Elk Knob State Park

Elk Knob State Park

Gail and I went with our Forsyth County Audubon bird group to Elk Knob State Park in the North Carolina mountains. We went specifically to look for the Golden-winged Warbler. We were in the right spot, hearing our target warbler on several occasions. But we never quite laid eyes on one. We did see or hear several other warblers, too, including Ovenbird, Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, and Common Yellowthroat. Other fun mountain birds included Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, and Veery. All told, we finished with 24 species, which is not a big day as far as counts go, but it was a FUN day! We had a nice group on a nice day at a beautiful place!

Here is a pic Gail took of the Chestnut-sided Warbler:

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Indigo Buntings are always cool to see:

Indigo Bunting

Then we decided to take a hike all the way to the top of Elk Knob, an elevation of 5,520 feet.

We encountered this deer along the way. She stayed surprisingly close for quite a while. I wonder if she wasn’t protecting a little one somewhere close by.

at Elk Knob

And at the top, we were rewarded with these amazing views!

Princess Gail at Elk Knob State Park

Gail at Elk Knob

Man, did we get a workout, too! According to our FitBits, we finished with over 15,000 steps, or about 7.5 mountain miles, and credit for 111 flights of stairs!

We are so grateful to be able to enjoy things like this. I hope we can keep doing it for a very long time! 🙂

view from Elk Knob

Favorite SD Comic-Con 2014 moments!

A year’s worth of planning and anticipation culminated in our recent experience of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con! It was everything we had hoped and so much MORE! I can’t begin to describe the energy that lit the place up for the five glorious days of the convention. The extensive programming was way beyond impressive! How in the world can so many artists and celebrities be herded into one place at the same time!? There was SO much going on that I wanted my clones to be in about 5 places simultaneously throughout the entire convention! Though with an approximately 130,000 attendance, all competing for seats in the rooms, we had to carefully pick and choose which panels and events  we really wanted to see. Even so, we did manage to see and do many memorable things while at the Con. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. I had a mission to meet one of the Special Guests that had been invited to this year’s Comic- Con.  Jane Espenson is a gifted writer who has contributed to many of the TV shows Gail and I love. These include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica/Caprica, Firefly/Serenity, Once Upon a Time, and Game of Thrones. She has written for many more. She has also contributed to certain comics. Obviously, she has a direct line to Joss Whedon‘s creative mind, and how cool is that! She has had a writing career that any writer would envy, and she is still going strong, including the current production of her own web series, Husbands (Get a load of the cast!)

Fortunately for me, she was very active at the Comic-Con. She was on several panels, and she offered several signing opportunities. We got to see her at two of her panels and I managed to find her at one of the artist’s signing tables! She was very gracious, and I will remember these moments always! Thank you, Jane!


2. Anne Rice is a writer without equal! Interview with the Vampire redefined the original literary concept of the vampire, and I was hooked on her after that classic novel. Her rich and luscious descriptions of characters and locations bring her imaginary worlds to life. She is an extraordinary story teller. Countless authors have taken their cues from her work. And her work is voluminous, making vampires, witches, angels and wolf people seem real. She has also written erotica, and about Jesus! It is difficult to place her in any one genre!

Ms Rice is now 72 years young. You would be shocked by the peaceful beauty of her warm and patient smile. She looked at me and Gail in the eyes in a way that made me feel that that moment, and probably every moment, are important to her. I thanked her for the many hours of reading pleasure her books had brought me, and for the delicious memories that remain. She said, “And that’s why I will keep writing them.”

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3. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows currently on TV. It is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of novels written by George R.R. Martin. He is therefore one of the most successful and influential writers on today’s fantasy scene. It was fun seeing his gregarious self up close, and getting his autograph!

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4. Cosplay (costumed role play) or at least “dressing up” is a tradition at comic conventions. I really enjoyed seeing so many people in costume at the #SDCC. Here is a YouTube video with a  sampling:

I had a surprisingly great time participating in this. I never intended to have an elaborate costume like in the video. That is not my thing. But since I am such a Breaking Bad fan, am just a little older than Walter White/Heisenberg, and his outfit was easy to replicate, I decided to play along. It was interesting sort of slipping into a (W)alter ego!

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5. Evangeline Lilly is famous for her role as Kate Austen in the TV series Lost. We saw her most recently as the woodland elf Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a role she will reprise in the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Evangeline has written a children’s book, and she was at the #SDCC in part to promote it. We purchased one of the 1,000 numbered copies of a special Comic-Con edition of The Squickerwonkers. We were fortunate to have Evangeline herself sign the book for us!


