Monday, December 29, 2008

How Was YOUR Christmas?

The Christmas Holidays have been good. You may have surmised that by the lack of posting here at the GeezerChron. That’s because, to paraphrase my Aunt Orene, “I don’t have TIME to post on the blog…and sit on my butt as much as I want to.”

I was off the whole week of Christmas, and what with last minute shopping and wrapping and hiding and chasing after little yapping dogs, I just didn’t make it to the computer. My oldest daughter was home starting on Wednesday, and the preparations for the Soderfest were in full swing.

Since the only tradition with our bunch is the fact that we get together and eat/play games and open gifts, the meal was to have a Texican flavor. Enchilada casserole (rolling the individuals up was a little too tedious), tamales, picante sauce (supplied by yours truly), chicken fajitas, pico de gallo, and assorted desserts and other good stuff to eat, including a cheesecake my sister made. Truly good eats. And not a trace of turkey and dressing.

We sat around and played Scattergories, a really entertaining game. It requires the players to think vertically, horizontally, diagonally, every way but straight linear.

Christmas Day at our house was quiet and fun; we opened gifts and everyone was happy with the gifts chosen for them. New clothes, iPod, television, digital cameras, and the piece de résistance; a Wii game system! It was bought for our youngest, along with Guitar Hero, but we all know that EVERYONE will dig this for a long time. Already, the youngest is a Guitar Hero on the “easy” setting, besting the system in 35 out of 42 songs.

I played a little, and even kept up on a couple of songs, but long exposure to the not-really-like-playing-a-guitar game reduces my patience and concentration levels to the point of frustration. There are some recognizable songs on there, but I have played air guitar to “Black Magic Woman” and “La Grange” too many times to keep up with the artificial surrogate on screen. It’s for young folk.

The Wii Sports is much better suited to old geezers. There’s tennis, bowling, baseball, golf and even boxing. Time, space and attention span do not permit me to explain how all of these sports are simulated in a video game, but suffice to say, it’s more realistic than Guitar Hero. Even as I type this, my 18 year-old is playing some heavy metal song broken down to three buttons and a “strum bar”. I am listening to my iTunes on the computer with my new iPod earbuds, with Little Feat cranked up to “drown out all background”.

Christmas Day also includes another standard activity; going to my sister-in-law’s house. The menu there was also non-traditional. Texas BBQ brisket and ribs was the spread we partook in, with Mimi providing the brisket, Becky smoking ribs, and my wife supplied the “good potatoes”. Mimi’s famous cherry dump cake, Becky’s chocoholic pudding pie, and our razzleberry pie all vying for the attention of any and all local gluttons. Not wanting to repeat my failed attempt at professional grub-boating of this past Thanksgiving, I took up a position at the big people’s table this time, in hopes that my gastric region would not be compromised again. Unfortunately, early on it became clear that I am not the eater that I once was, and decided to stop when my plate was empty. That way I could partake of the desserts later and not explode. I also wanted one of those tender dinner rolls with some more of that tender brisket snuggled in there!

Turns out, I just barely made the dessert train, and completely missed the brisket & roll bus. I just couldn’t eat any more. Gifts were exchanged while quiet conversations and digestion went on all around the house. Well, the quiet was confined to the areas where the old people were; the younger set had reconvened to my niece’s room where they played Pictionary. There were eight teen and twenty-agers having fun with probably only half-full bellies. It seems like such a short time ago that it was me in that room, just waiting for another opportunity to inhale the great food still lurking in the kitchen/dining area.

By the time the final bell rang to send everyone home, I think the adults were all about festivitied out. After arriving back at the Soderberg Pomeranian Ranch, we all sort of veg-ed out until it was time to collapse in the bed.

Now for the New Year’s parades!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reflections on the Cat

The Egyptian word for “cool” is synonymous with “cat”. It has to be. “Suave”, “smooth”, “debonair”, all with an only slightly suppressed savagery that is just below the silky fur. And I think their reverence for the cat is evident in their art; everbody looks like cats, with the eyes and the long, lithe lines of the bodies and clothing.

While the ancients revered the cat, modern humans hold them in high regard for other reasons. Oh, the original reasons are there, they are so “cool”, but they can rub against an “owner” and show their unique brand of “affection”, that has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress. Also, when they’re young, they exhibit such fun and youthful abandon when they play, and you can’t help but say “awww” when they fall asleep on the spot.

I am not a cat lover, really. Not a cat hater, mind you, but I just don’t LOVE them. They’re cool and cute and all, and I’ll even admit that they even have “personalities”, but I draw the line at believing that they talk. Cats can’t talk. They communicate on a basic level, but when people tell me that their cat talks to them…no. I guess I’m just a couple of notches up the scale from a “Cat Tolerator”. See here for our latest foray into the cat's world.

There is a site on the Web, “I Can Has Cheezeburger” has the “LOL Cats”; pictures of cats, mainly, in different poses with different expressions, captioned with intentionally misspelled and mispronounced snippets that are sometimes hilarious. Some of the pictures and captions indicate that the submitter is perhaps a cat lover with the “she said such-and-such” and “she looked at me and said, ‘That loooks like a great omlette, could you add some more mozerella, please’”. Sometimes it seems that the people who post the most unflattering pictuers of kittehs (the LOL Cats preferred spelling) may be in my camp.

My Dad has a cat, which may come as a surprise, especially if you know my Dad. In the past, if you asked him if he liked cats, his immediate reply would be, “Yeah, I like cats, I like ‘em FAST.” His favorite sport was catching uninvited tomcats in our back yard. He kept tennis balls by the back door, so when one came on the radar, he would creep out with ammo in hand to wing at the normally calm feline. When they realized they were under attack, they often sprang for the fence, and often underestimate the distance, crashing into the chain link with a satisfying “CHIINNGGG”.

His current status as a cat owner began when he got a black and white female Manx appropriately named Stump. The reason he liked the cat was the jacked-up hindquarters were reminiscent of a bobcat. Her disposition, while not mean, was also in line with that of the members of the lynx family. She was a killer. Of birds, and grasshoppers and lizards and rabbits. She was her own cat, but she respected PawPaw. Her replacement, Daisy, is a half-Persian, half-Manx orange predator equal to her predecessor. My Mom brushes her, when allowed, my Dad makes her eat all of her cat food in the dish before he gives her any more. He tells her when he spots a green lizard, and she knows the signal to attack. She has been known to kill and eat the most elegant of avian visitors to the property, including cardinals, hummingbirds and mockingbirds. A beautiful, fluffy cat, equally deadly under the fur.

Mark Twain penned “A Cat’s Tale” many years back for his daughters. It includes as many “cat-“ words as humanly possible, and still makes sense. “Catastrophy”, “cat calls”, “cat-pipe” and the main cat’s name, Catarauggus, are all used shamelessly. I don’t picture Twain as a cat lover who doted on his feline charges, but I think he liked them. No more, no less.

I like cats, too. When they are in kitten stage, they are sources of endless mirth with the antics displayed. As they grow, their feigned affection is soothing. My favorite trait of cats is their coolness. And my favorite activity is to crack the cool exterior, if even for a second. In neighborhoods, driving slowly, if a cat I spy, I wait until my car is right next to him to bark like a dog or honk the horn of my chariot and watch him come apart at the seams, albeit momentarily, only to regain the previously regal pose, but with a slightly irritated expression.

The only cat I can’t tolerate is the one that shies away or just won’t come to me. I mean, if you’re gonna have a cat around, you might as well enjoy it, right?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It’s REALLY beginning to look a REAL Lot Like…

I’ll say it, “it really IS beginning to look a LOT like Christmas,” only it looks like somewhere else, not here.

On the Texas Gulf Coast, we don’t get too much snow. That’s an understatement. When I was one year old we had a pretty good snow. Then, when I was in eighth grade, we had a really good one, too. I remember Kelly Hutchinson made himself a “snowburger” from one of the cars in the teacher’s parking lot. I’ll bet it tasted a lot like Texas City road film. In 1988, just before Christmas we had a really nice one, very dry and squeaky. You couldn’t even pack it into a snowball.

Looking back only a few years to 2004, the BLIZZ ARD of ’04, was a real treat. For those of you not in this area, we had a veritable white-out on Christmas Eve. Children and adults alike were outside, shivering and grinning, watching the white stuff blow in from the North. The whole area looked like a fairyland. A real and true White Christmas.

This one was a total surprise. I knew it was going to get cold, but a winter wonderland was quite unexpected. At 5:47 a.m., my daughter at Texas A&M texted me that it was snowing. YAY! How cool is that. Never get down here; put it outta your mind.

At about 3:30 p.m., she called and reported that it was snowing again in College Station, Texas, a couple of hours North and West of us. Really neat.

On the drive home, I heard sleet hitting the car on the passenger side, and as the drive progressed, by the time I got to my hometown, the big flakes were floating down intermingled with the freezing rain. An old excitement began to build in my gut; I can’t wait to get out in this, I hope it sticks!

