When Randy got back home he started a cooking spree, cooking a prime rib dinner, making a big pot of chicken noodle soup, and cooking off a couple of pork butts. That turned out to be a very good thing because he hasn't felt like cooking since then. He had to spend most of today in bed with a head cold. Fortunately we had chicken soup for lunch and pork nachos for dinner; everything worked out just fine. It is cold here now. The last time I was outside it was 41 degrees and raining, which makes it feel colder. I know other parts of the country are colder, but this is too cold for me!
Randy will be flying home today and I pick him up at the airport this evening. I CANNOT WAIT! I like a little time to myself but this is the 6th day he's been gone. I am glad he spent time with his brother and his family but I am soooo ready to have him back. Three years ago: Christmas beaches
The Booth clan took me in for Christmas again this year. Dinner was at Jim's house, where Marla loaded the table with good food and everyone else brought even more goodies. Ham, turkey and prime rib were the flagships of the dinner, sided with too many salads and veggies to count. I ate till I was stuffed but I left just a bit of room for dessert. It was awful hard to pass the pumpkin rolls, nut tart, raspberry cheesecake, coconut pie, German chocolate cake and cookies, but I could only fit in one dessert, so Aunt Jean's apple pie it was! After the meal comes the White Elephant gift exchange. As we were gathering in the living room for this, I kept hearing people ask "whose team are you on?". I couldn't remember what teams had to do with a White Elephant exchange; I forgot how passionate some of the group are about this game. According to the rules, a gift can only be stolen twice, and it cannot be stolen twice in a row.The team aspect comes into play after the first few people have made a choice. Then the deal making begins! When someone gets to choose, their team huddles together to plot strategy. If a nice gift has just been stolen, then the next person steals from someone on their own team, so that person can steal the desired gift which, as the second steal, "locks" it up. Sometimes these strategies involve 4 or 5 steals. Marla's team was the most intense about planning strategy; some of us just hoped to get lucky! My luck held and I came away with a Hillshire Farms box, and one of the most fun evenings ever.
It's Christmas Eve already. I'm not in much of a holiday mood; Randy is in Texas with his brother and his family, and I am in California with my cousins and aunt. We are grateful to be able to spend this time with family, but it's odd to be apart from each other.
I used this time to re-do the bathroom floor. Randy had already pulled up the old tile and laid down the sub-floor, so all I had to do is glue down the tiles, with a little cutting along the edges. It's not dry enough to do the final cleanup on yet, but it is still a great improvement on the old floor.
Randy is out of town but I am in no danger of going hungry Tonight Aunt Jean cooked dinner for family and friends. She cooked up an Italian section with meatballs, cannelloni and lasagna, a Mexican section with shredded pork, spiced pork and refried beans, and an American section with roasted veggies, salad, marinated shrimp and potato chips. And for dessert she baked cheesecake, lemon bars, pumpkin roll, coconut and cherry cookies and this beautiful thing . . . lemon fluff cake with thick chocolate frosting.
Randy made some of his wonderful Christmas fudge yesterday. This is one of my favorite things.
Randy probably won't be here for Christmas. His brother Lonnie is sick, so Randy flew to San Antonio today. Lonnie is staying in the RV park we use in the area, while Randy is staying with Lonnie's son Lance.
Tonight Julienne had another seizure. Rescue Remedy seems to make a difference if we get it into her immediately, followed by holding her quietly in a dark room. She has been getting her seizure medication every morning. We know that even with these meds Julienne will have breakthrough seizures, but it has just been 11 days since her last one; this is too close.
Saturday was the day that the Central Community Church takes Christmas presents to the children in the orphanage they created and support in Tijuana, Mexico. The children had made wish-lists, like children everywhere, but for these little ones, people in Riverside made those wishes come true. We haven't made trip since 2010, so a few things had changed. The road into Tijuana has been improved, but the new overpass is diminished by the homeless who are living under it.
