Monday, December 28, 2009

Texas Duck

I haven't had much success in Texas. In fact, the only two times I have gone have been brutal.

The second time we drove a couple of hours, then walked up and down hills for about an hour. Once we were situated, we sat in the freezing rain and saw nothing. It wasn't a total loss, however...the views were amazing.

The first time was not much better. Although much closer to home, we walked through calf-high mud to get to our spot. Once there we also saw nothing except a beaver (which was actually pretty cool) and a sunrise.

Some say that the third time's a charm. They may be right.

Dylan called me yesterday to tell me he and his dad were going duck hunting in the morning and that I was welcome to join them if I wanted. After the first two times, I wasn't overly excited. However, I knew that there would be little walking involved as Lake Lavon had recovered from its very low water level and that we could boat to where we wanted to hunt. Additionally, we have had pretty cold weather, so I was hoping we might do better than not see any ducks. I also knew that this may be the last opportunity I had to hunt this season so I accepted.

I tried to get to bed early but by the time everything was done it was around 11pm. I must have been excited because I slept like crap. After waking up for the umpteenth time, I rose at 2:11am. I met Dylan at his dad's at the predetermined time. We packed the boat and truck and were off.

Dan took us to his "good" spot. He hunted there a couple of days earlier and saw lots of ducks. We set up the decoy spread, hid the boat in the brush and waiting for sunrise. Dan was very optimistic that we would see ducks landing in the spread quite early and quite often.

He was wrong.

Although we saw ducks, they avoided the decoys like the plague. He'd call, the ducks would check us out and then leave. They often landed in areas close to us, but not in range to shoot.

After about an hour, or so, a flock of canvasbacks came in right towards us. Dan and I fired. I was to Dan's left (Dylan was back in the boat, complaining about cold feet) so I shot at the duck to the left. I hit him, and he coasted to the water. Although not dead, he could no longer fly. We shot at him again while he was on the surface. Dan and I both started to give chase while the duck swam away.

We'd run and fire again. I quickly got winded and Dan said he would get him. An hour later, Dan returned empty handed. He had walked perhaps 500 yards, or more, in 3ft deep water and never was able to recover the bird.

In the meantime, I had returned to the spread. I had no call, but that didn't seem to matter. A lone canvasback approached. I shot and missed.

Dan finally returned, but went to the boat to catch his breath. While there, a flock of eight mallards came into the decoys. I lined the closest and fired. The duck fell. It was a beautiful mallard hen.

Not the greenhead I have been coveting, but a beauty nonetheless. The blue-purple on its wings is stunning.

We finally had a bird in the boat and that seemed to do the trick. We stopped calling and the ducks started coming in.

A pair of widgeons came in. Dylan and I lined up the one on the left...it fell. We're not sure who hit it, but it doesn't really matter. Dan missed his on the right. His continued to circle, looking for its mate, but we never got a good shot. It was amazing to see him fly around and quack searching for the one we downed.

Dan finally got his when a gadwall hen came into the spread.

We stuck around for a while longer seeing ducks, but never able to get them close. We ended the session watching a huge "V" of Canadian geese fly high over head.

I finally got my Texas duck. More importantly we had a great time on the water enjoying a beautiful morning in God's creation.

SL

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One Shot Wonder

We started stirring around 8am...we were all well rested and very hungry. After a wonderful breakfast from Jerry of eggs, chorizo, bacon, tortillas and the last of the tamales, we planned our day. Jim and I were going to score a javelina. I had originally planned on bringing the meat home and actually trying it, but had been dissuaded earlier by Jim and Jerry. Had they not convinced me that eating the javelina would not have been the most pleasant experience, I would have come to the conclusion on my own as we cleaned them - but that is for later.

Jim had mentioned a group of hunters that had come through a couple of years ago and how they planned on making a skull mount of a javelina. I thought that might be an interesting momento to my trophy hunt weekend. They grow tusks similar to wild hogs, so the skull has some character. Combine that with the fact that Jim knew of people who would appreciate the meat and I was convinced a javelina was a good way to end the hunt.

Now, we had seen javelina on the property and they didn't appear the be the most wary of game. In fact, some would approach the mule as they had learned to equate the sound of the engine with the dropping of corn. However, they typically didn't get too close.

We started driving around the property. We were both convinced that we would be back at the lodge in short order. It didn't turn out that way.

We drove, sat, dropped corn, drove and sat some more. We did this for the better part of two hours and had only seen one javelina. It was a small pathetic one with a hurt foot. We left it alone.

We finally happened upon a feeder and about 20 javelina milling around. Jim turned the mule to face them at about 100 yards.

We glassed them for a while watching them eat and fight. It is amazing that they aren't related to hogs and they look and act so much like them. I had read that they are actually related to hippos. We watched them for a while and Jim instructed me to find the largest of them. I instantly identified the largest and tried to acquire him in my scope. The problem was that there were so many of them running around that the one I had picked was always behind at least one other javelina.

Because we never had to get out of the mule, I had a perfect rest. I also didn't experience the same level of buck fever with these as I did with the deer. I knew I had all day to wait - the javelina weren't going anywhere as long as there was corn on the ground. In fact, of all the hunting I've done, this seemed the least sporting. It seemed a little more like shooting to me. The javelina weren't going to go anywhere. I could have gotten out of the mule, mooned them, did a song and dance and they still would have hung around.

I watched and the one I picked out finally became clear. Or, at least I thought he was clear.

What actually happened is kind of hazy. I fired true and the one that I had picked out dropped right where it stood. My shot was placed on the shoulder and instantly killed my target.

However, another javelina went flying off to the left...He was clearly gut shot and hurt badly. Jim noticed it first and instructed me to put another bullet into him to finish him off. Unfortunately (as we would discover later as we cleaned him), my second shot went through the back and out through the belly - he was now gut shot twice...although definitely dead as well. To my point about the lack of sporting nature of javelina hunting, the others who scattered were back eating around the two carcasses within 30 seconds of my shooting.

So, my one shot killed two javelina. I'm still not sure if the second one was actually behind the first and the bullet passed through both or if there was some strange ricochet off a bone of the first. Jim made the point, and I completely agree, that it doesn't matter. As the shooter, I am responsible for the outcome. If this had been two deer, I would have had paid a significant price for the error. As it was, each hunter is allowed two javelina a season, so I was done.

Javelina are known as stink-pigs and they are aptly named. In fact, these were two of the more nasty creatures on God's green earth. First, you have to leave them alone after you kill them to give the fleas a chance to make their escape. I'm not sure we gave them enough time because I have a bunch of nasty bites on my hands. Additionally, they stink. Forget the fact that one was gutshot - they both stunk and stunk bad. Javelina have a musk gland on their back that they use when they are alarmed. This gland really gives off some odor. Also, while we were cleaning them I brushed off three ticks that had travelled from the javelina to my hands.

We finally got done with that nastiness and took pictures of the javelina and a couple more of buster. We washed and drew up plans for the meat and the trophies and prepared to say our good-byes and Angie and I were anxious to get home and had an eight hour drive in front of us.

I told Jim that I had planned on a trophy hunt weekend and got the added bonus of making a friend.

I'm not sure which was the greater pleasure, but in the end, it all made up a weekend and a birthday present that I will never forget.

SL

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buster and I (The Dressing)

After taking some pictures, we finally got Buster out of the field. Jim has an area for cleaning that has winches, water and tools.

After weighing the deer (220 lbs), we hung him and field dressed him pretty quickly. I helped as much as I could, but Jim did all the areas where its important to be careful. Because I am shoulder mounting the deer, we had to keep the cape intact which made it difficult to finish the dressing. Angie stayed with us, but tried not to look at any of what we were doing. At one point she looked up and got a good look and didn't enjoy the experience. Frankly, I think she was surprised that I was, literally, up to my elbows in it.

