I Died Last Friday; Give Me A Call

I'm not sure the difference between a New York minute and an Arkansas or Texas or any other minute since they are all 60 seconds, but I've always heard your life can change in a New York minute. I now understand and believe. You see, Friday morning,  12/17/10, at the ripe young age of 60, I was just fine one minute and dead the next. It's kind of a long story, but what the hell, I've got the time if you do.

My daughter is a very good little girl; now 12-years-old, her teachers have always loved her, and she has never gotten in trouble at school. At least not until that week. On 12/15, she was taking a test. Everyone's books were on their desk and one of the questions indicated "Using a phrase from your book to prove your answer..." Not understanding she was supposed to only use memory, Katie opened her book to get a phrase and the class tattle-tell of course ran to the teacher and told her Katie was cheating. Katie had to go tell the principal and we had to have a parent/student/principal discussion the next day. But the next day was Thursday and we had to leave that afternoon to get to Little Rock for the wife's Master's Degree Graduation Ceremony and the principal wasn't available in the morning so the parent/Principal discussion would have to wait until Friday.

The grad ceremony went fine Thursday night, but at the point where the wife was finished and met us in the hallway downstairs is the point where I have lost all recollection. I don't remember driving us to IHOP to eat, driving us home, relatives staying over for the night, conversations or anything else. Having a heart attack and the resulting drugs administered by good doctors can and usually do have a wonderfully de-weighting effect of erasing the memories of pain, the total confusion of not really understanding what is happening or, even if you do understand, not being able to do anything about it. In my particular case, the loss of memory went back to 12 full hours before the actual heart attack; 12 hours I would like to have back as they were probably full of good conversation and happiness.

Friday morning (at least what I was told), I awoke and complained of slight chest pains and arm pains. My wife said it sounded to her like I was having a heart attack, but of course, being a rather normal guy, I poo-pooed the thought. Surprisingly though, I did take the 2 aspirin she offered and also let her drive me to the parent/principal meeting that morning, neither of which would be in any way normal for me to do. So the wife, since I wanted to handle this little nonsense myself, dropped us at the door of the school and found a parking spot. Inside the school, my daughter and I were sitting next to each other in the office, waiting on the principal to see us when, without making a sound, I simply slumped over onto her.  At this point, Katie started screaming for someone to come help her daddy and this set off a whole set of circumstances which would strain the credibility of a fiction writer.  Very possibly, if any one of these circumstances had not lined up so perfectly, my family would be casting my ashes into the wind now.  Outside, sitting in the car in the parking lot, the wife watched as police cars and an ambulance rolled up to the front doors of the school.

Lets go back a few years now, to when Ms. Teri was first hired as one of  only 2 school nurses for the 5 (now 6) Greenbrier schools. Much to her surprise, she found no defibrillators anywhere. After putting together voluminous studies indicating the need for one in each school and presenting it to the school board, the previous superintendent declared the cost to be too much and he would not approve purchasing even one. Convinced of the need, Ms. Teri, on her own, went to the individual PTO clubs for each school, made her presentation and convinced each of them to purchase one for their school. She took some grief from the school board for this "back-room dealing," but she placed these much needed machines in each building. Flash forward several years, with only two nurses for 6 school buildings, the odds of a roving nurse being in any one particular building is only 1 in 3.  And where was the very qualified Nurse Teri when I slumped over and my daughter screamed for help? She and one of her "back-door" defibrillators was in the nurse's office just a few feet away.  That machine and her knowledge were put to good use to get my heart started again after 3 - 4 minutes of death and to get me stabilized enough for the ambulance ride to the big town of Conway and the hospital about 20 miles away.

The emergency personnel at the hospital were top flight and it was a good thing because my heart stopped beating again as I was wheeled in. For the 2nd time, I was clinically dead. You may have seen scenes on TV where somebody is being wheeled in on a stretcher and a doctor is riding on top of the poor patient giving him CPR and medical people are running around yelling medical things and hollering "Stat!" Well, I was the one laying on that stretcher.

The doctor I spoke to later said he usually only uses the defibrillator 3, maybe 4 times before calling time of death. On the 4th try, I came back. Once again, I had stared the Grim Reaper in the face and spit in his eye! But it had been close. Very close.

From what I understand, I wasn't exactly the best patient. They cut off all of my clothes and I guess I didn't like that because I struggled and fought against them so much that I finally had to be tied down to the bed. I ended up with a tube down my throat, another one down my nose, another one up my manly part, 2 cardiovascular stints inserted up my thigh and into my heart, an oxygen mask, open IV lines for quickly dumping gallons of drugs into me, and many, many clips stuck to me for monitoring vitals. I couldn't do much once I was restrained and taped down except to bite through those tubes time after time.  I also bit clear through my lips in several places. Of course, I wasn't aware of any of this until days later and then I was very painfully aware of exactly what I had done to myself.

I stayed unconscious the rest of the day and night and the next day, the docs couldn't figure out why I was still under because the stints and drugs seemed to be working as they should. I stayed unconscious for a couple of more days and they kept me in the ICU. My wife was told to prepare for the worse because I might not make it and if I did, there was a very real possibility I would wake up only to lay there drooling for the rest of my life. They told her it was a miracle I was still alive because the kind of massive heart attack I had suffered, commonly called a "Widow Maker," was fatal 90 - 95% of the time and I had had two of them.

Finally, late Tuesday afternoon, 12/21/10, after being in a coma for almost 5 days, I opened my eyes, saw my wife standing there and wondered what the hell was going on. Why was she standing in what was obviously an ICU room? Wait a minute, why am I in this ICU bed looking like some half-man, half-machine freak? After tubes were removed from my throat and nose, I asked to see and speak to my youngest daughter, Katie. It was vitally important to me that she knows how much I love her and how proud of her I am. I remember leaning over to hug her and talking with her and then I don't remember much of the next several hours.

To those good people who came to visit me later that evening, I apologize because it was very confusing and almost impossible to make sense in my mind of what had happened to me. I'm not over-weight, in decent physical shape, just had a full physical less than 2 years ago which didn't show anything untoward. How could my body have turned on me like this? That afternoon, I was moved to a private room. It was interesting to see most of the doctors and nurses who had worked on me the first few days stick their heads into the room, explain who they were and what they had done on me and say they really were surprised to see me doing so well. I learned later that a couple of them had told my wife they would pray for us because they didn't have much hope for my survival and figured I had suffered some degree of brain damage even if I didn't die.

