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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!"
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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!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

THERE WILL BE FIREWORKS!

1The Fourth of July, once again, literally went out with a bang! Fireworks, both with and without permits (it is, I believe, illegal to ignite fireworks without a permit, even on one's own property, in Austin city limits,) were lighting up the skies as soon the sun dipped down on to the hilltops.  

Of course, we had to have the third before the fourth, and that was an unexpected day off from the office.  My sarcastic gene gets to work overtime on this particular holiday, as I am asked, with regularity, the same question each year.  "Do you have the Fourth of July in England?"  This year's answer was, "No, we have the third and the fifth and wonder what on earth to call the day in between". It is then, and only then, that the recognition of 'divided by a common language' comes into play, and the question is asked in a different way. "Do you celebrate the Fourth of July".  Once again, this year, I was able to answer in a different way as to my usual stark answer, (which usually takes them through the battle for independence, and the fact that the story over here is portrayed as the Brits leaving with their proverbial tails between their legs,) and replied, "1776.  The original Brexit!"  


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Samantha and I decided to make the most of our additional day off, and chose to spend it, in part, in the tradition 'winter' national holiday mode.  We went to Ikea! She had booked her car in for a service, and I picked her up from the rather large establishment that sits on the frontage road of the Interstate.  I was slightly late leaving my house.  I had completed my Monday tasks, and had plenty of time, but got a little carried away with some extra-curricular activities, to wit, (still) sorting out pictures for my 'holiday' wall!  I drove to the exit and was in the wrong lane.  I am one of the many (and apparently I am in the majority) who cannot, in an instant, tell my left from my right.  I still use my left thumb and index finger to make an 'L' shape for confirmation.  (I only wish I knew this method before my kids learnt it at school!) "Stay in the right hand lane", said Samantha, when she called to find out my progress.  I continued in the left hand lane, believing it to be the correct lane, as I was 'looping' around.  As I approached the lights, she said, "No, I mean left".  I changed lanes automatically, without considering that I was already in the left hand land, and as I crossed over on the bridge, realised my mistake.  "I've missed my turn", I shouted into the phone, which was upon my lap, legally in loudspeaker mode!  Fortunately, the road upon which I was now travelling, was wide, and empty, and I 'U-turned' without much difficulty.  After negotiating the roadworks, I turned into the car lot and espied my daughter.  

After not purchasing anything other than the obligatory hot dog, we left the Swedish warehouse and went to a couple of other regular haunts.  Samantha had asked if we would quickly go to the mall, as she had one stop she wanted to make, and "seeing as we are almost there", we did.  The service department manager called to say her car was ready, but they did have a recommendation on a couple of things, that would take a lot more time, and of course cost a lot more than anticipated.  She asked my opinion, and then called Edward to ask his.  As everything was 'precautionary', and would probably not be essential for another six months, she opted out of the 'extras' and attempted to call back.  The line was busy for quite some time, and finally she asked me to try, as she disappeared into the changing room of the one shop that she wished to visit. The service manager answered as she turned the corner out of sight. "Hello,  I am Samantha's mum', I said, feeling as if I was somehow taking away any authority my daughter had gained.  "Yeah, guessed that from the accent", was his reply.  I told him that she had opted out of the 'extras', and would have them done another time.  He did not belabour the issue, for which I was most grateful.  With my sarcastic gene working overtime, I am not sure he would have survived the onslaught!  

We headed back to get the car.  "Stay in this lane", said Samamtha, as we traveled along the frontage road.  "Should have been in the other lane", she quipped as I ended up on the same road where I had previously done the U-turn.   This time it was not quite as empty, and I had to drive for a while before finding a gap to take the initiative.  There were no signs to say I was not able to perform the U-turn, but this is not England, and U-turns are not the norm! My car was most obliging and we headed in the correct direction. The newly serviced car was collected.  The service manager had commented that he loved Samantha's accent, and had asked, in the way people here ask, "Where did you get it?"  Oh the variety of answers that could be given, but my daughter chose to be gracious! It was a time for peace, not to continue the transatlantic battle of yesteryear!  We headed, separately, to my house, and took up residence by the pool. Another couple joined us, with their friends, and I spent the afternoon reading and swimming.  Samantha left and Dana came home from the office, and joined me for about half an hour.  I made a spaghetti carbonara for dinner, and then, in true family tradition, said 'goodbye' to 56!  I fell asleep shortly before midnight.  I had received a note from the ladies next door, to say that they were having a 'birthday celebration get together' with a few friends, and hoped they would not disturb us.  We heard nothing, and I wondered if the party was cancelled or if the venue had been changed!

My birthday arrived, and I duly said 'hello' to my new age.  Dana and I headed out to Mozart's, our usual haunt for my birthday, when we are not 'out of town', and had coffee and croissants by the lake. Frank waddled along the wooden slats, with half a dozen helium balloons attached to his harness, being closely followed by Samantha, who was trying to stop him from knocking into all and sundry, due to his excitement at spotting his 'extended' family.  "No, it's hers", I heard her say when asked, "Is it the dog's birthday"!

Dana took Frank home, and we stayed for a while just enjoying the lazy atmosphere.  When we finally arrived back at the condo, I set about making some Viennese Whirls and Jaffa Cakes, which I planned to take to Michele, my nail technician, so that she could 'taste the show' that she had started to watch!  It did not take long, and by one o'clock, we were at the pool!  Alone for the longest time, we just lazed in true holiday fashion.  We were joined a little while later by some neighbours, all of whom wished me birthday felicitations, as Samantha had chosen to take one of the balloons to the pool and tied it to my chair!  The flowers and other birthday accessories, including my birthday princess sash, remained in the condo!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, outdoorEdward had to work on Tuesday, but came home early and we all enjoyed a fine repast at a local restaurant, which was surprisingly empty!  Despite the 'main day' being on a Tuesday, it appeared that a lot of people had left town for the unofficial long weekend!

