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Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday Photos of the Boys

(Click on the photos to see them full size)

The photo above I call "The Agony and the Ecstasy," and I guess it's pretty easy to see why. Roland Thomas and Sentry had gotten radio controlled race cars for Christmas, and were so eager to play with them! They decided that a good thing to do would be to race them off their cousin Jennifer's front porch for about a 4 foot drop to the concrete driveway. They had done this several times, when Sentry's car hit the ground just the right way and one of the headlights broke off. Of course, that was the very time that I decided to take a picture of them.

This photo was taken just recently on our day trip to Laguna Gloria Art Museum. Jan, the boys and I walked around the recently restored 1916 Italianate-style villa that was the home of Texas legend Clara Driscoll. The kids ran all over the lush 12-acre grounds overlooking Lake Austin, and we enjoyed the sculptures and the revitalized historic gardens. The wishing well is located at the rear of the main building, looking out over Lake Austin. Here is a photo of the main building.

We walked out along Lake Austin on a trail heading towards The Gazebo, a favorite spot for quiet meditation, as well as wedding and engagement photos. While we were there there were several photo shoots going on. There was even a photo shoot of a couple's pregnancy! It was a great walk along the well-kept path, and the boys were so impressed with this huge old tree, they begged me to take their photo next to it.

The photo below is of Roland Thomas at the family gathering at the ranch in New Braunfels. He had found a rock in his Aunt Karen's yard, and couldn't wait to show it off. He came running toward me just as I turned on the camera, and I just pointed and shot. Here is the photo.

I asked Sentry to stand by the column and "strike a pose." He did. The results are below.

Well I guess that's it. Since the hours are getting few for the year 2007, I will take this opportunity to wish you and your family the Happiest of New Years. I hope that 2008 is the best year yet for you!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Tree Ornaments

In the spirit of Christmas, and the childlike wonder of bright shiny things and pretty lights, I took some photos of some handmade ornaments that hang on Jan's family's Christmas tree on the ranch.

These ornaments were handmade, one a year, and were a gift to my father-in-law Roland from a member of his congregation at St Matthew's UCC in New Orleans Louisiana.

Kathryn Schroeder made these ornaments as a gift of love for her beloved pastor. Even after Roland retired, she continued to make them and send them to him in time to place on the tree.

Roland treasured these and never tired of complimenting them, pointing out the "new arrival" every year with pride and wonder that someone would take the time to make a beautiful thing for Julia and himself.

I don't know if these were from a kit that she put together, or if she assembled the pieces and put them together on her own, but it makes no difference either way. The miracle of these ornaments, to my mind, is that by taking satin wrapped styrofoam balls, pearl-tipped stick pins, colored ribbons, and lots of time attention patience and love, Kathryn could make things that became treasures to the ones she gave them to.

My Christmas wish for you is that the gifts you give to the ones you love, and that the gifts you receive, will be as loved and treasured as these were to Roland and Julia.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sentry and the Red Admiral

Amy, Chad and the grandkids have been here for a couple of days now, and today was the first day that was pretty enough for us to get outside. Earlier in the week I had collected most of the leaves from this year's "crop" and piled it up in the back yard. Sentry and Roland Thomas had the best time running and jumping into the pile, but RT got tired and began another game. I had taken a few shots of the kids in the leaves, but noticed a butterfly resting in the weeds next to the leaf pile. Sentry and I slowly and (somewhat) quietly crept up and I got a fair shot of the insect. Suddenly, it flew up and landed on his shirt! I quickly snapped a picture, and then it was gone. Just that quick. You can see from the photo below that the little fellow's wings have taken quite a beating in his migration. His right lower wing seems to be very tattered and ragged.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Red Admiral (Brushfoot)~~~~~~~~~~~~

I looked at the North American Butterfly Assn website, and matched my photo with their photo of a Red Admiral butterfly. Just a short time later, I noticed that two of them were chasing each other around the trees, but they were too high up and never landed. They just chased each other into the neighbor's yard and on about their merry way.

