In the north, we all have our grill for barbecuing meats and everything else, especially during the summer months. However, now that I have been exposed to the southern life style for several months, it is obvious there is a whole other culture relative to cooking meats and even whole meals. I refer to the smoker.


Most folks have at least one smoker. This is a mid-sized model. Remember, these photos were taken in a campground.


For some people, one smoker is not enough. The photo makes it look like one smoker with two sections, but it is actually two separate units.



Of course, some people just plain get carried away. As near as I could figure out, this is not really a smoker, but rather an outdoor fireplace, at least that was the way i saw it being used.


Okay, I admit it, this is one of my gripes, or rants if you will. If you do not want to hear me sound off, you might want to skip this one. After spending several months and several thousand miles driving across the country north to south and back again with a little west to east and east to west thrown in for good measure, I can definitely state that the vast majority of drivers only half read the laws. For instance, in New York the law states you must turn on your headlights when using your wipers. Now there are many people who forget to do this, myself included at times, but there are also many who think they can satisfy this law by turning on their parking lights. They do not understand the motor vehicle regulations well enough to know that they are actually breaking two laws, the one that says to use your HEADlights and the one that says it is illegal to just drive with your parking lights on.

But the seven words most blatantly ignored are the first part of the right on red law that states the driver shall STOP AND YIELD THE RIGHT OF WAY before turning right on red. Most people seem to think the law allows them to jump out into whatever small space they see and never mind if the poor slob coming at the intersection has to slam on his breaks. Think about what that means when the oncoming car/trailer combination weighs in excess of six tons. Of course, then there is the game of how many people can jump out in front of you before you can clear the intersection when your light turns green and theirs is red. And these are the ones who bother to stop. There are many who treat all red lights as their own private access ramp and never bother to slow down, let alone stop. And then they wonder why they get broadsided or why that motorcyclist they didn't see slams into them.


Many people have asked us what the most unusual sights are that we have seen. Many of these we have recorded in the OddEssay Blog pages and certainly many of them have not been captured in pictures if we saw them while driving and were not able to stop. Most of the things I am personally most interested in are related to nature and many of them are recorded on the scenes page. But here is a list of some of my other favorites:


                     A small herd of zebras. I think this was my favorite.

                     A pet pig tied to the porch with a harness and rope like a pet dog.

                     Beautiful carvings made from the remnants of trees destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.


These are just two samples of the beautiful carvings we saw. The one to the right was probably the most elaborate.




                     I guess it would not be termed unusual but one of our favorite sights is our dogs enjoying the beach. Especially after we found out about Taz's heart condition, we do not take it for granted when the two dogs are really having fun as they seem to do each time they go to the beach.






Here we go again, this is one of my gripes, or rants if you will. If you do not want to hear me sound off, you might want to skip this one also. I was watching the Masters golf tournament on Sunday and Tiger Woods did not have a very good day (or weekend, or tournament for that matter). When, two weeks ago, Tiger won his first tournament in two and a half years, the very annoying, very egotistical, Johnny Miller, who sees all and knows all including more about golf than any other living person, especially those out there playing every week while he talks about them, made the definitive statement, "Heeeeeee's Baaack," like one win would immediately turn Tiger's career back on track. (I should mention that anytime Miller was on TV while Tiger was in his slump, Miler would make a point of keeping Tiger in the limelight, even if Tiger wasn't in the tournament.) All the other sports reporters jumped on the bandwagon and Tiger became the favorite for the Masters. Anyway, as they always do, after Tiger finished on Sunday with an over par round and an over par tournament, the sports reporter starts out with his usual soliloquy disguised as a long preamble to his question in which he basically told Tiger he was supposed to win and then asked Tiger what went wrong. Even though I am not a fan of Tiger, I loved his response when he said, "My driver was not very good and my irons were not very good, although my short game was pretty good." It was a very polite way of telling the reporter to get lost.

This is just the last of a long line of these stupid interviews that are on television every day. Someone has a really bad day and the reporter, after the usual two paragraph preamble where the reporter gives his own point of view, asks the stupid question of the hour, "You just screwed up big time and lost. How do you feel?" Duh!!!!! Someone gets reamed by the judges and the interviewer asks, "How do you feel?" Someone please give these people a lesson in good judgement and common sense and explain the difference between questions and dissertations. And, while they're at it, it would be nice to teach these idiots the difference between "currently" and "presently." (Hint: "presently" does not mean "at present.")

