Thursday, November 29, 2007

Today I Really Am A Texan

Forget about the driver's license. Forget about the Livingston address, the voter registration, and the library card. All of that shows I intend for Texas to be my domicile, but today I became a Texan in a more fundamental way -- I went dancing at the VFW, and learned to do the Texas Two-Step. And this after having eaten fried okra at dinner!

Now I think I should be fixin' to get me some boots!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Location: Livingston, Texas

I'm still here in Livingston -- I've gotten my "real" driver's license, but I'm waiting for the registrations. The weather has been cold and rainy -- and I can hear some snorting from those of you who think by cold I mean 60 degrees -- but it really has been cold: down comforter for the bed and a hat and mittens for the body. The lows have been in the 30s, the highs in the 50s, and those temps have been accompanied by a cold, relentless rain -- once the rain even turned to hail, and it was VERY LOUD on my aluminum roof. The rain has now passed through, and the temps are going up a bit. The sun was bright and shiny today, and it sure felt good!

My day usually begins with an hour and a half of line dancing, and it gets me up and going. As a community service, the group dances once a week at area nursing homes, and, for the first time, today I went along. We all dressed in white pants and a red top, and did about 8 dances -- some to oldies like Chattanooga Choo Choo, and some to contemporary cowboy songs like "He Drinks Tequila (And She Talks Dirty In Spanish)". The residents seemed to have a good time!

During the day I do the fun stuff like going to Wally World or working on images, and then at 4 P.M. we all meet for social hour where we find out what is going on in the park. Then a movie in the evening, or a game of Rummykub, Dominos, or cards, and then back to bed so I can get up and start again.

There you have a synopsis of Life in Livingston!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Day At Rainbow's End

Location: Livingston, Texas

First and foremost, let me thank all of you who are reading this blog for doing just that. I appreciate you more than you will ever know!

And now, Thanksgiving dinner at Rainbows End --- it was amazing. The plan was

  • Everybody signs up to sit at a table, 10-12 people per table.
  • Turkey, gravy, coffee, and tea are provided.
  • Each table has a volunteer "host."
  • The host gets together with the table members to decide what they will have at their table and who will bring it.
  • In addition to food, everyone decorates their own table, brings their own place settings, a platter for the turkey and a bowl for the gravy, wine if desired, napkins, tea pitchers -- everything else.
When I signed up, a woman, who I will call Marilyn, was listed as the host. I was signed up at the first table of "Singles," and eventually there would be a total of three Single's tables. By late last week, Marilyn had not contacted us or even showed up at Social Hour. As it turns out, Marilyn had hosted in previous years, but was now vacationing in Argentina, so some "friends" of hers thought it would be "funny" to sign her up as host, knowing she would not be there. Realizing that the only real outcome of this would be chaos, I volunteered to host our table. As time wore on, it became apparent that no one was volunteering to host the other two Single's tables, so I volunteered for them, too.

I got everyone together for a meeting, and we decided, for our three tables, to put all the food together. We would have dinner buffet style instead of each table having their own dishes. We made sure we had enough duplicates (e.g., at least three people bringing mashed potatoes), and called it A Plan.

On Wednesday, the tables were set up, and the three Singles tables were placed together at one end of the room. We came in Thursday morning and decorated all three tables and the buffet table. At two o'clock the dinner began.

Everything went very well, with only a couple glitches. One man seemed quite put out that his dish of Piping Hot Whatever would not be solely eaten by his table mates (he missed the meeting). Another couple, who arrived late, were miffed because there were no longer two seats side-by-side and they couldn't sit together (people had already begun eating so switching chairs wasn't a good option). And we realized that we should have set up the buffet table so people could go down both sides. But those were minor glitches, and no one went home hungry. All told, 32 Singles and a total of almost 200 people attended Thanksgiving Dinner at Rainbow's End.Click for Larger View of Dinner At Rainbows End

Monday, November 19, 2007

Space Center Houston

"Hey, Houston, we've had a problem here."
-- James A. Lovell, Jr.

Location: Day Trip To Houston

This is the real quote, rather than the often misquoted, "Houston, we have a problem," that began the nightmare of cascading failures for Apollo 13 and Houston Mission Control in April 1970. And I know this because it is displayed at Space Center Houston, which is half astronomy lessons, half real-time NASA Mission Control, and half hands-on science center (math majors, you may wince here). As you drive through the outskirts of Houston, you start to think that "NASA" must be the name of the town -- there is the NASA Souvenir Shop, the NASA Shell Station, the NASA Liquor Store, the NASA One Cleaners, and the NASA Pointe Mall.

