Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I need a vacation

My husband and I aren't rolling in money. And unless we have some unknown rich relative that's planning on leaving us a fortune, we never will be. We both have careers that define fixed income (he's in the military and I'm a teacher), but we do our best to make smart financial decisions and enjoy life. I'm not saying we're in the poor house or anything, but on those rare occasions when we do have some extra green stuff left over in the ol' account, we try and do the wise thing, like putting it in savings or paying a little extra on a credit card.

How boring.

In the end, it doesn't leave us much (or any) room for exotic destinations, random weekend get-aways, or even a luxury night out on the town. And that's ok. I love my life and all the blessings that come with it. But sometimes, a girl's just gotta get away.

I think I've reached one of those times. Between the looming two-year deployment and separation facing us, the total insanity that goes along with April and May at school, and the ever-changing antics and adventures of raising a two-year-old, I'm rapidly finding myself completely sapped of all energy. Simply put, I'm beat.

Oh, what I wouldn't give to sip a tropical drink with my sweet hubby, while gazing into eachother's eyes (I know, I know ... put down the romance book, Elizabeth) and watching the sun drop over the ocean. Or to have a fine dinner at some multi-star restaurant on the strip in Las Vegas. Or to just spend a quiet afternoon lounging by a pool somewhere, reading a book and listening to the sea gulls ... the smell of coconut hanging in the air. Ahhhh.

Come to think of it, dinner, drinks and some live music somewhere in town wouldn't be too damn shabby either. I'm not at all picky at this point.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A good red wine

Through family suggestions, I recently discovered Malbec wines. Malbec is a red wine made with a white variety of grape, and it's a great wine if you're a usual fan of Merlots or Cabs. Argentina is known to produce the best Malbecs, and I've found a vinyard that's superb (and reasonably priced!), if you're up for trying a new red -- Pascual Toso, a winery founded in 1890. I bought my first bottle at Costco and have since purchased several more. Here are the tasting notes on the Malbec from the vinyard's website:

Deep red color with violet tints. Coffee, violets and blackberris are felt in the nose, which integrate with spices giving a medium-structure harmonic wine impression. Long and rich finish with touches of oak and vanilla. Recommended to match pasta and red meat with light sauces.

Just your friendly-neighborhood wine tip, du jour!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Murphy's Law

So, the first and only time in three years that I've ever been late to work was this morning. It was a series of unfortunate events.

My little guy had an "accident" in his bed (potty training can be a bitch) and needed an unexpected -- from head-to-toe -- scrubbing in the tub. Of course this was a completely novel (and exciting) event for a toddler who's used to nothing but business in the morning. He was totally thrilled to engage in one of his favorite activities first thing in the morning. But he absolutely refused to get out of the bathtub. As a result, I had to battle and pry a kicking and screaming wet two-year-old from the water. The mother-of-all tantrums ensued for a good 15 minutes afterwards. Forget breakfast. We'd have to drive through Micky-Ds.

So at 6:45 a.m., the time I'm usually pulling in to the parking lot at work, I was still in my p.j.s, frantically throwing on make-up and brushing my hair. At 6:55 a.m., my darling little [clean] son and I were driving into the McDonald's parking lot. I kid you not, we were the SIXTH car in line! I sat there for ten seconds or so and decided that it would be quicker to go inside. So as I'm reversing, a big truck pulled in behind me, sealing my fate in the drive-through line. I'd have to wait it out.

At 7:00 I dashed ARF into his school, gave him a quick kiss and heard, "Bye bye, Mommy!" as I was rushing out the door. Ugh. So, so sweet. At this point, I figured that a few extra minutes wouldn't kill me, and I really needed a jolt of caffeine. I pulled into the Starbucks less than a mile from my work and had to wait for over 10 mintues to even place my order. I was late already, so a few extra minutes at this point were meaningless.

Of course, there was only one barista working. She kept yelling for help from "the back," but nobody materialized to assist the frazzled lady. And the woman in front of me in line was ordering two of those big ol' caraffes to-go for the office or something. So she had to get cups, creamer, sugar, etc. to go with her order. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!!

Did I mention that I have to be in my classroom by 7:15 a.m.? No problem! I'm usually there by 7:00, at the latest! Oh, and the first bell rings at 7:25 -- semantics. I'm always there. But on this special morning to beat all mornings, I'm still standing in line looking at my watch at 7:23 or so. GREAT.

