Although there is a space below each post for your comments, readers may want to leave a comment unrelated to any specific post. For general comments, I suggest that you click on "Quick Comments" in the Label Section (right side of page) and comment at the bottom of that post. That will group general comments and make them easier to find.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pen Pals and Chain Letters

Do you feel as hopelessly addicted to the information age as I sometimes do - that our favorite internet news sources and social network sites are updated on such a frenzied basis that if we don't check them every few minutes we fear we will be hopelessly left behind? It sometimes feels like I am trying to drink from a fire-hose.

That's the sort of mindless drift that I get myself into some days. On the good days, I'll rein myself in before I enter my office and sit down to my computer. Usually, I will only have to ask myself one of several questions:

"Does it really matter if I know the latest breaking news before I go out to mow the lawn?"

"Could the internet weather forecast have possibly changed in the last fifteen minutes when a look outside the window tells me 'no'?"

"Do I really need to see if there is an updated Facebook status for any of my 68 Facebook friends - especially when many of them seem as mindlessly hooked on minutiae as I am?"

"Keeping up" in this information age can be like trying to catch a tsunami in a teaspoon if we don't step back and put things into perspective.

Yesterday, when I reined myself short of another mindless hour on the computer, I remembered the Facebook alternatives of my childhood - Pen Pals and Chain Letters.

If you were a kid living in rural Nebraska and felt the need for companionship with someone your age, you could often find the name and address of a like-minded kid in the Pen Pal section of your local newspaper. If your Pen Pal interests went beyond the readership of the local newspaper, you could find similar names and addresses in the Weekly Reader, the wonderful little national newspaper for elementary school students. Once you had invested a three-cent stamp and had broken the ice, you often found a new friend.

I don't recall having a Pen Pal but I know that my sister(s) or perhaps a cousin corresponded for a while that way. If you grew up back then, perhaps you had a Pen Pal and some of you may have kept in touch for all these years.

When we lived on the Niobrara River and were far from civilization - no telephone and a sometimes radio - the Chain Letter box was the social network that kept my family in contact with our cousins in far off places. The idea was simple. All you needed was a carton large enough to hold the individual packets, a list of addresses, and enough egg money for postage.

When the battered, well-travelled carton arrived in the mail, it was filled with letters, photos, newspaper clippings, etc., in separate packets from everyone on the address list. After a few satisfying hours of reading aloud about the recent experiences of far-off family and enjoying the photos and news-clippings about births, marriages or other life-events, my parents found the packet of information that they had placed in the box possibly a year prior. Mom or Dad then replaced the old items with our recent family news, sealed up the carton and sent it to the next address on the enclosed address list.

It was a joyful time, possibly a year later, when the battered box once again arrived at our address on North Star Route, Long Pine, Nebraska.

I recall, as a child, a certain addiction to that chain-letter - much like the anticipation of Christmas and the arrival of Santa Claus. That, though, was a healthy addiction, and one that had far more value and satisfaction than discovering that a Facebook friend has recently updated their minute-by-minute status to "I'm so bored with Olympic figure skating, I could puke."

Yes, good neighbors, there is an exciting life that we can all still find without the use of a GPS or computer. In fact, the only way to find it is to turn off those distractions and look around. There it is staring you in the face. It might be only a gecko on the window screen or new buds on the buckeye tree, but you won't see it if you don't take the time to look.

Now don't you wish you would have tried that prior to reading this blog entry?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gray Eagles

This film was forwarded to me by Barbara Lamb. The thirty minute film is about an encounter between an 88-year-old WW II combat pilot and the P-51 Mustang that he once flew. It's a wonderful little story that I think you will enjoy.

You can access it by clicking on the title of this post.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New York City Trip - Part 5

January 16-25, 2010: I awaken to the wonderful smell of bacon frying. Ahhhh...nothing beckons at this early morning hour to break the bond with dreamland quite like that ever-popular, sizzling treat from the kitchen. My senses, now fully awakened, are alert to sounds of movement within this 6th floor apartment - or rather, I should say, lack of movement. Ohhhhh...this choice breakfast meat must be sizzling away in some other apartment close by. Could it be the apartment next door? Could the smell be drifting in from the open window next to the sofa where I lie? Could the smell be coming in from the wall electrical plug-in behind the coach? Alas, what does it matter for whom the bacon sizzles - if it doesn't sizzle for thee! I will counter with tempting food scents of my own contriving.

This was one of the mornings during my visit with Steven, Sara and the twins that I made a quick trip to the local grocery down the street for breakfast goodies. The smell of cinnamon rolls warming in the microwave along with the smell of coffee and cooking oatmeal can also lure sleepyheads out of bed.

I am content to spend as much time as possible with my New York family. The baby girls are a delight to behold with their sweet faces of ever-changing expressions. Steven laments that he misses out on so much just going to work each day: Magnolia and Dorothy's daily progress in holding their heads up on their own, their laughing out loud for the first time, that intense eye-contact, and their unique personalities emerging. I think of how much I will miss them when I am back in Texas.

