The Dream House Part 1

I have been getting some pretty bad “city claustrophobia” lately, so I figured the best way to treat it is to write down my list of must-haves for my dream house. This will be Part 1 – Still working in Houston. I have a lot of different style dream houses, depending on where I’m living. In the southeast Texas region, a farm house. In the Hill Country, a native rock house. In the desert, adobe. And then of course there is always the true “dream Beach House or Lake House”. But that’s a completely different story…

At the moment since I still need a job the idea is to have a dream house and a job at the same time (I know, boring, but it needs to be realistic, right?). This means I’m not dreaming of this house being on an island or out in the middle of the desert. The city still has to be within an hour’s drive.

Land:

First of all, land is a priority. I’m not talking 200 acres, but AT LEAST 2 acres. Preferably 5-10 but I’m keeping the price range in mind. I want to be able to raise chickens and have a huge vegetable garden, and a large enough yard that the dogs can still run and play but be separated from said chickens and garden. And of course, there will be a pony.

And his name will be Lil' Sebastain

And his name will be Lil’ Sebastain

Access:

There cannot be a through-way in front of my house. Going past my house will not be a shortcut to get ANYWHERE. I do not want to have my dream house turn into the house in Up, where the city builds around me and I’m too stubborn to sell or move, so it’s just me surrounded by high rises and shopping centers.

In combination of land and access, I don’t want to house to even be visible from the road, for two reasons: security (If the bad guys can’t see a house, they won’t know that there’s one to break into, right?) and if you can’t see the house from the road, you can’t very well see the road from the house then, can you?

Storage:

I don’t care about attic space (we hardly use our attic anyway), but there will be a barn. A big barn. That way we can have all the storage we need for animal feed (dogs and chickens eat a lot), gardening supplies and tools (big gardens require bigger tools), the boat (keeping that, of course!), and a work/hobby shop. I want enough space to store my 90% completed projects and supplies to start other projects whenever I get around to it, without all that stuff being “in the way”.

Hobby Shop/Barn

Hobby Shop/Barn

Finally, The Farm House:

Farm House

Farm House

Huge porches: We do a lot of cook outs with friends and family, so we need a lot of space to entertain, but only outside. Screw indoor dining. That’s what the recliner is for.

Single story: I’m not cleaning stairs. I’m not walking up and down stairs. I’m not tumbling down stairs in the middle of the night to let the dog out to pee. Not. Happening. (The photo above is a single story-the windows above “open” to the attic.)

Smaller than we have now: We have a 2,200 square foot house right now, and use about 50-60% of the space. And that’s when we have someone spending the night in the guest room. Areas like formal dining AND a breakfast area? Not necessary.

The current setup.

The current setup. Basically, we only use the left and central portions of the house.

Interior Details: I want an actual pantry, instead of a big cabinet like we have now. It’s deep and dark, so you can’t really see what you have. The top and bottom shelves only have things in the front portion because if I utilized the whole shelf I would never see that stuff again. There could be a toddler back there and I wouldn’t be able to see it.

An actual laundry room. We have a laundry “closet”. It’s got those terrible folding doors to close the washer and dryer off from the rest of the room, but our washer and dryer are actually too big for the area, so the doors don’t close correctly. We actually had to take them off and re-hang them differently when we moved in so we could close the doors at all. And they are only held closed by magnets we had to glue onto the tops of the doors. (I know, champagne problem – Oh No! My washer and dryer are TOO BIG to fit in the designated area! It’s still annoying and my next house won’t have that problem.

Mud/Laundry Room

Mud/Laundry Room

A mud room. Somewhere we can drop our stuff when we get home from work and not clutter up the rest of the house. Somewhere I can make the dogs wait to be toweled off, before they run through the house spraying mud and dirt on every surface. And somewhere that has a half-bath so that you don’t have to go traipsing through the entire house to go to the restroom while you are in the middle of doing yard work, but you stepped on a doggy land mine, so now you somehow have to manage to take off your shoes before you pee yourself….you see? This is an easily avoidable problem. The laundry room can even BE the mud room. I’m not picky!

A big kitchen. The kitchen we have now is pretty great, but it’s still a little cramped when more than one person is in there at a time. And since everyone knows that the kitchen is a social place, it needs to have a lot of space. But at the same time, I don’t like the idea of an “open concept” kitchen-living room area. The kitchen can also be a noisy place, and have those two rooms separate really appeals to me.

Beautiful, huge kitchen with room to be social and cook at the same time.

Beautiful, huge kitchen with room to be social and cook at the same time.

While we’re at it, I love Plantation Shutters like in the photo above. We have them in our house now and I love them. They give the windows a classy look and they can stand up to anything. They are easy to clean. They can close for privacy, or they can actually reflect the light (if you have white ones) and brighten up the room when they are open. Perfect for any farm house. And sliding barn doors. I mean, what farm house wouldn’t look perfect with those? So these are details, but they are still things that I think are must-haves :)

The perfect barn door to close off the mud room, laundry room, pantry, etc.

The perfect barn door to close off the mud room, laundry room, pantry, etc.

