Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oh What A Night and Flute Lessons?

That post title ought to confuse a little, but there is a simple explanation.

First, on Saturday night Guitar, Pic-E, The Bride and myself went to see "Jersey Boys" at the Buell Theater in downtown Denver. That's the Oh What A Night part of the title and it was. This was a high powered musical with lots of great music that took me back to my high school days.

The show is the story of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons. I have enjoyed their music since they "made it big" but never really knew the story of the group. The stage show only hit the highlights and included plenty of great music so there was not brain overload in trying to follow the plot. One particularly interesting tidbit was that actor Joe Pesci was a boyhood friend of Franki Valli, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, three of the four Four Seasons. It was Joe Pesci who introduced them to Bob Gaudi who became the fourth Four Seasons and was the creative song writer for the group.

The show won a Tony Award in 2006 and has been touring the country ever since. All I can say is Oh What A Night! We had great fun, tapped our feet all evening and left the theater with a smile on our faces.

Before the show we stopped at the restaurant 1515 for dinner. The Bride and I had been to this restaurant several times before and always enjoyed it. Guitar and Pic-E had never been there before and from their reaction I think it will go on their "recommend" list.

A great meal and great entertainment....life is good. If Jersey Boys comes to your city don't miss it.

OK, so what's the deal with flute lessons?

Some time ago I reported that on my way back from New Mexico I stopped in Taos and bought a Native American Flute. I had been thinking about learning to play one for a while and finally pulled the trigger.

This is a very simple instrument that even a clutz like me is supposed to be able to play with just a little practice. It's the perfect instrument to take on my RV trips as it's small, requires no electricity and sounds great outdoors.

After a series of events that I won't detail, I ended up with a flute made by High Spirits Flutes in Arizona. The picture above is the model flute that I bought. I have been playing it for about a month on my own and decided that maybe I should take a lesson or two just to get me started.

It just so happens that there is a pretty well known Native American Flute artist by the name of Eric Herrera that lives in the Denver area and he teaches lessons. I contacted him and had my first lesson yesterday. It was just an introductory lesson but I learned enough to know that I want to continue the lessons for a while. I don't think I will threaten any professional musician's career but it is a fun thing to do and it keeps me off the streets.

As a final note, the weather here has been wonderful for the last few days. Clear, dry and temps in the upper 50's. It was so nice today that I rolled out the Ruckus scooter and took it for a drive. This is the kind of weather that makes me get out the maps and start planning trips.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year........

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, December 26, 2008

O Christmas Tree!

Christmas 2008 was a fine Christmas by any standard. The only negative is that CaJenn and CaJon were not here to share it with us. This is the first Christmas that CaJenn has not made it home for the holiday and we missed her but understand the progress of life.

Rather than go through the activities of the day, I thought you might like to see some of the ornaments that hang on our tree. The ornaments represent different aspects of our lives and it's fun to look at them all and remember their significance.

This one is from my parents tree. It probably dates to the late 1940's and it's the earliest ornament I can remember as a child.

Then there are these two that are also my parents. They were bought when we were stationed in Italy in the mid 1950's.

Gotta have a fishing ornament!

Cowboy stuff too.

A new one this year in honor of The Bride's graduations.

Favorite places.

And don't forget the RV!

These are just a few. Every year it's like a walk down memory lane when we look at the tree.

Tomorrow, The Bride and I, and Guitar and Pic-E are going to see the musical Jersey Boys at a theater in downtown Denver. We're all looking forward to it as we can all remember the music of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons. Before the show we'll grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area.................Life is good.

Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Sad Story That Makes Me Proud - Conclusion

I think it's appropriate that the conclusion to this story comes around Christmastime. This is a period of hope and well wishes for billions of people around the world. In my small world this ending gives me that warm contented feeling that only occurs a few times in one's life. To read the initial story click here.

You will note a comment to this original story from my classmate "Mike". Mike is the one who alerted us to the sale of a Class of 1969 Citadel ring on eBay. He physically bought the ring from the seller. The rest of us contributed money and comments but he was the "brains" of the operation.

