Wednesday, March 31, 2010

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 42.02°N and Longitude 91.6°W (Elev. 856 ft)

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 42.02°N and Longitude 91.6°W (Elev. 856 ft)

Yes, it's that season again . . . ALLERGY season, that is!

Handy Manny's Energy Snack

For all the Handy Manny fans out there, check out Handy Manny's Energy Snack.

No Daddies Were Harmed in the Creating of this Post!

Here's what happens when a daddy and a girl are left alone with markers (no worries - they're washable markers and come off easily with soap and water):

Livie wants to pose with her "artwork"!

Monday, March 29, 2010

This is a Good Way to Get a Kid Tired!

With the warm spring weather, get the kids outside and on a trike or a bike! It will help them get hungry for dinner. And it will help them sleep better!! 
She has her panda bear in the back!

The Famous Flying Pig :
Her Abuelita and Nonno got this for her during their latest trip to Buffalo, NY, for one of his recent school reunions.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 42.02°N and Longitude 91.6°W (Elev. 856 ft)

7-Day Forecast for Latitude 42.02°N and Longitude 91.6°W (Elev. 856 ft)

If spring and summer could stay like this weather forecast, I would be very happy. And if it MUST get hot out, then I would appreciate the low humidity (something in the low teens or maybe even single digits) of southern New Mexico, El Paso, or Tucson!!

The Fabric of Our Lives

Got lots of words swirling around my little gray cells but I lack the inspiration (or motivation) to wrangle them into a good story right now.

Instead, I thought I'd share a few photos of a well-loved friend of mine. I've been thinking about him a lot lately, now that spring has arrived and Cinco de Mayo is a little over a month away (I'll share that story on May 5th).

Scroll down a little and you'll see "Wild Stride," an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) registered Appendix Quarter Horse; his nickname was "Cotton." You'll see why we called ol' blondie "Cotton" when you see his photos.

He came to me on May 5, 2001, and after September 11th, I sent him back to his original owner (due to time constraints of mine while I was on active duty); he left me mid-October 2001.

But those few months he was with me in Tucson, AZ were wonderful. I continued to love him for the rest of his life, and I miss him.

I took these photos mid-May 2001, in Tucson, AZ. 
Here's his "head-shot":

I'm not sure exactly what he's looking at (maybe those other horses over yonder), but whatever he IS looking at sure has his attention - just look at those attentive ears:

Maybe you can see his golden dapples in this photo:

I had grand ideas of showing him in hunters/jumpers. Or maybe dabbling in Eventing. I think he would've been good at that, and the dressage training itself would've been good for him. 

Maybe one day I'll have another Quarter Horse or Appendix Quarter Horse. Once in a while I'll look through the "classifieds" on the AQHA website, just to browse through the horses that are for sale, and daydreaming about another Quarter Horse of my own.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - A Room

It's a very special room that I'm thinking of; it's one of those rooms which is special in so many other houses. But this particular room belonged to my grandparents (my grandmother in particular). It was their kitchen. Now it doesn't matter if I'm talking about the one in their house on Blue Ridge Circle, or the house on Mountain Walk Drive. They are both equally important in my memory.

Their house on Blue Ridge Circle came first. That's the house my grandparents lived in when I was first born.

It's the kitchen where my grandmother bathed me when I was a baby . . . in the kitchen sink.

It's the kitchen where, when I was a young child, I remember eating a hot dog for the first time. And an orange cream-sicle for the first time. And the many bunches of green grapes their neighbor grew in his back yard and shared with us.

I remember eating meals in that kitchen with my grandparents, with the Asian-inspired serving bowls, the scents of delicious meals filling the air. I remember how my grandfather would occasionally read the paper at the table. I once  tried to bring a book to the table (because my grandfather read at the table occasionally, so why couldn't I?); however, my grandmother gave me "that look." My book got put away, and that was that. "The Boss" had spoken without saying a word.

I also remember that on rare occasions, the TV would be on - I distinctly remember that "The Odd Couple" (starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman) was on at the same time we ate our evening meals.

When they moved to the house on Mountain Walk Drive, I remember how warm that kitchen was. I don't mean because it was my grandmother's kitchen and she was so welcoming and was loving her visiting family. It was warm because of the temperature. So often when she was cooking, it would be very warm in there, sometimes uncomfortably warm. She'd be comfortable, and everyone else would be perspiring and trying to open windows or heading to the other room. I guess if you can't stand the heat . . .

I love thinking of that kitchen - the one on Mountain Walk Drive. I remember it well. The kitchen at the Blue Ridge Circle house? While I love my memories from that house, I really only remember "snapshots." The kitchen on Mountain Walk Drive - well, I remember wonderful scenes from life within those four walls. And sensations - scents, sounds, tastes. Emotions.

I remember how good it would smell in the morning, like coffee, pancakes, bacon . . . or coffee, huevos con chorizo, and flour tortillas as they were being warmed. Sometimes they smelled like biscuits and avena (oatmeal) . . . and coffee, of course.

Typically, my grandfather would be up super early every day. If someone walked in after he was at the table drinking his orange juice, he'd simply say, "Good afternoon," with a big smile and a twinkle in his eye, even if it were only 6:30 AM.

I love how the windows overlooked the back yard, the wispy leaves of a tree back there providing shade in the afternoon. Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't remember if one could see the cactus plants on the other side of the fence. They're the flat, paddle type, with the red "fruit" growing on it, and at some point, blossoming into flowers. I think they're called "tuna." Not the fish called "tuna" obviously. I'm almost expecting a wise-crack from my grandfather right about now.

Here's the type of cactus I'm talking about:

I took this tuna photo circa summer 1994. I'd hopped to the other side of the fence to get this photo.

The smell of delicious meals other than breakfast filled that room, too. Sometimes it would be pot roast. Other times it would be homemade tacos (Oma's tacos are the BEST), Spanish rice, her world famous homemade refried beans, or maybe enchiladas and Spanish rice. Sometimes salad. Always bread or tortillas.

