Year End Reflections……

Poignancy warning. I am sitting in a quiet house, sipping coffee as my husband, son, and daughter-in-law sleep. In actuality, I slept late for me and so will have less quiet time to write this. I won Free Cell and have once again been defeated at the computer chess game, but that’s hardly surprising since I’m not that good a chess player. It’s funny that I just thought of the guy who taught me to play chess all those years ago. I think I’ll check on FB and see if I can find him.

We’re planning a festive evening with the menu that I posted earlier, the kids are going to the fascinating Monkey Jungle, and if Mother Nature doesn’t lay the wind down, we’ll have to rearrange furniture so we can seat eight people inside. (Poolside dining on New Year’s Eve is such a fun thing to do.)

All in all, it’s a good day, yet I’m struggling with something that I’ve avoided trying to clarify because as often happens, it is an uncomfortable issue. The old “seven deadly sins” pretty much sums up the foundation of many human ills, although it is the one of “envy” that’s causing my reflection. There is much to envy when we focus on the material world and we are very attuned to that for a variety of reasons. We combine that with wanting to present the “right image” and when we can’t necessarily obtain, or in some cases, sustain that, it gives rise to anger or sadness. We want to “blame someone” because we haven’t gotten what we think is “fair”, or feel sad because we can’t have something in particular. It’s good to have goals, ambitions, and dreams, and as I have written about before, I firmly believe in the saying of, “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp”. If you achieve one goal or dream, sure, go ahead and reach for another. In doing so though, are you forgetting to appreciate what you have? And is the goal or dream being driven mostly by the desire to be “better” than someone else rather than to be something for yourself or for someone you care about? Is envy at the root of whatever it is you want? As a die-hard capitalist, I’m all for the house, car, travel, etc., What I am not for is racking up crippling debt to have those things and being unable to either prioritize what you want to make appropriate trade-offs or to say, “No, sorry can’t afford that.” And no, I’m not talking here about that flash of envy where you look at your losing lottery ticket and think, “Man, why couldn’t that have been me?”. And are there greedy people out there (another of those seven deadly sins) who truly don’t seem to deserve the bounty they get? Yes, as there have been since mankind came into existence.

So as this year closes and a new year is upon us, here is hoping that you attain/keep those things that are genuinely important to you.

 

New Year’s Eve Menu……

A number of years ago we decided that being out and about on New Year’s Eve more than about three miles from home was not a good idea unless it was one of those hotel package arrangements. So, we began to declare New Year’s Eve dinner as something special where we would do complicted dishes with multiple steps or that have a “wow” factor. We usually invite one or two other couples who live close by – preferably those who can walk over or have to drive less than three miles. Most of our dinners have worked out well although there was one terrible situation where the small veal roast we got was simply not the quality we expected and oh yes, there was one other time that was okay, but nothing to brag about.

This year we will have eight since our son and daughter-in-law will be here and that maxes us out for matching place settings. Anyway, after much discussion (as we always do), it will be a roasted crown of pork that will then be cut into individual chops, a mashed potato casserole that works well with a crowd, a beautiful salad, and whole petite green beans with sundried tomatoes. Oh yes, I’m tentatively planning a nice cream peppercorn sauce as well, although that might change to something less spicy. Hors d’oeuvres will be on the seafood side with smoked baby clams, chilled spiced shrimp and bite-size crabcakes. Dessert – now dessert is a different story. It isn’t really my thing and while we have made some nice ones, I think I’ll send “the kids” to pick something out instead.

On a closing note, the crown pork is also not a dish I excel in and husband has agreed that he will not work  that afternoon. Just as when we served the standing rib roast two years ago, the main dish will be his domain.

 

Found a New Place in Key Largo…..

Category 3 Bar & Grill at MM 99.2 Bayside in Key Largo

You know you’re in a good place when you have trouble deciding where to have lunch because you have multiple favorites. Well, that decision just became more difficult because we had lunch the other day at Category 3 Bar & Grill at MM 99.2, Bayside, in Key Largo. We had heard it was worth a visit and the recommendations were correct.

