Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bicycling around Battle Creek

Kalamazoo River

Yesterday was a beautiful day and the first day without clouds in a while, so I took the afternoon off and headed south to the town of Battle Creek, Michigan in order to check out the 20 some miles of linear parks (non-motorized vehicle trails) that lead in and through the city.   We parked on the west side of town, got on bicycles and peddled four miles on a paved path along the Kalamazoo River, until we reached town.  This section of the Kalamazoo River is still closed to boating and fishing due to last summer’s oil spill in Marshall.  But the bike trail is open and I love how it goes under bridges, allowing you not to have to worry at all about traffic (except for the one bridge that the bike trail was under water and you had to cross the street).

Spring has finally arrived and the trees are just beginning to bud out.  The temperature was perfect, right around 60 degrees.  Once downtown, the park widens and includes both sides of the river.  There was a guy fishing off one of the old railroad trestles (he was fishing in Battle Creek, above its confluence with the Kalamazoo River, but it didn’t matter as he wasn’t catching anything). 
Battle Creek River Looking toward Kellogg's Offices
 There are some neat things to see in Battle Creek like the Kellogg family home and a monument to the Underground Railroad that ran through the city as slaves tried to make it to Detroit and Port Huron where they could safely enter Canada. Although the city is depressed, having Kellogg’s corporate offices and their foundation offices downtown adds a lot to the city.
Tower for former Michigan Central Station
(nowClara's, a restaurant)

Old Veteran's Administration Hospital

Before riding back to my truck, we stopped at Arcadia Brewery.  I was worried they might not be opened as they are doing work on the street in front of it, but the place was in business (and busy).  I had a pint of their IPA along with some hummus and flat bread.  If I was going to have dinner, I’d had some of their pulled pork (roasted in a wood-fired oven) or their jambalaya (one of the few sources I’ve found around here for this tasty dish). 
Underground Railroad Monument

Path along Kalamazoo River

Before riding back to my truck, we stopped at Arcadia Brewery.  I was worried they might not be opened as they are doing work on the street in front of it, but the place was in business (and busy).  I had a pint of their IPA along with some hummus and flat bread.  If I was going to have dinner, I’d had some of their pulled pork (roasted in a wood-fired oven) or their jambalaya (one of the few sources I’ve found around here for this tasty dish). 

Episcopal Church in background

Friday, April 29, 2011

Indochine (A Movie Review)

It's been a while since I've done a movie post and rainy day and river flooding posts would get old...

Indochine (1992, French with English subtitles)

I made an exception to my “avoid all things French” rule and watched this film. I’m glad I did. I fell in love with Catherine Deneuve. What a beautiful woman! In the movie she plays Elaine, a wealthy French woman living in Vietnam in the 1930s. Unmarried, but with suitors and lovers, Elaine raises a Vietnamese girl (Camille) after her parents are killed. A marriage at birth has been arranged for Camille and Tanh, a Vietnamese boy who is sent to France to study. Thrust into this mix is a young French Naval Officer in Vietnam, Jean-Baptiste. He is one of Elaine’s lovers and later, after coming to her aide, becomes a lover of Camille. Elaine arranges it that Jean-Baptiste is sent to a forsaken naval outpost in the north. Camille, with Tanh’s blessings, goes north after him. Camille is tricked into being sold as an indentured servant to plantation owners in the south and then sees the brutality of the French control. She is also reunited with Jean-Baptiste and kills another French officer (who was responsible for the death of Camille’s friends). She and Jean-Baptiste run away and become a legend amongst those in the Vietnamese communist party. The country is on the edge of a revolution. They travel with a theater group and almost make it to China when French soldiers catch up with Jean-Baptiste and his son (Camille gets away). Jean-Baptiste gives the boy to Elaine, but before he’s taken back to France for trial, he’s given 24 hours of freedom to get his affairs in order. After keeping his son for the evening, Elaine finds him the next morning with a bullet in his head while the son is in the bed beside him. Although she knows better, his death is ruled a “suicide.” The movie ends with Elaine and her son back in France. Its 1954 and Camille is a leader in the Vietnamese Communist Party and is in Geneva to work out the peace accord with France. Camille takes her grandson to meet his mother. He goes into the hotel and then comes out and says that she is his mother.

