It’s been a while …

It has been a while since the last post and the excuse has many facets, all of them good. We have been fully immersed in Austin’s good weather, good music and good food.  We also invested a great deal of time and energy completing the transformation of our side and rear yards while November and December were warmer than we expected.

One of the nice aspects of our homeowner association is that the maintenance of the landscaping outside of the fences, that define the side and rear yards, is done all at once for a nice neighborhood look and is part of our association dues.  This eliminates long distance yard maintenance when we are on Hilton Head Island during the summer.  Since we have a corner lot, this includes lots of grass and a few planted beds.

The previous home owners maintained much of the interior yard area in grass with just a few foundation and fence plantings.  Grass is not our favorite thing so the goal of Jan’s landscaping class design was to add an additional patio area and plant the balance of the yard except for some pathways from which to enjoy the new plantings.  Here are a few pictures of the inside area that we started with.

This is the view of our side yard which is the “entry way to our front door”.  The side and rear yards were separated by a six-foot high wooden fence making the small yard look smaller.  The foundation plants were for the most part, ordinary holies trimmed into hedges, with little variations in color, shapes or textures.

The outdoor fireplace (with the addition of the new hearth) is a nice sitting area but since this patio is also the walkway to our front door, there was little room for a table and outdoor eating area.

The rear yard is very narrow and close to the other homes giving accurate meaning to “narrow lot line homes”.  This covered patio is nice and gets sun at different times of the day than the side yard.  The plants are mostly roses, which are very nice, and Jan’s design includes “screening plants” to add some visual privacy as they mature.

This shows a number of steps going on at the same time.  We have removed the wooden fence and moved the existing storage shed towards the rear of the house.  We have removed the grass with some “so-so” helpers which saved our backs but will ensure a steady supply of grass re-appearing in the beds.  Jan has marked out the areas for the new side patio, pathways and the new raised bed or Mount Jan as I have come to call it.  I have located the existing sprinklers and pipes so we can have them moved from non-planted areas under the stones.  We also have started to plant some of the first wave of 30 plants purchased to “apply a little pressure on the timing” of the project.

This view is looking towards the front from what was originally behind the wooden fence. It shows the covered entrance way into the court-yard from the street and highlights the area to the left side of the picture where the new patio will go.

This is the same view with the new patio (stones mortared in place) pathways (set in decomposed granite) more plantings (from the second batch of 30 plants and the new Mount Jan.

Standing at the edge of the new patio showing the pathways that created Mount Jan.  We had the stone crew remove the inch or so of top soil from under the pathways and patio and that is what created the one foot mountain.

Looking front to back “during the planting” but showing the flow of the pathways.  We now have an entrance patio with fireplace and a future eating patio.

The pathway continues to the back covered patio. We moved one “potential screen” plant to the back and have added a few more small ones.  It seems that digging here is really rock excavation which creates planting holes.  Not to worry about finding the right spot to dig, rock is everywhere.  The boulder in the back corner is one of the “rocks” excavated while trying to put in a small plant.  I got it loose by digging all the way around but it took the four man stone crew to drag it out of the planting hole.  Jan taught them about the incline plane the Egyptians used to build the pyramids.   They didn’t get the correlation but they did haul the rock out of the ground and dragged it to the corner.  It looks great above ground.

Next steps which probably will have to wait until February or March:

The nursery will not have the plants we selected for screening the storage shed until the spring but we left a bed area adjacent to the patio with sprinklers to accommodate the screening plants.

We need to add other screen plants along the wooden fence at the back covered patio and Jan has a few ideas for this area.

We need to explore some additional low voltage lighting to illuminate the pathways and patio and to highlight some of the plants.

We need to find a suitable sized table and chairs for the new side patio so we are ready for outdoor dinning in the spring.

