November 5, 2014

My sister died last week.  She was 58 years old and was a beautiful, kind, and uncomplaining woman, somewhat reclusive in nature, but charming and engaging when she did get out.  We were quite close when we were young, but as we aged, we grew apart and that is something that I regret with all my heart.  I saw her twice a year at most over the last 30 years, both of us too busy with our own lives to participate much in the other’s.  I was the lucky one.  I found a wife that could stick with me for life (30 years so far) and she got cancer.

Most of what I know about her adult life is second hand-news relayed by my parents or guesses made by observing the results her life’s work.  She has three fine sons that she raised mostly by herself. They, like her, are kind and considerate. The oldest has a family of his own and the way he has raised his children reflects well on his own raising.  The other two are somewhat younger, still a bit unsettled, but as tenderhearted and generous as their mother.  She worked at the same job for 38 years and judging from the turnout at her funeral, she was well respected by her peers.

She was first diagnosed in 2000 and endured a course of radiation and drug therapy and a lumpectomy that put her into remission for 10 years.  In 2010 the cancer came back with a devastating fury and it didn’t give in nearly as easily.  This time it took a year and more of chemical poisoning, radiation so intense that it left excruciating burns on her skin, and a double mastectomy before the cancer once again retreated.  However, the disease and the treatment destroyed the bone on one side of her jaw and this last spring she had a couple of surgeries to have bone transplanted. She had family support during both of the cancerous episodes and the jaw surgery, but I wasn’t around much. When I saw her last July, she seemed hopeful, although the surgery and related issues with nutrition had left her drained.

Then, in August, she started having pain in her hip and shoulder again, and when she went to the doctor in late August, scans showed a return of the cancer. She started chemo and radiation again, but it was too little, too late.  On October 22 she asked that the treatments be stopped.  She could no longer endure the pain and weakness, and was entered into an in-house hospice program.  On October 28 she died, surrounded by her 3 sons, an aunt that had provided care and support to her for most of the last year, our mother and father, stepmother and stepfather, my other (now only) sister, grandchildren, and numerous other spouses, nieces, and nephews. And me.


Kim (sitting cross-legged on the floor) with our family in the late 80s. that’s her oldest with his head tucked into the jacket.

Sheila, Jake, Royce, Kim, Claire, Mel, Mom, Shawn, Kate

Kim (in the red dress) at my wedding.

Me, Kim, Mom, Lori, Dad



At a family reunion a few years ago.



Kim holding her youngest son

Kim, Will, Shea, Doug, Royce


Kim, Shawn, Sheila, Me, Mel, Mom, Lori, Doug


Kim with our mom, grandparents and aunt

Kim, Mom, Earl Dene, Grandaddy and Grandmother Chandler

My Sisters and I 30 years ago.

Kim, Me, Lori


Kim holding my oldest daughter, my sister, mom, and wife in the late 80s.Kim, Katy, Lori, Mom, Sheila

Kim at my daughter’s graduation

Kim at Kate's graduation

Kim and her middle son.

Kim and Will

Kim and Will (2)


Kim and her oldest boy

Kim and Shawn

Kim and Shawn (2)

Kim and I two years ago

Kim and Me

Kim and my oldest daughter

Kim and Katy Kim and Katy (2)


Kim with me, our Dad, and Dad’s brother and sister.



Kim shortly after the second round of therapyIMG_8184 IMG_8183 IMG_8153

Kim and her youngest son



Greeting Cards

May 10, 2013

Mother’s Day approaches and once again I find myself in the greeting card store, searching for just the right card for my wife.  I know, it’s  Mother’s Day I should be getting a card for my mom not my wife, but I usually wait until it’s too late to get one in the mail to my Mom so she’ll have to settle for a phone call–again.  After nearly 30 years of anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine’s Days, and Mother’s Days I’ve refined the process to the point where it is nearly painless for me and almost satisfying for my wife, a balance that we both can live with.