The road into the part of town with the orphanage is still rutted but the orphanage has been well maintained and was recently painted. It is currently home to about 30 children, including the children of the Manager and the Pastor. That also includes 3 babies. They are here, like the others, for a variety of reasons. Not all these children are orphans; sometimes they were placed here for safe refuge from a bad situation. Sometimes it works out OK; Victoria told me that 5 babies were recently reunited with their families after the parents proved they had created a cleaner, more stable home for them. This tiny girl is 4 months old. She has been here for 2 months, and will probably be available for adoption. Wish I could have taken her home with us!
Most of the children are older than her, but not by much. The majority are between 7 and 3. This is what adorable looks like:
When we arrived the children were being entertained by clowns brought in by another church. That was a good thing because we had to wait for the van with the toys to make it through customs. But just as the other volunteers left, our van and Pastor's car arrived. Since it's not Christmas day yet, the decision was to take all the presents into the room with the Christmas tree, and then let the children each open one gift. There was a big box of presents for each child, and they all lined up to help carry the boxes inside.
When all the presents were upstairs, each child opened one. They were careful to pick the "right" one - shaking, hefting, even peeling back the corner of the paper to take a preview peek! And as the wrapping paper came off, the room was filled with high-pitched squeals and shouts of joy.
But wait, there's more! After the excitement died down Pastor asked the children to come outside for one more present. They didn't know it, but the van was filled with bicycles. This is what 29 bikes and trikes look like in a small van:
The children needed to stay inside the gate while the bikes were being unpacked, but as the first ones came out, a bunch of little boys stood just inside the gate and screamed for joy! Eventually we got all 29 bikes in and each child excitedly found on one that fit and tried to ride. Since the courtyard isn't very large there were some bumps, but everything worked out fine. It was almost an hour before we could get everyone to settle down for a group photo.
Afterwards Teresa fixed a big dinner for everyone - ham, mac-and-cheese and salad. It was a wonderful day but eventually we had to leave. It was dark by then and traffic in Tijuana was awful, especially at night. I still cannot believe Teresa got out of there without a scratch. Several times I could not see any space between her car and the others. We made it safe out of town, then sat in line for a couple of hours waiting to get to the border. As usual, there were a lot of people trying to get money from the captive audience. There were children juggling, old people in wheelchairs begging, and countless vendors, all dangerously close to the cars.
Our reward for waiting in that long line was churros and Mexican Coke. Churros have to be warm to be any good, so we insisted on fresh ones. They helped sustain us for the long drive home.
Wednesday we drove to Las Vegas for a short get-away. Normally we don't put too much into a room but this time we decided to spend a little more and get a room at the Flamingo. The bathroom alone was great; the shower was huge and the mirror had a tv screen in it - quite different from our RV!
We had tickets to a show that night at the Rio. It was just a short walk over there but it was dark and I had on good shoes, so we took the shuttle from nearby Bally's. The Rio has a buffet that was reputed to be the best in Vegas. Someone told us about the "$50 for 24 hour" deal - $50 buys a ticket that gives access to five different buffets for 24 hours. Since the Rio buffet alone was $32, we decided to go that route. The Rio buffet is very well known and draws a big crowd; we even saw a wedding party there. The buffet line included prime rib for Randy and crab legs for me. There was just a huge variety of food - after 2 plates of crab legs I had refried beans, a few other odds and ends, the best chocolate chip pecan cookies I've ever had, and a corn dog. We had plenty of time to eat too much before heading over to the Crown theater for the Michael Jackson show. We were seated in the VIP section, although there were better seats in the theater. As the show was ready to start I noticed some of the best seats were still empty so I asked an usher if they were available. He smiled and said "of course", then just held eye contact with me. I laughed when I realized he was implying I could have them if I tipped him. Fortunately our seats were fine. The show was very good. "Michael" was very accurate in voice, mannerisms and dancing. He wore the trademark outfits and did all the famous bits - moonwalk, Thriller (including zombies) and his voice was a near match. The only thing missing was a lightness of step, a smoothness that belonged only to Michael. That man could dance like a dream.
After the show we took the shuttle back to the Flamingo, where the view from our window was amazing.
In the morning we when to the Paris hotel for breakfast at the "Le Village Buffet". We started with a fresh berry crepe, which was a mistake because it was huge, but so good that we had to eat it all. And there was a lot more to enjoy; Potato Lyonnaise, Egg Benedict, salmon, cheeses, croissants, and then there was the bacon - prepared by baking, not frying, and unexpectedly awesome.
