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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving... Home from FEMA 1791-TX

Dan & I have just had a very pleasant Thanksgiving Dinner @DB's X-clusive in Welch, WV (No dishes to wash! No kitchen to clean!), where the bar actually boasts Glen Morangie, not to mention Tallisker, & The Mac! This is such a wonderful & totally amazing concept to me that I HAD to mention it! Not that we often get there, or much of anywhere, as if we go out, Dan has to drive home, & therefore can't drink, & what's the fun in that?! And so our bar, not to mention Chef Dan's rather amazing kitchen, usually wins, the stuff he cooks up making just about anywhere else pale by comparison, but BD's was nice for a relaxing change, esp. as I'd just arrived from Texas, we didn't get to sleep until after 4a.m. this morning, & neither of us felt like going anywhere Near the kitchen today!
I am Deeply thankful to be home with Dan (& our puppies) this Thanksgiving, for Dan is Truly what I'm most thankful for- today & every day!
Got home around midnight from Houston, Texas, after being deployed the past month on FEMA 1791-TX in response to Hurricane Ike. I spent the last month working in Houston & Beaumont, TX doing Applicant Assistance for FEMA Human Services, which means basically just that: helping people who'd registered with FEMA for assistance following Hurricane Ike trouble-shoot their applications, answering questions about disaster assistance programs, steering people to programs that may be able to help them, and trying to help people not "fall through the cracks". It feels great when you're actually able to help someone, it's a great job, I work with great people, & I'm deeply lucky to be able to do it. Something else to be thankful for!
While I was gallivanting about TX, making the world safe for bureaucracy, Dan was warming his buns in front of the Elkhorn Inn fireplace, working on a gazillion projects, dealing with holiday Gift Shop orders for coal tchatchkas, & setting up our bevy of holiday inflatable decorations and lights! (And now, while I suffer, acclimatizing to the FREEZING COLD of a WV winter & cuddling the dogs for warmth, he gets to go hunting with The Guys @The Cabin, & do Dan's Famous French Squirrel Stew from the 14 squirrels they've got saved for him in the freezer!)
This past month I got to learn a new computer program (whee!), & on our Sunday days off, my coworkers David & Bob & I also got to see a bit of Texas & Louisiana, which was grand! We first went to NASA Space Center Houston, where we spent a really cool day seeing EVERY exhibit & partaking of EVERY attraction! I must say that, all of 49, I felt Really Old @NASA, remembering vividly the amazing summer of 1969 when the Mets won the World Series & men walked on the moon for the very first time... which is now Ancient History to kids for whom shuttle launches are normal... So normal, in fact, that they don't even make the news anymore... That fact saddened us all deeply & we so hope that somehow NASA will again ignite the dreams & wonder of a new generation to the endless possibilities of space exploration... I was enthralled by the incredibly tiny Mercury capsule, vainly trying to imagine spending a week in space curled into a fetal ball inside what looks like a metal ice-cream cone...
We got to eat fried crab & dance at Larry's French Market & Cajun Restaurant in Groves, TX, & go to Tabasco World on Avery Island, Louisiana so I could bring Chef Dan an entire suitcase full of really cool Tabasco products, including seeds for the garden, hot pepper chocolate (yum!), & 4 bags of wood chips for Smokin' Dan's smoker made from the Jack Daniels barrels that Tabasco uses to age their sauce! One of my True Skills is that I can successfully pack breakables in a soft suitcase, & this time I truly outdid myself, coming home with more than 14 full-size glass jars of everything from hot sauces to mayonnaise to chili to pepper jam (not to mention a bottle of Jack Daniels Egg Nog), & not only did everything arrive intact, none of my clothes even smell faintly of hot sauce! I also got to taste everything (more yum!), esp. the jalapeno ice cream, which was truly delicious! (It starts out as a creamy vanilla, & then sneaks up on you with a nice little Zing!) We found a kewl roadside restaurant on the way back from Avery Island, & stuffed ourselves w/crab topped with etoufee & sweet potato fries (& my Maine co-worker got to eat gator for the first time), & I there & then gave up any hope of losing weight on this trip! Whoever said travel isn't broadening never went to Louisiana!
