Saturday, October 28, 2017

I'm sorry, I'm just in a slackerly place.

At least when it comes to blogging. I started to post about our Quebec trip and then just fell off the map. In the meantime, we both celebrated birthdays. On mine, we dressed up and went to the sort of restaurant we found in Italy - a chef who came out to chat with us, escargot to start, amazing roast duckling and seafood, good wine and then limoncello. Not a single person in the restaurant in football t-shirts, a rarity in this town on a game night.
I haven't been able to muster up the extra energy for the blogosphere. At the moment, I'm heavily engaged in a photo project with an expiration date and also work is busier than ever. I will be back, but I need to get a few things done first.  Maybe in another moon.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

See, back in August we had this soon-to-expire Airbnb discount...

and my husband was scheduled to start a new job in a week, with no vacation days available until he'd been there six months. What could we do? I got online and found a room for two nights in a little residential neighborhood in Quebéc City, that's what.
It was our most impromptu trip yet - I scrambled to cancel out three days in the middle of a week, we booked flights, brushed up on our French, packed a couple of carry-on bags, and flew to Canada. We used our discount to get a very inexpensive room in someone's home. And it was a little odd. Like staying with the friend of a friend. She was welcoming and accommodating, but we tried to stay out of her way when she was getting ready for work in the mornings because it felt a little awkward.
We shared the walk-up with this very fat kitty
and his even fatter brother. Both very sweet. I was pleasantly surprised that the apartment didn't smell like cat at all. One night, though, I heard something in the bedroom and then shrieked when this fellow jumped on the bed. I'd left the door to our room open while I ran to the bathroom, and he got in.
As soon as we'd dropped our bags at the apartment, we headed up to Rue Saint-Jean to Épicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in Quebéc.
J.A. Moisan opened his store in 1885 and it was fun to poke around in for picnic supplies.
We picked up a bottle of red wine, a baguette, some soft cheese in a hardwood ash, crispy pastries with duck confit and a fruit tart.
The plan was to walk until we found a place overlooking the river. But I'm one of those people who gets pretty irritable when my blood sugar starts dropping and I was hungry. The first place we found in the shade was our picnic spot. No glasses, so we drank directly from the bottle.
After lunch we walked along the river towards the old town.
The Saint Lawrence River flows through Québec, and the city is a port of entry.
There is a boardwalk that runs above the river, and we spent some time after our picnic strolling along it and just enjoying the feel of being somewhere different. Our luck of defying predicted bad weather held and it was gorgeous out.
Just doing my part to keep the Château Frontenac in its position of "most photographed hotel in the world."
Québec takes the idea of entertaining tourists and residents seriously and there were street performers out all the time. Not necessarily great ones, but still.
We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the lower part of the old town, and headed toward the stairs. But more on that in the next post.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Do you ever feel like there is so much going on that posting about daily life seems trivial?

Part of the country is burning, part of the country is drowning, and the leader of our country is taunting a madman in North Korea and denying climate change. And I can't do anything about any of it. So I just shut down for a bit. I don't mean I wasn't living my life, I just mean I couldn't bring myself to blog about the mundane and I have nothing of value to say about what really matters. But when you get right down to it, the mundane is what I've got, so I'm going with it.
Before I get to a bigger trip we took last month, I wanted to post about a quick trip we took with the younger daughter down to South Georgia to visit family. My niece was making a rare appearance and so three of my sibs and a brother-in-law gathered at my mom's house for a crab feast. My sister and brother-in-law picked up fresh Georgia blue crab and the water was boiling when we got there. Most of the people at the table ate a crab or two, but my brothers and I are crab-eating machines. We just keep going until they are gone. It's labor-intensive, but I managed to pack five of them away.
We also spent some time learning how to juggle flaming things. Or trying to learn. I kept dropping them. There are two downed trees out back from previous storms and my brother and brother-in-law had put a lot of time on another visit trying to chop one down.
We all took our turn with the axe. My husband, I will admit, was better at this than I am. I have pretty pathetic upper body strength.
Plus I never take anything seriously.
Because the daughter and I have allergies, we always stay at a motel. Our room had a palm tree immediately outside our door and fire ant hills in the sandy dirt. There's no mistaking what part of the country we were in. It also had a pool, a huge bonus when traveling with a child, and we all hung out there for part of the visit.
The second day, we went to walk a trail. South Georgia greenways are swampier than the ones in our neck of the woods. I looked for alligators, but saw none. I am convinced they are there. Or maybe a chupacabra.
The effects of recent heavy storms were evident on our walk, as well. And the town was bracing for Irma, which did veer inland as feared. Fortunately, my mother and sister reported only minor damage. Another sister had to evacuate from the Keys and my stepmother and her husband also were away from their home in Florida during the hurricane. Earlier, we were glad to get similar reports from my in-laws in Houston when Harvey hit - some flooding but all were well.

