Friday, October 28, 2016

Camp fires, wood smoke, and burning leaves.



 When I was a kid, everyone burned leaves in the fall. I always enjoyed it so much.  It was a happy time. Man, that smell was amazing and you couldn’t go anywhere without smelling it. Of course now I know that it is a major source of air pollution and those of us that live inside the city limits are restricted from doing it. I don’t think I would burn them anyway, choosing to compost instead.

The whole family would engage in raking the yard and the reward was burning the leaves. The thick gray smoke would pour out like liquid clouds and we would run through it. Afterward, we smelled like smoke, but we didn’t care. I would wager that most people under the age of 30 have never even raked leaves into a pile, let alone burn them.

Growing up in north Georgia in the late 60’s, my 3 brothers and I would camp out most of the summer and burn anything and everything on our campfire. At the end of summer there wouldn’t be a stick, pine cone, or needle on the ground. We smelled like mountain men and didn’t even notice it. Of course we showered every third day or so and put on clean clothes, but we pretty much lived in our outdoor summer campsite. It was a grand time of adventure and primitive living. I guess you could say we were happy.

The other night when it fell into the 50’s, I beckoned my bride to step outside, as someone was burning wood. I’m not sure if she was impressed like I was, but I stayed out front for sometime and my memories were refreshed. It is the simple things in life that sometimes bring the most pleasure. Someone asked me one time what brings true happiness and I told them it is when you fulfill your duties, or a job well done. Peace and contentment bring real joy also.

Disneyworld is nothing more than entertainment. It doesn’t induce lasting happiness. Standing in front of my house smelling that wood smoke made me happy, as I was living in the past and in the moment and days later I still feel good about it. I was content. Doing good deeds and accomplishing things also bring a sense of well being. In a time when everything is pushed as entertainment, we almost forget that none of it really makes us happy.  People go on cruises and vacations and never talk about them afterward.

There is so much hassle and logistics involved to go and do things anymore that when it is all said and done, I’m not sure we got anything more out of it than seeing and doing things – and spent a bunch of money we don’t really have and why? Because we are chasing the illusion of happiness. My dad could sit in one spot and fish all by himself from sunrise to sunset and be as happy as a frog eating a June bug.  The scenery never changed and all he might have seen around his boat was water and sky, but he was more content, than if he would have traveled and climbed up to Machu Picchu.

Wood smoke and camp fires. How long has it been since you hunkered down by a campfire and let the world fly by without you? Of course, you cannot haul in a lowboy of modern conveniences on this trip, or you just complicate it. No, just some meat on a stick; coffee in the morning, and maybe a cooler with beverages is all you need. Get a pocket knife and whittle a stick, just frittering the day away. I promise, it will do you more good than a trip to a crowded stadium, where you have a 50/50 chance of leaving disgusted.

My little doggies make me happy on a daily basis. They demand nothing, chase each other in mock fights and dadgumit, they just are great companions. I feel good caring for them, by taking them for walks, making sure they have plenty of food and water, and great veterinary care. It’s these simple everyday things that enrich my life and the best part of it all is I recognize it. I don’t have to book a flight to Belize to have a great time or to be content.

Like the burning leaves, wood smoke, and campfires, what has truly made me satisfied in life - is life itself.
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Friday, October 21, 2016

Who wants the good old days?



We have an amazing source of near constant free energy in our Sun, so why don’t every home have a solar panel array in place? It is 2016 after all.  Think about it.  The first internal combustion engine automobile became generally available to the public in 1908, just 22 years after its invention. It was made by ford and named the Model T.

The invention of solar panels predates automobiles by over 30 years. Although rudimentary and inefficient, it wasn’t until 1941 that the solar cell came along. That was 55 years ago and yet, I don’t have a solar array and a bank of batteries powering my house.  Why? It is still too expensive. Again I ask why. Why is it so expensive for us to get off fossil fuel generated electricity and onto solar energy cells?

We are risking a future nightmare if we lose power. Heckfire, if we lose juice for just 24 hours, most of us are utterly miserable and anxiously ready to revolt. (Get it?) Never mind. The idea of living off the grid for most of us is just a fantasy and the good old days of no electricity and outhouse toilets, is not something I don’t want to experience again.

John Wells, a New York photographer liquidated his assets and bought a plot of desert land near Terlingua, Texas about 10 years ago.  His homestead is called the Field Lab and he blogs about it daily. It is an experiment in off the grid living and yes, he has solar panels to provide electricity. He runs the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, a personal experiment in green living.

In his own words, he writes, “I was paying $1,000 a month in taxes. I decided I would try a debt-free lifestyle. I knew a couple, Abe and Josie Connally, who were practicing sustainable living in West Texas, so in October 2007 I packed up and moved. Now I own 40 acres in the desert, and my property taxes are $100 a year.”

