Friday, June 28, 2013

Short Trip to Shreveport

Donna and I just returned from spending 3 nights at the Eldorado Resort Casino in Shreveport, LA. With our daughter expected to deliver our brand new grandson in the next few weeks, we wanted to get one last casino trip in. After the baby comes, we'll be pretty busy.

The Eldorado has been our main casino in the Shreveport/Bossier City (S/BC) area for the last 5 years or so. We like its layout, its location in proximity to downtown Shreveport, and the comps they provide for our level of play. I must admit, though, that I'm growing tired of the casinos in S/BC. I'd much rather visit casinos in Nevada where the video poker games have better pay tables, comps are more easily earned, and service is generally better, among other things. On our trip to the Eldorado this time, I was really disappointed with the quality of service in all areas (cafes, drink service, hotel, etc.). And I noticed a large number of slot machines that were out of service. At the bank of 5 video poker machines where we usually spend most of our time, for example, one machine was completely shut down, and another had several buttons that did not operate properly so that you were not able to adjust the speed of the game and do other things.

We crossed the river to check out the new Margaritaville Resort Casino, but were disappointed with the games there. I had hoped that this new casino would bring some competition to the area, but I saw no 99% plus pay tables on the video poker machines that I checked. Now, I did not check every VP machine in the place, but I did check at least a dozen, and at various denominations. I saw nothing worth playing. As a result, we did not play; we did not even bother to join their player's club. It looks like a nice casino, though, and unlike the neighboring 5 casinos, it is land-based with all casino action on a single floor. The other 5 casinos are riverboats, each with 3 floors.

While we were on the Bossier City side of the river, we played a few hours at the Horseshoe. There are a few competitive VP machines there if you arrive early enough to claim them. After a short session there, we went next door to the Louisiana Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is a nice place, complete with a hotel, numerous eating places, movie theater, and various outlet style shops.  We noticed quite a few empty stores as we strolled about. Donna picked up some perfume at Parfumania, and we looked at camping and hiking gear in Bass Pro Shop. Wow, prices at that place have really gone up! That seems to be happening everywhere, though.

We spent most of our time at the Eldorado, though we did venture next door to Sam's Town for a few hours of play. Our rooms at Eldorado were comped, as well as the meals we enjoyed there. And that is what keeps us going back to Eldorado . . . at least, for now. Usually our only expenditures on these trips is gasoline and what we lose in the casino.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rain Data

In the last post, I mentioned the rain we've been receiving. Now for some facts.

Our local paper, the San Angelo Standard Times, posts weather data in its paper copy. This data is always located on the last page of Section A. Included in this data is information on area lake levels. I want to share some of that now.

First, here are the totals listed before runoff water from our most recent rains were included.

Lake Capacity Acre-Feet
Nasworthy 80% 8,192
OC Fisher 1% 958
Twin Buttes 4% 7,668
Spence 5% 26,418
Ivie 18% 102,090
Amistad 25% 803,065

Now here is data on the same lakes 3 or 4 days later after rains dropped more than 2 inches on the Concho and Colorado River watersheds to the north of San Angelo; in Angelo, we received much less rain. As you can see, the rains had very little impact on lake levels; in fact, most of the lakes continued in their downward spiral. San Angelo relies on water from O. H. Ivie. Lake Amistad, though an area lake, is formed by waters from the Pecos and Rio Grande watersheds, so it did not benefit from recent rains.


Lake Capacity Acre-Feet
Nasworthy 80% 8,180
OC Fisher 1% 847
Twin Buttes 4% 7,463
Spence 6% 31,275
Ivie 18% 102,038
Amistad 25% 824,342

For area lakes to recover, substantial rains over several days are needed. As much as I hate to say it, perhaps the only hope is for a hurricane to come inland and stall over the Concho Valley for several days. Of course, those beneficial rains for us could mean damaging winds and flooding to coastal areas and communities.

So for now we continue with water restrictions in place, with talk that they will become only more strict, especially with increased population coming in to the area and increased use as a result of oil drilling.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Digging Up Bones

When my brother came to visit almost 2 weeks ago, he brought along 2 boxes of pictures, military records, tax documents, and other items related to our families. Probably the real treasures in the group were 2 video interviews that my brother conducted with my grandmother and father. In July 1998, he spent nearly 2 hours interviewing my then 87 year old maternal grandmother. Her memory was quite good, and I was especially impressed by the accuracy of the dates she gave. In July 2003, he then interviewed my father for about an hour. At that time, Dad was 77, but his memory was already beginning to fail him, especially as regards specifics. But watching Dad move around and speak made it seem that he was still alive. Dad and I were quite close, so it was a great pleasure to watch that interview.

