Wintery Day Is Just Right To Stay Inside and “Chill”

Morning greetings of winter white out the door--Lyons, Kansas.

Morning greetings of winter white out the door–Lyons, Kansas.

Just like family get-togethers and exchanging presents, snowstorms seem to be a tradition of every Christmas holiday visit I make back to my home state of Kansas.  This morning we woke up to a couple inches of the white stuff on the ground, with even more swirling around in the air.  The snow itself made for a pretty scene outside, but the cold blast of 7 degrees when I opened the door was more than what I’d call “brisk.”

The first thing I had to do was sweep a path on my sister’s patio and then out on the grass for Annie to take a “go.” Finally, she did, at lightning speed.

With the snow still coming down most of the day and the cold wind zipping at the skin, other than re-sweeping the doggy paths, I haven’t wanted to venture out.  It was just the kind of day to keep the house cozy by using the oven to cook up the pork roast and sauerkraut we got yesterday in preparation of a cold day.

Tonight the forecast is for 5 degrees, but I’m sure that the blankets and quilts on the bed will keep me–and Annie–warm.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Annie stays near--or on--a warm lap on these cold days.

Annie stays near–or on–a warm lap on these cold days.

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Holiday Road Trip and Day Trips To Boot–All Made for a Great Winter Break

Wind turbines of the Smoky Hills Wind Farm line the wintery horizon in pastures along the Lincoln and Ellsworth county line, not far from Wilson Resevoir.

A wet, grey afternoon with some unexpected early hours off from work make it a good time to try out one of my Christmas gifts.  I received a set of silicon baking pans, so the square one is being used for brownies–mix-type–with a lot of goodies added.  We’ll see if I pack them up to share at work.

I can hardly remember a better Christmas since I was a kid back in the Santa Claus days.  I can’t put my finger on it exactly, maybe mostly because I was prepared and things went as planned.  I even enjoyed the shopping and wrapping gifts, which sometimes I find tedious.

With the car all loaded the night before, Annie hopped onto her place on the passenger seat, and we headed out the morning of the 23rd for Kansas.  Even at the more than 11 hours (mostly stops for gas and a dog walk here and there), the drive wasn’t that bad.  The weather was mild and putting the car on cruise for long stretches of the interstate made the drive almost easier than my two hours each week day of commuting to work.

Needless to say, it was one of those Christmases of too many presents and too much food, what with a table-filled buffet spread at my sister’s and her kids and families.  Then the next day we headed off to my brother’s, the second year in a row that I was together with my two brothers and sister for Christmas dinner.  Until last year, there were a good many years in between that for one reason or another we all hadn’t gotten together for the holiday.  I think we all realize that we are a pretty lucky group that have our health (yeah, we all have a prescription for high blood pressure, but, hey!) and get along well to boot.

I headed back to Houston on the first day of the new year, but before that I spent some relaxing day drives with my sister as part of what I would say was one of the best vacations for a long time.  One of my goals during the trip was to load a cooler with some Kansas cured meat.  I like to go back to the very store that I went to with my dad when I was a kid and pick up smoked sausage.  Back in my tag-along days, it was called Klema IGA; now it’s Wilson Family Foods, in Wilson, Kansas.  The store hasn’t changed all that much, but it’s still a good store for a small town.  I wish I could have broad back some of the fresh meat from the cooler because there’s no comparing  it to plastic, no-taste stuff I find in the big name super markets out here in the suburbs.

Another place we like to go is Brant’s Meat Market in Lucas, Kansas, about a 20-mile drive that passes by Wilson Resevoir, which is much more impressive to me these days than it was when I passed by it back when I was a college kid going to and from a summer job.

Locally, it's called Ralph's Ruts (Rice County, Kansas). This is one of the few places where you can still see the Santa Fe Trail, which was dug out by the thousands of teams of wagons that passed through in the 1800s.

Geese feeding in a field near Odin, Kansas. These are part of the large numbers of ducks and geese that stop annually at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area not far away.

The parking lot at Meridy's Restaurant in Russell, Kansas. The buffet is loaded with mounds of fried chicken, homemade mashed potatoes, and gravy that rival Mom's. It's basically a "have-to" on every Kansas trip. (It's right off I-70 if you're making a trip through western Kansas.)

