Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Farewell 2017, Howdy 2018

Wow, what a year 2017 has been! From a near-total solar eclipse to massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey to several trips throughout our great land. Of course I hoped to finish the year with several more blogs, and as usual, I let the time get away from me and finished the year with a long lapse between posts. This time of year everyone likes to talk about new year's resolutions. "I'm going to drop those 15 pounds." "I'm going to do more charitable work." Let's see if I can actually maintain a consistent posting schedule this year. Call it a resolution? Sure, I guess. How about just calling it a "goal?" I hope I can reach it, and I'll do my best to, but we'll see this time next year.

As a reminder to my constant readers, and to my new readers, I use many hyperlinks in my blog. Any text in blue (except this example) is a hyperlink, and clicking on it will open a new window. Also, clicking on any photo will bring up a large version of it.

From '17 to '18
image from Google search

So, I thought I'd recap some highlights from 2017 and take a look at what's coming up this year. Some months were definitely more, ummmm, interesting than other months.

January: After the hustle and bustle of the preceding holiday season, January gave us a little downtime. We watched the movie Hidden Figures at the theatre, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. I wish I had the sharp mental acuity these ladies had. 

February: It may be the shortest month, but February packed in some big events. Super Bowl 51 seemed to be two different games. We had family hang out with us over that weekend, and they even got to watch the game in person. You can read about it in full detail here. Go ahead and take a look. I'll wait. Pretty cool, huh?

We celebrated Valentine's Day with an interactive dinner theatre at Murder By Chocolate. This has become a favored place to celebrate anniversaries and other special events. This event was even more special because we got to celebrate with Sergio and Brittany. We even managed to get Sergio to participate as one of the actors.

A double date!

I wonder how I can top last year's Valentine's Day event.

March: Road trip! Mom, Cindy and I headed down to Weslaco to hang out with my sister. We took a Friday and a Monday off, giving us a four-day weekend to allow for a more relaxed trip. With rumblings of my sister contemplating a move to Colorado, we headed to the valley to visit one more time and enjoy El Pato's one more time before she made the big move. If you recall from a previous blog on the subject, we played several games of Dead of Winter, actually enjoying the unrelenting pressure of that game. Dead of Winter? Yes! It's an immersive, multi-layered game pitting a group of survivors against an ever-increasing horde of zombies. You can get the whole scoop here. Really, click on the link and read what I have to say about that uber-cool game. Trust me on this. 

April: March was just the beginning of our travels for the year. Cindy and I booked a trip to DC to visit her sister and brother-in-law. To add a bit of a wrinkle, though, my phone decided to die just a few days before the trip, so we had to scramble and get a new one. We were able to swing a nice package deal, though, and both of us upgraded to a Galaxy S7. We got our phone the day before we left, and I spent most of the afternoon and early evening at the Sprint store getting everything transferred from our phones into the new ones. 

So, off to DC we went, hitching a ride with Southwest Airlines. Our pilot did a nice little "rudder dance" as we landed on Rwy 1 due to a pesky crosswind but made it look easy. When I tried to compliment the Captain, who actually flew that approach, he just shrugged and said "All in a day's work." 

Our ride to DC (737-71B)

We had a great time, as usual, and hit some of the restaurants and bars we visited from a previous trip. This must be "the year of the move," though, as we found out that Cindy's sister and her husband would be moving to Cleveland shortly after our visit. Wow. First, my sister Victoria moves to Colorado, then my other sister plans her move to Colorado as well. Now we find that Connie and Jeff would be moving to Cleveland. Cleveland?? Surely it can't be to support their NFL team. Just sayin'......

What a view from their patio!

All too soon it was time to head home. These trips always seem to go by so fast, and this one was no exception. I guess that means we must have lots of fun and proves the old adage "time flies when you're having fun." 

