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Sunday, January 14, 2018

A WINTER'S TALE!

At the end of the summer, just as the cooler weather comes to town, you can hear, almost in unison, the comment, "Nice to have some cooler weather".  As winter sets in, and the turbulent meteorological conditions occur, you can hear, almost in unison,"Man, it's cold out there".  Then as the cold snap turns out to be longer than a couple of days, you can hear, almost in unison, "Okay, enough is enough.  Cool is okay for a couple of days, but it's time to start feeling warmer".  It has been cold.  In fact, it has been so cold that my husband has worn shoes for more than two days in a row!  The flip-flops have wondered if they have been retired!  

Of course, 'cold' here is usual bearable elsewhere, and for a girl who was brought up in a country that had four definite seasons, a couple of days of close to, or just below freezing does not a winter constitute!  However, the 'cold snap' has lingered, and the temperature has teetered around freezing most mornings, and whilst we have had a couple of days where it has gone above sixty, the majority have been in the forties, possibly fifties.  "Okay, enough is enough", is like a constant hum of an air conditioner, which has also considered its position to be compromised at this time!

I have coats.  I have boots, hats, scarves, gloves, and a variety of thick jumpers, and jackets.  I am prepared.  

The prolonged lack of warmth has caused an interesting phenomena.  It has finally given me the proof I need that 'hoarding' is a positive quality!  I resolved to have a good 'spring clean' before the spring actually arrived, and not purchase any more 'nick-naks' until I had disposed of others.  Not only has the cold snap given me a reason to delay the inevitable, it has given me an excuse to keep things that I would have, perhaps, forced myself to discard.  Often hearing the new proverb, "If you haven't used it in two years, you will likely not use it again, so you can throw it out", (or words to that effect,) I have now discounted it to be 'null and void'.  Coats and jackets that have not seen the light of day for several years, are now getting a new lease of life.  

Making additional purchases was not part of the plan.  However, the 'Nutcracker' that was on sale in the supermarket, looked so forlorn, and the prospect of spending another year in a dark store cupboard at the back of the shop, sparked a sense of compassion within me, and I had to rescue him from what would be a very sad end!  What if this was his second year!  Reduced to a very reasonable price, I purchased him and put him in 'charge' of my fireplace.  As everyone else appeared to be removing their seasonal decorations, I was giving them a new opportunity!   Standing a little under four feet tall, and guarding the hearth from possible foe, who might happen to fall down the chimney on any other night other than 24th December, it took my husband four days to notice him!  

My plan to 'declutter' had not only failed, but I was now in violation of my own rule!  

Tuesday appeared to be a little warmer, and the weather prognosticators were finally sounding excited.  "Temperatures hitting above freezing overnight for the first time this year", echoed throughout the city.  Austinites ran to their cellars and attics to retrieve the boxes marked "Emergency only" to replace their gloves and socks, with a sense of elation, only to have their dreams shattered when the wind started to howl around four o'clock!  The wind continued to howl, and the short lived 'euphoria' was hoping it would not be dragged into the 'two year' box!  

Cold, and windy, as it was on Wednesday morning, the sun came out and a new wave of enthusiasm rang through the city.  "At last!" came the cry from the crowds.  Calls from locals either began, or ended with "I am so ready for this warmer weather".  I wore a t-shirt at lunchtime, when I went for a walk, and it finally looked as if the big thaw was well and truly taking over.  However, I was still buying up Christmas gifts!  I spotted a rather interesting pack that I thought would suit my son-in-law.  A small mug, with a tiny hip flask attached, and a bottle of 'Amaretto flavoured' syrup.  Once again, this had been reduced to price that prohibited its staying on the shelf, and of it went, with me, to the counter.  The reduction did not appear, and I questioned the cashier, who noticed that the 'offer' expired the previous day.  She called her manager.  "Are you going to put it back into the store room?" I asked, without adding the additional thought of, "into the two year box?"  The manager looked at the item and expressed his desire to rid his store of the product, and overwrote the amount to the one on the ticket.  Christmas was over, and as the sun was shining and the temperature agreeable, there was no need to live in the past!

Cold returned on Thursday, and greetings were not heard.  The usual "hey, how are ya!" (a statement rather than a question in these parts) was not heard.  Instead, heads were down, and arms folded with hands under armpits, as if gloves had refused to make themselves available due to their being discarded rather hastily!  Eyes that were filled with uncertainty glared at me, and 'brrr' sounds emitted from lip that were blue with cold.  "Does no one own a coat?" I asked, somewhat naively, remembering my husband's comments when I unpacked my belongings some thirteen years ago, to wit, "You won't need those in a hurry!", when seeing my array of outwear!  
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Samantha and I rode out the rest of the week, and on Saturday found the stores to be somewhat empty.  Although the sun was out, the temperature was down.  It was as if we were in an alternate universe.  Remembering the days in England, when the temperatures reached into the high nineties for a few days, even hitting the century, and the desperation for a breeze, or a reduction in heat, merely due to the unfamiliarity of the humidity and the intensity of extra warmth, we saw the same response but in reverse. The cold, for such an extended period, was alien to those who had not lived in different climes!  

Dana and I drove out into the country side in the afternoon, and whilst the views were spectacular, the ranches that we drove past looked somewhat desolate.  Field after field appeared to be producing nothing, and winter looked as if she would last forever. Although we were several miles south of Austin, the rural depths caused the temperature to dip, and after we left those we were visiting, I was sorry that I had exchanged my thick coat for a lighter jacket, before setting out shortly after one in the afternoon. By six o'clock, we were feeling frozen.  Mud banks that had been formed after the rain, on the dirt roads, had turned into hard blocks and caused the last part of our journey there, and the first of our return, to be quite roller coaster like!  The abundance of large trucks in the vicinity was obvious!  

Temperatures should rise tomorrow, for a while, but we are expecting snow on Tuesday!  I seem to be the only person 'having fun' with this extended 'freeze' as it has allowed me to get on my soap box and say, "I told you so", after years of wondering, "Will I need this again".  

