Friday, October 31, 2014

Mutants, Creeps, and Monsters!



 At first glance, you may think this Halloween day column is about the White House and the current administration, but it is not.  It’s not for one reason and one reason only – although there is a direct correlation, it wouldn’t be fun.  Accurate yes, fun no.

There’s nothing funny about what is coming out of Washington, not that I can tell.

Way back in 1965 when I was 13 wonderful years old, there were two genres of movies very active on the television set.  Spies and monsters.  Of course there were westerns and family shows, but these two lines of thought were emerging and possibly peaking all within a space of about 5 years.  I Spy, Get Smart, The Avengers, Mission Impossible, The Saint, Danger Man, T.H.E. Cat and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were hugely successful and in the dark shadows of the heinous Commies, everyone wanted our spies to outsmart their spies.

Boy has that changed.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, the good ol’ USA is now an open tome for every spy agency on earth, especially those who want to destroy our country.  My friend who retired from the Air Force’s secret intel organization, with tenure in the NSA and CIA told me what Snowden did was akin to blatant treason, hurting and crippling our country irreparably.  I guess that would brand Snowden as an extreme Hollywood creep.  Maybe we could talk Jane Fonda into playing his alter ego Chelsea Manning in his life story?  Now that is funny!  I told you this week’s column would be humorous.

When I was 13, I would watch those many monster movies, shivering in my dark room, scared senseless and love/hate every second of it.  Frankenstein’s monster, the werewolf, Dracula, The creature from the black lagoon, and the Mummy to name a few.

One in particular took place in snow country where a woman scientist was taking injections of wasp venom to preserve her youth and as a 13 year old; I never saw it coming when she disappeared only to attack people looking for her, mutated as a human-size waspish insect.  Horrors!

Today’s equivalent of a real life monster  is when you have your taxes did and realize you owe $1100 or that mutant sprinkler head in your yard jumped your water bill to $452.79!  Aside from real criminals and deviants, life’s hardships are the real monsters we face.  Of course they are and like the wasp woman I experienced as a 13 year old, we never saw them coming.

Life’s hardships are the opposite of fun, funny, or anything involving a smile, unless it is Joe Biden’s glorious mug.  Old Joe can light up a dark room like a jack-o'-lantern!  His grin brings me Halloween hope in fact.

My siblings and I on Halloween night would venture out into the neighborhoods - unchaperoned mind you - carrying doubled brown paper grocery sacks, or a pillowcase and return within an hour to dump out our full sacks of ghoulish candy, only to rush out for a second go.  There were no cars on the streets because people knew kids would be dashing back and forth and back then, common sense ruled.  The real danger wasn’t pedophiles, it was cars and it still is today.

We wore homemade costumes using whatever we could come up with and it was the happiest of times.  We were monsters, mutants, creeps, pirates – or maybe a combination of all of them and ate every bit of candy we were given without parent intervention or second thought.  Sugar was cheap and many people handed out candy bars or whole handfuls of sweet deliciousness.

In today’s world of creepy ultra-phobias, it is a much wiser choice to take your kids to your local church or friends only houses for their safe Halloween fun, then run the risk of them being ran over by someone in their car worrying a pedophile is going to get their kids.  There are so many cars parked on neighborhood streets at night that they are reduced to one lane of traffic only and with kids darting back and forth, it’s a recipe for a disaster.

I would love to return to that one day in time I anxiously waited for, beat out only by Christmas, but that time has come and went.  Back then the mutants, creeps, and monsters were portrayed by Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi.  Now all I have to do is watch the news.  Happy Halloween folks and this year get out and walk with your kids.  It will do you both good.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Songbird Meadows Bed & Breakfast review



I have little experience with Bed & Breakfast abodes.  I want to say that from the onset.  I do however know when I am being pampered - and pampered I like.  Back 4 months ago I retired from a job that had me working 60 to 80 hours a week for the last 37 years. 

We arrived on a typical Tuesday afternoon, driving in from Baytown, Texas, fighting the Houston traffic and all wired up.  In fact, I was still internally wired up from all those years of working overtime on a chemical plant.

This is the perfect place to take your Bride and baby her and this readily apparent from the moment we arrived.  There are three quaint cabins and each are situated in such a manner as to give the occupants privacy and the feeling they are alone in a most peaceful setting.  My beautiful Bride of 37 years and I wasted no time after arriving in the afternoon, to hike the trails on the property, discovering all the unique bird watching stations and places of prayer.  We needed to get the blood flowing after all that driving.


It is very obvious that a tremendous amount of effort has gone into making this bed and breakfast a sanctuary for weary souls.  They even have a place in the woods where you can throw old china against a backstop to relieve stress.  We relieve stress by hiking.