Jim kept telling her that she had to take a bite out of the heart, but when we realized where my shot was placed, there wasn't much left to bite. Although the shot hit about an inch or two to the left of where I wanted it to, it took out the shoulder and the heart for a clean ethical kill. Buster traveled those 50 feet on adrenalin only. I felt good about that.

We finished cleaning Buster, and Jerry and Jim scored him while Angie video taped (she conveniently did NOT tape the dressing). His scores were:


We returned to the lodge, our work done for the night, to finally sit down to dinner. Jerry put some steaks on and we had an amazing dinner over the story of my deer. It was after midnight by the time we went to bed, so I told Jim we could sleep in Sunday morning - there was no reason to get up early - a doe would have been anticlimactic at this point.

The plan for Sunday was to score a javelina, but we could do that at 10am just as easily.

I dreamed about Buster.

SL

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Buster and I (The Harvest)

Jim asked me if I marked the spot. I had, so he informed me that he was going to get out of the blind and I should yell to him when he gets to the spot on the road where the buck was when I shot.

He walked about 75 yards down the road and I stopped him. He waved me down and began to look for blood.

The shot occurred with about 15 minutes of legal shooting time left. As we looked for blood it became dark. Jim couldn't find a single drop. Neither could I, but this was only the second time that I ever looked for a blood trail, so I knew if Jim couldn't find any that I wasn't going to be of much help.

We looked for what seemed like an eternity - the whole time I got more and more frustrated and fearful that we weren't going to be able to find my deer. I started to think that perhaps my shot missed. I thought the shot was true, and I was confident that I knew where my shot impacted the deer, but with no blood trail, it seemed as though I was wrong.

Jim gave up looking for blood on the road and entered the brush to look.

He appeared to be too far from the spot, so I started looking in the brush, too - but closer to the blind (about 50 feet closer than Jim). I noticed something shiny on a cactus right near the road and shiny means wet - it could have been blood.

I crossed the road, but couldn't find that shiny item again so I started looking further into the brush. I heard something move about 50 feet into the brush. It scared the hell out of me and I yelled to Jim that something was in the brush. He took a couple of steps closer to me and I took a couple of steps further intro the brush. I heard the noise again. There was definitely something in the brush with us and I said the same to Jim. I moved further in, and could see the deer. It was down, but still kicking. I yelled for Jim that I found it. He yelled to me that if it gets up I should shoot it again.

He came over and sure enough, my beautiful buck was lying still under a mesquite about 50 feet into the brush from where he was shot.

We waited several minutes before approaching and brushed the eye of the deer with my gun to make sure it was down for good. It was then that I got a good look at him and he was absolutely amazing. Jim shook my hand and congratulated me on a successful harvest of an excellent deer.

Now that we found him, we had hard work to do. First, Jim and I dragged him the 50 feet back to the road. We were careful not to drag him over cacti or through mesquites, which made our 50 foot drag more like 100. We noticed one thing...the deer was extremely heavy.

We got him into the road but quickly realized we weren't going to be able to get him into the mule. Jim suggested that we go back and get his truck with the winch. I thought that was a great idea. We drove back to the house (passing a very large rattlesnake crossing the road on the way) and picked up the truck and Angie.

The hard work was about to begin...

SL

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Buster and I (The Shot)

I've affectionately named him Buster. He is the most beautiful deer I have ever seen and I will enjoy him on my wall for many many years; not to mention enjoying him on my dinner plate for many many meals.

It might sound strange to a non-hunter that I think he's beautiful, but the truth is that he is a magnificent creature. His death, by my hand, is honored by the fact that he will help feed my family and that I will remember the wonderful time I had on my trophy hunt - which just happened to be my 40th birthday present from Angie.

In fact, the entire weekend was perfect, in every way.
Angie and I arrived at Las Tejanas Ranch thirty miles outside of Laredo at about noon on Friday. The drive from the front gate to the lodge took what seemed like fifteen minutes. While we drove, we noticed acres and acres of mesquite brush, cactus and other hardy desert plants. The country is foreboding, but also beautiful in its harshness. Las Tejanas Ranch encompasses over 1,000 acres of this rough terrain, surrounded by high fence and sports whitetail, feral hogs, and javelina. The owner, Jim Winch, met us along the way to show us to the lodge.
Once at the lodge, we settled in. He had lunch waiting and Angie and I unpacked our gear and ate a little bit, all while taking in the sights of the lodge, it's decor of old pictures and signs and antlers everywhere. Most of the antlers were castoffs, but several were taken as part of harvests and Jim had a story for all of them. Jim ended up being one of those very kind souls wrapped in a tough exterior hardened by a life of physical labor and the Vietnam War. He also was quite sentimental and had a number of items and pictures from his past, each of which also had a very interesting story. In fact, when we weren't hunting, we enjoyed Jim's stories, or those of his cook for the weekend, Jerry.

After we settled in and had lunch, we went to a clearing on the property and sighted in my gun. After nine shots, we were confident that when it was time to shoot the bullet would go where it was aimed.

We returned to the house and decided it was time to get in the blind. Angie planned on sitting in the blind with us for this afternoon session, video camera in hand, in case there was any action to capture. We got into our cammo and into our snake chaps and headed to the blind in Jim's 4x4 gas powered mule. We got into the blind around 3:30pm and got ready.

Two does came in and we watched them eat, get spooked, and return to eat some more. I've seen many does before, but I was still mesmerized. The are so graceful and skittish, it is fun to watch them. I think Angie enjoyed it, too. We hoped for a buck, but we only saw those two until darkness.
That evening, we met Jerry and he prepared a wonderful meal of tamales, rice, beans, and tortillas. It was delicious and Jerry added to Jim's stories. We sat outside talking, smoking a cigar, and enjoying the campfire under the stars.

The next morning, Angie slept in while Jim and I headed to a ground blind. Although the days were in the low 90's, the morning was surprisingly cold. We sat and watched a doe and her yearling buck come in and eat. Another pair of does came in, as well, so we had four beautiful deer in front of us, but no shooters. The mom and son pair got spooked and left, and we watched the doe pair a while longer. A javelina joined them until they all ran off. We didn't see anything else, so we abandoned the blind at around 9am.
We returned to the lodge and had a wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs and the left overs from dinner the night before. Jim kept saying that the afternoon session would be the one where we scored the buck I was hoping for. I had no reason to doubt him, so I was confident, as well.
After a nap, we left for another blind. This elevated box blind was located at the junction of six trails and Jim instructed me to keep my eyes out on the four in front of us...one had a feeder and he had scattered corn on the others. For several hours, all I did was count dove. Had I had my shotgun, I could have had a nice meal and there were many dove flying around or landing and eating the corn. At this point, I was getting a little frustrated. We hadn't seen a single deer this session and it was getting close to time to go in. But, that's when it happened.
In a whisper, Jim goes, "Scott. There's one to the right. It's a doe."
I raise my binoculars, but I really didn't need them as the deer was within 100 yards. A buck had walked into the middle of the road to eat. It presented a perfect broadside shot. I whisper back, "that's no doe. It's a buck."

Jim replies, "Shoot it". I hear "DON'T shoot it".

I look again through my binoculars...it looks pretty big to me, so I don't understand his instruction. I ask, "is it a shooter?"

"Yes. Shoot it when you are ready. Just don't bang your gun."

I put my binoculars down and move to get my gun. Maybe because Jim warned me not to do it, I bang my gun on the window sill. The deer hears the clang and looks at me. I remain motionless and the deer looks away. I slowly move my gun into position, resting on the ledge of the open window. I am starting to breath very erratically and the buck fever starts taking over. I look through my scope and it is all blurry. I cannot see the dear clearly, and the crosshairs are invisible. I do notice that he is a very nice buck with a big rack, but that just makes my breathing even worse. I blink to clear my vision and the sight picture becomes clear.

