Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The end of an era


I always wanted a Jeep.  I finally got one in 2004, when I was almost 60.  We bought one to tow behind the motorhome.  We liked that one so much, we bought a brand new one in 2006.


This Jeep has been very good to us.  It’s been great fun, giving us the freedom to pretty much go wherever any vehicle could go; from rough roads in the high country of Colorado to drives way up and down the beach in South Texas.  Deep sand was never an obstacle; it was more like an opportunity.


The Jeep is still in great shape even though it has 150,000 driving miles and another 100,000 tow miles, but we’re moving on.  It’s time for a different kind of car.  We’ve gotten a nice smooth cushy Chrysler Town & Country minivan.



It will make a great tow-car as our adventures continue, and will be better suited for extended day-trips (on paved roads).


The interior is pretty cool.


All the seats fold up or down independently.


There is a compartment in the floor for each seat to fold into.  With a push of a few buttons, we can turn it into an instant cargo van if we want (those middle seats fold down and disappear into the floor too).


The rear seats even flip around as stadium seats for birdwatching or oceanwatching. 


We’ll probably like this for as many years as we’ve liked the Jeep!


The Minivan era begins for us today as we welcome in a New Year.  Happy New Year everyone!


Monday, December 30, 2013

I like

…brother Tom’s screen room.





Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mystery Solved!


The air conditioning is fully functioning again.  Of all the possible causes of icing-up: thermostat, compressor, obstructed airflow, low coolant, it took me all this time to discover the most obvious one.  We were gone for months.  Somehow, I just forgot to change the filter when we got back.  The filter was dirty and restricting airflow.  I put a new filter in.  Proper airflow restored.  We can sleep at any temperature we choose again.  We didn’t have to change our ways after-all.


I feel like a bit of a bonehead though.  Should I take any solace in the fact that it didn’t occur to any of the trained professionals to check the filter?  I don’t think so.  They probably thought it was too obvious to even ask the question.


Saturday, December 28, 2013



A good brisket doesn’t just happen.  This piece of meat is known for being hard to get just right.  I’ve been grilling and smoking other meat: steak, chicken, ribs, and chops, just working my way up to a brisket.  For my first effort a couple weeks ago, I only got a portion; about a 3 pound flat.  I cooked it low and slow with smoke.  I did some things well, but didn’t get it completely right.  The flavor was good, but the meat was almost dry and tough.


Today was a good day for another shot at it since we were going to be here all day.  I took a more ambitions step and bought a whole brisket.  This one includes both the flat and the point and weighs 7 ½ pounds altogether.  I trimmed it, got it on by 8am, smoked it, wrapped it, and finished it.  We ate at 5:30.


It came out like it should, looking more like a meteorite than a meal, but not burnt.


Slow-cooking, it never gets hot enough to burn.  That dark outer layer is the “bark”, a combination of smoke and rub.


This one was pretty good, but we’re still not quite there.  Got to be lower and slower so it will be even more tender.  I might have to wait for warmer weather, set the alarm, and start it cooking in the dark.



Friday, December 27, 2013

Along the way


White-tailed deer in the campground.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Skype Christmas


A family Christmas.  We hooked the computer up to the big screen and skyped from our living room.  An early visit with our daughter and her family in Colorado, then a later visit with our son and his family in Colorado.  We shared our way through Christmas morning with them all.



Henry watched the presents get opened, but he found people’s pets especially engaging.


At our end of the event, Judy got a new Kindle Fire and I got a new helicopter.  They are each a challenging step-up from previous versions.


Next thing you know it’s time for lunch and a drive to Tom and Kathy’s for a full-on traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings.



As a special bonus, Suzanne was there, fresh from her graduation from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (with honors).  We are all so proud of her.


We return home fully-fed (again).


After a wonderful day of love and laughter, we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, and to all a good night!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I like to walk all the way to the no trespassing sign


…before I turn around.


A few weeks back however, hiking around Delta Lake, as I approached a gate and a big sign, I couldn’t make out what it said.


It kind of looked like it was written in Arabic or something.


I walked closer.


It was a big metal sign, with the words actually carved out of it, so they are visible from both sides.  I was looking at a bunch of backwards words.


It says No Trespassing, Fishing, Swimming, or Wading.  Not only had I walked as far as the No Trespassing sign, I had actually walked all the way to the backside of the No Trespassing sign for people headed the other direction!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Along the way


A Day at our bird feeder at Chatfield State Park








Black-capped Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013



I’ve been planning my attack on the standing marathon record time of 26 ½ hours.  I should just do the whole thing at one time and cut my record in half.


A big part of the challenge is to find a route that would provide some interest for 10 to 12 hours straight.  Without something to look at, this could be a tedious day.  Wouldn’t want to count it off on a ¼ mile track either.  I love to walk, but I have to walk a different course every day.  It would be nice to find something of a straight-line route, but I can’t work that out without encountering more vehicle traffic than I want to walk with.


