Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An “Ah-Ha” Moment; “Nautigirl”

Yesterday morning, My Foxy Flautist (yes, that is a new one!) wanted to play her flute with an accompanying CD, but our 15 year old five disk CD player wouldn’t play, and even the door needed a butter knife to help pry it open. She said, “Well, I guess it’s time to get a new one...” “Au contraire, ma Cherie!” Being an inveterate do-it-yourself repair guy when my meager skills aren’t stressed too badly, I decided to see if I could fix the recalcitrant device myself. After removing the six screws holding the cabinet cover on, I opened the CD player to find... Fernando Varela blocking the CD player’s laser reader. Okay, so the singer wasn’t actually inside the player, but his CD had somehow gotten jammed between the CD laser reader and the carousel tray. Removing Fernando solved the “no-play” problem, and it looks like the sticky door issue is due to a stretched-out rubber drive belt, about the size of a thick rubber band. A new belt is now on order, and I think that change will make the CD player as good as new. 

We had a real treat last night... we showed our Atlantic Crossing video to a hundred or so friends at the Seabreeze Rec Center here in The Villages. We actually made the trip in 2005, from Beaufort, NC, to Bermuda, then to the Azores, and finally to Cascais, near Lisbon, Portugal. The trip took us about six weeks, and one of our crewmembers was a professional videographer. 

Here is “Nautigirl”, showing off her tee shirt with signal flags actually spelling out "Nautiboy", but as everyone knows, I'm anything but naughty. (She looks like she is having too much fun.) I think everyone saw a different side of Suzanne during the movie. She jokes that everyone would know that she went days without makeup... and very little sleep... aboard a 46 foot sailboat in constant motion. 

If you have never been aboard a small boat in the middle of the Atlantic, it's sort of like riding inside a washing machine, except the spin cycle is a bit slower. Here we are with a spinnaker set and the Portuguese island of Flores, in the Azores, in the distance. "Land HO!" after 16 days and 1,800 miles from Bermuda.  It was a boatload of fun sharing our adventures and great memories with our friends. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Final Hike; A Bizarre Airline Check-in; Here's Mud in Your....; Family Ties

"Final Hike"... it has an ominous tone, like Your Faithful Correspondent was eaten by a displaced polar bear, or swallowed up in quicksand, or fell into a sinkhole.... no such terminal excitement... it was merely our last hike of the trip, in the hills behind Sedona, on Saturday afternoon. All of the hikes there are beautiful, and the Brims Mesa Trail was no exception. This one was a little different because instead of ending in a slot canyon with no egress other than the way in, this trail gave us access to a backcountry wilderness area. 

This is where I would have backpacked for several days had the weather cooperated. But since it was predicted to snow on our arrival, I didn’t even bring my tent and sleeping bag. My Lovely Bride calls me a “Wuss” because I opted to sleep in a hotel rather than in my tent in 18F weather. She is such a comedian... I might have survived the frosty temps had I used some of the dead trees here for firewood, but the Forest Service rangers might not have taken kindly to my “axing without axing...” (That terrible pun is for my brother-in-law, Brent.) 

On the hike in, Suzanne’s iPhone alarm went off. I would normally give her grief about noise in the wilderness, but she had warned me that during the hike, we have to check in for our flight. It was 24 hours away, but since Southwest Airlines doesn’t reserve seats, you either check in early for an aisle seat or wind up sitting in the middle seat with an NFL tackle-sized guy on either side of you. Who maybe hasn’t showered recently... anyway, it can get ugly. So here is Corvette Chick, standing at the edge of a precipice in Sedona, intently tapping away on her iPhone, linked to a SWA computer in Bangladesh, hoping that two bars reception will get us our seats side-by-side. It was a surreal moment. 

