Shopping with Noah
Noah's eighth birthday celebrations netted him a $50 gift card. I was tasked with taking him to Target to see what he could buy with this largesse. With his family's upcoming trip to Disney World, I suggested that he might want to save it and buy some really cool things while they were there. "But Grandma," he protested, "I don't want to miss my opportunity." As if the gift card would melt away in the next few days.
Off we went to our local Target. As we waited to cross the parking lot into the store, he informed me that he didn't need to hold my hand anymore since he was eight now. Ok, then. We headed straight for the toy department, although I had mentioned that there were other things he could purchase, like books, a new swimsuit or cool T-shirts. This went over the same way delaying the use of the card did.
Noah went straight to the aisle where they had BeyBlades and Pokemon cards. For those of you who haven't spent any time with little boys lately, a BeyBlade is a kind of top. You insert a toothed plastic strip into it, pull and as Noah says, "Let 'er rip!" It spins and spins until it runs out of energy or smashes another BeyBlade in a plastic "arena." He has dozens of these and came name them all--names that are unintelligible to most adults. There weren't all that many to select from, so we turned to a display of Pokemon cards across the aisle. This is another game that is beyond me. It consists of trading cards with different point values and pictures of strange-looking creatures with even stranger-sounding names. Noah also has hundreds of these and knows all the names. Some were given to him by his cousin Booker and others have been acquired as presents or rewards for good behavior.
First, he chose a white plastic-wrapped box containing the Pokemon cards. No price was displayed, so off we went to one of the many price scanners located throughout the store. The box would have eaten the entire value of his gift card. "What a rip-off," he exclaimed. We headed back to the aisle from whence we came and he selected another item. Another trip to the scanner where he learned that this, too, was a "rip-off". Finally, he found a box of cards that appealed to him. A third trip to the scanner revealed a price of $30. Although Noah was a bit anguished about the price, he reasoned that he'd still have about $20 to spend at Disney World--probably the price of an ice cream cone.
Of course, as we neared the checkout lane, he had to make a side trip to see if there were any other Pokemon cards on display. No luck, so Noah scanned his purchase and we headed home, where he could brag about his cards.
The next day, he was on the way home from soccer practice with Mom when he said that he'd really like to spend the night at Grandma's house "because she will miss me while we're on our trip." Done. Pancakes in the morning and he was a happy camper. Hannah told me that while they were on vacation, he announced that "Grandma is probably crying because she misses me so much." This statement from his eight-year-old heart got me right in my 76-year-old one. I can't get enough hugs from Noah these days. In about three or four years, he will be on to other interests and rationing his hugs like my older grandchildren. Ah well, time goes by.
OK, I'm rephrasing that cheery carol for a post-Christmas season, all right? The cookie-baking and decorating are over, along with festive family meals and a performance of the Nutcracker. My ever-growing Santa collection and Christmas tree have been stowed in the garage, along with all the wreaths and decorations. The house looks downright bare. With below freezing temps some nights, I decided that my patio plants should migrate to the living room. Now it has the look of a small botanical garden, which lifted my spirits a bit.
Sigh. What's a girl to do? First, I bought myself a new yellow orchid at Trader Joe's to liven up my office. Then I realized that the family room was starting to look a bit shabby. My pouf footstool purchased at the late lamented Pier One seven years ago was shedding bits of burgundy leather all over the floor. It took a while, but I finally found a replacement online and put in an order.
The 36-bottle metal wine rack next to the kitchen dining area was home to only a half-dozen bottles and the rest of the shelves had become a catch-all for Noah's Legos, puzzles, crayons, games and assorted other items. Very sick of looking at it. Once again, I turned to the internet and after an exhaustive search, came up with an inexpensive (code for shipped in a flat box and you assemble the darn thing) cabinet with glass doors and criss-cross wine storage. It's a rich red and matches the kitchen chairs. Andy and I have been constructing it together on the quilt-covered kitchen table, which is going much better than the first time we tried to hang wallpaper with only a little cursing.
Finally, my attention turned to the once-beautiful cotton dhurrie rug we bought when we moved into this house. Despite being hauled outdoors and hosed down a few times, it is now permanently stained from God-knows-what the kids have dropped on it. Some of the edges, which I have repaired a few times, are frayed beyond rescue. Time for something new. Without even stepping foot from the house (which is good because I've been clomping around in an orthopedic boot due to a stress fracture in my foot), I surfed through dozens of rug and furniture sites, looking for something appealing. It seems cotton dhurries are not available anymore, but I found a great-looking rug made of polyester, which will take a lot of abuse and can be hosed off.
