Friday, January 30, 2009

Ice storm events

Well, since moving here, we've set all sorts of records. First, record heat; then record drought; then University of Kentucky football wins games and basketball loses; then record numbers of tornadoes; then worst snowstorm in 10 years; and now, the worst ice storm in state history.

It began innocently enough on the evening of Monday, the 26th. When we got up on Tuesday morning, there was about 1/4 inch of ice on everything. No big deal, having lived through the great Ice Storm in Maine in 1998. But about 9:30 am, the power went out, and the ice continued to build up. All day it drizzled, and by afternoon, we could hear trees cracking, and finally breaking. It rained all night but the temps hovered around 28 so the ice didn't melt. Then on Wednesday, it just got worse. More ice, and about 2 inches of snow snapped the tops off most trees we could see.

The main generator at the local water works went down, so about 45,000 people were without water, and the cities of Danville, Perryville and Junction City were totally without fire protection, as was the rest of Boyle, Mercer, and Garrard (and probably other) Counties. To top it off, a generator was sent up from Atlanta, GA, but when it got to the TN-KY state line, some overly-eager TN state trooper didn't like the look of the license plate, so he held the generator up in Tennessee for over four hours...

Going out today, after we finally got the power back, there was not a single tree that didn't suffer major damage as far as we could see. It looked like a series of random tornadoes had taken down every single Bradford Pear and Dogwood we could find, and destroyed virtually every other ornamental tree and most of the oaks, maples, and other hardwoods. The main difference, other than the total destruction of some areas, is that in a tornado, the breakage is usually all in the same direction and the path is narrow. This was everywhere.

Our Bradford Pear tree, before and after...

Over 700,000 statewide were without power, and in western Kentucky it was even worse than here -- Rick said there was a curfew in Paducah, and he and the family headed up to Carbondale, IL to get warm.

Bright side -- it's obvious The Cat knows where he can get warm!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The last three weeks...HECTIC!

Wow, I haven't written for SO long, I almost forgot how to post on this blog. I've barely had time to breathe since before Christmas.

On Saturday, 20 December, Maureen called -- her water broke, and she and Josh were headed for the Maine Medical Center. Barry and I tried to find a flight to Maine that I could afford to be there when Gannon was born, but at over $800 just for the ticket, that wasn't in the cards. Anyway, I got a call from the hospital at about 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, 21 December, announcing that Gannon Chandler Patrick had made his entrance at 7 lb 8 oz, and 19 in long. The little critter, at birth, had more hair than I do! After some trials and tribulations (mommy's and baby's blood pressure dropping), all is well.

For Christmas, we went to Paducah to Barry's son's family's home. We've been "adopted" by the Alexander family, and, as with Thanksgiving, we had a great time. Barry's granddaughter, Elizabeth, is growing by leaps and bounds -- I guess babies have a tendency to do that.

I flew up to Maine on 3 January and stayed until 7 January, seeing as much of Gannon as I could possibly squeeze in. By that time, Maureen had taken him out every day shopping or visiting, so he was getting used to the world, at least from his car seat or a shopping cart! I had a chance to hold him, feed him, burp him (he burps better than Maureen does, already!), and basically everything but change his diaper. That's a parent's duty -- one of the luxuries of being a grandfather. Grandparents are for spoiling grandkids, and I certainly tried to do that to the extent of my budget. We looked at baby stuff at Wal-Mart and Target, and, yes, I bought Gannon a few items that were really cute.

On the way home, I also managed to smuggle back in my suitcase, half a dozen doughnuts from Tony's in Portland, two GIGANTIC whoopie pies from Big G's in Winslow, and 12 pounds of Jordan's Red Hot Dogs! I can only imagine what the airport security people in Portland thought when they x-rayed my luggage before takeoff!

On 9 January, Barry and I flew to San Antonio, TX to Barry's daughter-in-law's brother's wedding (Brad, Laura's brother). It was non-eventful driving up to Louisville and leaving there for Memphis, until we left Memphis. The DC-9 lost an engine on take-off -- sounded like a very loud flat tire. We circled the airport, over the Mississippi River several times while air traffic was cleared. The pilot told us the landing would be rough and hard because we only had one engine and we had to land quickly -- but on that score he was wrong (see the dead plane on the taxiway). The landing was better than the landing I had in Lexington on the way back from Maine, when the plane actually skidded in the thin black ice on the runway.

We were in Memphis for several hours while they tried to find another plane and flight crew, and when we finally did take off, the rest of the trip went fine until the 11th. Northwest Airlines gave us a $10 meal voucher (not good on alcohol, which is what we REALLY needed after that landing) and $25 off our next flight before March 9. Needless to say, we, and other passengers, were totally insulted at that paltry compensation for what could have been a very tragic experience. Complaints have been emailed to Northwest, but we've received no replies yet.

When we arrived in San Antonio (temps in the 70s), we picked up the rental car at Enterprise and headed into town. The wedding rehearsal, ceremony, and reception were wonderful. We took photos (Barry Sanborn, Brad Alexander and Rick Sanborn) and video for the family, and ours will be the ONLY video of the entire event. CDs and DVDs are ready to be mailed to family members.

