Carolyn

We unexpectedly lost one of our beautiful friends yesterday evening. We first met Carolyn in 2006, and she quickly became a fixture in our lives – frequently accompanying us to movies, restaurants, and even on the occasional road trip.

Some people don’t understand why we enjoy hanging out with elderly people, but if they had spent just a few moments with Carolyn they would have quickly discovered what a delightful person she was.

She was probably the least judgmental person I have ever known. She rarely had an unkind word to say about anyone – but if she did they were most assuredly deserving of it. It was simply her nature to see the good in people.

Carolyn was rarely anxious about the little things that so many of us stress over. She would wave away concerns over her leaking patio roof or who was going to be president, but she always cared enough to ask about the health of my family members or which plants I had purchased on a recent trip to the local nursery.

Carolyn could be extremely humorous without even trying. She is the only person I have ever known who treated a wig like a hat. She would haphazardly throw it on before leaving the house, and then hang it on the hat stand when she arrived at her sister Betty’s for a game of dominoes.

And speaking of dominoes, that was one game she was always happy to play regardless of how badly she felt, and she thoroughly enjoyed rebuking her sister for swapping out pieces when no one was watching.

Riding in the car while Carolyn was driving was its own kind of amusement. I will never forget how she said she liked to drive especially fast around the curve on Buckner because it made her feel “elegant.” When coming up behind a car at a stop light, she would wait until the very last second to slam on the brakes, leaving us passengers screaming like we were at a theme park.

She loved frozen yogurt – especially the Cake Batter flavor.

She read constantly.

She loved plants and gardening.

She was kind, and generous, and loving.

A French poet once said, “A great man is one who leaves others at a loss after he is gone.” Carolyn is gone, and we have certainly experienced a loss, but I also recognize what a blessing it was to have known her and to have been able to call her my friend.

I will miss her terribly.

Christmas time’s a comin’

It’s that time of year again when we put up the Christmas trees, drag out the ornaments and lights, and begin creating shopping lists for our friends and families. Unfortunately, the temperature being 70+ degrees most days has not been conducive to getting me in the holiday spirit.

It has been unseasonably warm and dry over the past few months. The trees decided it was too much effort to show off their autumn colors, so they just let their leaves turn brown and blow away in the wind. The grass is almost completely dead, and the mower (and me) were completely covered in dust the last time I mowed.

I have planted several more things in the yard thinking the seasonal rains would make it easier on me with keeping things watered, but no such luck. I am packing watering cans to various spots in the yard almost every evening.

I’m sure it will be freezing cold and raining before long, and then I will be complaining about all of that, so I try to just enjoy it as much as possible.

The warmer weather is nice in ways. Heating bills are basically nonexistent, and I don’t have to wait for the frost to clear off the windshield of my truck every morning before work. It’s nice to see some of my trees and shrubs still growing, too.

But I am still not ready to put up those dang trees or start shopping!

Viva Las Vegas

The first day of October, Honey and I loaded up the car and headed for Las Vegas. This was the first trip that far west for either of us, and we decided to drive and enjoy the scenery along the way.

The first leg of our trip was to Oklahoma City, but we were up early the next morning to head for our friend’s home in Albuquerque. We arrived early enough Sunday afternoon to enjoy dinner with him and a couple of his family members. The view from his apartment complex was insane. The International Balloon Fiesta was being held that weekend and we were hoping to see the launch of the hot air balloons the next morning, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate.

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We headed for the Grand Canyon the next day, and although we were dismayed at the nearly 80-mile trek down a two-lane road to reach the park, we were completely blown away by the view from the canyon’s edge. It was incredible, and there is simply no way to describe it or capture it with a camera. You simply must visit in person to grasp the immensity and beauty of it.

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We headed back the interstate and made our way to Vegas, arriving at our hotel (the Bellagio) just before dark. We were both completely exhausted. The crowded streets that were nearly impossible to navigate, cigarette smoke was everywhere, and we were hungry and irritable. We couldn’t figure out where to eat, so we decided to return to our hotel for the enormous buffet. After standing in line for 20 minutes and paying $90 for 2 plates of mediocre food, we both decided we hated Vegas.

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The view from our room was fantastic though, and we could see the fountains erupting every few minutes.

