Nesting Bald Eagles

American Bald Eagle

Recently I traveled to Bettendorf, Iowa to see my daughter.  Bettendorf is in the Quad Cities area on the border between Iowa and Illinois, and sits right on the west side of Mississippi River.  It is a quiet, charming little community.  Perhaps it was partially so quite because I was there during the winter season.

Lock & Dam #15
Rock Island Arsenal

One of the things I found very interesting is that bald eagles, as many as 2500 of them, come there during the winter months to fish along the lock and dam (#15) on the Mississippi River.  These dams were completed in March 1934 by the United States Army Corp of Engineers, and their use by passing ships during the winter months keeps the heavy ice on the Mississippi River broken up.  This is turn makes the eagles happy, because the turbulence below the dams allows them to feast on the fish in the open water.  There is a historic clock tower near the lock & dam where the eagles can easily be viewed fishing in larger groups.

Bald eagles mate for life, and many stay in this area on into the spring, roosting in the wooded bluffs and building gigantic nests in the hardwood trees lining the river.  Eaglets typically hatch in mid to late March.

Bald Eagle

I also learned that the local Alcoa Davenport Works company is the largest employer in the area.  In 2009 a pair of eagles, now named Liberty and Justice, took up residence in a large cottonwood tree on the company grounds, building a tremendous nest 85 feet high off the ground.  The folks at Alcoa installed a fantastic live eagle cam, that takes both close-up and long shots of the eagle nest.  Since its installation over 25 million people have viewed these American icons in their nest.   It is definitely worth checking out now as this pair of eagles have already started “feathering” their nest in preparation for new chicks.  I was able to hear the eagles and catch this juvenile eagle in the nest, but I am sure they will be there far more often now as nesting season progresses.  Such an amazing site to see!  Check out the live eagle cam.



On the Road to Houston



I found myself on a familiar road this weekend, traveling to Houston.  I have lived in both Austin and Houston for many years of my life.  This weekend, however, found me specifically going to Houston to attend the International Quilt Festival at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.

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Traffic was heavy in Houston even around the noon hour on Friday when I arrived.  I enjoyed traveling through most of downtown driving behind a 1960’s 220S Mercedes-Benz, although I felt sorry for the guy driving because it was a stick shift, with almost solid stop and go traffic!  It did, however, let me pretend to maybe be traveling in Europe rather than in Houston.

The hotel I stayed in, the Westin Houston Downtown, was exceptionally nice!  Clearly I am not accustomed to such luxury, because I got pretty excited over the amenities, including a bathrobe, lighted makeup mirror, waterfall shower, and a REALLY nicely detailed room.  Sumptuous!!  I can definitely recommend this place if you are ever in the downtown Houston area.  It is conveniently located near both the convention center and Minute Maid ballpark, and other downtown attractions.

The George Brown Convention Center is simply HUGE.  A friend at work told me that her daughter was there once for a volleyball tournament, and that this building holds 100 volleyball courts.  After seeing the inside, I can believe it.  One end held the food court, then about a million retail booths (mostly related to quilting of course), and then there was the quilt show at the other far end of the building.  Thankfully many, many chairs were located along the lengths of the walls for a place to rest weary feet.

Enjoy the photos.  I will be posting more of the beautiful quilts during the week.  Just too many for one post!

Stunning Rockies

Colorado Photos

My father lost a very dear first cousin yesterday.  J.L. was, like most members of our family, raised in Texas (in the town of Sweetwater).  In mid-life, however, he moved to Colorado, and once there never left the mountains.  His favorite place in the world was Rocky Mountain National Park, and the nearby city of Estes Park, Co.  Estes Park, like Boulder, Jamestown, and other areas in and around Denver, was very hard hit by torrential rains and flooding this past Thursday.

Flooding in Estes Park

J.L. is certainly not the only Texan in our family to fall in love with the rugged beauty of Colorado.   I, too, love this place, as does my husband.  In fact often I think it would be the perfect little place for us to retire.  Yes it gets plenty cold as compared to Austin, Texas, with the worst of the cold weather coming to this area of the Rockies in spring, just when the bluebonnets are in full bloom here.  Still, I cannot resist the mountains in all their year-round glory, and find Rocky Mountain National Park particularly becoming this time of year as the aspens turn golden and the elk come down from the high summer meadows to walk the streets of Estes Park.  If you have never seen…or heard…elk during the mating season you are truly missing quite a sight.

