Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

A modern day Air Force TI
I remember my first Christmas away from home.  I was 18 years old and the year was 1970.   I spent the Christmas holidays sequestered in an Air Force Basic Training barracks at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio shining my boots.

With me were 57 other airman.  We were no longer considered new troops, as we had been in training about a month.  At the time and it may be this way still, new recruits were called Rainbows.

“Rainbow, Rainbow, don’t be blue
Your TI was a Rainbow too!”

I made the terrible decision to join the Air Force at the end of November, which meant I would be in Basic Training over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’ holidays effectively extending my time there by two full weeks.  My “Flight” had been in training long enough that our TI’s (Chief Military Training Instructors) left us to enjoy Christmas with their families and we spent the four day holiday cleaning our equipment, the barracks, and shining our boots.  I thought it was a rough deal and a lonely time and like the other recruits there, we passed the holidays in near silence.

One year later and one short visit home, I was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the Strategic Air Command way up in icy cold central Montana.  It is a Minuteman Missile base and when Christmas rolled around, I drew the short straw and couldn’t fly home for the holidays.  Airfare, flying military stand-by, was a whopping $65 one way and who could afford that on Airman’s pay anyway?

Due to the holidays, the base was being manned by a skeleton crew, except for the missile launch crews and seeing that I worked at a Forward Supply Point in the Missile hanger, I was deemed essential.  I remember walking in the snow to the Chow Hall on Christmas day 1971.  It was so cold and dark that I felt like the world had abandoned me.  I was 19 years old and by the standards of those days, a man and my dad taught me to “suck it up”, but that didn’t stop me from feeling alone up in the Big Sky country that day.

Stepping into the Chow Hall, I was surprised to have a server place a pair of stuffed pork chops on my plate.  They were two inches thick and cooked to perfection.  I had never seen such and to this day, remember that meal; far from home that only a few of us special people were served.  A few months passed and I was told I had received orders and I reported to Base Operations to get them and seeing I had this specialty training in Supply, I was told I needed to process out immediately to go to APO 96337.  I had no idea what these numbers meant and was told to cross reference them on a chart, which I did.
Back at the barracks, I approached a veteran sergeant who I trusted.  “Where is Danang AFB?” He laughed knowingly and told me it was “Rocket City, Vietnam.”  I wanted to cry and finally did when I called home that night when talking to my mother.

It was early 1972 and the war was “deescalating” but almost 2400 of our military perished in Vietnam in 1971 and this was nothing to take lightly.  I listened to my peers as they talked about running truck convoys from depot to base armed to the teeth and rockets landing at random in the warehouses and if I said I felt brave, I would be lying.  My orders meant I was going into harm's way.

Providence stepped in and once again, my specialty prevailed.  Instead of going to package up the departing 366th Gunfighters squadron, I was sent ahead to Central Thailand to help set up the Forward Supply Point there.  I spent 21 and a half months there, working 12-hour shifts in the jungle heat.  I remember both Christmas’ and accepted the fact that being a G.I. meant you could not be with your family at special times like this.

Segue to the December 2013 holidays and here I am once again at work.  Since I left home to join the war effort in 1970, I’ve either been away from my family or worked 37 of the 43 Christmas holidays.  Am I whining, complaining, or lonely?  No.  I’ve accepted it.  Has it made a Scrooge out of me?  Maybe.  Do I still remember the true meaning and spirit of celebrating the coming of the Christ child?  Sure, of course, but the thrill of gift giving and festivities isn’t there.  It died a slow death a long time ago.

Sadly, for me it’s for the most part, nothing more than overtime or holiday pay.  It’s mammon to pay for the stuff we’ve bought and fodder for upcoming taxes and that is the real shame of it. 
I want my Christmas ghosts to give me back what I lost.  I want what they took from me.  I want to be a kid again, excitedly opening my eyes after a near sleepless night and rush down to a bright tree full of presents.  I want to eat until I'm sick and then eat more.

The reason I write this is I'm not the Lone Ranger on missing the Christmas holidays and certainly not for pity or sympathy.  Nope.  All around the world this holiday season are thousands of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers working in far away countries defending our way of life and they can’t come home.  Say a prayer for them.  Right here in Baytown, we have many men and women working in the chemical plants and refinery’s doing the same thing as I have all these years.

Our restaurant workers, fire fighters, medical professionals, and police officers are working overtime and swing shifts and will miss the Christmas holidays also.  The fellow at the convenience store told me that if I needed something on Christmas day, they would be open and he will spend the day behind the counter talking to strangers and away from his family.

My point in all of this is, if you can be with your family on these special days, take a moment to cherish it.  Enjoy how fortunate you are.  Hug those around you and tell them you love them.  Merry Christmas to my fellow Baytownians and Happy New Year to you too.  Something tells me I am going to spend Christmas 2014 with my Bride and family and it’s going to be a terrific year.  See you in 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is Google the Anti-Christ?

Note:  This column is linked to many current philosophies and by-phrases being implemented in our country by progressives and our government.

Forgive me for going geek this week in my column, if you can.  I am a nerd, who hides it well most of the time, often posing as an outdoorsman who loves the woods.  If sci-fi, computers and robots are not your cup of tea, please do not stop reading.  Please listen to me on this futuristic environment we are flying into with apparent abandon and with welcoming arms.

