Happy Holidays to All from Trip to the Outhouse

All of the Christmas cactuses are blooming at the same time this year, giving me time to enjoy them before taking out on the road.

The year is quickly coming to an end.  I’ve got the car almost packed, and in the morning, I’ll add the last few items and stick Annie in the co-pilot seat for our annual Christmas road trip to Kansas.

Although the mostly interstate drive can get long and monotonous, I’m ready for a change of scenery and a break from work for almost two weeks.  I’ve even enjoyed getting out to the malls to do Christmas shopping this year.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been organized and know exactly what I want to get for people, so I don’t do that much wandering from store to store trying to figure out what I might be looking for.

I even washed and cleaned out the car today for its first long trip, and I’m anxious to see whether I can make it through Oklahoma without having to buy gas.  That is not one of my favorite states (you might guess why), and I don’t like to spend any more money there than I have to.

Oh, my.  Am I being a Grinch? 

I hope that I will be more inspired to write here in the coming year.  Somehow 2012 may be a better year.  I’m optimistic about it.

I know here in the last few months I haven’t given those who might pass through this blog much to read.  In a minute, I’m going to pack the camera in the car in its special corner; keep your fingers crossed that there will be road trip photos!

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012!

A Sunday Drive: In Search of Bluebonnets

Barely out of the car, Annie is panting in the hot sun at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. These were some of the few bluebonnets we encountered.

Having finally accomplished the long-put-off doing of my income taxes before noontime, and with the yard and garden work already finished for the weekend, I coaxed Annie into the car and off we headed out 290 in quest of bluebonnets.

The bluebonnet is the the Texas state flower, and for a few weeks in spring, the roadsides and pastures can be ablaze in color from the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, especially the Indian paintbrush

Without seeing a glimpse of a bluebonnet, we drove as far as the quaint, old town of Chappell Hill and turned onto a side road.  This asphalt lane, like so many other roads in the Texas Hill Country, seems to be filled with natural beauty and history.  It never ceases to amaze me how on one piece of land you’ll see a humble dwelling that probably was once a share-cropper’s house, and then, not even a quarter mile down the road, a 6 or 7 figure “swankienda” stretches out into the acreage.  But these, along with the green meadows and wooded creeks, make for a drive that forces you to go at a speed slower than that of Granny going to church.

After about 50 miles of driving, a small, hillside field showed off its indigo glory, but the cars and motorcycles that were already stopped left no place to pull over and try to take pictures of a small dog romping amongst the bluebonnets.

So on we went a few miles, and ended up at Washington, Texas, which is the place where the Texas Declaration of Indepedence from Mexico was signed.  Many years ago, a big part of the area was made into the Washington-on-the-
Brazos State Park
.  It’s really a wonderful place, not too overdone with the history part.  There’s a museum and a visitors center, but there are also places to picnic and lots of trails to walk and discover the history as well as nature’s beauty.

With a 92-degree south wind pushing at us, a maybe mile-long walk was about enough to do in a guy and a little dog.  I’d brought water for her, which she lapped up when we got back to the car, but after getting the AC going, I began looking for a convenience store to find a cold drink for myself.

We did find some bluebonnets in the park, but either it’s still a bit early or the drought has caused the bluebonnets to suffer this year.  Whatever.  We had a good day on our quest, finding more than the flowers.

Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. This looks like a replica to me; maybe some of the boards are original.

Some of the flowering plants growing along the pathways. The pinkish-purple appears to be a native verbena. The white blossoms on the other plant were pretty, but the stem looked very prickly.

The park has many trails to wander, some along the Brazos River. Here and there, youll find informational signage, telling about the history of the site, but these signs do not interfere with just enjoying the tranquillity of the area.

Pieces of history, like this old water well, are evident throughout the park, but because the park has not been "over-developed", the visitor can almost feel like he is discovering artifacts.

Located outside of the state park, current-day Washington, Texas holds hardly more than some kind of eatery and a post office.

A Christmas Road Trip, Digging Up History, and a Garden for the New Year

It’s a little late to say it, I suppose, but “Happy New Year” to anyone who slips and falls upon this page.  This is the first post of the new year, as other interests, including just lying around, have gotten in the way of writing.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, but on January lst, I felt motivated to plant a “winter garden” in my little plot behind the garage.  There were already several pepper plants still producing from last summer and a couple of tomato plants that I planted in November with several tomatoes on each; now I’ve set in 80 red onions and 10 shallots (let’s see), a couple of rows of yellow beans, and several varieties of lettuce.  It’s been a rainy evening here, with more than an inch already, so this moisture should get everything going.  Although the thermometer has read 29 or 30 on several occasions, everything down inside my back yard seems to have been protected.

