Monday, December 30, 2013

The Kickapoo Casino, Eagle Pass, Texas

Gambling is not legal in Texas and in many parts of Texas you cannot buy alcohol either but you can buy guns and ammunition and, under certain circumstances you can legally use those guns to kill another human being. Governor Rick Perry signed a number of bills ensuring that one Texan may lawfully kill another - The Castle Doctrine, Stand Your Ground, Civil Immunity and Peaceable Journey, described in this wiki.

Texans who live in 'dry' counties still drink, they just have to drive further to buy it, or join a 'club' for a few dollars a year and they can purchase a drink in select places by displaying their membership card. Just outside Tyler TX, a dry city, as you leave the city limits there are at least 5 liquor stores in a cluster.

It is difficult to get around the gambling ban, so many Texans drive into Louisiana or Oklahoma where there are dozens of casinos, pouring Texas dollars into the economy of these states and out of the Texas economy. According to this wiki the only forms of gambling allowed are: Texas Lottery, parimutuel wagering on horse and greyhound racing; charitable bingo, pull-tabs, and raffles and one Indian casino.

Our first experience of gambling in Texas was a casino cruise which was gambling 7 miles out in the gulf, and we only did that once.  The waiting around to board, the 7 mile cruise before the gambling could commence, and the same 7 mile cruise back without any entertainment, and the long wait to disembark really did remove any value from the few hours of gambling time.

Our next attempt at keeping our gambling funds in Texas was a little better, but I don't think it was enough to encourage us to stop heading out of state to casinos with more oversight, and better amenities.

Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino

Yet another wiki describes: " The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is a 1988 United States federal law that establishes the jurisdictional framework that governs Indian gaming. There was no federal gaming structure before this act. The stated purposes of the act include providing a legislative basis for the operation/regulation of Indian gaming, protecting gaming as a means of generating revenue for the tribes, encouraging economic development of these tribes, and protecting the enterprises from negative influences (such as organized crime). The law established the National Indian Gaming Commission and gave it a regulatory mandate."

According to an article on the Texas State Historical Association website:

..."The Kickapoos did not legally hold title to land in Texas until 1985, but because they have traditionally camped near the international bridge between Piedras Negras, Coahuila, and Eagle Pass, Texas, they have long been identified with this state. On January 8, 1983, Public Law 97–429 resolved the Kickapoos' ambiguous land situation. Under this statute they were officially granted lands near El Indio, Texas, and became identified to United States authorities as the Texas Band of the Oklahoma Kickapoos, thereby becoming eligible for federal aid. Nevertheless, the people still call themselves the Mexican Kickapoos, as they are called in Mexico, their primary place of residence. Today the Mexican Kickapoos are distinguished by their retention of their traditional culture. From religion to home construction to language and education, the coherent Kickapoo way of life has survived, even if somewhat modified by a veneer of western civilization. The group, which numbers between 625 and 650, spends the major portion of the year in El Nacimiento-about 130 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas-but still lives a seminomadic life that has been adapted to modern economic conditions. In middle to late May most of the residents of Nacimiento divide into family-based bands and set out across Texas and other western states to work as migrant agricultural laborers. By late October or early November the bands make their way back to Nacimiento, where they pass the winter hunting, planting crops, raising cattle, and participating in religious ceremonies. Though some earn money by selling agricultural products and crafts, most depend upon federal and Texas welfare programs to supplement their meager income."...

The hotel at the Kickapoo Reservation had only been opened a few months when we visited.  Everything was still in good condition, so the small, almost utilitarian bathrooms were acceptable.  The bedrooms were clean and adequate also and the food was good, not great, good.

The casino was enormous and all on one level.  It has 150,000 square foot of gaming space featuring 1,900 gaming machines and 22 table and poker games.  There are 3 restaurants two bars, a bingo hall and a live entertainment area.

Probably our biggest issue, after the obvious lack of oversight, (obvious not because we didn't win even small amounts, but we saw no winners in the two days we were there, and that is unusual), was the lack of complementary alcohol while gambling, hard to understand as I suspect that they would make more money from 'merry' gamblers than from those totally sober.  A complaint I had was the complete lack of a decent cup of coffee, but that is a problem I have learned to live with in Texas.

We support the lobby to legalize gambling in Texas, along with about 80% of Texans, what can be wrong with creating more jobs and keeping Texans spending their gambling, eating, drinking and entertainment dollars in Texas?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unexpected dangers in an early morning workout

We are lucky enough to have a well equipped exercise facility on the ground floor of our office building. My office is on the 3rd floor and we have free, secure access to this facility 24 hours. A shower room, naturally, is essential where there is an exercise room.

It may sound like I am complaining, and really I tremendously appreciate having these facilities, I just wish they were not so fraught with danger, the discomfort I can tolerate but the danger is intolerable.

recumbent bike and no ceiling fans
As I said, the exercise room is really well equipped, and fairly spacious. We have almost a full set of weight machines, there are just a few missing that would be nice to have. We have two Treadmills, a StairMaster, an Elliptic, two Stationary Bicycles, though both have their drawbacks. One is an recumbent bike and I am not sure if it is because my legs are so short, or because the bike is badly designed, for whatever reason in order to comfortably reach the pedals I find that my knees keep hitting the panel. The second bike is upright but the saddle is huge - almost like a tractor seat, and really uncomfortable and the front wheel (yes, it has a front wheel) appears to have an alter ego as a fan, so the faster you pedal the stronger the wind blowing into your face. I really hate wind in my face, in fact I don't like air movement coming at me from any direction. This brings me to another issue I have.

replacement fan
There used to be two ceiling fans, these gave just enough circulation to keep the room cool without causing an uncomfortable wind, and even on full speed, it was possible to keep out of the direct line of fire. I guess that was why they took them down - though I really suspect it was in order to save money. Does a big, almost industrial, floor fan use less electricity? I don't know, but I do know I can't workout if that fan is blowing - I am no lightweight but it almost blows me off the treadmill, plus it makes a noise like a small aircraft about to take off, making the TV about useless even at its highest volume.

All of the foregoing are just minor inconveniences, and worth suffering to save a gym membership, plus - the most value to me - it is open to me any time I care to be there. The dangers lurk in the shower room, and to a lesser extent, in the corridor outside the exercise room.

