DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

It’s Time to Go

TRAVEL THERE: HEADING HOME IS ALWAYS GOOD

Just a few hours and Egypt will be in our rear view mirror.

Final Moments

When we left Mokattum Mountain, Izzat dropped us off in Bill’s sister’s neighborhood.  Mona had made one of her feasts for us to enjoy when we dropped by to say farewell.  We had a sweet visit with her and then it was time to go.

Somewhere along the way on that final day, I managed to leave my hat behind.  Perhaps it was in the Uber vehicle we took to get back to the Fairmont.  I sincerely regret that, because it had been a loyal servant on the Danube cruise and on this trip.  I’ve missed having it for several trips since.  I also donated my prescription sunglasses to the country earlier in the trip.

I’ve already shared the frustration of our last night at the Fairmont, so no need to revisit that.  Izzat was there the next morning to take us to the airport.  I felt like I was saying good-bye to an old friend.

At the airport, some of the towel-clad pilgrims we’d seen on our arrival were also departing Egypt.  I’m not sure what the trip was supposed to imbue them with, but love and respect for their wives doesn’t seem to be one of results.  I watched a man and a boy in their white terrycloth outfits stand to the side with their arms folded as their mother/wife pulled huge suitcases, too large for her to handle, from the security table to a cart and then struggle again to get the cart going in the right direction.

I would have sent Bill to help her, but he was already on a mission of his own.  A group of giggling ladies in pilgrim caftans and hajibs needed his help with the elevator.  They’d never been on as escalator or an elevator.  They were terrified of the escalator, but baffled with the controls of the elevator.  I was proud of him for helping them, but wished he could have embarrassed the towel-clad men by assisting the floundering woman.  The pair had looked so smug.

Traveling Companions

Miriam and Bassem were taking the same flight as we did to the States.  Bassem wanted back-up in case Mariam had any trouble in Customs.  We breezed through the London airport with no trouble at all.  At DFW, US Passport Control did bring Mariam in for a short interview, but it was very cursory.  Then they grabbed a rental car, because no one sedan was going to hold all the luggage for four people, especially when one of them was moving here.

And then we were home.  My bestie had kept my cat for me, so we were eager to go claim her.  Mariam and Bassem stayed with us a few days, because Bassem had only bought tickets back to Dallas, not on to LA.  Too soon they’d made arrangements to go home and we were all alone – just us and the cat.

It was quiet and a bit lonely after so many days around our dear family members.  It was a little boring too, after three weeks of activity.  It had been a great trip and like all good trips it had changed me.  I had stronger ties with my nieces and nephews and their children.  I’d overcome my fears and traveled to places the US State Department said I should stay away from.  I’d been in one of the poorest neighborhoods I’d ever visited and discovered that its inhabitants were more joyful and thankful than my affluent neighbors in my golf course community. We will probably never travel to Egypt again, but that’s OK, because now Egypt is in my heart.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

I Interrupt This Blog to Freak Out Over My Glasses

The sunglasses I left behind

TRAVEL HERE: YA GOTTA SEE IT TO ENJOY IT

My life is pretty busy.  Last year, before I went to Egypt, I really meant to get my eyes checked and update my lenses.  My sunglasses were so scratched up I could barely see out of them, but one thing led to another and I ended up with my beat up sunglasses on vacation.  That turned into a blessing, because I lost the sunglasses going through security in Sharm el Sheikh, but that was only the beginning of the saga.

Juggling My Glasses

While the part of me that is reasonable and practical was sad to lose my sunglasses, there was also a part that did a little happy dance.  The loss was unfortunate, because the frames were fairly new.  I’d worn my previous pair of prescription sunglasses for a long time with complete satisfaction.  I bought them in 2006 and just kept replacing the lenses, until I realized I had actually worn off all the decoration.

In 2015 I had my eyes checked and there was a new development.  Glasses and sunglasses weren’t enough.  I also needed computer glasses.  So, my regular glasses, a pair of wire frames I’d been dissatisfied with for a long time became my computer glasses and I bought new frames for my regular glasses and my sunglasses.

My new regular frames were great.  They were red Calvin Kleins and I felt snazzy in them.  The sunglasses were a fail.  They looked marvelous, but they just wouldn’t stay on.  The arms weren’t curved enough behind my ears, so they fell off all the time.  Hence the many scratches.  They’d bounced off every surface from the bottom of a dumpster to pavement.  So losing them gave me the opportunity to buy some new frames that would actually stay on my face.

My beloved Brightons!

Time to Upgrade

I really shopped around for sunglasses, because I have very sun-sensitive eyes.  I probably wear my sunglasses more than I wear the other two.  I wanted to find a pair I would love as much as I did the ones I’d purchased in 2006.  Then I found out Brighton sunglasses are prescription ready.  They are my favorite sunglasses in the world, but I hadn’t been able to wear them since 2006, when I had to start wearing prescription sunglasses.

Let me tell you something, optometry shops want you to buy frames.  They must mark them up about a 1000%.  All this second pair free stuff is a dead give away.  I didn’t realize how serious they were about this until I tried to get my new prescription filled at Costco.  Even though they charge you hundreds for your lenses, its the frames they care about.

The clerk did everything she could to discourage me from using my old frames.  I had to sign a waiver  releasing Costco from responsibility should the frames break and even then she couldn’t guarantee that wherever it was they sent them would fill the prescription.  I’d just have to do without my glasses for 10 days.

