Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stimulus Package Poll

What do you plan to do with the stimulus package money you receive?

Put every cent of my personal debt.

Some on overdue bills - the rest on groceries.

I'm going to double it all at the Casino!

Give it to the homeless!

Pay my back taxes!

Go on a cruise to Jamaica! free polls

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Stroll in the Woods

It’s been pre-Hurricane Ike since my bride and I strolled in the woods over at Walter L. Jenkins Park, so we leashed up the Shih Tzu, hopped in the hoopty and off we went.

Jenkins Park, as it’s more commonly known is located at 4334 Crosby Cedar Bayou Road and is 40 acres in size and Baytown’s third largest Park, but that is fixing to change, as the city has purchased 56 additional acres of land beside the existing Park. Jenkins Park also has about two miles of fantastic trails which make you feel like you are in the great outdoors.

The city is in the process of installing fences in the new addition for a giant dog park and it appears there will be two sections, one for large dogs and one for smaller dogs, which sounds good to me and I suspect our doggies will have access in the next few months. I notice the city has been very active in planting trees also, which is always a plus. The city installed some fancy doggie pick-it-up stations, so responsible pet owners can follow up on their pets. Another good idea!

Cross over Cary Bayou on one of the three bridges and you can walk through the woods to the tennis courts at J. C. Holloway Park on Raccoon Drive. It’s all very secure and safe and this morning, the trail was very active with joggers, walkers and folks with dogs on leashes. I like to hike alongside Cary Bayou also and this would be a logical place to expand the gravel trail. Our Parks Superintendent, Scott Johnson tells me they are going to replace the center bridge with a wider better bridge sometime in the near future.

On today’s hike, I couldn’t believe how air-ish and open the woods felt. The hurricane did extensive damage to the normally tree-crowded landscape. As we neared J. C. Holloway Park, heavy brush and downed trees were being removed by workers and after a short conversation with one of the operators, I learned they were cleaning all the dead wood out. All the same, it’s a spectacular view of the destructive force of a hurricane.

My bride and I sat down on one of the benches, which in my opinion are too few and attempted to “smell the roses”. Everyone knows the saying, but few of us, including me, actually make time to do it properly. We are caught up in our fast pace and getting off this roller coaster finds us jogging along side – and we tell ourselves we are relaxing. I read one time that it can take fourteen days to break out of our fast pace.

The Europeans are famous for knowing how to relax and we are just as famous for chasing the dollar. I think more benches along the trail would encourage folks to have a seat. Have a seat and do nothing, but listen, or maybe read a book. Sit and watch a bird or a squirrel. Do nothing but sit. Now that’s real living.

“True happiness is in the fulfillment of our duties” my bride quotes me as we sit on the bench after I remark that this makes me happy. I explain to her that true happiness is indeed fulfilling the things we need to do, but in the context of attempting the superficial happiness at Disneyland or a vacation cruise in the Bahamas, not trying to smell the roses. I still contend that real happiness comes when we do well or accomplish something, not in artificial places and things, which only rub the surface of real happiness.

Peace and contentment can be accomplished by sitting on a bench in the woods and letting the sun shine on our face. It’s the simplicity of it that brings deep satisfaction.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

All Things Must Pass

It's been eight dreary months since my little doggie of fourteen years took a fatal downward spin that left my family heart broken and her passing is still difficult to discuss or even write about. Her name was Muffin and she was half Shih Tzu and half Pomeranian, or what is referred to as a Shi-Pom.

She was the sweetest little dog and she knew no enemies. Everyone was her friend. She loved French fries more than anything in the world and would nip fingers when offered one and it's to my shame and her detriment that I offered her human food at all. Live and learn. Dogs should not eat human food and this time around we are making sure ours eats properly.

When she was very small and still a puppy, the boy down the street accidentally stepped on her and broke her leg. We carried her to the Vet as soon as we could and they set the injured leg. It did not heal like new and consequentially; our doggie walked splayfoot the rest of her days. She didn't seem to mind and on our walks, I would carry her a lot. It was a satisfactory arrangement.

