Thursday, April 26, 2007

Whole lotta movin' going on

Well, it's almost time for us to be moving out of our apartment (although we're not really, just yet, we'll be using up our lease as a highly expensive crash pad for beery weekends ;-)

I cleared out our storage room on Wednesday. This is in another building so we figured that it would be easier to just get a U-Haul truck and fill it up with the boxes that have never been unpacked since we arrived in the US. This task fell to me, so off I trotted to U-Haul (conveniently just up the road) to get a truck :-) I filled it with boxes and drove it to the new house. This might not be very impressive but this is the biggest vehicle I've yet driven! It was fun. I unpacked it and took it back. This little exercise took almost six hours so it kept me busy for most of the day.

U-Haul trucks are cool because each one has a different design on the side. As you can see, this one has a giant green dinosaur on it, illustrating the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Each design represents some place in America, and there's quite a few, so U-Haul trucks are a constant source of intrigue as to what one might see next!

Today I went to the house again to meet with the cable installer chap, who was bringing us nice things like internet, TV and phone. We also took delivery of a washer, dryer and fridge, to replace those we left behind in the UK.

While I was waiting there, two deer wandered into the garden. Birds singing, blue skies, this is why we came back :-)

Alan wants to buy a barbeque grill at the weekend. I wonder if it is co-incidence that he just looked at this picture and said "Bambi-burger!"

Friday, April 20, 2007

Of Houses and Beer

House buying, part 3:

Wait and wait and wait for things to happen. Builder finally says he's about finished. Get the inspector out to examine the house. Inspector finds fault with item. Examine item information from any and all available sources, while builder fixes item. Decide it's probably fine. Second inspector gets brought in by the sellers to inspect, says first item is fine, finds a second item. Builder fixes everything.

Go on walkthrough around the house with builder and realtors. Place blue tape on every little blemish (actually that was more the realtors than us; they're picky!) for builder to finish off. Admire house.

Get closing date and HUD form from title company. Jump back in shock at how many things have appeared on the form that need paying for (courier fees, preparation fees, lawyer fees, property taxes, flood insurance, title insurance, escrow fees, guaranty fees, recording fees, survey fees and HOA fees, amongst others!) On said date, go to closing. The title company have a large stack of papers, which all need signing. A nice man from the bank and the realtor are also present so it all turns into a jolly session which involves us spending a lot of money.

But in return for the money, they give us a set of keys!

We are homeowners again :-)

As it happened, we'd already got tickets for last night's entertainment before our closing date was fixed, so we went to the Alamo Drafthouse with some guys from Alan's work. The Alamo Drafthouse is a wonderful place; a cinema in which every second row of seats is replaced by a long bench/table, to which servers bring food and drink while you watch the movie. There's four or five of these establishments around town now, each with its own excellent chef and selection of microbrewed beers.

Last night's movie was 'American Beer', which tells the story of five friends visiting 38 microbreweries across the US in 40 days. This was to co-incide with the American Craft Brewers Association's annual conference which happens to be in town this week, so in the audience of the movie we had not only the film's director, Paul Kermizian, but a dozen or so of the finest brewers in the USA!

Offerings from these included: Real Ale Full Moon Pale Rye (one of our regulars), New Belgium Mothership, Dogfish Head 90 Min IPA (Randalled and therefore ultra-hop-tastic *) and Red & White (fermented with grapes, very wine-y), Independence Bootlegger (brown ale but not heavy), Live Oak Pilz (another of our regulars) Avery Maharaja (a doozer!), St Arnolds Elissa IPA, Rogue Brew 10,000 (brewed only once, an honour to try this), Victory Golden Monkey, Allagash Curieux and Sam Adams Utopias (whoah!). Independence, Live Oak and Real Ale Brewing are all local to the Austin area.

