Wintery Day Is Just Right To Stay Inside and “Chill”

Morning greetings of winter white out the door--Lyons, Kansas.

Morning greetings of winter white out the door–Lyons, Kansas.

Just like family get-togethers and exchanging presents, snowstorms seem to be a tradition of every Christmas holiday visit I make back to my home state of Kansas.  This morning we woke up to a couple inches of the white stuff on the ground, with even more swirling around in the air.  The snow itself made for a pretty scene outside, but the cold blast of 7 degrees when I opened the door was more than what I’d call “brisk.”

The first thing I had to do was sweep a path on my sister’s patio and then out on the grass for Annie to take a “go.” Finally, she did, at lightning speed.

With the snow still coming down most of the day and the cold wind zipping at the skin, other than re-sweeping the doggy paths, I haven’t wanted to venture out.  It was just the kind of day to keep the house cozy by using the oven to cook up the pork roast and sauerkraut we got yesterday in preparation of a cold day.

Tonight the forecast is for 5 degrees, but I’m sure that the blankets and quilts on the bed will keep me–and Annie–warm.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Annie stays near--or on--a warm lap on these cold days.

Annie stays near–or on–a warm lap on these cold days.

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“Pride Unleashed” at LGBT Parade 2013; Hundreds of Thousands* Celebrate in the Houston Heat

One of the colorful entries of Pride Parade 2013--the theme this year was "Pride Unleashed."

One of the colorful entries of Pride Parade 2013–the theme this year was “Pride Unleashed.”

Record heat hit Houston on Saturday, but that didn’t deter the largest crowds I’ve seen in almost 30 years of attending this city’s gay pride parade.

Last year, I passed on heading back into the city for a sixth commute of the week, only to fight the heat and the parking.  I just needed to get back this year to be part of the throngs of kindred spirits.

Putting on cool clothes and filling a small backpack with my camera and bottles of water, I set off out into the 107 degree heat.  After picking up a friend on the way, I headed down to the old Montrose neighborhood, where I had spent many of years in Houston, and site of the pride festivities.

I knew that the crowd would be large when I couldn’t find a parking place anywhere near my preferred area.  We finally found a space, got our gear together, and walked further than sensible people should walk in over-100-degree heat.

My perception was that the crowds were about the most diverse that anyone might find any place in Houston.  And while the attendees at the parade 2 years ago seemed about half gay-half straight, the ratio this year appeared much greater in the gay direction.  That might be because of positive decisions that just came out of the Supreme Court only a few days ago.

The parade got going even before the stated 8:15 start time and even finished before 10 but seemed to have as many entries and as much excitement as previous years.

The photos that follow give only a taste of the evening; the Houston Chronicle has a good page up that highlights a lot of days festivities.

*The Houston Chronicle reports that more than 400,000 attended this year’s event.  This is sure to be a Houston Pride Parade record.

The diversity among us--parage attendees applauded entries,, screamed for beads, and celebrated throughout the evening.        They have to be, though, some of the best behaved hundreds of thousands of people around.

The diversity among us–parage attendees applauded entries,, screamed for beads, and celebrated throughout the evening. They have to be, though, some of the best behaved hundreds of thousands of people around.

As the crowds of spectators await, HPD heads down Westheimer, leading of Pride Parade 2013.

As the crowds of spectators await, HPD heads down Westheimer, leading off Pride Parade 2013.

The pride of Houston's LGBT community--Mayor Annise Parker (left) and her partner, Kathy Hubbard.

The pride of Houston’s LGBT community–Mayor Annise Parker (left) and her partner, Kathy Hubbard.

PFLAG--one of the wonderful ally groups that have been supporting for years.

PFLAG–one of the wonderful ally groups that have been supporting for years.

Pride2013 Diana

Rolling down Westheimer.

Rolling down Westheimer.

Houston Fire Department "represents".

Houston Fire Department “represents”.

There was no lack of the rainbow colors.

There was no lack of the rainbow colors.

Just one of the many attractions to be found on parade evening.

Just one of the many attractions to be found on parade evening.

Totally representing the parade's theme of "Pride Unleashed."

Totally representing the parade’s theme of “Pride Unleashed.”

There was no shortage of commercial groups taking part in the parade.

There was no shortage of commercial groups taking part in the parade.

Third Month of the Year Marches in with Bright Skies and Cool Temps

Now that I've gotten the plants in the bay window cleaned up, this pink African violet can peek back into the kitchen.