Larry questioned Dad and my grandmother on family history. As the videos ran, I took notes and have used that information for a new wave of family research. I've spent much time since 1997 digging up my Cameron family bones, and have received a great deal of information from a distant cousin, Judy, whom I've never met in person. Judy has been a wealth of not only dates and places, but she has been able to furnish some great photos of my great grandfather and his siblings and others.

I get in my moods where I spend long hours searching genealogy sources for information on my families. When new information refuses to surface, I tend to go dormant for a while until something new pops up. With the interviews I've just seen, I've had a new burst of energy and am now working on my mother's side of my family tree. This includes several families, but mainly Robinsons and Milligans.

I thought I'd share some of the online sources I use in my research. Some of you may be interested in getting started researching your own families.

My favorite source of all the is FamilySearch, a nonprofit family history organization dedicated to connecting families across generations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the primary benefactor for FamilySearch services. If you use this tool, be sure to create a free account so that you can have access to the records that are available. It's really exciting when you look at an actual document signed by a distant relative. With FamilySearch, you can find all sorts of records, such as census records, death certificates, marriage certificates, birth certificates, draft registrations, and many others.

I also use Find A Grave a great deal. This site relies extensively on volunteers to gather and contribute information from cemeteries. Quite often, pictures of tombstones or even people are provided. I've even found the contents of a death certificate included with an entry.

Many counties participate in the US Gen Web project. Begin by going to the national USGenWeb Archives. From there you can select your state. At the state level, you can then look for the appropriate county. Some counties are really active in this project while others have very limited information.

These are just 3 sources that barely scratch the surface. Records of all types exist out there, from ship logs to military records. Be creative in your search and use all the information you have. Personally, I enjoy playing detective. I find that it keeps my mind active, and this is a good thing as I age. I enjoy the mental challenge of trying to solve a riddle, and family history is certainly that.

When I first created my web page (Living the Good Life), I included a section on genealogy. Unfortunately, I've not done much on it since. But on a sub page, you can view some early pictures of my Cameron family. I hope to get back to work on that portion of my web page in the near future. But right now, I'm just too busy digging up bones.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blessed Rain

We've been blessed with evenly spaced rains here in San Angelo for the past 2 months or so. 2 nights ago, we received another ½ inch at our house on the southwest side of the city. That brings our total thus far this year to 7.72 inches, which is still behind our normal average of 9.8 inches. Lake O.H. Ivie, San Angelo's primary source of water, is currently at 18% capacity, or 102,090 acre feet. Since rains a couple of nights ago were quite heavy to our north and northwest, we should get more water in our area lakes, but it will take a few days for all of that to register.

We are restricted to watering our yards only once per week at this time. So far, that has not been a problem for me as the rains have been spaced apart nicely. In fact, I've not watered my yard in more than 2 weeks, and I do not intend to turn my sprinkler on again until the middle of next week. And if we get a little more rain between now and then, I'll continue to leave the sprinkler system off.

I posted some pictures of my yard in 2 previous entries: "Instant Yard" and "Blooming Yucca". Go back and take a look at the pictures -- in that order -- and then compare them to pictures I took earlier this morning (below). You'll see the grass has come along nicely. I'm really pleased with the grass selection I made (Celebration Bermuda). It is supposed to be both drought tolerant and shade tolerant, and so far I'd say it has performed well. Yes, we've had rains, but not abundant rains. Normally, we get only .2 or .3 inches of rain. Since I've been trying to establish the yard, I'm really pleased.

Grass is a rich green, thanks to the nitrogen in the rain we've had, with a few lighter areas here and there. Pepper, tomato, and cucumber plants line the bed next to the house.
Same area as in the picture above, but from the opposite end.

Donna's raised beds. Zucchini on the left, okra and squash in the middle, and basil on the right. Donna has grown basil successfully for years. When she harvests it, she makes pesto, which she freezes in bags to store in the freezer. We then eat this yummy treat all year long. Store bought pesto can not compare to Donna's.




Monday, June 17, 2013

The Kids and Other Things

Our daughter and her crew came down for a weekend visit. They live about 2 hours north of here in a small community, and they enjoy coming to the "big city" from time to time to eat out and go shopping. Our daughter is in about the 8th month of her pregnancy, and she's just about ready to bingo.

We had planned to attend a San Angelo Colts ballgame Friday night after they arrived, but believe it or not, it rained off and on much of Friday. Our grandson, Xander (short for Alexander), was a bit disappointed but took it in stride. His folks left yesterday (Sunday), but he is staying with us for a few extra days. We will take him to a ballgame Tuesday night.

Early Saturday, Courtney (daughter) rose early to discover a damp carpet in her room. She could hear a hissing sound in the wall. The bedroom she and Michael (son-in-law) were in shares a wall with the guest bathroom, so we checked that out, but there was no water anywhere in there. We eventually called our builder, Tony Jones, and he was at our door before 8:00 that morning. After locating his plumber, they eventually found a pin hole leak in a a fitting inside the wall spraying a stream directly at the wall in the guest bedroom. To me, it looked like a manufacturing defect in the fitting, since the tiny hole was actually in the metal part. I was grateful to Tony for getting on this right away and getting it fixed, as we were worried we might have to turn the water off for a long period of time. We've been extremely happy with Tony; he is very customer oriented and stands behind his work.

