Nov 10, 2014

Elf Sighting...

This weekend, several of Santa's elves were seen working in my workshop.  It looked like they were building little rocking horses for some good little boys and girls.  Can Christmas be far behind?

Nov 8, 2014

A Coastal Holiday...

For the past many months, I've been working on a job in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Naturally, I come home with stories about the people I work with and the places I've seen.  Mary Ann and I have talked for several months about bringing her down to Corpus for a vacation.  We finally did that, starting a couple of weeks ago.

Mary Ann elected to drive from Fayetteville to Corpus Christi.  She could take as much time as she wanted to see the sights and she could carry as much luggage as she desired without worrying about excess baggage fees.  She also enjoys driving and does not enjoy airports.  She left on Wednesday, October 29, with the idea of taking two days to cover the 1,000-mile distance.  She made reservations at a hotel in Lake Charles, LA, in anticipation of covering the longest leg on the first day, covering about 650 miles.

No trips in the Mead family are uneventful, and this one was no exception.  While in Lake Charles, Mary Ann put a nasty gash in her leg while loading the car.  She had to get some special antibiotic cream to put on it and ended up in a Wal-Mart pharmacy where it took several hours to get her prescription filled.  She got a late start out of Lake Charles and arrived in Corpus after 10:00 PM.  We unpacked her luggage and both crashed and didn't set the alarm.

Friday, October 31
We both slept in.  About 9:30, I went to the lobby and brought breakfast up to the room.  We took our time getting ready and had a late lunch at LaPlaya, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Corpus Christi.  Then we drove around the City using a list of points of interest that Mary Ann had printed from some Internet sources.  We spent some time along the downtown waterfront, drove past some elegant homes that face the bay, and found the district in which the museums and art galleries are located.  I had no previous idea where all these venues were located because when I am in Corpus Christi, I'm commuting from my motel to work and back or going to or from the airport.  After a quiet dinner at Harrison's Landing we returned to our hotel to get a good night's rest in preparation for a busy Saturday.

I had suggested to Mary Ann that we go out to a very special restaurant -- Yardarm -- on Saturday night.  I had eaten there with some of my business colleagues and it was a wonderful dining experience.  The restaurant is in an old bay-facing residence.  It is family owned and both the food and service are exceptional.  So after we returned to the hotel, I called and made reservations at the Yardarm for Saturday night.

Saturday, November 1
Our route the first day
I awoke first and brought coffee and bagels up to the room.  After getting cleaned up and dressed, we decided to do a scenic loop from Corpus Christi across to Padre Island, then north to Port Aransas, then back to the mainland via ferry boat to Aransas Pass, returning to Corpus Christi via Ingleside and Portland.  This would be a good way to see the general layout along some of the populated as well as unpopulated areas.

It was nearly lunchtime when we were ready to leave the hotel, so we decided to have lunch right away.  We headed southeast past my place of employment (We were saving that visit for Monday), then across the JFK Causeway to Padre Island.  We stopped at Snoopy's, a very casual, mostly seafood restaurant, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the open water-level patio.  After lunch, we proceeded to the business district of north Padre Island, turned northeast and crossed a small bridge and were now on Mustang Island headed for Port Aransas.  This is a small, picturesque town of around 4,000 permanent residents that caters to tourists and sport fisherman.

We drove past dozens of condominiums and beach home communities along the road that runs the length of Mustang Island.  I pointed out to Mary Ann the area in which I lived for a few weeks during which we resided in a beach house as a money-saving business residence.  As we arrived in Port Aransas, I pulled into the parking lot of Coffee Waves, a little coffee shop that I had frequented when I lived nearby.  We went in and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon cup of coffee, then left to find the ferry that would take us across Aransas Pass, which is only a few hundred yards wide at the point where the ferry transits.  We found the ferry landing with no trouble and soon were on the ferry and underway for probably no more than four or five minutes.  Then we were being ushered off to continue our circular drive on normal paved roads.

A sailboat practicing along
the T-Head channel
We proceeded to the town of Portland, drove around a bit looking for points of interest (There were none that we saw.), and then headed for Ingleside and on into Corpus Christi.  The view from the bridge that crosses the neck between Nueces Bay and Corpus Christi Bay is quite impressive.  On one side, you are looking at the USS Lexington (CV-16), a World War II Essex-class aircraft carrier that now serves as a museum.  On the other side of the bridge is a large area of urban renewal development that includes an old historic district of Corpus Christi and Whataburger Field, home to the Hooks, Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Houston Astros.

