Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in the sun

Christmas Day, Kingston Beach
From our front window.

I was surprised to find how "right" it felt to be back in the Southern Hemisphere for Christmas. Jean still thought the deep and dark December in Texas was appropriate, but when I got home and felt the sun, saw the long days and everything growing it just shouted "Christmas" and "Summer Holidays". So here's a brief report of our Christmas and the lead up to it, written on a gloriously sunny Boxing Day, with the prospect of the beach tomorrow.

The family we left behind

We tried to smuggle him out, but we were stopped at Customs

After our slightly traumatic return trip (though in the end we arrive quarter of an hour earlier than originally scheduled), it was good to see Hugh, Jess and the boys, and get back home. Hugh warned us about the garden, and so we were not too shocked by the weed growth, but it is taking us ages to clear it all. There were still some vegetables underneath the growth and the raspberries are in full swing.

We were keen to see the progress on Hugh and Jess's new house, and what they have done is most impressive. The house (their own design) is in two sections: living and sleeping. Hugh already has plans for the garden. But their pre-Christmas has not been all well: returning from a family reunion a couple of days ago they were rear-ended while stationary and their faithful Saab was written off! Fortunately it gave its life to save them from injury; although Jess was checked out for neck damage she was soon recovered and none of the rest were hurt. But they have been seriously inconvenienced, even with the provision of a hire car, just before the holiday.

Hugh the Builder
Can he fix it?

Hugh & Jess's new house

The week before Christmas was hectic for us, as ever. I had a trip to Devonport and Jeannie was busy in the kitchen, so it was relief when Christmas Day dawned, bright and sunny, and we went down to Hugh and Jess's for breakfast. The boys had slept well and so they were all in fine form as we sat down to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. They liked their presents, but Angus' favourite was car with wheels that could be taken off with a special tool.

Angus and the Christmas tree
The cardinal was his favourite decoration

Christmas breakfast and presents

George liked the turtle

Angus liked the car (no surprise there)

A Mexican Indian, lost in Tasmania

We then had a quiet day at home before going round to the Mortons for dinner. Everyone else was full after lunches elsewhere, but Jeannie and I tucked into to beautiful turkey and ham.

Jeannie's glazed ham

Christmas dinner at Morton's

Tired boys
Note the matching Mini tee-shirts

Now we just have to pack the car and head north. The forecast is good for the next few days. I wish we could package some sun for those of you at the other end of the world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Farewell to Texas

After two and a half months our time here is almost up. On Saturday we swap grey, overcast Texas for, well...... grey overcast Hobart, if the forecast is anything to go by. Not much to chose between the temperatures, apparently.

We have had a couple more adventures since Thanksgiving. We went into downtown San Antonio and visited El Mercado, the Mexican market. This has a huge range of stuff from absolute tat to wonderful colourful ceramics, textiles etc., but our problem, as on previous visits, was to stop boggling and actually make some decisions about purchases. We managed a few and the girls bought us a beautiful glazed sink in a sort of peacock pattern that will eventually find its way to the shack at Boat Harbour.

El Mercado mural
San Antonio is a Spanish city

El Mercado street

Weird creatures

And always the Day of the Dead

But then there's the Texan influence!

And last weekend we all went down to Port Aransas, on the Gulf coast, to stay in an apartment at the Aransas Princess condominium, which looks fairly gross from the outside, but is pretty good when you are inside, looking out at the view. Port Aransas is a summer getaway from San Antonio, but people were a bit dubious about our going there in the winter, and indeed we managed to choose the coldest weekend so far, so cold that there was even sleet and frost overnight! These are rare events in what they call "Tropical Texas". It was a lot of fun; the first day was cold and stormy, but on Saturday the skies cleared, and although it was still cold by local standards, it was a glorious day for our boat trip.

Sitting out the storm at Port Aransas
All busy in our various ways

Tropical Texas!
Jeannie well wrapped for a walk along the Gulf coast

Cold and frosty sunset
The Corpus Christi skyline floating like a mirage

One of the reasons for visiting was to get to see the Whooping Cranes. These are highly threatened birds, with a wild population of a bit over 200, which breed in Northern Canada and then fly south in family groups to overwinter, and feed up on blue crabs, in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to see them is from the water, so Jac, Jean and I drove down to Rockport and joined a tour on the "Wharf Cat" which lasted for about four hours. The boat took us down the interstate waterway that runs inside the barrier islands and carries a heavy traffic of barges filled with various fairly noxious petroleum products. But it also runs alongside the wildlife refuge, and sure enough, there were the cranes, usually mum, dad and a well-grown chick, each family on the territory that they return to every year. At about 5 ft tall they are impressive birds, but there was so much more to see: hundreds of waterbirds, dolphins, a couple of coyotes etc etc. We were well-pleased with the trip, though we were glad to be well rugged-up.