They are also open for dinner and unless you are craving waterfront dining or need a full bar, I can join in recommending them providing you’re hungry. Well, I suppose you could have just an appetizer if you want something light. The decor is a lot of fun with the hurricane theme self-explanatory. They have a nice array of beer on tap, to include Cat 3 IPA, and other brands in bottles. The staff was friendly and knows the menu well. The menu covers all the basics and they have some intriguing twists such as their stuffed jalapeno appetizer. Theirs is stuffed with chili instead of cream or cheddar cheese. And speaking of stuffed, their burgers are indeed excellant with an interesting variety to choose from. The blackened hogfish was defintely equal to my spicy burger and the fries were seasoned the way we like them.

I don’t know Bill and Lorraine’s background or what motivated them to open the restaurant, but I do hope they are successful.

What’s in a Name……

I was having a conversation yesterday that triggered a discussion about my name. As I have posted before, I did not take either of the career paths I had originally anticipated since I am neither a teacher nor a lawyer. However, along the way, I have rather inadvertently experienced several name changes, all of which were based on the circumstances of the time. Therefore, the same person who knew me as Beth Ruffin is at an early point in my life, and can easily be talking to someone who only knows me as Charlie Hudson. I suppose in the strictest sense, I am Charlotte Elizabeth Ruffin Kimball Hudson.

I was never called Charlotte growing up, but rather Beth. By the way, that did cause some akwardness the year I lived in France. There is no “th” sound in French, only “t”, ergo, “Bete” was what they heard. For those French speakers, you know that the two translations of “bete” are beast and stupid. You can see why it was confusing and “Elisabet” was better for them.

Okay, back to the transition. Although first names are officailly used in the Army, it is not uncommon to use last names in casual conversation and derive nicknames from that. It wasn’t long before I became known as “Ruff” for Ruffin. There was the added humor of that being during the years when women were just entering many traditional “male fields” and the chance to call a female who ticked in at under five feet tall, “Ruff” was irresitable. During my first assignment, with men still not being accustomed to women filling what had previously been male roles, “Charlie” came about from Charlotte. “Charlie” stuck and of course the last names are successive from maiden to second marriage. My initial published articles were professional in nature under Charlotte and I don’t actually recall why I decided to use Charlie when I launched into book length works.

Now, there was a gentleman that I knew once who liked to call me Becky, one I worked with who for some reason referred to me as Polly, and my brother-in-law who still calls me Bertha as an inside family joke. So that’s the progression of names – all of whom I answer to depending on the individual I am conversing with.

 

Traveling During the Holidays……

It is winter. This means potential snow and ice and travel delays. Mother Nature, as we all know, tends to not be respectful of human plans when it comes to such things. People travel so that planes and other means of transport are full, highways get jammed and trips can become snarled. Here’s the thing. You will either eventually get to where you are supposed to go, or if you are on a particularly short schedule, you will determine that you can’t make the trip and cancel it. That’s what happens. It’s frustrating and disappointing and can sometimes be expensive. Pleading with Mother Nature and snarling at other people does not usually resolve the problem. Of course it can be difficult to maintain calm when you’re tired and watching your plans crumble, and yes, the additional cost of traveling over the holidays adds to that stress.

Here’s wishing you safe and smooth travels, but if you encounter problems, here is also hoping that you can take a deep breath or two and remember that you are not alone with the problem. If you roll in during the wee hours of Christmas Day, you are still there. If you are stuck somewhere and can only telephone and say you’ll be there the day after, or are calling it quits, the spirit that is Christmas surrounds those that will be thinking of you and can reach through cyberspace to give you a virtual hug.

Naturally, whether traveling or not, if you have some time on your hands and are looking for the heart-warming kind of story to read, I have three holiday-themed ones in the Short Story Archive of my website. Granted, Twelve Pack Trip is for Thanksgiving, but it’s the same sentiment. Draft With a Sprig of Mistletoe and A Misty Christmas are obviously for this time of year and one of these days I’ll get around to crafting a new one.