Now that I was awake, I wanted to go home. I wanted to spend Christmas with my wife and daughter. I was told to stay in bed to recover and get my strength back. I was told I couldn't go home until I could walk unaided. So I spent almost the whole night pulling myself out of bed and taking a few steps at a time, holding onto the side of the bed or a wall or a chair to keep me from collapsing on the floor. After each time, I fell back into bed, out of breath and exhausted. It was hard, it was painful, it was scary, but by the next morning, I could walk un-aided, (slowly, but still un-aided) to the bathroom about 6 steps away. Every doctor or nurse that came in, I kept asking, "Can I go home now?" "No," was always the reply, "you need to stay with us for 3 or 4 more days." And then when they left, I would go back to doing sit-ups in the bed or walking around the room, my portable IV unit always beside me like a faithful dog.

After 5 days of nothing but liquids, I was hungry. I kept asking for a cheeseburger, but was told no, no way. The next day, after a bunch of "swallow" tests, I was cleared to eat whatever I wanted. They were concerned I wouldn't be able to eat solid foods, but I surprised them again. I ate the bite of pudding the nurse gave me; I ate the bite of macaroni and cheese and I ate the cracker. I told the nurse I was very hungry and if she didn't get me some real food real soon, the next time she put something in my mouth, I couldn't be held responsible if I bit her finger. After proving I really could chew and eat and swallow, the hospital gave me some mashed potatoes, a couple of very soft vegetables and pudding. It wouldn't have filled up a baby. My darling wife went to a place a few blocks away and got me a cheeseburger & fries. She watched me like a hawk as I ate every bite. Not a fry was left and I didn't choke to death.

My doctor told me the staff was calling me their Christmas miracle. Just think about the odds I had beaten - with a fatality rate of 90 - 95%, out of 100 people who suffer a "Widow Maker" heart attack, only 5 - 10 will be alive afterwards. I had survived it twice. Tough or simply incredibly lucky? I still don't know the answer to that one.

After a lot of talking and pleading and walking up and down the halls in front of the staff,  slowly, but unaided, my doctor released me and I went home late Thursday, 12/23. I was still extremely weak and a bit unsteady on my feet, but I was home for Christmas Eve.  There were a few side-effects: Once I woke up, I didn't go back to sleep for about 28 hours and even now, 8 days after the first event, I haven't been able to sleep for more than 4 hours and then I'm awake for another 8 - 10 hours before going to sleep for a short time again. I'm thinking this is a factor of all the drugs I'm taking, about 15 pills a day now. At first I was concerned it was because I was subconsciously afraid to go to sleep for fear of dying, but now I don't think so.  I also seem to have some slight short-term memory problems with words. Occasionally, a word that used to just naturally roll off my tongue, I have to think about for a few seconds and sometimes it just won't come to me at all. We'll see if that too is from the drugs or if that will get better as time goes on. I'm hoping it's not permanent, but if it is, well, that's a small price to pay for getting a 2nd chance at life!

I seem to be doing pretty good. I'm getting stronger every day - I'm not ready for a marathon yet, but I can walk around the house without having to stop for a rest. I have an appointment with my heart doc 01/06 and he'll make a determination if I can go back to work.

I'm still trying to figure out what to make of this in my life. How will I change? How will my life change? For now, I'm going to bed and try to get some sleep. I'll figure the rest out tomorrow. Or the next day.

Hitting The Road

There is still an America out there, begging to be driven, begging to be found. Have the interstates, the price of gas and the rush of our daily lives sucked the romance out of road trips? Has the compulsion to see what's around the next bend or over the next rise been killed? Are road trips now just a relic of days gone by? Sadly, for most people, I think so.

But not for all of us. Most people like the idea of a road trip; rolling down the byways just to see what's out there, but few actually do it. I sometimes look on a map and pick out a place that catches my fancy because of its name - Fly, Tenessee; Ben Hur, Arkansas; Happy, Texas - and plot a course from here to there, taking only the 2-lane blacktop roads. I want to see country not infested with dozens of fast food places, large office buildings and traffic backed up at traffic lights. I want to be in towns where you park on the street on the town square a few feet from the front door of the business. I want to see old men sitting on benches in a park and talk to them for a while, finding where to eat the best bar-b-que and the best pies this side of heaven and yes, I'll tell Alice hi for you when she serves me. I don't mind getting stuck behind the occasional tractor using the same road I am. I want to go to places between nowhere and never heard of.

Invariably, when I tell someone I've just returned from a road trip, they ask, "Where'd you go?" And I'm stuck on how to answer, how to tell the story. They seem confused if I tell them my destination wasn't Dallas or Memphis or New York City or some other large or at least well-known spot. They don't seem to understand it's not where you went, it's what happened on the way. It's about contentment with the land you are driving through, listening to good music and loudly singing along sounding good only to yourself, thinking about your life and the choices you made (both good and bad), wondering whatever happened to old flames, and planning what you will do when you hit the lottery.

It's the joy of running into Mabel, the 88-year-old lady who still single-handedly runs the old wooden-floored convenience store on Route 66 in Oklahoma that she and her husband built "back in the day" and the house next door where they lived, loved, and raised 6 children and getting her autograph on a bottle of Route 66 root beer I bought from her. She put down her cigarette long enough to find a felt pen and sign it. Nobody was, by God, going to tell her she couldn't smoke in her own damn store. It saddened me greatly when 2 years later, I heard she had recently died and the store was closed. I'm glad I stopped. Now, when I think of the word "feisty," she is my mental image.

It's the fun of the cute small-town girl who served me a delicious bar-b-que sandwich plate in some forgotten spot along the road (hand-painted on the front window - "Almost World Famous!") with the top two buttons of her blouse undone, leaning over and smiling big as she took my order, obviously working me for a big tip. I left a $20 bill for a $9 tab and didn't mind.

When I see a map of the United States, I don't want to just see boundaries and squiggly road lines. I want my mind to see mountains and rivers and forests and wide open spaces and the 2-mile stretch of blacktop in west Texas where I encountered thousands of tarantula's crossing the road en mass one evening, my car exploding their little hairy bodies as I drove onward in pursuit of the horizon. I want to look at that map and think that's where Mabel lived and that's where cute b-b-q girl lives.

So many places, so much road. Always another bend to go around, another rise to drive over. And so very little time.

Pearl Harbor Day

Saturday, December 6, 1941 - Washington D.C. - U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt makes a final appeal to the Emperor of Japan for peace. There is no reply. Late this same day, the U.S. code-breaking service begins intercepting a 14-part Japanese message and deciphers the first 13 parts, passing them on to the President and Secretary of State. The Americans believe a Japanese attack is imminent, most likely somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Sunday, December 7, 1941 - Washington D.C. - The last part of the Japanese message, stating that diplomatic relations with the U.S. are to be broken off, reaches Washington in the morning and is decoded at approximately 9 a.m. About an hour later, another Japanese message is intercepted. It instructs the Japanese embassy to deliver the main message to the Americans at 1 p.m. The Americans realize this time corresponds with early morning time in Pearl Harbor, which is several hours behind. The U.S. War Department then sends out an alert but uses a commercial telegraph because radio contact with Hawaii is temporarily broken. Delays prevent the alert from arriving at headquarters in Oahu until noontime (Hawaii time) four hours after the attack has already begun.

