Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Through Different Eyes...and Ears

What are you thankful for?  Are you thankful that you made it through the holiday without a major meltdown or major family blowup?  Thankful that it is over?  Thankful for all the many blessings you have in your life?  Thankful that you remembered to take the giblets out of the turkey before you cooked it this year?  Thankful for the days off?  Thankful, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?   I am thankful that you are reading this!

Just imagine spending Chinese New Year in China with a Chinese family who spoke no English. This Thanksgiving we had the opportunity to see our holiday through a different pair of eyes and ears.  Our daughter ,Kelly, volunteered to host an international student for Thanksgiving.  She figured we would be fine with the idea and she even wondered if anyone would be assigned to her since part of the deal was that the student would have to find their own way to Houston from St. Louis.  Never fear....the chance to spend a holiday in a new city with a typical(?) American family and avoid being left behind on a deserted campus for 4 days can be very motivating!  We hosted a very nice Chinese student named Han for Thanksgiving.
He is young....17, and a freshman in college.  His English was infinitely better than our non-existent Chinese!  He was very quiet and shy for the most part but we had a major breakthrough on his last night when he opened up at dinner!  His whole face lit up when he told us about his high school and his likes and dislikes after spending all of 3 months in the U.S. and he told us about his extended family and their family get togethers.  I admire his courage to come to a new country and attend university in a foreign language....and make very good grades from what he shared with us!  Wow!

Han with Kelly and Katie at the Museum of Natural History

We had a busy time and much of my energy, when I wasn't cooking or cleaning, was spent trying to figure out what a 17 year old Chinese boy would find interesting in Houston.  It is not like I have Niagara Falls to drive him to and show him!  He did like the shopping at the Galleria, go figure, and he enjoyed the  3D IMAX show about the Hubble telescope.  We all enjoyed it and I have concluded that there is no way, ever, in a million trillion light years that I would ever want to go into space.  EVER! 

I don't think we scarred him too much and I even think he enjoyed his time with us.  He shared meals with a minimum of 5 of us every night and a few times there were 12 at the table.  That can be a bit intimidating.  He did luck out though, he was surrounded by beautiful girls at all meals, between Katie and Kelly and my sister's 3 daughters, Han has some good stories to share with his Chinese friends.  I'll bet none of them got to got to Brennans for dinner and be waited on by a swarm of waiters and tour the kitchen!  Now that is an education!

   our waiters making creme brulee and
bananas foster at our table

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Pile-On Sisters

I have three sisters and a brother.  When we all get together it can be a lot of fun!  We get going and one thing leads to another and we sometimes end up like this....

the sisters doing the "formation"
I am not one of the ones in the middle...but I still like them.  Lately, every time we are all together we end up doing yoga poses and not in a zen, meditative way.  It is more like a "can you do this?" or "watch this!" way.  We don't plan to end up on the floor contorting ourselves but it seems that's where we end up.  What?  Your family doesn't do that?  You should try it, especially after a few glasses of wine.

We were together celebrating our Dad's 80th birthday this weekend.  We had  brunch on Sunday and had all 5 siblings together at the table along with some of our spouses and some of our kids.  No, we did not do yoga poses on the floor.  It was so good to be together and so good to be able to celebrate with Dad.  He looks pretty good for 80 and as he pointed out, he can see, hear and think even though he does move around a bit slow.  I'll take slow thank you very much!

Mom and Dad on Dad's 80th birthday

While we were waiting for our meal to arrive, one of my sisters commented to my husband that he is very loud when he wakes up in the morning.  That one comment started another family activity we refer to as....time to pile on TJ!  He was fair game and none of us held back, except for my brother who felt brotherly compassion for TJ but was enjoying the show so much that he mostly sat in disbelief and laughed and was probably glad he ducked the "pile on" bullet.  The conversation sounded something like this...."TJ, you chew very loudly.  TJ, you type louder that anyone on the planet.  TJ, what possessed you to walk back and forth over the wood floors wearing your dress shoes on at 6 in the morning?"  My sisters just kept piling on!  Most of it revolved around the fact that he wakes up before anyone in the house and is unaware of how noisy he is, or maybe he just wants us all to wake up when he does and join in the door slamming and loud chewing.  His noises are all amplified in a silent snoozing house.  The doors and drawers opening and closing, those heels making noise on the floor and the newspaper flipping all gets done with such enthusiasm by TJ in the morning.....because he is a  morning person.....and it bothers me because....I am not.

