out of town.  "Nobody should be on their own at Thanksgiving", I said to my daughter, who looked at me in horror at the prospect of asking a stranger to dinner.  "It is what they do here!" I said in my defense.  I had already been next door to my three young female neighbours and checked that they had plans, and pondered on whether I would be the same at home during the Christmas period, or any other time of year.  How would my family feel if I asked someone from the supermarket, to come and join us.  I don't think it would happen.  I called Dana to check whether he thought it would be appropriate to ask, and he said he would not be opposed.  It appeared, however, that the gentleman in question did have a female companion with whom he was going to share his repast, and the offer was not given.

Lunch was not so much lunch as an early dinner.  The turkey was inspected at the time it was meant to be ready, and as I stuck the sharp end of a blade into it's now rather toasted leg, the little red 'I am done' button popped out!  Perfect timing!  In went all the trimmings, and by the time Edward arrived home from work at around 4:30, everything was ready!
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We feasted, and cleared away.  Eight hours of preparation, (not all dinner,) and one hour expended demolishing the fruits of our labour!  

Samantha and Edward left around six to go and find bargains which they needed not, and Dana and I went to watch the football, and play host to the dog!

Although most days start at five thirty, Friday was a holiday!  However, we were going to Dallas for the day, and the earlier we got on the road, the better it would be!  Coffee was put into travel mugs, the dog was given a quick breakfast and a walk, and then we set off on our travels.  At the usual destination, we gave the dog back to his mum and dad, along with a 'care package' of left over turkey and trimmings, and we received a box full of 'dry ice', and a loaf of bread.  I thought it was rather a good deal!  I had not 'made up' the desserts and had planned to 'pipe' when they were ready to be eaten, ad so put the cream filled pots into the box.

The trip up to Dallas was uneventful.  We stopped in West to pick up some bologna for Dana's brother, and the lady behind the counter engaged me in conversation.  She asked three times if I had a nice Thanksgiving Day, twice if I was visiting family, four times if I was on my way home, or going somewhere, and eventually admitted that she was just wanting to hear me talk!  The accent, apparently, being the reason!  I obliged, as I do!

Dana's 94 year old mother looked very sprightly, despite having to use a walker, and it was wonderful to see his brother, sister and brother-in-law again.  We had coffee, and then I walked around the kitchen from one cupboard to the next, wanting to help prepare dinner, but being told I was a guest!  I asked for a couple of tumblers in which to put my piping bags.  "A couple of what?"  Apparently, 'tumblers' are not a word used in them there parts, and again, after thirteen years, I realised there would always be something that caused confusion!  "Plastic cups or beakers?"  Those they had!  I put my cream and lemon cream into the two bags, which I stood in the tumblers and replaced in the fridge.  When dinner was over, I piped the mixture into the meringue baskets and pastry cups.  I believe they were a success!  

Cindy and I went for a very long walk, discussed family dynamics on both sides of the pond, discussed the similarity between our mothers, despite being ten years apart and quite literally oceans apart, and then sat in the sunshine at a park bench, and chatted some more.  We sympathised, empathised and categorised!  Both having grandchildren miles away was another subject upon which we cogitated, and although her boys are stateside, a vacation is needed to visit!  After a while, we repeated the walk and came back to the house, where we promptly left everyone to continue watching the football and sat in the back garden soaking up the last of the sun!  It was such a nice day and I was pleased that Dana could spend it with his family, although I did monopolise his sister!  

The journey home was quite quick, as the traffic was not too bad.  As we reached Round Rock Samantha called.  "Where are you", she asked.  I told her that we were just going under (what I call the County Line) Spaghetti Junction, and she said that she was just going over the same!  We both waved, despite the fact that neither of us could see each other!  Dallas and back in a day would have been unlikely in the sixteen hundreds, especially as most of Tejas was property of Mexico!
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"Moaning mother in law day", as my son-in-law has so delightfully named the day, was Saturday.  We left my house at around 9:30 am, and set off in search of anything that took our fancy.  I was sat in the back of the car, with the child locks on, so I could not leave until someone opened the door, and wandered around shops until 5:30 pm.  I did not complain!  We visited Sam's and Costco.  I stood waiting for the couple to buy some pizza and was 'chatted up' by an American, who obviously had time to spare.  The flirting was just that, and I found it quite amusing.  He liked my hat, then my accent, and as I told my husband, 'even my long grey hair!' I bid my new friend farewell, and he went in search of his wife!  

We then went further north and I purchased a coffee maker, and a camera, before taking back my new stylish boots which I had bought a couple of weeks ago, due to them having frayed at the shin!  I must admit, I was all ready for an altercation as the salesman told me that if they were on sale previously, and the price had gone up, I would have to pay the difference.  The accent suddenly got very strong.  If there was a problem, a replacement should be made and the price honoured.  However, I was given a new pair of boots and a refund!  I did not argue with the price having been reduced! Whilst Edward was searching for a new high tech gadget, in the electronics store, I was watching a live football (soccer to those stateside) match, between Chelsea and Liverpool, and being told not to shout by my daughter, as the latter looked like they were about to score a goal.  Instead, I was hopping from one foot to the other, punching my fists in the air.  She was not quite sure which of the two would be less embarrassing!  

Edward left us in the dollar store, and went home to deposit their goods.  We walked across the busy highway, and went to Walmart to pick up a few vital grocery items.  Eggs, cheese and milk were all I needed!  Then he collected us and we headed towards the outlet mall.  Thankfully we did not go in, but instead visited the Western store where Edward tried on several hats before deciding they were all too expensive!  He would continue to wear Samantha's Stetson when the whim arose!  