It's amazing what a little online retail therapy can do to relieve the winter blahs. I promise to stop spending money for a while (at least until Valentine's Day). Happy New Year, y'all.
The kids were out of school, flowers were planted and we were enjoying a pleasant summer. Then out of the clear blue everything changed. Andy and I were at a doctor's appointment and as we were leaving, I suddenly began having shooting pains in my belly. I chalked it up to gas and at first didn't take it that seriously. We headed home with the pain getting worse with every bump and turn. I chewed a Gas-X and stretched out in bed, but the misery continued. So we headed for a freestanding Baylor emergency department where they started an IV, gave me some industrial strength painkiller and did a CT.
The hot appendix I thought I had turned out to be a hernia, of all things. I couldn't think of anything I'd done recently that could have caused that problem. It took until evening to find a bed, but I ended up in the hospital closest to our home. With paperwork and the CT disk in hand, I was admitted through the emergency department and taken to a nice comfortable room in their brand-new pavilion. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning.
Everything went smoothly and I came back to the room to finally have clear liquids and later actual food. The surgeon, a very athletic woman in her thirties, came by and told me that she had laparoscopically repaired two different types of hernias. I stayed as an inpatient for three nights, as my pain was not very well controlled, but it was nice to come home to my own bed. Hannah came by to put clean sheets on the bed and fill the fridge with groceries. Alison helped out with household chores and her husband Matt tended to my neglected plantings. My grandson Booker even came by to do some tasks for me. Hannah and Reagan provided a lift chair, which made it much easier to get up and down. Getting in and out of bed was pretty miserable, but I remembered the "log roll" technique I learned when I had my spine surgery several years ago and that helped.
Major surgery can deplete your energy like nothing else. The smallest activity seemed insurmountable, so Andy had to take over getting meals, doing laundry, etc. I was sleeping several hours a day and while I loved seeing my three grandchildren, I couldn't really tolerate the extra noise and confusion. Finally, after several weeks, the pain and fatigue began to lessen and by six weeks post-op, I was feeling fairly normal.
Unlike other surgeries I've had, there was no opportunity to prepare this time around. I'm so lucky to have family nearby to pitch in when help is needed and access to excellent medical care. There's so much to look forward to this fall, and I'm ready to enjoy all of it.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
I always thought of Texas as very dry. Not this year. We've had nearly 20 inches of rain since January, with almost nine inches in May and June, which has barely begun. These are not gentle showers, but huge downpours with plenty of lightning and thunder. The backyard is a lake, with standing water that will take days to absorb into an already soaked lawn. Our pool is overflowing, sending water into the street. Local lakes and ponds are brimful of water.
The other night, we were having a serious electrical storm with lightning strikes and loud thunder. At midnight, the fire alarm went off, sending shrieks of sound. At the same time, our inactive ADT system, installed years ago by a previous homeowner, began emitting a continuous loud whine from three key pads in the house. No matter how many keys I pushed or combinations thereof, it just wouldn't stop.
Next morning, with this irritating sound still going on, our daughter Hannah came by to see if she could help. We ended up turning off the main breaker, removing the panels from the wall and snipping the red wire that was somehow transmitting electrical current to the keypad, even though the entire system had been unplugged a while ago. There was no way to re-install the panels, so I nipped out to Home Depot and purchased three large, blank outlet plates to cover the holes. It won't be especially attractive, but better than the ancient panels that were immune to cleaning.
About two weeks ago, during one of these midnight downpours, the soil in my standing garden newly planted with herbs and peppers, became too wet and heavy, collapsing the bottom and sending dirt and plants onto the soil below. Again, Home Depot to the rescue. I bought two large oblong plastic planters and popped out the drainage holes. Then I trudged into the soggy yard and filled them with some of the soil. I was able to salvage almost all the plants and re-homed them into the planters until we figure out what to do. (That is if it ever dries out.) We may detach the legs, set the box into the yard and replant everything. In the meantime, the plants seem to be thriving,
I'm itching to get to my new perennial garden and deadhead the flowers. The plants and shrubs seem to be holding up, but all this rain is probably draining nutrients from the soil, so I'll fertilize as soon as I'm able. One piece of good news is that my dwarf gardenia is really going to town, covered with creamy white blossoms.
