Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Outing

Dan and I got up this morning and, after a stop at Krispy Kreme, we headed down to the Quarai ruins, north of Mountainair. This was Dan's first time to see Quarai, although I had been there before (and even blogged about it, as some of you might remember).

Today's weather was wonderful, with warm temperatures and clear blue skies. The drive down was nice. This is what the countryside looks like for most of this drive, once you leave I-40.


On the way, I was telling Dan that one thing I liked about going to the ruins was that it's off the radar for tourists, so it's usually quite deserted, but I didn't think about it being a holiday. When we got there, there were lots of cars and a bus already parked near the visitor's center. As we walked up to the Mission, we heard what we thought was a public speaker, of some sort, inside the ruins. As we got closer, we discovered that there was a Catholic mass being conducted inside.

Not wanting to disturb them, we left the ruins and walked the path that leads to a beautiful, shady picnic area.


I'm not sure what was growing along that path, but something was giving off a wonderful, sweet aroma. It might have been these pretty blossoms that we kept seeing. (Some sort of wild rose?)


When we got to the picnic area we sat down and ate the lunch that we'd brought. Our picnic table was under some huge, old trees, and looked out to this sunny meadow. The shade and a light breeze made the temperature pleasantly comfortable.


About the time we were finished with our lunch, the mass let out and the people came streaming over to the picnic area, with their box lunches. We decided to trade places with them, so we gave up our picnic table and headed back to the ruins.

As we neared the ruins, we met one of the Franciscan Friars who was with the group. Dan stopped and talked with him briefly. We learned his name was Friar Pio. He told us about "Saint" Pio, from whom he took his name. He agreed to stand in front of the Mission and have his picture taken. And after our short visit, he gave us a blessing as we parted ways.


Quarai's red rock, the blue sky and the surrounding greens are startlingly beautiful. Its history is interesting. I'm not sure when this mission was built, but it was abandoned in 1675, due to famine and raids from hostile Apache Indians. There's something humbling about touching these rock walls, that were built with the hands of people who lived some 300 years ago. The walls are very high, and when we stood inside, we felt small. Sadly, the folding chairs from the Catholic mass were still set up, so it limited the pictures I was able to take when we went inside. This first one, though, was taken from inside the walls. The sun was nearly overhead, so the walls were flooded with light.


These are a few exterior views, from different angles.






In this shot, looking up the wall on the outside of the ruins, I serendipitously caught a jet contrail streaking across the corner. I didn't see it at the time, but when I downloaded the pictures I thought the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern was fun.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reading Log - April and May

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Anne Barrows

Written as a series of letters, telegrams and journal entries, this was a delightful book to read. Through the writings of the various characters, the reader learns of the interesting, and sometimes humorous, experiences at having survived the WWII German occupation of the Isle of Guernsey, one of Great Britain’s Channel Islands.

The key character in the book is Juliet, an author looking for her next great idea, who, initially through her correspondence and later through her personal interaction with the people of Guernsey, finds rewarding new direction for her life.


Embassy, Richard Doetsch

Reading Embassy was an experiment for me, for it was my first vook. A vook is a new type of media, a combination of video and book. In this particular vook, there were short video clips that advanced the storyline embedded into the chapters. I read it from my iPhone, although my understanding is that vooks can be read from any computer screen, as well. This particular one I got for free, as a promotional offer.

Embassy is a suspenseful thriller, with a little bit of magic thrown in for fun. Much of the story takes place inside the Greek Embassy, in New York City, where a kidnapping and hostage situation has taken place. This setting complicates things since inside the Embassy the FBI has no jurisdiction.

The continuing twists and turns of events keep the reader wondering who is the "bad guy" and who is the "good guy." The story is not long, and though it was fun to try out a new media, I didn't find that the video clips added much, if any, to the enjoyment of reading. I couldn't help but feel it was only a gimmick. But then, I could be wrong, like the president of the Michigan Savings Bank, who, in 1903, warned Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co.: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew is a widower, a proper Englishman with classical tastes. "I was raised to believe in politeness above all," he says, and that's how he lives his life. At the moment that he is deeply grieving the loss of his brother, he meets, not for the first time, but with fresh vision, Mrs. Ali, the windowed shop-keeper of Pakistani descent. This is a love story, but one about two people who thought they were finished with love; one that bristles with issues of cultural conflict and generational discord. It is a gentle story that tells of a rebirth of sorts, for both Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali. It's a story that shows the reader that falling in love at an advanced age can be richer, fuller, sweeter, even, than at sweet sixteen. It's a story that says take a chance on love.

I enjoyed the book and am glad I read it. It is slow-paced and thoughtful, so not for a reader wanting action. I think it could make a great movie.


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

Flavia is eleven years old, bright beyond her years, in love with both science and mystery, and forever disgusted with her two shallow and haughty older sisters. When a murder takes place on the family property, Flavia can't help but jump in with both feet to solve it, especially after her father is falsely arrested for the crime.