Over the several day trips, we didn’t go but a county or two away from my sister’s house in Lyons, Kansas, but each outing held a new discovery or re-discovery in the central part of the state where I grew up.  My car brought back with it some dried Kansas mud from some of the few dirt roads that had not but a few days before been plowed clear of snow.  I can say that even though I’ved lived a good long time outside of Kansas, I’ve still got some of that same dirt in my blood.  (I’ve got other photos that I wanted to include, but WordPress is kicking my butt right now as I try to insert them.)

This old limestone schoolhouse has been empty and looked the same since I was a kid riding by on the school bus. This is one of the landmarks I was looking for on a day trip filled with memories. This was also the road that kicked up all the mud onto the sides of my car.

The train still passes by the local wheat elevator in my hometown of Dorrance, Kansas, pretty much the way it has for many years.

Houston’s 2011 Gay Pride Festival and Parade in Just Two Weeks; Other Events Taking Place Throughout June

From the increased number of clicks onto my previous posts about Houston Gay Pride 2009 and 2010, people are once again trying to get information about this year’s events.  Living for such a long time right in the middle of Montrose, there were some years that I just skipped it all.  Now that I’ve moved out to the “burbs,” going “into town” for the festival and parade helps me feel part of the whole Montrose scene, something I don’t miss on a daily basis.  Just two weeks from today, I’ll be there with my camera, ready to be part and take part!

This year’s theme is “Live. Love. Be.”  A few of the “pre” events have already taken place; others are ongoing.  The major draws for the entire month are the festival and the parade, both of which will be held in just two weeks, on Saturday, June 25th.  The festival begins at noon in the heart of Montrose, near the corner of Montrose and Westheimer.  The parade, one of the very few such nighttime events, starts at 8:15 PM.  The parade goes down Westheimer, beginning near Woodhead.

For all the details on the Houston Gay Pride events, hit this link: http://pridehouston.org/celebration/pages/theday

A Sunday Drive: In Search of Bluebonnets

Barely out of the car, Annie is panting in the hot sun at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. These were some of the few bluebonnets we encountered.

Having finally accomplished the long-put-off doing of my income taxes before noontime, and with the yard and garden work already finished for the weekend, I coaxed Annie into the car and off we headed out 290 in quest of bluebonnets.

The bluebonnet is the the Texas state flower, and for a few weeks in spring, the roadsides and pastures can be ablaze in color from the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, especially the Indian paintbrush

Without seeing a glimpse of a bluebonnet, we drove as far as the quaint, old town of Chappell Hill and turned onto a side road.  This asphalt lane, like so many other roads in the Texas Hill Country, seems to be filled with natural beauty and history.  It never ceases to amaze me how on one piece of land you’ll see a humble dwelling that probably was once a share-cropper’s house, and then, not even a quarter mile down the road, a 6 or 7 figure “swankienda” stretches out into the acreage.  But these, along with the green meadows and wooded creeks, make for a drive that forces you to go at a speed slower than that of Granny going to church.

After about 50 miles of driving, a small, hillside field showed off its indigo glory, but the cars and motorcycles that were already stopped left no place to pull over and try to take pictures of a small dog romping amongst the bluebonnets.

So on we went a few miles, and ended up at Washington, Texas, which is the place where the Texas Declaration of Indepedence from Mexico was signed.  Many years ago, a big part of the area was made into the Washington-on-the-
Brazos State Park
.  It’s really a wonderful place, not too overdone with the history part.  There’s a museum and a visitors center, but there are also places to picnic and lots of trails to walk and discover the history as well as nature’s beauty.

With a 92-degree south wind pushing at us, a maybe mile-long walk was about enough to do in a guy and a little dog.  I’d brought water for her, which she lapped up when we got back to the car, but after getting the AC going, I began looking for a convenience store to find a cold drink for myself.

We did find some bluebonnets in the park, but either it’s still a bit early or the drought has caused the bluebonnets to suffer this year.  Whatever.  We had a good day on our quest, finding more than the flowers.

Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. This looks like a replica to me; maybe some of the boards are original.