When I went to visit friends and family, she accompanied me and sat comfortably on my lap and folks expected to see her there. She was my friend. I was known to comment that she was the best kid I ever raised. I loved that little dog like it was family and only a pet lover understands the depth of love a pet gives freely.

About seven years ago, I wrote an intimate poem about her and I want to share it with those of you who love animals and know how a wonderful pet massages our soul. I call it 'My Little Animal'.

I have a little animal that lives…in my house

licker, snorter, scratcher, sleeper, my baby.

It's hairy, furry, fluffy…soft as a mouse.

Companion, comforter, snuffer, stinker, my lady.

What would I do without it…in my life?

Player, chaser, trickster and my bestest friend.

My little animal cleanses me…of inner strife.

Eater, beggar, snorer, smiler, its benefits transcend.

Pig dog, sleeper, kitty cat…Muffin, Muffer, Looler.

Where is the kitty cat??? Get em!

Stink bait, road kill, sweetie cakes, pootie, hacker.

Do you want a bath? Chase em!

Morning arrives and I bow down to my little animal.

Descending to its level…I start my greeting.

Scratch, scratch, and scratch, for me visceral.

Rub, rub, and rub…another heavenly meeting.

As much as I miss her (her photo is still on my cell phone), we realize she lived the life of a diva and had anything she wanted, any time she wanted it. She lived a very protected and good life and against all reason, I believe she is nestled in the arms of heaven awaiting my arrival.

Needless to say, I did not take her passing very well and secreted myself away for the grieving process, which to a blessed lesser extent is still in progress. My bride was also severely hurt over our loss and vowed not to bring another doggie into our home. The pain is too deep and she wanted to protect us from a pet life to death reoccurrence.

As the months slipped by I began to voice how I needed another friend to help me in the grieving process and one night I caught my bride watching videos of Shih Tzu's. I welcomed and encouraged this behavior and before much longer we found ourselves at a breeders in Houston and took into our arms a baby female Shih Tzu.

My daughter, Melody, much grieved by the loss of Muffin, selected the new name of Coco Bear and we began the process of housebreaking what is arguably the most difficult breed to housebreak. We wanted a Shih Tzu because Muffin was half Shih Tzu and we thought we knew what we were doing. It wasn't long before we realized our beloved Muffin acted more like a Pomeranian, than this little Ewok monkey.

The Shih Tzu pure breed is a peculiar royal lap dog of unmatched parallel; we quickly found out and began reading everything we could, to help us understand what we had welcomed into our home.

One trainer summed up this stubborn and obstinate dog as either the stupidest dog on the planet or the smartest. This breed cannot be scolded for wrongdoing, but rather rewarded to do well instead. If they want to do something, it's like they are genius learners; if they don't care to learn something, it's going to take forty or fifty concerted efforts on the owners part to get them to do it your way…maybe.

Shih Tzu's are part monkey, part cat, part rabbit and finally part dog. Ask anyone who owns one. Their bottom jaw juts out like a bulldog. Their hair feels and looks like it belongs on a cat and when they are wet; they must be blow-dried, as they can't shake the water out. They hop straight up in the air and run like a rabbit with sudden starts and stops. Their face looks like a cross between a Golden Lion Tamarin monkey and a Star Wars Ewok and they steal your heart like a funny little furry pirate.

Muffin will live on in our hearts through Coco Bear. All dogs go to heaven

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Getting Back to the Basics

I am like you; the average American and I’ve had enough hustle and bustle to last a lifetime.

We are swamped to the gills with ignoramus product advertising claims, reality-television nonsensical blah, blah, blah, end of the world doom and gloom news reporting and are in serious need of a change of pace, relaxation and just a break from it all.

Good news of any kind for us average Americans would be most welcome, especially about the economy, world peace, global warming and the future concerning American politics, the succeeding security of our investments, health care and the cost of living staying within reach.