Records, however, have not been broken, and temperatures will rise again.  Normality will resume.  It is a national holiday tomorrow, and I shall not be going into the office.  Instead, I hope to do something rather constructive, although I am not sure it will involve reducing my household clutter.  Samantha and I have planned a day out at the outlet mall.  Strange as it may seem, we have not had the opportunity to look for ourselves over the past several visits, and have decided to indulge.  I am not sure as to whether the usual sale of winter attire will be as prolific, due to the demand still being so strong, but time will tell!  We did manage to purchase all of this year's tree decorations for under a dollar at the weekend, but there is 'seasonal' and 'seasonal' and never the twain shall meet! (Whatever that means!)

I hope all Austinites manage to keep warm, and cheery at the same time.  The cheerfulness has not so much gone as hibernated, but I am sure the chatter and shrillness will return.  I would hate to have to find cause to say it has disappeared, because that would be a very sad subject for .......... another story!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

LET IT GO!

New Year's Eve did not end quite as I had expected it to.  By the time it came to dinner, I felt like an inflatable, that with one more puff of air, I would explode.  Full to my toes, and stretched out to my fingers, there was absolutely no room left to take another morsel.  I sat at the dinner table and watched while everyone enjoyed their roast lamb and trimmings.  

After speaking to Dana, I turned out my light, and fell asleep.  Ironically, it was the earliest I had been to bed since I arrived, and I fell asleep instantly.  However, at 11:30, I was awoken to what sounded like a party being held in the back garden.  Fireworks were exploding, and people were shrieking, despite there being half an hour to go before midnight.  I dozed off again and was awoken at the turn of the year by another round of explosions, but surprisingly less noise!  Fortunately, whomever provided the rockets only had enough to last six minutes, and I went back to sleep again.

After breakfast, I packed my suitcases and reweighed them,  It was going to be a close call as to whether they were going to be underweight and I started to regret the amount of goodies I had bought.  

I spent the day with Richard, Steph and the boys.  We had lunch in a local pub, and this time I enjoyed the roast dinner, despite it being a children's portion. Richard, Ollie and I fed the ducks afterward, in the park, and then I stood in the cold and watched my grandson climb up and down a variety of apparatus on an obstacle course that would have been 'fun in the sun'!  We returned back to their home, and I left shortly after the boys had dinner, as the emotions were starting to get the better of me, and although I wanted to spend every last moment with them, I had promised my mother that I would be home for dinner, and spend the evening with her.  Once again, I could not face any more food and declined dinner.  I had started to wind down and wanted to be home, without the impending long journey.

The cab arrived on time, Tuesday morning, and I was ready.  I had risen early, and although Rosie, mum's 'temporary' carer, was trying to help me, I told her that I had a routine when leaving early, and could not deviate.  The cab driver looked at my cases, and said that he had not been told there was luggage.  My mood was slightly less than 'Austin', and rather than use my usual vernacular of "Oh, is it a problem.  We can think of something", I went into a tirade.  After I gave him an ultimatum of, 'pack 'em in, or call another cab',  he attempted to haul them into the boot of his car, but needed help.  Once in, I went back inside, bid my mother farewell, and was on my way by six fifteen.  Although I did not apologise, I intimated my regret, and our conversation was pleasant.

My cases were indeed very heavy, with both being a fraction under that allowed.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went through security.

I had been tasked with buying a tin of shortbread biscuits for Samantha.  "Walkers, with a picture of Will and Kate on the front.  When you get through, turn around and look to your left".  I followed the instructions implicitly, and as reached the 'other side' of the security barrier, I turned and looked left.  Harrods was what I saw, and I knew they only carried their own brand, so I did not bother looking.  I went into a couple of likely shops, but to no avail.  Fearing failure, but not wanting to compromise breakfast, as by now I was a little bit hungry, I entered the Duty Free shop, and to my delight, I saw the tins!  After purchasing the coveted product, I set about finding the next item.  A magnet with Harry and Meghan!  Despite my surge of enthusiasm brought on by previous success, I was unable to complete the task, and had admit defeat.

Hungry as I was in the lounge, I was judicious with my choice of breakfast.  Not wanting to feel unwell on the plane was my first objective.  


I settled into my seat on the large aircraft, and accepted a pre-flight tonic water, from the gracious flight attendant.  Amazed, but delighted, it appeared that I would have back to back flights with a crew that was polite!  This has been a rare occurrence of late!  'Goodbye Christopher Robin' was on the list of movie selections and I selected this first.  We had managed to miss the showing when it was in Austin, as it appeared to be playing for one night, in one theatre!  As the film came to its climax, so did my emotions, and the wad of tissues that Rosie had thoughtfully given me before I exited the house, were now all very tattered and soaking wet.  I could not hold back the tears, and failed to stop the sobs, which were causing my fellow passengers to peer across to my corner!


In total contrast, the next movie, 'Victoria and Abdul,' caused me to laugh.  This time, I failed to control my giggles, and once again my fellow passengers peered across the aircraft, with questioning looks upon their faces.  

Breakfast and a huge lunch once again brought me to the point of bursting, and I refused the remaining offers of food, which surprised me more than the crew!

No automatic alt text available."Your hair is different", said the immigration officer, as I stood in front of him.  "You could be from that movie.  Which one is it.  Frozen.  Yes, with your pigtails, you could be Elsa".  Welcome back to the land of compliments, I thought.  "I will accept that compliment, sir, with thanks, as Elsa was a young girl!"  He laughed and then asked "What food have you brought back".  The answer was simple.  "Chocolate".  The faux interrogation ensued.  "What kind of Chocolate?"  I responded.  "Every kind you can imagine.  Cadbury.  Toblerone.  Supermarket.  I am not returning for a while, so I have to keep my husband in the lap of luxury to which he has become accustomed."  A slight grin formed.  "So, do you like dark chocolate?"  I nodded in affirmation.  Of course, I realised the questioning was probably as a direct result of my printing the list of wares and cost on the customs form, and next to Chocolate was the amount of $50.  In retrospect, I think that was rather conservative!  "Welcome back, ma'am, and a happy new year".  Yes!  I was home!