I met one of the ladies next door and asked if the party was a success, and thanked her for the note.  She seemed a little nervous and asked if we had been disturbed at all, by the noise.  I admitted that we had not heard a thing, and that I was wondering if it had actually taken place.  She was relieved!  Not only had it taken place, but it was quite a gathering!

Joe and Gail were at the coffee shop, on Wednesday, and were quite happy to be participants in the results of my Great British Bake Off, and ate the offerings I provided with gusto.  I left shortly after eight thirty, and headed to have my nails painted.  The roads were relatively empty. It appeared that the long weekend had turned into a long week for most Austinites, and I wondered if it would spill over into our work load!


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Michele seemed to be quite excited at the prospect of sampling the wares I had brought and we chatted about the next episode of the show, which she had seen, but I had not.   "Why do they call it a pudding?", she asked, when referring to the batter that is baked into a 'Yorkshire pudding'.  I could not give a definitive answer! 

Work was not particularly gruesome, although we were busy enough to keep us occupied for the following three days.  I arrived at the office on Wednesday morning, to a chorus of Happy Birthday, and a fabulous cake made by my daughter.  Streamers and banners decorated my already decorated office, and the good wishes were abundant from all who entered the lair that is 'my room'.  I also managed to leave a little after five, as I did each day this week, and went swimming after work, and even managed to read a little!
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Finally, Friday arrived and having worked three days, I was rather surprised at how slowly it took for the weekend to arrive!  I drove home, leaving Dana at the office, and took my bag down to the pool.  A couple of neighbours were there and we exchanged pleasantries.  After my swim, I sat down and took out my book.  A large drop of water hit my arm, shortly followed by another.  The sun was shining, and I wondered if someone was splashing me from above!  "Looks like we have the only cloud in the sky overhead", said one of the lads who were my current pool friends. At that, the cloud burst, and the rain poured.  On of my friends took cover but the other one, not wanting to be outdone by a woman, especially after I had said, "I am not giving up", stayed to take the strain.  After a minute or two, the second lad shouted, "ouch, that stings", and headed for the cover of the trees.  I took my towel and covered myself, whilst continuing to read.  Ten minutes later, the rain stopped, and normality was resumed.  "Well, we made it!" said the lad who had attempted to remain in his seat.  "We did", I said, graciously!  

Saturday was very hot.  Although the temperature did not hit 100, the humidity was exceptionally high, and we felt rather zapped going from the car to the store, and back again.  After our usual rounds we took up residency by the pool, and while Samantha floated on her giant cow, I started my new book!  I remember thinking to myself, how this has become quite the norm, but reminded myself that I must never take for granted my ability to just lounge by the pool at will! 

The storm did not bring forth rain over our patch.  However, it was loud, and I advised my daughter to vacate the water, as the rumbles of thunder were panoramic!  We were in the centre of the crashes, and the dark cloud looked rather foreboding.  For about thirty minutes, we heard a continuing roll of thunder, although we did not see the skies light at all.  The week had started with fireworks and was ending the same way, albeit one manufactured, and one natural. 

After Samantha left, Dana joined me.  It was the first time he had met our new neighbours, who had also come to the pool, and the ladies, all of whom have only just advanced to their first quarter of a century, were more than happy to visit with their older counterparts!  I asked how the birthday girl had enjoyed her party, and she responded that it was fun.  She asked how I had enjoyed mine, and I said that the birthday was great, but I did not have a party.  I told her that my birthday was fun, but quiet,  "My wild days are over", I said, slightly tongue-in-cheek. One of their friends, a young man, commented, "And now you are enjoying your twilight years?"  As the girls all took a sharp intake of breath, I smiled and simply said, "Not quite yet".  

My birthday coupons are still being used, and I accepted a large piece of cake from the restaurant on Saturday evening, albeit in a take out box!  

Hopefully, the coming week will not have fireworks of any sort.  I am ready for a slightly less erratic tempo, be it meteorological or work related.  Perhaps the young lad at the pool who made the 'twilight' comment was more accurate than I cared to admit, although wanting a little plain sailing does not a senior make! There is still so much to look forward to this year.  A trip home, a visit from my grandchildren, and of course ........... another story!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

GOOD HOUSEKEEPING 101!

Nothing quite messes with my routine like, 'The Great British Bake Off".  The 'new' series began, and my nail technician, Michele, was going to send me a text to say she had found a new British show, but decided, instead, to tell me on my Wednesday visit.  

Having my nails decorated in a less than traditional 'red, white and blue', for the big day, (which just happens to be the birthday of this great nation in which I reside, as well as my own,) with a series of patterns other than a flag, we discussed the baked goods that had been shown.

"Why do you call cookies, biscuits?", asked Michele as she painted one blue, then one red flower on a white background.  "What we call biscuits, you call scones!"  She had seen a couple of the programmes, and they had made 'something called Jaffa Cakes, and Viennese Whirls', she recalled.  "That is why we give you a strange look when you suggest 'biscuits and gravy'", I replied.  She could see the dilemma.  A sponge topped with orange jelly and then covered in dark chocolate, being smothered in a rich white gravy, with (probably) sausage!  It is only now that I understand the comment in the movie "Twister", when one of the characters says that the gravy is so famous, (and I quote) 'it's practically a food group'.  The thought of the mixture was not appealing.  We continued to discuss the other items on the show, whilst my nails took on the appearance of something that resembled the 'Pepsi' motif rather than a typically USA theme.  It was all my own design, one which had been birthed whilst waiting for red traffic lights to turn green, during which time I had sketched a rather crude drawing of my two hands, with a set of patterns that covered each one of my nails. Michele merely obliged!  I told all who commented that I was going for the all round American theme. After all, 'Pepsi' is an American product, is it not?

Plans for Thursday morning had been to continue with my holiday 'collages', and to make two rooms ready for some special guests that are coming to visit us later in the year!  Yes, my grandsons are coming to play!  However, after watching three episodes of the 2016 show, everything was put on hold!