Islands of Hawaii, near Oahu - The Japanese attack force under the command of Admiral Nagumo, consisting of six carriers with 423 planes, is about to attack. At 6 a.m., the first attack wave of 183 Japanese planes takes off from the carriers located 230 miles north of Oahu and heads for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor - At 7:02 a.m., two Army operators at Oahu's northern shore radar station detect the Japanese air attack approaching and contact a junior officer who disregards their reports, thinking they are American B-17 planes which are expected in from the U.S. west coast.

Near Oahu - At 7:15 a.m., a second attack wave of 167 planes takes off from the Japanese carriers and heads for Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor is not on a state on high alert. Senior commanders have concluded, based on available intelligence, there is no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Aircraft are therefore left parked wingtip to wingtip on airfields, anti-aircraft guns are unmanned with many ammunition boxes kept locked in accordance with peacetime regulations. There are also no torpedo nets protecting the fleet anchorage. And since it is Sunday morning, many officers and crewmen are leisurely ashore.

At 7:53 a.m., the first Japanese assault wave, with 51 'Val' dive bombers, 40 'Kate' torpedo bombers, 50 high level bombers and 43 'Zero' fighters, commences the attack with flight commander, Mitsuo Fuchida, sounding the battle cry: "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!).

The Americans are taken completely by surprise. The first attack wave targets airfields and battleships. The second wave targets other ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasts until 9:45 a.m. Eight battleships are damaged, with five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels are lost along with 188 aircraft. The Japanese lose 27 planes and five midget submarines which attempted to penetrate the inner harbor and launch torpedoes.

Escaping damage from the attack are the prime targets, the three U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, Lexington, Enterprise and Saratoga, which were not in the port. Also escaping damage are the base fuel tanks.

The casualty list includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, with 1,178 wounded. Included are 1,104 men aboard the Battleship USS Arizona killed after a 1,760-pound air bomb penetrated into the forward magazine causing catastrophic explosions.

In Washington, various delays prevent the Japanese diplomats from presenting their war message to Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, until 2:30 p.m. (Washington time) just as the first reports of the air raid at Pearl Harbor are being read by Hull.

News of the "sneak attack" is broadcast to the American public via radio bulletins, with many popular Sunday afternoon entertainment programs being interrupted. The news sends a shockwave across the nation and results in a tremendous influx of young volunteers into the U.S. armed forces. The attack also unites the nation behind the President and effectively ends isolationist sentiment in the country.

Monday, December 8, 1941 - The United States and Britain declare war on Japan with President Roosevelt calling December 7, "a date which will live in infamy..."

Thursday, December 11, 1941 - Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. The European and Southeast Asian wars have now become a global conflict with the Axis powers; Japan, Germany and Italy, united against America, Britain, France, and their Allies. Before World War II is over, more than 60 million people will lose their lives.

Most people are not aware that there are still hundreds of service men killed in the attack that are unidentified. Even now, 69 years later, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command continues to identify recovered remains from Pearl Harbor. On the USS Oklahoma alone, 426 sailors and marines were killed, but only 36 bodies have been positively identified. On June 11, 2010, they were finally able to identify one more, Navy Fireman 3rd class Gerald Lehman of Hancock, MI. His remains have been exhumed from his grave in the National Cemetery of the Pacific where it was marked simply as "Unknown" and reburied in his home town next to the graves of family members. This young man finally found his way home.


Sunsets


Along the Arkansas River
I like pretty sunsets - a lot. I have a number of sunset pictures - ok, I have a lot of sunset pictures. Beautiful sunsets are a perfect way to end the day. They always calm me, make me introspective.

Some of the most awesome I have ever seen were in the middle of the ocean. For 3 years I served on an aircraft carrier and I would often make it a point to come up to the hanger bay or on the flight deck to see what kind of sunset we were having. Red sky at night, sailor's delight. I would often just sit there and watch until it got dark - listening to the underway noises and feeling the vibrations of this colossal war machine I called home, the slapping of waves on her hull, surrounded by nothing, but thousands of miles of blue Pacific ocean, watching that fireball in the sky going down, looking for all the world like it was slowly settling beneath the waves and in its last act of defiance, turning the sky into brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. And there, living with 5,000 other guys on the most destructive piece of equipment the world has ever seen, within a stone's throw of nuclear bombs, thousands of miles from home and loved ones, for at least a few minutes, I would be at peace.

At my home in Texas
Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia



My back yard

Mt. Magazine in Arkansas



Today

Today, on this day of Thanksgiving, I will succumb to the temptation to overindulge of the bounty that will be placed before me. I will not go to work, clean the house, do the laundry or pull weeds out of the flower bed. I will sit my butt in my proper place at the end of the couch in front of the TV and, along with the other male members of my family and the lone female football fan in the family, cheer loudly and quietly hurl invectives (if there are no children in the room) when my Texas Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys deserve it.

I will occasionally wander into the kitchen and dining room where the women folk congregate and nibble on whatever food items remain after the big chow down. I will not limit myself to one piece of pecan pie covered in whipped cream. I will take at least a 30-minute nap on the couch if it is quiet enough, or sneak off to a bedroom. Woe be any child who wakes me.

Late this evening, I will retire for the night, bloated and sluggish, murmuring how I shouldn't have eaten that last piece of pie. I will feel no guilt. And I will be thankful for the many, many blessings I have been given, especially the ones I will enjoy today.
 

Dentist

I went to the dentist today. I hate going to the dentist. Let me say that again - I hate going to the dentist. Today was just a normal scheduled checkup and cleaning, but I hate it just the same. People looking into my mouth and talking over my head like I'm not there; the scraping noise; the poking under the gums; feeling like I'm being water-boarded because that little vacuum tube never sucks up all of the water they spray; and always the dentist coming in after the hygienist is finished torturing me to poke around with his little pick and sagely murmur, "Hmm. Umm hmm" like all of my teeth are on the verge of crumbling just one hour from now and I'm damn lucky to have come in so he can save me.

Today, when the hygienist retrieved me from the waiting room for the dead man walking to her torture chamber, I couldn't help but notice how cute she was; a veritable piece of female art. Hey, I'm a man, I notice these things. My morose thoughts immediately perked up. But after a few perfunctory questions; do I have AIDS (for her safety), have I had a heart attack (for my safety presumably), she slipped on a mask and with her chosen implement of destruction, a metal, silver-colored, sharp-pointed pick thingy in hand, said those words that will cause the strongest of men to shake - "Open wide."

