Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Days 8-10: TexMex Road Trip 2015 is a Wrap!

Day 8 - Getting Out No matter What!

Monday morning in Artesia showed bright sunny skies but with lots of snow on the ground. The New Mexico (NM) road map showed every single route out of NM as CLOSED. Brother is a tenacious sort and was determined to find a way to Texas. Oldest Son and Brother did a scouting trip in the Creepy White Van at 11am and we concluded that attempting escape was reasonable.

The drive south to Carlsbad was not great but doable. We first tried Hwy 285 SW and it had a roadblock set up. We then went south on 180 but quickly hit a dead stop in a long line of vehicles as the police were stopping travelers. We doubled back to Hwy 285 SW and luckily, the roadblock was moved and traffic flowing through to West Texas. We were nervous until we hit Pecos, TX but we actually got there with little trouble.

We arrived in Fredericksburg at 9:20pm just in time to eat a hearty German meal at Der Lindenbaum.
So nice ... the wait staff welcomed our weary and hungry party of eight 10 minutes before closing time!
Oh Yeah!
Day 9 - The Perfect Texas Day

Tuesday was filled with lots of Texas fun! Brother rose early to wash the dirt off the Creepy White Van and we were ready to head to breakfast by 9am. We waited in a short line to eat at the Old German Bakery and to purchase chocolate croissants for down the road.
We feasted on eggs, bacon, German pancakes, potato pancakes, hash browns and hot coffee!
For the next few hours our group split. Commuter Husband, Oldest Son and I went to the National Museum of the Pacific War. The rest shopped and strolled the art galleries of Main Street of Fredericksburg, TX.
Spectacular art
Two hours was not enough time in the National Museum of the Pacific War. 
National Museum of the Pacific War had two full size WWII planes. This museum was engaging and a must see for anyone with interest in the topic. I will be returning to spend another couple hours!

Our next stop was Enchanted Rock. With the continuing theme of the road trip, we found ourselves stopped in a line of cars about 1/2 mile from Enchanted Rock entrance. It was clear we were going no where any time soon. SO ... we decided that Commuter Husband would stay in the Creepy White Van to wait in line while the rest of us hoofed it to the trail head. It was a cool and perfect day to climb to the Enchanted Rock Summit!
Our Loves: Youngest Niece (age 11), Nephew (age 18), Oldest Son (age 15), Oldest Niece (age 14), Youngest Son (age 13)
Add Aunt/Mommy/Sister and Uncle/Dad/Brother and some goofiness at the top of Enchanted Rock!

It took us about 1.5 hours to go up and then back down. JUST as we came down Commuter Husband was arriving at the entrance to the Enchanted Rock park in the Creepy White Van - oh my gosh!

We then went 20 miles north to Llano for Texas BBQ at Coopers - best in the state - yep.
Big ole glass of sweet ice tea!
Chicken and beef for our family of four! Oldest Son and Youngest Son appreciate their meat and lots of it!

The Grand Finale for the day and for TexMex Road Trip 2015 was ... ready for it ... Willie Nelson at Austin City Limits!!!!! The entire show was enjoyable and memorable. I loved the whole evening.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real opened with several songs. Lukas Nelson is Willie's 27 year old son and he is a fantastic musician and song writer. Then Willie Nelson's two daughters sang and played hilarious original songs. The lyrics from several of the songs from both groups were adult rated thus the teens in our family thought this was humorous.

The official opening act was Kacey Musgraves. She is a talented singer and song writer from Golden, Texas. Her set was flashy, she was friendly with the crowd and she brought her rescue dog into the act. Our tweener was especially taken by this young entertainer; I think the dog and her final song being "These Boots are Made for Walking" with lit up boots sealed that deal!

Willie Nelson then took the stage with both his sons as part of the Family band. I feel privileged to have seen Willie Nelson. He is an inspiration on so many fronts.

Limited Edition numbered poster. Purchased.
Willie Nelson, age 82. Phenomenal.
Willie Nelson signed autographs at end of show. His sons, Lukas and Micah, are next to him on guitars.
And at 11:30pm on Day 9 we load up in Austin and head back to Stephenville, TX. Brother and family are dropped off at 2am on what is now Day 10.

While making the final two hour drive to Dallas at 3am this morning, we see flashing red and blue lights behind us. We are pulled over by the police. I swear it was because of the Creepy White Van!!