This was all very fine beer, some of which had been brewed purely for this week's conference (Prickly Pear beer, anyone? Made at Real Ale as a collaboration between all the brewers and very delicious it was too) and the menu was suitably beer-themed:

# Smoked Ribs w/ Dubbel BBQ Sauce
# Roasted Pepper Chimay Cheese Rolls
# Aventinus Mousse Pate w/ Beer Bread Toast Points
# Goat Cheese Puffs w/ Raspberry Doppelbock Sauce

# Gueuze-Cured Tilapia Salad w/ Witbieraigrette

# Cascade Duck Breast a la Orange w/ Wild Mushroom Barley Risotto

# Malt Creme Caramel

Taken from the Alamo show page which goes into more detail.

They finished the evening with very small samples of the Sam Adams' Utopias, which they have only brewed three times. This batch was the 2003 vintage. They leave it in whisky barrels where it picks up the colour and flavour of whisky, in fact to taste this stuff you'd think it almost was whisky, and by the way it's 25.6% and around $120 per bottle!

It was indeed a damn fine evening :-)

* Randalling is the process of pouring beer through fresh hops at the time of serving it, so the alcohol in the beer strips the oil from the hops and massively intensifies the hoppy flavour and particularly the aroma. The container sits inline with the beer tap and is known as Randall the Enamel Animal :-) This is a Dogfish invention...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A glorious Austin Sunday

It's just been lovely today. Not a cloud in the sky, not too hot either. We went a-drivin' this morning to accomplish a few tasks, then dumped the car back at the apartment and got a bus into town. Stopped off at Whole Earth where I bought a sunglasses case, then it was down to Waterloo Records, who were celebrating 25 years of business with a free concert featureing about eight local bands, all day. This was pretty cool; we hung out for a while, had a beer, chilled out.

Departed via Whole Foods for some lunch, walked over to Republic park a few blocks away. The Austin Arts Festival was here this weekend, which took over about six blocks of town, closed the streets and had over 200+ artists selling their wares.

After enjoying the delights of this market, we walked ten-ish blocks to Scholz Garten for a couple of beers. Scholtz was surprisingly empty for such a lovely day but we enjoyed the sun in their garden.

We walked on, another ten-ish blocks through the University to the Crown and Anchor, where we partook of another couple of fine ales. Beer-fueled excercise, it's great :-)

Onward to Trudy's for a splendid supper, then walking another 15 blocks back to the apartment, where I am typing this while watching Doctor Who. Can't be beat :-)

A bit wamer, any road, than yesterday - we were up in Burnet for an airshow. 20MPH winds gusting to 35MPH, crosswinds of 45 degrees over the runway, proved to be some challenging conditions for both pilots and spectators alike...

I did promise some hot rods from the other week. They were very cool.

Check them out here.

The Doctor demands my attention, so I will continue anon...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Flowers and birds again

It's springtime, and I may have mentioned the wildflowers once or twice. Here's some more for your delectation.

These were taken at the Wildflower Centre on a sunny day last weekend.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes

Ah, no idea what this is called. Some kind of honeysuckle?

Not a clue about these either but they look nice:

These purple ones are seen a lot on roadsides. These butterflies are big, too.

Flowers are on our lake, too:

And here we have one of the many resident ducks:

We also have a resident Hawk. I initially thought it was a Harris Hawk but now I think it is either a Broad-Winged Hawk or a Red-Tailed Hawk; not entirely sure which. Either way, this chap is really quite large and is a lovely bird. I see him fairly often in the mornings particularly; he likes to perch on the lights around the edge of the lake during pauses in his mouse-hunting exploits.

Here he is the other morning, after catching something. He flew up into a tree where he thoroughly annoyed a couple of blue Jays. This picture would have been better with a bit more light; never mind.

This is the hawk just 10 minutes ago. His other favourite perch is the lighting fixtures right above my office window. Today he is sheltering there from the peeing rain - hence why he looks a little bedraggled.

More as and when...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Of travellers and bullfrogs

We have had a busy few weeks since my last post here. Three weeks ago, I went to Pensacola, Florida, for the annual International Symposium of Aviation Photography. This proved to be a blast. Three days of world-class speakers, top quality photography and a field trip to various museums and military bases. I met some really cool people and came away feeling very encouraged, and wanting to do more photography. A lot more.