At the end of our hike, we were stowing our gear in the trunk of the car when CC says, “Oooohhhh, look at all the gooey red mud on my beautiful boots!” The trail had been wet from the snowfall, and had not dried out in many places. I’ve seen worse, and at least it wasn’t sticking to her boots in huge clumps, making it hard to walk. And of course it was red, to match the red rocks that Sedona is famous for. They weren’t that hard to clean once we got to our hotel and we broke out the retired toothbrush. (Wanna hazard a guess as to WHO got to actually USE the retired toothbrush on all four boots?)  

So, we get to the airport, and I recall my first airline flight, back in the 60’s. All the guys wore coat and tie, and the ladies wore dresses. (We do remember what dresses are, right?) If you haven’t flown in a few decades, you would be appalled at the poor clothing (and grooming) standards of many of the people getting on airplanes, other than business people, folks over 60, and flight crews. “Hoodies”, short shorts, tie-dyed tee shirts, ragged jeans, flip-flops, tee shirts with almost obscene logos... you get my drift, right? Who raised these nincompoops?

Anyway, we are now back in The Villages, enjoying 87F sunny weather while the rest of the country shovels snow or breaks out umbrellas for deluges of rain. We were happy to have family visiting Monday evening, Suzanne’s nephew Dan and his fiancĂ©e Courtney. (It is just a bit colder back in their home town of West Chester, PA.) They were able to visit Courtney’s family in Tampa and also see Orlando’s Universal Studios. (Corvette Chick had to show off her red Vette to Dan, since he has a Camaro and is an expert BMW technician.) Here is the family photo, with Suzanne, Dan, Courtney, Ruthie, Brent and Cheryl. I have to poke a little fun at Brent’s legs, which have developed a bit of a tan since he moved to The Villages recently. They had not seen sun in 50 years prior to moving here, but having become an avid golfer of late, he has only missed one day of golf in the past two weeks... and he finally gave in to local convention and started wearing shorts!  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

“Brrr...” Hiking and Reading; Oak Creek; Dragging Anchor? A Useful Plant; Romeo and Juliet

We woke up this morning to an unusual winter wonderland here in Sedona. It was 18F... to those who don’t recall their temperature scale, that’s 14 degrees below freezing. As in, "very cold". My Lovely Bride used the Siri voice command function on her phone to ask, “What’s the weather in Sedona?” Siri responded,  “Brrrr, it’s 18 degrees in Sedona.”  See, even computers can have a sense of humor.

While Suzanne gave a reading to a local  lady who had been on her list for a long time, I went hiking on the Soldier Pass Trail just south of town. At 0900, it was still frosty, about 29F, and I dressed in double layers, tops and bottoms, and marched off smartly to hike and to photograph the snowy towers and mesas. Since we had only been here in warmer weather prior to this trip, it was a treat to see snow on the trees and splashed across Sedona’s famous red rocks. 

I knew that it would get up to 55 or so later in the day, and that the snow would soon be melting, but for now, the globs of white on all the trees were magical. There were almost no other people out on the trail, and it felt like the trees and cacti had been decorated just for me... 

This agave plant (Agave Americana) is not a cactus; it is a succulent, and often called a century plant or an American aloe, although it is not closely related to the aloe. A piece of botanical trivia: the tall stalks of some agave plants can be dried and made into didgeridoos, for those who are so musically inclined. But you should be careful in handling the agave, because the juice from many species can cause acute contact dermatitis, producing reddening and blistering that can last two weeks. On the positive side, several agaves have edible parts, and one can also collect agave sap to distill into tequila... 

When I got back to our hotel room, I tossed my backpack on the bed, and a few minutes later, my backpack started beeping... “What the heck?” I pulled out my portable GPS (which had not been used since we cruised the coast of Maine aboard our sailboat Liberty) and looked at the display... it read, “Dragging Anchor”. Aboard a sailboat, that means that your anchor is not holding the boat to the bottom, and you’re moving unexpectedly, called “N.G.” in the Navy, for “Not Good”. Fortunately, a quick button press and the alarm ceased, “No harm, no foul”, but it was a fun reminder of our days sailing. 

