Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Home Stretch

It's been a few days since I made an entry here -- another of those breaks I seem to take from time to time. We're getting along fine and are mentally prepared to blow out'a town in about a week. Unfortunately, we're not physically ready, as there's still a long list of things that need to be done before departure.

Dar's worked three days this week, and she's been battling a cold virus at the same time. She works 12 hour shifts -- from 7am until 7pm -- and by the time she wraps up all the necessary record keeping and paperwork, she can easily turn these 12 hour shifts into 14 or 15 hours. Thus, on those days, there's little time for anything else except sleep.

Her working stint at the hospital is coming to an end... I think her last day is the 5th of March. It's been a good diversion for her and she's generally felt good about contributing to the care of people who aren't feeling the best. As a result of this work experience she feels more prepared if other opportunities like this pop up when we're camped somewhere for a few months.

Yesterday, Friday, after Dar left for work I had a sudden burst of ambition. By the end of the day I had scrubbed the entire exterior of the bus-house. Parking this close to the Gulf of Mexico, there's a fine spray of saltwater that accompanies common southeasterly breezes and it's a good idea to remove this layer once in a while. This project was one of the biggest items on our pre-move checklist and it felt good to have it done and out of the way.

The weather has improved -- a lot more sun than we've been used to. And with being outside so much the past few days I've got a red face to prove it.

Today we're attending a big shindig hosted by our friends Tony and Nyla here at Sandollar. A lot of people are leaving soon -- another sign of Spring -- and this will be a good opportunity for one more get-together... kind of a good-bye party.

Until next time...
Thom

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thinking about Spring

As we contemplate our escape from Sandollar and the Coastal Bend of Texas in two weeks, I started looking ahead to see what we can expect this spring. From a weather perspective, the Climate Prediction Center is thinking the month of March will continue the pattern of cool and wet conditions for the southern half of the country.

The blue areas on this map indicate where there's a good chance temperatures will be below normal during March.

And the green areas on this map show where precipitation could be above normal.

I don't put much stock in these predictions, having found that there's a pretty darn good chance that they're wrong. But it seems the general El Nino' pattern we've been experiencing this winter may well continue into Spring.

Our plan at this point is to take a more direct line back to the Midwest than we were thinking just a few weeks ago. We have about two months before we want to be back in Wisconsin and pushing to explore the Four Corners area of Utah and Colorado wouldn't be doing justice to all that there is to see and experience there.

Instead, we're hoping to explore Northern Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas as we follow the northward progression of Spring -- buds, new leaves, blossoms, bees, blooms, grass, warmth, color, and fresh air. Of course, for some people, there might be a price to be paid to see this annual show... a  "pollen penalty" of sneezing and stuffiness. But it's a grand display that's probably worth the price of admission.

Stocking up on anti-histamines...
Thom

Friday, February 19, 2010

No News Friday

We had an inch and a half of rain overnight, but things dried out during the day today and late this afternoon the sun finally made an bright but brief appearance. Dar is working all weekend, so I'm mixing a little leisure with some work on projects that need to be done before we leave here early next month.

Other than that there's really not much to report.

I'll have the next Journal update bright and early on Monday morning.

Have a great weekend!

Thom

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sports

Like many, we've been glued to the TV in the evening this week to see whats happening at the Winter Olympics. I've been in awe at the speeds and the risks that most of these athletes endure and what they're able to accomplish. The death of the Georgian luger during a practice run showed how dangerous these sports can be.

I purposely wrote "most" in the paragraph above after seeing a TV piece on what has now become my favorite Winter Olympic team sport -- curling. I'm sure everyone knows what curling is... that sport where large round players slide large round stones down a sheet of ice toward a large round target, or "button", while their team-mates, using brooms (yes, brooms!), rapidly sweep the ice ahead of the slow moving 44 pound rock in an effort to effect the just-right stopping point. It's a little like shuffleboard and has an easygoing slow pace that's similar.

