Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Bush Administration's Latest Diversionary Tactics

So the Iraq "War" you started is going poorly, congress and the American people are telling you to change course and show some results, what can you do next? Well there's nothing like another national enemy to rally the troops and divert attention. Iran seems to fit the bill nicely. They are "supporting the insurgency in Iraq", "supporting terrorism", not to mention their nuclear program. The perfect diversion to deflect criticism of Iraq. Never mind that the United States should be building bridges to Iran to facilitate some kind of political solution in Iraq.

Health care is another one. No one can be against providing health care for more people as long as it doesn't cost more. Bush's plan is being promoted as doing that. What it really looks like is another way to make the tax code more complex and provide a tax break for the wealthy. After his State of the Union address, Bush went on the road to promote his health care plan. Never mind that the violence in Iraq is escalating and the additional troops he is sending are going into an increasingly dangerous and chaotic place.

When things go bad, just change the subject. Divert the public's attention and you can ignore all those nasty questions from the press.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Eight

This is for day eight of my trip, January 25, 2006.

I woke at 5:30 and showered. Pat and Chip were up to greet me when I came upstairs. Pat gave me breakfast of cereal and toast, and made me a turkey sandwich for lunch. Very good of her and much appreciated. I took a quick tour of her studio. Her ceramic work is really good, and her studio is very well equipped and stocked with all sorts of clays and glazes. Very impressive.

I was off by 8:00 with over 700 miles to cover before reaching home.

Today was the first day I experienced clear skies and sunlight since I left Texas. I finished listening to the Michael Korda book, Country Manners, and found it very enjoyable. I would definitely recommend it.

All went smoothly and I made good time until I got to Kennesaw, 20 miles north of Atlanta, where traffic came to a halt. Then it was stop and go to the center of the city. While the overhead traffic alert sign said there was a major event downtown and to expect delays, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Just normal Atlanta gridlock. I Lost about 45 minutes. Atlanta just has an incredible traffic problem. I expect someday the city will experience catastrophic gridlock. Best to avoid driving or flying through Atlanta whenever possible.

I started listening to a memoir by Mike Wallace, Between You and Me. I got through about 30 minutes of it but lost interest. While Mike's experiences are interesting, the way he relates them put me off. Too egocentric for me.

I stopped at a rest stop in Macon for lunch at 12:45, and at 3:15, crossed into Florida. I was in Winter Springs by 7:00. Eleven hours and 700 miles later, it was good to be home.

I traveled a total of 3,502 miles during the eight day trip. Overall, I consider the time well spent and the trip a success and wouldn't hesitate to do it again. It was great to be able to visit everyone and I had a really enjoyable time. The next time I make a trip like this, I will try to allow more time to stop along the way, since I passed many interesting places that I would have liked to be able to visit. Maybe next time.

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Seven

This is day seven of my trip, January 24, 2006.

Lisa fixed me a bagel and juice for breakfast after Chas left for work. I have almost 700 miles to cover today and I want to be in Knoxville in plenty of time for dinner with Pat and Chip. I got started at 7:30 and headed south on I-55 to take I-80 east in order to avoid any rush hour traffic. It worked, and I made good time. The snow cover which was so prevalent in Chicago gradually gave out as I made my way south. It didn't completely go away until I got into south Indiana.

I remembered to bring the leftover pasta along from the previous evening, and I had it for lunch at a rest stop on I-74 south of Batesville.

I noticed the left front tire was low and I added air shortly after starting out. By early afternoon it was low again. I stopped and added air again, but I knew it had a slow leak which would have to be fixed. I had stopped at Dry Ridge, Kentucky, and fortunately there was a Tire Discounters store on the other side of the interstate. An hour and a half later, at 4:00, I was back on the road again. But now I was going to be late arriving at the Herzog's. I called to let Pat and Chip know.

I crossed the Tennessee border at 6:00. It turned dark shortly after, and the drive through the mountains to Knoxville was harrowing and stressful. Lot's of trucks on the road going slow up the mountains and fast down. One 18 wheeler, not wanting to lose momentum going up a grade, pulled out in front of me and I had to jam on the brakes to avoid plowing into him.

I got to Pat & Chip's at 7:00. It was great to see them and they were the most gracious of hosts. Pat had steak, roast potatoes, green beans and rustic bread. Chip charbroiled the strip steaks. Wine and bread pudding for dessert made an excellent meal. We looked at my pictures of the grandchildren and talked until we all agreed it was time for bed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Six

Woke up early and finished the blog entry from the night before. I had fallen asleep working on the computer.