After lunch, we went out together for another hike, this one on the Baldwin Trail near Bell Rock. The weather started off rather chilly, but that didn't dampen Suzanne's "enSuzyasm"... 

After an hour or so, it got much warmer on the south-facing slopes, where all the snow had melted, but it was still delightful. Here is My Lovely Bride pointing at Buddha Beach across oak Creek, where locals build little buddhas made of river stones, which get washed away with every heavy rainfall and then rebuilt within days. 

After our hike and a quick weight workout in the hotel gym, we suited up for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, Dahl and DiLuca. My Lovely Bride looked beautiful, and I was very happy to have her on my arm. Our meal was exceptional - Suzanne had veal Piccata and I had a veal, spinach, eggplant, and cheese dish called "Romeo and Juliet" - don't you think that's a great name for a gourmet  dish at a romantic Italian restaurant? It was a delicious end to a great day in Sedona. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

“Wave Off”; Noisy Revelers; Snowy Sedona; A Unity Movie Viewing

Have you ever watched a Navy war movie that showed a plane landing on an aircraft carrier? The Landing Signals Officer (LSO) standing on a platform at the stern once used paddles to signal the pilot of the approaching aircraft whether his descent onto the deck matched the approved glide path; the LSO would “wave off” a pilot who was not making a safe approach. Today, the LSO uses a radio and flashing lights rather than paddles, but the result is the same. Why am I bringing this up? Well, because yesterday our Boeing 737 was “waved off” at PHX - Phoenix, AZ - while making an approach in a rain/thunderstorm. We were “on final”, about 400 feet AGL (above ground level), just crossing over the end of the runway, and we heard the engines go to full power and the nose tip up. Those actions “get your attention”. Evidently winds were gusting above safe limits, so the captain did a go-around and landed very comfortably about 6 minutes later, to applause from many of the passengers.  

We spent the night in Scottsdale, and perhaps I should have selected another hotel... we were awakened at 0215 by some very noisy revelers from the rooms next door. It was some young man’s birthday, and I was afraid the party was likely to keep going, so a quick call to the front desk, and things finally settled down, but not before my beauty rest was severely reduced.

This morning dawned cold and a bit dreary, compared to warm and sunny Florida. Last night’s front had mostly cleared eastward, but there were lots of clouds up north Sedona-way, where we were headed. By the time we arrived at our chosen trailhead for a two hour hike, it was 29F and snowing. Did I say “snow”? Yep, sunny Arizona was getting a dusting; certainly not a Boston-style snowfall, but enough to stick on the scrub trees and cactus near Bell Rock where we were hiking. Here is Corvette Chick, now on foot, trying to catch snowflakes in her mouth. 

In any case, we enjoyed our hike on the Little Horse Trail to Chicken Point, so named because it terminates on a steep slickrock cliff that is the turn-around point for the Pink Jeeps Sedona is famous for. This photo shows two people standing a few yards from the edge at Chicken Point.. 

While hiking on both slickrock and mud, we met another couple on the trail. My Lovely Bride, whose seven languages normally give her a distinct advantage over Your Faithful Correspondent in ordering at restaurants overseas, didn’t recognize the language they were speaking. “Hebrew”, the man replied to her query. What followed were a series of “synchronicities” that will probably appear in Suzanne’s blog in the near future... so I won’t spoil the fun here. Suffice it to say that she was quite amazed by some of the interesting “coincidences” that occurred today... 

Snow on Sedona’s world-famous red rocks gives one a totally different perspective, compared to the bright summer red hues we are more familiar with. The low clouds draping the tops of the mesas also provide an eerie feeling and muffle nature’s sounds...

Driving from the trailhead to our hotel, the snow really started coming down, with massive wet flakes obscuring the road as well as our views of the mountains...

We finished out the day at Sedona Unity Church, giving a private showing of the Messages of Hope documentary to a group of very interested and enthusiastic viewers. We appreciated their coming out in the middle of a snowstorm to view the movie. Their warmth certainly made up for the bad weather.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shoji Tabuchi; The Great Attractor; My Good Buddy Bob; Steelhead!

