Monday, April 14, 2014

Having a Ball

Thursday morning the weather dawned clear and crisp; it found Eugenia and me (cameras at the ready) taking a short hike to Dyke’s Marsh.  We enjoyed the walk, but the birds were scarce.  I did get a couple of shots of Red-winged Blackbirds.  Since his shoulder patches are more yellow than red, I think this one is an immature male.

At first, I thought the bird pictured below was what in “scientific” birder language is called an “LBG” or “little brown guy.”  However, when I consulted my very handy Audubon I-Phone app, it turns out what I was looking it was a female blackbird.  

She was busy picking about in the reeds and came up with a tasty bug.

In the afternoon, I had a real treat…my first major-league baseball game!  Eugenia and I watched the Washington Nationals (“Nats”) beat their arch-rival Miami Marlins.  

We took the water taxi from Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac to the stadium.  Air traffic in and out of Reagan National kept us entertained, as did views of the Washington Monument and the War College surrounded by pink and white blossoms.

The Nats’ stadium is only about four years old, and beautiful.  I liked the shiny chrome baseballs decorating the exterior.

The fans were interesting, too.  

This fellow is wearing the starting pitcher's jersey.  His headgear is topped by a whisk broom...indicating he wants a "sweep" of the three game series.  

George had arranged outstanding seats for us, and there was plenty of action.  

Some action shots from the game follow.  


The game was over just before sunset, and when we returned by water taxi, the planes were still flying.

It was a great afternoon; even the ferris wheel at a local shopping-center carnival seemed to be celebrating!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Girlfriends' Get-together 2014

I barely had time to catch my breath before leaving Austin to visit my good friend, Eugenia, in Alexandria, VA.  Our friendship goes back more years than we care to count, to our time as legal administrators in Austin, TX.  Eugenia and George are kind enough to put up with me every year or so, and John and I look forward to having them as guests whenever they need a “Texas fix.”  

Last year, I was fortunate my visit coincided with the cherry blossom extravaganza in Washington.  This year has been a good year for blooms, as well.

Eugenia and I hit the ground running the day after I arrived, with a photo-op visit to the National Zoo where we photographed the Giant Pandas.  The male is Tian Tian (pronounced t-YEN t-YEN), whose name means “more and more.”  He was busy enjoying more and more of his breakfast of bamboo, rolling around on his back and crunching the stalks like they were candy.

In the adjacent enclosure, Mei Xiang, the female, was chowing down as well.  Her name is pronounced may-SHONG and means “beautiful fragrance.”  

But what we really came for was to see her baby, Bao Bao, which translates as "treasure" or "precious."  She is over six months old now, and made her public debut in January.  Just a few days ago she made her first public excursion outside.  There are trees in the compound Bao Bao shares with her mother, and she has learned to climb.  We watched for a while as she explored the fork in this tree, 

then settled down for a nap.  

We didn’t tour the entire, zoo, but did see a number of the other “stars.”  Among them were these two young tigers.  They are brothers and share a large habitat.  

We were told that the planks around the trees in the compound are to protect them from the tigers’s claws.

Another popular attraction at the zoo is the fishing cats.  They are native to Asia, and actually dive under water and swim to catch fish.  The female was sequestered in another part of the zoo because she is expecting cubs.  The male, however, was having breakfast.  He may be only a little larger than a good-sized housecoat, but he looks sinister, doesn't he!

He wasted no time diving into a tub of goldfish in his enclosure and eating the tasty parts.  (One of the children watching was grossed out because he only ate the body and spit out the head.)

There were other attractions as well.  A pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills were amusing themselves playing with a cardboard box.  

These birds have a distinctive casque on top of their heads that is a large, hollow cavity made of bone.  Scientists think the casque may help hornbills to determine the age, sex and species of other hornbills, and may also amplify their calls.

This Ring-tailed Lemur was looking for breakfast in a tree.

And a pond full of turtles took turns arranging themselves on a log.