The only time I made any comment that could be considered slightly 'groaning' was when they said they were going to the 'Outdoor' store.  "You are kidding, right?" I said, quickly followed by, "I don't mind, but I thought you were joking".  They were not! Bass Pro store is quite an adventure!  The foyer is decorated with all kinds of trophies and the first thing you see is the lane that leads from the front of the store to the back, which depicts a scene of farm land and animals, all along a ledge each side, with a beautiful blue, slightly white-clouded sky.  The store itself is an Aladdin's cave for sportsmen and hunters.  I sat in a very comfortable chair, for the duration of the visit!

"You are kidding, right?" was said only once more, when Edward, at 5:30 pm said that we had three more stops.  He laughed and said that I had done very well!

Dana took us all out for dinner and then Samantha took another 'care package' to make, what she called her 'ultimate Thanksgiving Rolls', which apparently crams in all the left overs into a small french loaf!  
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I am not sure how much 'Thanks' was given, but my legs were thankful to be horizontal today!  The 'holiday' has turned into just that, a 'holiday', and whilst I am sure there are those that keep to the tradition, we are caught up in the festivities. I suppose I could stretch the truth slightly and refer to both Friday and Saturday as a Pilgrimage.  (No offence intended!)

Onwards and upwards, we head into December, and the next round of shopping, preparing and wonder.  I have refused to acknowledge the next round until the twelfth month. Let one holiday be over before another begins is my motto this year!  Otherwise, it is over before it has begun!  A full week is ahead of me, with lots of work and monotony and I am very much looking forward to it!  Perhaps I will have some deviation which will make its way to ...... another story!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

HOLIDAY ROAD!

It was another week of testing my ability to leave my 'comfort zone'.  I sometimes feel so attuned with my adoptive 'laid back' city, but other times, I feel the forty years of a 'faster pace of life' previous existence overtaking, and I fail to blend in.  This being said, I feel the following is slightly 'disjointed' and the inability to flow would indicate my inability to dysfunction in a functioning arena. My neighbour had interrupted my weekend proceedings, by asking if I had another 'episode' for the newsletter.  She hoped to get this month's edition of our neighbourhood news finished before Thanksgiving, and was compiling it a little earlier than usual.  As I had planned my week, meticulously, from post blog Sunday afternoon, to post Thanksgiving grocery shopping on Saturday, I had not left any room for frivolity!  

The 'episode' to which she was referring, was a chapter in a story I have been writing for the past fifteen months.  Mostly fictitious, it tells the tale of two couples living on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The English couple live in Tottenham, England, and the American couple live in Austin, Texas.  The thing that links them is that they both live in a complex that bears the same name, which just so happens to be the name of the complex in which I live!  The London 'block of flats' is very old, and in my mind's eye, is actually where my paternal grandmother used to reside; the couple in the story bear the names of my maternal grandparents. The Austin complex is my complex, although the condo in the story is not mine, but the lay out is that of one of my neighbours! The name, and characteristics of the couple, is purely fictitious.  

However, I digress, slightly, as my week did not comprise the writing of the story, but as always, encompassed the differences between the two sets of lives.  A tale of  two cities,  so to speak!

I finished the story quite quickly, and sent it to my neighbour, and continued with my weekend.  I was having fun with the space saving bags, again!   I had to use my time wisely, as there would not no time for deviation throughout the coming week!

Image may contain: dessert and foodMonday morning was very much 'on track'.  I was late for work, as I introduced a 'bagel run' to the proceedings.  Not content with the packs of round tyre-like (both in shape and taste!) lumps of stodgy dough, my customers prefer the freshly baked variety.  I have been nicknamed, by Jerry in our office, 'office mom', (notice the 'o' rather than 'u' in the middle of the title, due to our location,) and this particular job appears to include providing a breakfast service to the staff, namely my husband and daughter!  Arriving ten minutes late did not hinder my performance, and I concentrated on my workload without slacking.

Walking around to the post office was a little grueling.  The weather was not hot, but at the same time, not cold.  The usual pleasant greetings were shouted, and the question of 'who's that?' was responded to with, 'that's the English lady'.  I smiled, graciously, as not only was I 'The' English lady, I was positively referred to as a 'lady'.  I was then pulled to one side by the second in command, and asked some direct questions about the state of Europe, the recent uprising in Spain, and various other political dilemmas, as if I was an authority.  Of course, I obliged with answers that were preceded with the words, 'in my opinion', which appeared to add even more credibility.  The more I spoke, the heavier my accent became, and the heavier the accent became, the larger the crowd surrounded.  Feeling rather empowered, I left for my walk back to the office, where I was once again, 'momma', dealing with a variety of metaphorical 'soggy diapers'.    

I was hosting two 'dinner parties' during the week.  Wednesday evening was our weekly 'fellowship' group, where I make a 'pot luck' dinner, for four people upwards, and get to practise any new recipe I want to 'try out', and Thursday I was hosting the monthly neighbourhood dinner.  There are no hard and fast rules to the contents of the feast but I find it very difficult not to over cater, especially on the dessert front!

Baking was on the agenda for Tuesday morning, and although I had planned to create a simple repast for Wednesday, the accompaniments required more effort than I had anticipated, and the piped, souffle mashed potatoes took longer to prepared than the time allotted!  Apparently, however, it was worth the labour!  I felt as if most of my time was spent scrambling around to clear up before leaving for work, or in the case of the latter, before my guests arrived.  

Image may contain: foodMy neighbours, few as they were on Thursday, as I did not really give much notice, were all used to living 'abroad'.  Two, although having lived stateside for fifty years, were born and grew up in India, and the third, although born here, studied at Oxford and spent a good deal of her life in Paris. (The wife of my Spanish neighbor, whom I have mentioned before).  We discussed the difference in culture and the difficulty in 'fitting in' when first thrust into the diversity of a new country!  This time, I could speak with actual knowledge, rather than with a knowledgeable sounding opinion!  Dinner was English and European themed, with Shepherds pie, Vol-au-vents, sausage rolls, and a variety of desserts which included Italian meringues, mille fueilles, roulade and a few others, because one type of dessert per person is not enough.  My young female neighbours came in at ten thirty, upon request, (as they had not been able to attend the soiree) to take some samples back to their condo, so as to minimise the amount I had to pack up and store!  

