Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Shot with iPod.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Audio Books at Gutenberg

Today's big discovery came after I decided to try one of the books on my kindle from Project Gutenberg. I searched for the title and found it but then selected the first download that was part of that title -- the kindle would not recognize it because it was an audio book. Eventually, I found the text version and downloaded it and started reading it, all while on the eliptical trainer at the Y.

When I got home, I took my iPod and browsed to the Gutenberg site, and downloaded the audio version and it started playing right in the browser. Considering that this site has some 33,000 titles, all free and out of copyright, this is pretty amazing. Highly recommended.

The site is

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Mark Andrew Bailey

Because of several of the better galleries have closed recently, we were a little reluctant to venture out in the cold for the monthly Columbus Gallery Hop. Our friends were up for it, so we went along and discovered the work of a gifted artist, Mark Andrew Bailey in a new gallery replacing one that had grown old and a little stale.

Mark seems very impressionistic to me, but with a line that is uncannily photo-accurate. He had two works on exhibit, with a restaurant/kitchen/bar theme, as seems to frequent a lot of his work that is available on-line. I'm looking forward to more from Mark, especially his other themes. Here are a couple of links to his web presence:

Friday, November 05, 2010

Apple MacBook Air

We were fascinated with the new and improved notebook computer from Apple. The compromises were few, and the price quite competitive. We tried it out in the local store and were even more impressed.

There are several stand-out features once you get beyond the small size and light weight: full-sized keyboard on the small 11" model, faster flash memory in place of a mechanical hard drive, beautiful very sharp screen, quiet because of no fan, not hot on your lap.

We ordered the small model, with the minimum processor and main memory of 2 gigabytes, but with the mid-range storage of 128 gigabytes. This is the first computer I have ever ordered with such minimum power but I figured that with the flash storage in place of a hard drive there would be speed benefits that would enhance the performance of the processor and memory, and it turns out that this is true, and "in spades".

Earlier today I loaded about 8,000 pictures from my desktop computer, while I was downloading an office software suite, and surfing the net, all on the MBA. Performance was easily the equal of a far more powerful (and hot and noisy and more expensive) machine. Needless to say, I am thrilled with this unit. As a result, I am even more convinced that this is a computer that does not have to be loaded up with processor and main memory options. This is a very nice change indeed from my iPod experience. Here is what Walt Mossberg says. Very extremely highly recommended.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

November Nudge

November nudged. Elections elapsed.
Leaves let loose. Yard chores yammered.
Health planning hopped.
Gray skies seamed in yellow.

Numbing North winds whirl.
Father Frost freezes. Days diminish.

Snowbirds soaring south soon?
To sunny skies and warm waters.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Impressions of the Norwegian Spirit

The Norwegian Cruise experience was better than we expected, and very new since we have not been on any cruise in 15 years, and never with NCL.

The cruise map is roughly this:

From At Sea Oink

The cabins are small, but not really a problem compared with the space available in Morty. The cabin staff was efficient and unobtrusive -- everything you ever hoped for. Each cabin has only one 110 volt outlet with another on the hairdryer in the bathroom. Some form of power splitter would be very useful.

The waiters are trained to move with military precision through every activity in the dining room. Take for example how the table is cleared, and a new white table cloth positioned and the places reset. No matter who is doing it, every action is a precisely choreographed dance step. The table cloth itself is always perfectly centered on the table.

The female wait staff are far better than their male counterparts. If your waiter is male the chance for poor service is about 30%. If female it drops to about 10%. There is a great advantage in identifying a good waiter, and then asking to be seated in his or her station at subsequent meals [e.g. Kimberly in the Garden].

The food is very good. If you prefer fish, there is a robust selection over the week, and no disappointments. Beef and lamb lovers also do extremely well.

The fitness center is better than on any cruise ship I have experienced. The aerobic and weight machines are all Precor, and in excellent condition. The AquaSwim pools are too great a challenge for most fitness enthusiasts, but I found them a lot better than I expected.

Hand sanitizing stations are placed every 50 or 100 feet in the ships public areas. Plus there are dedicated Washee-Washee attendants at each entry to the ship from the dock as well at each entry to the dining rooms. Probably a smart tactic to keeping down the threat of contact-born diseases.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flying Back to Columbus

We were a little frustrated that the ship didn't allow us ashore in time to try for the 9:30 flight direct to Columbus, even though we seemed to be waiting for nothing from 8 AM to 9. At least we did better than the cruise line would allow by making a 12 noon flight with hours to spare. The recommendation was no flight earlier than 1 PM which would have had us arriving after dark.

The first leg from Boston to JFK in New York had almost nothing worth photographing except for the miserable cattle chutes that JFK uses to herd passengers on its commuter flights. I remember too well when a flight from Ohio to the East Coast merited a full-fledged airliner. The commuter flying experience that is today's reality really does nothing to make me want to repeat the experience soon.

The leg from JFK to Columbus did have some photo opportunites, so that is what is included here:

Friday, October 08, 2010

Portland, Maine

We are nearing the end of this trip in which the role of Morty has been played by the Norwegian Spirit cruise ship. Our cabin was about the same size as Morty's space with the kitchen and dining areas being replaced by the desk and easy chair. Also the shower was plenty large enough to be useful -- even though some say you need to soap up the walls and then enter and spin around.

Friday we make our last port of call, Portland, Maine. While we take our breakfast out on deck, I notice a few individuals, avidly engaged in cell-phone conversations. Ah, yes! We are back in the good ol’ US of A and thus have cellular data available, instead of ship’s WiFi that costs $.50 per minute! Wow, it hits me that we really need some cellular data plan if we are going to take Morty north of the border.

So, for the first time in many days, I have the luxury of being able to spend all the time I need on my option trades, and of course, since there is no sense of rushing, everything works like a charm.

After my workout and a leisurely lunch in the Windows Restaurant, we spend an hour or so strolling around the art galleries of the Portland harbor area. We even stumble across Stonewall Kitchens, from which we have received Christmas gift baskets in the past. So this evening we are headed back to Boston to mark the conclusion of two weeks, and too many calories. Now I plan to head up to the Internet Lounge and upload the last of these blog entries and pictures.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

At Sea for Halifax Revisited

Wednesday has us at sea, headed back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. As we rise, the sky is clear and the day fairly warm. Lots of folks are already claiming deck chairs, even though they remain fully clothed as they bask in the Sun's rays.

Around noon, the clouds begin to slowly thicken. Soon, they begin to blend into the flat but slowly rolling sea. The engines' sound seems to move off into the distance, and we enter a mystical state of floating and gliding through the atmosphere.

One of the more unusual aspects of our cruising experience is how we can experience many moments as though we are the only ones here. The rest of the 3,000 passengers and crew easily pass into the deep background as we are left alone on deck to enjoy the moving experience of passing sea and sky. Or maybe even the sensation of motion ceases and again we are floating quietly in the space of sky and sea.

Mind-altering without chemicals. Is this the real cruise experience? For us it is.

In port, we are again in the commercial and bulk dockage area. We watched the latter arriving Royal Caribbean and Princess ships take the passenger docks while we labored long and hard, with the help of a tug, to back into our spot.

As inconvenient as that is, worse is the strain that three large ships place on the Halifax transportation. The free bus that loops through the downtown and the port is packed to the gills, and still would-be passengers wait on line.

