Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel is located in the Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas near Eureka Springs. It was awarded the American Institute of Architecture's "Design of the Year" award for 1981 and later their "Design of the Decade" award for the 1980s. It recently was awarded fourth on their list of the top buildings of the 20th Century.

Over 6 million visitors have admired the structure, commissioned by retired teacher Jim Reed and designed by acclaimed architect and Arkansan E. Fay Jones who was educated at nearby University of Arkansas where he then spent his four decade career as professor and dean at the university's school of architecture which now bears his name. Jones was also a student and friend of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The structure towers 48 feet into the Ozark sky yet seems to be part of the woodland forest, and its 425 windows and 6000+ square feet of glass provide the feeling that you are worshiping in Nature. (For the curious: the windows are washed once a year at a cost of $4000.) We were treated to a history of the chapel as well as a piano solo and vocal solo by the minister of music, Patricia Taylor -- a performance you should not miss! She is an extremely accomplished pianist and has an angelic voice which is carried beautifully by the acoustics of the the chapel.

Thorncrown has no congregation per se, but does have a pastor and minister of music. Sunday services are held at 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM from April through October, and visitors to the resort town of Eureka Springs attend the services.

To accommodate the needs of visitors, the adjacent Thorncrown Worship Center opened in 1989. Designed by the same architect, the worship center stands as a sister building to Thorncrown Chapel. As you walk in its doors, you gaze over the rolling Ozark hills through a fifty foot window. This magnificent structure seats over 300 people and is available for retreats and weddings.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Isn't Aging Fun?

A reporter was interviewing a 104-year-old woman: "And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?" the reporter asked.

The elderly wise woman simply replied, "No peer pressure."

After a pause, she smiled and added: "And you can hide your own Easter eggs."

"And what is the worst thing?" the reporter queried.

After thinking for a moment, she replied, "My memory's not as sharp as it used to be." Then she thought a bit longer and added, "Also, my memory's not as sharp as it used to be."


Just before the funeral services, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked, "How old was your husband?"

"98," she replied. "Two years older than me."

"So you're 96," the undertaker commented.

She responded, "Hardly worth going home, is it?


"How are you doing?" the one man asked his even older friend.

"Pretty good, considering."

"Considering what?"

"Well, I've had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees. Fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I'm half blind, can't hear anything quieter than a jet engine, take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts. Have bouts with dementia. Have poor circulation; hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. Can't remember if I'm 85 or 92. Have lost all my friends."

He paused a minute, got his breath back and added, "But, thank God, I still have my driver's license."


A 97-year-old man goes into his doctor's office and says, "Doc, I want my sex drive lowered."

"Sir," replied the doctor, "you're 97 Don't you think your sex drive is all in your head?"

"You're damned right it is!" replied the old man. "That's why I want it lowered!"


An elderly woman decided to prepare her will and told her preacher she had two final requests. First, she wanted to be cremated, and second, she wanted her ashes scattered over Wal-Mart.

"Wal-Mart?" the preacher exclaimed. "Why Wal-Mart?"

"Then I'll be sure my daughters visit me twice a week."



Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Hapless Cubs at it Again?

The strange injuries are beginning already for my hapless Chicago Cubs.

According to manager Lou Piniella, star first baseman Derrek Lee had just sat down for some pregame food on Wednesday when the clubhouse chair broke and sent him to the floor. He began the exhibition game against the Rangers but left early for treatment to his 34-year-old back.

Over the last decade or so, Sammy Sosa hurt himself sneezing, Carlos Zambrano injured his elbow while emailing, Kerry Wood slipped near a hot tub, Alfonso Soriano pulled a muscle doing his silly pre-catch hop, and Ryan Dempster broke his toe jumping out of the dugout to celebrate a victory.

Hope Derrek's injury isn't a precursor to the Cubs 102nd year without a World Series title!

Here's a story from Yahoo Sports detailing unusual baseball injuries across the major leagues the last few years -- some strange occurrences indeed!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

91% of Americans use wireless phones!

CTIA - The Wireless Association (originally known as the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) released the results of its semi-annual survey of US wireless carriers for the last half of 2009, revealing that over 285 million Americans are mobile subscribers, about 91 percent of the total population, up 15 million over the same time last year.

I find that number astounding -- 91%!

