Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Public Art Part I - Pueblo Montano Picnic Area and Tingley Beach

One of the wonderful benefits of working for the University is that we get a winter break - this year it started on December 24 (although I took a couple of leave days, beginning December 22), and will end this Friday. I thought I'd have lots of time on my hands this week, since the Christmas festivities and traveling are over, and Dan is back at work. But I've kept busier than I anticipated. One thing I promised myself was a photoshoot day, and today turned out to be the best opportunity for that. I left the house around 9:00 this morning, and drove around the northwest part of town, taking pictures of some of Albuquerque's public art. Shortly after noon I came home, because the mid-day sun was too harsh for good photo results. I was going to post the entire public art series today, but changed my mind and decided to spread it out over several days.

One of the places I went this morning was the Pueblo Montano Picnic Area and Trailhead (near Coors and Montano). Soon after Dan and I moved to Albuquerque, in the spring of 2003, a terrible fire swept through the bosque (the wooded area alongside the Rio Grande River). It threatened homes, and everyone feared that Albuquerque's beautiful bosque might all go up in smoke. This picnic area was wild forest land before the fire. Local artist and firefighter Joseph Mark Chavez turned tragedy into beauty by carving the remaining cottonwood tree stumps into works of art, depicting local animals, birds, and even a fire-fighter, as a tribute to those people who bravely fought that 2003 fire.

As everyone knows, Albuquerque is far from any ocean, so doesn't have any beaches. But the city maintains a park, known as Tingley Beach. Having come from the Pacific Northwest, I know what beaches are, and Tingley Beach doesn't quite measure up! But it is a well-loved and well-used recreation area, none the less. It has three man-made ponds. One of the ponds is for radio-controlled model boats; another is a fishing pond for children 12 years old and younger; and a third one is a fishing pond for older children and adults. Both ponds are stocked with rainbow trout in the winter and channel catfish in the summer.

I recalled that there were some pieces of art at Tingley Beach, so headed that direction this morning. But, after arriving, I was distracted by the geese. They had congregated at the model boat pond, which was partly frozen over, and watching them "walk on water" was pretty amusing.

Apparently the ducks are not so fond of the cold weather. I didn't see any of them in the water, or on the ice. Instead, they were cuddled up in their "down comforters."
No matter how cold, you can't keep a real fisherman at home.

Like I said, I did get distracted from my mission at Tingley Beach. But here is a picture of one of the sculptures there. And the last picture, of the cranes, is just down the street from Tingley, near the Rio Grande Bridge, on Central.

I'll be highlighting more of Albuquerque's public art in the next few days. Come back to see!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Special Christmas Gift

Take a look at Kelsey's blog to see the beautiful portraits we got from Chris and Kelsey, for Christmas. Aren't they just beautiful?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Daring Bakers' December Challenge - A French Yule Log

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. (Recipe HERE.)

I became a member of the Daring Bakers back in September, with the expectation of being truly challenged. The lavash, the pizza and the caramel cake all had challenging aspects to them; but this month's French Yule Log has to "take the cake" when it comes to challenges! When I first looked at the recipe (which went on for page after page), my knees started knocking in a combination of trepidation and anticipation. "Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time," I told myself.

I decided to break the recipe into its six parts, and do them over a three-day span. I started, one evening, with the creme brulee section. I've made creme brulee before, but the recipe we were following had us bake the creme in a 210 degree oven, supposedly for one hour. Oh, my! One hour went by and the creme brulee was still nowhere near set. In the end I gradually bumped the temperature up to 250 degrees, and ended up baking it for over two hours!

In order I continued on, over a span of three days, to make the chocolate mousse, the praline insert (feuillete), the dacquoise (an almond/meringue "cake"), ganache (a rich, creamy milk chocolate layer) and the milk chocolate icing. I read the comments of several other Daring Bakers . . . "It really isn't that hard" . . . but I must take exception! I found it quite difficult, especially finding the time to complete it, during this, the most busy time of the year. And then there were the three dozen pots, pans and bowls that were soaked and scrubbed, just to be used again, for another ingredient - oh, my aching back! And, finally, there were the struggles of getting frozen portions out of their molds. I'd have given up right there, twice, if it hadn't been for Dan's skill and patience in getting them unmolded. In fact, it was only because of Dan's encouragement that I persevered and completed the French Yule Log (known, also, as a buche de noel).