Our cabin was the Hummingbird Hideaway and of course, I ordered the Romance package!  The interior of the cabin is beautifully and efficiently laid out with every possible amenity and although we used it sparingly, as we are geocachers – spending every waking moment hiking in Pedernales Falls State Park, or scouring the countryside for geocaches, it was comfy and very much welcomed at the end of the day.

In fact, when you stay there, you will fall in love with the cabin and dream of owning one like it.


Breakfast is delivered each morning by the hostess in a large basket and placed on the front porch and even I can see that the presentation is top shelf.  In fact, I can’t say I’ve eaten a more delicious breakfast in a long time.  Each morning we relaxed on the front porch, drinking coffee, and watching the deer browse around in the lower meadow.  Each evening I sat by the large campfire and read my email on my laptop.

Let me say something about the owners.  They are non-intrusive, but available at the drop of a hat.  Unlike many places you could stay, they really want you to unwind and recover, especially if you have experienced grief in your life.

The host and hostess and my wife and I share the losses of our sons due to the Iraq/Afghanistan war and when I arrived, I brought them a copy of the portrait of their son, painted by famed Baytown artist, Ken “the Dauber” Pridgeon.  The original hangs in his the portrait of a warrior art gallery in Baytown, Texas.  http://www.portraitofawarrior.org/

The 3 days flew by so fast, it was as if we took a micro vacation, but with magnum results.  My fast-pace life could use a dose of this place once a month and then maybe, just maybe, I could slow down a bit.  I rate this wonderful experience excellent on every level.

Songbird Meadows Bed & Breakfast is located 1022 Stanton Ranch Loop, P.O. Box 1532
Johnson City, TX, 78636, United States  GPS coordinates: N30 14.001  W098 22.193  info@songbirdmeadowsbb.net  830.868.2468   http://www.songbirdmeadowsbb.net/



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Don’t Mess With… Baytown?




 When our esteemed Mayor DonCarlos said Baytown has a litter problem, I took it with a grain of empty plastic water bottle.  Its not like I didn’t believe him, I just didn’t think it was the mentality of many people to litter in 2014.  Not in Baytown anyway.  Didn’t we stop doing that, like, 30 years ago?

Well.  Shut the front door; he was right.  It’s not like I don’t trust his judgment; I do.  Heck, I voted for him as Mayor at least 10 times so far, maybe more now that I think about it.  It’s just that until I experienced it first hand, I had no idea it was anything more than stuff blowing out of the back of a pick-em-up truck, or maybe a shopping cart.

I remember when he said it I saw a bunch of trash in the field south of Home Depot and told myself trash and litter was relegated to places like this – and why didn’t the store owners clean it up?  I can say this and not be self-righteous and that statement right there stinks of self-righteousness doesn’t it – but it’s true just the same.

This year alone, I’ve participated is 7 trash bashes.  The city had a big one at Bergeron Park on the 18th, but I was at an event in Livingston (and yes, we picked up trash) and missed it and the Baytown Photo club has about 4 a year out on Tri-City Beach Road.  By the way, I need to attend the next one.  Heck, I even went over to Beaumont to attend what Geocachers call a CITO, or Cache In Trash Out event and picked up trash on 2 miles of highway there.  So am I being self righteous when I get miffed over tossed garbage?

I can’t say for sure if that giggly happy fellow in the Facebook photos at the Bergeron Park clean-up was Scott Sheley, but it probably was.  I didn’t see any donuts though, so maybe not.  Picking up other peoples trash is hard work and requires stamina and thus the donuts, kolaches, and of course – Gatorade or some other high-powered salty drink.  I’m a BRAWNDO man myself, because it has electrolytes, so an army of trash picker uppers deserve their food.

I’ve come to the conclusion that trashy people with no conscience or ecological awareness are those who unroll their car or truck window and throw out that great big bag of fast food refuse.  They might also belong to the same group who chug a bottle of Thunderbird or a half-pint of Old Granny and toss it onto the spanking new Blue Heron Parkway median.

Because I walk it with one or two empty grocery bags and pick up the constant resupply of litter, I know for a certainty that it is NOT the many people texting as they drive that I observe, as they simply don’t have enough hands to toss trash while they mindlessly peck away on their Smartphones that often are as large as a Whataburger samich was 30 years ago.

Until I saw the daily water bottles, food wrappers, beer cans and (gasp) a used condom on the trail around the detention pond at Blue Heron Park and the long trail running behind Chaparral Village, I thought it was only refuse blowing out of cars.  Now I know otherwise.  What perplexes me the most is that health conscious rational thinking people, walking for exercise, would casually drop their water bottles, only to see them the next day and drop more.