One Sunday we drove to Galveston, & got to see it rebounding after the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Ike, which was great. Galveston is Totally Gorgeous on the beach, & if Dan had been with me I would have insisted we join the folks horseback riding through the surf! My co-workers & I even got to help reopen a really neat biker bar on the coast, enjoying the band while I sipped my Jack Daniels "brunch"! (Elisse's Rule: Carpool whenever possible w/folks who actually Like to drive...)
One of the things I get to do a lot of when I'm deployed is Drive, & in Texas I found myself a couple of Classic Country & Oldie radio stations to make it fun. I got to see a lot of land, some cattle, & a Whole Mess of oil refineries, which I also got to Smell... & it is, uh, Uniquely Texas. The refineries are eerily beautiful in a futuristic-industrial way, esp. at night, when they're lit up with a million lights like George Jetson's idea of Progress, plumes of opaque, grey-blue smoke cascading across the inky sky, dotted by torch-like flames leaping into the night... If you can suspend disbelief, & enjoy it all aesthetically as an artist, without thinking too much (at all, actually...) about what you're breathing, it's actually pretty gorgeous... On this trip I also learned what "skunk" smells like... Relying on and Post-It notes stuck to the dashboard of my rental car (a.k.a. "the ashtray on wheels"), I have become a figure of fun amongst my co-workers, to the point where I often defensively brag about how "directionally challenged" I am, being a NYer by birth who got her driver's license at the age of 42... But I do get where I'm going! (I also start off each & every trip with a prayer...) On this trip I got to enjoy my co-worker's GPS systems, often driving behind them while they played follow-the-Garmin. This Usually worked, but not always, & while I really do want one, on this trip I learned that I also want a Really Accurate One...When I deployed to TX I flew into Austin, & I was All Excited, as the Food Network had prepped me for Austin's great dining & club scene, & I thought, happily, I might be stationed there! I had visions of gourmet dining, getting into the Texas Hill country to the "wine trail", & hearing great music on my days off... Maybe next time! Off I was sent to Houston, & I wound up staying at the Pasadena, TX Holiday Inn Express. While there was no place nearby to eat, & I lived on Cup Noodles & PX wine for a week, I Did find one of THE best Thrift Shops (open 'til 9 p.m.!), right next to the hotel! Brand new pink-&-white Timberland boots w/the tag still on for $6.40! A Vittadini dress, new-with-tag from Neiman Marcus, for $4.50! A DK velvet evening sheath dress for $4.50! New Prada slacks for $4.50! And Khakis for FEMA for $2.50 each! For a NYer who twitches at the very Thought of paying retail for anything, there is nothing quite so grand as scoring a Real Bargain; by now somewhat of a "thrift shop connoisseur", I give this place 5 Stars!
Coming from Landgraff, WV- a place with NO shopping- to Beaumont & Houston, was a Trip, &
one night after work, armed with my directions, I set out on a "driving adventure" to find the Beaumont Mall on Dowlen Road & have a little Retail Therapy in the lingerie dept. of Dillards. I got me a Spanx, the hip, modern version of the one-piece Grandma Girdle of my childhood nightmares, some seamed stockings to make me feel sexy & NOT like a woman who just bought herself a Spanx, & a bra that for once actually fits me, & which, to my horror, was now a 36D. Apres shopping I happily stumbled into a Great Japanese restaurant right across the street: Tokyo Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, & had what turned out to be a fabulous dinner of luscious, melt-in-your mouth sushi, created by a battery of Mexican sushi chefs! I love Texas!
The staff of the Hilton Gardens Inn, Beaumont, TX was SO good to all of us, & if we are ever lucky enough to work again in Beaumont, that is Definitely where we'll all want to stay! They really made us welcome! Thank you all for a great place to come "home" to after work- especially Ralph & Napoleon!
