Saturday, December 16, 2017

The third best palace

Plaza Espana near our hotel with the largest billboard we ever saw. For an American series on Netflix of all things

Most of our walk was along Gran Via, sort of the Fifth Avenue of Madrid but if you can believe it, much more crowded I loved the Art Noveau buildings

Palacio Cilibes now a civic building. If you blow it up, you see they welcome refuges

It was a magic moment when all the street lights turned on

Puerta de Acala Using a long exposure, I could get rid of the pesky cars but need a steady hand. Note flowers still. Madrid can go below freezing but the ground stays warm enough for palm trees

Mas luces

Each block had a different style as did the side streets

I loved all the colors

It is early the next day and chilly thus the down coat, which I ended up wearing even on much warmer days as all the zippered pockets meant no purse or stupid fanny pack to carry, Hard to pickpocket. This coat stuffs into a very tiny bag, thus useful for travelling. It was in my missing luggage.

lots of manicured gardens

Front of the palace. It has 2800 rooms. Maybe we saw 50?

Rick Steves, whose advice we often take, rated this palace's interiors as the third best in Europe behind Versailles in France ( I like the Spanish one better, more variety in design) and the Schoenbronn in Vienna, where I haven't been

Huge downside to this place is that except for a few rooms, photos were NOT allowed. This is a forbidden photo. Steve took more even though he has a much more obvious camera

They had a special exhibit on Carlos III, whose reign was around 1780. He loved luxury. His bed. He ruled around of the time of the French revolution, which didn't spread too much to Spain. Initially anti-Royalists thought of Napoleon as some sort of hero until he invaded Spain and slaughtered them

Me in a guard station

I can now edit stuff. Not sure why one day nothing works  and then all is fine.
We returned at midnight Friday after getting up the equivalent of midnight the day before for our long flights and waiting, waiting, home, lengthened due to bad weather in the USA, de-icing, poor planning on Delta, bad equipment, etc. Going from sunny palm trees to a driveway with 8 inches of snow so we had to carry things and our sleeping granddaughter, who we were to watch for the weekend was a shock to our very tired bodies.

All in all a good trip though it had some moments of huge stress no thanks to some dyslexic Air France baggage handler in Paris who failed to note the MAD tag and read it  as CDG. In the past, I've done trips here on the cheap but as it was our anniversary, we had Costco handle most of the details. 3 star hotel in Madrid in a good location; 4 star one in Sevilla far from everything; 5 star in Barcelona in a perfect location and was over the top in every way. Barcelona was both of our favorites. This was my third visit here but I will never be able to see everything I want unless I am here for weeks.

Spain has changed since I've been there last, much more expensive and much more English speaking. The people we dealt with by far our the most helpful, friendly in Europe. Very, very kind. Where did we find the least kind people in our limited travels? England. A gross stereotype I know and I feel guilty as when I was travelling by myself there for a week (Steve was working there on a short term assignment) various people would reach out to help me. And the Spanish I've been studying for 3 months? European Spanish is much different than the Latin American Spanish I was learning. And I kept using Italian words and freezing at the wrong times. I could barely eke out a competent sentence. And forget about Catalan, the official language of Barcelona. Even some of the locals have trouble with it. On our final day, our airport driver (on time, bless him)was a very handsome, sweet man from Madrid talked to us (mainly me, Steve never engages). In Mexico, he would be known as a guapo, a very good looking guy. Not sure if they use that term in Spain. He now lives with his Catalan girlfriend in Barcelona but she says his Catalan is so bad, he needs to speak Spanish with her.