Hard floors. Either wood, stone, or tile. Even stained concrete can look nice if it’s done right. But carpet + dogs is a disaster. And I’m not going through life without dogs. That’s just not an option.

As much as I would like to, I really don’t have the time to renovate a house to make it the way I want it. I would love to pull an Ashley at Domestic Imperfection and just make the house the way I want, but I just can’t do that AND have a job at the same time. And as we already discussed, Dream House #1 is the scenario in which I haven’t won the lottery yet.

These things shouldn’t be THAT hard to find, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s a long list. I should just show this post to our future Realtor and say, “find something to fit this description and I’ll buy it. Easy peasy.”

Birthdays in New Orleans

Hubby and I are exactly 365 days apart and this year he turned 30 so he wanted to do something more than just go out for dinner and drinks with friends. He had never been to Nola before so that’s what he decided to do. I had gone a few times but only with work people during the week so it was VERY different. The benefit though, was that I knew my way around the French Quarter pretty well, which took a lot of stress off of planning.

We got free flights through Southwest Airlines so the trip was relatively cheap, but it was also REALLY quick because the only free flights we could do were Saturday morning and Sunday night. Not much time to spend exploring a new place. We also went during the first weekend of Mardi Gras, so it was much more crowded than I had ever seen, and made the hotels much more expensive. Our solution was to get a hotel outside of the French Quarter, near Lake Pontchartrain. MUCH CHEAPER. For Christmas, a friend of ours bought us what is basically a City Pass. It’s an entrance ticket for the Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium, and the Insectarium, because he knows how much of nerds we are that we basically plan our trips around that kind of thing. However, since our trip was so short, those three things took up A LOT of our time, so we are already planning on going back to see the historical stuff, and do a little more of the French Quarter than we got to do.

We landed in New Orleans at 8 am, and we were walking around the French Quarter by 9. It was really nice because no one was out on the streets yet (well, almost no one. The only people we saw were stumbling home from the night before-yikes). We had the streets to ourselves for actually appreciating the architecture, getting lost looking for Jean Lafitte’s, and find a bistro for some breakfast.

Bubbles show you where the party's at

Bubbles show you where the party’s at – even at 9 am.

Artists line the fence of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

Artists line the fence of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

We didn’t get to eat at Cafe Du Monde because there was a CRAZY line from all the tourists that were in town for Mardi Gras. Luckily we found another beignet cafe across the street with no line so we were still able to eat beignets while over looking the Mississippi River.

Cafe Du Monde - famous beignets

Cafe Du Monde – famous beignets – Crazy crowded

The zoo was great – they even had a climbing tree!

Beautiful Coastal Oaks make great climbing trees!

Beautiful Coastal Oaks make great climbing trees! But please do not go beyond the sign :)

We spent a good chunk of the day at the zoo, planning on hitting Bourbon Street in the late afternoon/evening, so I was able to spend a long time with the Amur Leopards, who were surprisingly active while we were there. I took a ton of photos, but this was my best one.

Tranquil Amur Leopard

Tranquil Amur Leopard

I plan on editing out the chain link fence…one day….

The zoo was great, but it was definitely obvious that we were in Louisiana…

What kind of zoo tells you how to eat the animals here?!

What kind of zoo tells you how to eat the animals here?!

And gives recipes for them???

And gives recipes for them???

And they say Texas is like a whole other country…

Since our flight home was on Sunday night, we spent the rest of the day enjoying the French Quarter and Lake Pontchartrain. Sunday we went to the Aquarium and Insectarium which were both pretty dang cool.

Huge shark tank

Huge shark tank

In this giant shark tank we saw a huge pile of Nurse sharks sleeping on a rock together. We counted 9 sharks! Who knew they were so social.

Dog pile of Nurse sharks....Shark Pile?

Dog pile of Nurse sharks….Shark Pile?

Sea anemone

Sea anemone

Also at the aquarium, they have a huge aviary where you can buy food for the Parakeets. They fly all over you, land in your hair, and try to sneak out by climbing into your purse. Because Parakeets are cavity nesters, there is a sign when you leave to make sure you check your jacket hoods, purses, and backpacks for any stowaways.

Getting attacked by adorableness

Getting attacked by adorableness

At the insectarium there were tons of displays of beautiful beetles and butterflies from all over the world.

Beautiful insect displays at the Insectarium

Beautiful insect displays at the Insectarium

The insectarium is a federal building, so make sure you don’t bring anything in that you can’t bring past airport security, essentially.  It was a great trip and Hubby and I already looking forward to exploring Nola more.

Texas Bucket List

For all you Texans, you get this. You probably have a Bucket List, but then you have a separate Texas Bucket List, for things that every Texan should do. For all you non-Texans, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can get here some day and check all these things off of your list. Luckily there is now a song dedicated to a Texas Bucket List. It’s called My Texas, and it’s by The Josh Abbott Band. There is also a little known guy named Pat Green that sings along with him. You may have heard of him?

Anyway, the list in the song has pretty much everything you need to do in Texas – here is the breakdown.