On Monday evening, we enjoyed a terrific performance by Shoji Tabuchi at the Savannah Center. Shoji is a Japanese-American violinist who immigrated to the USA in 1968 and became an American citizen. He is an extraordinarily accomplished violinist, originally trained in classical music, who now specializes in country and western music. He also has an extensive collection of rather gaudy sequined jackets; I think he made about 12 changes during the performance, but fortunately there were no wardrobe malfunctions...

Based in Branson, Missouri, Shoji also makes road trips, and this trip to The Villages was his first. Accompanying him were his daughter Christine, two other dancers/singers, and six musicians. I am sure he will be back, because his performance was very well received. He made his violin produce sounds I could never have imagined, like a train, a cow, and a car horn... and his final piece, God Bless America, had the entire audience on their feet singing. 

Word of the Day: Great Attractor: n. a large aggregation of galaxies, approximately 150 to 350 million light years away from Earth, in the direction of the constellations Hydra and Centaurus. Its gravitational pull might account for the unexpected motions of many galaxies, including our own. It is estimated that the Great Attractor reveals the existence of a localized concentration of mass equivalent to tens of thousands of galaxies. (Thinking too hard about those numbers and distances gives me a headache, but also makes me think that it’s a pretty good bet we’re not alone in our journey through space...)

Have you ever loaned tools to a friend? Of course you have. That’s what friends do. That’s why, after loaning My Good Buddy Bob my air compressor to top up the tires on his motor coach, I was somewhat taken aback to hear him ask, as we passed my various fishing rods in the garage, “Hey, Ty, what are those for? Snicker, snicker...” I suspect that he was trying to make jest of my fishing prowess, which had admittedly undergone some trials and tribulations during our recent summer trip out west... but just the other day, I returned from Lake Sumter with two nice steelhead. (Well, I guess full disclosure requires an admission that I actually exchanged some currency for the fish at our local grocery, but I left the house to get fish, and I returned with fish. How much more successful can any fisherman be?) (And as for My Good Friend Bob, well, let's see how he deals with six deflated tires tomorrow morning and my compressor locked up in my garage next to my fishing rods!)

Our Fish of the Week is steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), also known as the sea-run rainbow trout and as salmon trout. Steelhead are anadromous, which means that they originate in fresh water, where they spend about a year as smolts (young fish), then spend 2-3 years cruising the ocean, and finally return to their original hatching grounds in fresh water to spawn. Steelhead have pink meat, like salmon, and are much more flavorful than the light colored meat of rainbow trout. In fact, the aforementioned steelhead that Your Faithful Correspondent acquired recently were grilled and served over wilted spinach with a pesto aoili, along with roasted potatoes and Cherries Jubilee, to our good friends Mike, Cheryl, Bob, and Jessica at Das Blogmeisterhaus

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Homosassa New Age Thinkers; Atlantic Crossing Movie Night; “It’s a Sign”; Word for the Day; The Two Raffaeles

On Saturday we drove to Homosassa, Florida, for Suzanne’s presentation on Trance Mediumship to the Homosassa New Age Thinkers (NATs). A group of 53 enthusiastic attendees listened as Suzanne presented background information and conducted a channeling session, which was highly acclaimed by her listeners.

Many of you have heard about our having lived aboard a 46 foot sailboat for 5 years, and sailing her from the USA to Europe. During our crossing, a videographer made a documentary which has never been released. We will be having an Atlantic Crossing Movie Night on Feb 27th from 7:00 - 9:00 PM at the Seabreeze Recreation Center here in The Villages. If you’re a Villages resident and would like to join us, you can get more info and sign up at this link (there is no charge):

On a non-spiritual note, we passed this sign the other day... it is not an endorsement for the business, but rather an observation that you can make even a dirty job fun... well, kinda sorta...  

