Thursday, November 25, 2010

Family Thanksgiving

Hurray for family holidays! Today was marvelous! I think the kids topped themselves (pun intended) with their festive Thanksgiving headwear. In keeping with our usual spirit of awe and reverence concerning these occasions, Jack disgraced (pun intended) himself by including a very pointed football request in the blessing.

We welcomed the newest member of the family -- Julie's husband, Jeff Brown. I think he survived -- we'll know next month when we do this all again for Christmas.

We were glad that Carolyn's mom, Sue, and Jack's mom, Mildred, who is 97, could join us.

Austin and Alyssa. Instead of crowding around the dining table (like we usually do), since we numbered 12 now, I set up another table and we went six and six. The people at the "big" table had lots of room. At the "little" table, not so much -- but it was still better than usual and people could actually get out to go to the kitchen for seconds.

My sweet daughter-in-law Carolyn. I told her she probably wouldn't like her eyes in the picture but she said it was the best she could do on cold medicine!

Calvin, home from college. I'd mention the fact that I have the three best looking grandsons in the world, but it is so obvious it shouldn't be necessary.

And they're the most fun. That's Alex in the amazing turkey butt hat.

After dinner we went out to see Austin's new car. He turns 16 on Wednesday. He drove us around the block after announcing that, unlike me, he was going to be an excellent driver.

This was an unnecessary reference to the time when Calvin was 2 1/2 -- and a major snitch -- that he came in from an outing with me and told his mom, "Mom, Grannybird ran a yellow light. She only did it once, but I wish she wouldn't have done it."

Jay must have caught the penchant for making faces for the camera from Austin -- or is it the other way around?

Even the dog celebrated -- though she was less than thrilled at wearing the drumstick headband. It took several bites of turkey to get her over the humiliation.

After dinner -- and the ride -- we engaged in a spirited game of Apples to Apples.

Proof that I was actually in attendance!

Austin, not making a face, showing off his awesome biceps.

Somehow Jack evaded the camera most of the day but the party wouldn't have been complete without him! In spite of our lack of gravitas, we are very aware of our blessings and are thankful for all of them -- especially our family!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wet and Wonderful

Yes, there really are eagles at Canyon of the Eagles. Our first full day here we took a Vanishing Texas River Cruise up the Texas Colorado River (which is dammed up farther down, creating Lake Buchanan). The 24-mile round trip took us past miles of (practically)virgin terrain -- protected by large ranches, invaded only by grazing cows and horses.

If you look closely at the top of the photo, you can see one of the five bald eagles we spotted. We also saw osprey, cormorants, pellicans, great blue herons, ring-billed gulls, coots and mallards. The scenery went from rocky bluffs to low scrubland. This is a view of Ceremonial Rock and the falls at Fall Creek.

The next afternoon we got up close and personal with the falls with Buchanan Adventure Tours -- a great outfit that helps visitors do all sorts of fun things. It was windy on the lake and our time was an issue so instead of kayaking four miles up to the falls, Duane Te Grotenhuis ferried us up in a pontoon boat and we met his son Zac who had gone ahead with the kayaks.

My traveling teddy ( and I shared a kayak with Valerie Redell. She's an experienced kayaker -- and I let her do most of the work while I took pictures. I've kayaked before and it's usually a two-man-and-a-crane operation to get me in and out of the kayak. Duane made this really easy -- I just scooted to the edge of the pontoon boat deck and just slid onto the kayak seat -- much more graceful than being lowered like a bag of bricks!

Kayak view of Ceremonial Rock.

The area has been experiencing less-than-normal rainfall for the past couple of years so the falls were not as full as in other times. They were still impressive.

Kenneth Grahame had it right when he wrote in Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Some of the hardier souls kayaked under the falls. We made Ben Ballanfant do it several times and still didn't get a really good photo of him!

Sarah VanHoose gives her opinion of the experience. Looks like she's adopted my technique and Ann Mazzanovich is doing the paddling.

To share a bit of the trip, check this clip. And give me credit -- it may not be thrilling but at least I've finally figured out that I must shoot horizontal!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Come to the Canyon

Canyon of the Eagles northwest of Austin has been around for several years -- a great property with amazing potential. It always had "good bones" but now it has brains and heart. A new partner, Calibre, has joined with the Lower Colorado River Authority to make Canyon of the Eagles the asset it was intended to be -- a full-service nature park and resort. In this post, and the next couple to follow, take a peek at this super getaway. I loved it -- I'll bet you will, too.

My room was clean, comfortable and welcoming. (The cheese and fruit plate was a delightful surprise.) It was designed for retreat and enjoyment of the natural beauty all around. No TV to distract -- though if you just must catch up with your favorite show, there is a TV on property. I loved the down pillows and duvet -- and I didn't need the TV. I had KBAY -- "your hometown country" -- for the weather and a little Willie Nelson.

But who needs TV with a view like this? This was my porch -- the same view from my windows.

The buildings -- this is the restaurant -- blend in with the surroundings. The picture at the top of the blog shows the Canyon cottages -- taken from a boat, obviously. Canyon of the Eagles is on Lake Buchanan.

Huge window walls bring the outdoors in. I took this picture this morning before I had to leave for the airport. It was chilly last night and you can see the mist rising off the water.

