Sunday, December 17, 2017

Treasure Islands Christmas Boat Parade, 2017

One of our highlights of our time here, is to watch the annual Christmas boat parade. This year the Treasure Island Boat parade consisted of over forty boats! Our daughters friend Mike invited us over to his condo where we could view the parade from his fifth-floor condo balcony, and we got there in plenty of time to relax before the show.
It was a beautiful warm night with very light winds. A slight tide was flowing into John’s Pass. There are shallow islands in the pass and so the boats had to follow a narrow-defined channel to prevent them from running ashore.
The parade started at other end of the island and, so it took about an hour before the lead boat, rounded the bend. The lead boat is always a police boat and the flashing red lights cleared the way as boats full of watchers scurried to find a place to anchor.
The first few boats were somewhat small and, so it gave me some practice as I took some shots with our good camera. I thought I would try the thirty-five to seventy-five mm lens hoping that I would get better detail using the night setting.
Trying to take three images of each boat I managed to blur quite a few, but enough of the images worked out. The main problem I had was when boats used their spotlights as the bright white light made taking a stacked image almost impossible. The boats were moving as the camera took four images in a row before stacking them together.
Enough with the details, the boats arrived and passed below us. The people on board yelled Christmas greetings. Santa Clauses, reindeer, Christmas trees, menorahs, and lots and lots of icicles went by.
Several of the boats were business’s that had the name of their establishment displayed on the boats side.
There were boats of all sizes and some of them were quite crowded with party goers. To give you an idea of their size some had four outboard engines mounted on the back, and each one of the engines was over four hundred horse power!
We yelled and waved back at the parade boats and everyone had an enjoyable time. None of the boats collided and the boats stacked up at the end of the parade inside John’s Pass. The last boat passed by and the boats started to disperse.
Mikes place is an ideal spot to watch the parade and we thanked him for his kind invitation! It seemed like it was the biggest and best boat parade we have ever watched. We would also like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and of course Clear skies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Different Take in Florida. Renting a Beach Bungalow

We decided to try something different this year. Instead of pulling our fifth wheel to Florida, we rented a beach bungalow on St Pete Beach. Now we are only a few minutes from Jen and Eric’s condo on Treasure Island, so we don’t have a forty-minute drive through heavy traffic.
It took us three days to drive from Texas, (where we parked the rig), and of course I came down with the flu, so Renita ended up driving most of the way. We also ate out and rented motel rooms, so it was a far cry from our usual travels. Kind of a like a vacation really.
Arriving at St Pete Beach, we found the address and Renita followed the instructions to unlock the lock box and get our key. It was a nice two-bedroom place, about three blocks from the beach. I went to bed and didn’t move much for the next four days. Of course, as I got better, Renita got sick, and so the first ten days were mostly spent taking turns with naps and taking care of each other.
I did get better and was able to take daily walks on the beach, much like we do when we go to Grand Isle. Armed with my Fitbit I can easily get my steps and exercise in, so I am meeting my goals.
Renita was recovering, and she suggested she was well enough to do some shopping at Madeira Beach. A strong cold front moved through, plunging the temperatures into the fifties and so we bundled up, drove to Madeira Beach and went shopping.
The best part, for me anyway was watching the activity in the pass. Three Kayaks rowed hard out into the Gulf, braving the high waves and fierce winds. I thought they were insane and a little bit later a rescue wave runner and patrol boat chased after them. They didn’t find them, but a helicopter flew out spotted the kayakers and all turned out to be ok.
Meanwhile the dolphins were cavorting in the pass, chasing each other jumping high in the air. They were having an exciting time frolicking in the strong tide, and Renita managed to get a great shot as one leaped clear and another nosed the bottom of the first, what’s that all about?
Yesterday we braved the cold and drove up the beach to the end of the road. Stopping at Sand Key Park, we walked the beach and found some cool fragments of staghorn coral. We make jewelry from fossil coral and so we both could see some possibilities with the nice coral pieces.
We did see a flock of wood storks. Rosettes, and ibis, but they took off before we could walk over and get some images. The fishing pier was closed, and the road was blocked so nothing was happenings, fish wise. Perhaps they were damaged from the Hurricane?
Today another cold front is coming through with high winds and another batch of forty and fifty-degree weather. Time to take our morning walk and get our steps and exercise in before it arrives.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Whoopers are Back in Lamar!