There are two showers, one is the requisite handicap friendly - that is it has an adjustable height shower head and bars all around to hang on to if you are capable of standing. While not a danger, definitely an unforgivable waste of water, it takes 5 minutes (yes, I timed it) for the water to heat up first thing in the morning. How much water goes down the drain in 5 minutes I wonder? Surely a tankless water heater would be cheaper on electricity and would definitely help save a commodity very scarce here in Central Texas?

Back to the shower, once you leave the shower, presumably at the very least a little wet, you have to navigate the tiled floor which takes on the behavior of polished ice once it is wet. At the best of times I am worried about crossing that floor barefoot, and when I started back working out after my foot surgery I was terrified.  I tried wearing flip flops but they were not much better when wet and how do you wash your feet? I now put the spare rubber mats across the floor and bring extra towels to walk on. I have nightmares about losing my footing and hitting the tiled floor hard at 4.30 a.m. in the morning. I am guessing I would probably have to lie there, wet and naked for the best part of 3 hours before anyone came close enough to hear me, assuming I was in any state to make a noise, and then they would need to have a security card programmed to open the ladies' shower room door.

There is a wooden bench along the wall opposite the two shower stalls, with hooks on the wall above and an electric socket behind the bench. Luckily it is well away from the running water because it has been in bits, falling off the wall for almost 5 years now, and I have seen people use it for hair dryers.

badly lit, undulating corridor
The final danger element, that I am aware of, is, as I mentioned, the corridor. Most people who use the exercise room also choose the stairs over the elevator, the corridor from the exercise room to the stairwell is long and not very well lit, therefore it is not possible to see the undulating nature of the surface as result of major work required to the foundation of the building about 5 years ago. Apparently when they were replacing the concrete floor they didn't have a spirit level, or even a piece of string. In fact, the floor looks undulating due to the bad lighting, but the shadows are deceiving and the dips and waves are not where you would expect.

Shortly after the work was completed, I was heading to the stairs after my workout when I stubbed my toe on one of the 'waves'. I suppose  tired muscles and heavy gym bag combined to ensure that I completely lost my balance and in attempting to avoid a fall, I twisted my knee badly. I was limping for weeks and my knee has never fully recovered from that injury, despite physical therapy.

I continue to use our wonderful benefit, but I also continue to be extremely careful in the shower room, and walking to the stairwell.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thank you Bruce Morrison

I often wonder how other people create budgets, keep track of household accounts and generally manage their income and expenses.

A long time ago, after my first marriage broke down (why do we say 'broke up' when it is really a break down?).  We sold the home we had lived in for most of our three children's lives, there wasn't much equity to share, just enough for me to buy a car, pay off my share of debt and pay a deposit on a rental. After that we, my three teenagers and myself, lived in a couple of rentals, with a few months in between where we were homeless. Thankfully not on the street, I slept on my mother's couch in her tiny one bedroom apartment and each of my children stayed with family or friends. They were tough times and my income just didn't meet our basic expenses. I couldn't face the reality of my financial situation and very quickly had a large plastic bag filled with unopened bank statements, bills and, I am sure, final demands for payment. I couldn't pay any of them and my bank account was overdrawn, I had no solution and so didn't open them. My theory was 'why get even more stressed when there was nothing I can do about it?'  I was, of course, well aware that the problems would not go away and that ignoring them was irresponsible at best.

I don't know what would have happened if I had not won a green card in the lottery - what was known as a Morrison Visa - (incidentally, did you know that a green card is actually pink?)  My eternal thanks go to Bruce Morrison, the author of the immigration Act of 1990 that allowed me to apply for this visa and to the Universe / fate / luck - whatever you call it, for allowing me to win that visa. See more about Bruce Morrison here.

Luckily, when I won the visa, my children were no longer children and so I was able to follow the route so many of my ancestors took when times were rough. When I left Ireland I knew that this was probably my one and only opportunity to correct my mistakes and create a new life. I also knew that the streets of America were not paved with gold, but I was fairly sure that I could make a new life for myself. I was determined it would be a successful one, to spend only what I could afford, open every envelope delivered to my address (assuming of course it was addressed to me) and keep careful track of every penny coming in and going out, including keeping all receipts and bills carefully.

And I did.  I started out keeping a note of my spending and income in a small notepad but as soon as I bought myself a computer and discovered it came with a free version of Quicken Light, I used that and have been using Quicken ever since, over 18 years later.  However, having once been totally irresponsible I did a complete 360 and became totally anal.  I spent hours each weekend carefully documenting my spending, checking each receipt against my records, filing every piece of paper relating to income and spending.  Very soon I had boxes of receipts everywhere, each box marked with the date range.  Each box never accessed again but gathering dust and taking up space in my small home.  When I moved these boxes came with me.

On the plus side, I knew to the penny what my financial situation was, and what I could and could not afford.

I met my husband in 2001, five years, almost to the day, after I arrived in the US.  He convinced me that I really didn't need to keep 5 years of receipts that were not tax related - the receipts I saved included grocery, gas and other items long since consumed and reconciled in my accounts.

So, now I keep receipts through the week, once I reconcile my accounts I dispose of them with the exception of receipts for goods which may or may not need to be returned in the foreseeable future. I keep only 3 months of paid bills, and I might add, all bills are opened and paid on time now.

Thankfully technology allows me not only to keep track of, and reconcile, my household expenses, but also to keep a very close eye on my bank accounts online. The reward is that I can now not fear the mailman and I can sleep at night.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Child friendly / child safe

It is surprisingly difficult to make your home child proof, and by that I do mean both safe and friendly. I don't claim to be any expert, so don't mistake this article as instructional. It is, like all my other writing, random thoughts and personal musings.

When I first encountered the principle of making a home child proof, it was because I had a child for the first time. Fortunately, at least from the point of view of keeping him safe in the home, I had very little else. But even so, most of what childproofing was done, was 'after the fact'. Trial and error. I hasten to add, I am not stupid, but I was very young, and I had no previous experience, hence 'first child'.

