Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!!

Only a few more days til Christmas!! And everyone will be here!!  I can't wait!!!

Tomorrow after a trip to Baton Rouge for a few last minute gifts, I'll be doing a little cooking.  I'm not delusional enought to think that I can do enough advance cooking to get it all or even largely done.  I know that I'll be practically living in the kitchen until everyone leaves, but my goal is to be in there leisurely cooking and not frantically trying to get things out like a short order cook.

I've still got to wrap the presents going under the tree and deliver gifts to friends and neighbors but the house is all decorated.  No surprises, all of the traditional decorations are out .....

The inn at Bethlehem is once again largely a horse operation.  

And of course Mary and Joseph have no need for a donkey. 

Not when they've got their loyal Bernese Mountain Dog hauling the milk cart. 

But one thing did change this year

..... we've got another stocking on the mantel!!!!! 

Before anyone asks, no I didn't sew Kathleen's stocking!  My needle and thread are retired or at least on extended sabbatical.  But it was bought with love.... does that count?!!!  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Sleepless Night

I can't blame it on Mr. Biggs this time.  Though he hogged the bed and snored and wheezed for most of the night (actually someone else was also snoring and wheezing in the bed so it was a veritable symphony), Mr. Biggs only asked to go out once last night at midnight.  However, I was awake for hours.

In an effort to be thoughtful, not to mention taking literally the "letting sleeping dogs lie" maxim, I didn't want to disturb the two snorers by switching on the beside lamp in order to read my book.  Consequently, I spent hours last night basking in the glow of my iphone reading the BR Advocate and the New York Times and playing Solitaire and Sudoku.

I enjoy the NY Times, but after an hour or so I had read my favorite sections and was left with such page turners as "Celebrations and Weddings" and "Automobiles"  I could have finished Dorian Gray and instead I read about the weddings and courtships of perfect strangers and the new updates to the Ford Explorer.

Save me from iphone radiation.  If there are any procrastinating shoppers out there, would someone please give me a book light for Christmas!

"Mistletoe" for Noel

Look what I found when I was packing up Owen's room last summer....

Can you believe that was 14 years ago?  

How is it that her master has changed so much from age 11 to 25 and yet she appears ageless?  

Is it all that organic food she eats??!  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Remind me that I love him.....

I'm barely awake.  Between 10 pm and 2 am, Mr. Biggs went out approximately 8 times.  He didn't want to stay in bed and it was too cold for him to be out of it, he wanted water, he needed to pee.... he didn't know what he wanted and seemed disoriented at times.

I felt a bit like I did with a new baby trying to figure out what they wanted in the middle of the night...... sleep, food, rocking, changing, burping?  Try it all and hope that something works.  

Finally at 2 am, he decided that he was tired and he settled into his usual spot at our feet.  Cradled in the down comforter and covered up with a fleece.  It's a hard life.  At 9:30 he was still sound asleep and seemed a bit miffed when I rousted him out of the warm covers.  

Asher got this little snapshot from Carol to help him decide which of the two puppies he wanted for his birthday.  Its been almost 15 years since the little fellow on the left came to live with us.  

I suppose I can put up with some lost sleep but maybe he needs to take a vacation to visit his master in NYC?

House Showing #6

After over 2 months without hearing from our realtor --we won't count the panicked call in November needing us to fax in a signature since the listing was expiring that day-- we finally had another house showing last week.  Can you say, "Surprise!"?

That night was the Christmas party for the St Francisville book group and I was bringing a Shrimp Mold.  It was going to be a leisurely day.... a little cooking, laundry, perhaps some yard work and some internet shopping.  Ah, the best laid plans!

At 9:45 am I was still in my flannel pj pants and was about halfway through making breakfast.  I had splattered grease everywhere by frying sausage and the island was blanketed with the fixings for Cornmeal Pecan Waffles.

Joe took the call from the realtor who wanted to do a showing in 4 hours.  FOUR hours!!  What happened to the 24 hour notification clause?

You could hardly see concrete or bricks in the yard because of the leaves; a hard freeze days before had turned the flowers and sweet potato vines around the pool into ugly mush; tumbleweeds of German Shepherd hair were blowing everywhere in the den;  the kitchen looked like an episode of hoarders was being filmed;  I had to get the shrimp mold made and in the refrigerator so that it could congeal; we were hungry for the breakfast that was half made; neither of us had showered, our lone decoration was out of season.... a dead Chrysanthemum on the front porch.  But hey, sure bring 'em over!

