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Disney World 2014 084Some people imagine Disney World with animation.  Characters that have made Disney famous dance in the minds of those who try to capture the breadth of this theme park.  No doubt everyone has their favorite character or two.

Others zero in on the radiant castle that Tinkerbell flies around as the Disney Marquee.  It is certainly stunning in appearance.  Walking among its many rooms and photographing its majestic towers is unforgettable.

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Colorful buildings of cultural vintage and ethnic flair mark the grounds that envelope us for our dream vacation.  Epcot is unforgettable and the geodesic globe stands out as a hallmark feature of the park.  Everyone is included in this magical world.

Flowers are stunning.  Landscapers must be full-time and constantly planning the next season’s combination of colors, textures, heights and dimensions.  Trees, shrubs, lawns and blooms make up this critical piece of the Disney motif.

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Nevertheless, do not forget the water.  As blue as the canopy of skies overhead, the water ways, lakes, ponds and waterfalls are front and center of Disney World.  No matter where we turned or planned our day, water had to be crossed by bridges, boats or overhead trams.

Bodies of water are picturesque.  They reflect the beauty of vast blues and sparkling lights.  Inside of key exhibits there are massive tanks of water that are the homes of magnificent sea creatures, both large and small.

The reflection off of the surface of these waters adds to the wonder of this magical kingdom.  A steady wake from our water taxi makes our hotel begin to shimmer in the morning daylight.  When the sun sets, the reflection turns into something spectacular.Disney World 2014 128

Those who plan these water features must have a lot of fun dreaming about what could be done.  Ideas must rush from their planning and dreaming sessions like a geyser on overload.   Water must be placed in its location first or at least steer the conversation of how these parks are organized, planned and laid out.

Guests are guided along trails that submit to the restrictions of these planned walkways.  Bridges are engineered to make the 100,000 walkers connect with the water.  They pass over waterways without getting wet or slowing down.

Posing together for unforgettable memories are mighty trees, splendid buildings and resplendent colors.  Together they bond together for happy moments for countless people.  Yet, the water is almost always there.  Add water and there is life, beauty and splendor.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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Disney World 2014 078Disney World is a special treat in and of itself.  We dreamed of visiting this theme park for years.  The savings started years ago to make our dream a reality.

Finally, we booked the tickets, set aside the vacation days and anticipated the vacation.  I emailed our travel agent countless times building this dream trip for our simple lives.  Planning the trip was a big part of the excitement.

In that planning stage I was introduced to the the Disney website.  One of the features on the site was ordering a welcome gift that would be delivered to your room.  It would be my secret for my bride.

Scrolling through the options was like most online options.  You could buy a gold plated Rolls Royce with a Mickey Mouse hood ornament or a candy bar with a Donald Duck sticker on it.  The range was limitless.

Winnie the Pooh caught my eye.   It was in the price range that I could afford but more importantly, my bride likes these cute little characters.  Furthermore, the gift came with a number of balloons and we could deflate them when it was time to board our airplane home.

The agent on the telephone was so friendly.  She was careful to get all of the details and rehearsed the delivery date and location.  I was looking forward to the surprise when it welcomed my bride to our dream vacation.

When we walked into our room after a night out with great friends, the welcome gift was sitting on the side table.  All of the balloons were inflated and dancing in the air conditioning breeze.  Pooh topped the piece with his indomitable smile and cheery eyes.

On another helium floater, Pooh is hugging little Piglet.  The first balloon was terrific.  Both Tigger and Pooh are trying to squeeze some joy into Eeyore.  It is a lost cause but their efforts are part of the cheer.

My bride not only liked it, she loved it!  She sat for posed pictures with this special addition to our journey.  Through the night and several days after she smiled at the pictures of her bouquet and thanked me long after the first presentation.

Simple gifts filled with color and unexpected but attached to inner delights sure make great memories.   I had the job of deflating the balloons on our last day in Orlando.  Once flattened my bride took over to fold each balloon neatly into a package for transport home and into our world of nostalgia for years of reliving.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3870It has been years…ok, it has been decades since we have longed to experience the wonderful world of Disney.  Much of our life has been on the West Coast so Disneyland has marked our lives several times.  However, Disney World in Florida has been an elusive dream.