As I understand it, the people who live with this all the time aren’t so excited by the prospect of any kind of frozen precipitation, but this is the Gulf Coast, and it’s rare for this kind of occurrence.

On arriving home, the house was dark and empty; my Katiebelle had gone shopping with her boyfriend and his mom and sister, and my little one was at her grandmother’s waiting for Mom to pick her up. The little doggies were very excited, and I immediately let them out to run around. I don’t think they know what snow is, consciously, but they did realize that it was cold and that there were lots of little white things to chase. At that time, I noticed that the deck was beginning to show a little accumulation of the white stuff.

I know right about now in this post, Charley will be snorting contemptuously at the fascination and reverence I am reacting to the snow with, but he’s in Oregon and sees this stuff all of the time. He raises Huskies, and I don’t think you’re allowed to NOT have snow with those fine dogs. Bear with me, Charley!

So, I hurried back out front to watch the miracle (Gulf Coast, remember) falling from the sky. The road was empty except for me. Then Dennis across the street came out, grinning like a big goober. We “howdy-ed” and then began to revert back many years to a pure enjoyment of the magical moment. His sixth grade daughter bolted from the house all bundled up, followed shortly by his five year-old son. We stood under the streetlight and Tommy exclaimed loudly, “I WISHED for it to snow! And it DID!”

I thanked him, and went back to conversing with his grinning dad. It turns out that Dennis is a native Iowan, and he even used to be depressed at Christmas on first arriving on our Paradise on the Coast. He couldn’t get used to standing around in shorts and a t-shirt, swatting mosquitoes in celebration of the Yuletide.

The rest of the young people began to appear outside, bundled up in their multiple light jackets and socks on their hands. Remember, we don’t get too cold very often; around here, what passes for a snowsuit is a set of warm-ups stuffed with old underwear and free t-shirts from the blood drives!

Standing in the thoroughfare, we saw a silver Dodge ease up to the corner under the streetlamp and a slender form emerged and shuffled quickly across the lane to meet with her friends already playing out in the snow. My youngest had arrived home. The little shivering, giggling gang ran from house to house, scraping as much snow off of the cars and mailboxes as they could to form snowballs to lob at one another, and their dads.

I stayed out for perhaps an hour, then came in to thaw out. I couldn’t feel either pinky toe, and the melt had finally worked its way through the fleece jacket I was wearing. I used a blow dryer to try to get the feeling back in my toes.

Soon, cabin fever got the best of me; being cooped up in the house with the blizzard raging outside made me want to get out and make sure the food supplies were in, just in case we would be snowed in for a month or so. I also had to get the present for the gift exchange at work on Thursday and pick up the ingredients for the salsa I was scheduled to bring.

In the parking lot of the Christmas HeadquartersMart, the lights illuminated the steady blowing flakes, which had increased in size and intensity from earlier. It was like being somewhere besides Alvin, Texas. The few people inside seemed genuinely glad to be there, or at least the endorphins released by seeing snow down here were registering as seasonal elation on most every face I encountered.

The snow is all but melted, save for the patches still in the shade. The slush angels that my girl and her friends made are just memories and pixels in jpeg files by now.
But the surprise blizzard of 2008 will be fresh and cool in our hearts long after the feeling comes back to my toes.

NOW it feels like Christmas!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Eighteen Years, Just Like That!

This weekend marked a milestone with my middle daughter. She turned eighteen.

That evening many years ago, I was young and dumb, although I was getting to be an old hand at the “Dad” thing. Still, when a child comes out from where there was only belly before, it is fairly amazing.

This child weighed in at the top end of our scale of kid production, nine pounds and one ounce. She was a serious child, although at only a week of age, sitting in the car seat, she said, “Elvis”. No joke. At least it sounded like “Elvis”. For months, she hardly smiled.

When she finally did, she exhibited a quick, mischievous sense of humor. Quick to laugh, quick to tease, Katie remains the one to watch, especially if you don’t want to get pranked. She is able to make up “facts” very believably, and tell the truth in such a way so that it seems like a lie. And vice versa.

While most children take their first independent steps tentatively around the age of one, Katie decided at nine months that she would stand up in the middle of the room, without holding on to anything. This was not a lean-over-hands-on-the-floor-then-stand-up-slowly first step. Nope, not her. She got up on her knees, put one foot out, then muscled her way to standing just like that. From then on, she displayed a superior sense of balance. She went on to soccer, volleyball, water polo and swimming.

Which brings me back to Saturday, her birthday. She was in Angleton at a swim meet involving 15 different schools. She was swimming on the “A” team in the 400 meter relay. They came in second and she was party to the silver medal that they won. She also swims the 500 meter freestyle. She came in first in her heat, but later another girl had a faster time. Dang. But she netted another silver for her swim.

I am proud of my little Belle. So proud, it makes me want to dance like an idiot to an iPod commercial. Just to embarrass her.

I love her THAT much!

It's Beginning to Look a LOT Like

The Christmas Season and everything that it encompasses is commencing. The TV specials, the shopping, even the tree out front are all progressing to the culmination of the top commercial event of the fiscal year.

The stupid Rudolph special was on the other night. I have hated that show for over 40 years. I hate the voices, I hate the characters, I hate the sound effects, I hate the animation, I even hate the lighting.

The Grinch, the Jim Carrey version, was on this past week as well. I can take that one, but prefer the ancient Chuck Jones presentation with Boris Karloff as the narrator. That one is coming on soon, too. I feel it. There was some sort of Charlie Brown special on tonight, and Home Alone will be running on the UPN station probably 35 times between now and New Year’s Day. Frosty the Snowman, too (I’m rolling my eyes right now).

The biggest evidence that Yuletide is nearing is that I went to the local shopping maul. I spelled it that way on purpose, thankyouverymuch. The traffic reminded me of the last hurricane evacuation that we participated in, except for that time there were no red bows or wreaths or antlers on the front of the minivans.

The mall was exactly what I expected, from the last time I was there, about this time last year. There were a lot of baggy-pants-ed kids, along with various and sundry other temporary residents of this particular piece of real estate.

The masses were out en masse, so to speak…I was enjoying the tableau of humanity parading, shuffling, prancing and eventually dragging by on stone feet. I saw a guy that looked like Al Gore eating an apparently yummy cookie, which was so big that it had its own carbon footprint. There were young white guys with shaved heads looking like convicts with their faux-surly expressions. There was even a guy in the food court who was so cool! He had long, bushy blonde hair, a really full beard, and dark, dark Wayfarer sunglasses on inside the mall. He looked like a throwback to the 1970’s. A cool guy surfer or dissident or something.

The boys all had pants that were several sizes too big, and dumb gimme caps with the flat bill twisted to the side. If they only had a clue as to what the pants-falling-off fashion statement said about the wearer in prison, they’d likely wear a cumberbund or suspenders or something.

The young girls all had their pants too tight, with too much makeup. Of course there were the older women with too much makeup as well. There were two varieties of those. First, the ones looking like they were out on a day-pass from the Golden Acres Retirement home wearing their blouses with the tiny leopard print accented by the oversized amber beads.

The other variety was the group that acts like the ink on their birth certificate is still wet. The prime example of this one for Saturday was the lady who was 55 if she was a day, although her over-dyed, straightened, and styled hair, with the bangs cut off absolutely level with her eyebrows, belied the fact that she was trying WAY too hard to be young. The eyebrows looked drawn-on, too.

The one bright spot that I observed was a girl about twelve or thirteen, dressed conservatively, walking with her mom, holding lovingly onto her arm. She didn’t look fearful, or like a pitiful little momma’s girl. Nor did she appear to have any mental or emotional problems. It just seemed that she was enjoying a day at the mall with her mom, whom she loves. A ray of normal family interaction in a cloudy, turbulent storm of shoppers.

I had all of the holiday frenzy I could stand, and so headed home. The lights needed to be put up so our neighbors wouldn’t feel so ostentatious. We have several strings of big C-7 lights strung with matching colorful icicle lights. These go in the crepe myrtle tree in the front. The boxwoods would host the net lights, as they did last year.

I entered the garage with an expectant spring to my step, and strolled over to the shelf where the lights awaited. Except, apparently, the net lights had gotten impatient with the eleven months of waiting and had skipped to Mexico or something.

I “danged” my way out back to retrieve the ladder so I could put up the lights that I DID have. After planting the rickety ladder in the front flower bed under the crepe myrtle, I took a step on the first rung. It groaned. As I balanced a wad of lights in my left hand, my right hand clutched the graying wood. On the second step, I felt a give and heard a crack. That was it. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I quickly did the math; 250 pounds, over three feet of boxwoods , carry the four, plus thirty-two feet per second squared from half the height of a six-foot ladder, equals a big pain in my shoulder (at least) and several crushed plants and a string of broken lights.

