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.


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

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)