Our Word for the Day is “limpet”. Some of you know a limpet as a maritime gastropod mollusk that has a low, rough conical shell and clings to rocks [Per-12th C. Via medieval Latin lampetra (source also of English lamprey), of uncertain origin: probably literally “lick-rock.”) The “true limpet”, or patella vulgate, is seen here on a rock surface in Wales, UK. Limpets are actually fresh or salt water snails, and can have either gills or a lung. 

But the word also has a more sinister meaning: a limpet mine is an explosive device that can be attached to the hull of a ship by a diver or swimmer, and is usually held in place by magnets. (The analogy to a snail stuck to a rock seems obvious now, n'cest pas?) This photo shows how a diver might carry one of these devices. The word "carefully" also comes to mind...

The first successful use of a limpet mine was in 1918, when two Italian Royal Navy divers, Raffaele Paolucci and Raffaele Rossetti, blew up the dreadnought battleship SMS Viribus Unitis in Pula, Croatia, during the First World War. This was a truly bizarre incident, for several reasons. SMS Viribus Unitis was the ship that had transported Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austrian throne, to Bosnia in 1914; while visiting Sarajevo, Serbia, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg, were assassinated with a hand grenade thrown by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. (The couple is seen here at left and below, above the mug shot of their killer. Terrorists don't seem to have changed a lot in 100 years, have they?)

The bodies of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were then returned to Trieste aboard the Viribus Unitis. Austria declared war on Serbia, and World War I was on. Scroll ahead four years, to the harbor of Pula... the Two Raffeles successfully attached the limpet mines to the battleship, but were captured 20 minutes before the mines were to detonate. They were then taken aboard the Viribus Unitis, their target, where they learned that she was no longer an Austro-Hungarian warship, but had been given by Austria to the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, a neutral power. They immediately informed the ship’s captain of the impending explosion. He had them taken to a sister ship, and ordered the evacuation of his crew. When the explosion did not occur exactly at the time expected, he and the crew returned to the ship, which promptly then exploded, killing the captain and 400 crewmen. The Italians, still aboard another ship, survived the war and were given medals. (This was also one of the last successful missions by the Italian Navy... and again proves that fact is often stranger than fiction.)  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mister Marmot; Airing Clean Laundry; Parking Hall of Shame; Osso Bucco!

Back 14 years ago, we were living out in Washington State, and Corvette Chick was then a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, in command of a shore activity at the Bangor Submarine Base. We lived on a couple of acres out in the woods (like a mile down a dirt road) and had a golden retriever named Buddy. On weekends, we loved to go hiking, and one of our favorite trips was to Mt. Baker, in the North Cascades. Here is Buddy leading me up the trail.

At 10,781 feet, Mt Baker, known to the Lummi Indians as Koma Kulshan, is the 3rd highest peak in the state. It also has the second most active crater in the Cascades. Most impressive, it is the snowiest place in the world, having accumulated 1,140 inches of snow in a single season. For those without a calculator, that means 95 feet of snow. 

On a summer hike on the flank of Mt. Baker, we heard some unusual chirping, and then saw this little critter peeking at us from a pile of boulders. It was a hoary marmot (Marmota caligata cascandensis). These are the largest American ground squirrels, often reaching 8 lbs. They are also known as “whistle pigs”, and the town of Whistler in British Columbia was renamed in their honor (and to make the town more marketable as a ski area). This fellow was sunning himself on the rocks and alerting other members of his colony that there were human intruders coming. 

Suzanne was really taken with this little guy, and said “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a little stuffed marmot?” Well, her birthday was coming up, so I found a company in British Columbia that made plush marmots, and she was thrilled to find Mr. Marmot among her birthday gifts. 

Anyway, Mr. Marmot has been our companion since 1999, moving from Washington to Virginia, sailing across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, making numerous moves from boat to house, and finally arriving here in sunny Florida. He was in peril many times, however, because Rudy has tried to eat him on several occasions. Readers of this blog know that Rudy has “this thing” about disemboweling stuffed animals. 

