Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Photos of the Universe, 2009

Don't hesitate to click on these and see them enlarged...

Most of these were taken from the Hubble telescope...a few from ground observatories...

This next one quickly became known as the "Butterfly" shot...

Sunday, December 27, 2009


What a weekend! Somehow Carole and I have gone from newlyweds to having six grandkids in the blink of an eye. Somehow, 37 years filled with work, a little play, and blessings too numerous to mention have zoomed past - and we are left with wrinkles and aching joints, but 3 wonderful children who married extremely well and now have rewarded us wtih 6 delightful grandchildren.

The three kids and their kids descended on the homestead yesterday and it was a blast. I'm not sure how the game of "Let's Jump on Papa When He's Down on the Floor" got started, and I'll do everything within my power to prevent a sequel, but there's something magical about having grandkids taking a running leap at you and piling on the backs of those already engaged. Words can't explain my emotions. But it has to do with not caring that it hurt and even encouraging them to bring it on - because these are my grandchildren!

Our three children probably haven't projected this far into the future, but amazingly, Lord willing, time will zip by like a bullet train and soon, their kids will be carting their kids to their who will delight in leaping on them, too! And it won't hurt at all.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Things I'm thinkin' about tonight...

1. So disappointed that it appears the U. S. Senate will pass a health bill that the vast majority of America doesn't want...and, by the way, has been rushed through with such haste that nobody in the Senate has even read the whole bill. I'm fully confident that even though most representatives who are up for re-election will not return and even though Obama will be a one-term president, it will take years and years to undo the harm perpetrated by these out-of-touch politicians.

2. I do a lot of driving, at least 190 miles each weekday. I see a lot of cars on the interstate highways, to say the least. But there are two groups of cars that make me peer inside them, hoping to catch a look at the driver. The first group sport license plates that say, "Purple Heart". These are usually driven by Korean War vets or Vietnam vets, obviously. I stare at the driver and wonder how they were wounded or injured, and how serious it was. The second group is very rare. I've seen maybe 10 of these. These vehicles have license plates that say, "Former POW". I really, really stare at these drivers. Were they, perhaps, in the dreaded Hanoi Hilton? Were they held captive for years and years? It's all I can do not to pull in front of them, stop them, and thank them for the service they've rendered.

3. There's every indication that this is going to be a very brutal winter. The school district for which I drive a bus has a reputation for keeping the schools open even when roads are treacherous. I'm not excited about the prospect of slip-sliding sideways down a busy interstate, trying to corral a heavy, yellow monster...I sure hope the folks who make the "go, no-go" decisions think about those of us who transport children.

4. I'm making a point of saying "Merry Christmas" and not "Happy Holidays" this year. Just my little part in putting Christ back in the season for which He is the reason.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Enjoying your work?

I've been thinking, lately. A scary thought, I know. What initiated this chain of thought was a moment on my school bus, a moment when I realized that I thoroughly enjoy this job. The hours are not oppressive, the pay is good (since I've been doing it 26 years), and the girls who ride my bus are wonderfully polite and mature. And I simply enjoy the physical act of driving a school bus.

It's a familiar scene: someone born in the mid-20th century gives advice to someone around 20 years old. "Listen, life is short," he says. "Find something to do with your life that you will enjoy!" Of course, following this instruction is problematic. We all want to do fun things, even at work. Being able to match up one's interests with an available and suitable job is tough. Most of us aren't too successful at pulling this off.

Coming out of high school, I was sure I wanted to teach. Nothing during 4 years of college diluted this goal. I enjoyed the subjects in which I had majors (English, History) and I looked forward to working with students. My student teaching assignment was pleasant and reaffirmed my plans. I got my military commitment out of way, returned to Texas, and was hired by the Dallas ISD.

Long story short. The negative factors of being a teacher in a large, urban middle school far outweighed the warm fuzzies I got from working with the kids. I had numerous discussions with Carole as the years went by...could we afford it if I moved to a private school...should I change careers somehow...ironically, she was saddled with a job that paid well, but was mentally and physically oppressive.