I take deep breath after deep breath to slow my breathing and my heart rate down. As I do this, the crosshairs on the scope move less and less. I finally have gotten myself under control and the scope is still. I exhale, hold my breath, hear Jim say "don't jerk the trigger", and slowly squeeze. The gun fires. I believe that my shot is true. The deer jumps straight up in the air, lands, and bolts into the brush. Jim says, "I think you got him".

I breath again...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Das Ladenstra├če

It's every man's nightmare. The very thought of it makes me break out in cold sweats. The 'it' I am referring to is accompanying his better half during a shopping spree.
When Angie first informed me of my birthday gift (a trophy whitetail deer hunt in Laredo), we knew that we would have a long ride on our hands. I thought it would be fun to do some sightseeing together on that ride. Fredericksburg was a destination that was often mentioned as a neat little city (and, by chance, it is about the halfway point in the journey). So, we knew we were going to want to stop and spend the night.
I thought this was a great plan. We were going to stop in a German town in the middle of Texas. This meant two things to me: beer and wiener schnitzel. I am not a huge beer drinker, but when I drink beer, I prefer a flavorful German import. I have since I started sucking down 7 ounce nips of Lowenbrau as a much younger person.
We got there pretty late, so much of main street was closed. That was fine by me. In fact, there were only a couple of restaurants open, we were hungry, and I could smell the hops...we found two restaurants side by side. One was indoors and one outdoors. It was a beautiful night, so we opted for outside. We both ordered a Spaten pilsner and all was good. In fact, Angie didn't like hers, so she gave it to me and all was better. She ordered a glass of German white wine to make up for the difference. I ordered the wiener schnitzel and she got a wonderful country fried quail. The meal was great and wasn't completely ruined by the live music which wasn't very entertaining. Angie mentioned going store to store tomorrow, as well as a bunch of other sight-seeing items, but I didn't really understand what she meant.
We got up and ready and left for main street. We parked about halfway down as to keep the full car in sight of a lot of traffic and entered the first store. It was a holiday collectibles store. We entered and didn't come out for over 30 minutes. The store went on and on and on and on and Angie needed to look at everything little thing it offered. I started thinking at this point, if we take 30 minute for every store we'll get out of Fredericksburg sometime in 2012 - just in time for the end of the world which, by then, would have been welcome.
We did the next store and the next. Angie really looked at the stuff and took her time in each. At this point, I noticed that I was neither inclined to keep up nor capable. So, I did the next best thing...I sat on the husbands benches while she shopped. Each time she reached me, I'd move the the next bench. If I needed to stretch my legs, I joined her in a store. This went on, store after store until we reached the end of the block....several hours later.
We decided to have a late lunch in a brewery and then some gelatto in a small shop. We purchased some cigars for the other side of the block and started it all over again. Antiques, collectibles, toys, clothes and touristy stuff...she is like the energizer bunny when she shops (think Lithium) - she just keeps going and going. I went bench to bench, cigar in hand. Sometimes I would talk to another husband, sometimes just play on the phone. She was happy and I was patient, or rather, she was happy because I was patient.
Unfortunately, there is a ton more to do and see in Fredericksburg and that will be for another trip. For now, understand, that the cost of my hunt was not only turning 40, but also shopping with my baby.
SL

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finally!

As I approached my 40th birthday this summer, I told Angie that instead of a big party that I would prefer a guided hunt as a present. She had had her 40th birthday blast about a year and a half earlier and she wanted (and got) the big surprise party. I opted for some quality time in the woods.

In May, she shared with me a hunt idea that she was pursuing. She was looking to get me out to the desert of west Texas for a trophy mule deer hunt. Although this sounded awesome, I thought perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for two reasons: 1) the hunt was VERY expensive and included only the deer and perhaps whatever predators we came across and 2) a desert mule hunt can be very difficult usually consisting of spot and stalk hunting across rugged terrain and ending with a long shot. Truth be told, I am a little intimidated by this kind of hunt, so I suggested she call her cousin Steve.

Steve is my 20-minute Turkey caller. He called two gobblers in within 10 feet of us and we had NO cover with four of us sitting in the wide open. He is a very gifted hunter – knowing the game very well. He always puts his son in a position to harvest a big deer and I trust his opinions and instinct. We shared the lease last year and I hope to get to hunt with him and his son many more times.

Angie called him and he put us in touch with his friend Jim in Laredo, Texas. This friend owns 1,100 acres of high-fenced ranch outside of Laredo. His hunt is all-inclusive and is about half the price of the muley hunt and includes a trophy whitetail. Now, the whitetail will likely be much smaller than the muley I might have gotten, but considering I’ve never even scoped a buck, I will be more than happy with anything that I get. Add the fact that he has hogs, javelin and predators on the property that I may shoot at and I think this hunt is a much better value. Add a possible doe harvest and it could be a very productive weekend.

Jim has been sending us pictures from his trail cams. The deer are VERY large and quite numerous. He’s also regaled us with stories of the hogs and javelin and a very mature diamondback rattlesnake that accosted him in one of the ground blinds. I am very much looking forward to the hunt that begins Friday afternoon. Angie is coming but is not too happy that it will be warm and that the snakes will be active (we’ve both purchased snake chaps for protection).
Angie will be coming with me on Friday afternoon’s hunt. She will cammo up and she will be in the blind. However, the only thing she will be shooting is the video camera.

Her anticipated part of the trip is the ride to Laredo. We are planning on taking two days to get down there with a stopover about midway in Fredericksburg. I’ll be updating Facebook and this blog the whole time. I have told her that she is in charge for these two days. If she says turn left, I turn left. If she wants to stop in a small town and go antiquing, I pull over and go shopping. For her birthday, I gave her an itinerary of small towns and printouts of their antique stores. She is definitely looking forward to the first two days…

…Friday afternoon, not so much (although, truth be told it’s the whole idea of the possibility of coming across a rattler that is what she’s concerned about).

Me? I’m going to enjoy the whole time. Being alone with her and hunting are two of my all-time favorite activities. Whether we score a big buck or not, this will be a 40th to remember, even if it is six months after the fact.

Some things are worth the wait.

SL

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Exchanging Pheasant Trees

On Saturday, Utah opened its pheasant season. I didn’t think much of it as we were scheduled to hunt ducks that day.

When the ducks didn’t materialize that morning, we decided to cut out and get a big breakfast at the nearest Cracker Barrel. Fortunately for us, the trip took us through the fields of rural Utah County. We passed many lines of hunters carrying shotguns, retrieving dogs, and families enjoying the beautiful weather.

However, as we drove away from the lake, the most incredible sight any of us ever saw happen right in front of our eyes…about fifteen pheasant flew in front of the truck from the hill on the right to the brush on the left.

Jeremy immediately pulled the truck to the side of the road and got out. He stated putting his waders on. I asked him what was up and he informed me that he was going after those pheasant as there were plenty of roosters in that flight. I didn’t fancy putting my waders back on and he informed me that it was pretty marshy where they landed, so I told him I’d wait for him at the truck. However, Rob said he was going in without waders, so I grabbed a gun and a couple of shells and dove in with the rest of the group. We lined up about 30 feet apart…Rob on the left, Rob’s son next, then me and finally Jeremy on the right. We began walking forward.

After several minutes, we knew we were getting close – we had to be as the lake was fast approaching. Another step and out came a bird. It was literally 10 feet directly in front of me. Unfortunately, it lacked the beautiful red color of a rooster and was obviously a hen. You are not permitted to shoot the ladies, so I let it go.

In an instant, pheasant after pheasant flushed. Shotguns blasted.

When the smoke cleared, we all missed. The several roosters in the group had flown away safely.
We walked back to the truck amazed at the experience that we just had…a five minute pheasant hunt in the middle of our duck hunt.

Perhaps next year we will plan on a real pheasant hunt as part of our waterfowl weekend.

SL

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ducks and Cover

This weekend I participated in my annual Utah duck hunt hosted by Jeremy and Robert Hunter…I’ve worked with Jeremy for almost a decade and we share a real passion for hunting. He’s appropriately named, for sure.