I planned to host our neighbour's soiree in July, although I have not yet extended invitations to the neighbours, and was struck with panic when I saw I had a mere half a dozen bars of dark chocolate left in my cupboard.  I would need one for the experimental Jaffa cakes, one for the actual, and then perhaps a couple for the soiree, depending upon what I decide to concoct.  That left only two for emergency purposes!

Two collages were completed.  Views from the air of the Grand Canyon, and the Hoover Dam, together with a compilation of geezers from Yellowstone National Park, were hung and rehung upon my 'collage' wall.  It had become necessary to separate 'family and state' (to coin a phrase) as the memoirs were starting to overtake, and I was running out of wall!  Oliver and Jamie were given their own space, and my sole painting (an unsigned 'oils' of various London landmarks) was taken down, and awaited a new home, which needed to be as honorary!  

My usual Friday housework tasks were split into two, making me realise that this was probably a preferable option for the future.  It allowed me to make my sponge for the Jaffa Cakes, (with the Jelly having been made and left to set in the fridge the previous evening,) and set about starting the cleaning for the ten minutes that it was cooking.  It is amazing how much I can accomplish in ten minutes if I set my mind to it!  However, I should also set my mind to actually reading through a recipe when trying to recreate the same! This is why I need a 'practice run'.  Although I have patience for most things in my life, I am always trying to run before I can walk when I enter the kitchen, and whilst the cake and jelly were wonderfully made, pouring the chocolate (which was still hot) onto the cool orange substance, would obviously not create the desired effect!  It ran off as violently as the waterfalls of Niagara in my third collage!  I carried on cleaning, whilst periodically stirring a cooled down version of chocolate.

"Wow, these are amazing", was the correct response!  The dozen and a half chocolate covered delights were wolfed down in no time at all, by those who had no clue how they should look (or taste) like.  It was rather humbling!  "You know, mom uses a mixture of Hershey's and condensed milk for her chocolate covering", was a comment that was considered to be helpful, when I mentioned (and I have no idea why I mentioned) that my chocolate supply was running low.  I showed restraint and said "Thank you" for the suggestion, trying not to grit my teeth.  To my cohorts, the famous American chocolate is 'practically its own food group', but to me, it is not an option.  I am, as my husband says, a chocolate snob, and indeed am proud of the title! Obviously this is only my opinion, but in my opinion, (doubly stated for legal reasons)  pouring the suggested concoction over said biscuits would be tantamount to smothering it with sausage gravy.  I would not find it particularly pleasant!  

The Viennese Whirls were slightly less of a challenge.  I had made them before, albeit many years ago, and they were never really considered to be much of a delicacy.  However, when serving up to a group that has no idea of their existence, they suddenly become one of the most sought after items on the planet!  The practice run would be without the filling as I am quite certain I could accomplish 'a-bit-a-buttercream' without too much problem!  

Taking care of mundane chores on Friday, happened before preparing the dough for the whirls.  I followed the recipe to the letter, or so I thought, and started to spoon it into the bag.  It seemed particularly dense, and I went to make sure there was no liquid, perhaps in the form an egg, to be added.  It was then that I realised I had failed to put in any sugar.  "The recipe doesn't call for lemon", I heard myself say, when wondering, "should I add some lemon", but despite all the warnings, and arguments that I had with myself, I opted for the flavouring.  It was still virtually impossible to pipe the mixture into whirls, but Samantha had appeared at my door, ready to take on the muscle job!  "Perhaps I should just take off the nozzle and pump it through into whirly blobs", I suggested. My daughter gave me one of her looks, and attempted to pipe beautiful swirls.  After two reasonable efforts she suggested, "Perhaps you should just take off the nozzle and pump it through into whirly blobs".

"Wow, these are amazing", was the correct response! The two dozen little biscuits were wolfed down in no time at all, and the lemon, apparently, was a great success!  Oh how I would have failed the challenge on the programme, but then I probably would never have made it through the first round, due to my inability to follow instructions, due to my inability to walk before running!

I still have another couple of collages to complete, as well as a few other cosmetic jobs to accomplish around the house, but I believe there are still at least half a dozen more baking shows to watch, and that may cause me to change my routine yet again.  I can only hope that they stay away from anything requiring chocolate.  Cocoa I can manage as those nice chocolate manufacturers in Switzerland have provided Costco with giant tubs!  

No automatic alt text available.Other than spending time creating this week, I did manage to spend quite a few hours at the office, complete a few rows of yet another cardigan (whilst my daughter, quickly, whipped up a crocheted version of Frank for me,) and entertain Samantha's neighbours by the pool on Saturday afternoon!  Sandra and family joined us for an afternoon of splashing and swimming, and no one else saw fit to brave the 98 degree temperature until it was almost time for them to leave.  It was the least creative few hours of the week, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless!  

With 'The Fourth' looming, many people appear to have left town, with Monday having been cast as an unofficial holiday.  "The courthouse is open; we are open" is usually Dana's motto, but he has given the office staff (including me, although I have offered to be 'on call') the day off, giving us a nice four day weekend!  I have at least six weeks worth of projects to accomplish on the extra day, but practically speaking think I shall probably get round to completing a nice round number; zero is very round!  

Happy birthday to the United States of America, and I look forward to celebrating many more with you!  Cooking, cleaning, creating and all other items on the agenda will recommence in the middle of next week, and I shall have three working days before I have to consider what I can report for ............ another story!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

MAJOR MINOR!


There are some times when I feel like an alien in my surroundings, and other's when I feel like a native.  It is, nevertheless, a very true saying, "You can take the girl out of England, but you can't take England out of the girl!", and this week, in particular, it altered slightly, in "You can take the London Cabbie out of the cab, but ...". 