I think we can now return to the other aspects of Austin – family, food, music and company!  Y’all come to dig rocks with us real soon now:)

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A sunny Saturday in Austin

Yesterday morning the temperature was 40 degrees when we awoke about 6:45am.  This was the first really cold morning since we arrived in mid-September and since it was November 6th, no complaining was in order.  The day was going to be a busy one spent half indoors and half outside, but the forecast was sunny and low 70’s by mid afternoon.  First up was another class at the Wildflower Center.  This class, Landscape Maintenance, continued in the series of: Native Plants of Austin, Landscape Design and Landscape Installation.  The final two days Jan will take over the next few weeks called design and planning.  It is a hands on class by a landscape designer, using our plot plan.  Lauren scanned our small closing survey and created a large blueprint so Jan can do some serious planning.

While we are learning, we continue to plant some of the smaller existing beds with natives or adaptive, since the design of these beds are clear in Jan’s mind.  We also created a bed in the side yard low spot by removing the grass, conditioning the soil and planting plants that like “their feet wet”.  Taking up the grass and “conditioning the soil” is very much like work.  We also had a stone hearth built for the outside fireplace to give it a “finished” appearance.

The side yard has become our favorite afternoon spot for wine before dinner and we have had our first neighborhood “drop by” to share a glass with us.

After our class, we drove to Lauren’s house and together with Truco as our “guide”, we headed downtown for the second annual Barkitecture silent auction and fund-raiser.  We were also planning to go back across to the South side of the river to attend the first annual Gypsy Picnic so we were not too surprised at the heavy traffic and full parking garage we encountered trying to get to Barkitecture.  We finally found a place to park and started touring the “homes” about 1:30pm.  Here are a few pictures with and without Truco of the “homes” for sale at the silent auction.

These are only a few of the two dozen very well crafted and cleverly designed “homes” at this years event.  Truco was an excellent guide showing us “the ins and outs” of the houses.  Since he currently has one of last years “cool houses”, we left Barkitecture happy but empty-handed.

We were now very hungry at 2:30pm and walked across the river to what we thought was going to be a stroll through 30 of Austin’s finest food trailers and taste as many as we could handle as a way to satisfy our hunger.  As we walked across the pedestrian bridge and looked down on Auditorium Shores we were blown away by the thousands of people packed into the fenced area complete with a huge performance stage and impossible lines of hundreds of people queued like in the airport security lines after 9/11.

Here are a few pictures of the “scene” which we left as quickly as we had arrived, as none of us are fans of jammed pack people and queues for food.  We decided that we will do our own tastings over time after the trailers return to their “parking spots” throughout the city.

We were still pleased and amazed at the wonderful weather, the great people watching and the incredible spirit that the City of Austin has in supporting its many events.

Ya’ll come visit!

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Austin Fall 2010 – Our first few weeks

We arrived for our first “Fall – Winter – Spring” at our home in Austin on September 15th. The trip from our home on Hilton Head Island was broken up with a two night stay with Jay and Barbara, our former “across the street” neighbors in Atlanta.  This permitted having final dentist and haircut appointments before starting out for Austin.  The remaining 1000 miles past quickly and we arrived late Wednesday evening.  The house was fairly well organized, the result of massive box unpacking during “move-in week” over the 4th of July and my 5 day visit in August to bring one car back and have some storage cabinets installed in the laundry room.  We were able to unpack the car and sleep in our own bed in a house with no boxes, however with a garage that still had room for only Jan’s car as the rest of the boxes were now filling half of the “small” garage.

 

This is a picture of our new house on Tasajillo Cove, in Park West of Circle C Ranch.    We are in a 180 home, gated community, within a larger community of 3500 homes, schools and retail shops in the Southwest corner of the City of Austin.  Circle C Ranch is a square approximately 2 miles on each side bounded by older Austin areas on two sides, developing Travis County on one side and the University of Texas Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on the fourth.  The community has numerous hiking trails within the park areas and most streets have bike lanes.  In addition we are adjacent to the Veloway, a 5K bike and rollerblade only circuit within the Wildflower center.

Additional references can be found at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_C_Ranch

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildflower_Center

http://www.veloway.com/

Prior to arriving in Austin, Jan through her “winter tennis friends”, was added to a Tuesday team that plays out of the South Austin Tennis Center and a Thursday team that plays out of the UT tennis center North of downtown.  She has been playing in a Monday clinic organized by the Tuesday team, has been a sub every Friday for a different Northern team and plays in a “pick-up” game on Sunday morning. Wednesday’s she has found a home for continuing with her watercolor art classes, again North of the downtown area.   She has also found a Jazzercise home about 15 minutes Southeast of here which has classes 6 days a week, both morning and evening, so she can fit in workouts around tennis.

