Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More on Magazines

I wasn't quite as caught up on reading my magazines and newsletters as I thought I was. One day this weekend I saw the book bag I had packed for our two summer trips. In it was one volume of The Annals of America, which I use for history article and essay ideas. Also in it were about five mags/newsletters I had taken on the trips but never read. So I put them back in the mag pile, along with two others that have arrived since I wrote my last blog post. Maybe I'll read and finish one tonight. I'm way ahead of where I expected to be on my current book.

But my mag piles at work seem to be growing. I didn't think I received that many. I don't subscribe to a lot, but some come to me as a result of having attended a conference and visited a booth and been put on a mailing list. Then there are three or four that the chairman of the board sends me. I try to go through something in a mag every day, but still never catch up.

Because these are piling up, and because magazines were on my mind, I decided to go through my piles and make an inventory of what comes my way, and how many issues per year.

Arkansas Asphalt News - 4
Stormwater - 6
Environmental Connection - 4
Geosynthetics - 6 (gonna ditch this one soon)
Grading & Excavation Contractor - 6 (this one as well)
APWA Reporter - 12
CE News - 12
Journal AWWA - 12
Erosion Control - 7
Standardization News - 6
Opflow (newsletter) - 12
Pollution Equipment News - 6
Missouri PE newsletter - 4
Kansas PE newsletter - 4
Arkansas PE newsletter - 4
Arkansas Drinking Water Update - 4
Land & Water - 6 (not sure I'm still subscribed)
Water Environment & Technology - 12

If my non-calculator math is correct, that's 129 mags a year, which I should get through in 220 or so working days. No wonder they are piling up.

For the more important mags, I try to read them closely. Many articles and news items are of importance to my work. Heck, even most of the ads have information in them about products I ought to know something about.

So they pile up. I get through at least one article a day. Some days I do more, even a whole magazine of the lesser important ones. I think, because I've been diligent with these as of late, the piles are actually a little shorter than the were at the beginning of the summer.

Right now, I'd better close this and see where I left off in the May 2010 issue of Erosion Control.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading Magazines

Last night, about 9:45 PM, I pulled a book off the reading pile and began reading, mug of coffee at the ready. I'm sure I'll give a report on it, 510 pages from now. For the last three weeks or so I've been concentrating on reading magazines. On the end table between Lynda's and my reading chairs, we each have a stack. Actually I have two. One is a stack of books; the other a stack of magazines and newsletters. I tackle each as the spirit moves me. Actually the stack of books is not my reading pile. It is the current book I'm reading, plus a Bible or two, and maybe a study book. My reading "pile" is actually out of sight, on a bookshelf in my closet.

The magazine pile is quite varied. I only subscribe to one magazine, Poets and Writers, and that's a one-year experiment. I'll see in February if I'll renew it. But we get lots of other mags or newsletters. There's alumni magazines from the University of Rhode Island, the University of Missouri, the UoM College of Engineering, and I think Lynda may get something from the University of Kansas. We get a magazine twice a year from our timeshare organization, every month from our rural electric cooperative, and one a month from AAA. They pile up.

Then add to that the newsletters: Prison Fellowship, New Fields Ministries, our water utility, Focus on the Family, the Bella Vista POA, the non-official Bella Vista newsletter (almost a mag), and a couple more. These pile up as well. Lynda gets a couple every month from various stock trading organizations, though those may be more "buy our service" type of ads rather than true newsletters. I also classify as "magazines" things such as annual reports from insurance companies and stocks. We get a few of those.

Then add the mags we pick up at thrift stores, yard sales, or the recycling place. That one is amazing. When the magazine box is full, you have your pick of hundreds within reach. Conversely, when they've just emptied the box, you can't reach any. We normally come away from there with just about the same number that we drop off. The National Geographic I've read recently came from there—though we've got years of the Geographic on shelves downstairs, waiting for me to get to them.

