Salsa vs Pico de Gallo : What's the Difference?

Salsa and pico de gallo are staples at my house and most local restaurants: many furriners aren't sure what is the difference. Pico, pictured top, is generally made up of fresh raw tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and cilantro chopped up into tiny chunks and served cold or room temp, sometimes marinated in lime juice. Spoon it onto a chip or stuff it into your burrito, it is not "Mexican coleslaw" (as we used to tell unsuspecting tourists). It is a raw veggie garnish you eat like dip. Oddly, pico is nearly the same (ingredients, flavor, mixture ratio) where ever you eat it in the southwest. You can also mix it with avocados and make great guacamole, spoon it into tacos, burritos, eggs, etc. To natives, it does not taste particularly spicy....hubster, who likes hot foods, adds a ton of jalapenos to his.
Salsa, pictured below, contains similar ingredients to pico de gallo, (often with the addition of garlic or other flavors- see below for comments) yet is always in a more liquid, less solid state. Some versions are strained and have no solid particulates at all; some versions are slightly chunkier, but always more liquid than solid. It is like gazpacho but spicier and is never eaten as soup. It can be served cooked (often made of fire roasted ingredients) or raw. Each restaurant's salsa has a different flavor, a different style, and considerable time is spent arguing or comparing whose is best and why. Salsa not only varies from one restaurant to another, but from one culinary region to another. In New Mexico, it often comes in red or green (depending or whether made with red chile or green chile) or hatch- another kind of chile. ("You say c-h-i-l-e, I say c-h-i-l-i......tomato, to-mah-to"). In California, it often has beans or corn in it. You can dip chips in salsa, spoon it into any Mexican dish, like pico - only salsa will be a liquid flavor, while pico will be a solid vegetable component (like the lettuce and tomatoes on a taco.) In Italian food, you use the same basic ingredients: tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, all combined in different ways to make spaghetti sauce or a garden salad or bruschetta. It's the same with salsa and pico. To compare to a hamburger: pico is like the pickles and lettuce, while salsa is like the ketchup and mustard. You can make your own- numerous recipes float the web - or buy one that's in a jar. Arriba is my hands-down favorite, all-purpose, eat it every day, go-to brand. It's available in grocery stores around here, comes in many different hotness levels and flavors/styles. I like regular medium. Brother-in-law enrolled us in the "salsa of the month " club, and while a cute idea, most of the ones featured were too sweet, too weird- artichoke or peach additions- and just collect dust in the pantry. I know Pace Picante Sauce claims to be the national salsa of Texas, but I just don't like it and never have. It has a weird bitter after taste and the veggies in it are green and slimy and look like boogers.

What is picante sauce? Another word for salsa.

What is "hot sauce" ? Sometimes it is a salsa, sometimes it is a thin strained (never chunky or with particulates) smooth liquid that is very spicy, comes in many different flavors/styles/ingredients,  and is often added to other dishes (for ex, to tacos). Often it has a vinegar base. Salsa is more likely to be fresh or used as a dip, whereas hot sauce is always preserved and comes in a bottle or package. There are southwestern hot sauces, but there are hot sauces in Cajun cooking, many Asian ethnic cuisines, Jamaican cooking, etc.

Arriba salsa

Santa Fe School of Cooking - I've been here several times, taken classes ( tons of fun!) and love to buy their stuff




Breakfast Tacos

I love breakfast tacos. They are plentiful around these parts, a tasty and quick breakfast item, but if you live far away and can't get them where you live, you can make your own. Home-made ones can control fat, salt, etc much better than fast-food ones, anyways. Once a month or so, I scramble up a whole carton of eggs on a weekend morning, and then freeze the finished product in small amounts in tiny little zip-lock baggies, pull out and zap in the microwave, later, as needed. When you make breakfast tacos, you can add whatever veggies you wish- almost like huevos rancheros : peppers, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes- you can customize to whatever you like.
Here is the order in which to do it : (it all cooks in about 5 min, so chop veggies, lay out all ingredients, and be ready to go, beforehand): It is best to start the veggies, first, saute-ing in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil, esp if you want potatoes. I cube mine into pea-sized portions, but they still take longer. Once the veggies are wilted, add the eggs (I also add a drop of milk) and scramble up. You can add shredded cheese at this stage, or later, in the actual taco. Meanwhile, take a bag of tortillas (flour or corn), and heat up several on a griddle, the type you would use for making pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches. ** This is key !** Tortillas sold in a bag in the grocery store are not completely cooked. It is intended for you to finish cooking them in this manner whatever you use them for (fajitas, etc.) Ever noticed that they are thick and cardboard tasting when you pull them out of the bag ? Now you know why ! When you heat them on a griddle, they become soft, warm, pliant and delicious. No need to lay down butter or anything, as you would do with grilled cheese. (They are made with lard and enough of it melts out to prevent from sticking.) Just lay down the tortilla, heat on medium till it is soft to the touch but before it turns brown.
Now , take the tortilla off the griddle and lay it on a plate. Spoon in some of the egg- veggie mixture. Add shredded cheese, meats if you wish, (sausage or bacon, chorisco if you feel authentic, but I make mine vegetarian. Cook meats separately. I fry up a package of bacon at one time, then refrigerate the cooked strips and add a tiny bit at a time to salads, sandwiches, breakfast tacos, etc.), a dollop of salsa, roll it up , and enjoy ! MMMMMmmmmmm. Really great with fresh hand-squeezed orange juice.
Check out one my fave blogs, on the same subject : "Homesick Texan"


