Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tying up loose ends

We had been in Fort Walton Beach for over a week before I even had a chance to think about this blog.  Time seemed to have flown.  We tried to have a few days "off" before having to meet lawyers and close bank accounts and all the stuff you have to do when someone dies.  By Tuesday we felt as if we had been on a treadmill for weeks.

But funny things have happened, like while eating at the Longhorn restaurant.  I simply took a picture of my loaded baked potato and the manager immediately appeared! We felt as if we got a bit more attention than usual and can only assume they thought we were food critics!  He reappeared as we were leaving to make sure we enjoyed our dinner!  There is nothing like a loaded baked potato, loads of sour cream, bacon, cheese and whatever else you might feel like putting on it.  Yum!  And if I were a food critic, I would say you can never go wrong with Longhorn!

I met two Patrices on this trip, the first one was on the way to FWB at The Golden Corral.  One of our required eating places whenever we visit the USA!  All you can eat and as close to real food as you will find in a restaurant. 
The other one was a sales clerk at Macy's!  Of course I had to buy something just to mark the moment.

Staying at Steamboat Landing is as close to home as I can hope for.  It is where Mom had a timeshare and also in the area where I lived, off and on, for 12 years!  I love this area and still wonder why I chose to leave.  Ok, it was too crowded with tourists and, at the time, didn't have many job short sighted of me though!

One totally important stop is a meal at The Magnolia Grill.  My absolute favourite restaurant.....missed this last year and we could not risk that again. So this was the first meal of the trip to Fort Walton Beach!  I got swayed by one of their specials - crab cakes and shrimp with fettuccine Alfredo.   And it was delicious!  Unfortunately, the picture makes it look very unappetizing, so I am not going to post it.   Even though it was wonderful:  fresh seafood, pasta and an Alfredo sauce,   mmmmmmm.
Martin and Alan were very kind to me and let me go back one more time before leaving for eggplant parmigiana........

In high school, one of my friend's dates took her to the restaurant that had the same chef as Magnolia Grill (at least that is the way I heard it) and he asked for Eggplant Farmer John!

Winter in this part of Florida can be tricky and we are not getting sunburnt!   I could not see beyond Mom's service in Belleville and did not pack for this week.  Good thing, I would have brought the wrong clothes!  So I am buying sweaters, socks and layers to keep warm!

Our last Sunday was a real treat- we met one of our favourite people at Logan's Roadhouse.  Bill was my step brother in law, but I never think of him like that, he was my good friend and the father of my nieces, Candi and Roxanne.  We always tried to see each other when I am in FWB.  Alan and Martin had met him previously at Roxanne's wedding, but that was not the ideal place to meet anyone, especially the father of the bride. So they were delighted to have a chance to get to know Bill.  And Alan spent some time getting a really good photo of him.

However, none of us realized just how precious this lunch meeting would be......I am sad to say my friend passed away yesterday at home.  We are all still in shock but this is a message to everyone to live each day as if it is your last.  Since Bill told us that he never expected to live beyond age 50 and had managed well over 10 years later, he felt every day was a gift. This should be a lesson to us all.

Rest in Peace my friend.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Atlanta Aquarium among other treasures!

With no new ideas to soften the blow of Corbyn not being with us, we visited the Aquarium as planned. Corbyn was really looking forward to seeing the whale sharks, and we had to do this without him....I really hate chicken pox!

Roxanne was able to spend the day with us and I loved having such quality time with her - like when we told everyone else just to go see the dolphin show without us.......once you have seen this, you do not need to see it again.  Don't get me wrong, the dolphins are magnificent and the trainers are fantastic, but the show is a combination of Broadway and Disney.  This really takes away from the enjoyment of seeing the dolphins.   Once they came out, we could tell they agreed with us!

But the dolphin show is the only thing we could critique.   Everything else is more than wonderful.  My favourite part is watching the whale sharks be fed. Their mouths are as big as the boats on the surface where their food is distributed!

We also visited CNN before going to Adarsh's parents' house for a very special dinner.  This would have been quite a challenge for his Mom because I am allergic to cumin and lentils quite often make me sick.  Both ingredients are staples in her cooking!  It was also a good test for a possible trip to India for me.....if I could survive just being in a house that uses these things daily.  Not sure if she used cooking items she doesn't normally use or not.  The less I knew, the better.  Just in case I have some sort of imagined reaction!   Unfortunately, since this was the first time we were invited to their house, Alan and I thought cameras were probably not ideal and have no pictures of the best meal we had our whole trip!  What a treat to experience a type of cooking we are not familiar with and it was all so enjoyable.  Weeks later, we are still raving over this! 