Chas fixed a great breakfast of French toast and sausage. I showered and shaved, then we went to the science museum here in Naperville. Daniel went helter-skelter from one display to the next. The museum had many, many interactive displays for the children, and they all got a workout. Brandon got a kick out of watching all the kids.

We came back to the house for lunch. Lisa fixed chicken salad for sandwiches with sour dough French bread. Chips and grapes completed the menu.

The boys both reluctantly went down for naps after lunch. It took quite a while before Daniel went to sleep. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing errands and other tasks and talking.

Dinner was take out Italian from Francesca's Passaggio in Naperville. We all agreed it would be too much to take both Brandon and Daniel to a restaurant. I had linguini with a tomato sauce with mushrooms and sausage, and a Caesar salad which was very good.

After dinner we cleaned up, played with the boys a little, put them to bed, and watched a little TV. Everyone was tired, Chas had to get up early and go to work in the morning, I wanted to get a reasonably early start for Knoxville, and so we went to bed.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Five

The temptation to stay in bed was strong this morning. Reluctantly I got up and got on the road by 7:30. I-55 parallels the Mississippi River for 100 miles or so, but there is a two lane road, Hwy 61, that runs along the river and goes through several small river towns. It would have been nice to drive along the river the whole way, but I couldn't afford the time. I compromised by cutting over to the river on Hwy 140 and driving 61 for 15 miles or so. The levee is visible from the highway, but there's no way to drive to the top and see the river. The rest of the sights along the river in this area weren't particularly inspiring.

At 8:45 I crossed the Mississippi on I-57 into Missouri. The sky was cloudy, the landscape bleak, and now it started to get colder. Made a rest stop at the Missouri welcome station at 9:30. At 10:15 crossed the border into Illinois. Chicago is only 387 miles! I am traveling the state from the extreme southern end to the northern. In a short time I began to see snow on the ground, and by the time I was half way across the state, the temperature was 32 degrees and the ground was covered with snow.

I listened to a Bailey White tape which I enjoyed very much. I do believe she is one of the best writers I know of. In short stories she reads herself about living with her mother in a small, rural Georgia town, she packs in so much imagery, fun and irony. She is truly a master story writer and teller.

I couldn't bear the thought of eating fast food again, so in Effingham, I had beans and greens for lunch at Cracker Barrel. It's served with cornbread, relish and a big onion slice. Both the pinto beans and turnip greens are cooked with ham. I ate the onion with the beans, but couldn't find an appealing way to use the relish. I stopped at a local WalMart to get Daniel a Thomas the Train.

The drive through Illinois was proving to be monotonous so I listened to the full length audio book I brought along, Country Matters by Michael Korda. It's written by a New York literary editor who with his wife buys an old farm house and 20 acres in Dutchess County. So far it's been very entertaining.

I was concerned that I might run into the Chicago rush hour traffic, but I took I-80 west to I-55 and avoided any stop and go. I got to Chas and Lisa's at 5:30.

Daniel was glad to see me. He's talking a blue streak now. He loves to get you involved with what he's doing. And he loves to dance. Lisa put on a DVD called Ralph's World and Daniel danced up a storm, asking everyone to dance with him. Brandon was asleep when I got here, but soon woke up. He has gotten big and is very animated. He smiles and makes all sorts of sounds and moves around a lot. He's either very good or if there's something he wants, he lets you know in no uncertain terms. They are both very cute grandchildren.

Chas got home at around 6:45 after his normal hour and 20 minute commute. He's talking about moving closer to town and using a different train to shorten his commute to 45 minutes. Still long but much more tolerable than what he has at present.

Lisa fixed pizza and a salad for dinner and topped it off with apple crisp for desert. Everything was very good. After dinner Brandon was fed and both boys put to bed. By then everyone else was ready for bed as well.

Chas was able to take tomorrow off so we'll be able to spend the day together.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Four

Got up at 6:00, showered, packed and had breakfast with Kim at 7:00. Todd, Makenna & Mason got up to see me off, and I started out at 8:00, an hour behind schedule. I decided to take Hwy 59 north instead of retracing my route back to New Orleans and going north on I-55. 59 is a little slower, but I wanted to see the country.

The weather cleared mid morning and the ride through East Texas was very enjoyable. Went through lots of small towns. Really a rural area. Going through the town of Diboll, I saw a building supply store that had burned to the gound and was still smoldering. It didn't look like any attempt had been made to put out the fire. I stopped to take some pictures. A hamburger and fries at Wendy's in Marshall, Texas made lunch.

