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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Florida Keys - Day 2 - Saturday

We started our day by checking out the free breakfast at the hotel. Besides the coffee, we decided that a high carb, high protein breakfast was not in the cards, since we both are high protein, low carb eaters. So, off to find a place to get such a breakfast. On the way back from dinner last night, Deb remembered seeing a breakfast place somewhere along our 5 mile drive that was not IHOP. She could not remember the name, just that it was a breakfast place on the Ocean (Atlantic) side of the road. After driving back to the restaurant that we ate at last night, and not finding it, we back tracked about half way to the hotel and found The Wooden Spoon. This was the place that she had seen.

This is a small place, where you sit elbow to elbow with other patrons. The decor is, you guessed it - wooden spoons, with a wooden fork or two thrown in.

The menu is typical breakfast fair and they serve lunch. They also advertised a "box" lunch, intended for the many sport fishermen (fisherpersons?) in the area. The food was very good and we would recommend it.

Next it was off to the Pigeon Key Visitor Center to get tickets for a cruise to and a tour of Pigeon Key.

This Key is famous for being a large work camp for the construction of the Miami to Key West Railroad built by mega-millionaire Henry Flagler. Know as Flagler's Folly, this railroad crossed more than 100 miles of water on its path. The most famous is what is known as the eighth (8th) Wonder of the World, the Seven Mile Bridge. The bridge goes from Vaca Key (one of the Keys that the City of Marathon is on) to Big Pine Key.
Our Transportation to Pigeon Key
Now the history of the Flagler Railroad would take a book - actually there is at least one - "The Last Train to Paradise." It is an interesting story of technical genius, going against the odds, investing enormous sums of money (somewhere close to a billion dollars in 2011 money), tragedy and hardship. A hurricane in 1935 put an end to the railroad, however the State of Florida purchased the right-of-way for about $640K and constructed the Overseas Highway.

Pigeon Key is a historical site which is one large museum. The buildings on the site are maintained and are used for "science" camps in throughout the year.

They have one relatively large guest house (sleeps 8) that they rent for $1,500 per week. You have to bring all the food. Oh yeah, you can only get there by boat, or a 2.2 mile walk across part of Henry Flagler's bridge. Actually, they will allow you to rent a golf cart to go back and forth. It was an interesting tour in a beautiful setting.

 Boat Dock on Pigeon Key
Looks a lot like paradise
Old and new. New on left, old on right
Underside of the original bridge, modified for auto travel.
New and old

I walked back to the car (parked at Knight's Key) along the 2.2 mile section of bridge. Some great views and a chance to look first hand at the construction of the bridge.

Original off ramp to Pigeon Key from the bridge after it was converted to auto travel.

A look at the original Bridge

The way back to Marathon - looks like it goes forever

From the old, looking at both

Looking at the underside of both - notice the construction differences.

The rest of the day we spent exploring the area around the City of Marathon, driving through some RV Parks and housing areas.

Dinner that night was at the Island Fish Company Web Site across the Overseas Highway from the hotel. The business was being remodelled so the only seating was outside on the "pier" that they had put a tent over. The sitting was nice, but for a "Fish Company" they have a very sparse offering of fish and the way they offer to prepare it is pretty sparse also.

Florida Keys - Day One

We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale about 1:30 P.M. on Friday (11/18/11). By the time we got the rental car (long line at the counter) and got on the road it was about 3:00. The first stop was at a Wal-Mart in Homestead, Fl. Even though we took the tollway, it still took us about an hour to get to the Wal-Mart. We were back on the road about 4:30. Highway 1, also known as the Overseas Highway is a very good mostly two lane road. However the speed limit runs from 35 MPH to 55 MPH. Since it was Friday, and we found out after we got here, there was a speed boat race in Key West, thus there was quite a bit of traffic. We arrived at our hotel in Marathon (which is about 50 miles from Key West) about 6:10 P.M.

After checking in it was off to dinner at a place called the Castaway.
It was recommended by the hotel staff. Though it looks like a dive on the outside (and a little bit the same on the inside), it turned out to have very acceptable food.