It's uncommon for a protagonist in an adult novel to be a child, and I have to admit I was uncomfortable with this particular child. I couldn't decide whether the author wanted me to take Flavia seriously or whimsically. The novel certainly did have a lot of humor and made me chuckle several times, but Flavia is either a child acting as an adult, or an adult who has slipped into a child's body, in my opinion. Flavia left me a little conflicted, even though I saw some of myself in her, for I, too, had a chemistry lab set up in my bedroom when I was in school (true confessions!).

The mystery plot, itself, was an interesting one and rather complex - too complex, I maintain, for this eleven-year old girl to have solved it before any of the adults in the story. Flavia wasn't a credible character, and I wonder if the author meant her to be?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers' May Challenge - Croquembouche

(Just in the nick of time!)

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Croquembouche, which translates into English as "crunch in the mouth." is a batch of small, filled cream puff pastries stacked, traditionally, into a cone shape and held together by and drizzled with either a chocolate or caramel glaze. I actually used a white chocolate glaze for mine.

This month's challenge almost didn't get done! I could say it was because I was out of town for a good part of the month. I could say it was because of some medical issues. I could say it was because we've been incredibly busy at the office this month. All of those are true, but the real reason I came close to not completing the challenge was . . . procrastination. There I was, on the eve of the posting date, mixing up pate a choux and baking cream puff shells; making vanilla crème patissiere; and, on posting day itself, stirring up a batch of chocolate glaze and building the croquembouche tower.

Even when the recipe was finished, the challenge wasn't, for a big part of the challenge is to photograph and blog about the experience. So here I am, with very little time remaining, doing just that! Considering the time crunch, I'll keep my blog brief and simply post a couple pictures.

Here are a few of the puff shells. They turned out a perfect golden brown. I brushed them with an egg wash before baking, and that helped to make the top of the shell a little glossy.


Mmmmm. Be my guest . . . Just pluck one of those cream puffs off and have a taste!


See recipe HERE.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have You Ever Put Your Foot In Your Mouth?

(A few more pictures from our visit.)

It seems Robert's favorite chew-toy right now is his own foot. I wish I had this agility! In this first one, he is lying on a bath mat while he waits for his little tub to fill with water.

Here he is in his car seat. Nibbling his toes helps pass the time.

Oh, yes. They're just as tasty with shoes!

That's a foot - not a hand - up there by his nose. I think it started out in his mouth, but slipped out when he fell asleep.

In a pinch, a giraffe's foot will do.

Kelsey reports that Robert's first tooth popped through a few days after we left. Hope he doesn't chomp down too hard on one of those little "piggies."

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, TX


Just west of Amarillo, on the old Route 66, which runs alongside I-40, is the Cadillac Ranch.

When Dan introduced me to it, he told me the story he’d heard – that some Texan, years ago, was so rich that he made a habit of buying a new Caddy for himself every year and then discarding the year-old model by stuffing it into the ground, nose down, on his ranch. It was a good story and one that has been told and retold for years, but it isn’t quite accurate.

It was a rich Texan who created this piece of art. Stanly Marsh 3 (who was born in 1938 and who opts to use "3" instead of "III") is a millionaire who partnered with the Ant Farm, a San Francisco art collective, to half-bury these ten Cadillacs in the ground in 1974. The model years range from 1949 to 1963, which encompasses the Cadillac’s big tail fin era. They were all already old cars, destined to be scrapped, and he paid little for any of them. Some actually still ran, others did not.

The line-up of cars started out with their original paint jobs, but have, from the beginning, been magnets for graffiti, which is not only tolerated, but encouraged by Marsh. Over the years the cars have been repainted their original colors once; painted all matte black once; and painted all pink at least one time. But before a day has passed, the cars have always been wildly redecorated by the public.

As the city of Amarillo began to spread toward the Cadillac Ranch, Marsh felt the need to relocate his monument a little farther away. In 1997 he moved it from its wheat field home to a cow pasture, 2 miles west. Marsh instructed the contractor not only to line the cars up exactly as they had been, but also to properly relocate all of the trash that dotted the surrounding field!

Stanley Marsh 3 has created many other unusual public art projects. Some people have criticized his art as being nothing more than an eyesore. But his response is, "Art is a legalized form of insanity, and I do it very well." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Marsh_3)

We’ve stopped at the Cadillac Ranch, so I could take pictures, but we’ve never brought our own can of Krylon. Maybe next time!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Monument . . . Of Sorts


Everyone knows where Mount Rushmore is, where the Alamo is, and where the Statue of Liberty is. But are you familiar with this landmark? Leave a comment if you know what it is and where it is. I'll tell all about it tomorrow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Clara's 2010 Spring Dance Recital

Today was the big day - Clara's dance recital. This year the program was a tribute to Michael Jackson's music. Dan and I purposely timed our vacation around this special day.