Although the NASA name predominates, Space Center Houston is the jumping off point all things spacey in the area. It is here that you buy your ticket, go through a security checkpoint, and then choose whether you want to go to the theaters, galleries, displays, hands-on activities, eat spacey food or -- of course -- visit the gift shop. That was an easy decision for me -- a guided tour through the real NASA's Johnson Space Center topped my list.

I got in line for the tram tour, which began with someone taking the seemingly ubiquitous photo of each of us -- the photo that we would be able to purchase for a mere $20 at the conclusion of the tour (I declined). We had gone through a security checkpoint to get into Space Center Houston, but that had not been much more than a cursory purse and bag check. To get to the Johnson Space Center, however, we had to go through a metal detector, and we were issued a pass that we had to retain for the tram. There were three stops where we would exit the tram and tour a building -- and we were required to sit in the same seats every time we returned to ensure that no one was missing. We also found out that our souvenir pictures served a dual purpose -- they were a record of the people on each tram in case security was breached. Oddly, we got to keep our shoes on, and were allowed to take liquids with us!

Click for a Larger View of Tourists Seeing the Shuttle MockupWe stopped first at Mission Control. We were able to visit the actual, in-use-today Mission Control because it was a weekend and it was empty, but we could only see it from behind glass. Had our tour been during working hours, we would have visited a mock up of the historic Mission Control instead. We then visited a large, long room with mock-ups of the shuttle and every conceivable lab and module, but, again, it was behind glass. This room is used for astronaut practice and training. At our final tram stop we saw a huge Saturn V Rocket, laying on its side and taking up the entire length of an enormous bunker. This was the one thing that was not behind glass, probably because there isn't much one could do to hurt or enable it.

When I got back, I had time to do a few of the other Space Center Houston activities. The one I liked best was the gallery of spaceships, some the real vehicle, and some re-creations. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules were there, and looking very small and claustrophobic. The Moon rover looked like a fun ride, and the SpaceLab mock up was remarkably livable.

Click for a Larger Image of the Touchable Moonrock There also were moon rocks and core samples, all real, and a lab to study them, totally fake, including a mannequin researcher meticulously working on real moon samples. There were several moon rocks on display, and we could reach under a glass partition and actually touch a small piece of one. It was interesting to see the moon rocks, but my favorite artifact was the lunar soil. It was only a couple plastic bags filled with what looked like shimmery black sand, but I couldn't help but think how it must have felt to have walked on it, rolled in it, been covered with it, and then to have left it behind.

Click for a Larger Image of the Lunar SoilYears ago, I was looking at a book of NASA moon images, and ran across an image of Eugene Cernan resting after a moonwalk. While the picture is a bit out of focus, the look on his face says it all -- he has walked on the moon and is -- amazingly -- covered with moon dust. It is a moment unlike any other. I have never forgotten that picture.

We got a brief talk on the future -- a return to the moon by 2020, and a Mars landing by 2030. Someone who is alive now, but under 30 years old, will be the first person to walk on Mars. I have to accept that it won't be me, but I hope at least someday I can hear that person's description of what standing on Mars was like, and maybe even see a plastic bag or two filled with red martian sand. It's not the same as being there, but I'll take what I can.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oddities, Endities, and Left Overs

Item 1: Can I Have Some of Your Purple Berries?

Click for Larger Image of Purple Berries Say, can I have some of your purple berries?
Yes, I've been eating them for six or seven weeks, now.
Haven't got sick once; probably keep us both alive

-- Wooden Ships, David Crosby

I found these berries, new to me, growing along the roadside. They stood out because of their vibrant, and non-fall-like purple color. A web search turned up their name: Callicarpa americana or Purple Beautyberry. It's a shrub that is sold in stores, and no one seems to be calling the berries poisonous, so I guess David Crosby would be okay!

Item 2: Time Zones

I still don't know what time it is. I am in the Central Time Zone, but TV shows are sometimes broadcast at the same time as they in the Eastern Zone (for example, the Today show comes on at 7:00, just like it does in the east, and is a repeat of the show that aired one hour earlier), or they are broadcast simultaneously (the national evening news comes on at 5:30 here, broadcast at exactly the same time as in the east which is 6:30). Prime time is 7-10. To add to the confusion, I have a clock accesses the shortwave time band to set itself, and each time I set it to Central time it resets itself to Eastern time. So it is always off by one hour. The end result is I don't know when to go to bed, so I just stay up late. Good thing I don't have to get up at 4:30 anymore (and how did I ever do that?)

Item 3: Magnolia Seeds

I don't think I have ever seen magnolia seeds in the fall before. They look somewhat like furry pine cones, but then they get a bright red seed. Odd, but pretty:

Click for larger image of magnolia seed  Click for larger image of magnolia seed

Item 4: I Hit A Milestone

I qualified for a Senior Discount at Denny's. Whoopee.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sea Birds Flying In The Sun...Galveston

Galveston, oh Galveston...