What?  You say you are not in this group?  You say you are still old school and read a real newspaper that is thrown on your lawn and this proves you still like the old ways, right?  Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but what we discriminating papyrus readers see as normal, the current and future generations will see as antiquated and frankly, a waste of renewable resources.  An eTablet reader is acceptably sustainable while pulp-based reading is wasteful – and eventually even… sinful.

No, not sinful!  Wasting resources will become criminal, like smoking tobacco…   What?  Smoking tobacco isn’t against the law.
No, not yet, but for the good of the people, it will be.  It’s inherently unhealthy and everyone has been drilled ad nauseam that second-hand smoke is more dangerous than the actual drag off the cigarette, right?  How we’ve collectively inhaled that dubious fact is beyond even kindergarten logic
Never doubt how powerful the written word is and when you add a seasoned orator like our current top executive, it becomes exponentially powerful.  The man could sell Edsel, Yugo, Pinto and Corvair cars and people would line up to buy them.  Why?  Because he has a team of fantastic speech writers and his delivery is convincing, even if most of us reasoning folks can see it is nothing more than political smoke-blowing rhetoric.

Enter Google.  Google changed everything for most of us.  Back 20 or so years ago AOL had the Internet by the throat and most people gladly paid to use it.  I, like almost every computer geek I’ve known thought it was stupid and worked the Internet without it.  I used Netscape to browse and Eudora as an email client.  Netscape morphed into Firefox and I still use this fine and free open-source browser and thumb my nose at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  Okay, okay, I’m getting geeky, but for a reason.

Google introduced Gmail and blam!  I was on it.  No more AOL,Outlook or Yahoo folders for my email.  No more sorting and cataloging.  Google is a search engine and so is Gmail, so I archive my messages and then when I want to find one, I simply type in the person’s name that sent it or a catchy word and there it is.  Literally everything Google has done has made my surfing the net better, but about three years ago, I sat up and took a look at what was happening and that is when I half-jokingly predicted that Google may just be the Anti-Christ.

BigDog - The Most Advanced Rough-Terrain Robot on Earth

Now, with their acquisition of Boston Dynamics (Google it!), I’m feeling the hackles beginning to rise.  This military grade robotics company first came to my attention about five years ago when I watched a video of their robotic Big Dog jump over a section of ground, then walk across ice, cinder blocks, and deep snow without falling down – and that was five years ago!  It could carry 350 pounds while doing it too.

Now, back in the ancient days, required reading for college included Ray Bradbury’s incredible book, Fahrenheit 451, which I’ve read maybe 3 times.  In this book, the protagonist fears one thing more than anything else – a mechanical dog that once it is on your scent, it never ceases to stop looking for and killing whatever it is looking for.  His lone crime was reading books.  Books were outlawed and he had 20 of them.

Boston Dynamics also has a robotic animal called “Cheetah” which has been clocked running almost 30 miles an hour and an 11 pound robotic sand flea which can jump 30 feet straight up in the air.  How would you like to have one of those weapons land on your head?  Bear in mind that these are military grade robots which could be used against “terrorists” both domestic and foreign.

It’s been reported this is the 8th robotic company Google has bought in 6 months and with their collective brain-power and inexhaustible revenue, they are more powerful than many nations.  Add in Ray Kurzweil’s terrifying vision he dubs The Singularity where artificial intelligence surpasses humans in 2045 and you have The Terminator.  Oh, so you think it can’t happen?  It can and Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robots won’t protect us.
Raymond "Ray" Kurzweil is an American author, inventor, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google.
I may be wrong – I hope I am.  I hope these advances will be used “for the good of the people” as much as I hate that mantra and not against us, but power is a heady drink and with the global environment becoming more and more unified, I can see nothing good coming from a lot of this technology.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The American Free Enterprise travesty

This week in Colorado, an administrative law judge ruled against a privately owned business, forcing the owner of a Lakewood bakery to go against his Christian beliefs and bake a cake for a gay couple celebrating their marriage.

When the polite refusal was voiced, the intimidation began. According to Phillips, the two both stood and stormed out of the store, one of them by his own admission making an obscene gesture and swearing something about an “(expletive deleted) homophobic bakery.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint against the owner; effectively violating his rights, so it could represent the rights of the gay couple. What?

So, now they are going to get a delicious cake, right?  I doubt it and this is stupid to put it mildly.

First, let’s throw out the complicated issue of the two men wanting to marry and let’s look at a private business and you and me. Let’s say you go into a private business and the owner smells like a barnyard, or the place is filthy, or the guy or gal takes one look at you and crunches up their face in disgust and proclaims he doesn’t serve people like you, whatever that is.

I’ll tell you what I would do. I would turn around and walk out of that place – especially if they served food or I was going to request they create a food item for me.

Would I go to the American Civil Liberties Union and file a complaint? Heck no. I would boycott the place, which incidentally is my strongest option and tell everyone I can influence to do as well.
I know, as well as you, that the word discrimination is a vulgar four-letter word, but let’s take a look at it.
1. The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex.  
2. Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.
I discriminate on a daily basis, especially when in public. Does this mean that I discriminate unjustly?  Unjustly and prejudicial here are the key words. In my inherently righteous mind, I do not.

I pick and choose how I react to other humans by past experience and my spiritual guide. Take for instance my view on crime and criminals. I discriminate against criminals, especially those who prey on society or commit acts of violence.

I discriminate against people who appear to be criminals or are about to make me a target. I discriminate against people who attempt to force their will on me or violate my space.  
I discriminate against anyone trying to force their religion on me, or make me violate my religious beliefs.

