Monday, December 14, 2009

Colorado Bend

Leah and I had a wonderful trip to Colorado Bend State Park last weekend. I got out of work as fast as I could Friday and Leah was already home getting all of our things packed up. The weather was not exactly the best for the beginning of a camping trip, but we would not be stopped. We arrived around 9 o'clock in complete darkness. The sky was completely overcast and had been drizzling on us all evening. Fortunately we had a rather bright LED lantern complements of Marie and Ryan. They arrived later that night with parallel anticipation of better weather in the morning. We could see faint silhouettes of trees and hills around us and were looking forward to the views that we would awake to. I enjoyed the pitter patter of the light rain on the tent all night long. Leah was apparently not as confident as I in the waterproofness of the tent and so was worried that we were going to get wet all night long. We stayed dry though so that should not be a problem in the future.

The weather had improved slightly by morning; the rain had turned into the lightest form of precipitation that I had ever seen. Like an extremely thick fog slowly sinking to the ground. Breakfast was coffee and heaping piles of community oatmeal. The four of us took a well-intentioned hike up a trail next to a creek that ended in disarray. We lost track of the trail because of high water and decided that we could woods walk (meaning quite literally to walk through the woods where there is not a trail) to the road on the map. As it turned out we were not as far up the trail as we had thought and ended up walking much farther off trail than we had planned. It was mostly without incident and we saw lots of undisturbed plants and rocks that you don't usually see from the trail.

Not a bad detour when all was said and done. We were all wet and tired when we returned to camp so we made lunch and a fire. The fire was Boy Scout standard. One match with no artificial starters or materials. I was proud. The last two members of the camp-out (Christy and Tom) arrived early that afternoon and joined us around the fire for a while. Once we were fed, dried and rested the six of us took off for a trailhead to Gorman Falls. Daylight was approaching it's end and the walk was great.

The trail fell downhill all the way to the Colorado River where a spring fed creek empties over a 65 ft cliff. The water is very rich in minerals that have deposited over the years to form rounded cascades of water.

It was dark when we returned and got dinner started. The coals were still hot from the afternoon so the fire started easily. Dinner was barbecued chicken, vegetables and fried potatoes. Dessert was hot cocoa, cider and s'mores. It was a relaxing evening around the fire with good friends and easy conversation.

Sunday arrived with promising looking skies. There was dense morning fog with hints of sunshine to the east.

As the sun rose higher and came over the banks of the Colorado, the fog burnt off, the skies cleared and the temperature rose. Breakfast was bacon, eggs and toast. We all relaxed around camp while tents and gear dried out in the sun.

Marie and Ryan left early in need of productive time at home. Christy and Tom headed to the south end of the park for a walk up Spicewood Springs. Leah and I were left to our own devices and headed back to Gorman Springs for a walk out to the springs themselves. We had visited the waterfall the day before and wanted to see the springs and the creek. The walk was beautiful. The temperature was 75 F, the skies were sunny and there was a light breeze. Big dry leaves were falling from the last remnants of color left in the trees. Surely a late fall day to remember.

Christmas is right around the corner.

See many of you soon!

Happy Holidays,

Love Leah and Jay

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fall and the Family

Life certainly hasn't slowed down since the engagement. Thanksgiving break came shortly after the news. Parents Prescott and Grandma Harrison flew down for the holiday. That was a great time. They arrived on Thanksgiving Day so we moved our official dinner to Friday.

That afforded us some extra preparation time as well as some adjustment time for the family. As you all know, my sister Marie and her boyfriend live in Austin as well. The four of us split gathering time between our separate residences. Marie and Ryan have significantly more room but we opted to host the dinner at our place anyways.

Thanksgiving dinner was my favorite part of the weekend. We managed to make all of the necessary dishes in spite of our limited space. Friday was mostly an eating day. The weather wasn't all that great and seemed rather appropriate for the day. Before we knew it much of the weekend had passed and Saturday morning was upon us. Everyone was in agreement about having an easy morning and so I had time to hike the greenbelt and have Leah pick me up. Saturday was one of those fall days that will be stored in my memory forever.