I didn't take pictures along the way. I was too busy, and my hands were too sticky to touch the camera. But below are a couple shots of the completed dessert. Had I had more time . . . and energy . . . I would have (should have) spent some time making decorations for the log. Some traditional decorations include chocolate curls, thin chocolate or cookie leaves, berries, meringue mushrooms, etc. But since I finally finished my log the night before we were leaving for my mom's house, in Carlsbad, I felt pretty satisfied just to have completed the basics. Maybe next time I'll go the final step, and add an artistic touch. BUT, what I must report is that this rich French dessert tasted better than the sum of its parts! It really was delicious! Dan went back for seconds, and our neighbors, to whom I delivered a couple slices, called us to say it was wonderful. Nothing warms a Daring Baker's heart more than such compliments.

Other Completed Daring Bakers' Challenges: Lavash, Pizza Napoletana, Caramel Cake

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Came on Christmas Eve

While most everyone got up this morning to see what Santa had put under their tree, we spent most of the day driving home. We celebrated Christmas a day early - on Christmas Eve - this year, with my mother, both of our sons, our daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. The whole family gathered at my Mom's house, in Carlsbad, NM, and we couldn't have asked for a more perfect Christmas.

Seeing my mom hustling and bustling around the house (although we kept telling her to sit down and let us take care of things) reminded us of how far she has come since her fall last spring, and made me thankful for God's healing hand. A year ago Tim had just accepted a new job and wasn't able to celebrate Christmas, with the rest of the family, at Chris and Kelsey's home. But this year he was with us, and it was such fun seeing him in his "Uncle Tim" role, with Sweetpea. Chris is well-settled into his new job, and seems to be doing well and enjoying the challenges. Whenever we are together, I thank God for the man he has become - a faithful Christian, a loving husband, and a wise and adoring father. Being with Kelsey this week only confirmed, once again, her special place in our family. I never tire of seeing how much she enjoys being Sweetpea's mama. And having Dan by my side to share in all of this family time made it . . . well . . . perfect!

Sweetpea was the center of attention, of course, for the fun of Christmas morning is best seen in the eyes of a child. Here are a few pictures of all of that fun.

Before we started opening presents, Sweetpea found Grandpa's hat and insisted on wearing it for the first half-hour or so.

She was such a sweet and thoughtful "Santa's helper," happy to deliver presents to others before she began opening some herself.

At last, though, it was time to tear into some of her own presents.

Grandpa and Grandma gave her a tent and tube set, which she found to be great fun.

Inside one of the tubes.

Peeking out!

And Uncle Tim stood her up, inside one of the tubes. She loved that!

A little later in the day Sweetpea and I went for a walk, down by the river. She took along this paper towel tube, so she could watch for birds. We stopped in this picnic shelter for a few minutes.

"I see you, Grandma!"

Before we sat down to Christmas dinner, Sweetpea got all dressed up in her pretty, red velvet Christmas dress (which Nanny had given her for her birthday).

The end of the day, and Sweetpea lost the battle with the Sandman.

We ended up driving home today, instead of tomorrow, as we had originally planned, due to some threatening weather reports for the Clines Corners area. Although driving home today let us avoid the snow and ice, we did have to fight some terrible winds all the way from south of Roswell to Clines Corners. Several times we couldn't avoid hitting tumbleweeds, but Dan (in the spirit of It's a Wonderful Life) assured me that, "Every time you hit a tumbleweed, an angel gets it's wings." I didn't know that!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson - A Book Review

Gilead is a gentle, thoughtful and spiritual book that explores the complexities of the father/son relationship; righteousness and imperfection; and forgiveness and redemption.

