Posted in Travel

A rainbow dress on Rainbow Row

When my wife and I went to Charleston, SC in September, we got down to Rainbow Row in the historic district of the city on East Bay Street. As we stopped to take pictures from across the street, we just happened to catch this young lady wearing a dress to match the colors of the row homes.

My brother looked up a few of the house values along that street. All were upwards of $2 million. But a rainbow dress on Rainbow Row? Priceless.

Posted in Travel

Good to see you again, Big Tex!

We got to Texas just in time to attend one of the last days of the Texas State Fair. We last went five years ago and I was itching for a little fair food.

Since it was Saturday, the fairgrounds in the heart of Dallas were only a thirty minute drive from our Airbnb in Rowlett. We picked up three of our grandchildren and headed out in a wonderful fall-feeling fifty degree morning.

We found a $20 parking spot in a convenience store lot just across the street from gate 5. Just about anyone with some blacktop was running a $20 parking business in the surrounding area. There was no line to buy 2 senior (yes, we both qualified), 2 child and one (free) toddler ticket for admission. We were already in for about $100, and we had just arrived. Going to the fair is not a cheap date.

Our first stop was a children’s aquarium, promising sharks and sting rays. (Oh, by the way, that was a separate admission price.) It was actually a nice collection of fish and sharks, and we did get to pet some baby sting rays. We also dipped our hands into a tank filled with doctor fish that gently pecked away at the dead skin on our hands.

Our seven year old, Eden, wanted to ride the huge ferris wheel, so she and my wife got in line. I bought a bunch of coupons for rides and food and gave them twenty for the ride (BTW, coupons are $1 each), while I took the other two off to grab some corn dogs. After they quickly disappeared, we headed to the cattle barns.

Inside one of the cattle barns

As with any good state fair, the livestock barns are enormous. We walked through stall after stall of beautiful cows being cleaned and prepped for showing that day. They were the best of the best. The ferris wheel riders met us at the swine barn, where we saw the best hogs from around the state. The champion boar, weighing in at 1155 pounds, was sound asleep in his pen out side the barn.

Boris, 1155 lb. champion boar

By now everyone was hungry again, so I rounded up two more corn dogs, some lemonade, a burger and an huge plate full of french fries. Fully fueled we made our way back to the birthing barns.

The birthing barns were cool. We saw several calfs born that morning as well as litters of hogs from the past few weeks of the fair. A few goats were about to give birth, too. This was a very popular and crowded venue.

Bull born that morning

From there we walked through some shopping booths, filled with lots of unique jewelry, clothing and toys. By this time, we had done a lot of walking and still needed to see Big Tex, so we made our way back towards the gate where we came in. By mid-afternoon, the fair was crowded, but we made it to the big guy. We did lots of walking, but the kids (and the grands) took it in stride.

On our way out, people continued to stream in the gates. Cancelled in 2020, this year’s fair was expecting 2.5 million visitors over twenty-four days, taking in over $65 million dollars and generating close to $500 million of business for the community. It is the biggest state fair in the country.

Just one of the grills with the biggest turkey legs I’ve ever seen
Posted in Stories, Travel

Blase Family Farm Pumpkin Patch

Today’s outing took us to Rockwall, TX, for a visit to the pumpkin patch at the Blase Family Farm. We had been there before, probably five years ago. It’s an interesting drive to get there. You drive through some really nice neighborhoods filled with beautiful, large brick homes. Suddenly, you see the sign, pull into a gravel lot and you are at the entrance of the farm, just across the street from a gorgeous housing addition.

My daughter-in-law had made advance reservations. They are still limiting admission to ensure a little social distancing. The $9 admission did include a hayride, food for the petting zoo, and a take-home pumpkin. Not a bad deal.

Pumpkins were scattered all over the several acres open to visitors. Lots of sitting areas were set up for family photos. I am not sure if they actually grow the pumpkins on the farm, or bring them in from elsewhere. But this is a popular annual event in the area.

We headed straight for the petting zoo. The first pen contained two llamas. One dominant one bullied the other and hogged all the food. So we distracted him and fed the less aggressive one. Next in line was a pen full of sheep, including one black one. A few little pigs were happy to see us and a donkey brayed until someone paid attention to him. We came back later and made a second round of all the animals.

The hay maze was down the hill from the welcome barn. It wasn’t much of a maze, but it kept a lot of kids busy for a long time running and jumping across the bales of hay.

The hay ride was a nice jog through some of the farm and past the blueberry part of the farm. The blueberry bushes were all in individual planters, much different than the farms I’ve seen in Florida. Along the way, lots of hay bales were decorated in halloween themes.

A little trail off to the side was lined with signs telling the story of Spookley the Square Pumpkin. I think his story is one to support anti-bullying. The older kids liked flexing their newly developed reading skills for us.

