Thursday, December 3, 2009

Will it snow?

The buzz around here right now is that we might have some snow tomorrow!  Houston doesn't get that much so this is exciting.  I imagine there will several people that don't show up at work - even though the prediction is for 1-2 inches, west of 59. We will see! 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Home again!

We are home again!  October 3rd to October 19 - a long time to be gone.  As always it is good to travel and good to come home.  Things are fine here at the house - the garden is a bit more overgrown than usual (looks like we had about 5 inches of rain while we were away).  We wondered how Mo would react to us.  She was a bit tentative at first but now won't let us out of her sight and has been purring more-or-less nonstop for the last 2 hours.  Now the washer is running, the rice cooker is steaming, the suitcases unpacked, and the mail sorted (but not read, yet).  Many pictures to edit, video to put together, and at some point I'll get started on the tripbook. 
Tomorrow will be a breathless day at work I'm sure.  But it will also be nice to get back into the groove of work. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On land again, in Miami

We arrived in Miami early this morning...  absolutely no problem getting off the ship and on to the hotel.  We are sitting in the lobby waiting for the room now. 


Transiting the Panama Canal was an awesome experience... so glad we were able to do it.  Incredible to see how enormous ships are moved so easily and quickly up through the locks and then down again.  We could hardly tear ourselves away from the deck - just like everyone else on the ship!


Grand Cayman was hot hot hot and incredibly humid.  We walked down to Seven Mile Beach and sat on a small dock watching the fishes swim in impossibly transparent water.  Then we walked back and went on our Atlantis Submarine trip.  Forty people sitting back to back down the center of a small submarine, facing the portholes.  Crowded but light and bright enough to prevent claustrophobia.  We dived down and saw thousands of reef fish of all kinds, blue and yellow and black, striped and spotted, big and tiny.  The biggest creature we saw was a turtle (not sure what kind), munching on something.  We dove to 108 feet.  I'm sure this is the deepest I will ever go in the ocean and it was exhilarating. 


Will write more later.  And I'll start posting photos too (of which there are many!).



Friday, October 9, 2009


We had an awesome trip inland to Antigua, formerly capital of Guatamala. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and I can see why. Between 2 volcanoes and high up, it has cobblestone streets and lots of charm. Tomorrow is at sea, then Costa Rica. We have seen turtles, dolphin, lots of sea birds and some interesting fish. Got into a huge rain storm on the way back down the mountain... One of the people in our van said that people pay good money to Disney for rides like that!

Sent from my iPhone
Amy Nicolai 713.301.0030

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Finally sunny in Acapulco

It was raining when we got here this morning but now is sunny and hot. Walked around the town and the fort - nice textile exhibit. On to Huatulco tomorrow!

Sent from my iPhone
Amy Nicolai 713.301.0030

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vacation is coming!

We are getting ready to go on vacation:  a 15 day cruise from San Diego to Miami, through the Panama Canal.  Looking forward to it... hoping to get some posts in on the way.  For now, we are packing and getting things organized. 

We have found a sitter for our beloved Mo. This was probably the biggest hurdle since we didn't want to board her.  Our friend Ev had graciously promised to watch her at their house, but she does already have two cats who own the house and she would be defending Mo constantly. 

Adding a new layer of adventure, we plan to take the bus from the Downtown Transit Center to the airport instead of parking there.  This saves about $90 in parking fees.  The bus runs non-stop from downtown to Terminal C  and costs only $1.50 each way!  We will leave the car at my office and take a taxi from the nearby Renaissance Hotel to the transit center.  I will check it out tomorrow but believe that the taxi will be about $10. 

I am looking forward to getting on the "road" and seeing new things. 

More to come!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One-day turnaround

Tomorrow I am off to San Diego for a deposition.  And I'm doing it the hard way - leaving early in the morning, and coming back in the afternoon.  I think it is amazing that this is even possible... to fly halfway across the country and back in one (long) day.  Of course the weather has to cooperate, but it appears to be reasonably calm along my route.  More amazing is how easy it is to take this incredible feat for granted. 

Hopefully all will go as planned.  I'll let you know! 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

hi there!

hi there!, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.
Playing around with the new camera... while I was wandering around the garden, the local boss hummingbird stopped by to see what I was doing. He didn't sit still so the shot is not great. But I'm happy to have it anyway!

