Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas Y'all!

It's so hard to believe that this year will be our 8th Christmas here in New England. The time really has flown by! As you can see, we are pretty much guaranteed a White Christmas this year. Christmas is always a great time, but it feels so much different surrounded by 2 feet of snow. Very different from one of our last Christmas' in Texas when we threw on shorts and t-shirts and sat outside playing chess.

What Roger and I are most surprised about, is this will be our 18th Christmas together. Not that we thought we wouldn't last as a couple, as we truly are bestest friends, but that so much time has passed. Our first Christmas is still very vivid.

We were in a very small apartment and I really wanted a Christmas tree. One day I returned home to find a short, but very fat, tree squeezed into our living room. Roger was so proud, but very amazed at how much smaller the tree looked at the Christmas tree lot.

That 1st Christmas we drove to Lawrence, Kansas to see his family - this was my first trip to Kansas and I was so very nervous. The trip takes about 8 hours and we found ourselves rather late at night on Christmas Eve traveling through the state of rolling hills. Radio reception was spotty at best, but we finally a found a station we could hear. It was a lone DJ, no ads, just him, the Christmas music he was tasked with playing, and apparently a bottle booze by his turntable. The longer we listened, the slurrier his words became. We laughed so hard, which really eased my anxiety!

Other memories are of "Pa" Davis and his magical basket of nuts. When Nicole was little he would tease her into cracking open the nuts, knowing that several walnuts had been previously opened, carefully scooped out, and a dollar bill tightly folded and placed into the nut. He would then carefully glue the walnut back together. Of course, in later years, Nicole went straight for the mightly walnuts and got rather good at spotting the nuts that had been manipulated.

Most times Christmas seems to focus on the Christmas tree. The year we had moved into our 1st house in Richardson, we had a room where eventually a pool table would go, but this year we plopped our HUGE Christmas tree right smack dab in the middle of the room. It was fabulous!

Other years we've had to accomodate pets, with our latest trees being no taller than 4 feet, which we place on a perch built into, and beside, our rather massive fireplace. We did this after we got Guinness, knowing what damage his tail could do!

This is actually the first year we've gone without, as we've moved into a warmer part of the house and couldn't quite figure out where it would go. I'm sure we'll have this resolved by next year!

An explanation of the pictures. We decided to take a self-portrait last weekend by setting the timer on the camera. The top picture was taken when I heard the camera just about to go off before I made it to my spot. Running down 5 steps of slippery steps of one deck, through 10" of snow, and across another deck. The picture below was when I finally scampered across all obstacles - throwing caution to the snow banks!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Best Season of All

It's really no surprise that Autumn in New England ranges from gorgeous,at the very least, to absolutely stunning. "Foliage Season" is always tricky and unpredictable. Last year the season was endless, starting in late August and lasting well into early November. This year, the season sputtered and stalled, but eventually came through. Still, we come across pockets of color that completely take your breath away as you round a corner or look into a field of brilliant gold.

Overall what we found most surprising is that it's not so much a season, as an event that lasts for weeks and weeks. Small communities all across the region hold fairs and festivals, most, if not all based on agriculture. These fairs have been an annual event in many towns for more than 150 years. I was rather naive and believed that only folks in the south raise vegetables (the above photo shows our attempt at growing corn!) and have cattle ranches, so it was a great delight to discover that New England is mostly rural. While the ocean is what drew us up here, its actually the stunning beauty that keeps us up here - for now anyway!

Unfortunately we had a computer crash a couple of months back, and I lost all images from previous seasons, so I hope you enjoy these from the Sandwich Fair in Sandwich, New Hampshire. I hope to post more at a later date - if I can find them that is!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's a Dog's Life

No real story to share, just a picture of Sir Guinness of Haverhill Glen, our 2 3/4 year-old chocolate bundle of fun. Also known as Roger's lap dog and very bestest friend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Following Dreams

Recently Roger and I had the opportunity to meet a rather extraordinary family at the New Hampshire International Speedway.