Here's a military Texan 2 about to fly off on a training exercise from Pensacola Naval Air Station, one of our field trip destinations:

Pensacola itself is the land of pure white beaches on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There are several islands that line the edges of the mainland. Our hotel was on a place called Gulf Breeze, two islands away. It's very touristy and there's not a lot to do if you don't want to sit on the beach, but it looks nice from the air. I took this as my flight left to return to Dallas:

On arriving back, I had only a couple of days to start sorting photos out before the British Invasion Party arrived. Our friends Paul and Sarah were coming out from the UK, stopping first in Washington to see some other friends before arriving in Austin to spend 10 days with us.

Here they are in the Salt Lick, about to enjoy some quality Texas barbeque:

We gave them the whistle-stop tour of Austin eateries, bars and shopping; as much as could be fit into their time here. We went Hula Hut on Town Lake to start them off, fed them breakfast tacos, went to Manuel's on Congress for some excellent Tex Mex, got them tipsy in the Ginger Man, the Draught House and the Parlor.

They very kindly paid for us all to have a night in Fredericksburg last weekend, so off we went over there, about an hour and a half's drive west of Austin. We visited the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War, did some shopping, and retreated into Fredericksburg Brewery where we were to spend the night. These people very civilizedly give you a free sampler of all their beers when you book a room, so we duly enjoyed some of the local produce. Sunday night in Fredericksburg is pretty quiet though and the bar shut at 7pm, so we went looking for food elsewhere, and found it at Allison's Speciality Foods which we found out had recently opened a restaurant on the side of their shop. We had a very splendid meal there.

We paid a visit to Luckenbach on the return journey, but the rain was intense and we spent the rest of the day hiding indoors. Some creatures have been enjoying the rain however - it seems to be bullfrog mating season. About four or five nights ago, the lake outside the apartment began to resound to the croaks of these frogs as they try to attract mates. These things are LOUD! The sound rings around the lake and bounces right up to our apartment windows, keeping our poor guests awake all night. There must be hundreds of frogs down there.

While Alan was at work, I took them down to San Marcos for the shopping, and to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. They took themselves into town to visit the Capitol, the LBJ and the Bob Bullock museums.

We also went to the Star of Texas Rodeo on Friday night. This is a three week long extravaganza out at the Travis County Expo Centre east of Austin. It had all the usual things you have at rodeos, such as calf roping, bareback riding, steer wrestling, bull riding etc. It was very dark in the arena though and even maxing the speed of my camera as fast as it will go, I was only able to get a very few shots that weren't completely blurred. Here's a lady rider in the barrel racing competition:

We said 'later, dudes' to Paul and Sarah on Saturday morning, when the sun finally shone for the firt time since their arrival. Paul is a rain god - this is the man who filled reservoirs in Australia for the first time in 60 years during their visit there - and he brought the (much-needed) rains to Austin, too! Damn shame for them, really. Anyway, it was lovely to see them; we had a great 10 days and we hope they did too.

The rain has really brought on all the Spring vegetation around the area, and with this being wildflower season, the flowers have been coming up all over town. They're really very impressive. Here's a field of bluebonnets and prickly pear cacti near Buda:

Saturday afternoon saw Alan and I back out at the Expo Centre to see the Lone Star Rod and Kustom Round Up, a huge gathering of hot rods and wild cars from all over the country. Paul, Sarah and I had gone to Jo's Cafe on South Congress for lunch on Friday, and found the street to be crawling with these cars, so of course I had to wield my bigger camera in their direction. The show was really quite large, with all kinds of 50's cars which had been modified, chopped, slammed and painted in bright colours (apart from the rat rods, which are made of rust). Photos are a-comin' but here's one to kick off:

Today is Sunday, during which we have been roasted by some blazing sunshine (sorry, Paul and Sarah!) and visited the Wildflower Centre, before enjoying a couple of cold tins back home.