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Things seemed much better after a good night’s sleep, so we got back in the car Tuesday morning and went to visit the Hoover Dam. Talk about amazing! We ventured onto the bridge that crosses the river via a pedestrian walkway that has interstate traffic zooming by just a couple of feet away. That, combined with the vertigo, made for a very harrowing experience, but the view was breathtaking.

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After crossing the top of the dam by car, we were blown away by how low the water level was compared to the clearly visible water mark on the cliff walls behind the dam.

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We had tickets to see Michael Jackson One by Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay at 9:30pm on Tuesday evening. We arrived a little early and checked out the MJ store attached to the venue. There were also displays of some of Michael’s clothing – including his glitter socks and loafers.

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Given the time and day of the week, I had low expectations for how many people would be at the show, but, man, was I ever wrong! The earlier show had sold out, and ours was completely packed. It was phenomenal in every way. The sound, lighting, dancing, costumes, and attention to detail was some of the best I have ever seen in a live performance, and it was the ultimate tribute to the greatest entertainer of all time.

By our third day in Vegas, we were starting to get familiar with our surroundings and finding decent places to eat. We might have even started liking the place a little.

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The catalyst for the trip was seeing Celine Dion, so I was beyond excited that the time for the concert was quickly approaching. We spent the afternoon walking around, shopping for souvenirs, and even wasted a few dollars on gambling just because we felt like it was kind of appropriate given our location.

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It wasn’t long before we were in line to see Celine, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. Our seats were fantastic, and she sounded even better than I had imagined. She talked quite a bit and was her usual goofy self, but the best part was when several audience members rushed the stage (myself included) for her performances of “River Deep – Mountain High” and “Purple Rain.” She loved the attention, and even told us to stay put while she did a dance routine by the drummer.

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Celine’s spine-tingling performance of “My Heart Will Go On” had her standing inside a ring of falling water. Truly majestic.

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I recorded this short video from our hotel room window on our last night in Vegas. It really captures some of the excitement of the Strip.

We started home Thursday morning, and the leg of the trip between Las Vegas and Denver turned out to be the most beautiful. Utah is probably the most lovely state I have ever been through. As a tree lover, I didn’t know how I would feel about the desert landscape, but it is just amazing. You can see so far that you lose your perception of distance, and there are far more mountains than I expected.

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We began our trek through the Rocky Mountains later that evening. The temperature dropped to around 30 degrees, and it was even snowing/sleeting in the higher elevations. We arrived in Denver around sundown.

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Friday, we drove from Denver to Kansas City, and after a quick stop at the Truman home on Saturday morning, we drove home.

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It was a very long trip, and I don’t ever want to drive that far again, but it was really enjoyable and something I hope to remember for the rest of my life.

Length of Vacation: 8 days
Miles Driven: 3,500+
Hours of Driving: 50+
States Visited: Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois

Tired and happy

We had an exceptionally good weekend.

Honey and I visited a local farm-to-table restaurant for the first time Friday evening, and the food was so, so good! We started with the best deviled eggs I have ever tasted. I had steak, smoked brisket empanada, and roasted corn pudding. He had braised pork shoulder, fresh shell peas, sweet greens, fennel aioli, and cornbread. We finished with a piece of cheese cake made from goat’s milk and apple crumble with ice cream for dessert.

We got up early Saturday morning and went to get a utility trailer so we can start carrying our mower over to the new place. Neither of us is experienced enough to back up with the trailer on the truck, so we have to pretty much act as if reverse isn’t even an option. That made for some entertaining/frustrating moments, but I know we will get better with time.

Saturday evening, we joined three of our friends for a local production of Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5” Broadway show. It was quite funny, but really just made me want to watch the original film. We still had a good time going out with friends – some of whom we don’t get to see nearly as often as we would like.

Honey and I got up early today to haul the mower over to our new property. I cut down a couple of dead trees while Honey mowed around 2 acres. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, but I got overheated and felt like I was going to die a couple of times. Even so, it is great to see the potential that I first saw in the property coming to fruition.

We had the property bush-hogged a couple of weeks ago by a man who came highly recommended by the previous owners. Just a day before while we were walking around exploring, Honey and I discovered a metal-covered drain a couple of feet from the pond’s edge that allowed the pond to spill over into a low-lying wooded area several feet away. I was impressed with what I could see, but didn’t investigate further.

