Trip to the Outhouse–Blogging, Four Years and Counting . . . and It All Started with Hurricane Ike and Matthew Mitcham

Matthew Mitcham, having fun, before the start of the 2012 London Olympics (photo @matthew_mitcham)

It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by since I first started this blog.  It’s doubtful that I would have put in this much continued effort were it not for two big topics that I blogged about back in 2008, the devastating Hurricane Ike, which passed through southeast Texas, and gay Australian diver, Matthew Mitcham, who was a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.

There’s not that much evidence of the extensive damage that Hurricane Ike caused, even when you head down to hard-hit Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula.  Galveston, though still trying to recover population numbers, is once again bustling with out-of-state tourists and day-trippers from nearby Houston, who are attracted by the warm water, great restaurants, and new entertainment venues.  If you take the ferry and cross to Bolivar Peninsula, you pass by new sub-divisions of beachhouses, most of which rise high off the ground to protect them from rising water.

When it comes to the second topic, Matthew Mitcham is back, once again competing in olympic diving, this time in London.   After winning his gold medal in the 10 meter platform dive, Mitcham, at age 20, became one of the most–if not the most–well-known out gay athletes in the world.  For some so young, being such a worldwide celebrity might have been a heavy load to carry.  However, Mitcham, as athlete, activist, and product spokesperson, has worn all of his hats well, and once again is back competing in the London 2012 Olympics.

While this blog attracted many readers because of my telling of the events happening to me personally and that of Houston during Hurrican Ike and the days after, thank goodness there has not been another hurricane that has headed our way in these past four years. 

On the other hand, my blogs about Mitcham’s victory in the Beijing 2012 Olympics still bring readers to this site, showing that he’s still–if not even more–popular.   I still admire Matthew Mitcham, not only because he’s such an amazing athlete and role model, but also that in spite of his célébrité, he has been able to keep a good sense of himself and just be a normal early-20s guy.

Check the early posts (2008) for more about Hurricane Ike and Matthew Mitcham on this blog.  Also a good way to keep up with Matthew Mitcham is through Twitter (https://twitter.com/matthew_mitcham), where he posts lots of photos.

Hurricane Irene Whets the Appetite for Tin Roof Ice Cream

Having participated in the snarl of freeway madness along with millions of other Houstonians to avoid Hurricane Rita in 2005 , three years later I decided not to evacuate during Hurricane Ike, thus, spending a mostlysleepless night listening to the winds and rain.  After the electricity went out, I was able to keep up with the local broadcasts with a small hand-held TV.  Therefore,  I feel fortunate now just to be glued to  the unfolding events of Hurricane Irene as it moves up the East Coast.  The AC is humming, but I’m comfortable and relaxed on the sofa.

Here in Houston, it may have been the hottest day of the year.  The thermometer on the back fence goes sky high out in the sun so is not very reliable, but I think the temperature may have been higher than the 105 that weather.com gave for my zip code.

It’s still in the high 90s here nearing 10 PM.  The heat was still suffocating when I went out to the super market in search of that summer treat–Blue Bell’s Tin Roof Ice Cream.  (Blue Bell ice cream is made in Brenham, Texas about 50 miles up the road from where I live.  Tin Roof is vanilla ice cream laced with chocolate covered peanuts and chocolate syrup.)

To my good fortune, Blue Bell was on sale if you bought $10 of groceries.  I had already picked up a few other items, never thinking that total would be less than even $15.  I guess I had a lot of bargains because when it came to the ice cream, the cashier said, “You have to buy $10 worth to get the ice cream.”  When I told her just to charge me the regular price (because that was my real reason for going to the super market), she seemed to be perplexed and had to call a manager over to finish out the transaction, charging me the sale price.

I exited the store out into the heat radiating from the parking lot, wondering what would have happened if I’d brought just the ice cream up to the counter.

A Glimpse of Galveston Almost Two Years after Hurricane Ike

Balveston Seawall and beach after a shower on a Thursday afternoon.

An old post indicates that it had been more than a year since the last time I went to Galveston.  Today I took another road trip, heading down to the coast, just to enjoy the day.  On the drive down, the skies were mostly cloudy with enough of a shower here and there to get the wipers going.

Just when I got to the causeway (the bridge that connects Galveston Island with the Texas mainland), it really started to pour, and I thought I might just have to turn around and head back home.  However, when I got to 61st St. and turned to go over to the seawall, the rain gave up, and it was just overcast the rest of the time.