Naturally I already had medicines out of reach, because that is what you do with medicine with or without children. As I said, I didn't have much.  We lived in a 'bed-sit', more grandly referred to as a studio apartment. One big room in an old Georgian house, built when rooms were very big. We had a tiny separate kitchen and shared a bathroom, shared with the rest of the house so not mine to proof, but also well out of his immediate domain. As soon as he started to show signs of becoming mobile, which was fairly early, what little I had was moved out of reach. Sharp corners were covered, or removed, after the first bruise and, I am ashamed to say, the electric fire was screened after the first blistered tiny finger. To this day I feel guilty about that.

When my daughter and her baby son, my first grandchild, came to visit me I had just moved into my first house in Texas. Everything was new and there wasn't much of anything. Before they arrived I spent some time putting childproof locks on the lower cabinets and that was really all I had to do. I did not have a fireplace and there were no sharp edges.The locks I used screwed into the inside of the cabinet door, like this one, they were still on the cabinets when I moved 12 years later and served to keep many other small visitors safe.

This year, that same first child of the burnt finger is coming to visit me for Christmas along with his wife and their son, almost four years old. Our household now is well established and we three old people have been living in this house for 3 years surrounded by a merger of two well established households, and with a fireplace along with many other potential dangers.

We have started childproofing and as I write this I begin to realize all the things we have not yet considered. For instance, we have a cover on the pantry door knob and even I find that quite difficult to manipulate as I have some permanent damage to my hands from carpal tunnel syndrome which I suffered from before it became fashionable, and therefore didn't have treated until it was too late.

I was about to explain to you that the beautiful doll hanging from the door knob is not some witches curse or satanic ritual, but a clever storage unit for plastic bags (we don't have many as we do use green bags, and those we do have, we reuse), plastic bags!  oh goodness, that little doll will need to hang on the inside of the door, in fact she needs to hang up much higher inside the pantry, just in case my grandson can manipulate the door knob cover.

We also put a cover on the knob of the laundry room door, inside is just a washer and dryer and a storage closet. I did move all possible dangerous substances to higher shelves in the closet there, but we decided to be extra safe. Here is a photo and a warning to us all to remember to actually close the door fully. No amount of childproof locks will work if the door is left open, even just a little. Maybe it isn't obvious from the photo here, but the door is not fully closed and tiny fingers would have no difficultly getting a grip and opening it. As I said, inside there is probably nothing that could do him any harm, but he is way to precious to take that risk, as are all children.

Next we studied our kitchen and bathrooms, where most of the dangers lurk in any home, medicine cabinets are all well out of reach, check. I emptied the cabinet under the sink in the main bathroom. It was well overdue a clean out and for the moment what I think I need to keep is stored out of reach in a box. By the time they leave I will (I hope) realize I don't actually need most of the various hair products and other items and just dispose of them.

In the kitchen we really only had two cabinets that required proofing. One contains liquor and the other cleaning agents. Once again, it may be a challenge for me to get past the child locks but there will be enough people around with fully operational hands to help, and it makes me feel more confident that if I can't get into these protected areas, my grandson probably won't either.

Back to the bathrooms, we have a half bath downstairs and a full bath upstairs for visitors convenience. Stairs are also not extremely safe for an almost 4 year old though he is very good at navigating them I would prefer that when the need is urgent, he didn't have to, so we purchased a step and a child sized toilet seat for both bathrooms.

Again, I see another issue. I need to remove the plunger from behind the toilet upstairs and put it in the garage. The garage! We definitely need to put another of those covers on the door out to the garage, apart from all the usual dangers such as tools and garden and household cleaning agents, there is a step down to a concrete floor.

I also purchased soap for washing tiny hands - of course we already have soap, but if washing hands is fun, it is much more likely to also be thorough.

Finally, we bought a screen for the fire. Like I said, I still feel bad about that one. And, as you can see, we also bought Christmas stockings, not really part of the child proofing, but definitely child friendly.

Ah! Looking at this photo I see another potential danger. To the left of the fireplace as I look at it, I see the door to my mother in law's master suite, therein lies a whole new set of dangers. Another fire, another bathroom filled with potential adventures for a small boy, and a large bedroom with all the small items an elderly lady gathers through the years. Here is another door that needs a cover for the handle and we will have to be sure to keep that door closed at all times.

So, what have I got?
1. Remove plunger
2. Cover garage door handle
3. Cover great granny's door handle
4. Remove the plastic bag doll

Oh, and we do have a safety gate to prevent him wandering down the stairs at night.  Hopefully that will do it, I am still not stupid but now I am old.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

E for B

Used to be an advertising slogan when I was a kid.  ' E for B and be your best ', then they roped in George Best, a famous soccer player in the 70s and it became 'E for B and Georgie Best'.

Watch on YouTube

I like eggs, and frequently have two poached eggs for breakfast, and when I have eggs, I particularly like them with hot salsa on.

At work we have a fully stocked kitchen, but only egg substitute is available and I prefer real eggs, so I bring my own from home.  Even if I wanted to cook them by the old fashioned method in water, I can't because we don't have a stove, but as it is now possible to microwave them successfully, without major issues - usually - that is what I do.  I have a purpose designed microwave egg poacher and it works really well.

Sometimes however, either I forget it at home or it is in need of a wash, so I got in the habit of using a disposable paper bowl, with another upside-down on top, that works equally well - usually. This morning I broke two eggs into a bowl, covered it with a second bowl and mircorwaved it for 30 seconds, checked, another 30 seconds and another check, then a final 30 seconds - perfect!  Added a spoonful of hot, chunky salsa and cut into one of the eggs.  Note to self:  'cut the egg before adding salsa'. The explosion would have been less messy. I guess I should be thankful that I added that extra 30 seconds and the eggs were not soft.

Yes, it exploded and I don't just mean it popped and spat a bit. No. It was a massive explosion, I could actually see the debris flying in all directions. And the smell! oh dear me that was horrible! my desk was complete covered in small globs of egg and salsa.  Worse, it was in my hair, my face, up my sleeves and down the legs of my jeans.

