I didn't take pictures on Christmas!


For probably the first time in a dozen years, I ended up not taking any pictures on Christmas day. It was mostly quiet around here and I just wasn't inspired. However, I have been taking pictures most every other day of my break. In fact, since Thanksgiving I've either been out walking around or taking "stills" around the house. The first shot I want to showcase is of my cat "Moogie" (Can you guess the StarTrek reference?) above. She was laying on the arm of a chair and I got the camera out. She decided to hang out and watch me. Isn't she cute?

Next up is this shot of a light fixture at the Municipal Auditorium. While not as grand as the Majestic Theater, the "Municipal" is still very pretty and photogenic. I took 15 kids from school to help out with the MUNSA (Model UN) simulation. Most of my time was spent visiting with my co-sponsor and taking pictures.


Finally, I decided to try my hand at a bit of "still life" work while I waited for my Christmas present to arrive. I bought a bunch of candy (bad decision!) and then tried using several different pieces of crystal. While not technically great, I learned a lot while practicing. Now that I have got my new fangled lighting kit you'll be seeing lots more of this kind of stuff.


Next up is a few goodies from a more recent walk around downtown. Have a great day!

"Blue" or breaking the photography rules!



Blue, originally uploaded by Visualtricks.

I don't usually showcase other peoples pictures on this blog (although I might start just to get me to post more regularly) but I was searching for items to include in my upcoming class and found this shot.

Since most of you aren't regular photographers let me explain. There are certain "rules" for taking memorable photos. One of those "rules" is the "rule of thirds." Simply put, if you mentally divide the frame into a 3X3 grid you end up with 4 points where the grid lines intersect. Further, if you place your subject at or near one of those points your photo will generally end up being more appealing.

Rules, however, are made to be broken. This one easily breaks that rule but in doing so becomes even more appealing. Because of the simplicity (notice the ripples, however) of the blue water your eye is drawn all the way down to the far corner with the sail boat.

A "great" shot? Probably not. Well executed? You bet.

Hanging out during Thanksgiving break

In what may well be the prettiest day of Thanksgiving break, I got up early and headed out to downtown SA for some photography. After the photo walk I took in August, I decided to park near the Alamo and start walking from there. While it's a cliche picture, I've never done one of the Alamo that I was reasonably happy with. Lately, I've seen many done at night with lights that I'll probably try soon. For now, you get this shot.


Speaking of cliche shots, the next place I ambled to was Casa Rio where I worked on my presentation of the multi-colored table umbrellas. With the sun just coming up, I thought this one turned out pretty good. Especially given that the river was very still at the time.


From there I slowly made my way down the river until I got to Main Plaza. Since I haven't worked downtown in several years I was surprised to find that the entire area has been re-worked (including permanently closing streets) along with the upgrade of the cathedral. I must say, it's looking quite nice. As soon as they finish the main courthouse, the entire square will be quite the showcase. Unfortunately when I got home I noticed this article about the city needing to make adjustments to the main plaza area because of ADA issues. In any case, I was particularly pleased with how this shot of San Fernando cathedral turned out.


In an effort not to make too long a post, I'll stop here. However, I did get several people shots while I was walking around. Stay tuned and within the next couple of days I'll get those posted too.

For the first time ever, both of my boys are spending Thanksgiving away from town and without us. It's kinda sad around here but we're getting along so far. Since this means a far smaller group than usual we decided to go out to a restaurant with my mother and aunt. It'll be a lot quieter than normal but nice - and we won't have dishes to clean for the next two days! I hope your Thanksgiving is good for you. Please make sure and take a small amount of time to devote to truly giving thanks. It's been a rough year for a lot of people, possibly even you, but there is always something to be thankful for.

Worldwide Photo Walk


In August I heard about and joined in the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk. It seems photo-walking is becoming quite the rage recently. In case you've not heard of them, a photo walk is an opportunity for multiple photographers to spend a period of time together in the same general area taking pictures. Most of the time the photographers don't have to take pictures of the same thing but rather share tips and tricks while taking pictures together. I'm thinking it comes from the old "Day in the Life of..." photography style in the '80's. I still have a couple of books from that series and was always intrigued and excited about being part of that type of photo experiment. In any case, I was glad to hear about this opportunity and see that San Antonio was having a group get together.

While on the walk I got to meet some really nice people who share my love of photography and I had a great day. Unfortunately, I spent so much time visiting with one man that I ended up taking far fewer pictures than I normally would. This picture, however, was one of my favorites. This guy was sitting outside of Pat O'Brien's in front of the Alamo. He was trying desperately to get our group to come in for lunch. It was really quite amusing. Since I didn't catch his name and we didn't visit, I can't incude him in my 100 Strangers project but he was impressive in his outfit. In fact several of us caught decent shots of the guy and you can see several of them by going to the following web site.

I will say, the pictures taken by various people around the world were quite impressive. If you're interested, go to the link in the first paragraph. I think you'll enjoy it too.

Catching Up


It's amazing how fast 3 weeks can fly by when you're getting back to work and trying to teach kids! I'd like to take a couple of posts to get caught up by finishing thoughts and pictures about our trip and then sharing a couple of pictures I took recently here in San Antonio.

So, we left off with a short note about our trip to Triberg and a couple of shots of the waterfall. Now I'd like to point out that that it wasn't all waterfalls in Triberg. No we also got a chance to eat a very tasty lunch, try REAL Black Forest Cake and visit another beautiful church.




Upon retrospect of the trip, we just didn't get enough time to truly explore some places. Triberg was especially one of the towns that fit into this catagory. We didn't get into town until close to 11am and by 6pm we were heading back to Stuttgart. It was nice walking up to the top of the waterfalls (I made it without my legs hurting!) and we got some good food and saw another church but there was loads more we could have seen through the town and areas close by. Before I close with a shot of a gnarly tree I found on the way up the waterfall hill, Please take a second look at the picture at the top of this post. This is the door to the parsonage next to "Our Lady of the Fir Trees" church. Both Carlos and I were taken by this shot with the umbrellas propped against the door.



