Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Two plants I'm thinking about today

First, the Tree Dahlia, Dahlia tenuicaulis. A Flickr friend posted a lovely shot (not this one though) and it reminded me how much I wanted to try this one. Not sure how it will react to the warm humid Houston summers but it should like cool wet winters!

Second, the Sunflower Tree or Tree Marigold, Tithonia diversifolia. I've seen it growing in Tampa so I know for sure it will handle Houston! The bush I saw there could easily have been called a small tree - it was 12 feet high and covered in butterflies. There is a possibility it is an invasive species, from some of the reading I have done. So I will need to read some more before I dive in. I've already lived (and we are STILL living) the nightmare called ruellia.
Do any of you have experience with these lovelies?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Early December garden update

The first two weeks of December have been dramatic. We have had warm humid sunny days, then cold, then warm, then back to cold and wet. Plants that grow well in Houston are tough!

Today I checked the Giant Granadilla to see how it was holding up. After all, we have had freezing temperatures and this is a tropical plant. There are 11 buds, 4 of which have actually opened! This is the first time the vine has flowered since its first year back in 2003. I doubt we will have fruit, but it is fun to see these giant flowers.

On our walk this morning, we discovered a treasure trove of discarded dianthus plants. The landscaper for the nearby office complex dumped a pile of plants in the empty field. By the time I spotted the pile, the marigolds had died. But there was an entire colony of pink and red dianthus thriving! So we hauled about 15 plants home and tucked them into the damp earth of the back garden. Dianthus are pretty hardy, and I have several plants that have survived for years. They suffer during the heat but if they are in a somewhat shaded location they will stumble through and then are in glory for the fall and winter months. Butterflies depend on their cheerful flowers for nectar, and I depend on them for a little color!

One of my crepe myrtles has gorgeous yellow leaves - a nice surprise. Houston isn't known for fall colors, and there is nothing else in the yard with color.

Tomorrow will be another humid day. Then we expect a cold front on Wednesday. I'm hoping for a freeze, to knock down the mosquito population! On the other hand, the giant granadilla will probably freeze back.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

snow on the roof

snow on the roof, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

It's snowing in Houston! This is a fairly rare occurrence south of I-10. We don't expect it to last even until morning. But for now, it's nice to see the flakes falling.

When I checked just a few minutes ago, the snow was already melted from the garbage can lid. But maybe we will wake up to a blanket of white. And I will have an excuse to wait a little while to go into work!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving part 1

Yesterday we flew from Houston to BWI to begin the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. Our Continental flight left at 7:25 AM and so we were up at 4AM to get ourselves out the door by 4:30AM. I was concerned about parking but when we got to my preferred floor 7 of the Terminal E parking garage, it was almost empty! Getting through security was quick, we had 2 people in front of us. We spent an hour in the President's Club getting coffee and reading the paper. There was a nice surprise waiting for us at the gate, because when I went up to counter and asked about a possible companion upgrade I found they had already upgraded us. So we had first class seats and very nice service. And yet another breakfast! We arrived in Baltimore on time and got the rental car quickly (another free upgrade too). I don't know if leaving early was the key, but we had absolutely no trouble with our inbound travel. A big relief.

DH seems to have stood the trip well, no distress on the flight. I am so grateful for that. And today he is cheerful and ate a good breakfast of waffles and jam and coffee. Hopefully the healing process is well on its way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November in Houston - garden update

November in Houston is usually wonderful - the temps can range from warm to mild to cool, and we usually get some rain. Today is a warmish, humid day with sun peeking through the clouds and the promise of thunderstorms this afternoon.

I spent an hour pulling weeds in the garden (this time of year is the only time it's possible to get ahead of them) and noticed that my giant passionflower vine has quite a few buds! A nice surprise. Giant Granadilla source and photos

The fig tree is bravely producing fruit but the chances of it ripening are slim. We have had one ripe fruit from the fall flush.

The pineapple guava trees had LOTS of fruit this year, but they have all fallen off. Perhaps it was too cold, or too dry? Or maybe they needed some fertilizer. I've been lax in that department this year.

Most of the plants and trees have recovered from the hurricane damage they suffered during Ike. The crepe myrtles look less lush because all their leaves blew off and the time for growing leaves had pretty much passed. I still need to work on the climbing rose - it was severely blown around by the winds. That is a prickly job though, and I haven't taken the time to do it.

Inside the house I completed a second batch of limoncino. We should definitely have enough for years to come, now! Sometime in late December I will bottle the first batch and let it mellow. Now I am on the hunt for a good coffee liqueur recipe to use up the leftover vodka and grain alcohol. :)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's been a week and two days...

... and DH been home almost all of that time. The procedures (gallstone removal and gall bladder removal) went very well. We did spend a few hours in the emergency room yesterday evening, for severe stomach cramps - again! But it was probably too much rich food that caused it. All the blood work and scans came back normal. So we are going to stick with low fat, low cholesterol foods for a few weeks until his body gets used to having no gall bladder.

We have had wonderful care at the West Houston Memorial hospital - the staff has been kind and competent and for the most part, cheerful. Houston is famous for its healthcare options and I'm glad we live so close!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

a BIG gallstone

I'm glad to report that the surgery was successful. DH came through it just fine! The surgeon said the gallbladder was quite enlarged, and there was just one stone - the size of a robin's egg! He has 4 small incisions about an inch long.

You should have seen how he attacked the chicken broth and fruit! :) That was great.

We got a bit of a surprise though, because his cardiologist has done a chemical stress test (at 9 today) and we don't have the results yet. We are speculating that the doctor is taking advantage of this time to get further information on the progress of the congestive heart failure that DH has to cope with. I guess that means he still won't be allowed to come home today though.

Anyway - the best news is that he got through all the procedures beautifully. I am so thankful.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One down, one to go

Today my husband had the gallstones removed from the bile duct. The doctor said that what he found was really like grainy sludge. He cleaned it all out, irrigated with saline, and made sure that the opening was clear. The procedure went well - took about 45 minutes. I was treated to lots of details about the machine, which apparently looks like the arched neck and head of a dinosaur. And the doctor has to wear a suit to protect against the radiation. Our patient was sedated for the procedure itself but I guess had lots of time to look at the equipment.

When I got there around 4:30, he had only been really awake for about an hour. And he was so hungry and thirsty, and still designated as no food or water! It had been more than 24 hours since he was allowed anything... So I got the nurse to call the doctor, who approved that he could have anything he wanted. What DH wanted was chicken broth and rice. After eating the whole bowl, and getting pain medication (the procedure left his abdomen quite sore) he was happy to settle into a doze.

The surgeon came to visit and discuss the gallbladder removal surgery tomorrow. He seems like a very nice guy - so far everyone has been - and explained that it will be laproscopic, with an incision near the belly button for the camera, and another small one to get the gall bladder out. The main concern is that since this is done under general anesthesia, there is risk because of the heart condition. Our doctor is confident that he will do well, and I am too.

The surgery is scheduled for noon tomorrow. The surgeon said that lots of people go home the same day, but he is going to keep the patient overnight to watch the heart and make sure the recovery is smooth. So, right now we expect that he will be home sometime on Saturday. We are both looking forward to that!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thursday and Friday

As some of you know, my husband went to the hospital last night while I was in Tampa, complaining of very severe stomach pain. They kept him overnight, and have done several blood tests and a CAT scan.