We took an overnight flight on Air France to Paris on a very old, huge plane. Upside: much better food and wine. Downside: crappy video player and selection. I only slept a little. The plane was late which was stressful as we had only a short layover in Paris and had to scramble from one place to another though the flight attendant told us we would be OK, which we were. Costco told us that our airport pick-up would wait only an hour after our scheduled flight was to come and if we were late, to call this number, which we had to buy a special phone plan full of lots of rules and changing settings, in advance. I also thought the pick-up person would be right outside the baggage area with our name on a card. I couldn't find him nor could I run to the curb or I would be locked out of the airport. We waited and waited for our luggage with the minutes ticking down to when he would leave. I tried to call the help line while reading all the rules about international calling only to be put on hold. I thought I would be talking to the local transport office but no, some help desk way off in the Baleric Islands where I was put on hold for eternity it seems ( I was allowed only so many minutes). Meanwhile everyone had left the luggage area and no baggage. F@#$#! We waited in a long line with the missing luggage person who wanted a complete description of everything in the bags. Good news though. They found our luggage back in Paris rotating around an empty carousel and it will be here on the next flight and eventually delivered to our hotel. It ended up not coming until we were asleep and after more expensive phone calls. Meanwhile the travel help desk said a new driver has been sent and will be waiting for us in area 6 wherever that was. We went to search for that area, never found but we did find a man holding Steve's name. Yay! To the hotel, much later than planned. Thanks Air France! Did I say how tired we were? Some time during the evening I got a text from Verizon saying how much data I was using and all the extras we will now have to pay. Steve was furious with me as I must have had the wrong settings. They have since reversed these charges but only after we threatened to cancel the 5 accounts we have with them.
In advance, I had planned the sites to see but didn't plan out transportation options. Also I hate to be the sole planner (though Steve did buy the package and our commuter plane flight when our train was canceled) so when things don't work out, it is all MY fault. This issue came up much too often.

So my warm coat was in my suitcase for our walk into Madrid but I wasn't cold. I thought we would have time for the nearby palace but scratch that. But it was a nice evening and when the lights came on, it was so, so beautiful! We bought stuff at a good bakery and later stopped at the big chain El Cortes Ingles, which I had heavily relied on in the past for about everything for additional stuff (wine!!!) We were so tired. I fretted abut the luggage regretting stuff I might not ever see again. Did they ever put our stuff on the plane? The hotel was called to confirm we were actually staying there but no details whether or when it would come. In my stupor, I heard the hotel phone but couldn't answer it in time. The staff then entered our room (probably thought we weren't there) with our bags.I keep my toiletries in the front pocket. After a long time of no teeth brushing I could feel cavities growing. Front pockets were empty! But in the dark I finally realized I was searching in Steve's bag, not mine. Fell asleep with clean teeth.

A new day starting with an excellent buffet and coffee. To the palace and then more!.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Smells good enough to eat

My  dining room tree. It lights up at night

new tree thanks to one of the moms

In my bathroom, especially in my shower, I have all sorts of scrubs and washes of various fragrances. A new one thanks to one of the moms: ginger and cardamom. My favorite for soaking in the tub; ginger blossom though I have to be careful to use just a little. Our soft water makes things suds more easily. I did finally find time to lounge around in my jacuzzi last week with my scented candles (vanilla cookie) and wine. When I wash Maya's face, I give her a choice: sometimes she wants coconut, other times she wants to smell like the sea.  brought my assortment f hair stuff and lotions to Tessa's house as I felt she needed something that didn't dry her skin and hair out so much. She liked how everything smelled except for the rosemary shampoo. Kids don't like herbal aromas. I remember my mom put lavender sachets in all her drawers. I hated the smell as aid but I am learning to like it.
Does anyone remember Mum's deodorant? It came as a cream in a white glass jar It said it gave 7 day protection. Seven days without cleaning? Yuk.

I am trying to distract myself from worrying about our impending trip. We have a short lay over in Paris before flying to Madrid. We just got a text saying our plane will leave even later making the layover a real scramble. I am all packed. Hope I didn't forget anything. 

Apple will no longer support Blogger. Boo hiss. I will have my phone but unless I borrow a computer, photos will have to wait. I will put stuff on Facebook.