By the time we left, this popular pumpkin patch was filled with families. The whole idea of a “pumpkin patch” is an interesting business. My college fraternity used to frequent them each fall in Lancaster, PA. However, when we went, it was always dark and we didn’t exactly pay admission. But that’s another story.

Posted in Travel

Back in the air

For the first time in more than two years, my wife and I took a flight for our latest trip to Texas to see our son and his family. Our last flight was to Israel in September of 2019. We had been doing a lot of driving, but decided it was time to get back in the air.

Everyone was wearing masks, as required by the airports and airlines. I didn’t hear anyone complain or make a fuss. We both had some comfortable masks that I had bought at Home Depot, of all places. However, when we finally got into our rental car, we were glad to be done with them. All the people in the pre-flight safety videos were wearing masks, too.

At first it felt very strange to be back in the airport after such a long time away. The lines were not long and the concourses really weren’t very crowded. I guess Thursday noon isn’t the busiest travel time of the week.

It didn’t take long for me to remember how much I like watching people at the airport. I commented to my wife that eighty percent of the people dress like they do on any other day. But the other twenty percent wear clothes you never, ever see outside of the airport. Outrageous bold colors and prints, outfits that look more like pajamas than street clothes, very tight dresses, and shoes that look extremely uncomfortable.

Both of our flights were completely full. The flight attendant hands you a small disinfectant wipe packet as you board the plane, to either clean your hands or wipe down your seat and tray, I guess. A man across the aisle from us had brought a spray bottle of disinfectant, and sprayed down everything in his row.

Believe it or not, many travelers attempt to carry on even more than they did before. A man ahead of me carried on a suitcase and two backpacks. No wonder the overhead compartments fill up before the plane does. I enjoy the freedom of traveling very lightly, carrying as little as I possibly can.

Our flights to Texas were all on time. The only delay came at the car rental desk, where everyone, including us, had reserved a car from Budget. All the other desks were just about empty. I waited about an hour to get our car. And then after we were just about to pull out, a woman knocked on our window. Another agent had assigned her the same care. She went back in. We quickly pulled away.

Easily the most interesting guy I saw at the Jacksonville, FL airport today.

Posted in eyes

Smiling with my eyes

Over the past eighteen months, I’ve learned how to smile with my eyes. Even though we’re not wearing masks as often as we used to, there’s a few places where it’s still required. I’ve most recently had to wear one visiting someone at the hospital, checking into the local dolphin attraction, going to the eye doctor and a convenience store in South Carolina. Some places make sense, some are kind of random. But along the way I and others have discovered a skill. We can smile with our eyes.

I find this fascinating because smiles are generated by our mouths. What a joy it is to watch a new born slowly but surely respond to your smile with a little smile of their own! Lots of facial muscles work together to make that smile happen, which changes the shape of our eyes. I just never really noticed that until we all had our faces covered by masks.

Once I noticed this, I made sure my own eyes reflected the smile on my face. This meant smiling a little harder beneath my mask to ensure that my eyes were engaged. For many but not all in our family, this is not a tough skill. Squinty eyes accompany the grins on our faces. But those who don’t squint do have a certain sparkle that gives away their smile.

Our eyes convey other emotions, too. Furrowed eyebrows indicate concern. A little moistness is visible when someone is sad. Wide open eyes express surprise. A squint can communicate anger or concern. We all know what eye roll means. Crossed eyes? I’m going nuts. Pupils dilated? Something’s going on. See someone with a perfectly straight face? Check out their eyes.

Masks or not, I find myself looking at eyes a lot more. Colors, makeup, shape, motion. Overgrown bushy eyebrows, extra long lashes, and tired bags beneath the eyes.

And then when they catch me looking at them, I make sure they see me smiling with my eyes.

Posted in paradox

Rain and shine

Photo by Shawn Maxfield

Twice in one week I found myself on the exact boundary between sunshine and a rain shower.

The first moment was a Sunday morning, standing under the portico in front the church. I looked north and the sky was a bright, cloudless blue. I looked south and rain was pouring down from dark storm clouds. Rain and shine all at the same moment!

The next day it happened again at home. Looking out the front of my house it was a nice, sunny day. But when I looked out the back, sheets of rain were watering the yard and gardens. Once again, rain and shine.

Weather is rarely consistent throughout Florida. As thunderclouds roll through our community, we wonder if my grandson’s soccer game is still on. I check the weather radar on my phone and there are no clouds or rain at the soccer fields half an hour to the south of us. Or we head to the beach to one of our favorite restaurants, only to run into evening storms along the coast. Family will call and ask how we fared in the most recent tropical storm. We assure them we were fine. The storm came ashore hundreds of miles away. We got no rain at all.