Before the wedding on Saturday, 10 January, we walked all over downtown -- check out the "Riverwalk" on Google. It's a development of the San Antonio river with restaurants and small stores for about 2-3 miles throughout downtown. Wonderful! For much of the Riverwalk, there are no railings, and we wondered if some people who had too much to drink on Friday or Saturday nights fell in the river. While we were walking along, a Japanese girl was being pulled out by her friends. OH, the embarassment of having hundreds of people see you fall into the San Antonio River!

We also wandered around the Alamo complex several times during our visit. It's the most visited historic site in Texas, and home of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, which now maintains the site, along with the state. The gardens out back showcase examples of native plants, notably the prickly pear cactus, mescal trees, and pecan trees. We found out that "cottonwood" in Spanish is "Alamo" and that's probably where the building got its name. It is actually known as "La mission de San Antonio de Valero" but everyone calls it "The Alamo." The building here is the chapel, as repaired in the 1850s after being nearly destroyed in 1836 during the Mexican bombardment. It stands in the southeast corner of the original mission, which stretched several blocks north and west of the present site.

On Sunday, 11 January, we drove out to Fort Sam Houston, and we found out from the security guard at the main gate that the registration on the rental car had expired. We almost didn't get onto the base, but he did let us through, as it wasn't OUR car or OUR fault. We also visited the Ft. Sam Houston Museum, small, but very nicely done, with a great collection of artifacts going back to about 1845. When we left, we called Enterprise, got nowhere except "hold" so we drove back out to the airport to exchange cars. In the rush to swap vehicles, I left my cell phone in the old car, but didn't discover it until we were back at the hotel. We called, were put on hold; called again, put on hold again; finally called emergency road service and THEY were put on hold. Finally I got out the laptop,and went to Enterprise's national contact website, called the number given there, and somehow got connected to what I thought was the San Antonio airport location. The gal I talked with said she'd email me if she found my phone, and she did -- email me, that is. No phone, and no record that I even had a rental there. I replied to the email, and we figured out that the national office had connected me with the San Jose, California, location. Finally we DID get through to the San Antonio airport location, where they DID find my phone, and gave us 15% off the total rental for all our trouble.

On Monday, 13 January, we walked from our hotel to the site of San Antonio's world's fair in 1968, "Hemisfair." Some of the buildings are still left, notably the Tower of the Americas, which was until 1996 the tallest observation tower / restaurant in the US, and the round United States Pavilion, now the US courthouse.

Several buildings from the historic area of San Antonio were moved here for the fair, and thus preserved. They are shops now, and one is a gardener's delight. It was originally owned by one of the "master gardeners" of San Antonio, and its gardens today are maintained by volunteers. They try to get locals to garden using native plants, which really makes sense, given the water shortages during much of the year down this way.

It's only a short walk from downtown, and yet it seems to be a different world. Here also, we saw our first "yellow rose" in Texas! Barry wandered through the gardens, and we both drooled over the green, thinking that it'll April before central Kentucky looks like this -- June in Maine! So many plants looked familiar -- plants which in Maine are annuals, but here they're perennials with woody stems!

Also on Monday, Brad and Rebecca (Laura's brother and sister-in-law) took us on a tour of the Texas "Hill Country". It was interesting -- notably flat compared to Maine, or even parts of Kentucky, and there wasn't a tree in sight that was taller than, say, 15 feet. We didn't see any armadillos (Texas speed-bumps) either, but maybe they only come out at night. We did see plenty of prickly-pear cactus, which apparently supports local cattle just fine. Think, they get water, nutrients, plus toothpicks all in one bite!

Our first stop was in Blanco for barbecue (GOOD!). Riley's B-B-Q serves delicious cuts of meat by the pound, serves it on trays and paper placemats, so you don't worry if you drop a piece on the cement floor. A place like this isn't created by an interior designer on drugs overnight -- it takes years of careful un-planned growth to achieve this atmosphere. It was a great little place!

When we left Blanco (pop. 1500, 19 restaurants), we were off to Albert, TX where the only building in town is a bar/dance hall. The "town" was originally settled by the Luckenbach family -- read more about them below...

Then to Becker Winery in Stonewall, only a few miles from the LBJ Ranch for those of you who actually REMEMBER the 60s. The wine industry in Texas is quite extensive, and I didn't realize that the climate would support grape growing, but then again, grapes will grow about anywhere. It hit us that, as we were sitting there in short sleeves, it was the middle of January, and we were very comfortable with the temperature.

After tipping a glass to honor the newlywed couple, we were off to a little place with a big reputation, Luckenbach, Texas. Luckenbach's not actually a town, but a post office, bar, dance hall, and major tourist attraction, with thousands going there for a blow-out good time. They have motorcycle conventions, Willie Nelson has done Fourth of July concerts here for years, and it's in general, one of the unpolished gems of the Lone Star State. It seems like they specialize in serving Texas beers -- of which there are VERY many varieties.

There's always some sort of entertainment here, from country music concerts, to local talent being showcased. As far as I can tell, the place never shuts down. And people find their way here, despite the fact that the "Luckenbach" road signs are constantly being stolen. Apparently, if you want to get there, you can get there even without road signs!

I had never heard of the song, "Luckenbach, Texas" by Waylon Jennings, but I know it now!

Back into town, for more walking around the Riverwalk, then on Tuesday, 14 January, we checked out of the hotel, and went to the Market Place, another tourist venue, where we bought some souvenirs before heading back to the airport for the flight home to the Bluegrass.

We actually made it home safely and soundly...

Now to plan our next trip -- to Florida to pick up some oranges, lemons and grapefruit.