By the time I had wrapped what remained in the bowl in a few layes of tightly sealed plastic bags and transported it to the bin in the kitchen (didn't want that smell lingering in my office all day if I could help it), wiped down my desk and rinsed off the spots and splashes from my clothes, and picked what I could see out of my hair, I was ready for breakfast. Yes, I know darwin award on its way, I tried again.

This time I did have the sense to not add salsa, but surely it wouldn't happen a second time.. right?  wrong!  3 x 30 seconds, pulled the eggs out, they looked lovely, but I stood as far back as I could and gently poked one with the tip of a knife
it exploded too - not quite as spectacularly, but with the same appauling smell.

Another trip to the kitchen with a plastic bag of the remains and I settled for some fruit and nuts for my breakfast.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The foot again

Apparently it takes as long to make a baby as it does to heal from bunion surgery.  Mine was the 8th of March, and  this week, for the first time since my operation, I noticed that the swelling has finally gone and my foot has returned to a normal size.  I am sure the hammer toe was minor compared with the bunion and as the last of the swelling was all based around the joint of my big toe, I attribute this long healing period entirely to the bunion.

The main reason I noticed is, due to the icy cold weather, I got out my very comfortable, fur lined boots and discovered I could finally get my right foot into them.

Today I wallowed in the comfort because these same boots, while cozy and comfortable as far as my left foot was concerned, always caused me at least, some discomfort and often considerable pain due to the hammer toe. Now both feet felt utterly wonderful.  Warm, cozy and completely pain free. This, because the second hammer toe is not yet developed enough for the joint to be forced up into the boot upper, that will happen eventully, but I am hopeful that I will be able to schedule surgery before it gets too bad. (see original blog on the new hammer toe here)

However, in this photo I am seated. When I walk I do notice some slight friction on the hammering joint of my newly deformed toe, but nothing like it was for the other toe - yet. Surgery will be in March and of course, then I will have to go through another period of wearing a surgical shoe and allowing the swelling to subside, and have the pin removed, before I can once again get into my own shoes, but the expectation is that the recovery period will be much shorter for one small toe. This time I will not have to worry about the pin removal as last time it was completely painless. Even better, because I am electing to have the surgery in March, as before, I can look forward to my winter boots fitting for next winter, though I do hope it won't be as cold as it has been so far this year.

I am excited to try on all of my other shoes now.  They have been tucked away in my closet for well over a year as it became too painful to wear most of them months before surgery.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I won't give up

During the week my prethreaded bobbins, the thread rack and iron on stabilizer was delivered.  I had a busy weekend, but had scheduled an hour on Sunday afternoon to return to that learning curve.

the threads look great  on the rack, much tidier
Today I had another attempt with my embroidery machine.  I didn't make much progress, but any progress is acceptable.  I am now convinced that I need to start with a more co-operative material, t-shirt material has too much give in it.  Hopefully when I master the machine I can revisit the t-shirt.

I did use the iron on stabilizer and it adhered nicely to the t-shirt, however manipulating the hoop onto the shirt was not easy, getting it stretched tight was even more of a challenge and the putting it on the machine without all the excess t-shirt getting tangled up, or folder under the hoop deserved a medal, but I did it.

Cactus pattern
Next I followed the instructions carefully again, using the same cactus pattern as before - because I had already got the first color for that pattern threaded on the  machine.  I pressed the start button and it did start quietly enough, but almost immediately it repeated the behavior from last week and attempted to cram the entire t-shirt into the bobbin area.  It took me some time to remove it, clean out the thread and I rethreaded the bobbin to make sure that was not the issue.

Then I cut the section of t-shirt so that I no longer had to try to manipulate the entire wad of the garment and to give me a fighting chance to get it on the hoop correctly.  When I pressed start this time it looked like it was doing a neat outline of the first side of the cactus, then it did some weird movement inside the cactus outline, but was still moving smoothly, so I waiting.  Suddenly it appeared to get furious and started hammering up and down in the same spot.  I pressed the stop button again and the result was another hole in the fabric, with a tight ball of t-shirt and thread knotted together, there was no matting of thread this time however, so that was a good sign.

if you look very closely. on the left you can just about see the outline
of the left arm of the cactus.  On the right of the picture you can see the
wad of thread I had to remove from the bobbin after the first attempt.
My next excusion into the world of machine embroidery will be when I find a piece of stiff cotton fabric that perhaps won't give into the temptation to disappear down the bobbin hole until the pattern has been completed.  Clearly I am being too ambitious expecting to be able to embroider a t-shirt off the bat.  But I will get there, now it is a challenge, I have to do it!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I love Texas - even today

They have a saying in Texas, 'If you don't like the weather wait a minute and it will change'.  We have the same saying in Ireland, and while the weather in Ireland does change much more rapidly than in Texas where it can be between 90 F and 106 F for weeks on end, day and night without change.  In Ireland the weather can go from warm and sunny to cold and rainy, then back to warm but cloudy, pouring rain, dry and windy, all in one day - however the temperatures will only vary slightly.

Last Sunday, here in Texas, it was 82 degrees F, that is almost 28 degrees C for my readers in Europe. Five days later, on Friday, it got down to 22 degrees F ( -5.5 degrees C).

We are expecting this weather to continue through the middle of the week, after that it will climb back up to 60 F for the weekend.

8 a.m. in the morning

During the night, it rained and needless to say, that rain froze - fortunately not before it hit the ground. The cars were covered in a thin layer of ice - something I was very used to in Ireland, but it is a much more rare occurrence here in Central Texas.

By 5 p.m., normally the warmest
part of the day here it was still frozen
Texans are not used to driving on icy roads, in fact in Central Texas they are not very used to driving on wet roads.  It has always appeared to me that they believe if you ignore it, it isn't there, and so they drive in their normal manner. 

To those of you who have not experienced this adrenalin rush - driving on the roads around Austin is similar to bumper cars at a fairground. Anyone driving the speed limit or, heaven forbid, below the speed limit, will be moved out of the way by the driver behind them approaching at high speed, then slowing down at the last minute, sometimes literally within a few feet of their rear bumper - very intimidating when you consider the majority of them drive large pickup trucks or SUVs.  