6. We saw previews of several upcoming TV shows, and there are two that we are now really looking forward to: iZombie and Scorpion. Keep an eye out for these shows this fall!

These were among my favorite moments at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. And there were many other moments I will long remember. Now it’s time to start thinking about #SDCC2015! 😀

(If you want to see our Facebook photos of the San Diego Comic-Con 2014, here they are.)

Freedom of the Seas Caribbean Cruise 2014

One of the benefits of having grown up children, and a job where I get frequent chunks of time off, is that Gail and I can take spontaneous trips. We often take day trips and short trips of two to five days. But this time, with one week off, we decided to schedule a last minute cruise! We gave ourselves about one week to organize things and pack. I worked all that week, so most of the organizing and packing fell on Gail. But how fun!

We found a cruise going to the exact places we had been dreaming of visiting, and on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, one of the largest and most spectacular cruise ships in the world!

Freedom of the Seas

Of course, at such a late date, all the ocean view cabins had already been taken, and we were going to be happily satisfied with an inside cabin. Gail said we wouldn’t be spending much time in our dinky cabin anyway. But we were nicely surprised to find an inside cabin with a view to the ship’s incredible Promenade!

From home, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we were able to sign all the contracts and waivers, saving ourselves the time and hassle of having to do it later on board. We were also able to explore online the various excursions that were available at each port of call, and to sign up and pay for each. Again, a huge saver of time and hassle. Plus, knowing about our planned excursions helped to build the excitement of anticipation.

So, after my work day on Saturday, Feb 1, we quickly finished packing and drove six hours to Savannah, GA, where we spent the night. The following morning we drove the last four hours to Port Canaveral, FL, to catch our ship. I had also figured out the parking and paid for it online before arrival. We used Park Port Canaveral, a service of the local Radisson, and I can recommend it highly. It was well organized, and shuttles run every 15 minutes from there to your ship. It works best if you pay for it online before you get there.

We were dropped off at the pier, directly underneath our towering ship! Attendants took over our luggage, which had the colorful Royal Caribbean tags I had printed out at home, complete with ship name, deck and cabin number. (We registered too late for the cruise to receive real tags by mail from Royal Caribbean.) We were then pointed to the well-organized maze of security and check-in procedures. It all went smoothly. BTW, we could not have done this if we did not already have active passports. I highly recommend that every US citizen have an active passport. You never know when you might have to leave the country in a hurry! LOL

So we boarded the ship and two hours later our 4,200 passengers and 1,400 crew set sail! It was a thrill to leave port, to hear the loud blast of the horn and feel the vibration of the engines! After these winter months, it was a sheer pleasure to smell/taste/breathe the salty sea air, and to feel the warm breeze on my skin! Our 7-day itinerary was to include stops at Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico. Our weather was to be a perfect 85-90 degrees, without rain for the entire week! And it all went as planned!

Our first full day was “at sea”, as it took the ship that long to reach the western Caribbean. That gave us time to catch our breath, explore the ship, exercise, and to get a little sun. (It was already 75 degrees in FL, and of course it became progressively warmer as we headed south.) As expected, we found the ship to be absolutely magnificent! If you are interested, you can get a detailed idea of the ship, deck by deck, here at the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas web site.


Labadee, Haiti

Our first stop was in Labadee Haiti, which Royal Caribbean calls its own “private island”. That means they own the property and have developed it for the sole use and enjoyment of their cruising guests.

Labadee Haiti

We were greeted by a parade of jet skiers, promoting the various activities to do on the island.

Labadee jet ski parade

We did not plan an extra excursion for that day, wanting to use it as our only lazy-day-at-the-beach. But had we wanted to, we could have partaken in all sorts of beachy adventures such as jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, zip lining, roller coasting, and more! The Freedom of the Seas staff put on a great lunch on the beach for  us, no small feat for 4,200 passengers! All in all, a day of relaxation at a beautiful and safe beach was just the right way to start the trip!

Labadee Haiti Ferd Labadee Haiti Gail

Here’s a shot of Freedom of the Seas, docked in Labadee. Look at those beautiful Caribbean waters!

Freedom of the Seas at Labadee Haiti


Falmouth, Jamaica

After cruising for the evening and overnight, we awoke the following morning to find ourselves docked in Falmouth, Jamaica.

Freedom of the Seas docked in Falmouth Jamaica

Falmouth is on the north shore of Jamaica, between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. We easily found our way to the start of our planned excursion to Dunn’s River Falls and Dolphin Cove.