We met at 5:00am at the park and ride – I was waiting as the Hunter’s pulled up with their boat. They have a great little john boat with sides that popup as blinds. About a month ago, Rob’s wife painted the outside of the boat in a cammo pattern so it looks real sweet. It’s got three seats and although a little unstable for three people to hunt from, but it is perfect to use to get out to where we are hunting. They’ve got a very large number of decoys, mojo’s and feeder-butts, so they added a sled this year. They pull the sled full of decoys behind the boat. Additionally, Jeremy jerry-rigged a step on the front of the boat so you can step up and get into it without fear of tearing your waders. I don’t know what they will have next year, but some kind of chair for standing/sitting in the water or some kind of stabilizer to shoot safely from the boat is a good bet. Oh, and they were waxing wishfully about something called a muddy–buddy motor to get them through the shallows much more quickly than the 5-hp lawnmower engine they have today.

Ultimately, I was just happy to be in a boat. My Texas-based experience of duck hunting is that it is very hard work, often trudging through waist-high water or knee-high mud for an hour to get to your spot. And, after getting to your spot, not seeing any duck not to mention shooting at any.

So, it doesn’t much matter to me that we went out three times over two days and got skunked twice.

On our first morning we got out into the water and set up pretty late. In fact, it was after 7am by the time we were ready to go. However, the duck that flew into our decoys while we were setting up told us we were going to have a great day. It was to be a lie.

Jeremy and his brother are great hosts and allowed me the first shot. A swimmer entered our decoys. Most of the time, the ducks that swim in are coots; a duck that forages in the mud and tastes appropriately bad. This time, however, this was a real duck. As the duck took off I shot. We had blood in the boat, a golden-eye hen. As I retrieved my duck, I got stuck out in the open. As it usually happens, when someone is not prepared, the ducks come. In fact, two came in a buzzed right over Jeremy and Rob back near the boat. Unfortunately, they flew right in my direction and no one could safely shoot. The circled and crossed us again, everyone taking a shot but all of us missing. They flew off and I hurried back to the boat.

As you would expect, as I returned, the ducks stopped showing up. For a while, ducks would fly around the perimeter of our set up, ignore our calls, and fly off. Rob got bored and took the boat to see what else was going on. While he was away, a flock of gadwalls flew directly overhead. Jeremy and I dropped one each. While he was scouting, Rob bagged a pintail. Later on, I took a coot figuring I would try and eat it – but I was dissuaded from my plan.

We stayed out for a little longer enjoying the beautiful weather and the amazing scenery. Even if the hunting is slow, I can just look around and enjoy the beautiful mountains that surrounded us on every side. We decided to call it a day and motored back to the car.

We decided when we were finished in the morning to return for an evening session. We were a little disappointed with the showing, so we thought we’d try again. Last year, we scored three in the boat, so our five actually an ok day one.

That evening however, and the next morning, for that matter was more of the same – ducks either completely ignoring us or taking a look by flying the perimeter, but never coming in. It was a completely foreign frustration. Last year, Rob was able to turn any duck and convince it to flair into our spread for a good shot. In fact, we killed fifteen ducks on day two last year…this time? Nada. Nothing even came close. The only interesting thing about our evening was a couple of flights of Canadian geese that flew overhead. We shot at them – all of us unloading our weapons, but they were out of range.

By then, the sun was beginning to hide behind a mountain to the west. A beautiful site for sure, but one that also let us know our day was over. Beside, the mosquitoes started swarming by that point, so it was time to go.

The morning of day two (our last hunting opportunity) was more of the same without the geese or the mosquitoes. We gave up early and decided to call it a day.

That was before we realized it was opening day of pheasant season – but that is a story for another time.

SL

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Change of Scenery

I guess all that was needed was a change...

I decided to hunt section #2435 tonight. It's in Blackland, TX and I had scoped out the field last week. It is a 160 acre field with a V shaped border facing a couple of farm roads. It's unimproved pasture, so it doesn't have anything to pull in the doves other than a small tank, which is where I parked, with my back to the boundary (and a tree to provide some cover and shade).

I set my decoys up at the edge of the water and waited. I got their about 4pm, so I expected some company but there was no one there. I began to wonder if this was going to be a good spot after all. The fact that I didn't see any dove and didn't hear anyone shooting in the distance and I really started to wonder if this was going to be a continuation of the slow action from last week.

About thirty to forty-five minutes later others started arriving, and so did the doves.

It's amazing to see the difference in some people. Some were very courteous, apologizing as they walked past me to get to their spot. Others - they just took up a spot that was well within shooting distance and within the range of fire. I couldn't believe this idiot twosome who sat right along the water not 50 yards from me. As they eyed my decoys, I spoke up - I was afraid they were gonna shoot them, they moved on...what a bunch of bozos.

Regardless, having other shooters in the area helps stir up the birds. In fact, the one I bagged tonight was driven right to me from another group of shooters who missed. I used to not want to see others around - like all of the dove were just for me and I didn't want to share the area with them. Now, I want to see others around and hear them shooting. If often means that the birds are headed in my direction. The fact of the matter is that some of the nicest people I have met are the hunters with which I share public land. They are friendly, helpful, willing to share information and tips, and (for the most part) are respectful of rules, courtesy, and fair chase.

I ended shooting about a box worth of shells. There was a lot of stop and go action. The bird I harvested approached me head on (after being fired on). As I stood up to take aim, veered to my left a little. I led him perfectly and fired. He folded and dropped. Unfortunately, he dropped on the wrong side of the boundary fence by about 15 feet - and in some pretty thick stuff. I decided to quickly jump the fence and look for him. About twenty minutes later, I gave up - frustrated again.

I went to sit and hunted for about another half hour when I got up and searched some more. I was so pissed that I couldn't find another and I knew about where he landed, I really spotted it well when it fell. After about five minutes I found him - my first of the season. Unfortunately, some fire ants found him, too, so I had to clean them off of him - getting stung a couple times in the process. It was worth it.

After hunting several more hours and shooting and missing a lot, I called it a night. I know it's only one, but hopefully I'll add to him and turn a small snack into a meal. I used my vacuum packer that Angie bought me last Christmas for the first time, so I have one little dove breast in the freezer. This one has my sister's name on it, but I'm hoping for many more.

SL

Friday, September 04, 2009

Half The Battle

I was back at it this morning. I'm lucky - I can go hunt for a couple hours and still be at work around 9AM.

I went to the same location as on Wednesday, location #2266 in Royce City. I brought my dove decoys with me on this one. I'm not entirely convinced they work - certainly not like duck decoys, but hey - any little bit helps.

I set the mojo dove with a couple of still ones and prepared for the action. I immediately noticed that it was very still - not a breeze to speak of which made it a little steamy. I soon found out that the birds were as still as the wind. There was nothing for at least an hour.

In fact, I didn't even hear a lot of shots around me. There was a father/son duo to my right about 100 yards away and I never heard them shoot - not once. There were only a couple of shots in the distance. Apparently, there were no doves flying. Perhaps the thunderstorms that moved in last night changed their behavior.

After a couple of hours, and as many birds you could count on one hand - A pair came in - they approached me a little left to right. As they entered into range, I shot. The dove folder and fell. Unfortunately, it fell into about 5 foot high grass and weeds about 20 yards away. I marked the spot and started to retrieve. I had to cross a very steep dry creek and when I took my eyes off the location I lost the spot. I knew the general location so I headed over and started the search. I looked through that stuff which was very thick for a half hour. I couldn't find my bird. Their coloring makes them disappear on the ground and unless the field is tilled, it is very hard to find them. I hate that. It seems wasteful, and frankly I don't get enough not to harvest what I shoot. Makes me really want a dog as shooting them is only half the work necessary to harvest.

I returned to my spot empty handed and continued for a little while longer, not seeing any more doves.

