Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chess.......


The year was 1956.  I was a 12-year old boy in 7th grade at John J Pershing Jr High School in Houston, Texas.  One day during recess, I noticed some of the older boys playing a game on a checkerboard.  I moseyed over to have a look.  My, it was a strange, but compelling, game.  I didn't understand it.

A Solitary Pawn
I asked how the game was played.  No one seemed to want to tell me.  It was only later, as time went on, that I discovered why no one wanted to tell me how to play---the game could not really be explained adequately in a few sentences.  It had to be experienced.
The Rook
So, day after day, week after week, I observed the chess matches that the older boys played during recess.  Slowly, Clint began to get the hang of it.  At some point, I was brave enough to begin to play also.  I was a beginner, so I got trounced regularly.  But, slowly, I saw the greatness and the genius of this game.  It wasn't long before I knew that this was---and is---the greatest game of wits ever invented.

The Knight
It is purely a game of skill and experience.  The pieces---16 on each side---are mesmerizing to hold in one's hand. 

The Bishop
Each side has 8 pawns.  The pawn is limited in power.  But, before you think they are unimportant, know that they are usually key to control of the center of the board---essential for good prospects of winning.

The Queen
Each side has two rooks---powerful pieces shaped like a castle.  The rooks operate on the vertical and horizontal columns.

The King
Each side has two knights---the most unique piece on the board.  The knight, shaped like a steed, is an attack piece that can jump over other pieces.

A Teenaged Bobby Fischer in 1957
Each side has two bishops.  Bishops move on the diagonals---one on the white diagonal and one on the black.

Gary Kasparov, Widely Regarded as the Greatest Chess Champion of All Time
Each side has one queen---the most powerful piece on the board. It combines the power of the rook and the bishop.  It wears a crown.

Present World Champion Viswanathan Anand
Each side has one king.  The king is very limited in power, and must be protected at all costs.  A cross sits atop the king.

Grandson Canyon and Me Playing Chess At Christmastime
The object of the game is to position your pieces so that the opposing king is placed in a position of constant check from which he is unable to escape.  This is called checkmate.

When I first began playing this game I had no idea that it has such a rich background.  Its rudimentary origins go back about two thousand years.  The game as we know it today evolved around 1200 AD.  Writings about how to play chess began to be seen around 1500.  The first modern tournament was held in 1851.

I Have Referred to This Book Countless Times Over The Years
Since then, the sport has seen as entertaining a mix of brilliant personalities as can be imagined.  While Russians such as Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov have dominated the sport, other nationalities have produced their share of champions.  Tigran Petrosian (Armenia), Emanuel Lasker (Germany), Jose Raul Capablanca (Cuba), Paul Morphy and Bobby Fischer (United States) have all been brilliant players in their day.  The current world champion is Viswanathan Anand of India.

These days, I often play against a computer on my cell phone.  The computer has 10 levels of expertise, so that I can play against the very simple (level 1) all the way up to expert (level 10).  I usually am fairly competitive at level 5.  I don't think I will progress much past this level without getting some personal instruction, which I don't think is going to happen at this stage of my life.

But, the game and its history fascinate me.  It also helps keep the mind sharp.  Matter of fact, I think I'll play a game now.......P-Q4.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cuttin' the Cost o' Coffee.......

Cindy Made This Picture Of The Box Our New Percolator Came In
Cindy and I love our coffee in the morning.  It's pretty hard to fully awaken without its magical, soothing, creeping warmth in our innards.

So it has been with considerable concern that we have observed the steady escalation of its price over the past year.  Something had to be done---but we could not bear to imagine life without our mornin' joe.

We tried buying cheaper brands.  We didn't like them.  We tried mixing the coffee with inexpensive additives like chickory or espresso.  That was ok, but didn't really save us much.

Then Cindy had the idea of dropping our modern coffee maker in favor of a percolator.  With a percolator, she reasoned, we could cut down on the amount of coffee we use because the action of the percolator recycles the brewed coffee for a stronger taste.

Our "Modern" Coffee Maker Uses A Single-Pass Brewing System And Requires Twice As Much Coffee As Our New Percolator
Problem---we couldn't find a percolator we liked.  We found a lot of old ones in thrift stores, but they all had shortcomings.  We googled to see where we could get a new one, but there aren't many companies making them any more---at least, not ones we liked.

