Thursday, December 25, 2008

I've Seen the [Christmas] Light

This year, we've added to the Christmas lights outside. A couple of years ago I posted how we could see the house from space due to all the lights, but this year, I think you might be able to see the house from Jupiter. The good thing is that we are basically done - and frankly, we've made it so easy, that it isn't even that big of a deal to put them up.

I love the way the house looks when we pull into the driveway. The kids love it too. I say that I do it for them, but it is more for me. I grew up with lights on the house and a nativity scene on the lawn. I want the kids to have those same memories. In fact, although I haven't added to the nativity in a while(we have Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a Shepard, and a sheep), I found the entire set (which adds the three kings and a life-sized camel). I'll save my money up for that and we'll have it for next year. We'll also add a nice light-up wreath to the second floor window, fix the lights that are out now, and we'll be done. As we take down the lights this year, we'll number the boxes and cords to remember where everything goes. I bet we have the whole house done in a couple of hours next year.

And perhaps, we'll add our cheer to other houses, as well. A good bud of mine who doesn't share my "give--your-money-to-the-electric-company-because-you-are-burning-megawatts-of-power-with-those-fifteen-million-little-bulbs-on-the-house" mentality dared me to put lights on his house. The truth is that for years I have been giving him the business for his dark abode and I've threatened to put lights on his house, but haven't because it's his castle. However, I interpreted a recent blog post of his (see number 7) as approval to mess with the visibility of his house for extraterrestrials. Angie and I put twelve boxes of colored mini-lights on his shrubs. They came out good and his family was happy. Not too sure about him, however. I do know that our friendship is not in jeopardy.

Good thing, too. I have twelve boxes of icicle lights with his name on them for next year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Best Christmas Ever!"

I shook her hand and I looked into her crying eyes as she said it..."This is the BEST Christmas ever!" I told her, "I know, mine too".

You see, Angie, Justin, Dylan, Marissa, Cassie, My mother in law, and I volunteered for an hour and a half this morning on the Red Carpet of the Christmas Angel Project for the Soup Mobile. Basically, we cheered, danced, sang, shook hands, gave out hugs and wished "Merry Christmas" and "God Bless You" on a couple hundred of Dallas' homeless community as they entered the Dallas Hyatt Regency hotel at Reunion Tower. They were there for a night of comfort, good food, and fellowship as part of the Christmas Angel Project.

Angie and I have been feeling like Christmas should mean more than just ripping open presents that are forgotten about in short order. This feeling started a long while ago and was reinforced with our church's Give campaign that started last year and continues. Also reinforcing this feeling is the fact that the kids get so much for Christmas that they often become obnoxious and don't even realize it.

Now, for anyone who's ever served, service typically does more for the server than the served. Today was no different. I feel good about what I did this morning, and even better that the kids were involved. They seemed to have enjoyed it and they all said that it meant something to them. So far, they seem much more gracious with what they've received today, as well.

That being said, I'm somewhat convicted about how I've viewed the homeless previously. Living in New York City, you get pretty sensitized to the homeless pretty quickly, and then you just stop making eye contact, and ultimately viewing the homeless as needy souls.

That changed today. Every person I looked at, I saw a person, not someone who doesn't have an address. As they wished blessings on me, I couldn't help but be touched. Here is someone that has nothing in the way of possessions thanking me for being there and asking God to bless me (like He hasn't already, more than I'll ever deserve).

Then, I realized what was going on. I was helping the homeless man or woman feel like a human being. I was LOOKING at them. I was TOUCHING them. I was cheering them on.

And, it still holds true. My heart is filled more than it has in a long, long time.

This has been the best Christmas ever, that is for sure.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Minute cRUSH

Today is Christmas Eve - for our house, anyway.

When you share holidays due to step kids, than sometimes holidays fall on days other than scheduled on a calendar. Tomorrow, December 24th is Christmas Day in our house.

That means that for Christmas Eve, I had to work. After authorizing the payments of almost a million dollars, I left the office (house) to finish some shopping of my own. The second I left the house, I felt as frazzled as Travis Erwin trying to pack for Florida.

