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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Biking Baton Rouge

Hi Blog! Today dawned bright and sunny, albeit a little on the cool side.  Having spent the last two days cooped up inside waiting on microwave repairmen, we were looking forward to getting out and about today. On the bright side, all that down time gave us a chance to learn more about Baton Rouge.

Did you know that Baton Rouge was first settled by Europeans in 1719 when the French established a military fort at this location. Did you also know that Baton Rouge has been governed by France, Britain, Spain, Louisiana, the Republic of West Florida, the Confederate States, and the United States.

Baton Rouge is located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Southeastern Louisiana.  It is the Louisiana State Capital and home to Louisiana State University. We wanted to get out and explore the campus and see the historic district and capital buildings. As with most old cities, the roads are really narrow and parking is hard to come by.  So, we decided to find a place to park the truck on the campus and then ride our bikes downtown.  Anyway, bicycling around town is much for fun than trucking around town.

Before pedaling, we stopped to fuel up at The Chimes, a bar and restaurant near the LSU campus.  After a couple craft brews and cajun delicacies, we took off to explore Baton Rouge.  Here is Kathy admiring one of the three lakes we went past.

Our route took us down Park Boulevard, a beautiful tree-line street.  Every house was unique, but the one with the gigantic flamingo on the front gets to be in the blog.

Spring is just starting to blossom.  You can see that Park Boulevard's name aptly describes it, with its strip of grass and trees running down the center of the street.  Note the two trees blossoming on the right!

We turned onto North Boulevard (not to be confused with North Street just four blocks away).  Here is the old Governor's Mansion.

Next came the Old State Capitol, a medieval castle overlooking the Mississippi, complete with turrets and crenellations.   Not everyone was a fan of the "Castle on the River."  Mark Twain, as a steamboat pilot in the 1850s, loathed the sight of it, "It is pathetic ... that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things ... should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place."

I wonder what Mr. Twain would have thought about the New Capitol. The New Louisiana State Capitol has 34 stories and is 450 feet tall, making it the tallest capitol in the United States. Currently, it is also the tallest building in Baton Rouge and the seventh tallest in Louisiana.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop in and check out the exhibits at the Capitol Park Museum.  First, find a place to park the bikes.  The Capitol Park Museum features exhibits on the diverse aspects of Louisiana history, industry and culture.

Topics range from the Louisiana Purchase to Sportsmen's Paradise to Mardi Gras traditions throughout the state. Here is Dave getting up close and personal with a resident of Acadie.

After filling our heads with all sorts of history and culture, we soon found it time to head back to the truck and out of the city before rush hour started.  Our route back to the LSU campus took us along the Mighty Mississippi.

As we traveled along River Road, we passed the original Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, tucked away in a modest little community that is protected from Katrina-like disaster by only a massive levee not more than 50 yards away, on the other side of which the Big Muddy growls not more than 50 more yards beyond.

Before we knew it, our ride was over.  Time to pack up the bikes and head back to camp.

 Tomorrow, we plan to attend another Mardi Gras parade - YES - more beads!

Eddie & George Wake Up in Baton Rouge

They decided to sleep through the whole microwave debacle, and then it was raining and cold and it didn't seem like a good time to venture out of their den.

But this morning it was bright and sunny, although very cold.  When they finally opened their eyes they were in an unfamiliar was some sort of bayou church they found themselves in:

Little did they know, they missed some rockin' Zydeco music performed by a local Cajun group last night at Boutin's, along with some great boudin, blackened catfish, homemade potatoes and dirty rice:

Ah, well, Eddie & George take the bad with the good, I guess.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Rain on Our Parade!

Our visit to Baton Rouge so far hasn't been very exciting in the usual sense.  We haven't toured historic or cultural sites.  We haven't learned new dances.  We haven't hiked, backpacked or even bicycled.

No, we actually haven't done much of the usual stuff yet.

One reason is our fried microwave.  Another is the rainy weather.

Let's start with the weather, because the story is simpler.  Unfortunately, we have finally caught up with winter (or early spring) weather.  Gone are the dry, warm days and the balmy evenings.  While our nights aren't really frigid, and we don't have to worry about freezing water lines, nevertheless we do have to wear long sleeves and pants and add some layers - sometimes rainproof layers.