Steven and Sara encourage me to get out of the apartment and enjoy the sights a bit during this opportune visit. Sara suggests a visit to the old Jefferson Market Courthouse in the West Village. This impressive building was saved from demolition and converted into a branch of the New York Public Library in the 1950s. I had noticed the prominent, red-bricked, Bavarian castle-like landmark on my several treks to Citarella Market. During Raleigh's and my spring visit to New York City several years ago, Steven and Sara had taken us on a stroll through the community garden next to the library, both being located on a triangular plot of land formed by Greenwich Avenue & West 10th Street and 6th Avenue. Sara reminds me to take my camera as she is sure I will want to capture the beauty of the many leaded, stained-glass windows from within the building.

I head out the door of the apartment building into the cold, late afternoon air and am enveloped into the bustling New York scene. I pass by several police cars slowly motoring with other cars down W. 9th Street as I near 6th Avenue. Sara and I had noticed sirens earlier. At the corner, I notice more police cars - these parked across the avenue near the intersection. Policemen are directing people across the street - lots of people around - most of them talking on their cell phones. I even notice a local TV news van parked down the street. I don't see any emergency vehicles and traffic does seem to be progressing slowly along the streets. I assume that whatever happened has already taken place and has been mostly taken care of by the police.

I proceed across 6th Avenue and check out the community garden, but I notice nothing blooming this time of year. I walk along Greenwich Avenue and then cut back along W. 10th Street which connects with 6th Avenue. At the avenue entrance to the library, I walk up the front steps and enter this spacious building with its high ceilings, luminous stained-glass windows, and winding staircase to the upper floors. I take lots of pictures! I think about the twins coming here to check out library books or to enjoy the special programs offered. A beautiful setting for reading!

Back outside, I go north down the sidewalk along 6th Avenue (also named the Avenue of the Americas) to check out a small art store/print shop I had passed on my way to the Food Emporium grocery near W. 12th Street earlier in the week. I overhear a lady speaking to her young son in French. I love the musical flow of her words. As I step inside the shop, the owner (I presume), is talking with a lady customer in a language I can't identify. I look at large, framed photos of Washington Square Arch and other architecturally pleasing pictures of New York brownstones, parks and skyscrapers, etc. My attention is drawn to a large painting of the familiar, lime green storefront of the Vesuvio Bakery in SoHo. Steven and Sara had treated Raleigh and me to a delectable lunch at this popular historic eatery on an earlier visit. I was saddened to hear from Steven that it had closed its door to business in the past year and that the store was up for rent. Later, talking with the shop owner, I pointed to the painting and remarked on Vesuvio's closing being too bad. The older gentleman just replied, matter-of-factly - "Well, times change!" Perhaps that sums up the general New York attitude of getting on with the present and not spending a lot of time looking back. I leave the shop and turn at the corner away from 6th Avenue to walk down W. 11th Street eastward to 5th Avenue. This is a long block!

The Manhattan streets above Greenwich Village are laid out on a straight grid pattern of avenues running north to south and streets running east to west. Most are one-way, alternating, except for Park Avenue which runs both ways. 5th Avenue is the dividing line between the East and West sides. Distinguishing their considerable differences in length, going a block along a street is considered a long block, and going a block along an avenue is considered a short block. Twenty short blocks is approximately a mile. So, if one were to walk down 5th Avenue, from 29th Street to 9th Street, then that would be a mile walk. Walking down 5th Avenue from the Empire State Building southward to Washington Square Park is equal to walking 26 short blocks, or 1.3 miles. So, I could easily walk from Steven and Sara's apartment to the Empire State Building, but then I would have to walk all that way back!

I stroll along 5th Avenue to 18th Street and spot a large Barnes & Noble Book Store which I choose as a likely spot to find a restroom. The restrooms are located way in the back where the visitor is enticed to peruse the many shelves of books and nice displays when finished with the foremost task in mind. I am such a visitor. On my return from the ladies' room, I check over the display table of Newbery Medal-winning fiction for young people. Having been a 5th grade teacher, I can still appreciate the joy of reading such books. I look through one with several adorable line drawings about a hound dog living in the swamps with a cruel master. I love dog stories - like Old Yeller, Where The Red Fern Grows, etc. This hound invites a forlorn, abandoned, soon-to-be-a-mother cat to share his space under the cabin porch. He grows very protective of her newborn kitties - but warns them all to stay under the porch, or else they would likely become alligator bait if his master ever caught them. But then, one of the kitties is very curious..... I keep the book in hand and look at another one. This one is a young girl's journaling of living through the depression years of the 30s in a Midwestern state. It is full of fine poetry. The young girl is motherless - did her mother die, run away? I leave that section with the 2 books and come by the shelf that has Sarah Palin's book. I thumb through it, looking at the pictures. I put it down, return the other 2 books to their table in the back, and proceed to the front of the store. Then I notice in the travel section the Top 10 New York City guide to the 10 best of everything. Yep, I buy it. Might pick up some choice tidbits for future visits.

Leaving the store, I notice the Empire State Building to the north is awash in bright green light. During this past Christmas season when we had visited here, it was red and green. The sky is getting dark and the temperature colder as I head down 5th Avenue to the apartment. Quite a nice exhilarating outing!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Security ... but mostly the Nuts.