I remember occasional evening treats in there. Specifically, she'd usually have Klondike bars or ice cream sandwiches on hand. Sometimes it would be some sort of baked goods. I remember that she liked making lemon meringue pie. But she'd put shaved coconut in the lemon part. Yuck. If she had only left out the coconut, I would've liked it. She was wily, probably wanting that much more for herself. My Oma!

I have another more recent memory that I really love. There was a bejeweled basket on the floor in a corner near the dining room entrance. Inside the basket? A big ol' bag of dried pinto beans. When Olivia was old enough to crawl around, she found that basket and was absolutely fascinated by it. When I think of that kitchen, I love thinking of her immediately crawling or teetering  to that basket and grabbing the bag of beans.

Um, yeah. We put a stop to the biting really quickly! (I think that's Daddy - Mr. Safety Patrol - right behind her, reaching on her right side to retrieve the bag so she wouldn't bite it. Pretty sure she was teething, and the texture of the bag and beans must've been nice on her gums. But that's what her teething toys or popsicles were for, right?)

I miss that kitchen. I am filled with a sense of saudade when thinking that the El Paso era is now over. Oma lives in Iowa now, in my parents' home. And my grandfather passed away in October 2008. So that home on Mountain Walk Drive is no longer occupied by my family. But I will always remember that wonderful kitchen and all the meals my Oma made with love.

Sir Rafa at his place at the kitchen table, circa summer 1994. 

Abuelita and Livie in Oma's kitchen, 25 Jun 2006. This is one of Abuelita's favorite photos. 

Click here for today's other Memory Lane Friday posts:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's painful!

I've been suffering from a bout of writer's block today. Ouch!

The construction across the street very distracting - heavy machinery is LOUD! Plus, it causes my house, my desk, my head to vibrate. Even if I listen to my ipod, I can feel my desk shaking every so often. Besides, today is not the day for me to listen to music while I try to write. I'm even distracted by my classical music. Normally it helps me focus. Nor does my Native American flute music help. I just feel too scatterbrained today and music is just not helping me "recover" from this latest bout writer's block.

I've been looking for a couple photos that I want to scan for tomorrow's "Memory Lane Friday" post. Guess what? I get distracted while flipping through my physical photo albums . . . and the online albums.

Some of these photos make me miss El Paso. As I look through these photos, I feel saudade for my grandparents' home. For the wonderful times I spent in El Paso. And even the not so wonderful times. Like when Livie came down with coxsackie and thrush and wouldn't nurse, wouldn't drink from a bottle, and Oma and I drove in the night, in the pouring rain, to William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Ft. Bliss.

So I sit here daydreaming about El Paso. About how I haven't ever gotten the chance to take Andrew (or Livie for that matter) to Viva! El Paso. About how nice the Ft. Bliss PX is. How I took my grandparents to Mass on base once (for Christmas, I think, when I was stationed in Tucson, and I'd driven to El Paso to celebrate the holiday).

Then I find the photos from Las Vegas in '04, and I want to go back and re-live the fun Andrew and I had while we were there - including our day trip to the Hoover Dam. You know what? They had this snack bar place there (on the NV side, I believe). I remember getting an ice cream cone. Soft serve. Vanilla. Nice and cold on a hot, cloudless October day in the Southwest. I remember going on and on about how good that ice cream was, and that I want to go back to the Hoover Dam, not only for the spectacular views of the Dam itself (and the engineering feat) but for the ice cream, too.

Of course, then I find photos from when Andrew and I were stationed in the greater Boston area. I miss going for seafood on a regular basis. I miss heading to Maine for a long weekend. Or how we were into ballroom dancing for nearly four years. And I miss the Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, MA. And how Livie was born in Concord. I miss Bedford Farms ice cream, Bertucci's in Lexington, MA, that movie theater across the street from Bertucci's, where we saw March of the Penguins in October 2005. Natick, MA, where I had my wedding dress altered before our church wedding in December 2002.

I'm just easily distracted today. And I can't even blame it on the rain. It's sunny, though a little hazy today. Yesterday, I just felt blue, a little sad. It was rainy pretty much all day yesterday. All I could think of was that the weather dictates my moods. That shouldn't be the case! But now that the sun is showing itself, I still feel a little melancholy, like I can't quite shake it off completely, like it's lingering around after yesterday's dreary weather on purpose.

Of course, that's not true. Maybe I'll just go empty the dishwasher, because I think I heard the end-of-cycle beep. Perhaps some mindless chore will help snap me out of my writer's block.

But then again, looks like writing about it for the sake of complaining has helped a little bit, now hasn't it?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Thing of Beauty

Livie's quote for the day:

"The messier the artist, the better the art. I'm a messy artist!" 

Chicken Posole Recipe - Real Simple Recipes

Chicken Posole Recipe | Real Simple Recipes

I just got this "Chicken Posole" recipe sent to my e-mail. I'm going to have to try it one day.

In New Mexico, posole is a stew that is traditionally eaten around Christmas. Oftentimes, it's made with pork. But this chicken recipe looks tasty and worthy of being tried. Hopefully the family will like it, too. Of course, it will probably make me feel saudade for New Mexico, but oh well. If the recipe ends up being yummy, it will be worth feeling a little saudade for it.

Now I'm craving Mexican food, especially tamales. Here's why: typically, tamales are also prepared and eaten around Christmas in Mexican culture, as well as in the Southwest (and probably other parts of the country). So, thinking of posole made me think of traditional Christmas food, and that, of course, made me think of tamales. Mmmmm . . .

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A storm moving in, as seen from our backyard in Alamogordo, NM

All these photos were taken from our back yard in Alamogordo, NM on 11 Jul 2007, around 3 PM. A few minutes later, we had a downpour over our house. We even lost power for about 30 minutes.

Just found these photos and thought I'd share them.

Grandparents are Important!

There is something about the power of grandparents. I've been thinking about my grandparents a lot lately, and when Andrew, Livie, and I visited my grandmother a couple weekends ago, I thought of Jessica and her Nana, Frances. Learn about Nana at Jessica's blog Remembering Frances. And I'm sure that Jessica thinks about the importance of grandparents in a similar manner to the way I feel about them.