A Gala Affair

Hubster was recently nominated for " a major award" by the Tech Titans (leader in technology education) for his work at the Texas Governor's School at UNT. Sadly, he did not win-this time!- but just getting dressed up for an evening was a fun break from the norm. (I've long been a big fan of the evening wear folk at my local Nordstrom, who have a plus-size department that is not cheezy. Jewels by Swarovski. Found the perfect matching navy blue silk peau de soie evening sandals by Nina at Zappos. You can find anything there! )It was kind of like prom redux for us, fun getting all dressed up and having a night out. We hope he'll get nominated again sometime, maybe even win....Hubster sported a vintage bespoke lightweight wool worsted shawl collar tuxedo that once belonged to his grandfather, Congressman Frank Kowalski. I know grandpa would have been proud!


Geography and Relativity in Texas

My mother-in-law, who lives in Virginia, has been calling us frantically over all the coverage Texas wildfires have received in recent tv news shows. This is a dire situation, no doubt, and terrible for the folks whose homes, land, and lives are impacted. It is also hundreds of miles away from where my little family and I live, in a city in north central Texas. My mother-in-law, who has visited us many times, and knows just how big a place Texas is, forgets this when she sees the devastating destruction on the news each night.

Texas is 268,581 square miles. That would be over 173 times the size of Rhode Island. Texas is larger than the 13 smallest states combined. Inside of Texas, you could fit Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Indiana, and still have room for a good chunk of Kentucky. France, for comparison, is only 2/3 the size of The Lone Star State..... and due to that unique "star" shape, some distances on the diagonals are considerable - 1000 miles or more.
I once lived in New York, and met someone there (in Westchester County) who said to me,"How can you claim Houston is a tropical jungle, when Arizona is a desert?" Well, Phoenix is over 1000 miles from Houston, with the entire state of New Mexico in-between, and there are several different climate and geographical zones between the two. Driving a conservative 70 mph, it's a 5 hour drive from Dallas to Austin or Houston, and a 6 hour drive from Dallas to San Antonio or Lubbock in the Panhandle. From Dallas to the Mexican border is 10 or more hours; to Little Rock Ark is 6 hours, to New Orleans is 9 hours.
That's a lot of geography......Just to review, look at the map above (these are my personal descriptions, and not guaranteed to be "scientific"):
Aqua Blue-Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes
Area around Houston, dense jungle -like flora and fauna. Pine forests, oak trees, swamps, flowers year-round. Coastal areas. Rains most months of the year. Rarely freezes in the winter. Summers rarely hotter than low 90's due to 100% humidity. Slight breezes off the ocean. Hurricanes are a yearly feature. Spring starts in Feb and fall does not arrive till Nov.
Dark Lavender-Coastal Sand Plain
Hotter than Blue area. More palm trees but less overall vegetation, beach grass predominant, soil is more sandy and less stable. Never freezes in winter. Rainy-cool and dry-hot seasons.
Light green- South Texas Brush Plain
Dryer, because it's inland, than coastal areas, and hotter. Never freezes. Landscape is wild fields with tall grasses interspersed with large oak trees. Some deep creeks flow towards coast. This is "the valley", where most Texas winter produce is grown with the help of irrigation: citrus, vegetables, fruits.
Light Lavender-Edwards Plateau
Southern desert with mountains. Dry and sparse. Higher elevation freezes in winter. Scrub cactus, hot winds, low humidity. Cools off at night.
Pale Sky Blue-Trans Pecos
Similar to Edwards Plateau, but not as high in elevation or with as many mountains. Typical desert-like sands. Very hot and dry.
Yellow-Llano Uplift
The "hill country" area around Austin. Rolling hills, Mediterranean climate. Many water sources (springs, rivers, lakes, etc.) and limestone riddled-ground creates caves. Most Texas wineries, lavender, and gourmet crops are located here.
Turquoise and White- Oakwoods Prairie, Blacklands Prairie
Prairie means rolling grasslands (gentle low hills) interspersed with creeks and trees. Blacklands means the soil is black thick"gumbo"( heavy and hard to turn but not too clay filled). Blacklands has fewer trees, Oakwoods has more. Both areas have four distinct seasons; hard freezes in winter and hot humid summers. Crops tend to be grains,peaches or cotton. In recent years, gas has been found in the shale under the blacklands.
Light Turquoise-Piney Woods
Dense eastern type forest, pine trees predominate. Azaleas, magnolias- very similar to deep rural south. Highest rainfall in the state, many lakes, and some marsh/swamplands. Four distinct seasons with winter freezes, summers not as hot due to high vegetation. Oil found here under the ground.
Tan and Orange - Rolling Plains and High Plains
Higher elevation than prairie areas. Vast sweep of flat land areas with no trees or hills; grasses. Very few water sources. Farmed now mostly in grains. Severely cold winters, strong winds.