If you’re really looking, there’s still some evidence of the havoc Ike wreaked upon Galveston.  There are still a few restaurants and shops at the far end of Seawall Blvd. that never re-opened and look rough on the outside.  The Flagship Hotel, which sits on piers out over the water, has the same gaping hole and looks much the same as the last time I was there.  However, for the most part, the businesses appear to be back to about the same as in the pre-Ike days.  In fact, there are a few new hotels and shops, and a lot of the old ones have spruced up.

There were a lot of people enjoying the beaches near the San Luis Hotel, but the numbers began to dwindle very quickly not far down.  It was, however, a Thursday, and had just rained.

Murdoch's, restaurant and souvenir shop, rebuilt after Hurricane Ike.

Four-wheeling alongside the waves.

Nobody to save on this lazy afternoon

Flagship Hotel, a bit desolate and glum.

A new hotel nearing completion, just about one block from the Flagship.

Some new construction mixed in with the older houses just a block or so in from the beach.

What the Heck’s Going on at Lowe’s? or, “The Saga of How I Got This Big-ass Grill”

The Grill That I Never Asked For

I had never owned my own barbeque grill, having lived in apartments most of my adult life.  Even though it’s against the law to use grills on balconies or within a certain distance on the ground floor of apartments, a lot of people do it.  And, it’s not unusual for fires to start for that very reason.

Silly as may seem, I have on occasion run an electric cord outside and attached a toaster oven in order to cook a burger or two outside.  I really don’t know how safe that is either.

The alternative is broiling hamburgers or steaks in the oven.  The problem is  because of the high heat and burning grease, there’s a lot of smoke, and the smell remains for at least another day.  I don’t know if that’s because of poor venting, but I always had that happen in the apartments I lived in, and now I’ve found the same thing occurs here in my house.

Thus, I decided to get an outdoor grill.

I wanted something that wouldn’t take a lot of effort to use or clean up.  I saw an electric one that I thought might fit the bill (maybe I was reminiscing for my old toaster oven days).  It was small, and, I thought, would just be the right grill for me on a regular basis, or for a few guests from time to time.  Then I remembered Hurricane Ike.  The majority of the people in the Houston area were without electricity after the hurricane, some for just a day or so, but many for a week or even weeks.  However, those that had gas water heaters and gas stoves could at least have a nice shower and something warm to eat.

My house has a gas water heater, but the cooktop and oven are electric, so in the end, I gave up on my initial choice and decided to look for a gas grill.  Getting charcoal started and going just takes too much time, so that wasn’t an option for me.

After looking around–both online and in various stores–I found one at Lowe’s that I liked.  A 2-burner, in the Char-broil Quantum line, it seemed to be better made than others of similar size that I had looked at.  I read several positive reviews online.  Some recommended having Lowe’s assemble the grill, which they do for free.  I measured the hatchback opening of my car (How many times had I done that before in moving or now that I’m in my house, buying larger items?) and decided I could transport the assembled grill home without problems.

But last Wednesday, I never anticipated the problems I would have getting that grill after I went over to Lowe’s, made the purchase, and happily was told that they would assemble the grill and it would be ready in two days–on Friday afternoon.

Until I bought my house, I was a very infrequent customer of the mega hardware stores.   My previous idea was that Lowe’s was more expensive than Home Depot, and perhaps the merchandise more of the high end type.  Now that I have the two just down the road next to each other, it’s really good to shop and compare both quality and price because Home Depot is not necessarily less expensive, nor are Lowe’s products that much different.  In fact, sometimes, I find exactly what I want, by turning the corner and driving a mile further to Sears Hardware.  However, most of the time, I head for Lowe’s because it’s the quickest to get to.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that my neighborhood Lowe’s seems very loosely managed.  The staff are nice enough, but they also seem to be having a good time amongst themselves, rather than being focused on their jobs.  This is just a generalization, and not something that I see from all of the employees, nor all of the time.  There are also quite a few people who are called managers, but from my viewpoint as a customer, how managers are different from the rest of the employees is unclear.

All this “lack of a system” came into play when I went back Friday evening to pick up my grill.  When I went with my receipt in hand, the customer service person made a call to the outdoor department and then, looking a bit perplexed, told me to wait.  After some time, she got a call back from the department, and then told me one guy couldn’t find it, but another one had.

After more waiting, a “manager” came and told me that my grill hadn’t been assembled, gave me no explanation why it hadn’t been, took some time entering information into a computer behind the Customer Service Desk, and then assured me that the grill would be ready if I came back the next afternoon (Saturday).  I told him that I wasn’t in a hurry to get the grill, but that I just wanted to know when to come back to pick it up.  Putting his hand on my shoulder (as a gesture of honesty?), he said again that it would be ready the next day.

