Friday, February 16, 2018

Same Old Same Old

Not much happening with Donna and Keith these days. Yep, seems we are getting boring. Most of you would say that I've been boring most of my life.

Does the wind ever stop blowing in West Texas? I doubt it. Calm days are rare out here. But I can't complain with the weather lately. We've had some good temps. Wednesday almost reached 80, and Thursday actually climbed into the lower 80's. I just wish we could get some rain. I think I heard on the news the other night that we now have about 20 months or so of water in our lakes. Now, things aren't quite that dire for us, as San Angelo wisely purchased some property about 60 or 70 miles east and developed wells there. But we only use that option when the lakes dry up. Still, it would be nice to get some good sustained rains that replenish our lakes. At least we aren't in as much peril as South Africa. My heart goes out to those folks.

Donna and I had a nice Valentine's lunch at Red Lobster. I really enjoy eating there. The place is always clean, the service good, and the environment very pleasant. I love their Cheddar Bay bisquits, their Caesar salad, and their baked potatoes. What I like least about the place is their seafood, and I think that is really because I just don't enjoy seafood that much. Still, I get a seafood craving from time to time, and in West Texas, there aren't many seafood options.

We've had some new eateries open in town lately, and we've tried to sample them. About a month ago, Panda Express opened about a mile from our home. We enjoyed a nice meal there about a week after it opened. More recently, Taco Bueno returned to San Angelo after an absence of several years. Their new place is actually on the north side of town, a fair distance from our home. The place was really busy and the folks there were still working out the kinks. I enjoyed the food, but I didn't care for all the activity. Teriyaki Grill will be opening soon, and Jimmy John's just opened a sandwich place about a mile from our house. San Angelo continues to grow.

Also heard about a proposed interstate coming through town. San Angelo is the largest town in Texas not served by an interstate. The interstate being discussed would roughly follow US 190 and US 87, and nothing is definite yet. In fact, nothing may come of this at all, and even if it did, there's a good chance Donna and I wouldn't even be around at that time. Still, you have to plan for the future whether you will be in that future or not.

Keep us in your thoughts. We have a chance of rain over the weekend and into next week. Just maybe . . . .

Sunday, February 11, 2018

To Lubbock and Back

Donna and I made a 2 day trip to Lubbock this week to take care of some business. We always enjoy going to Lubbock. I began my teaching career in earnest in Olton, a small town about 50 miles northwest of Lubbock, way back in the 1970s. Our daughter was born in Plainview, about 30 miles due north of Lubbock. And I taught a few years in Wellman, a small 6-man football school about 50 miles southwest of Lubbock in the 1980s. So, Lubbock has been a big part of our lives.

But goodness, how that town has grown! I think the growth is in all directions, but especially to the south and west. The traffic on the loop and major thorough fares is hectic. But it is an exciting town, with great shopping and great dining opportunities. Of course, Texas Tech is a key factor in Lubbock life, and in recent years the Depot District has become something of an entertainment mecca. Any music fan certainly knows that Lubbock is the hometown of Buddy Holly, and other prominent musicians grew up either in Lubbock or the immediate surrounding area, such as Waylon Jennings (in nearby Littlefield), Mac Davis, Delbert McClinton, the Maines Brothers as well as Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, and numerous others.

I won't go into the long list of things to do and see in Lubbock. You can check out the Visit Lubbock website for that. After we took care of our business, though, we ventured out to the Lubbock Lake Landmark for a brief visit. This is an impressive archaeological site on the northwest side of the city along Yellow House Canyon. There is evidence on site of occupation or human activity stretching back 12,000 years, and exploration continues to this day. I hope to get back this summer when visitors can actually visit a dig in process and interact with the staff. We had originally planned to walk the trails through the canyon, but it was very cold during our visit, so we opted to just visit the warm and informative Visitor Center.

Lubbock Lake Landmark Visitor Center. Much of the archaeological work is done in the draw behind the center.
Donna standing in the entrance to the exhibits at the Visitor Center.

Tribute to some of the folks who have played key roles in the dig over the years.