Nor is it just sports reporters. Watch the evening news. Someone gets killed by accident or by violence, and the reporters shove microphones in front of everyone they can find like these grieving people should just be overjoyed to be interviewed in their time of grief. "Hey, your kid just got killed in a drive by shooting, how do you feel?" Journalists should report the news, not try to make the news, And especially, they should not try to sway popular opinion against someone just because they want a fall guy so they can keep the story going. Ask Richard Jewell (security guard at the Atlanta Olympics) just how badly the misguided jerks trying to make news instead of report it can ruin someone's life.


I have recently been reading a book by Michael Brooks entitled 13 Things That Don't Make Sense, subtitled The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Times. I must admit, the book was not at all what I had expected, and includes a vast amount of technological language, but the author has made his points understandable despite the technobabble. He doesn't really "dumb down" the language; he just takes the time to explain what everything means, instead of assuming his audience knows what the terms mean. If I may be so bold to summarize his conclusions, he basically says that, while scientists believe they should know everything about everything relative to our universe, how life started, our history, our lives, our death, and our abilities to heal, we really know only enough to emphasize how much we don't know.

In the late 1400's, the scientists of the day harraged Columbus with accusations of total irrationality because they all "KNEW" that the earth is flat, not round. In the 1500's, the new batch of scientists similarly attacked Copernicus when he proposed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of our universe. Based on what I have read in this book, it seems to me that today's scientists, who think they know so much about so much, would have certainly stood with their fellows demanding that the world is flat and the Earth is the center of the universe. For those who know the character of Sheldon Cooper on the sitcom "Big Bang Theory" and how he thinks and acts, you have a good idea of how the real scientists of today think relative to their own ideas and the ideas of others.

The author used over 400 pages to explain his points. He did not try to draw conclusions as to the correctness of any of the mentioned points. Rather, he explained just how vast are the uncertainties and how difficult it will ever be to find the right answers. The more we find out, the less we know.

By the way, in the argument of creation versus evolution, I have always felt evolution was just the tool of creation. I believe in God and creation, but I believe we belittle Him if we try to limit how He might have done everything. I firmly believe you cannot read the Bible and just accept it literally without understanding the hows and whys of when it was written, translated, and assembled along with the history and bureaucracies rampant among the church and state personalities that selected the books and letters to be included. This book firmly shows the answer to the evolution vs creation war. And the answer is..."We don't know!" No matter how much science tries to find an answer, there always is that unknown quantity of exactly how life started.

I believe the most fascinating part of the book was near the beginning. If I may use the term "cosmos" to encompass all matter and energy, the cosmos is constantly enlarging. Our universe is one of many, some others moving towards our universe and still others away from our universe. The further another universe is from our universe, assuming it is moving away from us, the faster it is moving. Of course, if all the other universes are moving, is it not logical to assume our universe is also moving? In what direction is it moving? In what direction relative to our universe are all the others located? And oh so many more questions. Did I mention that scientists can only account for a small percentage of the matter in the cosmos?


Expanding on my previous rant Reporters vs Intelligence, after years of observation (and frustration) I have decided that all on-the-scene reporters are stupid! (Note that I am not including all journalists.) People used to say that those who can, do, while those who can't, teach. I believe that is totally inaccurate. Rather, those who can, do, while those who can't, go out in the field to report. They must all go to the same reporter's school where they learn the following questions (listed in reverse order of stupidity and irksomeness, although many are really equal in terms of stupidity and irksomeness). I personally think that almost every one of them should be arrested for assault with a deadly microphone, mob actions, and violation of noise ordinances, not to mention violation of personal space and privacy. Anyway, here are the stupid questions:


10.      You just got whipped really bad in that {enter sporting event here}, how do you feel? [Translation: I can't think of anything intelligent to ask but I need my 5 minutes of air time and I want to rub it in some more because I was rooting for the other team.]


9.        You just screwed up your lead to lose the big {enter sporting event here}, how do you feel? [Translation: I can't think of anything intelligent to ask but I need my 5 minutes of air time and I want to rub it in because I'm hoping you'll cry on camera for me.]