With the 'traditional' neighbours gathering over for another month, one of the major different events is upon us next week, that of the Thanksgiving.  Shopping is tantamount to that of the expedition I used to make for Christmas lunch!  Enough food to feed an army, cooked on one day, and eaten for several following, with the genuine attempt not to waste, but knowing that inevitably you will be feeding the 'trash' even if it is a small amount.  

This year, my 'preferred' store for purchasing weekly grocery items, (I shall not print the name, but would add that if anyone recognises it, I write, 'without prejudice',) provided a shopping list.  I picked this up after I had bought my wares, and Samantha and I studied it hard.  After deliberating on where to buy the turkey, 'big bird' was purchased at the said supermarket, for the first time in our history of Thanksgiving turkey purchasing!  'Big bird' was perhaps the only relevant thing on the prepared shopping list.  I looked over the 'Thanksgiving made simple' list and whilst I am sure it would make this very easy for some, my English mind could not comprehend the simplicity of the suggestions.  I contemplated the item 'baking essentials',  and then 'fresh desserts'.  Would one necessarily outlaw the other?  What constituted 'baking essentials'?  On the first, 'made simple' step, I was confused.  Although there was a suggestion to purchase 'fresh' vegetables, the recommendation to add 'organic canned vegetables' to the list was made.  Somehow, 'organic' and 'canned' do not go together, although I am sure it is perfectly legitimate.  Would the can not comprise the 'organic', or does 'can' mean 'jar'.  I was not about to find out!  Although my creations in the kitchen are often far from simple, I am a 'simple' cook!  The list continued, and most of the items were 'ready made'; something I rarely buy, and although there is far more variety of 'ready meals' in the English supermarkets than when I left the 'green and pleasant land', I have a strange perception of failure if I succumb to buying something that has been prepared by another!  Obviously, this is purely a personal defect and one that perhaps, one day, I shall overcome!  The other aspect is that I do find it, oddly, therapeutic to cook, despite the fact that I would prefer someone to take care of the washing up, and clearing away!

The shopping was completed, and the list (perhaps unnecessarily critically) considered an amusing joke.  


I contemplated my two couples in the story, and how one would probably have the whole Thanksgiving meal catered, due to her busy schedule and financial ability, whilst the other would prepare Christmas dinner, with all the trimmings, without a ready made product in sight, due to tradition.  

Once again, I will finish by wishing all those who partake, a very Happy Thanksgiving, and I am personally thankful for the freedom to be able to partake, and to cook 'from scratch' as the saying goes.  I do not frown upon those who do not follow my self-imposed rules; in fact, I am a little envious at times!  To my fellow Brits, who are not on this side of the pond, I say, Happy Thursday!  I shall continue with my tale of two cities, in ........ another story!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

HAPPY VETERANS DAY!

The discussion continued around Veterans' Day.  Is it a celebration or a commemoration?  In England, we always commemorated on the day set aside, which is known as 'Remembrance Sunday'.  In the USA, the veterans are, I suppose, 'celebrated', and to that end, saying "Happy Veterans' Day", is acceptable. 

I continued to wear my poppy 'with pride', and pinned it on every day.  Two people asked me, "Why", in different ways.  My husband, who sees this red symbol for a few days each year, said to me, "What is the purpose of the flower"?  I did not quote the poem, "In Flanders fields", but told him that it was a symbol of remembrance.  "Do you have Veterans' Day in England?" he asked. Quite sure that we had the conversation before, I resisted the usual, sarcastic quip, of "Ours was the original", which is usually followed by, "Yes, but we came in and won it for you", which is always succeeded by, "Only when it was nearly over!" and so on, and so forth.  Obviously, the banter is banter, and we both have nothing but the utmost respect for the military, on both sides of the pond!  The second person to ask was a neighbour, who had been to England a couple of times, the most recent visit being in August, and had seen various memorials around the country, with the wreaths of poppies.  I told her that I wore it as a commemoration, but in retrospect, it was a celebration of the freedom that was given by those we commemorate.  It was only later did I find out that the poppy was not actually a symbol created by the British Legion, but one adopted after a female professor of the University of Georgia was (apparently) inspired by the words of a poem, written by a Canadian, "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row".

Due to Veterans Day being on a Saturday, our local county courthouse was closed on Friday.  This meant that our office was technically closed and the staff were allowed a day off!  I did offer to fore go my extra holiday, but Dana insisted that I go and 'enjoy' myself.  "Is it really a day for celebration?" I asked, although to 
'enjoy' is not necessarily tantamount to 'celebrate'.  

Friday morning started the same as most other mornings in my household, with Dana going into the office early, and me taking care of whatever routine job was set out for that particular day.  As usual, I got started on something that was not 'routine', and ended up having little time to actually finish the dedicated task.  However, it was indicative of the freedom I have due to those for whom the poppy is a symbol.  I do not have to stick to a routine, I thankfully have the ability to chose to do so!

Traveling across from one county to the next, my red car rattled along the road, and safely delivered me to the front door of my daughter, whom was waiting with a cup of coffee.  We had planned to go and see the film, "Goodbye Christopher Robin", but it was only showing at three cinemas, none of which were in the vicinity of either of our homes.  Instead, we thought we would travel around the warehouses that we usually frequent on a Saturday, but those in a different town.  

