Saturday, June 30, 2018

Making Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen

Beautiful day today. I got up around 7am and went for a run before it got too hot. After shower and breakfast, we went to the beach. I was mostly interested in snorkeling around the pier. The water was clear and warm--great for snorkeling. We also managed to set up towels and chairs near the pier building, so I was in the shade and the rest had sun (I'm not a fan of sitting in the sun).

Snorkeling around the pilings of the pier was really fun. There were large schools of small fish that would gather around you if you stayed still, but would part before you like magic if you reached out and swept your hand around.

There was one small barracuda hanging around out there. You could see its teeth, but it was not threatening at all.

There were numerous sting rays lying on the sandy bottom beneath the pier. Some were as much as 3 feet across where others were just a handspan in size. They kind of nestle into the sand for camouflage, but once you know what you're looking for, they're pretty easy to spot. This is just a stock photo from Google, but it pretty well captures what we were seeing, though perhaps even more buried in the sand:
The pier pilings themselves were encrusted with barnacles and other coral-like things. If you looked closely, there were a lot of different animals and plants living on the sides of the pilings.

After the beach, we had lunch and played Phase 10 down at the pool in the condo complex:
Rachel took this while I was still working on getting out my phone. She's a pro. She also won the game.

We ran a few errands and had dinner at an Olive Garden. Our waiter was interesting since he'd just returned from a vacation in Barcelona. He used to live in Spain and was excited to hear that we were heading there for a year starting Sunday.

We dropped a few things off at Rachel's house and went to ChilliN7 Nitrogen Ice Cream. We need one of these in Walla Walla. The idea is that they pour the ingredients for your ice cream into a mixer along with some liquid nitrogen. They "churn" the ingredients into ice cream in about 30 seconds. It is soooooo goooooooddddd!
Also, video:
Good day and great to just spend time together.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Emily Joins Us

After Emily's usual flight delays (she has the worst luck with planes), we picked her up at Miami Intl at about 1am this morning. It was great to see her, but we were all pretty tired by the time we got back to the condo at 2am.

We all slept in this morning. I didn't get up until 9:30am. Emily slept until noon-ish.

I went to the beach twice today. Once in the morning with Laura and Rachel. The water was warm and clear, but the sun was blazing. We only stayed down there about an hour and went back to the condo for lunch.

After lunch we play a game of dominos on the balcony. We're all looking into the sun here, can you tell?
We're on the 23rd floor. The big challenge was shuffling the dominos carefully so that none fell off of the balcony. I think a domino dropped from the 23rd floor could seriously harm someone.

I was excited to snorkel a bit off of the beach here, so Emily joined me this afternoon for another trip to the beach. The late sun and a bit of cloud cover made for a darker view underwater, but the lack of a blazing sun was a net plus in my opinion. The ocean floor here is pretty uniform. Just rippled white sand for several hundred yards off shore. You have to keep a sharp eye to spot anything interesting while snorkeling. That said, I did see a few interesting sights that have me anxious to go back tomorrow. I found this little live conch:
I also saw a few schools for small and medium sized fish. I saw one very large tarpon, maybe 4 feet long, 60lbs. I also saw a sting ray resting on the sandy bottom.

Emily and I returned and went to the pool here with Rachel and Laura. Afterwards, Laura made dinner, tortellini and caesar salad.

The condo has a TV that has a builtin roku. We've connected our Netflix and MLB tv accounts. Rachel and I binged a fair bit of a stupid sitcom called "Schitt's Creek". We also watched the Mariners complete a 4-game sweep of the Orioles. The M's are headed back to the West Coast tomorrow, so their games will be on too late to watch. It's been nice having them on the East Coast this week while we're on vacation. We've been able to watch a few games.

I manged to fix a computer problem back at Whitman this evening while Rachel and Laura are out walking around the neighborhood. Emily is working on her stuff, reading papers and reddit (which is probably not work, haha).

Hoping to snorkel a bit more tomorrow. Going to bed now at a normal hour.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Donut Run

Rachel has been raving about a donut shop in North Miami called The Salty Donut. This morning we went and were not disappointed. I really like jelly donuts and the one they had here was amazing. In addition to filling, there were fresh blueberries inside.
In addition to my "berry buckle" (lower left), after some serious deliberation, there was Rachel's "dragon-passion fruit" (top) and Laura's "maple bacon" (bottom right).