A few days before Christmas, I loaded up the car, and with Annie for a co-pilot headed up to Kansas for the holidays.  Even with quite a number of short stops for gas, dog walks, and grab-and-go food, we made each way in between 11 and 12 hours.  Both driving days were grey and dreary, and coming back took longer because we ran into rain and, of course, more traffic coming into Houston. 

Driving that far in one day is always a bit grueling, but stopping to stay somewhere along the way just never seems worth it, and it’s always so good when I arrive up there, and just as good when I get back home.

The Christmas festivities carried on over several days, of course, with a lot of presents and too much, but really delicious, food and goodies.  Even though Mom is now gone, almost every one of her kids and grandkids (including in-laws) seems to enjoy cooking and is pretty good at it as evidenced by all the variety.

My sister and I are both history buffs, and whenever I get back to Kansas, we take some kind of road trip to “the old stomping grounds.”  The beauty of the mostly treeless, somewhat stark, rolling plains of central Kansas, where I grew up, always amazes me.  When I was living there, it was something I couldn’t see.  Another noticeable thing is that life is changing; there are fewer and fewer small farms, and you have to drive more and more miles between farmsteads where someone actually lives.  And thus, the small towns, and even not so small ones, are losing population.  Some of the smaller places will soon be just a spot on the road.  This is not something new, though; if you look at the census numbers, the decline in rural counties in Kansas started as far back as the 1920s.

We had a good drive, though, taking us back down memory lane, and finding answers for some of the questions about places that we had been talking about.

The Smoky Hill River from the Dlabl Bridge southeast of Wilson, Kansas. We encountered this new bridge after taking a scenic sand road north from Holyrood.

An old tombstone with German inscriptions in the tiny Immanual Cemetery southwest of Wilson, Kansas. The Smoky Hills can be seen in the back.

One of the markers that were erected to show the route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch (sic) that followed the Smoky Hill Trail through Kansas. Down the draw from this marker is the spot where I believe the Hick's Station was located.

Rolling farmland (winter wheat in the foreground) surrounds my old hometown of Dorrance, Kansas.

Wednesday Wanderings: Blue Fleece Pants, Christmas Road Trip, Swimming, and Bowl Games

Cold, clear day for a road trip on I-35

Taking out Annie in the morning has definitely changed since I moved to my house, especially during cold weather.  When I lived in my apartment, I’d wake up, get dressed in jeans, shirt, jacket or coat, and maybe even gloves and a ski cap.  Then I’d get the leash on Annie, and we’d go down the three flights, and finally, out to the sidewalk, and walk to the corner.  Now I pull on my fleece pants and a sweatshirt, and we slip down the stairs and out the back door.  I look at my plants while Annie finishes her “business” and back inside we go.  With the 8-foot fence, we’re protected from any wind or neighbor’s view, so it doesn’t matter that I’m still wearing my fuzzy fleece pants with the blue and white snowflakes.

So here I am still in my fleece pants happily thinking about the upcoming New Year’s Day and that I’m in my own cozy home after a Christmas road trip to Kansas.  We made the trips going and coming back each in a one day, but while the drive up to central Kansas never seems too long, the return always becomes drudgery, especially the last boring leg from Dallas to Houston.  I’m sure the reason the trip up is better because of the anticipation of the arrival and seeing family and the old home state.  This time, we had good weather driving through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas both ways, but the snowy effects of the winter storm that went through the region were evident all the way from near Wichita into Denton, Texas, where the last remnants lay in the ditches and shaded areas.

Despite the cold wintry weather, we had a very pleasant Christmas.  It was the first Christmas that I had spent together with all my siblings since I was a kid out on the farm and the first time that we had all been together since my mom’s funeral last November.  It was an enjoyable time because it was one of the times when aside from the holiday itself, there was no stressful reason for us all to get together.

The red and gold rug looks great at the entry

I hit the jackpot when it came to presents this year.  Everyone was thinking about my new house, and the gift cards to Home Depot and Lowe’s will definitely be put to good use.  I also got sets of screwdrivers and other tools that I will use.  I’ve been saying, “When you have a house, you never seem to have enough screwdrivers.”  I guess everyone had been reading my mind.  I also got a nice rug that matches the colors of my living room–red and gold.  There was a bit of color planning, but part of it has just been evolution.

One of my current do-it-yourself projects

I had been looking for a coffee table, but a bench I had seemed to be just the thing.  It’s the second “project” that I’ve been working on in my garage.  (I realize now that I am going to enjoy having a garage more than just for parking the car.)   I picked up the bench from a what-not shop at leat ten years ago.  I used stain, both latex and acrylic paint, and now I am finishing it with coats of polyurethane so that it will take the hard use I’ll give it in front of my sofa.  Actually, I’m surprised at how nice it has turned out.  Maybe I’ve got a knack!

