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Not much happening

Friday, 29 November 2013

It seems it’s been five days since I last posted something to this blog.  Been a long time since I took that many days off, but there just hasn’t been much going on around here.  After my visitors left on Sunday, it wasn’t long before the cold rains began and continued again for two whole days.

IMG_5128                                                                               White Ibis

Stephanie, the volunteer coordinator, was on vacation all week and hadn’t left me any assignments to work on.  So, I really had nothing to do but kick back and relax.  I took care of normal chores and such, but that gets old for me after a while.

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                                            An Anhinga drying its feathers in the sun.

I hadn’t even set up the Hard Rock Bird Café since I arrived.  With my history of mice getting in the rig when I volunteer here, I decided not to put up the bird feeders.  This location is pretty much surrounded by cement, so I thought maybe I could spend the winter mouse-less.  Ha!  No one out at the volunteer village has had any mice yet, but I’ve already dispatched with two of them.  The sudden cold front must have sent them looking for warmth.  So, what the heck.  I put the feeders up this week.  Haven’t seen one bird yet, so no seed is dropping on the ground to attract rodents.

Merlin IMG_5114

                                                                     Merlin

I did spend yesterday afternoon over at the volunteer village having a delicious Thanksgiving turkey dinner.  While five of the volunteers were off visiting friends and relatives for the holiday, two of the couples and I shared dinner together.

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                                                                           White Pelican

After another very frosty beginning to the day, the sun came out bright and shiny.  I waited for the car windshield to defrost, and then Emma and I took a drive around the refuge.  It was pretty busy since lots of people have a four day weekend.  No way I was going to battle any crowds at stores today.  Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely drive visiting my avian friends.

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                                                                  Northern Shoveler (male)

I’ve got two more days off before any staff returns, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with myself.  I’m just not used to sitting around doing nothing, and I’d rather not do any touring on a holiday weekend.  I’ll think of something.

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                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Donate To The Himalayan Stove Project For #GivingTuesday

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

With the holidays now upon us, the season of giving has arrived as well. If you're looking for a great cause to donate to this year, then I'd recommend you consider one of my favorite organizations, the Himalayan Stove Project. The purpose behind the HSP is simple. Its goal is to improve the health, and change the lives, of people living in the Himalaya by replacing their inefficient and inadequate cook stoves, with cleaning burning models that use less fuel. These stoves are better for the environment and produce far less smoke and other noxious fumes, substantially reducing the health risks that use the stoves on a daily basis.

The HSP can use your contributions to the cause at all times of the year, but come next Tuesday they will especially appreciate those donations. That's because they are taking part in #GivingTuesday (which follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday of course) during which all of our contributions will be matched on a 1-to-1 basis by another generous donor. To take part, all you have to do is text "STOVE" to 50155.

You can also help the cause while picking up some new gear for yourself at the same time. When you visit the Himalayan Stove Project's Supporters and Sponsors page you can get new gear from the like of Clothing Arts and Eastern Mountain Sports and with every purchase that is made, a donation is made to the HSP. We all know that EMS has all kinds of items we'd like to add to our personal gear closets, and Clothing Arts makes innovative clothing that can help keep your valuables safe while traveling.

One of the things that I love so much about the Himalayan Stove Project is that is is doing great work that has a direct impact on the lives of the people that they are trying to help. More than 1400 stoves have already been installed in homes across the Himalaya, dramatically changing the lives of the families that have received them. The HSP isn't trying to pursue some nebulous plan that could pay off at some point in the future, they're actually affecting change now. Our donations will go directly to helping further that cause, while saving lives at the same time.

I know that the holidays are a time when we're often busy and stretched thin. I also know that budgets are often tight as we search for the perfect gift for loved ones. But if you should find a little spare cash that you want to give to a good cause, consider making that cause the Himalayan Stove Project. They're doing great work in a part of the world that we all love.

Video: A Month In Antarctica

When I posted my Antarctic update earlier today I noted that that Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere, who collectively make up the Scott Expedition, have now been out on the ice for more than a month. That has not been an easy four weeks for the boys and to get a sense of what they've been dealing with, they released this short video. The footage shows Ben and Tarka at their starting point at Scott's Hut and then gives us a glimpse of what it is like to pull heavy sleds across the frozen expanse that is Antarctica. Bundle up before watching this one, it looks a little cold.

Atikamekw Snowshoe Expedition: Into The Canadian Wilderness During The Winter

The Atikamekw are an indigenous people who have lived in a remote part of Quebec, Canada for more than 400 years. During that time they have developed a way of life that allows them to survive in that hostile, frigid environment. They have adapted to the harsh conditions there, learning to live off the land, hunt for food and developing tools such as snowshoes and dogsleds that have helped their culture thrive even into the 21st century.

From 1999-2001, explorers Bert Poffé and Kiki Nárdiz traveled to the Atikamekw region where they learned much about their way of life and their methods of survival, both during the winter and the summer. Visiting that region built a deep connection with the First Nations families that live there, while also instilling a love of nature and the planet in them at the same time. It has been nearly 13 years since they last visited their friends amongst the Atikamekw, but early next year that will change.

On their website, Bert and Kiki have announced plans for their Atikamekw Snowshoe expedition, which will send them back into the wilderness where they honed their survival skills more than a decade ago. The journey will take place in February, 2014 and will take approximately three weeks to complete. During that time, they'll be traveling unsupported deep into Atikamekw territory using nothing but the ancient survival methods that the indigenous people have used to survive there for centuries. That includes using traditional mukluks, snowshoes and handcrafted wooden toboggans.

Their journey will take the two explorers into one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet. They'll pass over frozen lakes, trek deep into gorges and pass into regions that few outsiders ever see. Along the way, they'll face sub-zero temperatures, high winds, potential blizzards and all kinds of other climactic challenges as they pass between the Atikamekw communities of Obedjiwan and Manawan.

For more information about Bert, Kiki and their plans be sure to check out Inuksu.be.

Antarctica 2013: Hurry Up And Wait

My reports on the 2013 Antarctic expedition season are starting to get very repetitive. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm sure by now most of the teams in Punta Arenas thought that they'd be out on the ice and working their way south, but the weather continues to be uncooperative, so they continue to sit and wait. To make things worse, the schedule for supply planes to the Union Glacier camp is now way behind schedule as well, which means the adventurers will have to wait their turn. There are some indications that flights could resume in the next few days, although that has been the story for more than a week now. 