(By the way, I think of her as "Jessica's Nana," not necessarily "Frances." While she is not my "Nana" and I have never met her, I will refer to her in this post as "Nana" because she had grandchildren, and earned the title. Just like my own maternal grandmother earned the title "Oma" and I personally like when I've notice other people refer to her as such - like you'd refer to someone as "Senator" or "Doctor" or "Captain" or some other title.)

I love the importance of my grandparents. They've provided that link to the past - with their stories I love learning about their part in history (my grandmother's time in Chicago, their experiences growing up in El Paso, TX, my grandfather's part in the US Army, what it was like in the days of WWII, their experiences during the Great Depression, even what their thoughts were during the 1980 election), family traditions, what certain family members were like at a young age, funny family anecdotes, what I was like when I was very young. I love that they instilled the importance of reading, of education, the importance of family, of a good sense of humor, of common sense (and my grandfather's "some shortcuts are not really shortcuts" - a story for another day).

I love hearing about the fond memories my mother has of her own grandmother. She remembers the time she'd spend in her own grandmother's kitchen, the fun things they did together, how they lived next door to each other for good chunk of my mother's youth. She spent a lot of time over at her grandmother's house (and would occasionally hide over there for one reason or another).

I love how much Livie loves her own maternal grandmother, her "Abuelita," and how Livie is the best thing ever, according to my mom. My mom would lasso the moon and put it in my back yard if Livie asked her to do so. Just like my own grandmother would've done for me if I'd asked back in the days when I was small.

Anyway, I think Jessica's Nana must have sent a smile and a hug my way the weekend I spent with my Oma, because I thought of both Jessica and Nana during my weekend visit with Oma. I think that maybe Nana knows how much I love my grandparents, and wanted to make sure I really appreciate my Oma in the time we have left together.

First, I couldn't stop hugging Oma. I just couldn't stop. At one point, I was thinking about those family members of mine who couldn't hug Oma. I thought of them as I squeezed Oma in a hug.

Then that made me think of Jessica and Nana. Jessica can no longer give Nana a physical hug, but that doesn't mean she's not getting a hug from her grandmother. When I hugged Oma and thought of Jessica and Nana, I was thinking of how much I appreciated that embrace and thought, This is for Jessica from her very own Nana. While she wasn't getting a physical hug from a grandmother, she was getting a virtual one from me and my own grandmother.

I then made a comment on Facebook about giving Oma lots of hugs. Jessica responded with "Grandmother hugs are the best." Yes they are, and that made me especially glad I sent a virtual one to her.

And then I was reminded that Nana and Oma are similar in a very important way: lipstick. To sum up what they think of lipstick - they're not completely dressed, not ready to face the world, until they get that color on their lips.

During that recent weekend with Oma, we took her out for dinner one night and dessert the next night. Both times, she had to get that lipstick reapplied before she was ready to get in the car and on the road.

Then recently, I learned that Nana visited Jessica one night (check out Jessica's blog Little Merry Sunshine for the story).  I agree with Jessica; I'm sure Nana visited her. I think it was a real visit, because I had a similar experience the night my mother's grandmother - my great-grandmother - died. I'd just seen her the day before. The night she died, I "dreamed" that she came to me and said "Tell your mother I'm going home." I woke up thinking I'd actually spoken to her. Alas, it wasn't a physical conversation. But a conversation nevertheless.

So there it is. Grandparents are so important, they never really leave us. Especially if we share our memories of them with others.

Here's an old memory (before my time, obviously) that I'd like to share. Oma and Sir Rafa are dancing at the Enlisted Club, Ft. Bliss, TX:

A Little Eye Candy

Can't get tired of looking at this guy! For those of you who are Hugh Jackman fans:
Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman Pictures

Just a little eye candy before moving on to more important topics. And I hope all my fellow Hugh Jackman fans see this photo. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Yep, spring is here! Can't you tell?!

Mother Nature is fickle and I have the proof. It's the first day of spring; yet here in eastern Iowa, it's currently 33 degrees with a chilly wind chill, and there's snow. This is after a week of sunny days and spring-like temps in the high 50s-low 60s. Yes, the last week of winter felt like spring, and the first day of spring looks like this (it's the view out our front door):

Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa. ;)

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Changing of the Seasons

I just want to give Mother Nature a reminder because it seems like she needs one.

As much as I like winter, and dislike summer's heat and humidity, I have to remind you of something, Mother Nature. It is no longer time to dump snow on us here in east central Iowa. Saturday is supposedly the first day of spring. That means no more dumping snow on us. I know you're planning on it. The weather reports are calling for a 100% chance of snow tonight and a 60% chance tomorrow (according to NOAA).

Besides, we're under enough of a threat of flooding without having more melting snow to look forward to (once the temps remain spring-like).

I like snow. You know that, Mother Nature. I look forward to autumn and winter every year; I start looking forward to my favorite chilly seasons right around the middle of summertime. But I am tired of trying to safely drive in winter weather in a vehicle not equipped for snow and ice.

Like I said, Saturday is supposed to be the first day of spring. It is now time for tornado season. There are a bunch of storm chasers out here in the Midwest, and Oklahoma in particular, that are ready to get their doppler radars up and running alongside their video cameras to chase some fantastic, scary storms.

And I am looking forward to seeing their storm chaser videos on The Weather Channel and maybe one day I'll be one of them. You know, there's nothing like chasing a storm to get your adrenaline going! So let's get with the program, Mother Nature. It's time for spring.

"A long spiral tornado approaches Union City, OK."
Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's a nice idea, isn't it?

Ahhh, how about a trip?! For fun, not business. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Why am I asking?

Well, Livie and I sometimes watch the Travel Channel together in the evenings. One day she and I caught a repeat of one of Samantha Brown's trips to Italy - Positano, to be exact. Livie looks at me and says, "Mommy, let's go to Positano. You, me, and Daddy. I'll sit in the middle. Then we can stay in a hotel with a pool, and we'll stay for 5 days. We can have lots of special adventures."

Hahaha! Okay, kid . . . how about Il San Pietro di Positano? She and Andrew have current passports!

I, on the other hand, have one that just expired within the last month and a half. Oops! I have the renewal paperwork all filled out (it's been sitting on the desk since December), and I just got a pair of passport photos taken. Now I just need to write a check and send it all in.