I asked Roxanne to list what we ate and here is her list:

At Amma's house, we had
Pulao (rice pilaf)
Palak Paneer (Spinach with cubed cheese)
Raitha (cucumber, cilantro, yogurt salad)
Butter Naan (bread)
Veggie Cutlets
Salad with sprouted mung breans, strawberries and almonds + raw cashew nut dressing
Carrot Soup
Fudge Barfi

Although all the dishes were unusual to us, they were all fabulous and delicious.  Alan, Martin, Whitney and I thoroughly enjoyed every dish and were especially grateful just for the simple pleasure of eating "real" food!

                    "A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness." —Elsa Schiaparelli


Monday, February 25, 2013

On the road again

Time to leave Belleville and go for some well deserved R&R at my niece's house.  I am so very lucky to have nieces and nephews, especially since I was an only child!  The old saying that you can choose your friends but not your family is not true in my case.  I am extremely lucky that not only have we have chosen to be family, but one of my nieces even takes after Whitney and me!  Here is the picture to prove it.  

Arriving at the Ginzo House is always a pleasure, although we have only been here once before. But it is a wonderful home away from home and we are so grateful to Roxanne and Adarsh for being such gracious hosts.

Just to give us some variety in dinner since the Ginzu House is totally vegetarian, Roxanne suggested we go to  Le Thai so Martin and Alan could have meat if they wanted!   This is a Thai restaurant, the hint is in the name!  We shared spring rolls and basil rolls.  The Spring Rolls came standing individually in shot glasses with citrus sauce.  What a fantastic idea for serving them!  Both were absolutely delicious!    And I got Pad Thai, a scrumptious dish with noodles. Any dish with noodles will make me happy, but this was exquisite!

Early to bed since I was exhausted!  Would have loved to sit up and chat with Roxanne, but I think she was tired too.  Nothing like having 2 fantastic kids in the house and then the Graham's swoop into town!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

St Louis day!

We had planned this day all around having Corbyn with us and it would have been perfect.....

We started this day with a breakfast at IHOP of course!  The last remaining cousins from AZ went with us and it was delicious as usual.  And it was nice not being the only one in the party who qualified for their Senior discount!  I did remind Alan that it is only a matter of months until he joins this exclusive club!

Next stop - the zoo!  I love St Louis Zoo and have gone there regularly all my life. And the winter months can be much more fun; fewer people and happier animals due to it not being so hot.  The highlight for everyone (I think) was the hippo pond.  They are magnificent creatures and look just like the Disney hippo ballet when they swim! 

A walk along the riverfront and a visit to the bottom of the arch was next.  No time to to go to the top, and we have all done that before.  At the base though, is a really interesting museum and gift shop so always worth a stop.

We had lunch at ShowMe's in Lacledes Landing.  It all looked so delicious.  I got toasted ravioli again just to compare this to,what we had at the Tavern on Main.   This was not cooked quite as crunchy, making it a tiny bit easier to eat, but other than that, tasted exactly the same.  This was shown as a starter, and would be a great starter, personally, I prefer my ravioli boiled not toasted, especially if this was the main course.
Toasted Ravioli

The rest of the day was spent packing and visiting with Mary. We were hoping to go out to dinner with Mary, John and Donna, but were too tired. Nice that Mary was able to come to us for awhile.

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family.   Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."   Jane Howard

Monday Monday

The 4th of February was the date of Mom's remembrance service in Belleville at Cathedral. Here is the obituary that was published:  Remembrance service

The funeral home helping us with this was fantastic, but they have done our family funerals for many years. Mom was also friends with one Mrs Renner, who was the mother of my first "boyfriend" when we were in the first grade. So it is no surprise that they take excellent care of all the family!

Monday was the final day of saying goodbye.  I must admit I never appreciated how beneficial it is for the bereaved to go through these rituals.  It really does help.  Especially Mom's first service in Scotland.  There she knew the minister and he knew and cared about her.  And many of her new friends attended, along with mine.  I felt this was enough, but she had asked to be taken home, so we did have to do it all again in the US!

I cannot say the mass was great though, more like a conveyor belt service, where the priest even asked my cousin if her eulogy would take long!