Costco by any other name, as the poet said, (although I think he used the term, 'a rose',) would smell as sweet!  The aroma of samples, especially entering the Yuletide season (which is upon us with a vengeance,) drift through the air devoid of subtlety.  Gingerbread, and cinnamon sticks to the clothing, as ale and cigarettes would in a beer garden!  "Happy Veteran's Day", said the elf from behind the counter, handing out pancakes with a hint of maple syrup and an abundance of mixed spice.  "Is it happy?", both my daughter and I responded.  Of course, the freedom to dress like an elf and offer small pieces of fried batter soaked in sugary goop, would imply that it is, indeed, very happy!  I was rather inclined to ask, "If it is Veteran's Day, why are you dressed for Christmas?" but chose not to get into a deep and meaningful discussion with a person wearing green striped tights, and a leaf for a hat!  The author of 'A rose by any other name', would have been able to cast this vendor in another of his plays, although we were as far away from Midsummer on this particular continent, as we could be!  

The outlet mall was not busy.  Despite the courthouses in both counties, (Samantha's home county and mine,) schools were not closed, due to the actual day being on Saturday.  There were 'Veteran Day' sales, and I am sure bargains were to be had, but I was in search of a new hand mixer, and Walmart did not carry the model I was wanting.  I was disappointed, at first, that the store we visited did not have the make I was looking for, but soon recovered, realising that the choice on the shelves was vast, and a choice could be made. I was having rather a philosophical day, and I had decided to embrace my freedom, and the ability to make choices based upon those who have died so I could have liberty.  I bought another brand, one which I have bought before, and one which is considered to be of reasonable quality.  

After our successful trip to the outlet mall, we headed back to another warehouse.  'Sams' by any other name, would smell as sweet.  Sugar and spice, and all things nice, were on sale as well as an array of lights, trees, statues and other things that divert from even the most diverse of 'seasonal' objects.  Is it a bird? Is it a plane?  Goodness only knows.  However, whatever the object, it did commemorate the fact that those who gave us freedom to celebrate the day, (this side of the pond,) fought (and I quote) "The never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way".  My poppy, despite the origin, commemorates the same on the other side of the Atlantic.  We all have the freedom to have an inflatable 'Santa' flying a helicopter, with a dog atop, and not a reindeer in sight!

I came home, after enjoying my complimentary 'festive' Starbucks beverage, (I chose caramel, as opposed to gingerbread and cinnamon,) with a detour to Walmart.  "Where can I find the space-saver bags, please?", I asked the assistant.  She looked at me with the 'deer in the headlights' vagueness, and shrugged her shoulders.  "What does she want?", asked another assistant, as if I was not there.  "Space saver bags", I repeated, and explained that I was looking for the storage bags that were filled, and then had the air sucked out of them, with a vacuum.  The first lady shrugged again, the second lady pointed to the handbag section.  I went in search, as I was sure they carried the item.  A third lady, presumably noticing my 'deer in the headlights' vagueness, knew exactly to what I was referring.  and took me to them.  As I returned to the check out, I was quite indignant.  I was going to show the other two women the bags and let them know that they do stock them, and where to find them.  However, my eye caught the top of the leaf on my poppy, which had curled inward.  Freedom!  My attitude was not the same as when I entered the outlet mall.  My philosophy was waining, and I was not celebrating, nor commemorating those who had given their lives so that I could have liberty.  "These are what I was talking about", I said with a smile. "You can find them by the hangers, if anyone else needs to know".  A discussion ensured, with laughter and merriment, fit for any festivity, and the two ladies were most thankful for my coming back to let them see what it was I was trying to explain.  I felt better for the experience, and they did not have to suffer the condemnation of a contentious woman!  

Once home, I set about unloading boxes of stuffed animals, which had been moved from place to place since my arrival in Texas, and by the time Dana arrived home, I felt as if I had also completed a days work!  

 Our Saturday was a usual Saturday.  "Happy Veterans' Day", said the reindeer with an elf's attire.  "Is it a celebration, or a commemoration?" we asked, once again.  The reindeer in elf's clothing was not moved, and continued to announce her salutation to all that entered the store.  She was giving away pieces of cake, so we did not hinder the experience.  

Dana and I went out for dinner, and upon responding that he was indeed a veteran, was thanked for his service.  "Ten years army", he said, when the young girl asked him, "Which branch?"  She asked where he was stationed, and the conversation ensued with him telling her that he came from a very military family.  I sat wearing my poppy with pride, smiling at the remembrance of my grandfather, who was in, or around Flanders fields!  We did not partake of the specific 'free' meal for veterans, as we had the freedom to decline, but as my husband did serve his country, and a substantial discount was applied to our bill.  "I was not involved in active combat", he said to me, as we were eating.  I told him that without the 'air traffic controllers', the planes could not go to where they needed to be, and those that were involved in 'armed combat' would not be afforded that benefit.  He concurred and accepted the generosity of the establishment with graciousness, and I beamed with pride.  

The Queen stood on the balcony overlooking Whitehall this morning, as her children and grandchildren placed wreaths at the cenotaph, to commemorate those who gave the United Kingdom of Great Britain their freedom.  I wore my poppy with pride, and enjoyed the freedom of going out for breakfast, and then a walk around my complex.  It is too cold to swim today, although there is nothing stopping me, should I wish to take on the elements!  

I celebrate my freedom, and commemorate those who gave it to me.  Perhaps that is the way to look at it.  As the poet says, "If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields".  Our freedom was paid for with a price, and I am able to sit here and write about the frivolity in which I partake, whist those who lay in Flanders fields, who gave me the ability to do this without so much as a 'by your leave', will never be able to read ........... another story!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!

I received an email letting me know that I had won tickets to the 'Rodeo Event', on the Saturday following my return to the USA.  I had entered the contest in the hope that I would win, (naturally,) but moreso because I thought it would be good to do something different upon my return from my impromptu visit, given the reason for the impromptu visit.  Like watching a 'James Bond' movie on a Sunday afternoon, I wanted to have a couple of hours where I could escape!