I try to read them all. Why? I feel like I'm probably missing something if I don't read them. They come to me to impart knowledge, maybe even wisdom on occasion. How can I simply trash them? Certainly what I pay for I'm going to read. Every page. Even the ads. Those that come free I might skim. Oh, wait, most of those I actually pay for. The cost is just hidden in the utility rate or the overhead of the organization. The ministry newsletters are always interesting. New Fields is an organization of Russian-Americans who provide a wide range of Christian ministries in the countries of the former Soviet Union. They do a great work, including much humanitarian work.

So for the last three weeks, when reading time materialized, rather than go to my reading pile I grabbed something off the mag pile. As of Monday night the mag pile was left with only two things it in. One was something from Blue Cross Blue Shield that I just didn't feel like reading. The other was the timeshare org mag, and that is almost as much sales pitch. So I felt caught up and grabbed the book from the reading pile. While it's a rather large book, it will feel good to get back into that kind of reading. At ten pages a night and a few more on the weekend, I should finish this around the end of September or early October. By then another ten to fifteen magazines should have piled up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reading, Writing, and...Demolition

After a busy weekend last weekend, painting the walls in the family room and stripping wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom, I took it easy on the physical labor this past week. Did some light work in that bathroom, removing bits of paper we'd missed. Put some pictures back on the walls, and restored some other things in the family room. But I didn't undertake anything major.

During the week we had the air conditioner man out to look and see if he could see what is causing the staining on the ceiling in our computer room and in the guest bedroom next to it. He said he couldn't see anything with the limited view he had, and that we would need to tear out some of the fixed ceiling to tell anything. The restoration people said their meters detected wetness in the ceiling. Insurance wouldn't cover what caused the problem, but after we fixed the problem they would restore everything, including ceiling that we had to tear out to find the problem.

So yesterday, after washing windows, screens, and window sills in the computer room, I began tearing out ceiling. The first piece comes out with the most difficulty, of course, as you pierce that nice finish and use the hole to begin the tear out. I started where the stain looked worst, and the first piece felt a little wet to me. But it was cold, being right near an AC duct, so maybe I was feeling the cold and thought it was wet.

I kept at it, removing enough so I could see what was up there. It's a spaghetti mix of water pipe, AC duct, drain lines, and electric and telephone. All the ceiling board seemed dry, though staining on the back side sort of mimicked the stains visible below, except more extensive. Looking through the joists, into the ceiling above the bedroom, I could see that the hot and cold to the washing machine was right above the stains. But nothing looked wet.

So maybe the water came from two problems. A year (or maybe more) ago we had to replace the garbage disposal, a hole having been worn into the side of it. We figured this was the cause of the staining, as the kitchen if right above that part of the computer room (The Dungeon, as I fondly call it). But the staining in the bedroom showed up much later. Maybe it's a leak associated with the washer. Or, the main house drainage line for the upstairs is right in that area too. Maybe it's something to do with that.

It appears that we will have to run some appliances and watch and see if the area above the stains looks wet. That means everything will be torn up for a while, since we won't have the new carpet put down (as a result of the hot water heater leaking) until we have the ceiling fixed, which won't be till we find the leak.

In the meanwhile, I've got lots of reading done, not in a book, but in accumulated magazines. I finished the latest edition of Poets and Writers today, finished an old (2008) National Geographic yesterday, and got some good information about a sci fi subject I was thinking of. Have about finished reading the latest Quadangles, the URI alumni mag. And it seems that I read something else earlier in the week. Oh, I've read some in an investment/trading book, and have brainstormed a series of articles for Suite101.com on the subject. I hope to write one tonight.

So all in all a productive time. I'm fairly well caught up on mags, so will go back to my reading pile and see what book is next.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Can't Stand Those Black "Bees"

I don't know that they are bees. They sound like bees, although they over in place. We get them this time of year. They come out in the evening, just when it's cool enough for my evening walk. The hour before it's dark enough to call it dark, and even later up until it really is dark. They hover about 18 inches above the asphalt pavement on our quiet, country-like roads.

