Thursday, April 19, 2018

I am old school

 I remember 78 RPM records. We had an "ice box" and at my grandfather house in Dundee, Michigan you could get a bottle of Coca-cola for a nickel at the granary. I remember walking to the dairy in Morgan, Utah and the man asking me if I wanted "Butta, Chackalate, or sweet milk. I wore Redball jets over PF Flyers and they were black high-tops that stunk like a pig sty.

Gina Lollobrigida was the most beautiful woman I had ever imagined and a new sling shot was the closest thing to heaven I had ever experienced. My 3 brothers and I skinny-dipped in what would now be considered lewd behavior. Geewillikers, we were just having fun. I shot marbles in what was considered MMA fighting back in the day. I snuck a cig from my parents pack! Maybe I snuck one more times than once?

I thought Roy Orbison, Lou Christie, and Jimmy Dean were incredibly talented. I collected baseball cards and listened to games on a tiny transistor radio. I discovered the fairer sex at 13 and it opened up a mystical and magical world that sill confuses, pleases, and amuses me. I learned to pop a wheelie. I mowed a lot of grass with a push mower. I went to church camp and swam in the lake trying to impress the girls.

I got my arm caught in a washing machine roller. I ate a lot of fruit cake the rest of the family disliked. I played Army in post-WWII and Korea with my 3 brothers. We showed the Huns no mercy. I played baseball like they did in the movie "Sand lot". I hate hotdogs, not hamburgers. I drank soft drinks with "cyclamates" and drank water off of water hoses.

I witnessed women becoming blonds over night and the introduction of the Corvair, Pinto, and Vega. I watched the muscle cars of the 1960's pop wheelies and do massive burn-outs. Twiggy, the Vietnam war, civil rights, assassinations, Laugh-in, the beginning of the drug revolution, protests, and the Planned parenthood movement of eliminating us as a species evolve.

Christmas evolved into opening presents day early because no one had the patience to wait. We raked and burned leaves. Everyone did. I cuffed my blue jeans, but wasn't allowed to wear them to school.  Tennis shoes were for gym class only. Teachers paddled us when they decided we needed correction... and our parents backed them up. Playing outdoors was serious business and we always felt deprived when we had to come inside.

Mom cooked and we ate it. We got paddled and more times than not it was mom who administered it, because dad was at work. We had chores and got allowances. We got grounded. We fought sleep and had trouble waking. We did bicycle maintenance and learned about over population. We practiced against nuclear fall-out. We have the scar from the measles inoculation.

We've lived and witnessed many outhouses, rotary phones, hand pump wells, houses without electricity, no A/C, taking my 12 gauge shotgun on my first squirrel hunt by myself and I was 14.  Rampaging everywhere we went as 4 brothers and no one thinking we needed to be on corrective drugs.

Knowing all our neighbors by first names, recognizing every make, model, and year of all the cars on the road, The Twist and Limbo. Maynard G. Krebs and Dobie. "Work!" Sputnik. Bay of Pigs and much later, Baby Jessica. The JFK Assassination. Desoto and Packard. Melmac. Plastic-wrapped furniture.

Climbing huge trees, eating sardines and thinking it was camping out, Hollywood candy bars, blowing in a Milk Dud box at the theater to make noise, banana bike seats and high handle bars, Chef Boyardee pizzas, 3 on the tree, fist fights, Hai Karate cologne, Beatle Mania, and saying the pledge of allegiance in school before class started.

Yea, I am old school and I do not apologize.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Its always sunny in Baytown

Nurture Nature Festival 2017 by Larry Houston

 Did you know that Baytown has a micro-climate? It does. Our 7 bays wrap around our town and keep a lot of bad weather away. If you have ever drove over the Fred Hartman bridge and noticed that it is a different temperature on this side of the bridge, then you are getting the message. Very often the Houston weather doesn't apply to us. For a long time I've observed a storm blowing in from the Gulf toward us, only to go into League City. It then makes its way toward Sugar Land and then turns north for Jersey Village pounding them with torrents of rain.

At this time, the storm will turn east and head for the north side of I-10 eventually dropping copious amounts of water on Winnie before it heads toward Beaumont. It has happened so many times, I fully expect it each time a storm comes in. The only variation is when the storm is so big that nothing can stop it. So, if its been raining a lot here, everyone else is getting it too. Quite often I stage geocaching events here in Baytown for various reasons. A standard event is to simply meet and eat and trade idea, etc. I like to have my event coincide with actually doing something... outside.

