Monday, August 24, 2015

A Different Day

Today is a very hectic day for so many people I care about.  It is the first day of school with the kids.  Strange not to be a part of it this year.  From the moment I woke up my friends have been on my mind.  I've texted, emailed, and Facebook messaged them my support, but part of me wishes I could be there to help and experience all the challenges and the joys with students I have come to love.

That said I am having my own new adventures in this post "best job I ever had" world.  Today I embraced the circumstances I find myself in and decided to really take advantage of living in the city.  Maybe I haven't told you about that move yet.  Oops.  Yes, I have made the move to the condo in Houston and now spend most of my time here.  We are in the heart of the Galleria area surrounded by shops and restaurants and a brand new HEB (best grocery store ever).

I could have fought the morning rush hour traffic, but instead loaded up my new pull cart with my grocery bags and dry cleaning and headed out.  Yep.  There is a dry cleaner right next door to the HEB.

I've been so excited to use this cart!  I first posted about it on Facebook back in June and I'm so glad I got one.  It's been raining here everyday, but this morning it held off so I could break it in.

It was early, not yet hot, and the shadows were long over the sidewalks keeping me out of the sun.  Perfect for the 1/2 mile walk.

I skipped getting a cart and loaded all my purchases right into mine as I went through the store.  It felt weird at first, but it's no bigger than the store carts and I knew everything I bought would fit for the walk home.  I even got a few compliments on it and the sacker loved it.

The walk home was just as pleasant with a little cloud cover to get me through the parking lot . . .

. . . and back on my street headed home with the trees still giving up some shade.

Just caught myself calling the condo home.  I admit it's beginning to feel like it.

My cute little front porch facing the pool.
I bought meat, dairy, and even frozen foods and they all made it home fine.  The puff pastry didn't thaw and the butter didn't even get soft!  Not sure I would risk ice cream, but never say never.  Blue Bell is back so it maybe worth the risk.

I will say, it's pretty cool to be able to roll my groceries right into the kitchen to unload.  Easy Peasy. And once it was unloaded, the bags got folded, the cart got folded, and they both have a place with my new hall tree for the next trip.

And how about that hall tree!  Got it at an antique store here in Houston.  It's absolutely perfect.  Made in Italy mid century.  Got lucky that I happened into the store at the same time they were unloading it.  I have no doubt it would have sold to the next person through the door if I had not scooped it up.  More on it and the other new things around here in another post soon.  Now I need to get lunch on the table, because another wonderful thing about living in the city is that Breck's office is only 1 1/2 miles from here and he comes home for lunch.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Number 57: Franklin Mountains State Park

When passing through El Paso last month Breck and I stopped at 3 state parks.  The first was Wyler Tramway, after which we headed over to Franklin Mountains State Park. 

For this hike I only brought my wide angle lens because . . . well . . . just look.  How else could I have captured it all?

We parked at the Ron Coleman Trailhead, lathered on the sunscreen, and headed up the mountain.

The cave in the distance was just too tempting.  Do you see the cave?

How about I zoom in on the photo and draw a big arrow to help you.

How about zooming in again and draw another arrow to show you two people on the trail almost to the cave.  That should give you a little scale to the vastness of the area.

Now back to that original photo.  You can't even see those people can you?

The air was so dry and the sky so blue, but a few clouds popped up adding to the gorgeous scene.

We stopped several times on the climb to turn and look back down the mountain to El Paso in the distance.  I wondered how many of the 800,000 plus people below had never seen their city from here.

Obviously from the tagging  around the mouth of the cave several had.

While I sat in the shade of the cave, feeling the cool (can you believe it?) breeze, and enjoying the view, Breck headed up a little further on the trail and over the rocks.

Does this sound familiar to you?  This scenario is very similar to our experience in Palo Duro State Park where we also hiked up to a cave and Breck headed over the rocks while I stayed behind in the shade and cool cave breeze.  Though that wasn't nearly as long or as high a hike.

