Prepare to enter a world of both shadow and substance

Take a journey of body, mind and spirit where you'll encounter things you won't find anywhere else.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Michael Crichton - Dead at 66

To say the least, I just received a shock to find out that one of my favorite authors has died recently. Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain, The Congo, Jurassic Park and many other great novels in my personal collection died on November 4th, aged 66, of cancer. I am at a total loss of words to explain how much his work has meant to me. If you haven't noticed, there's always been at least one of his novels on my "books I've read recently list" along the side of this blog. The most current one was State Of Fear, which I happened to acquire in a first edition hard cover. To say that he meant a lot to me would be an understatement. I have read and enjoyed his books for my entire adult life. I even have a techno-thriller novel currently in pre-production that I have been working on. I need to finish writing that book, now for sure. Rather than babble on here, I'll just post this message I found on his website, posted by his family:

In Memoriam

Michael Crichton

1942 - 2008

Best-selling author Michael Crichton died unexpectedly in Los Angeles Tuesday, November 4, 2008 after a courageous and private battle against cancer.

While the world knew him as a great story teller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us -- and entertained us all while doing so -- his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes. He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget.

Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand.

He will be profoundly missed by those whose lives he touched, but he leaves behind the greatest gifts of a thirst for knowledge, the desire to understand, and the wisdom to use our minds to better our world.

Michael's family respectfully asks for privacy during this difficult time.

I couldn't have said it better. I'm going to miss Michael Crichton.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

America, Land Of The Free

With a new year fast approaching, I thought this would be an appropriate time to say how proud I am that I live in a country where I enjoy the freedom to blog and share my opinions with the world. People can't do that in every country. The United States of America was formed so that people who chose to live here could have the freedom to live life as they choose, without a tyrannical monarch ruling their every movement. There's a reason why the U.S.A. is called the "land of the free and the home of the brave."
So that we can continue to enjoy our freedom, men and women throughout the history of this great nation have given the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, just so that we can stay free. There's a reason why we, as a nation, erect so many monuments to these fallen brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and uncles, and why we equate the name "hero" with them. It's to honor those who have died fighting for this great society. Who among you cannot be awed and humbled when standing in front of the rows and rows of headstones at the revered Arlington Cemetery?

And the flag that always waves atop the Iwo Jima monument:

Or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? A monument honoring a nameless soul who died fighting for what he believed in:

And now, some of my antecedents, (which I don't often show in public!) What many on here may not realize is that I served in this nation's Armed Forces, when I was a member of the US Army:

I also did a short stint in the Navy, when I served aboard the U.S.S. Martini:

And, in my younger days, I was a cowboy who fought in the wild, wild west:

Just so nobody thinks I'm making light of anything, I want you to know that I was proud to have served this country while I was in the Army. I felt that I was helping, in a tiny way, to preserve the freedoms that we have known and loved for over 200 years. Freedoms for which others have died to protect. So, it saddens me when I see something like what I saw this past Monday. I was out Christmas shopping (thank goodness we still have some freedom to worship the way we want to....) with my sister-in-law, when an Indiana State Trooper pulled me over in the Toys R Us parking lot. The offense I was potentially guilty of? Not wearing my seat belt! How insignificant can you get? Now, a short bit later, we were almost ran down while crossing the road on foot by an angry woman in an SUV. Where were the police to help save my life in that instance? They were nowhere to be seen. I'll tell you why. They're not interested in saving our lives. They're busy earning all that overtime pay, which the United States Government grants to states if they will enforce the seat belt law.

It would seem to me that in the "Land of the Free," we would have the right to decide for ourselves whether or not to wear seat belts. Isn't that the very essence of freedom? Not to have some tyrannical power telling us every little thing that we can and can't do in our ordinary lives? Our government has become exactly what we were running away from when we formed the United States in the 1776. Are you sick and tired of seeing freedom after freedom of yours being taken away by some law that they say is ostensibly designed to help keep you "safe?" Know this - the United States Government or your state governments are not interested in saving your lives. They couldn't care less if you should live or die. They just do what they're told to do so that the tax money or the grant money will keep coming in. Remember that little phrase you learned in high school? That our form of government was "of the people, by the people and for the people?" That means that you and I are the boss. I think it's high time we start exercising our executive powers and tell them we don't want any more new laws that are designed to "protect" us. And, it's high time we tell them to reverse a few that are on the books already because they're not actually worth the paper they're printed on. In a free society, we have the right to decide matters that affect our own lives. So, all those laws saying it's illegal to smoke in a bar, but it's not bad enough to just outlaw cigarettes, should be repealed. If smoking is so harmful to people's health, why aren't they just outlawed? I'll tell you why. The government gets too much tax money from the sale of cigarettes. Doesn't that sound hypocritical to you? Oh, they don't care whether you die from smoking, they just want their money. And they don't care whether or not you die in an automobile accident. If they did, they would be going after the people that cause the accidents, the wreckless drivers, instead of the helpless victims of potential accidents. If they actively pursued the causes of most automobile accidents, the drivers that are the ones that kill and maim regularly, it would be much safer for ordinary people to drive these roads in America. Don't let them tell you that seat belts save lives and that it's the only reason they force you to wear them by passing laws to such effect. Studies have proven that the mandantory wearing of seat belts has not resulted in a decrease in traffic fatalities. There are also studies which prove cracking down on wreckless drivers improves traffic safety. I mean, that one is obvious to me, as it should be to you.