Once you get accustomed to looking for them, you can see them 30 feet ahead. Sometimes you can change course and not disturb them, except they usually seem disturbed and move—sometimes away from you and sometimes right at you, circling up near your head. In the past I used to swat at them; this year, the few times evening temperatures have been cool enough to walk, I've ignored them. Until last night.

I went out about 7:30 PM, a little earlier than usual. The temperature was still 90 deg F, but I decided to go earlier to get out and back before the black bees came out for their evening whatever-it-is-they-do-when-they-hover activity. I wasn't early enough, however. Just as soon as I got on Scalloway Circle I heard one, I think, but wasn't bothered by it as it moved off somewhere out of sight. On the next street, 600 feet of Scalloway Drive, I encountered no bees. On the next street, Sherlock Drive, I was attached. I heard one buzz near my head before I saw it. It buzzed me four or five times, circling and circling, retreating and advancing, usually staying out of sight. I couldn't stand that and swatted at it with my...handkerchief and my hands. I kept grabbing my collar in back and shaking my shirt, lest that pest light on my back and sting me. I must have walked out of its range, for it left me. On the return walk I was not accosted by any black bees, though at the same place I saw one leave its hover and fly away.

I say "bees", but what are they? They have a cigar shaped body, thin and maybe 2 inches long, and a wing span about the same length. They are all black so far as I can tell. They come out after the sun has set, but seem to disappear after dark; at least I never hear them on later walks. They hover 18 inches above the pavement, and seem to prefer lighter color pavement to darker. Scalloway Drive was just oiled a couple of weeks ago, and is very black. The other two streets were not oiled and are lighter asphalt. The "bees" seem to be on the lighter streets. I've seen as many as three of them hovering ahead of me on the street. They never fly off into the woods. The one tonight flew into a back yard, not the woods. They buzz like a bee; hover close to motionless like a hummingbird, and fly in a fairly straight path.

What are these things? I'd like to know. Possibly they don't sting at all and are just a nuisance I can blissfully ignore. Why do they just appear in late July and August? Are they out in the morning as well, in the lightening hours, or just the evenings? I never see them in the morning. I'm tired of them ruining a month of evening walks.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: The Prodigal God

The parable of the prodigal son is a favorite with Christians. What's not to like? A son turns from his sinful life and his father accepts him back with unconditional love. It is taught in Bible studies and preached from the pulpit. This popularity might lead you to think that almost everything that needs to be said about it has been said.

Timothy Keller would disagree. Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York City, he has been preaching/teaching this parable for a couple of decades. In 2008 he published The Prodigal God (Dutton; ISBN 978-0-525-95079-0). The basis of the title is that, while the younger son led a wastefully extravagant life, God is extravagant to the extreme in his love and outreach to mankind. "Prodigal" means recklessly extravagant, profuse in giving. We would normally attach this to the younger brother (not the giving part). Subconsciously we would apply this to God as well, but might not think of this often. Keller artfully shows this extravagance by explaining the what the father in the parable endured in his culture.
  • The affront of his younger son, demanding his inheritance. Normal practice would be to drive the young man out with sticks, but of course the father doesn't.
  • The need to sell lands, fields, herds to make the division demanded by the younger son's unreasonable request.
  • Running to welcome his son back, to have at most an extra minute with him. A dignified Middle Eastern landowner would never have tossed his dignity aside by hitching up his robe to run in public. Such is this father's love.
  • His ignoring the prior affront by unconditionally welcoming back his younger son and restoring him to the family. Such a practice would have opened him to more ridicule from his fellow tribesmen.
  • The affront of his older son refusing to come in to the celebration, and the father's going out to reason with his son.
Keller takes time to explain the younger brother/older brother dynamics, and how the older brother really has the same sin issue as his younger brother, but manifested in a different way: both want the father's things, but not the father. One chose the sin of loveless disobedience; the other loveless obedience.