Still sitting in Punta are Chris and Marty Fagan, Lewis Clarke, Daniel Burton, Antony Jinman and several others. Each plans to make the journey to the South Pole, but the first step is to actually get to the Antarctic continent. Daniel has also started to express some concern about the effect the weather will have on his attempt to ride his bike to the Pole. In a recent blog post he indicated that while his fat tire bike does well on hard snow and ice, it doesn't work so well in powder. The bad weather is dumping all kind of powder on his intended route, which could slow him down or cause him to not be able to ride at all. Only time will tell if this will become a major factor. 

Also still waiting to get started is Richard Parks. He is the man who hopes to set a new speed record for skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, and he to has been watching for a weather window to open. It has been more than a week since we heard anything out of him, but earlier today he posted a brief update saying that he was packed and ready to fly from Union Glacier to his starting point, but bad weather has once again grounded the plane. He hopes to get out tomorrow instead. 

Three teams that are now in position to begin their expedition are the members of the South Pole Allied Challenge. Team U.K., Team USA and Team Commonwealth all flew out to their starting points at 87ºS yesterday and they should begin their treks to the South Pole today. This race of sorts is part of he Walking With The Wounded organization and several servicemen and women who were injured while on active duty are with each of the teams. Despite starting much closer to the Pole than most of the other teams, it will still take them two weeks or so to complete the journey. 

Aussie Geoff Wilson has been caught out in the bad weather again and as a result, he has spent the past two days stuck in his tent. Raging winds, extremely cold temperatures and whiteout conditions have conspired against him, leaving him stranded. Geoff is attempt to kite ski to the South Pole but has only had a couple of good days so far. Hopefully this period of bad weather will lift soon and he'll get the opportunity to make some good time. 

Finally, Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere are now more than a month into their expedition and continue to knock off the mileage in workmen like fashion each day. The boys have found their stride it seems and are consistently covering 13-14 miles (20-22 km ) on a daily basis. That might not seem like much, but in the frozen Antarctic it is a full days work. As a result of those efforts, they have now covered approximately 300 miles (482 km) on their journey, which is a there and back again trip to the Pole and their starting point at Scott's Hut. While they still have a very long way to go, all is well and they are progressing as expected. 

With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us here in the U.S., it is likely that I won't be able to update again until next week. Hopefully by then the weather will have cleared and more teams will be on their way to the South Pole. Stay tuned. 

Adventure Racing World Championship Set To Begin in Costa Rica

The Adventure Racing World Championship is set to get underway in Costa Rica this weekend when coed teams of four take part in this year's Costa Rica Adventure Race. The official start of the event is scheduled for Sunday, when a field of 60 of the best AR teams from 26 different countries line up at the starting line.

The race is scheduled to last up to nine days, although the winners are projected to finish in just four. It will begin on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast and end on the country's Atlantic side. In between, the competitors will run, bike, paddle, climb and raft through 700+ km (435 miles) of dense jungle and mountain terrain.

The Costa Rica Adventure Race is the final event on the AR World Series calendar for 2013. The teams that are competing in the race have all had to qualify by racing in other ARWS events throughout the year. This event will crown this year's world champs, with teams such as Seagate, Adidas TERREX Prunesco, and the Thule Adventure Team expected to be in the mix. It should be quite the event for fans of the sport and be sure to check out the Costa Rica AR website for regular updates and team tracking.

Video: Backcountry Snowboarding With Jeremy Jones

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The adventure in snowboarding and skiing these days is found in the backcountry. That's exactly what compels pro-boarder Jeremy Jones to head to the mountains to find new places to ply his craft. In the video below, Jeremy talks about what drives him to visit these remote places and what has enabled him to do so in recent years. But it will be the stunning visuals that will stick with you. Jeremy runs some seriously steep vertical and carves narrow runs in the backcountry. Pretty amazing stuff and a long way from the groomed slopes most of us stick to.

Video: Journey To Bear Island

There aren't many expeditions that you can go on that allow you to ski, snowboard, climb and surf, but that is exactly what the Wegge brothers got when they visited remote Bear Island off the Svalbard coast. The video below is a teaser for an upcoming film of their adventure, which judging from these two minutes of footage looks like it was filled will all kinds of interesting activities.

Thanks to my friends at the Adventure Journal for sharing this one.

BEAR ISLAND TEASER from weggebros on Vimeo.

Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge Set To Begin Tomorrow

Wednesday marks the start of the 10th annual Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge, a 341 km (211 miles) adventure race held in the remote Tasmanian wilderness. The event is hosted each year by F1 star Mark Webber, who happens to be a huge fan of endurance sports and adventure racing in particular. Webber ended his long racing career last Sunday after competing in the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The course for this year's Tasmania Challenge runs along the West Coast of the Australian island. The five-day race features coed teams with some incredible athletes mixed into the field. While Webber himself is unable to compete this year, fellow F1 driver Mitch Evans is giving the Challenge a go for the first time. He's joined by Olympians Emma Snowsill, who competed in the triathlon, and Kenny Wallace who is a world class kayaker. As is usual with an adventure race of this kind, the stages will include mountain biking, trail running, paddling and various other disciplines.

The elite teams will be competing for a piece of the $30,000 purse, while others will be taking part in the charity fundraiser. Most of the proceeds generated from the Tasmania Challenge goes to Whielion, an organization which provides a number of service for at-risk youth in Australia. Additionally, some of the funds also go to the Save The Tasmanian Devil fun as well.

Once the race gets underway you'll be able to follow the progress of the teams and get updates on daily standings from the official website.

Chasing The Pole Of Cold Across Siberia

Not all of the cold weather adventures are taking place in Antarctica at the moment. Case in point, the just launched Pole of Cold expedition that got underway last week which plans to cross Northern Europe and Siberia on a three-month long, 30,000 km (18,641 mile) journey to reach the coldest inhabited place on the planet in the dead of winter.

