Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

As many of you may have figured out, I am a bit of an amateur historian and chronic interrogator about all things involving history and mostly how it affects the present.

I have always considered myself a very patriotic person and have always admired those who chose to serve their country. My Dad joined most of his "Greatest Generation" in World War II and spent his time in the Pacific conflict. He came home and, like most veterans, never really spoke of the war or his involvement. I believe he was greatly effected by his time in the war because he always steered the conversation away to the really fun times he had, prior to deployment, taking in the Hawiaan Islands of the early 40's before the tourists ruined it. His passing created a big void in my life in that, by the time I really got curious about his exploits, he was gone.

So it was with great pride that my daughter called me asking if I wanted to get involved with her company, MCS, to donate and walk for Carry the Load. It's mission is to bring meaning to Memorial Day by honoring the sacrifices made by members of the military, law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families while serving our country and communities, especially those who have died or were wounded while carrying the load for their fellow Americans.

There's even a 1700 mile Carry the Load Relay which started in West Point, N.Y. on May 1st and continued non-stop for 1,700 miles before it ended in Dallas on May 27th. The route was divided into 350, 5-mile individual and group sponsored segments.

The Carry the Load founders Stephen Holley, Clint Bruce and Coleman Ruiz, felt there has been a disconnect between what Memorial Day means, and how it is observed today. The three former Navy Seals were all deeply effected by their wartime experiences and couldn't find an outlet for their feelings at the loss of their comrades. Carrying those feelings around with them was like carrying a weight they couldn't seem to unload no matter how hard they tried. So they determined to honor those who are serving, have served or passed by starting "Carry the Load" which came to include all those who serve their country whether it's the military or in public service.               

We (well....I) were a little out of shape and so we signed up for the last two hours of the 24 hour event which started on Sunday and ended Monday at Reverschon Park in the Highland Park section of Dallas. My daughter Nicole works for MCS, a real estate property preservation, maintenance and inspection company based in Plano, Texas with offices in Tampa , Florida. MCS is a co-sponsor of the event and matched employee contributions to encourage them to join.

Led by MCS CEO Caroline Reaves (very bright OSHA green shirt), we made the 5 mile walk, dodging joggers with those big wheel strollers (what's up with that?), runners, in-line skaters and bicyclists in just over two hours in a gloriously sunny but humid, Texas Memorial Day.

I was struck by the number of people who were "carrying loads". At the starting line, there was a place to weigh whatever load you were carrying. I saw firehoses, fully loaded old ruck sacks, Alice packs and even one of our MCS folks carrying a shadow boxed flag (you go Anthony!) that had draped the casket of a loved one. Many had carried them the entire 24 hours and covered like 60 miles.

We started at Reverschon Park, part of the City of Dallas Parks and Recreation system which led us to the walking route above the park. Known as the Katy Trail, the trail follows the old railroad bed of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT, shortened to Katy).

In the early 1990s, citizens and the City proposed creating a greenbelt along the railroad route and creating an urban park as part of the national Rails to Trails Conservancy program, established in 1986. In 1997, a Friends of the Katy Trail non-profit got involved and brought in corporate and private donations to make it a reality. Begun in 2000, it's a combination of concrete path and a secondary soft recycled-rubber track is built parallel for runners. It actually runs from the American Airlines Center in Victory Park to Mockingbird Station (a DART light rail station) near Southern Methodist University (future home of the George Bush Presidential Library). The plan isn't complete with several more features on the planning table.

I think everybody there had a great time, especially at the big Budweiser Blowout end of the walk celebration afterward. I have to say, it wasn't your typical Memorial Day activity (my feet hurt more than Disneyland 2000) but a very rewarding one honoring those who made our Memorial Days possible by sacrificing their family time and sometimes their lives to keep us free.

I want to thank MCS for allowing me to join them and help "Carry the Load" in Dallas.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

Trying to stay on top of it all, I decided to prepare Mother's Day a little early this year. You see, this year we (well...I) had been tasked with scheduling my dream vacation. As you may recall, I had made a work-related trip to Washington D.C in February. Three glorious days in the Nations Capitol huddled in an airless, windowless
(and dare I say,souless) hotel conference room forced to eat bad hotel food and probably sipping the water of the Potomac out of those depressing sweating table pitchers.

Being the resilient Texans we (well..they) were, we struck out as soon as the last Power Point slide faded from the screen and sortied out to the glistening city across the river. We were able to park our rental SUV (nope, not the economy model, because one of us had to bring enough outfits for ALL eventualities) and strike out to see the sites in the withering light. In freezing cold weather with only my vintage "Members Only" jacket (which it turns out, has absolutely no insulating qualities whatsoever) and my iPhone camera. Undeterred, my comrades and I braved the bitter cold, drove through the crush of the evening rush hour traffic to walk the National Mall in the pre-Daylight Savings Time darkness to soak up the history and to bask in the glory of that great seat of power.