John Ames, a fourth-generation Congregationalist minister in Gilead, Iowa, is 76 years old. He considers himself to have been richly blessed when, at an advanced age, he married a wife, much younger than himself, and then fathered a son. The year is 1956, and John Ames, a good and faithful man, is in his last days on earth. His son is only six-almost-seven years old, and John Ames, regretting that his son will grow up without him, never knowing him man-to-man, pens the words of this book. It is intended to be a family history, a series of glimpses into his own personal life's journey, and some of the discussions he would have with his son, if only he had a lifetime to do so. It is, in essence, a letter, meant to be read by his son once he becomes a man. In this letter, he tells his son:
"I'd never have believed I'd see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine. It still amazes me every time I think of it. I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you."
The book begins meditatively . . .
"Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it."
. . . but, in the course of writing his epistle, John Ames is faced with the unexpected return of his godson and namesake, the prodigal son of his lifetime friend, "old Boughton", a Presbyterian preacher. At this point, the reader is swept up into John Ames' internal struggles. The godson, John "Jack" Ames Boughton, brings to John Ames an unwanted, but ultimately refining, moral challenge as the capstone to his life.

Gilead, in only 256 pages, is rich in soul-searching and wisdom. Though John Ames is a preacher, his reflections on family conflicts, racial tensions, spiritual strivings, personal failures and personal victories are far from "preachy." Instead, his words regarding God's grace and love are filled with encouragement and comfort. He also displays a warm-hearted sense of humor. For instance, regarding a magazine article that he and "old Boughton" had both read and discussed, he wrote:
"We agreed it must have been fairly widely read in both our congregations, because on one page there's a recipe for that molded salad of orange gelatin with stuffed green olives and shredded cabbage and anchovies that has dogged my ministerial life these last years, and which appears at his house whenever he so much as catches cold. There should be a law to prevent recipes for molded salad from appearing within twenty pages of any article having to do with religion."
I really loved reading this book, with its passionate and moving prose. Many passages simply demanded a re-reading. In the end, I couldn't help but see similarities between John Ames, a man humble in his own human frailties, yet confident of God's redemption; and David of the Old Testament, "a man after Gods own heart."

Office Potluck and Gift Exchange

Today was the big office party day. Lots of good food, and a huge pile of beautifully (often deceptively) wrapped presents. Traditionally, the gift exchange is one of those where everyone draws a number, and on your turn you can either take an unopened gift or "steal" one that's already opened.

Here's Betsy, one of my Corporate & Foundation Relations team members with her briefly-held gift - a foot massager for your tired "dogs."

One fellow stooped so low as to put a dollar bill into the frame of the "key-holder-box-with-picture-frame-on-the-lid," in an effort to attract a thief.

Una bella dama! This is Esther, our receptionist, sporting her gift, a Christmas sombrero. This is one of the gifts that has a reputation for showing up year after year.

I, myself, held a winner for a short time - a box of Alaskan smoked sockeye salmon! But after losing it, I ended up with a collection of (I think you might actually be able to sing this to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas):

Three plastic squeeze bottles for ketchup, mustard and mayo,
Two zipper pockets for a three-hole notebook (one complete with pencils),
And a strange ceramic picture frame with straw flowers.

Luckily, I was able to stealthily slip my treasures into the bag of a co-worker when he wasn't being as watchful as he should have, so they didn't have to come home with me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snowy Morning: 2-hour Delay

Yes, we had more snow yesterday and overnight. It wasn't enough to justify a "snow day" for the city, but was enough to put almost everything on a 2-hour delay, so Dan doesn't have to show up for work until 9:30 this morning, and I don't have to report until 10:00. One of the things I like about Albuquerque is that we do have four distinct seasons. Winter is mild, compared to other places we've lived, but we do get enough cold weather and snow to put us in the mood for the winter holidays.

My little peach tree.
Looking out our front door, to our across-the-street-neighbors' house.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

It was really cold this morning, as we went to church. Snowflakes were drifting down and a little snow had accumulated on the ground, There were tiny icicles hanging off the trees, and a brisk, frigid wind was blowing. The snow picture is taken from inside, looking out through some of the construction that is underway on our church building.

This evening I accompanied Tim as he did his Christmas shopping. The cold weather put us both in the mood for holiday shopping. We had a great time, shopping the mall and a few other stores. Tim successfully found just the right treasures for everyone on his shopping list.