We needed to walk off some of that so we walked down the strip towards the MGM, stopping in at stores and hotels along the way. My favorite chandelier had each little crystal suspended by a single thread - gorgeous.
We were looking for Christmas decorations, expecting the big hotels would put up some amazing lights. Several hotels had some decorations but only the Bellagio put some real effort into it. Their lobby and atrium were given over to a charming display of decorated trees, arctic animal figures, huge snow globes, toy trains, and fake snow.
When we got to the MGM we discovered that the lions are gone - I guess they got rid of them about 3 years ago. Too bad, I liked them. By then it was time for lunch so we thought we would try a different hotel buffet. Unfortunately we learned that the Flamingo and Planet Hollywood had closed their buffets. So we went back to the Paris, where I discovered my new favorite - Cavatappi with Truffle Cream Sauce. Plus excellent pate, mac and cheese, banana foster, a light-as-air soufflé, mussels, sole, marinated mushrooms, and that wonderful creation known as chocolate bread.
After lunch we walked (slowly) north as far as the Venetian, with it's indoor canals. expensive shops and beautiful ceilings.
The big hotels all have air-freshners just inside the doorways so it smells good when you walk in, but just a few steps further inside and the smoky air hits you. There seems to be more smokers now than the last time we were here. And at some point they installed video dealers at some of the tables.
I know how easy it is to code a computer to do what you want, so I much prefer to sit at a table with a real person. Not that it mattered. I didn't bet much and I still lost. Randy did better, but it's hard to make a fortune betting one dollar at a time. The streets were full of people offering "free" tickets, gifts, etc - and of course none of it was really free. Many of them don't take 'no' for an answer and we got tired of them following us. And there were a lot of homeless here. There seems to be a trend to create cutesy signs asking for money, but I am not inclined to give money to someone with a sign that says "Why lie, I need beer". One thing that has survived is the little strip mall in the center of the Strip. It still looks the same as it did over 20 years ago when we first came here.
For dinner we went back to the Paris one last time. This time I had the shrimp, along with more pate, cheese and Cavatappi. And for dessert we got a chocolate and banana crepe, big enough to share.
In the morning we weren't hungry (surprise!) so we got back on the road early to return to Riverside, where the rains have caused those dry hills to green up a bit. And in the evening we joined Aunt Jean and her friends for caroling in their mobile home park. As expected, they put a unique twist on it; Jack fired up one of his antique tractors and pulled us all around on a trailer, loaded with rented straw bales for us to sit on. Melody brought sheets of song lyrics and CDs of music for us to sing along to. We couldn't hear the music very well so after awhile we did our own thing, which mostly consisted of singing "Feliz Navidad" over and over, interspersed with a few other songs. It's just that Feliz Navidad is so easy to sing! And the residents seemed to like it; they brought us hot chocolate, cookies, fudge and candy canes. We accepted it all, even though we knew we were going to the activity center afterwards for some of Aunt Jean's homemade soup and Christmas cookies.
Saturday we went to a "Texas Hold-em" party at Tara's. We aren't very good at Texas Hold-em, but we still enjoyed the party. She recently had a hot tub installed in their back yard and we were glad to try it out. One of the hardest things about moving out of our house was giving up the hot tub. We fill the gap by visiting hot springs when we can, but we still love a good hot tub.
This morning we went to Planet Fitness again; we are pretty regular about working out at least 3 times a week. They have a ton of equipment available there but there seems to be a little sabotage going on - at each desk is a container of Tootsie Rolls!
It has rained quite a lot during the last two days, and in southern California that is noteworthy; they are in a 4 year drought. This rain will help but isn't enough to end the drought. Unfortunately the ground is so hard that most of the rain just runs off, and what does soak into the ground makes it too heavy and causes mudslides. And, sometimes, rainbows.
The changes to our bathroom are coming along, slowly. Randy laid down the floor but it didn't adhere properly, so we had to take it all up. Next time we'll use glue. But the medicine chest has been finished. Randy built this for us, with three shelves inside and two on each side. Replacing a corner vanity with a standard vanity caused some complications; it took us three tries to find the right light fixture.