I’ve learned to run outside when I experience a stormy sunny day or a sunny stormy day. That is rainbow weather, and I am rarely disappointed. I am delighted when all the colors come out to greet the sun and the rain!

Posted in Stories

Mr. Spider

I almost walked right into this spider web as I was going from one building to another at work this morning. Whoa – ducked just in time, and then I saw this. A beautiful, magnificent and probably very effective web, spun by that little guy right in the center. Mr. Spider in the center is smaller than a dime, and yet, he created a picture-perfect web about 15×15 inches.

When the breeze blew, the web flexed with it, never tearing or breaking. Four or five longer strands suspended the web from the walkway roof between our building. I don’t even know how he got this started. Mr. Spider wasn’t concerned about elegance, just effectiveness when he spun his (or her) web. In the spider world, it’s all about catching food. But to my human eye, he’s an artist, an engineer, and zoologist all wrapped up into one. If I almost ran into this web, I imagine he’ll nab more than a few gnats, flies and mosquitoes in his cleverly designed trap.

So as I continue to be fascinated by his creation, I’m also amazed that no one taught him how to do this. I doubt that a spider daddy or mommy showed him what a web looked like or how to spin one. He didn’t attend web college or apprentice under a master spider. This is what he was created to do. God created spiders with the ability to spin a beautiful web like this!

I don’t know how long these webs last. I’ll check back in the next few days, and let you know how his (or her) trap is working.

Posted in Stories

Friends

Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash

I had two youth in my Sunday bible class today. Two is not bad. Last week was one. Two weeks ago: zero.

Anyway, we were talking about David and Jonathan, who were some unlikely friends in the bible. Jonathan was the king’s son, so in any other situation, he would be the successor to the throne. But God had decided to give the throne to David. Despite the potential conflict, the two were great friends.

So our discussion was about friends. It was not an easy conversation. I asked, “What makes someone a good friend?” <silence> “Ok, what makes someone a bad friend?” Answers included rudeness and ignoring you. Some physical violence. <really?> More silence. Getting teens to talk is difficult.

“OK,” I continued, “Who makes you feel jealous?” (Like King Saul.) Or, “Who annoys you?” The consensus? Everyone. Well, at least we’re talking. “Everyone?” “Yes.”

I’ve heard this answer before. Everyone is annoying, undependable, dishonest, unreliable and a bother. Really? That is your world?

OK, what about Jesus? Do you ever think of him as a friend? The consensus is, “No.” So you never heard Jesus’ words, “I don’t call you slaves, but friends”? Nope. Is Jesus dependable? Most reply, “Yes.”

So they were raised in the church. Taught in the church. Confirmed in the church. And never considered Jesus to a friend? Interesting. And sad,. Why wren’t they taught that before?

What about virtual friends? You know, friends whom you’ve never physically met, but are friends with online? Yes, they all had a few friends like that. “What’s that like?” I asked. They answered, “It’s creepy.” That’s weird. Imagine having friends you’ve never met in person.

I told them that I still kept in contact with friends from high school and college. Friends from 45 years ago! Friends I barely remembered. The two in my class were only 14 and 12. They had no clue.

So I began thinking, “Who are my friends?” Who would I call at 2 am when I had to face a crisis? With whom can I share freely without any fear of judgment? Who will always be there to back me up?

Whoever it is, they are precious. Priceless. Golden. Worth more than anything.

Posted in shopping, Stories

50% off

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

My wife found some nice home decor items at a local craft/hobby/home decor store. She had been waiting for certain items to appear on the shelves and when she did, she snapped them up.

On her way out of the store, another customer told her that those items would be on sale on Monday. If you bring them back, they will refund 50% of your purchase. I know, I thought it sounded too good to be true, too. My wife called and sure enough, that’s what they would do. And you couldn’t just bring your receipt. You had to physically cart the items into the store with the receipt, and they would credit your card.

We had already hung the items on the wall, but they came down easy enough. My wife loaded them back into the car, carried them back into the store, and drove them back home with the promised 50% credit.

Sweet. But I have questions. Why not just sell the items for 50% off. After all, a lot of stuff in the store is “50% off.” Why make them bring the items back in? The receipt isn’t good enough? Why can’t you do this whole thing online? You can do everything else online, from refinancing your home to buying a car.

Of course, I know the strategy is to get you back in the store. That’s why you get bonus bucks, discount coupons on your receipt and flyers in the mail. The more often you’re in the store, the more you’ll buy. Plus, how many people will actually take down the decor items and bring them back to get the discount and credit? I’m guessing not many.

That’s marketing these days. Drive traffic to your website. Get people into the store. Put wonderful items at the end of every aisle. Make people think they are getting a great deal. If they are willing to give you 50% back, think of how much that item was marked up to begin with!