The weather was perfect. It was 65 deg, sunny and dry with a light breeze. Leaves were either colored, fallen or somewhere in between. We all went down to Zilker Park to ride the Zilker Zephyr miniature train. It was absolutely great. I loved every second of it. I had wanted to ride it since we moved here.

Afterwards we took a walk through the botanical gardens and saw what roses were in bloom and a few other flowers. Saturday was also the "take the family to a real Texas BBQ day". We all drove down south to the Salt Lick BBQ for dinner. The food was not as good as it usually is but I thought it was tasty. The dessert was great and at the very least everyone got to enjoy the experience together.

Sunday came quickly. My Dad and I had a nice walk on the greenbelt in the morning. We all went to the Hula Hut with intentions of eating a light lunch in preparation for a good dinner at the Eastside Cafe. As we soon realized, you don't eat a light lunch at the Hula Hut. Leah and I split a meal and could barely finish our respective portions. Tasty it was, but the size was out of control.

Eastside Cafe was the place for dining in the evening. We have been there a few times and the food has always been great. Unfortunately this time was not so. My burger quite literally tasted like Lysol. Leah ordered crepes that looked and tasted like something an animal would forage for in the woods. I think most of the others enjoyed their meals though.

It would seem to the reader that our family and us ate our ways through Austin. After some reflection I suppose that is not far from the truth.

Since then we have been busy getting back in the swing of things. On the first Saturday of December we went for a very cold hike on the greenbelt.

Temperatures actually dipped into the low 20's which made for some interesting occurrences on the greenbelt. There is a lot of running water down there and as you can imagine some of it froze. We saw some real life icicles in Texas as well as some frozen puddles.

The creek itself is still running nicely and so crossing must be done in order to travel from our apartment to the trail's southern terminus. Crossing on that particular morning was not especially pleasant but we all lived to hike another day.

To wrap this up I thought I would give you all an eye into where I work.

Below is the outside of the building that I work in. The upper two windows on the right side are the windows to my primary classroom.

This is a picture down the hallway that I walk every morning. Science on the left, ELA on the right and social studies at the end.

This is a picture of the interior of my classroom.

This is the view out the classroom window. Football field, Opportunity Center and housing in the background.

Until next time,

Love Leah and Jay

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Wednesday night we made our plans official.

After dinner on Wednesday evening we were laying on the couch drinking a glass of wine and listening to Bob Marley. My back was leaning on his front. He got up and I had layed down all the way, my head resting on the arm of the couch. He knelt down behind me at the arm of the couch where my head rested, and he whispered in my ear, "I love you." The he wrapped his arms around me, set the ring in my lap and said "will you marry me?"

It was perfect. And of course, the answer was yes.

Keep your calendars open for this summer. We have not yet picked an official date, but it will be sometime this summer for sure.

We love you all!

Jay and Leah

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jay's coat smells like charcoal and bacon...

This is going to be a long one. Lot's has happened since our last entry. Most importantly Leah's parents visited for about four days. We all had a great time. They arrived on a Thursday so Leah took a half day plus Friday off. We went out to Curra's Grill Thursday night and gave them their introduction to how incredibly easy it is to become overly full in Texas. From what I heard the three of them had a great time on Friday. I believe they went to the Capitol, for a long hike on the Greenbelt and to Taco Deli for breakfast.

That evening I think we went to the Salt Lick for dinner. It is a "real" Texas BBQ place south of town. The food is delicious and the establishment provides quite an experience. They can seat an absurdly large number of people. The parking lot weaves back into the fields for eternity. Tour buses and F450's are the vehicles of choice. The waiting area is an outdoor stone patio under live oaks with live music. The musicians were great. They appeared to be brother and sister, but that is pure speculation.

Saturday was just about a perfect day. We slept in and made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. That was followed by a walk down to Town Lake and through Zilker Botanical Gardens. The temperatures were perfect and the roses were in bloom.

Roses at Zilker.

Saturday afternoon we all laid out by the pool for a while and enjoyed the sunshine. In the evening we viewed the sunset from a highpoint near the extreme SW end of the Greenbelt.

The three Breslins basking in the sun.