We did see another yellow butterfly, possibly a Cloudless Sulfur as best I could match with NABA. Good to know they're still around this far into winter.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Back to Fall Creek Vineyards

(click on images to see full size)

Well, we went back to Fall Creek Vineyards earlier than we thought we would! The weather was so beautiful, and we were anxious not to get the house ready for all the company coming on Tuesday, so we "played hooky" and took the trip out to Tow, TX again. On the way, we stopped by the Christmas Cafe in Burnet TX (on the square in the middle of town, and VERY popular place to eat and shop for Christmas gifts and ornaments). After lunch we got there about 45 minutes before closing, and the gates were open!

We got there in plenty of time for a tour of the winery operations, and a wine tasting to pick which ones we'd be taking home. There weren't any operations going on, since the grapes are pretty much done production by August, but the machinery was mighty impressive. We learned a couple of things about the winery that I thought were interesting. Fall Creek Vineyards is the third largest in the state of Texas. (St Genevieve is No. 1 and Llano Estacado is No. 2) And, the Falls that the vineyards are named for are only viewable by boat! The Vanishing Texas River Cruise is the most popular way to see the falls, and we decided that would be our next excursion. If we see and get to photograph any of the Bald Eagles that roost and live along the cruise route, that would be a big bonus.

When we visited Fall Creek before, I was only able to get photos from the gate and fence surrounding the vineyards. This time the light was better and we were able to get photos from many different vantage points. But we were lucky, believe it or not, to make that last trip. A couple of days ago, a front came through Central Texas (I mentioned the quick weather change in Poppa's Window entry) and brought very high winds to this area. The high winds blew most of the red leaves right off the trees, leaving very few to capture with the camera. Only the trees on the side away from the wind had many leaves at all.

We tasted several wines at Fall Creek, 3 whites dry to sweet, and 3 reds dry to sweet. Jan is a white wine person and of the whites she liked the desert wine called Muscat Canelli. It is in a beautiful blue bottle that I associate with Reislings, but this isn't a Reisling. My fave was the dry Cabernet Sauvignon, the Granite Reserve. The red sweet wine, named after the owner of the winery, Ed, was WAY too sweet for either Jan or me.

On the way out I spotted a very cold cat sitting on a post in the patio of the wine-tasting room. She looked so miserable trying to keep warm! I snapped a photo, and hoped she'd have sense enough to go out in the sun before it got too low in the sky.

I include a photo that is not strictly from Fall Creek but is from the shore of Lake Buchanan near the winery. I wanted to get the ducks closer to the shore, but by the time I stopped the car and walked the few yards to where they were, they were getting pretty far away. I snapped the photo anyway, just for the water and sky.

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

View from Poppa's Window

This morning before breakfast I was reading a book in my father-in-law's recliner, waiting for breakfast. Yesterday and last night the weather was pretty awful--cold, rainy, foggy, and did I mention cold? Well, as is usual and customary for Texas weather, this morning was clear and sunny with brisk winds from the north. It was still cold. Taking a break from the book, I noticed again for the hundredth time how great the view is from the front window just to the left of the chair. I thought how fantastic it was for Roland to have this wonderful ranch view to see and cherish for the last years of his life.

My father-in-law was a vigorous and hard-working man throughout his life. When he moved back to the ranch of his childhood, after serving as minister for several churches around the central United States, including the church in New Orleans where he married Jan and me some 35 years ago, he worked harder in his seventies than most people would to make the ranch he loved a beautiful and functional place to live and raise goats. He built fences, drove his trusty tractor, and helped Kathy and Richard renovate a house on the place so they could raise a family and run the day-to-day activities of a working goat ranch. He was a great woodworker, as well as a great rancher, and built shelves, footstools, and many other wonderful pieces for his children and grand-children.

In his later years though, he had to slow down. His strength began to wane, and his voice, once strong and powerful at the pulpit, became hoarse and weak after his fight with skin cancer and radiation treatments to his face and neck. As he became less and less able to get out, he spent longer and longer periods reading books and the Bible. He never really complained that I ever heard, but I know it was a hardship for him to sit by and watch others do what he so loved doing when he retired. Even his garden, where he grew some of the most beautiful and tasty vegetables I have ever eaten, became a grassy field in the lot behind the main house. But he enjoyed reading, and visiting with anyone who came by to see the family, and he still "presided" over the Sunday lunches that were a long tradition in his family. And of course, he had the view out of his front window to watch the weather and the seasons change, and to think about his life and the lives of his loved ones.