The piece I saw on TV was about the men's curling team. Most athletes in Vancouver -- the skiers, boarders, skaters -- are ripped and rippled and fit and trim. Every night we see them walking around as they prepare for their next event, the muscles and body tone are obvious. When they're not speeding down a sheet of snow or ice, they're working out, pumping iron, running... in an effort to be a little stronger or more agile than their competitors. They're the top 1% of the top 1% of humankind. They are as close to human physical perfection as it's possible to be. And most of them, in addition to nearly perfect bodies, have nearly perfect teeth, faces, hair... the whole package. Where do they find these people? It can be positively depressing for normal, regular people.

But the men's curling team was different. Here was a collection of really ordinary guys... (maybe guys like me??) They weren't in the gym. No! They were sitting around playing cards as they waiting for their turn in the limelight. Some were a bit overweight. I saw a paunch here and a bit of flab there. At least one had some bad teeth. I also had the feeling that just out of camera-shot they had a few beers open but hidden behind the couch or under the table. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that after the camera left, a few cigars appeared as they played cards into the wee hours of the morning. These are my kind of Olympic athletes!

I liked these guys. They're doing more good than they know by keeping a spark of hope alive for regular people like the rest of us.

As long as we're on the topic of the Olympics, I think I'll voice my opinion on another topic... the "judged" events. In my mind, it's far more satisfying to have athletes competing directly against each other by means of objective measures... who's the first one down the hill... who beat all the others... who did it in the shortest time... who went the fastest. When an athlete's score depends on the "judgment" of other people, with all their biases, prejudices, and preconceived notions about the athletes and their performances, well, there's always a question in my mind about who really did the best. Figure Skating is the poster-child example of what I'm talking about. It's fun to watch, but it doesn't belong in the Olympics. And what exactly is snowboard cross?

It reminds me of something else, another opinion, about sports I recently read from someone that had a problem with hunting and fishing being called "sports". In this person's opinion, it's not a sport unless ALL of the participants are aware that they're playing. And the fish, the deer, the quail, certainly don't know what's going on until it's too late.

Thom

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Longer Days

During the past couple days the sun has been out in full force here in Texas. And that allows us to observe and appreciate that our days are getting longer. And that means Winter is finally giving way to Spring. It's called Spring Fever... and I've got a severe case, spending more time than I can justify planning our path of explorations for when we leave the Coastal Bend in just a few short weeks.

To bring the Journal up-to-date with our activities, here's what we've been up to the past couple days: Most of Monday was spent with the local chapter of FOB... Friends of Bill... our new septuagenarian.  We rode in the Hummer limo to Corpus Christi, Padre Island, and then Mustang Island, where we stopped for an expansive lunch at San Juan Restaurante'... a favorite Mexican hangout for many of us here at Sandollar. We had a great time. It's probably a good thing, on balance, that most people don't have birthday celebrations of this magnitude. Photos are available in our online photo collection.

Today, Tuesday, it felt good to sleep in and enjoy the cold morning (low of 32f) from beneath a heavy pile of blankets and comforters. Since Dar works tomorrow a lot of chores were on the schedule for today. Most everybody in our small community here at Sandollar was out and about... enjoying the day, socializing, and getting some much needed exercise.

For dinner, we made a veggie hobo dinner and grilled a couple fish fillets. And then settled in and watched a little of the Winter Olympics.

Thom

Monday, February 15, 2010

Birthday Bash Sunday

A good friend of ours here at Sandollar Resort, Bill G., is having his big birthday bash this weekend. His daughter and son-in-law who live in the Houston area orchestrate the event and, based on what we saw last year, the theme appears to be "shock and awe".

The first indication of the theme was the arrival of a very-stretched Hummer Limo which provided enough room for Bill and a bunch off his friends from the park to be transported over to the Boiling Pot restaurant for lunch. A stretched Hummer is not a usual site here along the Coastal Bend and "shock and awe" was the look on the faces of anyone we encountered along the way.

The Boiling Pot restaurant provides a little "shock and awe" of it's own, especially if you've not been there before like Dar and me. A local institution and survivor in the Rockport restaurant scene for many years, it's basically a tin shack with enough roof to keep patrons dry during heavy rains. A special ambiance is created by crayon drawings made by waiting patrons, and graffiti and scratchings on the corrugated tin walls.