But my family was lucky. There was so much destruction and so much recovery work is ahead. Fire and rain and wind, more frequent and fierce. Tell me we aren't screwing up this world. And all I can do is try to help people in the ways that I can and live life while I have it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I've noticed a theme in our celebrations - they always involve good food.

So, my husband wrapped up his externship and started applying for jobs. Starting a new career at 50 is an unsettling thing but I was confidant it would go well. Just one day after he submitted an on-line application for jobs at one of the two companies he was most interested in, he got a call to schedule an interview. They offered him two different jobs and he made plans to accept one of them. In the meantime, the company he'd done his externship for contacted him, as did a third company, and he went back to talk with them. We talked it over and he accepted a position with the medical company where he'd externed. When he let the first company know, they asked if he'd reconsider! But for a variety of reasons, this felt like the best fit and this past Thursday he had his orientation. We met downtown to have dinner outside. After cooling our heels for more than ten minutes, my husband went to track down a waiter. They were apologetic, we were friendly, all was well. We had ahi tuna and chicken salads and a bottle of wine. We were feeling celebratory, it was a gorgeous day, and the delay just wasn't a big deal to us. But the owner of the restaurant thought it was and charged us half-price for the wine and gave us the dinners on the house! Sweet! We left a huge tip.
Friday was my husband's first real day of work. It's the same company but a different office, so a new set of providers to get to know. They were happy with him, he enjoyed the day and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief. We had the younger daughter that night, but planned a celebratory meal for the two of us on Saturday. We grilled swordfish with tarragon butter and zucchini with balsamic vinegar and feta. And I made up another side dish - caramelized sweet onions and fresh beets with their greens in a maple-bourbon glaze.
We still have a small stash of wedding cupcakes in the freezer, which have stayed remarkably delicious even after all this time. For the occasion, we had bought a bottle of champagne during the externship with the plan of breaking it out when my husband officially started as a CMA. We cracked it open after dinner and toasted checking off one of the biggest of our financial goals we'd set for 2017 - a job with benefits! I am in private practice, which means expensive, high-deductible insurance and only unpaid time off. My husband's previous employers (and I'm just going to say it, his previous employers were not good people) did not offer anything in the way of paid health insurance or a retirement plan. So this is a big deal for us. I know life is uncertain and anything can turn on a dime, but for now we are celebrating.

Monday, August 21, 2017

In the zone.

So I have a trip to blog about from last week, but first I just have to post about the eclipse.
Our town was just outside the zone of totality so that if we stayed home, we'd only have a partial eclipse. Instead, we got up at 3 am to head southwest to bring us right in the center, less than an hour's drive. Our goal was to stay clear of the interstate and I found a small park near a little bitty town. We stopped for breakfast mid-way and arrived at the park before dawn.
At day-break, after a nap in the car, we took a 2 1/2 mile hike through the woods. At that point we were still the only ones in the park.
We ended on a ridge overlooking the lake, with the morning sun lending a rosy glow to everything.
On the hike back down, we noticed these absurdly large fungi on the ground.
A few more cars had arrived when we got back, so we set up under one of the few shade trees. I'd packed more food than is actually sane and we had chairs, a cooler and a blanket.
This little park had a bathroom and only one dark-activated outside light, which my husband temporarily disabled. Near our tree was a meadow loaded with Joe Pye weed and other butterfly-attracting wildflowers.
Eventually, two other families joined us in the shade. In all, only about 30 cars showed up for the eclipse. Just down the road, people were selling parking spaces at their businesses and homes, but this was free and much more pleasant. We were told that the highways had become parking lots by late morning.
But we weren't there for the scenery. It was eclipse time!
At first, every photo I tried to take just looked like the regular sun.
Finally, I managed to get a shot with the eclipse glasses held over the camera lens on my phone. Not a great one, but you can see the encroaching shadow of the moon. I had a book that had come with the glasses that I lent to the first family that joined is. One of the little girls was enthralled with it and tracked the phases, comparing the moon to the drawings. I gave her the book to keep.
The shadows through the trees became little crescents.
Oddly, some of the photos showed a little reflection of the crescent of the sun.
I'd read that shadows become sharper as the eclipse increases, so I pulled my hair out of its ponytail so I could see that phenomenon.
Right before the total eclipse, the temperature started dropping and the sky began to darken to a twilight shade. It was eerie.
Then totality! Everyone pulled off their eclipse glasses and a spontaneous cheer went up. We toasted with a sip Irish whiskey. I wasn't expecting to feel that sense of awe, but it was actually spectacular. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to experience it long ago before anyone understood what was happening. Must have been terrifying.
The two and a half minutes of totality flew by. When the moon shifted enough to allow the sun start to shine around the edge, everyone cheered again. The two families we'd sat with gave me their email addresses and asked me to send them the last two photos. We made our way back home along back roads to avoid traffic and started thinking about how we might catch the one total eclipse when it rolls around again in 2024. Because it's totally worth it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Maybe he still needs his mom?