Before dinner at the Eastside Cafe we threw in one more surprise walk. We had some extra time so we drove up Mt. Bonnell. It is the highest point in Austin and provides a spectacular view in the daylight. Unfortunately dusk had settled upon us and we were left with the waning rays from the west. Dinner was enjoyed by all at a very "Austiny" restaurant just east of downtown. As was becoming the standard for the weekend, the two couples retired to bed around 10:30. This might seem lame but we all received plenty of rest and didn't have to deal with dreaded wakeful tiredness.

Sunday we once again all slept in and ate a large breakfast. This time we fixed up a light breakfast of bagels, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs and creme filled donuts. Legs were getting tired and with stomachs already full the decision was made for a driving tour. Lake Travis was our destination and we made it. We took the long way around on the dam loop that crosses the bridge over the Colorado just downstream from Mansfield Dam. The most popular place to view Lake Travis is from a restaurant named "The Oasis". Leah nor I had ever visited so there we went. The view was really something. The place earned it's reputation. The food was not great nor were the drinks and the building itself was gaudily decorated and overdone, but the view was grand. That night we all went to the Bass Concert Hall on the UT campus to see the musical "Spring Awakening". It was a great performance of a very strange play.

Monday arrived quickly as I had to return to work and John and Carla met their departure date. Leah had the day off to take them to the airport and bid them farewell. From our end their first adventure in Texas was a huge success. And I think the feeling was mutual.

Jay and Leah's Excursion to "other parts of Texas" No. 2: Enchanted Rock (Fronteir Outpost), Enchanted Rock. Interpreted by Leah Breslin.

We ventured outside of Austin for Halloween weekend. The first part of that sentence should be your first clue that this is gonna be a good one.

A few weeks ago, Jay and I decided to get int the spirit of fall and book a Halloween holiday weekend out in the Texas hills. In other words, enough time had passed from the last excursion to dull the memories of shock and horror and just plain what the ???- towards life outside of Austin; and give us just enough confidence to venture out once again into the unknown in this great state.

It began with the magical combination of terrible reservation websites, a week of heavy work, sickness, and no time for preparation. Friday afterwork the car was frantically packed, two trips to Marie's ensued after we forgot the most essential of our mostly borrowed camping gear: the tent; after which we raced like banshees to get to the park before closing time while popping asprins the whole way to soothe our splitting headaches. Oh, and there was also one very essential Dairy Queen pit stop along the way.

We drive through the winding dark roads of the hill country in the middle of absolutely no where and admire the eerie night scenery, very satisfied that we are about to spend our Halloween in this enchanted place. We pull up to the campgrounds at 9:08 PM narrowly missing our check in. We sign in the late arrivals clipboard, and find our camp assignment. Yay! We made it! Let's set up a tent, start a fire and stare at the stars until we fall into our fluffy sleeping bags. Sigh of relief. Now all we have to do is park our car and find our site.

"...Site..103?? Where is site, 103? Wait, is that right? Do you see it on the map? This says sites, 1-45...honey?"

After a few very confused and frustrated winds aroud the campgrounds we pull back to the office and find a park ranger on his way to his car.

"Excuse me, um...where is site 103?"

A lot of bad noise ensued to find that site 103 was two miles up the mountain from us in the primitive camping section on a narrow trail hosting bugs, tigers, bears, and god knows what else. At 9:30 at night in complete darkness with a packed cooler, a car full of dissheveled assorted camping gear, one backpack, a laundry bin full of unfolded clothing, (I could go on...)...
it is needless to say that we wouldn't be um, "hiking in" tonight. Or any night. And the campground was completely full, and would be for the rest of the weekend.

In a samaritan like gesture the young Texas ranger recommended a place down the road called "Frontier Outpost" for the night. He said we could camp there and suggested we come back early in the morning to see look for a chance opening. We nodded, dumbly muttered a weak 'thank you' as we exchanged the now what? face, and pulled out of the parking lot in search of what we concluded would be the best option for tonight: this "Frontier Outpost."

About six miles up the winding road with stange pastures of cattle loose at night on either side, we find the illuminated Frontier Outpost sign with an assortment of neon beer brands strung around it. We walk into what is clearly a bar, to find one drunk man inside with a beer bottle in his hand- the owner. We ask about the camping we heard about from the park ranger.

