Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

I wish all my loyal followers a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thanks for following my blog during the past two years. I hope to continue your readership by posting many more interesting notes throughout 2010. And to all the fellow travelers out there (even those among you who can only be vicarious travelers) - Happy Travels! May all your trips be safe, productive and enjoyable!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Still "Grounded" at home but enjoying it! May I Interest You in Houston's Newest Library??

As my good friend in New York noticed the other day, the Traveling Chemist is still "grounded" at home in Houston. Well, to be candid, I don't mind spending some time at home and in fact it is often what I secretly wish for on the eve of every long-distance international trip and especially after being away from home for a particularly long period of time. Being home affords me time to address all those pesky chores that crop up during the year and which I've had to put off while I was away from home. And, with all these 'monster' snow storms affecting airline schedules during these winter months, I just as soon avoid the airports anyway! As one wise friend once commented: Christmas is the time of the year when people who normally don't travel, travel. I don't know about you, dear followers, but THAT is exactly the time of year I DON'T want to travel!! (Avoid all those crowds!)

Meanwhile, in my attempt to keep alive the interests of my loyal followers who are checking in here daily or weekly to see and read about my travel exploits, I will at least try to post some pictures that will have an admittedly local focus about my life at home for the Holidays in Houston (my home city for the past 32+ years). But, dear followers, please stick around! Next month is promising to be more active with an international trip planned for mid-January. In the meantime, can I interest you in details about Houston's newest library???? Then read on .....

On Thursday, December 17, there was a "pre-opening" celebration at Houston's newest library - the Kendall Library branch on 609 N. Eldridge Parkway. It is the only branch library with three floors, a gymnasium and a drive-thru window! The current Kendall branch along Memorial Drive will be officially closed in February and all its books will then be moved to this new building.

Well, I can't conclude this posting without at least one picture of the Holiday paraphenalia appearing outside many of Houston's homes. The one above depicts a snowman.

Don't worry - no one was actually hurt here. Just one family's idea of a humorous "decoration". This model allegedly shows someone having just fallen off the roof while stringing up some Christmas lights!

Ah well, apologies to anyone who might be offended ...... but with such a weird company name (might there be a company called "Gigolo"??), I simply could not resist capturing this photo while on the way to the barber in Bellaire last Saturday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jackson, Mississippi - Dec. 8 & 9

Photo: The Mississippi state capitol building.

My first ever visit to Mississippi came on Tuesday (Dec. 8) when I flew to Jackson, the state capitol of Mississippi. I arrived to overcast skies and a slight drizzle (which later turned to a driving rain later that evening). I was met by a driver who took me to my motel - the Holiday Inn Express in Pearl - a suburb of Jackson.

The following morning was superb - clear blue sky with a cool temperature. The purpose of this trip to Jackson was to give another in the series of my lectures that I am presenting on behalf of a professional society for petroleum engineers. My presentation was held at the River Hills Club outside Jackson. Before my talk started at 12 noon, I asked my sponsor if he'd mind taking me into downtown Jackson to allow me to at see at least one main attraction in the city! I chose the capitol building. With blue skies in the background, it made for a picture perfect day - see the above photo! After our brief excursion downtown, we headed to the country club where we had lunch followed by my talk which lasted 45 minutes. Attendance = 17 people.

My presentation was over at 1 pm and by 1:40 pm, I was at the Jackson Airport where I managed to snag an early flight home to Houston. My kind of trip .... short and sweet!!

The eagle atop the state capitol buidling.

The old capitol building, located a few blocks from the current capitol building (shown at the top of this posting).

The Mississippi state flag. In the upper left corner is the old Confederate flag (the "Stars and Bars"). A little nostalgic but upsetting to some as it represents bad elements of the old South.

The River Hills Country Club where I gave my lecture presentation.

A view from my seat in Row 19 (the last row) of the flight home to Houston.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Snow in Houston, Texas!!

I fully realize that most folks living in the northeastern USA or in the upper mid-western states or in the Rocky Mountain areas (Colorado, etc.) or anywhere else (for example, northern Europe or northern China, etc.) will chuckle, chortle, laugh or just shrug ("so what's the big deal ...") at all this fuss I am making but, hey, today's weather is a BIG deal for us Houstonians! Today marks the earliest recorded snowfall in Houston - ever. Never before has it snowed in Houston as early as December 4th!! Normally we go for several YEARS without any snow so when we do see some snow - even if only in small amounts - we are excited! And, today, the meteorological conditions were perfect! In my area of West Houston, we only experienced a light dusting of snow - about 0.5" to 1 " total accumulation. Outlying areas had up to 3 - 4 inches accumulation! And the best outcome of all .... our office workplace was closed at 12 noon. A perfect way to spend a winter day in Houston!

