going home again

The day before we
The day before we left to go home for Christmas, Jean, James’ mom, came to the end of her nine-month battle with cancer. She was still young, vibrant and feisty, so this was a huge blow. Jean used to send me a mother’s day card from Stella the rat dog every year, and she always remembered dates like our anniversary or the day my brother died. Her house was full of things she made with her hands–from paintings on the wall to ingenious inventions to deal with the minor irritations of life (like a lost remote). We shared a lot of laughs over the years, including after the ill-fated whale watching trip where I spent the entire time puking into the Pacific. I’m so glad she was able to visit us out here in 2014 and wish she’d been able to make the second trip we’d been talking about.
When we left
When we left in our rented mini van to make the three-day drive to Houston, we knew it was possible this soul wouldn’t be making the return trip with us. She’d been declining for a few months, and she was in pretty bad shape as we set off. Dali died on the shortest day of the year, December 21, the winter solstice and the day before Jean’s funeral. She’d been with us for almost 13 years, and we think she was a year old when we got her. Not a bad run for a crazy dog with two different-colored eyes and a bit of an attitude. She had many nicknames, but a favorite was “Cooj” (rhymes with Baton Rouge, short for Cujo because sometimes she liked to bite us).
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We broke the drive up like this: Pacific Grove to Blythe, CA (just inside the border with AZ) –> Blythe to Van Horn, TX –> Van Horn to Houston. After fighting our way through the gridlock that is the western half of Southern California, we expected smooth sailing across the desert with just a few semis to keep us company. But CalTrans decided to do a little road work on the Saturday before the Christmas holiday, and it took us two hours to go seven miles. I considered using this random port-a-potty in the median–I could have easily done my business and caught up with James and the van walking at a casual pace–but I was a bit afraid of using an interstate terlet in the middle of the desert as night is falling.
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Van Horn, Texas is just a blip of a town in the moonscape that is West Texas. But it has a super cool, old school (but renovated) hotel with a great restaurant. This is the sister hotel to Hotel Paisano in Marfa, and they share remarkable physical similarities. The hotel in Marfa is a bit cooler because the rooms have patios with fireplaces in them. This place just has a view of the railroad tracks, empty lots and a gas station. But the rooms are nice, the lobby is beautiful and the chicken fried steak with jalapeño gravy is pretty hard to beat.
While in Houston
While in Houston, we had the chance to check out a few new places. This is Lei Low, a “rum and tiki lounge” in the northern end of the Heights and just a short walk from the house we rented for our stay. I had a drink with an umbrella in it that was tasty and not overly sweet. The drink, not the umbrella. I didn’t taste the umbrella. We also had really amazing brisket at Pinkerton’s Barbecue and a delicious breakfast (twice) at Morningstar–both in the Heights. When we lived in the Heights, dining options were Andy’s, Someburger and King Biscuit. The area is an embarrassment of dining riches now, and I wish we’d had more time to try more places.
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After a few days in Houston, we headed up the country to see my family, stuff ourselves with my mother’s nonpareil cooking and drink all my dad’s booze. My nephew and niece, almost 8 and 6.5, are at that great age where they’re smart and fun to talk to but aren’t too cool to hang with the old people. I was thrilled to see Molly reading real, live, 3-D books and watch Rowan build intricate Lego creations instead of being buried in electronic devices, staring and swiping like zombies. They both have great senses of humor and a surprising handle on absurdity.
Here's a shot Molly took of me and my mother with the (pink) camera we gave her for Christmas.
Here’s a shot Molly took of me and my mother with the (pink) instamatic camera we gave her for Christmas. She took her photography very seriously and captured some seriously great shots. She also learned a lesson about angles to avoid (like not shooting up toward people’s faces/double chins).
My car is
The two times we’ve driven back to Texas since the move, we’ve rented a mini van. Our cars are nine and 15 years old, both on the small side, so the van provides lots of room for dogs and luggage and the confidence we’ll actually get from A to B and back to A without mechanical difficulties. It was nice driving a brand new vehicle for a couple of weeks, but I was happy to get back to my no-computer-display, no-warning-when-a-car-is-in-your-blindspot, stick-shift Mazda. I can’t get behind this no key thing. Pushing a button to start a car, then turning a knob to put it in gear makes for a completely unsatisfying driving experience. On our long drive, James and I talked a lot about automated cars and how in the somewhat near future a kid will be talking to her grandmother about road trips and will be incredulous–“You mean you had to steer the car and make it go by pressing your foot on a pedal? For hours? How did you pay attention? How could you be off (insert relevant social media tool) that long?” And the grandmother will think longingly of a more simple time when you had to balance your intake of caffeine with truck stop availability so you didn’t consider using a port-a-potty in the median of the interstate in the middle of the desert as night is falling.