Current Update

I'm sorry I seemed to drop off the face of the earth! We left Germany at 7am (midnight CST) on Wednesday and arrived in San Antonio at 11:15pm - a 23 hour day. We nearly spent an extra night in London as Northwest Air was looking for volunteers to be bumped for a very good price but alas we weren't chosen - a $2,000 return on my vacation expenses would have been a heck of a deal!

When we got home we had only two days to spend with my youngest and his new bride before they left for new pastures across the country so we were tied up with that.

Finally, late Saturday I decided to start working on pictures and found that my desktop computer was very full and needed to have files moved to another hard-drive. I'm in the middle of that chore.


Starting tomorrow I'll be able to sort through all my pictures, cull out the good ones and start posting a better representation of our trip. In the meantime, I hope you will wait and continue to monitor my Flickr account.

Triberg/Black Forest Daytrip


We went to Triberg (Black Forest - Home of Hansel & Gretel) today. Carlos, Ethan and I spent 2 hours climbing a mountain and taking pictures of Germany's largest waterfall. Afterward we met up with the girls (shopping!) and had a late lunch. After lunch the boys went and found "Maria in the Fir Tree Church" and took more pictures. We all ended the day with Black Forest cake (they don't make it like this in the States!) and drove home. We are packing and planning to leave for Trier/Spangdahlem tomorrow morning. Right now we plan to spend Friday in Spangdahlem/Bitberg followed by Saturday in Trier and Luxembourg and then close the weekend on Sunday in Tongerem. It'll be a whirlwind tour but we're gonna give it a try.

I hope you hear from me soon!

Random Thoughts


Trip Plans
Most of these posts have been ridiculously long winded (like me). And they take forever to write and add good pictures. From here on out I'm going to be writing less. Tomorrow we are going to the Black Forest for the day. On Friday all of us will be heading to Trier and Normandy for the weekend. On Monday I'm thinking about heading to Heidelburg for the day and on Tuesday we are going to the Mercedes Benz Museum and a chocolate factory. Then we come home. I'll try to get more pictures posted in my free time!

Foods that made me think of my daughter-in-law, Ash
The ice cream people in Strasbourg are artists. I got a banana split that was a work of art in fruit and ice cream. You would love it.

If you ever come here, don't eat the weiss wurst (white sausage) or onion tarts/quiche. It's a texture thing!

Other Food Thoughts
I haven't had nachos or tacos in 3 weeks and I'm just now missing them. However, a breakfast taco stand in Petite France, Strasbourg might make a killing - pretty much all we could find was bread and VERY strong coffee on Sunday morning.

I've heard of currants but never had any. Tart but good. Today we are macerating some red currants to put over ice cream.

It's impressive the things the Germans can do with pork!

Jobs
Michelle has been trying to convince Diane and I that we should work for the DoD as teachers. Seems there are 2 openings here in Stuttgart this year. One is for a kindergarten teacher and the other is for middle school teacher. Hmmmm, Eric and Kathy what can you do to entice me to stay?

Freshness
Michelle had mentioned how fresh things here are but I was skeptical. As we prepare to leave I'm sorry I'll end up missing out on so much fresh food. I'm not just talking about fruit, vegetables and bread. At every "farmers market" we've been to there has been cheese people, sausage stands, butchers and flowers.

Language
I think I could learn conversational German fairly quickly. If you sound out the words, it's amazing how you can decode things. On the other hand, it's also also amusing how they compound words. For instance, today we were at a store and Diane found some "basmatireis" or Basmati rice. There are words like this everywhere. It's so amusing that we've even started making up our own words. For instance, Zoe, the boxer dog appears to have a problem traveling in the car so Diane and I started calling her the "barfnhoundn."

Blessings
I knew it before I came but I must continually remind myself that this trip would not be possible in it's current form had it not been for Diane's sister and brother-in-law. If we had to pay for hotel rooms and meals like real tourists I probably wouldn't have been able to stay but for a week to 10 days, not 23 days. We are truly blessed. Michelle swears she's not tired of me (she and Diane could crochet together for weeks!) but I might be tired of her and Carlos if the rolls were reversed!

You Can't Go Home Again
My grandmother's family immigrated to Texas from Pforzheim, Germany. We are staying 25 minutes away from that town. I went there to look around because I do a bit of genealogy. In 1945 the town center was leveled by American bombers. Since then they have rebuilt but it's more 60's modern than anything else. Additionally there are over 100,000 people in this town. I never did find a cemetery. 30 minutes farther along the road is Karlsruhe. Another "town" with 285,000 people. I'm sure that if I came here specifically for genealogy purposes and had a real plan of attack I could find some valuable stuff. Not this trip. There are way too many things that interest me and I'm like a kid in a candy shop. Which brings me to...

Another Castle? Sure!
On the second day we were here I said something to Carlos about exploring lots of castles. His response was "Ok, but after awhile they all start to look the same." I told him that didn't bother me. I haven't gotten tired of them yet! Above is a picture of Hohenzollern that I took yesterday.

German Pizza? Meet Stephen!


On Monday morning we decided to leave Garmisch early and head back to Stuttgart while taking some pictures. We stopped in Ettal and thoroughly covered the monastery there. WE spent close to 1.5 hours pouring over the church and grounds. This link will take you to a picture of a confessional booth that Diane and I were very impressed with. Also, the ceiling was covered with gorgeous frescoes as seen in this picture. If you are interested in learning more about this church and monastery ask me and I'll loan you a book I bought.