Soon after arriving in Rockport we made several trips to Lamar. The damage was widespread, and the trees had taken a special destruction. Still, Big Tree had survived. We had also heard that the whooping cranes were headed south, and we hoped to see them before we headed to Florida for the month of December. Smaller sandhill cranes watched as the two males flared their wings in displays of might.
So, it was great to finally see five whoopers vying for territory in their usual spot in Lamar. As smaller sandhill cranes watched the two males flared their wings and flew into the air chasing each other in a determination of dominance. They both looked like neither was the real dominant male we had seen the previous years.
An immature Whooper fledgling looked on as the two females appeared to disregard the males. A flock of Black bellied whistling ducks, with two spoonbills also appeared to be somewhat interested while a funeral of turkey vultures seemed to wait for something to die.
In the shallow pond two snowy egrets waded and the farmers cows grazed as they plodded across the field. They were being accompanied by cattle egrets waiting for the herd to scare their way. We talked with several other birders and it was just plain obvious that everyone was relieved to see the true snowbirds, had returned home!
The newspapers reported that about four hundred and thirty whooping cranes are expected to arrive this winter. This number is over one hundred greater than last years population and is a record for the nations only wild flock.

It’s a far cry from the fifteen birds that once remained. It looks like they should have a good winter as their two main foods are in abundant supply, a wild berry and blue crabs! Now if the duck hunters will just leave them alone, (most of the duck blinds that dominated the refuge boundary have been destroyed). Clear skies

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Passing it Forward, Teaching a Wire Wrapping Class at the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society Shop

The students were all paying attention, (a far cry from the old days when I taught high school), as I wrapped a piece of tape around the girdle of the stone. I then showed them how to mark the locations of the wraps and talked about the look of the finished product.
Earlier I had told them of how the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society had taught me so much and how this class was a small way of passing knowledge forward. It’s something that everyone should do. I shared a story of how we had attended an art show at which another wire wrapper and lapidary artist, had refused to tell Renita what gauge wire he used. He said it was a trade secret, (If he hadn’t been such a jerk I would have shared my knowledge of how to finish the back of his rough cabochons).
Everyone worked quietly, and so I told stories of the mentors I had studied under in the club. I told of how Jerrod Simpson had taught us how to grind cabochons and how Dick Cline had taught us so many aspects of preforming and finishing pieces of stone. Another member Mark had taught us about his love of agates and petrified wood, and had shown us his extensive collection.
The next step was to cut the wire, and then to twist the pieces of the frame, giving the wire facets that sparkle in the light, (you can buy wire already twisted but why)? I smiled as they let out sounds of delight which usually happens at this stage of the class.
Most of the students were working on standard cabochons, but Sue had brought a beautiful and difficult piece shaped somewhat like a kidney. Renita worked with her and everyone’s work progressed nicely. Renita and I walked around and checked each student’s work trying to stave off any mistakes, (we know the mistakes as we have made them all ourselves).
The next steps were to bind the frame with individual wire wraps, before wrapping the frame around the stone. These steps are so critical for a finished beautiful pendant. Russ, the club president, and Mark, the shop foreman, both shared some of their stories of rocks and friends and time with the club.
After capturing the stone, the last step was to finish the top and Renita stepped in to show them the steps in making a rosette wire flower. I walked around and watched as each student put their own signature finish to their pendant. It was fun to see how they all differed in their approach. Too often our students will be afraid to show their individuality but not this group!
The class went over the allotted time, but no one seemed to mind. The last step was to take an image of each student’s pendant, and the smiles on everyone’s faces! The smiles are what its all about. It was another fun morning at the rock shop, and most important, we had met new members and made new friends. Clear skies

