Recently in Midland/Odessa Category

Dear City of Midland,

My wife and I are homeowners in Woodland Park, at the far north end of "A" Street. We are also bicyclists, and we were pretty excited when you re-striped "A" Street from Mockingbird south to Loop 250 and created a nice wide lane for cyclists, runners, and walkers. As far as I know, this was the first truly functional bike lane in Midland (those in the downtown area are, frankly, dangerous jokes, but I suspect you know that). It's only a mile in length, but it gave hope to us for what might come.


I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but simply creating bike lanes isn't really enough. They must be maintained. And the city is falling short in this regard.

Residential streets - especially those like "A" Street where a lot of adjacent development is taking place - attract a lot of debris: sand, gravel, miscellaneous trash. Before the bike lanes were installed, that debris was forced into the gutter by traffic. Guess where it collects now?

Instead of blowing against the curb and settling in the gutter, it tends to spread evenly across the width of the bike lane. It's actually a pretty interesting phenomenon - it's almost like a tractor beam for debris overlays the bike lane, and nothing remains in the roadway.

This is not too much of an issue for runners, and walkers probably don't notice it at all. But it's a really big deal for us cyclists. Bike tires are more vulnerable to flats than you might think, especially those skinny tires on so-called racing bikes ridden by those guys in colorful spandex. That's not my wife and me, but there are a lot of them out there. A blowout on a bike is a dangerous occurrence, especially in the presence of passing traffic.

The best way to avoid that issue is to avoid the bike lane, so, ironically, what we now have is the situation where people are cycling in traffic lanes that are more narrow than before, in order to avoid the problematic wider-than-before bike lanes.

I don't want to tell you how to do your job, but it seems to me that if you install a bike lane, that automatically comes with an obligation to maintain it. And maintenance seems pretty straightforward: send a street sweeper up and down "A" Street twice a month. That seems like a reasonable approach, doesn't it? We're not asking for someone to get up early every morning and hand-sweep the street (I've been places where that happens, by the way).

Let me be clear. I do appreciate the planning and effort that went into creating these bike lanes. I think it's a wonderful start to making Midland a better place to ride bikes, which in turn enhances the perceived quality of life for a lot people. I just wish the great start wasn't being subverted by the less than stellar follow-through.

Your pal,


Midland to Refugees: Welcome!
January 19, 2017 9:13 AM | Posted in: ,

Three refugee families are arriving in Midland next Wednesday. Any of the following items would be greatly appreciated...
That was the beginning of a message left by a neighbor on our development's Nextdoor newsfeed last week. The message included a long list of household items needed to help those families get a new start in a new country. We later learned that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was sponsoring the families, which were coming from either Cuba, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Africa), or Iraq.

Given the recent increasingly provocative anti-immigration rhetoric permeating social media, I was curious to see how this appeal would go over in our conservative-leaning community (I assumed our neighborhood mirrored the city as a whole in this regard; I saw no "HRC for President" yard signs during the campaign). Sure enough, this response appeared shortly after the initial posting:
I'm sorry but we have people here that are in dire need of help including our Vets.
I may be guilty of reading too much into this reply, but this was how I interpreted the comment: these people are not us, and aren't as deserving of our help as those who are us. 

I have no quibble with the idea that we can always do more to help others in our community. I agree that illegal immigration represents a real and significant threat in a number of ways. I don't agree that helping citizens and helping refugees are mutually exclusive activities, especially in a city that's as prosperous as Midland. 

I also see a troubling halo effect of extending the disdain for illegal immigrants to fully vetted and sponsored political refugees, for whom coming to America is not just fulfilling an economic wish, but is possibly a lifeline for survival. 

With all this in mind, I watched the online conversation unfold... 

First, there was no reply to the "I'm sorry but..." comment. Hmmm. Did silence mean agreement?

Then the replies trickled in, all directed to the original post. Some wanted more details about the families, or the organization. Some wanted to know where to drop off donations. Others posted notices of what they would donate. Finally, a few days after the initial appeal, this was posted by the original writer, who had volunteered to collect all donations and deliver them to the organization:
My car is totally full so I'm dropping all of it off this morning...
In short, this was just about a perfect response. No histrionics; no arguing; no defensive (or offensive) rebuttals...just a quiet, positive response to a call to action that demonstrates that for some of us, at least, America is still a place for "...your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Update: A representative of the IRC came to our neighborhood yesterday afternoon to pick up additional donations of household goods.

Update 2: For more about the refugee families in Midland, check out this article that appeared in today's edition of the local newspaper (front page, at that).
Earlier this year I reported on the grand opening of the West Texas Food Bank's main facility in Odessa. That facility - the crown jewel of the Food Bank's physical presence - was the first result of a $13 million capital campaign (an amount raised in only 13 months). The second step was revealed last night, when a sneak preview grand opening (the official public grand opening is this morning) was held at the new Midland location - the official name is the "Midland Community & Volunteer Center" - the first physical presence of the Food Bank in our city. Debbie and I were once again privileged to attend, and I wanted to share some photos from this great addition Midland's benevolence infrastructure.

[Disclaimer: These photos were taken with my phone, amid a crowd of people, so please excuse the obvious quality and framing issues.]

The new facility is located at 1601 Westcliff Drive, just south of the Andrews Highway, near the Midland County Tax Offices. The main building is a repurposed existing structure that was donated by Mike and Cindy Black and Lea and Melanie Crump (the lobby bears their names). It's only about a third of the size of the Odessa location, which is 60,000 square feet, but it purposes are a bit different and don't require the same scale.

The lobby shares some features of the Odessa facility, including the striking green logo wall, and the installation of dinner plates showing the names of the donors who made these facilities possible. A unique aspect of the Midland location is the integration of actual wooden food pallets as an architectural feature, as shown below.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Lobby

Here's a sample of some of the donor plates mentioned above. I felt compelled to highlight the plate belonging to Debbie's and my employer, SM Energy Company.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Donor Plates

Immediately off the lobby is the H-E-B Client Choice Pantry, where clients can "shop" for an assortment of food, both fresh and non-perishable. This pantry will be stocked with items specifically geared toward the nutritional needs of senior adults. H-E-B is a major donor, giving generously of both finances and food, and at the event last night their spokesman surprised the crowd with an additional $25,000 pledge.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Food Pantry

Moving further into the facility, you come to the Wayne & Jo Ann Moore Charitable Foundation Volunteer Center. This is where the work of unloading, inspecting, processing, sorting, and boxing donated food takes place...primarily by community volunteers. It is equipped with a loading dock; a "cold processing room" for inspecting meat, dairy, produce, and eggs; and a "sorting and isolation room" for storing and sorting non-perishable items.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Volunteer Center

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Loading Dock

Moving to the other end of the building, you find the administrative offices, the Bobby & Leona Cox Demonstration Kitchen, and the Henry Foundation Community Training Room.

The kitchen (named after the creator of Rosa's and Taco Villa) will be used to educate the public on how to prepare healthy meals. It has four cooking stations, and will be available to other collaborative agencies for cooking and nutrition classes.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Demonstration Kitchen

The training room has audio-visual capabilities and will also be made available to area groups for meetings and training opportunities.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Training Room

The exterior features of the facility are as impressive as the interior. There's a great playground (the Miles & Laurie Boldrick Playground) to entertain children while their adults are shopping or learning. And, in case you're wondering, there will eventually be grass on that playground (this is a REALLY new facility!). And, yes, that is my thumb in the upper right corner. Don't say I didn't warn you.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Playground

In the background of the preceding photo, you can see part of one of the two greenhouses at the site, named in honor of the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Foundation. These state-of-the-art greenhouses will be managed by the Permian Basin Master Gardeners, and will be used to educate the public about gardening, composting, etc.

The two greenhouses are configured differently, with one being a "Chinese-style" greenhouse surrounded by earthen berms, and the other being a more typical West Texas greenhouse. Both will be served by a 5,000 gallon rainwater collection system tied to the guttering on the main building.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Greenhouse

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Greenhouse

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Rainfall Collection System

There will also be an area where children can plant and tend to their own gardens (still under construction as shown below).

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Children's Gardens

The entire facility, designed by the Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, is environmentally friendly. It will eventually be equipped with a 75kW photovoltaic solar panel system that will provide up to more than 100% of the location's electrical needs (putting electricity back into the grid during the spring and fall). The building material incorporated reclaimed materials (such as the pallets I mentioned above, as well as 50 gallon drums used as light fixtures). And, finally, the polished concrete floors in the lobby contain recycled glass aggregate, and the flooring in the training room is 100% recycled compressed aspen wood.

The West Texas Food Bank is a critical asset in our region, serving millions of meals to hungry people in 19 counties across the 34,000 square miles it serves. I can't think of a more deserving recipient of your philanthropy, if you have the financial resources to share.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?'

The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew, Chapter 25
Three years ago, I blogged about the theoretical consequences of the construction of a proposed 58-story office tower in downtown Midland. I was specifically concerned about the impact on the City of Midland's logo, which features the city's skyline, and I literally illustrated that impact by creating a tongue-in-cheek parody logo.

The post garnered exactly one comment - which was probably more than it merited, to be honest - and I never gave it a second thought. Until yesterday, that is, when I received an email from the city's public information office. Here's an excerpt from that email:
A couple of years ago you had made a parodied version of our logo in relation to the proposed Energy Tower development. It was a pretty funny post at the time, but I am still dealing to this day with people using the tongue-in-cheek Energy Tower version of the logo to represent us. The hospital literally just put out a joint release with that logo on it! I didn't think much of it originally - just chuckled and let the reporters who used it for their stories know that they shouldn't be pulling our logo from Google image search, and then I waited and hoped for it to fall down in SEO results. However, since it's still an ongoing issue (3 years later), is there any way that you could maybe change the meta data of the file so that it no longer contains the phrase "City of Midland logo," as it currently does in the file name and description? It's mostly frustrating that people can't tell it's a fake, but because it has a file name that appears to represent it as our logo, I was hoping that you might be willing to help us possibly ensure that the correct logo is given more priority in a Google image search of "City of Midland logo."
Well, I did what any fiercely-independent American blogger would do when confronted by The Man about something I created: I folded like a cheap suit.

The first thing I did was hop over to Google and did an image search for "city of midland texas logo." Sure enough...mine lands in the second spot, but still behind the city's official graphic. Why someone would pick the one I created over the real one, which is much higher quality, is beyond me.

Nevertheless, I immediately renamed the parody logo and changed the alt tag in the HTML to completely remove any association with the City of Midland that Google (or other search engines) might try to make based on the coding of the website. In hindsight, I should have done that to begin with, but in keeping with the title of the post, the unintended consequences sneaked up on me.

I appreciate that the city didn't ask me to completely remove the image and post (I'm not sure of the legal implications surrounding this issue), and given the reasonable nature of their request, I was more than happy to cooperate.

I'm not willing to completely shoulder the mea culpa all by my lonesome, though. Anyone who pulls a logo from an image search without checking the source - or in this case, without even looking closely at what they're grabbing - is not going to garner much sympathy from me if the image turns out to be, well, you know - a lame parody.

Unintended consequences. They're everywhere.

Fun with Google Earth
January 28, 2016 9:41 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the many cool features about Google Earth is the ability to step back in time to see how an aerial scene has changed. Beginning with Google Earth 5.0, introduced in 2009, "historical imagery" was integrated into the application. As far as I can tell, much of the imagery (dating back to around 1984) came from the USGS, but there are a lot of images which are dated well before that. The results are inconsistent, but here are a few of the oldest images for some well-known cities:

  • San Francisco - 1938
  • Las Vegas - 1950
  • Los Angeles - 1989
  • NYC - 1978
  • Dallas - 1995
  • Miami - 1994
  • London - 1940
  • Berlin - 1943
  • Linwood, Ontario, Canada - 1930
OK, so Linwood, Ontario, probably isn't that well-known, unless you happen to live there, but by all accounts the aerial photo from 1930 is the oldest one in Google Earth. So, there's some fodder for your next family trivia night.

I was curious about what the historical imagery would show for our neighborhood and the immediate surroundings. Our development is only about ten years old, built in what was previously open pasture, and a lot has changed during the intervening years. It turns out that Google Earth has eight distinct views of the neighborhood, dating back to 1996. That first image is black and white, and there's a seven year gap until the next image shows up. Updates are more frequent thereafter.

I decided to create an animation to show the changes from 1996 to the present. (That capability is supposedly present in Google Earth but I couldn't make it work.) I took screen shots of each unique point in time, then created an animated GIF in Photoshop. Here's the result. Note: This is a very large file and the animation may not run if you don't have a lot of bandwidth. Feel free to right-click on the image and download it to your desktop to view if it stalls.

Aerial time lapse of Midland, Texas

There's not a lot of change during the latter years, although if you live out here, you'll be familiar enough with the neighborhood to spot the differences. But one thing I had never noticed before is that the development is has a distinct shape that's oddly familiar. I can't quite put my finger on it...but maybe you can figure it out...

Woodland Park...or Jurassic Park?

Disappearing Snow Time Lapse
January 7, 2016 3:12 PM | Posted in: ,

As promised, I've completed the time lapse movie showing scenes from our back yard in the days following the massive (for us) post-Christmas snowfall, aka Winter Storm Goliath.

It took me a lot longer than I expected, not because of any special technical complexity, but mainly due to my use of Apple's iMovie, a consumer-grade video processing software ill-designed to handle more than 4,000 photos (or 18.3 gigabytes). In fact, the process was excruciatingly frustrating; I won't bore you with the details, but the footnote to this post explains the issues in case anyone else has problems with still photos in iMovie. 

The final product consists of the daytime photos, taken at a rate of one every minute, for almost five days. If you're doing the math in your head, you've correctly figured out that is more than 4,000 photos; I deleted the nighttime pictures because...dark. If you look carefully you will see a couple of moonrises (with a chasing Venus). The photos were imported into iPhoto and the duration was set to .1 second per photo, the smallest duration the program supports. That made the video too long at more than nine minutes, so I exported it as a movie, then reimported it, speeded it up by 300%, and re-exported the resulting video at about three minutes in length. So, even if you have a very short attention span, perhaps it won't be too boring.

And speaking of boring, you're probably wondering why I would photograph snow for five days. That's a fair question and the short answer is that I didn't anticipate that this snow would last longer than any in memory. I really thought the snow would be gone in a day, or two at most, because that's what always happens in West Texas. But we had uncharacteristically cold weather (plus a light additional snowfall a day or two later) that preserved the snow. In fact, seven days later we still had vestiges of the snow on the ground.


The music is Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished" by the Budapest Philharmonic. I ripped it from vinyl, which may explain why it escaped Vimeo's copyright police. Don't tell anyone.

Viewing tip: You can watch the video by clicking below, but if you can spare the bandwidth, click the word "vimeo" to jump to the Vimeo website, and then watch it in full-screen mode. The GoPro's HD video capability really is impressive for such a small camera.

By the way, even though I cut out most of the nighttime photos, I did scroll through them in case there was anything out of the ordinary. Sure enough, I did find one puzzling photo...I'd love to hear an explanation of what made the lights in the sky that showed up for one frame at 8:06 p.m. on January 2nd. I can't identify's in the sky...that makes it know.

Photo - Night time UFO

Footnote: Coming soon(er or later)

Rockin' Rabbit
July 16, 2015 8:31 PM | Posted in: ,

I think this speaks for itself.

Cottontail rabbit stretched out on a rock

Desert Willow: Destruction & Rehab
June 26, 2015 3:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers may recall my report on the Great Ice Storm of 2015, in which I chronicled the apparent destruction of the beautiful desert willow in our back yard. That event was heartbreaking, and it even made the cover (with accompanying article) [PDF] of the newsletter for the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. That was a dubious recognition, to be sure, and at the time I thought it might be an obituary.

Six months later, though, the outlook is brighter, thanks to a tree's stubborn persistence (and a little bit of elbow grease on my part). I'm happy to report that we may have the equivalent of a phoenix rising from its ashes in the form of our back yard willow.

Let's trace the major stops in this journey of rebirth, shall we?

It's New Year's Eve 2014 in Midland, Texas, and we're starting to see a bit of winter in the form of a light coating of ice. We weren't particularly concerned at this point; the tree was actually kind of pretty.

Tree on 12/31/14

However, disaster struck two days later, when a stronger ice storm followed that initial event. At 9:45 a.m. the tree was starting to show the burden of the accumulating ice.

Tree on 1/2/15

Over the course of the next hour, the thickening layers of ice began to break major limbs on the tree, as you can see in this photo taken at 11:00 a.m.

Tree on 1/2/15

An hour later, the tree was stressed beyond its limits and the trunk split down to below ground level. This picture was taken at 12:30 p.m.

Tree on 1/2/15

I knew the broken limbs couldn't be salvaged, so I immediately took them off with a bow saw. Here's what the tree looked like by 1:00 p.m. that same day.

Tree on 1/2/15

At this point, all I could think about was how we were going to get rid of the carcass, and what might go in its place. It's worth noting that some have estimated that as many as 40% of the trees in Midland suffered damage from this ice storm, so we were not alone.

However, a couple of weeks later I began to wonder if there was some way to at least make the tree look better, whether we decided to keep it or not. I used a ratcheting tiedown to pull the tree trunk back together (sort of), drilled a hole through both halves, and bolted a threaded metal rod with big washers on each side to hold it in place. (When I grow up, I now want to be an orthopedic surgeon.) I had no illusions that this was a cure, but at least the sight of the tree didn't make us want to cry. Here's how it looked on January 16th.

Tree on 1/16/15

Fast forward a few months. Spring rolls around and in typical desert survival fashion, the tree seems to not realize it's been mortally wounded, as you can see from this photo from April 29th.

Tree on 4/29/15

Cute, huh? But, seriously, nothing that hints at something we can work with. However, I'm having trouble working up the energy to do much about it, other than remove some of the remaining limbs that were hanging over the fence into the alley.

May comes around, as it inevitably does, and we get rainfall bordering on record amounts, and the tree gets a growth spurt that would make any adolescent boy proud. By June 5th, the tree begins to vaguely resemble Wilson, the volleyball that kept Tom Hanks company in the movie Castaway.

Tree on 6/5/15

The tree is now putting on new growth so quickly that you can almost see it in real time. In just over two weeks, it looks like a shrub on steroids, as this picture from June 21st illustrates.

Tree on 6/21/15

At this point, we decide we should just roll with it and see how things play out. There are still some wayward limbs that don't fit in with the new aesthetic...

Tree on 6/25/15

...but the trusty (and only somewhat rusty) bow saw makes short work of them. The result - for now anyway - is the reborn tree shown below that we'll allow to develop the remainder of this year, and then do some additional shaping in the off-season. The moral of the story? Never give up on Mother Nature. Life is resilient, if given the chance.

Tree on 6/25/15 after final pruning

Note: I'm not a professional arborist, and I haven't consulted one, which might be a mistake. If you have any suggestions based on actual experience to help us mold this tree into a masterpiece, feel free to share them.

Car Repair Customer Service Done Right
June 20, 2015 10:19 AM | Posted in: ,

Note: The following is an unabashed plug for a local business. If you're a competitor, don't take it personally. Better yet, use it as motivation.

So, my truck suddenly developed a rather severe front-end shimmy (a highly technical automotive term, implying that my vehicle was demon-possessed), and I began to imagine all sorts of complicated (and expensive) issues. When my usual strategy of ignoring mechanical issues until they went away didn't work, I decided to seek professional help. 

LogoI'd had some mildly unsatisfactory encounters with the dealership, so I did some research and selected Christian Brothers Automotive, a nationally franchised business, as the Shop Least Likely To Disappoint And/Or Bankrupt Me. The business had a very high ratio of positive-to-negative reviews on Google (including at least one from someone I knew), plus their location and hours were very convenient. Here's what happened...

I arrived at the shop a couple of minutes before opening time at 7:00 a.m. Not only were the doors unlocked and the lights on - something that hadn't always been the case at the dealership's advertised opening time - but they were instantly ready to help. I didn't have to wait for the computer to boot up, or for the coffee to finish brewing, or for the front-desk guy to adjust his attitude.

I explained the problem, gave them my contact information and key, and was assured of a call as soon as they'd had a chance to check things out. I was in their clean and comfortable courtesy car (driven by the shop's very personable owner, Trey) on my way to the office by 7:15.

I got a call shortly before 8:00 telling me that they had narrowed things down to a possible issue with one of the tires, and asking permission to rotate a couple of them to test the theory. I told them where to find the security socket for the locking lug nuts, and hung up with another assurance of a call when they had something else to report.

I had another call before 9:00 telling me that the tire swap had indeed eliminated the shimmy issue, but that I probably should get a replacement tire pretty quickly. They theorized that the tire might be delaminating on the inside, since there was no obvious external defect. In any event, the truck was ready to go, and I was relieved to know that there were no complicated (and expensive) repairs to deal with (not that a new tire is an inexpensive proposition nowadays*).

My wife dropped me off at the shop at lunch and I went in the office to settle up. They grabbed my key off the rack, handed it to me, and said "you're all set."

"Uh...OK...but what do I owe you?"

"Nothing. You don't owe us anything."

"Wait a minute...I know you spent some time working on it; surely you need to get paid for that."

"Don't worry about it. Have a great day!"

Alrighty then. That, my friends, is a textbook strategy for creating loyal customers. Customers who also act as evangelists for the business. Customers like, well, yours truly.

*The cloudy lining to this blue sky story is that the following day I had to drop $300 on a new tire. Another technical car repair term is "ouch."
Update [10/5/16]: David Halver helped with the management of ARCO artwork collection in Los Angeles and Denver in the late 70s, and he contact me after reading this post. He provides a true insider's look at the collection and gave me permission to share his experiences, which I've done here.

In 2000, BP Amoco PLC acquired Atlantic Richfield Company for $27 billion, thus bringing a temporary end to my oil and gas career after 25 years. One of the things that ARCO was known for was its corporate artwork collection. Under the guidance of its chairman and CEO, the legendary oilman Robert O. Anderson, the company accumulated over 15,000 pieces of original artwork, housed in offices throughout the country. The collection included works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Herbert Bayer (a close friend of Anderson). Whether an oil company had any business investing so heavily in art is a legitimate question, but R.O. Anderson was a persuasive and charismatic guy, and the board and major shareholders didn't seem to mind.

ArtworkThe good stuff was, of course, on display at the corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, but even our office in Midland housed almost 300 pieces. They weren't universally appreciated - some of the more abstract pieces were subjects of ridicule, in fact - and the corporate art department seemed to be a bit tone-deaf when it came to providing regionally appropriate artwork, although they perhaps were simply trying to refine our philistine West Texas preferences.

Anyway, BP (they dropped Amoco in 2001) apparently didn't share ARCO's tastes in art, and so it was that the Midland office was instructed to dispose of its collection. They didn't express any strong opinions as to how we were to do that, and so during a brainstorming session I suggested that we might donate the proceeds from a sale of the artwork to the United Way, an organization that the Midland office had provided significant support for through the years. That idea quickly evolved into putting the pieces up for public auction, thinking that it might be a way to not only raise a tidy sum of money but also generate some good publicity for the United Way. According to a spreadsheet I found in my files, the original cost of the artwork was more than $75,000, and some of the pieces were thought to have appreciated significantly in value.
Update (7/21/15): I received an email today from someone whose sister bought one of these pieces - this one, to be exact - in an estate sale in Los Angeles a couple of days earlier. She found this post while searching for more information about the artwork, and contacted me to see if I could tell her anything more about it. Unfortunately, it seems that even the ARCO art department didn't know anything about it, because the original inventory list didn't list an artist or title. But it was quite interesting to track at least part of the journey of one of these works.
I volunteered to build a website that would showcase the artwork, and also provide a means for bidding. This was essentially my last project as a BP employee, and it was a fun one.

ArtworkThe first thing I had to do was photograph and catalog all 287 pieces. I had never photographed artwork, so everything was trial and error. My camera was a state of the art Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 [PDF] digital camera, which recorded .3 megapixel (640x480 pixels) images onto a 3.5" floppy disk. The pictures were pretty bad by today's standards, but given time and budget constraints, shooting high resolution photos on film just wasn't practical. If nothing else, the Sony provided quick turnaround and web-friendly results. (I still have the camera, but no battery to power it.)

If you've ever tried to photograph artwork, you know that it's not easy, especially if it's behind glass. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop cleaning up the images so they at least remotely resembled the originals.

The website design was also pretty laughable by today's standards, but not bad for the early Oughts. The site was actually designed with the idea that it would be distributed on CD-ROM, in addition to online access. But for some reason I can't recall, I resized the images to even smaller dimensions; most were only 250 pixels tall or wide. I suspect it's because at smaller sizes the images out of the camera didn't look so flawed, but that's just a guess. But keep in mind that at that time, home internet access was generally via dial-up modem and bandwidth was extremely limited. Image size was a big deal.

ArtworkThe end of this story gets really fuzzy for me, because I left the company before the final disposition of the art took place. I vaguely recall that the decision was made to donate all the art to the United Way and let that organization decide how best to dispose of it, and I further think they then found a dealer to purchase the entire collection. I have no idea how much they netted from the sale; I hope it was significant, but it didn't get a lot of publicity so perhaps it wasn't.

This is actually just a long introduction to the real purpose of this post, which is an attempt to preserve a little history that would otherwise fade completely out of sight. I have resurrected the original website that showcases - if you can call it that - the artwork that is now in the hands of unknown people. For all I know, much of it is now gracing garage sales around the country, while some might hang in other corporate HQs. But if you follow this link, you'll get a look at that art, as well as a reminder of what websites looked like fifteen years ago. (If you look carefully, you might find the lightning bolts that indicated clever was that?)

Local Nature
May 7, 2015 10:34 PM | Posted in: ,

Just a few random observations from the Wide World of Nature - Midland, Texas Edition.

First, the following video is noteworthy in spite of its poor quality (shot through an office window with a zoomed-in iPhone), because it shows a ladder-backed woodpecker who landed on a red yucca and began working over the blooms. These woodpeckers are not exactly unknown in our parts, but I've only seen a few during the decades of living here, and I've never seen this kind of behavior. (Click the full-screen arrows to get a slightly better view; the ticking noise in the background is not intended to evoke a woodpecker's noise - I just forgot to remove the audio track.)

Can anybody identify this bug? We noticed several of them on one of our Texas Mountain Laurels. It's hard to get a sense of scale from the photo, but they're really tiny. They weren't damaging the leaves, as far as I could tell (although something is eating on one of our trees).

Update: After some intense scientific investigation (aka, several Google searches), I've narrowed it down to a member of the Pyrrhocoridae family. Possibly. That's my story, anyway.

Bug on Texas mountain laurel leaf

Bug on Texas mountain laurel leaf

A couple of weeks ago I posted some photos of a dove that built a nest - and I use the term very loosely - on top of our concrete block wall, under the eave of the house. I pretty much forgot about it until last week; when I checked it, here's what I found.

Two baby doves in nest

The eggs had hatched and two babies were growing rapidly.

A few days after this photo was taken, we had a serious wind- and thunderstorm. I had assumed that while the nest was of the typical shoddy construction that's the dove's trademark, it was still well-sheltered. However, when I checked on things, I discovered that the storm had had a bigger impact than I expected.

Both doves were on the ground, but one was deceased. The other seemed to be in good shape, and even better, the momma was keeping close watch over it. I got within a few feet and while she was clearly agitated by my presence, she didn't fly away. Again, forgive the quality of the photos, which were taken at dusk with a phone.

Young dove on ground

Mother dove keeping watch

And, finally, anything Nature can do, Photoshop can...well...undo? Overdo? Outdo? You decide.

Cutter bee on firewheel

Another Ill-placed Dove Nest
April 19, 2015 9:57 PM | Posted in: ,

If you've spent much time around doves you know that they run a close second to sheep for being the dumbest animals on God's green earth. I make this assessment based primarily on the ridiculous places they choose to build their nests. For all I know, they're geniuses when it comes to differential calculus and quantum physics, but architecture and civil engineering is not their forte.

Case in point. This afternoon, Debbie mentioned that she'd discovered that a dove had built a nest on top of our cement block wall, under the eave of the house, and appeared to be sitting on eggs. Of course, I had to grab my camera and check it out. I came around the corner by our garage and, sure enough...

Mexican dove on nest

I went into stealth mode (meaning that I did my best not to fall on my face and destroy my camera) and drew closer.

Mexican dove on nest

There was a stiff north wind and I was downwind so I was able to get pretty close before the dove noticed me. She looked vaguely apprehensive in a low-IQ sort of way, but didn't budge from the nest.

Mexican dove on nest

As you can see, there's not much to a dove's nest, just enough twigs and grass to form a berm to keep the eggs from rolling away.

Mexican dove on nest

I suppose this will work for her, but it seems awfully exposed, especially if our foxes and the occasional neighborhood cat come around. And, while it's sort of off-putting to draw attention to it, that scat behind the nest came from some kind of predator, so I think this nest is existing on borrowed time. We'll see.

[Update: A Gazette reader has noted that the dove was actually responsible for the rather large scat, the result of long periods of nesting. My response is mainly along the lines of "ouch."]

Funny story about these photos. I was completely focused on the camera (see what I did there?) and heard someone come up behind me. I didn't turn around because I figured it was Debbie coming to check on the nest, so I just kept shooting. When I finally finished, I turned around and was quite surprised to see my next door neighbor quietly and patiently waiting for me to finish, and holding a rather large plant she was moving from her back yard to the front. But she was also fascinated and said that she'd probably walked by the nest a dozen times this afternoon without noticing it. So, perhaps it's not such a ill-chosen location after all. But I don't think it's humans the dove needs to worry about.

Raptor Breakfast
February 7, 2015 9:33 AM | Posted in: ,

My favorite chair in the living room looks out onto the back yard where I get to see all sorts of interesting things (and it makes me wonder how much I haven't seen). Such was the case this morning.

As I was finishing my daily Bible reading a movement in the Mexican Elder near the back wall caught my eye. It appeared to be a bird that was building a nest, which I thought was rather odd for the season. So I went to the window to get a better look and realized it wasn't a construction project, but rather breakfast for a hawk.

Unfortunately, he had positioned himself in such a way that I couldn't get a good look at the object of his ingestion, although every now and then a feather floated down, so I assumed he was dining on an unfortunate dove.

I hurried to my office, grabbed my camera and swapped out the prime lens for a zoom, bumped up the ISO to 400 to account for the shadows, and started snapping photos from the back porch, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I hoped that I was as obscured from his vision as he was from mine. These were the best I could get.

Hawk in tree
Hawk in tree

The hawk finally tired of my attentions and flew away, still clutching his breakfast. I attempted to get some action shots but ended up with nothing but bricks and blue sky. However, this did seem to confirm my theory about his menu selection, as it rested on the ground underneath the branch where the hawk was perched:

Dove feather on ground

On a somewhat related note, as I was running through the pasture yesterday evening, I scared up a large covey of quail...probably twenty or thirty birds exploded into the air in various directions. Almost simultaneously with that, a hawk swooped through the scattering flock, and I wondered if he had had one in his sights just as I startled them. However, he showed no interest in following any of them, so I decided he was just messing with their tiny little heads. I'm pretty sure that's what hawks do for fun.

In closing, to take your mind off that poor dove, here's some extreme cuteness.

Sleeping fox

Fox Times Two
February 3, 2015 9:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Our fox continued to visit our back yard around noon for a few days after we filed this report. He (or she - I have no way of knowing for sure) would usually be snoozing in the sunshine on the back porch when we got home for lunch, and then vanish shortly after noon. But, just as we had grown accustomed to its presence, it stopped appearing, and that was a little disappointing.

So, yesterday we were happy to see the fox make another lunchtime appearance. But the biggest thrill was seeing that s/he had brought a friend.

While our regular visitor lounged in the grass, I watched the newcomer get acquainted with the back yard, as it explored the shrubs along the back wall. The new animal seemed more wary than "our" fox, as evidenced by the fact that when I decided to try to get some video of the pair, it quickly retreated into our ice-damaged desert willow, and kept a close eye on me from that perch for a bit before deciding to seek a paparazzi-free zone. Take a look for yourself...