This rainy, rainy spring is no doubt the prelude to a very hot, humid summer so I should probably be grateful for the temporarily cooler temps. Such is life in the Lone Star State.
As noted in my last post, I've always loved to travel by rail. As we left Philadelphia, the train passed through industrial areas and junkyards, reminding me of the Arlo Guthrie song City of New Orleans where he sang about "graveyards of the rusted automobiles." Soon we were in New Jersey and then in New York City's Penn Station. My stop was Bridgeport, CT where I was met by my friend Claudia. We were overjoyed to see each other after a three plus year separation.
Unbelievably, Claudia and I have known each other since age 13. Her family lived just around the corner from our home on Orchard Road in Toledo, OH. Because she went to boarding school and then to college, we lost touch, but later I ran into her at a friend's party and discovered we were living a block apart! Claudia was a social worker and I was an elementary school teacher. Soon after, we both moved into another apartment complex, where we met two guys named John and Andy. Long story short, she married John and I married Andy. Although jobs took us to different cities in the decades that followed, we kept in close touch and visited as often as possible. Our combined five offspring became friends, as well. John's death from lung cancer ten years ago was a sad loss.
Over an Italian dinner, we caught up on all the news and went back to her condo to watch News of the World with Tom Hanks, while I made friends with her cat, Miss Lily. After a lazy morning, Claudia took me through the pretty riverside town of Stratford, which has many lovely homes and historic churches. We enjoyed a seafood lunch by the Housatonic River and wandered through the Mellow Monkey, which featured nautical-themed gifts.
On Tuesday, we did a bit of shopping before another reunion took place at Terrain, an upscale garden and gift shop in beautiful Westport. Joining us for lunch in their cafe were her daughter Kate and Nicoll, another old friend we knew from both Philadelphia and Virginia. Nicoll and her husband Charlie, who now live in Old Lyme, CT were great friends, and we had good times together. More hugs, laughs and lots of sparkling conversation around the table. Later that afternoon, we spent some time with Kate at her beautiful home and I got to see her three children and two very large Bernese Mountain Dogs. We picked up lobster rolls for dinner and had a wonderful evening.
The next morning, we were off to the local airport so I could complete the last leg of this sentimental journey by flying to Charlotte, NC and connecting to Dallas. After being gone for six days, I was very happy to see Andy and get home to my dog, Toby. For me, this trip was, as Nicoll put it, "a vacation for the spirit." All of us had experienced a tough year with the pandemic and the complications it brought to everyday life. I was beyond thrilled to connect with so many good friends and remember how lucky I am to have them, even though we are at a distance from each other. When we do see each other, it is like no time at all has passed. It's the best kind of therapy for old friends!
Last year, I was joyfully planning to see a long-time friend in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the visit was cancelled because she had a bad case of the flu. Then the pandemic hit. As life began to return to normal, my trip was back on! Since I was headed for the East Coast, I decided to add Philadelphia as my first stop and first visit another friend, one I had known for nearly 40 years.
Anne and I became acquainted through Junior League of Philadelphia. Our families became close and shared many good times. She was a health care marketing executive and I was in health care fundraising, and our paths often crossed. In fact, Anne recommended me for a job at Nemours Children's Health, where she had worked for many years. Our friendship only deepened during her late husband Rick's long illness. After more than three years apart, we were thrilled to see each other.
First stop was an outdoor reception for a retiring Nemours doc, where I ran into a few folks I knew. Then it was off to dinner at a Wilmington seafood restaurant with my former boss, Lori. The three of us talked for hours, catching up on kids, jobs, retirement and life in general.
The next day, after a wonderful lunch at the Merion Country Club, where we enjoyed watching golfers on the first tee, Anne and I toured the Philadelphia area, driving by our old house on Contention Lane, and many other places that were dear to me when we lived in the Delaware Valley for a total of 24 years. So many changes since then. We stopped at the upscale Di Bruno's Italian deli and gathered goodies for a picnic at Valley Forge Park. Sitting atop a rise, we enjoyed the densely wooded vista and talked to our heart's content.
After breakfast on Anne's patio the next morning, we headed to Center City Philadelphia. She showed me the house that her daughter Abbe has just purchased in the hip neighborhood of Fishtown, as well as the big changes in the University of Pennsylvania's health care campus, Boathouse Row, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Love Park, home of the iconic Love sculpture. I drank it all in. Many thanks to my good friend for making our brief time together so special.
