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Sunday, August 20, 2017

TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

HOOKED ON A FEELING!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Sunday, August 6, 2017

ANOTHER SUITCASE, ANOTHER HALL!

The suitcase situation has been hovering around for the past two years.  The fact is that I need a couple of new suitcases.  Having watched the baggage handlers at one of my 'home' airports, throw the bags onto the moving conveyor belt, mainly with adept precision, but sometimes missing it completely, I have put off buying new bags.  They inevitably get squashed, or scuffed, either before, during or after the flight, so spending more on a 'quality' bag, could be 'false economy'.  However, the fact remained that I could no longer use the cases that I have used for the past thirteen years. One has duck tape keeping the front flap in place, (I have never considered having the zip replaced,) and on the last two trips I noticed the wiring upon which the material is stretched, has been exposed.  The other one is just broken!  I cannot describe the extent of the 'brokenness', as it is several-fold and rather difficult to 'do up'. So, to paraphrase the Walrus in the Lewis Carroll poem, "The time has come.....".

My handbag, better known to my nearest and dearest, as 'Betts', was purchased at a local 'pay less' store, one of many that advertise brand names at a discounted price, 'because they can'.  Never having been a fan of paying to advertise a designer, Betsy Johnson has become my exception to the rule, as her designs are nothing if not (and I cringe when I use the word) 'cute'.  I had considered looking in one of these stores for a suitcase, or two, but the selection is not as prolific as in the general chains.
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The rain on Monday failed to stop me from swimming.  I was rather pleased to get away from my desk, and my computer, which was now showing an abundance of luggage, scrolling down the right side.  I had made the mistake of looking for cases online, and whatever, whomever (without going into conspiracy theorist stuff) keeps tabs on what I do or do not want to research, picked up on this matter much quicker than I would have liked.  I had made up my mind to go and look in a shop.  I was not particularly interested in opinions of Internet shoppers, survey takers, or the like.  I just wanted them to go away.  Considering the option of searching for something else, like flower delivery services, as at least I would have something pretty popping up on my screen, I decided to ignore the right side of the screen and hope it would dissipate.

Swimming was delightful.  It was much cooler and the air was less 'thin', which made for lighter breathing and an easier exercise.  I was hoping that I would be able to enjoy the evening swim but clouds threatened an electrical storm.  Part of me was hoping that there would not be a power outage as a result of possible storms, but the another part of me wondered if such outage would reach my office computer, and zap all my recent searches, thus stopping pictures of bright pink holdalls and Minnie Mouse 'carry ons' decorating my screen!
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The power outage did not come.  There was a 'boom' at some time during Sunday evening, but I had obviously been asleep and not heard it.  We are accustomed to an occasional bang, and lights flickering, or going out, as something, usually a squirrel, has decided an entree of wires and cables would be a good meal.  In the event, while the meal is eaten raw, the animal ends up being served up 'well done', as it is fried to a crisp before dropping to the ground, and leaving many without electricity.  This time, however, the squirrels were snacking on more conventional food.  I had not considered a 'snakeskin' bag for my travels, nor had one appeared on the right side of my screen, but there was one literally hanging around.  My next door neighbours heard the boom, heard a truck pull up a few minutes later and went to investigate.  Not knowing the cause at the time, the driver had said he would let them know as soon as he had more information.  He knocked on their door a short time afterward, and showed them the culprit, which was now very much dead!  Apparently a 'rat' snake had somehow twirled itself around the wires and suffered the same consequences as the hungry squirrels.  Perhaps early inhabitants of Texas would have enjoyed the 'ready meal', but it was refused by my neighbours!

It was a much cooler week, all around, this week, and I managed to swim between showers a couple of days.  The drop in temperature and moisture in the air, did bring out the mosquitoes, all of whom appeared to take a different approach on dinner, and whilst I cannot categorically state that some were not lured to the same restaurant as the squirrels and rat snake, I am sure that the majority decided that I was dinner!  Failing to take my spray with me when I went for my evening dip, followed by a most delightful fifteen minutes reading, I felt the nip nip nip of the insect all along my arms and legs.  The red bumps started to irritate as much as the fact that I had forgotten the spray!
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Saturday finally arrived, and the search for suitcases was top of my list.  Costco had a very nice model, but the price was a little out of my range, considering I needed two. "Look", said my daughter, rather excitedly, "It comes with its own scale".  Sure enough, the handle had an electronic weight, that would tell you when you reached the magic number of 49lbs, one pound under the 'general' amount allowed on a commercial flights.  It did not, to my knowledge, go above that and just showed a red marker.  Therefore, if you were allowed to be included in the next bandwidth, which permits another twenty pounds, how can you tell exactly how much over you are! It was a very nice case, but I chose to weigh up my options, using a different device to that on the piece of luggage!