My cases appeared to be heavier as I lifted them off the conveyor belt, and tried to get them onto the trolley.  Although locked, the apparatus would not stay still, and two very helpful young ladies attempted to assist me.  "Wow.  What have you got in here?" said one.  "Chocolate", I replied, cheekily.  

No automatic alt text available.Once through customs, I proceeded to empty my carry-on of all unnecessary items, and put them into the larger cases.  I wondered how they would fare on their way to Austin, as the plane was considerably smaller, but many people would not have luggage on the short flight.  I wheeled the trolley to the next stop, where the young man transferring luggage on to the conveyor belt struggled to lift them.  "No need for a work out today, huh?" I said, in an attempt at humour.  I could see he was wondering why I was travelling with two suitcases full of bricks, but he simply smiled, and replied, "No ma'am!"

The queue for the next security check was rather long, but I was behind a couple, originally from Scotland, who had emigrated fifteen years ago to New Zealand, and were on their way to Fort Lauderdale to start a Caribbean Cruise.  We discussed missing 'home', but also the joy we experienced in our new countries, and the wait to reach the front was not unpleasant.  In fact, so busy was the facility, they did not require the usual removal of shoes, etc.  We all went through the 'dingers' rather than the x-ray machines.

Hunger had returned, and I had a cup of soup in the lounge, while waiting another four hours for my next flight.  Samantha had left her in-laws, and her and Edward were in transit from North Carolina to Austin, via Nashville.  Her first flight was before mine, and she was due to take off again just as I landed in Austin.  I fell asleep as we taxied to take off, which took about thirty five minutes!  

As Dana had the dog, he was going to meet me 'curbside'.  The noise to indicate a text, rang through the cabin as I turned on my phone.  "Have you landed yet?"  I was not in the best frame of mind!  I responded with a simple "Yes".  My cases were not on the conveyor belt. The second text arose.  "Is there a problem with your bags".  I responded with a simple "Yes."  Anxiety attempted to rise.  However, I refused to give in and went to check to see if they were in the 'oversized' bag area.  They were not, but instead were sitting in the airline office, awaiting collection.  "What's the problem with your bags?" was the third text.  It was time to elaborate.  "They weren't there".  What else could be the problem?  As it happened, the problem was that one of the wheels had broken, and the airline staff were very apologetic.  It appeared that I was covered by insurance on an international flight, and a free repair was offered.  "Are you the exterminator?" the lady asked.  I looked at her with curiosity.  "Oh not you honey.  Him."  A small man with a strange contraption strapped to his person had entered after me.  "We have been swarmed with mice.  In the ceiling.  In the back room.  Some have even run in here."  My immediate reaction was to hop from foot to foot in order to avoid any such creatures, and I scanned the floor area as best I could.  "Everywhere.  They have gotten everywhere!"  This did not help!  Also, Dana's continuing texting as to "What is happening", did not help.  Exhaustion together with tomato soup forming into an acrobat n my stomach accentuated the problem.  I just wanted to go home, with my cases, without mice, and with my stomach contents in place!

Eventually, I left the office, text'd Dana to say I was heading outside, and attempted to manhandle three cases to the door.  Fortunately, the cases rolled upright with a gentle push.  Unfortunately, someone stepped in my path!  "Get out of the way", I shouted to the man who turned and saw two large multicoloured torpedoes heading in his direction.  "Brrrrmmm", came the text.  The next word I said was not nice.  It was not really bad, but would have been unacceptable in my mother's eyes.  The carpet rug by the automatic doors then impeded my progress, and as the cases stopped, as they refused to climb over the lip of the rug, I did not.  Laying almost flat atop the three bags, I almost gave up.  I could have fallen asleep standing, or almost standing, at that point.  

The outside temperature was below freezing.  I wore a coat, hat and gloves, but it still felt as if I was in swimwear!  Dana's car rounded the corner, and I waved as he almost drove past.  He hopped out and opened his boot.  "What's in here?", he asked, as he attempted to lift the first case  "Hey Dane, I missed you too", I said, failing to mask the sarcasm!  A hug ensued, but spotting the marching traffic cop, it ended abruptly.  Realising that one of the two larger cases would not fit next to the other in the boot, it was placed on the back seat.  The dog was ecstatic to see me and ran around my head and shoulders, before settling down on my lap, and barking furiously as if to let all around know, "She's home!"

Unpacking Wednesday morning took longer than anticipated, and one case had not one, but two notices from TSA to say they had randomly selected my bag for inspection.  Obviously there was nothing contraband within so the contents were complete.  I headed out to Joe and then to have my nails revamped!

Work was relentless.  My stomach was still not settled, and I did not eat again. 

My temper improved on Thursday, as did my appetite, but I was still exceptionally tired.  I allowed Dana to take me to the diner for dinner, and enjoyed a bowl of tortilla soup.  I felt slightly more alive, and by Friday, my energy had been restored to a suitable level.

The call for volunteers for the 'Christmas Tree clean-up' was posted on a website which Samantha had accessed, but as we were not sure of our agenda for Saturday, we decided to 'clean-up' our own tree on Friday at lunchtime.  We climbed the cliff, but found someone had already undressed our shrub and taken all our decorations.  Slightly saddened, as it was not yet 12th night, and although we felt it to be a little untoward, we resigned ourselves to the fact that it was a public tree, and therefore when we added our decorations, these too became public property.  Compensation was a walk along the path which runs along the side of the river, albeit many feet higher, and the glorious views that could be seen.  

Saturday was bliss.  Back into routine.  Sam's club, Costco and Walmart.  Mundane but delightful.  Austinites were back to their polite, chatty selves, and queues were full of people conversing with strangers, and smiling at each other.  "Thank you ma'am", and "You got it, sir", never sounded so good!  The weather had broken and after a month of near to below freezing temperatures, feet could once again be seen in flip-flops, and shorts were spotted in various places!  Coats had all but disappeared, and scarves and gloves were put back into that box in the cupboard that is marked, "Emergencies only".  Hats, of course, are always worn!

Once again, I am slightly home sick.  I miss my family and friends back in Blighty. However, the life of an Englishwoman abroad is what I have chosen and as it is far from torture, being that I have family and friends here too, it is not hard to settle.  