I’m pretty sure that the greeting card industry creates holidays and, using the power of its insidious and powerful lobby, forces the spineless and money-grubbing United States by God Congress to formalize it by making it a national holiday, thereby forcing millions of browbeaten husbands, eager to avoid another night in the doghouse, into their stores.  Pure evil, of course, but who can fight their dastardly schemes; they have our wives on their side. So, once again I find myself in the greeting card isle at the local grocery store, because I’ve now waited too late to make it to the actual greeting card store, trying to find just the perfect card for my loving bride.

That perfect card part is a problem, though, because my wife and I have different ideas about what constitutes perfection in a greeting card.  I, of course, prefer buying the funny cards, while she would rather receive a sentimental card.  Although I do have boatloads of sentiment when it comes to my wife, most of the cards are disgustingly sloppy with bad moon/tune/June rhymes and difficult-to- read flowery script.  And, to paraphrase a popular internet meme, they are too damn long.  Card companies should put a TL:DR on the back of the card so that those of us whose glucose levels will not tolerate the syrupy sludge inside the card could make a quick decision as to whether or not the card expresses the correct emotions. Our wives could still enjoy getting all misty-eyed while reading the full version of it.  Everyone wins.

In the meantime here’s a few tips on buying greeting cards.  It should be pretty, reasonably large, but not so large that it could be mistaken for a homecoming mum,it should be reasonably priced (shows that all her years of training you to be a conscientious shopper have born fruit)  and it should have no more than a short sentence on the front.  Inside there should be, at most, a short paragraph that simply and sincerely states your feelings for the reader of the card and lots of room to write a personal message (practice writing the message a few times on ruled paper so you can work on writing in a straight line and you don’t have to many scratched out words.  Scratch-outs kinda ruin the moment.)  Happy Mother’s Day!

Panhandle Spring

May 4, 2013

Spring is in full swing here in the Texas Panhandle.  I wish that meant April showers and May flowers but mostly it just means wind.  Heat also, wind and heat.  Unless it’s cold, then it means wind and cold.  Dry, don’t forget dry, as in windy and dry, really, really dry.  How dry is it, you ask?  It’s so dry that the dirt leaps into the sky (aided by the wind; did I mention the wind?) just on the outside chance of meeting a cloud and sucking up a little moisture.  Little chance of that happening, though.  We’ve had a grand total of 4/100ths of an inch of rain in the last 60 days.  Good news though, it might snow a little tonight.  Yesterday we had a record high of 94°F and tonight it is going to freeze.  And, it’s still windy.

Spring also means a changing of the avian guard.  There’s been lots of birds through Hutchinson County the last month.  The gulls and pelicans and eagles have gone, replaced by flycatchers and warblers.  The Northern Mockingbirds and Cassin’s Sparrows are singing and skylarking.  There’s been a steady march of shorebirds and waders out at Meredith.

So here’s a few photos.

Western Kingbirdwestern-kingbird-64-1024x658

Northern Mockingbird.northern-mockingbird-64-1024x684

This Red-tailed Hawk has a couple of newly hatched chicks.  I could see them through a scope from up on a rise about 100 yards away, but was unable to get any pictures of them.  If I can do it without disturbing them, I,ll post pictures

A late season Canvasback.  canvasback-6-1024x643eBird tells me that this and a trio of Buffleheads that I see regularly shouldn’t be here.  No one told the birds, though.

An Eared Grebe and a pair of Blue-winged Teals.eared-grebe-blue-winged-teal-3-1024x647

This is a Northern Shoveler.northern-shoveler-blue-winged-teal-4-1024x688

A close-up of the Blue-winged Teal

A Northern Bobwhite strikes a pose.northern-bobwhite-11-1024x684

A couple of sparrows that I’ve not been able to positively ID.  The first may be a Vesper Sparrow. vesper-sparrow-8-1024x673 The second one is complete mystery to me.img_8514-1024x677


Lark Buntinglark-bunting-3-1024x630

There have been dozens, if not hundreds of American Avocets on Meredith the last few weeks.  One of my favorite birds-how can you beat long blue legs, red heads and necks, black and white bodies and a long up-curved bill.american-avocet-58-1024x574

And a couple of new lifers.  Sorry about the photo quality.  I wish some of the playas around would get some water, it’s a lot easier to get close to the birds in them rather than having to climb down a 200 foot cliff at Meredith.