Also prior to arriving we enrolled in a three Saturday class at the Wildflower Center in “native plants of Austin” which finished this week.  It was a great way to quickly come up to speed on local gardening ideas and resources.

Living in Circle C Ranch is perfect for my activities and I immediately fell into my 5 mile morning walk which is similar to the circuit on Hilton Head Island.  I walk a one mile loop in our gated community, then out to the commercial area 1-1/2 miles away on a nice paved walkway.  I stop at Starbucks and then do the reverse half of the walk for my “get my butt in gear morning walk”.  I have met about a dozen of the neighbors in Park West and am on a first name basis with a number of the Baristas at Starbucks.  I can also stop at the big, 93,000 square foot grocery store to grab a paper or bananas🙂

One of the neighbors I met on my walks likes to ride his bike so we are riding the Veloway twice a week.  I was thinking that based on all of my riding on Hilton Head Island, biking was going to be a breeze here.  Ride out the driveway and start exploring.  Well, they don’t call Austin the gateway to Hill Country for nothing.  These slight uphill grades have taken the legs out of me.  So far we have ridden to the Library, about 4 miles round trip and I have worked up to three laps of the Veloway plus the 1-1/2 mile down hill ride to get there and the 1-1/2 mile uphill trip back. This past Thursday after three laps, my mind wanted to do one more but my legs said NO, we still have to get home.

We both got new bikes for Austin.  Jan has a Trek Urban bike with 24 speeds, narrow street tires and a nice upright position.

Here is Jan and her new Trek, with a color coordinated helmet:

 

I purchased an Electra Townie which is an American copy of a Scandinavian city bike with a few new twists. First it is made out of aluminum so it is only about 25 – 30 pounds.  Second it has a foot forward concept that put the pedals about 6 inches forward of the  seat post so the leg can be fully extended while peddling on a frame that allows for both feet on the ground when stopped.  The reviews stated that depending on your size it either works or not.  For me, it works great and I am in a fully upright position while riding.  It is equipped with 21 speeds and wide road tires.  I have used every one of the 21 gears every day that I ride and some days, I wish it had 21 more :)  Here is the Townie:

 

One area of the house I was concerned about was the garage.  After having houses with oversized garages that fit cars, bikes and junk we now have a “car only” garage that is a bit wider than the door and not much deeper.  I found a product by MonsterRax that captures the dead space above the garage doors.  Each of the 4 foot by 8 foot “attics” will hold 600 pounds. This solved the “junk storage” in a very organized way including all of the heavy file storage boxes of papers that must be held for years.  Once that was solved, the only remaining issue limiting the parking of two cars in the garage was the bikes.  Jay and Barbara in Atlanta used ceiling mounted racks, so with Amazon 2 day Prime delivery I  purchased and installed two racks.  Here is the garage “trimmed out”.

            

 

Also visible in the lower picture is my new 12 foot step ladder.  Again the best price for the ladder was Amazon and they offered free white glove delivery as part of the Amazon Prime.  Two days after ordering a delivery service brought the ladder into our garage.

The first tall ladder project was replacing the batteries in the motor operated blinds in our two-story living room.  There are six windows in the upper area and reaching the “ledge” which is 12 feet off the floor was a snap with the new ladder.

While I was up on the ledge, I also hung the last of the remaining big pictures.  With all of the other picture hanging that Jim (Lauren’s husband) helped with in July, all of the art work which we moved to Austin is now attached somewhere.

Another major project that I completed was building a support structure, mounting a wall hanging flat screen rack and installing our flat screen TV that we brought from Atlanta.  It was required as the built-in entertainment cabinets were set up for a floor standing projection TV and was 32 inches deep.  Here are two pictures of the project.  The structure that I constructed, first picture, is anchored to three sets of wall studs.  The wall hanging rack is anchored to it and the flat screen is cantilevered on it.  