Today we took a day off from all of that. We did some shopping for the Christmas backpacks that will be donated to the homeless on Skid Row, then joined Teresa, Jackie, Aunt Jean and some of her friends to see a play. Dena has a niece who has been studying acting and she is part of a talented group of college students performing in "Kiss Me Kate".
Here's something no RVer ever wants to see - the inside of their front door panel.
But today we saw ours. When I tried to open the door from the outside, nothing happened. Randy had to climb into the front room window to open the door from the inside. Then he took off the cover of the lock section, studied the situation, and realized he needed to remove the whole door panel.
We found that the end of a small spring had broken off. Next job: find another spring. Randy shopped around and found one that, with a little tweaking, fit well enough to make the mechanism work. Then he put everything back together. This took a long time and wasn't even a little bit fun.
And then later that night Julienne had another seizure. And suddenly everything slipped into perspective; working on the RV can be a pain but it isn't nearly as important as our little girl. Randy held her in a quiet, dark room and she quickly came out of her seizure, so we were able to settle in for the night, grateful for our blessings.
Tonight Jack and Teresa took us to a friend's house for a tamale party. A tamale party happens when someone makes or buys a lot of cornhusks, masa and fillings (chicken, beef and pork), and invites a group of people over to take turns making tamales. When someone rotates out of the tamale area, they get a plate and graze on the goodies provided by the hostess and the guests. Tonight there was Pozole soup, meat empanadas, salads, desserts and lots of fresh tamales, hot off the stove.
We are continuing work on our bathroom remodeling project. Randy got our new vanity set in and I am in the process of painting the walls. This part is looking good.
The problem now is the space above the vanity. Since originally there was a corner cabinet, the hole for the light fixture is offset. Randy has built a great medicine chest, but getting a light fixture that covers the hole and doesn't look dorky is proving to be a problem.
We've bought two so far. The first first one was a center mount so we were going need a base plate to cover the hole, but it turned out it didn't look right. The second one looked great - we could set it over the existing hole and bend the bars that hold the 3 lights towards the cabinet space. But it refused to fasten securely to the slightly padded ceiling, and even if we put it on a base plate, the spotlight effect was not as good as I'd hoped. We have been to Home Depot, Lowe's, Ikea and The Lighting Store (several times) and still haven't found the solution yet. It's always something.
We went to Ikea today, getting there early enough have their 99 cent breakfast special - scrambled eggs, hash browns and two turkey sausage links. The sausage links leave something to be desired, but the rest was OK. We both enjoy looking around this store. Not only do they have a lot of nice stuff, but they have it arranged so well that it's easy to picture all that stuff in our home. We are starting to get interested in having a house, and scenes like this just make the interest stronger.
Randy noticed something that Ikea has elevators for the handicapped and an escalator that goes up, but not a down escalator, just stairs. Good for health! The other thing he noticed isn't as cool - they have the toilet seats bolted down. There is only one reason for that - ewwww!
And now for something completely different. My aunt has a group of friends who like to get together and have fun. They are between 57 and 85 but age is just a number to these ladies. The last time I was here they got together to star in their own pin-up calendar. This time they decided to go to the Velvet Lounge for their Saturday Drag Brunch. The brunch part was really quite good - eggs, bacon, chicken sausage, fresh fruit, muffins, bagels and lox, fried potatoes, waffles, pancakes, omelets, pastas and something similar to eggs benedict, all served with bottomless Mimosas. Or in my case, served with bottomless Diet Coke. And the show part was good, too. The host was also one of the entertainers. The rest of these folks might be called female impersonators, but Shannel is a true Drag Queen.
After a little while I quit trying to figure out what they would look like without makeup and just enjoyed the show. The performers did a great job of lip-synching to the music while energetically entertaining the crowd. We all just clapped along, threw dollars at the stage and had a good time.
Of course, part of the entertainment is that these guys look so much more "womanly" than any real woman. This performer, referred to at "The Latino", was as curvy as any of us. We really don't know how they did some of this.