"Uh, well, campin's not really my thing," he slurs. "You're welcome to pitch a tent out back though, I've let other people do that before. There's a little dirt road, you can find a spot back there. Oh, and if you want to make a fire, just uh- make a fire."

So, after wadded up 10 dollar bill exchanged hands, our camping adventure began. "We'll take it!" And we looked for a proper place to pitch our tent behind the outside of the bar as the onwer closed up shop and left in his truck, swerving down the road.

Alright, not so bad, let's be positive, this is fun...this place is totally better than Enchanted Rock anyway, see, look now all we have to do is make a fire. This is fantastic!

...(...About an hour goes by....probably more like 3)....

"Here, let's try putting the paper in that we got from the park. That's sure to catch...No honey wait try this lighter...put some more twigs on...blow on it... no- not too hard! ARRRRGHHHHHH MY HANDS ARE FREEZING WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH THIS WOOD WHY CAN'T WE MAKE A DAMN FIRE????"

....(1:34 am....40 degrees cooler....)....Time for bed.

....( Fade in: the night proceeds restlessly with numb toes, waking starts to strange noises and animal cries in the distance, the occasional glance at the phone to see how much more of this awful night we have left to you think there are any hotels open at 4 am out here?...zzz...6:30 am the campers awake to frost on the ground)...

We call Enchanted Rock at 8 am like the park ranger told us to see if there is anything available. The woman on the phone says there's one spot open, but she can't hold us. First come first serve. Hurry up and get here.

We rouse from the dead and in one frenzied swoop dismantle our campsite throw it wherever it may land in the car, and race over, anticipation building...hoping...HORRAY YES WE GOT IT YAY CAMP SITE 1 WHOOOHOO!!!!

We park and run out of our car, happy and invigorated and pitch our tent in less than a minute, laugh smile, look around and start planning our breakfast on the picnic table, when we stop for a moment to find a large man in sweatpants and a turquoise embellished straw cowboy hat coming towards us. He arrives bright eyed- to inform us that we are in fact, on his camp site.

We defend our ground, and show him our reservation. Mmm mm. We aint goin no where.

He marches away to find a ranger. We wait in anticipation, while the rest of his crew moves into our campsite and creates a ciricle of lawn chairs, coolers, and huge bags of paper utensils in case there was any misunderstanding about who this campsite would belong to. Jay and I decice we've had enough humilitaion and go down the the ranger site.

There is a skinny old lady behind the counter and with a smile, says we have to move. Jay and I huff and puff and she continues to smile as she looks through and finds no openings. You can wait till 2:00, she says. We're not waiting. We demand. And so she says ok- and gives us site 44. Another lady working next to her looks at her sideways and says that campsite has been taken. She replies, well they're not here yet. It's theirs.

In this valley between the big rock and the
little rock the trees grew very well.
Leah on an incline.

So finally Jay and I set up and begin our camping adventure at Enchanted Rock. From there on out, everything was cake. (Aside from a misguided fire making venture- which turned in the end, in our favor).

Leah and I near the back of the park.
Jay up on top of a rock.

We hiked nice trails, ate great food, drank good beer and slept well. Aside from the occasional shivers at night (it got down to around freezing every night) we did fine. We loved it. Once we forget about what a nightmare the reservation system was- we'll surely go back.

Leah bright eyed in the morning.
Bacon and eggs in our new cast iron skillet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Catching Up

Where to begin. It's been a long time since our last entry. Maybe I just needed to let the expectations cool a bit after Leah's super entry! Big shoes to fill! Really we have just been busy.

After our trip to the coast the weeks and weekends have melded into a blur of activity. Between sickness, cleaning, traveling and working our time has disappeared.

Work has been busy for both of us. Leah has continued her superstar status at Green Mountain. She gets a lot of projects and completes them to everyone's satisfaction. I have a whole bunch of different things to do everyday. The pulling on my time by the special ed and science departments has been the toughest part to deal with.

The weekend after Surfside the rains started coming down heavily. Heavy enough in fact that the Greenbelt had some running water in it. Marie and Ryan joined Leah and I for a hike near the SW end Saturday afternoon. Running water is a rare occurrence here so it was refreshing to see and hear.