We've started training for the Broad Street Run in Philly, which will take place May 4.  We're joining son Matt and daughter Katie for an attempted 10-mile run down Broad Street.  For those of you not familiar with Philly, Broad Street forms a north-south axis to the city.  A subway runs the length.  City Hall stands at the center and is also at the center of Market Street's east-west axis.  The Broad Street Run will cover (most of) the length of Broad Street.  We'll park our car in the Sports Complex at the south end, board a subway to the north end, and start running south, hoping to pass City Hall halfway and rejoin our loved ones (including grandpuppies) at the Sports Complex.

Being oldsters, we're starting our training slowly and deliberately.  It's been well over a year since we've run regularly, so we're starting very slow and short.  We ran our first full mile on Sunday.  Today we were back to a half mile and then will work up to 1.2 miles or so this Sunday, increasing incrementally from there.  We probably won't be fully ready for 10 miles by May 4, but we're going to give it our best shot.

Well, over the years we've run in the rain many times, but we've been pretty spoiled the last year or so, rarely encountering rain, let alone cold weather.  Imagine our surprise when we awoke to the following scene as we ran today's route:

It made us think of the rainy springs in Philly, and it dawned on us that this is what we could face on the Broad Street Run.  We hoped not, and we thought, "Don't rain on our parade!"

Now, let's turn to the unfortunate story of the fried microwave.  Ardent fans will remember that we encountered the CAMPGROUND FROM HELL when we pulled into Fort Stockton earlier this month in subfreezing weather.  First bad news:  no campground water.  Second bad news:  They sell propane (which we plow through when we heat the rig in the cold weather), but they were out.  Third bad news:  They gave our site to someone else.  We changed sites, which gave rise to the fourth piece of bad news:  The 50 amp socket was defective, which resulted in dramatically low voltage that, because our microwave is plugged in and always on, immediately fried our microwave's circuit board as that low rumbling current coursed through the rig's veins like a fast-acting poison.

GE doesn't provide repair service in Fort Stockton, nor did it in our subsequent stop outside Austin (believe it or not), but could in Baton Rouge; so we scheduled a repair visit for yesterday, the day immediately after we arrived.

Faithful as a postal delivery person, Jasper the repairman showed up yesterday, but told us he couldn't do anything because we had to first uninstall the microwave from under the cabinets and set it out on the counter like a body etherized upon a table, ready for the surgeon to ply his steel. Thus, no service.

Luckily, we thought and acted quickly.  After some effort (detailed below), we wrestled the microwave out of its awkward nest and onto the stovetop counter:

We quickly jumped back online and were able to "reschedule" our original repair appointment before the repairman could note that it had been completed.  This gave us a new appointment this morning.  One piece of good fortune.

Another repairman, Bill, showed up this morning bright and early and promptly went about diagnosing the problem.  Sure enough, it wasn't just a blown fuse, or some other problem.  The whole circuit board had fried.  Cost to replace the circuit board?  $497 cool hard dollars.  Cost to buy a new microwave?  $549.  When you consider that we could get a new microwave much faster than a new circuit board, this made the decision.  Bill left clutching his $89 service call fee, and we clutched our laptops and phones as we searched for a new microwave.

Kathy did find one at Home Depot, but it had to be ordered for delivery Saturday, so the whole saga will not be over at least until then.  However, we've had plenty to entertain us in the meantime.  As we took down the old microwave, we discovered that, in order to mount it, the RV manufacturer had to jerry-rig a crossbar over the microwave and then bolt a bracket to the microwave that could, in turn, be screwed into the crossbar.  Reason?  There obviously was nothing accessible that was strong enough to hang the microwave from.  Surely the manufacturer could simply have built a shelf and installed a regular microwave?  But, no, the RV guys thought a hanging microwave over the stove would sell more RV's, so we got something pretty amateurish as a result:

A little thought from an engineering standpoint alerted us to the likelihood that the microwave may have been suspended more from wishful thinking than from anything structural.  Indeed, a closer inspection verified that this was true.  The crossbar in the photo above is attached to some mysterious material above by 4 long screws.  Of the four screws, the two on the far end had long since ceased holding into the "support" material above.  So, we realized, for some unknown time, our microwave has slowly been shaking itself loose from its roof support as we rumbled down the road.  Who knows how soon we might have opened our rig up after a day's drive to witness a micro-disaster on the stovetop.

