Saturday, August 31, 2013

Still Walking

I enjoy our morning walks. Now, don't get me wrong; I don't bounce out of bed each morning eager to beat the pavement, but once I do get going, I enjoy the walk, and I enjoy feeling that I'm keeping fairly fit for a man my age. I don't expect walking to help me lose weight, but I do expect some heart benefits from these walks and I hope to keep my legs in good shape for upcoming hikes. Once cool weather starts moving in, we hope to start hiking again. One upcoming scheduled hike is Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg next month. We'll meet my brother and his wife there and spend a few hours doing the loop trail at that state park (see Enchanted Rock State Natural Area).

I guess our pace is slowing. Several years ago, I measured the walks we took when we lived in Kilgore, and I found a good 3 mile route for us. We could usually walk this route in less than 55 minutes, usually around 50-51 minutes at our normal pace. This figures out to a mile about every 17 minutes or so, and I've used that as a barometer for recent years in not only our walks but our hikes.

Now, when hiking as compared to walking, you slow a bit. After all, trails aren't the same as walking on paved streets. On trails, you have to avoid roots and rocks and other obstacles. Trails may go up or down hills, and paved streets generally aren't very steep, though I have seen some steep ones in my time. On decent trails with few obstacles, we normally walk a mile every 25 minutes or so (at least, we used to). With stops for photos or just enjoying views, the rough estimate is 2 miles per hour. Long distance hikers (think Appalachian Trail, for example) will top that easily, but for a couple of old folks, 2 mph in the woods isn't bad. And we can sustain that pace for several hours.

But I guess our pace is slowing. Since moving into our new home in April, we had been walking a route I had calculated to be about 3 miles based on the time of 50 minutes or so it took to walk it. Actually, I estimated it probably came up just short of 3 miles, perhaps 2.9 or even 2.8. However, we measured it recently in our car and found it to be just barely 2.6 miles. So, I guess we've lost a little bit in the 8 or so years since I last measured our route and pace.

Since then, we've extended the route by weaving up and down alleys, adding an additional 15 minutes or more to the walk. I haven't measured it yet, but I'm hoping we're up to at least 3 miles now.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Movie Review: Lee Daniels The Butler

Donna and I watched Lee Daniels' The Butler earlier this week. From the get go, let me say that the movie is a good one; however, I was a bit disappointed.

The movie is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who was a butler in the White House from 1952 to 1986, a span of 34 years. The movie follows the life of Cecil Gaines (the Eugene Allen character, who was actually born in Virginia) from his boyhood in the Carolina cotton fields until 2009, shortly before his death.

From what I had heard of the movie prior to watching it, I was expecting more of a glimpse into the lives of the presidents and the many pressing issues they dealt with. I was hoping to be taken on a journey through my life, much as I was when I watched Forest Gump, a movie which was a journey that touched on Elvis, the Viet Nam War, John Lennon, and numerous other events and people that have been a part of my life.

Instead, the movie focused almost exclusively on civil rights. There is a moment with Nixon when that embattled President is struggling with the idea of resigning following the Watergate scandal. Other than that, though, almost all of the scenes involving the various presidents focus on their handling of the racial problems that confronted their administrations.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the movie -- I did enjoy it. And it showed in depth the struggles of the Freedom Riders as they encountered resistance throughout the South of the 1960s. I just wanted a broader view of the White House behind close doors.

There are some fine performances in the movie, and I expect it will receive several Academy Award nods. I was particularly impressed by the performance of David Oyelowo, who portrays Louis Gaines, the elder of Cecil Gaines' sons. Cuba Gooding also has a strong supporting performance as a colleague of Cecil Gaines in the White House. I'm sure most people will find Oprah Winfrey's performance to be entertaining, simply because it is Oprah. She is cast as the wife of Cecil Gaines, and her character shows great development throughout the movie.

Of course, Forest Whitaker in the central role provides a strong performance. I've always liked Whitaker, a native of Longview, Texas. While most people probably cite his performance in movies such as The Last King of Scotland and  even Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I've always preferred his more thoughtful characters, those who show that slight pause, that slight hesitation, that ability to consider all possibilities. These characters show up in Phenomenon, Good Morning, Vietnam, and even The Panic Room.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Water From the Air

I saw an interesting story in my local paper, the San Angelo Standard Times, this morning. Entitled "Water source out of thin air," the story concerns new technology that uses humidity to create fresh water. Elizabeth Jacobo, a local entrepreneur, lives outside the city and was concerned about the quality of her drinking water. After some research, she discovered a Florida-based company that was using a machine to create drinking water from humidity in the air.