He has a huge scientific following and I guess I can say my attention also, as I have followed him since the inception of the experiment. Don’t get me wrong, I want a simpler life as do most of us, if we think about it. I remember a time when things were not as complicated and yearn for them occasionally. One of my fantasies is sitting in front of a log cabin on the side of a mountain and drinking coffee over a small campfire. At the end of the day, I would turn on the lights inside and cook on my gas stove and get a beverage out of the refrigerator, just like I do here in Baytown.

“As soon as I got here, I built the basic box of my house in ten days and moved right in. I used four-by-eight-foot panels of oriented strand board, which is like plywood but cheaper. There are seven little windows and a big glass door.”

In my fantasy, I would have the best of both worlds.  Solitude, peace, great scenery and modern conveniences at my fingertips. With proper landscaping, I could have all of them right here in Baytown with a solar panel array and batteries with no need to buy propane, butane, or gasoline to run my house and vehicles. So why hasn’t the price and knowledge of solar energy become cheap and common? It works and is clean and I think everyone would switch to it if they could.  Can you imagine how quiet our world would be if we weren’t propelling ours vehicles with gasoline and diesel?

Back to the Field Lab, John writes, “I’m building a greenhouse out of shipping containers and cinder block, to create a garden that will be my little oasis of food and wean me from canned goods. I’m going to try hydroponics and aquaponics, which is when you grow fish and vegetables at the same time.” Do we have to be in starvation mode to plant a Victory Garden? Wouldn’t it be amazing if people all across this country took to planting their own crops in their yards, verandas, or patios? I imagine we would all be happier than we are now. Talk about a farmer’s market!

People would be friendlier too and guess what?  You could actually enjoy talking to people again. The good old days had a certain charm, I will grant you that, but we need electricity and the way to insure we keep it, is for solar panel technology to become affordable.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Outdoor Games for the Average Person



The old exhortation that there is nothing to do in Baytown is simply no longer true. There are interesting and fun alternatives for everyone and some of them require no set-up fees or additional expense to enjoy. On top of everything else, the four games I am going to describe will not only get you outside into the great outdoors, but enable you to interact with your friends and family including small children.

The four games are Pokémon Go, Ingress, Geocaching, and Baytown Rocks. The first three require a global positioning device or Smartphone and the fourth requires shoes of some kind, unless you like to walk around barefoot.

Pokémon Go and Ingress were originally developed for the gaming industry and now allow a person to play a form of virtual reality (using a free Ap) where they follow their missions outdoors and track whatever it is they are looking for with a Smartphone. Both games have great appeal to gamers, but not so much for the average person.

“Ingress is a location-based, augmented-reality, massively multiplayer online game (MMOG). The game has a science fiction back story with a continuous open narrative. Ingress is also considered to be a location-based exergame (video games that require physical activity to play), as is Pokémon Go. Mobile exergames for GPS (global positioning system)-enabled smartphones and mini-tablets take players outdoors, in the open air, unlike console exergames.”

In my experience, Ingress appeals more to hardcore gamers, whereas Pokémon Go is a simpler type MMOG with many more players. Both games have an international following and just might be what you are looking for in an outdoor game.

Geocaching is the mac daddy of hide and seek games and one that I regularly teach. It can take you to the most remote locations on earth and have the highest terrain and difficulty rating in comparison to the other 3 games. A short description of the complicated game is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.

Doing a simple search online will help anyone learn about these 3 games and it’s not my intention in this article to attempt to cover them in any real detail. You can however learn a great deal about geocaching here: http://ourbaytown.com/baytownbert/geocache.htm

On the 4th game, it is the new kid on the block and by far the easiest: Baytown Rocks.  Baytown Rocks is a Facebook-based game where local families paint rocks and then “hide” them at businesses or parks and when you find one, you log it on their Facebook page located here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BaytownRocks/  Note, you will have to have a free Facebook account to post there.

“Baytown Rocks is a communal art project dedicated to spreading joy in our community. Simply decorate a rock however you want and "hide" it in a public space for others to find. Be sure to write "Keep or hide, but post to FB @BaytownRocks" on the back! Check the group to see if anyone found your rock, and don't forget to invite your friends to join us!”

The origin of the game only goes back a couple of years to April 2014 when an Oregon couple, grieving the loss of their 2 daughters started Love Rocks on Facebook. It has since spread like wildfire and Sunday Harper created the group to bring it to Baytown. Our iteration presently has almost 4000 people playing the game.

On a couple of my Blue Heron Trail litter abatement walks, I found two! I knew about this game when it launched and wrongly decided it was nothing more than fluff and a fad, but now I am seeing the light. Maybe I had rocks in my head, but guess what? Its fun! The first stone I found was painted like a minion and when I posted my find and selfie holding the colorful mineral, I learned that a 9 year old child painted it and they were very excited that I posted the photo.