I did check out a new spot about 20 minutes to the south, in Blackland. As I drove there, I saw a great many dove...on the power lines, on the side of the road, on fences and in flight. By the time I got to the new spot it was passed the good time to hunt, but I hope to try it out this weekend. Maybe a afternoon hunt on Sunday.

In addition to that, Angie agreed to a weekend dove hunt/camping trip. Not sure where we will go yet, but we're thinking of taking a road trip down south a little.

Anyone have any suggestions as to where there's good dove numbers on accessible land?

SL

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Optimism Remains

The first time out is preceded by an optimism like no other.

I figured since this was only the second morning of the season and I've seen a lot of dove all over the place that I would have fast and furious action for a while. As I drove to my spot, I scared up a good number of dove that were feeding in the road. In fact, within 10 minutes of legal shooting time, I had my first shot at a dove crossing from right to left. I missed, but the familiar adrenalin rush was back and thoughts of a freezer full of dove breast began to coalesce in my mind. I was sure that this is the year I get to try out my vacuum sealer to keep a couple examples of that wonderful dark meat dove breast in good condition for my sister's visit in November.

We'll, that was at 6:40am and a lot changed from that point. I sat and scoured the skies for flights of doves for several hours this morning. I took four shots in total, all misses. All of the doves I shot at were singles flying right to left. I saw several more flights, most out of range and one pair that snuck up on me. By the time I saw them, my chance to shoot was gone.

However, there were a number of shotgun blasts all around me. Clearly, there were doves flying - just not so much in my area. Although I was well concealed, the recently harvested field I was hunting over must not have provided enough food and the trees to my back must not have been roosting spots.

Even without a ton of action and with no success, I still love being out in the field. I enjoyed the orange sun as it rose through a clearing in the trees to my back. As I sat there, I thought of what being outdoors means to me. After a long hot summer, being outside before the sun came up was a wonderful change. In fact, it was a little cool this morning. There was a breeze which made the temperature perfect. It was so refreshing - sort of like an ice cold glass of bottled water. The tap is good, but not nearly as much as a glass from the bottle (at least here in Dallas). Being outside was like that. It IS like that. Especially after being cooped up all summer.

Maybe that's why I love dove hunting so much - or all hunting. I am outside, not in a centrally air conditioned house or outside sweating my you-know-whats-off, but outside drinking in the fresh air, the sounds of nature and connecting with the earth, and with God. When hunting alone, I can spend much of my time in prayer conversing with the Almighty. When not alone (usually with Dylan), dove hunting affords an opportunity to talk - as silence isn't nearly as important as concealment.

So, although I got skunked today, it was great to be out. I don't know if I will have a lot of success this year, but it won't be for lack of trying.

And, as I departed the hunting area, I passed a field of milo that hasn't been harvested yet. I know where my next hunting spot is going to be.

It would seem that my optimism remains.

SL

Monday, August 31, 2009

See, I Wasn't Lying

Not a day after I posted about public hunting in Texas, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) posted this video. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words and they are right. This video covers public land availability better than I could. And, it's got some neat dove hunting video, too!

I'm going to show this to Cassie and see if she changes her mind about coming with her dad into the field. She's been reluctant, even with promises of pink guns and special time with dad. Maybe seeing another girl with her dad will help convince her.



SL

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hunting In Public

It begins again.

A wonderful thing happens in Texas beginning with September 1st; the date marks the beginning of hunting season - more specifically, the beginning of mourning dove season in North Texas. This is a time of year that I look forward to and it goes all the way into January - which is typically the end of the winter hunts. In fact, other than for spring turkey season, the winter contains almost all of the hunting we can do in Texas.

For September and October, my time will be spent in fields with shotgun in hand watching for doves to come into range. Dove hunting isn't so much as hunting as it is shooting. Unfortunately, shooting and missing is more common as doves can fly extremely fast, they seem to have an innate ability to shuck and jive when being shot at, and become extremely wary as the season progresses. In fact, even with a great deal of time spent in the fields, I only bagged one dove last year. The year before I scored significantly more, but had better spots. This year, I will be dove hunting public lands exclusively as we did not renew the lease in Honey Grove from last year.

Because Angie arranged for my trophy white tail hunt in November, we decided that spending additional money on a lease wasn't in the budget for this season. That means that except for two and a half wonderful days in Laredo, I will likely not be hunting mammals this winter - unless, of course, I get selected for a public hunt.

Texas puts aside over 1 million acres for public hunting. Several of the areas are by permit only and the only way to obtain a permit is to win the lottery for a particular area. Last week I spent several hours putting together my entries for permits. I entered Dylan and I in several deer hunts, a wild hog hunt, a javelina hunt, and a spring turkey hunt. If our entry is selected, we'll have a three day weekend in the particular unit.

The state does a good job of managing the entire process. Each entry cost $3 per adult and the chances of getting selected for some units are actually pretty good. Each year you aren't selected, you get an additional entry point in that category for the following year. At some point, we'll get selected and have an awesome weekend adventure. The javelina hunt, for example, is in the mountains of West Texas near Mexico. If we get to go, it will be a long drive but a great adventure.

Our entries for this year include the following:

Pat Mayse Wildlife Management Area (WMA) - Gun Deer, either sex (limit: 3 deer, one buck). There are 60 permits available and last year they had 150 entries. Hunter success in bagging a deer was 30%.

Cooper Lake WMA - Gun Deer, antlerless or spike (limit: 3 deer, one buck). There are 12 permits available and this is a new location, so there were no hunts last year.

Gus Engling WMA - Gun Deer, management either sex (limit: 3 deer). There are 120 permits and last year they had 833 entries. Last years success was 32%.

Elephant Mountain WMA - Javelina (limit: one javelina and one elk). There are 8 permits available and last year they had 564 applicants for 10 permits. Hunter success was 0%.

Fort Boggy - Feral Hog (limit: unlimited). Last year there were 133 applicants for the 20 permits available with 22% hunter success.

Pat Mayse WMA - Spring Turkey (limit: one gobbler). Last year there were 140 applicants for 32 permits. This year there are 30 permits available. Hunter success was 7%.

As you can see, the state manages an excellent public hunting system. In addition to these hunts, there are several others - including Mule deer, exotics, alligator, and others - including several youth only categories. All are affordable and are located throughout the state so they are reachable regardless of where you live. Except for the Javelina and Hog hunts, all of the hunts we put entries in for are within a couple of hours from the house.

In addition to the hunting opportunities above, the state puts aside a significant portion of land for public dove hunting. A $48 annual public license gets you access to these areas - typically 60+ or more acres of harvested farm land that may, or may not, get a ton of dove fly overs. There are about 1,000 acres close by in Royse City (about 30 minutes from the house) and an additional several hundred acres up north near where the lease was last year. I'm sure I will be out there as much as possible.

Add a possible goose/duck hunt in Wyoming this winter and it should be a full season, even if I'm not in a blind every weekend like I was last year. Unfortunately, if we are going to get a freezer full of meat we'll have to get lucky twice - once to get selected and once to bag some game.

Either way, I will report all of the goings on right here.

SL

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Disaster Averted

I remember the pain and the suffering. I remember that, at the time, I thought the only way to the sweet relief I desired was at the end of a bullet to my temple. I wanted to die as the pain of death would be a cakewalk compared to the suffering I was going through. It seemed that the sweats, the pain and the vomiting would have no end.

I was a victim of a known drug reaction between the antibiotic Flagyl and the alcohol in a mouthwash. Did you know that mouthwash has alcohol? I didn't, but I learned it then - and I learned it the hard way.

Flagyl is one of the antibiotics that my doctor has prescribed to me to take care of a bug I picked up while traveling abroad. Several years ago I came home from a trip to India and he prescribed the drug to fix the problem. He warned me at the time to stay away from alcohol, as the drug causes a violent reaction to it. In fact, he informed me that Flagyl is sometimes prescribed to alcoholics because of it's properties. Take the drug, take a drink and suffer the consequences.