Friday, August 28, 2009

sunset in San Diego

sunset in San Diego, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.
I am privileged to be able to travel for my work. This week I spent just a couple days in San Diego. Took a walk along the waterfront last night, from the hotel on Broadway to the SeaPort Village. It was a warm, humid evening and pretty miserable actually. The shops were only mildly interesting. The best part of the walk was listening to a pair of musicians play near the Village. They were probably Mexican, playing guitars, pipes, flutes, the harp... it echoed out over the still water and the dark.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

my dad

laughing, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

I love this photo of my dad. It embodies so many memories. I am thinking of him this evening, because in searching for something else, I ran across a list that we made together at the kitchen table, in September 2004. Somehow the conversation came around to the various jobs that his father, my Grandpap, had done during his life. Grandpap died when I was about 6, but I remember a tall man with huge hands, who seemed a bit grim. Photographs show broad shoulders, large features, strong-looking. He died young, in his early 70's I think, in about 1961. Here is list of the jobs that his father had, in the order that his son remembered them:

  • farmer (this would be in rural Pennsylvania, in a narrow valley near Tussey Mountain)
  • road builder
  • coal miner at age 12, in Elizabeth
  • carpenter at the power plant in Saxton
  • timber hauler
  • tunnel and bridge builder
  • led a rigging gang in a steel mill in Monassan (not sure I got that right, sometimes my writing is hard to read!)
  • coke screener in Johnstown
  • railroad bridges
  • constable
  • treasurer of the school board, Hopewell Township
  • state inspector for highway construction on Highway 70, from about Town Hill to Breezewood

I also know that Grandpap was a devout Democrat - one time we found the precinct lists. He was away from home a lot, which left my Grandma to raise her five sons mostly on her own. The farm provided most of the food they needed, but cash was needed too. Grandpap's jobs brought in enough! Interesting how many of them are in the construction/engineering area.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

my assistant

my assistant, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

Whenever I cook or bake Mo wants to be involved. She carefully smells everything but rarely actually tastes.

By the way - the Vanilla Dinner Rolls were really excellent! I highly recommend the cookbook, The Bountiful Kitchen by Barry Bluestein & Kevin Morrissey. This book is a staple in my kitchen and a source of inspiration.

Monday, June 1, 2009

thinking of ice cream

Lately I've discovered Blue Bunny Butter Pecan ice cream. The Premium variety is of course fabulous, but even the No Sugar Added variety is really good. Smooth vanilla studded with pecans - what's not to like?! Eating this ice cream reminded me of the process we used to go through to make it when I was growing up.

Of course, we grew up in tropical Africa. The ingredients weren't always easy to find. Milk was pretty sketchy - I disliked the lumpy, reconstituted powdered milk. The "fresh" kind wasn't too fresh and often was watered down. The eggs were readily available but of uneven quality (not surprising since those hens ran away from things that wanted to eat them 24/7). Eggs usually came to the back door as gifts or for sale by the travelling merchants who also brought us vegetables and ivory carvings and huge stalks of bananas.

My mother would start the night before with a custard ice cream recipe from Joy of Cooking... although looking at my edition (1976, beginning on page 758) it seems we should have had vanilla beans around. I don't remember that. We probably subtituted vanilla flavoring. I remember Mom telling me it never hurts to double the vanilla! We definitely did have evaporated milk, which appears in some of the recipes.

The next day, maybe an early Saturday evening, the churn would come out. I think it was a wood one, and of course was cranked manually. The ice came from the kerosene-powered fridge, the salt probably from the local native market. The promising bucket dropped into the ice, and soon all of us kids took turns turning, and exhorting each other not to stop. Adults take over from time to time when we get distracted. After an interminable, arm-exhausting amount of time, Mom would pronounce it ready. Once in a while we would shave some Cote D'or chocolate into that luscious vanilla before churning.

The ice cream itself was smooth and creamy most of the time, possibly a bit crystalized if we didn't do a good job. Cold felt good on warm tropical evenings! Since our freezer was very small and really not intended for long term storage of anything, we had to eat the whole bucket. Not much of a sacrifice.

Another highlight of making ice cream was daring each other to stand in the ice-water left in the churn bucket. Wow that was COLD!!!! Bare feet in salted icy water - you can't beat it. I can feel my toes going numb just thinking about it.

I don't remember doing this very often - a few times a year perhaps. Then again, I was at boarding school much of the year so perhaps my family had it more often than that. But whenever we made ice cream, we made good food, good fun, and good memories.
Photo credits: the ice cream churn comes from Kalani at Dreamstime. The hibiscus schitzopetalus shot comes from my dad, an excellent photogapher who has preserved the the soft sunset light on film for us to savor over and over again. Thanks Dad!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Roman stage...