We may hike to find geocaches, or have a workshop to learn various stuff about the game. I've been involved in geocaching since 2003, teach classes on it, and yet, it seems I learn something I didn't know. The point of this is my events prove my theory that Baytown has a micro-climate. It can be a 90% chance of rain in the Houston area and folks will arrive for my class with the sun shining over their shoulder. I'm accused of "having a rapport with the big guy" but truthfully, not anymore than anyone else.   

Our tourism department with Anna, Sheree, and Sabrina have been very active in getting activities going in Baytown. The old whine that "there's nothing to do in Baytown" just ain't true anymore. Market square on Texas Avenue if you haven't noticed is roiling with activities. There is so much happening that I can't even keep up with it. This next Saturday is the annual Nurture Nature Festival at the Baytown Nature Center at 6213 Bayway Dr. It is KID FRIENDLY, so grab the kiddos and some cash for vendors and come on out. Say hey to Christina Butcher and Tracey Protho while you are out there for extra sunshiny mojo.

There is plenty of parking the park staff is everywhere with Snake Bracelets, Crab Marsh, Seed Cups, TX Geocaching Society, Watering Hole Golf, Angler education, Backyard bass, archery to name just a few of the booths. The festival is set up to educate kids and adults on the great outdoors, but in a very festive environment. If you want them chiren to get off the couch and do something besides exercise their thumbs, then make sure you facilitate getting them there. Oh, you will find me in Tent 4 next to Baytown Tourism doing my geocaching thing!

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The War on Drugs 101

Drugs come to this country by invitation

 We lost the drug war just a few years after we became aggressive to stop drugs from coming into this country. I'm talking 1975, when a bag of marijuana went from $10 an ounce to $30 and that was just the beginning. By cracking down on bulky and smelly pot, the prices jumped and when the prices got high enough, pushers found it more profitable to bring in heroin and cocaine than the easily recognizable marijuana.

About this time is when we in the Houston area began to hear about people carrying guns and robbing or shooting each other over marijuana. The reason was simple. Now there was a lot of money involved, not just 10 bucks.

Young people who were used to using grass for entertainment purposes, used what was available instead and this included LSD, PCP - or angel dust, Quaaludes, uppers/speed/meth and heroin and cocaine. I'm skimming the surface of what was available in the absence of marijuana. All of this was available for a price and that price didn't come with any guarantee of quality either. On top of that, the prices just kept going higher. Remember when they raised the tax on cigarettes to the point that smash and grab crimes involved grabbing cartons of cigs?

Now, bump forward 43 years later and we have the identical system in place with the identical dismal track record. Of the many heinous concoctions to come down the dope trail is this myriad of chemicals and blends called synthetic marijuana. In Illinois alone, it has recently killed 2 and severely hospitalized 54 patients who after ingesting this substance have began to bleed from various parts of their anatomy. If that isn't scary, please clue me in on what is.

Regulating vice due to our Puritanical teachings has done nothing to stop the flow of drugs into this country. Nothing. If anything, it has created a bigger monster of criminal black markets and dangerous unregulated pills, powders, liquids, and leafy substances that is like playing Russian roulette to the end user. Now if I was with the righteous far right on this matter, I would say it was good medicine, but I am not and they wouldn't be either if it was their 14 year old son or daughter on that gurney at the emergency room.

I would much rather she was guilty of sneaking a bit of Jack Daniel's or sliding a Winston cigarette from the pack than buying god knows what from a stranger. Now mind you, that is an example and kids will do what they are told not to, more times than not. The point I'm making is if they are going to experiment, I would much rather they got their hands on something that is regulated as to type and strength and for what its worth, accidentally over-dosing on anything including alcohol is not a pleasant experience.

Our country gets all up in a frenzy any time a nut job with a gun shoots inside a school and rightly so. However it doesn't make sense to me when kids are using these home-brewed or cartel drugs with unknown characteristics and mass-storming emergency rooms why our government refuses to decriminalize marijuana.

When Concealed Carry first became law, there were many who believed there would be mass shootings, or maybe we don't remember that because it didn't pan out like that. But remember recently when Open Carry was allowed? Again some folks swore it would be the OK corral.  Didn't happen, did it? Legalizing and regulating marijuana will cause a certain segment of the population to try it and those who wish to continue using it can get a known strength product, much like alcohol. It will continue to be illegal to drive or appear in public intoxicated and cops can arrest anyone they suspect of PI at any time, so nothing will change there.
Synthetic marijuana is Russian roulette
What will happen is a number of good things. First, kids will stop using crap like rat poison laced fake pot. Second, the very cartels we've made rich will have to find other animals to suck blood from. Third, people who simply wanted pot for medicinal or recreational purposes will no longer be considered criminal. Fourth, the thousands of products that can be made from hemp plants will suddenly open up a number of business opportunities. Last, there will be a mass educational effort to help people understand the safe usage of pot, as some of it is very strong.