The email gave me two options.  I could pick up the tickets from the radio station, or meet the representative at the event, whereupon she would personally hand them to me.  Much as it would have been nice to meet the lady with whom I have correspondence on what has become a reasonable regular basis, I was looking for an excuse to leave the office for a while, and this was it!  I replied saying that I would collect the tickets, and she responded asking, 'how many?'.  I knew that Samantha, no matter how tongue in cheek, would say, "I wanted to go there", so I asked if it would be possible to have four.  The following response was that she could push it to six if I would like, as a couple of people had 'passed' due to other commitments. I responded with thanks, and drove to the location to collect the swag!  

Jerry was the third recipient, and he was rather excited.  "Wow.  It is for Bulltober fest!", he commented.  I concurred, and wondered whether this event was going to be enjoyable.  Being  part of the Rodeo, I was quite sure that it would not involve harm to any of the animals taking part, but this was not going to be the same event as the Rodeo which we attended last year.  Would I really now be able to say, "This is not my first Rodeo!"
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Arriving fifteen minutes before commencement, we had to park some distance from the entrance, which gave us the impression it was very well attended.  Samantha and Edward had already taken up occupancy at the far end of the arena, so that they could see 'head on' as the contestants came out.  We sat with them and waited.  

Edward was slightly disappointed, as although this was not my first rodeo, it was his, and he was looking forward to munching on the famous roasted turkey legs that are usually on offer at these events. There were several opportunities to purchase 'barbecue', but no fowl drumsticks!

Five people hovered in front of us, wondering where to sit.  They finally agreed that this was a good position and asked if the seats were reserved.  Hearing a non-native accent, I commented, "Are you here on vacation, or do you live here?"  One of the two females looked up, in with excitement.  "An accent!", she exclaimed, in a tale-tell antipodean tone.  During further exchanges, we found out that they were from Western Australia, and were on a six week trip around the USA, and had decided that when in Austin, they should partake of a typical event, and that is why they were at the Rodeo.  "We have these at home", the first female said as she took her seat.  "You haven't lost your accent, then", said the second female, as we chatted a little more, and I said that I had been here for thirteen years.  "Have you lost your accent?", she asked Dana.  "I don't have an accent", he said, in his deep southern drawl.  This caused a blast of laughter to emit from the first female, and we continued to chat until the proceedings began.  
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It was not 'bull fighting', I am glad to say, but more 'bull taunting', although the bulls appeared to be quite happy to take part in this 'sport'.  The idea was to 'jump' over the bull, at least once during the allotted time, and to have the bull chase the contender in the ring.  "We don't have this at home", announced the Australian female.  "Is this what you guys do for fun?"  Dana explained that I had won the tickets, and felt it pertinent to let the entire party know that it is 'What she does.  Win things", and then said that we had not really known what to expect.  He made her shriek with laughter again, as he commented, "This is what we do...we have arenas for stupid people!".  He apologised immediately, explaining that he was not really a fan of the 'sport', and did not wish to cast aspersion upon those taking part, but the Aussie lady thought this too was amusing.  Once it became apparent that the bulls were obviously enjoying this event, those who were not knowledgeable, began to settle down and enjoy the show.  

The crowd roared with laughter, as the bulls repeatedly refused to do as they were coaxed to do, and failed to go back into the pen.  One bull appeared to be 'playing to the crowd', as he almost exited the area, and then ran out again, appearing to 'take a bow'.  He ran from corner to corner, lowering his head, and scraping his hoof along the ground, and then reared his head up again, and mooed in victory.  The 'owner' appeared on horseback, but failed to cajole the animal back to the pen.  The contestants all appeared to be attempting to bring him back into the fold, but he was not going to be denied his moment of glory.  

Those who were on the 'public address system', were enjoying the show, and taking the opportunity to play tunes that best suited the situation.  Eventually, as if enough was as good as a feast, the bull trotted back to the other end of the area, turned once more to say, 'cheerio', and exited amidst the further roars and cheers from the crowd.  

It was as if a gauntlet had been laid down.  Once the bulls had 'seen off' the contenders, many of whom did manage to 'jump' over the bovine beasts, they proceeded to commence their 'victory' laps, and took their time in leaving the arena.  The event, which should have taken ninety minutes, was heading into its third hour, and there was nothing the presenters, nor the contenders, nor the organisers could do about it.  

Perhaps it was not every one's idea of fun, and I do not think I would attend a repeat performance, but it is obvious that the organisers of this event have a great respect for their animals. (No doubt there are those that would disagree.)  The stars that night, were big and bright, and I was back 'Deep in the Heart of Texas'!

We did not stay for the concert, as it was getting late, and it was rather cold.  I had, fortunately, worn a jumper over my thin shirt, and a jacket atop, together with boots and a hat, but I was beginning to feel the wind whip through to the core.  I had brought a jacket for Samantha, who had called me after leaving her house to say that she had failed to dress appropriately, and only when she was on her way to the event did she realise she needed a coat!  It was, after all, October in Austin, and no one (not even, it would appear, those with degrees in meteorology) can predict the weather, one hundred percent of the time!  
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We left before the prizes were awarded, and walked, briskly, to the car, heading out to grab some dinner, ironically, at Texas Land and Cattle!  However, the restaurant that has been an Austin landmark, for decades, had permanently closed at the particular location where we had chosen to eat!  It was as if the bulls had really had the last laugh!

The temperature rose back into the mid 80's by mid-week.  Jerry had been given tickets to two football matches on Saturday, and did not attend Bulltober Fest after all.  However, he had given the passes to his son's boss, who apparently had wanted to go to the event, but was unable to purchase tickets!  I was pleased they went to a good home.