To add insult to injury, they wouldn’t fill my sunglasses prescription at all.  The frames had stones in them. Puh-leez!  Tough luck for me.  I walked in with three pairs of glasses to update, but only left behind one pair, because they wouldn’t do my sunglasses and having to wait 10 days while they sent them off meant I’d have to use my computer glasses for every day.  I wanted to just tell them no thanks, but Costco was the vendor my husband had approved and I was trying to cooperate.

Then I went to find someone who would fill a prescription in a pair of glasses with stones in them.  I don’t want to talk about how much it cost.  I am still traumatized!

The Agony Continues

Eventually I had new lenses in all my glasses and for a short while I was a happy camper, but it didn’t last long.  My beloved red Calvin Kleins fell apart.  I’d just spent a fortune getting all those prescriptions filled and I loved my red glasses, so first I went back to the people at NorthPark, where I’d bought the glasses originally, hoping they could repair them.  Too bad, so sad – they sent me to a jewelry repair place.  The jewelry repair place referred me on to a place in Richardson where they repaired glasses.  I don’t want to talk about how much it cost, but I was desperate.

I felt the same way when the darned things broke again.  So I went back to NorthPark place one more time, hoping that by some sort of magic I could special order a replacement pair – something I hadn’t asked about when I’d gone in hoping they could repair the glasses.  Finally, the glasses elves smiled on me.  I couldn’t get the red glasses, but they still had the same frames in black!  Yes, I had to pay for them, but they did give me a discount after I wailed to high heaven about their “second pair free” promotion.  It just seemed wrong that I’d been through such a painful series of glasses related issues and now they were going to charge me full price to replace the frames I’d originally bought from them.  As I wailed, I never admitted how glad I was that I was not going to have to start from scratch and get new lenses also.

What Now ?

So, I went on for several months more, juggling three pairs of glasses and wishing for the days when I could see without them.  I make do with the computer glasses around the house and keep the other glasses in my purse for use when I am away from home, but it still seems like I am continually looking for one pair or the other.

One day in December I was out running errands when I realized I had my computer glasses on my head.  I walked back to the car and put them there so I wouldn’t lose them – but of course, I did.  Back at home, after I’d changed my clothes I realized my glasses weren’t in the dish in my bathroom where I usually keep them.  So I went back to the car, but they weren’t there.  So I checked the pocket of the jacket I’d worn, but they weren’t there.  I scoured the entire downstairs over and over, thinking I might have set them down somewhere along the way without realizing it.  I checked my purse, the pocket of my jeans, anywhere I could think of that had even the remotest possibility of hiding the glasses.  In the days to come, I would tear up the whole house and go back to every location I visited while running errands.  The glasses had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Weeks later, for some forgotten reason, I wanted the old blow-dryer I used to use, which I keep shoved in a hidden corner of my closet.  Bill uses it sometimes to help build a fire on the grill, but that wasn’t the reason I went digging for it this particular time.  Whatever the reason, I found my computer glasses on the closet floor.  Of course, they were shoved so far back that I had missed them the other  3000 times I’d looked for them.

You may wonder why I’ve taken so much time to tell you of all my recent woes with my glasses, but I had to tell you or the next chapter in my travel tale would not have made any sense.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our embarkation on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Teach Google to Help You Travel

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas

TRAVEL TALK: GET OUT THERE!

This afternoon I’ll be boarding Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas for a short cruise in the Gulf.  We dreamed up this idea one recent Sunday evening to celebrate Bill’s birthday and by Tuesday afternoon our cruise was booked.  I would have had it booked the next day, but Bill needed a day to cogitate.  Three weeks later, we’ll be on board.

CTC – Tell Sandra I sent you

How’d You Do That?

Moments after booking our cruise, I shared my glee on Facebook.  That Sunday a friend asked me how I had done it, because she figures that’s the only way she’ll ever convince her husband to go – a last minute decision.  I was a little surprised at the question.  I am so travel-focused I thought nothing of booking a cruise on short notice.  I Googled around Sunday night, had a list of the best bargains ready for Bill Monday morning and called my travel agent Tuesday morning.

Let’s start with the travel agent.  Use one!  Mine is Sandra Rubio at CTC and I highly recommend her, but wherever you are, find one and use them.  I like to do my own preliminary research, but when it comes to booking, I trust Sandra.

See, I have booked online.  It takes forever.  I’ve booked on the phone.  It takes even longer.  What’s worse, you cannot trust anything they tell you.  They don’t know.  They’ve never been there.  They may never have been out of their small town in Minnesota, but they are advising you on how to book your cruise.  You’ll have this one-time transaction with them and you could never find them again if your life depended on it.  Yet you are willing to trust them with at least $1000 of your money and more importantly your vacation!

Any deal you see online, your travel agent can get for you for the exact same price and you don’t pay them a penny in commission.  It’s their job and the cruise lines are so happy for them to do it, they gladly pay them for it.  So please, once you have an idea of your budget and where you want to go – call your travel agent!

What Not to Do!

Amazed that my friend needed coaching on booking a cruise, I asked a few pertinent questions, trying to find out what her issues were.  There were two.  She was using her phone to click Facebook advertisements.  Don’t do that!  Google what you want and do it on a computer – either a desktop or laptop.