Yet another gripe, our sailing time was moved up an hour at the last minute, probably due to the fact that the entire ship must clear customs tomorrow morning, on arrival in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Yesterday, we sailed early and planned a late arrival today, meaning an extra long leg today. As we set sail yesterday we were headed East and watched the Sun set in a perfectly clear sky but there was no green flash. The green flash has some scientific basis but it sure makes for a great legend. During the night we curved South and West and we rose this morning to see the sun rising off the stern, just about where we watched it set last night.

Today we are visiting the capital of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown. This is perfectly lovely little hamlet situated right on the harbor. Amazingly the Spirit has the choice dockage today, with a competitor who is yet to be identified tendering in its passengers right along side us. We stroll the town and observe some awesome artists in the many local galleries. We also do a bit of shopping in the local drug store. As we sit in the welcome hall, with ample WiFi, we are entertained by a group of young girl step dancers, close to the Irish variety, but with a distinctive flair all their own.

NCL Latitude Club

Now that we have technically experienced one NCL cruise, we are members of the Latitudes, and are eligible for the captain’s cocktail party. This is an experience of the utmost. We received a couple of cocktails and tiny sandwiches while the captain allowed his direct reports to introduce themselves. There were some nice door prizes for the lucky few winners.

This was the night for lobster and beef Wellington at dinner, and we enjoyed them both reprising our eating performance of last Monday. Except that tonight our waiter offered me as many supplemental lobster tails as I might want. I thought I might enjoy a second, but somehow it seemed not nearly as good as the regular one. Sometimes we learn only with great difficulty.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Sept Iles, Quebec

Monday has us enjoying the small town of Sept Iles, Quebec where we walk the boardwalk and enjoy the perfect autumn day. The locals thank us for bringing the Sun since they have had several days of solid rain and fog. For us, the temperature is only in the 50s, but there is autumnal color in the trees, and we are having a great time.

We have an early sailing though and have to be back on board by 2:30. We are using the welcome committee's free wireless to catch up on our uploading while a very talented acordianist plays some super arcadian polkas -- really getting the dancers out of all of us.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sanguenay Fjord

On Sunday we sail the Sanguenay Fjord. The cruise director promised the possibility of seeing the white beluga whales at the entrance around 7 AM and sure enough, the captain saw them on starboard. Lots of us were standing and shivering for an hour or more to see them, and the best we could come up with was one little old lady who saw three of them in the distance but could not get a photo. As far as I could determine, the best the rest of us could do was squinting at the white caps and foam trying to imagine how similar are the beluga.

The villages along the fjord seem improbably tiny -- hardly any evidence of roads or other infrastructure other than high-tension cross-country electrical lines. Yet, mid-morning the ship slows and puts a tender in the water to make a medical evacuation to one of those tiny towns. We are just hoping that that represents a medical improvement – with the horror stories of Canadian health care and all. It is truly amazing how many of our cruises have had a medical evacuation or unscheduled stop in the first 24 hours of a cruise. We are so accustomed to having trip insurance to facilitate making a no-go decision in such circumstances, that we wonder what influences so many people to make the decision to go with serious health issues.

A little before lunch we stop at the large statue of the Virgin Mary as the ships sound system play several renditions of Ave Maria. They put a tender in the water with the official photographers to capture the magic of the moment – big ship meets big statue.

Another beautiful day, with a magnificent sunset as we turn eastward back into the St Lawrence. A stark contrast from Fridays trip West through these same waters when we were ensconced in fog the whole day.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Quebec City

After a day of complete fog and rain cruising up the St. Lawrence Saturday dawns in Quebec, crisp and clear. Sure enough, the trees are predominately resplendent in fall plumage. We reconnoiter from the top deck, and decide our explorations will take us in search of the funicular up to Chateau Frontenac.

There is a shuttle service from the ship to the lower part of the old city. On the ride we go past ships including the Costa Atlantica and Ardrana which are docked much cleser to town. NCL does an adequate fob of providing shuttle service – heaven knows they need it since every port except Cornerbrook has had lesser docking position compared to all the other ships in port. Of course that could include Cornerbrook since we were the only ship there.

Quebec is abuzz with fan support and an outdoor rock concert in support of the Nordiques hockey team. Vibrancy without bound.

NCL Spirit aka Superstar Leo

The Thursday late evening buffet features all things chocolate and whatever goes with chocolate. After a warm greeting from our adopted head waiter Kimberly, we sample a few favorites.

At sea on Friday, we are traveling northwest toward the St. Lawrence but we spend most on the day in rain, fog and cold. As you would expect, the indoor public areas and restaurants are chock a lock with passengers seeking diversions – quite a contrast from all the other days in port when the ship seemed ghostly.

The cruise ends tomorrow for some passengers, but we will re-board the ship after exploring Quebec.

This ship began life as the Superstar Leo and called at ports in India and Asia. The murals in our cabins still have that name on the life preserver in the view of a Fiji beach from the ship. Many of the plaques and photos from its early life are still in the Captain’s Bridge room from which passengers can watch the activity or more correctly lack of same on the bridge.

Friday, October 01, 2010

At [Chocolate] Sea

The Thursday late evening buffet features all things chocolate and whatever goes with chocolate. After a warm greeting from our adopted head waiter Kimberly, we sample a few favorites.

At sea on Friday, we are traveling northwest toward the St. Lawrence but we spend most on the day in rain, fog and cold. As you would expect, the indoor public areas and restaurants are chock a lock with passengers seeking diversions – quite a contrast from all the other days in port when the ship seemed ghostly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cornerbrook, Labrador Newfoundland

Cornerbrook, Labrador Newfoundland is the port on Thursday of our first week. There was a little ceremony in the Starlight lounge as city and port officials presented a plaque to the captain, and he reciprocated with the ship’s plaque. It must be that Cornerbrook is beginning to see itself as a regular cruise destination.

We sampled the offerings of the city by riding the shuttle bus from the dock. It took us to an antique store that featured flotsam and jetsam – as Lynne says, a less than auspicious beginning. And things improved a little with the second stop at a little park on the river. The third stop was to a shopping mall. The research said that we might easily find some art galleries, but no one told that to the shuttle planner.

As a result, we have some photos of the paper mill and a few trees that are starting to assume their autumn hues. Other than that, we say farewell to fair Cornerbrook. May all your future cruise passengers be more enthralled than we.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Wednesday we celebrate the anniversary in Sydney, Nova Scotia. We dock somewhat unceremoniously in an active coal port, from which we are tendered to the town dock.

One of the big Sydney facts for cruisers: you can find lots of WiFi all over town, but the welcome center has about five flavors most of which seem to be free, along with lots of good tables and chairs for workspace. A five star port for the likes of us!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Tuesday, we are in Halifax, Nova Scotia with a huge waterfront board walk that leads to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. There we see many of the artifacts from the Titanic, including the only remaining deck chair. Halifax was the closest major port at 700 miles from the site of the sinking, and many of its citizens served on ships that went out to retrieve the bodies of the victims. On this day, the weather was heavily overcast except for a brief sunny period in the late afternoon while we returned to the ship. Low ceilings, or heavy fog also marked the ocean legs in and out of Halifax. This stop is to be revisited on our return leg next week, so it is good to learn the lay of the land now with the prospect for some better weather the next time through.

Monday, September 27, 2010

St John's Newfoundland.