Monday, November 27, 2017

Repairing the Fish Cleaning Station and Park Dock

We had already left Star Valley when our Winter Park asked, using Facebook, their winter Texans to bring tools, (Seems money is tight, and workers are scarce as many have lost their homes and moved from the area). The park didn’t have the budget to hire someone to repair the fish cleaning station and fishing pier, (they weren’t insured or, so the story goes).
When we arrived, there was already talk about what we could do and couldn’t. There was only one dock and pier left undamaged on the bay. Our dock had lost all its railings, the table of the cleaning station, the gate, and lots of floor planking.
Alan and Larry had done quite a bit of planning, (Larry is from Iowa and Alan from Kansas). They had even calculated the amount of woods and screws needed, and the park had bought enough to get started. At happy hour they announced that the work would start the next day.
I forgot about it till I saw them working and, so I went down to the pier to offer my help. As I didn’t have any tools I was basically grunt labor but at least I could be a gopher and run for tools or carry wood. There was quite a crew, besides Larry and Alan, Dave from Washington, Jim from Kansas, Minnesota Joe, Both Larry’s, and Tom.
By the time I got there, they had started to rebuild some of the planking and the entrance gate. Eight of us helped to carry and move the heavy frame, holding it upright in place as it was screwed and bolted to the pier floor. Some of the flooring and side panels were rebuilt using recycled wood from the fence and it didn’t take very long before we ran out of materials.
Several days later the park delivered more wood and screws and so the group continued their work. Railings wee built and strengthened, along with more flooring and some major replacement of cross members and flooring of the fish station., (Again, I was mostly a gopher, carrying wood and holding boards as they were sawed and then attached). Three hours seemed about all the time the crew could stand before we broke for another day.
The next work day, the park manager and park workers had arrived to help, so we had too many people. Larry organized us into crews working different tasks and the work progressed rapidly. The work had stopped for a couple of days as Larry had fallen and broken some ribs, but he still insisted on directing the workers, as he said Army Strong!
 I missed the next day’s work, on a Saturday, as Renita and I had volunteered to teach a class on wire wrapping at the Gem and Mineral Club shop. By the time we returned from Corpus Christi almost all the work had been done.
Walking out one could see Larry’s well thought out plans. We still didn’t have any electricity or water, but the park was planning to install a new power pole and run the electricity to the station. The group discussed the problems with cleaning the fish without the electric fillet knifes. But you do what you must do, (the problem is the large ocean fish have thick rib bones making cleaning challenging).
I did go fishing and got to use the new cleaning station, and as I have cleaned thousands of fish the old Dexter Russel fillet knife made short work of my sheep head, (not the fresh water variety). Thank goodness, we can clean fish back at the park and the station promises to be a busy place. The pelicans have already retuned, and were begging for scraps as I cleaned my fish.  One more step back towards normal. Clear skies

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Kayaking the Sailboat Channel

I cant believe it has been ten days since I last wrote on our blog/journal. Now I am three entries behind and so for that I apologize. The real reason I write this blog is so Renita and I are able to keep track of our retirement travels. So now its catch up time.

