Monday, June 30, 2014

Up the creek.....but which one?

My personal blog, 6/29/14

So, last weekend my dive club (“BAD”) had a group dive at Athens Scuba Park. While the viz wasn’t too good, we still had lots of fun. We drove up I-45 until we got to Buffalo, then took highway 79 into Palestine and then highway 19 into Athens. Now, any true Stephen King fan will be able to relate to me wanting to get a photo of a highway 19 sign. If you don’t get it, well, your local library should have plenty of Sai King’s works to help you figure it out. Yes, the library (or an ebook). Please don’t cheat yourself out of some fantastic reading by googling it.

Driving up I-45 and highway 79, we crossed many creeks. Now this in and of itself isn’t particularly noteworthy except for what I happened to notice about their names. We crossed (in no particular order) Beaver Creek, Otter Creek, Bear Creek, Wolf Creek, Catfish Creek and Boggy Creek. Wow, lots of animal names here, don’t you think?

Before I get too much further, though, I’ve always wondered why some people pronounce creek as “crick.” The double-e in the name should impart a long e sound, like street, right? I mean, I’ve never heard someone pronounce street as “strit,” so why is creek referred to as “crick?” Just curious, that’s all…..

Anyway, after passing the third or fourth creek with an animal name, I started laughing, because it was amusing to me. My wife was studying and glanced at me, wondering why I would just spontaneously start laughing. I had to explain why I thought it was funny.

Now, right off the bat, no pun intended, three of these creek names immediately reminded me of something other than what Wikipedia refers to as “a body of water that is a small to medium sized natural stream.”

Boggy Creek, to me, will always be a movie about a “bigfoot” type of creature that I saw as a child with my eldest sister (the movie not the actual critter). I’m tempted to try to convince my sister, as well as my wife to attend an annual festival for this creature. In all honesty, I didn’t know this festival existed until I googled “Boggy Creek” for a suitable reference. Naturally, I looked at google maps and see that it’s just over a 5 hour drive from the house. So, who else is with me? Road trip, anyone?

Beaver Creek is a ski area near Vail, right? At least that’s the image my mind conjures whenever I see “Beaver Creek.” I never actually got a chance to ski Beaver Creek, but I did ski Arrowhead, which is now part of the Beaver Creek resort area. Since I’m writing about Colorado, I should mention why Wolf Creek is something more than just another “small to medium sized stream.”

C.W. McCall is best known for his song Convoy, released in 1975. Ironically, his song Wolf Creek Pass on his album of the same name made the top 40 before Convoy did. Wolf Creek Pass is one of my favorite “fun songs” and while I haven’t had a chance yet to drive across the real Wolf Creek Pass, I’d sure like to one day, just as I’d like to take a rafting trip through Lodore Canyon. Yep, that’s the setting for another song by Mr. McCall, and the imagery of a rafting trip on this wild river makes me want to sign up for the next trip.

Hhhmmmm, Stephen King and C.W. McCall……

The obvious connection between these two guys is Colorado. Our last road trip to Colorado in 2010 allowed me to experience a little “real life” magic by visiting places either directly mentioned by one of these gentlemen or at least served as an inspiration for one of their works. This, my friends, will be the subject of my next blog, or the one right after that.

Until next time…

carpe cerevisi

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day...twice!

My personal blog, 6/15/14

First and foremost, a very happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there reading this! To those who have their fathers around, please, please give them a hug and tell them you love them while you still can. There will be a time when this won’t be possible, and you’ll wish every day to have one more chance to do so. At least I do…..

Today’s blog is an attempt to show my respect and love for two men I had the privilege to call “dad” as well as honor many other fathers I have the privilege and honor to call my relatives or friends.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have guidance from two dads… biological father and my dad who married my mom. Not using the most popular moniker of “stepdad” caused a little confusion at times, but for me anyway, the term “stepdad” tended to create an artificial distance that wasn’t there. I didn’t care to add “step” to his title, so Dad he was. So, throughout this blog, I use “my father” for my biological father Harold, and “dad” for my mom’s husband Cletus, or “CB” as he preferred to be called.

Both of these men instilled good values in me and provided crucial life lessons that to this day I am grateful for.  Both had their unique view on life based on where and how they were raised and I benefitted from having a diverse point of view. While both shared a somewhat rural upbringing, their paths diverged as adults. With all the differences in their adult lives, there were just as many similarities. Both were veterans, with my father being an Army vet who served in Korea during the Korean War and dad, who served in the Navy in WWII.