Kathy Nelson is a Board member of Keep Baytown Beautiful and has contacted me.  Their mission is to work within our community to strive for excellence in making Baytown a cleaner, brighter place to live and play.  I like this and there is hardly a day goes by that I don’t pick up trash in this town, so I fit in with this philosophy real good.

The bottom line is trashy people dump their trash on the ground everywhere they go and those of us that don’t like to live in filth, pick it up.  If you are a person who throws everything out the window of your car, please stop it.  Thank you.
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Baytown Walks. Wait! What?




I grew up playing outdoors, unlike what is commonly accepted as normal child activity  today.  Being hyper was unheard of; we were boys.  Baseball, football, whiffleball, Army – we played Army almost every day.  We were the baby boomers, being born after World War Two and the Korean conflict.  Of course we had toy guns and a lot of times, we had sticks that in our vivid imaginations were machine guns.  We shot a lot of imaginary enemies of our country and many times, were wounded or killed.

My 3 brothers and I spent untold hours on long hikes in the woods, often staying gone from my Mom’s scrutiny for hours – or we rode our bicycles and would many times chalk up 10 mile adventures.  We would climb trees and when our body weight over-powered the tall plant, we would hang on and ride the tree to the ground before letting go.  This was our entertainment.  Its what we did to entertain ourselves.

We would find a brick wall and one would bat, while the other threw a rubber ball at the strike zone or we would find a circular track and ride our bikes around it 100 times or more simulating a race track competition.  One summer in Woodstock, Georgia, we camped out in the wooded section behind our house for over a month, only using the house for the toilet, a meal, or the occasional shower.  We loved staying outdoors and it was plenty hot, wet, or cold all of the time.

I’ve lived in my present house for 22 years and with a large track of woods behind it, I’ve never seen kids playing there, so yes, times have changed from the ancient times of my childhood.  Thank the big man in the sky, that is about to change again.  Boomers are once again coming out of their houses and… walking.  Maybe, just maybe, it will include kids and teens.  The Blue Heron Park Trail has about 2.5 miles (estimate) of 10-foot wide sidewalk for us to bang our feet upon and it has a lot of activity and it is just one of the many trails our city has built for us Baytownians.

Thanks to Scott Johnson’s strong leadership and Sonja Payne, we now have a Baytown Walks program and I am pleased to say we had a good turn-out on its first day.  Baytown for many years was a very hostile place for hikers, bikers, and walkers, lacking even a modest number of sidewalks, let alone walking trails.  This has changed, but there is more work to be done and more wide sidewalks are needed.

We are fat, folks.  There is no sense in denying it.  We need to get off our rumps and walk.  What, you’re not fat?  Good for you.  No go outside and start walking.  Sweat all you want, but walk anyway and while you’re at it, bring a plastic garbage bag and pick up a little trash while you’re sweating.  All that bending over will work wonders for that soon to develop six-pack and make the city look cleaner at the same time.

Speaking of making the city look better, I confirmed with a city employee that the proliferation of signs being stuck at every intersection advertising “Repairing credit for $250” and another that “Buys Homes Fast” are illegal signs, so feel free to remove and recycle them in your green can.  They are litter, nothing more.

The city has an OAP (overall plan) to connect all of our trails together in the future and I for one applaud it.  The sooner the better and every dime spent on it is an investment in our city’s future and our personal health.  I am anxiously awaiting the trail expansion and fourth bridge across Cary Bayou in Walter Jenkins Park.  I’ve put a bug in Dustin Schubert’s ear to certify the trail at 5000 meters so people will come to Baytown to train for long distance running.  The area behind the dog park could be a spaghetti trail with elevation changes in that would make a runner’s mouth water.

And speaking of water, let’s get that kayak launch point on Cary Bayou at JC Holloway Park!  The new launch point at the Baytown Nature Center is awesome!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Wonder-filled Sky



This is Baytown Bert in Baytown, Texas and this is Podcast 017

As far back as I can remember, I’ve turned my eyes toward the heavens, both literally and spiritually and I guess that’s one reason I got up this past Wednesday to watch the lunar eclipse and the awesome phenomenon known as the blood moon.  I saw it at full eclipse and it was indeed reddish in color.
 
Baytown photographer Carl Schier
I remember being 11 years old and living in Dundee Michigan like it was yesterday.  We lived on a farm with tall corn growing out around us for miles.  Much like in the movie:  Signs”.  The only real view besides the corn was straight up and I would lay in a small depression in the grassy front yard and stare at the giant cumulonimbus cloud formations.  They would move and transform into identifiable shapes of peoples faces and animals.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing my imagination skills, which later in life have helped me write about my experiences.