And to sum up the trip: Oldest Son jokingly described me as "stupidly optimistic" at the concert. I will take that as a total compliment ...

The End.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Days 5 - 7: Family Chaos

On the road yesterday we were playing the Personalogy Game. One of the cards gave options for naming the reality show best describing your life. One of the choices was "Family Mayhem" which was chosen with good humor by some ... well Mayhem may be a strong word but Family Chaos does seem to apply ...

Day 5 – A White Out Christmas
Christmas stockings among the ski coats and pants ... 
We started the morning with Stockings that Santa hung from Ski Hooks – where else? We ate our last hot breakfast served up by Commuter Husband. And we were out the door to a very snowy ski day.

I have long accepted that as a Texas Skier, we ski no matter what the conditions. It was cold, windy and very close to a white out but we were not discouraged. We skied all day and most of our crew were taking their last run down after 4pm having caught the last lift of the day up the mountain.

Throughout the week, we did a superb job serving all meals out of the condo with Commuter Husband in charge of the kitchen. However, we had also planned to eat dinner out on our last night in Taos as a final hurrah. What we did NOT consider was that our last night was Christmas Day and NO restaurants were open on the evening of December 25th. At 4:15pm, we were desperately brainstorming options for feeding our group dinner. Finally, Commuter Husband trudged through the snow to Taos Ski Village, he found a ski base restaurant that was about to close but agreed to restart the grill and package up eight hamburgers and fries. Thus with bags tied together with twine, Commuter Husband returned with Christmas dinner! And no one seemed to miss the usual turkey and fixings.

Youngest Son and I did take the teenage roller coaster down but we were able to recover and go back up. Thus, the rest of the evening we busied ourselves will packing for the next destination of TexMex Road Trip 2015.
Eggs, fruit, biscuits, turkey sausage, OJ, milk ... fueling up for the slopes!
A different kind of fuel for the end of the ski day!
Youngest Son in his Chanukah PJs as we play Apples to Apples and The Logo Board Game.
Youngest Niece with her stocking and Christmas footie PJs.
Stockings revealed ...
Day 6 – Taos to Artesia, NM

Brother navigated the Creepy White Van off of the Taos mountain and we headed south. We made two stops: one in Taos for T-shirts and the other at the International UFO Museum & Research center in Roswell. We thought it interesting that it was snowing when we exited the museum (foreshadowing here. ) We arrived in Artesia, NM at the La Quinta by 5pm and went across the street to the Pizza Hut for an easy dinner.
Youngest Niece is not convinced that a UFO REALLY landed in Roswell.
Nephew is part of the UFO Museum scenery.
Merry Christmas UFO Style!
We dropped Youngest Son and Oldest Niece at hotel while Brother, Nephew and Youngest Niece made dash on foot to the hotel. Commuter Husband, Oldest Son and I then headed to the the Carmike Cinema to see Star Wars at 7pm. It was snowing pretty hard now (more foreshadowing.) When we exited the theater, we were shocked to see several inches of snow on the road. Fortunately, we were only one mile from hotel so we nervously made our way back and parked with no mishaps, thank goodness.

Day 7 – Snowstorm and Not Going Anywhere!

This morning we woke up to blizzard conditions with accumulations of 14-18 inches. Crazy as this sounds we were surprised! Brother, Commuter Husband and I had not bothered to listen or check weather forecasts before embarking on the next leg of our journey. We were supposed to head to Eldorado, Texas this morning ... uhmmmm ... not happening! Fortunately, Caverns of Sonora where we planned to do a 4 hour adventure caving excursion and X-Bar Ranch accepted our cancellations. Apparently, Southwest Texas is not much better than New Mexico right now.

So here we sit, stranded in Artesia, NM. We are not quite sure when we will be leaving. Family Chaos for sure ... 
Commuter Husband and Brother looking at map of closed highways ... we are not going anywhere :(
Clearing the snow in front of hotel ... it has not stopped snowing since last night! Wind is blowing off cars so accumulation not obvious.
After hotel provided breakfast, 42 (dominoes) it is; Oldest Son and Youngest Son versus Brother and Oldest Niece. The brightness is from white wonderland out the hotel window.
Youngest Son and Brother take an opportunity to work out. Both nieces join them too.
Commuter Husband, Oldest Son and Youngest Son pretty content to watch football today. Oldest Niece snacking on the left over food we brought with us ... not exactly sure where dinner coming from tonight!
It is 3:30pm and the blizzard is back in full force ... oh my ...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Days 2-4: The Usual Mayhem and Mishaps

TexMex Road Trip 2015 continues ...