My mouth was assaulted; it was attacked; it was brutalized. I have no doubt, in that girl's mind, plaque is the scourge of the world and she was born to eradicate every trace of it. I lost track of time. Every minute was an hour. She enjoyed her work - a lot. I freely gave my name, rank, and serial number. I gave my banking information, my social security number, credit card numbers and any other information she wanted until finally and oh so mercifully, it was over. With a tight little smile, she leaned back from my prone quivering body and pronounced, "There. All clean now." They should turn her loose on those demented terrorist. They'd be screaming for mercy and we'd be bringing our troops home the next day.

I left with another appointment in six months. I didn't want to, but I was afraid not to. Between now and then, I'll be brushing 3 or 4 times every day; I'll floss every morning and night; I'll walk around with a mouthful of plaque fighting mouthwash. When I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, I think I'll brush my teeth again on the way back to the bed. Stay away from my mouth you plaque-fighting super hero. No plaque here, no ma'am.
 

Postcard From Big Bend National Park, Texas


Big Bend is one of my very favorite national parks. Rugged, sparse, unforgiving land, but in it's way, very beautiful. And if you want isolation, this is where you should head. Located in the far southwest corner of Texas, there are relatively few people, no big cities, no interstate highways and no airports, but lots of clean air and solitude. It takes a while to get there on the 2-lane blacktop roads and in the off-season, you can drive for an hour without seeing another car. Its 801,000 acres is the least visited of all the national parks.

A former Texas state park, it became a national park in 1944 and was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1972. It is a place that merges natural environments, from desert to mountains. The Indians said that after making the Earth, the Great Spirit simply dumped all the leftover rocks on the Big Bend. Spanish explorers dubbed this "the uninhabited land."

To really enjoy your visit, I suggest you get off the paved roads and onto the dirt roads that criss-cross the park. Better yet, hike the trails and even venture off a ways from them. If you do though, take plenty of water, food, proper clothing, and, perhaps most important, a portable GPS so you can find your way back. Don't count on your cell phone as there most likely will be no service. Don't forget your camera; you will find beauty and a bounty of unexpected photo opportunities.

118 miles of The Rio Grand River form the
southern boundary.
On the western side of the park are the former ghost towns of Terlingua and Study Butte. The towns began to be repopulated by loners and hard rock miners, then hippies, and finally artists, poets, musicians, and then folks who just plain wanted to get away from the big cities started to arrive and rebuild the abandoned adobe and rock structures. There are now several motels, a few eateries, several gas stations, internet service and a lot of real-life characters.

To be honest, I selfishly hesitated to say anything about this park. I didn't want to help spread the word and increase the flow of tourist. But it's not as if I have hundreds of thousands of people reading this so I think there is little chance of my words having any kind of impact. If you do make it to "my" special park, do me and yourself a favor - slow way down, take your time, get off the roads followed by the tourist who only stop along the way long enough to take a snapshot or two so they can say they've been there. They haven't. To do that with this park is the same as looking at a picture of a beautiful girl and claiming you know her.

Just a short distance from the road, it's a
different world.
 


 

Postcard From Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde
I'm a huge fan of the national park system and visit them every chance I get. If you haven't taken the opportunity to visit them whenever possible, I think you are missing out on one of the best things about America. For more information, go to http://www.nps.gov/.

About 1,450 years ago, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde (in the southwest corner of Colorado) for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away, disappearing from history. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.

Mesa Verde cliff dwellings
The first Ancestral Puebloans settled in Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) about A.D. 550. Formerly nomadic, they were beginning to lead a more settled way of life. Farming replaced hunting and gathering as their main livelihood. They lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops but sometimes in cliff recesses. By A.D. 1000 the people of Mesa Verde had advanced from pole-and-adobe construction to skillful stone masonry. Walls of thick stone often rose two or three stories high and were joined together into units of 50 rooms or more. Farming accounted for more of their diet than before, and much mesa-top land was cleared for agriculture.

About A.D. 1200, another major population shift saw the people move from the mesa tops back into the cliff alcoves that sheltered their ancestors centuries before. Why did they make this move? We don’t know. Perhaps it was for defense; perhaps it was for religious or psychological reasons; perhaps alcoves offered better protection from the elements. Whatever the reason or reasons, it gave rise to the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is most famous. Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about A.D. 1300, Mesa Verde was deserted.

Ever since local cowboys first reported the cliff dwellings in the 1880s, archeologists have sought to understand these people’s lives. But despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison, scientific knowledge remains sketchy. We will never know the whole story: they left no written records and much that was important in their lives has perished. Yet for all their silence, these structures speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. The structures are evidence of a society that, over centuries, accumulated skills and traditions and passed them on from generation to generation. So what happened to them? Why, in such a short period of time, did they leave the home they had known for 700 years? Perhaps we'll never know.

Fishy Tale - Part Deaux

I kept expecting to look in the pond one day and find one or both of the goldfish floating belly up, but to not find them anywhere was a bit of a surprise. There were a lot of critters in the woods by our house - raccoons, opossums, armadillos, coyotes, and although we never saw any, we kept hearing stories of one or more bobcats running around, so I thought maybe one of those guys had a goldfish dinner. I had built a little cave at the bottom of the pond with four decent sized rocks so to make sure they weren't dead and caught in "the cave," I reached in and removed the top rock. As soon as I did, Goldie came out swimming around like crazy. Now I know fish aren't exactly known for their high-powered brains, but I swear, that fish was acting very scared and looking for another place to hide. After checking under the rocks and all around for whats-his-name to no avail, I rebuilt the little rock cave and Goldie immediately swam back into it and stayed there. The only thing I could figure was that indeed, a critter had managed to snag himself a golden snack and Goldie had been smart or lucky enough to hide.

By the next day, Goldie was back to being herself again. I don't know how long a fish can remember something, but evidently not very long. She lived by herself for a couple more months and didn't seem to miss her buddy.

We used to ocassionaly tie up our dog on a long leash to a post on the patio if the weather was good and we were going to be gone for just a couple of hours. Little did we know that would lead to a freak accident that spelled the end of Goldie. We returned home one day from somewhere, out to dinner or shopping probably, and found Dottie had evidently walked around the pond and somehow had gotten her leash under one of those rocks surrounding the lip of the pond and managed to knock it into the water. Once again, I looked and found no trace of Goldie. Thinking she was hiding in the cave again, I reached in to remove the errant rock the dog had knocked in. And when I lifted it, up came poor Goldie, squashed. Rock 1 - Goldie 0. Another proper burial was conducted. And this time I actually felt kind of bad. After all she had lived through, she had proven to be a heck of a fighter and I admired her for it. Rest in peace, Goldie.