The three-person team on this expedition include veteran polar explorer Felicity Aston, mechanic Gisli Jonsson and filmmaker Manu Palomeque. The trio were the winners of a Land Rover bursary which provides funding for this expedition. They set out from the Royal Geographical Society headquarters in London and are now making their way through Norway, where they encountered their first bits of snow. Eventually the journey will take them into deepest Siberia however, where they will make their way to Oymyakon, which is widely considered the coldest inhabited place on the planet. How cold you ask? The thermometer once recorded a temperature of -67.7ºC (-89.8ºF). Now that's cold!

The journey will be a road trip of epic proportions. The route will take the team into some of the most remote places on the planet where temperatures will routinely plummet to dangerous levels. They'll have to deal with non-existant roads, plenty of snow and ice and a complete lack of infrastructure once they get out into the heart of Siberia itself. This will be a round-trip journey that begins and end in London, with a stop at the northernmost point in Europe and plenty of other cold places along the way.

The purpose of the journey is to explore cultural attitudes toward winter while also assessing how lifestyles are different in places that deal with extreme ends of the climate continuum.

You can follow the Pole of Cold team on their website and Facebook page.


Gear Closet: Keen Revel II Hiking Boots

With temperatures dropping – and even colder weather on the way – a good hiking boot designed to handle rain and snow is a must for any gear closet. After all, we have excellent gear to keep our other body parts warm, and we definitely don't want to neglect our feet either.

Arriving just in time for winter, Keen has just started shipping their new Revel II hiking boots, which have some innovative new features to help keep our feet warm on cold weather hikes. They also manage to maintain Keen's typical high level of durability and comfort while also managing to look good in the process.

Keen has designed the Revel II to have a more traditional look when compared to some of the other footwear in their line-up. These boots have a more understated appearance that makes them feel right at home on the trail, and the high ankle support is a welcome addition to what may be the most sturdy dedicated hiking boots in the Keen catalog.
One of the features of this boot that helps them to stand out from the crowd and makes them a good choice for winter hiking is what Keen calls their Heat Trapolator Insulation System. This patent pending design includes three layers of insulation for the foot that helps keep warmth inside the shoe. This extends under the foot as well, helping to keep the bottoms of our feet toast warm. This approach makes a lot of sense considering that when hiking on snow and ice, much of the cold temperatures emanate from the ground itself.

Keeping our feet comfortable doesn't end with simply staying warm however. The Revel II boots are also waterproof to keep excess moisture out, while a breathable, wicking liner helps to pull moisture away from the foot too. The result is a boot that keeps your feet dry in all but the worst of conditions. When paired with a good pair of socks, most hikers will be ready to face the elements with a smile on their face.

As mentioned, these boots are very comfortable, which is a Keen trademark for sure. I did find that the break-in period for these shoes was a bit longer than some of the other Keen boots that I've worn, but once they did loosen up, they felt as good on my feet as I had expected. For a full-size, rugged boot, they are also lighter in weight than they would appear at first glance, although it doesn't seem that Keen has had to sacrifice any durability in achieving this svelte design.

The Revel II's aggressive outsole does a good job of holding their grip on both dry and wet surfaces, although once again there was a short break-in period before this happened. Out of the box, the bottom of the shoes felt smooth and slick but after wearing them for a bit, they seemed to improve. I'm not sure if my pair of boots shipped from the factory with a slick coating on the bottom, but traction certainly improved after putting a bit of mileage on them.

If you're in the market for a pair of hiking boots that are suitable for cool, or even cold weather hikes, than Keen's new offering may be exactly what you're looking for. They are comfortable, durable and perform well on snow and ice. They also happen to have traditional good looks and sturdy construction that should make them last for years to come. Available for $160, these aren't the least expensive shoes available from Keen, but they just might be the most capable hiking boots the company currently makes.

Video: Remote Controlled Buggy Captures Great Photos Of Lions In Africa

Monday, 25 November 2013

We've all seen how arial drones are being put to good use in capturing some amazing photography and video in remote areas of the world, but the video below puts the same concept to work on the ground. Photographer Chris McLennan, working with engineer Carl Hansen, developed a remote control camera housing that could be driven close to the subjects to get some very cool photos. In this case, that means driving up to a pride of lions to snap a few shots. The results are fantastic, although the images may give you a sense of what it is like for the prey just as the lion's pounce. This is really cool technology put to use in the field in an innovative way.

Was Mallory's Body Discovered On Everest In 1936?

I came across an intriguing story over the weekend that Everest fans will most certainly find it of interest. A new story in The Guardian indicates that George Mallory's body may have been found on Everest as far back as 1936, but it was not shared with the press in order to preserve some dignity for the deceased. The revelation is part of a new biography on mountaineer Frank Smyth, who was amongst those obsessed with climbing Everest back in the 1930's before World War II put an end to such endeavors for nearly a decade.

The book, which was written by Smyth's son Tony, reveals letters from the famous writer and mountaineer in which he talks about coming across a body high on the slopes of the mountain. But he is also quoted as saying "It's not to be written about, as the press would make an unpleasant sensation." That seems to indicate that Smyth wanted to keep the whereabouts of Mallory's remains a secret so at to not cause a stir. Considering how few people had climbed that high on Everest at the time, the body could have only belong to Mallory or his climbing partner Andrew "Sandy" Irvine.

We all know that the discovery of George Mallory's body back in 1999 was an event that went well beyond the typical climbing community. For years people have speculated as to whether or not Mallory and Irvine actually reached the summit of Everest nearly three decades before it was finally scaled by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The body didn't provide any new insights for that debate, but it certainly brought it to the forefront once again.

While the story of Smyth discovering Mallory's body will ultimately be a footnote in the history of mountaineering, it is interesting to think that its whereabouts could have been revealed decades before it was actually discovered. I think it was a sign of the times that Mallory and Smyth were climbing in that they would show such respect for the dignity of others, even the deceased. We don't seem to have that same respect these days, which is a shame.

The Guardian article has a lot more information about Frank Smyth and the new biography about the climber. It sounds like it is quite an interesting read.

Antarctica 2013: Still Waiting

The weekend wasn't particularly kind to the teams still waiting to get their Antarctic expeditions under way. Poor weather across the region is still causing major delays and it looks like it may be another few days before things start to improve. This has left a log jam in Punta Arenas, where a number of explorers are still waiting for their flights out to the frozen continent so that they can get underway at last. The weather also continues to delay some expeditions that are already in the Antarctic but have yet to get officially started as well.

