Please buy this mug!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Baby Sea Turtles Heading to Sea, Cozumel Mexico

A shot of the coastline of Cozumel from the bus.

We went on a tour of Cozumel island on our Cruise to Mexico. Along the way, our guide stopped the bus and asked if we could see the baby sea turtles head out to sea. The experience was breathtaking and grand. I hope you enjoy these slideshows. I made them in the new Picasa 3.

A view of the beach where the turtles were hatching.

Till next time,

Mike Z

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jan and I want to wish you and your family
the Merriest of Christmases
and the
Happiest of New Years!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We Toured the Mayan Ruins on our Mexico Cruise

Our cruise to Mexico included a tour of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, near the city of Progresso on the Yucatan penninsula. This was the most exciting part of the trip for me, and was a photographer's paradise. Everywhere we looked, there were more and more beautiful sights to see.

The photo above is the centerpiece of the exhibit. It is called El Castillo, and was the center of Mayan culture in it's day. At one time visitors were allowed to climb the very steep steps (all 91 of them) to the top of El Castillo, but we were not able to, due to some serious injuries in recent years.

The entrance to the exhibit. We took a pretty long bus ride from the coast, but our tour guide made it very interesting and fun. He told us a lot about the Mayan culture and the history of Chichen Itza, and gave us some idea of what to look for.

There were several tables with Mayan masks and symbols for sale as we walked onto the grounds. This table was the prettiest (and the busiest) of them all. We didn't pick up a souvenir, but I kind of wish we had now...

The entrance to the second-best known of the ruins of Chichen Itza. The fabled Ball Court, where men played ball in the presence of the royals for very high stakes.

The object of the game was to throw a ball through a hole carved in a round stone like the one above. There is a "goal" on both walls of the court.

A view of the Ball Court looking towards the King's temple.

This was a most interesting sculpture of what I believe is a half-man half-jaguar that looks down on the Ball Court from the observation tower at the opposite end from the King's temple.

Another view of the Ball Court. At the end of the game, the loser would present the winner to the King and behead him. Unbelievable as it sounds today, it was a very high honor to be beheaded, as the winner was assured a fast-track to Heaven, bypassing the steps that ordinary men had to go through to get there.

Well, I am very glad to be "back in the saddle again" with this weblog. I have been too too long in putting up these pictures. There is much more to post about our Mexico trip, as well as other things that have happened. I promise I won't be this long in posting more photos.

There are many more photos of Chichen Itza on my Flickr page, just click and view the slideshow. Or copy and paste this URL into your browser and enjoy!

Very soon I will be posting the photos of the baby turtles we witnessed heading out to sea in Cozumel. What a sight! I never thought I would be able to see that up close and personal.

Till then, Thanks for stopping by.

Mike Z

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Peek-a-Boo, the bumblebee and the wildflower

Another short post from my walk last weekend around Town & Country park. I had just finished talking to a wonderful lady named Deanna about Mikael Behrens and his Birding on Broadmeade weblog, and was continuing down the trail, when I saw a large bumblebee land behind a large yellow wildflower.

I got the camera ready, and slowly crept up to the flower as close as I could get without scaring the insect away, and waited for it to come around to the face of the flower. It took a few minutes for the bee to move around to the front, but eventually it did, and I have the photo to prove it!

This weekend I will get some photos of the Texas Wildlife Expo up. I hope you will enjoy them.

Best regards,
Mike Z

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Fire Within -- Morning Glories on my Walk

As I walked around the neighborhood yesterday, I passed a mailbox with morning glory vines climbing and blooming all around it. I just had to try a few shots to see what kinds of shots I could get. These two beauties were the best of the lot.

After looking at lots of photos on Flickr Group sites like Flower Pictures (No Limits) and others, I wanted to try my hand at producing some abstract images from the original photos. I really admire some of the macro and close-up shots that I have seen in the groups. I hope that you will enjoy these attempts at "photo art."

UPDATE 10/9/08: In the April 2008 Outdoor Photography magazine on page 54 there is a macro photo of a morning glory by John Isaac, a famous United Nations and nature-wildlife photographer, that is very similar to my image above . His colors are darker than mine, and there is a well placed shadow in the yellow center area of the flower, but essentially it's the same photo! I guess I was channeling Mr. Isaac when I cropped the shot, or maybe great minds just think alike!

This arbor in the image below was not the place I got the macro images. It was in someone's back yard. I would not have noticed it except that one of their fence boards had come loose (they have a dog, that might be the reason), and I could get the lens in between the boards for the shot. The fence itself made a good support for the camera.

I know this one's short, but I want you to know I will have more posts up in coming days. More photos of flowers and bumblebees, and some of our outing yesterday to Texas Wildlife Expo in South Austin. Very interesting, and the kids had a good time! Also pretty crowded. I am glad they have it now instead of August!

