Friday, April 24, 2015

Use it or lose it? I say use it!

Exercise is extremely important to prolong health.  The women in this photo exercise 5 or more times a week.
I wrote about our trip to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado recently and one startling fact stood out to both my bride and I.  There is an obesity epidemic here in Baytown.  Wait a second, don’t stop reading; not yet anyway.  I’ll try not to be offensive.

Granted we only met 5 Texans on our 1 week long trip, as maybe 50% of the people I talked to were from other countries and almost to the person, they were thinner than what is the norm here.  The other 49% were Yankee snow birds and for the most part, thinner also.  But of those 5, 3 were over weight.

I guess Tex-Mex food is the culprit, or maybe it is our high summer humidity.  The winters are wet and cold also.  We have a high spring and fall pollen count!  Yes, that’s why we all stay inside and eat… a lot.  It’s simply not our fault that we can’t get in shape.

I've been threatening (myself) to run a 5k, so I did. However, my mile times were dismal. I jogged the whole time and ended up the 3.1 mile course with 11.24 per mile. I probably could have picked it up, but I needed a baseline. BTW, the Blue Heron Park pond loop is .68 miles around. 1K is .62, so each lap is a good 1K. 9 times around is 6.1 miles or just short of a 10K.

Back in my prime, I ran a sub 6 minute mile on a regular basis and often went under 9 minutes for the mile and a half.  So 11.24 for a mile seems very slow to me.  As an adult, I ran many 10K fun runs and that’s what they were, as I wasn’t competing.  I was always happy to finish the 6.2 miles in under 48 minutes.  I’ve always contended that if you jog a mile in under 8 minutes, you are no longer jogging, but running.  Maybe some coach or trainer can correct me?

I tried to find out who coined the term “use it or lose it” with no luck, but the definition is this:  If a person doesn't exercise his or her physical body, he or she will likely lose strength, stamina and endurance.  Note: Thank the Lord, Hanoi Jane didn’t coin it.

Now this is the test part.  If you can’t get off the couch at 40, you will be pushing a walker by the time you are in your 50’s.  My Vietnam Veteran buddy Ren Fitts has quite a few war-related injuries and although not an old man, he was headed for total knee replacements.  What jerked him sideways was when the doctor told him he had better get used to the idea of using a walker, because the next step is a wheel chair.  This scared him and the man doesn’t scare easily.

Guess what?  Ren joined the gym and began using the swimming pool and treadmill.  The pounds are coming off and so is the pressure on his knees.  His wife is discovering amazing results also.  Ren is a big guy and needs to get more weight off, but he is doing something about that due to his new vision of what he needs to do.  The doctor now tells him he doesn’t need full knee replacements and his surgery will be in and out with a great recovery time.

The Spin class set up to face each other for
competition doing sprints.
At 62, I still have some 10,000 meter fun runs in my future.  My 5000 meter run was just the beginning, but only I can make myself do it.  I have to use it or lose it.  At one time, like karate, running was my life.  Like Mr. Gump, if I was going somewhere, I ran.

I talked to a lady on the pond track the other day and told her about a software App called “Map my run”.  It’s free and once installed on your phone, it will track your time, distance and it even has the route mapped out.  She hopes to run again some day and I told her when she can walk a mile in under 15 minutes, she should consider jogging.

She worried about her knees and was indeed over-weight, but I told her when she can get under 15 minutes, that weight won’t be there.  Every pound you can remove brings relief to those knees.  Use it or lose it folks.  If things have progressed to the point that walking and running are too hard on your joints, go do the pool exercise.  When the strength comes back and the pounds fall off, you will be surprised what you can do again.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism - an article by Helen Snider

Vietnam Veterans, Alcoholism, and a New Perspective

Every Vietnam veteran is a hero but it would seem that not everyone remembers that: In fact, the issues faced by Vietnam veterans have been sorely overlooked by the central Government since the end of the conflict and this continues to this day. Approximately nine million American men entered military service during the lengthy process of the Vietnam war (which has the dubious honor of being America’s longest war) and yet public spending on veterans has been consistently low and consistently inconsistent (with the average vet in Boston receiving $25,000 per annum in benefits, whilst the average vet in Cape Cod receives just $5,500 per annum in benefits, for example). This poor treatment has served to exacerbate feelings of being disconnected from society for some veterans, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug misuse, and other mental health disorders cause by trauma.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism

60 to 80 per cent of Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder
 (PTSD) are also presenting with some form of alcohol abuse. The Veterans Administration who primarily deal with the care of veterans from Vietnam conservatively estimate that between 500,000 and 700,000 of Vietnam veterans are still experiencing severe mental and social problems related to their experiences whilst they were in Vietnam. Significant numbers of this vast number of men are also alcoholics. In layman’s terms, these men are choosing to use alcohol to numb the pain and attempt to erase the memories of what they experienced when they were on active duty in Vietnam.  It is interesting that most veterans choose alcohol rather than illicit drugs, no doubt because of the socially acceptable nature of choosing to drink a beer or head to a bar: staying within the confines of the law and under the radar of what is societally normal is important here. It is clear, then, that alcoholism is a problem and has been a problem for many Vietnam Vets.

