A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

From Houston to Home

English: Mississippi Old Capitol; Jackson, Mis...
 Mississippi Old Capitol; Jackson, Mississippi; December 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Even though I've lived in Los Angeles for the past 23 years, I don't really think of it as home.  It's a place where I have a house where I stay most of the time and keep my possessions.  My house feels like home but that's about the extent of it.  The city, though I've become familiar with much of it, does not feel like what I think of as home.   When someone asks me about home my mind immediately conjures up memories of Maryville, Tennessee.

        I didn't move to Maryville until I was in high school.   Over the years this Tennessee town has been a sort of home base for me.  It's where my mother still lives as well as my brother and sisters.   Fortunately I manage to make it back to East Tennessee at least once, sometimes twice, each year.  It's a long trip from Los Angeles that requires a three day road trip or a flight.   I prefer the road trip and that's what I've done again.

        After leaving my wife off at her daughter's house in Houston, Texas, I continued on by myself on the 15 hour drive to Maryville.   My wife will be spending a month with her daughter while I spend a month with my mother and family.   Toward the end of July my wife will fly up to join me and we will continue our travels.

        The drive from Houston to Maryville was pleasant and not particularly stressful.  I broke up the trip with a stay at the halfway point in Jackson, Mississippi.  My original plan was to eat at a somewhat famous soul food restaurant called the Big Apple Inn.   I'd seen something about it on television a couple weeks before we'd left home and figured I'd try the food--most famously the pig ear sandwich.  This was not to be since they are closed on Mondays and that was the day I happened to be there.

        Jackson has some atrocious streets as I discovered in my drive around town.  And the city from what I saw seems a bit run down.  Since I'd arrived at about 3 PM I had time to kill so I checked out downtown and the area around the capitol building.   There's not much I can rave about regarding this city.  I'm sure there are some nice things that maybe I missed, but Jackson is not high on my list of cities I want to spend much time in.

        As things turned out, I had an early dinner at some nondescript seafood joint that specialized in fried plates--didn't kill me, but didn't set all that well with me either.   A hard rain shower came as I sat in the restaurant eating.  Since I was seated by a window I had a grand view of the rain storm and the cars passing by on the interstate.  The rain stopped when it was time for me to leave.

        My room for the night was a freebie at the Country Inns Suites.  Having found this chain to be rather nice, I'd stayed in various locations enough times to acquire enough points for a free room.  This location in Pearl, Mississippi--right outside Jackson--was the worst I'd stayed in.  Not to say the hotel was bad--I'd say it was among the best in the area--but it didn't meet up to the standards of my other experiences with this hotel chain.  I guess this is kind of par for the course for a lot of hotels in places like Mississippi and Louisiana.  I don't mean to disparage these parts of the country, but I think there's just something about the climate or something that leads to places not being quite as nice.  That probably sounds kind of weird I suppose and I may be totally wrong about this.  It's just been my experience.

         The next morning I left the hotel at about 6:30 and had another uneventful relaxing day of driving through Alabama and into Tennessee.    I pulled into the driveway at my mother's house at 3:22 PM--eight minutes ahead of the schedule I had predicted for her.  The whole family dropped in to visit that evening. It feels good to be "home".

            What has been your experience with traveling in Mississippi or similar climes?   Do you have any favorite motel or restaurant chains that you frequent when traveling?   How far do you live from family?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Heading To Houston

Las Cruces, New Mexico
Las Cruces, New Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        I've lost track of the number of times my wife and I have made the long drive from Los Angeles to Houston.   Since our daughter moved to Houston several years ago we've made the run many times.  We've got it down to a schedule for the most part.

       On the day that this blog article posts we will be undertaking the first leg of our journey.  We'll shoot for a departure of between 5 to 6 AM.   After grabbing a to go breakfast from McDonald's (it's across the street from where we live), we'll hit the road.   The destination for the first day will be Las Cruces, NM.  This is almost precisely the halfway point between L.A. and Houston and makes for a fairly comfortable twelve hour day including a stop for lunch and a few gas stops.

