Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Quick Run to Houston

Clara's orchestra teacher strongly encouraged Clara to participate in the summer Orchestra Camp, which took place last week. In fact, he even saw to it that she received a scholarship to attend.

Yesterday evening, to cap off the week-long camp, the campers performed a concert for families and friends. We dashed to Houston yesterday morning, spent the afternoon with Kelsey and Clara (Chris and Robert were out of town working a car race), had an early dinner, and then went to the concert. It was really enjoyable. Clara has improved so much this school year, and was happy to be sitting in the first violin chair for this concert.

Clara and Kelsey

Clara, receiving her award, with the conductor.

Proud Grandma and Grandpa, with Clara
 When the concert was over, we bade Kelsey and Clara goodbye, and drove home. We were home by 10:40 p.m.

Better Than Christmas!

Friday was Dan's big day! After ordering his telescope, and then tracking the shipment on-line for several days, it finally arrived on our doorstep, via UPS. There were boxes, more boxes inside the boxes, and even more boxes inside those boxes! Then there was foam packing and, at last, all the components of the telescope.

Every piece was unpacked and inspected. NO DAMAGE! (Whew) On Sunday afternoon he aligned everything, and now he's ready and anxious to try it out. Next Saturday night there is a Star Party for the members of the Central Texas Astronomy Society (CTAS), and we'll be taking it out for its trial run.

One happy husband!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Backyard Birdwatching

Sometimes you have to sacrifice one thing to save another. That's what has happened with my once-beautiful hanging flowering plant on the back patio. I lifted it down one day to give it a good watering and was startled by a bird that flew out of it. I looked inside and saw that there was a nest with eggs. The eggs must have already been there for a little while, because by the very next day they had hatched, and there were four teeny, tiny, naked baby birds in the nest. It became nearly impossible to give the plant a decent watering without disturbing the nest and chicks. I did sprinkle it a bit, but soon all the flowers dried up and fell off. The greenery isn't all that pretty any more, either, but it's sufficient to give the birds some coverage.

Today I went on-line to figure out what kind of birds they are. I knew they weren't same variety that used to nest over our front porch. The father has beautiful red feathers; the mother is brown with darker stripes. According to my internet search, they appear to be "house finches." We've had quite a few of them hanging out in our back yard this spring. 

Mama finch hanging onto the wire and watching over her chicks.

Believe it or not, I think there are still four babies in this nest. Two of them are  buried beneath the top two.

Mama and Papa House Finch, sitting on our fence and keeping an eye on the hanging basket holding their chicks. Aren't they pretty?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reviving an Old Interest

Dan has always - even from boyhood - been fascinated by all things celestial. That was why his final position before retirement was such a perfect fit for him. He worked for the Air Force Research Lab, at Kirkland AFB in Albuquerque, with the Space Vehicles Directorate. He was like a kid in a candy shop, all the while he was there.

Not long after we married, Dan invested in a nice telescope, but since then the technology has changed dramatically, nearly making his 1970s telescope an antique. Dan's old telescope, which has no electronics, requires the user to tediously work to search, align and focus. Today's computerized "GOTO" telescopes contain their own computers and motors that permit them to find and follow objects in the sky. They are run by a handheld control pad.

One of the things on Dan's retirement to-do list has been to revive his old astronomy hobby. Recently he found out about the Central Texas Astronomical Society and it's Meyer Observatory/Turner Research Station. I won't give too much information about it here, since you can click the link if you want to know more. Anyway . . . Dan had been thinking, for some time, about going out there to see if the group and the facility might be a good fit for his own interests. Then, on Saturday, at his Sons of the American Revolution meeting, he serendipitously met a man named Aubrey who is the past-president of the Society and who invited him to come out that evening and be his guest.

So, after dinner we headed out to the site. It's about an hour's drive from home, and is located in a remote place, away from light pollution. It was such an enjoyable evening, and Dan is more determined, now than ever, to upgrade his equipment and become involved in their activities. A new telescope will cost a shiny penny or two, but you "can't take it with you," as they say, and it will give him some great opportunities to revive and expand a life-long interest.

When you drive up the hill to the Meyer Observatory, this is what first catches your eye: the exterior of the observatory with its dome.
Dan's new friend, Aubrey, wasn't there yet when we arrived, but someone else took us upstairs so we could see the  24" telescope housed in the dome.

When Aubrey arrived, he came up and explained a few things about the telescope and the improvements that are being done right now. He explained that after the upgrades are finished some of the cables and hoses you see hanging down will be removed.
The dome began to open.