Of course, once I get my passport renewed, we sure won't be affording any trips to Positano (or anywhere else in Europe) any time soon. But it's a nice idea. Maybe one day we'll get there. I'm sure that we'll get our passports stamped for fun overseas trips (to Vienna to see the Spanish Riding School, to Helsinki for the sights and delicious Finnish chocolate, to Spain for the culture and tapas, to Rome for the history and the sights . . . you get the idea). It won't be anytime soon - definitely off in the future - but we will do it. I know it. 

In the meantime, we'll plan and accomplish plenty of fun adventures a lot closer to home.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Walk in the Park

Yesterday was such a nice spring-like day (after the fog cleared up), that Livie and I ended up going to the park after school; we needed to enjoy the weather and soak up some Vitamin D.

We started off collecting twigs and small sticks. Livie enjoyed throwing them as far as she could into the stream as we stood on a small bridge.

Then we spent time racing each other down the path. I usually let her beat me; if I purposely tied her, she would insist on a do-over. And one time, she was ahead of me as we ran - she stopped suddenly, and it was all I could do to keep from running her over. She laughed at my acrobatics, as I did what I could to avoid running into her.

At one point, we came across a man and his two Pembroke Welsh Corgis. I saw them first, but didn't say anything, just waiting to see if Livie would notice them. She did, crying out, "Corgis!! Corgis!!" and jumping up and down wildly. We asked if we could pet them, and were given permission. Livie was very gentle with them, and the the three of them were just too cute together. Alas, I didn't get a photo of them. But take my word for it, they were cute - two corgis wiggling around licking Livie's hands.

Anyway, here are the photos, my whole purpose in posting today:

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Too Soon to *Have* to Write Another One, but Here it Goes

This is for H.A.T.

Uncle, I wasn't expecting to write another one of these so soon (having written one last year for my grandfather), but here it is - my fondest memories of you. And since I feel like I'm now the official storyteller, the family wordsmith, I think this will be an appropriate way to remember you, with stories I want to share.

In the morning when I'm getting my coffee fix, I will think of you, since I know you enjoy your morning cup of java as much as, if not more than, the next guy. We've even had discussions about coffee, and how perhaps Oma's was good because it was Oma's coffee in Oma's kitchen, but it was not as strong as you and I were accustomed to drinking in our respective homes, or in our offices . . .wherever it was that we drank our cup(s) of joe. Oma's coffee, though, went well with her huevos con chorizo, or even her pecan pancakes. And it went well with the company we kept back in the day on Mountain Walk Drive.

I sent you a coffee mug with a special photo on it - one of you and Baby Olivia while she was still a little thing, a gummy smile on her face before her teeth started coming in. You appreciated it and said it was one of your favorite mugs (if not THE favorite one). I sent it to you because of your coffee habit, and because it was a great photo of a great-uncle and his great-niece.
It is such a great photo of the two of you at Oma's house - it's a good pic to look at - to think of you with big smiles.

I love imagining the story about the "Scare in the Moonlight on Blue Ridge." You know the story. Long ago in El Paso, you and a buddy were hiding in the bushes in the moonlight when my mother got home from her nursing shift at the hospital. You thought you'd startle her and that it would be funny, right? But when she let out a scream, it scared you more than you expected; you'd planned on startling her . . . and then my grandparents came running out, scaring you even more. Not what you expected, was it?! Sure, my grandparents were very upset with you, especially Oma. As a matter of fact, you were not allowed to go back to your buddy's house to spend the night, she was so angry.

Yet, this is one story that makes Oma laugh hysterically - after so many years, she thinks of how you were so scared, your face was pale in the moonlight; while she was mad at you then, the memory of your face in the moonlight has become hysterically funny to her. She laughs so hard recalling this story, it makes me laugh uncontrollably. When I last asked you to retell the story to me yet again, you simply said, "Let's not discuss it anymore," with a sly smile on your face.

I know you said let's not discuss it anymore, but I will tell this story to Livie one day. It's good to keep the family stories going forward.  I know you would agree with me, even though this is one story you want hush-hush. And I will have to tell Marissa, too.

Maybe a day in the future, I'll have Olivia and Marissa with me, and I'll tell them about you, something especially funny. Like the time we were at my parents' house on Casady Drive. You were on the treadmill in the den. I was in there watching TV. You were running, deciding to take off your sweatshirt. But you didn't stop the treadmill. It didn't stop, but your feet MUST have - just for a moment as you took the sweatshirt over your head. Suddenly, whoosh . . . boom! You've been thrown against the back wall. We look at each other. With a sheepish grin, you say "Oops!" and give a laugh.

THAT is funny stuff that can't be made up. I know you think it's funny now. We laughed about it recently. It's stuff for me to remember to tell your great-nieces. Hopefully it will be as funny to them as it was to the two of us.

Speaking of laughing, remember the time when you and I were in El Paso at the same time and we watched an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with Sir Rafa? It was Junior - the one where the Governator's character becomes pregnant and gives birth to a healthy baby. Remember that? Sir Rafa laughed so much, it made the movie that much more fun to watch. Especially when he loved that line the Governator says - something to the effect of "It's my body, my choice." Fun times.

Then there was that time we rented Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos . . . we were expecting to see that classic Brazilian movie in its original form, but little did we know it was dubbed in English. Remember how the voice of Flor didn't match her character? A good flick, but not quite so good in English as in its original Brazilian Portuguese. And then we were worried that Oma would come in - though it is a definite classic from the mid-'70s, it wasn't exactly along the lines of an appropriate "Oma" movie.

We've got so many memories from El Paso, don't we Uncle? Remember the time we were there for Thanksgiving, and Christine was with us, too? We had an awesome, traditional Thanksgiving dinner, complete with Oma's famous stuffing. To complete the whole turkey day experience, you, Christine, and I went to the Thanksgiving Day parade in the rain. Remember that? I know Christine does. She and I talked about it recently, trying to keep these awesome memories fresh.

