Category: Travel

Exploring Downtown Austin, Texas

First Visit

A quick trip to Austin, Texas created a desire to return. The stay in the downtown area contrasted greatly with many other cities. In addition to friendliness, the streets were clean, and many families were out and about. Furthermore, bike and running paths and various self-propelled watercraft provided opportunity for healthy living. High tech is also evident as we ran into a REV-1 robot in test mode. Certainly, eye-opening for a small-town resident like me.

Robot on the Move-Austin, Texas

State Capitol

Visiting the Texas State Capitol was an easy walk across the Congress Avenue Bridge.  An early start to avoid any heat and humidity so often encountered as the day heats up allowed time to stroll around the grounds before the building opened for tours. This provided an opportunity to wander around the many monuments and soak in the history.

Highlights include the Tejano Monument, Texas African American History Monument, Southern Confederacy Monument (I believe in keeping evidence of past mistakes, especially horrendous ones so that we don’t forget and then repeat.) A monument to the firefighters lost in the Dumas-Sunray refinery accident is also on the grounds. The accident occurred before my time, but old-timers on the High Plains still remember. Finally, just outside the entrance to the Capitol is a drinking fountain in active use since the 1880s. A reminder of how much has changed through time.

Inside the Capitol Building

The line to enter the Capitol right at the opening was fairly short and the wait was about 5 minutes allowing us to join the first tour group. The rotunda buzzed with activity. TV stations covered a civilized protest re: banning of books. A group of teenagers comprised one tour group and several families opted to tour on their own versus with a guide.

Our guide was very informative. History lessons are most interesting when exploring. The State Capitol of Texas endured two fires about a century apart. The latter fire occurred in 1983. As a result, a four- story underground addition was built with the completion in the late 1990s. This massive space is so well lit, including natural light from skylights, that visitors will not realize they are underground.

The tour included a stop in a legislative chamber and discussion of beautiful historic artwork. Furthermore, the building materials, design and even light fixtures all emphasize the legacy of Texas. Legislation passed in the 1980s keep sightlines to the Capitol building open. A beacon shining. One hopes many will be drawn to enter and explore.

Eateries Abound Downtown

Food is incredible in Austin! Our first experience-lunch at True Food Kitchen. This hip location on the Capitol side of the Colorado River provided great meals for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Their kale salads were phenomenal. Enough for me to want to plant a winter crop. Paninis and burgers were also enjoyed. The service was good, and the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. I highly recommend.

My favorite evening meal took place at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. This popular eatery may require reservations and/or patience to be seated. We were fortunate and were able to get a table promptly, but the line was long upon exiting. Again, both indoor and outdoor seating is available.

Oyster lovers have a varied choice-yes oysters are not all the same. The group I was with had a tasting of four varieties. Additionally, the summer melon & Buratta appetizer was delicious and large enough to share. Various seafood comprised the main courses. I found the brioche-crusted halibut much to my liking. For non-seafood eaters, steaks can be ordered. A caveat, the restaurant is a bit pricy, but worth every penny for a special night out.

Austin Shopping

Shopping in downtown Austin is enjoyable. Plenty of places to stop and shop as well as a plethora of sights to take in. We shopped on both sides of the Congress Avenue Bridge. “True” downtown is located on the Capitol side of the bridge. Many of these stores have been operated by generations of the same family. Plus, the architecture is more historic. And the street art is cool.

The other side of the bridge is a bit trendier. In addition to numerous restaurants including the aforementioned Perla’s, block after block of boutiques and designer chains draw many pedestrians to the area. Shoppers were abundant despite the many signs of inflation.

Outdoor Activities in Downtown Austin

One of the nicest features in Austin centers around Lady Bird Lake AKA Town Lake. A ten-mile path around the reservoir incorporating the Colorado River is heavily used by bikers, runners and walkers. The path is very well maintained and very shady-important for those hot summer days.

Additionally, many non-motorized watercrafts were spotted. Everything from crews sculling their shells to kayaks and paddle boards. A few fishermen were present as well. Boats can be rented at dusk in order to view the bats leaving their roosts under the famed Congress Avenue Bridge.

Congress Avenue Bridge

Officially named the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, this almost 1000-foot-long bridge became the center of my trip to Austin. I crossed the bridge on foot multiple times, ate a nice lunch from the second floor of a hotel overlooking the structure and walked beneath during the day. But the best view was at dusk as the bats were leaving their roosts.

Long ago, I watched the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns. More than forty years later it is hard to compare the two viewings of mass bats. Especially, since the Congress Avenue roost is in such an urban setting. On this occasion I was close enough to hear individual bats squeaking as they twisted and turned seeking airborne food. Truly a highlight of the visit and one worth fitting into any trip to downtown Austin.

Future Austin Visits

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Austin. Even the heat and humidity did not detract-although I will admit to enjoying the mornings and evenings the most. Perhaps I can return for one of their many outdoor music festivals. Since visiting, I now understand why so many people are moving to the area. If you have never been to Austin, be sure to put it on your travel agenda. I certainly enjoyed my first ever visit.

Enjoy the Austin Highlights

Co-existing with Wildlife

Bear Aware

Tall rock wall separates wildlife from humansCo-existing with wildlife takes effort. This summer I have the good fortune to stay in a mountain duplex. The half I visit from time-to-time backs right up to wilderness. A large wall encloses the back and does restrict the view somewhat. However, the wall provides a buffer between man and other animals. Such as moose and bear.

We are very bear aware. Trash is kept in appropriate containers and food is not left around. So far, my only bear sighting came in the hour before dusk. I was enjoying the back patio when the crackling sound of twigs came from the area between the house and the creek. Jumping up, I quickly headed inside to look out the side window hoping to see the young moose once again.

My noise may have startled the bear. All I saw was his backside heading directly away from the house. His initial direction unknown. He was lumbering along, not too worried about whatever was behind him.

Wildlife Window View

I stayed by the window in case he turned around. But I think he may have ventured into the meadow down along the creek. This is only a guess, but an educated one. Shortly after the bear sighting a deer came down the mountain. Suddenly, the deer stopped still. As you can see in the photo, the deer’s head is cocked at attention. This position was held for close to ten minutes before grazing started again.

The deer are seen daily either as singles or doubles. Very unlike the herds of deer on the High Plains which often number over a dozen. I am uncertain of why there are not larger numbers here. Perhaps the number of predators keep the deer at bay.

Deer with head cocked to the side indicates wildlife wariness.
Deer on Alert

Marmots

In addition to either loud (moose) or small (bear and deer) warning cracks from brush breaking, the unique sound of a marmot signals wildlife or humans are nearby. The pig whistle from the yellow-bellied critter can be heard in this video. Marmots are smart animals. And patient. Often, I see them dash across the patio as soon as I retreat into the house. When they stand on their hind legs, they remind me of the crafty critter who stole the spotlight in the movie Caddyshack. Apparently, they hibernate over half the year.

Pig Whistle of Marmot

Moose but no Elk or Big Horn Sheep

On several occasions I have sighted moose. Much like the bear, one moose alerted me to his presence with a loud crack just outside the wall. The noise was very loud and startling. On the other occasions, the solitary animal has been spotted at the end of the drive as in this photo. Again, the best wildlife sightings are at dawn or dusk.

Surprisingly I have yet to see an elk. Nor a big horn sheep. Perhaps, both stick to higher elevations. I like to imagine the sheep are high up on a distant mountain meadow blending into the landscape. I swear I see fewer rocks and boulders upon the high meadow in the afternoons.

Young Moose strolling down a rural street
Early Morning Stroll

Reintroducing Wolves

There is a program to introduce wolves back into the Rocky Mountains. Arguments exist on the number. Ranchers would prefer none and others want three times the suggested number of 250. I have a healthy wariness of wolves due to growing up with stories like Little Red Riding Hood and watching movies such as The Day After Tomorrow. Fictional but fearsome.

Bears and moose can be aggressive if provoked. But my experience has been one of mutual respect and mutual avoidance. Wolves are a bit of an unknown. The animals have their backers and their detractors. Articles following this post may be of interest to those studying wildlife and are quite helpful in forming an opinion. The wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone is particularly informative.

 

Wildlife Impacts on the Ecosystem

We learn about food chains in elementary school. Both adding or subtracting from the food chain impacts life throughout the system. A reintroduction of wolves in the Colorado mountains will bring about change. The key question is will it mirror Yellowstone?

The largest boost in wildlife after the reintroduction of the grey wolf in Yellowstone was to the beaver population. Beavers compete with elk for food. So, fewer elk meant more to eat for nature’s engineers. And expanded riparian habitat is the next step in the cycle. This is important because the wetlands act as firebreaks. Scientists are currently studying the relationship between beavers, wetlands and forest fires.

The species most negatively impacted by wolves returning to Yellowstone is the elk. Herd size is shrinking, and the herds are moving around. This movement has both good and bad implications. The aforementioned beavers have less competition from roaming elk herds. But the stress of the elk now constantly on alert has decreased the birth rate. Furthermore, the estimation of how many elk would be prey per wolf fell short of the actual numbers.

How Many is too Many?

The Yellowstone reintroduction began with fewer than three dozen wolves. Within ten years the population increased eight-fold. A key contention point for the Colorado reintroduction is how many pairs will be released. Even the lowest figure of 250 (125 pairs) is roughly ten times the number reintroduced into Yellowstone. Currently, the upper number proposed is 750 individuals or 375 pairs.

Another element that varies from the reintroduction at the end of the last century is the area of release. The initial release was confined to Yellowstone Park in the far northwest corner of Wyoming. The Colorado reintroduction could cover a far greater area. One proposal includes areas both east and west of the Continental Divide. Wildlife areas adjacent to the populated Front Range may be release sites.

Personally, I would start small. Wolves do cover a large territorial range. There is indication that offspring of the original groups released in Yellowstone have made their way south into the far northeast corner of Colorado. This migration occurred in a span of about 25 years. Wildlife will wander.

A Balance of Nature

The reintroduction of predatory species needs balance. Man upset the natural order while settling the country. However, much thought needs to go into the planning. Co-existing with wildlife is possible, but awareness is needed. Even though many animals are smart, humans still have the edge on critical thought. So, let’s use that advantage as we seek to re-balance the eco-system.

Mackinac Island

Travel

My June 2022 visit to Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw) is an experience to treasure even if it is not repeated. However, I believe many make the idyllic island a travel destination over and over. If I lived closer, I would too.

Travelers can reach Mackinac Island by sea (lake) or air. Ferries cross from both the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula of Maine. The ferries from St. Ignace, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula are easier to catch than those leaving from Mackinaw City. (Same pronunciation, different spelling.) So, it might be worth it to pay the toll and cross the Mackinac Bridge if you are travelling during the height of tourist season.

Air travel onto Mackinac Island is limited to private and charter planes. Horse drawn taxis are available to take arrivals from the airport to their destination. Once the lake freezes and ferries can no longer serve the island, the airport becomes the central location for arrivals and departures. Naturally, weather can shut the airport down in the winter. Sometimes for days.

Key Locations on Mackinac Island

The ferries land right on Main Street. Shop after shop sell everything form tourist trinkets to clothing to fudge. Lots of fudge. Slabs of fudge. Somehow, we managed to get off the island without a purchase of this delicious treat. But purchases were made.

At the Island Bookstore I purchased two books. You can read the review of Braking for Bodies by clicking here. The Lilac Girls still remains on my TBR list. We also spent time at Nephew’s on Mackinac. The window display drew us in. This clothing store is one of the nicest stores I have shopped in. The customer service was fantastic and so was the selection of both men’s and women’s clothing. So, money was spent here as well.

If I ever go back to Mackinac Island, I will want to stay at The Grand Hotel. This resort is awe inspiring. And that is just from the size! This hotel was built in the late 1800s. One can only imagine it was a favorite of the Robber Barons. A commanding view of Lake Huron from the longest porch I have ever been on transports one back to an earlier time.

A ten-dollar admission fee will allow you to stroll through the grounds. Or if your pockets are flusher, The Grand Hotel is still open for business. Since we were on a budget we opted for a stroll on the grounds and a delicious meal outdoors at The Jockey Club at the Grand Stand. A perfect place to relax and watch the horse taxis deliver baggage to the hotel.