That life list item is now a reality.  We landed in Orlando on a Sunday afternoon.  It was the fulfillment of years of  savings, failed schedules and foiled plans.

Now, we went for it.  We sent in our check and blocked out every intrusion that threatened to swallow up our vacation dates promised to Mickey.  There were a couple of close calls, but we made it to the Magic Kingdom.

At the airport cast members from Disney smiled and welcomed us on a comfortable bus.  We would not have to rent a car, figure out where to drive, how to drive or where to park.  That unique Disney friendliness was striking!

Hosts and hostesses jumped at the chance to take care of us at our hotel.  They were so friendly and well prepared to manage all of the details for our vacation.  In our hotel room, Goofy left us a welcome voice message.

Disney is a great place for kids.  It is also just a perfect for adults who still have that kid in them.  Yup, that is me!

Every where I look there are amazing things to see.  That is a certainty.  Yet, how the cast members greet and cheer on the guests is breath-taking.

Alice skipped towards me.  We have never met but our eyes connected.  She flashed a huge smile.

“Hi, Alice,” I started our conversation.
“Nice to see you,” she countered.

Next, she was surrounded by children a lot smaller than me.  So, I let the little children have their day.  The pleasure of a first-hand interchange with a Disney celebrity was too fun.

Around the bend a long line was waiting by the shoreline of the Epcot Lake.  In the shade of a grove of giant trees, I recognized the costume of a familiar character.  It was Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

From my vantage point I watched her smile, hug and give lines of great joy to children who took their turns with this famous star of the Disney family.  My camera was up and snapping photos.  It was just a fleeting moment but I wondered if that last wink was sent just to me.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Dallas 2013 006Not far off-the-beaten track near New Braunfels, Texas are The Natural Bridge Caverns.  It was a great place to experience.    The idea of going underground during a hot Texas day made perfect sense to me.  At least we would be escaping the hot SW sun.

The name of Natural Bridge is self-evident from the rock bridge that spans the entrance to the Caverns.  It was an accidental discovery.  This is one of those splendid accidents.

Cave explorers helped the landowners to map out, give tours and continue the development of this popular tourist site.  They not only offer two different tours for guests but there is also an exploratory adventure for those who want more than a casual underground stroll.  For me the Dallas 2013 015gentle walk with a lot of stairs just about my speed.

After we paid our entry fee, the pathway to start the tour was well-marked.  Warnings were prevalent for those in questionable health to reconsider the tour.  I chuckled that the signs were much more prominent after the entry tickets were purchased.

We entered the cavern following our own pace.  Periodically, they have naturalists who Dallas 2013 053are stationed at key points along the route. There were a lot of people touring this amazing below-the-earth sensational wonder.

It was a wonder to gaze at the live stones around us.  The Stalactites and Stalagmites were slowly creeping to intersect and form columns.  Shapes, colors and darkness were the primary choices on the palette of the Creator.

The deeper we roamed the more amazing the formations.  Column after column looked like stalwart sentries guarding a community of water dripping over centuries.  Artificial lighting gave the scenery just the right kind of highlights to make all of us stop and drink it all into our mind’s eye.Dallas 2013 060

On more than one occasion I could see this backdrop in a major science fiction movie.  Yoda would come waddling out with his wisdom catchy phrase for the day.  Then, strange monsters would rumble through the cave chasing one of the Jedi knights.

Perhaps the path of the tour was designed to save the most amazing for the last.  Just before the exit tunnel led us back into the upper earth, we entered a chamber that had several levels to observe the cave’s beauty.  Like the four-story center of a major shopping mall, decorated for Christmas, with shoppers scurrying about with their packages, this climax was gorgeous.  God took His time setting this up.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_2333Time on the road is filled with reminiscing over past recent visits, sites that we talk about over and over as well as the standard, “What’s for dinner?”  Food is a fun part of travelling.  It takes that place of shopping, cooking, clean up and doing dishes.

