Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Party, Party, Party!

Saturday, December 2, was the start of our many, many Christmas festivities.

From noon until 3:00, I volunteered, along with other Salado Village Artists (SVA), at the Bell County Expo Center, for Christmas on the Farm. This is the annual fund-raiser for Aware Central Texas, an organization that works to prevent child abuse and family violence through education and case management. I love this low-cost event for children and their families. There were over 40 fun activities for kids. Our (SVA) booth was the Christmas stocking booth, and we helped over 750 children decorate their stockings.

Decorating stockings at the SVA booth
That same evening we met four other couples from church - Kay and Andy, Kelly and Trish, Larry and Deborah, and David and Denise -  at Olive Garden for dinner before taking in the Temple Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert. I should have taken a picture or two, but I was too busy having fun.

My book club had their Christmas dinner on Monday (12/4) evening. We were hosted by Jean, an 88-year old member of our club, who loves to entertain. She has lived in the same house for 40 years, and it was not a new house when she and her late husband bought it. I think it was built in the '30s or early '40s, and has tons of character - just like Jean, herself. She kept us in stitches most of the evening with stories of her amazing life. She still volunteers overseas for two or three weeks each year, providing humanitarian aid to people in different countries. She comes by her adventurous spirit naturally, as her parents also traveled widely. Our book under discussion this month was an Agatha Christie Christmas mystery, and we learned that Jean's parents actually met and dined with Agatha Christie once!

First Monday Book Club - holiday dinner at Jean's 
Tuesday (12/5) I drove to Salado to join my friends from SVA for a "fancy" holiday lunch at the Inn on the Creek. One of our members, Connie (I also know her from church), made most of the arrangements, and brought her musically talented daughter, Nan, to play Christmas music throughout the luncheon.

Salado Village Artists - Christmas luncheon at Inn on the Creek, Salado.

Nan, at the keyboard.

Connie with her daughter, Nan.
On Thursday evening (12/7) we enjoyed a musical performance by the Salado Community Choir. A number of our good friends sing in this choir. They did an outstanding job!

Kay and Deborah in the opening song.
And, on Sunday evening (12/10) we celebrated with our church friends. It was a great party, with beautiful decorations, fun games and activities, a visit from Santa and tasty finger foods of all kinds.

Santa "Kelly" Claus entertained the children.
At one point that evening, four teams were formed to compete in decorating four "Christmas trees." Those trees were actually walking/talking Christmas trees, in the form of some of our church staff, including Daniel (youth minister), Joe (preacher), Ray Don (family life minister) and Saturnino (minister to our Spanish speaking members).



Ray Don

and our WINNER, Saturnino!
 I still have one more party to attend -- my Bell County Genealogical Society party -- but I think that's enough partying for one post.

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's Fall, Y'all!

We are in the midst of a beautiful fall! We've had day after day of blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the 70s during the day. 

Our Thanksgiving, this year, was different, since the kids didn't go camping, as they usually do. We really love those outdoor Thanksgiving dinners, but this one took place at our house, for a change, and it was fun, too.

Robert's birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, and this year it was smack-dab ON Thanksgiving. So when Chris, Kelsey, Clara and Robert arrived, on Tuesday, we went immediately into both Birthday and Thanksgiving prep-mode. This was "Number 8" for Robert, and he was a little disgruntled that he had to share HIS day with the holiday, so we went to some extra efforts to make his birthday special.

Birthday fun included:

Ninjago cupcakes, baked and decorated by Kelsey;

Presents opened first thing in the morning, while the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was put on "Pause;"

Our happy 8-year-old!

Breaking open a mini-piƱata, to find the candy and toy treasures inside the little donkey;

And a three-hour visit to Spare Time, our local arcade, bowling alley and laser tag establishment. Chris took both Robert and Clara, while Dan, Kelsey and I stayed home and got three hours of R&R.

At the Houston Judds' home, Friday evening is always pizza and movie night, so we kept the tradition here. Clara took orders and made all of the pizzas for us, and did a great job! And after dinner we all watched the 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days.