 

Fort Mackinac History

For visitors staying more than a half day, a visit should include Fort Mackinac. Plan to spend a couple of hours at the fort. Good walking shoes are essential as the fort sits atop a bluff. Both British and American forces have quartered on the island.

The British built the fort in the 1700s and kept control for a number of years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Then the British reclaimed the island and fort during the War of 1812. A museum at the site provides much background.

Overall Impressions of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is primarily a tourist destination. Indeed, I did not see any other industry, although one may exist. The allure of going back to a past without automobiles may play a part in the attraction. My impression of Mackinac Island along with much of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was one of natural beauty. Clean air, lots of trees, few people and an expanse of water.

I truly enjoyed my time in this part of the world. If you like travel and have not been to this part of the world, Upper Michigan as well as Mackinac Island deserve a visit.

Bridge support structureBottom of Mackinac Bridge shot from ferry June 2022Mackinac Bridge June 2022 from ferryAlong the Mackinac Island Quay-a sloopLanding at Mackinac IslandBlooming lilacsFort Mackinac in the distanceStore front of Nephew's of MackinacHorse carriageTulips in a garden bedThe Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island

June 2022 Wrap-Up

Travel

June 2022 was a month of travel and closure for me. Kentucky and Michigan were two destinations. The former was work related and the main purpose for the latter was for the interment of my dear friend Beverly. Both trips involved air travel as well as car rentals. Furthermore, inflationary prices had no impact on the number of travelers.

Perhaps others threw expense to the wind seeking relief from two years of pandemic. Or maybe they were combining tourism with task as I did. Regardless of reason, travel in early June indicated inflation had yet to slow demand.

Kentucky June 2022

My Kentucky trips usually revolve around horses. I have a stake in a partnership. Money is pooled and then divided between acquisition of yearlings and purchasing horses through the claiming box. A Louisville based trainer is in charge.

I don’t expect to get rich from this partnership that I have a very small stake in. Horse racing can be a very draining pursuit for the pocketbook. But I love horses and this set-up is perfect for me. The most I can lose is my initial investment. And I could lose it all. But I consider this as my discretionary entertainment expense.

Horses train early in the morning. Very early! The first sets usually gallop under lights as the sun has not yet made an appearance. By nine in the morning the works are complete, and the barns await the afternoon races.

From time to time an owner is able to see a horse win in the afternoon. This is enjoyable, but I love watching the morning works the best. Backside at the track is a beehive of activity. The love and hard work of the stable from grooms to hotwalkers to exercise riders and trainers’ shames those who do not understand the industry. Owners enable the business model to operate.

Michigan June 2022

Freighter in the Soo Locks June 2022A quick turnaround between Kentucky and Michigan was a great indicator that I am not meant to be a jetsetter. Less than 24 hours at home made me appreciate the slower paced life I usually lead. However, the trip to Michigan gave me closure, much needed closure.

Since Michigan barely registered in my states visited count, I was excited to spend more time there. Furthermore, it is unlikely I will return. The Upper Peninsula in particular is out of sync with my normal travel patterns. But I am so thankful for the experience.

A flight into the small airport on the United States side of Sault Ste. Marie was the starting point. The Upper Peninsula reminds me much of the Great Plains with respect to population and lack of traffic. Similarly, the small-town vibe of our starting point as told in this Classic Cars post welcomed me from the start.

However, there are great differences. Primarily water. The Great Lakes are truly magnificent. My only contact prior has been the Western side of Lake Michigan along the populated shores of Illinois and Wisconsin. So, visiting the Soo Locks was fascinating. Luckily the visit coincided with a large vessel using the canal to travel from the lower Lake Huron into Lake Superior.

Mackinac Island

Maintaining Sault Ste. Marie as a base gave us easy and affordable access to upscale Mackinac Island. Visitors to this historic island can either arrive via ferry or small aircraft. Horses and bicycles are key modes of transportation. But we chose to walk. Good shoes are a must if you take this route.

One can spend days on the island, but we enjoyed our partial day. Enough time to soak in the atmosphere and leave the visitor wanting a return trip. A future post will focus on the experience. There is simply too much to include in this wrap-up.

South of the Bridge

The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge I have ever driven over. But my first view was from below. Some of the ferry departures detour underneath on the way to Mackinac Island. We were lucky to be on such a trip. The engineering and architecture are exquisite reminders of what great feats man is capable of.

Once on the mitten side of the bridge, population and tourist numbers pick up. June 2022 marked the interment of my friend Beverly at her Michigan birthplace. And driving through this part of the country she visited yearly brought me peace.

I tasted whitefish, her favorite, for the first time and liked it almost as much as halibut. A quick meal at the Cherry Hut brought back memories of the jam she would bring back from her trips. But best of all was the time spent at her lake.

We were very fortunate to have hosts Deb and Les put us up for three nights around the graveside service. Their lake house was just a few doors down from Bev’s cabin. Running along the lake, eating breakfast on the porch overlooking the water and watching the sunrise reflect below all brought knowledge of what she enjoyed on her annual visits. Crystal Lake is one of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen. Beverly was treasured in both locales.

Mackinac Bridge view from water June 2022
Mackinac Bridge June 2022 from ferry
Viewing South on Mackinac Bridge June 2022
Lighthouse lamp

June 2022 on the Plains

Returning from my June 2022 travels, I was pleased to find the cold dry air replaced with warm summer rains. The garden is finally planted. Lettuces and green onions are gracing the table and harvesting of the cherries has finally begun. The unusual spring has thrown off the normal harvest dates on the wheat as well as in my yard. But combines are now running and garden plants are starting to bloom. Summer is finally here.

Classic Cars

Classic Cars in Classic Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Classic Cars Show logo on semiClassic cars took over Portage Street in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The Flint Vehicle City Back to the Bricks car show made a mid-week stop in this border town. Fortunately for me, the timing coincided with my arrival on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Speedy Classic Cars

As you can see from the photos, a wide range of vehicles participate in the display. But Corvettes and Mustangs vied for the top spot in the category of model most represented. I love the classy lines of a Corvette. But I have only been a passenger once. On the other hand, I have occasionally driven a mustang.

But speed cars are wasted on me. My current drive for this trip is a Dodge Charger and the maximum speed so far is 75 M.P.H. But the vehicle handles well.

Car Show Enthusiasts

A very nice sized crowd turned out for the show. Lots of interaction between the proud car owners and the mingling enthusiasts. Theme cars like the Back To The Future DeLorean and The VW Beetle Herbie from The Love Bug and Herbie Rides Again were tricked out to look like the originals.

Quite a few photos were snapped by the onlookers. And the few autos with sale signs generated interest as well. Babies in strollers napped and old timers reminisced.  Community events like this car show remind me of the many good things in America.

Classic Car Promo Tour

The Back To The Bricks classic car promo tour ended in Sault Ste. Marie after stops in Alma, East Tawas and Petosky. The six day tour of Michigan served as advertisement for the Main Event scheduled for August 15-20, 2022 in Flint, Michigan. Click here for more information.

Hood Ornaments

I love spotting unusual hood ornaments when strolling among the classic cars. This show did not disappoint. Shiny chrome statues glistened atop Ford and General Motor vehicles. My personal favorite was a figure head of Chief Pontiac, naturally adorning a Pontiac.

Next time you are travelling, seek out the local community events. This country has a lot to offer. Make the most of your opportunities.

Back To The Bricks Car Show

Summertime in Santa Fe

August Get Away

A quick August two day trip gave us a look at summertime in Santa Fe. Mid-Covid-19. New Mexico implemented a hard shut down in 2020. At the present time rules are more relaxed. But evidence of the pandemic remain.

On our approach, highway warning signs proclaimed- Delta variant is here: Cases on the upswing- in blinking lights. So, tourists are forewarned. We took notice an acted accordingly.

Favorite Haunts

Many of our favorite places remain operational. Once again we stayed at The Inn of the Governors. This non-branded hotel offers exceptional service. We noticed quite an increase in price. Since this is our first summertime in Santa Fe trip, it is unknown if the higher prices are normal or a sign of inflation. Before, we visited in the off season.

A few places were no longer around. Our favorite cheese shop closed in 2020. The bike rental place indicated they would not be open in 2021. (We hiked a 10K instead.) But all three of the restaurants discussed in Wintertime Santa Fe were thriving.

For the most part we relaxed and stayed away from crowded areas. We took advantage of the outside dining at Osterio D’Assisi. Coupled with a late dining hour, we felt quite comfortable sitting in the open air. It was nice to chat with the couple at a nearby table, all while maintaining social distance.

Our second night, we ordered takeout from Del Charro and relaxed in a small alcove outside our hotel room. The weekend crowds had built throughout Friday afternoon and that factored into the decision. Tired legs were also an influence. The hanging baskets, replete with hummingbirds provided ambiance.

Hidden Gem of the Summertime in Santa Fe Visit

The highlight of the trip was the discovery of a new place to grab a bite of lunch and escape from the hustle and bustle of life. And we found Ahmyo Wine Garden by chance. Serendipity at play.

Undeterred Friday morning by the inability to rent a bike, we explored the area north of Santa Fe by foot. Fort Marcy Park was the starting point of our trek. We meandered through the neighborhoods for about three miles before connecting to Gonzalez Road for the return to town via a trip down Canyon Road.

Our plan was to stop at The Teahouse on the upper part of Canyon, a street know for art studios and boutiques with just a sprinkling of eateries. Unfortunately, The Teahouse was packed. Tables close together and the wait list an hour long.

So we continued downhill looking for outdoor seating. About half way down I spied a sandwich board advertising the Ahmyo Wine Garden. It was almost lost among the many signs on Canyon Road. After walking through the art gallery, one stumbles upon a true hidden oasis.

We split a sandwich and a cheese board, drank our fill of bottled water, one sparkling and one still. And sampled a local New Mexico wine. The restaurant has been open only a few months with the addition of wine in the last few weeks. Very few people were there- a hidden gem that I doubt will stay unknown for long. But in this time of Covid-19, I was glad to find a place with tables spread out in a peaceful garden. The ambiance made up for a limited menu. Perfection, pure perfection. If you visit Santa Fe, make sure to take a break at the Ahmyo Wine Garden.

Fountain in Ahmyo Wine Garden
Dragonfly sculpture

Signs of the Pandemic

In addition to the aforementioned Delta is Here highway sign, many people donned masks throughout the city. Currently there is not a mandate. Businesses had Covid related messages on their entries. The signs varied by request. I noted many “if you are vaccinated masks not necessary, but mandatory for unvaccinated.” A few asked all to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Compliance was high. But not 100%.

There were people coughing. I will admit this is a bit unsettling. And I wonder how long a simple cough will make me nervous. It truly is a curse to live in interesting times.

Pent-Up Demand

There were many signs of pent-up demand. Summertime in Santa Fe is full of tourists, pop-up art shows, musicians on The Plaza and a back to normal Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. Restaurants are full, as are hotels. Merchants must be relieved to ring up sales again.

Delta is lurking. Two-thirds of adults living in New Mexico are fully vaccinated. Will this be enough to provide protection from the influx of visitors? It is too early to tell.

Striking a balance is key. Enjoy the slideshow.

Summertime in Santa Fe

Summer Travel; Random Thoughts

A Few Rambling Remarks

The year 2021 is full of Summer Travel; Random Thoughts follow. Like many Americans, I am hitting the road after a year of little travel. In addition to conferences and work trips, newborn babies and wedding planning call for many trips. Of varying length. So I am throwing out some observations.

Masks

As the summer wears on, I see fewer and fewer masks. The exception is among children and young adults. The children make a lot of sense to me. Under 12 are not eligible for vaccines. Less so the young adults. But perhaps they are taking extra precautions. Now that I am thinking about it, some of the very elderly also have face wear.

Crowds

Groups are beginning to gather again. While I felt quite comfortable at a conference of two hundred, I am still a bit leery of inside gatherings. However, so far so good. Outdoor gatherings make me a little less apprehensive, but I have never been one to enjoy standing cheek to jowl. From the Ohio River Valley to the High Plains of Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming, people are getting out and about.

