Sunday, December 27, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #243The Ancient Ones Stand, Tulum, Mexico, September 2003

Most of my nomadic travel finds me in the continental lower 48 of the United States. But, there have been those occasions when I have crossed borders and oceans to lands afar. The U.S. has so much land to explore and has been so much development during the approximately 500+ years since Europeans invaded the “New World” there is a vast abundance of things to see and learn. Of course, other than the native American Indian nations that inhabited this land before the Europeans and their antiquity, most of the historic cities, towns and structures in the U.S. are considered pretty modern compared to what one finds in Europe, Africa, especially the Middle East, and Asia.

I took this photo on one of my expeditions outside the borders of my native country. This was also one of my earliest uses of digital photography. The camera I shot this with was actually not much more sophisticated than my first Kodak Brownie box camera I shot black and white photos with. I got it for Christmas when I was probably 8 to 10 years old. True, this little digital camera was about half the size of my Brownie, but utilized, basically, similar technology. It had a simple viewfinder, a simple, fixed lens, a limited amount of memory only allowing so many photos before they had to be “developed” in the case of the Brownie or “downloaded” (no removable memory) in the case of this small Olympus digital.

This photo is of the ancient Castillo (castle) with the watch tower overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Tulum dates back to the 13th Century and is the only Mayan city known to have been built on the coast. It was a seaport trading city in its day. While it has largely been overridden by the jungle surrounding it, it is now a Mexican national park and, accordingly is maintained. Tulum is also an archaeological site, providing much information into the ancient Mayan culture. When I visited, in 2003, visitors were no longer allowed to climb on the ruins or go into the structures. Prior to restricting open access, the ruins were being ruined, no pun intended, by people climbing and chipping and leaving behind graffiti.

This site is beautiful and, I was there on a beautiful day in September. It is pretty darn hot and very humid in this region, so my New Zealand friends, who were also with me, and I shed our clothes to our bathing suits and took a dip in the beautiful Caribbean with other tourists. While it is a ruin, it is still remarkably well kept and I would highly recommend a visit to Tulum if you happen to go to nearby Cancun, a modern resort city, circa 1974, about 700 years newer.

Live free and be happy. EH    

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #242 – The Commencement Site, The Oakhill Ranch, Winchester, Virginia, October 2008

Photos of this house have appeared here before. But, as I was sitting here the Sunday before Christmas 2015, I find myself contemplating a number of aspects of my life. The idea of “commencements” crossed my mind. Most people experience several commencements of various kinds during a lifetime. This week's photo actually represents both a graduation and commencement in my son's life and mine.

I moved into this house in February 2003 and I departed the house the end of October 2008. That was exactly five years and nine months from the beginning to the end of my tenancy. It actually ranks as the home I lived in the second longest time during my adult life. My son lived here with me for about one year of my tenancy. It's actually the only residence I've lived in since 1972, or about 30 years, where I didn't have a full-time spouse/significant other living with me for any part of my tenancy.

To be a little more accurate, a graduation, beside the traditional definition of receiving some kind of academic diploma or degree, also means markers of some kind of designated measure. While a commencement, often used to refer to the meaning of the word graduation, actually means the beginning or starting place. This house and property, I called it The Oakhill Ranch after my business name, is both a graduation marker and a commencement place in both my son's life and my life.

There are a several markers or graduations, this house and the 49 acres it sits in the middle of, represent for me. I mentioned two in the previous paragraph. A third is that living on a property with a sizable amount of acreage fulfilled another of my dreams. Still another is it was the last residence/property I lived in that was under my name and control. Yet another, it was the last place my son lived on the east coast before departing for and commencing his life on the west coast 12 years ago. And, finally, it is the commencement place of the new, non-conforming, alternative, living free, nomadic lifestyle I embarked on at the end of October 2008.

When I moved to this property, The Oakhill Ranch, I only planned to stay for two years. Ultimately, I lived here just short of six years. From my birth until this property, I have lived in no less than 17 properties. That's one for about every four years of my life. There are probably not many career military people who can claim that many locations. Frankly, I'm not sure if that's a positive or a negative claim. It is what it is and, of course, it's part of who I have become.

So, today I've been ruminating about my past and present. I just viewed a YouTube documentary titled, “I'm Fine, Thanks,” and a feature film distributed by titled, “The Words.” Both of these movies moved me to my state of contemplation. Throughout our lives we are inspired and moved by many people, places and things. I have called them “pivotal” people, places and times on this blog. As Thoreau wrote, something over 150 years ago, “ The mass of men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

Everything this final third of my life is about commenced October 31, 2008 at this location. Since that day, I have been assembling all the pieces of the puzzle that have been my life. The vision has become clearer and clearer and now, just over seven years later. I believe the words of a popular song, penned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and made popular by Johnny Nash, are apropos, I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It's gonna be a bright bright sunshiny day.”

