Monday, February 25, 2013

A Regular Whirlwind of Activity...

Of course, I didn't seem all that active yesterday when, after eating a huge breakfast at La Pasadita in Natalia, instead of heading straight for our usual Sunday shopping at HEB Plus in Lytle, I instead went home and laid directly in my bed for about 4 hours straight, snoozing between episodes of Bill Kurtis on the Bio channel. 
 This was breakfast.  Is it any wonder I could not force myself to get motivated to do anything? 

Oh but there was more food.  On Saturday, we met friends at an old favorite, Guillermo's downtown off of McCullough and St Mary's.   I gorged myself on the bacon cheeseburger then promptly consumed the accompanying fries.  The place is as good as ever, though something weird happened with the service.  I'm used to ordering at the counter, grabbing my own iced tea and then having someone from the kitchen bring out the vittles.  I guess now, they have regular waitstaff and frankly, not so bueno during our visit.  But, don't let that stop you from giving them a try, if you have not already done so.  I'm not gonna let an inexperienced waiter keep me from the great food.
After eating, the dinner crowd started to fill Guillermo's, so we moved our little visit down the street to La Tuna.  I have driven by this place many times but never bothered to stop in.  La Tuna has a restaurant which I hear is good, but we didn't even step in. Instead, we planted ourselves on one of the picnic tables out in the spacious lot and had a refreshing beverage from the huge selection in the little ice house. 

I'm just going to tell you, if we ever decide to sell this place and move into one of San Antonio's booming downtown housing areas - one of the new condo places or something a little historic - I could see visiting La Tuna quite routinely.  Or the Blue Star arts complex just across the street.  The feel of the place was really relaxed.


Of course, we needed some relaxation following the traumatic events of Thursday afternoon.

We have had a slight problem with our gate on windy days.  This is a driveway sized gate with a motorized opener so it doesn't latch closed or anything like that.  Normally, in the closed position, it is aligned to form a perfect fence, thus we can let Gracie out to play outside without worry.  What we have found though is that when it gets particularly windy, the gate pushes slightly away from the post, and this creates an opening that Gracie simply can't seem to resist exploring.
 On Thursday evening, I was coming home when I got a call from Eva.  One of our neighbors saw her walking down the road and so she tried to herd her back toward our house, driving along side her and talking to her.  Unexpectedly, a huge dumptruck came up behind her and the noise scared Gracie something terrible, causing her to take-off in a total sprint for her life.  The neighbors kid's said they had no idea she could run that fast.

Instead of running toward the safety of our property, she headed off up the street into a bunch of empty lots.  The neighbor called Eva, and her and my son immediately went out and started the search for her.  It had already been an hour before I got the call on my way home.  Between the two of them, driving up and down the nearby streets hoping to find her wandering around, they were loosing their voices from calling for her.  When I pulled onto the street, I could see Eva's truck on the next street over, and my son driving down our street.  When I drove slowly past my son, he had the same look on his face that I am sure I had on mine.  My biggest fear was that the sun was starting to go down, and if we did not find her, it is a safe bet the coyotes would.

Just the previous evening, we had heard of the loss of Carver, the beloved family dog of my sister, Susan and her family.  This loss was still fresh on my mind when I decided to grab a light and  binoculars and head outside of our neighborhood to the other side of a huge ranch which backs up to our sub-division.  I thought perhaps if Gracie had gotten disoriented, maybe she would be on the next street over.  Before I could make it all the way around, Eva called me, screaming into the phone that she found her.

As some deer were walking through the property in front of ours,  both Eva and my son thought they saw some movement nearby.  It turned out to be Gracie but she could barely walk.  I don't know if she had been there the entire time and only got up when the deer came near, or if she had finally come running from wherever she had been.  Either way,  Eva talked her in close enough to a gate, then carried her and placed in my son's car.  Her feet were bloody and full of stickers.  She was in shock but obviously glad to be found.

