This Virus


The Line at Starbucks. Notice the pedestrians.

In the good old days, before the Covid-19 virus took over our lives, I would not give a second thought to jumping in my truck to go to whatever store that the thought had crossed my mind. Nowadays, things are just a little different. Apart from the fact that not all stores are open due to their inability to enforce social distancing because of the nature of what they sell or offer, hairdressers and massage parlors come to mind, the State Governors deemed that the only businesses that should be open are those with absolute necessities like food and hardware stores and several others. In my part of the country, that is HEB for food and Home Depot or Lowe’s for hardware. There are many others but those are the biggest and the ones that I frequent occasionally.

Lowe’s at Brodie Lane, Texas

Both of these stores have gone to extreme lengths to enforce social distancing by limiting the number of people allowed in the store at a time, placing markings on the floor at the checkout registrar and providing hand wipes and sanitizing the food carts. They have tried to make it safer for their employees by installing perspex screens between the check out and the customer and have a permanent cleaning staff who walk around all day doing nothing but wiping things down. Even so, I am very grateful that they are willing to put their lives on the line to keep the stores open. They may have other motives and I am sure they do and probably do not consider themselves to be heroes but to me and many others, they are. I realize that they are not driven out of a sense of fulfillment but something more practical like putting bread on their own table but it could come at a cost.

The reason I am on this diatribe and reverting back to my opening sentence is to understand my reluctance to go out to any of these stores. I used to visit HEB 2-3 times a week even if I only wanted a couple of items. Same with Home Depot and Lowe’s. Jump in the truck, take a quick drive to the nearest store, buy what I wanted and drive home or many times in my case, take a longer drive with a Starbucks latte to listen to an Audiobook on the way home.

Home Depot at Brodie Lane, Texas

I have one pond that has an algae problem meaning that the water is green and it needs treating, which is not a big job. It does require buying and then applying Algae Control to the water and as I happened to be nearly out of the stuff, I thought to myself, lets go to Home Depot or Lowes as both of those stores carry what I needed. So I jumped into my truck and made the short drive of around 5 miles to the one in town pulling into the Home Depot parking lot only to discover that it was pretty full and there were a lot of parked vehicles meaning that there were also a lot of people in the store. Wasting no time, I drove to the closest Lowe’s which was only half a mile down the road (these two stores are in competition with one another) only to discover that their parking lot was also full up with vehicles. I know it was a Saturday and both stores had just received the shipments of summer plants but even so, I was a little surprised how busy it was. It had not been like this a week earlier when I had reason to stop by.

Then I remembered that our Governor, Greg Abbott had just lifted some of the regulations that had been in place and some of the other stores were allowed to open as long as they practised social distancing which also included the aforementioned hairdressers, although I have yet to figure out how to cut hair and still maintain a 6 foot distance. All of those people that have been cooped up in their houses and apartments must be making the most of it and were out and about. I thought about it for a bit and decided that I had enough Algaecide at home to get started and that I would wait for midweek to make the trip to the stores if I needed more. The truth is, I did not want to go into a store where there were a lot of people, some of whom would not be very careful of how they carried themselves and would forget the rules.

Which brings me to the point of this discussion. It’s one thing having to shop for food and the other necessities of life but to return to semi normal when this pandemic is still very much alive does tend to beg the question. I know that for myself, I am very reluctant to get out into any sort of crowds or to willingly put myself in the line of fire even if there is only the remotest chance of catching the virus. I realize that I am fortunate that I am retired with sufficient income to see me through as opposed to being a working man or woman and having to put bread on the table to feed a family, which does give me choices. I choose to stay home and only venture out for necessities, in my case food, Starbucks and algaecide.