I really don’t want to turn this into an extended eulogy for either man. That’s already been done, and I see no reason to change something that doesn’t need to be changed. Rather, this is more of an opportunity to share a few details about my father and my dad. Quick disclaimer here….family members reading this may have a different view or interpretation of what I’m writing, and that’s OK. These are based on my memories and how I perceived things through my own filters. Yes, I know, “facts are facts,” and I’m sure somewhere along the way I’m gonna get some factual details wrong. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be OK, I promise.

Harold L. Newman, 2/25/33 – 7/2/95:

One of my earliest memories is of my father driving his company car. At the time, he worked for NL Baroid, which supplied treating chemicals to production wells. The company colors were red and yellow, so the company cars had a predominantly yellow body with a red top. This was in the early 70’s, so just imagine the styles of cars at the time and you’ll have a good idea what I’m referring to. I really don’t know why that’s always stuck in my mind.

He loved to hunt, and once I was about 10 or so, I was allowed to accompany him on some of these outings. We would hunt deer in the Huntsville, Texas area and hunt dove in the Rio Grande Valley. When I first started dove hunting, my father modified the stock of a bolt action .410 shotgun to fit my small frame. Now, he didn’t just cut down the stock and call it good. He sanded all the woodwork down and restained it. Years later, my late brother Dennis (more about him later) completely changed the stock of this shotgun with a handmade version that looked like something out of one of the original Planet of the Apes movies.

After leaving Baroid and accepting a position with National Lead – Treating Chemicals (“NLTC”), his job required extensive travel. At this point, he was in the sales part of the company rather than working as a field engineer. NLTC transferred him to London as the Eastern Hemisphere Sales Manager in the late 70’s. At the time, I was living in Calallen, and he and his “other” family lived in Houston. I was able to visit him frequently by flying from CRP to HOU via Southwest Airlines. Once he moved to the UK, though, I was limited to letter writing and the occasional phone call. Letter writing? As in pen on paper, stick it in an envelope kind of thing? Yep! Twice a year, NLTC would buy me an airline ticket to go see him.

My father actually accompanied me on my first trip across the pond. I met him in Houston (driven there from Calallen by my mom and “dad,” by the way) and we flew on National Airlines from IAH to MIA on a 727 and then from MIA to LHR on one of National’s DC-10’s. I can still vividly remember that trip, even after all these years. Yes, there’s a reason I’m using a bunch of airline lingo. For one thing, it’s an efficient way to communicate. For another, this is where the travel bug really took hold of me. Flying has been a passion of mine as far back as I can remember.

London was, in a word, epic! Their public transportation is impressive. During one summer I spent there, I would wake up most mornings, have breakfast, and walk less than a quarter of a mile to a bus stop. I’d take the bus to a nearby subway station (The “tube”) and from there the city was mine. I would just pick a random museum or other destination, and go exploring until lunchtime. I would then take the tube to close to where my father’s office was and meet him for lunch. One of my favorite spots was the Old Vienna Restaurant. Another was Maddox Square Garden. After lunch, I’d explore some more and then meet my father near his office and we’d head home together.

After a couple of years back in Houston, my father took a job with Treat-O-Lite, a division of Petrolite. This company was similar to NLTC, and it was off to live in Singapore as the Global Sales Manager. Once again, I had to rely on letters and phone calls to keep in touch for most of the year. Just as when he worked for NLTC, Treat-O-Lite allowed me two plane tickets per year to visit him. Yep, pretty much on the other side of the planet, now…..13 hours ahead of Texas time. I got to experience just what an awesome airline “SQ” is. I would fly from CRP to SFO via IAH, typically on Continental, then pick up SQ from SFO to SIN. The SFO – SIN segment was 24 hours long, with transit stops in HNL and HKG. These trips, while long, were always fun. Unfortunately, Singapore’s public transportation wasn’t as developed as London’s, but I managed to get around either via taxi or riding with his wife.

His assignment to Singapore is how I had the chance to also hang out in Tahiti for a week. Our time in Tahiti was special, but even more so because one night it was just my father and me, relaxing on the beach in lounge chairs, stargazing and……talking. Just, talking….about life, the universe, and everything (thank you, Douglas!). Tahiti is where my interest in scuba took root. Being raised on the Texas gulf coast, my only experience with salt water was limited. I had no idea that salt water wasn’t all silty like the Gulf of Mexico beaches can be. Tahiti was the first time I experienced salt water with the clarity of a swimming pool! We did some snorkeling while there and the beautiful reefs, teeming with colorful fish, made me realize just how wonderful tropical waters could be.