The department store that was visited next had a large selection of luggage.  Big bags, small bags, those that were sold as a set of three; plastic, metal, canvas, and something that was perhaps a mixture of all three. I did not need three.  I have a plethora of small cases.  The prices on some were equivalent of that of a flight.  It reminded me of the cartoon I saw as a child, where a boy has some money, wanted to put it in a safe container, so bought a piggy bank.  He then came home and had no money to put in said piggy bank as he had spent all his money on the receptacle that was meant to hold it!  Buy a suitcase, but forget the flight!  I chose two bags, bright pink in colour, so as not to merge with the majority, and no doubt being influenced by the right side of my computer screen, but on wheeling them to the check out, I noticed marks on the canvas that would indicate they had been damaged.  Of course, I am not one to point fingers, and doubt they were 'returns', but should I wish to return them for any reason, the marks would indicate usage and probably void my option.  

The third stop proved to be the winner!  I spotted a case that would definitely stand out in a crowd.  Bright swirls and patterns looked like someone had got at it with a 'Spirograph' set!  (Apparently, Spirograph is still on the market!)  With a blue background and swirls of pink, blue and other hues, this would not only stand out in a crowd, it should come with its own volume control!  It was not as expensive as a flight, but still more than I had paid for my previous set.  "That was about twelve years ago!" came the perceptive remark from my offspring!  Checking online, and realising that she will now have to endure an abundance of right side pictures, Samantha told me that the company that made the cases was a subsidiary of a very well known, renowned firm, specialists in luggage.  I was satisfied. The cases were purchased, and I felt as if I had accomplished a mammoth task.  Two years in the thinking, but only a couple of weeks in the research phase, the job was done!

We returned home after grocery shopping and singing to 'seventies' hits playing on the radio.  
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The pool was not deserted.  Fortunately, however, the mother of two of the three children that were splashing merrily, instructed them not to play on the other side of the rope, as it was for swimmers.  "But we can swim", was quickly responded to with a kind, but firm, "I said no".  Fortunately, for Samantha, the next question was given the same answer.  "If we ask politely, can we see if that lady will let us sit on her giant cow?"  My daughter would not have been able to refuse such a request, but in the event, did not have to.  The inflatable cow was big enough to hold all three children, but then so were my new cases, although I did not think it wise to mention that in public!

The dark clouds gave way to a quiet afternoon.  My next door neighbours were brave enough to venture down to my quiet habitat later in the afternoon, as were my new neighbours. Previously from the condo next to the pool, they have moved along to a single storey dwelling, which is directly opposite mine!  

I climbed the stairs to my front door at six thirty, having enjoyed an afternoon of dozing and socialising, with a modicum of reading in between.  Dana was fast asleep, with his computer upon his lap, wearing his swimwear.  Apparently, he had meant to come down and join me by the waters edge, but fell into a deep slumber!  

"Wish you had told me about the cases before buying them", he said.  "I have been researching them online".  My first response was to say, "So you have had Minnie Mouse staring at you on the right side of your screen for the past couple of weeks then".  It appears that he has had the female rodent occupying his screen since I first mentioned the need for new models!  I told him the make and as he started a new search, I went to get one of the cases so that he could check by the model number.  "Oh my goodness!" was his first response.  "Guess you can see those easily in a crowd!"  I smiled, and told him that it was the objective.  He could not find them at a better price, although there were many similar, and a lot that came in a set of three.  "I don't want the smaller cases.  We have enough to sell back to Minnie!"

All I have to do now is fill the new cases.  I shall not be putting any fried squirrel, or snakeskin inside the currently empty carcasses, nor small children. (I do hope I shall not get into trouble for my humerous latter comment!)  There will be enough room for quite a few clothes, as well as items on the 'request' list.  

The clouds are rolling in, but I am not currently being shown any raindrops on the weather app on my phone.  I will be swimming, I hope, in a little while, and then consider my plans for the next week.  My travel plans are not for this week, so I do have a little bit of leeway.  I have shut the door on my new cases, but am sure I can hear them from my bedroom!  Betts is currently sitting quietly by my side, in her sophisticated black and white splendour!  I can feel the power of the diversity!  Perhaps, next week will see a new set of pictures on the right side of my screen, and I can start a new cycle in .............. another story!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN

I am not quite sure as to the title of the book I once read, but it opens with a man, an Englishman, in England, walking along the road, at the same time, every day, heading for the pub.  Each Sunday, during the summer, I become that Englishman, although I am in the heart of Texas!  I stroll along, cool-bag over my shoulder, and float under my arm, heading for the pool.  I can hear the sound of the trombone playing, as it did in the book, indicating to the player the time of day.  Sometimes I am joined by others, but most of the time, at 2pm, I am alone, due to the heat.  I am definitely the Englishman (or woman) and the only other creature that would venture out in the midday sun, would be the 'mad dog'!

