Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Birthday Alley

We are smack-dab in the middle of Birthday Alley here on the Hilltop. It starts with Gunnar on the 5th of July. We had him convinced for years that they set off fireworks just for him!

Next is Evelyn on the 16th of July. And then mine on the 31st. Bryce is next on Aug 10th, with my mother in law landing right after him on the 11th. And finally we have Dave’s on September the 18th. There is enough of a break between my Mother in Law and Dave that we have time to take a breath. I’m usually ready to throw another party by the time Dave’s birthday rolls around.

That is not all of the extended family birthdays, there are lots of us on both sides of the family that have summer birthdays, but usually I don’t have to think about hosting for those parties.

And because that’s not enough to do in one 6 week period, we usually travel to Colorado for our summer vacation then too. I also offered to have a youth group swim party here on the 7th of Aug. I really should have given that date a little more thought. That’s a LOT of stuff going on in a short period of time.

We took our Colorado trip a bit earlier this summer so we could see Gunnar on his birthday. He is working at a Dude Ranch up there for the Summer.

Here we are, just about ready to start our LONG drive home after spending the weekend with him at the ranch. We were leaving him the last of the strawberry-rhubarb pie I made for his birthday. Gunnar is now 19 years old.

This is what we did for Evelyn’s birthday. She requested homemade pizza. That is one of our traditions, to let the birthday child choose dinner. I am happy to say we’ve moved on from the days of fish sticks hot dogs and macaroni and cheese!

This was amazing pizza! Ev has not had her birthday party yet. Her cousins were out of town and things were a bit nutty, so hopefully in Aug before school starts back up, we’ll have a cousin sleepover for her birthday. Evelyn is now 16.

Coming up very soon is my birthday. I’m going to be 29 again. Usually we are in Colorado on my birthday. I don’t think I’ve been home on my birthday for 5 or 6 years. You’ll not here me complain. I usually get to spend my birthday in the cool, beautiful mountains! That’s a gift in itself. 

But since we’re home this year, Dave is throwing me a party. My friend is coming to get me on Saturday and Dave and the kids are going to get the house ready and then I’ll come home to a party! How fun!

I’m trying to help get the house ready this week so there won’t be so much for him to do on Saturday. It’s a lot of work getting the house ready for a party. It’s not a big party, just family really, but it’s ALL the family. There are a lot of us when you start inviting both sides and add in the kids, and their girl/boy friends etc.

Once we are done with that it’ll be time to think about what we’re going to do for Bryce and Lori’s birthdays.

It’s a lot of work, hosting all these parties, but I love it. I love birthdays. It’s a wonderful excuse to make someone feel loved and appreciated and spoiled. I love choosing just the right gift that will make someone smile!

I’m not going to lie, birthday alley wears me out every year. By the time it’s over I don’t want to see another birthday cake! But I feel blessed to have a house that can accommodate a group of people to celebrate with us. We spent many years in a tiny place where that was impossible.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FAMILY! May we all survive Birthday Alley!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Oh Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say...

On Thursdays Dave does his south run down into Cleburne and is occasionally back up north in time for us to meet for a late lunch. Today was such a day. We met in Midlothian at Jimmy’s Pizza.

We were seated at a booth near the kitchen. In fact, the entrance to the kitchen was right behind us. The place was pretty empty, mostly because it was 1:30 in the afternoon and the lunch rush had already cleared out.

We ordered our pizza and unsweet iced tea. Dave and I both thought the iced tea tasted funny. It was very weak and overall tasted odd. Not a big deal, everyone makes their tea differently.

When the waitress came by the next time to ask us how everything was and tell us our pizza was on its way, we kindly asked her if we could have water (and a coke for Dave) instead. We were very polite, smiling, and non confrontational. It was really not a big deal.

She gave us a funny look so I explained by saying, “It tastes a little off, I think.” Also very politely. She took our glasses and went into the kitchen.

Once she was gone Dave said he’d heard her say, as she walked into the kitchen, “Well, that’s because I blew my nose in it.” in a very snotty (pun intended!) tone of voice.