Friday, December 12, 2008

12-on-12 for December

Another month has zipped by. You can click on THIS to see my 12-on-12 for December.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wintery Weather

Look what's breathing down the neck of Albuquerque. We had a few snow flurries today, but no accumulation except on the mountain.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Birthday Party

Sweetpea turned three years old today, and had her birthday party tonight. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Chris and Kelsey, and modern technology, we were able to "attend", even though we were almost 900 miles away. We video-conferenced, using our computers and the free version of Skype. What fun!

We got to watch Sweetpea blow out her candles, eat her birthday cake and open her presents. We even got to join in on the singing of Happy Birthday, and exchange a few kisses with the birthday girl. What a blessing technology can be.

I even took pictures, although they weren't the best, since I was taking them of a computer screen.

Kelsey made the cake - a PANDA cake, to go with the theme of the party. When Kelsey asked Sweetpea what piece of the cake she wanted, she chose the tongue. I heard Chris joking in the background: "Good choice. Panda tongue is a delicacy in China."

Opening presents!
A ballerina snow globe!
And here she is, saying "thank you" to Grandpa and me for her Minnie Mouse pillowcase dress.

2008 - It's Almost a Wrap

As I wrapped up some Christmas presents the other day, I thought back on the year, 2008, which is almost a "wrap" itself! Here are some of the highlights for Dan and me:

Kelsey and Sweetpea came to visit us in the spring. The visit was cut a little short when Chris suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job. He flew here to help Kelsey with the drive home.

In April my mom took a bad fall, resulting in nine weeks of hospital and therapy care. She's almost fully recovered now.

Also in April, Chris accepted a new job. This job came quickly and turned out to be better than the one he lost. Our prayers were answered fully.

Also in April, Kelsey, bless her heart, suffered a miscarriage. It was a heart-breaker, especially for her and Chris, but also for the entire family. The baby would have been due right about now, so please keep them in your prayers as they, naturally, live through the "what ifs."

Later in April, Ruby and Dave (Ruby is my long lost, and now found, pen pal) visited Albuquerque, and we had a great time having dinner together. And Bill and Jan (Bill is a fellow-photographer, from Portland, whom I met on-line) took time out of their busy vacation schedule to meet Dan and me for lunch, while in town.

The end of May and early June were brightened with a visit from our very special friend, Gloria, from Washington state. Gloria and I took some time to see some New Mexico sights together and to catch up on the happenings of the many years we've been apart.

For Dan's birthday, in July, I took him to the charming town of Chama, where we rode the narrow-gauge train, pulled by a coal-driven steam engine, up into the mountains of, both, New Mexico and Colorado.

Our church congregation selected four additional deacons this year and began an expansion of our building. The building addition is the third and final phase of construction, which was in the plans since the building was first built. It's going well, and we are all very excited to see the progress.

In August we lost Dan's dear Aunt Lauretta, and drove to Montana for the funeral service.

In September I went to my Mom's house to visit her and to take care of (play with) Sweetpea, while Kelsey went to stay with her sis-in-law, who was about have a baby (number three).

We finally got to see our nephew, Aaron, again, and meet his new bride, Snow, in October. Snow is from China, but they met in Saipan, where they were both working at the time. It took over a year for them to get the paperwork in place for Snow to come to America.

The U.S. presidential election dominated the news and many people's thoughts in November.

Thanksgiving was celebrated at our home in a big way, although we were small in number - Dan, Mom, Tim and me. It was nice having my Mom here for a two-week visit.

Tim was saddened, shortly after Thanksgiving, when his parakeet, Quint, died suddenly. Tim had invested a lot of time, energy and emotion into training this little guy, so I know he'll miss him.

And TODAY is Sweetpea's third birthday. Happy birthday to the joy of our lives! Grandpa and I love you and wish we could be there today.
Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fiesta Bags

Mom left to go back home to Carlsbad on Friday. She traveled by air. A small airline, New Mexico Air, serves Carlsbad. The planes hold ten passengers, the service is very casual, and the on-board announcements are a little different. For instance, Mom told me that the captain announced, on the flight down, "Fiesta Bags are provided for your convenience, should you need them. We ask, if you must use your Fiesta Bag, that you take it with you when you leave the plane."

Fiesta Bags!? Only in New Mexico.