On Saturday, I decided to call before I went back.  After playing “forward you to that department” for a bit, the guy who answered in the outdoor department told me, “Oh, I looked for that grill yesterday” and said he would check.  When he came back on the line, he said, “I can’t see it.  Let me check with the manager, and I’ll call you back in 2 minutes.”  Two minutes ran into 2 and a half hours, so I decided to get in the car for the 3-minute jaunt to Lowe’s.

When I returned this time to Customer Service, the representative looked at my receipt and saw that I was supposed to have gotten the grill on Friday.  Right behind her was the “manager” who had told me to come back on Saturday.

(Oh, god, this narrative is getting too long.  I think I’m even boring myself.)

Anyway, they told me to come back on Monday, and they would discount the price.  I went back on Monday, and it still wasn’t ready, but they wanted to upgrade the grill and went and got a floor model.  I didn’t mind that, but the upgraded model was too big for my car, so they said they would deliver it for free, which they did at a little before 9 AM today.

First Steak on the Grill

It’s a nice grill–a big ass grill, at least for me–with 3 burners on the grill and a side burner to boot (in the same Char-Broil Quantum line).

I read all the instructions, got the gas tank hooked up, did all the first-time tasks, including seasoning the grill, and finally this evening slapped on a very nice steak that I had bought just for the initiation.

I have to say it was a delicious–very delicious really–steak, all seared on the outside and juicy inside, just like the promotional information says.

I guess I’ll never know why Lowe’s was unable to get the original grill assembled, and this grill makes a bigger statement on my patio than I was planning.  But, hey, now I can cook hamburgers and steaks without smoking up the house, and I’m definitely ready to cook if a big storm knocks out the electricity.

Monday Morning Musings: Still Moving and– Adam Lambert . . . Still Moving

Yesterday I had no energy for musings; hence, no “Sunday Morning Musings”.  The move to my new house is ongoing, although I definitely am living there.  Last week at this time, I couldn’t say where I lived;  I was just too tired from lifting and toting and pushing.  Then too, I was sleeping on the sofa in the new place.  It all felt like camping or the numb feeling after Hurricane Ike.

Now I feel like I’m living again even though much of the house is in total disarray (todo un desmadre).  I still have several loads of possessions to collect at my old apartment, which I have to be out of by a week from today. 

Satellite was hooked up on Saturday; this means that now all of the communication devices are working.  So with a shiny, new TV, I was set for Sunday football, but most of the day, I spent on the necessary weekend chores, plus settling in some more, making one more trip to the apartment, and even painting a bit.

So by 8:30 PM, exhausted as I was, the Bears vs. the Eagles held even less interest for me than the Bears vs. the Eagles normally would.  I switched over to the American Music Awards, then went into the kitchen to do some more sorting and putting away, only to hear Janet Jackson singing Michael Jackson, sounding like Michael Jackson:  maybe they really were/are they same person.

After the ho-hum of more unpacking was interrupted by a phone call, I decided to give up the ghost for the night at just before 10 o’clock. I checked out  the NFL game, then started flipping through the channels.  At the moment I got to the local ABC station, up popped the AMA once again, announcing Adam Lambert.

Truly, I don’t know much about Adam Lambert, only that he was the runner-up on American Idol, that he’s got this 80s glam look goin’ on, and that he hasn’t been shy about his being gay.  Actually, I admire him for having that “I’m gay, take-it-or-leave-it” attitude so early in his career.  I admire that same attitude in a lot of young people these days, that they just can be who they are without stodgy conservatism trying to make them hide themselves.

That’s why while watching Lambert’s performance, I was amazed to see him dancing and prancing on stage in front of a national audience, the likes of which I don’t remember having seen since the days of David Bowie.  Oh, we’ve seen similar dancing and hip-thrusting, but with female stars like Madonna and Janet Jackson.  Then when he pulled one of the male dancer’s head to his crotch and soon after kissed a keyboard player, I said to myself, “You go, Adam.”

To be honest, I didn’t care for the song at all, and I’m not really sure whether he’s got a voice or not, but when it comes to chutzpah (and I definitely mean the good chutzpah), Adam Lambert has it going on.  Lambert will find someone to write some decent music and he’ll get some voice training, but his gutsy performance last night on the American Music Awards is going to go along way for him . . . and for other gay people.

You see, Adam Lambert is not afraid to be himself . . . like a lot of gay people are.  Unless gay people act like themselves in public, straight people are forever going to keep their blinders on and deny that we exist.  They can’t deny that mixed-race couples exist when they see them or they see their children.  But they still can deny gay people exist when they see two guys together or two women together even when they know they are together.  They can deny it because gay people help them deny it by not holding hands or hugging or giving a smooch in public, the same physical acknowledgement that straight couples give to each other.   How do we ever expect straight deniers from seeing that we really are just like them, unless we show them that we are?

