TRAVEL

Merry Christmas?

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My Holiday Tree

AT HOME IN HEATH: WISHING THE BEST FOR YOU AND YOURS

It’s the holiday season and today is my holiday – Christmas, the day Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior, but things have changed.

My Politically Correct Disclosure

You’ll notice I didn’t say it was the day Christ was born, because I’m well aware of the facts.  The holiday of Christmas was created by the Catholic Church (a long time ago) to provide Christians something to do while the rest of Europe was out celebrating the winter solstice or Yuletide.  (I’ve also read carefully researched evidence for the possibility that Jesus could have been born on or around that date, but it doesn’t really matter to me.  I accept it as the traditional date of the celebration of the birth, regardless of the actual date of birth.)

I’m also well aware the holiday season is still celebrated by some as the winter solstice, while pretty much every person group on the face of the earth also has some sort of celebration at this time of year.  I’m not discounting the importance or value of anyone else’s mid-winter celebration, I’m just enjoying mine.

My Personal Disclosure

To be honest with you, I’m not enjoying the holiday as much as I once did.  A huge part of my dissatisfaction arises from all this political correctness.  It sort of takes the fun out of pretty much everything.

Another thing I don’t like is the commercialization.  I hate running into Christmas displays in July.  I hate Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  I really hate it that somehow a day set aside to honor Christ has turned into a month-long retail extravaganza that devolves into a month of clearance sales.

The worst part of it all is that my mom is not here to celebrate with, but that was last week’s blog.

Celebrate Anyway!

This year it’s been particularly tough to get in the mood, but I’m celebrating anyway.  I hope you’ll join me, whatever holiday this is to you.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, TRAVEL

The Gift of Christmas

BarbieAT HOME IN HEATH: IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE

Ah Christmas!  Are you just about over it?  The good Lord knows we should be.  I learned something this year and I thought I’d share it with you.

The Barbie Christmas 

Santa made his ultimate delivery to me back in the Sixties.  I woke to a living room full of Barbie wonders.  The house, the car – pretty much everything.

barbieponytailno1closeI’d gotten my first Barbie a few years before, a blonde ponytail version with too much mascara, and was crazy about the concept.  For me, the hook was the clothes.  I cherished every tiny plastic mule for my Barbie’s fashionable feet.  I adored the tiny plastic hangers and black patent cases.

My Barbie, Ken, Midge, Allan, Francie and Skipper had no fantasy world.  I just enjoyed dressing them up.  Then I had almost as much fun putting the tiny shoes back in their tiny compartments and hanging the outfits back into their designated spot.  Looking at my cache of Barbie paraphernalia, neatly stacked in a corner of my room, was its own form of pleasure.

The Next Christmas Morning 

rick nelsonSomehow, between that orgy of pink-striped packages  and Santa’s next visit I lost my original affection for the holiday.  I guess I finally figured out the truth about the fat guy in red, but since I had a sister who was five years younger, the charade continued.

the50guitarsoftommygarrett-espana(diecutcover)Under the tree that year were LP’s for our new stereo.  I’m sure Santa delivered the LP’s to relieve my parents from the necessity of hearing “Try to Remember” on auto repeat.  We’d had the stereo for several months, but Rick Nelson had been my only album.  Santa made some great musical choices. One LP of Spanish guitar classics called “Espana” I still have and play to this day.

The Paradigm Shift

I behaved as enthusiastically that morning as I had for my Barbie hoard the year before or for the Madame Alexander Bride doll a few years before that or the year I got my tricycle.  See, my post-Barbie Christmas was the year I started giving rather than receiving, I just didn’t realize it at the time.

When I wandered out into the living room, I had been hoping for Barbie Orgy Part Deux.  “The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett” were all well and good, but certainly Mattel had produced something that year which belonged under my tree.  However, when I looked at my Mom to voice my complaint, I saw her face.  It had the very same look of eager expectation I’d seen when the floor was covered in pink-striped packages of Barbie clothes.  My complaint caught in my throat and instead of complaining, I threw my hands up in glee and praised Santa for his marvelous choices.

The Charade Continued

All the Christmases after the Barbie Orgy became a parade of hidden disappointments.  Like the year Mom decided to stuff my stocking with money instead of the wonders I once found there – even after all pretenses of Santa had ended.  I loved the glowing tangerines, toothbrushes, jewelry – even foot deodorant.  Each odd choice Mom made felt like love.  My bromodosis ended long before the plastic blue and yellow bottles of Dr. Scholl’s did, but that was part of the charm.  The money felt like a betrayal of our silent pact.

Eventually Mom got even more practical than foot powder.  She started taking me out with her to buy my Christmas presents.  She said it was to be sure I was getting what I wanted, but in doing so, she took the joy out of my performances.  Instead of being allowed to voluntarily offering up my gift of excitement, Mom was now in on it.  But I didn’t stop, because each year it would be there –  that eager look of anticipation on her face –  even when we both knew there wasn’t even the teeniest bit of surprise for me to display.

And It Got Harder

For most of my life, Christmas had been a December event, but during my first year of college Christmas invaded November.  Mom insisted I set up the tree while I was home for Thanksgiving.  It hadn’t been on my agenda and I really resented the timetable, but I dove into the task as if I was dying to do it.  That was the beginning of mission creep.  Christmas continued to grow until it dominated the year.  Woe be to those who failed to commit to every detail of Mom’s Christmas planning by mid-July.

Christmas was written in stone, especially my role in it.  Mom served prime rib and shrimp cocktail on the good china on Christmas Eve.  On Christmas Day it was turkey and all the trimmings on her Christmas china.  The ritual of opening gifts went on for what seemed like centuries, but it always began with a “Christmas program.” Something that made sense when the objective was to keep children in mind of the true meaning of Christmas, but had lost all of it’s charm – for everyone except my mother.

