Thursday, September 25, 2014

Movie Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Donna and I went to our local Cinemark Theater yesterday and watched This Is Where I Leave You. The film has a solid cast, led by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda. This comedy-drama revolves the Altman family following the death of the family's patriarch.

Following the funeral, the 4 adult Altman children (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll) are grounded by their mother (Jane Fonda) for a week of sitting Shiva, a Jewish tradition where visitors stop by daily to remember the deceased. The dysfunctional side of the family emerges as the siblings are forced to spend time together. The time they spend together leads them to examine their lives, and all of them have numerous issues, especially as regards relationships.

While driving the dramatic aspect of the script, this forced togetherness also brings about much of the comedy. There are a number of belly laugh scenes, and I'm not one to laugh aloud too often.

I was disappointed by the language used in the film. I don't mean to come off as a prude, but I don't like to hear vulgar language when there is no reason for the vulgar language. The "F word" is heavily used throughout the film, and I was really uncomfortable with that. I do not see that anything was gained by the use of such language.

In the end, the film is really about pursuing your dreams, about finding out what you really want in life. This is something that most of us having passed middle age have considered at one time or another, so the film helps bring this home.

While not a great film, I found it entertaining to say the least, but it isn't one I'll need to watch again.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hike Report: Return to Eagle Mountain Park

While visiting my brother in Ft. Worth recently, we decided to re-hike the trails in Eagle Mountain Park, just up the road from my brother's house. We hiked some of these trails nearly 3 years ago; you can read that report in "Eagle Mountain Park: January 14, 2012". Some of the links in that former entry are no longer active, but all links in this current entry are active at the time of this writing.

This is a nice park, especially considering its location to a large urban center. There are good hills for hikers who want a bit of a workout, and there are plenty of trees. The alert and quiet hiker will probably get a chance to view some wildlife.Trails are well-maintained, and facilities are available. Because of its location near an urban area, lots of people visit this park. You will not have the trails to yourself. It's good to see people enjoying the out-of-doors, but Donna and I prefer a more isolated hiking experience. Views of the lake and surrounding countryside are outstanding, though Eagle Mountain Lake continues to suffer from the prolonged drought.


On our last hike there, we did not do a section of the Ridge Loop Trail, so we certainly wanted to do all of that trail this time. To view a map of trails in the park, go to http://www.trwd.com/docs/eaglemountainlake/EM-Trail-Map.pdf. Since I posted so many pictures last time and the web site contains numerous pictures, I'll not post many today.

Backside of the trailhead from just inside the cattle guard.
We spotted these deer not far from the trailhead. Later on the trail, we caught sight of an armadillo as well. Nice to see such wildlife so close to a metropolitan area.
Rest area on the Northwest Trail less than a mile from the trailhead. Pit toilets are available.

View of Eagle Mountain Lake from the trail. From left to right: quiet and shy sister-in-law Nancy, mentally ill brother Larry, and photogenic wife Donna.
Larry next to old-growth tree near lake shore on Ridge Loop Trail.

Note the water line of the lake. Nice view.

It was a great day for a hike. A cool front had moved through the area a day or two before, and temps when we started were in the upper 50s, rising to the mid or upper 60s by the end of our hike. Unfortunately, Nancy suffered a wardrobe malfunction, and we decided to end our hike early. Since we had planned only a short hike, I had only my waist pack, which has limited space. Had we planned a longer hike, I would have taken my backpack, which contains duct tape among other things. With the duct tape, we probably could have patched Nancy up. As it was, Donna and I were happy to quit early as our hearts just weren't in hiking mode.

Nancy's wardrobe malfunction.
We have some outings planned over the fall months, and perhaps we'll get in some good hiking soon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dallas RV Supersale

Donna and I have been in the big city for a few days. We went to visit my brother and his wife in the Metroplex recently; while there, we attended the Dallas RV Supersale.

The web page for this event (http://www.dallasrvsupersale.com/) has already been updated to reflect the next show, which is scheduled for February 19 - 22, 2015. This is a huge RV show; if you are in the market for a new RV, it is certainly worth your time to spend the day here. There are various RV shows located all around the country, so you should be able to find a similar show somewhere in your neck of the woods. For example, in Texas, there are upcoming shows in Ft. Worth, Austin, and San Antonio scheduled soon.

If you have followed my blog for very long, you know that Donna and I sold our trailer about a year ago; we are considering purchasing another one, though, and we wanted to be able to look at various models and floor plans at one place. The Dallas RV Supersale certainly enabled us to do that.

Admission was $13 each. However, we printed coupons from the web page which reduced the entrance fee to $11. I have a bit of a problem paying this kind of money to visit vendors; to me, it's kind of like paying a few dollars to enter Walmart. However, that's the way things are done these days, it seems, so I had no choice but to pay. In the long run, it is money well spent if you are a serious RV shopper. And if you are ready to purchase an RV at the show, the mark downs there are certainly quite good.

But we aren't ready to make a purchase yet. We still don't know exactly what size RV we are looking for, but we are narrowing our choices. It will probably be spring 2015 before we are ready to make a purchase.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Simple Pleasures

As a culture, we seem to be getting harder and harder to entertain. I've seen numerous news stories lately, for example, about people who climb high places (buildings, bridges, etc.), make videos of themselves doing so, then post these to the Internet.