David found that two of the screws still seem to be holding well, so he doubled the number of screws, and we now have EIGHT screws holding the crossbar up onto the mysterious wishful-thinking-support-material.  We dallied with the idea of adding a strap to share some of the weight to some support beams alongside the microwave.  While we might do that in the future, for now it appears our extra screws are sufficient to keep us from getting screwed - so we'll give this a try.

As for the old microwave?

It's as useless to us as the contents of the litter box, so we put it out on our picnic table, waiting to be picked up by the Home Depot deliverymen on Saturday when they drop off the new microwave:

We are hoping we won't encounter any more foibles with the expected Saturday delivery of the new microwave.  Or its installation (it's a newer model).  Or with it remaining supported by the mysterious material above that hanging crossbar.  Our sincerest thought:  "Don't rain on our parade!"

Which brings up the third chapter of this story.

Baton Rouge is in the middle of its Mardi Gras celebration, and our hearts are set on another fabulous parade!  When we arrived, we found that there will be two great parades - one Friday night and one Saturday.  We checked the weather forecast:  rain Friday night; clear Saturday.  Great, no problem, we're going to the Saturday parade.

Fast forward to today.  Wait.  Saturday.  Isn't that the day our new microwave is being delivered? Okay, then I guess we'll have to go to the Friday night parade.  But wait.  It's forecast to rain.  Which brings us to our old refrain:

"Don't rain on our parade!"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

There's More to a Run Than Running

Today we stretched our run to 1 mile, working our way toward the Broad Street Run in early May. The morning was thick with heavy fog but warm enough for shorts and t-shirts.

We discovered, however, that there's more to a run than running.  As we walked over to the beach, a woman taking photos pointed out a great blue heron, just hanging out on the road beside our RV park. Somehow, the colors in this bird were perfectly matched by the muted colors of the foggy day:

We were almost to the beach when Kathy encountered this little clawed friend on the sand.  He started scuttling away, but not before we digitally captured him:

Motor vehicles are allowed on the beach at certain official beach access points.  The areas where parking vehicles is permitted are delineated by tall wooden poles which prevent the autos from venturing out beyond the parking area.  We like to start our runs at these poles, cruising out and back, turning around at the halfway point.  This way, we know just when we've reached our mileage.

So here we are, preparing to start the run.  The poles are ahead of us, and so is a lone fisherman with his chair.  When we caught this photo of him, he was seining the shallow waters for bait fish.  But he looked more like a spirit in the mists:

All this, and we hadn't even started our run yet.  One of the pleasures of going out for runs when you RV is the prospect of always encountering new places, new people, new critters, and other unexpected things.  Not always the same-old-same-old.

Mardi Gras - Galveston Style

Hi Blog! What is Mardi Gras? That is a tough question to answer.  The literal translation is Fat Tuesday, the day before the Catholic tradition of fasting during Lent (period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday). On Fat Tuesday, celebrants eat lots of rich and fatty foods before starting their fast on Ash Wednesday. In the U.K., Fat Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday, where tradition calls for folks to each lots of pancakes and other sugary cakes and pastries.

Mardi Gras, especially in the U.S., has expanded to include most of the Carnival Season, which is the period from the Epiphany (January 6th) to Fat Tuesday. Carnival typically involves public celebrations or parades combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning of daily life.  A typical parade will consist of marching bands, dance troops and floats decorated to a specific theme.  As the floats pass by, "krewe" members toss trinkets to the begging crowd.

Mardi Gras arrived in North America as a French Catholic tradition back in 1699.  In 1703 French settlers in Mobile established the first organized Mardi Gras tradition in what was to become the United States.  As the U.S. expanded its territory along the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras came with it. Galveston officially celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1867 and is now considered the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Texas. Everyone knows the largest Mardi Gras party in the U.S. takes place in New Orleans.

