Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas -- Bah Humbug!

For me Christmas traditions have always been important -- late Christmas eve church service with the bells at midnight, family all together. This has been one of my strangest Christmases. No church last night thanks to the blizzard. No brunch with the kids. Instead, Jack and I spent a good part of the afternoon trying to dig our way out of the house. We managed to get one of the cars out. A neighbor made a pass at the top of our driveway with his snowplow and Jack decided to back my car out of the street into the driveway. It's now sitting in the yard -- stuck until the spring thaw. Hope we can get the other car out in the morning and get to the kids for a belated brunch. It's not quite 5 p.m. and I'm already in my pajamas. After the shoveling, I came in for a shower and decided to get snuggy.

I think this year tops my previous weird Christmas -- the year we spent Christmas in Singapore. Sitting close to the equator, it was hot and sunny. We did get to late night church at the local Anglican church -- odd, with the windows open and anthuriums and orchids in with the poinsettias. No family that year and every time I walked into our hotel and heard the kids' choirs singing carols, I'd burst into tears.

I'm older now -- experienced Christmases with kids away from home and parents passing -- I know life isn't always what we want or what we expect. But I have learned that there is a bottom line. God IS and Christmas IS and so, even though this day was not as I had planned, I'm still celebrating. I hope you are, too!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Blizzard of '09

"Oh the weather outside is frightful...!" Oh, yeah. It started with rain and sleet this morning and morphed into a big snow storm. The snow's been falling for hours now and (for Oklahoma) it's gotten pretty deep -- deep enough that I offered to go look for the mail because I have snow boots and Jack just has loafers.

Roxie is frustrated because she doesn't like stuff falling on her -- especially when it's wet stuff. And how can you pee when you can't find a blade of grass? I've taken her out a couple of times but she's keeping her legs crossed as she skitters back to the door!

I can't deny that it looks beautiful. And I'm nice and cozy inside the house and watching one of my Christmas faves -- "White Christmas." Still, we won't be able to get up the driveway and go to church tonight. Don't know if we can get enough shoveled off in the morning to get to Jay's and Carolyn's to watch the boys open prezzies. They're supposed to come over here for dinner tomorrow night -- can you smell the turkey roasting? -- but who knows if they'll be able to get out of their neighborhood. For now, I'm just happy we're all inside and warm, all healthy, and we have plenty to eat. We are truly blessed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Catching Up

I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted! What a busy couple of weeks. I did post on so that the school kids could keep up with Vanilla before their Christmas vacation but I just didn't get around to posting here. So here goes.
The first of the month I went to Nashville -- I hadn't been since 2001. The purpose was to enjoy the Christmas attractions like the decorations at the Opryland Hotel,

to see the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Show,

and generally celebrate the season. (Including a great dinner at the Capitol Grille in the historic Hermitage Hotel)

But I also enjoyed some of the year-round goodies Nashville has to offer. The Country Music Hall of Fame is fabulous -- even for someone who isn't a big country music fan.

The new symphony hall is gorgeous. I think the symphony is probably excellent. Hate to sound like a philistine, but the program the night we attended was so dissonant that I couldn't tell if the orchestra and chorus got the music right or not. Two of the three pieces were chosen to recognize the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's birth. Or maybe death -- he wasn't exactly the King of Jollies. And neither was the music. I was scratching in the bottom of my purse for an anti-depressant but Staci came up with a better idea.

Honky-tonkin'! Oh, yeah, nobody does it better than Nashville!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Best of Both Seasons

Bellingrath Gardens is gorgeous any time of year but on our recent trip, we got to sample both the fall chrysanthemum extravaganza and the Christmas display (as they tested the lights). There were still quite a few roses in the Rotary Rose Garden. The rose below is called Dream Come True.

Mums were everywhere -- in borders, draped over the balconies of the Bellingrath home and

cascading fron the bridge over Mirror Lake.

We got to the Gardens early enough to see the mums in daylight then, as darkness fell, to enjoy the many lights. Scenes ranged from a Christmas living room scene

to an undersea fantasy.

These poinsettias were among my favorites.