When we are around the gulf, we always go for the shrimp. Seems we can never get enough. Well the Castaway did not disappoint. We had shrimp boiled in beer and Bay seasoning. Very good flavor and cook just right so they were not mushy. Looking at the name of the establishment, you would thing Castaway, the movie with Tom Hanks - the menu however had offering with title like "The Skipper", "Mary Ann", "Ginger" and the like.  Definitely a place we would recommend to others. Then it was back to the hotel, Holiday Inn Express, a fairly new property that is in good repair, clean and we had a spacious room. Our only complaint is the "thinnest" of the walls. Lots of sounds heard from the neighboring room.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The DOG ate it

Yes, the little girl is the responsible one - at least part-way.
Photo - Lubbock Avalanche Journal - Spotted.
Within the last 3-4 weeks, Annie, the little angel pictured above, has with Deb's encouragement, decided that the bed is a great place to sleep. Now to be fair, Annie would sneak up onto the bed when we were not looking. You would find little impressions where she curled up against a pillow. Once in a while you would catch her and she would get down with this look on her face like "I know, but it is so comfortable." She would spend the night in her bed next to Deb's side of our bed. Then it was decided that maybe if she slept on the bed at night she would not have to get up and go outside as much. Well, that isn't the case - still every two hours from about 10:30PM until about 4:00 AM she is waking us up to go outside. Now understand, we have a dog door. She uses it all the time. It seems that she just wants to have someone walk into the family room (where the door is ). After she goes out, then you can go back to bed. Of course she would rather you wait for her so that you can give her a treat, then you can go to bed. Then there are the mornings you get up and go in the family room and find "stuff" in the middle of the floor. "Stuff" like chewed up limbs, chewed up pecans, all things that she has drug inside while you are sleeping. We have tried to regulate that activity by giving her a chew late in the evening.
So, you kind of get the drift, Annie likes to sleep on the bed and she likes to chew things. She does not bring her "chewing" to the bed. The chewing has always, OK, pretty much always been reserved for the family room. Did I forget to mention Deb's sandals that she left in the family room that got chewed on one night?
For the last many years, I have taken my hearing aids (hearing appliances to be politically correct) off and placed then in an open container on top of the headboard. Never had a problem. Have a hearing appointment scheduled in a week and got to discussing with Deb what her HSA (Health Saving Account) would pay for. I asked the innocent question, will it cover insurance on my hearing appliances should they get damaged or need repair. Of course Deb asked, well what kind of damage - and I replied - well like if the DOG ate them.
OK, now you know where this is going. Got up this morning, dog was still on the bed. Went in and did the weekend routine, made coffee, got the paper, watched the morning news show, went to get my shoes to take Annie to the park. I walked into the bedroom and Annie gets off the bed with a sheepish look on her face, I pet her, then I see a couple things lying on the bed, I turn on the light and walked closer, Annie got on the bed and walked over to see what I was looking at - you guessed it, both hearing appliances, one with the pick up tube chewed, and the other well chewed and missing the pick up tube. Course the air was suddenly filled with cursing and elevated voices.
Needless to say, tomorrow I am going to order at least one new hearing appliance, get a new pick-up tube for the other one and oh yeah, buy the insurance in case this happens again. And no, the HSA won't cover it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

So I didn't get the Florida Posts done

You know the saying - the greatest plans...
The floor install in the kitchen ended up being more of a challenge than I thought it would be. I hate having to tear out work that I have done previously. When I put something together, I don't plan on it falling apart of being taken apart later - think I got that from my dad. Needless to say, I had some problems during the "demolition" part of the project. Broken molding and holes in the sheet rock were just a few of the time consuming problems that I had. Then there was the water shut off valve on the dishwasher that did not want to seal, so I ended up with a minor flood, filling the cabinet under the sink and getting the floor wet. All had to be dried out before the new floor could go in.
So, with all of this going on, I did not feel like working on pictures or this blog - I know, bad professionalism. So, I won't promise anything, but keep checking back and you will probably see posts on the Florida trip.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Florida trip posts are coming

I did not post daily while on our trip to Florida as I had planned. After a day of activity, just did not feel like going through, finding pictures to describe the day and writing a blog. So, now that we are back, I'll try to get so pictures and posts on the site. Try and get that done this weekend, between Thanksgiving and putting a new floor in the kitchen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On the way to the Florida Keys. Dallas, New Orleans then Ft Lauderdale. From there a rental car to Marathon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2011 - 40 Years Old

Balloon Fiesta 2011, the 40th year of this event. We had been here in 2006 and 2007, this time we had folks with us that had not attended in the past. Our journey started with an over night stay (Wednesday) in Santa Rosa, NM. Four of the other five couples joined us at the RV Park. From Santa Rosa it was about a two hour drive to the Balloon Fiesta Park.

 Santa Rosa RV Park

We are staying on the grounds next to the International Balloon Museum. This location is a short walk down onto the south end of the launch field and vendor area. In the vendor area you can get your hair cut, get shirts, hats, lamps, jewelry and just about anything else you can imagine, including any kind of food that you might want.