After being up all night working at the Central Communit Church's Thanksgiving Dinner, we crawled into bed a little before 5 am. We got 3-4 hours of sleep, made it through the rest of day and met up with the Booth and Burns families at 2 pm for the family dinner. Everyone in this family can cook! The table was loaded with turkey, prime rib, ham, dressing, caesar salad, sweet potato bake, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, veggies, broccoli casserole, sweet potato salad, lettuce salad and yellow squash casserole. Desserts? Banana cake with caramel frosting, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, apple pie, cookies, pumpkin roll. I promised myself I would eat with some restraint but I lied - I put myself in a food coma. Mike's friend Kara knew 3 young Marines who were on leave so she invited them to join us. I think they were surprised (and delighted!) at the size and quality of the spread. This is home cooking at its very best!
This is the 27th year that Central Community Church has been serving Thanksgiving dinner to the needy of Riverside. The event has grown to over 3,000 meals, most of which will be delivered to the recipient's home. The body of this church is small but extremely dedicated, and with an army of volunteers they get the job done every year. Last night Randy and I joined Teresa, Riley, Mike, Brittany and Kari for the final preparations. With a few other hard-working souls, they prepared a ton of mashed potatoes. Literally - they had around 2,000 pounds of potatoes. Earlier in the day a group of 40-50 people had a potato-peeling party. The peeled and cut taters were put in several tubs of water, then the cooking started.
They cooked the potatoes outside the kitchen, then brought them in to be mashed by hand. If I win the lottery, I will buy a big commercial mixer for this church. While this was going on we also packed up 3,000 little to-go cups of cranberry sauce and opened a zillion big cans of vegetables. Because they use so much product, they need to save space in the dumpster, so after the veggies were dumped into pots, we had to remove the bottom of each of those cans and stomp them flat. After the potatoes were cooked, mashed and packed in coolers and the kitchen was cleaned, the next step was heating the cooked turkey and gravy. Since there were around 170 cooked turkeys, that was expected to take several hours. That seemed to be the end of our usefulness so at 4:40 am Randy and I headed for home.
Busy day today! Recently the church received a lot of donations, which is great, but right now they need to free up space for Thanksgiving dinner preparations. I spent yesterday sorting through boxes and bags, then today we got up at 5:20 am (!!!) to set up a yard sale on the church grounds. Randy carried stuff outside, then Aunt Jean and I ran the sale. We sold for several hours, until 11 am when we bundled up the remaining items for a one-way trip to the Salvation Army. The sale was a success; it generated money for the church's Thanksgiving dinner and freed up a lot of space. While I was at the sale, Randy was assisting Teresa as she put together her catering job. She was serving at a wedding today. I don't cook so all I could do was help carry things upstairs to the venue. We did that twice - once for appetizers and then again a couple of hours later for the entrées. By the end of the day we were all worn out. We need a bit of a break before starting the next thing - Thanksgiving dinner for 3,000.
This evening the Randy served Thanksgiving dinner to 121 people at the Mission Village RV Park. The menu was turkey, dressing, sweet potato bake, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, giblet gravy, rolls and salad, with pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie and Aunt Jean's apple pie for dessert. I was so busy serving that I didn't get any pictures. I did, however, get a few leftovers, and that's much more important - it was all great!
Randy is creating Thanksgiving Dinner for the Mobil Home Park where Aunt Jean lives. In order to allow holiday time with family, the Park has scheduled their dinner for tomorrow. So for the past few days Randy has been doing his prep work. Today he wrapped up the turkeys, side dishes, cream pies and pumpkin pies. Meanwhile Aunt Jean was working her own alchemy, turning this
Whenever we are in Riverside, Teresa and Jack offer us a spot on their driveway. It's a long driveway so they can still park a car behind us, and it works out fine. Right now, though, their big 5th Wheel is parked behind us. It's a tight fit but we got both vehicles in. The view out of our front window is really . . . close.
Friday the old Hamilton Beach blender that Randy ordered was delivered. The device was in pretty good shape but the cord was awful - split in several places and bound with old electrical tape. Fortunately Randy knows how to replace an electric cord.