At the moment, Chris and Marty Fagan, Lewis Clarke, Daniel Burton, Antony Jinman, and various others are all waiting for flights to Union Glacier. Flights were scheduled to resume over the weekend, but the weather continued to be an issue, so they've been pushed back into this week. It is now believed that the forecast will clear up in the next day or two and these teams can finally head out. But until they are actually on the flight, no one is particularly sure when they'll get to go.

They're not the only ones who are still waiting to get underway either. It seems Richard Parks is still looking for a weather window to launch his attempt on the speed record for skiing to the South Pole from hercules Inlet. He has been at Union Glacier for nearly two weeks now and has now been radio silent for a week. I have to assume we'll hear something from him once he actually begins the journey, but for now he seems to be content to sit and wait for a clear window. That could be awhile considering how fickle the weather is in Antarctica.

Also delayed by weather are the three teams taking part in the South Pole Allied Challenge (who also appear to have let their domain expire!). They flew to the Novo base at the end of last week and were scheduled to catch flights to the 87th degree over the weekend, but are now locked in place due to storms. Once they get the clearance to get underway, the three squads will then embark on a race of sorts, with each of them covering the last three degrees to the South Pole.


Geoff Wilson was able to put the major crevasse field that he had been navigating behind him, but the winds have been a bit cruel at times. He is kiting to the South Pole and has had to alternate between dragging his sled on skis at a painfully slow pace and catching brisk winds that allow him to fly across the ice. At times his progress has been unbearably slow and at others he has seen solid progress. All in all, he was happy to make some milestones this weekend and he seems to be getting much more comfortable with his kite now. That means, if the winds are in his favor, he could potentially make good time in the days ahead.

The Scott Expedition hit a milestone of their own yesterday. Ben and Tarka have now been out on the ice for a full month and to celebrate they had a chance of underwear and a bath of sorts. That came as some relief, as they have been battling strong headwinds for the past few days and while they continue to make solid progress, they've had to work hard for those miles. According to the statistics posted on their website, the boys still face more than 1500 miles (2414 km) on their journey to the South Pole and back, which has to be a bit unsettling considering the amount of time they have spent out on the ice already. But their mood seems good despite the challenges they've face thus far. Hopefully things continue to go well in the weeks ahead. They still have as much as two more months to go before the end.

That's all for a Monday update. I know you've been hearing me say that these other expeditions will get underway soon for several days now, but once again the weather is the final deciding factor. Hopefully this week will be more kind to the teams and we'll get more updates from the Antarctic soon.

Gear Closet: Kelty Ignite Down Sleeping Bag

One of my favorite advances in terms of outdoor gear technology in recent years has been the introduction of waterproof down. In my opinion it is a real game changer in terms of providing us with the best insulation possible while avoiding previous problems with what happens to down when it gets wet. In the past I've reviewed (and loved) the Brooks Range Mojave jacket, which was one of the first products to incorporate DownTek, one of the options available for waterproof down. Recently I've been testing an Ignite Down sleeping bag from Kelty, which uses DriDown, the primary competition to DownTek. It turns out, it doesn't matter what you call the waterproof down inside, it still performs great and remains the best insulator available today.

The version of the Ignite Down sleeping bag that I tested was rated for 20ºF/-7ºC. That makes it a comfortable option for three-season camping. The bag has a pack weight of 2 pound, 12 ounces (1.2 kg), which is decent, if unremarkable. The mummy-style bag also includes internal loops for a bag liner, external security loops for connecting to a sleeping pad and hand loops for storage. It has high quality zippers and is made from 30D ripstop nylon, while being stuffed with 600-fill DriDown of course.

I was extremely impressed with the build quality of the Ignite Down. Kelty has a rich history of delivering outdoor gear that provides an excellent performance to price ratio. But this bag actually exceeded my expectations in terms of how well it managed to keep me comfortable in a variety of conditions. Better yet, it also feels like it is built to last, shrugging off the normal abuse that come with traditional  camping and backpacking trips. The durable external fabrics are easy to keep clean and very resistant to wear and tear.

The bag also happens to be quite comfortable, which is of course what we're all looking for. Not everyone likes a mummy bag, and if you're someone who feels restricted by this type of sleeping bag, the Ignite Down probably won't do anything to change your mind. But if sleeping in a mummy bag isn't a problem for you, you'll find that this one provides a snug, but not overly confining fit, with plenty of room inside. At 6'2" (1.8 m) in height, I used the "Long" version of this bag and found that I had plenty of room to spare. So much so in fact that I could keep socks, base layers and a few other clothing items that I wanted to keep warm and dry at the bottom without feeling cramped in any way.

As expected, the DriDown performs exceptionally well. The material provides plenty of warmth, even at a slightly reduced 600-fill level. In fact, I feel Kelty might be a bit conservative with their temperature rating and I wouldn't have a problem using this bag even in slightly colder weather. Its water-repellant properties make it a great option whether you're camping in the desert or heading to a damp forest. Similarly, it works well in dry, cool conditions, as well as damp, rainy or snowy ones.

If there is a knock on this bag it is probably in its weight and compressibility. As I mentioned earlier, the Ignite Down tips the scales at 2 pounds, 12 ounces, which makes it rather average in terms of pack weight. It also doesn't compress down particularly small, which means it also takes up more room in your pack than similar bags.

But Kelty more than makes up for these minor issues by delivering a great product, that happens to include waterproof down, at an amazing price. The 20ºF version of the Ignite Down carries an MSRP of just $219.95, and it can be found at places like Sport Chalet for just $199.95. That is an incredibly good deal for backpackers and campers on a budget, who care more about good performance at a great price than they do about shaving a few ounces from their pack weight. For those folks, Kelty has delivered a great option.

As we're heading into the holiday season, this sleeping bag also happens to make a great gift for your favorite outdoor enthusiast. I know I wouldn't mind finding one under my tree this year.