Finally, last week, Cindy's sister, Patti, found one in a hardware store that looked just right for us.  It brews 32 ounces of coffee and works on the stovetop eye of our range. 

The First Time We Brewed Coffee in Our New Percolator, We Made a Mess of the Stovetop.  Sigh.
It works great!  We have used it about six times now, and we have cut our coffee usage in half.  We use 32 ounces of water, three scoops of Folger's Dark Roast Blend and one scoop of Pilon espresso.  We have experimented and found that letting it perk about 15 minutes produces the taste and strength we like.

It does something else, too---it fills the house up with the richest aroma of coffee I ever smelled.  That's something you just don't get from a modern, single-pass coffee maker. 

We're saving money and enjoying our mornin' joe more than ever.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Outta' Three Ain't Bad (Sigh).......


I had accumulated a number of errands and thought today would be the right time to get them out of the way.  But, as Cindy and I say to each other on a daily basis---nuthin's easy!

Not sure why that is, exactly, but the simplest chore is just plain difficult these days.  Let me illustrate.....

My plan was to go to my pharmacy just after it opened to avoid any crowd and get the shingles vaccine that my doctor had prescribed (if you've ever had chicken pox, you oughta' consider getting this, because it can save you a lot of grief).

OK, so I get to the pharmacy.  No one else is there except a few workers.  I tell the nice lady waiting on me that I am there to get my shingles shot.  Of course, there was a mess-up on the paperwork which took 20 minutes to straighten out.  Then the pharmacist made me fill out a questionnaire (things like "are you allergic to this this this this this this ad nauseum)  This bothered me because my doc had already gone thru this and had written the prescription, but I kept my mouth shut because it's not the pharmacist's fault her management makes her do that stuff.

Anyhoo, I wait another 10 minutes and the pharmacist comes out of her cubbyhole dressed in hospital greens and gloved up like a heart surgeon.  I told her, "Hey---relax...I'm here for a vaccination, not a bypass".  She thought that was funny.  I like it when people laugh at my jokes.  Ha.

The vaccination went in the back of my forearm.  Not my shoulder.    Not my derriere.  It didn't hurt at all.  I congratulated her on the smoothness.  Then I got up to leave, but she said I had to hang around for 15 minutes before I could leave because she said if I had a reaction to the vaccine it would prolly happen within the 15 minute window and they would need to be available to save my life.  I told her that was quite thoughtful and I appreciated it.  She laughed again.  I was beginning to like this woman.

After 15 minutes I departed the pharmacy, still alive, and set out for West Town Mall, some 14 minutes distant.  Mission: to acquire after shave lotion in a pourable bottle, and to get wifey a deep cooker.  Man, this was gonna be a snap, right?  RIGHT???

First stop:  Dillard's Department Store.  The friendly women at the Estee Lauder counter said they had no men's after shave in a pourable bottle---all they had was spray bottles.  Now, I realize I'm a simple man and am usually a little slow to "catch on", but I immediately started trying to figure out in my head how the sam hill anyone uses after shave in a SPRAY BOTTLE.  It makes no sense to me.  I mean.......I shave, right?  Then I take a spray bottle and spray that stuff on my face, getting it in my eyes, ears, hair, nose and whatever else happens to be in the way.  It sounds messy, inconvenient and STUPID.  Seeing the blank stare on my face, they directed me to the "men's" counter in the next room.

I get to the men's counter, and of course, there is no one there.  I wait a few minutes while perusing the contents of the display case, and finally a zoned-out clerk appears.  She completely disregards me (you remember me, don't you---THE CUSTOMER!?!?).  I wait about 5 minutes while she straightens her hair and applies makeup in a mirror.  It's funny, because I was standing right behind her so that she could see me, THE CUSTOMER, in the mirror behind her.  This mattered not.

Woman finally gets herself looking a way that pleases her and then turns to me...."Can I help you?"  "Why yes", I retorted, "Thank you very much."