1. Climb Enchanted Rock    CHECK    At least 4 times

2. Drink a cold Shiner down in Luckenbach    CHECK     Of course I have! And I’ll do it again, too!

3. Take your baby to the River Walk     CHECK     And I’m planning on going in March again!

4. Float the Frio River       CHECK     Used to do this every summer as a kid!

5. Listen to Red Dirt music on the radio      CHECK     Back when I was in high school, we had a good Texas country music station. Not anymore….

6. Eat Cooper’s In Llano*         (sort of) CHECK        I have an * by this, because I have had Cooper’s from Llano, but I haven’t had it IN Llano. They were leftovers a friend brought for me to try

7. Go to the Houston Rodeo    CHECK     Pretty much every year of my childhood, and I showed a steer in Houston

8. Sing “Carry On” at a Pat Green Show     CHECK        I saw Pat Green AT the Houston Rodeo

9. See an Abilene sunset

10. Catch a trout in Port A(ransas)

11. Heard the words to “Corpus Christ Bay”      CHECK      Robert Earl Keen is one of the best – I know all the words!

12. Watch fireworks on PK (I had to look this up, it’s Possum Kingdom Lake)

13. Have a kolache when you go through West*   (sort of CHECK)       Again, the * means I had them when a friend (the same friend who brought me Cooper’s from Llano by the way, brought me some, but I haven’t had fresh ones. Doesn’t matter though – they were still A-MAZ-ING.

14. Heard of the Larry Jo Taylor Fest

15. Go to the Fort Worth Stock Show     CHECK     I showed a steer here too

16. Sing along with Cory Morrow     CHECK      Did this 3 times last year!

17. See a hill country sunset    CHECK      It’s beautiful every time

18. Hike through Big Bend    CHECK      I practically lived there for 6 years while I was in college!

19. Let your hair blow through the Lubbock wind

20. Be somewhere that they call you “friend”    CHECK     I count a lot of places, most of them in Alpine. You always run into someone you know there!

21. Go to the San Antonio Rodeo    CHECK       Showed a steer here too…

22. Sing “Everclear” at a Roger Creager show        CHECK          At least 8 times

23. See an El Paso sunset     CHECK       Best place in Texas to get factory direct boots, but it was quite a drive to get to even when I lived out West. So of course I saw the sunset!

So as you can see, it’s a lot of sunsets and listening to good country music. I’ve done most everything on this list. I think there are a few things that need to be added to it though. See live music at The Salt Lick (and get the Family Style bbq meal. Just trust me on this.), go to Wurstfest in New Braunfels, the Llano Crawfish Open, horseback riding on the beach on South Padre, have a beer on the Front Porch of Terlingua, swim in Jacob’s Well, see a Willie Nelson show, drive down a hill country road to see the bluebonnets at their peak, watch the sunset over Lake Travis at The Oasis, drink cold Texas beer on a hot Saturday night, go 4 wheeling on the Brazos River, eat Huevos Rancheros at Bob’s Taco Station, eat at  ALL of the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints, and go on every brewery tour (this is going to be a hard one, since new breweries are popping up all the time!), smell the wild Mountain Laurel blooming, get a Round Rock donut, go to Pete’s Piano Bar, and climb Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas. Sounds like I’ll be busy, because I have a few more to do. And the things I’ve marked off the list already, I’ll probably do again.

On Earth As It Is In Texas.

DIY Compass Rose Night Stand

This is a step-by-step How To Not Paint a 1970’s Night Stand.IMG_4369

I received two night stands from my sister, That Clever Chick. They were our Great-Grandmother’s night stands, but Dear Sweet Sissy didn’t have any use for them so they were sitting in her garage. I decided to take them and repaint them but hadn’t decided on anything in particular so then they lived in MY garage for a while. Finally, browsing Pinterest, I had come up with a few ideas. This was my original plan, found here:

Map Night Stand

Pretty maps are hard to find. These days, they have bright colors and I just don’t find them appealing. I went to Half Price Books to try to find a map book, but didn’t have much luck. (I also don’t have the patience to sift through their MASSIVE clearance section though, so if you do, give it a try!) I tried printing out some old world maps but they were too small, so instead I decided on a compass rose. It would be simple but still look awesome, and be easy to reproduce, since I have 2 night stands.

First, I tried taking some chemical stripper to them in order to get any finish, stain, or paint off of them. I will let you know now, that I will probably NEVER use chemical stripper again. Even using rubber gloves, I burned myself several times by getting this stuff on my skin. And, just by leaving a used shop towel on the garage floor, it ate the smooth layer off of the concrete on the garage floor. THIS IS SOME NASTY STUFF.

Next, I tried painting the night stands with leftover latex paint. Hubby was sick of the night stands taking up space in the garage, so I was trying to kill two birds with one stone and get rid of some old paint at the same time. Unfortunately the paint wouldn’t stay put. There was a plastic-y 1970s finish on the night stands that prevented paint from sticking to it.

Paint scraping of easily - you can't have that on a night stand!

Paint scraping of easily – you can’t have that on a night stand!

