Saturday, December 20, 2008

Planes and Trains and a White Christmas

It took a lot to get here. All the fresh pretty snow meant some canceled flights. We arrived in Baltimore and could get no further by air. Many delays and deep regrets about checking luggage later (okay, only 6 hours at the Baltimore airport) we were on Amtrak to NJ by way of several transfers on a snowy night.

Considering our 5 am departure from home, it was a long time till our midnight arrival.But everyone except Nathan waited up for us; Matthew even came to the train to meet us.

The next morning it was pretty obvious why we needed to get here. As you can see, Santa came right down Santa Claus Lane on the Randolph fire truck, handing out candy to all the good little boys and girls. Wow! Not since my days in Yoakum have I seen Santa ride a fire truck.

Definitely this was the place to be for Christmas. See the snow shoveling? We don't get that in Texas, no siree.

Of course if you are seven, shoveling can be a good place to burn off some energy.

Then, to top it off, there was also a visit with Stephen in NY. Life does not get any better than this, Christmas with family and snow. God bless retirement!


Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'm know I am not alone in feeling kind of blah about the economy. After all, I can't make up for the backwards progress in my savings in the past year by working longer or harder. I blew that off two years ago when I retired, and yes, I could go look for a job, but I really really really don't want to be a banker again, especially not now. So count me among those fixed income folks crying the blues.

I began to act more frugally. But every time I drove out of my way to save 10 cents on gas, I lost another 5% of my net worth in the market. Life was just not fair.

One day when I was feeling my most pitiful, I decided that I should go spend my $30 rebate card from Linens and Things, one of the retailers closing down for good because of the economy. When I got to the store and checked my balance, the clerk said the card had no value. Then I realized the card had expired three days earlier.
I had a spontaneous pity party for myself. The DOW was headed down to 7000, and my gift card was no good either.

I bought the item I had come to get anyway, and when I was checking out, it hit me. Those people that I was crying the blues to about my silly rebate card had no jobs. I asked what their plans were. They were looking for jobs. And smiling and helping me in the meantime.


So, no, don't count me among those fixed income folks crying the blues. Count me among the lucky people who can still, with some adjustments in my budget, choose whether or not to go back to work. And please don't let me catch me feeling sorry for myself again.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Unintended consequences

All I wanted was a nap, a nap on a nice fall day, with the windows open. But my windows don't open, so why not get a screen door? After all, the post Ike electric crisis clearly justified a screen door for bedroom ventilation. $40 later, we were on our way home from Lowe's, and I was dreaming of soft breezes cross my face as I slumbered. After several hours of trimming and sanding, the door was in. I bought a vinyl door, so I don't even have to paint it.

Whack! It only opened about a foot. Our low and extended eaves were blocking it. I had a screen door, but no way to get out of the house. Carl began removing sections of the eave. He stopped short of removing the face plate, which would have left a gaping hole under the roof line. The door opens almost 90 degrees now, enough to go in and out without turning sideways. Now there was extensive repair needed on the eave so that animals did not crawl in the attic. And paint. I would need paint, and where on earth was there still a Sears store in business to get a matching gallon? Amazingly, the original South Main Sears store is still there, and they still sell paint. $20, plus $40 in other stuff I bought while I was there, and $10 and 10,000 calories for lunch at a Prince's Hamburgers because the Sears Store on South Main reminded me of the Prince's Drive Inn that used to be next door and the Prince's special sauce.

While working on the door, I noticed a rotted door sill plate, and asked Carl to replace it. He did. Then he said "Well, the bottoms of the cedar siding planks are rotted too. We should cut off about 6 inches and put in a hardi-plank at the bottom. $99.

After the rotted boards were cut off, it was clear we also needed to replace the 1 by 4 battens that the siding was nailed on. $58. And we needed another router bit. $26. I was afraid for a minute we would come home with the router bit set, $99. And a box of screws, better get the big box, $26. And having used up the package of sawzall blades, better replace those, $32.

Now that the 1 by 4 was removed, it was clear that I needed to grout from the edge of the quarry tiles on the patio to the house......this is getting old.......And treated 1 x 4's clearly should be retreated. (Clearly? Wait a minute. This is when I began to question my engineer husband about why we needed to treat treated wood?)

And look up on the roof. The pine needles from Ike have never come down from the valleys and surely they are going to corrode the metal flashing. Better get up on the roof and take care of that.

I have not had my nap yet, but when I do, it is going to be very very delicious as the breezes waft through my $500 three week installation screen door. At this point they will probably be spring breezes, because the hardi-plank is not installed yet, and then there's painting, and oh, those 7 tiles have come loose where the joint cracked in the patio, I think I should replace those. And there's still that section of wall past the patio on the garage wall to repair, and that will require that first I cut all the eave high hibiscus down to ground level....etc etc etc.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What's on your plate?

I am a newbie platelet donor. After 4 times this year donating whole blood, I finally read the sign. What the Blood Center really needs from the A+ people like me? Platelets. So I did it.