8.        The jury just found you guilty, how do you feel? [Translation: I can't think of anything intelligent to ask but I need my 5 minutes of air time and I'm hoping you'll swear on the air so I can pretend I'm shocked.]


7.        You just found out your neighbor is a serial killer/kidnapper/pervert, what can you tell me about him? [Translation: I can't think of anything intelligent to ask and there is no one really relevant to the situation around, but I need my 5 minutes of air time and I'm hoping you'll tell me you thought the neighbor was a regular person (or knew they were rotten) so I get to ask another meaningless follow up question.]


6.        You just lost everything to that tornado/hurricane/fire, how do you feel? [Translation: I can't think of anything intelligent to ask but I need my 5 minutes of air time and I'm hoping you'll cry on camera for me.]


5.        You just watched that bomb/accident kill {nnn} people, how do you feel? [Translation: I can't think of anything intelligent to ask and no one really relevant to the situation would talk to me, but I need my 5 minutes of air time and I'm hoping you'll cry on camera for me.]


4.        You just lost a loved one/neighbor/friend to {insert cause}, how do you feel? [Translation: I'm totally insensitive but use this job as an excuse to get away with my stupidity and don't care that I am butting in on your grief. Besides, I need my 5 minutes of air time and I'm hoping you'll cry on camera for me.]


3.        Why did/didn't you {insert 5 minute monologue here}? [Translation: I don't really care what the truth is, I just planted the seed of my view in the minds of all my viewers.]


2.        Do you think {insert 5 minute monologue here}? [Translation: I don't really care what you have to say, I just want to get a chance to get my personal views on the air.]


1.        [Simultaneous group yell] Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! .... [Translation: We flunked manners in kindergarten.]


NOTE:            Also repeating from the previous rant, all reporters and announcers, whether on the scene or in the studio, need to learn the definition of "presently." Hint: It does not mean the same as "currently" or "at present," although some dictionaries do list that as an alternate definition, most likely due to common misusage, just like one can find "ain't" in the dictionary.


Since I retired, I do a lot more reading, but I am running out of writers works I can feel good about reading. Clive Cussler is still my favorite living author (Thomas B. Costain is my all time favorite author) but he pulled a big blooper in his Dirk Pitt series. He made the mistake early on of aging his hero in real time, so Dirk Pitt and his buddy were just plain getting too old to play the romantic hero. He tried to recapture the series with a bigger blunder of having a son and daughter appear out of nowhere. Firstly, they did not work out well in print, but the biggest mistake was their creation. Anyone who has read Cussler's book where Pitt meets the original Summer realizes they never had time, inclination, or story development enough for a sexual encounter. The only way Dirk Pitt could have impregnated Summer was to rape her while she was unconscious in his hotel room. It just doesn't fit the character. In his defense, I will say Cussler has made up for this error by bringing back Dirk and Joe in some more adventures, downplayed the younger Dirk and Summer, and mostly turned his attention to other sries written in conjunction with other writers.

Then we come to writers like Kathy Reichs and James Patterson. In real life, how many murderers and Serial killers go after the individual or families of the police or forensic scientists trying to find out who they are and put them in jail? In every single book? I don't think so!

And of course, with the possible exception of Spenser, every private detective is a fallen cop who no longer has a good relationship with the police department. They are almost always alcoholics or recovering alcoholics or, as a close second, recovering gamblers. Is it really necessary for your hero to have a fatal flaw? Did all these writers go to the same writing school?

As for plots, most writers used to make all their books as stand alone novels. Even when they were a sequence, you could read one and it would have a start and finish, although some of the history might only be presented sketchily. I used to enjoy Tom Clancy novels, but then he got into the second generation of characters and now his books are a serial soap opera. They must be read in sequence and the end of one always has a cliff hanger to sell you the next book. Sorry Tom, I have more sales resistance than that. I have just stopped reading your series. And believe me, Clancy is not alone in his attempts to string you along through more book sales.


With the addition of a new dog to the pack, the need for training has resurfaced. JoJo and Taz are so good at understanding and obeying voice commands (well, most of the time) that I have gotten spoiled. Now I am working on a new dog and we have a ways to go yet.