My alternative was to get a long piece of PVC pipe with a notch in the end. I had my smallest daughter hold the lights and I pushed them skyward to the branches. That did the trick.

So we now have a sparse showing of lights, not easing the neighbors’ feelings of superiority, and a glimmer of the Christmas spirit. I guess this coming weekend, I’ll get to the “hustle and muscle” of trimming the tree.

Wish me luck. And some anti-inflammatory meds…

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent: Sunday #1

This morning at church, everyone, including the weather, was decked out in fine Christmas fashion. The wind was cool out of the North so the people were wearing clothes that weren't fit for the beach house or cabana restaurant. There were sweaters and long sleeves. The sanctuary was decked out in "evergreen" boughs, poinsettias and gold stars and joyful banners.

As the associate pastor was giving the Morning Prayers, her little 3 year-old granddaughter started to wind up a little cry-tune. Linda, the consummate professional, was plowing right through the tiny voice raised in urgent protest. As she paused at one point to take a breath, thanking God for the beginning of the Christmas season, the child yelled out amidst her tirade, "...but I wanna see Baby Jesus!"

Everyone, with heads bowed, snickered in their hymnals and even Linda paused with the hint of a laugh modulating her normally smooth intonations. That made it even funnier. She went right on though, after the slight pause for mirth.

It seems the first Sunday of Advent started the Season of Adventure. I'm not sure how next week can top this one, but I'm in it for the long haul!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving and Taking

Thanksgiving has come and gone like a bolt of gravy-flavored lightening. The build-up complete, preparations made, and pounds of food have been gobbled up, so to speak.

Preparations at our house, since the festivities are usually at my sister-in-law’s home, include the traditional construction of the 15-pound trough of dressing. My wife knows no other way to make this stuff besides the “cook for a hungry horde” method. I am not sure how much goes into it, I kinda don’t want to know really how much it costs, but the finished product is about 17 pounds to carry to the van for transport to the festival site.

The green beans are cooked, again in the “chuck wagon” quantity. Secret recipe, I wish I could share, suffice to say, the quality is high as well as the quantity. The sweet potatoes, though in a large amount, went through a short crisis of inadequacy this morning. The chef believed, erroneously, that half dozen cans of Sugary Sam sweet taters might not be sufficient. I was nearly dispatched to whichever grocer who was open to procure four more cans. We finally rested on the prepared amount being an ample supply for the crew being fed. We still brought some home.

Since the liftoff was scheduled for 1:00 sharp, that is the time we left the house to attend the fete. Finally, all participants arrived, and the final toasting of marshmallows-on-the-sweet-potatoes commenced, along with the rolls and appetizers arranged for their final presentation.

The spread was spectacular again this year. So much food posing the ever-present quandary involving where to start. The spinach salad, the home-made macaroni and cheese, ham, turkey, half-ton of dressing, green beans, cauliflower salad, corn, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, fruit salad, cherry dump cake, a spectacular chocolate cake, and the famed lemon bars. There was talk of a re-match from last year, but I wasn’t up for it. I am not sure Peepaw was, either. But we both perked up at the mention of them.

Some brave souls loaded their plates and headed outside to the table. It was a batch of teenagers, and as soon as the full weight of the near-eighty degree weather descended upon them, they “chickened-in” to the air-conditioned house.

The second set of brave souls included my youngest daughter, and me and we sat at the card table in lawn chairs. When I sat down, I realized that the position I was forced into compressed my stomach region. I thought that perhaps it would impair my ability to eat a massive amount of food.

I was right. The plate with the turkey and ham and everything else stared me down, and I blinked.

This is a milestone. A record, a landmark. Never have I been NOT able to finish a plate of food. Especially on the great glutton celebration. I did, however, partake in a trio of lemon bars, against my better judgment. They were good, surprisingly, in moderation. I am not used to that.

Hours of zoned-out watching of television and pitching washers later, we packed the remaining 12 pounds of dressing and our other allotment of the cache and we were on our way home.

The holiday that celebrates the bounty enjoyed by the early settlers of this country has come and gone again in the flurry of good food and family visits.

Maybe I’m growing up, maybe I should swear off sitting in lawn chairs to eat. There’s always tomorrow. Really, going to my parents’ house on Friday. I’ll let you know.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Impersonating a Plumber

I have done a little plumbing and I know that it ain’t that hard. The faucets and garbage disposals and toilet workin’s are all really simple. So much simpler than the old days with lead pipe and copper tubing. PVC is really uncomplicated to work with. Saw it off, prime it, glue it and stick it together. Easy as pie.

I did a little plumbing this weekend. The faucet in our bathroom had been leaking pretty bad, and so I bopped down to the Hope Demot store and bought a replacement faucet and a toilet replacement part. More on that later.

The faucet was billed as “1/3 fewer parts, 2/3’s easier!” and had the “needed tools” list on the back, and it was just channel locks, a screwdriver and a crescent wrench. This was gonna be effortless. I looked casually at the supply lines they had in a little display near the faucets. I figured that the current supply lines would be dandy. I hadn’t crawled under the sink to check it out thoroughly, but knew it would be pretty easy. I have done this before. 45 minutes. Tops.

After everybody got out of the house, I got down to some serious plumbing action. I folded up under the sink cabinet to quickly undo the supply lines and loosen the basin nuts holding the old faucet on. Like I said. Easy.

Except for the fact that the basin nuts were really tough to loosen. Really, really tough. I tried to get the channel locks in there to get a grip and then twist it the right way. They put sinks in tight places and upside down, in case you’ve never been under one. After you break the things loose, you’d expect that the nuts are going to, at some point in time, be able to be taken off by hand. You’d think. For some reason, even after breaking the initial tight, the thing never got any looser.

The longer I laid on my big, fat back, arms elevated, the harder it was to handle two slip-joint pliers on each side of the stupid nylon nut, trying to coax it off of its home for the last 18 or so years. I nearly broke down and asked my neighbor if he had a basin wrench, but the bright idea of the Dremel came to mind, and the cut-off wheel became my hero of the moment.

I unfurled from the box I had furled myself into, and got my trusty rotary tool. In a short while, I was again contorted into the cabinet, but this time with a hope in my mind that I could actually make headway. Revving the ol’ Dremel, I bit into the black plastic and bore down until it bogged down, then backed off a little. The cut-off wheel did its work, and was soon spitting melted plastic in my face. I took a different angle on the other side and soon the slack was enough to release the cursed implement. I repeated the action on the hot water side and was soon in “bidness”.

After I removed the old supply lines, I realized that they would not do on the replacement faucet. For one thing, they were copper, with a two-inch section cut out and resected with clear nylon tubing and hose clamps. Not worthy.

So it was back to the home improvement center for the new hoses. Uneventful, but still annoying. I even took the new faucet and the old line in to make sure that I got the right one. Fortunately, that was a good move.

Back at the ranch, I wiggled my sore and cramping body into what seemed by now like a soup can and attached the supply lines to the faucet and in turn to the supply valves. Installed the new drain set and checked it; success!

With a victory under the sink, I turn my attention to the toilet that runs like the Brazos River. I swaggered in to the bathroom (limped, really, making old guy sounds) with the “Complete Toilet Repair Kit”. Upon opening the box, my lightening-quick mind discovered that the kit was lacking in the part that I needed. The float/filler mechanism. Great.

Off to Wildmart for the missing hardware. Upon finding the toilet kits, and the part that I needed, I noted that the same brand apparently has TWO “Complete Toilet Repair” Kits. One is obviously more complete, the one I didn’t purchase at first. No worries, I got the only thing that I came for, and headed to the checkout. Just moments from checking out, my daughter received a phone call from her mom; we needed to pick up stuff for dinner. Ugh, sometimes the cell phone is such a curse.

Finally, on arriving home, I rushed to the bathroom to finish the job begun. Another success. All that remained was to re-attach the water supply to the filler and flush. Due to the configuration of the bathroom, I had to literally hug the toilet to get the hose to the pipe. But I had to do it left-handed, without looking. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it threaded on there straight. I knew that I would have to actually look at the thing to accomplish my final task.

I laid down on the floor, put my feet in the tub, and with my left hand, again, threaded the coupling on to the finish line. The actual act of turning the fitting to completion was simple compared to getting myself upright from the position I had taken. There were nearly as many grunts and groans and involuntary sounds of exertion just achieving upright-ness as there was when I was under the sink. All tests made and tools picked up signaled the final chapter and a time to reflect on what went down in the course of the day.

I concluded that a plumber is not paid simply to install a faucet or fix a leaking toilet. It’s partly the knowledge and experience that enables him to cut the time by about three-quarters what you would expend in the completion of any given task. It’s also partly the possession of the tools that expedite the job in question.