Starbucks at Escarpment, Slaughter Lane, Texas

By the way, There are several Starbucks that I visit in my immediate area. There are several next to different HEB’s but of late, it has been very difficult knowing what sort of hours they keep. Just lately, a couple are closing at 2:00 pm while others vary depending on the amount of traffic. The one at Circle C and Escarpment, which is very conveniently next to my favorite HEB, is keeping weird hours and I never know what time they will close. The few times in the past week or so that I have been there when they are open, there has been a line of 20 or so vehicles plus usually a couple of people on bikes and even a couple of walk ups. It is a little frustrating as they are not keeping regular hours and it’s a kinda hit and miss game. Probably a good thing when you get right down to it as I drink too many Lattes and spend way too much money per month/year on the stuff. I consider coffee as my only real vice as I gave up drinking more than 12 years ago coupled with the fact that the pretty girls no longer notice me and I have given up trying to attract them. To them, I am just another old man on the road of life fast reaching the end of the journey.

HEB at Escarpment, Slaughter Lane, Texas

I wonder how long it will take to return to any form of normality. Here in Texas, there have already been protests at the State Capitol as a couple of hundred noisy demonstrators complete with their armor and guns, have blockaded the road. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs but to me, it does seem a little premature to end the lockdown. It could easily start a second wave of infected people which could be far worse than the first time around and we would have to do this all over again for an even longer time period.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out. Me, I am only going to the stores when I have no other choice.

Given the choice, I would like to die in my bed, naturally…

Written 5/2/2020

Today’s Thoughts, June 21, 2015. Father’s Day in America.


Rainy and Foggy Day

Rainy and Foggy Day

Today is June 21st, Fathers Day in America. We are probably the only country in the world that can come up with all of these dedicated days to celebrate something or another. Most official Holidays in most countries are usually religious holidays but here, in America we celebrate anything at anytime. More often than not, it is driven by commerce as with every “special” day, there goes along with it gift giving or at the very least a celebration of some sort that involves spending money. I sound like a cynic which I probably am as for me, I was a failure at being a Father in a couple of times of trying. Maybe I am just a sourpuss because no one is making a fuss over me not that I would want them to as I feel uncomfortable when I get any special attention. Pity my dogs don’t know what day it is as I know they would make a fuss over me and give me doggie kisses. Maybe I’ll tell them. Doggie kisses? Maybe not.

Anyway, be that as it may as I’m sitting here looking out of the window and watching it rain .. again. I read in the paper that Austin, a city that normally gets about 30 inches of rain a year has already passed that mark and we are only 6 months into the year. Today, in 2012, the temperature reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit,a record for that day and today, 2015, we will be lucky if we reach 85. I’m not complaining mind you as 108 is bloody hot even by Texas standards.

We can use as much rain as Mother Nature wants to send to us. Both Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan are still down from the perceived normal levels and although, the rain has helped quite considerably, we still need more.

I was able to complete my pressing outside projects. After several false starts due to the contractor going on vacation and not being able to get a pump truck because of the wet weather and Memorial Day floods, I ended up doing the entire project myself. I saved a bunch of money and lost a few pounds in the process and learned more about septic systems than I care to know. Anyone got a septic question? Bet I can answer it. Just kidding as learning is an ever ongoing process and every day brings new knowledge. Wonder what happens to those memories that I forget or have to spend considerable time in either retracing my steps or doing some serious thinking about what I was thinking about?

As I had to tear up the majority of the big deck in order to get to the septic system, I took the opportunity of replacing the wood that was showing signs of rotting out. After all, the deck has been there almost 30 years and although I replaced the original cedar with wolmanized after about 10 years of use, even that starts to deteriorate after 20 years wear and tear and weather. While I was at it and really in the swing of things, I completely tore out the lower deck and rebuilt it. So, all of my decks are in good shape and should see out my lifetime, however much longer that may be.