The snow by our apartment pool area. Talk about a strange juxtaposition!!

Snow covered vegetation .....

I managed to scrape up enough snow from these cars to make a few snowballs!!
- - - - - -
Follow-Up: Saturday was a superb day: clear, blue sky and very cool temperatures. The day began at 26 deg F and eventually rose to around 50 deg F (10 deg C). My neighbor's flowers all withered away from the thermal shock. Sadly, with the temperature quickly rebounding, it wasn't long before all traces of our recent snowfall disappeared. Oh well, our one day of winter! It sure was nice while it lasted!
Madame Lefty: Welcome back! It's great to get another posting from you and also good to hear that your teaching job is going well. I must admit I was surprised to learn that our local school district (Houston Independent School District - HISD) kept classes going while our company - and many other large corporations - let their employees off from work! Oh well, it's still early in the season, maybe Houston will get a 'double-header' and receive yet another wintry blast! I hope!!
Ron: Thanks so much for your suggestions! I am always afraid of checking my camera and lenses for fear of theft by the TSA and by baggage handlers!
Nichole and Kyle: Many thanks for taking the time to leave comments and glad to hear you liked my posting!
Hindsfeet: Glad you like my photography! It's my favorite hobby .... after traveling, of course!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

To all my loyal followers here in the USA and to whomever else celebrates this day of Thanks .... I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

I started out the day taking pictures around the west side of Houston during the early morning:

A new artwork appeared two weeks ago next to the new Westchase Park office building near the intersection of Westpark and Beltway 8. The new artwork is entitled Synergy and was created by Texas artist George Schroeder.

Next stop: church; then a fabulous buffet meal at the Omni Hotel (Woodway and Loop 610). Excellent food and atmosphere. Total cost = $70.00 USD!! Expensive for sure but since I only indulge in this sort of extravagance only about once a year, well, why not! After I stuffed myself with delicious food, I wandered around the front courtyard of the Omni Hotel and photographed the geese swimming around a pond adjacent to the hotel. One goose in particular - after eyeing me intently for a few seconds - started to chase after me snapping his mouth several times!! (Talk about a wild goose chase!!)

Anyway, I survived the chase and after capturing a few more photos I departed for home.

FYI: This was my first Thanksgiving at home in Houston since 2006. Having spent the last two Thanksgivings in Kuwait, I was quite pleased to be home again for the Holiday this year!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rice University (Houston, Texas)

I'm still at home (and will be for a few more weeks) but at least I had the pleasure of spending a day over at Rice University to attend a semi-annual joint-industry-project update. Wednesday was one of those rare days in Houston when the sky was virtually cloudless and the humidity was low. After the morning's presentations, we all trooped over to the Faculty Club for lunch and as we walked I managed to get a few pictures of the beautiful campus. Almost makes me want to go back to school again ..... almost .... but then again, since I still need the income, I'd better keep working!

Monday, November 9, 2009

At Home in Houston ....

My original plan was to be in Kuwait this month but since the Eid al-Ada holiday (a big Holiday in the Islamic world) falls almost on the same day as our Thanksgiving Day, it was decided by the powers-that-be in our company's office in Kuwait that I remain here in the USA and travel instead at a later date (yet to be determined). Although I must admit I miss traveling, at least I will have the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving at home here in Houston for the first time since 2006! (The last two Thanksgivings were in Kuwait!) So, my dear followers, I hope you won't be too disappointed by the lack of new postings. I have a short trip in early December but otherwise I shall remain housebound for the next few weeks.

One pleasant item to report: my kind and generous boss has allowed our team to purchase a new telephoto lens for our team's camera. Our new 'toy' is a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM telephoto lens. The picture below shows the lens mounted on our Canon 50D SLR. I will practice using the new lens over the Christmas Holiday and if I capture any interesting photos, I will post them here. One word of caution: the lens weighs 3 pounds (ca. 1,500 grams!).