All were excellent.

After donuts, we walked around the Wynwood Art District (the neighborhood of The Salty Donut). The exteriors of most of the buildings are painted in modern/street art. Walls change all the time. In addition, there's a great "gallery" called The Wynwood Walls. Lots of painted walls, but a couple of indoor galleries too. Some great work. I was particularly attracted by the Peter Tunney show. In this particular show, Tunney acquired some artifacts from the now defunct Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, a failed venture of Donald Trump's. I liked these two pieces. The first is written on blue prints from the original construction of the Taj Mahal:
 The second is on related newspaper and magazine clippings:
Rachel enjoyed some of the pieces in this section:
 After the gallery and a bit of lunch, we checked into our AirBnb. It's on the 23rd floor of one of the numerous condo buildings along the beach here in North Miami. Here's a view towards the ocean from the balcony (of a different building):
Once we checked in, we stocked up with visits to Costco and Publix (grocery store). Emily is en route to Miami from Santa Barbara to join us here for a few days. We meet her at Miami Intl Airport at 12:30am tonight.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Back to Miami

Our night on Key West and the Havana Cubana was restful. We hit the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and learned about the local ecology. After that, we drove back towards the mainland. We stopped at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo and booked a snorkel boat tour--the last one of the day. The boat took us out to the reef about 10 miles off-shore. Once there we jumped in and swam around for a while. We saw a spotted eagle ray (probably the highlight of the trip) and a lot of other beautiful reef fish. We also saw the Christ of the Abyss statue.

We finished our drive back to Rachel's house and then met Shubham and Emily at Taco Craft. Good the catch up with them. Also, the margaritas and tacos there were very good. I particularly liked the "Exotic Shroom" taco. Our late snorkel boat pushed everything back and it's really late now. Here are a few pictures from the day. A cruise ship docked overnight at Key West:
 We had lunch at a small restaurant called "The Wooden Spoon" on Marathon Key:
 Here we are on the snorkel boat:
 Some of the miles and miles of mangroves along the coast of Key Largo:
 More mangroves:
 From left to right, Albert, Laura, Emily, Shubham, Rachel at Taco Craft.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Key West

We picked up Rachel this morning and drove to Key West, FL. We have possibly now driven our car as far from Walla Walla (without leaving the US) as is physically possible, to be specific 3,237 miles according to Google. There may be something farther up in Maine, but it's still pretty far.

To get to Key West, you have to drive along Route 1 across a long sequence of keys connected by bridges. It's an interesting and beautiful drive of about 140 miles from South Miami. It's also a relatively slow drive--taking about 3 hours.

It's been about 10 months since Hurricane Irma blew through here. The damage is still evident from damaged buildings and homes, to broken roads, to dead vegetation that has been completely stripped of its foliage. There are some smaller keys that are now brown because all of the foliage was stripped from the plants and they simply died. The landscape on these islands reminded me of burn areas that we typically see in the Western US. I suppose that, like those burned areas, these islands will eventually recover, but the sights are striking.

For dessert after lunch, Rachel and I had chocolate covered key lime pie. I was skeptical, but turned out to be a nice combination of flavors.
After dessert, we took our snorkel gear to the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The water was warm, but not super clear. We swam around some rocks and saw a few large fish, but it wasn't great. We're hoping to snorkel in a place off of Key Largo on the return trip to Miami tomorrow. And, hoping for clearer water.
After snorkeling, we checked into the Havana Cabana Hotel. The pool was great, also lots of fun games: cornhole, jenga, and giant yahtzee dice.

We swam around for a while and then took the hotel shuttle back to the touristy area to watch the sunset at Mallory Square and catch dinner. It's definitely touristy, but also fun and lots of historic buildings. It's interesting to think about how many hurricanes these old buildings have survived intact.
 I took a picture of Rachel taking a picture of the sunset:




 Side note, there are a lot of wild chickens running around the island.