As a result, most intelligent people stay at home, in fact the authorities normally plead with people to stay off the roads if they possibly can.  One winter we experienced a 4 day ice storm and the entire city closed down, schools, businesses, everything ground to a halt until the weather improved.  I am fortunate that I can work from home when necessary and that is what I did this particular Friday.  My husband was able to take the day off work and we all stayed warm and safe.

Thankfully we have a fireplace in the house, though it isn't required that often, it is very comforting on a day like this. We don't normally have a screen in front of it, but we are preparing for a visit from our three year old grandson for Christmas.

So, we stayed home, ordered in delivery for dinner from Marco's Pizza (see my commentary here), pizza for Larry and Mildred and salad and chicken wings for me and spent the evening in front of the fire watching TV.  

The weather forecast led me to believe that the next day would be a repeat performance.  We may attempt a mid morning trip to the grocery store, but I suspect the rest of the day will be spent just staying warm.

One of the many things I do love about Texas is that on 6th December, we still have leaves on the trees, and we still have some fall color.  Don't believe people if they tell you we don't ever have autumn colors.  They may not be as virbrant and plentiful as in the North East, but we have them.

This oak tree in my front yard is looking beautiful, though you can see it has lost some of its leaves, it will be good through Christmas.  After that of course, we will be getting quite the workout raking and bagging the leaves from this, and the forest of trees in our back yard.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting to know my sewing machine

Yes, I finally found the time and the nerve to start learning how to use my embroidery sewing machine.  Look at the mess!  

Brother SE400 Combination Computerized Sewing and 4x4 Embroidery Machine With 67 Built-in Stitches, 70 Built-in Designs, 5 Lettering Fonts

I figured out how to thread the bobbin, and the needle - since the last sewing machine I bought, about 18 years ago, they have figured out an easier way to get the thread through the eye of the needle, very useful for aging eyes and clumsy fingers.

Next I spent some time getting the hang of the built in computer - with its touch screen.  I went though the settings and finally managed to turn off the annoying beep every time I touched the screen.  I already had some embroidery designs I had downloaded, in the correct format for my machine, so my next trick was to connect the machine to my computer via the USB cable supplied, the computer instantly recognized it as a 'removable disk' and I was able to copy a pattern from the computer to the sewing machine and, once on the machine, I scrolled through each section of the design, gathering the threads in the color each section displayed.

I spent some time reading through the manual, found an old t-shirt and some stabilizing material, following the instructions carefully, I loaded up the embroidery hoop and connected it to the machine.

Before going any further, I found a video on You Tube showing an embroidery sewing machine at work, quite amazing!  Then the moment of truth!  I pushed the start button and my machine started working away at a cactus - the first stage of my loaded design.  According to the instructions, I needed to stop after about 5 stitches and trim the end of thread at the start of the pattern - this I did and after that it all went awry.  The needle kept on its course as it was programmed to do, but it lost its thread, so it was totally wasting its time. Then the stabilizer, which was a paper like material split and was less than useful, meanwhile the soft t-shirt fabric, without the stabilizer between it and the bobbin, was being pummeled into the bobbin compartment.

I pushed the stop button, carefully extracted the hoop and examined the result, I had 5 beautiful green stitches in a small arc and two large holes on the t-shirt, a totally shredded sheet of stabilizer and a threadless needle.

Turning back to my computer I went directly to Amazon and ordered iron on stabilizer - hopefully that will not separate and shred, pre-threaded bobbins (what a great idea!) and a rack to neatly store my embroider threads on.

I had not expected to produce any embroidery, and don't expect I will for a while yet, but I was well satisfied with my first experience with the machine.  I had made a start, learnt the basics and I am looking forward to my next lesson.  I knew this was going to be a slow process but already I am enjoying it.

Watch for the next exciting episode!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

We went to Shreveport

Just for two days.

We have done this before, many times.  Two days in a casino in Shreveport is like a week's vacation for us, though the drive is tough, my husband doesn't seem to mind it.  Of course, we really would prefer to be able to stay in Texas, and spend out money to help bolster the Texas economy, but until gambling is legalized here, we do what so many other Texans do and make the trip to Louisiana, El Dorado has long been our casino of choice.  It helps that we get regular offers of free rooms and free meals, so the cost of the trip is our gas and our gambling - we always set a limit for gambling and never go above that.

Late November in the northern states is bleak, cold and, this year for sure, wintery.  In Texas we still have a touch of Autumn, and we even have some beautiful fall colors.

The drive is approximately five and half hours, we head off at 6 a.m. and stop in Temple for breakfast, then we will probably have two stops between Temple and Shreveport for gas and bathroom, and to stretch our legs arriving at the Casino before 1 p.m.

the river boat from our hotel window
Of course, like any other hotel, the rooms were not going to be available until mid afternoon, so we whiled away the time touring the various decks of the boat - all casinos in Shreveport are required by law to be on the water.  El Dorado's is the biggest of the river boats between Shreveport and Bossier City, on the other side of the Red River.

While we were waiting to check in I paid a visit to the ladies room where I was amazed to see a 'hazardous waste disposal' unit fixed to the wall beside the hand dryer.  The only place I had ever see these units before was in the doctor's office.  My husband assured me there was fairly usual and were intended for diabetics needle disposal - I suppose casinos really do not want you to leave the premises for any reason for fear you will not return.

During the two hours waiting for our rooms, I managed to double my allotted gambling money, my husband halved his, and, as is our habit we split my winnings.  So long as we manage to have enough money to last for the two days, who cares who won it?

Since my mother in law moved in with us, we have always taken her with us and, when possible, we get adjoining rooms.  As soon as we got settled in our rooms it was back down to the casino where we continued to be reasonably lucky.  Because we are not high rollers, our winnings are never huge and we only play the slots, but like I said, so long as we can keep playing we are happy.

After our free dinner in the buffet we did some more gambling and then called it a night in order to ensure we had sufficient funds for the following day.

Breakfast was another free meal at the grill, followed by a not so lucky few hours on the slots, we still had enough cash left for the evening, so settled for another free lunch at the buffet followed by a long nap for my husband and a few quiet hours reading for me - the weather was dreadful, it had been pouring rain all night and it continued to do so all day, the sky remained a dark miserable grey.

that is the Horseshoe Casino across the river

Then it time for our last free buffet dinner and our last few hours feeding the hungry slot machines, as our cash dwindled we moved to the video poker machines where a small amount of money can last quite some time, with my last bet I won $200 which we split and had a hour of fun hitting the dollar slots just for the hell of it.