As a first example of what this lens can do, I took a picture of the new Memorial Hermann Hospital building located along I-10 (near Gessner) in West Houston and then I zoomed in on the ghastly top of the building. You can see the difference in the 100 mm and 400 mm focusing ranges. My question to anyone who lives here in Houston: just what the heck is that thing on the building top anyway? An observation deck? And just how much did (or will) that architectural trifle cost the hospital's patients??!! No wonder we have a health care crisis here in the USA!!

The new Memorial Hermann hospital building at 100 mm focal length (above) ....

and at 400 mm focal length. So what is that thing on the top of the building??!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween - The Road to Recovery

The Traveling Chemist has been home for about nine (9) days with what turned out to be a 'bacterial infection'. At first I thought it was the 'flu' but I had my suspicions. One clue: the "Tamiflu" anti-viral drug I was prescribed had no effect. By the time the doctor considered using an antibiotic, the 'bug' was - thankfully - all gone. (I just hope it stays away!!!)

Anyway, I finally recovered and returned to work last Monday. Today (Friday, October 30) has ushered in some excellent Fall weather here in Houston (temps in the mid-60's F; ca. 18 - 19 deg C). Finally, the heat and humidity have gone and I can roll down my car windows, open my apartment windows and let the fresh air in.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

One Day in Covington, Louisiana

I had the pleasure of taking a short (one-day) trip to Covington, Louisiana - a small, upscale community located about 30 miles north of New Orleans on what is termed the 'North Shore' of Lake Pontchartrain (see photo above) I have been to New Orleans many, many times but have never ventured outside its main metropolitan area and thus this visit allowed me an opportunity to experience a new part of Louisiana.

Our one-hour flight to Houston was relatively pleasant (despite the 40-minute delay). And I flew out of Hobby airport - something I haven't done in recent memory. (FYI: Hobby handles mainly local commuter flights to/from Houston - most of which are of short duration. Also, there are no international flights out of Hobby to my knowledge.) We rented a car and my colleague volunteered to drive the one-hour trip from the New Orleans Airport, along the 20+ mile causeway that connects the south and north shores of Lake Pontchartrain into Covington.
Unlike the central, main business district of New Orleans - which often seems to me to be rather shabby in appearance - Covington has a much more pleasing 'eye appeal'. Nice, upscale homes and several excellent local restaurants - two in which I had the pleasure of dining. We had a lot of business to conduct and thus I have relatively few photos to share of this one-day trip.

Copeland's restaurant in Covington. This restaurant was directly across the street from the Courtyard by Marriott hotel where we stayed. Excellent food!! The following day I had lunch at Zea, another fine restaurant which I can heartily recommend!!

A local goose who got a bit disturbed when I approached him!

The flight home on Southwest Airlines was smooth and ON TIME!


Replies to Comments:

John: The menu at either Copeland's or Zea's is quite varied and as is usually the case with many restaurants nowadays, you can access their menu on-line. Zea's menu and locations can be found at: Enjoy!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Final Day in Wyoming - and the Trip Home!

Monday, September 21 was my last day in Rock Springs. Since my presentation was set for 6 pm, I chose to remain close to town and visited the Rock Springs Historical Museum. And am I glad I did ... this place is a true gem of a museum. Mind you, it's a small museum, the displays are nice enough but the museum coordinator - Bob Nelson - was a font of information about local history! I learned about facts such as: (a) "Butch Cassidy" was not killed in South America but allegedly lived after the famous shoot-out and returned to Wyoming; in fact his grandson still lives!; (b) Rock Springs supposedly got its start thanks to coal (see above sign!) but actually it was the railroad that started building a town there to provide a temporary place for the workers to live.

If you are ever in the area, please take an hour to visit this museum -- you will not regret your decision!

The Rock Springs Historical Museum in downtown Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and three other 'outlaws' in a classic photo taken after they robbed a bank of about $32,000 USD.

A display on how Robert Parker picked up the name Butch Cassidy.

The museum has a small library containing a wealth of local historical records (newspaper clippings, photos, etc.) and information.