Palo Duro State Park
As always, and you may be tired of my saying it, but each of these parks is so unique.  Looking back at the photos of Palo Duro remind me of that yet again.


We have already decided that on our next road trip through El Paso we will plan to hike the Tom Mays Unit of the park.  We arrived too late in the day to do it on this trip as the gate closes at 5, but we got a sense of the place on a drive through.

Guess what?  More caves.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Gosh It's Good. Orange Fig Jam.

I love summer canning.  Jams.  Pickles.  Jalapenos.  I love it all.

Last week I was able to go to a very generous neighbor's house and picked figs from her tree.

10 pounds of figs.  No less.

I had a friend visiting from out of town and we were already in canning mode making peach preserves and prickly pear jelly from some goodies she had picked at her family's property.

These figs were perfect for jam.  Unbelievably juicy, sweet, and ripe.

If you have never worked with figs I want to tell you how easy they are to prepare.  Wash.  Chop.  That simple.  No peeling like peaches.  No coring like apples.  Easy and quick.

It took us no time to quarter 5 of the 10 pounds of the juicy gems.

Cooking took a little longer.  We ended up boiling it down for 45 minutes to get it to a thick and sticky consistency perfect to serve with cream cheese and bagels.

And, my gosh, the smell was fabulous.

Sometimes getting it right can be tricky, but we got lucky with the figs and got it perfect.  I know this because I have already opened a jar for some family that were in town for the weekend.  (Goat cheese with figs and toasted walnuts on crackers).

I've already decided that I now need a fig tree of my own.  It's a given.  My neighbor's tree has been in the ground for 3 years and already she has more figs than she can use on her own.  Hopefully I won't forget I want to do this between now and January when it would be ideal to plant one.

As for our canning, we were successful.  Fourty-eight cans of jams and jellies all from fresh produce we didn't buy in the store.  Next time we'll try Mesquite Jelly.  Just waiting on the pods to ripen.

Orange Fig Jam

5 pounds of figs
1 lemon, seeded and thinly sliced
juice and peel of one orange
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cloves

Combine all the ingredients above in a large pot.  Bring to a boil.  Stir often and boil gently for 30-45 minutes checking for desired consistency.  Ladle jam into prepared sterilized half pint jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove from the bath and cool.  Makes approximately 12 jars.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Number 56: Wyler Aerial Tramway

El Paso is a long way from home.  705 miles away.  Texas is big, y'all.  So when Breck and I were planning a driving trip to California we knew we should take advantage of being in the area to check out the three Texas State Parks in El Paso.  Stop one was the Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park located in the Franklin Mountains in the middle of the city.

I'm not a fan of heights.  It's no secret.  But it was a State Park so . . .

. . .  whew.  Can you see how far up it goes?  940 feet from where we were standing, but we already were way above the town in the Franklin Mountains.  The drive to the tramway was a long and winding road that strained my poor Chevy Malibu's 4 cylinder engine.

Once we were there, there was no turning back.  Breck even gave me an out, but I didn't take it.

Can you believe I did it?  Small cable car zooming straight up the mountain with the incredibly huge city of El Paso below.

Look closely.  Can you see my car in the parking lot down there?  Can you see the parking lot?

I'll zoom in.  Here it is.  Waaaay the heck down there.

Oh, but when I look at the view it's amazing.  You can see 7,000 square miles from up there.

El Paso is so big.  It sprawls in every direction.

From the top you can see all of the city, and into New Mexico, and Mexico.

Beautiful, but in a different way than most Texas parks.

We didn't hike here today.  My flip flops were not trail worthy.  But they do have trails from the top of the peek.

I told you El Paso is really, really big.  Just look behind me.  Those mountains are in New Mexico.

After taking in the views from the top we grabbed a gondola down.

It was fun to do something different at a park.  No hiking or canoeing, just plain old sight seeing from the top of a mountain in the middle of the the 19th largest city population in the United States.