The newcomer is a just a little larger than the regular visitor, which, according to the infinite wisdom of Wikipedia, means that it's a male. If this is a mated pair, we might be looking at a fine fox family later this spring or summer, assuming they think our yard is safe enough (meaning that I should be less conspicuous with the cameras, I guess).

In the video, you can see the putative male make a fairly assertive exit, while the (let's assume) female watches with a resigned (might as well be as anthropomorphic as possible) expression, as if to say, "really...this is the best back yard in the neighborhood and you're scared of a dude with a video camera?" Eventually, she follows him out (and as we headed back to the office, we watched them cross the street in front of our house, him in the lead, and her following a while later). I hope we'll see them again soon.

Silence, please
January 26, 2015 9:41 PM | Posted in:

If you've driven north on Holiday Hill Road, starting at Briarwood and going to Greentree, you've surely noticed two rather unusual sights on the west side of the road. Both are efforts made by Fasken Oil and Ranch - the landowner - to be a good neighbor to the housing developments across the street. I'm a bit skeptical as to how effective those efforts are, but I give them credit for trying.

I'm referring to a temporary sound barrier the company has built around a drilling rig, and another that's situation next to a new office building at Fasken's Vineyard real estate development (I'd provide a link to the development but if there's a website, it's well hidden).

Here's the layout in front of the drilling rig.

Photo of sound barrier in front of drilling rig

The rig sits a couple hundred yards west of the street, with a large residential development that runs along the east side of the street. To give you a sense of the size of that barrier, a drilling rig of this type is around 100-150 feet tall; I estimate those sound barrier panels are 25-30 feet tall.

Drilling is an inherently noisy undertaking. Much of that noise comes from the diesel engines that power the rig, and those engines sit at ground level, so this arrangement may actually be effective in reducing the sound level from the drill site. I've never been outside in the vicinity, except to take these photos, so I can't say for sure. However, from another angle, you can see that the rig isn't exactly nestled within those walls, leaving plenty of space for sound to escape.

Photo of sound barrier in front of drilling rig

I suppose this could also be an attempt to prettify the drill site to some extent, although I suspect most Midlanders are pretty jaded to the sight. We certainly don't need to make rigs or production facilities look like condos.

Travel north from here a couple of miles and you'll see what looks like a drive-in movie screen running along the road. It's another sound barrier at the east end of a new two-story office building that's under construction.

Photo of sound barrier in front of building site

Again, this may serve a dual purpose of both noise abatement and visual screening, although I'm not convinced that the barrier is any more pleasant to look at than the building. But it does make an impressive structure.

Photo of sound barrier in front of building site

You can't really tell from these photos, but the supporting posts are actually fairly massive steel i-beams, which tells me this was a not-insignificant installation, both in terms of complexity and cost.

The drilling rig will likely be moved away within the next couple of weeks (barring any unforeseen complications, of which there are many possibilities...take my word for it), but the building is still months away from being finished.

I was curious as to where one might find such industrial strength sound barriers. I don't know where Fasken got theirs, but there's at least one company which specializes in precisely this sort of thing.

Fasken Oil and Ranch has a stellar reputation in our community, and efforts like this - regardless of how effective they might actually be - surely reinforce the "good neighbor" perception. Now, if they'd only start having movie night at that construction site...

Updated (1/27/15): I received an email from Tommy Taylor, a long-time Fasken employee, and he provided some clarifications and corrections that are worth noting.

First, the oil well is being drilled by Diamondback Energy, not Fasken. I confess I've never seen a well sign so I made a bad assumption about the operator. But I now remember seeing other drill sites around Midland with this same kind of enclosure - specifically one on Mockingbird Drive just west of Midkiff - so I think it's standard procedure for Diamondback when drilling close to neighborhoods. The current well isn't in the city limits so it's not a requirement, but it is a considerate move by the company.

Second, Tommy said that the sound abatement is more effective than you might think. He said the technique has been used quite often in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where the Barnett Shale wells are drilled right in the middle of neighborhoods.

And, finally, he said that the sound walls next to the new building will also serve the purpose of holding down the blowing dirt this spring, something that should have occurred to me, because that's a big deal out here. Also, he said that those i-beams will be leveled off and the panels reversed to that they present a nicer view from the street.

The Fox Returns
January 25, 2015 4:36 PM | Posted in: ,

We were leaving the house to head to church this morning when my eye caught something odd through the door that leads from our bedroom to the back porch.

Photo - sleeping gray fox

It's hard to make out from this phone photo, but it's a gray fox napping on the mat outside the door.

I opened the blinds a bit more to try to get a better view, but that disturbed his sleep and he slipped out of view. We went into the living room and watched through the shutters as he put his front paws up on one of the Home Depot buckets we use to catch rainwater, and took a long drink. I tried to video that, but the phone kept focusing on the shutters instead of the fox, so the result wasn't particularly dramatic or edifying. As we pulled out of the garage, we spotted him through the back gate. He was already resting comfortably in the grass, watching us leave.

I have no way of knowing if this is the same fox I've reported on previously, but it's been a while since we've had a visitor like this.

When we got home in the early afternoon, we checked the back yard and, sure enough, he was napping - foxes apparently aren't very energetic during the day - behind our rain barrel. I grabbed my DSLR and video camera and went fox hunting.

Photo - gray fox
Photo - gray fox

Following is four minutes of relatively non-action-packed Urocyon cinereoargenteus footage. For most of it, I was either standing or sitting less than twenty feet from the fox...who was at worst annoyed that I was interrupting his afternoon snooze. Lazy or not - I'm referring to the fox, although it could also be self-referential - I continue to be fascinated at the behavior of these animals, even as I worry that they might be getting too comfortable around humans. I don't think they're a danger to us, but I'm afraid that somebody might believe otherwise and try to harm them.

But, as the video shows, the neighborhood bunnies might need to take some precautions.

Ice Storm 2015: Aftermath
January 3, 2015 12:50 PM | Posted in: ,

The sun came out this morning, after four days of being missing in action, and the damage caused by yesterday's ice storm is all too obvious. We drove to the airport and back (that's another story) and saw a depressing number of broken tree limbs throughout the city. It's going to take weeks to clean up, and I suspect the tree service companies are salivating at the prospect of the extra work.

Back at home, I hauled out the trusty bow saw and went to work on our pitiful desert willow. I think I did a pretty good job of disguising the damage; if you don't look too closely, you can hardly tell it was damaged, right? Right?

Desert willow, post pruning
Just rub a little dirt on it; it'll be fine.

Fortunately, desert willow is soft wood when it's green and *sniff* alive, so it was easy to build a pile of limbs for easier disposal:

Desert willow limbs piled up

Despite the terrific damage this storm caused, the sun shining on the ice did bring out a certain beauty, which I will grudgingly acknowledge. I suppose it's a bit like having a rainbow after a flood. And since we can't do anything about it, we might as well try to take away a bit of the positive.

Ice covered live oak branches against a blue sky

Ice Storm 2015: From bad to worse
January 2, 2015 10:24 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't care what Luke Bryan thinks, there are times when rain isn't a good thing. Like, this morning.

We awoke to the sound of falling rain, which normally would be cause for rejoicing in West Texas. However, when temperature has been below freezing for more than 48 hours and the streets are already coated with ice, rainfall brings a feeling of dread. Fortunately, the view from our bedroom window seemed to dispel that notion. We even got a nice view of a hawk checking out the neighborhood from the top of a tree.

Photo of hawk perched in ice covered tree

It seems like only yesterday that I observed that the ice storm hadn't caused any damage. Oh, was yesterday.

So, at 9:44 a.m. this morning (according to the EXIF data from the camera), I took this photo of our back yard desert willow, as reassurance that the freezing rain was still not causing any lasting effects:

Photo of icy desert willow


Here's the photo I took an hour later, at 10:46 a.m. to be exact:

Photo of icy & damaged desert willow

Heartbreaking, huh. Those are some major broken limbs on what was a beautiful tree. Here's a closeup; avert your eyes if you can't handle hideousness.

Photo of icy & damaged desert willow

It gets worse; here's the view from the neighbors' driveway:

Photo of icy & damaged desert willow

Fortunately, I don't think they have a vehicle parked in that side of their garage, but this mess is still going to require some major cleanup.

Update (same day)

Once the rain let up and I was able to get closer, I found that the damage was much worse than I thought. The main trunk is split down to below ground level. I'm pretty sure the tree is a total loss. Even if it survives - and desert willows are nothing if not hardy - it won't be something pretty enough that we'd want to look at it every day.

Photo of icy desert willow
Photo of split desert willow trunk
Photo of split desert willow trunk

It took almost seven years...
September 21, 2014 1:26 PM | Posted in: ,

...but they finally made it to our backyard.

Photo - Squirrel in tree

I'm not thrilled about having squirrels in our neighborhood, but their appearance was inevitable. We are sequestered by at least a quarter mile of treeless pasture on every side, but a lot of trees come in via landscapers and it was just a matter of time before some of these guys hitched a ride.

It's not that I have anything against squirrels, but I'm dealing with enough distractions as it is without...oh, look!...

Driving Mr. Crazy
September 13, 2014 11:20 AM | Posted in: ,

Everyone who drives slower than me is an idiot, and everyone who drives faster than me is a jerk.
 --Me, and probably every other driver in Midland, Texas

Last week, while driving home after work, I encountered the following at consecutive intersections:

  • A driver in a pickup turned left in front of me after the signal had turned green for me to go through the intersection. Having driven in Midland for decades, I anticipated that and had slowed. What I didn't anticipate was the woman in the small sedan hugging his bumper and completely blocked from view who never came close to making a legal turn, and who glared at me for almost t-boning her.

  • A few blocks later, I pulled up behind an overly (in my opinion) timid driver who stopped as soon as the light turned yellow, causing us both to have to wait for the city's longest signal (an admittedly subjective assessment but after a day at the office, it's entirely warranted, if you know what I mean).

So, let's recap. Within the space of three minutes, I was angered by (1) a driver who ran a red light, and (B) a driver who refused to run a [almost-red] light. What's wrong with this picture?

Ask anyone who regularly drives the streets of our fair city and they'll tell you that the population of insane drivers has skyrocketed in direct proportion to the rig count. But, having said that, I've realized that my hypocritical attitude is not doing my mental state and blood pressure any favors...and it's certainly not improving the driving habits of others.

I confess that I have many faults, but angry judgment of other drivers is one of the worst, and the preceding realization has brought that into focus. I'm now making a conscious effort to remain calm in the face of what I perceive (and, honestly, it's a fair judgment) as inconsiderate, inattentive, and just plain bad driving. My wife will likely tell you that the effort is a work in progress with little discernible improvement, but I really am trying. As is the case with much in life, I can't control my surroundings, but I can control my reaction to them.

Well, theoretically, anyway.
[Insert pithy yet winsome introductory text here. Please.]

  • Every now and then, something happens that restores my faith in humanity and I think that perhaps there really is some hope for mankind. Then I read Facebook comments and come to my senses.

Dos Equis Man: I don't always read FB comments, but when I do, I want to claw my eyes out

  • Forget Ebola. What I want is a concentrated scientific and medical research effort to find a cure for that strange malady that results in the loss of use of a person's left index finger the moment they get behind the wheel of a car in Midland, Texas. You know, the finger that activates the turn signal.

  • Similarly, what is it about grocery store parking lots that cause otherwise sane people to acquire the emotional state of a rabid menopausal bobcat with hemorrhoids? Last night, a "lady" almost rammed me trying to get to a parking space before me (and I wasn't even trying to park). Fortunately, I was able to nudge her walker out of the way with my truck bumper and get on with my business. 

  • In keeping with the mindset that anyone who drives slower than me is an idiot and anyone who drives faster is a jerk, I believe that women drivers don't use turn signals because they're too preoccupied with cell phones, and men don't use them because they think that communicating their intentions is a sign of weakness.

Tom Hanks: Use the turn signal!

  • If the Cold War turns hot and we have to start building bomb shelters again, I'm making mine out of the cardboard that Chobani uses in their four-packs. I'm pretty sure that stuff could withstand anything the Russkies could throw at it.

  • I'm so Midland, I think the name of my city is an adjective. (Seriously, folks...stop it. Just stop it.)
The barn swallow nest on our front porch that provided some video footage last summer is once again occupied. However, I haven't noticed the presence of baby birds, and my curiosity got the better of me this afternoon. I mounted my GoPro on an extendable monopod, connected it via wifi to my iPad so I could monitor the footage, and did some detective work. Here's what I found:

I've never seen this before. Is it unusual for baby birds to share a nest with unhatched - but viable - eggs? I hate to be pessimistic, but I'm afraid two two eggs are not going to hatch...seems like they should have by now. I'll let you know if and when anything changes.

While I was out, I noticed an interesting insect crawling on the lone black-eyed susan bloom, so I swapped the GoPro for my macro-lensed DSLR.

Unknown insect on black-eyed susan bloom
Unknown insect on black-eyed susan bloom
Unknown insect on black-eyed susan bloom

I couldn't i.d. the insect. It flew away, and the presence of wings under the carapace seems to indicate that it's a beetle of some kind (we've touched on the bug-vs-beetle distinction in these pages), but I couldn't find anything close to a matching photo despite extensive research (which, for me, means 3 1/2 minutes looking at Googled images). If you have an idea, feel free to share it. Anyway, from a distance it wasn't too impressive, but up close, the sparkling carapace and delicate hairs glistening in the sunlight were a revelation.
Most of Texas was blessed last week with some of the best rainfall we've had in months, and lake levels across the state reflected the results of that bounteous precipitation. However, one lake that didn't get much benefit was Lake Travis, outside of Austin, as you can tell in the photo below.

Water in West Texas ditch

Sad, isn't it? OK, just kidding*.That's actually what's left of the standing water in a ditch (of unknown origin and purpose) just south of our neighborhood. On those rare occasions when we get enough rain, this ditch becomes a magnet for pickup trucks driven by teenagers (or full grown men who wish they were teenagers) to go mudding.

I took the photo this afternoon during a run through the pastures surrounding our neighborhood. We normally have a dance class on Thursday nights, but our teacher canceled on us - I think she can take only so much of our ineptitude - and so I had an unexpected opportunity for a workout. It was the first time I'd been out on the trails, and I figured I should give it a try before it got too hot (today's temps were in the upper 80s).

Running on trails is more entertaining than running in the street. I have to focus more on the terrain and foot placement (as well as being attuned to the possibility of rattlesnakes), and thus I don't dwell quite as much on how miserably out of running shape I am. It did occur to me, however, that trail running is sort of like riding a conventional road bike in that you spend most of your time staring at what's immediately in front of you instead of taking in all the surrounding scenery (as we can do on our recumbent bike).

Anyway, I also think that running on dirt is easier on my aging (aged?) legs and feet, and navigating the varying terrain is also good for my balance. All of these benefits are somewhat offset by the continuous feeling that I'm going to keel over and die at any moment due to the effects of unfamiliar exertion, but, is a risk, right?

Seriously, no matter how many cycling miles you get, no matter how many hours you spend on the elliptical, no matter how much iron you pump...the only way you get into running shape is to either go back in time forty years, or, you know, run. The former approach is desirable but unfortunately just out of reach, and the latter takes time and energy.

Nevertheless, it was a good run, if depressingly slow. But I'm at the point where it really doesn't bother me to record 9:30 miles, especially if I can rationalize them by pointing out that trail running is inherently slower than street running. Plus, as I said before, this was like a free workout so it's all good. Now, we'll see if I'm singing that tune in the morning when I fall out of bed.

I didn't spot a lot of wildlife - a few Texas spotted whiptails, a couple of cottontails and one jackrabbit, several pairs of quail, and zero rattlers. Barn swallows were swooping over the ditch water shown above, and I heard a few mockingbirds making fun of my running style. I also thought I caught a whiff of skunk at one point, but it was later in the run so it was probably just me.

By the way, for the benefit of any local runners who might come across this, here's a map of the route around Woodland Park; it's a little less than four miles.

Route map

Those zig-zags are simply mileage extenders...some dirt roads going in and out of the undeveloped part of the neighborhood.

If you think you'd like to try off-road running, I recommend getting some use-specific shoes. I really like my New Balance 910s - dumb name but great shoe. They're stable, work well with my orthotics, and I never have to worry about trapping gravel in the treads that could scratch our hardwood floor. They look like a kid threw up eight flavors of cotton candy on them, but I can live with that.

*Well, actually, that photo isn't all that far from reality for Lake Travis.
One of our local TV stations posted a link on Facebook to its report on the decision by Midland Park Mall to prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns on its property. It's unclear whether these are new signs, but the mall's policy and the station's spotlight on the signs are drawing the reactions you'd expect from a conservative West Texas community like ours.
Against my better judgment, I skimmed through the comments left on Facebook, and amid the usual misconceptions ("that's the mall's rule and you can't be charged with anything but trespassing if you violate it") and overreactions ("I thought this was America") - and despite the almost unanimous condemnation of the mall's stance, there was one subtle-but-common thread: nobody suggested ignoring it.
I realize it's risky, if not downright stupid, to draw any sociological conclusions from a Facebook comment thread, but that observation obliquely affirms one of the basic arguments in favor of granting the right to bear concealed weapons - or, perhaps more to the point, against the idea that prohibiting concealed carry makes things safer. It's a trite saying that when firearms are banned, only criminals will have them, but the Facebook conversation seems to confirm that those who support concealed carry are also generally a law-abiding group, and are apparently not willing to break the law even if they deem it to be unfair or illogical. 
And in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I think I can safely assume that this same philosophy is not held by the criminal element in our society. Otherwise, they would not be, you know, criminals.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a concealed handgun permit. And while I fully comply with lawful prohibitions posted by businesses - and would never boycott a business simply for implementing that prohibition - I absolutely don't buy into the argument that they're making things any safer. Midland Park Mall may or may not lose any business over their stance on this issue, but its management has lost credibility with a chunk of its customer base.
About a year ago I posted an announcement regarding an upcoming series on public television called One Square Mile: Texas. One of the planned episodes was to feature Midland. Those plans have come to fruition and the Midland-centric segment will air on February 27 at 7:30 p.m. on our local PBS station.

stonegate.jpgHowever, you don't have to wait to see it, as an online pre-screening is now available. The producers also tell me that the episode will be available online at and on the website.

I strongly recommend this episode to all Midlanders, as it offers a different perspective on life in our city than we're accustomed to seeing in the national media. It's actually a series of personal stories, told by individuals and without any outside commentary or narrative. In other words, Midland (or, at least, this one square mile of Midland) speaks for itself. If you live here, you'll recognize all of the locations and perhaps some of the individuals featured on the program.

The production values are very good, and the filmmakers have managed to document various aspects of life without giving a feeling of intrusion.

I don't believe this episode is intended to be a comprehensive overview of what it's like to live in Midland. In the filmmakers words, "the purpose of the series is to explore what life actually is like for the people living and working in these square miles and to shed light on what it actually means to be Texan in contemporary American culture."

As I stated in my original post, there are many aspects of our city that aren't represented in the square mile chosen for scrutiny. You won't see any of the extremes in wealth or poverty that are to be found in other sections of Midland; there's no direct focus on the oil and gas operations that keep us alive and the only commercial activity that's present is retail. What you do get to see is a glimpse into the lives and perspectives of a few of the people who live here; you can judge for yourself whether the creators achieved their stated purpose. For me, it was a pleasant way to spend a half hour.

Front Yard Drama
January 18, 2014 1:29 PM | Posted in: ,

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day to shoot something good...

Well, it was actually a nice day to attack some winter weeds in the lawn. The sprinklers ran last night, and some of the pseudo-dandelions still retained some water drops. I think the lesson here is that accessorization is the key to making ugly things pretty.

Photo of a weed with a water drop in the middle
Photo of a weed with a water drop in the middle

Another lesson is that beauty is temporary, as this weed now resides in the bottom of a trash can. Life can be cruel.

Speaking of cruel things, this breaks my heart:

Photo of a happy Texas Mountain LaurelPhoto of a sad Texas Mountain Laurel

The photo on the left shows one of our Texas Mountain Laurels, in Happy Happy Mode. The photo on the right shows another one, just a few feet away, in Time To Break Out the Burial Clothes Mode. While the leaves still have a semi-healthy-looking hue, they're dry and fall to the ground at a touch. I have no idea what's causing this, but I'm pretty sure the tree is beyond saving. Perhaps spring will prove me wrong. I hope so.

Cold Snap
November 24, 2013 1:36 PM | Posted in: ,

What we thought was an ice storm was just a mild precursor to what happened overnight, as we awakened to a quarter-inch coating on, well, everything.

There's a certain amount of beauty in such events - not enough to make us wish for more of them, of course - as ordinary things are transformed into alien objects. The fun and games cease, however, as soon as injury occurs.

9:00 a.m. 

Desert willow encased in ice

1:30 p.m.

Desert willow encased in ice

It's not as if we've lost a major limb from a decades-old oak tree, but this is going to leave a permanent mark on the desert willow in our back yard. All we can do is hope that things thaw out before we get a gust of wind that snaps another over-burdened limb.

Stalking the wily Punica granatum
September 28, 2013 9:51 AM | Posted in: ,

We're a little late for Rosh Hashanah, but we harvested the first pomegranate this morning.


We may still be a bit early for optimum ripeness; we never know for sure until we break one apart and try it out, but most conventional wisdom says to wait until October to harvest them.


The seed pulp on this one is sweetly tart (or is it tartly sweet? I never can remember), but it wouldn't hurt to wait a few days for the rest of the harvest. And we still have plenty to harvest. This is just a portion of what this tree is offering; our second tree also has a few, but it's younger and not yet as prolific.


One thing we seem to forget each year is how many tiny insects hitch a ride inside the crown of the fruit. (Can you spot the one in the above photo of the fruit on the countertop?) We recommend soaking them in water outside to drive the insects out before bring them inside to "process."
Or maybe they're just humans from an alternate, rubber-worshipping universe, or visitors from an algoresque future without tyres. Who knows? But whatever their origins, while we can't necessarily judge their motives for needing the wheels on one of our company trucks residing in our company parking lot, we are left with one niggling question: wasn't it enough to take our rims...why did they also have to prove their technological superiority?

Floating Pickup

Fox Mulder, we need you now, more than ever.

Note: Some of this actually happened. Really. Would I kid you?

Chicago: 40 Years Later
August 15, 2013 10:39 PM | Posted in: ,

On Tuesday night we went to the Chicago concert at the WinPAC, along with however many other people it takes to fill that venue (oh, it's 1,827 folks, according to the technical specs). The show was announced as a sellout and while I did see a few scattered empty seats, I'm sure it was due to unexpected conflicts such as labor pains and/or alien abductions.

Chicago's logoI've been a semi-fan of Chicago ever since the early days. I wouldn't classify myself as an acolyte, unlike my pal Berry, for whom Tuesday's performance was akin to a worship experience, but their eponymous 1970 album was one of the first two LPs I ever bought with my own money (the other being the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For The Money). I think most band nerds of that era - I was a clarinetist, with one whimsical dalliance with a baritone sax - were at least a bit enamored with the radical concept that guys playing something other than guitars and drums could actually be cool, although when it came to jazz-rock, I really preferred Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Anyway, Debbie and I attended a Chicago concert as students at A&M in the early Seventies, and while we didn't remember much about it (it was the early Seventies, dig?), the chance to repeat the event had some sentimental attraction to it. Here are ten takeaways from the concert.

  1. If you seek longevity as a musician, acquire some skill on an instrument other than your voice. Inevitably, the old guys lose the upper registers (or in the case of Gary Lewis, all the registers), but the horn players can rock it until the day they pass to that Great Spit Valve in the Sky. Chicago has done a good job of finding younger replacement vocalists (who are also great instrumentalists) while keeping a core group of four original members.

  2. On the other hand, it doesn't matter how menacingly you thrust your trombone at the audience, that instrument will never be sexy. (I'm looking at you, James Pankow.)

  3. The WinPAC continues to impress as a classy venue, but bands need to realize that they're not playing to a 50,000 seat amphitheater, and the audience really can hear quite well even if the volume is only cranked to, say, eight. An eleven on the volume dial is just painful. (And then again, I'm willing to entertain the plausible suggestion that I'm simply getting old and crankly.)

  4. According to the female half of the couple with whom we attended the concert, Colour My World is a frightfully boring song. I confess that I had forgotten how much I agree with that assessment.

  5. On the other hand, I could have listened to Chicago's arrangement of Steve Winwood's classic I'm A Man all night long - even cranked to 11 - as well as the encore performance of 25 or 6 to 4.

  6. To the person sitting either directly behind me or next to me who made an unfortunate dining choice before the concert I offer one word of advice: Beano. Seriously,'s an intimate venue; skip the pre-concert beans and broccoli next time. K'thx.

  7. Wally Reyes is a fairly recent addition to the group, giving a stellar performance as a percussionist, and apparently having the best time of anyone on the stage, judging by the big grin on his face throughout the performance. Based on his enthusiasm and energy level, I would have never judged him to be almost 60 years old.

  8. As long as I'm complaining about the loud music, I might as well throw the lighting guys under the bus, too. We're sitting there in the cozy semi-darkness and suddenly we're hit with a few hundred-thousand-candlepower spotlights, and it's not an enjoyable experience, unless you were planning on burning out your retinas later anyway. Don't do that. We don't care if the band sees us or not.

  9. I attribute this next observation to the relatively advanced average age of those in attendance, but we as a group were an awfully polite bunch of drivers when exiting the parking lot after the concert. Despite the large crowd, traffic moved quickly, and I saw a lot of considerate people taking turns letting people into the flow. Well, there was one driver in a Mercedes coupe who apparently had more important things to do than the rest of us, but the exception made the rule even more obvious.

  10. I wonder if I was the only person in the audience who, after hearing Walter Parazaider's flute solos, thought it would be really great if we could get Jethro Tull to come to Midland.

    ...I might as well crank it to 11 myself, with a bonus observation...

  11. What's up with encores, anyway? Who are we fooling? Who are they fooling? Just play the song(s) you knew all along you were going to play, and spare us the requirement of offering the adulation that earns us the privilege of hearing them. K'thx.

Barn Swallow Feeding Video
June 24, 2013 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo - barn swallow feeding a babyThe photos I posted of the barn swallow family got enough positive reaction that I decided to get some video of the parents taking care of the young'uns. 

Following is a five-minute video distilled from about a 45 minutes of raw footage. I've edited it to focus on the interactions between the adults and the babies, which of course is all about the feeding. During that time period, I counted 11 distinct instances of feeding.

Here are some of the highlights you'll observe if you watch the entire video.

  • It appears that both parents contribute to the feeding. I can't tell them apart, but at the 2:50 mark, one shows up to "tag team" the other (although at first glance, it seems not be be a welcome appearance).

  • I have always assumed that barn swallows fed their young by regurgitating partially digested insects into the babies' mouths, but right off the bat - at the 30 second mark where I've slowed down the action - you can see a whole insect, legs sticking out of the adult's mouth, and it gets stuffed right down the gullet of the infant. I guess they know what they're doing.

  • Another slo-mo feeding takes place near the end, at the 4:10 mark, and this one seems to clearly demonstrates the regurgitating process.

  • It's also fascinating to watch how the adults seemingly know who gets fed next. If there was any doubling up, with one youngster getting fed twice in a row, I didn't catch it.

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, we decided to let the barn swallows finish building a nest on our front porch, mainly because they picked an innocuous spot and I figured if I ran them off, they'd just find a worse place while we were out of town.

The clutch of eggs in the nest hatched recently and we've seen some tiny bird heads leaning over the edge, waiting to be fed. I figured this was a good time to snoop.

I put an adhesive-backed GoPro mount near the nest (it's about eight feet above the floor), and attached the camera to it, set to take a picture every 30 seconds. The setup didn't go unnoticed.

Photo - Barn Swallow Nest

It also wasn't completely successful on the first try. I was sitting in the living room when I heard a loud thump. I went outside to find the camera laying on the concrete. I had combined several mounts into an articulating arm in order to get the right angle for the shots, and the leveraged was too much for the adhesive.

Fortunately, the GoPro housings are very sturdy and the camera was unscathed. I redesigned the setup to reduce the strain on the mount, and tried it again. Following is a sample of the results from about a two hour period. Click any photo to see a larger uncropped version, or start with the first one and use the controls on the pop-up to step through all the images.

Photo - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow Nest

I think my favorite shot is #14, the one where the adult is flying away and the babies are still fussing because they think their mouths need to be filled again. They were obliged shortly thereafter.

Bunny Stop
June 1, 2013 8:14 PM | Posted in: ,

Baby cottontails are perhaps the cutest wild animals in existence, especially when they try to hide in plain sight.

Photo of a bunny

This one inexplicably stopped just short of a bridge that would have completely hidden it. Perhaps it thought that we'd be confused by the rebar right behind it, thinking it was a snake. In any event, I was able to get a picture looking straight down from the bridge.

Photo of a bunny

It quickly tired of the paparazzi and disappeared under the bridge, as it should have done in the first place.
The planned Energy Tower now has its own Wikipedia page, so it will inevitably be built, because they can't put anything in Wikipedia that's misleading, right? That means that a large number (or small number or a handful or one-or-two) Midlanders will be inconsolable over the demolition of the now-vacant county courthouse occupying a full block of prime downtown real estate, citing its historical significance or some such illogical sentimentality.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for saving/restoring/using truly historical structures, especially when the architecture is unique or even notable. I'm afraid that our courthouse qualifies on neither account.

It was built in 1930, and might be a candidate for protection in its original condition, but it was remodeled in the early 1970s and whatever unique qualities it may have exhibited were plastered over by a shiny new and very unremarkable façade. It has all the grace and charm of a Motel 6, no offense to Motel 6 of course. It's the Pontiac Aztec of Texas courthouses.

The building now stands empty, as the former tenants couldn't wait to vacate the premises for more modern, livable, non-flooding, non-vermin-infested quarters in a high rise in another part of downtown.

That's no slam against Midland. West Texas has more than its share of unremarkable county courthouses. Jump over to this page and hover over the various counties and you'll see a wide range of architecture, ranging from classic (e.g. Jeff Davis and Crockett Counties) to early modern bureaucratic (e.g. Ector and Martin Counties).

In any event, a building constructed in the 70s certainly hasn't the bona fides to compete with, say, the Cass County courthouse in Linden, Texas, which was built in 1961 and is still in active use for its original purpose.

Even if the courthouse building displayed its original architecture, given that it's not being used for anything else and Midland has more than its share of museums and libraries, I would argue that reusing that real estate for something more attractive and practical just makes good sense. But as a 70s relic, I'll shed no tears over its demise.

Poster - Not all Texas Courthouses are Worth Saving
The wreath hanging on our front door isn't really a Christmas wreath. Well, it did start out that way, but when Debbie was unable to find a spring wreath she liked, she hung a few spring-y accessories on it and decided to leave it up for a while. But I suspect a few people in the neighborhood wondered why the red-and-gold decoration was still up in May.

It's because we didn't have the heart to take it down after we discovered a bird nest full of eggs in late April.

The nest was constructed immediately next to the beveled glass in our door, giving us a, well, birds-eye view into it. And, of course, I couldn't resist hauling out the camera from time-to-time, much to the annoyance of the mother birdie.

A month to the day after the eggs hatched, introducing three new birds to the world, the nest was abandoned, the young ones having spread their wings and flown the coop. Here's a brief look at how it unfolded.

Disclaimer: I mentioned the beveled glass above. It presented some unavoidable photographic challenges, as did the extreme backlit conditions during daylight hours. I did the best I could with what I had.

April 18 - And so it begins

The momma bird was so skittish, this is the only photo I was able to get of her, shortly after she laid the eggs.

Mother bird

May 1 - The Hatching: A look only a mother could love.

Hatching bird egg

May 9 - They eat and poop. But mostly eat.

Baby birds

May 16 - Even pre-teen birds have attitudes

Juvenile bird

May 17 - Getting adventuresome

Juvenile bird

May 18 - Ready to fly?