In the words of Shakespeare, it is "Once more into the breach....", and onward and upward!  Another year starts, and we continue a we always do.  To borrow another quote, 'Life is what we make it!  Always has been, always will be'.  Next week will bring forth something different, and as always, I shall be bringing forth ..... another story! 





Sunday, December 31, 2017

START ALL OVER AGAIN!

The 'preparations' that my mother was so concerned about, were completed on Sunday.  I decided to add a little bit of 'southern cooking' to the proceedings, and made a green been casserole, and just for good measure, a macaroni cheese.  This, too, did not take much time, and once the turkey was safely in the oven, I was as free as a bird, pardon the pun, to look as if I was busy!

Clearing away after dinner was a 'breeze', as the wonderful disposable plates and cutlery, that had been transported by air from Austin, via Houston, to London, were put into a black bag, and taken to the 'wheelie bin'.  With so little washing up, we were finished in record time.  Ollie opened his presents, and then most of us went for the traditional walk around the block.  When everyone left Samantha and Edward stayed behind to help me get all my bedroom furniture back into the lounge, so that I could sleep soundly after a very long day.

I did not sleep, as I was conscious of my mother's every move.  Although she did not leave her room, my ears perked up each time she made a sound.  It was reminiscent of when my children were small!
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Boxing day started early.  Mum's carer returned by seven thirty, and I walked around to the village to buy some flowers for Steph's grandma.  It was an interesting experience.  I bought two bunches of flowers, and went to the self check out.  After I had paid, I looked around for an elongated bag in which to put my fluers.  As I looked, I saw a beautiful bunch in a bucket, and noticed that they were reduced to 'virtually nothing'.  I could not leave them, risking the chance of their being deposited in a dark bin, possibly sharing space with my disposable crockery, when the dark bin was emptied into the communal truck, never to see the light of day again!  I took them to the check out.  I had moved the other two bunches to the side, and placed the receipt atop.  "Excuse me".  I looked around.  I did not have a trolley, so I had not walked off with the wrong one. I did not see a smiling face looking down at me, with sympathy, as I had done the week before.  Instead, I encountered the wrath of the shop assistant.  "How many flowers have you got!"  I looked, and replied, "three bunches", assuming that this was not a mathematics question, and counting them individually was unnecessary.  The look of contempt was unnecessary, as I was still unsure as to why I had incurred the complete abhoration of the lady behind the counter.  "How many have you paid for", she barked. The light came on!  I realised that she had not seen me pay for the previous bunches.  Waving the receipt in her direction, I said, "I paid for these and saw the other bunch".  A lesson in where to put paid for items, no matter the circumstances, ensued, and I felt duly reprimanded.  I only hoped that there would not be a written part to the exam as I was not sure that I had my reading glasses in my bag! Duly trained in the art of buying additional items, I left the building, vowing never to make the horrendous mistake again!  

Samantha collected before one, and we had a lovely day with 'the family'.  

Snow started to fall on Wednesday morning.  The flurries started to thicken, and the ground, although wet, was accepting its fate as though it had no choice.  I had wanted to go to the mall to get some ante-penultimate bits and pieces, (the penultimate would be later in the week, and the final just before departure,) but I knew that bargaining with my mother for the use of her car, would be harder than exiting the flower sellers without reprimand!  However, thankfully, the ice droplets gave way to raindrops, and I drove over to Richard's, where the family were congregated and ready to head to the mall.

Crowded as it was, I managed to complete all I had to do, but forgot to take my phone card for my Internet 'dongle'.  Dial-up is really not an option, although my mother still has her computer set to that particular medium!  We all went back to Richard and Steph's, and after a while, we all went our separate ways.  

Samantha came in to say au revoir, as she was heading back stateside, and I settled down to go to bed in my 'cubicle'.

Thursday morning was less turbulent.  I got up early and was ready to get on the road by the time we had finished breakfast.  I was not going far.  Beverly had wanted me to go with her to take back a television, which she had found difficult to return, and after quoting the law and various 'goodwill' gesture possibilities, a refund was granted!  I had been into Borehamwood to get the penultimate items, and came back to my mum with another bag of shopping. Richard and Steph were spending the day with friends, and by the time they returned home, I was exhausted, and did not want to venture out, despite yearning to see all 'my boys'.

By the end of the week, my suitcases were starting to fill, and I was going through the usual stress pattern of weighing and reweighing. Richard and Steph came over for lunch, and Ollie stayed with me when they left.  He wanted to help 'clear up'.  Taking advantage of something that will not last for very long, I accepted his help, and promised him a trip to the park.  However, his parents had left without leaving his coat and wellington boots, so I had to take him home to collect them.  We went to the local park, where he found a suitably deep puddle to ride his bike though, and splash until he was wet enough to want to go home!

Although Richard had asked me to babysit on Friday, by the time I was ready to leave their house, I was quite the worse for wear. Steph suggested they go out on Saturday instead.  I was very thankful for the reprieve, and spent the morning repacking!  

The trip to the supermarket in the afternoon saw the 'final' shop. My mother pushed her trolley, obliviously, into legs, displays and anything that was in the way.  Quite surprisingly, I heard an American accent.  When I turned, I saw a woman, probably twenty years my senior, if not more, pushing a man in a wheelchair, with a trolley attached to the front.  She was on 'a mission', but could not find what she wanted.  "Wait here, don't go anywhere", she told him, as she disappeared to find an assistant.  "Where can you go?", I asked, sarcastically, as he sat trapped between the chair and trolley!  She returned to wheel him around the rest of the aisles, and I continued to fill our cart with goodies.

Image may contain: car and outdoorAfter lunch, and a few chores, I left to go to Richard's, where I found both boys eating dinner. The 'parents' left after putting Jamie to bed, and Grandma and Ollie had some quality time, until Jamie decided that bed was not the best place to be, and screamed until he was quite exhausted.  Attempting to calm him down, I used some old tricks, such as singing nonsense songs, and making up silly poems.  After a while, he seemed to be ready to go back to bed, and settled down quite peacefully.  Ollie resisted going to bed, telling me that he had 'gone' to the bathroom last night, so did not need to 'go' again tonight!  I set about explaining why that was not a good plan!