I was very careful then...but I wasn't aware that my mouthwash contained alcohol. So, even the very small amount absorbed as I gargled caused me to suffer. The description above is NOT an exaggeration. It was horrible and I wouldn't wish that suffering on my worst enemy. Well, maybe my WORST enemy, but no one else.

So, why bring up that suffering from several years ago? Because I was minutes away from suffering it again - and probably to a greater extent. Angie and I were having dinner with friends last night. Not thinking, I ordered a beer. About thirty seconds before the beer arrived, I remember that I was taking Flagyl. I couldn't believe it. I was a sip away from some of the worst suffering on the planet - all from my own stupidity.

The beer came and someone else at the table drank it. I ordered a Dr. Pepper and averted a disaster.

At least I think I did...what else has hidden quantities of alcohol?

SL

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Haggle Rock

I just got back from shopping. Since I didn't have much of an opportunity to do it like a local (and benefit from the much lower prices), I was forced to do it in the hotel mall. Now, this mall has a Hugo Boss as you enter it, so you can only imagine the beating I took as I looked around for souvenirs and gifts for the kids.

Combine that with the fact that the kids have every sandalwood carving and marble collectible available in India, and bringing the kids back something meaningful is not the easiest of responsibilities to carry out.

I did have an idea as to what I wanted to get them. Marissa actually asked for something specific this year and Cassie is relatively easy to shop for. However, the boys present a challenge.

Ultimately, I wanted to get everyone something that was either desired or meaningful. I think I did pretty good. The problem is that all of this meaningfulness comes at a much steeper price than usual. In fact, since I didn't think I was going to have an opportunity to really shop, Angie and I discussed my coming back empty handed. We both agreed that we could do more meaningful things with the money that just bring back a bunch of crap from India.

However, that really left an empty feeling in me. I want the kids to share in the culture that I have come to know, but more importantly, I want to kids to know I am thinking about them when I am gone, and that I miss them and love them. Ultimately, it has become clear that the gift has less to do with the gift and more to do with the message it conveys, "that you're special and I was thinking about you."

So, with that, I decided I would brave the shops of the mall. I know what is in store for me when I walk through the halls - hard sells, haggling on price, and the ultimate feeling that I just got my ass handed to me. I would so much prefer to pay the asked price, but I know that isn't how you do things here, and in much of the rest of the world.

So, I shopped...trying to find everyone the perfect gift (or at least one that would be enjoyed). Justin was first. I asked for help with his and I found something pretty neat. Dylan was included in that search, and I found a really neat one, but it was $500 USD, so I continued to look. I found him a very cool substitute. Marissa was next. I knew what I wanted there, and not exactly what she asked for, I think she'll like them. Angie was last - always more difficult and more expensive than the others. I try to get her what she will like, not what I like. Cassie's was in another store so I knew I would pick it up later.

So, I have all of these gifts on the table, and the hard charging salesmen are calculating my tab. As the do this, I start preparing my act. Once they give me the total, I am going to play completely surprised and a bit put off by the amount. It's weird, I am completely at ease during a contract negotiation with a vendor, or even dressing down a vendor when necessary, but I felt my heart starting to beat harder just then. As I stated before, I do not like to haggle.

So, he gives me the amount and I am shocked!!! In fact, the shock was somewhat real. I shook my head, said I couldn't believe it was so much, and tried to make myself look like I was about to leave. He saw this and lowered the price a little. I shook my head again and gave him a counter offer. One that ultimately would have given myself a 50% discount.

He laughed and gave me some response that the discounts were already in the prices. I told him I appreciated that, but the total was too much. After some back and forth we ended up at about 75% from the original number. In the end, as they tried to sell me another item I told him to throw it in for free. He laughed again and then consented to the final price. I wasn't messing around here.

As I walked back to my hotel room, I can't help but feeling like I just got spanked. My guess is that a local would have gotten it down more, perhaps even to the original 50% that was my first counter. That's where the empty feeling comes in - that, and the fact that I have no idea how much the stuff I bought is really worth.

That being said, though, I am comforted by the fact that it isn't about the cost...

...its about the more important message.

SL

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mysore Feet

My feet are sore...not because I just finished a workout, but because we did a ton of sightseeing yesterday.

We explored the "City of Palaces" more commonly known as Mysore in the state of Karnataka.

Mysore is about 2-3 hours by car from Bangalore. My host arranged to have one of their local staff accompany us. Not only did he help with any language needs, but he was a bit of a history buff and gave us a fantastic rundown of our agenda for the day wrapped around a review of the history of Mysore.

Our first stop was to the city of Sri Rangapatna. This city is important to the history of Mysore because it was the home to Tipu Sultan who had wrested power from the Wodeyar Dynasty near the end of the 18th Century. Tipu Sultan was eventually defeated by the British, but his summer palace, tomb, and gatehouse survive. Additionally, the Ranganatha Swamy Temple which was built in 894AD and houses a statue of one of the forms of Vishnu.



Next, we visited St. Joseph's Cathedral (now, more commonly known as St. Philomena's) in Mysore. It is built in the same shape as St. Peter's Cathedral in New York and is one of the oldest and largest churches in India. The church contains catacombs and a shrine to St. Josephine which is purported to contain a relic of her.

After this stop, we drove the Chamundi Hill which has a statue of the demon Mahishasura, a temple to Chamundi who slain the demon and a very large statue of Nandi. In addition to these sites, the hill provide beautiful views of Mysore at the base of the mountain.

Following lunch, we visited the Palace of Mysore. The reigning Maharaja still uses portions of the palace, and we paid for a guide to explain to us particular aspects of the temple. Seeing the receiving room, the great marriage hall, and the rest of the palace was amazing. Apparently, the Wodeyars were rulers of the people and their kingdom flourished until Indian independence in 1947. We ended at an art museum which contained a great deal of paintings and artifacts from the period of the palaces.

It was a great day only marred by traffic in Bangalore that did not move. It took us about 3.5 hours to return to the hotel - at one point we had moved about 1.5 km in 35 minutes time. It was bad even for India's normally bad traffic.

However, that was the only issue with a wonderful day. The pictures above are from our host and I will upload the many that I took when I return to the States.

SL

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Farting Imitates Blogging?

There's an old joke, not particularly funny, but maybe more true than not in the larger sense. It goes:

Q: Why don't women fart?

A: Because they never shut up enough to build up pressure.

Like I said, it’s not particularly funny. But the idea got me to thinking...particularly around the fact that I haven't blogged in a while. In fact, I haven't blogged a great deal since I joined Facebook.

I've begun to ponder some of the reasons why my blog has been neglected; to think about the reasons why I blogged in the first place. My initial idea was that it would be a good way to have family back home in New York kept up to date on all things going on Texas. Quickly, however, the blog became more of a public diary; part confessional, part therapist, but all cathartic. Getting out some of the junk that accumulates in our brains is good for us - and the blog provides a mechanism for just that...sort of a huge brain fart that feels oh so good.

Then, I finally succumbed to Facebook. That was more of a way for me to keep up with what everyone else was up to. And for the most part that continues to be true. Over time, though, it seems that quick updates about the universe that holds me as its sun has changed my behavior in the same way that the women who never shuts up never farts. Ultimately, two or three updates a day seems to have reduced the need to express myself in the long rip of flatulence that is my blog.

That’s not to say that everyone once in a while you just have to just lift a cheek and blast away. Sometimes your digestive system demands it and I suspect that my need to blog will continue similarly. Hunting season is fast approaching and hunting and fishing seems to be the one topic in which blogging is easy. I also have a two week trip to India coming up, so there should be significant opportunities to blog. We spent last weekend in Houston on our third annual New York Mets @ Houston Astros trip. I’ve had a nagging desire to blog about families and my desire to pass traditions down to the kids.