I am glad I married a loud, early riser who can take the abuse from my sisters.  He said he was happy to provide the entertainment at the table while we waited for our food, otherwise we might have had to start doing yoga poses in our dress clothes at a restaurant.  Think how proud our Dad would have been at that sight on his 80th birthday.   Way to save us from ourselves TJ!   

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving Enchiladas

I have been looking forward to today for over a week.  I felt like a kid anticipating the school Thanksgiving feast.   A couple of weeks ago the group in my Learn English class asked if we could have a party for our last class before the Thanksgiving break.  That is a question you never have to ask me twice!  I love a party, especially one that I don't have to do anything for except show up!  My partner assured me that they were all excellent cooks and they love to have parties so...bring it on!  I dreamed of enchiladas, salsa and other mexican delights....for the next week.  It was with great anticipation that I went to class today. 

Flautas with home made salsa and shredded cabbage

I was not disappointed!  The ladies all brought home made specialties.  They brought flautas with shredded cabbage, home made salsa, shredded cheese and Mexican sour cream,  enchiladas, flan, some mexican soup which had noodles, red sauce and cheese in it and was delicious!  My personal favorites were the flautas and the salsa, the salsa was absolutely amazing, I must get the recipe. 

the ladies in class setting up for our feast!
I think this was their way to thank us and to show us their culture.  This is an area they can excel in and feel comfortable.  I can't wait for the Christmas party!
The class has been great and only makes me appreciate learning another language as an adult.  I still think I need to take a French class one of these days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Trash Talk

We have become good little recyclers!  Our Canadian training has paid off and the reason I know this is that our recycling bin is always overflowing!  In Toronto we had trash and recycling pick up once a week.  The recycling was always full, the trash....depended on who had been home that week and how busy we had been.  At the shore we have trash pick up every other week and recycling every other week.  Talk about some full bins and bags not to mention the smell!  I learned to love to recycle, it does not stink like other trash and the less trash I have at the shore the less stuff I have to drag down the long lane. 

Here we have trash pick up twice a week.  Decadent! Recycling pick up once a week.  I must say there are some weeks when we don't even have a full bag of trash to put out on Tuesdays so we usually just skip Tuesday pick up all together.  On Friday we always have mountains of paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard in the recycling bin.  Note, I did not mention glass.  They don't pick up glass here!!??  Are you kidding????  Being trained in the Canadian recycling school we dutifully pile all our glass, I'll be bottles,  in another area of the garage and tote it to the local recycle station when it starts to take over the corner of the garage.  Unfortunately, the visual all those wine bottles presents is daunting.  Multiply times $10 or $15 a bottle and that's a lot of allowance. 

One more little the "green" category.  In Toronto everyone uses their own grocery bags or else they get charged 5 cents a bag for those plastic bags.  When I bring my grocery bags to the grocery store here the baggers have no clue how to pack them.  They are so used to putting 2 or 3 things in those plastic bags that they pack the bags I bring the same way.  What a waste!  It totally defeats the purpose of bringing my own bags if you are going to put 2 or 3 things in them and then start using plastic bags.

I think instead of that extra trash pick up every week our area should spend that money on TREES!  Instead of cutting them all down they should try planting more!  There is an idea!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Needs Technology?