Bellingrath Gardens is one of Alabama's true treasures!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Family Feasting

Now for something completely different. I'm thankful for so many things but top of my list is family and I'm looking forward to seeing almost everyone on Thanksgiving Day. We're missing Zoe and Simon -- doing their own version of Thanksgiving this weekend in England. I mailed cans of pumpkin so Zoe could make a pumpkin pie. Not sure what they'll do about turkey since they are vegetarians. Anyway, Thanksgiving here will be great with Jay and Carolyn and the boys (several years younger in the picture above), Carolyn's mom and sister and niece Alyssa. We're hoping Jack's 96 year-old mother will feel like joining us.

Nobody in my family likes dark meat so I'll be fixing two large turkey breasts. We'll have dressing and gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, a jello salad and sweet potatoes. I love my sweet potato recipe because it has all the taste without a lot of calories. My gift to you is my recipe:

Canned cut sweet potatoes to equal about 5 cups

! cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg yolk

2 egg whites

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tbs. all-purpose flour

2 tbs. chopped pecans

2 tbs. margarine, melted

10 servings -- approximately 210 calories, 2 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber

In a food processor, blend sweet potatoes, applesauce and vanilla until smooth. Add spices and egg yolk and continue to blend until smooth. Spoon into a large bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir a third of the egg whites into the sweet potatoes then gently fold in the remainder.

Spoon into a 1 1/2 quart souffle dish which has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, flour and pecans and sprinkle over the top. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes or until set.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ghosts of Old Mesilla

I LOVE Mesilla, New Mexico, a little town just south of Las Cruces. The first permanent residents settled here in 1848. Thanks to a mistaken Yankee mapmaker, Mesilla was in "no man's land." When most of the state was ceded to the U.S. by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, it was discovered that the depiction on the map was wrong and a little chunk of southwest New Mexico and a slice of southern Arizona were unaccounted for. The Gadsden purchase in 1853, settled the boundary dispute. The old town clustered around a central plaza -- a defense against raiding Apaches. Many of the buildings here date back to the 1850s.
Our group was led on a walking tour of the historic district by Preciliana, an enthusiastic and voluble guide dressed as an "adelita" -- a female "soldier" in the army of Pancho Villa.

She regaled us with stories of Old Mesilla and ghosts of days gone by. One of her best stories concerned the building that now houses the Double Eagle restaurant. Though not approaching its current opulence, the home was large and impressive for its time. The matriarch of the Maes family, the owners, had grand plans for her son Armando -- no local senorita was good enough. Armando, however, fell in love with Inez, one of his mother's maids. When Senora Maes discovered this, she drove Inez from the house. But not from the arms of Armando. One afternoon, returning earlier than expected, Mama Maes found Armando and Inez in an intimate situation in Armando's room. Grabbing her sewing scissors, she stabbed Inez. In the struggle, she also stabbed Armando -- killing the two lovers. The star-crossed specters still inhabit the property.
Today the highly popular restaurant has a reputation for fine cuisine -- and they make a mean Margarita. There are a number of dining areas -- from the twinkle-light-bedecked enclosed patio to the elegant gold Maximillian room with its Baccarat crystal chandeliers.

There are two chairs in the corner of Carlotta's Room (once Armando's bedroom) said to belong to the ill-fated couple. Superstitious people refuse to sit in them. I am not one of those people. No shrieking shades followed me into the night and my slumber was undisturbed.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Naked Truth

European massage -- how do I say this -- observes a different standard of modesty than American massage. Thank goodness I've had a lot of massages and thank goodness for the kindness of Donna Long who'd had one before and clued me in before the experience.

And thank goodness for Norma, the grandmotherly manager of the spa, who hailed from Birmingham, England and spoke English. Otherwise I might have wound up putting my paper panties on my head. Yep, we were each handed packets containing a shower cap and a pair of (Norma's term) paper panties -- more like a strip of gauzy paper on a rubber band!

I carefully arranged myself on the massage table, covering as much of me as possible with the towel I found there. I needn't have bothered. Let's put it this way -- my first panicked thought was "I should have checked to make sure I don't have belly-button lint!"

What the heck, it was a great massage; the masseuse was a professional and, well, I suppose if you've seen one, you've seen them both!

