Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gone...But Not Forgotten

Just a quick note to let you all know that we are still here. We have family visiting from Michigan and Arkansas. The house has been full of activity and little ones. The kitchen only gets a break between the hours of 1 and 6 AM. We are eating well, playing cards, swapping stories, competing at Rock Band and enjoying our time together. There are plans to hit the zoo on Tuesday with the little ones and to visit the new outlet mall as soon as we can get that direction. Casy will undergo several tests on Wednesday to let the doctor's know how the cancer is responding to chemo and we hope to have results on Thursday. I'll be back in a few days, hopefully with some wonderful news and a few stories to share.

Wishing you a week filled with opportunities to enjoy time with those you love!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He Is Risen...

He Is Risen, Indeed!
Wishing you all a blessed Easter Sunday!
To God be the glory!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring In Texas

We had a pretty tough storm blow through our part of Texas yesterday during the afternoon and early evening. I drove through several showers as I made my commute home, nothing too severe, but some stretches of low visibility.

This morning as I drove in to work it seemed as if spring had followed in the path of yesterday's rain. Everywhere I looked I saw the brushstrokes of color that the Lord so quietly painted as I slept. I wish I would have had my camera as the Lord unfurled this beauty before me (or at least caused me to slow down long enough to notice). Of course, then it would have taken me two hours to get to work!

Here are some of the things that greeted me as I drove:
These are stock pictures to help you envision the trip.

Azaleas blooming under a large oak tree in a yard down the street.

The longhorns who seem to meet me at the corner every morning, bringing a smile to my face.

The Indian Paintbrush flowers which appear to be sprinkled along the roadsides.

The wisteria growing wild along an old fence row, still giving testimony to the house place which once stood there.

The red bud trees in every other yard which seemed to have only slight leaves yesterday, but are in full color this morning.

The common yellow wildflowers found in nearly every ditch and field in sight.

And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the sight of seven or eight paints running after each other as they circled their pasture.

I know that the calendar says Spring does not arrive until tomorrow, but since we do everything bigger in Texas...I choose this year to consider it a 48 hour event!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Refrigerator Rant

What is it about a refrigerator that makes it so impossible to keep organized?

Is it the number of people who use it on daily basis? Is it the amount of food that it holds for a family of 5? (now days it is likely to be 8 and run up to 14 on weekends) Or is it just me, the user?

After almost 27 years of marriage, Jim and I have made compromises and adjustments which have relieved most of the domestic tension in the household. For instance, I know he wants plenty of clean socks and underwear in his drawer at all times and he knows that I want the bed made if he is the last one up. Our one area of continuous domestic frustration these days is the refrigerator.

As kids we were both reprimanded for standing with the refrigerator door open as we stared inside deciding what we wanted from it's vast treasures. These days, we still stand there staring...only this time we are trying to find what we went to get from inside it's cavernous abyss. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to know that you just brought a certain item home from the grocery store yesterday but for the life of you, you just can't seem to find it while preparing the meal!

I have never claimed to be an organized person. As a matter of fact, the running joke around our house is how many baskets and containers that I have purchased over the years in an attempt to get organized. I have subscribed to 'fly lady', read numerous books on the subject and made several attempts at different systems, all to no avail. I have friends and family members who are so on top of their game that you can name any item and they can have their hands on it in less than 60 seconds. I admire their organizational skills...and I wish I could somehow catch some of those skills by osmosis...yet I cannot even conquer the 3' X 5' white box in my kitchen.

How about you? Do you have any ideas that might help us tame the savage GE beast that holds us hostage at meal time and hides the leftovers until they are in need of a surgeon general warning?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New York Recap: Part 4

Sweet Sunday and the Journey Home

Following Saturday's full day of adventure, we were ready to take it a little easier on Sunday. Robin, our tour guide extraordinaire, had told us that she had planned a surprise for us at 12:30 on Sunday and we had reservations for dinner at 7 pm...other than that, we could do whatever we wanted.