Treatment Options

Treatment plans for alcoholic veterans, particularly those veterans who are also presenting with some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, has always been vigorous and intensive. Often involving intensive therapy with a trained psychologist, the two conditions are treated simultaneously. Group counselling is recommended as the most successful form of treatment, which is generally offered in VA centers alongside other veterans, as many emotionally battered Veterans, particularly those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, struggle to trust or connect to others but find it easier to open up to and forge relationships with those that have experienced the same war time situations of themselves. The goal of those counselling sessions and treatment plans is to cure both the PTSD and the alcoholism with complete abstinence and sobriety.

Yet a new perspective posed by new research from the FDA could change that, although no one knows yet what impact this might have on veterans. Sobriety has always been the main goal of all alcoholic rehabilitation programs: this includes both expensive residential rehabilitation centers and the free AA support groups that are held in every town up and down the country. Now though the FDA have turned this on its head by suggesting that complete sobriety now doesn’t have to be the sole goal of treatment for alcoholism. In February they drafted an article that proposed that sobriety and complete abstinence was no longer essential for an alcoholic to no longer be considered ‘sober’: instead reduced drinking and consistent ‘non heavy drinking’ days would have the same effect. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that alcoholics are, by the very nature of their condition, unable to have just a drink or two and that they will always be vulnerable to the impact of ingesting alcohol regularly.                     

How this new report will affect the treatment plans of vulnerable Vietnam veterans is yet to be seen: the concept of allowing an alcoholic to still drink regularly seems counterproductive to the hard work of the therapy and counselling they have already undertaken. And these brave veterans who have already given so much for their country certainly don’t deserve to be used as guinea pigs to test this new theory from the FDA.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The bigger the lie

Politics.  Nothing has changed in all the hundreds of years that law makers have stood before the masses and projected themselves as “champions” of truth.  Americans went through about a 20 year period of head in the sand ignorance, but we are returning to the days of the Lincoln – Douglas debates; thank God.  This go around the main issue isn’t slavery, or immigration, or race relations.
It’s getting the United States of America back into the hands of the people voting and just like in the 1860’s Americans are wising up.  We are listening, but folks, let’s actually listen this go around.

Politicians in general are currently viewed as self-serving professional wallet-skinners and I am right there with this assessment.  As my Nigerian-born friend George Eligiri once told me about Nigerian politicians, “once they go back to make radical changes in the system, they are instantly corrupted and join the problem.”

I think the cancerous environment of law-making is so overwhelming; no one survives their initial intentions of making changes.  No politician, regardless of what their political flavor, can get anything accomplished without massive trade-offs or outright finagling.

Yes.  I said finagling and we’ve seen this so abundantly that it is almost expected.  Mrs. Clinton is a prime example.  Her trail is so littered with dubious and dishonest (either by commission or omission) finagling that she dismisses with an almost flippant sarcasm; belligerently daring anyone to question her.  The bigger the lie the more people will accept it.  On top of that, her erased email server screams guilt.  Her reaction is pure contempt that her integrity is even questioned.

“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

In my April first column, titled: “The dog catchers bacon”, I talked about a fictitious character who drove around in the shadows, basically identified only by his broad and friendly smile and the crispy bacon.  In the story, every hair on my head stood up in warning, but I was drawn in by his smile and the wonderful fragrance of his gifts.  These two wonders caused me to drop my guard, even though everything about the man was blatantly wrong.

In the parody, I somehow came to my senses before I gave up my two prized possessions (read my rights and property or if this doesn’t make sense, my two dogs).  The sneaky thief who almost beguiled me with false promises skedaddled in a cloud of smoke and I was so confused, I couldn’t even file a police report.  Thus I was manipulated for the whole process to repeat itself, most likely in another guise.  That is exactly how our political pundits survive to stay in a position of power.

The bigger their lie – Remember Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook”, or Hillary’s husband, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”?  J Edgar Hoover stayed in power for years by spying on everyone.  No one said a word when he was recognized at parties dressed as a woman – a very ugly woman too.  This was conservative America and folks we tight-lipped as a clam.  The bigger the lie the more people will accept it.

Has our President fulfilled any of the promises and hope that won him the vaunted Nobel Peace Prize?  He won it on hope and a promise.  In doing so, he devalued the prize exponentially, just like his crony Al Gore did.  The bigger the inconvenient truth the more people will accept it.

Giving these guys a Nobel Peace Prize pretty much means Ernest P. Worrell should be awarded one for bringing hope to children who feel they cannot excel.

My dogcatcher story was so preposterous, it became credible to some.  3 TV stations called me, the Baytown Sun, and even the Baytown Police Department’s Lt. Eric Freed for a follow up.  I was standing in Sedona, Arizona when my phone rang April 1st after the story ran.  “Is this Bert Marshall?  This is ____ at Fox News in Pennsylvania, we want to do a follow-up on the dog catcher story…”

I grinned and said, “Are you a journalist?”  She said she was and I told her it was a political satire piece for April Fools Day.  I heard her yell to someone, “Oh!  It’s an April Fools prank!”  She then hung up.  My first thought was, “Geeze, don’t journalist’s comprehend what they read any more?”

Nope, the bigger the lie the more people will accept it, so get ready to hear about a year’s worth of verbal dodgeball while we try to elect a pre-selected politician who actually cares about the people.  Oh, the quote in paragraph 6 is by the propaganda minister of the Third Reich, Joseph Goebbels and was paraphrasing from Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blood, Some Sweat, and Possibly… Fears?