So I’ve been looking at this effort as a series of 5 mile segments.  I’ve got a straight line out-and-back bicycle trail of 5 miles that gets me to a nice state park where I can walk a 5 mile loop.  All I have to do is figure out two more interesting 5 mile segments and I’ve got it.  There is an out-and-back seldom-used road from the state park I could probably turn into a 5 mile segment.  Then the walk back the original 5 mile trail to where I parked the car.  That would be 20 miles.  By then, it’s liable to be dark on these short winter days, so maybe I drive back to the park and finish with 9 laps around our neighborhood inside our park.


That could work.  That has been my thought process.  ….until today.  Today I ventured out to test several things: the state park loop, the out and back walk on the seldom used road, the pre-dawn start, and the provision for food and water along the way for such a long walk.  At 10 miles, something happened.  The conditions were good.  I felt good.  I still had enough food and water.  All my careful planning was set aside and I didn’t stop.  No more pre-planned routes, I just kept walking.  I walked roads, canals, brushy trails, and looped around, around, and around again inside the state park.


First, I established a time of slightly under 4 ½ hours for a half-marathon.  Then I went on to walk the entire thing straight through.  I’ll have to say I wasn’t as cool the last 6 ½ miles as I was the first 20.  I thought only runners hit “the wall” at 20 miles.  I never saw that coming.


The wall kicked my ass, but I pressed on, not finishing in good form, but finishing nonetheless.  My legs are now screaming obscenities at me, but I’m very happy with the result of my effort.  9 hours 50 minutes.  I have a marathon time that can be described without reference to a calendar!


I suspect the only way to substantially improve my marathon time now would be to actually run some part of it…


Friday, December 20, 2013

We never had a house with air conditioning


…until we got the motorhome.  We always just slept with the window open.


But in the motorhome we could control the temperature and didn’t have to have so many blankets on hand, so we got used to sleeping at 65 degrees year-round.  Furnace in the winter, air-conditioning in the summer.  65 degrees.


We continued the tradition when we moved into the house a couple years ago.  65 degrees for sleeping.  But recently the air conditioner started giving us trouble.  When we woke up in the morning, it would be warmer than the thermostat setting and the air wouldn’t be blowing.  We called the air-conditioning guy.  He came out, said the machine was working just fine, and replaced our thermostat.  That didn’t fix it, so the next day he replaced some valve or sensor out there.  When he came out early the third day, he took the cover off and found the unit covered by a big block of ice.  When we told him our night-time setting he advised us that air conditioners won’t work right at settings below 68 degrees.


We received that bit of news with some skepticism, since this is what we’ve done for years now with no problem.  When we got back from our summer and fall travels I looked on the internet and found his opinion repeated though; that outdoor household air-conditioners like we have, don’t like to be set below 68 degrees.  I also read that air conditioners don’t like to run when the outside temperature is below 60 degrees.  That’s where we are now, cooler temperatures overnight, but with the heat-lag for the house cooling down as the outside air cools, we still want the air conditioning.  We have the arctic insulation package, 6 inch walls, so the house retains heat REALLY well.


It’s not like our air-conditioner doesn’t work.  It works great on hot days.  We only have trouble when we’re trying to keep cool overnight on a cool evening.  We just want it to work like it always has.  We don’t want to change our ways and sleep warmer.  I guess we need to try a different air-conditioning guy.  Maybe we’ll get an answer we like better.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

I've been telling everyone I'm almost 70


…for so long, when I figured out today that I’m only 68, that seems young.  I even fooled myself!


Quiet day.  Nice day.  Took a walk at the wetlands.  Got to spend the whole day with my charming wife.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mystery Solved!


Remember that mystery bird call in Bandera I ascribed to Townsend’s Solitaire a few months ago?




Really?  You really don’t remember?


To me, it sounded like the Townsend’s Solitaires I hear in Colorado.  Here is one for sure (I located him right after I turned off the video):


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6j97USytDk  (turn the sound up a little higher for this one)(never-mind the robins in the background)


Here is a recording of a Townsend’s Solitaire from Cornell.  Double click it to play…



That bird in Bandera sounded so much like a Townsend’s Solitaire to me that I put it down in ebird even though Townsend Solitaire is not supposed to be there then.  As expected, I got a challenge from an ebird monitor.  I directed him to the call and after a few days he directed me to a different recording:




It’s a recording of a Rock Squirrel!  Oops.  I attributed a squirrel sound to a bird!  Silly me.  Well, the quality control system for ebird works like it’s supposed to, even if I don’t.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 17th


…and I’ve finished my Continuing Professional Education for this 2 year reporting period!  Yeaa.  80 hours done, and it’s not even December 31st!



Monday, December 16, 2013

How about.


…an award-winning duck picture?


I present the American Wigeon!


Okay.  It hasn’t actually won any awards.  I just think it’s a pretty cool picture.


Here is the ubiquitous Mallard shining in the sun.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

How we know when the dogs are out of water...