When asked, and I am often asked, on both sides of the pond, "What is the biggest difference", I cannot answer in one sentence. This is not because I am incapable of answering anything in a simple sentence, but because it is impossible to give an individual answer.  Each week, (and thirteen years on, I am still finding 'firsts',) there is something that makes me think, "Now that is different!"  Driving is a constant!  Although this is probably a big difference, I am not sure it constitutes 'the biggest'.  However, I am ever grateful that I learned to drive in England, and had nearly four decades under my belt, rather than the other way around!  

This week, the guy who delivers our fed-ex parcels, commented on my tan.  "Wow, you have got a good tan going there!", he said.  I commented that it was purely from walking and swimming.  I stay out of the sun whenever possible, and any change in colouration has taken thirteen years.  Thankfully, now at the turn of the seasons, (which could be in the same 24 hour period,) if my skin is subjected to solar rays, I do not turn into a tomato, and then back into a ghost!  I am able to venture out to the post box without an umbrella, or 'factor 50' smothered over my arms, although rarely do I go without a hat!

Apparently, Friday was due to hit an all time record temperature, or at least equal one already on file!  With the temperature hitting 104 Fahrenheit, (a mere 40 degrees Celsius,)  it felt hot!  As I walked from the office to the car, I felt as if I was walking into a furnace. However, had I been in England, last week, although the temperatures were not quite as high, they were unseasonably hot, and most uncharacteristic!  

Image may contain: plant and outdoorIt has been quite warm over the past couple of weeks here, Perhaps it was the heat that caused a slight blimp in the mind of the city road repairs unit, when they decided that Saturday, midday, would be a good time to replace the paving around one of the busiest junctions in town.  My initial reaction, when seeing the traffic at a standstill, with everyone happy to sit and wait for the lights to change four times before being able to turn, was to jump into the drivers seat, and shift my daughter into that of the passenger. However, as she often remarks, she is the daughter of two cab drivers, grand-daughter of one of the greatest (we were not the only one's to think his knowledge was above all others; pun definitely intended,) and niece to numerous!  It is, she say, 'in the blood'!  We espied a route that would take us into the car park, with a few twists and turns, and proceeded forth.  I do not think I am unique in my thinking, but do tend to notice every break in the pavement, and alternative exit routes.  Turning off the main path, Samantha drove through two small strip centres, and up to the exit, before swinging back down, around the petrol station, to the first row of parking, which was virtually empty.  As we got out of the car, we did a 'happy dance', and saw that the vehicle that had been in front of us, had barely moved, due to the congestion along the path that is outside the large hypermarket.  "It's in the blood", she announced to the air!

My shopping list would err on the side of bigger differences.  Flour and corn tortillas, black beans, chipotle mayonnaise, a jar of medium salsa, (red and green,) and of course, my new favourite, Pachyrhizus erosus, commonly known as jicama!  This strange, but delightful root, is quite delicious.  It looks like a turnip, has the texture of a granny smith apple, and the subtle flavour of a pear (at least in my opinion).  I chop it into small squares, eat a hefty portion, and then put the rest into a salad.  All these items were placed in my cart before heading to the cash register.  

Image may contain: plant, flower and outdoor"Slow down, ma'am, you ain't going nowhere fast today", laughed a store employee, as we walked quickly to the exit.  Walking quickly is what we do, and that perhaps is another 'big' difference.  I am the proverbial hare, going past the tortoise, who takes things very slowly, and in the summer, I even take the nap by the tree! However, nothing actually passes me by, as the tortoises also take the nap!  Little did the employee realise that his double negative was going to be the fact!

There was no way out of the parking lot.  Every exit was jammed. We bobbed and weaved as best we could, but were still in a queue to get into the next queue, which would eventually lead us to the exit, where there was another long queue leading up to the lights, through which were more queues.  Fortunately, the way we wanted to go was away from the traffic, but it was not going to be easy getting to the front of the line.  A car was indicating to turn down the lane where we were sat, and the driver sat waiting for six months to pass.  (We assumed they were actually waiting for Christmas!)  I saw an opening, and told Samantha to follow my lead.  

Image may contain: plant and flowerIn his hey-day, my dad had been the master of all!  Of course, he was my dad, and therefore my hero, but he was able to turn a potential disaster into a successful story.  Directing traffic was his forte!  The small family business that dad and his two brothers owned, took school children on educational tours around London. Quite often, extraordinary delays would take place, and the likelihood of the pack arriving on time would be put in jeopardy. Always preceded by the warning, "Don't you ever do this", dad would stand in the middle of the road, and play 'traffic cop', stopping the cars so that the children could cross the road, or to allow the coach (bus) to turn into a side road.  Although traffic was heavy in London, it was not quite as congested as nowadays, and he managed to achieve his goal every time.  Disregarding my father's warning, I jumped out of the car, and headed to the junction, where I started to direct the traffic.  Amazingly, my authority was not questioned, and the drivers followed my directions. In fact, all appeared to be smiling, and appreciated the instruction!  

A look of discouragement came across most of the drivers, as I beckoned Samantha to join the next queue, and promptly jumped into the passenger seat of the car.  Not a car hooter, nor a cross word was heard in this drama, as everyone appeared to settle in for the long haul.  We sat and edged our way down to the next set of lights, which would take us into the next queue, which would lead us, hopefully, to an open road, the only route of four to be clear, or reasonably so.  The road upon which we sat split into two lanes, and whilst one was a dedicated left turn, the other allowed traffic to go straight ahead, or right.  We were aware that by going right, the only route around would take us onto the Interstate frontage road, which was completely blocked.  There was no other way around. Straight across was an apartment complex.  Said complex did have an exit, next to the entrance.  We needed to go left.  We went straight ahead, and once again, swinging the car around, made a u-turn back to the road upon which we hoped would be our last queue.  Many followed!  However, the apartment complex entrance and exit area was rather restricted, and once again, another congestion occurred.  At the front of the new queue, we were unperturbed.  