After our trip to Washington, DC last fall, I shared a few comments regarding security checks along the way. You may remember my describing the amusing episodes - if you can call them "amusing" - regarding Terry's Jekyll and Hyde Bagallini purse.

Her purse easily passed through security checks into all of the historical sites we visited along the National Mall. The list of prohibited items, posted at the door, included many things including backpacks - but purses, fanny packs, etc., are allowed.

Terry usually carries her Bagallini purse over one shoulder on the single shoulder strap. For added convenience, the "single" shoulder strap however has a zipper along its length. If she unzips the zipper, one shoulder strap becomes two so she can then wear her purse like you wear a backpack. This gives her more freedom with her arms and hands to take photos, etc., without her purse slipping from her shoulder.

Unfortunately, if once beyond the security check she decides to unzip the zipper and wear it like a backpack she immediately catches the attention of security guards who insist that she must wear it like a purse. For what reason? Because, rules are rules. Meanwhile I am wearing my fanny-pack on my fanny. Perhaps if she fastened the shoulder straps around her waist and wore her purse like a fanny-pack and not like a back-pack she would be in compliance.

This brings me to 3.4 ounces of shampoo. If you have traveled via the airlines, you know that you must restrict your liquid items, such as shampoo, to 3.4 ounces or less - and then have no more bottles than will comfortably fit in a one-quart plastic bag.

If a passenger's carry-on bag is inspected and the traveler forgot that he had a ten ounce bottle of Breck tucked inside, the bottle of Breck is tossed into the confiscation bin along with all the confiscated over-sized hand-lotions, tooth-pastes, mouth-washes and makeups.

When the over-sized liquid rule was enacted, the first instinct of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was to give the confiscated items to charity or, for some enterprising airports - to sell them on e-Bay. The TSA then considered the liability risk. According to the TSA, (a quote from their website) "As you can imagine we have voluminous amounts of liquid items surrendered daily. ... Early on there was a move to donate the liquid items to local homeless shelters but we were forced to suspend that practice after the determination was made that there is a liability risk. We couldn't continue to donate items and not know if the water was truly water or if the shampoo was truly shampoo. While unfortunate, the litigious world in which we live forced the abandonment of that process. So now, those items are tossed out."

But wait a minute, here! Why were those over-sized items confiscated in the first place?

The only reason that those over-sized bottles are confiscated is because they could be potentially dangerous terrorist weapons in disguise! If such items, either separately or in combinations, are potentially lethal wouldn't you think that a government Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) Team would rush in the moment that an over-sized bottle is discovered, handle it with kid-gloves, take it to some concrete revetment and destroy it?

If confiscated items can be tossed into collection containers, and thought sufficiently safe to be donated to charities or sold on e-Bay, then why are we going through this mindless exercise? Even the TSA wasn't concerned with the danger about blowing up a homeless shelter or having a homeless person consume a lethal substance that they thought was water. The TSA, in their own words, were not as concerned about being safe as they were concerned about being sued!

The terrorists want to destroy our way of life - or so we say, and we are allowing mindless rules and faulty logic of our bureaucracies to do it to us instead.

Good night nurse! What next?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New York City Visit - Part 4

January 16-25, 2010: I enjoyed dormitory-living when I was in college, but I've never lived in an apartment. However, I could get use to living in an apartment like the one in which Steven and Sara live in Greenwich Village. I am impressed with the convenience of location and the many services available.

When it comes to garbage disposal, I just have to walk down the hallway to the exit sign, open the door to the stairwell landing, and then dump the garbage bag into the chute provided for this chore. There is a container for recyclables nearby.

Laundry chores are conveniently dispatched with a quick trip down the elevator to the 2 large laundry rooms in the basement. I use Steven and Sara's large, mesh collapsible bag for transporting about all the dirty clothes I can handle in one trip, at least 2 washer-loads worth. I don't even need jangling change to wash or dry the clothes. All that is required is a swipe of a plastic card good for a pre-paid amount. After checking how many minutes are needed to complete the wash (usually 58 minutes), I return to their 6th floor apartment to help with the babies or other things, or even take a walk down the block to the Citarella Gourmet Market to buy groceries for dinner. After an hour, Sara or I return to the laundry room to cart the newly washed clothes to the dryers, swipe the handy card, then head back up to the apartment to return later when the clothes are dry. The laundry rooms do have a long table for folding the clothes. I take care of that chore on the final trip while the clothes are still warm from the dryer instead of lugging scrunched, wrinkled, bagged clothes onto the elevator. I am even praised on how well I layer 2 clothes-dryers worth of assorted sized clothing into the tall mesh bag by 2 other apartment dwellers. These New Yorkers are certainly friendly.

Grocery shopping is easy in New York City, even if one doesn't own a car, which Sara and Steven don't. Sara lets me know that If the purchased groceries are more than I can carry home, then the store will deliver. Likewise, we can order in a meal from the many restaurants in the area (which Steven did on the first day I arrived). They have found that is a great boon to grocery shopping. This service has been a life-saver as they can deliver (free-delivery) paper goods (like diapers, toilet paper, towel paper, etc.), canned and packaged goods, even milk and juices - nearly everything except for meats, fresh fruits and veggies.