Earring Fetish 1

I've collected southwestern art and jewelry all my life, ever since my family took vacations to the Four Corners area when I was a kid. Mom started me out young, buying tiny little turquoise and silver hand-made rings and bracelets for my ballerina jewelry box. I continued this tradition throughout my adult life, making annual pilgrimages to "the source"....until the internet made physical trips unnecessary. Hubster can't really complain because his mother also loves southwestern jewelry and shops far more enthusiastically than I ever could. I tend to favor earrings because they are affordable, cuff style bracelets because I use the computer a lot and I can't stand bangly-dangly things that tinkle when I type.

A girlfriend of mine recently blogged about " 30 Days, 30 Pairs of Earrings" and I am inspired to reach similar heights. Earrings are the perfect pick-me -up....a great pair makes you feel fabulous, and they are nearly always affordable. I confess to have .....many pairs.

Here are some of my favorite sources:


These are each reliable quality sources with authentic high quality jewelry, rugs, baskets, pottery, sand paintings, kachinas, and other art work. My family, friends and I have shopped at each repeatedly for years. Remember, you get what you pay for with hand crafted items: if prices are cheap, the item is, too. Expect to pay more for something that is worthwhile to own.

Texas Geography Quiz

1)palm trees along the coast
Just to see if you are paying attention, here is a geography quiz....for the info you need to be successful, read blog posting "Texas Geography and Relativity". The photo above is most likely to be found in which region of the Lone Star State? a)Edwards Plateau b)Coastal Sand Plains c)High Plains d)Llano Uplift e)Piney Woods? All answers are at the bottom of this posting.
2)Guadalupe Mountains

3)Blanco Lavender Festival

4)Caddo Lake

5)Palo Duro Canyon

Yes, all these beautiful locales are in Texas ! Here are the answers: 1)b 2)a 3)d 4)e 5)c


Bali High - Oahu

View from our hotel room at Turtle Bay, north shore, Oahu

Most people live on a lonely island,
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea.
Most people long for another island,
One where they know they will like to be.

Bali Ha'i may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you'll hear it call you:
"Come away...Come away."
(Rogers and Hammerstein, "Bali High", from their musical "South Pacific")

My sons sit on the same sofa that Russell Brand and Jason Segel sat on in the movie"Forgetting Sarah Marshall"

For the first time in 17 years, my little nuclear family took a vacation, just the four of us, without any in-laws or relatives of any kind. It was a celebration : of Son#1's high school graduation, of our life together - I was not so secretly hoping to implant some happy memories, just before everyone starts to move away. Avoiding the diaspora of kids going off to college - maybe I can bribe them to join up for future vacations, if this last one is so pleasant. And it was. It was.
Folk who know me know I love to spend the dreary winter months researching and planning summer vacation adventures. Travel is my middle name. It was extremely ironic to me that while I have journeyed from Edinburgh, Scotland to Luxor, Egypt; from Kingstown, Jamaica to Eilat, Israel on the Red Sea, I had to never been to Hawaii. I have listened to friends for years ramble on about how awesome it was, half tuned them out and yawned.....well, no more. Thanks to a small bequest from my father, we were finally able to visit the American paradise. I loved it ! Spent enough time researching the very specific things we wanted to do, places we wanted to go and type of vacation we wanted to have (for ex: I don't like crowds, and when traveling with teenage males, I long ago vowed never to share a room with them - ever - again. Suites a requirement of my "family togetherness"!) Manged to find the very places to stay and things to do that met all my idiosyncratic personal requirements (Did you know that I will only eat local food, refuse to eat fast food or in chain restaurants?)