Thank goodness for the politeness of the drivers in Austin! Opening my window, I put out my hand, then extended my thumb, in an upward position.  "Of course you can cut in", was not heard, but definitely gestured, as it was not expected for a passenger to make a request signal.  Perhaps they thought it was an emergency. We felt a little guilty at taking advantage of the situation, but the guilt lasted for less time than it took for the traffic light to change, and we were finally on a clear path heading home.  Calculating our performance, we realised we had probably saved anywhere between half an hour and three quarters, by bringing some of our know how into play.  Some may say it was simply a lack of patience on our part, and I would simply nod and agree, but then I would be at home and they would not!

Perhaps, the 'biggest' difference could be in the category of 'the pace of life'.  Little things, that seem big to me, but have become a way of life, such as shaking my clothes before wearing, (in case of spiders or bugs,) closing the door to keep out the heat, taking a jacket to wear inside the restaurant, and buying jicama, are all part and parcel of the new me.  The list in itself, is endless.  Sometimes we are thought to be intimidating, (I am not sure why, but the accent has that effect,) and sometimes we are just thought of as eccentric; although being characterised as eccentric is often a plus! Directing traffic is not usually done by anyone out of uniform!

The hottest day on record (or equal to the hottest day on record) gave way to rain, and a slight cooling off period.  "Was anyone down at the pool?" asked Dana.  "Why no, it barely got above 85 degrees!" was the answer.  This last week in England, at 85 degrees my pool would have probably been seen as a blessing!  

Never will England be taken out of the girl, although a little bit of Texas goes with her each time she returns home, and realises as she attempts to pick up where she left off, that there is more of that southern state culture within than she cares to admit! "Got any hot sauce or Cholula to go on this?" is something for which I had never asked! Tabasco by any other name ...............!  

Rain on this hot day might prevent me from swimming today, as an electric storm is brewing, but an hour is a long time and it may just dissipate into non-existence.  Heading into the seventh month, we are looking forward to hot, hot and more hot, and the pace becomes so much slower, so not much else left to say in this post, but to coin a phrase, another day, another dollar, and hopefully will come ............ another story!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

SNAKES AND LADDERS!

"Did you hear about the rattlesnake?," said Raul, our maintenance man.  "No!", I said, wondering if this was the opening line of a joke.  He continued, "It was up between two condos, and the guy in one of them shot it and put it in the dumpster".  I waited for the punchline.  "I took it out of the dumpster, here!" As he showed me the picture of the more-than-a-yard long creature, that this was not a joke, and the hot weather had caused the reptile to depart its usual habitat, and seek whatever it was it was seeking.  "Be careful by the pool!" Raul warned.  With my limited knowledge of reptiles, I continued to question.  "But...don't they just come out at night?" Raul paused, and then said, "If you walk at dusk, take a flashlight, and don't walk in the grass, and if you see one.....".  He left the sentence unfinished, and shrugged his shoulders.  "Oh, you will know if I see one", I said, "You will hear the screams".  

As we approached the pool, I commented to Samantha that the snakes could not come into the pool area, as they did not have the code.  She looked at me with one of her looks, and said, "Well then, you have nothing to worry about!"  I then started to panic.  "What if one falls from the trees?" I asked.  "Then you can scream, and Raul will come running!" was her flippant answer!

Needless to say, I did not spot a rattlesnake, nor any other kind of reptile, and on my way back to the condo, called to Raul that I had surveilled the area and all was clear.  

"After thirteen years of living in Texas, I am still finding 'firsts'", I commented to my mother, the following day.  Finding the rattlesnake so near to my condo was a little disconcerting, but I had been aware of their existence in the neighbourhood.  After all it is their territory.  Having a neighbour, quite nonchalantly, announce that he had got his gun and shot it, and then just threw it in the dustbin as if this was an everyday occurrence, was almost amusing. My mum was quite concerned as to the fact that such a venomous creature was within the vicinity.  I did try to convince her that this was their natural habitat and that we were really trespassing on their land, but I did not do a very good job!


Image may contain: bird
It did make me a little more vigilant when coming and going to the car.  I was not as concerned about my safety, (which surprised me more than anyone,) but that of our little feathered friends, who were now getting to be quite large, and very vocal.  Sitting up in their nest, they were calling to their parents for food quite prolifically.

We were experiencing a very busy week, again, at work, and Dana had actually commented on perhaps needing to take on another member of staff.  I was wondering how this fell into the plans of reducing the business and retiring, but did not mention it to him! All I needed for him to do, for the immediate future, was to make sure he was caught up enough to join our 'Third Thursday' soiree, which we were going to 'do' by the pool!  Since one of our original 'hosts', and (as we call) founder of the two year old group, has sadly been hospitalised, we have failed to keep regularity, but I had chatted with two other neighbours a couple of weeks ago, and we had decide to make a June date!  Dana promised he would be poolside by seven, and I was satisfied!

Having lived in Texas for thirteen years, I would have thought that some things would have become obvious, to wit, creamy desserts do not work in ninety degree temperatures.  As I was on 'pudding' duty, I had made up my mind as to what I was going to cook, and completely disregarded this thought.  With six egg whites in my fridge, I whipped up two dozen meringue cases, and then set to making a trifle.  The number of attendees was not definite and although I knew my neighbour's chicken dish would probably feed the whole community (we are like minded when it comes to preparing food!) I decided that I should probably make a quiche, for good measure! 

Upon my return from the office on Thursday evening, I went for a swim, as I had done the previous evening.  It is the perfect time of year to swim between five and six.  After a quick dip, I returned home and filled the meringue cases with cream and strawberries, then looked at my ice box and sighed.  It was not going to work! Suddenly, I experienced a 'eureka' moment.  Up the stairs I ran, and retrieved from the spare room a set of plastic draws.  Lining the draws with 'ice pops',  and a couple of freezer bags of ice cubes, I laid an aluminium tray atop, and then put some silver foil into the tray.  I then placed the meringues on the tray and closed the draw!  I was amazed at my own ingenuity.  Genius!  I had made a perfect ice chest for my desserts. Now for the trifle!  This was not as clever.  I simply placed the bowl in another bowl of ice and put the double bowled dish into a cake box.  Finally, I put everything into a large storage box, loaded up my car, and then drove to the pool.  