Finally, it is the willingness to get into uncomfortable position in tight spaces or smelly places or a combination of the worst of both. My gimme cap is off to the plumbers who keep our society flowing freely.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Climb Every Mountain

I ate a monumental burrito the other day from Chipotle Mexican Grill. For those of you familiar with the offerings there, you are probably just a little hungry right now, merely thinking about one of their monsters*.

For the uninitiated, I will describe it to you briefly. It is roughly the size of a ladies size 20 running shoe, or the top of a Justin Roper boot filled to overflowing with rice, beans, meat, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and don’t-forget-the-cheeze, please. Really, they use 12-inch tortillas, and sometimes the sides don’t even match up when they’re rolled around all of the fillings. So this beast is nearly a foot in circumference and about eight inches long.

If you smile at the ladies building your burrito, they may put a little more roasted corn and red chile salsa on it. The rice is flavored with lime and cilantro, you have a choice of pinto or black beans and of course the other dressings that I mentioned above. All of this is rolled up to the best of their ability and wrapped in foil. With a large drink, the tab comes to nearly $8, so it ain’t a Taco Bell snack. That’s it. No chips, no extra salsa, no salad. Just you and your burrito and a drink. But that’s a crowd, let me tell ya!

They also have the “burrito bol”; no tortilla, served in a bowl. For the ladies. And “guys” watching their “carb intake”. Sure, WHATEVER! If you eat one of these, you’re not watching anything.

Consuming a Chipotle burrito is akin to climbing a mountain. As I hunched over this pillar of food, I surveyed the safest route to the summit. Pick the wrong traverse and you could have a sour cream avalanche or a guacamole mudslide. The corner is where most seasoned mountaineers begin. The bites cannot be too ambitious, for a couple of reasons. First, the structural integrity must be constantly monitored to avoid a blowout. Second, the ingredients get in your beard and moustache, or the corners of your mouth. Can’t waste a drop. It becomes clear at this point why they serve the “bol”; eating one of these like a miner is not very ladylike.

After working steady for about 15 or 20 minutes, the end was in sight. As was the capacity of my stomach. I had retained three lemon wedges to squirt on as I went, but perhaps should have limited myself to only two.

I wasn’t too hungry for dinner that night. Too much residual Chipotle. But like Sir Edmund Hillary, the pride derived from conquering the peak is transcendent. Gimme another one as soon as I am ready!

*Those who favor Freebird’s burritos are likely scoffing at this statement, but we’re not in College Station. So eat your Freebird Full-Size burritos the size of a GI can. Gluttons.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hollow Happyween

Here is about the extent of my participation in the tradition of Hallow'een as we celebrated since I was a little guy. Some of the memories, I try to remember to forget, but most of them were good, running around the neighborhood with a Weingarten's bag gathering loot from nice people. We never got any cyanide or razor blades, as far as I know, like some other communities.

Part of the reason for my limited membership in this activity is that I have come to the OLD AGE phase of my life, and I have lost interest. The other part is that I am fairly uncomfortable celebrating the darkest traditions of such upstanding folks as the ancient Druids. Not good role models, that's all I'll say.

But since my girls picked out this ORANGE shirt for my birthday, I decided to reserve it for today. When I got to work, I wished out loud for some of the old black photographer's tape that all artists used to be required to carry with them at all times.

Well, my friend and colleague Nancy had a full roll of it in her desk drawer, and at that very moment I asked her to cut some triangles and decorate me. She did, and I am the belle of the ball. Or at least I feel like it.

All without glitter! Imagine that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Planning is Overrated

Part the Second: The Voyage

Paul jumped into his truck and had it hitched to the boat trailer in nothing flat; Andrew would ride with him, RJ drove his truck with me in it. With some simple instructions and directions, RJ took off to the bait camp with Paul were right behind. A quart of live shrimp, two pounds fresh dead. Then to Buccee’s for ice, then to the ramp for launch.

In no time, we were on the water with our gimme caps turned backward to avoid losing them in the mighty Brazos. Cap’n Paul navigated us to the Dow Chemical plant’s intake/discharge channel for our first attempt. The narrow strait was clogged with large rafts of wood debris floating in and out with the surge of the waves. The skipper placed us up against a tree trunk at the water’s edge, and I, being the bow man, tied us off.

By the time I got my rod rigged up for fishing live bait (I usually use soft plastic jigs and the new configuration was, well, new to me), RJ had dropped his shrimp in from the stern of the boat, and had pulled in a speckled trout in the 19 inch range! Indignity! Then Andrew pulled in a redfish and the race was on.

Well, Andrew and RJ raced, since I hung up on some submerged something-or-other after a croaker stole my shrimp. In the mean time, RJ pulled in what Paul identified as a Mangrove Snapper. They are related to Red Snapper that is found offshore, and are dang fine eating. This was a beautiful fish, with the body of a snapper, except with a deep maroon kind of color.
Undeterred, I kept working the crustaceans and eventually pulled up a small Mangrove of my own, but since it was under 10 inches long, we tossed it back to bite again later. No worries, it was a cool fish, and I was glad to set him free.

The action turned off after a little while, and Cap’n Paul was eager to get us on some fish. We cast off the main line and headed into the drift, which our leader skillfully guided us through with no damage to boat, motor or image. He ran us back down the river to a spot rumored to hold sand trout where we plied our best efforts to entice our quarry to bite our bait. It was not to be, so we weighed anchor and ran on down to the mouth of the river.

I want to pause in the play-by-play to describe the kind of conditions we were operating in. The sun was bright, the wind was light and a bit cool, and there were only twelve clouds in the entire sky the whole day. And they weren’t very big, I’ll tell ya. The normally chocolate brown Brazos even had an emerald tint to it as we ran down the stream, watching shoals of small mullet and other baitfish working the surface, making the water appear nervous. One of the most beautiful sights was when we ran under a power line that stretched across the river at about 50 feet of altitude, upon which were a row of birds. There were cormorants and seagulls and several large brown pelicans. As we passed under, the birds took flight in the same direction as us, and we watched them glide over us in formation for a few seconds until we outran them. The sun’s angle on the great birds made me wish for a camera. But I have it up here between my eyes!

We ran, as I said, down to within a few hundred yards of the mouth of the Brazos where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico. There was a long stretch of beach on both sides of the watercourse, and on the Freeport side, there was a long line of trucks and vans and SUVs among other types of vehicles stretching as far as you could see. Some had flags and mini-camps set up. Each of the means of transportation had a contingent of fishermen with their arsenal of rods bristling out of the sand. Some throwing cast nets, others cutting bait, some just sitting waiting for action.

We pulled up on the beach opposite the army of anglers and began to toss our offerings to the unseen schools of fish that were no doubt rushing past in the current. The other guys were throwing different baits; fresh dead shrimp, live mullet, and I was trying out my artificial baits. I had one strike that chomped my fake minnow in three pieces, but the clever fish missed the hook. Good for him, not for me. Andrew hooked a good speckled trout and that was about it. I did see a couple of guys paddling kayaks back to the river from a slough they had followed back to a small lake. They each had a limit of redfish, so they must have been doing something right.

Since the fish weren’t obliging us the same way they had flocked to the kayak boys, we figured we might oughta try a new location. Paul had been catching bait with the cast net (he really took care of us) and asked if we were ready for a change of venue. A unanimous “aye” was sounded and we shoved off the sand and headed back upstream to the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway, to the uninitiated). We took a right and headed to some oyster reefs that had produced fish a few days before.
We stayed there for an hour or so, there is only so much fun you can have losing terminal tackle on oyster reefs while only occasionally pulling in small black drum and undersized redfish. Cap’n Paul put us on the move again.

The destination this time was at the intersection of the Brazos and the ICW. Here, the likelihood of fish was very, uh, likely. We baited up, and brought in a sand trout or two, but the main excitement was the Captain hooking what appeared to be a small submarine. RJ and Andrew spoke as one in the question, “What do you think it is?” Paul is cagey, and he said between grunts of exertion, “Well I don’t know what it is, we’ll have to wait till it comes to the surface…” The excitement on deck was palpable.
I knew what it was. In fact, so confident was I in my prediction, I spoke up, “It’s an oversize redfish, that’s what it is, and I’ll even wager a cracker!” High stakes, I realize, but by the way it was fighting and running and pushing the limits of the rod and reel and pilot of said equipment, there were few other things it could be. Yeah, it could be a stingray, but those take off and don’t stop till you’re spooled or you just cut the line. Same for amberjack and them like ‘em. Nope. This was a big scienops ocellatus, red drum.

Paul ended up having to walk nearly clear around the boat to fight this beast, and when it surfaced, we all saw it was the bull red that I predicted. I yelled out “30 inches”, though likely nobody heard me. As he wore the big fish out, Paul was ready for the net-man, which I’m, and I picked the leviathan from the water and plunked him down in the boat. Everybody was wow-ing and gosh-ing and generally admiring Paul’s finesse and skill at landing this beast, especially when I went to remove the hook, and it was just caught in the corner of his mouth, rather than buried in the jaw. Had the Cap’n given any slack or played the fish carelessly, it would have been gone.