                                   

The final result is shown below.  The mounting method and structure were “perfect” so our flat panel TV fit the existing opening without having to alter the Cherry cabinets.  The Costco purchased wall mount rack has all of the side to side range and measuring four times ensured that the vertical mounting height came our exact.   All of the Atlanta A/V components and speakers are behind panels that have black grill cloth coverings. The only things exposed are the two remote controls and the face of the TV.  It sounds as good as it looks🙂

 

I am going to publish this today and will try to keep a running journal for our introduction to Austin. 

Wednesday Update:

When I tried to publish this three days ago, I discovered that Microsoft has switched to WordPress as their blog editor/vehicle.  A struggle ensued to convert my old blogs and of course the draft blog I was working on didn’t convert.  Further, I can no longer upload from Windows Live Writer to my Blog.  So after much try it, fix it, here we are with poor formatting but most of the original draft in place.  I guess I will have to teach “this old dog” some new tricks.

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Snow in Atlanta on February 12, 2010

Today I heard on the weather channel a remarkable statistic.  There is snow on the ground in some part of 49 of our 50 states.  The only exception is Hawaii where there usually is snow in the mountains on the big island of Hawaii at this time of the year.

Our snow started about 2pm Friday afternoon.  Here is a late afternoon picture of the woods behind our house.

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It continued snowing until late evening and the temperatures dropped to 23 degrees insuring a snowy Saturday morning. This is a view from a different window with the sun just starting to rise on Saturday morning.

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This snow was different than most that occur here in that it stuck to the roads and froze overnight making travel interesting in a place that doesn’t plow or sand anything other than the Interstate highways.  Here are a few more shots I took this morning when I went out for the paper in the driveway.

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I realize that our two inches of snow is no match for the Mid-Atlantic or North-East storms of late, however considering that this is “Hot-Lanta” it’s more than we want.  We live in the South for the “easy” winters and “early” springs, oops 2010 not so fast :)       

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Yes, that is a “For Sale” sign in the front yard!  We both think that it’s time to move to a “warmer” climate.  If you know someone who wants to live in “Hot-Lanta” send them to www.1110bluffhaven.com

And finally, one of my dear friends recently reminded me that I have not been regularly posting to my blog.  I guess that I have become lazy in my retirement years:)  I will try to do better this year.

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Jan’s Birthday in New York City

During the past sixteen years, we have celebrated Jan’s birthday on Hilton Head Island.  Initially we spent the week in the Harbor Town – Time Share and the past six years in our home.  This year Jan wanted to celebrate her birthday in NYC enjoying the museums, theater and restaurants.

On Wednesday Jan took the train up from Washington where she was visiting her parents and I flew from Atlanta and we met at the Marriott Residence Inn at 39th and 6th Avenue.  The room was very quiet, the bed incredibly comfortable and the location was nearly perfect.  We were a block from Bryant Park where across the street was a wonderful French Cafe for breakfast.  It was a short walk to Times Square and the theater district with a convenient subway stop for going downtown.

I have to apologize in advance to our grandson Gregory about the lack of good food pictures.  Part of the time we consumed our meal before remembering that we did not take pictures and part of the time the lighting was too dim for the cell phone camera.  I did not bring the G-9 to the restaurants we picked because it would have been totally out of place.

After checking in on Wednesday, we walked up to the Stage Deli on 7th Avenue between 53rd and 54th.  It was as I remembered it from about 5 years ago, complete with 8 inch high sandwiches and terrific matzo ball soup.  We started out sensibly splitting a bowl of the matzo ball soup and then a corn beef and chicken liver on rye.  They frown on splitting things but we had a very nice waiter who “took care of us”.  Then it was off to “Tkts” to see what we could get for that evening. 

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We were in the queue for about an hour plus and were lucky to get tickets for :

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God of Carnage is a “dark comedy” which earned the 2009 Tony award for Best Play.  It is a four person play and I was pleasantly surprised that James Gandolfini really can do comedy.  Marcia Gay Harden also earned a 2009 Tony for Best Performance as Leading Actress in a Play.  We both thought that the awards were well earned. 

