Feliz HanuKwanzMas
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I love Christmas.  Always have.  Once when I was a kid, I actually cried when it was over, thinking it would never happen again.  As a teenager, I fell in love with my first boyfriend in December, and that particular Christmas was, to this day, one of the best I ever had.  So much gets wrapped up into the sentimentality of the occasion.  The smell of pine trees, cinnamon, oranges and too-pungent potpourri all bring back strong memories of holidays past. 

One year, my sisters and I got a little brother for Christmas.  He had been born a few days before, and my grandmother (who always magically arrived a few days before a new sibling) got us out of bed that morning, and said we had to get dressed before we opened our presents, because dad was bringing home mom and the baby.  Well, when you're 6, and Santa had just made his usual gift dump under your tree, the last thing we wanted to do was put on our nice dresses (yes, they matched) and comb our hair.  But we did. 


As you can see from our expressions, we were, well, distracted by toys and less than enthusiastic about this odd, pink gift that cried all the time.  But we kept him.  He turned out to be an OK guy, in spite of the fact that he had 4 sisters. 

Now I share my life and my home with a Nice Jewish Guy from Long Island, who doesn't hold Christmas in quite as high esteem as I do.  He does understand that there WILL be gifts, and time off from work, and lots of good food and spirits.  But still, at  least once each fall, he says "What day is Christmas THIS year?"  (It's not like Hanukkah, which can fall on a different date each year.) 

Every year there is The Conversation.  "You can have a Christmas tree if you want one ... but it has to be cat-proof, and not get dry and drop needles, and not set the house on fire ..."  Yadda x 3.  A few years ago we strung lights on a large schefflera plant we had brought in from the unusually freezing weather.  But it wasn't quite the same thing.  And the addition of Elvis, a rambunctious, curious tom kitten-cat to the clan has made ornament-safety a higher concern.  So this year, I found LED-lit, pre-fabricated branches and fashioned a non-drying, cat-friendly, table-top version that does everything but smell like Christmas.  It does come with the soundtrack from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" however.  Get festive, my friends. 


winter
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Complaining about the weather is like barking at the moon.  Lots of noise.  Predictable results.  So while my friends and family are  slogging through sleet and slush up north, I feel fortunate that here along the Gulf Coast we've had only a few, brief, cold snaps.  That said, we are mindful that 14 months ago we had a sudden hard  freeze here (while we were on vacation and unable to protect the plants)  that resulted in the demise of much of my favored folaige.  That's why we now have the Greenhouse effect.



A heat lamp is keeping ME awake, but maintaining above-freezing temps for the container garden.

We haven't escaped ALL the frostiness, however




 


In your face advertising
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OK, so it has been a while since I posted here.  I log in this morning with some interesting pictures to show, and the first thing I see is a COMMERCIAL (which I am forced to watch and cannot turn off) for Olive Garden, one of my least favorite (and its a long list) of fast-casual chain restaurants. 

Can someone please tell me in which region of Italy it is  traditional/authentic to offer unlimited iceberg lettuce & prefabricated breadsticks with your meal? 

Thanks.   Rant over.  On to other things. 

How cold IS it?
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Its tough to be a little dog in New York City.  Stuck in an apartment all day.  Frequently  walked by (paid) strangers.  Very little grass to pee or poop on, and often forced to do so on command.  And if your owner chooses to, she can dress you up like the child you represent in her life. 