Black-necked Stilt and American Avocets (the stilt is in the lower left corner.)black-necked-stilt-american-avocet-1024x645

Pretty sure these are Long-billed Curlews.  Only other choice is Whimbrels and that would be very unusual.long-billed-curlew-1024x683

More birds at the links at the top of the page.


April 26, 2013

Squeeze-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand, 3-one-thousand, 4-one-thousand, 5-one-thousand, squeeze-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand…  After the first few minutes of counting the voice in your head fades into the background and becomes an almost imperceptible metronome, a shadow conductor waiving his baton as you squeeze the bag again, your toes twitching the time (3-one-thousand, 4-one-thousand…)  You watch your patient’s chest rise as you squeeze the bag and see breath condense in the tube as he exhales.  The count marches on and you squeeze-one-thousand, 2-one- thousand…

The first minutes on scene were chaotic but now things are calmer; life-threats have been controlled, airway secured, vital signs stabilized (3-one-thousand, 4-one-thousand)and now you are alone with your patient, on your way to the  emergency room an hour away as you squeeze-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand… Air goes in and out 12 times a minute for the next hour, 720 times during the trip; (4-one-thousand, 5-one-thousand) all your attention is focused on the patient and the monitor, watching for signs that you are maintaining perfusion to the heart and brain.

A bond forms between you and your patient as you breathe for them (squeeze-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand,) and you continually speak to them, providing them with information–what has happened to them, where they are, what you are doing to help them, calming them.  Even though they are unresponsive it is possible that they can hear you and if they are capable of hearing, they are capable of feeling fear, even though they may not show it (5-one-thousand, squeeze-one-thousand,)  You wonder about the patient, about who they are, about the people they know, about their family.

There is a moment somewhere in those 720 squeezes that you become an autonomic extension of the  patient, breathing without thinking, (3-one-thousand, 4-one-thousand) gathering information with your eyes and ears from the patient and the monitor, adjusting the rate and depth of the ventilations to maintain life.  All else fades away, nothing exists except you and your patient inside a bubble of light, speeding down the highway in a profound symbiotic bond. (Squeeze-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand, 3-one-thousand…)  There’s another flurry of activity when you reach the hospital and the staff assumes care of your patient, performing the same assessments that you have performed over and over for the last hour.  The bond you had with the patient slowly weakens and evaporates, the conductor lays down his baton, but the metronome continues to beat, just at the edge of awareness, for days.

What to Write

April 19, 2013

Every week I sit and stare at the computer screen trying to think of something to write about.  I spend a lot of time as I wander around sorting out thoughts and trying to find what Hemingway called that “one true sentence” that will start my fingers to twitching across the keyboard.  I had hoped that as I became proficient at this craft that it would get easier to think of things to write about, but it hasn’t worked out that way—I struggle still to find topics that not only interest me, but that will pique the interest and imagination of the reader.

That one true sentence is an elusive thing.  It’s not necessarily a sentence that relates a fact, it’s more of an idea that resonates with the core of who I am, or perhaps who I wish I was.  It is a statement of the way I see myself, as opposed to the way I wish to be seen, of how I think others view me rather than the way I actually appear.  It is a way to connect all of these things together and present them to you, the reader.

I saw a video the other day in which a group of women described themselves to a forensic artist as he drew.  The women, without seeing what was drawn, were then paired up and given a few minutes (or maybe hours, it was exactly clear) to get to know each other and then asked to describe the person they had met to the same artist.  The differences were astounding; in all cases the drawing that was given by the new acquaintance was much closer to reality than the self-image portrait.