This will be the second Christmas since Roland passed away, and there is still a void in our Christmas festivities. Probably there always will be. I believe that Christmas was Roland's favorite time of the year, because his children and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, would gather at the ranch and enjoy the season with him and his lovely wife Julia. I can't remember seeing him happier than at this time of year, and I'll miss his great smile and firm handshake for a long, long time.

Well, that was what I was thinking about as I stared out that window this morning, and I am sharing with you. My wish for you is that you are able to spend these days with those you love, and cherish the time you spend with them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stellar's Jay

In honor of my newest "favorite" blog, Born Again Birdwatcher (link is in My Favorite Blogs), and since I can't get out to take any new photos today or tomorrow due to weather, I am posting an old favorite of mine from previous trips that we've taken.

Jan and I had gone to visit Amy, Chad and the grandkids, and Amy volunteered to be our tour guide to see Mt Ranier and the area surrounding it. We had been close on a previous trip, a steam train ride on the Mt Ranier Scenic Railroad, in Elbe WA. This trip we went nearly the whole way, and I got to take some pretty great photos, but heavy cloud cover midway up the mountain prevented me from getting the "money shot" of the peak that I wanted. We stopped several times at parks and turn-outs to rest and see the beautiful scenes. Waterfalls, vistas, beautiful woodlands, were all just a switchback away.

This little jaybird, a species which I had never seen before (our blue jays are different), was scavenging treats around a table at one of the picnic sites that we stopped at to stretch and admire the surroundings. I had the zoom of the Dimage Z5 pretty much maxed out, so I am proud that the photo is as clear as it is. He paid no attention to me, until I tried to get closer for a better shot, then he hopped off the branch to the side of another tree, and prepared his getaway. I shot another quick snap, but the better photo was not to be.

I want to add one more photo of Mt Ranier that I took as we left the restaurant/ranger station about half-way up the mountain. You can see the thick clouds that ringed the mountain, just over the tree tops. It never occurred to me when I took the photo that it would be the only photo of the peak that I would get that day. Glad I took it!

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fall Creek Vineyards

We did make the trip to Fall Creek Vineyards today, I'm glad to say. The weather was not too cooperative, but we toughed it out. There was thick fog all over Central Texas, but it was expected to lift by mid to late morning. The rainclouds were heavy and dark, but all we were getting out of them was drizzle and light rain. About 2:30pm the sun started to break through and we got ready to go. Jan's friend had recommended we visit this place in large part because the cypress trees that line the entrance road were so pretty with the fall colors.

The rainclouds lifted as we drove north and west from Austin towards the heart of the Texas Hill Country. The area we headed toward sports some wonderful scenic and recreation areas, such as Lake Buchanan and Inks Lake. We passed a sign for the Canyon of the Eagles, home of the Vanishing Texas River Cruise, and almost got sidetracked. But we stayed the course, and made it to the vineyards just as the sun was getting low in the west. We hadn't checked the hours of operation, however and got there about an hour late!

I got a few photos, but it was getting very late, and the light was minimal. I used the Nikon D70 without flash or tripod, and was able to get some shots from outside the fence. We promised that we would be back on a sunnier day (in time to taste some of the wines!) and take some more shots. The drive through the hills had more than made up for the disappointment about our timing.

Thanks again for stopping by!

PS-One of the things I noticed when I toured through the Fall Creek Vineyards website was that they have Waterfalls! In fact the falls are their namesake. Click the link to see the falls. One more reason for us to visit the Vineyards again!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Last of the Garden Flowers

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Barbados Cherry Blossom~~~~~~~~~~~~

The last few days here in Austin have been pretty dreary. As usual for Texas this time of year, we had a cold front come through and the weather dropped 20-30 degrees in about 30 minutes. Will be cool and dreary for the next couple of days at least. My foot is healing and I am taking short walks around the house for exercise and to remind my foot about things like weight and how to support me properly. I also got behind the wheel (look out!) for the first time in over 2 months this morning. Man that felt strange! The nicest part of the recovery so far is not having to wear the boot!