The one hour drive from our ship to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios was interesting. We had an entertaining and informative tour guide. The country is naturally beautiful, with lush greenery, mountains to 7,000 feet, and of course the Caribbean Sea. It is blessed with a plethora of natural resources. The people lead simple lives, though, and the buildings along the way were generally humble.

Jamaica Humming Bird Bar

The people we met were full of life, exuberant, colorful, and friendly! I’ll also mention that compared to the last time I was in Jamaica, this time I felt safe.

Climbing up Dunn’s River Falls against the rushing waters is a classic thing to do when visiting Jamaica. I had done this many years before, and enjoyed it just as much this time around. The only difference was that it was much more crowded this time, probably because of the number of people coming from our own cruise ship. It was a first for Gail, and it was really fun sharing her anxious excitement! They took a picture of us, but it sucked so we didn’t buy it. They also took video, but we didn’t feel it was worth $40. We plan to keep and enjoy our vivid memories! 🙂

If interested, here is a google search for images of Dunn’s River Falls.

We were then driven to nearby Dolphin Cove, for lunch and presumably a closeup with dolphins. It was okay, but somewhat of a disappointment. It had a slight tourist trap element to it, but redeemed by the presence of dolphins, stingrays and sharks in the water, and a variety of birds and other animals in sizable enclosures on the property. If you know us, you know we had a blast with the birds! But we didn’t get to swim with the dolphins. That was a different excursion, which would have excluded going to the Dunn’s River Falls. But no problem, mon! We had fun! Here is a pic to prove it! 🙂

Dolphin Cove birdy Gail 

George Town, Grand Cayman

You should not be allowed to visit the Caymans and Cozumel without planning to snorkel or scuba, IMO. So, since we planned to visit Mayan ruins during our stop in Cozumel, our day in Grand Cayman was our time for ocean activities. What a great day this turned out to be!

Stingray City is a famous spot on a shallow sand bar just off of Grand Cayman. Stingrays gather in this area in large numbers, attracted by squid treats provided by the crews of many tourist boats. When we arrived in the area, we jumped in the water and had the surreal experience of being surrounded by many stingrays, large and small, swimming all around us, rubbing against us, even swimming between our legs! At one point we were able to hold one from underneath, and to kiss one “for good luck!” The look on Gail’s face and her squeals were worth the whole trip!

Grand Cayman Stingray City2

Grand Cayman Stingray City1


After a great fun time with the stingrays, the boat then took us to a shallow part, approximately 8-12 feet deep, of the world famous Cayman Islands barrier reef for snorkeling. I have many memories of snorkeling in this area, several times over the years, since I was in my middle teens. Certainly the natural beauty of the living reefs, colorful fishes, and crystal clear Caribbean waters are enough for anyone, but for me there is the added bonus of vividly recalling past memories with family.

Grand Cayman barrier reef Ferd Grand Cayman barrier reef snorkeling

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying a quiet beach. 🙂

Grand Cayman beach Ferd Grand Cayman beach Gail Grand Cayman beach Gail2


Cozumel, Mexico

Our next port of call was Cozumel, an island just off of the Caribbean side of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. I know this area fairly well, also having been there on several occasions over the years. But it was Gail’s first time. We decided to take a ferry to the mainland and then a tour of the nearby Mayan ruins in Tulum.

The first time I was in Tulum, I believe it was 1970, there was no road into the place. The excavations and restorations had not been completed. There was no protection of this important archeological site. I remember climbing up and around all the ruins (“las piramides” as we used to say in Spanish) with my brother. I remember the incredible view of the Caribbean Sea from this location, and felt a spooky connection to people long ago who had obviously appreciated that same view 800 years ago. It was desolate. The first time I was there with my family of origin, we were the only people there.

Today, there is a four lane highway from Playa del Carmen (the beach town to where the ferry crosses over from Cozumel) to Tulum. Countless tour buses take this road every day. I suspect hundreds of thousands of people visit these ruins yearly. The site is now well excavated and decently restored. It is very well protected. No one is allowed to climb up and around the ruins, as my brother and I did years ago. But my old memories and feelings remain, as does the incredible view of the Caribbean Sea. I’m really glad to have re-experienced this place with Gail, and I’m glad she said she enjoyed it very much.