"I would like to buy some after shave in pourable bottle."
"Oh, we have this really nice scent called "Eternity" --- would you like to smell it?"
"Why, yes, thank you".  Sniff Sniff.  "Yes, I like that very much!  I'll take it."
She takes the bottle from the box it was in and I see it is a spray bottle. 
"Oh---I need it in a pourable bottle".
"It doesn't come in a pourable bottle".
"Well, why'd you show it to me if it doesn't come in a pourable bottle?  I told you I need a pourable bottle.  How do men use a spray bottle for after shave?"
"I don't know, sir".
Annoyed, I asked, "Well, what else ya got?"
She walked around the counter, talking to herself as she rummaged through the stock.
"Oh, sir---here is one---in a pourable bottle!  Would you like to smell it?"
"Yes, I would".  Sniff Sniff.
"Nice,isn't it?"
"I wouldn't know---I can't smell a thing after that last one you laid on me".
She produced a jar of coffee beans.  "Here", she said--- "Sniff this and it'll clear out your smeller".
I sniff the beans.  I smell the coffee quite distinctly.
She then shoves the test strip in front of my nose and I inhale the fumes---can't smell a thing.  My nose's smell buds are still erased from the initial test smelling.
Disgusted and impatient to get on with my life, I tell her "I'll take it if it is in a pourable bottle".
"Sir, I can assure you it is in a pourable bottle".
"Well, humor me and take it out of the box and let me see---if it's in a pourable bottle I'll buy it."
She takes the bottle out of the package.  It is in a pourable bottle but it is a cream, not a lotion. 
"I told you I wanted a lotion", I said with disgust.
"I thought this was a lotion".

I bid her adieu and began looking elsewhere for my shaving lotion.  First I went to Belk's Department Store.  Got the runaround.  They sent me to a store on the other side of the mall.  Oh, well, I thought---I can always use the exercise. 

On the way, I spotted a large kiosk that had hundreds of bottles of all kinds of fragrances.  The nice lady asked me if she could help.  I told her what I wanted.  She said they had several after shave brands but they all came in spray bottles.  I asked her how a man actually applies after shave to his face with a spray bottle.  "I don't know", she said thoughtfully.

I continued my quest.  I was now hungry, tired and I had to pee.  But I pressed on.  I knew---KNEW---that in this huge mall, somewhere there existed a bottle of pourable after shave of a decent quality.

Finally, I found another counter with men's fragrances.  I told the nice lady what I wanted.  She produced a spray bottle of Dolce and Gabbana.  I never heard of it.  I told her I wanted a pourable bottle.  She said it also comes in a pourable bottle. 

"Would you like to try it?"
"Yes, thank you".  Sniff Sniff.
I can't smell a thing---been sniffin' stuff from one end of this gol-darned mall to the other....what in tarnation does it smell like?"
"Well, it's a light, citrus-based scent....very manly but not overpowering.  You ought to buy it---you'll like it."

I had been worn down.  I bought it.  But before I left her, I asked the question that was proving to be impossible to answer, even to those "in the trade".....
"How does a guy apply after shave to his face in a spray bottle?"
She thought a minute before giving me her considered answer...

"I don't know."

I didn't even get to look for the deep cooker Cindy wants.  I was too tired, worn down, hungry....and I had to pee.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yearbooks.......



My Mom, From Her 1940 Senior Yearbook
Cindy and I had a nice weekend visit with my mom week before last.  As always, we ate too much and had too much fun talking with the other residents of her retirement community.



My Dad, From His 1935 Senior Yearbook
There was also lots of good reminiscing with my mom about the old days.

Yearbooks Grouped---Furman University (ME), Hyde Park High School (Mom), Woodrow Wilson High School (Dad), and Clinton (TN) High School (Cindy)
After one such discussion, Cindy and mom went to "clean up" the mess that mom's storage room had become.  While there, Cindy ran across some old high school yearbooks of my dad and mom.  This is a family treasure, and of course I immediately asked if I could have them.  The answer was yes.

Remember How All Your Friends Would Sign Your Yearbook and Write Something Clever?
My dad graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Texas in 1935.

Cindy's Senior Picture From Her Yearbook
Mom graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Illinois in 1940.  How these two came to meet is another story for another day.

I have my college yearbooks---all 4 years--- and Cindy has her senior yearbook.  Put together, they make a pretty impressive catalog of our lives as young adults.

Me, From My College Senior Yearbook
But, you know, now that I am gettin' a little older, I wonder what will happen to these family jewels when we pass on.  Kinda' sad, really, to think there is no one in our family who ever expressed a desire to have these pages of history of the way we were.