We set her down in the kitchen and as I tried to pull stickers from her paws, she went to town just pulling them from between her paws.  The pads looked pretty rough as if she had just run so hard on the rocky asphalt of the street that they were scraped bad.  Then, it was only made worse running through the thick brush of several untamed properties.

Our neighbor Phylis who does a lot of work with animals came down and checked her out and gave us some Tramadol  for her.  Eva picked up some spray from the Vet that is supposed to help wounds like this, and after all that, Gracie just slept solid for the rest of the night.  I had to carry her outside and set her down just to pee.  It was so pitiful watching her try to walk, and honestly, 5 days later, she is still walking quite gingerly, but seems like she'll do fine.
This is the problem with having dogs.  You love them like people but are almost guaranteed to out-live them.  Then you get a new one, and the same thing happens.  I'm not ready for Gracie to be eaten by coyotes, so the fence is getting worked on.  


And then it really got windy.

And as if we haven't been through this before, we lost the  little covered canopy over our hot tub.  Dammit!  I'm done with wasting money on these things.  The first time, I hadn't secured it very well to the concrete patio.  This time, the wind ripped the light metal structure apart, leaving the bottom brackets securely fastened to the patio.  Great.
This wind is un-American!  It snapped our flagpole and dropped old glory on top of the John Deere colored windmill. 
And then there was they usual damage - turned over benches, downed limbs.  The usual.  It does get really windy out here.  As long as the DirecTV antenna stays up, we'll be alright.

And with that - my DVR says it is time to watch last nights episode of The Walking Dead.  Hopefully your weekend was not nearly as blustery.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Breakfast and Dinner Report: When Things Go Bad, And Good...

One of the big problems you encounter if you scour the Internet looking for some information on a restaurant you are about to try out is that, over time, some crappy places turn good (okay, that is pretty rare) but more likely, some good places turn bad.  I am one of those people who likes to read the reviews given by fellow citizens in search of good eats.  Places like Urban Spoon or Google come to mind, but also I do read blogs that share a common interest, like mine, willing to share information about places we have been.

The big problem is, things often change.  There is new management or a change in supplier or in some cases, it turns out that in order to save money, the entire concept is modified.  One of the quickest examples I can think of is Brenda's Burger over on Southwest Military Drive.  When that place first opened up, Brenda's was located closer to Lackland AFB.  She offered up some big burgers and great fries, and I loved that place.  The cost of rent changed and she moved into a new place closer to Quintana Road and clearly, she made some changes including different fries.  Don't get me wrong, I still stop in for lunch once every 6 months or so, and I can't characterize it as bad.  But if you had talked to someone or read a review written in 1999 or 2000, the rave reviews about Brenda's that would make you want to visit would not be talking about the same experience you will have now.  It has changed.

When we first moved out here and started trying all the different taco places, we found a lot of duds and a few good ones.  But if you have ever stalked us on Facebook, you would know that by far, our standard Sunday morning fix includes a stop at La PalmeraI have loved the hand made flour tortillas, the delicious carne guisada and friendly service since we got here, and we actually stopped trying other places. 

Sadly, tragedy struck the family that owned La Palmera and the place was sold to some folks that worked there.  A few cosmetic changes were made and certainly, the waitstaff changed, but for the most part, the recipes remained and we were pleased, for a while.  

Over the last few months though, we have seen a decline in service, and frankly, the food has been hit or miss.  We actually started going to other places for our Sunday morning tacos or, gasp, eating at home.  Our final visit for the foreseeable future was last Sunday when we nearly walked out before having our order taken.  We couldn't help but laugh with other customers who were experiencing crappy service.  One guy had his breakfast served nice and hot, but could not seem to make the waitress bring him a fork to eat with, even after he asked her twice!  Places go through rough patches and I only hope the best for La Palmera in the future, but there are enough other places to get a taco that we don't have to restrict ourselves. 

