Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I may have mentioned it being like a building site around here. Yesterday I got an educational view from the balcony as the builders poured concrete into the new pathway below. They're quite skilled about it actually. The big machine pours the concrete in, then they spread it out evenly, smooth it over etc. A guy comes a long with a flat broom on a stick with a pointy bit in the middle, with which he cuts grooves to make concrete panels. No measuring, he just makes nice even grooves along the length of the path. Then a guy with a normal broom sweeps the surface to make the textured walkway. Another couple of guys make the edges extra smooth to finish them nicely, then finally a guy sprays the whole thing with some kind of liquid - I guess this is a hardening agent or similar. It dries quickly in the sun.

Here's a gratuitous shot of the giant pouring machine - it's angled as that's the only way I could fit it in:
Concrete pouring machine

Anyway, yesterday also brought the arrival of our sea freight. This is where the rest of our house joins us in the apartment. The good news is that it all seems to be present, although we haven't opened all the boxes yet to see if things are intact (but so far, so good). However....

Oh. My. God. How much stuff do we have?!?!?!?!

Remember our nice spacious apartment?
Lots of lovely space

It's turned into this:

We have taken a storage room. Only snag is that it's in the other building. We looked at the ones in our building but they were tiny. Building 2 has much bigger rooms, and we are going to need the space... so all our books, CDs, old kitchen stuff, shed/garden stuff etc are all going to be put away.

We hit on another tiny snaglet as well. We bought a new bed a couple of weeks ago, wanting to use our existing bed for the spare room. So off we trotted to the bed shop, where we ordered a king size bed.

Yesterday we reckoned we'd put our British king size mattress onto said new bed (the new mattress hasn't arrived yet) so we had somewhere to sleep, otherwise Alan would have to build the second bed.

Here we discovered the hithertofore unknown difference in British and American king sizes:

American Kings must be bigger too

I guess we need to buy new sheets....

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Picture pages

I made a couple of web pages of various things:

Air and water - cloudscapes, sunsets and rainbows

Lake Life - creatures around the lake by our apartment

Just back in from wakeboarding at the cable lake down in New Braunfels. It was fun but hard work. It's a good place though; you don't have to worry about getting up onto the water, they launch you from a sitting position. We both managed a couple of reasonable attempts but most of the time were swiftly in the water... More practise required!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Drivin' Cars, Part 2

Wednesday continued in a splendid fashion. We went via a boat shop to buy some buoyancy jackets - just in case Dave asks us wakeboarding again, and anyway we intend to go and rent a kayak now and again for a laugh.

Then it was on up to Georgetown, where a shiny thing awaited me. We didn't know if we'd be able to collect the shiny thing as we still had to sort out finance etc.

The answer turned out to be a resounding yes!

Without further ado:
Introducing..... Jo's Extra Shiny Most Excellent New Jeep Wrangler!

Four litres, six cylinders of finest American horsepower! Isn't she lovely? As you can see, she has a hard top - makes it nice and civilised inside, quiet too. There's a curious mix of basic and refinement inside - no electric windows or central locking (they ony add weight, don't want that!), but we have air conditioning and a seven-speaker stereo with subwoofer (yeah!), as well as an uprated rear axle, cruise control and a leather steering wheel.

The fact we have this vehicle in our possession already is amazing. We turned up at the garage; they'd got the vehicle all nicely prepared for us. We have not yet paid for it and they let us take it anyway! We have to go back as soon as we get our social security numbers; then they will arrange finance for us. So we have it as a 'borrowed vehicle' until then. We must look trustworthy or something!


So, I drove it back home last night, followed by Alan in the rental wagon. The journey was a little stressful - a brand new car, manual transmission, wrong side of the road (and more to the point, the gearstick on the wrong side), the fact I'd been concentrating all morning on driving an automatic perfectly, and my internal map of Austin is pretty tarnished through disuse.... so yes, I took the wrong turn off the Interstate and stalled it once or twice, but we got home in one piece and all was well :-)


I've been out driving this afternoon :-) I had to wait in all morning though for our air freight to be delivered - it was (we now have an iron! No more creased clothes!) and also for a chap to come and fix things in the apartment. He arrived at lunchtime so I was free after that.