I stood about a mile down the Bright Angel Trail inside the Grand Canyon in sunny Arizona and heard a 10 year old teary-eyed girl complain “We could have gone to Disneyland”.   Before her parents could reply, I said, “I felt the same way when I was your age, but now I realize my parents gave me experiences I could never duplicate in an amusement park.”

Her mom and dad just shook their heads knowingly and my beautiful bride and I turned and began the descent to the 1.5 mile house below.  My wife didn’t correct me for speaking out and I thank her for that, but what I said was the truth.  No man-made faux entertainment facade can duplicate God’s creations.   I know, as my Dad made sure I saw raw nature growing up as we meandered coast to coast.

The Bright Angel Trail begins at the rim the Grand Canyon and to put this place into perspective, let me relive my first glimpse into the giant crack. 

We drove my Jeep from Baytown to Clovis, New Mexico the first day – 700 miles.  That is a long way in a lifted Jeep running 4.88 gears and 35 inch tires.  Day two found us in incredible Sedona, New Mexico.  I say incredible because it is a Mecca of trails, hiking, and ATV off-roading and this appeals to the freedom-loving side of our psyche.

We wanted to hike to Cathedral Rock and not knowing the ins and outs, we were disappointed when the parking area was full.  We were redirected 2 miles away to the auxiliary parking lot.  To put it in plain English, I was PO’d, as in “not particularly happy”.  Well, it turned out that this redirect was a blessing in disguise, as the 4.5 hour round trip hike on the trail was exactly what we physically wanted.  It also prepped us for the big crack hike.

The other way was a round trip of about an hour and the easy way in and out and not at all what we wanted.  Sometimes our path is not our own, but exactly what we need.  Think about that a moment.  If I was a Bible preacher, that would preach.  It would preach good.  Adversity is actually our friend.

We wanted to do more there and we did, seeing ancient cliff dwellings and because of my Dad and Mom, I have an appreciation of such historical sites.  Wrapping up, we drove north for the Grand Canyon and the historic El Tovar hotel – the one where Teddy Roosevelt stayed – and Sir Paul McCartney.  Some of its attraction is lost on me though – like no elevator and almost non-existent Internet service.  Old Teddy probably didn’t notice.

Well, seeing we had already hiked through some clothes, we had to make a laundry run and this took a couple of hours after check in.  Neither my bride nor I wanted to hit the sack before seeing the actual Grand Canyon, so we stepped off the 100 yards or so to the rim behind the hotel to get our first look at the big crack.

Holy Evil Knievel!  Talk about something bigger than what you can imagine!

I immediately stepped back and took a deep breath.  I had a feeling of acrophobia, mixed with a healthy dose of vertigo after looking over the measly 4 foot stone wall.  Abyss!  Honest as the day is long, I looked down on the stone path next to me only to see where some soul had lost their supper.  I can’t think of a better way to explain what the first sight of the Grand Canyon is, than to say someone took one look and tossed their cookies.

To sum up a challenging and vigorous hike, my Bride I and carrying around 15 pounds of water each, made it to Indian Gardens and back in 7.5 hours.  That is a 3800 feet descent and back.  That year of training at the gym named after the clock paid off.  Although others do it faster, most don’t, regardless of their ages.

One bizarre observation I had visiting all the State Parks was the total lack of Texans.  We met only 5 in a week of travels, 3 of which were working concessions. I made it a point to question probably 60% of hikers we encountered.  Most were from other countries and continents,  Poles, Israelis, French, German, Russians, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Britain’s - you name it, we met them.

The rest of my encounters were Americans from the northern part of the US, escaping the cold.

Do American’s visit our national parks?  Are we shallow amusement park people only?  Are we really this plastic?  Are the YouTube videos of Americans being out of touch with everything except sports and the entertainment industry actually true?  We talked at length with a French couple at the highest point in Mesa Verde for a half hour and they had been touring America for… 5 months!

Do foreigners know more about our history and geography than we do?  I shudder to think this is true, but all evidence in our parks and historical sites points in this direction.  I want more.  I want to see and experience more of our history.  I don’t want to repeat it; I just want to recognize it.  I want to “be it”.

The drive to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado in my Jeep probably cost me twice the cost of gas of a passenger car, but we did it and we did it in American style.  I think the miles added up to over 3000 and we enjoyed every second of our American road trip.  Oh yea, the money we spent stayed in America too.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

It's all so clear now!

After reading about PAD, or peripheral arterial disease in Wednesday's Baytown Sun, I realized I must have this malady.  It all became so clear. Although this is sad news, it's actually good news because I can finally pinpoint all these weird and bizarre symptoms I occasionally (read: quite often) experience.

In case you skipped over (read: didn't bother to read) the informative article I'll 'splain it briefly.  “PAD is a common but serious form of vascular disease caused by a build up of plaque in the major arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your legs, feet, arms and pelvis”.

Common side-effects are: “cramp-like” leg muscle fatigue or heaviness, pain and discomfort that occur in the buttocks, thigh or calf muscles while walking or climbing stairs.  I can honestly and truthfully confess that I have these symptoms in Spin class and while hiking!  Especially the buttocks part and it usually starts about 30 minutes into the class.  My legs begin to have those classic cramp-like fatigue and heaviness symptoms too, especially when we do an extend five minute uphill pedal.  I can't for the life of me believe I didn't see this before.  I'm diseased!