I guess I'm going in the opposite direction. First, the less I have to do with technology these days, the better. I find more enjoyment these days in what I call simple pleasures.

And just what are these simple pleasures?

One simple pleasure that tops the list is just a nice, cooling breeze. In fact, there is little more that I appreciate than a nice breeze at the right time. When hiking and I emerge from a wooded tract, sometimes a refreshing breeze will strike me full in the face, instantly cooling me. Or sometimes, that cooling breeze hits as I top a crest or ridge. Even when working in the yard on a hot day, a cool breeze can go far.

And in a similar vein, what is better than a cool drink of water on a hot day, especially when you've been toiling away at something. On one particular difficult hike, I recall how refreshing it was to stop by a pool of water and refresh our feet as we sipped from our water bottles. It doesn't get much better than that!

But I also enjoy a good cup of coffee. I never was much of a coffee drinker growing up. Sure, I'd drink a cup from time to time, but it was never anything I craved. Today, though, I look forward each day to that rich cup of full-bodied coffee that helps me start my day. And I really enjoy a good cup of coffee when driving down the highway on a long road trip. Perhaps my favorite time to enjoy a good cup is when I'm sitting at a video poker machine in my favorite Vegas casino. But then, a cup of hot coffee on a cool morning in the high country around a campfire is hard to beat. Yeah, coffee is good.

Good food is on my list of simple pleasures as well. I don't need to eat in fancy restaurants. Oh, don't get me wrong. I enjoy a well-prepared meal in a nice restaurant, but day in and day out, give me some simple filling fare and I'm quite happy. Donna and I have our regular eateries here in San Angelo where the two of us eat quite well for under $15 combined. To be honest, these are the places I enjoy going to again and again. I'm always in search of that perfect cheeseburger or an authentic chicken fried steak. And if you've read my blog much at all, you know how I crave BBQ, especially in the central Texas meat markets. I just want tasty food that satisfies my cravings; I don't need a fancy setting or arrogant wait staff to make me happy.

And is there a better way to spend time on a cold, rainy day than with a good book. I'm talking about a book where you can't wait to turn that page to see what happens next. Combine that good book with a good cup of coffee and you have something approaching a perfect day.

These are just a few of my simple pleasures, but there are many, many more. The laughter of a young child. The howl of a coyote just down from you campsite in a canyon. The view from a mountain top. The smell of a camp fire on a cool morning. That first cold front that moves through in the fall following a hot, dry summer. The smell of rain or freshly mowed grass.

No, I don't need fancy tools and restaurants. Give me the simple pleasures any day.

I think we could all benefit from living a bit more simply.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tower Hill in Sterling County, Texas

Donna and I recently took a day trip to Big Spring to visit the kids. On the drive up and back, I noticed several roads that might be worth exploring at some future date, so once I got home, I opened up Google Maps and Google Earth and began a bit of exploration. I've mentioned my use of these online tools before (see "Online Tools for RVers" and "Another Online Tool for the Traveler"). I find them immensely helpful.

Google Earth allows you to zoom in close to a landscape for an aerial view or, if the Google camera car has traveled a road, you can zoom in to a street view of that road and enjoy a view as if from a car. This way, you can actually see what the road is like, and that can be quite useful when you are traveling in unknown areas, especially when towing a behemoth behind you. Another feature of Google Earth I like is that people post pictures of areas so as you traverse a landscape, you will often see picture icons which you can then open and view.

Yesterday while viewing an area near Sterling City, Texas (about 40 miles northwest of San Angelo on US 87), I saw a grouping of 4 pictures centered on a hill about 5 miles south of Sterling City. I looked at all 4 pictures and saw they were of a place called "Tower Hill". Unfamiliar with this place, I then did an Internet search for "Tower Hill Sterling City Texas". This search turned up several hits which I then investigated.

At the top of the list was a link to a PDF article entitled "Archeological Investigations Tower Hill, Military Lookout (41ST91) Sterling County, Texas" by Tom Ashmore. This interesting and informative document was produced for the Concho Valley Archeological Society in December, 2010.

It turns out that this hill was probably used as a lookout by the 1st Texas Mounted Rifles during the early years of the War Between the States to watch the movements of Comanches as they followed the Sterling Creek valley on raids into and out of the Texas frontier settlements. The document contains numerous photos of the hill and the fortifications that were built there; the remains of an Indian burial location were also examined. I especially enjoyed the research that was conducted and how the participants deduced the history of the hill. The paper is well documented and is worth reading if you are interested in such things.

During my review of Tower Hill, I also learned a bit about Camp Elizabeth, located a few miles northwest of Sterling City. Seems this was an outpost of Fort Concho at a later time, so I'll devote a bit of research to this later.

If you use Google Earth and are interested in learning more about Tower Hill, its coordinates are roughly 31°46'40.36" N 101°00'41.96" W.

Other resources I found online for Tower Hill include the following:
If you look hard enough, there are all sorts of interesting gems out there to investigate.