I don’t know what else is in store for my blog, but I’m sure that my need to post will continue. Just hold your noses, because I’m sure some of them will stink.

SL

Monday, July 06, 2009

Pictures From Vacation

Our condo. The decor was beautiful and the location was perfect. About a 60 second walk to the boat slip and about 2 seconds to the pool. It was a short drive to Hot Springs from here, as well. All for a reasonable price, too. Angie now swears by the site: homeaway dot com.

Our boat. A 2009 21-foot party barge by Sun Catcher. It was awesome, except for the 115-hp 4-stroke motor. It was a little under powered for tubing and knee-boarding. If the kids skied we wouldn't have been able to do it. We tooled around the lake pretty good for two days and used only 30 gallons of the 40 gallon tank. We are sold on a pontoon and are now looking for a fishing version.

Cassie posing as she does in every picture. The marina was nice enough to let us borrow the three life vests so the kids could be safe. If you are ever in need of a boat on Lake Hamilton, check them out - they were very friendly and reasonable. Hot Springs Marina

Marissa knee-boarding. She was really good when she wanted to be out there. However, I think she would have been happier staying in the room and texting the whole time. She surprised me with how good she was.

Dylan swinging off one of the several islands in Lake Hamilton. We were told to stay off of them, but this swing was just too alluring to Dylan and the many other boats that anchored here to let their kids play. Dylan played here for what seemed like hours while Cassie, Marissa, Mom and I swam, ate, and sunned.

The goofy hat that Angie thought hilarious. She's still upset I didn't let her buy it and has taken to the Internet looking for the hat for me. I can think of a thousand of better things to do with $22.

The top of the hot spring cascade looking down. Standing over this place you could feel the heat and the steam coming out of the spring. Apparently, it heats to almost 150 degrees. I could really understand why the bath houses were so popular. The story goes that 5 separate tribes of American Indians would bathe in the waters under treaty, so that all were welcome. De Soto was shown the springs by the American Indians in the 1600's. The last bath house closed in 1983, although one remains open as a spa, offering the tradition bath as done 100 years ago.

One of many pictures of the kids getting along. They were awesome all week. Too bad they don't get along as good all the time, but if they are going to pick a week to do it - I am thankful it is vacation week.
A picture of the spring through a restored bath house that now serves as a National Park. The self tour through the Fordyce Bath House which is now run by the US Parks Department provided an opportunity to experience what the guests of the spa would experience. From the gymnasium, to the baths, to the cooling room, etc. the bath house is restored to its condition from its hey day in the early 1900's.

One of the few times that Angie didn't have the camera. We're tired, hot and sweaty - but also enjoying a week together with each other and the kids.

A family picture in front of the collection area for the cascade. Dylan walked up to it, plunged his hand deep into the water, and immediately screamed. It was HOT! But seeing the spring, and feeling its heat, it really helped us understand the allure of the baths. Then, we read about how the waters are from rain on the tops of the mountains from several thousands of years ago. Once again, Hot Springs became an intellectual puzzle.


All of us building a structure meant to survive a simulated earthquake. The kids were learning even though they just thought it was play. It was something we all did together, as well. The building did NOT survive.

Marissa posing by our arch. We all put it together and prayed it stay up. It did!

Don't know what this was called, but we filled it with sand and started it swinging. The sand came out of the bottom as it swung making a pretty design. I think the kids learned some patience on this one.

Angie and I snuggling. Actually, my skin isn't that dry and hers is really soft. However, she liked this picture because the gator at the bottom just crawled up to the gator on the top and put its arm around it. Pretty sweet for a cold blooded reptile.

Angie about to get Syphilis. Al Capone would frequent Hot Springs because of the soothing aspect of the baths; apparently he had a pretty bad case. He would rent out the entire fourth floor of the Arlington Hotel (his favorite room was room 442).

SL

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Hot Is More Than A Name

Last week, Angie and I took the kids to Hot Springs, Arkansas for our family vacation. The decision to go to Hot Springs was made as the result several variables...the most important of which was that the vacation had to be affordable. We are saving for our 'no expense spared' vacation to all things Disney next year, so we wanted something that wasn't going to break that budget.

Secondly, the kids wanted to be near water (not surprising since they are part fish). The difficulty was deciding which type of water, salt or fresh. We considered the gulf coast, from Corpus Christi, TX all the way to Destin, FL. In the end, the kids wanted fresh water because of the options it provided - boating, tubing, knee boarding and fishing.

Once we new it was fresh water, we started searching for lakes. We wanted to go out of state for something new...and Angie found an affordable condo on the shores of Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs. That type of destination was perfect...several days of boating and a couple of days of sightseeing and other fun activities.

We left on Monday and drove north east through East Texas and ultimately to Texarkana where we stopped for lunch. Texarkana is the halfway point from Dallas to Hot Springs and the bulk of the trip travelled along I-30 which runs pretty close to our house. We arrived at the condo and got our bearings. The kids tried out the pool, we drove through downtown Hot Springs, we found our boat slip and the marina where we were to pick up our pontoon boat for a two day rental.

The first two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) were spent almost entirely on the water. Thanks to the GPS on my iPhone we were able to locate our position at all times on the lake. On day one, we checked out the lake, tubed, knee-boarded and swam. We all got sunburned pretty bad, as well. We did the same on day 2, but explored other sections of the lake.

Everyone enjoyed being on the water as there was a little bit for everyone. The kids played in the water, Angie and her mom looked at the million dollar homes, and I played Captain Scott. It was fantastic and cemented our decision to purchase a boat soon.

We played minigolf the first evening - Dylan beat Angie and I by a stroke with Cassie coming in a distant fourth. It was HOT, but we had a good time. The second evening, we drove through Hot Springs trying to get an idea as to what we wanted to do the next day. Whenever we weren't doing anything, we were swimming at the pool at the condo.

On Thursday, we went into Hot Springs. We walked 'Bath House Row' taking in the National Park tour and checking out the spas. That was really interesting. At the end of bath house row is a cascade from the spring. As we walked to it, we could feel the heat coming off of it. Dylan plunged his hand into the water and quickly pulled it out as the water can reach 147o Fahrenheit. It wasn't until we saw the spring and felt the water that the history of the bath houses came alive. Once we could feel the heat of the water, we could imagine the crowds bathing and soaking in what they believed to be the healing powers of the waters.

We continued down Central Ave. and ended up at "The Gangster Museum of America". An hour later we knew we had been had. Basically the museum consisted of small exhibit areas where they make you watch a 5-10 minute film on the history of organized crime, corruption, and gambling in Hot Springs. Although interesting, the way the museum presented the information was horrible. Thankfully, although dreadfully bored, the kids behaved wonderfully. We ended the day back at the pool and with a pizza dinner. The memory of the wasted hour at TGMOA faded.

Friday was supposed to be just a leisurely drive home day, but the museum really soured us (and we wanted to end on a good note since the kids had been so well behaved), we decided to add a couple of stops to our itinerary.

The first stop was "The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo". Now, I understand that anything with "petting zoo" in the name is going to suck, but the kids were into it, so we went. Our expectations were low and were met. The petting zoo had some goats and a donkey. We weren't allowed near the deer that were advertised. I've been to better petting zoos at the fair or at the zoo. This one was really bad. The rest of the place was poorly done, as well. The alligator pits were what you'd expect and the cougars and wolf were pathetic. I really felt bad for them in their small enclosures. The rest of the animals didn't look so great either. The kids were happy, so when it comes to something like that, it's all that counts.

Our last stop was the "Mid America Science Museum" where we could touch and do the activities. Dylan was the only kid who wanted to go, but the girls persevered. Once we got their, they were pleasantly surprised - and so was I. We built bridges, boats, airplanes, buildings, windmills and a ton of other structures - all to see various scientific properties. The kids thought it was about playing with stuff, but we know better. They were learning, and so were the grownups. Their 1.5M volt Tesla coil was my favorite - and I learned that Tesla was working on wireless power long before Apple, Sony and IBM.

