Back in the Saddle

After a last stroll through Thorn Thicket and many sad goodbyes, we took off on April 21 and moseyed our way up to the Seguin Elks Lodge where we had the entire place to ourselves. We didn’t take the cats out that night; it was late in the afternoon and we wanted them to get reacquainted with traveling before we started letting them loose.

We made our way through Lockhart the next day and stopped to have lunch at the famous Original Black’s Barbecue. They have been operating continuously for 84 years. If you are anywhere near this part of Texas it is definitely worth a stop. And be hungry. As you wait in line to dish out your sides and order the meat the wall is lined with all kinds of celebrity and family photos through the years with the Black family including Lyndon Johnson, Dale Earnhart, George W. Bush and Matthew McConaughey.

We got potato salad, beans, green beans, creamed corn, brisket, spare ribs, beef ribs and sausage. And some more brisket. It was expensive and heavy but we knew there was way more than one meal each there. We ate it for the next three days! Delicious!

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We found an Elks in Huntsville for our next night’s stay. No charge, free drink. They were having a big event in the morning so we positioned ourselves for a quick getaway. We got up early (for us) the next morning so we could get outta there before their Bloody Mary breakfast began.

When I went to empty the trash it was all wet. I told Jim, “We have a problem.” The pipe connected to the sink had broken loose. Of course we had just done the dishes and the cabinet and everything under the sink was soaked and the bay below was wet. Jim took the pipe apart and cleaned up the under-sink area while I tackled the bay. We only lost a roll of paper towels. After a trip to Home Depot and a quick repair we were on our way. So much for getting an early start. Having a handy husband: priceless.

We scoped out a Walmart in Alexandria, Louisiana for our next night’s stop and had an uneventful evening. Carmella really wanted to go out but we planned to stay at the Elks in Natchez for a couple nights and according to Google Earth it had an ideal place for them to go out. One more night, kitties!

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This part of the Deep South has lots of (mostly Baptist) churches, cemeteries, crawfish shops, mobile homes, cypress trees, home health agencies, hospices, smoke shops, liquor stores, dialysis clinics, tattoo parlors, body shops, magnolia trees, and even prison gangs working the highways. The two lane highways are perfectly suited to the bus’ slower pace and we enjoyed the ride.

It was only about 70 miles to Natchez and we were looking forward to a short day and another whole day off to explore. Although they readjusted well, traveling makes the cats tired; they needed a rest too. While I drove, Jim called the number in our Elks book and it had been disconnected. Uh oh. That happened once before when we pulled into an Elks Lodge to find a For Sale sign and Lodge closed. As it turned out, we got to stay anyway. Jim found a state park and an RV park nearby but we decided to try the Elks anyway.

Sure enough, when we arrived, a For Sale sign adorned the front lot. We called the realtor and he called somebody in the Elks to get the OK to stay. We didn’t hear back for a while but found out a good spot to park if we got the go-ahead. Tucked in by the building, very inconspicuous in a quiet residential neighborhood. Mimosa trees smelling sweet.

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When we didn’t hear back from the realtor, Jim called the Mississippi State Elks office and they said we could stay for a couple nights! Not only do we have this lovely quiet place to ourselves, there is no charge, not even a discounted Elks charge! Kitties have been out exploring, ukulele is being played. It’s Happy Hour. Life is good.

We are BIG BIG Lucky!

Departure Delay

We had planned to head out this week but after ordering some stuff and waiting for its arrival along with the discovery that the heating element in the electric side of the AquaHot had failed, we decided to extend our stay. Projected departure is now April 20, a week from today. Providing that the correct parts arrive and get installed. Jim has to drain all the coolant out of the AquaHot, about 15 gallons!

We have a (very) general direction when we do leave but need to fill in the gaps. Jim suggested that we find an Elks Lodge and hole up for a few days to plan our route but we decided we might as well stay here. The park is emptying out and it is nice and quiet. I am catching up on work, we are swimming laps and playing volleyball. There is still Happy Hour everyday so why leave? We can figure out our route from here.