We may have had a couple of days this week where the weather did not reach 100, although the 'feels like' gauge was well over the century!  

The rain fell on Monday afternoon, after the clouds turned the sky from a magnificent shade of vivid blue, to that of dark purple, with grey surrounds.  This would have been perfect for an haute couture autumn catwalk, but for a summer's afternoon, it was a little daunting.  Thunder had been rumbling for quite some time and the extra swim was definitely out of the question.  I stayed at my desk until six thirty and managed to clear some backlog that had amassed during the day.  Although I had taken some fish out of my newest life altering appliance at lunchtime, I chose to let Dana take me out for dinner.

The Haute Couture autumn catwalk item would not have been necessary for the culinary delight that was tempting my taste buds as we headed in a northerly direction.  What did I want to eat? Crying out for something fried (which is unusual) I gave into the craving, and we went to Ihop, where I thoroughly enjoyed a plate full of chicken and waffles.  Although the 'mad dogs' may have been playing in the rain, this Englishwoman was going to have some 'soul food'.  Although the origins are unknown, this spectacularly superb (in my opinion) mixture of fat, chicken, fat, gluten, fat and syrup was just what (the following said, 'without prejudice') the doctor ordered!  I cleaned my plate leaving not a morsel!  

Rain did not stop play on Tuesday, and the storms did little to quell the temperature, which once again soared.  There was a slight breeze in the morning, but this soon gave way.  After the sad demise of one of my neighbours, I had promised to host our neighbours' gathering on the fourth Thursday, rather than the third, in honour of the man who first came up with the idea.  His widow was quite thankful, as she had contemplated continuing with the 'tradition', and was the first to respond to my invitation.  It seemed a little surreal as I was going to be in my element (in the kitchen creating) due to the passing of one of our friends. However, I shall not digress!

As I walked to the pool at lunchtime, I once again heard the sound of the trombone in my head.  The English(wo)man was walking out in the midday sun, to the sound of a dog barking, somewhere, no doubt wanting to come outside, but being sensibly kept in the cool! I swam for my allotted time and then came back up to my condo, where I took the four dozen bite size pastry cases that I had made earlier, and placed them in an airtight container, in the hope that they would remain fresh for four dozen hours!

By Wednesday, the gardeners that take care of our 'common area' were napping under the shade of the trees at lunchtime.  Wearing large hats with neck flaps, and adorned with long sleeves and trousers, no doubt to protect themselves from the burning rays, they took a well earned siesta. (I use the word in the true Spanish sense and without political agenda!  One has to be so careful with one's speech these days!)  I did not snooze.  Instead, I marched across the road and down to the pool, where I promptly dumped my towel, flip flops, water bottle and phone, and jumped into the water.  

I had taken an hour and a half leave of absence first thing to make some puff pastry horns, and meringues.  I had vaguely promised myself that I would not over burden myself in the culinary department, but I knew that it would take a pack of 'mad dogs' to stop me!  My invitation had read, "I will no doubt over cater....".

Stopping to chat to one of my neighbours, who had responded in the affirmative to my invitation, I remarked on the difference I had encountered between England and (specifically) Texas, particularly in the food.  I noticed (at least when I first arrived) the variety, and the diversity.  Hot peppers and jicama are part of the everyday produce, and brisket is is not just for stew!  "How do you make a good, hot queso?" would never have been a question that was pondered, and shepherd's pie was a necessity to curb waste rather than a delicacy for which a fortune could be charged!   I cannot count on two hands the variety of tomatoes, and if mini tacos and quesadillas were not available there would be uproar!  The list went on.  My invitation had hinted that there would be shepherd's pie, and of course, dessert!

With less than thirteen hours until 'blast off' on Thursday morning, I was rather more calm than I had anticipated.  I took another hour off in the morning to 'clear away', and was reasonably delighted with my progress.  Samantha had taken on the mundane task of mashing potatoes and decorating the meat mixture with the creamed spuds.  I drove my car to the office and parked in as shady a spot as I could find.  The temperature was rising rapidly, and I was thankful for the air conditioning.  

The lunchtime swim was not easy.  Although the pool is mostly shaded, my path puts me in the sun for a little bit of each lap.  The changing of skin colour around parts that are not usually exposed to the sun, indicate quite how strong are the sun's rays!  The walk too and from the condo zapped any extra energy.  Only the English(wo)man was out in the midday sun, as even the maddest of dogs found it too hot to venture out!  