Winter is especially tough.  Stringent laws prohibit "mummy" from taking you inside ANY warm establishment, so you are tethered up outside like the horses in the old westerns, forced to wait while she shops/dines/whatever.  And then there is THIS indignity:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/02/10/national/a090653S19.DTL&feed=rss.bondage



Keeping America safe from dangerous pastry
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Ever vigilant in its attempt to protect the flying public from danger in all of its guises, The New Orleans Airport has issued the following warning on its website, in honor of the Mardi Gras / Superbowl celebrations:


Many local travelers will be taking the Mardi Gras celebration with them to places outside of the area. A key component of the celebration is a King Cake. As delicious as a King Cake is, in an airport environment it could pose a security risk. You can travel with a King Cake but there are some rules to follow. King cakes should be declared at the checkpoints. Plain king cakes, i.e., king cakes without filling, may be permitted through the checkpoints. Filled king cakes (king cakes with fillings such as cream cheese, strawberry, blueberry, etc.) will not be allowed through the checkpoints. Why? Because many of these king cake fillings may be prohibited as gels. Passengers should pack filled king cakes in their checked baggage, or ship them in advance of traveling. Passengers should also arrive early enough to check any King Cakes that cannot be allowed through the checkpoint. If you do not want to go through security with a King Cake but wish to still take one with you, check with some of our airport stores beyond the checkpoint. They plan to have King Cakes for sale.  (empahsis mine)  As usual, your safety is our main concern at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. For this reason, our security will be in full force to handle any problem that might arise during the holiday season.

And so it seems that although one can safely board an aircraft with these potentially hazardous baked goods,  they pose a serious threat to, what, x-ray machines?   Sometimes these jokes just write themselves. 

God cant has cheezburger?
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Houston officially inaugurated its 61st mayor this morning.  Annise Parker takes her place next to Kathy Whitmire as one of the only 2 female mayors the Bayou City has had in its history.  After 20 years in the oil and gas industry, she was elected to Houston City Council, and for the past 5 years she has served as City Controller.  She's a fiscal conservative, and was elected in a runoff as the first contender in a generation to defeat the hand-picked candidate of Houston's business establishment.  She promises to help the city pull up its boostraps, get on its feet, and has a serious home-town loyalty that is refreshing.  And, oh, yeah .... she's gay.

Today's inauguration allowed every Bible-thumping homophobe in the city with too much time on their hands to crawl out of the woodwork and exercise their constitutional right to protest this event.  Their display of ignorance was both typical, and startling.



OK ... we've seen this before.  What else?



Gee ... God hates all these people?  Who knew?  But wait, there's more .....



Apparently God hates cheeseburgers too, but likes people with green hair and odd hats.   As long as they're not gay, I guess.



Its the big hole, Charlie Brown
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It was the trip discussed and planned for years.  Gotta see the Grand Canyon.  Not from the air, but go to the rim.  See the colors.  Ooh and ahh.  So we did.  Early in December we flew to Phoenix and made the drive north through Arizona.  Past the cactus and the sagebrush, up to the mountainous areas where the air is remarkably thin. 

Our first destination was the Petrified Forest.  The Geologist interviewed the staff member behind the counter in the gift shop, showing her various postcards he had picked off the rack and asking "where is this?  where is that?"  Come to find out that a certain formation that appears on lots of these postcards really isn't there at all.  Hmm....  We left the park just at sunset, with the moon rising overhead. 



We stayed our first night in Winslow (insert Eagles soundtrack of "Take It Easy" here) at www.laposada.com, where each room is named for one of the celebrities that had stayed there over its colorful history.  The Roy Rogers Room was  quite cozy, with a bookshelf filled with interesting reading material.  We enjoyed a fine dinner in the Turquoise Room, and awoke to a bright, sunny cold morning.  The sun on the wall in the famous Sunken Garden tried to warn us of the chilly day ahead.



For most of the time I have known The Geologist, he has expressed an intense interest in seeing Meteor Crater.  So we pointed our Jeep westward and found it, 5 miles south of the interstate, in the middle of nowhere (which is where one finds a lot of Arizona attractions, it seems).  We walked the rim, teeth chattering in the wind, and got the money shot.



Many miles later, we found ourselves nearing The Canyon.  Approaching from the east, there are numerous places to pull over and marvel at the amazing sight.  Yes, it IS more impressive in person.  All the National Geographic pictures do not do it justice.  Its hard to imagine what John Wesley Powell thought about this place when he and his crew decided to navigate the Colorado River through this vast gorge in 1869.   

