Celebrated Lori's birthday at Buca di Beppo. Our party numbered 11 people. Much food, much conviviality. I smuggled out the bottle of lemon cello on the advice of the waitress, because I liked the shape of the bottle.
Woke up at 6am to vomit. Lori came to hold my hair with dramatic speed. Entertained suspicions of food poisoning from Buca di Beppo. (I haven't heard of anyone else who was there getting sick, so those suspicions were probably unfounded.)
Three more episodes of vomiting by early afternoon, making my Christmas Eve less merry.
Too sick to muster the intellectual capacity to appreciate Scooby-Doo--obviously very far gone.
Slept most of the afternoon.
Skipped Christmas Eve church service.
Exchanged presents with Lori's family. Tried to muster enthusiasm without really feeling enthusiastic. Disenthusiasm not the fault of the presents, which were very nice.
Because Lori feared snow on the weather forecast for Christmas Eve, we rented a room at the Hyatt at the airport. Otherwise, we would have been driving to the airport at 4:30 Christmas morning, and it seemed likely that the salt trucks might not be at their most vigorous then.
So, drove out to airport at midnight. Did not see Santa in flight. Paid almost $20 per hour of occupancy.
Got up early to go to plane: 4:30, too early for comfort. Did see snow on ground (and on roads) out of window.
Was carrying books, cookies, presents, &c in large paper bag. While waiting for security checkpoint, bag broke. Manfully resisted swearing too badly. Carried stuff to gate wrapped in my coat; got plastic trash bag from airport janitor before boarding plane. Trash bag proved flimsy; developed large tears by time we reached final destination.
Neither of us searched at all on trip. Clearly too white.
Arrived in San Antonio, acquired rental car without significant incident. Very uncertain about locating intended destination within New Braunfels, but arrived with only one wrong turn.
Intended destination was the assisted-living home where my grandmother was living. The big issue of the trip was that her children had decided that it was time for her to move into a nursing home in Dallas; she was too far from any of her family in New Braunfels, and she had declined enough that the assisted-living home felt that they weren't able to take care of her. But Grandmother was extremely resistant to the idea.
Her whole family (me and Lori, my mother and father, my sister Laura, my aunt and uncle Frances and Elliott Graves, and their children Adam and Allison) were gathered there to see her and to see New Braunfels for what might be the last time.
Arrived at assisted living home in time for Christmas dinner with Grandmother and the Graves. Very bland meal.
Other Meltons arrived after lunch. Gift exchange.
I don't think Grandmother recognized me or Lori that day.
Afterward, retired to bed and breakfast: the Gruene Homestead Inn. Our room was the Bluebonnet Room of the Texas House. Very pretty--Lori particularly liked it. Room included a jacuzzi tub, which both Lori and I enjoyed. Mmm, jacuzzi.
Evening gathering in parents' room, to dine on picnic fixings they'd brought. Declined ham that had been in car all day with only outside air providing cooling.
My father played a cassette of Adam imitating our late grandfather telling one of his stories. The imitation was really spot on... it made me teary and nostalgic.
The general focus of conversation was on planning to deal with the need to move Grandmother to Dallas, and how to cope with her refusal to move. Further complication: we intended to move her on Friday, Dec 27--but she could only move in to the nursing home in Dallas on Monday, Dec 30. Much fretting.
I ended up with the job of helping load the U-Haul trailer with furniture and boxes. I felt fortunate that I got to do heavy lifting instead of heavy emotional complications.
Returned rental car. Went with Daddy to Seguin to rent a U-haul trailer.
Daddy, Laura, and I went to see memorials to Granddaddy: the ginkgo tree planted in his memory at the golf course, and his headstone.
At the gingko tree, a guy comes over to share his memories of Granddaddy. He's golfed with people who had him as their teacher, and he used to see Granddaddy around the golf course. He introduces himself as Ray Martinez, a retired Texas Ranger. On the golf-cart ride back to the clubhouse, the course employee explains that he's the guy who shot Charles Whitman at the UT clock tower. (another link)
At headstone, talked about memories of Granddaddy, and of our wishes in the event of our own death. My father's wish:
- donate organs if possible
- give body to med school
- scatter ashes where they won't be recovered. NO HEADSTONE.