My older son made plans to move for grad school the last weekend in July, and I had offered multiple times for myself and my husband to drive out and help. He said he was fine, he could do it. I woke up Friday morning to find a 2:30 am text from him asking if it was too late to take me up on my offer. Well, hell. I'm a mom. It was too late for my husband to arrange for care for the youngest daughter, so I went in to work to see a couple of new patients, canceled out the rest of my day, threw a few clothes in the car and headed the three hours out to his town. My son and I cooled our heels at an inefficient UHaul office in a neighboring town because they'd messed up his reservation. No one offered us pizza while we waited.
Finally we had my son's car on a tow dolly and him behind the wheel. I lead him back to his home, driving verrrrrry slowly. He'd never driven a truck, let alone one towing a car.
When we got back to the duplex he'd been renting to pack and clean, I discovered there was a lot left to be done. Let me just say, that's an enormous understatement. There were several packed bins in the living room but that's about it. The worst part was that he'd converted the second bedroom into a wood shop. You heard me. A wood shop. We spent an inordinate amount of time wiping down many, many pieces of wood along with all the furniture and the walls to remove the sawdust. I packed all his clothes (a dresser-full plus two closets), the kitchen, the toiletries. We had to go out out not once, but twice, to get more bins. Finally, around midnight - one in the morning my time - I told my son that we needed to get some sleep and finish in the morning. He readily accepted my offer of getting a hotel room.
My older son likes to grow pumpkins. His landlord told him the vines that covered the back yard must be cleared up. When I got there, the pumpkins were lined up on the front porch and the vines were a sodden mass out back. We had to scoop them up to throw them away. I also cleaned the apartment, scrubbing down the kitchen and bathroom, vacuuming, and mopping.
A couple hours into it this is how filled the UHaul was. My son had taken to wandering around aimlessly. I know overwhelmed when I see it.  I went to fetch us some breakfast and took to directing after we'd eaten. Eventually, the truck was loaded and we were on the road, me leading. Driving slowly down the interstate. For hours. Countless times people blew their horns, flipped us off, screamed at us. It was grueling.
When we got to his new neighborhood we had difficulty locating the landlord's office for a key. We drove all over looking and asking clueless residents. But it did give me a chance to see the neighborhood. It looks like a beach resort town, even though it's not on the ocean.
I looked out the window of the apartment he'll be sharing with two other optometry students and saw tennis courts, a sand volleyball court, and a couple of pools. I couldn't help but flash back to some of the low-rent places I lived in as a grad student. In fact, I've never lived in a neighborhood this fancy.
We lugged the furniture and all those bins up an outdoor staircase to the new apartment.  Some of the furniture was very heavy stuff my son had made himself. And you've seen pictures of me - I am not a particularly strong person. My arms and legs were quivering from the effort. Much of the unloading was done in the dark. I called my husband in despair and he got online and booked us the closest hotel he could find that had a vacancy.
We drove through the city and into a rougher part of town. It was a sketchy looking place but we checked carefully and it seemed very clean.
After we checked in, we went back out to grab some take-out and returned to eat in the strange room. There were huge framed pictures of the city over both beds. There was a bathroom, of course, but no toilet paper. There was ground coffee and cups but no coffee maker. Outside we could hear an occasionally screechy scraping sound. My son said, "That's the sound of someone slowly sideswiping your car." I thanked him for planting that image in my head.  It was again well past midnight and we ate quickly and went to sleep despite that sound.
I stepped out of the room the next morning and saw that it was the passing of nearby trains causing all that racket the night before. We headed back to the new apartment and took some of the furniture up the inside staircase to his new room. I'd have stayed to help a little longer but I was hungry and in need of coffee.
We drove across the bridge into Arkansas and got what I always call "a big plate of tan." No, it's not particularly healthy but it hit the spot. I felt suitably fortified for the drive home.
I cried a little leaving him. He's in a great neighborhood, he's starting an exciting new phase of his life and I believe he's fully capable. But I hate that he'll be a seven hour drive away.
Back home, I unloaded the pumpkins I'd picked out from the ones he'd grown. They'll live in my garden until they get mushy. They remind me of my son's quirky nature, his sense of humor, and his determination. I smile every time I see them.