Wait, we aren't finished with April just yet. Not even two weeks after we got back from DC, Cindy and I checked into a hotel in NW Houston to make a special evening out of Cirque du Soleil's Kurios. Both of us truly love watching any Cirque du Soleil show and make it a point to book tickets as soon as we know a given show is coming to Houston. 

We had dinner at the Steamboat House prior to the show and enjoyed every bite. This is something we started the last time Cirque visited Houston, and I think we'll make it a tradition.

Steamboat House

After a leisurely dinner, we made our way to Sam Houston Race Park, where Cirque was set up. Seeing the main tent, or "Grand Chapiteau" as we made our entrance into the venue added to our excitement. Even though we've seen several shows, we still get excited every time we see this site.

The Grand Chapiteau

Every Cirque show is unique, with its own set design, soundtrack, artists, and acts. Some sets are more elaborate than others, and Kurios blew me away when we entered the Grand Chapiteau. This set was the most intricate of any Cirque show we've seen and I enjoyed taking a few minutes to just look around and take it all in.

Kurios set

The show was phenomenal, and the soundtrack was brilliant. Was it my favorite Cirque show? Hard to choose, really, as all of them have their own flavor. I would rank it near the top, though. 

We still aren't done with April. The following Saturday, we attended the wedding of two of our scuba club friends. It was a nice service and reception, fitting for a bunch of diving enthusiasts. This is the same couple who I had the privilege of participating in the proposal, which I wrote about here

May: Guess what, we went on two more trips in May! Our first long weekend was to San Antonio to watch our nephew Ryan graduate from UTSA. It was fun meeting up with a few people we haven't seen in a while and catching up on what they've been doing. We missed Ryan's high school graduation in 2013 due to a previous commitment, so we made it a point to attend his college graduation.

A couple of weeks later we were off to Austin and Fredericksburg. We booked a brewery tour through Texas Winos. This company specializes in tours of wineries and breweries in Texas. This particular tour started out in Austin and took us to three different breweries between Austin and Fredericksburg. We stopped at the Real Ale Brewing Company, Pecan Street Brewing, and the Twisted X Brewing Company. These breweries produce remarkably good beer and I'd be happy to sip their products anytime.

Enjoy your flight...

Since both Cindy and I knew we'd be sampling beer at each of these breweries, we arranged for a cab to pick us up from the meeting place at the end of the tour and take us back to our hotel. No driving for us! David and Tiffanie picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Pappasitos. Since they drove, we bought dinner. A brewery tour and dinner at Pappasitos? Yes, please!

The next morning we slept in and took our time driving to Fredericksburg. I've been wanting to tour the Nimitz museum (technically it's called the National Museum of the Pacific War) for many years, so we built in time to do this, and then spend the night in Fredericksburg. I scouted out a German restaurant for dinner after we toured the museum. I picked a decent hotel within walking distance of the restaurant so we could both enjoy a beer with dinner. 

Admiral Nimitz

The museum was every bit what I expected, and more. While we did manage to see pretty much every exhibit on display, I'd love to go back and explore the museum again. Not only is the museum worth visiting a second time, but the town itself is. Both sides of the main drag are lined with many types of cool stores. Want some handmade fudge? No problem! There are at least three places that sell it. Crafts, artwork and all manner of things are readily available. We got caught in a heavy downpour without an umbrella or any sort of rain gear and got soaked. Thankfully the rain stopped before we got to the car and we were able to dry off a little before getting in the car. We changed into dry clothes at the hotel and headed out to dinner.

Friedhelm's Bavarian Inn

While scouting for a good restaurant, a couple of co-workers suggested we try Friedhelm's Bavarian Inn. I'm glad we took their suggestion! The food was fantastic, and we truly had a candle-light dinner. Shortly after we got seated, another thunderstorm came rolling through and the whole town lost electricity. I'm glad they had gas stoves so we could still have a hot dinner. My pepper schnitzel was divine!