        The western portion of I-10 traverses hundreds of miles of mostly desert.   From Palm Springs to the Arizona border we'll be crossing the empty expanse of the Mojave Desert.  Not much here other than empty space.  Not bad to look at, but not a place you'd want to break down in the middle of a hot summer day.  We'll try to make it to Arizona before 11 AM.

          Lunch will be on the southeast side of Phoenix.  It was after several trips that we discovered that Chandler Blvd. was a good place to find restaurants.  We've now honed our usual choices between a couple of barbecue restaurants--Rudy's and Can't Stop Smokin'.  We alternate between these two most of the time.  Since there are no really good barbecue restaurants near where we live, eating at these is a treat for us.

           After a satisfying lunch break we hit the road again.  Passing through Tucson is not my favorite part of this trip, but once on the other side of that city we know we've got lots more open road ahead with maybe one more gas stop.  We'll pass though towns like Benson and Wilcox.   There's one mountain stretch that passes through a wild array of rock formations.   Or how about the tourist trap gas station/Dairy Queen that for miles advertises "The Thing?"   We've never stopped for that one, but I've been tempted.   My wife says, "Keep going" and I know she's right.

          Shortly past the eastern Arizona border we pass the odd little ghost town of Stein's.  It looks like an interesting place to visit in it's scenic setting, but I never want to take the time.  Someday I'll pull off to see what's there, but not today.   We've got a couple more hours and if we're on schedule it's now about 5 PM. No rush hour to worry about out here, but dinner and our motel room are beckoning us.

          The Springhill Suites has become like home to us we've stayed here so many times.  Before we get our room we'll stop first to have a light dinner at Applebee's.   My wife will probably have a frozen margarita while I'll cool off and relax with a tall schooner of draft beer.  

          In the room I'll grab my laptop to check on emails and this blog to see if I got any comments.  So if you read this post be sure to comment so I see it.   Once I'm wound down after a long day's drive, it's hopefully a good night's sleep before another early start and another twelve hour day to our Houston destination.

          Road trips are fun.  I've got a lot of road time to put in over the next few weeks.   Maybe I should think about selling our house and living on the road in an RV.   Might not be too bad of a life.

           Have you considered giving up the settled life for a life on the road?   Do you enjoy traveling through the desert?     Do you have a special place like a lodging or restaurant that you visit every time you pass through a certain town?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summertime Travelling

English: Photo taken of the south face of Pica...
Photo taken of the south face of Picacho Peak, Arizona, United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         Will you be doing any travelling this summer?  Some of us in the northern hemisphere might be hitting the road.   A few with greater financial wherewithal might even be flying to far off places or hitting the seas in cruise ships.  Travel options are many.

        High gas prices and tough economic situations for some of us might curtail travel and cause more than a few to opt for staying at home if any vacation time is to be had.  Or maybe some of you work through the summer.  Since my wife is a teacher and I'm essentially retired we have a couple of free months in the summer.   Travel is on the current agenda.  If everything goes as planned we'll be packing up our Chrysler Town and Country van and visiting family scattered about the U.S. far from where we live.  If we don't go to visit them, odds are we are unlikely to see any of them during the year.  I'm not fond of scattered families, but life sometimes takes those turns as we all pursue the dreams that the economy sometimes dictates.

         In weeks to come you might find me in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and New Jersey and many points in between.  The trek from Los Angeles to all of those places means a lot of time and many miles on the highways.  No telling where you might find me in the weeks ahead.   I'll be pre-scheduling my posts before I depart so I'll be writing about generalities.  A bit of the past and some guesstimates of where I might be in general at the time when the post goes up.

           If you aren't travelling yourself you can join me in my travels.  In a sense that is.   I'll try to give you a feel for things that we might encounter.  We've made this trip a number of times so even with my bad memory I'm sure I'll pull up a few highlights that we've experienced on past trips that most likely we'll experience again.