Finding places on the road for an enjoyable meal and a break from the many miles on the road takes a little attention.  Sometimes a recommendation from friends guides us.  Other times it is a local who highly recommends an eatery.  Then, in our wonderful age of communication, there is the internet.

Thousands of foodies send in their opinions on great places to eat.  Or of course visa versa.  Five stars are a common standard for amazing food, service, atmosphere and overall experience.  Three stars is acceptable.  However, when you are looking for a place that you will recommend to others, four stars is a minimum.

In the town of Johnson City, Texas, there is not a lot there.  It is a sleepy town  without a lot of busyness that plagues IMG_2332the big cities.  Essentials like a gas station, market, shops, General Dollar and a few places to eat is par for the course.

Our internet search led us to Ronnie’s Ice House.  It was a peculiar name.  We passed it once.  The name is not precisely correct.  Ronnie’s is actually named Ronnie’s Pit BBQ.

When we stepped inside the aroma was mouth-watering.  We checked the menu and decided that it was lunchtime so we ordered a half chicken plate and we would split it.  That was a decision that we would later regret.

Comfortably seated, we gave our thanks to God for the meal.  Then He surprised us.  Each of us took our first bite, stopped, raised our eyebrows, looked at each and then we looked at each other’s portion of the split lunch plate.

IMG_2343It was wonderful!  The tenderness, juicy flavor was remarkable.  Usually, BBQ chicken can easily dry out.  This one was moist throughout.

Ronnie has a technique to keep the juices in and the delicious BBQ smoke flavor permeating through the meal.  I complemented Ronnie on our way out.  He then invited me to see his pits out in back.  I was overwhelmed with the fragrant smoky signals that the food was about done.

We saw each other for dinner in Fredericksburg later that evening.  I introduced him to our friends.  If you are ever in Johnson City, Texas, stop by Ronnie’s for a sumptuous meal.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 569Providentially we were teamed up together for ministry 30 years ago. Together we were a part of growing lives in the church Jr. High Youth Group.  Then, there were decades of virtual silence, except for the annual Christmas letter update.  Surprisingly, after thousands of miles of separation, we ended up in the last quarter of our lives a mere three-hour drive from each other.

Our vacation plans made it possible for us to connect, share a mutual expression of hospitality and build some new memories.  My bride and I stayed in Danny and Becky’s home.  Together we made forays into the San Antonio tourist arenas for unforgettable meals, laughter, reminiscing, encouragement and open plans for more together times.

Danny left for work early.  Becky and Yvonne were locked into a girl to girl conversation.  I sat with them and looked very engaged into the dialogue.

My occasional, “Hmm” or frequent “Ah” or my thrice “Yes” or my one time “I see” did not garner much attention.  I may Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 571have nodded off once or twice.  I do not remember.  Nor did they for that matter.

I left them and went upstairs.  There I wrote several books and read two novels.  I came back downstairs.  They were still talking.

When I sat down and mentioned, “That makes sense.” they ignored me.  It struck me that they did not even miss me for that last day and a half.  Women really do need to speak several thousand words more than men per hour.

Danny came home and we climbed into the car.  We went to enjoy San Antonio’s world-famous River Walk.  It is every bit as beautiful and relaxing as you would imagine.

Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 637Together we walked the banks of the river. They were lined with flowers, water features and ducks.  People added the comic relief when it came to variety, languages and fashion.  A Mariachi band gave us plenty of South of the Border entertainment.

Then, we made our way to the symbol of Texas Freedom.  Our path led us to the Alamo.  Its history and memory of those who gave their lives for the freedom of the many who would follow stirs anyone who contemplates the impossible situation that these brave men faced.

San Antonio was fun.  The tourist sites were nice and the food was memorable.  But, when it comes down to it, a great vacation is all about who you are with that makes it special.  These two friends are special.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 348There are favorites in the African jungle.  The vast landscape is breathtaking.  Evening sunsets captivate the imagination.  Those are all part of a visit to the Dark Continent.