Fast forward to 2004. Carole retires after 34 years, having stayed with the same job. Two years later, I retire, never having changed jobs. I guess what we proved is that one can stay with a job that one doesn't particularly like most days and absolutely abhors on the rest of the days, and somehow survive and reap the financial rewards for having stayed the course. Of course, we leaned heavily on God and each other and were absolutely committed to doing what was best for our kids.

So what does one tell the 20 year-old? Chase your dream and find something totally fulfilling? Or understand that most folks don't get that lucky and wind up doing the best they can at something which brings way fewer thrills?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Tiger Mess

What is it with guys, anyway?

Here's a guy, married to a beautiful woman, a guy with incalculable riches and a lifestyle matched by few on the planet, who nonetheless throws his image and his marriage down the toilet.

I have to chuckle when I hear folks describe the Bible as a book of fairy tales, totally irrelevant for the present age. Even a cursory inspection of scripture reveals that marital happiness comes from the commitment of a man and woman to each other for life. We even stick that principle in wedding vows ('til death do us part), but many aren't taking those words seriously. Common thinking seems to be, "We'll try this and see if we like it." Or, "Hey, if it doesn't work out, we can always get a divorce." Sadly, the human toil from such shallow thinking is immense, especially with kids involved.

There was another head-scratcher from this Tiger mess. One of his "girl-friends" said that he is worried about his financial security. Here we have the most famous athlete in the world, a fellow whose endorsement contracts bring him millions and millions each month, and somehow it isn't enough. Again, the Bible speaks wisdom... about greed being a quest that never ends nor satisfies, the owner of big barns just wants bigger barns, to put it in Bible-talk. "A man's life does not consist of the abundance of things he possesses," it says elsewhere.

Now Tiger is a prisoner in his mansion, unwilling to step out and face the music, or the paparazzi. His marriage is in shambles, perhaps beyond repair. Now, when he appears at a golf tournament, there'll be as much talk about his private life (not that it is very private) as his golf game. He may not get to see much of the two kids he adores, should Elin choose to divorce him. It's almost as though an asterisk will be put next to his name from now on...

*stupidly ruined his life for a few moments of pleasure

Ah, commitment. So few seem to see it as the secret to marital happiness.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stack the firewood now...

You may have heard of Accuweather. This is a weather forecasting firm that sells its services to both media clients and businesses. They're quite good at what they do. Thus, I was interested in what they predicted about the upcoming winter weather in Texas.

Better get the firewood ready. On their prediction map, right there across the state of Texas, they write "Snow and Ice". Accuweather's lead meteorologist, the uncomfortably-named Joe Bastardi, says the climatological factors are almost identical to 1963. Well, I happen to remember the winter of '63 - '64.. I was a mere high-schooler then and I got up at 3:10 every morning to deliver The Dallas Morning News to 120 customers. There were (I looked this up) 63 mornings that winter with freezing or below lows. Many of the lows were in the teens.

But what I really remember was the frequency of ice and snow. Lots of it. In fact, mid-January brought a snowstorm the likes of which we rarely get in the DFW area anymore. A large swath of north Texas received 8-12" of snow, effectively shutting down the area completely. Unlike our neighbors in the northern U.S., we don't have a fleet of snowplows ready to respond to calamaties like this. All our cities do is half-heartedly spread some sand on bridges and overpasses and watch the fun begin. Film crews position themselves in advantageous places and simply wait for the inevitable spin-outs and jack-knifed trucks.

There is nothing that I have mixed feelings about more than ice and snow. I love snow days because you get a free day or two at home with nothing to do and no place to go...totally unexpectedly. On the flip side, those of us in the education business have to make up any days we miss, and those makeup days are generally beautiful, tranquil spring days that would have been perfect off days. Also, sometimes school isn't cancelled when it should be, and driving a bus on ice is problematic to say the least. And, I live 25 miles from the bus lot, with much of that route consisting of bridges that ice up quickly when the temp hits 32.