I was astonished. We’d not been rude. We’d not been demanding. We’d not been angry. We simply asked for different drinks.  I told Dave that I thought perhaps we needed to leave as I was no longer comfortable eating here if our waitress was going  to say such things.

Obviously, she’d overheard us, just as we’d overheard her. Before we could get up and leave she came with our pizza. She set it down on the table and said, “I didn’t blow my nose in the tea. We’ve just had a lot of complaints about it today.” And she left.

Um, what? First of all, I do appreciate that she didn’t actually blow her nose in the tea. I didn’t think she really had, but her saying that does not negate the fact that she was rude and insulting to her patrons. And how do those two items go together anyway? She didn’t actually apologize for her snotty comment, nor did her second statement explain why she would say that.

We went ahead and ate our pizza, and she kept coming by and asking how everything was, like everything was normal. It was so odd.

I really want to like this place. I am all about supporting our local business, but this is the 3rd time we’ve been there and had astoundingly lousy service.

I learned two things today. One, watch what you say! If it’s something you would not want a certain person, or group of people to here, for goodness sake, JUST DON’T SAY IT!

And second. Jimmy’s Pizza in Midlothian is now dead to me. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Here’s the truth: I’m not a morning person.

This is not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows me. I wake up slowly. It just takes me a while. Always has. Added to my already slow pace in the morning is the fact that I am now always achy and stiff, thank you autoimmune disorder.

What this means is no breakfast for my crew; especially my early out the door sons and husband.  I feel guilty about that. Every now and then I’ll find something that will help out and make me feel less guilty about my slothful morning ways.

I’ve seen a few breakfast sandwich ideas on Pinterest lately and thought I’d try my hand at making some. I tweaked the ideas I'd seen a bit, and I think the men are going to like the result.

I bought the already sliced, thin, bagels at Costco, and pre cooked bacon. We already had lots of sliced cheese, and I already had lots of eggs. Now I will take a minute and add this is actual cheese, sliced. Not the nasty, American, fake cheese. I can’t stand that stuff. Bleck. (I’ll drink and like $6 Champagne, but can’t stand cheep cheese. Go figure)

I cooked the eggs in muffin cups. I’m going to have to work on this. The eggs are too small and thick for the bagel sandwiches. I cut them in half which is an okay solution, but I’d prefer to find something to cook them in that would make them larger and skinnier. Thoughts?

Then I assembled the sandwiches, packed them in Ziplock bags and added a slip of paper with the type of sandwich, and  instructions on how to cook them, (because, remember, I’m going to be sound asleep when the men try to reheat them).

Early tomorrow morning, we’ll see how they liked them! Well, okay, I’ll probably find out sometime mid morning.

I figure these breakfast bagels cost about $1.00 each. That's kind of high, but the big expense was the pre cooked bacon. That was $14 at Costco. It was a large amount and I'll have some left, but still that's a lot for bacon. I will use some Canadian Bacon next time too and that will be less expensive.

Even at $1 each I still feel like it's a good deal. They run somewhere around $3 at fast food places, so that's a fair savings, and they'd be very greasy and filled with who-knows-what. Also, these are large sandwiches. Those are regular sized sandwich bags. The ones you get at the restaurants are smaller. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Classics

So…what makes a piece of literature a Classic?

This is a tough one for me. Many of The Greats are extremely well written, the language beautiful and poetic and the settings are often exotic and intriguing, but often the plot is garbage. Not something I really want my children reading about. Take for instance Catcher in the Rye. A classic to be sure. Well written to be sure, but the plot? Garbage. Pure trash. Do I have my daughters read it to be culturally literate? Everyone’s heard of Catcher in the Rye. Will it hinder them to not know the story? I guess we’ll see.

After much thought and research, I’ve decided on these books for my 11th grader. I’m having her start early because she has a pretty tough schedule next year, including a college English class.