Our dessert at Yardarm
Another visit to one of the so-called "T-Heads" filled the next hour, as we  walked along the waterfront looking at the private boats and yachts.  We proceeded to the Yardarm restaurant for the next couple of hours.  Our window table faced Corpus Christi Bay.   The meal was memorable.  We mentioned to our most-attentive server that we were celebrating our 10th anniversary (It was in July, but we decided we'd really celebrate with a nice dinner at a later date.  This was the date!).  She helped us celebrate by bringing a complimentary candle-laden piece of Key-lime pie.

Sunday, November 2
After another slow start, we decided today was a good day to go to the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.  I've been reading a wonderful book recently, From a Watery Grave : The Discovery and Excavation of La Salle's Shipwreck, La Belle.  A few years ago, the wreckage of this 300-year-old ship was discovered in Matagorda Bay, not far north of Corpus Christi.  The Texas Historical Commission and the Archeologists of Texas A&M University managed to raise the necessary funds to finance a multi-year excavation, including the construction of a giant cofferdam around the wreckage, that yielded over 2,000,000 artifacts!  Some of these artifacts are now on display at this and six other Texas museums.  Thus the interest in visiting the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.

We found the museum with only a couple of wrong turns and proceeded in.  There was substantial material on shipwrecks in general, a sizeable collection of geological and historical material suitable for teaching science classes, and finally, an entire section of the museum dedicated to the wreck of LaSalle's fleet and the LaBelle.  Unfortunately, much of the exhibit was in an area where the lighting system was not operable, so we couldn't see the displays.  But what we could see was remarkable.  It seems impossible that you are looking at a 300-year-old object that has survived being immersed in salt water.  The ceramic objects were not so surprising but there were many organic items made of wood and leather, and several metal objects as well.  And to top it off, I purchased another book on the subject.

Monday, November 3
The Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center, Home of
the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation
This was the day we would visit the Lone Star UAS Center where I work.  Mary Ann and I left the hotel around 10:30 and went to the building, which was a bank building that was acquired by Texas A&M University Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) a few years ago.  When I came to Corpus a couple of years ago to work on the proposal to the FAA that resulted in this effort, we were given space in this building for the proposal team.  The primary function of the building is as a business incubation center.  We (the LSUASC) now occupy most of the 3rd floor.  So Mary Ann and I proceeded directly to the top floor.  She got to meet many of the people I work with every day and she saw the facilities in which we work.  I'm glad we got to do this, so she has a much better sense of what I'm doing when I go to Texas.

We had lunch with some of my co-workers at Howard's Barbecue, a locally-operated gem that's within a stone's throw of the building.  We're well known there.  My favorite is the "Jimmy Jr."  Imagine smoked sausage, brisked, and pulled pork, combined in a large flour tortilla.  Add barbecue sauce, onions, jalapenos... Perfection.  And Howard's has the best cole slaw in town, made with chopped apples in the mix.  It was a very nice lunch.

The beach at the Packery Channel, showing the rock-lined jetties
that define the opening to the channel.
Then, at the suggestion of one of my co-workers, we proceeded across the JFK causeway and went to the Packery Channel.  This is the body of water that separates Padre Island from Mustang Island.  We followed the driving directions we were given and soon found ourselves on an access road that goes directly to the beach!  We drove onto the beach, which was lined with several kite-boarders and fishermen in the surf.  Then I noticed a long rock-lined structure on which people were walking that extended several hundred feet out into the water.  I drove perhaps 500 yards and parked at this structure.  It was quite breezy and cool, and the surf was high.  Mary Ann stayed at the car while I walked out on the concrete walkway.  There were dozens of fishermen on either side, standing on the huge boulders that lined the structure.  I went until I got drenched by a breaking wave.  The jetty extended probably another couple hundred feet from where I turned around.  This was a very impressive structure!

We had planned to meet the gang for dinner at Port Aransa, so after about an hour exploring around the channel, we proceeded north up Mustang Island and once more stopped at Coffee Waves, the little coffee shop in Port A.  Mary Ann and I relaxed with some warm beverages and reading material in some big soft chairs preparing ourselves for a delicious dinner.

At 6:15, we and the Hendrixes (Jerry and Dee) and the Nelsons (Mat and Amber with children Luke [3 years] and Kana [2 months]) gathered at Shell's, one of our all-time favorite restaurants.  You have to try it to believe it.  It's a small, family-owned place in which I have never had a bad eating experience.  It's the kind of restaurant that makes you feel totally at home the first time you walk in the door.  And the food is exceptional.

After a great evening with friends we returned to our hotel for a good night's rest.

Tuesday, November 4

Today would be the day for museum visiting, to view more of the artifacts from the Belle.  We had a liesurely breakfast and headed for Rockport, home of the Texas Maritime Museum.

To be continued...