Then the day after Christmas we stormed out of the house to buy up everything loose.  Even in the years I could barely afford to buy pantyhose to wear to work, I’d head out with Mom and buy armloads of things I didn’t need.  Never once in all those years did we actually talk about any of this.  I just knew I was doing what was expected of me.

The Final Years

There came a day when my mother could no longer produce the holiday extravaganza that was our Christmas.  By that time it had grown all out of proportion.  When Mom finally gave up on her annual frenzy I was dubbed the Queen of Christmas and the celebration’s headquarters moved to my house.  I tried desperately to reproduce the wonder my mom had once created with that multitude of Barbie merchandise, but I fell sadly short.  At the time I blamed myself, but now I understand that I was trying to work miracles with my hands and my feet tied behind me.

I could make all the scalloped oysters in the world, but while I could make it taste just like Grandmother’s had, the dish couldn’t fill her absence.  No matter how delicious my cornbread dressing was, it couldn’t replace Aunt Edie peering into the oven to check on her specialty.  Even my dad had lost his gleeful participation in the charade, because arthritis had stolen more than golf.  It also took away his joy.

I felt alone in my frustration.  My sister never had the Christmas bug and still doesn’t even decorate her own home for the season.  My husband had no idea why I made such a big deal about it all.  Only my mother seemed to care.  Looking back I have come to wonder if she was also playing a role, one where she pretended to want to have the kind of Christmases we once did.

Then there was the year hot rolls were added to our menu.  One of my mom’s dear, sweet friends insisted on providing us with delicious yeasty rolls, but instead of arriving piping hot on a baking sheet, I was given a bowl of dough the day before.  I am no pastry chef.  I will spare you the pain of going through that episode with me, but it included waking up my husband much earlier than he wanted to be wakened – and when I woke him I had tears running down my face and sticky dough up to my elbows.  There was a part of me that longed for the day I would no longer have to keep up this charade, but at the same time I hated to think of what that would mean.

The White Elephant in the Room 

I lost Mom in 2013.  Last year I didn’t even decorate for Christmas because we were camping out in a rent house.  My husband applauded the wisdom of my decision, but before the season was over, we both regretted it.  Even without Mom looking over my shoulder, it seems I am the Queen of Christmas.

This year I decorated my beautiful new home.  There was joy in unpacking each holiday treasure, especially since so many were my mom’s or my aunt’s.  There was also the disappointment of discovering my very fashionable yellow and blue decor did not compliment my red and green ornaments.  My best decorative items, in shade of  white, completely disappeared into the yellow walls.  The queen was struggling.

Then we went to a Christmas party with a Chinese Gift Exchange.  You know the drill.  You get to choose whether you want to open something under the tree or steal something already unwrapped.  I was number 15, somewhere in the middle of the pack.  When it was my turn, all the really good stuff had already been through the maximum number of trades, so I opened something under the tree.  I’m not sure what I expected, but the Russian military hat and trinket box had not been on the list.  Other folks had gotten charming decor items and generous gift cards.  Someone had mistakenly assumed this was a White Elephant gift exchange.  I’d been the unlucky recipient of their joke.

20151206_200649-1I stuck the hat on my head at a jaunty angle.  Everyone in the room was thrilled.  No one dared steal my present, because the hat was so perfect for me.  I felt a painful tug at my heart, but shoved it away so I could continue to please everyone with my feigned joy.

When I woke up the next morning I realized that for just a moment, I had re-captured the bittersweet joy of Christmas Past.  In exulting over my Russian cap I had given everyone in the room a wonderful gift, one that only I could give them, because I’d been training for that moment most of my life.  I finally understood that it is more blessed to give than receive, but it broke my heart.  The performance had been for Mom and she’s not here anymore.

I will continue to be the Queen of Christmas.  Each year, I’ll pull out my decorations.  I will make as many small moments as I can for my husband and my friends, but my best audience will never look at me with eager anticipation again.  Giving her all those years of Christmas joy was the greatest present I ever got.  I’m just sorry it took me so long to figure that out.

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Christmas in the Burbs

20151205_094933-1AT HOME IN HEATH: ROCKWALL’S CHRISTMAS PARADE

As much as I love Dallas and all the excitement associated with it, there’s a certain charm to living out in the boonies.  On a recent Saturday I joined other Rockwall County residents to watch the Kiwanis Christmas Parade.  Let me tell you about it.

Suburban Parades I Have Loved

SBWN members and friends waiting to line up for the parade.
SBWN members and friends waiting to line up for the Los Osos parade.

For a city girl, I’ve spent a lot of time out in the burbs.  For instance, when we first moved to California, we lived in Los Osos.  I don’t think it even qualified as suburb.  The entire county of San Luis Obispo is about the size of Garland, one of Dallas’ suburban cities.  I most often heard Los Osos referred to as a bedroom community, whatever that means.  One thing I knew that it meant was your GPS couldn’t find us.

As tiny as Los Osos was, it had a thriving sense of self.  There was a grocery store, some branch banks, a few restaurants and a smattering of professional offices, but not much in the way of shopping.

We did have a holiday parade, however.  (Not a Christmas Parade, mind you, because they are ever so much more politically correct in California.)  I know about the parade, because I was in it one year as a member of the South Bay Women’s Network.  Someone knew someone with an antique car which carried a few of our members and the rest of happily trotted along behind the car with our dogs.  I don’t think we had a reason for including the dogs.  We just thought it would be more fun.  The guys weren’t in the parade.  Their job was enthusiastically cheering as we went by.

The other big parade in the area was the Cayucos 4th of July Parade.  Cayucos was even smaller than Los Osos, but they had a lot of tourism because they were a beach town, while Los Osos was on the estuary.  Neither the Los Osos or Cayucos parade had bands, drill teams or floats – just enthusiastic residents who were willing to march down the street with other residents.  The Cayucos parade had been around longer  and was a bit more raucous, but both were a lot of fun.

So, my California experience prepared me to enjoy the Kiwanas Christmas Parade.  I wasn’t expecting the Tournament of Roses Parade, just an entertaining morning of community.  I got just what I bargained for.