The diagnosis is gallstones. He has to have the gall bladder removed, as well as the gallstones themselves, which are lodged in the bile duct. The removal of the gallstones is done endoscopically, and is scheduled for mid-morning tomorrow. If all goes well, then the following day (Friday) they will remove the gall bladder. He should be home on Saturday.

He is feeling wretched right now, lots of nausea and fever/chills. They've started him on antibiotics and gave him a good shot of Demerol (pain) and phenargan (nausea). He's also on oxygen. When I left him the Demerol had taken effect and he was sleeping.

He looks so vulnerable...

a little better

Husband called to say that they kept him overnight for tests and have moved him upstairs, out of the emergency area. He's complaining about the noise... He doesn't know what kind of tests but hopefully by the time I get home we will have a few more answers. And probably, more questions too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

worried in Tampa

I flew to Tampa this afternoon... have a deposition tomorrow. But almost as soon as I got here my husband called to say that he had severe stomach cramps. And now he is in the emergency room and his doctor is on the way... I don't know what to do and I am just waiting to hear from him again.

He has been troubled with cramps a few times lately and I've been after him to call his doctor. But it didn't happen until now.

I wish I was there.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Early voting in Houston

It took us longer to drive to the early voting site (15 minutes) tonight than it did to vote. We were in and out in 10 minutes.

Differences from the last time we voted, which was for the Democratic primary:
  • twice as many voting booths
  • twice as much staff
  • four times as many signs
  • a few supporters handing out fliers (none at the primary)
  • more smiles

I'm glad to get it done, and hopeful that my candidate (Obama) will win.

Interesting side note - we have been putting out our Vote Democratic sign every morning, and taking it in in the evening, hoping to prevent another tragic sign-stealing episode. This time, when I came home there was an unsolicited Obama/Biden sign in our yard. Makes me wonder. Did the local Democratic boosters just distribute signs, or did our thief feel a little remorse and replace the signs they stole?

Sunday, October 26, 2008


flutterby, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

As a friend on Flickr says... this is life in motion. We move so fast through our busy lives, and sometimes miss the wonders right under our noses. This is certainly not a new comment - but it bears repeating.

A news article I read recently said that a byproduct of the worriesome economy is that people spend more time with their families. So there is a silver lining to the gloomy clouds.

Take a moment to see the fleeting beauty of nature. All we have is NOW.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Limoncino - the first day

Tonight I began my next batch of limoncino. The first batch, made 2 or 3 years ago, has finally been consumed. The recipe that I use is from my husband's mother's cousin Roberto, an engaging, enthusiastic octogenarian who is the self-appointed welcoming committee for his village. Visiting his home is a culinary adventure - we always leave with recipes and full stomachs.

Among many wonderful things, he creates limoncino, and another version with orange peels instead of lemon peels. Also an interesting rose-petal liqueur. The ingredients (except for the alcohol) come from his lovely garden.
Here is Roberto's Limoncino di Casa Magnani (with modifications by me)
Day 1, Phase 1:
1 liter Everclear (grain alcohol 190 proof)
1 liter vodka (good but not necessarily premium)
15 lemons - quantity negotiable and dependant on how thick the skin is. The thicker the skin, the fewer lemons required. If possible use organic lemons with very thick skins.
Pour the alcohol into a clean, dry gallon jar. Carefully peel the lemons so that all you have is the yellow part of the skin. Stop frequently to smell the wonderful perfume of lemon oil on your hands. (My husband takes the now naked lemons and macerates them with sugar, to make a puckery and delightful dessert.) Put the lemon peels in the alcohol, swirl a little and admire how pretty they are in the light, and then put into a dark, cool cupboard for 8 days.
Day 8, 22, and 36:
Gently stir the lemon peels and put back in the cupboard.
Day 43:
Stir the lemon peels, and test flexibility. If the peel breaks like a potato chip, move on to the next step. If not and the peel just bends, put the jar back in the cupboard for another week.
The beauty of this recipe is that there is very little work to do for the first 6 weeks or so. Buy, pour, peel, and swirl.
Once your peels are brittle, you proceed to the next stage.
Day 1, Phase 2:
Dissolve 4 cups of white sugar in 3 cups of tap or distilled water (not mineral water). If you want a thicker syrup, use a little more sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Use a clean slotted spoon to remove the lemon peels from the infusion and discard. Using a large funnel and paper coffee filters, slowly (this may take quite a while) strain the infusion through the filters into a large pitcher. You will use lots of filters and probably make a mess. Rinse and dry the same gallon jar that you used in Phase 1. Repeat the straining process, this time back into the gallon jar. Add the cooled syrup. Return to a cool dry cupboard for 40 days to mellow.
Day 40, Phase 2:
Begin filtering the limoncino again, this time into a measuring cup. Then filter one more time into the bottles you will store the liquor in. You have now filtered the liqueur a total of four times, and it should be a lovely lemon yellow color, with a slightly thick feel to it. Seal the bottles very tightly. If you use cork be sure to dip the neck into melted wax. You don't want the alcohol to evaporate out through the cork!!!
The limoncino is now ready to use. But it gets smoother and more mellow the longer you let it sit. The batch that is now 2 or 3 years old is really excellent.
We keep ours in the freezer. It won't freeze, and the icy cold liqueur is wonderful on a hot summer day, or after a heavy meal. Also lovely on vanilla ice cream (Blue Bell, or Blue Bunny if you are in the US).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

they stole my sign!

I am sorry to report that some $#(@R$#$ person stole my Obama/Biden sign this evening. We planted it there a week ago and it survived until sometime between 5pm and 7pm tonight. So disappointing. Our neighbor on the corner takes his signs in every night - which we should have done too I guess. But I had hoped that the political climate, in Houston and my neighborhood, had gotten less petty.

Apparently not.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Update on work

Good news - we won the case. My attorney did a FABULOUS job and it was a great learning experience for me. We celebrated with a nice bottle of red (Kunde Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley 2000) and he gave me another bottle to bring back to the hotel room. I had a relaxing room service meal of tomato bisque, broccolini with hollandaise sauce, and lobster mac 'n cheese. Good stuff.

Now I am headed out into the desert to see how the Prius drives on the freeway and look for pretty sights. Looking forward to a fun day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Traffic in Las Vegas

Having driven back and forth across town for two days now, I'm pleased to report that traffic in Las Vegas has been vastly improved. The freeway construction is more complete than it was, and there is a great cross-town alternative, Desert Inn road (known locally as DI) which makes a nice swoop over the freeway and under the strip to deliver me to the hotel. Wow, so easy.

Other traffic moments in Las Vegas include the time that it took me 1 1/2 hours to drive the Strip from from the North end to the South end... the person who stopped in the left lane of Sahara and then slowly, deliberately crossed all lanes, to make a right turn on (I think) Jones... watching someone who had forgotten their drink on the top of their car turn left and the drink spilling all over the car...

Overall it is an entertaining place to drive. The layout of the city is mostly a square grid, and it's hard to get lost when you have the Strip buildings as markers. I like visiting this city even when I can't take advantage of its famous sights.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

5 nights in Las Vegas

It sounds like fun, right? But I'm here working (honest), attending a trial. Today we picked the jury - a very interesting process. It was by turns boring, confrontational, funny, embarrassing, sad, and impressive. Trial starts tomorrow and of course I can't comment on the actual case but I'll try to share a little bit of the rest of the experience. Hopefully there will be a small side-trip to somewhere naturally beautiful - haven't decided where yet. Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

up on the roof

up on the roof, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

I've spent a lot of time looking at roof damage lately... fortunately not my personal roof, but the compay that I work for has had lots of roof "issues". Here, the men are having a meeting 40 feet in the air... discussing the holes in various roofs. I didn't climb the ladder, begging off because of bad knees. Yes, it probably was a wimpy thing to do, but the older I get the less I find I have to prove to anyone.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

doing the happy power dance...