- have memorial service or not, as most comforting to survivors.
- "plant a tree where children play." He doesn't care whether or not it has a plaque.
- use memorial donations to establish a scholarship fund.
I'm not quite certain about my own intentions. When I was a kid, I had an idea of putting my ashes in the soil to plant flowers, and that still sounds pretty good. (More appropriate for Pittsburgh than for Dallas area.) I certainly would be satisfied if Daddy's plan was carried out for me--donating the organs is particularly important.
After visiting gravestone, we went to Lockhart, TX for lunch, because I remembered Roadfood citing that as the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Unfortunately, I didn't clearly remember the names of the barbecue places it commended. However, we saw Smitty's Market and that was familiar to me.
The Roadfood link captures the nature of the place well. The walls of the smokeroom are black, and not from paint. You order meat by the pound; the guy opens a smoker to take out the meat, cuts off appropriate pieces, and hands you your meat on butcher paper, with a plastic knife and some white bread or saltines. You take it into the next room to eat it (and to buy some sides if you like). No forks are provided; you eat the meat with your fingers, without any daintiness. No sauce is provided, either--the meat is so exquisite that it doesn't need it.
That evening, Lori and I hung out with Adam, Allison, and Laura. We played a few hands of Uno, and then Adam played some of his songs for us. Adam turns out to be a very good singer-songwriter! He played six of his songs for us, and they were all very nice. Lori and I particularly appreciated the song he wrote after hearing of our engagement, about the idea of waking up with the person you love every day. I really want to get a recording of his songs, and would like to set up an opportunity for him to jam with Heather.
The day to go back to Dallas, taking Grandmother. On the previous day, she had still proved firmly set against moving. But she had been persuaded to visit Allison at her house... so we were going to move her to Allison's house in Dallas, and move her stuff, and deal later with the fact that she wasn't going to go home to New Braunfels. A sad trick to play, really, but it was the best to do under the circumstances.
By plan, we were to drop off some items at the Senior Citizen's Center. A wrong turn led us to an antique furniture store with beautiful pieces at amazingly good prices. But shipping would eat up any savings... I crave to find such a place in Pittsburgh.
At the Senior Citizen's Center, we discovered the bookshelves. Mmm, cheap books. I didn't realize how cheap until we got out; my three paperbacks and one old book of Texas jokes cost me 55 cents. W00t.
Packed up Adam's truck and U-haul with contents of Grandmother's apartment.
Stopped off at New Braunfels Smokehouse for lunch. More barbecue brisket. Mmm...
Drove to Dallas. Read one of my new books on the drive, a mystery by Charlotte Macleod featuring Sarah Kelling. Sarah Kelling is a Boston blue-blood with a bunch of quirky family--I enjoyed the characterization and interplay, but found the mystery a bit weak.
Stopped in Salado to eat yummy Southern food at the Stagecoach Inn. I've never had hush puppies like that anywhere else.
Laura and I had a pretty good conversation in the restaurant and on the rest of the drive, about how we weren't very close and how we might mend that. I felt that we had a chance to turn things around and become closer... unfortunately, Laura went back to being extremely rude and nasty for the rest of the trip, so I don't know whether any progress was really made.
Slept that night on the sofa bed--at least 25 years old. I found it more comfortable than I remembered, but Lori found it dismal.
As I'd understood it, we'd had a plan to have Katherine Shields and David and Alicia Harvey over for breakfast, so that we could have a little time to visit before Katherine flew back to Boston. Unfortunately, Katherine's flight was early enough that she couldn't come for breakfast. The Harveys found out that Katherine couldn't make it, and assumed that breakfast was cancelled.
Once we called the Harveys and discovered that miscommunication, we arranged to meet them for lunch. Drove down to Patty Harvey's house, where we ate tasty quesadillas for lunch and talked with all the Harveys for several hours. It was a very pleasant conversation.
Visited mall before visiting Harveys; Lori beheld the Aquamassage.
Visited Half-Price Books on the way back. Tormented myself with waffling over RPG books that I didn't really need, but kind of wanted. Bought several Charlotte MacLeod books.
Dinner that night at Spring Creek Barbecue. I had had a sore throat and taken a Sucrets just before we went; this really cut into my enjoyment of the food.