Image may contain: birdWe discussed local events; Dana told stories of our birds, and we discussed the wild life around our beautiful community.  We were a final group of fourteen, which dropped by a couple by the time we had finished eating the feast to which everyone had contributed. Then someone mentioned the rattlesnake!  Apparently, a couple of years ago, one had been found in a garage!  It had been shooed away, but it was not particularly encouraging!  A baby had been found in another patio area, "and if there is one baby, well", and the group, excluding me, said in unison, "There will be more!"  The paranoia was starting to settle, and I was suddenly very aware of my desert surroundings!  Talk about how best to deal with the reptiles perused, and deterrents were discussed.  Apparently, the urine of a King Cobra is a very good deterrent.  Where can we find such a substance?  "Oh I have some in my garage", said one neighbour, "I keep it there just in case we need it".  After thirteen years in Texas, I am still not used to their sense of humour!  Why wouldn't she keep such an item in reserve.  After all, if one of my neighbours, nonchalantly goes into his house to get his gun to shoot a rattlesnake, why would I be surprised that Walmart would sell such a product!  For a split second, I felt relief.  For a split second, no one laughed!  Then my sense of security was shattered and I was back to square one!  Screaming for Raul was my only option!  

The party came to an end around nine thirty, and the file boxes, despite my constant referral, had not been opened.  Someone said, "Can I take a meringue with me", and someone else said, "Meringues?  Where?"   Within a couple of minutes, the spoils had been divided, and I was left, quite happily so, with empty file boxes.  No one had quite understood why someone had brought a filing cabinet to the pool, but my ingenuity was praised to my further delight!  I always feel as if I have pulled of a coup when I impress the natives!  

Before packing away my empty boxes, into the larger one, I turned on the flashlight on my phone, and checked all receptacles for insects, arachnids and the like.  I did not want to find anything untoward in my house, or my car.  Although the laughter was loud, it was not very long, as everyone started to check their receptacles! I took the box to the car, refused to place it on the grass while I opened the door, and struggled to get it onto the passenger seat. After bidding all farewell, I drove back home and crept in to my house, so as not to wake the sleeping birds.

Friday finally arrived and the birds were looking up over the top of their nest when Samantha arrived.  She had brought her camera and tripod, in order to video the days action.  However, the battery was not charged, and the length of time left was about thirty minutes. Once again, I marveled at the difference in my life.  My daughter, quite naturally setting up her equipment to capture nature at its best. Up until now, for me, this had been confined to those folks on the television!  

We returned at lunchtime to the nest empty!  The birds had flown the coop!  Samantha checked the camera and we watched the film. There as little activity until the last few seconds, where it looked as if one of the birds was just about to take flight.  Unfortunately, the battery expired at that very time.  We were rather sad, and went down to the pool for a swim.  No snakes were present!  The message about the pool code had obviously 'got out'!
Image may contain: bird

Upon our return to the condo, we mournfully looked around the empty area.  "Look!" came a loud whisper, and I looked.  There, under the table, perched on an empty basked, atop a few flower pots, sat a baby bird.  Then we saw a second in the corner.  They were still there!  The parents were hovering and we realised that they had not quite left the nest!

Samantha did some research that afternoon, and it appears that when the birds leave the nest, they find somewhere to 'hide', and then continue to learn to fly, before going to a new nest which the mother has built; a larger nest to fit the whole family with ease, and one where they can grow and become stronger, before finally finding a family of their own!  

By the time I returned home, it was obvious that our 'sun room' was 'out of bounds' for humans.  I scanned the area a couple of times for predators, such as unwanted reptiles, but saw that the parents of our babies were quite vigilant.  I had left the office before Dana and told him to call me when he was finished, so I could come back and collect him and the dog!  Edward and Samantha were attending a birthday bash and were going to be gone for about four hours.  The plan was to collect Frank around ten, and take him home!  

After a swim and a short read of my new book, I returned to check on my family, and then prepared dinner.  At around eight, I received a call from Dana.  "Where is my car?" he asked, quite concerned. "Did you move it somewhere?"  I often wonder if he listens to me at all.  I told him that I had to use it to get home!  A sound of relief came into his voice, when he asked if I could come and get him, and the dog!  We parked in the sun room, and crept into the back of our house.  I was finally able to return my small step ladder to its home, as it had been kept by the back door, for instant access to pee into the nest.

I messaged Samantha to warn her to take care when she returned, as the birds were hopping recklessly over the sun room, but we then decided to keep the dog, as her return at anything past 10:30 would cause us to have to be woken from sleep.  After a week of very late nights, we were exhausted and could not keep awake much past 10!

The sun was shining quite brightly upon the floor of my sun room on Saturday morning, and I stepped out to see check on one of the little ones, as it flew into the glass and then dropped to the floor. Stunned but not hurt, it continued to flap and hop across the floor and finally stopped in the safety of a corner.  I stood for less than a couple of seconds before the birth parents came down to circle my head.  I ducked back inside for safety.  Dana left the house on Saturday morning, through the front door, something which we rarely do, due to our cars being at the back. Samantha set up her camera again, and we watched as the birds hopped and flew, flew and hopped.  We, too, left by the front door, and went shopping.  

I did not look for King Cobra urine, nor any other deterrent for rattle snakes, as I decided not to act paranoid, despite feeling paranoid!  The likelihood of finding more than one reptile was also unlikely, as although I doubt the slaying of one of their own would have spread like wildfire through the rattlesnake population, apparently, there is never more than one sighting a year.  I do understand that this simply means that there may be others, but it is good enough for me!  Upon our return, and a trek up the stairs with all our shopping, we saw one of the birds had made it to the top of the fence, and was making its way to next door's car port!