Maybe someone'll sell 'em on ebay and get a few bucks for them and they'll end up in some flea market as a curiosity.....hmmmph.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Outside the Box.......


Albert Einstein said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking used when we created them".

The great man also said "Imagination is more important than knowledge".

A few days back I posted a list of movie reviews.  One of the flicks I reviewed was Moneyball.  In the review I stated that this is a "must see" movie, and that, although the subject matter is about the game of baseball, the meaning of the film goes far beyond a game.  It is really about how we as human beings are trained to think. 

Many is the time---back when I was constantly traveling on business---that I wondered if the folks who designed the hotels business people stay in ever stayed in them themselves.  I don't think they did; because if they did, the rooms would not have been designed the way they were/are.  Examples---mirrors located in the wrong places...not enough electrical outlets...TV is too small...not enough lighting, air conditioner/heater hard to regulate, air conditioner/heater designed so that the curtain hanging over it traps the air...etc, etc, etc.

They keep making hotel rooms the same way they have always made them.  It's the only way they have ever made them and the only way their brains know how to make them.  God forbid anyone ever steps out of their stupor and actually designs a room that is comfortable and convenient for the guest.  Oh, my gosh!  Somebody shoot me!!!

A few years ago I was president of our Sunday school class.  It was a large and pretty dedicated group.  Before I became leader, the accepted practice of scheduling someone to lead the class in prayer at the end of the instruction was for the president to go around, hat in hand, asking/begging for someone to lead the prayer at the end of the meeting.  Now, understand that we are Methodists, so---unlike Baptists, for instance---there were many in the group who would refuse to lead the class in a 10-second closing prayer.  It was maddening.  I quickly got tired of this and one Sunday I stood if front of the group and told them that from now on we would be signing up to do the closing prayer in advance, and that once you were signed up for a particular Sunday, you would be held to that promise.  My gosh---it worked perfectly!  No more begging.  No more being turned down.  I did something different!  And it worked spectacularly!  "Outside the Box!"

I read of an apartment builder who noticed that when he built sidewalks around new aprtments he had constructed, within a short time, there were paths worn in the grass between buildings.  People were not using the sidewalks, but were instead taking the shortest route between buildings.  Guess what---he began waiting several months after constructing the buildings to see where the paths were worn in the grass---and then he layed the sidewalks over where the people were actually walking.  Beautiful!  Thinking "outside the box!"

Jack LaLanne
Back in the 1940s, everyone told Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru, that lifting weights would lead to muscleboundness and heart attacks.  He knew differently, and started the nation's first chain of exercise spas.  He revolutionized not only the fitness industry but also changed the way America's "experts" thought about fitness.  He was "Outside the Box".

Dr Dean Ornish
In the late 1970s, Dr Dean Ornish began to show how lifestyle and dietery changes can reverse heart disease.  He was roundly criticized as a heretic.  Why?  Because he dared to think "outside the box" and he differed with "experts" of the day.  Today, of course, he is recognized as a great reformer.

Dick Fosbury and His "Flop"
In 1968, an American high jumper named Dick Fosbury won the gold medal at the summer Olympics in Mexico City by using a new and radical "back first" technique that has since revolutionized the event.  At the time, he was considered by experts to be a fluke.  Today, all high jumpers use his technique, called the "Fosbury Flop".  He was thinking "outside the box".

Can you think of instances in your life where thinking "outside the box" has led to success?  And praytell---why don't we do a lot more of it?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Do You Like Being A Good Citizen?.......

Well, do ya?  Ha.

I think it's a very good, simple question....but on further review, I guess it isn't after all.

I mean....what exactly does "good" mean?  Some might say that it means to "go along with the program", as in "don't rock the boat".  There were a few bosses in my professional past who asserted that I was not a "team player".  To them, if one were not going along, one was not getting along.

On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson said he thought "each generation should have its own revolution". 

Does a good citizen speak out against the system when he/she thinks the system is wrong?  Or does a good citizen stay silent and make the best of her/his life?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Movie Reviews.......

Cindy and I rarely go to the movies.  It costs too much, and the popcorn and soft drinks we enjoy during the flick cost too much, too.

So, what we do is wait for the good movies to come out on DVD and watch them at home.  We have a large, flat screen TV with a great sound bar that mimics theater sound.  We pop the disc in and sit back with our cheap movie, cheap homemade popcorn and cheap soft drinks and enjoy the movie anytime we choose.  Aaaahhhhhhhh.........life is gooood.