All of the animals make people gasp.  Each is unique with a remarkable pattern on their glistening coats.  The males and sometimes the females sport striking horns or antlers.

Some are huge.  An Eland or Watusi are massive animals.  They have powerful bodies.  Just  watching them walk and graze, their muscles ripple, pull, push, extend and motor the animal to wherever it wants to go.

Yet, there are favorites.  When we rolled into the Wildlife Safari Ranch, we were filled with expectation.  The plains Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 346game antelope and other amazing animals entertained us.  We marvelled at every animal that  we could see.

However, we were on  the lookout for a special animal.  It is for some reason an intriguing favorite.  We were both eager to see and experience the zebra.

While most animals have easily distinguished males and females, the zebra is different.  It is difficult to spot which is which.  Like many creatures of the earth, there are more females than males.  After that it is tough to distinguish between the sexes.

Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 357There are no color differences.  Some animals have the males with colorful or distinctive headgear, whether horns, antlers or manes that will be the male feature.  Female Barbary sheep have horns or pronghorn antelope females sometimes have horns.  However, the males of both of these fine animals have distinctively larger horns.  The zebra have no visibly distinguishing features.

The entire herd of zebra crowded around the tourists.  There was no shyness.  Instead, they along with the Ostrich were bold, brash and even overbearing.  If they found a vehicle with opened windows, they did not hesitate to poke their heads into the car, scare the occupants and grab any food that they could snatch.

Their comical antics were amazing.  However, the signature stripes that the Creator painted on their bodies is as Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 367attractive as anything on the Savannah.  No two zebra stripe patterns are the same.  Each is as unique as every snowflake that falls to earth.

Some biologists think that besides fragrance, the pattern of newborn colt’s stripes are imprinted in its mother’s mind.  This is visa versa as well for the colt to know who its mother and source of food.  Each is one of a kind yet all are the same.  The Creator is amazing.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 167I was young when that picture was world news.  Jackie was stunned.  The world was in shock.  Oswald pulled the trigger and assassinated the President of the United States of America.

My life as a young adolescent could not comprehend the events of that day. Everyone was glued to their black and white televisions.  We mourned together.

The short pause for our grieving was short-lived.  Lyndon Johnson was immediately sworn in as the President.  His wife was there.  Jackie Kennedy, now a widow was a witness to the swearing-in ceremony, hastily done on an airplane.  All LBJ could say was that he would do his best to lead our great country.  That is all anyone could do.

It was a task so great that the nation and the world would not know until later how much he had accomplished.  Vietnam was a scourge.  Civil rights was a powder keg.  The nation was in political turmoil.  Yet, this one man could keep his family life intact and some measure of normalcy for the  many Americans groping for peace.

Austin 2013 170Politicians surrounded him.  Each one wanted what was best for his constituency and his own reelection efforts.  Nevertheless, LBJ tirelessly learned about each necessary vote for key initiatives.  He wielded influence on those politicians with a determination to do what was best for the country, to do what was right.

The racial conflict in the nation was reaching historic and epic proportions.  Hatred from prejudiced people threw all reason out and pressured their politicians to act in accordance with racist legislation and legal pressure.  LBJ would stand against this powerful mood of bigotry.  As President, he direct Federal resources and authorities to bring steady pressure against the injustices of racism.  He personally strove to right the problems of racism in the country.

IMG_2221His words spoken at Gettysburg are moving.  LBJ wanted Emancipation to be a reality in America, not just a Declaration.  Freedom, education and opportunity should be equal to all Americans.

The sadness in his eyes when Martin Luther King was assassinated told the story of his passion for equality among all Americans.  His resolve to stand on King’s shoulders to advance measures that would make a difference in America were historic.  The innocent testimony of his daughters spoke of the true honesty of  their fathers value of all citizens of this great country made great strides against the unfounded hatred imbedded in the lives the few.  LBJ was a remarkable president during an extremely difficulty time in history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 117I did not choose our Texas vacation dates, they chose me.  We have to use up our vacation time within a certain schedule on the calendar.  If we do not, then we are limited in carrying over our time to the next year.  Before I lost any time, I just bit the bullet and scheduled our time away from work.