The technology woes continue.  It seems our alarm system has a mind of it's own.  It all started when I was in Madison visiting Rachel.  There I was sleeping soundly, enjoying some down time at 3:00 a.m. like the rest of the world and I was awoken?....awakened?....shocked into semi-consciousness!...  by the ringing of my cell phone.  Who is calling me at 3a.m.?  I decided to let it go to voice mail.  They had the nerve to call again!  So much for sleeping so  I answered the phone.  It was my alarm service.  Try answering all the security questions after being woken out of a deep sleep.  What is my security word?  I have no idea!  It's 3 a.m.!  I barely know MY name!  Where am I anyway and who is this again?  They assured me that there was no break in and the alarm was not sounding off waking all the neighbors, it was just a keypad error.  Really?  REALLY? REALLY?  You called me at 3 a.m. and made me wake up enough to think of my security word and answer all sorts of other obscure security questions for that?  Click. ZZZZZZZzzzzzz

Since I have been home, every night at 8 or 9 the alarm starts clicking and then beeping spontaneously.  It also decided to beep randomly throughout the day.  Nice!  I scheduled the company to come out and figure out what was wrong with the system.  They came out yesterday, a whole day earlier than they said they would come out.  Take that cable company who kept me waiting for days! The first question he asked was if I had any trouble with my phones lately.  Well...yes as a matter of fact I have.  He proceeded to figure out what is wrong with the system and asked if my phone is working now and I regretfully had to tell him that they were not!  Yes, the phone, Internet and cable were out AGAIN!  It seems that after the carnage in the green space "they" were planting the new trees and cut a main line which resulted in everyone being without service for the day.  Oh joy!  You got it, alarm guy could not do anything to fix the alarm without a working phone.  "Isn't it ironic...don't you think?"  to quote Alanis Morrisette.  I am back at square one with a spontaneously beeping alarm system and occasionally working phone, internet and cable.  I just love technology.

It's November and time to talk about the weather!  Because if you aren't traveling to Europe or visiting grandkids then the next best thing to talk about is the weather.  This year there will be no last year.  This part of today's post is written especially with my Canadian friends in mind!  Last year, I remember November began with rain, grey skies and cold temperatures, like it usually does.  It is a depressing month in Toronto.  I cursed November.  Most people who live up there curse November, it is dark and dreary.  After my post last year I had to eat my words because it ended up being an absolutely lovely month... very unusual!  My friends thanked me for cursing November and having to eat my words so....I hope November can make a liar out of me again this year for all your sakes!

As for me and mine down here in Sugar Land....November is perfect!  God has indeed turned down the heat and sucked out the humidity for a while and I am a happy camper.  College football is in full swing, check out the LSU Tigers this past weekend!  Thanksgiving is in a few weeks and life is good (except for those technology glitches).  Rather than dreading November this year,  I am happy it has finally arrived.  This is patio season southern style.  This is the month we get to go outside and enjoy the sunny skies and not break into an immediate sweat.  People are outside working in their yards, riding their bikes, taking their dogs for walks and just enjoying life and the fact that the great outdoors is a pleasant place to be....finally.  We even get to wear a sweater or a jacket if conditions are perfect, according to me.  We have more hours of daylight at this time of year than they do up north.  So, if you want to know what month to come and visit us down here, try November, especially if you live in Toronto and you are not experiencing a repeat of November 2009.

Now watch it rain for the next 23 days....I'll never write about the weather in November again!  Until next year!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Munchkins in Madison

Daniel and his dog....Indiana

Christopher, playing in the sun room

 Take one Gigi, one Grampy (for a day and a half), a mom, a dad and two active, smart/clever, fast, and absolutely darling boys, throw in a little Halloween and what do you get?  One very happy but tired Gigi.  Not to mention the traveling, which is a story unto itself.  Keep reading, it gets interesting, maybe.

I finally got my fall fix!  Halloween in Madison, Wisconsin!  I think this should be an annual trip.  It was so much fun to enjoy trick or treating with Daniel and Christopher. 

Halloween has never been one of my favorite holidays, maybe because as a mother of 4, there was always so much pressure to think of clever, cute, and doable costumes....times 4.  That kind of creativity has never been my strong suit, but the kids did have a few memorable costumes through the years.  Then there is the actual day of trick or treating... try to get 4 kids dressed, feed them a somewhat nutritious dinner which will be ruined later on with pounds of  candy.  Then comes the week after when all they want to do is eat candy and they become these irrational, sugar crazed people with no self control.  Yeah....those were the good old days.  Maybe things have changed.