Swimming was not an option when I returned home on Thursday. I had to fill my four dozen pastry cases with a variety of mixtures. I divided them into four uneven groups, and started with the caramel sauce, atop which was put the caramelised apple.  Next were the Belgian tartlets; creme patisserie covered with strawberries and grapes (not together), and finally the lemon curd which had a meringue swirled atop, which was then blasted with my blow-torch.  I cleared away some of the mess and then sandwiched the meringue whirls with a strawberry cream, before filling the horns with Toblerone cream.  The shepherds pie and chicken whatever was put into the oven.  In the crockpot was a mixture of peppers and tomatoes, and rice was simmering in its own pot!

My kitchen resembled Samantha's bedroom at its worst!  My floor was considered a work surface, as well as any flat workspace. Even the freezer top took part!  Dana returned home just as I had finished loading the dishwasher, and looked around with a slight expression of despair.  I had fifteen minutes left to make good!  I softened the blow by letting him know that if he had arrived five minutes earlier, he would have probably run away!  He asked, helplessly, "Do you need anything".  I replied that the only thing I really needed were the invisible people on the baking shows that come in with the trolleys and take away all the dirty equipment when no one is looking, and leave the work surfaces completely sparkling.  He said he did not know where to get one of those!

"Wow", was the expression from my neighbour with whom I had discussed the ability to over cater because of the variety!  "When you said over-cater, that was an understatement".  Standing with a place of bright red, tempting water-melon, she looked rather forlorn when she approached the 'dessert' table.  I assured her that the water-melon would not go to waste!  

Although there have been times when we have taken the 'Third Thursday' to the pool, I would not have been able to manage to set up and 'deliver' in time.  This particular time, however, it would have, even at seven in the evening, probably have been too hot to contemplate.  Apparently the ground had been too hot for all of the dogs paws, and that is why only the English(wo)man was seen walking up and down the road during the day!  Autumn here has its advantages!

Almost all left overs were eaten by the end of the day on Friday, as I took them into the office.  I had not tasted the final products beforehand, and decided to see if they were really that good.  I had brought a new variety to the 'place of plenty', and this foreign takeover was accepted with delight!  I swooned when I munched on the apple tart.  I had to stop myself praising the taste, as self-praise is no praise, so I am told!  The lemon meringue was just as good. I stopped as enough is as good as a feast, and the fruit tartlets were no longer on offer!

Saturday saw another 'heat advisory' warning, and the temperature soared to 106.  It was hot!  Again, I marched down to the pool at two, with my trusty side-kick.  We were the only two for a few hours, and then around five hours after the midday sun had coaxed out only the English(wo)man, several people came to 'cool off'.

Today, the temperature is only forecast to reach 102, which although hot, will be a little more bearable than yesterday.  I spoke to my daughter earlier, and mentioned that I did not know what to write about this week.  She had a gathering at her house last night, and had followed in her mother's footsteps in the culinary department!  I had provided scones, sausage rolls, and trifles for the soiree, all of which would not be missed if they were not present, but were accepted with glee.  Samantha had made her famous cup cakes and macarons.  She had also ventured out in the queso sector, and produced a dip like no other, adding meat to the fabulous concoction.  It was delicious!  Edward grilled!  "Don't know what to write?" was the sentence my daughter repeated back to me, after I had said that there was not much that happened this week, apart from me cooking and it being hot, all of which I have covered many times.  "Well, sometimes," she started, "You just cook, and it is just hot.  End of!"  She suggested that this be the extent of my post.  Her final comment on the matter was that I should just put "I cooked, and it was hot", and then add the dots, for a one line post, which of course would be completed with the words ..... another story!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

PUT OUT THE FIRE!

I was very excited on Monday afternoon, when I received the call. "Hey!  Is this Tracie?"  It was an Austin number, and it was a real person.  I had been selected to receive two 'reserved' seats for the film "Dunkirk", for the following evening.  It was a preview.  Apart from being interested in seeing the movie, I had entered the contest because the seats were 'reserved'.  I have declined to take part in those contests that will allow me early viewing, but require queuing in a 'first come, first served'', capacity.  

Dana reluctantly agreed to come with me, as I really wasn't sure as to whom would be interested in seeing the film.  Samantha said that she would have come if it was on Monday, as Edward had to work late that particular night.  As Tuesday progressed, and we became busy, I told Dana that he did not need to leave the office, and his piles of work, to see a film that he would really rather not!  He feared it would be quite gory, and was not wanting to be subjected to such scenes.  Bravely, I said I would go alone! 