Our Mardi Gras started early on Saturday, February 22nd with a drive to the beginning of the Galveston Sea Wall.  The first parade was to start at noon and proceed down Sea Wall Drive.  Our current campground, Jamaica Beach RV Resort, was hosting an all-day cookout on the seawall along the parade route.  We left about 10:00 a.m. to give us plenty of time to stake out front row seats. Here we are getting ready to leave Great White and bike the 3.5 miles into downtown with camp chairs flung over our backs.

Here is the Jamaica Beach RV Park crowd. See if you can find Dave in the mass of humanity.  The park owners brought their motorhome down, pulling a trailer with an 8 foot long wood burning smoker grill.  Apparently, this is the thing to do in Galveston.  There were hundreds of RVs (and other vehicles), together with dozens and dozens of smokers and barbeques, all along Seawall Boulevard, and everyone was tailgating.

With loads of smoked pork, ribs, burgers and hot dogs, we were doing our best to consume as much fat as possible in anticipate for Lent.  There were also plenty of sweets to wash it all down with.

At high noon, the sirens sounded and everyone took their places along the parade route in anticipation of scoring as much booty as possible. The goodies, or "throws," consist of necklaces of plastic beads, coins called doubloons which are stamped with krewes' logos and parade themes, and an array of plastic cups, toys, Frisbees, and figurines. All of this bling is bought and paid for by individual krewe members, some spending $800 to $2,500 on their throws.

This being our first Mardi Gras Parade, we were not sure what the etiquette was.  As the first float passed, folks cut in front of us, pushed us aside and stepped on our toes.  It didn't take long for us to realize, it is everyone for themselves.

By the time the next float approached, we were ready. Dave dropped back into a wide receiver position, scooping up the beads that flew over the heads of the front row. Kathy donned a large feathery mask and proceeded to charge the front line with elbows flairing - success!  Here is Kathy showing off her booty. Dave's haul was equally impressive.

After the parade, we combined our booty and immediately knew we had a problem.  We had scored way too many beads and there were more parades coming.  We needed to lighten our load.  Kathy sorted the beads, keeping a few of the more unique offerings and putting them in her backpack.  We then donned the remaining beads and proceeded to bike down Seawall Boulevard tossing beads to all the kids tailgating with their parents.

Our destination was the Galveston Mardi Gras Entertainment District, a 10 block area of historic Galveston, where the serious partying takes place. After biking three miles, we actually caught up with the first parade as it wound its way up and down the narrow balconied streets of old town. Here we managed to gather even more beads as they were being tossed from both the floats and the balconies!

Between parades we quenched our thirst and snacked on balls of fried boudin (pronounced - boo-DAHN), a wonderfully scrumptious Cajun dish made with meat, rice, and seasonings.  For those of you from Philadelphia, think scrapple, but with rice instead of corn meal. There were two stage venues set up for concerts. We listened to a great Houston artist, Will Makar, who performed some original songs, as well as covers of DMB, John Mayer, Jason Mraz.

Between sets, Dave decided to try to find the Ministry of Magic to check up on Harry and his friends.  Here's Dave, crying in frustration, "I know the Ministry of Magic is here somewhere!"

The folks in Galveston take their Mardi Gras seriously. We spent most of the day watching the characters go by.  We could probably do a whole blog on just the outfits we saw, but that is only one part of the story.  However, we felt we should include at least one representative photos.  Here is Dave's choice (I wonder why):

We watched another parade and gathered up more beads.  This time, we gave the extra beads to all the little kids coming into the Entertainment District.

The ride back to 53rd Street was filled with the sights, sounds and smells of hundreds of groups enjoying their day at the beach.  As we rejoined the crowd from our RV park, we could tell the smoker was in full swing. We feasted on more delicious pork ribs and pulled pork. We set up our chairs to wait for the 6:00 p.m. parade when we noticed the fog begin to roll in. Here is Dave kibitzing with some surrey bikers lamenting over the drastic change in the weather.

Luckily, the sprinkles passed before the parade arrived.  While the rain kept the crowd down compared to the afternoon parade, it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of those that remained.  After the first couple of floats passed, we soon found ourselves gathering more and more beads.  A young mom with two little ones came up and asked if the kids could stand in front of us:  they hadn't been able to get any beads yet, and frantic adults had kept stepping on them.  A plan quickly formed - create a wall to protect the kids from the reach of greedy adults, and wave our arms and point our fingers and yell at the flingers on the floats to direct all the beads the kids' way.