Despite not being tired, the big brother fell asleep, still resisting, as his head touched the pillow, and the pair did not stir whilst I was in charge.  I made my dinner, did a little bit of washing up, and settled down to watch some old television programmes that are repeated constantly in England, apparently, but which I do not see whilst in the USA.  Rich and Steph arrived home just before ten, and although they managed to get a bite to eat, they had not done any of the sale shopping that they had hoped for, as the place where they had gone was 'heaving'. However, they had a night out, together, without two little ones!

Sunday morning my mother wanted to go to the 'mobility shop'.  I drove to my sister, and we three went on an adventure.  The shop was closed, despite its web page being updated to say it was open! However, so as not to waste the time, we went to Costco.  "Do not let me buy anything!" I requested, with vigour!  We toured the aisles and as we left, handed our 'tickets' to the man at the door. "Last of the big spenders", my sister said, as we each had two items.  I had not bought anything for my suitcase, so my purchases were permitted.  "This is the best New Years Eve party!", I told the chap who was looking a little confused.  "Lots of entertainment and I can be in bed by eight!"  He giggled, slightly, although I am not sure he completely got the joke!  

Rich and Steph bought the boys over in the afternoon, as I did not want to leave my mother alone.  Her carer had gone for the day, and I felt responsible.  They stayed for a long while, and then I put the 'joint' in the oven for dinner.

Waiting for my sister and David to arrive, all that is left for me to do is wish everyone a very happy, and particularly healthy, new year, and I am sure that 2018 will bring many more adventures, and lots of chances to say, watch out for ............ another story!

Monday, December 25, 2017

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

I was not at all prepared to leave on Tuesday, as I had planned to pack on Sunday, and take care of my usual household tasks on Monday, and be totally in control by Tuesday morning.  

Packing did not take place on Sunday, as I had to find some 'space saver' bags in which to put all the clothes I had bought for the boys, and for my sister to give as gifts.  After I put them into separate bags, I realised that there was not enough air to 'suck out', and it made little difference to the amount of space saved.  I then put everything into the bags, turned on the vacuum, and managed to get the bag to shrink to a good size.  However, it was too long to fit in my case.  The third attempt was just like the porridge in 'The three bears', and at a perfect size, I placed it in the case.  My only problem now was to find some clothes so that I could repeat the performance with my wares and somehow manage to get the disposable crockery and cutlery I had purchased for Christmas Day, into the case, with presents for the boys, and family.

Monday did not start well, and as usual, I did not stick to task.  I thought I would be able to get my housework completed, and manage to get ready for work with time to spare, but there seemed to be a lot more to do!  I had to make sure all my travelling items were 'charged', and go through the usual routine of the Christmas classic, to wit, 'making a list, checking it twice'.  However, twice is never enough, and I found myself adding articles up one side of the page, and down the other!

Tuesday afternoon came rather too quickly, and Samantha drove me to the airport.  All my 'deliveries' had arrived, and everything was packed away in time. By the time I had to leave the office, I was so organised, it was unnerving. I thought I had forgotten something.

Security was negotiated rather quickly, and I headed to the lounge, where I was asked to model my t-shirt.  It was the one Edward had bought me last year, indicating that I was the 'proud mother-in-law of an awesome son-in-law', and I was asked to confirm that this was the case.  I concurred that I was, indeed, most proud of my son-in-law, and sung his praises, but giving equal 'air-time' to my daughter-in-law, singing her praises too, to be fair!

The first flight was rather enjoyable.  I sat next to an 'ex-pat' from Scotland, and we spent the entire flight discussing the differences between cultures.  He was going to North Carolina, and I told him that this is from where my most awesome son-in-law, the one mentioned in the t-shirt, hailed!

As I entered the lounge at Houston, a young child was trying to climb the 'down' escalators.  "Girl", shouted the woman at the desk, as I approached, then she looked at me, and as I was about to say 'Hi', giving the sweetest smile, I was greeted with, "Is she yours?" Quite taken aback, I shook my head, still with the sweet smile across my face, and said "Hi".  The woman was not satisfied.  "She needs to stop.  Girl! Stop!  Is she yours?"  The smile waned,  "Nope, still not mine", I replied, and handed her my documents, in the hope that I could spend some time in the area, without accusation! Eventually, the father came forward and announced that the child belonged to him.  He did not, however, reprimand her, nor tell her to stop climbing the 'down' escalators!  "She needs to stop", said the woman behind the counter, to me.  The smile disappeared, and my documents were handed back to me, quickly.

"I am in the lounge.  In the first class lounge.  Upgraded to business.  It is amazing",  A male, I would guess in his early thirties, was on the phone to someone, and letting them know where he was.  The 'first class' lounge, had recently been overhauled, but it was nowhere near 'first class'.  It was 'the lounge'.  In fact, it was missing a floor!  I shrugged and looked over at the usual small bar containing soup and a few salad items thrown in for good measure. "There is so much food", came the next exaggeration. This caused a few more people to look up and look around the area.  "American Buffet, Middle-Eastern Buffet, all you can think of".  I stretched my neck to look around the corner, and noticed that a few people had risen and were walking around to the other side of the partition. One by one, they returned, shaking their heads, and shrugging their shoulders.  I wondered if someone might ask the gentleman where this smorgasbord of delight was located, as no one else would find it!

I had to leave the lounge to board the plane, where I was treated, uncharacteristically, with grace and charm! The staff at the desk had asked for those needing a little longer to board to come forward.  There were three or four families, a lady in a wheelchair, and a couple that managed to push their way through the crowd to the front of the queue, who insisted that they needed the additional time.  Once again, everyone looked.  They appeared to be rather agile, but no one was going to make a fuss.  After all, it was coming up to the season of goodwill!   It was a wonderful flight, and everyone was so delightful!  I slept for a while and watched two movies.