I hope you have had or are on your way to your commencement of living free. I hope you can see clearly and the rain, obstacles and dark clouds are clearing and your bright, sunshiny future is beckoning you.

More on some of the things I touched on in the article will follow in future articles. For now, live free and be happy. EH

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #241 A Favorite Restaurant, Fresno, California, June 2012

This week I thought I'd feature something a little on the lighter (and tastier) side. This is one of only 43 restaurants from a chain called The Old Spaghetti Factory. This one happens to be in Fresno, California, not far from my former mother-in-law's (still a best friend of mine) and one of my former brother-in-law's places in nearby Clovis, California.

I have been to a few of the restaurants in different parts of the U.S. including Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. This restaurant is located within, perhaps, a mile of the local, more widely known and prolific national Italian cuisine restaurant, Olive Garden.

There are three significant differences between the two restaurants in my mind. First, most Olive Gardens follow a pretty common external appearance and decor. While they don't all look exactly the same, they are usually unmistakable. The Old Spaghetti Factory restaurants are all very uniquely different on the outside. They are often built into very old buildings. In some cases the building might have been a warehouse at one time. There are no two restaurants alike from exterior appearance.

The second difference is in the interior decor. Most Olive Gardens (and I've been in a lot of them all over the U.S.), have a distinctly similar Italian decor, but it is still, in most ways, a very typical restaurant. The Old Spaghetti Factory typically uses the original brick walls, open ceiling of the particular structure it's built in and features unique lighting and uses church pews, antique bed headboards and foot boards that one might typically expect to find in old European castles, villas and manors to create dining booths from. Additionally, prominently located in the center of the dining area is an old streetcar fitted with tables and chairs. None of the restaurant interiors are identical.

The third difference is the menus. Olive Garden has a very diverse and comprehensive menu featuring many special items to meet everyone's tastes. The Old Spaghetti Factory menus may vary slightly from location to location. But, more importantly, they are more limited in the numbers and types of meals they offer on their menus and all entrees on their dinner menus feature three courses. Of course, there is a tasty bread service, but they also offer a choice of an Italian soup or salad, the entree of the diner's choice and dessert consisting of their house specialty, Italian Spumoni ice cream, all inclusive in the price of the meal. There are, of course, extras, like appetizers and such. But, still the menu is, in my opinion, smaller, simpler and easier to make choices from. In general, the prices are in line with Olive Garden prices, or perhaps a little less.

When I first went to one of The Old Spaghetti Factory Restaurants in the late 70's or early 80's, there were a lot fewer restaurants and the menu was even simpler. If I recall correctly, there wasn't a printed menu at all. You simply ordered one of, typically, three entrees off a chalk board at the entrance. All meals were the same price and all were the three course meals they still serve. I really liked that aspect of the restaurant back then. I find huge menus to be a pain in my brain. Too much to read and think about to make a choice.

This restaurant is, obviously the one located in Fresno, California and the photo was taken from the car as we were driving past it. I've been to this one several times with BJ, my former mother-in-law. It's one of our favorite places to go when I'm hanging out in Clovis. And, to be honest, we usually patronize the Olive Garden, too, though we often have to wait longer to get seated at the Olive Garden. We seldom have to wait more than a few minutes at The Old Spaghetti Factory, probably because it has a larger seating capacity.

Look them up on the Web and if you're ever in a city near one of these restaurants, give yourself a treat and try it out.

Live free and be happy. EH

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #240 Scene of Latest U.S. Terror Attack, San Bernadino, California, December, 2015

This is not my photo! It's a stock photo I downloaded from the Web. I could have chosen any of a number of photos of the scene of the horrific terror attack that took place in the city of San Bernadino, California this past week, but I chose something that was more indicative of the city.

I was in San Bernadino this past winter. It is a California city of something over 215,000 people. Like several cities in California, it has been going through difficult economic times and is dealing with a bankruptcy. But, I don't care what the specific circumstances of any city, town or village in the U.S., nothing should make it the target of a terrorist attack. And, just as happened in Paris only a few short weeks before, this unsuspecting city was dealt an undeserved blow below the belt. But, even worse, it took the lives of 14 innocent people, physically wounded another 21 and emotionally and psychologically wounded not only hundreds of people related to these direct victims, but tens of thousands who see their hometown and the world through different eyes, now.

