Saturday, April 27, 2013

52 in 2013 - #16 Theme of the Week: Yellow

The bluebonnets are on their way out, but other wildflowers are taking over the open meadows around here. This picture (above) is my choice for the Yellow theme. Can you find the ladybug?

Below are a couple more wildflower pictures that I'd like to share, even though they stray from the Yellow theme.

Monday, April 15, 2013

All Aboard!

We boarded the Hill Country Flyer yesterday, at its home station in Cedar Park (north of Austin). It's only a 33 mile trip, each direction, but took approximately 90 minutes for the train to carry us past ranches, neighborhoods, creeks and hills to reach our destination - Burnet, Texas, which was celebrating its Bluebonnet Festival. (For non-Texans, the town of Burnet is pronounced BURN'-et, not Bur-NETT'.)

This was our car - The City of Chicago
After the hectic week we had last week, we were happy to sit in our comfortable car, The City of Chicago, watch the world go by at a leisurely pace and visit with our fellow-travelers. Our car was originally a sleeper car. Some of the sleeping berths are still intact, but the area where our seats were has been converted to a lounge.

Our conductor, David, punching our ticket

Once we arrived in Burnet, we found a bus which took us to a buffet style barbecue restaurant. After a pretty nice lunch, the bus returned us to the station, located right downtown. The Bluebonnet Festival was in full swing. The whole town was taken over by rides, booths and music. Dan and I found some wonderful street-side seats, set up under a shade tree, where we enjoyed an hour or so of people-watching. 

Shortly after 2:00 our train headed back to Cedar Park. We were probably about three-fourths of the way back when the train came to a stop for, maybe, half an hour. From the window I was able to see back toward the caboose, where a number of men were examining the wheels and looking under the train. Eventually they re-boarded the train and we continued our homeward journey. One of the train staff told us that the brakes had over-heated and that there had been smoke, so they had to make sure that everything was safe. None of us were too surprised to hear that it had been a brake issue, since back in Burnet we had experienced some very jarring stops. The hostess who was in our car told us, at that time, that the brakeman was a novice. I think those sudden stops might have had something to do with the over-heated brakes. But . . . what do I know?

The train sits idle while several fellows check out the smoking brakes

So here's my personal review of the Hill Country Flyer experience. 

What I liked:  
  • It was restful (with the exception of those jarring stops) and pleasant. 
  • The staff - all of them volunteers, even the engineer and brakeman - were friendly and helpful.
  • The other passengers were fun to meet and talk with. 
  • The history of the train and the track were interesting, and it was a fun trip back in time.
  • The fare was very reasonable.
What was a little disappointing: 
  • We understood (misunderstood, I guess) that our train would be powered by the Southern Pacific No. 786, a 97-year-old steam engine. But it is undergoing a rebuild, so we were pulled, instead, by a vintage diesel engine. 

  • The scenery wasn't what I expected. I had visions of climbing through the wilds of the hill country and seeing scenic vistas and fields of wildflowers. Instead, the tracks ran right alongside the road, and much of what we saw were small towns and back yards. We did pass over a number of creeks and beside ranches with livestock.
  • We saw wildflowers, but not in abundance. I'm pretty sure we have more bluebonnet meadows here, in Temple, than we saw in Burnet, which is known as "the bluebonnet capital." But maybe we just didn't know where to go to see them.

This was a typical patch of bluebonnets

How it compares:
  • In 2008 we took a similar day-excursion on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which began in Chama, NM, and went up into Colorado. You can read about it here. That trip wins, hands down, when it comes to breath-taking scenery and the complementary meal that was provided. It was a narrow-gauge railroad, as opposed to the full sized-railroad we were on yesterday. And it was powered by a steam engine. The town of Chama, itself, was also a quaint little tourist-friendly town. But, to be fair, the fare was almost double what we paid for yesterday's trip.
Would I ride it again?
  • Yes, but probably not for the Bluebonnet Festival. The Austin Steam Train Association offers events all year long, including Murder Mystery nights, Mother's/Father's Day trips, a Halloween Murder Mystery trip and a North Pole Flyer (like a Polar Express trip, for children). It could be fun to try out some of these events. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Busy Week

Excitement, chaos, exhaustion and relief. It doesn't seem like all of those emotions could co-exist, but, after this week, I can verify that they can.