Take last Tuesday for instance.  My Bride and I were out for a casual stroll in rocky Sedona, Arizona on the Slim Shady Trail (read: elevation 4500 feet).  I was carrying a small backpack with about 20 pounds of food water and supplies and it was a cool 55 degrees with the humidity around 20%.  No problem, right?  Wrong!

We hadn't gone (read: rocky trail climbing) more than 4 miles and I began to experience classic peripheral arterial disease symptoms!  In oil town plain speaking; my butt was aching, as were my feet, legs and lower back.  I know, I should have turned back, suffering from this disease, but I didn't.  I guess it was the majestic Cathedral Rock that mesmerized me into ignoring these symptoms - I can't say.

Up, up, and up we climbed until we were fairly close to the summit and all the time my buns, thighs, feet, and toes were burning.  I shifted the pack around and drank long from one of my water bottles as I stared at the giant red rock formations prevalent in the area.  I chuckled and remarked that "the locals ain't seen nuthin' till they've seen the Fred Hartman Bridge."  We both found this humorous for some reason.

We finished up the long hike back to my Jeep and danged if my Bride didn't complain of the very same symptoms!  On top of that, we both suffered a bout of lethargy!  We drove into Sedona and got a table at a place called Javelina Cantina. A hot plate of Arizona-style Mexican food partially restored us to our former healthy state.  I may just write the American Medical Association and explain that there may just be a healthy antidote for this PAD condition - Mexican food after heavy exertion.  It goes without saying that we both slept well.

Yesterday morning, ignoring the PAD symptoms we experienced only 2 days prior, we stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail... and began our descent to Indian Gardens 4.5 miles away.

Both of us were carrying close to 10 pounds of water and salty snacks and with walking sticks, the hike progressed fairly well, but each step down was the equivalent of putting on the brakes.  The incredible view made it easy to ignore the screaming thigh muscles as PAD began to rear its ugly head.  That is the only explanation I have for this condition - or is it?

The long hike down to Indian Gardens was nothing in comparison to the 4.5 hour hike back up the canyon trail.  As we neared the last mile and a half we encountered casual hikers who only planned to the do a smidgeon of the trail.  They were kicking up a lot of dust and that is when it hit me - I don't have PAD.  I don't have PAD any more than I have COPD - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

I was simply coughing because the air is dry and I'm breathing dust.  I don't have PAD; I have what is commonly called EXERTION.  My body was simply responding to the extreme demands I was placing on it and heavy exercise doesn't negate these pains; it allows you to experience them and recover.  Wow!  What a revelation!

Of course I know this and the point I am making is actually quite simple.  Why wait until your body is failing before you do something to reverse the trend?  The outer trails are there to lure people to challenge themselves and make no mistake, they challenged us.  However the many visits to the gym on a regular basis made our trekking possible, but if you think your legs and buttocks won't ache, forget it. 
There are good aches and bad aches.  We experienced the good ones.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The dog catcher’s bacon

I want to go on record and say I write this column with extreme trepidation.  Pet care is on my highest priority list and although everyone doesn’t see a pet as a family member to love and care for, many of us do.  Thus said, read on at your own discretion.

Recently I was in my front yard at 4am watching my two tiny dogs select the exact location they needed to do their business, when I spotted what looked like an official City of Baytown dog catchers truck creeping down the street.  The truck was idling with the head beams out and as it passed under the street light, I could make out a large smile on the driver’s face, as he scanned back and forth.

“Oh Lord a’mercy!” I squealed and called my two precious pups to me.  I didn’t have my doggies on a leash, as they were in my front yard, but I sure as the Dicken’s didn’t want a fine, so I ran backwards, my Ninja Turtles pajamers a’flappin’ and set them inside the front door.  I hoped in vain that the driver didn’t see me and my doggies, but alas, he ominously stopped in front of my house.

Now, like Jim Finley, I have successfully evaded the law probably one time too many, but when the cab light came on, I could plainly see the man was signaling me.  “Rats!  Busted!”  I looked back at my doe-eyed Shi-Tzu and Papillion/Pomeranian mix and it was if they knew we were in deep doo-doo.

Walking outside, I headed down the drive and came up to the passenger-side window.  The first thing that hit me was the heavenly smell of bacon and incense.  In a trusting voice sounding like Joe Biden, he said “Hello my friend.  Would you like a treat?”   

I was hesitant as the hooded man asked pointing at the huge box of fried bacon.  His accent was so odd; it took me a second to realize what he said, but that voice…

“Uh, what?” I muttered, as I leaned in and not taking my eyes off the hidden and shadowy apparition, I took a piece of bacon and mechanically began to chew.

“Aaa, you wanna give up dos doggies?”  He chuckled lightly after speaking and I found for some odd reason, I immediately trusted the fellow.  Helping myself to a second stick of savory fried pork, I finally said the first thing that came to mind.

“Uh, what do you mean friend?”  His infectious grin made me smile, even as I licked my fingers.  I had the desire to sit on my haunches, but remained upright.  I liked the guy.  He was someone I could trust.

“De dogs.  I catch de dogs.  I am the de best of de best of de best dog catcher.  I want dem dogs.”  Again the chuckle and danged if I didn’t chuckle with him.  That smile spoke wonders.  I realized it really didn’t matter what he said, as long as the bacon kept flowing and he kept smiling.