This small book, just 139 easy to read, small size pages, is a good read by itself. It can also be used as a small group study. A study book is available, as is a high quality video of Keller teaching this in six sessions. If you have an opportunity, do the study with a group. If not, at least read the book. You should learn much and be encouraged in your Christian walk.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Full Week Ahead

Yesterday was restful, sort of. I began the day with lots of aches and pains, especially in my left arm, after the home improvement work of Wednesday through Saturday. Even the after-church walk down the trail to the Crystal Bridges Museum construction site overlook was restful. Ten minutes each way in 95 degree heat, but with clouds obscuring the sun.

So I face the new work week a bit tired, but not so much as late last week. My main engineering work this week will be two flood studies: Little Osage Creek in Centerton AR and Blossom Way Creek in Rogers AR. The Little Osage one is tweaking the computer model based on recent survey information and tweaking the mapping as a result, and getting it sent off again to FEMA. The Blossom Way one is more substantial. I finally have data on the previous study, and need to extend that floodplain into new areas upstream and merge new survey data with the existing. There is a major difference in the amount of flood water between my calculations and the previous study, and I have to work that out this week. Some training may also be on the docket this week.

For writing, I have an assignment for Buildipedia, deadline next Monday. I'd like to have it wrapped up and in the mail this week, though. It's on America's wastewater infrastructure, a subject I know fairly well but haven't looked at for a while. Still the research will be easy. I may also receive a contract this week for the series of articles they want me to write on construction contract administration. Those will be shorter (300-500 words), and should appear on the site during September, maybe four or five articles, though I proposed as many as seven.

I'd also like to get two articles written for Suite101.com: the next one in my series on technical analysis for stock trading, and one about the St. Jacob's Well site in southwestern Kansas. I'm ahead of the article quota required by my Suite contract, but these are two fairly easy articles. Might was well get them written and posted and give them a chance to be earning a little revenue.

I also have two more lessons to write in my adult Sunday school (a.k.a. Life Group) series Sacred Moments. I taught one on ordination yesterday, that seemed to be well received. The next one is on last rites/death, then one on foot washing and the series is over. I will need to write a sell sheet on this and perhaps market it as a potential publishable Bible study.

I don't anticipate that the week will give me time to work on my novel. I'm not sure about carving out time to go to writers guild meeting tomorrow night, though it's possible. If I complete the other items, that will be enough.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why Do I Write?

Two different writers sites/groups that I visit on the Internet asked that question this week. Chip MacGregor, in his blog post on Wednesday, answered the question "Why do I write?" And The Writers View 2, in their Thursday question, asked us to answer, in a sentence, the question, "What is your motivation for writing?" Interesting that these two sites should ask basically the same question at the same time. They set me to thinking about my own motivation for writing, and how I got to the point I'm at now.

It started back in the late 90s, I guess. I wrote some letters to the editor, and a couple of political essays. And a couple of work-place ditties. At the same time an idea for a novel started floating around in my head. Almost instantaneously I saw the beginning and the ending. The connecting scenes came to mind a bit later. I made a start on it, getting 15,000 words typed by December 2000. Meanwhile an idea for a second novel started to come together.

By this time I was attending a writers critique group twice a month, sharing my essays and chapters. I began looking for writing advice on the web. My goal was to complete my novel and have it published. My goal was to tell the world a story; a Christian story that might encourage people and change some lives.

I completed that novel in January 2003, and began to rework it while at the same time market it. I attended my first writers conference in March 2003, just a regional conference in Oklahoma City. I learned a lot there, especially how difficult it would be to find a publisher--unless I wanted to self-publish, which I did not. I learned that publishers really weren't interested in writers who wanted to tell a story. They wanted writers who wanted careers as writers.

So I branched out. I found an outlet for some of my editorials in the local newspaper. When we moved from Bentonville to Bella Vista I changed writers groups to one that met weekly. Through that group I was able to get five feature articles in our local newspaper. I went to other writers conference and read other blogs. Since I prepared and wrote my own adult Sunday school lessons, I began to do these more formally with the intent of making them "publishable". The road to being published looked harder with each conference session I attended and each web page I read. But I began to diversify and write articles. Oh, year, somewhere along the way I became interested in writing poetry, and realized I could write it and should write it. And then in 2006 there was the short biography I wrote of one of Lynda's great-grandfathers.