Meanwhile, an email came in telling me I'd won a Bob Seger CD from KLBJ, the local rock radio station. Woo-hoo! So, marvellous excuse to drive my new vehicle. Up the road I went, picked up the CD, put it in the CD player and roared off up the Interstate, rocking out to some fine new tunes :-)

She's much easier to drive today. I'm getting used to the long-throw clutch and lazy action between gearshifts. This isn't a racing machine, after all. We went over to 360 bridge and up to Emma Long Park, where these pictures were taken. With the proper camera, this time ;-) I am now looking forward to plenty more driving!


Drivin' Cars, Part 1

It's been an eventful week so far. Monday night we were out with some of Alan's colleagues; we met at the Ginger Man for a few beers, then on to (I think it's called) Mike and Angie's Pizza for some, well, pizza. A very fine evening.

On Tuesday, our old friends Preston and Mary-Jane Clark arrived to take us out for a meal. They drove us to a place not too far away called Frisco, which MJ used to work in whilst in college. She opened the restaurant in 1953! It serves comfort food - steaks, fries, chili, onion rings etc. Very good they are too. It was lovely to see Preston and MJ again and we caught up splendidly throughout the evening.

Wednesday was our big day, however. We had scheduled to meet with Michele and go and attempt our driving tests.

The driving test centre is just up the road from here. We met there at 07:50 to be ready for opening at eight. We went in and presented ourselves along with our passports and UK driving licences. They looked at the passports and ignored the driving licences. This was a relief as we'd been told they might try to confiscate our UK licences - they will confiscate an out-of-state license if it's a US one as you're only meant to have one at a time.

Because we didn't have social security numbers yet, we had to fill in an extra bit of paper with our name and address, in addition to the usual application form. The driving test costs $24. We had to first do a vision test. They have a machine on the desk which you rest your forehead on, and look into. There's a chart inside similar to one an optician might have, with letters in different sizes on top and some circles in different colours underneath to test for colour blindness.

Next came the general knowlege test which is done on a computer. The lady asked me to sit at terminal 8 - the computer terminals are placed around the edge of the room, it's not like a classroom. I sat down and the computer started doing its thing. It's a multiple choice test in which you must pick an answer from three or four possible choices. They don't make it entirely clear that the first questions are practise ones to get you used to the question-answer system, however, so when the first two asked me to choose my date of birth and then my name, I was sitting there thinking, "You have got to be kidding!" There's meant to be 30 questions and you must get 21 correct to pass. I only got asked 24 as I'd answered enough correctly. There were questions about road signs, what to do if other drivers do X, Y or Z; how far to park away from certain items etc. Some are a little ambiguous but most are OK; a lot are just common sense.

Alan, however, had the misfortune to have about five questions on minors (under-21), drinking offences and the fines issued to minors. He also got given a question that asked what the thinking distance is when stopping from 20 mph. It's 44 feet, according to the driving manual, so that's what he answered. The computer said it was 22 feet. Also, we both had a question asking how far you should park from a fire plug. Not knowing what a fire plug was, but presuming it was the same as a fire hydrant, we both answered 30 feet. The computer said 15 feet.

Alan queried this with the examiner lady, and said the computer was wrong, and asked her to compare with the book. She did so, agreed, and told him to carry on anyway... Michele later queried it with the lady on the main desk. She admitted there were actually 3 or 4 wrong answers in their computer, but every time the corrected it, the computer overwrote them with the wrong answers again!

Anyway, we both passed our computer tests so it was off to do our practical tests. We had to drive the car around and join a queue as there are only two or three driving examiners. We thought it was a closed course driving test but it turns out they take you onto the road after all.

The test starts with the examiner first checking you have the right to drive your car - they check your insurance and title, if you own it, or in our case they checked our rental agreement. Next they check your horn, indicators and brake lights are working. They don't check your headlights though for some reason.

Then they ask you to pull away and drive towards a long thin bit of road, still inside the test centre. Cue much checking of mirrors first ;-) Once on this bit of road, they ask you to stop, then do a parallel park into the space between two poles set up for the purpose. These poles are very bent, suggesting some people aren't too good at this. I slotted the car in - it was wierd though, poles are harder to see than cars - and he bade me drive out again, up to a line further down. He had me stop and reverse in a straight line for a while. Then it was out onto the open road.

The road part was surprisingly short. We turnned right, then left, then left, then right, and right, maybe one more right, then left back into the test centre. The route encompassed a few stop signs and in my case, some pedestrian hazards (duly slowed down for) but that's about it. The examiner askes you to park up in a particular set of parking bays and that's it! He told me I'd passed, then Alan got in the car and it was his turn.