My next posts will highlight activities in the park and attractions in the area. But you don't have to go anywhere or do anything to have a great time. My friend, Eileen Mattei, knows how to kick back.

One of the premier spots at the resort is Sunset Point -- the site of lots of weddings -- and the best place to watch the evening light show.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Joyful Sound

Zoe's friend Jon Pender sings in the Mousehole Male Voice Choir and he clued us in to this concert. What a treat! It was a joint concert with the Nankersey Male Choir. Both groups sang their own numbers but they joined together for two numbers including this one. The hymn is well-known as "Gwahoddiad" and is popularly thought to be a traditional Welsh hymn. It isn't. It was written in 1872 by an American Methodist minister. The choirs here sing the original English text, "I Hear Thy Welcome Voice."

The Mousehole Choir is over 100 years old -- quite a tradition. Their director is Stephen Lawry -- he's on the right end of the choir wearing a fancy vest. Here the group is directed by the Nankersey director, Elaine Tangye. The Nankersey Choir was founded in 1950 and two of the original twelve singers are still singing with the group.

My video doesn't begin to do justice to the quality of the sound -- it will just give you a little tease. The men were magnificent -- and raised many a goose-bump with their performance.

Afterwards, everyone headed to a local sports club for beer and munchies. And after a few pints, the men sang practically the entire concert all over again -- plus some other favorites. This evening was my idea of heaven!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Rub-a-dub-dub, How 'bout Some Pub Grub?

Welcome to the Bath Inn in Penzance -- that's Pete Shapland, owner, bartender, Pete-of-all-trades. We first visited the Bath Inn a few years ago. Jack was going to a local Rotary meeting and I was on my own.

The Bath Inn was close to our bed and breakfast and looked inviting. The building dates back to the 1700s. I was lucky that visit -- they're not serving food in the off season now -- just from Easter to September. I was there in October and ordered the Ploughman's Lunch -- a specialty. It was properly traditional and oh-so-good. It consisted of a large slab of mature cheddar with lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber, cole slaw, pickled onion and chutney, accompanied with warm crusty bread and butter.

And, like so many places in this civilized and dog-friendly country, well-mannered companions are always welcome.

Close to Zoe and Simon's apartment in nearby Newlyn is the Tolcarne Inn. It dates back to 1717.

We hit this spot more than once. It's hard to resist the wonderful fresh fish and chips -- even if they do have to put peas on the plate!

This is the First and Last, a pub in Penzance. First documented in the 1850s, when a visitor was ticketed for leaving an unattended cart and horse in front of the pub, it probably dates back to 1830. Apparently beer laws were changed then and a number of pubs were established around that time.

We ate here twice on this year's visit. It's a Tuesday regular spot for Zoe and some of her co-workers. Very friendly staff -- they always save a table. The food, while not gourmet fare, was ample and inexpensive -- two requirements for the hungry civil servants! This was chicken curry. I expected something with more heat, but it was tasty nonetheless.

My next visit I had cottage pie with chips and beans. Man, those English sure know how to do French fries!

The definite winner in the Pub Grub sweepstakes was the Sportsmans Arms in Heamoor, just northwest of Penzance. The building probably goes back to the 1800s and has served as several things besides a pub. New owners, Helen Cadman and Paul Odgers, bought the place a year and a half ago and completely re-did it. And they took a spot with a less than stellar reputation and are turning it into a foodie destination.

They make almost everything in house and concentrate on fresh and local! My scampi was excellent. They also offer a number of local artisan cheeses. Simon ordered the day's special which featured three different kinds of local fish, mussels and shrimp and potatoes. What you don't see is the side dish with a variety of veg. Simon filled up on the fish plate and left no room for the veggies. Zoe had a bowl of homemade mushroom soup that was out-of-this-world. I know, because I dipped my spoon in it. Jack opted for meaty ribs with homemade barbecue sauce. They might not win prizes in Memphis or Kansas City but he gave them a big thumbs-up.

We tend to do a lot of cooking in when Jack and I visit but we do make the occasional foray out. Pub grub is usually a good choice, price-wise. Thanks to the puny dollar, everything is pretty expensive there. When we splurge, it's usually at the Taj for Indian food and the Newlyn Meadery is a firm tradition. It's hard to have a bad meal when you're in such good company!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Going Coastal -- Part 2

As you can see, this was an absolutely gorgeous day! We drove west from Penzance to Porthcurno, home of the Minack Theatre. The sun was bright, the sea was brilliant blue and there were swimmers and surfers on Porthcurno Beach.
The Minack Theatre was the vision and creation of one woman -- Rowena Cade. And what a vision it was! Entertainment in Cornwall in the '20s was pretty much do-it-yourself. Rowena organized a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in an open field in 1929. This was followed with another production the next year. Looking for a more permanent solution, Rowena looked at the rocky cliff on her property.

Today's theatre is miles beyond the first rough stage which was lit by battery-powered lights and car headlights.

The theatre season runs from May through mid-September though visitors are welcome throughout the year.

The theatre features plays, musicals, concerts and ballet. Special morning shows for children are offered during August.

"Minack" refers to a rocky place in the old Cornish language.

Above the theatre seating area, the cliffs are planted with plants which can survive and thrive through stormy winters and hot, dry summers.

There may have been swimmers in the water -- but we thought they were crazy! Though the sun was bright, we dressed for cool weather -- and were happy we did.