I hoisted the scaled marvel for everyone to see, and the oohs and ahhs repeated with renewed vigor. After Andrew snapped a pic of it with his Razr phone, I put the fish down on the ruler to get an official verdict on the overall length. 31.5 inches. For the non-fishermen in the audience, that’s eleven and a half inches longer than the minimum size for the species. What a great catch.

Since the big red probably frightened all the fish in a 200 yard diameter, we decided to weigh anchor again and head to a new spot. This time, we went down the ICW and parked just outside the main channel. We threw out our bait and almost immediately began to crank in sand trout. If you know anything about sandies (we hard-core fishermen like to call ‘em “sandies”), you’ll know that most of these little guys were in the 10.5 to 12 inch range. Not a lot of fish, but a lot of fight.
Andrew started bringing them in, then RJ, then me. Paul started cutting bait because that is what they were responding to. Andy caught one without the benefit of a hook at one point; a loop in the leader lassoed one of the unfortunate fishes. His dad topped even that; he caught two fish on the same hook. Paul was beside himself, and we required Andrew to snap a picture of the catch, because no one would believe the telling.

After pulling in sandies one after another, along about 5:30 we’d all had about enough. Once again, we raised the anchor and hoisted the sails (figuratively, of course; Paul just started the 90 hp Mercury) and headed to the ramp.

The sun was heading toward that low angle that produces such a golden, beautiful glow, and it bathed the Brazos riverbank with that liquid gold light that makes everything look so nostalgic. We were all sunburnt in spite of applying girly sunscreen (thanks Sis), tired and happy. We kept a total of 31 fish, and after the short drive back to the house, Paul graciously set up his cleaning table, brought out his knives and even his electric fillet knife. We washed and scaled the fish and he filleted them quickly and efficiently. Then we rinsed and bagged the meat. The assembly line method really has my “one man show” approach to fish cleaning beaten, hands down. We had all 31 fish done in less than 30 minutes.
When all was done, we thanked the generous and wise Cap’n Paul for his generosity and wisdom, and went inside to eat some of the redfish we had harvested.

While a camping trip would have been nice, in retrospect, being surprised by a fantastic day of fishing guided by an old hand has a slight edge over sleeping on the ground and eating while standing up for a day and a half, even if only by a little.

And I think we are going to “plan” another camping trip.

Maybe. We’ll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Planning is Overrated

Part the First: The Original Plan

This past weekend I had planned to go camping with my nephew Andrew and his dad RJ. It was going to be a quiet guys only weekend. Pedernales Falls State Park. That was our destination. The weather guys said the climate was in the zone; we’d have a great time.

Couldn’t go, turns out. There were no available spaces to camp. Dang. We were disappointed, but undeterred. I called RJ to make sure that since we were already free that weekend, and it was in stone, we should take advantage of the schedule. Even if we didn’t get the venue of first choice, we should at least pick an alternative. You don’t often get second chances, since the system for weekends out is not based on credit.

Our standby was going to be a fishing trip. One day, or part of a day, but we were going to commit to doing whatever we wanted to, and there would be an attempt to capture fish involved. Spontenacity was our watchword!

After the decision was made to fish, we quickly assessed what we would need for this day-jaunt. I volunteered a case of water so we wouldn’t dehydrate. Nothing spoils a day like turning into a raisin and then fainting. I asked if we needed food, and RJ replied that we likely as not would just run into Freeport or even Lake Jackson to eat in the event that we began to waste away. Settled. It was clear that fish were only secondary players in this production.

The plan was hatched and solidified on our cell phones and it was determined that I would meet Andrew at my sister’s house (since he was coming in from San Marcos) at about seven a.m. and we would get to RJ’s, then blast off to the mouth of the Brazos river.

Saturday morning was almost dawning when I piled my gear into the car and headed to meet Andy. The transfer to his truck was made, and my sister came out in her robe to deliver the care package bag of Slim Jims, cheese crackers and Oreos.

As we sped along 288 to Lake Jackson, Andrew and I had a nice conversation, and we also anticipated a great day of fishing. Remember, a BAD day fishing is better than a GOOD day working, so our definition of “great day fishing” was fairly loose and the bar was set fairly low.

When we arrived at RJ’s house, he was standing in the yard, talking to his neighbor, an older man who seemed to be very nice and who also happened to be standing next to what appeared to be a boat of some kind.

We got out of the truck and ambled over to meet the neighbor, and RJ introduced us to him. This was the legendary Paul, of whom RJ had spoken before. Renowned as a great neighbor, he was offering some suggestions and even the use of some of his very own equipment to us. He had been fishing at least twice that week already, and was imparting some information to us that would likely be useful. He asked where we were going, and we told him that the Brazos beach would be our destination to throw out some lines and see what was going to happen. He offered some equipment again, and I indicated that we could probably use a couple of rod holders.

Paul said, more than once, “I wish I could take you guys…” to which our polite reply came back, “Oh, well, that’s cool, we’re just gonna see what happens…”

In his heart, Paul knew that we were destined to get skunked that day, and we could see the regret in his eyes at letting us go out unguided. Once again, he said, “Yeah, if I could, I’d take you guys, but I have something I gotta do this morning…” and as he trailed off, the inner smart aleck in me could no longer be stifled and I said, without thinking, “What, you ain’t got a phone?”

I immediately wanted to clamp my hands over my big mouth and recapture the words that floated on the cool early morning air. Fortunately, Paul laughed and went to go get the rod holders. As he rounded the gate of his house, holding the items, he paused and said, “Wait a minute guys,” and skipped into the house.

We figured that he was going to get some other vital equipment, but instead, emerged a minute or two later, clapping his hands like a coach, saying, “OK guys, I’m taking you, let’s load up!”

We were shocked and a little embarrassed, at least I was embarrassed for spouting off the “What, you ain’t go no fone…” comment. But Paul was serious, as he hopped up on his boat and started loading my ice chest and slapping rods in the on-board rod holders!

Falling backward into a guided fishing trip was the last thing our little troop had expected, but here we were, on the way to the Brazos River with our very own skipper!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missed by "That Much"...

Well, my superior sense of balance coupled with my cat-like reflexes kept me from falling in H.E.B. this morning after slipping on a wayward, semi-escaped red seedless grape.

Unfortunately, as he was cleaning up my evidence, the produce guy told me that they just paid someone $5000 for slipping on a grape in that store.

Dangit. Had I let my prodigious weight carry me to the floor, (in front of several witnesses) I may have limped out with a cool five grand!

Instead, I will bear the lingering soreness that older fellas carry when they move too quickly without proper notice.

Hanging by a Thread

I have a certain pair of teeth that catch every piece of chicken, beef, celery, apple peel and pork that passes by them. The teeth are together up on my left side. I have a crown up there and I am beginning to think that my dentist created a little hook or something to catch passing food particles to force me to floss after every meal.

It works.

The use of the word “particle” may be a little misleading. When I use the waxed floss to remove part of my meal, I realize why I am often still hungry when I finish eating. Truth is, a good percentage of what I eat does not go into my stomach. Plenty of food gets stuck between my teeth and I end up flossing it out.

The major offender is pork. Or at least it seems that way. Chicken is very persistent but when I bite into a pork chop of a rib or even a burrito with carnitas, the pork fibers head straight for that gap and crowd in like clowns in a tiny car.

Sunday night, I grilled pork chops. We all sat around chewing our chops with alacrity, and afterward while rubbing our contented bellies, started sucking our teeth like a bunch of old men playing dominoes and whittling. My wife finally gave up and went to get the dental floss, and passed it around. We ended up with enough liberated meat to feed both dogs that night.

I am beginning to think that when H.E.B (a grocery store here in Texas) has one of their Meal Deals, they need to include dental floss in the group of products. “Two liters of H.E.B. soda, pork ribs, barbeque sauce, potato salad and dental floss for $9.95…”

Friday, October 17, 2008


I am wearing a black shirt that was innocently hanging at least 20 feet from where I was sitting Sunday evening when i tried on the glittery headband.

I looked down this morning when I got to work, and lo and behold, I see constellations of beautiful golden stars across the expanse of my front "sky".

I tell ya, that stuff gets everywhere. It's insidious.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not Everything is Better With Glitter!

When my girls were little, they liked very pretty, shiny, golden glittery things. All the Barbies had glitter in their hair. They had glittery clothes and bathing suits. Shoes? Glittery.

As they grew up some more; my girls, not the Barbies, they would pick out shirts with glittery pictures or logos on the front. When the shirts got dirty, they would go in the wash. Usually with one of my shirts. Usually one (or more) of my office shirts. So when I would iron it the next day, the smooth pinpoint oxford shirt had a special look to it, even before it was ironed. As the wrinkles were soothed by the steam and starch, the beautiful glitter all over the shirt made the whole thing more lovely.