Meanwhile, I took my paperwork back into the test centre building where they took my photo, congratulated me for passing, and issued me with a paper temporary licence. We should get our photocards in a couple of weeks, in the mail.

So Alan and I are both now licenced Texas drivers!

Alan and Michele said that while I was out driving, they saw one poor girl go out and the instructor drove back.... I guess some people didn't get so lucky that day...

Our next stop was the Social Security office. We have applied for our numbers. Unfortunately, despite waiting for the requisite 10 days since entering the country, our I-94 forms have not yet crept through the system. So they have to make an extra check on our application. Hopefully we should get our numbers in 2-3 weeks, but we will see.

After this, we said farewell to Michele and continued with the rest of our day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

An Austiny weekend

It was the Big Game this weekend - Texas Longhorns versus Ohio State Buckeyes, playing football against each other on Saturday evening. The American variety of course, not soccer. These are the top two teams in college football so a lot of interest was being take in the game.

College football is big business here. They were saying on the TV that the Longhorns stadium had its biggest ever crowd in it - 90,000 people. Rumours of 20,000 Ohio fans coming into town were believable on Friday night, when every bar along 6th Street turned red with their shirts. The rest of the town turned burnt orange - Longhorns colour - and I do mean the whole town; I have never seen so many people supporting a single team. Manchester United have a lot to learn!! Tickets for this game were going on eBay for up to $4000. There was a lot of hype going on. We joined in - when in Rome - I bought a hat and Alan has a shirt :-)

Come game time, we were in a bar downtown (where else?!) and sitting outside. This gave us a lovely view of the diamond-four formation of USAF F-15 fighter jets doing a flypast of the stadium, followed by two flankers. We stayed in the bar to watch the game for a couple of hours - enough to see the single touchdown scored by the Longhorns. We had to go as we were up early the next morning. Sadly the Longhorns lost the game 28-7 to Ohio - the first game lost in the last 21 played.

Pink truck with cowhorns
Gratuitous picture of a truck with cowhorns on for all those people who didn't believe me that these existed! Spotted parked on Congress on Saturday night.

Next morning, we had been invited to go wakeboarding by Dave, one of Alan's colleagues. This is a cross between waterskiing and snowboarding, i.e. you have both feet attached to a short board and you are towed behind the boat. The idea is to use the wake of the boat as a ramp to jump off and do tricks etc.

Early morning view
Here's the lake at about 06:45 on Sunday morning. The lake water level is about 30 feet lower than usual; they desperately need rain to fill it up. The lakeside is sprinkled with boathouses that should be in the water but have been left high and dry.

The first step in wakeboarding is to get out of the water and upright on the board, which Dave makes look easy but proves to be a bit tricky do achieve. After several attempts, however, I did manage to get the hang of getting out of the water. I still haven't got entirely upright, but did manage a couple of short runs where I was crouched on the board, feeling the water skitting underneath before lunching it in one way or another. It's too easy to dig the front edge of the board in which pitches you off forwards, or just not get balanced forward enough so you fall backwards etc.

I think we may try the cable lake south of here next weekend, which is apparently like a water-based ski lift; you have a series of ropes pulling you around a circle to train you in wakeboarding. Alan needs to get himself a lifevest first though - Dave didn't have one in his size and without the extra buoyancy of the jacket, Alan couldn't get enough angle to lift himself out of the water.

Dave wakeboarding
Here's Dave showing us how it should be done. Better pictures coming when I take my proper camera!

Dave jumping
Dave getting some air off a wake ramp.

So thanks to Dave to a great morning. We went off and got some lunch at the New World Deli after this, then went to Wal-Mart to buy a vacuum cleaner and other household cleaning items. We also visited a computer museum which Alan particularly enjoyed.

Last night saw us walking along 43rd street to Duval, where a cluster of eateries and bars may be found. We had dinner in Mother's Cafe And Garden, which is a vegetarian restaurant. The food was excellent. I has a spinach lasagne and Alan had a stir-fry. We then hopped across the road to a bar, where we sat outside in the warm evening air and ejoyed a few Pilsener Urquells. Verrry nice. We'll be back there, I do believe!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

New chairs and a night out

We took delivery of our new chairs yesterday afternoon, that we had ordered from Eurway, a fine store that is what IKEA should be but isn't. They also delivered our bed but that will remain unassembled until we get our mattress.