Now that I’ve gotten the plants in the bay window cleaned up, this pink African violet can peek back into the kitchen.

This first March weekend breezed in trying to pull the remaining leaves from the oak trees, but not quite succeeding at the task.  Saturday morning, I was out early in the front

The first full pea pods of the season hang from the plants; it's too bad there aren't enough plants for a good picking.

The first full pea pods of the season hang from the plants; it’s too bad there aren’t enough plants for a good picking.

The first tomato of this spring grows from a plant that made it through the winter.

The first tomato of this spring grows from a plant that made it through the winter.

yard once again raking up more of those leaves and clean up the curb; however, the brisk north wind kept me from doing a very good job.

With the invigorating weather, I’ve finished up other house and yard chores, and now have meat loaf and butternut squash in the oven, cooking away for Sunday lunch and for leftovers for the coming week.

Now, except for a run out to the store and post office, I can sit back for the rest of the day.

Nothing Like Mom’s Noodle Recipe and Old Breadboard To Warm Up a Chilly Day and Evoke Memories

Cut homemade noodles sprinkled out on Mom's old breadboard to dry--though because of the humidity, they never really dried, once cooked they were no less delicious.

Cut homemade noodles sprinkled out on Mom’s old breadboard to dry–though because of the humidity, they never really dried, once cooked they were no less delicious.

A whole chicken slow cooks with onion, carrots, celery, and garlic to produce the broth for the chicken noodle soup.

A whole chicken slow cooks with onion, carrots, celery, and garlic to produce the broth for the chicken noodle soup.

(This is my first blog post in a long time and the first one that I’ve written on my MacBook Air.  It wasn’t as much of a problem as I had anticipated.  Actually, it was no problem at all.  Photos load from my camera to the Air easily and working with the WordPress template was very intuitive.  I can’t say the same about trying to post from my Acer netbook.)

Cool, grey days with dampness that demands fuzzy slippers–this is about as wintery as it gets here in southeast Texas, but it’s just the weather to cozy up the house with the smell of homemade soup.

To make the broth, I chopped up onion, celery, carrots, and garlic and dumped it all in the bottom of a crockpot.  Then I placed a whole chicken in on top of the veggies, sprinkled on some poultry seasoning, finally pouring about half a cup of brine from the jar of Greek olives (no other salt), and set the pot to slow cook.

Later in the day, I dug out my mom’s noodle recipe.  I remember watching my mom roll out the wide, thin circles of noodle dough, then hanging them over the tea-towel covered backs of the kitchen chairs to dry for awhile.  Then she’d layer the noodle circles, roll them into a tight cylinder, and begin slicing off the noodles with a big knife.  After the noodles were all cut, Mom would sprinkle them loosely all over the breadboard, which she had already used to roll out and slice off the noodles.

One of the treasures that made it to my house after my mom passed away was that breadboard.  It had set in my sister’s garage for some time, and nobody else wanted it.  I dig it out every time I make bread or roll out pie dough even though the counter would work just as well.  Thus, the breadboard is just the thing to bring together memories and the aroma of cooking chicken.

Probably because of the Houston humidity (unlike dry Kansas air), even with hanging them over chairbacks, my noodles never dried very much.  Consequently, once rolled up, they were difficult to slice very thinly, so after I put them in the bubbling broth, they swelled much wider than those my mom always made, which was usually just about a quarter-inch wide.  Nevertheless, the resulting tasty chicken noodle soup brings both warmth and memories to the kitchen and more than satisfies my tongue and tummy.

Noodles (Mom’s recipe)

4 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. water

1 tbsp. oil

1 3/4 cup flour

Knead & let stand 20 to 30 minutes.  Roll on floured board. Cut into strips. 

Trip to the Outhouse–Blogging, Four Years and Counting . . . and It All Started with Hurricane Ike and Matthew Mitcham

Matthew Mitcham, having fun, before the start of the 2012 London Olympics (photo @matthew_mitcham)

It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by since I first started this blog.  It’s doubtful that I would have put in this much continued effort were it not for two big topics that I blogged about back in 2008, the devastating Hurricane Ike, which passed through southeast Texas, and gay Australian diver, Matthew Mitcham, who was a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.