Santa's Arrival
Santa’s Arrival

The Rockwall Parade

Each month my HOA produces a magazine that fills me in on what’s happening in my area.  When December’s copy arrived, it informed me the Kiwanis Christmas Parade would be a part of Rockwall’s Hometown Christmas Celebration in Downtown Rockwall.  It also said the parade would start at 9 AM.  Here’s what I love about this place.  I left my house in Heath at 8:45 and was standing along the parade route by nine.

I enjoyed rubbing elbows with my fellow Rockwallers, but by 9:20 the fun was beginning to wear thin.  I mentioned the parade’s absence to someone nearby and she too was getting restless.  That’s when a more seasoned Rockwall County resident told us the parade did begin at 9 AM, but it started at the high school.  Well, darn!  I marked that up for future reference.

Finally, around 9:30 we began seeing evidence suggesting the parade was about to reach Downtown.  By 9:45 we had a parade.  It was a much bigger deal than anything Los Osos offered.  The centerpiece was a marching band and drill team from Rockwall Heath High School.  There were scores of beautiful horses, carloads of waving people and tons of “floats”, only these “floats” didn’t exactly float.  Each was on a trailer being pulled by its own huge pick up truck.  I’d positioned myself at a corner and sometimes the crowd had to be rearranged for the pickups and their trailers to make it around.

It was a perfectly beautiful morning and I had a lot of fun.  Next year I’ll either leave home a little later or find a place closer to the high school to watch it.  Here’s some shots of the fun event.

 

 

 

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Southern Junction in Royce City

AT HOME IN HEATH: SOUTHERN JUNCTION

Well, all you cowpokes, cowgirls and cowkids, have I ever found a place for you.  The last few months have been so busy over in the Metroplex, that the other side of the bridge preempted writing about this new town of mine.  Why just last week I  posted an article about Grapefest, a September event in Grapevine.  With the onset of winter, things should settle down a bit (yeah, sure).  If you want to liven up one of your evenings out here in the Lakeplex, instead of relaxing by the fire, may I suggest Southern Junction.

Is That Song Country or Western?

Though I live out here in a community of ranchers and farmers, I’m not exactly attuned to the rural lifestyle.  I love having a pond in my backyard, but I’m awfully glad Rockwall is minutes away, especially since it gets more urbanesque every day.  Why they opened up a Chico’s just the other day.  Now if we could just get a Market Street, Central Market or Whole Foods!

However, country/western music I know.  My dad raised me on Hee Haw and Whispering Bill Anderson.  After high school, I attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, where you would run into Waylon Jennings at Pizza Inn and dance the night away to Ray Wylie Hubbard and his band at The Party Center (or Snoopy’s or The Caravan).  By the time it was cool to be an Urban Cowboy, I’d already moved on to other things.

Nowadays, my favorite country/western memory is attached to a holiday dinner where a discussion of music ended up in an argument about whether Marty Robbins was country or western.  I know that some folks wouldn’t find that unusual, because all of their holiday dinners end up in an argument about something, but it was off-the-wall bizarre for my family.  Though Aunt Tommie was a bit of a pistol, my dad and Aunt Edie were always the least likely of folks to argue about anything.  Discovering they were passionate about the West Texas Town of El Paso was quite hysterical.  (For the record, Biography.com calls him a country singer, but anyone with an album called “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” sounds pretty western to me.)

My Urban Cowboy

While country/western music has been part of the fabric of my life, the same cannot be said for my husband.  I don’t think they had Hee Haw in Egypt and his idea of a C&W bar is Belle Starr or Billy Bob’s.  For the uninformed, Belle Starr was a very trendy nightclub on Central Expressway during Dallas’ Urban Cowboy stage.  I went to Belle Starr a couple of times, but was more likely to be found at the old Top Rail.  Billy Bob’s is fun, but it’s a Disney version of a honky tonk, not the real thing.

Bill likes country music well enough to have a C&W station programmed onto the radio of his car.  We occasionally attend the Mesquite Rodeo or the Fort Worth Stock Show.  Many country hits are counted among his favorite music, but the accompanying culture is completely foreign to him.  Southern Junction was a shock to his system.

How We Got There 

If you’ve ever read my blog before, then you know about my best friend, Deb.  In some ways we’re so much alike we’re almost redundant – and then there are the ways we are different.  Deb is very into music and dancing, things I like also, but there is no way I’d invest as much time and money into ballroom dancing as she does.  That love for ballroom dancing bleeds over into liking pretty much any kind of music and dance.  She’s a university-trained opera singer, but if the gang from work is going someplace to dance, then she’s all over it.  On occasion, I join in and sometimes even Bill comes along.

Back in the summer, Deb went to Southern Junction because the significant other of a girl she works with was playing there.  He’s Kevin Freeman, fiddler for Matthew Middleton and Texas Drive.  Deb invited me to join them because it is near to my new home, but it wasn’t a good day when she called.  She’s been talking about going back ever since then.

So, on a recent Thursday night, Texas Drive was making a return visit to Southern Junction.  I decided to check it out and Bill decided to join us.  We had no idea what we were getting into, but I’ve already gone on for too long, so come back next week to find out how our “date” went.

 

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, TRAVEL

More Room to Vroom at Mercedes Benz Plano

Invitation to Party
Invitation to Party

TRAVEL HERE: CLIENTS HAVE IT GOOD WITH MERCEDES BENZ PLANO

My husband drives a Mercedes.  He tries to justify the extravagance with with talk about resale value, but if that’s the case, explain to me why I’m driving a Nissan Altima.  I’m not complaining mind you.  I’d never trade cars with him, because his is way too sporty, but I’m not buying his story.  I have to admit though, the parties are a blast.

Worth the Drive

I used to be a Dallas girl and that’s how we ended up being clients of Mercedes Benz Plano.  They used to be around the corner from us.  From time to time they’d invite us in for a party and our drive time was all of ten minutes, even at rush hour.