So I decided to power wash them. Fastest way to get paint off of them, right? Well, yes, but it also made a huge mess. There were chunks of latex paint all over the driveway, and the wood didn’t really like it either. There was some splitting of the layers of wood, since it was a composite instead of solid wood (I’m guessing it was in the 70s that the US started cheaping out on quality furniture?) Anyway, I got the paint off as much as possible, and then sanded the rest of the table smooth.

After it was power-washed

After it was power-washed

Then I decided to spray paint the tables. I bought 2 cans (one can for each table, right?) Man, that stuff DID NOT WANT TO COVER. There were patches where I could see the wood even after passing over the same spot several times with the spray paint. I ended up using 1 1/2 cans just for one table. The spray paint also didn’t go on smoothly. I’m not sure if it’s because of the chemical stripper, or because I bought a matte finish, but it’s bumpy. I like to think this will help prevent things from sliding off of the night stand in the future.

one can of spray paint was not enough

one can of spray paint was not enough

Then they stayed in the garage a while longer. One painted, the other one, not. We got busy, the days grew shorter, and I didn’t have a lot of daylight hours at home. So they waited.

Finally, while Hubby was out of town (probably hunting, but by now I can’t remember where he was) so I decided enough was enough. I brought the painted night stand into the house and started working. I cut and traced the Compass Rose onto the wood, eye-balling it in the center. Then I started painting it in.

Drawing and Painting the pattern, free-handed with the exception of tracing the outline.

Drawing and Painting the pattern, free-handed with the exception of tracing the outline.

This part went perfectly. So perfectly in fact, that I’m afraid to start working on the other one, because I know it won’t turn out as well at the first one. I have sen this pattern my whole life – Beginner’s Luck turns into junk the second time around.

Finished!

Finished!

The Final Product

The Final Product

I am thinking that on the other night stand I might put an anchor or something instead of another Compass Rose, but I haven’t decided yet. At this point, January in Southeast Texas doesn’t bode well for outdoor projects, especially painting, so I guess I have some time to decide. What do you think I should do? Below are a few Photoshopped ideas:

Night Stand-idea1 Night Stand-idea2 Night Stand-idea3 Night Stand-idea4

So, all in all, it turned out well, even though there were a few hiccups along the way. Lessons I’m passing on to you: (1) try to avoid using chemical stripper, unless you are wearing a HAZMAT suit; (2) prime every time; (3) buy twice as much spray paint as you think you’ll need; (4) don’t use latex paint on furniture when it has a terrible plastic-y finish on it.

There you go. My experiences have paid off for you again. Learn from my mistakes, and you will be a crafting genius. Everyone will want to know where you got your furniture, and you can just say “I made it.”

Cheers!

Zoo Lights!

Every year, the Houston Zoo puts on the event known as Zoo Lights. It’s a lot of fun – you go to the zoo at light and the whole place* is lit up with millions of Christmas lights!

(*Not all areas of the zoo are lit up or accessible at the time of zoo lights. Mainly it’s just the large open areas of the zoo, in order to not disturb the animals too much.)

Hubby and I went last year and we had a great time, so we definitely wanted to do it again. And since my photography skills have gotten a lot better in the past year, I definitely wanted to try out some new techniques!

This year however, we made a big mistake. We went on the busiest night of the year for Zoo Lights! We went on the Saturday before Christmas. Holy geebus. It was packed. We didn’t even think about that being the busiest night to go. Parking was a nightmare, and I already hate driving around in that part of the city anyway, so the addition of super heavy traffic was really stressful. Luckily we found the “additional parking” lot pretty easily, and were able to park without a hitch, once we go out of the traffic. Of course, that means that we had a bit of a walk to make to the actual Zoo, but it was totally worth it, instead of trying to get into a crowded parking lot, and then circling for hours to find a spot. I would probably still be there if I had tried that.

I took a ton of photos of the lights and we ordered some wine and kettle cooked popcorn.  It was really expensive for popcorn, but I had LITERALLY never done that before, so it was worth it. Actually, come to think of it, I think it was still cheaper than movie theater popcorn, so if you are used to those prices, you will be in for a treat. I’m just WAY too cheap frugal for that.

When we were ready to leave, we headed for the front of the zoo. The Zoo Lights shuts down at 10pm, but we saw a line that practically wrapped around the zoo for people who hadn’t bought tickets yet! It was 9:50, and there were hundreds of people still in line. We were thinking about it, and knew that the zoo would never turn THAT MUCH MONEY away (it was about 200 people in like, at $15 each = $3,000!) If a zoo can afford to turn down $3,000, they have too much money! So we asked an employee what was going to happen, and they said that they were planning on letting people in until 11pm. It made me want to stick around and count all the people that made it into the zoo after 10pm, just to see how much more money they made.

There is a park around the Zoo that we had to walk through to get back to our car, so we slowly made our way through the park, while I took pictures of stuff. Lights on the steps, the cityscape, and even some Nutria that were feeding on grass roots on the bank of the pond. They were super cute and didn’t mind us at all, so I took a bunch of pictures of them. Of course, they were in terrible lighting so the pictures didn’t come out great, but it gave me some practice in my new Photoshop program, so….silver lining, right?