One of Those Days….

This was supposed to be a fairly calm week, and yet, so far that isn’t how it’s working out. I am at the end of the day and notwithstanding the numerous things that I have accomplished, several of them were unplanned and therefore, those things that I was supposed to do did not make it from “To Do”, to “Done”.  This is only partially related to my difficulty is saying, “No” to people. After all, the icemaker going out was just bad timing. A neighbor fallling ill was completely unexpected, and me suddenly realizing that I hadn’t completed the text for the underwater photos that we will be sending to family was an error on my part.

I did, however, accomplish one major task which was to check that our son and his wife are scheduled to go visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon while they are here. The tours book up very quickly and I really wanted them to be able to go this time. The Christmas tree should go up tonight and the wreaths on the door, but some of the other decorations may very well stay in their boxes. Hmmm, at this rate, I’m thinking extra poinsettias. They’re pretty and colorful.

Stocking stuffers are still on my list, too, but that should be managed tomorrow and those really are easy to lay my hands on. So, okay – anyone else out there behind on all of this?

Weddings and Pageants…..

This post is not a knock on big weddings in case it comes across that way. We once attended a wedding where we knew that the $60,000 allocated for it had all been spent and there was no question that it was a dazzling and fun affair. However, earlier this week we also attended one of those great Keys weddings that was very far removed from that and just as much fun.

It was, of course, a sunset event and in true Keys fashion as we strolled past the Tiki Hut where the dinner was to be, a gentleman asked if we were on our way to the wedding. At the “yes” response, he said, “Well, don’t you want to take a drink down with you?” Captain Morgans and Diet Coke in hand, we joined the other guests on the small beach, walking out onto the pier as we waited for the bride and groom. The attire was “Keys formal,’ meaning that the men did wear long pants, but no ties to be seen. Sandals naturally as the primary footware for most and brown pelicans, gulls, herons, and egrets swooping past.The entire ceremony took approximately ten minutes, another few minutes added in for photos, and it was back to the Tiki Hut for a simple, but good buffet.

Again, this is not a knock on fabulous weddings if that is something you can afford. The question becomes as to if you want a wedding or a pageant. Friends and family who love you genuinely do not care about the trappings – what they want to see is that glow that comes from two people exchanging vows and rings when at that moment, their palable love literally flows from them. It is shared laughter and joy and everything else is the gift wrap that it comes in.

The point is that if you are planning a wedding or have influence with someone who is, think about what you want from the wedding – to celebrate the couple or have a pageant of some degree. You can absolutely do both just as you can choose to stay at a very nice resort when you travel instead of at a cheaper hotel. If it is a situation though where if money is tight and the big wedding is a financial strain, the marriage is just as legal without the expense. As for people who might think “you haven’t done it correctly” – well, you can gather from this post how much value I give that opinion.

Breakfast Before Sunrise…..

Sunrise Over Galveston Bay

I’ve written before about being a morning person and the fact that my husband isn’t, but we have a rythym worked out. My sister, on the other hand, is also a morning person and so on Sunday when we were in Galveston and both awake at 4:45 a.m., it made sense to get up. The IHOP on Seawall Boulevard is open 24 hours a day and it was an easy walk from the Holiday Inn. It also wasn’t what one would call crowded at the time we arrived and we sat by the window where we could gauge the sunrise.

Parts of the sky were turning pink when we finished and we went across the street as we had the evening before, but for the sunrise instead of the sunset. There were actually a number of joggers and dog walkers out and it was a beautiful sight as the pink-gold sun seemed to emerge from the bay.

We set back out for Houston and took a different route, stopping in a small seaside theme park at Kemah. It’s an old boardwalk design mixed with a couple of large restaurants and some nice rides all at the edge of the water, and then a number of cute shops on the approach to the water. There was a Starbucks of course and we sipped and strolled, watching brown pelicans, seagulls, and other birds along the shore.