So what does this have to do with now? After all, that was about 6 years ago and we've moved to another home in a different state during that time. Well, guess who came home from the church Halloween carnival the other night with another plastic bag of water and a goldfish? Sometimes being a parent takes all the patience you can muster and that was one of those times. My first thought was to take that bag of water, fish and all, run back up to the church and do a very un-Christian thing with it to the guy who gave it to my daughter. But she still has those big beautiful eyes (my youngest daughter, not the fish) that look into mine and the words that come out of my mouth are, "OK I guess, but you will be responsible for feeding it everyday and cleaning out the tank." Like that's really going to happen for very long. "But Daddy, we don't have a home for Goldie Too."

So to the pet store we went. And now, one "free" fish and $30 later, we have a fish tank, with gravel and a filter and about two years of fish food - and we have 2 goldfish; Goldie Too and Sammy. Can't have Goldie Too getting lonely. But one thing I can assure you - I will not be spending $200 and a weekend of hard labor constructing a pond in our back yard to house them. Really.

I have to wrap this up now. My wife and youngest daughter said they want to talk to me about something they've been discussing; something about they love me and "the back yard?" "Be right there, girls!"
 

Fishy Tale - Part One

Several years ago, the wife decided a spot of yard just off our back patio would be perfect for a pond. Just  a small pond with a waterfall, water lilies and a few flowers around it. Knowing the work that would be in store for me, I voted against it. Unfortunately, I was outvoted 1 to 1. I'm still not sure how that works, but it always does. So off to the garden store she went while I stayed home digging a hole in my manicured yard. She returned with one of those black plastic tubs and all the other items we just had to have, including a few things I wasn't aware we had to have until she saw them in the store. Of course the little tub she went to get turned out to be bigger than the hole I had dug. Silly me. What was I thinking digging a hole just big enough to hold the tub we had agreed on. Since it was my fault the tub she brought back was bigger than the hole, I had to pay for my mistake by digging a hole around the first hole while she did all of the hard work of supervising to ensure I didn't screw up again.

After everything was set up and put in place, it actually was rather nice - the soothing sound of the water trickling down the rocks into the pond of Waterlilies. And with the rocks stacked just so around the lip of the plastic tub holding the water, it looked natural enough to fool the eyes.

Let's go back in time now; several months back in time to the day the wife and youngest daughter came home from a carnival where said daughter won a goldfish and brought it home in a plastic baggie. Since youngest daughter was only about 4 years old and had already become very attached to this fish, what was I to do after looking into those big, beautiful pleading eyes but head to the pet store to buy an appropriate home for her pet. Not knowing the first thing about keeping a fish indoors, I returned with an instruction manual, bowl, gravel, water purification, and what turned out to be about a two year supply of food. And, of course, another goldfish so the first one wouldn't be lonely. After carefully following directions, the two newest members of our family were happily swimming around.

Several days later, those nasty little swimmers were living in water so murky you could barely see them. After changing the water a little at a time over several weeks, I guess they gave up on being properly cared for and went to that big lake in the sky. Youngest daughter was devastated. A proper burial ensued. Shortly thereafter, a rather large fish tank was acquired at a garage sale. Off to the pet store Daddy did go. More gravel, a large filter, a heater, aquarium plants, a glass cleaning cloth, a net, a sucker fish and 6 neons returned. Youngest daughter was happy again. At least until a few weeks later when the neons started dying off one by one. Evidently the sucker fish and the last remaining neon had a suicide pact as they both gave up the ghost on the same day.

I was ready to pack it in. I was tired of the tank cleaning, the dying fish and the constant hum of the filter. And the cost of that "free" fish was higher and higher. But no, youngest daughter wanted more fish and this time she wanted a goldfish like the first one. Two came home from the pet store where I was now being called by my first name by all the sales associates as I walked in the door. Youngest daughter was happy and named them Goldie and something else I can't remember.

And this brings us back to the pond. Shortly after the pond was in place, the filter in the fish tank quit. The tank was dirty yet again, and had developed a slow leak. I was not spending any more money on a damn fish and was not at all inclined to clean another fish tank. In a moment of pure genius, I managed to convince youngest daughter that Goldie and that other fish would like it better in the new pond. Neither of them were looking very healthy and I figured they would only last a couple of days, but into the pond they went and into the trash that leaking aquarium went. I was right about the one with the forgettable name. A couple of days later I came home from work to find him floating belly up. Not wanting to go through youngest daughter's accusations that the move into the pond killed her fish, I made another quick trip to the pet store and procured another goldfish which, to my eyes, looked just like the dead one. Youngest daughter wasn't exactly fooled as the next time she looked, she commented that the forgotten name one looks different. "Well, maybe he looks different because he's getting healthy and growing," I replied. Sweet, innocent, trusting child she is, she bought it. I felt guilty. Very guilty. Just not guilty enough to fess up and tell her the truth.

Well surprise, surprise, those two fish seemed to thrive in that pond. Goldie got her bright gold color back and enthusiastically swam around. The stand-in fish did fine. But then that winter, there came a freeze and the pond froze over for several days. After the thaw, I steeled myself for youngest daughter's anguished cries and went out to get the now dead fish. But they weren't dead! I found them at the bottom of the pond, moving very slowly as I'm sure they were half froze, but still very alive. And alive they stayed for several years. They got bigger and survived several winters with no heater. When the pond got low on water in the heat and drought of the summer months, I just put more water in straight from the outside hose. No water purification, no filter, no cleaning, just the water lilies and the algae that grew on a couple of rocks at the bottom and the occasional pinches of fish flake food when we remembered. Pets that don't take much effort are my kind of pets. I started kind of liking Goldie and what's his name.

And then one afternoon I came home and there were no fish in the pond.
(To be continued)

Norman Rockwell


Norman Rockwell came to our little corner of Arkansas last Saturday. Not the guy, of course, seeing as how he died in 1978, but the idea of small town American life. Our little neighborhood, at the foot of heavily wooded Horseshoe Mountain, surrounded by cows and horses grazing the open fields, held our first annual fall festival. It sounds way too sugary sweet for my taste, but I have to admit, I rather enjoyed it.

Every house except one (there's always one in every neighborhood) had some kind of activity for the kids. Since each home sits on at least 3 acres of land, the best way of getting from house to house was, of course, a hayride.

After meeting up at the designated house, the kids took their seats and were ferried (with several neighborhood dogs chasing after) from activity to activity. There was Haloween mucsical chairs, target shooting (against a metal wall with rubber suction cup "bullets"), football toss, relay games, a corn maze, bobbing for apples, face painting, crazy hair color spraying, cookie and cupcake decorating, and pumpkin toss just to name a few.