First, I went to church. Christmas shopping at church? Yes. We have a gift shop in the new building and the staff opened it during the day this week for us last minute shoppers. Since Angie and I are rarely up there without each other, I took advantage of the extended hours to pick her up a present. The gift shop is like Kirklands and is so nice that Angie and I decided to volunteer in there. I picked up a little something for her and some stuff for the kids.

Next stop was Kohls. Now I know why I hate shopping. There were tons of people shopping and spending money. I found a couple of things that I was looking for, waiting on line, and paid. Fortunately, no one really pissed me off too bad. In fact, the cashier was very pleasant and said "Merry Christmas". And the way back to the car, I made contact with a guy walking in with his wife. We communicated telepathically. I was happy to be leaving and he was unhappy to be heading in.

Next stop was McDonalds. I needed some double cheeseburger energy to continue. The old lady who took my money said "Merry Christmas" with a lot of excitement.

Home Depot was next. This stop was somewhat for presents and somewhat for home projects. They didn't have what I needed (they NEVER do - I dislike the Home Depot). I left empty handed. The strange lady at the door said "Happy Holidays". Did I mention I don't like Home Depot?

Lowes is my preferred do-it-yourself home supply store and as luck would have it, is next to Home Depot. As expected, I found everything I was looking for. Some gifts and some supplies. Re-caulking the tub is in my future. Also, as expected, the cashier said, "Merry Christmas".

Last stop, Target. The Super Target was my wife's most anticipated store opening when they built it a couple of years ago. She really prefers Target to Wal*Mart, but she hardly ever shops there because it is so much more expensive. Me, I think the store sucks. They never have anything and I end up at Wally World anyway. However, this time, I found what I was looking for. Taylor at the register, who couldn't have been more than 17, did NOT wish me a Merry Christmas, or anything, for that matter.

So, now I'm done. I'm not wrapping presents or anything tonight. I'm gonna let Santa do all the work, cause we are getting up early for the Soup Mobile.

More on that tomorrow.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thanks, Eric...You Don't Even Know Me

My sister's comment to my last post (scroll down) prompted a Google search. I entered, "It's OK to Say Merry Christmas". Actually, I didn't even have to type the whole thing...Google knew where I was going because it finished it for me.

I got "about 84,000 hits".

Most were pictures of the button on various sites on which you can purchase, but it would seem that I'm not the only one that seems a little perturbed by this issue. Heck, even Citizen magazine has an article about how Christians are organizing in support of businesses that recognize Christmas and against those that keep the sales season non-religious AND are hosting a petition on their website titled, "I Stand for Christmas".

However, one interesting result was from the Tonawanda News and a column by Eric DuVall of North Tonawanda, NY. He agrees with my sentiment, but he comes from the opposite direction. As a Jew, he comments that it's OK to wish someone a "Merry Christmas". I won't paraphrase his column, you can read it here.

So, as we enter Christmas week, I'll be even more confident that my "Merry Christmas" is acceptable. And, if I know you celebrate something else, I'll add that, too.

So, Merry Christmas, Eric. Oh, and Happy Hanukkah and Happy Birthday, too.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Holidays? Bite Me!

No, I'm not Scrooge. In fact, I love this time of year. I love the way people seem to be just a little nicer to each other (except for when they are stepping on peoples' faces trying to get to the limited quantity sales at Wal-Mart at 5:00am on the day after Thanksgiving). In fact, even though traffic is a lot worse, I’m even a little bit nicer. There’s something to the holiday cheer that gets me.

I do have a peeve, however. I hate the way that Christ is removed from Christmas – like it’s wrong to be a follower of Jesus.

Commercials and corporations seem to go out of their way to eliminate all religious aspects of the holiday. It’s “Happy Holiday” this and “Season’s Greetings” that. What about “Merry Christmas”?

According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, those that claim to be Christians make up more than 80% of American society, yet the less than 20% seem to have been successful in taking out the Christ from Christmas. How does that happen?

How does this same minority eliminate God from schools and all other public establishments?

I’m not sure how this occurs, but I know it bothers me. The founding fathers were farmers, merchants and ministers. They read and knew the bible and gave credit to God for certain rights that we enjoyed. In fact, as I read the First Amendment, God is not prohibited to be included in public works, only that the government cannot insist that God be included. I’m not sure how the ACLU bastardized this and convinced the public that this meant that God cannot be a part of government, and worse, publically worshipped, but they have.