Why platelets? Cancer patients, those receiving organ or marrow transplants, victims of traumatic injuries, and patients undergoing open heart surgery require platelet transfusions to survive. Because platelets can be stored for only five days, the need for platelet donations is vast and continuous. Probably by now my platelets are already in somebody doing their clotting thing, and I don't even miss them.

I finally found something where being a big person is a good thing; I only have to spend 47 minutes on the machine to collect my platelets. And, here's the best part: no lack of energy while my red blood cells recover. And, the equipment is new and improved, so I only have one needle in my arm. Slick! The only part that is a bit troublesome is a feeling like your mouth is numb during the process. Here's the explanation:
Frequently while donating the lips may begin to tingle; a supply of calcium antacid tablets is usually kept close by because the anticoagulant works by binding to the calcium in the blood. Since calcium is used in the operation of the nervous system, nerve-ending-dense areas (such as the lips) are susceptible to the tingling. Usually chewing a handful of antacid tablets will raise calcium levels and relieve the tingling.

Some people are platelet donation junkies. You can donate about 24 times a year. The man next to me was selecting from the center's new movies since he had memorized all the old ones. Way to go, Mr. Donor Man.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Italian Top 10

10. Tosca, sung in Italian, with Italian subtitles and Italian printed synopsis. I have no idea what was said, but it was wonderful. Bravo!
9. The Therme. Since it was raining, the pool was closed and we went to the cave instead. The temperature is about 95, the humidity 100%. In the cave, you can choose to steam in three rooms: Purgatory, Limbo, or the Inferno. No extra charge for the little starched white outfits. After the cave, you get pressure washed, but they call it a hydromassage.
8. Romans in gladiator outfits at the Colosseum, talking on cell phones, smoking cigarettes. Too funny.
7. Dinner with the sisters. We stayed in a convent hotel in Rome, and one night we elected to have dinner there, thinking we would be surrounded with singing nuns and happy families. We were the only two patrons. No sisters, no priests, just us.
6. Watching world's funniest videos in Italian.
5. Riding the merry go round in Piazza Republica.
4. The head of St. Catherine on display in a basilica in Siena.
3. The .85 Euro store.
2. Walking home one night with a life size cardboard cutout of Leonardo de Capri, found on a Florence street.
1. Italian police. I love a man in uniform.

More's the Pitti

We decided we must finish Florence with the Pitti Palace, the splurge Julia could not afford in her vagabond halcyon days backpacking after college. The palace requires several days advance training; after walking with your head down for days you can better enjoy the ceilings, most of which were 'redecorated' a couple of centuries later. The Medici family had a mighty fine abode, and the collections of paintings are hung "family style", as in, randomly, where ever they fit. Some are not so famous, but in every room there is a treasure or two. This collection rivals the Vatican. Now that's some booty.

I'll finish Florence with a collection of photos of my friends.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Florentines like to style. My observation of styling Florentine is that you must wear more clothes than the weather calls for. Definitely a coat. And a scarf. And boots. Maybe a fur collar on the coat, or quilted down. Climatewise, I found Florence felt a lot like Houston, and I was sleeveless most of the day. But not the Florentines. True, they may have just stepped off a Vespa and need that leather jacket. But in my opinion it's just styling.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cooking known and unknown parts of a Florentine cow

Italian cooking class. Great idea, thank you very much Julia, for signing us up. The experience did not dissappoint.

First there was the chef Robert, from Australia, speaking perfect English and Italian, taking us on a tour of the central market, where cow parts I have not seen since my childhood on the farm filled the meat cases. We don't really want to talk about all of the parts of the cow here, except to say that the video below is us buying tripe, the stomach, which the butcher kindly chopped into little pieces and we let Robert cook for us.

And once you buy the tripe and cook it, it must be tasted, no? My reaction? Why bother? Texture of bacon rind with none of the flavor. Here's the rest of our class reacting.


The rest of the menu was fabulous. Big meatballs in a balsamic reduction with onions and tomato that simmered for about an hour, except when Robert told us to "Pump it up", aka turn up the burners. Little baby artichokes with pancetta (often referred to as Italian bacon. Unlike English and American bacon, which are taken from the sides and belly of the pig, may be smoked, and are usually cut into slices, pancetta comes only from the belly, is salt-cured but not smoked, and is generally sold rolled up into sausage shapes) and tomatoes and white wine over potato stuffed fresh pasta. Tiramisu. Lots of red wine.

After lunch like that, there was a mandatory nap. Still too full for dinner, we went instead to a yoga class that Rachel, one of the cooking school participants, told us about. Rosella taught us to open our spines in new ways. Ah, what a little piece of heaven. Then there was more wine and antipasto at a little local bar with Rachel. Not a bad day..

Here's a couple more clips of the experience.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dinner with Lino, the love of her life

Here I go, quoting Rick again: Ristorante Paoli serves wonderful local cuisine to loads of cheerful eaters being served by jolly old men under a richly frescoed Gothic vault. Because of its fame and central location, it's mostly filled with tourists, but for a class traditional Tuscan splurge meal, this is a decent choice. The walls are sweaty with memories that go back to 1824, and the service is flamboyant and fun loving. Woodrow Wilson slurped spaghetti here (his bust looks down on you as you eat.)