Power washing the deck

Power washing the deck

I wanted to power wash all of the decks and then re-finish them with some new fangled paint that is supposed to be 4x thicker than normal paint and after it is applied, one can dance barefoot on it! Yeah, right. The very thought of splinters is enough to send shivers up and down my spine. I got out my power washer from the shed and gassed it up and to my dismay, the gas poured out the other end as I poured it in my end. Damn thing had dried out again. Same thing happened last year and I took it to the shop to get it repaired. I think I used it once after I got it back and now this is “take two”. I loaded it onto my trailer and made the short trip (5 miles, short by Texas standards) to the repair shop who told me they were so busy that it would take a month to repair. I had no choice other than to leave it with them as it was no good to me like it was. Now, if I can only get into the habit of gassing up and starting up all of my gas-powered equipment throughout the year then maybe, I wouldn’t have this problem every time I want to use a piece of equipment.

My neighbor, Chris has a power washer and very willingly allowed me to borrow it. His worked just fine and I spent a busy couple of days washing everything that looked like decking. I was able to pretty much strip off all of the old red stain to bring it down to bare wood in most places. Now, all I need is to decide what color for the barefoot paint and for the sun to shine for a few days to dry out the deck. It will be interesting keeping the dogs off the wet paint!

Abigail looking for attention

Abigail looking for attention

Talking of dogs, life is continuing on without Abigail and although we are all still grieving, it gets a little better everyday. I swear that the other three dogs know she is no longer with us as they have all acted a little strange and out of character(for them) at different times.The temptation to replace her with another rescue is pretty strong but we will wait awhile before making any of those decisions. If you are wondering what happened to Abigail, she fell into the unguarded septic tank and drowned when my back was turned. By the time I got to her, it was too late. There is a poem about her at http://pondblog2011.mlblogs.com/2015/05/22/ode-to-a-dog-abigail/

My next project is to remodel the master bathroom. When I say remodel, I am only talking of the bath itself. I want to take out the bath and install a shower base with sliding doors and of course, all of the miscellaneous stuff that goes along with it. I am waiting to get a quote on it and will see what the contractor wants to charge before I make up my mind whether to contract the entire project out or save a bunch of money and do it myself.

I just took a walk around the garden in between the showers. As you can imagine, with all of the septic/deck work going on, only the bare necessities like feeding the fish and cleaning the filters has happened in the past 5 weeks or so and with all of this rain, the garden is now almost completely overgrown. I have to quite literally, push my way through the growth just to walk down the pathways. I thought maybe that I would be able to get to cutting a few of them back today, but with the rain, that idea is out of the window. Maybe tomorrow…One thing I am very grateful for is that my ponds were not on the Tour this year. With all of the septic/deck upheaval, I would have had to cancel as the yard was in no position to accept visitors.

Talking of pond tour, The Austin Pond Society has just completed theirs on the weekend of June 6,7. It was an unqualified success and although the number of visitors was down, that is mostly due to Austin being such a busy place with so much going on that it is generally recognized that nearly all events are not as well attended as in the past. Even so, I took that weekend out of my busy schedule to visit all 19 ponds and have written about them on the http://www.austinpondsociety.org website. I took over 700 pictures over the 2 days. One of the ponds was on the night tour and I took some really interesting pictures from daylight through dark as the evening transitioned. Below are a few of those pictures.

 

 

I gave in…


2014 Ford Escape Titanium

2014 Ford Escape Titanium

Well I did it. After months of speculation and denial, I bought a new car.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t have done it but I succumbed in a moment of weakness. That is my only excuse. Well that and the fact that my last bill at BMW was $1800 for mostly routine things like getting the front brakes redone and the replacing the rubber grease boots on the steering. Like all good repair shops, they always do an inspection to see what else will need replacing in the future and the list they gave me was fairly extensive so I know that down the road, I was looking at least another $2000 or so worth of work and that would be no guarantee that I would still not break down in the middle of nowhere. With 160,000 miles on the clock and with the constant feeling of mistrust, it was time.

So, I opted to go look at new cars. My timing was terrible as I had just paid for another year of registration for the BMW and I couldn’t get any of that back. I wasn’t sure what I was going to buy this time around so while my car was at the BMW repair shop, I took the opportunity of looking at used X5′ and even X3’s but the best I could afford was a three-year old model and even it cost almost $40,000  It didn’t seem to make much sense to pay that sort of money for another used car as I would only be gaining about 6 years of car life, 2003 for the old car and 2009 for the one I was looking at and could afford. So, very reluctantly, I decided that I had owned my one and only BMW and it was time to move on (or back) to something else.