The parents mostly visited with each other, talking about work, the weather, the kids, new trucks, and football. But when we got to the "pumpkin toss," once each child had their turn and we still had a sack full of baby pumpkins, the adults took over that game. It wasn't just throwing a little pumpkin by hand to see who's went farther. This was a big-boy toy! A heavy-duty slingshot had been set up with metal poles anchored in the ground and several targets were set up about 75 yards away. Now what guy could resist this? The kids wanted to do it again, but we gave them candy and said, "Sorry, but the only pumpkins left are the adult's pumpkins. Why don't you kids go play out there in the field for a while? Yeah, out there by the targets would be good."  Unfortunately, it seems our kids are a little too smart to fall for that, but the grownups, including most of the moms, had a lot of fun anyway. Amazing how far and high you can shoot a little pumpkin with the right equipment!

By the time we arrived back at the starting point several hours later for the weinie roast and S'mores, the kids were definitely on a sugar high and the parents were ready to relax around the campfire for a while.

Mr. Rockwell would have been proud.



Alone

Sometimes I need to get away. By myself. Alone.
Its not that I don't love my family. My friends.
I just need to get away from the world.
Away from stress. From pressure. From the weight.
To sit in my church. To think. To be.
No people. Just nature. Beauty. Peace.
The world the way it should be.
So I can come back to the world the way it is.



Baby Girl

Youngest-daughter is growing up. She's reached the age where, at least in public in front of her friends, she's a bit embarrassed for her dad to give her a hug and kiss. It makes me sad. It wasn't long ago she didn't care who saw her give her old man a hug. She said I love you all of the time. When I came home, her eyes would smile and she would come running to greet me, wrapping her arms around my knees and, as she grew taller, around my waist. I miss those days.

It won't be long until she starts wanting to date some nasty little pig of a boy. My nightmare coming true. I know I'm over-protective, but don't really care. When she was young, we had a tree swing and her mom would push her higher and higher. I couldn't watch. All I could see was my baby girl falling and breaking an arm or hitting her head. A couple of times when her mom couldn't do it, I've had to take her to the dentist for teeth cleaning and it was ridiculously hard on me. I can't watch. And with every little squirm or slight moan of uncomfortableness, I wanted to shout, "That's enough!" and get her out of there. A doctor giving her a shot? Forget about it. Years ago, after it took everything I had to keep from bopping a nurse when a shot made my baby cry, the wife has always had the doctor duty.

I plan to keep my baby girl as safe as possible when it comes to little piggy boys. I know what is on their minds - I was a little piggy boy myself. So when they come to pick her up, I have no hesitation in greeting them with a big knife in my hand, slowly sharpening it while I tell them they are going out with my baby girl and how much I cherish her and they best not get any little piggy ideas in their head. And I'll be waiting up for her return, watching what happens on the front porch and turning on the light at the wrong time (in my opinion the right time!). And if it embarrasses her, oh well. She can tell it to her therapist on down the line.

She may be getting older, but to me, no matter how old she is, I will always see her as my sweet, loving, innocent, gapped-tooth baby girl.
 

I Saw A Man Die Today

I had to run into town yesterday and on the way back I passed a bad car accident. It reminded me of a fatal accident I saw a while back. It really depressed me and I still think of it to this day. I'm aware of it every time I get into the car. You wake up one morning, all is fine and you have no idea that today will be the last day of your life.

I used to write and publish a newsletter, back before the time of blogs, and I wrote about the accident I saw and the feelings I had. Seeing this recent accident, although it didn't appear to be the end of someone, it reminded me of the little piece I wrote and I thought I would share it. Let's be careful out there.

I saw a man die today. I was coming home from a long, frustrating day at work. On the freeway, the traffic was heavy, but moving. Then the cars in front of me stopped. “Damn,” I said to no one but myself, “some stupid idiot ran into the back of someone, I bet. How long is this going to take before I get home?”

Then a police car came roaring by me on the shoulder, and another, and then a motorcycle cop, all with their siren’s blaring. Then came a different sound, the wail of an ambulance. “Uh oh,” I thought, “somebody must be hurt in this one.” I noticed more police had blocked off the freeway behind me, forcing all the cars to take the exit I had just passed, not a good sign. Then radio and TV helicopters were buzzing overhead, so many that I expected them to run into each other. I watched, but somehow they didn’t.

Finally, we started moving again, slowly, in fits and starts. Then it was my turn to proceed past the accident, on the freeway shoulder, the only avenue of escape. They were loading a sheet-covered body into the ambulance as I passed. I saw a shoe lying on the road, a leather glove, a motorcycle helmet, along with other unidentifiable debris. A motorcycle was crushed under the back wheels of an 18-wheeler.

The victim was probably going home from a long, frustrating day at work just like me. Does he have a wife; children waiting for Daddy to come home? For their sake, I hoped not. If he did, I wonder if he told them he loved them and gave them a hug before walking out the door this morning - a morning that on the face of it was just like any of the other hundreds of work days. He wouldn't have had any idea today would be so different. I wasn’t frustrated any more, ashamed of my first thoughts, and very sad. I may be late, but I’ll be home soon. He never will be.
 

Spooky Time Coming

At the Pumpkin Patch - choices, choices!
Halloween is coming soon; a pretty big occasion around our house. The first order of business is to climb up into the attic and haul down the house decorations. Over the years, the wife and Youngest-daughter have insured the Halloween store in town comes back every year. Box after box after box of stuff. We have blood on the windows, crime scene tape to hang on the house, skeletons rising from their graves in our front yard, and flying witches to name a few. And that's just on the outside of the house.

A couple of years ago we made the mistake of putting up the crime scene tape and the fake blood in the windows and retired for the evening before putting out the rest of the decorations. The next day we had neighbors coming over asking what terrible crime had occurred at our house!

The wife, bless her, did most of the work this year. She got big points for that. It's only fair though since she gets into the spirit of things as much as Youngest-daughter, which is more enthusiasm than I can work up for this particular task. She loves the decorating while my favorite part is getting costumed up and going out trick-or-treating with Youngest-daughter.


Pumpkin selected.
Next up is the task of going to the "Pumpkin Patch" just outside of town to pick out the pumpkins we'll inflict mortal damage to. Youngest-daughter gets to pick the largest one and the wife picks a big one and usually numerous small pumpkins and gourds also. The owners like to see us coming.

And then the "fun" begins. And the part I really dislike. We have numerous patterns to help carve faces, spiders, witches, and other ghoulish things into the pumpkins so once we get past the choosing of what we want to carve, it's not that difficult. Well, not that difficult except for the gutting of the poor pumpkins. That is one of the foulest, most disgusting things I can think to do. Strings of slimy, smelly tendrils that you can never fully remove with any implement except your fingers. Disgusting. And on top of that, the wife wants to save the seeds for roasting along with a handful for planting next year. Pumpkins must know I don't like them (the only good pumpkin is after its been made into pumpkin pie) as we've never been able to grow our own. Oh, the vines grow and sometimes they even make a couple of small, little baby pumpkins, but they never get big before dying or splitting. Just as well because I would probably feel bad about carving up a pet pumpkin.