VIP RV Parking next to Balloon Museum
Of course the weather did not cooperate well. It was cool and windy. This kind of ruined our plans to grill outside. So, off to one of the favorite eating places in Albuquerque, El Pinto restaurant. We were not the only ones that thought El Pinto was a great place to eat. With a wait time of 45 minutes, we opted to eat in the lounge. After a great meal, we returned to our Motorhome and hosted all our companions. With 12 people, it was a little crowded, and got more so after everyone filled up on Deb's Pumpkin Bars, fresh Banana Cake, and Chocolate Cake.

Plans were made to meet at 6 AM (Friday) to go down on the launch field to watch the morning balloon ascent. Again the weather did not cooperate. About 3 A M, the rains came and it continued throughout the day.

Like every event, plans are always fluid, so it was decided to go to a restaurant called Weck's for brunch.

It is a chain of 10 locations throughout New Mexico. It serves "Home Cooking" and lots of it. It only serves breakfast and lunch. It was crowded, again a lot of other people had the same idea. After a short wait, we were seated at a large table and taken care of by a very attentive and capable waitress. After filling up on great food and coffee, it was off to Wal-Mart  to pick up the odds and ends that we ran out of or forgot. Then back to the Balloon Fiesta Park, for a short respite, before the next adventure.
After a short rest, about half the group decided to make a trek to Old Town  Albuquerque. Old Town is similar to the Old Town in Santa Fe or Taos. It is built around a common square, that has a Mission or Government building along one edge. The square is now, in most cases, a park that features entertainment during the weekend and holidays. Of course there is lots and lots of small shops featuring local artists selling everything you can imagine. Kind of like the Balloon Fiesta vendors.
The "Square"
200 year old San Felipe de Neri Church borders the "Square"
On the Boardwalk around the "Square"
Anything you can imagine
Courtyard along one edge of the "Square"
Street Vendors selling mostly jewelry

Then the rain started again and the events at the Balloon Fiesta scheduled for the evening were cancelled. So, we do what it seems like we do best, eat. Steaks on the grill with other side dishes prepared by the ladies in the group.

Outdoor Kitchen
Mike checks the steaks

After raining all night, the morning (Saturday) dawned clear and chilly. To the east the Sandia Mountains had a fresh coat in of snow that though very picturesque emphasized the chill of the morning.

After a cup of hot coffee it was down to the launch grounds for the morning activities. With more than 500 photographs at home from the last two balloon fiestas that we attended, I told myself that I did not need to take a large number of pictures. After all how many pictures of balloons does a person need? But, with a new camera and lenses, what can I expect? I took about 160 pictures on Saturday, probably about the same number that I have taken in the past (last count I took about 750 pictures total). This year there were a few shape balloons that I had not seen before, but pretty much all of the others were ones we had seen in the past. Of course the big draw was the atmosphere on the grounds. The noise, the excitement of watching the balloons inflate and take to the air.

 The Dawn Patrol is three or more balloons that launch and basically go up and check out the wind currents. The next balloon up is the designated flag carrier. This chore is considered an honor, as it signifies the start of the balloon ascent by the other balloonists. This balloon carries the American Flag, unfurled below the gondola, it is accompanied by the playing or singing of the National Anthem.

Kind of like a ballgame, once the flag is raised, everyone else launches, in a predefined pattern generally determined by wind direction. The sun came out just as the officials gave the approval to launch the balloons. As the balloons rose and caught the sun, the site was amazing. The colors were extremely vibrant and bright. The shapes and sizes along with the colors make it a very amazing site.

That evening, we watched the balloon glow. This event takes place shortly after dusk, and the balloons inflate and then turn on the burners to make the balloon glow. It is very pretty. Following the balloon glow are fantastic fireworks.

Sunday dawned chilly with scattered clouds. This being the farewell ascent, and with drier field conditions, there were many more balloons launching. This time, I was by myself and did not venture as far “down field” as I had on Saturday. The filed is marked in a grid with a series of pylons marking the rows. I only went about a 1/3 of the way "down field" and tried to get into a position to concentrate on the process of a single balloon launch. That project entailed a whole bunch more pictures that I will display here. but, I did take a few.

The Navy provided sky divers that carried the American flag onto the field. This occurred (weather permitting) in the morning or afternoon.

Where were were in the VIP RV Area, we had an exceptional view of all the balloons going overhead on Sunday morning. You really did not need to go down onto the field to see it all.