Juvenile bird

At this point, sensing that we wouldn't have the birds around much longer, I had the brilliant idea to mount my GoPro camera on the front door and take a series of photos. I put a strip of clear packing tape on the glass, and then stuck an adhesive GoPro mount onto the tape, reasoning that it would be easier to remove that way. I then assembled an articulating mount and set the camera to take a photo every 30 seconds. Here's what the rig looked like:

GoPro camera mounted on door

Good idea; poor execution. For one thing, I had waited two days too long to think of this. The birds were now too active and skittish and wouldn't stay in the nest. (Plus, one had already left the nest.) The GoPro also didn't handle the backlighting very well. Out of the 200 photos it took, here's one of the best.

Birds ready to fly the nest

I might have been a bit late, but if I'd waited six hours longer, I'd have been too late. Both remaining birds had flown away, never to return, by evening.

I still have two more opportunities to be an annoying intruder, as we've discovered another nest - containing five eggs - in the palm tree at the corner of our front porch. We're also giving in for the first time and letting barn swallows build a nest in a fairly innocuous part of the front porch.

And speaking of good ideas poorly executed, never underestimate the sticking power of clear packing tape to clean glass.
Update (3 hrs later): That didn't take long. It's gone!

If you're in the market for a potting table/outdoor serving buffet, and you live in the Midland/Odessa area, have I got a deal for you! Free to the first volunteer who will come pick it up, I present the following:

Potting table

This caster-mounted table features folding end leaves that extend the width from 48" to 87 1/2". It has two wide drawers and six cubby-holes. It also features a well-patina'd metal work surface (and by "well-patina'd" I mean that it's almost impossible to remove Midland water spots from anything!) and an integrated, removable plastic bin for storing potting soil (or ice, if your usage moves in that direction).

Potting table

Actual dimensions are as follows:

  • Width (leaves folded): 48"
  • Width (leaves out): 87 1/2"
  • Depth: 23"
  • Height (to top of shelves): 59"

Condition is fair-to-good. It's sturdy but has a few miles on it. Not something you'd put in the house (unless you take it on as a reconditioning project and then it might be an entirely different animal), but great for a greenhouse or other work area.

If you're interested, email me at to arrange pick-up.

Potting table
Debbie and I decided to head downtown after church this morning and try the new brunch at the Basin Burger House. It was our first visit to this relatively new, locally-owned restaurant.

We arrived around 11:15 and the small parking lot was already full. Fortunately, there's plenty of parking on the street and in the city-owed lot next door. The restaurant was also almost full, but we were seated immediately in a booth on the east end of the building. We were immediately impressed with the openness of the space and the natural light that illumines it. I recommend requesting a seat in that area if you go for brunch; the other end of the building looks a bit darker.

The brunch menu isn't extensive, but it offers a wide variety of entrées (see below). Debbie chose the Texas Benedict and I opted for the Pork Hash. Our food arrived quickly - perhaps too quickly. While the Yukon potatoes were almost too hot to eat, and the eggs were cooked to perfection, the hash on my dish and the shredded brisket on hers were on the lukewarm side, and the grated cheddar/white cheese sprinkled over the dishes wasn't melted.

The food was good, but not breathtaking. We felt that the brisket and the hash both were a little on the dry side, and I would like to see a bit more imagination applied to the hash. I believe that some grilled onions and traffic-light bell pepper mixed in with the pork - and perhaps some cilantro or basil - would enhance the dish. (The menu refers to bacon, but I couldn't detect any. I didn't think that was a drawback, however.)

One of the high points of the meal was the coffee. I don't know what brand they serve, but I'd go back just for another cup (and it was a very large, steaming cup). I'm going out on a limb here, but it was the best coffee I've had in Midland outside of our home.

Basin Burger doesn't appear to suffer from the same employee shortage that plagues practically every other restaurant in West Texas. The servers were plentiful, attentive, and helpful. Coupled with the very pleasant surroundings (and the outdoor dining looks interesting once the weather cooperates), this is a great addition to downtown. 

Midland needs more of these one-off restaurants, with their own homegrown flavor and atmosphere. When I think of the best eateries in town, they're all locally-owned: Cancun Grill, Venezia's, Garlic Press, Luigi's, Manny's Italian Village. The national chains are important additions, but they're not what defines a city. While Basin Burger may still have some tweaking to do with their brunch menu, it's already a great addition to our dining choices. We'll go back.

Photo of menu
From today's Midland Reporter-Telegram, in a report on the City Council's recent goal-setting retreat:
Mayor Wes Perry brought one idea to the table that could provide a major thoroughfare from downtown to Loop 250. He said Midland Airpark could relocate so that "A" Street becomes a major north-to-south road, but it all depends on approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We have to consider everything and look at all our options," Perry said regarding the limited discussion of the "A" Street expansion during the retreat. "If we can do it, great. If not, that's OK. We have to think outside the box, as though we are not limited."

I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Airpark, for you non-residents, is a municipal airport that at one time resided on the outskirts of Midland but which is now completely surrounded by businesses, housing, and a thriving community college. It's also the closest thing we have to a sacred cow, politically shielded from any suggestion that its location might be a detriment to the economic well-being of the city due to the money and power of the relative few who value the field due to its proximity to their offices, and the convenience of access to their private aircraft.

Shielded until now, that is. Mayor Perry is the first high-ranking city official (who also happens to be a prominent businessman) in my memory to come out on record as suggesting that we should seriously consider relocating the airport. It will be interesting to see if his observations gain any traction.

I've previously expressed my opinion on this website about the advantages of freeing up almost 400 acres of prime real estate for commercial, retail, and residential development (and without getting too deep into the public safety aspects of its location, despite a number of crash-related fatalities over the years). And I've gotten some negative response, primarily from those in the aviation community who seem to think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

But as the city continues to grow, the inaccessibility of the airport acreage looms larger. Hundreds of people - and perhaps thousands - are forced to drive four extra miles every day to get to and return from their offices on "A" Street south of Loop 250, as the east runway approach has removed the possibility of direct access. The mayor's suggestion that we look at extending "A" Street past the airport so that it connects with the Loop is commonsense, as well as an example of favoring the majority over the minority.

The numbers are interesting. For the 12-month period ending September 26, 2012, the FAA reports that the airport averaged 77 "aircraft operations" per day. One takeoff equals one operation, as does one landing, as does one touch-and-go or low altitude pass (such as common in flight lessons). For comparison, Midland International Airport averages about 200 operations per day. Airpark is a busy little airfield, but I suspect a lot of that activity is related to flight lessons.

From an economic perspective, the question that needs to be answered is whether that land is worth more to the citizens of Midland as an airport or as developable real estate. The land is on the books with an appraisal of more than $17 million, but since it's owned by the city, there's no tax revenue. However, fees associated with the airport's operations generated 6% of the city's revenue in 2011 - about $9.6 million, according to the city's annual report. I don't have a rule-of-thumb to estimate what sort of tax revenues might be generated if the land was developed for private use; that would obviously depend on the types of development. And the calculus is complicated by the city's recent plans to offer the acreage for oil and gas leasing.

Nevertheless, the mayor's observation that extending "A" Street would be beneficial to a large number of citizens is indisputably accurate. I'm happy to see that the issue is being raised for discussion, and I hope it will generate some serious evaluation - the kind that involves an actual economic analysis rather than emotional and political posturing.

Back Yard Wildlife
March 2, 2013 11:30 AM | Posted in: ,

I've been writing occasionally about the fox who has adopted our next door neighbors, but it appears that he (she?) has decided that our back yard is also a good place to chill. We've spotted it a couple of times this week, once in our desert willow and then again this morning napping under the Mexican elder. It was relaxed enough to let me get some video footage.

I can't decide whether this level of comfort around humans is a good or bad thing. But based on what I've heard from other folks, it's not an unusual thing. Regardless, it's interesting to watch wildlife even when it doesn't act wild.
We've got a lot of ground to cover today, kiddies, so try to keep up.

Spraffl Logo
What the internet needs is way more anonymity...said no one, ever. OK, that's not entirely true, as the creators of Spraffl obviously feel that personalization in social media is overrated, and have created an iPhone app (Android coming soon) that will allow the posting of anonymous observations anywhere, anytime, and about any subject. Think of it as the ultimate playground for trolls.

Or maybe not. Even the Spraffl guys are apparently a little gunshy about all this freedom, and have built in a process whereby the community can get you kicked off the service for posting stuff that offends or just annoys someone else. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong with that?

So, when I first heard about Spraff, I'm like, well, what's the point...who wants to get involved with something like that? Turns out that I sort of do. I downloaded the app as an experiment and - whaddayaknow? - it's a little addictive (albeit more than a little weird). Here's my first Spraff (side note: is there an unwritten rule that social media posts must have silly names?):

My first spraff

Because Spraffl shows a map of the locations of all spraffs, I could tell that my post was the first one in Midland (albeit not the first one in West Texas; there's apparently at least one spraffer in Lamesa, of all places). I could also ascertain that it was one of the first ten in the entire state of Texas, so I've go that going for know, in case the service ever gains Twitter-like stature.

But, you see the problem with being an early adopter, don't you? I just blew my anonymity, or at least my assumption of invisibility, because now any posting from Midland will be attributed to me, at least until some critical mass of users is reached. The app attaches a location to each post, so your anonymity doesn't extend to geography unless you disable Location Services, which in turns cripples the app.

So, what's my prediction for the success of Spraffl? I give it about a 1% chance of success, as it seems designed to fill a hole that few fear falling into. But don't tell anyone I said that; I value my anonymity.

I posted the following photo on Facebook but have been asked to blog it as well. We've had several sightings of foxes in our neighborhood recently, and last week our next door neighbor glanced out her window and saw this little guy napping in the back yard. She said there was a second one who may have either been a lookout or responsible for finding dinner, because he didn't hang around much. 

Photo - Sleeping fox

Foxes have always been a fixture around Midland, and not just on the outskirts of town, where we live. Some people fear them, but they don't pose any danger, other than minor rabies outbreaks, and those are no worse than your run-of-the-mill zombie attacks. We do have friends who claim that foxes were responsible for the hollowed out shells where their back yard turtles once lived, so there is that.

During the winter months (both of them), we move some of our more delicate plants into the garage for safekeeping. Each year, our garage gets a bit more crowded, and this winter's addition is the Mexican Lime Tree that normally resides on our back porch. I worried a little how it might react to the relative darkness and much cooler weather, even though it was protected from freezing. Well, my worries were apparently groundless:

Photo - Mexican Lime Tree

Can you spot the two limes in the middle? They weren't there when we moved the tree into the garage. (Ignore what looks like a lemon; that's what happens when you let your lime linger too long and fail to harvest it.) If you give the tree a weekly drink and roll it into the sunshine every now and then, it's perfectly content to be a garage-dweller.

I got into a spring cleaning mode last weekend and tidied up the attic and one of our closets. I made some tough decision about getting rid of some old friends, and this was simultaneously one of the easiest and toughest.

Photo - Hypertech Pro 9A housing

This is an underwater housing for a video camera. I purchased it in 1990 or thereabouts for a cool $1,000, back when we were doing a fair amount of scuba diving. It was a 19-pound one trick pony...the only camera it fit was Sony's CCD-V9 8-mm video camera (which was a real workhorse of a camera, but laughably huge and low-quality compared to today's units). It was a chore to lug around, especially through third world airports, and the controls were temperamental. I never really knew whether I'd managed to turn the camera on or not before getting back to the surface, and the battery life was such that you didn't dare turn it on before getting geared up and in the water.

Anyway, our video camera is long gone (I can't even recall what happened to it), and Sony stopped supporting the 8-mm tape format years ago. I racked my brain trying to think of some way to repurpose the housing; I even experimented with taping my iPhone just inside the lens, figuring that was a possible hipsterish steampunkish approach that might just be crazy enough to work. I'll try to post something separately about that experiment; the short story is that it didn't. I finally reached the sad conclusion that technology had rendered this apparatus obsolete, and into the dumpster it went. (If you have a brilliant idea on what I should have done with it instead, please keep it to yourself. Thanks.)

A Houston-based architectural designer (don't ask me how that's different than a plain old architect) has put her creative touches on an old adobe dance hall in Marfa, Texas, and turned it into an unusual home. If you know anything at all about Marfa, you'll know that "unusual" isn't that unusual, but this raises the bar for out-of-the-ordinariness, from a housing perspective.

The interior design is ultra-stark and ultra-hip (pardon the redundancy). While I wouldn't want it as a primary residence, it does scratch a creative urge in a pleasing manner. It has lots of open space - well, there are actually NO interior walls, just movable partitions to create an illusion of privacy - and some pretty funky accessories. But this scene from the "bedroom" really caught my eye.

Photo - Marfa house bedroom

Yes, the bathtub just sits in the middle of the room (I didn't see a photo showing the location of the toilet; I assume we're not talking outhouse here), and those closets act as the rolling partitions I mentioned above. This house is obviously designed for someone who lives alone, or for a childless couple, or for anyone who grew up in a commune in the 60s.

Take a look at this slideshow for additional photos of this rather fascinating design.

A Mile of Midland
January 23, 2013 6:04 PM | Posted in: ,

One Square Mile: Texas is an upcoming PBS television series that will focus on nine very specific geographic areas across our state...including one located in Midland. The square mile in Midland is being referred to as "Holiday Hill Village," and has as its approximate center C.J. Kelly Park, in the northwest quadrant of the city. Here's a locator map of the area:

At first glance, I couldn't figure out why the producers picked this particular area to represent Midland (other than they claim that the locations were "selected from viewer suggestions and were pulled from over 200+ nominations across the state"). For one thing, there are no Tex-Mex restaurants within the boundaries. You have to go out of your way to find a square mile in Midland with no access to fajitas. Plus, there are no pumpjacks or drilling rigs, or at least there weren't any a couple of weeks ago. That may well have changed by now.

On the other hand, I don't have a better suggestion for an area this size that better represents the identity and diversity of Midland, Texas. The boundaries encompass a bowling alley, a Freebirds, a sporting goods store selling guns and ammo, a Christian bookstore, a Cracker Barrel, a home improvement store, one of the larger parks in the city, one of the largest churches in the city, an apartment complex, a new and burgeoning upper-middle-class housing development as well as a more well-worn residential neighborhood, a large junior high school, the edge of a golf course, and some pasture that undoubtedly sports a healthy population of rattlesnakes and jackrabbits. 

Anyway, the producers of the series are soliciting suggestions for stories that arise from life within this square mile area. They are specifically targeting the following themes:

  • Community - What role does community play in this square mile. How do residents interact and socialize? Is community involvement centered at the school, the barber shop, the cafe or the home? 
  • Family - What is the role of family in this square mile? What is it like to live, grow up or raise a family in this square mile?
  • Work - How do people earn a living in this square mile? 
  • Food - How is food a part of the culture in this square mile? 
  • Future - What is the future of this square mile?
Any Midlander can make a suggestion as to a storyline for this segment of the series, via this webpage. So, if you know someone who lives within this square mile and who has a story that you think others would want to hear, drop the producers a note. It wouldn't even be considered crass to nominate yourself, if your address so qualifies you.

New Year Snow
January 4, 2013 5:16 PM | Posted in: ,

We didn't exactly get a blizzard in Midland (although parts of West Texas did get just that), but it was nice to wake up to a snow-covered view on our day off. I suspect that the back yard horny toad - who, by the way, is attracting way more coverage lately than he merits - probably would disagree.

Photo of snow-covered yard art

Since we don't get much snow in these parts, I like to try to get a few photos to illustrate how the phenomenon transforms our usual surroundings. Like, for instance, these pansies:

Photo of snow-covered pansies

You did recognize the pansies, right?

The snow on the roof had begun to melt, and the water dripping onto the back porch persuaded me to grab my new macro lens, with the following result:

Photo of bubble

I have a feeling that the new lens and I are going to have some fun in 2013.

New Dance Studio Coming to Midland
December 21, 2012 10:01 AM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers with too much discretionary time and/or lack of cable TV will remember this post wherein I revealed that a new dance studio would soon be opening in Midland. Here are a few more details.

Photo of Michael GreenwellThe studio is a spinoff from the Elegance Ballroom in Oklahoma City. The studio manager, Michael Greenwell (photo at right), emailed me last week to say that they are still targeting a January 2nd opening date, but they have a lot of work to do before then.

The studio will be located in the Colonnade at Polo Park shopping center, near Abuelo's Restaurant (4610 Garfield Street, Suite B1 - in the interior of the northeast sector, to be more precise). The space they've leased is almost 4,300 square feet, and they have an option to expand beyond that. At this point, I'm not sure how much of that will be dance floor.

This will be a full service studio, offering group and private lessons, as well as regular - perhaps as often as weekly - social dances. They'll teach all steps - including ballroom, Latin and country - and at all levels of experience. The studio will offer services such as choreographing and teaching routines for weddings and quinceañeras, and their facility will also be available for private parties.  They plan to eventually have six fulltime instructors, and will also have a shop for purchasing dance shoes, clothing, and accessories.

I've met four of the staff and they are all very friendly and are also quite impressed with the vitality of the Midland economy and the hospitality of our city's residents. I think they'll also be impressed with the vibrancy of the local dancing community, and the studio will be a welcome addition to the dance scene.

Here's a link to their website - Elegance Ballroom. I expect it to be updated more frequently once they get over the not-inconsequential hurdle of getting the physical facility up and running.

A Damp Tour Through the Neighborhood
September 28, 2012 10:10 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm pretty sure we're setting some kind of rainfall record in Midland, Texas today. While it's not unusual to have monsoonal downpours in September, it's been years since we've actually experienced one.

I'm of the opinion that, except for reasons of bereavement or illness, there's no such thing as a bad day off, especially in weather like this, so I took the opportunity to stroll around our neighborhood park, protected by an umbrella, and snap some photos of the result of the rain that started early this morning (and continues as I type this). 

Those of you in more moist climates may roll your eyes at making such a to-do over something that seems commonplace to you, but we've just received more rain in the past six hours that we got during the entire year of 2010. It's hard to overestimate the value of this precipitation to our region, in ecological, economic, and even psychological terms.

Except for the mosquitos, of course.

Well, anyway, here are a few pictures that might be meaningful to those of you who have visited our neighborhood.

I emptied the gauge at this point because I wasn't sure how much more rain we'd get.
(Update - the next morning: Good thing I emptied it yesterday; there was another 3" in the gauge.)


Need to set up the follow two shots. The first was taken last weekend, on a [dry] Sunday afternoon. The second is from this morning, from approximately the same perspective. The bird has mysteriously vanished. I'm pretty sure it didn't drown, though.



If you've been to our south pond, you know that the dock usually sits a couple of feet above the surface of the water. Research has shown that docks that sit above the water are more effective for most purposes, although geese tend toward skepticism.


Trees are generally scofflaws and/or contemptuous of accepted societal norms.


This is why we love the rain. OK, it's misleading to imply that purple sage blooms because of the rain, or even in anticipation of it; in reality, it kinda does its own thing, oblivious to our tendency to attribute intentional prophetic meteorological insight to its life cycle. But it's still prettier in the rain.


The stream bed wasn't really much more frantic than usual, although there were signs it had overflowed its banks a few hours earlier, but scenes like this are a good reason to live in our neighborhood.


Tall City Bluesfest: Doing Midland Proud
July 30, 2012 8:50 PM | Posted in: ,

For a variety of reasons, we attending only the final evening of this year's Tall City Bluesfest, but if what we experienced was representative of the whole event, Midland is going to make its mark in a big way in this musical genre. We were very impressed not only with the talent the event attracted, but also with the organization of the event, and with the obvious public and corporate support.

The crowd at the Tall City Bluesfest

As with any music festival, there were vendors and merchants, both local and from out of town, but it's really all about the performers. And, wow, did they ever deliver!

The venue - Centennial Plaza in downtown Midland - is utilized to maximum benefit, with two "headliner" stages set up on the north and south ends of the plaza, an indoor acoustic set stage inside of Midland Center, and the "Community Stage" for lower-billed acts in the plaza's amphitheater. The benefit of this arrangement is that the music is continuous. While one performance is going on, the next act is setting up on another stage. This also ensures that the crowd circulates, and the movement helps maintain a sense of excitement.

Of course, not all the performance venues are created equal, and some of the performers found themselves on a stage that mimicked a solar oven. Fortunately, the temperatures in the mid-90s didn't faze the local band Weatherstone, as they rocked the crowd without missing a beat.

Stylized photo of Weatherstone

Meanwhile, inside the air conditioned comfort of Midland Center, Dallas musician Aaron Burton was providing a pleasant musical backdrop for the shoppers browsing through the vendors' booths. 

Stylized photo of Aaron Burton
Aaron Burton

The festival organizers did a great job in turning Midland Center into an inviting place to escape the heat, with bar-height tables scattered in front of the stage, inviting people to linger but not plant themselves. There were even a few arm chairs set out for those who were in more desperate need of relaxation.

Even though we were at Bluesfest to catch the headline act, we greatly enjoyed hearing musicians that were hitherto unknown to us. A prime example was Guy Forsyth, based in Austin. Forsyth has won awards for best blues musician and best male vocalist in Austin, which is no mean feat, and he's also been recognized as the "Best Miscellaneous Instrument Player" for his mastery of the saw. (He's modest about this accomplishment, being quoted as claiming " don't have to play the saw very well to be the best saw player most people ever see...I'm just sayin'.")

The saw was just a peripheral part of Forsyth's act. He's an outstanding guitarist, an incredible harmonica player, and by far the best and most versatile vocalist we heard. He's also great with the crowd, possessing a dry, self-effacing humor. He reminded me a lot of Alan Tudyk, the actor well known for his roles in Firefly and Serenity, among many others.

Stylized photo of Guy Forsyth
Guy Forsyth

The primary reason we made time for Bluesfest (in fact, we skipped a dance, so you know how serious it was) was the appearance of Tommy Castro and his band, The Painkillers. If I had a musical bucket list, seeing Castro in concert would be close to the top of the list. He rarely appears in Texas, something he acknowledged, and I hope his experience in Midland (with a stop in Austin to "visit friends") succeeds in luring him back more frequently.

Photo - Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro and his bass player

Castro is the real deal. He's got a great blues voice, and is one of the best guitarists you'll ever hear, and he's surrounded himself with other musicians at the top of their games (his keyboardist in particular was, in a word, astonishing). But what really sets him apart is his obvious love for what he does. At one point, he climbed down from the stage and mingled with the enthusiastic fans crowding the front of the stage, all the while playing a blistering solo without missing a beat, and with a big grin on his face throughout.

Photo - Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro and some adoring fans

Midland should be proud of what Lisa Grissom, the festival producer, has pulled off. This is a first-lass event that has the potential of being world-class. The only impediment to success is the landlocked venue, which will never accommodate more than a few thousand attendees. And to be honest, from my perspective, that's not a drawback. I hope the musicians are willing to trade off quantity for quality.

Photographic Perspective
July 8, 2012 9:39 AM | Posted in: ,

The greatest aspect of digital photography is the way it reintroduced the concept of play in picture-taking. When you don't have to worry about the cost of film or development, it frees you up to just have fun, and to experiment with different techniques.

I don't do it nearly often enough, but one of the things I enjoy most about photography is taking the camera outside and pointing it in odd angles at mundane subjects, without looking through the viewfinder (which would be impossible most of the time anyway), and being surprised at what ends up in the photo. The different perspectives sometimes yield delightful results. Here are a handful of pictures I took yesterday in our back yard.

A Mexican Lime on our back porch

A Vitex bloom, slightly past its prime

The armadillo that stands vigil over our side yard

The delicate beauty of a desert willow flower

A burro, yearning to fly

A Mexican Elder towers over a stoic chaparral

The Slab Mystery Revealed
May 31, 2012 9:58 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember this? And this? A perceptive Gazette reader with an annoyingly sharp memory nagged reminded me that I had promised to disclose the true purpose of this enigmatic indentation, and so I shall.

The sunken area is going to be part of a media room in the new house, which isn't so mysterious after all, but I'm still stumped about the purpose of the design. It's just not a very big room, as the photo below shows, and so I see no obvious advantage to having a bi-level layout. 

If I can convince the owners that I'm not really a stalker (don't hold your breath), I'll try to post another update when the room is finished. Well, if Les will nag remind me.

I put the video camera on a tripod and trained it on one of the hummingbird feeders on our back porch, and then edited the two-hour recording into the following "best of" video, slowed to 50% to give a better perspective on bird behavior. 

Think of it as a soothing screen saver - perhaps not the most exciting movie ever, but the patient viewer might observe some interesting action, especially at the 6-, 11- and 12-minute points. (Note: Click the full-screen icon -  - to view the movie in, you know, full-screen mode.)

The Stupidity Cycle Pedals Onward
May 16, 2012 5:48 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't know why I waste my time reading Facebook comments (other than those left on my own posts; all of my friends are consistently intelligent and full of grace). The level of sheer stupidity and/or cluelessness is enough to make one weep for the future of our society. But, like a moth drawn to a nuclear reactor in full meltdown, I can't seem to resist, and so I found myself scrolling through the comments on a question posed by one of our local TV stations, to wit:

The "Ride of Silence" will start at 7PM tonight, from the UTPB CEED Building at SH 191 & FM 1788. What do you think needs to be done to improve bicycle safety?

The "Ride of Silence" is a bicycle ride honoring the memory of cyclists who have been killed in Midland county. (One of those, George Hoffman, was a high school classmate in Fort Stockton.)

I hoped to see some constructive suggestions in the comments, perhaps along the lines of "motorists need to exercise more caution," or "drivers need to stop texting while driving," but instead I saw a string of complaints about having to share the road with those idiot bicycle riders. Meh. I've heard all that before, but then I saw this comment, and couldn't help going into Mel Gibson Answering Machine mode:

Screen capture of stupid Facebook comment

I've blurred the name of the, um, fellow who left this stupefyingly inaccurate comment, to spare him the embarrassment of being recognized as someone who can't sit on a bicycle saddle because his head is in the way.

My response was simple and to the point (as well as utterly ineffective, I have no doubt): You don't have a clue about Texas vehicle laws, do you? Misinformed people help make bicycling more dangerous than it needs to be.

I believe that. If a driver sets out with the mindset that all bicyclists who ride in the street or attempt to exercise the same rights as a motorist are lawbreakers, he or she will be angry, and that anger will affect their driving, perhaps unconsciously but still in a real and dangerous manner.

I've ridden more than 25,000 miles through the years on the streets and highways of Midland and Ector counties, and can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've felt threatened by drivers. In every case, I could sense a tangible, if inexplicable expression of anger on the part of the motorist who was intent on putting me in harm's way, and I suspect they were driving under the same misconceptions held by the ignorant fool who posted the comment shown above.

I would have thought that by now we didn't have to re-plow the Texas Bicycle Laws furrow, but there's apparently a need for continuing education. For those who already know this, you can move along, but for anyone googling something like "idiot bicyclists who don't know the laws of Texas" perhaps you'll follow this link and learn something that will cause you to adjust your attitude. Based on what I see on Facebook, it's a hope held in vain, but I must try.

And if you're too lazy or disinterested to follow the link, I'll simply sum up the relevant law: Texas bicyclists are considered vehicles (NOT pedestrians, Mr. Used To Be A Bike Racer In Abilene), and as such have the same responsibilities AND rights as motorists, unless specifically legislated otherwise.

If I seem a little exercised about this issue, please understand that for many of us, this is a matter of life and death.

Barreling Along
May 10, 2012 12:38 PM | Posted in: ,

We finally broke down and bought a rain barrel. OK, I broke down; Debbie had been advocating for it for a long time. I didn't want a big honking ugly contraption sitting in our yard, and what I'd seen seemed awfully expensive. But we ran across one at Home Depot for $99 - about half the price we'd seen at local nurseries - and it holds 57 gallons, has a spigot and an [almost] airtight lid, and comes with a downspout connection kit which will come in handy should we ever have a downspout. (I'm not going crazy with all this.)

And as far as having an ugly contraption in our yard...well, have you seen our lawn lately? Having an industrial vessel as a distraction from the dying grass is actually a benefit.

Now that we have it, I have to agree it's quite handy. As documented earlier, we're now hauling gray water each day to keep trees and major shrubs hydrated. On days where watering isn't required (but bathing/showering is) we can dump the multiple five-gallon buckets into the barrel for storage. Or, on those days where more than 40 gallons is needed (which is our normal daily haul), we can withdraw extra. The spigot can even be attached to a regular garden hose for hand-watering, although we haven't tried that yet.

But the best use for a rain barrel is to collect, you know, rain. And we finally got to do that early this morning. I had the proud foresight to leave the lid off and here's the welcome result:

Photo of full rain barrel

Mystery Slab - Follow-up #1
May 2, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember the Mystery Slab? I've had quite a few people ask me if we've learned what its purpose, and the answer is "no." It's still a mystery, perhaps even more so now that framing of the house has begun.

Here are a couple of photos showing how the sunken portion of the house foundation is roughed in. The photo on the right shows the only entry* into the "room," via a narrow door from what we think is the laundry room. Perhaps when the house is wired, we'll be able to better discern the nature of this construction, but for now it continues to remain a mystery.


*It's worth noting that just because there's no other doorway at this point doesn't mean there won't eventually be one. Framers have been known to make mistakes, as we learned when our guest powder room had no doorway at all for quite some time until we pointed it out to the builder.

Midland's Field of Dreams?
May 1, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in:

Update (5/1): My pal Robert Thomas, a long-time Midland resident, provided the answer to the mystery described below. According to Robert, a couple of men named Ricky Patterson and Bobby Stevens built the facility "years ago," primarily for their sons to use as a practice facility. Robert also thought they let Midland College use it before Christiansen Stadium was built, and possibly also Midland Christian School. Thanks for the history lesson, Robert!

For the past few years, we've bicycled past a puzzling landmark. It's what appears to be a baseball backstop sort of in the middle of a pasture, with a couple of outbuildings of unknown purpose. We've never seen any vehicles nearby, or any activity of any sort, for that matter.

For you Midlanders, it's located near the southeastern corner of the intersection of Whitman and Mockingbird. It's not very noticeable from Whitman unless you're looking for it, and until Mockingbird was recently extended east to intersect with Garfield, you had to go off-road to get a better view of the parcel. Now that we're able to bicycle past it on Mockingbird, I'm doing some serious research into the nature of the installation. How serious? Well, I'm posting this question here, and on Facebook, and asking if anyone knows the history of the mysterious apparent playing field. You can't get much seriouser than that. 

Here's a satellite view of the acreage in question, via Google Maps (and here's the map link if you want to zoom closer).

Screen capture from Google Maps

Was it a practice field for one of the local high schools? Was it the brainchild of a Kevin Costner fan? Did aliens land at night and create the equivalent of a baseball crop circle? Inquiring minds want to know, so leave your opinions, insights, conjectures, and lies in the comments.

Scary Prairie
April 25, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

According to The Weather Channel, the temperature in Midland today will hit 105° In recognition of this dubious achievement, I offer the following.

Photo of dry grass

If my lawn is already looking like this, imagine what August is going to bring. OK, just kidding (sort of). This is an overly bleak perspective of the grass the developers planted to hold down the soil in the new phase of our neighborhood. It was a lush green up until a couple of weeks ago. Now? Uh, not so much. In fact, it looks like a good candidate for a wild fire (Heaven forbid!).

By the way, despite a concerted effort at research, including almost three solid minutes of googling, I still don't know what species of grass this is. This is especially troubling because I was actually on a grass judging team when I was a mere lad in 4-H. Bet you didn't know such a thing existed.

Note: I was going to title this post "Passed Grass" (you know, like a euphemism for death and all that) but found that I'd actually used it before. Dang.

Mystery Slab
April 24, 2012 6:34 AM | Posted in: ,

A new house is going up a block from us, and we're really puzzled about something. Below is a photo of the concrete slab that was poured last week, showing a sunken...something. There are no plumbing or electrical connections, and the space isn't big enough to be a living area (it's about 8' x 10'). Any ideas?

Photo of a concrete home foundation
We went for a walk around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, primarily to check out the new homes under construction. My usual practice is to stick my point-and-shoot camera in my pocket before leaving the house, just in case we encounter something out of the ordinary. I was glad I did.