As fate would have it, the bush-hog hit the metal cover and apparently threw it into the pond. It also seriously damaged the parts of the drain that were sticking above ground, and even part of the lining that went below ground level. It turns out this isn’t any old pond drain, but a water control structure by Agri Drain. Basically, it’s an expensive underground dam that controls the water level of the pond.

After notifying the man who bush-hogged, and getting an estimate for repair to the tune of $2000, he agreed to pay for the damages. I feel bad for him, but it was clearly his fault, and the whole situation was about to drive me crazy.

So, seeing Honey riding around on our regular mower today felt exceptionally good. We can hopefully prevent future accidents from happening over there, and using the smaller mower does a better job anyway.

As I am writing this, Honey is asleep in the recliner beside me. The television is turned down low, and I am listening to my favorite Tori Amos album on the laptop. The cats are fed, and most likely also snoozing in various parts of the house.

I am tired, but I am happy.

How I almost failed P.E. class

Years ago when I was a student in a small Christian school, our physical education teacher (who happened to live less than a block away from campus), decided to put a gym in his garage so that the 7th-12th grade boys could work out. He filled the small space with donated weight-lifting equipment and exercise machines, and most of the guys were delighted to get to show off their machismo during the last hour of school a couple of days each week.

Me and my two best friends weren’t nearly so excited about the situation. We were the skinny and awkward outsiders who were more concerned with how our hair looked than whether our muscles bulged, and we typically dreaded P.E. class. Not only was the teacher a jerk most of the time, years of being called gay slurs by the older boys hadn’t helped our self-esteem or our desire to hang around and watch them show off for each other.

During our first class at this garage/gym, most of the guys went straight for the weight-lifting equipment and ignored the stationary bikes that were sitting in a row along the back wall. That made it perfectly convenient for the three of us to leave the others to their revelry, and do something that was out of the way and, frankly, not too physically-exhausting. So, we hopped on the bikes and began our usual back-and-forth banter about popular culture.

It wasn’t long before the teacher abruptly appeared in front of us and proclaimed loudly, “When you girls are done with the bikes, some of the guys would like to use them.”

The words stung.

After experiencing years of taunts like fag, queer, homo, and sissy, we were now being humiliated in front of some of those same perpetrators by the very person who was supposed to be our protector. And at a Christian school, no less.

After that incident, I began skipping P.E. class. I would either go to another teacher and claim to not feel good (which was true, in a way), or I would simply disappear into the school library until the day ended. I wound up with a D for what should have been an easy class – which stood out significantly against all of the A’s and B’s on the remainder of my report card.

We moved on from the incident. Two of us came out after high school; one still seems to be in the closet. I can’t remember if we ever even discussed what happened, but I suspect it scarred all of us in some way.

I sometimes see Mr. Teacher around town. He works at a local home improvement store, and he even speaks when I run into him. He probably has no recollection of what he said or how he acted, and he most certainly has no idea how his words can still bother me all these years later.

Cozy Craftsman

It took Honey and me about 10 minutes to decide on a house plan. We knew we wanted a Craftsman home, so we entered some parameters on a home plan site and we both loved the way this one looked in the render. The floor plan is also perfect for us; nice and open, not too big or too small.

I can’t decide whether I want a gray or green exterior, but it will be a while before we have to make that decision. I love the tapered columns, the stonework, and the front steps. It looks very cozy, and I know it will look great perched on the hill overlooking our pond.

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Game plan

We closed on our new property loan Tuesday, and I am anxious to begin the next phase of our transition. Our path forward may be building a garage on the new property to live in while we sell our current home, as that will allow us to free up some money before we begin building a new house.

So, basically, we might be kind of “roughing” it for awhile, which I am completely fine with. In fact, there is a part of me that is looking forward to stripping down to the bare essentials by getting rid of things we no longer need. A big garage sale will probably be in our near future.

Our home needs some updates before we list it, so we are shooting for putting it on the market this coming spring. I figure the blooming trees and shrubs will add some excellent curb appeal.

So, for now, we are getting quotes on repairs and new construction projects. I expect this process to take longer than expected, since it seems that’s just the way these things work, but hopefully we will be at the new place before too much time goes by.

I am currently about to die to get started on whipping the new place into shape. There are a few trees that need to come down, limbs to pick up, and mowing/trimming to be done. There are also some plants that I want to move with me, and autumn is the perfect time to transplant things. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t cooperating as it has rained every day for a week.

They say good things come to those who wait, so I am doing my best to be patient.