After touring the observatory and the big telescope, we went outside, where a few members were setting up their own equipment in preparation for the coming dark sky.

We visited with one fellow who had a scope similar to what Dan is thinking of getting for himself. This was what his equipment looked like after set-up.

Aubrey came out a little later and took us to his own private observatory (one of two on the property). Although the Meyer Observatory is run by volunteers, many of them, including Aubrey, assist in world-wide research projects. He rolled back the roof of his little observatory and began setting things up and showing us what he had. He is able to do everything - opening the roof, orienting the telescope, searching for objects and doing research - remotely, from his home.  

Finally, the sun was about to set, and the enthusiasts who were there were ready to search the night sky. Dan and I went home. We both think we would enjoy participating in this society. I have some aspirations of learning what's involved in doing astronomical photography, although I've already learned that it is not as simple as I first envisioned. It's a lot more complicated than just hooking a camera onto the telescope! Oh well, life is full of new and exciting learning curves!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Dallas/Fort Worth

On Tuesday morning Andy, Kay, Dan and I headed for Dallas for a couple days. Andy, who knows his way around EVERYWHERE, did the driving. We thought we might stop and have breakfast at Magnolia Table (Chip and Joanna's restaurant), in Waco, but there was a line of folks waiting outside, so we settled for IHop.

After checking into the hotel in Dallas and enjoying a little down-time, we all got ready for an evening out. The main reason for going to Dallas was to see the stage performance, Les Miserables. Before heading to the Fair Park Music Hall, for Les Miz, we ate dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, which was a real treat.

The performance was good, as we knew it would be. Dan and I have seen it twice before, once in Seattle and once in Albuquerque. That might give you a clue to how much we love the story and the music.

In the lobby of the Fair Park Music Hall

Driving back to the hotel after the performance
Wednesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, Andy put on his "tour guide" hat and drove us around downtown Dallas. We drove by the Texas Schoolbook Depository and the "grassy knoll." We stopped at the Dallas Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive, located near the convention center. It honors Dallas' cowboy past and features native landscaping, a flowing stream and waterfall, and a herd of bronze longhorn cattle statues being driven by cowboys on horses.

From there, Andy drove on to Fort Worth and made a stop at the Fort Worth Water Garden. The park is made up of a series of walkways, pools, terraces and vegetation. The three pools feature the different characteristics of water: a quiet pool, a dancing pool and the active pool. We spent our time at the active pool, where water rushes down steep steps, into a pool forty feet below. There are steps that descend to the pool below, but Andy was the only one of our foursome who ventured down them. Kay and I sat on a ledge, overlooking the rushing waters, while Dan - true to form - made a new friend and spent his time visiting with him.

That's Andy, down at the bottom.

Here's the friendly police officer, "Darrell," whom Dan befriended.
Finally it was lunch time, and Andy had promised us a meal at Joe T Garcia's Mexican Restaurant. It's a very old restaurant, in an old Fort Worth neighborhood. Andy remembers eating at Joe T's when he was a kid, and never comes to Fort Worth without making a stop there. When we first drove up to it and parked in the parking lot, across the street, I just saw it as an unassuming old restaurant. But what I didn't see was that behind the walls adjacent to the building was the most beautiful garden oasis. We ate out there, among the shade trees, flowers and light breeze, then walked through the different garden areas. Not only was it a beautiful place, but the meal might have been the best Tex-Mex food I've ever eaten! We ordered a family-style lunch, which came with more than we could, all four, eat.

The drive home, after lunch, included one more food stop - as if we needed it! We found a little creamery, where they make their own original flavors of ice cream. It was in Waco, across the street from the Baylor campus (for my Newberg readers, it had an atmosphere similar to Coffee Cottage).  I had a scoop of Texas Salted Caramel on a fresh-made waffle cone. Yum!

Many thanks to Andy and Kay for providing the transportation and the sightseeing inspiration. It was great fun, packed into two all-too-short days.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Day at Connie's

Connie, my friend from church who lives out on the Tres Hermanas ranch, near Salado, invited three of us to her home yesterday for lunch and to teach us the basics of encaustic painting. Encaustic painting involves applying melted colored wax (such as crayons) to a surface in order to create either abstract or realistic art (or a real "mess," which is how mine turned out).

Before we left for the day, Connie walked with us, out onto her property, and helped us identify a lot of the wildflowers currently in bloom in the meadows.

Thank you, Connie, for a beautiful day!