Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sayonara, Temple

Yesterday, I took leave of my little cabin in Temple. After a stopover in Houston I'm headed to North Carolina in time for Christmas.
I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in Wilmington, but it is somewhat bittersweet, leaving Temple. In the past few weeks I've grown pretty close to the folks at Canyon Creek Church. And, while it is pretty basic, my cabin had begun to feel a lot like home. I've sometimes questioned the wisdom of building the cabin on the pond, well away from the road as well as the original house and barn on the place. But, the more time I spend there, the more I like the isolation and natural feel. I thought these photos at least partly captured the serenity here.

And, I took this picture through the window of the cabin.

A few nights ago, I awoke to the sound of coyotes, howling just outside. A few ducks have been settling in the pond over the past few days. And, last week, several hundred geese spent the night in a nearby field on their journey south.

Even the moon seems bigger out here. For the past few nights the moon has been so bright, it seemed almost like day. I even got out of bed a couple of times thinking someone must have pulled up with their headlights on. I could walk around at night without any need for a light, and shadows were very distinct. I captured this picture of the moon, because it is the closest I've ever come to seeing the man in the moon. Can you see him?

And, here, the view of the cabin from my car.

Anyway, enough of the past. I've already rented a house in Wilmington, the same one I had when I was there earlier this year. So, on to the future.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Texas A&M 84, Wilmington 65

I’ve been promising myself I’d take advantage of the fact that I’m only about an hour and a half from College Station by catching some Texas A&M football games. Before I knew it, football season was over, but hey, I’m starting to like basketball more than football anyway. So, when I noticed that UNCW was on the schedule, I finally swung into action.

It was a lot of fun, sandwiched between very pleasant drives over and back. I somehow ended up in the second row of the student section under the basket with the Reed Rowdies. They really keep you fired up.

I liked the score, too, although the coach seemed upset with the level of play in his interview after the game. There is lots of talent on this team, and I’ll admit they never quite seemed to play up to their potential. Hopefully they will pull things together and we’ll have some real fun in March.

Oh, and hello to all my friends in Wilmington. Hope to see you soon.
I’ll be with Jon at Mom and Dad’s for Thanksgiving. Then, at the first ever Monday night game for the Texans on December 1.
Holy smoke! I have to get this posted and meet Jon at the farm. No time for projects.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mundane Monthly

Well, the routine around here is getting very routine. I stay in the sleeping bag a little longer to delay the 40 degree wakeup greeting. I putter around on a few projects. Then, I shower and go to town for a late lunch. If the lunch spot offers WiFi, I might get in some web surfing. I study the markets in vain for a sign of recovery. Then I return home for a steak or chicken over the mesquite fire. If it is too windy I may opt for a bowl of chili or even a salad. Even the projects are getting less interesting. The way things are going, I’ll have to rename this blog “The Mundane Monthly”.

During the 40 mph winds we had last week when a nor’easter blew in, I noticed that the old barn was really flopping. There were lots of lose corners that caught the wind. Some of the ridge cover blew off, and the whole thing seemed poised to fly away. I don’t really have much use for the old barn, but I hated to see it destroyed. So, soon enough, I was under the cabin retrieving my ladder. I found half a box of old neoprene head roofing nails I knew were around here somewhere. And I put on my barn repairman’s hat. A couple of days and boxes of nails and trips to Lowe’s later, it was a bit more sound, although not pretty.

The birds still make for interesting watching. This morning, as sometimes happens, I scared off my regular big blue heron. He never hangs around long enough for me to get a picture. The occasional duck stops by on his way south. Dozens of robins and cardinals seem to have made the area around the cabin and pond home. A few days ago I saw 4 cardinals in the water at the edge of the pond taking a bath. No pictures of that, but I did take the following picture from my window this morning of 3 of them grazing on the rye grass I sowed near by.