Day 2 – On Our Way

Day 2 started at 5:22am in Stephenville, TX with eight of us loaded up in the Creepy White Van headed to Taos, New Mexico. We first had to address a fair seating arrangement. The five passengers under age 19 felt they should pick their individual seat; which would be great if they did not all call the same exact seat! The solution was a rotation schematic that triggered every two hours. While seemingly over-engineered, it actually worked beautifully.

We spent the next ten hours watching movies, playing games, sleeping and amusing ourselves with various Apple products. There were, of course, many variations of tweener/teenage road trip complaints including our refusal to allow X-box on the trip. The adults attempted to suppress the obvious “you ungrateful child” commentary but perhaps a comment or two slipped out.

Our two primary stops, other than the many bathroom stops, included Mexican food in Santa Rosa and grocery shopping in Taos. We arrived after dark in snowy Taos Ski Valley on December 22. Our two bedroom, two-bath condo exceeded expectations. It is tastefully decorated, has a well-equipped kitchen and comfortable beds. And even more importantly, we are right next to the slopes (ski in/ski out), has the biggest outdoor hot tub in Taos and a wood-burning fireplace!

Lunch in Santa Rosa and NO it was not the Best ...
Youngest Son picked this game out for Road Trip game and it turned out to be lots of fun. Although I think Commuter Family liked it better than Brother Family. We used to play Professor Noggin allot on our travels and this was similar.
Movies picked out by Youngest Niece and Nephew. Great Choices!

Day 3 – More than One Mishap For Sure

Day 3 was our first ski day! Taos has the best base (over 50 inches) for December in years. Commuter Husband made us a hot breakfast. We were ready.

The first hour included:
  • Commuter Husband getting the Creepy White Van stuck in snow and ice
  • Me going to ski shop to get help with my ski boots
  • Youngest Son’s snow board having a screw malfunction requiring him to go back to ski shop too
  • The condo office worker telling us we had too many people in the condo
  •  Nephew vomiting in the snow on the way to lift … oh no ...
Finally the seven of us (Commuter Husband does not ski) are all on Lift 1 headed up the mountain.

On the way down the Green Whitefeather run, Nephew continues to vomit every 5 minutes. Obviously, SOMETHING is wrong. Brother goes back to condo with Youngest Niece and Nephew. Oldest Son, Youngest Son, Oldest Niece and I decide to continue skiing. Brother takes Nephew to the emergency room where Nephew has elevated white blood count, severe stomach pains and a morphine drip.

The good news for the day was Brother and Nephew were home by dinnertime and the rest of us had a wonderful day skiing. And the evening was passed pleasantly with homemade chicken soup and hot chocolate along with raucous board game playing. We did end the day with Youngest Son vomiting but it appeared to only be the repercussion of a long, active day.

Getting our skis ... Brother assessing the length of his ...
LOVE this photo. That is Youngest Son.
Oldest Niece ready to take on the next slope ...

Day 4 – Full Ski Day and Christmas Eve

We started Christmas Eve day with six of us on the slopes. Nephew stayed in today to recuperate. The day was snowy and on the cooler side thus Youngest Son and Oldest Niece got cold quickly and stopped to warm up in a mountain restaurant. Brother skied with Youngest Niece.

Thus, Oldest Son and I spent most of the day together skiing. We stayed primarily on Blues with Oldest Son kindly waiting for his slower mother. Oldest Son would choose Black runs while I would take alternative routes.  I was thrilled that my 50 year old self could still “hang.”

We ended the afternoon in the hot tub. Chatting with teens is enlightening and frustrating and entertaining all at the same time!

Commuter Husband is the “Ski Housemother” – lucky for us! He has been washing clothes, cooking food and welcoming us as will filter in and out of the condo throughout the day. And he did not disappoint tonight with a spaghetti Christmas Eve dinner with fresh green beans and salad.

I smell the Christmas Eve cookies baking for Santa and stockings are hung …

View from lunch with Oldest Son. Happy Place.
Soup and hot chocolate with Oldest Son for lunch.
Christmas Eve Dinner!