Hubster and younger son get scuba certified in the hotel pool. Later they went scuba diving in a turtle sanctuary.
We started our trip staying on the north shore of Oahu- a pleasant place I found to be much less chaotic and bustling than the glamorous Waikiki, on the south side of the island. (We stayed there, later, to facilitate touring all the Honolulu sights such as Pearl Harbor.) Of course, summer is the "off" season here- the surfer crowds come in the winter, when the waves are large, to surf the Bonzai Pipeline. All our needs were met at the wonderful and recently revamped Turtle Bay Resort (as seen in the movies "Soul Surfer" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"). My husband and sons took surfing lessons and got to play with baby sized waves (what the locals call "ankle biters") while I lounged by the pool and drank fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. It was the perfect respite from a busy year. The area we stayed in was lush, verdant, green and tropical. Daily high temps in the mid 80's - a good 20 degrees or more cooler than Texas back home. Charming little towns dotted the coast; we were amazed that no one seems to live in the interior of the island, and there were not as many people, in general, as we expected, anywhere.

3 amigos surf the north shore near the Bonzai Pipeline

We ate at some great local spots in and around Haleiwa: one, Ted's bakery, was the source for all the baked goods in the restaurants all over the island. Tried not only the typical meat + 2 sides Hawaiian plate lunch (did not think we would like the mac salad, but we loved it ! If anyone has a recipe, let me know!) but also an amazing chocolate + coconut cream pie. Yum !
Near Haleiwa
We fell in love with some of these little towns. I want to retire there...if I ever win the lottery, this is where I will go.

Your own special hopes,
Your own special dreams,
Bloom on the hillside
And shine in the streams.
If you try, you'll find me
Where the sky meets the sea.
"Here am I your special island
Come to me, Come to me."

Bali Ha'i,
Bali Ha'i,
Bali Ha'i!

Someday you'll see me floatin' in the sunshine,
My head stickin' out from a low fluin' cloud,
You'll hear me call you,
Singin' through the sunshine,
Sweet and clear as can be:
"Come to me, here am I, come to me."
If you try, you'll find me
Where the sky meets the sea.
"Here am I your special island
Come to me, Come to me."

Cheeseburger in Paradise - Maui

Father and son rock the puka beads at Star Noodle, in Lahaina, Maui. More Asian fusion: Pho, Japanese, Thai

Tried to amend my carnivorous habits
Made it nearly seventy days
Losin' weight without speed, eatin' sunflower seeds
Drinkin' lots of carrot juice and soakin' up rays

But at night I'd had these wonderful dreams
Some kind of sensuous treat
Not zucchini, fettucini or Bulgar wheat
But a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat

Cheeseburger in paradise (paradise)
Heaven on earth with an onion slice (paradise)
Not too particular not too precise (paradise)
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise

Heard about the old time sailor men
They eat the same thing again and again
Warm beer and bread they said could raise the dead
Well it reminds me of the menu at a holiday inn

Times have changed for sailors these days
When I'm in port I get what I need
Not just Havanas or bananas or daiquiris
But that American creation on which I feed
Jimmy Buffet, "Cheeseburger in Paradise"

Yes, there is a chain restaurant on Maui called "Cheeseburger in Paradise". No we did not eat there.
Hubster in a peaceful moment in Maui
While the north shore was just the peaceful break I needed from earlier summer activities of going to grad school and thinking about work (I spent the whole time either on the beach or by the pool, tanning and sipping mai tai's), we decided to balance some of the calm with a little spice. Headed over to Maui for a hew days and stayed in Lahaina, the old whaling city on the western shore. Hot and dry, over developed with big hotels and lots of stores and restaurants, crammed full of tourists, it was like Disney world's version of "Hawaii-land". There was lots to see and do.

I get in touch with my spirituality at the Jodo Temple, Maui. There were so many things - it all looks so tiny, on a map, compared to Texas - but you can never see and do it all. Many folk recommended the Road to Hana, with its beautiful scenery and lush waterfalls, to us, and we just ran out of time. Next time....gotta have a reason to go back, right?

We went to a luau called Old Lahaina Luau (travel book said it was the best of them all), tried all the wonderful food, watched the dancers, listened to the Hawaiian "calypso" type band, saw the sun set over the ocean, the guys doing crafts, the pig come out of the pit- had a great time. Sure, it's a cliche, but if you don't do it at least once, you feel sort of ripped off, or like you are missing something. This was a great way to sample a lot of traditional dishes, great variety of pretty good food, and all you can drink booze (although somewhat watered down). It isn't cheap, however. I am not going to lie. But worth it- at least now and then.