So, by about 10:30AM Sunday, the show was over and we were headed out to an RV Park west of Albuquerque for the night. After three days of "dry" camping, we needed to empty tanks and relax before our long drive home on Monday morning. As we left on Monday Morning we did see about a dozen balloons that had launched after the official event. It was kind of like a farewell, until the next time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Activity

Don't take the fact that there have been no recent postings to indicate we have not been doing much : )
I have had a couple projects going involving the Dog (Annie) and the Gazebo - they kind of go hand-in-hand. We also spent Labor Day weekend at San Angelo State Park and that will be a post, hopefully by the end of the weekend (9/26/2011). This weekend I have a few chores to do on the Motorhome so that we will be ready to go the the 40th Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. That is on the books for October 5 through 10. Will try and do some daily posts with pictures while we are there.
So, don't get discouraged. We are still here, just have not taken the time to do any updating.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi, TX or just Corpus is located on the gulf of Mexico. Though adjacent to the Gulf, it is semi protected by a couple of barrier islands, Mustang and Padre. This is the third time that I have visited Corpus. All three times in relation to a conference. The last time was in November of 2010 when we came in for a conference planning meeting. During that trip we got to explore a lot of the area, including the Port Aransas and Rockport areas. This time the only travel I have done is on foot, and mostly along the seawall.
As a lot of you know, Corpus Christi is home to the "Lady Lex" the aircraft carrier Lexington. This is a fascinating floating museum that I spent several hours in on the November trip.

The seawall in Corpus provides a great promenade along the bay. Two access roads take you into sections of the marina known as T-Heads. There are all manner of privately owned watercraft moored in Corpus, from sail to power.

The seawall was constructed in the late 1930's, early 1940's. It is poured concrete and effectively raised the land level by about 14 feet over previous storm surges. The original design apparently called for a statute of Christ to anchor the center of the 1.75 mile long seawall. Apparently disputes kept that statute from being included, though a church at the start of the seawall has a statute that I would bet was along the lines of what was envisioned.

The seawall starts on the south end at the Holiday Inn and goes north to the City Conference Center. It is deceptive to think that the seawall runs south to north, until you realize that while looking across the Corpus Christi Bay, you are actually looking east.

Walking through the marina area does give you some excellent views of the city skyline.

Corpus is a town that we like to visit. We are planning to come down in February 2012 and spend some time in the Port Aransas area.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Rains finally Came

Last Thursday (8/11/2011) we received the first measurable rain at our house since October 2010. Thursday night a thunderstorm came through that dropped more than 2.5 inches of rain in about a three hour period. Just for an example, this first picture is of a lake (or what was left of it) that we walk the dog around each evening.

As you can see there is not much water there. This photo was taken on Thursday evening about 45 minutes before the rain. In the 10+ years we have lived in Lubbock, we have never seen the lake this low, so, it deserved a picture. Below is how the lake looked two days after the storm.

A major difference. The water level rising has increased the distance of our walk as the lake has enlarged so much. This is just slightly higher than the "normal" lake level. We hope to see it stay this way for a while, at least until our next rain fall.

The down side of the storm was the damage that it did. One apartment house fire and two family home fires were started by lighting. Our next door neighbors took a lighting strike to their Pecan Tree in the back yard that created a 2 inch wide split almost the entire length. It also took out a control board in their HVAC system, the garage door opener, their cable Internet box, and several digital to analog converters on their Televisions. That tree is less than 60 feet from our back fence. We did lose a video conversion box due to that strike, but that is minor damage compared to everyone else.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coyote Bluff - a "hole in the wall" Restaurant

I guess I should start this with a few pictures - then you will understand the title.

 This restaurant is located on Grand Street in Amarillo. Not far from Wal-Mart. The gravel parking lot and the building reminds you of a rundown used car lot. The hours are very unique - closed on Sunday and M-S the hours are 11AM-2PM and then they open from 5PM to 10PM. When we arrived there was one couple standing on the porch and another couple just arriving. We discussed going in and the second couple said no, just wait they will come and get you. We thought that was a little odd until we got inside. There was no room to wait. About 10 minutes went by and the door opened an the waitress basically said "next" and the first couple went in. She told us that they had some large groups about ready o leave and then we would be seated. We talked to the couple that had arrived just before use and they asked if we had been there before. When we stated no, they said that we had to try the chili cheese burger and the chili cheese fries, that they were the best.

The menu is mostly hamburgers, but also offered a few salads and steaks. he board in various locations gave you an idea of the fare, but you are also provided with a printed menu.

I had a chili cheese burger, probably one of the best I have had. The chiles were flavorful and not real ot, just enough heat to let me know they were there. Deb had a cheeseburger with fries. She said it was a very good cheeseburger and the fries were just about right. Service is great, but do expect to wait, prices are good.  Definitely a place that we will return to the next time we are in Amarillo.