When I finally got home last night, my neighbor's air conditioner was humming, and I had high hopes that my power would be on too. AND IT WAS! AND IS! It went off Friday 9/12 at about 11pm, and came back on Monday 9/22 at about 6pm. The house has different sounds now - the fridge making ice, the fan creaks, the little noises that I didn't notice before. The thing I really appreciate the most is being able to move the air. We have had very little breeze and the house was really getting stuffy.

I removed the few things we had left in the freezer side of the fridge, and threw away lots of "non-perishables" that had perished in the cold side. Ran the dishwasher too, which had been accumulating things for a while. Tonight I get to do laundry! :)

The trek home last night was memorable for its length. About 1 hour 45 minutes to go the 11 miles. The Westpark Tollway and the Sam Houston Tollway are still free, because the street lights are still not on in many areas. So I talked to my parents for a while on the cellphone and then listened to my lecture series History of the English Language, 2nd Edition
by Seth Lerer
. A really great way to beat the frustration of traffic!

The city is still recovering from Ike, and will be for a while. Many schools are not open, and of course the further south you go towards Galveston, the worse the damage gets. I feel very lucky to be able to have my fan and dishwasher and fridge.

Friday, September 19, 2008

that important utility - ELECTRICITY

Well theoretically I should have power on Monday... When will you get power?

The following zip codes are estimated to have substantial power restoration by the end of day on Monday, September 22: 77024, 77031, 77032, 77039, 77040, 77041, 77042, 77050, 77055, 77072, 77077, 77079, 77080, 77082, 77083, 77084, 77092, 77099, 77336, 77338, 77339, 77346, 77357, 77365, 77373, 77386, 77396, 77459, 77477, 77478, 77479, 77511, 77515, 77534, 77577, 77583

I'm hopeful.

I grew up having limited access to 24 hour electricity, so I already appreciated it. But it's been more than 35 years since I had to live without power and it sure is easy to get used to comfort! Especially in a hot, humid environment - and in a house that isn't set up to work without it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Houston, day 5 after Hurricane Ike

Well, the drive up to Houston from SPI was uneventful. I stopped in Refugio for gas and groceries (paid $3.69/gal) and then again in Wharton (again, $3.69/gal). Started out kind of sleepy, but by 9AM the phone was ringing constantly so that got me awake!

I drove straight to the house and sure enough the power is still off. Argh. But, the water heater and the stove top are natural gas so I will be able to cook and also take a hot shower! The yard looks nice because the yardman came.

There are huge piles of debris on the edge of each street. The mayor has said that heavy debris will picked up "sometime soon" by contractors other than our regular garbage folks.

I spent the balance of the day at one of our apartment complexes, meeting with adjusters and attempting to balance insurance requirements with corporate urgency. Everyone is stressed and the calls are sometimes strained. But we will get through this. It's only day 5!

As I look out over the city there are quite a few lights on - and huge swathes of darkness. It took me an hour to go the 11 miles from my house to our office in Greenway Plaza. Traffic lights were working on one block, flashing red on another, and just plain OUT on others. And it changes from block to block. Hardly anyone remembers how to handle a 4-way stop, especially on roads like Westheimer with three lanes and left turn lanes as well.

I've got a option to stay at my boss's home near the office, but will try one night at my own home just to see what it is like. Fortunately the weather is quite cool especially by Houston standards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

tomorrow, the adventure continues

Tomorrow, (Thursday 9/18) I'm heading back into Houston to work. There are some things that just have to be done in person - like picking up invoices and moving them on to their proper destinations.

Our neighbor says that there still is no power at her house or probably at our house either. But the Randalls at Westheimer & Wilcrest and the HEB at Westheimer & Kirby are open and selling. And there is gas here and there but she recommended getting it before I come into the city. Someone from my office in the Greenway Plaza are said they had no trouble getting gas at the Citgo at Richmond & Kirby. I've heard the word "spotty" applied to electricity and fuel availability by so many people.

I plan to leave around 6am and hopefully pull into the office around noon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

looking east on our street

looking east on our street, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This is what our street looked like on Saturday 9/13. There was some flooding but the tree damage isn't too severe. You will note that there is a light on in the house to our left. That house has power. The house just to my left (invisible behind it's dangling pine branch) has power in PART of the house. Apparently one leg of the power is on and one is off. At least, that is what an electrician told my neighbor. Odd. This may also be true in our house since my husband told me that he noticed the internet cable modem lights were on when we were closing up the house to leave.

We decided that since there was no power and no water pressure, staying in Houston would be silly when we have a perfectly good house in South Padre to go to. So around 2pm we packed up and left. I've got a few pictures of the drive down but it was not dramatic at all. We found gas outside of Victoria and paid $3.59 - not a bad price. The trip took 5.5 hours which is faster than normal. There was hardly any traffic.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

At least South Padre has power and water!

We had a busy day today! Of course overnight Hurricane Ike roared through our neighborhood. The wind was impressive, and I am so glad that we got those big limbs trimmed off our tree! Although there was steady rain, we never really got a deluge.

Early in the morning (around 7 or so) the water was backing up in the street. I went out with camera, cell phone, and raincoat, and walked around. Cleared out the leaves and branches from one of street drains that was clogged. The little bayou was running fast, but the good news was that it was running downstream as it should. Which told me that our big bayou wasn't yet impacted by the big storm surge that pushed up into Galveston Bay, the San Jacinto River, and anywhere else that it could. By around 10 our street was clear of flood waters and they never got more than a couple inches up into our yard. I've definitely seen much worse from a violent thunderstorm.

Tree branches were down all over the place, but no trees fell. Our street was easy to drive on. I picked up lots of limbs and piled them in the front yard. Hopefully the heavy trash folks will come by soon and pick them up.

By noon, after listening to the radio and the neighbors, it became obvious that power was going to be out for a LONG time, perhaps weeks. And the water pressure was down to a mere trickle. So we decided to pack up and head down to South Padre Island. We are so fortunate to have another place to get, all set up and ready. A little ironic that it was only a few weeks ago that Hurricane Dolly was making her mark there.

We left around 2 and arrived by 7:45pm which was GREAT time. The road was completely clear and dry. Closer to Houston the gas stations were all closed but once we got to Victoria there were many open and serving. We bought gas at the Victoria McDonald's truckstop for $3.59 which isn't a bad price! (They usually offer a fair gas price.) Almost the entire way down US59 and then US77 we saw houses and businesses boarded up. A reminder of how the forecasted track of Ike moved from south of Corpus Christi all the way up to Galveston.

We arrived on the island just in time for the sunset and hurried down to the beach. There obviously was a huge surge, much larger than the one that Gustav sent a couple weeks ago. No trash cans on the beach so the city must have taken them away. The water was oh, so warm. The pink sunset and rising moon made for a good ending to a long day.