Boys on top of Maui's volcano, Haleakala, classified as an "active" volcano. Over ten thousand feet from the sea, 27,000 ft from the ocean's floor. That valley in the background is the volcano's crater.

Hawaiian Dream Vacation

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
We concluded our trip with a stop in Waikiki, so we could conveniently tour all the nearby historical sites before we headed out. Stayed at the Embassy Suites Waikiki . I love that hotel chain, (a member of the Hilton chain, my stays let me collect points so I can visit other spots for free)as it has true 2 room suites, (not just a large room with a sofa) and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is a life-saver when trying to fill up hungry teenagers. Can you imagine if we had to pay to feed them ? The cost saved from breakfast alone pays for the room. ( It's a great buffet: bacon, eggs, fresh fruit, cereal, waffles, omelets, etc. I eschew places that advertise breakfast, and all that you get is donuts.) It also has a "mangers reception " each night with all the free liquor you can drink...hubster and I have found this a godsend when traveling with a car full of kids. Cheers ! The drinks at this particular branch of the chain, Waikiki Embassy Suites, were particularly strong-er-good ! Highly recommend! As a result of my love for this chain, I am a frequent flier point collector of all things Hilton- but avoided the Hilton Village in Waikiki, on the rec of friends; too many screaming 2 year olds running about. Embassy Suites is typically families with older kids, teens, etc.

Above and below: Pearl Harbor. Rick told Tom he had to be somber, that this was a grave site. He tried......
Had some fabulous meals in Honolulu- One I cannot say enough about: The Side Street Inn (had to use the GPS on our rental car to find it, but worth it!). Our travel guide said it was "the place where local chefs go to eat" and truly, it was full of locals. Asian fusion bar food, to die for. Korean BBQ ribs that were like giant meat lollipops, I just wanted to (not in a sexual way) lick on them all night long. Stir fried rice (and I don't even like stir fried rice, ok ? I know it's just a way to camouflage last night's left over white rice) to die for. To die for! We gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow. It had bacon in it. Trust me. Plus a bunch of other stuff: teriyaki, sushi, pad thai, other things. If you are ever in town, find it ! you will not regret it!

Above: King Kamehameha's statue in Honolulu. Contrary to what the tv show "Hawaii 5-0" would try to convince you, this is not the Honolulu police department HQ. It is a government building. below: A giant tree (yes, all one tree) . I took lots of pix of all the beautiful tropical flowers, too- too many to post here.

Taco Soup

"Taco Soup", as my kids refer to it, is really a sort of chili with veggies added. My children love it and request it frequently. It freezes well , so you can make up a big batch, eat some now, and save the rest, for later. The garnish of shredded cheese and crumbled tortilla chips is key. You can serve this flavorful soup with cornbread and a salad for a delicious family meal. If you don't have pinto beans, make it with black beans or similar beans. You can also adjust the spiciness level to suit your tastes.

Cook Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Yield: Serves 6 to 8


  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, if ground beef is very lean
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans
  • 1 can (11 to 15 ounces) whole kernel corn ,drained
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes - Mexican style if available
  • 1 can (10 to 15 ounces) Rotel tomatoes (or tomatoes with green chile peppers)
  • 1 pkg. (about 1 ounce) taco seasoning mix -(opt.)
  • 2 1/2 cups water or more, to make soup broth


Brown ground beef and onions in a large pan with olive oil if needed; drain off fat. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for an hour or so. When ready, serve in big soup bowls, and have a skillet of hot cornbread to eat, too.