Lucky for me, all the people at work knew that I had three young daughters. They knew that it wasn’t just me getting “dolled up” for me. Although, sometimes a guy just needs to feel pretty.

After a few years, the glitter phase passes and almost all of my clothes are glitter-free.

This weekend, my high school senior went to a party for the swim team girls. They ate good stuff, gossiped and made spirit headbands. They took bandanas and rolled them up, painted “SENIORS ‘09” and a water polo ball on the front. Oh, and lest I forget, spray glitter. Gold.

As I type this, there is gold glitter on the keyboard. There is glitter on the screen. There is glitter all over my hands. There is even glitter on my face. I had tried on the headband to participate in the spirit of the moment. Did you know that glitter sticks very well to a greasy forehead? And nose?

With just a little more examination, I spy glitter across the broad expanse of orange shirt covering my belly, on my cargo shorts, the dog, the couch and the end table. My hands. Legs. The chair. My eye. The clean socks in the pile.

The old saying goes, “All that glitters is not gold” is quite true. Sometimes it’s a big, fat Geezer. And half of everything in the house.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Camp Coffee part II

Went down the hall to the coffee nook to grab a cup of joe. Not that I was craving it, you that know me are aware of the my policy on a "need to joe basis". An I need it today.

Poured up a tall mug of it and was ready to pour the very last of the dregs when I noticed the the dregs looked like ground coffee. Sure enough, checking the filter basket I saw that the paper filter had fainted and allowed the grounds to exit with the rest of the brew.

Dang. Not only do I have to drink this coffee, I have to chew it, too!

Gabby Hayes would be proud. If only I'd had some eggshells to put in the pot to make the grounds settle out...

I DID say "Maybe"...

Yeah, well, we did have a good time @ the homestead and yes, we did discuss old stories.

I got elected to tell one of the stories on myself. Since I didn't have time to type in any of the other ones that were told, I will link to this one, which is just humiliating enough to me to make it interesting to you.

Some of you old-timers might have seen this when I first posted it, but judging from the reception of it on Saturday, this one apparently never gets old. Or never dies from my perspective.

Enjoy it and comment on this one. If you dare.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Yes, thanks to you, dear readers and clickers, I have surpassed 100 visits this week at 105! That's like getting a perfect score on a history test and then getting the bonus question right, too!

My gratitude goes to the regulars and the irregulars, uh, new folks. I know that there are still the odd Google searchers; the Headless Horseman has turned in a couple of hits from Germany and somewhere in Kentucky, I think. But overall, the sitemeter tells me that most of the visits are intentional! WOW, that's really starting to encourage me...though I don't know why. I guess it means that my friends and fiends are expecting me to have something interesting (or really stupid) to say here on this blog.

I intend not to let them down! We are going to my parents' house this evening to say "Yay, Andrew is home for a rare weekend, let's eat burgers!" I know there will be stories and memories bouncing off the walls, like things that bounce off the walls in a very energetic manner.

Of course some will likely put me in a bad light, which will of course be ignored by me, but there will be some good ones, I assure you. And almost certainly, probably, possibly may find their way into typed words on this blog before the weekend is over. Maybe.

Thanks again to all the people who read this who aren't college English professors trolling the interwebs for "how-NOT-to-write" examples for their classes.

To them I say, "No thanks".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Beauty is NOT Goodness

Everyone is charmed and delighted by the delicate form, acrobatic flight and soft trilling song of the hummingbird. They are so tiny and cute, their wings beat so fast, they like pretty flowers…ad infinitum.

I must admit, I too was always partial to hummingbirds as a child and yes, as an adult. When we went camping, my Dad always put up a hummingbird feeder so we could watch them drink the pretty red sugar-water. As they would wheel and spin, dive and dart, the hum generated by their wings was surprising as they would buzz past your head to wait their turn in line for the nectar provided. At times it looked like the Moscow Ballet with all the tiny forms whizzing around the stage, hovering, pirouetting, following each other in strings of three or four off stage right or stage left, with a few prima donnas seeming to get all the open space and sweet stuff. I guess I never paid that much attention to the real action.

My folks have a hummingbird feeder at their house just outside the back window that overlooks the garden. When I go for a visit in the afternoons on Saturday or Sunday, we sit and talk, look at the garden, and watch the hummers.

From my observation, these are the most self-centered, belligerent, pushy, greedy and ill-tempered birds that ever took wing. Ounce for ounce (I’d venture to say that it usually takes two to make a full ounce) they are the most aggressive bird out there. If they were fish, I would give a great white shark a two-to-one weight advantage over the hummingbird/fish and still put my money on the hummer.

If they were as big as even a mockingbird, they would no doubt be deadly, and the government would likely put a bounty on them. Mean little things.

I have watched a single bird expend the energy equivalent to a gallon of gasoline guarding a free source of food. He will sit on a branch six feet from the feeder, and dare any other creature, be it fowl or insect, to sip even a molecule of the nectar. He buzzes down on them like he was shot from a gun, diving and chasing like his tail is on fire. He even bullied a bumblebee away from the sacred feeder one day. When another hummingbird even flies by, he launches from his perch like a Sidewinder missile. Once the interloper has been dispensed with, the foul little fowl has to come check the level in the glass vial containing the precious red sugar water, flying all the way around, eyeballing the quantity. He then takes a long drink, occasionally pulling back to scan the area for bogeys. Another sip, then back to his perch to continue his bitter little vigil.

When my oldest daughter was two or three, she would correct anyone using the proper terminology, “hummingbird”, by saying sternly, “HONEYbird”…

She was wrong on a couple of different levels. DEVILbird would be more accurate.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ike: Part the Fourth-Life After the Storm

The question of where to stay after the storm was a pretty simple one. On the one hand, my Mother-in-law needed someone to stay with her while there was work to be done. My wife volunteered to cover that venue. My youngest stayed there to supervise Saturday night.

My 17 year-old and I went to my parents’ house. They have a large house, a big deep freeze, a refrigerator, electric well pump and a butane generator. And a big tank of butane.

Allow me to backtrack a little. In 1999, a friend of my Dad decided that Y2K was a real threat, and that my parents needed a generator to keep them going until the new world order re-formed the grids and restored power. So he hooked them up with a generator wearing a butane adaptor behind the carburetor and the electric line buried and tied in to the house at the box, all up to code. At the first of every month she gets started up and run for five or ten minutes, just to keep loose. That’s been eight years of preparation.

With the generator running and the boards still on the windows, the house stayed very bearable Saturday night. I slept like a rock. We cooked out on the propane stove when something needed to be hot, and when we needed to be cool, we sat still inside and drank water. The first evening was pretty quiet, still assessing what all got busted up by the storm. Late in the evening, the generator started to lope and hunt for a spark. My Dad and I went out and pulled the spark plug, changed the gap on it, and she started purring like an electric cat. That night I slept like a load of concrete.

Sunday morning early, the day started up a little wet and rainy. My Dad and I went out and put a tarp up over the door of the pump house to keep our little electric factory dry. For some reason we figured that a generator and rain would come to no good conclusion. As we hung the tarp and stuck the poles I the ground to support it, the air got a lot cooler, nearly cold. A really good feeling.

When the cool front came in on Sunday, the temperature really dropped and on Monday as we started cutting limbs and raking branches, the girls didn’t even have to break much of a sweat. At night after dinner, we’d sit around telling stories on each other, laughing, cackling, and snorting at all the old stories. My girls, hearing some of them for the first time were staring in wonder at the fun we used to have. As we sat there telling stories in the semi-darkness of the back porch with the sky glowing in and the sound of the generator running 24 hours a day like a manic yardman, it was like a big luxury camp trip.

Monday, after cutting and hauling limbs at my parents’ house getting all hot and sweaty, I decided that I would take a shower at their house. A cold shower. No big deal; I took a cold shower at our house on Sunday after going over and getting some work done. What man can’t take a cold shower every now and then?

Well, when you say you’re going to take a cold shower in a house supplied with city water, and when you say you are going to take a cold shower in a house with a three hundred foot well, you are talking about two completely different showers.

I have some advice to pass along; if you are going to take a shower in the latter, a) take the shower in late afternoon, and b) don’t let your body temperature get back down to normal after working outside.

When the icy needles fired out of the showerhead, it was all I could do to keep from screaming like a little girl staring down a big spider on her Barbie. It was THEN that I remembered the depth of the well. I hurried through the process of the actual bath with such haste and on such a shortage of oxygen that I have doubts about the total cleanliness that was achieved that evening.

The next few days were spent going to my house and trimming and dragging and piling branches from our yard. And our neighbor’s yard, and the widow lady’s down the street.

