The Creaky Clarinetist
February 22, 2020 4:35 PM | Posted in:

I pulled this bad boy out of the closet earlier today:

Photo - Clarinet; aka a noisemaker to scare raccoons

This is noteworthy, at least to me, since it's been approximately thirty years -- THREE DECADES! -- since I made an attempt at playing a clarinet.

I was pleasantly surprised that none of the pads had fallen out, all the cork was still intact, and I spotted only one insignificant crack in the wood thanks to years in the dry West Texas climate and lack of regular oiling.

I miss making music. I began playing the clarinet in junior high, and by the time I was a senior in high school I had gotten pretty good. I don't have any natural musical ability, but I didn't mind practicing and I did a lot of it. Amazing how that can work out, right? 

I played a little in college as well, at least for the first couple of years. But I lost the ambition somewhere along the way, and stowed the instrument. I never completely forgot it, though.

Ten or fifteen years later, I was presented with a strung to accommodate my left-handedness...and I noodled around on it for a while. I finally admitted the futility of teaching myself to play, and I didn't have the energy to look for a teacher who took southpaw students. Plus, chords are least for a clarinetist. 

I still had the unsatisfied-if-suppressed urge to make some music. So, today, with MLB out of the house and me confined to it with a mild cold, I opened the case and assembled the instrument while sucking on the reed in an attempt to bring it back to life.

I ran my fingers up and down the keys and I have to tell you that they didn't feel as if I'd been gone for thirty years. I guess when you do something for a few thousand hours, the brain and nerves and muscles still retain some of that learned ability.

Making actual music come out of the instrument was a whole other thing, though. Any wind instrument player will attest to the fact that the muscles involved in the creation of a workable embouchure do not automagically stay fit. It's no different than trying to run a marathon after 30 years of sitting at a desk; the results are guaranteed to be painful. After about ten minutes, I was close to being a drooling slob. (Well, more so than usual.)


I was able to coax some actual clarinet-sounding stuff out of the instrument, and even more remarkable, I could match the notes on a page (or in my head) with the proper placement of fingers on the keys. I grabbed a couple of books of music -- a Baptist hymnal for tunes and a book of practice exercises for, well, practice -- and even if every tenth note or so was a squeak or a squawk (legit technical musical terms), I exceeded my admittedly low expectations for skill.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have been within earshot would be forgiven for thinking this was a hopeless endeavor, but for me, it was just successful enough to give me motivation to start practicing more regularly. I figure that if I did it once, I can do it again.

Y'all might want to pray for MLB, though.

A Baker's Dozen of Instagram Images
January 25, 2020 9:48 PM | Posted in: ,

If you follow me on Instagram, feel free to skip this post...unless you want to read about the context of some of the images I've posted over the past several months. And if you don't follow me, I must remind you that I'm a very sensitive fellow and my feelings are easily bruised.

As my IG profile reads, all the images I post on that site are based on my original photography. This is code for "very little of what I post is unmodified, un-retouched, un-Photoshopped photography." The photograph is, for me, simply a jumping off point where I try to adapt the image the camera captures into the one that's in my mind when I take the picture.

OK, I realize that sounds pretty high falutin'. The truth is that I don't always know what I'm looking for in a photo until I see it. I might have the end result in my mind when I take the photo, but when I actually work with it, something entirely different presents itself. It's sort of like the novelist who lets her characters dictate to her how they're going to act and the results of those actions. In other words, we're not always in charge of our creations.

Anyway, following are thirteen images that I've created and uploaded to Instagram lately, along with a few words of how or why they came to be. I hope you enjoy them.

By the way, almost all of the following images are based on photos taken with an iPhone. The best camera is the one you have with you.

Photo - A small goat curled up inside a tub of goat chow

There's an exotic game ranch on Highway 281, a few miles north of Johnson City, Texas. Shortly after last Christmas, our extended family went on one of their guided tours. It was a lot more fun than I expected, and the variety of animals roaming [relatively] free through the ranch was impressive (although the absence of dinosaurs was a bit disappointing). At the end of the tour, while walking back to the car, I spotted these two goats, one of which was trying rather unsuccessfully to eat the food in the tub where the other had decided to catch a nap.