There was plenty of time for playing games and building robots as well. The kids brought a game called Ticket to Ride with them, which we all enjoyed playing several times.

Playing Ticket to Ride

Building a robot from a kit Robert got for his birthday.

Clara brought her violin, and we were amazed at how fast she is progressing. She only started at the beginning of this school year, and already is playing melodies, some of which she is playing by ear! She is currently first chair in her school orchestra! Every time I see Clara play her violin I get a little lump in my throat. This violin is the one that her great-grandma (my mom) played when she was young, and a music major at Pacific College, in Oregon. A year or two before Mom passed away, she had the violin re-strung and tuned and cleaned, and gave it to Clara. She would be so proud to see it being used by her talented great-granddaughter, Clara.

The day after Thanksgiving I put my new laser light projector out in the front yard, to spread twinkling lights all over the front of the house. And today I put up our small Christmas tree. Christmas will probably be in Houston this year, so no need for my big tree.  So Thanksgiving/Robert's Birthday Celebration is a wrap, and we're on to Clara's concert, her birthday and CHRISTMAS - all coming in December.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Day in Round Top, Texas

Last Saturday was a beautiful fall day, and one packed with good times.

In the morning, Dan attended his first Sons of the American Revolution (S.A.R.) meeting, and was inducted into it. His Revolutionary patriot was John Judd, born June 27, 1761, in Waterbury, Connecticut. He served as a private for Connecticut and, later, for Pennsylvania.

At 11:30, Andy, Kay and I drove to the library, where we retrieved Dan from his meeting and set out on our two-hour trip to Round Top, Texas.

Round Top is a tiny little village, a haven for antiques, art galleries and eclectic gift shops.

Despite its size - population 90 - Round Top is home to a world class center for performing arts, known as Round Top Festival Hill. The Festival Institute was established in Round Top in 1971, by concert pianist James Dick. The campus, today, has grown to over 200 acres and includes a chapel, a number of historic homes and other buildings, and spectacular landscaping. The centerpiece of the campus is the Festival Concert Hall. The interior is breathtaking, with all of its custom-made woodwork. (If you are interested in details of the woodworking, take a look here.)

The Festival Concert Hall.

Entrance gate to Edythe Bates Old Chapel 

Edythe Bates Old Chapel

Interior of the Concert Hall

At Festival Hill we met up with some of Andy's family, and enjoyed a concert by the Baylor Brass Quintet, composed of five Baylor University professors. They performed a great variety of pieces - some classical, some more contemporary - in the Festival Concert Hall.

After the concert, Andy, Kay, Dan and I drove to Jack Allen's Kitchen, a fabulous restaurant in Round Rock (different from Round Top), where we had a late dinner before returning home.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Venice Mares' Taylor Cafe

From the past few posts, you might get the idea that all we do is eat out! Not quite true, but we do love to find historic places to eat in little, quaint towns.

That's what we did on Thursday evening. Thursday is our "date night," and we usually just go someplace here in Temple - sometimes just fast food or deli; sometimes somewhere a little nicer. But this week Dan told me to be ready a little early, because we were going out of town, and that he was not going to tell me where we were going.

We headed south, through Academy and Holland, on Hwy 95, and, about 45 minutes later, arrived in the small town of Taylor. We took a little street that went down under the bridge, and ended up at Taylor Cafe, famous for its barbecue.

We parked on the side of the building, and Dan headed straight for the side door. I wasn't sure we were supposed to go in that door, but he strode right in. It was fortunate that he did, because just inside the door, at a table against the wall, sat an old fellow with a WWII Veteran's cap on. We stopped at his table, and he was really friendly. However, just then the train came through, right beside the building, and we couldn't hear a word or speak loud enough to be heard. We heard that he had served in France and Germany, and we thanked him for his service, but finally gave up trying to visit, because of that VERY loud train.