Hasta la vista!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gingerbread limoncello trifle

In an attempt to make the gifts more special, I covered them with 50 blinking fairy lights

full moon rising

my Christmas dessert: gingerbread soaked in limoncello with alternating layers of lemon curd, whipped cream, candied ginger and raspberries

from the side: ideally layers should be even. Too much whipped cream, not enough lemon curd. Also bowl is not a true trifle bowl as sides slope too much

Our hostess's pretty tree

us after 38 years of meeting

What is a trifle? Typically a large parfait with alternating layers of sponge cake, fruit, whipped cream and custard but I wanted it to be more holiday friendly. Gingerbread for sure. Instead of custard, lemon curd? I have some enormous raspberries that are very pretty and for some reason, 3 bottles of limoncello. The individual components tasted good but would they work together? I thought so. In the past, I've made a buche de noel but time to change it up.

Last night was our Chosen Sisters Christmas party. Early because I will leave in a few days, followed shortly by another Mom, followed shortly by yet another. We won't all be in town until January. I have been accumulating suitable presents all year on my travels. It was a lot of fun. We've been meeting since our older kids were babies and have become quite close. Everyone brought special dishes so things were quite festive. And lots of presents. I now have yet another tree, which I let Maya decorate this morning. I am blessed to have these ladies in my life.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our day in Court

We put up our seizure inducing flashing snowflakes

Christmas cactus all abloom

my lone blooming orchid

Cooper's hawks surveying my feeders. They saw him coming

Yesterday was the worst day so far this year. Ugh! And as I knew it was coming, it sort of spoiled the week before in anticipation. Naomi filed a motion to change her joint custody arrangement to sole custody. She wanted both physical and legal. She also filed several other motions full of cross outs. For instance, since she was making the complaints, one would think she would be the plaintiff but in the original divorce trial, she was the defendant so going forward, anything to do with custodial arrangements, she has to be the defendant. Due to incompetence of the many involved, the only motion the judge saw was that for parenting time. He said that was for the Friend of the Court to decide, contact them and see him only if there can't be an agreement. Naomi said she was there really to change the custody arrangement as Don'tae moved 150 miles away and is out of state much of the time and she wants the child support to reflect that. She then said she wanted sole legal custody, which I warned her about. The judge asked, on what grounds? Naomi didn't have an answer. Possible answers: not agreeing about the AHDH medication; not helping with homework. Don'tae then (we were really hoping he'd be out of state again) made this impassioned speech about what a good father he is and how he is there every weekend (not true!!!!) and how Naomi doesn't agree to share in the driving. And then the judge went on some speech how kids need their dad and at least Naomi could drive half way. This I didn't expect. Don'tae is the one who decided to move, why should Naomi be punished but Naomi was too shy or dumbfounded to counteract that. So nothing was settled. They have to file all sorts of stuff with the Friend of the Court and meet with them.

So Naomi was left in a toxic mood screaming at me. I couldn't wait to get her out of the car. And as soon as I do that, her ex husband is on the phone screaming at me. Said I wouldn't talk until he lowers his voice. He said he is willing to compromise but that turned out to be false. And he got married just the day before just in case Naomi mentioned  in court that he was living with an unmarried woman. He considers his 3 step kids to be Maya's siblings. Naomi most definitely does not. He thinks Maya should be up north even when he isn't there to bound with this new family. I said her school and social life are here. Classmate birthdays are on weekends. This is an important part of a little girl's life. He was asked to drive her last year to one of these parties and he conveniently forgot, which he blamed on Naomi for not reminding him more than once.

It seems to be a no win situation. It made my head hurt. Since I didn't get to run more than a few miles in the morning since we were due in court, I went off on a bike ride to clear my mind to return to Naomi feeling hopeless about the bad choices she's made and little way out of her dead end life. This is what usually happens to teenage moms even with ones with a big safety net such as herself. This is why I was in such despair when I learned she was pregnant. She seemed so sad and hopeless I invited her over. Fortunately she was in a better mood by then.