Photo - My wife walking down a trail in the woods

I'm a big fan of the dramatic potential of black and white photography. The technique seems to easily evoke emotions or tweak memories that might be lost in the distraction of colors. When you couple that with selective focus (e.g. the blurring in the lower left hand of the above image), it can bring a dream-like state to an otherwise mundane setting. Here, MLB is walking on a path in our neighborhood following a morning run.

Photo - Storm clouds form a backdrop to leafless trees

Black and white photography doesn't always mean, well, black and white. I took this photo as winter storm clouds gathered (the storm was mostly bluster and bluff; we just got a bit of wind not much rain at all from it...but it was impressive looking!). If you look closely -- it's really evident in the tree limbs in the lower left portion -- you'll see some ghosting. This effect was achieved by copying an identical photo on top of the original, and then offsetting it slightly.

Photo - Cactus pads interspersed with ivy growing on a wall

Of course, color can also bring drama...even when it's got its own monochrome personality. We were on a sidewalk in Johnson City last summer and I was fascinated by the many shades of green in this tableau of a prickly pear cactus fronting a wall of ivy.

Photo - A cicada emerges from its nymph exoskeleton

Speaking of fascination, the animal kingdom is full of amazing stories. Last summer was a terrifyingly fruitful season for cicadas. There were times when their "singing" was almost deafening, and their nymph exoskeletons (the dry husks left behind when the adult cicada finally emerges with a goal of starting the life cycle over again) seem to be omnipresent. I was fortunate to come across this newly emerged, fresh-looking cicada next to its abandoned husk. Those gossamer wings look incredibly delicate.

Photo - Praying mantis

Praying mantises are creepy and cool, especially when their eyes track your movements. They're always green in color, or possibly greenish-brown, until a crazed Photoshopper decides to improve upon nature. This one was clinging to the frame of our garage door, which isn't really as crooked as the image would suggest. Photoshop does have an image rotation feature, you know.

Photo - Sunset as viewed on Maui, Hawaii

We were fortunate to be able to vacation on the island of Maui last year, staying at the Andaz resort in Wailea. The reception area of the resort is open-air, and faces west, and each evening guests gather there to see the sunset. It's not always this dramatic, but it rarely disappoints.

Photo - Fungus on a live oak tree

Here's another black and white image, this one showing a tree fungus growing in an old wound on a live oak tree where a limb was removed. I use a desktop application called Tonality (sorry, Windows users; it's Mac-only) for a lot of my monochrome work. It's got a bewildering number of presets that you can apply to a photo, and while all of them can be duplicated in Photoshop if you have the time and skill, being able to apply them in Tonality with a single click is a no-brainer. And even the presets are infinitely editable if none of them achieve the exact effect you're visualizing. (Thus endeth the ad.)

Photo - An armadillo

Armadillos are generally nocturnal, and always shy, so it's rare to get a closeup photo. I love the detail in this image; the pattern on the animals shell is more varied that you might have imagined. By the way, this is a nine-banded armadillo (count 'em if you don't believe me), and it's the state mammal of Texas. But you knew that.

Photo - Two green anoles

This has been a very mild winter in the Texas Hill Country. We've had only a handful of freezes (which doesn't bode well for this year's peach crop), but we've protected our potted hibiscuses and bougainvillea by pulling them into the garage when a freeze is predicted, and putting them back outside during warmer weather. Sometimes, the local fauna take advantage of the changing landscape. In this photo, two anoles, a male (at top) and a female (with the zig-zag pattern on its back) sun themselves on the branches of a bougainvillea during a warm spell.

Photo - A two-stroke engine overlaid with a floral patter
Photo - Various plants and flowers

The two preceding images are actually related. The first one began with a photo of an old two-stroke engine from a defunct weed-eater. I thought the un-retouched photo was pretty boring, so I overlaid the engine with the flowers and plants shown in the second photo. If you compare the two, you'll be able to match up some blooms and leaves with their ghosted overlays on the engine. But I didn't stop there; anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I then flipped the second photo horizontally and placed it in the background of the engine photo! "Why?" you ask. "Why not?" I reply. "Well, because it's a stupid thing to do!" you retort. "Good point." I admit. But I had fun with it.

