Thursday, September 12, 2013


One of the consequences of living in  the country is that neighbors are spread pretty thin.  Human neighbors especially.  Any kind of gathering is turned into a social occasion, whether it be a funeral, elections held in the fellowship hall of the local church, or a work day at church to do some cleaning and maintenance.  My mother-in-law once complained about the narrow county roads in the area, asking, “What do you do if you should meet someone while driving?”  The reply was you slow down, wave, and if you are acquainted, stop and visit in the middle of the road.  No opportunity to enjoy human contact is lightly passed up.

Even taking advantage of those times, humans are not to be seen often.  I found when I was driving back and forth to work on a daily basis, there were other chances to make acquaintances.  Taking the same path, at about the same time each day, started to reveal some patterns.

These two lived about 2 miles from our house, hanging out with a large herd of goats and the occasional cow & calf.  Most afternoons, they would be grazing along the fence which faced the narrow road, and I came to miss them if they weren’t.  Then my Lovely Bride discovered them on her travels to & from town, and made a point of looking for them.  Once they realized she was infatuated with donkeys, and routinely carried plain granola bars in her car just in case she happened to meet a hungry donkey along the way, they started looking for her!  She would slow as she approached their pasture, and then stop at the same place each day.  If they weren’t already waiting, they would usually come at a trot when they heard her car.  Ears would be scratched, noses rubbed, and granola bars consumed.  Fingers might be nibbled if someone wasn’t careful.  

 Donkeys were lightly spoiled, workplace stresses forgotten, and the last bit of the homeward drive was a time to reflect on how lucky we are to live where we can enjoy God’s creation and his creatures.

Monday, September 9, 2013


At the age of 13 I went to work at my first "real" job, pumping gas in a station in the small Texas town where I grew up.  By real, I mean the first job where I was actually paid, as opposed to the free "child labor" on our small & struggling family farm.  Growing up in the country provided me with a multitude of advantages, none of which I recognized until many years later.  I fed cows, pigs and chickens; picked up eggs, washed and candled them using the rudimentary machinery available; pulled weeds from the garden; mowed grass; and hauled hay in the summertime as well as anything else that needed doing.  Only having to pump gas, clean windshields, air up tires, and check oil levels for an 8 hour stretch seemed like a vacation by comparison.  And I got paid $5.00 a day! 

Fast forward 47 years, and the attraction of full time employment was beginning to wane.  Forty one of those years were spent in the Operating Room in one role or another, 37 as a Registered Nurse, and the last 27 in administrative roles.  Many exciting changes occurred during that time, and it was always thrilling to be an active participant in many of those almost miraculous advances.

Many other changes, not nearly as uplifting, were being forced upon the entire healthcare field by more stringent government regulations and changes in reimbursement by the government as well as insurance companies.  In an effort to successfully cope with these changes, hospital administrations began austerity campaigns, stressing the more efficient provision of care with decreasing staff resources.  Anything that might affect the corporate bottom line was(and is) scrutinized to see if it can be done cheaper by fewer people.  Entire departments have been eliminated, with their functions being outsourced, transferred to other departments, or eliminated entirely.  Last year's productivity study could result in this year's firings, without regard to current workload and staff requirements.

This unsettled environment, with the physical stress of trying to do more work with fewer trained bodies, along with the mental and emotional stress of never knowing what might happen next, led me to decide that it was time for me to seriously consider retirement.  There were many unknowns.  Would I be able to adjust to not going to a job after a lifetime of working full time?  Would I habitually awake early each morning as I had done for decades?  Would I be able to financially afford retirement?  Would my Lovely Bride grow tired of me being under foot all the time, and try to suffocate me in my sleep? 

As I thought of retirement, I considered other factors.  I have known many people over the years who worked diligently, saving and preparing for their retirement so they would be able to enjoy their "golden years".  Sadly, many times those dreams of traveling, fishing or maybe just enjoying their grand children were disrupted when they or their spouse became ill or suffered some physical calamity.  One or the other became unable to do those things they had hoped for and worked toward for so many years.  Rather than working as long as physically possible, would we be better served by consciously choosing to retire earlier, planning to exist on a smaller income, but able to spend more time together  doing those things we had dreamed of?