Inside the cafe were two counters with stools and several tables against the wall. Three or four fellows were drinking beer and watching a baseball game on TV. The server showed us to a table and took our order. The menu isn't complicated. You can have one, two or three meats; and the plates come with potato salad and beans. The meats are ribs, sausage, chicken and brisket. I took a two-meat plate with a beef rib and brisket. All of the food was good, but . . . the brisket was the best I've ever eaten, FOR SURE! Next time I'll get double brisket and forget the other meats.

We really enjoyed the experience. This place is in the heart of the old town, and we felt like we had stepped back many decades into the past. Great fun, and we highly recommend dinner at the Taylor Cafe.

When I began writing this post, I went on-line to see what I could find about the cafe's history. That's where I discovered that the old man we had visited with was none other than Vencil Mares, the 90-year old veteran who opened this barbecue place back in 1948, and still owns it. He was a medic in the Normandy invasion. I found THIS great interview with him. It's worth reading! That's Vencil Mares, sitting at the table at the far left of this photo (below).

We will return to the Taylor Cafe, and will also try out the Louie Mueller Barbecue place, just around the corner. It was opened just one year after Venice Mares opened the Taylor Cafe, and is also highly rated for its barbecue. Dan discovered both of these barbecue places on a list of the 25 BEST BARBECUE PLACES in AMERICA. Two of them from this small town of Taylor, Texas (population 16,000)!

Golden Friendships

Make new friends, 
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.
A circle is round,
it has no end.
That's how long,
I will be your friend.

These three guys were buddies at Abilene Christian College (now Abilene Christian University), some 47 or 48 years ago. They can tell some funny stories about their youthful escapades. We, the wives, were also students at ACC and knew each other, but the original friendships came through the boys. Since the six of us all live in Texas - spread out from Mission, to Georgetown, to Temple - we occasionally get together, as we did on Tuesday evening, at McAlister's Deli, in Temple. I especially like this picture of Dan T., Milt M., and Dan, sharing memories.

Here we all are, six ACC/ACU alums. Milt and Susie just took a cruise to Alaska to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Dan and Charlyn, and Dan and I, will be celebrating 50 years of marriage in two years.

Left to right: Dan T., Milt M., Dan Judd, Linda Judd, Susie M., Charlyn T.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Surprise Visit from the Ruckers

So . . . you have to know the back-story . . . My wonderful, long-time friend, Gloria Rucker, who lives in Washington state, had planned to come to Houston, while I was there with the kids. She was going to get a hotel room and stay for about three nights, so she and I could have some girl-time. We're long over-due for that! Then she was heading to San Antonio, where she was to attend a reunion of Battle of the Bulge veterans (her father was one of them, before he passed away) and their families.

However, Hurricane Harvey came, and Gloria wisely decided it wasn't the time to be vacationing in Houston. I was sad that we wouldn't see each other, but was in full agreement that it was a wise decision, considering the congestion and confusion still rampant in Houston.

But yesterday afternoon, not long after I'd gotten home from the kids' house, I got a call from Gloria. She and Ken, along with one of the Battle of the Bulge veterans and his son, were in Round Rock, about 45 minutes away from me, and were going to be driving through Temple on their way to Dallas. She wanted to know if we could meet up for dinner! I was so thrilled.

So, even though we didn't get our couple days of girl-time, I got to see Gloria AND Ken, and enjoy a wonderful time and good dinner at Olive Garden. Ken has been very ill, so it was a wonderful blessing to get to see him, share some good hugs, and recall some of the great history we all share. Sadly, Dan was in Houston for the race he's working, so missed out on seeing them.

The Grandkids!

For many weeks I've been looking forward to staying with Clara and Robert, in September, while their parents took a well-deserved get-away to Rome and Venice. And then came Hurricane Harvey. In the midst of all that weather, Kelsey told me, "If our house floods, I'm not going to Rome." But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, their house was spared, so the trip was still on.

