So: time stands still

So after an action-packed 2 days of entertaining pretty pretty princesses, Uncle Bruce and I hopped the Pacific Surfliner to Irvine.

If you’re ever in Southern California and you don’t want to deal with traffic on those infamous freeways, I recommend Amtrak highly. You’ll sit back and relax. You can read. Listen to music. Enjoy refreshments. Treat yourself to stunning ocean and mountain views as the train chugs along. You’ll arrive at your destination and feel like you’ve had a mini-vacation.

Waiting at our destination was our long time pal Shane. Bruce has known Shane slightly longer, although only maybe a year. He is our perpetual bachelor friend, the one with beautiful bikini-clad girlfriends galore. He has many So Cal dude toys like motorcycles and jet skis. He goes to clubs and underground parties. His life is always story-worthy and after dinner with him your stomach hurts from all the laughing you’ll do.

Shane is the reason why Bruce and I met at all. Through a very loose introduction, our Southern California pal gave a guy in Toronto and a gal in Northern California a reason to chat on the phone, write letters and fall in love. If we would have had a best man and maid of honor at our wedding, Shane would have been it.

Bruce met Shane on a Contiki tour of Europe. Yes, the bus tour infamous dragging hungover 18-34 year olds past all the famous sites in record time. Shane and I met at CES when I was working in a booth. He was quite mean to me, trying to stump me with all sorts of technical questions he thought I wouldn’t know (wrong!). He wouldn’t leave me alone, but later sent an apology package filled with t-shirts and stickers from his company.

For a bit more than 20 years, we’ve all been friends. And while its easy to keep in touch via Facebook with pithy comments, photos and likes, it’s not the same as a conversation over dinner.

At Shane’s favorite Thai restaurant we laughed a lot. We talked about how our jobs were going, we heard about Shane’s love life/upcoming guys dirt biking weekend/crazy ex-girlfriends who still pop up from time to time.

And for a moment time stood still. The moment has repeated itself many times over the years. Sometimes all three of us are there. Sometimes it’s just two. But when dinner’s over and the waitress is eager to get us out of there so she can flip the table, it makes me happy that such a random connection endures after all these years. And while I was sad to say goodbye, I know we’ll all see each other again, perhaps randomly while traveling for work or maybe a more lengthy planned visit. With Shane one never knows.

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So: reading is fun take 2

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NOTE: due to my own technical difficulties, you may see this post twice. I’m using the iPhone app and I messed up and only posted the photo.

Uncle Bruce and I read the twins 10 books yesterday before dinner. Yes, 10. You parents are probably not surprised at all by the number.

I love reading and always have. I loved hearing books read to me and still do. But I am truly amazed by the twins desire to sit still and just listen. Intently.

My brother says they turn into zombies when they watch their 30 minutes of tv per day. Yesterday that was an episode of Olivia. We had already read two Olivia books so Uncle Bruce was familiar with Olivia, Ian, Julian and Perry. Again, another time when the girls were quiet. Still. Their attention was captured.

This is important because even when they were eating, Eva and Katia were busy! They jumped from toy to toy. We built towers with block, towers with Lego, played store, played Barbie, played with ponies, played dollhouse, ran around outside, picked up seeds from pinecones, petted their dog, drew on the chalkboard, played in a tunnel, did crazy spinning on a sit and spin, danced, sang, and probably did a whole lot more but it’s a blur.

Parents of multiples, you are my heroes. And you’re much better people than I am. I don’t know how you do it. I know you’ll say that you just do, but seriously, you are on a major sleep deprivation experiment accompanied by severe overstimulation.

It was a wonderful day but I was super tired when it was time to sleep. Moms and Dads of three year olds I salute you!

So: reading is fun

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Uncle Bruce and I read the twins 10 books yesterday before dinner. Yes, 10. You parents are probably not surprised at all by the number.

I love reading and always have. I loved hearing books read to me and still do. But I am truly amazed by the twins desire to sit still and just listen. Intently.

My brother says they turn into zombies when they watch their 30 minutes of tv per day. Yesterday that was an episode of Olivia. We had already read two Olivia books so Uncle Bruce was familiar with Olivia, Ian, Julian and Perry. Again, another time when the girls were quiet. Still. Their attention was captured.