One more stop at a Marshall’s for a little shopping, then back to the house to get caught up on email and then lazed away the afternoon watching “War Horse” and a couple of episodes of “Without a Trace”. Dinner was at a Saltgrass Steakhouse, a chain that we all enjoy. It’s good food in an utterly Texas ambience and they serve a delicious beer bread. We topped the evening off with watching the original “Miracle on 34th Street”. That was hardly my brother-in-law’s choice when he came downstairs to see what we were up to, but he indulged us knowing that we early birds would go to bed soon and he could switch to whatever he wanted to.

It was a pleasant last day and we’ll see what next year brings.

Seagull on beach at Galveston Bay

 

A Day in Galveston……

Casey’s Restaurant in Galveston

Combining business with pleasure is always nice. My sister lives in Houston and is a road warrior so she often travels near us and we get in a visit. Last year we had the little mini-family reunion in New Orleans for the Nutcracker performance. When I wrote Deadly Doubloons, I began the novel in Galveston and needed some information about diving in the area. I contacted Tom Andersen of Island Divers and he kindly answered my questions. Although Doubloons began in Galveston and then moved to other locations, I am working on False Front (a little edgier than Doubloons) and it is set in Houston and Galveston. Well okay, it actually starts in Belize. Anyway, the point is that I needed to be on the ground for a day and so I came in to visit my sister and we popped down for a leisurely day and night of ”girl time” and general relaxation. I had booked us into the Holiday Inn on Seawall Blvd with a great view. The only real “business” was to go by Island Divers and ride around getting oriented.

Tom and Asa Andersen are a delightful couple and it was a Saturday morning when their shop wasn’t terribly busy. Asa, who has a real estate background, had the perfect place in mind for a location that I needed for False Front. Tom, who has a commercial diving background, also does a lot of technical diving and we chatted briefly about another aspect of the book. It was a pleasure meeting them and when it comes time for us to dive the Flower Gardens, I’m sure we’ll be giving them a call. While we were talking my sister found a great book for their grandchildren – The Dragons of Kangaroo Island, by Jacqui Stanley, who is also an artist. (http://www.islanddiversgalveston.com).

Lunch was at Casey’s where they have 100 beers – 20 of them on tap. My sister rarely drinks beer, but I had a good time with Fireman #4, a local beer. A little shrimp gumbo, chilled shrimp, carb cake, and delicious onion rings made for a fun lunch. Some driving around, popping into a couple of cute shops, and a relaxed afternoon of reading on the balcony as we watched a handful of surfers. We’d driven through on-again, off-again rain that morning, but Mother Nature was kind and the sun came out for partly cloudy skies instead of mostly. In fact, we went across Seawall Boulevard and strolled on the beach to watch the sunset. It was a really nice day topped with a dinner that I’ll talk about in the next post.

Tom and Asa Andersen in their Galveston dive center, Island Divers.

Pearl Harbor Day Reminds Me……

One of the WW II exhibits at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Photo from their web site

A swing onto the serious side and a reminder for anyone who is, or knows of, a woman who is a veteran. World War II is essentially when women entered the U.S. military in significant numbers and laid the foundation for so much of what came after them. There had been nurses and administrative positions for a long time, but more and more roles were at least temporarily opened for women to fill as men were needed in combat units. There is a wonderfully rich repository of these contributions at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial located at Arlington Cemetary in Washington, D.C. (http://www.womensmemorial.org). I wrote a specific post about this earlier and would once again urge you to go to their web site, make a visit if you are in the area, and most especially, encourage women veterans to register with the museum. There is no cost and it is a simple process. You might be surprised to find grandmothers and great aunts who served and for whatever reason, don’t talk about it.

I also created a passage in Irises to Ashes about a character who served as one of the female pilots who helped ferry airplanes across the Atlantic during World War II. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was a special program where women piloted all type of aircraft in training and other capacities that were not directly combat related. Although in the novel, I used it to illustrate a woman who chose an unconventional route for her life, the real stories, as with much of history, are fascinating.