That brings us to today. Novel 1 is finished, polished four times, and in the drawer biding its time. Novel 2 is at about 17,000 words on its way to 80,000, waiting for me to get back to it. My poetry book is finished, in the drawer waiting for me to decide how to market it. I've got lots of articles written, one published in print and 110 published at Internet sites with more on the way. I'm building a stable of articles. Whether these will develop and demonstrate a platform or simply be an exercise will be seen in the next few years.

So where does that leave me? I wanted to tell a story, but that's not what publishers wanted to buy, so I'm trying to do what the publishers want. But the writing bug has definitely bit me. I want my words to have an impact on the world, specifically to further the cause of Jesus Christ. I want my secular writings to be underpinned by a Christian worldview that comes out in very subtle ways. I want my Christian writings to be directly helpful to those of the faith.

I'm not sure where I stand. It's been an interesting journey so far, a journey that I'm not about to give up, but which I can't tell where I am on it. I hope someday I'll be able to write my autobiography and title it The Journey Was A Joy. Guess I'm still heading in that direction.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dead Tired, but Carrying On

As I mentioned in other posts, we had water damage to our walk-out basement due to a leaking hot water heater. Insurance covers all but the hot water heater itself and, of course, a deductible. We decided to also have the insurance company look at some water damage to the downstairs ceiling, over the computer area in our large family room. Over a year ago the garbage disposal went out, pouring large amounts of water into the cabinet under the sink, all right about above the computer room.

The insurance company adjuster (or whatever his title is) did not think the water damage on the ceiling below came from the garbage disposal above, however. He found a number of other places in the ceiling where there were smaller water stains, ones that we hadn't seen. They continued beyond the computer room into the downstairs bedroom. He thinks it's something to do with the air conditioning, since they seem to follow ductwork in the ceiling. So I guess I'll be calling our AC guy today to look at that. The insurance company says they cover everything, with another deductible, except for whatever repairs are needed to the ductwork.

With all this stuff going on, with bookshelves emptied and moved out of the family room, with end tables moved, with the general upheaval, Lynda thought it would be a good time to paint the family room, and the stairway walls from upstairs to down. I have to agree with her that this is a good time to do that. So last night when I got home from school we make a Wal-Mart run, bought the paint and a few newer painting tools than we had, and got to work. Still had to empty and move three bookcases along my target wall, cased that were past where the water damage was. By 11:30 PM that target wall was done, about 1/5 of the total room, I estimate.

I was sweaty and exhausted. Cleaned up tools and hands, then sat at the computer for 15 minutes playing a few mindless games to wind down. At that point I remembered I hadn't had any supper, but I really wasn't hungry, and went to bed without any. This morning my hands and fingers hurt, my legs are dead, my mind is tired, and I'm sure my lungs are full of fumes. And I'm only 1/5 of the way done, maybe a little less.

Obviously I'm not going to be getting much writing done for a while. Today I'm going to sign a contract with Buildipedia for a new article, due on the 23rd of August, and turn in my article series idea for next month. Beyond that, I don't seem much for a couple of weeks. Well, I also have Sunday school lessons to write; guess I'll keep up on that. And I don't see myself being able to do much reading during that time. Just finished a small biography of a long time Meade County Kansas resident, and it's time to see what's next on the reading pile, but that will have to wait.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deck Invasion

Yesterday was a better day at work. At least part of my mind has now followed me home and is no longer in southwestern Kansas. I got more done at work than I did the three days I worked last week. In off hours I was able to better concentrate on writing tasks, and did required brainstorming of a new article series for Buildipedia and began drafting a new article for Suite 101.

Most of the evening was quiet. I tackled family finances, getting all debits from our trip entered, the checkbook added, and a few bills paid. I read forty pages in a book we picked up at Meade, Tales of a Sod House Baby. It was all quite enjoyable.