On Monday we stop in St John’s Newfoundland. We are welcomed ashore with just a nod from the customs and immigration folks but they do check for separate picture ID on our return. Here we hike up the steep hill through the center of town to find a park with some of the most vibrant and colorful flowers imaginable. An interesting little town where the main highway has large overhead signs to help the tourists get in the right lane for the road out to the main attraction – the Reversing Falls on a river that result from the huge tidal action in the Bay of Fundy.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Sunday, we make our first port of call in Bar Harbor, Maine. My daily routine is to work out in the fitness center a little after breakfast. This is followed by a swim in the water jet swim-master. It isn’t really called that but it is directly analogous to a Step Master. This is the first time I have ever seen one in person. My total prior experience had been their regular little ads in the New Yorker. My first concern was that since I swim a slow modified breast stroke the machine would be too fast for me unless there were some way to slow it down. That fear proved groundless in that the further away you get from the one central jet, the slower the apparent speed of the current against you. The second fear was that since it was placarded as being a comfortable 82.4 F degrees that it might be too warm for serious swimming. I seriously doubt that temperature posting to be accurate in that the water was so cool that it took me quite a while to get used to it. But it did prove to be fine for swimming.

We take our lunches in the main dining room known as Windows. It probably holds 500 diners comfortably, but the typical lunch crowd is less than 50. Yet, these can be some of the finest experiences in both food and service. It is funny to us how so many of the 2,000 passengers stream ashore to ride, but mostly wait for, the motor coaches and pay yet again for their meals of far lesser quality. Surely, the cruise-line marketers are doing yeoman work in their convincing so many to overspend so much.

In the afternoon we explore the town on foot, searching for free wireless so as not to use too many of the expensive ship-board satellite-fed WiFi. We had prior experience in Bar Harbor. It was a destination for several days on our first trip with little trailer the Casita back in 2000. The town is touristy to the nth degree, but that was okay – it was still nice to stroll around and see the sights. We did find a little art fair set up in the town park that was delightful. We also shopped for some t-shirts for our house sitters. In this port the ships must anchor in the harbor and we are tendered ashore except that on the return leg we draw a whale watch vessel that is much more comfortable and speedy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Boston Harbor

Boston was our embarkation point. We flew into Boston from Columbus with the plan of taking a water-taxi to the cruise ship dock. On checking with the NCL coordinators we got a lot of conflicting information about how to do that and even how it was impossible. Our research had said the Port Authority published the water taxi companies and their rates to the ship docks. It’s not the job of these gals to take care of us, since we didn’t buy the NCL connecting bus rides. But they did have our heads spinning with a lot of contradictory advice both with respect to the Port Authority and to themselves. To be safe, we ended up with the land taxi, which was about the same cost, and much more direct.

In the Fall splendor department, Boston was a little lacking in that it was still 99.24% green – at least that was preferable to Columbus’s drought-stricken brown.

We arrived at the airport at 9 AM. Arrived at the ship a little after 10. Had to wait an hour and a half to board. Had a buffet lunch, and then had to wait another hour to enter our stateroom. The room was fairly well cleaned, but there was a towel deficiency, soon to be followed by a tissue shortage. A few words with the room steward soon had us swimming in towels, many rolled into animal shapes. On all our prior cruises, we were reminded daily of our cabin attendant’s name rank and serial number. Now, we never learn our roomie’s true identity. I’m guessing computer magic will match up our service charge/tip emolument with the right cabin person.

From Boston Harbor

Our friends had arrived the day before, but we did not make any special rendezvous plans. We walked out onto the deck to survey the Boston Harbor and there they are doing the same. The initial impression of the ship is that it is very little changed from its earlier incarnation as a cruiser for the Asian market. The décor is strongly oriental, with highly polished veneers and bright, bright colors. Most importantly, the cabins are quite a bit smaller than those on ships built for the Americas, except for the bathrooms, which are perhaps just a little larger. But compared to Morty, the spaciousness is compelling, and we really have no complaints.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

NCL Norwegian spirit

The role of Morty on this trip will be played by the NCL Norwegian Spirit. Some friends booked a cruise to celebrate their anniversary, and we tagged along for a chance to see Canada in its fall splendor. As they quipped, we hope Morty will not be able to smell the salt water on us and the effects of showers in our cabin as opposed to in our campground when we return.

Veterans of at least 15 prior cruises, the last was over 15 years ago if memory serves. We prepared ourselves to be updated into the world of business-casual open-seating dining, and pre-determined daily service charges replacing or supplementing the prior practice of tipping the crew who were directly responsible for our experience. We anticipated that service and food in this more anonymous environment would become anonymously mediocre. We also girded ourselves for the rigors of flying with the Transportation Safety Administration since our last commercial flight was also that long ago.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rite of Passage

Our niece Julia was confirmed this weekend. Some memories of the occasion:

On a tech note, the first series of pictures in mostly portrait format were taken with the new iPod Touch, and the remainder in the yard and church were taken with the Canon S90 mostly on the low-light setting.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chautauqua NY

Morty is again headed to New Hampshire for a family gathering. This time we knew where the good stops were to be found and made it to one of the better rest stops we have ever seen. We are right on Lake Chautauqua in an idyllic setting, even if it was dark before we arrived. We have free WiFi and that alone is pretty remarkable. Hope to get some pictures in the morning.

We drove through the most awful swarm of tiny bugs we have ever seen  midges. Morty's white front-end was turned a pretty solid shade of brown. Scrubbing the windshield at the gas station couldn't rid him of all the remains there, not to mention the cab-over bunk and the bumper and headlights. Hopefully we will encounter some good Thursday rains to do the job scrubbing could not.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fourth Generation Ipod Touch -- Disappointments

We felt the need for speed and decided to upgrade to the new Ipod Touch on the announcement day a couple of weeks ago. The clincher was the fact that it would do Text to Speech [TTS] on the Kindle app and would take High Dynamic Range [HDR] photos in the camera without post-processing.

Needless to say, both promises remain undelivered in my opinion. The TTS will not read the page content on the kindle for ipod app, only the page control buttons, and even if it did read the contents there is no way to turn the page with TTS active. The HDR seems to need a third party app which just turns up the contrast producing a thoroughly awful photo from one that was jsut mediocre -- even their propaganda shows horrible results.

So, let this be fair warning. Apple's promises and those of its fan-boys should be taken with healthy doses of salt grains. If it didn't have redeeming value in the screen resolution, music and multitasking arenas, it would be going back.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Look

Some new colors and layouts to keep things fresh. Topics and content about the same.

Morty is resting comfortably in the drive while I work on an occasional project for him and we enjoy the fine summer weather we are having. The current project is extra mattress padding via two dozen swim noodles laced together. Lynne doubts that it will work, so support is welcome.

The next trip is taking shape and it will leave Morty home while we cruise from Boston to Quebec and back. Surely there will be more posting from that adventure and all that Morty will be missing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kindle Overcomes My Attention Deficit

There are more than enough reviews of the Kindle, both old and new. But there is one aspect that has not been covered yet: using the Text to Speech [TTS] for the attention-challenged among us. I became attracted to eReaders because they helped me read a lot more than I was previously just by virtue of their usefulness on exercise machines. I could read even regular books in that environment but the ebooks were much easier to handle in active mode. And, that was just using the kindle program on the iPod. This is how I discovered Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many other authors that I was never able to finish before.