The setting for this movie is beautiful. The scenes of the workers, wearing headlamps, going into the rubber tree forest on foggy nights to re-slash the trees in order for them to produce more sap is mystical. The mountain scenes and the views of Ha Long Bay are breath-taking. I could watch the movie many times just to enjoy the scenery, which stands in contrast to the conflict that is rising (and will eventually lead to the French defeat and later to the American involvement in Vietnam). The brutality of the French rule is exposed. Although I enjoyed the movie, the story line is like that of a soap-opera. Also, the film seemed to have some jagged edges as it jumped around (from Elaine telling her grandson about his past to actually being in the past).

Overall, I recommend this movie, but only for the scenery. It makes me even more interested in going to Vietnam.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Easter-eve Walk

Thornapple at Flood Stage
I've been a little busy this week and haven't had time to get creative about my Saturday afternoon hike along the Paul Henry Trail (Old Michigan Central Railroad).  The river was running high, but with a short break in the weather, I ventured out and walked 7 or 8 miles along the trail.

Is it a duck egg?
 With a daughters who is now a teenager and no longer interested in dying and hiding eggs, I didn't go on a single Easter egg hunt.  But I did find an egg, located only 25 or 30 feet from the river.  Be of its size, I'm assuming it must have come from a duck.  I did see a number of mallards and a pair of wood ducks on my walk.

Things are still bare (a few trees had red buds visible). But, if you look at the ground, there are small flowers already in bloom. I didn't see any trilliums, a sure sign that Spring is here, but they are not generally out until May.
It's odd for us to have flowers blooming outdoors for Easter, but the holiday came so late this year that we did have a few flowers blooming.

Along the way, I saw a wild turkey (not the liquid variety), lots of waterfowl, robins, cardinals, redwing blackbirds, a kingfisher, squirrels and several rabbits (must have been preparing to deliver Easter baskets).   Oh, there were also a few early mosquitoes.

Early Easter morning, I was out in front of church and, before the sun rose, there was an ensemble of birds singing.  Down by the river, we could hear a pair of sandhill cranes and up the road a bit, breaking the beautiful music, was a rooster.  As it did for Peter, the crowing of the rooster reminded us of our human limitations. 

I hope you had a nice Easter.
Old Michigan Central trestle

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Surrealism under the Golden Arches

The events described below happened the other week when I was in North Carolina at my parents.  The old post card (1950s vintage, I think) is of Wrightsville Beach, which was a great place to head to when your high school has an open campus and the beach was only five miles away… 

While in North Carolina a few weeks ago, I was sitting at a bar along a wall in the back of a McDonald’s, drinking coffee and using their free Wi-fi (as there is no internet access at my parent’s home).  It was quiet in the restaurant as it was late morning, a time when there are mainly senior citizen’s sitting around drinking coffee and swapping stories about fishing and the tragedy that Carolina didn’t make it to the Final Four.  Our tranquil morning came to an end when a guy entered the stored and sat down behind me, telling an elderly couple that he was the luckiest guy in the world…  “I’m a preacher,” he said.  “The Lord called me when I was just a teenager. And I’m now retired.”  I turned to my daughter, who was next to me and whispered, “Don’t you dare say anything to him.”  She smiled and nodded.

Although I didn’t turn around, I had a sense the lucky couple was pleased to be talking to a preacher.  But the more he spoke, the more his lack of piety became apparent.  He pulled out his computer and said he’d made gazillion dollars using it. “Not a million, mind you, a gazillion.”  He then went on about how he paid $1500 for his computer but couldn’t figure out how to get it online.  He asked a number of people and even showed it to me, pointing the place where he’d plugged it in at the hotel.  From what I could see, the computer didn’t have a wireless card and, considering the brand, there was no way it cost $1500.  He then started in saying he’d sell it for $500, suggesting that he’d already made enough money from it. I assumed he was a con-artist and his scam was to sell a worthless computer. 

I did my best to ignore him even though he tried on several occasions to bring us into his conversation.  I was busy posting some pictures to my blog.  On the TV mounted above the booths, of which many of the seniors were watching, the news media was going on and on about Congress trying to pass a bill to allow the government to function without a budget.  Forgetting his preaching gig, the guy started in on those in Congress, saying they all need their asses kicked and how “f***ed up they are.”  Some of the seniors agreed with him, but others started for the door.  He continued, showing himself to be an economic genius, saying that he didn’t know what the problem was, that they could just have more money printed.  A man tried to contradict him, but then it appeared he realized that it was useless.  A few more headed to the door.