And, in case you wondered, that's me in the Niagara bath -- a jetted tub full of spring water with clay and minerals.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stuffed -- Like a Spanish Olive

Eating was a significant part of my visit to Spain and we had the opportunity to sample many of the local delicacies during our stay. Fish and seafood make up a big part of the Galician diet -- unfortunately for me, since I'm not a big fish fan. I did find some real favorites, though. These scallops -- in "Albarino Wine Sauce in its Shell and on a Bed of Salt" -- really hit the spot. And the setting, the 600-plus-year-old Pazo de San Lorenzo certainly added to the enjoyment!

Another night we visited a tapas bar and tried a number of items. I loved these prawns.

I took this picture in a fishmonger's window. Octopus, or pulpo, is as common as hamburgers in Edmond.
Here's a dish of pulpo at the tapas restaurant. And yes, I did try it. It wasn't bad but falls in the category of "Okay, I ate it once, don't have to do it again" along with raw oysters and rattlesnake.
I've already written about the amazing hot chocolate but haven't mentioned the Tarta de Santiago. This is a sweet almond cake topped with powdered sugar and the cross of St. James.

I really fell in love with Galician cheeses -- they make some wonderful ones. My favorite was Tetilla. I'm not sure if it's called "titty" cheese because it wound up looking like a woman's breast or if the cheese makers had a little too much Albarino and said "Let's see if we can make these cheeses look like boobs." Whatever, it's a beautiful, creamy, mild cheese.

The toughest thing about eating in Spain was the late dinners. Everywhere we went, people graciously fed us copious amounts of food -- two hour lunches were standard. So it was almost bedtime before we wanted to even think about eating more. And that was time for the multi-course feast that also lasted two to three hours.

Everything was beautifully presented. The tables gleamed with crystal and silver. No one could have been more charming or welcoming. You'll be proud of me -- I did my best to show my appreciation by eating as much as possible!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Love You, Santiago!

It was a gorgeous day the day we arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Our flight had been great and I even got several hours of sleep. So rather than taking a nap, I took to the streets with my camera. The icon of the city is the Cathedral. Later than afternoon several of us went to Mass.

The cathedral is on the east side of a large square and our hotel -- Hostal de los Reyes Catholicos -- was on the north side. This is one of Spain's paradors -- the government turns historic buildings into fantastic hotels. This is quite likely the world's oldest hotel -- founded in 1499 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to house pilgrims who came to the shrine of Saint James. I loved my room and the hotel was wonderful -- beautiful rooms, courtyards, furnishings and a gracious staff.

The first music I heard in Spain was the last I expected to hear -- bagpipes! This northwest corner of the country has a great Celtic heritage. Cut off from the rest of Spain by mountains, Galicia was very different from my expectations -- and I loved it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spanish Amulet

When Andreas told us he had an amulet in his pocket, we thought he said omelet! He struggled to pull out a small ceramic figure -- oh, amulet! He says Galicians are suspicious but he isn´t -- still he carries an amulet just in case.... His particular amulet protects him from hypocrites. You can buy different ones to protect you from other things or you can make a hand gesture for general protection.

Andreas was our guide to the Archbishop´s Palace and roof of the cathedral. His English was actually quite good but he apologized for it, saying it "sucked." Patricia (our hostess) told him if he knew that slang term, he was doing fine.

Yesterday was beautifully sunny and I took full advantage -- taking lots of pictures. Today is gray and cooler -- I needed my jacket. Even the exercise of climbing the stairs didn´t warm me too much.

Once you reach the second floor of the palace, you have 84 more tall steps to the roof. We climbed out onto the the granite shingles of the roof -- I don´t know what else to call them. They looked like the same stone used throughout the cathedral. From there we got a bird´s eye view of the bell tower, the rattle tower and the clock tower. The bell and rattle towers are on the front of the cathedral. There are 15 bells in the bell tower, which is the southernmost of the two towers. During Holy Week (I think in the past, don´t think so now, must check this out) they didn´t ring the bells since they were associated with joy so they used a large rattling instrument.