I try to catch a bit of football when I can, but the wind is about gone out of this football season for me. So, I’ve begun turning my attention to basketball. I tried to attend a Baylor game, since I think they have a pretty good team and they are nearby, but I arrived late and had a problem finding parking, so I abandoned the idea. Maybe later. I did catch the Temple High Wildcats game last night. Quite a value for the $3 ticket. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy watching high school basketball.

Well, that’s about it for this edition of the Mundane Monthly. I still have tickets for one more Texan’s game. After that, I’m thinking about heading back to North Carolina. Being a relatively new grandpa, I’m including exhibit 1 (below) from Wilmington to justify the trip.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rhome, Texas

For the past few days I’ve been in Rhome, visiting my family. In addition to seeing family, it was fairly productive.

We managed to insulate a few hundred additional square feet of attic in mom and dad’s house. It had no insulation until we started working on it in the past year.

Then, I decided to tackle a couple of trees that were threatening the house and driveway. The biggest obstacles were making sure they fell the right direction and keeping the chainsaws running and sharp.

One load of wood headed for a relative’s fireplace, but the rest is still hanging out in the back yard looking for a home.

I was there on Halloween, so I caught this picture of Peyton on her first trick or treat expedition.

Now, back to Houston for some football.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Enchanted Rock State Park

I enjoyed my time in Bandera, but I spent way too much time watching CNBC. I don’t know if it was just an addiction, but the coverage of the credit crisis seemed particularly riveting. Even so, I’m probably better off to be back on the farm in Temple, replacing the satellite with a few fuzzy local stations. And, of course, replacing my time in front of the TV with time mowing, hammering and other work. Interestingly, the great weather I had in Bandera seems to be in effect here in Temple as well, with lows in the 50s and low humidity.

On the way from Bandera to Temple, I visited Enchanted Rock state park and spent the day hiking. I hiked a loop trail around the rock and then up to the summit. Here are a few views from the loop.

And a view from the top.
Enchanted rock is a pink granite mound rising from the hill country around Llano. It is the second largest of its kind in the United States. The first known white visitor was Cabeza De Vaca in 1536. Before that, local Indians visited and considered the site to have magical or spiritual powers. They could hide at the top and not be seen from below, so they felt it made them invisible. And, they thought there were ghost fires, because the noises as the rock heats and cools sound like a fire burning, but they could not see it.
Pretty cool history for a big piece of granite, but I just kept wondering how many granite countertops you could make with it.
Oh well, on to Temple.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bandera 2008

Yes, I’m still alive and well here in Bandera. My first inclination was to wait for something really interesting to happen. Or, failing that, some brilliant thought or insight might enter my mind that would be worth reporting. Didn’t happen. But, when your mother figures you must have left the state and your friends start asking why you are no longer blogging, maybe it is time to report more mundane happenings, thoughts and plans.

Don’t get me wrong. Bandera has been very enjoyable. The weather has been great, with cool mornings and evenings and warm, sunny afternoons, with typical low humidity. I’ve enjoyed daily walks. I’ve enjoyed some football (at least as much as you can enjoy it when your teams are getting beat up by everyone from hurricane Ike to the Miami Hurricanes). Of the teams I’ve supported, only the Three Rivers Bulldogs seem capable of winning consistently. I’ve even enjoyed sitting on the porch. I filled the hummingbird feeder, and within hours the humming birds were on it. So much, in fact, that I had to refill it within a few days.

I did make a trip south for some dove hunting. There were very few birds, but there were a lot of scruffy looking people hanging around the “Pawnee Hilton”.

On weekends, Bandera is buzzing with bikers.

My little cedar and rock cabin is perfect for me. Here is the pleasant front porch, and old yeller greeting me on the back porch.

The problem is just that I visited the sights I really wanted to see last time I was here. And it is hard to convince myself to give up my rocking chair and comfortable, paid for bed.

So, next week it is off to Enchanted Rock on the way to Temple. In October, I plan to spend some time in Temple, some in Rhome and some in Houston.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Farm

It has come to my attention that inquiring minds want to know…What’s the status at “The Farm” in central Texas, where I keep hanging out? Electricity? Plumbing? Protection from the weather?