“Who are you and why are you out at this time of morning friend?” I blurted as I scratched behind my ear.  It was about this time that I heard the snuffing sounds coming from the back of his truck and looking closely, I could make out wet noses in the caged area.

His name was as unknown to me as his accent and I forgot it the second he said it – twice, as the first and last names were the same, but what he said next made me drop my bacon on the street.

“I am de best dog catcher in de five counties.  I catch de most dogs.  Tonight, I catch seven, but will have 3 or 2 time dat many before de people wakes up.  I love catching dogs so much, I sometimes lure dem right out de back yard with dis bacon.”  Although I couldn’t see his eyes for the shadows, the smile was as big as ever.

I was speechless, but the man was so friendly and engaging that it took a minute to realize the monstrosity of his statement.  Whoever said old dogs can’t learn was wrong.

“You work for the City of Baytown?” is all I can think of to say and the man chuckles again and I smile.

“No, I work for de highest bidder in (his voice is slightly muffled and I don’t really hear him) and dey buy de dog.  I sell maybe a hunerd a week.  Is good business.”

“Just in Baytown?  You grab a hundred dogs a week in Baytown?”  Now I was getting angry, but was still mesmerized by the man’s voice.

“Oh de heck no.  I drive all over de counties.  I jus do Baytown ever two week.”  He chuckles and I have heard all I can handle and grabbing a fist full of bacon, I step away and inform him I am “calling Johnny law!”

I wasn’t prepared for his response, but threw myself away from the truck when he lights up the back tires in a most god-awful rubber-burning exhibition which sets off car alarms on both sides of the street.  The smoking tires and dogs barking confused me to the point that I didn’t get a license plate or DOT number from the side of his truck, I’m sad to confess.

The cloying odor of burnt rubber and deep-fried bacon lingered long after the heinous dog thief was gone, but not the warning he left.  You see, it took all of that to wake up a sleeping neighborhood, as all of us think we are safe.  We are told repeatedly that we are and by honest looking people with soft voices and big smiles.  Keep your pets safe folks.  There are bad people out there.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another day or two in the hood

I saw an animal control truck slipping quietly through the hood this morning, as I went out to get my paper so I ushered my two doggies back into the house, right quick.  I like to believe I not only acknowledge the need for law and order, but align myself right regular.  The doggies doing their business in the front yard early in the morning is actually a crime though, as they are off the leash.

The rain started right after that and didn’t let up until 8PM.  My street suffered a rare occurrence in that the drains plugged up tighter than the payout on Ron Paul’s government payroll checks.  In other words, not a drop was drained from the street into the ditch.  Note: Ron Paul is the rare politician who doesn’t accept a paycheck for his service to the country.

I reckon that dog catcher “lit a shuck” when the rain came, but danged if I didn’t see him in the middle of the downpour chasing a little cur dog four hour later and to the little dog’s credit, it got plumb away.  It was soggier than Rosie O'Donnell’s tirades and like her, had its game face on.  That little wet doggie dang near had a smug look on its face, close as I could tell and I shook my head as it ran past the casa.

I think 6 inches of rain fell on us and over the course of the day; we probably could have handled it – except it just didn’t drain.  It collected and collected.  Somewhere around noon, I cranked up my lifted Jeep and drove down through it, sending a gentle wave up and over the curbs.  I had to.  I had to drive my Jeep in the water, something my bride doesn’t understand, even after living through 2 Jeeps.  I explained to her that it was a Jeep thing and she isn’t supposed to understand.

Down a ways where it was the deepest, two boys were swimming in the middle of the street and I eased up there to talk to their momma, who was standing under a tent-like plastic umbrella of clear material.  I guess the best way to describe her shelter would be to call it a clear plastic chifforobe and very unique and effective.

As I pulled up, she unzipped it to reveal she was videoing the event and I was later told it aired on channel 13 news.  I speculated the recent work by Harris County on the ditch across the way had possibly blocked off our drainage.  She didn’t know either, but obviously was enjoying watching her kids have a free swimming hole.  It turned out it was a “plugged crossover”, whatever that is.

Somewhere around 4PM, I stepped outside in the rain and a neighbor was in front of my house watching a lifted red Jeep with a snorkel come barreling toward my end of the street.  Now being a Jeeper, I know they were enjoying themselves, but what it looked like to the neighbors was anything but entertaining.  The Jeep was sending a wave of water on both sides up across their cars and halfway up into their yards.
He waved them down and exchanged words, and then they drove off.

I drove over close to him and he told me it “was two young women and the one driving, was drunk.”  His words, not mine.  I’ve been very vocal about this drinking and driving thing and I often say that anyone who drinks and drives is a fool, period.  Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t, but he thought she was, so in his mind what she was doing was dangerous and stupid.  It did look stupid to me too, as I had no idea if she could see for all the water she was throwing up.  I fully expected to see the Jeep run into one of the cars on the street she was burying in water.

Night fell and the water remained.  The next day a giant roto-rooter vehicle and a vacuum truck arrived and by the afternoon, the water had drained.  Of course this happened on a weekend; doesn’t it always?   Just another day or two in the hood.

Friday, March 20, 2015

To infinity and beyond!

