Sunday, June 24, 2018

HOUSTON! Big H, The City

 Yesterday was such a wonderful day!  It included especially good company, adventuring (hey! driving to and from the wilds of downtown Houston is an adventure), beautiful music, talented and amazing athletes, a tragic story, and good food.  What more could you ask for.

My friend Catherine received two tickets for the Houston Ballet’s “Swan Lake”.  Did I want to go?  Yes!  Beyond a Doubt!  Absolutely!  You Betcha!  Yep, Yep, Yep!  Would I mind driving?  No Problem!  Okay Dokay!  I will be Happy to!  Yep, Yep, Yep!

So, I picked her up a little after noon yesterday and we, with Siri navigating, headed for the wilds of Big H.  You know, people in the city are totally crazy drivers.  You forget what driving in the city is like – at least I do.  It’s Demented (crazy; insane; mad).  Plus, the “powers-that-be” have changed up all the freeways since I lived there, so getting to Jones Hall was interesting.  Equally interesting was figuring out the where’s of the parking.  Wasn’t too bad – only took three trips around the various blocks. 

Once parked, it was a bit of a hike to get to the ‘up’ stairs to street level.  I did write down the location of the car or gods know, I’d probably still be looking for it!

We went in, found our seats and ……. lo and behold, people were sitting in them.  After a moment or two of discussion Catherine discovered we were there on the wrong day – tickets were for Sunday.  Well poop!

Back to the ticket booth.  Explanations.  No problem.  New tickets.  Good seats!  Great.

Now, in case you don’t know ….

"Swan Lake", written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875, is a love story that mixes magic, tragedy, and romance into four acts. It features Prince Siegfried and a lovely swan princess named Odette. Under the spell of a sorcerer, Odette spends her days as a swan swimming on a lake of tears and her nights in her beautiful human form.  The couple quickly falls in love. But, things are not easy and the sorcerer, Von Rothbart, has more tricks to play. He brings Odile, his daughter, into the picture. Confusion, betrayal, forgiveness, and a tragic ending are capped with Siegfried and Odette jumping into the lake and drowning.  Von Rothbart’s spell is broken and the remaining swans turn back into humans. They quickly drive the sorcerer and Odile into the water where they too drown.

OK, so all I can tell you is that everything was beautiful – the music, the costumes, the stage sets.  The dancers were amazing.  Honestly, those young people have muscles in places where I don’t even have places, much less muscles.  Von Rothbart does this beautiful, amazing (yes, I know, using this word a lot but ...), perfect swan dive into the void from a platform that appears to be some 6 feet up.  Odette does many perfect pirouettes.  The Prince did stunning leaps and carried Odette/Odile around like she weighed only ounces.  The whole thing was very good.  

Then, of course, came the big challenge.  We had to (1) get out of Jones Hall (us plus 3 or 4 hundred thousand other people – well that might be a slight exaggeration); (2) find the car park; (3) go down into the bowels of said car park (us plus those same 3 or 4 hundred thousand other people); and (4) actually find the car.  That accomplished, we had to drive back into the light and air.  That took, oh maybe, an hour – perhaps 2 hours of sitting and waiting for someone to move somewhere (I don’t much like sitting under ground with a building on top of me).  Then, we had to figure out where we were in the light and air (turn on Siri again) and head for points south and west. 

Once we reached Rosenberg, we stopped for dinner, which was very good.  Again, excellent company made it even better.  And then, I headed for home.

Take care.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Driving and Stopping and Shopping

 So, first of all – I really don’t like to shop for clothes.  It’s just no fun.  You have to hunt through racks, guess at sizes, haul things into the changing room. 

And, I am always amazed that women, at least, ever buy anything they’ve tried on.  The changing rooms are small, often filled with the clothes others have discarded, and have terrible lighting.  Honestly, the lighting reflects your every bump, bulge, and wrinkle.  I usually take one look and run screaming out.