1936 Austin 10

1936 Austin 10

I have owned a lot of cars in my lifetime starting with a 1936 Austin 10 (the year I was born) and in my younger days, it seemed I was always buying yet another different model. It was not until I was much older in life was I able to afford a new one so many of the used ones were not always in the best shape. I spent a lot of time under the hood and the benefits of that was that I had a good working knowledge of car repair and could usually get myself out of any difficult moments that came up.

That was until I arrived in America. The first time I lifted the hood of an American car and saw that bloody great V8 engine that filled the entire engine compartment did I realize that I was way out of my depth in terms of mechanical knowledge and from that point on, I left anything that required getting my hands greasy to the trained mechanics. I do the mundane things like topping up the radiator or putting in a quart of oil without too much difficulty and can keep the tires inflated and top up the windshield washer fluid but anything beyond that, I take it to the garage and let them deal with it.

But I deviate from the new car story. I was torn between what I should buy this time around as I knew that I had had my one and only luxury car so it was time to talk of more down to earth models. I am an avid gardener and very handy with my hands when it comes to building things or repairs around the house. I know that I will always have these interests as I have spent my entire life in construction and will continue to work on this stuff as long as I am physically able. What this meant was that I had three choices in terms of the new vehicle. I thought briefly in terms of a car but quickly put that idea out of my mind as not being practical. That left me with two choices. I could buy a pickup truck, either small or regular size or I could go the same route that I was currently at and this is with an SUV and the 4×8 garden trailer that I already own. I opted for the latter.

As there is only me most of the time, I do not need a full size SUV so that narrowed the search down to the smaller models. I had owned a Ford Escape before the BMW and although had not been 100% satisfied with that particular model and in truth, could not wait to get rid of it after a couple of years, I decided to go online and take a look at the current version to see what was different about the latest models. I knew what I was looking for as I have a friend who has just bought a new car with the most fantastic electronic gadgets imaginable and, like a little kid with a new toy, I had to have that stuff in anything that I was going to buy.

I was sitting outside one of the Starbucks with a friend when this lady pulls up with this very nice looking car. I had no idea what it was but it caught my eye. She was getting ready to leave so I approached her and she very willingly showed me her car. Turns out, it was a Ford Escape, the latest model and I was sold.

I had printed out the information I had found on the web on a particular model that seemed to have everything that I wanted and took it with me to Covert Ford on Research Boulevard. I had never had any dealing with this company before but I was lucky enough to have a very attractive and knowledgeable sales lady named Stefanie who found the car I was interested in and then walked me through the entire process of buying the car. We walked the lot and she showed me similar cars so I had a very good idea of what I was going to buy. My car, or should I say, the car of my choice was on a different lot and had to be prepared for sale. As it was getting late, Stefanie put me in an Escape loaner and my trip home was also my test drive. I was not disappointed.

I did have a bit of a scare as I was caught in the evening traffic on Mopac on the way home and I heard a ding from one of the warning signals and spotted that the little gas pump icon was showing telling me that I was low on gas. Not yet understanding the intricacies of the different things on the dashboard, I panicked and pulled off to put in a couple of gallons. I discovered the next day,  that it comes on when there are 50 miles of gas left in the tank. Oh well, better safe than sorry.

The next day, Stefanie called me to say my car was ready and we arranged for me to pick it up. We had already unloaded the BMW of my personal items and I had said goodbye to the car. It had been a very good car from my perspective and I had been more than satisfied and more than a little sad of letting it go after 8 years of service. But what the hell, out with the old and in with the new and besides, the new car has a lot of electronic gadgets to play with.

So, I am now the proud owner of a 2014 model Ford Escape Titanium in Silver Grey with all of its bells and whistles, turbo charged engine, flashy lights, warning signals, and back up video camera. If you wave your foot under the back tailgate, it opens automatically and the bloody thing is even supposed to be able to parallel park itself. Can’t wait to try that out.