Who could resist such an endorsement? So, we dressed up a bit (black tennis shoes) and went out for a Florentine Saturday night.

And.....drum this restaurant, Lino the jolly waiter proposed to Dodie. The wedding was planned for noon Sunday, the next day, right there at the restaurant, which conveniently started life as a church. Check out our evening movies, starting with the festive meal through the proposal, honeymoon plans, walk to the Piazza Republicca after dinner. I really want to load the very long movie of our carrousel ride, taken mostly with our heads chopped off (perhaps a mercy), but it is so long that blogger has been timing out and not finishing it. Maybe tomorrow....

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Uffizi This and That

What is Florence but art? The Renaissance exploded here. Come here to see Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Raphael, etc etc etc. The museums groan with their collections. If you stayed two weeks, doing one museum per day, you would not run out. Add the numerous churches and duomos with their own collections of masterworks, and you had better have some really good shoes. So, you have to hit the highlights and come back another time for more, no?

We had to see David again. Who could resist that 14 foot hunk of burning love? And I cannot believe I forgot not to take pictures. Oops! Mea culpa!

Venus on the half shell at the Uffizi was another must. It was at the Uffizi that we decided to let Rick Steves hit the highlights for us, never mind the audio guide, and we can't possibly see it all anyway. Just because he is so irreverent, I am including a bit of his prose for these paintings.

Compare Titian's Venus with Botticelli's newly hatched Venus and you get a good idea of the difference between the Florentine and Venetian Renaissance. Botticelli's was pure, innocent and other-worldly. Titian's should have a staple in her belly button. This isn't a Venus, it's a centerfold, with no purpose but to please the eye and other organs. While Botticelli's allegorical Venus is a message, this is a massage. The bed is used. Titian and his fellow Venetians took the pagan spirit pioneered in Florence and carried it to its logical hedonistic conclusion. Using bright, rich colors, they captured the luxurious life of happy go lucky Venice. By the way, visitors from centuries past also panted in front of this Venus. The poet Byron called it 'The Venus' . With her sensual skin, hey-sailor look, and suggestively placed hand, she must have left them blithering idiots.

After all that art, a cappuccino on the roof of the Uffizi restores the eyes and gives us time to pose for our own masterpieces.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ecstasy on a spoon

Let's be perfectly frank. A compelling if not primary reason to return to Italy is the food. Italians have perfected exquisite cuisine, particularly in the gelato category. So, first things first, right after the obligatory jet lag nap, we set out to find the closest gelato stand. It was the best thing I had ever tasted. I think eating gelato is like kissing; the first spoon you taste is the best. Later that night, when our third roommate Julia arrived, Dodie and I took her out for her first gelato. It was different than our first gelato stand, but it was her first kiss, and therefore the most memorable for her.

We made an agreement that we could have as much gelato as we wanted, as long as we kept the spoons. I marked Rick Steve's recommended best gelato stores on the map with a big G; those were mandatory. All others were optional. I never had a bad gelato.

Rick Steves: "Gelato is an edible art form. Italy's best ice cream is in Florence--one souvenir that can't break and won't clutter your luggage. A key to gelato apprciation is sampling liberally and choosing flavors that go well together. Artiginale means gelato is made on the premises, and gelato displayed in covered metal tins is more likely to be homemade. Gelato aficiandos avoid colors that don't appear in nature --for less chemical and real flavor, go for mellow hues (bright colors attract children.)"
Finest gelato in Italy, by many accounts, is near Trevi Fountain in Rome, Gelato di Tre Crispini. It did not disappoint. Fresh ingredients and spices zinged in the mouth. And that was my last gelato, the afternoon before I left Italy. Parting was such sweet sorrow.

Here for your enjoyment are a few shots of gelato and spoon art. By the way, since there were three people traveling, there never was a tie vote. Two out of three voted I got to take the spoons home to make something creative. So, post your suggestions for gelato spoon art, and I will let you know the winner.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Love Italian Style

Ah Firenza! What a city! Lucky me, I got to spend a week here in the company of college roomies. Here you see us from the Piazza Michaelangelo, high above the city with a million dollar vista.

As twilight fell, I was thinking that Florence too is for lovers.

About a year ago, Ray proposed to Jennifer, my all grown up now girl scout, perhaps right on this spot, next to the collection of locks on the ironwork, left there by lovers to seal their vows.
Stateside, Ray had given Jennifer a cryptic to solve, and when she did, inside there was a key to a lock they had left in Florence while studying abroad a few years earlier. He brought her back to this spot to propose. Ah, so romantic. I am overwhelmed with the moment and the memory.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sisterhood of the Pashina Shawl

This is a blog about 40 years of sisterhood, starting when we were scared, self-confident,skinny, overwhelmed, inspired to save-the-world. Starting with over 40 years.......

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More than 45 years....

More than 50 years....uh oh, this is getting serious.....