At one point in the man’s diatribe, he started talking about his dad and how his Old Man was so proud of him, until he became smarter.  And then, there was the time his dad cussed out his mother and he had to beat his ass (obviously practicing up for the whipping he plans to give Congress).

Then, he started talking about how, on July 4th, he was going to buy this country.  He wasn’t going to be the President, because the President had to answer to Congress (except in invading countries, I thought to myself).  He was instead going to own this country (with his gazillion dollars) and run it in a way to help everyone (a real populist).  “I’m a preacher and the Lord told me to do this,” he reassured us.  He planned to stop foreclosures and give everyone money and take care of everyone’s needs.  He continued on about how, on July 4th, some Brazilian boxer was also going to get knocked flat in the ring (What boxing had to do with this, I have no idea, but July 4th is shaping up to be a real news day).  

The man is seems is also a prophet, obviously one without honor as there were fewer and fewer folks listening to his ramble.

The couple he’d started the conversation with stood up and was heading out the door.  He told them that it was good to talk to them and asked if he could do anything to help him.  The man said that he could use an extra $200,000 and the guy started rambling around looking for his checkbook.  He couldn’t find it, but he found a business card (he also is a fishing guide).  He gave him the card and told him to them to get up with him.  As they were walking out, he returned to his “preacher persona.” “I know you’re God-fearing people,” he said.  “Be careful for what you pray for because, for Christians, all prayers come true.”  I shook my head in disbelief, but there was no way I was going to engage this guy and ask about the prayers of others. 

At this point, the senior crowd was gone and I enjoyed a few minutes of peace.  Then, a young McDonald’s employee came back to our section and sat down on her break.  I heard the guy get up and go over to the booth next to hers where he began to flatter her saying she looked a lot like his ex-wife.  He described his ex-wife’s features and then told a sad story about her violent death…   I was feeling more and more uncomfortable with the direction of his conversation.  He asked her age and she said nineteen.  Then he said that’s too bad, because he didn’t hit on women under twenty-one.  I swung around in my seat, smiled at the young woman and gave him a stern look.  He talked for a few minutes more, telling about his ex and about him being a preacher.  He tried to get the girl to look at his computer and see if she could fix it, but she refused.  I kept my eye on him and after a few minutes, he excused himself and headed out into the parking lot and got into an old truck.  As the truck back out, I noticed the bumper sticker on the back advertising an outfitter for Wilson Creek (a wilderness area in the mountains of North Carolina, west of Lenior).  Having spent some time on Wilson Creek area, I laughed and said, "Wilson Creek, that explains him, that man must have gotten himself into some bad moonshine.”  

For a story of me hiking in the Wilson Creek area, click here.  I have also canoed and kayaked Wilson Creek a few times, in a former life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unsinkable ( A book review)

Abby Sunderland and Lynn Vincent, Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011),  221 pages with a 16 page insert of color photos.

In June 2010, the world watched and listened to the news about Abby Sunderland, a sixteen year old who was attempting to sail solo around the world.  In the middle of the Indian Ocean, her boat rolled over, tearing off her mast and her communication gear.  The boat was equipped with beacons that sent warning signals to a satellite and soon Australia (the closet nation capable of launching a rescue effort), sent out a plane in search for Abby and her boat.  Thanks to the precision of technology, they found her boat and were able to learn that she was in good shape.  A French fishing vessel picked her up the next day.  Abby’s disaster occurred just after another sixteen year old woman, Jessica Watson of Australia, became the youngest person ever to travel unassisted around the globe.  At the time, Sunderland’s family was tried in the court-of-public-opinion as people questioned the wisdom of a family sending out their daughter on a round-the-world trip.  This book is an attempt to show the support that Abby had from her family and that the trip wasn’t as reckless as one might assume.  Abby had spent her life sailing.  For several years, she and her family had lived on a sailboat.  A year before her attempt to sail around the world, her older brother had sailed around the world.  She was obviously a seasoned sailor.  In addition, although she was alone on the boat, she was anything but alone in her attempt to sail around the world.  Thanks to communication technology, she was in constant contact via a satellite phone and the internet, with a team that helped her through problems and to plan her course. 