We left the museum, and Arkansas at about 3:30. We stopped at Ta Molly's on I-30 on Greenville, TX. I mention that because the food was some of the BEST Mexican that we've ever had. If you ever have opportunity to eat at one of them, do so - it is fabulous.

We came home to two very excited dogs and crashed...although vacations are wonderful, it is ALWAYS great getting home. And, it is unbelievable how tired you are when you do get home. I know that for now on, I will always include a weekend between the end of a vacation and a return to work - so I can rest from what was supposed to be a restful week.

SL

Monday, June 22, 2009

Everyone's Gone...Almost

I wonder what Angie is doing right now? Relaxing in the jet tub with a cold glass of Chablis? Taking a nap? Stretched out on the couch watching Oprah while snacking on bon bons?

I'm not sure what she's doing, but it probably isn't any of the above. If she isn't working hard, she's probably at the computer looking at decorating blogs, connecting on Facebook, or catching up on e-mail.

That's assuming she's not doing anything.

Why would I be wondering this of all days? Because for the entire week, she has three of her very needy family on the road. Dylan and Marissa are at church camps and I am at our Support Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This, by itself, would like result in a relaxing week. However, add to the fact that Cassie is going to drama camp for 3 hours a day, and Angie really has some quiet time to enjoy. Given that Justin is likely to be at work or school during much of these days, and I can hear what she is thinking...

"Can you hear that? Silence! How awesome."

Although, knowing Angie, she'll enjoy it for a day or two, and then the silence will start to bother her. She's a real friend to her kids. She genuinely enjoys their company and, by Wednesday, she'll be missing them terribly. She probably will not start to miss me until later because I am much more needy than the kids. That will hit on Thursday or Friday.

By then, the kids will be returning, she'll have to go do Cassie's week end production, and I will be arriving late.

I hope she enjoys the quiet and her week...she'll need to charge her batteries for our family vacation to Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

'Cause I'm needy!

SL

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Truth Hurts

Angie came up to my office last night. She asked me what I intended to do that evening with respect to Cassie's second lost tooth since Thursday. Basically, she was looking for a plan for that evening's Tooth Fairy (T.F.) activities.
After explaining to Angie what I had in mind, she let me in on the fact that Cassie had been asking her if the Tooth Fairy is real. Angie thinks that honesty is the best policy in these situations. Me, I prefer to lie my ass off. I think that we should let the kids believe as long as possible because once it's gone, it's gone forever.
Our differences in opinion caused a major battle when Angie decided on her own to let Cassie in on the Easter bunny secret. I was livid when she did. The way I look at it is that I only get one shot at this stuff with Cassie and I want to enjoy it for as long as possible. So, even though the Easter Bunny was gone, I still had Santa and the Tooth Fairy....now, I only have Santa.
After Angie told me about Cassie's questions, I called Cassie up to my office. She sat on the bed with me at my desk. I asked her about her questions and I asked her if she REALLY wanted to know the truth. She said she did. I asked her why it mattered and she told me that some of her friends told her the T.F. wasn't real. I asked her again if she REALLY wanted to know, and again she said yes. So, I went against my better judgement and told her the truth - that mommy and daddy were the T.F.
She clearly didn't believe what I was saying. Had I thought more quickly, I would have told her that I was only kidding and left it at that...but I didn't, I said it again,
"Mommy and Daddy are the Tooth Fairy"
I felt like a monster...I FEEL like a monster. You should have seen her; she looked like someone that just got punched in the stomach. She asked for proof. I told her about her tooth exchanges, including the one that happened two night previous. She asked to see the teeth. I had the first one in my drawer, so I showed her. By then, the truth was starting to sink in and that is when I made my most serious mistake of the evening.
I told her that now that she knew the truth, that the tooth for cash thing was off the table.
By her reaction, you would have thought that I just told her that her best friend, favorite puppy and Joe Jonas were all just killed in a freak accident. She bawled. Not for a couple of minutes, but for a long while.
It seems that her being upset had nothing to do with the actual demise of the T.F., but with the fact that she wasn't going to get cash money anymore. I tried to console her, but she was having none of it...so, what's a good dad to do? I told her to put her tooth under her pillow and we'll see what happens.
She woke up and the world was all well again. She had $2 more than the day before.
That's the cheapest crisis avoidance fee that I have ever paid, and well worth it. In fact, I think she thinks that last night's revelation was nothing more than a dream. Mom told her that she didn't put the money under there, and I said the same. I told her I passed out and never came downstairs to do it.
So, that $2 not only repaired the hurt that she felt, but I think she may actually believe in old T.F again. We'll see - she's got some more loose teeth.
SL

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's OK To Lose

I've posted previously my dislike of California. I should clarify that statement. I dislike the economic liberalism that is the state's government - a liberalism that is manifest in ways that seem to say, 'You are too foolish to protect yourselves, so the state will do it for you.' I hate the thought that the government seems to think they know what's best for me and that I don't have the freedom to live like a jerk if I should choose.

That being said, there are some things about the state that I do like. The state itself is beautiful and contains two of my all-time favorite cities, San Francisco and San Diego. I also have good friends and colleagues there, so it isn't all bad.

Ultimately, however, the state is bankrupt and I can't help but think that it has something to do with the above liberalism. And, just so I can say 'I told you so', the same California left-wing thought process is in charge of our national government, as well (bashing Pelosi could be a future post).

So, if you are still reading through this rant, you are probably asking, "why is he going off on California again?" The answer is because California seems to follow the European way of thinking and something has been occurring in the EU that just seems wrong.

My fear is that I will be seen as a Microsoft apologist, but the EU is so far off base with how it is addressing anti-competitiveness issues with Microsoft that I feel compelled to blog about it. And the same thought process that is pervasive in California is running the show here. The 'we are too stupid to take care of ourselves thought'.

In a nutshell, the EU has been battling Microsoft for years saying that it has unfairly used its market position to stifle competition. The use the whole Windows Media Center vs. Real Player thing as one example. The current battle is Internet Explorer vs. Netscape and other browsers. I won't comment about the ultimate claim, but even if Microsoft has wrongly taken advantage of their position to squeeze out the competition, the EU hasn't handled this case well. They fined Microsoft and stated that IE presents an unfair advantage.

So, what does Microsoft do? They announce that they'll sell Windows without IE.

Now, the EU states that this solution isn't adequate. Yet, Microsoft has addressed the concern that has been communicated by the EU.

But, since the concern wasn't communicated well, the EU has to backtrack. They want Windows to ship with alternatives. Ultimately, the EU got what it wanted, but now that it did, it wants more. This is where I have a problem...

The EU wants Windows to sell with a competitors' products integrated. Does that make sense? Would that be like making Airbus ship planes with Boeing parts? Or Nokia phones ship with Motorola parts? I don't get it. And, I don't get it because there are choices out there. If you don't want to use the MS browser, download Firefox or Safari. Both are available, work really well, and are free. In fact, in the time it took to post this message, I downloaded and installed Safari (I already had Firefox installed). A recent article states that half of eleven million Safari downloads have been on Windows machines, demonstrating that this is exactly what consumers are doing.

Therefore, my message to the EU is, "get off of our desktops." We're not as stupid as you think we are - and even if we were, freedom means that we are allowed to act in ways that might be counter to our well-being. In fact, it is the ultimate freedom that allows participants TO LOSE.

That's what we seem to have lost [pun intended]. At the end of the day, every little leaguer who plays doesn't have to get a trophy. In order to win, someone has to lose. You can't have one without the other. In today's bail-out, hand-out society, it seems that winning has now become a bad word, and that it is wrong to allow anyone to lose. The problem with that, is that you take all motivation to compete away. Look at the 32-hour work week in France, or the socialism that is becoming more and more common in Europe, or in California.

Perhaps the best way to ensure competition isn't to restrict the participants but to ensure that losing is a real possibility.

SL