My friend said, “When I click on the link, what I get has nothing to do with the ad.  It’s called click bait.  Just don’t.

The other issue is space.  There is only so much you can see on your phone – even if the site is optimized for it.  On a cruise site, whether it is an actual cruise company, your local travel agency or a travel consolidator, there are all kinds of tabs, buttons, searches.  You can look for places, ports, dates, ships – all kinds of stuff, but if you are looking at your phone, its like kissing through a screen door.  You can’t fall in love that way.

Go Googling

Just for fun, I googled “I want to cruise” as I wrote this post.  The first three listings were ads.  Ignore those.  They are actually marked as ads on the results page, but you have no idea how many people I discover who are amazed at this.  They’ve been looking at it for years and never saw it.

The next four results were for a site called “iwantacruise.com.”  Ignore those, too.  Somebody paid big bucks to get that url, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about cruising.  Suspect all sites that mirror your query.  In addition, I usually ignore everything from Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Thumbtack, Expedia and such until I know more.  All these types of sources let companies pay to get noticed.  It might as well be a straight out ad.  Yes, there are reviews from consumers, but until you know more, you aren’t ready for reviews.

Below that is where the good stuff is – the actual cruise lines and Cruise Critic (which is a great resource).  Because it was a non-specific query, I then got a You Tube video.  A few responses later I found Carnival Cruise Line and found out they have a pretty good website crew, because they dominated the next 10-20 listings.  That still doesn’t tell you whether Carnival is going where you want to go or even if they are a good cruise line, only that they invest money in SEO (search engine optimization) specialists.

In the search above, the first cruise line I got was Royal Caribbean.  You want to know why?  It has to do with what I’ve been looking at recently.  I’ve been all over the internet looking for information for my cruise.  I’ve researched shore excursions, looked for reviews of the on board dining, maps of the ship and the price of beverages.  I’ve been in and out of the Royal Caribbean ‘My Cruises” site, booking my cruise extras.  I’ve got emails in my Gmail from my travel agent about my cruise and an email from Royal Caribbean about my Crown & Anchor membership.  In case you hadn’t realized it yet, Google is nosy.  It makes itself aware of what I am doing on the internet – whether it’s online searches, emails or even social media.  When I asked about a cruise, it assumed I wanted to know about the cruise I was about to board.  A little creepy, but true.

So, to find out what you want to know on the internet, you first have to know what you’re looking at.  What’s clickbait?  What’s an ad?  What’s real?  I live and breathe this stuff, but Google is gambling that we don’t.  If you’re going to use Google as your resource, invest the time in getting to know it.

Long-Tailed Keyword Phrases

This day and time, the more specific your query is, the more likely you will get the information you want.  These types of queries are called long-tailed keyword phrases.  You may not care what they are called, but they are your friend.  When I came home on that recent Sunday night, I didn’t google cruises.  I googled “3 day cruises from Galveston,” because I knew that’s the port I wanted to depart from and because I wanted the shortest cruise I could find.  I also googled a couple of other things like “cheap Galveston cruises.” I usually try several queries to see which gives me the best responses. Then I start shopping, but I’ve already gone on too long about this for one post.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you more.

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

A Museum Sort of Afternoon

TRAVEL HERE: BRIGHTENING AN OTHERWISE DREARY SUNDAY

So I was just about done with my local art museum.  Lately, every time we showed up for an exhibition, we’d look at each other and ask, “Really?”  I had already tossed the most recent renewal of membership letter into the trash, but a still small voice asked, “Do you know what special exhibitions are coming?”  I didn’t, but I assumed they’d be more of the same stuff which had been disenchanting us for a couple of years.  I was wrong.  Berte Morisot is coming!  Berthe’s exhibition won’t be here at least a year, but I couldn’t abandon the museum when they were organizing a fairly incredible exhibition.  Besides, some of the smaller productions on exhibit right now seemed of interest.  So, I renewed my membership and decided to go to the museum as soon as we could.

 All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins…or Not

Arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent dreary Sunday, I dropped by the information desk to confirm the location of the exhibits I wanted to see.  We only had two hours before closing  – plenty of time to view my wish list, but not if we wandered aimlessly.  What I did not plan on viewing was an installation created in 2016 titled All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.  I mean that’s the same vintage as the cheap wine in the grocery store.  Galleries are where you go to see the latest in art.  I think museums should focus on more proven vintages that have been laid down for awhile.  Obviously, there are plenty with another opinion.  All the general public tickets had been sold for the day and only my membership would get us a timed appointment for that particular afternoon.

Taking the bait I bellied up to the membership desk to claim my free, timed viewing ticket.  We had half an hour until our slot so we strolled up the concourse.  We’d seen Truth: 24 Fames Per Second and didn’t need a repeat showing.  We’d also been to the latest installation in the Keir Collection several times since April.  We stuck our head in the gift shop and dropped by the small Focus Gallery exhibiting Hopi Visions.  Interesting, but not among our favorite genres, so after a few minutes we were back on the concourse.

My husband likes to touch things, so he detoured into the Center for Creative Connections.  Tagged C3, this is the area where kids of all ages can make art rather than just look at it.  We looked over the shoulder of a few budding artists, handled a few touchable objects and then returned to the concourse.  We were still a few minutes away from our designated ticket time, so we checked out the Barrel Vault.  This area is ground zero for Contemporary and Modern Art, so we don’t usually spend much time here – you know my vintage issues.  However, one of the side galleries had just what I was looking for, Edward Steichen:  In Exultation of Flowers.