This past couple of weeks we have been blessed to watch six truly entertaining movies.  I liked all of them and recommend them.  Here are my notes.......

1.  Take Shelter (2011)

---Stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain
---Directed by Jeff Nichols
---Plot:  A young husband struggles to interpret a series of apocalyptic visions, and how to shelter his family and himself
---Notes:  Story revolves around the issue of mental illness combined with true apocalyptic events, which makes for a real mental quandary for the viewer.  Great acting.  Great special effects.  Much to discuss with fellow viewers after the credits.

2.   Drive (2011)

---Stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Albert Brooks
---Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn.  Refn received "Best Director" award at the Cannes Film Festival.  The film itself received a standing ovation at the festival.
---Plot:  A Hollywood stunt driver moonlights as a getaway driver.
---Notes:  Outstanding acting.  Gosling plays a strong, quiet, violent type.  Reminiscent of McQueen and Eastwood roles.  Extreme violence.  Very well done and entertaining.  Do not watch if you cannot stand violence.

3.  Moneyball (2011)

---Stars Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
---Directed by Bennett Miller---Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture
---Plot:  Based on the 2003 book of the same name.  This is the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics' baseball season and the efforts of their general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) to field a competitive team by thinking "outside the box" and making decisions not in alignment with traditional baseball thinking.
---Notes:  A "must see" movie.  There are lessons in this film that go far beyond baseball.  The lessons apply to how we are trained to think in rigid, dogmatic ways.  A great, true story.  Great acting.  Cindy does not like sports, but she loved this movie.

4.  50/50 (2011)

---Stars  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Angelica Huston
---Directed by Jonathan Levine.  Nominated for 2 awards at the 69th Golden Globe Awards.  Gordon-Levitt was nominated for Best Actor.  The film was nominated for Best Picture
---Plot:  A 27 year old professional man (Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with cancer and learns that his odds of survival are 50/50.  The film explores the actions of friends, relatives and romantic interests toward the cancer patient.
---Notes:  Sad, funny, all-too realistic depiction of the world of serious illness.  You certainly learn who your friends are---and aren't.  I'll give the ending away, however---it's happy.  Very good flick.  Great acting. 

5.  Ides of March (2011)

---Stars Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood
---Directed by George Clooney
---Plot:  This is a political drama encompassing a two week time period during the Ohio democratic primary.  The film depicts the rough, down-and-dirty strategies of the opposing political camps and involves high drama
---Notes:  The acting in this film is sensational...some of the best I have seen in a while.  If I didn't care for Clooney before, I love the guy now.  Much high drama is involved in showing the dirty, dog-eat-dog side of politics

6.  Midnight in Paris (2011)

---Stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni, Adrien Brody and Michael Sheen
---Directed by Woody Allen
The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay and received four Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay and Best Art Direction
---Plot:  This is a romantic comedy.  An American couple spending time in Paris finds their world taking an unexpected turn as Gil (Owen Wilson) discovers a hidden, magic world of living Parisian lore.
---Notes:  Superb acting.  Delightful story.  Much wry humor and an honest look at interactions between lovers.  Great direction.  The first Woody Allen film I ever liked---and I LOVE this one.  Much to discuss at the end.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Do These Famous People Have in Common?

Name                               Age At Death                           Profession

Nick Adams                          37                              Actor
John Belushi                         33                               Comedian
Len Bias                               23                               Basketball Player
Charles Boyer                      79                               Actor
Ken Caminiti                        41                               Baseball Player
Truman Capote                    60                               Writer
John Cassavetes                   60                               Actor/Director
Kurt Cobain                         27                               Musician
Tommy Dorsey                     51                              Musician
Chris Farley                         33                               Comedian
Judy Garland                        47                              Singer/Actress
Margaux Hemmingway        42                              Actress
Jimi Hendrix                         28                              Musician
Abbie Hoffman                    53                               Political Activist
Billie Holiday                       44                               Singer
Whitney Houston                 48                               Singer
Howard Hughes                   71                               Industrialist
Andy Irons                           32                               Surfer
Michael Jackson                  51                               Singer
Janis Joplin                           27                               Singer
Jack Kerouac                       47                               Author
Dorothy Kilgallen                52                               Journalist
Alan Ladd                            51                               Actor
Heath Ledger                       29                               Actor
Bruce Lee                            33                           Actor/Martial Artist
Anna Nicole Smith              40                  Actress/Playboy Playmate
Billy Mays                           51                              Sales/Pitchman
Joseph McCarthy                49                               Politician
Jim Morrison                       28                               Musician
Marilyn Monroe                  36                               Actress
River Phoenix                     23                               Actor
Darrell Porter                      50                              Baseball Player
Elvis Presley                       42                              Singer
Freddie Prinze                     23                              Actor/Comedian
Sid Vicious                          22                                Musician
Sara Teasdale                      49                                   Poet
Ike Turner                           76                                Musician
Dinah Washington              39                                 Singer
Amy Winehouse                 28                                 Singer