We however are not stupid enough to think we should hold our breath and wait for the inauguration for “new air”, as we have already figured out that Washington DC politics have little to do with how we breath down here, regardless of how many times hysterical fanatics from either party say otherwise.

About ninety percent of all these invasive distractions and worries can be brought into control by simply shutting off the television and returning to the basics of just enjoying life. Most of the doom and gloom reporting is not going to affect us anyway, so why do we abuse ourselves with it, especially on a minute-by-minute basis, via TV, radio and the Internet?

Why do we keep looking for a fast-acting disposable remedy or a visual and sensory over-loading instant mini-vacation spot to make us happy, when deep down inside we know what we really need is simply a major detour from our noisy existence and a bit of old-fashioned peace and quiet?

A truly rewarding peace and quiet existence can’t be found in a rapid-fire quick airline flight get away or a hell-bent-for-leather cross-country drive to Branson, Orlando or Six Flags over Whatever regardless of how many of us attempt to find it there. What we need is a true safe haven from our hustle and bustle, which is the opposite of what we normally consider and can only be discovered by deliberate planning.

We need to get back to the basics of living folks, if we are going to live well and protect our well-being. Personally, I plan to do it by hiking and camping and in the process, I’ll be cooking meat on a stick over an open campfire, something my ancestors did and enjoyed. I want to pitch a tent and sleep on the ground and bust out of my routine before my routine destroys me.

I have to be honest with myself and make a few initial concessions though, as I am so deeply entrenched in our fast paced lifestyle that going totally primitive would probably find me sitting along a trail in a catatonic state, drooling and mumbling computer code. I’m making plans to stay at some of our fine State parks - the ones that have camping sites with running water and an electrical outlet. It’s a start and I need a jumping off place after all these years of city living. I’ll worry about going totally primitive after I get a few of these under my moccasins.

Back in my high school years I camped often. One year my brothers and I camped out for over a month straight and as an Airman in central California, I took camping/backpacking trips each weekend. Looking back it seems like it was simpler times and I yearn for that again.

Of course, I could fish or hunt again and that would bring a measure of mind-numbing repose, I’m sure, but truth be told, I want to hike and exert my aging muscles to the point of weary exhaustion and that is difficult to accomplish in a 14-foot John Boat or a deer blind.

I plan to squat on my haunches over an open fire and cook cowboy coffee for starters. I’ll crack a few eggs to go with about six thick slices of peppered bacon for breakfast and after that, I’ll ponder the trail, camera in hand. Somewhere during the day, I’ll break open my trail rations and finding a scenic overlook, I’ll savor the moment and maybe nap a bit.

As the evening rolls around, I’ll stumble back into camp, tired and at peace with the world and myself. I’ll cook my meaty provisions over an open fire, much as my ancestors of old and look at the heavens and marvel. Maybe I’ll see a few falling stars or an orbiting satellite.

At the end of my nature and wonder-filled day I’ll plop down in my dome tent smelling of leather, wood smoke and cooked meat with the intention of doing it all again the next day. I’ll fall fast asleep with a smile on my face.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Texas Hunters - the Good, Bad and Ugly

Our first hunter, a guy I'll call Mike-Mike, along with his son and dad represent the future of hunting in Texas, in letter, law and spirit. Our second hunter, we'll call T-Bone, although very knowledgeable and extremely field-savvy and proficient – represents past hunting philosophy. Both parties are passionate about hunting. Both can tell you anything and everything about equipment, habits of ducks, deer, turkeys, squirrels and feral hogs. Both are Texas hunters and both are actually a mixture of many people, whom many of us will recognize.

Some of my old ways are mentioned here and maybe you will see yourself also.

Mike-Mike, or MM is a .243 Winchester guy, while T-Bone goes with the .378 Weatherby Magnum. Mike is a finesse hunter, constantly honing shooting skills and in his own words has "never lost a deer" to the smaller cartridge. T-Bone is a hemi-powered raw horsepower shooter – he likes to send lead downstream and dang the torpedoes…the more the merrier. MM always acquires the proper licenses and permissions, while TB has an extensive history of violating game laws.