Considering the amount of time we used to spend at the Mall located around the corner from the cinema, I was quite surprised that I could not remember how to get there!  I started my journey and realised that I was unsure of my route.  Dana gave me directions, which I followed, but as I approached the Interstate, I was running out of road before having to merge with traffic.  I looked to my left and could not see anything familiar.  On my right, however, was the car park, and right in front, the cinema!  

I walked past those who had sensibly brought chairs and sunshades, and plenty of water, and went into the building.  I was directed towards the back, and spoke to a security agent.  The radio station personnel were currently 'setting up', and they would attend to me shortly!  "They wont ask for ID", said the random stranger, who was presumably awaiting the same personnel.  I smiled graciously and attempted to move back into the shadows.  "Want a warm fuzzy feeling?" he said, as he approached me once more.  Wondering why I had said, "I will be fine on my own", I surveilled my surroundings and was sure I was safe.  "If you don't get in, my ticket is good for two.  Nothing weird.  Don't have to sit together".  Thanking him politely, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, I replied that I was sure my name would be on the list.  

Eventually, the radio chappie emerged, and asked for members of the press to come forward.  They were ushered into the cinema to take their seats.  When he called for the radio station winners, the random stranger walked forward, as did I.  "Me and my wife are here", he said, without batting an eyelid.  I looked around for the spouse, as I was sure he had said he was alone.  Naivete has become a little too commonplace for my liking, but I seem to be suffering from it more and more.  In my ignorance, I gave my name, still awaiting the arrival of Mrs random stranger, as Mr Stranger (whom I might add was about to live up to his assumed name) gave his title.  My name was found, but it was not next to the one of my partner.  His name was found, but on a different winning list.  "Are you together?" came the question.  "No! No!  I have never seen her before.  I don't even know her name!" came the emphatic response.  A wristband was issued to the gentleman to whom I was briefly united in matrimony, but quickly divorced, and then the attention was on me! "Are you alone?" asked the confused young man.  "I am. No one wanted to come with me", I said, smiling as innocently as possible.  "Then that man....".  I chuckled and explained how he had offered me his 'plus one', but had complete confidence that my name was on the list.  I was provided a wristband, and a somewhat relieved smile.

Image may contain: 2 people, wedding and indoorSix rows were cordoned off with the familiar yellow tape, and I chose my seat, top row of the section, middle seat.  It was almost perfect.  I am a 'sit as far back as possible' person, but being honoured with a 'reserved' seat, I stayed within my designated area. The crowds outside were eventually let in.  "Wristband?  Do you have a wristband?  Can't sit there.  This is for wristbands only". The geriatric guard were out in full force.  I must at this stage point out that they do an amazing job, and are merely volunteers, but occasionally, and I say this with as much admiration and affection as I can muster, they do tend to get a little carried away with their authority.  However, much as their authority is generally recognised, there is always one!  "I will sit where I want to sit" was met with the resounding, "Oh no you wont!"  This was, presumably, the entertainment before the main show; the 'warm up' as it is known in the theatre!  "If those seats are open when the movie starts...." came the open ended threat.  The lady in question could not decide whether she wanted to sit above, or below the 'restricted deck', and finally walked down the steps to the front, where her feet promptly left the ground and she flew a couple of inches before landing horizontally.  All eyes were on the performer. "What is that doing there. Did you see that".  Although we were all witnesses, no one came forward to make a statement!  However, the desired effect was achieved, and two security people came forth to ask how they could be of assistance.  "I told her!  She cannot sit here!  It is for wristbands only!" came the response from the duty guard, who refused to give up his position when the injured party cried (as in sobbed) that she really wanted to sit "right there!"  A compromise was reached, albeit not in favour of the victim.  As all seats were virtually filled, the selection remaining were single, and whilst most people were ready to shuffle along to make a dozen more doubles, no one was asked.  Two young ladies were asked if they would mind moving, and they agreed.  The victim and her 'plus one' were seated in an 'I guess it will work' seat, and the two young ladies were ushered to the 'I want those seats'.  Quite satisfied were the ladies.  Quite unsatisfied was the victim, but considering her Oscar winning performance, she was unable to create too much havoc, as she was, after all, injured!  Smugness is the word I would use to describe the face of the duty guard!

The film was excellent, and well worth the effort to go alone.  I watched without once looking at my watch, and lived every moment.  One of my uncle's was at Dunkirk, and so it was quite personal.  His inability to swim had saved his life, as his best friend had managed to get to a boat. Responding with profanity, as my uncle called for his help, the best friend climbed upon the destroyer, just as the Luftwaffe dropped its bomb.  The best friend was cremated and my uncle lived to tell the tale.  He never learned to swim!  