The signature dish is a boiled dinner of various shellfish, corn, potatoes, sausage, and cajun seasonings. The whole works is dumped right on your paper-lined table and eating is a simple mater of reaching into the pile of steaming food, pulling out something, and then figuring out how to eat what you've retrieved. A small wooden hammer is provided for cracking shells. No other utensils are needed or provided. It's a very social dining experience... and a lot of fun.

The weather Sunday was probably the best day we've had since we arrived here in early December. Full sun, warm temps, little breeze... it was perfect for an outdoor gathering back at Sandollar after lunch.

The next stop was drinks and snacks at the Lighthouse Inn, the nicest hotel in the area. Almost everyone from our corner of the RV Park showed up for the revelry, which added some life and excitement (dare I suggest "shock and awe") to the normally staid and dignified surroundings. Loud laughter and merrymaking rewarded anyone within earshot.

Today is Monday, and the bash continues a bit later this morning as a group of us will pile back into the Limo for a tour of the area and a lunch stop at a great Mexican restaurant over on the island in Port Aransas.

Thom

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday in Fulton

We're back in Rockport. We're pretty much caught up on sleep. Wednesday and Thursday were not enjoyable days here... rain, cold, wind ... more of the El Nino' thing... but today, Friday, improved. It was still cold, but at least we saw the sun for a while this afternoon and it really felt good.

Dar worked today. She has to work tomorrow too. I've been doing housekeeping chores, vegging, and getting caught up on all the going's on... the comings and goings... the ups and downs... of the past few days. Whenever more than two people are together in one place for an extended period of time all sorts of things happen. Enough said.

it's been a big week for us... a lot of miles... a big wedding... a shuttle launch... It's been great. And it's great to be back at the bus-house too, planning our next explorations and adventures.

I'll be back on Monday morning...
Thom

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What a Winter


Almost everyone in the USA has had a tougher than normal winter this year. Folks out east, in the Mid-Atlantic states, are really buried under record amounts of snow that fell the past few days. Even the Federal Government was shut down for an unprecedented four consecutive days due to the snow, as of this writing. And we've had a much cooler and wetter than normal winter here on the Coastal Bend of Texas and throughout the South. In fact, it's raining right now. We've had 1.3 inches just today.

But isn't this the way nature works? Average years are not normal. Averages are just that... the average of the extremes... the cold and heat, the wet times and dry, the snowy and snow-less years.

Years ago I read somewhere that it's important to endure the extremes, the highs and lows, the good times and bad, happiness and sadness... in order to really enjoy the average, the mean. It's the ebb and flow of nature that we're all so tightly part of.

So if you find yourself in the middle of something extreme, take it in stride, weather it, do your best to enjoy it... because better, more average, days are certainly coming.

Thom

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Last Launch at Night

With the Shuttle Endeavor's early Sunday morning launch scrubbed, the stars and planets were lining up to make it possible for us to be much closer for the next launch attempt at 4:14am on Monday morning. We decided to go for it.

After Sunday breakfast with all the wedding attendees staying at our hotel, we packed up, checked out, and pointed the car toward the Kennedy Space Center, 130 miles north. We took the Florida Turnpike to Ft. Pierce where we picked up I-95 north until we could cut over to A1A, the beach road, near Vero Beach. We took A1A all the way to the city of Titusville, which sits due west of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and about 12 miles from the launch pad. The wide Indian River separates Titusville from KSC, and provides a broad unobstructed view of the launch pad from anywhere along the shoreline.

We arrived in Titusville a little after 3pm and the parking areas along the river were already starting to fill in. Our first thought was to find a cheap motel near the shoreline, get a few hours of sleep, wake about 4am, and walk over to a viewing spot for the launch. That plan was dashed as we discovered most hotel rooms were booked, and those that had rooms available were miles away and were charging $125 and up. After talking it over we decided that paying big money for a few hours of sleep and still having to get in the car and fight traffic and battle for a parking spot at 4am was foolish. Alternatively, we could find a spot along the shore now and "camp" right there until launch time. That was our decision. We'd camp in the car tonight -- haven't done that in a while. After stocking up with a few essentials at a local grocery store, we found our spot on the beach... with the launch pad visible through our windshield... and settled in for a few hours of rest.