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoorThe pool was busy enough to make an appearance by any self respecting reptile a non-happening thaing and I sat and read, and dozed, after swimming several laps..  My daughter floated on a rather large contraption resembling a cow!  I chatted with a couple of neighbours who had heard about the snake, but not about the birds, and I eagerly told them my story!  I saw my next door neighbour and asked her to be vigilant when driving in and out of her car port, as I was not sure whether this would become a new temporary home!

After we returned from dinner on Saturday evening, Dana and I were a little sad.  We missed the birds.  He looked at me and said, "You know what this means, don't you?"  I did not. "We are experiencing, quite literally, empty nest syndrome!"  We were indeed!

Father's day came around and Dana and I went out for breakfast. Upon our return, we saw one of the birds fly in over the fence and settle on the table.  It was accompanied by its parents, and I felt it was reminiscent of Elsa, the lioness, coming to see Joy Adamson, in the story, Born Free.  Of course, it was probably a case of, "What are you doing going back in there.  We are watching you!", but I have my dreams!  

Born free, the birds most certainly are, as are the rattlesnakes, and despite my dislike of all things reptile, they were probably here first!  I shall continue to enjoy all my 'firsts', although perhaps, 'enjoy' is not necessarily the appropriate verb.  It is still, however, a wonder to me that I can still be amazed or shocked at my surroundings.  A happy father's day to one and all, which of course includes snakes, arachnids, birds and beasts, who presumably do not celebrate any day over another.  The summer solstice is upon us and next week will see the nights 'drawing in', little by little.  What a sobering thought!  I shall, of course, be continuing to march along with .......... another story!


Sunday, June 11, 2017

THE BIRDS!

The small planter that I have hanging, empty, in my sun room, has squatters.  About four inches in diameter, it has been filled with twigs, leaves and other pieces of natural debris, by a female cardinal.  

For many years, a wren has 'entertained' menfolk of many varieties, in my sun room.  It was quite amusing to see her fly in, call to whomever was interested, and then see a male bird (never a wren) land on the fence, and 'negotiate'.  This year, she appeared once and then disappeared once the cardinal had set up home.  At the end of last week, the cardinal had laid three eggs!

As the dawn broke on Monday morning, we had our first chick.  Quite amazing was the sight, and quite excited were we.  We had a baby!  As the sunlight started to fade by the end of the day, our first born had a sibling.

Dana was a little concerned as to the delay of the hatching of the third egg, and wondered if we might put some water out for the mother, or maybe some bird seed, but I advised against it, as we did not want to interrupt basic nature.  If she had made her nest in the trees behind our home, she would fend for herself quite well  He did put up a board on the rafters, however, to protect them from the direct sunlight, and torrential rain that we were about to endure.

The birth of the third chick happened some time during the morning on Tuesday.  Samantha and I went for a swim at lunchtime, and espied three tiny bodies in the nest, huddled together, fast asleep.  Their little hearts could be seen beating through their thin veined skin, and we hurried inside so as not to upset their mum!  By the time we left again, we could hear the faint sound of chirping.

Dana and I were quite conscious of the fact that the mother wanted to spend time with her chicks, as we could see her watching from the safety of the trees at the back of our home, and we changed our way of walking around the ground floor of our condo.  I started to prepare dinner in the far corner of the kitchen, and used old plates and utensils from a cupboard that was out of her eyesight.  If I needed anything from my 'under the stairs' cupboard, I found myself crouching, and then sliding like a reptile across the floor, so as to avoid her capturing my movement, and flying off.  

Watching our newborns had somewhat of a calming effect on the whole household.  Samantha would take care when arriving, and opened my back door very carefully, so as not to frighten the mother bird and once the coast was clear, take my small set of 'steps' to take some pictures.  

The calming effect had made me quite mellow, which helped as drove across town on Wednesday morning.  The little chicks had started to grow feathers, and were now opening their mouths waiting for someone to bring them food. 

I left the house and made my way to the highway.  There seemed to be some congestion along the road, but I was confident it would clear, as the entryway that I use is often quite crowded, and the traffic starts to move a little quicker as we leave the slip road behind.  However, the lady on the radio, in charge of the traffic news, advised me that there was a broken down vehicle, in the left lane, a couple of miles along from where I was now stationery.  I had made my way across the the left lane, as my next exit dictates I am in said lane, and I had come to the conclusion, some time ago, that the middle lane was the slowest moving, due it being the 'changeover' lane, receiving those from the left who wished to exit to the right, and those from the right, wishing to travel faster!  About twenty minutes later, I had traveled less than half a mile, and the same warning was being given.  

The mellow attitude was still quite prevalent as I sat waiting for snails to pass me, as they would be the fastest moving objects on this particular road, and thought of the wonder of nature, and how the birds, like all babies, knew nothing but to ask for food as soon as they were born, and how mothers, especially in the animal kingdom, are the ones to go and collect, feed, and protect.  Although I had a schedule this morning, and had to leave Joe by a certain time, in order to get to my nail appointment, I was not perturbed by the amount of time it was taking to travel southward!

"That broken down vehicle is still causing a problem", came the happy voice from the radio.  I continued with the 'oh well' attitude and watched the time slip away.  I had just reached the next exit along, when the clock struck the half hour.  I decided to swap lanes, as the right hand lane was definitely moving a lot faster, and it seemed the logical thing to do, despite my placid temperament.  I was now behind a large vehicle and unable to see anything ahead, but we were moving, albeit at less than a snails pace.