Chase Austin is an up and coming NASCAR driver, whose grandmother just so happened to be Roger’s Sunday school teacher many, many years ago back in Lawrence, Kansas. What led up to this meeting was the exchanging of several emails between Roger and Marianne Austin, Chase’s mom. Roger had learned of Chase’s career several months ago and then he realized he would be racing up here in New England. We weren’t very hopeful in getting to meet any of the Austins, let alone Chase, so we were thrilled when it worked out for us to be able join them in the race car hauler before Chase’s race.

Marianne and her husband Steve were able to upgrade their pit passes and passed along the old ones to us. We were so excited when we hopped onto the back of the little gator, flashed our yellow “credentials” and zipped on in like we were really important! What was amazing was the fact that the parents of a driver had a limited pass to begin with. After all, if it weren’t for them….:)

It was a fantastic afternoon, and the family was very kind and welcoming. We hung out in their high-tech hauler for a bit, then headed over to pit road while Cup qualifying was going on. The only problem - I had on sandals and was nixed at the gate from going any further. While disappointed, I encouraged the others to go ahead and for Roger to take pictures. I was thrilled just to be anywhere near the action in the first place.

After several minutes I went back to the main gate in case they all came back. Suddenly, Steve appeared at my side with a pair of shoes! Not just any ol’ close-toed shoes, but a pair of Chase’s racing shoes. He had slipped off back to the hauler without any of us knowing. Later when Chase came down to prepare for his race I showed off my “new” shoes. How Chase really felt about a middle-aged woman dressed in pink wearing his shoes, I’m not sure. I, on the otherhand, felt like I was walking in Dale Earnhardt’s shoes!

The Austin family, Steve, Marianne, son Chase and their 2 daughters, are the true epitome of the name of this blog – “Life on Winding Road”. But they also epitomize the sacrifices that sometime come with following a dream.

Chase, who will soon be the ripe old age of 18, has proven himself to be a very talented race car driver. After a very bumpy start, his drive and talent is paying off, resulting in him gaining the attention of Rusty Wallace, and ultimately a NASCAR driver development contract with his team. This is no small feat and there are thousands of young men, and women (!), who dream of following in Chase’s footsteps. But, like so many dreams, this has resulted in a geographical separation for the family. While Steve, Chase and the oldest daughter have moved to the heart of NASCAR in North Carolina, Marianne and the youngest daughter remain in Kansas to provide a home base for the family.

We can certainly attest to what it’s like to leave behind loved ones and knowing that you’re missing out on not just the special events, but the humdrum of daily life as well. Ultimately we’ll head back south to be near Nicole and our parents and friends. And ultimately we know that the Austin Family will be able to be together again as a family, even as their children grow and they all begin their own careers.

In the meantime, we’ll cheer Chase on and wish them all of the very best of luck!.

The Smell that is New Orleans

It hits you as soon as you exit the airplane – this odorous, almost stench of a smell. It greets you outside of the hotel and can almost knock you flat as you round a corner, or when the wind whips through an alleyway. But mostly, it just hangs in the air like a persistent fog that you can’t see, but you know without a doubt that it’s there. Even on the 6th day of being there, I could still smell it, even though the dank smell of my hotel room had finally faded.

But, what’s also very noticeable is the wonderful, outgoing spirit of the residents and visitors from surrounding areas.

I was traveling solo, so perhaps I was a bit more attuned to my environment than usual, but I also truly believe that New Orleans is just a great place to be.

The highlight, by far, was being invited to dine with 3 ladies from Mississippi. They realized I was dining alone and invited me to join them at their table. I'm sure I should have refused, but completely out of character as it was for me, I took them up on their incredible gratiousness. I was so nervous though, I was chattering on endlessly. I'm sure they'd had their fill of me by the time dinner ended!