We took our time getting ready on Sunday morning before heading over to the Rockefeller Center observation deck. I really didn't expect much after viewing NYC's nighttime skyline from the Empire State Building that first night, but it was well worth the time to view it again during the day from the Top of the Rock. We had such a wonderful view of Central Park and traced out the areas we had visited during our Winter Wonderland tour on Friday. We covered a large area and my feet totally agreed!

We had entered the park at the right bottom corner of the picture (you can't see it for all the buildings). We walked to the opposite side crisscrossing until we cut back across just below the large body of water in the picture. That is a lot of park, my friend!

After taking pictures from the Top of the Rock, we headed back to Times Square for our surprise. Robin had purchased tickets for Brunch with the Harlem Gospel Choir at the BB King Blues Club and Grill. We were going to church!

The show was fantastic. It was so much fun watching the choir as they got the audience involved. The Harlem Gospel Choir does not perform for you to sit and watch...they call you to participate in worship. You spend half of the time on your feet. The good southern food was just icing on the cake.

After brunch we headed out to do some souvenir shopping. We took our time as we made our way back to the room...stopping at The Phantom of Broadway, The New York Store (I think we actually stopped at two of those), the M & M store and finally stopping at the NBC store.

Once back at the room, we decided to rest before dinner and to get back early in order to pack for the airport the next morning. We headed back out to Tavern on the Green for dinner. The place was just as beautiful at night as it had been on Friday in the snow.

Dinner was good, though we all enjoyed lunch on Friday better. The atmosphere was more laid back during the day. The evening crowd tended to be a little dressier and geared more toward couples and romance. As we were leaving, we spotted the carriages. We had discussed reserving a carriage earlier in the trip for Sunday night, but had been unable to contact anyone to make the reservation.

Our driver was from Turkey and was in the states studying for his business degree. He pointed out several movie scene locales as we toured the park...the fountain from Friends, the bridge from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, the fountain from Ransom and several others. The snow was beginning to melt but the park was still beautiful at night.

It was an amazing ending to an unforgettable trip. We went back to the hotel and did some miraculous packing. Since we had tried to keep it to one suitcase for the trip...getting all those souvenirs back home was quite a feat!

We woke early the next morning so as to meet the limo downstairs in plenty of time to make it through the long security lines we had seen at La Guardia when we arrived on Thursday. Thankfully, the long lines did not exist on Monday and we breezed through to our gate. The flight home was much quieter than the flight to NY...or maybe it was just because I couldn't hear out of my left ear so I couldn't tell if Robin or Stacy were talking to me. By the time we reached Houston I could barely make it off the plane. I came down with fever and chills that evening.

We took a few of these self portraits...but this is one of my favorites. It was a great time! As a matter of fact, as we sat at dinner on Sunday night we began planning our next Girls Weekend. We are thinking either San Francisco or Nashville!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New York Recap: Part 3

Adventures in the City

Saturday morning we awoke to the sight of snow still lingering on the ground. The weather was not warm by any means, but at least there was no precipitation in the air. We woke early because we had a big day ahead of us. There were many sights yet to see and we were determined to try and get in as many as we could.

We started our day of adventure by descending the steps into the unknown world known as the SUBWAY. None of us had ever been on a subway before, much less in NY City. I have heard friends who have visited NY talk about the subway, so I had an idea in my mind of how it would work out. We had picked up a subway map on Thursday and studied it the night before to determine where we would need to begin our journey. As we descended the steps, a little bit of anxiety began to spread through our group. Scenes from all those thriller movies began to replay in our minds as we tried to figure out how to navigate this new form of public transportation.

I stopped to ask the gentleman working in the booth how we needed to proceed with the purchase of tickets and how to work the system. At first we did not get much help...but true to what we had been told, once he figured out that we had no clue what we were doing, he talked us through the process and suggested that we purchase a $15 metro pass for all three of us to make our three stops that day. Upon receiving our ticket, we each scanned it at the gates and began to make our way down into the subway. At this point, we really began to feel the panic as thoughts of getting shot in the subway surfaced. You could cut the tension with a knife as we waited on our first train. Thankfully, we did not have long to wait and the platform was not very crowded. Once on the train we were able to sit down together and enjoy the ride. I am so thankful that the first train was not crowded...we might not have ever made it onto another train that day!