My first visit to San Bernadino was in the early 1970's, when the now closed, Norton Air Force Base was part of that community. I was in the Air Force, based in Washington, DC assigned to the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Information. I was on a TDY (temporary duty) assignment in California and was ready to return to Washington. I was authorized to fly home by commercial airline, but chose to don my blue uniform, drive my rental car to San Bernadino and fly home from Norton Air Force Base on the “U.S. Air Force Airline.” That was about 43 years ago.

I've driven through San Bernadino a few times since then and, as I mentioned, the latest time being in December of last year and again in the early part of this year. And just one year later, this horrendous event takes place. Of course, I couldn't have imagined such an event taking place in San Bernadino, or anyplace else in the U.S. for that matter. But, then again, just a little over 14 years ago, in plain sight of where I grew up, two airliners became the weapons of foreign terrorists who ultimately took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people that day.

No! I'm not going to be stupid and blame workplace violence. No! I'm not going to be stupid and blame inanimate, brainless, objects, namely guns, for this. No! I'm not going to blame global warming or climate change (whichever anyone wants to call it), racism, religious persecution, the economy, education or anything else for this. I'm going to blame the REAL cause – HATE! It's that plain and simple. For all the good there is in this world, there is a lot of evil and it manifests itself in four ways – HATE, GREED, CORRUPTION and STUPIDITY!

The stupidity part is mainly home-base right here in the U.S. It starts from the top down. I'm so sick of political correctness and our government trying to make us believe we're to blame for all of this. Yes, we are arrogant. Yes, we are affluent in many ways, other than just financial. Yes, we are materialistic, over-indulgent and even shallow. But, in general, we are the most generous, caring, sharing people in the world. We, in general are not the Kardashians or the Trumps or the Obamas or the Caitlyn Jenners or any of the other “over the top,” bigger than life, so called “idols” of American idiocracy. We are just a whole lot of nice people.

Guess what? A whole lot of nice people were massacred this week because they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were celebrating a part of our American way of life when a couple STUPID people full of HATE, and one of them born, raised and educated in this very country, decided they were going to become the judges, jury and executioners of people who never did a thing to them or their child. They were treated like welcome members of The American Way.

People often ask me - because they know I'm a wandering, living free, freedom loving nomad, exploring the country of my origin, experiencing its beauty and wonder and meeting the wonderful diversity of people who make up this great place – whether I carry a gun with me for self-defense. Frankly, whether I do or whether I don't is no one's business except my own. It's another of the personal choices we can all make in our lives. In order to defuse a controversial subject before it has the opportunity to turn into a discussion or argument that I personally don't want to be involved in. I typically will say, I don't. But, only I know the truth and that's going to be the way it remains.

However, let me go on record to say, I support the 2nd Amendment. No! I'm not an NRA member. I have no need or desire to become an NRA member. But, I know one thing for certain. Evil, stupid, hate-filled, greedy and corrupt people WILL always find a way to get their hands on the inanimate objects we call guns and all their accessories and ammunition and will use them against unarmed people, regardless of whatever controls are put on obtaining and owning such inanimate objects.

Further, they will continue to buy readily available materials and, with knowledge readily available on the Internet, construct bombs, IEDs (as they are now called) and weapons of mass destruction just like these two mad dogs in San Bernadino had. Evil people with no outlook for a future for themselves will embrace ideologies that reward them in their death to take on suicide missions and attacks (and suicide attacks are as old as humanity).

So, my heart, my thoughts and my prayers go out to the families of the dead victims, the wounded and their families and the people of San Bernadino, California for the losses they experienced this past week. But, even more, my heart and thoughts go out to all the personal freedom loving people in the U.S. and the world and ask you to pull your fucking heads out of the sand and start calling evil what it is. Stop blaming it on everything that has nothing to do with it.

I'm sorry, but innocent people will die when right/good stands up against evil and destroys evil. No civilized person is happy about that and none of us condone it. But, that is part of the cost. And, I have to support that over innocent people anywhere being tortured and massacred barbarically and inhumanely by stupid, hating, evil people who don't give a damn who they kill, period.

That's my piece for today. Like it or lump it. I don't care. I love life. I love living it without fear and intimidation. And I sure as hell don't want my life ended because of too damn many politically correct assholes, both in and out of our government, who can't stand up like real men and women and call a duck a duck, a hate monger a hate monger and a terrorist a terrorist and stop this shit! 

Happy Holidays and remember to live free and be happy. EH