So, we'll see if Accuweather is accurate. It would be nice for my grandkids to experience building a snowman sometime in their youth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Drunk Pilot

On a March morning in 1990, an intoxicated crew of three climbed into the cockpit of a Northwest Airlines 727 and flew 91 passengers from Fargo, N.D. to Minneapolis. Having been tipped off, the FAA was waiting to arrest the crew upon landing. Fortunately, the plane landed safely.

One of the crew was the flight engineer, Joe Balzer, who has now told his story in a gripping book entitled, Flying Drunk. Fortunately, this is an amazingly inspirational saga. Balzer was in denial about his alcoholism, and after his arrest he got involved Al-Anon and got sober. Unfortunately, he had to face the music, too. He was found guilty of a felony and was sentenced to a year in a federal minimum-security prison on an Air Force base. However, there was a strange fear that he would escape, steal a jet, and zoom off to freedom. So he was tossed into the normal crowd of ne'er-do-wells at a maximum-security prison.

It was quite a shock for Balzer to go from the clear air at 35,000 feet to the cold dungeon of a federal prison. His recounting of the year behind bars consumes most of the book. The same smarts that made him a fast-rising pilot served him well when dealing with street-tough gangsters. But he survived. Throughout the entire ordeal, his wife never wavered in support of her husband. And most importantly, Balzer's faith in God remained powerful. He did more that just survive - he did a lot of teaching and helped a bunch of bad guys along the way.

Ordinarily, you don't give away the ending of a book, but since it's freely publicized on the book cover and at his website (, I'll go ahead and tell you that Joe started from scratch and rebuilt his career, culminating in a job with American Airlines, flying MD-82's. The story of how he got that position is alone worth reading the book for. Throughout the pages, Balzer gives hope and advice to anyone caught in the web of alcoholism...all the while demonstrating how it is possible to overcome defeat if you do all you can do and turn the rest over to God.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Still want ObamaCare?

This from the government's Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services. Not Fox News, but from Obama's own administration:

"A plan to slash more that $500 billion from future Medicare spending - one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system - would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday. The report...found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether."


Contacted your senators yet?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who Are You?

A couple of months ago, on a whim, I added the "ClustrMaps" application there at the upper right. To put it mildly, I am floored by what I see. Several readers from South America? Someone from New Zealand? Three from the United Kingdom? A person in Egypt? All continents except Antarctica?

I have no idea how these folks are finding out about a very underwhelming blog or why they're stopping by. I don't even get the coast-to-coast readership in the United States. Only thing I can figure out is that you like the aviation pictures I select.

If you are one of these folks, I'd love for you to leave a comment and tell me how you came upon this meager effort. If no one responds, I'll know that all these people from exotic locales stopped by only once, hated the waste of their time, and moved on. Ah, the vagaries of blogging!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Further Proof

In the aftermath of the Ft. Hood tragedy, further proof of Obama's incompetence is forthcoming. The guy is so cold. The White House alerts the news networks that the president will be commenting on the horrific occurence as he addresses a conference dealing with Native American issues. Obama spends 2 minutes and 20 seconds yukking it up with his audience before he mentions the murders. This man has the feelings and judgment of a tree stump.

Then today, he urges Americans "not to rush to judgment" about the incident. Were Major Hasan a white Christian, I guarantee that Obama would have not used that phrase. This officer is an Islamic terrorist, plain and simple. I heard an analyst say that this is the worst terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11 and I agree. Watch the White House in the next few days...they will not use the word "terror" or "terrorist".