So, are you going to continue taking whatever the United States Government force feeds down your throat in the name of safety? I'm not! I am an American and I have the freedom to decide for myself how to live my life and to keep it safe. And I'm going to do everything I can to prove it in the coming year. The first thing is to try and get rid of that ridiculous seat belt law which hasn't saved any more lives than before it was "the law of the land." That's got to go. It's time for every good American to take back control of their own life. You have that right guaranteed to you in the Constitution, you know. And if you value your freedom and want to be able to have selection in where you shop, stop going to Wal-Mart or there won't be any other stores left and they can then charge whatever they want. There goes your bargains. You've already lost the selection that Wal-Mart used to offer, so that's no longer an attraction for them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Caution: This Post Contains Random Pictures Of Camels

Meet Charlie the Camel:

I probably should explain myself just a little. See, I live in a town so small and boring that we don't have anything here but two tiny diners, two convenience stores and a Dollar General Store. With a population of only about 1100, there's nothing in the way of entertainment, (unless you count the American Legion), and certainly nothing with which to occupy yourself when it comes to free time. Culture? Bah, humbug! So, that's why it surprised me when I heard my mother say something about 'seeing the camels.' Camels....? Here....? In Norris City....? Unbelievable! I only knew that this was something I had to see!
I may have mentioned it before on this blog, but my brother is in the Air Force and got stationed over in South Korea for a year. It was decided that his wife would be better to stay with some family members rather than be on her own in a place she wasn't familiar with. (She was born in Canada.) So, she came to stay at my house because it seemed like the most logical. In order that she doesn't get bored to tears, which is easy to do around my town, the family has been coming up with things to do to entertain her. When my mother mentioned taking her to see the camels at the miniature pony farm, I volunteered to go along and get pictures. I try to keep my brother updated on things involving his wife, so anytime something of note happens, I get pictures and e-mail them to him. That Saturday afternoon, the weekend before Christmas, was when the place we were going to was having their annual "open barn" event, so the three of us bundled up and headed out to Bryant's Miniatures.

Of course, after having heard that they had camels, the first thing I made sure to do after parking was to go hunt up an appropriate model for my shutterbug aspirations. It turned out to be the previously-mentioned Charlie the Camel. He is seen here below wondering why I didn't have any peanuts to feed him.

He was quite friendly and allowed himself to be petted. Here is my sister-in-law doing just that:

Of course, they had all sorts of other animals, such as llamas, donkeys and doves. (Oh, my!)

There was even a scrappy rooster running around on the loose!

Apparently, every year this place has an open house and admittance is absolutely free! They offer pony cart rides for young and old, you can pet and feed the animals, they have entertainment and even platters of snacks galore. I, of course, availed myself of the raisin cookies.

The raisin cookies were so good, that when I got home I made some of my own. Gotta love them raisin cookies! Another random camel image:

Did I mention that the llamas were quite friendly?

As part of the entertainment, they had flown Santa down from the North Pole for a special afternoon appearance. I don't know how he found the time to come down to my little town, in what must surely be his busiest time of the year, but there he was, posing for pictures and ho ho ho-ing:

Santa even brought his guitar and performed instrumental Christmas songs. Now, Santa doesn't particularly sponsor one product over another, but he did use a Rogue acoustic guitar and a Peavey sound system that sounded pretty good. And don't let the beard fool you - he had a harmonica concealed under there and used it to perform the melodies of the songs he played. Who knew the man had such a wide variety of skills? Santa was really jammin':