I know that you may read this and think that I’m some religious yahoo, and that’s ok. I also realize that there are enough religious yahoos out there and that they typically give a bad name to all Christians, but I, for one, and done apologizing for my beliefs.

I am a Christian, and thankful that I’ve come to understand the Good News, and I won’t judge you if you haven’t. I’ll pray that you do, however.

And, either way, I’ll greet you with a hearty “Merry Christmas”. None of that “Happy Holidays” crap for me.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Don't Know What To Write

I haven't posted in a while, but that's only because I don't believe that the things going on these days are really interesting. Sure, they are important to me and my family, but not terribly exciting to read about in some one's blog.

I thought about writing about Cassie's Girl Scout Troop and the event they went to on Friday night. A Senior troop hosted "Glamour Day", where they gave the girls makeovers (hair, makeup, etc.) and then took "glamour" photos of the girls. It is a way for the hosting troop to earn money as a fundraiser and for the younger girls have fun hanging out. The girls had such a good time, especially having make up put on and getting to select their outfits. As soon as I get some of the pictures, I'll turn them into a pic of the week.

I thought about writing about our social outing today. We went up to friends up in the country about an hour away. They are part of our small group, and they travel down here every other week for fellowship and food. They thought a social event at their beautiful home would be fun - and it was. We had a "white elephant" gift exchange. I came home with pens, pads, and paperclips.

I thought about writing about our (Angie and me) desire to do something more meaningful for Christmas. Angie asked me to make a donation on her behalf to the Soup Mobile for one of her Christmas presents. However, we want to do more and also get the kids involved. We are still working on those plans and I'm sure I'll blog about that when appropriate.

When all is said and done, the most interesting thing I did this weekend was hunt...and even that doesn't make for an exciting story. I got to the lease at about 6am and was in the tripod by 6:20. It was WINDY and the wind made it cold. It also made it for a constant adrenalin experience. Every cracked trig or sound I thought I heard put be on alert. For three hours that "alertness" was a false alarm, and when my bladder and butt had had enough, I saw motion in the trees. I wasn't sure what I saw, but I knew it was safe to lift my gun into position. I did so in slow motion while I looked to see if I actually saw something. Eventually, I saw a deer through the thinning. I couldn't make out its sex, but at least it was something. Unfortunately, at this point in the season, you can only shoot bucks. I looked for antlers - none. I looked through my scope for spikes - none. I looked again, just in case. It was definitely a doe. A beautiful mature doe. I watched her eat for about thirty minutes. She had her fill and walked off in the direction opposite from where she came.

As soon as she was gone, I began to feel my bladder and butt again. I toughed it out for about thirty more minutes, hoping to see a buck, but never did.

On the way home I stopped by the processor. My doe from a couple of weeks ago was done. I have deer steaks, tenderloins, backstrap and ground venison in the freezer.

I can't wait to try it.


Friday, December 05, 2008

The Huntcast

I just listened to the latest episode of my favorite podcast, Huntcast: The Outdoors Show (episode #73). I found the show about a year ago and typically catch up on episodes while I fly.

Joe Duckworth from Michigan hosts the show and I found the podcast on iTunes. I started listening to the show because I wanted to learn more about hunting. Since then, I've found the show informative on more than just hunting strategies, but on important issues such as gun control, land access, the second amendment, and others. The show is very well done and I wholeheartedly recommend it. He's got a great message board, as well. I've bragged about some of the success I've had this season and it's fun to share pictures and tall tales with others around the globe.

Well, imagine my surprise when I stopped by his site and I saw a link to MY BLOG on it. I was amazed by that. I couldn't imagine why he would link to my site. I have been posting about hunting and being outdoors a lot lately, but my stories are nothing special - just about a man, some family and friends, and a new found love for the outdoors - whether actually harvesting game or not.

I proceeded to listen to the show immediately. I have a trip coming in a couple of weeks and would normally have saved it up, but I was really curious if he was going to speak about the blog, like he usually does about the links he posts. Well, to my amazement, he did. He mentioned my name, the site, and how I am a former Yankee just learning about nature and falling in love with what I'm learning. He said something in his podcast that really struck home - he said "Scott gets it".