This book is written from two points of view (using two authors): Abby’s and a narrator.  The format works quite well.  I enjoyed reading of the adventure, but found myself wanting to know more, especially the day in-and-out details of sailing a boat alone.  When I was a teenager, I was captivated by the experiences of Robin Graham, who sailed his small boat, “Dove” around the world.  Reading about Abby’s constant contact and dependence on technology made the trip seem less challenging and also made me wonder what the point there is in trying to go around the world without stopping.   Throughout the book, the authors make a point to mention the family’s “evangelical Christian” faith.  Yet, other than mentioning this and noting a few prayers, little evidence is seen of their faith until Abby gets in trouble in the Indian Ocean.  There, where storm after storm batters her boat, prayer comes to the forefront.  I found myself questioning if the early mentions of faith had to do with the book being published by company known for their religious titles. 

At the end of the book, there is a glossary of nautical terms and a nice outline of Abby’s boat, “Wild Eyes” which was helpful and made the reading more enjoyable. 

It took me a few days to get my hands on this book to read because my daughter grabbed it first.  At 13, she is about the age I was when I read Graham’s accounts of sailing around the world.  She started reading and wouldn’t put it down.  I wonder what influence this book might have on her life for I am sure that Graham’s journeys (although I’ve never done in long-distant sailing) influenced my tendency to be a bit of a vagabond.   Abby’s parents should be praised for encouraging their children to reach for their goals. 

If you like this type of book, you might also enjoy Gregg Granger's book Sailing Faith, which is about him and his family spending four years sailing around the world.  For my review of Gregg's book, click here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

Monday, April 18, 2011

A hike around Glass Creek

Lake by which I passed
The snow returned this morning, blanketing the ground in white.  But yesterday, before the clouds returned (they weren't gone that long as it rained yesterday morning), I went out for a walk at a nearby preserve.  I needed the space and the time alone, plus it gave me a chance to check out Glass Creek, which is supposed to be a good trout stream.  With the season opening in less than two weeks, it’s time to begin to think about getting out my waders and getting into the water and tormenting some fish.

Skunk Cabbage
 I headed out on a windy evening, an hour and a half before sunset.  Not long into my walk, I spooked a couple of deer, who made a racket snapping twigs as they jumped and ran away.  I hiked over two ridges and by a decent-size lake before dropping into the creek. I found its bottom to be mostly sandy with deep holes around every bend.  To the south of where I intersected the creek, it appears to spread out into a marsh area.  Hiking a ways down, I came across skunk cabbage, its leaves now fully unfurled.  Then I hiked back upstream where the creek ran deep, between ridges.  I crossed the creek on a small wooden bridge and, before climbing the ridge on the far side, stopped to see if I could find the woodpecker working high in the trees above.  I didn’t see him, but could hear his sound against the hollow tree for some distance.  On the ridge, maybe 20 or 30 feet above the creek, there was a nice stand of timber, some of it thicker than my grasp and all of it straight:  maples, oaks and beech.  On the path in front of me, I disturbed a pair of cardinals flirting with each other.  As I came around the bend, they took to the sky.  After a ways, I dropped back down to the creek, through cedars that grew along the bank.  In the distance, I heard the cry of a sandhill crane and later, as the sun dropped below the horizon, an owl.     By the time I got back to my truck, the sun had disappeared and there was a chill in air.

Large and straight hardwoods along the ridge

Cedar along banks

The sun dropping in the sky
I should note that in my recent post, I haven't been using my main camera (a Nikon DSLR).  Instead, I've been trying out a Fujifilm XP (water/shock/dust and freeze proof...  yeah, right) camera.  It's lightweight and pocket size (keeps me from looking too much like a tourist).  I am considering using it this summer when I travel.  It's harder to use and the lens isn't a Nikkor, but I am impressed with its photos.
Your humble guide

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Minnie Evan's Chapel (a travel post and a poem)

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt that’s designed to offer up a tip on a place to travel.  Today’s tip is found near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, just a few miles east of Wilmington. 
Dogwoods and azaleas at Airlie 

One of my favorite places to visit, when I go home in the spring, is Airlie Gardens.  Last year, I wrote about the gardens that once belonged to the Pembroke Jones Estate (see link above).  When I lived in Wilmington, the gardens were owned by the Corbett family and were only open occasionally.  Now the county owns the gardens and they are open all the time for people to enjoy.  It’s well worth the five buck entrance fee to spend a few hours walking through the 67 acres of gardens. 