New chairs

Yesterday evening we went into town to join a few chaps from Alan's work, for tea. We were due to meet at the Iron Works for some barbeque. Alan and I were early into town, so we stopped by the Ginger Man for a swift ale.

This hot dog stand was parked next door. I don't think I'll be eating there!

Doggy Style Hot Dogs

I assume the American meaning of this name is the same as in Britain?!!

We enjoyed our beer and later, our meal, and afterwards found our way to the Cedar Door for some Mexican Martinis. These are very tasty. From Austin 360's review of the Cedar Door:

Cedar Door's Original Mexican Martini
In a 16-oz. shaker glass full of ice combine:
1 1/2 oz. Sauza Gold Tequila
1 1/2 oz. Hiram Walker Triple Sec

Finish with freshly squeezed lime juice, a splash of orange juice and sweet and sour. Shake well and serve in a champagne glass with a salted rim, garnished with three olives on a sword pick and lime wedge. Toast "To the Door!"

We didn't toast, but we did enjoy :-)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Picture time

We thoroughly enjoyed the concert last night. It was the Austin Symphony, conducted by Peter Bay, featuring Joshua Bell on violin. He is a virtuoso who has played virtually since he was born; he has been on the world scene for 20 years and is now only in his early 30s. You could say he was a bit good. The programme was the following:
Schuman American Festival Overture
Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61
Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73
The Austin Symphony are doing a Beethoven season this year. We may well go and hear some more.

Today we went to look at motor vehicles. There's a shiny one north of here with my name on. That's all I'm saying until it gets a bit closer to becoming reality. Mwahaha! ;-)

We went to the cinema this evening. There's a new Mike Judge film out, 'Idiocracy'. It was very good; very funny.

Time for some photos. These are of varied quality as they're taken with my new cellphone, which is much better outside during the bright daylight than inside or in artifical light.

The apartment block
Here is the end of our apartment block, with the lake in front of it. The main road, Guadalupe, is behind from this angle.

Living room
Our living room. You can see the kitchen on the left, Alan on the right and our new rug in the foreground. The lake is outside the window. Furniture is mid-Atlantic.

Kitchen 1
A view of our kitchen showing the sink and dishwasher.

Kitchen 2
The cooker, fridge and microwave.

Here's the guest bathroom. The master is the same but with two sinks.

OK, that's your lot for tonight. We have to start work tomorrow. That's going to be a shock!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A bit more relaxed now

We have got most of the major shopping done that we needed in order to start our new home. Yesterday, we only went to Pottery Barn to buy some glasses and a rug for the living room. Well, we didn't set out to buy a rug, but they had one we liked a lot and it was on sale - $480 reduced to about $120, you can't argue with that!

We walked over to the nearby Chipotle for lunch; it's a couple of blocks from the apartment. They sell very tasty burritos. We watched a chap outside with his tiny black labrador puppy, it was very cute.

Later on we caught a bus downtown. The princely sum of one whole dollar gets you 24 hours of travel on any bus in Austin. I think the UK has something to learn here. We went down to Congress Bridge which had been closed off for Batfest, in which they put a stage at each end and loads of craft and food stalls in between. There is music the whole weekend.

We met Peggy and Lloyd there, friends from Austin Life #1, it was really good to see them again. We caught up, walked around the bridge for a while, then strolled up to the Cedar Door on Second for some drinks. Ended up staying there for quite a while as we chatted about life, the universe, aeroplanes, and everything. The bus took us home again as efficiently as it had brought us downtown, where we had a light supper and thence to bed.

Alan met one of our neighbours at 3am this morning after their monster thumping bass woke us up again. *@*&^£&^!!! The chap apologised and turned it off straight away. He didn't realise anyone had moved in next door so fair enough I suppose.

This morning, therefore, was a bit slow to start. We forced ourselves out for a run. It's so nice when you get encouragement from passing motorists - a biker gave us the Longhorns sign as we slogged along. Might have been my Longhorns-orange coloured shorts, however. In the UK, you'd be more likely to have people yelling derisory abuse at runners than encouraging them. This is one reason Alan wanted to come back here. Americans raise people up rather than running them down. There's even billboards here encouraging people to think positive!

After we got back and showered, we were a little late for a prearranged Skype call with some friends, but we hooked up OK. It was very cool to talk to them all in realtime video. Hi chaps and chapesses - you know who you are!