June is the warm up month in Texas.  July and August are brutally hot and humid in Houston.  Air conditioning is a 24/7 phenomenon in the most-air-conditioned-city-in-the-world.  Who can actually verify this moniker is anyone’s guess, but we who live here will not argue the point.  We just smile as we tip our cowboy hats and wipe a bead of sweat from our brow.

Miles from home, we have discovered what many Houstonians have told us is true.  The Texas Hill Country is an Austin 2013 122amazing place to visit.  It is still sizzling hot here but the humidity is very much under control.

During our tour of Austin, we drove to the Botanical Gardens.  It is listed by many as a good stop.  There is plenty of shade and interesting sights to see.

The path of our walk led us down several gravel trails with surprises around every corner.  Bright colors of flowers that seem to thrive in the bright Texas sun abounded.  Under the shade of large cypress trees, diffused light fed the constant appetite of the chlorophyll in each family of flora.

Variety is the best description of these plant displays.  Leaf shapes covered every combination.  They were big, medium and small.  Several were even diminutive.

Austin 2013 134Their flowers were just as unique and distinct.  Colors were always bright.  Flower shapes were evidence of a Designer who brought wonder into His creation that calls for all humans to marvel at Him.

Fragrance filled the garden.  It was relaxing, awe-inspiring and personally therapeutic.  With so many variations for the human senses it was not chaotic but symbiotic.  That alone was stunning.

Water features added to the garden experience.  Benches invited us to rest and take it all in when we would accept those

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free invitations.  Life here was at its best: varied, alive and bearing fruit.

One other feature helped me remember this visit too.  Long after we left, my mind was often reflecting on our tour as I scratched insect bites that covered ankles.  I am not the only life-form that enjoys a good stroll through the gardens.

photo credits: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 239The outside temperatures are warm, uncomfortably warm.  It is summer in Texas.  This is the season for bats under the Congress River Bridge.

Scores of people line the bridge as the sun closes in on the horizon.  Daylight disappears.  Bright colors of yellow and orange fill up the sky.

From south of the border Mexican Free-tail bats have mated.  Close to a million pregnant female bats migrate to Austin, Texas for an annual migration.  The male bats are not welcome.  They head to a Texas cave to take in the Texas summer.

A bridge in Austin that spans Lake Lady Bird Johnson is the site for this phenomenon.  When the bridge was retrofitted with expansion joints few had any idea that it would be the perfect setting for these mammals of the night air.  But, these creatures discovered this ideal habitat by the hundreds of thousands.

During the day, they cloister themselves in these dark recesses through narrow slits in the concrete.  There they rest, chirp and wait until feeding time.  That is when life becomes exciting.

Just after dusk, the Creator has programmed into these curious creatures a signal.  First, a few scout bats fly out and test the temperature, weather conditions and other key data entry points.  Then, a massive and steady stream of fast flying bats pour out from beneath the bridge.

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Like a swarm of streaking river in the sky, this black horde traces the bridges’ edge, turns sharply to follow the tree line and scatter into the Texas country side.  They are on a mission.  Each bat shares a common appetite.  They are hungry and ready for a 30 mile radius to consume every mosquito or flying insect that their radar can trap in their flight pattern.

Initially, they stick together for safety.  Birds of prey are waiting for their emergence.  These feathered flyers are hungry too.  They dive and duck through the stream of tasty morsels.  However, the Creator has made the numbers of the bats lend to their survival.

It takes nearly two hours for the bats to leave the bridge.  The explosion captivates tourists and locals alike.  Our senses of what we see is etched in our memories.  Then, the aroma a lot like corn chips fills the river surface from the diet of these little mammals.  A slight mist showers our tour boat guests with the obvious scattering of flying animals.  The touch of the Master’s creation has entertained us all.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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