I have four vital, safety commands that they must know and two others that I consider important, but not necessarily critical. The safety commands are "come" (absolutely the most important), "stay," "no," and "leave it." The last command is used to get them to drop anything they may have found to snack on in the woods (usually feces) or anything I consider bad for them. The first two are obvious and "no" is generic for stop whatever behavior you are engaged in.

The other two important, but non-critical, commands are "off" and "in the house." "Off" means "get down" either from putting their paws against someone or getting on something they do not belong on. "Off" is used rather than "get down" or "down" because "down" is a command more universally used to mean "lay down" and would be confusing if used for two different objectives. "In the house" just means go through the door and get inside. It came about more through frequent use than by plan, but it is effective for giving them a direction. It is also good to aim them back at the door. When we are away from the trailer, telling the dogs, "Let's go back to the house" aims them in the right direction. I am sure the operative word must be "house" since it is the only common word. But it is effective.

So far, Ruby understands, "come," "stay," "no," and "in the house." The problem is, just because she understands them does not mean she actually obeys the commands. I have not had occasion to use "leave it" so she does not know that one at all and "off" has so far been totally ignored. She has yet to understand that my command overrides her chosen priority, but I think we are doing good for only two weeks of working on the training. She really is very smart. As I mentioned in the blog, she is totally house broken and will try to get our attention if she needs to go out at other than the usual times. She is also getting pretty good about staying with the pack when I let her loose outside, although I always have problems with her wanting to investigate the other dogs' trailers when we go back to the house. She can "sit." She has totally learned the household routines, especially "patty cake" time in the morning when they get their medicines, glucosamine cookie, and treat. She stands on her hind legs and dances around when she is happy or waiting for a treat or waiting to get leashed to go outside. She has also quickly learned the joys of a belly rub.

One of Ruby's constraints to learning is her previous owner's poor handling of the dog. The first time we used "no" with her or clapped our hands to get her attention, Ruby cowered expecting to get hit. Obviously, this is what happened to her in the past. We are trying to make her understand that, no matter what she does or does not do (including stealing food) she is not going to get hit, but it does mean we have to be more thoughtful in our training methods.

Of course, JoJo is still the smartest of the three dogs. She knows all six of the important commands and many more. When she was our only dog and we used to work on it with her, she knew the name of every toy she had and where she had left it in the house and could fetch it on demand. She knows how to "lay down," "say your prayers" (down with her head on her paws), "roll over" (but she needs more room than we have in the trailer), "shake hands" (right paw), and "high five" (left paw), "go to bed," "dance," and "speak." She also "sings" when she is happy as only a Schnauzer can sing, and not all do it. For instance, Taz does not. She knows how to "sit pretty" (sit up with her front paws off the ground) but cannot do it unless she is leaning against me on the bed because her little stub tail is too long to allow her to sit flat on her butt. She has a vocabulary that will not quit and also responds to hand signals and different whistles when we are playing ball or walking in the woods. A three note whistle means come, a single note means stop and pay attention. "This way" means take the path I am pointing towards. She is almost always ahead of me on the trail and will frequently test a fork to see if it is okay to go that way or will just wait till I point at the direction for her to take. If I point towards the other fork, she quickly retraces her steps and zooms off down the chosen path. By the way, Ruby does not yet understand either of those whistles, but I developed a new rapidly repeated one note whistle that Ruby knows means she should come. Again, knowing and doing do not always go hand in hand.

Taz is almost as smart as her older sister. She also knows all six of the important commands, a wealth of vocabulary words, and the two types of whistle. She is a bit slower to respond when told to "come" but that is just German stubbornness. She also knows the names of some of her toys and would probably know more if we had worked with her the way we did with JoJo at first. She can "sit," "sit pretty", "lay down," "dance," "go to bed," and "go to sleep," which means time to settle in at the bottom of the bed, lay down, and sleep. Taz has a need to lick (you, the covers, her sister, her paws, or whatever) before settling down for the night so Julie uses this command to get her to cease and go to sleep. She will also "shake hands" but for her it means whichever paw she decides to stick up. She has her own version of "speak," which is consistent but unique. Instead of barking, she jumps up on your lap and then off again. For instance, if you ask the dogs to speak if they need to go out, JoJo will bark once and taz will jump on and off your lap, or just up against you if you are standing.

I know I am probably missing various commands and idiosyncracies, but this is a general idea of living with three smart animals.