 This past weekend, I drove up to Lubbock, Texas.  I’ve never been to Lubbock or Abilene for that matter.  I was driving my Jeep up there for the Texas Geocaching Challenge where geocachers from, well, all over the world, come to compete against each other to see who has the best team.  New Mexico and Colorado competed, as did one fellow from Great Britain.

Driving a lifted Jeep on 35 inch tires and cruising at 75 mph is an exhilarating experience.  I left Baytown at 3:30AM for the 600 mile trip and it was raining and thundering something fierce.  My tiny Shi-Tzu was shaking and I put her thunder jacket on her tiny body before I left and let her up into the bed with my sleeping bride.  My little Papillon/Pomeranian mixed doggie doesn’t seem to mind the booms, but likes it under the covers just fine.

It was raining Gulf Coast Texas style as I drove through sleeping Houston.  I wanted to “git gone” up 290 before the traffic wars started and with the downpour, I was glad to have the woman’s voice on my Garmin Nuvi nudge me up the correct paths.  It’s not that I don’t want to hear a man’s voice on the electronic destination device; it’s simply that it is clearer with the higher tone of a female voice.  Jeeps have come a long way since 1941, but quiet, they ain’t.  Well, it was quieter inside the cab before the off-road modifications, lets just say.

It was still pouring when I reached Cypress and in the opposing lane I watched a car coming toward me with the driver’s side front wheel folded up under the broken ball joint and it was sending a rooster tail of sparks out behind it.  The fellow driving it was still doing about 50 mph and I watched him in my rear view mirror until he was distant.  It’s a good thing it was raining, or he couldn’t have accomplished that idiotic feat without a fire.

Somewhere around daylight, the sun rose behind me as I passed through Waco and seeing I had never been there also, all I could wonder about was the David Koresh compound “Mount Karmel”.  I guess in all his wisdom, he didn’t realize a “mount” is a volcano and not a hill and he should have called the place Mont Koresh.  He might still be alive if he did.  It is indeed sad that a historic town like Waco should be associated with the Branch Davidian fiasco instead of all the other stuff that happened there in Texas history.

Hamilton, Comanche, Cross Plains, and finally Abilene – which a loop took me around it without me actually seeing the city.  Cattle drives and Indians.  According to Western scholar Louis L’Amour, the Comanche Indian was something no one wanted to encounter.  These plains are something to see.  Miles and miles of open air and I liked it.  In my mind’s eye, I could see millions of bison being chased by the Native American Mongol descendants, arrows flying and big animals collapsing.

I’ve never beheld a wind turbine in action, but when I came to Roscoe, Texas, which incidentally is home to the largest array of wind turbines almost anywhere, I got an eyeful.  Wow!  They are huge and there are almost 700 of them.  All around the array is evidence of last year’s cotton crop and I stopped and grabbed a stick of cotton for my office collection.  Evidently some cotton harvesters are more efficient than others, as some fields were very messy with missed cotton in abundance.  I imagine birds love the stuff for their nests, as do the mice and rats.

Lubbock has a large prairie dog population and a dedicated park where you can get very close to the little short-tailed dirt rats.  They stand on their hind legs and randomly make a high-pitched barking/chirping sound for no apparent reason that I could tell.  Watching them reminded me of The View for some reason.  While at the competition, which our Southeast Texas Team took third place, I saw a fox running like its tail was on fire and a cock pheasant in a cotton field.  I haven’t seen either of these animals in a long time and enjoyed the view.

The actual competition pitted the 6 regions of Texas against each other to find as many of the 75 (estimate) hidden geocaches as they could in 4 hours of brutal dash like you’re crazy frenzy, in which I was the driver for my part of my team.  Even with all the places we went, I still managed to put over 18,000 steps on my Garmin Fitbit in those 4 hours and that is a lot of walking and running in such a short amount of time.  Our little group found 36, which was pretty good.

There were so many geocaches hidden around town that we often didn’t see any other competitors.  Now to clarify, none of these geocaches counted against our real statistics.  They were put out for the competition only and are now probably removed.

I pulled out for the drive home Sunday morning again at 3:30AM and punched into my Nuvi to take me home.  Well, Garmin in all its wisdom, routed me down through Brownwood of all places, but in the end, it was about the same 600 miles and after the sun came up, I saw some of Texas I had never visited and yes, found a few more geocaches on my way back to beautiful Baytown.


Friday, March 13, 2015

E-cigs, Vaping, and second hand smoke

On my desk is a book from my personal library “Tobacco – A cultural history of how an exotic plant seduced civilization.”  And yes, this column is about smoking, but before you lose interest, there is indeed something in it for everyone, so please read on.

Having been a past smoker who began experimenting with tobacco at the young age of 7, I bought this book in January of 2004 and read all 387 pages.  Now, I am not going to bore you with a bunch of stuff you can read on Wikipedia or by using a search engine, but rather make an appeal of sorts.  The book covers everything in great detail.

Like I’ve said more than once, I repair computers and on occasion I will get one from a smoking household and there is a major difference in them and all the others.  Opening this one up in my garage to try and clean out the inside, as it positively reeked of cigarette residue, I discovered what can only be described as a brown sticky mess.

Needless to say, it was dead.  Real dead.  Ruined and I couldn’t help but draw an analogy to the human lungs of anyone living with a smoker.  I write “living with a smoker” because this desktop does not smoke cigarettes. 