Yeah, there have been those screaming their negative comments about Lambert’s performance today in response to articles about the AMA, but these are the same people that would have been screaming if it had been Madonna or Lady Gaga.  Let them scream; artists that want to make it big take it to the edge, and this is just what Adam Lambert was doing.  However, in doing so, he’s saying, “Hey, I’m gay and this is who I am.”

You go, Adam.

Sunday Morning Musings: Hurricane Ida and the Moving Transition

IdaThere’s a hurricane–or “would-be” hurricane out in the gulf.  Her name is Ida, and she has come into the Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan coast.  Check out the latest information on Ida at weather.com.  This is the first named storm to come into the gulf this year, but, of course, we all remember the horrible “I” storm from last season–Hurricane Ike.

Hurricanes and other rough weather take on a new perspective now that I have my own house.  Even so, I’m looking forward to being inside the house for a good rain–something cozy and protective about that.

Actually, I’m in the midst of painting.  I got the utility room done, and the washer and dryer arrived yesterday.  I’m going to test them out today for the first time.  I’ll take Annie, a car-load of “stuff”, and a basketful of clothes.

The move is a slow one, and that’s just what I want.  I’m not going to kill myself by trying to do it all at once.  I haven’t called the movers yet to do the big furniture, but I expect to do that this week.

It’s a bittersweet time.  I’ve lived here for ten years, and my apartment is comfortable, and I like the feeling of having people near.  On the other hand, aside from the driving commute, I got the house I wanted, and the more time I spend there, I realize just what a nice house it is.

OK, now I gotta get hoppin’.

Funeral for a Pine

Dead PineI’m not religious and I don’t mind admitting it.  I’ve never had any meaningful conversations with god or felt any kind of emotion enveloping me when I enter any kind of church, temple, or mosque, be they a small roadside chapel or a huge medieval cathedral.

On the other hand, I can feel a spirit in trees.  I can’t say whether it’s anything really spiritual emanating from a tree or just the incredible ornateness that I see in their trunks, limbs, and leaves.  I think I’ve felt a kinship with trees ever since I was a boy climbing up into their boughs or walking among the ones that grew alongside the banks of the Smoky Hill River near our farm.  With my siblings older and basically out of my everyday life, I often played or just spent time watching the quiet world with trees around me, mostly elms and oaks.

There’s a wonderful grove of live oak and other trees in the triangle near the swimming pool, which I always feel a connection with each time Annie and I walk by.  I have the idea of making a quilt that would be a representation of those trees, but how I can transform pieces of fabric into the spirit of these tress just hasn’t come to me yet.

A couple of these trees were damaged last year by Hurricane Ike, and a great many more wered downed by the strong winds of the storm thoughout the park.  People who live near the park have told me of the loud booms that exploded from a number of huge pine trees when their trunks cracked and broke, finally falling onto the ground.

In our small, Camp Logan Park, which is only a short, couple of blocks from Memorial Park, the trees withstood Ike’s torment, but most of them, for a long time, appeared to be in a kind of shock.  Of course, some had lost branches and had their leaves battered, but they seemed to be reviving during last winter.  Then came the long dry spell this spring.  Several months back, it was obvious that a couple of the smaller trees were dead, maples, I think.  But the other trees seemed to have deep roots, and even though, the grass in the park became dry and brittle, the bigger trees appeared to be doing OK.

Dead Pine TrunkThen about a month and a half ago, the biggest and probably oldest tree in the park began showing brown needles on some of its branches, and little by little the entire tree turned brown, still with hundreds of dry cones attached.  I’m not a dendrologist, so I have no idea why this majestic pine tree died, maybe the dry weather, maybe because of the hurricane, or perhaps some kind of disease.

All I know is an orange X recently appeared on its thick truck, a sure sign that the city soon will come to cut it down.  I know too that the living spirit that breathes out of other trees no longer comes from this glorious ghost.

Post Mortem

It was lucky that I took the pictures of the tree when I did; the tree was cut down the next day (yesterday).  I don’t know what happened to the main trunk but a lot of large branches and limbs are still laying in the ditch awaiting pick up.

Today (October 15th), I counted the rings as best I could and aproximated 100; another park-goer said he had counted 95.  That means that this tree was here when the Camp Logan Riots took place and before this was a residential area.

Even though the tree was big, many of the rings were very narrow.  I took my measuring tape and the diameter of the stump is 4 feet 8 inches at the widest point.  Here, two of the neighborhood Westies, Luke and Lexy, are sniffing out the edges of the stump, which obviously had absorbed a lot of varying types of moisture over the years.Luke and Lexy at the stump