Easter day trip.

With no commitments until Easter dinner with Julie later in the day, we headed out to visit Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.   It is a beautiful place to see in the spring, full of gardens teeming with wildflowers, and several miles of lovely trails to explore.

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I don’t think the wildflowers have peaked yet in south Austin, based on what we saw here, so there’s still time to get out there and see them!

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The view from the top of the cistern tower, overlooking the surrounding meadow trails.

There is a great-horned owl family roosting in a wall ledge just inside the entrance.  There are two owlets, but they are not sticking their heads up in this shot.

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Sláinte!

I made Monte a chocolate Guinness cake for his birthday (recipe here).  I put a little chocolate powder in the icing (link for that is also in the recipe for the cake) so it would be tan colored instead of white.  You know, so I could put a little beer foam on top along with the signature shamrock  🙂

Happy Birthday!

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Simply a wonderful trip.

Monte and I took another road trip at the end of February.   Some stats:  10 nights & 11 days on the road, nearly 3,000 miles driven, over 1000 photos taken, 2 states visited, 18 holes of golf played, 3 birthdays celebrated, 5 relatives thoroughly enjoyed, my 1st ringer in a game of horseshoes, and 25 new lifer bird species seen!

It was a fantastic trip.  The only downside is that Monte picked up a cold somewhere along the way, so he’s laying low for a few days.

Susanne flew to Austin to drive with us to Tucson.  Though I have been to Tucson many times for work, I guess I never took the time to enjoy the place.  It is really beautiful.  And late-winter was a terrific time to visit.

Here are a few of places we explored in Tucson, and I would recommend all of them if you, too, get a chance to visit:

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:  an outdoor museum showcasing the diverse ecosystem of the surrounding desert, and its teeming flora and fauna species.  Simply an amazing destination, with so much to see.  I will do this again next time I’m in Tucson.

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The beauty of the desert – cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, saguaro cacti, and more!
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An Allen’s hummingbird, a rare visitor to the area, seen in the Desert Museum gardens

Saguaro National Park (the western Tucson Mountain district location):  saguaro cacti for miles.  MILLIONS of them.  An informative visitor center.  Also some very nice petroglyphs at Signal Hill, only a short hike off of the Bajada Scenic Loop.

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LOTS of saguaro cacti
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One of the petroglyphs at Signal Hill

Catalina State Park:  a lovely park at the base of the Catalina Mountains.  Lots of nice hiking trails and many of my lifer birds were seen here.

Mission de San Xavier del Bac:  a national historic momunent, it is the oldest in-tact Spanish colonial structure in the Americas, built in the late 1700s.  It is still a working parish church, serving the Native American Tohono O’odham nation, on whose reservation it resides.  An informative free tour gave us an overview of the history of the Spanish, the native Indians, the Mexicans, from the 1700s through today.   We wanted to see one historic mission, and decided to do this one instead of the Presidio downtown.  I’m glad we did.

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Exterior of Mission de San Xavier Del Bac, the interior is full of colorful murals.

– Catalina Mountains at sunset:  simply stunning to view

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The Catalina Mountains glow red in the light from the setting sun

Susanne flew home after we all had a nice visit with her.  And after a week, we bid adieu to Gene & Jo (and Dan & Patrick, who were also visiting) and took off on a loosely-planned trip home, on a northern route instead of the southern one we took on the way west.  Taking an I-40 eastern route home also gave us several opportunities to drive along portions of the Historic Route 66 (and, yes, we played the song when we did).

There were 3 things we wanted to see, and we left Tucson with no plans on where or how long to stay at each one:

1) Grand Canyon National Park:  neither of us had been there before.  The park needs no introduction, so let me just say it is all that it is cracked up to be.  And again, late winter was a wonderful time to see it with a minimum of crowds.   The park has a really well thought out visitor center, shuttle bus system, and easy to hike trails that run along the rim of the canyon with stunning views.  The Yavapai Geology Museum is another must-see inside the park, along the rim trail.   We had originally planned to make the park a quick stop, spending 2-3 hours there tops, and then head back down to Flagstaff to continue our trip east.   But as we were driving there, I decided to check out lodging options in the park.  I figured it was a long shot, but since we had to stay somewhere overnight, the park would be a much cooler place to stay than somewhere off the interstate.  I am SO glad I checked it out, because we were able to book a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge for that night RIGHT ON THE RIM of the freaking Grand Canyon!  What a treat.   And so we did spend much more than 2-3 hours exploring the park.  I’m so glad we did.