Preparation started Saturday night when Kelsey put curlers in Clara's hair while she played Cooties with Grandpa and Grandma. She won, by the way, fair and square!


After worship, Bible class and lunch out with friends this morning, we all went back to Chris and Kelsey's house to rest for a few minutes before Clara had to put on her costume. Then she got a little dusting of face powder and a tiny bit of lip color.


A quick peek in the mirror . . . "I look pretty!"


Her first performance was a tap dance. The red lights made it difficult to photograph - at least for me. I need to learn how to handle those kinds of situations for the future.


And later her class performed their ballet number (more colored lighting!).


There's Clara, in the center front, during the curtain call.


Clara with her proud family, after the recital.

Friday - A Day of Firsts for Robert

FIRST SOLID FOOD

Robert is just about 6 months old now. Kelsey felt he was ready for his first taste of solid food, but held off a few days so that we would be here for this important "first."

We made quite a production out of this rite of passage. Chris was shooting video over Kelsey's shoulder while I took still photos.


Here's Robert taking his very first bite of rice cereal.


He likes it!


Big Sister Clara got to feed him a few bites, too.



Judging by his reaction to these first bites, Robert is going to be a good eater, just like his daddy.



FIRST DRIVING LESSON

Robert got a new toy today. Just like his daddy, he's now driving a Jeep! It's actually a walker, and he seemed to catch onto the idea pretty well.

First, he starts the engine.



Then he adjusts the rear view mirror.



And off he goes.


He needs to work on keeping the road rage under control, though!



FIRST TIME TO SIT IN HIGH CHAIR AT A RESTAURANT

In the evening, we headed over to Clara's favorite restaurant for dinner. She loves to eat "sour chicken" (sweet and sour chicken) at a little Chinese restaurant near their house. The owner is a nice lady who gives Clara lots of attention and lots of extra fortune cookies.

Robert was happy to be in his car seat, heading over to the restaurant.



Robert sat in a high chair at the restaurant, which was another "first" for him. He didn't see the point in it, though, and soon ended up in Mama's lap.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Grandkids Are Grand!

We arrived at the kids' house around 3:00 today and Clara was waiting for us at the door, full of hugs and kisses.


This evening I got to join in on Robert's bath fun. He loves his bath.


We had a big thunder and lightning storm here this evening, and one bolt struck a tree not far behind the house. It was very loud and scared Clara, making it a little hard for her to get to sleep tonight.

Fun in Temple

We've been in Temple, TX, for the past few days, exploring the area. It's in a pretty part of Texas, with green rolling hills and lots of trees. The humidity runs high in the summer, but the ever-present breezes help to moderate that. We're told the wonderful winter weather more than makes up for the hot summers.

Wednesday evening we met up with friends we knew from Albuquerque, who now live here in Temple, Darin and Stephanie and their three very sweet children. We had a bite to eat and attended the Wednesday evening Bible study with them.



When Darin and Stephanie lived in Albuquerque, they only had the two boys. We only saw their daughter once before when she was a tiny baby. Dan and I both fell in love with the kids, who are all very bright and very affectionate. At one point we were looking at some of their family pictures. I asked the youngest, "Is that your Grandma?" "Yes, but we call her Grammy," she said, "But we can call you Grandma!" Awwww. Way to crawl right into my heart!

Here's a picture of the little one, with her missing front teeth.


Last night we were invited to their home for a chicken barbecue dinner. After dinner Darin took us to see Lake Belton, which is just a few minutes away from their house. It was nearly sunset, so my pictures came out a bit dark. The lake is very large and used for all sorts of recreation.


Today we're on our way to see Chris, Kelsey, Clara and Robert! I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wind

Traveling from Albuquerque, NM, to Lubbock, TX, on Monday was a challenge. The winds were ferocious, the gritty sand colored the air brown, and we played Frogger with the tumbleweeds that darted across the freeways. But we made it to Lubbock without incident and enjoyed an afternoon visit with our friend, Keith, and then dinner at Outback with him and his son, Reed. It was so good to see them again.

Tuesday we drove from Lubbock to Temple. The winds were mild and the drive was pleasant. However, just about the time we got in to Temple the winds picked up again.

Considering all the wind we've encountered, it's no surprise that Snyder, Texas, is the location of one of the largest wind turbine farms in the country. They were lined up as far as the eye could see, on both sides of the road, for several miles.

At one point I asked Dan to pull over so I could take a few pictures. He did better than that. He drove off the highway, down a dirt service road, right up close to some of the turbines. We got out of the car and walked over to the base of one of them. From the base, the sound of these giant blades cutting through the air was eerie.

That's Dan standing at the base of the wind turbine (see red arrow).


The shadow cast by the turbine.