Sometime in mid-September I caught the plague and had to go to the hospital. I woke up on a Sunday morning and couldn't function. My fever was high and I was really achy with the chills. Perfect way to spend a Sunday. Leah made the decision that I wasn't going to work on Monday and so put in a sub request. I couldn't seem to get better and my fever came back after Leah broke it a couple of times. Then we went to the hospital. All the guy said was, "Yup, you're sick alright" My fever was 103 and my HR was 135. They did a flu test: negative. They did a chest x-ray: pneumonia negative. Then they thought it might be meningitis, I wasn't too excited about the prospects of that so I agreed to a SPINAL TAP: meningitis negative. Hmmmm, what did I have, nobody knows. After 11 hours with strong painkillers and no food I blacked out on the way out of the hospital. So they checked me back in and gave me a bunch of Powerade. After a couple of rough days all was well. This didn't happen until after we had completed a highly productive Saturday. We finally went to see the infamous bat colony under the Congress St. bridge. Our friend Jordan whom I met in TTF knows his way around the Austin attractions and was our tour guide for the evening. It was quite a sight to see over a million bats fly out at dusk to feed. Unfortunately neither of us remembered our cameras.

I think that was the weekend that Leah and I went for a tandem ride. A friend of mine from work's mother has a great road tandem that hasn't been used in a couple of years. We fixed it up and adjusted it for the two of us and took it for a ride. Unfortunately the weather was not great. Sunny and about 97deg. Not a great day for Leah's inaugural road ride in Austin, TX. I thought it was a blast. We went south for about 6-7 miles and then looped back. A short ride but plenty long for that kind of heat.

The first weekend in October was a long and sad one. Marie and I traveled back to Michigan to visit our Grandpa Harrison and our family. Grandpa's health had been deteriorating for a long time and things appeared to be coming to a front. Marie and I had a few great final conversations with him and spent some valuable time by his side. On Sunday afternoon we each gave him one last handshake and said, "goodbye", just like every time we had left eachother anywhere. And that was that. We had to get back to the airport for our return flight to Texas. Over the course of the following week Grandpa's condition deteriorated until the end on Thursday night. Thus ends the long life of a wonderful grandfather, father and husband. He is sorely missed by all who knew him.

This most recent weekend was an enjoyable one. Our longtime family friend Paul Lane drove up from a conference in San Antonio for a stay of about 20 hours. We met Marie and Ryan for dinner on Friday night. We went to The Eastside Cafe and the food was delicious. Saturday morning the three of us went for a long walk down to Town Lake and through Zilker Botanical Gardens. Afterwards we went out for brunch to a place called Z'Tejas ad again the food was tasty. We followed that up with a walk around the State Capitol grounds and then it was time for Mr. Lane to head back to San Antonio for his retrn flight to MI.

Today it is raining and about 58deg. Not exactly the weather that we signed up for when we moved but not bad either.

That is all the catching up that I have time for right now.

We hope that all is going well for you wherever you may be. Currently we are looking forward to a visit by Leah's parent's in a couple of weeks.

Until next time.

Love Jay and Leah

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This will be the Labor Day edition. Marie and Ryan decided that they were in for the weekend as well so we carpooled to the coast. The trip out was great. We were all in need of some time out of town. To our surprise, the country east of here looks a lot like Michigan. Tree lined roads with lots of green everywhere.

Very good. I had a route mapped out that involved a near minimum of freeway driving. It was a part of my grand vision for our weekend. As far as I am concerned it worked out beautifully. I may be the only one but such is life. We spent a lot of time on two lane country roads winding through farmland. Around the halfway point Marie said, "There's a zebra over there!" Hmmmmmm, what!!

Sure enough we all turned our heads and there were 3 zebras grazing in a field next to the road. It was an exotic game ranch. The trip was off to a good start. Next we found ourselves following "Harley Mama" Wow!

They were pretty well controlling the road for about a 1/4 mile and so we stopped for some roadside relief. This has never been a problem before but apparently in TX the ditches are alive with every large biting insect in the south just waiting to attack. I jumped off the roadside and was quickly made into lunch by some man-eaters. I guess you had to be there. The humidity continued to rise as we approached the coast and before we knew it we had reached our destination!

