Monday, December 30, 2013

Are You Ready for Some Hiking?

Got any plans for New Year's Day? Don't tell me you're going to sit around the house with your eyes glued to the set watching football games. Why watch someone else have fun when you can get out and make your own fun.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department started a New Year's Day program a few years ago called First Day Hikes. Here's a quote from the TPDW web page:

"The First Day Hikes vary in difficulty and fitness levels, and range from short, leisurely nature walks through forested trails and along boardwalks, to special bird watching hikes, to climbs into the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most all hikes are guided by state park staff and volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options as well. There's something for everyone!"


So, go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/calendar/first-day-hikes and scroll down the page until you find a state park near you, then make plans to get out to that park on Wednesday.

I don't know about your neck of the woods, but in San Angelo, it should be sunny and in the mid 60s on that day.

Looks like a good day for a hike.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Several years ago -- sometime after our daughter fled the nest -- Donna and I started a tradition of seeing a movie on Christmas day. We've missed a few over the years, but more often than not, you will find us sitting in a movie theater on Christmas day huddled under our coats watching a movie. This year, we went to see Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie follows the relationship between P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney, founder of the Disney empire, as Disney attempts to secure the rights for the book in order to make a movie. The movie blends flashbacks to 1906 Australia of Travers' childhood with scenes from the present, set in 1961. Most of the present action occurs in Los Angeles, though some does occur in the London home of Travers.

Travers, played exceedingly well by Thompson, is obstinate and arrogant, and she is reluctant to give Disney the rights to her book lest he tarnish her creation with animation or other unworthy movie tricks. Disney, having promised his daughters to make a movie based upon their favorite childhood book, is equally determined to secure the rights from Travers.

We liked the movie. Personally, I found the flashbacks to be a bit too much. Though they are necessary to develop the plot and the deeply personal feelings Travers has for her book, I think they could have been selected more carefully to allow more time in the present. But that certainly doesn't tarnish the movie at all.

I enjoyed seeing how Disney's associates brought a movie to life, creating the music and script. It made me want to watch the movie Mary Poppins again. The movie also reaffirmed the character of Walt Disney for me. As I child, I watched his Sunday night show without fail; my childhood would not have been complete without all the great stories that came from that TV show.

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Epic Battle

It was a battle of epic proportions.

On one side, you had Sheriff Camden, the very picture of youth. On the other, there was Grandma Donna, aging matriarch of the family.

The two would collide in a monumental battle of wills. Camden was determined to scream his head off, unwilling to calm down, take his bottle, and fall asleep. Donna, always happy to take a bottle, was just as determined to calm the young whippersnapper.

In the end, both were tuckered plumb out by their efforts, and I was able to capture the shot below.

Grandma and grandson all worn out from their mighty struggle. I'm not sure who won.
As a bonus, here is a picture of Sheriff Camden and his big brother Xander in front of the fireplace.

Xander and Camden looking forward to opening their gifts.
My new nickname for Camden is Rooster since he likes to wake everyone up in the wee hours of the morning.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Concho Christmas Light Tour

Donna and I love to go out this time of year and look at Christmas lights. When you live in San Angelo, that means going to the Concho Christmas Light Tour. The Tour is not the best Christmas light display in the world, but it is pretty unique, especially for West Texas.

The Tour begins at 1st Street and River Drive. For the next mile or so, the Tour follows River Drive along the north bank of the North Concho River. Most of the lights are located across the river, on the south bank. Their lights dance and sparkle in the waters of the slow-moving river, and their reflections are often broken by the ripples from ducks moving about the river. The bulk of the lights are dedicated to the 12 Days of Christmas theme.

After a mile along the river, the Tour then takes a left on Irving Street for 1 block to Concho Street, the original business street of downtown San Angelo. Many of the stores along the 2 block section of Concho Street on the tour are decorated. At Oakes Street, the Tour turns right, crosses the river and then the railroad tracks, and turns into the pavilion across from Fort Concho National Historic Landmark. A number of light displays are concentrated here, ending with a living nativity scene on weekends.

We also like to drive through Santa Rita, an older neighborhood in the city. The residents decorate the divided roadway along Paseo de Vaca Street, ending with a diorama display of "The Night Before Christmas" story.

There are other prominent displays in town, including one on Hill Street and Avenue R that a local family erects each year, but the above two are our favorites. For the drive around town, Donna made hot cocoa. Now, I'm not talking instant powder and hot water cocoa here, I'm talking the real stuff with real cocoa and real milk. Boy, that made the night complete.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hanging in There

We've not been doing much lately, so I haven't really had anything to post.

The kids are coming this Friday and will spend a couple of days with us. Since they spent Thanksgiving with us, they will spend Christmas with Michael's family. After the holidays die down, we hope to get back to traveling.

Donna and I have both been a bit under the weather for the past 2 weeks. Combined with the really cold weather we've had, we just haven't wanted to do much. But things started warming up this past week and we started getting out a bit.

We had 2 disappointing meals at local restaurants this week. First, we visited Los Panchitos near the river and got their lunch fajitas. I had beef and Donna had a combination. I hate to be critical, but they were absolutely the worst fajitas I have ever had. There was no fajita seasoning, no grill taste, and the quality of the meat was very poor. We also didn't care for the rice and the side of queso we ordered, though we did enjoy the chips and salsa.