But I digress. The point is, in my eagerness to get back to DC, I massaged our schedules to intersect at a moment in time that might get our best bang for the buck. I had been told one of the best times to go to DC is in May for the blossoming of the Japanese Cherry trees lining the Potomac around the National Mall. It wouldn't be too hot (major wife requirement) and the kids would still be in school so it wouldn't be all that crowded with tourists. I was able to narrow the field to the week of May 13th. Damn! Mother's Day.

In my defense, DC is like at the top of my "Bucket List" and I didn't check the holiday calendar until after I had cradled the phone to the travel agent and my glazed-over eyes were able to focus again. Although I toyed with the idea of a little practical joke ala  "Punk'd"  involving slipping a container of liquid exceeding the 3.4 oz maximum into her carryon and getting her stripped searched by the TSA at DFW, I quickly trashed that idea and decided to work in something the week before we left.

The workshop
The Oven of Death
In a prior posting, we had attended a Valentines Day event at Vetro Glass in Grapevine, Texas  where we each made a little glass heart for each other. Dianna is a die-hard arts and crafts person and really enjoyed herself so I decided to take up Vetro for their Mother's Day event. Moms can come in to make either a flower or bowl of their choice. Dianna was in "Scrapbooking" heaven (yeah..another cult hobby she's involved with involving candle worship, those cute little happy stickers and lots of glue) at the possibility of flexing her creative muscle on a big 'ol blob of molten glass.

Thus we found ourselves on a bright sunny Saturday for our appointed time in the workshop. Dianna braved the serious increase in temperature to meet her glass blower Mitch. Although our glass blower Kenneth was there from Valentine's Day, our new friend Mitch cut a more dashing (and apparently sexier) figure due to his big arms, dreadlocked coiffure, strategically placed piercings and hauntingly dark eyes. And there was that well played comment he made about checking out Dianna's cool tatoos. Yeah...well I bet that'll all change when he gets older and all that long hair falls out and he gains about 50 pounds and has a massive mortgage to shoulder and ......wait a minute, that's me. Crap.

A work of Art

After picking out her colors, Mitch grabbed a bunch of molten glass from the gas-fed "Oven o' Death" and gave it to Dianna to work into a nice glowing symmetrical orb. Mitch then took it and forced air into the pipe to open it up to form the bowl Dianna had eyes on. Clearly Mitch had done this on many prior occasions before because the blob was magically transformed, by a flip of the pole and a bit of paddle work on the glass, into this very cool "Handkerchief Bowl". Dianna said this time was especially cool because Mitch got her more involved and she got to do more in creating the bowl than she did the heart. Mission accomplished!

Of course, we (..I) had to eat so we made our way down South Main Street to Napoli's Italian Cafe. Apparently glass blowing can take a lot out of you and we (well...I) was starving. We started with a side salad and like the best Pasta Fagoli soup I've had since I was a kid, Olive Garden, eat your heart out. Dianna had the Tuscan Goat Cheese and Pepperoni pizza and I had a bowl of the chicken and sun-dried tomato in olive-oil whole wheat pasta. We washed it down with their Tiramasu. Napoli's has it's own bakery and confectionary shop right next door(how convenient is that!). I was so busy downing the awesome Tiramasu, I almost forgot to get a photo of it.

Now completely satiated and her creative juices finally ebbing, we made our way back to the homestead in anticipation of the most coolest vacation ever! DC!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Waxahachie Mini-Gran Prix

It was a bright and warm Texas weekend when Dianna and I decided to check up on one of our favorite breakfast restaurants (and prior blog) the 1879 Chisholm Grill in the Courthouse square of Waxahachie, Texas.

As you may recall, Waxahachie (Native American term for cow or buffalo creek) was founded in 1847 by Emory and Nancy Rogers. Formally of Tuscalusa, Alabama, Emory got a land grant and moved his family to a spot where they built a log cabin right around the intersection of Main St. and College Street. In 1849, settlers needed and got 100 signatures to create Ellis County from existing Navarro County. Waxahachie was growing around the Roger's home so folks voted to make it the County Seat in 1850. The Roger's then deeded the land to the city establishing the new town site. 

The old restaurant had been the victim of fire in January of 2011 and we were hoping for a quick rebuild to its past glory. But, alas, they did not rebuild in the old footprint on the east side of the square but at a whole new place adjacent to the I-35E. What we found in its place were the remnants of an old tile floor being warmed by the morning sun.