After we secured the ring and found out that it belonged to "Joe", we searched for any living relatives and discovered that "Joes" parents were still alive and living in South Carolina. It was a no brainer that the ring should be returned to them.

I won't try to describe the rest because "Mike's" posts on our Yahoo Groups site does better than I could ever do. The following has been edited from several of "Mike's" emails to make it suitable for this blog.

I spoke with "Joe's" Mom this afternoon, she couldn't talk about the ring so she put "Joe's" father on the line. It was really a tough conversation because you could feel his pain that is still there after almost 40 years. When I told him I had "Joe's" ring and that I would drive down and give it to him tomorrow , he said he didn't think he could handle it, but then composed himself. I guess that's the military still in him. I spoke with "Joe's" sister later and asked her if she thought it would be okay for me to come down and she said yes, and that she would be there as well

Joe died on Jun 15, 1970. One year later his father, also an army officer and airborne veteran of WW II (wounded at Anzio in 1944), Korea and Vietnam, suffered a heart attack after going through an old trunk with pictures and keepsakes of "Joe" and his sister when they were kids. He survived three wars but after the heart attack he was discharged from the service.

"Joe's" ring was stolen in 1992. The thief entered their home and hauled off a large safe that included "Joe's" sword, ring and other Citadel belongings.

Before visiting the parents I went over to the Lawtonville Cemetery where "Joe'" is buried. I placed the ring on his grave marker, somewhat symbolic of what his fiancee did with the wedding ring at "Joe's" funeral. Lawtonville Cemetery is a historic landmark. Many Civil War soldiers are buried there including some from The Citadel. This is the deep south that some folks only read about.

"Joe's" Dad tried to pay me for the ring several times. I told him it was our gift to his family and if he paid for the ring it would diminish our joy in returning it to them.

To my brothers of The Citadel Class of 1969.....

WE wear The Ring!

Thanks for visiting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recent Read

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is a National Book Award winner and it deserves it.

Imagine you are a farmer in the Oklahoma panhandle in 1918. You have lived the American dream. You started out in a sod dug out, broke the soil with a mule, planted crops, sweated and prospered. With the help of your wife and children you have carved out a decent life in this remote area. You have been able to move from the dugout to a modest frame house. Things are looking up. The world-wide demands for wheat during World War I present an opportunity to make you rich if you plant enough...and you do. By the mid 20's you have mechanical farm equipment, electric lights, a car and a piano. This is like printing money. Plow more land, plant more wheat, get more money.

The stock market crash in 1929 can't hurt the relatively self sufficient farmer. That stuff is for city slickers. Even when prices for wheat tank all you have to do is plant more to make up for low prices.

Then Nature turns on you. In the period of just two years your life has turned to hell. The worst ecological disaster ever to hit the United States is your life. Hurricanes of dirt happen on a monthly, no weekly basis. Temperatures soar and plunge to extremes. The only way to live inside your house is to seal all the windows and doors with tape and then cover the openings with sheets. Still the dust penetrates everything and requires you to “dig out” the insides of the house several times a day. Tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, black widow spiders all seeking shelter from nature gone crazy, invade you home making it a dangerous place. Your children die of “dust pneumonia”, a form of silicosis from breathing dust laden air.

Your once lush farm now looks like the Sahara desert. You lose all your equipment to the bank. Most of your farm animals die from malnutrition or because they ingest so much dirt in the storms that it kills them. The horses resort to chewing on fence posts to try and survive.

Maybe the lucky ones are the ones that lose their land too and are forced to move out. Those that remain endure this for ten long years.

This is their story. This is the story of thousands of farmers and town dwellers alike in Southeastern Colorado, Southwestern Kansas and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. This is the story of the Dust Bowl. This is the incredible story of a natural disaster on top of the man made disaster of The Great Depression.

Timothy Egan does a magnificent job in telling the story of individuals and families that struggle during this period. The book reads more like a novel than history. It's a dark novel but it's particularly apropos today.

For me it was on one hand depressing. It's a tough story. On the other hand, I marveled at what the human flesh and spirit can endure. I wake up this morning thankful that I live the plush life that I do and wonder if I could match the deeds of these intrepid people. It also stirs caution in me. Man's quest for financial gain can be a ruinous thing. The old adage is still true. “It can always get worse.”