Does the American Civil Liberties Union really believe that the judge’s order is going to make gay people or couples rush down to this bakery and announce they are gay and request a delicious cake?  Not one in a million will do it.  Why?  I shouldn’t have to explain, but for the sake of argument I will.
To put it mildly the cake might contain undesirable ingredients. Bakers sell cakes because the public wants a delicious treat. The public also wants to believe the baker wants to sell more cakes, not make them sick.

On the other hand, the baker’s stand against what he believes is a violation of his religious views, might just cause a flood of supporting business.
There is another side to this that I feel needs to be brought to light and it is the same stance I took when the smoking ban issue was brought before our fair citizens. Neither the bakery in Colorado, nor a private business here in Baytown is owned by the U.S. government.
People shop in both places because they want to. The heart of free enterprise and capitalism is the business owner’s right to serve who they want. I still believe free enterprise allows the owner to put a sign in the front window which reads “No shoes, no service” or a sign which reads “Caution: tobacco smoke may be present.”

I agree that posting a sign which reads “White (black, fat, red, yellow, brown, short, ugly) people will not be served” is wrong, but if I knew I was not welcome there, why in God’s name would I go there in the first place? Again, I feel I must point out the obvious. I don’t want anyone spitting in my cake batter because they don’t want me in their private business and made that clear.  I just won’t shop there.

Free Enterprise: Freedom of private business to organize and operate for profit in a competitive system without interference by government beyond regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance.

How in the world is it protecting the public interest to force a business owner to serve anyone against their religious beliefs, which SURPRISE, violates the First Amendment rights of that very person.  

It’s a travesty of the intent of the law and if it really is the American Civil Liberties Union, they represented the wrong party.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Resisting a Bully – Part Two

 I am still in contact with a good number of student friends in North Georgia through a mailing list I started about 12 years ago at the urging of my sister and a classmate.  We call ourselves Friends Forever and on this list is a fellow named Alan Dempsey.  Alan was always like an older brother to me when I lived there, a welcome change from the extremely anti-Yankee attitude that prevailed at the time.  He was also a real charmer of the ladies and this, of course made him the target of every jealous boyfriend.

Alan was also a scrapper and although you couldn’t find a nicer guy, he seemed to always be getting in fights and was pretty danged good at defending himself.  Back in 1967, if you were caught fighting, a number of things were going to happen, but none of them involved dragging your parents to debtors prison, like is common today.  First, you were going to get “pops” or a paddling and you may end up going to the gym and putting on boxing gloves and get pops from the coach to boot.  In extreme cases of multiple acts of fisticuffs, you could get suspended or even expelled permanently.

The last time I saw Alan before we moved from Georgia, he was running across the breezeway and his face was bloody.  He stopped long enough to tell me he had just successful “beat the fire out of someone,” and kept going, fearing he would get pops.  Knowing Alan like I do, I can pretty much tell you the fight was by a jealous boyfriend.  Alan wrote on our mailing list today, asking for more details of the fight I wrote about last week, so here it is:

 Alan, it was Eldridge Bentley.  Someone had (reportedly) paid him $10 to beat me up, and then go after my younger brother.  I was his first target and in 3rd hall talking to a pretty girl when I saw a large crowd coming.  Eldridge was in the lead and the oddest thing was I had missed the bus and rode to school with him that morning in his car and we had arrived early, easily beating the long bus ride of 20 miles.  He was very strong and I was a full grown young man and he grabbed me by the front of the shirt and partially lifted me off the ground.  My back was to the edge of the lockers and he said "Me and you are gonna fight."

 I said, "Okay, but what for?"  I'll never forget his answer, "That's none of your danged business," and he hit me.  I bounced back into the corner between the locker and the wall and landing back on him, I wrapped my left arm around his neck and popped him in the face as hard as I could, maybe 6-10 times before he laid a wicked and wild hay-maker on the side of my jaw.  His thumb went under my jaw, hooking it and cutting my neck while breaking his thumb and wrist.

 It took me a few days and the help of a witness to figure out what happened when he hit me the second time.  The strike turned my head and I slammed my nose into the corner of the locker and I remember being on the floor trying to get up, but not going down.  I laid there for what seemed like a minute as my head spun, but was probably closer to five and in the meantime, the bell had sounded and first period already started.

 I got up slowly and I remember staring at the pool of blood on the tile.  I looked to my right and the teacher was in plain view, but to this day, I can't tell you her name, again a product of moving from school to school.  I gathered up my books and went to my desk.  My face and shirt were bloody and I couldn't breathe through my nose, as I thought it was broken.  No one looked at me and the room was very quiet. 

Now, let me back up a bit.  A week before this happened another muscular bully insulted me in front of Mr. Crockett's classroom in the hallway and again I was talking to a pretty girl.  I was in 10th grade and he was in the 9th and he also played football.  Seems like his name was Bobby something, maybe my brother remembers.  He said something really vulgar and I asked him what he said, as I had had enough, but being a Yankee from Ohio in North Georgia in 1967 made me lay pretty danged low, as there were just too many people who wouldn't mind seeing the Civil War end with a Rebel yell.