I am enjoying the short walks to either Citarella Gourmet Market or Food Emporium to buy our food. I think the fresh air must increase my appetite! Such wonderful produce and such good looking meats I find in these stores! On different trips, I add mangos, blueberries, bananas, grapes, strawberries, Jonagold apples, limes along with salad greens and other veggies to my grocery cart, along with ingredients for fixing fish tacos, spaghetti dinner, ham steak dinner, ham fried rice, roast chicken dinner, chicken noodle soup, pork chop dinner - and not forgetting the desserts - vanilla gelato and ingredients for making homemade oatmeal cookies and fudge brownies. On several visits I also add paper-sacked French bread and cinnamon-scented sweet rolls from the bakery section to the cart. I only buy what I can carry home, even though it's nice knowing they can deliver. I am impressed with how friendly the cashiers in these markets are to the customers.

The first Sunday morning of my visit, I am up early before the others are stirring. I shower, bundle up well in my winter clothes and head out the door, waving to the friendly man on the first floor behind the lobby desk after departing the elevator (He already knows I am the grandmother of the twins on the 6th floor.), and then stepping out the front door of what use to be the Fifth Avenue Hotel before it became an apartment building. I walk a block down 5th Avenue to Le Pain Quotidien. Steven had taken Raleigh and me to brunch at this place on our first visit to see him and Sara 2 summers ago. Googling this restaurant's name on-line, one can find the name translates to "daily bread", or pertains to the "French philosophy that embraces the sustenance of the spirit as well as the body". It is listed on-line as an organic bakery/ coffee (tea & hot chocolate) shop/patisserie/and restaurant. Sort of like Chuck's Deli and Coffee House in Manchaca, TX - without the fancy French words. It's actually one of an international chain of Belgian restaurants. I order 2 coffees and a hot chocolate (the latter for Sara), and eyeing the beautiful, buttery sweet rolls in the patisserie's glassed cabinet, I order up a few of those to add to our breakfast treats. After returning to the apartment, I find that my purchases are very much welcomed. I make oatmeal with blueberries to add some balance to the sweets. Considering that Sara is a nursing mother, the twins probably appreciate the breakfast too.

The second Sunday morning, I am out early again for a run to Citarella for some breakfast goodies (again). The sky is overcast, but it feels good to be outside. Walking up 9th Street on my return to the apartment, a light drizzle starts to fall. I notice the townhouse apartment on the opposite side of the street where Steven has told me the actress Uma Thurman lives. He and Sara have both seen her in the neighborhood. One day when Sara, obviously pregnant, was walking down the sidewalk, she saw Uma walking her way. Before passing, the actress noticed Sara's sizable tummy and gave her a big thumbs-up. Friendly! Now this morning, as I am nearing the side door entrance to the apartment building, I look up and catch the eye of an approaching man who I'm quite certain is the actor F. Murray Abraham. You may know him for his Oscar-winning performance as Salieri in Milos Forman's acclaimed film "Amadeus" (1984), or perhaps as the talking leaf from the Fruit of the Loom TV commercial. He speaks - and to me! "Where did the sun go?"

Oh my goodness! I quickly answer - "Yes!"

I can't believe I said that! What kind of answer is that? I must be prepared to meet anyone on the streets of New York!

Yes, this apartment living in a city like New York, and especially in Greenwich Village, isn't bad at all. I can dig it. I would probably even have some bright red geraniums in a couple pots over by the windows. I wouldn't recommend that for Steven and Sara though. I can imagine what 2 up-and-coming toddlers could do with those!

Carbon Footprints

I enjoy Baxter Black's outlook on life from "out there." I titled this post "Carbon Footprints" but Baxter calls his poem, "Tissue on the Range."

YouTube - Tissue on the

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

New York City Trip - Part 3

January 16-25, 2010: If you Google "the city that never sleeps", New York City pops up as the likely candidate. Visitors to the city may be convinced of the validity of this reference. There do seem to be a lot of people out and about at all times. Son Steven has sometimes had to work until the wee hours of the morning, but has not felt unsafe during the thirty minute walk home from the Deutsch Bldg. at 8th Avenue & 14th Street.

Trying to fall asleep at 2:30 AM on a Sunday morning while nestled into the bedding on the couch in the living room, I can hear the revelers walking down the sidewalk along 9th Street - just down from the corner of 5th Avenue. The room's 6th floor apartment windows are open a bit at the top to let in some continuous riffle of refreshingly cool air. The young folks' laughter and high voices enter as well. I like the happy sounds. They don't seem to provoke any stirrings from the twins and their parents sleeping in the next room. Sleep is at a premium when living with infant twins not yet adjusted to sleeping through the night, but I am being flexible knowing that this is a short term visit, I don't have to get up to go to work in the morning, and if the little girls awake during the night several times, which is inevitable! - then I can remain in my couch potato status while Steven and Sara take care of business.

Sara informs me later that the hardly noticeable entrance, just down the block, to the PATH subway train, connects northern New Jersey with Manhattan. She adds that Saturday night is a big night for Jersey visitors when the cafes, theaters, and clubs in the village beckon. Also, New York University occupies many blocks around Washington Square Park. It has the distinction of being the largest private university in America. All these things contribute to the night sounds.