Then I got the Kindle 3 with TTS -- something that was lacking in the iPad implementations. While I have a couple of issues with how the TTS voice handles paragraph breaks [usually speeding up instead of pausing], I now find that I can sit and read without losing attention by having the voice on. Now, minor distractions that previously might have caused a stop in my reading are handled easily while the voice continues on and my attention returns. Voila, not falling asleep or putting the book down for some other triviality.

If you want to read more than you have been able to, this is something you must look into.

Incidently, since the Kindle can automatically post my highlights and comments to Facebook and Twitter, you can find a little more of me there now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kindle -- Hardware 3rd Edition

A new Kindle electronic book reader arrived yesterday, now in its third edition. It was eagerly awaited since its announcement a month ago. I've been using software versions on my iPod Touch, and PC, but was looking forward to fewer compromises and the text-to-speach (TTS) audio voice in the real thing, with a significant price reduction.

It is striking in how much the screen resembles ink on paper. The shape and weight have been reduced to the size of a paperback, but the storage increased to hold 3,500 books. The voice that provides the TTS audio output is labelled as experimental, but does a good job in all respects but one: instead of pausing between paragraphs, the voice speeds up completely misinterpreting most dialog. But it is still a great asset while reading on an aerobic machine at the Y: it keeps going, if you momentarily get distracted.

Another super neat feature is the ability to automatically post your highlights and notes to facebook and twitter. A great way to keep your friends informed about your daily encounters, without the complete triviality normal to such media.

Those who recommend waiting until the third iteration of electronic innovation, were completely right in this instance. This is the only way you will want to read books from now on. If you are the least bit unfamiliar with this wonderful tool, buy one from Amazon. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Airventure 2010 -- Complete with Crash

Morty is in Oshkosh for the annual air show. Rain last week put the kibosh on many camping areas,  but we are close to where we were last year, just in a little more mud. The pictures at the end of this slide show depict a jet that crashed on landing right in front of us. Talk about freezing in the headlights, I was 200 feet from the plane with my camera ready to take pictures, but I could only think about which way to run as this guy was coming right for us and out of control. There are some published airborne and crashing pictures here.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Stratham Longhorns Take Tournament

The Longhorns from Stratham today won decisively two games and the tournament from the Oyster River team that beat them earlier in the week.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Stratham Library

Today, Julia and I biked to the library where she was helping teach knitting. On the way back a big C5A Galaxy flew over as it was taking off from Portland. In the afternoon, Lynne and I took D for some miniature golf encore. Danny's tournament baseball game was exciting as they faced a team that they had already dispatched to the losers bracket. Lots of infield hits yielded lots of runs and the occasional high fly seemed to be the only sure out. Playing right field, Danny got more than his share of those. He scored twice in one inning and again in a latter one as the Longhorns prevailed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Portland, NH

Today, after a family miniature golf outing, we took Julia for a harbor cruise and flatbread dinner while Danny continued in the baseball tournament. As luck would have it, this was the game than Danny won nearly singlehandedly. We did enjoy the dinner and time with Julia.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Stratham, NH

Morty got his propane to the tune of 7.3 gallons at $3.30 per and were on our way for the last hour of the our drive. We saw a huge number of other RVs heading North and wondered what the occasion was. Now we are spending a couple of days imbued in Little League baseball as Danny is working his way through a week long tournament and morning training camp for the home town Longhorns. They won their game earlier this evening on the strength of his running game in scoring the game-breaking run on a routine hit. Looking forward to more Stratham Lonnghorn wins!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Henniker, NH

On Sunday, Morty takes us through the main street of Cooperstown, where we drive past the Baseball Hall of Fame. We stop at the library where there is both an art show and book sale going on -- unfortunately, only the book sale is open -- Jim was interested in seeing some of the paintings. Then we tried to find the local Belgian ale brewery, but were a little off in our navigations. Even Miss Garmina couldn't locate County Road 33. Since Google had no problem with it, we obviously need either an iPad or Android phone to provide supplemental navigation assistance.

We did have another 300 mile day ahead of us though, so we had to be putting down some rubber on the road. Lynne needed a birthday card so we stopped at a WalMart and tried to get some McDonald's value menu items in the store. Seems that in these parts the value menu only has side salad and parfait -- everything else is full-price plus. So we drove a mile further down the road to where the free-standing McD took pretty good care of our needs. Someone had mentioned that you could get a McDouble with Mac sauce and it was a tasty bargain -- so I was going to give that a try. Sure enough it was done,  but glancing at the receipt revealed that it added $0.49 for one sauce and increased the price of both sandwiches, even the regular one, by and extra $0.39. Adding in the two extra miles [$2] we drove Morty on that extension, and it pretty much wipes out the savings from not eating from the regular inflated menu in the WalMart. Seeing the USA in our Chevrolet can be very educational.

In Henniker, we checked into the Mile Away Campground and found it to be quite well run. Only a couple of negatives that are somewhat important to us: a pool that is not designed for swimming, it is only 2 to 4 feet deep, and showers that eat quarters and are short on hooks and seats. On the plus side, the WiFi is exceedingly Fi. Tomorrow we need to top off our propane tank, and then head for the family get-together.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New England

On Friday, Morty set out to take us to New England on an encore trip to visit Jim's sisters and family. The first leg was about 300 miles, to western New York where we got on the so-called Southern Tier Expressway. We stopped for the night in Seneca/ Iroquois country in a tiny travel plaza where we were shocked by a temperature drop into the 40s from the daytime 90s.

From there we drove another 300 miles or so to Cooperstown where se stayed on a campground that was part of a working farm. The surprise here was the little zoo that had many varieties of exotic fowl including peacocks. The Cooperstown Family Campground is a quaint locale, with hayrides, and some kid-oriented activities. We found it in the AAA camp guide and it cost us about $25 per night on the credit card. We approached this stop from the South and thereby missed the tiny one-stop-light town itself. We hope to get a brief tour on Sunday aas we continue with the third drive-day.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sebastian Inlet St Pk, FL

Morty took us North up US1 through Stuart and on to Vero Beach. I well remember Stuart as a one stoplight town in the 70s. Now US1 is eight lanes through one shopping center after another. We only drove about 72 miles, but it was tiring. Might have been wiser to take the turnpike and cruise control.

I was looking forward to Sebastian Inlet because of the favorables from other blogs. It is a nice park, but probably not worth $31 per night unless you are a serious fisherman.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Juno Ocean Walk, FL

Morty sailed right across the state today ending up on the East coast. We picked a small inexpensive park that had both ocean access and a heated pool. It also happened to be a condominum where the individual sites are owned by individuals, and some are rented to travelers. This is by far the nicest park we have experienced to date. Amazingly, it is modestly priced at $32 per night.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Periwinkle RV, Sanibel Island, FL

Morty helped me finally experience Sanibel Island today. We are in a park that is so dominant that it can refuse dogs and credit cards and still charge $45 per night. That includes good WiFi and adequate restroom facilities. The sites are a little compact, but most are separated by mature trees. The park also includes a bird refuge for mostly ex-pets that never learned to fly. It is a little sad to see these magnificent birds get around with only their beaks and legs -- feathers and wings are just ornaments.