After we left I mentioned that I wanted to go through Oberammergau to look at and photograph frescoes on the houses. We decided to eat lunch while there. As we entered the town Michelle said she and the kids wanted something other than German food and we passed a small place with a sign outside that said "Pizza!" After driving through town we decided to return to the pizza place and as we parked I noticed that this was a mini-golf joint and wondered just how good the pizza could be. I found out, once again, that looks can be deceiving.

The restaurant was very small and decorated with little witches all over the place. I was initially taken with the plates that were at our table. Then, when the waiter couldn't speak any English (it's impressive how many people here DO speak English) I thought, "This can't be a good sign. I mean, it's a mini-golf joint!" But when he brought the food out, it was terrific. I frankly like a thin crust and this was just right. Substantial enough to hold the toppings but not over-powering. And the spices were perfect. They really do specialize in pizza at this place. After lunch I asked to take the waiter/cook's picture and he agreed. If you are ever in Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany you need to check this place out!


After lunch we went on into town, spent some time getting pictures of the church (they do a huge Passion Play here every 10 years) and cemetery and then left. The rest of the day was spent coming home and returning the car.

Castles in the Rain


I got up early (have I mentioned it gets light around 4am?) on Sunday morning . Long before anyone else. So to give them all a break I decided to go down to the lobby and take some pictures. The weather looked like it was clearing off and the pictures were coming out very nice. So I went back to our room. They were still asleep. I went down to the "computer room" and bought 1 hour of time. When I was done I checked on the family and they were still asleep. I went down to the breakfast bar and ate. Needless to say, I was starting to get antsy. When I was done - 9am - I returned to the room to find everyone up and STARTING to get ready for the day. Of course, now THEY needed to eat breakfast! I took more pictures.

Finally, around 10ish we got going. Now understand, in order to not annoy each other by being over-bearing, all four of us are "decision averse." That is, no one wants to really make a final, "Let's do it!" decision in case someone else gets annoyed. Obviously this attitude makes for great relations but slow decision making. After much discussion, we finally decided that we wanted to go see Schloss Neuschwanstein (the Disney Castle) because it looked like the weather was breaking. After more discussion, we decided to take the route that would run us through Austria instead of staying in Germany the whole time.

To make a long story short, the view from the car was supposedly beautiful but I didn't see much. This was mainly due to the facts that 1) my back was bothering me when I got up so I took a "back pill" and 2) I had gotten up at 6am and had only had 5.5 hours of sleep. Needless to say I zonked out in the car. They tell me we got caught in traffic because of an accident and the entire drive took close to two hours. So sometime after noon we finally arrived.

Expecting to walk right up to the castle and start exploring we were in for a big surprise. It's like a small town below the castle including hotels, restaurants transportation and such. We had to find parking, a WC (toilette for you US readers) and the line to buy tickets. I didn't realize there were two castles on the property (one for "mad" King Ludwig and Hohenschwangau built by his parents). We finally got in a line that we assumed was for tickets - remember, none of us speak much of the German language and while there are some signs in English, not all of them are particularly helpful. And we waited. For your enjoyment, here is a picture of a bored nephew.

We finally got to the front of the line and received tickets for the 5:10pm tour conducted in English - "oh, and by the way, if you want to avoid the 40 minute walk up the winding road to the castle, buy tickets for the bus over there!" Since we had 3 hours to kill we decided to eat lunch and look around. We got our table (outside of course) and it started raining. We moved to a table that was under a large umbrella/awning thing. It was then that we noticed that the line for the bus tickets was particularly long. We tried to eat quickly and then got in line for the bus.

The bus ride took less than 5 minutes and dropped us off at a spot that still required a 15 minute walk up the hill. In the rain/drizzle/mist. Carlos and Kendall went one direction to get pictures from a catwalk above the castle while the rest of us walked around and up, and up, and up. Once we got to the Castle entrance we found that we still had a 50 minute wait - mostly in the rain.

Finally, things dried up a bit and Carlos and I were able to get several decent pictures around the courtyard. At long last our group was queued up and we went through the castle. While there the weather cleared a bit and I was able to get a couple of decent shots from inside looking out (you can't photograph the interior).


As we finished and started to make the long trek back (20 minutes going downhill instead of 40+ going uphill - assuming you go in the right direction to begin with!) what should happen? It started raining! While the entire day wasn't a washout the rain did put a bit of a damper on things. We ended up getting back to Garmisch sometime around 9:30pm and finished the day eating McDonald's hamburgers. This last shot is of Diane, Michelle & Ethan and way up front Carlos & Kendall as we walked down the hill. This was one of the more level spots.

1st Weekend Trip: Garmisch-Partenkirchen


pre-script: for those of you from an earlier age (mom(s), I'm talking to you!), in case you didn't notice, some of my posts have words that are light blue (remember that I'm color blind)...these are links that I have purposefully inserted into my writing for you to click on for more information. That's how this "blog" stuff is supposed to work. Hope you use and like it.

Now for the real post:

While in London Michelle called Diane and said, "Do you have any plans for the 1st weekend when you get here?" Diane answered in the negative and Michelle proceeded to tell her that Carlos had tentatively booked 2 nights in Garmisch at the military run Edelweiss Resort. We were to share a "family" room that sleeps 6 and we could split the cost between us. Supposedly, finding a room available at this place on short notice is nearly impossible because a lot of our active duty troops use it for healing and R&R. We jumped on the idea and told them to go with the plans. Needless to say, it was very nice. Not to frou-frou but very nice.