Dan and I drove to their house on Monday, September 18. Chris was already in Rome, working, and Kelsey left on Tuesday morning to join him. We were in charge from then until Chris and Kelsey returned, the evening of Wednesday, September 27. Although I've kept the kids before, this was my first time to keep them during the school year. I worried, a bit, over the new responsibilities of getting them up and off to school in the mornings, making sure homework was completed, keeping their allergies under control, and signing all of the take-home sheets that needed "parental approval." But it was a little like riding a bike - all those skills from my mommy-years were still there, and came back to me quickly.

The most challenging part of the day was the morning, making sure each child got up on time, got ready, ate breakfast, and had a lunch packed to take to school. Clara was pretty independent; all she needed was an occasional prompt to keep her moving. I packed Robert's lunch and walked to, and waited at, the bus stop each morning. There are six boys who wait for the bus together at his stop - no girls. Each morning they play a rambunctious game of tag, while they wait for the school bus. The manhole cover is "base."

Morning game of Tag.

Robert is a man after my own heart - a Beatles fan! This is his lunch box that I packed every morning.
The children were so amazing! There wasn't even one "Let's test Grandma" moment. I must have the best grandkids ever! I did have to make three trips to Clara's school . . . once to bring her some Benadryl for her allergies, and twice to bring her lunch, which she had packed but forgotten to take with her when she went out the door.

Besides Clara and Robert, there were two other youngsters in the house. Chris and Kelsey have opened up their home and their camper (and their hearts!) to a family who has been displaced by Harvey. They have two daughters, one Clara's age, and one who is a freshman in high school. They also have a chihuahua/rat terrier mix, named Brady, and a parakeet named Max, who joined in the fun. Someone asked Robert, while I was there, how it was having three "big sisters" now, instead of just one. His answer, "A little worse than before!"

Both Clara and M..are learning musical instruments in their first year of junior high school - M the clarinet and Clara the violin. 
Robert, reading a Ninjago book while Brady rests on his lap.
 On Saturday Dan and I took Clara and Robert to the theater to see the Lego Ninjago Movie. Robert is a real Ninjago fan, but all four of us agreed that the movie was really fun and entertaining, and deserved a "thumbs up."

On Saturday evening we met up with Dan's cousin, Rand Baker and his wife, Jane (who live in Katy), at Pappasito's Cantina for dinner. Clara had a rocky start, complaining of a tummy ache. But once she put a few warm, home-made tortillas down, she was feeling much better.

Here we are with Rand and Jane Baker at Pappasito's.

The kids - all four of them - spent as much time as possible in the backyard pool. See those wrinkly, "pruney" feet?!

One evening, after dark, I happened to look out the breakfast nook window and see a lizard climbing on the window screen. I took a picture of it, and tried to convince the kids, the next morning, that an alligator had been swimming in their pool, but they were way too smart to fall for that!

We had lots of fun -- baking cookies, playing a game called "Googly Eyes," having a build-your-own pizza party, and doing art projects, including making a "Welcome Home" door-banner for Chris and Kelsey.

Here I am with my "Googly Eyes" glasses on. They distort your vision, making it pretty hard to draw pictures that the other players have to guess.
M, Clara and T, enjoying the results of their pizza party.
The door-banner. It included lots of questions for Mommy and Daddy to answer about their Italian trip, some of them in Italian, thanks to Google Translate.

On Sunday morning, it was Robert's turn to have a tummy ache, so I kept him home while Dan and Clara went to church. Clara wore a new dress that their house guests had given her, and looked cute as a bug in a rug!

 Sunday afternoon, Chris and Kelsey Skyped us. The kids loved talking to them. Kelsey held the laptop up and gave them a tour of their suite, and let them see the views from the hotel windows - including, of course, canals and beautiful architecture.

Skyping with Mommy.

 I left for home on Thursday, the morning after Chris and Kelsey returned. Dan had already gone home, on Monday, to get himself ready to come BACK to Houston for the car race he had to work over the weekend (thus we had to bring two cars to their house). I was expecting to be completely wiped out, but it turned out to be a fun, enjoyable week, and I wasn't that tired. It was a great bonding time for grandparents and grandkids. Love, love, love those two kids!