I still hear your sea winds blowin'...

I still hear your sea waves crashing...

I watch your sea birds flying in the sun...

At Galveston, at Galveston

---Glen Campbell

Location: Day Trip to Galveston, TX

Click for Larger Image of Sea BirdsGalveston is a barrier island off the coast of Texas -- to the south is the Gulf of Mexico, and to the north is Galveston Bay. Galveston's name dates back to 1785, when the island was named in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, who never had -- and never did -- visit the island. He was a military leader who assisted the United States in the Revolutionary War. Galveston, because of it's strategic location, not only played a role in the American Revolution, but also the Texas Revolution and the Civil War. If that isn't enough, rumors still abound that the pirate Jean Lafitte buried treasure on the island, and it is just waiting to be discovered.

Click for Larger Image of Galveston and the Gulf of MexicoIn September 1900, Galveston was forever changed when a hurricane (then unnamed) slammed into the coast. Even after Katrina, it is considered to be the deadliest natural disaster in the United States. The storm surge was 15 feet, and the winds reached 135 miles per hour (an estimate, because the anemometer blew off the U.S. Weather Building). The death toll was between 6,000 and 12,000, easily topping Katrina's 1,600. A lesson learned, Galveston built a 17-foot seawall and numerous rock jetties (see photo) to protect the city. In addition, dredged sand was used to actually raise the city 17 feet.

Galveston has experienced other hurricanes, one which catapulted Dan Rather to fame. Hurricane Carla hit the island in 1961. At that time, weather reporters typically hunkered down and reported from safe locations. Dan Rather was the first to report from the middle of the storm, tying himself to the flagpole of the Galveston Post Office. A crew member drew a crude outline of the Texas gulf on a piece of clear plastic, which they held over a black and white radar display to show the audience the location and scope of the storm. His bravery and ingenuity caught the attention of CBS, and they offered him a job -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Click for Larger Image of King PenguinsGalveston is also the home to a wonderful aquarium with King Penguins, seals, sharks, Giant Tortoise, coral reefs and lots of exotic fish and sea creatures. I only had time to visit the aquarium, but the complex also contains a rain forest, IMAX, and a discovery zone, all housed in giant pyramids, visible in the Galveston Bay photo at the end of this entry. There is also a historic district that looks like a fun place to exercise my "shopping genes" that are expressed every so often (but now that I have so little room to store things, my buying impulses have been severely curtailed).

At the end of the day, the pelicans, egrets, gulls, cormorants and other sea birds are abundant in both the gulf and the bay. What better place for a pelican to engage in some last minute hunting than atop an old pier in Galveston Bay? Who knows -- maybe this pelican is hiding more secrets than the contents of his beak -- perhaps he is guarding Lafitte's treasure. But he's not telling.
Click for Larger View of Sunset On Galveston Bay

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Livingston Art League

I have now switched over my vehicle and RV registrations, registered to vote, changed my insurance, and have a temporary Texas driver's license. Yesterday I got a library card, and am feeling more and more like a Texan with each passing minute!

Click for Larger Image of Art ContestI also joined the Livingston Art League, which is a member of the larger Lone Star Art Guild. Today was their annual art contest, so I entered four pictures in the Photography Category (other categories included paintings, watercolors, stained glass, jewelry, and so forth). As you can see by this photo, taken by a friend, my "Union Bridge Rails" photo took first place in my division! I also received two Honorable Mentions. Now to be fair, there were only seven pictures in my division and category. But the first place will allow me to submit that image in the Lone Star Art Guild show in May.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Comet Holmes

Location: Livingston, Texas, where I have been showing off the comet to passerbys

Have you seen Comet 17/P Holmes? If not, don't wait too long!

This is a naked eye comet, meaning it is visible without the aid of binoculars or a telescope. The last real naked eye comet we had was Hale-Bopp in 1997. The brightness a particular comet will attain is not very predictable -- for example, Halley's Comet, famous for being a very bright, naked eye comet, was a disappointment during the last pass in 1986. This one, Holmes, was not expected to be bright enough to be visible through anything but a telescope, but it went from magnitude 17 to 2.5 in a few hours (the lower the numbers the brighter the object -- and really bright objects can have negative magnitudes) at the end of October. For comparison, the limit of the human eye is a magnitude 6; Sirius, the brightest star is -1.4; and the full moon is -12.5.

Now I don't want to hear any of the following:

  • I can't find anything in the sky (I am going to show you where to find it.)
  • I don't have a telescope (It will look very cool in binoculars, and you have those, don't you? Actually, this is one of those objects that will look as good in binoculars as it does in most scopes.)
  • I don't want to get up at 3 a.m. (No sleep loss needed -- early evening will be fine.)
  • I keep meaning to go out and look at it, but I forget (You didn't really forget, did you? You were watching Desperate Housewives. That's why The Flying Spaghetti Monster gave mankind VCRs -- tape it.)