NOTE: Kathy told me today that the plant and flower I photographed is a Barbados Cherry. She has a bush like it in her garden. It reminded me that I had taken several pictures of the plants in her garden a few months ago. So, be on the lookout for some of my favorite flowers from Kathy's Garden very soon. She really has a green thumb, and when you see them, I know you'll agree!

Anyway, these cute pink flowers are about the last blooms in our whole yard now, so I thought I would take a shot to put on the blog. Jan's sister Kathy had given her this bush several years ago, and Jan remembers it being a pigeon berry bush. Unfortunately, I can't find any pictures on the web of pigeon berry bushes or pigeon bushes that have these flowers. I have a question on the Garden Guides website to see if anyone can identify the flower, and also an email to Kathy.

I am hoping for better weather soon, so Jan and I can take a trip out for more photo ops. A friend of hers told Jan today about a place called Fall Creek Vineyards near Tow, TX. If the weather lets up, we will travel the 50 or 60 miles to the winery to take pictures and maybe have lunch. I hope you are doing well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Texas Paintbrush

Well, I am back to flowers again. I guess it's because the weather is getting colder (by Texas standards, anyway) and they're getting more scarce out there. My ankle is improving, so I might be able to go on a "photo shoot" in a couple of weeks.

I took this photo of a Texas Paintbrush last April while on a business trip to Del Rio, TX. There are more rural roads in that part of the state than city roads, and I happened to have a pocket point-and-shoot camera with me that day. I came to a spot with quite a few different wildflowers that had struggled up from the dry gravelly soil on the right-of-way, and on a whim I stopped and took some shots. If I could do it over, I would definitely change the angle of the shot! Otherwise, I did the best I could with the equipment on hand.

As with the butterflies, I had to do some research to find out what kind of flower this was. That for me is part of the fun of taking these kinds of photos. As usual, Google was my best friend, and I visited several sites and emailed several webmasters before I got an answer back. Thanks to Jo Spencer and his website Weeds and Wildflowers for help with the ID. Here is a link to Jo's webpage on Paintbrushes and here is part of his email to me re the picture above. Congratulations Jo, on your seventh year with the website!

Well you have a Paintbrush. They come in many colors but I have never seen a pink one. Sometimes a camera can be fooled. Anyway, pink or orange or yellow or white, it's a Paintbrush."

As best I can remember, the color of the flower is very close to what the camera captured. In fact, the pink color is what attracted me to take the photo. So I believe that the color is pretty accurate. I hope to go back to the area this spring with my new camera and I will try to find those spots again. Maybe I can find another example. In the meantime, here's one more photo of the roadside flowers:

Well that's all for this time. I hope your day is great and all your photo's are keepsakes!

PS Dan Lineberger from the Aggie Horticulture Network and the Department of Horticultural Sciences
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX replied to my email asking about the name of the flower in the top photo. Here's what he said, "That would be a pink variant of Indian paintbrush." So now it is confirmed. The horticulture website is pretty cool. You should check it out!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Winter Babies at the Ranch

My mother-in-law Julia's ranch is a working goat ranch. Her daughter Kathy and son-in-law Richard run a thriving ranch, with many goats running all over the place (sometimes even where they're not supposed to). Some years the goats give birth at odd times, spring being the most common time to increase the herd. These twins were newly born this week, at the start of winter, and just in time for the first cold snap we've had here.

Frank (grandpa), Kevin (dad), and Isabella, John, and Francesca came by this morning and wanted to see the "new goaties," so we trekked across the goat pen to the nursery, a small barn equipped with individual pens for moms and kids, and warming lamps to ward off the cold. There were several pens occupied, some with single kids, some with twins.

These two above were the cutest of the bunch, and I was very careful not to wake them up. Momma goat watched me closely, but did not move and so the twins slept on.

This newborn kid just couldn't resist chewing on mom's chin whiskers, but she was very patient and let him chew away. Here's another picture of the pair. Doesn't it look like mom is smiling?

All in all it was a nice day at the ranch, the overcast skies and drizzly weather notwithstanding. I understand that tomorrow the weather will be more "normal" for Texas. That means, windy and warm. High of 80 degrees F.