I owned a refractive telescope and I would try in vain to keep it focused on the moon.  Over the years I’ve spent hours watching the sky at work, or looking at the stars while camping.  On the desktop of my computer is a vivid photograph of the moon in all its glory taken by Baytown photographer Carl Schier.  He posted it on Facebook and I just knew I wanted to see it often.  I find the heavens… fascinating. 

Every so often a comet will appear, never to be seen again in our lifetime and most folks I talk to, including family members have no interest in it.  I remember watching the comet Hale-Bopp in 1995 and Hyakutake a year later and each night, binoculars in cupped fists, I would stare at them in wonder.  My family came out the first night at my insistence, yawned, and went back in the house, apparently bored by the whole thing.

The 2 years I spent in the Big SkyCountry of Montana rewarded me one night with a reflective display of the Northern Lights and each night with the Milky Way.  Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the MilkyWay, it is terribly majestic and truly amazing – not amazing like seeing a squirrel ride a skateboard, but awesome in the truest sense of the word.  At first observation, it looks like high clouds, but on closer examination, it is, what it is, trillions of stars – trillions.
 
Baytown photographer Carl Schier mars moon
My brother, son, and his two boys were camping out near Austin a number of years ago and it was very late.  We laid under the stars on sleeping bags and watched the satellites orbit the earth… then one turned and went the other direction.  The unidentified object literally stopped and went another direction.  It was a celestial phenomenon – like all the others.

For some time before I retired, I would watch the International Space Station orbit pattern on the Internet and announce to my coworkers when it would pass over us, usually around 0415 in the morning.  On occasion, a few guys would join me in the back of the Plant where it was quite dark and using the projected data, I would point in the sky as the clock ticked down.  As if by magic, it would appear and logic would dictate you could watch it, horizon to horizon, but that is not the case.

Sometimes it would appear almost over our heads and be visible for only 15 seconds, traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, give or take.  Everyone would remark how amazing it was, but most would only make the trip once.  Other times, I would walk into the control room and ask if anyone has seen the planet Jupiter.  “No?  Well, follow me; it’s in plain sight just outside, right besides Mars and the moon.”  Often, no one would bother to go outside.

My friend and fellow sky gazer Ruthie Ames sums it up best.  She loves the outdoors and often posts photos on Facebook of her kayaking in some remote place.


“I've always felt closer to the earth than the things we manufacture from it. When I was four or five years old I remember my grandparents dragging our mattress out and laying it in the middle of the backyard out by the clothesline. We would lie there in the dark looking up at the stars. I remember us quietly talking, sometimes giggling or laughing about a joke that was shared. But mostly just getting lost in that black sky with all those stars. My grandmother would tell me stories; some of them true some of them fanciful, Some of them in between. I remember noticing as the warm night began to turn chill and my little nightgown started to get damp from the creeping dew. It smelled so wonderful being close to the grass and my grandmother's garden of vegetables and herbs. There were lemon trees and fig tree's and peach trees that made a wonderful perfume that swirled around and made a kind of potion with the oil and grease smell of the nearby train. ... And like magic, every morning I awoke safe and warm in my bed.”
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Monday, October 06, 2014

Is the media just scaring people about Ebola?

What is written below is my original thoughts on Ebola, not something I copied off the InterWebs:

I am watching this disease to make people aware of a known contagion. For some stupid reason, American citizens need a 9-11 strike or a Pearl Harbor attack before they wake up.

The Flu, AIDS, malaria, Ebola, etc. are all very real and dangerous and we need to be aware of how they are spread and work to keep ourselves safe. The CDC has said quite plainly that Ebola will come to the United States. The long incubation period will allow people to come into this country, mix it up with friends and loved ones, even after they begin to show mild signs or symptoms. We are seeing this in Dallas, Texas.

So, its not a witch hunt. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed 150 million people around the world. Here is the kicker that most people do not know or understand. The Spanish flu was an avian (bird) disease, which spread to pigs, then jumped to humans. Ebola is also an animal virus which has jumped to humans, so we are talking about two of the diseases that originated in birds/fish/animals; like AIDS.

Ebola turns your insides into jelly. Hemorrhagic Fever to be exact. Look it up on Google. Heck, I'll link it for you.