I do have to go back next week to get the towing package installed but they have promised me a loaner for the short time it will take. I thought that the BMW was probably going to be the last car that I ever had need to purchase but I just proved that idea wrong. Still, I said the same thing when I bought my last pair of soccer shoes when I was 50 or so years old thinking my playing days were almost over. Turns out, I played until I was 72 and bought a couple of pairs of new soccer shoes in that time.

Funny old thing, life although I wouldn’t have it any other way…

My Thoughts on How Christmas Has Changed


Horse Drawn Sleigh

Horse Drawn Sleigh of Christmas past.

I know that I am not alone
when I think how times have changed
and not so many years ago
Christmas had a different tone

First and foremost it was a time
to celebrate an important birth
when Jesus came into the world
not knowing of problems here on earth.

His role as yet unknown to him
was to save the spirit of mankind
to save our souls and forgive our sins
and help us lead a better life.

Over the years long since that time
more than 2000 years ago
man still celebrates the birth
but now it is a different show.

The simple task of giving thanks
for God‘s only begotten Son
has now almost been replaced
with material things that are the one.

Christmas now is not the same
and has turned into a game
of who gives or who gets the most
so that they to their friends can boast.

The winners of this awful mess
are the retailers who own the stores
as more and more they want you to spend
and into debt to go once more.

It will take a year to pay it off
just in time for Christmas due
and then with plastic hot in hand
back to the stores to start anew.

The simple Christmas of long ago
has long since been outgrown
and lasts at least a month or more
with all the trips to the stores.

The sad truth is that so many gifts
are useful for only a very short time
and then if you are a little kid
the cardboard boxes can provide more joy.

The bottom line of this story is
that we all need to remember in time
that Christmas is not about gifts and things
but of your neighbor who may not be so fine

Or maybe that homeless guy down the street
the one you see every day
he could probably use your help
to get him better on his way

Someone who wants or could really use
a helping hand in time of need
and one less gift to a family or friend
could be the answer for them indeed.

So when you next go to the store
for the umpteenth time with gifts galore
ask yourself, “Do I really need
to buy yet another gift, or is it greed”.

I am not a stupid man
nor unintelligent in my thinking too
I know that life moves on
and with it goes the things we knew

Which includes memories of Christmas past
when life was at a different pace
and time moved slower than it does today
and money for gifts was too scarce to waste.

Things will never be the same
as we have advanced to a different age
of computers and cell phones and video games
and all of these things are all the rage

Come Christmas Day the kids on the block
will not be looking in their socks
they will be playing with electronic toys
showing their Dad’s how to make things fly.

As some of the Dad’s will not have a clue
as the kids are in front in what they do
and electronic gadgets are ahead of the game
and life will never be the same.

Do I want to go back to the “Good old days”
maybe I do in so many ways
I would like life to be slower and not move so fast
it’s as though every day is the last.

But I like computers and cell phones and such
and we could not be in this age we are in
without time moving on at such a fast clip
even though Christmas of old is a blip

On the radar of life as it passes by
2000 years ago, a star in the sky
signalled the start of a celestial age
and Jesus was born with a Star on his page.

This modern age and the reason for the story...

This modern age and the reason for the story…

The Beliefs of Man


A fine old Evergreen Oak

A fine old Evergreen Oak

When I was a little kid
still filled with wonder and in awe
of how this great world was opening up
and showing me how life would be
shaped by others and in my soul
I knew that I would have little control
of my eventual destiny.

Whatever happened in my life
all the good and the strife
was all a part of a big plan
and not one devised by man
directly controlled in a guiding way
and I would have very little to say
of what it is would happen to me
and what would be my destiny.

So it has been through seventy-seven years
with times of sorrow and some tears
and others of gladness and much mirth
and wondering why this happened and how
will I ever get through this day
how will I find the way
and yet we always manage somehow
and we nearly always come through
maybe not totally unscathed
and maybe we lost something along the way
but alive to fight another day.