End of One Era - Start of a New One

My firstborn son, Will, the one I thought I'd never have (years of infertility treatments and surgeries before I could even conceive him) graduated from high school this past June. It's a cliche that your children grow up before you know it and I have found it to be true. While particular moments drag on forever (especially those evenings when you come home tired from work, only to find you have to drive 3 different kids to 3 different sports or activities- and one of them isn't even your own child - somehow cook dinner, the dog threw up on your shoes, a major appliance breaks, your husband is out of town so there is no one to help, the phone keeps ringing from telemarketers(in spite of being on the "no call list"), one kid suddenly announces he needs to go to the store to buy something absolutely essential for school, while the other announces he has a major project due tomorrow that he hasn't even begun), the fun ones fly by all too fast. I miss those summer days when I all I did was take them to the pool, we came home and snuggled together over story time, took bubble baths, played with dinosaurs/trains/ cars at bedtime.
I complain about my sons a lot, but that is mostly just my schtick to keep from bragging. Both boys are blessedly healthy and smart and full of wonder, humor and unique activities/personality traits. Will has amazing talents in music, art (drawing and painting), and a deep natural athleticism in multiple sports. He is no slouch in reading and writing, either (his ELA AP test was his highest score). While he has always struggled with math, he is interested in and shown a talent in various sciences - his physics teacher came up to me this past year and said he was a "born engineer, and the work he did in class was not just 'math vomit' (nonsense)." Will is the gentle son, a bit of a dreamer, too shy to ever go into a store and ask a clerk about where to find something, extremely helpful around the house, a safe driver, calm of temperament, loving to all. I have often thought it was his multiple abilities that have kept him from finding a particular direction or career interest; he just can't seem to narrow his interests down to one area. Lately he spends all his free time writing and recording songs on his computer and posting them to the internet, but previous hobbies have included obsessively tossing a football, doodling/drawing/crafting/making things, ripping apart old toys and reconstructing them in amusing ways to make something new.
We struggled with him all last fall, trying to get him to apply to this college or that. Our efforts to get him to diversify, to hedge his bets by applying to multiple places were met with his clear, determined, unilateral focus on just one goal: In spite of all our encouragement, he was determined to go only to UT Austin and fought us every step of the way. UT requires a student be in the top 8% of his or her graduating class for admission these days. Will's class rank was 8.243. He didn't get in.

I have often worried that I spoil my children too much, have tried to shelter them from all the harsh realities I faced at way too young an age. Will, especially had a rocky start, as his biological father decided to file for divorce when I was 4 months pregnant with him, and I had to move back home for a short period while I went through that divorce and got back on my feet, financially. Life smoothed out for us both when hubster and I got married, and hubster has always loved Will as his own child. We don't use the word "step" anything: step-father, step-child, etc, in our family. Hubster took us both into the fold of his large, well-off family and we have treasured being a part of his extended clan. From the time he can remember, Will has lived a stable, well off, safe and nurturing life. Private schools, summers at the beach, world travel, music lessons - the whole nine yards. Sometimes I despair that I have over-protected him and made him soft. I worry that he is unprepared to meet life's difficulties.
Not getting in to his first choice college is the first real bump in the road Will has had to face. UT offered him something called the "CAP" program, which is like being on the waiting list. If he attends any UT satellite campus, and if he can pull a B average, he is automatically accepted and does not even have to re-apply to UT Austin, the main (and more prestigious) campus. We looked at all the satellite campuses and choose San Antonio for a myriad of reasons (Will feeling a need to get away from the uber conservative Baptist Republican north Texas milieu, he has severe allergies up here as well, and needed a different climate to see if they would not be as prevalent in a different place). So off he goes this fall to UT San Antonio, to see if he can get it together, make the grade, and get himself off to UT the year after that. We all know that is a pretty tall order, as one's freshman year is not always one's best, academically speaking. It will be the true test of his determination.
When he goes off to college, Will leaves behind him a younger brother he has, in typical fashion, spent most of his life complaining about and yet spends most of his hours of the day with: playing video games, listening to music, driving around town to movies and fast food restaurants, arguing with, throwing things at, wrasslin', sharing-er-stealing each others clothes, etc. The two of them have had the run of the entire upstairs of our large rambling house for years, as the master bedroom is downstairs and the grownups never go upstairs. At an early age, Will taught his little brother how to climb down the fire pole and shimmy back up with pockets crammed full of cookies. Not sure what little bro is going to do without big bro around. We made sure Will's computer has Skype, so we can all talk to each other when he's gone, but that just won't be the same.

I always say: adolescence exists so you, as a parent, won't miss that adorable little baby any more. Your child becomes so annoying that you are more than ready for them to leave. I have had enough of the turmoils of a house full of young men: the stink and messiness, the huge grocery bills, the noise, a line of battered cars parked out front. But I also know I will miss Will when he is gone. The house has already been eerily quiet this summer, as he spends more time out with friends than home. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I want him to grow up and be a normal, functioning adult, with a life of his own. I came from such a dysfunctional, emotionally destructive home that I left at 18 and vowed never to return. I didn't come back, not even for holidays, till I went through a divorce and had to, out of necessity. I hope Will feels differently about us. I hope he will walk that narrow line between being independent, yet coming back to visit some. I hope we will find a way to re-create our life patterns that will incorporate adult children and their friends into it.