As usual, as I am grateful, and was brought up to say thank you when given a gift, I sent an email to my benefactor, expressing my appreciation for the opportunity.  I have received replies in the past to tell me that they do not often get a tribute of gratitude, but more often than not, receive complaints.  Personally, I have no objection to words of advice, should they be worthy, or constructive, but if I am invited to attend an event, gratis, at my request, (e.g. entering the contest,) if I do not enjoy said event, I would simply not attend again.  However, I digress (to a degree!).  The following day, I received a 'thank you', for my 'thank you', and the most sweetest of all replies, and I quote, "It warms my heart to know that we have allowed you and your family some fun in Central Texas. You have always been so gracious and I truly am excited when I see your name pop up in our random draws".  I must say, I was moved!  I was sorry that I did not wait to collect the tickets from my benefactor, and meet her face to face.  

I gave away my prize for Saturday.  Tickets to the Polo match.  Much as I would have loved to attend, it was to take place during the day, and I knew it would not be a suitable time, but as I was actually emailed the passes, rather than offered to accept or deny the opportunity, I downloaded them and gave them to George, one of our servers, (as he had taken his kids to the event in the summer, and commented on how he would like to go again,) and to the 'girls' who live next door, who also said, "We wanted to go to this last year, but couldn't!"  I replied to the email with thanks!

Our clocks 'went back' today, and as the sun will be setting earlier, I shall have to see whether the summer has really gone, and whether it will be time to hang up the aquatic attire for another season.  I have a feeling I shall be like the bulls in the pen, being taunted by the water, and then expecting the applause once the event is over!  Time will tell!

My mother has returned home from the rehab facility, nearly two months after her entry to hospital, and appears to be delighted that she is now in familiar surroundings.  Elise (who is still my heroine) has arranged for an amazing care package, so she will not be alone, and I feel quite inadequate in expressing my debt of gratitude.  

Next week, another debt of gratitude will be given, and that is to all the fallen soldiers, and giving thanks to all those who are still protecting us with their lives.  Veterans' Day, (or Armistice Day as it is known in my native land,) is on Saturday.  I shall wear my poppy with pride, and remember those who made it possible for me to attend events like the Bulltober Fest, and the Polo match, but moreso, those who gave their lives to give me the option to say, "No!" if I did not wish to take part.  I shall continue to express my thanks, all week, and into .......... another story! 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

ONE DAY I'LL FLY AWAY!

I must, firstly apologise, for not contacting anyone when I was home last week.  Yes, I was home, in England! The reason for my visit was to 'check in' on my mother, who had decided, once again, to 'throw herself to the floor', and fracture several bones.  If that was not enough, she put her head down (again) to save her hands, and was treated for cranial bleeds.  Thankfully, she is making a good recovery, but a necessary 'emergency' visit was deemed.  

My sister, Elise, who is my heroine, as this has fallen upon her shoulders, found it amusing, fortunately (for me) when my mother told my aunt that 'the girls have been marvelous'.  I have turned into the prodigal daughter, and the fatted calf was slaughtered, proverbially, of course, upon my return.  Although I was only there for a total of seven days, I hope I managed to make life a little easier for Elise, and I know it was 'a little'.

The flight was booked about a week after the kids had left to go home.  Flights from Austin for the week after were decidedly few and far between as well as being very expensive, and the same could be said for those coming back in for the previous week.  It was after I received my confirmation that I realised I would be gone for Austin City Limits, the F1 Grand Prix, and perhaps the most important event, (although I doubt it would affect the airport,) Dogtoberfest!  I would not be able to watch Frank get intimidated by dogs of all sizes, and forget to 'strut his stuff', due to anxiety!

Image may contain: one or more peopleIt was a very busy week prior to my departure, and along with packing and making sure all my work was completed, I had to make a cake for my daughter.  I had no idea what to make, as I had exhausted my repertoire.  However, a song played on the radio a couple of weeks ago, and I commented that I was surprised that she knew the words.  "It comes from one of my favourite films.  Mr. Holland's Opus".  Eureka!  An idea!  The remaining dilemma was how to transfer the idea into dessert!  Knowing my daughter's sense of humour, I giggled from the inauguration of the thought to the lighting of the candles.  I made a large round cake, and four smaller triangles, covered them in home-made fondant, and marked the latter with 'a', 'e', 'i' and 'u'.  The large round 'o' shape, simply had 'Mr Holland's' written upon it, and attached was a handle.  She looked, and then I said to her, "What do Americans call their handbags?"  She looked, and then laughed heartily.  "Mr. Holland's 'O' purse!"  Fortunately, she loved it!  Those around us were slightly baffled, but that did not matter!

Dana was heavily burdened with work on Monday, but thankfully on the day I departed, it was not as grueling for him.  However, I took with me a copy of all my 'cookie cutter' documents, so that I could perhaps help with the paperwork, whilst away, if nothing else!  Tuesday morning started with me being very calm, but gradually things started to fall apart. My 'motion sickness' wrist bands were not in their usual place.  As I land, on my final flight of a journey, I put them, very carefully, in the front pocket of my backpack.  When I get to the destination, or home, I check that they are safely tucked away in said pocket.  They were not there.  I could not think what had happened to them, and panic started to set in.  Samantha arrived to collect me and offered a solution.  I could buy some more!  I have not seen the same bands as those that I am used to, but she convinced me that we would be able to find a replacement.  We did find replacements, but they were not the same as I had misplaced.  However, I was at least in possession of 'a pair' of bands that promised to keep me from feeling queasy. When we returned to the office, Richard 'face-timed' before I left, and asked if I could get some mints, that were on sale in both pharmacies we had visited!

Not the best route, in my opinion, I took off from Austin to Dulles. I sat on the plane, unable to access the airline 'app' so that I could watch a film, for three and a half hours, crocheting, and watching my battery run down, as my phone 'kept trying'.  Even when I stopped looking, it kept trying to connect!