The fellow, who lifted weights and looked impressive, smacked me hard in the face and I was always under the ignorant belief that you let the other guy actually hit you before you fought back.  I threw my books to the side and hit him with a left, then a hard right as he went off-balance and I knocked him onto the floor on his back in front of everyone.  To my surprise, he grabbed up his books and took off and I grabbed mine and hurried into Mr. Crockett’s class before he arrived. Mr. Crockett was known for his ability to lift grown high school boys off the ground with his paddle and it was his answer for every altercation.
 I now believe this was the impetus for the Bentley fight.  The rest of that story I’ve already told and the odd thing was, I never got in another fight at Cherokee High School and everyone who was afraid of Eldridge Bentley steered clear of me and this is why you always resist a bully.  They only feed upon the weak.
My brother sent me this note:  “The kids name was Bobby Croft. I think he thought if he whipped you he would be some kind of hero. After the Eldridge Bentley fiasco, I was fishing at the little creek down from our house and Eldridge came along with his pole and sat by me. He told me what inspired him to fight that day. Our redneck neighbor from North Carolina, Mr. Lott offered him $5 apiece as a bounty to beat us up. Eldridge never got paid and he was sorry that he took the offer. He was the starting tailback on the football team and that ended his playing. I was walking in the 9th grade hall when I suddenly was picked off the ground from behind by the back of my shirt. Eldridge wanted to know where you were as he was going to go kick your butt and then come back for me. By the time I got over where you were Eldridge had already been there.”
Am I advocating fist fighting in school?  No.  I am advocating standing up for yourself and this may include learning to defend yourself, but it will for sure call for an adjustment of your attitude and that only comes by confidence, careful planning, or anger.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, so friends, choose your path wisely.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Habitat for Humanity nominee - Ken Pridgeon

To All,

Could someone help direct me to how to submit Baytown's Fallen Hero's Artist  Ken Pridgeon for a home since his old house is leaking and fallen down around him... Ken has did so much for so many in Baytown TX and for many KIA families in Texas and it would be nice to surprise him with a nice home...
Thank you for what all of you do..
Warren Fitts
Baytown TX Veteran
Life member in VFW, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veteran, member in AMVETS, American Legion, S/E Patriot Guard, Rolling Thunder...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Are we raising a nation of wimps?

Almost daily I hear about the sissifying of our children and it causes me to wonder if there will be a United States of America before I buy the farm and leave the proceeds to my bride.  Let me make my points and examples and then you decide if I am right, wrong, or just another blow-hard.
I’m a baby boomer, born during the Korean War to a World War II father and a mother who raised a daughter and four boys.  My dad was a tool and die maker and he would send his resume out and just like that, we would pack up and move.  Consequently, my brothers and I learned to stand up for ourselves.
Back in the 1960’s kids did two things for fun; they played baseball and army.  Every kid had a toy cowboy six-gun or toy rifle.  We idolized cowboys who would shoot the bad guys in the black hats and John Wayne’s six-gun (read hog leg), Winchester lever gun and his powerful fists.
My brothers and neighborhood boys would prowl the streets in the evening, jumping over fences and shooting at each other with our toy guns, which more times than not resembled a stick.  We had incredible imaginations.  We mostly fought Nazi’s, better known to us as heinous “Krauts” and I’m not bragging when I say my personal body count numbered close to a million – killed or wounded.
Make no mention that I myself was either killed or shot to pieces almost every day and sometimes I would put on a spectacular display of jerking and flipping as the Krauts would riddle me unmercifully.  No matter, as I would reanimate only to take them on anew the next night – after baseball.  We were the Sandlot kids.
Moving around the country, I had plenty of opportunities to defend my new kid status and often engaged in real life fisticuffs which only helped me define myself as a man and did me no real harm and that includes getting knocked out in the hall in the 9th grade by a football player 3 years older than me.
It was 1967 and I was a Yankee in North Georgia and the teacher could plainly see me lying on the floor in the hall when I came to.  I got up slowly, collected my books, and took my seat.   The classroom was silent and blood was pooling below me on my desktop.  I stood up and walked to the teacher’s desk and before I could really say much, she pushed a hall pass to me.  I went up front and called my mother twenty miles away and she drove those twisted Cherokee County roads to take me to the doctor.  Not once was I approached by a teacher as I sat and waited, even though the class bell rang and many students witnessed me sitting there waiting with a bloody face and shirt.
I was feeling pretty beaten when we got to the shotgun building of a doctor’s office and as we walked down the hall, I spied my antagonist and his face was swollen to the point his eyes were almost closed and his hand was broken.  The doctor told me I only had a bruised nose and by default fighting rules and the extent of his injuries versus my own, I learned the next day I was declared the winner.  You see, this fellow only got in two punches and the second one was a hay maker, whereas I must have struck him ten times before he clocked me.  I feared the guy, but once I realized a fight was inevitable, I fought like a cornered…defender.

