Thursday, December 28, 2017

Crazy Trip from Laredo TX to San Miguel de Allende

As we made our way across Texas to cross the border into Mexico near Laredo we were surprised to encounter snow, as were the people who lived along the border. Many of the people we talked to had never seen snow before so it was a bit of an event. 
Brian wrote up a few emails describing our trip from Laredo to San Miguel de Allende that I'm just going to cut and paste for the post, along with some pictures we took and got off the internet.

Day 1

Record breaker – I think. We left the Laredo, TX area around 8:30am Fri and by about 10:45am were stopped by a huge traffic back up. By around 6pm we had gone probably less then 2 miles. It is our understanding the road over mountains north of Monterrey was closed due to snow and ice. Trucks and cars were backed up for many miles. We pulled over to the side where there happened to be a wide area due to an old closed exit east of Sabina Hidalgo. Traffic finally started moving around 9pm but there were several trucks stopped on both sides of the road along the same wide spot we were in so we decided to stay the night not knowing exactly what was up ahead. Snow is so rare they don’t seem to have equipment or material to take care of snow and ice on roads so they just closed the pass. During the time we sat we saw no police or other government entities coming along the road. The truckers and some of the other people did seem to know what was going on. We called our friend Chris who lives near Monterrey and were told that not only the road north of Monterrey was closed but the road south of Monterrey was closed too. So we hope to be back on the road before daybreak to see how far we can get. Traffic is moving here now. We are fine in our self-contained little house – warm and fed and securely locked in. Chris gave us some info on the Federal Police website  which came in handy

Pictures from the internet showing why the roads were closed.

Day 2

Coming into Monterrey after our first night of literally spending the night on the road.

Today (Dec 9, 17) it took us about 12 hours to go 99 miles! Seriously. Map below. The road going south from Saltillo toward Mexico City was closed due to snow and ice and no way to remove it apparently. No one told us until we were on the road between Monterrey and Saltillo at which point we were stuck with no way out and no end in sight. The Federales twitter website did say the road was closed but who knew they would not get it open all day? We left our roadside wide spot [1] well before sunup at about 6 AM. We got to the road between Monterrey and Saltillo between 7:30 AM and 8 AM. And then we saw the backup of vehicles. There are two main roads – one free and one toll – we were directed to the free road by Federales so had no choice. But no matter as both roads were backed up all day. We finally got to another wide spot [2] by a Pemex station still several miles from the exit to head south at about 6:30 PM. Very tired. Nowhere else to go. Traffic still stop and go – mostly stopped – until maybe 8 PM when for some reason things began to move. We have no idea why they can’t open the pass during daylight but can open it at night. We are safe and secure and warm and fed and can still get satellite TV for some reason so we are fine. If tomorrow is like today we will probably be up by 5 AM and head out hoping for the best. We are supposed to be in San Miguel de Allende tomorrow but since it is still about 400 miles away we may not make it. Watching the Today Show this morning we saw people in NYC not needing jackets or coats outside on the plaza. Something about the weather these days. So traveler tip for Mexico – if you hear it snowed (check the weather) be prepared to sit in your vehicle all day or find a nice place to wait it out.

Brian climbed up a hill and took the photo below while we were stopped for hours. The arrow points to the Bus.

Day 3

The road was open and we got an early start. Things weren't too bad going south but apparently the road going north was closed at the pass just past Saltillo. We really couldn't figure out why since it looked like a couple of dump trucks with sand could have taken care of the northbound lanes over the pass and through the tunnel. We kept track on the odometer and the line of stopped trucks went on for 30 miles. Emergency vehicles were delivering food and fuel, and people were building fires in the median and alongside the road to keep warm. Trucks were parked at truck stops and restaurants as well. I think the news said that over 2,000 trucks were waiting for the road to open.

We had a long day but we got to San Miguel de Allende and pulled into our spot at San Ramon Hotel and RV park before dark. Glad to be settled in, and never hope to repeat a journey like that!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Time to Remodel

While recuperating from my hip replacement last year I spent some time watching HGTV and decided it was time to remodel the kitchen. Fortunately Brian went along with the idea.
The kitchen had very dated pickled oak cabinets, cheap laminate countertops and the floor tile was old and chipped. The guest bath had the same cabinets and tile.

We spent much of the spring looking at numerous options and purchased most of our materials at that time. When we returned after our summer travels on the East Coast and Canada we got the rest of the materials and got started. Following is a very brief description of some of the steps we took.

We tore out the old cabinets, but had to assemble the new cabinets before we could install them. The new wall cabinets go all the way to the ceiling, and the new base cabinets are drawers.

When we were shopping for flooring we had a difficult time deciding what to use until we came across Karndean Looselay Luxury Plank Vinyl.  Absolutely love it.  We didn't have to tear out the old tile or remove baseboards and door frames. Brian roughed up the existing tile with a sander and filled in the old grout lines. We installed the planks, and Brian was able to do the cuts with a utility knife. Some of the cuts were complicated, but he figured it out. The photo below shows the guest bath floor before installing the new flooring. We did the flooring in stages depending on what the next part of the project was.
We also got rid of the old cabinets in the bathroom. We purchased new cabinet doors in the Shaker style to match the kitchen. Brian painted the doors and cabinet frames to match, which was a much easier option than trying to tear them out.

We did much of the floor in the kitchen and laundry room before starting on the base cabinets. Once they were installed the next step was to get started on the granite tile countertops.

Our choice for the countertops was 12x24 granite tiles. I chose a tile I really liked but of course it didn't come with a bullnose option. Among other things, Brian invested in a tile saw, and a tool that bullnosed and polished the granite tile. It was a tremendous amount of work and really did a number on his back but he did a great job.We had to set up our cutting/bullnosing/polishing shop in the garage since it was way too hot to be working out in the sun.