At some point in my observation, I realized I didn’t start smoking at 7 years old; I started smoking the day I was brought into a smoking household.  By the time I began lighting up my own cigarettes, I had already been inhaling smoke, tar, and nicotine for 7 years.

Am I attacking tobacco smokers with this week’s column?  No, not in the least; I am making an appeal.  There is an alternative and its called vaping.  To keep my column manageable, please read about it here:

I had to see it to understand how it works and of course, I am not a scientist, so I cannot say that it is safe – it is just safer than smoking tobacco conventionally.  It is considerably cheaper also.  One person explained to me that a carton of smokes was about $60 plus, while the same amount of “juice” for a vaporizer is about 8 bucks or so.

While I was at the gym, I came out of the steam room and plopped down on a bench next to a fellow close to my own age named George.  After a moment of conversation, he said he was a long time smoker and was having trouble breathing.  I asked him if he tried vaping, as one of my friends from high school had educated me on it.  He said he had tried it without success.  I told him my friend explained that the vaporizing device (atomizer) is the key and a good one is a hundred bucks or more.

If you are a smoker or someone who lives with this addiction is one of the largest forums on the Internet for electronic cigarettes. It is comprised of thousands and thousands of daily active members.

If you are still reading this column and believe I am promoting tobacco smoking, you are drawing the wrong conclusion.  I do however feel compassion for those who smoke, having been addicted.  My sole intention is educate those who want to quit smoking and stop smelling like, well, stinking.  There is no nice way to say it.

The reason cigarettes became the standard for smoking over dipping, snuffing, cigars, and pipes is the paper-rolled version is the most efficient nicotine delivery device – until the eCig came along.

A 5 minute cigarette would normally push back the cravings for a spell, but now with the atomizer, a nicotine addict can have a hit or two anytime they need it and no one is offended – unless they interpret the “cloud” of exhaled vapor for smoke, which it simply is not.  E juice “smoke” has a pleasant odor or none at all and to experience it first hand is simply amazing.  It is not smoke at all, but water vapor and that is why it is called a cloud.

There are some well-meaning people who would like to criminalize tobacco usage, but I am not one of them.  I think if you want to smoke, it is your business, but get educated and if you have smoked for long, you are most likely trying to stop.  The eCig way may be the safest and cheapest route and you won’t stink or endanger those around you while you take this path.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Looking for an adventure?

I read the news sources available on the Internet maybe four or more times a day and for starters, I watch KPRC with Owen and Rachelle to get the local stuff.  Including the changing and erratic weather and traffic reports, almost everything is doom and gloom.  You know that and I “ain’t tell you nuthin’” you don’t already know.

I am amazed on a daily basis that in this whole great big world, this is all that makes the news.  I mean , seriously?  Isn’t there something worth reading besides Kanye West speaking at Oxford University?  Your opinion of this man’s genius may differ from my own, but I can’t help but believe everyone in attendance didn’t leave with less brain cells than they had when they sat down.

I wish I was one of the millions of men, women, and children who get their vicarious adventure fix by watching organized sports (not really, but it would probably help satisfy my urges).  I mean I could spend thousands of hours memorizing stats and shopping for jerseys and stuff, but alas, that doesn’t do it for me.

Well, there are all the events where thousands of anxious people gather and revel to live music and massive amounts of food, or book a cruise to go where everyone else has gone before…  Nope.  It just doesn’t sound appealing to me.

Maybe I should get a professional grade helmet and a GoPro camera and do something extreme, like ride a half-broke Cape Buffalo through a 6-foot high drainage pipe lined with punji stakes and copper-headed cobra rattlesnakes!  That would really be an adventure now wouldn’t it?  I could upload the video (or my bride could after my funeral) and it would have 16 quadzillion hits on YouTube and make the Today Show’s viral video list for maybe one day.

Of course, something as adventurous that video would be auto-tuned with music something like “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!” and become a comedy staple on the Internet, which incidentally would earn a tidy sum for my bride, book deals, maybe a movie...

The list of potential adventures is a mile long and according to the colorful advertisement on the cable box, real adventure is simply watching the many shows concerning crime, murder, infidelity, financial ruin, and celebrity going-ons.  Through the magic of streaming media, we can watch Madonna fall off the stage 50 times in a row and laugh each time.  Now that’s adventure!  (Insert rolling of the eyes here).

Lately I have discovered that real adventure is meeting new people.  My little computer repair business (PC Repair Done Dirt Cheap) has brought a whole new group of interesting people into my life and it seems every one of them is interesting.  Just the other day I sat in the home of famous writer Jim Finley while he tried to convince me how totally and helplessly ignorant he is about computers and as hard as he tried, I just couldn’t see it.  Other than a couple of unpreventable blips his system was experiencing, it appeared the gentleman had a very sound grasp of his system.

We chatted stories back and forth as much as time would allow and after all these years, I got some face time with a true newspaper pundit and even some sought after advice.  We both agreed that the current folks running the paper are one of the best moves forward for the Baytown Sun in a long time and that Jane Lee is groovy awesome.

Few hobbies have brought as much adventure, fun, and down-right challenge into my life as the game of Geocaching.  It can be played by anyone with a Smartphone, simply by downloading the correct App and registering for a free membership at  You don’t have to be in great physical shape or health to find many of the “caches”, so don’t deny yourself due to your own physical limitations.  Many seniors enjoy this game.