Then, if you need a larger/smaller size, you have to get dressed again, carry your stuff out, find a different size (if you’re lucky) and do it all again. 
FUN Shopping!
Not so much
I don’t mind walking through antique stores, curio shops, herb shops, tea shops, local artist shops, even the occasional tourist shop.  Clothes?  No, not so much.

I got up this morning with the thought that I had to drive to Rosenberg and go to the Brazos Town Center – the closest version of a mall we have available without going into the city.  The stores are all standalone buildings – not connected or under a single roof.  Plus half of them are on one side of Hwy 59; the rest on the other side.  Oh, and is there some sort of connecting driveway or walkway?  Oh.  Hell.  No.  And, with 59 so completely torn up, it is a royal pain in the patootie to get from one side to the other. 

Now, this is going to sound like a non sequitur, but it’ll come together, I promise.  When my daughter was here visiting, she asked me how long it would take her to get from my house in Wharton to Houston Hobby Airport.  Honestly, only the gods know.  Hwy 59 is a screaming bloody mess (some idiot decided we need a new highway in the middle of this perfectly good existing one).  Could take her 2 hours, could take much longer.  I always tell her – assume the worst; leave early.

Off I went to Rosenberg.  It’s not far – 30-odd miles to the shopping center – normally takes me 30 minutes.  And, about 10 miles into the drive, the traffic stopped.  Stopped completely.  Not moving even a little.  Turn off the car stopped.    And stayed stopped for 45 (FORTY-FIVE) minutes. 

This is why I tell people to assume the worst about Hwy 59. 

Of course, there was the odd or three drivers that decided to “get off anyway possible”.  I watched a couple of autos/trucks make 10-point turns, drive along the grassy esplanade (no shoulder here) that is saturated with water from 5 days of rain and drive the wrong way to the next exit.  Of course, I have no idea how those dolts thought they’d get to the exit itself, as it was on the other side of bumper to bumper stopped with no place to go traffic. 

Idiots, fools, morons, twits, cretins, dimwits …...

When the traffic did finally start moving again – 45 minutes later – the only thing I ultimately saw was (1) an 18-wheeler pulled onto the grass, (2) an unsquashed SUV also on the side of the road, and (3) about 80-dozen police cars, all lights flashing.  Oh well, I console myself – it would have been worst.  Last month an 18-wheeler tumped over and lay on its side blocking 59 for 3 days.  That was interesting.  Anyway, on I went to the dreaded department store.

I was looking for a dress to wear to the ballet tomorrow.  Not so hard.  Right?  Argh!

OK – I just have to ask.  Do you think designers purposely come up with supremely unattractive clothes that only look moderately decent on manikins, models, and a very few young women?  Or is it just the universe laughing at us as we get older.

I had to look at my phone to double check what year this is.  Every dress I saw, honestly, came right out of the 1970’s.  I swear, I wore some of those already.  The biggest difference – today’s dresses are very light weight and full of spandex.  They are also glow in the dark bright and most covered with big flowers.  I left dress-less.

I think I need a glass of wine or three.

Take care.
Sigh, yes, I wore this in the 1970's

Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21 – Summer Solstice, Midsummer Day, Litha, First Day of Summer

This is a day full of summer related things.  Although, I doubt that we here will actually see much of the sun today (it’s still overcast and rainy).  But, just in case you’re not aware, today is more than just the First Day of Summer.  (And aren’t we all wondering if summer starts today, what will August be like since the 90°+ temps started in May.)

Today is also the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year.  The sun has reached its zenith in the sky and from now on, the days will grow shorter, the nights longer. 

It’s also Litha or Midsummer

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

In times past, nearly every agricultural society marked midsummer in some way.  Bonfires were lit on tops of hills, by holy wells, and at sacred places to honor the fullness of the Sun.  People danced around the fires and leapt through them.  Special herbs were used to bless the animals.  Coals from the Litha fire were scattered on fields to ensure a good harvest.

“The Sun God has reached the moment of his greatest strength. Seated on his greenwood throne, he is also lord of the forests, and his face is seen peering from countless leafy masks.”

Litha is a time to let go of old patterns and what does not work for you anymore.