Photo - My mother's hand in mine

Let's transition from the silly to the sublime, as I end with this image which I've entitled simply "Holding Hands." It's my most recent post to Instagram, as the photo was taken last Thursday. My mother was in the hospital following surgery, and she had just had a rather uncomfortable session with a physical therapist. She was angry and confused and in pain, and she asked me to sit on the bed beside her and hold her hand. I did, and she eventually drifted off to sleep, still grasping my hand. To me, this is an illustration of the fragility of life and the importance of family. 
A few days ago I attempted to impart some words of wisdom to someone about a situation -- who and what are not important -- and, after [re]discovering that I had no such words of my own (and likely never will; I tell myself that that's the beginning of wisdom), I turned to the ultimate source of sage advice*: the song lyrics of Delbert McClinton

McClinton is the author of some of the wittiest and most intelligent lyrics this side of Cole Porter. For example, People Just Love To Talk is a song about the disappearance of a man and the way the rumor mill transcends reality. Several iterations of the fate of the man are laid out, including this one:
On the night in question, the couple came in
Had drinks in the bar by the door.
By the time they were leavin'
It was clear that she was seethin'
And nobody seen him no more.
Blues-centric grammar aside, when's the last time you heard the term seething applied in a popular song setting?

Anyway, I had a specific song in mind from which I would pull some wise advice -- and probably claim it as original, as one does -- a little ditty entitled Cherry Street, about a man who made some poor choices during a night out on the town. I've listened to the song enough times through the years to be pretty sure of the words, but because I'm a professional amateur, I decided to double-check my source, so I googled the lyrics. I'll show you the results of that search in a moment, but here's the actual music for context (don't worry; it's just a 20 second clip):

Those words seem pretty intelligible, right? But here's Google's translation:
Expect the unexpected, the fun is so thrill
And you can bet that it always will.
Sometimes the truth can be so unkind;
When you're looking for trouble, trouble's always easy to find.
The fun is so thrill? What does that even mean? How do you get that from to furnish the thrill?

That's not the only disfiguring of the dissertation. How about surfer punch instead of sucker punch? Or Or oh, I think I hear myself [Incomprehensible] instead of Uh oh, I think I hear my cellphone ring?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I haven't always gotten song lyrics right myself. I confess that for an embarrassingly long time, I mistook the phrase hotter than a match head in the Lovin' Spoonful's classic Summer In The City for hollerin' in the bath shed. But I'm not alone. Google "misheard song lyrics" and you'll get almost 200,000 hits. Still, we should expect more from a company with a trillion dollar market cap, shouldn't we? How can we trust anything anymore? OK, that's a rhetorical question.

Of course, Google can afford a crack legal team to advise it in all business matters, and it does occur to me that the screwed up lyrics are actually a conscious strategy, given that it's been accused of stealing lyrics from another company whose primary business is providing a platform for users to find the words to songs. Perhaps Google's defense will be that its mangling of the words is proof that it's not stealing from a company that actually knows what it's doing.

Well, anyway, my quest to provide wise advice proved fruitless, because the lyrics I thought would work didn't apply to the situation in question anyway. But to borrow some additional words from Delbert, can't nobody say I didn't try.

*Yeah, I know. The ultimate source of wisdom is obviously the Bible. But the book of Proverbs has So. Many. Words.
It's cold and rainy and dreary...and I've decided that I'd be the world's worst arsonist.
Photo - A not terrible fire in the fireplace
It might have taken hours to build, but it is cozy.

I did finally get a conflagration going in the fireplace, but it took an entire edition of the Wall Street Journal and most of my kindling to accomplish that. I don't think it's [entirely] my fault. For one thing, I'm pretty sure that if our house was built using lumber milled from our firewood, we'd get a homeowner's policy discount from our insurance company. I've seen rebar catch fire more quickly than some of this oak firewood.