The List…

To Kill a Mockingbird
The Scarlet Letter
Lord of the Flies
Animal Farm
The Diary of Anne Frank
A Separate Peace
The Island of Dr. Moreau
Fast Food Nation
The Picture of Dorian Grey
Jane Eyre
Heart of Darkness
Hound of the Baskervilles 

This is the list for my 9th grader. It is not finished yet. I’m still compiling her book list but so far I know she’ll read these along with her sister…

Hound of the Baskervilles
Diary of Anne Frank
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies (I think we’re going to listen to this one all together. I personally hate this book and would have left it off the list, but they have asked to read it, so I’m going to endure it with them.)

One thing I have learned about teaching Literature to my children is to NOT rely on my own memory. I remember reading and loving many books as a child, but when I went back through them with my own kids, I realized either a lot of it went right over my head or I simply forgot a lot! 

Take A Light in the Forrest, for instance. GREAT book. It gives a really good insight into that time period and what it was like for Native Americans, and the settlers, and how hard it was to integrate the two cultures. HOWEVER, it’s a bit disturbing for  the early elementary years when I read it to my girls! I remember LOVING that book in about 5th grade, but it was much darker and more disturbing than I remembered. If I’d pre read or remembered correctly, I would have waited a few more years to introduce that one.

So it’s a little more complicated that just grabbing a grade level book list off the internet somewhere and handing it off to the kids. I want them to be culturally literate, and I want them to enjoy great, classic literature, but I also want to have them reading books that as a whole, are worthy of their time. If the setting is amazing, and the writing is stellar, and the book is very well known and often discussed, but the plot, the very story, is ignoble, dishonorable, and corrupt why would I want my children reading it? 

This truly is a conundrum for me. I want my children to be highly educated and well read, but if, ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things’  is our guideline, well that shines a new light on things. 

So, any classics you'd definitely recommend? Avoid?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tricia Vs. The Colorado River

I was coerced into white water rafting while on vacation last week. I’d done it once before, but honestly that was more of a boat ride than a rafting trip. The river was calm and sedate during that trip. My daughter, whose idea it was to book another rafting trip on this vacation, promised me it was only a little more intense than the last trip, but nothing too scary. This from the girl that spent the majority of her elementary years up a tree. WAY up a tree. My inner Fraidy-Cat said, “DON’T DO IT!” I should have listened.

When we arrived at the rafting place we were told to don our safety equipment: life vests and helmets. HELMETS?!? What?

There were seven of us: Dave and I and the girls and Bent and his boys. We all loaded into one raft with Ben, our guide. We were given a few instructions that were promptly forgotten by the teenagers who were so eager to just get going already, and enough with the rules please and thank you.

So off we go.

Right out of the gate (or off the loading zone?) we ran into a few issues. Mostly me sitting with a teenager in front of me and behind me, on one side of the boat and the three of us could not get a rhythm down. Also, Bent and Dave were sitting on the same side of the boat. The two heaviest guys. This to me seemed a bad idea from the get-go but our guide said it didn’t really matter where we sat.  He’s the expert, right?

He hollered a few commands telling us when to paddle and when to stop and which side to paddle when (problematic when it takes a few seconds to remember which side is the left and which is the right). We seemed to be doing okay. We went over a few rapids without incident and were gaining confidence. The river calmed and Ben pointed out a giant rock up ahead called The Tombstone. The Tombstone was the size of an SUV sticking out of the water on the right side of the river with another smaller rock, this one merely the size of a small compact car, sticking out on the left. We were to go in between these two rocks . It was important to make sure we went, just so, in between these two rocks. We watched a few other rafts go in front of us and it seemed doable.  So, off we went.

We kept getting closer and closer to The Tombstone. Ben was yelling instructions like, “LEFT SIDE PADDLE!!!” and then, “HIGH SIDE!! HIGH SIDE!!”

(This is the river while very low. You can see The Tombstone off to the left.)

 It was at this moment that time stood still. I remember the side of our raft, my side, coming up onto that giant, SUV sized rock. I remember looking over the top of it to the other side and briefly wondering if we were going to flip, or go over the edge. Neither seemed a good option. Then Ben yelling, “OH CRAP!!” and yeah, he didn’t really say ‘crap’ but this is a G rated blog. And then it goes blank. Nothing. Big, empty hole in the memory.