Time with friends

Sunday, 24 November 2013

There was a respite from the rain today, but the temps stayed in the low 40’s with a stiff north wind blowing all day.  This morning I was waiting for some friends to arrive.  I had never met these friends in person, but never the less, I was happy to welcome them to the refuge.

_MG_9678Some of you may recognize Catherine and Jo Beth from the Living the Dream blog.  They’re headed to San Antonio for a family gathering for Thanksgiving, so we had a chance to meet on their journey there.  Many of you know how it goes with meeting up with fellow RVers and bloggers.  Good times!  Check out their blog for their version of the day.

After Emma, and their Grace had a chance to meet up, we piled into their truck for a refuge tour.  Not the best of days for visiting, and Jim, the volunteer at the VIS, reported that folks hadn’t been seeing much on the auto tour today.  We took a drive around Shoveler Pond anyway, and I think we saw lots of things.

Despite the cold temps, we even saw a couple of alligators.  With the brisk wind, many of the birds that would normally fly off at our approach stayed put in their secluded locations.  There was a big flock of about 1200 snow geese in one of the moist soil units as we made our way to Shoveler Pond, and we saw lots of whistling ducks of both species, as well as most all of the herons and other ducks that call this place home for the winter.

Of course I always bring my cameras with me, but when I’m showing folks around it’s more important to me that they get to see things and use their cameras.  So, I don’t have many pics from today’s excursion.

Bird wise, for me, today’s highlight was observing a feeding frenzy that I’d never seen before.  As we were on the last segment of the auto tour, a good sized group of Neotropic Cormorants discovered a large school of small fish in the water.  They were all diving underwater like crazy, and fighting over the fish that were caught.  Then some egrets came in to try to steal the fish away out of their mouths.  What a hoot!  I was on the wrong side of the vehicle for any pictures, so I just enjoyed the moment.

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After leaving the refuge, we headed back along FM 1985.  This road is especially good for viewing red-tailed hawks and kestrels.  My only other picture from the day is this one of the Krider’s subspecies of red-tailed hawk.  This very pale subspecies nests in the northern plains of the continent.  You can see how fluffed up it is to combat the cold windy conditions today.  There is usually one of these birds along this road each winter.

The whole time we were touring around, Grace was sound asleep in the back seat.  What a nice calm dog she is.  A big contrast from my wild Emma who was back in the rig.  After being treated to a tasty lunch at a place in Winnie, where they could have turned the heat up a bit, I bid farewell to Catherine and Jo Beth.  I hope the weather warms for them a bit for their time in San Antonio along the River Walk.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Changes

Saturday, 23 November 2013

I remember my first winter on the road in 2006.  I was in Washington and Oregon.  Every night, I’d put on more and more layers of clothing as the temperature dropped outside the rig.  That was before my extend-a-stay propane tank, and I kept the thermostat at 68*.  Of course that meant the real temperature inside of that first motorhome was ten degrees colder than that.

I’ve got a better insulated rig now, and an extend-a-stay tank so I don’t have to pack up and move the rig to refill the propane, and I’m seven years older.  For me, the older I’ve gotten the more the cold effects my comfort.  Changes.

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                         Fulvous Whistling Ducks (and two coots) They really do make a whistling sound.

I now keep the thermostat at 79* in the evening before I go to bed.  The real temperature is about 73*, and my old bones and joints appreciate it.  There’s a rainy, very windy, cold front moving through right now, and the temps outside will probably dip down into the 30’s tonight.  I was born and raised a northern girl, but now I don’t want to experience cold.  Changes.

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                                                          White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill

My attitude has changed over the years.  I’ve grown to like my creature comforts.  When I first hit the road, I thought I’d be doing lots of boondocking.  That’s not the way things worked out for me.  While I still haven’t been able to talk myself into trying one of those RV resort type places that many retirees enjoy for an extended amount of time, I do not want to boondock any longer.  I like my hook-ups, satellite TV, internet, and heat/AC.  I guess that’s why National Wildlife Refuges work so well for me.

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As winter approaches, there are also noticeable changes in nature.  The high winds are helping these cattails propagate.  If you look really closely, you can see the individual seeds about to blow off to hopefully land on fertile ground.

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And just look how some expired vine had intertwined with this cattail.  The seeds are clinging to everything.  What wonders there are to observe if we go slow enough.  One of the beauties of observing the changing seasons.

I’m hoping the rain stops by tomorrow so I can show my visitors some of the things I find so wonderful about Anahuac NWR.  If not, we’ll have to change our plans…

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                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Video: The Amazing Northern Lights In Timelapse

Friday, 22 November 2013

I can't think of a better way to wrap up the week than with this fantastic video of the Northern Lights eerily dancing across the sky in a timelapse format. The images in this video are simply breathtaking and the music that accompanies them is perfect too. Enjoy!

sixth element from Level 4 on Vimeo.

Video: The Red Bull Elements - A Relay Race Unlike Any Other

Yesterday I shared a video from the Red Bull X Alps race, which is a very unique event it in its own right. Today I have a video from the Red Bull Elements relay race, during which competitors complete in one of four multi-sport legs. In the first leg the racers row across a lake and then carry their boat to the finish line. That kicks off the second leg, which is a running stage with a mountain top finish. The next athlete in the even then paraglides off the summit to try to hit a target area below, which in turn starts the fourth and final leg, which is mountain biking up a tough trail. This looks like a really fun and demanding event. It can't be easy putting together a team as it would be difficult to find others with all of these skills. Still, great stuff from Red Bull.

Xpedition.tv Announces Photo + Story Challenge

Aspiring adventure photographers listen up! The folks over at Xpedition.tv, who brought us an excellent adventure film competition earlier this year, are back with another challenge, and this time they're letting those of us who shoot photography get in on the fun. The site has just announced its Photo + Story Challenge, giving entrants the opportunity to share one of their favorite photos, and the story behind it, in just 50 words.

The competition is open to all photographers, although entries are to be focused around outdoor sports, adventure and exploration. There are three categories to enter your photo in. Those categories include: "This is where I learned..." (Hashtag: #whereweexplore); "The work pays off when..." (Hashtag: #xpeditionworthy) and "You know you're brothers/sisters when.." (Hashtag: #foolishandthebrave)

To enter photographers must select a single image depicting their experience in the outdoors. They must also submit 50 words that includes the phrase that describes the category (ie: "This is where I learned..."). Then follow @XpeditionTV on Instagram and hashtag your photos so that they can find it. Photographers can enter multiple images but they must create a separate entry for each photo.