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The view from our cabin… less than 50′ from the edge of the Grand Canyon!
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And a view from another vantage point along the Rim Trail.  Simply beautiful.

2) Meteor Crater Natural Monument:  a hole in the ground about a mile across.  Formed by a meteor that fell to the earth 50,000 years ago.   It’s only 5 miles off of I-40.  The admission was (relatively) steep, compared to other tourist sites ($18 per person), but we knew that going in, and still just really wanted to see the crater.  It’s been on Monte’s bucket list for a while.

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The raised rim of Meteor Crater, viewed from about 2 miles away.
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And, a look inside the crater, 3/4 mile wide over 500′ deep.

3) Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe:  a spiral staircase in a 1880s-built Gothic chapel, with a mysterious legend regarding how it was constructed, and by whom.  Another last minute hotel search turned up a simply lovely location right next door to the chapel, the Inn & Spa at Loretto.  Yes, a staircase is an odd reason to visit Santa Fe, as there is so much to see and do there, but that was what took us there.   Our drive brought us into Santa Fe after dark.   The original plan was to stay one night, see the staircase at 9AM, and then proceed immediately east for the 11-hour drive to Austin.   Once we got to our luxurious room, and saw the private patio (which alone was bigger than my first apartment!), and thought of all the things we could do to fill a day in Santa Fe, we extended our stay another night.  Again… awesome!

After another long day of travel, we enjoyed a really delicious dinner and bottle of wine at the hotel’s restaurant, Luminaria.   The next day we ate breakfast at the Palacio Cafe, walked through the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, finally saw the staircase in the Loretto Chapel :), walked through the historic district, then made a bee-line for the Gruet Winery tasting room in the lobby of the St Francis Hotel.   Then we visited a lovely park, the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, just 2 miles east of downtown and took in another hour or so of birding.  More lifers!

On the way back into town, we picked up a baguette and some nibbles to go with the bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the winery, and enjoyed a late lunch al fresco on our ginormous private patio.  It was a tad chilly, but it was lovely.

After a big lunch, we chose to skip dinner and tried out a good place for margaritas and chips.   We chose Tomasita’s, in a restored railway station building, and enjoyed walking there and back.

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The Staircase!  Two 360-degree turns.  Miracle or not, it’s beautiful.
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Exterior of Loretto Chapel.  The orange building to the right is the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
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Flight of Bubbly?  Yes please!
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A perfect lunch on the patio.

 

That’s it. 🙂 We drove non-stop to Austin the next morning, and are enjoying being home again.

 

 

 

Dinner and a movie.

Yesterday we helped Julie move into her new apartment.  Then she joined us for dinner.  I shouldn’t have, but I made a very decadent pasta dish, and we pigged out while watching The Princess Bride (for probably the tenth time).  If you are craving a high-calorie, savory, down-home, soul-food kind of pasta dish.  This is the one for you.

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Sausage & Basil Baked Pasta

  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz dry penne or ziti pasta (makes about 3 cups cooked)
  • 1 lb fresh mild italian ground sausage
  • 24 oz jar of tomato & basil sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 15 oz carton of ricotta cheese
  • 2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 c fresh basil, chopped

Boil pasta per package directions, drain and set aside.

In medium saucepan, cook & crumble italian sausage.  Drain off fat.  Return skillet to heat and add onion & garlic to sausage.  Saute until onion is soft.  Add tomato sauce, heat through and set aside.

In large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, eggs, and half of the mozzarella.  Fold in the cooked pasta to combine well with cheese mixture.

Into a 13×19 pan, add half of the pasta & cheese mixture, spread evenly.  Add half the sausage & tomato sauce mixture.  Layer again with remaining cheese and sauce.

Cover and bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, until bubbly.

Remove cover, add remaining mozzarella cheese and place back in oven for 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve.    Makes enough to feed an army.

 

 

Friends and flan.

A friend of mine from high school, Pilar, was in town for business this week. She stayed over an extra night and we got to have dinner together and catch each other up on several decades of our lives.

I loved it. Reconnecting with an old friend was a great way to start off the new year.

I also loved the flan that Monte made for dessert. Mmmmmmm delicious!

We got game.

Last night we enjoyed a fun New Year’s Eve celebration at our house, clocking in at 3AM by the time we went to bed.   Temperatures have dipped into the 20s, for the next few days.   We even got some snow last night, so the merrymaking  was pretty much restricted to indoors.    Nonetheless, a good time was had by all.