Photo of a yellow headedWe've had multitudes of red-winged blackbirds roosting around our ponds, and they've even been venturing into our yards, which I haven't seen until this year. So we weren't surprised at the noisy flocks of those birds around the north pond. What we were surprised to see were two black and bright yellow birds on the ground next to the water. I grabbed my camera, zoomed in as closely as I could, and managed to get two photos before the birds spooked and flew away.

It wasn't until I googled "yellow chested birds" that I discovered the identity of the pair: yellow-headed blackbirds. I hope they stick around; they're beautiful birds.

Photo of two yellow headed blackbirdsPhoto of two yellow headed blackbirds

Ballroom Dance Playlist
April 22, 2012 2:37 PM | Posted in: ,

Last night's Ballroom Dance Society dance was the annual event where we use prerecorded music. It's sort of a fundraiser, since we save the cost of a live band, but it's also a chance to try out some new music (and to dance to an entire evening's worth of tunes that are never off-rhythm or out-of-tune!).

I had the responsibility of assembling the playlist, which is simultaneously fun and terrifying. Picking music that I think others will enjoy dancing to - and trying to make sure they feel like their money was well spent - is a little intimidating. But we've also been dancing long enough now that I think I have a pretty good feel for what will go over and what won't. Last night's lineup was well-received, and more people than usual stayed until after the last song. That's saying something when it involves almost three hours of music with less than ten minutes of break time, total, although I think prerecorded music gives you a chance to sit out a tune here and there if you know that one is coming up that you'll enjoy more. And everyone did, because we provided the playlist for each table.

A prerecorded playlist also allows you to plan the progression of dances, mixing up the tempos and musical styles so that it doesn't get boring, and there are some chances to "rest on the floor" with a slower-paced song.

Anyway, if you're planning your own dance - and why wouldn't you? - below is what we cut a rug to last night. All of these songs are available via iTunes. The dance step shown for each tune is a suggestion, not a requirement. Some of these songs lend themselves to multiple steps.

Song Title Artist Dance Step
Song Title Artist Dance Step
I Just Want To Dance With You George Straight Cha Cha
Pennsylvania 6-5000 Glenn Miller Swing
Brown Eyed Girl Van Morrison Rumba
My Dream Is You Suzy Bogguss Slow
Tennessee Waltz Unknown Waltz
Some Kind of Wonderful Little Milton/Delbert McClinton Swing
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life Stevie Wonder Rumba
I've Got You Under My Skin Rod Stewart Foxtrot
It's Now Or Never Elvis Presley Cha Cha
Blue Tango Unknown Tango
Fine Cindy Morgan Swing
Moon River Henry Mancini Waltz
Sway Pussycat Dolls Rumba
Boy From New York City Manhattan Transfer Swing
I've Got The World On A String Michael Buble Foxtrot
Old Time Rock And Roll Bob Seger Swing
Waltz Across Texas Willie Nelson Waltz
Fly Me To The Moon Frank Sinatra Foxtrot
Big Bad Handsome Man Imelda May Tango
In The Mood Glenn Miller Swing
Kokomo The Beach Boys Rumba
Mambo Italiano Ray Gelato Mambo
Beautiful Day For Goodbye George Straight Waltz
Oye Como Va Unknown Cha Cha
Mustang Sally Rascals Swing
Route 66 Natalie Cole Foxtrot
La Cumparsita Alfred Hause Orch Tango
Neon Moon Brooks & Dunn Rumba
The Best Is Yet To Come Michael Buble Foxtrot
The Last Waltz Englebert Humperdinck Waltz
Watermelon Man Julie London Swing
Oh, Pretty Woman Roy Orbison Cha Cha
Don't Stop Gin Wigmore Swing
Smooth Santana Rumba
If You Don't Know Me By Now Teddy Pendergrass Waltz
Jalousie Alfred Hause Orch Tango
Moondance Michael Buble Foxtrot
Wild, Wild West Escape Club Cha Cha
Girl From Ipanema Big T and the Badda-Bings Rumba
South Side Stomp Jenai Swing
Forget You Cee Lo Green Cha Cha
Could I Have This Dance? Anne Murray Waltz
Stuck On You Lionel Richie/Darius Rucker Slow
Mack The Knife Bobby Darin Foxtrot
Spanish Eyes Al Martino Rumba
Open Arms Journey Waltz
Save The Last Dance For Me Michael Buble Cha Cha

Eggs-it Here
April 9, 2012 5:58 AM | Posted in: ,

As Bill Engvall says, you might be a redneck if you have Christmas lights up on your porch year-around. Photo of the wreath on our front doorThat's an unfair characterization. A lot of people like the looks of little twinkly lights, and I'm of the opinion that you fit the redneck stereotype only if those year-around lights are strung over a Christmas tree made of Bud Light empties tied together with baling wire. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But what if you still have a Christmas wreath on your front door in April? What does that make you? Well, we're probably still rednecks, but not for that reason. Take a look...

Debbie discovered the nest and the eggs only after taking the wreath off the front door in preparation for putting it atop the credenza in our bedroom. I'm glad she did, as it would have made for an unpleasant surprise around June or so.

Anyway, she quickly rehung the wreath on the front door and the mother bird promptly returned to attend to the eggs. I have no idea if they'll hatch, as the bird flies off every time we walk by, and the eggs may not be getting their minimum daily requirement of feathered butt. I'll report on whether we eventually have a brood on our front door, or if we can finally switch over to a more appropriate seasonal entryway decoration.

I'm sure you're wondering, what kind of bird is it? It's a little gray one. Who do I look like, John Q. Autobahn?

Technical note: I filmed this using my little GoPro HD camera. It's perfect for maneuvering into tight spots you can't reach with a standard-size camera, video or otherwise, and it's auto-focus, good low light performance, and fisheye lens makes it a good choice for no-look close-ups. (In other words, I couldn't see what I was filming.)

Water Musings
March 30, 2012 9:06 AM | Posted in: ,

On Sunday, the most stringent water use restrictions in memory will take effect in Midland. The city's "Drought Contingency Plan" is detailed here under the heading of "Stage 2 - Moderate Water Shortage Conditions." Earlier this week we received a letter from the city showing how our monthly water bill will increase if we use the same amount this summer as we did last summer, and it's not a pretty sight. In most cases, it's a threefold increase. (Although I must admit we're in better shape than some of our friends, one of whom is facing a $1,200/month bill if they don't change their habits.)

I'd like to be able to report that the ongoing drought, accompanying water shortage, and pessimistic outlook for improvement has universally altered attitudes, but that's not the case. 

Believe it or not, some people haven't even heard about the new restrictions. I exchanged emails with a woman in our neighborhood thanking me for sending out a reminder about the new plan, because their family "doesn't watch local news or subscribe to the local newspaper." [Unrelated side note: I'm mystified by this; how can someone take so little interest in their community? I can understand if there are economic issues at work that might limit access to news media, but our neighborhood isn't exactly in the "crack-house ghetto" category.]

Others are choosing to meet the situation head-on: they'll just get their own personal water supply by drilling a well. Someone is doing just that a couple of streets over from us. The cost of the well will likely approach 5% of the value of their home, but they have the right to decide how to spend their money. More troubling to me is the apparent attitude that, while our lakes may be drying up, there's an infinite supply of water in the aquifer underneath the city. But if a hundred new water wells are drilled each month by people who are determined to maintain their previous levels of consumption - if not increase them - I'm not sure that will be the case. And the sad result will be that some people who rely on their wells for their only source of potable water will go thirsty thanks to others who used that source to fill swimming pools and water lawns. Legal? Yes. Ethical? Questionable. Considerate? Nope.

Our homeowner's association dues are contributing to this ethical quandary.  Our neighborhood ponds are the central showpieces for the development, but they are kept full by pumping from water wells. The streams make a pretty sight, flowing through the landscape and over lovely manmade waterfalls, but I can't reconcile that with the drought-stricken pasture surrounding the development.

Some of the residents in our neighborhood are trying to get all the watering possible before the new restrictions kick in. That's my assessment, anyway, judging by the amount of water standing in the intersections and running down the gutters during the early morning hours of certain days of the week.

Photo of bucket in showerDebbie and I are doing our small part to adapt to the new paradigm. We've already been running our sprinkler system just once a week, and for less than the two total hours we'll be permitted under the new restrictions. We've managed to stay under the 10,000 gallon per month limit for the past six months, and intend to continue doing so. We also bought some five gallon buckets at Home Depot and are catching gray water from the bathtub and shower to hand-water selected plants and trees. We're also getting serious about a complete makeover of our landscaping, including removing the entire lawn and replacing it with hardscaping and xeriscaping. (A challenge will be finding a local professional landscape architect who specializes in this kind of design.)

Many people are turning to artificial turf to retain the semblance of naturally green landscape. We were once tempted to consider that, but decided against it. I think we'd be more favorably disposed if they included some artificial weeds, some half-dead spots, and some unevenly "mowed" patches to better approximate our reality.

I think the city is making a mistake by telling us that we just need to get through this next year, implying that when the new pipeline and water supply comes on line in 2013, we'll be able to go back to our profligate ways. The truth is, we'll never be able to go back - nor should we. But that's apparently a lesson that will take a generation's passing to learn.

Safe Bicycling Route in Midland, Texas
March 26, 2012 9:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: The overly precise and unimaginative post title is designed for maximum search engine-friendliness. This is more or less a public service article.

Several people have recently asked us where we ride our bicycle in Midland. They're either new to the city, or new to our neighborhood, and they haven't found a route that has the right mixture of safety, scenery, and mileage.

Debbie and I have found a route - with several variations - that provides that mix for us. It may not work for everyone, and it works best for those who live outside of Loop 250, but we've received enough questions about it that it seems worthwhile to create a post that will provide someone doing a web search for phrases like "Midland Texas bike route" or "bicycle route in Midland" with more details.

Below is a Google Earth screenshot; the route is shown in yellow. I've assumed a starting point at the intersection of north "A" Street and Mockingbird Lane. As shown, it's about 12 miles in length, and runs to Highway 158, on the western edge of the city. 

The route crosses a couple of busy streets, but not at busy intersections, if that makes sense. The busiest intersection (Briarwood and Holiday Hill) has a traffic signal and is relatively bike-friendly. Otherwise, the entire route consists of neighborhood streets and even bypasses all school zones and the associated congestion that occurs around them during certain times of the day.

Screen capture
If you want a more interactive and detailed version of the route, I've created a KMZ file that can be opened with either Google Earth or Google Map. If you use the latter program, you can click the "Play Tour" button and "fly" through the entire route. To use the Tour feature, click on the route title in the Google Earth sidebar to select it, then click the inscrutable icon beneath that title (see screenshot at right; said inscrutable icon is circled in yellow).

Opening the route file in Google Maps or Google Earth is easy. Download this file to your hard drive, then start up your preferred application and click the "Open" option under the "File" menu item at the top of the window. (In Google Maps, you have the additional option to import the file using its URL: The route will be overlaid onto the map and the program will automatically zoom in or out to show the entire route. You can then zoom further for more details.

I've also inserted a few waypoints with notes about the route. There are some new sections of streets that provide cyclists with the ability to avoid some busier routes, and I've also noted some route options that you can use to increase your mileage or vary the scenery.

Screen capture

If you're new to Midland, I recommend riding through the Green Tree development, entering either from the west via Holiday Hill Road, or from the south via Oriole Drive. This will add a couple of miles of low-traffic riding to the route, if you ride the north and south loops of the development.

Incidentally, it's probably already obvious to you, but if you want hill training, you should consider relocating. Over this twelve-mile route, the elevation change is less than 70'. There's one point along the route where the grade is almost 3% (gasp!), but that's the closest you'll get to a climb. On the other hand, the West Texas winds more than make up for the lack of hills.

I noticed something interesting while reviewing the flyover. In more than 12 miles of riding through city streets, I counted fewer than 35 cars on the route. The date on the satellite photo was June 16, 2011, which was a Thursday, so there was no apparent reason for an absence of traffic. Regardless of the reason, it makes for happy cycling!

Well, when you're down on your luck, 
and you ain't got a buck,
in London you're a goner.
Even London Bridge has fallen down,
and moved to Arizona,
now I know why.

Midland has four "sister" cities, one each in China, Mexico, Guyana, and the United Kingdom. I'm not sure about the significance of having (or being) a sister city, despite the aforelinked website's repeated references to "common economic interests." Perhaps someone anticipated that we'd be sharing things with one another.

Like, say, families.
We are a British TV company looking for a Midland, Texas family who would like to take part in a NEW TV SHOW.

Would you and your family like to travel to the UK and act as ambassadors for Midland?

Would you and your family like to swap lives with a British family from the Wirral (your sister city) for one week?

Would you like to live in a British family's home while a British family lives in your Midland home?

If you are at all interested or would simply like more information then please contact us at:
And I'll substantiate the rumor that the English sense of humor 
is drier than than the Texas sand. 
You can put up your dukes, and you can bet your boots 
that I'm leavin' just as fast as I can.

The casting producer at a television production company called Knickerbockerglory emailed me this morning to see if I could assist her in finding a family in Midland who was willing to trade places for a week with a family in Wirral, UK. The purpose of the switch is to provide fodder for an episode of a new reality series the company is developing, a "primetime" show called Twin Towns. Here are the details in her own words:
I hope you don't mind me emailing. I'm currently working on a brand new exciting primetime TV series called 'Twin Towns' where families from the US will swap lives with families from the town their home town is twinned with in the UK.

We are looking for families from Midland, Texas who will get the chance to have an all-expenses paid trip to the UK where they will spend a week living in the Wirral which I believe you are twinned with or have a friendship with?

The family we choose will get to act as US ambassadors for Midland and will get to see how the other half live by living the life of the British family they swap with for a week. This will include swapping houses, jobs, children will go the local schools/colleges, they will get to meet the community and experience the local culture as a whole.

We are looking for fun families who would be available for a week between the dates of 16th April and 31st June and would be interested in being on television.
Framed quote: A good cowboy never goes the same way twicePretty interesting, huh? It's legit, as far as I can tell, and sounds like an great opportunity for an adventurous family with a flexible schedule. How could you go wrong with a group of Brits who have a framed cowboy quote on their wall? (Even if it is a rather inscrutable quote. Most cowboys know that stray cattle wander down the same paths. Perhaps I'm too literal.)

But I can't help wondering how the production company will assess the "fun" quotient for prospective families. Are they looking for the quintessential West Texas family...and how would one even go about defining that?

Well, it's cold over here, and I swear 
I wish they'd turn the heat on. 
And where in the world is that English girl 
I promised I would meet on the third floor. 
And of the whole damn lot, the only friend I've got 
is a smoke and a cheap guitar. 
My mind keeps roamin', my heart keeps longin' 
to be home in a Texas bar.

Regardless, if you have a "fun" family and think this is your cup of tea, feel free to email the company and get more information. Just don't plan on taking Jerry Jeff Walker with you, other than on your iPod.

I wanna go home with the armadillo 
Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene 
The friendliest people and the prettiest women you've ever seen.

[Lyrics from "London Homesick Blues"...but you knew that]

New blog in town
February 7, 2012 5:03 PM | Posted in: ,

This could be pretty cool...a new website that shows the menus and hours of Midland restaurants. currently has information for about thirty restaurants, as well as a [small] handful of reviews. I assume the coverage will increase over time, as that's just a fraction of the eateries we have access to in the Tall City eateries we have access to in the Tall City.

The menus are either scans or photos of the actual documents, pretty much unedited (a good example is Tater World's menu with all prices covered with duct tape. Stay classy, dude! [Ed. - Hey, it's a restaurant named "Tater World." Cut 'em some slack.]). 

The challenge will be to stay current, as many restaurants regularly update their menus, and occasionally change their hours. One of our favorites - which hasn't yet been added to the website - is Dos Margaritas, they're rolling out a new seafood-centric menu this Sunday.

Reviews are a different matter. There are only three as of this writing, and they're pretty superficial. The review for Kuo's, a favorite of many Midlanders, was based on a take-out order, which is probably not the ideal way to review a restaurant. It will be interesting to see how this section unfolds. The site's administrator was wise enough to disable comments for the reviews, to avoid (or at least minimize) controversy. People take their food seriously.

Speaking of the site administrator, there's nothing on the site to identify who's in charge. I don't know if that's important to you; I generally like to know whose opinions I'm relying on. But that's a personal call.

Hypin' Jorge
January 30, 2012 9:28 PM | Posted in: ,

The band had just finished a very credible version of Merle Haggard's classic Workin' Man Blues [which is playing in the background as I type this...the newish version featuring Willie Nelson and Merle's son Ben] and I mentioned to friends how great it was that young musicians continued to pay tribute to the greats of country music. 

The band was from Abilene, and consisted of five young men, the oldest of which was perhaps 25. Through the course of the evening, they did covers of musicians as diverse as Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and Johnny Paycheck. While they didn't necessarily improve on the originals, they also didn't embarrass themselves or discredit the sources, and a good time was had by all.

But back to the conversation with friends. One of them recalled a time "about thirty years ago" when she attended a tractor pull at the Ector County Coliseum. During intermission, she said a young band hauled their gear into the middle of the track, and started playing. The sound was bad - too soft to be heard over the well-oiled tractor crowd - and a few people started booing. 

Someone found the right switch and the music got loud enough to be heard, and someone yelled out, "hey, ya'll quiet down...that feller's pretty good!" The youthful band managed to capture the crowd's attention and hold it for a couple of songs, which is all the time they were given, and they even got a good ovation when they finished. Without fanfare, they dragged their equipment across the dirt and out of the Coliseum. 

My friend had a big grin on her face as she revealed that she had been fortunate enough to be present at one of the earliest public appearances of a guy who turned out to be a fairly successful country musician. You might recognize the name: George Strait.

George has gone on to make music history, recording more #1 songs (58) than any artist in history, in any genre, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. His most recent album, Here For A Good Time, is a showcase of his sometimes under-appreciated range of styles. Strait manages to keep country tradition alive without slipping into by-the-numbers stereotype. I wouldn't go so far to say that he's the anti-Jason-Aldean, but if you're tired of the over-produced pop-oriented Nashville sound, here's your Strait, man.

Record-setting Snowfall in Midland
January 9, 2012 9:43 PM | Posted in: ,

Last time I checked, we'd received almost 10.5" of snow today, and it's still coming down. According to the Midland Reporter Telegram, this is an all-time one-day record, and also gives us a record cumulative snowfall for one season.

The "weather event" was an interesting study in contrasts. The city of Lubbock sent snow removal equipment to Midland to help clear roadways, and Midland International Airport was closed for the day by noon. On the other hand, the public schools weren't canceled in either Midland or Odessa (although all the private schools let out early). Many businesses let their employees leave early (ours didn't), but the roads were not dangerous (except for the presence of those who've never mastered the art of self-control).

The one thing we can all agree on is that this will provide some desperately needed moisture, probably the equivalent of an inch or so of rain, and it will soak into the soil. Good, good stuff for a parched land.

Photos? Of course; I thought you'd never ask.

This is the obligatory view of the snow-enhanced pond. The ducks were not amused.

Also not amused was our palm tree.

An interesting predicament: snow-filled traffic lights.

This is a clumsy 360° panorama taken from the hill just north of our neighborhood. Click for a bigger view. There's software that will stitch these pictures together much better than I did by hand, but I was too lazy to look for it. Oh, by the way, the big photo is 3,300 pixels wide.

Bird's Nest Troupe
December 18, 2011 8:28 PM | Posted in: ,

I suspect that the red oak tree in our front yard will not emerge in full foliage next spring. It's a multi-trunk tree, and one of the trunks has been devastated by some unknown assailant - borers, oak wilt, dengue fever, black plague, overexposure to Lady Gaga...who knows? We had it treated by a tree service last year, but they warned us it may have been too far gone to save, and I think they were right.

But, that didn't stop the tree from being a very popular destination for our feathered friends. The leafage on the rest of the tree was quite thick and apparently made for a secure gathering place for a wide variety of birds. Just how popular a destination was only recently revealed, when the tree dropped its leaves after the first hard freeze.

I counted seven (7!) nests in the smallish tree, nests of all shapes, sizes, and quality of construction. You know, sort of like any neighborhood in Houston. I'm sure some of them weren't inhabited this year, being abandoned tenements from an earlier time, although I could be wrong about that as none of them seemed to be as completely deteriorated as you would expect from a full year of West Texas wind.

Anyway, I'm posting photos of six of the nests for your perusal during what I'm sure are boredom-filled holidays. I have no explanation for why I captured only six of the seven nests, but it is, as they say, what it is. And along with all the other things I don't know about this whole situation, I also don't know what kind of birds built any of these nests. Feel free to offer opinions, educated or otherwise. I won't know any different.

Note: In the interest of scientific accuracy, I will note that these photos aren't necessarily all cropped to the same scale. For example, the first nest is much smaller than the others, approximately teacup-sized. It's also the best constructed, obviously built by someone other than the low bidder.

Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest

Mocking Bird
December 9, 2011 12:55 PM | Posted in: ,

I was driving past the south pond this morning and something caught my eye on the far bank. I pulled into the clubhouse parking lot, grabbed the camera (which, for once, actually had a charged battery) and set out across the grounds to get a closer look. Turned out to be this guy:

Photo - Great Blue Heron

It's a Great Blue Heron (I hope it has a happier fate than a previous visitor), and at first I thought it was just innocently hanging out. But then I realized that birds can be cruel jokesters, too, because look who was nearby.

Photo - Great Blue Heron and Goose

Yes, it's our good friend, the one-legged goose, and the heron was obviously mocking him, much to the goose's dismay. Appalling behavior, right? It makes me weep for the animal kingdom.
They started building a new house across the street from us today. This is a momentous occasion, as it's the last vacant lot on our cul-de-sac...well, on our entire street, for that matter, although our street is only two blocks long. 

We have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, it will be nice to have someone else collect the tumbleweeds and most of the dirt that blows in from the north. I won't miss that aspect of living out here in the least.

On the other hand, this also will completely obscure the view of the north pond, trees, and skyline that we have enjoyed from our front porch for almost three years. It was inevitable, but it's a little sad to know that in a couple of months we'll have only the neighbors' houses to gaze upon.

I told Debbie that I hoped someone interesting moved in. Her response? "Yeah, maybe we'll get a crack house!"

Ever the optimist.

Photo - A budding crack house?

Snow Report
December 5, 2011 8:30 PM | Posted in: ,

We got 3-4" of heavy, wet snow last night and today. It's not that unusual to have snow in West Texas, but we usually get the dry variety that stays on the trees and shrubs only as long as it takes for the first gust of wind to blow through. But this was snow of the snow angel-making, limb-breaking, snowball-cranking persuasion. And it was quite beautiful, despite its pain-in-the-rear potential.

Here are a few random scenes from around the neighborhood to commemorate the occasion.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
The wax myrtle in the back yard wasn't exactly thrilled with its new coat...

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
...but the desert willow was stylin'.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
The neighborhood pond is simply magnificent when it snows.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
The snow turned a sad, drought-stricken pasture into a semi-surreal postcard.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
Our ceramic iguana was not amused...

Photo of my flooded office
...and neither was I when I arrived at my office to find that melting snow had found its way out of the cold.

If you live in Midland, you're familiar with the Midland Development Corporation (MDC), the quasi-governmental agency that uses some of our taxes to bribe entice companies to either locate in Midland County or expand their operations if they're already here. The special sales tax that funds these efforts has been in place for a decade, and our newspaper recently ran a series of articles about the results of the so-called economic development efforts. Those results are rather dreary, to say the least.

The impetus behind the economic development movement in this area is to diversify the economy, which has been completely dependent on the petroleum industry for decades. The theory is sound. If we have a wider variety of industries employing folks in the Permian Basin, we'll be better positioned to weather the next bust in the cycle of oil prices.

But I can't help wondering: what if that bust never comes? What if the petroleum industry continues to to enjoy uninterrupted success for decades to come? What if the roller coaster ride is over? Would that change how we look at the need for so-called economic development? 

I think it should, and I also believe we've entered a fundamentally altered landscape for the petroleum industry that supports the idea that we don't need economic diversification. And it's a good news/bad news situation. 

First, the good news, at least for those of us in the oil bidness (or whose livelihoods are directly tied thereto). I don't know if we've entered the era of "Peak Oil," where the physical availability of oil and gas will steadily dwindle from now on, but I do believe we've hit the point where global supply and demand are balanced at a point to ensure a price that's high enough to sustain the current level of activity as far out as one can reasonably look. 

The bad news is that the only thing that will make this not be the case is a global economic meltdown that kills demand, and sends the industry spiraling down into another bust. This would imply that China and India and Brazil and the other emerging drivers of economic expansion hit a wall. I don't mean to be dramatic, but this would be catastrophic for everyone, not just the oil and gas industry. 

In addition to these economic considerations, the argument that the Permian Basin cannot physically support significant industrial expansion grows more defensible as the drought continues and water becomes increasingly scarce. I think it's a fair question to ask if we've reached - or passed - critical mass in the region in terms of population. 

Yeah, I know the counterargument to all of this: if we're not growing, we're dying. Call me a pessimist, although I prefer to think I'm simply a realist, but we're dying anyway, and not just individually, for many different reasons. But none of those reasons include the inability to diversify our local economy. 

I think it's time to man up, and own the fact that this is oil country, and always will be. Our economic diversification could be defined to include both kinds of energy - oil and gas - to borrow a line from The Blues Brothers. We should make the most of what we have in terms of natural resources for as long as we can, and continue to provide relevant technology to the rest of the world, but have no illusions about the end game. Because barring a breakthrough in quantum physics and/or collective mindset, when the oil bidness finally dies, so does global society as we know it. I'll let you decide whether that's good news or bad.

Local family featured on HGTV
November 6, 2011 7:00 PM | Posted in: ,

Our weekend TV watching is generally limited to a steady stream of home improvement- and real estate-related shows on HGTV, punctuated by occasional cooking shows on The Food Network. HGTV LogoYesterday afternoon, another episode of HGTV's House Hunters got underway and neither of us were actually paying attention, so when Debbie sat up and said "I think they said she's from Midland!," it took a while to figure out that the woman looking for a vacation home on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, was indeed from our hometown. 

The woman whose house-hunting efforts were being documented is Elisa Manning, and her story will be familiar to many Midlanders. Her husband  Tom was well known in the community as the owner of Manning's Nursery, and he succumbed to cancer last year. His death focused attention on the plight of those who are victims of government and medical bureaucracy. Most of us probably fall into that category at some point in our lives, but it's rarely a life-and-death situation like it was for Tom. You can read more about his situation in this archived story on

Elisa was looking for a home on Molokai to honor the memory of her late husband, as they had enjoyed some special times together on that island. A Molokai website provided a local perspective on the TV program, and a careful reading between the lines of that article shows a certain amount of, well, sensitivity to "outsiders" moving into what I presume is a community striving to insulate itself against the encroachment of commercial development and the perceived negative effects on the island's native culture and social fabric.

I don't know her and didn't know her husband, but my guess is that the residents of Molokai have found that she's exactly the kind of neighbor they'd like to have.

Note: This episode originally aired earlier this year, and yesterday's episode was apparently one of several re-broadcasts. Nobody ever accused us of being on top of things!
Is that post title cryptic enough for you? Tell you what...jump over to this page for a minute, take a quick look around, then come back and let's talk about it. I'll wait here for you.

*idle whistling*

*annoying fingertapping*

*impatient watch glancing*

Photo of braceletSo, is that cool or what? By the way, if I've coined a new term - causelet, a combination of "cause" and "bracelet" - feel free to use it without paying me royalties unless they begin to run into the six or seven figure range. Generosity would be my middle name if it wasn't something else.

And speaking of generosity, that's what Brandon Hawkins, the brains behind Chi-Rho Knots, is all about. Brandon graciously agreed to a quick mini-interview via email in which he shared some of the background behind Chi-Rho and the awesome handmade paracord bracelets. I think you'll be hearing more about Brandon, but here's quick intro, lightly edited, from his own keyboard.

Gazette: How did you come up with the idea of the shock-cord "causelets"?

Brandon: The paracord bracelet is not a new idea. In fact, I first heard about them over a year ago when I received an issue of BackPacker Magazine that ran a story about making your own "survival bracelet." Long story short, I bought the paracord to make a couple, did just that, then tucked everything away in a closet for a little more than a year. Then, about mid-September of this year for reasons unknown, I dragged it all back out and made a couple more. This time, my wife suggested that I attempt to add a breast cancer ribbon to one. Since Jess [ed.-Jess is Brandon's lovely wife] and I participate in raising funds for a few favorite causes each year (Breast Cancer Awareness, First Candle, March of Dimes, and the American Heart Association), she was thinking that I could sell a few as a type of "bake-sale,"and donate the funds. I reluctantly said yes (while thinking in the back of my mind...these won't sell), and proceeded to tinker. I finally found a way to make it happen in a practical manner, and off I went. Eventually, people started requesting them for other causes than breast cancer research. The rest has been a blur of a constant orders!

G - The bracelets look somewhat time-consuming to create. How many can you create in a day/week/month? Is this a full-time job for you.

B - Right now, I can make about 50 bracelets a day if I need to. It has taken more than full-time attention to make all this happen, but it's not all that I do. I'm currently tutoring nurses that are returning to school to obtain Bachelors and Masters degrees. It has definitely been a challenge to balance the two. As business grows, I can see this becoming my full time job.

G - Your website mentions that Chi-Rho Knots is a family business. What family members are involved?

B - My grandparents have agreed to sign on to my "little" project. My grandfather is a retired veterinarian, and my grandmother is a retired office manager. With their help, I've been able to keep up with the influx of orders.

G - What are your goals for Chi-Rho Knots? How do you feel about the response to it?

B - I've always had a giving heart, and I think that must fit into God's plan for me. I am humbled by the response! My goals for the company as of now are to continue to grow and expand responsibly, while raising as much money for research and assistance as possible, for the variety of medical conditions we are all dealing with in some form or another. This isn't my doing. It must be God's idea. That's really the only explanation for the insane success Chi-Rho Knots has experienced thus far. So, even though I like more than my fair share of the spotlight, the Glory goes to Him on this one, and I'm forever grateful. This endeavor has been a blessing in so many ways, to so many people. I'm honored to be a part of it.

Chi-Rho Knots is the kind of homegrown, passion-driven success story that people love to hear about. I've had the privilege to work briefly with Brandon on a web design project, and he strikes me as a guy with boundless energy and enviable creativity, and yet he's obviously strongly grounded in faith. I predict great things for Chi-Rho...especially if he can figure out how to incorporate a Fire Ant logo into a bracelet.
Midland is in the list of top 10 cities nationwide for the lowest unemployment and our suite of economic indicators is nearing record high levels. Here's a graphic that pretty clearly shows why that's the case.

Map showing drilling permits in Midland County

This map show the drilling permits issued for Midland County in just the last six months. Each circle represents a potential oil/gas well.

The small blue dot represents the approximate location of our neighborhood. The placement of the red dot is a bit interesting, as it's the location of our municipal airport, and we expect to see drilling take place there sometime in the next twelve or so months. Even in the heart of the oilpatch, drilling inside city limits is controversial (bringing into perspective the oft-quoted phrase "not in my backyard!"). Yesterday's well blowout in neighboring Martin County won't exactly soothe fears about drilling adjacent to Midland College and residential neighborhoods. 

But, for any number of reasons, such "progress" seems inevitable. It may seem a little hypocritical to accept the good things the current boomlet is bringing, while trying to insulate ourselves against the price it demands. OTOH, it's natural to want to insulate one's family and personal property against the risks of industrial development. I'm just surprised it's taken this long for the opposing forces to finally meet.

Church Construction
September 10, 2011 7:15 AM | Posted in:

Some of you Midlanders (and former Midlanders) might be interested in the following view of the construction going on at First Baptist Church.


The new welcome center will go in where the truck is parked on the left side of the photo; the new chapel is on the opposite side of the property. They've been working on this for more than a month; I expected to see more progress than this, but I guess there's a lot of preparatory work involved.

This picture was taken from the top of another prominent building in Midland that's under construction: the new patient tower at Midland Memorial Hospital.

Seal Coating and Bicyclists
August 17, 2011 9:36 AM | Posted in: ,

The City of Midland's ACTSSC Program (Annual Campaign To Stop Safe Cycling) is well underway, as it seeks to identify the smoothest, most comfortable sections of pavement in the least-traveled neighborhoods. Those bucolic byways are then targeted for tar and gravel in mass quantities scientifically calculated to wreak the most havoc on bicyclists and their machines. 

It's a wonderfully effective program, taking all but the most foolhardy cyclists off the roads during the warm and dry months of the summer and early fall, and putting them back into cars where they belong.

The genius of the approach is in its multi-faceted implementation of impediments to bicycling. The seal coating obscures all striping on the roads, affirming the rights of SUV drivers to cruise any dang place on the road they desire. The tar melts and remelts throughout the summer, gumming up bicycle drivetrains and spotting carbon-fiber frames. The sharp-edged gravel works better than broken glass to carve up expensive tires. And the way the gravel inevitably organizes and collects itself in an almost sentient behavior, settling near the roadway gutter and at all intersections, assures that the cyclist will continue to encounter hazards for months after the seasonal end of ACTSSC.

I'm sure there's an award category for which I can nominate the City for its efforts on behalf of citizen cyclists...perhaps something under the auspices of the Marquis de Sade Society?
You're probably growing weary of pomegranate updates, but given everything I have going on right now, this is about all I can come up with. Plus, I think it's pretty great how a tree we gave up for dead is now thriving as a bush.

The photos below don't map exactly, but they're pretty close, perspective-wise. You may remember the drill on this particular method of display: drag the vertical bar to the left to reveal how the plant has grown since April (when the "top" photo was taken) until today (as shown by the "bottom" photo). And if dragging doesn't work, click on the left side of the photo to reveal the "after" picture.

Goose Update
August 2, 2011 6:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember our neighborhood's one-legged goose? I'm pleased to report that he/she/it appears to have effectively adapted to its unipedal status, as evidenced by this photo taken yesterday evening:

Photo of three geese standing on bank of pond

The bird at right is the goose in question, and as we watched the trio feeding along the bank, it was doing the one-foot-hop with ease.

It's been almost three months since the goose was returned to the pond, and fears that it would be easy prey for predators have not materialized. An unexpected positive consequence is that all three geese seem to be sticking a bit closer to the water, leaving the sidewalk around the pond a little cleaner.

A Tale of Two Nets
July 13, 2011 1:08 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, before we get started, I'll wait here while you go watch this. G'head, it's OK; just don't get distracted by videos of babies biting kids' fingers, or mimes. I'll wait here.

*finger tapping; random whistling*

Yeah, that was pretty awesome alright, seeing a whale rescued from a fishing net. My aunt in Albuquerque sent me that link, and little did I know that just a couple of days after watching that movie, I'd be doing a similar rescue. Yes, humpbacks aren't the only things that can have near-death encounters with nets.

It happened this morning, as I was preparing to mow the lawn. I had opened the gate to the backyard, weedeater already running, and I held it in one hand, inside the gate, while reaching around to grab the gate handle with the other hand. That's when disaster struck, and I was faced with the possibility that things would never be the same again.

Here...see for yourself.

Photo of weedeater entangled in bird netting covering a tomato plant

That, my friends, is a sight that no homeowner or lawn care professional ever wants or expects to see: a weedeater hopelessly (it appears) entangled in the voracious clutches of bird netting covering a tomato plant.

I acted as quickly as I knew how, running through the options open to me, and settling on the one drastic last hope. I pulled my trusty ARCO Permian swiss army knife from my pocket and set to work on the net, conscious of the precious seconds ticking away until my faithful companion might never again drink deeply of unleaded gasoline in preparation for a good day's work. I struggled mightily as the netting fought back, as netting will do when protecting its helpless prey in the face of would-be rescuers. The battle pitched back and forth, up and down, over and under; I grew nauseous.

In the end, however, through a combination of grit, determination, and pure luck, I was successful in freeing the trimmer, and the net retreated, licking its wounds and no doubt plotting its revenge. 

You might be successful next time, mi amigo, but not today. No, not today.

Making a Stop Action Video
July 10, 2011 8:56 AM | Posted in: ,

Note: After I posted this, I realized that what I'm referring to as a "stop action" video is more correctly called a "time lapse" video. Pardon my lazy usage of terminology; I'm still learning this newfangled moving pictures thang and I'm not yet convinced it's not just a fad.

I tested the stop action feature of my new GoPro HD Hero video camera yesterday evening, and the results, while not exactly mind-blowing, are still encouraging. 

I set up the camera on a tripod using the optional mount, and placed it in front of one of our hummingbird feeders on the back porch. I set the camera to take a still photo every 30 seconds until the battery ran out. That resulted in 380 pictures, or just over 3 hours of filming. (I didn't bother attaching the camera to an outlet for unlimited photos - well, until the SD card was full - but that was an option.)

I then imported the photos into iPhoto '11 on my Mac, then exported them to a new folder on my hard drive. I opened iMovie '11, created a new project, selected all the photos from the directory, and dragged them into the project section of iMovie.

I selected all the photos in iMovie and set the duration for each to .1 seconds using the "Clip Adjustments" menu. I also turned off the Ken Burns effect by selecting "Fixed" in the "Cropping, Ken Burns & Rotation" menu. This combination resulted in a fast-moving, smooth stop action video of 50 seconds in duration.

I exported the movie in .m4v format, uploaded it to Vimeo, and the result is the following video. It's nothing dramatic, but if nothing else, you can get a feel for our weather pattern by watching the clouds appear and dissipate without providing any relief!

With the right subject matter, this could be a really fun process to experiment with.

The post title is a little provocative but not technically inaccurate. See, MLB gave me one of these for my birthday and I finally figured out how to work it well enough to wear it on our tandem ride today through north Midland this morning. While the actual footage of the 22 mile jaunt is around 90 minutes (including some preliminary and post-ride scenes), I didn't figure anyone would actually be that interested in a tour of our fair city, so I compressed the timeline just the teensiest bit...well, by 800%, to be exact.

GoPro HD Helmet HEROIn case you're too busy to follow the link above, the "one of these" I'm referring to is a GoPro HD Helmet HERO video camera and housing, complete with a helmet mount. It's a wee little guy, weighing less than 4 ounces with battery, and under 6 ounces including the housing. It came with a couple of methods of helmet attachment, including a complicated harness that looks like something they'd put on Hannibal Lecter. I opted for the simpler - albeit no less nerdy-looking - "vented helmet straps" that weave through the holes in the typical modern bike helmet. The camera is snug and secure, but gives the wearer the appearance of, as Debbie put it, Marvin the Martian. Of course, that's a good look for me, so I went with it.

This truly is an amazing little tyke, capable of full 1080p HD video and 5 megapixel stills. With the right housing back, you can take it 180 feet underwater, and it comes with interchangeable backs that are rated for mounting speeds in excess of 120 mph on your car's hood or motorcycle handlebar. Video is recorded on a standard SDHC card (up to 9 hours on a 32 gig card). You can even program the camera to take a series of stills at fixed intervals ranging from 1-60 seconds, for that time-lapse masterpiece you've been planning.

I'd love to take it skiing, but I don't do that anymore, so cycling will probably be the most common application (although I'm considering mounting it on my lawnmower for a truly awesome view of lawn care). And maybe someday I'll have a chance to go scuba diving again. The HERO is totally coming along if that happens.

So, here's the vid from this morning, pretty much unedited except for that speeding up thing I mentioned. I might later post a more leisurely version of parts of the ride so you can see what our normal cycling routes look like, but this will have to do for now.

You know that bit of dialog in Joe vs. the Volcano, where the chauffeur, Marshall, (played by Ossie Davis) is giving Joe (played by Tom Hanks) some fashion advice? It goes something like this:

Marshall: What kind of clothes you got?

Joe: Uh, they're like these I'm wearing.

Marshall: So you got no clothes.

That exact line of conversation applies to Midland's bike paths. Technically, we have 'em (although they're just called "routes" and are indistinguishable from "streets") but from a practical perspective, we have no bike paths.

I suspect that if you were to poll all the bicyclists in Midland about their wish list for making the city more bike-friendly, the ability to safely ride from north of Loop 250 to south of the Loop and back again would be at the top of the list.

Of the nine major intersections along Loop 250, only three (Thomason Drive, Tremont, and "A" Street) are generally safe for cyclists. The Garfield intersection is dicey, depending on the time of day, and all the others are accidents waiting to happen. Loop 250 presents an almost insurmountable barrier to anyone wanting to commute by bicycle to a destination that's on the other side of that highway.

I've been giving this some thought and there's a simple solution: create a bike/hike path that connects intersection of "A" Street and Loop 250, and Airpark Road just west of the Claydesta Post Office. I chose "A" Street because it's the only "3-way" intersection with the Loop, meaning that it's got much less traffic, generally speaking, than the others. Plus, there's a pretty logical route extending from that point that has absolutely no intersections with traffic.

Having trouble visualizing how that would work? Here's a map:

View more details regarding the Proposed Airpark Bike Path.

The blue line represents the proposed route. It basically parallels the fence line of Midland Airpark. I'm sure there will never be any other type of development along this route as long as Airpark is operational, so that space seems perfect for a six or eight foot wide path.

I said the solution was simple; I didn't say it would be cheap. This route is almost exactly one mile in length. Depending on who you believe, the cost for a bike path is $50,000 - $1 million per mile. I suspect ours would be closer to the lower end of the spectrum due to the relatively flat ground, but that's still some serious change. And that doesn't include the required bridge over the drainage channel at the intersection of "A" and Loop 250.

On the upside, I assume that the City already owns all the property over which this route runs, as part of Airpark. If that's the case, the project would involve potentially messy easement negotiations.

I have no idea whether this project is feasible, or how one would even get it off the ground. I'm sure there are grants for this sort of thing. It just seems to me that opening up a safe conduit past Loop 250 for cyclists and hikers would be something the city would want to pursue, and it would finally allow us to rightfully claim that we've got a useful bike path Any thoughts or ideas you have would be appreciated; leave 'em in the comments.

And, as long as we're brainstorming and thinking big, consider how this could be the first leg of a path that would extend around the entire perimeter of the Wadley/Garfield/Loop 250/"A" Street square. This 4-mile stretch could become a real showcase for Midland's commitment to improving recreation and alternative transportation opportunities for its citizens.
We wrote about this last year when the IRS first announced the list of nonprofit organizations who were in danger of losing their tax-exempt status due to failure to file some required paperwork. At that time, the list contained about 150 organizations that had listed Midland as their headquarters. 

This is a potentially big deal for such organizations because it means that donations are not tax deductible, which in turn could affect their income if their donors find out, and could affect their donors if they don't (those IRS tax audits are probably not much fun).

The IRS has now published its "Automatic Revocation of Exemption List" and it still has 108 Midland organizations. You can either go to the IRS website and download the two big spreadsheets for Texas, and do a sort to find the Midland-based groups, or you can just scroll down this post. Personally, the latter seems to be an easier path.

I suspect many of these organizations are defunct so this won't matter one whit. I know some aren't, because we're members of at least one of them. Can you guess which one?

Note: I realize that some of the following organization names are incomplete, but that's how they appear on the IRS spreadsheets. The spreadsheets have EINs so if you're really curious and diligent, you can search for a cross-reference to identify the organization.

  • 710 A A GROUP
  • YDF

The Goose Whisperer
June 14, 2011 6:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Sorry about the post title; it's the best I can do at 6:30 a.m. Anyway, this story does deal with a goose - a one-legged goose at that.

Earlier this month, someone noticed that one of the three geese that have taken up residence at the ponds had an injured leg. One of our neighbors arranged to have the ailing goose netted and taken to a local vet clinic, where it was determined that the leg needed to be amputated.

The procedure was successful, although an infection complicated things a bit. After a stay at the clinic, the goose was returned to the pond on the afternoon of June 13th. I captured the triumphant release on video:

It's probably safe to say that many of us in the neighborhood have mixed emotions about the geese living at the pond. They make an awful mess, but they're also fun to watch. I doubt that there's any ecological benefit to having them around.

Perhaps the best storyline here - besides the assistance of an injured animal - is that the neighborhood rallied around the goose and contributed enough to not only cover all the medical expenses, but to also enable the beginnings of a fund that will be available for any future such uses. Many thanks to Deena Kargl and Melissa Tomlin for taking the initiative to get treatment for the goose and to mobilize a response in the neighborhood.

Overheard Bird
June 4, 2011 5:27 PM | Posted in: ,

All afternoon, while puttering around in the front yard, we've been hearing this odd bird call, kind of a plaintive "squawk," not harsh like a grackle's, but a bit more melodic. It sounded familiar to me, but I just couldn't place it. Nor could I discern its source.

Then, a few minutes ago, the call was closer and I was able to zero in on the apparent which time I remembered where I'd heard it before. It was in this same scene:

Photo - Quail on top of roof

Do you recognize the bird? Probably not. Here, try this one:

Close-up Photo - Quail on top of roof

Yep, it's a quail - specifically a scaled or blue quail - apparently pretending to be an eagle or a hawk. I have no idea why a lone quail would fly up to a rooftop and walk along the ridgeline, squawking at the world. Lonely? Bragging? Defying? Who knows what goes on inside the brain of a quail? I certainly don't. But I suddenly got a craving for jalapeños and bacon.

Passed Grass
June 4, 2011 2:33 PM | Posted in: ,

So, you've finished edging and mowing the yard in the 90 degree heat, and you're happy to have that chore out of the way. You grab a bottle of water and ease into the chair on the front porch to admire your handiwork. Despite the watering restrictions, the lawn looks pretty darned good. You swing your gaze across the manicured grass and...what's this?!

Rogue bermudagrass seed heads in lawn

That, my friend, is evidence of a job gone tragically wrong, a symbol of everything that's wrong with society today, a reminder that man lives in a fallen state.

Or, it could just mean that I had sweat in my eyes and pushed the mower around like a drunken sailor.

Nothing that a pair of hand-clippers couldn't fix, of course.
I received an email this evening asking me to publicize an upcoming event that will raise money to build a no-kill pet adoption center inside the Midland PetSmart location. I'm happy to help with that cause, because it's an important one. Here's the jist of the appeal:
The Midland Humane Coalition is a non-profit no-kill animal organization looking to end euthanasia in Midland County. PetSmart has agreed to build a $750,000 shelter inside the Midland PetSmart location for them to find these pets homes if they can raise the money for the first year of operating expenses. 

Midland Humane Coalition is about $130,000 short on their goal of fund raising. These funds must be acquired by the first of July. 

Jake's Clays is hosting a shoot for them on June 24th-25th (flyer with more info here) to help raise them money for their adoption center. You can also go to to make a donation as well.
Please help us raise awareness about this organization's needs; it would be greatly appreciated! We need to get this information out there and help us raise the awareness about this worthy cause.
Midland needs a no-kill animal shelter like this. Every little bit helps; the Midland Humane Coalition and the babies whose lives are saved all appreciate the help.
Please consider making a donation to this worthy cause, or participate in - or better yet, sponsor - the clay shoot.

Random Holiday Nature Scenes
May 30, 2011 9:30 PM | Posted in: ,

We had a rather uneventful Memorial Day, without much to report. We did go on a couple of walks around the neighborhood, and I thought I'd share a few sightings of local flora and fauna.

The first was actually last night, and not local at all, at least not in the "neighborhood" sense of the word. We were coming home from visiting with friends who live about ten miles south of town, and we spotted something white flashing in the pasture not far from the road. I immediately recognized it as the north end of a southbound pronghorn (which, of course, is not really an antelope). I've always heard that there are a few pronghorn around Midland County, but this was my first sighting. Very cool. Unfortunately, while we did have a camera in the car, we weren't quick enough to get a shot.

Photo - Cottontail rabbit relaxing

The next two pictures are of two pairs of quail that were hanging around the north pond. The first one seems to be doing his impression of the king of the hill (I guess he's got a bird's eye view of things):

Photo - Quail standing on boards

The next one is a photo of the other two quail flying away in a panic. I had spotted them earlier and figured they'd fly when we got closer, so I had my point-and-shoot aimed in the direction I guessed they'd fly. They were as fast as I expected, and I didn't know if I'd even gotten them in the shot until I downloaded the photos onto my computer.

Photo - Quail flying away

The final photo is simply a reminder that if you want to find something green in Midland, you can drive out to Woodland Park and pretend we're not in a drought of epic proportions.

Photo - Wildflowers along sidewalk
It's important to keep the Historical Records up to date, so here's what's happening in the front part of la hacienda:

Barn Swallows - When last we checked in on the little #@*%& fellows, their nest was almost complete. It's now finished and positioned so close to the ceiling that we can't see inside the nest, even with our tallest ladder. They think they're so smart, but they underestimate the vastness of my tool inventory, specifically the small round mirror mounted on the telescoping, articulating arm. (I knew I'd have a use for that someday, besides helping me locate stuff that I drop behind the workbench.)

So, here's what's inside the mysterious nest:

Photo of barn swallow egg reflected in mirror

Interesting that there's only one egg in the nest. I thought they usually had a multi-egg clutches.

By the way, I hope you're impressed by the photo, as I stood near the top of a 12-foot ladder, holding the mirror in one hand and the camera in the other, while Debbie re-read my life insurance policy.

Moving on to the flora, I'm pleased to report that our pomegranate-tree-reborn-as-a-bush is growing like a weed, which it is, by definition. Anyway, we put this funky three-sided tomato cage around it to tame its wildness, and it's now 3' tall. Pretty sure it won't have any fruit this year, but we're hopeful about 2012, assuming the world doesn't end.

Photo of pomegranate bush

And, finally, our palm tree has fully recovered from its close encounter of the frostbite kind. It's still a bit lopsided from where Debbie had to prune the dead fronds following that bitter freeze (feels a bit weird to be writing about it, given that it's around 100° as I type this).

Photo of palm tree
By the way, don't let the apparently green grass in our lawn fool you; it's becoming increasingly heat-stressed due to the watering restrictions. I'm not sure why it looks this good; the back lawn is more brown than green. And based on the long range weather forecast, it's going to get worse before it gets better. Pray for rain!

Stationary Hummer
May 24, 2011 6:02 PM | Posted in: ,

So, say you're a hummingbird trying to cope with 40mph+ winds, blowing dust and smoke from wildfires on the north and the south, temperatures in the 90s and humidity around 5%. What would you do?

Probably the same thing this little guy is doing...perching on a tomato cage sheltered by a concrete block wall, and leaving the hovering to the helicopters.

Photo - Hummingbird perched on tomato cage
If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, we've just been enslaved due to inattention.

I stepped onto the front porch this morning, just before daybreak, and this caught my eye:

Photo - Barn Swallow Nest

I swear, that nest was not there yesterday at noon, when Debbie and I did our usual lunch hour tour of the front yard (yes, our lives are filled with excitement and danger!). But it does explain why barn swallows were so seemingly perturbed as we sat on the front porch last night, eating ice cream and reading, until sunset. We thought they just wanted to go to bed, since they frequently perch overnight on the small ledge provided by the ceiling trim.

I had planned to check the nest this morning and if there were no eggs in it, to knock it down. But I did a quick check of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and found that I'm too late. Once the nest is built, it's illegal to destroy it, whether or not it has eggs or babies. We'll have to wait until the birds migrate away next fall.

The good news is that the nest is not over our front door, and is situated so that the inevitable mess will be manageable. I'd rather it not be there at all, and I take it somewhat personally that the birds won this battle, but the war is a long one and I'll bandage my wounds and plot my counterstrike. The immediate price the birds will pay will be my camera invading their space on a frequent basis.

Photo - Barn Swallow Flying in Front of Nest
I see that the Midland Reporter Telegram is officially supporting Clayton Williams's request to pump and sell to Midland more than 40 million gallons of water each day from his land west of Fort Stockton. The Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District board begins hearings today to consider the issue, which has huge ramifications for a variety of stakeholders.

The MRT's editorialist acknowledges that competing interests make compelling arguments for and against this transfer of our region's most precious resource.

Nevertheless, we think Williams' plan stands the test of Texas law and science. First, Texas tradition allows property owners to harvest, ship and sell goods coming from the owned property. Oil is a good example. Property owners share in oil revenue as royalty owners when oil is discovered on their property. We see little difference in this model here with the exception that Williams plans to do the harvesting of the water himself rather than through an investor such as an oil company.

I'm not a lawyer or an expert in the area of Texas water and mineral rights, but I do question the analogy to the oil industry. While it's true that mineral owners in Texas have the right to capture the oil and gas under the acreage they own, that right is not unlimited. There are laws and regulations designed to protect adjacent mineral owners from drainage of their property by another owner.

In addition, there are also laws and regulations governing how water can be taken from surface streams and rivers. As far as I know, a private landowner does not have an unrestricted right to dam a river and take all the water from to the detriment of those living downstream. In the sense that the aquifer in question in Pecos County can be likened to an underground stream, there's a legitimate question as to whether the kind of pumping proposed by Williams is encroaching on the rights of those landowners "downstream." (It's an indisputable fact that formerly free-flowing springs to the east - the direction the aquifer extends - dry up when pumping begins.)

The idea that granting the pumping permit is consistent with current law might mean that perhaps the law itself needs to be revisited. If this issue ends up in the Supreme Court, as some think, a fresh look at an old law might be the most useful outcome.
Willie Nelson's concert in a less-than-packed Horseshoe Arena last night was a model of efficiency.

His bus backed through the doors of the coliseum at around 7:25 p.m., behind a stage that was a model of minimalism: one snare drum, two beat-up amps, a piano, and a couple of microphone stands. Willie appeared ten minutes later- wearing his trademark black t-shirt tucked into his old-man jeans (I'd call them dungarees if I actually knew what that meant), wearing a dime-store black felt hat that inevitably gave way to a series of pre-tied bandannas which he routinely pitched into the audience to their apparent great approval.

Without fanfare, he hitched up his pick-worn guitar Trigger - an instrument which, like Willie himself, has been rode hard and put up wet - with that funky hooked strap, and launched into a musical performance that was, well, workmanlike, if not inspiring. Did he know where he was? He never gave any indication - none of those "helloooooo, West Texas!" or "gee, it's great to be in Midland!" cliches employed by insincere lesser lights. In fact, in keeping with the theme of spareness, he wasted few words on the audience (a brief exception being his introduction of a couple songs - I Ain't Superman and You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore - he wrote while laid up following "that carpal surgery").

Willie's voice remains clear and strong, and his guitar playing, if not always precise, is consistently passionate. (And surprisingly energetic at times. During one song, the title of which escapes me at the moment, he jackhammered a crescendoing beat, steady as an electronic metronome, that made me fear that poor Trigger would finally shatter into a hundred shard, strings ricocheting throughout the venue, and possibly taking out one of Willie's big-haired female fans.)

He paid musical homage to some of the great "outlaw" country artists, including Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Charles (OK, that one's a stretch), and the original outlaw himself, Hank Williams. Sometimes, the tunes were almost unrecognizable as he put his on spin on the old songs, but that's forgivable. After four decades of singing them, you'd also be forgiven for trying to find something fresh.

Willie has surrounded himself with good musicians, which should surprise no one. His "little sister," Bobbie, is an excellent pianist, especially on the more honky-tonkyish numbers, and the virtuoso harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, brought a welcome dimension to the band's otherwise sparse sound.

Almost precisely 90 minutes after starting, he unhooked his guitar, tossed the last of the bandannas, and exited the stage. The crowd cheered expectantly, anticipating an encore in response to its standing anticipation that wasn't fulfilled, as the roadies immediately began packing equipment and clearing the stage. But I heard no complaints about the short show; people were instead marveling, "well, he is almost 80, after all."

I'm not a huge fan of Willie Nelson's music (gee, was it that noticeable?), but I must admit that this was a very enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes (and I'm trying to ignore the fact that it worked out to $1/minute, based on our ticket prices). Every Texan should experience him in concert at least once, and find some comfort in a storytelling style that seems to be fading from the musical landscape.

Watering for Show
April 23, 2011 5:49 PM | Posted in: ,

Dear, You know who you are with the big house at the golf course -

I'm sure you're aware that the city of Midland has requested that citizens cut back on their water usage by limiting their lawn watering to three days a week, between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. And you're probably also aware that they've also been asked to make sure that they monitor their sprinklers during those times so that water isn't wasted by running over the curb and down the gutter.

I assume that because of the large size of your corner lot, the better to showcase what is one of the largest, if not the largest house in the northern development of said golf course, you have at least one water well and thus are not using city water. (I don't know that for a fact; I'm simply giving you the benefit of the doubt.)

So, rather than being in direct violation of the thus-far voluntary watering restrictions, when you run your industrial strength sprinkler system during the heat and wind of the day and blissfully ignore the sparkling rivulets it generates in the gutters, you're simply guilty of condescension and poor taste. Oh, some small-minded people might point out that water is water regardless of its source, and it's all scarce and should be conserved, but we don't want to be unreasonable.

Your pal,


OK, I take no pleasure in posting something like this, even though it's based on a firsthand observation during a recent bike ride, because I live in a neighborhood that has two well-fed ponds that use and lose prodigious amounts of water, especially during the summer months. There's a part of me that thinks we should let those ponds go dry until the drought breaks, if for no other reason than as a show of solidarity with the individual families who are being asked to sacrifice their landscape in the cause.

Avocet Video
April 20, 2011 2:32 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember the flock of avocets that visited our neighborhood pond last weekend? Sure you do! Anyway, I finally got around to editing the video I shot and I've uploaded it to YouTube. You can either view it there via this link, or just click the following embed. Note that the source footage* is HD so you can embiggen it in full-screen mode if you wish.

Please excuse the poor audio quality. The wind was pretty strong (I know; that hardly ever happens in West Texas) and my camcorder has a built-in windscreen, I'll be darned if I know how to use it. 

On the plus side, this was a good excuse to finally learn to use iMovie '09, which I've been resisting for a long time. Turns out it has some great features; I was able to bump up the contrast and saturation a bit to overcome the flat light caused by the wildfire smoke in the air, and the last 20 seconds of the video feature the slow-motion capabilities of the application.

*Isn't it interesting that we still refer to video as "footage," even though that measurement is completely irrelevant in our digital darkroom. Ooh, there's another one...

Awesome Acrobatic Avocets!
April 18, 2011 6:27 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie and I were in the front yard yesterday afternoon - she was working; I was, um, supervising - and our eyes were drawn to a flock of birds circling our neighborhood's north pond, about two blocks away. I grabbed my video camera, and then returned and got my SLR with a long lens, and documented this unusual display.

Photo - Flying American Avocets

Burr Williams, executive director of the Sibley Nature Center, identified the birds as American Avocets. They normally inhabit the playa lakes of the Llano Estacado, but with many (most?) of those lakes drying up in the current drought, he said they're looking for other nesting areas.  

I don't think they'll find our ponds to be suitable, because there's too much human activity around them, and they're awfully skittish. But they are beautiful birds and a joy to observe. Click on the following thumbnails to see larger versions of each image.

Photo - Flying AvocetsPhoto - Flying AvocetsPhoto - Flying AvocetsPhoto - Flying AvocetsPhoto - Flying AvocetsPhoto - Flying Avocets

Those two head-on shots are my favorites; they remind me of airplanes flying in formation. In the last picture, notice how their wings seem to be synchronized.

I mentioned a video camera. I did get some footage, and if I can figure out how to edit it properly, I'll post something to YouTube. Those birds are fast flyers and hard to keep in a viewfinder, so don't expect anything professional.

When life gives you lemons...
April 16, 2011 11:45 AM | Posted in: ,

...make, uh, pomegranate juice?

As I may have mentioned, our big pomegranate tree didn't survive the Big Freeze of Ought Eleven. We discussed digging it up and planting something else, but then noticed a very healthy and vigorously growing batch of shoots coming up from the base of the dead tree. We decided to let nature run its course and see if the plant would grow into a healthy shrub (until the next big cold snap, of course).

Growing up in Fort Stockton, the only pomegranate plants I saw were bushes...they were never pruned into trees. And we've noticed several around town that are of the shrubbery persuasion. So, we're gonna let the little guy do its thing and perhaps in a couple of years, it will again be providing some beautiful fruit.

It has a ways to go, though:

Photo of small pomegranate shrub

Redefining a Day
March 28, 2011 7:46 AM | Posted in: ,

In anticipation of the watering restrictions scheduled to begin on April 1st in Midland and several surrounding communities, I reprogrammed my sprinkler system control box on Saturday, determined to get a jump on things rather than wait until the last minute. 

Our home address ends in an odd number, meaning that we'll be allowed to water our lawn on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I carefully updated the settings on the two programs (one for the lawn and another for the flowerbeds) to ensure that they would take place on the proper days. The lawn program would begin at 4:00 a.m. on those designated days, and the beds would be watered beginning at 7:00 a.m. I carefully selected those times to avoid both the heat of the day and potential conflicts with indoor water use.

I was feeling smug at my far-sighted preparation, until I read this (emphasis mine) and learned that I was setting myself up to be a lawbreaker. Here's the important part:
Watering also is being restricted to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. on each assigned day. An individual's designated day starts at 6 p.m. and carries into the following morning, meaning the yard of an odd numbered home could be irrigated between 6 p.m. on Wednesday and 10 a.m. on Thursday. Even numbered homes, in turn, could use outdoor water between 6 p.m. on Tuesday and 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Purvis said.
I'm trying to understand the logic behind defining a day as starting at 6:00 p.m. Seems like an unnecessary complication to me, in effect saying "you can water only on Wednesday, unless you want to do it on Thursday."

What am I missing here? What's wrong with an actual "midnight to midnight" definition of a day? Or is this simply another example of the apparently irresistible need of government to complicate things?

Cultural Exchange Students
March 27, 2011 7:03 PM | Posted in: ,

One side effect of learning to dance has been that our social adventures have expanded significantly. So it was that we found ourselves in a local bar last Friday evening, surrounded by curious patrons, and listening to instructions in Spanish.

OK, let's backtrack a bit. I had received an email from Richard Ortiz, a young local dance teacher who specializes in Latin steps, primarily salsa, bachata, cumbia, and merengue. Richard was publicizing a free bachata lesson followed by a social dance, and wondered if any of the members of the Ballroom Dance Society might be interested. He recognized this would be a bit of a stretch, both culturally and from a dance perspective. The latter consideration was because he teaches a club dancing style (less, um...reserved...than the typical ballroom moves); the former because the BDS membership is overwhelmingly middle-aged (to be generous and diplomatic) and Anglo.

Regardless, I appreciated Richard's outreach and passed the invitation along to a group of our fellow ballroom dancers who I thought might be open to a different kind of dance style. Thus it was that eight of us turned up at the bar at Casa Madrid on Friday night, along with two other Anglo couples (none of us under the age of 40) and about ten Latinos, none of whom were over the age of 25. We were an odd group, but what we shared was a desire to learn and enjoy a new dance step.

I won't bore you with the details. Bachata is a very easy dance to learn, but like most things, difficult to master. We didn't progress beyond the most basic steps but that was all we expected. Richard is an excellent instructor, patient and encouraging, and seamlessly provided instructions in both English and Spanish to make sure everyone understood what to do.

Interlude: Here's one version of the bachata. This is NOT our version.

This is more like our version.

We did face one significant challenge. The bar area of Casa Madrid is small, and Richard's plan to gradually expand the dance floor by removing tables as bar patrons vacated the premises was sound but failed to anticipate the fact that we apparently represented irresistibly attractive entertainment... because nobody left! I figured we were the equivalent of a bad car wreck on the interstate; onlookers couldn't help but tarry and wonder at the unfolding madness.

The lesson was enjoyable, and the close quarters provided a sense of camaraderie. The students encouraged one another even as Richard encouraged all of us.

It was obvious, however, that our dancing experience varied widely. In fact, after the lesson I learned that the two non-BDS Anglo couples had never danced before, in any venue. As I visited with them, one of the women leaned forward and in a conspiratorial stage whisper confessed, "we're Church of Christ!" I laughed and told her that was OK; we're Baptist, and sometimes it seems about half the people at our dances are also Baptists. We decided that the need to dance just built up over the years until it finally couldn't be contained.