So, what fun to do today?  Well, how about making Elderflower Champagne.  Do we have Elder shrubs here?  Why, yes we do.

Elder plant (Sambucus), is an overlooked herb and mostly, it’s considered a weed here.  However, it has medicinal and flavoring qualities that were much prized in times gone past.

Growing an Elder plant is not all that difficult. It can tolerate poor soil or soil that is stays wet.  The thing it cannot tolerate is drought.  So, during the dry spells, you will need to water it frequently and well.  They like full sun.  These shrubs get big – 6-12 feet tall and nearly that wide.  They propagate via suckers that pop up in the yard, so they might be a tiny bit invasive. 

And here’s something to think about, is the wood produced by your elder bush really the same that created the famed Elder Wand in the Harry Potter saga??  I think it is.  So, add wand production to the other uses.

But they do  produce pretty clusters of white flowers from early spring to midsummer.  Then they produce small black berries.

Elderflower has been used in traditional medicine for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.  The most common use was for colds and flu, sinus infections, and other respiratory disturbances.  Elderflower has antibacterial and antiviral properties and was taken in a tea to boost the immune system.  It has been used as a poultice the help reduce pain and swelling. 

The bluish-black fruit are used in wines, juices, and jellies.

You remember ---
“For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.” Arsenic and Old Lace

The berries are quite bitter, so they are rarely eaten by themselves. 

OK - Elderflower Champagne

Pick the flowers in the fullness of a sunny day, ideally on Midsummer's Day (this recipe comes from England – here you should pick them earlier because by midsummer, they are mostly done).  Oh and I’ll leave all the conversions to you.

8 liters water
1.25 kg sugar
8 large elderflower heads
4 lemons
4 tablespoons mild white wine vinegar

Do use screw top bottles - like the large plastic soft drink bottles. This stuff will fizz and if not bottled tightly it can explode!  Make sure the elderflowers are clean - no little wandering insects or bugs.

Boil the water and dissolve the sugar into it.  When the water is cool, add the elderflowers, juice of two of the lemons and slices of the other two, plus the vinegar.  Cover with a clean cloth and leave for a day.  Strain through a fine sieve or piece of muslin, carefully squeezing the flowers to extract as much flavor as possible.  Store in clean screw top bottles.  Leave alone for 10 days or so. Drink within a month. Enjoy and give thanks to the Spirit of Elder.

Blessed Be

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer Reading Program

Our library is having its Adult Summer Reading Program.  It’s a program designed to encourage adults (18 yrs +) to read more.  You can include audio books, digital books and, of course, books made of paper but no cheating by thinking “I’ve seen the movie, the book can’t be different – mark that down as read”.  No, no – you must read (or listen to) the book.  Participants keep a log of the books and at the end of the program, turn in the list.  The library has gone to various local business owners and obtained prizes for a drawing.  The individual book logs get put into a box and names are drawn out to win the prizes. 

Honestly – my first thought was – too bad adults have to be bribed with a prize to read.  Second thought - Wow!  I like to read.  Easy peasy.  This is the first year I’ve signed up.  So, here are a few books for your summer reading program –

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
This is the first of a trilogy about the Arthur Legend.  Originally it came out in 1970.  I read it way back then and the other day while looking for something else, I came across it again.  It’s just as good a read 40 years later.  The Crystal Cave is written from the view of Merlin (Myrddin Emrys).  It opens when he is a very young child in Wales, the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess.  The Romans have recently left Britain, which is now divided into a number of kingdoms, loosely united under a High King.  This first book ends with the birth of Arthur, when Merlin is still a youngish man.   Between the first page and the last, there are mysteries, mayhem, wars, illicit love affairs, miracles, historical events, magic.  It’s good – gets 5 STARS.

Ok, so the next couple of books fit perfectly in the “easy summer read” category.  Still, they are very entertaining and I enjoyed them.