The day after New Year’s Eve has come to mean spending the afternoon at Ann & Dave’s house, playing games with friends and friends-of-friends.  It is a very-low-key, come-as-you-are, and bring-your-leftovers-and-libations kind of affair.  Some people creep in, looking a little worse for wear after a fun night of celebrating.  Other regulars are missing in action.  But, eventually, everyone perks up, ends up laughing, telling stories, and making plans for the new year that has just begun.

One of the New Year’s Day games that has become a regular is a home-made version of Jeopardy.  The mistress-of-ceremonies for the last several years has been Doray.  This year she, again, painstakingly prepared the categories, questions and answers.   Very fun!

For a carpenter.

I made a tool apron for Monte about a year ago. I copied the design of an old, worn one he had. It was a prototype, but has held up nicely. He recently suggested a modified version to better fit the tools he most commonly used – a little bigger pocket on his right hand side. I sewed a new one today.

I cannot sit down at my sewing machine without flashing back to memories of my mom sewing, and teaching me to sew, many years ago. This isn’t a prom dress 🙂 but I enjoyed it as a small project.

Its made out of stiff cotton duck cloth. I edged it on all sides with 1/2″ polyester bias tape; triple topstitched to reinforce. I used 6 feet of 1″ soft cotton twill tape for the tying waistband, which I folded in half and triple stitched for strength. Start by making a trapezoid shape with the duck cloth – 16″ tall, 16″ wide at the top; 20″ wide at the bottom. The trapezoid gets edged on all 4 sides with the bias tape. Fold up the bottom to make a baggy pocket 7″ tall. Stitch the sides. Stitch the pocket divider. Stitch the waist tie on. And voila!

Stereotyping.

My sister and brother-in-law are visiting. This morning the guys are out in the shop making sawdust. The gals are in the kitchen listening to Christmas music making good things. 🙂

I’ve cooked a lot of cranberry sauce from the whole berries, but I have never seen a slice of cranberry before.

Humble.

I joined Laura and Ann downtown tonight to help serve an early Thanksgiving dinner tonight for homeless Austinites and others in need of some extra care.  We dished up over 400 plates of food before our shift was over.  There were many more that were served before the night was through.

The event was lovingly orchestrated by Mobile Loaves & Fishes.

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It’s not much.  Just a tiny drop in the sea of need to help our brothers and sisters.  But I hope it brought a bit of cheer and fellowship.

Peace to you and yours.

 

Roadtrip!

Since we are (mostly) unencumbered by commitments, we took a road trip over the weekend to Louisville, to attend our niece’s wedding.  We extended it a day or two to squeeze in a couple of additional visits in Indiana and Kentucky before heading back home.   It was a beautiful and heartfelt wedding.  The fall foliage was beautiful.  We were able to play tourist a little bit.  And we are now back home safe and sound.

Mary Anne and Chris did it up right.  We enjoyed the ceremony, the reception and, most importantly, the time spent with family visiting and telling stories and laughing.  Not everyone could be there, and Gene & Jo were sorely missed.

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We visited some wonderful places in Louisville.

The Louisville Stoneware factory got my potter juices flowing:

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The FlameRun glass-works gallery and working studio:

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The Louisville Slugger factory & museum:

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The Big Four pedestrian (former railroad) bridge over the Ohio River:

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And then we popped over to Indiana to visit Charlie & Kathy, and enjoyed the night life and autumn beauty of Madison.

Will Carter and Trisha Gene Brady performed at Red Bicycle Hall.

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This is the amazing view of the Ohio River valley from their living room!

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Then we stopped in the hills outside Bowling Green for a day with Lanny, and I scoped out all the birds I could find.  The bird on the left is a lifer for me – a white-breasted nuthatch; a carolina chickadee on the right.   I do love the birdies!

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Another trip in the books.  It’s also nice to be home  🙂

 

 

FaceTiming with the bird. 

Today was another lovely day in Palm Desert.  Irene and I took a long walk this morning and found two geocaches along the way.  We all had massages this afternoon and then grabbed a bite to eat while watching the end of the Seahawks game at a restaurant nearby.  We won!

Back at the house we did our best to finish off all the food and wine we had bought for the long weekend.  We stayed in the hot tub again looking at the moon and stars til we were pruned.  

We also face timed with Keeto, a first for both of us.  Goodnight birdie!