How we know when there is a squirrel in the yard…


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Executive Assistant to the Founding Partner


As of January first, Judy is officially retired.  She’s off the payroll, but she’s still got the same job…





Friday, December 13, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Still mowing


…even in December.  Miles and miles and miles of wide medians being mowed.  We drive down the interstate and it looks nice, like lawn stretching across the United States, but we can’t help but wonder at the resources consumed by the effort.  That’s a lot of people, equipment, and fuel.  Is it driven by a fire standard?  A safety standard?  Is it purely aesthetic?  Been wondering about this for years.



Well, anyway, that’s it for freeway philosophizing for now.  We’re back at Sandpipers in Way South Texas.  Total trip miles in the motorhome this year, 11,777; from here to Maine and back, then Colorado, Arizona, and back.


Tomorrow’s forecast: 75 degrees.  It’s good to be home!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Substitutes can let you down.


…quicker than a strapless gown.


Burma Shave.



Remember those signs?  I remember that one from my youth.  I guess it left a mark.  And today it comes to mind in the context of freeway repair.


“Keep right except to pass.”  “Left lane for passing only.”  These signs reflect our driving convention.  Drive on the right, pass on the left.  Driving the wide open spaces in West Texas, no traffic, defying convention, rolling along in the left lane because the right lane of that section of highway is a rutted bumpy mess, it occurs to us.  We know highways don’t last forever.  They have to be resurfaced periodically.  It costs a lot to do that resurfacing.  The resurfacing is probably always driven by the condition of the right lane because that gets 90% of the wear.


Why not use the same materials, but make road surfaces last a lot longer?  We could do that for the cost of a crew and some road signs.  We could extend road surface life by at least 50%.  When the right lane starts to wear out, put up some signs:


“Lane wear.  Drive on the left, pass on the right.”


That could save millions of dollars.  Say it however we need to say it.  Tell us what to do and we’ll do it.  Move 90% of the traffic from the right lane to the left.  If the message is too much to fit all on one sign, separate the phrases.  Put each phrase on a subsequent sign, Burma Shave style.


“Lane wear”


“Is such a fright”


“For the next 20 miles”


“Drive on the left, pass on the right”





We stopped for the night at Lake Corpus Christi State Park.




An easy day from home.


Radio Silence


Tuesday.  South Llano River State Park.  No phone.  No internet.  Love this place though.


We found some humidity.  We even got fog.  Fog suggests we’ve found humidity approximating 100%.  Of course humidity is all relative.  100% humidity at 33 degrees (like it was here) is not the same as 100% humidity at 80 degrees.  Warm air can hold a lot more water than cold air can.  Now we just need to keep moving south and find some warm air to go with the humidity.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Short days driving east


We’re traveling against the flow of the sun.  At this pace we lose about a quarter of an hour of daylight each day.  Today we crossed back into Central Time though, so the clocks leapt ahead an hour.


Let’s see, how many clocks do we have to adjust?  The one in our digital display on the dash, the dash radio, the indoor outdoor thermometer, the microwave, two laptop computers, three iPads, the alarm clock, the two smart phones adjust automatically, the coffeemaker, the clock in the Jeep, and every clock at the house (and in the Mazda) when we get back.  I should probably keep a checklist.  We always miss a few.


Drove on Interstate 10 yesterday and again today (and we’ll do it again tomorrow).  Stopped for the night at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas.




We’re a little west of Fort Stockton.  Never been here before.  Small campground.  Small State Park.  Nice enough though.  The primary attraction is a big spring-fed swimming pool.  Natural water.  It has fish, turtles, and ducks in it.


Almost-warm days at about 50 degrees.  Cool nights.  The humidity is up to 30 percent.  We’ll continue southeast.



Sunday, December 8, 2013

It seems like it was just yesterday.


I was remarking on my child bride turning 60.  Now all of a sudden, she’s 65.  Happy Birthday Judy!


What to do for her birthday?  We decided to spend it together.


Last week we went in search of Fahrenheits.  Didn’t find a lot of them, but there were way more in the southern desert than there were in Colorado.  Today we decided to go in search of humidity.  We’ve been in the teens and twenties for weeks.


We left Rodeo, NM and headed east for an easy day.  Stopped in Las Cruces and set up early enough to watch the Broncos win.




Didn’t find any more humidity though.  We’ll try again tomorrow.



Meanwhile, we found this turtle in the desert.


The dogs said we could keep it.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Rusty's RV Ranch


Our morning desert view.


Chricahua Mountains in the background.


This is an interesting place, Rusty’s RV Ranch.  It’s a Dark Place.  No security lights.  Rules that ask us not to use any outdoor lights; keep windows covered at night so as not to let any direct light out.


A considerate place for astronomers.


In fact, look in our neighbor’s yard.


That’s some amateur telescope.




We did go off on an Arizona Woodpecker quest today.  Saw a lot of birds.  Got blue-throated hummingbird, acorn woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, Mexican jay, bridled titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, bewick’s wren, western bluebird, hermit thrush, cedar waxwing, painted redstart, green-tailed towhee, spotted towhee, lincoln’s sparrow, brewer’s sparrow, black-throated sparrow, dark-eyed junco, yellow-eyed junco.  No Arizona Woodpecker.


Contented ourselves with *many* acorn woodpeckers.




Guess we’ll just have to come back another time…