ALERT! - shameless The Ten Commandments reference - ALERT! They also had a room where they displayed their miniature award-winning carts. The walls were filled with ribbons and trophies and there were tiny recreations, which were all usuable, of stagecoaches, sleighs, silkies, royal coaches, buckboards, fire wagons, and scads I don't even know what to call. But, the most amazing thing was they had two chariots! You'll all remember how much of a role chariots played in my all-time favorite movie! Of course, these were Roman-type chariots instead of Egyptian, but they were chariots none-the-less:

All in all, it was quite an entertaining little foray only a mile or two outside of the city limits. I might have to go back next year to see the camels even though my brother's wife won't be staying with me! Before I go, though, one last random image of Charlie the Camel:

Monday, December 15, 2008

They're Not Just Toy Cars Any More!

Lately, I have been excavating through my Hot Wheels collection and finding out that there are some old ones I have that are worth quite a lot of money! I found a Hot Wheels Road Grader, still in it's original package, (like most of mine are), and the price sticker was still on it. When I purchased it in 1988, it cost me .77 cents. Today, I have seen where it's worth $45! So, what I thought was just some old diecast cars that I couldn't part with might turn out to be a collection actually worth something! Now, they're not all Hot Wheels, of course. I have some Matchbox cars, and other brands such as Road Champs, Johnny Lightning, Sun Toys, Zylmex, Yatming, Corgi Junior, The Lindberg Line, Playart, Summer Toys, Zee Toys, Majorette, Ertl and my newest discovery - Maisto Diecast cars. I even have some that are so inexpensive, (i.e. cheap!) that they don't have the name of the manufacturer on the base!
So, having figured out that I need to think of them as more than just toys, I have started photographing my collection and posting them here and there on the internet. You probably remember seeing a few of them on this blog in past post. But, taking pictures of a tiny car or truck just sitting there can get somewhat repetitious and boring at times. So, to jazz things up a little, I have been thinking of themes and backgrounds for various cars and posing them in such a way as to make them look more like real cars. This is probably why I like models that look like real cars rather than custom cars that were either one-offs by customizing kings like Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, George Barris and Boyd Coddington, or just made-up designs to look fascinating. Here are a few that turned out interesting and I'll tell a little bit about them underneath each image.

Here is a Hot Wheels Dairy Delivery truck that I photographed just last night. I even created the Milk Advertisement seen on the billboard behind it! I thought it was pretty good, so if the Milk Council feels a need to use it, feel free to contact me about it!

The first car I ever bought, back when I was 17 years old and still in high school, was a huge, mile long 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. They made less than 3500 of this model and had I only known it was so rare, I probably would still have it today. But, nevertheless, I have always had a fondness for Cadillacs, so I wanted to make the Hot Wheels Cadillac V-16 Concept car above look classy. I posed it on the big city streets like they use in the current crop of Cadillac commercials on television.

I liked those big city streets, so I put a Hot Wheels 1964 Lincoln Continental in the same setting. Don't you just love convertibles!?

This is a Hot Wheels Dodge Charger Stock Car. What better place to find a model such as this but on the racetrack!?

Here is a Hot Wheels 1957 Thunderbird. I own a Ford Thunderbird, so I thought this one would look good on the track as well.

This is a Hot Wheels convertible truck known as a Dodge Sidewinder. I tried to photograph it in such a way as to make it look like it was travelling through the city at a great rate of speed.

This one is a Hot Wheels casting of an Airport Rescue vehicle. Where else would you find one but on some airport runway somewhere? Hopefully no flights were landing when the picture was taken.

Speaking of flying vehicles, here is a Police Helicopter from my newest find - Maisto Diecast. They are quite interesting and have some rare models. I just discovered them this year, so I suspect Maisto is a fairly new company.

I have also taken to buying 2 or 3 identical models of cars I really like so that I can have one for my collection and at least one to customize. Pictured above is a Hot Wheels 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback. I have several of them and this is one that I drilled apart, stripped the paint and repainted it in gloss black. For a hot car such as this, I figured it would look good making a pass down the quarter-mile dragstrip. Hence it's blurred wheels as it sped past me.