Furthermore, those 285 million callers used 1.12 trillion minutes of talk time in the last half of 2009, up 3.4 percent of the same period in 2008. That breaks down to an average of 6.1 billion minutes used per day, or about 21 minutes per person per day.

Wireless service revenues totaled $77 billion for the last half of the year, up slightly from last year. But the real growth is coming from wireless data services—mobile Web, text messages, and other non-voice services. In the latter half of last year, revenue for wireless data service totaled over $22 billion, nearly a third of overall wireless services revenue and up 26 percent year-over-year.

The survey revealed that 257 million "data-capable" devices are active on US carriers' networks. However, roughly 50 million of those are smartphones capable of more advanced wireless services and another 12 million are 3G-enabled laptops.

CTIA didn't reveal specific numbers on data use, but it did reveal that Americans traded 822 billion text messages—5 billion per day—for the second half of 2009, and over 1.5 trillion for the whole year. MMS messaging is more than double year-over-year for the last half of 2009, with 24.2 billion photos, videos, and audio clips moving from one mobile phone to another in just six months.

During a keynote presentation at the CTIA conference yesterday, AT&T Mobility CEO and current CTIA chairman Ralph de la Vega also said that the US is tops globally in a number of categories, including number of 3G subscribers, number of smartphones activated, and number of mobile applications purchased.

Adapted from an article by Chris Foresman

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bonus Days

Every day is a bonus day for me since January of 2005, the day I committed one of the most egregious judgment errors of my life, one which nearly ended my life. I was visiting and photographing the site of my new townhome under construction, something I had also done throughout the construction of my first two homes. It was just after work hours and I was taking photos of the first floor studding, ever so careful realizing full well that I was trespassing and that I was alone, but curious as to progress of my retirement home and desirous of documenting the construction with photos -- photos which in my prior homes I often referred to when hanging shelves, tracing electric and plumbing runs, etc.

The air was nippy in the upper 20s and snow adorned the ground. Dusk would soon fall. Realizing full well that I was alone, I was being very cautious, for work sites have boards and nails and the like strewn about, a veritable obstacle course fraught with danger. I had walked the wood decking the day before, and today I was checking the craftsmanship of the studding and window openings erected that day.

After taking a few photos, I headed back to my car, but then returned to see if the sump pump hole in the basement was in the proper location. In the model home, the plumbers had put it on the wrong side of the basement. I had pointed out the error to the construction superintendent, Jon, and he had assured me it would be placed correctly in my unit, an important issue since I wanted the sump pump to be in the workshop, not the family room, when I finished the basement. So I cautiously ventured to the edge of the flooring near the cinder block common wall (on the left in photo above) where I could extend the camera through an opening in the floor to take basement photos.

And that’s all I can recall for over 24 hours.

My sons went to the accident site the next day at the behest of the police to retrieve my blood-spattered vehicle. They talked to the responding officer, retrieved my camera, and talked to the construction boss. Scott, a licensed architect, snuck into the basement and took photos of it and the first floor in an attempt to reconstruct what had occurred. We also secured the police report to assist in determining the sequence of events. Using my photos and those taken by Scott, along with the police report, we later reconstructed the missing hours for my memory.

There were no stairs into the basement yet because the concrete basement floor had not been poured due to several inches of ice accumulation. On the first floor, the plywood covering the stairway opening was only loosely-placed plywood, not the secure solid wood I'd walked on the day before. No guard rails blocked access to the loose plywood. Three 2x4s were standing diagonally on the loose plywood floor and leaning against the cinder block common wall, giving the appearance of a secure floor. A comparison with Scott’s photos from the next day showed the loose plywood and the 2x4s down in the basement (photo below), so I obviously stepped onto the loose plywood thinking it was secure and went down with them, nine feet to the ice floor. My cap and blood are also evident below...

The photo below, taken by my son the day after my fall, clearly shows that the builder had belatedly installed OSHA-mandated guard rails around the three sides of the basement opening and had even spray painted these guard rails orange to make them more visible (they are missing in the photo 2 photos above.). “No trespassing” signs had also been posted outside the garage. In the photo below, you can see the opening on the far right where the loose plywood flooring took me downstairs.

The photo below was also taken by my son and shows the 2 pieces of the plywood flooring that took me down when they fell, as well as the 2x4s that had been leaning vertically on the plywood.