After retiring from Treat-O-Lite, my father and his family moved back to Houston, and this is where his part of this blog ends. I will write more about him in future blogs, of course, but it’s time to move on.

Father, friend, and fraternity brother 

Cletus B. “CB” Burgess, 4/12/23 – 4/28/99:

After my mom and my father parted ways in the late 70’s, she married a true country gentleman, CB Burgess. They met while mom was a real estate agent and “dad” was a builder. A new (at the time) subdivision was established in Odem and naturally builders and real estate agents must interact. After their courtship and marriage, CB brought a unique set of values into the family. Being a cattle rancher, horse owner and general builder, he exposed me to new situations that I had not yet had a chance to experience. I learned how to ride a horse, work cattle, and perform maintenance on tractors and various farm implements. He showed me how to train horses and show cattle and take pride in my work.

This is not to say that I was “spoon fed” these skills. In high school, I was in FFA and part of my requirements was to participate in a livestock show. I chose to raise and show “breeding beef” animals. My first project was a Beefmaster heifer. I was responsible for taking care of this animal from feeding and grooming to training it. During the livestock shows, I needed a “showbox” to keep all my grooming supplies in. My FFA Advisor provided me with plans to build one, and dad bought me all the materials to do so. One step called for installing wood runners on the inside of the box to support a shelf. I was trying to nail these runners in place, and was struggling to keep them in place until I got the nail started. Dad just stood there, watching me, not saying anything. After almost an hour of struggling, to the point I was about to lose my patience and start throwing things, the proverbial light bulb came on. I realized that if I started the nails from another side, the box itself would hold the runners in place. Duhhhh! I felt like an idiot! I looked up at dad and he grinned and said something like “It took you long enough to figure that out.”

“Why didn’t you tell me to do it the other way instead of letting me struggle?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t have learned anything if I did that,” he said, “but now you’ll remember it forever.”

Point taken, dad, thanks! And yes, I do remember! This simple lesson has lasted me a lifetime. Take a look at the alternatives if something isn’t working. Such a simple lesson, yet so profound.

Like my father, CB enjoyed hunting. We got to hunt deer at a lease near central Texas and hunt dove on the back portion of our lot in Odem. No, I’m not being purposely vague about the deer lease. I just can’t remember exactly where it was.

When I received my commission as a 2LT in the Army Reserve, dad was there to pin on my bars. Unfortunately, due to other circumstances, my father couldn’t be there for that, but this just shows what having two dads did for me.

His story ends here, for now. As much as I’d like to keep writing about him, I still have more to cover and this will turn from a blog into a book if I’m not careful. If you’ve managed to make it this far, thank you for hanging in there. I’m almost done.

A true gentleman

I want to take a few more minutes to recognize a few other fathers I know. This is NOT a “best father of the year” contest, and if I fail to mention some names it’s not because I think they don’t deserve comment. These are just a few guys that have left a specific impression on me and that immediately come to mind.

For a few years my late brother Dennis and I shared a house. We did this both in Gypsum, Colorado and in Spring, Texas. He raised two good kids, Amie and Lloyd. After his untimely demise, Amie and Lloyd went to live with their mom. It’s a pleasure to see them now as adults, and to hear both of them speak warmly of their father and his impact on their lives makes me feel good.

While in Colorado, I worked full time as a medic with the Western Eagle County Ambulance District (“WECAD”). I understand they are now called “Eagle County Paramedic Services.” Anyway, we worked closely with both the Eagle Volunteer Fire Department and the Gypsum Volunteer Fire Department. In fact, I was a volunteer with each agency when I lived in the respective districts during my time off from WECAD. The GVFD Chief at the time was Dave Vroman. I would sometimes meet him at his house for breakfast, and to watch him interact with his three kids was heartwarming. I could see and feel the love and warmth he had for his children, and it was always a pleasure being around them.

More recently, I’ve had the chance to see Kevin Schroeder be an awesome father to his kids. With social media sites like Facebook, it’s easy to see what a great father Kevin is. He’s a great Christian, whose love and support for his kids should be an example of how to be a good father.