Devil May Care by Elizabeth Peters
Ellie is to house-sit for her eccentric aunt, who lives in one of the oldest towns in Virginia.  The aunt has a large number of cats and dogs, the primary reason for Ellie’s house sitting.  However as soon as her aunt leaves, ghostly manifestations start happening.  Descendants of the towns six founding families quarrel and interfere and generally cause trouble as Ellie and a neighbor, Donald Gold, attempt to figure out just what is going on.  Entertaining – yes.  Stars - hmmm, maybe 3.7.

 The Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters
In an English manor house, modern admirers of King Richard III (one of Shakespeare's big bad villains) are gathered for a weekend of make believe and discussion.  Thomas (a Ricardian) invites his friend Jacqueline Kirby to the house party where he and other Ricardians dress like historical figures of the time.  However, all does not go as planned when a prankster starts recreating the murders of Richard III. Although no one is seriously injured, Jacqueline is convinced the accidents are leading up to an actual killing.  One of the fun things about this book is that the “Sherlock Homes” sleuth is a woman and the "Watson" is a man.  Very entertaining.  Easy read.  Stars – 4. 

Working for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher
First of all – I like the Harry Dresden books – all of them.  They have everything I like – magic, wizards, vampires, trolls, ghouls, lions, tigers and bears!  That said, Working for Bigfoot is comprised of 3 novellas, about three different cases Harry does for Strength of a River in His Shoulders, one of the legendary forest people, a Bigfoot.  Good, good, good.  Entertaining – yes lots!  Stars – at least 5.

Now, these last two are the kind of books I generally like – witches, fae, magic, good/bad guys and so forth.  However, they do fit into the Romance category which is not normally my choice of book.

Moonshadow by Thea Harrison
There are two protagonists in this book.  LAPD consulting witch Sophie Ross and Nickolas Sevigny, a Daoine Sidhe (Knight of the Dark Court).  Sophie has been tasked with a challenge to enter a magically sealed house in England.  After arriving, she quickly becomes involved in an ancient war between the sidhe Dark and Light Courts.  And, things proceed from there.  Sophie and Nickolas are totally opposite and continually at odd with one another.  Nickolas was born in the time of long ago kings while Sophie is a modern woman.  It’s ok – although way more “romancey” than I usually like but the story is entertaining.  I’d give it 3 stars.

Then the second book in this series continues the story about the Dark Court vs the Light Court although the characters are mostly different.  Morgan was introduced in book one.  Book two is his story.

Spellbinder by Thea Harrison
 The story is about kidnapped Sidonie Martel, an extraordinary musician but a total human without any magical ability and Morgan Le Fae, a powerful sorcerer and enslaved captive of Isabeau of the Light Court.  Honestly, I didn’t enjoy this one much at all.  It went right off the skids into hot sex without a saving story line.  I rather doubt I’d read a third one if it comes along.  Stars - one droopy star.

I am currently listening to Dune by Frank Herbert.  Yes, I read it back in the late 1960’s when it first came out but much time has passed since then.  Yep, yep – good, good, good.  After that – I have a stack of 5 more books (visiting Amazon is dangerous!) to read. 

Take care

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Travelogue: ‘Galveston

… oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin'

While my daughter was here, we decided to make the drive to Galveston.  My children are all very much in tune with the Gulf and with Galveston in particular, I think.  Me too – I still miss it every day.

So, just in case you don’t know:

Galveston Island is one of a string of sand-barrier islands along the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.  The island is about two miles off-shore, twenty-seven miles long and less than three miles wide.  (Put this into your useless information for a star-studded cocktail party file.)

No, there are no white sand, blue water beaches.  That’s because (1) our sand is brown and (2) there are many rivers that flow into the Gulf carrying sediment.  Because of the geographic location of the Gulf and the rotation of the Earth, the silt sort of swirls around west and south before swirling out to the Caribbean or settling to the gulf floor.  On calm days, the water is fairly clear and green.  On stormy days – not so much.

We decided to drive over, have some good seafood, walk around Strand for a while, visit Seawall and generally absorb the air (feels softer, smells briny) and listen to all the seabirds sounds (I miss that sound – silly, but I do).