I think he refers to the fact that I am totally and completely obsessed with being outdoors. Whether staring up at stars so close you could touch them, or watching an armadillo walk across my feet because it couldn't hear me approach in the wind. I feel so connected and alive being outdoors. In fact, my wife recently commented about the "passion" I currently have for the outdoors. It isn't about the hunt and it isn't about the kill, even though that sometimes those are a part of it.

It is about connecting to God and His creation in a way that you cannot when you are sitting at a computer or on the couch. It's about understanding the effect of the wind on game, or how the stage of the moon will effect an early morning hunt. It's about where the fish are hiding in the lake because of cover and shadows, or how hogs can't see very well. It's about listening to the yelp of a turkey or knowing what time sunrise is - and being out there to see it.

However, with the help of Joe's podcast, and other resources, it is also about becoming involved in what's important to us. It's about defending the 2nd amendment and our rights. It's about becoming involved with conservation efforts, either with our pocketbooks or in some other way. It is about handing down a heritage to our children and others. It's about letting politicians know what's important to us and that we vote and doing so unapologetically.

Ultimately, it's about a soon to be 40-year-old man who grew up in New York City and the suburbs of Long Island, who was introduced to the fun of shooting a firearm by a caring man, who fell in love with firearms, then the outdoors, and ultimately with hunting and fishing...and making up for 40 lost years as quickly as possible.

Thanks for the shout out, Joe. Keep up the great work and the awesome show. You, and your podcast are a large part of my love of the outdoors.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stinky Feet Meat

That's what Angie called the Ham Steaks that she prepared (see pic of the week to the right). She thought they were gamey. Cassie agreed, but what does she know? She's only seven.

Dylan, Marissa and I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner. Baked wild hog pork seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic salt, and other unidentified seasoning. It was tasty, mostly moist, and delicious. Add the french fries, mixed veggies, and garlic bread and we had an awesome meal. I've since eaten leftovers for lunch and still cannot fathom how good the meat tastes.

Last night, we ate the breakfast sausage that came from the same hog. Angie and Marissa made breakfast for dinner; pancakes, cheesy eggs and sausage. Best spicy sausage I have ever had. It had a great little kick, just like I like it. Pour maple syrup all over them and they are perfect. EVERYONE enjoyed the sausage, Cassie and Angie included.

I've also been eating the "Big Stinkin' Hog Sticks" made by the processor. They are hotdog sized slim jims that are very hot and spicy. Delicious snacking is what I think.

We still have summer sausage and pork chops to try. Given our experience so far, I am sure they are going to be awesome. If you have a pork chop recipe, send one over. I think I may try a bacon apple glaze on it, like they serve at the Foundry Grill at Sundance in Utah.

I'm just hoping to bag another hog. I will definitely have to get one every year. I don't want this meat to end.


Monday, December 01, 2008

A Tail of Two Deer

This is the story of two extremes. One of elation and one of despair, and how quickly one can replace the other.

Dylan and I have been looking forward to this past weekend since we got our hunting lease. This was the one weekend in Fannin county that an "Antlerless permit" was not needed to bag a doe. We've been referring to the weekend as "doe weekend" and basically it just means that for the three day Thanksgiving weekend you could hunt does, as well as, bucks. Since we've seen many does on the property and only a few bucks we looked forward to the weekend as our real chance to bag our first deers.

This past weekend was not looking good as of last Tuesday. I "tweaked" my back and since I've had too much experience in this area, I was afraid I was going to be bed ridden for a week. When I felt the twinge, I got into bed and took muscle relaxers as quickly as possible. I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday in bed. I figured that not only was Thanksgiving lost, but the hunt, as well.

I never went into spasm, so I proceeded to do the stretching that I've been directed to do from the previous times I've thrown out my back. On Thursday, I felt ok and decided to accompany my family to Lake Whitney, where Angie's cousins were hosting the holiday. It's our first time hanging with them on the holidays and everyone was there. We had a wonderful day and I mostly just sat on the couch watching the football games.

Friday morning (3:00am) came and I got up. I felt ok. Our original plan was to camp out at the lease on Friday night, but it was raining and I was afraid for my back, so we decided that if we didn't bag our does, we'd drive home and return the next morning. It's a little less than two hours to the lease and since gas is down to about $1.65, I thought it would be better to spend the night in my own bed.