Pepper schnitzel

About the time we paid our bill, the lights came back on. I was curious how warm and humid our hotel room would get if there was no power, but that became a moot point. After sleeping in the next morning, we took another stroll down main street before heading home. Both of us definitely want to go back again.

June/July: Our traveling slowed down in June and we fell into the typical dog days of summer with a work-home-work-weekend-repeat routine. Astonishingly, we didn't get any diving in for either month, even with it being hot and sunny most days. 

We did manage a game night with Sergio and Brittany in early July, playing some more Dead of Winter. For such an intense game, it really is a lot of fun. 

Contemplating strategy

Just a few days later Mom, Cindy and I celebrated the 4th of July with a brisket and a watermelon flavored cake. I found this recipe in a library book and wanted to try it out. It called for watermelon flavored jello, which I was lucky to find at Kroger. The "seeds" in this cake are chocolate chips. 

"Watermelon cake"

I think it turned out quite well. Would I make it again? Probably so, especially in the summer. It definitely had a distinct watermelon flavor. 

On the last day of July, I bought a Nissan Rogue to replace my aging Hyundai Santa Fe. The Santa Fe was a trooper to the end, but mounting maintenance issues and a strange electrical problem forced my hand. I guess after 210,000 miles it deserves to be retired.

August: This month is definitely one for the history books. I received a game which is a prequel of sorts for Dead of Winter. Raxxon is a card-based game that takes place before the Dead of Winter world happens. If you read my Dead of Winter blog, Raxxon should sound familiar. While not nearly as complex as Dead of Winter, Raxxon is still very difficult to win. It is fun, don't get me wrong, but difficult to win. 


On a larger scale, we got to witness a near-total eclipse on the 21st. I even wrote a blog on the eclipse which was a short fiction as part of a project an author friend of mine sponsored. You can find my contribution here, and the whole set of stories here

Just a few days later, though, residents in Texas and Louisiana would be watching in dismay as Hurricane Harvey wreaked destruction across wide swaths of the state. Areas of Texas had historic levels of flooding, and parts of Beltway 8 in Houston remained flooded for weeks after the storm. Our neighborhood was spared from this flooding with the exception of a few houses. I was pleasantly surprised that we didn't even lose power during the worst of it. We had mom stay with us at the house for the few days that Harvey was pounding Houston and even had some "storm rations" to snack on.

No bean dip?

Slowly but surely Houston started recovering from this devastating storm, and even today there are still many houses needing repair. I was happy to see how many friends and neighbors pitched in to help those in need. 

September: Ahhh, "birthday month." I'm such a wild and crazy person that I planned the ultimate birthday blowout celebration. I invited a few friends over and we had chipotle fried chicken and potato salad from Kroger. We stayed home and played Pandemic. It was an exciting game, though. We managed to win, but only by playing the very last card, on the very last turn. Had any one thing gone wrong, we would've lost.

Cindy made my birthday cake, which is her chosen custom after I selected what I wanted. This year it was an "Oreo cheesecake bundt cake" I found online. She did a fantastic job, and this is something both of us would totally do again.

It tasted as good as it looked.

Later in the month, we watched the remake of It. I thought the director did a good job with the remake. The second part is supposed to be out next year.

October: With the coming of October, Fall was in the air and we started looking forward to a night at Fearshire Farms. I found this place by accident a few years ago, and several of our dive club members decided to make an annual event of it. If you live anywhere near the Angleton/Lake Jackson area, I encourage to visit them in October. 

Welcome...to Fearshire Farms

By October, Connie and Jeff had gotten settled in Cleveland and Cindy thought it would be a good time to pay them a visit. We booked our flights back in August or September and left early, VERY early, one morning. You can read a detailed description of our trip here. Going to Cleveland anytime soon? I highly recommend reading my blog. You'll get some good information on where to eat and some cool breweries to visit.

Approaching CLE

As you'll read in that blog (and you know you want to if you haven't already), this trip like all the others just flew by, no pun intended.