I am not a spiritual man
not that I haven’t tried
different religions in my time
with the hope the answers to find
but deep down I have to say
that at the end of the day
except when it is close to my time
and then like others of my kind
will no doubt cry out in fear
as death its icy fingers lay claim
and to be saved and spared for a few more years
and make promises that I can never fulfil
just to remain on this earth a while longer still.

If there is a God, a being Divine
someone who draws the line
who sets the tone of good and bad
and yet has millions of people to care
as with them all is supposed to share
everything that goes on in their lives
right down to the final say
of how they will spend every minute of each day.

I find it hard to believe
that no matter how Supreme a Being there be
to micro manage to the n th degree
is even beyond  their ability
and so when things are going wrong
and we are looking for someone to blame
all that we need to do
is to turn inward for that clue
as we ourselves are the guilty one
for our troubles that time has run.

I wonder why some men think
theirs is the only way of life
and all others are wrong
because they sing a different song
or have different beliefs and a different God.

Why is it that we are
so arrogant with our beliefs
that we know we are always right
even to the extent of a fight
to make the others subdue
so that they see our point of view.

All through the ages men have fought
with others of a different kind
with different beliefs and different Gods
trying hard to convert the lot
into believing what they believe.

History has shown that man did not succeed
as all manner of worship still exists.
Live and let live and more tolerant be
of each other and what is our choice
as the same thing that makes us stand apart
together can bring closer all men who
can work as one and still hold onto
their beliefs, their Gods and their religion too.

The one and only thing I see
that is real and surrounds our every move
is Mother Nature who is visible to all
and though she heeds not the call
of mortals who under her shadow do thrive
and the one thing she does guarantee
is Summer and Spring, Winter and Fall.

November Flowers in Austin, Texas


November Flowers from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

I walked around the garden checking the ponds as I usually do several times a day and was struck by the number of flowers, especially roses that are in bloom. This is supposed to be the winter season but it’s very hard to tell that it is. If you are deep into winter wherever you are, enjoy these pictures taken in Austin, Texas in November, 2013.

Oh yeah, the temperature is a warm 70 degrees…

Right Handed or Back Handed


Pine Ridge Trail leading left

Pine Ridge Trail leading left

I woke up this morning with my right wrist feeling very sore and painful. I have had it happen before so I was not unduly worried. I think it is caused by either cuddling one of the dogs too long and having my wrist in an unnatural position  or doubling my wrist under me as I slept.

Whatever the cause, it usually takes a couple of days and several Acetaminophen’s later to heal so no big deal. The point is, I did not realize just how right-handed I am. I was always notoriously right footed when I played and would get myself into some awful messes by trying to bring the ball onto my right foot in order to play it and I knew that I favored my right hand for most things.

This morning really showed me just how deficient my left hand really is. I started off by trying to brush my teeth and as my wrist hurt too much with my right hand, switched to my left. I could barely find my mouth let alone work the toothbrush. I spent most of the time brushing my gums and as for going up and down, forget it. This had to be the sloppiest teeth brushing ever as in the end, I just gave up and moved on to washing my hair.

Again, I didn’t think about how it gets washed but apparently, I used my right hand to do that as well. I was able to switch to my left for this but it is interesting how we do things subconsciously without giving it a second thought.

I wear contacts (well, one) and I put that in with my right first finger. I comb my hair, what little I have left, with my right hand and when I tried to use my left, it was all over the place. Didn’t really matter much as the few wisps that are left, barely cover my head and besides, the dogs don’t care what I look like.

This made me check on other things that are routine. I put my right leg into my pants first,  I put my right sock and shoe on first and when I do just about anything, my right hand usually does it. Pretty sad to have two hands and be so reliant on just one of them. Oh, by the way, I sleep on the right side of the bed.

One thing I can almost guarantee and that is I am not alone on this. We are either all right or all left. Very few are ambidextrous and those that are, are the fortunate ones.