This book is a worthy read. It will make you feel both bad and good. I heartily recommend it.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bits and Pieces

Trying to get back to normal after the celebrations of this past weekend but the cold weather is definitely throwing "cold water" on things.

I didn't report that several weeks ago I had the carpeting replaced in my RV. I replaced the original carpet which was about 17 years old. Even though carpeting in an RV doesn't get the constant use that carpet in a home gets, 17 years is more than enough to have made it pretty nasty. The transformation is fantastic....looks like a completely new RV in some ways.

Yesterday the temps were above freezing for most of the day so I went down to the RV lot and ran the engine and gasoline generator for a while. Gasoline generators are supposed to be "exercised" at least once a month to keep the carburetor from gumming up. The previous owner did not do that and the generator shows it by surging pretty badly for a minute or two after starting up. If my exercising it doesn't clean it out by spring I guess I'll have to have it cleaned out by my mechanic.

Tomorrow and for a few days after that it is supposed to turn bitterly cold again. High tomorrow will be 15 degrees. The Bride and The Emmer have said that they're going to go shopping?....It's a woman thing I guess. First off, you won't find me anywhere near a store between now and Christmas, especially during the weekend. Secondly, to add obnoxious crowds on top of bitter cold is just too much for a retired guy!

So, with the weather heading south....no that's not right, if it were heading south wouldn't you think it would be getting warmer? Let me rephrase, with the weather taking a dive...taking a plunge...that doesn't sound right either. That makes me think of diving into warm water. Maybe I should skip the literary stuff....

Seeing as how the weather will be crappy tomorrow, maybe I should make some pasta puttanesca? This is perhaps my favorite pasta dish. I think I first tasted it many years ago on a business trip to Chicago. Over the years I made it a point to have it at least once every time I was in Chicago. When I retired I decided to learn to cook it so I wouldn't have to go to Chicago to get my "fix". I found that it is very easy to make and that says a lot coming from me. Be sure you read the description of the term puttanesca in the link above!

I also hope that I'll be able to tell you the conclusion to my earlier post "A Sad Story That Makes Me Proud" in a day or two so stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Graduation and Low Country Shrimp Boil

The Bride is now officially the holder of a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting! It took many years of night school but she stayed the course and completed her degree requirements in October. This past Saturday was the winter graduation for Regis College, and family and friends were there to cheer for her. Not only did she graduate but she graduated Cum Laude. That's WAY better than I managed some forty years ago.

Ladder Lady flew in from North Carolina for the event and CaJenn and CaJon came from the left coast. The Emmer and the entire Circle was present as well.

After the ceremonies we all returned to our house for a Low Country Shrimp Boil in celebration of the event. This is for sure one of my favorite meals. It's kind of hard to beat shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions and sausage. Then to top it all off, desert was Pig Pickin Cake! I'm pretty sure that no one left hungry.

Sunday morning The Bride and I took Ladder Lady, CaJenn and CaJon to the airport for their flights home. The cold front that now grips a large part of the country had just moved through Colorado. The temperature at the airport at mid-morning was 0 degrees! Ladder Lady was glad to be going back to North Carolina where the temperature was a bit more to her liking.

It looks like the cold weather will hang around for a while. Yesterday they set a new record low temperature for the day at the airport....-19 degrees. As nasty as that is we could benefit from an extended cold snap. Colorado has been plagued by mountain pine beetles for several years now. Literally millions of trees have been killed by these beetles and in some areas whole mountain sides are brown with dead trees. It's going to have to get even colder still to help though. At least five days of -30 degrees is needed to kill the beetles. I would gladly endure the weather if it would put a stop to this current infestation.

Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Don't get upset at the title...DAM is the acronym for Denver Art Museum. The Bride, Ladder Lady and myself took a trip there yesterday. The "cultural complex consists of several buildings but the new art museum is pictured above. The building, designed by Daniel Libeskind was completed in 2006 to rave architectural reviews. Personally I think it's a bit over the top and I wonder how well it will age.