Photograph from DMA.com

In Exultation of Flowers

Love a good story?  Back in the Twentieth Century an artist started painting a mural commissioned by some wealthy New Yorkers.  These members of Art’s Inner Circle knew all the best people and had their artist friend paint these friends of theirs lolly-gagging among flowers.  What’s not to love?  One wants to imagine them and their friends draped across art deco furnishing sipping cocktails and discussing the pros and cons of the completed murals – especially the one featuring Isadora Duncan in the nude.  But that’s not what happened.  By the time the murals were complete, the art patrons were in a bit of a financial bind and had to sell the apartment the murals had been painted for.  The murals were never installed and it’s been over 100 years since they were displayed together.

Enter the DMA, famous among art people today for their restoration and conservation abilities.  The DMA was commissioned to work their magic on Mr. Steichen’s murals and as part of the deal, the DMA would display the finished project.  Museum Girl loved this exhibit.  In truth, the gallery was a little small for the seven monumental murals, but they were delightful to behold, so all was forgiven.

The Psychedelic Portion of our Afternoon

My watch said it was time to view the pumpkins, so we headed to a nearby gallery.  Joining the line outside the large white box containing the installation, we listened to the instructions announced by a docent.  We’d have to put our stuff into the cubbies provided.  We’d be allowed inside the installation for 45 seconds, during which time we could take pictures, but we could not trade places with one another once the door was closed, because there was a falling hazard.  Hubby was whispering derisive comments into my ear, predicting how much we were going to hate this.

He was wrong and he was the first to admit it.  The charming time keeper engaged Bill in conversation as we waited our turn and she made all the difference.  Bill stepped in, oooh and aaaahed for 45 seconds and then we erupted into the rest of the museum.  Later he admitted it was his favorite item of the day.  I still prefer the murals, but the installation is worth at least 45 seconds of your life.

Other Things

On Level Two we found Paris at the Turn of the Century.  Featuring a few tidbits from the Posters of Paris exhibition of a few years ago, these small beauties are displayed in a tiny darkened gallery and did not evoke the joie de vivre of the full blown exhibit.  On Level Three was Art and Trade Along the Silk Road.  I’d forgotten that we’d seen it before.  It’s lovely, but we weren’t covering new ground.  From there we went on to the Reves Collection which continues to be one of our favorite things at the DMA, no matter how many times we see it.

From the DMA we wandered to East Dallas to try out Smokey Rose.  Great ribs, great atmosphere and we can’t wait until the weather is better to try out the patio, but the brisket and mac-and-cheese were less than amazing.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

So Maybe I Am a Little Neurotic

TRAVEL HERE: HOW HAPPY CAN $4 MAKE ME?

I once thought being a procrastinator proved I wasn’t obsessive/compulsive, but then I found procrastination is one of the first noticeable symptoms of the malady.  My friends politely speak of my perfectionism and I try to be normal, but it’s hard.  Recently $4 saved me from myself.

A Change of Seasons

When it came time to change my closet to my fall wardrobe, there was an issue.  I had enough hangers for all my clothes, but for some reason I suddenly didn’t have all the “right” hangers.  See, different kinds of clothes need different kinds of hangers and for some reason my clothes weren’t distributing themselves appropriately on the hangers I had.    I fussed over the problem with elaborate mathematical equations for a while, but finally convinced myself to quit being neurotic and instead be thankful I have clothes, because there are those who don’t.

A History of My Hangers

This hanger issue isn’t a problem I’ve always dealt with.  There was a day when I only had two kinds of hangers – the wire hangers from the dry cleaner and those nice clear plastic ones you get with the clothes you buy.  I didn’t think about hangers at all in in those days, but I did use my “good” hangers for my best clothes and everything else was on a wire hanger.

However, I did notice all the clothes in my mom’s closet were on those nice hangers from the store.  Of course, she worked in retail from the 60’s to the 90’s.  She made sure everything she bought home was on a nice hanger and with wardrobe attrition, eventually everything migrated to the good ones.  In fact, in my career girl days, probably the only reason I had those nice hangers was because of Mom’s generosity.  She gave me clothes for pretty much every occasion and even for no occasion at all, when she found something she wanted me to have and there was no occasion in sight.  Yeah, she was pretty amazing.  While I appreciated Mom’s closet, I guess I wasn’t neurotic yet, because I didn’t covet her closeting habits.

Then I went into real estate and we custom built a house.  You might wonder why selling real estate and building a house had any effect on which hangers I used.  Well, my days in real estate gave me some discretionary funds I hadn’t had access to before and when we moved into the custom house, one of the perks was a dream closet – complete with a dressing table.  One thing led to another and I suddenly had very specific hangers for all my clothes.  My evening clothes went on padded hangers.  Dresses, jackets and blouses went on those clear plastic hangers.  I had specialized multi-tier hangers for skirts and pants.  Everything else went on those white plastic hangers you can buy in bulk.  You cannot imagine the joy this brought me.  I would stand in my closet and derive pleasure from the mere sight of my clothes hanging on their appropriate hangers.  By then, Mom had retired and my closet was actually better than hers!