Life-sized diorama re-enacting a kill of a giant bison.

Creating a cooking pit

In more recent times, Native Americans used the horse to haul goods.

Lubbock is really an attractive town with numerous city parks. Depending on the time of year, one thing you may notice is all the ducks, cranes, and other birds flocking to the lakes in the city parks and nearby areas. They fill the sky each day as they move about, and you can frequently hear them. We drove out to Mackenzie Park on the northeast side of downtown along Yellow House Draw to visit Prairie Dog Town. When Courtney was young, we used to visit this place often, as she enjoyed watching the entertaining little critters scamper about. In those days, the prairie dog  town was fully enclosed by a rock wall. However, we noticed on this visit that the town has grown considerably. The fat little rascals are everywhere!

Close up of a prairie dog in his hole.

I snapped this picture of a dog taking a break from his labors.

This is a picture of the same hole as above. In this picture, the dog has entered the hole to continue digging. You can see the dirt being thrown up.
On the way home, we left a bit early and had some extra time. We planned to meet our daughter, son-in-law, and 2 of our grandsons in Big Spring for lunch. Since we were ahead of schedule, we took our time and detoured through all the towns along the route. First, we drove through Tahoka, hometown of my campus principal when I was teaching at nearby Wellman. We then detoured briefly through small O'Donnell. The tiny hamlet makes claim to Dan Blocker ("Hoss" of TV's Bonanza). Although Blocker was actually born in DeKalb, Texas, he spent many of his formative years in O'Donnell.

The courthouse in Tahoka was undergoing a face lift when we passed through town.

We even detoured through tiny Ackerly, home of Sands, another 6-man football school. I love these little country schools, especially those in West Texas. Some of my best memories as a teacher were from the years I taught in Wellman, a school and town of similar size.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Movie, a Super Blue Blood Moon, and Rising Prices

We saw another movie this week. There aren't many westerns made anymore, so any time a new one comes out, I go to see it. I'm a big fan of Wes Studi, so when I saw that he was playing a vital role in Hostiles, I knew I had to watch it. The "stars" of the movie are actually Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. Now, right there is where I started having problems with the movie. Why is it that we have to import actors (Bale is from Wales while Pike is from England) to play American roles in American movies. Now, I have nothing against either of these actors, but there are numerous American actors who are every bit as qualified to play these parts.

The premise of the movie is that Captain Blocker (Bale), who hates Indians, is assigned the task of escorting Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family to Montana, so the chief, who has advanced cancer, can die in his homeland and be buried there. Along the way, they pick up Rosalie Quaid (Pike), who watched as her husband and 3 children were killed by a raiding Comanche war party in the year 1892. Well, the Comanches were totally defeated and confined to reservations in the mid 1870's pretty far east of the route this party was traveling, but I suppose there could have been some renegades who broke away and committed such raids. I'll give the writers the benefit of the doubt on this one. So, along the way, the Cheyennes, their military escort, and Ms. Quaid undergo numerous trials and tribulations that bring about new understanding and respect for one another. Kumbaya. Actually, it isn't a bad movie.

Did you happen to catch the super blue blood moon last Wednesday morning? It's really quite a rare event. A super moon occurs when the moon is close to the earth in its orbit, which makes it about 14% brighter. A blue moon occurs when 2 full moons appear in the same month. And a blood moon occurs when the moon is in the earth's orbit, causing a red tint as a result of this eclipse.

Now, when you have good cameras and good telescopes, this is what a blood moon looks like:

Blood moon
Notice the clear red tint on the moon. Now, when you are El Cheapo, head of the cheap camera cartel along the border, your pictures of the super blue blood moon look like the images below.