Not only is it fire-resistant, it's also *&%&$ hard. Most of my firewood splitting experience came at the expense of nice soft pine in the mountains of Colorado, so I was taken completely aback when I took my first swing at one of these oak logs. They're so hard -- how hard are they?! -- they're used to split axeheads. [badda-boom] [Ed. -- Please don't do that anymore.]

Most of our daytime TV viewing time is split between HGTV and The Food Network (yeah, we're old). One of the more interesting shows on the latter network is Beat Bobby Flay. The premise of the show is simple. Two chefs first go head-to-head in cooking a dish featuring an ingredient chosen by Flay. The winner of that mini-contest then matches up with Flay in preparing a dish of the winning chef's choosing. Their two dishes are then sampled in a blind taste test by a panel of judges. I know; it sounds boring, but it's not. Bobby Flay is not only a world-class chef, but he's also a really good sport and a pretty funny guy. (And he doesn't always win; someone with too much time on their hands has calculated that he has about a 70% success rate.)

Photo - Ropa vieja simmering in a slow cooker
BTW, slow cooker liners are the world's best invention.
I bring this up as an introduction to something much more interesting: ropa vieja. This is a Cuban dish consisting of shredded beef simmered for hours in a salsa picante and traditionally served over rice and with tostones or maduros. The name is literally translated as "old clothes" and is perhaps called that because the dish began as a way of using leftovers. MLB makes it occasionally and, in fact, there's a batch percolating in the crock pot as I write this, further proof that her time is employed much more productively than mine, if there was ever any doubt.

Where am I going with this? Excellent question, as always. So, yesterday afternoon, the dish chosen by the chef competing with Bobby Flay was ropa vieja -- and it turned out to be one of the 30% or so episodes where Flay lost. While watching both chefs prepare their versions of the dish, we decided that having our own ropa vieja this weekend would be an excellent idea, especially considering that we didn't mean me, except when it comes to eating said dish.

And, later on in the evening, we were teaching our weekly ESL class and during the break I mentioned to some of the students that MLB was cooking ropa vieja...and that elicited some confused laughs. Well, as it turns out, for future reference we won't assume that Cuban dishes are well-known in Mexico and Guatemala. Also, some of our students tend to take things very literally. Also, we'll probably be known henceforth as los maestros locos.

But, you really should try ropa vieja.

Alert Gazette readers will no doubt recall my previous reporting on the nagging notification capabilities of the Apple Watch. As it turns out, the watch's notification nagging abilities are not limited to the detection (or possible detection) (or pseudo-detection) of tragic situations. Nope, that little wrist-mounted Jiminy Cricket also excels in pointing out the wearer's shortcomings -- and, to be fair, those occasional victories -- in the area of physical exercise (aka "Activity").

Apple has created some oh-so-sincere messages intended to motivate us to do better, although they don't always come across that way. For example, at the end of a hectic day where one has endured all kinds of stressful endeavors short of doing any actual exercise, one can expect to see this pop up on the face of the watch:

Graphic - You're close but not there yet, bucko

[For the blessedly uninitiated, those "rings" indicate how often you stood up during the day (blue), how much you exercised (green), and how much you moved around -- measured by calories burned (red).]

A "brisk 30-minute walk" at 10:36 p.m. is not exactly my idea of motivation. And here's what I think the watch is really saying to me:

Graphic - You're such a slug!

Of course, it's not all "hiss of shame" on the watch. If you're fortunate enough to "close a ring," you get a congratulatory message:

Graphic - Good job! You weren't a total loser!

[Ignore the fact that I apparently haven't stood up enough, despite all my exercise and calorie-burning.] So, this is good, but it doesn't go far enough, or cover enough situations. Personally, I'd like to see Apple give me something like this every now and then:

Graphic - Good job! You weren't a total loser!

I'm pretty sure this kind of feedback would help increase Apple's watch sales, as well as recognizing the value of a day like today. Now, if you'll excuse couch awaits.
You are unique...just like everyone else.

  -- Somebody

We'd all like to think that when we leave this world, someone would take note. (OK, maybe I'm generalizing inappropriately, but work with me here.) And pretty much all of us mean something to somebody, whether we realize it or not. Nevertheless, for most of us our passing won't generate much more than perhaps a blurb in the obit section of the local newspaper, and the grief of family and friends. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and since we're dead, what do we care, anyway?