I left the cinema after Mr. Stranger and Mrs Victim had made their exit, and drove home.  

Reflecting on the men and women who were the heroes of the hour, I continued with my work week, lamenting a bygone age. Watching the re-enactment of hundreds of little ships bobbing about in the ocean, ready to take the brave lads home from what would have been certain annihilation, was quite humbling.  Camaraderie at its best! There are, of course, still those that would gladly give their lives for others. I admire our military, for whom I am thankful, and know that the emergency services can be reached by dialing three numbers.  

The fire was not large enough to activate the emergency services by dialing the three designated numbers on Thursday evening.  The smoke alarm pipped continuously, and the smoke bellowed out of my kitchen.  The little bits of batter, that had not been cremated, were bobbing about in the oil that had yet to catch fire!  Yorkshire pudding is the enemy that will be conquered one day!  I had (naively so - there is that word again) filled ten out of twelve pots with batter, and left the other two with just the oil. (I knew it was probably a mistake at the time!)  The smoke billowed inside the oven, and then the 'never do this at home', act that is the number one rule in cooking, was committed.  I opened the oven door, thus allowing the oxygen into the area, and it ignited! I did think quick! I closed the oven door and turned off the appliance.  It took two hours for the smoke to subside, and the smell is still lingering. However, after another couple of hours of soaking and cleaning, I have a very clean oven!  Once again, my impatience prevailed, and I was too hasty in my wish to make the delicacy.  I shall try again, but not for a couple of weeks!

Image may contain: foodI called the radio station on Friday, just to thank them for the opportunity of seeing the film before it was officially released.  The young lady on the other end of the line was grateful for the gratitude, and rather surprised.  "We don't get thanked!"  When asked if I enjoyed it, I told her how it was personal.  If she put on an act showing interest, it was on par with the lady at the cinema, as she sounded most emphatic in her response.  Apparently, I had made her day with my call!

The weekend was one full of different surprises.  I had plans to purchase a small freezer some years ago.  I have 'fridge-freezer', which is quite adequate, if I do not want to store too much. However, with my recent run on culinary experiments, (Yorkshire Puddings aside,) I am in need of a little extra space.  Costco had a wonderful bargain, that could not be competed with, but I was unsure as to their delivery options.  "We don't deliver", was the answer.  I was told that I could purchase it online and it could be sent to wherever I desired, but this particular item was not available online.  "In other words, I can't buy it online", was my response.  A smile, and inability to catch the contradiction, was the response. "We can hold it until the end of the day", was his best offer!  I had calculated that with the cost of a rental truck, the deal was still much better than purchasing it elsewhere, and called Dana to let him know what I was about to do.  Dana is quite willing to adhere to my wishes, but on purchasing anything bigger than a toothbrush, he likes to do a little bit of research.  (Toothbrushes come into the category, but I do not have the time to wait.)  The research can take months, and often to no avail.  However, we have a deal!  "There is an advert that says there is a special offer.  It's thirty bucks cheaper than they are quoting", was his response, after he failed to find any reviews.  I asked as to when the advert was placed, as he has a tendency to find rather old offers.  I reminded him of the time he sent me to HEB to buy cherries (when he was suffering from gout and they were considered to be helpful) at a very low price, and after reprimanding every store manager for reneging on their advertisement, found that the advert was dated some seven years earlier and in a different location!  "February.  Doesn't give a year!" was the response.  There were two left.  Samantha found some very good reviews, and so I bought the freezer!

Two women, a Rogue (a Qashqai, I believe it is called in the UK,) and a chest freezer were together in Costco's car park.  We manoeuvered the box, and lifted.  We dropped it down again, and out came the trusty tape measure.  It would fit.  With the back seat down, and everything else taken out, we lifted again, and the box slid into the car without a hitch.  Everything else was replaced around the freezer.  We expected a cheer from the crowd, but it was not forthcoming.  The offer of help from a couple of male employees was also not forthcoming.  So much for camaraderie! The final appliance was bought by a couple who left at the same time.  They had a bigger car, more space, and one of them was a man.  Samantha watched them struggle, remove the appliance from the box, struggle some more and finally haul it into place.  "He was probably telling her what to do", I replied with my sexist remark!

Once home, Dana helped us bring the freezer into the house, after we had removed it from the car.  We did not need, nor want, additional help with that, as we were now experts.  The packaging was removed and it was rolled, on its wheels, into place.  A good job done!