But some crowds cause concern. Especially in areas where the delta variant is present. Mesa County, Colorado is far, far, away from me. But, the county hosted a country music jam in late June. At the same time, the delta variant was rearing its’ ugly head in that locale. Repercussions are just now coming to light. Numbers are trending up.

Similarly, parts of the Southeast-next on my travel agenda-are experiencing huge upswings. I will be staying with family. All elderly, all vaccinated. So I will travel, but cautiously. Drive through eateries along the road will become the norm on this next journey.

Summer Travel Cross Country Style

Late May and early June trips went without any hiccups for my spouse and me.  The trip to Kansas was quite easy. Traffic is returning, but the roads were not clogged. The same for the Rocky Mountain highways of Colorado and Wyoming. And gas prices were reasonable.

Travelling in late June was another story. This was a much longer trip to the Ohio River Valley on a journey to Cincinnati with tours of Bluegrass Country wrapped around the conference destination. My travelling companion thought I was a tad bit weird, filling up the tank at each stop vs. when on empty. That is until we stopped in Columbia, MO and hit a gas station totally out.

I had been reading about shortages in various locations. Of course press coverage exacerbated the problem to the point small sized cities ran totally out. The explanation is not a shortage of fuel, but a shortage of labor. Not enough people to drive the fuel trucks. Thus, a labor shortage created a fuel supply shortage.

Labor Shortages

Long Haul drivers are not the only labor shortage. Restaurant staff is also in short supply. On the aforementioned Ohio Valley trip, a stop to get some lunch ended in a return to the Interstate. The two restaurants were closed. One had a help wanted sign. Many other places also had help wanted signs.

I think a combination of factors is driving this shortage. Many people are out and about making up for the year of isolation. Some Baby Boomers have decided to go ahead and retire. While the Federal unemployment has ended, some states have continued the unemployment payments. Thus no incentive to work.

Furthermore, the younger generation is looking at things differently. When talking to one of my offspring, I was asked why one would enter a career of long haul truck driving when autonomous trucks are already in the testing stage. What would be the upside?

Other conversations include a chance to move beyond entry level jobs sooner because Baby Boomers are leaving the work force. And a concern about the possible resurgence of the virus due to the inability to reach herd immunity.

Summer Travel Concerns

My summer travel plans are centered mostly on visits to family. A year apart was difficult. Other trips revolve around business interests. Maybe next year I will travel just to travel, in other words take a vacation. My bucket list of places to see hasn’t had much ticked off lately.

But there are some concerns. First and foremost when travelling by car is the availability of fuel. Next of course is the price levels. (Those of you participating in the inflation check challenge, this is the month to re-check.) Of course weather is a constant concern.

This next trip will be solo. Nothing new for me. But I will follow the precautions listed in this post on travelling alone. I am thankful last year’ riots have simmered down. My journey through the southern states is familiar territory. Stomping ground from my youth. I am looking forward to visiting family and driving some familiar roads. The United States of America has many, many beautiful places within.

January 2021 Wrap-Up

The January 2021 Wrap-Up is a day late but hopefully not a dollar short for the reading public. As a month, it was difficult. Numbness as much as pain. But that is to be expected when dealing with Life After the Loss of a Loved One. Fortunately, the circle of life continues. And as I have experienced from a tooth repair at the dentist, numbness wears off. Pain to the heart will take longer, but fortunately a life full of good memories is lasting.

Travel in January 2021

A long cross country drive offered a glimpse of how America is reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of the country has taken steps to stay healthy. This does not mean everything was closed down. Restaurants were open. Outside seating was available in most cases. But capacity varied greatly.

We did encounter a few places where masks where not in the majority. Business was booming in these spots. I think this will be the case everywhere by the end of 2021. As more and more people who want the vaccine achieve their goal, pent up demand will explode.

A final thought on travelling by car in the United States is just how beautiful this country is. And how varied. (I guess that is two thoughts.) Visitors to the country as well as citizens should go beyond the big cities. The smaller towns offer such a diverse experience.

Looking Forward in 2021

January 2021 is now in the past. We lost two family members, bringing the total to three for this long winter. The remainder of the high risk individuals in the family have all received a first vaccine. So far, no adverse reactions. At the end of February, I will report on the second series of shots.

My spouse is on the extended list for vaccine, but I am not yet eligible. It will be interesting to follow the progress both here and abroad. Meanwhile, I expect to be a bit unsocial for the coming month.

Spring 2021 In The Garden

The snow mostly disappeared over the weekend allowing me to get into the Big Garden and make some repairs. A large windstorm in the middle of the month caused damage to the support structure. We still have very cold nights, below zero this past week, so no outside planting. But seeds will soon be started indoors. Life begins again.

Over the Road Travel Warriors

Due to the loss of my Mom, my husband and I became over the road travel warriors these past days. We chose to drive the 1600 miles plus for flexibility. Trips of this kind are standard fare for me. Not so much for my better half. He feels as if he’s been through the wash.

As a child, I participated in many road trips. In fact my first trip via airplane did not occur until I was over twenty-one. I do not know the age my husband was on his first flight, but each of my children traveled by air before their second birthday. This I believe is a statement about mobility as well as competition. It can be much cheaper to fly under the right circumstances. However, last minute travel does not apply.

Return to Normalcy

Comparing this road trip to the ones shared in the September 2020 Wrap-Up, many more travelers are on the go. Once again, major cities are best avoided during rush hour. Gas stations with the lowest price are in high demand. Eighteen wheelers no longer have the Interstates to themselves.

However, evidence of the pandemic remains. Restaurants are not operating at full capacity. Outdoor seating is augmented with heaters in locations with cold climates. Many, but not all are wearing masks.

Over the Road Travel Warriors Find Hidden Gems

On my long ago over the road travels, my parents included guide books from AAA. Many of these publications included a section of hidden gems. Many were scenic although a few were businesses. On our recent cross-country trip we too found hidden gems.

The first was Crush Wine Bar and Restaurant, click here for their website menu. This wonderful find in downtown Amarillo had heaters on the outside patio to keep diners warm. But the best part of the visit was the wonderful halibut and salmon dishes we consumed. I may make Amarillo a destination just so I can go back to Crush.

The second find was the Ponce De Leon Rest Stop in the Panhandle of Florida. The exit is easy off and on catering to both directions. The only negative were the high gas prices at nearby stations. But this rest area offered the cleanest bathrooms and wonderful picnic tables. A great location for ham and provolone sandwiches.

The last hidden gem was in Natchitoches, La. The French Market Express was discovered on a refueling stop. This convenience store was amazing. In addition to fresh baked goods, baked onsite, the store offers a wide array of Cajun food including cooked to order beignets. From now on I plan to make this a required stop. I cannot say enough positives about this over the road travel gem. Click here for their website and keep in mind this is all within a gas station convenience store.

Non-fiction Reading along the Road

I am now about two-thirds through the Colin Woodard book American Nations. Readers can expect a review soon. So far I find the book thought provoking and relative to the current political climate here in the U.S.A.

The over the road travel gave this writer new ideas. I only hope they can come to fruition. As I have written before, people work through grief in different ways. I plan to quilt, read and write through mine. Thanks to all for the support.

Outdoor dining at Crush Restaurant

 

 

Post-pandemic Travel

On this snowy December day, news of the United Kingdom giving the ok to distribute the first Covid-19 vaccine allows me to dream of post-pandemic travel. I am by nature a traveler. This year I have only stepped foot in four different states, two of which are within an hour of the one I live in. A far cry from 2017 when I traveled to twenty states. Since I do not fall into one of the early vaccination groups and because I may want to wait for one of the traditional vaccines, I doubt I will resume my travel habits until late in 2021. But I can dream. And compile a list of spots to visit.

Old Favorites

During this year of staying home, reminiscing about former trips has been a pleasant past-time. Many a summer and fall evening was spent talking on the back porch about favorite haunts. Concern was expressed as well, knowing how hard the lack of travelers would impact the destinations.

Santa Fe

We had hoped to visit Santa Fe in early October. The state opened travel just after Labor Day. But by the time our schedules opened up, New Mexico was closing down again. I know of at least one restaurant shutting down. Fortunately, one of my favorite art galleries on Canyon Road, the Wiford Gallery, has taken a pro-active approach. They have emailed and snail mailed updates on their artists and offered discounts on shipping. Additionally, I have received communications from Gruet Winery. I hope the many places highlighted in Wintertime Santa Fe will weather the storm. Santa Fe may very well be my first post-pandemic travel destination.

Nola

The best part of travel is trying the local cuisine. New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the top spots for Cajun cooking. One can order fried rabbit and fried gator. A tasty dish of shrimp and grits or a spicy shrimp poor boy are on many menus. Tasty beignets can follow a morning run along the Mississippi River. Trips to the Big Easy occur every few years. My last trip, which you can read about here, took place in March of 2018. So it is almost time to return.

Beaded Mardi Gras Mask
Mardi Gras Decorations
Paddle boat
View of Natchez from paddle side.

San Diego

San Diego is another favorite spot. If all goes well, I could see a possible return in November of 2021. Like New Orleans, San Diego has a wonderful place to run along the harbor. But the wide sidewalk gets crowded with tourists so it’s best to run early in the morning. Another great thing about San Diego is how bike friendly the town is. But don’t let this coastal town fool you. A ride to the top of Point Loma contains quite a bit of elevation.

Food again plays a large part of San Diego’s appeal. Both fresh seafood and spicy Mexican dishes are found in abundance. One of my favorite memories is of a catered event at the ball park. Great food and great views. During lulls in the ball park a simple glance to the west brought the harbor into view. A nice evening to cap off a conference.

New Destinations for Post-pandemic Travel

Of course my self-imposed stay close to home lockdown has generated a long list of new places to visit. This year’s reading has produced a diverse group of destinations. Domestic and international locales are on the list. I recently discovered a great website, Visit the USA.com which offers planned stops along multi-length trips. Since I like spontaneity, I tend to use travel articles, books and sites as starting points. Flexibility allows time to further explore and discover.

Book Inspired Travel

Last week’s review of One Last Lie, returned to mind a desire to visit upper Maine. Houlton, Maine looks like the perfect place to serve as a base for exploration. This international border town actually is West of New Brunswick, Canada. I so enjoyed my fall trip to Quebec in 2018, that I think a return to a nearby part of the world is likely.

Many of the books read during this pandemic were set in the Pacific Northwest. Although I vacationed in Oregon back in 2004, with a quick detour to climb Mt. Saint Helen’s, I have never been to Seattle nor to the Puget Sound. So this area is on my post-pandemic travel list.

Diana Giovinazzo, author of The Woman in Red, paints such wonderful descriptions of both South America and Italy, one wants to explore both regions. I have not experienced much intercontinental travel but maybe the opportunity exists in post-pandemic travel.

Most Likely Travel

The future is impossible to predict. But I hazard to guess that my first travel will be to see family in Central Florida. It has been over a year since I have seen two of my family members residing in the land of Mickey Mouse.

However, once that trip is made, I fear my pent up demand for travel will be further restricted by work constraints. The days of carefree travel are many years in the future for my travelling companion. So my list will grow longer.

What destinations are on your post-pandemic travel list?

September 2020 Wrap-Up

September 2020

The September 2020 Wrap-Up will get a bit political due to the first of the 2020 Presidential Debates. If you can call last night’s debacle a debate. But in loyalty to the many followers across the globe, I will save my observations on national politics until the end. After all, this post is a wrap-up of the entire month not just the next to last day.

Travel Returns

September 2020 included two out of town trips. Both via automobile. The first was a trip to Kentucky. This journey included an overnight stay in suburban St. Louis, close to my high school home.

The hotel practiced Covid-19 precautions with a seal at each door which indicated if entry had been made after cleaning. I managed to forget my hanging bag and needed to buy some replacement clothes. Fortunately, the mall I haunted as a teenager was located at the same Interstate interchange. Unfortunately, the mall was all but abandoned.

The one store open was a Macy’s. I arrived 40 minutes before closing. Thanks to the wonderful customer service-all with Covid-19 consciousness- I was able to replace the outfits needed for the following two days. The only time I have ever encountered an equally outstanding service has been at a Nordstrom’s. Kudo’s to Macy’s for filling a need. The successful shopping trip helped mitigate the sadness of seeing a once vibrant shopping mall in such dire straits. 