There’s not that much evidence of the extensive damage that Hurricane Ike caused, even when you head down to hard-hit Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula.  Galveston, though still trying to recover population numbers, is once again bustling with out-of-state tourists and day-trippers from nearby Houston, who are attracted by the warm water, great restaurants, and new entertainment venues.  If you take the ferry and cross to Bolivar Peninsula, you pass by new sub-divisions of beachhouses, most of which rise high off the ground to protect them from rising water.

When it comes to the second topic, Matthew Mitcham is back, once again competing in olympic diving, this time in London.   After winning his gold medal in the 10 meter platform dive, Mitcham, at age 20, became one of the most–if not the most–well-known out gay athletes in the world.  For some so young, being such a worldwide celebrity might have been a heavy load to carry.  However, Mitcham, as athlete, activist, and product spokesperson, has worn all of his hats well, and once again is back competing in the London 2012 Olympics.

While this blog attracted many readers because of my telling of the events happening to me personally and that of Houston during Hurrican Ike and the days after, thank goodness there has not been another hurricane that has headed our way in these past four years. 

On the other hand, my blogs about Mitcham’s victory in the Beijing 2012 Olympics still bring readers to this site, showing that he’s still–if not even more–popular.   I still admire Matthew Mitcham, not only because he’s such an amazing athlete and role model, but also that in spite of his célébrité, he has been able to keep a good sense of himself and just be a normal early-20s guy.

Check the early posts (2008) for more about Hurricane Ike and Matthew Mitcham on this blog.  Also a good way to keep up with Matthew Mitcham is through Twitter (https://twitter.com/matthew_mitcham), where he posts lots of photos.

Summertime and the Feelin’ Is . . .

Tomatoes from my garden–I had quite a variety of shapes and sizes. The dark red one on the right is a Cherokee Purple, and they are some of the most delicious tomatoes I’ve tasted in a long time. There are not that many tomatoes left on the vines, though this recent bout of rain and cooler weather may help for more to set on. If the hot temperatures come back, the tomatoe season may be over.

It’s summer, and I definitely haven’t been blogging much.  I can find many excuses:

  • Working outside more
  • Canning veggies and barbequeing
  • Using the netbook while watching TV (and difficult to blog on netbook)
  • Just being lazy with all this rain
  • Reading on the Nook I recently got (no one can say I get in on new technology too early)

I’m definitely missing writing, but I guess other things have just gotten more emphasis as of late.  These photos show a bit of what’s been going on.

 

Tomatoes and pickled beans–These are just some of the jars of vegetables that I’ve canned this some from what’s come from my garden. Pickled beans are a family tradition. From the fresh tomatoes, I’ve canned also canned hot salsa and tomato sauce.

My backyard one Saturday morning–The hose is evidence that this is before all the rain started. It’s a peaceful place to enjoy coffee and try to read something on the new Nook. I say “try” because there are too many plants to tend or better yet just sit and enjoy the morning.

Yesterday’s rain–The rain guage showed 2.40 inches yesterday. With what has come down today, I estimate between 8 and 10 inches has fallen at my place in northwest Harris County since noontime this past Sunday.

 

Beautiful Spring Weather Sends Out the Invitation for a Gulf Coast Day Trip

Pleasure Pier is being constructed at the location of the Hurricane Ike-damaged Flagship Hotel.

Finally, I have a few–and I would say, “well-deserved”–days off.  It’s not really enough time to go on any major vacation, and really, with this great, spring weather, I’m just happy to putter in the garden, catch up on some much-needed tasks around the house, and just kick back a little.

Yesterday, my niece, her husband, and I headed out to one of our favorite day-trip destinations–Galveston.  Though it’s just about an hour’s drive down I-45, Galveston’s old port city flavor and the wide-open waters of the Gulf of Mexico always make for a fun time.  Less than 4 years has passed since Hurricane Ike inflicted major destruction upon the island city and the surrounding coast and even further inland;  however, little evidence of Ike remains, and at lunchtime, mid-week, vehicles buzzed along Seawall Boulevard, a surprising number of sunworshipers dotted the beaches, and a good crowd of other diners had decided upon Fish Tales as had we.  From our breezy spot on the upper deck, we could watch the construction of the new amusement complex, Pleasure Pier, where the Ike-damaged Flagship Hotel had once stood.

Bolivar Ferry is part of S.H. 87, connecting Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula.