Christmas dinner was looking to be a little more stressful than anticipated, for a while, as my cases failed to arrive.  The couple who had managed to board first, hauled their rather heavy looking suit cases off the conveyor belt, and raced to the exit.  Perhaps they were just in a hurry and considered a sprint on to the plane a way of feeling they were cheating time!  Eventually, I spotted one case.  I dared not look to see if it was the one, that contained the crockery and cutlery, as the other contained the presents.  I said a silent prayer, and waited.  The taxi driver had called, and asked me to call him when I had both my bags.  My phone was not playing nicely, and I could not get the 'package' which I had hoped for, and I was unable to access the number from where the cabbie rang, to return the call to say I now was ready to roll!  Thankfully he called me again.

The ride back to my mother's house did not take too long, and she greeted me at the door, with her walking frame, and her carer.  I was asked if I was tired, and if I felt up to going shopping for food that afternoon.  I said that would be fine!  My mother had panicked that there would not be enough for me to eat, and insisted we go as soon as possible, as I obviously looked like I was starving!  I think if truth be told, she was down to her last four pints of milk,, and only had two dozen toilet rolls left on the shelf!  I obliged, as I knew she needed to get out, and one of the reasons I arrived in England earlier than usual for this time of year, was to succumb to her every whim.  (Perhaps 'every', is on par with 'American Buffet....', etc, but I would try and oblige!)  

Once home, we unpacked the shopping and I set off to see the grand kids!  Ollie, who had been expecting me, answered the door, and after running away, run up to me and gave me an enormous hug.  Jamie appeared quite happy to see me too.  

My first night's sleep was very sound, despite sleeping on the futon, and having no pillow.  I could have slept on a board with a sack cloth sheet and I think I would have slept the same!

After breakfast, I had to go to Borehamwood, and drop off the receipt for the turkey.  My sister was going to collect it on Saturday morning, and my mother had the receipt.  Co-ordination at its best! 
Despite the queues, I managed to find somewhere to park, and walked into the town centre, and made a few purchases before coming back to the pound shop, where I stocked up on essentials, viz-a-viz, chocolate!  I arrived home at lunchtime, and then drove over to Richard as I had been in England for over twenty four hours, and not seen my son!  It was a joyful reunion.

On Friday, I had to go to the supermarket.  I wanted to buy some things for the 'big day', and set off as early as possible.  Filling up the car with petrol was rather expensive, but I wanted one less 'stress button' to be pushed, when my mother asked 'how much petrol do I have'.  Full to the brim, I drove to Sainsbury, and waited patiently for a car to vacate a prime spot, and claimed it before anyone else could!

Bedlam was sane by comparison.  Marks and Spencer appeared to be 'giving it away' although I had to pay full price for my wares. The aisles were packed solid, and the season of goodwill obviously had either gone, or was waiting to make a grand entrance.  I exited after buying a nominal amount of food, which was on the rather large list that my mother had compiled, and went into Sainsbury, which is, fortunately, adjoining.  After 'bumping into' one of my friend's friends, and exchanging pleasantries, I continued going up and down the aisles, repeatedly, as although this was my 'local' store, I am now completely unaware of where anything is situated. "Excuse me!", I heard, vaguely in the distance.  I continued on. "Excuse me!'", said the voice again, and once again, I continued on. "Excuse me, love!"  I turned, as I felt a hand on my arm.  I had stopped as I was looking at my trolley and wondering why it looked smaller than the one I had wheeled in.  "Can I have my trolley back?", said the shopper who had been calling me for the past ten minutes.  I apologised and told him that I find this kind of year rather challenging!  He, fortunately, did have some 'good cheer', and told me that I was not alone!   

Arriving back at mum's for lunch, I packed away the shopping and sat down exhausted!  I helped prepare dinner, and three of us, mum, her carer, and me, ate a roast dinner fit for a king!  A buffet it was not, but I retired to the lounge of the bungalow feeling full and quite tired.

Saturday morning was another early start.  I had to babysit for the boys whilst Richard took his car for its service.  I waited for Matnee and Edward to land on the doorstep, having flown in a couple of hours earlier, and then, once they had left for a midday snooze to catch up on some of their lost sleep from the 'red eye', I had to entertain two little ones.  In order to let a young boy run off some steam, I walked round to the park, pushing the push chair, and shouting orders at a three year old to, "stop", "wait", and "be careful", as he rode his bike along the pavement.  We arrived at the park and walked through the mud to get to the swings.  Needing assistance to get to the higher apparatus, my boots were not the only thing covered in mud, as Ollie used my arms and shoulders to help him up!  Walking back to the house, Ollie decided that he was too tired  to walk, after his scaling the sides of immense mountains, and as I could not push the buggy and carry him, he took a seat on top of his brother, and gave me the opportunity to shake off any cobwebs that had remained from the transatlantic flight, or the extra pounds that the 'American buffet, and Middle-eastern buffet' had caused me to gain!

Lunch was with Beverly, Jodi, Holly, Samantha and Edward.  It was wonderful to see my friend, and my daughter's friends.  We ate and chatted for a long time, and then I had one more stop before I headed back to my mother.  I had to go to the supermarket.  I drove Holly home, and she gave me directions to 'The Dome', where I walked in bravely, and fought with those who were already in the building, to buy dinner for the three of us.  I was polite, and stood in line without moaning, or losing any of the seasonal cheer that had departed from my fellow shoppers.  Nothing else would be needed until, I hoped, Tuesday!

I wasn't really allowed out on Sunday, as mum said we had a lot of 'preparations' to get through.  I reminded her that all we really had to do was cook the turkey, and going out for a couple of hours was not going to upset the status quo!  Richard picked me up, and I ran around the soft play area at Willows Farm, to make sure I was fit enough to take on the grand performance, the very next day.  Ollie joined me in swinging and sliding through cargo nets, and tubes.  I am not sure who had more fun!

Rosie, my mother's (temporary, my mother insists) carer, left with my sister, who was going to give her a ride to the station, and mum and I settled down and discussed our plans for Monday.  This was not going to be a normal Christmas for us.  It was going to be a miracle!  After my mother's near fatal accident, she has been hailed 
the 'miracle' by all her doctors, and various other professionals. 

The main day was yet to come.  Fun, festivities and good cheer were hoped for, but of course, anything can happen!  Happy Christmas, one and all, and may we all meet again in ....... another story!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

THE WINTER OLYMPICS!

