Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year from Austin

     I celebrated the Christmas and New Year holidays in Austin, Texas. The Colorado River fronts Austin's picturesque city skyline.

Here's a better view from the same bridge.

     Real estate prices are high, and its employment base reads like a "Who's who" list of the USA's most well-known public companies. Photo below shows Silicon Labs building.

     Other companies with operations in Austin include 3M, Apple, Amazon, Advance Micro Devices, Applied Materials, Cirrus Logic, Cisco Systems, Dropbox, eBay, PayPal, Electronic Arts, Flextronics, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Hoover's, Intel Corporation, National Instruments, Nvidia, Oracle, Polycom, and Qualcomm. Whew! No wonder downtown Austin's buildings are reaching UP.

 Juxtaposing the increasing urban growth is the slow current of the Colorado River.

     I've been home and dogsitting for a family here in Austin. Olita is my canine companion and she's a sweetie. Her primary job is to guard the backyard birdfeeder from squirrels and birds; she doesn't discriminate. She looks like a tough bar bouncer, eh?

     I'm living two miles south of downtown Austin so I bike almost every other day over the various bridges to an outstanding YMCA. Getting there via urban bike trails is delightful. And the bike lanes along the main city roads are safe, too. Motorists here respect bicyclists.

There are several bridges over the Colorado.

Coming down off the high pedestrian bridge is a spiral ramp (photo below) which is fun. Going up is easy pedaling.

This pedestrian and bicyclists bridge (photo below) is under the MOPAC Expressway.

Pedestrians have the right of way so bicyclists must ride slowly.

There's a water fountain along the trail too.

And looking over the bridge, many paddlers.

     Along the river trail there's a place to rent paddle boards, various kayak styles, canoes, and sculling boats (rowing) to enjoy the placid Colorado River. There's no shortage of watercraft on the river any day of the week.

     See the historic sign to the left? That round structure is a clay pit tower from the early 1900s (click here for info). And a bit further down the trail is the historic outdoor Deep Eddy Pool (non-chlorinated well water averages high 60s during the winter).

And for all the dog lovers, a dog park with no containment fence just an ornamental fence, which seems odd.

     I wasn't surprised (click here to read Wikipedia's Austin article) that Austin was named by U.S. News & World Report as the #1 place to live in the U.S. for 2017. And the downtown area was named one of the "Best Cities and Neighborhoods for Millennials".

Improvisational drummers on the pedestrian bridge . . . 

. . . contributing to downtown Austin's good vibes.

Can't leave Austin without a visit at Texas' capitol building.

It has a rather simple rotunda as capitol rotundas go.

     The lobby of the rotunda includes portraits of Texas' governors through the years. Only two were women (both were Democrats), but Ann Richards won her election fair and square without the benefit of being an ex-governor's wife. Although I'm a Yankee, I've lived in rural Texas for the past 26 years and it still surprises me that a female Democrat managed to win a gubernatorial election in a very politically conservative male-oriented venue. She must have been a dynamic imposing woman.

   But the best part of Austin for me . . . . 

     No, not the river trails, it was the hot tub at the YMCA. After each swim (about one mile, an indoor pool on the cool side) I'd hurry over to the nearby hot tub. There was usually a handful of talkative folks there; weather, politics, news, all topics were fair game. My favorite acquaintant was Dotti, a 64-year-old woman who completed a triathlon three months ago. I've soaked in many hot tubs and Jacuzzis in the USA throughout my travels, and Austin's gregarious intelligent diversified hot tubbers win first prize in my book for delightful folks! 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dive Eat Sleep Repeat

     For the past two months I've been crossing my fingers, hoping the weather in the Bahamas and Miami area would improve for good diving. That area has had its fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms lately. When I flew out of Houston early one morning about two weeks ago, a cold front was headed the same way -- toward Miami. 

     I had signed-up for ten days of SCUBA diving on the Juliet which docks at Miami. 


     Juliet has more charm than most dive boats. Click here for the post I wrote when I did my first dive on Juliet two years ago.
     You won't see many three-masted schooners at Miami; and yes, we truly did sail out of Miami. That's Bre in photo below, a diver who volunteered to hoist one of the sails. She's a state trooper from Maine by the way. 

     There were ten divers and oddly five were solo women which includes me. And there were five crew members; my favorite from two years ago, Nate, is now Captain. He recently wrote a book, Bahamas Bucket List for Divers.

Nate let me sit on his captain's chair. I'm resting my foot on the wheel.

     Juliet in my opinion is the perfect dive boat because there's plenty of space and lots of pretty interior woodwork.

     Below from left to right are Billie and her husband Gary (both are retired NIH scientists from Louisiana, she's a veterinarian too). Far right with coffee mug is Ed who was my dive buddy for the week and whose pilot skills (water current speed, compass readings, etc.) were much appreciated.

     Compass readings aren't normally necessary because visibility is usually great. But during our eight days of diving, visibility was poor half the time (below is Bea's photo of me which shows poor visibility).

     Sometimes visibility was so poor I couldn't even see the boat above me. See the rough sea at sunset?

     It's tricky to safely exit the water with 60 pounds of SCUBA gear on a boat ladder that's rocking up/down six feet with the swells. Below is Bea, my roommate who's a German permanent resident of Vancouver, Canada. See the flags waving behind her? Jumping off the boat was much easier!

     Meals were scrumptious!

Amanda the cook has the hardest job in my opinion. She's also a diver.

     Max (below) was our dive master. Before every dive, he explains reef profiles, currents, depths, things to be on the lookout for.

     Most dive masters remind me of clucking mother hens who constantly chastise their flock of divers for scattering too far away from Mama; it's annoying to me. Max gave us all the details of each dive and then let us explore without him, which is perfect! We were on our own. He did however, accompany divers during a drift dive. We also were briefed on what to look for by our boat's marine biologist Liz.