Just kidding. This was actually a chemical plant near Freeport. We had to drive through an apocalyptic looking landscape on our way to the beach. There were huge facilities all over the place near the coast. As everyone knows the Texas Gulf Coast is a petroleum rich area. We hadn't really thought much about seeing the evidence of it though. The area was interesting. The topography is very flat and marshy with shipping canals dug throughout. The refineries and the road bridges are the only real protrusions from sea level.

Let me intervene. I had to jump in as I read "apocalyptic" looking landscape. It was truly, an "end of the world" ode to everything dirty and rusty and shamelessly polluting. Aka, a lovely drive through Gary Indiana, if you will. At this point we were unaware of how far we were from the beach, and according to the deceiving map we were going to be sleeping at Dow chemical. Nerves and electricity swam through the car, all exchanging anxious looks, myself realizing, holy crap I dragged everyone out to this crazy place. So we paced ourselves, prayed for a little bit of distance, and drove though, bringing us about four miles away to a beach with only the silhouettes of the plant looming in the foggy distance.

Far enough, we thought, and we were relieved. We drove up and down the eerie hurricane remnants of the strangest place any of us have been to date. We missed the motel a couple of times, in disbelief that this was really it. There is one feeling that ran through all of us simultaneously, and there are no real words to describe it, but it can best be summed up as ..."whoahhh!!!!"

So with relief and disbelief, we found our rooms and unpacked. Sandals off, swimsuits on; it would only get better from here. We had made it through the worst. Now all we had to do was find a spot on the sand and a cold drink and start enjoying this place and ignore the chemical plants in the distance. Don't think: just swim. I keep chanting in my head over and over, "I don't care if this place is a dump, it has character, it's a beach, we'll remember it forever. This is going to be great." We met Marie and Ryan outside of our room and practically ran down the short road to the beach.

The last thing I remember is reaching the crest of the short pedestrian bridge at the foot of the beach before the true horror set in. One after another, we stumbled, in utter stupor open mouthed and google eyed, chanting "!" To our horror the beach was covered wall to wall by F-150's, Expeditions and Silverados. There was a road through the center of the beach, and the trucks were parked all along to the edge of the water. Nothing was to be seen but the backs of bbq's set up before the water beside the trucks. The beach was a hot metal parking lot, at the edge of the petroleum and chemical epicenter of America. Yeehaw!! Let freedom ring!

We stumbled around in circles for a moment, our mouths still open. "There's got to be another beach. This can't happen. We'll just have to find a pedestrian only beach. This is a sea turtle nesting ground. It will be OK." We ask a fellow Texan if she knows of any beaches that you can't drive onto. She looks at us as though we are aliens from another planet, and mutters, ", they're all like this," as if she had never dreamt of a beach free of exhaust pipes.We all look at each other, shrug, suppress our tears and say, well I guess this is it, let's make the best of it.

We jump in the water, throwing our hands up and allowing ourselves to be taken without force on to this crazy ride that is our first Texas vacation. And on it we experienced that Texans apparently don't go to bars, (we found one in an entire 40 mile stretch of road and towns) we found Jesus shrines in a surf shop/bingo parlor/ place where we got breakfast one morning,
the Jesus channel pre-programmed on our hotel TVs, more fried food than any of us have eaten in our lives, some possible relatives of Jay and Marie's with missing front teeth and a marijuana farm in Honduras, (this is not a joke, we are currently researching this claim, and so far it is a definite possibility, something about the "Whitney's" in Climax MI?) and a drunken evening with the biggest hillbillies in the universe in a hurricane ravaged beach plowed over by SUV's. And we all, actually, in spite of it all, had a really good time. I think it was the night with the hillbillies that really took it over to the other side. We finally just got over ourselves, let go, and had fun. :)

One thing is for sure, we will never forget this vacation.

In other news less exciting, we are now back to work. For the first time, we are looking at Austin in a much kinder light. It seems so beautiful and civilized and comfortable. It's funny. If there is anything I have learned from moving to Texas in general, it is that everything is relative.

That seems an appropriate place to end. My interjection is now over.

Love, Leah and Jay