Bright super moon before the eclipse began
In this photo, the eclipse has just begun. You can see a small bite taken out of the top left of the moon.
This photo was taken 5 or 10 minutes later. Yo can clearly see more of the moon is missing. There is a bit of reddish glow around the moon, but my equipment is not sufficient to pick up the red tint on the missing part of the moon.
And the moon is almost entirely gone now, about 15 minutes later.
Seems that everyone these days wants some of our money. Our community just increased maintenance rates by about 5%. This is the first increase in several years, so I can live with that. Next, I have a cancer and dread disease policy, and it increased just a little bit. Then Donna's medical insurance took a substantial jump. You know, these insurance companies are just barely making it these days, just like the companies producing all those low-priced medicines that they practically give away. I know they need help; I'm happy to do what I can. 😖 Finally, our local newspaper jumped its monthly subscription rate from $19.99 to $29.00. That is essentially a 50% increase for a not so good paper. That was the last straw. I cancelled the paper; wish I could cancel my insurance, but I'm not that stupid. Now I have to find ways to rearrange the budget to pay these other increases. When we retired, inflation was the economic factor I feared the most. So far, things have been pretty good, but right now, prices do seem to be jumping at the same time. Oh well, c'est la vie.

Weather has been good for the most part. Daily highs are in the 60's and 70's, which is great for walking and hiking, while nightly lows are usually just above freezing. We can't seem to get any rain, though, and I'm fearful of drought conditions as things begin to warm. Area lakes continue to shrink as well.

PS. Send water and money ASAP!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Lettermen

The Lettermen came to town to perform in our rather new San Angelo Performing Arts Campus, which, if I understand correctly, consists of two venues: the Murphey Performance Hall and the Stephens Performing Arts Center. The Murphey Performance Hall is located in the 1928 city Auditorium. The Stephens Performing Arts Center is located in the former Coca Cola bottling plant, which is located just around the corner. Both facilities have recently undergone massive upgrades. I've not yet been in the Stephens Performing Arts Center, but I was certainly impressed with the Murphey Performance Hall, where the Lettermen performed.

Lots of seating in the Murphey Performance Hall. Picture taken from nose bleed section of the balcony (otherwise known as the "cheap seats")

View of the stage in Murphey Performance Hall, as seen from the upper balcony.
Donna and I attended a performance by the Lettermen about 10 years ago in Corsicana, Texas. We enjoyed them then, and their current show is still good. The show is well-scripted, and everything works like clockwork. The performers interact with the audience throughout the show, and they really pour themselves into their performances. It is very professional. Yes, some of the show today remains as it was 10 years ago, but much is new.

The Lettermen open the concert.
The original Lettermen began their career in the late 1950's  or so, and consisted of Tony Butala, Jim Pike, and Bob Engemann. Their first hit was "The Way You Look Tonight" in 1961 or 1962. It was followed by a succession of hits. In 1967, Engemann left the group. That began a series of lineup changes. In 1984, Donavan Tea joined the group, followed by Bobby Poynton in 1989. Poynton did leave the group for several years, but eventually returned. So today, the lineup consists of Butala, Tea, and Poynton. Butala is now 79 years young, and his voice is still good. It is clear that all three enjoy performing.

The Lettermen donned their trademark sweaters as they opened the second half of the show. From left to right, they are Donavan Tea, Tony Butala, and Bobby Poynton.
Those of you who know the Lettermen know that their beautiful harmonies are what drive the group. They were supported by a two-piece "band" during their San Angelo performance, a drummer and a pianist. You might think that is rather limiting, but remember that these are the Lettermen, and people come to their shows to hear those wonderful voices and harmonies. All three members spend a great deal of time with the audience, including a session allowing audience members to snap photos with them as they sing "Up, Up, and Away". They worked their way around the audience on several numbers, shaking hands with audience members. Donavan Tea even came into the balcony for a short time.

Lighting is bad in this picture, but the 3 Lettermen sing "Up, Up, and Away" while allowing an audience member to get a photo. Several audience members near the front had such an opportunity.
Butala serenades an audience member named Maria with his rendition of "Maria" from West Side Story.
They put on a good show, and a clean one. How refreshing that is. They took me back to an earlier time, a time before advanced technology, before 9-11, before most stage shows were filled with profanity and lewd acts. The audience, though small, was appreciative. What a wonderful way to spend an evening!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Happy Birthday, Blog!

I've been writing this blog now for almost 7 years. My first entry, appropriately entitled "Welcome", appeared on February 4, 2011, just a few days following my retirement from work on January 31, 2011.