I spotted the flashing lights ahead, despite having another mile and a half to go until the famed broken down vehicle.  As I wondered whether the happy sounding female on the radio had somehow been mistaken as to the whereabouts of the obstruction, she came back over the airwaves with a new lease of life.  "There has been a multi-car pile up just before 35th", she almost squealed, "causing more problems.  Oh and the broken down car has been removed".  Multi-car pile up?  How?  We were not going fast enough for a multi-car pile up.  Perhaps it was merely a 'fender bender', as it is known here.  Perhaps a tap on one bumper to another, but how did they manage to achieve such an epic event!  As I passed, I counted seven cars that had been damaged.  The first had gone into the second, as the one in front of them had presumably seen an opportunity to change lanes without taking into consideration the space available.  The driver has perhaps mistaken his accelerator for his brake and depressed it with force, as the front of the fairly sturdy car was almost flat, and parallel with the steering wheel!  The next few cars were jammed together.  I sat in wonder at how this had happened, but chose not to dwell upon matters that I could not change!

The remainder of my journey was quite unhindered, and I enjoyed a pleasant chat with Gail, while Joe was repairing a coffee machine.

After my nails had been decorated to a standard good enough for
the Louvre, (in my opinion,) I headed to the radio station to collect this week's prize.  I remember when the first 'Now' album was released, and the following few that caused people to ask, by the time it got to number 10, "When will it end?" Winning 'Now 62' caused me to chuckle.  

When we returned at lunchtime, the birds were huddled together, and they had developed some more feathers.  Their heartbeats were a lot stronger.  When I returned in the evening, I noticed that 'dad' was on the scene.  He sat watching his children, it appeared, whilst mum went to get some food.  I was quite amazed.  Although I am quite unfamiliar with the 'life of birds', I had always considered that they were similar to other animals, and let mum 'get on with it''.  Dana had asked if I would set up dinner in the living room for our Wednesday night company, so as not to disrupt the efforts of our new mum, with activity around my kitchen table.  Once again, I did all my preparations in the corner of the kitchen, venturing to the other cupboards upon the departure of mum.  

Wing feathers had developed by Thursday, and 'Huey, Dewey, and Louie', (although not ducks, these three had to have names,) were now sticking their heads up with open beaks, squawking for food. Mum and dad were coming and going at intervals, and once fed, the chicks returned back to huddling together and sleeping until they were hungry again.

Friday morning was a challenge.  Samantha arrived and asked if I could 'whip up' a Swiss roll, as she needed to make a 'birthday cake' for her friend, Sandra.  "I want to make a caterpillar", she said.  I had almost finished my Friday routine, but had waited until she arrived to take care of what I had to do in the dining area, as I knew her arrival would disrupt the birds, and cause mum to fly away.  I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to 'finish off'.  We gathered what we needed from one end of the kitchen, and huddled together, like Huey, Dewey and Louie, at the other end of the kitchen, and whipped eggs, sugar and flour, into a batter and put it in the oven. She whisked some cream and melted some chocolate.  Within thirty minutes, we had a caterpillar, without disturbing the returned nursing mother.  I marveled at our ability to create and whilst not 
'life changing', it was somewhat of a great feat!

By the time the weekend came around, our babies were quite demanding.  Mum had become a little more used to the movement in the house, and would not fly away instantly.  I was able to move around my kitchen a little more freely, and she was unperturbed by the dog sitting by the back door, staring up at her.  She seemed to sense there was a glass partition between them, as she looked down.  Perhaps she could not see through as the sunlight may have caused the reflection on the glass to hide Frank, but he went from sitting to lying and back again without causing a departure.  Dad was a little more skittish, and flew away more quickly.  However, he would come and sit with 'the boys', (their feathers have not changed colour enough for us to see if they are all boys, but we are generalising!) until mum came back to take over.

Samantha and I waited for mum to leave before venturing out to the car and headed to Costco.  I had placed an order of a large number of photographs, just thirty minutes previously, and was not sure if they would be ready by the time we had finished our shopping.  However, the lady on duty at the photo department knows us well, as her husband went through the same immigration process, with some time delays, and we had swapped 'war' stories, and given her some advice, which apparently helped.  As she spotted us, she called across to say she was 'nearly there'.  She handed me a large envelope, which was quite hot, and said, "I recognised the name".  I felt quite honoured.  So much had me feeling that way, this week.  

Dinner on Saturday night was also care of the radio station.  I had a voucher for a rather posh cafe, located in the rather trendy Domain, situated towards the northern side of Austin.  This was Edward's belated birthday meal, and we met my offspring and her husband at six thirty.  Dinner at the Cafe Grand Lux was indeed grand, and luxurious.  The portions were enormous and the prices, although higher than our average norm were not outrageous, considering the size of the meals.  Individual side salads were enough for four people, and the main courses could have fed my family of birds for several months! It was a very nice experience, and one worth repeating, now knowing how to order!

As we left, and said cheerio to one set of kids, heading home to see
what the other set were up to, we heard the live group playing in 'the square'.  "Look at the mandolin player", said Dana as I danced past the musicians.  As I looked up, I saw it was one of Joe's friends.  I waived subtly, and he nodded and smiled, unable to return the wave as he was playing his instrument quite vigourously. It was all very lovely and gave the evening a Mediterranean feel.  All I needed to complete the mirage was a walk along the beach!  

The bird family settled down quite early after we had finished in the kitchen.  Dad flew off to his supposed temporary bachelor pad, and mum settled in for the night atop the kids.  

Sunday morning was rather busy in the sun room.  The kids appeared to be very hungry for most of the morning, and mum and dad were taking it in turns to satisfy our children.  We sat and watched for a while, climbing over and under furniture, so as not to interrupt the process.  I remembered thinking how my life was changed forever when I had my children and how I was now adapting so that this new mum could take care of her children with the least amount of upheaval.  

I doubt that it will be too long before Hewy, Dewey and Louie will be learning to fly, and 'fly the nest'.  Until then, they are very welcome to stay in their first home, for as long as they would like. I will keep and eye on them, and be a good 'grandmother', and try not to 'interfere'.  Perhaps I will be privy to the first flight, but that will have to be seen in ............... another story.