As I was sitting in my reading chair in the living room, about 10:30 PM, I heard noises behind my head. They sounded like they were in the exterior wall of the house, and I thought we might have mice in there. The sounds were repeated, and I was able to distinguish the noise was out on the deck, a critter of some sort, kind of loud. It persisted for a couple of minutes. Finally I told Lynda (who hadn't heard it), got up from the chair and turned the exterior lights on. Two raccoons were there, now fixated by the light and not doing much but stand still. I saw movement over to the left; four more raccoons were over by the bird seed and water.

It's not enough that we have to feed the squirrels as a consequence of trying to feed the birds. Now we have to feed the raccoons too? Six of 'em at one time? I suppose that's what happens when you live in a thinly populated area. Our street includes about twenty platted lots, but only four houses have been built. The rest is all oak forest with a few pines, sassafras, hickory, pecan, and persimmons.

Having to chose between a fully populated neighborhood and raccoons and squirrels stealing the bird food, I guess I'll take the latter. Some day these lots will be built on, at least some of them. Our time in the woods will come to an end. But we'll enjoy it while we can.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meade Kansas Demonstrates Changing Economy

I hope regular readers of this blog will indulge me one more post about Meade before I get back to regular topics. This will sort of tie together the trip for me. One more subject from the trip awaits--our tour of the old Thompson homestead, but that will come later.

Meade Kansas, both the city and the county, has become a home away from home of sorts for me. I began making trips there in 1975, the year after leaving Rhode Island. Several times a year while we lived in Kansas City, less frequently during the nine years overseas and in North Carolina. Now, during our nineteen years in Arkansas we've made perhaps twenty-five trips to Lynda's home town: mainly for holidays, funerals, and reunions. We haven't done the tourist thing to Meade, maybe not ever.

I've come to know Meade fairly well. I can't remember all the names of all the streets, but I can find my way to any place in town with no problem. I've spent time in the library and the courthouse, at the truck stop or the city park, and of course much time at Lynda's home church, the Meade Church of the Nazarene. I've watched changes come to the city as an outsider and wannabe insider.

In 1975 Meade was 90 years old. It had a quaint downtown district that stretched along US Highway 54 and Kansas Highway 23, the crossroads that came to the town after it was built. A mix of brick and wooden buildings gave the town some character. A few were vacant, and some had changed tenants each time we went back. The economy was based on agriculture, and Meade's 1800 people seemed reasonably prosperous.

At some point there was an oil boom. Farmers leased drilling rights to various companies, who brought in workers and drilling commenced. Several productive wells were brought in. About the same time the confined hog raising operations began in the county (none real close to Meade or the other communities). The population rose, they say, to around 2,200, though this may never have been at a census time.

Now, Meade's population is around 1,600, based on a two-year old estimate. The recently concluded census may prove it to be somewhat less than that. It seems most of the buildings in the downtown area are now vacant or, if fitted for multiple tenants, and less than half the building occupied. So much population has moved away. One man told us that 90 percent of the high school grads leave the town. Ten years later some return to raise families in what they know to be a good, wholesome place. But there's not much around to attract new families to the area.

Another part of the economic problem for Meade is the reasonable closeness of alternative markets. Dodge City and Liberal, cities of perhaps 30,000 each, are around 40 to 45 miles away. That's close enough with today's good automobiles and pick-up trucks, even with the cost of gas fairly high, that no one thinks twice about making a four or five hour shopping excursion to the place of greater choice and better prices. The technology of transportation has hurt Meade's economy, to the benefit of Dodge and Liberal.

In the countryside, outside of the towns, I noticed one big change from prior years: much more corn is being grown. Meade County has always had a variety of crops. Winter wheat always seemed to dominate, but farmers also planted corn, milo, soy beans, sorghum, and probably others. The dryland farming of the past seemed to favor winter wheat, however. Now, everyone seems to be growing corn as the main crop, mostly irrigated corn. I'm sure the reason is to feed the expanding ethanol market.

You can't blame farmers for growing what's being purchased, or what appears to have a brighter future. We should worry though about all that groundwater being extracted, probably from the Ogalalla Aquifer. Again, technology is the driving force of the change, in this case coupled with public policy. The technology to make ethanol is now developed enough that it sort of makes sense with the government subsidies applied, and so the farmers are adapting.