That same weekend, the three of us headed to Juarez on the Border Jumper Trolley from downtown El Paso. We had fun being "tourists" that day and ate lunch at some Froggy chain restaurant. Christine recently asked me if I remembered the strength of the margaritas, to which I responded, "Oh, you mean the margarita-flavored tequila?" ;)

Again, that was another rainy day in El Paso over that same Thanksgiving weekend. I remember driving back to Oma's house in her little tan car, in the rain, with water rolling down the street. Oma was worried, but glad that I'd driven; she actually trusted my driving.

And since we're remembering a story including tequila, I have to admit: I think "Cin cin, Uncle," when I have a margarita or enjoy a shot of Patron Silver. It's good stuff and I know you enjoyed it.

Or the next time I open a bottle of my New Mexico wine - I'll do a "Cin cin for The Uncle." Andrew and I have already done a few toasts "For the Uncle," so it's already started. And with coffee, too.

So . . . on to more memories: I was looking through my address book the other day and was looking under the Ts. I saw your familiar handwriting, with your name, address, e-mail, and cell info written down. I stopped and smiled, realizing I had something written in your own hand in my possession.

In my cell phone, as I scrolled through the saved phone numbers, I saw the one labeled HAT. That number will never again be in service, but I can't seem to erase it out of my phone.

It'll remind me of you when I scroll through my phone. I will think of more stories when I see those initials.

Like the times we'd discuss Tony Hillerman's books, set in the southwest, our wonderful, beloved, bronze, dusty, turquoise-filled Southwest. And how Joe Leaphorn, the Legendary Lieutenant, didn't believe in coincidences. How there are no such things as coincidence.

I will think of one of the last communications we shared on Facebook. I'd told you I'd picked up Anne Hillerman's book Tony Hillerman's Landscape and how Tony himself had written the intro before he passed away. And you figured I'd already finished zipping through the book, signing off with your usual "UH".

Or the time I sent you an article about Tony, and you said it was a fine piece, and asked if it inspired me to write more? Yes, that's your way of telling me I am the storyteller. I have a lot of stories to tell. I will write them.

I'm just glad that over our final visit together in December, I was able to talk to you about The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. You knew just what I meant, when I felt like I was actually a part of that story, I was IN the story, I was experiencing it firsthand. The tortillas, the huevos con chorizo, the scents, sights, sounds, the feelings. I was enveloped in that story, and it was like home. And you knew just what I meant when I explained how I was swallowed whole by that story. Now that is what a story is supposed to do. What I also feel about all those Hillerman novels I've read and loved . . . like I've met the Legendary Lieutenant, or Jim Chee, the Navajo Tribal Police Officer who is also a shaman-in-training.

And I will think of you when I write my own stories of the Southwest and aim to evoke those same feelings into a new set of readers - that they may feel a part of my stories, as though I'm writing their own personal stories, through their own eyes. I'm sure I'll have stories set in other locations; I have lived in so many other places. But like the state motto says, I was definitely enchanted by "The Land of Enchantment." I will write something about New Mexico, my home for a mere year, and your home for decades, the place that captured me with beautiful landscapes, the way it did for Tony Hillerman so long ago.

The Southwest as a whole, including El Paso, Tucson, Vegas . . . I love it all. I will have to find a way to include it all.The places I love, as well as the family we must remember and keep close.

I will be The Storyteller, Uncle. I will. Not to worry about that. I have lots of words in my little gray cells, and I love using them, lots of them - words, that is. And little gray cells, too.

Ate logou, Tio.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - A Family Vacation

Ahhh, family vacations. I need a little break from serious matters, so I'm going to remember something fun today on Memory Lane Friday.

Vacations can be really memorable in a good, crazy way, or really memorable in a bad, crazy way. And when my siblings and I were younger, my dad somehow always ensured that we'd have some sort of craziness during our family vacations that we'd fondly remember for years to come . . . although at the time, I'm sure it wasn't intentional on his part - somehow when our Dad was involved, things were just sort of nutty on their own.

The family vacation I best remember revolves around crazy food choices on a ski trip to Park City, UT. Now, I may be rolling a couple different ski trips into one memory (as it's been a LONG time since we've skied as a family in UT, or anywhere for that matter). But then again, it may have been many parts to just one crazy vacation.

Now I don't remember exactly how old I was. I must've been in high school at the time. And I'm thinking this trip was over Christmas break, because I distinctly remember being in Utah over/around the New Year's holiday.

So we'd get up early and get ready for a fun-filled day of skiing. But of course we'd need to eat breakfast first. I remember going to one restaurant or another near the hotel - some place like Burger King or McDonald's that offered breakfast, where we could get in and get out quickly. My mother wasn't exactly impressed with the nutritional value of our morning meals, but we were on vacation.

Well, one day, while trying to save time or maybe we were running late, my dad decided to handle breakfast on his own in the hotel room. Guess what he served us?! A carton of vanilla ice cream, a bag of M&Ms (which he said would make a perfect topping for the ice cream), and a big bag of red Twizzlers. Hahaha! Breakfast of champions, right?

Then off to the slopes, where we'd work up an appetite (because, while tasty, our breakfast wasn't exactly the best fuel for a morning of physical activity).

So, instead of waiting for a table at a mountainside restaurant of my mom's choice, what did my dad decide to do? He took us to the cookie place - the store with nothing but cookies and milk. He took us all in there, let us pick out the cookies we wanted, and got us each a milk (calcium, protein, and vitamins, right?!) to wash it all down. Oh boy, was my mom irritated, but she went along with it!

Then off for more skiing, where I ended up getting paired with my mom for adventures, my dad and brothers heading off together as a pack. I have a story about skiing with my mom, but I will save that for another day.

After our day of skiing was over, we headed back to the hotel to wash up and change for dinner. My mom wanted to go to some fancy restaurant. While I didn't mind going somewhere nice, my siblings and I were VERY hungry, and we just weren't in the mood to go somewhere and wait for fancy food in fancy settings.

So my dad made a decision and chose a restaurant - a Mexican place in the area called the Irish Camel. What a name for a Mexican restaurant, right?! I don't remember much about the food, and I don't remember much about the experience. But I do remember that the name of the place was so unique, and didn't match the type of food they served.