We didn't stay for the dance, primarily because of the small dance floor, and, frankly, because the music wasn't really our cup of tea. But Debbie and I plan to learn more bachata steps (and in fact we tried out a few of them at our Saturday night dance). And while I don't necessarily agree that all new experiences are valuable and edifying simple because they're different, this one was positive and we both came away glad that we took a chance and did something out of our comfort zone.

Traffic Light Sync System on Holiday?
January 4, 2011 1:24 PM | Posted in:

Dear City of Midland,

I guess I missed part of the description of the $1.8 million of our money you paid for the new traffic light synchronization system, the part where that is a recurring annual fee rather than a one-time payment. I infer that's the case because you've apparently failed to renew the system for the new year, based on my experience earlier today of driving north on Garfield Street and hitting five out of six possible red lights. Big Spring Street seems similarly afflicted.

I'm pretty sure I speak for many Midland drivers when I suggest that you need to read the fine print on the next light synchronization system you acquire, and make sure you've actually bought it, instead of just renting it. You might have those guys in the Planning Division look it over for you; I suspect they're paying a lot more attention to details nowadays.

Your pal,


Price of Progress
December 7, 2010 12:39 PM | Posted in:

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted yesterday to approve the expansion of our neighborhood, something that has been on the drawing board for years. The reported expansion will add 95 lots to the development, an increase of about 50% over the current total.

This plat shows the future development of Woodland Park, but not all the lots will be included in the next phase. The specific areas of development are the lots west of Gunnison Drive and north of Keystone Court and Castle Rock Court, and those to the south of the current development that start just west of "A" Street and continuing over to the south extension of Breckenridge. An additional 50 lots will be developed in a future phase.

We've known all along that this expansion would eventually occur, but I still have some mixed feelings about it. On the plus side, it will mean that the north pond will be finished, and the big gap in the sidewalk around its perimeter finally filled in. It should also provide an improved barrier to blowing tumbleweeds during winter and spring windstorms, and the additional homeowners association dues will help ensure that the development is properly maintained (not that that has been a problem up to this point).

The downsides are those things that accompany all such developments: increased dust and noise from the construction, increased traffic through the neighborhood, and loss of pasture habitat for wildlife (a mixed curse/blessing, to be sure - bunnies are cute, rattlers not so much.).

We'll also continue to lose the neighborly familiarity that we shared when there were only a relative handful of us in the development. We do our best to maintain contact with each other via a neighborhood email list, directory, and website, but it's almost impossible to keep up with fifty neighbors, much less 200.

The most interesting aspect to this development is that a new street (Silverton) will be developed, running along the northern boundary of the neighborhood. This street will eventually extend west and either directly or indirectly connect to the northern extension of Garfield. This will greatly enhance the convenience of traveling from our neighborhood to other parts of Midland north of Loop 250. The safety aspect of having a second exit from the development is also important (and possibly even required by city code).
Remember this post where I expressed some disappointment in the outcome of the first meeting of Midland's Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (OGAC)? I'm pleased to report that my concerns have generated at least a bit of action.

In that post I mentioned that I had passed my concerns along to the OGAC's chairman, and he responded with a thorough and informative explanation of the committee's reasoning for its actions. He also passed along to the City's Oil & Gas Compliance Officer my observation about the neighborhood oil well that has not yet been landscaped according to the agreement under which the well had received approval.

Yesterday, I received an email from Ron Jenkins, the aforementioned Compliance Officer, addressing that situation. Here's an excerpt from that email.
I received a copy of your email and wanted to address your concern of the well located East of Woodland Park not being properly landscaped. I came on board with the City at the end of March. One of my goals has been identifying the wells their operators and the different ordinances associated with the individual wells that had been previously permitted. I had recently identified the MCC #8 well operated by Patriot Resources was not in compliance with the landscaping requirement. I had recently notified [a] representative of Patriot Resources and have been informed they are currently taking action to get the well location into compliance. I will continue to stay in communication with Patriot Resources and if the well location is not brought into compliance I will pursue further actions as permitted.
In my reply to Mr. Jenkins, I thanked him for his consideration of this matter. While well site landscaping is certainly not something we're losing sleep over, attention to details like this give some assurance that oil and gas developers are taking seriously their responsibilities to be "good neighbors." And it's reassuring to know that the City is also being proactive in its enforcement responsibilities.

Great Blue Heron in Distress
November 6, 2010 12:49 PM | Posted in: ,

We've had a Great Blue Heron hanging around the neighborhood for the past few months. It's quite a sight, especially when winging its way over the mesquite-dotted pasture that surrounds us; there's a vaguely prehistoric look to its flight. While it prefers to wade along the shoreline of the two ponds, it's not unusual to see it standing out in the pasture, head just clearing the thick grass that the early plentiful rains brought to life.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed something different about the bird, specifically his flight. It's very skittish and difficult to get close to, but it appeared that it had something dangling from one leg as it took to the air. I finally decided that its leg was dangling, and I confirmed this a few days ago when I was able to get close enough to take some photos with a zoom lens. Those are shown below; click on each to see a larger version. Please note that these are difficult to look at; the injury is gruesome.

I don't have a clue as to what caused the injury. It doesn't seem to affect the bird's flight, and it doesn't look uncomfortable standing on one leg, but I can't imagine that it can hunt for food with ease, because it can't walk through the shallow waters looking for fish, frogs, and insects that make up its primary diet. One would also think that the injury makes the heron more susceptible to predators like coyotes.

I've contacted Burr Williams, executive director of the Sibley Nature Center and local wildlife expert, and he in turn has contacted a local veterinarian to see what, if anything, might be done for the bird. Capturing the poor thing will be a challenge, and rehabilitation of such a drastic injury might not be feasible. I'll let you know how this plays out.

It's a tough world out there, sometimes.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron
The committee considered two proposals Thursday by Pioneer Natural Resources for exceptions to requirements for landscaping and fencing around drilling rigs being added within city limits. In a 5-0 vote, committee members approved requests to forgo landscaping requirements...

The first meeting of Midland's Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (OGAC) - the group created earlier this year to ensure that oil and real estate development in our city proceeds without undue burden on each other - yielded disappointing but not unexpected results. If yesterday's meeting is a predictor of things to come, we'll see a steady stream of oil companies appearing to get exemptions from various provisions of the city's drilling ordinance, and we'll see those exceptions routinely granted.

The quote above is from the Midland Reporter Telegram's meeting coverage, and the first sentence of that article spoke to the Committee's desire to "stay in front of development." But its approval of the landscape exception flies in the face of that expressed intent.

The landscaping requirement in the City's drilling ordinance is intended to provide a cosmetic shield around a well site. Some might argue that planting trees around a site where there's not yet any real estate development is unnecessary, but that tends to overlook the fact that it takes several years for trees to grow enough to provide the effective shielding anticipated by the ordinance. Waiting until real estate development reaches the well site before requiring the landscape just delays the effectiveness of that provision...and certainly isn't a good example for staying "in front of development."

The MRT also reported that the Committee's chair, Richard Dunham*, said that developers of future real estate in the area could approach the oil operator and "work out an agreement for what landscaping is needed." In my opinion, that's a naive approach, and fails to recognize two things. First, at that point the real estate developer has no leverage to negotiate with the oil operator. Second, there's some anecdotal evidence that oil operators are ignoring such agreements already, and that the city is not taking steps to enforce them.

Exhibit "A" is a well that was drilled by Patriot Resources on Midland Country Club's property just to the east of Woodland Park. In a City Council meeting in February, 2009, that well was approved with the express requirement of a dirt berm AND the planting of trees around the berm. Almost two years later, not a single tree has been planted, as far as I can tell without trespassing on the property. The photo at right was taken this morning from "A" Street; click it to see a larger version.

I hate to extrapolate too much from a single action item from the first meeting, but it's difficult to ignore the precedent that's been set. I've been concerned from the start that the OGAC would a rubber-stamp for oil development within the city limits, and yesterday's action did little to dispel that concern.

[Update (11/9/10)] I've been notified by the city's Oil & Gas Compliance Officer that the city is aware of the non-compliance of the above-mentioned well and is working with the operator to bring it into compliance. See this update for details.

 *Disclosure: Richard is both a friend and a client. I've already expressed these concerns to him via email. I appreciate the difficulty of the task set before the members of the OGAC, but I think it's important to let the committee know how "regular folks" feel about these issues.
I walked over to the north pond yesterday, hoping to get some photos of the big crane that's been hanging out the past few weeks. He flew away before I could do that, so I sat at the water's edge waiting for him to return. He never came back (thanks to you, Mr. Loudmouth Cell Phone Talking Walker), but I found other things to distract me. Such as the secret alien world of flying insects.

Click on the small images for bigger versions, and to go through them slideshow-style.

Voting Daze
October 29, 2010 3:37 PM | Posted in: ,

I stood in line about twenty minutes today, waiting to cast my vote on the last afternoon of early voting. There were about a hundred people in line when I got to the polling place, and that number stayed steady throughout the time I was there.

Entering the building where the voting was taking place, you couldn't see the entire line of voters, as it went around a blind corner and down a long hallway. People coming in could see that the line stretched out of the actual polling room, but until they rounded that corner, they didn't really know what they were facing.

I enjoyed watching their facial expressions as they came around that corner. Here's the thing: most of them broke into bemused smiles. I saw very few frowns; heard no angry muttering. I saw no one turn around and walk out. People were there to take care of business, and they weren't going to be dissuaded by a mere inconvenience. It made me proud of my fellow citizens.

I found it easy to be patient. Debbie and I once stood in line for three hours to vote, so twenty minutes was a relative walk in the park. I've probably written about this before, but one of the advantages of periodically deleting your archives is that you can recycle material and no one can prove it without going to some trouble. Anyway, the year was 1980, when Ronald Reagan was running against an incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan won in a landslide (one of the better things that's happened in our country during my lifetime, but we won't get into that right now), and more than 100 million Americans cast votes in that election.

We were living in Garland, Texas, in a new home - our first - and in a new precinct. Our precinct had experienced phenomenal growth since the preceding election - we later discovered that it was, in fact, the fastest growing precinct in the nation - and the voting office wasn't prepared for the turnout. We got to our polling place, a neighborhood elementary school, after work, around 6:00 p.m. as I recall, and the line went out the door, down the block, around the corner, and down that block. We inched our way toward the school, and the sun had set by the time we reached the entrance, where we figured it was just a short wait to vote. Were we ever wrong!

The line then snaked through almost every classroom and up and down every hallway. We saw every inch of that school; I'm surprised they didn't run the lines through the restrooms. The wait was so long that several babies were born, a couple of marriages occurred, and at least one divorce. OK, I exaggerate, but you get the picture. By the time we were finally able to cast our votes and leave, Reagan had already been projected as the winner. In fact, this was the first election where a network used exit polls to project a winner.

Even at that, standing in line for three hours is a minuscule price to pay to participate in the democratic process (even considering the fact that we didn't have cell phones or iPods to provide distractions). Countless people around the world will never experience the privilege of voting for a leader, much less knowing that their vote actually counted.

It's a thing not to be taken lightly, or for granted.

New Gallery Images
October 21, 2010 4:40 AM | Posted in: ,

I had no idea I'd fallen so far behind in posting new images to the Gallery.

For simple notes regarding each picture, visit the Gallery. To view the full-sized images on this page, click the thumbnails below.

Pumpjack Railroad Track Clouds and Sun Butterfly on Orange Flower Flower Sulfur Butterfly on Flower Spider and Web Spider and Web Praying Mantis on Crape Myrtle Dew Covered Mushroom Bee and Morning Glory Flower Fall Flowers Fall Flowers Dead Butterfly

Pomegranates, anyone?
September 25, 2010 10:48 AM | Posted in: ,

Or, should I say, everyone?

Our tree is loaded this year, as the photo below proves. And this is after we thinned out the crop a bit. From the street, the pomegranates look like those big red Christmas tree ornaments. I don't remember the fruit being quite this red and shiny last year.

I think we've got another few weeks before they're ready to harvest.

Photo of pomegranate tree heavy with fruit
You may have seen reports about an October 15th deadline for US nonprofit organizations to get their acts together or risk losing their tax-exempt status. According to this website, 320,000+ organizations are at risk of losing that status, primarily because they have failed to submit annual tax returns (also known as Form 990s).

The afore-linked website provides a means of geographically searching the database, and a look at Midland/Odessa organizations on the list yields some interesting results. According to the database, the following are in jeopardy (among about 150 total organizations listed for Midland and about 100 for Odessa):


  • Permian Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute
  • ARCO Permian Retiree Club (Debbie's and my former employer)
  • Christian Oilmans Association
  • Daughters of the Republic of Texas
  • Greater Midland Football League
  • Historical Society of Midland County
  • Natural Gas Producers Association
  • West Texas Epilepsy Association
  • Just Dance Country Club (we're members of this group)
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • Legal Assistants Association of the Permian Basin (a former client)
  • Midland County Young Lawyers Association (another former client; not sure this group is still active)
  • Midland Exxon Club
  • Noah's Ark Animal Rescue & Refuge of Midland
  • Permian Basin Auto Club (yet another former client)
  • Permian Basin Bridal Association
  • Toastmasters International
  • Permian Basin AIDS Coalition
  • Artwalk Midland, Inc.

  • American Postal Workers Union
  • National Association of Letter Carriers
  • Fraternal Order of the Eagles
  • Girl Scout Permian Basin Council Trust Fund
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • Odessa Petroleum Club
  • Permian Basin Dance Club (I'm not familiar with this one)
  • Permian Basin PC User Group (Windows, of course ;-)
  • Permian Basin Pool Players League
  • West Texas Gem and Mineral Society
  • Permian Basin Citizens for Decency
  • Permian Basin Motorcycle Association, Inc.
  • Toastmasters International
The implications are serious for those organizations and their supporters, should their tax-exempt status be revoked. Charitable deductions for individuals making donations could be disallowed, resulting in additional taxes (and, perhaps, penalties and interest). And the organizations could be required to pay delinquent taxes, which might be a significant burden for many of them, although I also suspect that most generate little to no profit anyway. At the very least, if tax-exempt status is disallowed, the organization will have to jump through some hoops to regain it. The website mentions IRS filing fees of "up to $850."

This situation reinforces the importance of having a competent treasurer, or at least a trusted financial/accounting adviser or provider.

"That's Oil, Folks!"
September 10, 2010 11:00 AM | Posted in: ,

I pretty much gave up on Texas Monthly years ago, when Molly Ivins exemplified the magazine's left-staggering slant on, well, just about everything. (Plus, they were rarely charitable toward my beloved Aggies, and way too benevolent toward our arch-rival, Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned.) The downside of that decision, however, is that I miss out on some pretty good reporting and writing, especially in non-political arenas. Thank goodness for the interwebs.

Case in point is the September, 2010 issue with a story about the West Texas oil drilling b**m that we're now experiencing. (I'm superstitious about using the b-word.) Writer Skip Hollandsworth does an excellent job of describing how an oil play (in this case, the so-called Wolfberry) goes from theory to actuality, providing not only the technical details but also the human side of the story.

And it's that human side that really makes the article interesting, especially to those of us who have lived in Midland for years. We have personal connections with almost everyone described in the article. They're our co-workers, neighbors, fellow church members, and occupy the adjoining booths at IHOP, and Hollandsworth nails their personalities without exception. (The only quibble I have is where he describes Dennis Phelps, a former co-worker at ARCO, as having "the charisma of an accountant." I, of course, am an accountant (by education, at least), and like to think that I'm more charismatic than a petroleum engineer. I'll let you decide how charismatic that really is.)

You can read the article online at the link I've provided above, but I also recommend reading the web-only interview with the author (Made in Midland). Hollandsworth contrasts the stereotype of the Texas oilman (e.g. J.R. Ewing) with those he met in Midland, and the local guys come out winners by a long shot.

That's not to say that the players in the Midland oil scene don't have their eccentricities and foibles. I could tell you about one prominently featured character who set his clothes on fire with my welder, or another whose pet goat could frequently be found standing atop our car, but I'll save those stories for another day.

The real point is that you'd be hard-pressed to meet better people than those working the West Texas oil patch today. And, for Midland, that's pretty much everyone.
As you may recall, I was successful in convincing the local barn swallows that our porches were sub-optimal for nest placement. That battle was messy and frustrating for both sides, as battles always are, and neither side emerged feeling entirely satisfied with the outcome.

During the aftermath, it became obvious that barn swallows are masters of turning lemons into lemonade. They also subscribe to the strategy of victory through overwhelming numbers. And so it is I find that even though I've successfully stopped them from building nests, they've created more holes in the dike than I have fingers.

Our next-door neighbor recently counted more than forty of the little birds perched along the eave of her back porch. That should give you an idea of the magnitude of the issue. A number of that gang has decided that our back and front porches provide excellent overnight accommodations, even if they can't erect apartment complexes for permanent residence. As it turns out, they've decided that the steps that I took to dissuade the nest-building (stuffing rolled-up shop towels behind ceiling-mounted speakers, for example) provide perfectly cozy places to spend the night.

Now, let me be clear: barn swallows are very cute birds, and entertaining to watch. They do a great job of mosquito control, and they don't bother other birds (unlike the house finches who bully the hummingbirds trying to service our feeders). But the concept of - how can I put this delicately? - "not fouling one's own nest" is completely foreign to them. In other words, we can always tell how many overnighted by the mess they left on the concrete below.

I'm now taking suggestions for further countermeasures. Regarding the speakers, it's obvious that I'll need to build a solid enclosure of some type around them. The porch eaves pose a bigger challenge. But if my idea for a tiny little electric fence works out, you'll be the first to know.

Dos Burros
August 17, 2010 2:31 PM | Posted in: ,

There are two burros pastured about a quarter mile from our house. Every so often, something will set them off - a rattlesnake, a coyote, perhaps even each other - and we'll hear their braying all around the neighborhood.

I took a photo of them a year or two back, when we were in the middle of an extreme drought. I just stumbled across the image and liked the way the light of the setting sun added some contrast to the picture. I applied a little Photoshopping (OK, more than a little), and voila!

Stylized photo of two burros, one white and one black
In this part of the country, "isolated thunderstorms" is weather-speak for "you'll get rain approximately at the same time the devil goes ice skating in Hades." Except for tonight, when our neighborhood found itself squarely in the cross hairs of one of those isolated incidents. We got a nice rain, which was greatly appreciated since it's been a month since we've had any.

Unfortunately, that rain came with a price - very high, gusty winds. Our fully loaded pomegranate tree is loose in the ground, and would have been completely uprooted had I not staked it down a couple of months ago. But our neighbors to the immediate east suffered a significant loss, namely:

Photo - Red oak tree broken by the wind

One of the trunks of their 30' red oak tree was snapped by the gusty winds. You have to live in a tree-challenged region like ours to understand what a tragedy this is. Fortunately, the tree was still young enough that its demise didn't cause any collateral damage, other than to our morale.

Baby Horny Toad
August 7, 2010 9:05 PM | Posted in: ,

As I've noted before, horny toads seem to be making a comeback, at least in our neck of the woods. Here's further evidence - a baby lizard, one of the smallest I've ever seen. I didn't actually see this one, though, as Debbie came across it while walking this evening with a friend. That's Debbie's finger in the photo. This little guy is barely bigger than the ants it lives on!

Photo - Tiny horned lizard

National Night Out
August 3, 2010 10:01 PM | Posted in: ,

We joined with a number of our neighbors for National Night Out, one of more than eighty that took place this evening around Midland. It was an enjoyable time to visit with people that we don't see that often, except perhaps as our cars pass in the streets. But it was also a time to meet some of the excellent first responders who work tirelessly to keep us safe.

Photo - Sid, the Police DogTake Sid, for example. He's a seven year old Belgian Malinois, and a four year veteran of the Midland Police Department's K-9 Unit. We got to meet Sid (albeit not up close and personal, as he was on duty and not in a socializing mode) and his partner, Officer Simpson, along with another K-9 cop, Officer Garcia. Sid was born in Belgium and received his early training there. The local officers have to learn many commands in Dutch because that's how the dogs are acclimated.

The department has shifted to this breed, away from German Shepherds, because of the latter breed's tendency to injury, especially hip problems. The Malinois are slightly smaller and lighter, and thus less injury prone (only about 1% suffer from hip dysplasia). They still have a powerful bite (900-1000 psi), and are highly intelligent.

Debbie and I were interested to hear that all veterinary services for the police dogs are provided by Dr. Bobby Boyd (a fellow Fort Stocktonite) at the Tall City Veterinary Hospital. I asked how the dogs responded to office visits. The answer is, "not too well." For everything but routine shots, the dogs are muzzled and often sedated in order to protect the clinic personnel. (The handlers hold the dogs for their shots.)

By the way, a fund has been established to help pay vet bills for retired police dogs. If you're interested in making a donation, you may do so at Dr. Boyd's clinic, which is located at 4606 W. Wall St.

We also visited with Bryce Pruitt, a firefighter who drives Midland's only ladder truck. The truck made an appearance at our gathering, much to the delight of all the kids (of all ages - there's nothing like a big honkin' fire truck to make a boy out of a man!). That ladder truck makes all of the fire calls in Midland (and, in fact, was on the job at that terrible blaze that destroyed the home under construction at GreenTree last night), so its crews stay plenty busy. The ladder truck carries no water or hoses, but has a fitting and pump that allows water to flow from external sources up the ladder to where it can be directed to where it's needed. Oh, and the truck gets about 3 miles per gallon around town, so that should make you feel a little better about your SUV.

Later in the evening, our city councilman, Jeff Sparks and his wife Val made an appearance. We were his fifth or sixth stop for the evening.

This was an enjoyable time for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the chance to thank some of the police officers and firefighters who are on the front lines. It was a privilege to meet them.

And it's a source of pride that Midland, Texas, ranks among the most active cities in the US in participating in National Night Out. If your neighborhood isn't participating, perhaps it's simply waiting for someone to step forward. In our case, that someone was Berry Simpson. Perhaps next year, in your neighborhood, it could be you.

Update: Berry has posted photos from this event to his Flickr account. Yours truly appears multiple times, but you shouldn't let that stop you from checking out the pictures.
Debbie and I went for a walk around the ponds this morning after breakfast, and as usual, encountered some interesting animals.

The geese are still hanging around. They were inexplicably strolling through the vacant lot across from our house (I saw one of them nip at some of the weed seed heads), and when they saw us walking down the street, headed our way and paralleled our course. Here's a short snippet of video I took with my phone.

They continued to walk in roughly the same direction we were headed, but they crossed the street, back and forth, inspecting who-knows-what. Some of our neighbors had congregated on a front porch and they watching the geese with great interest. One of them had a chihuahua on a long leash, and he was quite attentive, straining at the leash to get a closer look...until, that is, the geese turned toward him, at which point he quickly retreated to his master, content to switch to remote monitoring mode. We had a laugh at his expense, but I observed that it would be like us confronting a T-Rex, given the size difference between the small dog and the large goose. I didn't blame him a bit.

It took us about ten minutes to round the south pond - pausing to speak to a cottontail rabbit who thought he was hiding in plain sight just off the sidewalk - and by the time we got to the opposite side, the geese had made their way along the pond and we watched them waddle down the bank and back into the water. I suppose they were getting in their morning constitutional, as were we.

Heading toward the north pond, we spotted something in the middle of the sidewalk about 20 feet ahead. It was a horny toad. I wondered why we always seemed to see them on the walkway, and we soon got our answer. He was resting in the path where an abundance of ants were busily crossing the concrete, and it was a veritable movable feast from his perspective. We watched as he pounced on several ants who had the bad judgment to wander into his sphere of ingestion. He didn't seem to be willing to chase any of them down, content to let them come to him, but we did see him miss one ant, eat another that was close behind, then whirl around and consume the one that almost got away. Unfortunately, the scene took place too far away to capture on my phone's camera.

Rounding the north pond and heading home, we roused the usual jackrabbit contingent. They like the tall grass brought out by the summer's rainfall, but you can usually spot the black tips of their ears sticking up over the ground cover. Those guys are built for speed, and they're as shy as the geese are bold.

Take a Gander at This
July 22, 2010 9:29 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie and I went for an early morning run around the neighborhood last Sunday and were surprised to see these guys at the pond area.

Photo - Four Western Greylag geese

According to my extensive (one or two clicks) research, these are Western Greylag (or Graylag, if you prefer the Americanized spelling convention) geese, with the pleasingly repetitive scientific name anser anser anser (just trying typing that without inputting "answer" instead). They apparently have a wide range worldwide, but I have no idea whether these are domesticated escapees, or slightly confused travelers, seeking temporary haven while trying to recalibrate their GPS.

I expected that they would be gone very quickly, but they were still hanging around yesterday evening. In fact, they had picked up an accomplice in the form of an apparently species-confused young duck. While the geese swam slowly across the pond in single file, the duck paralleled their course a few feet away, serving as a wing man. The other ducks  were huddled together across the pond. We surmised that they'd either ostracized the youngster for bad behavior (you know how they can be), or had sent him to spy on the intruders. Or, perhaps, he simply had grand aspirations that he felt couldn't be fulfilled by normal duckhood.

On a related note, that run was chock-full of good bird sighting, as a sandhill crane also graced the northern pond. Unfortunately, he didn't stay around for long, and I wasn't able to get a photo.
Last month I wrote about a few things that I thought would improve life in Midland, Texas, including the elimination of the weekly "around Texas" section of the Midland Reporter Telegram. I'm under no illusion that my comment had anything to do with it, but I was pleased to open this morning's paper and find a new section entitled Names and Faces: A roundup of community, society, and philanthropy in Midland.

In my admittedly uninformed opinion, this is the kind of content that a local newspaper needs to focus on in order to draw readers. We have lots of other options to get state, national, and international news, but almost no options for local coverage. Whether this exact format or specific content is sustainable remains to be seen, but I find it more interesting and informative than a section of columns and reports pulled from other newspapers* concerning topics that often have no direct local appeal.

I'm sure that filling a section of local coverage each week represents a significant commitment of resources, and I appreciate the MRT's willingness to commit those resources. I hope the experiment is successful.

*Exception: This may seem illogical, but I do see value in the MRT's reprinting of selected reports from other West Texas newspapers.

July 18, 2010 2:23 PM | Posted in: ,

Debbie spotted this dragonfly as we were walking around the pond earlier today. I didn't have my camera with me, but we returned about 30 minutes later and the insect was still hanging around (actually, there were two of them, chasing one another with unknown motivations).

According to this website, this is a Scarlet Darter Dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea). Whatever the name, it's a gorgeous specimen.

Photo - Scarlet Darter Dragonfly
Photo - Scarlet Darter Dragonfly

July 6, 2010 5:46 PM | Posted in: ,

So, how was your sunset yesterday?

Ours was pretty good.

Photo of a West Texas sunset
Photo of a West Texas sunset
It borders on heresy to complain about rain in West Texas, but that's exactly what I intend to do. Well, it's not so much the rain itself that gripes me, but rather the timing.

Yesterday, much of Midland experienced record-setting rainfall. The airport recorded just over 2" and street flooding was a serious problem. I even succumbed to it, managing to drown the Durango in an ill-advised attempt to cross the River Wadley in front of HEB. Fortunately, I was able to coast onto a side street and let the engine dry out enough to limp home, the automotive equivalent of a wet possum. (I did appreciate the two young Mormon missionaries who stopped and offered to help, despite their obvious lack of mechanical savvy.) But, those conditions did not extend to Casa de Fire Ant, where our backyard rain gauge - a mere two miles from the aforementioned flooded streets - recorded a paltry .1" for the entire day.

OK, fine. I need to mow the yard today anyway, and it would be too wet if we had gotten that much rain yesterday. I always look for the silver lining in the non-existent thundercloud. So what do we wake up to this morning? Rain, falling steadily, and in sufficient quantity to thwart my lawn care plans. And, of course, the forecast is for more precip over the next few days (depending on what course Hurricane Alex takes), meaning that by the time I can next fire up the lawnmower, what I'll really need is a hay baler.

But, so you won't think I'm a complete wet blanket, a total stick-in-the-mud, an overbearing glass-is-half-empty guy, an insufferable generator of tired water-related cliches, I do appreciate the opportunity to turn off the sprinkler system for a few days, along with the lifting of the county's burn ban. Not that I have anything I wish to incinerate, but it's nice to know that I once again have that option.
Several people have asked whether we've spotted any horned lizards this year, and we're happy to reply with an emphatic "yes." We've sighted them on almost every walk or bike ride, and seen them from the car driving through the neighborhood. I wouldn't say that we're overrun with the little rascals, but they definitely seem more numerous than in seasons past.

Yesterday, I glanced out my office window and spotted this one on our flowerbed's brick border. By the time I grabbed the camera and got outside, he was lounging against a stand of Mexican feathergrass, apparently striking an intentional pose.

Photo - Horned lizard or horny toad

I understand that the lizard's dwindling numbers is attributed to increased use of pesticides, encroachment on habitat by human development, and the severe drought conditions that have thankfully eased this year. It's good to see them back.

Things I Hate About Midland
June 9, 2010 8:35 AM | Posted in:

OK, I admit that's an intentionally provocative title. I can't think of anything* I actually hate about living here, but "Things I Find Occasionally Annoying About Midland" doesn't seem to be the kind of attention-grabbing headline that will make it past the Gazette's editorial board.

Anyway, here are some things I wish were, um, different:

  • The local newspaper has instituted a new weekly section in which it republishes opinion pieces (formerly known as "editorials") from other Texas papers. Now, I realize that in a city our size, it's difficult to fill a daily publication with local news but I couldn't care less about what Austin thinks about Formula One racing (or much else, to be honest). If I want to read editorials in the Houston Chronicle or the Dallas Morning News, I'll go to their websites (and I never do, which should tell you something). Sure, I could just skip that section each week but I'd prefer that it be filled with something - anything - local. [I do like the MRT's new website, though. Nice use of jQuery for the headline slider.]

  • You may recall that one of my pet peeves is the lousy traffic signal synchronization throughout our fair city. I figured that when the city spent almost $2 million a while back to purchase and install a new system, I'd have one less thing to gripe about, and I did...for a while. There were times when one could drive the speed limit and make three or four consecutive green lights. It was commuter heaven. But, in what is apparently an inevitable process where government is concerned, the system seems to be steadily deteriorating, to the point where in some cases, the synchronization is actually worse than before the system was installed.

    For example, driving north on Garfield from Golf Course, it is no longer possible to hit a green light at Neely (if one sticks to the speed limit).  And no one can drive south or north on Big Spring without having to stop at Louisiana. Is there something sacred about that intersection that dictates a moment of automotive silence?

    I guess we should be thankful that the city bought a system and made it work for a while. But it would be really cool if they figured out how to keep it working.

  • We still don't have a Pappadeaux Seafood Restaurant. Somebody do something about that, would you?
OK, that's it. I wish I could be more critical; I really do. But property taxes aren't due for months.

*Well, there is that roofing company TV ad featuring the fake talking dog that has been running nonstop for two years. It's a savvy marketing move, using a phrase like "In the wake of the recent storms...", understanding that sooner or later, it will again be somewhat relevant. But it still makes me want to shoot the TV.

Pomegranate Life Stages
June 1, 2010 8:37 AM | Posted in: ,

Our pomegranate tree is simply loaded, and we'll have to do some serious thinning of the fruit in a month or so to protect the overall integrity of the tree. I have no idea whether pomegranates in the wild are this prolific, and if so, how they get through a season without many broken branches. I've had to re-stake the top-heavy tree to keep it upright as the recent heavy rains and wind threatened to topple it.

Anyway, if you don't have any pomegranate trees in your area, you might be interested in seeing the stages of development, all in one photo.

Photo of pomegranate blooms and immature fruit

Starting in the lower right corner and going counterclockwise, you'll see the flowers that are the first signs that the fruit bearing season is beginning. Those flowers give way to an intermediate stage (top right), which in turn become something more recognizable as an actual pomegranate (middle left).