Well, I’ll have to admit that back in the 20th century, when James, Jon and I used to forge a path through the underbrush and throw up a tent or two on the dam of the pond, the answers would have to be: basic, no, no and very little. We had a great time hanging out. Alternating target practices with our Crosman air rifle and bow and arrow. Doing a little fishing. Listening to the coyotes howl outside our tent. Maybe hunting dove when the season rolled around. But, the facilities were basic, and that was part of the appeal.

But, as time went by, we added a luxury or two here and there. A few friends enjoyed the facilities and helped to improve them. Brad and Stephen. Kendall and JR. Shawn, Mark and Dad. But for the most part, it was my son Jon and I, hanging out and doing the occasional project or improvement over the years.

First thing I know, the 21st century has rolled around, and the place has taken on a different look and feel. Electricity arrives. A 200 sq ft cabin gets dried in. Running water, albeit from a pump thrown into the pond, makes an appearance. Initially, it was just a hose to a small concrete pad, but eventually it is tied into the cabin. Air conditioning and heat made their debut. For a good while, we had hot water only on warm, sunny days, but now, with the addition of an electric water heater, I’ll be expecting hot water on a cloudy day in January.

Yes, a lot has changed. My laptop fits nicely on a desk in the corner. With my TV Tuner, the laptop becomes a 14” color TV, where I’ve been checking out the Beijing Olympics and the Dallas/Houston contest for the Governors Cup, not to mention a few reruns. And, I pick up a daily newspaper at the Shell station recently built a half mile away, reading it while relaxing in my old leather chair.
I recently put in a new bathroom, complete with shower. Fresh water and gray water are plumbed in. The water is even hot if the water heater is plugged in-but in that case there is no cold water. You get whatever comes out of the single pipe. There is no septic system, so the toilet is a primitive composting version.
Then, there is the basic kitchen I installed a couple of years ago. Here you can see the sink, refrigerator, stove, microwave, pantry and air conditioner. And, just below, the 20th century heating system.

My bunk is pretty basic, but a lot more comfortable since I acquired some nice mattresses.

A spare bunk functions as a part time closet and library.

Of course, not everything has changed. There is my rather spacious living area and recreation room, with the occasionally spectacular audio visual effects.
Despite the modern kitchen you’ve seen, a lot of my meals get done in my outdoor kitchen, over a mesquite fire. It just seems to taste better that way.
Yesterday, I caught this fellow trying to move into my fine accommodations. Sorry, but I don’t take on boarders. Besides, I was just crawling under there within the last week or so, installing plumbing and searching through my surplus materials for the new bathroom. And, are you the once that keeps shedding his skin in the attic or under my bunk? Either way, I think I’ll refrain from stepping outside at night without a flashlight for a while.

If I’m out of the air conditioned space at dusk, I’ll still hear the coyotes howling. Last week, as I rested from one of my many projects, I saw a coyote mother and her half grown pup come out of the brush and partake of the fresh water I share with various wildlife. Later, I saw the biggest, ugliest fresh water turtle I’ve ever seen. He sat underwater just a few feet from shore, watching me fish. As he surfaced for air and gave me a look several times, I began to have the irrational fear that he might burst out of the water, grab me by the ankle and drag me in.

But, I digress. Here’s my report on current conditions at the farm. Electricity, check. Plumbing, check. Snug, check. Interesting, check. But, as far as most people these days are concerned, still very, very basic.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Story from Vienna

Vienna, of course, is famous for its music. So, catching a show at the world renowned Vienna Opera house seemed like a good thing to do in Vienna. And, my "Rick Steve's guide to Eastern Europe" reflected my thoughts exactly, when he said "For me, three hours of opera is a lot of opera, but a 30-45 minute taste is well worthwhile." He went on to advise that seats are sold out well ahead of time and are relatively expensive, while standing room only tickets are available the day of the performance for about $4 each.