Our second poor meal was at Lone Star Cheeseburger, which really is just a trailer parked on a lot near downtown. There have been numerous positive reviews of this place, and they bill themselves as making the best cheeseburgers in Texas. Again, we were disappointed. First, the meat did not taste like 100% beef; Donna and I both detected a pork, or sausage, taste. We also didn't care for the fries. I'm still in search of  that basic traditional burger in San Angelo; at this point, the fast food places do the best job in town. I'll keep looking.

Aside from a bit of grocery and Christmas shopping, that's about all we've done. The forecast for this week shows temps in the 60s and even reaching 70, so we hope to get out to the park for a good walk, maybe even a hike.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a very happy and satisfying New Year.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It's 2:00 PM in San Angelo on Tuesday, December 10th, and the sun is shining. It's currently 44 degrees, and it's a beautiful day.

Normally, 44 is chilly to me, but not today. This is only the second day since last Thursday that the temp has climbed above freezing. I'm not used to the cold hanging around this long. Nights are still dipping below freezing, and will continue doing so for at least the next week, but the day time temps should continue to rise. Ice is still on the rooftops and on the north sides of buildings; we still have considerable ice in our front yard, which faces north. Usually our snow and ice melt the next day, but not during this cold spell.

I don't like the cold. I didn't mind it as much when I was younger, but I get colder now, it seems. We've been using our new gas fireplace quite a bit this past week. It's nice to feel its warmth on those cold, overcast days.

I don't envy folks who live in colder climates; they must be hardier than I am.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Old Man Winter Has Arrived, Part 2

It was just about 2 weeks ago that I posted Old Man Winter Has Arrived. Normally we don't get severe winter storms this close together, at least not in this part of Texas. But here we go again.

A front moved through San Angelo in the early morning hours, dropping temperatures drastically in a matter of hours. The temperature as I write this (9:44 AM on Thursday, November 5) is 32 degrees. The wind is blowing from the north at 18 mph, making the wind chill a frigid 21 degrees. Yesterday, the temperature reached a balmy 84 degrees. What a difference a day can make! Tonight the low is expected to fall to 24. The high tomorrow will reach 30 while the low tomorrow night will dip to 19 degrees. We have a 50% chance of precipitation later today, rising to 80% tonight. We should get some ice, perhaps even some snow.

We don't get that much frigid weather in San Angelo. Sure, we'll get some freezes and even a snow or two each year. But they usually are spread far apart and last for only a day or two. Having two cold snaps about 2 weeks apart is unusual. And this cold spell will remain at the freezing level for 3 full days, then level off to highs only in the 40s for the next several days. Very unusual.

But Donna is in the kitchen cooking up a big pot of beef stew, enough to last the two of us for several days. And last week I had a gas insert installed in our fireplace, so we have the fire glowing.

We opted for the gas insert instead of real wood because of convenience. In our fireplace, when you want a fire, just turn on the gas and fire her up. When you are finished, just turn it off. There's no fussing with building a fire, hauling in fire wood, cleaning out ashes, and all of that. I still enjoy a real fire, especially when we camp, but as we grow older, convenience becomes more important.

So, we'll sit back in front of our fire, savor our beef stew, and enjoy the cold snap. I hope all of you stay nice and warm.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Invasion of the All Night Gang

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Arguably my favorite holiday of the year.

When I was still a working chap, I eagerly looked forward to Thanksgiving each year. It served somewhat as a warmup for Christmas and New Year's.

We try not to travel during holidays anymore. There is simply too much traffic. And I never want to fly during the holidays. I don't like crowds, and I certainly don't like getting stranded when weather turns bad. Now that we are retired, we can travel whenever we want, so we opt to travel when others don't.

So, we plan to stay home during holidays from now on. So for this first Thanksgiving in our new house, daughter Courtney, son-in-law Michael, grandson #1 Xander (short for Alexander, aka the Godfather), and grandson #2 Camden (aka the Sheriff) came for a visit.

Camden is now about 4 months, so he is different each time we see him. He is beginning to develop a personality, but he still keeps everyone hopping. I can hear Courtney up with him at all hours of the night, and I laugh quietly to myself in a Bill Cosby satisfied sort of way.

I've revived a long tradition of ours this year, one I gave up a few years ago. Donna muscled me into buying a smoker. She wanted a smoked turkey this holiday. So, I set up the new smoker, tested, and got ready for Thanksgiving. Now, I take my smoking seriously. I begin the process about midnight. I get the fire going, add oak or mesquite wood chunks that have been soaking all day, fill a water pan with water, beer, and other flavored liquids, and put the turkey on. Throughout the night, I add more charcoal and more soaked wood. The turkey cooks over indirect heat and smoke and is ready for lunch on Thanksgiving. Now, I'm biased, but I absolutely love turkey cooked this way. And I'm not a big turkey fan. I normally won't eat turkey except when I've smoked it.

So, as I would get up periodically throughout the night to add more charcoal and wood to the smoker, I'd hear my daughter and grandson #2. As you've heard said before, the best thing about being a grandparent is that you can enjoy your grandchildren and then send them home. So, after a day or so, my life returns to a quiet normal, but the "All Night Gang" continues their late-night vigils of warming bottles and changing diapers.

Ah, payback is so much fun.