We then enjoyed an outdoor dinner at an Italian restaurant in a nearby strip mall. The tables were well spaced and the food was excellent. The weather which can be quite muggy in St. Louis was perfect. The following day we continued on to Kentucky.

Kentucky

In a normal year, I make a minimum of two trips a year to Kentucky. Because of the pandemic, my spring trip was cancelled. Things are still not normal, but business can only be put off for so long. So, I am mitigating the risk factors as much as possible.

First, I do wear masks, especially indoors. On this trip, we packed a cooler with snacks and drinks. We never entered a fast-food restaurant. All sit down meals were outside-or in one case in a large tent with open sides. Bathroom breaks while travelling were made at highway rest stops. Finally, we washed hands and utilized hand sanitizer frequently.

One highlight of the trip was revisiting the Kentucky Champion Oak Tree first discussed in the May 2019 Wrap-Up. This trip I took the following video in hopes of giving readers a better idea of how grand this tree is. Please enjoy the YouTube video at the end of the post.

Another highlight was finding a wonderful specimen of an Ohio buckeye tree at an equally wonderful Indiana rest stop. America has many fantastic places within her shores.

Buckeye Tree September 2020
Buckeye Tree From Indiana Rest Stop

Our return entailed a fifteen hour drive on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Almost a full month later, no signs of illness. Again, we were as cautious as could be without practicing total isolation.

Wyoming

Just this past weekend, I attended a conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Again, I mitigated risk as much as possible. Time again will tell if I was successful or not. But my true concern from that trip were the wildfires spreading across the Western States.

The pictures in the slide show below are from that trip. The air quality was horrific. The index AQI on Saturday was 184. I have never been in this situation before. It was horrible. Our climate is suffering.

September 2020 In the Garden

Twice, my garden escaped the threat of frost. So production continues. Although some plants show signs of running there course. Half of the potatoes and half the sweet potatoes have been harvested. The Roma tomatoes continue to flower but the heirloom tomatoes are just maturing what is on the vine. The peanuts need another week before digging.

Fall crops are thriving. Rutabaga, broccoli, and cabbage are now established. Hoops are in place around the artichoke and rosemary. The canvas covering goes atop on the evenings before the threatened frost. Once the freeze begins, the canvas will remain even during the day.

September 2020 In the Kitchen

Of course a robust garden calls for much canning and freezing. In addition to the traditional jelly, pickles, salsa and spaghetti sauce, I made ketchup for the very first time. The taste is wonderful. But the process was quite time consuming. Over 11 hours from start to finish!

I realize it is much easier to by what I can from the store. But the satisfaction I derive from canning is priceless. Furthermore, I firmly believe my preserved goods are healthier. I control the inputs. All my recipes are reduced in both sugar and salt. 

I am closing the traditional part of the end of the month Wrap-Up with a slide show highlighting the various events of September 2020. The political discussion follows the multi-faceted slide show. I have placed the You Tube video at the end-in hopes of neutralizing my diatribe with the calming effect of nature.

 

American Politics

Those of you who wish to tune out here, I will hold no grudge. I absolutely hate politics as I am a bit blunt and haven’t quite figured out the art of persuasion. Or perhaps, I just feel everyone is entitled to their own opinion so why bother to force mine on others. However, I do feel the need to comment on the first of the Presidential debates.

Last night was disgusting. It was not a debate. Instead, three-yes, three- old white men failed America. Old in attitude more than with age. I say that because I am friends with a 98 year old that shows up to work daily at her retail clothing store. But, I digress.

Neither of the candidates nor the moderator fulfilled my expectations last night. They were horrific, each in their own way. My comments on each are below. These are my opinions.

President Trump

Quite simply, the President forgot to be presidential. He lost the respect of many voters last night. Maybe not his key supporters, but the many swing voters that awarded him the election in 2016. Not only did he fail to engage in a meaningful debate, he lost at least one voter when he declared the elections would be rigged if he lost.

This strikes at the heart of the matter for me. Either you believe in the system or you don’t. Our system is a good system, not perfect but good. As such I believe in it. If I did not, there would be absolutely no reason to vote! Our election will not be rigged. My county has used mail ballots for years. The system works. President Trump you should not insinuate a system is rigged if you lose. But, not if you win?!?

Former Vice-President Biden

While I was a big supporter of the former Vice-President when he ran for election in 1988, an election he had to bow out of due to health issues, I was not satisfied with his responses last night. (Although his demeanor was stellar in comparison to the other two.) He refused to directly address the questions about the civil unrest we are currently experiencing in this country on at least two occasions. This concerns me.

Furthermore, Mr. Biden, you have not allayed my fears that the far left controls you. I will not vote for socialism. You stated you were opposed to the New Green Deal, but you failed to explain The Biden Plan. Our national debt is out of control. Raising taxes is not an answer in itself. Spending cuts need to be made as well. We are running out of time before the tipping point is reached. The Debt Clock is ticking.

Chris Wallace and Fox News

The biggest failure of the night belonged to the third man, Chris Wallace. The role of a moderator is not an easy one. I know this from personal experience. But, Mr. Wallace totally failed in his effort last night. Many steps could have made the outcome better. First, a reviewing of the rules of the debate at the start, along with a statement of consequences for breaking those rules.

Second, wording of the questions in a manner not trying to create a division. Furthermore, stating the questions in a straight forward manner, not alluding to whether a candidate would be pleased by the topic. Also, making sure the candidates stay on topic. Many, many times the questions were ignored in favor of a talking point.

Finally, the presenters of the debate have the technology to mute microphones. I know this is possible at a small rural facility where I moderated a contested school board election. Why did Chris Wallace and Fox News FAIL to use this option? My disgust is greatest for their failure to bring the American public a legitimate platform to evaluate the candidates.

Jo Jorgensen

The winner in last night’s debate? Perhaps Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate on the ballot in all fifty states. If you try to go to her website jo20.com you may need to be patient. The demand has been so great to find an alternative to the two men above that the server is a bit slow processing.

While I have voted third party in the past, I had not contemplated voting that way in 2020. Until last night. I tend to be a fence sitter. We actually have a great amount of power. Year after year we decide the outcome of elections.

This year I may sit on the fence until Election Day. In the meantime, I am researching Jorgensen. Perhaps she will win my vote. For those who say it will be wasted, that may be true, but at this time I would feel tremendous angst voting for either of the men representing the ruling parties. Perhaps the leadership in both the Democrat and Republican parties need to take note. Elections are won, one vote at a time.

I do plan to watch next week’s debate between the Vice-Presidential candidates. I doubt they will get out of hand, but in the end it is the Presidential candidate that will end up as the leader of the United States of America. Not the Vice-President.

A big thanks for all who made it to the end of this long opinionated post.  September 2020 was certainly full even in the midst of a pandemic. To all American readers, please vote your conscience. We are indeed at a pivotal point in history.

Vail Valley Escape

Last week we escaped the triple digit heat with a retreat into Vail Valley of the Colorado Mountains. We did as much as we could to mitigate the chances of catching Covid-19. Only time will tell if we were successful. But it was a much needed break from the past few months.

Vail Valley House Rental

There were several pieces to our mitigation strategy. First, we rented a house from Gore Creek Properties. This actually turned out to be an economical decision as well. Because we had four generations, we would have needed three motel rooms. Our rental price was about half of the motel cost.

Perhaps the owners had the three story home backing onto Gore Creek priced at a discount since the Vail Valley area had just re-opened days before. Or, the cost was lower because the location was in East Vail. Whatever the reason, we benefited.

The house itself dated to about the 1980s. Since there were three levels, the generations each had their own floor. (The fourth generation having recently reached the ripe old age of one, had to share with her parents!) I believe this spacing along with the multiple outdoor spaces offered many beneficial health benefits: Both physical and mental.

Packing In and Out

A second piece of our strategy was packing in our food. Four coolers of food sustained us through the stay. It helped to have both a spacious kitchen and an outdoor grill. Of course cultural differences popped up. As “Westerners” our bar-b-que night consisted of burgers, grilled sliced herb potatoes, and hot dogs. The lone Southerner was surprised. In the southern part of the United States, bar-b-que means pulled pork and brisket along with slaw and potato salad. We muddled through.

We did have to pack out a few items as a result of one of two trips into the town of Vail. Our first outing was a Sunday morning Farmer’s Market. Even though we went early, we did encounter some crowded situations. However, in Vail Valley the majority of individuals wore masks.

Our best buy at the market in terms of taste was a delicious, if pricey, blueberry pie. One of the best I have ever tasted. Sometimes you do need to pay up for quality.

Most of the pictures in the slide show come from this foray into town. The second visit to the more populated part of Vail Valley was a trip to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Again, a majority, but not all, had masks on. Even the kids.

Mountain Air

There is something to be said for the pureness of air at elevation. The altitude is in the 8000 foot range. Fortunately, everyone from the toddler to the octogenarian fared well. The adults enjoyed biking, hiking and running while the youngster ruled from her stroller. I have fond memories of the area from the Extreme Hike fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis a few falls ago.

While I do not plan to participate this year, the fundraiser is ongoing. You may click here for more information. Hopefully, important organizations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be able to survive Covid-19.

Taking Risks in Everyday Life

Granted, taking this trip to Vail Valley was a risk. We did our best to limit the danger. As I discussed in May in the blog post ‘Striking A Balance’, individuals need to be responsible; Every day and especially during this pandemic.

We wear masks in public. As individuals, we practice social distancing. And we strive to keep healthy with an appropriate level of exercise.  Most importantly, we are striking a balance between total isolation and ignorance of how quickly this virus can spread. Family gatherings can be dangerous.

In our case, three of the attendees had recent negative tests for Covid-19. Two live in an area where testing is limited. But they actively practice social distancing and good hygiene.

I hope those who don’t believe in this virus change their minds. Currently, we just have one family member fighting the disease. She picked up the virus working as a camp counselor at a summer camp for kids. Others we have known with the virus have recovered. Unfortunately, one did not.

Apparently we are too early in this pandemic for everyone to know someone who has either survived or died from Covid-19. I still am questioned on whether I “actually” know someone who has caught the virus. I tell them I not only know individuals who have it, I know someone who died from it.

Rest in peace April.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan Brett

Serendipitous Event

Illustrated Tiger  by Jan Brett on Book CoverRecently, I traveled a few hours to a city of 100,000. The purpose of the trip was last minute Christmas shopping. The first stop was a Barnes and Noble where I expected to spend at least an hour. I ended up staying all morning.

I noticed a big travelling bus as I parked. It was hard to miss, taking up a large spot just outside of the store. The sides of the vehicle were covered end to end and top to bottom with beautiful illustrations. Tigers were prominently featured.

The store had a normal crowd for a Thursday morning. Young mothers with toddlers and retirees made up the bulk of the customers. The only noticeable change from any other day was a doubling of the staff. However, it was anything but business as usual.

Since I was Christmas shopping (I love to give books) I wandered throughout the store. Eventually, I made it to the back where the children’s area is located. A large display featuring tigers was surrounded by an open area and then some chairs at the back. Just in front of the display was an easel and a blank pad of paper. A demonstration was clearly in the making.

Those of you very familiar with children’s books may recognize the presenter, Jan Brett. Her wonderful illustrations have captivated children for many years. But her appearance and actions at the book signing far exceeded my expectation.

Jan Brett

Shortly before the author took center stage, a school bus full of fifth graders arrived. They sat quietly in the open space that had been cleared for them. Most of them cross-legged but a few at the back up on their knees for a better view. Their good behavior was well-rewarded.

Jan Brett did not read the story. Instead she gave them a lesson in drawing. But first she introduced her husband and explained his job as a member of the Boston symphony. This too incorporated instruction.

Since she is promoting The Tale of the Tiger’s Slippers, she drew a tiger. Like many artists I have watched, she began with a rectangle and a sphere. But then she explained how an eraser is part of drawing.

Brett shared her travel experiences as she worked on her sketch. She talked about the importance of seeing the animals in nature. But all along she was giving tips on how to draw. She also gave encouragement.

An Inch an hour

Brett told the audience that it takes a lot of time to work on her illustrations. She took her time with the tiger she was drawing. Best of all, she shared some of the ways to let creativity take over. Time and practice were words she used over and over. She explained how it could take an hour to fully develop an inch of drawing.