Here is a map and here is a another map. Face north east -- the Big Dipper will be slightly on your left (FYI, the two right-most stars of the Dipper are pointer stars to Polaris, or the North Star, seen on the left side of the first map). Look for the big "W" (the constellation Cassiopeia) -- it is easy to see in the sky. In the evening, however, it will be tipped on it's side.

The first map is good, but it has more stars on it than you are likely to see unless you are in a very dark site. So, from Cassiopeia, look down and to the right. You will see a single star, and then a triangle just below it. Look at the left-most star of the triangle. Doesn't it look just a bit fuzzy? THAT is the comet.

Whether or not you have found it, get out your binoculars. If you aren't sure if you found it in the sky, use the binoculars to scan the area. What you are looking for is a big, fuzzy ball. It will be easy to find in binoculars.

You are not going to see a tail on the comet -- the sun is behind us, so the tail is streaming behind the comet and is, from our point of view, hidden by the comet itself. Some people with telescopes are reporting they are beginning to see a tail now, but you won't be able to see it. You may be able to see a brightening in the center of the comet, which is the comet's core.


Early evening, after it has gotten completely dark.

I have been showing the comet to people who wander by my campsite, and the response has been terrific. Don't wait too long -- it will be gone before you know it, but that Desperate Housewives show you thought you just HAD to watch will be in reruns and syndication for a long, long time!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Chewy the Chug

Location: Livingston, TX

Everyone, meet Chewy:

Chewy is a "Chug" or part Chihuahua, part Pug. In reality, she is a mutt that fetches (no pun intended) lots of money because she has a cool neobreed name. Puppy mill rip off or not, Chewy was a sweetheart. She belongs to the people who did the Texas inspection on my RV. She and I "bonded" while the work was being done -- mostly because I had the audacity to sit in her chair, so she felt compelled to sit in my lap. She is a little bit bigger than the traditional chihuahua, and full of self importance and pride. And a really cute under bite.

Her human, who is around 19 or 20 years old, is getting married this weekend. She has lived her entire life in Livingston, and will finally get out of Texas for the first time for her honeymoon in Louisiana. When I was her age, I had been to Montana and Niagara Falls in the U.S., the Canadian Rockies and Montreal in Canada, and Paris, France. I knew that there was more to the world than Bridgeport, Michigan. It struck me as sad that this girl's entire world view was Livingston -- a nice place for me to call my "domicile," but a small town by almost any yardstick.

Livingston's best shopping opportunity is Walmart. I know some of you have a problem with Walmart for putting "Mom and Pops" out of business, but here in Livingston it is the only place a lot of things can be purchased.

Livingston has no Target or Best Buy, no major grocery stores typical to the East, no Staples or OfficeMax, no Barnes and Nobles or Borders, and just a single movie theater with a single screen. No Trader Joes, no Cold Stone Creamery, no outfitters of any type, not even a mall. It doesn't look like they have ever had them, or anything close.

However, it is summer year round in Livingston. I asked the same girl if she had ever seen snow, and she said no. I also asked a 48 year old the same question, and she said once -- and then told me how much the thought of driving in it had terrified her. Tomorrow a cold front is going to drop the highs to somewhere in the 60s, but they should be back up in the 80s in a day or two.

Despite the low-key atmosphere, I plan to stay here for a short time while I relax and recover from the rather frenetic pace I've kept up since I went full time. It is great to be in shorts and shades when the snow is falling in Michigan!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Settled in Livingston

I'm now in Livingston, Texas, where I plan to be for a couple weeks. During this time, I'm going to do all those things I need to do to officially change my domicile to Texas.

What I learned on my way here is that there are a lot of pickup trucks in Texas, and some people put their dogs, unsecured, in the bed of the truck. I saw one dog standing on the tool box so he was actually higher than the top of the truck's bed, and another slipping around in the truck's bed with the tailgate down. Either could have bounced out of the truck, and the trucks were going 70 miles per hour. All I can say is, "Doggone!"

There is a lot to do at the campground -- a daily social hour, line dancing, bus trips to a nearby casino, bingo, and jam sessions, just to name a few. The weather has been lovely -- highs around 80 degrees. The weather forecast is calling for a cold spell for the next two days, however -- the highs will only be 68 degrees ... so how come I'm not feeling sympathy waves flowing in my direction?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Square States

Location: Texarkana, TX (but just barely -- I can almost see Arkansas from here)

I spent today crossing Arkansas, which is almost a square state. It was pretty much the same as crossing Kansas, an even squarer state, except it lacked the excitement of seeing all that corn.