Once my lab results were in, my new physician decided 2 months ago I was hyperthyroid, which made some sense as I continued to take the same dose of synthroid as I did when I weighed 60% more. I really had no clinical signs though of being hyper. She recommended that I skip one dose a week and be retested. This week I was reading whether I could drink coffee before the blood test or not (yes I can; I could eat a pound cake if I wanted) and noticed that taking aspirin can lower TSH results leading to false diagnoses of hyperthyroidism. Wish I knew that before! I take baby aspirin daily as it presumably cuts down on breast cancer recurrences and colon cancer occurrences along with reducing heart attacks and maybe strokes. So my lab results were in this morning. TSH is on the low side of normal but more importantly, my thyroid hormone levels themselves are smack in the middle of normal. So I guess she was lucky guessing the dose.

I now have gold sparkly nails for our Moms Christmas party this weekend. Extra bonus, I got the best nail person at the place where I go. And it has been warm so I can run without ice and bike somewhat comfortably. November is almost over. And for each winter month, I have an escape planned. A week from today, we will be in sunny Espana. Yay!

Monday, November 27, 2017

The birds and the trees

two minutes previous the sky was all red. Snooze you lose.

This weekend was spent putting up lights and Xmas decorations. One of the 3 trees

Josh's family including his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Hannah lets the other grandma hold her. Sigh

The main tree. Needed a ladder to put up some of the ornaments. Finally got the angel topper to work by replacing a bulb. Not easy to do as the whole thing needed to be taken apart. Hopefully it is good for another 10 years

I've been collecting ornaments for 40 years thus I have enough to cover 3 trees and then some. Unless the ornament completely breaks, I don't throw things away so stained ornaments from pine sap still make their way on the tree though in the back. I have toddler projects, really cheap ornaments when I couldn't afford better, thrift store specials, gifts from friends and a few expensive hand blown specials. I also have strings of various lights no thanks to Costco having a special on timed fairy lights that can be programed for different flashing patterns. These are all over the place in our house. Sometimes I have grandkids help me decorate the tree. One year, right after my dire diagnosis, I was afraid it would be my last Christmas. I was on chemo and could barely move much less decorate a tree so my friends came over and did it for me. That was so special. But decorating trees is my job though Steve hauled the tree out of the basement and helped get the angel on. Being Jewish, he did not grow up with Christmas trees.

A new bird to be found its way into our yard. It was so tiny and fluffy, I thought it was a pre-fledging though what bird would have babies now? Its main feature, besides being smaller than a wren, was a yellow stripe on its head. Turns out it is a gold crowned kinglet, a type of warbler. As it is a strict insect eater, it will not come to feeders. Back in the summer, I went for a meadow bird walk in a preserve just a few miles from here and saw all kinds of birds I never noticed before as they are not seed eaters such as several types of warblers and flycatchers. Out on my runs, I hear woodpeckers. They are making a different noise than they do in the spring. As now there are few leaves, I can see them. Still waiting to see pileated and red headed woodpeckers though I have seen them else where. The downies have returned to my feeder and once a female red bellied woodpecker came along with the nut hatches. I will get more when (I hope never) it snows. I also hear the red tailed hawk screeching these days. They occasionally find their way to my feeders along with the Cooper's and sharp shinned hawks. They are not there for the suet and seeds though. I am waiting for kestrels to come. The juncos also known as snowbirds, have returned. This is the south for them. I have a huge flock of goldfinch but as they have their ugly winter colors, I could barely tell them apart from sparrows except they fly better and eat thistle.

I could almost run in shorts the other day. I ran on dirt roads into new territory for me for more than 7 miles non-stop. I am gradually getting faster but I am so much slower than I used to be. I just have to tell myself I am lucky I can run especially when I think back to that Christmas 9 years ago when I thought I might be living my last.