When the contest is over and winners are selected, they'll receive a 30x40 custom print of their image worth up to $250. These images are said to be beautiful in quality and stunning to look at, especially for those who are use to digital photography and don't see prints much any more.

For more information, visit the Xpedition.tv website. Then, go sift through your photos and find something you'd love to share. Good luck!


Antarctica 2013: Storms Keep Explorers In Punta Arenas

As we head into the weekend the Antarctic explorers preparing to launch their expeditions continue to play the waiting game. There is a contingent of them in Punta Arenas that are organizing their gear and getting ready to head out to the frozen continent, but for now all they can do is wait for ALE (Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions) to tell them when they can fly. Storms in Antarctica have prevented flights out to Union Glacier over the past few days, which means there is a backlog of supplies and personnel waiting to be transported to the base there. Once ALE is able to clear that backlog however, the teams can begin to fly at last.

Amongst the adventurers who are waiting to start are Chris and Marty Fagan, who have spent the last few days creating individual meals for their ski expedition to the South Pole. Similarly, Daniel Burton, who intends to ride his bike to the Pole, has been prepping his equipment as well. He indicated that gear weigh ins were scheduled to take place today and that after a meeting with ALE he should have a better of idea of when he might get to start. Presumably Lewis Clarke, the 16-year old Brit hoping to become the youngest to ski to the Pole, is completing his gear prep and attending the same meetings as he gets ready to make the 700 mile (1126 km) journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole too.

Richard Parks also continues to wait for the proper weather window, although that is expected to come today or tomorrow. He's been in Antarctica for more than a week now and has been staying at the Union Glacier Camp before heading out to Hercules for his start. He intends to challenge the speed record to the South Pole but is waiting for a few storms to pass before he begins. His original plan had him getting underway on November 18, but he seems unconcerned with a few days delay. Lets face it, there is a long season ahead and if Richard truly will have a shot at the speed record, which is roughly 24 days, he still has plenty of time before he needs to get going. With a little luck, he'll launch the expedition this weekend.


Aussie Geoff Wilson ran into some difficulty yesterday. Not only was he facing a 5 km (3.1 mile) climb, he also found himself in the middle of a nasty crevasse field. Fortunately he was able to navigate through without too many issues and has better luck today. Geoff is kiting to the South Pole and after a bit of a slow start with some nasty weather keeping him in his tent for four days, he seems to be finding a nice rhythm now.

The three teams who are taking part in the South Pole Allied Challenge departed for Antarctica today. They're flying from Cape Town to the Novo Base, where they'll spend another couple of days getting organized before flying out to their starting points. These three teams, one from the U.K., one from the U.S. and one made up of representatives of the Commonwealth, will then race to the Pole from three degrees out. Each team has an expedition leader but for the most part they are made up of soldiers who have been wounded in the line of duty. They should officially get going sometime next week.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Scott Expedition, which is quickly approaching the end of their first month out on the ice. Ben and Tarka continue to make solid progress despite nasty headwinds making for slow going. Yesterday they managed nearly 15 miles (24 km) as they continue their slog to the Pole. The boys still have quite a long way to go before their expedition is done, but they seem in good spirits and are well focused on their mission, which is to complete the route that Robert Falcon Scott had taken back in 1911-1912.

That's all for this week. We'll check in again on Monday to see if any progress has been made. More teams should be getting underway soon, provided the weather cooperates of course.

Kapp To Cape Cyclists Complete 18,000 KM Ride In 102 Days

Way back in August I wrote a post about Reza Reza Pakravan and Steven Pawley, two long distance cyclists who were embarking on an epic ride from Nordkapp, Norway to Cape Town, South Africa. Their plan was to cover the 18,000 km (11,184 miles) distance between those two cities in just 100 days. Yesterday they completed that ride and they missed their target goal by just two days.

Reza and Steven faced all kinds of challenges as they rode through 14 different countries on their journey across Europe and Africa. Along the way they faced nasty winds, surprisingly bad weather and unexpected illness. The latter of those challenges was what ultimate prevented them from completing the ride in the expected 100 days. Despite all of the difficulties they had to overcome on their ride, the duo still only missed their scheduled arrival by two days. That is pretty impressive considering the number of miles they had to ride in such a relatively short time.

The video below was shot following their arrival in Cape Town yesterday. Not only did that mark the end of the expedition, Reza and Steven also announced that they had raised £20,000 ($32,375) for Azafady, a nonprofit that is working to build schools in Madagascar.

Congratulations to Reza and Steven on completing their incredible ride. In order to reach Cape Town yesterday, they had to average 176.5 km (110 miles) for 102 days straight. Those are impressive numbers indeed.


Video: Go On A Sufferfest With Alex Honnold And Cedar Wright

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Awhile back, climbers Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright came up with the idea of summiting all 15 of California's 14,000-foot (4267 meter) peaks in a single go using just their bikes and feet as modes of transportation. The result was not what they expected, as what seemed like a rather simple expedition turned into a complete "Sufferfest." The boys are sharing their story in a series of videos for EpicTV, with part one available below.

Video: The Red Bull X Alps Adventure Race

The Red Bull X Alps is a unique race to say the least. Competitors begin the event in Salzburg, Austria and must race through the Alps to Monaco, covering a distance of about 1000 km (621 miles) along the way. They can choose their own route but they can only travel on foot or paraglider, which means the athletes are typically climbing up snow-capped peaks, launching their paragliders and flying as far as they can go, before repeating the process on another mountain. The video below follows two-time defending champ Christian Maurer as he goes for his third straight victory in the race earlier this year. It is an amazing look at a very cool competition that few people know anything about. Great stuff and these racers are definitely in a class all their own.

Video: A Manifesto For The National Geographic Adventurers Of The Year

Last week, National Geographic announced their 2014 Adventurers of the Year, revealing a cast of 13 amazing men and women who have pushed the boundaries of exploration in the past 12 months. A few days ago, they also released this awesome and inspiring video with Fitz Cahall, an adventurer who turned his passion for storytelling and the outdoors into a job as a filmmaker. Fitz's story is a good one and his drive to succeed can be applied to many facets of our lives. His message it to pursue the things you love and don't be afraid to take some risks along the way. The rewards will be worth it.