We started our trip on Saturday morning at about 7am. Although we couldn't check into the room until 1pm the girls wanted to shop in Garmisch and Carlos and I wanted to do a bit of picture taking. The night before I found that we could stop in Ulm (1 hour away from Stuttgart) and get pictures of the tallest church spire in Germany. Additionally this is the town where Albert Einstein was born and a tailor there tried to glide off a river bridge using a para sail design that was close to workable. When we got to Ulm, a farmer's market had set up shop in front of the church and it was great. I had all sorts of picture taking possibilities (colors!) and the pastries and cheese and fruit was absolutely great. We ended up spending two hours walking around, touring a very nice cathedral and snapping pictures.

After leaving Ulm we went on to Garmisch. The countryside continued to get greener, more mountainous and gorgeous. In case you are not familiar with the area, the place we were going to is in Bavaria and part of the Bavarian Alps. On the way we passed through Ettal and snapped a couple of pictures but otherwise tried to make good time. We arrived in Garmisch about 1pm. The girls headed off shopping while the boys checked into the hotel (as I said, a much better one than the London "hotel") and returned to city center for picture taking.

Because of all the German food we had eaten recently we decided to dine at the hotel and have hamburgers (small children and all) and make an early night of it. During the night it rained but on Sunday morning it looked like it was going to clear off. At the top of this post is a picture of what the nearby mountain looked like at 6am. We decided that since it was such a fine day we would go see the nearby Neuschwanstein castle (the one Walt Disney used for inspiration in making Disney Land).

It's taking lots longer to write this than I planned and I need to finish packing to go to Strasbourg, France for the weekend. Rest assured there is more to this story and I'll finish writing about touring castles in the rain, and pizza in small towns in Germany as soon as I get back.

In the meantime au revoir! And don't forget to click on the links to my pictures. I think you will enjoy some of them!

Back Tracking (aka Filler Information)


Because someone (my friend Sandra) asked for more info...I forgot to take a picture of the "hotel" room we had in London. You're not missing much. Lets just say it wasn't what I expected. I mean, I had read that hotel/B&B rooms in Europe are small and extremely pricey. I thought I was prepared for that. I figured $140/night for a small room (with restroom facilities) probably wasn't too bad.

Those reports I read, were seriously misleading. When we got to the area of our "hotel" (by subway, during morning rush hour, with 5 suitcases/bags and no sleep) we ended up walking completely around the block before finding the place. Now, how do I describe it correctly...Imagine (if you will) a block long, 4 story, 100+ year old building. There are several "stoops" leading to doors and outside most all doors is hanging a sign that announces which "hotel/B&B" it is. The picture above gives a small idea of what I'm talking about. Ours was on the corner so you can't see all the prior signs/stoops.

We enter the hallway, the proprietor greets us and puts all our bags in his office...with everyone else's bags and his desk and chair and couch and table...and the room is no bigger than 6'X9'. He nearly had to crawl over things to go the 4 feet from his desk to the door. At that point we discussed breakfast and as I mentioned earlier, we ended up eating with the clown.

At 1pm (check-in time) we arrived back, registered and Savior (that's his name) grabbed my largest suitcase, swung it up over his shoulder and said, "Follow me to your room." I quickly latched on to another bag and my camera backpack and started climbing very narrow stairs, up and around in several circles. We were going to room #205. By the way, in England they count ground level as floor #0 so we were actually 3 flights up. As a math guy, this makes sense. As someone new to the area it gets a bit crazy. Anyhow, I digress. By the time we got to our room, I was panting and my calves were killing me. He hands me the key and says, I'll go get your other bags and leaves me to open the room.

At this point I'm being generous in my descriptions. A 1.5 foot long hallway leads to a 8'X10' room (I measured with my out-stretched arms). In the middle was a full sized bed (mattress on a wood base). There was also a small built-in cabinet with openings large enough to put 2 of our 3 suitcases. A third opening housed the bath towels. On top of this cabinet was a 13" or 15" TV and a small oscillating fan. Between the door and the cabinet I described was a small (1'X2') desk table/shelf with a chair. On top of this shelf was enough room for a small tray with an assortment of teas, coffees and 2 cups plus a gallon sized, plug-in, warming jug. I kid you not. I was paying 70 pounds ($140) a night for this.

Oh and we got the deluxe room because it had a bathroom en-suite. I'm sure I'm about to be too graphic for some of my more delicate friends and I know I'm no small boy but the truth was that I could NOT stand in the bathroom, bend over and drop my drawers to sit on the toilet. Not enough room. It was THAT small. And then, when I did "settle in" I had to rest my left arm on the midget sized wash basin because it was right in front of me. To make matter worse, every time you flushed the toilet it sounded like a barge was coming down the river blowing its horn. The next morning when Diane took a shower she ran out of hot water and had to rinse off with cold. I later figured out it was a problem with the faucet handles and not the amount of hot water. I didn't even try to shower at that point.

We ate breakfast in the kitchen on two mornings. It held 4 four-top tables. The full English Breakfast was delightful (ok the sausage was marginal but you could substitute bacon) and the staff was very friendly.

On the back side of this building (opposite of where we were) a Motel 6 franchise also had a suite of rooms. The area was old. Seriously, some buildings had signs showing they were 100+ years old. The neighborhood was very mixed ethnically. But we were right across the street from St. Pancras rail station which was absolutely gorgeous (pictures to follow). We were also 2 blocks from the British Library and a couple of blocks from Shakespeare's house/museum. It's just an OLD city with OLD stuff. The photography around the place was to die for and there was some sort of park or green space in nearly every block.

All in all, even though I was not prepared for the cost to size ratio it wasn't a terrible place to be. We felt reasonably safe and comfortable - as long as you didn't have to get into the bathroom.