She is an artist first. But she became a writer at the urging of editors. I found that part of her talk particularly inspiring. My understanding is that she is self-taught in art and bases many of her stories on ancient folk tales. But she likes to use animals for main characters instead of people.

People Person

Jan Brett is clearly a people person. She visited with each person-kid or adult- as she signed the books. I was next to last in line and asked if she signed board books. The answer was affirmative and she explained that most board books have a page for the child’s name.

I love the Jan Brett books in my home library. I am in awe of the person. Yes she was performing. But she was a genuine person, as was her husband. Both took their time to visit with a perfect stranger. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across this appearance. It was an experience that I will relish for quite awhile.

 

 

September 2019 Wrap-Up

The month of September 2019 flew by. Two conferences, one in Billings, Montana and one in Vail, Colorado created havoc with scheduling. Furthermore, the garden once again provided an abundance of produce. So, it was tough to squeeze in time to read.

September 2019 Travel

I expected to see lots of color change in both Montana and Colorado as both conferences were in the second half of the month. But that was not the case. I am glad my primary goal focused on the conferences and not sightseeing.

The last time I visited Billings was back in the spring of 1985. Much has changed. The population is close to double. My visit included visits to both Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College. Both institutions of higher learning were very impressive.

The Vail trip included information on detecting incidents and breaches with respect to online activity. One break-out session reiterated the importance of unique passwords. Please read my post on passwords by clicking here.

Fall colors were almost non-existent in Billings and in the early stages at Vail. Higher elevations in both states displayed more of the typical color I expected. Unfortunately, my October schedule will not include travel to see fall color.

September 2019 Garden

The big garden as I like to refer to my raised row garden is growing like gang busters. The only crop not living up to expectations are the beans. The runner beans have put out a mass of flowers but not much in the way of fruit.

The root crops are great. An abundance of garlic is in storage in the basement. Pickled beet jars line the pantry. The onions were combined with tomatoes and peppers to make the family recipe salsa. This salsa is always gone by February. Additional tomatoes not eaten fresh are used for spaghetti sauce.

Eggplant has also produced well this year. We have fried them and made multiple batches of eggplant parmigiana. I also canned some eggplant in a Lemon Basil Eggplant Caponata. This is a multi-use dish. We had the Caponata atop noodles, but rice works too. Plus, I think it would make a great spread for crackers or bread.

September 2019 Books

I struggled to finish books to review this month. Part of this was due to the above mentioned items. Additionally, I have spent time on fall cleaning. But the month did bring a review of Things You Save in a Fire which I highly recommend. This past weekend I finished two books on my night stand so check in on Friday for another review.

Foreclosure Re-model

A lot of my spare time has been spent coordinating long-distance on the re-model of a foreclosure. The storms in the Atlantic delayed a tile shipment-still not here. So, we chose an alternative. Of course this changes other selections.

I am anxious to see the progress in person and plan to make a trip back to Florida soon. I could use a break from the Central Plains heat and from canning! Plus, I can check on my family member with Alzheimer’s.

I hope all of you had a productive month! My September 2019 was quite eventful. Thanks for reading.

August 2019 Wrap-Up and Labor Day Greetings

August 2019 was long, hot and eventful. So eventful that this is just now posting on Labor Day. Of course, that means the calendar has moved to September. Such is life when one is busy. Enjoy this August 2019 Wrap-Up!

August 2019 Wrap-Up

Road Trip

A road trip to the East Coast and back took up over half of the month. It was a quasi-business trip so no time to sight see. But plenty of time to observe. Since it is summer time in the Northern Hemisphere, lots and lots of road construction all along the way. However, that was not the only construction.

Small towns and big cities alike appear to be adding restaurants, stores, houses and apartments. Of particular note is the new trend of Big Box complexes. For those of you in other countries, a Big Box complex is a variation of a strip mall. Stores such as Home Depot or Best Buy anchor an area of restaurants and smaller retailers. Lots of choices for the shopper or one looking for a place to eat.

Of course no trip across country is complete without a stop at a Buccee’s. This gas station on steroids is geared toward travelers in cars. Semi-trucks are limited to the refueling tankers. Of interest to me, was the fact that attached to the fuel tanks were Help Wanted signs complete with information on pay. As you can see by the picture, the starting rates are above minimum wage. Yet another indicator of current economics.

Image of a help wanted sign
Looking for employees

Foreclosure Project

The long road trip allowed me to transport some building supplies and equipment. The newest project is coming along. In addition to finding specialized contractors for the AC, plumbing, electrical and roof repairs, we are using a general contractor for much of the work.

Econogal using a jackhammer to break tile floor
Breaking up the tile

However, we did get in on some of the deconstruction. Removing the existing tile from the kitchen floor was quite a chore. Taking the cabinets out required care since each came with under cabinet lighting. The wainscoting in the formal areas was actually a thick cardboard made to look like wood on one side. But the ancient and painted wood paneling in the fireplace room was the real deal. It too is no longer present.

The walls are down and the preliminary work is done on expanding the kitchen. I am looking forward to seeing everything progress. A walk-in pantry will anchor a peninsula with enough space for cooking and eating.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was the successful trapping and relocation of the armadillo making a home too close for comfort. These animals cannot be lured with bait. Thus it took a few days for the animal to wander into the cage.

Armadillo
Cute but destructive.

Armadillo in a cage
Ready for a new home

 

Spider Update

For the faithful readers of this blog, the mystery of the spider is partially resolved. After releasing Mystery of the Resident Spider (Click here to read) I patiently watched as the spider “ate” its web. Research leads me to believe the spider belongs to the Orb family of arachnids. They take their webs down each day.

We enjoyed the spider for the better part of a week. Then a new mystery. A double web stayed and stayed. But no spider. The only clue was a small bit of a down feather caught in the web. My best guess is the circle of life continues.

 

In the Garden

Meanwhile, the garden continues to produce. But, the successes are not the same as last year. For instance, I have only harvested one cucumber to date. Fortunately, other crops are keeping me busy. The cabbage is fantastic as are the various types of tomatoes. The concord grapes are ripening and I believe I will be making grape jelly in the next week or two.

However, my beans continue to flower without producing beans to eat. Perhaps it is the heat. We expect another triple digit temperature on this Labor Day.

 

Labor Day Festivities

A quick trip to the Front Range started the Labor Day weekend. Gathering with family from far and wide is always a treat. But, it is good to be back home for the actual day. Travelling on holidays is stressful. So returning home early alleviates the stress. Plus, the Floridian in the family needed to return home in order to prepare for a potential strike from Hurricane Dorian. Remember September is National Preparedness Month.

Hardware Issues

Finally a note on computer hardware in this August 2019 Wrap-Up. I use a HP Envy 360 for my work. It has served me well. But, the machine dates back to 2013. So it was not too surprising when a hardware issue popped up. Or maybe I should say popped off.

The on/off switch on the outside of the laptop should connect with a button which in turn presses down on a circuit. However, the inside button broke off. This tiny piece is critical. For a temporary fix, I can unscrew the keyboard and hold the button in place. But this is not very practical.

So, I have ordered a replacement power-on board. Hopefully I will find You Tube as helpful replacing the board as I did when I was troubleshooting the problem in the first place. In the meanwhile, my posts may remain sporadic.

Size comparison between a penny and a computer part
Broken hardware piece compared to a penny

 

 

 

Econogal’s Florida Observations

Often when people meet, a common question is where are you from? For my husband, it is an easy answer. We live about a hundred miles from his birth place and with the exception of his college years and the first years of our marriage he has always lived within an hour or two. On the other hand, I lived in six different places by the time I was 18 and 10 places by the time I married. Thus, my answer varies. Sometimes I say the East Coast, but most often my reply is Florida.

My residency in the Sunshine State was divided between Gainesville and Daytona Beach. One of my fondest memories is of the bus driver detouring through Greek Town during Homecoming week. As a first grader I loved seeing the decorated floats and chanting for the Gators. But just before third grade we moved to Daytona Beach. New memories were made.

Now I live in a land locked state. Fortunately, the open plains remind me of the ocean. The rippling “amber waves of grain” do give me a sense of home. Plus I make frequent trips to Florida. My family lives there.

Birthday Celebration

This week marks the 81st birthday of my Mom. She currently resides in a nursing home in Central Florida. My Dad visits her every day. Unfortunately, her physical and mental condition are such that she needs more care than can be provided at home. On the plus side, she still enjoys leaving the nursing home on occasion to eat out.

Since one of her favorite food groups is Bar-B-Q, we took her to a nearby restaurant specializing in this Southern delicacy. The food was great. Perfect for a birthday celebration. The place quickly filled up. Unfortunately the table behind us turned over during the meal. Unfortunate because a family with an unruly child occupied the table as we were half way through the meal.

Dementia

Dementia in its various forms changes the personality of the individual the disease strikes. In my Mom’s case, we are pretty sure she has Alzheimer’s. Loud noises can be quite confusing. So, the screaming toddler was not ideal.

At first, I felt bad for the mom behind us. She was holding down the table while her husband and older child waited in line. But that changed once he joined her. Neither one could quiet the kid. Nor did they take him outside. (The standard procedure at one time when dining in public was for one parent to take the unhappy child outside until they could behave.) Moreover, they made little attempt. So we cut our dinner short and took the dessert back to the nursing home.

To be honest, my Mom handled the incident better than I did. She was a little snappy at the restaurant, but regained her birthday glow once removed from the situation. A benefit in this case of short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, my mind kept replaying the scene for several hours. I am not a confrontational person, but I sure would like to figure out a nice way of telling someone to take their unhappy child out of a restaurant for the times when this situation occurs. Does anyone have a proven technique or suggested comment?

Handicapped Access

The only other problem with the dinner out was getting out. My mom is wheelchair bound. The restaurant had tables that were placed fairly close together. Not a problem when empty as it was when we arrived, but tough once seats are pulled out. We made it through, but if there was an emergency, like a fire, the process would be a bit scary.

A good tip for arranging tables, whether in a restaurant, setting up for a conference dinner, or even when planning a wedding reception centers around chairs. Pull the chairs out from nestling under the tables. Then walk through the aisles with one arm extended. This creates a space wide enough for wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers to get through.

The downside to the business is less seating. But, in the long run the customer service created by the set-up is beneficial. Handicapped access is one of the key things we consider when taking Mom out to eat. We do this often. So those restaurants that make a point of getting in and out less stressful receive repeat business from us.

Since Florida is a magnet for retirees, it is not uncommon to see wheelchairs and walkers. In the city of Mickey Mouse, strollers are also abundant. Businesses definitely need to consider accessibility for all. And not just because of the legal aspect. It is good business too.

February 2019 Wrap Up

Action-packed describes the twenty-eight days of February 2019. The month started out with a refurbishing kitchen project. Perhaps a better description is a face lift. The work continues as you can see from the pictures. A two-week drive across the country to celebrate an eightieth birthday contributed to the action of the month. Throw in some reading, quilting and garden planning and the end of February 2019 is nigh.

Kitchen Project

Textured dark wall paper on lower third of wallThe old wallpaper is history. A mixture of warm water and vinegar in equal parts aids in the peeling. I found spraying the wall with the mixture and waiting just a few minutes helped a lot. The timing is important though. After ten minutes, the paper was almost dry. (I live in a very dry climate.) So it is important to treat small areas at a time. I used about two quarts of vinegar in the process.

The next step involved applying a new coat of wallpaper primer. Once that was completed I marked the breakfast room wall to indicate the division between the two wallpapers. So far only the bottom paper is up. The top is on today’s schedule. The chair rail will be tile. But this tile came in square foot sheets. So I asked my favorite contractor to assist in cutting the tile.

A strategy is needed for the tile. Because the tile is a Koala Gray basket weave tile, which you can view here the application will be complicated. I think we have a solution, but I haven’t reach that step yet. So it is still a bit of an unknown. But the tile is cut in thirds and it is ready and waiting.

I also tore out the old back splash. Murphy’s Law dictated the last tile off pulled off a chunk of drywall. However, my contractor is lined up to do the repair. In the meantime, the remaining tile adhesive scraped off with a bit of elbow grease. Hand scraping tile glue from wallAfter that was completed, I coated the wall with KILZ 2 acrylic. I plan to use a mixed tile design here that I am quite excited about. Additional pictures will be forthcoming.