I took a deep breath and decided that since I had the eggs separated and the waffle iron already on the stove, we might as well cram in some breakfast before we went into overdrive.

Time to call in reinforcements!  Thankfully Paige has fallen for the Tom Sawyer idea that using my central vacuum is fun.  Being both a good friend and a good sport, she cheerfully agreed to come and join the insanity as we blasted around the house while Joe mowed and blew and tried to reclaim the wilderness outside.

I was hoping that if the potential buyers were Jewish, they might be charmed by the lack of holiday decorations.  But since we didn't even have a menorah, I went in the attic and tore into a few Rubbermaid tubs.  I had just enough time to stick the front door wreath on, fill the staircase cones with the ornaments, and put a holiday tablecloth on the porch table.

"They loved it".... that's the standard report from our realtor after every showing.  What else is new?
Though this time, they brought a western/wildfire country attitude with them and questioned why we didn't have a sprinkler system in the house!  What??!!!

Even after all this time on the market, it would throw me into a tailspin if I knew that I was turning over the keys of the house to someone.  St Joseph can stay in his state of hibernation.  A sale in March would be perfection... I think I'll be mentally ready then.  I hope.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Riding on the Levee

Last week we hauled into Baton Rouge and rode along the levee starting out at BREC's Farr Park and heading south.

Flat delta land and not much to see but since I have a fear of Bree's long white tresses being mistaken for a flash of deer tail in the woods, the levee is one of our few safe places to ride from now until February.

The Cottage Plantation ruins are about 3 miles down River Road (totally unrelated to the Cottage in St. Francisville).   

Built in 1824 by Colonel Abner Duncan and given as a wedding gift (!!!!) to his daughter.  It had quite a history with overnight guests including 
Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, Henry Clay, and the Marquis de Lafayette.  

Lightning was the cause of the fire which destroyed it in 1960.  Since I only remember it as ruins, I decided to do a little "googling" and enjoyed reading about the history of the grand old home.   What a wedding gift!  

Back to modern times!  Time to head for home.....

Usually we scoot down the backside at one of the breaks in the concrete reinforcements and ride along the batture (the flat land between the levee and the river) but since the weather was so fine, we stayed up top.

One big ship, a few snowy egrets, and a lone jogger were our only sightings along the levee and the river.  

After the ride, Bree and Sarge agreed to hang out under the Mississippi River bridge munching on their haybags.........

While we went into the Pastime Lounge for a pizza. 

It had been too long since I'd had a Pastime pizza .... ah REAL meat and not those nasty "meat" nuggets..... 

.... and it fit into our new goal of going to many of the special quirky places that we'll miss after we move.

*The black and white photos of the Cottage Plantation were taken in the 1930's and are from the Louisiana Historical Photographs Collection/Digital Library Collection of the Louisiana State Library.  Thanks to them for granting their permission to post them on the blog.  ..... and aren't you proud of me for asking?!

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'll miss the smell of grease and powdered sugar in Virginia!

There's nothing like Cafe au Lait and Finger Beignets to start the day!  As much as I like Lexington Coffees, their cold muffins just can't compare!

After buying a variety of healthy organically grown vegetables at the Baton Rouge Farmer's Market, we headed across town to Coffee Call to satisfy our sugar, white flour and saturated fat quota for the year.

In the debate over which is better, traditional square beignets or fingers, we are firmly in the "finger" camp.  There is that much more fried surface area to gather up the sugar!

For the last month we've been jointly working the L.A. Times crossword puzzles (in pen of course)and are finishing quicker and quicker and not needing to cheat.  At least we were exercising our brains even though we were packing the calories into our bodies!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crossing To Safety.....How have I never read Wallace Stegner?

One of the unfortunate effects which comes from belonging to two book groups is that due to poor time management (ie too much computer and television) I rarely read anything other books chosen for me that sometimes have a feel of being "required" reading.