I went on to enlist in the United States Air Force and serve my country honorably in South East Asia for two tours working 12 to 14 hours a day supporting F-4 Phantom and F-111 Aardvark fighter jets with the 366th Gunfighters and the 6280th Combat Support Group.
Kids today are scared of bugs, anything that crawls, mice, the dark, someone pointing their finger like it is a gun…  What?  Yes, a boy was suspended somewhere here in the good ol USA the other day for doing just that.
A fellow here at work told me today his son was suspended for three days because he told someone he read a recipe for making a bomb.  The son had a near perfect record heretofore and made decent grades, but the mere whisper to a classmate of his supposed knowledge, got him suspended.  It did not matter what my friend or the boy said to defend him.  He was guilty.
My son got a three day suspension for bringing a nail file, scissors, and toothpick in a red Swiss Army Knife configuration to Crockett Elementary – because it “looked like a knife” and “We have a zero tolerance policy against knives, Mr. Marshall.”  When I challenged the decision, they graciously removed 2 of the 3 day’s penalty.  I walked away wondering what in the world is becoming of our school policies.
On the other hand, we have deranged and criminal people doing violence in our schools and… oh my God; bullies, so what is the solution?  First, there is nothing we can do to stop a crazy person from doing crazy things, or bullies trolling for a target, but we sure as heck fire can teach our kids to stand up for themselves. 
Second, a criminal is a criminal, not because of the economy or society, but because they choose to commit crimes over working for what they get.  We need to teach our kids to defend themselves on all levels and when they are of an age where they can up the ante, tell them it’s okay to up it, either by learning fighting skills or getting a concealed handgun permit, or both.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Geocaching 101 at Second Baytown Church

A couple of weeks ago, while teaching a geocaching 101 event with education booth at the Baytown Nurture Nature Festival, I met the children’s minister at Second Baytown Church, Ruth Charlson.
 She told me they were using a version of geocaching in her church to illustrate Biblical principles and wondered if I could come and explain the game.  I agreed and wouldn’t you know it, two geocaching friends, husband and wife team Joe and Jennifer Porter attend church there and showed up at both classes to explain their personal experiences.

My first group was a whole covey of eight and nine year kiddos and to my absolute amazement, they listened to everything I said.  I fully expected them to be fidgety and distracted, but when I held up my Gold doubloon geocoin and talked about pirate treasure and pieces of eight, you could have heard a pin drop.  You could see their brain-gears spinning as I talked about swag…  Swag is a term used by geocachers and what pirates would call booty.

 The golden rule of geocaching is, if you take something from the cache, you leave something of equal or greater value.  So, if after finding a geocache and signing the logbook, you may decide to leave a dollar bill, or a cool looking key chain, also valued at one dollar.  The next geocacher finds the cache, signs the log and wants the dollar bill, but all they have is a marble and a patriotic pin that cost two dollars.  Which do they leave?  The patriotic pin and then they may drop in the marble for fun.
My second class and I hope she forgives me as I cannot remember the class teachers name, were older kids and they were just as attentive.  I had a good time, as did my friends, Joe and Jennifer and hopefully the kiddos will join this fun game, get off the couch and the X-box and get outside in our parks and find some geocaches.

For more information on geocaching and a few tips and funny videos, go to my page located here and the official web site.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Baytown Bert's Mega Armadillo Eggs!

2 lb. bulk sausage (regular)
20 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
5 c. Bisquick
1 can whole jalapenos cut in half 

1/2 lb. Cheddar Jack cheese, cut in chunks
4 beaten eggs

I pkg real bacon bits
1 pkg. Zatarains pork Bake Crisp

Mix sausage, cheese and Bisquick and set aside. Put cheese pieces on jalapeno halves. Make pancakes with bisquick mix. Place peppers with cheese in center. Fold over edges and seal tightly. Make into egg shape. Dip each one in eggs and roll in Zatarains. Bake at 300 to 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Can be frozen after cooking.
  Makes 12 giant eggs on two pans.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

And people call this fun?

Back a couple of months ago when it was hot and muggy… Yes, I’m being sarcastic. A number of my friends and acquaintances with the Houston Geocaching Society came up with a plan to hike eleven miles in the woods near Huntsville. The Four Notch Loop is part of the Lone Star Hiking Trail and is a fairly flat hike with numerous gully crossings and because of the distance, a real challenge for anyone not prepared to walk over 19,000 steps. And then there is the added element of hunters with high-powered rifles mistaking us for deer to bump up the adventure.

When we had the November 16th date decided, I organized an “event” and this would give each of us a point or what geocachers call a “smiley” to add to our total geocache statistics.  Each time you find a geocache or attend an event, it generates a little smiley face icon on the list page and your personal statistics to show you found it.

Juleed, GreenEyed, & BaytownBert
All week long we discussed the weather on our forum and at first, it looked like it was going to be very cold, but this turned to thunderstorm concerns with the added probability that ravine crossings would be difficult.  The day before the event, first one, then other probable attendee began to beg off and all for good reasons.  My geocaching mentor and friend Larry Houston (known to geocachers as HoustonControl), who knows the trail well, just wasn’t up to the long hike after his recent hospital stay and I am glad he chose prudence over possible misadventure.

The trail can be confusing, but I wasn’t much concerned as I drove the 98 miles and rolled into the campsite at 0730 where the trail begins.  We had a couple of seasoned and trail veteran hikers, namely Mudfrog, out of Beaumont, TexasWriter from Tomball, and Nov64, from Willis.

Well, I get a text from Mudfrog.  His son TxTadpole is sick and they’ve been up all night.  He won’t be there.  Okay, alright.  Not to worry.  It’s about 60 degrees outside and humid enough to sip the air.  I wisely wore shorts and a bright orange t-shirt, figuring if it was cold, the strenuous walk and the 20 pound day pack would warm me up.

Using my Android phone, I check the forum and sure enough, TexasWriter has bowed out over a scheduling conflict.  Well, we’ve still got Nov64 to lead us.  As I am standing there pondering all of this, another Jeep arrives and out hops Dennis, or as he’s known - RatherGoHiking.  He tells me he showed up for the event, but has a bum foot due to surgery and won’t be going.  Okay.  This is looking a bit weak in the numbers category.