She researched the company and machine for a couple of years, then took the plunge and purchased the smaller of the two machines, the Skywater® 14 Office/Home, which produces up to 10 gallons a day. This machine initially costs about $2,200 and produces chemical free water according to one water-testing company. I would expect that further testing should be done sometime. According to the literature, only 2 filter changes are needed per year, and no installation is needed -- just plug in and start making clean water from the vapor in the air.

Jacobo is now marketing the machine locally. She calls her company Skywater, and her website provides the details about the technology.

There is a larger machine, the Skywater® 300,  that can produce up to 300 gallons per month, but it costs more than $30,000. That is quite an investment, and installation into the home's (or business's) plumbing system is required. Still, a machine which potentially produces about 9,000 gallons a month basically eliminates your need for a local water source. It would take a lot of years, though, to recoup your initial investment.

I want to be clear that I am not endorsing this product; I personally do not know how well the technology works. I simply found the story interesting. It is good to see this type of technology being developed. With ongoing droughts throughout many parts of the country, alternative water sources must be developed. And as more of these machines are produced, costs should come down over time and the resources for making fresh water will increase.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The New Sheriff Comes to Town

The new sheriff in our family is visiting us this week, and he let us know right away that he was in charge and was in no mood for foolishness.

Little Camden is about 3 weeks old now, and he rules the roost. The little tyke is a prodigious eater, consuming mass quantities of milk daily. And when he isn't fed on time, everyone suffers. He rules with an iron fist.

Camden doing what he does best -- eating. He's kind of like his Gammaw -- he likes his bottle!

And when he doesn't get his bottle on time, he lets us know. Of course, it could just be Donna; she has this effect on a lot of people.
But after he's had his bottle, he calms down -- again, kind of like his Gammaw!

Monday, August 12, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The school bell will be tolling soon, but not for me. And I'm happy with that, for I love being retired. But the old educator in me still has an educational clock ticking that brings back so many good memories of this time of year. After all, I've spent almost my entire life in school, first as a student and later as a teacher.

Two-a-day workouts began last week in Texas. The boys began working out -- sans pads --and each team has dreams of advancing through district competition to the state playoffs. Our local TV news station began a series, reporting each night on two area teams. Last week among others they covered Ozona, where Courtney graduated in 1999 and I taught for several years. Pro NFL preseason games also began appearing on TV last week. When football is in the air, you know it's time for school doors to open.

Soon in-service sessions for teachers will be held, class rosters will be distributed, and classroom bulletin boards will be decorated. Hallways will be filled with students and teachers, and old friendships will be renewed. It's a time of new beginnings. Even though as a teacher I always hated to see summers end, I always got excited about the start of a new year.

The first football games will begin soon, and the season will carry us from hot weather into the cooling days of autumn. Before we know it, Halloween will sneak up on us, followed by Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. We'll turn around, and football season will be over and we'll find ourselves in the middle of winter, and we'll wonder where the time has gone.

For Donna and me, we love this time of year. I love when the kids go back to school, for that is when our traveling picks up. It's great to be able to travel at these times, for there are fewer travelers out there and off-season prices are better. We have several trips planned in the coming months, and we can't wait to hit the road.

We'll see you down the road.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Art of Story Telling

Story telling is becoming a lost art. I wish I were a good story teller, but I'm not. I've known some good story tellers over the years, but they are rare. I've known quite a few people who think they are good story tellers; they are much more plentiful.

One of my favorite scenes from a movie occurs in Out of Africa. While entertaining 2 guests in her home, the central female character of Karen Blixen, played by Meryl Streep, reveals that she is quite a good story teller. Her guests, one of whom is Denys, played superbly by Robert Redford, then ask her to tell them a story. She asks them to give her the opening line. After doing so, Karen takes over and weaves a long story that holds them spellbound. What a magical evening that must have been.

When we lived in the Middle East in the 1980s, we had little entertainment in the way of television, so we spent much time visiting with friends. We loved that time. It was great fun meeting new people. And each told a story in a way. It might not have been a story like Karen told in Out of Africa; still, the stories were interesting, and told of our new friends' homes and travels and adventures.

So many of the folks we met in those days were professional expatriates, meaning they were committed to living abroad. They moved from country to country, seeing things that most of us never see, experiencing things most of us only read about. Most of the people we associated with hailed from the US, Great Britain, Canada, and other western countries, and they brought such varied backgrounds with them. Many of the Brits, especially, had spent years in northern Africa, and they had such interesting stories to tell of those places.

What better way to spend a crisp autumn night than to sit around a blazing fire, hot cocoa in hand, and listen to a talented story teller weave a tale that entrances us.

I wish I was a story teller.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Confessions of a Weed Puller

Alright, I'm not ashamed to admit it -- I like pulling weeds.