Sportsman grill
Tuesday morning was our last free meal before heading home, we headed to the 24 hour grill, situated across from the hotel reception, as we walked past the huge cake display we could see the restaurant was almost empty.  We were seated but the hostess told us they were currently changing shift so it would be a while before we got coffee as they were making fresh.  Fresh coffee is always worth waiting for.

When it eventually arrived, mine was neither hot nor fresh, in fact it was stone cold.  It took a few minutes to catch the attention of a wait person, and a lot longer before she returned with a cup of hot coffee - she apologized for the delay which she explained, was due to having to put the cups in the microwave!  Horror! now it was scalding hot and tasted absolutely disgusting.The food arrived and while it was bearable, it was not great, but I guess it was free.  Another long wait before we could pay and leave and soon we were back on the road to Austin.

yes, this is a cake
We drove through steady rain until well past Corsicana.  We stopped in Waco for a quick lunch and were home by 2.30 p.m.  We decided that on our next visit we would stay at the Horseshoe Casino - free is nice, but the El Dorado has definitely see better days.

Turkey Day

In the US, Turkey Day is Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November.  When I was growing up, Christmas Day was Turkey Day, though we often had turkey for Easter dinner.  There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Ireland and, after 19 years here, I still can't really get into the spirit of the holiday.  I am definitely thankful, but I suppose not having grown up with the tradition, and not having family here means it is just one of those rare long weekends and I am most thankful for that.

I have always wanted to volunteer to help my friend Richard's charity, Operation Turkey at Thanksgiving. Most years I take advantage of the extra few days off work and head to Ireland or France, or both, to visit family but as I get older, traveling in the winter months is less attractive so this year was one of the first I had decided to spend at home in Texas so I signed up.
Waiting at PF Changs to get started

My wonderful mother in law agreed to come along which was pretty impressive considering she has two artificial knees.

We were up early on Thanksgiving morning and headed off in very chilly morning, unusually cold for Austin, it was 36 degrees F.  Operation Turkey feeds the homeless in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Marcos and has a number of locations in Austin.  Some incredible people give up their time and both Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill and PF Changs Restaurant open up their premises for this amazing effort. We were heading to PF Changs Restaurant, North West Austin, being our nearest location.

We thought we were early, but there was already quite a crowd waiting to get started.  Getting started took some time, but eventually things began moving and boxes were steadily making their way along a human conveyor belt, picking up turkey, dressing, veggies, cranberry jelly, gravy, bread roll, pumpkin pie and plastic utensils, then they were closed and loaded into waiting cars and whisked off to various locations where they were distributed to the homeless and needy.

It was most definitely not a well oiled machine, but it was a very cheerful, well meaning machine and it got the job done.  There were a few minor hiccups, such as a table full of large cans of cranberry jelly and no can openers.  A couple of the men quickly improvised and started opening cans with large, sharp, kitchen knives.  Amazingly it worked and even more amazing no one was injured, but it was a slow process, finally someone came across a bag full of can openers and things speeded up quite a bit.

When all the food was all packed into boxes and off the premises it was time for the cleanup.  That task took almost as long.

I can remember when I first met Richard he told me about how he started Operation Turkey - I guess that was about 13 years ago, and not only has he continued to feed the homeless every year since then, he has grown and spread way beyond Austin.  Showing amazing dedication and incredible energy.

'Like' Operation Turkey on Facebook.  And do consider either volunteering next year if you live in central Texas, or donating to the cause - better yet, why not do both!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I started doing hand embroidery about a year ago, mainly to give me something to do while sitting in front of the TV, so I wouldn't fall asleep from boredom.  I never did like television much.  I do like watching movies sometimes, but my taste is action thriller or good ol' John Wayne cowboy movies, not a taste shared by everyone.

I started out with t-shirts, being of a practical nature, the finished product was something useful., here are the shirts I have done so far.  You will notice a strong Western theme, part of the reason I came to Texas is my love of Western folklore.

As I mentioned in my Introduction (see tab above) I was toying with the idea of buying myself an embroidery sewing machine.  Well, I did it.  It has been sitting on a table in our office (actually our bonus room but we use it as an office) patiently waiting for me to get acquainted with it.

Unfortunately, no sooner was it delivered than we got very busy at work, and three weekends in a row I had to work.  I am hoping that over the holidays I can make time to play with it and see how it (and I) performs.  It is by no means an expensive, bells and whistles, machine.  If I like it, maybe I will work my way up to one of those.

As I educate myself on how to use the machine, and hopefully produce some more t-shirts worth displaying, I will detail my progress here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Odell

We do miss him.

Wednesday 20th November 2013,  he would have been 80 years old.  It is hard to believe that it is over a year since he died, there is still an empty place at the table and there probably always will be.

View his obituary here

Monday, November 18, 2013

Not just a language difference

After a few unseasonably cold days in central Texas I was yearning for the thick beef stew that was an integral part of winter as a child, in Ireland.  So I thought I would introduce my husband and his mother to one of the stable dishes I grew up with.  For some reason I thought it would be down home enough for them to enjoy.

It is a stew, made from beef and a mixture of winter vegetables, including leeks, potatoes and turnips (click here for recipe if you want it), onions and, because of the influence of my French mother, red wine. Hell, it is good for your heart right?

The finished dish is supposed to be deep brown, filled with the flavor of beef and vegetables and covered in a gravy almost thick enough to eat with a fork.

Add too much beer, as my husband did, and it becomes a soup that is no longer the dish I envisioned and have enjoyed in the past, don't add beer and apart from the turnip making it sweet, it is too thick in consistency for people whose preference in food is battered and fried, or soup.

Having served this to my husband and his mother, both from Kentucky, though my husband grew up in Texas, after my husband added beer while he was reheating it, I was greeted with a stony silence and realized this was something I won't be cooking again - except perhaps on my next visit to Ireland or France where my family will probably enjoy it as the comfort food of our childhood.  How different the world is. And what is sad is that I will never know if they would have enjoyed what I intended to cook. My guess is no.