While overseas, Donna learned to cook numerous Mediterranean dishes, and for Father's Day, she made kofta kebabs, saffron rice, hummus, and baba ghanoush, with a few other side dishes. Even though Michael has never been abroad, he has learned to love the foreign dishes that both Donna and Courtney cook up. Xander more or less tolerates these dishes as he is something of a picky eater, but he's still rather young. We're sure he'll broaden his food horizons as he grows. He's kind of a meat and potatoes guy right now.

So Xander will stay with us until he wears us out this week, then we'll deliver the little monster to his mother near the end of the week. After that, we'll spend several days recuperating.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Big Brother Comes Knocking

Yeah, Big Brother has been here. No, not the feds, but my older brother, Larry. He and his wife, Nancy,  came out for a visit last weekend. That was a real treat. We rarely have visits from family or old friends out here. Most of our family members live in the eastern part of the state or other places, so when we have guests, it is a real pleasure.

We enjoyed the visit tremendously, and we really enjoyed the opportunity to show them around San Angelo. We're very proud of our town and we like to show it off. We took them out to Lake Nasworthy where we spotted countless deer, a few turkeys, and numerous squirrels, including 1 or two black squirrels. We also spent some time driving them through San Angelo State Park. We were unable to spot any of the park's buffalo heard, but while stretching our legs on Pulliam Point, a young fox ran very near us. There is also a small prairie dog town fork in that section of the park, and we spotted several of those little critters sporting around.

We also took them by Angelo State University, through the lovely Santa Rita neighborhood (older homes that have been lovingly maintained and restored), along the North Concho River in downtown Angelo, and we visited a few stores downtown, notably Eggemeyer's General Store and Concho Confetti Antique Mall. While the gang was strolling through these stores, I slipped off to my favorite bookstore in the world, the Cactus Book Shop, which has the best collection of Elmer Kelton books in the world. It also has a ton of other books on the American West, which is one of my greatest interests.

Eggemeyer's General Store on Concho Street in downtown San Angelo

Concho Confetti Mall on Concho Street in downtown San Angelo. The old Cactus Hotel is in the background.
The rest of the time, we just visited and ate . . . and ate . . . and ate. Donna made a cheesecake. She hadn't made one of these in years and years, but she hasn't lost her touch. It's worth putting up with my brother if I can get a Donna cheesecake out of the deal. And Larry brought 2 boxes of old family pictures and documents which he had recently come across, so he and I spent time working our way through those.

We had a good time, and look forward to our next visit. Maybe some other family can find San Angelo on the map and work their way out here. We're pretty good hosts.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good Reads: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I recently wrote about the three longest hiking trails in the continental U.S. Of the three, I'm most familiar with the Appalachian Trail simply because I've read a number of accounts by people who have hiked -- or attempted to hike -- that trail. I'm going back through my library now re-reading some of those, and the very first one I picked up was A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson.

Some of you may know Bill Bryson from his other works, such as The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Notes from a Small Island (which was adapted for television), and In a Sunburned Country. I enjoy reading Bryson's works. His logical, common sense approach to life is filled with subtle humor, and sometimes I even catch myself laughing aloud while envisioning a scene from his books.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail soon after he and his family move to a small town in New Hampshire where the trail passes near his home. He is joined in his adventure by Steven Katz, the source of much of the humor in this book. The two begin their journey in Georgia during an extremely cold spell one March. As they hike north, the author recounts their journey but also provides glimpses of life along the trail. In essence, he rediscovers America as the title suggests.

If you've never hiked and are considering doing so, this is a good read. Of course, there is a great deal of difference between backpacking long distances over long periods of time as Bryson and Katz do on the Appalachian Trail and taking shorter day hikes and then returning to a comfortable bed each night as I do. But if you like hiking or are curious about it, this is an interesting read. And all along the trail, you get informative detours by the author on various subjects, such as acid rain, history of a region, and humorous insights into regional life. It's a very easy read and very entertaining. I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Big 3 Hiking Trails of the Continental U.S.A.

It's obvious that I enjoy hiking. I've always enjoyed walking in the woods. I've probably hiked at least some portion of the best hiking trails in Texas with 1 or 2 exceptions (the Lone Star Trail and the Trail Between the Lakes come to mind). But I really regret that I've never hiked any portion of the big 3 trails in the continental U.S.

