Merry Christmas from Kerrville, here at the crack of dawn. In fact, dawn hasn’t even cracked yet, but I finally gave up trying to sleep in that spring-laden torture chamber of a bed and dragged myself down to the lobby to get some hot water and a cup of tea at about 5 a.m. I honestly thought it was 6 a.m. when I gave up and got up.
A gnome-like person of unknown gender and country of origin was flitting around from one place to another in the mis-labeled “breakfast room.” He or she was kind enough to toddle off and find me some water. I heated it up to lava temperature in the microwave, so hopefully it killed anything that might be living in it.
We spent the night here on our way down to the Gulf Coast. We’re going straight through southeast Texas at high speed (one hopes), then southern Louisiana, and staying in Biloxi, Mississippi for a couple nights.
We had planned to go over into Pensacola on Saturday, but it looks like it’s going to be raining. But, then, that’s one of the good things about not actually making plans too far ahead of time. We’ll go where we choose after tomorrow, and decide on the fly. Right now the only plan, per se, is to be back home at the ranch by New Year’s Eve. Both of us are actually off on January 1, as well, so we’ll just have to see.
This is the first time either of us have seen that part of the Gulf Coast–or as it’s better known in these parts, the Redneck Riviera. Corey’s been as far as Lake Charles, and I’ve been to New Orleans once–and we may well stop by there on the way back. Don’t know yet.
Hope your Christmas, however you choose to spend it, is wonderful. We are spending it in the way we love best–on the road, in each other’s company.
OK, I was wrong, I can write both places. :0) Early on a Saturday morning, I am counting up the things that make me blissful… blessings, if you will:
Just heard from son John yesterday that his next assignment is going to be to Malmstrom AFB, Montana–only a few hours from my best friend, Barb, who lives in Columbia Falls. John has been at Ramstein AFB, Germany, with a short six-month deployment to Kuwait, since 2012. We haven’t seen him since we put him on the plane for basic training two years ago. Barb’s son Ray is also stationed at Malmstrom with his wife and two kids, and oddly enough was also stationed at Ramstein, but he and Johnny have yet to meet. Barb will be making sure to check in on our baby boy, though he may not know that yet.
Daughter/soldier Kelsey’s leg surgery went well, which I can tell because she is posting pictures on Facebook of the stitched-up incision with commentary and exclamation points. This makes me very happy.
John AND Kelsey, along with favorite grandchild, one Mr. Tyler James, will be home for Thanksgiving, if the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise. Also planning to be there right now are our whole extended Texas family, Corey’s brother Patrick, wife Bobbi (my sister from another mister), daughter Savannah with grandchild Olivia, whom we have yet to meet, and daughter Sara, and they’re all coming from Kingsville. Meeting them at the ranch for Thanksgiving will be their soldier/daughter, our niece Hailé Hannon, who’s driving in from Fort Huachuca, Arizona. You can see all of us in the picture here, taken in 2011. John and Kels are at far left and far right respectively, and Tyler was, at that time, Kelsey’s baby bump. The back row left to right is Patrick, Hailé, and Sara, with her arm around Kels. Savannah and I are in the center, and Corey and Bobbi are up front. Can’t wait to see ’em!
More on the “me” side than the “us” side, I had an amazing first week at my new job as managing editor of the Alpine Avalanche. All the training and mentorship from my old boss, Hank Hargrave, who now owns and publishes The Normangee Star in central Texas, came back with a rush. Absolutely love my new boss who, unfortunately, is interim publisher–when they hire a new publisher, she will go back to headquarters and her real life, and that will be a sad day for us–she and I make a great management team, and the new publisher will have some big shoes to fill. She’s already been here 11 weeks, with at least a few more to go, and I know she’s ready to go home.