MM is what the Texas Hunter Education program defines as a 'True Sportsman'. T-Bone at one time was fined seventeen thousand dollars for poaching wood ducks, but ended up getting a reduced sentence for "connections and good behavior". He also shot a mute swan (along with other federal and State-restricted crawling, running, swimming and flying animals), was apprehended and released by a State Game Warden due to certain questionable extenuating circumstances.

TB, as we'll call him is in my opinion still in the adolescent development stage of hunting, the one the State Hunter Education class defines as the 'shooting stage'. He likes to fire his guns - a lot. The more he fires his weapon, the better time he has. Back when I first met him, we decided to do a handgun swap. I traded him a Ruger Blackhawk .41 Magnum revolver for a Ruger .45 ACP pistol. It was a good trade and both of us exchanged a certain amount of ammunition and I got a spare ammo clip also.

A few days passed and I asked TB if he had had time to fire the revolver and check out the box of fifty custom hand-loaded for this gun ammunition, which were quite stiff by the way. He, to my surprise, remarked that on his way home from work, shot holes in every road sign he saw, firing the large bore magnum revolver out the window of his ¾ ton 4X4 truck. In shock, I blurted out "you shot them-there hot rounds one-handed?" for lack of a better response and in my best Southern accent.

Mike-Mike and family never stop hunting something or preparing for the next hunt. They go from one season to the next planting oats and winter wheat, building and testing their deer/duck/hog stands meticulously checking for the latest sign of activity and when game is harvested, they render all of it themselves, wasting nothing usable, making sausage, steaks and ribs. It's a family affair and they very much enjoy their time together pursuing this Texas sport.

MM is also a practiced marksman and he takes pride in making sure every shot counts. One day recently a yarn was spun in the breakroom that does MM justice.

"Flicking the four-inch long and angry red scorpion off his Tony Lama alligator boot, MM takes bead on a distant 250# feral hog and fires off one well-placed custom-loaded 85 grain Sierra boattail bullet. The round makes it's way down wind, easily dispatches the hog and then successfully takes down a 12 point buck deer standing behind it, but before the deer has dropped painlessly in it's tracks, the venerable bullet turns on a rib and takes out two quail, which both drop two eggs a piece and before all energy is lost, snuffs a cottontail rabbit.

Mike-Mike waits the prescribed thirty minutes and appreciating the instant and humane dispatch of his game animals, gently places the four fertile quail eggs in a small soft bag with the intention of placing the eggs into the nest of another quail hen he has observed. MM has no trouble waiting the thirty minutes, as he is a patient man and he passes the time easily watching two yearling deer play on the other side of the fenceline of the neighboring ranch, which he has no intention of hunting".

After dressing his game and arriving back at camp, he listens as T-Bone explains that he "doe-popped" a ki-o-tee, a bobcat, 3 hawgs (which he left lay because they were probably boars and most likely a tad gamey), two jack-o-rabbits, a dirty old crow, three buzzards (he hates buzzards and likens them to women who plunder men's wallets), an egg-eatin' fox and all this after he bagged an irresistible (what he figures is) 14-point buck deer that was "a good 350-yard shot". Oh, by the way he laughs and says the .378 Weatherby Magnum flat exploded most of this smaller game, so he didn't bother to bring any of it back.

TB would have been back at the camp earlier he explains, but he had to cross two fence lines and the owner of that other property hadn't left for town yet. Did MM want to help him go look for it before the ranch owner came back? They needed to hurry so TB could restock his beer cooler and get more ammo for the evening hunt, since he had went through three boxes already.

I've personally witnessed most of this behavior over the years from numerous hunters and only a bit of this column actually relates to MM and TB, but the bottom line is this: If you love hunting, regardless of your age, seek out a Hunter Education Instructor, take the State course and learn to love the proper way to use the freedoms and resources available to us as Texans.

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