We went out again after that. Alan drove down to Rudy's Barbeque on 360 so we could have some breakfast tacos. The food of Kings! I had a sausage and egg one, and a potato and egg. Top them off with salsa and cheese. Yum.

Then I got in the driver's seat for some about-time-too driving practise. Drove down Mopac for a quick stop in Best Buy to have a nosey at some electronic gear, just to see what they had. Drove back up to the Barton Creek Mall. A nosey round there; found a kitchen shop. Bought a storage jar to keep our coffee fresh in. Drove to Whole Foods Market on 6th and Lamar for some shopping. It's Labor Day tomorrow so we don't think much will be open. Stocked up on tasty things. Drove home again and negotiated the multi-storey parking garage. Seems I do remember how to drive an automatic after all! We do need to read our Texas Driving Manual, however. And remember, what you observe people doing is not necessarily what it says in the book. Much the same as the UK there, then ;-)

We are off to a classical concert tonight; a present bought for Alan from Bryan and Marie. Thanks, guys. We are looking forward to it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Second day

OK, the second day of our trying to sort things out.

We started with our second onslaught of the electric company. Armed with a copy of our lease, passports and 200 bucks, we trooped down to the office for the opening time of 07:45. In we went, and were seen promptly, courteously and efficiently. What a contrast to yesterday. Moral: Go to the electric company first thing in the morning, before they have got tired of the endless stream of people in their office.

Back to the ranch to do the inventory of the apartment. You know the drill, you have to make a note of all the deficiencies and defects so they don't charge you for them when you move out. This took a little while. We took it over to the office along with our shiny new electric account number.

Now it was shopping time. Alan had come across a mention of a shop called Eurway which sold good value modern-style furnishings, so we reckoned we would try it. On arrival, the shop was filled with plenty of shiny things. Much of the furniture was made of metal, glass, brightly painted bold colours etc. We wanted to try their viscoelastic mattresses. This we did, and ended up ordering a bed, mattress and two leather chairs which are due to arrive on Wednesday. Apart from the mattress which we have to wait three weeks for.

Onwards to Linens And Things, where we purchased some mugs, plates and cutlery. We need to eat, right?

Meanwhile, we spoke to Peggy and Lloyd, old friends of ours from when we lived in Austin last time. We are looking forward to seeing them again; hopefully tomorrow.

Round the corner to REI, one of the finest camping stores around. We were in search of mapping software for my GPS but they didn't have any. Alan bought me some sports clothing as a birthday pressie. Thanks, Alan :-)

Lunchtime rumbled around so we headed down to the nearest Thundercloud Subs, where they constructed a fine submarine roll each for us, which we enjoyed outside in the shade by some running water.

Next on to Geico, a motor insurance crowd. We had no idea how much auto insurance was gonig to cost so thought it best to find out before buying a car. Turns out that it's maybe a bit more expensive than in the UK, but not outrageously so. Very little of the final figure depends on the car you drive; you're mostly paying anti-suing clauses. Welcome to America!

Alan wanted to check out the VW Golf GTI so we stopped by the garage. There was one there to look at. Very smart but the car was sold, so we could not do more than sit in it.

Ever onwards, to Target this time, to buy bin liners. The excitement never stops!

South now, to Barton Square Mall and the Apple shop. We needed music, and it's at least six weeks until we get our hi-fi back. Apple stores sell small loudspeakers that you plug iPods directly into. This works a treat and now we have tunes :-)

Now we were shopped out. We had shopped until we dropped for about five hours. Bah! Back to the ranch again, unload the car, raid the fridge for beer. Yum. Necessary. Spent some time sorting out clothes, putting the washing on etc. Time for more beer; let's go out. One final foray for the day, on foot this time, down to Hyde Park Bar and Grill for some tasty food. We started with prawn spring rolls. Alan then had Southern fried chicken breast and I had swordfish for mains. Washed down with Shiner Bock and a local Pilsener.

Now we are back, it's only 20:46 but we're going to bed to read for a while. Partly because the few chairs we have been loaned are covered in clothes hung out to dry - we need a drying rack! - and partly because we are so tired. I do hope the bloke downstairs doesn't start with his drum and bass at 3am like he did last night. I could really do with a good night's sleep.

Tomorrow it is Batfest in Austin - apparently they close Congress bridge and fill it with bands. We will see what this entails. Watch this space...