Our first stop was the World Trade Center site. We walked along the side of the site and went into a building whose sky bridge looked over into the site. I expected to see something different, but at the time we were there Ground Zero was a construction site. If you hadn't known that there was something special about the place it would not have jumped out at you. Once we exited the sky bridge, we walked past the fire department who were the first responders on 9-11. There is a beautiful tribute on the side of the building which will move you to tears...but what really got me was a small handwritten sign in the front window that said, "No tours, no t-shirts...ring bell in case of emergency." Here we were among a decent sized crowd viewing a piece of history, and yet those firefighters just wanted to be able to continue to do their job. True heroes!

The World Trade Center site was a somber place. Everyone spoke in hushed tones. You could overhear quiet conversations of people who were there that fateful day as they walked along with friends or family members who were visiting. There were those who shed tears as they toured the site and those who wanted to share their conspiracy theories...but in most people there was a simple reverence as each person experienced the moments in their memories once again. I am glad we went, but it is such a personal experience that it is hard to describe to anyone else. We had trouble even sharing it with one another while we were there together.

Upon leaving the WTC, we walked back down into the subway to catch the next train over to Brooklyn. We planned to have lunch at Grimaldi's Pizzeria Under the Brooklyn Bridge. Zagat's calls it the best pizza in New York. It was well worth the trouble and the wait. It was unlike any pizza I have ever eaten before...but it was delicious. I will admit the first slice we all were wondering what the hype was all about...but once we folded that second piece and took a bite, we knew that this was some good stuff. The pizzas are made in a brick oven right there in the middle of the restaurant. (You have to pass it to get to the bathroom.) It is a tiny place with tables lining the walls and then placed in rows through the middle of the restaurant. But let me tell you every seat was filled when we arrived and as soon as someone left there was someone new waiting to be seated. The hospitality was great and we were asked to visit the new location that would be opening in Sugarland this spring. We plan to make a girls night of it and wear our subway t-shirts when we go. We feel the need to make sure it is as good as the original. (Ha! We just look for an excuse to get together!)

From Grimaldi's, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan. It is amazing to me that something built in the late 1800's is not just still around...but used by thousands of people everyday. It is truly awe inspiring to walk across the bridge and take in it's architecture and the amazing view. We saw the Statue of Liberty and admired the Manhattan skyline as we took our time walking. It took us nearly an hour to get across...and the temperature was 31 degrees. We decided not to do the ferry to the Statue of Liberty because we just couldn't imagine being on the water when it was so cold outside.

Once back in Manhattan, we headed for Chinatown. Word on the street is that you can pick up really cheap (in other words, knock off) designer bags in Chinatown. Robin just wanted to find a store with the whole pigs hanging in the window so that she could take a picture of it. We found half a pig, and upon inquiring with a shop owner were told that you have to arrive early in the morning to see the whole pig because they carve off of him all day! This was the most crowded area we had encountered. It was busier than Times Square had been. As you walk down the street amongst the crowd, you hear people talking about handbags and watches...but they come right up to you so that you are the only one who can hear them. It was a little freaky at first. At one point, we found ourselves on a side street when a lady walked out of an apartment building across the street from us. In the middle of the street she answered her cell phone and continued to walk to where we stood. To anyone else, it looked like she was just having a conversation on her telephone...but she was actually trying to get us to follow her to a shop which had a back room with fake handbags!

After we finished our exploration of Chinatown, we continued over to Little Italy. As most of the locals pointed out, it is now hard to tell where Chinatown ends and Little Italy begins. We were told that the older people are selling their places and the Asian population is expanding into that area. I don't know about all of that, but there is definitely a mix of businesses in the area. There were some beautiful storefronts with apartments above them that had been around for a hundred plus years. You could almost imagine horses and carriages instead of cars traveling the streets. We were told that to experience the real flavor of Little Italy we needed to go to Brooklyn.