This is what you get when you have a Muslim Kenyan as President. This is what you get when mainstream media falls in love with an image and disregards his inexperience and his checkered past. But keeping talking, Mr. President. The more you open your mouth, the more we find out about you. And the more we find out, the more certain your exit from the Oval Office will be.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New Age Stuff

I'm not a big fan of New Age. Generally, the context in which I hear the term is religion, and from what I've heard of New Age religion, they have it all wrong. The further away from the Bible that people drift, the more desperate their attempts at happiness appear. It doesn't help to have Oprah touting "personal fulfillment" to the exclusion of serving God and others first, of course.

But this isn't about religion, at least not today. I've discovered that I'm a fan of New Age music. I guess it started a few years ago when I became of fan of Enya and her soft, soothing tones. And then I was fortunate enough to get a few free months of XM-Sirius radio with my new pickup truck. While station-surfing, I came across channel 72, something they call "Spa", and was quickly hooked. The music is hard to describe, but it is consistently dreamy, smooth, and sleep-inducing, something that may not be wise to listen to as you motor down the interstate...

Young folks won't understand this, but in the '60's, good music was still being written. And much of the music could be listened to without your clothing become frayed from the noise. Many of the hits were ballads - love songs, you know. Then came the hard rock era, and "easy listening" stuff soon couldn't even be found on the FM dial.

So finally, there is something that won't assault my rather old eardrums. Forget old age, I've found "new age".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Let's Get Halloween Under Control

First of all, it's the most senseless holiday. It's origin is somewhat shady and billions of trick-or-treaters are blissfully ignorant of how all this got started. The list of things wrong with this annual diabetes starter-kit goes on forever:

1. We have high school sophomores with no costume other than their sagging britches going door-to-door in a valiant attempt to satisfy their sugar craving.

2. Kids no longer say "thank you" when handed their candy. Solution? Chase them down, reach into their sack, grab a handful of candy bars and tell them they are ungrateful monsters.

3. Kids don't even say "trick or treat" anymore. They just stand there staring at you, assuming the onus is on the giver, not the receiver. Solution? Reach out with an empty closed fist, palm up, dip into their bag and thump the side - making it sound like you've dropped a Snickers in.

4. Parents are driving their kids to more affluent neighborhoods in a desperate attempt to get more and better results. There oughta be a law saying you have to stay in your neighborhood.

5. This year, the day after Labor Day, the grocery stores magically transformed entire aisles into orange and black Halloween corridors, somehow trying to get us into the mood for this most trivial of holidays. Mercy!

So I hereby appoint myself chairman of a new political action committee called "Help Arrange Retro-Style Halloweens". We will be known by the acronym "HARSH". Dues can be paid in cash, check, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brady Doing Great

New grandson Brady had some hurdles to cross upon arrival last Friday. His lungs weren't quite ready for the big-time yet. He was disinterested in nursing at first. And there was just a bit of jaundice that required a couple of days under the lamp.

He spent a bit over four days in the NICU and today was moved to the "special" nursery. He will stay there through Friday (when his antibiotics are finished) and then will likely go home. He has been weaned off his oxygen help and has developed a strong interest in nursing. Jenny is recovering so quickly from her C-section that she's been driving twice a day to the hospital.

So, all we need are good pictures of the young man. Should be getting them soon and when I do, they will magically and quickly find their way to this blog, and will no doubt supplant the usual aviation picture that typically leads off all this wisdom. In summary, God has blessed us incredibly and many prayers have been answered thus far.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Welcome, Mr. Brady!

Coming to you from San Antonio, where grandchild #6 arrived at 2:40 this afternoon. He is Brady Thomas Perkins and he weighed in at 6 lbs., 7 oz. He had to be moved to NICU a bit later due to a lung issue, but at the moment it doesn't appear serious and the expectation is that he won't be there much longer than a day. Brett and Jenny were so hoping that this son would avoid the NICU since his two older brothers had extended stays there, but alas, it was not to be. Jenny is doing as well as can be expected after a c-section.

Brady's middle name has a bit of history. My great-grandfather on my father's side was Sam Thomas, and he was the postmaster of Aspermont, Texas. He was shot and killed at the post office one day by a man who was convinced Sam was messin' with his wife. I have the newspaper clipping at home that details the murder, and from what I can glean, Mr. Thomas was an extraordinarily well-respected citizen.