Best regards,
Mike Z

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mural Behind Taco Villa in Midland TX

We were traveling around west Texas a couple of weeks ago--me doing my sales thing, Jan reading and taking in the sights of Midland and Odessa, and between calls we made a stop at a McDonald's for a break. While I waited in the car for Jan, I looked over some trees and noticed a very life-like scene of a mountain and a Spanish monastery just past one of the trees in the parking lot of the Taco Villa restaurant next door. The colors were very bright, and the perspective was near perfect--it looked real for a second! We drove across the street and parked the car to investigate.

The mural was painted on a stucco or concrete structure that had been built on the building behind the Taco Villa. I think it was a fruit or produce warehouse, but it was seemingly empty. The effect of the mural, however, was to place the Taco Villa in the middle of a small South American town. The detail and colors were magnificent, and I just couldn't resist trying to capture some of that in the camera.

A couple of things I truly admire about the artist who painted the mural, Debbie Blakely (you can see her signature in the pot in the image below), are the way she made the artificial structures of the building (the drainpipe in the photo above, for instance) blend in with the mural, and her use of painted shadows to enhance the 3-dimensional quality of the painting. Check out the shadow of the ladder in the image below to see what I mean.

The architect on the mural, Kent Taft, also added to the 3-dimensional quality of the mural by making the houses stand out from the streets and background. Real plants mingled in with drawn plants also add to that effect. The stones in the walls, however, are drawn.

I have many favorite areas in this mural, but the image above would be my "most favorite" if I had to make a choice of only one. The way the shadows are drawn fools my eye at least into believing that the lantern really is hanging off the wall. The cat, too, looks like it's sitting half a foot away from the "wall." I also really like the way the door is painted. I had to go up and touch it to make sure it really wasn't old rugged boards instead of paint on concrete.

As I mentioned, the mural was behind the Taco Villa, and Taco Villa sponsored the artists who made it. I think it is interesting that T.V. gets two "plugs" in the mural. The first and most obvious is on one of the pots in front of the woman tending the plant in one of the images above. The not-so-obvious plug, and a pretty humorous one, is in the image just above these notes. Look at the elderly couple walking along the market, and notice the woman's handbag. (You may have to click on the image to see a larger version to really see it.) I thought it was truly ingenious. and it made me smile.

Last image is of the Taco Villa itself. I thought it was fitting that the restaurant should be included in this little essay. I am sorry to say that we did not eat there. And after the events of this week with my job, it looks as though we might not be back that way for a while. The company effected a Reduction in Force (read that as mass firing) and I was a casualty. But have no fear, I will continue to take photos of things and places that interest me (and hopefully you). They just might be a little closer to home for a while.

Till next time, all the best,
Mike Z

Thursday, September 18, 2008

DinoLand at Zilker Park

The big buzz around Austin these days is DinoLand, a touring exhibit of dinosaurs in "natural" settings, with information and educational opportunities for kids of all ages. Jan and I thought it would be a good idea to bring the boys, Sentry and Roland Thomas, to the Dinoland exhibit to see the lifelike replicas of some dino's they had seen in books and on videos.

We got there about mid-day, with the sun shining brightly and Warmly! down on us, and got our tickets at the entrance to the Zilker Botanical Gardens. There was plenty of parking, though it was across the street and a fair walk to get to the Gardens.

Jan's favorite were the bird-like dinos nesting in the tree.

Sentry's favorite was the "egg thief" dinosaur.

Mine was the Daspletosaur (cousin to the T-Rex). We never found out what RT's favorite was.

We saw all the dinosaurs, as well as some parts of the other great exhibits, the rose garden and the Japanese garden. But boy it was HOT! The little guys got cross and the adults (me) got a little aggravated, so we decided not to spend a great amount of time there. We headed home to the comfort of air conditioning. The boys slept very well that night.

Now that the weather has cooled off (low to mid 80's vs high 90's when we went) the exhibit is a good one to take children 4 and up to see. I think you can see from the images that the dinosaurs are pretty lifelike. I was very impressed with the authenticity. There are even some Compies like the ones in Jurassic Park! If your young ones are the least bit interested in dinosaurs, go see it in the cooler weather. It probably won't last! The exhibit is on through November 30, so there is still lots of time.

Till next time,

Mike Z

PS Speaking of Jurassic Park, I still smile when I think of that classic line from the movie, "Unix! I know Unix!"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sandhills State Park, Monahans TX

Jan and I traveled together to far West Texas this past week, out to Midland and Odessa. These two towns sit pretty much in the heart of the Permian Basin, one of the first "big hits" in the oil boom of the past millennium. There are still oil wells pumping steadily scattered all about the open fields, though most are not pumping any more. Driving back from Pecos, TX (the subject of a previous post), we drove by the Monahans Sandhills State Park. I had driven by several times, but somehow I was called to stop and see what the big deal was. It might have been because I am re-reading Dune, or it might have been because I have been so involved with water and flowers and needed a change. Either way, we were in for a real treat!

