Friday, December 28, 2012

12 Favs for 2012

A couple of my favorite landscape photographers recently posted their 12 favorite images of 2012 (Richard Bernabe and Jack Brauer).  What a great idea!  While my images pale by comparison, it was still fun to take a look back at all the places I had photographed this year.

After spending most of the past 8 months at home, I was actually surprised at how many different places I was able to see.  But yet, I tend to only pull the camera out when I’m traveling, so in 2013 I really hope to push myself to “see” and photograph more where ever I might happen to be.

Hope you all have a very happy new year! 

Now, on to the 12 favorite images…

Pair of Sandhill Cranes

These sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico were my favorites for 2012.  If you enjoy seeing thousands of migratory birds, a winter stop at Bosque is an absolute must!

Arizona Four Wheelin

I didn’t get to do as much off-roading in my wonderful little yellow Tracker in 2012 as I had in 2011, but I drove a couple a fun trails in Arizona last winter around Quartzsite, Ajo, Patagonia, and Sedona.  This one was at the Kofa NWR just south of Quartzsite.

Mohave Evening Blooms

While living in Arizona the first three months of 2012, my mom decided to come out for a visit so we could take a quick vacation out to southern California to see friends.  On our way back, we happened to stop near the Mohave Desert Lily Sanctuary just as the sun was setting to this spectacular display of desert wildflowers!

Tucson Lights

Before leaving Tucson, I finally took a drive up Mt. Lemmon on the Catalina Highway.  What a spectacular way to see the sunset (and a great way to cool off too if the temps in Tucson get too warm!).

Sedona Evening

Our final week in Arizona was spent around the Sedona area. The drive between Oak Creek Village and Sedona was particularly stunning as the sun was setting on the brilliant red rocks.

Shamrock Conoco

I stopped at a few Route 66 attractions in the Texas panhandle on my drive back home, including this wonderfully restored Conoco gas station in Shamrock, Texas.

Springtime at Alley Spring Mill

One of my favorite “little known” national parks is the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeast Missouri with their amazing natural springs.  This is my favorite, Alley Spring, with it’s beautiful red mill.

Night at Cunard Lake

I spent a few weeks this summer revisiting a few of my favorite campgrounds up in northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan.  This was my nighttime view from the banks of Cunard Lake in Wisconsin.  Loved listening to the loons sing us to sleep at night!

The Mushroom Trail

This lovely mushroom trail in the U.P. had not been so lovely just a few minutes before when it poured rain on Millie and me.  But I’d always prefer photographing a damp and misty forest than one that’s bone-dry!

Storm over Imp Lake 
The mushroom trail was near my all-time favorite campground, lovely Imp Lake, in the U.P.  I loved paddling around it’s little island, listening to the loons, and watching the sunsets from our large and peaceful lakefront campsite—heaven on earth!

Superior Cruise

This summer, I finally took the cruise of Lake Superior’s Pictured Rocks National Seashore near Munising, Michigan.  What a delightful “3-hour cruise” (and quite reasonably-priced too!).

Plaza Christmas Lights 
And finally, 2012 wrapped up with a visit to my hometown, Kansas City, to see the Christmas lights at Country Club Plaza.

What amazing places did you discover in 2012?  Leave a comment below and give us all some ideas for future travels!  Better yet, post a link to some of your favorite pics of 2012!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Trip to KC


My mom wanted to attend the holiday luncheon of her high school classmates down in Kansas City, and asked if Millie and I would like to come along for the ride.  What better town to get into the holiday spirit?!!  So, of course, I said “yes.” 

Normally, I would have packed up the View & toad, but since this would only be a short trip (and it’s winter in the Midwest!), we decided to just take my mom’s car and stay in a dog-friendly hotel.

We only had one full “non-travel” day in KC, but we made the most of it.  After dropping Mom off to her reunion luncheon in Independence, I decided to check out the town’s Harry S. Truman tourist attractions.  But first, I wanted to find one of my grandfather’s old churches that he preached at in the 1970’s.


Happy to see that the First Christian Church is still looking good and apparently thriving!

Next, I saw a massive church steeple that I had to go check out.  This church was not around during my grandfather’s day.  It turned out to be the main temple & world headquarters for the Community of Christ denomination (the “reorganized” branch-off from the Mormon church).  Quite an impressive-looking place!


Finally, I made my way over to the Truman attractions.  I had wanted to visit his home (an NPS Historic Site), but there didn’t appear to be anyone home!  The gates looked locked and parking looked difficult, so I had to settle for a quick drive-by pic.  Sure looked like a pretty house, though!

Next, it was on to the Truman Presidential Library and Museum.  It sits impressively on a hilltop overlooking a large lawn:


The museum was on the small side but extremely interesting. Besides FDR’s tenure, I think Truman might have presided over the second-most eventful period of the 20th century—the end of WWII, post-war rebuilding, and start of the Korean War.


The museum started with the most famous thing that ever sat on his desk:

Next, was a full-sized replica of Truman’s Oval Office (circa 1945-52):


Quite some high-tech there too with his radio and television (I think he may have been the first president to have a television).


It’s amazing to think of the impact the year 1945 had on Truman’s life.  Previously, he had just been a modest senator from Missouri until being sworn in as Roosevelt’s VP at the start of 1945.  Within 100 days, he would assume the presidency after FDR’s death in April.


If that wasn’t hard enough to be thrown into the presidency that quickly, consider that he also had World War 2 raging on multiple continents, and massive shortages and sacrifice occurring domestically.