The Appalachian Trail is the oldest of the 3 big trails. Almost 2,200 miles long, it passes through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. Although the idea for the trail was conceived about 1920, it was not really completed until 1937. At the time, the idea was to provide a trail that people could hop on and off for a few days of hiking. It was inconceivable to the early planners that anyone would ever hike the trail from start to finish, but Earl Shaffer did just that in 1951. Today, somewhere between 2 and 3 million people hike at least a portion of the trail each year, and more than 500 or so complete a "thru-hike" each year (an uninterrupted hike from start to finish). It's a rigorous undertaking that requires from 4 to 6 months for most people.

The Appalachian Trail is no longer the longest trail in the country. It has been surpassed in length by both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches about 2,650 miles from Canada to Mexico, passing through only 3 states: Washington, Oregon, and California. The Continental Divide Trail is the longest of the 3 big trails, measuring about 3,100 miles. It's route traverses Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Although I've never hiked any of these trails, I've read a number of stories of people who have. From my reading, I believe it is probably much more difficult to hike the two western trails than the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail passes through more populated areas, sometimes even passing through towns or very near towns. This is convenient for resupplying, resting up in a hotel, and eating at local restaurants. It is more difficult to resupply on the western trails, thus requiring much more planning and often coordination with others. The western trails also encounter larger elevation differences. The Appalachian Trail offers its own challenges, though, such as unpredictable weather conditions in the White Mountains of New England.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Flying Wild Alaska

Donna and I subscribe to Netflix. It's really a great deal. For $8.65 a month, we get unlimited streaming access to a vast number of movies, TV shows, and other videos.

I don't normally like "reality" type shows. Most seem to appeal to people who like to watch confrontations or bizarre behavior or toothless hillbillies. But we found a type of reality show recently that we really enjoyed watching. It is Flying Wild Alaska, which originally aired 23 episodes over 2 years on the Discovery Channel.

The show follows the Tweto family and their bush pilot airline that is based in Unalakleet, Alaska. The airline, ERA Alaska, is the largest regional airline in Alaska and operates hubs in Barlow, Nome, and Bethel, among other locales. The airline provides passenger service as well as cargo transport over most of western and northern Alaska. They also haul hunters, mountain climbers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to remote locales in the Alaskan bush.

We really like the show. In addition to the obvious emphasis on flying, many episodes included a great deal regarding life in Alaska, from the Iditarod race to whale hunting to local festivals. The local cuisine figured in many episodes as well.

But the show was really about the airline. If you had asked me a year ago what I thought the most difficult aspect of flying in Alaska is, I would have answered that it would be the cold. However, after watching the series, the main problem is the wind, especially when landing or taking off.

Now that we have sold our RV and our travels are more limited, watching this show allowed us to have the travel experience while staying at home. If you have an interest in Alaska or flying, I highly recommend this series.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Garages

A basic definition of garage is "a shelter or repair shop for automotive vehicles." 

Donna and I have always enjoyed having a garage, and we've always used our garages as a place to shelter our automotive vehicles. I like having our vehicles securely stored to protect them against violent weather and from mischievous imps who roam the night. I also like being able to go from my vehicle to my house without getting wet during rainy weather or being exposed to the cold during winter. I guess I'm getting soft. In fact, when we were looking for a house recently, one of the features we felt most strongly about was to have a rear-entry garage. We think it gives a neighborhood a cleaner appearance.

I walk our neighborhood quite a bit, both on the streets and in the alleys. I try to do about 3 miles every other day or so. During my walks, I notice quite a bit. I'm surprised at the number of people who actually leave their garage doors up, even during the night (sometimes I walk before 6:00 AM).

I'm amazed at the number of people who do not use their garages as shelters for their vehicles. I find that many or our neighbors park their cars along the curb in front of their homes rather than use their garages. Some do so because modern families often have more than 2 cars -- 1 for Mom, 1 for Dad, and 1 or more for the children. 

But many park their cars in places other than their garage because there is no room in the garage. 

Many garages are just crammed full of boxes, old workout equipment, lawn care machinery, and all other types of odds and ends. Usually there is space enough for 1 car to fit inside, but no more. Sometimes the garage is neat and orderly, not crammed, but the space is used to store an ATV or other recreational toy. From time to time, the space is used as a workshop.

And what does this say about our culture? I think our concept of home has changed over the years. A home was once seen as an investment, and care was taken to maintain that investment. Things were stored appropriately, lawns were maintained, the house was maintained. Often today, when you see the home with a garage stuffed with boxes and other things, you'll probably see a house where the yard is not maintained and the house is not maintained. The value of a home has changed. 

It seems today that our emphasis, our value, is placed on interests outside the home. More and more families own boats, RVs, ATVs, and other "toys". Where once the American family spent weekends tending to their homes and yards, today they spend their time at lakes, on ATV tracks, or following other pursuits? 

I know that the older I get, the less time I'm willing to spend working around the house. I'll take an outing in an RV anytime over an afternoon mowing the grass. But to each his own.