It's Good to be Flexible


Diane and I had made some tentative plans to go out to Triberg (Black Forest - home of cuckoo clocks and good cake) today to do a bit of shopping. Michelle was going to stay home, mainly because some work crews are doing a refurb on the ceiling fans they have installed here (military base housing). We (just Diane and I) also made plans to go to Strasbourg, France for the weekend. I know what you're thinking, "That's really romantic of you Chuck!" - and I would say you're right, plus I hear there is great architecture (read photography possibilities) and Diane is certain there are a couple of places to do a bit of shopping there too!

Sometime late yesterday evening I found that it's a 1 .5 hour drive (maybe more, based on traffic - darned tourists!) to Triberg and it's a 1.5 hour drive to Strasbourg. After a bit of thinking and discussing we decided that driving to the black forest in the am, driving back to Stuttgart in the pm, buying some shoes (on sale, Friday only) on Friday morning and then driving to Strasbourg was going to be too much. So we've postponed the Triberg trip to next week. Also, this way Michelle can go with us and spend more of Carlos' well earned money.

So I suddenly find myself with a bit of time to work on pictures and blog posts - while the ceiling fan guys cut huge holes in the ceiling of two rooms here. Since it's 4am (for most of you) your time as I write this, I will probably have 1 or 2 more posts put up before you get up and read this. Otherwise look for a bit more writing and picture taking later today.

I finally figured out that part of my blog posting problem is that I'm not only trying to write entertaining/useful posts but I'm also trying to add some decent, edited pictures. Both of those endeavors take a considerable amount of time if you don't want to look AND sound like a middle schooler. Add to that mix the fact that I'm trying to cram as much sight-seeing as I can into my days and you get periods of quiet from me. Oh well, I guess it's more your problem than mine 'cause I'm the one controlling things!

I'm working on a couple of posts and pictures now so hopefully you'll have more to read shortly. In the meantime, the picture above is of the Kloster Ettal. The inside of this was a beautiful church/sanctuary.

For now it's "tschus" or "see you later" in German.

Update


No real time to write now, I'm off to explore the towns of my forefathers... Pforzheim, Bonfeld and Weilbach. Will write more as I get a chance. In the meantime click here for additional pictures. I'll probably be using Flickr for more of my pictures so you might want to keep a regular eye out there.

If you look to the right on this page you'll see a daily listing of all we have done. Rest assured I have plenty of pictures!

Don't Trust Tour Books!


The tour book I was using told me that the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace happened at 11:30 am Monday through Saturday and 10:30am on Sundays. So we discussed trying to see this "classic" tourist attraction on Sunday morning. Needless to say, we got to running late on Sunday and then our bus took a detour (construction) which meant we didn't make it by 10:30. So as we entered the Palace Grounds we decided to stroll along the little lake on our way up to the palace. Along our way we ran into an elderly man sitting on a park bench with nuts spread out for the local critters. People were swarmed around the guy taking pictures as he was trying to sit still and patiently wait for his friends. Finally one lone squirrel came around but wouldn't hold still for long. He ran off. By this time I was also taking pictures but from a bit farther vantage point. After a few minutes most of the gawkers moved on but we stayed there while I snapped a few more pictures. All of a sudden, Squirrel Guy let out a couple of shrill whistles and hollered for "CJ" to come over. Sure enough, after a couple more minutes, here comes "CJ' looking for peanuts and posing for me.

The stick on the side of the man was used to scare off birds. Squirrel Guy apparently had a system and was a regular on the grounds.

As all this happened I kept hearing loud noises over the next ridge but didn't pay much attention. It was later when we found out that the changing of the guards also happens at 11:30 on Sundays and we missed it. Ah well, I think this shot of Squirrel Guy was worth the miss.

The picture below is of some of the guards as they returned to the palace after the "show."
I just love their hats. I think I need one to wear at school! At least I got some sort of picture.


A London Encounter


The London portion of our trip went by entirely too fast. If you are the kind of traveler who likes to just soak in the color and culture of an area 4.5 days in London won't work. We stayed constantly rushed and exhausted - even though we were trying desperately to take our time and make sure we noticed the small things as well as the "tourist" things. Upon reflection, we missed many of the tourist things that we (I) had hoped to pass by.

We never got really close to "Big Ben" although the clock does show up in a picture I took when we walked on the Waterloo Bridge. We went to/in the British Library but were so exhausted from our trip Diane ended up napping and I was too scared we were about to be ushered out that I sat by her while she slept. Didn't make it to the British Museum, The Globe Theater, Shakespeare's House/museum, or numerous other things.

One the other hand, we did have a couple of encounters that will stay with us as we fondly remember our trip. The first one came the first day we were in town. We had finally gotten into our room and took a 3 hour nap. We got up around 5pm, freshened up and decided to just walk around and finally get something to eat. As we walked down Woburn Pl./Southhampton Row/Kingsway (essentially all the same street) we found ourselves in front of a small green grocer who had set up his truck between buildings. Diane noticed taht he had raspberries (her favorite) for one pound and they smelled amazingly good so she bought a pint (or so). I snapped a couple of pictures and we moved on. We walked on for several blocks and finally found ourselves on Waterloo bridge where we ambled around for 15-20 minutes. We started heading back, intent on finding a small cafe or such for dinner and finally decided upon a "Italian" place called Guido's - about 1 block from where we got the raspberries. The penne was very good. I remember that Diane had the Penne Ariabiatta and commented about how hot the peppers were but that it was wonderful. Finally, as we sat there Diane could resist the fruit no longer and broke them out. She thought she had died and I had to agree. The raspberries were sweet and plump and wonderful. After dinner we walked across the street, got a coffee and crossed back to the other side.