     Below is a photo of us divers getting suited-up and ready to jump in. See how much space we have? A dive-boat doesn't usually have this much space.

     The owner of the boat, Liza (photo below), is feeding lion fish to sharks. Throughout the days of diving, several divers took a spear and container to kill and bag this invasive slightly toxic but pretty fish. I helped scout for lion fish.

Everyone dived (except me) in this very same spot after the sharks were fed!

The boat's cat Pearl was fed lion fish eggs.

We got buzzed by a float plane.

     Below is an $8.5 million neighbor "Missing Link". We were anchored with this boat for several evenings on a protective cove.

     This boat (below) with all its powerful motors and four youthful and nearly naked ladies is aptly named "Lucky Dick." That wreck behind it by the way is Sapona, a concrete ship.

     Before a liveaboard adventure, I download a couple sea-related books to read onboard. I favor nonfiction books that capture the human spirit. Highly recommend Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.

For photos contributed by divers who had underwater cameras, click here.

Hope y'all have a Happy Thanksgiving :)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Returning Home to East Texas

     An IRS tax due notice was waiting for me in East Texas with a reply due date of last week! Good reason to hurry through New Mexico and Texas' Guadalupe Mountains National Park on my way home. Took this photo while driving . . . . see how clean my window looks? Hold that thought.

     Enroute home I took a short cut on a 10-mile gravel road, driving less than 15 mph, headed toward East Texas. A nearby farmer on a tractor gave me a huge smile and wave. Probably hadn't seen a visitor on his road (below photo) for a long while. Even the cows stopped eating grass and stared at me. Overheard one cow say to the others "Mable, Bessie, looky here! a visitor!"

     Closer to the southeast corridor of Texas, I realized the semi-annual "lovebug fest" was in full force. This is one reason I rarely return to East Texas before October 1 each year (below photo is interior shot of windshield).

     An hour later, my windshield was really ugly (below photo is exterior shot). Stopped at a gas station to wash the window but if you're familiar with lovebugs, you know a mere wash won't work. A solvent foam (let it soak overnight) and a pressure washer are the only things that will work.

     Had to drive the last 20 miles home with my face six inches away from the least obscured part of the windshield.

     My neighbor Chef Jim welcomed me home with a fantastic steak and shrimp dinner. And my sister reminded me to check for snakes which are displaced and seem to move near homes following a major rain storm (my place is near a ravine, had more than 12" of rain from Hurricane Harvey). I made this sign a couple decades ago to warn visitors to keep a watchful eye on my undesirable neighbors.

     Yes I kill snakes, mostly copperheads, that slither onto my property. In the woods, I leave them be. So I dusted off my BB gun which I keep handy inside the front door and did a practice shot. I used it just last April when there was a long patterned snake on my front doorstep (blurry photo below of that snake). I shot it a bit later as it quickly escaped along my concrete foundation under the leaves. I always laugh when folks tell me I should first check the snake's head to figure out whether it's diamond shaped, has pits under its nostrils or has a forked tongue to determine whether it's poisonous or not. Yeah, right, I've never met a snake that looks directly at me in open territory so I can figure out whether or not to shoot. Those folks don't live in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

     See my first practice BB shot from 40 feet away (photo below)? An inch away from the bulls-eye.

     By the way, I never owned a gun until I moved to Texas. When I noticed there's lots of snakes in East Texas that slither onto my property, I went to Walmart about 25 years ago and asked the gun clerk to show me one of their BB guns. She asked me, "How old is the child you're buying the gun for?" And I nonchalantly replied, "Forty-one".
     So far, no snakes. But there are critters that have taken over my place. A few friendly mud-daubbers built their pretty tubal nests on a bird-box at my front door (had stuffed the hole with paper to deter nasty red wasps a few years ago).

And this critter has been waddling under my deck daily.

     Below is a better look at the armored beauty (but with few brains and poor eyesight). Marty Stauffer once said on his TV show Wild America, "If ignorance is bliss, then the armadillo is in ecstasy." 

     It was also good to see good friends Sally and Boyce again. They take care of Topaz for me. Sally was anxious to ride Boyce's new horse in a more challenging environment so she loaded my horse Topaz (white Arabian on left) and Reba (chestnut Missouri Fox Trotter on right) and trailered them near my place. Sally is trying something new, a red bug-collar, works similar to bug-collars for cats and dogs.

     The reason she wanted to ride Reba was to "test" whether Reba would take advantage of Boyce's good nature. Hubby Boyce is a major softy and some horses (and people) take advantage of his loving good nature.

     Topy was in good form and we had an enjoyable ride. See her ears in photo below? She's paying attention; that's what I love about her, despite being 26 years old, she's always alert, eager and willing to go and explore. 

     Although it was a good ride, it was too hot! Almost 90 degrees when we quit with 90 percent humidity. The sweat on Topy made her white hair look gray!

      Sally finished her ride with a couple little scratches on her cheek. There's a pretty curvy woodsy single-file path that begs for a fast-paced trot. I don't even have to encourage Topy, she trots fast on her own. And if you don't duck low or fast enough on a horse that's zig-zagging on that pretty woodsy path, tree twigs hit your face, arms, legs, etc.

Whew-hoo!! Love it! I've had my share of scratches too :)

     And waiting for me at home was a USPS priority box from mon ami Chef Renauld de Montana, a huckleberry cheesecake made with Montana wild huckleberries, peaches and Amaretto! He makes his wonderfully unique cheesecakes with very little sugar so there's zero-guilt on my part :)

Yes, good to be home despite the bad (IRS) and the ugly (lovebugs).

PS: Update October 31, the IRS reviewed my submitted info and agree I owe no additional taxes, yeehaw! :)