Back splash area after a coat of KILZ 2 Acrylic applied.
A coat of KILZ 2 Acrylic prepares the surface for repair.

Cross  Country Trip

In the middle of February 2019 (and the kitchen project) I drove across half a dozen states or so to reach the warm, sunny climate of Florida. Since I was not born there I am not a native. But, I spent much of my childhood in this state and consider it home. Of course much, like some is a qualifier.

I prefer to travel by car or train because you can see so much of the countryside. Yes, there is a need for air travel-so my hope is the U.S. Congress does not seriously consider a proposal to outlaw that mode of transportation. But, when time permits I opt crossing by land. I shared much in my Travel Thoughts post.

February 2019 Hobbies

Our weather at home has been cold and snowy. So, very little time was spent outside. I pruned the grapevines one day when the temperature reached the upper fifties. But most of February 2019 was spent indoors.

Quilt top before layeringI am currently hand quilting the Love Panel Quilt. The next baby in the family is due in early June. I think she will enjoy the bright reds and pinks. Even though I use a machine to piece the quilts I make, the hand quilting relaxes me. It takes a bit of extra time.

February 2019 Books

Many reading recommendations arrived in February 2019. Some I have completed. But I was thrilled earlier this week to receive a package in the mail from a fellow book lover. She gifted me with The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Both look fantastic. The non-fiction work I am now reading is Jeff Gerke’s The First 50 Pages.

My library check-outs are Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. I loved her The Thirteenth Tale which I read many years ago. Also, The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict caught my eye. The latter, Like the Heather Morris book above are fictional accounts of true people and events.

Even though February 2019 is a short month, or perhaps because, I accomplished quite a bit. My goal is to have the kitchen project wrapped up by the end of March. My hope is the below zero temperatures will then be history, at least until the next winter season rolls around. I am anxious to return to gardening.

Travel Thoughts

Rand McNally Large Print Road Atlas
Road Atlas- a good back-up to GPS.
The past two weeks I drove from the heartland of America to an Eastern Seaboard state. And back. So, I plan to share some of my travel thoughts now that I am once again ensconced in cold winter weather. My trip to Florida was to celebrate a family milestone and to deliver some canned goods, a quilt and other items.

Airlines don’t particularly like canned liquids as carry-on items. Shipping overland can work for the food items if they are processed correctly, but I just don’t trust anybody to deliver my quilts. I consider them works of love as well as art. A bonus this trip was returning with two very old quilts from my mom’s side of the family. Both need some TLC. (Tender Loving Care)

The Southern Route

Travelling thousands of miles across country by car during winter requires flexibility for me. I dislike driving in snow and am finally wise enough not to drive on ice. (Age does have benefits, and experience is one of them.) Thus, a February trip dictated a southern route.

There are multiple paths to cross the country when the Sunshine State is the destination. Much of the time I opt for a 45 degree angle. The tangent cuts out some of the mileage. But the first of my travel thoughts was to reach the deep south as quickly as possible. This took me via Interstate 10, a route I had not traveled in many years.

This highway runs from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. While I have not traversed the far western parts, I am very familiar with the Eastern half. But, I did forget just how much of that is bridges and causeways. Unless you have a fear of heights or driving across long expanses of water, this is a pleasant drive in good weather. However heavy rain can create a negative experience.

The second of my travel thoughts revolved around Travel Safety issues. Since I was travelling alone, I wanted to stop each night before dark. This meant dividing the drive as equally as possible. I tend to drive at the speed limit so the complete drive takes about 26 hours, give or take an hour. This equidistant concern meant by-passing relatives and staying in hotels. During the summer, the longer days allow me to drive longer and further. Thus, no need for the equal legs.

Flexibility

The key component of the winter trip is flexibility. While I did have a specific date to celebrate, my arrival and departure around that date was flexible. Since I consult weather maps and forecasts on a regular basis, I knew just what sources to use.
My favorite Internet site for both radar maps and written forecasts belongs to the National Weather Service. Their warnings are accurate. The site is a secure one, which I value.

Also, I routinely visit the transportation sites of various states to keep updated on road conditions. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation website is a treasure because it offers links to the surrounding states. This was very helpful as I traveled across that state. It offered great flexibility in planning my route returning home as a series of winter storms rolled across the country.

People

One of the key joys in travelling across the country are the people. I tend to stay in smaller towns and stop for fuel in these locales as well. Of course, size is relative. But each night spent on the road was in a town with a population under 20,000. Clerks young and old offer good tips. Favorite restaurants are always discussed. Furthermore, the clerks are cognizant of road conditions.

Many of the places I passed through have doubled or tripled in size since I was young. Their small town feel and charm is beginning to disappear. However, towns on the high plains look like they are losing population. Other small towns in the deep south are also struggling with retaining residents. A location on an interstate does not guarantee economic growth.

The cities are bigger and busier. Fortunately, one of my travel thoughts was to pass through the large cities on weekends and holidays. The one instance where that was not possible, flexibility allowed me to pass through at a non-rush hour time. In my opinion, the drivers in the cities were more stressed and not as courteous. But, my small town bias may be clouding my judgement.

Interstate Travel

I tend to favor travelling on good state highways and U.S. highways as opposed to the Interstate. I made the exception this time. Driving in the winter can be iffy and I wanted four lane divided roads. One of the interesting aspects of the drive was the placement of hotels by the big chains.

Another, was the rise of super convenience stores. I stopped at a Buc-ee’s along Interstate 10 and was amazed at the sheer size. Dozens of fuel pumps and the inside looked like a Cracker Barrel on steroids, just no tables to sit at. Lots of food choices all freshly prepared before you. Goods from fishing to kitchen to beach. I could have shopped for an hour.

Final Travel Thoughts

Before I travel across this great nation again, I need to buy a good quality digital camera, or upgrade my five-year old phone. Of course, I also need to somehow think as a photographer. Many missed opportunities along the way.

Travelling across the country reminds me of the diversity of this nation. In one locale I was in the minority, in others a majority. But most places I was among a very mixed population. I stayed within my comfort level. For the most part this meant keeping my introvert traits. Not striking up any deep conversations. Maintaining pleasantries and only asking pertinent questions.

Playing it safe.

The Perfect Holiday

Egg casserole with a bit of liquid in the bottom.
Delicious in taste but a bit too much liquid for a perfect start to the day.
Christmas has officially come and gone for 2018. As a holiday, the day may not have been one for the record books, but from a personal standpoint things were good. Perhaps aging provides perspective. Or maybe I am losing some of my Type A personality. But things no longer need to be perfect. Just enjoyable.

The start could have been smoother. The breakfast casserole that I threw together Christmas Eve was a tad bid liquid. Maybe it was the bacon pieces rendering too much fat as they cooked. Or perhaps the frozen potatoes not soaking up the egg mixture. The nine eggs and cup or so of milk seemed to cook into the correct consistency on the bread layer but not necessarily the potato layer.

Even though most of the family enjoyed the casserole, I will not be sharing the recipe. In the past this rocky start could have ruined the day. But not this holiday. There were too many timelines to meet.
Since one family member resides in a nursing home, the soggy breakfast accompanied by some burnt toast (perhaps an attempt by someone to sop up the juices?) gave way to the needed departure. Loading wheelchairs into trunks adds to travel logistics. But worth the effort to see the smile on a beloved face. In a perfect world our bodies would not betray us. Nor would our minds.

Adults Only Holiday

The youngest in the group is old enough to have voted in the last election. The pitter-patter of little feet does not apply (yet) to the gathering. In some ways this stamped the day. The opening of presents was staggered throughout the day as some family members did not reach the house until after a Disney Brunch. The oldest member of the group (wheelchair bound) received gifts at lunchtime. The house is not handicapped accessible. There was an ebb and flow as the entourage split up and regrouped.

An abhorrent thought in the past, this unity/non-unity allowed individuals to seek out diverse holiday experiences. This was good. The group thrived while sharing a special meal. The dining selection of Paradiso 37 at Disney Springs provided an opportunity to commune. The menu offered selections from the appetizer portion of poutine, a Canadian favorite, to Tres Leches, from our southern neighbors, as a dessert option. The flexibility created a laid back vibe to the celebration. Sometimes banner days need not be choreographed.

A perfect holiday occurred this Christmas. The perfection came from the pleasure noted at the end of the day. I missed the sound of laughter and even an occasional squabble from the under twenty crowd. But my great nieces and nephews celebrated elsewhere. Sometimes we need to enjoy those we are with and forget about the soggy eggs and the lack of squeals.

Epicurean Experiences in Quebec

Quebec Provence is heavily French-speaking. My knowledge of French culture is a bit lacking. But there are two items I associate with the French;their fashion and their food. Both were evident on my trip to Quebec. Suitcase space limited my shopping. But a person needs to eat at least three times a day. So the epicurean experience was a highlight each day of the trip.

Star of Saguenay

Our trip up the Saguenay Fjord produced a day of eating pleasure. While the breakfast at Tim Horton’s aligned more with a treat of pop culture, thereafter each dining experience climbed the rungs of culinary delight. The culmination was the evening meal.

La Cuisine is a French restaurant just a few blocks from the water in the older part of Saguenay. We dined there mid-week on a blustery night. Yet the restaurant had a group in one of the second floor rooms and about fifteen of us dining downstairs in the main room.

If you are ever in Saguenay La Cuisine is a must visit. The gourmet meal was a true epicurean experience. We started with a charcuterie platter for an appetizer. The three meats were a smoked duck breast, Perron pork rillettes and a homemade terrine. Accompanying the meat were a jelly, marinated vegetables and thinly sliced onion.

We asked about the terrine, a pate made in a specific container named terrine, hence the name. This was one of the few times our inability to speak French created a breakdown in communication. We settled for the French name and to this day do not know what wondrous ingredients comprised the terrine. This charcuterie platter was the best I have ever eaten.

The entrees managed to top the appetizer. Hard to believe, yet true. My travelling partner ordered the salmon from their regular menu but I opted to order from the seasonal selections. The Elk Medallions were tender, flavorful and accompanied by roast vegetables. The presentation of the dishes equaled the taste. Truly a memorable meal.

Montreal Treats

Each and every meal in Montreal was delightful. Perhaps the only reason I did not gain weight was the walk-ability of the city. I know I consumed more calories than normal. Meals ranged from Italian to French, seafood to beef with just a bit of sugar thrown in here and there.

Millennials traveling to Quebec will find Taverne Gaspar to their liking. The energetic vibe filled the air. There were very few people over forty in the restaurant the Saturday night we visited. I loved the music and the casual atmosphere. This place was made for people watching.

The food was quite good as well. I enjoyed sharing a charcuterie and cheese platter followed by a lobster roll. I am not an oyster fan but many orders were served to the crowd. Other favorites include a fish and chips platter and various burgers.

The setting added to the ambience. Taverne Gaspar is located in an old warehouse. The thick block walls served as a backdrop for a variety of art deco. Our table was underneath a door turned art piece. The location in the old part of Montreal along the waterfront is also a plus.

My favorite breakfast was a sinfully sweet chocolat et fruit croissant from Marche de La Villette. The restaurant was packed on Sunday morning as were all the nearby eateries. I allowed myself this treat even though reading The Case Against Sugar has altered my eating habits.

The tables were full, but for those who did not want to wait, the bakery counter at Marche de La Villette offered another option. Breads, croissants, sweet rolls and even cronuts were available. A cheese selection accompanied the baked goods.

Downtown Montreal Delight

Most of our meals were enjoyed in Vieux Montreal. However, my second favorite meal of the trip was from Rueben’s Deli and Steakhouse. The location at 1116 Sainte-Catherine St. W was crowded in the middle of the afternoon.

An arrangement of cakes in a glass display case
A dessert case greets you as you walk in the front door reminding you to save some room. Their smoked meats enjoy a case of their own. We sat in a corner booth with a view of the busy sidewalk. This location is in the heart of downtown Montreal allowing for people watching while waiting for your order. In addition to the people, we watched a few snowflakes falling from a seemingly cloudless sky.

The service is great. Once again there were no problems with communication. Menus are available in both French and English. Greetings are in French, with a rapid switch to English depending on the response.

I ordered the Famous Super Sandwich. The smoked beef is thinly sliced and piled high. The customer can add cheese if desired. The rye bread and mustard compliment the cured meat. This is not a sandwich I usually order. But I am glad I took the waiter’s suggestion. Truly a delightful meal. Of course the carrot cake I split for dessert added to the culinary experience.

Epicurean Experiences

A week of eating our way through Quebec Province could start a small book if each meal were described. I have shared some of the highlights. Other dishes you might want to try would include poutine which is French fry based, their berry pies, the crab cakes and if you are a coffee drinker, a morning stop at a Tim Horton’s.

The Canadians also have a knack with pizzas and flat breads. There are micro-breweries, wineries and fromageries to tour and sample. You will not go hungry travelling through Quebec Province.

This vacation was one of the best experiences of my life even though our travel dates were about two weeks too late for warm weather. Be sure to read the post on Lac St. Jean. Finally consider a trip this region so you too can enjoy the many facets of Quebec.

October 2018 Wrap-Up

October 2018


Some months fly by. October 2018 traveled at supersonic speed. This month of seasonal change is one of my favorites. Leaf color, crisp mornings followed by warm afternoons and bountiful harvest highlight the month each year.

The first freeze of the year arrived mid-month. I missed it here on the High Plains. But Mother Nature gave me a taste of it the very same day in Quebec.

Trip to Quebec

My trip to this Canadian Province has been highlighted in three posts thus far with another scheduled next week. Please take time to read about the travels in Fall Travel, Saguenay Fjord, and Quebec Province. The slide shows share some of the picturesque scenery. I believe the Province of Quebec rivals New England for Fall Color.

Most of my travel revolves around work or family. The trip to Quebec was pure vacation for us. Perhaps this is why it has made such an impact. I currently have a Louise Penny book checked out from the library. She is a Canadian writer with a mystery series centered on this region. Stay tuned for a review.

Harvest

This year I tried sweet potatoes in the garden. Most of the slips were planted in raised boxes with one slip going into the Lasagna Bed created in the fall of 2017. The yield was good for this part of the country. But the big success of the year was the raised row garden.

Early last spring I reviewed Jim and Mary Competti’s book Raised Row Gardening. Then I followed the directions to a tee. My fellow homeowner was skeptical. But the bountiful harvest has convinced him. I tried to keep track of the harvest amounts, but the totals became too great.

By Early October the Roma tomatoes were yielding over 5 pounds each day. The carrots large and sweet. Unfortunately the freeze zapped the cantaloupe with over a dozen on the two vines. Beans, peppers, eggplants, tomatillo and squash were prolific. Much time was spent canning in the kitchen.

After the freeze I planted garlic. The Indian summer has the flat green leaves popping out of the ground. In preparation for winter, the beds have been mulched. But green onions, Swiss chard and Kale are all still thriving.

Reading Discovery

I continue to read both printed and online material. One of my finds this month is a blog by Tim Harford. Naturally this writer for the Financial Times has much to say about economics. Among the non-fiction work I read this month was The Virtue of Prosperity. You can read the review by clicking here.

Among fiction reviews, I routinely read The Critiquing Chemist. She often reviews audio books. Commuters may want to visit her site. I am amazed at how many works of fiction are read each month by some of these reviewers. Often I struggle to find time to read and then review one a week.

Challenge

Many of you took on the challenge I issued after writing Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events. The three months are over. I hope you all have benefited. Physical health has direct links to Brain Health which of course is very important to me.

At this point in time I am still meeting my New Year’s Resolutions. This has been quite challenging for me. I find the social aspect the hardest. But I am getting better. As an introvert, small talk is not one of my strengths. But there is always room and for now, time for improvement.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Quebec Province-Lac St. Jean to Montreal

Econogal’s Note: This is the third part in a series about the Province of Quebec. Details of a drive from Lac St. Jean to Montreal follow.

Our stay in Saguenay was brief since we woke up to rain. We were very satisfied with our meal from the previous night so just grabbed coffee and chocolate chaud from a nearby Tim Hortons. However, the manager did need to come assist us since she was the only one fluent in English. Since we were rapidly becoming Francophile we took the difficulty communicating in stride.

My travelling partner decided to drive up to Lac St. Jean to begin the day’s travels. Even with the periodical rain showers, the countryside was beautiful. There are many farms in the area dotted along the rivers and numerous lakes left behind by the retreating glacier.

This area is heavily French-speaking. Mid-morning, several stops were made in an attempt to find oatmeal. My travelling partner had searched for the translation, but perhaps the pronunciation was way off. Finally at one of the ubiquitous Tim Hortons, a picture of a bowl of oatmeal accompanied by the simple word gruel appeared. However, smiles and patience translate well. We did not experience any unfriendliness.

Lac St. Jean Tourism

There are indications of tourism throughout this area. But we did not see any tour busses. Unlike the United States, the area lacked chain hotels. But campgrounds were located both along the large Lac St. Jean as well as along the rivers and lakes of the various Canadian Parks we drove through on our roundabout journey back to the St. Lawrence River.

We drove up Highway 170 and turned west once we reached Lac St. Jean. Soon after, we began noticing the bike lane which would merge with the roadway from time to time. A key attraction of the area is the Velaroute des Bleuets. This extensive circuit offers cyclists many levels of difficulty for biking around the lake. We did not see any, most likely due to the weather and possibly the school year.

We missed our turn at Chambord. It was a fortuitous mistake. The road runs right alongside the lake on the way to Roberval. We found a wonderful lookout near the historic site Val-Jalbert. This vantage point allowed us to watch the storm squalls roll across the lake.

Some of the pictures of the lake and those of the farm fields come from this stop. The farm had strawberries and asparagus in close proximity to the rest area. Perhaps some blueberries were in another field.

This vantage point also allowed us to spot a place to park lakeside. We drove there and snapped a few shots against the whipping wind. Since we were not hungry we did not pop into the small seafood restaurant. This location appeared to be a major stop along the Velaroute des Bleuets.

Journeying Toward Trois-Rivieres

While we would have liked to drive the perimeter of the lake, our timetable did not permit. So we turned back toward Chambord and headed down Highway 155. This route follows the Bostonnais River for many miles. Again there were numerous campsites.

The drive is about 300 km so we did not take any detours. However, there are many hamlets along the road. One is La Tuque. The population of just over 10,000 made it similar in size to our home town. By this point, the Saint-Maurice River flowed alongside the route.

Toward the end of the drive, we passed the city of Shawinigan. A glimpse from the highway indicated manufacturing. Shortly thereafter, I was hit with a familiar waft of paper mill. Perhaps the next trip to Quebec will allow time to explore this area.

Return to Montreal

The leisurely drive from Saguenay up to Lac St. Jean and then down to Trois-Rivieres allowed timed to reflect. Our trip thus far had been wondrous. Yet we felt like we wanted to spend more time in Montreal. Thus we cut short our exploration of the countryside and returned to this city.

We began our morning with the familiar, a drive along the St. Lawrence. This time we were headed west on Highway 138. Sprinkled among the small towns and farms were numerous construction sites. New homes and new commercial buildings joined road construction to make the drive a bit slow. Anxious to return to Montreal, we joined the Interstate about a half an hour outside of Montreal.

Upon returning the rental car, we walked about a kilometer to our hotel where we left our bags until our room was ready. This time we were staying at the downtown Sheraton. As much as we liked the old part of the city, I was anxious to explore the heart of Montreal.

I fell in love all over again. The city bustled with activity. Streets were clean and I felt safe. While the city is built on the up-slope from the river, the streets running parallel to the river are somewhat level in elevation. Furthermore, there is a huge underground.

Shopping in Montreal

While walking along St. Catherine Street, we entered an area with a movie theatre and discovered the complex of stores and tunnels multiple flights below ground. Everything was well-lit with multitudes of people. Retail shops carrying items from clothing to jewelry to art supplies spanned blocks of the city. All underground. The result is Montreal now takes third place on my list of favorite places to shop. Only NYC and Chicago rank above.

The last morning in the Province of Quebec we split up. I returned to the underground shopping while my travelling companion wandered about. This is unusual for me. I seldom take off on my own when visiting a new city. In fact never before in a foreign country! But I felt so comfortable in Montreal. My only wish was for a map of the underground tunnels.

Returning to the airport, we cleared customs in Canada versus upon our return to the United States. I had not travelled outside of the U.S.A since 2012, so I do not know when the new machines came into play. Now you begin the process at kiosks by sliding the passport along the scanner of the touchscreen machine. Then you line up for a photo. Hats and glasses need to be removed. A slip of paper emerges with your photo verification. Finally the slip is handed to a live human further down the hall. I plan to count this as a new skill since my brain did learn something new.

Please enjoy the latest slide show and check back next week when I share information on the wonderful meals of our trip.

Travelling the Saguenay Fjord

Econogal’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the Province of Quebec

After two nights in Vieux Quebec, we decided to continue our travels via car. Enterprise allows you to rent a car in Quebec City and return the vehicle in Montreal. However, there is a drop fee. For us, the fee was less than a return train ride.

Exploring the Fjord

My prior research of Quebec uncovered the fjord. I was intrigued because this type of waterway conjures the Scandinavian countries along with the State of Alaska. Since, I have never been to either of the locales, the Saguenay Fjord was at the top of my list of possible destinations for the three unplanned days.

A day long car ride with some quick stops worked to counter the blustery weather. High winds are not a problem for us since we live on the High Plains where wind is normal and sometimes seems constant. But I was appreciative of the low profile VW Passat we rented.

We drove up Route 138 East. I cannot justly describe the incredible view. The St. Lawrence River was so expansive! The color change mid river on Ile d’Orleans was matched by the vividness of the trees on the hills sloping up from the river. We stopped several times to photograph both the river and the trees.

A key tourist stop is the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-De-Beaupre. We did not stop since two large tour busses had just unloaded. But the architecture was striking. The fall foliage on the sloping hill above made an amazing backdrop. Look for the shot from a quay on the Saint Lawrence in the slide show.

Rural Quebec

Not far past the shrine, the highway curves in from the river. But the road winds back and forth giving glimpses of river and land all the way up the coast to the fjord. Small towns dot the landscape. Farms and dairies make up much of the industry. The hotels are all Mom and Pop as are most of the restaurants. However, you will find a Tim Horton’s here and there. They truly rival Dunkin’ Donuts.

Our next stop along the highway was to buy some cheese. Many fromageries are located in this part of Quebec. Each claims to have the best cheese including the one we stopped at. Fortunately we could communicate. Once you leave the cities more and more French is spoken and English is a second language. We bought the house cheese, crackers, and salmon. The crisp temperature allowed the food to safely ride in the trunk.

As we made our way up the coast, we debated which route to take along the fjord. We needed to decide by the time we reached Saint-Simeon. The guide-book I used was in French. My French is non-existent but since it is a Latin based language, I was attempting to learn from the guide. Quite a few of our English words are derived from the French language as well. Between the maps, pictures, and recognizable words here and there, we opted for the road on the far side of the fjord. This meant crossing on the ferry.

Commercial Ferry

I have been on many ferries in my life time. Most carried cars across short stretches of river. One was even limited to pedestrians and bicyclists. All charged a fee. However, this one was free. (I am sure taxes paid for the operation. Taxes are very high in Quebec Province with a provincial tax on both goods and the Federal Tax. Thus a tax on a tax. But I digress.)
Our vehicle was the last to load. We might have missed the ferry if the 18 wheeler loading in front of us had not taken his time. The heavy trucks are placed in the middle with cars to the outside. The water was very rough from the high winds. The salt spray left its mark on the vehicles. I ventured outside just long enough to snap a few pictures. Usually I like to stand outside when on a ferry but the wind was just too much.

However, this first view of the fjord was incredible. The geography of a fjord is unique. Glaciers cut into the land carving the valley. The retreating, melting glacier leaves a body of water that is very deep. The Saguenay Fjord is almost 900 feet deep at its deepest point. For more information on how fjords form click on this National Geographic link.