While in Lexington last month I was bookless, having left home with nothing but podcasts on my phone and a couple of newspapers.  A dash into Lexington's Books & Co. minutes before closing time had me under the gun to find something in a hurry.  I grabbed Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner for no reason other than it was on the particular shelf that I told myself to I had to pick something/anything from in order to make a snap decision so that the young clerk could go home!

Of course Parent's Weekend being the whirlwind time that it always is, I didn't read a page.  Before leaving town, I found a used copy of Midaq Alley (November's St Francisville group read) hiding in the stacks at the Bookery so I "had" to begin that on the drive home.

Fate intervened when thanks to misplacing my next "free time" book to read, Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray,  I turned to Crossing to Safety last week.   I'm not sorry that Dorian was hiding under the seat in the Mini!  Unless lightning strikes twice in the month of December, I've just finished reading my favorite book of the year.

How have I not read anything by Wallace Stegner prior to this one?  I enjoyed every page, each paragraph and sentence.... here's the opening which had me hooked immediately:
    "Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface.  My eyes open.  I am awake.
      Cataract sufferers must see like this when the bandages are removed after the operation, every detail as sharp as if seen for the first time, yet familiar too, known from before the time of blindness, the remembered and the seen coalescing as in a stereoscope."

So what is it about?  Two couples and their friendship.  Ordinary people. If that sounds simple, the beauty of the book is that it IS simple.  There are children, parents and other acquaintances, but they are minor planets that don't especially matter to the orbits of the "stars" in this story.  There are no nail-biting cliff-hangers, violence, adultery, and no mystery to be unraveled.  While there are life altering occurences in this retelling of the intertwining of their lives, the crises are met and treated by Stegner with no more attention than a normal day.

Despite a lack of "drama", there wasn't a slow or boring moment in the entire book.  I want to be be the fifth friend.  I feel as though I know Larry and Sally and Sid and Charity.  I see aspects of myself in some characters and wish that I saw more of myself in others.

I've been debating whether I'd have liked this book as much when I was younger.  Hopefully I would have been capable of recognizing literary greatness.  But would it have spoken to me so deeply?  I might have projected that in my middle-aged years I'd have an abundance of friends, achieve greatness and only die when ancient and gray.  Now I'm aware of the rareness of true friends and the fact that one needn't achieve greatness or fame to matter to your family.  The addition of more birthdays and the loss of my parents has meant that I no longer need a telephoto lens to see the mortality that is ever present for all of us.  But being able to "identify" with a book is only one part of it's enjoyment.  I don't know any Russian counts or migrant workers but even as a younger reader, I loved War and Peace and The Grapes of Wrath.

Oh just go read the book!  Buy yourself an early Christmas present!  When I finish a few more of the books on my "To Read" stack by the lamp, I'll be looking for a copy of Stegner's Pulitzer Prize winning Angle of Repose and maybe one of his environmental non-fiction books such as Beyond the Hundredth Meridian about John Wesley Powell.   I may become a Wallace Stegner groupie!

I have only one regret about my purchase of  Crossing to Safety .......

 I bought a paperback version and I've got my notes in it already.  If there weren't so many notes and definitions scribbled in the margins to transfer, I'd be looking for a hardback to put on the bookshelves.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010.... the last in Louisiana?

While I can't imagine the Christmas stockings hanging anywhere other than from our mantel, I don't feel a strong need to be here in Louisiana cooking a turkey at Thanksgiving.  I suppose that's because we've had relatively few Thanksgiving holidays at the house.  Our early years as a couple and family were spent at my parents and then we began our years at Petit Jean Mountain State Park in Arkansas.

Beginning in 1992 shortly after buying the travel trailer, we spent seven years at Petit Jean camping and hiking the trails for the week of the school holiday.  Though it's been 11 years since our last visit, when I  picture a traditional Thanksgiving day for our family, it involves hiking in the Arkansas mountains.  

On that first Thanksgiving morning hike in 1992, Clark was only 3 1/2 years old and we were very proud (and relieved) that even on the steep parts of the Cedar Falls trail, he didn't need any help being lifted or carried.  

We began the 2 mile trail at the stone Mather Lodge built by the CCC back in the 30's.  Steps and bridges along the way were also CCC construction.

The trail descends quickly to the floor of the canyon and then follows along Cedar Creek until it reaches the 95 foot waterfall.  We would snap photos, sit on the rocks, hope that no one fell in the cold water and then begin the hike back up.  