We had a nice time, and we definitely plan on going again next year, but maybe not the weekend before Christmas…live and learn!

Zoo Lights!

Zoo Lights!

Mysterious Wonderland

Mysterious Wonderland

Lighted Steps

Lighted Steps

Reflections

Reflections

Reflecting Pond

Reflecting Pond

The lights in the trees dance to music

The lights in the trees dance to music

My favorite statue in the zoo - a lioness taking down a gazel

My favorite statue in the zoo – a lioness taking down a gazelle (and trying out some Photoshop lettering)

This car is known as "Holly Berry"

This car is known as “Holly Berry”

Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees

Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees

Blue Elephant

Blue Elephant

Giant Agaves

Giant Agaves

The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot

The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot

all the way across!

all the way across!

Christmas Birding Trip

Since Hubby and I did most of our Christmas family gatherings on a day other than Christmas Day, we decided to go out and do some birding Christmas Day at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Our goals were to finally see the Whooping Cranes and create a bird list of all the species we saw.

For some reason, we woke up at 4:30 am on Christmas Day. I guess our child-like brains were thinking it was time to open Santa’s gifts, but since we are adults now we didn’t have anything to open. So instead, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed down to the wildlife refuge early. It’s a bit of a drive for us, so leaving early was already the plan, but we ended up getting there at 7am!

On our way down to the refuge, we saw some cool species – we didn’t keep an exact species list, but mainly because we weren’t going to write down everyday birds like Starlings, Pigeons, or Cattle Egrets; however we still had a list of 12 interesting species! The first species we wrote down was an awesome sighting – a huge flock of Glossy Ibis. They were feeding in a flooded field – either a cattle pasture or a rice field, I’m not sure which. When a Kestrel flew over them, the flock panicked and took to the sky, allowing me to get some awesome shots of them flying together. Then they realized it was a Kestrel, and they were about 3x as big as it was, so they settled back down to finish eating.

Our next sighting was a new species for us entirely! It was a male Rough legged Hawk. They are listed in the Sibley Field Guide as Rare in that area, so it was a special treat to see him!

When we finally got down to Anahuac, we saw the typical species that are common in wetlands – ducks, Coots, THOUSANDS of Snow Geese, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, etc.

The only duck we were able to get close enough to to identify was a Lesser Scaup, but we stopped at a huge wetland area and saw hundreds and hundreds of ducks! They were too far away to ID, but they had their adorable little duck butt sticking up out of the water while they fed, and it was so fun to watch them!

While we were driving around we also saw Northern Harriers, White tailed Kites, tons of Red tailed Hawks, and even a Bald Eagle! That guy was flying pretty far away from us so the only way to ID it was to take a blurry picture and zoom in on it. Needless to say, THAT photo isn’t exactly publish-worthy ;)

After we left Anahuac, we decided to go to McFadden Beach, which is another Wildlife “sanctuary”. It’s designated a wildlife sanctuary because the State of Texas couldn’t get anyone to buy the land, so they just turned it over to the wildlife. While we were there, we saw Brown Pelicans, Willets, and a Belted Kingfisher.

We took the Bolivar Ferry to Galveston and saw a Common Loon in the water along with the typical (and annoying) various gull species. Most of them are Laughing gulls, but I don’t try too hard to ID these guys. Mainly because they are several different color morphs, so I will be looking at 5 different birds and they are all of the same species, but I’m not quite sure because they look so similar to OTHER gull species, so it kinda makes me a little crazy…

Anyway, while we were on the ferry we also saw what I’m pretty sure what a shark feeding on something big. It was a large gray animal in the water (so either a shark or a dolphin) but it was thrashing around in the water, and I don’t think that’s a common way for dolphins to feed, so I’m like 90% sure it was a HUGE SHARK. Which is just too cool! Unfortunately, the salt spray from the front of the ferry was really bad, so I couldn’t have my camera out while we were on the ferry and I couldn’t get a picture of it.

We stopped in Galveston at the same place I always go to see pelicans close up. There is a shrimp boat marina behind Katie’s Seafood where there are always pelicans hanging out. In the winter we have White Pelicans, and all year round we have Brown Pelicans, so I was able to get some great shots of those guys too. Additionally, we were able to watch an adult dolphin with her calf while we stood on the pier at the marina too.

We never got to see any Whooping Cranes, but now it’s just going to be an annual pilgrimage for us to try next year!

Willet

Willet

White Pelicans Preening

White Pelicans Preening

Tagged White Pelican

Tagged White Pelican

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Rough Legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawk

Resting Pelican

Resting Pelican

Taking Off

Taking Off

Thousands of Snow Geese

Thousands of Snow Geese

Flying Pelicans

Flying Pelicans

Red tailed Hawk

Red tailed Hawk

Flock of Glossy Ibis

Flock of Glossy Ibis

Brown Pelican Preening

Brown Pelican Preening

Rocks on the Sand

Rocks on the Sand

Cross on the beach - I'm not sure, but I think this is related to Hurricane Ike from 2008.

Cross on the beach – I’m not sure, but I think this is related to Hurricane Ike from 2008.