Then we moved to Heath and they moved to a new location next to Dallas North Tollway (DNT).  We’ve sort of become geographically incompatible, but when they sent us an invitation to their Grand Opening Celebration we figured it would be worth the drive.  We just didn’t realize what a drive it would be.  At least we took the Benz!

Rush Hour Madness

If there’s one place you don’t want to be during the afternoon rush hour, it’s heading toward I-30 on Horizon Road in Rockwall.  In fact, during either rush hour, the intersection of Horizon and Ridge Roads is a place to avoid.  I prefer to meander through the neighborhood and take Ridge, but Bill insists Horizon is better.  The traffic was so bad on this particular evening Bill thinks he might try my route.

Once we made it through the Horizon/Ridge intersection, we still had to navigate the line to the Horizon/I-30 Overpass and the traffic on the I-30 Bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard.  We had plenty of time though and were enjoying each other’s company.

About the time we reached Firewheel, Bill began to bemoan the drive into Dallas.  We agree that living by the pond in Heath is just about as close as we can expect to get to heaven, this side of the grave, but we do have quite the commute into the city.

Finally, it was time to exit the Bush tollway and get on the DNT.  Suddenly the drive wasn’t so much fun.  In fact, it was a joke to call it a drive at all.  We were at a standstill.  Our pleasant conversation continued, but the wheels were only turning in Bill’s head.

Suddenly, Bill swung the car into the westbound traffic.  After a short drive he exited at Midway.  At first it didn’t seem like we’d improved things at all.  Then the light changed and at least we moved.  I tuned in the GPS, because Midway north of the Bush is not my usual stomping grounds and the map in my head wasn’t clear about whether Spring Creek crossed Midway or not.

Of course, when we finally turned north on Midway, Brunhilda (our German-inspired GPS) wasn’t happy with us at all.  She was determined we should make a U-turn and navigate the tollways.  Even after she gave up and showed us a route which included going north on Midway, she kept trying to get us out on DNT.  Eventually, I could see Spring Creek did cross Midway, so I turned Brunhilda off.  We found our way to the party and it was well worth the effort.

Drinks, Hors D’oeuvres and Entertainment

For their parties, Mercedes Benz Plano always offers free valet parking.  Bill thinks it’s to impress the party-goers, but I’m sure it’s to protect their inventory.  It is nice, however, to have the car door opened for you by a handsome young man.

Inside, the dealership was all abuzz.  At the door  an employee gave us a map to all the party hot-spots.  I was starving, so I scanned the horizon for food.  In one corner, a dj’s choices were accented by a drummer.   Across the way was a line for adult beverages, but I saved that for later.

My first stop was the Mac & Cheese bar.  Next I saw a bar which didn’t seem to have as much business, but they were serving scotch whiskey.  No thank you very much.

You know those tiny plates they use at parties, because folks don’t understand the difference in free hors d’oveuvres and an all-you-can-eat buffet.  I’m amazed at the way some people can pile food onto such a small surface, but it really doesn’t matter how little I put on my plate, the cheese cubes and olives seem determined to commit hari kari.

At the Mercedes Benz Party, the Mac& Cheese was served in a small wooden bowl with a wooden fork.  I was in heaven.  Bumpers for my cheese cubes!  Not to mention the fact that some of the stuff they call finger food is too gooey for my manicure.

I held on to that bowl all night long, through the Street-Taco Bar and the Slider Table.  Servers kept wanting to take it away from me, but I wouldn’t let it out of my firm grip.

Checking out out the rest of the party, we found cute girls loading up buckets of swag.  The mini-breath-mints and pens were getting lots of attention.  Another station was making free t-shirts, but since we have enough gimme t-shirts to last us our lifetimes, we avoided that line.

We wandered back to the service bays where they had a couple of food trucks.  Even though I hadn’t gotten rid of my bowl yet, I wasn’t ready for more food, just yet.

We did, however, drool over a few of the cars in the service bays.  If that grey metallic convertible with the white leather interior was yours, we are so sorry about the saliva spots.

Bill developed an interest in dessert, so we followed the map to to the sweet stuff.  There we found baristas whipping up various coffee concoctions, but I don’t do coffee and Bill didn’t want to kill his buzz.

We did find the sweets – mini-tarts with pecan pie filling, mini-red-velvet cupcakes, tiny lemon bars, etc.  My bowl came in handy, but when I started getting a sugar-high, I finally relinquished it.

Air Graffiti Dallas

Having thoroughly checked out the northern half of the new location and the service bays out back, we headed over to the southern half to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.  Come to find out, we had.  There was a Bubble Bar offering Champagne Cocktails.  I got the one with the raspberry in it.

We’d also missed the whole Air Graffiti thing.  We saw people making pictures on the other side and writing on them with an odd pointer, but we’d assumed (wrongly) that it had something to do with the t-shirts.  Air Graffiti is the new generation photo booth.  You get your picture made in front of a green screen, like the special effects people use, then you select your background and have it “spray painted” with a message made using the unique pointer.  The result of  our picture is below.

I know I overstayed my welcome today, but it was such an adventure that I had to share it!  Keep coming back, because I’ve been busy lately!  You’re gonna love what I’ve been up to!

Air Graffiti Masterpiece
Air Graffiti Masterpiece

 

ART, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States, WRITING

Starting Off on the Wrong Foot

bitchingAT HOME IN HEATH: THE TRIP WITH NO NAME STARTED OUT ON THE WRONG FOOT

It’s not unusual for someone to go on a long weekend to brighten their outlook on life, but along with failing to inspire me to come up with a better name than The Trip With No Name, things seemed destined to get more frustrating for this recent road trip.

Booking a Room

After I ordered tickets for Living Proof in Wichita, KS, I sort of ignored the hotel information in my confirmation packet.  I’m such a huge fan of Expedia and Trip Advisor that I assumed I’d be able to get a great room at a bargain price which would blow away the conference’s negotiated deals.  I was wrong.