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

When my brother and I were growing up our parents took us to this place often.  We camped in a tent in the national park, and shopped the streets of Estes Park and played miniature golf there.  I will never forget my daughter’s first trip to Colorado; she just couldn’t stop taking pictures.   She was in Estes Park during Spring Break this year, and  fell in love with the place all over again.

Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) in the national park has to be one of the most magnificent drives in this country.  A highway to the sky, it covers 48 miles between Estes Park on the east side of the park to Grand Lake on the western side.  A visitor center sits perched at the uppermost point of the drive, and from this vantage point, high above the tree line, you have a magnificent view over all the Rockies.  In just the last few days this road has provided the only way out of Estes Park, with flooding so severe that roads going directly east towards Denver have been closed.

Enjoy the gallery of photos above, to a very favorite place of mine.  My heartfelt thoughts are with the residents and businesses in Estes Park.   Recover quickly, because Colorado is always calling me back…

Cross Country Kitties

My daughter said it was surreal, having both her Dad and I sitting across from her and her boyfriend at a table in a local restaurant, sharing a meal in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It certainly felt that way to us too, having made a rather impromptu two day trip driving across the country to help her move, and to bring her three cats home with us to central Texas.  We finished our meal and made plans for the next day – where to meet up and arrangements for pickup of the U-Haul for moving – and then headed to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.  We would need it.

Now I don’t know about you, but my husband and I aren’t big on moving, although we have certainly helped our daughter move a number of times.  Year after year, one apartment to another.  When she moved away from Texas to Minnesota a couple of years ago she went alone, and we thought our apartment moving days were over!  And this move would not be easy.  Third floor, wet slippery slushy snow, and high temps in the 20’s.  We were fortunate that, although bitterly cold by our standards, it was a gorgeous sunny day.  We were even crazy enough to delight in the fact that we were getting to experience a little bit of “real” winter!  That nostalgia had worn off by the end of moving day, though, as our weary bodies were ready for a hot shower and a clean bed.  And we were still mentally preparing ourselves for the long two day ride home, with three cats in tow.

As we awoke to Day 4 of our cross country adventure, the weather had changed.  It was even colder outside, and the sun was gone now.  It looked like a winter day, with gray and overcast skies.  Snow was expected with a front that was coming in later in the day, and we really wanted to head out as early as possible and get ahead of any potentially bad driving conditions.  We had 600 miles to go to make it to Wichita, Kansas before this day was over.  Our daughter picked up her cats from the boarding kennel, and we quickly moved them – each in their own soft crate – from her vehicle to ours.  It was very cold outside and the goodbyes were quick.

I have so often wished that I could talk to pets and that they would understand what I am saying.  It is so hard when you can only reassure them with a gentle voice and hands, but can’t really explain to them what is happening.  Such was the case now, with three plaintive meowing voices coming from the crates.  Poor, scared things.  After we got through downtown Minneapolis I relented and unzipped the crate tops and front panels, and let the roaming begin.  All chose to explore at least briefly.  The two older cats, Caska and Mr. Moo, climbed back into their crates in short order, while the youngest cat Binx continued his loud meowing as he explored my vehicle from the very back to the very front.  He looked out windows, climbed over our shoulders, slinked onto the floorboards (including the driver’s side).  Eventually he settled on my passenger side floorboard.  I had a pillow in my lap and think he felt a little more secure in the temporary darkness.

I had come prepared for this ride home.  We had a big litter box in the very back of my Honda Element, which fortunately does NOT have carpet in it.  We had fastened the back seats up, to leave as much room as possible for luggage and kitties.  I had brought along small plastic bags, spray cleaner, and paper towels, all of which would prove useful on the trip home.  I kept one pet bowl for water, and lightly filled it after some of our own gas/food stops (while the car was not running) so the cats could drink and not get dehydrated.  And all three did take advantage of this.  I made the decision to hold off on food throughout the duration of the day, instead giving the cats food at the overnight hotel.