After pondering these questions for several months, I decided I needed to break away from work.  On February 1st, I embarked upon a new stage in my life as a retiree.  Whether or not it will actually "take", remains to be seen. 

So far, I haven't missed working at all.  I discovered I have no problem sleeping until after the sun comes up.  Unfortunately, I still don't know for sure if I can afford to be retired, but I'm sure trying to make it work.  Oh yeah, and my Lovely Bride may sometimes wish I would find something to do outside of the house, but she seems to feel my being underfoot is a fair price to pay for the alteration in my stress level and my mellower attitude.

Re-Exploring Austin

(This was begun several years ago, and has been sitting in my computer, just waiting.)

That Monday dawned gray and dreary. The only point in its favor was that it was a holiday, and for once I didn't have to go to work. The Lovely Bride, however, did have to go in and feed her 400 second and third graders, so I struck out on my own for the day.

I have a niece who had just moved to Austin after having spent the past couple of years in Houston, San Antonio and Panama. For the moment she was without a vehicle, so I gave her a call to see if she was interested in tagging along while I ran some errands. With a day off from school, she agreed to supervise as I shopped. Shopping is probably not the most accurate word to describe what I had planned.  I don't mind buying things, but aimlessly wandering through retail venues has to be one of my least favorite activities.  That day, I knew what I wanted...a new pair of boots. Tony Lama ropers in a light brown known as Aztec.  Nothing exotic, no ostrich or elephant or spotted porcupine hides...just plain leather boots.  I even had the model number!

We headed south on Congress Avenue, passing some of Austin's iconic landmarks, and pulled up at Allen's Boots.  One of those businesses which seemed to have been around forever, it is a multi-sensory shopping experience. Row upon row of closely packed boots allow the shopper for manly-footwear to see, feel and smell the aroma of tanned leather while deciding exactly how pointy the toe can be and still be wearable. I tried to remain focused on my quarry while easing down the cave-like aisles. Alas, 'twas not to be. I located the correct brand, size and model, but the perfect color just wasn't there. A nice young man offered to have them ordered and delivered directly to me, but I still have a reluctance to spend hundreds of dollars on footwear without trying them on. We retreated to the pickup, only picking up a couple of pairs of Wranglers on our way out.

Moving south on Congress, we discussed our options, passing such familiar dining venues as the Magnolia Cafe and Hill's. We reversed course and moved toward the north side of Austin so my niece could show me where she attends the Texas Culinary Academy. Like so many young people today, she managed to acquire a formal education without simultaneously finding a direction for her life. Now she is working on developing a passion she has for baking, into a livelihood. 

We cruised the backstreets of Austin, checking out 6th Street and some of the city's other scenic hotspots as we progressed northward.  I pointed out places which were still familiar to me from 35 years ago, and some which have changed location, such as the Frisco.  Fortunately, I managed to successfully complete my quest, finding the correct boots in a store on Burnet Road as we headed north.  Then with no particular destination, we visited my niece's cooking school, passing some of the more recent growth on the north side including some of the newest(and priciest) shopping spots before stopping for lunch.  With full bellies, it was back on the road, this time taking the Capitol Of Texas Highway from the Arboretum all the way back down to Congress Avenue. 