But after almost 20 years in this country I realize I am still learning that there is more than just an almost invisible, but very significant, language barrier, (click here if you don't believe me) there is so much more that divides us.  I have to add, almost all of my experience of the differences has been in the state of Texas, with people either from Texas, or from Kentucky and I know that they have totally different tastes and cultural differences to the northern states. I have some experience cooking for people in Norther California and have to say that my mixture of Irish and French cuisine did go down well there.

I don't think I could ever get used to the high fat, somewhat bland, food of the Southern States, but I will have to save my yearnings for Irish and French cooking for my visits home to Europe while I continue to find compromise, as with my Panko Chicken and Fish.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Children, Grandchildren and other random thoughts

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to have children.  I wanted to have children of my own, but I also wanted to adopt. Of course, when I was very young I thought six boys would be perfect.  I was one of six, three boys and three girls, so six was an obvious number.  I was not a happy child, and I blamed that on the fact that I was not male, hence six boys.  Don't worry, I figured it out eventually - read how here (if you are interested - and you should be).

I was lucky enough to have children, two boys and one girl.  If I have one regret it is that I didn't adopt at least one.  I wanted to.  And it would have been the perfect answer to balancing out my litter - two of each, after all, sisters are special.  However, my husband at that time did not want to adopt.

Aside:  That is, the man I was married to at that time did not want to adopt, NOT- at that time, the man I was married to didn't want to adopt. How strange the English language is!

I am not sure why I was so keen on adoption.  Considering that I had a less than happy childhood, yet I still considered as part of a family was the best way to grow up.  I am guessing that was almost entirely due to my siblings.  Perhaps also, the enormous amount of reading I did as a child, all too many dealing with orphans and step parents and miserable lonely children. Or maybe it was because I was not a happy child, I wanted to compensate by making other children happy.

Like any mother, I love my children more than words can possibly describe.  So when my daughter, the first of my children to reproduce, was pregnant I was very worried that I would not love my grandchildren as much as I love my children.  I need not have worried.  For all of you out there who are not yet grandmother's, trust me.  It is so different.  I love my grandchildren, each and every one of them, every bit as much as I love my children and they are all so very different - as people are.  But it is a different kind of love.

There is the same unadulterated pride in everything they do, but not quite the same pain in things that they do not achieve.  Probably a much more balanced love.  And of course the grandparental right to spoil them. My children are lucky that I live so far away or their children would not just be spoilt, they would be ruined!

Although I didn't have the six boys I originally planned, I compensated and have now got 6 grandsons, and just one granddaughter.

Update: As of June 2014 I have one more granddaughter!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stacking the Dishwasher

This is a subject on which a surprising number of people have strong views, most of them differing on some if not all, of the headings below. My husband in particular feels very strongly on the subject, and I tend to disagree with him on most of the topics, my mother in law agrees with him on some, and with me on others.

So, I did some research and this is what I came up with.


Every one knows, at least I hope they do, that you do not put crystal glass in a dishwasher, excessively hot water, and dishwasher soaps, will very quickly cause them to be cloudy and lose their sparkle.

All of the experts emphasize do not overstack the dishwasher, it is less efficient and more likely to cause damage to tableware.  Plus, it has been established by a study at the University of Bonn in Germany, that a modern dishwasher uses up to two thirds less water and less than half the electricity, than washing by hand, so even if you run the dishwasher twice a day, you are still saving a whole lot of water.

Lighter items, such as plastic containers, which might turn over during a wash and fill with water will not only make unloading more difficult, it will cause higher humidity during the drying period and reduce the efficiency of this cycle.


This is something I didn't know, wait till the dishes are cool before unloading as they are more likely to chip if removed when still hot.  Not to mention, if they are too hot you risk dropping them and burning your fingers.

To rinse or not to rinse...

I never owned a dishwasher in the early days when it really was necessary to pre rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. My grandmother had a 1940s dishwasher. She did rinse them carefully before stacking them.

All my research suggests that this is no longer required, particularly if you use a pre-rinse cycle. But, it also indicates that you either have a noisy dishwasher due to the built in grinder for food particles, or you have a filter that needs constant cleaning. As I have neither, I think I will continue to do as my husband prefers and rinse the dishes, at least making sure there are no food particles to block the drain, or build up and cause smell or worse, inside the dishwasher.  However, it seriously reduces the amount of water saved.

Knives, up or down?

This is a sticky subject.  Personally I hate being sliced or stabbed by a sharp knife when loading or unloading a dishwasher. And, for households with small children, it is definitely not a good idea to have sharp knives within reach, and pointing upwards. I always put knives in blade down, my husband is very firmly on the side of blade up.

The general rule for cutlery is to place it handle down, for better cleaning, but everything I have read adds with the 'exception of knives'. To avoid injury some suggest handle up for sharp knives, but another recommends sharp knives should be laid horizontally on the top shelf. I actually do that with large knives, but never thought of it for the smaller sharp ones. I will definitely try that in the future, it seems like a good compromise.

Bowls, top or bottom shelf?

My theory was that if they are above the sprayer on the top shelf, and tilted forward, they will get clean, but won't have standing water when the wash finishes.  My husband prefers bowls to be placed on the lower shelf and standing upright.  He is adamant that they will not hold water, I still reserve judgement on this as I have frequently had to rinse bowls by hand to remove the water stains.  He also insists that all dishes should face towards the sprayer.  I am guessing with earlier dishwashers this was probably the best way to ensure they were properly cleaned, the newer dishwashers are a lot more efficient and most of what I read indicates it is no longer important, however I see no argument against it either.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Shepherd's Pie - yet.

I'm not saying this to be mean but...

That is how my husband opened the conversation at dinner.

There, is the difference between men and women.  He really meant it, he was not intending to be mean, and in the 2-stroke male mind, he thought all he had do was utter the disclaimer, say what was on his mind and all would be well, no feelings would be hurt.