After crossing into Arkansas, the clouds returned, and while the miles went by faster because it was all freeway, the scenery wasn't as nice.

I got into West Memphis around 6:00 and after dark. The room at the Hampton was nice, but the internet service wasn't working. The manager changed my room to one that had service.

I wanted Memphis ribs for dinner. I asked the hotel manager where the nearest Corky's was, and unfortunately it was on the east side of Memphis, too far to go. She suggested Interstate Barbeque, close to downtown Memphis. It was closed. I went on downtown to Beale Street looking for ribs. I found Alfred's. The ribs were only so-so, but on Sunday nights from 6:00 to 9:00, the Memphis Jazz Orchestra plays there. The MJO is an 18 piece jazz orchestra made up of amateur musicians. They've been doing this Sunday night gig for 18 years. The sound they produce is not often heard today and very professionally done. Most of the players show up in jeans and play around a lot. They have fun and sound great doing it. I thoroughly enjoyed the music.

They quit at 9:00 and I came back to the hotel. I want to get started by 7:00 to be in Naperville mid afternoon.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Three

Had moderate indigestion last night and woke up early with upset stomach. After using the computer and reading in bed for a while felt better. Joined Kim in the Kitchen about 8:00. She fixed a grand breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast. I felt much better after breakfast.

Spent the morning talking with Kim, playing around with Makenna and Mason, and working with Kim on her photography. I cleaned her lenses and reset some things on her camera. We also went through some pictures both hers and mine.

Around lunchtime my stomach started to act up again, but was better after I ate something. The big event of the afternoon was Mason's basketball game at 3:30. His team the Owls was to play the Longhorns. Todd is one of the Owl coaches, and they felt the Longhorns were one of two exceptional teams in their league they had to beat in order to have a chance at the championship. The Owls had won the first two games they played, and were coming together as a team. Everyone; players, coaches and parents were keyed up for this big game. In addition, there was a protest e-mail sent by the Owl's head coach regarding one of the Longhorn players which added to the game's tension.

Kim and I were planning to take pictures at the game as well, and so by 2:30 everyone was on their way to the game.

The game didn't disappoint in the slightest. A capacity crowd was in attendance and in fine voice. The coaches of both teams were up for the game. And the players were all in great form. Right from the start the coaches and the referees were having animated discussions. The Longhorns scored first, but the Owls moved ahead. The Longhorns tied the game during the free-throw contest. Then during the second half, the Owl's B team pulled the team out in front. The last period started with the Owls 23, Longhorns 17. The Owl's A team controlled the ball most of the period, but the Longhorns still scored another four points. With less than a minute to go the Owls got the ball and retained possession until the clock ran out. Final score, Owls 23, Longhorns 21.

Kim and I got some good pictures during the game.

We decided to have dinner at Babin's Seafood House, a Cajun seafood restaurant. And despite the early hour, 4:30, went directly to the restaurant. This turned out to be a good move since we didn't have to wait at all even though it was Saturday. We had beer and sodas, an order of crab balls for an appetizer, and an excellent dinner. I had 1/2 fried crayfish tales, 1/2 Etouffee with a Greek salad. We ordered a serving of bread pudding to take home for desert. A fine dinner to go with a fine day.

When we got home we looked at pictures both those we took and Kim & Todd's from the last couple of years. Then the TV went on and the Dog Whisperer whispered me to sleep in the easy chair. When I woke up Todd was watching the Michigan State / Penn State basketball game he had recorded earlier. I came up to bed to write the blog and read.

It will be difficult to get an early start tomorrow, but I have to do it in order to stay on schedule.

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day Two

The Courtyard at Gulf Shores provided a very comfortable night's stay, and getting out of bed early in the morning was not easy. After shower, shave, breakfast, etc. I finally got on the road again at 7:30. The trip back to I-10 took another half hour putting me an hour behind schedule, and I had to cover 534 miles today.

The weather was overcast with occasional drizzle. Traffic and roads were normal with the exception of one accident in Mobile, and at 11:38 I entered Mississippi. A portion of the morning was taken up by listening to the radio show The Gestalt Gardener on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The two garden gurus that do the show, Felder Rushing and Dr. Dirt, are very witty and entertaining as well as informative, and I enjoyed my first encounter with the show. As I passed by the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I had to fight the temptation to drive along Hwy 90 to look a the destruction caused by Katrina, but I knew I didn't have the time to spare.