I see a red Smartcar rolling down the road and it’s my two geocaching 101 friends, Juleed, and Greeneyed - Julee Denton from Seabrook, and Jennifer Schaudt from League City and right behind them are Backwards Charlie From Austin, and Nov64 – Patty Pritzen.  Patty owns the geocache – all one of them, we are going after.

The four cache loop, as it is know is actually a multi-cache with 4 containers, but geocachers only get one smiley for finding the last one.  Nov64 is wearing flip-flops – not a good sign.  Backwards Charlie is about 75 years old and "ain’t walking that far for one smiley when he can find more in the area, driving."  That leaves Juleed, GreenEyed, and me.  Ugh!  Time to make lemonade with these lemons, right?

Juleed did the hike before in cold weather and we started out, with good ol goose-stepping BaytownBert banging his feet at what turned out to be an intense pace and just about did in Juleed.  I tried to hand off the lead a couple of times and even slow it down a bit, but my natural gait kept the pace high.  When we finally stopped to eat a bite, Juleed informed me “it took us 5 hours to get here the last time”.  Two hours and fifty minutes had passed under our feet, including quite a few steep ravine crossings.

Greeneyed ate a peanut butter sandwich and green grapes, I had a turkey and cheese sandwich, and Juleed produced a sour green dill pickle as her soul fare.  I offered her a granola bar for carbs, but she refused it.  All three of us had hiking sticks and this is where Juleed walked off without hers.  She was beginning to get leg cramps and the temperature climbed to 84 degrees according to my thermometer on my back pack.
We came to what appeared to be a logging road and discussed taking a shortcut, as the trail wandered way away and then cut back in the same direction as the road and it was decided this might be a good idea.  It wasn’t and resulted in an extremely muddy and treacherous ravine crossing, which basically brought Juleed to a halt.  She’s a fighter and like all of us do, pushed herself too fast and too far before admitting that she was in a bit of trouble.  It was my fault.

I kept looking at my GPSr unit and the trail and distant road markings and set out double time for my Jeep three miles away.  I came to a road, took it for a bit and then plunged back into the forest, making pretty good time considering everything.  Three miles is a long way with the heat and terrain and I finally made it to my Jeep at the campgrounds, cranked it up, and took off.  I was following the outer perimeter road and called my mates.  They had gained the road and were walking slowly in my direction, but were still about a mile away when I came upon a locked gate.

Well, I am all for abiding by the laws of the land, but medical emergencies negate some things and my Jeep was made for situations like this one.  It took a bit of 4X4 savvy to leave no destructive footprint – I am a firm believer in leaving nothing behind but a shadow and I rolled right up to them.  Everything ended well, but next time I think we will go when it is cooler and with more friends.  I like adventure that ends well.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Heroes Walk Among Us

Baytown Bert and Ren Fitts

Imagine being a nine year old boy in tatters, standing on the streets of Cairo, Egypt.  The date is August 8th 1945, two months after Germany surrendered stopping World War II in Europe.  You are starving, as the Red Cross packages haven’t trickled down to the urchins.  The American’s have helped win the terrible war, but so far, all you’ve seen is the blistering sun and empty shelves, when all of a sudden four sailors come riding down the street on big motorcycles and they are throwing handfuls of bronze cupro-nickel one millieme coins to the kids… and you catch enough to feed yourself for four days!
Gil Marshall USNavy
My dad was one of the four and to that little boy, a hero.  Those of us who have served our country in the Armed Services in wartime all have similar stories and for the most part, it is buried where no one will ever see it.  There are memories of long brutal hours, terrifying nights watching, horrifying casualties, buddies lost, continuing nightmares, and unsung moments of sacrifice and bravery in our past.

Baytown has such a man and I count it a privilege to call him my friend.  Like the Dauber, he is a true hero in my eyes, even though he is self-effacing and truly humble.  Last Saturday, I was very pleased to ride shotgun in his 1948 Willy’s war Jeep in the Crosby Veterans Day parade and like my father before me, we threw candy to the many children lining the streets.  His name is Warren “Ren” Fitts and this is his story:

My Mom and Dad come from farm and ranch folks and why I guess I like this life also.   I was shoveling out manure when I was a young buck, bailing hay, and learning what hard work meant at a young age.  My Daddy was a WW ll Army Air Corps Bomber Pilot who never spoke to us 6 kids about his time in the military but when my uncles were around and we were out camping and they had a couple of beers we would over-hear the stories of my Heroes.

My Dad went to night school even with having young boys and became an Electrical Engineer for GE and he was given a job with AERO SPACE Team at Red Stone Arsenal in Huntsville Alabama.  I remember in early 60's meeting military people when my Dad took us to open house; later I found out they were Special Forces.  My Dad worked hard and taught us about trade skills and always said if you had a trade you will always have a job.   He also told us to respect those who serve our country because freedom is not free.

My older brother enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War in 67.  My Dad was on edge and told me I was going to be a "mechanical engineer and do not think of going in the military like your brother".  I respected my brother coming home in uniform, well dressed and confidant.