The Spanish explorer El Tovar was the first to "discover" the Canyon in 1540, and the grandest of the South Rim lodges bears his name.  We stayed there on our first night, and dawn brought not only daylight, but several elk to the front lawn outside the hotel.  I bundled up early and, before coffee, took this photo.



A full day of canyon exploration was ahead of us.  There were very few tourists to get in our way, as this was the week after Thanksgiving and most children were back in school.  The cold weather kept all but the hardiest souls home, and at many of the stops along the trail, we had the views all to ourselves.  Thanks to the peace and quiet, the local wildlife felt comfortable enough to make its presence known.  We were able to get this close to a goat who sauntered out of the bushes at one stop.



The Canyon and the National Park Service provides its visitors with LOTS of historical information about this wonderous place.  Most amusing of the smaller details was learning that 19th century geologist John Strong Newberry (an ancestor of mine, perhaps?),  had visited and studied the Canyon extensively in the 1800s, and there was a butte named in his honor.    So on the more detailed maps of the canyon, with all the features labeled, my family name also appears.  Now THAT is awesome.

After a night in a cute cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, and a hearty breakfast, we finished our canyon exploration and headed south.  After lunch in Flagstaff at Miz Zip's Route 66 Cafe, we made the leisurely and scenic drive through Oak Creek Canyon, and  rolled into Sedona mid-afternoon.  A panoramic  and upscale locale, we discovered aggressive time-share vendors, glossy art galleries and more crystal shops in town than one could possibly imagine outside of Haight-Ashbury.   A drive up the hill toward the airport offered us an overlook for taking photos, but a "donation" (and an old geezer to accept them) was requested after parking. 



We used the rest of our daylight to explore the hills and canyons, admire the houses, and postulate on just how we could make a living in this beautiful place.  It would have to be something lucrative -- we realized we were getting back to "Big City" territory when our mexican dinner that night was $60.   My bargain hunt in town the next morning yielded the most sought-after prize -- a silver and turquoise bracelet to replace one borrowed (without my knowledge or permission) a few years ago.   We made the leisurely drive to Phoenix and had time to relax in the airport before flying home.  Highlight of that afternoon was sitting across from former presidential candidate and current congressman Ron Paul while we waited for our flight back to Houston (he sat in first class).   

Shooting my food
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Penny de los Santos is an Austin-based photographer whose pictures have appeared in Texas Monthly, National Geographic and on the cover of Saveur.  Yesterday she taught a group of foodie photographer-wannabes the subtle art of shooting our food.  Not just any food, either.  The class was held at Reef, known as one of Food & Wine's Best Seafood Restaurants in the US, and chef Bryan Caswell himself was at the stove on what is normally his day off.  What was scheduled to be a 3 hour class lasted more than 4 hours, and we ate our way through 5 courses of photo-worthy subjects.  A few of my better shots are here. 











bambambambambambambam
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The weather gods have finally  turned off the oppressive summer heat, and fall, as this little Yankee knows it, seems to have arrived.  No turning of leaves or wearing of sweaters, harbingers of autums past; just that cool snap in the air that makes me want to sit in the warming sun of my patio and savor the fresh air.  This could only be more pleasant today if my neighbors were NOT having their roof replaced.  Instead of enjoying my coffee and Times with the hum of the pool filter as background noise, I am serenaded with the irregular banging sounds of laborers earning minimum wage on a Saturday.  At least I know that this will soon be over.  Im having my doubts about the construction on North Loop 610, 3 blocks to the south, which continues every night.   

Sliding further down the slippery slope
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Setting up this blog was the first step ... now I confess I've gone down the Twitter path.  It was purely peer pressure that made me do it (and the fact that I was missing out on a lot of information passed among my foodie friends).  Yes, I drank the koolaid.  Now I'm hooked on ANOTHER website that hovers as an icon on the bottom of my screen.  Must.  Read.  Twits.  Can Facebook be far behind?

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