This is important because even when they were eating, Eva and Katia were busy! They jumped from toy to toy. We built towers with block, towers with Lego, played store, played Barbie, played with ponies, played dollhouse, ran around outside, picked up seeds from pinecones, petted their dog, drew on the chalkboard, played in a tunnel, did crazy spinning on a sit and spin, danced, sang, and probably did a whole lot more but it’s a blur.

Parents of multiples, you are my heroes. And you’re much better people than I am. I don’t know how you do it. I know you’ll say that you just do, but seriously, you are on a major sleep deprivation experiment accompanied by severe overstimulation.

It was a wonderful day but I was super tired when it was time to sleep. Moms and Dads of three year olds I salute you!

So: pretty pretty princesses

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So today I’m back at DFW. Yes, I’m aware that it’s Saturday, a day normally filled with household tasks, digging in the dirt, perhaps taking a sewing or gardening class.

Not today. As you might guess from the photo, we cashed in some frequent flyer miles. We’re headed to California to hang out with two of the cutest three year olds we know. We’re going to have an action-packed weekend of playing My Lil Pony, Barbies, and tea party. Maybe we’ll color. Or finger paint.

The last time I saw my brother’s daughters was when they were under two. Yes, bad auntie hasn’t seen the twins in over a year. Well, in-person that is. My brother and sister-in-law frequently email me photos. I often print them out and hang them on my office cabinet.

Hanging the photos of Eva and Katia along with my almost 5 year old godson Ben is confusing for many people. New hires often ask me about my “kids” and I launch into stories about the 3G Network. You should see their puzzled faces!

Or, I say offhandedly “oh I don’t have any.” Those who are brave usually say something like, “but who are those children?”

And I laugh. Because the twins do look a lot like me. Duh. Their dad and I are always quickly recognized as siblings when we’re together. Even my godson looks a bit like me with his pale skin and dark hair.

But I am just the aunt to these three amazing kids. I get to play with them, spoil them with fun (perhaps noisy and messy) gifts, and then leave when they’re wound up, overtired and hopped up on sugar.

In just over three hours two little girls will shriek with joy when Uncle Bruce gives them matching pink and purple stuffed ponies. We’ll practice our princess waves. I can’t wait to see Uncle Bruce in a tiara. Apparently my brother looks quite fetching in one too.

So: fashion victim

This may surprise you but I really don’t like to shop. Part of it stems from preferring to dig in the dirt rather than dig through racks at the mall. Part of it stems from fashion trends like skinny jeans, ultra low rise anything, knit dresses and the bikini which really do not work out well for me no matter how faithful I am to the gym and to a specific calorie count. I’m short but not really petite, curvy, and muscular.

Don’t get me wrong, I like cute clothes. And I love shoes probably because so many fun choices that actually fit my feet. Cowboy boots, mary-janes, all sorts of athletic shoes, platform boots, Chuck Taylors, flip flops, sandals, wedges, pumps, sling backs, peep toes, I love them all. Trying them on is fun especially since Bruce is a certifiable shoe-a-holic and probably has more pairs than I do (he is in a special status in DSW’s rewards program, thanks to his habit) and would never tell me that I already have three pairs of black pumps.

My souvenirs from Barcelona in 2009: SHOES!

My souvenirs from Barcelona in 2009:         shoes from Camper (yes, I still have them)

When it comes to actual clothes, my wardrobe needs refreshing. My loathing of shopping is so deep that I could  count my 2012 visits to a clothing retailer on one hand. In the pants/skirts/other bottoms department, my closet looks respectable, but not in the tops. I need to fix that in the next few weeks since spring is coming in Texas and so are spring client meetings. Ugh.

Most pressing however is something appropriate to wear to a women’s luncheon that I was recently invited to. Recently, as in yesterday. The luncheon is on February 1, which is only two weeks away.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be too stressed about going to a ladies’ luncheon. I have plenty of business appropriate dresses that I can throw on at a moments notice and look just fine. However, one of the requirements of attendees is that red must be worn. Ok, two problems: my wardrobe is mostly black (duh, I am in advertising on the creative side) and two I hate shopping. And although red is an official color of my sorority, I don’t really have anything red anymore. Well, except for my favorite red shoes, but I thought I should go all out  and get into the spirit of the event with a red dress.

My favorite red shoes (also by Camper)

My favorite red shoes (also by Camper)

So what’s a gal to do? Well, not run to the nearest mall because it closes at 9 pm on a weeknight and I knew I’d need more than a couple of hours to go from store to store to store. And this weekend is not available for a shopping adventure since we’re going to visit my twin nieces. One thing I do not do is procrastinate with stuff like this because nothing’s more stressful than a nth hour race through the racks and finding nothing appropriate.