For some reason on that first Thanksgiving morning there, we brought only 7 month old Mercy along for the hike and left Nanny and Aravis at the travel trailer.  

What a Technicolor crew!  

After the hike, we put Mercy in the Suburban and went into the Lodge for a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner overlooking the canyon through the big glass windows in the dining room of the old CCC lodge.  I baked a pecan pie later at the trailer but that was the extent of Thanksgiving day cooking.  

Thus 7 years of tradition was born:  the Cedar Falls trail was reserved for the Thanksgiving morning hike, Mercy was the lone dog that we brought along, we ate in the Lodge immediately after the hike and pecan pie was baked to be eaten later around the campfire.

Each year I came home refreshed and ready for Christmas.  

All things change and when Carter was a Sr in high school, the trips to Petit Jean stopped.  That year was his 18th birthday, which he wanted to celebrate in Baton Rouge, and there was also a swim team state meet that went into the holidays. Then we began the college years when everyone understandably wanted to be home for the holidays and not crammed in the travel trailer on their break from the dorms!   

The 2000's have been a hodgepodge of years with no real "traditions".  Mostly being a time and place for the college age sons to come home,  relax and do laundry for a week with the added bonus of a huge feast of a meal on Thursday.  

With only four mouths to feed this year I gave some thought to eating out, but in the end decided that relaxing at home in our jeans was preferable! 

The "traditional" star cutter (a bread tube) that we use at Thanksgiving and Christmas for the canned cranberry sauce was packed away in the storage pod in Lexington.  What to do??  

Clark dug around in the cookie cutters bin and found a star shaped cutter... this seemed like a good solution until he realized that there was a reason that the long tube was such a good device.... after one inch, the cookie cutter was stuck.  Nevertheless he persevered.  

Notice Raeanna staying well out of the cranberry sauce cutting drama..... despite the fact that she appears not to care about the need for star shaped discs of cranberry sauce, she has been indoctrinated into and seems to be fully onboard with the family Wizard card game tradition!

We toasted the day (and hopes for the future) with a bottle of sparkling hard cider from Albermarle Ciderworks in Virginia.  

I'm still searching for that crystal ball that can tell the future.  Will we still be here next year with the house under construction in Virginia?  In a rental in Lexington?  Eating with new friends in Lexington?  We might be closer to NYC; California would be a fun change; Arkansas would be a drive, but we could go to Petit Jean for the day; who knows where Clark will be next year? 

But the constant is that I have a family that I love... and for that I'm thankful.    Very thankful.....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hooray for the Winner

After the first elimination announcement on tonight's Dancing with the Stars finale, a sigh of relief was heard from the living room couch when Bristol was the first to go.

Perhaps even the Tea Party/Palin lovers were afraid that she might actually win. What else can explain her sudden lack of viewer support? Voting her into the finals might be one thing, but actually voting for her to win the whole shebang is entirely another matter. A refreshing new face with no dance experience is fun to see for a change, but do you really want her holding the mirror ball trophy? Thank heavens America woke up in the final moments and voted......

WAIT!!!! Is this television or politics? Bristol or Sarah? Analogies abound!

Mr. Biggs and Atta were both sleeping through the excitement. It's important that Mr. Biggs gets his rest so that he can wake up at both 1AM and 3AM in order to be let outside.

Noel who was recuperating from yet another visit to the vet today (her fourth in 2 months) was just glad to be inside on a comfy wing chair and not in a crate, cage or moving vehicle.

All in all, it was a good day. In addition to watching a 50 year old slaughter the teenagers on reality tv, I got in another walk this morning, helped the profit margin at Albertson's with my purchases for Thanksgiving and made a delicious chicken Caesar salad for dinner.

I was going to close this enriching, illuminative and edifying post with a photo taken last week at the Covington Arts Festival.  Unfortunately, Blogger has decided that I can't add any photos to my blog and apparently I'm not the only one that this happens to on a regular basis.  Oh well!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sliding into Mediocrity

I like to think that since I watch very little TV, belong to two book groups and read the daily newspaper (...Okay, I skim the paper most days) this means that I'm not quite as TV obsessed as many Americans.