I finally order my java, race to the car, and find that some big honkin' Mack-Daddy pick-up truck is parked as close to my car as humanly possible, without hitting me. I couldn't even open my door. I had to run around to the passenger side, jump in, and shimmy over to the driver's seat, full, hot coffee in hand. Holy crap. I think I laughed at this point.

I pull into the parking lot at work. No parking places available. Of course. I illegally park and race to the gate and find who standing there to greet me? Our oh-so-punctual (and eagle-eyed) administrative assistant/eager-beaver secretary, perched on-watch with a clip board. She nods at me, I nod at her (late, with coffee in my hand ... that was an especially nice touch), and I proceed to calmly walk to my classroom.

Damn that potty training.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

God bless Starbucks

If they served breakfast tacos, I'd be in some serious trouble.

I realize that a huge chunk of the population is down on Starbucks. I've heard all about the corporate greed and big business angle of how they do things. And yes, they've made it increasingly difficult for the little indpendent coffee houses (which I'd support, by the way, if one was located around my neck of the woods). But simply put, there are some mornings when I just don't think I'd be able to make it without that steamy morning cup of survival.

Ahhh, sweet java. Make mine a grande, no fat, no whip mocha, please.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

favorite places ... Acme Oyster House, New Orleans

I thought that from time to time, it might be fun to write about and reflect on some of my favorite places. With that in mind, I'm beginning today by heading east across the Texas border into Louisiana.

Simply put, I love the Acme Oyster House in the Quarter on Iberville. It probably doesn't hurt my memories of the place that the first time I ever went was on a weekend trip with my two sisters and my Daddy. It was fantastic, and probably the first time we all hung out together as four adults, rather than three kids with their dad. We drank Bloody Marys early in the morning, smoked cigars while walking along the river, and bonded together at a time when we really needed it.

Back to Acme. We drank beer and ate the best oysters I've ever had. Period. And the horseradish was so freakin' hot, it literally took my breath away -- coughing fits galore. Even my Texas-bred Daddy, who has a particular passion for all things hot and spicy, had to chug down water after every bite. It was excellent. There's just something about chowing on oysters in the Quarter with jazz music hanging in the air that makes it the quintessential New Orleans experience.

To this day, whenever spring time rolls around and the weather starts to warm up, every oyster and cold beer I consume is compared to those I had at Acme. So far, they've all fallen short.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bitter? Not me

Pssst ... Mr. Obama. I'm a gun owner, and I'm a Christian. I'm not bitter.

But then again, I don't live in Pennsylvania. Texans, as a rule, aren't bitter people I guess.

Speaking of guns, I think you just shot yourself in the foot. Again.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Another sign ... peanut butter

Here's the latest "sign" in my life of something happening that was meant to be. To briefly recap, I've recently been experiencing a strange trend of things seemingly happening for a reason. Who knows? Maybe I'm bombarded with these signs all the time and just haven't been paying attention. Regardless, I'm trying to heed them all now.

One of my absolute favorite foods in the whole wide world is about to make a comeback -- Peter Pan WHIPPED peanut butter. For a peanut butter junkie who can't live without the yumminess, but can live without the extra fat and calories, this stuff is a Godsend. It tastes just like normal peanut butter (no added funky sugar substitutes or anything like that), but it's whipped with extra air, so it's fluffier and lighter than the normal stuff. But it tastes the exact same as regular peanut butter. I compare it to whipped yogurt -- it's light and airy, but still just as yummy.

Unfortunately, last year when Peter Pan had to recall their product off the shelves, whipped peanut butter was included. As far as I know, Peter Pan is the only company that makes it -- and believe me, I've searched far and wide. Well, lo and behold in my Hungry Girl newsletter this morning, the long-awaited news was right there in black and whie. Peter Pan Whipped is returning to the shelves. Yippee!

Now for the sign part ... it just so happens that I've made today the starting point for yet another goal ... I'm going to try and make a serious and concerted effort to get back into shape, in every way -- physical and spiritual. I think if I can actually manage to stay true to my plan, I'm going to feel better in just about every way. What I really need is to feel empowered and [somewhat] in control of things as I approach the next two years of my life and all the changes accompanying it.

So, here's to sticking with it.


Friday, April 11, 2008

I want to learn how to scrapbook

April 11th is an odd time to be thinking about resolutions, but there's something extremely domestic and soccer-mommish (Heaven forbid) that I've wanted to do for a long time -- learn how to scrapbook. I love cute girly things, and I'm a picture-taking fool. What better way to save memories and to get my stifled creative juices flowing than to scrapbook?