Instead I got out my trusty laptop and headed to a variety of major retailers while parked on the sofa next to a snoring Guinness. Next week, many nice red dresses will arrive at my office. I’ll take them home and try them on. I’ll have a variety of accessories and shoes at my fingertips to help with the decision process. The winner I’ll keep, the others will get returned to their bricks-and-mortar outlets in Dallas.

Why didn’t I just go to the stores in the first place? In addition to the time challenges of the next few weeks, I checked the inventory of these various frocks and guess what, the other ladies attending the luncheon (or perhaps red is just really popular here) have already purchased them! There really wasn’t anything in stock locally. This surprises me since Valentine’s day is next month and red always seems to be popular this time of year.

Don’t worry, I’m actually ok if someone else is wearing exactly the same dress. I’ll congratulate her on her good taste and compliment her shoes which hopefully will be nothing like mine.

 

 

 

 

So: get up, go

Motivation isn’t at an all-time high today. My “get up” is kind of gone. An extremely long day with a full work day plus a delayed three-hour flight then another long day with a delayed three-hour flight made waking up at 5 am for the also  3G Network’s walk really tough. Not even sure that they appreciated their walk since they too are very tired (and are all snoring).

sleepy George (photo taken by Bruce)

sleepy George looks like I feel                       (photo taken by Bruce)

Days like these are not my smartest, nor are they my swiftest. Problem-solving and creative solutions don’t come as easily as usual. So I’ve been puttering around, trying to jumpstart my brain. So far, it’s not working. Today’s a day when even the simplest tasks can get screwed up or take three times as long. I’ll have to be very careful and over think everything. Right now, I’m not even sure that I’m stringing these sentences together in a coherent way.

Now, I could go back to bed for a little while and show up at the office around noon. No one would blink an eye at receiving an email from me saying I’ll be in late. No problem taking a couple of hours for myself. But I need to “go”. I have stuff to do, people to see, meetings to attend. Clients that are expecting me to do my job to keep their projects going.

So I will putter for a bit longer. Today is supposed to be warmer so I’ll uncover the garden before I leave. Unpack my suitcase. Gather up all the papers and work stuff I collected yesterday. Take a long shower and let the water bring me back to life — like a parched plant in on a hot Texas afternoon. Break my “rule” about only having 2 cups of coffee a day.

With that plan, I should be awake by lunchtime. If you need my input or an important decision made, you might want to check with me then.

So: middle seat view

I travel a bit for my job. I love traveling and airports and have since I was a little girl. When I was a kid going to the airport meant either than someone was visiting us (like Grandma and Grandpa) or that we were visiting someone (like Grandma and Grandpa). Or we were moving to somewhere far a way and much more interesting than where we were living.

Airports for me, even with their security checkpoints, expensive food and drink prices, and often grouchy flight attendants (at least on American Airlines which is based in Dallas), are a place of excitement and anticipation. And people watching. Nothing I like better than to observe what’s going on around me.

One business trip last fall, I saw Santa Claus at DFW. No joke. He was in “civilian” clothes: a Christmas themed dress shirt and red tie with a jingle bell necklace for good measure. Not being quick enough on the iphone camera’s draw cost me a shot that would have made many children’s day. Hell, it made me believe too. It makes a good story though.

This trip had no Santa sightings, just very little sleep, lots of delays, a death-defying taxi ride, and very crowded flights. But what days like these teach business travelers is to be grateful for the good things that come to them. Even if they’re little things.

So while I write at 10,000 feet I am grateful for the following:

1. Wifi so I can catch up on work (and today’s post).

2. Being in the middle seat between a snoozing relatively handsome (that’s for you, Kate), reasonably sized man and my snoozing coworker LIsa rather than two large business men that have been working hard all day and are in need of a shower.

3. Getting on the earlier flight and beating the snow storm that is apparently hitting the east coast sometime tonight.

4. Tracy for watching the 3G Network so I didn’t need to worry about them.

5. Not having to be awake from 5 am CT until 1:30 am ET like yesterday.

6. A very hot shower to wake me up this morning after 5 hours of sleep.

7. A fantastic training session complete with a funny attorney.

8. Finishing up the training session early.

9  Being small enough to actually think the middle seat is fine for 3 hours.

10. The improvements made to the Philadelphia airport including the nice little wine bar where we killed a bit of time before the flight.