While we were reading the Playbill waiting for the play to begin, we saw an advertisement for La Masseria on 48th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue.   I was able to pull up OpenTable.com on the Samsung, check out the reviews (great desserts) and make a reservation for after the play.  Since we had not had anything since our soup and sandwich in the afternoon we realized that we were quite hungry as we looked over the menu at 10:30pm.

After much deliberation we settled on splitting a spinach salad and a terrific pasta dish, which was as fine a pasta dish as we have ever had, both “washed down” with a very nice Chianti.  Dessert was another matter, no splitting.  Jan selected the tiramisu which was the best either of us have tasted including the ones we had in Rome, Florence and Venice.  I selected the ricotta cheese cake which was unbelievable.  It had full flavor but was a light as a feather.  We were absolutely blown away at how wonderful the meal was and that we were having dinner at 10:30 PM🙂

Walking back the eight blocks to the hotel was an interesting experience.  Times Square at night is as bright as the Las Vegas Strip and there were as many or more people walking around at midnight as during the day.

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After a very long day of travel, walking and theater we arrived back at our hotel at midnight and slept like two little logs.

Thursday, Jan’s birthday, was a pre-planned day.  We took the subway down to Battery Park and boarded a ferry.  Since we had reservations for an early dinner and then the theater we did not get off at the Statue of Liberty but went directly to Ellis Island.  Jan is standing in front of the restored Center.  The glass and steel structure provides a covered walk way to the entrance.

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Once in the Center at Ellis Island we focused on the American Family Immigration History Center’s computer system to look for the entry records for Dora Bromberg and Ben Levin,  my mothers parents. We found a few “potential” matches but I don’t believe the arrival dates indicate a good match.  So I will have to continue my research on-line with the registration that we received at the Center.  We re-boarded the ferry for the trip back to Battery Park and then walked through Wall Street and up to The South Street Sea Port for lunch.  It was cold, cloudy and windy but the rain held off.  Here is a photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge from South Street as we headed back to a subway station for the return trip to our hotel to dress for dinner.

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We had made a reservation at the Gramercy Tavern for Jan’s birthday dinner based on the recommendation of one of Jan’s tennis team members.  The restaurant and the dinner was outstanding. (http://www.gramercytavern.com/_media/uploads/dinner_menu.pd)

Jan started with the Lobster and Bean salad and I had the Shrimp salad.  As our main courses Jan had a Red Snapper special and I had the Striped Bass.  For dessert, Jan had a slice of Ginger Bread with vanilla bean ice cream and I had a Chocolate Fudge cake with mint ice cream.  We switched the ice cream and were both happy with our choices.  Again I apologize for the lack of pictures but we were hungry from a small and not very good lunch and completely over taken with the ambience of the Tavern and the impeccable service. When we filled out our rating on open table we knocked the over all rating down from outstanding to very good based only on the very steep price for an outstanding meal with outstanding service as well.  Having indulged on fresh baked olive rolls before dinner and  a three course meal with wine, we opted to walk from 20th street and Broadway up to the Theater on 45th street and Broadway taking a leisurely 45 minutes to get to our seats to see:

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We had purchased our tickets about three months ago as this was the one play that Jan wanted to see for her birthday.  Billy Elliot won 9 Tony Awards  in 2009 including Best Musical, Best Leading Actor (the three under age Billy’s that share the lead), Best Featured Actor (the dad), Best Direction, Best Choreography,  Best Orchestration, Best Scenic Design – Best Lighting Design – Best Sound Design all of a Musical.  We sat mesmerized for 2 hours and 45 minutes over the talent in the show especially Billy who, I am guessing, is between 14 and 16 years old.  I don’t understand much about the production of a play but it was clear that the story was told through the the sights and sounds of some amazing professionals.  Walking back to our hotel we were in a state of exhausted happiness.

Once again we slept very well and were wondering if upon checkout, we could take the bed and the bedding with us.  Not only is the bed very comfortable, but the hotel is built so we heard no street noise even though our room was on the corner of 39th Street and 6th Avenue.