We want to drive the entire Natchez Trace and have talked with friends here who have navigated most of the Trace. It sounds interesting and slow paced, just what we like. No stop signs or gas stations for 444 miles so we will fuel up ahead of time and scout out some places to camp. There are Elks Lodges in Natchez and Vicksburg where we can stop. Vicksburg is $5 a night and Natchez just requires a donation. Where else can you camp with hookups, safety and privacy for $5? And they both have pools. We often plan our travel via Elks destinations and it has worked out really well.

While we are here we are still enjoying the Thorn Thicket garden. I have been replaced as substitute gardener by a sprinkler! The indignity! The cats like to roam around in there and the Easter lilies are starting to bloom. There is always something new blooming there. And the orchids are still going strong.

Buster and Betsy have gone home; we said goodbye to them and Elsie and John. They have arrived back in Massachusetts and are helping Elsie dig up the garden there. Buster just keeps growing! He weighs at least twice as much as Betsy even though they are from the same litter. I already miss them.

Another friend here went on a cruise and I got to give her kitties some extra love and attention. Missy and Lucy are sweethearts and Lucy lets me pick her up. Nicky was astonished the first time that happened and said when she needed to go to the vet she was going to come and get me to help! Happy to oblige! Lucy is a good talker and they both love pets. We got plenty of kitty love to go around.

Jim’s band played their final Pub Night and it was a rocking success. They have improved so much; it is a pleasure to hear them and see their progress. Most important, they are having tons of fun and it shows. Sue, the bass guitarist is missing from this pic but you can see her in the second one. She is going to sing more next year; she has a lovely voice and stage presence.
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I got to go for a ride in Jerry’s rock climber, The Deplorable. So naturally, I had to wear my Nasty Woman T Shirt. It was a lot of fun.

Almost all the get-ready items on the list are checked off. I plan to wash the outside windows one more time. Jim worked on the bikes and the kitties have new tags and an Animals in Coach sign is on the bus. When Loretta printed it for me she said, “I’m surprised you didn’t put their names on it!” Ha! This gives you the idea.
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Back to iPad drawing time! More clouds…
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As Cher says, Life is good. We are BIG BIG Lucky!

Countdown and Spring Cleaning

Spring in south Texas! It’s getting hot and the wind is strong. This is when folks here in the park start dispersing in all directions. Many permanent residents still fire up the motorhome and hit the road for the summer. Some go back home to cooler climes and some just wander around for the summer before returning for another season. The park Olympics is over. I got to be a judge for the cookie and cupcake contest! As I told people everybody who would listen, if I had a bucket list, that would be checked off.

There are more Happy Hours, another Pub Night where Jim has one more band gig to play and some dinners planned. The Last Dance was last night. I am still serving as Substitute Gardener for the neighbors’ Thorn Thicket. It is a wonderland of color and form.

We also have a list of bus projects to complete before we hit the road. Even though that will be sorta mid April, we figured if we got the bus ready to roll, then we can take some time deciding where we are headed.

The project list includes a total deep clean; stuff like cleaning out the refrigerator (at least we don’t have to replace it…) and freezer, washing screens and windows inside and out, cleaning out all the cabinets and pantry and reorganizing/getting rid of clothes. We have a filing cabinet that has never really been gone through but we did that too. Organize the bays, fix the compressor, a final round of laundry, take the cat to the vet, get haircuts…you get the idea. Saturday we both worked all day long and got lots done! Though it was tiring, I asked myself what other time in my entire life had we ever cleaned the entire house, cleaned out every single drawer and closet, washed windows in and out, taken care of the outside details along with the above-mentioned stuff in just a couple of days? Um, never. I also found some things I was sure I had saved and brought in the bus but never could locate them. My Sou’wester for one.