The Wharf Cat getting ready to leave Rockport

Serious camera gear coming on board
Jac said it made her feel inadequate
I was so overcome with the birds that I took no pictures at all, but keep an eye on Jac's blog!

They are out there
But very torpid under these conditions

Needless to say, we ate well too!

Gulf shrimp, Jac-style
So good

And now we have to face up to tidying up, getting the bags packed and wondering how far over the baggage allowance we are going to be. At least with Jo and Jac coming home in a few months we can any serious excess with them. We'll miss them all, of course, especially the Smallest One, but knowing that they will be home soon draws the sting from saying goodbye.

See you in Hobart, Marty Roo

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

A couple of weeks ago it was pumpkins, now it's turkeys.

All over the US turkeys have been hiding, hopelessly, in corners..... it's Thanksgiving!

This is a very nice American tradition, since here is a festival that doesn't involve huge (well, not much anyway) commercial hype and the accumulation of lots of loot. Rather, the idea is to get together with friends and family and enjoy a meal together in thankfulness. But what a meal!

Once again we found ourselves at the house of John, Jo's boss, where he and Joanne generously threw their house open and invited a crowd of friends and colleagues. We were there before midday so that Jac could get a large turkey in the oven, make stuffing etc. As well as the turkey there was a chicken on the rotisserie barbecue, a ham and a raft of vegetables including a green bean casserole (thanks, Lorena), then various pies and pavlovas for dessert.

Jac and Jean doing desperate things to the turkey.

Ready for the oven.
(Sorry, I missed the shot of it coming out!)

Preparing the delicious stuffing.

Chestnuts, bacon, celery, bread etc etc

Big kitchen, communal effort.
But Jac is chef.

Having watched the Macey's parade and the Philadelphia dog show on TV (traditional entertainment at Thanksgiving), and been out for a walk, we sat down to eat at around 4.00 pm, sixteen in all, not counting Roo, who was only an interested (but a very interested) spectator. We were still eating, off and on, and trying to understand American football after 7.00. Young Marty Roo did very well, having a couple of short sleeps and being passed around most females in the room. He enjoys a social occasion.

Watching the Macey's Parade

Lorena's Mum, Linda, brought Roo his very own turkey.
He knew exactly what to do with it.

Table set for sixteeen.

All ready to serve.

On your marks.....
Just after the Thanksgiving Toast.

And where was Josie?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Walk in the Park

For the last few weeks we been able to drive Jo and Jac's car (Petey), since they have had the use of another one (thanks, Matt). This has allowed us to extend our range just a little, to places where we can walk with Rooey and not be assailed by passing traffic.

Salado Creek Greenway
The path is 3-4 km each way.

The easiest local spot in the Salado Creek Greenway, one of a network of paths that San Antonio is developing along waterways to encourage walking and cycling through their vast city. The Salado Creek path runs along one of the ephemeral gullies that run everywhere through this limestone country and occasionally carry huge floods when there is heavy rainfall.

Limestone cliffs and dry creek bed
The litter stuck in the trees shows how high the water comes.

The path is all paved and virtually flat, so very popular with walkers, cyclists and joggers. And easy to negotiate for grandparents with a small boy in the Baby Bjorn front pack. It would be perfect, except that part of it lies under electricity pylons, and all of it lies under the landing flight path to San Antonio airport; but it's still a huge improvement on the shopping malls.

The pylons make good roosting spots for vultures
And you have to imagine a 737 every ten minutes or so.

Salado Creek path
Regularly washed and leaf-blown by park staff.

Marty likes the front-facing position. The baseball cap is very cute.

America seems to deliver a huge amount of information to its citizens, mostly of a warning nature. There are quite lot of things that you mustn't do in the park, but the warnings about flash flooding and water crossing are real.

Just DON'T!

Does that seem wrong to anyone else? Don't leave the water?

We found this one mildly confusing too.

But there is a real risk
This section was under water the first time we came.

At the far end of the path we can actually get off the concrete and walk through oak woodlands that could be somewhere in the English West Country (if you ignore the aloes and occasional cactus). There and back takes us between one and two hours, depending on the dawdling. Rooey tends to sleep for at least half that time, and we usually sustain him with a bottle of milk at some stage. We see lots of squirrels, often deer (the bucks more interested in does than people at this time of year), many birds (always vultures overhead) and more flowers than I expected in autumn.

Oak woodland.
They don't lose all their leaves in the fall.

Autumn rains have rejuvenated the vegetation.

These are called Turks Caps

Salado Creek squirrel
This is the uncommon black form of the ubiquitous red-brown fox squirrel

With the very pleasant weather we have been enjoying (low to mids 20s and a gentle breeze) it makes an ideal morning excursion and we can get there and back without having to tackle any seriously busy roads.