Finally, this last note on the Crescent City is to encourage others to go there as well. To help you out, here’s the list of all the restaurants I went to over a course of a week, all in or near the French Quarter, and all highly recommendable.

Near the Convention Center & Harrah’s Casino:

* Emeril’s – posh and delicious

* Gordon Biersch Brewery – chain, but lots to choose from and lots of activity

*Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar – got the feeling this place is a great late night hangout.

* Mulates – traditional cajun food – live music every night

* Riche by Todd English – way swanky and pricey. I stopped in for the Friday afternoon seafood boil. Huge shrimp, tasty oysters, great gumbo at a fantastic mid-afternoon price.

French Quarter – locally owned (I think):

* Tujagues – 2nd oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and the 1st stand-up bar in the city. Causal atmosphere with a set menu with choice of entree.

* Gumbo Shop – wonderful Cajun cuisine, reasonably priced.

* Crescent City Brew House – best oysters and cocktail sauce I’ve ever had!

* The Market Café – great place for breakfast. Stand in the long line at Café Du Monde to quickly eat a beignet (aka as donuts) or keep going a couple blocks further to my very favorite spot! There’s almost always live jazz, the bloody marys are excellent and the pace, very relaxing!!!

* Pat O’Briens - – more of tourist tradition than a local tradition is my guess, but it’s well worth the stop. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually eat here.

French Quarter - chains:

* Landry’s Seafood House – New Orleans boasts the original, thought the chain actually began in Houston.

* Bubba Gump Shrimp Company – where the movie "Forrest Gump" plays all the time. I thought the menu was rather limited, but a fun place to hang and listen to the music

Friday, August 3, 2007

A New Orleans Icon

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week in New Orleans to attend a conference. Naturally, I was unsure what to expect after Hurricane Katrina.

Reports state that the population of New Orleans is now only 50% of what it used to be. That, in itself if really hard to imagine, suddenly your own city or neighborhood reduced by half. But then add to that, all the lives that were lost.

I took the above photo at Pat O'Briens in the French Quarter, famed for the gazillion Hurricane drinks, and other libations, they serve every year. Okay, so I hear they also serve food, but I myself can't attest to that fact.

If you've ever gone to the piano bar, you would have seen Mr. Eddie perform. Using thimbles on his fingers, tapping away at a silver serving tray, working the crowd so patrons could toss coins and bills on the tray, making his "music" even livelier!

Sadly, he was lost in the floods, at the age of 95. A lifelong resident of NOLA, he began working at Pat O'Briens in the 40's. Rumor has it that he was never officially hired, he just showed up one day and began bussing tables. What is true, is that he never missed a day of work in his life. He worked until 3am every morning entertaining the tourists. In fact, he had worked the night prior to the hurricane and was too tired to try to evacuate. His wife was rescued from the roof of their home, and the last thing she remembered of her husband, was hearing him pray. It would be 4 months before his grandson was able to track down his body.

I was happy to find out that inspite of his tragic death, he received the send off he deserved - on what would have been his 96th birthday, a crowd gathered at Pat O'Briens where a jazz band led everyone in a second line jazz funeral and the celebration continued through the night.

From what I've found on the internet, Mr. Eddie was not a poor man. He had acquired homes and a couple of businesses over the years, but his main love was Pat O'Brien's. So much so, that the eve of his 2nd wedding, off to work he went.

Next time you're in New Orleans, stop in for a hurricane at Pat OBrien's as a way to pay homage to all the lives that were disrupted. Because in New Orleans, the party never stops and they wouldn't have it any other way!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


What's so exciting about an artichoke, you may ask. Well, when they're going in a flower pot on my patio in New England it's very exciting.

Last summer I came across a local nursery with artichoke plants for sale so I added 2 to my vegetable garden, but no chokes were ever borne. I attempted to transplant them into pots to bring indoors but they weren't in the least bit happy. Maybe because they were sitting right above a space heater?