But the kicker is, when I say I want to learn, I mean I really want to LEARN. I don't just want to self-teach myself how to throw stuff together. Whenever I ask a scrapbooking person about it, they usually say, "Oh, it's easy. You just buy the little things and glue them on cute paper with your pictures and stick it in an album."

That's just now how my type-A brain functions. To undertake this new endeavor properly, I'll need to take a class from an expert, learn all my options, compile a list of good resources, etc. My formal scrapbooking education must begin the proper way, or I'll be screwed forever.

I'm a perfectionist. It's a cross to bear, because I usually can't measure up to the lofty ideas I've set in my mind. It stresses me out, hence my need for an outlet. It's a vicious cycle. Scrapbooking, I need you!

I figured that by writing this out, I'll feel obligated to hold myself accountable for actually beginning this adventure. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Make mine a Grey Goose

Are you kidding me? How stupid can the advertising people behind the scenes at Absolute vodka be? They just ran (and promptly pulled) an ad that stated "In An Absolut World" half the U.S. would be controlled by Mexico, as depicted by an 1830s map (where most of the modern western section of the U.S. was still part of Mexico).

Idiots. I smell a major boycott. I'm not one who usually gets my feathers ruffled about such things (edited to add that my husband just informed me that I am the queen of ruffled feathers; however, that's neither here nor there ...), but come on.

I do believe I'll refrain from drinking any Absolut from now on ... shaken, not stirred.

I cried

A few weeks ago I wrote about the beginning of my Stephenie Meyer journey. It began with Twilight, was followed by New Moon, and then finished (for now!) with Eclipse. My friend B warned me from the start that the storyline was addicting, but I figured I'd be able to resist. HA ... not even close! I was a goner from the first second I cracked the cover of Twilight.

I loved everything about these books -- the characters, the setting, the plot, the whole "suspension of reality" (as B describes it). It was a much-needed escape for me at a time when I was craving one.

And the end of Eclipse had me crying like a baby. I guess the truest sign of a good book is when it becomes so near and dear to your heart that you don't want it to end -- when you ache for the characters and feel their pain. That's how it was for me with Bella, Jake and Edward (and the rest of the wolves and vamps). I was a blubbering mess last night. I'm talking racking sobs! Ahhh, it was SO good!

B has invited me to attend a Stephenie Meyer book discussion in May, and I can't wait! I guess I'll have to purchase the "La Push Cliff Diving" t-shirt I saw online, just for the occasion. :)

And one more funny little twist to the "synchronicity" thing that has surrounded this whole experience -- the final installment of Edward and Bella's story is set for release on August 2 -- the week after Ty leaves for La Push. Do you think it's another one of the ways this series is meant to help me through it all? I do.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday morning with the chimps

I haven't been to the zoo in years. And I mean, YEARS (it's one of those things that you can get your fill of pretty quickly). It always seemed to me that it was too hot and full of too many kids. But I guess it's sort of a rite of passage when you have a two-year-old: you learn to cook countless meals of Kraft macaroni and cheese with cut-up weiners, and you take a trip or two to the zoo. So this morning when we woke up to beautiful weather and a day of possibilities, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to take ARF out to spend a few hours with the animals.

The Houston Zoo is a beautiful place. It's located in a really nice part of the city, and is surrounded by some great parks and scenery. And with the jungle-type ecosystem in place on the grounds, as well as all of the lush tropical plants, the zoo has the perfect amount of cool shade for a city located on the muggy Gulf Coast. It's actually a nice get-away.

ARF's favorite animal was the tiger. Especially since it jumped into a pool of water and took a cool swim right in front of him. He thought that was really cool. And he got a huge kick out of a scuba diver cleaning the inside of the fish tanks -- right in front of him through the glass in the aquarium. But I think, by far and away, his favorite part of our little excursion was all the kid-watching. He adored checking out his little peers in their neighboring strollers. They all seemed to have their own little radars out for eachother too. When one would oooh and ahhh over something in particular, the others would promptly check out the action as well.

And something funny happened along the way for me too. A place that I used to view as too hot and too full of kids became a place of wonder and fun. Seeing everything through the eyes of my two-year-old kind of brought it all to life for the first time. There's just something sort of magical about seeing a giraffe up close that makes you want to giggle.