As we passed back in front of the green grocer I decided that if his raspberries were that good, maybe we ought to find something else to take back with us to the "hotel." So I stopped. As I gazed longingly at all the fruit he had, he noticed Diane and asked her if she had already eaten the other fruit (nearly 3 hours had passed) and she told him that they were wonderful. As he gave me the cherries that I had picked up he asked if I wanted them in a bag and I responded "sounds great!" At this, a man the grocer had been visiting with looked at me and said, "Sour Grapes? Did you just say sour grapes?" After I figured out why this guy might be asking me such a silly question I finally pointed out that it must be the Texas accent that threw him. Since then, the phrase "sour grapes?" has become a running joke.

A great story? Probably not, but definitely the kinds of encounters we are looking for. The picture above is a quick shot of the grocer and his stand just before we bought the raspberries.

Did I mention I've taken 614 pictures so far?


For your viewing pleasure, while you wait for me to post more stories please click on the following website.

Most of them have not been edited in any way except to turn them when necessary. I'll get around to culling and editing when I get in to Germany.

We're here, where are you?

While the flights and all were entirely too long, we made it to London at last. Unfortunately, neither of us got any real sleep on the planes so we were exhausted (21 hours awake) when we arrived and we couldn't get into our room (if you want to call it that) until 1pm. So we dropped off our bags and asked where a good place for breakfast could be found. Our host suggested that since he didn't know our likes he would propose we go to everyone's favorite:


So, yeah, our first meal in cheery ol' England was with Ronald the Clown. Thankfully, their idea of bacon is way different than ours and very yummy (yum-o as Rach would say).

Since then we got some sleep (napping in the British Library is quite the story), ate and walked considerably. We've seen Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral, St. Paul's Church (the actors church), Waterloo bridge, Picadilly Circus (big circle where several roads intersect - think of it as San Antonio's 'Five Points' with electronic billboards), Covent Gardens (shopping & food), Spamalot at the Palace Theater (hilarious, except for the kid in front of us who nearly mooned Diane - there are sagging pants everywhere I go!) and more shopping. I'm sure I've missed a few places but my internet clock is running out.

I'll post more when we get to Germany and I have more time to think and write (and find places with internet access). For now I'll leave you with a picture of the mass of tourists I saw in the middle of the shopping district on Saturday afternoon. The one thing I've noticed the most is the huge crush of people.



Take care and comment if you'd like. I'd love to hear from you even if I can't write back just yet.

Timing is Everything


For several days now I have been getting up earlier and earlier in order to do a bit of time shifting in anticipation of the trip. London is 6 hours ahead of us and Stuttgart is 7 hours. Diane has been dutifully getting up with me and has offered minimal grumbling. I keep telling her she will thank me come Thursday morning. She's not so sure. The one nice part to this has been that we have been getting up and watching movies because, well, what else can you do at 4am besides drink lots of coffee? Anyhow, we've been catching up on old movies. On Saturday we re-watched "Wall Street", Sunday we finally caught up on "Ratatouille," Monday we saw "Legends of the Fall," and today we watched "The China Syndrom" (for the umpteenth time).

So the interesting part came after we finished watching the movie, changed channels and found that the SA Airport had a power outage at about 5am. Supposedly it didn't delay flights but according to the report I heard, the TSA screeners couldn't do their jobs which resulted in long lines of grumbling people waiting to get on airplanes. We appear to have dodged this bullet by 24 hours! I can hardly imagine what we'll have to go through starting tomorrow at 6:45am.

By the way, since I can't find any news shots, the picture above is my interpretation of a power outage at 5am. I hope you enjoy it.

So many titles, so little time!


Summer school is over ("School's Out for Summer") and the grand trip is only days away ("On the Road, Again"). Yesterday I got home from work and Diane had received the $997 USD worth of £470 British Pounds we ordered from our friendly banker - yikes! After years of working in banks and retail, this stuff looks fake ("Funny Money"). It's all colorful and feels funky, like fake paper. And don't even get me started on the exchange rate. I knew that it would be steep. The annoying part came when Diane said that since we have an account at the bank they told her they weren't charging us a fee for the exchange, but when I checked several different sites on the internet it appears that we lost about 6.5% on the whole deal. This makes paying the B&B we're staying at with a credit card all the easier because they only charge a 5% fee!

Ah, well...nothing I can do about it but float with the waves. In only 5 days we'll be walking our fat off through London checking out all the sights that are so famous. I'll tell you now, don't expect to read about little out-of-the-way places that no one has ever heard of before. So sir, we're gonna be Tourists (with a capital T) gawking over all the same things that everyone else is! British Museum, Buckingham Palace, The British Library, Hyde Park, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, etc. We do have tickets to see SpamAlot at a theater there...seemed like a much better place to see that particular play than in San Antonio! Otherwise, our general plan is to walk 10 feet, snap another picture, repeat. We'll probably stop to eat a couple of times.

I hate to make this so short but I do have to rest up in anticipation of my vacation! Also, I really ought to start packing. Your next post will probably be on Wednesday as we head out. For now, I'll leave you with my new favorite phrase, "cheerio."

Get Smart!

Several months ago, Diane told me that Steve Carell (who I'm not usually a fan of) was starring as Maxwell Smart in the new movie of Get Smart!. I found the idea very amusing and we looked for an ad or trailer. Both of us figured that he might make a pretty good Max based on his looks and physical comedy. We also decided that this was one movie we needed to see at the theater and made plans to catch it during the opening week. Thursday, things broke in my favor and I got out of school at a reasonable hour so we headed out for a matinée (yes I'm cheap).

Even though The Cranky Critic disagrees, we thought this was a fun movie. You don't need to have seen Get Smart TV episodes in order to follow the story line but the director (Peter Segal) did a great job of intermingling some of the sight gags of the original show without being horribly intrusive. We, as well as other audience members, laughed at numerous jokes, both physical and verbal (BTW, Thursday matinées don't seem too crowded). Additionally, Get Smart can be seen as an action movie. There are several decent stunts and the whole thing hangs together quite well. Unless you happen to be a movie snob, most people I know will enjoy the 110 minutes of relaxation this movie will bring.

