Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gazette and a promise....

For those with an interest, the latest edition of The Gibson Gazette, our annual update that we send to some family and friends, is available. (I tried to provide a PDF version with this posting, but it wouldn't load. This was my first try at this, so there might be a way to do it, but I couldn't figure it out, and the "how to" and FAQ links on the blogspot "help" site is anything but very helpful. A JPG version of Page One is provided. To make it bigger, just hold down the Ctl button and hit the + button four or five times. If you want Page Two, please send me an email -- is preferred because I check it more often while home -- and I'll send you the PDF version of this latest edition and/or, on request, previous editions.)

As many of you might know, The Gibson Gazette gives updates on family and friends, hitting some (not all) of the highlights during a year.

And, yes, it is in traditional newspaper format. While I embrace the present, it is the past that provided most of my rewards in life. So the Gazette is both a recognition and a tribute to those treasured times. That said, as many of you know, I am most envious of the current crop of budding journalists, and not because they're decades younger than I. It's because they are entering the most exciting age journalism has offered, allowing them to speak to the world, as well as being part of a generation that will redefine -- reinvent -- what good journalism is and should be.

While the Gazette is an annual event, this blog is not -- though it might seem that way because I've failed to post anything in a few months. The reasons are many, yet all are feeble when analyzed. So, a promise: Every Saturday morning, I've promised myself to post "something" -- if not a carefully crafted tome, then a least a few scratchy sentences.

I started the blog to get back to honing what little writing talents and skills I might possess because I have several (many, really) writing projects I'd like to pursue, especially after retirement. Writing well, I fear, is much like my chess game, which once was quite good but now suffers greatly from inactivity.

So I ask your patience and indulgence (as well as any constructive criticism).

For now, I wish you all a holiday season and a new year filled with good health and happiness.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Auto math: MG - MG = MX5 GT

I'm not tied to "things." "Things" and "stuff" don't own me.

OK, there are two "things."

Joyce often kids that, if the house were to catch fire, I'd first grab the signed and numbered Picasso serigraph (signed, unfortunately, not by Pablo but by Picasso's daughter with the inscription "from the collection of Marina Picasso"). I'd then grab my 1889 edition of "Stanley in Africa," Henry Stanley's account of finding Dr. Livingstone, who had been "lost" in remote Africa in his quest to find the source of the Nile.

My Stanley book story lends value to the value of the book. If you're not interested, skip to the next graf. If curiosity prevails, here goes: As a student at the University of Florida in African Studies, I was in the attic of the library doing research when, rummaging through the shelves, I stumbled upon the Stanley book. Opening the back cover, I saw that it had last been checked out shortly before I was born in 1943. This was 1977. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I do NOT have a larcenous bone in my body. If a clerk were to give me a nickel more in change than deserved, and if I failed to discover the additional bounty until after reaching home, I'd get back in the car and drive whatever miles necessary to return the unearned five cents. But, on that day in the musty attic on the UF campus, larceny did, indeed, raise its ugly head. I thought about taking the book. My rationale was simple: I'd give it a good home after being ignored for 34 years. After reflection, I ultimately put it back. Jump five years to the future, shortly after I had been named editor at the newspaper in Hendersonville, N.C. Joyce and I went to one of our favorite events - a used book sale, this one by the Hendersonville Public Library. Entering the hall where the sale was held, I glanced over at the rare book table and, lo and behold, there was my Stanley book. A woman, much older than I, was getting ready to pick it up. "Excuse me," I said as I reached past her grasp to put the treasure into my own. ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume!") Inside, in pencil, was the price: $1. Ahhh, no doubt the book gods were repaying me for my successful resistance to theft years earlier in that attic.

So Picasso and Stanley, then back into the flames for Joyce.

Back to the "stuff," some folks think there's a third "thing" -- my 1979 orange (officially, blaze red) MGB roadster. No so, but...

...Wednesday will be filled with a bit of emotion because I'm letting go of a "thing" that has consumed a good many hours of my life, most pleasantly.

Today, I announced that "I'm selling the MG" in the newsroom to an audible groan (and not from me, but from the Kansan staffers there that morning). In fact, that's been the response of everyone I've told. I truly didn't think people cared that much.