I haven't been informed by the house activity director yet as to the day of the great pumpkin selection, but I know it's coming soon. The outside of our home has been decorated (the neighbors are accustomed to crime scene tape around the house now) and Halloween is just a couple of weeks away so it can't be far off. Poor pumpkins.

Barnes & Noble

I love Barnes & Noble bookstores. I've always loved reading and find a lot of things interesting so when I walk into a good library or a Barnes & Noble, a kind of excited peace infuses my soul. Surrounded by so many books on so many subjects, all is right in my little piece of the world. I wish I was a sponge and could just roll down the aisles soaking up all the words. I can spend hours and hours there in perfect contentment. Sometimes I bring my laptop with me so I can look up stuff I find interesting in the books and magazines, bookmarking sites to come back to later. A cup or two of Starbucks coffee, a piece of chocolate or strawberry swirl cheesecake, a selection of books and magazines around me, an internet connection, and I'm a happy camper. High maintenance I am not.

Fortunately, my wife and youngest daughter enjoy doing this also and it has become an unofficial ritual we do every 4 - 6 weeks. There's an Olive Garden across the street from our nearest Barnes & Noble so on a Saturday afternoon, we supper at Olive Garden then head to the bookstore for about 3 hours. The only challenge is seating (I consider it a sport actually). There are several electrical outlets in the Starbucks seating area, but they are all located on one wall behind 4 tables which, of course, means those tables are a premium for folks like my wife and youngest daughter who almost always bring their laptops. For me, usually sans laptop, it's still a primo spot because they face outward toward the store, making them perfect people watching perches, another activity I enjoy. So the first thing we do is head over to the tables to snag one of the electrical outlets. If they are occupied, we stake our claim on the nearest available table. We then take turns browsing the aisles, always leaving at least one of us to keep watch on the wall tables. That way, when someone abandons one of those coveted spots, we pounce and homestead it for the duration. I'm still fairly quick so usually there's no problem beating out the other people waiting on a wall table. Well, there was this one time when an old woman in a wheelchair came rolling by me just as a table opened up. The nice guy in me waited for her to get by because I thought she was just going down the aisle, but then that crafty she-devil made an abrupt turn and headed straight for the table. No problem. I just quickly stuck my foot out behind her and engaged the wheelchair brakes. Stopped her dead in her tracks and before she figured it out, I was sitting down at the wall table smiling at her.

Now don't go thinking we're a bunch of freeloaders getting our reading fix for free. In addition to the coffee and food we buy, we always end up purchasing numerous books and a few magazines or some other odds and ends. And then there's the B&N gift cards we give our book-loving friends and family members at Christmas and other occasions.  It's rare for us to get out of there without dropping a minimum of $50 - $100. I consider it a rather cheap, but fun family night out. There's a book bag I've seen in there with writing on the front that I really like - "I spend my money on books and if there's any left, I buy food and clothes." If it weren't for little things like my family and bills, that would be me.

And if you must know, that crafty old lady in the wheelchair cutting in front of me? Well, it didn't really happen. I made that up. Literary creative license. But I wouldn't say I wouldn't. It's a jungle out there, you know.
 

The Civil War Ended In Texas

Historians usually fail to mention it and Yankees don't believe it, but the fact is the last battle of the Civil War was fought in Texas and won by Confederate forces. It happened on May 13, 1865, exactly 34 days after the war supposedly came to an end.

Colonel John S. "Rip" Ford, a former Texas Ranger who, since 1861, had been in the Rio Grande Valley recruiting and commanding a volunteer force to keep the area in the hands of the South, had succeeded in keeping Brownsville an open port. Yankee forces had taken Brazos Island and blockaded or captured almost every other Confederate port, but never managed to capture Fort Brown or the port of Brownsville. In the spring of 1865, the Union troops, numbering about 2,000 on Brazos Island and about 600 Confederates in Fort Brown and around Brownsville had peacefully co-existed as both sides realized the southern cause was coming to an end. However, in late April, a Union change of command changed things.

Colonel Theodore H. Barrett of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry assumed control. Barrett had never led men in combat and he seems to have thirsted for a little battlefield glory before the war ended altogether. In the early hours of May 11, he ordered approximately 300 men, most from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry, to proceed from Brazos Island to White's Ranch, where he believed a contingent of Rebels were camped. Arriving at the ranch at 2:00 AM, May 12, they found the Confederates had left several days earlier. They burned the ranch and made camp close to Palmetto Ranch, about 1 1/2 miles away. About noon, they made contact with the handful of Rebels at the ranch, but nobody was hurt as the vastly outnumbered southerners made a strategic advance to the rear. A couple of Texans who were to sick enough to be bedridden were captured along with 4 head of cattle.

Soon afterwards, Colonel Ford arrived on the scene with 200 men and 6 cannon and immediately ordered an attack by 1/2 of his men on the left flank of the Federals. After one volley from the Rebels, the Yankees broke and stampeded in retreat. They reformed about 1/2 mile later though and began a counter attack. Once again, the Rebels fired a volley and this time, several of the cannon joined in. The Yankees stopped in their tracks as they weren't aware the Confederates had any cannon with them. Colonel Ford rode in front of his troops and shouted, "Men, we have whipped the enemy in all our previous fights and we can do it again!" His men responded with cheers and the Rebel yell and began their own counterattack, rushing forward and shooting at everything that moved. From that point on, the fight became a rout.

In their headlong run back to the safety of Brazos Island, the Yankees littered the road with dropped canteens, haversacks, and rifles. When the sun went down, a handful of them fired shots toward the following Confederates and both sides decided to retire for the night. The next morning, May 13, shots from the Rebels proded the Yankees to resume their retreat. Once they neared Brazos Island that evening, the 200 Confederates, knowing there were 1,700 Federals in reserve, backed off their attack and watched as the Yankees pushed and shoved each other trying to get into the skiffs that would take them across the water and to safety.

As darkness descended and the men settled in for the night, a Federal gunboat, the S.S. Isabella, which had entered the Rio Grande, lobbed a shell toward the Rebels. It landed harmlessly in a nearby field, but it angered a 17-year-old Rebel private who leaped to his feet and fired at the gunboat with his Enfield rifle. The last shot of the Civil War had been fired. (see Who Fired The First Shot of the Civil War.)

When the reports were filed, despite all of the shooting, only one man was killed; Union Army Private John Jefferson Williams, of Jay County, Indiana; the last battlefield death in the Civil War. Nine Yankees had been wounded and 103 officers and men captured, most of them from the 34th Indiana. On the Rebel side, there were "only 5 or 6 wounded" according to Colonel Ford. Even the 2 bedridden  Texans captured in the beginning stages of the battle were left behind by the retreating Yankees and found by their southern brothers. The Confederacy had the satisfaction of claiming victory in the last battle of the war.
 