I've never seen an episode of American Idol, Survivor, Big Brother, Real Housewives of Anywhere, or almost any other reality show.

Disclaimer:  Except for my old favorite The Amazing Race.  I blame my current lack of 1 million dollars on Owen and Asher neither of whom were willing to go to Amazing Race tryouts in Baton Rouge with me four years ago.  I haven't had the heart to watch Amazing Race since.  Seriously!

Despite being a near reality show virgin, having two left feet and possessing absolutely no interest in ballroom dancing, somehow we began watching Dancing With the Stars this fall.  And then on Monday, I crossed over to the dark side and went from casual occasional watcher to involved participant.  I voted!

Hopefully I'm not spiralling down a rabbit hole that will have me watching the Kardashians (who are they btw?) and Jersey Shore, but I sat and texted in my votes because I just couldn't understand why Bristol Palin was still stomping around on the dance floor after all these weeks.

There is no justice in the world.  Last night Brandy got voted off and Bristol Palin stayed on.   I feel somewhat responsible since I cast two of my four votes for leader Jennifer Grey and the other two for underdog Kyle Massey.  Poor Brandy lost because I didn't think she needed my votes.

She was robbed by the Tea Party vote.  I think Hilary needs to take action and declare this another "right wing conspiracy".

Does this mean that I need to get a life?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterinarian or Dentist?

Noel went to the vet on Tuesday for a routine tooth cleaning.  I dropped her off at 9 AM and went back for her at 3:30.  No x-rays but she did have some sedation.  No complications and nothing too special.

I went to the dentist on Thursday for a routine tooth cleaning.  I had 7 x-rays taken and the usual cleaning with no complications.

Here are two bills........  Which of us had the most expensive morning?

Yes..... it's good to be queen.

Or at the very least, it's better to be a veterinarian than a dentist.  

And such tiny little teeth!  Surely they couldn't have needed much polishing compound!

It's an understatement to say that our pets are living the good life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Veterans Day, Grace Episcopal Church

Photos today from the cemetery of our peaceful little church....

Yesterday, November 10, 2010 was the 235th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.
Our fellow Grace Church parishioner, General Robert Barrow was the 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

And to date he is the only Commandant to reject the right to be buried at Arlington.  He was buried in the church cemetery alongside Patsy his wife in November 2008.  Everyone who attended Grace Church will remember his erect posture, gentle kind ways and his slow steady walk up the aisle at church even as he grew weaker in his final months of life.

The Marine Corps birthday tradition includes laying a wreath on the grave of each of the former commandants on November 10th.  Though General Barrow's final resting place is far from Arlington, a military detail is sent to Louisiana for his wreath laying; there was no advance notice last year (the first since his funeral).... they just appeared.  This year, we knew to expect htem and so a few Barrow family members and about 25 friends were present for the ceremony.

The ceremony included a wreath laying,
firing a 21 gun salute and Taps.

I doubt if the Arlington Marine details had crying children!  

The Grace Church preschoolers who were present broke into a long chorus of terrified bawls and wails upon the firing of the salutes.  I think that General Barrow would have loved the contrast.

After the ceremony, there were photographs in the parking lot......

Still remembering the earlier gunfire, the kids took some convincing to get close enough for photos.

Here's another Veteran's gravestone..... he served in the late 1800's.

Look at the detail and the lichen growing on it...

Sword, gun, ammunition bag, belt, hat on top etc....

The top part of the fallen tree has the text of his letter of commendation from the War Department.

And finally a veteran's gravestone, that's more personal....

I brought along some flowers from the garden to put on Daddy/Grandaddy and Mama/Grandma's grave for Veterans Day..... (and yes to those of you with eagle eyes, I still haven't had the date put under Grandma's name)

Though my father rarely spoke of the details of his military service as a pilot in WWII, we all knew how important it was to him.  This is one of the last photos that I have of him where he wasn't so frail that it is hard for me to look back at them.  

This was taken on Christmas Day the year before he died.  He was nauseous and tired but still managed to put on a a coat and tie and come spend the day with us.  Though he normally wouldn't have worn a ball cap indoors, he proudly wore his Fly Navy hat to keep his head warm because of the chemo.

Thanks for serving, Daddy. ..... We all miss you.