After Hurricane Harvey we talked with our friend Dave. He had told us that a friend of his had looked at the storage garage and that it had lost its garage door and been looted, (his fifth wheel had also been looted and he lost his fishing poles). Last spring Dave and John had offered to let us store our kayaks inside their bin, so we were surprised when Dave said that the storage door was only partially off and that the kayaks were still inside!
We waited till our friends arrived and were able to retrieve our yaks. A few days later we headed to the sailboat channel for our first kayak fishing. Arriving at the channel we were surprised at the extreme high tide. It was so high that the location where we usually parked the truck was flooded.
Still we were able to find a place on the sand where we could park and launch the yaks. Paddling to our first spot we anchored and baited up with live shrimp. As fast as we could throw out we had bites and caught fish after fish, mostly small reds, whiting, and sand trout.
All the fish were small, but we were greeted by a dolphin, probably feeding on the ever-present mullet and sand trout. Still we were having fun, when I set the hook on another trout. It fought harder than the others and it turned out to be the largest sand trout we have ever caught, fifteen inches!
Putting it on the stringer we were lulled into complacency by more small fish. Suddenly my reel screamed as a large fish, probably a black drum made a run. I picked up the rod to fight the fish when the line suddenly snapped. I had been lazy and even though we had caught a lot of fish, I had not checked the line and retied, a rookie mistake.

We did catch some whiting and I kept a larger one hoping to have enough for a meal. However no more large fish bit and so we ended up with leftovers for dinner, (we rarely eat cornbread anymore as it bad for our Keto diet). Still it had been a lot of fun, kayaking, catching fish after fish, and just plain relaxing while fishing the channel. Clear skies

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Busy Week, Working Rocks, Fishing, and Relaxing

It’s been hot and humid, here in south Texas, but the first major cold front has just passed through bringing some rain and a relief from the hot temperatures.  In the past week we have started to work rocks at the rock shop, spent some more time sightseeing, and done some fishing,
We have been blessed with meeting and making many new friends here in south Texas, many of them members of the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society. So, when we arrived at the rock shop we were warmly greeted by Big Mark, Russel, and Rita.  All the machines were busy, and that was fine as we only needed to saw a few rocks.
Mark showed us his beautiful specimen of Turkish Stick Agate and Russ and I talked about working Koroit Boulder opals. Rita said she has been finding quite a few fossils, including a large fossil shark tooth, a megalodon!
The best thing about our membership is to be able to get the expert advice on the proper way to work material. The rock shop survived the hurricane with very light damage. The roof leaked in some place and some tiles fell in, but the machines were all fine, so it promises to be a very busy season.
The reports are that the whooping cranes are starting to arrive. The wild flock here has grown, and they expect about four hundred and thirty birds, (at one time there were only fifteen birds left). Driving to Lamar we stopped along the shoreline, but didn’t see any whoopers. Each breeding pair with its young stake out a mile size territory and vigorously defend it from other whoopers and sandhill cranes. Due to the tremendous amount of rain from the hurricane there’s a great supply of berries and crabs so it portends a good year for the birds.
Another morning I went wade fishing to a nearby spot. Buying a pint of shrimp, I discovered that I have a leak in my good waders, but slogging on I begin to cast live shrimp, working them slowly along the oyster bottom. On each cast small fish stole my bait, almost as fast as I cast out.
As I worked along the shoreline, I begin to catch black drum and redfish. They were all undersize and, so I was able to release them back into the water, (I almost exclusively use circle hooks, which hook the fish in the corner of the mouth and allow for an easy live release).
I caught black drum, redfish, whiting, and pinfish. Surprisingly I did not catch any speckled trout. (weakfish in Florida), as other fishermen arrived. I watched them fish as it’s a great way to find hidden spots. They were casting jigs and I did see one catch a nice trout, but the school just wasn’t in
The next day Renita joined me, and we fished under the new bridge. The results were the same as the day before and, so we moved out to a spot near the airport. There, we set up the lawn chairs and fished with no success. It always takes a while before we catch some keepers and so we returned home and grilled hot dogs, (we don’t eat cornbread anymore due to the diet our doctor put us on. Molly likes hot dogs better anyway).

Our friends from Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan are starting to arrive and so today we are all going out to breakfast, before helping them set up their rig. The forecast is for some rain, which the area can use as it has been dry since the hurricane came ashore. Other friends are still trickling in and so to them all, and to you we say travel safe, and of course clear skies.