There is good news too.  I was completely impressed with Rocky's Grill in Devine from the first time we visited, and I can say in all honesty, we have never, ever been disappointed.  With our son in town, we decided to stop in since it had been a while, and of course, we all left completely happy.
 The entertainment for the evening was a guy with a guitar taking requests from the patrons singing some great old country favorites from Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Kieth Whitley and even Garth Brooks.  (sorry for the crappy picture) Between songs he would sip on freshly brewed coffee (wink, wink) and chat with folks.  It makes for such a comfortable environment. Rocky's is the type of place where you really could take a date for a quiet, romantic dinner, yet, you could just as easily feel comfortable going in in jeans and a t-shirt. 
Eva has given up on ordering anything adult sized and now orders from Rocky's children's menu.  She had some spaghetti and meatballs which was delicious and more than enough to eat.  If you were so inclined, you could get something from the large wine selection to make it that much more Italian.
 My son went with one of the evening specials, lemon catfish.  I'm more into fried, but just look at it - wonderful! 

Rocky's can be pretty fancy but there are times when all you want is a good burger.  Consistently, the kitchen puts out one of the most fantastic burgers you can find.  Starting with the fact that they ask you how you want it cooked (medium, please) and actually are willing to cook it to your taste rather than burn it, you know you are dealing with professionals who happen to love food.
This is not a frozen patty, and this is not some cheese you'd find in a 20 count individually wrapped package next to the bologna at HEB.  And don't forget the bread, cooked right there in the kitchen at Rocky's.  The bacon (not shown) was on a separate plate and was enough to feed a small family breakfast.  I'm pretty obsessive when it comes to burgers simply because I know that with each burger I eat, I am probably reducing my life expectancy by at least several hours. I don't have time for a bad burger, and neither does Rocky. 

So there you have it.  I know that I have raved about Rocky's before but if there is one thing I've learned over time, you can't count on every restaurant you enjoy to remain perfect forever.  But with Rocky's Grill, consistently awesome seems to be the plan.

If you want to recommend our next taco place to fall in love with, please leave a comment or send an e-mail.  And if you need directions to Rocky's, check out his website here.

Father of the Year...

On Saturday we went back to the rodeo to take my son and his little one out to see the sights.  What a beautiful day, and what a huge crowd compared to the trip Eva and I made on Thursday afternoon.
 Anyway, I couldn't help but snap a picture of the guy who clearly wins the Father of the Year award.  I'm sure the in-laws are so proud of their daughter's choice in Baby-Daddy!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Natalia: Love's...

We have been excitedly waiting for the new Love's truck stop in Natalia to open up, and on Thursday, at 7AM they were in full operation with loads of trucks, travelers and just curious locals eager to try something new, like Wendy's.
Just down the road in Lytle, we have been huge fans and regular customers at the HEB convenience store where the gas station is always full and the attached What-A-Burger is always busy, so I think it will be nice to have another option several minutes closer to our house.
When we went in to grab a coffee and check the place out, we found exactly what you would expect from Love's, a clean, well stocked store, plenty of staff and an awesome coffee/beverage set-up.  I can easily see quick trips to grab a coffee (given the state of my crappy Keurig) without having to drive to Lytle or Devine.

But with all the excitement and development of civilization, there is a price to pay and I'm afraid we are just now seeing for real what we fully expected to be a problem.  The traffic caused by 18-wheelers attempting to negotiate the tight turns and narrow bridge on FM471 which crosses over I-35.
 I have drawn a quick picture to show you what I'm talking about.  The bridge in the picture is at the end of FM471.  If you live over near Alamo Ranch in Northwest San Antonio, yes, it is the same FM471.  If you follow it long enough, you end up in Natalia!