Last, but certainly not least, I get to see my gorgeous husband today for the first time in a week. It’s an interesting arrangement….I think everyone but me knew that I was going to have to get a job and get off the ranch more. But, if you had told me a year ago that I’d be living two hours away from my husband and only seeing him on weekends, I’d have asked you what you were smoking. Oddly enough, though, I think it just might work. He and I, we’re working people. It’s who we are, more than what we do. And with us apart during the week, we can fully commit to working our jobs, not worry if I’m getting up early and not seeing him in the morning, or he’s working late and not seeing me until 7 or 8 at night. Don’t get me wrong… I miss him a lot. But there are benefits to living apart–I kept my eating under control this week, 1300 calories or less a day, every day this week. (living with a foodie has its hazards.) I went after work and ran laps around the park three different days. I went out to one of the Viva Big Bend festival venues last night and took pictures without worrying about whether Corey was missing me… It’s like having all the benefits of being single and career-focused, but you’ve got a permanent date every weekend and somebody to kiss on New Year’s Eve.
The gentleman whose dulcet snores are brightening his little corner of the motel room where I am tippy-tapping on the keys turns 45 today, and tomorrow is the first day of summer. We are in a Days Inn in Paris, Texas, nearly to the Red River up in the northeast. In about five hours, a realtor will meet us here to whisk us off to see a couple of houses. She may be a teensy bit dismayed at our choices, as her commission on them will be, well miniscule at best… but she appears enthusiastic enough over email. Or at least I choose to believe so.
It is 4 a.m. going on 5, and I am sitting here sucking down my second cup of hot tea and trying to hack, sneeze and whine as quietly as possible. Don’t know whether it’s a summer cold or allergies, and not sure which to hope for, honestly, but since the treatment is effectively the same, it’s kind of a moot point for me. Not for everyone else, of course, but can’t help that. And OF COURSE it starts on the very first day of our first real time together in six months. Whatever it is, hope it’s over quick. The feeling is much like having your face nibbled off by ducks out for vengeance for that “ugly duckling” crack. So, here I sit, wrapped in the inside-out bedspread, and hoping no other denizen of the motel has sat on it with their nekkid butt of late–but at this point, it feels like it would just be more exercise for my battered immune system anyway. Cooties! Squirrel!
Anyway… we drove up to my sister’s in Princeton yesterday, dropped off a few things, then up here. Drove through a couple small towns on the way, and they all have places for sale that look appealing. Trying NOT to fall in love just yet – we have a lot of ground to cover, and starting with this morning’s appointments, I’ll be taking pictures… If my beloved children read this, you might want to take note, chickens, as mommy and daddy are about to spend your fairly laughable inheritance, hopefully to enhance their declining years. 😀 Back to bed.
Did you know that sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing? Oddly enough, I did. Never actually cooked a yam, but I love sweet potatoes, and seriously, there are things made from sweet potatoes that should be banned in every state. The worst offender is the candied sweet potatoes (often mistakenly called “candied yams,”) that so many people serve at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. Throwing mini-marshmallows on top of canned and chunked sweet potatoes that have added brown sugar compounds the sticky sweetness in every layer. It’s also texturally challenging, the final straw for me. Not sure why, but it always felt like eating a boneless finger. Ish.
The absolute best way to cook a sweet potato is to wash it and put it on the top rack of a gas grill with the cover closed. Leave it there about 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to grill your meat or other vegetables. Smaller ones will cook faster, bigger ones need more time. When it’s done, you can wrap it in foil to keep it hot while everything else gets cooked. To eat, cut a slit in the peel, or completely remove the peel and add butter and salt to the bright orange flesh, to taste. That’s all. Nothing else.
Please raise your right hand and solemnly swear to never candy a sweet potato again. Ever. Under pain of having to eat the buggerty things. Yuck.
If it’s too blustery or rainy to grill, you can also add sweet potatoes to your white potatoes to make mashed. Peel both kinds, and cut into cubes that are one or two inches on a side. Add them to a pot of boiling water. Turn down to a simmer, cook until a fork goes into a chunk of white potato very easily. Drain the water off the potatoes, then add a little milk, a lot of parmesan cheese, butter, salt, pepper and anything else that you like in your mashed potatoes. Gives mashed potatoes an amazing richness, depth of flavor, and slight sweetness. Very yummy.
I honestly did not start this blog to be a recipe fest–this is just where my mind has been of late.
My layoff in October from my high-pressure, high-stakes job came with a severance pay that enabled us to be finally debt-free. Yesterday, we received the title to the truck, our last debt finally paid. It’s quite an accomplishment. Both of us have lived with debt our entire adult lives. This job of his, coming with a house, all expenses paid, and a company truck, now gives me the time and the space to decide what’s next for me, with zero pressure to do so. I don’t even know how to act without debt AND without a job.