Mr. Bob Nelson - the museum coordinator. He can talk at length about the local history. He is very knowledgeable and very easy to talk to and will gladly answer all your questions.
The next day I flew to Williston, North Dakota. Turned out to be a terrible flight on Great Lakes Airlines (aka Great Mistakes Airlines). I was delayed 5 hours in Denver and barely made it to Williston in time for my 7 pm presentation! Thankfully, my flights home on Wednesday (9/23) were both ON TIME and I walked into my Houston apartment at 10:35 pm and collapsed into bed about an hour later!
Replies to Comments:
Hindsfeet: Thanks for visiting my blog! I may try to add more Alaska photos - once I get the time! And that is a major problem lately! I have a cranky customer in Kuwait who wants what he wants when he wants it! I simply MUST take care of his request this week ... so maybe later .....
John: Thanks, as always, for stopping by my blog! Always nice to know someone is looking in here from time to time!! Have a great Friday!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Weekend in Western WYOMING

I have the entire weekend to rest up and prepare for the final two presentations in my lecture tour next week. As I mentioned in my last posting, my previous visit to Wyoming was about 30 years ago and so I chose to spend Saturday revisiting those locations where I took my first field trip for my current employer: Big Piney and La Barge, Wyoming. By themselves, these locations are not "special" places. Neither town has any spectacular scenery or tourist sites to brag about, it's just that each place holds a lot of memories for me.

My day started at 8:45 am. I drove along Highway 352 to 191 and arrived at La Barge - my first stop - at 10:30 am. La Barge is the location of the oil field where my colleagues and I conducted a major field trial in the summer of 1978. Not much has changed in town although there are a few new stores, restaurants and a gas station!

Next stop: Big Piney. This is the town (population 404) where we stayed at the Big Piney Motel. Surprisingly the motel is still there!! Along with several new buildings which have popped up in the last three decades: a new elementary, middle and high school and even a Big Piney Fine Arts Center! And now there is the Big Piney Museum!! Add to this a new grocery store and a few new businesses (gas stations, restaurants, etc.) and you'd think there must be a lot more people living here nowadays. Surprisingly, however, the town's population has not changed much over the last 30 years!

The sign at the edge of Big Piney, Wyoming! This same sign was here in 1978!!

La Barge, Wyoming .... not much has changed in the last three decades.

An abandoned gas station .....

The same cafe in La Barge that we ate at 30 some years ago. Sadly it is closed!

Next, lunch in Pinedale. I ate at Stockman's Restaurant, after which I took a few more pictures of the surrounding area and then began the 165 mile journey returning to Rock Springs. I drove a total of 340 miles today in eight hours.

Dinner on Saturday was at the White Mountain Mining Company Restaurant. A nice local restaurant with good food.

On Sunday (September 20) I ventured south of Rock Springs and took in more of the Flaming Gorge reservoir and the surrounding areas.
So many unique rock formations .....

Never a dull moment when touring Wyoming!

Every time I turned a corner, there was another one of those "Wow" moments. So many truly amazing sights!

PS: One final word .... Coffee addicts, especially fellow bloggers, Madame Lefty and Ms. Cheryl, may be pleased to note that Rock Springs, Wyoming now has a STARBUCKS in town! The presence (or absence) of a chain coffee shop such as Starbucks in a town/city is one of my indicators of the presence (or absence) of 'civilization'!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 5 - Driving to WYOMING!

Well, I have completed four of the six presentations scheduled for this first lecture tour! Turnout has been great - with the exception of the meeting in Vernal where only a small 'crowd' of eight folks showed up. I had about 100 people listening to me speak in Anchorage, 37 in Bakersfield and 62 in Denver. Thankfully, the next presentation on this lecture trip won't be until Monday (Sept. 21) and thus I have the entire weekend off to rest and recuperate. Instead of flying to my next stop, a colleague offered to drive me to Rock Springs, Wyoming. The drive from Vernal, Utah covered 110 miles and usually takes about two hours but took us about three hours as I wanted to stop frequently and take pictures along the way. This offer of a ride allowed me to cancel the flight (fright) on Great Lakes Airlines and simply drive to my next destination ... which is here in Rock Springs. It has been almost 30 years since my last visit to this wonderful state so I am looking forward to spending the weekend here and reconnecting with some of the same locations I first visited in 1978!

I departed Vernal, Utah at 9:30 am and headed north on Highway 191. We passed over the Flaming Gorge Dam (located in the northeastern corner of Utah - just below the border with Wyoming) and took in some truly wonderful scenery. I managed to snap a few pictures and you can see them here. Enjoy!

Wyoming reminds me of Alaska - a true frontier state with few people and a LOT of wide open land and wide open spaces. For someone like me who lives in a big city, this place is a welcome change in venue.