He replaced the cord, I cleaned the old gunk off it, and it ran like a champ. Then Randy made chocolate shakes, and now I understand the appeal of these things. With the shakes you get today, the best part is the last sip because it's extra creamy. The shakes Randy makes are creamy from the first sip to the last. Awesome!
Thursday Randy got up early - 4:30 in the morning - to go fishing with Jack. There are very few things that can get me out of bed at 4:40 and fishing ain't one of them, so I did not go fishing. Instead I slept until about 9 am, had a leisurely breakfast, then drove to the church. Recently an elderly lady died and her family donated most of her stuff to the church. I volunteered to go through the stuff and sort useable from unusable. The church is very involved in community service, including an orphanage in Mexico, so it seemed likely that there would be some useful stuff. And boy, was there! For some reason this elderly lady had boxes and boxes of baby clothes, and bags and bags of children's clothes. A ton of clothes. And a couple boxes of children's toys, a box of children's shoes, a couple boxes of receiving blankets - all of it perfect for the orphanage! In fact, I was running out of places to stack the clothes when I learned that one of the women who run the orphanage had just arrived at church. She was here to talk to Pastor Ken and hoped to take a few items back with her. Oh, I had a "few" items she could take. She had two teenage helpers with her and she was driving a car, not a van, so there was a limit to what she could pack in. But they got a couple of big tubs of clothes and a couple of boxes of toys this time, and will return next week for more. I was tickled to have more room because there was still more stuff to go through. After 5 1/2 hours I had sorted through the contents of most, but not all, of 2 rooms, and there is still one more room to go through!
Sunday we attended early church, then went on a price-comparison trip with Teresa and Aunt Jean. Randy will be preparing the Thanksgiving dinner for the Mission Village Mobil Home Park; Teresa knows every grocery store in the state, so she took us to several so Randy could find the best prices on the best products. We were running around for a few hours, during which time we missed several calls from Jim. His son drove in for the day and Jim wanted to ask the family over for dinner. Fortunately Jim and Marla just planned for the dinner anyway, and kept trying to reach us until they got through. Marla cooked a great dinner, Jim grilled chicken and steak, and after dinner I sat outside, enjoying the perfect California weather.
Today we got up at 5:30 am and were on the road by 6:30, so we could be in Ramona by 8:00 and meet up with some guys and their tractors. These guys love tractors so much that they get together to drive their tractors on a scenic mountain road trek.
Randy drove a friend's tractor and I joined Teresa, who was driving a truck ahead of the tractor parade. The one lane road is full of curves, with signs that say to honk when you approach blind curves. It worked; as we eased around one curve we met a car sitting still, waiting to see who honked. They backed up until there was a spot wide enough to pull over a bit so we could pass each other.
The ground is out here is very dry, but some areas are irrigated for crops. We passed several fields of fruit trees, all trimmed off square at top, probably to encourage more fruit growth.
Teresa and I arrived at our destination, a large area with a good view of a nearby dam. The dam was built to create a lake but the current drought, which is in it's fourth year now, has severely dropped the water level.
We set up lunch: steak and cheese soup, BBQ brisket on Hawaiian rolls, potato chips,German chocolate cake, cookies and nut torte. What a great picnic! Just as everything was ready, the guys showed up and lined up their tractors like horses at the coral.
After a leisurely lunch, the tractors headed back down the road they came in on, while Teresa and I took a different route back. We arrived before they did and had quite a wait; in fact, after awhile we rolled down the windows, laid the car seats back and took a short nap. Eventually the tractors showed up and we learned what caused the delay - the lead tractor had a tire blow out.
There wasn't much they could do besides limp back to the starting point.One of the guys called ahead and had a truck show up with a spare tire.
We were only about 20 miles from Julian, so Teresa drove us there. Julian is famous for their apples so in the fall the town is packed with tourists. This weekend the streets were full of cars and beautiful motorcycles, but we finally found a place to park. The town has a lot of cute stores with clothing, candy and trinkets, a couple of horses and this guy, with the worst underbite ever.
The stores that sold apple pies and apple cider were packed, with lines out the door, so we decided to buy our apple cider on the way out of town - and it was awesome!