Well, he has looked longingly at Mr. Marmot for 8 years, always hoping that he would fall off Suzanne’s dresser onto the floor where he would become “fair game” for Dachshund Destruction. But My Lovely Bride has always kept him in a safe place... until today. Imagine my surprise when I went into the bedroom and saw Mr. Marmot on the bed with a pair of my Jockey shorts (known as “skivvies” in the Navy) on his head. This of course leads into another story... a sea story, this time...  

Back in 1986, I was Operations Officer aboard the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61). We were anchored in New York harbor for the 4th of July, awaiting President and Mrs. Reagan’s visit for the unveiling of the recently-renovated Statue of Liberty. Part of the celebration was a concert by the Beach Boys, who would be playing aboard our ship to assembled multitudes aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), anchored a short distance away. This required several days’ preparation for installation of huge speakers and electronics aboard Iowa, and the Beach Boys and their entourage, which included several attractive young women, stayed aboard our ship during this period. They were the very first women to spend nights aboard our ship, and were assigned to extra staterooms in officers’ country. See photo at right - the Beach Boys are tuning up on top of Turret 3.

While aboard, the band’s young ladies had sent their clothes to be cleaned in our ship’s laundry. Now, sailors being sailors, when the aforementioned young ladies’ undergarments were being washed and dried by the 18 year old (male) Ship’s Servicemen, they decided that “Wouldn’t it be fun to wear the women’s brassieres on their heads like earmuffs and their panties like berets?” They forgot that the ship’s Command Duty Officer (CDO) would be making his rounds of the ship about then, and were caught looking rather foolish by the CDO, who the next morning let the entire wardroom (and by extension, the entire ship) know about their antics. They weren’t disciplined, but the “ration of crap” they received from their shipmates over the next few weeks made them regret their lapse of judgment. (Well, at any rate, it made them more careful in the future...) And now, My Funny Bride has made fun of sailors (and me, by extension) who wear girls’ underwear on their heads... she is such a card. 

While taking Rudy and Gretchen for a w-a-l-k in t-o-w-n today, we saw this new addition to the Parking Hall of Shame. My good friend Dale Hilliard, who by the way was my right hand man and a Operations Specialist Senior Chief Petty Officer (OSCS) aboard Battleship Iowa back in 1986, would probably blame this poor parking job on the owner having selected a Japanese car rather than a good old American-built Chevrolet. (Dale, this proves I don’t always pick on GM owners for our Parking Hall of Shame!) 

Finally, My Sweet Wife prepared a fabulous Valentine's Day dinner tonight (she wanted a quiet celebration with me, Rudy and Gretchen). Anyway, she surprised me with a gourmet Italian Osso Bucco, with a delicious garlic-basil-tomato sauce, over pasta. My contribution was opening a particularly nice Mendocino County Pinot Noir... I am a VERY LUCKY MAN! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Prancing with Pachyderms; Butt Watchers and Sexy Kitten Skaters?

On Tuesday we made a daytrip with our good friends Sharon and Joyce to Two Tails Ranch, an elephant sanctuary and educational facility in Williston, Florida, about an hour’s drive from The Villages. “I’m sorry, Ty, did you say an “elephant sanctuary?” Yes, My Dear, that’s what I said... a sanctuary for elephants, in particular Elephas maximus, Asian elephants. We arrived for a two hour visit and were immediately met noisily by Donny, the official ranch greeter and security guard. Donny is actually a duck...  here is Donny making sure I found the facilities... (Joyce, thank you for the picture - I knew I could count on you not to miss a thing!)

Then Suzanne tried to communicate with Katherine (shown at left), but had some difficulty making herself understood... or was it the other way around?

Katherine the Ostrich is a Common Ostrich, Struthio camelus. My Lovely Bride noted Katherine’s unusual feet, which have only two toes - the inner toe has a nail-like appendage about 4 inches long. (She obviously hasn't had a pedicure in months!) The feet and legs are designed for speed; ostriches can run at speeds up to 43 mph, and can cover 10-16 feet in a single stride. They need that speed, because their natural enemies are cheetahs, lions, leopards, hyenas and African hunting dogs. They can outrun all but cheetahs, but the other predators use ambush techniques to prey on the ostrich.