There’s something magical and transformative about travel. For me it always has the promise of excitement or a funny story to tell afterwards. People to see. New places to explore.

Even last nigh’s “death cab” adds a bit of novelty to this trip. A cab driver who was not only out of touch with his customers (he got out of the cab at one point to talk to his pals), didn’t know where he was going, and drove like a bat out of hell, makes for a tale that can be scaled up or down depending upon your audience.

On Saturday morning I get to do it all over again. But this time, my excitement wil be the excitement i felt as a kid going to visit my grandparents. Except now, I’m the attraction. Oh, and so is Uncle Bruce. We’re going to visit our twin nieces who just turned 3. They just got big girl beds and had a birthday party. They are ready to play Barbies with Uncle Bruce and have a tea party with their company. Maybe they’ll wear princess dresses. Or dig in the dirt. I can’t wait to see their little faces and hear about what’s going on at school.

Oh and it will be nice to see my brother and sister-in-law too.

Sow: mosquito elimination

I’m supposed to be traveling to Philadelphia today for a training session that’s tomorrow. But the flight’s been cancelled. School opening is delayed. Roads are getting messy. The ground is white. The tv news is advising people who can stay home to do so. There’s a road and winter weather advisory until 10 am (my flight was at 11:25 am). Guinness was not impressed with his morning constitutional with Godiva and George.

Why?

Mosquito repellant

Guinness surveys the natural mosquito repellant

Today the 3G Network and I woke up to something the weather reporters call “thunder snow”. It was thundering, lightning was flashing, and little round icy pellets were coming down. It felt a bit like getting hit by sand during a wind storm. Apparently it’s called “sleet”.

Guinness was not having any of it. It was wet and he hates wet. But I let him come back in, eat a little breakfast, then I made him go out again. I think he thought (as I did) that it would be like most north Texas extreme weather and stop in an hour or so. He wanted to go for a walk so at about 6 am, he started his usual campaign of wagging, looking out the window, pacing.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get his wish. As you can see from the photo, we have accumulation. So it was a swift sojourn around the neighborhood without much sniffing. Guinness was fine with that. He couldn’t get back to the sofa fast enough.

Still, I’m happy. Not because my flight is cancelled (it has been inconveniently rescheduled for around 8 pm tonight, causing me to miss the dinner part of my training meeting). I am happy because the mosquito population of north Texas is being naturally eliminated by the multiple days of  frost, snow and this weird pellet-y stuff.

Mosquitos are evil creatures with no redeeming value except being excellent bird treats. They cause heartworm in unprotected pets. It’s a horrible, nasty disease that slowly kills the cat or dog that gets it by destroying the cardiovascular system. In this human, they cause huge red welts that don’t go away for a long time. I am a mosquito magnet. No matter who much OFF I wear, they still love my blood.

I put mosquito dunks in our rain barrels to try to eliminate them. We change the bird baths daily (we have two because we have a huge bird population that ranges from hummingbirds to owls). We put down cedar granules on the yard and around the garden beds to repel them.

In 2012, the mosquitos were especially bad since we had a mild winter. Despite all of my efforts, I still got bit. I used OFF on our morning and evening dog walks. West Nile Virus was at an all-time high in Dallas. So the city decided to spay mosquito-cide aerially and also by truck.

It put me in a quandary. I wanted the mosquitos gone, but I didn’t like the idea of all those chemicals in the air.

While I doubt we’ll have a mosquito problem this year, I plan to do some additional research about what the city can do instead of spraying. Could they apply cedar-cide on a larger scale? Could they fine people who have unmaintained pools and ponds on their property? What about mosquito dunks in fountains?

How does your city handle the mozzies?

 

Sow: getting professional help

One of the things that sold us on the Mortroski Midcentury was its age. Built in 1966, it had the openness and period details (wet bar, exposed brick fireplace) that we were looking for. We would have preferred a truly untouched, un-updated  home, but we didn’t find one that fit that bill during our search.

What we did find here is something we couldn’t add: big trees. As you might remember from one of my earlier posts, these beautiful old trees can cause plumbing problems. They also provide something that is very valuable in north Texas in the summer: shade.

In our backyard, we are fortunate to have a stately live oak tree. We do not know its age but its trunk is bigger around than my arms can reach. It is the reason the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm is in the far right strip of the yard since its branches shade the majority of the space. It is a home to squirrels and a producer of huge amounts of acorns.