We all see ourselves as less than perfect; afraid or incapable of showing our real self to the world.  Each time I write I expose a bit of myself that I could not reveal in any other manner.  It is a terrifying thing to do but it is the only way to find that one true sentence.


April 12, 2013

I wandered a bit further than usual last week and ended up in Missouri.  My dad and step-mom live there and we’ve owed them a visit for a long time.  Actually, we haven’t visited them in 26 years.  They come to Texas a couple of times a year, making a great loop through the panhandle to visit Dad’s kids and then down to west Texas to visit her oldest son, and then to north Texas to visit Dad’s sister and I visit with them when they are here.  But we haven’t been to Missouri since our second daughter was a baby.  She cried all the way home that time and it soured us on the whole traveling with kids thing.

We took her with us this time and I have to admit she was much better behaved.  We decided to pick up US 60 in Pampa and take it all the way to Missouri.  We weren’t in any hurry and hoped to get a chance to look at birds a little as we drove.  It’s a nice drive as it meanders through northern Oklahoma.  My only complaint is that it was a bit rough in spots, and there are no shoulders on most of it, and the bridges are a little too narrow for my taste.  And all said, there is a lot more Oklahoma than is necessary.

Missouri was beautiful, though, even this early in the spring.  It rained on us quite a lot while we were there and my dad and step mom worried that it was keeping us from doing the things we wanted.  I tried to explain to them that getting rained on was a pleasure we were rarely afforded in Texas these days and that if we had to drive 500 miles to stand out in the rain, then stand out in the rain is what we would do.  Besides, mostly all we wanted to do was visit and look at birds and both could be accomplished in the type of straight down, windless, gentle rains they were having.

I did a lot of thinking on the drive back,  mostly about my dad.  It occurred to me that he had a whole other life after he raised us and he and my mom divorced.  When he married my stepmother she had two sons still at home, still quite young actually, that he helped her raise; a family that my sisters and I weren’t a part of.  It’s not that we weren’t invited to participate, it’s just that we got too busy raising our own families to take the time to get to know them.  We missed out on getting to know some fine people.  Besides, Oklahoma was in the way.

Spike and Tooter

March 30, 2013

The other night as I lay in bed awaiting Somnus, I began thinking of a couple of childhood friends.  I don’t know what brought them to mind; I hadn’t thought of them in years and I had only known each of them a year or so.  We moved frequently when I was young, staying a year or less in each town as Dad’s job required him to be mobile.

I met Spike during my 1st grade year.  He lived on the corner of McDonald Street, about a half-block away and we spent a lot of time together that summer, playing with our dogs on Mr. Malone’s huge front porch, swinging on his porch swing, and pretending to be Tarzan as we climbed in his pecan trees.

Spike and I learned to ride bikes about the same time, our dads pushing us down the street to get us started, and then running along beside us to keep us steady until we got the hang of it.  Within a few weeks Spike and I were pros, flying up and down the street on our Western Auto Western Flyers.  One day we were trying to impress my some of the other kids by riding down the street side by side without holding onto the handlebars and we crashed into each other.  Neither of us was hurt and the bikes only had a few scratches and mine had a bent front fender which, after raiding my dad’s toolbox for a pair of pliers, was easily repaired.  Except that it wasn’t really and later that day as I was returning home after more adventures with Spike, I turned into the driveway at my house and the fender hung on the frame and I continued turning until I was stopped by one of Mr. Malone’ pecan trees.

I don’t remember being especially hurt, but my arm was hanging kind of funny so, cradling it in my other arm, I went into the house where Mom was cooking supper and told her that I thought I had broken my arm.  She laughed and turned to me.  I let go with the supporting arm and the broken one flopped down at a peculiar angle.  Mom screamed,  Dad came running and drove me to the hospital and I spent the rest of the summer and first part of the 2nd grade in a cast.  We moved off soon afterward and I never saw Spike again.