I was probably briefly unconscious from the fall. My head was profusely bleeding from a foot-long cut from the metal straps in the concrete wall. I somehow managed to crawl to the back window, climbed out, made my way alongside the building back to my car, turned it around, and drove two blocks to the corner, and could go no farther. A grandmother awaiting the school bus bringing her grandson home saw me bleeding and flagged another driver who had a cell phone. He called 911, the paramedics declared me a “Trauma 1” case, summoned the Flight-for-Life helicopter, and I was flown to Lutheran General Hospital where nearly three dozen stitches were administered...

...and a CT scan taken. The determination was made that I had cracked three vertebrae (C1, C2, and C5) and they planned surgery the next day to remove bone chips, but an MRI the next day revealed surgery was unnecessary, though I had to wear a neck brace constantly for three months.

For months, I had numbness along the head laceration due to severed nerves. Apparently I landed on my right side since my right elbow, hand, and shoulder were painful to move and my neck had some loss of mobility. Ten years later now, I still have no memory of the fall, of my self-rescue from the basement, or of driving my vehicle for help. I have no memory of talking to the police, of the paramedics arrival, or of my Flight-for-Life helicopter ride to the emergency room. I have only snatches of memory of being in the ER and snippets of the first day in Surgery Intensive Care Unit. But other than some reduction in neck range-of-motion, all has healed.

I have a disdain for the way Americans so readily file lawsuits, even when they are at fault for their own injuries. Examples of this abound in the news and such lack of personal responsibility is abhorrent to me. I realize I should not have been at the site unescorted and that it is a poor excuse to claim that “everyone does it” -- though the majority of new homeowners do make unauthorized visits to their future homes. So despite my lawyer and others encouraging me to sue the builder because he hadn’t abided by OSHA safety rules, I refused to sue. Quite simply -- if I hadn’t been trespassing, I wouldn’t have fallen.

Two months after moving in, I began finishing the basement into several rooms, using that immense project as “therapy” for my body and my mind. I did all the carpentry, electric wiring, wall-boarding, painting, and trim work myself -- albeit slowly and for short stretches of time. I was still wearing the neck brace those first few weeks of construction and needed naps after only a few hours of labor. As the summer progressed, the brace was unnecessary and I took fewer and fewer naps and worked longer hours in the basement and by October the project was done. Here's part of the finished basement...

That Fall, my rehabbing of the basement had likewise rehabbed myself, and I felt strong enough to embark on a five week trip to New England where I participated in a volunteer trail project and two Elderhostel programs -- one biking and one biking, hiking, and kayaking. That was when I truly knew I was fully healed.

But I feel eminently blessed. I am alive and fully mobile. Realizations of what “might have been” rush through my mind often and I cherish what God had done for me in sparing my life and mobility. To this day, my bedtime prayers still begin with, “Thank you, God, for another bonus day of life!” for that is how I feel. Every new day is an extra day granted to me, so I endeavor to make the most of each. My good pal Greg, a guide in Florida, always introduces me to new folks with these words: “Here’s Chuck, who does more in one year than most people do in their lifetime!” May it be so for years to come!

This lifestory is truly a LIFE story, and for the record, I now use the stairs when I descend into the basement!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Snowy Arkansas Trail

Yesterday was the first day of Spring, yet northwest Arkansas was hammered with a foot of snow, making driving treacherous but the scenery beautiful...

Today it was in the upper 40s and as we hiked the Lake Fayetteville Trail, the snow was already over half gone...

...but still adorning the magnificent scenery in a winter-wonderland-white for this, my first Arkansas hike after a snowfall.

I could take Chicago snows better if they always melted the next day!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Volunteer Trail Projects

In three couple weeks, I'll be joining a dozen or so other volunteers at Arkansas' Buffalo National River as we lengthen the hiking trail that runs on the bluff above the river. Over the years, I've been on over 20 such crews, enjoying the comradeship of other hikers who also love the outdoors and desire to give back to the hiking community. And at the end of the week's labors, we have the pride of seeing the tangible results of our hard work as we walk the segment we constructed or maintained. Here are reports on all of my prior projects. Perhaps you've been to one of these glorious locales and maybe even hiked on our trails!

(Unless marked otherwise, all projects were through American Hiking Society)

--1997 Bob Marshall Wilderness of the Flathead National Forest in Montana.