One of today´s highlights was stopping at a convent to buy pasteries from the nuns. We took them to a coffeeshop and Patricia bought me a chocolate espeso (since I don´t drink coffee). This is a wonderful, dark hot chocolate drink almost as thick as pudding. That should keep me awake for a while! And no, that isn't Patricia -- it's a lovely lady at the coffeeshop. I'm sorry I didn't get her name. Tonight we went out for tapas. I thought we'd be in about 10. Obviously, I'm not with the program yet. In Spain dinner starts at 9! We got home at midnight.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Please don't give up on me! I've been up to my ... in alligators -- literally and figuratively. Just got home from a great trip to Beaumont, Texas, and I leave in the morning for Santiago de Compostela, Spain! Hopefully, I'll catch up when I get home. In the meantime, please hang with me -- check , the site belonging to my traveling teddy Vanilla and, if I can get to a computer, I'll try to pop in to Facebook while I'm gone. See you soon!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Massage and More

Zoe and Jack and Roxy and I are in Broken Bow, Oklahoma -- about as far southeast in Oklahoma as you can get -- close to where Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma meet. This is one of the prettiest parts of Oklahoma but, for many years, has been one of the poorest. The area has, in the past ten years, had an influx of wealthy Texans -- mostly from the Metroplex -- coming here to enjoy the gorgeous lake, rivers, and pine forests. So elegant accommodations have sprung up to meet the need.

I love this part of the state so when I got an invitation to check out a new spa, I jumped at the chance. But this is no ordinary spa -- no mani/pedis, facials, etc. What you will get is the most amazing body treatment you ever had. There are elements of massage but it's really a banquet for your skin delivered with the most nurturing touch plus the added element of music, the vibrations of which will get your body humming harmonically with the sound and feel of the melody.

The result is relaxation so profound that I was reduced to a state of overdone pasta. Zoe put it a little more definitively so I'm including her description.

Here's Zoe:

"The next time someone tells me to 'go to my happy place,' I’m going to Body Harmony in Broken Bow, Oklahoma.

More than just a massage, Body Harmony offers a treatment unlike anything I’ve previously experienced.

Skin Treatment

The bulk of the treatment involves drizzling melted shea butter on the skin then rubbing with Dead Sea salts. The salts exfoliate and the shea butter moisturizes.

Nutrient Therapy

The salts aren’t just Sodium Chloride. They are 90% trace minerals, which your skin soaks up as the heat opens your pores. We don’t usually get enough trace minerals through food or supplements.

Healing Touch

The massage itself is gentle and relaxing. You don’t talk, and you don’t move, letting the therapist move your head, legs, and arms. The massage starts with your head and face (many massages neglect the face), moves to the legs, each arm, and then your back. The shea butter is an ideal massage oil and the salt increases circulation. Then you are swaddled in heated towels, first moist and then dry, and covered with a blanket as the next appendage is addressed.

Musical Beds

No, you don’t jump up and change places with another client when the music stops! The massage tables used by Body Harmony are completely unique, channeling the vibrations of the ambient music straight into your body. Our auditory accompaniment featured the sounds of rain, and feeling the thunder resonate through my solar plexus felt so … natural. After the first few minutes, you don’t really notice the vibration, but it subtly adds to the relaxation. The table is also topped with thick memory foam which molds to your curves and provides custom support. You feel cradled in the table rather than perched on top, and there are no pressure points.

Total Relaxation

The combination of the shea butter massage and salt scrub, the hot towels, the therapeutic technique, and the Body Harmony table, left me about as relaxed as I can ever remember being. The treatment also encourages the release of endorphins (you know, those feel-good chemicals your brain releases when you’re having a good time) which battles cortisol, the stress hormone we’re all carrying around pretty much 24/7.

No matter what your previous experiences with massage, I guarantee you’ve never had anything quite like a Body Harmony treatment. I can’t recommend it enough and hope to have another go someday!"

As for me -- yeah, what she said!

Monday, September 21, 2009

To Market, To Market

Visiting local farmers' markets is one of my favorite things. And I always think of one of my favorite movies -- the 1981 "Four Seasons" with Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Rita Moreno, Jack Weston and Sandy Dennis. Dennis plays an obsessive photographer who is focusing (literally!) on vegetables.

I totally get it. The colors and shapes are irresistible.

The market in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the best! Between the squash and the scuppernongs (the white grapes larger than the end of your thumb), the photo ops were endless -- which is why I'm posting more pictures than text.

And the piece de resistance is the tomato shot -- I couldn't believe my luck. I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.