My lazy day of driving the streets reinforced the idea that the Austin of old is still there, although it is sometimes hidden by the glare of the new.  Push aside the glitz, and those qualities which made Austin an interesting place to visit or live in 1975, can still be found.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

After Sam

This has been a traumatic week here in Naruna.  Sam the Beagle, the full-time goodwill ambassador for Naruna, and also the unofficial greeter at Naruna Baptist Church whenever the doors were open, unexpectedly passed away this week from unknown causes.  He spent his days making his rounds, then sprawling either on the porch or under a tree and waiting for someone to come and visit. 
The Flying Beagle
It mattered not to Sam whether he was the intended focus of your visit, only that you stopped by.  Anyone who pulled in at the little church or cemetery across the road from his house soon found they had an escort on their errand.  Sam was a good dog and ever attentive companion who only wanted to make everyone feel welcomed and loved. 
Sam & Santa BoBo

Baby Sam
 Life continues even in the face of grief and loss.  It is not easy to accept and adjust to the loss of any friend, but we have to move on. This has been hardest on my Lovely Bride who picked Sam out from amongst his litter mates, brought him home, and raised and nurtured him for the 5 years he was with us.  But also affected are the other 4-legged residents of Naruna. 

Sam & Ruby Jean

Ruby Jean was only a puppy when she came to live with us and Sam was the big brother who looked out for her & taught her the ropes, including tips on herding uncooperative cows. 

Rosie the Lab had lost her own puppy in an accident when Sam came into her life, ably filling that void. 

Sam & Rosie

 Tizzie the grey tabby quickly let the young beagle know what his boundaries were, and then settled into a, more or less, peaceful coexistence. 
Sam & Tizzie
Fred the kitten only arrived a week or so before Sam’s demise, but still acts as though he knows something is not right. 
Ruby Jean - Freddie - Sam

 We are all very tentative moving through the days, moping about and sneaking sideways glances as if in hopes Sam will somehow appear.

We’ll miss you, Sam.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ending a Christmas April!

Salzburg Market
Spending too much time on social networking sites can be an impediment to actual communication.  I realized this when I looked over my blog and was startled to find I left our Christmas trip down the Danube dangling unfinished more than four months after finishing the trip itself.  Too much Facebook time!  Back to work.    
One of the Salzburg markets

Salzburg castle
Our "Christmas Markets Along the Danube" river cruise was our first cruise as well as our first organized tour of any sort.  Grand Circle Tours was the tour company, and we had heard good things about them from family and friends who had taken their cruises and land excursions in many different parts of the world.  Our itinerary was Nurnberg to Vienna on the MS River Concerto in early December 2010, and we added a 4 day pre-trip in Munich so we could see more of Germany and allow a little time to deal with jet-lag.  It also gave us the chance to become acquainted with our program director, Jutta, and several of our fellow travelers.   
The Abbey at Melk
Weather presented us with some challenges, even before we arrived in Germany.  Flights were delayed or rescheduled and we were beginning to wonder about the wisdom of trying to travel to Europe in the winter.  Once we arrived in Munich and Jutta took charge, we put our worries behind us.  The Munich part of our trip went perfectly, and the optional trip to Neuschwanstein was everything we had hoped for.  My wife and I have since agreed the brief time we spent that day in Oberammergau, walking the quiet streets and the rustic Christkindlmarkt, was the high point of the entire trip for us. 
Linz Christmas Market
As we came closer to joining the ship for the actual cruise, it became clear that our trip was not progressing according to the original plan.  The early rains and lots of snow continued to cause the river to rise, making it impossible for the Concerto to reach Nurnberg.  Jutta was in constant contact with the ship, and even though there were many changes in our itinerary to cope with weather related problems, we didn't miss anything which had been planned.  More time was spent on buses than we liked, but we also found we were seeing more of the German towns and countryside than if we had simply sailed down the river. 

Metal ornaments - only in Linz.
Once aboard the Concerto, we quickly fell into a routine and the Captain and crew took extremely good care of us, welcoming us back from each shore excursion with warm cider and hot towels.  The Chef and kitchen staff outdid themselves and I wondered if I would ever be hungry again.  Our trip down the Danube through Austria went smoothly.  Linz and Melk slipped past much too quickly and we found ourselves wishing we had signed up for the Vienna post-trip extension.
Last stop - Vienna
Very little of our trip wasn't affected by the weather.  Many plans were changed, adjustments made, times altered.  All without sacrificing any part of the trip.  As we left the ship in the early morning hours to go to the Vienna Airport, we kept chuckling to ourselves as we remembered Jutta’s oft repeated words…”Anyone can take a Christmas trip, you get to have a Christmas Adventure!”  
Vienna market