We arrived in Vienna on June 30th, the day of the last performance of the season, an opera called Pique Dame. We arrived at the theatre quite late, and found that the standing room tickets were all gone. So, we fell back on more of Rick's advice...I stood outside the doors and waited for a standing room only patron to leave early. Sure enough, within a few minutes a couple of nice ladies left the performance and offered me their tickets.

As a result, we saw the dramatic conclusion of the opera for no cost. Rick definitely paid for himself on this trip.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vienna (and Genua?)

Final leg of our Eastern European trip. And a little teaser.

Vienna was the home of the Hapsburgs, who ruled a large part of Europe for several centuries, beginning in the 14th. We visited their downtown palace, including the treasury. The wealth was pretty amazing, but of course it is not as impressive in photos, even when they were allowed, which was not often. I'll just include a photo of the outside of the palace, and one photo of a typical table centerpiece, along with a container cut from the largest emerald in the world.

I'll have to admit to being largely ignorant of the Hapsburgs before this trip. You may have heard of Sisi, one of the queens who was (apparently) quite famous. But, I was most impressed with Franz Joseph, who was always open to visits from his subjects. It is said he would meet with perhaps 100 people on the typical morning. And these were people of all walks of life, from all over his empire. Perhaps that was the key to his success?

Of course, you have to see a beautiful church in each city. This is St Stephen's, and a podium inside which was carved from solid sandstone.

After a previous country place was destroyed, the Hapburgs decided to build a small place in the countryside outside Vienna, known as Schonbrunner. Here is a picture of the Glorieta from the main building and a picture of the main building across the gardens from the Glorieta.
I visited the Danube canal. The Danube river runs outside the city, but this canal was rerouted near the old city.

Oh, and I received this picture from Stanislav, a friend in Ukraine. I believe this is from his travels to Crimea, and he indicates it is from Genua, described in Wikipedia as a "fictional city". I'm anxious to hear more. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Catskill, Adirondack, Lake Placid, Niagara Falls

Continuing my trip up the east coast, I noticed two large parks in New York. Catskill Park is just about 100 miles north of New York City. Adirondack, a bit further north, is the largest park in the lower 48. So, I decided to check them out and use them for accommodation as I moved north.

The parks were both intriguing and frustrating. Intriguing because it is amazing that such wilderness could exist in the state known mostly for the city. Driving through and camping gave you the feeling that you were a million miles from civilization. Rustic cabins, wild rivers, scenic mountains and largely unmarked, or even unpaved roads.

Here are some examples.

But, because these parks do not have real information centers like most parks, I could find little information on what appeared to be excellent hiking trails. And the parks are a combination of thousands of parcels of state property, interspersed in private parcels. A hike may end with "Posted, Private Property" signs. Fortunately, I did find a guide to the hundreds of nice NY State campgrounds in the parks, so I found cool, comfortable camps at around 3000 foot elevations.

I did discover that Lake Placid is located in Adirondack park. This was the location of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, including the "Miracle on Ice" many may remember. I also remember the description of the beauty there on those Olympic broadcasts, so I decided to camp one night in one of the campgrounds near there. It was a beautiful place, and of course more developed as a result of the Olympics. The first picture is Lake Placid, the third is the ski jump facility, with a picture of nearby mountains in between.
My camp was also near Whiteface Mountain ski resort, located, interestly, in Wilmington, NY.

From there, I headed up to Montreal, Canada. After one night there, I decided to head SW, to Niagara Falls. I had been there before, but this time I approached and spent my time on the Canadian side. I had heard that the falls were better from the Canadian side, and I indeed, did find this to be true. The largest part of the falls, the curved portion shown below is barely visible from the US side.

The photo below is the falls visible from the US side.

I reentered the US near Detroit. Although I admit I saw mostly the waterfront areas, I was shocked by conditions there. Most building were abandoned and collapsing from neglect. Windows were broken or boarded up. Bridges and infrastructure were rusting. Cars were rusted out. Pretty sad.
I'm filing this report from near Cincinnati, Ohio, and heading for Texas.