Duck Butts

Duck Butts

This Year I’m Thankful For…

PERFECT WEATHER!

Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Lantana

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Purple Lantana

Snow and lights decorate the Yucca

Snow and lights (and duct tape) decorate the Yucca

Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!

Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn't needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn’t needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.

Vanilla Latte from Plaine

Vanilla Latte from Plaine

It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.

Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….

Our view from Camp - Sierra del Carmen Mountain range

Our view from Camp – Sierra del Carmen mountain range

My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!

Stars through The Window

Stars through The Window

Stars over Casa Grande

Stars over Casa Grande

Moon and stars over the desert

Moon and stars over the desert

The desert floor was lit up by moonlight

The desert floor was lit up by moonlight

Stars over the Carmens

Star trails over the Carmens

We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production

Early morning sunrise over the Carmens

Early morning sunrise over the Carmens

Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.

Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.

Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.

Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.

Terlingua Cemetery

Terlingua Cemetery

For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.

The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.

Terlingua Trading Company - The Front Porch of Terlingua

Terlingua Trading Company – The Front Porch of Terlingua. This is usually where you can sit and have a beer while listening to the locals play guitar and sing.

Starlight Theatre - A famous landmark

Starlight Theatre – A famous landmark

After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.

Poor injured rattlesnake

Poor injured rattlesnake

He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.

Snake, safely in the grass.

Snake, safely in the grass.

Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.

It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.

New And Improved!

I have great news! I have finally created a website specifically for my photography! Now I can create slideshows and photo pages for photos that I have for sale! Additionally, I have been doing family and pet photo shoots on the side, so I have pages for those as well! That way I can concentrate on photography in one place, while I still bring you the awesome travel stories, craft projects, and adventures here, where you want to read them!

Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think!

www.mywildhoodphotography.com 

Cheers!

Wildlife Justice Has Been Served

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Ok, maybe not EVERYTHING. I don’t think that you’re entire life is already planned out or anything, but I believe that there is such thing as Karma and Fate. And I can prove it to you.

We had an interesting weekend. First of all, Hubby and I spent Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Sugar Land and it was a great day! The weather was perfect and people were there to spend money! I made some really good sales, and hopefully made some good contacts for future orders for photography. REMEMBER FOLKS, CHRISTMAS IS COMING, AND PHOTOS MAKE GREAT GIFTS! Ok, plug is over…

Anyway, Dad-In-Law came by the market and asked us to go see a movie with him. We had planned on going to the gym and then going to Brazos Bend State Park to do a little birding and photographing, but he REALLY wanted to go to the movie. So we figured we would just do the other things we had planned on Sunday. No big deal, right?

Then we spoke with some friends, Joey and Rachel, who said that they wanted to go with us to Brazos Bend. Rachel loves birds and wants to learn more about them, so we loaded up and headed to the park on Sunday afternoon. We went to the first lake in the park, closest to the park entrance. I don’t typically go to this lake for that exact reason. It seems that the people who care more about actually being in nature go deeper into the park, and the people who don’t really want to be there stop at the first lake, walk around real quick, and then leave. And are annoying the whole time they are there.

Rachel's first siting, a bullfrog!

Rachel’s first sighting, a bullfrog!

For example, as soon as we got to the lake we were trying to watch the birds and the bullfrogs when a family walked by. They had a Spanish radio station playing a soccer game. Loudly. If the game was so important to them that they had to listen to it, why on Earth were they walking in the park?? But I digress…

We continued to walk and saw a man attempting to fish in the pond.

While the man was fishing, the alligator ducked down and tried to grab his line.

While the man was fishing, the alligator ducked down and tried to grab his line.

It seemed like a terrible idea because there were three alligators nearby, and they were very interested in the movement of his bobber as he reeled it in and cast it out. (Not exactly sure what he was planning on doing if he actually caught a fish, because it was probably going to end up being an alligator’s meal instead of his). As we were taking photos of the alligators we saw 4 girls, young high schoolers probably, that had a bring green string with bacon tied to the end, and they were tossing it over and over into the water. At first we overheard them say that they were crab fishing. Our thoughts were, “good luck, girls. First, this is fresh water….Second, if there were any crabs they would probably be getting eaten by the alligators…” While we were taking pictures, one of the girls asked if we mind if they throw the string, since we were taking photos of the alligators. I said no. Then she said, “If it makes you feel any better, it’s biodegradable string.” All I said in response was, “as long as it doesn’t stay in the water, I don’t care.” It was a strange interaction, but I wrote it off as just that.

You can see the green line at the bottom of the picture, that the girls were throwing into the water, baiting the alligators in.

You can see the green line at the bottom of the picture that the girls were throwing into the water, baiting the alligators in.

One of the alligators that the girls were baiting.

One of the alligators that the girls were baiting.

We didn’t think much more of them and continued to take photos of the alligators, and moved further on down the trail around the lake.  Then Rachel saw him.  A small alligator, only about 2.5 feet long, sitting at the surface of the water. We would have walked right past him if Rachel hadn’t seen him, but then she saw something else. The alligator looked to be tangled in the same green string that the girls had been using.  At first I was angry and disappointed. But then we saw the truth. See, the green string was camouflaged with the green vegetation, which is why we didn’t see it at first. Once we had our search image set for the string, we could see that the little alligator had swallowed their bait and had the string in his mouth. When the girls realized that they had in fact CAUGHT A FREAKING ALLIGATOR they tied off the end of the string to some vegetation, preventing the alligator from getting away.