Links
Hotel El Capitan
Lei Low
Pinkerton’s Barbecue
Morningstar

I think Safeway’s going to call CPS on me

“But you don’t have children, Crystal. Why would they do that?”

Two reasons: copious amounts of alcohol and ham and ham gravy baby food.

Let me back up. Did you know small dogs (like Chihuahuas) often have major issues with their teeth? And that I share my house with Stella, a Chihuahua-Rat Terrier mix? And that for years Stella’s breath has been so bad, it earned her the nickname, “Shitrashra” (as in, breath that smells like a combination of shit and trash)? And that, instead of making fun of the sweet little dog I love, I should have been taking her to the doggie dentist so she could have her teeth cleaned?

All of these things came together three days after Christmas, culminating in Stella having to get 16 teeth pulled. Yes, 16 Tic-Tac-sized teeth came out of her tiny little head. She still has close to a dozen (and is close to a dozen years old), so it could be worse.

James and I spent the week after Christmas, which both of us had off, nursing our 7.5-pound dog back to good health. She was on pain medication, which was probably great for the soreness but stopped up her waste-removal process. After three days of nothing but pee exiting her body, I called the vet. They said to try pumpkin puree (she hated it) or sweet potato baby food (she liked it okay) and 1/4 teaspoon of Miralax daily. If she didn’t produce the goods in a couple of days, we were going to have to take her back to the vet.

I spoon-fed her sweet potato and chicken baby food as often as she’d let me. At the 11th hour, she finally pooped. It was a turd for the ages, about half the length of her body. Joy!

After she was done with the medicine, I worried her mouth was still sore. So I continued with the baby food routine, swapping out sweet potato and chicken for more delectable flavors like chicken and chicken gravy, turkey and turkey gravy and, her favorite, ham and ham gravy.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and we now have a picky dog who much prefers baby food over doggie food. And not just any flavor baby food–ham and ham gravy. Give her some chicken and chicken gravy, a flavor she liked just a few weeks ago, and she turns her nose up. Won’t eat all day, leaving the food to congeal in her bowl. But ham and ham gravy? Oh yeah. It’s on.

Which brings me to Safeway. As I watched the guy scan my groceries this morning, which prominently featured booze and ham and ham gravy baby food, it occurred to me that he might mistakenly think I have a baby at home. And that I’m the worst mother ever, only providing one flavor of baby food while I drink bourbon and eat non-baby-friendly things like jalapeños and radishes.

I pictured myself walking to the car with my groceries while the checker sends a cop after me. “There she goes! Get her. She probably left that poor, neglected baby in the trunk of her car. Just follow the smell of ham and ham gravy.”

ham and ham gravy
If I had the skills, I’d photoshop a picture of Stella’s face over that baby.

the grass IS greener

umbrella burgers
the gentle side of el niño–having to grill under a beach umbrella

We’ve lived in California almost two years now, but we haven’t been here long enough to separate legit weather concerns from TV weatherman hype. In Houston, every storm system in the Gulf presented the opportunity for SEVERE WEATHER graphics and ominous music, even if said storm posed no threat to the area. So I wasn’t sure what to think about reports of a pending “super el niño.” The local newscast is refreshingly down-home and lacking in hyperbole, but still.

Well, el niño is here, and it’s on track to be one of the strongest on record (records only going back about 50 years). There have already been massive mudslides in southern California and a huge rockslide closed the entrance to Yosemite a few days ago. A boulder fell on a car in Big Sur last week, and there was even an earthquake four miles north of Big Sur early this morning. (Okay, not sure that’s related to el niño, but it’s the first time there’s been a quake close enough for us to feel it–though we didn’t since we were sleeping.)

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before the recent rains, this yard was half dirt, half thinning grass–now it’s grass and clover, with a little trail Dali made to the corner of the yard so she can bark at people walking down the street

The main impact on us so far is rain cramping our outdoors style and greening our yard. For the latter, I’m very grateful. So are the dogs. The former issue kind of blows, but we did enjoy some brilliantly clear days in Big Sur before the rain arrived.

it's rare to see
we’re talking REALLY CLEAR days
traffic
bringing shitloads of traffic

It hasn’t been foggy here in what seems like months. We vacillate between clear blue and soggy gray. I really miss the fog. It’s mystical. One cool thing: the waves accompanying the storms have been big and loud, easy to hear from our front porch at night. Maybe I need to shift my mindset from taking beautiful pictures on hikes to taking interesting pictures of weather and waves since that’s what we have more of right now.

Oh, and I saw a whale today. First sighting of 2016. Dig it.