Epic 4250-Mile Trek Along The Length Of The Nile Set To Begin

Way back in February of this year I wrote about two adventurers who were planning to embark on a trek along the length of the Nile River, covering some 4250 miles (6840 km) in the process. At the time, the team of Levison Wood and Simon Clarke were raising funds to support their efforts while aiming for a start this past summer.

That launch date came and went, and apparently so did Clarke, as Wood is now nearing the start of this epic adventure. He intends to leave the U.K. early next week and travel to the furthest headwaters of the Nile before officially getting underway on December 1. His starting point will be high in the mountains of Rwanda, where the Nile's earliest tributaries can be traced. From there, his path will take him into Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, and eventually Egypt. Along the way, he'll pass through mountainous terrain, deep jungles, one of the largest swamps in the world and of course the Sahara Desert.

Levison believes it will take roughly 12 months to complete the journey, which he says is inspired by Ed Stafford's amazing trek along the length of the Amazon a few years back. If he is able to pull off this expedition, the Nile walk would also rank amongst some of the greatest adventures in history as well. Wood won't face the overwhelming oppressiveness of the Amazon Rainforest of course, but he will have plenty of challenges to overcome none the less.

You will be able to follow Levison's progress on the Walking the Nile website as well as on Facebook and Twitter. This will certainly be one expedition that we'll be following closely in the months ahead. Good luck to Levison as he gets underway next week.

Trash and a Treasure

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Instead of taking another day off today, I decided to work so I’ll be sure to have the weekend free for some special visitors.  The harried activity of getting ready for the Expo is over, so I tackled litter pick-up on the refuge.  In general, I don’t mind picking up trash because I’m outside all day and can enjoy what I see and hear as I make my way to those areas that I know need cleaning up.  Of course I always have my camera along for any opportunities that present themselves.

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                                                                              White Ibis

I’m going to make a very broad generality here based on my vast experience as a litter picker upper.  Fishermen, or women, are among the most uncaring and trash producing individuals on our refuges.  That’s why I know to go where the boat ramps are and popular fishing locations.  No matter how thoroughly I clean these areas, I can go back the next day to find more fishing line, beer, water, and pop cans and bottles, snack wrappers, used toilet paper, Sick smile and empty cans of those little wieners.  It’s disgusting really.

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                                                                         White-faced Ibis

Cell phone reception when I am out and about on the refuge is spotty at times.  Sorry to say, because of this I missed a call about fellow volunteers Barb and Barry.  We all worked together last winter at Okefenokee NWR, and they stopped at the visitors center in Anahuac to see if we could get together.  I could easily have met up with them if I knew they were coming. Sad smile  Hopefully we can get together some other time this winter.

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As I made my way out to Frozen Point, I got to see something I’ve known about for years but never observed.  I wanted to share it with you.  Many people use the refuge boat ramps to access Galveston Bay for crabbing purposes.  The local Vietnamese community especially likes putting out crab pots in the bay.  Today I was able to watch as one of these crabbers checked his traps.

IMG_5032As he pulled up the crab pot, you can see that I was not the only one interested in watching.  Lots of brown pelicans were following him.

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                                 Once the crab trap was on board, the pelicans congregated close by.

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I don’t know if he was throwing out old bait or what, but it sure seems the pelicans knew there might be a handout.  See the crab trap buoy on the far right of the pic?

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It only took a short time for the crabber to reset his pot, and then he was on his way to his next buoy.  The pelicans followed right along with him.

After getting my fill of trash, I stopped by headquarters to hand in a monthly vehicle gas usage form.  Had a couple of surprises while I was there.  The 50th anniversary of Anahuac NWR is approaching, and the Refuge Friends Group and refuge will be producing a book commemorating its first 50 years.  I was asked to submit some of my best photos taken on the refuge during my seven year history here, and also asked to write an essay to be included in the book comparing the challenges the refuge faced in the 60’s, when it was established, as opposed to its present management challenges.  I was flattered to be asked, and will be working on that in the coming weeks.

The second surprise was to find out I had a small package delivered here.  I was mystified since I have my own mailbox at the Winnie facility, and use that address.  The outside of the package indicated it came from Massachusetts.  I don’t know anyone in Massachusetts.  After what I posted about fruit smoothies last night, can you imagine my shock to find a book on Ultimate Smoothies in the package when I opened it?  I wasn’t to solve this mystery until I was paging through the book this evening after I got back to the rig.  I finally located a note inside from a reader of this blog named Barbara.  She read my initial post about the Magic Bullet, and sent me this book.  What a treasure this is.  My previous attempts not only looked unappealing, but tasted bad.  Thanks Barbara!  I’ll soon be on my way to making things like “Where the Cheer and the Cantaloupe Play” and “War and Peach”!

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                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Video: NASA Salutes The International Space Station On Its 15th Anniversary

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the International Space Station, a program that has successfully proven that countries can work together to achieve things in space. In the case of the ISS, more than 15 countries have contributed to the project and over the past decade and a half, a lot research has been conducted in orbit above our planet. To celebrate this special occasion NASA has released the video below which is a celebration of one of our greatest achievements in space exploration to date.

Video: Mountain Biking The Trinity

I love a beautiful mountain biking video and that is exactly what we've got here. It follows pro rider Richie Schley as he rides through Squamish, the Whistler Bike Park and up into Whistler's high alpine regions. There is a lot to love here and it will inspire you to want to break out the bike for autumn ride. If only my trails looked this good.

The Trinity from Leo Zuckerman on Vimeo.

Antarctica 2013: Waiting Is The Hardest Part

The 2013 Antarctic expedition season continues to ramp up as expected. As we near the end of the November, the number of teams that are preparing to hit the ice continues to grow as well. It is beginning to look like it will be another very busy season at the bottom of the world and soon there will be numerous teams skiing across the ice. For now though, there remain just a few in the field as weather continues to be the key factor as to when these teams can officially get underway.