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Afterwards, we spent a short hour on the lovely Akiin Beach before having to bus back to Playa del Carmen, and then ferry back to Cozumel to catch our ship before it again set sail. It was yet another great day! 🙂


The final day of the cruise was again all at sea, covering the distance back to Port Canaveral, FL. We certainly weren’t ready for this wonderful trip to end! We spent the day reading, exploring parts of the ship we hadn’t even seen yet, and making preparations for deboarding the following day. Here are a few images in and about Freedom of the Seas:

Freedom of the Seas common areas

Freedom of the Seas Gail aft stairs

Freedom of the Seas aft elevator tower

Freedom of the Seas along the Promenade

Freedom of the Seas Gail at sea

Freedom of the Seas cantilevered whirlpool

Freedom of the Seas formal dinner

Freedom of the Seas fancy lounge

Gail and Ferd cruise

It would be impossible to explain how it feels to live a week on this magnificent ship. You’ll just have to try it yourself!

The bummer is that it eventually comes to an end. 🙁

Well, this has been a long post. But I have more to say, so I’ll save it for part two. 🙂


OBX – The Outer Banks, NC – Part 3

On the previous post I wrote about our little day trip south of Kill Devil Hills, along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, all the way down to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This post is about our day trip on the following day, this time north all the way to Corolla and the Currituck Sound. On our way we passed the beautiful little town of Duck, NC. Duck is arguably the fanciest and prettiest residential part of all the Outer Banks.

A very special part of this day was a planned meet-up with a fellow blogger I have known for several years. We had known each other only through our mutual online community of bloggers, and this real life meeting proved to be a memorable treat! Katherine, writer of the Shoot Me Now blog, and her beautiful daughter Elizabeth, were our guides for this part of our explorations, as Corolla, NC is their long-time, beloved home away from home.

First they proudly showed us around the beautiful Whalehead Club and told us of its interesting history.

Whalehead Club in Currituck

This spectacular property includes the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. It is also home to a great birding site on the NC Birding Trail, Currituck Heritage Park. Just up the road is yet another great birding site on the NC birding trail, the Currituck Banks National Estuarine Research Reserve. It would take years to really know these sites and all they have to offer, in the different seasons of the year. I feel like we just scratched the surface in our few short hours. I hope to someday return and spend much more time here. I can so see why Katherine and Elizabeth love this area!

Here is a brief glimpse of the estuary habitat.



We saw this Belted Kingfisher eating a fish.

Kingfisher with fish

Belted Kingfisher

We walked and talked along this boardwalk in the maritime forest,

Maritime Forest Boardwalk Trail

and on a primitive trail which lead us to another spot on the Currituck Sound.

Live Oak on primitive Forest Trail

Elizabeth, who is a remarkable and impressive young naturalist, spotted this Cottonmouth Snake! I’m glad we were at a safe distance and that it was moving away from us!

Cottonmouth Snake

All in all, we spent a glorious morning together, and I am so happy to have taken the “e” out of our eFriendship! Thank you very much, Katherine and Elizabeth, for this memorable day! 😀

with Katherine and Elizabeth


OBX – The Outer Banks, NC – Part 2

During our recent trip to the Outer Banks, we spent a day going south from Kill Devil Hills, along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, to the Hatteras Lighthouse. Our primary destination was the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the prime birding spots in the USA. The weather conditions included 12 MPH NE winds with gusts to 30MPH, which virtually eliminated the chance of spotting migrant songbirds, our main goal. But we were more than satisfied with what we did see.

Gail at the OBX 2013



We saw a huge number of Tricolored Herons and White Ibis.

TcHerons and IbisTcHerons

We were fortunate to see this Audubon’s Shearwater.


We had two target birds when we set out on this expedition. We wanted to see our first Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. We succeeded on both counts!

The Black-necked Stilt:

Black-necked Stilt 1Black-necked Stilt 2Black-necked Stilt 3

American Avocet:

American Avocet 2American Avocet 3American Avocet 4American Avocet 5American Avocet 7

After a few hours of enjoyable hikes, views and birding, we proceeded to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in North America.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Us at Hatteras Lighthouse

It was fun climbing to the top!

Ferd inside Hatteras LighthouseGail inside Hatteras Lighthouse

We lucked out at the top. The high winds had closed the observation tower, but slowed just enough as we got there to allow us out. Here is a view, without hat as it would have blown off!

view from top of Hatteras Lighthouse

On the way back, we stopped at the Bodie Island Lighthouse and we lucked out again! Not only did we get to walk outside on the observation tower, we were among the first to see the four-year restoration and the actual lighthouse lens.

Bodie Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse lens

It was a great day on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore!

Bye! 🙂

inside Bodie Island Lighthouse

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the OBX – The Outer Banks, NC.