Its time folks. The war on drugs is a miserable failure that has only created a bigger problem. The only responsible thing to do is vote to legalize and regulate it and the government simply cannot be allowed to levy a hefty tax on it. Why? Because it will create another black market.
Black markets exist when restricting laws are enacted or taxes are unduly raised.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

San Jacinto Mall to be Resurrected!

The Mall in all its glory.

Well rumors have been flying for years, but I was finally able to sit down with the planning committee and get the real 411 on our mall. The Mall has secretly traded hands to a large development design firm in Hoboken, New Jersey.  Yes the Mall of America people. AFJ, OKE Architects, Inc. has successfully turned around Malls all across the country by bringing their vision of the 21st century to a 20th century mindset.

As part of the Strategic Planning committee, I was invited, along with city planners and staff members to "be schooled" on what they are going to do. Now mind you, it was blatantly obvious since it was their property now and their money, they were going to do exactly as they plan and of course comply to all city codes, or so we thought.

Our first surprise was they are forcing a de-annexation of the property to lower their taxes to almost nothing, citing the chemical Plants privileges of supply jobs. There was quite a bit of objections, but the spokesperson (who declared she had better be unnamed) skillfully declared it was a "non-issue". I was simply amazed at her aggressive behavior and how quickly she skillfully backed down objections. Impressive is the right word and I figured if they can get the Mall back in good graces, then this was probably beneficial to the city.

The real shocker though is the plan to "retro" the mall and make it exactly to its original design and a return of what they called a "Flagship" store, Montgomery Wards. I mumbled something along the lines that "Monkey Wards" was the first business to fail and the unnamed spokesperson cut me off declaring "It was because they were 50 years ahead of their time in this backward township. Honestly, sir, you do not know this area as well as you think you do," she said and then described a new/old look alike Mervyn's and list of the original stores followed.

"Baytown does not need to be brought into the 21st century," she forcefully declared by smacking the table hard enough to knock over the paper cups of water they furnished for the meeting. "They need to revisit the 20th century remedial fashion!" Well, I thought the mayor was going to have a coronary. I know my blood pressure lifted a relief valve.

"The city will be pleased to know the wasted parking space behind the mall will be converted to a 1970's retro trailer park and this will be within city limits for tax purposes." Well, you would have thought she threw a gold brick at us, but we were stunned into silence when she candidly confessed, "You southerners and especially Texans are slow thinkers. You wouldn't last 15 minutes up in Hoboken. Now come on people, see the vision. A brand new mall that no slow thinking Baytonian will have to learn the layout. Its a win win and will make more money for us than you can imagine.

We have stopped all demolition and will rebuild exactly like it was.  A little paint and some caulking and we plan to be back up and running wide open by September 18.  Questions?" As she finished speaking, she was packing up her stuff and turning on her heel, she excited the building with what looked like 6 secret service agents following her. I guess the fact that most "slow-thinking" Texans carry guns alarmed her. Now I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I think a call to the city is in order. The mayor stumbled toward the door shortly after she left, but it appeared her plan had upset him too. Let your voice be heard. Vote no to refurbishing the mall. We need modernization and I resented the statement that we were behind times in Baytown.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The anti-gun movement myth

 It appears to me the anti-gun violence protests are a total manipulation of logic by some group wanting to disarm America. The 2nd Amendment is to protect us from our own government, so why would anyone want to give up this liberty? Didn't Hitler and Stalin disarm their citizens before taking complete control? Does anyone believe North Korean's are allowed to own guns? In Cuba, only the state is armed. How has that worked out for them? Well, we know how it turned out for Germany and Russia.

Any possible legislation will have zero effect on mentally unstable individuals, anarchists, neo-Ludites, religious zealots, terrorists, and criminals. Law-abiding gun owners are not guilty of a danged thing. Protesters are registering to vote and one declared they would vote out anyone supporting the NRA. Let me see. How many NRA members have been guilty of shooting up a school? Please cipher that one for me. I'll dig it up for us. None. "Worthy of note is that the victims of mass shootings constitute less than one half of one percent of shooting deaths."

If laws stopped people from committing criminal acts, why are our roads littered with beer and alcohol containers? Think about it. Law-abiding people do not drink and drive. Should we pass more laws that say that you cannot have more than a 6-pack or a pint of adult beverage in your refrigerator? Will this stop criminals from drinking and driving?