           Hope you don't mind if I take the easy blogging route and reminisce about the road.   Maybe we share some memories between us and maybe I'll share some that are new to you.   I hope we all have a happy safe summer.

           See you next Saturday on the first leg of the journey.

            What are your plans for the summer?    Do you hit the roads during the summer months?   What is your favorite travel destinations and activities?

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chipped Again

          I came upon the blog of Michele Truhlik during the 2014 A to Z Challenge.  Today she shares a bit about experiences with her beloved dogs.  You'll find the link to her blog at the bottom of this post.  Be sure to drop by to say hello.


     Unbeknownst to Kate, fate was sealed that sunny balmy day back in April 1999 when her thwarted efforts to pound the metal pole of the designer hummingbird feeder into the rocky Texas soils - soils so different from the rich deep grounds from where she hailed - netted her nothing but sweaty irritation and a tattered metal edge, leaving the rest of the pole assembly completely useless.

     As she recites those familiar chants: "Why does this s**t always happen to me?  Why can't anything ever go right?!" she blamed the universe for all her problems while categorically denying any ownership or responsibility for her own destructive impatience as the main root cause.

     Rushing through the Wal-Mart parking lot, of course pissed because she NEVER finds a close-in parking space (again proving her theory that the universe plots against her), with gnarled garden pole in hand, hoping they wouldn't question why she needed to exchange the damaged pole, she connived a plausible answer in case they did.  She was suddenly calmed and intrigued by a group of large dogs lingering at the automatic doors of her second favorite store.  She recognized the breed as greyhounds - a breed she knew little about though she did know that they were probably retired racers.

     Her steps slowing a bit, her thoughts shifted to "I think it just might be the right time for me to get a dog."  This thought rocked her.  Because, although she loved dogs, she had always felt her lifestyle not conducive to dog ownership…she was far too into freedom and flights of fancy for any kind of tie-down responsibility.  Still, deep down, she knew it was time.

     After the lengthy application and substantial (albeit impressive) adoption approval process, Maggie, a three-year old return, was delivered to her.  The sweet and striking reverse-brindle, with hints of golden browns peppering her shimmering black coat, immediately stole Kate's heart.
This strong female was clearly and indeed a natural survivor (possessing instincts, incidentally, not unlike those of her new owner) and she displayed remarkable resilience from the harsh reality she had escaped…that of the underground racing circuit where illegal gambling took place in makeshift backyard and field tracks run by those known in that seamy side of the industry as Rabbit-Runners (because they would throw a live rabbit onto the track and bet on which dog would get it first). These were disgusting criminal sorts akin to Pit Bull fighting ringleaders, driven by greed, narcotics and machismo, having no regard for life, be it animal or human.
     It wasn't until Bella came along though that Kate became painfully aware of the cruelty looming out there for these poor incredibly docile creatures.  Bella came in a condition that can only be described as heartbreaking: an obvious escapee from rabbit-running hell, she lived in the wild for God knows how long.  By the time she was found on a lonely farm in rural Central Texas, she had sustained almost complete hair loss caused from either extensive mange or shot nerves.  She had whittled down to a shameful 38 pounds, just over half the weight she should have been as a healthy grey of three years.
     Kate first encountered this pitiful female while she was in foster care.  She was completely devoid of hair on her undernourished body...so devoid that it was literally impossible to guess just what color dog she really was.  As the dog lay in a corner, apprehensive and frightened, she noted the exceptional beauty of her face.  In her mind, she named her "Bella" because of its French meaning.

     Disturbed by the persistent flashes of "Bella", she pursued adoption of her.  The relationship between her and her new greyhound was challenging, to say the least.  Bella was terrified of people, cowering at even the gentlest of approaches.  It became obvious that this forsaken little fawn female had suffered at the hands of cruel savagery, and it was suspected with good reason that violent head blows were doled out when the dog attempted to fulfill its natural hunger by eating.