Maintaining My Obsession

There have been five houses since that customized closet and while none of those closets were quite so grand, I have maintained my penchant for hangers.  I’ve even expanded my collection.  I found heartier versions of the white plastic hangers that work great with jeans and outerwear.  I discovered specialized hangers for tank tops and camisoles.  Did you know they have hangers for boots, too?  To my dismay they “improved” the white plastic hangers, so I now have about four varieties of the white hangers in my closet, but I’ve had learned to ignore that hiccup.

Then suddenly my hangers were all wrong and no amount of switching could right the problem.  The bottom line was that I needed more white plastic hangers, but back in October I told myself I could do without them.  I’d just get by with a few variations on the theme.  Every time a hanger would break, the situation got a little worse.  Then I bought a few items from stores that thought tossing my purchases in a bag was enough. (You’ll be glad to know I didn’t lay down in the floor and have a fit.)  Soon it seemed as if some elf tribe was entering my closet each evening as I slept and trading out good hangers for bad, because it seemed as if the situation was worsening daily.  Every day more and more wire hangers were finding their way into my garments!

Mission Drift

So, what does all that have to do with $4 solving my obsession/compulsion issues.  Well, I was in Target to find a couple of items they’d been out of at Ulta.  Since I was there, I looked into several other items on my list, one of which  took me right by the storage department (though I can’t tell you exactly what item that was.)  There, I discovered a HUGE package of white plastic hangers was $1.99.  I’d been gritting my teeth for months over those “inappropriate” hangers and for less than 200 pennies I could just fix my closet.  I bought two packages!  My clothes are all hanging on the appropriate hangers now and unless those elves I talked about return, I’m set for a couple of years – and all for less than $4.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

Back to My Life

Santa and some of his holiday elves!

TRAVEL HERE: THE LOST CHRISTMAS

This year I missed Christmas.  It wasn’t a planned omission, the way it was when we lived in Wylie.  That year we were camping out in a rent house and my husband encouraged me to keep Christmas in its boxes, because our house was going to be done any minute.  (We didn’t move until April, but I liked his optimism.)  No, Christmas made it out of the boxes and I had Christmas Cards on hand.  It was me that didn’t make it to Christmas.

My Ruth-less Christmases

Mom enjoying a holiday mess

Ruth was my mom and she was Christmas Central.  I lost her in 2013 and since then the holiday has just not been the same.  My family calls me the Queen of Christmas, because in Mom’s final years, it was my duty to provide her with a happy holiday, but I always missed the high mark she set.  (Maybe you saw my poem about that in December.)  In my first Ruth-less Christmas season, I pulled out my decorations and tried to carry on, but about the only sizzle the season had was a little trip Bill and I took to South Texas.

The next year we were in the rent house and perhaps it was her absence, as much as the rather depressing view of the rent house, that persuaded me to leave Christmas in the box.  Our first Christmas in Heath I pulled out all my treasures and decorated with a frenzy, but someone else dear to me was not doing well.  My sweet little Shih Tzu, Precious, was failing.  She waited politely waited until the hubbub was over to slip away, but to me that Christmas is memorable mainly because that white piece of fluff was was slowly fading away.

When 2016’s holiday rolled around I got out all the decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving and was determined to have a good time.  We hosted a couple of holiday parties and I even got Christmas cards out after Bill chastised me for trying to omit them from my holiday calendar.  However, as illustrated below, I have not been thriving at Christmas.

This year I just wasn’t in the mood.  I have no excuses, but the thrill was gone.  Ruth would have been so disappointed.  I didn’t drag out my decorations until the first weekend in December, even though many of my neighbors had been shining professionally-installed lights since before Thanksgiving.  The holiday parties began and we enjoyed a few, but I wasn’t feeling it.

Shopping at the Christmas Market

My Holiday Buddy

While my mom is gone, there is someone who is trying to bring back my delight with the season, my bestie Deborah.  She started early this year.  In mid-November she suggested we go to the Chi Omega Christmas Market at Fair Park.  To pump up my enthusiasm, she invited along a true Christmas elf, Allyson, who had already put a cookie-baking event in the works.  They bounced around the crowded Christmas explosion from one booth to the next, buying up Christmas gifts and reveling in the season.  I had a good time, but I only have a few folks to buy for and no need for Christmas decor, so my favorite part of the day was Tex-Mex at Trinity Groves.

Next up after the spattering of holiday parties was The Cookie Extravaganza.  We had an official meeting to choose recipes and plan our day of baking.  Allyson bought us all aprons and had them monogrammed.  I was more excited about this Christmas event than I had been anything else for years.  See, Ruth loved to cook and at the holidays she fabricated all kinds of treats – divinity topped with walnuts, pecans and maraschino cherries.  In Temple, my beloved Aunt Edie would create date bars, rum balls and even homemade fruit cakes.  But the highlight of Christmas baking was the day set aside for baking cookies.  Deborah and Allyson were bringing back the joy.

Ready to roll out cookies!

The Cookie Extravaganza

I hit the streets bright and early that cookie-baking day and my car was loaded down with ingredients which they’d assigned for me to purchase.  My apron was strapped on when I arrived, we took a picture and then we all went to work – and I do mean work.  We baked five dozen each of ten different recipes.  Exhausted and coming down with something, our hostess, Allyson’s mom, disappeared before we’d even gotten our cookies all divided up.  At the end of the evening, Deb & I hustled around trying to leave the home in reasonable order and Allyson assured us things were fine.