We tiled the stove side of the kitchen first - the goal was to keep the kitchen functional while we were working and we pretty much accomplished that. In addition to laying the tile on the countertop we had to cut and lay tile for the fascia. Once that was done everything had to be grouted and sealed, quite a production but done in stages.

One of the biggest challenges was the kitchen sink. The company that we ordered our cabinets from didn't have an option for a farmhouse sink cabinet so Brian modified a wall cabinet and built the support for the sink around the cabinet. He also designed and built a pull-out drawer under the sink - took several days but he's a meticulous planner and it turned out really well.

The floor under the base cabinets of the sink side was anything but level so it took a while to get that accomplished so the flooring could be installed, the base cabinets installed, and the dishwasher re-installed.
Once the base cabinets on the sink side were installed and level we began the tiling project on that side. We spent a lot of time making sure the sink was properly installed and level. Brian installed all new plumbing for the sink and new faucet and came up with a clever idea for leveling the sink. He put metal on the side supports for the sink, then installed bolts that he could adjust up or down as needed while I held the level on top of the sink and countertop.

Once the cabinets, dishwasher, sink and tile were pretty much done we got to work on the bar. We tore out the old bar and built a new countertop base and fascia which we tiled, grouted and sealed. 

Almost to the finish line and we still had to decide on a backsplash. When we returned to the place that we bought our granite tile one of the designers showed us glass subway tile that we thought went pretty well with the countertops. Brian came up with the idea of using a few lighter tiles to break things up and I think it worked out quite well. We thought the backsplash would go up pretty quickly but it didn't. It came in sheets with 8 tiles on each, and the spacers we had to use kept falling out. It took close to 3 days to install, very difficult but it turned out well.

Obviously I've skipped many steps and this is just the basic description of what we did. As usual with projects like these challenges kept presenting themselves, but we got done in about 6 weeks which is pretty good for a major remodel. We're very happy with the results!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nova Scotia

Our friends Paula and Jerry live in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. They had extended an invitation to visit them to us several times and this year we decided to take them up on it. They were gracious hosts, showing us around and even letting us park in the driveway next to their beautiful home.

There was so much to see in the area and we were able to spend several days touring. One of the biggest attractions is the Bay of Fundy which has the highest tides in the world. The tidal change peaks at about 50 feet, as tall as a 5 story building.  Twice each day, 160 billion tons of seawater flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy — more than the combined flow of the world’s freshwater rivers.

We got up early enough one morning to go to Hall Harbour for low tide.

We returned in the afternoon for high tide at the same spot. Quite a difference.

We did some touring in the area, and also between our visits to Hall Harbour. At one of the lookoffs we got a good view of the valley. The muddy rivers will fill as the tide rises.

We stopped for coffee at one of the local craft breweries (too early for beer) and had a nice spot on their deck to relax for a bit.

There a quite a few wineries in this area as well. We stopped at Luckett Winery and got Paula and Jerry to pose in the phone booth they have out in the vineyard.

We had another fun touring day that took us around more of the Annapolis Valley. We stopped in Annapolis Royal, a nice little town with lots of history. We visited the historic museum and fort.

And just generally enjoyed exploring the area. Thanks to Paula and Jerry for showing us around and making suggestions for other spots to visit in Nova Scotia. We definitely enjoyed ourselves!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Birds Birds Birds

If you ever get anywhere near the Maritimes – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland – we strongly suggest trying to find a way to get to Englishtown on Cape Breton Island for a boat tour to see the birds. Englishtown is about 25 miles from the Sydney Ferry Terminal.

We cannot say enough about Donelda’s Puffin Boat Tours that leave from Englishtown – it was as advertised and more (though her sound system made hearing her talks difficult). We had heard this was a great tour and it was. It took about three hours.

We started to see Bald Eagles before taking to the high seas, mostly sitting on rocks, but only a couple in flight.

Once we reached the Bird Islands (Hertford first - then Ciboux) we began to see more and more birds. We came for the Puffins and had hopes of seeing them and Bald Eagles. We saw a lot more.

We have often seen Great Blue Herons in various parts of North America but we have always seen them alone – never a pair – never more than one to be seen.

We have wondered how they find mates to breed. We now know at least some of them fly to Bird Islands where they nest in colonies. We saw lots of them and we saw at least one colony nest.

At one point we counted 19 Bald Eagles in one area. Unfortunately they all seemed to be resting and didn't seem to be interested in us, or in flying. We could see the adults and the young.

There were many sea birds and Donelda was great at pointing them out and explaining which was which and what to look for to identify the differences. Below is a colony of Razorbills that nest on the rocks.

The Razorbills and Puffins were difficult to tell apart from a distance. They nest together in the same type of area.

We had seen Northern Gannets diving from several hundred feet up turning themselves into spears and diving down up to 70 feet to catch fish – similar to hawks but Gannets hit the water at amazing speed and keep going down.

There are many types of seagulls. Below are three Herring Gulls nesting on the rocky cliff with chicks.

We saw many Black-Backed Herring Gulls. This one is with several chicks.

We did get to see Puffins – lots of them. They live at sea and only leave the water to come to the islands to breed.

The Puffin's wings beat like those of a hummingbird. The wings beat at the rate of 300 to 400 times per minute, about 5 to 7 times per second. Puffins fly at about 55 mph, hard to photograph easily.

Puffins can dive up to 200 feet below the ocean surface to hunt fish and are very fast. They are rare so it was a real treat to see so many of them in this one area.

We also saw grey seals swimming around the islands. Because of their size and weight they don't come out of the water - they get overheated if they're on land.

More cormorants.

We saw a lot of birds, and there are many that nest here that we didn't see. Following are some links for more information on what we saw...