We had a great time, and were only too happy to chill out with a glass of wine and watch the home-town team, the Washington Nationals,  beat the Florida Marlinsi.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Rest of the Story

The second half of March seemed to fly by.  A few sprinkles of rain brought out the wild plum blossoms, and the bluebonnets were starting to raise their heads.

On Saturday, March 15, to celebrate our 17th anniversary, John and I made a rainy-day trip to Red Caboose Winery.  We didn’t get as much rain at the farm as we had hoped for.  However, we didn’t mind at all driving through the countryside and seeing the trees and grasses washed clean of their layer of wintertime dust.  

Red Caboose has its vineyards and production facility just outside the town of Meridian.  They have planted a number of varieties, but are most optimistic about their temperanillo grapes.  We tasted half a dozen of their wines, and came home with several bottles, including a lovely tawny port.   

While visiting with the Meridian location, we chatted with Winemaker and Vineyard Manager Gary McKibben and enjoyed the antics of the winery dog, a Border Collie who looks a lot like Nickie and had as much fun playing in the rain and fetching sticks as Rue does. 

After making our selections, we drove a few miles into Clifton, Texas, to visit the second Red Caboose location where the bottling takes place.  In honor of soon-to-be-celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, we sampled a corned beef and sauerkraut panini and a bottle of the very good Range Rider wine.  (Well, we didn’t finish the whole bottle…at least not until we got home.) We also got to meet the owner of Red Caboose, Gary McKibben, and visit with him about the founding of the winery.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…..  We discovered that the indian paintbrushes were starting to bloom.  They come in several shades of pink and orange, and ours tend to be more pink.  They were growing alongside the not-so-welcome prickly pear, which thrives under almost any condition.  

John broke out the sprayer and poisoned as many of them as he could.  We did this last year, and were pleased that we now have fewer cacti and more grass in those areas.  We hope to get another good kill this year.

We made a short trip back to Austin on March 22 so I could check in on Monday with my eye doctor.  He was pleased with my progress, and expects to know in a week or two exactly what correction we achieved with the surgery.

Then, just before coming back to Austin, John and I took advantage of a cool and cloudy Friday to burn the many brush piles we made during our stay.  In just a few hours, the huge piles of cedar and oak were reduced to ashes and glowing coals.  

There are still a number of dead trees near our upper stock pond that will need to be felled and burned later.  Here a couple of them stand silhouetted against the threatening sky.  (Unfortunately, all it did was threaten.  We still need rain in the worst way.)

We finished our month at the farm in the company of family and friends.  My cousin, Kathy and her husband Eric arrived on Saturday with their horses, Radius and Savvy.  

Radius is a Dutch Warmblood, 

and Savvy (full name Cow Savvy) is an American Quarter Horse and an experienced cutting horse.  

Both, however, are wonderfully patient.  My niece and her family joined us for the weekend, and Noah and Rachel spent more time in the saddle than on the ground.  

Rachel was also very much into helping take care of Savvy, and he was very gentle with her.

We also got to meet the newest member of the family, a wonderfully bouncy puppy (perhaps labradoodle, perhaps something else) named Clover.  

And if that wasn’t enough fun, on Sunday evening John and I joined a number of my high school classmates for dinner at El Jardin Mexican Restaurant.  John and Sonny went back to spend the night at the farm while several of “the girls” checked into The Inn at Circle T for an old-fashioned slumber party.  We had a great time visiting, and were kind enough not to take photos of each other in our pajamas.

On Monday, all of us attended the “Spring Fling” where Classmate Sue Kopp was part of the program highlighting (Don’t Mess With) Texas Women.

And classmate Irene (Cindy) Sandell spoke to the group about her latest novel, The House on Swiss Avenue.  

Of course, the pre-schoolers with their Easter presentation were show-stoppers as well!

It was a great end to a great month.  We hope to repeat it next year...but maybe in April when the weather is a bit more seasonable and the flowers in bloom.