Anyway, you can see that this is a fairly narrow bridge.  But more dangerously, the so-called buck hooks used for on-ramps back onto I-35 (circled) create a really awkward situation which will slow down traffic trying to get onto the highway.  Because it is such a short acceleration lane, combined with the fact that the trucks will be going slow just to negotiate the buck hook, merging into 75MPH traffic is going to be a problem.  And no, I do not want them to reduce the speed limit.  What TXDOT needs to do is fix the off-ramps and on-ramps so there is less of a sharp curve and increase the length of both acceleration and deceleration  lanes.

I'm sure the people in the small town of Natalia are happy for the new business and tax generation, but nobody wants to see a bunch of folks getting killed because of crappy roadways and poor design.
 In the meantime, I am pretty confident there is a refreshing Frosty in my future.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chocolate Rubio...

I am so sick of politics that I didn't even take a minute to watch the recent State of the Union address by Mr. Obama, much less the response from Mr. Rubio.  But even if you avoid all manner of wasteful TV airtime devoted to politicians yammering on about stuff they don't really believe, you would have to be buried under a rock not to have heard about an ill-fated water break during an on air rebuttal recently.

Oh, and you know I am a huge fan of Tay Zonday, the guy who got YouTube famous with Chocolate Rain.  So, I had this bright idea and quickly commissioned the talents of one of the more Photoshop-savvy kids in the office named Matt.  I assure you he accomplished this on his personal time, not taxpayer hours.
Feel free to share it with your friends...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Daily Deer: My Keurig and Walking Dead...

I've started moving the deer camera around a little more frequently because I have so many pictures of the same view.  Let's face it, I don't want to appear racist and say that all the deer look the same, but if you only see them making the same pose in the same location day after day, they start to blend into with horns, without horns, little, normal and big.  By moving the camera from tree to tree, at least the same group show up with a different background.
 I still have this grand idea of taking a bunch of the pictures, putting them into a movie and adding some music to it.  I just haven't done it.  My first attempt using Pinnacle, the movie software I bought a few years ago, it was not immediately intuitive how to reduce the view time for each image all at once.  That is, looking at each picture for 5 seconds is way to long.  I want to be able to move through a thousand images very quickly so it looks like moving pictures.  Anyway, I'll get around to that just like I'll get around to doing my taxes, though maybe not as quickly.

Can you explain to me why I spent quite a bit of money on a fancy Keurig brewing system and after only a few months of use, and not even daily I might add, it is a piece of crap?  I complained about it they day after we bought it, as you may recall, but admittedly, decided that as a back-up or for the occasional cup of coffee, it was fine.  But now, after probably less than 100 actual cups of coffee being brewed, the thing is sputtering, not completing even a quarter cup of coffee, and it wants to be primed.  According to the Keurig YouTube page, priming means washing out the reservoir.  And in case you are wondering, yes, I use only filtered water.  The whole point of the Keurig system is so you can get a quick cup of coffee of your choice without having to brew an entire pot.  If you have to "prime" it before every single use, what is the value of that.  And if it was just me, I'd say I got a bad one or something, but according to the Internet, this is a very common and frustrating issue.

None of this would have mattered if we had just remembered to purchase coffee yesterday.  But no, completely out of coffee for our regular drip coffee maker, I told Eva our back-up, the Keurig was ready to go.  Wrong!  Thankfully, we keep packets of instant coffee at the ready.  Seriously, we are prepared for the zombie apocalypse in that sense.

Which reminds me.  We got through the end of Season 1 and are quickly getting through Season 2 of The Walking Dead.  Like everyone else in the world, we are finally catching up, though I can't see us getting there in time for the Sunday evening premiere of the new season.  Plus, we have to watch Shameless and maybe AxMen or something important.  So please, don't e-mail me the spoilers.  My son basically tricked us into not guessing what happened with that little girl, Sophia in Season 2.   