Then it was time to drop me off at historic 30th Street Station, Opened in 1933, the station has a soaring ceiling and boasts an enormous bronze statue that depicts a winged angel lifting a lifeless soldier toward the heavens. It was commissioned as a memorial to the 1,307 railroad employees who perished in World War II and was prominently featured in the movie Witness.
As I boarded the train to Connecticut, I was reminded of the many trips I made from that station back and forth to Williamsburg, VA after I accepted a job with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. My husband Andy stayed put there with the dog while we sold our home. For ten weeks, I'd leave at noon on Friday and return on Sunday evening, a six-hour journey each way, that was relaxing after a busy week. More in my next post...
The Earth Laughs in Flowers
This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson sums up my feelings and desires this spring. In Texas, the wildflowers are in full swing this time of year. Delicate pink and yellow primroses and orange Indian paintbrush line the highways and byways, as well as carpets of bluebonnets, the State Flower.
Last year when the pandemic was just beginning, I was nervous about venturing out to the garden center, so I didn't buy or plant anything. My standing garden, built by my son-in-law Matt and me a couple years ago, stood empty. This year, I made up for lost time. First, I planted some gorgeous annuals in front. These are called dipladenia, which have small trumpet-like blooms in white, pink and red. They will grow into a large dome-like shape. I need to add some new shrubs to replace those that got killed off in the big freeze, but that can wait until next month.
My new walled garden in the back yard features red oleander, Mexican feather grass, dwarf gardenia, a striped yucca and a butterfly bush. In front of those, I put in ten perennials, including Shasta Daisy, pink dianthus, red salvia, purple dianthus, catmint, and Texas primrose. Many have burst into bloom, with an array of colors. I smile every time I look out the window at this glorious display.
The aforementioned son-in-law and I visited the local nursery to purchase herbs for the standing garden, which include parsley, two kinds of basil, two kinds of rosemary, Greek oregano, and thyme. We also planted several kinds of peppers and mulched everything to keep the moisture in. I found that other kinds of vegetables didn't do very well, so we skipped those. However, I did put a patio tomato plant in a container and it's already producing lots of yellow blossoms and little fruits.
Today, I planted five large containers of annuals to add some color to the pool deck. Each one got a bright pink geranium, delicate purple vinca, white zinnias, purple petunias and new to me, a red gazania. As the weather warms up and we get lots of sun, they will quickly fill out the container. I filled some smaller containers with impatiens, which will do well on the shaded patio. Now, my challenge is to keep all of it alive and thriving in the Texas heat, which will be upon us soon!
Spring is Here
Although it's only late March, spring is definitely underway here in Texas. The Bradford Pear trees have already finished blooming and trees are just beginning to leaf out. The weather has warmed into the 60s and 70s most days. After a year of quarantine, I have a lot of pent-up energy for outdoor projects. Luring my three grandkids with a pancake breakfast, I got them over here to help me clean up the pool deck and transfer the furniture cushions from the garage to the back yard and rip open the trash bags in which they had been stored -very popular with Noah.
I want to "plantscape" the patio, so I headed 20 miles away to IKEA, where I have purchased large plants in the past. After winding my way through the Marketplace section, I came to the area where they have been before. Alas, no live plants. The trip wasn't a total waste, as I picked up new bathmats for our bathroom and metal skewers for kebabs. On the way back home, I stopped into Lowes and picked up four new patio plants, although they aren't the big ones I really wanted. My big yucca plant was damaged in the freeze and I'm waiting to see if it sprouts any new leaves.
We used to have a big Bradford Pear tree in the front yard, but it split open in a storm. These are considered junk trees, so we opted to cut the remainder down, grind the stump and plant a young maple tree. Unfortunately the new tree snapped in half during a wind storm. There had been a low wall of brick pavers around the first tree and these had just been stacked inside the fence, so I hit on the idea of using them to create a planting area. With the 50+ pavers, Our lawn service guys built a 15' x 4' planting area against the backyard fence. They filled it with good soil and even moved my standing garden to the other side and filled it to the brim.
This morning, off Andy and I went to the local nursery to choose some plants. It was not an original idea. The place was crowded with happy gardeners taking advantage of a beautiful warm day. The nursery's "half-off" section offers beautiful plants at a bargain price, and with the advice of a helpful employee, we chose five heat-resistant, low-maintenance plants to start our new garden. I plan to add to them with some colorful perennials at a later date.