I guess you figured out that I couldn't pass up a flower without trying to shoot a photo of it. The sunflower I recognize, but the second one is a "mystery flower." I have never seen it before, and will have to find out what it is. Thank goodness the rains had come while we were here, 'cause I don't think they'd have been out otherwise.

UPDATE: I sent the photo of the "mystery flower" to several wildlife and conservation websites to help me identify it. First to respond was Kirk Anderson of, who pointed me in the direction of Mentzelia species. Then Nan Hampton (aka Ask Mr Smarty Plants) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center wrote and said that their resident expert Joe Marcus had identified it as Mentzelia strictissima, or grassland blazingstar. I love that name! Joe said it was a rare find. I am amazed at all the directions this photography hobby has taken me.

As we walked along, Jan got ahead of me due to my constant search for good photos of the sand hills. We walked carefully in the loose sand at the bottom of the hills, but had an easier time of it at the tops. The rain had packed the sand there, and it made the most interesting patterns where the drops fell.

The photo above shows the pattern that the rain made in the sand, overlaid on the wave pattern that the wind had made before. I was very intrigued by the variety and beauty of the sand. It certainly was not all the same! There were so many variations between the troughs and peaks of the dunes, and I wound up short of breath from the exertion from time to time.

The photo above, although a little stark, is one I particularly like because of the tracks in the sand going over the dunes. We did not make those tracks, but we followed them up to the top of the dune to get a view of as much of the area as we could. When we got to the highest one, I turned and took the photo below. Until I did, I hadn't realized how far up we had come.

I trailed behind Jan for most of the trek, and shot the photo below as she waited patiently for me to catch up.

Last photo is my favorite of the hike. As I walked along admiring the pattern that the rain had made in the sand, I almost walked over these tiny footprints made by a much younger visitor to the Sandhills. They made me think of the grandkids and how much we'd like to bring them out here to run and play in the sand. One day soon we will.

I hope you have found this interesting. I am glad we decided to stop and see the Monahans Sandhills. Sometimes the spur-of-the-moment decisions are the best! It certainly worked out that way this week. Next post will probably be the mural behind the Taco Villa, I know you won't want to miss that.

Best regards,
Mike Z

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Zilker Park Japanese Garden

(Click on the photo to see my Flickr slideshow)

Yesterday I went back to Zilker Park Botanical Gardens in central Austin and took some photos of the Japanese Garden there. I had walked through just before the Austin Pond Society meeting a few weeks back, and wanted to come spend some time and see what could be seen.

I took a lot of photos and talked to some very friendly and talented fellow photographers along the path. But, I have run out of time this evening and have to travel most of this week. I will update and add to this post when I return.

To all who stop by regularly, I can't say enough how much your visits and comments mean to me. Thanks a million times. To first time visitors, please come back again. Photos and stories pop up here pretty regularly.

More when I return,
Mike Z

Monday, August 25, 2008

Norma Geddy - San Angelo Water Lily Display 2008

Click on the photo to see more flowers on Flickr

I am compiling my "Best of Water Flowers" photos for the Austin Pond Society 2009 calendar, and so far, this one is my favorite. We re-visited the City of San Angelo International Waterlily Collection on the trip back to Texas from Washington State. It was just as magical as when we had visited previously. The main difference I saw, other than some new lily varieties, was that the large red-rimmed lily pads (Victoria amazonica) that so impressed us last year were not to be seen. I don't know if it was the time of year, or for some other reason, but I missed them.

The other difference I noticed was the number of bees that were busy on the flowers had increased greatly this year. Again, it may be the time of year, but since honey bees are supposed to be disappearing from Texas, I was glad to see them out in force!

Hope this post finds everyone well and in good spirits. I will do my best to get some more photos and stories up soon.

UPDATE: I put some more water lily photos on Flickr with the set title San Angelo Water Lily Display 2008. Please go by and if you'd like, vote on which you think should be submitted for the Pond Society calendar. I would really appreciate your vote!

More later,
Mike Z


PS - Today one of my photos won an award on Flickr! With over 16,000 members in the group, and over 216,000 photos on the site, I am especially proud that someone would take the time to give a photo of mine an award. Thanks, Maisse!
PPS - Yesterday I entered 3 photos in the Austin Pond Society's Annual Calendar Competition, and the photo above won 3rd place in the "animals" category! The photo in the Zilker Japanese Garden post won Honorable Mention in the "ponds and water" category. They will be in the calendar for 2009! I am very pleased that I had these photos chosen for the calendar. There was some very formidable competition! I appreciate all the votes my photos received.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thanks Annie - The Cat Stevens Song

Annie reminded me that my favorite "banjo song", If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, by Cat Stevens is on YouTube. So I went and listened, and liked it so much that I put it up here on the 'blog for you. I first heard the song played on the banjo during the movie Harold and Maude, a black comedy by Hal Ashby from the 1970's. Man, there was some black humor and before-its-time themes in that movie! It remains one of the Top 10 movies of all time for me.