The reason for our visit was to see an exhibit of paintings by E.L. Blumenschein the famous member of the Taos Society of Artists. Blumenschein was an incredibly gifted artist and most of his works have been described as "post-impressionist" and "modernist". I would lean towards the modernist description but his style was realist enough that his pictures clearly portray the image. No guessing needed.
That probably is a result of his early illustrator career. Most of his subjects were related to the Southwest. Indians, frontiersmen and New Mexico landscape and the like.

It was great. I was fascinated not only with the subject matter but the coloration and lighting of the paintings as well. The exhibit consisted of 66 of his most famous paintings and we studied them for a couple of hours before we headed off to lunch at the museum restaurant "Palettes". This is quite the "tony" spot for lunch and Ladder Lady was suitably impressed.....the food was good too.

After lunch we went across the street for a tour of the historic Byers/Evans House. The house dates to 1883 and was home to two different prominent Colorado families: William Byers, the founder of the Rocky Mountain News and William Evans, son of Colorado's first governor. The house was occupied by the Evans family until 1981 when it was given to the Colorado Historical Society so unlike many historical houses, this house and it's contents are 99% authentic. Everything in the house was actually owned and used by the families.

We managed to finish our little expedition just before the afternoon rush hour so it was a very good day.

Today the rush is on to make final preparations for the arrival of CaJenn and CaJon tomorrow and to lay in supplies for the party on Saturday evening to celebrate The Brides college graduation. It will be a memorable event and I plan to take lots of pictures so stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ladder Lady, Felice Navidad and More Celebrations

The Bride's mother, Ladder Lady, arrived from North Carolina on Saturday afternoon and the weather was mild enough (mid 60's) so that it did not bruise her sensibilities. That however, may change tomorrow as we are now forecast to start getting snow this evening with a total of 4"-8" by tomorrow morning. Wednesday the temps will bounce back into the 50's so the snow will probably be all gone by Thursday.

We're hoping for good weather late in the week as CaJenn and CaJon will be arriving from the left coast to help celebrate The Bride's graduation on Saturday. CaJon is a Colorado native so the snow is fine with him. My daughter CaJenn spent the majority of her life in the South so she is NOT a fan of snow and enjoys her home in California because of the moderate weather there.

Last night we had a Circle "+" event. The Circle met at K and Too Tall - Two Timing's place for a Mexican themed start to the holiday season. Ladder Lady and The Emmer came along with The Bride and I. K and Too Tall - Two Timing's son and daughter were also there. The star of the show was Too Tall - Two Timing's new grandson. I never really considered Too Tall to be "grandfatherly" but he seems to be a very quick study.

I'm not sure I can describe all the food other than to say it was delicious and Mexican. Guitar was in charge of the Margaritas and even though I did not have one, it was apparent that his concoction met with the approval of the rest of The Circle.

After dinner we exchanged Christmas Tree ornaments. This is something that K cooked up and I'm thinking that it will become a yearly event. This way we will enjoy each other's company for many years and remember the fun times every Christmas season. Now the race is on for the cleverest...yet tasteful tree ornaments.

As I mentioned, The Bride has her graduation ceremony this coming Saturday. After the ceremony The Circle will gather at our house for a Low Country Shrimp Boil. This was an entertainment staple for us when we lived in Savannah and is a sure fire crowd pleaser. To make things even better, it's easy to prepare and very easy to clean up afterwards.

We plan a very casual evening with friends and relatives. We will probably inject a little more fun by having some contests on our WiiFit. We did a little of this a week or so ago with K and Too Tall - Two Timing and had a blast. Just to be on the safe side I have already moved a lot of the furniture out of the way in our basement so that if the participants get a little "zealous" they won't hurt themselves. Stay tuned for a report on this.

Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Sad Story That Makes Me Proud

I debated with myself for a number of days about whether I should post this story on my blog. It's such a compelling story and it makes me so proud that I decided to go ahead and tell you about it.

If you are a reader of this blog you can see that I attended a military college in South Carolina. This college is rich in history and it's graduates have a bond between themselves which is stronger than most other academic institutions. Think "Band of Brothers" here. The bo
nd is particularly strong between members of the same graduating class. Much of this is due to the military nature of the school.