This one tree has literally dozens of each of these "life stages."

May 29, 2010 3:37 PM | Posted in: ,

There's something funky going on inside my camera, because this photo of an oriole in my neighbor's tree is definitely not accurate, color-wise. But it's still a cool bird, and one that's not commonly found around here.

I just checked the dove's nest in the palm tree and found it bereft of dove and eggs. I don't know where the bird went, but the eggs are lying at the base of the tree, victims of poor architectural planning and some stiff West Texas wind.

We can but hope that the local dove gene pool is thereby strengthened, but I somehow doubt it.

Flaming Sky
May 25, 2010 6:26 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo of sunset and clouds

New Neighbors
May 24, 2010 6:32 PM | Posted in: ,

I recently wrote about the mockingbird nest in one of the trees in our front yard. The fact is, while we don't have that many trees, and they're not that big, those we do have are apparently quite attractive to the local birds. Besides the aforementioned mockingbirds, we have a western king bird nest in our live oak, and then there's this:

Dove nest in palm tree

Can you make out that mass of junk in the middle of the palm tree (and we're using the word "tree" quite loosely here; it's more of a palm bush or palm shrub). It's a dove's nest, perched precariously a full three feet above the ground.

We discovered it last weekend, and noticed it only when the nesting dove exploded from the tree as we walked by. Closer inspection revealed this (it's been a while...forever, in fact, since I've been able to photograph down into a nest without a ladder):

Dove nest with eggs in palm tree

The mother is quite skittish, and with good reason. She didn't exactly pick an obscure spot for the young 'uns. But I was able to point a telephoto lens around the corner and catch her hard at work:

Dove nesting in palm tree

As soon as she spotted me, she burst from the nest and took up residence on the neighbor's roof, keeping an eye on me:

Dove on roof

Dove as a species don't strike me as very intelligent; they're the avian counterpart to sheep. However, this choice of location for a nest isn't as dumb as it might seem. Sure, it's close to the ground, but it's also protected by a seven foot wall and locked gates. There's danger from weather, but that's a given regardless of location, but, otherwise, unless another marauding bird makes an appearance, this may be a good place to raise a family. We'd like to think of our neighborhood in those terms, anyway.

It's going to get ugly
May 19, 2010 7:53 AM | Posted in: ,

I predict war will break out within the next few months, and I'll probably be on the losing end. A mockingbird is building a nest in the live oak tree planted in our front yard.

Last Sunday I noticed the bird flying into the tree on a couple of occasions, seeming to pay no mind to us as we sat on the front porch (well, I sat while Debbie pruned shrubs, a pleasing tableau to my mind), but the implications didn't sink in. Yesterday, though, I noticed it was continuing to pay close attention to the tree, often with twigs or grass in its mouth, so I conducted a closer inspection. The nest is almost complete, and it's less than ten feet from ground level.

This does not bode well for lawn mowing this summer. Nesting mockingbirds are fiercely protective of their eggs and young, and their bravado borders on foolishness. They also have sharp beaks and claws and they know how to use them.

It's highly entertaining to watch mockingbirds torment cats that wander into their territory; it's less so when you're on the receiving end of their attention. I once donned a motorcycle helmet to finish mowing our lawn (which might explain why our neighbors generally crossed the street when walking past our house) when we lived in Garland*, but only after a kamikaze attack left the top of my bare head oozing blood. I had a similar experience at our previous house, although no injuries were sustained other than to my pride as I ran for cover in my own yard.

So, I'm pessimistic about the prospects for peaceful co-existence this summer. I no longer own a motorcycle, but I may put my bike helmet by the front door...just in case.

*Yep, that's the same "Garland, Texas" referred to in unflattering terms in the opening scenes of Zombieland. I have no idea why the filmmakers decided to pick on Garland (especially since the movie was shot primarily in Georgia), but I can assure you that the city does not look like it was destroyed by zombies. For the most part.

Deluge Aftermath
May 15, 2010 3:26 PM | Posted in: ,

If you live in West Texas then yesterday's torrential rain is old news, but a 3"+ rainfall is still rare enough in these parts to make it worth writing about...or at least worth posting a few photos.

Our neighborhood didn't sustain any damage from the rain or the hail, other than leaves knocked off various shrubs and trees. The drainage system out here performed admirably, unlike in other parts of Midland. And Debbie and I actually missed most of the excitement as we were enjoying Iron Man 2 while the heaviest part of the storm moved across the city (although it was sometimes hard to distinguish movie sound effects from Mother Nature's).

Here's a photo of our neighborhood's south pond. The water level is about 4' higher than normal. If you can't quite make out the sign, it says "No Swimming or Wading," and it's normally on dry ground. That junk floating in the water is mulch that washed down from the bank.

Photo of partially submerged dock

Here's another view showing the sidewalk that normally leads to the dock.

Photo of partially submerged dock

Despite the heavy rains, we still managed to have a spectacular sunset.

Photo of sunset and thunderhead

The thunderhead in the distance was moving away from us. We were more than happy to share it with someone else.

Ice Sage
May 13, 2010 6:40 AM | Posted in: ,

We were driving through a neighborhood yesterday and Debbie observed a lone Desert Willow that - as she put it - was "blooming up a storm." Most of them aren't blooming yet, and so my response about the over-achiever was that it would be sorry when it froze. OK, so it wasn't that funny...but it was prescient, sort of.

Last night around 11:00 a line of thunderstorms rolled across our area, dumping some brief heavy rain, along with small but fierce hail. When Debbie retrieved the newspaper at 5:30 this morning (we also have an over-achieving paper carrier), she found this scene in our flowerbed:

Layer of hailstones surrounding flowers

Despite morning temperatures in the mid-50s, these little flowers were still packed in ice from the hailstorm. Besides being beaten, there's a good chance they won't survive the chill, although our hope is that the ground temperature didn't drop to a killing degree.

[Fortunately, this appears to be the worst damage we sustained from the hail, and this occurred only because the icy balls rolled off the roof and accumulated in one unfortunate spot.]

"It will be a cold day in July before..." is a common aphorism around here, but perhaps we should start referring to ice storms in May.

More Nature Photography
May 10, 2010 4:18 PM | Posted in: ,

I was driving north on "A" Street this morning, returning to the neighborhood after a quick run to the bank, and caught a flash of movement across the road. I pulled over, grabbed the little Sony point-and-shoot that I keep in the car for just such occasions, and got this:

Photo of a wild turkey
Photo of a wild turkey

Yeah, I know; it looks like the Loch Ness monster but it's actually a wild turkey. I've never seen one around Midland. I apologize for the lack of detail in the photos but this bird was quite skittish and my camera was maxed out. Anyone else ever seen a wild turkey this close to the Midland city limits?

Another cool thing. When I got out of the car to take the second photo, I glanced down and spotted this wildflower:

Photo of a wildflower

It has a vague resemblance to a bluebonnet, but the color is amazing. I was as impressed with the flower as I was with the bird.

West Texas Wildflowers
May 6, 2010 8:22 AM | Posted in: ,

Our part of the state is better known for tumbleweeds than wildflowers, but when we get a little spring rainfall, things change dramatically.

I took a 30-minute stroll yesterday morning, and within a three-block area found sixteen different varieties of wildflowers. OK, most of them are technically flowering weeds, but, you know, potato/potahto.

Some of these may at first glance appear to be duplicates, but if you look closely, you'll see that they're different varieties. And please don't ask me to identify them; the only ones I can name are the bluebonnet, the chocolate daisy, and the purple nightshade.

Click on the photo for a bigger version.

Update: I spent some time browsing various wildflower-related websites and I *think* I've identified most of the flowers. Feel free to correct me or to provide identities for the three species I couldn't match to anything in my "research."

Top row (l-r): Blue curls, Huisache daisy, Purple nightshade, Coreopsis
2nd row (l-r): Limestone gaura, Chocolate daisy, Unknown, Rabbit tobacco
3rd row (l-r): Blackfoot daisy, Gray vervain, Paper daisy, Unknown
4th row (l-r): Bluebonnet, Firewheel, Unknown, Dahlberg daisy

Photo collage - West Texas wildflowers

April 23, 2010 4:49 PM | Posted in: ,

I started to write about our trip to Houston this week, but decided I'd rather post this instead.

Photo (sort of) of a mouse skull

Debbie found the skull of a mouse in our back yard at lunch today. We (OK, me) were fascinated by the juxtaposition of delicacy and implied evil.

If the preceding image is too, um, intense for you, perhaps one that has flowers in it will be more to your liking. (The mouse was non-committal.)

Another mouse skull photo

Spring Blooms
April 18, 2010 6:59 PM | Posted in: ,

I look at the flowers on this lantana and think, "God, how do You do that?"

Photo of yellow and pink lantana blooms

Dusk Storm
April 16, 2010 2:55 PM | Posted in: ,

We were at the end of a post-dinner walk around the neighborhood and the sunset was striking. I had no camera other than my iPhone, but that seemed to work out pretty well.

Photo - Texas Mountain laurel (stylized)

Here's a bigger version of the preceding image.

Texas Mountain Laurel
April 14, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

The Texas Mountain Laurels are beautiful this spring. One of ours has been loaded with clusters of blooms that looked more like grapes than blossoms. They also smell like grape juice. I wish the flowers lasted longer.

Photo - Texas Mountain laurel (stylized)

Here's a bigger version of the preceding image.

Baby Pome
April 13, 2010 6:36 AM | Posted in: ,

Ever wonder what a pomegranate looks like in its very beginning? Well, wonder no more:

Photo - tiny pomegranate

To get a sense of the scale, those are my fingers holding the branch.

Mockingbird Recording
April 5, 2010 6:39 PM | Posted in: ,

As I sat on the front porch yesterday afternoon reading a book and enjoying the nice weather, I was aurally accosted by a loud-mouthed intruder who was so enamored with his own voice, I suspect he'd make an excellent Senator.

Just kidding. Mockingbirds are too smart to run for public office; they're more like lobbyists. Anyway, if you don't have any of these birds in your neighborhood, you may enjoy hearing one show off.

Technical details: I recorded this on my iPhone, imported the recording into iTunes, then opened it in Adobe Soundbooth CS4 where I trimmed the beginning and ending, increased the loudness, and used the noise filter to remove the, um, noise caused by the breezy ambient conditions. The resulting recording is a pretty good showcase for the bird's vocal versatility.

Unique Local Haiti Relief Effort
February 25, 2010 2:17 PM | Posted in: ,

Vicki Jay is the director of Midland's Rays of Hope, a grief counseling resource for children (and an outreach of HospiceMidland). She leaves next week for Haiti for ten days as a part of a grief/trauma team working with children in a Haitian village that was devastated by the earthquake. That relief project could use your help. Here's the appeal; you know what to do:
On March 4 - 14, Vicki Jay will be traveling to Mizak, Haiti representing Rays of Hope on a "Volunteers in Mission - Global Ministries" relief effort.The grief/trauma team will be working directly with the children in the village as well as their families. Vicki will be serving as Camp Director for the children's camp. The camp will be staffed with other members of the team as well as Haitian leaders. The team will partner with a trauma team from China and Japan called Operation Safe and with HAPI (Haitian Artisans for Peace International), a mission group established in Haiti. In addition to the grief/trauma team, there will also be a medical team headed by Dr. Peter Reed, son of Rev. Jan Reed.

Needs: The cost of food has dramatically risen since the earthquake. In the past, $1.50 would cover the cost of supplying a hot meal for the children in the village. Due to limited supplies, that cost has risen to $4.50 per meal. The goal of the HAPI (Haitian Artisans for Peace International) is to meet the basic needs of the children, knowing that having those needs met will contribute to a more peaceful lifestyle and sense of community. Checks can be made to HospiceMidland to help supplement the expense of providing hot meals.

Rays of Hope has found t-shirts that have feelings faces with French expressive words that would complement the work we hope to do in Haiti. Fifteen dollars would cover the cost of getting a t-shirt to the kids and families in Haiti.

Rays of Hope knows that children in our community might want to give to the Children in Haiti. We would like to collect the following inexpensive items to be distributed to the children in Mizak. Items can be brought to Rays of Hope by Tuesday, March 2nd.

  • Small containers of playdough           
  • Bright colored pipe cleaners
  • Permanent markers
  • Bright colored index cards
  • Beach balls
  • Individual packets of Kleenex
  • Inflatable Balloons (not water balloons)
  • Kazoos
  • Small thick combs
  • Frisbees
Please remember the families in the Mizak village and the mission team in prayer. Please pray for the team to be effective in their relief work and for a safe return.

Rays of Hope is honored and humbled by the opportunity to participate in this relief effort. We appreciate your support of the expansion of our mission. Thank you.
Checks should be payable to HospiceMidland (designate Haiti Relief) and mailed to:

c/o Vicki Jay
911 West Texas
Midland, Texas 79701

100% of the donations will go to the Haiti Relief.
Midland's official snowfall yesterday totaled 4.5" which, as some commenters implied in the previous post, is not worth sniffing at compared to what they've had in their northern climes. But put it in perspective: that total was the 9th heaviest snowfall in our area's recorded weather history. Midland has never had more than 10 inches of snow (officially) in one day (the record of 9.8 inches occurred in 1998). So, for us and our anemic snow-handling infrastructure, yesterday provided an event of historic proportions.

Of course, by 3:00 pm the sun was shining, the streets were [mostly] clear, and those who'd gotten "snow days," while enjoying their good fortune, were doing so with just a tinge of sheepishness. (I initially used the term "guilt" and then decided that it probably wasn't applicable at all.)

I chauffeured my wife to her office around 8:30 a.m. so she could grab her laptop and work from home. The streets were a bit treacherous, but traffic was light and well-behaved. Even though her office was officially closed, several employees showed up, either because they weren't intimidated by the weather or - more likely - hadn't gotten word of the closing. She was able to be productive the rest of the day from the comfort of our living room.

The best thing about snowfall around here, besides the fact that it's rare and doesn't stay around too long, is that it makes for some pretty scenery.

Photo of snow and pond

"Snowpocalypse," West Texas Style
February 23, 2010 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

We Texans pride ourselves on our fierce, independent toughness, able to overcome any obstacle with aplomb.

Any obstacle, that is, except for 3" of snow.

I'm sure every West Texas-originated blog will carry reports of the snowfall that now blankets our area. That snowfall has practically shut down all public activities, including all local schools (college classes are starting late) and many government offices. Loop 250, one of our major thoroughfares, is now closed. Interestingly, all flights from Midland International Airport are still listed as on time.

Also, for the first time ever, my wife's office is closed due to the weather, something that I'm sure will be greeted by amusement at their Denver headquarters.

I'm also sure that our friends from the northeastern part of the US will also be amused at our reaction to what for them is hardly worth mentioning.

Midland County Republican Womens' Luncheon
February 10, 2010 7:18 PM | Posted in: ,

Warning: If you don't follow Texas politics, then you probably should skip this post. Unless, of course, you want to read about my public humiliation on network TV.

I'm not an avid follower of politics, but something about this year's Texas gubernatorial campaign has energized me. While it could be that I get to type "gubernatorial" so many times - it simply rolls off the keyboard - the fact is that the surfacing of a viable candidate who's not a charter member of the Entrenched Incumbents has interjected a new degree of excitement into the campaign. I'm referring, of course, to Debra Medina, who started the state's silly season as a footnoted afterthought but who has now pulled into a statistical dead heat on the Republican ticket with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and continues to build momentum.

I was impressed with Medina's performance during one of the early televised debates, where both Governor Rick Perry and Hutchinson viewed her primarily as a foil with which to attack each other. That tactic backfired on both of them, as she not only helped each of them make their points that the other was a doofus (that's a sophisticated term I picked up in poli sci class at A&M), but came out looking like she had more substance than either of them.

I was impressed enough to make a small financial contribution to her campaign, something that I last did when Reagan was in office. That was early enough in the campaign that my $25 contribution stimulated a phone call from a reporter with the Austin newspaper wanting to interview me, I suspect much as one might want to better understand the motivation of someone who's taken up flagpole sitting while watching an oncoming tornado. I declined to return his phone call (I never have entirely trusted those legacy media types).

Medina was one of the speakers at today's Midland Country Republican Womens' luncheon, along with Senator Hutchinson and a representative from Perry's campaign. (Perry was in Odessa on Monday, so I guess he figured two days in the Permian Basin was one day too many.) Also on the speaker list was Representative Mike Conaway, running for re-election against businessmen Chris Younts and Al Cowan. Both Cowan and Younts did good jobs of explaining why they were running, but this is Conaway's 'hood and they got a polite but cool reception. One will not make up any ground trying to attack Conaway's conservatism, despite his vote for the first TARP bailout. They tried, but Conaway went on last and calmly dismantled their accusations as he explained that vote. I certainly came away mollified.

Mike did make a point of informing the audience that while he had a Facebook page, he didn't Twitter because he thought it sounded dumb to "twit" [sic]. That got a half-hearted laugh, but not from me. Both of his opponents have Twitter feeds for their campaigns, and Medina is also doing a great job of using hers (@debmedina) to push her agenda. (I was going to tweet the proceedings but the cellphone police shut us down. Afterward, I decided that they really were targeting actual cellphones and that I could have "twitted" my way through the luncheon.)

Then, the real show began, the reason for the packed ballroom. Debra Medina spoke first, and I have to tell you that if she doesn't win the nomination, it won't be because she's failed to explain what her priorities are, and why she thinks they're important to the state of Texas. She made a great case for why the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution allows for "nullification and interposition" of federal legislation which encroaches upon the sovereign rights of states.

Medina also unleashed a scathing commentary on Rick Perry's job creation claims, pointing out that while it was true that Texas has had a net increase in jobs over the past year or two, they've all been government jobs; the private sector has actually had a small decrease.

The Perry rep and Kay Hutchinson spoke next. I don't recall either of them directly addressing Medina's comments or issues, although they both seemed to go out of their way to assure us that they, too, were big proponents of personal property ownership. Perry's representative trotted out the same statistics that Medina spoke to regarding job creation, but, of course, declining to make the distinction between public and private sector employment.

Hutchinson spent most of her allotted time criticizing Perry. It was almost as if she doesn't really believe she's in a dogfight with Medina, but that works to Medina's benefit. To her credit, KBH did acknowledge Perry's role in getting tort reform passed in Texas, but hammered him on private property rights (the Trans-Texas Corridor will be Perry's Issue That Haunts Forever, and rightly so).

Medina is what I had hoped Sarah Palin would be, but, sadly, isn't. She's done her homework; she's got her agenda; she wants to get it done and then get out of the way. I came away more impressed than ever. Heck, I even grabbed a yard sign, and let the local ABC-TV affiliate interview me on-camera, and this time it didn't seem to be a novelty interview. The Medina signs were going fast.

Yeah, I was feeling pretty cocky about being a political pundit and all, until I got home and saw the big hunk of lettuce plastered over one of my front teeth. Surely, they would have pointed that out before the interview, if it was noticeable. Surely. Well. No, they probably decided I was just having a bad dental day, and were too polite to mention it. So much for my future as a political analyst.

More Big White Bird Photos
January 18, 2010 6:44 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember this guy? He's still hanging around. Well, I suppose "hanging" isn't the operative term.

Photo - Egret in flight

Viewed from a certain angle, you can see that there's not much to this bird, despite his impressive size while he's wading.

Photo - Egret in flight

More Fog
January 16, 2010 10:20 AM | Posted in: ,

Our weird winter weather continues today as we awoke to some of the thickest fog I can recall around here. It wasn't quite as bad as the Tule fog in Bakersfield (which is so thick that cautious drivers stop at intersections with windows rolled down to listen for cross-traffic), but it still slowed down traffic on the Loop, a miracle in itself.

Of course, I couldn't resist taking the camera for a stroll around the ponds to see if there were any new perspectives to be gained. Unfortunately, most of my pictures turned out to look like I took them in a fog. Go figure. But the birds were more cooperative than usual, as it was too cold to be bothered, and I was able to get a close-up of what I think is a Pyrrhuloxia, all puffed up trying to stay warm:

Photo - bird in tree
According to Asian tradition, the crane is a bird of good luck and long life, and further, if you fold one thousand origami cranes you'll be granted a wish.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a photo of a great egret* equivalent to folding a thousand pieces of paper? I obviously can't say for sure, but this fellow was a great photo subject on the first day of the new year, and if he wants to be the bearer of good luck, we'll take all he can carry.

*I think this is a great egret; I'm open to correction from any true birders out there. Whatever he (she?) is, he's a frequent visitor to our ponds during the winter. The ducks seem a bit indignant at his presence. I suspect the fish have somewhat stronger feelings, but I could be anthropomorphizing.

Foggy Morning
December 23, 2009 6:53 AM | Posted in: ,

It's foggy in West Texas again this morning, so I thought I'd post an image from the last time we experienced the fog, in November.
One of the more Big Brotherish ideas to come down the pike in a long time is the installation of cameras at intersections to catch speeders or red light runners. At first glance, this would seem to be an ideal and objective way of dealing with lawbreakers, since there's not a lot of gray area involved in determining whether or not your car was in the intersection before the light turned red, or whether you were going faster than the posted speed limit. And while one might argue that there are theoretically mitigating circumstances for doing such things (" hamster was in labor!"), the simple fact is that those circumstances rarely (if ever) justify the risk of potentially fatal encounters at intersections.

So, the theory was that by installing cameras - and alerting the driving public of their presence - motorists' behaviors would be positively modified and the result would be fewer accidents. Well, not so fast (pun intended). In the Chicago area, a study of intersections fitted with these cameras showed either no change in accident rates, or increases in those rates, presumably from an increase in rear-end collisions as drivers suddenly realize that the intersection they're approaching has a camera and decide not to chance making the yellow light. For some states that actually bothered to check such statistics, the decision was made to ban the cameras.

It's hard not to be cynical and figure that the real reason cities want cameras at their intersections is to increase traffic citation revenue. If they were really serious about reducing accidents at such intersections, they'd either increase the amount of time the yellow light stays on, or increase the time before the green light for cross traffic switches on, or both. Both of these things have proven effective in reducing accidents at intersections.

I hope the city of Midland will be cautious in any consideration it's giving to installing such cameras.

And, in yet another fine example of the the law of unintended consequences, creative punks have learned how to use those cameras to harass their enemies.

Blowing in the Wind
December 9, 2009 7:54 AM | Posted in:

I thought yesterday's windstorm was a bit unusual. Even in our often breezy locale, such events are rare in December; we usually experience these storms during the spring. As it turns out, I was right. Yesterday's sustained wind speed and maximum gust (51 and 63 mph, respectively) were both all-time records for December. (It could have been worse. Guadalupe recorded a gust of 105 mph; that's equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane!)

We didn't experience any damage at our home, although I'll have a bit of a cleanup chore on our driveway and back porch thanks to the inevitable pile of dirt that accumulates when the wind blows like that. Our trees are still small enough that such winds don't pose any dangers, and I continue to be thankful that we opted for a concrete block fence instead of the less sturdy wooden variety. And because the wind direction was from the west instead of the north, we also avoided an accumulation of tumbleweeds (although there were encounters; more about that in a moment).

I had some errands to run yesterday afternoon, requiring me to be out during the worst of the wind. I observed some of the storm's effects: a downed telephone pole on "A" Street forced a detour; a pole-mounted sensor on a traffic light on Big Spring Street was leaning precariously; it occasionally seemed that I was in a hailstorm as my car was pelted by wind-driven acorns and pecans as I drove down residential streets; our alley was turned into a slalom course by the city-provided trash containers that were scattered along its length.

I also had to shake out our mail before bringing it in the house. Our box faces west and it contained a tiny Sahara-like accumulation of sand.

There were some amusing moments as well. As I turned onto "A" Street out of our neighborhood, I spotted a huge tumbleweed moving perpendicular to my path and I adjusted my speed to avoid it. Coming from the other direction was a Mini Cooper and its driver was a bit more panicked; the tumbleweed was easily as tall as the car and almost as wide. Fortunately, all collisions were avoided and we lived to fight another day.

Now, I'm off to see if I can get my leaf blower started.

Gallery Additions - Snowfall Images
December 5, 2009 9:58 AM | Posted in: ,

Yesterday's snowfall was relatively light and short-lived, but I got out early and snapped some photos to document the rare phenomenon. There are about a dozen new images up at the Gallery, including bigger versions of these two:

Photo - snow covered stream
Photo - snow on lily pad flower

Snow Bunny
December 4, 2009 9:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Not everyone shares the schoolkids' enthusiasm about last night's snowfall:

Photo - bunny in snow

Random Thursday
December 3, 2009 8:38 AM | Posted in: ,

It's warmer this morning in New York City than in Midland. So, maybe there is something to that whole global warming thing after all. Which reminds me...I need to go delete some emails. Be right back.


Now, where were we?

  • This is pretty exciting. Local singer/songwriter/attorney (and fellow Aggie) Ron Eckert has a new Christmas song out just in time for, well, Christmas. (What are the odds?) The song is entitled The Wench Who Stole Christmas and it's available for purchase and download via CDBaby. The really exciting part is that Wench is one of the featured new listings today on CDBaby's home page (as of a few minutes ago, it's actually the first featured song on that website). Ron will eventually have a couple more original Christmas songs available, but Wench is the one that's getting some area radio airplay. Do him a favor and buy a copy. Better yet, call your local radio station and request the song, and if they say they don't know anything about it, give 'em the equivalent of a teen eyeroll. [Disclosure: Ron's is one of my website clients.]

  • I see that the White House party crashers are now claiming that a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing the message that their names didn't make the White House guest list. I guess that excuse is the modern equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," and is only slightly more plausible than claiming they were the victims of alien abduction or sleepwalking. Actually, they might have had more credibility had they claimed that a sleepwalking alien dog ate their cell phone battery.

  • Someone on Twitter yesterday put forth the notion that Tiger Woods should perhaps hereafter be referred to as Cheetah. *rimshot*

  • I realize it's not a laughing matter, but I still get the giggles from a mental picture of Elin Nordegren whaling away on her husband with a 3 iron, and him finally making a clumsy Escalade escape, only to careen off various inanimate objects, with her in hot pursuit. I guess he's fortunate that he doesn't make his living as a big game hunter.

  • We spent a very pleasurable evening at the Petroleum Club's Christmas Ball last night, courtesy of my wife's employer. The music, company, and food was all first-rate, as you might expect. However, because of where we were seated, we were among the last tables to be served, and the band had already begun playing by the time we started in on the softball-sized chunk of filet. When a particularly danceable song started, we adjourned to the dance floor...only to return to find that an overly efficient staff had removed our meals!

    To add insult to injury, one of the fellows at our table had been left with a solitary dinner roll on his bread plate, and as he reached for it (apparently noticing all the covetous glances from his tablemates), a white-coated server grabbed it from the table and made off with it. No bread for you!

    Fortunately, we had availed ourselves of plenty of appetizers and had put away enough of the main course that we weren't exactly deprived of calories. But you can bet that when the dessert arrived, we never let it out of our sight.
In closing, I noticed that one of my cousin-in-laws posted this on his Facebook page: Just received from the UPS guy the radioactive particles and magnetic field sources needed to help my son begin his science project. This is going to be great! Yeah, I can't think of a single thing that could possibly go wrong in that scenario. Just to be on the safe side, I suggest avoiding the central part of Texas for, say, the next 50,000 years.

Dangerous Roads
December 2, 2009 8:28 AM | Posted in: ,

The Simon Seeks travel blog has an interesting compilation of what it calls The world's most extreme and dangerous roads [Link via Twisted Sifter's Twitter feed]. As you might expect, most of the roads and highways are found in mountainous and/or so-called third world locations, and I don't doubt for a second that driving them is a harrowing experience.

However, as this post at Sleepless in Midland points out, one doesn't have to travel outside the city limits to encounter truly horrific road conditions.

And, as far as requiring nerves of steel for responsible drivers to navigate, I would also match up any residential street within ten blocks of either Midland high school around lunch time with any of those roads in the Simon Seeks post.

More Butterfly Photos
November 6, 2009 6:42 AM | Posted in: ,

I keep thinking that it's a little late in the season for butterflies, and yet they keep showing up. Yesterday, a beautiful black swallowtail was sipping from the bougainvillea growing in pots on our driveway. It was persistent enough that I was able to run inside, change lenses on the camera, and take a few dozen photos. Below are a couple of examples; there are ten additional larger images in the Gallery.

Photo - Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Bougainvillea
Photo - Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Bougainvillea

Technical photo details: Canon Digital Rebel XT, Canon 80-200 zoom lens, manual focus, ISO 100

Coyote Serenade
November 3, 2009 7:46 AM | Posted in: ,

We're constantly delighted with the intrusion of the rural trappings of nature upon the suburban location of our neighborhood. However, one of those trappings had been noticeably absent in the past few months: coyotes.

That's not entirely accurate. I had occasionally spotted one here and there, even in the middle of the afternoon, but we hadn't heard their unique vocalizing in a while.

That changed late Sunday afternoon, as my wife and I walked through the neighborhood enjoying the beautiful weather. The full moon had just cleared the Midland Country Club treeline and I observed that its reflection in the pond would make a great photo.

As we made our way toward home, some distant sirens interrupted the evening calm, setting the neighborhood dogs to barking and yelping. They finally ceased their commotion and relative quiet returned...for a moment.

Suddenly, an amazing cacophony erupted, seeming to originate in the pasture less than half a mile south of us. The "missing" coyotes were back, and they were in fine voice. Their concert went on long enough - and was loud enough - to prompt us to try to capture some of it on our iPhones. Here's the result of mine (cleaned up a bit to remove some background hiss and boost the gain a bit).

What had stimulated this unexpected serenade? My only explanation is that the tricksters had succumbed to the stereotype and they were reacting to the appearance of the full moon.

I can't say that coyotes are welcome guests in our neighborhood, but if they're going to hang around, it's nice that they announce their presence in such interesting ways.
The Midland City Council has reworked the proposed oil and gas drilling ordinance submitted by the task force and, as expected, the new version is much more industry-friendly. But, I'll let you judge that for yourself. The following documents are in PDF format:

  • The original proposed ordinance submitted by the task force

  • The revised ordinance as edited by the city council

  • A marked-up version (using Word's Compare Documents feature) highlighting the changes. The red underscores indicate new or replacement wording; the strike-throughs indicate where language from the original proposal was deleted. I apologize in advance for the funky line spacing in this document; it results from the conversion of the PDF text to Word and back again.
Many of the changes to the original serve to dilute the attempts to make oil and gas development less obtrusive or more cosmetically consistent with surrounding neighborhoods. For example, the requirement for an 8' stone or block wall was removed (replaced with the ever-classy chain link with beige aluminum slats fence) as was the requirement that low-profile tanks be used.

Also, in the original proposal, underground electrical lines were required; now, they are not required unless the surrounding neighborhood already has them. Tanks are no longer required to be set on concrete foundations. Heaven forbid that an oil and gas development might actually be required to improve the look of a neighborhood, or that city standards might go beyond minimum state requirements.

As I stated in my previous post, some of the provisions in the original proposal were overreaching and did expose the city to unnecessary legal risk. To the extent those things have been removed or mitigated, the revised ordinance is an improvement. It's unfortunate, however, that oil and gas developers are apparently unwilling to do more than the absolute minimum to fit in with the orderly development of our city.

I believe that oil and gas operations within the city limits should be held to a higher standard than those outside the city's jurisdiction. The revised ordinance doesn't seem to move very far in that direction.
The headline in today's newspaper speaks volumes: Drilling ordinance may be changed, council indicate. The story describes how Midland City Council members - and oilmen Wes Perry (mayor) and Scott Dufford in particular - are preparing to undo more than a year of work performed by a task force (commissioned, by the way, by the Council) based primarily on the vehement objections of their fellow oil and gas producers.

That the toughest restrictions of the proposed ordinance will be softened or even deleted seems to be a foregone conclusion. The only question that remains is why any private citizen will be willing to volunteer his or her time for future task forces or study groups. I can only imagine the frustration that the drilling ordinance committee members are feeling now.