And lastly, a set of Hot Wheels that were released in 2003 called the Wild Wave Series. You had to buy each one separately and when you had all five, you had the complete set. Since they featured a surf theme, complete with surfboards, what better place to photograph them than at the beach? Here they are all posed by the shore, with their boards drying in the sun. It looks like their owners just finished surfing and have went to the hamburger stand for some food. This was the first scenic picture I took of my cars and the pleasure of coming up with a theme and a picture for the cars continues to grow. I have lots of fun trying to think of a theme for certain cars and the next one I have in mind will feature a military Jeep flying over a sand dune on it's way through the desert. If you want to see more of my cars, you can check out the Hot Wheels Wiki, the Matchbox Cars Wiki and a wiki I started myself, the Maisto Diecast Wiki. These are all interactive sites where anybody can add and change content. It's a great place to hang out and study the cars or add new information and pictures of vehicles not already represented there. So, be sure to check those places out sometime!
And remember, you can find all kinds of 1:64 scale diecast cars and trucks like I do at lots of places other than Wal-Mart.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Latest Novel

I haven't been doing much lately, but I did get some good news yesterday. I received the page proof for the cover of my new novel. And, boy did they ever come close to the description I sent in of what I had envisioned for it! I can't wait to see it when it's finally published and I can hold a copy of it in my hands. But, for now, I was able to order some galley copies - actual books, but with a blank white cover on the outside - and those should arrive before it's released to the general public. I know you'll be able to order copies of it from my publisher's website, PublishAmerica, and any online bookstore, but you will also be able to find it in local bookstores, too. Or you can contact me. I'm sure I'll have some copies available for purchase later on. Until then, please just look over the front cover below and ingest it's period ambience like I'm doing!

I hope it's not available for sale at Wal-Mart, by the way.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been?

Doesn't the above image just make your mouth water? Chances are, if you're like me and like good food, it will. It's an image of my homemade Beef Stew. I love to eat, so therefore I have to cook. And cooking is so much more fun when you make exciting dishes like Beef Stew or other recipes that take a lot of skill. In today's post, I thought I'd show a few recipes that I have cooked and enjoyed. Some of them are my own creations, so if you see anything that looks good, don't hesitate to ask for the recipe.

This is a nice, light dish you can serve as a meal in itself when it's hot. I call it my Five Star Ham Salad.

Here is a Golden Puff Batter recipe that I got from sister. I use it to make homemade chicken nuggets or chicken planks. Tastee! I could eat my weight in them.

Here, of course, is a nice Lasanga that I made Thursday night. Love that Italian food.

Pizza is usually credited as an American dish, but it really goes back to the ancient Etruscans, in Northern Italy. It is my favorite food because you can have it so many ways. I make my own crust and sauce. It's better that way.

Who doesn't like a good Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich?

Here is a lovely creation called a Mediterranean Beefsteak Sandwich. Quite nice tasting, actually. With a hint of Italy.

Here is a Stuffed Chicken Breast recipe that I created and it always goes over well when I serve it for guests. It's got stuffing and bacon on the inside, as well as mushrooms.

Now, here's a dish that I'm proud to have created! I call it Cornholios. It's made using flour tortilla shells and other ingredients, and boy is it spicy!

A more traditional Spanish recipe, Chicken Enchiladas. I grew up only a few hours away from Mexico in Southern Arizona, so I acquired a taste for Spanish food at a young age. The spicier it is, the better I like it!

Homemade Biscuits are always great for breakfast!

I have apple trees in my backyard, so what could be better than fresh Apple Cobbler when they're in season? I just go in the back, pick an armload of apples off the tree and voila! A dessert that tastes great with melted vanilla ice cream on top.

And, lastly but not least, these are called Irish Mist Brownies. They're rich and chocolatey, but they're good! Don't forget - I don't buy any of my cooking supplies at Wal-Mart, so neither should you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Frost Is On The Pumpkin

Well, it's not really - I just like saying that phrase. Who doesn't like saying it? Even though it hasn't frosted yet, today was a special time of the year for me. Yes, it was my annual pilgrimmage to a place on the edge of the little town I live in to preserve on film a certain tree in all of it's autumn splendor. I've been photographing this same tree since the late 1970's and every year, toward the end of October when the leaves have turned, I trek over there and get another picture. Or actually, it was 50 pictures this time. (Past years photographs can be found in a previous post here.) I always take several different poses and camera settings to make sure I get some usable frames, and this year was no different.
Judging from the way the leaves on it had turned, I could have gone there two days ago or waited until two days hence and it still would have been in it's prime radiance. After 30 years of having many a rendesvous with this tree, you get to where you just know these things. Today's conditions didn't disappoint me, either. In the hour just before high noon, I managed to capture it on the clear, sunny day we had today, with hardly any wind. It turned out quite well enough to add to my album of other shots of this tree. And here, at last, is that tree I visited again today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

Update: I went back a few days later and got a couple shots when the sun was lower in the afternoon sky. Here is what those looked like: