Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ideas for NEXT Thanksgiving

Wish I'd seen these before yesterday. From One Charming Party's Web site (, as featured on The Martha Stewart Show:

It's a paper bag turkey! I didn't read the instructions really closely, but it looks like they turned the large grocery sack inside-out (so any printing on the bag is hidden), and the drumsticks are paper lunch sacks. But here's the really cool part . . . .

Yup, it's filled with popcorn - and an adult (or older, responsible child) can "carve" it with a knife to release all of that buttery, corny goodness (like a Jiffy Pop bag!). As the proprietress of OCP explained to Martha: it's a centerpiece and an appetizer. I would add some harvest-colored M&M's and candy Indian corn to the popcorn for an extra treat. Not sure why, but my kids LOVE "candy popcorn," as they call it. And so do our adult neighbors - whenever I put it out for a multi-generational get-together, the grown-ups end up eating it all.

Another adorable idea - party crackers that look like corn on the cob. I have actually made "corn poppers" before, pinata-style, but these are so much easier: you wrap the trinkets in yellow tissue paper, forming a tube, and then you wrap a tamale wrapper that has been painted light green around that, tying off the ends with raffia. Wouldn't these make great placecards at the kids' table?

Yes, Virginia, There is a Wii Santa Claus

So while the rest of the world was Black Friday shopping at the big box stores, my sweet spouse got up at 7:30 (okay, so it wasn't 4 am, but he's not a morning person, so 7:30 was kind of significant) and headed to the outskirts of Fort Worth, where - lo and behold - an eBay power seller of video game peripherals maintains a brick-and-mortar storefront, and where Guitar Hero miscellany (some of it refurbished, but all of it available for testing in person) abounds. Score! He got everything on our wish list, plus, for ridiculously cheap. (He's also fairly sure that some of it fell off of a truck, but hey - bona fide purchaser for value, right?) Anyway, faith in retail humanity restored.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Wednesday

I generally manage to keep my holiday "retail road rage" moments to a handful. The secrets to my success? Shopping (1) early and (2) online. However, the system ain't perfect, as was illustrated for me today.

There are only four attorneys in the office today (well, as of post time, three - but she was here earlier), this being the day before Thanksgiving (which, apparently, has become a five-day holiday; who knew?). I took advantage of the relative peace and quiet this morning by getting some ducks in a row for a commercial closing next Tuesday and by making some critical online Christmas purchases for the kids. (Oh, and also, my assistant and I constructed a box for a Paper Jamz guitar - gift purchased by me on behalf of my mom-in-law for Connor's turkey day birthday - out of two Fed Ex boxes and a mess o' packing tape. Spontaneous office craft projects make me happy.) There was one item on Parker's list that is sold out in all of the stores but - as of today - was available at Toys R Us, so I decided to make hay while the sun shone, threw in another item off of his list to hit the dollar limit required for free shipping - boom, done. Bullet #1 dodged. We learned our lesson a few years ago - if it's a hot toy, BUY IT WHEN YOU SEE IT. Don't, for example: wait until December to attempt to acquire hot toy; discover that hot toy was a Wal-Mart exclusive that was only offered in the fall; spend hours on the Internet searching for THE ONE COPY OF HOT TOY AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE IN NORTH AMERICA; spend a bazillion dollars to have it shipped priority; acknowledge at the eleventh hour on Christmas Eve that it ain't gonna show up on time; pay out the nose for an equivalently cool substitute toy, fighting crowds at the local Super Target; discover hot toy on the front porch THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS; and fight the urge to go postal when hot toy turns out to be a dud. Yeah, that's a definite don't. That happened to us the one year that Mom, in the face of criticism from Dad (who said that her hyper-organization was, quote, "sucking the fun out of the holidays" - because, apparently, Dad's definition of "fun" is "full-on fire drill"), relaxed her "early and online" policy. For the record, yes, Dad has admitted that Mom's way is better. One of the few such admissions on record, and what that I cherish.

Second item on today's agenda was to find a drum kit that was compatible with Wii Rock Band - ideally bundled with a second guitar, but I would have been happy with just the drums. See, Parker broke the first set, so . . . yeah, our instrument options are limited to (1) guitar and (2) vocals. I stink at guitar, so when I play with the boys, I'm pressed into service as lead singer. And I totally rock at it, from the standpoint of racking up points - I know all of the lyrics, I can hit the notes on time and more or less in pitch - but, notwithstanding my 100% accuracy rating, I can't help but notice that the tone of my voice is slightly reminiscent of cats being strangled. So, to sum up, Mom misses the drums, probably as much as the boys do.

Problem is Wii peripherals are hard to find and are more expensive than their XBox and PlayStation counterparts. Also, Rock Band is much harder to find than Guitar Hero. But that's okay, because Guitar Hero instruments are compatible with Rock Band software. (How do I know this? Because, praise be to God, there are elaborate CHARTS AND GRAPHS on the Internet that neatly spell out for frazzled parents which instruments work with which software. Lifting an imaginary glass to the originator of the official Rock Band/Guitar Hero compatibility chart.) So, Plan A - obtain Rock Band drums. Plan B - obtain Guitar Hero drums plus second guitar plus software, without paying too much out the nose.

Toys R Us advertised JUST ROCK BAND DRUMS for $34.99. Perfect. Except, not available online. No big deal, there's a Toys R Us on the way to friend Robyn's house, so en route to Keno I stopped by the store, where I encountered the world's most eager yet entirely ineffectual sales clerk. (Seriously, in the spirit of truth in advertising, her badge should have read "Temporary Holiday Sales Staff"). I knew that our relationship would be a rocky one when I overheard her telling another customer that the latest Harry Potter movie "follows the book more than any of the other six movies did." EXCUSE ME? Okay, that's for another post.

I finally managed to get a word in edgewise during her (entirely inaccurate) Harry Potter dissertation and asked her to confirm that they were out of Rock Band drums. (During her dissertation, I did a sweep of the area, found tons of XBox and PlayStation stuff but no Wii.)

TRU Lady: "Um, so you want drums?"
Me: "Yes, Rock Band drums, for the Wii."
TRU Lady: "In a box with other stuff?"
Me: "Um, possibly, but you have them advertised by themselves, so I'm specifically looking for those."
TRU Lady: "Well, here's a box like what you're looking for."
Me: "Um, yes, sort of, except NOT, because this is Guitar Hero, not Rock Band, and it's for a different gaming system."
TRU Lady: [Blank stare, which I translated as, "How can you tell?"]
Me: "Um, see the big green X in the corner? The one I'm looking for will have the word "Wii" in white in place of the big green X."
TRU Lady: [More blank staring.]
Me: "You know, it's alright, I'll check back later."
TRU Lady: "We have drum kits over here. They don't plug into anything."
Me: "Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Because those are actual drum kits, versus video game peripherals. Seriously, I'll come back."

SEE? THIS is why I don't go into stores. Anywho, I determined this morning that the $34.99 drum kit needs to be relegated to the same category as Bigfoot, gray aliens and the Loch Ness Monster. Various sources say that they exist, but credibility of said sources is questionable. On to Plan A-ish: I discovered a fairly good deal on a Rock Band 2 bundle that came with (1) the drums Parker broke; (2) the same guitar that we already have; and (3) a game that we already have. Tried to convince myself that that much duplication wouldn't be a totally bad thing, but - meh. On to Plan B.
Typed "Wii Guitar Hero" into NexTag's browser, quickly learned that Guitar Hero for Wii is about as elusive as Rock Band for Wii, but one of the items that popped up was a Guitar Hero band kit (complete with drums and a guitar and software different from what we have) offered by Sears, for online sale only, at a reasonable price point. Hey, we have a Sears card that I never use! I'll use that.

Yeah, that's when the fun began. We paid off the Sears card some time ago (apparently, a long time ago), and to reward us for being such conscientious credit customers, Sears decided to cancel our account. I feared as much, so I called the 1-800 number before trying to make my online purchase, and a nice lady in Bangalore or some such informed me that, yes, in fact, our account was closed. Well, can I reactivate it? No - to reward us further for being such great credit customers, I would need to reapply.

Irritated, I decided to submit an online credit application. AFTER I hit "submit," I got the pop-up that informed me that I'd get an e-mail advising that my account had been approved . . . some time in the next 30 days.

Call #2 to Bangalore. Ultimately got patched through to someone in the credit application section who had the capacity to cancel my pending application - but upon hearing my reason for wanting to cancel, she offered to process my application while I was on the phone. Great!

"Except, you still won't be able to make an online purchase. You'll need to make your purchase at the store."

"IT'S NOT IN THE STORE! IT'S NOT IN ANY STORE! Never mind - I'll just use a different card."

"Well, do you still want me to process your application?"

"Yes, by all means - once I have the card in hand, I'll drive to the store, stand n the returns line, return the thing, and then immediately rebuy it on my shiny, new Sears card."

"Oh, good, then I'll proceed."


Long story short, I bought the thing with a MasterCard, which took a freakin' act of Congress, because the site offered me a free shipping code, then cheerfully refused to accept it . . . and on and on. Started to write this blog - and then got suspicious. Why, exactly, was Sears' price so good, relative to all of the other retailers? I couldn't possibly have just purchased a bundle for another system? I mean, I searched "WII Rock Band" on NexTag.

Yup, holy heck - the product recommended by NexTag was for PLAYSTATION. And I totally didn't catch it. (But, in my defense, SERIOUSLY? I SEARCHED FOR WII!) So now I have a charge on my MasterCard for an item that is being shipped to my local Sears store, for which I have ZERO USE.

Hate Sears. Hate NexTag. Declaring jihad on both of them. At least one of my coworkers/good friends will be pleased that I have joined "Team I Hate Sears." She has been a member of said team for decades . . . don't remember what got them off on the wrong foot (SHE might not even remember at this point), but she was on record that she was NEVER STEPPING FOOT IN A SEARS . . . until the year that the sole item on her dad's Christmas list was "cover for my Kenmore grill." She swallowed her pride, went into Sears, requested a Kenmore grill cover, only to be informed that "we don't carry that brand." "WHAT? IT'S YOUR HOUSE BRAND! YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE WHO CARRIES IT!"

Yeah, I'm feeling her pain. Oh, and if anyone has a PlayStation, we should talk . . . .

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yightning DaQueen the Wookie

The other day, I received a photo via e-mail of a friend's darling little boy wearing his "Yightning DaQueen" (as he calls it) baseball cap. This made me smile, because (1) he is darling and (2) the photo brought back memories of Parker James' own "Disney PIXAR's Cars" obsession. He never got Lightning's name right, either. He insisted on calling him by the descriptive nickname "Rookie" (and I was fairly impressed when I asked him why the other characters called Lightning "Rookie" and he responded "because he's a new car").

What made it cuter was the fact that he couldn't say his R's, so "Rookie" came out "Wookie":

Parker is still having trouble with those pesky R's, and the cuteness factor is ratcheting down in light of Mom's rising concern that this cute quirk may not just be a passing thing.

Connor never had a little kid lithp or impediment of any sort. For that matter, he never had a little kid VOICE. We went straight from baby babble to whiskey throat. God knows what he will sound like when his voice actually drops, because it's pretty low as it is.

When PJ was an infant, I always wondered what his voice would sound like, relative to Big Bro, and I sort of hoped that he would sound more little kid-like - you know, him being the baby and all. So the "R into W" thing utterly charmed me, initially, and it didn't particularly worry me, because in the back of my mind I remembered other mothers saying that the problem has a tendency to work itself out once a kid starts grade school. I also remembered from my college linguistics class that the inability to pronounce R's is the most common language problem among children, because R is usually the last sound that a child masters. I even remembered the name of the phenomenon - rhotacism. (Yes, I took linguistics - actually, I took a couple of linguistics classes. And also Mayan hieroglyphics. Yes, actually, I WAS a liberal arts major. Thanks for asking. Why do you think I went to law school? It was that or "welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order, please?")

I had my own rhotacism issues when studying German in high school and college (yes, I minored in German - did I mention that I was a liberal arts major?). A German R is supposed to be uvular (pronounced at the back of the throat). Yeah, never got the hang of that, and ultimately had to substitute an alveolar R (the trilled R sound that you hear in Spanish). Fortunately, my voiceless velar fricatives and umlaut vocalizations are spot-on (translation: I can make my ch's and those vowels with the funny dots over them sound all German-y), and my affricates are straight outta Hamburg (translation: I don't say the pf sound in German words so much as I hiss it out of a place in the back of my throat, which is characteristic of speakers of "High" German, who are concentrated in the north of the country), so the judges forgave me my bastardized R and awarded me first place in prose at state UIL German competition my senior year. (Yes, there is such a thing as German competition. Yes, I competed in it - as president of the freakin' German Club. AND THEN I WENT ON TO OBTAIN A BASICALLY USELESS LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE. Pay attention, people.)

For the record, German Club was awesome. For whatever reason, it was a haven for athletes, cheerleaders and drill teamers whose parents were pushing them to add academic extracurriculars to their resume. Actually, I know exactly why it was a haven. First, it was an excuse to eat a lot of pastry. During Foreign Language Week, Latin Club got to eat pizza, Spanish Club got chips and hot sauce, and French Club got bread and cheese. We got tortes, strudel, the works. I should mention that Northwest Houston was settled by Germans, a lot of our students were of German extraction, and their moms inherited the cookbooks and the baking chops. Second, among other events at German competition, you had folk dancing (hence, there are pictures circulating somewhere of me in a dirndl), gingerbread house decorating, and pretzel eating. For purposes of college admissions, you tended to go with "participated in local and state German competitions, Grades 9-12" on your resume, versus the more accurate "skipped around in lederhosen and dominated the root-beer chugging contest, in training for fraternity/sorority life to come." But the latter is totally what you did.

Long story short, I have tried to take the R thing with PJ in stride - perhaps in part because I suspect that it comes from me, if those sorts of things are genetic. But it's getting harder to keep it cool, because now that PJ is reading and writing in earnest, I can't help but notice that his speech impediment is translating into his written words. As noted in a prior post, when he left me a note reminding me to get the tinsel and lights out of the carriage house in preparation for the upcoming December holiday, he referenced "Quissmiss dekorwayshuns." For Thanksgiving, we are "dwiving" to Grandma's.

But that's the thing: we're dWiving to GRandma's. The Quissmiss decorWAYshuns go on a Quissmiss TRee. In other words, he's getting half of it right. It's the other half that I worry about, and I can't help but wonder: are we approaching a linguistic point of no return, and if we don't right the listing (or lisping) ship before we get there, will he be forever confused about the R/W thing? I'm envisioning college graduate Parker sending his resume to a Forune 500 company with a letter advertising himself as a "tWemendous asset" with a proficiency in "MicWosoft Word."

We have spoken to the kindergarten teacher and to the speech therapist, and neither one seems particularly concerned. They assured us that they will intervene if/when they see the need to do so. In the meantime, I am trying to cowwect - I mean, CoRRect - errors as I see and hear them, in the hopes that he will start moving words over to the "tree" and "Grandma" column and learning to differentiate between the actual letter W and the actual letter R.

But it's hard. Patience has never been one of my stwong - I mean, stRong - suits.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's a Squash, It's Roasted and Pureed . . . It's Soup-er Pumpkin!

So, Connor’s having a slumber party for his birthday on Saturday, which means I have to think of things that I can do that put me within earshot of the action without putting me right on top of the action. That rules out working in my closet (although I reserve the right to escape to the closet when I need some “alone time” away from the craziness), so second on my to-do list is making soup, which is perfect, because the kitchen is in the middle of the house and therefore in reasonable proximity to all likely areas of party activity.

No doubt, chili will be involved, but I also plan to experiment with pumpkin soup. Right reservation #2: I may resort to the canned stuff, but if the stars all align the first part of my experiment will involve roasting actual pumpkins.

Intrigued? Read on.

Each recipe below calls for puree from two pie pumpkins – or you can get all fancy and substitute another kind of (similarly sized) squash, like acorn, for one of the punks. Cut out the stem of each pumpkin by cutting a circle around it, just like you are getting ready to carve a jack o’ lantern, but then cut the now-stemless pumpkin into halves or quarters, scooping out and discarding seeds (or, better yet, reserve and then toast them, since both recipes below call for pepitas). Brush the cut sides of the pumpkin slices with either olive oil or butter, and season with salt to taste. There appears to be two schools of thought as to whether it is better to roast the pumpkin parts skin side up or skin side down, but either way you put them on a greased baking sheet, and then you roast away – one hour, more or less, at 375 degrees, or 30-35 minutes at 450 degrees. Basically, you want the halves to soften to the consistency where you can easily separate the pulp from the skin. After roasting, cool to room temperature, then scoop out the pulp and puree it in a food processor (in multiple batches, if necessary) until the mixture is smooth. This should yield about six cups of fresh pumpkin puree, maybe a little more or a little less, depending on the size of your pumpkins. (By the way, if you are not looking for an excuse to be within eavesdropping distance of a posse of preteen boys, you can do this part the day before, storing the pumpkin mixture, covered, in the fridge overnight.)

Now it’s soup time. Variation #1:


Add the pumpkin puree to a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium high heat. Add 1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk and 1 teaspoon or more red Thai curry paste to the pot and bring to a simmer. (Start with a teaspoon, because you can always go from less spicy to more spicy, but it’s hard to kick things in reverse – so add a little, then taste, and then add a little more if you think it needs more fire.) After the mixture starts to form a thick base, take it off of the heat, allow it to cool, and then give it a whirl in the food processor or blender. Start adding water (or vegetable stock) a cup at a time, pureeing between additions, until the soup is as thick or as thin as you like it. Return it to the pot, bring the mixture to a simmer, and add salt to taste. Top with fresh cilantro and/or pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds).

Variation #2:


Add 2 T mole paste and ½ cup water to a small saucepan and whisk over low heat until you have a thick paste. Remove the paste from the heat and set aside. Add pumpkin puree to a large Dutch oven or similar pot. Stir in 4 cups buttermilk and 1 ½ tsps. garlic salt. Add the mole mixture, and heat over medium to medium low heat. While soup warms, add 1 T each lime juice and snipped chives to a cup of sour cream. Season the soup mixture with salt to taste, ladle into bowls and top with the lime-sour cream mixture and pepitas.

Never made pepitas? They are easy-peasy. Just toss them into a pan (a square brownie-sized pan works great), drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and bake them for 8-10 minutes in a 325-degree oven. For extra flavor, toss them with a mixture of chili powder, brown sugar, cumin and salt before baking (ratio of 4 parts brown sugar, 2 parts cumin and 1 part each chili powder and salt).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Quissmiss is coming soon, so put up your dekorwayshons.
Love, Parker

(Recent note handed to Mom by the six year-old)

We walk a fine line at Thanksgiving time, and have done so ever since Connor’s arrival (two weeks ahead of schedule) on Thanksgiving Day. Actually, that’s not true – the first four or so years, we outright celebrated our amazing good fortune at having a child on Thanksgiving. I was generally pleased to have a child with a fall birthday, because I love the fall. (It didn’t occur to me until later on, when my child was old enough to express opinions about party venues, that a fall birthday means no pool party birthday, no Ranger game birthday . . . the list goes on.) And we were specifically pumped about a THANKSGIVING birthday, because that meant that my parents and best college friend would be in town for the holiday and therefore would be available to participate in a birthday party.

Then three things happened. In chronological order:

1) Little brother was born . . . at the end of October. B.P. (Before Parker), Connor had a monopoly on the entire season. A.P., pumpkin patch and Boo at the Zoo visits, trick-or-treating, etc., came to be associated with the little one and the little one’s birthday.

2) Soon thereafter, Connor started school, and suddenly Thanksgiving became more of an impediment than a help, in terms of ensuring that folks would be around for a party. Kids were out of school, parents took advantage of the time off to take vacations – you get the idea.

3) Connor grew into a tween – and decided that Thanksgiving, as holidays go, and CERTAINLY in comparison to little bro’s holiday, is, well, kind of lacking.

Dad, a story that can’t possibly happen is fantasy. A story that COULD happen but DIDN’T is REALISTIC FICTION.
(Statement made last week by the six year-old)

When I was cleaning out Connor’s backpack at the end of the last school year, I came across his creative writing journal, and in it was an essay about why he hated having a Thanksgiving birthday. Among other complaints, the food was nothing to write home about: Connor is not a turkey fan, or a stuffing fan, or a sweet potato casserole fan, or a pie fan. And did I mention that little bro cornered the Halloween candy market? Of greater concern, quote, “if I have my birthday at my house, my mom always has her lame harvest decorations out.”

Okay, I don’t think my decorations are THAT lame, and I definitely dial it down between October 31st and November 1st (well, sometimes we decorate for Day of the Dead – but by November 3rd, it’s dialed, for sure):

Anyway, I asked Connor about the essay, and he assured me that “it’s not how I feel, EXACTLY – I used SOME artistic license.”

So . . . put that one in the “realistic fiction” column, I guess.

And so we get to the fine line – too much “pilgrims and parades,” and I get an eye roll, but Lord forbid that we don’t give the holiday some semblance of a fair shake.

Here’s where the real frustration comes in: as a culture (well, specifically as a retail culture), we seem to have lost Thanksgiving. It has disappeared into the chasm of the new, blended holiday of Hallomas, which, it appears, we are supposed to celebrate from October 1st until the end of December. And, when I say “celebrate,” what I mean is “buy things.” But it’s really become seamless: the minute the stockers at Super Target have packed down Back to School, the Halloween displays come rolling in. Two days prior to Halloween, what candy is left has been condensed down to a few shelves, to make room for the Christmas ornaments.

This year, Super Target gave two end caps to Thanksgiving – across the store from the Hallomas area. One of them was devoted to peanut oil for turkey frying. Blink and you might miss both of them.

When I attempted over the weekend to acquire a new scarecrow-on-a-post to put in the front yard, I was APPALLED to find that, as of November 14th, there was not one morsel of Thanksgiving left at my local craft store. I suspect that the turkeys blew town with the jack o’ lanterns.

And now there is Christmas music coming out of my car radio.

I guess we have ourselves to blame – store buyers buy what they buy, and radio programmers play what they play, for a reason, don’t they? I also blame the political correctness movement. Back when you could say “pilgrims and Indians” without being labeled a racist, Thanksgiving was a very big deal, in large part because of the traditional elementary school “Thanksgiving feast.” I don’t remember what we ate, exactly (I vaguely recall some sort of corn pone concoction?), but I remember the costumes like it was yesterday. Paper pilgrim hats and stiff white paper collars, and – if you had the tremendous fortune of drawing “Indian” out of the hat – a construction paper feathered headdress and a fringed pillowcase dress or tunic (depending on your gender). Remember those? You colored designs on them, or painted them, and used scissors to cut out neck and armholes to fringe the bottom? I bet back in the day there were entire end caps devoted to white pillowcases – because everyone had to have one.

Another factor contributing to Thanksgiving’s downfall – cable TV. When you only had three channels (four, counting PBS), “specials” were as much of a treat as wearing a fringed pillowcase. You had Miss America and the Olympics, you had the Jerry Lewis Telethon and Battle of the Network Stars, and – sandwiched between the Great Pumpkin and Rudolph – you had the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I remember actually waking up early for this, so that I would be in front of the TV when coverage began, and once it started, I was glued to the set. When I try to get the kids to watch with me, I barely can keep their interest for fifteen minutes. “Um, Mom, you can keep watching this in here. We’ll go into the other room and watch whatever is on Cartoon Network.”

So I find myself in the rather unique position this week of sort of hating on the December holidays – not on what they stand for, but on the commercialism associated with them. Mind you, my fit of pique didn’t stop me from buying a dark purple feather wreath at JoAnn for the bargain price of $9.99 during the Great Scarecrow Hunt of Last Sunday. (Hey, it was a scratch-and-dent, but it will look great in the den once I add some ribbon to it.) But I did have the courtesy to at least feel sort of guilty about it.

So . . . do me a favor and, in honor of my kid, continue to keep Thanksgiving close to your heart. But, you know, don’t go overboard. Don’t do anything that might embarrass him. Just walk that fine line with me – all the way over the river and through the woods, to wherever it is that you gather together.

A soon-to-be eleven year-old thanks you – as does his mom.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Talking Turkey

The other day, the conversation turned to the topic of Thanksgiving and the fact that a large percentage of us only get to celebrate the holiday with blood relatives and/or in-laws. Now, don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade my blood relatives or my in-laws for all of the rice (or tea - whatever you consider more valuable) in China, and P and I both consider ourselves EXTREMELY fortunate that, more often that not, we fall under the “and” part of “and/or” – our families genuinely like each other and, therefore, actually gather TOGETHER for Thanksgiving (I know, weird, right?). I delude myself into thinking that this spirit of cooperation had its genesis in the one and only Thanksgiving where I was charged with making a turkey. That would have been 1999, my water broke at 4:40 am on Thanksgiving morning, and by 9:09 am I had my own Butterball to worry about. Mom and Dad were still living in Houston then, but they were in town for the Thanksgiving holiday when Connor showed up – and, in fact, the day before they were good-naturedly grousing about the fact that my due date was two weeks away, so they would have to come back into town for that, and then Christmas came two weeks after THAT, and couldn’t I just do everyone a favor and double up? You’re welcome, Mom and Dad – ask and ye shall receive. But I think that my extremely traditional mother was actually somewhat torn between (1) staying at the hospital to marvel over her first grandchild and tend to her C-section patient daughter and (2) going home to salvage the turkey. In the end, she and Dad went to Parnell’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. Parnell stayed with me, and the nursing staff, feeling sorry for him, snuck him a turkey plate with all of the trimmings, courtesy of the hospital cafeteria.

Meanwhile, I feasted on Jello and morphine.

Our blended family has been getting together ever since that oddly memorable Thanksgiving. And no one has asked me to make a turkey. I have no doubt that, if any of my frimily lacked a place to go for Thanksgiving, they would be more than welcome at Casa McGlinchey – but, somewhat stubbornly, all of my frimily are (reasonably) well-adjusted individuals, with families of their own, and therefore have their own plans on Turkey Day.

Bully for them – but it would kind of be fun to celebrate the day together. Like Monica and her crew celebrated together on “Friends,” that time when Joey couldn’t go home because everyone thought he had an STD.

Friend Robyn has come up with the idea of having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner-themed Keno night, which I think is FABULOUS. But I kind of want to do more. Thus, I am playing around with the concept of Thanks-re-giving, a wholly non-traditional semi-recreation of Thanksgiving – maybe not for this year, but definitely for next. There would be turkey, but not the kind that you cook in an oven for what seems like a day and a half. I’m thinking Rachael Ray’s Indian Summer Chili, which isn’t really a chili at all, more of a vegetable soup with ground chili and a distinctive barbecue flavor. I’m also thinking that:

I will serve the chili in orange paper cups, which will in turn be served from a (clean) metal muffin pan. (I do not own a clean muffin pan. Mine are all grungy. Hey, excuse to rotate out the grungiest ones!) In fact . . .

. . . all of the food will be served in orange paper cups!

In lieu of traditional sweet potato casserole, I’ll serve sweet potato fries, served standing up (in an orange paper cup, DUH, with a little marshmallow dipping sauce in the bottom).

Dessert will be pumpkin-flavored ice cream . . . served, natch, in an orange paper cup.

Once upon a time Southern Living ran a feature on fall centerpieces. I cannot find the picture anywhere on their Web site, so we’ll have to do with this picture of a picture that I took with my camera.

General concept is you take a long rectangular glass vase (I hear these referred to sometimes as “tanks”), fill it with three or so inches of unpopped popcorn kernels, and stand stalks of Indian corn , tip-side down, in the kernels. How cute would it be to get some of those small “craft” hay bales, stairstep those in the middle of the table, topping one bale with the corn centerpiece and another with a tray of orange martini glasses? Not sure what I would put in the martini glasses, but I’m sure that it would be yummy.

Instead of sharing what we are thankful for, I think that each guest should explain why everyone should be thankful for them (the person speaking). A little good-natured puffery never hurt anyone, and might-be self-affirming . . . plus, Festivus already cornered the market on “the airing of grievances.”

Meanwhile, plans are progressing for the Durham/McGlinchey blended family Thanksgiving spectacular – and apparently I’m not the only one who’s thinking “alternative.” Signs of the impending apocalypse, in no particular order:

1. My mother-in-law is BUYING a smoked turkey and a smoked ham.

2. My mother briefly considered making a turkey, (a) for old time’s sake, and (b) so that she could make her traditional stuffing, but it now appears that the turkey will make its appearance the weekend after Thanksgiving, when family from Shreveport will be in town. Thus, at press time, there will be NO TRADITIONAL STUFFING on the buffet. Typically, we have “Durham Stuffing” (the sourdough bread kind) and “McGlinchey Dressing” (the cornbread kind), and I have always been amused by the fact that my dad eats my mother-in-law’s dressing (because it is more like what he grew up eating in Louisiana) and my brothers-in-law gravitate to my mother’s East Coast variant.

Instead of her usual stuff, my mom is making a panade (a French side dish featuring stale bread cubes, mushrooms and gruyere) – specifically, the panade that I brought to Thanksgiving last year (back when I could eat bread, grr) that everyone looked at kind of funny . . . before they tasted it.

3. My mother has ordered desserts for the occasion. “Order” and “dessert” typically do not go in the same sentence with “my mother.” Desserts are something you MAKE. For the record, she is making a couple of pies – but SHE ORDERED OTHER THINGS. This has me shaking my head a little bit and thinking that (a) the world’s gone mad or (b) my mom is finally embracing the concept of retirement in the more holistic sense.

Don’t get me wrong – at last count, we are still expecting six starch-based side dishes and a greater number of desserts. So it will be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in that respect. But, since I am not supposed to have starch, or sugar . . . it appears that I will be bringing the green to the table. Considering my fall-ish vegetable side dish and salad options now . . . .

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cream Cheese Icing-Induced Comas . . . Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near Me!

Spouse to me (as he drives to the bank): "Hey, we're getting a Nothing Bundt Cakes."
Me to spouse: "OMIGOD, WHERE?"
Spouse: "Where the Starbucks used to be."
Me: "Which Starbucks?"
Spouse: "The one in our neighborhood."
Me: [Silence . . . because I have dropped the phone, run out of my office and down the hall, and am doing my best Paul Revere imitation: "NOTHING BUNDT CAKES IS COMING! NOTHING BUNDT CAKES IS COMING!"]

My office hearts NBC. Specifically, we heart their "signature" icing - a sweetened cream cheese mixture evidently applied using a pastry bag with a tip that has an opening the diameter of a garden hose.

We also enjoy the cakes that the icing is slathered on, and the whimsical decorations that they place on top of said cakes - but the cake and the decor are, well, icing on the proverbial cake, the "cake" in this scenario being that yummy icing, and the icing being the actual cake, and - okay, I'm confusing myself.

What I know is this: if they sold that icing by the shot (and - note to local franchisee - you totally SHOULD), our office would send a runner to do a pick-up. Or, better yet, they could deliver (ANOTHER NOTE TO LOCAL FRANCHISEE . . . .).

Until now, all NBC deliveries to our office (and NBC's are our go-to firm birthday party dessert) have come courtesy of Vicki, our paralegal/mulitasker extraordinaire, who is fortunate to live in Southlake, near an NBC franchise. Disclaimer: I am NOT a suburban person. Well, I was raised as one, but I am in recovery. But close proximity to an NBC storefront is one of those points that I have had to, begrudgingly, award to the 'burbs.

Until now. Now, I can have my urban cake, and eat it, too. Literally. Like, I could walk there.

Some of my favorite NBC selections are pictured below. Bad Bundt-related puns are included in the price. Check out their other selections at

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oklahoma Was A-OK

Our last vacay day was considerably less eventful than our “voyage o’ potential death” along the Talimena Scenic Byway. We said goodbye to the lake and the lodge and went on one last drive through the forest so Mom could get some leaf pics:

Saw these odd characters along the way:

On our way back into town we spotted potential lodging for our next trip:

Parker thinks it’s pretty cool that he has his own cabin.

We stopped at the wildlife museum and were disappointed to find out that it was closed due to “winter hours,” but we did take advantage of some of the sculptures out front.

And, at Dad’s request, we cruised by the Speedy Beaver Raceway, where J. W. Gravitt, chainsaw animal carver out of Fort Towson, OK, had set up shop on Saturday. One of the locals advised us that he only came into town on Saturdays, which disappointed Dad, who had belatedly decided that a chainsaw deer would be the perfect gift for his mother.

Finally, we made our way out of Broken Bow and soon arrived at the sign that advised us that Highway 259 South was straight ahead. Since we took Highway 259 North INTO town, going straight would be a no-brainer, correct? Not to Admiral Ackbar. To Admiral Ackbar, straightforward signs mark potential traps. So, of course, we turned right. When I pointed out to Parnell, with what little patience that I had left, that we were now heading into the interior of Oklahoma, not into Texas, he promised to stop and ask for directions at the next gas station. This should have instantly aroused my suspicions - as a male of the species, my husband never willingly asks for directions - but, quite frankly, I was tired, and I completely missed the obvious: a trap was, in fact, ahead, and it was one that was entirely of my spouse's making.

Pulled into a gas station as promised, and Parnell both consulted a map AND spoke to a state trooper. Really, how did this NOT set off alarm bells? When he got back into the car, he said "You're right, we should have kept going straight back there." Now I DID become suspicious - did my husband just start a sentence with "you're right"? We pulled out of the gas station, but, instead of going back the way we came, he turned onto yet another road, one that ran parallel to the road that we SHOULD have been on.

At this point, homicide was threatened (by me) and the grand plan for the afternoon was revealed (by him): we were on the road to Fort Towson, in search of chainsaw animal carver J. W. Gravitt. Because my spouse had decided that his mom really, REALLY needed a chainsaw deer. Also, my spouse really likes a challenge. And, in his world, it's entirely possible - nay, even likely - that you can just roll into Fort Towson, and BOOM, there's the chainsaw guy. The thing is, that's how things tend to actually work out for my husband, to my frequent irritation. I advise him of the extremely slim odds that he will actually find such-and-so, he ignores me, and BOOM, such-and-so is right there. Or, such-and-so is NOT there, and then that little area along his jawline starts to twitch - subtle Parnell-speak for "this is NOT working out the way that I expected, and it is TICKING ME OFF."

Either way, one of us gets irritated. But, you know what? It was a lovely day, the road we were on was actually far more pleasant of a drive than the main road, and, if we turned left just past Fort Towson we would be headed into Mt. Pleasant, Texas, and back on I-30 into Fort Worth. So, whatever. It's a beautiful day for a wild goose chase.

Given my husband's track record of dumb-luckiness, I half-expected to roll into Fort Towson and find a house on the main road with a bunch of chainsaw animals in the front yard. No such luck. We stopped at the town's only gas station, were advised that they used to have a business card for the guy on the bulletin board but it fell off, and they thought that he actually now lived a couple of towns removed from Fort Towson.

Parnell's jaw did the twitchy thing, just a little bit, and then he announced that we were calling off the chase.

Then Connor piped up from the backseat: "Hey, Dad, are we anywhere near Paris, Texas, and if so can we go there?"

I have no idea how Connor knew about Paris, Texas, or where it was located in space relative to his then-current position, but God love him, we WERE near Paris, Texas, and so it was that I found myself having lunch on Paris' charming town square.

There is something oddly comforting to me that Texas towns lay out pretty much the same way. Smaller towns - not unlike Fort Towson - adhere to the concept of "wide spot in the road" and lay out on either side of the main thoroughfare. Whereas county seats work like this: head towards the town as it appears on the road map, and you will eventually run into the courthouse, constructed upon an island of real estate and surrounded by a town square consisting of:

1) A bank;
2) An attorney's office;
3) A copy shop or similar business catering to the courthouse crowd - usually with a "NOTARY PUBLIC" sign in the window;
4) The restaurant where everyone tends to congregate for lunch;
5) The "other" restaurant - usually something edgy (for a small town), like a wine bar or a coffee shop with WiFi, signaling to the world that "hey, we're not THAT podunk." In Paris, this establishment was a juice bar;
6) A ladies' clothing store. By law, this establishment must have an old-school name like "The Varsity" or "The College Shop";
7) A home decor-type boutique;
8) A nice antique store;
9) A junky antique store;
10) A specialty antique store, such as a vintage clothing boutique or (as was the case in Paris) a record shop; and
11) A furniture store with dated couches in the window that look like they date to 1975.

Oh, there might be a pharmacy, too. But a real pharmacy - not a Walgreens or a CVS. Those are located on the road that runs into the town square perpendicular to the main road.

The go-to restaurant in Paris was Jaxx. Jaxx was cool. Parnell got a hamburger with ham and thick slices of fresh pineapple (his favorite pizza toppings, but on a burger), and I got a chicken sandwich that was topped with everything but the kitchen sink. They also had a full beer menu, including one selection from Rahr Brewery right here in "Forth Woth."

God, I love menu typos. It's the little things, you know?

After lunch, we went out in search of the Eiffel tower replica with the cowboy hat. Which left the kids feeling disillusioned because, in their minds, it was going to be full-sized. I thought it was pretty amusing, though - but, by this point in the trip, I was predisposed to be easily amused.

The rest of the drive home was uneventful. Admiral Ackbar managed to stay on the main road, the kids watched Batman movies in the backseat, and Mom and Dad listened to media coverage of the firing of the Dallas Cowboys' head coach. We managed to clear Dallas prior to rush-hour traffic but late enough to take advantage of the high occupancy vehicle lane. Amazingly enough (for us), we got to the vet's office almost an hour of the deadline for picking up the boarded canines. Of course, this meant that the kids and I were waiting in the parking lot when the guy exited the vet's office WITH HIS DEAD DOG, which he loaded in the back of his pickup truck (one presumes to take home to bury?). Parker failed to take note of this, until helpful big brother announced, "Oh, that dog isn't moving - and that guy just put him into the bed of his truck. Mom, he must have had the dog put to sleep. Because the dog isn't standing up. Yup, it's definitely a dead dog, Mom." THAAAAAAAAANKS, Connor. Your "assists" are always so appreciated.

Here are our very much alive, and very appreciative, dogs, enjoying one last ride in the rental van:

All in all, I'd call the trip a success. Plans are in the works to go back in the summer, when the boys can kayak and paddle boat to their hearts' content. Meanwhile, the carved wooden bear population of the home office has increased by one, and the "chainsaw animal" tally has swelled from one to three. Laundry's been done, there is a pile of rocks out front (unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk) that I need to figure out what to do with, and Parnell swears that the empty suitcases are going back up into the attic . . . eventually.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Grown-Up Christmas List

(The following is a mostly self-serving blog post, representing a VERY heavy-handed hint to my various, occasionally clueless family members . . . but if anyone else gets something out of it, well, then, there's my community service for the day.)

I LOVE THE "TASTING PARTY COLLECTION" AT PIER 1! I LOVE IT SO MUCH THAT (with apologies to 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan) I WANT TO TAKE IT BEHIND A MIDDLE SCHOOL AND GET IT PREGNANT! My favorite items are above - the square serving tray and the mini martini glasses, which, in addition to holding cocktails, can hold mini salads, other appetizer tidbits and desserts. The glasses pictured are sold by the piece, but you can buy a case of slightly shorter ones, twelve to a box and complete with tiny gelato-ish spoons. (They also have tall and short shotglasses and ramekins, similarly packaged with spoons, for serving individual parfaits, quiches, whatever floats your boat.)

I also like these tasting spoons. Bought a bunch of them, along with a crate of mini martinis, for my friend's birthday, and I purchased the nine-hole tray as part of my donation to the Encore auction tonight. I am packaging it with cupcake liners, because that's an entirely different, but equally cool, use for it - and I may break down and buy some of the martini glasses, notwithstanding that that will put me over my auction item budget.

Fell in love with these "sampler sets" once I figured out what you are supposed to do with them - evidently, they are space-aged skewer display-amabobs. You could put veggies in them, too, sliced into strips for dipping, or serve soup in them:

Yes, I have little room to store stuff like this in my inconvenient old house with limited storage space - but I would make the room. And then I would throw parties. Parties for my generous relatives to thank them for buying me all of this lovely, lovely stuff.

And if, while you're at Pier 1, you wanted to pick up one of these for me:

at the clearance price of $8.98, well, that would be okay, too. I have absolutely no use for it. But it amuses me. Because of the monkey nipples.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shooting Christmas Card Photos in Oklahoma (NOT Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel, Not By a Long Shot)

So the Christmas card photo shoot in Beavers Bend Park went down like this: we put the boys in matching long-sleeved polo shirts and sweater vests and asked them to pose next to the carving of a big bear hugging on a little bear. The idea was that they would mimic the bears, with Connor standing behind Parker and hugging him around the shoulders. In retrospect, what in the heck were we thinking? The temptation to wrestle, giggle and squirm was just too much. But then, as per usual, the silliness led to violence. I don't remember the exact details, but Parker hurt Connor, and - also as per usual - Connor blew it WAY out of proportion.

Did I mention that there was a large group of high school-aged hikers and their chaperones occupying the picnic tables right in front of the bears? No doubt the presence of an audience contributed to the kids' craziness, and it certainly motivated me to grab the kids and whip them around the corner when the fussing started.

On to Plan B . . . . The bears stood next to an outdoor fireplace, and on the wall behind the fireplace there was a large pile of pumpkins. I suggested that the kids pose on the pumpkins, and Connor gamely scrambled up to the top. Parker, after many feigned tumbles down the pumpkin hill, sat below Connor, Connor put his hands on Parker's shoulders, they both smiled angelic smiles, and then . . . Connor wrapped his hands around Parker's neck and SQUEEZED. Parker, of course, tumbled off of his pumpkin perch, screamed bloody murder and burst into tears - photo op absolutely ruined. Connor, for his part, had an expression on his face that clearly said, "Sorry, Mom, but the opportunity was there, and I had to take it."

At this point, Dad's patience wore out. Boys were relegated to separate corners and given stern talkings-to. Meanwhile, Mom kept snapping, and I have to say - they both photograph REALLY WELL when they are pouting. Too bad "introspective" wasn't the look I was going for for our holiday card.

After a little coaxing, we got them both to agree to at least sit in the vicinity of each other and look somewhat pleasant, even if their smiles were a tad bit forced:

Then we consented to Parker's request to be given temporary custody of the camera so that he could photograph a nearby totem pole. Connor jumped into the photo, which, given the fact that tempers were running so high, SHOULD have led to World War III, but for reasons surpassing understanding Parker opted for the opposite reaction - laughed hysterically, and insisted on jumping into the picture himself:

Much silliness ensued, and - seasoned parents that we are - we decided to let it run its course.

Then we distracted the boys with a walking stick:

Result: we got a couple of good pics, and brotherly harmony was restored, however temporarily.

The first shot above is what I had in mind, minus Connor's "awkward family photo" expression. The second one more accurately captures their separate personalities - separate being the key word. Notes to file: both boys on same side of bear, recipe for disaster. Bear as buffer, spot-on.

Add to my list of "before I had kids" topics, "before I had kids, I did not truly grasp the concept of a love/hate relationship." What amazes me, as an only child with zero first-hand sibling warfare experience, is the speed with which hate turns into love, and back again. I am reminded of my days in the sorority house: the loudest fights always seemed to erupt from the suites occupied by real, blood-related sisters, but ten minutes later you would see those same sisters acting as chummy as ever. If you asked them, "What was all of THAT about?" more often than not they would have no idea to what you were referring; the fight was over and out of their minds as quickly as it began. After observing my boys, I totally get it - being siblings means you have a lifetime hall pass. Whatever indignities you suffer at the hands of your brother (or sister), you're stuck with them, and forgiving and forgetting is the path of least resistance. Or, in the words of four year-old Connor when he requested a sibling: "I know that they will take my toys and bite me and be mean to me sometimes, and I won't always like them, but I will have them as my brother or sister forever, so that makes the other stuff okay." Wise words from a wise kid who loves his brother like crazy, and vice-versa - even when they are (literally) at each other's throats.