A lot of oak was lying around Alvin, taunting all of the fireplace owners. On my trips around the neighborhood, I noticed that the local gypsy whose house always looks disheveled, the front window has been boarded up for about three years, so Ike came through and made a couple of thousand dollars worth of improvements. So if you have a lowboy trailer and a log splitter, you could end up with a tidy sum of change.

So when the clouds finally parted, and most of the cleanup done or nearly done, Ike’s silver lining shows us that we can put up with almost anything if we think we can get some free firewood.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Intolerance of Minstrels in Aftermath of Ike

One of the funniest things I saw in my neighborhood after Ike passed through was the sign that one of the residents at the front of the subdivision posted. He had a large piece of plywood with a spraypainted message on it, “You Lute, We Shoot!” Seriously. I would not lie to you.

I saw it and remarked to my youngest daughter that the guy must be really intolerant of traveling musicians from the fifteenth century. I could see Sting wandering by with his new instrument of choice, playing a nice bourreé.

“BANG, BANG! You dang minstrel, get your lute off of my front lawn, the sign is fair warning!”

My girl gave me a great gift; she laughed really hard.

I couldn’t help it.

Ike: Part the Third-Wow

The trip back to our respective homes was interesting. On the way back to Friendswood, where my Mother-in-law lives, we saw many trees uprooted as a direct of the straight-line winds. We saw still others that were twisted masses of tangled branches and limbs indicating the twisty winds of the hundreds of small tornadoes spawned by the hurricane. The different creeks we crossed were already swollen, and at one point, the road was covered by eight or so inches of water. Power lines were down; some in the road, some on houses and others just lying like exhausted snakes along the roadside.

We drove fairly slowly to avoid the branches and piles of leaves in the road, and to assess the damage to structures adjacent to the street. Walls with the brick veneer peeled off like peanut shells, facades on buildings half crumbled or blown away, metal awnings looking like sardine cans with lids still partially attached. The anxiety built, leaving us wondering what our places were going to look like.

Mimi’s house was very well-preserved; she only had some fatigued hyacinths and a broken pine bough. The back yard yielded a fence caught in mid-faint, and one broken picket. A pretty good record, I’d say, since there was nothing too far amiss, save the lack of power and phone. She has a gas water heater and range, so there would be hot food and warm showers until the cavalry rode into town.

So my Mother-in-law was in pretty good shape for the time being. It was time to go to our house to see if we still had one. Since we didn’t know what would be there, I decided to leave the girls at Mimi’s, put one foot in front of the other (not literally, I drove the silver Dodge) and picked my way down to the homestead. All the way down Highway 35, I saw evidence of angry winds and waters that refused to stay in their usual courses. Power lines down, portable buildings that had been moved without the benefit of a truck, with siding and roofing material marking the trail that they took to their resting places in the middle of the median of the Bypass.

By the time I arrived at our subdivision, the anticipation was driving me to a sub-sane condition. There was still water in the street so the back way was the only route to my house. Branches down littering the street, basketball goals and shingles were all painting a picture that I didn’t want to see.

Turns out, the picture wasn’t all that bad. I pulled into the driveway and parked next to my little red car. It looked none the worse for wear, except that there were shredded leaf bits tucked into every crevice, under molding on the side, around the window gaskets, and plastered to the license plate. It looked like my car had been mulched.

The roofline looked good, and as I scanned my way around the house, the plant life notwithstanding, the whole thing looked pretty good. I went around the north side and saw nothing out of place, came through the back gate and saw the Arizona ash did pretty much what I had expected. It’s branches filled up the back yard. And the deck. And where the back fence had been. There was one in particular that made me a little mad. It was one that was about eight inches in diameter that had somersaulted out of the top of the tree, landed top-first on the deck, then rocked to the right and smacked into the edge of the roof right over the master bedroom. It cracked the fascia board, crumpled the flashing and smushed a piece of shingle about the size of a slice of bologna. That was it. Except for the fences. And a few shingles from the rickety shed out in the corner (which I would have wagered to have sustained considerably more damage than what ended up).

My neighbor’s yard was fully visible, since three panels of our seven-foot fence were laying in his yard. He had a new shed with a little steeple on it, and a weather vane bearing a silhouette of a horse and carriage running over the little arrow pointing to the wind direction. I had half-expected to see that arrow in the side of one of our many possum someplace else. But it rode out the storm just fine up there on top. He has (“used to has”) a metal and canvas decorative gazebo, now it’s just a pile of twisted metal. There were some shingles missing from his roof, and his young oak tree in the front yard was in repose on its side. But nothing else wrong, all windows intact, no doors blown in, limbs through the roof or anything.

The guy across the street, Donny, was none so fortunate. After I had checked my house and Larry’s abode, I traversed the street to see how his home had fared. The front wasn’t bad, just some shingles missing, the board on the front window had blown off, although no ill effect was seen from that. Of course their hibiscus plants, like ours, were worn out and lying over. The back of the house was the disaster. The porch next to the master bedroom and living room was ripped back and laying next to the house on the East side. It was almost like looking into an open wound; the insulation and the bones of the house showing, the nerves and arteries laid bare to the elements. I felt a little sick. But like any good neighbor/journalist, I whipped out my phone and snapped a couple of shots of the carnage. I then immediately sent the pictures to him, along with my condolences. I didn’t need to remind him that he was the one who had a bad feeling about Ike.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ike: Part the Second-The Teeth of the Wind

The preliminary ablutions out of the way, it was time to ready ourselves for the actual event. My wife couldn’t get off of work till Thursday, so that night our preparations began in earnest. Bags packed, food gathered, snacks stashed and flashlights distributed. We were ready.

While I would rather have stayed at my own house, I knew that my wife would need to be with her mother at a time like this. If she was going to be there, then that’s where we all would be. I had boarded up our windows, and said a prayer over our house as we pulled out of the drive headed to MiMi’s house. On arriving at the Maison du MiMi, I couldn’t help noticing that there were no boards on the windows, no tape, nothing. It was beginning to look “not too safe” to me, and the helicopter hangar was looking pretty good about now, since Ike was bearing down on the Galveston Bay area like an ill-tempered second-grader. Since he had already thrown a sizeable tantrum on Cuba, he was promising to make someone’s life miserable.

We decided that with this hurricane bearing down on us as it was, pretty unmistakably, we would be better of in the Houston Helicopter hangar. The owners have been friends of my wife’s family for many years and they welcomed friends and family to their large hangar for safety. The building is rated for something like 150 mph winds, and thus the best place for riding out a storm.

There were 5 helicopters and eight or nine private automobiles in the hangar by the time we got there; the owners, one of their daughters, her husband and two of her kids, all of whom brought a separate vehicle. Then our little entourage with two vehicles, and later another friend of theirs arrived in a Prius. Plenty of space.

I dashed out at one point to bolster our supplies of snack food with an order of hot food; Popeye’s Chicken was open, and doing a brisk business. I pulled into the parking lot, only to find that the staff had locked the side door and was only serving drive-thru orders, and the line looked like a used car lot. I sneaked around to the other side and made my way in to the store, and there I stood with about ten other folks. There we waited for the fried bird to emerge from the grease. I got the “Meal Deal”; really the “deal” was for the Church’s; sixteen pieces and some side orders for over thirty dollars. Highway robbery! But what can you do, I paid and zoomed back to our haven.

The wind was blowing in the 20 mph range when we got there, with some pretty interesting gusts, and surprisingly little rain. On the paved helipad and driveway the grit from the street driven by the wind had a sandblasting effect. Our little dogs explored on their respective leashes, and the mood was rather light and reunion-ish. I hadn’t seen some of these people since our kids were really small, and the catching-up was great.

The afternoon progressed, as did the wind, and we adjourned to the inside of the hangar with the wind whipping past the door. We watched scores of birds battling the wind to roost in stands of trees; dove, scissortail, starlings, grackles and sparrows. There was speculation on the speed of the flight of the doves and further speculation that even I would possibly be able to drop one with a shotgun, were it not for the windage factor!

The wind picked up, and the decision was made to close the doors and move all of our camp gear to the command center offices. Up a set of steep stairs on either side of the shop was the command center, with a large conference table, a couple of huge maps of the Texas Gulf Coast and offshore coordinates, a refrigerator and sink. The large room was surrounded on three sides by offices of varying sizes. These would be our bivouac areas for the duration.

We waited for the storm, glued to the radio or television, hearing stories and anecdotes from storms past. The wind grew wilder and at about 7:30 p.m., the power went out. The big natural gas generator came on automatically to power the essential components of the command center, but not the air conditioning units. Those would seem to me to be essential, but I am not the one who ordered the generator installed. We did have a small 7500 watt diesel generator set up outside in a covered truck, and he was called into play at this juncture. This generator enabled us to set up the fans who stood at the ready to keep us alive in the command center, which quickly became quite stuffy.