I can't sleep on airplanes and cars are only little better. I might have slept 3 or so hours, but it wasn't a good deep sleep. And every time I stirred there seemed to be a cloud bank over the launch pad... the fear lingered that this attempt might also be scrubbed for the same reason as the previous night's.  When I awoke a little after 3am, I decided to stay awake and tune into the NASA web site for all the details about the launch. I learned it was still on and they weren't talking about the weather or clouds or anything. The launch vehicle was in great shape and there were no problems at all. It was slowly becoming apparent that this might actually happen.

As launch time approached the volume of people and cars and congestion and activity grew. There were cars parked along both sides off the highway behind us, and in every available spot anywhere nearby. Anticipation was heavy in the air.

At T minus 9 minutes, we got out of the car and walked closer to the shore. We made the decision NOT to take a camera as it could detract from our enjoyment of the event as we fidget with camera settings, viewfinder, focus, etc. There would be hundreds of photos and videos available online in the following days that we could choose from. So with nothing more than a pair of binoculars, we waited.


Suddenly, the flame from the main engines starting at 6 seconds before launch was the signal we've waited for... it's time to fly. When the big solid boosters ignited it was impossible to stop the launch. The sky brightened to an artificial daylight... the launch vehicle started to climb and the brightness increased... there was no sound other than the crowd's screams of awe and amazement. Endeavor and her collection of rockets and fuel tanks climbed higher and through a couple layers of light clouds, which made the spectacle even more exciting and visually interesting.

We were 12 miles away and sound travels a mile in about 5 seconds. So it would take the sound almost a minute to make the journey to Titusville. As that time approached someone made the observation that the sound waves were visible on the surface of the illuminated river -- you could see the approaching shock wave of launch roar. It was amazing. The low rumbling rippling roar finally overcame us and added sound to a most memorable event.

We saw the solid rocket boosters burn out about 90 seconds after launch, and separate from Endeavor and it's fuel tank as the climb to space continued. The depleted boosters are so hot they glow as they tumble back to earth and were visible with the naked eye from our vantage point. They will be recovered and floated back to KSC to be refueled and reused again on a later flight.

The crowd stood there and watched until well after Endeavor faded from sight. We did too.

There are only 4 more launches of the Shuttle system left before the whole program is shut down, and none of them are scheduled at night. As things stand right now, we saw the last night launch.

For the next few days I'll have a video or two of this affair on our front page at www.tdhoch.com. Check it out for a better idea of what we experienced. We'll also put some photos of the experience in an online photo album for you to see.

Smiling from ear to ear and one more thing crossed off my bucket list...
Thom

A Wedding Saturday

From Ben & Sarah's Wedding public

I have a lot of catching up to do after our whirlwind trip to Florida the past 6 days. The past few posts, the very short ones, were all done from my cell phone using little SMS messages that are limited to only a few words. So in this entry I hope to fill in the gaps a little.

The wedding of Ben and Sarah was the main reason for our trip. Wedding days are usually a blur of activity and socializing... and this one was no different. After sleeping in on Saturday morning we hooked up with my brother and sister-in-law Jerry and Debbie for lunch. They flew down for the ceremony and were able to couple it with a Caribbean cruise out of Miami for the following week. For local transportation (and some fun) they rented an odd-looking Nissan Cube -- a boxy, stubby looking thing that you'd expect a troupe of clowns would be driving in the 4th of July parade. The little restaurant selected for lunch was only a block or two away from their hotel, but maze-like parking lots, dead-end roads, and missed turns made the process of getting there a hilarious affair. We felt like clowns by the time we pulled into the parking lot and casual observers would surely wonder why these four were having such a good time.

The marriage ceremony itself was very nice, and only the second one in the spanking new Catholic church that was just completed a few weeks before (I'm told the first marriage in the church didn't count for some reason... so this one was really the first). All participants held up well despite a few tears that typically accompany marriages... Mother's of the bride and groom cry because they think they're loosing a child, and Father's of the Bride and Groom cry because of their depleted checkbooks.

The advent of digital photography has made it possible for anyone to take as many pictures of every aspect of the day that they want, and people like Dar shoot thousands. I'm sure there were tens of thousands of photos taken during the day, and many hours of video too. Every aspect of the day was documented for posterity.