Nothing defines Greenwich Village to me as much as Washington Square Park, and likewise the Washington Square Arch. The present-day marble arch was preceded by a wooden version that marked the centenary of George Washington's inauguration. Washington took his oath of office on the steps of what is now the Federal Hall National Memorial on Wall Street, cattycornered across the street from the New York Stock Exchange in Lower Manhattan. I don't know why the monument wasn't erected closer to that area, but I do appreciate its beautiful setting with 5th Avenue arriving just short of the base of the arch on its long stretch southward down Manhattan Island alongside the eastern edge of Central Park and alongside the Empire State Building to end at Washington Square Park. I can also greatly appreciate the fact that the apartment building where Steven, Sara, Magnolia and Dorothy live is just 2 short blocks up 5th Avenue from the park!

One evening just after sundown, I am out walking in the neighborhood to stretch my legs a bit. Steven will be coming home late again, so I have some time before I start preparing dinner. Before leaving the apartment, I notice on the news that it is 39 degrees outside, so I don't plan to stay out long. I wander down to the park with camera in hand. It is lovely at night with the glowing white monument first demanding attention, and then I notice the soft lovely glow of the mid-19th century style iron street lights making shadows of the tall elm trees along the walks and out into the spreading green spaces. The central plaza around the park's sunken fountain — the site of impromptu musical gatherings for decades and where Bob Dylan sang his first folk songs— underwent major renovations in recent years to shift the fountain about 22 feet to the east to align it with the arch and Fifth Avenue, making its placement more symmetrical. Folks are wandering about and I feel perfectly safe in this 10 acre park. I wish I could witness the magic of snow turning it into a true wonderland of beauty, but no snow is forecast during my visit. Time to head back up 5th Avenue to the warm coziness of twinsville.

Another evening I am out late heading for the CVS pharmacy. Dorothy and Magnolia had their 9th-week checkup this day and are now feeling the effects of the 3 vaccinations they had received in their upper leg muscles. Sara and I decide not to wait for Steven to arrive home from work with the infant pain medication - we need it now! I walk a block south and then cross 5th Avenue to head eastward, per Sara's directions. I am a grandmother on a mission - don't get in my way! Yet, as I am crossing the street, I overhear the young man in front of me exclaiming, "Oh La La! Oh La La!" He is talking on his cell phone in rapid French. (Luckily, I took French in high school.) He doesn't turn after crossing the street, but continues the same way I am heading. I gather a few more phrases - " très belle femme", and then later "ma petite chou". Ha! He's talking about a mademoiselle! A very beautiful mademoiselle! Some more "Oh La La!"s - Darn! I wish I knew more French!

I have to laugh inside - my memory flashing back to a favorite John Wayne movie, "North To Alaska". John Wayne is playing the part of Big Sam McCord and he shows up on his gold-panning partner's cabin doorstep after being gone for awhile (Stewart Granger playing the part of George Pratt, with the other member of the team being his younger brother - Fabian playing the part of Billy Pratt) - anyway, back to the doorstep - here is Big Sam presenting to him not Frenchie, the bride-to-be, whom George is expecting his buddy to fetch from Seattle to cure his lovesickness, but a fetching substitute nonetheless, Michelle 'Angel' (played by the actress Capucine). Well, it turns out that MIchelle had fallen for Big Sam, and he likewise for Michelle, on the long boat ride to Alaska - but there is tension between them - and there is good ol' pal George who is heartbroken that his precious Frenchie had jilted him for another man down stateside. The plot thickens as Michelle, in pity, calls George "mon petit chou". He is entranced! Why, that is the very thing Frenchie use to call him! Michelle explains that it is a French endearment (for Darling) which literally translates to "my little cabbage". Go figure the French!

Lo and behold, this Frenchie goes into the CVS pharmacy ahead of me, and I hear no more of La La land as I head for the pain medication aisle and locate the desired bottle of Tylenol Infant Drops. Then, I quickly pay for my purchase and head back to the apartment and mes petites choux on the 6th floor. Another interesting evening - on the streets of New York.

The Price to Pay for Being a Rugged-Dressed Man

Last week in the Life and Style section of the Austin American-Statesman a column caught my eye - "Crazy for a rugged-dressed man" with subtitle "Today's menswear celebrates the masculine mystique of yesteryear" by the "Style and Substance" writer, Marques G. Harper. I don't make a habit of reading the "Style and Substance" section or articles by this guy Marques. I'm so clueless that I have no idea what "substance" means in this context. The whole section would have escaped my critique if it were not for the
accompanying photo.

The photo shows what's purported to be a "rugged-dressed" man wearing clothes very similar to some I have owned - not only back in "yesteryear" but also into the twenty-first century.

His shirt, a pinkish and grayish plaid western style "snappy" shirt looks very much like one I was wearing when I caught a whopper of a trout in the Deschutes River of Oregon in the fall of 1966. A photo, that day, shows me holding my 36" catch and wearing the strikingly similar shirt. It was a Wrangler denim, western shirt. I may have received it as a Christmas gift. If I bought it, it was for the durability of denim and not to make a fashion statement - and quite likely on deep discount at the Ranchland western-wear store in Ainsworth, Nebraska.