Within his first 4 months in office, Truman presided over the end of WW2 in Europe, and had to make the difficult decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan (which led to Japan’s surrender a few days later in August).


In the next few years, he focused on things like the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, addressing housing shortages and inflation at home in the booming post-war economy, and navigating the tumultuous early days of the “Cold War” with Russia. 

Still, by the Presidential elections in the Fall of 1948, the country was closely divided in it’s opinion of this unlikely president.  Remember this famous headline?


The lobby of the museum is dominated by a massive floor-to-ceiling mural from Kansas City’s other famous son, painter Thomas Hart Benton. 


My photo does not do justice to how vivid the colors are in this very lively depiction of the early pioneers (who’s journeys on the famous trails across the Plains such as the Oregon Trail and the Sante Fe Trail all began in the Independence area).  The mural is absolutely stunning!


After picking mom up and a quick rest back at the hotel, we headed down to Country Club Plaza to enjoy the lights and grab some dinner.

My mom, brother and I were all born in Kansas City and there is no prettier place to get into the Christmas spirit than visiting Country Club Plaza during the holidays. While the biggest hoopla (and biggest crowds) happen on Thanksgiving night when all of the plaza lights are first turned on in unison, truly any evening during December will provide a visit full of Christmas magic.







On our drive back home to Chicago the next day, we stopped for dinner in the Quad Cities to see my friend Judi’s Sportsmobile van that she had just bought earlier in the week.


After realizing that trailer camping in her T@B was becoming too difficult for her to do on her own, she reluctantly announced this past summer that her camping days were likely over for good and that she’d no longer be able to attend our annual rallies.  

She used to have VW camper vans in the 1970s and would often fantasize about getting another van someday.  Perhaps even using it as her “daily driver”.  But any used van she might happen to see would either be too expensive, too old, too “un-stealth”, or too run down to seriously consider.  That is, until this very-pampered, very-stealthy Dodge Sportsmobile van came along!  So thrilled that Judi will be able to camp again!!!  What a great Christmas gift!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Home Remodeling Done!

Yeah! No more workmen in my house!
 It's been a busy few months at home here in Chicago.  I decided to finally undertake the big home remodeling project I'd been wanting to do for the past couple of years.  I've lived in this house for 10 years and have never liked the kitchen cabinets & countertop (or floors throughout the 1st floor for that matter).    But I didn't want to spend a fortune on a remodel, though, as I do plan to sell the house in the next year or so to transition to something that will allow me to semi-retire and be more nomadic.

But, of course, once you start planning to remodel one thing, more and more things just seem logical to add to the list!  Soon, my simple kitchen cabinet/counter remodel now included new appliances, new washer/dryer, a remodeled 1/2 bathroom, a new patio door, as well as new flooring and paint throughout the entire 1st floor!

In July, when a freak storm rolled through Chicago and blew down some tree limbs and fence panels, I added some outdoor "remodeling" to the list to repair the storm damage and install some new sod in a number of bare spots in the backyard.

The first month was spent pretty much just shopping and deciding all the colors and details.  By the end of July, I placed my cabinet order with Lowe's and took off for a vacation to Wisconsin and Michigan.

When I arrived back home in late August, the remodel went into high gear with Lowe's "Express" kitchen install.  Chicago is a test market for their new approach-- cabinets are shipped to a warehouse (rather than the client's house), inspected for any defects/missing parts, and then assembled onto wall mock-ups resembling the customer's kitchen.  Once everything fits together just right, the cabinets are partially disassembled and then delivered to the customer on the day of the old kitchen's demolition.  So, rather than a traditional 2-6 week remodel, Lowe's can do it in less than 5 days.  In my case, it only took 2 days!

Here was the dated 1990's "Before" Kitchen:

Mid-way through:

And, the final result!

New pull-out pantry shelves-- yeah!
Old kitchenette enjoying new floors and paint!

Lowe's installed the new sink and faucet, and a few weeks later,
I installed the tile backsplash myself!
Even a great new LG washer & dryer set
to replace the previous 20-yr-old energy inefficient relics

Now, I suppose I should back up a little and explain some further details--

The new appliances arrived a few weeks ahead of time (before finalizing the cabinet order to ensure the new taller/deeper cabinets would fit properly around the new fridge)

When the 2 day Kitchen install was done, I had a functioning kitchen with the new cabinets, countertop, sink and faucet in place, but still had old lighting, floors, and paint (and no tile backsplash yet either).  I also still needed to get the patio door replaced and get the outside projects scheduled.

So, a couple more months of coordinating all the work crews in and out for those jobs!  Whew!

New floors going in (new patio door already installed!)
Entire 1st floor got painted...and I got serenaded by the men singing along with their Mexican radio (they were actually fun guys, and did a great job!)
New powder room vanity, lights, mirror, and fixtures--
installed myself!!!

Millie was not too thrilled with me replacing her wall-to-wall carpet with new slick wood floors, but she very much liked getting the new sod in the backyard!

Now that the 1st floor is finished, I'll be spending the winter starting to work on the 2nd floor (mainly cleaning out closets & downsizing "stuff").

Travels will be limited for the foreseeable future as I'm currently helping a family member with serious health issues, so expect future posts from me to be non-travel related for awhile.  But, I'll very much enjoy (and rely on) reading your travel blogs and "armchair traveling" to lots of warm and sunny snowbird destinations this winter!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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