"In Texas the "total costs of a DWI arrest and conviction range from $5,000 to $24,000 for a first-time offense. In the Austin area, offenders can pay $6,000 to $21,000 in fines, fees and other costs." I don't know about you, but I don't have that kind of stash setting around marked "disposable".

I have guns... a lot of guns and carry one most of the time and have for many years. I am not a threat. I am the opposite of a threat. I may just save your life. It wouldn't matter if I was carrying a bazooka or dressed like Arnold in Commando with an M-60 and grenades hanging off my chest and belt. Logic, folks. Criminals will be criminals and if a misguided zealot wants to kill people, no law is going to stop them. Only another law-abiding person with a gun can do it.

I am always reminded of a true story of a young couple who moved to Los Angeles from Boulder, Colorado. Both were very educated and had extremely strong anti-gun philosophies. One month after arrival after she was mugged and their apartment ransacked, they were both carrying guns and taking firearms training. Their philosophy did not protect them. It is all relevant. This story is true. Hunkering and cowering down in a corner will only get you killed.

Another thing I learned years ago in marital arts training is if a person wants to unexpectedly strike you, they can pretty much do it. If a misguided or deranged individual decides to target a school, or a group of people, they will do it, even if it is in a military installation and the victims are soldiers. The only thing that will stop them is a person with a gun.

I suspect many of the protestors in the anti-gun movement are in it to be part of something they feel is honorable and "cool". I also wonder what they will do when faced by someone with a weapon who intends to rob or do them or their family harm. I can pretty much tell you that being armed with a philosophy as your main weapon is going to be a rude wake up call. If you survive, I would also bet that more laws are the last thing you will want. You are going to want a gun, because laws don't stop the people who prey on society.

As a veteran, a black belt, and a graduate of the Baytown citizen's police academy I have never attacked anyone and I carry a large caliber, one shot, one kill gun. One officer summed it up very well. "If you have a permit to carry a firearm, by all means carry it. My life may depend on you being there for me." 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The trick is to get back on

 March 21, 2017 started out like every day before it. I was on a roll. In the last year I had instructed over 125 spin classes as a substitute instructor and was covering 12 gyms. Quite often in that time period, I would awaken about 4am, check my email and realize an instructor in Houston, or the Galleria had called in sick for the 5:30am class. I would log into the gym web site and "claim" the class and when 5:30am arrived, I would be 35 miles away and crank out a class. Sometimes I would be in Pasadena a few hours later and instruct another one. Or League City, or Webster. I was bullet-proof. Or so it seemed.

My sister and 3 brothers and I are all in our 60's and we share the common complaint of seniors, that stuff stops working like it did when we were younger. I appeared to be blessed in that I could hike down into the Grand Canyon and back out with nothing more than a bit of discomfort to my flat-lander's legs the next day. If I desired to ride a bike 30 miles, no big deal and the next day, it was business as usual. I got the message that I was doing everything right physically.

I was filling in for an instructor at the NASA gym location at 8am and drove over and instructed the class with my usual amount of vigor and enthusiasm and I really enjoy pushing a difficult, high-resistance hill-climbing class. Most spin class instructors are go-go-go with an abundance of very fast lower resistance peddling. Its called sprinting and they add a lot of upper body movements to keep people from being bored. I don't. In fact, I try to stay pure to the exercise and don't do anything on a spin bike that I wouldn't do on a road or mountain bike. To be clear, a spin bike is a stationary bicycle with a resistance knob. I like to push a class where the rider motivates themselves to get the best work-out possible. I am not a "driver". I'm a motivator.

I remember that morning I awoke with a stiff neck, like I had slept on it wrong or something, but by the time that class was over, my stiff neck went from mild discomfort to straight through the roof excruciating, eye-watering pain. I could hardly drive back to Baytown. My right arm was becoming so numb I simply laid it in my lap on the drive home. I was panicking and wondering if I was having a stroke.

To make a long story shorter here I am one year later - better, but unable to resume instructing. I'm not in pain and I can function fairly normally. What happened is called cervical spinal stenosis and what my VA doctor describes as "nasty neck" and affects the top 7 vertebra. To sum it up, the vertebra are impinging on the nerves causing the pain and numbness and headaches, bad headaches.

The Veterans Administration's treatment was massive amounts of steroids and shots and pills, lots of pills and I went 5-6 months this route with little success and lots of discomfort. My blood pressure had escalated and the VA's treatment was simply more meds until I was on a total of 13. Then I got gout. No one in my family has gout. One of my meds specifically claimed to increase the chances of getting the horrible malady. The VA's answer was yet more drugs. I again voluntarily stopped all of them except 2 blood pressure meds and sat it out cold turkey for two weeks. My next visit to the VA appeared that everything had returned to normal except my blood pressure which to this day has stayed dangerously high.