The summer of '66 was the final of seven that I worked for Morris Skinner and the American Museum of Natural History. I had graduated that June from Colorado State University and as a new Second Lieutenant I was awaiting my orders to Air Force active duty in October. A few weeks prior, I visited my mother in Oregon and we went fishing. As I was a college graduate and military officer to boot, Morris raised my pay that summer to twelve dollars per day (before taxes) - yes, you read that correctly - per day. Being somewhat frugal, I know that I hadn't squandered days of pay on that shirt; yet, those were the days when a lowly dollar had some weight. A quick check on the internet reveals that a similar Wrangler shirt can be purchased today, for around twenty bucks.

The model in the newspaper article has his shirt-tail out; a manly man of yesteryear would not be caught in public with his western shirt flapping at the tail. He might wear it out if he's pitching hay or engaged in other dusty chores just to keep sharp grasses and debris from trickling down inside his pants and causing a pain in the posterior. However, any guy celebrating his manly mystique would definitely have his shirttail tucked in so you could admire his silver rodeo belt buckle the size of a serving platter. The newspaper model's shirt-tail hides his belt - if any - underneath. It also shrouds any distinctive markings of his blue jeans that might betray their maker. At the bottom of each leg of his jeans is about a four-inch cuff.

I seldom wore my Levi's with a cuff - yet, back when Levi's shrunk a size or two, it wasn't uncommon to start out that way. I have a photo of my father wearing at least four inches of cuff. I remember when smokers who were caught indoors without an ash tray would use the cuffs of their Levi's to catch the long gray ash that precariously teetered on the ends of their cigarettes. I wondered, back then, if this was risky, but apparently not; cowboys usually have enough common sense to not deliberately torch their Levi's in polite company.

Having recently bought some "good" Lee jeans for twenty-nine ninety-five when I could have bought some inexpensive blue jeans for ten dollars less, I figure both shirt and pants, today, should easily fit inside a fifty dollar bill - and that includes the sunglasses and gloves.

The masculine mystique model wears a pair of sun-glasses - aviators - much like those I'm wearing in my fishy photo. I'm certain, however, having been an aviator, that there are many more aviator wannabes sporting aviator sunglasses than aviators. It's the same phenomenon as horses' arses. A sage once opined, "Why are there so many more horses' arses than there are horses?" Aviator glasses that could pass for the ones in the newspaper article are hanging by the dozens on the rack at the local grocery store. Ten bucks would get you close to the top of their line.

The black work boots protruding below the masculine mystique model's four-inch cuffs are similar to the "engineer boots" that some rugged-dressed men wore back in yesteryear - heavy black leather with a buckle across the arch. They were durable, long-lasting work boots that I believe most wearers would kick off on Saturday night in favor of some Justin's or Tony Lama's for "boot-scootin'" at the Johnstown dance. It's certain that a pair of engineer boots, bought for work, would cost far less than a fancy pair of pointy-toed boots with eagles stitched into the leather shafts.

The engineer boots were for necessarily long wear and were not necessarily for good looks. However, I can think of one exception where both may have been in play back in yesteryear. Lyle Wheeler - a rather handsome and rugged young fellow who lived a few miles south of us and who baled hay on contract - dressed top-to-bottom pretty much like the guy in this newspaper photo.

Lyle's orange Allis-Chalmers baler kicked out little round bales in those days. Lyle had wavy black hair that was slicked into place with ample slatherings of hair oil. He baled hay for my Dad one summer and I noticed his black engineer boots with some admiration. His tractor had to be clutched twice to produce one hay bale. After conveying up enough hay for a bale, the tractor was clutched and taken out of gear. Then the clutch was released while the baler wrapped twine on the bale and kicked it out the back. Then he depressed the clutch again, shifted back into gear and released the clutch to move forward into the windrow so the conveyor could pick up hay for the next bale. Lyle's engineer boots with thick soles and heavy heels were ideal for all that clutch work - at least two depressions for each hay bale. Hay baling was obviously depressing work. When Lyle clomped around with his shirttail out, kicking wayward hay bales out of the way of his tractor, you could say he was a reasonable facsimile of the guy in the newspaper photo - minus the cuffs.

In one hand, this guy in the photo, the guy who is advertised to ooze masculine mystique is holding a pair of work gloves. I have a pair exactly like them - think I bought them at Lowe's or Home Depot. They are my "cheap" work gloves - split horsehide leather fingers and palms with a canvas or denim back. They are too stiff for general work but are handy for handling rough stuff like cinder blocks. They aren't expensive - no point wearing out the fingers of twenty dollar gloves in an afternoon. I think I gave about eight bucks for my pair. I'm not sure if the masculine mystique look is to wear the gloves or to hold them in one hand as an accessory. I presume it's the latter.

Here's the price tag as per the newspaper article: "Shirt by Ben Sherman, $88, at Service Menswear; jeans by Levi's, $55 at Service Menswear; sunglasses by Mosley Tribes, $170, at - you guessed it - Service Menswear (Service Menswear has quite the markup, it seems); gloves $14.50 at Stag and boots by Red Wing, $308, at Luther's."

I can't price this fellow's underwear - or lack thereof - but what you see in the photo is what you get for $635.50 if you want to look like a rugged-dressed man with masculine mystique.