Oklahoma Vacation, Day 3

Since we “fell back” on Sunday morning, when the kids woke us up at oh-dark-thirty, it was technically an hour BEFORE oh-dark-thirty, meaning we had breakfast out of the way seven-ish and had cleared the Lodge shortly after 8 am. We drove north a bit to get our bearings about us, in preparation for a planned trip along the Talimena Scenic Byway. I marveled at the varied colors of the leaves but did not demand to stop for pics, assuming that there would be better picture-taking opportunities ahead – an introduction to Sunday’s theme, “Never put off what you can do RIGHT NOW.” More on that later . . . .

Next on the sort-of agenda: Christmas card photos. Or an attempt at same. Jury’s still out on whether any of the actual photos taken will make it front-and-center, but I could produce an entire “making of” documentary with the outtakes and corresponding narrative. Hmm . . . guess we know what tomorrow’s blog topic will be!

When we parked at the nature center where the attempt at memorializing feigned family harmony – I mean, the picture-taking session – was to take place, I took note of a roll of silver duct tape on the hood of a white vehicle parked next to us. Parnell and I joked, rather uneasily, about the creepiness of seeing a roll of duct tape in the woods, although the specter of kidnapping-by-drifter did not stop me from advising the kids to remember that “silence is golden – duct tape is silver.” (Lord, how I wished I had that duct tape on me ten minutes later, when the kids were acting up big-time, but again, that’s for tomorrow’s post.)

After photos were taken, we were headed back to the car when I heard someone shout “McGlincheys!” Proving once and for all my theory about Fort Worth, there were our friends the Woods – Wilson, Alicia, baby Charlotte and dog Major. Charlotte called out for Parker, Connor made a beeline to pet Major, and the adults (UT graduates all) lamented the Longhorn’s loss the night before, marking the first time that the ‘Horns failed to rate a bowl game in Lord knows how long. We compared lodging, and they recommended a hiking trail.

Then Parnell took note of the duct tape on Wilson’s finger (a quick-and-dirty way of handling a cut), and I gasped, “Oh – so you’re the crazed mountain man with the big roll of duct tape on the hood of his car.”

Wilson looked appropriately chagrined. I think Alicia was amused. And I was happy to know that mine was not the only “interesting” spouse out on the trail.

By this time, the bait shop had opened up, and we procured fishing equipment for both boys along with trout permits. Parker puffed up quite a bit at the notion of having a license – well, for anything – and proudly recited his name, date of birth, address and telephone number, and then printed “PARKER M.” on the dotted line.

The next couple of hours were a blur of (in no particular order):

Dad muttering to himself while tying hooks;
More muttering from Dad after Connor jammed his reel after just a couple of casts;
Mom conducting surgery on Parker’s shirt with a pair of scissors after he managed to hook his sleeve;
Watching with amusement while Parker cast his line OVER and OVER, each time immediately pulling the line back in and saying, “Darn, didn’t catch anything that time”;
Parker dealing with the reality that “fishing doesn’t work that way” and the fact that you have to sit there and let the fish come to you;
Watching twenty large trout swim around in a shallow part of the river, sniffing the kids’ bait but not taking it; and
Being glad, in the end, that said bait was not taken after realizing that the kids had drifted into a “Red Zone” where barbed hooks were forbidden and fishing with anything other than flies or live bait could cost you a $180 fine per fish (wanna guess what kind of hooks and bait we had?).

Connor’s rented rod and reel were returned to the bait shop, but Parker got to keep his – a snazzy Sponge Bob model with a Plankton-shaped bobber. I predict more fishing outings for us in the future.

After a spot of lunch, we headed north for the Talimena Scenic Byway – and near-divorce. Just as we got on the byway, pointed toward Mena, Arkansas, the “low fuel” light came on in the car. This, AFTER we stopped at a gas station for directions and supplies, but did not fuel up. Parnell’s reaction was, I think, typical for the male of the species: denial, with a capital D.

“We’re fine until we get to Mena.”

“But we don’t know this car, and we don’t know how many miles we really have. And we have no idea how long it actually takes to get to Mena. Or whether there’s a gas station on the way.”

“We’ll be fine.”

Here’s the thing about the Talimena Scenic Byway: it’s very scenic. As in, it’s two narrow lanes winding up mountains, with ABSOLUTELY NO SHOULDER, and a very steep drop-off. It’s also a byway. As in, you don’t pass anything, except signs that warn you of the possibility of bears.

Long story short, I got hysterical at the idea of running out of gas on said winding road bereft of shoulders, the prospect of being rear-ended on said wind-y road, or being stranded in the approaching dark, with doubtful cell phone service, and did I mention the theoretical bears? Connor joined in, and we collectively shrewed Daddy back down the mountain. Then we white-knuckled it until we mercifully rolled into semi-civilization and were able to gas up the tank which, I am fairly confident, was bone-dry.

Parker, God bless him, slept through the entire crisis.

Being a male of the species, Daddy downplayed the entire thing (but ultimately apologized for panicking us unnecessarily) and insisted that, having driven halfway up and then back down the mountain, we retrace our steps yet again and continue along the byway as planned. For the record, it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive along an undulating road, with mountain peaks and valleys stretching out on either sides, and because the Great Gas Shortage of ’10 delayed our start time by an hour, we got to take in the view as dusk approached. Thus, the mountains to our right were bathed in the pink glow of sunset, and the mountains to the left were shadowed in a blue haze.

Pretty stuff, and I got some good pictures – but none of the leaf pictures that I had hoped for. Remember how I said that Sunday’s theme was “never put off what you can do RIGHT NOW?” Like, for example, PUTTING GAS IN YOUR CAR? Well, it turned out that the leaves did get more dramatic as the elevations increased – but there were zero places to stop and take photos of said dramatic leaves. ZERO. All of the scenic overlooks were at the tops of the mountains – where the trees were (understandably, given wind, sun and other harsh conditions) short and scrubby. After awhile, it became a joke. We would find a place to pull over, with great panoramic vistas, but nothing worthy of a close-up. I tried taking shots out of the window of our fast-moving car, but none of them turned out particularly well, even using the “action” setting on my camera.


But we did drive into Arkansas, meaning that Parker can cross that state off of his list. And, on the long drive back to the Lodge (we took the low road – an unspoken acknowledgment by Dad that he had scared the bejeepers out of Mom), we decided that we were grateful to live in Texas, where the Blue Laws are all but a thing of the past. Didn’t pass many establishments in rural western Arkansas that were open on a Sunday night, other than churches. Getting a drink clearly was not on the table, but, of more concern to our rumbly tummies, all of the restaurants were closed, so food – literally – wasn’t on the table as well.

In the end, we were grateful when we pulled into Broken Bow and into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant that was all too happy to serve us fajitas and quesadillas to our hearts’ content. Parker gave me a much-needed laugh by insisting on spelling everything that he said – including the pauses, and there were a lot of them, since he was tired. Thus, we were treated to gems like:

“M-O-M, U-M, C-A-N I H-A-V-E S-P-rite instead of milk?”