The reception was held at Breakers West, a golf community with an excellent banquet facility. A top-notch meal was followed by dancing to music provided by a DJ.

In an earlier post I mentioned the scheduled launch of the shuttle Endeavor in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The orientation of our hotel room, facing north, and the third floor elevation made it our best choice for trying to see the launch 130 miles to north. My sister Jan and brother-in-law David, the Mom and Dad of the Groom, struggled over to our room about 4:15am and joined us until we learned the launch was scrubbed due to heavy cloud cover at the Cape. NASA said they'd try again the next morning, Monday, at 4:14am. We had decided to leave for home Sunday afternoon anyway, so this turn of events gave us the opportunity to divert to somewhere much closer to the Space Center for that attempt.

Congratulations to Ben and Sarah as they start they're long life together. And a Big "Thank You" to the parents of the Bride and Groom for a wonderful and fun day.

Thom

Monday, February 8, 2010

Launch was great... sleeping in

Launch was great... sleeping in car less so. We're making good progress back to Texas. No rain today... great weather!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In Titusville for 4:14am shuttle

In Titusville for 4:14am shuttle launch. Sleeping in car on beach -- hotels all sold out. More later... T

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ben and Sarah made it

Ben and Sarah made it through the day -- are now happily married. All are now having a great time at the reception.

In West Palm Beach

Good Morning. We arrived here in West Palm Beach late yesterday afternoon, about 5pm, found our hotel, and checked in. The drive from Pensacola consumed more than 11 hours of driving time to cover more than 600 miles. You really get an appreciation of just how big Florida is when it takes all day to go from one end to a point not quite at the other end.

We're here for a family wedding... my nephew and God-Son Ben is marrying his long-time sweetheart Sarah. Last night we attended the post-rehearsal pizza party and met so many new people there's no chance I'll remember them all. Ben and Sarah seem genuinely happy... always a good sign on a wedding-eve. Dar and I excused ourselves about 9pm -- the two day driving saga was finally catching up with us. Sleep came quickly and I don't think either of us stirred until a sun-beam nailed my eye this morning.

All the wedding festivities are today, Saturday. So by the time we hit the sack tonight it will have been a long day.

Tomorrow morning, at about 4:39am, there's a scheduled Space Shuttle launch from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (where else?). So far I've been unable to generate much interest in making the two and a half hour trek north after the reception winds down tonight, so I may be relegated to watching the launch from my north-facing hotel window in that wee hour. If, however, the launch scrubs for any reason (the launch "window" is only 10 minutes long), they'll reload and try again the next morning, less than 24 hours later. If that happens, we may be making a little detour on our drive back to Texas for the opportunity to see one of the last launches of the shuttle system ever.

Ok, that's it for now. I'll try to do a Journal update from my cell phone later in the day -- something I've never done before and have been wanting to try. These entries, if I can get them to work, will be very short, as I'll be doing them via SMS cell messages.

Waiting for the Wedding in West Palm...
Thom

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pensacola -- Half Way

We left Rockport about 6:30 this morning and, after a few brief stops and 710 miles, pulled into Pensacola 12 hours later. Unfortunately, we endured a rain storm almost the entire day --  it was pacing us. After we rest tonight, we'll all (Dar, the storm, and I) be on our way to West Palm Beach tomorrow.

Precipitation Pouring Down in Pensacola...
Thom

Road Trip

By the time you read this, Dar and I will already be on the road and heading toward Florida. We're leaving the bus-house in Rockport under the watchful eye of our neighbors while make this surgical strike into the heart of the Sunshine State to attend the wedding of my nephew Ben and his sweetie Sarah. MS Streets and Trips says it's about 1,200 miles each way so we'll be experiencing a lot of togetherness over the next few days.

I figure the 2,400 miles will cost about $150 in gas, and two extra motel nights and meals maybe another $200. That's less than half the price of making the same trip by air, which has it's own set of hassles, lines, and waits. Besides, I've been looking forward to this road trip and the break in the routine and boredom that's starting to set in at the old RV Park.

I'll post updates to this Journal as we speed along -- maybe more than one each day. So tune in and follow along.

Speeding down the Super-Slab...
Thom

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What?