Monday, June 25, 2018

Indiantown and Miami

We left Sharron and Tom in The Villages this morning. It's always sad parting. A year is a long time. We headed down the highway towards Laura's Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Lew's house in Indiantown, FL.

A couple of days ago, Laura bought a SunPass and put $50 on it so that we could take advantage of the automatic highway toll system here in FL. We jumped onto the Florida Turnpike to Indiantown. At the first toll station, we passed through the automatic toll and the message "Toll Not Paid" popped up. We have no idea why it didn't work. Nor do we have any idea how to deal with whatever happened at the toll plaza from Spain. Finding help via phone or internet seems to be impossible. Furthermore, the human toll taker we encountered when leaving the turnpike was singularly unhelpful. I guess we'll try to figure it out this week before we leave the country. Yay!

We eventually made it to Marilyn and Lew's house. It's a lovely, secluded home surrounded by well-tended tropical vegetation and a pool. We happened to be there on their 46th wedding anniversary! To celebrate (I say this somewhat sarcastically), Marilyn had the pleasure of cooking us a turkey dinner with stuffing and green beans. Next year, we'll have to take them to lunch. We had a nice visit and left around 5pm. Here are some pictures:
 Lunch preparation:
 A nearly domesticated wild bunny in their driveway:
 A mannequin prop that represents an attempt to get the local fauna to not be afraid of them. Kind of works, Marilyn is able to feed the bunny by hand now:
We continued on down the highway, avoid toll roads now, and made it to Rachel's house around 7pm. We had a pizza at The Big Cheese restaurant near her house.

Her new place is smaller than her previous place, but in relatively good shape and certainly adequate to the task. We were a bit worried about where Rachel would store the scuba gear that Marilyn and Lew gave to her, but Rachel seemed happy to have it and promised to put it to use.

After dinner, we dropped Rachel off back at home and Laura and I walked around campus. This helped us get a little exercise after spending most of the day driving and eating. We're now in our hotel room. Meeting Rachel tomorrow morning and heading down to Key West for an overnight visit there.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Netflix and humidity

Pretty relaxed day today. Went to the pool this morning, swam a little, read a lot. Tom went to the pool for the first time in a long time. Hopefully he gets back in the habit again. He used to go nearly every day. Here Tom and Sharron do some of Tom's exercises in the pool:
We went to Bonefish Grill for a late lunch. This was good for Laura who really enjoys seafood and typically doesn't get much living in Walla Walla with a family that has general disdain for the fare.

After lunch, we went home and I binged the Netflix show "Safe", read my book, and dozed. Laura got her walking done. We just had random leftovers for dinner, but Laura made caramel corn for dessert. It's pretty addictive. So much so that we call it "crack corn". We ate that while we played the card game "Phase 10". Tom won again for the second night in a row.

Our time here in The Villages is nearing an end. We drive to Miami tomorrow to meet Rachel. This has been one of the most relaxing phases of the trip and really of the last calendar year for me. It's pretty rare nowadays to just have a day to do nothing.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

It's Florida

I started the day with a run. Because of the transition to Spain where I'm not sure what my regular exercise opportunities will be, I've started building up my running. Because I'm older and would like to protect my knees and back, I'm using a minimalist approach to running. I have a pair of minimalist running shoes that have very little cushioning. The idea is to let the foot feel more of the road. As the body reacts to minimize the impact on the foot, the gait shortens and heal strike is minimized. This should reduce the impact of running. I've also been building up very gradually. I currently run about 3 miles in 30 mins, though today I did 3 miles in 28 mins.

By the time I got out this morning, it was 82 degrees and about 95% humidity. Even though I'm not really running that hard, I got back pretty much drenched in sweat. Not like running back in WW where the humidity is so low and it's actually kind of cool in the mornings throughout the summer. I wonder what it will be like in Seville?

Laura went to watch Sharron play tennis this morning. She ended up playing in the place of one of the women that was suffering in the heat. Sounds like Laura enjoyed herself. At one point she ran around a backhand and her partner let her know that "we don't run that fast in these games." Haha.

I stayed home with Tom. Did the laundry and read a little bit. Pretty relaxing.