It is only sensationalized reporting when it is "over there", but if you found out you spent twenty minutes in a restaurant sitting behind someone who two days later is diagnosed as having Ebola, you would scream your lungs out. Think about it.
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Friday, October 03, 2014

Zombies and the 70 virgin delusion




This is Baytown Bert in Baytown, Texas and this is Podcast 016
 

I have a romantic fascination with the end times and when I say romantic, I do not mean I like the prospect.  In fact, I do not want to live in a post-apocalyptic world.  Only a delusional fool would want to.   

October 16th, season 5 of the Walking Dead premiers and I will be glued to the tube to watch what Rick does to prove that they “Don’t know who they are fooling with!”  I have a very personal interest in this series, as I went to school for 2 plus years just north of where the story takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, land of kudzu and red clay.  It brings back a lot of memories, except the zombie part, of course.

The end times… the Biblical term associated with Christians vanishing, the aftermath, and the Book of Revelation.   Not to ruffle feathers, or get into a war of what is going to actually happen, I swerve hard and go into the world of fiction – which incidentally can be manipulated at will or speculated to – to death.  This is the world I fantasize over and the one I am directing this column towards, so relax.   There’s even a little levity thrown in.

I want to go on record and state firmly that I like my conditioned air, my electricity, my fast Internet connection, etcetera, etcetera.   I prepare for anarchy, but never want to actually live it.  I like to sweat at the gym and the hiking trails, but I abhor sleeping, well, sticky.  I did that for 2 years in Southeast Asia. I like eating when I want to, but learned after Hurricane Ike that MRE’s can be quite tasty.

Living minute by minute and watching your back with a loaded AR-15 is really exciting on TV, but in real life?  Nightmarish.  Can you imagine pulling into the Donut Wheel on Garth Road to get your morning boudin kolaches and seeing a bombed out store front?  Horrors!  Not to mention, the kind and friendly proprietor would most likely be, well, he would be absent or even ghoulish in appearance?

One reason I love watching the Walking Dead is the zombie arch villain could be replaced with anything from the weather to an alien attack and it would still depict anarchy and be an accurate depiction of how it would be if the government could not maintain law and order.  It could even be an Ebola outbreak…

However, the criminal element is always involved regardless and the one I fear the most likely antagonist we will encounter in a time of anarchy. 

Regardless of who the booger man is, the criminal element will always prey upon society.  It happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit the city and this element was portrayed as victims for the most part.  Most could have left, but stayed to exploit vacant city.  It happened in Ferguson, Missouri also.  The criminal element turned a peaceful rally into something the local police could not contain.

We live in a real world where actual fanatics believe they will be welcomed into the bosom of Abraham for killing people who do not believe or practice their peculiar brand of twisted and perverse dogma.  They erroneously believe they will be rewarded with 70 very dead, but chaste young girls if they die in battle with the name of their god on their lips.  It sounds like something from an Stephen King novel and just as preposterous.  70 dead girls; now that is some reward.  It doesn’t add up any more than a dead zombie walking around biting a living human for a hot meal.  It’s impure horror/fantasy fiction.  This 70 virgin reward is the greatest lie and astoundingly more people are signing on every day. 

In a country where we believe in tolerating other religions, this particular one for the most part is lying low and to many of us, this is a clear sign of complicity.  I would love – love to see a mass movement in this country of said religion openly condemning these fanatics.  I’m not holding my breath though.  According to some “experts” at least one third of the practitioners in this country actually agree with the radicals.  They choose to remain quiet, much like the mutants in the Walking Dead.  This causes many of us to watch them with suspicion.

To me and many other Americans, they are nothing more than flesh-eating zombies, at least until they come alive and condemn this aberrant and devilish behavior toward other religions and the American way of life in particular.

Now after saying all that, I know that I will ruffle the feathers of one vitriolic and sanctimonious liberal neighbor, who will swear that somehow, I am calling Barack Hussein Obama a zombie, but I’m not.   I am however suspicious the President’s rabid walkers most likely are themselves mindless followers of his weak and flawed leadership.  Only the brain-dead could prop up the man’s actions as beneficial to we, the American people.  It’s as if he rolls the dice every day to find out what can be done “for the good of the people” and regardless of what he does, his people get all giddy over it.

No, I do not want to see America brought to its knees by religious zealots, Ebola, bad White House planning, or... yikes, zombies.  I want to see it prosper.  I want to wave at a cop knowing they have my back.  I want to eat at the local taqueria or juicy hamburg joint and sit in my air conditioned abode and watch make believe zombies get slain by desperate American fighters on the tube with my doggies curled up next to me, but there’s always that danged criminal element to watch for and thus, I will continue to prepare for the… end times.

I'm not distracted, I just can't remember.

Our country has been clobbered with a pandemic and it's not caused by mosquitoes, terrorists, or a childish Asian communist with ...