Ethanol might be a temporary phenomenon, fueled by technological advances and public policy. But what about the changing demographics? It seems to me that is, to some extent, also a function of technology. The technology of good transportation to go back home fairly frequently. The technology of good and cheap communication to stay in touch frequently. The technology that allows the bigger cities to provide the greater mix of entertainment and jobs that lure people there.

I don't know what the future holds for Meade. There should always be a town there, maybe about the size it is now. I hope so, and hope it thrives for many more years.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Something Special: Meade High School, Class of '67

This was the fourth reunion I attended of Meade (Kansas) High School class of 1967, my wife's graduating class. We also attended in 1995, 2000, and 2005. Now some of you may ask how a class with year ending in 7 has reunions in years ending in 0 and 5 instead of 2 and 7. To explain I need to tell you a bit about Meade.
First you need to find it on a map. Look for southwestern Kansas. Find Dodge City, Liberal, and Garden City. Meade in on US Highway 54, about 40 miles southwest of Dodge, 39 miles northeast of Liberal, and about 60 miles southeast of Garden City, about 100 miles east of the Colorado border and 20 miles north of the Oklahoma panhandle. Notice on the map how the towns in this area are ten to fifteen miles apart. The dryland/irrigated agriculture of the regions does not need population centers with services closer than that.

Meade, the city, has somewhere around 1,700 people. It peaked at 2,200 people in past censuses, when agriculture boomed and oil drilling was in full swing. But 90 percent of their high school graduates move away. A few move back ten or twenty hears later to raise their families, and a few people move in in search of jobs, but not enough to replace those who die off.

With the small population, and with the largest graduating class ever being about 64 people, and with a total of 3,400 graduates in the school's 98 year history, the Meade High Alumni Association decided to have all school reunions on the 5 and 10 years. They hold this on the closing weekend of the county fair. So all interested alumns came to Meade last weekend.

Lynda's class had 61 graduates, and three "friends of the class" who for whatever reason left the cohort, making for 64 people associated with the class. Near as anyone can figure thirty-two of those attended some or all of the reunion events. We drove in late Thursday afternoon, not knowing her class was holding a party of the early arrivers, so we didn't attend that. We did attend the Friday evening party. It was supposed to be for the class of '67, but there were people there from '57 (kind of old and out of place), '61, '64, '65, '66, '67, '68, and probably '69. All over town there were similar pre-reunion gatherings that evening.

Saturday was a reunion at Lynda's home church of returning attendees, then tours of the old school, then a picnic at the park of the classes of '65, '66, '67, '68, and '69 (while other groups met elsewhere in town). Then a banquet and program that evening of all the classes, then an after-banquet party for '67 that sort of fizzled (or started very late), then an ecumenical church service on Sunday morning. At each of the official or semi-official gatherings, the conversations lingered long. Heck, even the check-in on Saturday morning was a reunion, with small groups engaged in animated conversations.

I enjoy going to these reunions, even though I didn't attend that school and had met only one of her classmates before 1995. I sit back with the other spouses or significant others, and watch the interactions of the returning classmates. For a long time only two or three lived in Meade. That number is now up to six, so almost all of the classmates are coming in from afar. The interaction is great. Every reunion someone returns who has never been to one before, and that person becomes a star of sorts as everyone tries to catch up. The men keep looking older in five-year chunks, and the women seems to change less, no doubt the chunks mitigated by applied colors and perhaps surgeries. The women all insist the guys take their caps off to see what they are hiding. The guys...make no similar request of the women.

This class of sixty-four people has something my class of 725 doesn't have: a shared school experience, and a shared community experience. They all went to the same grade school and junior high school, actually in the same building as the old high school. When someone tells a story about Mrs. Griffiths, one of the two 6th grade teachers, everyone knows her (even those who had the other one), and can appreciate the story. Everyone in the class knew each other well, and hung out with a large proportion of the class after hours. They shopped at the same grocery store, tormented the same elderly people, vandalized the same vacant houses, participated in the same pranks, and played in the same woods.