We went to one of the many clubhouse restaurants here in The Villages for lunch. We ate on the patio and got a bit wet from a passing rainstorm.

Here Sharron is trying to unstick her wet hair:
 The waitress was kind enough to snap a group photo:
After lunch, Sharron took their dog, Sassy, to the vet for her annual checkup. Sassy is 9 years old and passed with flying colors:

Given all of the miles we've put on the Honda recently, I took it up to Walmart for an oil change. They were quick and pretty inexpensive.

Having eaten out for both dinner and lunch consecutively, we decided to eat the stuff in the doggie bags building up in the fridge for dinner. After dinner, we played Phase 10, Tom won. Thanks Sharron for doing a realistic game pose:
Laura and I went for a walk around the neighborhood after the game. We listened to the Mariners sucking it up against the Red Sox. When we left, the M's were winning 10-5. When we got back 45 mins later, they were winning 10-9. As of right now, the M's are losing 14-10, which more closely resembles a football score than a baseball score. As is typical in Florida in the summer, it's still pretty hot and humid here at 10pm. Laura and I are hoping to dry off a bit before going to bed. Goodnight.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Villages

We're now in The Villages, FL staying at Laura's mom's house for a couple of days. The drive down was interesting. Google reported a massive backup on I-75 just north of The Villages, but for some reason didn't want to reroute us. On the fly, Laura installed Waze and it immediately dumped us off of I-75 and got us to our destination on back roads. By our estimate, Waze saved us at least an hour. Not sure what was going on with Google, but we're definitely going to consult Waze in future travel.

The Villages is a town in FL that is entirely built around retirees. The planning is done in such a way that neighborhoods surround recreation centers and are connected by walking and golf cart paths. It's very pedestrian friendly as a result, even though there are relatively few pedestrians.

Laura and I walked for about an hour this evening and saw a few notable sights. For example, this family of herons, adults on the outside, two juveniles in the middle:
 This group of ducks swimming in a golf course pond:

 And, a lovely sunset reflected in another pond:

We also had a chance to visit with Tom and Sassy (the little dog):
Tomorrow I'm hoping to get the oil changed in the Honda and maybe get a SunPass for the toll roads we're going to encounter south of here as we head to Miami.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Nashville and Atlanta

Mostly a travel day today. We left our Horse Cave, KY campsite at around 8:30am.

We were able to have lunch with Annie Baker in Nashville at B.A.D. Nashville a low-key southern comfort food place. To prove this claim, Laura had an excellent catfish sandwich. I just went with a salad (which was also good). Annie seems to be doing well at her internship in Nashville this summer. She returns to Colorado School of Mines in the fall for her senior year where she will finish up an electrical engineering degree.

We also walked around Nashville a bit. As we walked up the main drag along Broadway, there were already country bands playing in bars at 11am. Would love to go back sometime and visit when we have more time and are able to do a little bar hopping.

After lunch, we drove to Atlanta and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant with Scott Bendzlowicz. It was great catching up with him. The food was really good and would certainly have held its own in Walla Walla.

After dinner, we traveled south along I-75 for another 50 miles or so and are now in a hotel along the highway. We're watching the Mariners play the Yankees and it's currently tied at 5-5 in the 9th inning. We're hoping to get to Laura's Mom's house in The Villages tomorrow in the mid-afternoon, so probably have to turn off the game and go to sleep now. Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, day 2

We spent the day in Mammoth Cave National Park. We did the 2-hour Domes and Dripstones tour in the morning. In the afternoon, we did the 2-hour Historic tour. I guess if I had to choose, I'd recommend the Historic tour. I particularly liked the historical graffiti. The caves have been tourist attractions since the early 1800's. Before it was designated a national park in the early 1900's, visitors to Mammoth Cave were encouraged to scratch their names on the walls in the caves:
 We saw some with years attached as early as 1838. In the early days before they stopped using whale oil lamps, folks would spell their names and messages on the ceilings in soot from the lantern flames. Apparently in 1855, this person thought the ceiling of a cave 300 ft underground in rural Kentucky was a great place to promote their "Sax & Horn Band":
 Here are some more:
 I even spotted an "Albert" scratched into a wall:

 Graffiti aside, there were some beautiful limestone formations:

 
 And, whenever we exited a cave, we had to wash our feet. Several years ago the bat populations in these caves were decimated with the "white-nose fungus". The foot washing is meant to kill the fungus spoors on our shoes so that we don't track them into other uncontaminated caves that we might visit.
 We also hiked quite a bit on the surface. The whole area is dotted with large sink holes the funnel water into the caves below. Most of the surface hikes are meant to showcase these geologic features. Here is a shot of one of the walls of the sinkhole as we stood in the bottom:

On our drive out of the park we noticed this aptly named cemetary, "Little Hope", which could be read rather darkly depending on your philosophical outlook, haha:
 There were some folks in this cemetery born as early as the 1770's.

Tonight will be our last night in the tent. We're still camped at the KOA in Horse Cave, KY. Tomorrow it's on to Atlanta.



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, day 1

We drove from St. Louis to Mammoth Cave today, a relatively short 5 hour drive. We went straight to the park to get tix for cave tours tomorrow. With tix in hand, we walked around the grounds a bit. There's not much to see there above ground. However, there are a couple places where what looks like an ordinary pool of water is actually a flooded entrance to the "longest known cave system in the world." One such pool is pictured here:
 The forested areas above the caves are typical eastern US deciduous forest. I've spent a lot of time in places like this, so it was nice to just walk in the woods.
 Through one break in the trees you could see a bit down the valley. The biggest difference between the hills here and those back in Walla Walla is that they are densely covered in forest. You don't really get to see the underlying geology.
 We had dinner at Bucky Bee's BBQ in Horse Cave, KY. High quality, small-town Kentucky pulled-pork BBQ:
 Sunset at the campground was lovely.
But, pet peeve about campgrounds, it is not cool to locate the tent sites so that tent campers have to walk past 250 yards of cushy RVs, lined up one after the other, each with their very own toilets, to get to the public bathroom. Here's hoping I don't have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

Looking forward to tomorrow's underground tours. I'll take what pictures I can.

Monday, June 18, 2018

St. Louis, MO

We left our KOA campsite in Salina this morning about 8:30am. Campsites are interesting in the way that for a day at a time an ad hoc community is created and dissolved. We did laundry and met a couple from FL that toured the country with their sailboat and competed in races. We got to talking about Rachel and her friend Shubham who has a productive mango tree in his backyard. Turns out these folks too had a productive mango tree and further, they had a bunch of their mangos with them on the trip. They shared a bunch of them with us. So I had some very fresh, ripe mango for breakfast this morning.
 As is our habit, we stopped in a small town for lunch during today's drive. Today's stop was in Boonville, MO. One really neat thing about Boonville is that it is a stop on the Missouri KATY rails-to-trails project. At 260 miles, it's one of the longest such projects in the country. Laura and I walked along the trail for a while and wished we had our bikes with us so we could see more of it. I met a guy that was riding the entire length of the trail for a long weekend. He took a train to one end with his bike and his gear and was riding back to the other end where his car was parked. Here's a typical "stop" along the trail.
 Here's a farm that can be seen from the part of the trail we walked:
 This is the restored original railway station from when the trail was still a rail. It's now a bike shop:
 This old-style brick warehouse is now a kind of whole foods grocery store:
 After lunch we finished our day's drive at Laura's Aunt Judy's house outside of St. Louis. There, along with Aunt Judy, we met two of Laura's cousins, Chris and Will and Chris' children Thuy-Anh, Thao-Anh and Jamison. All great kids, we especially enjoyed getting to know them. We played Yahtzee and Judy rolled 3 Yahtzees! We got to know Thuy-Anh and Thao-Anh a bit.
 It was a typical hot, humid day in St. Louis. There was a water gun battle:
 After that, the Yahtzee, Thao-Anh is the best most animated dice roller:
It was really great catching up with these fine folks. I hope we can stay in touch a bit more moving forward. Thuy-Anh is in a dual-language program (spanish) at her elementary school. Maybe Laura and I can stay in touch and share a bit of our Spanish experience with her.

Tonight we're in a Days Inn in St. Louis--taking a break from the tent for a night. Tomorrow on to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and back into the tent.