Honest Bob's Dating Services

I often watch those ads for dating services that fill late night television airwaves, the ones that promise to "help you find your one abiding love based on 17 compatibility points from deep components of your true personality", and wonder..... if hubster and I were to go on those websites and fill out profiles.....would we be matched with each other? In spite of (what seems to outsiders) our near perpetual squabbling, we think we get along rather well - better with each passing year. I have friends who have tried those dating websites and their services, and nearly all have said the matches that turned up for them were horrible in a variety of ways: potential dates didn't use a recent photo, misrepresented their true natures, interests, level of education, age, socio-economic or educational background, desires or intentions, etc. So I thought to myself, if we had to honestly write descriptions of ourselves, this is how they would read.....
Kevin Spacey Look-a-like !

Charming debonair college professor who looked a little like Kevin Spacey (for one brief moment in my 30's) seeks beautiful educated self-confident woman who can tolerate my incessant talking, severe ADHD, toxic flatulence, crankiness, arrogance, low income stream, long work hours, interfering relatives, viscous bodily secretions, twice daily workouts and a house full of exercise equipment. From a military family, grandfather a U.S. Congressman, I am a world traveler who enjoys peculiar eating habits (no vegetables of any kind, only eat 3 diff meals in rotation, spends 25% of year on "death diet", refuses to eat out any cuisine other than Tex-Mex), long conversations about engineering technicalities, vacations with my mother and other family members, driving "classic" cars (vehicles older than 17 years, typically with at least one major quarter panel dented or secured with duct tape and baling wire), exciting hobbies such as beer brewing, sleeping only 3-4 hours a night (what that really means is I will prowl around the house, knocking things over, watching tv loudly, turning lights on and off, and keeping you awake !) I took 11 years to earn my PHD bc the life of a poor grad student was so much fun, and I will apply those lifelong values of not needing new clothes or furniture minus bong water stains to your future living room ! Call me !
Going, going, going....Gone with the Girl of Your Dreams !

Adorable girl of your dreams who briefly looked like Scarlett O'Hara only a few years back seeks sugar daddy who can spoil me just like Rhett spoiled Scarlett. Educated, world traveled, well- read DAR OES DRT DOC, guaranteed to provide beauty and intelligence to your gene pool. My father was a lawyer and an engineer, my mother was a southern belle (at least in her own mind.) Currently I've gained a little weight, had a few expensive health problems, and am a high maintenance (who thinks she's low maintenance) demanding cranky dysthymic over worked underpaid high school English teacher who "enjoys" reading books, grading papers, eating out, going to the movies, socializing, exotic travel, frequent gifts, days at the spa, shopping and a constant stream of home repair and redecorating. Just a wee bit of mental illness in my family background but your future children are sure to be "normal". Known for my vibrant sense of humor, I will constantly pop, like a pin stuck in a balloon, any delusions you may have about yourself with my scathing wit and adorable bon mots. Call me !


The Hell of Living With Teenagers

I was going to write a piece on the particular hell of living with a house full of teenagers, in particular, teen-aged sons, but I found some blogs online that do a much better job than I ever could:


Ever watch the monkey house at the zoo? Notice that the female chimps sit around in groups, picking the nits off each other, (cooperative living) but the male chimps fling feces at each other? Ever notice that groups of large mammals -lions, elephants, gorillas- only allow one male in the group, but several females? That's because no one can stand more than one young male in your home at a time....groups of them definitely cause trouble. You can extrapolate from this what you wish, but having two teenage sons isn't just about what they do that's difficult to live with.....they bring their friends over each night, two or three or more at a time, and together they move through the kitchen like a plague of locusts- groceries bought to feed this family for a week disappear over night- and leave trash, dirty clothes, video games, cans of Axe and other detritus in their wake. Adolescence is what makes you eager for that little baby you once treasured to head off to college.


If You Are Reading This Today , It's Too Late For You

The news has been full of buzz lately about the supposed end of the world, which is set to expire today. My only real thoughts on this topic are: if you are reading this now, it's too late for you ! You should have repented yesterday! Seriously, folk, we seem to have one of these end of the world dates every other year or so....wasn't the last one supposedly predicted by the Mayan calendar? Has anyone ever noticed that none of these dates are espoused by reliable sources? That these dire warnings come and go, and nothing ever happens? Yet I continue to be amazed by the caliber of folk around me who believe in them and prepare for them - just in case.
I happen, at the moment, to be teaching the novel Animal Farm, and there is plenty of commentary in this work on how the pigs manipulate the sheep and other animals via propaganda techniques. Spent a fair amount of time teaching students to be able to recognize and analyze propaganda in our daily lives, via consumer advertising and political ads. I suppose the efficacy of those strategies continues, even if the message behind Orwell's tome has changed.