On the way home, I didn’t feel fine.  It was only natural for me to feel exhausted at the end of a day of hard labor, but it was more than that.  I crept into my home with my haul of cookies and put them away in airtight containers.  Then I fell on the sofa in relief.  My throat was scratchy.  I felt a little trembly.  Something was off.

Cookies from the Baking Day

For the balance of the season I played tag with a cold.  My sinuses were blocked, my throat was sore and I just could not quit coughing – no fever though.   Some days I’d get up and have an almost normal day.  I made a few holiday events, but missed even more.  If I don’t make it to church on a Christmas Eve Sunday, you know something is wrong.  I was home alone on Christmas Day.  On New Years Eve I sat at the breakfast table and completed a jigsaw puzzle (whoopee!).

Though I managed to scrape up a few crumbs, for the most part, this Christmas holiday was lost to me.  So, on New Year’s Day, as the TV provided coverage of the Rose Bowl Parade, I started putting away the decorations.  Even that endeavor was hampered by my health.  What I used to do in one day took me three!  But I’m back to my life and even though I’m posting this a few hours late – I’m back to blogging, too.  I hope this will be a great year for you and that you’ll come back on Wednesday.  We’ll be in Sharm el Sheik!

 

 

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, TRAVEL, WRITING

The Year I Tried Too Hard

Travel Here:  Sometimes Your Plans for Christmas Go Awry

I was asked to participate in a Women’s Program at church.  The pastor’s wife suggested I read a poem or a story that reminded everyone to keep their focus on the reason for the season.  I looked around for something in my library or on the web, but I kept thinking I’d lived the perfect example of getting off track.  So I wrote a poem based on a very funny Christmas Day, that wasn’t quite so funny while I was living through it.  I’ve shared it with the ladies at my church and am now sharing it with you.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Year the Hot Rolls Stole Christmas

T’was a few days til Christmas and I was all ready.
The dinner was ordered and the weather was steady.
I’m not a kitchen hero like my Mother and Aunt.
They’d have done it better, that much I will grant.

Gourmet turkey and fixings, pecan pie and more
Would be waiting for me at the grocery store.
I had made a good plan for a perfect dinner,
Had it gone as I’d planned, it would’ve been a winner.

We know what they say about those good intentions.
How many catastrophes have been their inventions?
My Waterloo started with an innocent request
And a very sweet lady who wouldn’t let it rest.

“Can I help with Jane’s dinner?” Eddie Jo asked my mom,
She meant it for good, of that I have not a qualm,
But it turned into a disaster before we were done
I can say that nothing about it was very much fun.

Eddie Jo’s baking prowess was realized far and wide
At a Baptist church known as Lakeside,
But Mom was the baker’s best friend by a mile,
So she was constantly delivered sweets with a smile.

The urge to say no was strong and most wise,
‘Cause Mom’s freezer was full of Eddie Jo’s cakes and pies,
But mother gave in so she could please her friend
And suddenly my peace was about to end.

“How about some hot yeast rolls?” my mother opined.
She had no desire to be mean, cruel or unkind
In her mind she saw formed rolls ready to bake.
She wanted it easy for her daughter’s sake.

‘That’s a wonderful idea,” Eddie Jo agreed with glee.
She wanted to do something thing for little old me,
But a pan full of rolls was not what she provided
A bowl of dough is on what she decided.

When I called my mom, as was my daily habit,
She told me of the rolls, quick as a rabbit.
In spite of my concerns, I did not a fit pitch,
Even though I realized this was a big glitch

“You’ll need to drop by on the day before,
Even though you’ve got errands and chores galore.
And though I know it’s inconvenient, tell her you’re glad.
Any other response will make her very sad.

So, I rearranged my life to pick up the baking sheet
Of yeast rolls to put into the oven and heat.
That’s what my mom told me that I could expect,
When I picked up the bowl, I thought, “What the heck?”

I heard her instructions wearing a terrified smile,
Feeling I’d been given an unnecessary trial.
I called my mom and was filled with terror
She thought I’d succeed without any error.

Twas the morning of Christmas when I pulled out the dough.
I had to form it into balls, which into rolls would grow.
I hate to sound like I’m being picky,
But that dough, let me tell you, was very sticky.

Then I tried to tame it with a little white flour.
I must have worked on it for at least an hour.
Finally, though I feared to wake Bill from his sleeping,
I had to rouse him, because my sanity was seeping.

I was covered in flour from my head to my toes,
With fingers stuck together and dough on my nose.
My husband thought I was trying to be funny.
He said, “Go away and leave me honey.”

That’s when the held back tears started to fall
And my emotional stability hit the bedroom wall.
It wasn’t a joke poor Bill quickly found out.
It was time to get up or he’d be a lout.

Now I must tell you Bill knew less than me
About making rolls, that was easy to see,
But he had to help me or a wife he’d lose.
Together we searched for sticky dough clues.

The pan of rolls certainly looked like a mess,
But now I was late and needed to dress.
I got other foods started and was filled with hope
That family members wouldn’t think me a dope.

The first to arrive was my beloved Aunt Edie.
I was running late and for her help was needy.
The catered food was not cooking with the promised ease.
She heard my despair and rolled up her sleeves.