This list is made up of only those people with whom I am familiar.  The list grows steadily and surely.

If one were to Google "Drug Overdose Famous People", one would discover thousands of names.

Your thoughts?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Deadwood, Wall Drugs, Mother Nature, Kansas City and Home.......

Downtown Deadwood.  We Had The Town All to Ourselves
Day six of our winter adventure involved moving from our motel in Gillette, Wyoming to newer digs in Deadwood, South Dakota---a move of only a few miles, but a total upgrade in luxury. 

Aaahhhhh, yes---this was the life I envisioned for myself.....lodging at a downtown casino hotel where the grub was good and plentiful in the all-night restaurant; where scantily clad waitresses and casino workers existed only for the purpose of making moi feel appreciated.


Cindy Shot This Pic Of A Mannequin (I Think?) In The Window Of A Downtown Deadwood Hotel.  I Think It Had Formerly Been  A House Of Ill Repute In Deadwood's Glory Days
Of course, the Cinderoo and I were just about the only people there, seein' as how it was 5 degrees outside and the streets were solid ice. 

"What in the sam hill are you folks doin' here this time of year?, asked the nice lady at the registration desk.

I had my answer down pat by this time, having had to respond to that same query several times over the course of the past week.  "I always wanted to see Devil's Tower".   I always got the same look when I said those words, and I very much enjoyed getting that reaction---loosely translated, that look meant "What mental institution did you escape from?"



Deadwood is an interesting and historic town.  On a memorable evening in 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead at a poker table at Saloon # 10 in downtown Deadwood.  He was playing five card draw poker at the time, and the hand he held was aces and eights, which has since become known as "the dead man's hand".  If you play poker, you don't wanna be holdin' aces and eights.

Anyhooo, I digress.  We spent two days in Deadwood, roaming the almost deserted streets, prowling through the shops and casinos.  We don't gamble much, but we do enjoy sitting in the gaming halls and people watching.  We ate like kings at the ubiquitous buffets.  We napped.  Our only discomfort was when we ventured out into the streets because we had to contend with the ice.  It's a wonder we didn't fall down. 

Typical Snow Bank
On the morning of day number eight, we checked out of our hotel and set sail for Omaha.  Interstate 90 was clear enough, although it was still around 10 degrees and snow drifts along the roadside were ten feet.  When we got to the tiny burg of Wall, South Dakota, we stopped to visit the legendary Wall Drug Store. 

Me, Getting Ready to Explore the Legendary Wall Drug Store
Now, my friends, I do not have enough space to adequately describe Wall Drug Store.  It's one of those things you must see to believe.  The history of it is rich.  Bottom line is that it is the largest, most unique place of its kind anywhere.  It is a combination drug store, restaurant, art gallery (with hundreds of pieces of western art), chapel, knife shop, clothing store, woodworking display shop, and so much more. 

Me, Chatting With A New Wooden Friend Inside Wall Drugs
I was dumbfounded as I munched on a delicious burger from the restaurant.  And once again we were almost alone because the weather was keeping everyone but us crazy Texans (at the time) at home in front of a fire.  If you have not been to Wall Drugs, please put it on your bucket list.

Inside Wall Drugs
Back on the road to Omaha.  The weather was turning really bad.  Snow was now coming down in dense sheets.  We got to our hotel in Omaha just as darkness fell. 

We Had Several Hundred Miles Of THIS---And Remember, This is an Interstate Highway!