The one man who is watching the weather very closely is Richard Parks. He updated his blog yesterday, sharing some insights into what he is planning for his attempt at a speed record for skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. At the moment, Richard remains at Union Glacier where he is watching the weather very closely and plotting his next move. The weather for flying to Hercules looks to be improving, but he is also hoping for good conditions for the start of his expedition so that he can pass through a dangerous crevasse field without battling the elements along the way. Right now he is estimating that he'll fly to his starting point on Friday or Saturday of this week, then assess the weather again before deciding when he'll get underway. Patience is the name of the game at the moment, but waiting is not always easy on a person both physically and psychologically. 

There are a host of other adventurers who are waiting to start their expeditions as well, but most of them are still stuck in Punta Arenas, Chile. That includes the likes of Chris and Marty Fagan, who have spent their first few days in the warehouse at ALE getting their gear and supplies organized. Veteran polar explorer Antony Jinman is now in Punta as well and will be going through the same process before he begins his expedition to 90ºS. South Pole cyclists Daniel Burton is there as well and waiting for word on when he can begin. His bike was expected to arrive yesterday and it'll take some time to get it rebuilt and set-up for the expedition ahead. After that, he'll be ready to get underway. Daniel is hoping to become the first person to ride a bike to the South Pole. 

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere of the Scott Expedition are experiencing some good conditions at the moment. They continue to knock off solid mileage each day as they continue their journey to the Pole, and eventually back to their starting point along the coast. They report warm temperatures (relatively speaking of course), low winds and a smooth surface right now, which is making their progress much smoother. They've also passed through the third week of their expedition, which is often when teams begin to hit their stride. To put things in perspective however, they still have 1588 miles (2555 km) to go before they are done. 

Aussie Geoff Wilson is off and moving as well. He's actually kiting to the South Pole and not simply skiing as previously reported. So far conditions have been challenging for him but he is now starting to make progress. Early on, the winds were too high to be safe and as a result he ended up spending four days stranded in a tent. He's eager to get back on the trail today however and hopefully start to make some real progress. Using a kite to catch the wind can be very effective and it is possible for kiters to knock off large chunks of mileage in a given day. Without the wind however, they are reduced to skiing just like everyone else. Lets hope Geoff can really get going now. 

It is an exciting time in Antarctica at the moment. There are so many teams lining up right now that we will soon have a steady flow of news and progress reports. It looks like it'll be a good year at the bottom of the world with lots of exciting action to follow. More to come soon. 

Google Brings Street View To U.S. And Canadian National Parks

I've always been a big fan of Google's Street View technology. It's the amalgamation of the excellent Google Maps and photos that are taken and geo-tagged at various locations around the planet. The results are that we can explore a map from above then with a simple click, zoom down to street level to see exactly where it is we'll be traveling. It can be tremendously useful when visiting a place for the first time and it is often fun to explore an area right from your computer.

For some time now Google has been using the Street View tech to map some really cool locations. For instance, you can visit the Galapagos Islands, the Great Barrier Reef and even Everest Base Camp directly from your browser. But today, the Internet search giant has announced that by working with the U.S. National Park Service and Parks Canada, 44 national parks have been added to Street View as well, allowing us to take a virtual escape to those destinations even when we don't have time to actually go ourselves.

Some of the locations that been added include Sequoia National Park, Joshua Tree and Mt. Rushmore. You can also pay a visit to such historical landmarks as the Alamo, the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall in Washington DC. If you're looking to head north of the border, check out Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Canada's Banff National Park as well.

Of course, I'd never even begin to suggest that Street View is a viable option for going to visit these places for yourself. It is however, fun technology that allows you to scout ahead before you actually go in person. It is also a nice way to escape the office, even if for just a few minutes, during a particularly long and boring day. It is also a nice reminder of how far we have come in terms of mapping technology. I hope Google continues to expand on these initiatives in the years ahead.

Victory?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Have you ever seen that commercial where someone calls up their credit card company and gets to talk to someone in the Far East named Peggy?  Well, ‘Peggy’ called me today from the collection agency.  She wasn’t from the Far East.  She was from right here in Chamber’s County (supposedly).  The first words out of her mouth were, “Did you get the itemized bill in your mail last week?”  I said, “Yes, I did.”  “Well, do you want to send us a check or give me your credit card number now to pay what you owe?”  (Fat chance I’d give Peggy my credit card number over the phone!)

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                                                      Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

I declined any kind of payment.  I also told her that I had my insurance records in front of me which stated my bill responsibility.  I then said, “As far as I’m concerned, I have paid this bill in full already!”  Her response?  “I’ll note that on your record.”  Click!  No fair-thee-well or goodbye; she just hung up.  Hopefully, that’s the last I’ll hear from ‘Peggy’.  Do these people think we are stupid or what?

After that little encounter, I headed for Beaumont and the HEB grocery store to pick up some fresh fruit.  My first couple of attempts at making fruit smoothies with my new Magic Bullet could be categorized as disasters.  The machine works fine, but my combinations of ingredients I had on hand hasn’t been very appetizing to consume.  Any suggestions from experienced smoothie makers would be greatly appreciated.

_MG_9572                                                             Fulvous Whistling Duck

When I got home, there were some responses to a comment I left on Rick’s blog this morning about using your cell phone for free Google+ phone calls.  I had asked if I could use my laptop for these phone calls.  After reading the suggestions, I gave it a try and it worked!  I used my laptop to call my daughter, Robyn.  It didn’t count against my cell phone minutes, and Rick assured me it wouldn’t use much data on my 5 MG limit on my air card.  Since I have limited minutes on my ‘old farts’ Verizon phone plan (off peak doesn’t start until after 9 pm), I was thrilled.  It’s never too late for an old dog to learn new tricks in my opinion.

After talking to Robyn, I began to think about flying up to Chicago to visit her and Dennis and the grandgirls.  Since I’m here at Anahuac until the end of April, I figured I deserved to take a week off after the new year to visit family.  Avery’s birthday is in February.  Grandma Belt just may be visiting her and ‘Buckle’ fairly soon. 

I remember flying up there in 2008 from Anahuac right after Avery was born to help Robyn out.  I about froze my tutu off in Chicago in February.  Tell me I’m not crazy for contemplating this again…Disappointed smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

 

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