Mom and Dad arrived with Susan and Larry,
But by then things in the kitchen were crazy and scary.
The decision was made to open presents first,
But my Dad was hungry and his attitude was the worst.

The delay seemed to fix everything but the turkey.
Aunt Edie decided my oven was quirky.
When it was finally time to eat the rest of food
My dad’s comments had become kind of rude.

The very last step was to bake Eddie Jo’s rolls of yeast,
So we started to cover the table with our feast.
I checked on the rolls every few minutes.
Once again my sanity was at its limits.

We said the prayers and each filled their plate,
As on those yeast rolls we continued to wait.
I went back to the oven and opened the door-
And then my chin fell on the floor.

The oven was cold inside, like it had never been heated!
I certainly felt as if my success had been cheated.
My voice rose with frustration, venom and anger.
Those hot rolls had been a big game changer.

My sweet Aunt Edie had been trying to help
When she turned off the oven, so I couldn’t yelp,
But my holiday dinner was turned upside down
And all of my hopes had become a sad frown.

Twas the day of Christmas and I had certainly failed.
This was not how the birth of Christ should be hailed.
It’s not about yeast rolls or turkey or dressing.
It’s God’s love that we should be confessing.

The problem hadn’t been Eddie Jo’s rolls at all.
It was my own attitude that caused me to fall.
Keep your eyes on the reason for the season this year.
His willing sacrifice gave us nothing to fear.

Gather your family and friends. Give to your favorite cause.
It’s even OK to invite Santa Claus,
But keep your heart tied to what matters most,
The Father , the Son and the Holy Ghost.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

Is Variety the Spice of Life?

TRAVEL HERE: AND THE WINNERS ARE…

We give up.  Perhaps the perfect meal kit service doesn’t exist, but we’ve identified some dogs.  He likes Hello Fresh for this and that, but if Home Chef is going to continue to delight me with dishes like Yorkshire Pudding, well I want it, too. Blue Apron, finally fell off the wagon for a variety of reasons. So for now, I’ll be juggling two services and hopefully I’ll figure out a system to insure that we don’t end up with two boxes of food for any particular week as I did a few weeks ago.  Perhaps someday down the road, one of the services will pull ahead of the others, but for now, I’ll just claim variety is the spice of life.

Why Not Blue Apron?

This journey began with several months of Blue Apron.  I’d done my research and read from several sources they were the best value – not the cheapest, but the one who provided the best product for the greatest value.  I loved it so much.  It wasn’t perfect, but it beat my own meal planning and food management, for a while.  Then Bill demanded a change of pace and did he ever get it!  He’s dizzy from the carousel of meal kit services.

As we sat down to discuss who would win the brass ring, I recounted all the reasons I used to love Blue Apron:

  • Interesting gourmet touches with every meal and lots of variety
  • Unique ingredients never available at the local grocery store
  • Usually the highest quality in meats, fish and vegetables – with some uneveness in the beef department and the occasional vegetable fail
  • Clever packaging that was fun to open and unload
  • Cute knick knack bags for their special ingredients
  • Great recipe cards with easy to follow instructions, helpful upscale photos of the cooking process and finally the best pictures of the plated meals
  • They’d made me feel like an accomplished chef

Even with all these pluses, I had to admit they couldn’t be THE meal kit service, because quite frankly, for the last few months, every time we used them all we had were problems and the food wasn’t as good as it used to be.  All the great recipe cards in the world can’t make up for food we don’t want to eat.

Why Hello Fresh?

Can you say Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket?  Of all the meals we had from any service, this was Bill’s favorite meal – and I have to admit it was a winner.  Their other strengths were:

  • Not a single packaging or quality issue in six meals (something that no other besides Blue Apron can claim)
  • User friendly recipe cards that did the job (if not as well as Blue Apron)
  • Ingredients that were as least as good as what I would pick out for myself at the store
  • Good healthy food that Bill and I both enjoyed (but nothing in the least exotic)

I didn’t want them to be THE meal kit service because:

  • Unpacking my meal was just not as much fun
  • I don’t like the big brown bag per meal or their graphics
  • A little too main-stream-all-the-time for my palate
  • They said Parmesan Crusted Fish and it turned out to be tilapia
  • While the recipe cards did their job, they were less than excellent
    • less than pristine utensils used in cooking photos
    • a downgrade in overall ambiance
    • instructions were good, but not a s good as others
    • finished plate photos are not inspiring

Why Home Chef?

They had me at Yorkshire Pudding!  Not merely the fact that they offered Yorkshire Pudding, but because the dish was easy to make from scratch and it turned out perfect.  Their other two dishes for the week were quite tasty.  Here’s the other reasons they made the cut:

  • While not as adventurous as my friends at Blue Apron, Home Chef does get creative and almost exotic.
  • None of the ingredients were particularly unusual, but they came up with some unique dishes nonetheless
  • Great quality and no ooops yet
  • Clear plastic bags hold most of the ingredients together for each meal.  While this is not as exciting as obsessing over all the separate items in a Blue Apron Box, it beat the big brown grocery bags from Hello Fresh
  •   The recipe cards are great.  They actually offer a few items of information not provided by Blue Apron, but no points for plated dish inspiration.  They use the same distressed wood table for each shot and the same boring white plate.  (YAWN!)
  • I feel more like a chef with Home Chef than I do with Hello Fresh.

Some day they may actually pull ahead and be THE meal kit service, but till then, I’ll keep juggling.