A few years later, my brother came to me and said, “If you get drafted you will be a bush bunny and with your low lottery number you are gone, so please go in military for a school and maybe you will be OK.   I went to all the branches and the Army offered me the best deal, so I enlisted.
Ren on top of the prop during an extraction.
I was trained in special leadership and Air Assault Helicopter training, preparing me for the extraction teams.  I finished school with high grades and deployed to Southeast Asia where I entered many countries and was with an AIR CAV Infantry Unit.  Many of our missions were recovery operations or forward support missions.  With my clearance I was told to never discuss anything of our training or where I’ve have been... So my secrets remain secrets.
Ren's the tall drink of water
I am a Disabled Vietnam veteran from a helicopter crash etc.   I am proud to have served with America’s elite forces.  I feel honored to have served my country in the US Army.  My training was the best the world has to offer and made me a better man when I became a civilian in the work force, because the word “quit” never entered my mind anytime under any condition. Am I a hero?  No.  I did my job like my brothers in arms and so proud to call them my family.
Ren is on the left.
Ren is a VFW Life member, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, member of AMVETS, American Legion and also a Associate member of Texas Game Wardens Associations, 100 Club all these organization who help others especially many in our community

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Bullying Can Be Stopped By Anyone

When I was a kid and I complained to my Dad that another kid was bullying me, he gave me a piece of advice that I took to heart.  "Pick up a stick and knock his lights out."  He was not using a metaphor either.  The sooner a child learns to resist a bully, the more prepared they will be for the aggressive workplace, social circles, or practice field.  Bullies only mess with the weak or sometimes those who appear to be a target.

Even a tiny wasp can put a grown man to flight and any resistance from someone a bully has targeted gets very old, very quickly to the bully.  Now, you may have to take a licking, but you can get in a few wasp stings of your own if you are mentally prepared to resist.

Another strategy that I actually saw work, but don't recommend is to go on the offensive against a bully and seek them out to "sting" them.  I saw this in the 10th grade and the third time the bullying victim sought out and openly provoked the bully who had attacked him two days before, the bully called a truce.  It got old very quickly and he rightly surmised the victim would continue to confront him in front of everyone.

I never picked up a stick.  I learned to defend myself and along the way, moving from city to city, as my Dad was what was called a job shopper, I got in a fight every single time I was singled out as the new kid.  The very instant someone tried to bully me, I fought back.  In 1972 I took my first karate lesson and never got in another fight, but I sure as h#ll know how to back down a bully and have many times since - but the bottom line is I am darned prepared to back it up.

Another thing is bullying in the workplace, at the gym, in organized sports, social circles, etc. goes on and will go on all your life.   Some of it is subtle, some is outright physical, so prepare yourself and your children to deal with it.  The sooner, the better.
Bert Marshall 1993 Flying Dragon Song Moo Kwan

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Sun Rises Every Day

This past Saturday, I arrived at the Baytown Nature Center right at 7am just minutes before the sun peeked over the horizon and after chatting with the bubbly attendant, drove my Jeep down to the raised pavilion in back.  It is one of the few places you can go here on the flat Texas Gulf Coast and get a wonderful panoramic view.  I was excited and anxious to see another heavenly sunrise and this one promised to be a beauty.
The invigorating effect of the clean air and cool temperature washing over me was multiplied by a 20 mile per hour north wind and I was glad I had my Nomex hoodie with me.  I came to teach a geocaching 101 class along with two friends Larry Houston and Julie Denton, but Larry was laid up in San Jacinto Methodist awaiting a treatment for a sudden ailment. 
As I pulled up on the west side of the pavilion, I took this breath-taking beautiful photo to share and although modern digital cameras are a marvel, they are no match for what all of us see with the naked eye, or what I facetiously like to say, as the naked observer.  I am the kind of person that likes to be early to everything.  I am also the kind of person who likes to be first.  On this day, I was both and unloading my teaching paraphernalia, I carried it up to the top of this amazing wheel-chair accessible teaching location.
On my way there, I stopped at the Donut Wheel on Garth Road and bought donuts – 18 to be exact, as others were sure to bring much more and did.  While there, the Vietnamese fellow who runs the place and I had an amicable chat about obesity, diabetes, and cholesterol, of all things and being a man who has lived in South East Asia, I like to pick the brains of Asians every chance I get.  He told me his homeland is suffering from the same health problems concerning diet as we Texans, in that air-conditioning and modern conveniences are replacing hard work, so diseases like diabetes are becoming common.
We settled on a dozen mixed and 6 cake donuts, as everyone knows the cake donuts are the only safe choice.  I ate two after arriving along with a hot coal-black cuppa Joe. 
Setting up my props in the pavilion, I stopped to watch the sun fully appear over the heavily industrialized horizon and being a denizen of the concrete and steel jungle for close to 40 years, I found it exceedingly beautiful.  I’ve learned to see it that way, as years ago I made up my mind to enjoy my life regardless of where I was.  When a person averages 15 to 16 months of work in a year’s time for most of their adult life, they better learn how to do this, or they will spend 90% of their waking hours wishing they were somewhere else.

Ruminate on that last statement.