A few years ago, Cindy and I were on the Carnival Magic (or was it the Conquest?) and we watched this comedian named Mutzie perform during one of the “family” shows. Carnival has their comedians perform a family show early in the evening and then an adults only show later in the night. I was strikingly impressed with Mutzie’s performance, but what really blew me away was what he said at the end of his family show. He asked for the house lights to be turned up and then asked for all the kids to raise their hands. He then asked for all the kids to hug their parents. “Kids, this may not seem like a big deal now, but trust me, it will  be later.” Wow…..just, wow! After the show ended, he was standing by the sound booth, drinking a glass of water. I hesitantly made my way up to him to extend my thanks and appreciation for what he said to the kids. I planned to say just that, and take off, as I figured he wouldn’t want to have to talk to some fans between his shows.

Not only was Mutzie warm and friendly, but as I started to leave, he asked that I stay and just visit a little longer. We talked about losing our parents and 30 minutes later we parted as friends. I keep up with him via e-mail and Facebook, and can’t wait to see him again on another Carnival ship. He dotes on his two adult kids and again one can see what a great father figure he his.

Speaking of Carnival, I had the pleasure of meeting Carnival’s Senior Cruise Director, John Heald, when he organized a “bloggers event” when the Magic came to Galveston. His blogs and Facebook posts are a delight to read, and the way he lovingly speaks of his daughter is a pleasure to read. He recently lost his father, and from what he’s written, I can only imagine how hard it is for him. So, I’m devoting a few lines in my blog as a show of respect for him.

A longtime friend, Dan Griffin, is another good man who deserves a few lines from me. Dan is a remarkable father to some wonderful kids. His eldest just graduated from high school this year. My heart still aches for him and his wife for one of their other children, but that's all I need to say about it. There's no big secret really, but I feel it's up to them to share this particular story, not me. Hang in there, brother! (and BA #5 is still the best, just sayin'....)

As I finally wrap this up, I can’t think of a better way to end than give a shout out to one more “brother from another mother” Andy Scott. Happy Father’s Day, Andy! I love ya, bro!

Until next time……

carpe cerevisi

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Life has been the Pitts lately...

Life has been the Pitts lately… 

My personal blog, 6/5/14

 If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits? - Erma Bombeck

I had forgotten about Erma’s book until I started writing this blog today. I actually had my title in my head when her book popped up in my memory and I thought it would make a nice tie in…...sort of like Dean Koontz’s Book of Counted Sorrows


Yes, lately life has been the Pitts. I realized this while juggling not two, but three different novels. I just finished two novels in which the leading characters happened to share the last name of Pitt. First there was Owen Pitt, from Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. I stumbled upon this book, which is actually a collection of 3 novellas, in the new book section of my local library. Given the current pop culture fascination with zombies, this book has that and more. Just think of it as the ultimate monsters and villains combo plate and you’ll get the idea. 

The other novel is part of a series of books by Clive Cussler. I prefer to listen to audiobooks during my commute to and from work. While reading Monster Hunter International at home, I was listening to Poseidon’s Arrow in the car. Mr. Cussler has several different series of novels to his credit, and Poseidon’s Arrow belongs to the “Dirk Pitt adventures.” Actually, Poseidon’s Arrow belongs to the “NUMA Files,” which is a subset of the Dirk Pitt series. 

So there’s the other Pitt. 

It took me a while to discover Mr. Cussler’s works, but I’m glad I did. After finishing MHI (and Poseidon’s Arrow as well, to tell the truth), I started on Zero Hour, the most recent release of the NUMA series. While I’ve enjoyed his novels from the NUMA series, I actually prefer his books from the “Oregon Files.” I’m sure that’s because my first exposure to Clive’s works was a novel from this series. This also happened to be the audiobook version of Plague Ship. As of today, I’m 8th in line on the library hold list for the latest release of the Oregon Files, Mirage, so I hope they’ll buy multiple copies. 

I use both Shelfari and Goodreads as a way to keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. Both of these websites have many similar features, but there are enough differences in functionality between the two that I maintain lists on both sites. I use the export feature from both sites to collate a master list in Excel of my “want to read” books. I then organize these books by both title and author. It makes a handy list to use when looking for them in my library’s online catalog. Unfortunately, many of these books aren’t available at the library and I have to request them through the inter-library loan program. My “want to read” queue is even longer than my Netflix queue. A quick check today showed 135 books in my want to read queue and 109 DVDs on my Netflix queue. 

Now why does such a long list of books remind me of Time Enough at Last

Until next time… 

carpe cerevisi