Both highways along the fjord weave upward in elevation from the river. Our route, Highway 172 has several turn offs to drive down closer to the fjord. However we by-passed the earliest places to turn in search of a sheltered place to picnic.

Many visitors to this region choose to camp-out. Eventually we pulled off beside a creek and enjoyed our lunch. The tree tops quaked in the wind. But we stayed in the car with one window down so we could hear the stream tumble.

Sainte-Rose-du-Nord

After lunch we continued on the route toward the city of Saguenay. We climbed in elevation with no glimpses of the fjord. So we left the highway toward Sainte-Rose-du-Nord. The guidebook map indicated this small hamlet was on the shore of the fjord.

In warmer conditions, this must be teaming with tourists. As it was, we stopped at a shack (yes a shack) for one of the best blueberry pies I have ever eaten. The shack was not full. Mostly locals but I think a few were other tourists. Space heaters helped fight the cold. That and the body warmth of about twenty adults in a small area. We were the only ones conversing in English.

Sainte-Rose-Du-Nord has quite a dock although no boats were present. Along the dock are informative historical plaques in both French and English. The guide-book indicated a series of hiking trails that start behind the shack. We took the shortest one which led to a platform above the fjord. The weather was ominous so we did not venture farther than the roughly half mile loop.

As we were leaving, the high tide arrived. It was fascinating to watch the water rise as we were many miles inland from the mouth of the fjord. The slips jetting out from the dock bounced higher and higher as the tide came in. The wave action pushed on by the wind caused water to top the furthest slips even as they were bouncing several feet up into the air. The movement was riveting. We were hooked on the fjord.

Saguenay

Nonetheless, we pushed on. Our hotel reservations for the night were at the Delta Hotel on the far side of Saguenay. We wanted to reach our destination before nightfall. Crossing the Saguenay River into the town we spotted the historical section. Like many of the towns we passed, a church steeple rose above the buildings. We considered exploring the area the following morning. Just in case the weather continued to discourage walking about, we booked a dinner reservation at a restaurant in this old part of town. The meal at La Cuisine turned out to be the culinary delight of the trip.

Check back in a few days to read about the remainder of the trip as well as a subsequent review on the many delicious meals we consumed. For more information on the fjord, read this website post from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Enjoy this latest slide show!

  • Old church with backdrop of fall foilage
    Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre

Fall Travel Through Quebec Province

Note From Econogal:  This is the first of multiple posts. Check back 10/23/2018 for Part 2.

Fall is a lovely time to visit the Province of Quebec. The trees are glorious. But the weather can be a bit unpredictable in mid-October. On our recent visit we experienced some rain, wind, the regions first freeze and even a few snowflakes drifting down from the sky. Yet nothing detracted from the beauty.

Our trip planning was a bit haphazard which definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Hotels were booked for the first four nights in advance but not the last three. Why? Because this was our first visit to Eastern Canada and we weren’t sure where the road would take us. Also the closer the approach of the departure date, the less travel friendly the weather forecast became. However I am glad we incorporated this bit of flexibility.

Montreal

Our visit began and ended in Montreal. Since the nearest major airport requires a two hundred mile drive before embarking on the flight, we prefer flying direct. (An overnight experience sleeping at the Philadelphia airport with four youngsters many years ago sealed the deal.) However, the non-stop flight arrived just after midnight so we opted to stay at an airport hotel the first night. This fits in with my Travel Safety tips.

The Fairfield Inn we stayed at was incredibly quiet. I could not believe a train track was right outside our window. Furthermore, trains used the track regularly. The hotel must have had extra sound proofing! It also was a favorite with late night arrivals. The hotel shuttle had standing room only space at almost one in the morning. Fortunately for us, the others on the bus were part of a tour group. They had room keys handed to them at the airport by their tour guide. Thus, our check-in was easy.

The following morning we walked the short distance to the train station. We wanted to buy tickets to Quebec City for the following day. Plus, we wanted to see the cost of taking the train into downtown Montreal. After purchasing tickets for the next leg of our trip, we opted for an Uber drive into Vieux (old) Montreal.

Vieux Montreal

Since it was still morning, we dropped our bags at the Springhill Suites centrally located in the old part of the city. Immediately we set out to explore. Quite a bit of construction made the walk a bit tricky. Indeed almost everywhere we traveled in the Province were signs of development or upgrading of existing infrastructure. In Montreal we mostly saw the latter.

Strolling down Place Jacques-Cartier we spotted a horse and carriage parked at the bottom of the hill along Rue De La Commune. CiCi is a beautiful Belgian draft horse. Dennis, her driver takes very good care of her. He also served as a very knowledgeable tour guide. Perhaps just as important, the carriage included a very warm blanket which kept the misty air at bay.

A Belgian Draft Horse standing before a carriage.
The wonderful CiCi, a Belgian Draft horse with her carriage.

The hour-long tour is not cheap, (100 Canadian dollars) but gave a very good over-view of old town. The views of the mighty St. Lawrence River competed with the fall foliage and historical buildings. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect for me was how the old buildings were topped with new additions. Unlike the pop-topping done in major cities of the United States, these additions did not blend the new with the old.

However, newer buildings squeezed in among the old did a better job of blending in. But the masonry used helps distinguish new from old. The photos show some of these differences along with the small bits of wall still existing in Montreal.

Our carriage tour was one of the highlights. In part because of the friendliness and knowledge of the driver. He gave us history as well as recommendations on where to eat and what to experience with regards to museums. He also warned us about the hills we would find in Quebec City. Plus, he liked the fact we were taking the train to our next stop.

Montreal captured our hearts with our experience of Old Town. We loved the location of the hotel. But they were sold out for the night before our return flight. As a consequence, we left Montreal unsure if we would spend another night in the city or take transportation directly back to the airport.

Train to Vieux Quebec City

Montreal’s Central train station reminded me of the stations in Germany. However, since we departed on a Sunday many of the dozens of food outlets were closed. The station looked new inside but we knew the vastness inside harked to an age of more train travelers. A more modern sign of the station harking to old days was a bank of pay phones. Something I have not seen in years. Even so, the two trains we witnessed boarding had between fifty and a hundred individuals queuing for their trains.

The train ride to Quebec City allowed both of us to absorb the scenery. The brilliant colors of the fall provided a backdrop to the many farm towns along the route. I have included these colorful pictures in the slide show.

Quebec City

Our arrival to Quebec City posed some logistical problems. A long line formed for taxis and the Uber App would not load. Indeed, access of many functions on my cell phone ceased to work. Thus we walked up some very steep hills to the Hilton Hotel. Both the train station and the hotel are located just outside the walls of Vieux Quebec City. Unfortunately, the two locations are not in close proximity. I would estimate we traversed about a mile along crowded sidewalks to reach our destination.

There were many, many tourists in Quebec City. Even though large cruise boats docked at both Montreal and Quebec City, the effect was more pronounced at the latter. My travelling partner (who picked the travel destination) was amazed at the crowds at what he thought would be off-season. Alas, even though he does not share my enthusiasm for fall color, multitudes of others do. The crowds of camera wielding tourists were a bit overwhelming. Vloggers abounded. While I always try to show consideration with my picture-taking, the video cameras are large and they can become intrusive. Tripods blocked the sidewalks. Retakes sometimes held things up for the rest of the crowd. All in all a bit of a distraction.

Following the advice we received in Montreal, we opted to use the Hop-on Hop-off bus in Quebec City. The air was quite brisk on the top of the Double Decker vehicle but offered great views. The tour bus offers a number of languages to choose from. If your head sets are not working well, try to switch seats. We did this on more than one occasion.

There is much history in Quebec City. But if you have mobility issues, getting around is a bit difficult. I loved the statues, bronzes and fountains that appear everywhere. But perhaps the greatest view is of the St. Lawrence. The river seems to explode in width at this point. The view was particularly great from the top of our hotel.

Like Montreal there is much construction in Old Quebec. The city is actively protecting the centuries old wall with re-fortification. But there is also ongoing preservation of the newer buildings. The building and refurbishing lends an air of prosperity to this city and to the region in general. From an economic standpoint, I found this quite interesting since my understanding is that this Province is a bit behind much of Canada. Thus, I plan to do some more research.

Enjoy the slide show and check back Tuesday to see where we went after leaving Quebec City.

  • Herb Boxes in Montreal

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market Fun

One of the best things about summer is the abundance of Farmers Markets. Just spotting them from the road gives me a smile and a lift in spirits. But getting a chance to wander around one takes the enjoyment to a higher level. Last weekend I happened upon a great Farmers Market in Saratoga Springs, New York just loaded with fun.

Fresh Produce

The first thing I love about Farmers Markets is all the fresh produce. Ears of corn, tomatoes of all colors, beets, carrots and peppers are all standard at a market. The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market had all of these and more. Fresh milk, cheeses, honey and mushrooms were spotted, sampled and purchased as I wandered through the stalls. Other goods such as jams, flowers, herbs and home-made spirits were fondly looked at, but hard to fly home with, so just admired.

Ramble Creek Farm

Most often I see beautiful examples of farm product I am familiar with. But at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market I found a new to me item, a mushroom called Lions Mane offered by Ramble Creek Farm in Greenwich, NY. As you can see from the pictures, this mushroom has both a textured top and bottom. An unusual seafood-like taste makes this mushroom unique. But what intrigues me the most is the health properties. Lions Mane is thought to have positive effects on brain health. Visit this website for more information. Those new to Econogal can read the About Me section for a glimpse into why I focus so much on the brain.

I wish I lived closer to Ramble Creek Farm so I could purchase more of their organic food. I loved visiting with one of the owners. They have an approach to farming that I commend. Please visit their website by clicking here. If you live in New England you may live within their delivery area!

Saratoga Suds

Another entrepreneur I chatted with at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the soap lady. These were not just your ordinary hand-made soaps. These soaps had style! The cupcakes looked good enough to eat and were what first caught my eye. Saratoga Suds originated over 45 years ago. Of course the company offers traditional styled soap, but the creativity in the shapes and the scents sets this company apart from the rest.

Furthermore, this Farmers Market find is once again a natural product. Visit the website for Saratoga Suds by clicking here and order some soaps today. I think you will like this mineral water soap as much as I do.

Food to Go

In addition to farm products to take home and prepare, there were many vendors with food to eat right then. The piping hot dishes looked great but I opted for my traditional travelling fare, bread and cheese. I washed it down with some delicious lavender lemonade although the fresh bottled milk was tempting.

The croissant purchased from Mrs. London’s Bakery paired nicely with the kunik cheese and honey purchased from Nettle Meadow. The French style bakery and café has been treating the residents of Saratoga Springs for over 20 years. Few food operations last past the first five years, thus Mrs. London’s Bakery is an exception as well as exceptional. The croissant melted in my mouth.

Nettle Meadow had an engaging spokesperson and an informative display. The operation is a farm and a sanctuary. While goats are the star of the show, sheep, llama, chickens and ducks share space on the farm which is open to visitors. This popular stall at the farmers market offered a variety of goat cheeses. Their kunik cheese is an award-winning blend of goat’s milk and cow cream. I now have a new addiction.

I did not discover the stall for Saratoga Crackers until after enjoying every bite of kunik. But these crackers are delicious just on their own. Like many of the farmers market booths, samples were available. I could not decide which I liked best, the Garlic Parmesan or the Rosemary Olive. Both ended up coming home with me. I love the fact that Saratoga Crackers is focused on healthy natural ingredients and would love to someday meet The Cracker Master and learn of her ties to the Saratoga horses.

Farmers Market Music – Running The River

Another first for me at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the live music. Two trios were performing at a far enough distance that the tunes did not conflict. While I liked the group playing music from my younger years, I loved the group Running The River. Their schedule indicates a regular appearance on market days along with many other events in the surrounding area. They have two new CDs Longbow and Riverside which showcase some of their original work as well as favorite cover songs. Their website which can be accessed by clicking here has a calendar with performance dates and locations. Running The River members are great entertainers. Make sure to watch the short You Tube Video of Running The River below.

The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market is superb. I think this ranks as the top farmers market I have wandered through. From glancing at Running The River’s performance schedule, the market seemed to be open longer than the traditional months. So I scoped the Internet and learned that this particular farmers market is open year round. If you are ever in the area, make sure to stop by. No matter the time of year!