Patricia Zerbini and a staff member, Colin, then gave us a thorough introduction into the farm and these magnificent animals. Patricia is a ninth generation animal handler. Just in case you are generationally challenged, that’s approximately 300 years of family history caring for animals! She started Two Tails Ranch in 1985, and has cared for over 100 elephants over the years, including scores of Ringling Brothers Circus animals. Patricia also works with zoos and animal parks across the country. She has four elephants at the ranch now, the largest of which, Luke, shown here with Patricia, weighs about 12,000 lbs.  Lest you think that running an elephant sanctuary is an easy job, Patricia has had only four days off since 1985... one day to give birth to each of her four sons.

Luke is actually a gifted and very enthusiastic painter. Here he is applying the second set of delicate brushstrokes to an original work. 

Known as megaherbivores, elephants eat about 250 lbs of food a day, typically hay and grain. (The ranch has a few volunteers... never enough... to help clean up the elephants’ outdoor and indoor living areas... you can imagine that Pachyderm Poop Patrol must be a full time job, making mucking horse stables seem like a relatively minor occupation. Let’s see, do I use a shovel or a front end loader?)

In India, elephant keepers are called mahouts. It is a highly regarded profession, and the mahout and his elephant often bond closely. The ankus, a wooden stick with a metal hook on the end, is used control the elephant. Females are more easily controlled than males. (Not typical human behavior, I know, but bear with me...) The bull elephant occasionally has a periodic condition called musth, during which his testosterone levels jump up to 60 times normal. The bull then can become extremely violent and unpredictable, attacking anything and anyone in sight, smell or hearing. (I will not make any comparisons to a similar human condition [affecting either sex] in this blog... I have a strong sense of self-preservation.)

My Lovely Bride, Sharon and Joyce all wanted to have a turn at sitting atop Luke the Pachyderm. I chose to act as family photographer, thinking that Rudy and Gretchen would not understand if I returned home smelling like an elephant.  

Here are two links to two short YouTube videos that Suzanne took of  Luke performing some tricks and painting.

It was great fun, and we all recommend Two Tails Ranch for a good time with the elephants and the other exotic animals. The ranch survives on visitors like us and other promotional events, and we hope you will support its efforts to help elephants. Here is a link to Two Tails Ranch:  Here are Joyce, Sharon, My Lovely Bride, and Your Faithful Corresponchdent, with Roxie the Elephant in the background. 

After our visit, we adjourned to a local cafe for a late lunch of chicken and dumplings; Mexican chicken, beans and rice; and for me, chicken fried steak, the first I have had in 20 years. (Normally My Lovely Bride ensures I eat healthily, but when on the road I am given some latitude - I almost chose the liver and onions). Suzanne is making fun of my menu choice...

On a totally unrelated subject, about six months ago Suzanne decided to apply for a trademark for her “Love-Centered Living” program. We filled in the paperwork on the US Patent and Trademark Office’s website. After several “paperwork drills” and dozens of letters from “helpful patent lawyers” who assured us that without their costly help, we were doomed to failure, we were notified that the trademark was tentatively approved and is now posted in the Trademark Gazette. When I opened the link, I found that we were included with a thousand or so other new trademarks, including some very novel and interesting titles, such as: Spud Dude; Over 50 Not 6 Feet Under; That’s the Way Me Likes It; Butt Watchers; Ghoulish Glamour; Grinning Goose Bakery; Clueless Emperors; Deerzilla; Psychotic; Dork Age of Cantaloupe; Damn Near Naked; and Sexy Kitten Skaters (from the Bronx, where else?)... I am not making these up; I think they all fall under the category of “Truth is Stranger than Fiction.” (I also suspect that not all of these trademarks are spiritually-based...)