But every now and then, someone dies without being famous or infamous or even extraordinary in a Major Newspaper Headline sort of way, but they still attract attention disproportionate to what most of us think of newsworthiness. (And, again, I generalize.) Such is the case for a gentleman named Ken Fuson, who died a week ago in a hospital in Omaha.

Never heard of Ken Fuson? You're not alone. But because Ken had a sense of humor (and, possibly, a sense of destiny), his self-penned obituary ensures that more people will know about him in death than perhaps knew him in life (thanks in no small part to this reporting by the Wall Street Journal).

Ken was a journalist -- and apparently a very gifted one, at that -- and wrote his own obituary. We should all face the end of our lives with such humor and grace as Ken. He was a flawed human being -- as are we all --and he owned his flaws, but he also realized that those flaws didn't define him in any meaningful way; he was a man of faith in a faithful God. Here's what he wrote:
Ken's pastor says God can work miracles for you and through you. Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything.

For many years Ken was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Indianola and sang in the choir, which was a neat trick considering he couldn't read a note of music. The choir members will never know how much they helped him. He then joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God's love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We'll wait. Ken's not going anywhere.
If we want to control what people think about us after we die, one way is to write our own obituaries. I submit to you that an even better way is to live lives that make those obituaries compelling reading. Ken knew.

The musical prowess of The Saddle Sores
January 9, 2020 9:30 PM | Posted in: ,

I was looking at the event calendar for one of our favorite dance halls and saw a band on the schedule that I wasn't familiar with. The band goes by the somewhat off-putting name of The Saddle Sores. Their publicity photo was intriguing so I found some of their music online, and followed a few links, and ended up being completely blown away by their musicianship on the following YouTube video:

The guitarist and lead vocalist is Jeremy Slemenda. He hails from South Carolina, but now lives in the Austin area, and he's a member of several bands as well as owning a music amp repair business. His guitar work is impressive, as is that of the fiddle player, but I was even more awestruck by the skill of the keyboard player. Even if you don't take the time to listen to all 7+ minutes of this medley, at least listen to the piano solos at the 1:30 and 6:00 minute marks.

I don't know if we'll make the hourlong drive to catch their act in Dripping Springs, but it's always fun to discover something that reinforces the belief that the musical talent in Central Texas is apparently endless.

Retrospect: 20 years ago, I built websites
January 8, 2020 9:00 PM | Posted in: ,

2020 marks a milestone of sorts for yours truly. Twenty years ago this month, I semi-voluntarily* left a position with one of the largest energy companies in the world and embarked on a new career in the glamorous but low-paying world of website design.

The World Wide Web was still in relative infancy at that time. Expectations for websites were low, and I managed to meet them quite often. I was intrigued by the combination of technology, creativity, and business acumen necessary to run a one-man web design/development studio, and for ten years, I had the time of my life.

I rarely blogged about any of my clients. If you have way too much time on your hands and scroll through my Design category archives, you'll find exactly two posts in seventeen years about specific client websites, although there are a few more references to issues I've encountered without naming the sites or clients. But now that I'm ten years removed from any association with paying clients, and on this milestone anniversary, I feel it's appropriate to do a bit of looking back.

The strange and unusual

Boy, did I have a wide assortment of jobs, from medical practices to oilfield services to community foundations to clothing stores. But a couple stick out for their, um, unique business models.

One such website was for a grandmotherly type who wanted to sell templates for big rabbit feet so that parents could create footprints to fool their children into thinking the Easter bunny had visited them. I diplomatically tried to convince her that this was not a winning strategy in any sense of the word, and while I did build a prototype of the site for her, I don't recall that we ever went live with it.

I also built a website to showcase a movie script for a proposed film based on the "real life BillyJack" who was the subject of the 1970s movie Billy Jack. A portion of my promised remuneration was to be a cut of the proceeds if and when the movie hit the big time. Obviously, since I'm still an itinerant blogger, that never happened. 