Except of course my day was not done. All of my company's locations in Houston had damage from the storm, so I have spent the evening writing up incident reports, talking to adjusters, and getting things lined up for Monday morning inspections. Tomorrow I'll be working again most likely. Maybe, depending on the response, I may have to drive to Corpus to see any damage reported at our three locations there.

We are relieved to have power and water, and a safe place to sleep tonight.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Update at 11:12pm

The TV went out a few minutes ago... no great loss since we still have the internet (odd, that) and our handy little solar/crank/rechargeable radio/cellphone charger/flashlight. All it needs is a couple blades and it could be a really handy tool a la Swiss Army knife.

My husband has gone outside to watch the wind. It is the most visible wind I've ever seen. It keeps tricking me too, since it sounds like a vehicle coming up the road. I guess that is the leaves rustling. Still not too much rain. I see from the radar that it is coming. The eye is very close to Galveston too.

Thinking of all of you and hoping you are well. The drama of the storm is keeping us entertained and we are fine.

cloud bands

clouds bands, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

The clouds bands of Ike, spinning overhead and lit by the setting sun.

The sunset was awesome - filling me with awe. We went for a quick drive down Westheimer, to see the town. My husband was hoping the movie theatre was open, but (as I hoped) it was not. So we made do with the powerful colors of the sunset and the dramatically moaning wind.

The town is pretty quiet, with some traffic but almost nothing open. A very few gas stations were open as we went out but were closed by the time we came back, less than 20 minutes later. In a 5 mile drive we saw at least 5 police cruisers - far more than usual. I guess it's a good idea, since all those stores would be a temptation to some people.

The wind is getting stronger but we have had almost no rain yet.

tree trimming angel

tree trimming angel, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

A miracle has occurred. We heard a chainsaw this morning and my husband went and talked to them... they were taking down a neighbor's tree. The three man crew agreed to come and take the limbs off our sick sycamore tree. And for a reasonable price, too! So the most dangerous, heavy limbs are down now and they will come back at the end of October to take out the rest of the tree. It was hit by lightning 3 years ago and has never truly recovered.

The weather right now is beginning to deteriorate. Winds are up a little, and the rain is just beginning to drift in. I am SO grateful to these men, who were in just the right place to help us. THANK YOU!

gathering nuts

gathering nuts, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This little squirrel is gathering nuts in the early morning sunshine before Hurricane Ike gets to Houston. I wonder where he will spend the storm hours?

We are expecting the storm to be in full force by about midnight tonight, and it should be already moved on by noon or so. Amazing how fast it is projected to get out of here.

As you can see, right now it is very calm. As a matter of fact, I'm getting ready to go outside and trim the Rangoon Vine, which has really gone crazy and is reaching out all over the place.

Hurricane IKE situation page

Hurricane Ike situation page

Sometimes this site has good stuff.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We are nowhere near the coast

Our house is almost 80 miles from the coast so please don't worry about the "certain death" applying to us. We will certainly will have some heavy rain and wind but we are not in an evacuation zone. The most we should have to worry about is the trees falling on the house... and believe me, the most vulnerable tree is being taken down this fall.

The forecasted track looks to have shifted at bit more to the east... which is better for us but not so good for Galveston or further east on the coast.

thursday night moon

thursday night moon, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

A bit comforting to know that we are not the only ones staying here. As a matter of fact, I talked to our next door neighbor just a couple minutes ago, and he said that he didn't think anyone in our street was leaving. I don't feel quite so foolhardy... on the other hand maybe we are all crazy.

Good hurricane site...

I like this new site: Storm Pulse. It has better graphics and interesting overlays. Check it out!

Here at work I am getting my office ready for the storm - pictures off the wall, clearing the desk top, and so on. If a window should break, there are things that I don't want to get wet or go flying around the room.

My husband has decided to stay with me instead of going down to the island - for which I am grateful. It is better to be together in things like this.

I'll post more as time goes on!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

follow the golden path

follow the golden path, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

At a time full of anxiety and fear, remember that the sun also rises tomorrow... these things will pass...

Houston is preparing for Hurricane Ike, which is expected (at this writing) to round the western edges of the city and head on up to Northeast Texas. We personally have prepared food and water for the recommended three days both here and in Padre. Our gas tanks are full too.

Tomorrow my husband will get on the bus for Brownsville, and then on to South Padre. I will be here, to watch this house and also handle my responsibilities at work.

Don't worry about us. We will be fine! :)

Sunday, August 31, 2008


kittens, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

These little innocents remind us to live in the Now - no brooding about the past or obsessing about the future. We only have Now.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yet more hurricane news...

Seems I write about weather a lot! At this writing, Hurricane Gustav is leaving Cuba and heading for NOLA. Along the way it will sweep rain bands across Florida (and maybe Georgia will get some more rain, to break the drought). And who knows about Houston? We will see.

Right now, my husband and I are hanging out on South Padre Island, which is nearly back to normal after Hurricane Dolly. Still lots of roofs with tarps though, and many of the retail establishments have bent-over signs. But almost everything is open - most importantly, Dirty Al's! We went there for lunch yesterday, and the shrimp is still awesome.

I'm scheduled to head back to Houston on Tuesday but that will probably depend on what Gustav does.

Monday, August 25, 2008

up in the air again

rainbow storm, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

I'm traveling, seems like I haven't spent much time at home lately. Visited my parents for several days - lots of fun but not much sleep. Now in Tampa for work, and back to Houston on Tuesday. But only two days and I'll be back onthe road again, this time to South Padre for the Labor Day holiday. Hopefully the weather will be cooperative!

Sorry to be such a poor correspondent...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

a moment of contentment between man and bird

Had a lovely visit from my brother and his family - including their Senegal Parrot, Sam. He's got an agressive looking beak (the bird, not my brother!) but actually is pretty peaceful unless you sneak up on him. They have had him since 2001 so in Senegal Parrot Years he is about middle age. Oddly so is my brother! :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Revisiting Hurricane Dolly

hurricane dolly 2, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

My husband just sent me this photograph, one of five that he took during the time that Hurricane Dolly was pummeling South Padre Island. Just stunning.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Edouard turns out to be more rain than wind...

at least for us. So far we have gotten 1.60 inches of rain. The garden is laughing and the birds are so happy. We even saw a hummingbird during one of the breaks between rain bands. We walked down to the little bayou and it doesn't even look like it came out of it's bank. So glad this turned out to be a non-event on the west side of Houston. Looks like other areas more eastern probably got a whole lot more rain and wind.

Quiet in Houston

All is quiet in Houston - drizzle and a few breezy moments so far. I see the clouds moving overhead as TS Edouard heads our way. The storm should pass over our part of the city sometime around 2PM.

The drive up from South Padre Island was easy - no weather issues and the traffic was light. Refueled in Victoria at the McDonald's/gas station as usual (that is our favorite place to stop and refuel body and vehicle).

Working from home today!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Update on the Island

We have been here in South Padre since Thursday morning. The beach, as you can see, is significantly eroded but the dunes are still in place. I'm impressed by how hard-packed the sand is - I guess the constant pounding of waves and rain will do that to sand. There are a surprising number of visitors here, too!

The house has fared pretty well. We have found a couple areas where water has come in, looks like it blew in through the brick on the western side of the house, and also down the common wall we share with our neighbor. Neither is very serious. I've wiped down the walls with a 10% bleach solution to kill the mold, and we will let the walls dry and see if the mold comes back. The house has been vacuumed twice, the windows cleaned, and (the nastiest job) the food thrown out from the fridge. The fence is propped up but will have to be replaced on two sides I think. The backyard neighbor has really bad damage (his house is quite old I think). The trees and shrubs all over the island are stripped of leaves. Our bougainvillea is just starting to put out brave new leaves on its bare branches.

The neighbor's cats have been invisible. But this morning I saw Nerino walking across the street, and Little Mama and her very vocal kitten arrived on the back patio as well. We put down food and milk, and they scarfed it down in no time flat. Still no sign of my husband's favorite, Faithful.

The power has been on since at least Wednesday, and the water is safe (since Saturday, according to Laguna Madre Water).

We went swimming yesterday. The water is fine - sandy green as the Island Breeze calls it - but the waves are big and the current moderately strong. Makes it fun to sit on the beach and just go in every half hour or so, instead of staying out there. Maybe today it will be calmer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

He's back!

Back home again! Neighbors gave him a lift to Port Isabel to wait for the Rio Transit bus. When it didn't come, he spent $50 for a taxi to Brownsville (the normal price) and caught the last bus of the day from Brownsville to Houston. Supposed to leave at 12.40pm but was an hour late - arrived here at 8.30pm! Had to wait quite a while in Sarita, where one of the passengers was pulled off the bus and checked out by the immigration police. Got to see IronMan and Transformers and some other movie with Dennis Quaid (all in Spanish) - all at significant volume. He says this ride must have been penance for all his recent sins...

Anyway, he's back home. We will have to go back down to check the house again once the power comes on.


He is on his way home... taking the bus from Brownsville. I'm so relieved. Bus should get in around 7:30 tonight.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More than seven days to restore power

The latest estimate to get all the power back up on South Padre Island is "7+" days. I don't know if my husband knows that, since I haven't talked to him since 4pm. I doubt I'll hear from him tonight... which is discouraging. If he were hurt or sick the calls would come but right now nothing. So I am left spinning in what-ifs and worries. I must to do 2 things next week - a deposition in Corpus Christi on Monday, and a file review in Chicago on Thursday. My thoughts are to drive down on Saturday, pick him up and do the depo in Corpus on Monday, and then drive him back to Houston. There are other things that should be done (a file review, and visiting my parents) but both of those things can be rescheduled. What-ifs and worries... I'm sure more will be clear tomorrow.

Update on local damages...

And by local I mean our street. My husband reports that our house has very minimal roof damage, a few shingles lost. One side of the privacy fence blew down. A bit of water under the front door. Amazing really.

He says the water was back on this morning when he woke up. Our neighbor to the east - the roof has a hole in it (not sure what size or which side). Our neighbor to the west - roof damaged as well, and the fence is down between our yard and his. The neighbor further up the street to the east - more roof damage as well. There was no street flooding on our street or on Gulf Boulevard close to us. Padre Boulevard was definitely flooded.

He is going to stay and work with the neighbors on their cleanup. He says he is fine and he does actually sound OK. Hopefully the power will be restored fairly soon so that he’ll have something to eat besides cold tortillas and cheese. The news reports say it will be “several days” before power is back on.

Cell phone calls aren't getting out - perhaps the traffic is too heavy this morning. He had to call me from the neighbor's land line.

I am hopeful he will take pictures but of course without power it's going to be hard to get them to me!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Causeway reopened this evening

According to the Weather Channel, the Queen Isabella Causeway has been reopened late this evening. This is great news, because the power-restoration crews were not staying on the island and until now have not been able to start the process of getting the electricity back on. The city manager was also interviewed and he said that the debris was more extensive than expected and they were working to get the roadways cleared before vehicles were allowed back on. Hopefully once the power is back on the water flow will also be restored to homes. I know there are millions of people in the world that don't have electricity and safe water available to them - I've even lived that way myself. But it's more difficult when almost everything you do has electricity integrated somehow. Makes you really think...

Hurricane Dolly exits, stage left

And good riddance, too. She left quite a bit of damage in her wake - we won't know the full story until the rain stops and the wind dies down some. At the peak of the storm my husband said the house was shaking and once in a while he would hear a cracking sound. Hard to know what that really is without further inspection.

The power went out around 11:30 this morning, and the water stopped around 3 this afternoon. Hopefully the city crews will be out in force to get the utilities running again. There are quite a few people on the island so that should help. And the causeway should be reopened soon (it has to be closed when the wind exceeds 39mph) now that the wind has calmed down to about 35.

Around 11 AM my husband "went for a walk" on the beach, from Bougainvillea Circle to The Palms (for those of you who know where that is...). He retrieved a football and a nice plastic bucket. He came back on Gulf Boulevard, which is where a photographer got a shot of him. Here is the link to the slide show - his photo is somewhere around 23rd or 24th. http://www.chron.com/news/photogallery/Texas_Gulf_Coast_keeps_an_eye_on_Dolly.html

Update from South Padre Island

Hurricane Dolly is passing over the island now. Overnight the wind and rain were "very noisy" according to my husband. I spoke with him early this morning and again about 20 minutes ago. So far the power has gone out once for just a minute or two. Cell phone still working. He says "it's a good thing we didn't pay anyone to prune the palm trees because they are all pruned now".

Looking at the radar it seems the eye will pass right over our house. In a way I wish I was there to see it. Can't get him to take pictures during the storm - he won't open any windows or doors and says that the windows are too fogged/rained on to get anything meaningful through them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

hurricane dolly sunset

hurricane dolly sunset, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This photo was taken by my husband, who is riding out the storm on South Padre Island. I was talking to him as he was taking these pictures, and all he could do was say "wow!" over and over again. Here in Houston the sunset was pinky orange too, but not quite as nice.

As you can see, the surf is quite wild-looking. He is planning on going down to the beach in the morning (after the storm passes of course) and taking a few more pictures. I hope his night isn't too rough.

Dolly heads for Brownsville

Looks like Brownsville is the target for Dolly. My husband is at our South Padre Island home, and I'm in Houston. Certainly he will have LOTS of rain and wind but since the storm should come ashore as a category 1 hurricane we are not panicking. Maybe he will send photos - if so I'll post.

Here in Houston we have already a little rain - desperately needed here and even more further west and south. Forecast winds of 20-30 miles mph here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Getting ready for Dolly

We are watching Dolly, wondering if it will hit South Padre Island and hoping it will instead trend north to the relatively uninhabited land between Brownsville and Kingsville. We will see...

Sunday, July 20, 2008


hot, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

No surprise, it's hot in Houston! I think that is part of why I haven't posted much lately. Too hot to do anything really. As they say - it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Believe it or not, Houston isn't the most humid city.

According to World Facts & Figures, the city with the highest average humidity is St. Paul Island, Alaska! I was surprised at the number of colder places, but then I've never really lived in a cold climate. Those of you with more experience may understand that better. (By the way, the least humid was Milford, Utah, with a morning reading of zero humidity, and an afternoon reading of 34%.)

Houston actually is pretty far down the list at 27th. Cities ahead of it include New Orleans, Galveston, and Brownsville. I've also eliminated the following locations from any future intinerary: The Caroline Islands (except for Yap, which I'd like to see for it's famous stone money), Guam, Marshall Islands, American Samoa - and a whole lot of Alaska.

Or maybe not. I've visited lots of "uncomfortable" places, and I had a great time at all of them. The weather was a factor and something that I remember - but it was part of the place, part of the experience.

