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!