Oh dear, I thought, he is going to tell me I am short and fat.  No. And I know he didn't intend to be mean, but ... " you did remove that shepherd's pie recipe from your blog, right?  because it really isn't good" .. he hastened to add that every other shepherd's pie I had made was wonderful, but, as I feared, stopping the creative flow to weigh and measure had ruined the finished product.  Ok, I had to agree with him, it was not at all like any other Shepherds pie I had ever made, and I had already taken down the recipe.  And, I couldn't dispute what he said, it was not good.

I will try to reproduce the one that I normally make so you can see how nice it can be.  Having said that, I actually don't much like shepherd's pie - never really liked it when I was a child, but I knew that my husband and his mother would like it because it is similar to the comfort food of the south that they grew up on.

After giving it some thought, the mistakes I made were - apart from stopping to weigh and measure - that I used all bison instead of half bison and half more fatty beef, this made the end produce too dry, and of course, less resembling the southern food with its high fat content.  Secondly I used yellow potatoes, I know better, white potatoes are so much prettier to look at and are fluffier and I do believe they taste better.  I will return to this recipe when I have given my husband time to get over the unpleasant dinner he tried to like.

While making the shepherd's pie I, as always, made double the amount.  Now I have a less than satisfactory chuck of something in the freezer, and I have been mulling over in my mind how to make it acceptable. Finally I have decided - turn it into a curry! That should be interesting.

Meanwhile, do try the panko chicken.  This is another attempt on my part to make a more healthy version of the fried chicken so popular in the south and it seems to work.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Here we go again...

I am getting boring on the subject of my right foot, not nearly as interesting, nor as impressive, as Christy Brown's left foot.

Last March I had what might be considered by some (especially me) as major surgery on my right foot - it was totally messed up due, I believe, to genetics.  Bunion, Hammer Toe, two claw toes, all I needed was wings!  But I have to say, I was happy with the results, until I noticed one of the former claw toes had decided to become a hammer toe when it grew up, and it was growing up fast!

First of all, the reason I had the surgey on my foot was because my knee was causing me some considerable discomfort, even pain, and worse, it was preventing me from running.  Now, I have to tell you I don't really love running.  But I need to do some serious exercise to stop my bones from crumbling - as they fully intend to do - and running is the best of a bad lot, the exercise I dislike the least.  So I went to my doctor, who sent me to a knee surgeon, who told me my knee was fine, the problem was my foot, so I went to a foot surgeon.. and the result is documented under the Gross Foot Photos tab.

It took 6 months before I was passed fit to run - fat to run more like - in those 6 months of sitting around with my foot up, I had gained more weight than I care to admit to.  I started back slowly, running a quarter of a mile, walking a quarter of a mile, till I built up to 3 miles.  Then I started stretching the running to half a mile.  At this stage my lungs were my biggest enemy, they had decided they were retired and it was sole destroying to find my legs could continue but my lungs wimped out.

Then we had our annual boot camp at work, I really enjoy that!  I need a trainer to keep me motivated, and early in the morning, outdoors with five or six colleagues, great way to really get moving.  It was an 8 session boot camp over 4 weeks - I completed exactly half of the sessions, the fourth being a really tough but enjoyable workout.  However, next morning I could scarcely move.  My foot was sore, but it was doing ok, my knee on the other hand was totally not ok.

As my newly erupting hammer toe was beginning to cause me discomfort I decided to return to my foot surgeon and see what he thought about it and at the same time get his opinion on what I should do with my knee.

So, I took my right foot, my knee, and the rest of me to TxOrtho in Cedar Park.  The verdict was, yes, my toe is hammering and sooner or later it would need surgery, when was up to me to decide.

My decision will be based on how long I can tolerate the discomfort .. ok pain .. from the deformity, and also, when my dear husband will be off work long enough to take care of me after surgery - looks like early March is a good time for surgery, that is spring break and I think I can survive as it is till then.  The second issue, my knee, resulted in a recommendation to try physical therapy to see if I can strengthen supporting muscles and minimize the knee effect.  TxOrtho have a physical therapy department and so I wandered over there to make an appointment.  The Universe, always my friend, took charge and I was informed they just had a cancellation and next thing I knew I was working my way through series of exercises designed to strengthen the thigh and hip muscles.  I left an hour later with wobbly thigh muscles, a sheaf of papers containing detailed descriptions, fully illustrated, of the exercises I need to do every day and an appointment for two weeks hence to follow up.

The recommendation was interval training, as I had been doing, .25 mile run, .25 mile walk and 20 minutes on a stationary bike, plus the sheaf of exercises.  Ready, set, go!

Maybe I can get my knee sorted before the next surgery for my cursed right foot.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

this day, 12 years ago...

Twelve years ago today - 30th October - it was a Tuesday in 2001, Larry picked me up outside my office at 11.30 a.m.  We drove to the Travis County Court House in Austin, about 6 miles.  We parked and made it through the metal detectors and found our way to the second floor, we took a number and waited in a totally empty room to be called - that didn't take too long. We had our ids and that was all we needed apart from the fact that we swore we fulfilled all the requirements for common law marriage - which basically are swearing we fulfilled the requirements.  We signed the registry and took our brown envelope containing the marriage certificate. I was back at my desk within the hour.

No one knew, well no - Larry and I knew of course, but no one else knew.  We had planned this, only the day before we said, lets get married, how does tomorrow sound?  And so I dressed up a little, but because I had only been working at Newgistics a few months, it wasn't yet obvious that I was 'dressed up'.  If it happend now, they would probably think I had an interview, certainly neither then, nor now, would anyone think I was planning to get married in my lunch hour.  But we thought it worked well.

Today, twelve years later, I still think it was a very memorable day, and one I don't regret.  Oh sure, we have had our ups and downs like any married couple, but we have - so far - done really well at working through them.

Today Larry gave me a decent bottle of wine and a beautiful bunch of flowers, containing my two favorite flowers, star gazer lillies and orange roses - who among you can say your husband / partner knows your two favorite flowers?  a few maybe, but not many.  He also bought me a beautiful card that I guantee he read carefully and bought only because the words echoed his own feelings.  I gave him the same anniversary card I have given him every year for the past 5 years.  5 years ago he loved it so much he told me to save it and give it to him every year.  This year the envelope fell apart, but the card is still as new and the sentiment it expresses still holds true.  He plans to do some repair work on the envelope with a roll of tape - he is kind of frugal.