It's been years now since that trip back in the mid-'80s, but when we laugh about my dad's food choices, he always says that we never remember the fancy places my mom took us to, but vividly remember all the wacky places HE chose!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Passing of the Torch

I get the feeling like I was passed the "Storyteller" torch from my Uncle, whose life was untimely cut short this past Sunday.

While I know I have a lot to write, and have so many ideas swirling around among my little gray cells, I will be taking a brief "storytelling hiatus" while I grapple with grief and regain composure.

Until I come back within the next couple weeks, I will leave a quote by one of my very favorite authors (an author my uncle also appreciated): "From where we stand the rain seems random. If we could stand somewhere else, we would see the order in it. "-Tony Hillerman

Let's see if time, and thus a change in (mental) location will help me see some order in what now seems to be random chaos. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Not Exactly Quixote's La Mancha

This past Friday, Andrew, Livie, and I went on a little long-weekend road trip to Bloomington, MN. It's early March so the drive through the farmland of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota looked absolutely barren; the muddy landscape was covered in melting snow, and once frozen lakes and ponds were becoming less icy and more slushy. On our drive north, it was hazy, but the sun was doing its best to shine. On the way back, however, it was overcast and dreary.

On our way there, we passed these huge windmills (I guess "three-bladed wind turbine" is the proper term), part of some wind farms out here in this area. These things were HUGE. (I'd wanted to take photos, but alas, my camera was stuck in a bag in the back of the 4Runner). Livie was amazed - for a little while - and then went back to her DVD.

Meanwhile, I thought of the obvious - Don Quixote - which led me to thinking of  Manchega cheese (from Spain's La Mancha region, of course, and very tasty paired juicy, ripe pears), and wondering if it were a lot warmer and less muddy in Spain right now than it is here in the midwest. 

And of course, I thought of Man of La Mancha starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, and the famous "The Impossible Dream." I had this song stuck in my head for a good part of that drive.

I actually enjoy that movie. Did you know that the first time I saw it was in high school in my Spanish 3 class?! During class for two (maybe three) days in a row, we did nothing but watch this movie. It was a fun change of pace. Okay, so we weren't practicing our Spanish-speaking skills, but we were, in fact, watching a musical adaptation of a wonderful piece of Spanish literature.

And now that I'm thinking of it, I should put it on my Netflix queue, since I haven't seen it for a while.

During that drive, I also thought of my grandparents and a road trip we went on long ago from Des Moines, IA, to El Paso, TX. I think it was "The Impossible Dream" that reminded me of my grandfather, and thinking of him led me to thinking of our long car trip to El Paso all those years ago.

That song always makes me think of him - the honorable, proud American who always had a lofty goal and did what he could to reach it, permanently unafraid, and always confident that doing the right thing was the only way to go.

Anyway, at around this point, Livie's movie was over, and I was snapped back into the present when she asked for another movie.

On the way home, however, I made sure to have my camera next to me, in case I had the chance to take some photos of the wind turbines. We didn't stop, but I did take some photos through the window as the 4Runner sped along.




If we ever head back to Bloomington again, I may pull over onto an exit and take a couple photos other than through the moving car's window. 

Sometime after snapping these photos yesterday, I saw another interesting sight - at least *I* thought it was interesting - it had captured my attention enough to make me want to stop. If we'd been hungry, and if it had been closer to lunch-time rather than late in the afternoon, I may have convinced Andrew to stop for a bite. It was a sign for a restaurant in Waverly, IA called The Fainting Goat. I'd never heard of it before, and the name was so fun, I made a mental note to check it out when we got home. Here's the link for The Fainting Goat. Looks kinda fun, huh? Maybe next time . . . if we ever take this route again.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Starlight Turf War

Traveling with a child can be a lot of fun. A lot of work, but worth it when you see that your kid is having fun at the pool, on various new adventures, at fun restaurants.

But if you're traveling with a 4-year-old and only have one bed, even if it IS a king bed, be prepared to NOT sleep very well.

While said 4-year-old is excited to get the whole middle part of the bed to herself, once asleep, that middle part no longer exists, and the entire bed becomes hers.

All night long, I am kicked like a soccer ball. At one point, I hear whining and whimpering only to find out that my pillow is no longer my own - somebody wants hers AND mine.

Later, it's on to the infamous "H" formation - Daddy and Mommy are parallel to each other, and 4-year-old is the middle, horizontal part.

All night long, it doesn't matter how I shift, how I toss and turn. Somebody is right there, right next to me, claiming as many inches of my bed space as her own.

So last night at 4 AM, in the midst of my restless night of sleep, all I could think of was that classic Leonard Bernstein turf war music:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - A Crazy Weather Story

My parents have had a lake house in Lake Ozark, Missouri for a number of years now. Actually, it's been well over a decade now - ever since I was in college.

It basically just gets used during the summer months as a vacation home. My dad will head out there at the first hint of spring to "open" the house. He'll do a walk-through to ensure that all looks good with the house and do any kind of maintenance that's needed, get the boat and wave runners ready for use, that kind of thing.

Back in the day while I was still in college and my brothers in high school, summer trips to the lake house were AWESOME. These were the days when there could easily be multiple week-long trips to the lake house, anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

My brothers and dad were the ones who really looked forward to these trips. They were the ones that were there at every single opportunity. They'd be out all day on the lake, with my dad manning the boat, and my brothers having fun being pulled along on tubes. Or, they'd be out on the wave runners. Those two would be out on the water practically all day. If it were raining, they'd have a bunch of videos they'd watch inside the house.

I'd try to head out there at least once a summer to spend time with them. I wasn't so much into tubing (I'd tried it a few times, but I wasn't all that thrilled with it). What I liked was riding the wave runners. And sitting in a quiet house, reading. Or heading to the outlet mall. I also liked watching movies with them (a perennial fave was "The Cutting Edge").

And on the 4th of July, everyone would go out on the lake on their boats at dusk to watch the show; a local resort would host a fireworks display over the lake, and it was SO COOL. Everyone would be there in their respective boats, having a good time, watching the fireworks while floating in the middle of the lake.

But this story is supposed to be about a crazy weather experience. And this whole lake house story was simply to set the scene.

One summer in the early '90s, I was on summer break, home from college for a couple months. My mom, brothers and I were going to head to the lake house together for the week surrounding Independence Day. My dad would be driving himself later that day due to work commitments; he wasn't able to leave with the rest of us.