Friday we were up and out early for breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, the French Bakery across the street from Bryant Park on 40th Street which was only a block from our hotel.  Then it was off on foot to the Guggenheim Museum on 5th avenue at 89th Street.  We made it about 2/3 of the way and then to preserve our legs for the balance of the day we hopped in a cab.  The Guggenheim was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opened in October 1959 and consists of an interior gallery formed by a  continuous upward  spiral built around an open core.  It was to house the personal collection of Solomon Guggenheim who had at the time one of the three largest collections of Vasily Kadinsky’s works in the world. At each of the seven levels there are large room sized galleries off of the central spiral.  The exhibit was a huge collection of Vasily Kandinsky’s works including everything from room sized wall hangings of ponds to intricate and detailed geometric water colors and  everything in between.  The Museum is so unique that it added to the drama of the exhibit which consisted of 100 large format canvases and 60 works on paper. (www.guggenheim.org)

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This is a photograph looking up at the center of the atrium seven levels above the ground floor.  We arrived right at the opening time for the museum and by the time we had walked up the spiral galleries to the top, the museum was packed.  Walking down we remarked that we could not have enjoyed the exhibit as much as we did with the crush of people four and five deep at every painting.

No sooner had we reached the street level than we received a call from our Atlanta friends Keith and Jean, who were joining us for the balance of the weekend, saying that they were in a cab at LGA heading for the hotel.  We caught a cab back to the hotel and after joining up with them, returned to Le Pain Quotidien for a wonderful lunch and to plan the strategy for the balance of the day.  Keith and Jean had not seen any of the shows currently playing and we concluded that we did  not want to invest the wait time at Tkts so we quickly made a tour of the Box Offices to purchase  same night tickets.  We were able to get very good seats for:

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Hair won the 2009 Tony Award for The Best Revival of a Musical.  The available seats were 7th row center so then we had to come up with a strategy for the afternoon and dinner.  Jean had never seen the Statue of Liberty, except from a plane, so we  took the subway down to battery park so that she could see it in person.  After a photo moment we walked to Ground Zero to see the current state of the site and then took the subway back up to our hotel.  As an aside, Mayor Bloomberg has done an amazing job of cleaning up the city including the subway.  One we had a good route map we were able to save time by using the subway instead of cabs.  The city is cleaner but the traffic is still unbelievable.

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Jean, Liberty, Keith and Jan

After getting the theater tickets we made a dinner reservation at Kellari Tavern on 44th street between 5th and 6th avenues. (http://www.kellari.us/)  Once again the OpenTable reviews were favorable and the menus looked great.  Upon our arrival we received a terrific surprise.  They were having a “theater dinning special” (on HHI it is the early bird :)) which included three courses for $30.  The items were from the dinner menu, only it was about 2/5 the price.  Jan and I shared a wonderful grilled calamari browned in olive oil and lemon juice and two pieces of spanakopita.  For our main course they offered lamb chops for a $5 up charge.  Each serving was three double chops that were perfectly seasoned and grilled. For dessert Jan had the Galaktoboureko (vanilla bean semolina custard with a phyllo crust and apple syrup) and I had Sokolata (chocolate soufflé cake with halva mousse and spiced chocolate sauce).  They are known for their sea food but the lamb chops were too good to pass up.  We enjoyed our dinner with a bottle of J Lohr Sauvignon Blanc.  On the way out I took a quick mobile phone picture of the fresh fish waiting to be cooked.  It looked like the fish stand at the Pike Place Market.

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After a very leisurely served dinner we strolled to the Herschfeld Theater for Hair.  The seats in front of us were unclaimed so we had very close and unobstructed views of everything.  The orchestra was on stage, the music was upbeat and full volume and sitting where we were put us into part of the production as the cast wandered in and out of the audience in their musical numbers.  We all enjoyed the play very much and were also still amazed at the crowds in Time Square on our way back to the hotel.