What’s worse is that my assumption led me to put off making my reservations.  I mean really, who was going to go all the way to Wichita for a Bible Study?  Well, it turns out thousands and thousands of ladies from all 50 States were going to make their way to the city and thousands more were going to watch on simulcast.

But I didn’t know that, so I waited until about a month before the conference before I finally sat down and researched rooms in Wichita.  I quickly found out that the conference had negotiated some pretty amazing deals, but I also found out most of them were already booked.  My first inclination was to find a room within walking distance of the arena.  Total fail.  Then I cast my net further.  I ended up getting the conference rates, but they were at a DoubleTree at the airport.  Not the end of the world, but not exactly my vision for the weekend either.

An Exciting Invitation

As I continued my planning for Wichita, I received an invitation to a media event from one of the local museums.  I’ve been blogging about local attractions for quite awhile now, but until recently I hadn’t made it to their media list.  I have a few publicist in New York and Chicago who send me invitations from time to time, but my budget doesn’t exactly cover flights to the Big Apple or the Windy City.  Gas to the Dallas Arts District is much more affordable.  Since Deb and I weren’t leaving until after she got off from work, I’d have plenty of time to pop by the museum and write the article, right?  Well, not exactly.

A Mixed Up Week

I don’t exactly live in a rut, but I do seem to get along better when things happen according to routine.  The week of the trip had nothing routine about it.  Monday was a holiday and my videographer client was having a picnic for all of us who work for him.  It was just the beginning of a strange week.  Tuesdays are the day I usually go into the videographer’s office, but Bill was having dental surgery, so I went in on Wednesday instead.  As I pulled into the garage Wednesday afternoon I had the realization that in a mere 24 hours I’d be picking up my bestie and we’d be heading north.  I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to wear and I hadn’t done the laundry either.  It was going to be a long evening.  At least I’d picked up sushi on the way home, so I didn’t have to fix dinner.

Dinner was easy, but other things challenged me. Things like my dog, who chose that particular day to have gooped up eyes.  And things like the certified letter notification that had been in the mail.  Those never have good news, so I promised Bill I would go by the post office on the way to the museum.  It should have been easy.  The media event didn’t start until ten.  It would be a cakewalk – right?

Good Morning Meltdown

I’m an early riser.  On the morning of the trip I was in my office about 5:30, even though I’d been up late getting ready to leave.  The first thing I did was open up my email.  As I perused the inbox, it seemed as if an email from my husband was the most important item, so I clicked on it.  Suddenly, a weird article about some celebrity opened up.  At first, I assumed I had just clicked the wrong thing, but it was quickly apparent that something was seriously wrong.

My husband is not an early riser.  At 5:45 he would not have welcomed a hysterical bedside visit, so I ran Norton while I tried to work around the fact that I had no computer.  I did have the laptop from work, but it’s not optimized for all of my sites and passwords, nor is it synched to my printer.  So I limped along hoping everything would be alright.

Norton got through at just about the same time my husband woke up, but I had a sneaky suspicion Norton had not killed the beast on my drive.  A few clicks confirmed my fears.  Then, I broke one of the sacred laws of our house.  I told Bill about my problem before he had his coffee.  Then I spent the next hour or so trying to get ready to leave while I coached Bill through saving my computer.

Things only got more interesting, but I’ll tell you more about it next week.

Shopping, TRAVEL

Costco in Rockwall, TX

Costco
More than you ever dreamed you wanted

AT HOME IN HEATH: NOW I’M A COSTCO PRO

Yes, you’ve heard me whine about the grocery shopping in Heath – as in we have no grocery stores in Heath.  I have to go over to Rockwall just to get carton of milk.  I know I was spoiled back in Dallas, but I’ve had to up my game.  For produce, I’ve found the Farmers Market.  My other secret weapon is Costco

Joining the Dark Side

Y’all know I’m not a Walmart Shopper.  I once had a membership to Sam’s, but about all they had that made any sense for me to buy, in the quantities they offered it, was a few paper goods.  There was no Sam’s out on the Central Coast and we didn’t catch Costco fever when it came to town.  After six years we were back in Dallas and never had any particular reason to join either Sam’s or Costco, once we returned.  Then we moved to Heath and I started cooking most of our meals at home.  Suddenly, grocery shopping took on a whole new meaning.

We also met Omar and Nohelly.  They really know how to entertain.  My husband loved everything they put out for us to eat and drink and when he’d compliment them, they’d point him towards Costco.  Between my grocery store whining and all the delicious things at our friends’ house, Bill decided we needed to become Costco Members. Oh yes, and there was the cheap gas thing, too.

Our First Visit

So one afternoon on a weekend, we joined Costco and took a stroll through the store.  I was initially overwhelmed by the size of the things they sold and dismayed to discover that many of things I buy the most of they didn’t carry at all. Sugar-free, fat-free and low-salt are barely in Costco’s vocabulary, but my beloved South Beach Diet demands them.  Still, our bill was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200, so something must have seemed tempting.

The Ladies Room on a Saturday morning.  They're ready for multitudinous potty breaks.
The Costco Ladies Room on a Saturday morning. They’re ready for multitudinous potty breaks.

The Hard-Boiled Eggs Did It

One item we picked up on that maiden voyage was a package of twenty-four hard-boiled eggs.  I was buying them six at a time for somewhere in the 3-4 dollar range.  The 24 pack was five something.  Bill and I had a difference of opinion.  He thought buying six at a time was wasting money. I thought buying 24 at a time would mean wasting food.  We bought the package of 24 eggs.

The twenty-four egg package was divided up into four smaller packs of six, but I just knew we weren’t going to eat 24 eggs before some spoiled.  Well, I was just wrong.  They’ve got some special super-duper technology that helps keep the eggs fresh AND we eat a whole lot more hard-boiled eggs than I realized.  Maybe there was something to this Costco thing after all.