So my mom, brothers, and I climbed into the van (they had one of those huge vans at the time) and off we headed. Well, at some point on our way from central Iowa to central Missouri, we passed through a thunderstorm. My mom, the driver, just plowed along in the van.

Until it happened . . . suddenly, we felt like something had jolted the van. The radio went out, the van shook, and there was a bright flash, all at the same time! The van had been hit by lightning!! Now of course, lightning isn't a laughing matter, and we were all momentarily stunned. But once we realized everyone was okay, we did start laughing, maybe because we'd been scared for a moment before realizing all was well - we were all okay . . . or maybe it was because of our mom's reaction. With one hand on the steering wheel, she took the other hand and started patting herself all over, like she'd been shot, not exactly sure what the heck happened.

My brothers and I still get a chuckle out of that memory. Laughing at the shock of it all (no pun intended) and realizing there was no damage.

However, that's not the end of the lightning!

Last summer, Andrew, Olivia, and I headed out to the lake house for the 4th of July holiday. During our visit, my dad took me, Andrew, and another family out on the boat for the annual 4th of July fireworks display. Olivia stayed at the house with my mom, reading kids' books, watching fireworks on TV, and getting a bath.

As the rest of us headed out to the designated area in the middle of the lake, we'd noticed that there were some suspiciously stormy-looking clouds over the horizon. We kept an eye on them as they crept closer, seeing lightning flickering way off in the distance. 

Then the fireworks started. But the clouds (and lightning) kept coming closer. At some point, we started wondering: was that noise from the fireworks or was it thunder? And to top it off, we realized that everyone's hair was on end, really full of static. A very good sign that we were all lightning rods. We started discussing whether we should leave right away, or wait until the fireworks were over.

And then, maybe because someone was reading our minds, or maybe due to the impending storm, the fireworks finale began. But by this time, it had started sprinkling. My dad decided to head back before the finale wrapped up, as it would take a good 10-15 minutes to get back to the house.

On the way home, it started raining harder. The next thing we knew, we were in a downpour and were getting pelted by hard rain. My dad couldn't even see past the bow of the boat, so he was heavily relying on his GPS to get us home.

Somehow we made it home safely, without an actual lightning strike. Thank goodness. What a ride!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pictoral tour of Minute Man National Historic Park, Concord and Lincoln, MA

Andrew and I were stationed in the greater Boston area for 4 years (2002-2006). I think there are definitely aspects of this part of the country that we both really miss - all the historic sites, the restaurants, scenery, activities . . . . 

I've been thinking about this part of the country for the past week or so. I have a friend from Culver Girls Academy who now lives out in Lexington, MA. She was recently talking about this Asian restaurant she went to recently. It was in a neighboring town, of which I was familiar.

Then there's an acquaintance that I know who also lives out in that area. She lives near Natick, which is the town where I got my wedding dress altered. Plus, she was at Emerson Hospital, Concord, MA, recently, telling  me, "Hey, I was at 'Livie's Hospital' the other day!" She calls it that because she knows Livie was born there. 

So while the cost of living in that part of the country is ridiculous, we still like it there and would love to have the opportunity to visit with Livie, now that she's older. Yes, I have to admit that maybe we DO feel a little homesickness - saudade - for it.

Here are some photos from September 10, 2009 (the day I got my little point-n-shoot digital camera). These photos are from Minute Man National Historic Park, one of my favorite places to go for a walk or a run,. not only for the beauty of the location, but for the historical significance. 

Hartwell Tavern:

 Mile marker stating "Boston Harbor, 14"

The trail along Battle Road, through the park:





There is a "Battle Road Heros" candlelight tour twice a year, with actors portraying historic figures living along the Battle Road circa April 19, 1775. Andrew and I really enjoyed this activity.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

WWII Veterans Reach Iwo Jima in Time for Memorial Ceremony - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News -

I just wanted to pass along this story about WWII veterans. I'm glad these heroes were able to make it to Iwo Jima for their 65th Anniversary commemoration. This is important. We need to remember what these veterans did to protect and defend our Constitution, and help them celebrate this anniversary of theirs. 

WWII Veterans Reach Iwo Jima in Time for Memorial Ceremony - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News -

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What a Daydream! . . . or, My Favorite New Mexico Locations, vol 1.

A number of years ago, circa 2004, while Andrew and I still lived in the greater Boston area, and before Olivia was a twinkle in our eyes, I started watching the Travel Channel. There was a particular show that had caught my attention, and I was absolutely fascinated with it. It was called Great Hotels and was hosted by a charming Samantha Brown.

Now the reason I was so captured by this show was because Samantha would spend time in these fabulous destinations, many of which were places I, too, wanted to visit and explore. She would go off on all these adventures, and she always looked like she was having such a great time. Plus, she stayed in these beautiful, luxurious hotels that I more or less could only daydream about.

One of these locations was Santa Fe, NM. I had always wanted to go there. It is such an old, stately, artistic town, the capital of New Mexico, rich in its long history, distinctly Spanish, Native American, Mexican, American, and yet, a combination of all of these, the sum of which is uniquely Santa Fean. I longed to go there. And after seeing Samantha Brown's Santa Fe episode, it was definitely at the top of my "Places to Visit if We Ever Get a Chance" list.

First of all, I already loved New Mexico. As a young girl with family in El Paso, TX, I had spent a lot of time in southern New Mexico. El Paso, after all, wasn't too far away from the Land of Enchantment. We'd spend hours upon fun-filled hours on day-trips in southern New Mexico - at White Sands National Monument, just outside Alamogordo, and Mesilla, which is just outside Las Cruces. (I'll spend time talking about adventures to these places another day.) Plus, I have a fun memory of a long-weekend my grandparents, a cousin, and I had at the Inn of the  Mountain Gods in Mescalero, NM, just outside of Ruidoso (again, a topic for another day).
And then in 2006, Andrew and I found out we would be stationed in Alamogordo. I was SO excited. We'd be a little over an hour's drive to my grandparents' home in El Paso, as well as Las Cruces and Mesilla. Plus, we wouldn't be too far from Ruidoso and the Inn of the Mountain Gods.