My biggest fear, the cats potentially escaping from the vehicle, proved to be unfounded.  Unlike dogs, who would be more excited and tend to bolt for the door once open, the cats seemed to want to “hide” in their crates.  My husband and I would take turns on exiting and entering the vehicle, all the time keeping a very watchful eye on the cats.  All in all, the ride on Day 4 went amazingly well.  No pets sick, and all fairly settled.

When we arrived at our overnight destination, we placed their litter box, food and water bowls in the bathroom, and turned the kitties loose for the night.  And cats being the nocturnal creatures they are, you know they stretched their legs and moved about all night.  Once at around 2:00am my husband and I both sat straight up in bed because they had loudly knocked over something in the room.  And Binx climbed all over both of us in bed, and purred loudly under the covers.

Day 5 was pretty much the same as Day 4.  The ride was becoming more routine now, and we were just anxious to get home.  Finally, after more gas stops than seemed imaginable, our round-trip 2400 mile journey was over!  The days ahead will now be filled with helping all of our pet household (which suddenly numbers eight) to make the day-to-day adjustments.

Have you ever traveled with cats?  Ever made a cross country road trip with your kitties?  How did that work for you?  I’d love to know!

Oregon Coast-Part III

This is the third of a three-part series about my trip to the Oregon coast.  Be sure to enjoy all three parts!

I awoke to more typical area weather on day three of my trip – fog and light rain, which would persist throughout the day.  It was also much colder and a little windy, which altogether made it just plain chilly outside.  I still managed to get some outdoor photos, but found that indoor pursuits were far more pleasant.  I took a quick side trip in the morning to the Devils Punch Bowl near Otter Crest.  The water surging in and out of the orange stained rock formation was rather mesmerizing, and I’m sure would have been even more spectacular at high tide!  The ocean had a completely different feel and color today, rough and gray, without the shades of blue and green I had seen just yesterday.  I longed-for my own cottage by the sea, set on top of a cliff, with large picture windows looking out over the stormy ocean.  I could just curl up in a comfy chair with a cat in my lap and a good cup of warm apple cider, and sift at my leisure through some favorite magazines while admiring the view.  But I only had this final day here, so no time for daydreaming.  I promise myself that on another visit I should allow time for a day of pure ocean watching.

I visit the Newport area again, and this time stop to see another smaller lighthouse.  The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871, and like the Yaquina Head Lighthouse has been completely restored.  If you love lighthouses this is a great place to visit, with two beautifully restored lighthouses within very close proximity to each other.

The Nye Beach area in Newport has some very interesting local shops.  I spent quite a bit of time shopping here and staying out of the cold weather.  The beaches were completely empty, except for some stoic sea gulls perched atop the pier posts by the beach parking lots.  Guess everyone was staying indoors.  I particularly liked shopping in the Coastal Breeze store and bought several items there. Decor items I especially loved were the Hot Skwash velvet pumpkins with the real pumpkin stems.  They are quite stunning; I’ve never seem anything like them before.  They are locally made (just outside of Portland) by Daria in a family-run business.  If you have the chance read her ‘about’ page.  I just love a good story about a successful entrepreneur!

After shopping I had a late lunch at a 50’s style diner off Hwy. 101 in Newport, the Flashbacks Fountain and Grill.  It was really neat with its black-and-white checkered floors and pops of red.  The hamburger and fries I had were yummy.  They had a very large fountain bar where you could order just about any type of shake or malt you desired, but I saved that treat for a local place in Depoe Bay where I knew I could get an ice cream cone with some premium Tillamook ice cream.  Talk about GOOD, this ice cream is the best, as is the Tillamook yogurt that was served daily at the Channel House Inn.  I looked for Tillamook products upon my return to Texas, but sadly could only find their cheeses in stock locally.  On a future trip to Oregon I will not miss a visit to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where I can taste all of their delicious ice cream flavors!  Oh, and did I mention that they also make fudge with their creamy Tillamook butter?  It must taste like a little piece of Oregon heaven.