Tomorrow at the Baytown Nature Center, I will be teaching a Geocaching 101 class from 10am to noon down on the point.  Admission to the park is 3 bucks and the class is free.  It will be cold and windy and… fun.  If you have an Android-based phone, download C:Geo and if you are an Applehead, get this one: Geosphere.

Try to arrive fifteen minutes early and if you want to score big with the teacher, bring a few kolaches and donuts to share.  I promise if you attend this class, it will open up a whole new world of outdoor adventure for you and your family.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Geocaching in Galveston Texas!

Galveston geocaching
ALYSHA BECK/for The Daily News

Galveston geocaching

Brothers Esteban, 12, left, and Xavier Ramirez-Fabela, 8, look inside a geocache they found as their other brother Zacharies, 15, watches at Galveston Island State Park during a geocaching workshop Saturday Feb. 14, 2015.
Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 1:30 am
It was the idea of a treasure hunt that got me. It sent me exploring through a hidden nature preserve and had me searching headstones at Old City Cemetery, thinking about legends of buried treasure all the way.    
I was geocaching — learning to play the game that now has more than 6 million participants using GPS coordinates to hunt for hidden containers. All you need is a smartphone or other GPS device to search for caches hidden with clues from other players. 
I knew that Galveston, with all its history and natural spaces, would be a prime spot to pick up the hobby. 
So I set out on the hunt. 
I started by going to, the largest website to post caches and find coordinates. The website, launched in 2000, claims more than 2.5 million active caches registered around the world. Anyone can register a cache on the website and post the coordinates and hints to help players find it. Most have logs to track the names and dates of finds and some have small trinkets that players exchange.
There are more than 40 geocaches on the island now that have been found by hundreds of people. They are placed near parks, historical homes and, strangely common in geocaching, cemeteries. The containers have already been found by families, tourists and locals, who then post about their find on the cache’s page online. Some logs I found are filled with signatures and dates stretching back years.
All kinds making finds
“You get all types geocaching,” Bert Marshall, the Southeast Texas representative for the Texas Geocaching Association, told me when I called to ask about the hobby. “They could be a truck driver, a mom from the suburbs or a rocket scientist for NASA,” he said. “I’ve met all of those people geocaching.”
Marshall has been geocaching for 11 years and is well known among local cachers for organizing events and posting videos of his searches under the name BaytownBert. 
He has logged more than 5,000 finds and often goes on long journeys for some of the most difficult caches requiring solutions to complicated puzzles or walking into the deep woods. He’s found caches hidden by secret codes or requiring you to scale a 15-foot tree. 
I was not about to scale a tree. So instead, I started with the very basics — trailing 6-year-olds at Galveston Island State Park’s Geocaching 101 class. It’s an easy and welcoming introduction to the hobby.
A trend appears 
The workshop started after parks departments across the country caught on to the geocaching trend and Texas Parks and Wildlife stashed caches in every state park. 
“It’s a way of getting some younger people that are into technology to come out to the parks,” Lisa Reznicek, a park interpreter who runs the geocaching workshop, said. “We’ve noticed that the average age of some of our educational events tends to be older people, so this is something that would bring someone different to the park and get the younger people into their phones out into nature.”
Reznicek’s workshop is good for families with young kids and people looking for help getting started with the technology involved in geocaching. 
Reznicek takes the workshop around the nature center for a few simple finds. 
The young kids lit up when they found the hiding spots — even if the trinket inside was an odd choice: a single baby’s sock. 
The state parks re-hide geocaches every year as part of a program called the Geocache Challenge. 
“At the start of the challenge, we’ll get people lining up to be the first to find them and then it’s a race,” Reznicek said. “The caches usually just take care of themselves; we’ll just send someone once in a while to check that it’s still there.” 
Galveston Island State Park has three caches. They include trivia about the park and lead you to some lovely spots — which I won’t spoil. 
The search for Lafitte’s booty
I knew I had found my second mission in learning to geocache when I saw a cache on Galveston’s West End called Lafitte’s Booty. The reference to the pirate rumored to have left behind enough treasure in this area to “ransom a nation” won me over instantly. 
The cache took me to the Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve. I would never have discovered the lovely walking paths and bird-watching stations of the preserve if I had not set out to find the two caches hidden there.  
For my last cache of the day, I went to Old City Cemetery — the sort of place that I drive by every day, but never actually visit. Geocaching gave me a reason and a mission to explore the interesting headstones dating back to before the 1900 Storm. I ended up at the grave of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence, who committed suicide. 
At each cache, I left behind my geocaching name, DailyNewsErin, the date and a trinket — a fake mustache. When I remembered, I logged onto and read the notes from the people who had found the cache before and left a message logging my find. 
I went home feeling accomplished and with the sense that I knew the island just a little better. 
So will I now become a loyal geocacher? 
The most dedicated geocachers seek more than a nice day learning more about the places they live. As my geocaching guru, BaytownBert, put it — “It’s a game of statistics and getting finds is a point of pride for a lot of people. It becomes a sort of nerdy game of topping yourself.”  
Marshall said that die-hard geocachers like to build their stats, finding increasingly complicated caches sometimes known as “evil hides” and rushing to be the first to find, FTF in the lingo, a cache.  
I’m happy strolling along, finding new places and challenging myself a little more every time. But most of all, I love that small rush that comes from the hunt.
Contact reporter Erin Heffernan at 409-683-5237 or