Several week ago a friend of mine wrote that she had seen a trailer for the newest Batman movie (The Dark Knight) and that it excited her. Well, actually, what she saw of the acting of Heath Ledger excited her, but I digress. I finally saw the same trailer and must say, from a man's perspective, this looks pretty good! I could obviously be wrong (I do that once or twice a year) but it looks like this will have a reasonable story line plus good graphics. Being into photography (and not so much, words - like Diane) the cinematography looks to be very well done and yet not overly dark as has been the case with some of the other movies. Too bad we'll be "out of country" when this premiers. I guess we'll have to catch it during that week we'll have available when we get home.

OK, since we're down to 11 days till trip time, I need to be off getting some last minute items and start a packing list. I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Sharp! Followup

I'm not one to toot my horn but I just read where my corkscrew picture was one of the runners up in the Sharp! photo competition at Digital Photography School. I almost had a heart attack when I pulled it up and saw my picture. This definitely inspires me to continue developing my craft.

In other news, we're getting closer and closer to "trip" day and it's all I can do to stay focused on my summer school job. I went to "Big State Mandated Test" training Thursday so we can give the "test" in early July. I can hardly wait for that day!

Please keep coming back. Hopefully, I'll get a couple more posts up before we leave.

Sharp!


One of my favorite blogs is Digital Photography School. I can't tell you how much I've learned about photography from reading (and re-reading) this site. Every week they host a different "assignment" and you have to develop an idea, take a picture and post it for consideration. This week I posted a pic for the 2nd time. The subject was "sharp" and I tried several ideas. Next week the subject is "Natural Framing" - I've got a couple of ideas for that.

I'm usually either too intimidated to post something (it has to be new) or I just plain don't have time. This picture doesn't hold a candle (or wine bottle for that matter) to most of the pictures in this competition but I hear that the more I push myself to take and post pictures, the better I will become.

I just wish I could learn everything in 3 weeks!

p.s. I've often wondered why a man (me) who doesn't drink, has a corkscrew in his junk drawer. I've never come up with a reasonable answer. Drop me a line in the comments if you can think of one!

Fried Macaroni & Cheese

Setup #1
My mother used to make fried macaroni & cheese. While I've never taken the time to recreate it, supposedly she took cooked shell pasta, added grated Colby/cheddar cheese and then dropped it all into a cast iron skillet to fry. It was very yummy and I'm not really sure why I've never made it except that my children think I'm crazy and that my heart will explode all over the table. They aren't all that healthy themselves but Ryan usually makes sure to let me know just how bad I'm being.


Setup #2
On Saturday mornings Diane and I get up and watch GMA, followed by local news until 9:00am and then switch to the TV Food Network. There it stays as we go about our daily business through the house until we decide to watch a movie or something. So, each Saturday I'm subjected to various food network people enticing me with great recipes. Most of time I'm barely paying attention because I'm looking at the laptop computer and surfing for something important. Paula Deen, however, amuses me. I'm always surprised when she makes something without lard or butter (extra, preferably).

The Main Point
So yesterday I come walking into the living room and Diane says, "Look, Paula is making fried macaroni & cheese. You want to watch?" and I figured, "Cool, my mom was way ahead of the game and Paula is gonna recreate mom's recipe." Boy, was I wrong.

As I looked at the TV, Paula was cutting chilled, pre-prepared, macaroni & cheese into 15 "chunks." I figured, "OK this might make it easier to put into the cast iron skillet and retrieve." But no - there was more. Next she wrapped a slice of bacon around each chunk. Now I thought, "This is a little different but, hey, bacon makes everything better!" Then, Paula took each bacon wrapped chunk and started dredging them in flour followed by egg and bread crumbs. It was then that I realized, "She's gonna DEEP FRY the things!" And that's exactly what she did. Amazing!

So Paula has definitely outdone mom and I'm pretty sure that if I try to make these things I WILL have some sort of heart attack. But really, I know the ice cream loving Diane might argue with me but, could there be ANYTHING better than deep fried, bacon wrapped, macaroni & cheese?

I've provided a link to the recipe. If you cook it before me please drop me a line and let me know what you think. If you survive.

Easter Egg Hunt


Every year the kids I mentor at church help the Knights of Columbus hold an Easter egg hunt. I always take my camera because I want to document what the Squires are doing, but this year I also took some random shots of kids. I was especially fond of this one. I don't know who the kids are but they are definitely enjoying the "fruits" of their labor.



What is it about watching a kid whack a cartoon character (hanging by a rope) with a big stick? I always think, "Don't you watch America's Funniest Home Videos?" Oh, yeah, it's the candy that comes flowing out...


Nope, he never did see it. Some other kid was looking up and snatched it. Took awhile, though.



You see the kid above whose mom is wearing pink? Yeah, I don't want to teach him when he gets to be a middle schooler. He obviously needs too much help. jk :-) Actually, in an earlier shot the mom is holding him back because he thinks everything is fair game and he doesn't want to wait. Seriously, sometimes you just happen upon a great setup for a picture.



Finally, there is a reason why people in bunny costumes freak out my adult son. I know the guy under here. My son should be afraid! But his costume makes him look so cute! If you couldn't tell, I had a great time taking these shots. Early morning light, kids, colorful baskets and eggs, smiling parents, everything you could want.

I must go to the gym now, to prepare for the trip. Ya'll have a great weekend.

Summer Trip Update



The last two weeks of school have been quite busy, what with summer school preparations and all. And then I started having internet connectivity problems. Hence no posts recently. However, I have completed all the early, mandatory travel plans. We now have paid reservations from here to London, London to Stuttgart and then the return trip back to here a month later. I also have made reservations at a B&B in London for 4 nights. I can't tell you how excited I am to go on this trip. We have only, ever done a small amount of traveling and I seldom dreamed of going to Europe for an extended time.