It was an interesting week.  From being humbled by the acts of bravery of both the military and the boat owners, risking life and limb, without a thought for their own survival, to my being reduced to tears over a self-inflicted trivial incident in my kitchen.  It put a lot into perspective.  I reflected on when my mother bought her first freezer, and the excitement when it was delivered, and 'grounded', because she was now able to store 'ready made' beef burgers (only to be eaten as a special treat) to my simply picking one up at the store (literally) an putting it in the car to bring home!  

Today is hot.  Yesterday was hot.  Tomorrow will be hot.  I am planning to spend some time at the pool, with my book!  Another aspect of a different life!  I find myself, once again, thanking all who make this possible, and all whom have made it possible.  To me, thanking the military, and emergency services will never get old!  I hope everyone who is reading this has a safe and blessed week, and are all around to, hopefully, enjoy ............ another story!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE LAND OF THE FREE!

There is something quite addictive about the customer appreciation programmes that takes place n July.  Over the years, the way in which the outlets have shown their 'appreciation' has changed, but our addiction to taking part has not!  We have to take part, and all else is put on hold!

As we were fast approaching the eleventh day of the month, my daughter was checking the item of 'appreciation' for the convenience store that shares its name with a date, to wit, 7-11.  In England, of course, this would be the seventh day of November, but out in the 'good ol' US of A', it denotes the eleventh day of July. This year it clashed with another appreciation day; that of the 'Eat mor Chikin' company Chick-Fil-A.  

I was quite happy to opt out this year, as the temperatures were soaring around one hundred degrees, and a swim at lunchtime was preferable to driving for an hour, even if it did mean providing lunch for everyone!  However, traditions are traditions, and there is a sense of accomplishment (although, as the French so aptly say, je ne sais quoi!) in taking part.

Monday came and went quite quickly, and I prepared fish tacos for dinner.  My new favourite dish was served with black beans and a variety of salsas, with my latest find in fish, the Ono!  Apparently, this is a close relative of the King Mackerel.  Another name for the Ono is (wait for it) Wahoo!  I have visions of a cartoon fisherman, hooking this little vertebrate, asking, "What have we here", and the fish replying, "You don't want me, you want my uncle, the King Mackerel!"  Suffice it to say, Monday night, when asked what was for dinner, I simply threw my hands in the air, and shouted, "Wahoo!"  When we had finished, and I was asked again, "What was the fish", I replied, in a calmer manner, "It was a nephew of the mackerel".  The look of "Can you give me a straight answer", was followed by a straight answer.  "It was Ono".  My husband smiled and said, "Okay, I give up.  It was good though!"  Once I showed him the packet, displaying the name, he said, "I prefer the first answer!"
Image may contain: 2 people, hat and close-up
Without eating any fish, we did have a "Wahoo" sort of day on Tuesday!  I was able to go swimming, and then take part in the 'giveaway' extravaganza!  I took my car and filled her with petrol, as the price was at a reasonable low (apparently the lowest for many years) and then hopped across to the first stop, which was immediately opposite, and not by coincidence, the Costco garage. The temperature was almost 100 degrees, and Samantha was dressed in her rather thick, full length, cow costume.  I had on a black and white dress, black and white shoes, and a black and white hat, with black and white pearls around my neck, hanging from which was a bell that was made out of salt dough, by my grandson.  Although the latter was reportedly a Christmas decoration, it was an excellent embellishment for my ensemble, which bore the tag, "A Stella Moo-Cartney 2017 original".  The women laughed; the men offered no more than a blank stare!  Our first stop was filled with parents with children, all dressed in black and white of some form.  As we entered, a customer shouted to the herd, "Here is the winner", and held up Samantha's hand!  The employee behind the counter was not as impressed.  "Bit over the top, but I like it", he said, in a very 'unworthy, unlike' fashion of the usual fast-food server for this establishment.

When we first took part in this extravaganza, the rule of thumb was that if you were in full costume, you received a full meal; sandwich, drink and fries.  If you were in partial costume, or merely held up a picture of a cow, you were entitled to a sandwich (burger).  Over the years, the rules changed, and everyone was given a full meal.  Then last year there was the 'eat in only' option. However, Samantha's costume has always stirred the crowd, and the first year she received double meals, and last year she was given dispensation to 'take out'.  This year the sandwich only was the appreciation give-away, and if you wanted to 'take out', then that was your prerogative.  We maintained our prerogative, and took two sandwiches out to the car.  

The next stop was 'Half-price Books', where Samantha wanted to purchase a copy of a book for her neighbour. Immediately opposite, and not by coincidence, was another chikin establishment!  Dressed in the winter costume, Samantha managed to hike to the front door with her mother in tow!  "Wow, that is the most amazing one yet!" was the correct answer! The manager was enthralled by the bovine beauty on two legs!  She was quite impressed with the 'Stella Moo-Cartney 2017 original'.  Two sandwiches were taken and a book was then purchased.  It was now time to take part in the 7-11 appreciation fun!  