We’re not meticulous planners but we do have a general direction and a couple of linking dates and destinations to work around. The National Antique Oldsmobile Club National convention is in Reading, Pennsylvania in late June. I design and edit the monthly magazine and it’s always a good time with friends and beautiful cars and a way to get lots of material for future issues.

From here in south Texas  we will probably head toward Austin through the Hill Country bluebonnets to see our Austin crew. Then a drive along the Natchez Trace perhaps. We have two sets of old friends, Charlie and Dianne and Jim and Annie, and new, Sue and Richey in Maryland, We want to plan a meetup on the Eastern Shore. Our friend Michael, lives in Philly and invited us stay as long as we wanted. My sister Tina lives there too. Ed lives in Swarthmore. I have cousin Denise and Alanna and friends in New England. Cindy and Bob live right near Reading in the summer. A plan is in the works!

From there we are going to go into Canada and see some of our Winter Texan Canadian friends. Real and Angela, Jocelyne and Bill, Judy and Paul, Carolyn and Gary and Suzanne and Ken have all extended invitations. We are BIG BIG lucky! Need to bone up on Canadian geography because…

August 21 is the total solar eclipse in mid Missouri where the totality of the eclipse will be almost three minutes, one of the longest duration along the path which extends from Oregon to South Carolina. One of our premiere parking spots with friends is at Marni and Eric’s. We have known them forever and we always have a fine time on one of our favorite bike trails, The Katy Trail. We are meeting up there with Sandy and Carl for bike riding, eclipse, music and catching up. While we are in the Midwest we will try to see another group of Winter Texan friends. And Jim’s family. And my yoga buddies.

Whew! After late August we will probably head for Colorado if we have time and see Captain Ted and Ramona and Ronnie. We are looking forward to seeing Win and Ray in Nebraska. And this is a year when we decided we were going to stay longer at each stop! We’ll see how that works out.

On our way back to the Rio Grande Valley we will make a couple of stops in Oklahoma, to see Dos Okies and I want to go to Pawhuska to see The Pioneer Woman’s store and restaurant. I met and photographed her at a book signing several years ago before she became super ambitious and famous. Hokey, I know, but I’m curious. She has a great enchilada recipe that freezes well. Before we took off in the bus (no oven) I made a huge batch and we filled the freezer and ate them forever.

We will fill in the blanks between the destinations with as many bike trails as possible to deal with The Sandpiper Several.

Ahem…
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Gotta get more cleaning done! Then it’s Happy Hour.

The Coloring Queen

We have lots of talented people in our park. I have featured a few here before, Catherine and Theresa.

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Catherine

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Theresa

There are many more with all different talents; music, theater, homemade beer and wine, you name it.

There is a little crafts emporium here once a month but I have never made it because it is at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning. Not gonna happen.

I first became aware of these bookmarks that Terry puts together at our monthly Wine Drinking Club Book Club. During the holidays the leader of the discussion gave us each one with the chance to buy more. They had several there and WOW! So colorful and glittery! These are intricate patterns that she colors in pencil and pen. I mean they are small! She told me some take three days! They are truly little works of art.

This is Terry. I think she looks like a queen in this picture!
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The finished works are folded in half lengthwise (bookmark size), laminated and embellished with a sparkly topper. So I brought two back to the bus and Jim immediately said, “Can I have one of those?” The cats love the shiny embellishment and I often have to find my place again after a night of their mischief.

My mom and dad traveled the world for many years and my mom had a pretty well stocked gift drawer. When she needed a small gift, she just went to the gift drawer. We have done that in the bus but obviously don’t have much room, never mind a whole drawer.And we are running out of tie dye hankies.

These are perfect little tokens for folks we come across in our travels and my book reading friends. They would make great Christmas ornaments too. Got that idea from Dona. These are what the finished bookmarks look like. Both sides are the colorful pattern.
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And some in progress. Some of these she is keeping, some I am buying and there are many others.