The next task is to plant five large containers around the pool with colorful annuals that can stand the Texas heat, but I'll wait a couple weeks to do that. I also want to fill my standing planter with herbs and some other veggies at some point. Looks like I'll be doing a lot of watering in the coming months!
A Satisfying Stew
'll confess, there hasn't been much for me to write about recently, hence my absence from the blogosphere. During the past year, I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking, since we haven't been able to eat out much. We love Mexican food, which is everywhere in Texas. Here's a recipe that I developed myself, initially just using what I happened to have in the pantry and freezer. It has a richly intense flavor, without being overly spicy.
Pork and Poblano Stew
1 1/2 -2 pounds of pork loin, cut into 1" cubes
2-3 fresh poblano peppers
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 t. cumin
2 t. chili powder
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 16-oz. can of petite diced tomatoes
1 16-oz. can of green enchilada sauce
First, prepare the poblano peppers (this takes a bit of time). Char the skins of the peppers using a gas grill or open flame on a gas oven. Place the charred peppers in a paper bag and let them steam for 10 minutes. Then slide the charred skin off under running water. Cut off the stem end of the peppers and carefully open them up. Remove the seeds and dice the pepper into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside.
Heat 1 T. of the olive oil in a large pot (I use my Dutch oven) and add the onions and garlic. Saute until transparent. Set aside. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and brown the pork cubes. Add the onion and garlic back in, along with the seasonings. Stir to coat. Now add the chicken broth, tomatoes, reserved poblano peppers and enchilada sauce. Stir to combine and simmer either on the stovetop or in a 325 degree oven for about two hours, or until the pork is fork-tender. If the stew seems too liquid, remove the top to let the sauce reduce. If it's too thick, add a little more chicken broth. Taste frequently and adjust seasonings.
Serve over rice, steamed new potatoes or a square of cornbread. I like to put a dollop of sour cream on top, especially if it came out too spicy for me. Serves at least four.
Note: Some poblano peppers can be fairly spicy, but you can't tell from looking at them!
The Cold and Snowy Week
After growing up in northern Ohio and living on the East Coast for many years, we were accustomed to winter weather. But snow, ice and single digit temps in Texas? In the seven years we've been here, there have only been a few flakes of snow that didn't even stick to the ground.
So this week's severe weather, chronicled extensively in the national news, was a shock to the system. Texas is simply not equipped to handle it. Electric and gas power and water systems failed, leaving many people in real misery with burst pipes and no heat. We were fortunate in that our own power outage lasted just six hours. My daughters were not that lucky. By Monday afternoon, Hannah showed up with all three grandchildren in tow because electric, gas and water were all out at her house and everyone was cold. With the gas fireplace running, it was fairly comfortable in the family room. Alison and Matt came, too, because they had the same problems. Soon our small home was awash in winter coats, gloves and boots.
The kids actually did a pretty good job of entertaining themselves with electronics, as well as drawing and painting at the kitchen table. They helped me complete the 1,000-piece puzzle I'd been working on and we played Uno and , Scrabble. The grandchildren, who had not seen snow here before, were unfazed by the frigid temperatures and made short forays into the back yard to throw snow at each other, shouting the whole time.
The first morning, I made scones, which quickly disappeared. Sandwiches for everyone at lunch and beef stew with carrots and potatoes for dinner. Alison brought two cakes from Whole Foods. The next morning, it was pancakes and fruit. Hannah brought over the entire contents of her refrigerator and bags of snacks from Target, so there was plenty of food to go around. It was fun to have everyone here, although quite chaotic at times. The second night, Matt brought their two cats over to enjoy the warmth of the laundry room. Their elderly American Eskimo had already taken up residence with Toby, who largely ignored him. Hannah, who has a team of 70 reporting to her, took over my office and continued to work. When Whole Foods reopened, Alison reported that it was absolutely crazy there.
It was absolutely eerie to go anywhere. A quiet had descended on the streets and few lights were on. People here do not own snow shovels and the cities have no plows. Almost everything was closed. At night, we watched food shows on TV and just hung out together. It was actually great fun to have almost everyone here--Reagan stayed home with their dog, Luke. Our pool has a thick layer of ice and we don't know yet whether there has been damage to the pump.
By today, the snow-packed streets and parking lots were beginning to clear. The main roads are fairly dry and temps will rise into the high 50s and 60s in the coming week. The trees are beginning to bud and flocks of robins are everywhere. Now that's more like a Texas winter!
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.