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Saturday morning we had tickets for the 9:45 am NBC Studio Tour.  They wanted you there 30 minutes before the tour to wander through there “experience store” and then we had a one hour tour that lost 20 minutes going through security and riding elevators.  The tour was woefully lacking on content and relatively expensive ($22 per adult).  I have written NBC to ask for my money back which I will not hold my breath for.  The rain had come over night so the walk over to NBC was overcast but dry.  Since the forecast was for more rain later in the day we went over to the box offices to see what we could get for Saturday night.  Keith and Jean tried both Billy Elliott and God of Carnage but both were sold out.  Our next choice was Next To Normal which turned out (in Jan’s opinion) to be the best play of the four that we saw) and we got good middle of the main floor seats which offered excellent viewing of the three level set.

After we picked up the tickets we hopped the subway down to Chelsea to “wander around”.  We were also looking for a good lunch place and just about the time the rain started up again we found ourselves at The Chelsea Market.  Inside we found a wonderful  place called “Hale and Hardy” with 30 different kinds of soup and a variety of sandwiches.  WOW, Jan and I could lunch there every day.  After lunch we walked over to The Village and just as we found a street fair near Washington Square, the sky opened up in torrents.  We ducked into a Starbucks and had a coffee and since the rain did not show any signs of letting up, we went across the street to the subway and returned to our hotel.

Our dinner reservations were at BluFin, the sea food restaurant located in the W Hotel at Broadway and 47th.  Fortunately the rain had stopped so we were able to walk the few blocks from our hotel.  We had made the reservations on OpenTable and based on the reviews asked for a quiet table on the second floor.  They accommodated that request, which made the dinner that much more enjoyable because it was absolutely full and very noisy, surprising but it was peak “pre-theater time”.  The decor of BluFin is out of the pages of Ad and beautifully done.  It definitely adds to the experience.  The manager came by repeatedly to check on us and he said that OpenTable was, for them, an excellent though expensive  way of attracting new guests.  This time we did decide to go with sea food.

Jan started with the Goat Cheese Salad with ruby red beets, macadamia nuts,baby greens and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and I chose the Maine Lobster & Shrimp Bisque  with a brioche crouton. For the main course Jan selected a grilled Red Snapper special served over spinach and I had the wild striped bass with baby shrimp, clams, chorizo, melted leeks in a lobster saffron broth which I “soaked up” with a few fresh made rolls.  For dessert Jan selected the Pumpkin Cheesecake with pomegranate sherbet and pumpkin seed crunch.  I had the Caramel Bread Pudding Coupe served in a highball glass with coffee granite and milk chocolate cream.  Again we had a wonderful bottle of white wine, that escapes my memory at this point, to round out an outstanding and memorable dinning experience.

After dinner it was over to the Booth Theater which is quite small and intimate, an excellent setting for this very “dramatic musical”.  Next To Normal earned three 2009 Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, Best Orchestration (a tie with Billy Elliott) and Best Scenic Design of a Musical.  As I said earlier, Jan felt this was the best play of the four we enjoyed.  I was not sure how a “drama staged as a musical” could work.  The combination of a believable story set to music with talented actors and actresses, on a set that was imaginatively created (the three levels) with an orchestra imbedded into two of the three levels and lighting that enhanced both the drama and the music made it a very enjoyable and memorable evening.

Sunday morning was clear and had the look of the best day of the trip.  However we had 1:00 PM flights so it was for us, only a travel day.  We did have one more excellent breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien and being heavier in the mid-section and lighter in the wallet from four wonderful and full days, we headed home.  We did manage to walk about 45 miles between Wednesday and Saturday but that did not compensate for the two bizzellion calories that we consumed in the same period.

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Summer on Hilton Head Island – Week 15

Well our summer on HHI is coming  to an end.  We will be heading back to Atlanta after Labor Day and we both agree that spending the whole summer here was a delightful change of pace.  The summer "heat and humidity" was  similar to Atlanta, but the ability to walk on the beach or ride our bikes made it more comfortable.  We were very lucky with no major storms the entire summer.  We had a good bit of rain so the plants and flowers had a fine summer too.  I would say that the biggest downside was the "crowded" bike paths with tourists bringing their poor driving habits (cell phone and texting) with them.  It is perplexing to me how that they can ride and text since they can’t steer a bike with their knees.