OK – there are several ways to get to Galveston from Wharton.  You can take Hwy 59 (the 59 that’s under construction for 30 of the 50 miles – aaarrrggghhhhh) to Houston, then Loop 610 to Hwy 45 south.  I figure that will take anywhere from 2-87 hours of white knuckle driving depending on traffic.  Or you can go the back way which takes you through several small towns and is mostly county roads.  That’s the way we went.  It’s not a bad drive.

Lunch – Pier 21 on Harborside.  Great place, good food, good service, easy parking.  And, you can sit on the patio to enjoy interesting views.

We walked across the street to Strand and wandered up and down looking at and going in the various shops.  We both have certain places that are on the “I have to go in here” list.  


The Christmas Store

Hendley Market
I can find 80 dozen things I need in there!

This is new - 
The Spice and Tea Exchange
I need one of these closer to me!

La King’s Confectionery

Then we drove down to Seawall. 

 Just a quickDid you know?

Built in 1902, the Seawall is about 10 miles long, 17 feet high and 16 feet thick.  Materials used in constructing the original seawall included 5.200 railway carloads of crushed granite; 1,800 carloads of sand; 1,000 carloads of cement; 1,200 carloads of round wooden pilings; 4,000 carloads of wooden sheet pilings; 3,700 carloads of stone riprap; and 5 carloads of reinforcing steel.  Pretty stout wall.

In 1903, concurrent with construction of the seawall, the city of Galveston was also raised 17 feet.  In addition to all the utilities, about 2000 buildings/homes were raised on hand-turned jackscrews.

Then we drove home.

It was a very nice day.

Take care
Home again, home

Monday, June 18, 2018

a gathering, event, or show having a specified focus

I know, I know – I’ve been off-line for a few days.  My oldest daughter was here visiting from New Mexico and I spent all my time with her.  Plus I have a couple of new books ………..

So, what exciting has been happening?  HA!  I live in Wharton, you know.  We don’t have much “exciting” here.  However, this past Thursday, I did attend an interesting ‘fest’.

Every year, the Wharton Garden Club, (of which I am a long-time member) has an annual Tomato Fest.  It is the last meeting of the year and always in June.  All members are invited to participate by bringing a selection of homegrown tomatoes in an effort of discover the Best Tasting Tomato and the Biggest Tomato in Wharton County. 

Our master of ceremonies is another long-time member and he shares a few interesting and little-known tomato facts ---

A tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable.  It’s a fruit because it has seeds inside.  And, yes, that makes cucumbers, squash, green beans and pumpkins fruits also.  Weird but true.

Tomatoes are not only red – they are also pink, orange, yellow, white, green and purple.

Then, he warms up the crowd with some tomato jokes ---

Q: What did the papa tomato say to the baby tomato?
A: “Hurry and ketchup!”

Q: Why did the tomato go out with a prune?
A: Because he couldn’t find a date.

And, lastly, he lays out the rules and parameters of the tasting ---

This is a blind taste test.  Those participating in the tasting go around the table, eat one of the cut pieces and then rate it from one to 10.  One is the very worst tomato you’ve ever had (tastes like paper) and 10 is the very best (mmm mmm good).  The plates of cut up tomatoes are not identified by name or grower.  No cheating here.

After everyone is full of tomatoes, he goes around and adds up the scores for each tomato, averages them and ultimately determines to best tasting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place tomatoes.  This year the winners were all named Bob.  Obviously, as one winner said, if you want to win, you need to be named “Bob”.  And, in case you want to know what to plant for next year --- Sweet Chelsea won first, Black Cherry got second and Sugary Cherry, third.

Sweet Chelsea

Next comes the great weigh-off.  While there were several entered in the Biggest contest, there were only three real contenders

 Amana Orange

German Queen

And the winner

 Big Zac
At a hefty 1 lb 15 oz

As with most of the meetings, people brought food and they brought tomato themed food.  Like

 Fried Green Tomatoes

Tomato Pie

Tomato Bruschetta

It was a very enjoyable morning!

Take care