Being so cold, we did not have an actual graveside service following the mass, but the 15 car long procession from the church ended up at the chapel, which was also cold because they had not put on the heat!  There is a strong family connection at the graveyard, one of Mom's older sisters and her husband were instrumental in building the chapel and donated the beautiful cross hanging on the wall.  One thing we missed taking a picture of!

Here is a better picture of the Rohr/Sprague family plot taken by my cousin at a better time of year!
I wanted to see the actual gravesite and a whole bunch of folks came with me.  We had a surprisingly good time tripping over mud and slipping on snow, while all the time being amazed at the Rohr/Sprague family plot. The dates stretch back to my great grandmother who brought her family over from Germany!   Mom got the last plot and it felt right that she is now with so many of her family. 

After this, we all traipsed to Tavern on Main.

One of my cousins was instrumental in finding this fabulous location and helping to organise the menu, including a wonderful version of St Louis Gooey Butter Cake.  This is a treasured childhood memory and only available in this area.  Another cousin had looked it up to see why it is unique to this area and I will attach the link so I don't have to retell the story.  But I am delighed to finally understand why I have never seen it anyplace else.    
The story behind Gooey Butter Cake:   Gooey Butter Cake
This picture is what we had!  But I never ate such fancy gooey butter cake before, usually it is without the sauces and ice cream.  And I would be delighted to eat it either way!

Very fitting that both Mom's funeral "teas" were held in a pub!   This is what happens when you live in Scotland!  Where else can families converge and have a wonderful and relaxed time together? 

After all this, the Graham's collapsed in a collective heap and slept the rest of the afternoon away. We only roused ourselves to get up, join a select few other cousins for a bite to eat and drink at TGIFridays before returning to our hotel to collapse again!

"Remember as far as anyone knows, we’re a nice normal family."
- Homer Simpson

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sunday visitation and Superbowl!

Beautiful urn wreath from Eckert's Florist

This was the first day of the official events of Mom's remembrance service, the visitation. Having never really attended anything like this before, both Alan and I were in serious uncharted territory.  We had so much input and assistance from family that it all went beautifully.

I chose the most comfortable room so that people could mingle, sit or go into the adjoining room if it was all too much.  There was also a kitchen with a well stocked fridge (many thanks to the Langsdorfs for that!) and I had brought shortbread from Scotland (which is always a hit).

As with any family gathering, most of the laughs came from the kitchen-and that is how it should be, there have to be laughs even in a funeral home.

The time was from 2-6 and there was always a good number of people.  Some cousins I had not seen for 40 years and one cousin, mom's age I had only heard of 15 minutes earlier.  That was an amazing coincidence - a friend of Mom's came in with a clipping from the local paper all about mom's 14th birthday party which listed all the guests.  One of these was Russell and then he was there too!

                     Cousin Russell!

There were beautiful flowers from family and one arrangement from a friend of Mary and Katherine. Pictures were everywhere and it couldn't have been prettier. I know Mom would have loved every minute of it.

Only in America would a visitation be scheduled around the Superbowl, but I know Mom would have understood and approved.  So, as everyone left, Alan and I found ourselves abandoned....cousins had gone out to celebrate a birthday or to watch the game.  I know no one intended us to be left, but this happened. So we made the executive decision to invite ourselves along with the Arizona batch of cousins to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings!  What a treat to watch the Superbowl in real time, instead of either staying up all night or taping it and trying not to hear who won until we got a chance to watch it!

And the night was not over yet!  Returning to our hotel, the southern branch of my family was at the pool and relaxing. What a treat to end the day with them.

"The family is one of nature’s masterpieces."
- George Santayana

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Saturday chores and family gatherings

On Saturday morning I had to visit Eckerts Florist, mainly for PR purposes.  When I walked in and was asked how they could help, I answered not at all. Then explained that I had ordered Mom's urn wreath long distance, paid it also, but was just dropping in to say hello.  When we saw the wreath the next day we were so impressed, it was perfect, with flowers mom loved like tulips and hydrangea.  Doing so much with nothing more than a web page and telephone, it was so nice that it all worked out-but more about that tomorrow.

Alan and I also dropped in at Tisch Monuments, met Mr Tisch, and got a copy of what looks like a blueprint of what will be Mom's gravestone.  I had kept hers the same as the more recent ones at the family plot and was really pleased with what Mr Tisch had drawn. This won't be ready until May at the soonest.  I intend to come back and see it when it is finished.