Daniel the Duck

Christopher the Sock Monkey

Big door, little duck....sooo cute!

This is our little duck trick or treating, he loved to stop in every flower bed and pick up treats like pine cones, rocks and sticks.  Not so interested in candy!

I think 2 year olds are easier to have Halloween with!  Daniel ate a delicious and nutritious dinner and happily put his duck costume on and was ready to go!  He was such a good trick or treater, he said "thank you" to everyone!  He was definitely more interested in the sticks and rocks in the flower beds than the candy.  He had the usual over indulgence of candy that night and became a sugar coated irrational duck at one point, but for the most part, he was a champ!  Christopher made it to 2 houses, mostly just to show off his adorable, hand knit by Aunt Katie, sock monkey costume.  The best part was that being 2, Daniel pretty much forgot about all that candy the next day and had moved on to bigger and better things, like playing.  This video is just one of many, Daniel and I are featured in one on Rachel's blog.

For the next few days, we did a lot of chasing, feeding, diaper changing, playing, laughing, crying (well Daniel and Christopher cried) and finally sleeping!  Instead of sharing all the details of the visit....I'll just show you more pictures of my very cute grandkids!

Daniel and his giant Elmo puzzle that we had to do at least twice a day!

Christopher and me at swimming lessons, another fish in the family.

Snack time....the only time he sits still

This was a hilarious night time activity.  Daniel methodically took every toy and book and "placed" them individually in the corner over by Christopher.  He is practicing not throwing things... which everyone knows is instinctive in boys or is at least in my experience.  It was at least a half hour of playing without any crying or bodily harm, a small victory and totally enjoyable for the adults in the room who were trying to be invisible.

Great job Daniel! 
Guess what we did after they went to bed?

The trip home was interesting too.  I took the Badger Bus from Madison to the Milwaukee airport dark and early Wednesday morning.  It was a quiet ride in the dark for the most part and I slept on and off for the 2+ hour ride.  There were two particularly interesting characters on the bus.  One older bag lady with a babushka on her head, wearing an old coat and several layers of clothing carrying a paper bag with other  clothing inside.  She sat in the first seat right behind the driver, I was in about the 5th row.   Two hours later at the bus terminal in Milwaukee where all but 4 of us got off the bus the bag lady got off the bus and asked the driver after everyone had gone, if the bus had a video camera on board recording the ride because.......wait for it.........she had been "assaulted and nearly murdered".  She also asked if the convenience store where we picked her up had video cameras because right before she got on the bus she had been, "assaulted and nearly murdered"!   I must have been sleeping way harder than I thought because I didn't hear a thing!  The driver handled the situation with as much coolness as he could and she went into the terminal....risking being assaulted and nearly murdered to see if they had video cameras.

The other interesting person was a large black man carrying a clear plastic bag with his clothing in it. At the bus depot after the driver got back on the bus this fellow came up to the driver to ask how long it would take to get to the airport as he had to catch a 8:41 a.m. flight.  It was 8:25 when he asked this question!  I could not wait to see how the driver handled this one.  He told him it would be between 5 and 10 minutes and that he should have taken the 3:30a.m. bus.  There is a 3:30 bus?  Darn!  He fretted and fretted and asked if flights were ever late.  He was convinced that if he got to the airport at 8:40 that he would by some miracle make his 8:41 flight!  At the airport he took his plastic bag of clothing and another larger bag of clothing and headed to the desk.  Guess he does not travel much.  I have got to give our driver a shout out though because he handled these people with such ease and patience without them getting angry or causing a much larger disturbance than they did. 

So I'm back home and now I am thinking of all the childproofing I need to do to the house before Christmas!  Will Christopher be able to scale small buildings in a single bound by then?  Will I be rested enough to keep up with all of them by then?  I am going out to buy baby gates and cabinet locks!

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