Prom Season Thoughts

Son No # 1 enters the final weeks of his senior year of high school with nary a care in the world. He long ago passed all state mandated tests, and recently seems to have no homework and barely even classes to attend, due to the many AP courses I forced him to sign up for this year (which apparently exempt him from any school work after the corresponding test for that class has been given- all in the recent past few weeks.) . In August, I was the devil for torturing him this way; in October he cried that the work load was "too much and he just couldn't do it" but now, it's all good. Fact is, he coasted through his senior year making B's without much effort or even attendance, and is positioned to traipse off to mega state university continuing on this path. As long as the parental money holds out.....
Now many parents I know would look at this scenario and slap each other on the back, congratulating themselves for a job well done. At least he isn't flunking out, dropping out, hasn't impregnated anyone (that we know of), doing drugs, facing jail time. Yet somehow Hubster and I can't wrap our minds around it; we look at each other and think, "what did we do wrong?" I know old age is turning us into curmudgeons and we seem to be suffering from a bad case of "things are not like they were back when we were young." You know what I mean. You've heard the stories at your own family gatherings. Grandpa or some other old coot will be reminiscing, full of anecdotes about how he got up at dawn to milk the cows and it was so cold the milk froze on the teats. Then he studied for school by the light of a candle, wrapped in a blanket. Had to eat fried dough because there was no money for food. Walked to school uphill - both ways. Started working at age 12 and hasn't stopped since. These conversations are guaranteed to make anyone of the younger generation roll their eyes and pray fervently that said old person will soon doze off into an afternoon nap; and then everyone else can commence grinding to the latest hip-hop music.
Hubster and I fear that our hard work and self- sacrifice have made things too easy for our children. They appear to us to be a spoiled, materialistic, superficial, entitled cadre of young people: everyone we know has spent the past 18 years buying them video games, expensive jeans, cars. The one up-man-ship that started among my peers in the Eighties (Who has the job with the highest status? Who bought the coolest BMW-er? The biggest engagement ring ? The coolest honeymoon/vacation destination? Sent their kids to the most expensive private school ? Whose kids got into the most prestigious Ivy League college? Who retired the soonest and lived off their investments ? Let's face it: my generation's shallowness has spawned the current generations' malaise.) Maybe because of the recession or maybe because of the relative affluence of their parents, aka baby boomers, but nobody I know under 20 seems to have a job, hate their parents, care about any political cause beyond where to eat the best sushi this weekend. No one seems to be filled with a burning desire to leave home just to get the hell away and find themselves. Am I idealizing the past ? Where is the angst ? The generational anger? No one seems to resent the older folk who made the world this mess....am I too much a child of the Sixties?

I realize this is a heavy trip to lay at the feet of a bunch of teens standing on the cusp of adulthood, barely ready to head out into that big bad world. I'm not sure most days that my son will be able to figure out how to register online for his classes next fall at mega size state university. A huge part of the fear I hold for his prospects is based on observations of nearly every kid I know, a year or two older, who went blithely off to college, flunked out, and moved right back home within a few months. So when I ask, "what did we do wrong", what I really think is: maybe we should have made it harder for them. Maybe growing up should have come with a few more challenges along the way, to toughen them up some, so that when life deals the inevitable stumbling blocks that we who are older know that it will , the youngsters will have a bit of experience picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and starting all over again.

But don't let my curmudgeon-ness wear off on you. If you see him or his peers around, wish them a happy graduation and best wishes and all that. Let's hope I am wrong.


Hawaii ? Haw-are-ya

I've traveled from San Diego to Rhode Island to Jamaica, Edinburough to Luxor, Paris to Jersualem and most points in between in my life. Like most native Texans, I love to get the hell out. Love the mountains and the beach, big cities as well as national parks. But I have never been to Hawaii. As a child, I once wrote an entire book titled "The Gosharootie Gang Go to Hawaii", complete with hand-drawn illustrations. Mom played a record of the music from "South Pacific" incessantly....My grandmother also spoke frequently about how she had always wanted to go to Hawaii - from rural Louisiana, she pronounced it "Ha-WAR-ya". It was a dream that was not to be fulfilled for her. After many years of spending our summers in the Outer Banks of NC, we decided to do something different this year. Honoring my grandmother's dream and fulfilling my own wanderlust, we plan to spend time this summer in Oahu and Maui. Hope to do all the touristy things (see a luau, visit Pearl Harbor, swim with dolphins, etc) as well as simply relax, lay on a beach, drink fruity beverages with tiny umbrellas in them. Feel free to send me suggestions of fun things to do - some neighbors of ours highly recommend touring pineapple plantations, volcanoes, taking surfing lessons, etc.