Image result for images of birthday cakes

In that initial blog, I looked forward to leading a normal retirement life, but venturing out with Donna in our Rockwood 2604 travel trailer from time to time. Gosh, I really liked that trailer. And goodness, how quickly the time has gone by.

 A lot has happened since then. I won't bore you with the details, because you can read through my blog if you like, beginning with that first entry. I will tell you that, as far as I am concerned, the most exciting times revolved around the 2 times we lived in our trailer for extended periods of time. Beginning with the entry "Leaving San Angelo" on July 22, 2012, we spent 8 straight months in our Rockwood. About 3 years later, we spent 6 months in another trailer, our Coachmen Freedom Express. We began these travels with "Trip Update" on December 22, 2015.

We may have one more period of extended RV travel in us. I don't really like to say "full-time" because that sounds too ambitious and permanent for us, but it is always in the back of our minds.

In the meantime, here are some blog stats.

As of this writing, I have 757 entries. My blog surpassed 100,000 hits sometime in December 2017. Currently, I'm getting about 1,500 hits per month. Some days, I get as few as 20 or 30 hits, while other days, I may get 200 or more. My most frequented entries seem to be the travel pieces. Most of the time, my viewers tend to be from the U.S.A., but from time to time I get an abnormally large number of visitors from places like Russia. That's kind of scary. I don't want to be involved with any collusion. I'll just go on record right now and state confidently, "There is no collusion! There is no collusion! Believe me!" There, that should prove my innocence.

Below is a list of my most visited pages, those with 200 or more hits. The number in parenthesis is the number of times that page has been viewed. The list appears in descending order, from most to least viewed. By the way, I also have a web page, Living the Good Life. Now, I have not worked on that web site in some time, and it does need some updating. But if you do like my travel pieces, you might take a look at the "Travels with Donna and Keith" section there. Items are categorized on that site, so you can more easily find related topics.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Movie, a Good Hike, and 2 Fires

We started the week with a trip to the Cinemark Movie Theater about 2 miles from our home. We watched The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I enjoyed the movie and the different insights it provided. First, it showed the development of Katherine Graham as owner and publisher of the Washington Post. The paper was owned by her father, who turned the paper over to Graham's husband. Upon his death, Katherine then assumed the mantle, and it was a struggle for her. The movie also shows the inner workings of the newspaper business. I enjoyed this aspect, for I was originally a journalism major when I began my college career. Finally, the movie deals with  uncovering documents related to the war in Vietnam (the "Pentagon Papers"). The central issue is that despite the belief by various administrations, beginning with the Truman administration, that the U.S. could not win the war, yet we continued to support it. When the Post publishes this information, they are faced with retaliation from the Nixon administration. Yeah, there are many parallels with events that are happening today, such as the women's movement and the role of the press in our society.

The weather was great on Tuesday, so I dragged the old woman out to the park for another hike. This one was a bit shorter than the one I reported a week or more ago. This one was only 4.62 miles, and it covered some of the same trails as last time. However, we did take different trails where we could. It's nice to have a park with so many trails (over 50 miles) so that we can vary our hikes. Below are some pictures I took on the hike.

Junction of the Red Dam Loop trail. I don't know the purpose of the Red Dam, but you can see it stretching from center of picture to the right. To the left of the end of the dam, you can see the much larger O. C. Fisher dam and the little bit of water that it has. At present, the level is at 9% capacity and shrinking rapidly. If things don't improve, we may be dry by summer's end.

Here is a closer view of the dam. The trail will wind to the top of the dam on the left end, then follow the top of the dam to the right.

View of O. C. Fisher lake and dam from the top of the Red Dam.

View of facilities at Isabell Harte day use area from the Red Dam. Once upon a time, the waters of O. C. Fisher actually covered all of this area up to those facilities. I'm doubtful we will ever see that again.

Our back trail from atop the Red Dam. Again, all of this land where the trail now is was once under water.