My big break - no pun intended - came when I asked for alternative treatment and began a twice a week acupuncture treatment at Fusion Acupuncture & Holistic Healthcare in Houston. I got immediate relief after the first visit and it was at this point that I began to scrutinize my medicine. I evolved into chiropractic and after 3 months of this, I am fairly back to normal physically.

I have 5 more appointments at the VA between now and June so they can aggressively solve this BP problem and until they do, I cannot push myself at the gym or instruct the class that I love. So, I've fallen off the horse and this horse requires a lot more than simply sitting. It took me over 2 years of constant riding to get in shape to instruct a class on the level members deserve. Can I get back on? I guess its up to me, but hasn't it always been?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The more we learn, the less we know

If I have seen it once, I have seen it repeatedly. A Ford F-250 was used to crash through the front of a business to steal an ATM. I can't recall seeing any other truck used, but I am sure there are other brands and weight class trucks and cars used for this crime. It is so frequent and deliberate, that even our top cop had his truck stolen from his driveway. I asked one of our police lieutenants why they steal Ford trucks and if I remember correctly, they learn how to grab this specific truck in prison school. I say school, because that is where criminals learn their tricks. By the way, our prisons are full of guilty criminals, contrary to what some would like the general population to believe.

"What should I do if I own one of these Ford F-250 ton trucks?" I asked. "Sell it," was his immediate answer. The truth is almost no vehicle is exempt from being stolen if the criminal has done their homework and is devious enough to take on the task. However, for arguments sake, let's play with this a bit. What if the media stirred up the public over 3/4 ton Ford trucks, but took it a step further and demonized all 3/4 ton trucks and the companies that build accessories for them. They push it to the point that if you own one, you are part of the problem. never mind that the only crime you have on record is slow-rolling through a stop sign.

It goes without saying that Ford and possibly Toyota, Nissan, GMC, and Chrysler would have their lobbyists in full combat mode to fight any legislation and anti-rhetoric the media (and Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Kimmel, and the entire gaggle of The View honkers) righteously bellowed. FOMOCO (body by Fisher) would organize incentives to get more people into their high dollar pick-em-up trucks and happy Ford owners would be depicted as flag-waving skinhead rednecks on the youtube channels. Most likely they would also be homophobes and racist too.

There would be a flurry of marches by the various liberal groups demanding justice and somehow somewhere one of these trucks would run into a playground or school and kill some innocent chirren. It would not be noted by any news source that the driver of the truck was a criminal fleeing from law officers. The cops would be portrayed as racist and heavy club wielding incompetents and more fuel would be thrown on the fire.

All across the country, high school and college students would stage mass protests over the use and ownership of not just Ford F-250 trucks, but all 3/4 ton trucks and being easily persuaded and inexperienced, they would feel a sort of liberation and this would give them hope. First and foremost, they would demand softer bumpers and trucks with less carrying capacity. Second, they would want a bill passed that forced current owners to remove the ability of these trucks to carry a 3/4 ton load. "Who needs a truck that can carry 1500 pounds? That is ridiculous! Trucks kill"

One 31 year old bussed-in "college senior" screams at the camera and shouts, "Do you even realize that during an average ATM heist, the truck and damage estimate is almost $150,000 and you idiots can't see that the Ford truck is to blame?" There is an immediate loud chorus of cheers and one student throws a rock and busts out the window of a police cruiser. The angry crowd has signs condemning violence, but is seriously getting rowdier by the moment.

Two months into this media frenzy, counter claims begin to surface on youtube where Ford owners talk about never using their truck to crash into buildings or to steal ATM's. Sadly, the media has saturated the collective consciousness of the country and everyone is sick of hearing about it. But the damage has already been done to many easily impressed people. Their conclusion is that all 3/4 ton trucks are the real bad guys, not the criminals that used them. Happy truck owners never bought into the negativity, so nothing changed there. Six months later another Ford 3/4 ton truck used to steal yet another ATM, overshoots a corner and plows over tiny babies at a day care center and the whole outrage starts again. The message here is all 3/4 ton trucks kill people, not just Ford's.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Our incorrigible hamsters

Coco - Bella - Nunchuck

Like you, we grew up having pets and most likely, also like you, they were more like family with extra privileges, than animals simply living in our house. We had an English sheepdog named Annie that was the wonderful child pet, but she met her demise chasing cars and one day, she simply got a little too close. That was my first recollection of losing something precious. We buried her on the farm near where she was killed on that Michigan country road. But this is not a sad tale. Its about how these furry babies take over our lives and end up owning us.