Though the sky was cloudless, the northern breeze crossing the restaurant deck had raised goose-bumps, so we were glad to escape to the sun-heated car (not something we’re usually glad to do most months in southeast Texas) and decided upon another of our favorite “to-do’s” when in Galveston–ride the Bolivar Ferry.  Actually a part of the Texas state highway department, this fleet of car-carrying ferries crosses the mouth of Galveston Bay and connects the east end of Galveston Island to the Bolivar Penisula.  You can get out of your car and have a great vantage point to see all kinds of boats, landmarks, and wildlife.  On this particular day, I couldn’t help but notice the intimate juxtaposition of the gulf coast’s naturaleza (I like that word in Spanish better than just “nature” in English) with the petro-chemical complexes of the area.  As part of the state highways, the ferry is free to ride, and those who just want the enjoyment of the ride can park their cars, walk on board, and make their own polical–or non-political–observations.

Once more on solid land, we headed down S.H. 87, which scoots merely yards from the rolling gulf surf.  I was particularly amazed at the great number of new beach houses that have been built since Ike tore up this peninsula.  Though raised high on tall piers, I couldn’t help but think that these summer getaway houses would be like tinkertoys if another hurricane were to make its path across the peninsula.

Smith Oaks Sanctuary's Rookery and other areas are filled with roseate spoonbills, cormorants, egrets and other birds.

The paved beach highway comes to an end just south of the small town of High Island, and unless you decide to turn around and go back to the ferry and return to Galveston, you go north and after about 20 miles, hit Winnie, where I-10 will take you back west to Houston, or east and

This web-footed neotropical cormorant perches on narrow branch.

onto Beaumont, then Louisiana.  However, we drove into High Island, which sits on raised area about 1/2 mile from the coast.  In High Island, my niece and her husband took me to one of those places that truly surprise you upon discovering them.  Smith Oaks Sanctuary was once a farm, which belongs to the Houston Audobon Society.  I had never been there before, so rather than write what I have since found out, I suggest that you read about this wonderful place here.   Whether you are and avid birder or just enjoy nature and wildlife, Smith Oaks, though off the beaten path, was for us a great desitination for a day trip from Houston.

A great egret protects its nest while two roseate spoonbills roost nearby.

A rose-breasted grosbeak munches on a mulberry.

A scarlet tanager chooses its next mulberry

Early Days of Spring–When You Can Say, “This is what it’s all about.”

Homemade meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, and a salad with lettuce, arugula, and green onion straight from the garden. Can you beat this for Sunday lunch?

Today is one of those nearly perfect days that we get here in southeast Texas, usually in early spring.  The blue sky is filled with puffy clouds that keep the temperature mild as they intersperse shade onto the St. Augustine grass of the back yard.  With all the good rains we’ve had, the vegetable garden, the flowers in the pots and beds, and lawn are all trying their hardest to grow, even though the chickweed is fighting to outdo them.

After attempting to thwart some of the chickweed’s successes, I came back into the house and put together one of those old Sunday favorite meals:  meatloaf and scalloped potatoes.  I should have invited someone to share it all with, but I hadn’t thought far enough in advance to do that.  When it was time to eat,  I went back to the garden and cut some lettuce, arugula, and a green onion to go into a salad.  I’ll make lunches to take to work with all the leftover meatloaf and potatoes;  Marie Callender would be jealous.

Now that I’ve found all the various documents, this might be the day to set myself to doing my taxes.  Notice that I did say “might.”  (I hope you enjoy the tour that follows.)

Peas, lettuce, arugula, green onion, pole beans fill this end of my little garden behind the garage. At the other end are about 10 tomato plants and a holdover from last year, a hot Italian pepper. On the sunny side of the garage I have four more tomatoes in containers. The dog is not planted, but does like to be in photos.

The peas that I planted in mid-January are just starting to produce.

This ruellia and wandering jew require little care but add a lot of color to a corner of the patio.

My lack of patience is to blame for there not being a buzzing honey bee looking for nectar in this blossom of a large salvia that I planted last year and which withstood the drought.

This burst of color comes from a cleome that seeded itself right at the edge of the patio.

Another Weekend of Rainy Weather, But Really, Who Can Complain?

Because this pot retains so much rain water, the flowers on this kalanchoe have turned a more piercing red than usual and the leaves and stems are also turning red.

Am I the only one who thinks that time change days frequently have some kind of inclement weather that helps add to the confusion?  I woke up to light pings of rain drops hitting the window.  When I could no longer ignore Annie’s staring at me from only a few inches away from my face, I got up to take her out. 