Next thing I know I’m under water. I don’t remember getting there. I don’t remember seeing anyone else go in the water. I don’t know if the entire raft flipped, ejected all of us, or just me. No idea. All I can think about at this moment in time is air. When I finally got my head back above water (thank you eversomuch life vest!) I began to gasp for air, only to get mouths full of water. As I tried to stand up or swim, because, you know, AIR, I started whacking my legs on the rocks. HARD. There was no getting any sort of footing. I was flying down the river,  my legs and feet were taking a beating from the rocks below while my head was barely above the rapids, and I was breathing more water than air. It was at this point I realized I was helpless. I could do nothing to save myself and yes, I was probably going to die right there in the Colorado River.

(The caption that accompanies this photo at the rifting site I got it from is as follows: Glenwood Canyon offers some of the best white water rafting in the state of Colorado. Deep within the canyon, enthusiasts will find a ten mile stretch of the river that is the most frequented section of the Upper Colorado River. The Shoshone section of the river offers BIG water adventure with miles of action packed white water with no fewer than six challenging class III-IV rapids, including the infamous Man-eater, Tombstone, The Wall, and the SuperstitionsSEE?? I'm not exaggerating!!) 

Suddenly I hear, “FEET UP! FEET UP! FEET UP!” over and over. My brain finally turns itself back on and I remember them telling us that if we found ourselves in the river we needed to assume the ‘nose and toes’ position. Meaning head above water, on your back with your toes up. This has the obvious benefit of keeping ones legs from being beaten to a bloody pulp by the rocks in the river bed, but it also positions your head a little higher above the water and angled back so you can breathe. That was handy. The downside to the ‘Nose and Toes’ position is that you are now offering no sort of resistance to the water’s current. I took off like a bullet!

Suddenly I notice Bent and Ian near me. It was Bent who was yelling ‘Feet up!’ at Ian and I because apparently his brain still works when under the influence of massive amounts of adrenalin, and mine and Ian’s do not.  No sooner had I seen Bent, then he disappeared. I didn’t know where at the time, but later learned he flew past me down river. The current brought Ian close enough to me for a second that I could grab the back of his life vest. I had no idea where any other members of my family were and there was no way I was letting go of Ian’s vest.

Suddenly a rope appears before us and I hear a man yelling for us to grab the rope. I look up and see him standing on shore. Apparently they keep a man on shore at this area for just such an event. However, there was a flaw in his plan. Three of us grabbed the rope at the same time and he almost got pulled in so he had to let go of the rope. Now instead of helping, we’ve got this giant, long, thick rope threading all around us making it even harder to keep our heads above water.

In the next second I hear, “SWIM TO SHORE!” My foggy, water-logged brain harkens back to the instructions we got before we got in the boat. I remember the guides saying if all else fails and we hear the order to ‘Swim to shore’ we’d better hop to it because there is something worse coming up that we don’t want to be caught in.

Now I have a choice to make. Let go of Ian’s life jacket and swim, or try to swim and hold on to him and possibly we both end up in whatever undesirable thing is coming up down river. This was a true conundrum. Ian is my nephew! He’s just a little kid! There is no one here to help him but me, I can’t let go of him. How could I live with myself?? In the time it takes me to have these thoughts, Ian who is not in fact a little kid, but instead a very strong fourteen year old young man that is actually taller than I am, takes off like a rocket for shore. Let me tell you, that boy can swim! Once my moral quagmire was all cleared up, I too took off toward shore. As I did this I saw Dave about fifty feet upriver from me also swimming madly toward the shore. That was relief, because up until that point I had no idea where he was.

Finally, finally, I made it to the rocky shore. Ian was a few feet to my side and Dave was clambering up the rocks upriver.