We have 2 dogs and a good number of days, we also have our kids 2 dogs. Combined, they weigh a total of 40 pounds. All 4 are females and properly spoiled. Coco is a purebred small Shi-tzu weighing 8 pounds. She is 100% Shi-tzu, but as anyone can attest who owns one of these lap dogs, she is part rabbit, cat, dog, and monkey. She's strong-willed to the point that if she is sniffing something interesting on one of our walks, she becomes totally deaf. Neither my bride or I own this dog. She owns us.

Bella is larger, weighing about double and is black and white and resembles a Border collie mixed with a fox. We know her mother is a Blue Merle Pomeranian and Dr. Cynthia Lipps identifies her other portion as a Papillon. She's a barker and sits around the house objecting to every noise and smell, seen, or imagined. In the yard, she is a non-stop noise maker. I love this dog and she is mine and tries very hard to please me. She occasionally has seizures and I hold her in my arms on the floor and talk to her until she comes out the other side.

I cater to both dogs almost exclusively, feeding them and give them medicines. I give them treats as a reward for everything. My bride bathes them. I have a unique nonsense of baby dog talk I invented when addressing them. I refer to them as hamsters to their face. "Good morning hamsters!" I have no explanation as to why I do this and when asked what kind of dogs they are by folks we pass on Blue Heron Trail, I may say they are Weimaraners, or Belgian waffle retrievers. "Oh really? I've never heard of a Colombian biscuit pincer and why do they look so different?"

"They had different fathers." We both laugh and then, because some people are dog lovers like I am, I explain what they really are while Coco let's herself be petted and Bella stands and barks at them. When we walk around the pond, Coco has to smell everything. Bella leaves the yard coming back and as soon as we make the far corner, she is all about returning to the yard so she can bark at people walking around the pond.

My daughter's 2 doggies at Dragon, a 6 pound Yorkie that is totally energized and psycho. She has an intensity about her that only disappears when she is exhausted and has exhausted everyone around her. This usually takes 18 hours. She is by far, the smartest of the 4. This dog has more energy than is humanly possible and if you look at her for more than 2 seconds, she will stare at you and bark non-stop. All 4 dogs are around 9 years old and incorrigible. Cesar Millan couldn't do anything with them. Being raised as sisters, they each are totally different in personalities. For instance, both the Yorkie and Shi-tzu are terrified of thunder. The other 2 not at all. Dragon and Nunchuck suck up food like they are starving. Bella is soft-mouth and carefully will remove a treat from my hand like she is performing surgery. Coco has an under-bite and if the treat is really delicious, she will get your finger by unhinging her jaw and snapping at the food.

The last of the 4 is the one with the sweetest personality. Nunchuck is a rat terrier that weighs maybe 9 pounds. She's diabetic and sadly, we do not know how many more moons she has with us. The poor thing is almost blind and is no trouble at all. She's quiet the majority of time, except when Dragon and Bella decide that something deserves setting off the bark alarm and then she will join them. It takes a lot to get Coco to investigate anything. The 3 dogs will be running all over our back yard yapping and barking and Coco will almost bark, raising up off the patio table (on a towel we set for her comfort) and maybe... maybe growl a little bit. When she does take off running and barking, I call this "Shi-tzu rage", but she won't go far. Its too much effort.

Bella and Coco on guard duty
Each of us could write a book on our pets and if you are a pet lover, you will sit and chat with other owners and enjoy the conversation. If the dog will allow it, you will eagerly pet and talk to it and compliment the owner on its appearance. In closing, I want to comment on my Shi-tzu's dining preferences. It has to be what she likes, or she will simply not eat. She will break us, before she gives in. We have a ritual whereby I announce what I have for her. She will run over and sniff it and if it passes, she will rabbit bounce up and down. If not, well, I'll find something else. 
Like I said, they own us, not the other way around and don't even get me started on cats.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Putting winter behind us

I have a miniature Chinese holly tree (I bought at Gibson's 27 years ago) in my yard. When we moved to our current location 25 years ago, I brought it with us. Its now 20 plus feet tall. So much for accuracy in labeling, right? We also have a Japanese blueberry tree that we bought at Maas nursery that was supposed to top out at 12 feet. Its more like 18 feet tall and still growing. Today, the cedar waxwing birds have arrived to start harvesting the berries on the holly tree and this is how I know we have put winter behind us - well, and the trees are blooming. Pollen is in my eyes and nose too.

The birds land in my loblolly pines and the neighbor's Shumard red oak by the hundreds and in 2-3 days, they will have picked the tree clean. Evidence of their feasting will be berry stains on my driveway. I don't mind.