Yup, he spelled the “ums,” and when he got tired of spelling, he would just stop mid-word and say the rest – hence, “S-P-rite.”

On the way back to the Lodge, we passed at least ten deer, all of them very much alive. This was a refreshing change from the drive between DeQueen, Arkansas, and Broken Bow, on a road that Parnell and I have nicknamed the “Wildlife Road O’ Doom.” I have never seen so many dead deer/dogs/possums/raccoons/squirrels/etc. in one place, and we saw a number of soon-to-be-dead animals standing by the roadside as well, clearly hell-bent on plowing into oncoming traffic. (I swear that one of these animals was long and reptilian; is it possible that it was some sort of alligator, or were my eyes deceiving me at that point?) The true saving grace of our very long, and occasionally trying, vacation day: four more deer grazing just outside the exterior door to our room at the Lodge. They allowed us to pass without spooking, and even tolerated a few photos (none of which came out – they look like they were taken via night-vision scope). The four of them looked to be a pretty good team, which reminded me that I am part of a pretty good four-man team myself, even when my team members are hooking their clothing with illegal barbed fish hooks or, you know, bringing us all to the brink of death on the side of a mountain. Trivial stuff, really. Right? RIGHT?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Oklahoma Vacation, Day 2

Our kids on vacation remind me very much of our kids on Christmas Day – you’re doing good to sleep in past six thirty, due to a combination of them (1) trying to wake you up and (2) making an equivalent amount of noise admonishing each other to NOT try to wake you up. Fortunately (?), our bed at Lakeview Lodge was entirely too soft for my taste, meaning that I had to keep changing positions (and repositioning a pillow under or between my knees) – meaning that I woke up every half hour on the half hour. So, when I decided that I could keep the kids waiting no longer (which decision coincided with the decision that I would be doing my back good to reposition myself upright, and remain in said position for the rest of the day), I got out of bed, threw a sweater over the tee and yoga pants I had worn to bed, added some Jackie O sunglasses and tennis shoes to my ensemble, and headed out to greet the just-past-dawn.

Wow. Beautiful lake, complete with island and cool-as-heck early morning steam/fog effect.

You might notice that I picked up a couple of extra kids. Meet Maddie and Michael . . . from Weatherford, Texas. Yup, our next-door neighbors at the Lodge were, basically, our next-door neighbors back home. Proving my theory that Fort Worth is the biggest small town in the world . . . even when you are traveling.

The shoreline was a surreally beautiful combination of slate and quartz deposits. The kids wasted no time demonstrating why we opted for a slate-look kitchen tile as opposed to the real thing. All of the slate chips that they kicked off were quickly put into play as skipping stones.

In addition to the rocks, we took note of this snakeskin and this spider

and spent a lot of time arranging mussel shells in order of size. You know, it’s the little things.

The little kids found a number of “caves” along the shoreline – some consisting of crevasses in the rock that were so small that only a little kid would consider them cavelike, and one formed by a fallen log spanning a cutout in the cliff face.

Parker and Michael were instantly on each other like white on rice. Connor took a shine to just-turned-eleven year-old Maddie . . . who is sort of bundled-up in this picture, but under the parka hood and stocking cap, let me assure you, is a pretty cute little brown-haired, brown-eyed girl. Not sure what he found more attractive – the fact that she was, in fact, attractive, or the fact that she was game for scrambling across log bridges and skipping stones. Either way, she got my seal of approval – not that anyone asked.

Parker found rock-climbing utterly fascinating and declared the entire area his “kingdom.”

After we parted ways with Michael and Maddie, we had breakfast al fresco. The crow in the picture carried off Connor’s cinnamon roll . . . which, no doubt, is why Parker looks a trifle suspicious in his pic.

We did a little more exploring around the Lodge grounds and located a playground with, among other “amenities,” this tetherball pole minus a tetherball. Some people hike through the woods to locate a Christmas tree; the McGlincheys go exploring and find themselves a Festivus pole.

Here are two more pictures of the steaming lake for the road, taken from the deck off of the Lodge's great room:

Next on the agenda: exploring the other side of the lake. Mom took to rock collecting in earnest, while Parker fixated on mussel shells and pinecones. (Another great feature of The Minivan: Stow and Go compartments! Imagine the surprise and irritation of the carjacker who drives off in the McGlinchey Family Truckster and, in lieu of valuables, uncovers four cubic feet of NATURE under the floormat.)

Before heading to our next destination (Beavers Bend Depot, home to a miniature train and horses), we stopped in Stephens Gap for lunch. Mom had scouted out the restaurant online and declared it worthy of a stop, because the menu reminded her of the menu at Ol’ South Pancake House, complete with ad sales in the margins. The down-home food and atmosphere did not disappoint, and – added bonus – THERE WAS A GUY CARVING CHAINSAW ANIMALS OUT FRONT!

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you are aware of my spouse’s somewhat inexplicable collection of carved wooden bears, which – until this trip – featured a single chainsaw bear. After a finger-licking lunch, our chainsaw bear population grew to two.

We weren’t far down the road before we ran into another chainsaw animal carver, one Mr. J. W. Gravitt of Fort Towson, Oklahoma. (Remember that name; there will be a test later.)

Mr. Gravitt was set up in front of the Speedy Beaver Raceway, a Go Kart track that, along with the adjacent mini-golf facility, had “major time- and cash-sucking potential” written all over it. Somehow we were able to distract the little ones (“Hey, look – chainsaw beavers!”), and after a family caucus, we decided that, given that we were in Beavers Bend, it would not be entirely inappropriate to, in fact, acquire a chainsaw beaver of our very own. So now, I guess, we have two collections going – “wooden bears” and “chainsaw animals,” and if you plotted them on a Venn diagram the fellow on the left in this photo would be in the overlapping part:

Image is of the wooden critters chilling in the cargo hold behind the third seat of the Family Truckster – where they remained for the rest of the trip.

From the Speedy Beaver Raceway and environs we proceeded to Beavers Bend Depot, where we took a tour of the park on a reproduction CP Huntington:

Note the forced smile on big brother’s face. Train trip was entirely for the amusement of little brother but proved a decent time waster while we waited for the trail ride to begin. Mom did not partake in the trail ride, given her unfortunate, and unfortunately severe, allergy to horse dander, but she took pictures while the boys saddled up:

From left to right: Parker James on Portia, Daddy on Roy and Connor Scott on Socks. PJ actually led the trail ride, following just behind the “boss,” and he and Connor both found it amusing that their horses were bigger than Daddy’s.

Before and after the big ride, we had fun exploring the woods around the Depot. Mom even managed to get in a picture:

Actually, I was in two pics – but Parker closed his eyes in the other one.

On the way out of the Park, we did some recon at the bait and tackle shop, in preparation for the Sunday’s much-anticipated fishing outing, and we also checked out the “Wood Museum.” That is not its actual name, but I did not take note of the actual name, and, if you take a gander at some of the exhibits shown here, I think that you will find that my description comes awfully darned close:

My favorite exhibit: “The Beautiful Grain Texture of Veneer and Plywood.” Yup, it’s a thrill a minute when you travel with the McGlincheys.

I also think you will find me entirely justified in spending the next hour or so singing the same line from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” over and over:

They took all the trees,
And put ‘em in a tree museum.
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half just to see ‘em.

For the record, there is no admission charged at the Wood Museum.

By Saturday’s end, the boys had acquired slingshots and rubber band guns, posed with a giant totem pole dude and altogether had a rip-roarin’ time . . . .