Stockings are hung ... the Jewish Star facing left is Interfaith defined.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Day 1: #CreepyWhiteVan for TexMex Road Trip 2015!

I excitedly texted a picture of the 12 passenger van Commuter Husband and I had just picked up this morning. It went to our "TexMex Road Trip 2015" group. Youngest Niece (age 11) responds with #CreepyWhiteVan. Well ... yes ... it sort of is.

We drove #CreepyWhiteVan from Dallas to Stephenville for the first leg of our 10 day TexMex Road Trip. Since we will be gone on December 25th, we did Christmas this afternoon with Brother, Oldest Niece (age 14), Nephew (age 18), Youngest Niece and My Dad. We had a nice meal provided by Brother and opened presents.

This the first time we have celebrated Christmas with My Dad in 28 years give or take a few. I have learned in the last year that relationships are truly fluid. Sometimes it is too late and then sometimes it is not. We make choices throughout our life that are right for that moment in time. It is important to recognize that circumstances change and choices can change in the new moment. When all parties can make an effort then it is not so hard.

We struggled to find a gift for My Dad who is Papa to Oldest Son and Youngest Son. Youngest Son's giving nature made an appearance through his teen veneer. Youngest Son nixed a couple of our lame ideas (I honestly do not know My Dad that well) and came up with the gift we ultimately purchased for My Dad. In addition, Youngest Son took a signed baseball from his own collection, wrapped it and presented it to his Papa. Youngest Son has raided his own treasures since he was 6 years old to give as gifts to family. He wanted his Papa to have this special baseball. A simple gift showing uncomplicated love between grandchild and grandparent.

I was excited to present my gifts to the group:

T-Shirts for all! TexMex Road Trip 2015. The artwork is by Oldest Niece.

Nephew helps Oldest Niece with Holiday PJs for all! Bear Cheeks - ha!

Oldest Son long and lean in his Bear Cheeks!

Sweet Oldest Niece

And the night ends with 42 ...

We will be up at 4:30am for the route West ...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tradition of the Expected & Unexpected

Our many lights! The 3 on left are Oldest Son's and the 4 on the right are Youngest Son's. The ones in the middle have various stories: Commuter's Husband's first Hanukkiah, 2 are gifts to me from boys, 1 is from Mexico art gallery bought in 2008 and the black one was a gift from my Brother's wife in 1996. Oldest Son was lighting the 2 electric Hanukkiah in window sill.

Commuter Husband and I are raising our kids under a set of circumstances:
  • No Grandparents to shape how we do things:
    • Both of Commuter's Husband's parents passed away long before the boys were born
    • My mother died when I was a child and I have had little interaction with my father during my adult life
  • Until this past Summer, my brother was in the Army thus we have traveled many times throughout the last 20 years to where he was based by the military to share family time and holidays
  • Commuter Husband and I both converted to Judaism
The impact has been that we have 100% defined our own traditions. There is not one single tradition that we have carried forth from Commuter Husband's or my childhood; not one. We have consciously recognized this situation and I think about it with every holiday, every birthday and many other times when a tradition would be conjured up.

This scenario has created an interesting dynamic. While we have committed to maintaining traditions for our family, I am also open to adjusting as we go. It is obvious that Oldest Son and Youngest Son appreciate and want the familiar. This is part of what makes them feel safe and loved in a stable family environment. At the same time, the new adventure or a twist on the celebratory approach is also part of how we define ourselves as a family and the boys see this is a tradition as well.

Chanukah started yesterday. We did the comfortable and valued traditions:
  • Arrange all our many Hannukiahs on a table in front of the window
  • Put out a few decorations for the windows and our counters
  • Set out the box of gelt available for the week
  • Make matzo ball soup and pick up latkes from Cyndi's
  • Read from the same book and recite the prayers as we light the candles
  • Open the two gifts that have a dreidel for each son which has evolved into their dreidel collection
  • And 1st night is always with just our family of four
Each year we try to open gifts on the 1st night and the 8th night (we decided many years ago that 8 nights of gifts was just too much.) Oldest Son and Youngest Son are 15 and 13, respectively. Thus, this year we had a slight adjustment. Commuter Husband and I surprised them with a shopping spree to pick out their gifts together. The shopping event created a shared family experience and memories especially with teens boys who are not really big shoppers. The stores we hit included Nike, North Face, Macy's, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy. Thus we covered sports, outdoor activities, clothes, books, games and electronics. We also saw the bustle and festive air of a mall at Christmas which the boys had never seen. We had lots of interactions: we laughed and new inside jokes formed (somehow the Nike windbreaker that cost $500 because it was the "5th level" cracked us up), the boys made decisions and sometimes we got impatient but mostly the boys had fun selecting their gifts and we had fun watching them.