DH has reached the Roman stage of his journey - all has been well. He is happy to be rid of his car although he did enjoy driving it (a Lancia Ypsilon I think). Rome is no place for a car. Now he is staying at his cousin's apartment. He say's it's hot, but my weather service says it will cool down a bit between now and Wednesday. Wishing I was walking those old streets with him.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I've found an elegant small app for the iPhone that I just have to share. Memiary is so simple that I wish I had thought of it. Here's the concept: write down 5 things you did today. That's it. Really! I recommend it!
Diary photo from ©Beata Wojciechowska

Friday, May 15, 2009

spirit man

spirit man, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This wonderful statue is framed by a bauhinia vine, in the Arbor Gate Nursery just outside Tomball. I highly recommend this nursery - fabulous demonstration gardens, interesting plant selection, friendly folks, and good prices. Arbor Gate Nursery

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

a month...

I am without DH, who is visiting family and friends in Italy. Miss him already... hope he is ok on the big plane winging towards Milan Malpensa. Mo walks through the house looking for him too... I'm sure her day was strangely quiet. Now the TV plays COPS without sound - I had brussel sprouts with butter and lemon, with pretzels and wine for dessert - and the month stretches out before me like a sentence. It will get better but right now just feeling empty.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

street flooding in houston

street flooding in houston 2, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

We have had more than 10 inches of rain in the last 24 hours - and 8 inches since midnight. Fortunately no water in our house but I understand that others in our nieghborhood weren't so lucky.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

dinner at the Brass Monkey

The Brass Monkey, St. Pete Beach, Florida

I had a lovely peaceful dinner this evening at The Brass Monkey in St. Pete Beach, Florida. After a long meeting, it was so nice to sit on the second floor balcony and look out over the Gulf of Mexico, sipping iced tea and waiting for my "colossal" fried shrimp. They arrived in good time, accompanied by the recommended fresh green beans and boiled red potatoes. The size was indeed large and they were perfectly fried with a crunchy coating that probably had panko crumbs in it. The server was attentive and cheerful with helpful suggestions. He brought extra horseradish for the cocktail sauce too.

Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the sunset but no doubt it would have been awesome. I highly recommend this spot if you are anywhere near Tampa or St. Petersburg.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

odd birds in Houston

We've seen some unfamiliar birds in the last few days in Houston. Possibly the huge storm that blew through here on Saturday has driven some off of their migration course.

On Sunday, I saw a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus Galbula) - the very first time I've ever sighted one here. What a cheerful, beautiful song they have! The photo that I took is completely lousy, so I'll have to use someone else's... from a fellow microstock photographer on Dreamstime, Watware.

This afternoon, DH called me all excited - the bluebird of happiness was in the backyard! Once again, the photos do no justice to the bird. But I was able to positively identify it as the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides). He was clearly blown off course since they don't usually come near the Houston area. Here is a nice shot from another Dreamstime photographer, Peterll. I'm glad this little guy stopped by - he sure is cute.

The final surprise happened this evening as I was watering the garden. There was an unfamiliar shape high in the sycamore tree... and I realized it was grey/brown, and had a crest. A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)! Several of them perched high in the dead branches, and then a mockingbird flew at them and they hustled off towards the neighbor's live oak. While not completely unknown in Houston, I haven't seen them for many years. Here is a nice shot from Stephencoyle, another Dreamstime photog.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Registered for Mobile Blogging

Sent from my iPhone...

This should be interesting.


Browing through blogs today, I found this interesting questionnaire. I went through it, to see if my type has changed since the last time I took it, several years ago. Seems it has not changed a bit - still an INFP. Although I didn't know I was an Idealist Healer Personality!


Strength of preferences

  • Introverted 89%
  • Intuitive 25%
  • Feeling 38%
  • Perceiving 44%
  • very expressed introvert
  • moderately expressed intuitive personality
  • moderately expressed feeling personality
  • moderately expressed perceiving personality

Famous INFPs include Homer, Virgil, William Shakespeare, A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh), Helen Keller, Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers' Neighborhood), Dick Clark (American Bandstand), Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis, Neil Diamond, Tom Brokaw, James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small), James Taylor, Julia Roberts, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Lisa Kudrow ("Phoebe" of Friends), Princess Diana, and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter author).

Famous fictional INFPs (that I connect with) include Calvin (Calvin & Hobbes), Deanna Troi and Wesley Crusher(Star Trek - the Next Generation).

You can do it yourself if you want: .

Here is a link for my type...

Friday, April 10, 2009

computer killer

Apparently I'm a computer killer. My HP Pavillion tx1000 died today - it is completely, 100% dead. It's not the power supply, the battery, the hard drive, the RAM - not even the screen. The BIOS is not sleeping, it's dead.