This year I came across them again and just had to give it another shot. But this time, knowing they need lots of room to grow, and probably much better soil, I put them in my patio pots, with marigolds for good measure in case of another failure. Well lo and behold this past weekend we have not one, but two chokes on one plant! The other plant is just beginning to produce a tiny choke that should be in full view in a few days.

I'm looking forward to boiling and eating these with the best butter I can find. And afterward I'll do my best to save the plants for next year, as according to the California Artichoke Board, plants will continue to produce dozens of artichokes for up to 7 years.

Summer in New England means lobster! Make that LOTS of lobster! These 2 critters were picked up in Kittery, Maine at the Seaview Lobster Company (a brief 30 minute drive from our house) for a very cheap price. By lobster standards that is.

When Roger and I moved up here, I seriously thought lobster could be bought for prices similar to chicken. But that’s not the case. Due to an abundant crop this year (over-sexed lobsters maybe?), the prices have dropped. These 2 beauts we bought at $7 a pound, and they usually would have been $11 a pound. But still, multiply that by their weight – 5 lbs total – that’s still quite the chunk of change out the pocket book.

Unfortunately, the guy who sold us our dinner, though as incredibly young and handsome as he is, with his mouth shut – is missing several teeth! So I feel it’s my duty as a New Englander to buy more lobsters so maybe this guy can afford to go to the dentist.

We’ve learned quite a bit about lobsters in the time we’ve been up here. One, you can go scuba diving for lobsters. We haven’t done this ourselves, but that’s how friends who own a boat have been known to spend their summers. Two, I can make a mean lobster chowder – southern style! Cajun spices and Tabasco make all the difference in the world.

Third, and most important, don’t even think you can just move to Maine and start up your own lobster business – you will not make it. Not because there aren’t enough lobsters per se, but unless you’re born into the business, or have had long-standing ties to a lobstering community – your traps will be sabotaged. That’s pretty much a guarantee.

Not to completely disparage Mainers, but I also read not long after moving here about a couple who moved north and started an orchard business. Seemed harmless enough to me, but for some reason the neighbors burned down the orchard – apparently because they weren’t locals and they had the nerve to try to start a business. These people not only refused to move, they also replanted their orchards. I hope they’re still there, but it’s certainly quite a hill to climb.

Overall though, our experiences with Maine have been very pleasant, though they are very much their own people, but then again, they know we’re spending our money in Maine, then heading back home to Massachusetts.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

The above bible verse was provided by my cousin, Steve Garrett, in 2002 for a compilation of memories provided by all 17 Garrett cousins of our grandparent’s home in Amarillo, Texas. This verse strikes a chord in me today, as not only a testament to how he lived his own life, raising 4 daughters, but the values that were instilled in all of us that truly beckon back to generations of Garretts and Johnsons raising families. We were all far from perfect, but we always had the strong values built on Christian faith to get us through difficult times, whether the hard times were a result of our own actions, or simply dealing with what life throws at everyone.

In looking around at my relatives, I believe most of us married into families that were a direct reflection of our own families. Afterall, what were the odds of me finding a man who knew, not only what Wahoo is, but also played on homemade Wahoo boards?

At age 51, on July 20th, 2007, Steve lost his battle with ALS, probably better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The following was taken from his obituary and I wanted to pass this along:

“…Stevie Ray, stepped out of this life and into the presence of the Lord. There he received a crown of righteousness and is now dancing before the Lord in his new body, which is no longer incapacitated by the Lou Gehrigís disease he fought so courageously for the past three years.”

Some of you have dealt directly with your own immediate familty members who have had ALS and can provide a first-hand account of how truly horrible the disease is. Steve was always vibrant and a very strong, physical person and when diagnosed with ALS, he and his wife booked a trip to the Holy Land to truly walk in the steps of Jesus.

In addition to ALS, there are so many conditions today that are in need of money to help aid in the discovery of cures. I know we all give in our own ways, but I wanted to point out a website, Charity Navigator, which provides data on hundreds, or maybe thousands of charities, detailing what percentage of monies donated is actually used for the intended purpose. Their list runs the gamut of health, environment and education, just to name a few. So if you’re leery of donating to a foundation, please check out their website for more information.