I want to live in the moment and yes, I know this cliché is over-used.  However, it is a lesson most of us haven’t learned and that is the crux of this column.  Have you ever stood alone and looked at something and wished there were someone there to witness or share the wonder you are observing?  Whether you realize it or not, you are living in the moment.
Last week before the heavy rain came, I was at work and I stepped out of the back of the control room and there in the clouds was a very faint rainbow.  It was in an odd place and not where I would expect to see such a phenomenon.  I enjoyed it for all of a minute and it faded.  Questioning folks throughout the day, evidentially no one saw it but me. 
One by one students and seasoned geocachers began to arrive at the pavilion and before long there was a very large group of us eating donuts, laughing, sharing stories about challenging geocaches, and sharing trackable items.  Geocachers have these items called pathtags, Geocoins, and travelbugs and they have trackable numbers on them, so when one of these items moves from one “cache” to another, the miles are calculated.  At this class there were 4 geocachers with trackable numbers tattooed on their bodies.  Incredible.  They are human trackable items and I photographed their tats so I could log the numbers when I got home.  We were in the moment.  I knew it, but I wonder how many of us knew?
After the class, which lasted 2 fun hours, we loaded up everything and moved down to the Nurture Nature Festival and set up our booth under a tent.  I was joined by two other geocachers whose monikers are Juleed and Greeneyed and we sat, ate, and passed out donuts, stamped passports, and offered geocaching tips and information to the many people who visited out station.  The wind was something else, but you know?  We had a great time.  We were in the moment.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Observations and thoughts about violent crime

Robbery in The Woodlands caught on camera
Daily I watch the news to see masked men with guns robbing banks, armored cars, fast food restaurants, and even a Jiffy Lube.  A Jiffy Lube!  We are living in a boom economy with more jobs than we have qualified people to fill and yet, according to a coworker, these armed criminals are victims of our society and are being forced to steal a truck and ram in into a 7-11 and steal an ATM machine in order to feed their families. 


Taemarr Walker's brother caught in Texas in Saturday homicide

I was raised to believe if I couldn’t pay my bills or care for my family, I took a second or even third part time job to make ends meet.  Boy, times must have changed while I was working fifty to seventy hours a week for the last forty odd years.  Where have I been?

The above conversation is real and went like this, “The reason these men are robbing stores is they can’t get good jobs because of the economy.”

“The reason they can’t get good jobs is because they are convicted felons.”

“Exactly.  They are convicted felons and society has made it where they can’t get good jobs, so they are forced to get it any way they can.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yea, they are victims of society.”

Reckless McDonald's robbery in The Woodlands
Recently I watched the news and a well known people’s advocate was complaining about the armed robberies, home invasions, crash and grabs, purse snatchings, and other violent crime in inter-city Houston.  He said business and home owners are scared.  I appreciate this natty-dressed fellow using the violent crime problem to get his image before the people on this subject, because normally, the only time I see him is when he is crying foul when one of these violent criminals gets “abused” by the police department.

I remember when Islamic extremists were in the news daily killing Americans and the outrage by the general American public over the silence of peaceful Muslims in this country.  The average person when questioned told me they felt there should be a distancing and denouncing of terror by peaceful Muslims and they were basically silent on the subject.

'Wigged-out bandit' and accomplices rob credit union
I’m thinking this same people’s advocate needs to stir up the hard-working law-abiding people he represents to rise up and separate themselves from the criminals who are destroying the general public’s perception that this crime wave is inherent, because the 6 O’clock news sure is reinforcing that view.  Either that, or the media is seriously biased against this particular ethnicity.

Back to my conversation with an Operations supervisor I know, he continued, “If these convicted felons could get better jobs, they wouldn’t be stealing.”

“They steal because they are dishonest and criminal.  It has nothing to do with the economy.”

“No, it’s the economy.”

Armed bank robber in bright orange vest gets away with cash from Houston bank
“Um, is that why they attempt to rob an armored car with guns, knowing full well the guards are heavily armed and will shoot it out?”

Come on folks, reason this out.  Do the Somali pirates hijack a ship because of the economy?  Do people break into a home, or steal a truck and crash it into a storefront repeatedly and steal an ATM machine because they can’t get a good job?  Do people ease up to a car and while the occupant is pumping gas, steal their purse because they weren’t handed a job making forty dollars an hour when they finished high school?

Bank robbers on the loose after Pasadena hold up
As a concealed handgun permit citizen, I routinely have my firearm with me, as do hundreds of other law-abiding citizens and on a few occasions recently, these same unfortunate victims of society have pulled a gun on the wrong people.  I don’t wish harm on anyone, but that is wearing thin.  I don’t entertain fantasies of “blowing someone away”, but being a martial artist; I’ve had to come to grips with envisioning how it all may go down.

Now, back to the armored car robbers – let’s focus on these for starters.  The social victims are almost 100% sure they are going to shoot and be shot at and the same goes with entering a bank with a mask and gun.  Who in their right mind would do something like this in 2013 when businesses are crying for qualified help?  Criminals.  Criminals would and do, because they are not victims, but criminals who prey of society.

Search continues for second teen suspect in deadly shooting
So let’s cut through the socially and politically correct bologna right now and call these fellows what they are.  Dangerous and violent criminals and if they enter a home, bank, business, gas station, or Jack in the Box with a gun with the intention of robbing and shooting the people inside, they should be terminated with extreme prejudice and if you think this is harsh, put the shoe on the other foot. 

Imagine one of your loved ones being gunned down by one of these heinous creeps and then see if you can find a benevolent place in your heart for this poor unfortunate victim of society, because I sure can’t.  I’m sick of looking over my shoulder when sitting in a Subway, wondering if a couple of men in masks and hoodies are going to come through the door with guns so they can rob the place for a couple of hundred dollars.

Robbery suspect seen on camera accused of multiple cell phone store robberies.

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