After a long and polite online chat with Santu at HP, we concluded that it has to go in for repair. Unfortunately that would be $398 plus tax. And I can get a new one for not too much more than that. The company has an EPP deal so looks like I can get something very nice for less than $800.

What is curious is my desktop ALSO died a BIOS death not too long ago. Strange. DH is blaming my aura. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Long weekend...

A long weekend coming up - me and the Mo are driving down to SPI to spend a little time at the beach and reconnect with DH. Should be an interesting experience - Mo hasn't spent that much time in a car since we brought her up from the island after Christmas. I've got a new carrier but mostly I expect she will be loose in the car. If that doesn't work, she gets some carrier time...

I like driving down to the island. There are long stretches of rural and even fairly wild terrain. Around Kingsville, there are places where I could be in Africa. And there are a couple exotic game ranches so I might even see a zebra or a few impala.

Happy Easter to all of you. Hopefully you can spend it with family and friend.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

projects in progress

A few things in progress today:
  • finished up stage 2 of the limoncino project. Stage 2 involves straining out the lemon peel and adding sugar syrup.
  • planting out the milkweed plant and cosmos flowers bought yesterday
  • installing the trellises that I bought yesterday for my pole beans
  • researching the next "big" trip - the Trans-Siberian Railway... ordered a book, read online for a couple hours...
  • booked the car (Nova Car Hire is highly recommended) for DH's trip to Italy in May
  • made waffles for breakfast!
  • finished up the taxes. Will re-do to see if I can eliminate the $2,000 we have to pay.

All in all, a busy productive day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a banner day

a banner day, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This is the first time we have actually witnessed two butterflies hatching at the same time.

Even in discouraging times, the miracle of daily life is intense.

Without this where would we be...

Saturday, March 14, 2009


dancers, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

We have had a couple days of cool, rainy weather here in Houston - very welcome because we are running a deficit of almost 7 inches this year.

These little evening primroses (or buttercups, for Texans) are weighed down by the rain. They look like dancers to me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


snapdragon, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This snapdragon is something of a surprise to us. You may recall that last year we bought a bunch of plants for just a couple dollars. Apparently among them was a snapdragon. I've never actually grown one before so I didn't recognize the young plant until it began to form buds.

I love the color the flowers take on in the afternoon.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cheddar cheese and sugar

Last night I was feeling a bit nostalgic, and hungry too! When I am in that mood, I will often reach for extra-sharp cheddar cheese, dipped in granulated sugar. My Pennsylvania grandmother used to sit at the end of the kitchen table (the end closest to the stairs down to the basement, where many good things waited to be consumed!) and spoon white sugar over cheddar cheese. It is a wonderful comfort food, and one that reminds me of how simple things can be so satisfying.

Does anyone else have this tradition?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a really old church

This is the doorway to the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Amazing to contemplate that the church (according to Wikipedia) was consecrated in 393 AD!!! The building that we see is more Renaissance than anything. This facade looks unfinished to me - I really must read up on it and find out why.

I've been remembering our November 2007 trip to Italy. So many wonderful moments. One of the many unfinished projects is to create a memento of that month. My tenative title is "A Drive Around Italy". I'll use Blurb and their wonderful software called BookSmart. Two previous creations were successful for their purpose, as family gifts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

sleeping cat

sleeping cat, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

Mo is on the mend. She still has 6 more LymSulpher dip baths to go, and assorted antibiotics, ointments, and drops to be taken. Apparently adopting a cat from the wild is expensive (we are up to $400) but she is such a joy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


mo, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.

This is Mo, who joined our household officially on the day after Christmas, 2008. She is the youngest of the feral kittens who lived in and around our beach house on South Padre Island. After her father Faithful died on Christmas Eve, my husband and I decided that we needed to help this little one. She was wheezing and "sneezling" as DH says, and although always the smallest, now truly too skinny. So we took h er to the vet in Port Isabel, who perscribed some medicines and tested her for FIV and leukemia. She passed those tests. We brought her back to Houston, and then she went with us to Fort Worth for the weekend too. But by Monday 12/29 she was declining drastically. I took her to a vet here in Houston, who said she was critically dehydrated and was 24-36 hours away from death. The team at Houston Cat Hospital did a terrific job and she has bounced back very well. I suspect that by the time we go back on Monday 1/5, she will have added at least a pound to her beginning weight of 2.5 pounds (still not much for a 3 month old kitten).

Her official name is Motorino (little motor, in Italian). She has a great purr.


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