--1998 Gallatin National Forest of Montana.

--1999 Manti-LaSal National Forest of Utah

--2000 Columbia River Gorge (Chinook Trail Conference) in Washington State's Beacon Rock State Park.

-- 2001 The Colorado Trail above Copper Mountain Resort.

-- 2001 Hiawatha National Forest of Michigan

--2002 a Sierra Club Service Project in the Superstition Wilderness of the Tonto National Forest.

-- 2002-- Cumberland Trail Conference in Tennessee.

--2002 Pine Mountain Trail Conference in Virginia and Kentucky.

--2002 Buffalo National River in Arkansas

--2003 The Palmetto Trail in South Carolina's Wateree Swamp.

--2003 Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area (Jefferson National Forest) in Virginia

--2003 Apache Sitgreaves National Forest on northern Arizona's Mogollon Rim

--2004 The Florida Trail in Osceola National Forest along the Suwanee River

--2004 Goat Rocks Wilderness of the Pinchot National Forest in Washington

--2005 Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts (Sierra Club Trail Project)

--2006 South Carolina's Palmetto Trail in the Francis Marion National Forest

--2006 Independence Grove of the Forest Preserve District of Lake County (Illinois)

--2007 Spring Valley Trail in Arizona's Hell's Canyon Wilderness

--2009 Acadia National Park in Maine with the Appalachian Mountain Club

--2010 Buffalo National River in Arkansas (coming in April)

I also put together a slideshow/primer on how a trail is built, using photos from various projects.

I strongly encourage you to consider volunteering for a project if you can spare the time. (Maybe you'll get to have a supper of deer, elk, and moose with the crew of the long-running PBS series "This Old House" as we did in '97! See my photo of Steve and Norm.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

More Florida signs you don't see in Chicago

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Not exactly, but signs warning of critters we don't have in abundance in Chicago, like panthers...

...and vultures...

..and gators...(now, really, would you swim in a place that posted the sign below?)

...and crocodiles...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hiking Lake Fayetteville

It was a magnificent 66 degrees today and the daffodils were in joyous bloom...

We hiked the 6 mile loop and enjoyed the start of spring as underbrush becomes green and buds pop out on many tree limbs...

You can see a hint of green to my left...

The Butterfield Overland Stage route passed through this area on its 2800 mile journey from St. Louis to San Francisco, delivering freight, mail. and passengers in just 22 days starting in 1858. The fare was $200 in gold, equivalent to $3000 today! This sign commemorates the route which has been cleared for a hundred yards and covered with mulch as seen here...

The business only lasted 2.5 years, and then trains took over.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Presidential Visits to Yellowstone National Park

I've been to 38 of our 56 national parks and Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorites, and my 8 or so visits there have included camping, a backpack around Shoshone Lake, and quite a few day hikes. I was therefore very pleased to learn that numerous presidents have also loved Yellowstone, and film clips of their visits have been compiled by the White House in this clip...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Worthy Quotes #30

Lying covers a multitude of sins - temporarily.
-- Dwight L. Moody

Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
--Abraham Lincoln

The opposite of bravery is not cowardice, but conformity.
-- Robert Anthony

The repetition of small efforts will accomplish more than the occasional use of great talents.
-- Charles H. Spurgeon

Faith enables us to move through the storms carrying our calm with us.
-- J. Holmes

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for things we did not do that is inconsolable.
--Sidney J. Harris

God's promises are like the stars: the darker the night, the brighter they shine.
-- David Nicholas

Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr

There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.
-- G. K. Chesterton

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
-- Corrie ten Boom

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Birds are Back!

Spring is approaching, heralded by the return of hungry birds. We have tons of yellow finches that enjoy the thistle seeds...

They are joined by cousins, the purple finches...

There are also a number of the lumbering mourning doves, with their interesting coloration of browns, gray, black, white, and with a vibrant blue surrounding the black eye...

Two meadowlarks visit every morning, checking the dormant Bermuda grass for breakfast...

This Junco sometimes joins the group...

...as do numerous red-wing blackbirds, sparrows, cardinals, robins, grackles, chickadees. as well as others.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Snorkel and Kayak Key Largo's Reefs: An Exploritas/Elderhostel Program

Here's a video of our Exploritas (Elderhostel) Program -- snorkeling/kayaking/nature hiking out of Key Largo, Florida (Discover Florida's Fragile Coastal Treasures.)