Take heart. I may be selling the old lady (the MG, folks, not Joyce), but I'm staying the same. The MGB, my "every day" car that has been a part of our lives for seven years, many thousands of miles, and a number of tows by triple-A, is being swapped for a 2007 dark green Mazda Miata MX5 Grand Touring model. Both are two-seated roadsters (though the Miata comes with heated seats).

Why? Age is the biggest issue. Not the MG's, but mine.

Moreover, to own an MG, ultimately you have to become a pretty good mechanic. (One club member fashioned a head gasket from an old cereal box found along the side of the road when his failed.) I simply won't ever be that accomplished a mechanic because of the lack of both aptitude and desire. I've loved the MG, just not enough to do the oft-required surgery required of old British cars, often on the side of the road. I simply want to spend my time on other pursuits, most especially reading and writing, as well as the drinking of fine ales (and sometimes at the same time).

Joyce and I decided we wanted a roadster to travel the country to see our children (one on one coast, one on the other) and some kin and good friends. After much angst, we decided that the MG simply was not reliable (or safe) enough.

So, we began exploring. First on the list was a Honda S2000. We found one in Kansas City, and the color was just right (yellow), but it was a bit pricey and almost too comfortable. Moreover, Honda decided last year to discontinue the model. We plan to keep the "new" old car for a lot of years, so we were a bit concerned about getting parts for the S2000 if none were being made.

Miatas, which, like the Honda, get high marks from Consumer Reports and folks we know who've owned 'em, have been made for a long time now. The expectation is that they'll be made for a lot longer, too, so parts (and advice) should be plentiful. And there's an active Miata club in the area.

As you know, we value the "travel" of travel. So, we'll still be cruising the highways with the top down. We just expect (and are hopeful) that we won't be meeting any triple-A tow truck drivers (one of whom once said of the MG: "I've towed this one before.")

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slowing down?

Going Over Sixty has slowed down a bit (with a promise to get more active). The beginning of the semester, which sat like a two-ton elephant on our doorstep on our return from California, demanded our attention.

Above the usual tugs and pulls of a new semester came this surprise on Sunday: Police showed up at the relocated Kansan newsroom, ordering everyone out unless they possessed a key to the building. That left but about three people, so no hope of getting a paper out unless order was restored.

The police had been sent by someone who apparently didn't like that the door had been propped open to let young UDK staffers in. The police officer told the Kansan staffers, all of those sans keys, which was most of 'em, to leave the premises immediately or face arrest for "criminal trespass." They left.

I arrived shortly thereafter and summoned the young journalists back to the newsroom (though some remained skittish about the prospects of being arrested).

I told 'em they'd have to take me first.

The rest of the night was quiet, and today, after a conversation with the campus police chief, a promise came of no more threats of arrest.

I may be slowing down (at least as it comes to my posts on this blog), but life is still damned interesting. And I'm thankful for that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A five-star surprise...

Groveland, Calif., is literally a wide spot in the road, without even a traffic light (or, at least, any we encountered). We headed there to spend the night at the Groveland Hotel so we could slip into Yosemite the next day.

The Groveland Hotel is old, having been a viable establishment since the mid-19th century, at times with a bevy of "working girls." (None encountered this trip.) The porch boards creak, the doors are weathered, and the paint less than pristine. It was great!

More B&B than hotel, the Groveland features, along with the traditional numbers, rooms with the names of local personalities from the past. The room across from ours is advertised as being haunted because a local leader with some notoriety had died in the room. (We ran into a couple of Brits who had stayed in the room for three nights, but they saw no ghostly spirits. "We may ask for our money back," one said.)

Our room, "Just Juanita," celebrated a young woman back in the mining days who was hanged from a nearby bridge for killing a man who was attacking her. Her arguments of self defense didn't sway the mob who thought more of the miner than poor Juanita. Jaded history aside, the room was comfortable, in a Victorian way, and sans TV, which allowed for a quiet evening of cribbage and romance.

On our arrival earlier that afternoon, we had slipped next door to the Iron Door Saloon, the first saloon in California, we were told, for a beer (Malcolm) and marguerita (Joyce). At dinnertime, we returned, but we found the menu mostly burger-ish. We wanted something a bit more enticing with a more serene ambiance, so we ambled back to the Groveland Hotel for the fare in its dining room, the Cellar Door. (Guess "Door" names play well in these parts.)