Lastly, I was hired to build a "for sale" website for a 2,000 square feet loft in the Tribeca area of Manhattan by an artist, asking price of $1.7 million (in 2008). I have no idea whether it ever sold; I was not offered a cut of the sales price.

The artistic

I mentioned an artist who hired me to publicize his New York loft for sale. I also created a website to showcase his art, one of almost a half dozen artists websites I designed. A couple of the artists were internationally known painters, one on the east coast and one on the west, but these clients also included local (to West Texas) painters as well as musicians and graphic designers. One of the latter did design work for one of Madonna's books.

I built websites for a couple of professional photographers, and those were fun jobs as they were more graphical and less text-heavy (as you would expect). One of them was old-school; no digital photography, so I did a ton of scanning and retouching to put his work online.

In addition to individual professional creatives, I also did work for less well known but no less important organizations such as high school choirs, community symphony and ballet guilds and professional storytellers (not to be confused with politicians).

One of the more interesting sites was a sort of site dedicated to the work of a little known Texas artist named R.L. Day. He created only eight works in 25 years, and one of those has been lost, but thanks to his estate, the remaining seven are preserved in print form.

The local and charitable

This might be the category I'm most proud of. I stopped counting at thirty, but I either designed, redesigned, or maintained websites for many nonprofit organizations and churches. Most of them were local to West Texas, but a few had worldwide reaches. Many of these job were done pro bono, and those that weren't were billed at a significant reduction in my [already pretty low] rate.

You may recognize some of these clients: United Way, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire, Big Brothers Big Sisters. If you're in or from Midland: First Baptist Church, Grace Lutheran Church, Sibley Nature Center, Permian Basin Area Foundation, Keep Midland Beautiful, Lone Star Sanctuary (for animals), Midland Fair Havens, Midland Shooters Association, Hi Sky Emmaus, Permian Basin Petroleum Association, Midland Need to Read.

The commercial

I had the privilege of designing and building websites for a wide variety of technical and engineering companies, most of which were oilfield related. I also worked with a number of medical practices, from anesthesiology to cardiology to urology to advertise their services. (I had the disheartening experience of hearing about the murder of one of those clients, a well-known physician in Odessa.) Oh, and I also built a site for a veterinary practice in Ohio.

There were a handful of non-oilfield business I supported, including a women's apparel store, a plumbing supply company, a wind power supply and services company, and a couple of out-of-state companies supplying equipment and parts to the aviation industry. There were also insurance and home improvement and custom car building companies, as well as a physical trainer (pre-Crossfit!) and a food seasoning company and a restaurant and a bed-and-breakfast out in the middle of nowhere, West Texas.

There were also lawyers and one firm specializing in providing and prepping expert witnesses for trials.

Wrapping up of the looking back

Those ten years working for myself, from home, doing stuff that almost nobody else in the area could do were pretty special. To be honest, I wasn't a great designer, but I was fast, reliable, and reasonable. I also had some business experience that I believe some (many?) of my clients found valuable.

I was also old, relatively speaking. And, finally, the technology advanced so quickly that I no longer had the energy to keep up with it. With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other non-desktop-computer devices with which websites needed to be cooperative, as a one-man operation, I was just overwhelmed by the prospect of making every site work in every medium. And, frankly, the money wasn't commensurate with the time and effort I was putting into the work. So when an oil company came calling, offering five times what I was making, it just made sense to get back into what I had done for twenty five years before the website gig.

It was still very difficult to inform all my clients that they needed to find someone else to take things over. I had come to think of many of them as friends (although that meant that they understood where I was coming from). 

But time marches on, and although I haven't spent much time looking at the current sites of those former clients, the ones I have seen have undergone definite improvements over what my caveman-drawing-like efforts were. Still, I'd like to think that I provided the impetus for a lot of companies and organizations to bend the web to their will, for their own good and for the good of those they serve.

I could have done worse, I guess.

*I say "semi-voluntary" in that I could have continued my employment had I been willing to move to Houston. Being reasonably sane, I declined that "opportunity."

January 6, 2020 9:54 PM | Posted in:

After five days in the hospital, the transfer to rehab finally materialized. Of course, we were told this morning that somebody had dropped the ball so it wouldn't happen until tomorrow, but then we were notified around 1:00 that the rehab transport would show up between 3:30 and 4:00.