The next morning we were advised by hotel workers not to try to drive on the interstate.  It was still open, but the highway patrol was considering closing it because of the ice and snow.  Other travelers in the hotel lobby were canceling their planned travel in favor of staying another night in the hotel.  Not us.  I spent half an hour cleaning the snow off our trusty chariot, which was now a tried and true veteran of the most severe road wars. 

Windy, Too
We struck out southward at 9:00.  Driving about 30 miles an hour most of the way, we set our sights for Kansas City.  I figured if I could get us that far, we could make it home the following day.  The roads were barely passable because of the ice and snow.  It was pretty scary.  We stopped for gas at a little roadside station and the attendant there was so worried about us that he asked us to please call him when we got home so he could stop fretting over our fate.  Cindy did call him when we arrived alive.

We will never forget that day on the road, with the conditions so bad, with other cars and trucks scattered off the roadway for miles and miles as we slowly plodded southward.

As we neared Kansas City, the weather began to improve.  We stayed overnight there, and awoke the next day to warming weather and clear roads.  We sailed out of the wintry pall and into the sunshine.  North Texas and home lay ahead.  And the best vacation we ever had was planted in our memory forever.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gillette, Mother Nature, Devil's Tower and Mt Rushmore.......


After our adventure of gassing up in 0 degree, hurricane force wind, we bravely (as in trembling) set our course northward on the two-lane shoulderless state road that led to our night's destination:  Gillette, Wyoming.






We only had to drive about 80 more miles to get there, but the elements were serious business.  I did my famous white-knuckle grip act on the steering wheel.  The good news was that I did know how to drive on ice.  Steady speed of 40 MPH, very little accelerator or brake play.  Take what Mother Nature gives ya.


We were stunned to see train after train pass us headed south,  about every ten minutes apart.  The trains were long, and filled with freshly mined coal from the Gillette mines.  You'd have to see it to believe the scope of it.

Cindy Shot This Pic in The 5 Degree, 50 MPH Wind as We Entered Gillette.  She Later Submitted it to USA Today, and It Was Published as a Unique Photograph
We made Gillette as dusk was settling in.  We were exhausted.  We hit the hay early, for tomorrow was a big day---we were going to Devil's Tower.



You may have visited Devil's Tower---but I bet it was not in the winter!  Remember the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"?  Much of that movie was filmed near Devil's Tower, which is America's first national park.

We lunched the next day at a nice little eatery right outside the entrance to the national park.  There was no one else there except the owner and the cook.  We had burgers over a nice conversation with the owner.  I think she was glad to be able to talk with someone in the winter.  She said they were always busy in the summer but winters were sometimes a little slow.

Devil's Tower is remarkable.  You have to see it up close to appreciate its enormity and uniqueness.  We spent some time taking pics from the base of the structure and then drove leisurely around the park.  There is a huge prairie dog town on the park grounds, and the entire area teems with deer.  The experience was phenomenal.



The next day we drove to Mount Rushmore, where four US presidents are etched in granite for posterity.  I must say that the mountain and the sculptures in winter made as lovely and striking a photograph as I have ever seen.  We were the only people in the park that day---except for a park ranger who had a nasty disposition and tried her best to give rangers everywhere a bad name.

Deer And Other Wildlife Teem Around the Devil's Tower

Next Post:  Deadwood, Wall Drugs, Mother Nature, Kansas City and Home

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Winter Vacation to Remember.......

Pike's Peak From Our Hotel Parking Lot
Cindy and I like to do things spontaneously.  Often, one of us will be sitting there, reading something, and suddenly blurt out "Let's go on a trip!"

Of course, this routinely results in fun, adventure........and PROBLEMS.....which, I suppose, is part of the charm.

Like the time we decided on a Thursday afternoon to take a jaunt from our home near Dallas, Texas for a few days vacation in El Paso, some 570 miles to the west.  Unfortunately for the all too eager travelers, Clint neglected to check the weather forecast and the dynamic duo ended up in a blizzard at night near Odessa with  literally hundreds of cars and eighteen wheelers scattered across the interstate.  How in God's name we reached a hotel I do not know, but we did.  Praise the Lord.  Friends back in Texas still remind us of our foolhardiness, but we ended up with memories no one could ever duplicate.

But today's post is actually about a spontaneous trip we took back in early December of 2009.  I'm sittin' there, watchin' TV or some such mindless enterprise, when these unplanned words erupted from my maw:  "I always wanted to see Devil's Tower!---let's go tomorrow!"