I didn't bother to attend any of the public hearings for the proposed ordinance, having experienced the debate last year as our neighborhood sought to insulate itself from the more unpalatable side-effects of drilling on immediately adjacent acreage. The outcome of that debate was never in doubt, as the oil and gas interests waved thinly-veiled threats of expensive lawsuits and gave only lip-service to the idea of compromise.

I will admit that my thinking about this issue was clarified through the process, and for what it's worth, here's where I now stand.

  • The city cannot legally prevent drilling within its jurisdiction, nor should it try to override well spacing regulations that have long been established by agencies which have significantly more expertise in such matters. The "taking" or condemnation of mineral interests through excessive limits on drilling is a legitimate legal and even ethical issue; regardless of how surface owners may protest, in Texas, the mineral owners' rights have primacy.

  • That said, the city is also under no obligation to ensure the profitability of drilling within its jurisdiction. To clarify, it's irrelevant for an oil company to protest on purely economic grounds any ordinance or regulation that is designed to protect residents and help ensure orderly residential and commercial development of the city. Every piece of legislation or regulation, whether at the federal, state, or local level, adds cost to the oil and gas development process. The industry deals with a huge regulatory burden on a daily basis. And yet, miraculously, drilling continues, and profits are made. What should not be overlooked is that there is a level of oil and gas pricing that makes the burden of these regulations insignificant from a financial perspective, and when oil prices hit more than $140/barrel last year, it forever removed the force of the argument that the economics of drilling for oil in the formations around Midland just can't support the least bit of additional regulation. If the city deems that a concrete block wall costing $100,000 (a figure I have a hard time believing, by the way) is a reasonable way to shield a producing oil well, the driller will just have to factor that into his economics and if they're too thin, then he'll have to wait for prices to make them better. History has shown that they will.
This is such an emotional issue for Midland. We're all in the oil and gas business to some extent, and the economic health of the city is inextricably tied to the health of the industry. Perhaps it's naive or even hypocritical for residents to take a "not in my backyard" stance on drilling. But the industry isn't doing itself any favors by adopting an adversarial stance at every turn.

Butterfly and Flower
October 17, 2009 7:00 AM | Posted in: ,

I failed in my quest to get better photos of the snapping turtle, but I was determined to bring something back in my camera. When I took this photo, I had no idea it would turn out as beautiful as it did. The wind was blowing and the autofocus on my zoom lens wasn't cooperating, so I focused manually, took a breath, and hoped that I captured the scene without too much blur.

Photo - butterfly on yellow flowerPhoto - butterfly on yellow flower

I should try manual focus more often. ;-)

(Who am I kidding? This was pure luck.)

Oh, Snap!
October 16, 2009 4:09 PM | Posted in: ,

We were giving two of my aunts a tour of our neighborhood's walking path and ponds and I spotted a unusual shape in the stream about fifty feet in front of us. I rushed to the side of the stream and Could. Not. Believe. My. Eyes. (that's how the cool kids express extreme surprise).

Photo of a snapping turtlePhoto of a snapping turtle

That's a snapping turtle (my guess is a Common snapping turtle - Chelydra serpentina), and a rather large one at that. They're not exactly native to West Texas, and certainly not something you'd normally find in a suburban pond.

Of course, I had left the house without a camera - these photos came from my iPhone and fortunately they turned out OK. Debbie and I later returned with a decent camera but found no trace of the turtle.

We later learned that the guys who take care of the landscape maintenance duties found the turtle on "A" Street and put him in one of the ponds. I assume he was making a day trip up the stream in search of frogs and fish, and probably had returned to the pond by the time we went back to look for him.

After this, I'm not sure I'll be surprised at anything I see around here. Be sure to check back for photos of an alligator, or perhaps a brontosaurus.

Another Blogger's Loss
October 1, 2009 4:51 PM | Posted in:

I just found out that fellow West Texas blogger and pal Bob Westbrook's father has passed away. Please keep him and Cherie in your prayers.

Green Heron
October 1, 2009 12:20 PM | Posted in: ,

I spotted a bird of a type I hadn't previously seen wading in the stream between the two ponds this morning. I took a couple dozen photos and shipped a few off to our resident wildlife expert, Burr Williams, who identified the bird as a green heron. He said they reside year-around in certain parts of our county, but he admitted that he'd never seen one with its crest raised, as shown in the second photo.

Is it just me, or does this bird with its raised crest have a faint resemblance to a roadrunner? If you didn't know better and just glanced at these two photos, you'd probably think they are pictures of two different species.

Photo of a green heron
Photo of a green heron

Sunday Morning Hawk
September 20, 2009 2:41 PM | Posted in: ,

I was sitting on our front porch after breakfast, accompanied by a Bible and a cup of coffee - both being essential to Sunday morning (or any morning, for that matter) - enjoying the beautiful weather. The street light at the corner of our yard was decorated with five or six Mexican doves basking in the sunshine.

My reverie was interrupted by the sound of frantic flapping as the birds exploded away from their metal perch and I looked up, wondering what had caused their alarm. Just then, a young hawk arrived from the east, swooping down and alighting where the doves had previously stood. I mentally kicked myself for once again forgetting to bring the camera, but he was perfectly content to sit and watch the other birds flying quickly past, studiously avoiding him. I crept back inside, grabbed the Canon, returned to my chair and snapped a dozen or so photos before he flew across the vacant lot and perched in a tree by the north pond.

The Mist
September 19, 2009 2:00 PM | Posted in: ,

As we headed out to breakfast this morning, we noticed a bit of fog and mist in some of the low-lying areas and around the golf course across the pasture, but it wasn't until we turned onto "A" Street that we saw this striking bit of meteorological phenomena:

This line of mist or fog stretched horizontally for about a mile, running east and west. It floated about ten or twelve feet about the ground and appeared to be about ten feet thick. I don't recall ever before seeing anything quite like this.

Plucking Pomegranates
September 15, 2009 6:39 AM | Posted in: ,

We picked our first two pomegranates this evening. The softball-sized fruit looked so red and shiny, we just couldn't resist finding out whether they were really ripe - or just looked that way.

Photo - 2 Pomegranates

Debbie halved one of them and the fleshy seeds certainly looked ripe.

Photo - Pomegranate halves

As it turns out, we might have been a week or so premature, but not being a pomegranate expert, I could be wrong. The fruit wasn't as sweet as I expected, but it was quite juicy and not at all unpleasant.

Pomegranates are a lot of work to eat. I suppose some people eat the seeds, but I prefer to just mush a mouthful around to get the juice and then spit out the remnants. Debbie mashed the rest of the fruit through a strainer (we don't have a juicer) and pronounced the juice quite good.

Our tree has at least a dozen more of the fruit in various stages of ripeness. It will be interesting to see how many of them ripen fully before the weather gets too cold.

This Bud's Taboo
September 8, 2009 6:29 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember that ad campaign a few years ago that featured the Budweiser Frogs? This isn't one.

Photo - Budweiser can lying on lily pad

And yet another bug pic
September 4, 2009 7:00 AM | Posted in: ,

We've were hit with a veritable plague of grasshoppers a couple of weeks ago. Occasionally, we'd pick up a hitchhiker on the car, including this one that landed on the windshield, and provided a rather unique perspective for a photo.

Photo of a Grasshopper

Yeah, it's another bug pic
September 3, 2009 9:52 PM | Posted in: ,

This critter was on the wall outside the studio where we had our dance lesson tonight. It's some variety of walking stick insect but I've never seen one quite like it before. It's about six inches in length, and more delicate-looking than most walking sticks I've seen.

Photo of a Walking Stick (insect)

September 1, 2009 6:06 AM | Posted in: ,

I seem to be in a photographic rut lately, but the insect world has presented some opportunities too good to ignore.

I spotted this unknown variety of shield or stink bug on one of the red-tipped photinia in our front flowerbed. I browsed in vain through more than 500 photos via Google's image search without finding a match for this particular coloration and pattern, but I suspect there are thousands of variations. Anyway, I don't recall ever seeing one quite like this.

Photo of shield bug
Photo of shield bug
The bees were working over the yellow bells (aka esperanza) in my father-in-law's backyard, and so I hauled out the camera on Saturday to try to capture some of the action. I was so focused (pun intended) on the bee leaving the bloom in the following photo that I didn't notice the one that's on approach to the landing area.

Photo of two bees near yellow flower

Is it just me or does the one facing the camera have a cartoonish look on his face?

Mantid on Board
August 30, 2009 6:59 PM | Posted in: ,

We brought a nice lantana back with us from Fort Stockton, a birthday gift for my wife from my brother and sister-in-law. After it was situated on the back porch, Debbie called me to take a photo of what might have been a stowaway on the trip home.

Photo - Praying Mantis

He's wet because she sprayed him with a hose before she realized he wasn't a grasshopper. I think he's a little miffed, if the expression on his face is any indication.

It's also more than a little creepy the way he follows your movements with his head and eyes.

Jurassic Flowerbed
August 24, 2009 1:09 PM | Posted in: ,

I stepped out the front door around noon to change some light bulbs and heard a rustling in the flowerbed. Given the number of rattlesnake sightings in our neighborhood this year, I was in no mood to assume the noise came from a beneficent source, so I tip-toed over...and spotted the fellow in the following photo, chowing down on a spider or fly (all I could see were the legs sticking out of his mouth). This is a Texas spotted whiptail and they're quite common around here. They'll also occasionally scare the daylights out of you as they'll burrow underground during the heat of the day, and then explode out of the dirt if you're digging in the vicinity. But, any enemy of spiders and flies is a friend of mine!

Click on the first photo to see a larger and uncropped version.
Photo of whiptail lizard
Photo of whiptail lizard

The Original Hummer
August 23, 2009 8:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Back porch hummingbird views:

Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird

Gallery Photos
August 20, 2009 5:55 AM | Posted in: ,

I carried a camera during my morning walk around the park yesterday, resulting in a few more images for the Gallery.

You'd think that by now I'd have learned not to leave my camera inside when I retire to the front porch for Sunday morning coffee. I invariably see things that I wish I could share with you, but by the time I rush back inside, the moment has passed and all you're left with are my inadequate descriptions.

Yesterday morning was a great example. As I was drinking coffee and doing my "Through the Bible in a Year" reading, a movement on the neighbors' roof line caught my eye. I did a double-take; it was a roadrunner, one of the goofier denizens of our ecosystem. Very odd to see it atop a roof, but things got stranger, as a second one appeared. I was also surprised to hear their odd "clattering" sound, a series of rapid clicks they make with their beaks. I've never been close enough to a roadrunner to hear that (you can listen to a recording on this entry in Wikipedia).

The roadrunners had attracted attention from more than this curious human. A veritable swarm of barn swallows was dive-bombing the bigger birds, making them feint and duck. Roadrunners are omnivorous, and not above raiding nests of others birds for both eggs and nestlings. I doubt they would pose a real danger to barn swallows given the usual inaccessibility of their nests, but the swallows weren't taking any chances. (They're a lot more assertive than one might imagine, anyway.)

I watched for a minute or so, and decided to run in and grab the camera and long lens. Of course, by the time I returned, the drama was over. The roadrunners had flown the coop, so to speak (I spotted one of them running around a block north of our house) and the swallows had dispersed, presumably to find other prey for their bullying gang.

I'm sorry I couldn't capture any photos to share with you, but not to worry, because I've come up with an artist's rendering that I think does full justice to the scene that played out this morning. I'm sure you'll agree that it accurately captures the pathos and drama of the complex interchange between the species.

Cartoon drawing

A Nice Flower Image (For You Wimps)
August 16, 2009 5:13 PM | Posted in: ,

You know who you are. Click for a full-sized uncropped version. And don't worry; there are no snakes (as far as you know).

Thumbnail image

Life of a Thunderstorm
August 16, 2009 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

We killed a small rattlesnake during our walk yesterday evening. It was flattened against the concrete of the sidewalk, absorbing the radiating heat. I stuck a camera in its face and it did nothing but flick its tongue. Normally, that would be the extent of our interaction, but because it was in our neighborhood, on a path frequented by children and pets, I did the right thing and bashed its little head with a rock. Even a baby rattler is dangerous, and we've already had a child in the neighborhood bitten by one.

Here's the snake in its pre-smushed condition.

But, that's actually not the most interesting part of our walk. While we weren't doing battle with venomous serpents, we were watching a beautiful thunderstorm developing over Stanton and Big Spring, 20-40 miles east of us. I took a series of photos of the storm cloud.

The last three photos were obviously taken after sunset as I attempted to capture some images of lightning. I set my camera to ISO 1600 (the maximum for my Canon Digital Rebel XT), turned on the motor drive, and took almost 100 photos over the course of a minute or two. These three were the best of the batch. The first two photos of lightning were actually successive frames, taken less than a second apart. The third one was taken 10 seconds later.
Our neighborhood is almost three years old, has at least 60 occupied homes with more under construction, and yet it still does not appear on Google Maps except as a label over a blank area of pasture. This omission is odd considering that the streets and lots have appeared on the City of Midland's interactive map for quite some time.

This situation begs the question, how does Google add new places to its maps and how frequently does it make updates? Google provides an input form for businesses to add their locations and information, but that's a completely different scenario than adding new city streets.

This is not simply an issue of wanting to be noticed. Well, not entirely, anyway. It has practical implications. There have been a couple of times that service providers have been unable to locate our address and have called for directions. One of them stated that while he had never heard of our street, he was confident it would be on Google Maps (wrong), or on his TomTom GPS (also wrong). Our reliance on these online services has grown more than we realize.

I found this page for reporting "bugs and omissions" to Google Maps, and I submitted an entry for each of the streets in our neighborhood. We'll see if that yields any results. Then I found this thread, entitled "How often does Google update its maps?", on Google Maps's forum. One of the commenters pointed out that Google has changed its source of map data from something called NAVTEQ (which apparently provides maps to many navigation system vendors including Garmin) to another service called TeleAtlas*, and that corrections and updates need to be submitted to TeleAtlas rather than Google. He helpfully provided a link to the TeleAtlas feedback page, where I was able to request an update to add our neighborhood's streets to the database. Again, we'll see.

In the meantime, I found that the map feature of Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, does show our neighborhood and streets. I never thought I'd see the day where Microsoft makes Google look lame, but there you go. And, of course, Bing uses NAVTEQ for its mapping data. I guess I'll have to add Bing to my toolbar, and consider dropping Google Maps if it doesn't get its act together.

*TomTom also uses TeleAtlas as the source for its digital maps.

Update (Same day, 9:30 am) - I received a reply from TeleAtlas regarding my request for a map update. Apparently, I have to draw them a map in order for them to update their map. I kinda figured that's why they were in business.

Just Anole Fashioned Lizard
August 9, 2009 8:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was tending to the front flowerbeds yesterday and called me to bring the camera. Here's what she spotted on a photinia.

Photo of Green Anole

For a full-sized version of this photo, click here.

It's a green anole, a lizard that is found throughout the warmer climes of the US, but only infrequently spotted in our neck of the woods. They eat spiders, cockroaches and crickets, so they're quite welcome in our neighborhood.

Here are a couple more photos:

Photo of Green Anole
Photo of Green Anole

Blogging for Fair Havens 2009
August 6, 2009 3:25 PM | Posted in: ,

Jimmy Patterson is once again doing his blogging fund-raiser thing to benefit Midland Fair Havens. Here's the scoop about this year's version, which will take place this weekend on the grounds of Rock the Desert.

Please consider making a donation to a very good cause, especially if you're a resident of West Texas (or just wish you were!). The work they're doing is saving and improving lives in more ways than we'll ever know. You can donate online via MFH's website.

Big Snake Photos Debunked
August 5, 2009 7:44 AM | Posted in: ,

One of our local TV stations was running a photo of what they alleged was a giant rattlesnake recently killed in West Odessa. The snake in the photo appears to be 10 or 11 feet in length, and the landscape is certainly consistent with that seen in our area. However, the snake in the photo is certainly not a rattler, and West Texas isn't the only place in the world where the scenery is rather desolate scrub.

I direct your attention to this informative post, on a blog maintained by an Auburn University PhD candidate specializing in the study of reptiles and amphibians. He addresses a long series of widely-circulated photos purporting to document excessively large snakes, and expertly assesses their likely veracity.

In the case of the "Odessa Snake," his opinion is that it's a python and the photo was more likely taken somewhere in Africa. While I have no opinion regarding the location of the photo, I do agree with his assessment of the species of the snake. There's nothing about the appearance of the snake in the photo that would cause one to mistake it for a rattler.

Nature has a way of confounding our preconceived notions about the size and variety of wildlife, and not every unbelievable photo is a fake. On the other hand, the application of a little common sense mixed with education will allow you to separate fiction from fact in the vast majority of cases.

Note: If you don't like photos of snakes, especially those large enough to eat the family Schnauzer, don't click on the preceding link. As if I have to tell you.
Update (8/5/09): Last night, I solved the mystery of this odd bit of construction, when I asked a local builder about it. He tells me that he thinks it's actually a basement for a new home that will erected at that location. (Unlike in many parts of the country, basements are rather rare in West Texas.) He admitted that it was speculation on his part, but he did know a little about the plans for developing that area. In consideration of the privacy of the potential homeowner, we'll keep his identity a secret. But if it's true, the new house will be an amazing thing to behold.

Our pal Jimmy over at runs a periodic feature entitled "Wonder what that's going to be?" in which he drives around Midland looking for new construction and then identifies it. It's a valuable public service, satisfying the curiosity of many people and preventing them from being transformed into traffic hazards with their rubbernecking (and freeing them up to attend to more important driving matters like texting). Anyway, I have a new candidate for Jimmy to investigate:


This concrete "bunker" is located near the southeast corner of the intersection of North "A" Street and Mockingbird Lane. It's almost completely hidden from street-level view by the surrounding mesquite pasture. It's hard to get a sense of the size of the structure from this photo, but my guess is that it's about 15' x 30' in area, and about 10'-12 tall. There are no visible entrances and I couldn't see inside the structure to determine what it contains, if anything. I also didn't notice any piping leading in or out of the box. It appears that this "bunker" will be partially buried once completed.

Any ideas about the purpose of this mystery construction? Anyone?

July 28, 2009 6:54 AM | Posted in: ,

Please join me in extending sympathies to Jimmy Patterson and his family following his father's passing last Sunday.

For Christians it's not a trivial cliché to say that his dad is in a better place. It's an assurance that allows us to celebrate even through our grief.

Oh, NOW I understand...
July 13, 2009 9:04 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember this post, where I described mixed feelings about the signs placed around our walking paths?

My feelings are less mixed now. Since the signs were posted, someone has broken or shot five or six of the lights that line those paths, the first obvious evidence of vandalism since we've been here. I can't help thinking there's a connection, but rather than feeling more strongly that the signs are a mistake, the criminal behavior of some people seems to validate the wisdom of the decision to post them (even if they so far appear to have absolutely no impact on behavior).

I know; this could have been the work of a resident, but I don't believe it is.

Those People
July 12, 2009 3:05 PM | Posted in: ,

This article in today's newspaper is an inadvertently honest depiction of what I suspect goes on in the zoning process of cities all around the world. It's an account of a proposed housing project that was so strenuously protested by the adjacent residents that the developer withdrew the plan.

On the surface, it's easy to see why the plan was rejected. The development would have placed almost 100 "modular homes" into a neighborhood of houses sitting on 1- or 2-acre tracts, spoiling the "rural life in the city" ambiance of the area. It's understandable that current residents would want to maintain the character of their neighborhood, and it's difficult to imagine anything more antithetical to that character than a bunch of tract homes on tiny lots.

But a couple of the quotes from the article reveal a more sinister motivation. The story refers to "residents who would not fit in," and the perception that while the development would have included "some good people," it also "would have brought in some undesirables."

So, the implication is that while the homes might be eyesores (in relation to what makes up the original neighborhood), the real concern is that the people who live in them just don't meet some arbitrary measure of acceptability.

It's unfortunate that we tend to judge people in this fashion. Your perceived worth is determined by the size of the structure you inhabit, or the nameplate on the car you drive, or the tags on the clothes you wear. None of us would ever publicly admit to this practice, but we all do it to one extent or another. We justify it because at some point in our lives we were either taught to do it, or we saw an example of behavior that somehow supported the judgment and allowed us to broadly extrapolate it to, well, everyone.

It's ironic that to some extent, in some fashion, to someone else each of us falls into a category of "those people." (If you disagree, I can assure you that you're now going to be judged as "one of those hypocrites.")

I don't know how we overcome this tendency (and you'll noticed that I use "we" a lot, because I'm not immune). A good beginning might be to see others as God sees us: imperfect beings who nevertheless are deeply loved. It might not make us any happier to have a trailer park in our backyard, but we might come to view the residents as friends rather than adversaries.

July 9, 2009 3:03 PM | Posted in: ,

We returned from vacation to find new signs planted at regular intervals along the walking trail that loops the two neighborhood ponds. I have mixed feelings about them.

If you've visited our neighborhood, you would probably agree that the ponds and surrounding landscape are unique in our city - a literal oasis in the desert (or at least in the pasture). As word has spread, we've seen an increasing number of folks coming out to walk the trail and enjoy the scenery. It's also become a favorite setting for professional photographers wanting a outdoor scene as a backdrop for engagement, graduation, and family photos. And a number of people from adjacent neighborhoods have included our area in their regular walking routes.

The majority of visitors seem to be well-behaved and respectful. We've seen a few older teens loitering around, looking like they're up to no good (hey, youse kids get off my lawn, y'hear?!), but no obvious signs of mischief have been left behind. However, I've been told that more threatening and/or suspicious activity has been observed by others.

I think that letting people get out and roam around the common area is a good marketing tool for the developers. That's what sold us on building out here.

But, I can also understand that some people don't like having a steady stream of strangers driving and walking around their property. The area is private property, not city-owned or maintained, and we pay for the upkeep via our homeowner association dues.

In any event, my opinion wasn't solicited, and that's just as well, because I'm not sure what I would have recommended. The one thing I am sure about is the appropriateness of the request that owners pick up after their animals. I doubt that anyone would argue with that.

Since drafting this, I've learned that at least one good reason for the signs is to provide the police with the justification to respond to complaints about loitering or other quasi-illegal activity. Since this is private property, without such signs their hands are apparently tied to some extent.

Memo to the City of Midland
July 2, 2009 7:01 AM | Posted in:

Dear City,

Have I mentioned lately that I think your $1.8 million traffic light synchronization project has yielded results that, frankly, suck?

If you've succeeded in synchronizing any lights whatsoever, they must be located in parts of town that I never travel. Or, perhaps I simply misunderstood what you meant by "synchronization." If, for example, you were aiming to make it so that people traveling south on Big Spring, starting at Loop 250, will hit five consecutive red lights (or, on a good day, four out of five), then perhaps you've succeeded.

Now, I understand that there's a break-in period, or learning curve, or additional programming, or something that must be done between installation and final configuration. You know what would be swell? If you would just tell us what's going on that's keeping the system from working. A little communication with the taxpayers would go a long way.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on the system itself. Perhaps the issue is that you, dear City, don't know how to manage expectations. I humbly suggest that in the future, when announcing expensive initiatives with impacts that are easily discerned and assessed by the citizenry, that you "under-promise" and "over-deliver." Tell us up-front that it's going to be a hard row to hoe, and to not look for improvements anytime soon. That way, any surprises are more likely to be pleasant ones.

Thanks for listening.

Your taxpaying pal,

Cindy Hammond sent me the following report on how the local teams did in the recently completed "Destination Imagination" global finals (read this post for the back story):
Over 1000 teams from the US, UK, Canada, China, Finland, Turkey, Poland, Singapore, Mexico, Guatemala, etc. competed in the Destination Imagination Global Finals held on the campus of the University of Tennessee. Midland Teams fared very well this year. Our 9th graders placed 3rd out of 60 teams in the challenge "DI've Got a Secret." Their team known as "DOUGITIT" competed at the high school level against other 9-12 graders. The 5th graders, "The 6 Oddballs," placed 10th out of 80 teams in the challenge "Hit or Myth." The 5th grade team placed 2nd in their instant challenge component - which is a very difficult thing to achieve!
Photo - Midland's DI 9th Grade Team
Above: 9th grade team DOUGITIT
Below: 5th grade team The 6 Oddballs
Photo - Midland's DI 5th Grade Team

These smart, creative, and cute kids remind me a lot of myself when I was their age, except for the, um, smart, creative, and cute part. The only thing that puzzles me is why the 9th grade team chose to hold up a trophy instead of a Fire Ant Gazette coaster. Obviously, these kids still have a few lessons to learn about priorities! 

For more about this program, visit the official DI website.

Al Jazeera visits Midland
April 29, 2008 9:05 AM | Posted in: ,

I did some quick searches on a few local blogs that I thought might have already covered this, and found nothing. If you had a more timely report, please feel free to provide a link in the comments. 

I stumbled across the following YouTube videos after following an unrelated Google link. They are a couple of 11-minute programs produced by the [infamous] Arabic news organization, Al Jazeera in September, 2007, and are entitled Main Street USA - Midland, Texas. The reports focus on the role that faith and religion play in the public and private lives of our citizens, and, of course, how they influenced George W. Bush. Midland residents will recognize many of the individuals interviewed during the course of the filming. 

The underlying message is that Midland is a city of "Christian fundamentalists," a term used with great frequency, and applied both to individuals as well as the community as a whole. It's hard to tell if the Al Jazeera report is using that word as a term of disapprobation; if so, the irony is thickened given the network's Muslim target audience. 

Regardless, I found the reports to be fairly evenhanded, especially considering their source. A local Muslim was interviewed and expressed his happiness at being able to live in a community where he can practice his faith without fear. In a rational world, that should be a revelation to his counterparts in the Middle East, or at least a source of cognitive dissonance, but I'm not that naive. 

The most disturbing thing about these reports is not the content of the videos, but the comments left on YouTube regarding them. Read them at your own risk, if you're easily offended.

By the way, if you define "fundamentalist" as being someone who believes that there are certain doctrinal truths given down by a holy and just God that we as individuals and collectively as a nation ignore at our own peril, then I willingly place myself firmly into that category.

Neighborhood Killdeer
April 28, 2008 2:53 PM | Posted in: ,

Killdeer are exceedingly common throughout the US, and they're even regularly observed around bodies of water in our arid part of the state. Still, I haven't had the opportunity to observe them up close until a family took up residence around the stream and pond located in our new neighborhood.

I shot the following video this morning. It was unusually cold for this time of year - temps in the upper 30s - and the killdeer chicks were seeking warmth under mama's wings. The only problem is that there were too many of them and too little of her to go around. You'll also see a short clip of the "distraction behavior" killdeer use to draw predators away from their eggs or young.

I apologize for the shaky video, as I am too cheap to buy a camera with image stabilization, too unskilled to hold a zoomed-in shot steady, and too disorganized to remember to grab a tripod.

Fire Ant Sightings in Austin
April 18, 2008 6:44 AM | Posted in: ,

The local Destination Imagination teams competed at the state level a couple of weeks ago and did very well. Here's a report from Cindy Hammond, proud mom of one of the participants (and here's the back story, via the MRT):
The Midland High School level team ... ended up taking 2nd at State and are advancing to the Global levels held at the Univ of Tenn in May. A 5th grade team also took 2nd place in the elementary division and is going to Globals as well. All 4 Midland teams received medals at the State tournament. The two 6th grade teams that went received a 5th & 4th place medal. So, it was a good day all around. I will point out that the High School team is made up of 9th graders from Midland Freshman, Lee Freshman and an 8th grader from Abell Jr. High. They competed against 15 other teams in the High School division (9-12 grade). So we are quite proud!

The High School team also won a Renaissance award. The Renaissance Award is for demonstrating extraordinary amounts of effort and preparation, or outstanding skill in engineering, design or performance. (I had to look this one up on the internet. We've never won this particular award before.) The team received a DaVinci award at Regionals.
Here's a photo of the proud members of the High School Destination Imagination team:

Photo of Destination Imagination team

And proud they should be. Congratulations to all! But that's just the beginning. Not only was the group skilled and intelligent, but they also had the presence of mind to take along their Valuable Fire Ant Merchandise (in this case, two coveted ceramic coasters). And thus we have the following officially documented Fire Ant sightings:


You might think that this is the first Fire Ant sighting involving someone wearing tinfoil pants, but then you've probably never been to one of my family reunions. You can also read these kids' minds: I can't believe Elizabeth's mom is making us do this! 

This next photo requires a little more explanation. Cindy gave me permission to use it only if "you can make me look younger." Well, I gave it my best shot, but, frankly, it creeps me out:


I don't know who that person is on the right.

From dust to dust
March 15, 2008 7:20 AM | Posted in:

Want to know what a West Texas spring is like in an under-construction neighborhood on the edge of town during a severe drought?
Photo of phone line draped across driveway

That's the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert, aka our driveway. The thing that looks like a phone line laid across the concrete and under the occasional dune is, in fact, our phone line. Smooth move, AT&T. It's a long story, but the image is the tech equivalent of a car up on blocks in one's front yard. Anyway, I shoveled four wheelbarrows full of sand from the driveway (in order to make way for more).
Photo of blowing dust

That's the lovely view from our front door, taken yesterday afternoon as the winds began to hit 30+ mph and the humidity dropped below 6%. The trees barely visible on the horizon? They're about 2 blocks away.
Photo of tumbleweeds piled on front porch

That's the result of a windstorm from a week or so ago. We got the same amount of blowing dirt, with the added bonus of copious quantities of tumbleweeds. These are stacked on our front porch. After cleaning our yard, I helped our neighbor do the same with his, and together we hauled two trailers stacked over six feet high with these nasty critters. I'm not telling where we hauled them, so don't ask.
I've just learned that Midland was represented by not one but two teams of kids at this year's Destination ImagiNation Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you're going "huh?" about right now, join the club; I knew nothing about this event until a Gazette reader (and parental unit of one of the participants) emailed me about it. 

 According to its website, Destination ImagiNation is a popular process-based program helping young people build lifelong skills in creative and critical thinking, teamwork, time management and problem solving. Up to seven participants work together as a team for eight to twelve weeks to create their unique solution to a Team Challenge, which can have a focus that is theatrical, structural, improvisational, scientific or technical - or a blend of several disciplines. Over 200,000 students in over 56 countries and the United States participate in the program. 

The Global Finals are exactly what the name implies: the winners of the local competitions around the world gather in one venue to compete for fame and glory. Eight thousand kids gathered in Knoxville for this year's finals. The Midland teams represented our fair city in superb fashion, with the 8th Grade team finishing in 8th place, and the 5th grade team finishing 15th. According to my source (we'll refer to her as "Cindy," since, well, that's her name), Midland has been participating in the DI program for only 3 years and this year for the first time made it to Globals with 2 teams. The 8th grade team has been together for all 3 years. 

 Below is a photo of the 8th grade team's "costume" they designed for the "Out of the Box Costume Ball." (They're a puzzle. Can you solve it?)

Photo of Midland's 8th grade DI team

That's pretty cool, but here's the best one: a genuine Fire Ant Gazette sighting:

Photo of girl holding a Gazette t-shirt

[Sensitivity to online privacy concerns keeps me from publishing the name of the girl holding the shirt, but she's obviously above average in every respect, and especially in her fashion choices. Her nail color even matches the shirt's lettering! Bet you'd like to buy a black Gazette t-shirt yourself, wouldn't you?] 

 Congratulations to the Midland teams for representing us so well!

Scenes from a bike ride
June 20, 2006 2:49 PM | Posted in: ,

Photo - Burrowing owl on highlinePhoto - Burrowing owl on highline
Photo - Burrowing owl in flight
Shutter: 1/1000 sec; F-stop 9.0; Aperture: 6.3;
ISO Equiv. 400; Focal length: 55mm; uncropped image: 8mpxl;
Camera: Canon Digital Rebel XT

Here are some lessons I learned from this morning's ride:

  • Never assume that a camera on a bicycle is wasted dead weight;

  • Don't underestimate the patience of a pair of burrowing owls perched on telephone lines;

  • Likewise, the importance of a good lens and a bunch of megapixels cannot be overstated;

And last but not least...

  • Skill counts for a lot in photography, but so does blind luck.

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