By this time, the shower had just about ended.  Slogging through the wet grass, I found .40 of rain in the gauge to add to the 2.60, which had accumulated from Friday afternoon through Saturday.  After the long drought of last summer and fall, a rainy weekend is still something to enjoy.

All the plants–trees, grass, garden vegetables, and, for sure, the weeds–are making up for lost time.  The pine trees in my neighborhood are thick with baby cones.  The verbena in my south bed are lush with purple and pale blue blossoms. 

When it comes to my little garden, I’m sure I’ve over-planted this year, because with all this good moisture, every little sprout wants to grow.  The peas are climbing the menagerie of trellises and string I’ve put up.  The lettuce, though a bit trampled by the rain will soon be ready for a first cutting.  Pole beans are popping out of the ground and stretching up.  Then there are the tomatoes.  I’ve set in more than any other year.  If all of them produce, I may have to start my own salsa company!

With all this gray weather, yesterday was a good day to cook and warm up the house.  I found a good buy on a pork roast, which I braised in the skillet and then set into a baking dish loaded with cabbage, potatoes, celery, onions, carrots, and a few spicy peppers (these last from my garden–planted last year).  In the skillet with the meat bits left from the braising, I reduced a pint of orange juice, which I then poured over the meat and veggies, before putting them into the oven to roast.  I have to say, the end result was enough to raise my eyebrows–great food for a gray weekend.

Misinterpreted Conservation Levels of Some Texas Reservoirs May Be the Reason the Experts Won’t Get Us Out of This Drought

I keep wondering if the drought is over for the longterm; there’s no question about the short term.  Despite all the wet, the U.S. Drought Monitor* has kept our area (Harris County) in the moderate and severe drought categories for some time.  This monitor, put out by a number of governmental agencies, uses many factors, such as climate changes, ground moisture, and lake levels, to indicate current and predict  future drought conditions.  With all this in mind, I have started to look at sites that indicate the levels and capacities of lakes across Texas since more rain has come.  (Check here if you too are interested.)

By looking at the charts, one can notice that lakes in the middle part of Texas are quite low, especially Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan.  However, many lakes in southeast Texas, which has had considerably more rain, are at 100% conservation level or nearing conservation capacity.  If the lakes are full and the ground is saturated, why are we still considered as being in a drought zone?

Possibly, some of those making these designations may only be looking at figures on lists and not looking at how some reservoirs function and the amount of water they generally contain.  For example, I live very near

The dike-like Addicks Dam extends for nearly 12 miles.

Addicks Reservoir, which is located west of Beltway 8 and north of I-10 in Harris County.  This reservoir, along with the corresponding Barker Reservoir on the south side of I-10, were built as flood protection for the city of Houston.  But to think of them as high dams with a lake behind would be a mistake.  The Addicks dam is more of a raised dike, L-shaped and running for about 12 miles.  Behind it are rough, wooded areas, some of which are swampy.  Highway 6 and Eldridge Parkway transverse this area from north to south, and Clay Road crosses it from east to west.  Bear Creek Park and Bear Creek Golf Club occupy some of the reservoir area.

An aerial view shows that behind the dam (highlighted in red) are wooded areas, not a water-filled reservoir.

Although there are some lower parts near the long dam that do hold water in the normally wet climate, the reservoir never reaches 214,150 acre-feet, which the Texas Water Development Board says is conservation capacity.  The reservoir’s record capacity was 60,190 acre-feet when nearly a foot of rain fell in the west Houston area.  After a 2009 storm, the exceptional amount of water in the reservoir covered park areas and roads as well as into homes in neighboring sub-divisions.  Even now, with the reservoir at only 3.5% of conservation capacity parts of Bear Creek part are inundated.

Despite the heavy rains that the gulf weather often brings, it would probably take some kind of Noah’s Ark storm to bring Addicks Reservoir up to conservation capacity.  If that were ever to happen, many of the developed areas surrounding it would probably flood too, because the terrain in is generally flat.  Therefore, if the climatologists who are determining the severity of this drought (now I would say so-called drought) are using the conservation capacity of Addicks Reservoir (and other similar reservoirs) as part of their calculations, they should look at them realistically, rather than just as a set of arbitrary numbers.

*A more optimistic view is shown by the Keetch-Byram Drought Index at Texas A&M’s Texas Weather Connection.