And there you have it.  Wondering what I’ll come up with next week?  Come back and find out!

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

Freshly Disappointed

TRAVEL HERE: BYE-BYE FRESHLY AND SUN BASKET

Well, I’m on the decision end of my journey.  I’ve tried these meal kit companies, in this order: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, Home Chef and Freshly.  Two are now out of the running for my on-going business.  Let me tell you why.

Bland, Blah, Boring!

I was skeptical of Freshly from the moment Bill suggested it.  I wanted to be out of the meal planning and food management business, but I like cooking.  Freshly seemed like a pretentious form of frozen food to me, but since he’s the one I’m trying to please, I gave it a shot.

Our first meal was Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Zucchini & Potato Cakes.  These are three of my favorite foods, so it should have been a shoo-in for delicious.  NOT!  Last night we had Chicken Provencal with Roasted Pepper Cauliflower Mash.  Lots of reasons we should have enjoyed it, but we didn’t.  Peppercorn Steak with Carrots and Green Beans is still in the refrigerator, but after choking down two disappointments we’ve already made up our mind.  We’re even going to forfeit the discount on the second week’s delivery.

If you read their packaging, they do warn you they go easy on the seasonings and suggest ways to spice up your meals.  Well thanks, but there is only so much ground pepper and lemon juice can do. If your pork, potatoes and zucchini all taste the same to begin with, just adding condiments is not going to fix them.  The items may then have more flavor, but they don’t taste like pork, potatoes and zucchini with pepper and lemon, they taste like mush you are trying to doctor up with pepper and lemon.  Freshly prepares the meals, flash freezes them and then they defrost on their way to you.  What’s more, that’s exactly what they taste like.

A Basket of Mistakes

Sun Basket’s meals were actually pretty good, but they were fired for cause – two causes, in fact.  First, I hate their recipe book.  It’s a waste of paper for one thing, for another it gets all yucky in the cooking process and finally, their book is bereft of helpful photos and clear instructions.  Instead they have chatty blogs and vague do-this-until-that suggestions.

My second beef with them was the unreliability of their produce and packing.  You may or may not get your seasoning packages.  Your cucumber might have been frozen and rendered useless.  Your lemon might have a big spot on it.  We had six meals and had a least six oops.  I don’t want a weekly $10 refund.  I just want all the ingredients to arrive and for them to be top quality.

Their packaging was of the brown paper bag sort, like Hello Fresh, but while it’s not my preferred method of receiving my stuff, it wasn’t the reason I abandoned them.  With the other two complaints, it was just one more thing I didn’t like.

So, that leaves Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Home Chef.  There are pros and cons to all of them.  So who wins the Meal Kit Challenge?  Come back next week and find out.

 

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

Freshly Arrived

TRAVEL HERE: THE FINAL MEAL KIT CONTENDER

Here we are at Meal Kit Service #5 and for this particularly homemaker, the final contender.  Freshly’s box arrived pretty early on a Friday morning and I felt a deep sense of relief.  I’ll tell you why.

Juggling the Vendors

I didn’t exhaust the list of possible vendors, but I saw enough to feel as if I could make a reasonable decision.  If you’re the type who pursues bargains over and above everything I have an idea for you.  Pretty much every meal kit company will give you a bargain on your first week or two.  You could take all of them up on their offers and save lots of grocery money, but I’m warning you, as soon as the bargain week(s) are over, cancel the service.  Juggling them all until you pick the one(s) you want will make you feel like you’re chasing a three ring circus.  It’s a game of we’ll-send-it-unless-you-say-no and you have to say no on a week-by-week basis.  There’s no going to the site and clicking “hold.”

I’ll also say this.  If you’d like to try any of these, let me know.  By referring you to them, I can get discount on a week of food and after all this work, I think I deserve it!  In some cases, you’ll get a free box or a deeper discount, too.  It will also be nice to know that someone is benefiting from my ramblings.

Freshly’s Arrival

“Your food is here,” Bill called up the stairwell.  His office overlooks the front porch, so he’s always the first to know about deliveries.  When I opened the front door, the box was sitting there on it’s side.  Would it kill those delivery guys to set the box upright?  I know it’s a small thing, but it shows a level of pride that just doesn’t seem to be a part of today’s reality.  They could also lean over and ring the doorbell.  They have to know that a Freshly box contains food and if my husband didn’t see them, it would be nice to know food had been delivered – but I digress.

I like the Freshly box. It’s very simple as you can see from the photo, but there’s an elegance about simplicity I appreciate.  As I began to unpack, Bill strolled in to observe.  He’s almost as curious about packaging as I am.  Instead of throwing the insulation materials into the recycle bin, he’s actually recycling them in our attic.  He says we’ll end up with the best insulated house in the neighborhood! 

The items inside the insulating materials were pretty boring.  Six microwave meals in individual cardboard sleeves, printed with the name of the entree.  Blue Apron is still my favorite delivery.  Classy box, attractive packaging and a wonderful assortment of ingredients to marvel at as you unpack the box.

Since Freshly food is already pre-cooked and all you have to do is nuke it, there’s no recipe card to pore over.  I’ll confess, I don’t think this is going to work.  I’ve really enjoyed cooking with meal kits, so this pre-made stuff is probably not going to fly, but we’ll see.  Come back next week for the Freshly reveal.