By the time the parade was over, the two little ones could barely walk, they were covered in so many beads.  We managed to keep a few good ones, including one particular favorite of Kathy's which is a string of tiny little beer mugs.  (I wonder why.)  We packed up our chairs, climbed on our bikes, and headed back toward Great White.  It didn't take long before we left the downtown crowds behind us.

Our first Mardi Gras was a success.  Eddie and George had a blast rollin' in the booty:

As they say down here - "Laisez les bons temps roulez!"

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cycling the Island

This morning dawned sunny and warm (but with a cool sea breeze) after a very windy, stormy night:

We decided to bicycle out to the western end of Galveston Island.  We donned our cycling gear and off we went:

Next to our RV park is a riding stable.  As we turned out onto the highway, we spotted a group of riders coming back from a ride along the beach:

It was somewhere about this time that David took an accidental video, which sort of says it all about the bicycle ride.  If you want to get dizzy, feel free to watch it.

A few miles along the road, we encountered a tower for a new development that was designed to mimic a lighthouse.  While it was admittedly commercial, it had a certain character we liked:

Finally, after 11 miles of riding, we made it to the beach at the end of the island.  Here we are trying to push our bicycles through the sand:

Bicycles do have some artistic value:

The sky and the beach were so dramatic, we almost forgot about the ocean roaring near us:

At the end of the island, there is an outlet from the bay over which a long bridge runs.  We found some dunes near the bridge along the narrow waterway and found shelter to eat our lunch:

Having rested and feasted, we headed back the 11 miles.  Halfway back, we noticed a small canal on the ocean side of the highway/  It served as a migratory home for an egret --

-- and a huge flock of coots who got by us before we could photograph them.  You'll just have to take our word for the fact that they were there.

Back from our long ride, we retired to the campground's hot tub, where we soaked and warmed our weary bones and muscles, talking about our training schedule for the Broad Street Run and anticipating the festive time we'll have at Mardi Gras tomorrow in Galveston.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Eddie & George Wake Up On Galveston Island

What a big change!  Last thing Eddie and George knew, they were outside Austin, Texas, which was still pretty dry.  This morning they woke up and it was sunny, breezy and humid, with ocean air blowing all around them.

They're in Jamaica Beach RV Park on Galveston Island, Texas!  They were so excited, they romped all over the RV park.  Here are some random shots of their perambulations:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gruene Day

Hi Blog! On Saturday, February 15th, we drove to the historic district of Gruene (pronounced "Green") located in the City of New Braunfels to meet up with our friends, Connie and Karen.  They are staying down near San Antonio, while we are camped up near Austin. Since we were so close (by Texas standards), we decided to pick a place half-way between us to meet up.

After looking at the map and checking out the tourist sites, we discovered that this past Saturday would be Market Day in Gruene.  Over 100 vendors featured handmade crafts and packaged Texas foods. We'd also have the chance to walk around at see all the buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and try out some good old German country cooking.  What's not to like - let the shopping begin! Just look at all those tents packed with goodies just waiting to be discovered.

We promised ourselves one complete pass around the tents before succumbing to the need to buy every delicious thing we tasted.  It wasn't easy, but we managed to make it around one time. However, by the end of our second pass, the shopping bags were full. We filled our bag with candied pecans, olive oil, stuffed olives, hot and spicy mustard, jelly, salsa and BBQ sauce.

All that shopping was exhausting, especially for the boys who got to carry the heavy shopping bags around. After depositing the goodies back in our trucks, we set out in search of some good grub. After consulting our handy-dandy Gruene Historic District Map, we settled on the Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar.  The restaurant was hopping.  Apparently, this is the place to have lunch when visiting Gruene. The wait was going to be 20 minutes, so here we are hanging out in the bar area enjoying a couple Texas brews.

You know what they say about time flying when you are having fun. Before long we were seated in the outside dining area soaking up the sun and tucking into some homemade chips and salsa.  You can't tell by looking at this photo, but Connie and Karen are mumbling under their breath - hurry up and take the damn photo so we can eat!