We got excited and organized and waited...and waited...and waited.

Someone finally showed up around 6:30.

After the shiny new private hospital room, rehab is depressing. Semi-private room...ah...never mind. I'm too tired to even write about it. We've just got to have faith that the staff is better than the facilities. 

The signs are there
January 5, 2020 7:54 PM | Posted in: ,

A couple of signs have recently caught my eye, both of which are reminders that we live in Texas, and in a not entirely civilized part of the state at that.

The first one was on the front door of our post office...which is located about a mile from our house as the crow flies (assuming the crow flies in a straight line; I don't really know much about their flight patterns).

Sign at the post office warning us that we could be eaten by big feline predators
An unwritten rule: Always hike with someone slower than you.

There are people in our neighborhood who claim to have spotted a mountain lion up the hill past our security gate. I'll take their word for it; personally, I'd much rather have the occasional bobcat passing through.

Then there's this sign.

Sign at our local hospital/sporting goods store
Y'all be in Texas now.

"So, what's the big deal?" you're probably thinking. "Every sporting goods store in the country has a sign like this."

Of course. But does every hospital gift shop? Well, hoss, maybe you've been going to the wrong hospital.

I haven't been in the gift shop to see exactly what kind of camo (scrubs? bandages? bedpans?) or hunting items (12 gauge needles? slingshots?) they stock. But I do find it interesting that the hospital sells hunting items but guns are not permitted on the premises.

Hospital Observations
January 4, 2020 7:59 PM | Posted in:

The monotoned announcement belies the urgency of the message:

Stroke team. Hospital. First floor. Emergency room.

The announcement is repeated twice more. We're unsure as to the reason of the specificity of the location, since the announcement is being made in the hospital. Perhaps it's because there's a walk-in clinic connected to the hospital, and perhaps members of the stroke team might be there instead of the main hospital location. In any event, the implications are somber. 

The hospital is relatively new and the fixtures are stylish and shiny. However, all the faucets are fitted with weird diffusers that make the water shoot out in strong but thin sprays that invariably escape the bounds of the sink. In a place that's already stressful, this little annoyance achieves a remarkable prominence. 

Most of the juice bottles in the waiting area vending machine are turned around so that you can't definitively identify their flavors. Is the red juice cranberry? Cherry? Strawberry? Raspberry-pomegranate-beet?  You pays your money and you takes your chances. 

Speaking of paying, I can't. Well, I can't convince the vending machine that its tap-to-pay feature needs to cooperate with my Visa card. (TBH, I've almost never been able to get any of those near-field readers to work.) Sure, I have cash, but that's so ok-boomerish. 

It took almost two hours after ordering for lunch to arrive today. The kitchen is understaffed today due to illness, and the hospital is full due to...well, you know. On the upside, the patient deems the food good when it finally arrives. 

When the man in the dark suit and tie stepped into the room, we mistook him for the hospital chaplain or perhaps a local pastor making visits. He was actually the hospital president,  stopping by to see how all of us were doing, and if we had any feedback for improvement. I told him that we weren't impressed with their coffee. He said that he wasn't either. Nice guy. 

The attending physician sports an amazing bed-head hairdo. I think it's not an affectation, but the real thing. He expressed a lack of total confidence in a diagnosis which ironically makes me more confident in his abilities. I don't trust people who have all the answers in situations where there are clearly unknowns. He has a logical and thorough checklist of tests to eliminate or confirm causes, and when they all come back negative, the only conclusion is that sometimes stuff happens. I'm not trying to be flippant; I'm intentionally omitting details of the situation that would help you understand that. 

There are forty TV channels to choose from, but no music channels. I can't fault them, though. How would you decide what genres to feature? What kind of music is conducive to healing? New Age? Classical? Norwegian Industrial Death Metal? OK, probably not that one.

Me: Why are you sitting on your cheese sticks?

Her: I like them heated up.

Me: You know there's a microwave oven in the hydration center, right?

Her: ...

Me: ...

Me: Okay, then.