Valentine Day's rose trimming and the arrival of the cutesy birds signals my time to begin extensive shrub pruning and although I took on this task at least 3 times last year, the heavy rain days we're having mean we are going to have a rabid growing season, just like we had a cold winter. Wasn't winter amazing this year? I say amazing, for lack of a better description. Three snowfalls and at least one sleet storm and I can't remember seeing that here before.

Each year when my bride trims the roses, I feel I must issue a warning about those thorny devil stems being dropped and we've already made peace on it this year. I like the flowers but I hate the thorns, especially when I discover one stuck in me 2 months later.

The number of gray and depressing days have made this past couple of months depressing to many of us. I didn't sign on for Seattle or London, okay? I want sunny Houston weather. I asked my gardening bride how much gardening she is planning this next season, as I need to know how much work is ahead for me. We have a half acre and I mow the pipeline behind our place and a lot of it is landscaped. What I used to take care of in one day, now takes me 3-4 strategery attacks to complete. "Some," was her reply.

The head is willing - the body not so much. I now have to be "in the mood". A few years ago I wrenched my back and it was about this time, so I contracted a lawn service to do this chore. $500 later, they didn't even cut the lawn. I vowed that I will buy equipment over paying for minimum wage labor at journeyman's pay scale. It took 2 slow-moving workers 2 days to do what I know I used to do in about 6 hours.

So, this year I spent $800 and bought a powerful chipper/shredder and I will mulch everything I can to put back in my flower and shrub beds. I will also bag my yard and pour the cuttings and pine needles into it. Like one guy told me, "Buy tools, not labor," and he is right. Am I going to pay a lawn service a ridiculous amount of money 2-3 times a year to do what I can still do, given the right tools? I think not. Sure, loping those shrubs is labor intensive, as is feeding the branches into the shredder, but guess what? I like it. I will hear money going into my piggy bank every time I operate it.

Real happiness and satisfaction doesn't come by having more free time. It comes from fulfilling our duties. I'll say that again. Real happiness is earned. How many times have you paid a "professional" to do something and you look back at their work and realize you could have done a cleaner, better job? I change my own oil. I want it done right and I know the guy who is doing the work on my expensive rides.

My nomadic little birds are binge-eating as I write this and I don't want to disturb them. They have a long way to fly yet. I'm just happy I dug up that tree and brought it here for them. Like I said last week, its the little things that make us happy. Now, if I can just get the sun to shine through those gray clouds.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

It is the little things that matter

 Rocketing through this thing we call life, we often forget to look out the window. We are transfixed on the path we have chosen and ignore the little things that would actually enhance our journey. It's taken me many years and possibly retirement to get a real understanding of this. I've written about this concept a number of times, but please indulge me, as it becomes more precious each time I recognize it.

Whether we are leaving our living room, walking anywhere, or driving, we often spend our entire time immersed in ourselves. Where we are going, what are going to do when we arrive, what's next, and what's in it for me. How long can I stay, What am I going to eat for lunch or supper. Me, me, and yes, me. I've written about slowing things down; throwing out the anchor, and smelling the roses, so there is no sense beating your head against a dead horse.

Due to an incident where 6 "youts" decided to come into my back yard, I had cameras installed all around my house. Since I spend a considerable amount of time working on my computer as well as repairing others, I witness a lot going on, on my street. What I don't see, my neighbor with Asperger's sees all. He and I have daily conversations and seeing he operates on a different plain of logic than I do, sometimes it is enlightening and often a source of humor for both of us. I've known the fellow for over 10 years and watched him go from a kid who hardly talked and wouldn't make eye contact, to a social butterfly who knows everyone who lives near us.

I think he knows everyone on a couple streets in fact. If you are not familiar with Asperger's, they can be a little spooky at first meeting because they basically cannot read expressions. Socially awkward is a good description. For instance, he will occasionally hug me for no apparent reason, or stand uncomfortably close while talking. His choice of clothing is at times bizarre, or he will walk around the neighborhood with no shirt on while it is windy and 50 degrees. Mind you, he is 30 years old and until recently, had a beard. This alone is a bit peculiar and add in the fact that he's often barefooted, it might just raise a few eyebrows.

This morning while working on this column, I observed him pick up and read my newspaper. He made himself comfortable spreading it on my shrubs and took his time reading it. Now before I put the brakes on in my life, I would have yelled at him. Not today. After about 10 minutes, he simply could not roll it back up and put the plastic sleeve over it, so he brought it to the front door. I explained that it is my paper and I pay for it and he shouldn't be reading it.