After stuffing ourselves, we had to digest a little before heading over to the famous Gruene Dance Hall. We took a stroll down to see the Guadalupe River.

The river powered the cotton gin until 1922. When the mill burned down it was replaced by a modern electric model down the road.  The economic disasters of the boll weevil and the Depression were too much for Gruene.  By the 1950s, it was virtually a ghost town.  It wasn't until 1974 that things began to pick up again.  Now, there are over 20 speciality shops located around town.  Here Kathy checks out the gargantuan wind chimes that hang outside the Dancing Bear collectible shop.

Just next door is the Grapevine in Gruene.  They have an outside garden and host local performers on the weekend.  Here is Bo Porter entertaining the crowd by offering a choice of Texas  Blues, Swing, Country, HonkyTonk, Americana, Rockabilly or Original Music. Today's crowd was definitely into the Blues - must be all that the cold winter weather.

After tapping our toes for a few beats, we could feel the pull of the Gruene Dance Hall. Built in 1876, it’s the oldest continually running hall in Texas. Since we just learned how to do the Texas Two-Step, we were eager to get out on the dance floor and show off what we learned (which wasn't much). However, the band was more interested in playing the blues, and we didn't get much of chance to strut our stuff.  We did, however, see two or three couples demonstrate how your really swing the Texas two-step!

As twilight approached, we decided to drive over to New Braunfels and check out this historic German-American town.  New Braunfels was established in 1845 by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. Prince Solms named the settlement in honor of his home of Solms-Braunfels, Germany.  Here is Karen getting a history lesson from the Prince himself. History learned that the Prince had a secret agenda. Prince Solms had planned to establish a German feudal state by secretly bringing in immigrants and placing them in military fortresses. Sounds a lot like Texas today.

The German-Americans in New Braunfels are proud of their German and Texas heritage.  They created the Historic Outdoor Art Museum to enhance the historic district while teaching and celebrating local history and heritage through art for local and visitor alike. Here is the Lindheimer mural, featuring the Father of Texas Botany.  It was painted by San Antonio mural artist, Alex Brochon. The mural was dedicated on May 21, 2001 in celebration of Lindheimer’s 200th birthday and to honor his botanical achievements with well over 50 plants bearing his name as well as starting the community’s first German newspaper, that, although in English, still exists today.

Here Kathy admires the very first mural, City of a Prince, which portrays the founding of New Braunfels and was dedicated on March 21, 1999 commemorating the arrival of the settlers in 1845. It is painted by Texas Senate honored muralist and historian Clinton Baermann.  You might have trouble spotting Kathy, but she's in the lower left corner, disguising herself as one of the settlers:

As we began our walking tour, we encountered a formally-clad Texas couple entering the convention center for a gala event.  We asked them if they knew of a good German restaurant.  The husband quickly recommend Alpine Haus and Friesenhaus. Both have great food - Alpine House being more formal, while Friesenhaus more fun.  We could immediately tell from his wife's reaction that we were not properly dressed to dine at the Alpine Haus, so Friesenhaus it was.

Besides we like fun better than formal anyway.  The Friesenhaus did not disappoint. We knew we picked the right place when we noticed the giant mural depicting large kegs of beer.  As we entered the restaurant, we learned that there would be live German music. We quickly took our seats, ordered some good German beers and got ready to enjoy some "Accordion with an Attitude" by Terry Cavanagh.  Terry was quite remarkable, in that he has an Irish name, Hispanic heritage, playing German dance hall music - which makes it easy to understand why he calls himself the "World's Most Dangerous Accordion Player."

It didn't take Terry long to get folks up and dancing.  What's not to love about the Chicken Dance or perhaps you prefer the more athletic Hat Dance.  Now all that dancing can build up a powerful appetite. Once I saw this mural outside, we knew it would be sausages for us!

The Philly girl in Kathy just could not resist the Bavarian Pretzel with sauerkraut and Oktoberfest Sausage. Our waitress, Hildegun, did her best to try and entice us with dessert, but we were stuffed.

And so ends another adventure with Connie and Karen.  Thanks guys for a great day.