      With time and kind patience, she waited eight long months before Bella even allowed her face to be stroked.  Up until then, the canine's heart would race with sheer panic at any human touch.  Kate was keenly aware of all the milestones, big and little, along the way as she awed at Bella's brilliant transformation from scared skittish spook to loving and trusting companion. 

     Adding some testosterone to the dominantly female household, she and her then fiancĂ© adopted Dodge, a big goofy brindle boy with the cutest flop-forward ears you ever saw. He was a well-adjusted dog as his years in the racing industry were spent with decent breeders who cared about their charges.  In no time at all, he adjusted to retirement life on the couch. 

A little over a year later, Kate broke up with her fiancĂ© and replaced him with Harry, an unruly 70-pound lap dog, aptly nicknamed T-Rex because of his ferocious-looking wide-mouth bite, playfully applied of course.  He was the crazy one of the bunch and constantly kept Kate laughing.

      A few months after Harry's adoption, an adorable little skinny senior girl named Takala came to visit and never left. Kate had failed at fostering and succumbed to the fact that she had fallen victim to the “Potato Chip Syndrome,” the condition affectionately known as "Chipping" by greyhound owners, taken directly from that old Lays Potato Chips ad campaign claiming "You can't (have) just one."

     Her life changed immensely and her five dogs became her world, her life, her reason for being.  Astounded by the absolute unconditional love and the many inspiring insights she gleaned from her "children", a core desire grew inside that drove her to take an activist role in helping to affect positive changes in the greyhound racing industry by attempting to rid it of the unsavory characters that so darkened its reputation.

     A monumental task at the very least, she threw her heart into this new quest, so much so that she underwent a complete career change.  A newly licensed private investigator, Kate sat many a nights and many a weekend in the seedier parts of towns, discovering the players and watching the comings and goings of suspected rabbit-runners.

     Crafty though they were, these hardened criminals felt fairly secure in their illegality.  It was well known among the groups that their clandestine operations went virtually unnoticed by overworked and overburdened local law enforcement agencies.  And so their dirty gambling and its associated animal cruelty and neglect continued.

    In a bold undercover move, Kate had partnered up with friend and police detective Norman Feingold to break up the underground racing circuit she had discovered over the previous weeks during the hot humid and excruciatingly boring surveillance.

     Knowing in no uncertain terms that all the men involved were dangerous men, or at least had the capacity to be, Feingold called on his old buddies from SWAT and secured an approved raid. With all the force of a commissioned Special Weapons and Tactics team, troopers armed with bulging muscles and intimidating fire power stormed the ranch and subsequently busted up the ring that held nine greyhounds trapped in wire pens way too small for their long once-graceful bodies. 

     Nightmares of the horrific scene haunted Kate and she was unable to shake the images of putrid soured food in dishes swarming with fire-ants, bone-dry water bowls surrounded by ankle-deep feces, the stench of infected wounds and the cries of injured hounds.

     Felony charges were filed against all arrestees that day, most of whom already had lengthy rap sheets and some had active warrants.  The nine severely emaciated greyhounds were at once rescued and rushed to the emergency animal hospital.  Two didn't make it.  Upon discharge, the remaining seven recovered in foster care, and patiently awaited placements in their forever homes.

     Kate visited the recuperating greys often.  Looking into the soulful eyes and feeling the stirrings of grateful greyhound hearts, she knew that she would chip yet again and at least one...no, two...ah, what the hell, three of the skinny greyhounds would become a permanent part of her pack.

  Michele Truhlik is a writer, blogger and small business entrepreneur. Previously an owner of an advertising agency and a bar, she currently has a dog-sitting business and a jewelry business and is much happier being out of the corporate world. She is also following her calling and is an Animal Chaplain/Pet Shaman and will be officially credentialed and ordained in 2015. She has been rescuing and adopting greyhounds since 1999 and has been owned by 8 greyhounds. Pictured here is #7, Picasso. You can find her blogging at angelsbark.wordpress.com.  For more about Michele, see her AboutMe page.