His answer was typical for someone with his condition. "I know that. I just wanted to read the comics!" I closed the door, as courteous goodbyes are not recognized by him, even though the exchange was friendly. A couple of weeks ago, I asked him if he had observed the lunar eclipse. His answer had me guffawing for a solid minute.

"Yes and I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN!" I almost got the vapors I was laughing so hard.  Yesterday, which was Monday, I checked the mailbox about 3 times and each time I did, he watched me. We have a small round table and 2 chairs in a flower bed in our front yard and this attracts him. He often sits in my flower bed, which I do not mind. He is after all, the street observer. I commented to him that the post office is running later than usual.

"Its President's Day, duh!"  I burst into a fit of laughter and asked him why he didn't say something earlier, to which he logically replied, "Didn't you check your calendar?" Any time anyone on the street comes out of their house to wash a car, or work on something with the garage door open, it is going to prompt a visit from him and seeing we live across the street from each other, I get the lion's share. Do I mind? No, I do not. He comes and goes and often, when he is done talking, he simply wanders off. He has taught me that its the little things that matter.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The illusion of obviousness alludes

 I remember just last year when the new Kroger opened on Garth Road and I was excited to see they had broken out of the Walmart paradigm of having a less proportionate number of checkers than people trying to check-out. Seriously, it wasn't that bad. Walmart is the world's worst store for checking out due to the many closed counters. When  you shop there, it is akin to going through a cattle chute. I shouldn't even point this out today because it is so obvious to everyone except the store manager.

No, the new Kroger had many open checking stands and a bagger at each one. Now months later, they are facing stiff completion from the new HEB store, so it would seem logical, that they would continue this great level of service, right? Wrong. I stopped in to spend a hundred dollars the other day and only one register with no bagger was available and the checker picked up the phone and paged someone for a price check.

Hark, there was an associate at the far left end where you get the pleasure of self-checkout who hailed me. "I can help someone down here!" I had about 30 or so items, so rather than be third in line, I rolled my buggy on down. She took over and methodically scanned each item and stacked most of them above, rather than bag them and explained she liked to do it that way, because she can then arrange them in the plastic bags more efficiently.  Meanwhile, an elderly couple (they were my age) were having trouble finding the code on a piece of fruit and over her shoulder, she was rattling off numbers for them to punch in (this was unsuccessful) and she kept stopping my scan to help them in the self check line.

I stood and watched this overly energetic lady work her routine with all earnestness (and chipper attitude mind you) while the lady who had been in front of me  - down there, rolled past with her groceries. The aged folks in the line behind me just couldn't get that danged code correct and as soon as my helpful clerk scanned my last item, she departed to get those numbers with a "you got this?". It was logical that the other line needed to purchase their goods in an expedited manner.

I paid my hundred plus bucks electronically, but thankfully, using my special Kroger Plus card, I saved a whole bunch of money and began the process of sacking my own groceries. Foolish me didn't realize that you could spin the bin around until she yelled over her shoulder and pointed out the obvious. In the meantime two more shoppers rolled past me on their way out of the store, carts loaded down with bagged goods. I figure the whole process took 3 times longer than simply being patient and waiting for the single cashier to scan and bag my stuff. Stupid me, it should have been obvious.

I remembered why I shop at Food Town on North Main for most of my groceries. If they ain't scanin', they waitin' to scan. On top of that, they are running some really good deals. Its obvious to me that the store manager realizes there is an HEB in town. Now if we can just get Walmart and Kroger to figure this out, we will have some super stores. Why isn't it obvious to retailers that we live in a 24 hour a day town where time management (excluding Millennial's of course) is paramount to success?
The old days of mom and pop stores where they would let you inside as much as 30 minutes early is gone. Mom and pop wanted to make a sale. They were helpful in that regard. If I go to Walmart at 3am and yes, it is 3:13am as I write this, there will be one lane open and no one at the register. You will stand there and look around and finally someone will come strolling at a painful 1 mile an hour and with no emotion whatsoever check you out. Its Walmart for goodness sake. Honestly, how on earth is this place even in business with this reputation?

Many a time I can have an entire cart full of groceries at Food Town and by the time I place everything on the conveyor, my checker is cheerfully announcing how much I owe and my stuff is already bagged and in the cart ready to go? The manager of that store hovers around like a bird of prey looking for a meal, that's why. This is why I often tip the cashier.

Maybe I am being too harsh on Kroger. Maybe it was shift change. I honestly don't think I could ever be too hard on Walmart. Maybe the Mont Belvieu store is better. I don't know. With the traffic, its a half hour drive from Chaparral Village, but that's obvious.

I am old school

 I remember 78 RPM records. We had an "ice box" and at my grandfather house in Dundee, Michigan you could get a bottle of...