Fortunately, there is a store not far from the office.  I say fortunately, because even with air-conditioning, the 'icee' melts in the soaring heat that we were experiencing. Our first '7-11' appreciation day was a supply of coffee.  As the 'appreciation' is now shown between 11am and 7pm (rather than 7am to 11pm), morning coffee has been purchased.  Samantha had removed the cow costume, and was now in a much cooler attire of shorts and a t-shirt.  I had removed the bell and label, but the rest of my outfit was in tact.  We thanked the lady behind the counter for her appreciation and headed back to work.

After all were fed, I called my mother, taking the phone out to the front of the building.  As I stood pacing, whilst talking, one of our neighbours exited the building.  "Beautiful", she said, and thinking she was talking about the day, I nodded enthusiastically, and mouthed, "Yes".  She smiled, a curious smile, and got into her car. I then replayed the audible memory, and realised that she had actually said, "You look beautiful".  A simple "thank you" may have averted the curious smile!  I felt a little silly and made a mental note to correct my appearance of vanity when next seeing her.  I didn't see her all week!  

Thursday morning arrived with the realisation that we were already over the half way mark for the week.  I was quite shocked that it had passed so quickly.  My mind had been working overtime regarding my up and coming trip to England, and whilst I had booked the flight a couple of months ago, I had not yet booked a car.  The booking of the vehicle was simple, but to add insurance was a little more complicated.  Since paying a price for insurance that would have bought me a whole car (albeit an old one) two years ago, I now purchase it when hiring the vehicle from a 'Global' company, that is connected to my credit card.  It is simple, and much cheaper.  However, the option was not given to me when I reserved the car.  I opted for the 'online chat' programme, and started a conversation.  "I have booked the car, but want to take out insurance, and cannot see the option", I typed.  Having been asked for my booking reference, I obliged.  In the meantime, I remembered the name of the insurance company, and brought up a web page to see if I could purchase the insurance directly. An option for 'online chat' was available, and I availed!  "I cannot find your booking.  What is your name", came back the print from the car company.  "Yes, you will be covered in the UK", came back the print from the insurance company.  "Okay, found it. I will see if I can get you a refund", came back the print from the car company. "Yes, fully comprehensive on the vehicle you are given", came back the print from the insurance company.  "I don't want a refund. I want to add insurance", I told the Jane-Sue at the car company. "Thank you", I told Kevin at the insurance company.  It was after I had purchased the insurance that I realised my mistake.  Jane-Sue had assumed that I was purchasing the insurance from elsewhere, which would cover the 'third-party' automatically included by my credit card company, and assumed that 'take out insurance' meant to 'remove it' from the package.  Thirteen years on, and I am still not speaking Murican!  All ended well, however, and the appreciation was flowing from all!
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It was announced, by the appreciation Queen, that Starbucks were giving away tea, between one and two on Friday!  I didn't care!  I just wanted to get the work done, and get home and enjoy my weekend!  However, the pull was too much, and I was going to be appreciated one way or another!  After swimming, we headed to the shop on our way to the office, and retrieved our plastic glasses, one of peach, and one of strawberry, tea!  I had to take a letter to the post office, and immediately opposite, and not by coincidence, was another Starbucks!  I am not such a great fan of the coffee sold by the chain, but their hot chocolate (at least in the New York City shops) is quite delicious.   I did not feel as if I was taking advantage of the appreciation and this time took the pineapple variety of tea. After getting my 'registered letter' deposited with the clerk behind the desk at the post office, I returned to the car, and we headed back to the office with tea for all!

Appreciation was accepted at the weekend, when visiting Sam's and Costco, with the samples being plentiful, and I was also appreciated by Majic radio station, when I collected my birthday treat of a box of chocolate covered fruit from Edible Arrangements, with their compliments!

The 'Appreciation' days are fun!  They are all part of the experience of living in Austin, and I feel that by constantly participating, I will never take my move here for granted.  In a strange sort of way, it keeps it all new, and that stops life from becoming mundane. As the anthem states, we are in the 'Land of the Free and the home of the brave', and are free to enjoy all that is being offered! The title of this post is not meant to be flippant, but encompassing!  
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Rain stopped play as we were down by the pool on Saturday, and it poured for a few hours.  That was appreciated too!  Dana and I went out for dinner, earlier than usual, and returned to our condo where we enjoyed tea and ice-cream!  I am unaware of any extra appreciation days next week.  However, I am appreciative each week when I see the 'post stats' on this blog, and am most thankful to all who return, regularly, to read .......... another story!