To our surprise, it turned out to be one of our most pleasing dining experiences ever -- yep, ever! (And this from two people who take eatin' seriously and who have dined in some pretty fancy places.) Truly, it was exquisite, a word I've seldom used to describe a dining experience.

We started with martinis (and, no, that did not influence our use of "exquisite"). Joyce had grilled pesto shrimp in lemon oil on a bed of parmesan grits with garlic spinach. I had a 4 oz. filet mignon with truffle mashed potatoes and crisp vegetables in a green peppercorn sauce and, because of the irresistible lure of garlic, a side of the garlic spinach. Not only delectable, but reasonable. Joyce's was $19, mine $16, plus $4 for that extra touch of garlic spinach.

Did I mention the martinis? They were reasonable (and exquisite), too.

We'll be back to the Groveland for both the ambiance and the food.

And the martinis.

Twice the time, but pleasure squared...

Taking the "rush" out of travel can provide unexpected rewards. Our trip to Yosemite provided ample proof.

Before leaving Alameda for what normally would be a two-and-a-half-hour trip to a gateway to Yosemite, Groveland, Calif., we decided to program the Garmin to avoid highways, toll roads and traffic. Wise move. And not just because California freeways are a lot like white water rafting (an attraction at Yosemite) -- frenetic maneuvering to avoid catastrophe separated by long periods of slow progress (or, in the case of the California freeways even when it's not rush hour, no movement at all).

Ms. Garmin (her affectionate name when she sends us to nice places; at other times her name begins with a "b") took us through neighborhoods we'd never have seen, each with a personality of its own with quirks of architecture (and, even, one with a Kansas Street and another, on the way back home, with a Topeka Street). We were greeted with store signs in seemingly more languages than found in a Rosetta Stone catalog. Individually and collectively, it was a billboard for what America is (and should be): a place for everyone, no matter your birthright or what word you utter for "freedom."

Leaving the city, Ms. Garmin sent us into the hills, where it literally gave a new meaning to the word serpentine. Braking became an life-saving adventure, and 25 miles per hour felt like 70 in the straw-hued hills dotted with blotches of green, stubby trees. The vistas reminded me of those celebrated by one of my favorite artists, Slava Brodinsky, a Russian-born Israeli citizen whose favorite scenes are the rolling hills of Tuscany. (Check it out at if you'd like a better idea.)

We then headed into the flatlands of the San Joaquin Valley, where we encountered fields of vegetables, groves of walnut trees, and double-trailered trucks piled high with tomatoes, which would hop out of the truck, as though to escape the cannery's fate, with every bump encountered.

Flatland soon gave way to the hills that grew into mountains, with more twisting and turning amid breathtaking sights. And all on two-lane blacktops.

That got us to our destination, the historic Groveland Hotel (more on that soon) in Groveland, gateway to Yosemite. A two-and-a-half-hour trip in five hours, but one filled with wonder and surprise.

Slowing down and taking your time can make many experiences richer. It did for us.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Getting there...

I kid that Joyce and I are travel sluts. We'll go anywhere. Have passport; will travel.

We love going "to" places. But destinations are just half the lure because, often, we don't even know where we'll end up. It's the travel of travel that we tend to enjoy just as much.

On our bucket list are two trips once time permits: the first, a repeat of the freighter trip I took from Brooklyn to Cape Town in 1971; the second, the trans-Siberian railway trip from Moscow to Vladivostok (where we have a friend).

This past week, in our trip to the San Francisco Bay area, we avoided what has now become the dreaded airport experience for the Amtrak station in Lawrence. Not too long after midnight, the #3 rolled into Lawrence. Joyce and I lugged our luggage (with no removal of shoes, belts, etc.) a few steps onto the Southwest Chief's sleeper car, where our accommodations -- a compact but comfortable roomette -- were ready and waiting with clean linens on the well-made bunks.

The rockin' and rollin' of the coach and the frequent song of the train whistle (one of Joyce's favorite sounds) literally served as cradle and lullaby.

The next day was filled with leisure, changing landscape, a terrific thunder-and-lightning show that lasted for hours outside Flagstaff, Arizona, and palatable, even enjoyable, dining experiences.