Today is my birthday... not a major event but awfully close to one. Today I'm 59 which means that in less than one more short year I'll be 60. Hmmm. I haven't brooded over this fact much, and won't. But I will make note of it here as much as a life marker or milestone as anything else. And to re-state the obvious... that life goes by much too fast, and with increasing speed as one ages.

I do feel an affirmation that the unorthodox lifestyle we've chosen at this stage of our lives is the right thing, for us, to do. We're having a ball... seeing and experiencing things we might otherwise have never had the opportunity to enjoy... and understanding that alternative lifestyles can be rich, educational, and fulfilling.

Give in to your wild-side... follow the untrodden path before it's too late.

Ruminating in Rockport
Thom

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A SAD Ending

Well, it's February and my SAD Program is now complete. (For those who have no idea what I'm talking about click here). In short, I gave up sweets and alcohol for the month of January to adjust my weight and give my liver a rest. The "S" in SAD stands for Sweets... and on that I'd give myself a C- score. I did cut down, but just couldn't totally give up some things: brownies, cookies, and some deserts when neighbors felt sorry and tempted me with their finest. I did resist buying and having the ubiquitous bag of M&M's around the house, and I did not even once impulsively buy a Snickers Bar... my idea off the perfect food (the right mix of protein, fiber, carbs, and fat). I think any of us could get through any natural disaster you can think of as long as you have a good supply of Snickers Bars stashed under the back porch.

But on the "A", Alcohol, I give myself a solid A score -- not an A+, but a solid A. The devil's liquor only crossed the pearly gates of my mouth 1 time... when I tasted one small sip (and I'm serious here -- it was small) of some wonderful home distilled nectar called moon-shine made by a good friend of ours from Wisconsin. I needed to taste last year's batch for quality control reasons. It was a sacred responsibility that I couldn't shrink from.

The results of the program are that I dropped a solid 5 or 6 pounds and I'm feeling great and I consider the program a success. But I gotta tell you that I'm totally sick of hot chocolate and herb tea for a while.

Yesterday, on Monday, Dar and I made a trip into Corpus Christi to do a little shopping. Since it was a rainy and cloudy day, we thought we might just as well take care of some shopping for a wedding gift for my nephew Ben, who will be married to Sarah, his sweetie, next Saturday. We also treated ourselves to lunch at Olive Garden. It was a nice day out and a nice break from the boring RV park routine.

Most of this week looks like it'll be rainy and cool... just more of the same from our El NiƱo problem this year. Tuesday and Wednesday we'll be getting ready for our drive over to the wedding.

Slowly sipping a small snifter of spirits with a smile on my smacker...
Thom

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hurricanes

A few evenings ago, Dar and I attended a lecture about a hurricane that came ashore on this part of the Texas Gulf Coast in 1919. It was presented by a local historian that had collaborated with another to write and publish a book on the subject. They have an extensive collection of photographs and stories that added even more interest.

It was fascinating to hear and see the impact a hurricane can have on low-lying coastal areas. In those days there were no hurricane-hunter aircraft or weather satellites to provide early warning. This particular storm was estimated at Category 3 (an average hurricane?) and by far most of the damage was caused by water. The 8 to 10 foot storm surge inundated the low, flat land that's so common along this part of the coast, and the boats and other debris carried ashore battered and decimated wooden buildings and other structures.

The hurricane came ashore a few miles south of the city of Corpus Christi, which bore the brunt of the damage and casualties. But Port Aransas and Rockport to the north were hit hard too. Altogether, the authors believe almost 1,000 people died from this storm... most by drowning.

Structures that weren't inundated by water survived with minimal damage and people who lived on higher ground were shocked to see the extent of the damage nearer the shoreline when they got out and looked around the day after the storm.

This lecture got me thinking about the hurricane history for this part of the Texas Coast. Searching through a number of websites on the subject I found that besides the 1919 storm, there were just two others of note... Carla in 1961 and Celia in 1970. There may have been glancing blows and slight brushes by other storms, but these are the three that are remembered, and the ones that caused death and destruction.

So, it's been a 40 year period of calm along the Coastal Bend. Hmmm. I wonder how long it will last.

Planning to be North during hurricane season...
Thom