If you get to the actual YouTube page with the video and comments, I think you'll see a wide variety of opinions on the song, on Cat Stevens, his religion, middle east relations, and that's just on the first page! That was soooo interesting to me.

I also saw on YouTube where there is a "trailer" for Harold and Maude which has some key scenes and pertinent dialog, so I added that one above. Bud Cort was in only one other movie as far as I know (and I can't remember the name of it), but Ruth Gordon went on to make other movies (Rosemary's Baby, the Any Which Way but Loose movies too I think) and was a real gem of an actress. Interesting note: "They Did a Bad, Bad Thing" is the music behind the "trailer," which I remember from another weird movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Now there's a whole 'nuther blog topic! :-)

Anyway, I still can't get over how outrageous that movie was. Brings out the "old hippie" in me! And the soundtrack by Cat makes it just about perfect. Trouble is another favorite song from the movie. If you can find it, give it a spin. But be warned, I don't accept any responsibility for any hurt feelings or offenses the movie gives you. But, like many movies today, it takes a few pokes on our warlike nature, and has feminist and right to life issues thrown in as well.

Enjoy! More later,

Mike Z

PS I changed the YouTube video on Trouble because it has shots from the movie (not that I didn't like Cat's face young and older over and over, but I thought this more appropriate to the topic)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

35th Wedding Anniversay Part 1 - Inn at Pearl Street

I know, I know, you're all wondering, where's the Grand Canyon? Where's the Meteor Crater? Where's Billy the Kid? (hint: he's dead) Why all this about their 35th Anniversary? Well, the answer is that nothing quite this grand and wonderful has happened to Jan and me since, well, when we got married! We had two action-packed weekends of gifts and surprises and love, and it will take a few posts to tell about all of it.

But we'll start with the Austin Inn at Pearl Street. This was the place our daughter Amy and her new husband Chad spent their first married night together after their wedding and reception. Jan and I hired a horse and carriage to take them on a tour of Austin, and bring them to the Inn for the weekend before they left on their honeymoon. Little did we know at the time, that they'd be giving us the same gift for our anniversary! We couldn't have been more excited.

Our stay was on our anniversary, a Sunday night, and there were very few other visitors, so we had the place to ourselves to relax, look around, and admire the hundreds of antiques and treasures that are placed all around the house. With high open ceilings, and beautiful antiques and paintings, it took a while just to view all the rooms. Our room for the night was the Library. The Library is the only sleeping room on the first floor of the original building, and was right across the hall from the living room and dining room.

The entrance to our room

Behind our room was the sitting room, an open airy room with lots of windows looking out over the patio and the other buildings in the complex.

Upstairs there were four rooms, the French Room, the Gothic Suite, the European Room, and the Far East Room. Some photos of the Gothic Suite are below. The Gothic had a second floor patio that provided a great view. Amy and Chad had stayed there when he returned from his first deployment in Iraq, so we were especially interested in that room.

We got our casual clothes and walking shoes on, and went on a walking tour of the Judge's Hill area of Austin, a very old and stately subdivision behind the Inn.

When we returned, we sat out on the patio and watched the sun turn the leaves yellow, and the birds and squirrels play in the trees.

We went back inside to get more photos while the light was still good, then just read about the Inn and relaxed. I was particularly impressed with the sculptures, paintings, and the Tiffany lamp in the foyer by our door. We have some Tiffany lamps in our living room, and I liked seeing the similarities and differences between our lamps and theirs.

As the sky darkened, we retired to the Library and broke out the sparkling wine and chocolates, another gift from the children. We spent a long while toasting the events of our 35 years of marriage (we made a pact that we would only toast the positive ones!) and by the time the bottle was empty, we were feeing the warmth and the love, and knew again why we had stayed friends and lovers for so long.

In the morning we woke early, turned on the coffee, and ate a great breakfast of cereal, fruits, and juices while we enjoyed the dining room by ourselves. The staff might have been ghosts, they were truly invisible to us. But we knew they were there because things got "tidied up" seemingly all by themselves.

our table

We enjoyed our stay at the Inn at Pearl Street very much. For a calm, quiet atmosphere and relaxation at it's finest, I highly recommend the Inn if you are ever in Austin and feel the need to get away from it all. Jill Bickford, the owner, has created an oasis of beauty and quiet that is hard to beat.

Part 2 of our Anniversary Odyssey will be up soon; waiting for some photos to arrive.

More later,
Mike Z