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Poor guy was doing all he could to get away, but he was stuck.

Poor guy was doing all he could to get away, but he was stuck.

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You can see the green string tangled in the vegetation.

The string was tied to some vegetation to prevent the alligator from getting away.

The string was tied to some vegetation to prevent the alligator from getting away.

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You can clearly see the string in the alligator's mouth

Even though it’s not the sharpest picture, you can clearly see the string in the alligator’s mouth. I was trying to get pictures of him while he was thrashing in the water, so my camera had trouble focusing on him.

By this point I was livid. Hubby was livid. Even little Rachel and Joey were livid. WHO DOES THAT?! Who just baits in an alligator and then ties it off so it can’t go anywhere? They poor guy was trying so hard to get away. He was pulling with all his strength but it just wasn’t enough. I called the BBSP phone number and reported it to the park police. As we waited for the police to show up the girls walked by, as if nothing happened.

So we had a little chat.

Hubby: “Did y’all catch an alligator?”

Girls: “No.”

Hubby: “Really? Because it looks like you did.”

Girls: “No, we didn’t catch him. We lured him in.”

Me: “So, you did catch him…”

Girls: “No, we lured him in. We didn’t bring him in.”

Me: “You still caught an alligator.”

At this point they continued to walk away, so I yelled, “You know it’s illegal to hunt alligators in the state park, right?!”

Girls: “We don’t kill things.”

Me: “You could have killed him! You don’t know!”

Wow….we don’t kill things. I was so angry I was literally shaking. As we waited for the park police to show up a volunteer came by on her bicycle. We told her what happened and pointed at the girls who were still in view further down the trail. She said she was going to have a “chat” with them. Then park police showed up a few minutes later. We told him the same story and he assured us that the Nature Center people would take care of the alligator and he was going to try to find the girls.

We felt a lot better then. It was in the hands of the police. We did our good deed. We continued to walk and take pictures of the beautiful swamp.

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Clouds and sunset reflection on the water.

Clouds and sunset reflection on the water.

Hubby though, was not yet satisfied. He went on ahead, concerned that the girls weren’t going to get caught by the officer. Hubby knew that if we didn’t know how it was going to end, we were going to be thinking about it for a long time. He got to the truck and didn’t see them in the parking lot. “Damn,” he thought. They had gotten away.

We were disappointed when we got to the truck, but the sun was going down so we headed out of the park to go home. And then we saw it. Glorious day! The officer had found the girls and was busy writing them tickets! We pulled over into the parking area and waited. I snuck a picture of “the leader” standing next to the officer’s truck. She was embarrassed and angry, and when she saw me she shot daggers at me. Man, if looks could kill…

The Leader of the Group.

The Leader of the Group.

We waited there until the car load of miscreants left, and then we go out of our truck and thanked the officer over and over again for his good work. He told us that they have a date with the judge, and Hubby gave him his business card in case they needed our account of what happened. I have never wanted to get subpoenaed more in my life. I would gladly tell a judge what these terrible people were doing. The officer then assured us that he was going to take care of the alligator now, but he wanted to make sure the catch them first.

A giant weight was lifted off of our shoulders when we saw the officer’s flashing blue lights, with the girl standing next to his truck. Although we will never understand what could have possibly been going through their heads when they decided to do this, I can (almost) assure you that they will never do it again.

We were meant to go to the park on Sunday. And we were meant to go to that lake instead of one deeper into the park. We were meant to help that little alligator. Everything happens for a reason.

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Niagara Falls

As you probably already know, I have the opportunity every once in a while to travel to some pretty awesome places, thanks to my job in the Toxic Waste Division of Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention, Inc. A few weeks ago I was sent to Canada for the third time in a year.  This was by far the best trip of the three, but that probably wasn’t hard to do. Let me esplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I went to Ontario in December. Yes. You read that correctly. Ontario. in DECEMBER. Typical flight delays occurred, in addition to my baggage getting left in Toronto (where I was NOT), my rental car was given away, the first taxi I called ended up upside down in a ditch, and the second taxi I called only took cash (which I only had American, but he was happy to have it). When I got to my hotel late that night, I ordered dinner at the hotel restaurant which was also cash only. I had used all of my cash on my taxi. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry by this point, but a Good Samaritan in the hotel restaurant bought my dinner for me, and turned the entire trip around. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

I went to Alberta in April. You have to remember something. There isn’t a Spring Season in Canada. There is Winter and there is Summer. April is still Winter. While I was trying to follow my site contact to the property, he was driving 100 kph (about 80 mph) THROUGH A SNOWSTORM.  Although I was able to take some beautiful photos and see some beautiful country, the entire province was covered in snow and ice.  Being from Texas, I could only stand that for so long.