Sassy Donna on the trail atop Red Dam.
It's dry out here. We've not had measurable rain in quite a while. So, we are beginning to see fires. This week, we had 2 fires. The first was in Schleicher County, which is south of San Angelo. The fire was a result of a welding incident on a ranch. The fire then spread to a neighboring ranch, which is owned by Mike McConaughey, brother of the actor Matthew McConaughey. As I write this, the fire had burned more than 1,200 acres, but was about 90% contained. The second fire was northeast of town, and burned an old house and brush and grass around it. We are very, very dry, and our lakes are getting lower and lower. We did have a small shower Thursday night, but only enough to get the streets damp.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Day Trip to Midland

Donna and I had some business in Midland, so on Wednesday we made a day trip there. Midland was our home for several years from the late 1990's until the early 2000's. Of all the places we have lived over the years, Midland was probably our favorite. We really enjoyed our time there.

We set out early in the morning. Somewhere along US 87 north of Water Valley and south of Sterling City, we came across what must have been some type of controlled burn on the east side of the highway right-of-way. I can't say with certainty that it was a controlled burn, but all of the burn area was along the right-of-way, and had not spread across the fence lines onto the neighboring ranch lands with one exception. And the burned area was not continuous. The burned area spread over a distance of several miles, probably at least 5, and there were a few stretches that were not burned. I wonder what happened.

You can see how neatly the burned area stayed on the right-of-way, not crossing the fence line. And the burn was only on the east side of the divided 4 lane highway.

More burn area, just farther along than the picture above.
Just north of Sterling City, we turned west onto Texas 158. We had not been on this highway for years. I think the last time we were on this highway was when grandson Camden was born, so that was almost 5 years ago. At that time, the traffic was terrible on this 2-lane highway, largely due to the latest oil boom activity in the area. I did not feel safe on that road, so we began going to Midland by way of Big Spring, a route that adds about 13 miles but provided much peace of mind. Since that time, though, Texas 158 has been expanded to 4 lanes. I feel much better traveling this highway now. Most of the traffic is still oil related, which means all kinds of trucks of various sizes driving at high rates of speed and entering and exiting the highway all along the route.

Wow, talk about an ant bed! That Midland is busy, busy, busy. It has changed greatly in the 15 or so years since we lived there. Everywhere we went, traffic was heavy. The exit off I-20 at Rankin Highway (Texas 349) was backed up. The entire west loop had heavy traffic, with everyone in a hurry. At lunch, all the eating places were packed, with traffic backed up entering the parking lot of the place we decided to visit. And new businesses were everywhere. The place has certainly grown. It is an exciting town for West Texas; there is much going on there.

Donna and I travel quite a bit, and we cover all areas of Texas. One thing I've noticed for the past few years or so can be seen in the picture below, which I took as we were entering Sterling City from the north. These two speed limit signs are typical across the state. The first sign shows the speed limit to be 70 mph, which is what it had been for the past several miles. Then, just a few yards beyond it, is another sign indicating a reduction in speed. What is the purpose, then, of showing the current speed if it is about to change? How many signs like this are there around the state? As I said, we see them all over. Our state highway department has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars no doubt -- perhaps more -- erecting these signs. For what reason? Seems like a big waste of taxpayer money to me. I'll give the folks in charge the benefit of the doubt, though, and suggest they may have a good reason. I'd sure like to know it, though. Think about how much each sign costs, then how much labor is required to put up the sign. In a small town like Sterling City, you would have at least 3 of these signs (US 87 as it enters from north and south, and Texas 158 as it enters from the east. Since Texas 158 merges with US north of town, it would not have a separate set of signs.) Now, think of a town like San Angelo, that has many more highways entering. That equals lots of dollars for signage.

I'll leave you with the picture below of the Glassock County Courthouse in Garden City, Texas. The population of Glasscock County was 1,226 folks in 2010. In that same census year, the population of Garden City was 334. For years, agriculture dominated the economy here, but oil production is the big player in the area now. When I worked at Region 18 ESC in Midland, I always enjoyed working with the school folks in Garden City; that was an excellent school in those days, and probably still is.

Glasscock County Courthouse in Garden City, Texas