Some of the flowering plants growing along the pathways. The pinkish-purple appears to be a native verbena. The white blossoms on the other plant were pretty, but the stem looked very prickly.

The park has many trails to wander, some along the Brazos River. Here and there, youll find informational signage, telling about the history of the site, but these signs do not interfere with just enjoying the tranquillity of the area.

Pieces of history, like this old water well, are evident throughout the park, but because the park has not been "over-developed", the visitor can almost feel like he is discovering artifacts.

Located outside of the state park, current-day Washington, Texas holds hardly more than some kind of eatery and a post office.

Egypt in Transition: Sidenotes from Personal Experience

Like many others, I’ve given quite a lot of attention in the past several days to what’s been happening in Egypt.  For certain, what changes will be made there, whether there will be a complete change in government or whether Mubarek will stay in some sort of power, remain uncertain.

I think I watch what’s happening there with a different perspective than a lot of Americans.  As I’ve written here, and those that know me might be aware of, I was an Arab linguist in the U.S. Air Force back in the 1970s.  I studied the Egyptian dialect and the main focus of my work was Egypt, though I never set foot in the country, until a couple of my fellow airmen and I took a 10-day, TWA tour of Egypt in April of 1974.  (I’ve had a more detailed description of that trip started for some time now, so I won’t go into all of that now.)  But in looking back, it’s surprising that the Air Force let us take that trip to a country which had been the center of so much of our military work, especially the October ’73 War, which had taken place only about half a year earlier.

When we got there, we discovered a couple of things.  First, the Egyptian people liked us Americans, despite the country still being under some influence of the Soviet Union, as evidenced by the great number of Soviet tourists that we encountered and some military installations around the then new Aswan Dam.  Second, the country was very poor, but teeming with people.  The current news media talk about squares filled with people, making it sound as if is something unusual.  The streets were filled with people on a daily basis even back in the 70s, when the population of the country was around 33 million, nothing like the 80 million of today. In Cairo, people hung off the sides of buses, and the trains from Cairo to Alexandria had riders on top of the cars because inside there was no more room.  The big difference, of course, was back in those days, people were just going about their daily lives, not protesting for a change in government.  I also remember the poverty evident most everywhere.

Anwar Sadat was the president of Egypt in those days, coming into power after Nasser.  I admired Sadat a lot and felt that he really wanted peace for the region and with Israel, unlike so many other Middle Eastern leaders, who wanted–and want–to do away with Israel.  I was really saddened when he was assassinated in 1981 by fundamentalists, they said, but I have always wondered if Mubarek didn’t have something to do with it as a way to get power.

I think the current problem in Egypt is, yes, partially, that of a government not giving enough freedoms to the people.  But there is another problem–a world problem–too many people.  And too many people too fast.  Egypt’s problem is not so different from that of Mexico.  Poor countries (and some rich ones too) in the past century have grown in population by leaps and bounds.  Maybe it’s because of having more access to medicines and health care.  But go to a poor country these days, and you find that the majority of people are young, and these huge numbers of young people are having more babies.   And more people use more and more of a country’s resources, but the countries just cannot create enough new jobs for everyone.

I took a lot of slides when I was in Egypt, and I’ve had a few of them digitalized.  (How many of you will have those pictures you’ve downloaded to Facebook 40 years from now?)   Here are some I like:

Night view of the Nile River and the boulevard running alongside it (1974)

Pyramids of Giza (1974), at that time the pyramids were a ways outside of the city

Luxor, Egypt (1974), the street running alongside the Nile River, across the river from the Valley of the Kings

A Christmas Road Trip, Digging Up History, and a Garden for the New Year

It’s a little late to say it, I suppose, but “Happy New Year” to anyone who slips and falls upon this page.  This is the first post of the new year, as other interests, including just lying around, have gotten in the way of writing.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, but on January lst, I felt motivated to plant a “winter garden” in my little plot behind the garage.  There were already several pepper plants still producing from last summer and a couple of tomato plants that I planted in November with several tomatoes on each; now I’ve set in 80 red onions and 10 shallots (let’s see), a couple of rows of yellow beans, and several varieties of lettuce.  It’s been a rainy evening here, with more than an inch already, so this moisture should get everything going.  Although the thermometer has read 29 or 30 on several occasions, everything down inside my back yard seems to have been protected.