We explored the beach for a couple of miles, and found a some pretty shells that might be keepers. Also saw some huge blue craB shells, and some very strange plants that look like snakes on the beach.Thanks to Tootie for the comment that these are probably tube worm casings.

Monday, April 26, 2010

An RVing Advantage

Last night's forecasted thunder boomers materialized in duplicate. We rocked and rolled in Morty's bed. Today's continuation of that weather forecast however was completely lacking. As a result we decided to stay in place to get the maximum benefit of some perfect weather. The added bonus is this evening it is cooling off into the low sixties.

Tomorrow we may roll on to Sanibel, or not.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bradenton, Florida

Morty spent a relaxing weekend in the Manatee Encore RV Resort in Bradenton. When we were faced with a certain move to just a potential site for Saturday in Fort De Soto, we voted with our wheels and found a great park that is a part of a national chain. With the AAA discount we paid $27 a night.  The drill starts with a golf cart ride through the park to pick out your space -- very nice touch. Nice pool for laps, WiFi, and complete restroom facilities were among the high points.

We were initially doubtful that the park lake would support much wildlife since there were so many permanent RVs right around its full perimeter, but that didn't jibe with the local herons and egrets -- that were practically being hand fed by a couple near the pool.

Rain and thunder are in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, that means a little longer travel day. We will aim for about 120 miles to Sanibel Island.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fort De Soto County Park, Pinellas, FL

Do not drive to Fort De Soto without a reservation for a campsite or you will have a big backtrack in your future. We were lucky in that we got the last site available on a Friday afternoon. This is a magnificent camping venue that should no be missed! The sites are just barely isolated from each other by the thick vegetation. The island of Tierra Verde forms an inverted  "T" with each segment running about a mile and a half. The camping is on the central shaft and the beaches and fort are on the cross bar. The huge Tampa Bay Bridge is the main visual element from the eastern portions of the beach. There is a small museum commemorating the quartermaster operations at the fort.

The afternoon temperatures are creeping into the mid eighties, but relaxing in the shade is still very enjoyable. I'm hopeful that the evening will cool to the mid sixties, or else we will be running Morty's A/C. We are in the pet area, and the ranger says that is good because the raccoons are much less aggressive here.
This is the first time we have had the opportunity and space to fully unfurl our new patio carpet, and it is fully up to handling the job.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pinellas County, Florida

We have spent four days here relaxing and recharging. We ventured out to nearby parks a couple of times. One park has an agricultural extension service, and a historical venue named Heritage Village. It also has a defunct art museum with magnificent buildings and classrooms which closed its doors permanently in January, 2009. A very depressing sight -- the building complex was worth over $5 million at the time it was abandoned to the county.

Heritage Village is a much happier place, although its attendance seems too low to maintain its viability. We had a personal tour by Deborah the Docent. The pictures are mostly self-explanatory. We saw a Common Moorehen come swimmin' by.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Indian Rocks RV Park, Largo, FL

The weather cleared up miraculously as we were getting ready to depart this morning, and it turned out to be a perfect day. A few puffy clouds in an intensely blue Florida sky. Temperatures in the mid 70s. An easy 28 mile drive. And a sleeper destination.

"Indian Rocks" is in the name of half of everything here, including the RV park. This is an older campground  just as seasoned as yesterday's but with just the opposite feeling -- we were welcomed and made totally at home. We are in a small wooded lot, that has all the hookups, and is just a few feet from the small but heated pool. We paid with Visa, got the AAA discount, and have free WiFi with absolutely, no hassles. The park is pet-free and motorcycles are banned -- features that really seem to enhance the friendliness. According to the map we are within a block of a local park, and the Gulf. The day the WiFi stopped working, we found out that is wasn't the park's. The cell signal is strong enough to be almost as good as WiFi.

I have since biked through the park and the county's Botanical Garden, complete with art museum that opens tomorrow and can report that both are fine experiences.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seven Springs Travel Park

New Port Richey is the locale for this RV campground. This is an experience: no credit cards or checks, and you must bring correct change for your $30.52 nightly fee. When I heard that on the phone, I thought it was someone's private little joke, but no, that is exactly how business is done here. There is WiFi but an extra $3. There is trash recycling, but the containers are so far away and the rules so complex that none but the heartiest walk it. There is a security gate, but it only keeps out things bigger than a car. At least the hookups seem to work.

We seem to be at the beginning of several days of slow rain, so that has us all in a bit of a funk. Morty though is warm and dry with the help of the A/C running for the hour-long trip from Lakeland. The freeways were a little slick and there were multiple-vehicle accidents dotting the route. Seems like the first snow back home.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sanlan RV Park, Lakeland, FL

This is an exceptional RV park with golf course and lakes -- large and very well run. We are still in the high season, but the rates are especially reasonable -- $26 with full hookups, and WiFi. The restrooms are clean, and stocked with soap and the showers work well. There is even an olympic-size swimming pool, with an extensive solar heating arrangement.

But what most impressed us was the appearance of a pair of Sandhill Cranes on Saturday evening. We were feeling like we missed seeing them in Texas, but boom they practically came walking up to us to see what was going on. These birds are about a foot shorter than the Whooping Cranes, but still a large and very impressive first encounter. We were especially taken by their calls, which were a duet. Really an exceptional experience.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sun n Fun

On Friday, we rode Morty to the Lakeland airport for the Sun n Fun air show. We were a little put-off by the admission line wait -- over 45 minutes at 9:30. First there was endless discussion as to which discount program applied to each attendee -- all for the difference between $35 and $30! Then, they were computer-entering your identity and credit card information by hand  and it was oh so painful to watch. Then they wanted to individually apply your wrist band so that you shouldn't depilate yourself. The goodies inside would have to really be special to make me want to endure that process again.

Well, we did see a fair selection of planes, and parts, but not really comparable to what they do in Oshkosh in July. Amazingly, they were parking planes on the flight line between the runway and the spectators significantly degrading what you could see on the ground. We did have a good parking spot for Morty, and we were able to watch most of the flys-by from the comfort of his shade. On the whole, it was more of an affair for the hardcore plane aficionado than for our casual selves.

The Air Force Thunderbirds were especially good, but that is what we expect from them. In the evening we went to a very enjoyable performance by the band Aire Traffic -- all air traffic controllers who were excellent musicians. Unfortunately, this performance was attended by only about 50, a good portion of which were "with the band." They do mostly charity work and the air show organization could have done a much better job of promoting their performance.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

South Carolina en route to Sun n Fun

Morty hit the road around 2 yesterday afternoon. This morning we are in South Carolina about 450 miles into our trip to Lakeland, Florida. We are going to the Sun n Fun airshow to see some aeroplanes! We overnighted in a truck stop and left the heat off. Now the temperature is slowly climbing through the 40s. The weather is fine, but there are still a lot of miles to roll...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Abstract Painting

A friend mentioned how she was interested in an ebay painter who sells abstracts in the $100-500 range. So I started looking at a couple of  these artistes: Libby is the friend's favorite; Crabtree is mine.  That got me  interested in dabbling some more with the paints and canvas. Feeling the need for some creative outlet before the next trip, which is now shaping up for after April 7 and possibly to the gulf coast of Florida.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bee-Line Alignment in Columbus

I was a little concerned about Morty's tires before the last trip, so I took him to a national chain tire store for his oil change and asked them about the tires. They could do the oil change, but didn't know much about the tire situation. What? Tire is their middle name!