We accomplished a good deal of house maintenance, both major and minor, and after six years it was a good investment of sweat equity. Jan found some additional tennis groups to play in beyond the neighborhood groups she had "subed" in on previous occasions.  She got her regular fix of jazzercise at the Island Rec Center and found some local art classes with some talented instructors.  We attended a few "gallery shows" and met some of the local artists as we saw their work.  I believe Jan’s work (some of which we framed this year) could nicely fit in on the walls at the galleries we visited.  One bonus was that the dinning room which has been used only a few times each of the previous years, became her studio and it was fun for me to see the work in progress.

The pot garden was a limited success.  The herbs did well until last week when the flat leaf parsley was attacked by caterpillars.  The plant went from two feet to six inches in a matter of days.

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The tomatoes were so-so, with limited production and poor flavor.  The pepper plant had only three mini-peppers which were delicious.  I think next summer I will stick to the market for veggies.  We tried a few new restaurants and returned to some old favorites.  Most of the time we cooked ourselves with the grill getting much of the activity. 

We both read a great deal and this summer I actually averaged one book each week.  For a historic non-reader I enjoyed reading very much and will continue to push my reading horizons. 

We joined Sam’s Club to get fruits and veggies in large quantities.  The were OK but the store does not compare to Costco.  The merchandising, customer service, variety of offerings and overall quality of products are superior at Costco.  However when you want five pound bags of broccoli and carrots  on the Island, it’s Sam’s or nothing!

The final tally for my "Summer on Hilton Head Island" walking was 2,378,880 steps which is 1239 miles.  I also logged slightly over 1200 miles on my bike or an average of 80 miles each week.  Both of those activities have enabled me to eat freely without watching my Weight Watchers points very carefully.

Now that Jan’s "competitive tennis" has started up again in Atlanta, we will return to the every other weekend on the Island schedule.  Currently our plans are to spend the month of November (after fall tennis is over) back on HHI through Thanksgiving before heading to Austin in December and January.

I hope you all enjoyed the summer here as well as we did!

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Summer on Hilton Head Island – Week 14 – Mother

Mother pasted away on Sunday August 23 at the age of 96.  She died in her sleep, in her apartment, only three weeks after the strokes that took her mobility, speech and most cogitative abilities.  It was certainly the best outcome for her based on the many conversations I had with her about death and dying. Compassionate Care Hospice was truly incredible allowing her to remain at home.  After spending a great deal of time with her the past four years that she was at the Renaissance,  I can focus on her life, not her death.

Here she is on her birthday in 2005 at our home, a young 92 and the last year before she started to age.  1996, the year her brother (our Unkie) died began the slow decline in physical mobility and last year she began to mirror me and my forgetfulness:)  The last six months the forgetfulness became worse and her reading stopped.  I like to remember her as this very young 92 year old, loving chocolate cake from Jolie Kobe in Atlanta.  All in all a remarkable run for a remarkable lady!

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On Wednesday, my sister Dina, her son Sheafe with his wife Gina; her daughter Daisy with grandson Oliver along with my daughter Deborah and son Peter with Jan and I gathered in Chicago for a celebration of her life and a brief graveside service on Thursday to send her on her way.  In keeping with the celebration we gathered at a wonderful restaurant called Carlucci near the Airport and hotels where we all were staying.  Here are a few family photos of the gathering.

My sister Dina and Jan …

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Sheafe and Gina …

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Peter and Deborah …

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Deborah holding Oliver, age three months …

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My apology to Daisy, who was sitting on my immediate left, and as such did not get into the pictures before we started eating and drinking.  After a few glasses of wine, coupled with the little sleep I had the past few days, I stopped focusing on taking pictures. If you want to see pictures of beautiful Daisy, go to my Flickr site and look at the set "Daisy and Gary’s wedding" which coincidently was August 23, 2008.

I appreciate all of the kind words and thoughts from many of you and I am very confident that as with Unkie, "she did it her way"!

We will probably spend another week or two back on the Island and then declare the summer of 2009 over and move into another phase of our lives..

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