Here she is in her lair, surrounded by colored pencils and pens, her feet up, coloring away, big smile on her face. She has a needlepoint magnifying glass that hangs around her neck for the really small stuff.
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So nice to discover more local talent. It’s a nice rainy afternoon and I’m off to drink some homemade Huckleberry Liqueur made by another friend here. Yum.

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Edinburg, Texas

Mid Winter Update

I can’t believe we are at the end of February already! Time flies when you’re having fun. We have been here three months already and have another one coming up.

Jim has settled into practicing and playing with the band they started up last year. They are really getting good! Jim’s baritone ukulele, rhythm, bass and lead guitars and percussion. After their last very fun performance, Jim said people came up to them and said “You sound like a real band!”

Ed of the band found out that we have a celebrity in our park. William Florian, former lead singer of the New Christy Minstrels is in the Valley this winter, performing shows every evening practically. We went to see him at a nearby park and some people from our park got up to sing with him. That was super fun. Then Sue from our park joined him on stage and sang a beautiful version of Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.

William has a great stage presence, easy and fluid. He has been generously working with the band on timing and all matters musical. You can really tell the difference. William played in the last set of the latest show and they rocked the house. No pics from that but here are Jim, William and Ed.
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I got to “walk” and play with two very cute kitties while a friend here had to go back to Boston for a couple weeks. Buster and Betsy are 9 month old fluffballs who are friendly and approachable, exactly opposite of our cats. I also deadheaded the petunias.

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Buster

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Betsy

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It wasn’t quite this hot but it did get up to 100 degrees this week.
The weather has been great for swimming laps and playing water volleyball. My volleyball is mostly on hold for now after I “sprained” my finger playing. It hurt like hell so I went to the commercial emergency room where they X-rayed it, which took about five minutes. It kinda got bent a little bit more. And of course it was my middle finger. It feels like it is still jammed. I can still swim laps and practice yoga  though. And go to Happy Hour, of course.

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I was there a total of four hours and the X-ray and the doctor pulling on it and taping it up was the treatment I got. And a prescription for ibuprofen. Whut? Besides the waiting room full of sick people, the worst part? When we got the bill the total was $2800! I went on the last day of the year with our old insurance. There was no itemization, no explanation. Couldn’t even talk to a real person on the phone. Please don’t tell me that America has the best health care system in the world.

There is never a lack of things to do here. All sorts of activities and you can do as much or as little as you want. We have attended three amateur theatre productions so far featuring talented people from the park. I always figure somebody has to be the audience.

One night last week another neighbor came by and said since it was a clear night that her husband was going to set up his “big” telescope. It was big, like seven feet tall! It is a refraction mirrored scope. We got to view Venus, Pliedes and its nebula along with a few other formations. Tom was very knowledgeable and informative. Sort of like a flash mob to sky gaze. It was fabulous and I hope we do that again.

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Steve in the mirror

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The kitties have settled into their winter routine. We take them out a couple times a day and they go to the park across the street. They even know, “Let’s go to the park.” When the wind is blowing hard it is good cat control; they stick close to the bus.

Our other neighbors have a lovely garden that I get to take care of when they are at their place in Mexico. It is an oasis of blooms, hummingbirds and birds. They also grow orchids and I get to watch over them too. They are blooming brilliantly this week.

When I went to see the orchids, one of my favorite pups was there, Maisey! She gets so excited. So I took her picture too.
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When I see an interesting sky I work on my Layered Skies project. A recent full moon. With my phone.

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Straight shot

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Three layers

I get work on the magazine done even though it is so nice outside. I have to admit, when it’s 100, I don’t mind staying in. My compact “office” works just fine.
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We’ve been to the beach and are going to Mexico this week. Mardi Gras is coming up with body painting, a parade, music and a food fest. Life is good.

Gotta go, almost time for Happy Hour.