Which brings me back to summer in Houston . The real source of my ennui is familiarity. For the last 17 years, every summer has been hot and humid and full of mosquitos. The air is thick and I am reluctant to breathe it in. The air smells wet, the grass grows green. Moss creeps up the bricks, my camera lens fogs when I leave the house. My orchids hang in the live oak tree and bloom like they are in Thailand.

It may be hot, and humid - but it is home.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


sandcastle, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

My nephew and I built this sandscastle while we were vacationing on the Island (South Padre that is). I am a particular fan of drip castles and this is easily the biggest one I've ever done. We had a fine time!

Sandcastle building is a meditative endeavor - the sand running through your fingers, the waves rushing up and down the beach, kids laughing, the sun creating sparkles of light on the wettest parts of the castle. Sometimes a big wave comes in and part of the building collapses. When you leave, the building stays but for a few hours at the most. But I can always visit the drip-towers in my memory, looking out to sea.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wyland wall worshipping...

worshipping the wyland, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

I know I've been silent for a long time - and this picture tells you a little about where I've been. My sister and her family came to visit us down on South Padre Island - we had a wonderful time. The Island is a great place to just hang out. Not a lot of big sights to see (althoughSchlitterbahn Water Park got high marks) but plenty of space for a family to run and play and eat.

The artist Wyland painted this wall in May 1994. It is part of the South Padre Island Convention Center. The side where we were playing around (the south side) also has an area of native trees and flowers to attract birds and butterflies. The boys had a great time making shadows in the spotlights!

The weather cooperated most of the time so we were able to spend time building sandcastles and lazing around on the beach. Afternoon naps, feeding the local cats, investigating local stores (Art Sea has some nice art and cool stuff!), eateries... all good fun. Some places I haven't been before, like Fishbones - really good fried shrimp in an entertaining venue. Or the local pizzeria, D'Pizza Joint , which features a brick, wood-fired oven and lots of local color. (Good pepperoni, by the way!)

My sister and I had not vacationed together since we were children, so this was a special week. I am so glad it was possible!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I'm back from a quick trip to California for work. This trip reminded me again of how much fun it is to fly. Don't get me wrong - the process of actually getting on the plane is awful and getting worse. But it can be made bearable by checking in online, packing light and smart, and carrying on.

The thrill of taking off has never diminished for me. I love it! The power of the jets, being pressed back into the seat, leaping up into the air. Clouds are beautiful, and look so different at eye-level. What impresses me every time is how dynamic they are - growing, flowing, bubbling like boiling water. What would it feel like to be inside these clouds? I've flown through lots of them, but always in an airplane! :)

Another thing that always amazes me when I fly is how BIG this country is, and how beautiful it is. There is nothing like a bird's eye view to remind us of the glory of the earth.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My dad and I

Wayne and Amy 1956, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

We both look so young! Dad was still in medical school, and I was maybe 6 months old? Not sure. My mom took the picture. She told me that at one time, they had $0.13 in the bank. But they never skimped on photos - there are quite a few that have survived the years so I suppose there were even more.

My dad... well... what can anyone really say about their dad?

Mine is

  • Special, of course!
  • Dedicated, hard-working, smart, tells a great story, kind, funny, quietly courageous, and humble.
  • Known world-wide for his scientific endeavors (although you wouldn't hear it from him).
  • Speaks French fluently, and I'm sure his Kikongo, Swahili, Lingala, and German would brush right up with some use.
  • Even in his retirement he still works to better the lives of those suffering from tropical diseases.
  • Together with my mom, he has raised 4 kids who all managed to succeed in their various ways.

I feel so lucky to be their daughter. Thanks Dad and Mom!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Being towed in Alessandria

Alessandria is a lovely city, with a very long history (founded on a "pre-existing urban nucleus" in 1168 according to Wikipedia). I have found it to be friendly and low-key, a quiet place without many tourists. The photo was taken from my sister-in-law's balcony, and it shows a bit of the natural beauty to be found there as well.
In 2003 I was visiting Alessandria (and Italy) for the very first time. We parked in the piazza across from my mother-in-law's apartment, just as we had done a few times before that week. But little did we know, it was Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning was Market Day. Of course we parked about 3 spaces inside the forbidden zone but we weren't paying attention. In the morning, there is NO CAR. NO CAR at all. Just masses of people and trailers and booths. My husband was speechless. We trundled off to where the police station USED to be when he was a child - then were directed back across town to the other police station. Since I was the official renter and driver, I had to be the one to deal with the car. And he said I had a better chance with them as an American tourist than he did as a pissed off former citizen. As we walked he tried to teach me some of what I needed to say, but it was useless. My traumatized brain remembered niente.

I walked into the police station alone (he said he would be arrested if he tried, he was so angry) and found the right place to ask. All I could do was hold up my rental car keys and say "machina, GONE!" with mournful emphasis. The guy behind the desk realized he needed help. Two women from somewhere else in the station began to try and explain things. Then another customer came and helped. Finally, an off-duty policeman who spoke some limited English chimed in. We managed between us to establish that the car was indeed towed. Also that there was a fine - 100 euros I think. After some discussion among my team of helpers, they apparently agreed to waive the fine. They called and asked the towing place to waive the fee but that could not be arranged. I think it was 65 euros. To me this was totally fair and I agreed and thanked them.

Now of course I have the problem that I need to get to the car, and have NO IDEA how to follow directions. My husband is still wisely staying out of sight and I get the feeling that I'm better off without him at this point. The off-duty policeman volunteers to take me to the towing place and unbelievable as it sounds, I hopped right in the car with him. Something I probably wouldn't do in the US! I asked him if there was an ATM since I didn't have the cash, and of course the first ATM we stopped at wasn't working. So in his police car we drive the wrong way up a one-way street, blocking the doorway to the bank - and he waits for me while I go in and get incredibly hosed on the exchange rate but come out with enough cash. Then we are off to the towing yard where there is much smiling and cheerful buongiorno-ing as I pay my towing fee (reduced to 50 euros!). And we have to have a few espressos together with the staff while the lowest guy on the totem pole goes to extract the car. Then my policeman kindly leads me out of the mess, offers to buy me lunch (which I politely decline) and in only three hours that adventure is complete. My poor husband is very happy to see me when I pull up in the piazza.

Ever since, we have been very careful about parking in an open space, and we always read the signs!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Meme Mosaic

From a fellow blogger, Cherrye, over at My Bella Vita... this little exercise, which is fun but definitely dragged me off task this evening... I did have a few issues with the mosaic from Big Huge Labs and had to create it twice. Interestingly the search produced different choices the second time, I guess because FlickrSearch defaults to "interestingness" and that changes every second or so. Big Huge Labs is a great place to fool around with photos so have some fun.
Here are the rules...
a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd’s mosaic maker.
Meanwhile, here is the key to the mosaic at right (left to right):
1. What is your first name? Amy (I like this mysterious look)
2. What is your favorite food? Ripe avocado... yum!!!
3. What high school did you go to? TASOK, or The American School of Kinshasa
4. What is your favorite color? Green. This photo has so many shades!
5. Who is your celebrity crush? The immortal Sean Connery.
6. Favorite drink? Water.
7. Dream vacation? Madagascar... one of these days.
8. Favorite dessert? Gelato!
9. What you want to be when you grow up? A photographer... but a bit less adventurous than this one!
10. What do you love most in life? Being in love.
11. One Word to describe you. One word is really tough... and too easy to just say "unique" which we all are. So I chose "stillness" as my keyword, and I love how this photo shows the world above and the world below, light and darkness...
12. Your flickr name. AmyEmilia This kaleidoscope is one of my favorite creations ever.
Thanks Cherrye!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Kindle