Fortunately, Cindy is not the voice of reason, so she was ready to go right then.

With no planning, we piled stuff in the car the next morning and departed for the great expanse of prairie to the north and west.  By 5:00 that afternoon, we made Amarillo in north Texas. 

It was there we got our first jolt of bad news---there was a monster winter storm headed down from the Pacific northwest and it was going to hit right along our route in two days.  I thought back to what my friend Duane told me when he heard of our travel plans:  You're crazy!  Well, maybe so, I thought to myself.....but Duane should know by now you can't argue with an idiot.  Ha.

The next day started badly.  Yours truly got a speeding ticket just north of Amarillo.  From there, we motored across the vast Texas and Colorado plains to Colorado Springs.  We got a hotel that had a magnificent view of Pike's Peak.  The roads were beginning to fill up with an icy, snowy frost.  So far, so good.  This was fun!   But, in the back of my mind I was wondering what I was going to do about that approaching monster storm.  Oh well, I thought---can't turn back now! 

The next morning, we struck out up the interstate toward Denver.  We stopped there for breakfast.  Locals in the eatery warned us not to continue.  The storm was going to hit that afternoon with tons of ice and snow and something else---hurricane force winds. 


Just north of Casper, Wyoming, we exited the interstate and took a two-lane rural road toward Gillette.  Fantastic views of herds of antelope grazed near the road.  Panoramic views of America stretched out in every direction.  We stopped for gas about 100 miles from Gillette.  That's when the monster storm hit---and the fun began.

Picture Says It All....
The temperature dropped from 30 degrees to zero and the wind was a steady 50 miles per hour with gusts of 70 MPH

Unfortunately, I had to stop for gas at a little country station.   The ground was solid ice and the wind made it almost impossible to remain upright.  I couldn't get the gas pump to work---it had frozen up.  I finally got the manager inside the store to get the pump working---thank God.  He asked us what the devil we were doing out in that weather.  I told him I always wanted to see Devil's Tower.  I can still see the look on his face.  Ha.

Next Post:  Gillette, Devil's Tower, and Mighty Mother Nature

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Do You Blog?.......

It's 6:00 AM.  I Have My Mornin' Joe and My 'Puter.  Let's Go Bloggin'!
In June of 2010 my wife, Cindy told me I should begin a blog.  She had started one a few months earlier and was enjoying the experience.  I had not considered beginning a blog because I was keeping a daily diary of my/our experiences, and the entries were often lengthy.  I guess I just didn't think I had time to do a blog and a diary at the same time...plus, I kinda' thought doing both would be somewhat redundant.

But, then I got to thinkin' that a blog would offer me the opportunity to express whatever was on my mind on a particular day---not limiting me to just my activities.  This appealed to me.

So, I started my blog.  At first, I didn't know anything at all about "followers" and such.  I was simply writing for the benefit of expressing myself. 

After a few weeks, people started to comment on my ramblings.  It was kinda' nice to see what others thought about my topics.  Then, I started commenting on the posts of others, and I began to follow some other blogs of interest.

I quickly noticed that about 80% of bloggers are female.  Not sure why that is, except maybe that women are more attuned to feelings and expression than men.   Anyway, a few months after I was in full swing on my blog, I got a note from a woman whose blog I followed, and the note read thusly:

I don't mean to offend you, but my blog is for women only.  Also, to honor my husband I would appreciate it if you would remove yourself from my followers.

Well, this was certainly a jolt to me.  Fortunately, this turned out to be the only time anything like this occurred.

What started off being a leisurely way to express myself on any subject at any time, soon evolved into a world of its own.

Some observations:

---Bloggers are more intelligent than the average bear
---Family and personal friends seem to actively avoid reading my blog
---Most bloggers are extremely supportive of each other
---Most blog posts are upbeat and optimistic in nature
---Bloggers are incredibly attuned to political correctness
---Bloggers are a faithful bunch
---Blogging is like building a scrapbook of your life

---I occasionally "hit a wall" and writer's block rears its ugly head.  I have to "get away" for a few days when this happens.

---There can be a temptation to write in such a way as to appeal to others.  I resist this because my blog is, foremost, a recording of my own demented mind....and I don't want to appear to be sane.

Why do YOU blog?  What are your thoughts?