Now Morty was starting to show a little cupping on the front tires so I called R&S Tires about checking the alignment and they suggested Bee-Line for that work on a truck chassis. I called and they had me bring it over. Wow! Another great service experience. They got right on the alignment and suggested that a tire rotation would be necessary to stop the excessive wear. Starting the rotation job at 11:45 meant that the tech would have to delay his lunch break. No problem. He got the job done in a half-hour and that included balancing both the new front wheels. 

I couldn't have asked for anything more from these guys. Plus, both jobs were completed for what I was expecting to pay for the alignment alone. Morty is one happy RV camper again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ms Garmina Gets Glamorous

One of the inter-trip rituals, is downloading new maps for the Garmin Nuvi 200 that we use to find our way. That process can be very frustrating unless you remember to switch your browser to Internet Explorer. My favorite browser is now Google Chrome, but using that one lets you do a three-hour download that seems to be unable to run. Unfortunately, there is no prior warning about this requirement on the Garmin site.

I finally got the new maps loaded onto Ms Garmina and then noticed that there was a new program which could also be loaded, so of course, I did that. Then I noticed that there was an "Extras" choice on the menu screen that was available for user-content. After digging around a little on the net, I found a site which has numerous point of  interest files available for such things as campgrounds, museums and photography. This is a real gem for travelers like us. The site is POI Factory -- pretty amazing. Before I knew it, I had downloaded a couple of dozen files with 6,500 points of interest into that little GPS. I don't think there is any way to tell how much space is left -- snooping while attached to the computer shows no storage at all. Must be magic. Anyhow, the new availability of things like seaside campgrounds in the Southeast should be very useful.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Turboed Taxes

Getting the taxes done was one of the main reasons to get Morty back home in this time period. The experience was just as eye-opening as ever -- even for a former CPA. Some random observations:

The price of TurboTax seems to have leveled-off somewhat this year. The price at Amazon seemed a little better than I could do locally, and so that was my source.

You don't have to give the publisher Intuit all your contact information. Just skipping that screen is allowed, and you can thereby avoid some future spam if they don't have you from prior years. Unfortunately, I always used to be fully compliant.

I had over 300 trades in our taxable brokerage account last year -- all needing to be reported to the IRS. My broker provided downloaded tax files for the first time this year and that was generally pretty smooth. The problem arose with the broker doing too good job on wash-sales to the extent that TurboTax couldn't understand how there could be zero cost transactions as the second half of the wash-sale. The solution I used was to enter a penny in those 20 transactions to replace the zero. This worked pretty well without distorting the transactions substantially. The proof will be in a couple of years, if the IRS continues happy.

As one who usually bypassed all the medical deductions, I was surprised to find that Ohio was allowing a deduction for unsubsidized health insurance premiums. I suspect that that is not a new thing, but in any event, this was the first year that we had such an outlay. Saved a couple of bucks.

The Turbo package I bought included one state return, but the e-filing the state was $20 extra. As usual, I found that entering a dozen or so numbers on-line at the state site was not quite worth that much to me. If you think about it, when TurboTax is already e-filing the federal return, anything extra to do the state at the same time is almost all pure extra profit -- not from me, thank you very much.

Our city joined the regional tax authority this year, and Turbo even prepared that return, but provided no e-file capability. So I went on line there also and found out that they already had our information including a $15 credit balance from a couple of years ago. That is something that was a complete surprise. Given that this should be our final year with city-taxable wages, this was probably the last chance we would get to claim the benefit of that credit. So here was an added plus to the TurboTax approach, even though it wasn't really directly responsible for me checking in on line.

So, we are glad to have all that behind us for a while longer. One more thing out of the way for the next trip in Morty.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

6500 Miles and Morty is Home

Morty rolled us another 400 miles today and we are back home for the next month or so. This has been the trip I've always dreamed about. It was even more fun than expected.

 Now to figure out where it's good to go in April!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

David Crockett St Pk, TN

Morty did 400 miles today to roll through the second half of Mississippi, the northwest corner of Alabama and into Tennessee. This leaves us another 400-mile day on Wednesday to make it back to Columbus. We are in David Crockett State Park, which just reopened for the season on March 1. We are getting a few showers but that is welcome compared to the sustained downpour we experienced early this morning. Except for that heavy rain, we have pretty much been on the advancing edge of the low pressure area moving across the country all day. Actually, this is fairly decent travel weather in that it doesn’t impede us the way it would if we were pursuing almost any other travel-related activity.

If you are playing along at home, the cost of the site is $20, no discount unless a Tennessean. No WtiFi or Sprint coverage except for roaming. No TV stations within our range. The restrooms are quite nice, with soap and partitioned showers to keep your clothes dry.

With the weather promising to be just as damp tomorrow, we will be off to another early start, hoping to get home by dark.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Paul B Johnson St Pk, Mississippi

Morty is finally camping in Mississippi, as we are crossing it the long way this time. We are heading more North than East; a little South of Hattiesburg in a lake-centric park named after Paul B Johnson. The senior rate is $14 for full hookups, but the sites themselves are crammed so close together  we might as well be in the ghetto. We do have a fair view of the lake, but it is a big hike around the end to the nearest restroom. No WiFi and the weather is dreary, threatening rain. The maintenance workers are wearing wide striped green and white prison pants -- must be the latest fashion thing. At least the cell is coming in strong. We had a long 290 mile driving day, so I'm a little tired, maybe it will look better in the morning.

We were initially assigned to pull-thru site 95 but after one trip to the restroom we requested a transfer to site 1. This is a much prettier wooded locale with no adjacent sites for 360 degree views. My strong advice would be to avoid the pull-thru area, unless you think you really need one. Now things are looking better already.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Return to Sam Houston Jones St Pk, TX

We have returned to an old friend of a state park in Sam Houston Jones in Louisiana. We had a nice couple of days here on our trip West. Tonight it is just a break in heading home. The last time, we were probably ahead of the curve representing the flight of most snow birds. This time we are smack-dab on the curve of the returnees. We got here around 2:30 on a Sunday, but were surprised by the large number of campers already here and arriving in a near-continuous stream. We were lucky to get in without reservations. Evidently, the $9 reservation fee mentioned on the first stop was working in our favor.

One of the things we should have remembered from the first stop is that the power boxes on the sites around the outside of the camping area are really too far from the parking spots for the standard RV power cord. This time however, a kind neighbor offered to loan us his 25 foot 30 amp extension cord. We were really grateful for his kindness and assured him that we would use only four feet or so of the total available length.

This park is especially memorable in that it is by far the most inexpensive campgrounds with full services that we have yet experienced. We get water and electricity with excellent WiFi and good restroom facilities. Recommended again.

Today we have a few pictures from the ferry crossing leaving Galveston.

Tomorrow we head to our first camping experience in Mississippi probably near Hattiesburg if all goes well. We will let you know how it goes.

Die Hard Batteries at Sears in Port Arthur

Poor Morty! His coach batteries were showing signs of failure from the second day of this trip back in January. Yesterday, we wanted to start the generator to microwave lunch, and it was just too much for the two-year old cells to handle. We could start the truck and that would provide starting current for the generator, but we would still be without continuing power for the refrigerator electronics and other things like the power step when we were disconnected from "shore" power. So we checked the internet and found a couple of Sears locations on our route home. While on the ferry leaving Galveston we called The Port Arthur store and, while I didn't know the size Morty needed, we at least established that they were open and stocked with batteries.