I may or may not have written about my Kindle... perhaps in one of my failed attempts at blogging in the past. This is a wonderful addition to my travel, as well as my at-home life. Presently I have the following available books on the Kindle:

  1. How to Use the Amazon Kindle (Steven Windwalker, 2008)
  2. Beyond the Literary-Industrial Complex (Steven Windwalker, 2008)
  3. You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty (Mehmet Oz, 2007)
  4. The Holy Bible King James Version
  5. The Devil's Dictionary (Ambrose Bierce,1911)
  6. Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying (David Bach, 2008)
  7. First Footsteps in East Africa (Sir Richard S. Burton, 1880's?)
  8. Delizia! (John Dickie, 2000)
  9. Freakonomics (Stephen Levitt, 2006)
  10. The Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)
  11. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (Mungo Park, written in 1790's)
  12. Bloodchild (Octavia Butler)
  13. Practice Makes Perfect: Italian Vocabulary (Daneila Gobetti, 2007)
  14. Italian Popular Tales (Thomas Frederick Crane)
  15. CIA World Factbook - Complete Edition. Detailed information and maps for over 270 countries (Mobile Reference, 2007)

In addition I have subscribed to these periodicals:

  1. Analog Science Fiction
  2. Asimov's Science Fiction
  3. Reader's Digest

And one blog... Tetrapod Zoology.

These reading materials would obviously not easily fit in any carry-on bag, or briefcase, much less a purse. And yet I can read any of them anytime I want, just by pulling it out of my purse. The Kindle is convenient, easy to read, and conserves paper. It gives me access to the reading materials I prefer. I think it fits very well into A Normal Life!

What do you think? Is the Kindle worth buying? Would you use it?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

flamboyant tree

The extravagant flowers of the Poinciana Tree, or Flamboyant, are almost unbelievable. This is a tropical tree, one that I associate very strongly with my childhood in Congo. They really don't have a scent, and yet when I was standing under the tree today, I caught a whiff of Africa in the late afternoon sun.

We are visiting our beach house in South Padre Island for the Memorial Day holiday this week. Just down the street from us, this beautiful little tree is blooming. Because it is a tropical tree, the examples you see here on South Padre Island are quite small. The trees of my childhood would get 20 feet tall at least, and a beautiful umbrella shape. The ones here are perhaps 10 feet tall.

I remember these trees lining the dirt roads, and somewhere there is a charming slide of my little sister swinging from a low branch with such a sweet smile and dusty bare feet. That image of her lives in my heart...

We had quite a few other trees on the station as well - oil palms, mangos (the best were the little ones we called "peach" mangos"), avocados, oxheart, eucalyptus, kapok, and chalmoogra. These last were planted by my father, to see how they would prosper in our climate.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

our early summer garden

The Rangoon Creeper is the most spectacular plant in my garden right now - and will be for several weeks. I was introduced to this vine by the landscape designer that I hired to keep me from making very bad mistakes. It was definitely one of his two best suggestions (the other was the miniature agapanthus). The best thing about this vine is the way the color changes, from white in the morning to the bright rosy red that is in the picture below. In the evening, its strong sweet fragrance permeates the garden.

I've trained it over an arch in the back yard. In the photo below, the arch is spotlighted by the setting sun. On the other side is a pot planted with bronze fennel and a Giant Passion Flower vine given to me by my brother. The bronze fennel is a favorite with butterflies. I'm looking forward to seeing the giant passion flowers... there are 4 buds coming!

Early summer is of course the best time of year for many gardens, and that is certainly true of ours. As you can see, we have lots of blooming things, and this photo shows about half of the back garden. In our part of Houston we are in Zone 9, a semi-tropical zone. Which means that the passion flower stays out all year, as well as our orchids (not visible). The bougainvillea is nice this year (far left of photo) - I've finally wired it to the fence.

In the back right corner, we have a large Celeste fig tree, which has yielded one ripe fig so far (on May 10) this year. But it is completely loaded with ripening fruit. My goal is to get more than half harvested before the critters get to it.

You will notice the large green tree on the other side of our back fence. This is a pecan tree, source of much nourishment for the neighborhood squirrels. It has been heavily hacked by the guys who keep the electrical lines clear of interference, so the shape is a bit strange. I believe it is a native pecan, since it rarely seems to have trouble with worms or blight. Our neighbors to the east (on the right of this photo) also have a young pecan, but often it has those problems so it's probably a hybrid.

In the foreground, there is one of several crepe myrtles. This particular one is only 4 years old! It has gorgeous white papery flowers, exfoliating bark, and will eventually be almost 30 feet tall. Around its feet are Indian Blankets, Rudbeckia, miniature agapanthus, daylilies, a tiny fragrant pink rose from my friend Ev, and rosemary. There are also 2 strawberry guava trees which may someday actual ripen fruit. Meanwhile their powderpuff blossoms in spring are pretty.

These garden beds are only 4 years old, so I'm happy with our progress. I am not the most attentive gardener - weeding is something that gets done at odd times in the early morning cool or late evening dusk, all the while fighting off mosquitos. Watering is a pleasurable task, always done by hand. We water the grass in times of drought and certainly never fertilize it. The lawn has its share of bugs and patchiness, but St. Augustine grass is very hardy and can usually manage to outgrow anything. Our goal is a garden that more-or-less takes care of itself - and we are getting there!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

elephants on the skeleton coast, namibia

skeleton coast - elephants, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

Several years ago, I made a 3-week trip to visit relatives in South Africa and Namibia. One of the truly memorable things that occurred during that trip (ah, so much more to write about...) was this encounter. I am working without notes here, so I may come back and edit this post when those are available.

My cousin and I drive from Palmwag (pronounced pah-lem-bach), through Sesfontein to the Skeleton Coast Camp. Not very many tourists choose this route, but then again, not many tourists are like my cousin. Her Toyota truck is outfitted with two demijohns of petrol, three extra tires on wheels, lots of tools, two sleeping bags, and even a bit of food. We have vague verbal directions, mostly based on time from one landmark to another. What more could you need? Most people fly in but once or twice a year the staff or someone crazy (like us) drives in. The guidebooks suggest a satellite phone and at least one other vehicle traveling with you if you insist on driving north of Sesfontein. These are however only details, and take all the adventure out of it!

The road is sometimes obvious, sometimes a mere suggestion, and sometimes completely non-existent. But somehow, my cousin manages to re-find the trail every time we lose it, and we bounce over rocks, slither over sand, slide down banks, follow dry riverbeds, and find our way inexorably towards the Camp. Fortunately our directions hold up and also fortunately, somewhere outside of Puros we find someone going our way. They lead us in, which is at least another hour (or two?) of driving. The entire trip of maybe 100 miles feels like a lifetime but really only lasts about 6 hours. (On the return trip, when we knew where we were going, we manage to average 18mph.)

Those of you who have stayed at the Camp know its stark beauty, and the wonderful, dedicated staff that make the experience so much richer. We are introduced to our two guides, Chris and Chris. Our Chris is dark-haired, full of mischievous sparkle, confident and so capable that I have no doubt we were in good hands. The other Chris seems to step out of a Hemingway story, with a big leather hat and a story to account for his missing hand, taken by a crocodile somewhere in the past. The morning after we arrive, we go on an all-day game drive with both Chrises.