In contrast, I doubt if I even knew a hundred people in my graduating class. I think not more than five others from my elementary school spent all twelve grades in the same schools that I did, though many others spent more years together. Those shared experiences and relationships with the entire class is what I don't have with my class. Maybe part of it is because it took me forty years to ever get to one of my reunions. But I knew very few of those at my reunion. Of the 79 who attended, I probably knew fifteen while I was in school. I met about five or ten of my classmates for the first time, even though forty years ago we walked the same halls and hated the same assistant principal.

My class will never have that special bond that Lynda's class has. It can't have it. For all the benefits of growing up in a good sized city with a large school, the lack of shared experience is one of the unfortunate drawbacks.

Kudos to Meade High class of '67. I hope you know what you have.

Road Trip No. 2 is Over

We returned last night from southwest Kansas, 1067 miles after starting. The main purpose for the trip was my wife's high school reunion, but I scheduled much more around that. We had time with aunts and cousins. We visited two family cemeteries. We attended the old home church. We went to the county fair. We took late evening walks of more than a mile, after the temperature dropped below 90, and marveled at the clarity of the Milky way. We visited the hometown museum, which is much changed since I last went in it thirty years ago.

And we visited the old homestead where Charles and Zippy Thompson lived for thirty years. No, Zippy is not a nickname. I've often wondered why Isaac and Sarah Chappell named their second daughter Zippy Ellen Chappell, but they died about a hundred years before I knew her name was Zippy, who herself died in 1962, fourteen years before I married in. Lynda's mom was with us for the homestead tour. In fact, she's the main reason I wanted to make the trip. Well, I wanted to see it too. Thirty-four years of trips to Meade and no one ever suggested we try to find the place where the sod house was built into a hillside, and the spring house kept the meat and produce cool. No, the fixation was always on the Cheney family and the last stop of the wandering 49er.

But Esther had spent much time at her grandparent's farm/ranch on the Finney/Haskell county line. She helped tend the vegetable garden, pick flowers, slept on a mat on the earthen floor, used the outhouse, and spent a rustic week of enjoyment with grandma and grandpa. Esther enjoyed the visit most of all, carefully stepping over a variety of critter holes, abandoned farm equipment, and building debris with her 85 year-old legs, and getting Texas tacks on her slacks, recalling what she experienced seven or eight decades previously. Lynda enjoyed it too. Her cousin Trish carried off a souvenier, an old over cover.

We also visited a scene of less happy memories, where my wife's two aunts perished in the blizzard of 1948, the year before my wife was born. Esther and Faye, the two remaining sisters who were not with the others for that fateful car ride, showed where the car got stuck, where Louise's body was found three days later at the bottom of a ravine, where Phyllis died, and where their friend Marvin apparently tried to make it back to the car but failed in hie attempt. That visit was harder than the other, which is likely the reason we never did that tour before. We drove that road maybe thirty years ago, but no one asked, "Where exactly did the girls die?"

One other unhappy but necessary visit was with Lynda's cousin Bobby, from Cimarron. His 33 year-old daughter committed suicide a year ago. We talked with him a couple of months after it happened, but this was the first time to see him. He explained how nothing helped with the healing. I hope something we said did, though. Bobby keeps up the Cheney plot in Fowler Cemetery, and was driving down on Sunday to do so when we suggested we drive up to see him. So we met at Aunt Rosa's house in Fowler and again at the cemetery. One lighter moment came when he pointed out that a man buried right next to the Cheneys was named Jerry Garcia. Bobby says he has a lot of fun telling people he mows Jerry Garcia's grave, and they think him a celebrity of sorts. Not being a Grateful Dead fan that went over my head until Bobby explained it.

Many memories made, and recalled, on a good six-day trip, concluded by meeting up with other cousins at Baxter Springs, Kansas, as we returned home yesterday, and dining on old Route 66. May there be many more such times and trips.