I’ve found that, for me, the highest purpose of my days has been the care and feeding of my entirely amazing husband. After a 12- hour day yesterday, he is also working today, Saturday. Watched him drive off an hour ago, hauling a bulldozer on a flatbed semi-trailer through these single-lane dirt roads, with precipices galore. He’s headed to a site about 30 miles south of the house (and still on the ranch we live on, which always boggles me). Nothing worthwhile is ever easy–but he loves his job, not least because he has great respect for his boss. It’s something we both have found to be quite rare.
As for me, when I’m not baking bread, sewing, cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry, I’m writing, as you can tell by this blog. I am also working out, and losing weight (six pounds in the last three weeks) and thinking a lot while I’m getting sweaty.
Did you know that the flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine is kept in a church in Rome? Yeah, me neither, and it’s kinda urpy, to say the least.
Which is kind of how most men feel about this day. According to most men I have ever met, it’s a totally-useless, invented-by-merchants, not-even-a-holiday day. Sorry, I appear to be channeling Dr. Seuss this morning.
And, I just deleted three paragraphs on giving/not giving, because they weren’t funny. You’re welcome. What was funny was a friend’s post to Facebook yesterday of a picture of a soaped-up, miserable dachshund in the bathtub, with the caption “February 13 is National Wash Your Wiener day!” Makes perfect sense. And a hell of a lot funnier than the unmourned paragraphs that now float around in the ether, or ethernet, as the case may be…
I did, of course, get Corey a gift for Valentine’s Day, witness the mustachioed bear in a cup also adorned with a mustache. It’s kind of funny, since he’s got a mustache at the moment. Not terribly funny. And, to a certain extent, it was only done because I gently tortured him into buying me a gift, so that meant I had to buy him one… which just shows you that the universe has a sense of humor.
‘Cause it does… like the fact that the bear is now sitting next to the coffee pot, so there’s a card, candy, cup and coffee on the counter occupying one square foot of space. If “bear” didn’t start with a “b,” it might possibly create a black hole, thus destroying the earth and life as we know it.
Is it recipe time yet? As you may know, I like baking, but I hate cooking. So last night we had chicken patty sandwiches and Tater Tots®, because I was the one doing the cooking. Honestly, if you need this recipe, you’re in bigger trouble than you know–you need help. Badly. Run!
Recipe for the Reluctant Cook
Frozen chicken patties, one per person (or two if someone’s really hungry and totally undiscriminating)
Frozen Tater Tots® (or shredded, seasoned potatoes that look like nothing else on the face of the Earth), a bunch of ’em. You can count ’em out and put ten of them on the sheet for each person if you want, but you can also give this up as a lost cause, good lord, just go out to dinner!
Cooking spray. *sigh* You’re still reading this, aren’t you. (The cooking spray is that aerosol can that says “Pam” on it, or if the grocery buyer is a penny pincher, it will say “cooking spray.”)
Hamburger buns, one package, or at least one for each person eating.
Instructions: (seriously? You’re not serious, are you? Dang.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (Turn it on, in other words. Then turn the dial to 400 or use the Λ button on a digital oven until it says 400. Press “start” if it’s digital. There is no “start” button on an oven with a dial. Seriously. Stop looking for it.)
Cover a cookie sheet with foil (cookie sheets are the large flat pans that are always under other stuff in your cabinet and make an incredible racket when you pull one out.)
Spray the foil with a light coating of cooking spray.
Place the chicken patties and tater tots on top of the foil, in a single layer, no pile ups.
Open the oven door.
Put the cookie sheet with the patties and tots on it in the oven.
Close the door. No, not the kitchen door, the oven door.
Wait 20 minutes.
Open the oven door.
Get the cookie sheet with the food on it out of the oven (warning, the cookie sheet will be HOT. Use a potholder–the half-inch thick square things that your kid brought home from occupational therapy–kid’s got a bright future.) and set the pan on the stove top.
Poke one of the chicken patties. If it’s soft, then flip it over, and turn everything else over too. Once your fingers start to get burnt, go find a spatula, and use that to turn them over.
Put the whole pan back in the oven.