Thankfully, the flight landed early, and even more thankfully, the gate was open.  I felt as if I was on a roll, as the gate where we stopped was not far from the gate where I was to take off.   Austin airport, (every possible shop,) did not have the mints my son wanted, but as I sped along the terminal, I noticed a small concession stand.  "Four!  Can you not buy them where you live?" Hmm.  Well, yes, and no!  Yes, I can buy them in Austin, but they did not have them at the airport, but 'no', I did not think I could get them in England.  The saleslady had lost interest at the first 'and', looking out for anyone else who wished to make a purchase! 

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I went to the lounge, to collect my thoughts, and instead collected a cup of hot water with a few pieces of ginger added, and then filled a cup with tiny cup cakes, (where else should they go?) and an apple.  Making my way to the gate, I saw that the lines had already started to form.  "Group one?" I asked the man standing in line.  "Yes, right the way to the back", said the English accent. "There is a queue.  You will have to get to the back!"  I did not respond, despite my desire to do so.  We were all going to get on the plane, and I would naturally take my place at the back of the line, but his attitude was rather unpleasant.  As I stood waiting, two women arrived at the gate.  "You will have to go to the back", said the Englishman.  "There is a queue".  One of the ladies looked at him and said, "Okay, who put you in charge!"  A low level ripple of laughter came from the line.  "It is called courtesy!", responded the Englishman.  "Yeah, and you aint got any!  We are all gonna get on the plane!"  Although the lady was starting to move to the back of the line, he did not stop.  "Manners.  It is all about manners.  We were here first".  The lady's friend called to her not to respond, as it was not worth the effort.  After all, he was not going to arrive at his destination any quicker than the rest of the passengers.  He continued to mumble.   Once aboard, I struggled to lift my case into the overhead locker.  

Arriving in London, I tried to retrieve my case, but the lady that had been sitting under the locker would not move.  Everyone pushed past, and eventually, there was a lull, so that I could haul it down.  I wondered how long I would be able to continue this practice, without help. (During the flight, I had tried to retrieve my phone, and asked the steward to help.  He had said, "No!", then added, "You have to keep jumping up until you reach it".  I laughed, as did he!)  I made may way out through customs, and looked for Steph and Jamie, as she said she would be waiting with the crowds of people looking for loved ones.  She was not there, and I assumed it was because I had landed early.  A few minutes later, I spotted Richard.  He had taken the day off to chauffeur me around. I was surprised but not suspicious, despite him seeming a bit on edge.  "Now everything is okay, but.....Grams had another fall last night".  It appeared that my mother had been given the 'all clear' to walk on her own during the day, but had to be supervised at night.  Although accompanied to the bathroom, she was left to her own devises and missed the 'frame' when trying to stand.  

Elise was at the bungalow, and we discussed the best way forward for my mother, before going to visit her and presenting her with a 'fete accompli'.  

Apart from a plaster across her nose, Mum looked pretty good.  The senior nurse was particularly concerned about the previous night's events, and was asking for details, as the lady in the next room was asking if my mother thought she had a 'case to sue'.  We told mum what we had discussed, and she appeared to be in agreement.  

Richard suggested that rather than stay on my own, I should 
'bunk down' on his sofa for the night.  Steph mentioned that she was going to go swimming at 9am, and I gladly agreed to join her.  "No, tonight", she corrected me, and I did not think twice before saying, "Yes!"  After dinner, we went to the leisure centre and swam 900 metres!  It was just what I needed to clear my head and relax my tired bones.  I slept very well, as their sofa was much more comfortable than the futon on which I normally sleep!

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Mum's house was very cold.  It did not take long for me to get used to the warm climes of Texas and develop a hatred for the damp mornings of October in England.  They did not bother me when I lived there, and I would always be the first to chastise those who complained, but having not been at home in October for 13 years (my first trip back after emigrating) I was sympathising with those whom I used to scold.  The first thing I did was turn on the heating, and then set to work.  

Although we had discussed the possibility of mum moving into 'sheltered' accommodation the day before, having slept on it, all three of us (Elise, Mum and myself) had realised this was not the way forward, and reverted to 'plan B'.  I removed the larger objects from the bedroom I usually call 'mine', when visiting, and started to clear out the cupboards, so that if necessary, it could be used by a carer.  I made some coffee, courtesy of Joe, who had deemed it necessary to send me on my way with half a pound of his finest wares, and remembered that mum always has provision for emergencies.  There, in the cupboard, was a carton of 'long life' milk, which was just what I needed!  I put some washing in the machine, and continued to find new homes for objects that needed to be rehoused.

My mother is most protective about her car, and although when she first fell, the probability of driving again was virtually non-existent, (as was a complete recovery, and in some circles, mortality,) it was now looking likely that she would be able to pick up where she left off, at some stage within the near future.  Therefore, she was reluctant to let me drive it.  "She will take it on airport runs", she told Richard.  I advised her that I had no intention (never mind that there was no time permitting) to become a 'ride-share' driver, and then reminded her that in order for me to drive back from, and then to the airport, would require someone leaving the car and then picking it up.  I was also not going to be gallivanting (as she tends to call it) all over creation, as very few people knew I was in town, and this was purely a visit to see her!  I would be going from Richard's house to hers, to the hospital, and back again!  She finally agreed to amend the insurance so that I could take advantage of the idle vehicle, rather than hire one to sit next to hers!

I took my laptop to the hospital, together with the 'dongle', so that I could connect to the Internet, and spent three hours chatting to my mother, preparing documents for signature for various people around the state of Texas, accessing the different courts for 'case' information, and speaking to 'professionals' regarding a 'discharge' date.  By the time it came to leave, I felt as if I had done a days work!  Mum was just as exhausted, having received several phone calls, taking part in occupational therapy exercises, and having her blood pressure taken several times.  I drove back to the bungalow, and then on to Richard's house, to bath the kids!  I was exhausted, but it was a good exhaustion!