The marathon started at a steady pace.  The pressure was on, but I took my first step on Sunday afternoon, and laid out the recipes that are given an airing but once a year.  "You need to make....", started the sentence from my daughter, and I knew what was coming next.

It was going to be a busy week, filled with challenges and ending with a sprint to the finish line.  I had booked my flights home, and was coming in earlier than usual, but leaving England on the second, as Dana had commented that it would be easier to have me gone during the 'interim' of the Christmas holiday.  

The mini Chocolate 'Christmas Puddings', Florentines and Christmas tree meringues, were all 'started', at around noon, and by five thirty I had a parade!  


Arranging the snacks on a tray was done as I entered the office on Monday morning.  I had decided to 'decorate' the trees with some coloured cream, by dripping food dye into the piping bag, but rather than tiny baubles on the green and brown meringues, (sandwiched together with chocolate, hence the brown,) they looked like spring flowers!  I decided that no one would know my intention so explanations were not needed.  I took a tray into my neighbouring office, and explained 'what'all' I had provided.  Attempting to list the ingredients in a traditional Christmas pudding and then trying to explain that the treats provided were of completely different items, made to look like a 'traditional' pudding, when they had no idea what a 'traditional' Christmas pudding actually was, (clear as mud even written here to those in the know,) proved to be impossible, so I just told them they were chocolate based, and the Florentines were caramel based, and the trees were...."Wow they look like flowers.  That's amazing".  I smiled and retreated to my office.


"What are the pretty flower things", was the second comment that proved failure on my part, although there was little time to explain the initial concept before it was demolished by one of our servers.  The other treats were consumed in just as much as a hurry!  Taste ruled the day, and I sat back content.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standingTuesday took on a slightly different slant.  We went to the radio station to see Anderson East in a live broadcast.  It was, as usual, great fun, with lunch provided!  We enjoyed the show, and the lunch, and managed to get front row seats!  We even managed to get a parking space right outside the station!  "Can I see your ID", asked a lady as we walked in.  The question was posed to Samantha, as there was alcohol on the premises, and a wrist band was required for those over 21 wishing to consume.  "Do you want to see mine?" I asked, in jest.  "Oh no. That's okay....oh well if you want", she said, thinking that I was upset!  After the performance, we had our photos taken.  "Love y'alls hair", he said to each of us.  That took away the disappointment of not being ID'd!  "I look like I am grabbing my trousers", said Samantha.  "I am posing like my mother", said I!

Mince pies were made on Wednesday, and an explanation was needed once again. "No it is not meat, as in steak, or hamburger, it is fruit.  I have no idea why it is called mincemeat.  It is a fruity base'"  No one needed a second explanation, as even Samantha, who is not partial to the delicacies as a rule, enjoyed her second!  I had made 'mouche bouche' size, so two did not seem to be excessive.  I took some to Joe, and his staff were quite pleased to have 'English breakfast!'

The weather went from cold to freezing, to warm, to cold and we walked every day.  

"I think it would be nice to make some mince pies for Hannah and Sandra", said Samantha on Wednesday afternoon.  I agreed that would be a lovely gesture and let her know the quantities for the pastry.  "Actually, what would be good is if you could make the pastry, and I could make them when I come to you in the morning". 

Image may contain: foodWe were late to work on Thursday.  Samantha rolled out the pastry, put the dough in the tins, and put stars on top, once I had filled them.  By the time I had finished cleaning the kitchen, the pies were ready to be eaten.  She felt satisfied that because my mother considers the 'rolling' of the dough to be the most tedious of tasks, she could take the credit for the whole thing!  Whom am I to argue!

I made another batch of 48 on Friday, albeit mini size again, and left the office with four!  The Fed-ex man said he had been plied with all kinds of treats, but none like those he was given at our office!  Suddenly, the Englishwoman was Queen!

Saturday morning started very early. We left my house a little after 8:30, and went to San Marcos, which is about 30 minutes away.  The mall opened at 8, and when we arrived parking was still fairly easy.  Starting in Victoria's Secret, we worked our way across to the store with the 'tick', and looked for shoes for Ollie, and tops for Richard.  By the time we exited, the crowds had developed, and the road rage was in its infancy!

The rain started shortly after we arrived, and started to become torrential within minutes.  We were, for the most part, under cover, but had to cross the road.  I need the 'banos', I told Samantha before we went to the next store.  "And I really want a hot chocolate".  Starbucks was in sight, and whilst I am not a fan of their coffee, they do make a very good hot cocoa beverage.  "I will get the drinks, while you go to the banos", offered my daughter, with not a hint of a Spanish accent!  I met her in the cafe and we walked out with a beverage a piece!

Shopping at Abercrombie is always a challenge.  All I wanted was fragrance.  Three salespeople were standing folding garments (which is surprising for the store that is usually a mess!). I stood at the counter.   A fourth person was on the phone.  I raised my eyebrows in an attempt to get the fourth's attention, and she signaled to her colleagues.  A young man came to my rescue.  He went to the back of the store, and returned, empty handed.  "The manager is giving a skype interview, and doesn't want to be disturbed", he said. "But I only want to buy some cologne.  I don't need to make a complaint", I said, in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. It appears that the manager was in the room where the cologne was kept, and access was not permitted.  "What if everyone came in for cologne?" was my question.  A challenge too great for our young man!

We traveled along to another store for some boots.  "Can I help you look for anything today", came the request.  "Probably not" came the answer.  It was approaching eleven, and I had already come to the end of my tether.  "I wish Edward was here", I told Samantha.  "Today really would be a moaning mother-in-law day.  I want to go home".  After several messages back and forth with England, we left empty handed and returned to see if the 'manager' had finished his interview, and if the fragrance centre was now open!