Wait five minutes. Check again. This time, eat a tater tot. Blow on it first–it won’t actually cool it off, but it makes me feel better. If there is no crunch, just sort of a wet soggy feeling and a texture like tapioca pudding without the pudding, just the tapioca beads, then they’re not done yet. Put the pan back in the oven for another five minutes. Keep doing that until everything’s crunchy, but not burnt.
When everything’s done, call your significant other and/or adult children still living at home, and tell them to make their own sandwiches.
Go sit on the couch until everyone has gotten their stuff, then go make your own sandwich. They left you a couple of tots (should have counted) and a chicken patty that is the exact texture of a hockey puck, but thinner.
OK, how many of you readers saw the cook as a man? Look again… no gender noted. 🙂
Well, we had to get help to move it in, but the hall tree I mentioned in post 35 – Christmas Eve, was finished up this weekend. And, like all my designs, this one changed in the making. Shown here are the original design and Corey sitting on the finished piece.
He did an amazing job of taking my design as a starting place, as he always does. As you can see by the picture, the back boards now run the entire length of the piece (one reason it is so heavy, but well worth it). The side tables changed from two levels to one, and the bracing board that runs the length of the front was trimmed by adding a 1×6 board on top, and then matched on the ends to bring it all together. It is built of white pine, and we stained it in walnut.
It makes us both feel as if we accomplished something over this holiday – and now, I get to take some of the old doors that they removed from the house and see if I can repurpose them into something–possibly a headboard, possibly an entertainment center if there’s enough, we’ll see. That one will be designing around the materials, rather than the other way around.
One of my favorite parts of these things is, honestly, building it together. We consult on each piece, on each change, and come up with the best possible way to make it work and make it look like we wanted to. Oh, and by the way, stopped in the local furniture seller to see if they had anything comparable. They did have a hall tree–it was lovely, storage in the seat, but no place to put the stuff you always have in your pockets. It was also maybe half this size in width. It was $1,298. All the lumber and hardware to build this and the closet organizer that we built Christmas Eve was $235. We figured $65 of that went into the organizer, leaving this at about $170. The cost was about 13% of the smaller one that was available.
Time swoops, flies, dips, smacks me in the head, darts away, drags, sprints… and all of these at once, it seems. The frame for my days is my husband’s job–that’s how I know what day it is, by knowing what day he’s on. Of course, holidays tend to mess that up, because the day after the holidays feels like Monday, even though it’s Thursday. Until we get past New Year’s Day, I’m never going to know what day it is, or what time it is,for that matter.
I do look at the day and time on my computer. But 15 seconds later, I have to check again.
It’s kind of funny, actually–the only reason I knew the date, or even the time of day, when I was working, was because I was scheduled into six to eight hours of meetings every single day–overscheduling your time was nearly a badge of honor at my prior employer. Double parking in the brick and mortar world becomes double booking in the virtual world, and the ping of the appointment notices from Outlook were punctuation for my day, every day. I used to joke that, unless I saw my funeral in my Outlook, I wouldn’t be there, as I had another meeting scheduled.
And now I find myself out here in a long unfamiliar space–one where I decide what to do and when to do it, not to satisfy a company or a supervisor’s definition of success, but my own. Bluntly, at the moment, I’m lost as a goose. Which is a stupid metaphor, by the way. Geese are, almost by definition, not lost. They know exactly where they are, and what space they consider to be theirs, and they are quick to inform you of that if you forget. Not fond of geese so much.
So, to both fill my time and actually accomplish something, I’ve got a half-dozen projects in progress, from a quilt to building a hall tree (with Corey’s help), and this, that and some other things that need doing, and I’m making fresh bread, and otherwise keeping myself occupied. Something is staying my hand on job hunting until after the year turns over. Perhaps because I know that job hunting, done correctly, is a full-time proposition in and of itself. Also started discussing app development with my old business partner, and doing a little desultory research on that, as well.
Perhaps my reluctance to dive fully into anything is just that overriding sense that it’s the holidays, knowing no one else is in the mood to accomplish anything… kinda like wading through Jell-O to get myself going on anything. It’s not the galloping never-get-overs, just…hesitation. On pause. Waiting for Godot. Or Guh-don’t. Or, perhaps, Git-over-it and it’s evil twin, Git-r-done. 🙂