Went to church at Northaven, my family church since growing up. Northaven does have enough attendance and enough foundation problems to justify the rebuilding that they have planned. But doing so seems odd to me... I suspect that that will be the step that makes me feel "this is no longer the church where I grew up".
Lori sang with the choir. I couldn't pick her voice out, but the music was lovely. One particularly nice bit: in the call to worship, one member of the congregation started singing the last verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", and the whole congregation joined in.
I haven't found church music in Pittsburgh that touches me the way Northaven's does. I admit that I haven't looked very hard.
Returned to Half-Price Books. I had consulted online reviews and online friends, and had decided that I did want Mage: the Ascension, Vampire, and Creature Collection II--particularly with Half-Price Books' 20%-off sale. But Alas! The Creature Collection II was nowhere to be found. How disappointing.
Returned to the mall so that Lori might experience the Aquamassage. She found it blissful.
That night, we ate dinner at the home of Allison and her fiancee Brian, with all the Graves and Grandmother. Brian appears to be cool; I'm glad to have met him. The entree was grilled chicken, which was extremely flavorful and tasty. I've held off grilling chicken because of my fear of the ways it can go wrong, but perhaps I should reconsider that.
After dinner we played Bingo. I found it surprisingly fun for a game that offers no element of player choice. I won once. Grandmother won multiple times. I once noticed that Brian had gotten a bingo with the same number that had earned Grandmother a bingo, and he was deliberately being so slow to call out his bingo that Grandmother was first. That was very sweet of him.
Grandmother was much more coherent this night; I think she recognized us.
Got together with Andrew and Janet Urquhart for lunch. Worked out to be Spring Creek Barbecue again, but I enjoyed it more this time. Many hours of lovely conversation.
Went back to their new house in Wylie. A very nice house. More hours of lovely conversation. Nice cats, one of whom has great ability to catch flying projectiles, and both of whom have prodigious leaping ability.
While driving to their house, rain intensified. Watched Weather Channel and its tornado watches and warnings with Urquharts, and watched the rain pelting outside. Sky very dark, but the color that others describe as a "green sky" doesn't look very green to me.
Rain eventually dissipated. Very beautiful sunset on the drive back.
Went to dinner with David and Alicia at The Celebration, which we try to visit on every visit to Dallas. Wonderful Southern food, served family style. I had the pot roast as my entree. Among the vegetables, I particularly enjoyed the carrots with sour cream and cilantro sauce and the fried okra. Once you've ordered an entree, you can get seconds on that entree or any equally cheap entree; I managed a small portion of the jerk chicken, which was very tasty but spicy enough that I was glad it had not been my main entree. For dessert, we shared cherry cobbler.
More hours of pleasant conversation with the Harveys.
Flew home. Was uncertain whether we could check bags through to Pittsburgh from Love Field, but turned out to work.
Ate unsatisfying overpriced barbecue lunch in Houston airport. Should there be any doubt, real barbecue places do not mention Merlot and Chardonnay on the menu.
Plane was already boarding when we arrived at gate in Houston. They knew our names and were waiting for us.
Managed to arrange in-flight reading so as to finish reading second Charlotte MacLeod book as plane was landing in Pittsburgh.
Attended New Year's Eve party at Kevin Sullivan's. Low-key party, which was what we wanted after a day of travel.
Played Lord of the Rings board game with four other attendees. Rather good game. Definitely had the feeling of being a game about Lord of the Rings, in a way that, say, a Lord of the Rings chess set would not. We had a lot of good luck and finished in excellent form, but we did have one player sacrifice herself to get the rest of us to Mount Doom--which is very true to the spirit of the Lord of the Rings.
Ate New Year's dinner with Lori's family. Much tasty food.
I was charged with providing the black-eyed peas, since they're my New Year's tradition. I didn't have the time and oomph to make hoppin' john as I usually do; I went with canned blackeyes.
We had one can in the cupboard, but I wanted two. Our local Giant Eagle was completely out of one variety of canned blackeye peas and out of dried blackeyes; I managed to find a few cans of Glory blackeyes tucked away behind some other cans.
The Glory brand blackeye peas turned out to be really delicious. I feel awkward about favoring canned foods so highly, but these were really among the best blackeyed peas I've had.
There. It is done. I hope that it is appreciated.