Jamie had not had a good night, and we had some quality time whilst Steph took Ollie to school on Friday. It was a good bonding experience, and a therapeutic release before heading out to repeat yesterday's performance.  Steph made dinner, and Richard opened a bottle of wine.  After three sips I was giggling like a three year old, and entertaining my hosts!  "I wish we had something sweet", said Steph.  Richard offered to walk to the shops, but I then remembered the 'cup' cakes, which were in my bag.  They were still very fresh, and hit the spot!

I met Elise on Saturday and we finished the cleaning.  Considering my mother is not really a hoarder in the sense that I am, we threw away a lot of things that she was adamant she would never use again. "What's a salmon kettle?" Samantha asked.  I tried to explain but gave up, as it had been put into the rubbish bin and would be crushed on Monday when the refuse gentlemen arrived!

Image may contain: foodI enjoyed my dinner on Saturday night.  Richard and Steph were able to enjoy a 'date' night, and I had picked up some supper from Sainsburys.  I simply cannot find 'shredded duck with pancakes', nor a really good 'chicken korma' in the wilds of Texas, and could not make up my mind which one to have.  I bought both, and thought I would decide once it was time to eat. I also bought a dessert, (profiteroles with salted caramel sauce,) and a bag of real bite sized kit-kats.  I declined the offer of a glass of wine whilst they were gone, as I knew I needed to be in full possession of all my faculties if I was in charge of the boys!  When the time came, I enjoyed both dinners, (which I thought were rather small portions, so I did not feel guilty,) the dessert, and half the bag of kit-kats!  I watched old comedy shows, and before long Richard and Steph came home, and then I enjoyed the rest of the wine!

The routine for the next few days were the same, although I was a little late getting to the hospital on Monday.  I visited my aunt, who had also undergone surgery, about four days prior to my mother, and my uncle, who was the cause of my aunt having to undergo surgery.  He had taken a tumble, and she had broken his fall, with her hip!  Lesley, my cousin, arrived about half an hour before I left, and then I had to go to the supermarket to collect a paper for mum. By the time I got to the hospital, mum had already rung Richard and Steph to enquire as to my whereabouts, as my phone was 'busy'. I had been talking to Samantha, and had not realised that my tardiness would cause an investigation!

Saying cheerio on Tuesday was quite emotional, but I promised I would return in December, as usual.  It was also quite emotional putting Ollie to bed, as I have had so much quality time with him this year.  However, he did rise extra early on Wednesday morning, which although was not good for Steph, was a blessing for me!  I gave them all a big hug which would have to last for two months, and got into the cab which had been ordered to take me to the airport.

My flight was uneventful, fortunately, as I was rather the worse for wear.  I had developed a chill and was not feeling particularly good. I ate breakfast at the airport, and then lunch on the plane.  I ate snacks, and then a cottage pie, without feeling the need to correct the hostess and tell her that technically it was a Cumberland pie, due to the cheese on top.  I drank coffee, ate biscuits, sipped sparkling water, ate a salad, and drank some more coffee. The 'chill' did not affect my appetite!

The immigration officer noticed the last stamp in my passport.  "How long were you out of the country, ma'am?" he asked.  I told him it was only for a week, and then said that it was an emergency visit, and why.  "Oh no!  How is she doing now.  That is bad!"  It was nice to see some compassion after the business was completed! I retrieved my cases, emptied my airport purchases from my carry on into my larger case, and gave them back to the officials, whom I hoped would send them through to my next flight.  Then I went through security, and finding the lounge closed for refurbishment, walked to the next concourse.  Soup, hot chocolate, crudities, salad and cake were all unnecessary, but I was bored!  I also felt lousy!  My next flight was delayed, but only by fifteen minutes.  I spotted a fellow passenger from my previous flight, also eating. "We didn't get enough on the plane, did we", I said, with a smile. She agreed! "It's here, so why not", she said, also with a smile.  She and her husband were going on to Arizona to stay with her niece, who emigrated several years ago.

"Hey, we are all gonna get on the plane.  No worries", said the girl behind me, as a man apologised for 'pushing in'.  What a difference to the other guy, I thought!  Welcome to Texas, y'all!  We ain't nothing if not polite!  

I did not mean to throw the water, nor the ice, over my neighbour on the plane, but I misjudged the glass.  It was not a lot of water, but it was cold, and he spent the whole of the flight wiping at his leg. A little excessive I thought, but perhaps he was from out of state!  "Let me get your case for you, ma'am", said a nice helpful gentleman as I said I had to go backwards along the aisle to retrieve my two bags.  Welcome to Texas, y'all!

Samantha was at the exit, with balloons.  I was so pleased to see her and almost collapsed as I gave her a hug.  She said that Dana needed the extra time to 'shut up shop' and get home at a reasonable time.  We collected my bags, as I explained why I was getting evils from the man whom was my chair neighbor, and we then headed out to go home.  

Home.  Yes, I was home!  My home away from home!  The visit had been spontaneous, traumatic, gratifying and a blessing.  All the emotions had taken their toll and by Friday my voice had completely left me.  I did manage to whisper to my mum, and take a call from my son.  Mum is due for discharge very soon, and is quite alert.  She is a little nervous, as is to be expected, but has been told that she is almost back to full mobility, and can drive when she feels like it!  My heroine, 'aka' my sister, has put the wheels in motion for her return home, and arranged some care.  She sounded a little more confident for which I was grateful!  As for me, I was looking forward to a nice, peaceful weekend. 

However, the best laid plans etc., did not occur.  I received an email on Friday.  "You have won...!"  I had completely forgotten about the contest for Rodeo tickets!  It also appeared that a couple of people had not been able to accept the prize, so would I like six? Samantha and Edward gladly accepted, and Jerry was most excited.  We were all going to Bulltoberfest.  What did that mean?  Well, I think with the epic that I have written, that can be explained in ............. another story!