When Dan and I bought our home in Temple (back in September, 2011), we planned to replace the carpeting with wood. It took us this long to work our plan and work up our courage, but after three days of topsy-turvy living this week, we have those new floors. I think the process of preparing rooms for this kind of project is as labor-intensive as actually moving.

The men who laid the floors did the moving of the furniture, both out of and into the rooms, but we had to have the rooms emptied of all extraneous "stuff." That was especially difficult when it came to our office, which was over-stuffed with books, files, office supplies and computer equipment. But that is all behind us now, and we have the wood floors to show for it. Well . . . to be precise, we MOSTLY have the wood floors to show for it. The guys actually ran out of wood before they could do our two master closets. They had to order a couple more boxes and will finish up the closets next week. Not a big deal.

Taking up the carpet
It has to get ugly before it gets pretty
The new wood - a natural hickory - goes down

Today was our annual church picnic at the lake. Our preacher, Rodney, has a reputation to uphold on this day every year. He spends most of the night cooking the meats - sausage, chicken, pork loin and ribs this year - over a wood fire. He has the process perfected, and the meat is always delicious! Everyone else brings side dishes and desserts.

Jase is one of the sweet two-year-olds in my Sunday morning Bible class
Some of the boys get in a little football
Jase, again, walking around the tree with his mom

We also used this time together to honor our graduating seniors. This year we have three seniors. Sadly, one of them had to work today and couldn't be there. These three young people are the cream of the crop! I'm amazed at and proud of their abilities, their character and their achievements. 

These ladies tried valiantly to decorate tables for the seniors, but the wind came up and wreaked havoc with their efforts
Here are our graduating boys. The missing senior is a girl, and she'll be honored at church tomorrow.

Monday, April 8, 2013

52 in 2013 - #15 Theme of the Week: Shades of Gray

One more beach picture (the last for a while, I promise). I think this one works for the Shades of Gray theme because there is a spectrum of grays . . . from blue-gray at the top to the brown-gray at the bottom.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Yesterday I spent the day in a room at the library, along with thirteen other folks, receiving training, by the Temple Literacy Council, to become a volunteer adult literacy tutor.

The training was for two specific types of tutoring: 1) helping English-speaking adults learn to read and 2) helping non-English speakers learn to read, write and speak in English.

I am excited about volunteering in this program. I am now waiting for a call from the director of the Literacy Council, who will invite me and a student to meet together at the Council office. The student will already have been screened and his/her reading level will have been determined. The student and I will have a chance to talk and get to know each other, and to decide if we feel we are a good match for each other. If so, I will begin tutoring for an hour or two each week. All of the materials are supplied by the Council. We spent a lot of time going through those materials in our training yesterday, and I think they will be very useful and effective in teaching someone to read.

A few facts I learned yesterday:

  • 13% of adults in Bell County are illiterate.
  • 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
  • Medication errors - many as the result of misread or misunderstood prescription labels - are the most common medical mistakes, causing up to 7,000 deaths each year (nationally).
  • According to our instructor, in Bell County the most common reason given by illiterate adults for wanting to learn to read is to be able to read the Bible.


While Dan and I were in Port Aransas, we received an email notifying us that a fire had broken out in our church building, in Temple.

It happened on Monday evening. A young teenage girl and her dad were driving near the building. The girl, who was a member of the Junior Fire Cadet Program, told her dad that she smelled fire. The dad tried to convince her that the smoke was coming from a barbecue grill, but the girl insisted that she smelled a wood fire. Her dad finally agreed to call 911 and report that his daughter thought she smelled a fire in the neighborhood.