November: We got back from Cleveland just five days before a group of us from BAD made a group outing to the Texas Renaissance Festival. I've been going to TRF for years, and make it a point to go at least twice per season. With Sergio doing a fellowship in Germany for a few weeks, we had Brittany tag along with us to experience the sights and sounds of the festival. We decided not to camp, and to just make a day trip of it. This was her first experience at "Ren," and she totally got into it. No real surprise there.

Cindy & Brittany met a faerie

Believe it or not, we still hadn't done any diving this year. I know, shocking, right? Since we were going to be diving on our upcoming cruise, we really needed to get in the water and check our equipment (and stay current). Good thing we did, too, as I discovered a small leak in my alternate air source hose. I was glad to discover it there and had time to get it fixed, rather than discover this on the cruise.

My Thanksgiving diving attire

Since we would be leaving about a week after Thanksgiving, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner at Saltgrass Steakhouse. Our nephew from McKinney joined Mom, Cindy and me for dinner and pie at the house afterward.

December: Having booked our cruise almost eighteen months prior, Cindy and I were so ready to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and board the Carnival Vista the next day in Miami. My next few blogs after this one will cover the Vista cruise like I did starting with this one when we cruised on the Carnival Breeze. We had a great time and traveled with Cindy's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, as well as Keith and Barbara from our dive club.

Less than a week after getting back from the cruise, we hosted the annual BAD Christmas party and naturally had a blast doing that. Anytime we BADdies get together, it's going to be fun. That's just a given with us.

The following week Mom, Cindy and I took another EARLY flight out of Hobby to Denver. Early as in "it feels like the middle of the night" early. Let's just put it this way: Colorado is one hour behind Texas, and we still landed in Denver right at sunrise. You do the math. 

Aerial view of DFW airport

Not that such an early flight is a totally bad thing, though, as it did give us a little more visit time. We went from 50-degree weather in Houston to 17-degree weather in Denver. After picking up our rental car, we made our way south to Canon City and got settled in Michael and Victoria's house for the next few days to celebrate Christmas. 

Speaking of Christmas, I was glad to receive several new games. This will give us even more impetus to have more game nights on the weekends. The "Munchkin" box is an expansion for the Munchkin game. Think "D&D Lite" here and you'll be pretty close. We've only played it a few times, but have had lots of fun when we did.

Game night just got better

While we didn't have a truly "white" Christmas, we did get to see some snow flurries the day after Christmas. There was no accumulation, but it was nice to watch all the same. Since we don't get the seasonal changes in SE Texas like the Front Range of Colorado, I took advantage of this and stepped outside to enjoy the snow. 

A few flakes

Once again the time just raced by and too soon we were heading home. It was nine degrees in Canon City when we left for the airport, and we had to scrape ice off the car windows. I haven't had to do that since I actually lived in Colorado so many years ago. Our trip back up to Denver was uneventful, and we made good time getting the car dropped off and through security at the airport. We didn't have long to wait before boarding the plane and getting settled for our flight to HOU via OKC.

Departing DEN

After a short layover in OKC, we arrived in HOU to rain and temps in the fifties. Had we not just been in Colorado, that would've seemed cold otherwise. We got home just after dark and since there was no food in the house Mom treated us to dinner at Red River BBQ. What a great way to end a fun trip.

New Year's Eve was pretty uneventful, and being the total party animals we are, both Cindy and I were in bed well before midnight. 

2018: So, what's ahead for this year? As of now, we have only one major trip planned. A few of us will spend a week in Roatan, Honduras diving. We rented a house and will get to spend time diving and building memories. I'm sure we'll come up with other travel plans for later in the year, but nothing else is officially booked yet. 

I wish everyone reading this a happy and prosperous 2018. Do you have any big plans? I'd love to read about them. Just post in the comments section below. 

Coming up next, I'll give a detailed day-by-day account of our cruise on the Carnival Vista.

Until next time.....

carpe cerevisi

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