The Wiener Rathaus
So now the question is raised, should we take another organized cruise/trip?  Or do as we did before and strike out on our own?  Mike and I discussed this as the cruise was winding down, and we both agreed it was very nice having someone else doing the planning and handling the logistics, especially when plans have to be altered because of weather, etc.  But it would be nice to have more flexibility to allow for more time when a really interesting town is discovered, or a special museum is missed because it isn't open until the next day.  Or just really not feeling like doing much of anything except rest for a day to recuperate.  No decisions yet, but I'm looking at a GCT tour of Tuscany and the Amalfi coast which sounds really interesting.  But then I've always wanted to spend a couple of weeks in the north of Spain wandering along the old pilgrims' path to Santiago.  Decisions...decisions.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Passau - A City of Three Rivers

Passau was to be our last German city before crossing into Austria.  It was also the first we were able to explore by walking from our docked ship, giving us a little more time for poking around instead of riding buses.

Passau is known as the City of Three Rivers, where the Danube is joined by the Inn river from the south and the Ilz from the north.  Our mooring site there was on the tip of the peninsula between the Danube and the Inn, with the mouth of the Ilz just across the river.  It is said this is where the Danube became known as the "Blue" Danube, because of the color of its water where it joins the "green" Inn and the "black" Ilz.  Riding along at water level, none of it looked particularly colorful - just varying shades of brown.

As we explored the Old Town, or Altstadt, the importance of the rivers became clear.  Just walking across the gangway to dry land gave us a glimpse of some of the local fishermen, including this one placing his catch into a fish trap. 

Continuing into town, my eye was caught by a street sign affixed above head height to a building announcing we were in Brewery Alley.  I then noticed above it a white stone marker which my wife translated to me as being a high water marker.  Living at the confluence of three rivers means having to head for higher ground occasionally!

Of course, our stated purpose in visiting Germany & Austria was to see Christmas Markets.  In Passau, the markets tended to be smaller and scattered throughout the old downtown area. 

Very low key compared to the more metropolitan venues found in Munich and Nurnberg. 

Nice place to slowly wander about while enjoying another warming beverage.

Having a little more free time meant we were also able to seek out an actual restaurant, rather than enjoying more market food.  In Passau, our choice was a well-recommended place named the Bayerischer Lowe.  Some delicious, upscale Bavarian cuisine gave us a welcome break from our regular diet of wurst and sweets.

 An advantage of meandering without a guide, is you get lost and find things you weren't looking for.  This was just the case when we stumbled upon a small shop on an extremely steep and icy street as we were headed back to the ship.  The shop was named "Dies und Das" or "This and That", and it lived up to its name by having an eclectic collection of wares which defied easy categorization.  The proprietor was glad to have someone make the effort to come into his out of the way place, and my Lovely Bride obligingly made more purchases there than anywhere else on the trip.

Next, back to the ship to prepare for our first daylight cruising on the Danube.

My Review of Teva Riva eVent Shoes - Men's

Originally submitted at REI

Featuring awesome eVent® waterproof protection, excellent support and fit, Teva Riva shoes take you from town to trailhead and beyond without missing a step.

Great Winter Shoes

By Dave from Naruna from Texas Hill Country on 2/4/2011


5out of 5

Sizing: Feels full size too small

Pros: Comfortable, Breathes Well, Waterproof, Lightweight

Best Uses: Cold Weather, Casual Wear, Travel

Describe Yourself: Comfort Driven

I bought these shoes for a trip to Germany just before Christmas. I didn't want a full on boot, but needed something lightweight, waterproof and with good traction. Record snowfalls and many forced changes in plans had us doing much more walking than expected, but these shoes were superb. Never any trouble with traction in snow and ice, and always dry. Be sure to try these on before buying, as I had to move up from my usual size 12 to a 13, but they were super comfortable.