But this time, I was in Ontario and Quebec in the last week of September and first week of October. It was gorgeous. The leaves were at their peek for fall colors, and I drove a lot of miles through beautiful country. A LOT OF MILES. 730 miles, actually. And that doesn’t even include the mileage to and from my hotels – that is simply from the airport, to my sites, and back to the airport. All in 5 days.

I did, however, find time for a little fun. See, when you are traveling to or from Canada, it takes ALL DAY. I couldn’t plan for my work day to be done and get to the airport by noon, and then try to fly home that same day. First of all, if I had planned that then something would have gone wrong and I would have missed my flight. There is just not enough wiggle room to do that, and when you aren’t flying Southwest, things need A LOT MORE WIGGLE ROOM. With Southwest you can just hop on an early flight home if you want. Not with other airlines. You have change fees, cancellation fees, PIA fees, and whatever other fees they feel like tacking on. So I gave myself ample time to travel home on Friday, and save the headache.  But because I had extra time on Thursday, I took advantage of my close proximity and was able to visit Niagara Falls.

It was A. MAZ. ING.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

I know what you are thinking. “I have seen pictures of this my whole life. It’s a big waterfall. Meh.”

Seriously, you are wrong. And I know just HOW WRONG you are, because I thought the same thing. I thought, “I have seen waterfalls, and I have seen pictures of Niagara. There is not a real reason to go up there.” Oh man, I was DEAD WRONG.

Niagara Falls, with Maid of the Mist for scale

Niagara Falls, with Maid of the Mist for scale

You don’t realize how MASSIVE the falls are until you see them. Until you hear them. There are people walking and talking behind you, and you can barely hear them over the raging water. Even the size of the river itself was amazing. If I had seen a river like that in Texas, I would assume there had just been a massive flooding even, and the river had breached its banks.

Shipwreck on the Niagara River

There is even a missive shipwreck on the Niagara River, known as the “Old Scow”

As I stood in awe of the river and the falls, I literally zoned out and heard nothing but the raging water. I was almost brought to tears by the beauty. Just across the street was a pub with outdoor seating, so I sat down and ordered a while and watched the falls. I also had a cell phone signal from the US, so I called Hubby without international charges (SCORE!) and played on facebook a while. Then my dear sis-in-law asked me a very interesting question: “Are you staying to watch them light up the falls?”

WHAT??? I don’t even know what that means, but YES I’m staying for that!

I was going to have to wait until 7 pm, but I couldn’t leave when it was so close! So I waited at the restaurant for a while, then I decided to head back to my car to get my coat before it got too cold. By that time I was starting to have second thoughts. I still had a while before sundown, and as I did the math in my head, I realized that I was going to be paying at least $25 in parking. Dang. That’s not cheap. And I was mad at myself for not parking in the $18 lot originally, because I was pretty sure that was for all day. My lot was $5 per hour. I was going to do good on parking prices until I realized I was going to stay so much longer. And then my foot started to hurt. Bad. Hubby and I had run 4 miles a couple days before, and since I had hurt my back in the beginning of the Summer, I hadn’t been running. So that 4 mile run really did a number on my foot. I couldn’t imagine walking all the way to my car to get my jacket, all the way back to the falls, and then ALL THE WAY BACK TO MY CAR AGAIN after the light show! So regrettably, I limped back to my car, stopped in the botanical garden to take some pictures and rest my poor foot, and got ready to head to my hotel.

A greenhouse I was definitely jealous of!

A greenhouse I was definitely jealous of!

Adorable sculpture of a boy ride a snapping turtle

Adorable sculpture of a boy ride a snapping turtle

Beautiful Japanese Maple, starting to turn from green to red

Beautiful Japanese Maple, starting to turn from green to red

Roses of every color!

Roses of every color!

pink fuchsia flowers

pink fuchsia flowers

And then a miracle happened.

There wasn’t a guy in the pay booth. The gate was open. The tenant of the parking lot was gone! FREE PARKING!! I even waited for a couple minutes to make sure he wasn’t walking back up to the booth or something, but he was officially GONE. Now, I know you know that I love a good deal. A free, my friends, is the best deal you can get.

I headed back to the falls, planning on parking much closer. I was willing to pay $5/30 minutes to park super close to the falls, now that I wasn’t going to be there much longer. But then I saw something even better. MORE FREE PARKING. Holy crap on a cracker! At the pub where I had relaxed earlier, there was a free lot. This was Karma’s way of telling me that I needed to stay a little longer to appreciate the beauty of the world, and I obliged! And this is what I waited to see. Magic.

New York, USA, the American Falls

New York, USA, the American Falls

Horseshoe Falls, the falls that separate the US from Canada

Horseshoe Falls, the falls that separate the US from Canada

the lights changed color every few minutes

the lights changed color every few minutes

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I didn’t stay much later than sunset, because I still had to drive to my hotel, but this just makes me want to take Hubby to see this, so we can do the Maid of the Mist tour and stay much later so I can get better pictures! (Also I hadn’t brought my tripod because of packing restrictions, so I will have that too!)

By the time I got to my hotel I was exhausted, and I had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to make my flight, but it was so worth it.