The TV news people had been working everyone to an absolute frenzy, emulating Dan Rather during Hurricane Carla in 1961, standing out in rising water being battered by waves and wind. Wayne Dolcefino, ever-intrepid reporter for the Eyewitness News Team, was on the seawall in Galveston, bleating into the microphone about the storm surge and the increasing wind and the inherent danger of standing right where he was standing. There was even some footage of brave Geraldo Rivera standing on Seawall Boulevard being knocked to the street by a wave. Our group hooted and cackled as the tape was played back a couple of times, to our great delight. I could have watched that for another half hour or so. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. A group of Galveston firefighters were standing by their truck, and a trio hurried over to him to help him up. When it was clear that he was all right, one of them remarked that it was “about time to get off the Seawall”. Gold.

Other reporters throughout the night would venture into waist-deep water that eventually covered all but the highest points on the entire island, and I sat breathlessly awaiting a passing rat or snake to climb up their slicker. Alas, on that point I was disappointed.

The studio anchors and weather people weren’t much better, and I feared that if I heard another newsman, newswoman, city official, county judge, state representative, passing motorist or parakeet utter the term “hunker down”, I would run screaming into the face of the storm, completely “un-hunkered”.

The storm inevitably progressed as these giant unstoppable forces of nature are known to do, and we sat in rolling chairs, chasing the oscillating fans on their appointed rounds, waving like wheat in the breeze. One by one, the denizens repaired to their hot little pallets in the makeshift dorm. Only a couple of us hardy (?) souls stayed up to watch the snowy television and track the slow progression of the eye of the storm to landfall.

From the offices, we could hear the wind blowing outside in gusts, and occasionally hear the rain slashing, but down in the hangar, the experience was a fearsome combination of the relentless howling and moaning of the wind at the giant bay doors, the crashing of the louvered vent fan at the end of the building, and the sound of the rain just hammering the outside of the steel shell we were in was alarming. I made a couple of passes through the hangar at different times, to make sure the fiberglass skylights didn’t blow in and wreck any cars (they didn’t). The wind-driven water was coming in under the doors making glassy pools in the eerie semi-darkness.

Due in part to the heat and my shoulders knotting up like frozen briskets, I only managed about two hours sleep that night, mostly in fitful twenty to thirty minute stretches. Not one of my best hurricanes. The last one I sat through was Alicia in 1983 and I got a full three hours of sleep, in longer stretches. Of course, I didn’t have a house and family to worry about. Also, this time, my parents and sister were riding out the storm down in Alvin. Needless to say, there was a lot running through my mind.

Saturday slowly dawned, the wind slowed back down to about 30 mph, and the little dogs were about to explode. My daughters and I went down on the side of the building that was sheltered from the wind, and let them run a little and, uh, other stuff. The small one had to patter through the puddles, too, like any other youngster.

As everyone started moving around, we assessed whatever damage there might have been; one window got sucked out after a tiny crack appeared in it. We boarded that up the best we could, but the worst of the storm was over. By about ten, some of the folks wanted to make a foray around Friendswood to see what sort of damage their property might have sustained. With some space cleared, I figured it was time to move the vehicles and try to get out while the getting was good.

We packed our provisions and headed out to try to make our way to our homes to see how we had fared.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Summer's CAT-astrophe

This summer, my youngest child got a cat. She had wanted a kitty she could call her own for a long time. And finally she got one. This is her version of her story. I'm sure the cat has a different tale.


by Summer Söder––
June 6th 2008-A day I could never forget. That morning I was due for an annual eye exam and I was so excited that day because I had finally got my parents to let me get a kitten.
Since my mom had to take Katie to go get her wisdom teeth removed, my dad took me to pick the little animal up, that is of course AFTER my Dr.’s visit. The whole time at the appointment I could not wait to get my kitty, and finally the time came to drive over to Baytown.

The lady who had spoken on the phone with my dad earlier that day about how to get to her little antique shop where the “sweet” little kitty was, stood waiting at the door when we arrived. When I saw the kitten I was so disappointed, the fluffy, green eyed, black haired kitten she had described was a short haired, yellow eyed, skinny little rat. By the look on my face my dad could tell I was not impressed.

‘She’s really sweet, and very playful,” woman reassured.
I didn’t care about the cat’s temperament at the moment or the anything else she had to say about it, I was just focused on the fact she was about to hand me a wingless fruit bat, but I took it because the lady almost seemed excited to get it out of her hands.

It took about 2 hours to get home and let me just tell you it was THE WORST 2 hours of my life!! The cat I had named Isabelle, kept climbing up my shoulder, biting my arm and scratching my legs. I kept trying to hold her down but it was no use.

When we got home I was worn out, after I got her settled in my room I plopped down on my bed and watched her play with a ribbon she had found under my dresser.

That same night Madison spent the night at my house. She was in awe of my cat and clearly didn’t see it the way I did; I mean it was cute but not what I had had in mind. Madison and I stayed up until my kitten fell asleep. She slept all night, but little did I know it would not last.

She had been set up to sleep in an old baby doll bed I had received several Christmas’s’ ago and it never crossed my mind once that maybe she would be able to get out, until one night at about 3 A.M. she pounced on my head, and scared me to death.

It took about two weeks of that cat pouncing on my head each night until I made the decision that I just couldn’t take it any more. I had tried EVERYTHING to make her sleep at night but nothing worked, so I made the decision to give her away.
After giving her away my Mimi and I went out looking for an animal that was loyal and one I knew I wanted. We went to every single pet shop you can think of but found nothing, until I went to one particular one and instead of finding a cat I found a Pomeranian puppy. I asked my Mimi if I could get her but she told me no, only because it looked sick like maybe it was from a puppy mill. When it was time to leave, I said good-bye to the puppy and left.

Later on that day I called my mom and asked if she would approve of me getting a dog, and surprisingly said yes. (For her she didn’t care whether or not I got a dog just as long as I didn’t get another cat).

I scratched and saved and on July 14, my birthday, my mom and sister took me to get my new puppy, a little bitty black Pomeranian puppy, we all knew would make our other big Pomeranian Dutchess jealous. I called her Xena, and am so glad I got her instead of another cat.

Ike: Part the First

If you didn’t already know, we had us a hurricane named Ike that barreled thru here last week. For both of my readers, you may have missed seeing anything new up here. Sorry, but there have been other things going on.

Last Wednesday, we were let off of work to prepare for the storm that was due to hit 50 miles down the coast. You never can tell what them things are going to do, and since it started taking a turn up the coast toward us, and since the last couple of blows have showed the power of the wind and water, everybody is just a little snakebit about that kind of stuff.

I borrowed my sister-in-law’s chainsaw on a stick, and hauled myself up into the one of my two ash trees to remove some of the branches likely to slap the snot out of my chimney and roof. My middle daughter was watching the spectacle of a bear in jeans climbing a tree with a dangerous tool in his paws. She said she was trying to make sure that she remembered our address to tell the 911 operator where we live when I crashed to the patio.

She handed the saw up to me and I made my way from branch to branch like an oversized lemur, so as to reach the branches marked for pruning. There were no good handholds, no good footholds, and no way to get a good angle on any of the offending limbs to lop them off.

Let me break in here for a second to explain my hatred of the dreaded Arizona ash tree and the “ash is trash” sentiment of everyone I know. These trees grow quickly, thus producing quick shade for a home. The benefits end there. The wood is brittle; it only takes a 25 mile per hour wind to cause them to crack or split down a few feet. When you try to pull them, the tough inner bark just keeps splitting down the big limb till it stops. Then it hangs on like grim death. It takes a good saw to cut through it, but the wood splinters and binds any blade put to it. Unless you have some rpm’s to power through.

So here I am 14 feet up in the air trying to get through the last inch of wood to fell the branch that spelled doom for my roof. SO not fun. I figured out that if I had a third hand, I could have gotten the extra foot or so to get the last tendon to cut loose. The “thunk” that resounded on the deck was music to my ears.

With the main task done, the next and possibly the most important aspect of the job was coming down from my perch. I’m not TOO smart, but I know enough about physics to understand that the amount of weight that I carry, multiplied by ten feet (the altitude of the lowest branch) and the velocity of a falling object equals a hurt geezer. Fortunately for me, my arms are long and so the distance my feet were off the ground was only about two and a half feet. I let go and dropped to the small flowerbed with paving stones stacked around it. There was only a slight twist to my right ankle when I landed, and I only limped around inhaling through my teeth for a few minutes. We piled the branches up on the side of the deck in a rough windbreak sort of configuration.

A quick trip to Kroger yielded a couple of cases of bottled water since we would need that regardless of where we landed. And a half dozen cans of tuna. If nothing else, I would have a week’s worth of lunches at work.

All this in between watching the swirling uncertainty that was Ike on the TV news. My neighbor across the street said that he had a bad feeling about this one. No false alarms or close calls. This one would hit us. We swapped cell numbers and a promise that whoever was here first would report to the other.

There would be more to this than a stiff breeze and a long rain storm.