This year, I am featuring Minnie Evan’s Chapel.  Ms. Evans was the gatekeeper at the estate for many years and an artist in her own right.  The open air chapel was built by local artist to honor her.  I like the way there is a tree growing in the middle of the chapel, as if the chapel itself is the original garden.  Last year, I was at the garden during the Azalea Festival and it was so busy that I wasn’t able to get any good photos.  If you like bottle construction, see my post on the bottle house in Rhyolite, Nevada. 

I wrote these lines in my notebook as I pondered the tree inside of the chapel.

A dove nests in the bosom of the tree
planted in the middle of the chapel walls,
a mere shell open to the skies
but surrounded by beauty.
It is there, on the lee side of trouble

I find peace. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Diabetes for Dummies

I have reviewed a lot of books in this blog over the past six years, touching on many genres and subjects:  fiction and non-fiction, history and theology, biographies and memoirs, business and investment strategies, nature and humor along with how-to books on the craft of writing and poetry.  Today, I’m breaking into the medical field.  A few months ago, I wouldn’t have given this book a second look, but after having spent the past two months reading everything I could get my hands on about diabetes, I decided that I would review the best overall book I found on the topic.  Interestingly, this book was given to me by a friend (who is also my eye doctor and, like me, has Type 1 diabetes).   Click here to read about me being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Even if you don't think you are interested in reading this book, at least read the first paragraph of my review and learn something new (or at least see how sick my mind can be).  

Alan L. Rubin, MD, Diabetes for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2004), 386 pages sprinkled with sidebars, graphs, drawings and symbols.

Diabetes has been around for a long time and was known to those in the Greek and Roman worlds.  The Latin name for the disease is diabetes mellitus.  Diabetes comes from the Greek word for siphon, referring to the way that liquid gets quickly siphoned through your body when you suffer from high sugar levels (the excess sugar causes the kidneys to quickly expel the water through the urine, as it tries to reduce the sugar levels in your blood).  Mellitus is the Latin word for sweet.  In the ancient world, diabetes was diagnosed by the sweetness of urine. (19)  I’m sure that back then, endocrinologists (the medical doctor trained to treat the pancreas) were not nearly in as of high esteem as they are today.  Can you imagine the spouse of Rome’s leading endocrinologist meeting as he comes home from the office with a kiss on the lips?  I didn’t think so.  

This book gives an overview of both type 1 diabetes (often called juvenile diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes) and type 2 diabetes (insulin resistant diabetes).   The author does a great job of explaining even the most obvious things and then goes into great detail for those (like me) who want to know more.  The book begins with a primer on how the body works and supplies energy to our cells.  The author discusses theories of how both types of diabetes develop as well as treatment for both.  In Type 1, insulin is the only option (the beta cells in the pancreas has stopped creating insulin).  Without insulin, the body is unable to feed itself and will soon begin to eat vital organs for food and overload the kidneys with sugars.  In type 2, the body has become resistant to insulin, so it takes more and more insulin to move the glucose (sugar) to the cells.  This type of diabetes can often be controlled with weight loss, diet and exercise as well as medicines that helps make the insulin more effective.  Only when these strategies are unable to control the symptoms is insulin used.   

Chapter Four deals with short-term complications for diabetics; the fifth chapter deals with long term complications.  Reading these two chapters was eye-opening and horrifying.   Being dependent on insulin means that, at times, you take too much or don’t eat enough and you drop your blood sugars to a dangerously low level (hypoglycemia) which can result in a coma and the inability to care for oneself.   On the other hand, not enough insulin results in high blood sugar (hypoglycemia).  High blood sugars can even lead to ketoacidosis (blood becoming acidic), a dangerous situation as your body is using fat for energy and making even more sugar (which it can’t use due to the lack of insulin).  Another short-term complication is hyperosmolar syndrome (extremely high blood sugars) that is often caused by loss of bodily fluids and can also led to a coma.  If the short-term complications weren’t enough, the long-term ones are even scarier: kidney diseases, problems with the eyes, nerves, heart, arteries, and feet along with issues relating to sexual performance and pregnancy (I skimmed the pages on pregnancy)…

Just when I was thinking about shooting myself and avoiding the potential problems, the author begins discussing the treatment options.  Luckily, there are ways to manage diabetes and he goes into get detail of how to monitor your conditions (I get to prick myself 4 or 5 times a day) as well as drugs that work with diabetes.  With type 1, the main drug is insulin.  He discusses how, if one follows the recommendation of living with diabetes, the dangers he covered in the previous chapters can be avoided and one can live as healthy of a life as one without the disease (or perhaps even a healthier life as you have to watch food and exercise is more important than ever).    He also covers potential new treatments for the disease, debunks many myths about the disease and ends the book with a “mini-recipe book” featuring food from top restaurants around the country.