The acorns are particularly problematic. A source of extra calories for George and his squirrel pals, the reason we can’t walk barefoot on our patio without getting out a broom or the leaf blower, and apparently a desirable commodity for hunters who use them at their deer leases (the black garbage bags we fill are frequently taken from our monthly yard waste pickup deposits), the acorns just keep on coming down. Usually they start falling in October, peaking in late November or December, but depending upon the weather, they can continue falling through spring.

But even though it was producing a bumper crop of acorns, we were worried about the tree. Neither Bruce nor I knew much about live oaks. There were some soft spots low on the trunk. There was a large spot that looked like the inside of the tree was being exposed. And a large branch was over our roof, just above the chimney so we were concerned about having a fire in our fireplace. Still, it was green and leafy and there were no visible signs of death. Its branches were majestic and full of leaves (and acorns).

Neighbors and friends speculated about the tree. Some gave us names of local landscapers who could take it down for cheap. Others suggested what we could do with the yard if we removed it. Things like pools, outdoor kitchens, an extended patio were mentioned. A few mentioned how sad it would be if it was gone.

We needed a professional opinion. We got the name of a reputable arborist from the company that helped us to revitalize our overgrown front yard so we’d know for certain what was wrong with the tree and if it was so ill that it needed to go. My heart sunk as I steeled myself against the bad news.

Well, the tree did not let me down. Yes, it needs some professional help. Most likely it has never been correctly pruned. It needs some cabling since it has been hit by lightning several times and it has a bit of weakness. It is crowding the magnolia tree. But it does not need to go.

The arborist and his crew will visit the tree next Monday. They’ll lighten up some of its branches. They’ll put the cabling in place. They’ll do what needs to be done. And they’ll let the tree continue to keep shading our house and providing acorns for George and the squirrels.

Sow: being realistic

Yesterday I learned what I was NOT going to do in 2013. You see, I went to a seed starting class at North Haven Gardens, a local independent nursery that is committed to educating their customers. I went with the hope that I’d leave ready to start my spring tomato plants today.

I left with the realization that starting tomato seeds is better left to those with plenty of time on their hands. Perhaps that’s why the class was filled with snowy-haired experienced vegetable gardeners. We were all pretty hardcore though—we fought a torrential downpour and walked through deep puddles to get across the garden center to their auditorium.

An assortment of 2012's spring tomatoes and peppers

An assortment of 2012’s spring tomatoes and peppers

But starting tomato seeds successfully in north Texas requires many things. You need some sort of medium to house the seeds (peat pods were one option). You need a heating pad to help keep the soil warm enough. You need a light source to go 12-14 hours a day. You need to water daily or perhaps even more frequently. And this needs to happen for at least 8 weeks to get the little buggers started. Then you may need to transplant them to a bigger pot if it’s still not warm enough for them to go outside. When it is warm enough to bring the baby tomato plants outside, you need to slowly introduce them to the outside conditions over a period of about 10 days. Finally, you can plant them in your raised bed or garden.

No thank you. I will be picking up my tomato and pepper transplants as soon as they are available. And I will appreciate the work and effort that the nursery workers had to put in to give them a great start.

But lest you think I soaked myself for nothing and wasted about 1 1/2 hours at North Haven Gardens yesterday, I assure you, I did not. I learned what I  did wrong with my tomatoes last year (fertilized before flowering instead at the first signs of fruit). I was told how to keep my tomato and pepper plants around for at least 2 crops (plant in spring, trim after spring harvest is done, water water water all summer, and in October, you’ll be rewarded with more peppers and tomatoes). I learned that when I heard the weather report that we were having our first frost that I should have run outside and picked all of the green tomatoes and brought them inside — they would have continued to ripen on our counter throughout the winter (it takes time, but we could have enjoyed them). I heard more about why we need to be aware of the crazy weather here and keep the frost blankets handy all the way through April.

I picked up a three new swiss chard plants. The cold took its toil on three and here it is still ok to plant transplants of chard, kale and other greens.

I also talked to one of the garden experts about strawberry plants and learned that if I want to grow strawberries and have any reasonable quantity, I need to plant enough to fill 1/2 of a 4′ x 8′ raised bed (they are a perennial here and would get better year after year). I’m thinking about it, but not sure it will be worth the effort.

Just trying to be realistic.