For the next 7 nights, we typically share a few of the 8 nights with friends but the who, the what and the when varies every year. The combination of the expected and the unexpected that defines our Commuter Family is always present ... 
The shadows are awesome!
Latke Larry, a gift many years ago, watches over latkes from Cyndi's. He also sings funny songs!
We will add two more dreidels to this collection ...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Hero or Superhero?

Scene: Friday morning after Thanksgiving with my Brother, Oldest Son, Youngest Son, Yougest Niece, Oldest Niece and Commuter Husband who are lounging in our front room in PJs. Nephew and his Girlfriend have not emerged yet.

Topic: Is Batman a Hero or Superhero? 

Oldest Son confidently maintains that Batman is a Superhero and utilizes his deep knowledge of both DC and Marvel comics to support his position. Youngest Niece (age 11) impressively defends her statement that Batman is a Hero. The conversation is lively as ALL participants (kids and adults) express their heartfelt positions. The definitions of superhero, super power and hero are the crux of the debate. They reference many other Superheroes to substantiate their arguments and cite sources from comic books as well as movies. Ultimately, no one in this group of independent thinkers acquiesces!

I was supremely entertained listening to the family banter. Sometimes life is just this simple.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Husband Humor and Praticality

Commuter Husband pulled away from our home in his red Prius at approximately 3am this morning, give or take a few minutes. Commuter Husband does this most Mondays. He likes to be in his Houston office by 7am.

During the week, I have lots of space both in our comfortable queen bed and in the concrete double driveway. I admit that I do relish the freedom to take up whatever area I choose. However when Commuter Husband arrives back in Dallas after a four hour drive, he expects to regain full access to these zones.

Fortunate for me, Commuter Husband is the spouse who never moves at night allowing me to constantly traverse the bed as a restless sleeper; love this about him! The predicament is the driveway and the indisputable fact that I seem to forget every single week that I must share this asphalt with Commuter Husband where each of us is allocated exactly one half.

Weekly, Commuter Husband pulls into the alley and clicks the gate opener excited to be reunited with his family. He turns his small car into the driveway only to be confounded with a blue-grey Prius parked haphazardly across the middle leaving no room for his diminutive vehicle. Commuter Husband patiently reminds me over and over and over and I cannot seem to remember, ever.

Today, I arose to drink my coffee and take the first conference call of the day. I open the blinds to the backyard and nearly spit out my coffee with irrepressible laughter. My loving husband of twenty years has solved the problem:
A few soccer cones and Commuter Husband's parking spot is reserved for the week! We always tell the kids to focus on the solution and not the problem. Well Played Commuter Husband!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

It Is Really Quite Simple

Less fortunate can mean many things such as
  • Temporary set back due to loss of job or health 
  • Lifelong struggles with mental illness
  • Unable to function well after an unhappy childhood
  • Being born the wrong gender or color or in the wrong place
  • Caught in an abusive situation unable to escape
  • Physical disability preventing work at decent wages
  • Caring for special needs child or elderly person
  • Addictions to substances or food
  • Chronic illness that will never go away
  • Not very smart and unable to make logical decisions
  • Loss of family due to car accident, cancer, war, violence
  • Kids in foster care tossed around from place to place
  • Making one bad decision that impacts forever
  • Living in a war zone
  • Homeless for any of the above reasons
The less fortunate are women, children, men, families, sisters, brothers, cousins, mothers, fathers, elderly, veterans, refugees, etc. And yes some less fortunate are simply lazy and depend on others.

I admire people who work hard and are productive members of society. Currently I am one of these people. But I am not better or more deserving than those less fortunate. The list at the top could be me or it could be my child or it could be my neighbor or it could be my best friend's grandchild. I am okay with my tax dollars spent, my non-profit donations helping and my time allocated; for I am lucky because I am one of the fortunate ones.

It is not complicated. Do not judge. Help those in need. All human life is valuable. All humans deserve love.

We do not choose who to help. We choose to help all.