If you are dealing with diabetes, this book is invaluable.    

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Washington on the brink of a shut-down (A Travel Post)

Travel Tips Thursday is a writing prompt hosted at Pseudo's Spot.  Recently, she’s been on hiatus, but she recently resumed hosting the prompt which encourages us to write and give tips about travel to interesting places around the world.  As many of my post are travel related, I often have used this writing prompt.  Coming back from the North Carolina coast the end of the week, we headed a new way, through Washington DC.  It’s a little longer than going through West Virginia, but it did give my daughter her first opportunity to see our nation’s capital (and during the cherry blossom season, no less!).

When we came out of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, which is open till 7:30 PM on Thursday nights, the sun had set and the sky was beautiful.  We walked the length of the mall to the Washington Monument, watching the sky change colors and jets from Reagan National Airport take-off behind the monument.  It was a beautiful evening. There was a group of young adults playing softball and another playing soccer.  People were flying (or attempting to fly) kites.  As we walked, I kept looking back at the Capitol, as the lights came on lighting up the marble.  I wondered if the government shut-down at midnight Friday, would they’d turn out the lights…  Climbing the hill to the Washington Monument, we could see the White House to our right.  As I was getting hungry, I wondered what Michelle had fixed for dinner and if they would be open to a few more mouths at the table.   At the top of the monument, a street preacher was shouting through a microphone one cliché after another about the Christian faith.  No one was repenting, but several stopped to watch as park service police officers approached.  He stopped talking about the need to be born again and started proclaiming his rights to free speech and religion.  Turns out such freedoms don’t extend to amplifiers and he was informed that if he wanted to continue, he’d have to do so without the benefit of modern electronics.  As I watched the encounter out of one eye, I gazed down over the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the various war memorials, all lighted up.  We walked back down to where we were able to pick up the Circulator Bus (they run about 10 minutes apart and cover much of Capitol area.  Asking the bus driver where a good place to eat near the hotel, he recommended Phillips.  It was a great recommendation as we ate next to the Potomac.  The place is known for their buffets that include crab legs ($16.95 for lunch, $24.95 for dinner), but it was 9 PM and I didn’t want to pig out so I had a flounder sandwich which came with enough fries and carbs to seriously deplete my insulin supply and only cost $10.95.

On Friday, before getting on the road, we went to the Capitol.  After the tour, my daughter decided she wanted to see congress in action so we went over to our representative’s office and got passes.  We first visited the senate, where she saw half-dozen senators hard at work.  After each senator did a bit of grandstanding, they’d leave the chambers, the only on staying the whole time (from my vantage point) being John Kerry.  Kay Bailey Hutchison got up and talked about her bill that would continue to pay those in the military in case of a government shut-down.  She went on and on about their sacrifices and how many senators had signed on…  (There were 50 some senators who'd signed on when we came into the chambers, and by the time she finished, she kept getting notes of new senators signing on giving her over 60 supporters by the end of her rant.)  It all sounded good to me until she came to the closing remarks (she was like a bad preacher who, just when you think is done, goes on—kind of like this blog post).  In closing, before yielding the floor to Chuck Schumer of New York, she noted that her bill would make sure our military and our private contractors got paid…  I wanted to jump out of my seat (but that would have gotten me kicked out) as this was the first time (at least since we’d come into the room) she’d mentioned private contractors.   Of course, since campaign contributions come from those private contractors (and they probably have goons who’d break senators legs if they didn’t paid), what should I have expected?  Next Schumer complained about the “house riders” added to the bill, and then a guy from South Dakota talked about our national credit card being maxed out.  Clichés in the senate seemed to be as common as they were with that street preacher.