England Day 10

Picture taken from our balcony our last
morning - sunrise over the River Thames.
Got up at 4:00 as we had to finish packing, get checked out of the hotel and be picked up by the car service at 5:15. While reviewing the invoice during check out, I discovered they had charged us for an extra night, plus they had added a 1 Pound charge 5 times for a contribution to "Make A Difference," a local charity. Company won't pay for that and it pissed me off they added it without asking so I had them take it off along with the erroneous extra night. They even charged 30 pence (about 48 cents American) for a room-to-room call one of the guys had made! I'm surprised they didn't add 50 pence every time somebody flushed a toilet. It was a nice hotel, but unless you are made of money, my advice would be to find somewhere other than The Compleat Angler in Marlow, UK.

At the airport, they checked our passports at the ticket counter. Then, they were checked again while waiting in line to get our passports checked (that made a lot of sense) plus we were asked a lot of questions about why we had been in the country, what we had done there, if we packed our own bags, etc. Next we got to the desk where they check your passport and they were checked again. I was in front of the wife and Youngest-daughter with our passports, the security guard checked all our passports and airline tickets, asked the same questions we had just been asked by the previous guard, and waved us on through. As I walked away, I heard him say, "Wait a minute." He evidently had glanced in the wife's handbag and saw a couple of apples she had brought as a snack. No fruit allowed. Now we all had to go to a security checkpoint where they checked our passports and all of our carry-on luggage. Threw away the apples. Walked for what seemed a mile to get to our gate. But before we could go in, we had to go through another security station where they checked our passports and again x-rayed our luggage. Youngest-daughter and I passed on through, but the wife got busted again - she had a bottle of water. How had nobody caught this before now? Had to wait again while they threw away the water and went through all of her luggage.


The big silver bird that will whisk us
back home.
After all the security checks, which I actually didn't mind all that much, we made it to the duty free shopping area and bought a couple of t-shirts. Can't go on a trip like that and not get a t-shirt! Arrived at the gate and only had to wait about 10 minutes before boarding.

A long flight, but fairly comfortable. Each seat had it's own individual screen with plenty of choices of movies, TV shows, and music videos to watch. You could also look at a screen which showed our position, speed, etc. And again we were fed 2 meals, snacks, and beverages.

Shortly before landing, I filled out the little card stating we were not bringing back over $600 worth of personal goods and nothing that would be commercially resold. The wife wanted to know what I was filling out so I handed it to her. Apparently unnerved by her recent security experience, she marked through the check I had placed next to "No" and checked that we were bringing back some food. We had a nice little chat which started with me saying, "Why in the world did you do that? They don't care that we have a couple of boxes of chocolate covered shortbread cookies!" Landed at O'Hare and had to go through security where they checked our passports again. As we were being waved through, once again I heard, "Wait a minute." Uh-oh. "You checked that you are bringing in food so you have to go over there in that other line and get your bags checked." Wonderful, just wonderful. After once again having our carry-on checked (they didn't care at all that we had a couple of sealed boxes of chocolate covered cookies), we had to retrieve our checked luggage, get to another terminal, check in our luggage and go through security again. Since the wife had been relieved of all her contraband, we all made it through OK this time. Good thing we breezed through because we barely made it to our gate in time.

Landed in Little Rock, Arkansas 5 minutes ahead of schedule. A bit weird to leave London at 7:00 AM, travel for 12 1/2 hours and arrive home at 1:30 PM. After retrieving "Little Black Dog" from the kennel, we pulled into our driveway a few minutes before 3:00. I made it until 7:00, when my body was screaming, "It's 1:00 AM fool and you've only had 4 hours of sleep in almost 2 days!" and passed out on the couch. Woke up at 8:30 only to crawl straight into bed and immediately crash again. So tired I slept all the way to 3:30! It's gonna take a couple of days to get the body clock right again, but we had survived another great adventure.
 

England Days 7, 8 & 9

The next 3 days were big for the wife and Youngest-daughter; for me, not so much. Some of the wife's English relatives came to pick them up Monday morning and they went to Windsor Castle and several other places I can't remember. Of course I worked all day. They were nice enough to wait on my return that evening and we all went out to eat. Wife and I had another bland hamburger and chips and Youngest-daughter had chicken strips, all for a mere $65. Those people should be drawn and quartered for charging such outrageous prices for such tasteless food. And it wasn't like we went to some posh, multi-star foo-foo place; we were in a friggin pub!

Tuesday was a worrisome day for me. Wife rented a car early that morning and drove with Youngest-daughter to some other relative's homes about 2 1/2 hours away in Stoke-on-Trent. Another big day for them as they visited the house where my wife's mom grew up, saw the places she told the wife about when she was a kid, met more relatives and looked at pictures of her young mom and grandparents. The wife is not known as a good driver even in America so I had visions of her causing a mass pile-up trying to drive safely on the wrong side of the road. Evidently the concentration required resulted in her being cautious and she made it safely. She spent the night there so I had the bed to myself after another evening of uninspiring expensive food with a large group of people from work.

As I indicated before, we had lunch brought in by the client's food vendor each day so we could continue to work through. Unfortunately, they served the same exact thing every day - weird little dry finger sandwiches (pimento cheese on wheat was the best; little tiny shrimp on white the worst) with no mayo or mustard, hard, dry corn chips and mild "hot" sauce. The first day it wasn't so bad; the 2nd it was ok, but by the 3rd, we were getting pretty tired of them. The 1st day almost all were eaten; the 2nd day a few were left, and the 3rd, only about 1/2 were eaten. On the 4th day, people started verbally protesting and on the 5th, very few were eaten and a full revolt was imminent. Wednesday, our last work day, our host went down and requested they bring us something else. When we received those same sandwiches, we delivered them to a group of web developers (they'll eat anything if it's free!) and our host paid for us to eat in the cafeteria to avoid being beheaded by us peasants.

Wife and Youngest-daughter returned Wednesday evening, once again safe and without a scratch on the rental car. Yes, miracles still happen! It was raining hard and we had to pack for a 4:00 wake up to get to the airport the next morning so we decided to just get room service. Ham sandwich with a few potato chips and a salad with chicken strips wasn't bad - until I got the bill the next morning and found that in addition to the 17 Pounds for the food, they charged a 12.5% tip, a 3 Pound delivery charge and another 3 Pound charge for "tray pickup" - $40 for a room service ham sandwich and salad with chicken strips! Starting to get the picture? It was VERY expensive over there!

And so our trip was basically at an end. My team and I got a lot of work done and wife and Youngest-daughter enjoyed themselves immensely. Youngest-daughter can now go back to school having first hand knowledge in history and geography classes, plus the benefit of learning about a side of her family genealogy. I would judge the trip a success.