 

 

More Happy Accidents

Yesterday afternoon skies. These are some straight shots:

Then on to the layering. When I saw the contrails I thought they might make interesting images.
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There really are endless options. I shot ten RAW files and fooled around with a lot of different combinations. I also discovered that if you use the same image twice in the processing it adds some extra oomph to the result.

OK, enough! Until next time…

2016: A Year of Skies

Last year I did a year in photos but it took forever and was in like five parts. It was fun looking back through all the pictures and remembering the days they were taken. I’ve always been interested in the ever-changing skies, sunrise, sunset, clouds, fog, even rain. Some make for better pictures than others.

WARNING! Photo geek stuff ahead…

I normally shoot Camera RAW with my 10 year old Nikon DSLR. Someone recently said, “A good starter camera…” Ouch! It does everything I need and more. I have been processing the images as HDR, high dynamic range. This is equivalent to the old neutral density filter in photography. With Camera RAW and HDR, like with the human eye, the deep shadows and blowout bright highlights are evened out. In a photo, whether digital or on film, the highlights and shadows can ruin the picture. This is probably why people show you a picture and say, “But it didn’t look like that in person, it was much more alive, real, dynamic.” Your eye, not the camera (and computer) was doing the processing. HDR makes a photo that is very close to how the scene appears to the human eye.

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In Mexico in 2011

HDR used to involve a tripod and multiple bracketed exposures at like a half stop from super bright to almost black. See some early HDR here. I still do this sometimes, but mostly now I shoot one image Camera RAW and process as HDR. This is ideal since, 1) tripod not required, 2) less space on disk with otherwise unusable images and 3) HDR processing has evolved. Greatly.

Sometime last year, I was processing some sky pictures and accidentally dragged two into the image area that were not bracketed. They were shot in the same sky and time period but objects did not align as normal HDR does. It was what Mr. Rugolo, one of my art professors called “a happy accident.”

We used to make double exposures in the camera and not know the resulting image until the film was processed.This is sort of like being back in the darkroom and not knowing what a double exposure in the enlarger would look like until it was processed. Or a solarized print. I like the suspense and the outcome was always unique.

Now, we have the technology to process on the computer and can create double or multiple exposures there. I loved processing the film and printing black and white and color in the darkroom but I would never go back to it, as some have. The computer can do all the things we wished we could do back then. In the olden days…

These two images caused the happy accident.
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This January sky in our Rio Grande Valley spot was pretty impressive on its own. We have a perfect uninterrupted sky view from our site so I just run out and take a picture or two when good ones come along. Both are one exposure RAW files. The accident occurred when I dragged the two different images into the HDR software. It tried its best to line up the similarities  but there was just some left over as you can see from the image below on the right and bottom.

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I cropped that off and ended up with this.
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I liked the way it attempted to make sense of the images and that it represented a roiling  and more complex picture of that day’s sky on January 12, 2016.

On March 18th, we had an incredible display of mammatus clouds and straight photos were shot.
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The fun thing about this technique is that you can always go back later and combine the images. Later in the year I got more used to shooting specifically with Layered Skies in mind. This is one from the same day’s sky processed later. The heavens were alive in every direction that evening.
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A later combination of three images from March 18.
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A few nights later on March 22 I got this straight shot of the full moon. We also have an excellent view of the moonrise here.
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In April we went to Austin and saw the sunset from friends’ boat on Lake Travis. This was a nice enough sunset on its own but the layering really gives the mood and motion of the sky.
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On the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, two images.
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April 12, 2016
And playing around with panoramas there too. These are single images stitched together in Photoshop. There wasn’t much to photograph except the sky…
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April 13, 2016

Another full moon on April 20 in Alabama
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April 26 in Chattanooga
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May 28, Jim’s birthday in Marthasville, Missouri. The sky was big and busy that night. This is the only layered image, the rest are straight out of camera. (SOOC)
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And Colorado never disappoints. A fisheye view near Canon City.
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Layered sunsets in Colorado Springs July 26
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Regular old skies in Ft. Collins were pretty spectacular.
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Montana is aptly described as Big Sky Country.
Layered sky in Billings July 15
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Layered sky in Montana July 19
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Sunset in Lame Deer July 20
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Montana rainbow
The horse pasture
Panorama at Little Bighorn battlefield
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Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower. The view from our site on July 22