To top it all off, I could envision a trip to Santa Fe!! Finally!

Of course, when it was time to move, Olivia was just a 4-month-old baby, and Andrew was deployed for 120+ days.

So any trip to Santa Fe would have to wait.

However, it dawned on me that since my mom was visiting us every month for about a week at at time (and spending time with my elderly grandparents in El Paso, too), that perhaps a trip to Santa Fe wouldn't be as far off in the future as I'd originally thought.

Andrew was due home in early October. My mom would be back to visit mid-October. Hmmm, I had the seeds of an adventure blooming in my mind.

I knew that Andrew would have a couple weeks off once he finally made it back to the states and FINALLY home to our new New Mexican home, one he had yet to see firsthand.

So I spoke to my mom, and found out that she and my dad would be in the area mid-October for a reunion of hers in El Paso. I told her my idea, and she agreed to give me a hand.

See, I'd come up with this plan: when Andrew got home, in-processed with his new unit in Alamogordo, and on leave for 2 weeks, my mom would care for Olivia in El Paso at my grandparents' house for a weekend while Andrew and I spent time exploring Santa Fe, staying at a luxurious hotel that Samantha Brown highlighted - basically having time to ourselves, reconnecting after his 4-month long deployment. Actually, it would end up being for a day, a night, and most of the next day, with us meeting back in Alamogordo, at our new house.

Here's what happened. My mom bundled up Olivia in a car seat, grabbed the bag of supplies I'd prepared, and headed the hour's drive south to El Paso, around the same time Andrew and I headed north for Santa Fe. It must've been around 11 AM.

It ended up taking us about 5 - 5.5 hours to get up there (and believe me, I was very impatient to get there). The ride was beautiful, stark, and before nearing Albuquerque, desolate.

A couple views of our drive north. The first photo is the view to the east:

This second photo is the view of the road as it heads west:

Maybe you can see the moon in this photo:

We finally arrived at our destination, and headed directly to our "great hotel," La Posada de Santa Fe, a beautiful resort within walking distance to Santa Fe's historic Plaza.

Let me tell you, it was even MORE beautiful in person. We were greeted promptly, and were checked in, our car parked for us, and our luggage taken directly to our room for us. As we walked down the outdoor path to our room, there was this awesome scent lingering all around us, sage, crisp, clean high-altitude mountain air, apple-wood-burning fires. And since it was October already, there was a bit of chilliness in the air, but that somehow added to the magic. 

When we got to our room, I was amazed. The ceiling had these exposed log ceilings, very New Mexican in feel. There was a kiva fireplace and a stack of wood available so we could have a crackling fire to relax by when we returned to our room for the night. I couldn't wait to sit by that fire! And the king bed looked so comfortable and inviting, with down pillows, a down blanket, and in the closet, warm bathrobes.

We then made reservations at La Posada's restaurant, Fuego. Since it was nearly 5, and our reservations weren't for another couple hours, we decided to walk to the Plaza to have a look around. 

On our way off the property, we stopped in the gift store to pick up a map. As we chatted with the lady behind the counter about "must see" locations (Loretto Chapel, Palace of the Governors), we ended up chatting about how Andrew and I were in the military. She thanked us for our service (which I greatly appreciated), and we went about talking about Santa Fe before Andrew and I headed out on our pre-dinner walking adventure. 

We headed down to the Plaza, seeing the Palace of the Governors and planning to head there the next day to browse through the portico, where Native Americans' sold their hand-made jewelry and art (it was after hours, so no one was there). 
Then we headed to the Loretto Chapel, to see the famous, miraculous spiral staircase. It was fantastic, beautiful - an experience I will remember, and I hope to return. 

Outer view of the Loretto Chapel:

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha statue:

Outer view of the Loretto Chapel (with Andrew posing nearby):

The famed spiral staircase:

Another view:

Another interior view:

After leaving the Chapel near closing time, we walked around a little more, soaking in the city, enjoying our time together, and looking forward to dinner. 

Here's some of the scenery:

Anyway, when we got back to our room to freshen up for dinner, we received a call from the manager. Apparently, the friendly woman at the gift shop had spoken to him about us as we headed out on our walk.

He wanted to thank us for our military service and was calling to ask if he could send a bottle of wine to our room, curious if we preferred red or white, and a fresh fruit plate. I was floored with this level of customer service! I thanked him and said that we were heading off to their restaurant, Fuego soon so we wouldn't be in the room to receive it. He said he'd leave the bottle and fruit in our room for when we returned from dinner.

I regret to say that I can't remember the name of the wine, but when we opened it and drank it at home later, it was absolutely delicious!

So after freshening up and putting on sweaters (it was chilly in October in high altitude Santa Fe!), we headed to the Staab House bar for drinks while waiting for our table at the restaurant. Now a couple fun pieces of info on the Staab House: first, they have excellent margaritas and tequilas, if you're a fan of these types of adult beverages. Second, the Staab House, (once owned and occupied by Abraham and Julia Staab and their children) is supposedly haunted by Julia! Apparently, she loved her house so much, she couldn't bear to leave! ;)

And dinner at Fuego? Outstanding! Yes, it was very pricey, but was it ever delicious! Especially the Mexican hot chocolate we had to top off our meal!

After returning back to our room and getting the crackling fire started, we relaxed and chatted by the warm fire, and upon climbing into bed, fell asleep promptly and slept soundly.

The next morning, everything went by in a blur - heading to the Palace of the Governors to browse (and buy some turquoise/silver earrings, a lapis/silver ring, a silver/turquoise book mark, and a Navajo doll for myself), grabbing some lunch and rushing back home to Alamogordo.

See, my mom called and said she, my dad, and most importantly, Olivia, would be back at our house in Alamogordo by a certain time (maybe around 4? I can't remember now), and we were still nearly 5.5 hours away. So off we rushed, because I wanted to beat them home, unload the car, change, rehydrate and wait for them.

Well, that didn't quite happen. They beat us home by about 45 minutes. Ah, well.

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful, memorable trip, our less-than-24-hour journey to Santa Fe.

And I can't wait to go back.
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