By now we thought our feet were going to fall off if we kept walking, so we caught the subway back to the hotel. This time the platform was full and there was no place to sit...and hardly a place to stand on the train. The closer we got to Grand Central Station, the harder it became to stay close together and to keep from getting whisked out the doors at a stop. The majority of people exited at Grand Central, so the rest of the trip was not too stressful.

We returned to the hotel and freshened up for dinner. The concierge got us reservations at Smith and Wollensky that evening. Being from Texas, we had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity for a good steak and they did not disappoint. We shared a wonderful appetizer platter of steamed seafood. They had the biggest shrimp I have ever seen...and I have seen some pretty good sized ones around here. I had a marinated Cajun ribeye that was out of this world good! During dinner our waiter happened to mention that we had celebrities dining at a nearby table. We looked over to see Vince McMahon, Triple H, Undertaker and several of the other wrestlers from the WWE. As it turns out, they were having dinner before heading over to Madison Square Gardens for a boxing match. Stacy and Robin even got pictures with some of them. What a fitting end to our day of adventure!

Subway, WTC, best pizza in NY, Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown and wrestlers! What else could us girls hope for?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New York Recap: Part 2

Winter Wonderland

When we finally sank into bed our first night in New York, the snow had just began to gently fall from the sky. The tiny snowflakes could be felt on your face, but barely seen. We were all three up around 8 AM the following morning and were greeted by this sight on our balcony:

Like schoolgirls waking up on snow day, we could hardly wait to get outside to see it for ourselves. We dressed quickly and headed toward the elevator for a quick walk down the street to take it all in. During the six hours we slept, about 4" of snow had fallen in Central Park. We walked for about three blocks before deciding to head back to the room to dress appropriately for the day and head out to see the sights. My cousin recommended I pick up a pair of these before leaving for NY...thanks, Rita!

After changing into warmer clothing, we decided to head toward Central Park. On the way, we found out why all NYers wear boots. I wore a pair of leather tennis shoes, and though my feet were still dry and warm, the slush at the street corners was getting thicker and harder to get through without stepping in a puddle. Robin's boots were doing fine in the weather as well, though she had to watch where she stepped to keep from getting the water over the sole. However, Stacy's boots were not living up to expectations and her feet were already wet. We ended up in Journeys footwear on 5th where Stacy was able to find a good pair of all weather boots. All three of us ended up buying a pair and taking our shoes back to the room before starting for Central Park again. It was much easier not having to watch our every step.

Central Park was truly a sight to behold! The schools had been closed for the day and the park was full of children...sledding, building snowmen, throwing snowballs, enjoying the snow. Here are a few of the pictures from Central Park where we spent most of Friday. You will quickly see why I kept hearing the words to "Winter Wonderland" in my head all day.

Several hours after entering the park, we were trying to decide whether to leave to find some lunch or to find Strawberry Fields and then lunch. We soon stumbled upon this sign and the answer to our dilemma:

We had the most wonderful lunch in the Crystal Room facing the park. We were able to sit and enjoy a leisurely meal (we were probably there for over two hours) while admiring the winter landscape that the Lord had painted. It was truly picture perfect.

We continued walking north in the park and took the opportunity to make snow angels in the undisturbed snow. At the Great Lawn we turned east and headed toward the opposite side of the park. Upon exiting near 81st, we decided to walk back to Tiffany's before heading back to our room. Around 76th, we decided to hail a taxi instead of walking!

Tiffany's was quite an experience in itself. There were people everywhere! The diamonds were gorgeous and they will not be going out of business any time soon.

We walked back to our room to rest for a little while before looking for a place to eat dinner. We decided to eat at a local pub recommended by the doorman called Ashtons. We enjoyed another relaxing meal among the locals before heading back to the room for a little rest before our next day of adventure!

Grand total snowfall during New York's first significant winter storm: around 9"

There is no way we could have planned to arrive the day before it started or to leave the day after the airline schedules finally returned to normal. It was a blessing that could not have been planned, but was most certainly not missed by us. The Lord was good to us during our Girl's Weekend 2008.