I Kept Going Back

Over the next few weeks I kept going back.  As we ran out of things I usually bought at Kroger, I’d go see if Costco offered them and how they were packaged.

My first big haul was from the frozen food department.  South Beach has a lot of fish recipes and hauling in the fish du jour was taking up a lot of time.  I discovered that much of the stuff in Kroger’s seafood case wasn’t actually fresh fish.  It was just de-frosted fish.  I got to thinking that perhaps I could de-frost my own fish and what I saw in Costco’s freezer beat what was in Kroger’s freezer all to heck.  Costco had Wild-Caught Sockeye Salmon, Halibut, Ahi Tuna, Pacific Cod, Mahi Mahi, Tilapia, Raw Shrimp and Boiled Shrimp.  So I got a bag of each and moved it to my freezer.

South Beach also has a lot of chicken recipes.  So when I ran out of chicken I got a bag of breasts and a bag of thighs from Costco.  Bless their hearts.  The pieces came individually wrapped, just like the seafood.  I’d been buying the bargain packs at Kroger and then repackaging them in dinner-sized portions for the freezer.  Suddenly, no more chicken slime to clean off my counters.

Not everything worked for us.  Take the huge packages of rotisserie chicken, for instance.  It tasted heavenly, but try as we might, Bill and I could not eat it up fast enough.  So, then I discovered grilled chicken strips in Costco’s freezer.  Now we have it in our freezer.

The Cupboard is Full

So now, my little freezer is stuffed to the gills with everything from broccoli florets to ground beef individually wrapped in 1 pound packages.  I’m proud of those raw ingredients.  I used to keep frozen entrees and breakfast items in there.

My pantry has gi-normous Splenda, Coffee-Mate, Raw Walnuts and other great big packages.  I wrote the date I opened them on the outside.  I think it will be some time next year before we actually use up the entire bulk package of Splenda.  The Raw Walnuts move pretty fast around here, though.

I’m also giving canned goods a try.  First, it was Chicken Broth.  After all, they did have the low-salt variety.  Then it was canned tomatoes.  Back in my pre-Costco days, I’d buy tomatoes that already had Italian seasonings on them AND they were low salt.  Costco’s are low-salt, but no seasonings.  Next to my 12-pack of canned tomatoes is a 12 pack of tomato paste.  Then I broke down and got a 6-pack of canned salmon and a 6 pack tuna – water-packed, of course.

Paper-goods?  A no-brainer!  Cleaning supplies?  Yep! Sodas?  Diet Dr. Pepper in 36-packs and ICE flavored sparkling waters!  And I love the big bottles of Pellegrino. Kalamata olives?  Sure! A tub of tzatziki?  Why not!  And there’s some Prosecco in the wine department that’s very impressive.

I Still Need Kroger

Though Kroger’s weekly sales figures must have plummeted since I discovered Costco, they need not fear.  I’ll be in weekly.  Costco doesn’t sell Pinot Grigio in a box.  They don’t have Bill’s flavor of Kashi Cookies or Cinnamon Pecan Special K. Blueberry-muffin flavored yogurt?  Only at Kroger’s.  And Ricotta for my nightly South Beach Diet dessert.  M-M-M-M-M!  The list goes on.

But if I ever need to make Red Lobster Cheese Biscuits, I know where to go.

 

 

 

 

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

Rockwall’s Farmers Market

Produce from the Rockwall Farmer's Market
Produce from the Rockwall Farmer’s Market

AT HOME IN HEATH: THE ROCKWALL FARMERS MARKET

Well, we’ve been living in our new home for about four months now.  It’s beginning to feel like home.  One thing I’ve learned is that grocery shopping is a whole lot different out here than it was back in Dallas.  A couple of years ago, when Trader Joe’s came to Dallas, I explained how I was smack dab in the middle of grocery store heaven.  That is no longer so.

Grocery Shopping in Rockwall

I’ve had my ear to the ground for things to enhance my life on the eastern edges of the DFW Metroplex.  Though I don’t remember when or where I first heard of the local farmers market, I knew immediately it was something I wanted to check out.  I adore vegetables, especially the kind you get from real farmers, as opposed to the water-sprinkled display in the local supermarket.

In Dallas, with Market Street, Central Market and Trader Joe’s just around the corner from me, I really had all my produce needs taken care of.  In Rockwall, we have Walmart, Target, Kroger and Aldi.  I refuse to shop at Walmart, our Target doesn’t have a produce section and Aldi is hit or miss.  That leaves Kroger.  They have an extensive produce section, but it falls short of what I’m used to.  One day when I asked after shallots, I was directed to the seafood department.

We also have a Costco out this way and their produce is absolutely gorgeous.  However, there is only two of us in this household.  I’m just now figuring out how to cook.  I’m not ready to take up canning.  Everything at Costco is super-sized.  I’d have to open a restaurant to justify purchasing one of their gi-normous offerings.  That left the farmers market.20150822_090639

Visiting the Rockwall Farmers Market

The Rockwall Farmers Market is held every week, rain or shine, on the square in Downtown Rockwall.  (That’s at 66 and 205, for the non-locals).  They’re just about to finish up with a major renovation down there, so on my visit I had to maneuver around some construction hazards, but that frustration will soon be gone.  It looks like the finished product is going to be lovely and a boon to the farmers market.

The market is open 8 AM to noon and that, in part, is why it took me four months to get there.  I’m always up early, but I come up here to my office and get distracted by a project.  Before I know it, the morning is gone and I’ve missed the market again.  This week, I was determined to leave my office and get to the market by 9.  I did it.

I made my way through the construction and found a parking place without too much effort.  I grabbed one of the shopping bags I keep in my car and headed to the row of awnings around the square.  Right away I could tell this was going to be a treat.  I could have gotten everything I needed, and more, at the first booth, but what fun would that have been?