Friday, November 24, 2017

We are all 70th cousins

Another attempt at reflections She was in a bad mood and refused to smile

My bridge wall

Thanksgiving Chicken wars  Lucky we have high ceilings

5 out of 6 grandbabies Maya was with her father

Hannah finally let me hold her but one can see that  she is less than thrilled

I am tired
I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
Lou Reed, Venus in Furs

By 6 am yesterday you could find me slicing and dicing onions and celery for the stuffing. I needed sage  but forgot to pick it when it was light. Fortunately even in the dark it is easy to identify by its smell. I conscripted Maya the day before to tear the bread into cubes but she got bored even before she finished one loaf. Not much of my garden went into this meal, just herbs. My Brussel sprouts didn't grow large enough (yet) to be picked. Worse Steve got me frozen sprouts which do not roast to the proper consistency. While the stuffing cooled down so that I could use it to stuff the turkey, off for a run. How many Thanksgiving dinners have I prepared? I've lost count. Even as a child, I had a major hand in preparation although initially it consisted of running fresh cranberries and oranges through a hand cranked meat grinder. I remember the sound of cranberries popping. No one eats cranberry sauce here. We put out some craisins in bowls but I don't know if anyone touched them.
I didn't make everything. Rolls, candied yams, salad and desserts were supplied by the kids.  Besides the turkey, I made Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, gravy and rosemary potatoes. What takes time is the clean up afterwards and dealing with the leftovers.
I can fit 7 adults around my dining table and borrowed a small table for the 4 kids that are big enough. It was nice having everyone there although we missed Maya. Not that I didn't have her a lot in the preceding days.
I took her to the doctor's for a well child exam. Is 50 inches tall and weighs 50 pounds. Tall and skinny.As she gained a bit despite being on a higher dose of AHDH drugs.

Another second cousin has contacted me fishing for info about the great grand father we have in common. I don't know this cousin. My grandmother seemed to keep in contact with 2 of her sisters and I've met the second cousins I have from one of the sisters. The other sister has grandchildren that have contacted me along with one from one of the brother. This man who recently contacted me is from yet another of the 4 brothers. As I have access to European records, I could share a bit of what I found.

I've been getting requests from 4 or 5th cousins that are adopted. How are we related? I have no idea though if they are Germanic or Polish I assume they are from my mom's side; the British father's.

Mathematicians have figured out that we are at least everyone's 70th cousin. Not sure how they came up with that.

52 degrees and sunny! Also windy but one can't have everything. Will today be my last bike ride of 2017?

Monday, November 20, 2017


I was trying to get infinite reflections of Maya's head without having me in the photo. I think I need he mirrors to be at right angles

Lost another tooth under my watch. She must have swallowed it. Hope the tooth fairy comes up with a solution

staircase to a temple in Taiwan from my niece

Does having a stress-free, happy childhood lead to a successful adult? Apparently the opposite. A  study of 400 successful people such as Madame Curie, Louis Armstrong and Eleanor Roosevelt showed that 75% of them had horrific childhoods and another 10% had a mixed childhood. Only 15% reported perfectly supportive parents and no poverty or other negative issues. Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger apparently.

Do we do too much for our kids? I was thinking about this as we watched Shanna's kids a couple weeks ago following her detailed instructions. She does a lot more for them than I did for her. In turn I did infinitely more for her than my parents did for me. Help with homework? No way. My Barbie doll needs clothes...make them yourself. I need clothes...make them yourself. And I suspect even less was done for my mother when she was a child. She left home at 16 because she thought she could take care of herself better away from home. My father, a spoiled rich kid, had everything done for him to absolutely no good effect. He never learned resilience; every little setback was the end of the world.

How I miss the warm summer mornings sitting in my cabana on my patio surrounded by flowers and my water features drinking my coffee after I have exercised. Cold, drab and windy these days. Today was the warmest day this week for bicycling but I got tired of waiting for it to be over freezing so out I went. Unfortunately one of the neighborhoods had large water puddles that had turned to ice on my path making my ride treacherous.