Late that second night, the cradle and lullaby greeted us again.

Fifteen minutes early into L.A. that morning, we then waited two hours for the highly anticipated (and recommended) Coast Starlight to take us to Oakland. The Coast Starlight, after an hour or so of L.A. suburbs, offers what has to be one of the most alluring train experiences anywhere. The Coast Starlight cuddles the beaches and bluffs of the California coast for hours, literally coming mere yards from the waterline at times. We sat for hours in the observation car just simply looking, each turn of the track providing a view unique to the previous and the next.

Disembarking at Oakland, just a few minutes from our son's apartment in Alameda, a lament crept in: the flight home. Alas, the airport awaits.

For the trip home, the travel of travel will have lost its lure for the moment.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

King of Spices

A TV chef, whose name and recipe escapes me but not his sage advice, was tossing in healthy pinches of diced garlic. Pinch. Toss. Pinch. Toss. Pinch. Toss.

"You can never have too much garlic," he said, as he tossed in another pinch. Then another.

My sentiments exactly.

As some of you may know, I was once sent home from 3rd grade with a note from my teacher to my mother. It said, "Please do not feed Malcolm so much garlic."

We ignored the request.

I cook with garlic often. It finds its way into just about everything I cook, including scrambled eggs.

Last night, Joyce and I, along with our son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Andrea, were in garlic heaven. We ate at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco. From appetizer to dessert, everything garlic -- except, regretfully, the beer.

Which begs the question (given that, as you know, I relish, savor, celebrate good beers):

Why no garlic beer?

P.S.: I have found a recipe for garlic beer at Hmmm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No problem? Big problem.

OK, just put it down as an "old guy's" rant or, more accurately, lament. And, yes, I know it's a "generational thing." But for someone who cares about words and what they mean, I’ve got a big problem with “no problem.”

When someone says "Thank you," the appropriate response is "You're welcome."

Not today.

Someone opens the door for the old guy. “Thank you,” I say. “No problem,” the response.

A store clerk hands back the receipt after I fork over hard-earned cash. “Thank you,” I say. “No problem,” the response.

At a restaurant, the server brings the meal. "Thank you,” I say. "No problem," the response.

What's the problem? The problem is what the words mean and the messages they transmit.

"You're welcome" says "I'm happy to have served you."

"No problem" says "You didn't inconvenience me."

Wait! You're serving ME, and you tell me that I didn't inconvenience YOU!
And you expect a tip.

Now you've got a problem.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why blog?

Why do a blog? I have no reasonable or rational answer for that -- at least not yet. Stay tuned.

It is my second attempt. The first (which vanished after a server crash wiped out all evidence) came at the suggestion of a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism, where I teach and help direct the well-recognized student-run daily newspaper. At her suggestion, it was called WWMD for "What would Malcolm do?" It's a question the reporters and editors would ask of themselves when faced with vexing issues. I took it as a compliment, and I think they meant it as one. That blog addressed issues affecting the student daily and the work of the student journalists...sometimes with praise, but more often with how things could have been done more effectively.

That blog had a specific purpose; the purpose of this one will likely be Darwinian -- a process of evolution. For now, I will use it for simple (though, I hope, insightful) musings that might hold meaning for people other than myself. If just me, no matter. It will be helpful in keeping my life centered in trying to do good, whenever possible, for others, especially my students, while living life to its fullest.

No religious intents here, but I do feel blessed with this life I’ve been given. I've tried to live a life that made those around me proud. I've not always succeeded because I, as with everyone, am a wonderfully fallible human being. I have stumbled. But I have tried to be quick to atone for any "sins," as well as trying to correct the course from which I may have wandered too far astray.

Despite those occasional stumbles, my life has been filled with joy and serendipity, perhaps because I've embraced both so enthusiastically.

Key to this are two sets of words that provide guidance to who I am and what I do. One was written by me, the second by Goethe. The first -- "Good words, good spirits, good friends make for a good life" -- embodies my love of the written and spoken word, as well as my love of journalism, my effort to embrace optimism (and to savor good beers), and, finally, the immense value of friendship, something I take most seriously. The second is from Goethe: “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

I do. Or at least I try.