The mix of vendors is about one half farmer and one half other stuff.  The other stuff is everything from toffee and coffee, to honey and tamales.  I plan to give the other stuff a closer inspection on my next visit, but on this particular day I was on a mission.  I’d been looking forward to this visit, because the only thing in my crisper was a wilting stalk or two of celery.

I had planned to walk through the entire market before buying anything.  It’s not like it’s all that big, but about halfway to the end of the first row, I was stopped in my tracks by some of the most beautiful basil I’d ever seen.  The gorgeous stems seemed to be growing out of an ice chest and the air was full of their appetizing aroma.  The price was a dollar a stem.  Thinking of the sorry excuse I get for fresh basil at the grocery store I asked for two.  I could have gotten by with one and had plenty to share.  Lesson learned – and I’ll be back.  I may get the Australian basil next time.  The vendor said it had a hint of cinnamon to it.

I made it to the end of that row and turned the corner.  There was only one half of a row more.  At the end of that row I spied some chubby cucumbers that had my name on them.  Bill eats a lot of cucumber, but I’m not fond of those huge waxed creatures offered for sale at the grocery store.  These nubby chubbys looked good enough to bite, right then and there.  A basket of them was $4.  That seemed a little steep, but then I thought of the last foot long green thing that followed me home from Kroger.  Sure it had been cheaper, but it hadn’t sung to me the way these guys were doing.

I headed back towards the basil, when some big juicy blackberries halted me in my tracks.  I found myself standing next to the delicious looking berries wondering what it would take to make them mine.  “Five dollars a basket or three baskets for $12.”  I started wondering what I would do with three baskets of blackberries when they let me know I could mix and match the baskets.  That sounded pretty good, because some strawberries were already flirting with me.  Not wanting to overload myself with fruits, I ignored the grapes and glanced towards the vegetables.  That’s when I saw a mixed basket of squash.  “I’ll take three for $12, the blackberries, some strawberries and the mixed squash.”

Walking back toward where I had entered I watched for any kind of lettuce, but I guess that’s not a Texas crop.  I knew I still needed some tomatoes and purple onions.  Then I saw the asparagus.  Yep, you guessed it. Four dollars a basket.  Another $12 invested in local farmers.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

I’m a Gourmet Chef – Who Knew?

How about a little Crab Cobb Salad?
How about a little Crab Cobb Salad?

AT HOME IN HEATH: MY INNER CHEF HAS BLOSSOMED

Bill didn’t marry me for my cooking.  The only food I cooked for him before we got married was my signature spaghetti, which was pretty awesome, but he should have realized there was a problem when he had to teach me to make coffee.  During our first year of marriage we discovered the dishes I’d learned to make in my mother’s kitchen were not to Bill’s taste and his Egyptian dishes were out outside my skill set.  We did not have compatible cuisines.

Confessions of a Yo-Yo Dieter

I was single for a long time.  I’d grown up helping my mom out in the kitchen, but I’d never developed any food management skills of my own.  I ate a lot of fast food, loved frozen chicken pot pies and could make a meal out of a bowl of rice.

From time to time my poor eating habits would catch up with me and I’d fall back on the Scarsdale Diet.  It worked and the simple meals were easy to fix, but you were supposed to rotate the diet with “regular eating” and nothing about the way I ate was regular.  Once the weight was gone, I’d just go back to my bad habits until it was Scarsdale time again.

Then I Got Married

Poor Bill has had quite a ride with me.  Before I really got an opportunity to develop those menu planning/food preparation skills, Bill was already fed up with my efforts.  Not only was he tired of my less than restaurant-quality offerings, he was thoroughly disgusted with the number of things that went bad in my refrigerator.  We ate out, ate a lot of convenience foods and hobbled along for a few months until I had packed on the pounds again.

My best friend introduced me to a crazy 500-calorie-a-day medical diet and in desperation I joined.  Bill nearly had a heart attack when he found out what I spent, but it was non-refundable.  I saved most of my 500 calories for dinner time and we hobbled through meal time until I lost the weight – again.  And of course, eventually I gained it all back.

At some point near the ten year mark, Bill had lived with me through several phases of my yo-yo dieting and I was back on the porky side.  That’s when I discovered Jenny Craig – another diet that “worked.”  I was always great at losing weight when I set my mind to it, but then I’d always gain it back.  Bill liked that Jenny Craig worked, but he didn’t like the cost of meals he couldn’t even share with me.  This yo-yo thing was beginning to wear on us.

And Then There Was South Beach

Over the years Bill and I did discover some dishes we could cook that both of us would like.  We also ate out a lot, like everyone else this day and time.  We weren’t eating healthy, however, and Bill’s doctor introduced him to the South Beach Diet, because he had all the symptoms the diet had been developed for.  I wish I could tell you that I embraced this chance for us to eat together, but I was in the middle of my five year care-giving crisis and Bill was mostly on his own when it came to eating what the diet recommended.  I’ll have to give him creds.  He lost the weight and got all his numbers in the right place.  He about drove me to distraction talking about how wonderful the diet was though – and not just to me, but to anyone who would listen, as well as a few folks who didn’t.

I Finally Gave In

Bill is by far the most persistent person I have ever known.  Most of the time that’s a good thing, but from time to time, it’s not so good.  I finally gave up and tried South Beach.  He’d managed to be successful with it by embracing the rules and applying them to his eating, but I’m not so good with rules.  I knew I’d have to do the diet differently or it would be a waste of my time.

One November day in 2013 became Day One of Phase One.  I followed the diet religiously, faithfully producing every dish on the suggested menu.  Some dishes were a success.  Some were not.  I certainly wasn’t a pro at managing the refrigerator and pantry, but when Bill wanted to complain about a head of lettuce in the trash or wilted asparagus in the crisper, I’d remind him that this diet was his idea.  That seemed to do the trick.

I guess you’re not surprised that the diet worked.  I lost the weight and I was doing pretty good at maintaining it until THE HOUSE.  Those of you who follow my blog know the trauma we went through getting this Home in Heath built.  My diet went out the window and yep, all those pounds came back.