And in the meantime, may be peace and goodness dwell in the hearts of the immediate family Steve left behind.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Foray Into Fiction

So for several years now I've wanted to attempt writing a book. Inspired by my grandmother's life as a child and teenager, my intended original project (a "roman a clef", fiction based on fact) has been pushed to the back of my mind for instead a completely different project.

Either way, what little I've written only emphasizes how truly difficult it is to put onto paper, what's going round in your head. And that's just the words! Now imagine trying to remember grammar lessons that were much less interesting than the the cute guy sitting in front of me in class, with his curly, blonde hair and bulging 16-year-old biceps. Sorry, I've seemed to have gotten off track just a bit!

Back to grammer - FOCUS - just today I learned from a New Hampshire Rock Station of all places, that you use "a" if the word following begins with a consonant. Alternatively you use "an" if the following word begins with a vowel. Who knew?!?! Probably most of you, but it was completely lost on me. Oh well, so if I ever do get published, I'll have one over-worked editor correcting all my errors!

But in reality, what's stopping me from really writing either story are two concerns. The first, plagarism, be it actual sentences, characters, tone, you name it! I'm terrified that if I'm reading a dime-store novel, while creating my masterpiece, that suddenly my project has morphed into another author's already published piece of work.

My second fear, and my biggest, is what will people think? Will they think I've lost my mind when reading what I've created, or will they think I'm writing about my own experiences guised in a fictional character? Bottom line - what will people think?!?! This fear I will have to find a way to get over on my own, as the first fear is more easily avoided as I find my own voice over the next couple of years.

For now, both projects are on hold until I put more practice into the simple act of writing. I've created a 2nd blog where I'll be posting stories, the first of which was posted today "Miss April Showers". This initial short story may become a serial novel which I hope will help me in developing characters.

In my mind, I'm this fabulous writer (ala Joan Wilder in "Romancing the Stone") who has been approached by Kellogg's - yes the cereal company, because they want to publish my serial novel(s) inside boxes of "Special K", wrapped in that crinkly cellophane of course! Imagine, a new chapter available to muse over every 4 weeks or so while you eat your breakfast.

But in the meantime, slide on over and read "Miss April Showers".

Friday, May 25, 2007

Never Look Down

So it occurred to me while uploading Nicole's college graduation photos to, that she is now only 4 years younger than I was when she first came into my life. When I was 25, never in a million years would I have guessed what my future held!

It was 1990 and I had just turned 29 and she had just turned 8 years-old when I met her dad at Sneaky Pete's on Lake Lewisville on March 9th. However, our first in-person encounter didn't happen until August when I (newly engaged!) attended the family reunion of my future in-laws on the Arkansas River in Ozark, Arkansas. Nicole had ridden down with her grandparents from Kansas, and we drove up from Dallas. The closer we got to our destination, the more my stomach knotted up with nervousness at not just meeting Nicole, but the whole entire clan, for the very first time!

When we arrived, she was playing in the river with her cousins. We walked to the end of the little dock and Roger got her attention. The first words out of her mouth to me was "Hi Mom!". I may have well as just jumped into the river with them all and let it carry me downstream, as at that point I felt I'd just fell completely into the deep end of something much bigger than I.

Over the years Nicole grew up with a determination to be her own person, in charge of her own life. She's gone through many difficult times, some which may have been softened had we been there in Lawrence, but most is what so many kids are faced with today in growing up and then the added aspect of a blended family.

Often times I wanted Nicole to come live with us, mostly out of selfishness! However, I never wanted to put her in a position where she felt she had to choose between two parents. I also knew that her mother was always there for her 100%, making sure she and her little sister not only became responsible adults, but to help them thrive and follow their dreams as well.