Here’s where thing get even more interesting. Turns out, my body does not handle large doses of adrenaline well. I am standing on one flat rock just a foot or two above the waterline, leaning on another, larger rock. I have my hands firmly planted on the waist high rock in front of me, and I am stuck. Totally and completely stuck. There I stand, hands and feet firmly planted and gasping for air. Gasping.  As in, hyperventilating. This was not an, ‘I just exerted myself and I need to catch my breath’ kinda thing. This was a full on, freak-out, crazy-unhinged-lady, panic. Yes it was.

There was one rafting guy above me on a rock and one right beside me. I have no idea where these guys came from. I think they were there when I was climbing up out of the water. In fact, I bet they helped me up out of the water but I didn’t actually notice them until I was standing there in freak-out mode.

I could see Ian. I could see Dave. I’d seen Bent earlier. But I had absolutely no clue where Evelyn, Annika, or Martyn were. This probably contributed to the panic. I very much wanted to ask the gentleman next to me who, by the way, had a very firm grasp on the side straps of my life vest, ‘Excuse me, but do you know where my children are?’ but I’m pretty sure what came out was a strangled ‘kids?’ in between gasps.

He replied, “All the guys are out of the water.”

This was  helpful, because it assured me of Martyn and Bent’s safety, but it did not tell me where my girls were.

So I tried again, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me where my daughters are?” but I think it came out, “Girls?!?”

To which he replied, “They’re  out. Everyone is out. Everyone is safe.”

The relief I felt was almost physical. In fact, just knowing that took all the fight out of me. I decided that I was just going to go ahead and sit right there on that rock for the foreseeable future thank you very much. I’m pretty sure those two guys saw that too because they started nagging me about moving. As in, up the rock ledge to the sidewalk above. Yeah, whatever. I was still gasping for air as hard as I had been when I crawled out of the water and now my muscles were jello. There was no way on earth I was climbing those rocks. But darn if those guys weren't persistent!

The guy on the rock above told me to give him my hand and he’d help me up the rocks. I looked up at him and through my gasping, hyperventilating, breathing I told him he was really going to have to help me because my muscles were not working very well just then. Like those guys were not fully aware of the totally compromised, unstable, crazy lady they were dealing with. Though those guys looked a bit on the small side, they must have been quite strong. They had a hold of me just about the whole way up and I’m pretty sure if they’d not been there I’d still be sitting on that rock today.

Once I got to the top, I just plopped right down in the dirt under the shade of a nearby tree. Very unladylike. I sat there gasping and gasping away. I think there were a lot of people standing around me at that point. All the other rafts had pulled to the side and the guides had gotten out to help get us all out of the river. Then Dave appeared, looking a little worse for wear himself with his bloody legs and knees, but darn him, he had all his faculties working just fine. No freaking out or hyperventilating for him. Next was Bent to appear, also just fine. They joined the chorus of people telling me to take a deep breath and try to calm down. Gee, thanks! That’s helpful! I hadn’t thought of that!

My breathing must have finally slowed to a semi-normal pace because they rafting guys began talking about getting back in the rafts? Um, what?

I looked at Dave and said, “I’m not getting back in that boat.” The raft guys begin to tell me that that was the scariest part and it’s all smooth-ish sailing from here and really it’ll be okay and I think someone said something about horses and being thrown and getting back on, and that was just totally unhelpful because you can’t DROWNED on a horse!

Again, I stated to Dave, “I’m not getting back on that boat.’ I don’t think they realized it took about all my effort and concentration to breathe normally, and they wanted me to go back to rafting? Nuts! These guys were all insane!

Evelyn and Annika appeared about then to check on me. I was still sitting in the dirt concentrating on the whole in and out of the air thing while the rafting guides tried to conspire with Dave to get me back in the boat. Dave was able to help them to understand that was never going to happen. I think he said something to the effect of, ‘You don’t know my wife. I promise you, she’s not getting back in that boat. That ship has sailed, so now we have to figure out how we’re going to get her back to the rafting place, sans watercraft.’ That man knows me well. Even Annika said to the guy trying to convince me to get back in the boat, ‘You might as well give up. You’ll never get her back in that boat.’