And to add more excitement, the adult daughter of my friend Carrie recently spent a week in London. You can find her pictures at this post. I am particularly fond of the shots she took at the London Tower (see above - if Rhiannon wants me to remove I will, but I love it!) and British Museum.

4.5 weeks, Yikes!

Grand kitties! (aka disruptors)



The kitties came for a weekend visit over Memorial Day. Since Ash was out of town and Ryan's ex-roommate was staying with us, Ryan decided to stay here and bring the kitties with him. All I can say is "What a riot!" Our cats (especially Moogie) were not at all amused.

In case you don't know the story, approximately 6 months before Ryan and Ash got married Diane saw information and YouTube video of bengal cats (domesticated cats approximately 3 generations removed from the wild). One day when the kids were at the house, she called them in to the computer room and showed them the cute kitties she had found. She jokingly asked them, "Wouldn't it be funny if we got ya'll those for a wedding present?" At which point the kids were like, "coooool!" And so it came to be...Once the wedding was over, we took possession of two bengal kitties and gave them to our son and new daughter-in-law.

Their names are Azriel and Remiel - after two archangels, but the kids call them Aza and Remi. Once they got a little acclimated to the house they would run around disturbing everything. Ryan would play with them using a feather on a stick. They easily jump (fly) 4+ feet off the ground - and land with a noticeable "thud". Ryan says they work together to get stuff and mimic supposed raptor behavior. I watched several times as one would move up on something while the other circled from behind. It was spooky! They are also particularly fond of red straws - like the ones you get from Sonic. In fact, they will try to take yours from your drink if you're not watching carefully.

Beauregard (one of our cats) would just growl at them when they came near. Moogie stayed out the room. She was never pleased with them. I went to bed on Saturday night and they came in to see what was going on. Moogie was by my side and kept hissing. Eventually she moved up to the headboard and watched them from afar. I think she slept up there all night.

Now that it's late afternoon on Monday, the grand kitties have gone back to their own house. My cats are sleeping better and seem to have calmed down. I think I finally see what they mean about how wonderful it is to be a grand parent!

Pluots



Diane and I went to the Gucci HEB one day during the summer and I ran across this display of pluots. I really liked the different colors and ended up taking a few shots. This was taken during the first few weeks of having my camera so I probably would change a couple of things now but I still like the way it ended up.

Mountain Laurel - March 2008



I took this picture of a mountain laurel while at the Botanical Gardens on March 21st. When I took it, I didn't have my tripod and ended up shaking a little bit. This seemed to ruin the picture but I saved it anyway. When I got home I decided to try using some Photoshop effects on it. I finally hit upon the "watercolor" effect and decided this wasn't so bad after all!

Chicago Trip in 2002



I took this shot while Diane, the boys and I visited Chicago in the summer of 2002. We spent four solid days walking and eating. Unfortunately for me, my legs weren't ready for all the walking we were doing so I frequently found myself lagging way behind everyone else. Hence this shot of the family ahead of me. I especially like the picture because it conveys to me a sense of the "largeness" of Chicago and the buildings we were looking at. At the time, the camera I had was my Olympus C3000. Not a "great" camera but adequate for my needs. I probably need to adjust the sky color a bit but with my color blindness, it's hard for me to do that kind of thing and get it realistic.

Cemetery Markers



There is something about old cemeteries that I find fascinating. I joke about that fact that I have a family member in nearly every cemetery in San Antonio...a testament to the size of my family, how long we have lived here and (I guess) life itself.

I took this shot in New Braunfels about 3 weeks after I got my camera. I got up early on Saturday morning and drove to the Weilbacher plot outside of Garden Ridge on Hwy 3009. After taking a couple of shots there I wound my way around until I got to New Braunfels and the cemetery there. I took several shots and may end up posting a couple more of them later. This, however, is my current favorite of that trip.

I'm sure I could do a much better job with this picture, today. But then I was still practicing with all the knobs and dials.

Hibiscus - Pink, double



About a week after I found the lizard I went out to our backyard and happened upon this hibiscus bloom. These are some of my most favorite plants and this variety is especially hardy. I was especially pleased with the depth of field I was getting compared to the Olympus C-3000 I had before this.

I have never been too much of an "artist." I think my color blindness gets in the way of some of that. Plus it's very easy for me to develop an attitude of "Life is a wave and I'm just floating with it." But I have noticed that when I carry my camera around I tend to see a lot more than I when I don't have it. The mere possession of a camera forces me to look for things to photograph.

I want to be more artistic. I want to take better pictures. So I carry my camera everywhere. Oh, and it drives my youngest son nuts - all the better!

Lizard



This is one of the first pictures I took with my new Olympus E-500. I received the camera on a Wednesday in July and the following Saturday morning I made a point of going out to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens for some test shots. I saw this little guy while in the area showing water resistant plants. I just love the difference in colors!

Opening Post



Ok, this is my starting post. I'm setting this blog up to showcase some of my photography and also so the family can check out where I've been when I go out and take pictures. For the next few weeks you will be getting pictures I've recently taken and a bit of the plans we have for our trip to Europe. In case you haven't heard, Diane and I are taking 28 days this summer to travel in Europe (mostly southern Germany). We already have our plane tickets to London and I'm in the process of finding a place to stay there. After 4 days we will travel on to Stuttgart and stay with Michelle. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the practice shots and will stay tuned to my little travel blog.

The shot I'm posting with this article is one I took this past December. It includes Diane and Jordan as they were watering plants in the back yard. I thought the smile on his face was priceless.