In the middle of my 3rd grade year dad changed jobs and we settled in the northern panhandle town of Dalhart, on Tennessee St.  Tooter lived across the street and we met the same day we moved in.  Tooter and I had a lot in common; big-headed kids in T-shirts and jeans, sporting burr haircuts.  We loved building towns and battlefields in his sandy front yard and playing with small metal cars and green and tan plastic soldiers until we were so dirty that we left a layer of sand in our bathtubs at our nightly dunking.  We would sit in the shade of an old elm and read jokes to each other from the back page of Boy’s Life.  We learned to balance on 50 gallon drums that we walked across the lawn like circus bears and to roller skate on his driveway.  Tooter was the first person to play the old pull-my-finger gag on me and it ignited an appreciation for body noise humor that I retain to this day.  I stayed in Dalhart until I graduated, but Tooter and his family moved the next year after I met him and like Spike, I never saw him again.

Driving Lessons

March 22, 2013

When I sit behind the steering wheel of my truck and assume the yoke of an intelligent, cautious, considerate driver (hereafter referred to as ICCD,) I expect all the other drivers that I encounter to have strapped on the same harness themselves when they cranked up the old hoopie.  However, it seems that there are folks out there that have not maintained their tack as well as they should, or maybe they have their blinders on a little tight, or perhaps they have caught the bit in their teeth and no amount of geeing and hawing by the minuscule part of their brain that holds the reins has any effect.

I encountered just such a person the other day.  I feel that I have every right to expect that a driver that puts on his left turn signal and enters the center turning lane as they approach an intersection to turn left at that intersection.  If you proceed through the intersection after having shown all the signs of a ICCD about to turn left, still in the turning lane, only to turn left into a parking lot just the other side of the intersection, forcing me to take evasive action to keep you from running into me as I approach from the opposite direction, left turn signal activated, about to enter the center turning lane, then you lose your status as an ICCD and I am allowed to yell at you and call you names.  You are an idiot and have broken the law and I no longer feel obligated to be polite to you.

Other drivers that lose their ICCD classification are the ones that use center turning lanes as merging lanes.  Nowhere in the Texas Drivers Handbook does it say that you can pull out of Walmart’s parking lot, dodging a couple of lanes of traffic, into the turning lane and then use that lane to gain speed and merge to the right with traffic.  It’s a turning lane, not a merging lane, dummy.*  Nor are you allowed to cross a double yellow line in any circumstance, but especially not if you’ve just gone through an intersection and cross a double yellow line into a turning lane that is meant to allow the traffic facing you to turn at the intersection you just passed, just so you can hit the fast food drive-through.  If you do you’ve once again forfeited your ICCD status and I get to think ill of you.

As an emergency vehicle operator I often see normally intelligent, cautious, considerate drivers whose brains temporarily vapor lock when they see my lights and hear the sirens behind them and act in a very un-ICCD manner.  A couple of tips to help end this–Cautiously move to the right and then slow down (right, for those of you that are directionally challenged, is to the SIDE of the road, the shoulder, the curb, the ditch, the gutter, the sidewalk where the pedestrians are, but try not to hit any of them.)  Whatever you do, don’t slam on the brakes and stop dead in the middle of the lane right in front of me.  If you are already stopped at an intersection when you see or hear me, stay stopped–we’ll go around you.

Keep safe, I don’t want it to be you that I’m responding to.

*I have learned since publishing this in the local paper that this is not actually an illegal maneuver in Texas. It may not be illegal anywhere, I don’t know.  It is not even mentioned at all in the Texas Driver’s Handbook as being legal or illegal.  I still believe that it is a dangerous and inconsiderate practice and is not something that an ICCD would do.