There are 5 or 6 of us in each of the two vehicles. We bounce along the rocky, sandy roads, stopping here and there to see the wildlife. They look just as interested in us too. A young giraffe pokes his head up over the scrub. Fat healthy gemsbok (oryx) scramble up the hillsides. Birds everywhere, including a rare vulture that I've now forgotten the name of. Jackals, and antelope too, although not very many. We stop at a Himba village to see how these remarkable people manage to make a living herding cattle and goats in the desert. We have tea under an ancient ironwood tree. And, we find elephants. There are perhaps 10 - we spend maybe 20-30 minutes just watching them as they slowly browse the bush. This is a dream fulfilled, to see the famous desert elephants!

The rest of the trip, while exciting, can't top this. We stop for lunch in a dry river bed, and get stuck in the sand. We drive along the Horuseb river, have a flat tire, see impala and (for my cousin the desert dweller this is most exciting) running water in the open desert. Driving back to camp in the dim dusk, we look forward to dinner and bed.

Dinner is a grand sharing of adventures in many languages, and then we gather at the fire and drink too much sherry and whiskey, singing in German and Afrikaans, English and American. Listening to Chris recite Tom Waits lyrics in a Bob Dylan voice far into the night. Sparks from the fire fly up to the burning stars above. I stumble back to our tent and fall asleep thinking of the return drive, map-less but not lost, anticipating the wonders of tomorrow.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

hibiscus schizopetalus

My father took this picture too... I've always loved the original slide, which glows in the setting sun. Obviously I have altered the original, using Virtual Painter.

Sunsets at Kimpese went very quickly - not much twilight when you are near the equator. There were only a few minutes between light and darkness. I remember the sound of the doves cooing, calling one another. And the evening breeze, sighing in the tall grass.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Moments of memory 1

1964 fishing at lake neuchatel, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

The first in an occasional series, no particular order. Photos stir memories, layers of smells, sounds, and emotions. Sometimes the photos are mine, but just as often they were taken by others. We all have these moments of memory.

1964 fishing at lake neuchatel

My father took this photo. We were living in Switzerland. My parents were spending a few months learning French, preparing for mission work in Congo. My brothers are "fishing" at Lake Neuchatel. The air is so clear... it didn't happen very often that you could see the Alps.

My experience in Neuchatel was mixed. Since I didn't speak French, I was placed back in 1st grade which really hurt my feelings. Even worse I couldn't understand a word they were saying. And the school contained curriculum that I found boring and very difficult - specifically needlework. But all the girls had to do it. I still have the little sampler I made, beige with red and blue cross stitching at the top and bottom, frayed around the edges and soft with age now.

On the other hand the school was inside the castle, and we had to go across the moat (dry) and through the big gates, all on cobbled streets. I remember walking home with my brother just before Christmas, looking in the sparkling store windows, trying to find a present for Mom, our boots crunching in the snow. We (or more likely, Dad) bought her a beautiful crystal dish. She still has it. And every time I see it, I remember.

French was acquired somehow - it still impedes my attempts to learn Italian. The year we spent in Switzerland was full of changes, but the purity of this moment - the three of us standing at the edge of a luminous lake, darkness closing in but the light still on the far mountains... time stops.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dishwasher update!

The dishwasher has been successfully installed! It took 3 trips to Lowe's, an electrical shock, a banged thumb, and a few tries - but DH did it. He believed he could do it, and he did in spite of my doubt. He continues to amaze me with his persistance and skills.

I'm glad we have the new dishwasher - first of all, it's white, which looks better in our all-white kitchen. And it is much more energy and water efficient than the old one. I can already tell the capacity is much greater, and one of the cups that I had hand-washed came out cleaner than when it went it. So I guess it works.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

DH Quotes

When I first met my wonderful husband, he floored me with some amazing simple, direct statements and occasionally questions that are very hard to answer. He still says them, and so I preserve them here.

1. Do snakes know their mothers?
2. Do fish know they are breathing?
3. Did you know that a circle is a polygon with infinite sides? (he loves math)
4. Why don't clouds fall down?

Hopefully I'll figure out how to categorize things but for now we will just have to have recurring entries.

Management Conference, continued

OK, I survived the first evening. Actually although I dread these events and find them very tiring, there is also reason to be proud. When I joined the company 17 years ago, there were less than 200 employees, a small company in an uncertain business. Now, we have 1800. We have been a public company for at least 10 years - at the moment I'm too tired to remember the actual year. Could be 1994? I am honored to be considered part of the "cultural bedrock" (as the president described those of us who have been with the company more than 15 years). The company reflects my values. How many people can truly say that?

We watched silly skits - one was actually very funny - listened to reasonably inspiring speeches by our president and chairman, ate some truly awful buffet food (do not eat coconut chicken, ever), and generally had a good time seeing coworkers. Many of these men and women have become friends, too.

Success is sweet. We have worked long and hard, and done it honorably. A good feeling... I found myself smiling on the drive home.

Management Conference

Today is the beginning of our "management conference". 500 managers and middle management coming together. Lots of rah-rah. I don't enjoy the cheerleading but it is nice to see people again. The biggest problem for me is that they all know me but I don't know them by face, only by voice (since I usually just have contact by phone). So there will be a whole lot of "great to see you" and on my part a whole lot of internal wondering as to who that person was.

3 days. I'm sure it will be fascinating... :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

New dishwasher tomorrow?

We are looking forward to the delivery of a new dishwasher tomorrow. At least, it might be tomorrow. We should have had it today, except that the delivery service was missing a driver, so they say, and thus our much-anticipated appliance was stuck in Fort Worth.

The old one was more than 10 years old and really needed to break. Thank goodness it finally did. I had NOTHING to do it, promise!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When bad things happen to good (new) bags

I am a fan of Ebags products, and have purchased several of their items including the Ebags Professional 22". A great bag with a couple flaws - balance is compromised when it is fully loaded to the point of tipping over. Ebags had no problem with shipping me a new bag after my first Pro 22 was replaced under warranty because the zipper heads were completely torn off when checked from BWI to IAH in January.

To prevent the zipper heads from being torn off of my new bag (they are kinda big and heavy) I removed them all and instead put red ties (see pictures) which I got at REI. I was very hopeful that this replacement bag would last for many years to come. But it was not to be.

Once again traveling from BWI to IAH, I checked my bag. It was the second bag off the plane, and at first I didn't notice anything wrong - just a bit scuffed. But the handle was a bit hard to extend... and then I noticed a rip in the back... then a hole in the side... then I realized that my bag had been really damaged.

I nervously signed in at the Continental Baggage Services, and waited to see how this would be handled. It was late, I was tired, and in no mood to be disappointed. Thankfully there was no need for any assertive behavior. Within 20 minutes I was greeted by a cheerful woman whose response to my statement "this doesn't look like normal wear and tear to me" was a simple "I agree". She immediately offered to replace my bag, and brought out two different suitcases. I chose the second one, a Delsey Helium Lite 25" expandable. Reasonably comparable to mine, although larger and not quite as solidly built. And she let me keep my destroyed bag (which was good, since there was no way I could unzip it completely). Remarkably, there was absolutely no damage to the contents.
So now we have a new, larger suitcase and a very nice customer service experience too.


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