As for Nicole and I, it's always been a very easy relationship and never forced. Her first summer in Dallas we chose to put her in a daycare. That only happened once! The summers that followed, I simply took her to work with me if I was unable to get time off. We'd go on sales calls together, or work in the office together, or she'd go to work with her dad until I could come get her. Other times she'd go with me to hang out with my girlfriends and watch us drink margaritas and gab away the time. Weekends we spent our time going to estate sales, with Nicole gradually being able to navigate the MAPSCO around the streets of Dallas. One summer she brought a friend with her from Kansas. Nicole proudly showed her friend around our home pointing out all the items that came from estate sales. At the end of the "tour" she and her friend plopped onto the couch and Nicole very straight forwardly announced, "So really most of this stuff came from dead people's homes". As horrified as I was, I was also extremely amused.

Watching her physically grow I still recall the year that she was big enough to help me carry in a TV credenza and looking over at her and realizing how grown-up, both physically and personally, she was becoming. I also recall the summer that I picked her up from the airport and noticed that her feet could finally touch the floorboard of the car!

One other memory before I wrap up. Nicole was 10 or 11 and we took her to Galveston Beach. One afternoon we decided to take a riverboat-type cruise around Galveston Bay. Like a lot of riverboats, this one had 2 tall decks. Nicole was uncomfortable on the top deck as the height was a little too much for her, and for me as well I'll admit, so we went into the enclosed area of the 1st level and hung out there for a bit. But I soon realized we were the only 2 passengers inside. So I coaxed Nicole back up to the top deck, assuring that I'd be with her and she'd enjoy the cruise. We found a seat in the middle of the boat and I told her to not look down, but instead, focus on the horizon. So there we sat in the beautiful sunshine, both of us looking straight ahead enjoying the view and the gentle breeze blowing our hair and our dresses, never looking down.

Looking back, I realize that had I "looked down" in 1990, it would have been so easy to walk away, but instead I knew that all along God intended for me to focus on the horizon, with that horizon being my future with Roger and Nicole.

To view more pictures from Nicole's graduation, follow the link below and choose "View Pictures", (no need to sign in!), then choose "View as slideshow" from the right-hand column.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Slower than Molasses

Waiting for spring to come to New England is indeed slower than molasses. A rather apropos analogy since afterall this is maple country.

The earliest indication that winter is "almost" over is the arrival of the robins. Never before have I been so thrilled to see the little orange-breasted critters as I am each March. Heck, before moving up here I never knew they even went away. Alas, the early thrill is rather short-lived, as it's not long before you see them trying to peck through 6-inches of snow to get to their buried snacks.

But then finally after several weeks of watching and waiting, and then more waiting, and more waiting - the forsythia blooms with a vengence. Like unruly school kids yanking off their jackets and tossing their books away, the brilliant yellow spikes are wild and bright!

Seemingly overnight, everywhere you look, the real sign of spring is forced in your face - at times almost too brilliant to look at. In fact, the drearier the day, the brighter the blossoms. Their backdrop being the dark green of the firs and spruces, and the grays and muted browns of the still to bud trees.

Some shrubs have been tamed into box-like structures to frame a tidy yard, but for the most part they're spiky and overgrown and absolutely stunning! And as the yellow flowers give way to green leaves, spring will indeed be in full swing.

God Bless Us! New Englanders have indeed survived another winter! Pancakes all around!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Happy Birthday Roger!

As this is my inaugural post, I shall dedicate it to Roger, who is rather unwillingly celebrating his birthday today. Isn't he so very handsome!

While his birthday is actually today (April 24th), we spent last weekend enjoying a minor league ballgame (go fishercats!), followed by nachos and beer at a sportsbar in Manchester, followed by tacos at Margaritas, followed by Alka-Selzer (tm) at home.

This cellphone image was taken the next day at one of our most favorite spots - "The Black Cow" in Newburyport.

We hope you enjoy our musings and photos. We welcome your comments and greetings!