After the Gestalt Gardener show, I listened to a short tape by Charles Curalt, American Moments. While I always enjoyed Curalt when he was on radio and TV, the tapes produced since his death are not as rewarding. Once I got within range of New Orleans, I listened to Jazz on the local public radio station until it could no longer be received.

Since I had driven to New Orleans before, the highway was familiar to that point. However, once past New Orleans, I was covering new ground. The causeway, really a bridge, across the vast swamp west of New Orleans provided a very unique and scenic drive. Lots of birds were in evidence. I would definitely like to come back for a closer inspection.

Lunch at a Taco Bell in Lake Charles was a Fiesta Chicken Bowl, eaten while I continued to drive. Definitely not a choice made for any reason other than expediency. Each encounter with Taco Bell engenders a longer interval until the next.

By 2:30 I entered Texas with 113 miles to go. Traffic began to pick up until in downtown Houston it slowed to a crawl. It remained stop and go until I reached the western suburbs. At 4:45 I arrived at my destination on Portage Rock Lane in Katy.

It was exciting to see Kim, Todd, Makenna and Mason. They all look great. Makenna and Mason are much more mature than when I saw them last. They are both very sweet kids, but then I'm not an unbiased observer.

We ate a very nice dinner of roast pork, fingerling potatoes, broccoli and salad that Kim fixed. Mason and Todd left for basketball practice, Makenna went to a birthday party, and Kim and I discussed photography. After practice, Todd picked us up for ice cream at Baskin Robbins. There, four fathers ate ice cream and discussed players and standings in sports leagues from grade school to pro.

When we got back to the house, Todd put on the show The Dog Whisperer, one I had not seen. It was very interesting, and Cesar, the featured dog trainer certainly looks like he is very good at what he does. The show looked to me not a little like Dr. Phil for dogs.

Tomorrow Mason has a basketball game which should be interesting not only for the play, but there is an on going parent controversy regarding proper placing of players that may play out as well.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Houston-Chicago Trip - Day One

Today is day one of my eight day trip to visit children and grandchildren in Katy, Texas and Naperville, Illinois. I am now in Gulf Shores, Alabama where I'm spending the night and writing this entry.

I left my home in Winter Springs, Florida at 7:30 on a foggy, misty morning - not typical Central Florida weather. The clouds and fog reinforced my belief that this trip is probably going to be nasty weather the entire time. Driving was typical with heavy traffic and delays getting through Orlando this morning. Later the Florida Turnpike, I-75 and I-10 were busy but allowed me to make good time. I was going through Tallahassee by noon. Lunch was a Publix Cuban sandwich, apple, and banana. I was in Gulf Shores by 3:00 this afternoon as planned. With the thermometer in the 40's, it's much cooler here than Central Florida, but not uncomfortable.

On the way I listened to an audio book, Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson. It is the story of the powerful hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 claiming 8,000 lives. The book has lots of great details about the storm and it's aftermath and I enjoyed listening to it.

Aside from being half way between Winter Springs and Katy, this area of Alabama is attractive as a stopping off place because my grandparents Carpenter had a second home in Magnolia Springs on the river. Several years ago I visited the old house, but this time I couldn't find it. Either it's been torn down or changed so much I don't recognize it. After driving around for a while I gave up. The area has changed so much anyhow. The old general store on the corner is now an upscale restaurant and gourmet shop. The area around the river is packed full of homes. It's nothing like I remember from my childhood. I thought there might be some good photo opportunities, but the light was poor and nothing was attractive enough to stop for.

I'm staying in a new Courtyard by the mall. Gulf Shores reminds me of Gatlinburg, Tennessee with all the commercial development and amusement facilities. On the way from Magnolia Springs to the hotel, I went through Bon Secour, a little fishing village on the Bon Secour river, which empties into Bon Secour and then Mobile Bay. The Tin Top Restaurant in Bon Secour had a neon 'Oysters' sign in the window which caught my attention. After checking it out with the hotel staff, I decided to have dinner there. I expected it to be a local Oyster Bar restaurant and wasn't disappointed. It was more refined than I anticipated with a lot more restaurant than bar. The food was very good, the service great and the prices, while not cheap, were reasonable. I had oyster stew, an oyster po' boy sandwich, and fried green tomatoes. Apparently a lot of folks like the place since one wall was covered with write-ups. One was from the 'Mullet Wrapper', a great name for a local newspaper.

Tomorrow I'll leave early and plan to be in Katy around 3:00 PM.