If you are the real deal and if you shop where I shop, you will save about five-hundred bucks on the regalia.

Monday, February 08, 2010

New York City Trip - Part 2

January 16-25, 2010: This is my fourth visit to Steven and Sara's Manhattan apartment; the second since the twins were born. The little girls' stuff has managed to take over the space, as new babies have a way of doing in any home, but in this case one needs to multiply most of the stuff by two! Oh well, there is still room to move about.

The rooms look cheerful with lots of light coming in the apartment's four tall windows and it's tastefully decorated. The IKEA store located in New Jersey, a short ferry trip away from Manhattan, just across the Hudson River, has been a handy place for their finding functionally chic apartment furniture like wardrobe storage units and bookcases, etc. The kitchen is small, but I am looking forward to doing the cooking. I will just have to follow the McDonald's meal prep rule of CAYG (clean as you go).

The height of contentment is feeling my sweet-smelling, sleeping grandbaby's small head tucked up under my chin while her tiny, extended little arms and drawn up legs and the rest of her body are cradled against me. Magnolia and Dorothy are little city girls and the street sounds of garbage trucks, beeping taxi horns, construction on the top of the townhouse apartment down the street, and emergency vehicle sirens seem to be taken in stride with nary a bat of tiny eyelid or grimace. I wonder if the sounds of the country will put them on-edge some day.

Steven has uploaded a vast assortment of songs onto their computer in the living room. Lots of melodies there to lull the twins into dreamland. One tune that never has failed to calm the twins' occasional upsets is "The Music of the Night" from the musical "The Phantom of the Opera". They are not living that far from Broadway, and here they are seeming to enjoy one of the finest tunes to come from the stage in recent times. I witness the effects of this song on quieting their cries several times, so luckily I know right where to turn to employ the same tactic when I am babysitting one day while Sara is enjoying a much-needed outing. The effect is mercifully immediate and the resulting calm allows me time to warm up their bottles before all is lost! I am a believer in the "magic of the music of the night" - whether night or day!

The twins were born 2 weeks earlier than their due date, so even though they are now 9 weeks old they seem so tiny. I am surprised at how alert they are and also at how attentive they can be. Steven and Sara read to them out of the little children's books they received as baby gifts. The girls' attention lasts amazingly long - or so it seems to me - at least during the length of time it takes to read 2 or 3 of the short books. Magnolia and Dorothy seem to tune in to the subject matter on each page of the books shown to them- maybe it's the bright colors or the shapes. Certainly they don't have any references to what a monkey or a hat is. Maybe it's the charming rhythm of their Mommy's or Daddy's reading voices. Whatever it is - it's another wonderful thing to witness during this visit. I only wish some of my past 5th grade students had been so attentive!

Steven is working late nights this week - often arriving home between 10 pm and midnight. This is typical when special projects come due at his advertising firm. My long days with Sara seem to pass by too quickly, and I can certainly appreciate first-hand how busy the parents of twin babies can be! I wish I could be here more often to help throughout the year, but my living in Texas puts the kibosh on that. It's a good thing for parents to be affirmed in their knowledge of what good parents their own offspring have become. It is a treat to observe Steven and Sara's loving interaction with their little girls.

One afternoon, while I am holding Magnolia and Sara is resting on the sofa holding a sleeping Dorothy, I observe how much baby Dorothy's hands look like her Mommy's hands - but in miniature - narrow, tapered hands with long slender fingers - very lovely! Sara seems pleased when I mention this to her. Later on that afternoon, while Dorothy is sleeping in the playpen bed in the living room and Sara is folding up clothes in the bedroom, I lay Magnolia in her baby crib after her diaper change with a promise to return quickly after washing my hands. On my return to the bedroom, I notice Magnolia's tiny hands swinging about her head. Remembering a funny line from the "Seinfeld" reruns Sara and I had been watching on the TV, I blurt out, "Why, I think Magnolia has 'man hands'!" - referring to an episode in which Seinfeld is turned off by his blind date's sizable hands - calling them 'man hands'. Well, of course, little Magnolia's sweet, tiny, girlish hands aren't even close to fitting that outrageous description - but it seems like a funny, quirky thing to say in context to our earlier conversation regarding hands. Anyway, I grin at Sara and she grins back, and at the same time, to both of our surprise, Magnolia laughs out loud and grins really big too! It is a glorious moment. I can't recall having heard the twins laughing before and neither can Sara.

Later that day, after Steven has returned home from work, I can overhear Sara telling him about the whole experience. I'm not sure he is very amused that his precious daughter's hands could be labeled 'man hands'. I even feel proud that Steven could be a bit chagrined about anyone suggesting such a thing about his darling little girls. At the same time, Magnolia got Grandmama's joke! I just say - you had to be there!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

New York City Trip - Part 1

Saturday, December 16, 2009: Winging it cross-country on a Jet Blue bird is a nice way to travel from Austin to New York City. I can appreciate the TV screen right there in front of me on the seat back of the passenger seated just ahead. It has been cloudy most of the trip so far without much of interest to see outside the window to my left. With my February's book club selection unopened on my lap, I click onto the Food Network and sit back to be lulled into the happy land of meal prep. The food on the screen does look delicious as I nibble on my animal crackers and hot tea - gratis of the airline. I do get some good ideas for dishes to cook for Steven and Sara at their apartment - like the fried rice. Hmmmm. I can almost smell the onion mixture sautéing with the ham and soy sauce mixed in. Yep, that's what I'll fix.