But disappointment was only temporary. We found the Courthouse square alive with the sounds of coughing engines and squealing tires as powered go-carts came whizzing counter-clockwise around the beautiful Romanesque Revival style Courthouse built in 1897. This was the 10th year the Waxahachie Lion’s Club put on their Mini Grand Prix. The Lion’s Club has no problem organizing all the businesses in town to participate and sponsor a car in one of three classifications. It was a huge field of brightly colored fiberglass blurring by.

I figured this was just a little small town entertainment for a few kids and their parents. I was wrong. As we walked around, I could see some serious team compounds along the racecourse with everybody wearing their team uniforms and tinkering with their cars like it was NASCAR. The track was well appointed with rows of stacked tires encompassing the inner Courthouse perimeter and the outer wall holding back the participants from ending up inside one of the storefronts. There were teams from local radio stations, bail bond agencies; a couple of local banks, real estate offices, a smattering of mom and pops, the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department and the Waxahachie Police Department were all represented.

Pit Stop Row

As we watched, Dianna struck up a conversation with a woman in her beach chair seated by the track. She turned out to be the wife of an Ellis County Deputy Sheriff on the race team. She told us the race was a big deal in Waxahachie and the townsfolk looked forward to the event every year. There was serious competition among the various businesses to own a car and qualify for the event. Tensions abounded over who would take the trophies. It was all good-natured fun with all the proceeds going to Lion’s Club Charities but there was a dark side, which held every body’s attention.

Where we were standing was a crowded corner, a cul-de-sac of sorts, at the corner of East Franklin and North College Streets. I asked why everybody seemed to be milling around this particular corner. She confided in us that this was one of two “spin out corners” where most of the crashes and rollovers occurred. She said, like train wrecks and car accidents, it was the blood lust of racing to be in a position to see the collisions and see the injuries. Folks, this was serious racing at its finest, reminded me of how some of our elders probably got started in transporting moonshine. It made me look around for the ESPN cameras, Dale Earnhardt would’ve been proud.

As I watched from the protection of the rubber tires, I saw some pretty fancy driving, sometimes on two wheels, as these go-carters squealed and drifted around, lap after grueling lap, seeking their prizes. Grueling was right, often, I would watch as car after car came by with increasing amounts of Duct Tape applied to fenders and accessories. Each time a competitor careened into a wall in the turns or traded paint in the straight-aways, caution flags would fly from the hands of the Police Explorers manning the perimeters.

Each gladiator would then coast into the Pits where the crew would assault the car. An ever-increasing bulge of Duct Tape would be added to keep the cars from falling apart. The car with the most Duct Tape was an entry by the local radio station KBEC a Country Music station at 1390 on the AM dial (yes they still listen to AM here). Almost the entire rear half of the car was engulfed in tape. Still the right rear quarter refused to stay together, dangled, and scraped its way around the course. It was hard but we had to pry our eyes away from the racing and do what we came to do. Eat.

Note the Duct Tape

Well….shop and eat. Dianna found a sign above “spin out corner” advertising a restaurant and antique shop. The Dove’s Nest is a family owned business started by Cindy and Andrew Burch. Cindy’s mom had an antique store and Cindy and Andrew decided to open a little lunch counter in the back. As word got out about their food and baked goods, they had to expand and were fortunate enough to be able to move into the old Moore Hardware store next to the antique shop. The restaurant now occupies, originally built in 1913, what was the saddle and tack room in the 12,000 square foot building. The restaurant is very cozy and only seats about 30 people but those lucky people get to sample Cindy and Andrews’s very sophisticated menu produced by Executive Chef Aaron Neal.

I had the Portobello sandwich and Dianna had the spinach and ham quiche. Dianna ordered the Field Greens salad. I got the Texas Caesar. The sandwich was awesome with perfectly grilled Portobello mushrooms on spinach bread coated with a horseradish aioli sauce. Dianna’s was a flaky crust triangle of quiche baked to perfection. The salads came with an ample amount of fruit, nuts and melon in a citrus vinaigrette. Very refreshing.

After stuffing ourselves, we had to wander back through the antique shop and then around the west side of the Courthouse Square so Dianna could check out the shops and I to watch the race as it was winding down. Here are some other photos of the race.

Cute chick stuff
More cute chick Stuff

By now, most of the contestants had been eliminated due to breakdowns or had just run out of Duct Tape. The winners in each category came away with a trophy and some hometown pride in their efforts but were already strategizing and looking forward to next year’s race. First place in the Ladies Division was Carlisle Chevrolet. Men’s Lightweight (young men’s) Division went to Citizen’s National Bank and Men’s Heavyweight (Big Boy) Division went to AAA Bail Bonds. Congratulations to the winners and all who participated.