My other find was a great little day spa in Houston: Bella Nova. Feeling "fat & ugly" when I arrived in Texas, I was determined to go home better looking (or at least Feeling better looking) than I was when I left, & so at the end of my deployment, after I checked out & was officially on my way home, I made a beeline to the Uruku Aveda Salon (which was nice enough to give me an evening appointment) & got my hair cut cute & colored w/really kewl blond highlights & red lowlights, & woke up early enough to have a bit of a "spa day" at Bella Nova before high-tailing it to the airport to catch my flight home! I got to have an Ionithermie body treatment, which I'd wanted to try for years, & thought it was super! Based on more science than any other slimming treatment I'm aware of, Ionithermie uses electrodes to stimulate muscles to contract, similar, I believe, to medical treatments both Dan & I have had on our back & legs. The Ionithermie electrodes were targeted on my butt & belly, with the delightful result of measurable inch loss as well as the really cool "buzzy" sensation of a powerful electrical "workout"! (My IBEW dad would have howled at this!) If I get lucky enough to get deployed to Houston again I'll definitely do a series of Ionithermie treatments! I also had a great & relaxing microdermabrasion facial, something else I'd been promising myself for a long time, as well as an excellent pedicure with a glorious foot scrub, & I Did go home feeling a helluvalot prettier! No, this stuff ain't cheap, & I'm sure there are folks out there that will gasp in horror @all this wanton indulgence, but screw 'em! I could get defensive & tell you again how I ate Cup Noodles for a week in Pasadena so I could afford to get my hair done, but instead I'll tell you that I feel rather like the corny embodiment of a L'Oreal commercial: damnit, I AM worth it! And so are you!
Following my wallow in the lap of luxury, I got to partake in, for the first time in my life, that oft-ballyhooed American ritual known as Flying Home For The Holidays, & it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd envisaged! Imagining scenes of utter hysteria, delays, cancellations, misery, & total chaos in the airports, I'd even steeled myself (& Dan) for the prospect of getting bumped off a flight, being stranded, & spending the night in an airport somewhere. But the traffic in Houston was almost non-existent, both the Houston & Dulles airports were calm & staffed with the usual obnoxious & snarky "Meter Maid Mentality" airport personnel seemingly determined to make flying as unpleasant & humiliating as possible, & the planes not even totally full. Perhaps all this was due to our current "recession" (politically correct as I am, I mustn't tell it like it is & use the "D" word...), but the Thanksgiving-eve chaos I'd read about for years was totally non-existent... To make the "travel experience" perfect, I first had to beg & plead with a sarcastic, unhelpful United Airlines clerk to get him to deign to check me in, & pay to send my suitcase as is now the norm, after which I had the excellent experience of having a bottle of nice Aveda hairspray I'd inadvertently packed in my briefcase confiscated by a 400 lb. "security" woman, who, determined to "enforce the law" & get the rush these pillars of society seem to get from making someone's life miserable for 10 minutes, can now congratulate herself on being a jerk. I hope she enjoyed the hairspray. Sorry, but that's what I think of that sort of pin-headed, brainless crap. And crap it is, for it serves no purpose other than to make passengers miserable & feed the egos of the bullies & pin-heads charged with "enforcing" it. It does NOTHING to protect our security in any way, shape, or form, & everyone knows it. If our lives are truly dependant on the so-called "security personnel" confiscating toiletries in our airports, we are in DEEP doo-doo, kids. I've watched these lovelies wrest shampoo from people with smirks of glee on their faces, & I lost my late father's gift Swiss Army pocket knife to one such gem; this time, as usual, I bit my tongue & kept my mouth shut, lest I get thrown out of the airport, but safely home I can now I can vent on my Blog, because I'm blessed to live in a free country... I will say that, on the whole, the United Airlines personnel I encountered were very good, & most were quite pleasant, & that all the flights were delightfully uneventful. I will also say that some of the aircraft had seen better days, as on one plane lights didn't work & cold air whistled in on me through cracks in the walls... But I was pleased that they gave me US Air frequent flier miles, as they've now taken over the Beckley, WV-Dulles route that US Air used to fly. Like most "road warriors", I'm a bit of a "points slut", & try to accrue as many hotel points & frequent flier miles as I can, ever saving & planning for "that next big trip" when Dan & I will get away somewhere TOGETHER! Happy Turkey Day!

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