The Citadel has provided men and women for the armed forces since before the Civil War. Citadel graduates have died in defense of their country in every armed conflict since the Civil War as well. Many graduates make the military a career and have risen to the heights of military leadership. At least 75 graduates perished in the Vietnam War and to date 13 have been killed in the Iraq/Afghanistan War. That might not sound like a lot, but the student body at The Citadel numbers only 2000 cadets at a maximum.

Where ever they go, the most visible symbol of a Citadel graduate is the ring they wear. The ring has been standardized over the years and the only thing that changes from year to year is the class year imprinted on the face of the ring. The picture at the top of this post is the ring for the Class of 2007. My ring looks the same except it is quite worn and has a 69 instead of an 07.

My ring is worn for several reasons. First I wear it every day, all day. The only time it leaves my hand is in situations where it might be lost....when working in cold water for instance. Other than that it stays on my hand 24 hours a day. Secondly this ring had one of the highest gold contents of any class ring made in the country. That makes the metal of the ring softer and more subject to wear. My ring means a lot to me. If I had to choose, I would have it over the diploma that hangs on my wall.

To most Citadel graduates their ring is a very big deal. This is a solemn thing and we do not like to see the ring abused or to travel outside the circle of graduates. To the Class of 1969 it is definitely a big deal. My class started out with over 800 students. We graduated between 300-400. This was at the height of the Vietnam War and probably 90 percent of us went into the military after graduation. Of that number I'm guessing 75 percent of us served in Vietnam. About 10 of us paid the ultimate price. Many, many more came home wounded physically or emotionally. To us the ring is a unifying thing. It represents the soul of who we are and what we stand for.

I said earlier, think Band of Brothers, and that is appropriate. About 150 members of the Class of 1969 participate in a online Yahoo Group restricted to only our classmates. After forty years we post MANY messages every day and keep up with one another.

About two weeks ago one of our classmates reported that a Class of 1969 Citadel ring was for sale on eBay. To us this was heresy. No one but a graduate or a relative of a deceased graduate should have access to something as sacred as this.

One of the first things we wanted to know was who's ring was it? The rings are all engraved on the inside with the name of the owner. Quite a number of graduates have lost their rings in any number of ways but they were ALWAYS replaced with another. One classmate who was a POW during Vietnam had his ring stolen by his VC captor. (read his story here)

After about a day of posting on the Yahoo Group we collectively decided that to allow this ring to be sold to someone who had no connection to the school or the Class of 1969 was unacceptable. We collectively would buy the ring and return it to it's rightful owner if that were possible. The seller would not give us any information about the ring, including the inscription inside, other than to say he bought it at an estate sale.

The lack of cooperation by the seller really didn't make any difference because we had decided that we were going to buy the ring regardless of the cost. When the auction ended we had indeed outbid everyone to the tune of a little over $700. The next task was to find out who's ring it was and return it if possible.

In about three days we had the ring and knew who it belonged to. Let's call him "Joe". Joe entered the Army like so many of us and was preparing to go to Vietnam as a Lieutenant in 1970 when he was stricken with and died of spinal meningitis. To make matters even more sad, Joe died only a couple of days before he was to be married. He was in fact buried on the day of his wedding. At his funeral his fiancee said her vows at his casket and placed the wedding ring in his casket to be with him forever.

Several of my classmates were pallbearers at the funeral and verified this story. Over the intervening 40 years everyone lost touch with the fiancee and Joe's family. It would make sense that his fiancee eventually moved on with her life and has another family. But did she keep the ring or was it Joe's family that kept the ring? Since the ring was purchased from an estate sale, is there anyone left for whom this ring would have meaning?

We don't know the answers to these questions yet but several of my classmates who were familiar with the families involved are now doing some detective work to find out. Most importantly if we cannot locate a family member for whom this symbol will have meaning, at least the ring will reside with The Band of Brothers, fellow classmates of the Class of 1969. I am proud of my brothers. I am proud that I am a part of something as good and honest as the bond between us.

I am proud that "I Wear The Ring".

Thanks for visiting.


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