We had Maya this weekend. She needs so much help. She needs to be able to read a short list of words on sight. I went through these words one by one having her circle a given word in a short story. Hopefully something will stick. But she does clean up after herself and delights in making beds.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pro se

A Jamaican themed Zulu beaded necklace I got for my friend 

living room art

my only orchid in bloom

me trying to take a selfie with my new scarf. Need not to look so dour

new Italian wool scarf. My favorite

Broken tile reminds me of Gaudi works in Barcelona Once I print it, I'll put a Hannah photo (below) in it as pink will look better

Granny Christmas

I make some attempt to match the photo with the frame. Perfect for the frame above

They don't make do-it-yourself  lawyering easy. We showed up at the courthouse yesterday with a stack of forms. My main job was to help Naomi translate some of these legal terms. New words for her: pro se, plaintiff, defendant, moving party (that would be her even though her ex was the one who physically moved)motion. But the forms were so unclear on what they were asking, we had to go to a special office that provided translations. That lady was helpful. The many other offices we had to retrieve info from, not so much. Extra fun: Naomi stores all her info on her phone , which are forbidden in the courthouse, so she had to run to the car a few times to extract info from it and be rescreened through security. Then everything needed to notarized. Do they have a notary in the building. Of course not. We drove 6 miles round trip to her bank. Hopefully all is in order. She has a court date, which her ex probably can't make as he is working out of state, but he knew this was coming and said he would contest it though he is in a very weak position to do so. Then she was to serve papers on him. Fortunately mailing is enough.

She needs more child support and full custody. They have 'shared' custody currently but now he hardly can see her. He thought it would be OK to have his girlfriend (not wife) come get her driving 600 miles in one weekend with her 3 kids just so Maya could share a bed with the girl her age. No to that. So that experience was fun. Naomi has to change her work schedule yet again to accommodate these changes so lots of Maya for a while here. 

Then out to have a bit of fun with my friend, lunch and shopping.

I finally can fit into my wedding dress even though I weigh a pound more than I do when I last tried it on. But I have been doing so much toning stuff so I think I am a bit smaller. As long as there is no ice on the dirt roads, I can run. Bicycling in the cold is tough though. Can't wait until spring.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Those in gingerbread houses shouldn't throw scones

This is a Mary Frances bag usually selling for quite a bit but not second hand. Usually I just carry around a boring, practical Costco purse but I might make an exception for this

I now have at least 8 strings of various fairy lights strung around the house  Makes my glass sparkle

I got this lamp in a gallery years ago in Saugatuck It makes our bedroom pretty at night

I wish the title quote was original but no, Trevor Noah said it. One of Trump's favorite insults of the North Korean dictator targets Kim's obesity. Yet their BMIs are almost identical. Maybe Trump is just thinking about his body when he was the Dictator's age. Maybe he hasn't looked in a mirror lately.

Not that I should be throwing scones around either. How did I get so big?  Yes I have rehashed the reasons excuses many times here. My dental hygienist, a sweet woman my height and who weighs close to what I did, wanted yesterday to know how I got rid of almost 80 pounds. Not easily. It is still off despite various get togethers and vacations but exercising so much will be more difficult in winter though Steve is finally getting our elliptical fixed. Today is the only suitable day for bicycling: not rainy or windy. It will be the warmest day in the near future. I am impatiently waiting for it to go above 40.

I've been out shopping: more lights and decorations for the house, smaller pants for me, gifts for various people as we will be gone during the prime shopping weeks. And fun times ahead, we will have to take Naomi's ex to court to get full custody(for Naomi). It turns out he isn't out of state 3/4 weekends a month just to train; that's where his job will be. And he lives 2.5 hours away when he is home. No heads up for this either so again we will have Maya as Naomi works. He said he will contest this but he doesn't really have a leg to stand on nor will there ever be a day he can come to court. Also no child support has found its way into Naomi's account though he insists they have been taking it out. As he has switched jobs three times in as many months, I am assuming the Friend of the Court has trouble collecting. A big mess.

We will also have to take the executor of my step-mother's estate to court as he continues to ignore texts, phone calls, e-mails. In the past we got lots of promises how all will be resolved 'soon' but now he is impossible to reach. All of this is mess is in Canada and all will have to be done in Quebecois French so that might be part of my 2018 travels. I am well familiar with the estate laws of the US as I've handles my parent's estates but this will be troublesome.


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