We pulled in a little before noon, and got the paperwork done for a marine/RV deep cycle set of Die Hard batteries that had a three-year warranty. Then while waiting for the technician to become available, we went across the road to gas up. Then we had a little lunch in Morty. The tech then started on the replacement of the batteries in the step well while we watched from the dinette. Soon, I was running the acid test: starting the generator from only the new batteries. In practically no time we were all hooked up again and on our way in the time it takes to stop for lunch most days. You can't find any better service than that, anywhere. Oh, and a word about the Sears auto manager and tech -- they were both black ladies who knew their stuff and got the job done efficiently and expertly -- very impressive! Throw in the security of a warranty from Sears -- priceless!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Binocular Showdown in 10x40: -- Nikon vs Tasco

As a result of our new interest in birding, we had decided that it was time to upgrade binoculars. The old ones actually half stopped working because of some strange fungus growing in the left half. They also were a little too small for serious bird spotting. So we researched the choices available both as recommended by the local experts and on the internet. We soon learned that the really good ones, like Swarvoski and Leica were approaching $2000. At a Wal-Mart stop we took a look at what they had available: several Nikon (good cameras) and a niche brand were offered in a couple of different sizes, but they seemed to range in price from $100 to $200 -- a lot more affordable for a well recognized brand. Based on our testing, we decided that a 10 power with a 40 mm objective lens was what we needed.

Then we were faced with the ultimate shoppers dilemma. The Nikon we tested was $160 but there was a Tasco of the same size for only $26, but it was in one of those infernal plastic bubbles that has to be destroyed to open and there were no testers available. For the price difference we felt that we had to take the gamble on the Tasco and if it proved unusable, we hopefully could return it, or if not, just consider it part of the price of our birding education.

We took the Tasco 10x40 back to Morty and cut it free of its plastic prison. Boy were we surprised! They performed exactly as the Nikons did with very clear, bright images and no problems at all. It's hard to believe that if something nasty happens to these we can just replace them and keep doing that for six more times before we equal the cost of one pair of Nikons. I suppose some of the Swarovski-Leica clan look down their noses at the off-brands, but they will never guess how really inexpensive these are and with that kind of savings in our pocket, we actually feel a little superior to all the high-brow birders and their way more expensive eye-candy. And out in the field, we are spotting a lot more birds and wildlife now than ever before. If you are looking for new binoculars, be sure to check out the Tasco offerings -- they are the wolf in sheep's clothing when it comes to getting your birds.

Gaido's Restaurant of Gavelston

After an afternoon on the beach with Lynne, and our showers completed, we looked up a restaurant in the visitor rag. There was one with just a simple listing and no big advertising -- Gaido's Seafood. On the strength of that combination, I figured we should give it a try for an early dinner. We have not been out for dinner since early January -- before departing Columbus.

One of the first things we noticed was that it was huge, occupying what looked like a city block on the waterfront, Also, it was old -- in continuous operation for 99 years. What I immediately liked about the menu was that it featured smaller portions in a complete meal for the a la carte price -- what a concept! What we soon found out was that the "smaller portions" were only marginally reduced. For example, the dinner with eight shrimp was down-sized to five. It seemed like all the other courses were full sized -- at least to our current eating habits.

The second thing you notice about the menu is that they know how to prepare and serve fish. Everything was fresh and hot, served by a dedicated kitchen runner so as no to be sitting around waiting for the waiter. And Wow what they can do with shrimp. Mine were stuffed with pickled jalapeno peppers, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, and stuffing, dusted in seasoned flour, wrapped in bacon and then pan-sauted, and basted in a brown sugar-chipotle glaze. "Amazing" does not do it justice.

The meal was introduced with a loaf of warm, soft bread and oil and herbs,  and a hot gumbo which was also loaded with whole shrimp. On the main dish there was a bed of rice and the fried onion rings I had selected along with slices of summer squash. The piece d'resistance was the desert of brownie and ice cream or crustless pecan pie -- either unbelievably scrumptious.

So, if you are ever looking for a place to eat in a strange city, you now have my fool-proof selection method, or if in Galveston, just head for Gaido's at 3900 Seawall Boulevard.

Galveston Island State Park, TX

When you look at the website for Galveston Island State Park you might be put off by the update which says "no showers and only portable restrooms". They are very slow in recovering from Hurricane Ike and even slower in publishing their progress. The fact of the matter is that the bayside restrooms, though only two in number, are fully plumbed and electrified and even air conditioned. You could move or remove them, but they are not what "portable" brings to mind. There are at this time two shower/restroom buildings on the beach side, which are nearly identical to those at Goose Island. There are some limitations in that there is a pretty good hike from the RV Bayside camping area to the restrooms which are in the tent camping area, but it is not a major factor. The other limitation is that the Beachside areas are still not electrified, although the hardware to do that appears to be in place. Also of the three beach loops, only two have restroom/shower buildings. There is even a strong WiFi signal at the headquarters building.

We camped on the bay and used the electrical hookup on Friday. After breakfast on Saturday morning, we rolled Morty to the beach side to walk the beach and enjoy the beautiful day. We will be showering before returning to the bay.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Songbird Walk at Goose Island

We went on the guided songbird walk and saw a couple of birds. The more experienced birders saw about twenty birds. Our new bird is the Inca Dove which is marked with a scallop pattern. We saw two nesting very close to our old campsite in the woods. They say songbirds are easier to learn and identify than shorebirds, but we can attest to the fact that they are a lot harder to see in the first place.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sunset on Goose Island

We had some remarkable colors and tints in our sunset this evening:

One even caught a fish jumping out of the water!

Whooping Cranes in Eights at Goose Island

We relocated our site to the bayfront, where both the WiFi and cell service are much superior. Then in the afternoon we checked in on the Whooping Cranes and were rewarded with seeing four pair from one spot. Two pair were in the bay, close to shore, another pair were further away across a boardwalk, and the fourth pair were in the field were they eat the deer feed. The ones in the bay were undoubtedly feasting on their favorite blue crabs.

In the late afternoon we went to a lecture entitled Birding 101 -- very informative and well done by the park bird hosts and resident ornithologist. Some folks learned why they can never see anything through their binoculars! We learned the major things to look for in identifying birds, and the right book to carry -- the Golden Bird Book.

Later this evening we will be attending another bird lecture. They say that birding is now the number one leisure activity in the world -- or here. So we are running to catch up.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Return to Goose Island

Morty rolled us back to Goose Island, but there were no more sites on the island itself, so we are in the wooded area just before the bridge to the island. Actually, we are very happy to not be on the water, because the predominant weather feature since we have been here is the wind. and it is much more pleasant in the woods than on the bayfront.

When we last stayed here we had great WiFi because we were near a bayfront restroom which has the antenna for the hotspot. In the woods, we thought that would also apply, but alas, no WiFi at all. At least the cell phone is giving us a pretty good connection.

Around noon we biked over to where the Whooping Cranes are wintering, and were treated to a brief display of the courting dance. Very few other birds are around, compared to our last visit in January.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Leaving Choke Canyon

Morty has had a five day rest at Choke Canyon while we absorbed all the wildlife and legends. Now it is time to move a little closer to home. A ranger mentioned a little boat tour that operates near Goose Island, so we might be giving that a try. Meanwhile, here are a few parting shots:

The big bird is the Crested Caracara or the Mexican Eagle. On our bird walk, we saw a colony of about twenty all agitated about something.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Choke Canyon Great Day for Camera Duel Nikon D90 vs Canon s90

Friday we just enjoyed the weather and the wildlife of Choke Canyon. Did a little bike-photography with both the Canon S90 and the Nikon D90 70-300. The S90 is great to always have with you for the unexpected or the wide-angle scene, except when it is wildlife, then there is no substitute for the power of the big telephoto on the D90. This is proven on today's shots of the turkeys and buck deer -- both are on the D90 and are far superior to previous efforts on the S90.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Strange Birds at Choke Canyon, TX

I revisited the little woodpecker that watched us so closely yesterday. He was just as attentive today, following me from tree to tree, even sitting on the handlebars of my bike. Little Golden Fronted Woodpecker, you are a piece of work!

I was informed by a birder from Austin, that the Yellow Warbler, is really a Yellow Rumped Warbler.

The large yellow-black bird seems to be an Audubon's Oriole -- seen only in the Rio Grande valley.

The turkeys are cute, especially when the male is strutting his stuff.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Northern Jacana at Choke Canyon, TX

Our third day at Choke Canyon was supposed to be devoted to a ranger-led bird walk. But when we arrived at 75 Acre Lake, there was no such group to be found. Instead we linked up with a couple of serious bird photographers and they clued us in to a very rare  bird they were focusing on. It was the Northern Jacana, rarely found in the US.  They were devoting about $30,000 in equipment to capturing an image of the rare bird. I thought we could do the same at about the 3% level. So here are our photos:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Birding at Choke Canyon

Our second day at Choke Canyon dawned clear and bright, without a care in the world -- other than some cool temperatures. I put some birdseed out on the bar-b-que and the cardinals, red-wings, and assorted others including the rare Green Jay were unanimous in their approval.

We hiked about three miles to 75 Acre Lake and back on the bird trails. At one point we were closely watched by a Golden Fronted Woodpecker, who must have been on guard duty. We had a late lunch and sat in the recliners, and watched another batch of hungry birds devour our contributions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Birding Choke Canyon St Pk, TX

We were snowed upon while breakfasting this morning -- just three miles North of the Rio Grande. Tucson is slated for 30 degrees tonight. This was all the incentive we needed to have Morty roll another couple of hundred miles East and South. We are now back in Choke Canyon where the birds flock in abundance.

The little bird sanctuary in the park has been made more isolated with additional fencing, but the cold seems to have stemmed the flow of most birds. Still am able to get a couple of decent shots -- these the first with the D90 and 70-300mm lens in a long while. It looks like the birds are Yellow Warbler, Redwing Blackbirds, and Northern Mockingbird. Weather wise, we can see the clearing in the West and we are hoping this bodes well for tomorrow. Traveling the farm roads of South Texas again coated poor Morty in a thick layer of red mud, but we were able to wash most of it off upon arrival. Now we must stay warm until tomorrow when hopefully, the Sun will warm us all up again.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hiking Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas

Morty got to rest today, while the people did the hard work -- hiking the three mile trail to where the canyon joins the Rio Grande and the return. Lynne calls it a quarter-marathon. We had perfect conditions, 70s and sunny with just a little breeze. Weather was again a consideration, since the morning reports had winter storm warnings for this area over night, including freezing temps and snow.

By the time we made it back, however, the warnings had been retracted, and it seems that we are just in for rain and 40s. We're wondering if we will be able to hold out until Wednesday when the guided tours to the pictographs are conducted. Looks like Tuesday could have Morty plunging yet further South -- if the people are not too stiff to get out of bed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seminole Canyon St Pk, TX

The weather in New Mexico and nearby areas in Texas was about to turn cold again, so Morty rolled another big day -- about 440 miles big -- back to Seminole Canyon on the Rio Grande. And just like it is supposed to turn out, it is gloriously warm as the Sun fixes to do some setting in the West, right out our front porch.

This time, the park seems just about full with other warmth seeking RVers.  One reason we returned was that when we stopped here on the way out, we were again eluding the cold, and had to leave after just one night when there were lots of canyons and rivers to be explored. Tomorrow promises to be warm enough to revisit that missed opportunity. The temperature is dropping rapidly in the dark though, as I go outside periodically to reestablish the elusive WiFi signal.

WiFi is all we have here. No TV or Cell service. The restrooms are very nice though, with ample soap in the washrooms. We arrived after the rangers closed shop for the day at 5PM. Though, since we had called ahead, they had a space with our name on it waiting for us. Texas Rangers are the best.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hacienda RV Park, Las Cruces, NM

The continental breakfasts are pretty special at this campground -- not in that they exist at all, but that alone would make them completely unique. No, what is special is that the offerings are wide ranging and change daily. Yesterday's choice of three cereals was supplemented with two new choices today in addition to yesterday's raisin bran. Today we also had a yogurt selection. Both days there were bagels and muffins and proper toasters with a host of toppings available.

Lynne suggested that today may be our last warm day for a while, so we are going to spend a third day here at Hacienda. Then we will be heading South into Texas following the warmer temperatures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mesilla, NM

Lynne spied some local salsa in the gift shop area of our RV park. That required me to get out the bike and reconnoiter some suitable chips from the local mercados. That trip took me into the historical town of Mesilla, where the Gadsden Purchase was completed.

I also went past a very interesting looking building which turned out to be an art gallery. This is no ordinary store-front art shop, but a first-rate museum and instructional center -- the Preston Contemporary Art Center. What I found was culture and history on a par with what I expected in Santa Fe or Sedona -- without the cold!

On Friday, we stay over to visit the craft show in Old Mesilla about a mile away from our site. We bike over and walk the square, stopping at every table and store. Indian-style artifacts are in abundance, along with a very aged ambiance. We stop for lunch and split a green chile platter of taco, enchilada, and tamale. Later that evening, the campground puts on a margarita happy hour that totally killed what little appetite remained for dinner.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Morty turned in a 228 mile day today because Deming, NM was a little too close and Las Cruces was a little more than just right. But we are glad to be here. "Here" is the "gold standard" of RV parks -- Hacienda RV & Rally Resort. We picked this one from the AAA Campbook, even though it was a little more expensive than the competition -- it did mention a continental breakfast -- something we haven't experienced before in our Morty World.

We check in and a trio of blondes whisks us through the paper work, and we get warm cookies. We are issued hotel-style card keys for the facilities. Then two of them hop into a golf cart and guide us to our site, including the backing in and hooking up -- something else entirely new.  We look at the cable TV line-up and see that they have an incredible 120 channels. We check the WiFi and find that it works perfectly and is fast too. We walk back to the office and take seats in the guest lobby to peruse some of the local color brochures. I try the hot-tub and find it clean, hot and big. We peek into the showers and find an array of home-style individual shower rooms with marble and pewter sinks and hair dryers. The restrooms have soap and paper towels. This they are doing for $40 per night. Far, far beyond the realm of any prior RV experience. Just to prove that I haven't completely lost my sensibilities over this place, I must point out that their sign on the building, is a temporary canvas affair that is totally out of place, and the I-10 freeway is close enough to be seen and heard. If you are here in the Summer, the daily rate drops to $30.