Once everyone had consensus that ‘Tricia Will Never Get In Another Raft Ever In Her Life,’ they broke the news that we had to walk one mile to the nearest place the bus could pick us up. Lovely. The river ate my shoes so that was going to be a fun walk. Because Dave can still think quite clearly under the influence of high doses of adrenalin, he asked Evelyn to give me her shoes since she was getting back on the boat. Now came the point where I actually had to stand up and begin my mile walk in my sopping wet clothes on jelly-legs.

Dave helped me up and the rafting guys (including the owner who had somehow appeared) put forth one last attempt to talk me into rafting, bless their hearts. The girls and Bent got back in the rafts and Dave and I headed down the path to the bus. Let’s just say it was a very slow walk.

As we got closer to the place where the buses were waiting, our rafting guide Ben, and the owner met us. The owner asked us if we’d noticed any other bruises or cuts or injuries now that the adrenalin was wearing off. I looked down at my shins and saw the cuts and bruises there. I’d already noticed that, along with the blisters I was getting from walking in Evelyn’s wet shoes. So I said no right about the time I noticed a softball sized bruise on the inside of my upper arm. The guide looked at it and said that happens a lot, not noticing injuries until much later. But of course, as soon as I noticed it, it began to HURT.

Once we got to the place where the bus was waiting, I noticed all the rafts parked down in the water below. They’d been waiting there the whole time we’d been walking! I didn’t know they were going to do that. I felt terrible for making 4 or 5 giant rafts of people wait while I meandered down a mile long path on my jelly-legs. After one last, futile attempt to get me back on the boat, the rafts took off, this time with Dave as well. He got back in the raft to finish the trip and I went with the owner and another raft guy on the bus and back to the rafting place.

The one guy kept trying to get me to eat a cookie. He kept offering and I kept saying ‘no thank you’. The very last thing I wanted was a cookie but he was pretty persistent. Finally, when I climbed into the bus and sat down he handed me the cookie and told me that I really should eat it. That adrenalin can make blood sugar drop and if I don’t get something in my system I might get sick. So I took the darn cookie. I managed to eat about half of it on the way back, but that is all I could manage. It made me queasy. A chocolate chip cookie that I could not even finish made me queasy. Clearly, I was in a very bad way.

Once we got back to the rafting place I changed into dry clothes, put Evelyn’s shoes back in the bus so she would have them when she was done rafting, and I went and sat in the car and waited for the rest of them to return. I’ve never felt so exhausted or wrung out in my entire life. It took me over 2 hours to stop shaking and at least an hour for my breathing to become normal again. Adrenalin is a funny thing.

On the way back the owner/bus driver and I got to talking. He told me that we had what they call a ‘Bus Stop’. Everyone gets off but the driver. Our guide managed to stay in the raft and keep it righted after we were all ejected. This was a very, very good thing because he was able to immediately start pulling people back in the raft. Evelyn, Annika and Martyn were caught in a whirlpool type thing right by the boat and were swirling around, going under and popping right back up. Ben was able to pluck them out of the water pretty quickly, which is why I never saw them. Bent, Dave, myself and Ian were thrown right into the current and immediately shot downstream.

I told him that I really thought I was going to die. I’ve never been so afraid in my life. He said that while he is sure it seemed that way, we were really not in much danger. There were plenty of people nearby who knew just what to do and were trained for just such an eventuality. Perhaps. But I know panic when I hear and see it, and when Ben cursed right before we went into the drink? There was panic in his voice. And the guy up on shore throwing the rope? I saw his face. He was more than just a little concerned.

I also learned later that they had not had a boat flip or anyone go overboard in 4 seasons. We were the lucky raft whose number was up. Super.

I also learned that Annika was the first back in the boat. She told me that Ben was bouncing all around that boat like a flea, trying to snatch people out of the water. Annika said that she was saying out loud the whole time, “God, please save my family! Please get them out of the water.” I think that’s pretty cool. In a time of fear and panic, she knows just who to call on. I wonder what Ben thought of that.

All in all, it was quite an adventure. The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever. Even Bent and Dave thought it was pretty fun, you know, after the near death part.

Me? Yeah, my rafting days are over.


And ever.

And ever.