After watching several food shows, I change channels to check out our flight route plotted right on the map of the US showing on the screen. I notice we are presently flying over Kentucky, having left Austin at 7 AM (CT), skirting up the Texas Gulf Coast, then flying diagonally across Louisiana and then across a corner of Mississippi, and straight across western Tennessee into the Bluegrass State. I leave the TV on this channel and settle down to enjoy my Olive Kitteridge book.

Arriving at J.F. Kennedy International Airport on time at 11:30 AM (ET), I encounter no problems finding the baggage carousel area. In fact, I make several celebrity sightings in that immediate vicinity. Of course, you might not be familiar with these "so-called" celebrities unless you are a University of Texas football fan. I had noticed the dad of the Longhorn's popular quarterback, Colt McCoy, get on the plane just after I had taken my seat aboard. He sat several seats in front of me across the aisle. I was sure that was who he was, even though I had only seen him on TV. I marveled at how tall he was and how his short, neatly-trimmed brown hair didn't appear to have any gray hairs. I think even I had acquired a few new gray hairs after the exciting, nerve-wracking UT - Nebraska game in which the Longhorns squeaked by with a win on a lucky kick in the final second of the game! Of course, Mr. McCoy is a high school football coach, so I guess he is use to the pressure.

So, while waiting for my checked bag to come down the carousel chute, I call Raleigh on my cell phone to let him know of my arrival, only to interrupt the conversation with my outburst of - "Oh my goodness! Guess who just walked by! Shipley!" To those with an untrained eye who might miss scouting out potential NFL greats, Jordan Shipley is another talented, sensational UT football player as well as Colt McCoy's good friend and college roommate. I figure - where there's one, couldn't there be the other close by? My eyes are peeled for more sightings.

Not long after stowing my cell phone away in my purse, I notice Colt's dad arriving at the baggage claim area and heading my way. As he is about to pass me, I introduce myself as a UT football fan after first verifying that he is indeed Colt's dad. I express how much our family will miss seeing Colt play for UT (he's a senior), but that hopefully we will be watching him play pro football in the near future. He is very nice and thanks me, and says that he is meeting up with Colt in NY. Being the helpful type, I add, "Well, there's Shipley just over there on the other side of the carousel." He walks away and I quickly get on the phone to call Steven. Before that conversation is over, I see Mr. McCoy, Shipley and another young guy depart - but no Colt.

I have no trouble getting a taxi after my bag pick-up. The driver is quite friendly and also quite skillful and speedy at his job. We drive near the site in Queens of the 1964 New York World's Fair. I crane my neck to see the large metal sphere of the Earth and the tall towers with the spaceship-like disks on their tops. The route near the Queensboro Bridge is congested, so the taxi driver goes southward to take the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. The view from the bridge of all but the southernmost part of Manhattan is outstanding. I look to the south as we are crossing the East River to catch a peek of the Manhattan Bridge and especially the Brooklyn Bridge, but my view is blocked by the many structural beams on the bridge we are on. My excitement builds.

I have been fascinated by New York City ever since my family first visited NY during the 1964 World's Fair. Then, my admiration for the city increased many-fold following the event of 9-11 and the loss of lives of hundreds of firemen who entered the burning inferno that day to save the lives of others, as well as the other brave folks who sacrificed lives and limbs that day. Now that my son's sweet young family lives here, it has to be one of my favorite cities. I am looking forward to a memorable visit!

The Bunkhouse Blog

Hi Neighbors,

Yours truly, the caretaker and occasional janitor of The Bunkhouse, stops by - - once in a while to see if it needs my attention.

After several days of detecting no activity other than my own, I've decided that the familiar adage, "If you build it, they will come" should read, "If you build it, will they come?"

The answer is, "apparently not," but that's okay. I thought The Bunkhouse might become a substitute for The Brand Spankin' News, but perhaps it's more trouble to you than it's worth. I'll continue to offer it as a place for you neighbors to interact; some things take time.

Perhaps my long-winded instructions have made it appear more complicated than it truly is. Some of you have had difficulties commenting and that also erodes confidence.

Once in a while, when I "comment", it is rejected on the first click of the "Post Comment" button. I click it again and it has always been accepted on the second click. Perhaps if two clicks won't work for you - then the third time's a charm. I have tested the "comment" section a couple times this morning and I was successful although one test took a second click of "Post Comment" after the first failure. If you are successful, it should let you know that your comment is awaiting my screening.

Somebody somewhere in blog land understands the uses for the weird selections in the "Comment as:" section. I don't. Just scroll below the weird stuff and click either "Name/URL" (type something into the "Name" box and leave the "URL" box blank) or click "Anonymous." If you click "Anonymous" you can tell us who you are in the body of your comment.

A few of you "neighbors" have accepted my invitation to author posts although no one has yet tested the water. Come on in; the water's fine!


Raleigh Emry