A few weeks ago, I made some recommendations for Podcasts.  I want to go back and encourage you to listen to Marc Maron, or at minimum, two recent interviews he did.  He had Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner back to back.  Absolutely fascinating.  Interestingly, at the beginning of the Carl Reiner interviewer, he addresses his use of profanity because he knows that many of his non-regular listeners will be tuning in.  Just skip the first few minutes of the show if you are easily soured by a few naughty words, and enjoy the shit out of the interviews.
 My son bought a new product from HEB on his last visit here, then promptly forgot to eat.  No problem, I tried them out and they was some good eats.  True Grits, get it?  If you like grits, you'll like these.

On Saturday, we had to go back into San Antonio to pick up Eva's truck from our mechanic.  Somebody lost an old gas can on the road, and Eva hit it which promptly took out her radiator.  Thankfully, the can was empty and the vehicle didn't blow-up as she was dragging it scraping under the truck.  Anyway, all's well - though the gas can is no longer usable.
 While we were there, we decided to grab a bite to eat at a place called Gilbert's.  Years ago we would go into this place and it was good.  Eva had been with one of her friends for lunch not too long ago and it was still good.  On Saturday, it was pretty crappy.  Gilbert is Gilbert Rodriguez, a big star in the 60's and a member of the Tejano Music Hall of Fame.  He has a house just a few streets over from where Eva grew up.
 The walls of the restaurant are covered in publicity photos of all the Tejano star, most all autographed with tributes to Gilbert.  As I stood in line for about ten minutes to pay the bill, I couldn't help snapping these two pictures.  The first one is of Los Aguilares.  These guys were something back in the day.  I guess now, they are a lot more.  
 The other one is the guy, David DeAnda from Xelencia.  I didn't realize it when I took the picture that this band plays one of my all time favorite Tejano hits, Eres Mi Todo.  I know, I don't speak the language, but I do enjoy the music.   It comes with going to flea markets fairly often. 
I haven't mentioned Littly Kitty, or as Eva refers to her, Keke (pronounced Kiki).  She is such a good little cat and she has been doing a great job lately of bringing us little mice.  Lovely.  When we take a little walk around the fence line, she will follow-us just like a dog.  Though, unlike Gracie who pretty much wanders along, Little Kitty darts in front of us until she finds a tree or something to play on, then catches up, and darts ahead to the next object of interest.  I sure hope she doesn't get eaten by a coyote.
Oh look, another one doing a dance.

And some guys with horns!  Perhaps eventually, the pictures will be replaced with video.

And we are off to get started with another several hours of The Walking Dead.  Hope your day is as eventful.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Daily Deer: Superbowl Edition...

I genuinely couldn't care less which team wins the Superbowl later this afternoon, though I saw on the news that an orangutan named Eli has picked the Ravens, and that he has been successful in his last 5 picks.  No need to even watch, now that we know.  But on the off chance that Beyonce experiences a wardrobe malfunction, we'd better tune in to be up to speed during post game discussions on Monday.

This morning we were in the kitchen grabbing coffee and directly out the window were several deer getting a last minute snack before moving on.  As I mentioned in the last post, they have become comfortable just walking through the property even when we are outside.  Of course, they aren't fans of sudden moves, so when Eva went outside to start taking pictures, they moved to the front of the yard and waited until she went back in the house before continuing to graze.
I did get a few interesting pictures worth posting.  This handsome guy is always a treat to see.   
As one reader, Alan, has pointed out in the past, the deer are not always as friendly and polite as they seem.  This little situation seems to happen often.  This is the first time that I can recall catching both participants up on their hind legs.  If they had little pouches, it could be kangaroo boxing.
This is really an interesting look at the sky just as the sun is getting ready to rise.  We do have a nice view of the sunrise in the morning, though I am usually at work by the time it happens. 
 Eva snapped this picture from the office window today.  Not bad.

Here's hoping your team wins, you don't over indulge on awesome Superbowl snacks  and festive drinks, and that you can make it through your Monday morning meetings without the urge to puke in the wastebasket.  Though technically, some people feel that urge on all Monday's, not just the one following the Superbowl.