Wyoming panorama July 24, 2016
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Nebraska
Storm a comin’ July 26.
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And after the storm:
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More panoramas on the Cowboy Trail
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July 30

Minnesota panorama
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Minnesota sunset with my phone, August 8
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And layered:
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Wisconsin, on the Elroy Sparta Trail August 20: SOOC
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Lake of the Ozarks on September 13
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Missouri and Illinois
On the Katy Trail near Portland September 21portland-pano copy.jpg
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The Tunnel Hill State Trail in Illinois October 4:
Layered
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And panorama
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On the Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama October 21
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Pensacola November 7-10: The Blue Angels!
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Gulf Islands National Seashore sunset
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Layered sunset in Biloxi, Mississippi November 10
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At Padre Island National Seashore November 20
Vertical panorama
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This was the first time I shot deliberately for the Layered Sky series. Sometimes it takes me a while…
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And back at our spot for the winter in the Rio Grande Valley.
Straight and Layered Sky November 26
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Sunset November 29
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December 2 Layered Skies:
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December 22
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December 27
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December 28
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I really like this one.

So, a year of skies! The sky is always changing so don’t forget to Look Up!

Life’s a Beach

After New Year’s our good friend Michael was in the park with us for a few days after attending a wedding party in Houston. Michael and Randy have been good friends for many years since we met in Mexico. We have visited them in Philadelphia several times and they have a great parking spot for the bus, a beautifully curated garden right in the middle of the city. Heavenly.

Randy passed away in February of last year, to all of our shock, and we were looking forward to seeing Michael and catching up.
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Layered beach.

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We organized a trip to the beach on South Padre Island since the weather was fabulous and it turned into a big group of about thirty people! We ate and drank and played games and splashed in the surf while the fog came and went.

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Foggy dunes

We even refurbished the sign designating the nude beach since the paint had faded away. It’s a ways down the beach. Before and after.
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We enjoyed tamales from Delia’s when we got back to the bus and as a native Texan, Michael gave his approval. They are really good.

Another evening we made dinner for our neighbors returning to the park, Jim’s famous cioppino. In the meantime we talked and swam and truly enjoyed and appreciated Michael’s company. We had a great visit and plan to see him again sometime this summer. We always look forward to the various garden projects and hopefully we can help more now that Randy is gone.

And he brought us a lovely reminder of Randy for the bus, a deep blue shot glass that he culled from Randy’s studio. We treasure it and the memories it brings back. But first and foremost we treasure our good friends.
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Happy New Year!

A little late;  I know. We’ve been busy swimming laps, playing volleyball, socializing, having dinners with friends, going to the beach, herding cats and enjoying time with visitors. Whew! The weather is supposed to turn cooler and rainy so we will have a few days of downtime to catch our breath.

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Late in 2015 I saw a Facebook post suggesting that folks get a jar with a lid and each week write a post-it note about a positive experience that week. Then at the end of the year, open the jar and read all the notes for a year in review.

I’m all for being positive and grateful so we decided to try it. We used an apple butter jar that we got on a bike trail somewhere and were pretty good about adding notes. A bonus was that every time we opened the jar to add one, the apple butter aroma wafted out.

When we opened the jar on New Year’s Day it was fun and gratifying to relive the experience and be thankful all over again. I didn’t photograph them all but we were fairly consistent throughout the year. A few examples.

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We wrote about this here.

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The best part about shingles.

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This unfolded really well…

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Just reading back through the blog and all the lovely people and places we have gotten to experience is humbling and gratifying. We know we are BIG BIG Lucky…

We have already started our jar for this year and it still smells like apple butter! Try it! You’ll be glad you did.

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