His daughter, my grandmother, was one of 7 sisters. She had only one child in her years, my father, and he was given the name of his grandfather and became Sam Thomas Perkins.

Young Brady Thomas has wonderful parents and I feel confident he will become a man as honorable as my father. Since I can't speak to the veracity of the murderer's claim way back in Aspermont, I'll hold off wishing Brady is just like his great-great-great least for now.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A disappearing backroad and a prayer...

Carole and I had one moment of panic on the trip to Vermont. We were heading north from the south-central part of the state, dropping in on quaint general stores and finding foliage that was eye-rollingly fantastic.

That morning, on a whim, we had turned onto a backroad that lured us with a canopy of gold and orange and yellow leaves arching over the packed-dirt surface. It turned out to be a marvelous decision, as soon we were being escorted through incredible beauty, the kind of stuff that we had come to see. At one point, we stopped the car in the middle of the road (there were no other cars - period) and stepped out. Carole said something to the effect of, "Just listen to the silence." It was as though we had somehow been granted five minutes in heaven, and we struggled to soak in stimuli that our senses couldn't handle, at least not in heavy doses like this.

Later that afternoon, we chanced upon another backroad and decided that it was worth another go. This one was similar to the first...totally isolated and overflowing with color. There were places where the trees had shed enough leaves that we couldn't see the road. But our GPS kept assuring us that this was indeed a real road that would eventually deposit us back on our original state road.

Several miles into this foray, the road suddenly inclined upward and became more rugged. Also, there was a narrowing of the road as the trees crowded in. Then, we reached a place where there was a dip, and the lowering was filled with mud and water. We stopped and discussed the situation. Putting the rental car in reverse and backing down the road until we could turn around was not a good option. The road was too rough and twisty, and it would be a nail-biter to try and look over your shoulder for two or three miles of backward driving. But we had no clue as to what lay ahead...the road had been getting progressively worse, and despite what was on the GPS screen, it seemed to be dwindling down to nothing. So we prayed.

Getting stuck here would have problematic to the max. It was already mid-afternoon and would get dark soon. We were on a road with no name. We kept going in and out of cellphone coverage. The few houses we had seen weren't really houses - they were rusty trailers, surrounded by weeds, cars on blocks, and angry-looking dogs. And we were Republicans in state filled with Democrats and gay activists. After praying, we switched seats. Carole had been driving and I had been navigating and manning the camera. I hoped that our car had front-wheel drive and decided to forge ahead. We eased into the dip and the car started sliding sideways...but never quit going forward. Within 10 seconds or so, we were clear of the quagmire. But then, up ahead, lay an even larger swampy, muddy pig sty in the road.

By now the die was cast. Nothing to do but plow forward. Mimicking the first mudhole, the car began slip-sliding again, but determinedly pulled forward. Bingo! Cleared it. But how long could we keep this up? Well, we never found out. Just a few feet past swamp #2, there was a small opening on the right side of the road...just enough, perhaps, to turn the car around and begin the process of extricating ourselves from a bad decision. I pulled forward, then backed into the spare opening. If I went too far, the rear wheels would slip off a fairly steep edge and there really would be trouble. I slipped the car into "Drive", the wheels spun for just a split-second, and then we were moving forward and downhill and toward our escape. We still had to navigate through the two sluice-pits, and the car tried going sideways again in each of them, but we made it.

For some crazy reason, the foliage was even prettier on the way back down the road. And all the way, both of kept saying aloud, over and over, "God is good. God is sooo good!"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back from God's Wonderland

It would be hard to be an atheist after witnessing what we saw over the weekend. It has been a banner year for Vermont foliage and we got there right at the peak of the season. Most of the time, the sky was cloudy and misty, but that did not put a damper on the trees. Here are a few shots from the trip...and there are hundreds of others, trust me. Enjoy!