And, of course, we left with a t-shirt. :)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ant and Bee

About 30 years ago when I was in kindergarten, my mom, dad, two sisters and I travelled to the U.K. to spend several weeks with my mother's family in Wales and England. I don't remember many details from the trip, other than random flashes of memories that stick in your mind when you're a kid ... things like having to eat sandwiches with butter instead of mayonaise spread on the bread, the beaches having pebbles instead of sand, and my parents escaping to London for a weekend and leaving us with an aunt and uncle and cousins whom I barely knew (good for them, by the way!), etc. -- real import stuff.

One lasting and tangible memory that I was able to bring back with me from Britain comes from a series of books that my sister and I adored -- Ant and Bee, by Angela Banner. There's nothing really special about these books. In fact, they're pretty simple. I think what I loved about them was actual the size of the books (about 3 inches high and 5 inches across -- perfect for little hands), as well as the simplicity of the only two characters, Ant and Bee. The subject matter was alway simple as well: colors, shapes, letters, etc. But the repetitive wording and language was written in a way that captivates young children. And the illustrations add to the overall effect. They're precious books.
Fast forward to 2008. A few weeks ago, my sister B was home for the birth of our nephew. We were all hanging out at my mom's house one afternoon when B decided to read a book to my son, ARF. She carried him over to Grandma's book shelf and let him choose a book himself. We sort of thought it was cute when he picked an Ant and Bee book. They've been collecting dust around the house for years, but we've never really paid much attention to them as adults ... until that day.

B read Ant and Bee and the Rainbow to ARF, and he was totally enthralled with it. He sat attentively while she read all 90 pages (!!) again and again. For the next few days, he couldn't get enough of Ant and Bee. Unfortunately, his favorite one about the rainbow, due to age and much love, is beginning to fall apart. The binding is separating from the spine, the pages are worn, and it's just in poor shape overall. I thought it might be time to get online and order a few new versions of Ant and Bee -- completely confident that would have them.

I began my internet search and was shocked at what I found. Our dear, precious Ant and Bee books are now considered collector's items. They're extremely hard to find, not to mention extremely valuable! We had a good laugh at the fact that the original price of the books was £2.50 (written in pencil inside a few of them), and the going rate now is $95.00 and up ... per book!

We've got the entire set, some in perfect condition and hardly touched. So we're probably sitting on over $1,000 worth of Ant and Bee books, if we chose to actually make a profit off of them. But here's the thing ... they're PRICELESS to us, not for their financial value, but for the memories and love we have of them, and now ARF has of them.

Each night I'm at my mom's, ARF requests "Rainbow," and sits through the entire reading of the book. Then he takes it and "reads" it back to me. It's become our routine. I sort of cringe as the pages get more and more worn, and the binding separates a little more. But as I watch my increasingly independent 2-year-old "read" the book in his tiny little voice, pointing out colors and saying, "Uh-oh!" when Ant and Bee spill the paint, my heart melts. I could never sell them. I would love to find a way to mend Ant and Bee and the Rainbow though. It's lived a good life and deserves some TLC. Not to mention the fact that it has many more good years to come.
And of course if anyone out there knows where I can get a reasonably priced copy of Ant and Bee and the Rainbow, please point me in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

dread locks, blue eyes, and sparrows

As is usually the case on Tuesday evenings, I spent a good chunk of my time last night watching American Idol. The theme was Dolly Parton. Um, no thanks. I've been frustrated with the song choices this season, mainly because I've been frustrated with the themes. Of all of the options available in the whole wide world of music, I'm thinking that the AI producers could've come up with something better than Dollywood. She's sweet and everything, but come on.

On to blue eyes.

I'm still in the process of figuring out Jason Castro. He's an Aggie, so by nature of the maroon-blooded loyalty and clan-like devotion that all Aggies have for other Aggies, I automatically hope he succeeds. As for his music, I totally dig the laid back demeanor -- the whole "sittin' around the campfire barefoot with friends, strummin' the guitar" type of thing. But the last two weeks have been iffy for my Aggie boy -- his performances have been mediocre at best. So I was happy to see the old Jason back last night, even if the judges didn't give him a ton of love. We'll see. Go, Jason!

But my favorite last night (and all season) was, once again, David Cook. Despite the fact that he was singing about a little sparrow (and apparently sicker than a dog on his death bed), the dude rocked. I read this morning that he went to the hospital after the show, due to a rapid heart rate and high blood pressure. Get better soon, David. The show needs you and I need you. You're just now beginning to help me ease the lingering pain that's been a part of my Idol existence ever since America gave Chris Daughtry the boot.