On our way back to Michigan, my daughter kept texting friends of hers (who were also traveling back from Spring Break), as they discussed the potential government shut-down.  Finally, at the last hour, they passed a bill to keep the government (and the presses that print money) running.    Oddly enough, I learned the news through the BBC News Hour on public radio.

Travel tips:  If in Washington, use the Circulator buses to get around ($1 a trip).  Also, Phillips is a nice place to eat as is Union Station (it’s walking distance from the capitol and we ate a quick lunch there before getting on the road).   Finally, Priceline.Com got us a 100 buck room on the Potomac, just 4 blocks from the mall.  Our car stayed safe in their garage while we walked or took the bus to see the sights.  If you want to see the Senate or House in session, getting the passes before doing the tour would have saved us the time of another security check.  Of course, to really see all Washington has to offer, one needs a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A Walk Around Greenfield Lake

Wisteria along the edge of Greenfield Lake
 I am still on break and my blog surfing will be limited till next week (when it will be limited by me trying to catch up at work)… Hang in there, I’ll be back. Until then, here is another post of an afternoon walk.

There is nothing like spring down east in North Carolina, when the dogwoods, azaleas and wisteria are in bloom and the weather is warm, but not yet hot and sticky like it’ll be in another few months. This is the perfect weather for a stroll around Greenfield Lake. It’s a nice walk, somewhere betwee four and five miles, but the steps do bring back a lot of memories. Thirty years ago, I lived across the street from this lake in an apartment complex and have walked and ridden a bicycle around this waters more times than I can count.

Some azaleas are blooming 

Cypress with Spanish Moss

It’s a good thing it’s not a summer night, for the ghosts of my past haunt these water.  Memories of walking around the lake with my ex-wife, on warm and humid evenings when the magnolia blooms and the flowers of honeysuckles scent the air and the Spanish moss dangling from the branches of the large and unruly live oaks create dark shadows.  All the feelings come back to me on this late afternoon stroll.  I also remember the day I encountered an alligator sunning on the bank and when I tried to get a better look, he made a threatening move toward me.  I quickly back stepped and enjoyed watching him from a distant.  But it’s not yet warm enough for alligators or snakes today.  And the honeysuckle and magnolia blooms are still a ways off.  Today, only the dogwoods and wisteria are in full bloom.  There are a few camellias blooming, but their blossoms are waning.   These plants began to show their colors when the rest of the country is still shoveling snow.  Some of the early azaleas are also blooming, but the peak is still a week or two away.  Then, the entire lake will be encircled with red flowers of the giant Formosa azaleas.  At one time, the park boasted having over a million azaleas planted around the lake.

Yep, there are alligators


I walk, enjoying the sights and looking out upon cypress growing in the lake that once housed a gristmill. The mill was gone long before I came along and today, despite the ghosts of the past, these peaceful waters provide a wonderful respite.

Azaleas in bloom

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

At the Coast and Explaining my Absence

My daughter (like a true Yankee) enjoying the water long before the locals!

My brother took the day off and he’d been talking about a cookout on the island. So, ignoring the weather channel, we loaded the boat with some firewood and a cooler with drinks, hot dogs, Texas Pete hotdog chili, Cole slaw and chips and headed out onto the water.  Heading down to the north end of Masonboro Island, with the wind to our back, was a pleasant ride.   But once we stopped, we realized how strong the wind was blowing.  We anchored the boat off a ways, making sure the anchors would hold with such wind.  Then we hiked out to the beach and found a nook up between dunes were a hole was dug for a fire.  After building a windbreak (he’s brought a piece of plywood for such occasion) and soaking the wood with lighter fluid, the inferno began.  
Porpoise at Carolina Beach Inlet

It was impossible to keep sand, which was doing its best to sandblast the hair off my lower legs, off the dogs. But they still tasted good and once filled, we decided to head back before the tide dropped too much. The ten mile ride back to Carolina Beach was choppy, but not too bad. As we crossed the inlet, we spotted a pod of porpoises and spent a few minutes exciting my daughter as we watched them playing (or had they come upon a school of smaller fish and were enjoying their dinner?). It was a good day…

In case you haven’t figured it out, I’ve not been around much lately and am on “spring break” down in North Carolina.  As my parents don’t have internet, I haven’t been online much except via my Blackberry and I hate using it for Blogger.  I’ll catch up with folks next week.
Yucca plant on Masonboro Island