Having a coffee table is a definite necessity for a place to put the remote controls and the munchies when it’s time to watch the bowl games, and I will be watching them until the last one is over.  This thing with Texas Tech’s football coach is something else.  Well, just as I’m writing this, I checked ESPN and see that Mike Leach has been fired.  I couldn’t see how they could let him get away with that, but coaches have done this sort of thing for a long time and for many there are no repercussions because of how much power these guys (and women, in some sports) wield.  How is it that in many states the football coaches of public universities are the highest paid state employees?  Mack Brown of the University of Texas makes $5.1 million.  I don’t care whether football pays for itself or not; there is something wrong when an employee makes more than the bosses, in this case the president of the university or even the governor of Texas.

Nathan Adrian helped Team USA win Duel in the Pool

With all the preparations for the Christmas trip, I missed out on the swimming news (not even on ESPN information banner), but Team USA won big over a European team made up of top swimmers from Great Britain, Italy, and Germany at the Duel in the Pool in Manchester, England on December 18th and 19th.  One of the big winners in the event was Nathan Adrian, who became the first American to swim under 21 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle race and helped the U.S. team set a world record in the 400 free relay.

OK, I suppose now it’s time to get out of these blue fleece pants and hit the shower before the day gets away from me.

Holiday Gifts For You (From Triptotheouthouse)–Wishing You All A . . .

merrychristmas

The thermometer says 48 degrees this morning, probably not very crisp for some of you in the more northerly climes, but a mighty big change here in H-town from the 80 degrees that my car thermometer read about 7:30 last evening.

With my green sweatpants and red jacket, I probablylooked a little like one of Santa’s elves when I took out Annie for her morning “go” at 7:45 this morning. I guess the grey, colder weather had made us both stay snug in bed and not want to get up at the regular 7. Anyway, it’s still cold enough that there’s a “Christmas-y” feel in the air, so I’m in the midst of wrapping presents to put in the car for the drive up to Kansas. The trip is on the long and boring side, especially during this time of year when everything is brown and a bit bleak, but Annie makes a good traveling companion, even when we have to get out at a rest stop and find some grass for her with the north winds whipping at us. But, hey, that’s gets us more in the Christmas spirit, right?

Santa Claus brought me an early Christmas present this year; it’s a JVC Everio camcorder. Supposed to have easy upload of videos to youtube; I have no evidence that it’s easy yet. But the techno-geek gene is not part of my DNA make up, so hopefully with more reading of the manual and more trial-and-error, soon I’ll be able (or later) to put up some of my own videos here.

For now, I have a couple of Christmas gifties (I really like to write the word “gifties” but I would never actually say it–hmm, on second thought, maybe I would) for you, my blog readers. (I know somebody must at least look at my blog because the little “ticker” says that there have been more than 11,000 hits since I started it at the end of July).

Here’s the first one. It’s a video I found that somebody made with the music from my still favorite group from Spain–OBK; the vid itself is from the old TV show “Queer As Folk”, which you may not have seen before because it was on Showtime. Now you can watch it on Logo TV if you get that on your cable. Anyway, this is called “Ultimatum”, just another one of OBK‘s songs that I like (I don’t have this CD yet), and makes me get up from the computer chair and start to dance. I hope it’ll make you do the same! (Listen to another one of their new ones–Tal Vez–on my Vid Box on the right side bar.)

My second present for y’all (I like to say “y’all”, but I hate when I hear people from other places–like California– that have no right to use it using it) is a recipe for some easy Christmas goodies. The name may be a bit deceptive, but my mom made these when I was a kid–so they’re very “old fashioned-y”, and I still make them sometimes. If you want to make something that’s really homemade, that everyone will like, and and that doesn’t take a lot of time, try these. Most of the ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

Boiled Cookies

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup milk

3 tablespoons cocoa (I like Hershey’s)

4 tablespoons butter or margerine

1/2 cup peanut butter (crunchy is great)

3 cups quick oatmeal (not the microwave kind)

1 teaspoon vanilla

(optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts)

Boil the sugar, milk, cocoa, and butter for two minutes. Remove from heat. Add peanut butter, oats and vanilla and stir well. Use a teaspoon and drop them onto wax paper or a silicon baking sheet. Let stand at least 1/2 hour or until dry. Store in a air-tight container. (But these will probably get eaten up before you can store them!)

Have yourself some safe and happy holidays.

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