Friday was a loss. It poured on Dylan as he sat in the tripod. I was in the pop-up blind behind him, so I was dry. Don't feel bad for him. I wasn't hunting, he was. I had to be with him because he never completed his hunter ed. He never saw a deer.

Friday night, we decided to sit together in the blind near one of our tree stands. We saw nothing until dark. At about the same time where it was too dark to see (or shoot) a number of deer came out of the woods to our right. Dylan saw them and raised the gun. However, it was dark and hard to make out the deer. Because he wasn't sure, he didn't fire. I was proud of him. That two minutes after many hours in the blinds was enough to get us jazzed for day two. He knew he was gonna come back and sit in the same spot.

On day two, we sat in the blind where we saw those deer the day before. Dylan tried to go to sleep. I told him if he slept, I would shoot what I saw...He stayed awake at that point. About ninety minutes in, we saw two deer come out of the woods. They headed towards the feeder and were does, so Dylan got into position. He scoped the larger doe which was facing away from us. I told him to get ready and that as soon as she turned to fire. She began to turn and he fired with no hesitation. I don't know if he fired too quickly, or not, but the deer dropped. The other (smaller) ran into the woods. Dylan began to shake as the effects of the adrenalin took over. Truth be told, so did I. We congratulated each other and as our attention left the deer, it staggered to it's feet. Dylan was the first to notice, but he had moved out of position to fire again. The deer staggered to the edge of the woods and stopped. Dylan raised his rifle to fire again, but the deer disappeared into the trees before he could fire. We weren't concerned. We knew he hit it and we figured it wouldn't get far and we could track it. We called Steve (Angie's cousin for instructions) and waited.

He told us to wait a couple of minutes and track it. While we were preparing to leave the blind another doe came out of the woods to our right. Since Dylan had shot his, this one was mine. I moved into position as Dylan moved out of the way. The doe heard us and began to run for the woods. I bleated, it stopped and I fired. The deer dropped. Since Steve had told us when we called him to always keep your eye on the animal, I chambered another shell and reacquired the deer in my scope. She kicked for a couple of seconds and then lay still. We waited for several more minutes to see if she was going to get up. She wasn't, so we departed the blind. After inspecting my kill, and calling Steve and Angie and letting them know we got a second in the ten minute interval since our last call, we decided to start tracking Dylan's.

We walked over to the feeder. No blood. That's not good. We did know EXACTLY where she entered the woods, so we walked over to the same entrance she used and expected to find her there. We didn't. We weren't terribly concerned yet, except for the fact we couldn't find a blood trail. Since she fell and stayed down for a couple of minutes, we figured he had shot true and she wouldn't get far, but the lack of a blood trail was a bad sign. We searched for a while to no avail and called Steve. He would come and help us look. We found a single drop of blood on a blade of grass at the entrance of the woods, but no more.

We walked for what felt like several hours. We searched damn near the entire 205 acres of the lease, and many of the neighboring properties. I figured we'd find her at some point, but the more we looked, the more pessimistic I got. We looked hard. I knew that Dylan was going to be crushed, and frankly, I was also motivated to make sure we didn't waste a kill. However, after over two hours of looking, we gave up. Steve believes that Dylan shot a little early and didn't get a good broadside, and either grazed her chest, or more likely, gutshot her. That would explain the lack of blood and the possibility that the doe ranged very far before bedding down and dying.

Dylan was crushed and I was very disappointed for him. Although I had harvested my first deer, my elation was countered by my hurt for him - compounded by the fact that I would not have shot my doe if I knew we weren't going to find his. Basically, my hunt had become elation tempered by disappointment because of the hard lesson we both had to learn. To Dylan's credit, he remained mostly positive. He said something to the effect that "this happened for a reason and maybe he'd score a buck later", or something like that.

We hunted the evening. He chose to sit in the tripod again, since we figured the spot where we were was lost for a couple of days. Unfortunately, he never saw another animal. Since he couldn't hunt on Sunday, his doe weekend was done. He was bummed and our ride home on Saturday was pretty quiet.

I returned on Sunday afternoon and sat in the tripod myself. However, I also saw no game.

We still have a month and a half to get bucks or hogs, so we still have some time. Until then, I'm sure the venison is going to taste a little bit bitter and a little bit sweet.