Once the fire department arrived, they still saw no smoke, but did smell it. They looked around the neighborhood, including a look through the glass doors into the foyer of the older portion of our church building. There they saw a pile of embers on the floor. Knowing they had the right building, they broke through the glass doors and discovered that the ceiling and attic were on fire.

From what I've heard, the fire started in the wiring. The insulation was ruined, mostly smoke damage, and must be removed and replaced with new. Some dry wall was also destroyed. Power to the entire building had to be cut off. I heard today that asbestos was discovered and had to be professionally abated. On Wednesday evening we were still unable to occupy the building, but this morning we were back in the auditorium and classrooms - and very grateful. The fellowship hall, which is located in that older portion of the building, is still off limits.

Thank God that the entire building didn't go up in flames. And many, many thanks to that young girl whose training and persistence were responsible for notifying the fire department.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

52 in 2013 - #14 Theme of the Week: Water

On Sunday afternoon, after feasting on Kelsey's wonderful noon-time Easter meal, Dan and I drove south, to visit our friends, Pepper and Cindy, in Port Aransas (near Corpus Christie, TX). They have a condo at the beach, which they enjoy, themselves, for a couple months every spring, and rent out to vacationers the rest of the time.

Monday morning dawned overcast and gray, but the clouds burned off by afternoon.

 I always enjoy watching the pelicans. Although I know that there are pelicans on the Pacific coast, for some reason I don't recall seeing them during our time in, either, Alaska or Oregon. You can't miss them in Port Aransas. They are everywhere.

Easter in Spring

On Friday of last week we drove to Spring to be with Chris, Kelsey and the children for the Easter weekend. On the drive over, we saw so many bluebonnets and other wildflowers alongside the roads and in country meadows. Sorry . . .  no pictures . . . we were on the way to see the grands, so no time to stop for photos.

On Friday evening the kids got to dye their Easter eggs. It was Robert's first time, and he took to it with gusto.

On Saturday morning the kids took part in an Easter egg hunt at their church building. Besides the egg hunt, there were bouncy houses and face-painting. Robert had no interest in the face-painting, but had a lot of fun in the bouncy houses. Clara asked for a bunny face at the face-painting station.

Finally it was time for the egg hunt. They had separate areas for the pre-schoolers and the school-age kids. Both kids filled their baskets. Clara wanted her picture taken with the Easter bunny, but I couldn't convince Robert to get close to him.

 As if all of the Easter activities and candy wasn't enough to hyper-energize these little ones, that evening they went to a birthday party for their little friend, Justin.

While they were partying, Dan and I met up with our friends, Ruby and Dave, for dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant. It had been a long time since we'd seen them, so it was great to get together again. After dinner we went to their home for a while to meet Ruby's mother, who was visiting. Ruby's mom had baked two pies for us - pecan and chocolate cream. I had never met her before, so it was a real treat getting to know her.

Then, after pie and coffee, Dave and Ruby came to Chris and Kelsey's with us, so they could see the children and how much they'd grown since they'd last seen them. Robert took to Ruby immediately, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. They played with cars, together, all evening.

After Dave and Ruby left, it was time for the children to get ready for bed. They were excited, because they knew the Easter Bunny was coming to hide their eggs while they slept. Kelsey put soft curlers in Clara's hair so that she'd have pretty curls to wear with her new dress in the morning. Clara was happy to sit still for this procedure as long as she had a book to read. She is a voracious reader!

Here are the kids, the next morning, all decked out in their Easter clothes. Both were cute as could be, but Clara, in her sweet dress, her Mary Jane shoes, and her curls, was especially lovely. 

Photo by Kelsey
After church we all came back home for a delicious dinner, prepared by Kelsey. Then it was time for us to say our good-byes. Here are a few final pictures of us with the kids. I especially love the last one, of me with both of the children. Robert had just about had his fill of posing for pictures, and this was all we could get out of him. But it turned out to be my favorite picture of the weekend.

Photo by Kelsey