A few days before Christmas, I loaded up the car, and with Annie for a co-pilot headed up to Kansas for the holidays.  Even with quite a number of short stops for gas, dog walks, and grab-and-go food, we made each way in between 11 and 12 hours.  Both driving days were grey and dreary, and coming back took longer because we ran into rain and, of course, more traffic coming into Houston. 

Driving that far in one day is always a bit grueling, but stopping to stay somewhere along the way just never seems worth it, and it’s always so good when I arrive up there, and just as good when I get back home.

The Christmas festivities carried on over several days, of course, with a lot of presents and too much, but really delicious, food and goodies.  Even though Mom is now gone, almost every one of her kids and grandkids (including in-laws) seems to enjoy cooking and is pretty good at it as evidenced by all the variety.

My sister and I are both history buffs, and whenever I get back to Kansas, we take some kind of road trip to “the old stomping grounds.”  The beauty of the mostly treeless, somewhat stark, rolling plains of central Kansas, where I grew up, always amazes me.  When I was living there, it was something I couldn’t see.  Another noticeable thing is that life is changing; there are fewer and fewer small farms, and you have to drive more and more miles between farmsteads where someone actually lives.  And thus, the small towns, and even not so small ones, are losing population.  Some of the smaller places will soon be just a spot on the road.  This is not something new, though; if you look at the census numbers, the decline in rural counties in Kansas started as far back as the 1920s.

We had a good drive, though, taking us back down memory lane, and finding answers for some of the questions about places that we had been talking about.

The Smoky Hill River from the Dlabl Bridge southeast of Wilson, Kansas. We encountered this new bridge after taking a scenic sand road north from Holyrood.

An old tombstone with German inscriptions in the tiny Immanual Cemetery southwest of Wilson, Kansas. The Smoky Hills can be seen in the back.

One of the markers that were erected to show the route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch (sic) that followed the Smoky Hill Trail through Kansas. Down the draw from this marker is the spot where I believe the Hick's Station was located.

Rolling farmland (winter wheat in the foreground) surrounds my old hometown of Dorrance, Kansas.

A Great Day at the Houston International Quilt Festival

"So Much Thread"--Anything that a quilter needs or is willing to spend some money on can be found at the Houston International Quilt Festival.

This morning’s air was crisp and clean and the outside temperature was 39 degrees when I got up to let Annie out for the first time.  The rest of the day didn’t disappoint with a cool tinge cutting any heat that the sun might try to make.

A close-up of one of my favorites

It was just the kind of day to head back into town to the George R. Brown Convention Center to take in the Houston International Quilt Festival, which every fall brings quilts and quilters from all over the country and parts of the rest of the world into the Bayou City.

Another close-up, another favorite, of course

My machines still sit idle on the tables right behind where I’m sitting now.  It seems like since I moved into my own home, other household tasks or the lawn and garden pull me towards them rather than any fabric project.  However, perhaps all the designs and colors of the quilts I saw today will get me inspired.  This year, more than the last few, more of the quilts seemed to be of the traditional type rather than the “artsy” ones, though there certainly were enough of both to check out before the legs started to get weary and the stomach grumbled for lunch.

Susan Schamber explains about her Best of Show quilt, "Mystique".

By getting there when the doors were just opening, I got to see the Best of Show winner, Sharon Schamber, showing and telling about her amazing quilt.  Then after winding through more rows of quilts, I was lucky enough to stumble up textile and quilt designer, Kaffe Fassett, giving a walk-through discussion of an exhibition of some of his pieces which were on display.

Kaffe Fassett gathers a large group of eager listeners.

It’s overwhelming to try to see all of the multitude of quilts, wall-hangings, and other decorative pieces.  Even though there were many people viewing all the exhibited works, the side of the center with the vendors was even busier; however, my large “stash” of fabrics is a reminder that I don’t need to spend money on more material or gadgets until I make a dent in what I already have.

I did, though, snap a lot of photos, especially of quilts that caught my eye.  Perhaps, they’ll help keep the inspiration bug biting for awhile.