Once again, the young man was challenged.  It appeared there was an offer that went with my purchase.  Selected products could be purchased for $20.  However, he thought this was not an option.  "What do you want for your 20% discount.  He was corrected by his colleague, who told him that it would cost $20, rather than discounted 20%. He then said, "What do you want for $20."  He was messing with the wrong person, on the wrong day.  He found it quite difficult to understand that an 'offer' was not an 'order'.  "Word of advice", I said to him a I was paying.  "If ever you emigrate, don't offer to shop for anyone.  Oh and pull your trousers up!"  His pants were half way around his hips, and Samantha laughed at my comment, adding, "He doesn't care", she said.  "He will care when he falls over when they reach his ankles", I said.  He was oblivious to my comment, but Samantha was 'posting' on her facebook page that although we were not yet half way around, 'mother was talking 'rubbish' to the salespeople.  Good thing they don't understand us'.  

Image may contain: night, fireworks and outdoorPurchases were put in the car, and we decided not to battle the traffic, as the road rage was now 'fully fledged', and the usually placid residents of our fair city and her surrounds, had lost all patience.  We went to cross the road to the other section of the mall. "Come on, quickly", was the order from my daughter. "I still have twenty seconds.  Stop making me run", I responded, as the clock ticked on the traffic lights.  I had chosen to wear a pair of boots that had seen better days, and they were letting in water!  My feet had become lead weights, and although comfortable, were soaking!

We finally arrived at the Californian store with the bird logo!  "Hi, what are you looking for today?" asked the sales assistant, as we were barely over the threshold.  "Zip up hoodies", I said, hoping to save some time.  "We have these. They don't have zips though.  And these, but they don't have hoods....".  I thanked her and said I would find my way around!  Trying to find the right sizes was a challenge, but I managed to walk out with some wares.  "Phone number", came the order.  "No", came the defiance.  "Whatever" was written across the teller's face.  No time to argue today!  "Email receipt?" came the question.  "Paper", came the reply.  If they were English, the next response would have been in the region of 'flippin' 'eck', but we were in Texas, and a sigh with eye rolling was what took place.  

The rain was continuing to pour, and we had to leave the comfort of the covered path once again.  Two English women and not an umbrella between them!  How we had failed!  

"If you fill this tote bag, you can get thirty percent off everything!" said the very excited saleslady.  "You mean, if you buy the tote bag, and everything you put in it, you will receive 30% off your entire purchase", I corrected.  I was, once again, not understood, and the blank stare suggested that I had repeated what I had been told. I did not go into details!  It would not have been rude to do so; I probably would have come across as being rude!  The sales assistant at the cash desk could not quite understand why Samantha did not want to purchase the tote bag, when she could receive a thirty percent discount.  Again, trying to explain that the one item she was buying did not warrant the purchase of a tote bag she did not want, was redundant.  I could not take on the task of being a personal shopper and a mathematics teacher in one day, especially this one day!

"You look like you need a massage", came the comment from a young man, young enough to be my grandson!  Realising, totally relieved, that he was a salesperson for a specific piece of furniture, that apparently was therapeutic, I told him that I did not have time!  Perhaps he could offer it to some of the salespeople whom I had unintentionally offended!  I just wanted to go home!

Finally, we arrived back at the car, loaded up the boot, and left a vacant space for a dozen cars to fight over.  Samantha showed that she was the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of London cabbies, and maneuvered the car around to exit the mall, maneuvers of which would have made them all (including myself) very proud!  

Image may contain: 1 person, drinkHeading back to Austin, Elton John came on the radio, singing his "Step into Christmas" song.  We lightened up, clapped and sang.  "Good ol' Elton", I said to Samantha, as we regained a little bit of energy.  "He is like a cup of tea!  Totally refreshing after a hard day!" As we headed for our second stop, Barton Creek mall, we negotiated the traffic between us, with me giving her the benefit of my experience on the road I take back from Joe's.  "Don't move lanes yet.  Not yet. Not yet.  Okay now!" 

It was raining when we got out of the car.  We were parked at the wrong end of the line of cars that led to the entrance.  By the time we walked into the building, a 'drowned rat' would have looked mildly damp in comparison!  

We stood at the counter deliberating on how many bottles of moisturizer to get for my cousin, who had requested the purchase.  We 'pinged' her in order to get a response, much to the dissatisfaction of the rather more posh saleslady than we had been used to.  Trying hard not to sigh, she looked at us with contempt, and I finally gave in and bought one bottle.  Without actually saying, "Okay, you can go now", I was given my bag and change with the same attitude.  Obviously, job satisfaction is not a perk!

The 'Apple' store restored my faith in humanity!  Never failing to impress, I leave the store both in awe and terror!  "What can I help you with", was the only problem I encountered, and that was merely grammatical!  I could not really fault it! (Considering I have many errors in this post alone!)  Samantha told her what it was that she was looking for (see!) and we were directed to a table.  Within a minute, we were connected with a salesperson, who punched some buttons, and asked us to wait.  We did.  Then someone else appeared with the goods, we paid, and rather than have to go and line up at a cash register queue, each of the tables had their own cash box, so we were in and out within ten minutes.  They actually apologised for the delay.  I was in awe at the efficiency, overall politeness and use of technology; in terror, due to the use of the use of technology, and thinking, 'wrong hands!'  Used properly, this is changing the world.  Not used properly and this is changing the world.  Still, that is a different soap box!

We left the mall, using taxi-driver maneuvers once again, and arrived home at 5:30pm.  I had made up new words for a lot of Christmas songs, not least of all, "It's the most wonderful time of the year"!  All orders had been fulfilled, and I was ready to go to bed!  However, it was only half past five, and we decided to go out and have dinner before going to sleep!

Next year, we have decided that all orders have to be in by July.  In fact, we may not even take orders.  However, we say the same thing every year, and every year, we come home exhausted but manage to find the whole thing rather laughable...by July!

The rain stopped.  Dana and I enjoyed breakfast, and then came back to sit at our respective computers.  

I am not cooking today.  I am packing!  My mother has decided that she is 'recovered' enough to host Christmas Day dinner at her house, and I am supplying some disposable plates and cutlery.  This has to be added to my suitcase, as well as all the usual items, and a few clothes for me to wear on my visit!  

This time next week, the Englishwoman Abroad will be at home, in Blighty!  It will not be a 'usual' visit, as my mother is still unable to drive herself, and I have promised to be 'around' more than usual. With that being said, I shall end my week's diary entry with the usual promise of next week's entry being ............. another story!

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!