It's hard for me to walk through our side yard -- or any yard, for that matter -- without stooping to pull a weed or two or three or more. I'm always in pursuit of that perfect, weed-free lawn, but in all my years of yard work, I've never had one. But I'm close to it now.

There's something very satisfying about the feel of a weed coming out of the ground, root and all. You can actually feel the roots tearing from the soil, releasing their hold on the earth. Then when the weed is free and clear of the ground and I see the entire root system intact, I feel a sense of satisfaction.

I don't like to use chemicals on my lawn or plants, so I try to use natural methods to control weeds, fertilize, and maintain my landscape. Pulling weeds is actually one of the better methods, and it's free. Anytime I walk through the yard, I spend 3 or 4 minutes pulling a handful of weeds, and the effort pays off. Right now, my side yard is virtually weed free and looks better than any yard I've ever had. Of course, its the smallest yard I've ever had, so it certainly is the easiest to maintain. It's just too difficult to keep large yards weed free by hand unless you spend an inordinate amount of time doing so.

But with a small yard, I find the weeds are pretty easy to control. There is one weed which has plagued me in all my yards over the years, and I don't know what it is. It blends in with grass nicely, so it may be some type of grass. The leaf is broader and flatter than normal Bermuda grass, almost like St. Augustine. When allowed to linger in a yard, the base becomes an ever widening clump, spreading out month by month and year by year, and pushing good grass out of the way. After it is established, you really have to dig down to get the entire root system out, so I try to catch this invasive species while it is young.

I have to control myself on my neighborhood walks. There are weeds in yards that I really want to pull, but I remind myself that I have no business trespassing in the yards other folks.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reflections on the Oil Boom

As I've mentioned before, we're in the midst of an oil boom out here. San Angelo is not really oil country; traditionally, it's economy has been based primarily on agriculture, with Angelo State University and Goodfellow Air Force Base, among others, contributing to the local economy. But we are on the edge of the Cline Shale field, and we are feeling some of the effects from that boom.

An oil boom today is much like a gold boom a century or more ago. An influx of people with no apprarent ties to an area move in to make as much money as they possibly can while the boom is good. Once the boom has run its course, they move on to the next boom. Whereas in the past, you often had tent cities pop up, today you have RV cities. Small towns to the west of San Angelo like Big Lake, McCamey, and Rankin are dealing with a population influx and inadequate housing. RV parks are popping up in all of these hamlets, often with no controls or regulations in place.

In San Angelo, we are seeing new apartments appear, not to mention new housing. New businesses are coming to town, including some that the locals are not putting out the welcome mat for. But where there is a boom, there is money to be made, and sometimes that brings in undesirable businesses. In the days of the gold booms, usually the first ones in after the miners were the gamblers, saloon keepers, and ladies of the evening. It's really not much different today, though the faces may be updated.

Personally, I've noticed a change in traffic. Driving patterns seem to be getting a bit more aggressive; vehicles are going faster, drivers are failing to yield at yield and stop signs, there is more tailgating, etc.

A few days ago, Donna and I drove to Midland. From San Angelo, we went up US 87 to Sterling City, then headed west on Highway 158 through Garden City to Midland. The two-lane stretch on Highway 158 is just over 60 miles, and it was a stressful for me. We've driven this road dozens of times over the years, and it has always been a pleasant and relaxed drive. With the oil boom in the area, though, the road is bearing more traffic than it can handle (there are plans to begin improvements later this summer). The week before we drove this stretch, a San Angelo man was killed in an accident on that highway. A few hours after we arrived in Midland, there was another wreck on that highway, but thankfully the injuries were minor.

I would estimate that 50% or more of traffic on that highway is related to the oil boom, while 25% is probably local and another 25% travelers. Actually the oil traffic is probably higher than 50%. You can recognize vehicles related to the oil industry. Most of the pickups are white, many with deer guards on the front, company insignias on the sides, and oil field equipment in the back. Many are 1 ton flat bed trucks with arc welders on back, while others may have acetylene torches and related equipment in the back. There are larger trucks hauling water, gravel, and sand as well as derrick equipment. They all seem to be in a hurry, and they all seem to be saying, "Time is money; get out of my way." Although I was driving 70, I was passed numerous times.

Well, I don't begrudge anyone the opportunity to make an honest living, and I know we need oil and gas, but I surely miss my peaceful drives. U.S. Highway 67 heading west out of San Angelo all the way to McCamey is also dominated by traffic related to the oil boom.

Once I discover these busy roads, I then do my best to avoid them. In returning from Midland, we took Interstate 20 to Big Spring, then U.S. 87 (4 lanes) to Angelo. It added 15 miles to our journey, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Besides, when you are retired, what's an extra 15 minutes?