The second rock was painted to advertise the Baytown Little Theater. I pretty much left both rocks for others to find so they can enjoy the game also. As a geocacher, used to looking for things that only a geocacher would find, this game is easy peasy in comparison, but the real motivation is the exercise I am getting and the joy the creators get when someone finds their custom rock.

I think these 4 games are wonderful and if people playing are careful when out and about, they can avoid injury. We’ve all heard stories about folks playing Pokémon Go getting ran over by a car or falling off a cliff while staring at their phone screen, but geocaching in remote areas is probably potentially more hazardous. Geocache containers may be in the top of a tree, in an alligator-infested bayou, or on the side of a mountain and like most things that are really fun, it has inherent dangers.

I urge you to get outdoors and try your hand at one of these 4 games. Who knows? You might just rock out!


Quoted text from various online research.
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Friday, October 07, 2016

The New Stupid World Order



Is it just me or does it once again appear that the whole world is sinking into a state of chaos? From the simplest of tasks, like following the rules of the road to people dressing up like clowns and chasing people, the world has plainly gone nuts.

Just last week, within 3 days of each other I had  3 occasions where a car approached at a higher rate of speed than the neighborhood speed limit of 30mph, by coming over into my lane because their lane was blocked with cars – not mine. Common rules of the road dictate they wait as I pass, but no, they can’t wait. Their ignorance of the law and their impatience and entitlement would not let them. Not to mention, I perceived them to be idiotic and rude and that my friend is a dangerous combination.

A week or two before that, the same thing happened and I would not give up my lane. They were forced to slow down and were barely able to slip by my left side without a head-on collision. My speed was about 10mph and theirs was closer to 40mph, before they braked almost to a stop. My reaction was because it was happening with more frequency and my lifted Jeep would have climbed up and over the top of their racy little import sedan.

Prior to this, it was a rare occasion – just like clown sightings.

Now we have a couple of copycats, who are falling into the imbecilic and rude category and they showed up in Jenkins Park. Are people so stupid that they think something like wearing clown clothes and masks and chasing people is a good idea? I’m afraid that if I encounter one, I will hold them close to the ground with my foot on the side of their head until the cops arrive, fire ants and all.

I can see the headlines that would flash across the Internet:  “240 pound muscled, indoor cycling instructor, Vietnam Veteran, black belt man-handles Halloween-costumed unarmed teen boy in public park.  Charges being reviewed by a grand jury.”  Oh, you think that couldn’t happen in our new stupid world order?

We have people right here in this town that would go ballistic and want me lynched. “How dare someone discourage anyone from dressing like a clown in public?” they would cry. They would use social media because they consider themselves “progressives”. Geeze does this mean common sense should be ignored? Almost every cherished idea is under attack it seems. I am all for progress, it just has to come slowly, so we can feel out the repercussions and make reversals. Remember dropping the drinking age from 21 to 18?

In a society that requires law and order, we are turning into the Wild West, where anything we can get away with is the new rule. A society that takes more than it gives is doomed. I’ve said it so many times, but it needs repeating. When people put their agendas ahead of everyone and everything around them, there is going to be chaos. Speak up and “how dare you?” is screamed in your face.

I watched a goodly number of videos where marchers have attempted to block roads with their numbers and the drivers feel threatened enough to run people over. The crowd now screams foul and literally tries to kill the drivers. What? I’d drive over them too if I felt threatened. Heckfire, as far back as I can remember I knew better than to walk out on the road. Are they really that stupid? You walk in front of a moving car and you get what you deserve.

There are people posting videos of them driving around blowing train horns to scare people. Guess what? It is so loud it isn’t funny to anyone but the morons doing it. The so-called prank videos are the same.  They are not pranks by any stretch and hitting a stranger in the back with a ball bat is not a joke, it’s an attack. People racing through red lights so they don’t have to stop are not anything more than dangerous drivers breaking the law. They kill other people when it goes wrong and all you have to do to see an example is drive in Baytown.

It’s the stupid new world order of give it to me, its mine. I walk into the gym almost every day and as I do, I pick up energy drink cans and protein bar wrappers in the parking lot and put them in the trash can at the door. I shake my head every single time I do it too. The other day, someone threw a weighted rubber ball against the wall of the Group X room and caved in the sheet rock. They bugged out and didn’t say a word and I found it when I came in for Spin class. I guess they thought it would bounce back? More head shaking.

Sometimes I feel like a three-eyed man in the land of the blind, but I would wager that many of you reading this see it the same as I do. It’s enough to make you lose faith in mankind.
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What, me read? Isn't that a 4 letter word?

I had an appointment this week at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center to have an echocardiogram, which by the way is an EKG ti...