A detailed post of this trip can be found here.

More snorkeling photos here.

More wildlife photos here.

All of my Exploritas/Elderhostel trips can be found here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Poem #48: Wilderness Inspector

Wilderness Inspector

the card boldly blares.
Mostly whimsy,
part wishful thinking,
yet a germ of truth kernel runs through it,
that title atop the card.

Self-proclaimed, yes,
but bolstered by three score incursions
into fifty-plus wilderness areas
across dozens of states over several decades,
all escape attempts from civilization’s excesses,
quests for nature’s nurture,
many solitude searches
but some accompanied by fellow seekers.

What’s over that rise?
What’s around that bend?
Queries ever in mind,
and when answered
immediately replaced by
What’s around the next bend?
What’s over that next rise?

Footfalls chasing dreams
for dreams represent answers
to questions yet unasked:
Do I posses midnight courage?
Can I track the immensity of the sky’s curve?
Dare I challenge that powerful Unspoken?
Can I relish unexpected challenges?
Conquer doubts and fears?
Exalt in serendipity?

The answers come,
ever amusing, bemusing, confusing,
through experiences that warm the cockles
and raise the hackles.

For ultimately,
the inspecting is not truly
of the wilderness,
but of the self.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Church Welcomes

Did you hear the one about the fellow who walked into First Suburban Church wearing an expensive suit and a baseball cap?

After he sat down, an usher walked up discretely, introduced himself, and said, "Pardon me, but we don't wear hats in the sanctuary."

The well-dressed man nodded -- and left the cap in place.

A few minutes later, a deacon repeated the process -- with the same outcome.

Then, just before the service began, the pastor came, smiled, and shook his hand. "Sir, we are pleased to have you with us," he said, "but we respectfully ask that you remove your cap during worship."

"Of course!" he replied and took it off. "It's just that I've attended this church for three-and-a-half years and haven't met a soul yet. Today I wore a dirty baseball cap and met the head usher, a deacon, and now the pastor."

I hope that story is pure fiction. My fear is that it is not.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Costa Rica Adventure Trip

In 2010 we spent 13 days in Costa Rica, touring various sections of the country and participating in numerous activities. Here are links to our reports of the various places and activities we experienced, including photos and camcorder footage of the adventures. If you are thinking of a trip to this beautiful country, here are some ideas of what to do and see there.

This trip was put together by a fantastic travel agent, Adriana, in San Jose, of Green Creations. Here's Ellen's post about that travel agency.

Our first adventure was rafting 18 miles of the class 3 and 4 rapids of the Pacuare River, ranked in the top 10 rafting rivers in the world...

Here's a video to convey the excitement of this river...

Arenal Volcano is one of seven historically active Costa Rican volcanoes. Here's Ellen's post about the area. We also visited Paos Volcano, but our entire time there was shrouded in thick fog and light rain so we couldn't photograph it or fully appreciate it.

In the Monteverde Mountains Cloud Forest, we ziplined the jungle canopy and hiked in the jungle...

Here's a video of our ziplining adventure...

While in Santa Elena, we rode horseback through the forest and had some wonderful and quite unique hot dogs...

Here's a video of our 2 horseback rides...

On the Caribbean side, we stayed in Puerto Viejo and snorkeled and hiked in Cahuita National Park...

Here's a video of the snorkeling and jungle hike...

Then we boated to Corcovado National Park where we hiked the jungle and beach and had a wonderful lunch.

Here's a video I made of our naturalist hike in the jungle:

Finally, we toured the Doka Estate coffee plantation and finished our Costa Rican adventure at the beautiful La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

In addition to the magnificence of the falls, the animals are a highlight of your trip here. My favorites include the magnificent Blue Morpho butterfly...

...and the big cats...

...as well as the three-toed sloths...

...and finally the hummingbird area, which had dozens of these busy workers bustling about...

Here's my post on the Waterfall Gardens and Ellen's post on the frogs found there, and here's a video of the gardens, waterfalls, and their amazing collection of animals...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chinese Acrobats on Bicycles, culminating with 16 girls on 1 bike

We saw some amazing performances by Chinese acrobats at EPCOT, and here's some even more incredible footage of Chinese acrobats using bicycles. I love to bike, but this is extreme, and ends with 16 girls on 1 bike...