Next stop was a long drive to St Luke's hospital in Chesterfield to see my stepmother, Louise.  She is 91 and has pneumonia. Walking in was déjà vu, having done this for the past 6 months. She is so small and frail, and covered in bruises from getting iv's and all.  Louise was delighted to see us though, but did convey a serious message that she was kissing us goodbye, and we all felt it was not just for today.  Very sad, but so nice that we could all see her one last time. Except Corbyn, and Louise really wanted to see him again so she could report to my Dad when they were reunited in heaven.  (I am posting all these blogs 2 weeks later because I could  not add photos with the Ipad, and I am pleased to say Louise was sent home and continues to be a worry to her neighbours and friends!  In a very good way!)

With visits and plans over, almost all family members within a 50 mile radius arrived at Johnny and Donna's for a relaxed evening of visiting and eating good food!  Many thanks to Donna for this sudden and wonderful family gathering!

The main dish was Pulled Pork, which I couldn't eat due to it having BBQ sauce and that often has cumin in it. Since Donna did not make the pulled pork, we would never know (unless I ate it!)  so she made me a hamburger.  But Pulled Pork is delicious, Mom taught me how to make it using a slow cooker and it could not be easier.  The way I remember it is just to put the pork roast in the slow cooker with a bottle of barbeque sauce and let it cook until you can pull it apart with 2 forks, shredding it.  But I cannot find anything that simple so I will link the easiest one I have found on google and whenever I get the chance, I will try my simple one and let you know how it goes!

Pulled Pork

“Be not angry or sour at table; whatever may happen put on the cheerful mien, for good humor makes one dish a feast.”
From a Shaker manual, 'Gentle Manners'

Monday, February 18, 2013

Friday Fish

I had heard about the codfish dinners in Belleville for years from my cousin, Mary. But this was the first time I was able to participate.  I never realized they don't have these in a restaurant but in the equivalent of a community centre. I have no idea who sponsors them either.

We  were a bit late due to our first flight out of Newark being cancelled, but we still got there before the last of our group did.  This was in Swansea Improvement Hall and looks just like the title - a big hall, with lots of tables and chairs. The choices included codfish, blue gill and other seafood, plus burgers,and a huge selection of sides, like fried okra, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, etc, yum!

Being in the mid west and as far from the ocean as possible, I continue to be surprised that the main dish is cod.....but it is.  I do wish I had ordered blue gill though. That is a local fish and one all of us cousins have eaten or caught (or both!).

I did get the codfish but, to be honest, it wasn't that great, and far too salty for me. (In the two weeks we stayed in the US, we were all appalled at how incredibly salty the restaurant food was!)  But the total immersion in Midwestern culture and Sprague family gatherings made it a memorable night.

A group of cousins went out after this.  They had an extremely upsetting experience and some ended up, unexpectedly, at our hotel about 4am.  The silver lining as a result of this is that everyone stayed at the hotel the rest of the weekend. So we had much more quality time with our children and cousins instead of them being scattered all over Belleville!

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley"
Robert Burns 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Getting ready

The last time we travelled and I tried to use my iPad, it was a complete failure. This is a test!

I did the above a few days ago, before we discovered Corbyn contracted chicken pox and would not be travelling with us.  Pure heartbreak all around. Not sure who was more disappointed, the adults or Corbyn.  I could list so many things we all wanted to experience with him.....but would just depress myself further.

Did I say I had forced my entire family to get flu shots since the news coming out of America sounded like that flu epidemic would spoil our trip?  I was concerned someone would get abandoned somewhere in our travels due to being too ill to come with us.  Never expected to abandon someone before we even left Scotland!

Then 2 days before leaving, I finally noticed I had a bad cough, had it for weeks but been too busy to notice. Got antibiotics and missed my last 2 days at work.  I was really ill and cannot afford to miss anymore work, I am already so far behind due to bereavement leave and having to miss it gives an idea of exactly how ill I was!

We got to Illinois on Friday, I have not slept since Wednesday due to coughing.  So,what else can go wrong?

What could go wrong...........high winds caused our flight from Newark to be cancelled and we were lucky to get on the next flight to St. Louis ...... Although we got there late, we were able to meet loads of many family members at a Friday night fish fry in Swansea .  That was amazing. 

Not sure if I can download pictures, but the Ipad is not allowing me to scroll down so I am going to publish this and see if I can continue.  Obviously, the test was not exactly successful, but I am not going to lose hope! 

No quote either, if I go to another website to look for one, it just makes it difficult. Using the Hampton Inn computer in the lobby, which is great but you can only have one page open at a time. 

Fingers crossed all works out well!