I Came Back

You know what, though.  I missed the Beach.  I’d learned to love frittatas.  I was craving all that spinach, tomatoes and salmon.  I also missed the pals I’d made on the South Beach Diet Chat Groups.  After Bill and I had been in the house for about six weeks, I pulled out my tattered copy of South Beach Diet and my notebook full of kitchen-tested SBD recipes.

This time things were different.  Somewhere along the line those kitchen managing skills I hadn’t possessed in the past had somehow developed.  I was becoming a champ in the kitchen.  I used the SBD book to get me started, but long before Phase 2 was over, I was planning my own menus and modifying recipes to better suit our tastes or to utilize what we had in the pantry instead of making yet another trip to the store.

Our New Paradigm

Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell Bill, but I’ve gotten to the point that I’d just as soon cook at home as go out to eat.  I like my cooking.  He likes my cooking.  I have fun trying new recipes.  I enjoy planning meals.  I even like grocery shopping.

Organizing the pantry, freezer and fridge is sort of like a game.  I’m even discovering that when we go out for a meal, it throws a kink in my food planning.  Not to mention the fact that more often than not, I like the way I cook things better than what I’m served.

I’m still working my way through the huge assortment of recipes South Beach Diet has online, because I want to keep the weight off this time, but I’m beginning to have an urge to crack open my recipe books.  Even though I was never much of a cook, I liked picking up cookbooks when I traveled.  I kept assuring myself that at some point in my life I would actually have time to cook.  Then I inherited all of my mom’s cookbooks.  My sister had no interest in them and I certainly wasn’t going to throw them away.  I’d need several lifetimes to use all the recipes I have in my kitchen, so I guess it’s just about time to get started.

I never dreamed that I was as good of a cook as I’ve turned out to be.  I still have my moments.  I forget to preheat the oven, chop up my other vegetables with my onions when I’m supposed saute the onions separately, substitute crunched crackers when I run out of bread crumbs in the middle of a recipe and that sort of thing, but I’m learning that none of it is the end of the world.  When in doubt, I just add some pepper and keep on cooking!

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex

All This and Friends on the Side

Reggie & Rita with Mike Whittle of Whittle & Johnson Custom Builders
Reggie & Rita with Mike Whittle of Whittle & Johnson Custom Builders

AT HOME IN HEATH: OUR HOME CAME WITH EQUIPPED WITH GOOD FRIENDS

Last week as I told you about the ups and downs of building, I mentioned Reggie, one of the neighbors we’ve gotten to know here in Buffalo Creek.  Not only did we find the perfect lot and build a beautiful home.  We also moved into one of the friendliest places I’ve ever lived.  One thing we haven’t had to look for in our new home is friends – they’ve found us.

Our First Friendly Neighbors

The first neighbors we met were Reggie and Rita.  They were considering a lot at the end of our cul-de-sac, but hadn’t yet signed on the dotted line.  We didn’t meet them on their best day.  Rita was madder than a wet hen.  She’d loved the house in Buffalo Creek they’d just sold and moved out of.  Reggie’s dreams for a house at the end of our street weren’t translating into anything she understood yet, so there was a little discord on the day we met.

They did decide to buy the lot and we were soon commiserating with one another over the slings and arrows of building a home.  We quickly discovered Rita’s sunny disposition was going to bubble to the top, no matter how concerned she was about the house and Reggie is about the most even tempered guy we’ve ever met.  They have become our dear friends.  Chats in the middle of the street became dinner at their favorite local hang-outs.  We celebrated New Year’s Eve with them and have enjoyed their knowledge of the area.  They make us feel like natives.

As I said last week, Reggie passes our house almost every day when he plays golf.  More often than the builder would like to admit, Reggie’s daily golf habit saved us from loss and damage when a sub failed to lock up our house.  He got to the point where he knew almost as much about what was going on with our build as Bill did and Bill was there every day.

More Friendly Neighbors

In the meantime, we met two more couples:  George & Janice and Pete & Sherry.  We met George one day when he was outside staking a tree.  Their house had been built on spec by our builders and we’d actually had meetings there several times before it became George & Janice’s house.

Like Rita, George was a little grumbly the day we met.  He was livid over the state the landscaping our builder dumped on him, but it didn’t take him long to warm up to us and his wife is a delight.  The pond which brings us so much joy (and the occasional water moccasin), has been leaking on their end and hampering the building of their swimming pool, but it hasn’t stopped we two couples from becoming friends and sharing the occasional happy hour.

Pete & Sherry are building on the other side of us.  They are the “senior statesmen” of our street, but they keep leaving us “youngsters” in the dust as they zip around the neighborhood in their shiny Corvette.  Pick a weekend, any weekend, and you’ll discover this pair has an agenda that would wear out a Marine battalion.  Still, they find time to be good neighbors.  On moving day it was Pete and Sherry who showed up with a care package to kept us going through the frustrations of our fire and rain move.  We can’t wait to return the favor.

Thank you Nohelly & Omar
Thank you Nohilly & Omar!  these lovely flowers came from their yard.

An HOA with Hospitality

Our HOA is also doing their best to connect dots between neighbors.  We’ve been to holiday parties, pool openings and HOA meetings and at every one we meet new people we’re glad to have as neighbors.  Take Omar & Nohilly for instance.  I’ve heard of parties looking for a place to happen and that is definitely this couple.  I met Nohilly at the Winter Holiday Party and she promised to keep an eye out for us.  Shortly after we moved in she knocked on our door and she’s been taking care of us ever since – amazing meals and happy hours happen at her place.  Two lovelier people don’t exist on this earth.

So yes, I am at home in Heath.  I’m still looking for a place to call my church home, but we’ll soon be wrapping up our return visits and doubling down on the churches we like the best.  It’s not a decision we have to hurry, because we’re not going anywhere!