Photos by Jake

March 15, 2013

I usually go birding alone.  There are a couple of reasons; I enjoy being alone for one, and the rest of my family aren’t early risers for another.  I occasionally invite my wife or one of the kids to go with me and when they do we have a great time.  I invited my wife and son and daughter to go with me to Palo Duro Reservoir one morning last week, but my daughter and wife had prior obligations today so it ended up just being me and Jake. I picked him up as he got off work and we drove to the little lake just north of Spearman in the dark, arriving just after sunrise.  We had a great time, saw a lot of birds and ended up hiking about 3 miles along a trail up one of the canyons.  I haven’t been out of the truck much this winter; it makes a good blind and it’s warm, so the hike was a pretty ambitious one for me.  The good news is that I didn’t fall over dead; bad news is that I’m a little stiff and sore now.  We finished the morning with great lunch at a little Mexican food place in Spearman.

Jake carried the camera most of the morning and took some pretty nice photographs that I thought I’d share with you.



Northern Pintails.


Great Blue Heron with breakfast



American White Pelican.






American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorants.


And le pièce de résistance, a Bald Eagle dining on a fish.  We didn’t see him catch the fish, he landed on a dead cottonwood tree in the lake while we were watching the pelican.












A picture from my cell phone of Jake taking photos of the eagle.2013-03-13 11.25.48


Snow Storms

March 9, 2013

The snow storm last week got me to thinking about things that were special when I was  a kid that aren’t so great now that I’m grown up (or as close as I’m ever going to get to it, anyway.)  Christmas springs to mind immediately, of course; toys and Santa and Grandmother’s house when we were kids, expensive shopping now, although having all the kids home for Sheila’s Christmas Dinner is pretty awesome.   Birthdays are another; cake and presents and another year closer to being able to drive then, cake and presents and another year closer to not being able to drive now.  Snow storms are a third one.

Snow storms, now that I’m older, are mostly a pain in the butt.  I can remember each major snow storm of my adult life by something crummy that happened.  I wrecked the grill of my ’66 Malibu in a storm when a guy stopped in front of me on an access ramp to I-40 and I couldn’t get stopped.  It was one of those slow motion things where it seemed like I had hours to get stopped or to jump the curbs and miss him, but I couldn’t make it happen.  After I was married, I was driving my wife’s Torino to work so that she and the kids would have a car with a working heater to get around in and I ran it off the road when the windshield iced over in a blizzard.  It took my entire Christmas bonus check to get it towed and get the heater fixed.  The inlaws were wonderful and saved Christmas for the kids that year.  A few years ago I got every vehicle I owned stuck in the ditch in front of my house.  A Samaritan with a front-end loader pulled them all out.  This last storm I was sick and slept through most of it.

But as a kid–as a kid, snow storms were magic.   I moved from north Texas to the panhandle when I was 8 and a few months later saw my first real blizzard.  We didn’t have school, which was pretty magical all by itself, and my sisters and I spent the day with some of the neighborhood kids building snow forts and snow men and having snowball fights, stuff I’d only read about before that.  In junior high my friend Kerry and I hiked out to the local lake and spent the day riding broken down cardboard boxes down the hills.  We built a fire and melted snow in a Boy Scout Cook Kit to make hot chocolate because Kerry was the kind of guy that always seemed to have that kind of stuff with him.  After another blizzard when I was in high school I went with my dad to check cattle and we rode across a wonderland pasture at sunrise, clear sky above, nothing but white for as far as you could see, no sound but the creaking of the saddles and snorting of the horses and for a few moments the world was perfect.  Then the mare my dad was riding found where the cows had knocked down the hot fence during the blizzard and the perfect morning exploded into legend.  She hit the ground with a loud “chuff,” Dad rolled free and the mare scrambled to her feet and bucked off into a wide circle in the snow, squealing and farting with each kick, stirrups slapping her in the ribs with each landing, and Dad hustling after her.  She made the turn and here they came back, Dad in the lead now, with the mare close behind, my horse and I both slack-jawed at the display.  Dad finally got the mare calmed and I quit laughing and we went about our business.  It beat the heck out of chemistry class.

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