Saturday, January 30, 2010

This story started with an email I recently sent to square dance partners I often travel with—confessing I am usually armed while in their company. They wouldn’t know that because I am licensed to, and carry, a concealed handgun.

I didn’t know quite what response I might get.

It was positive far beyond my best expectations.

Square Dancing friends (from left in the small photo) Sue Brooks, Don and Roberta Karger, Nancy and Mark Meinzer pay careful attention during their 12 hour training class to earn an Ohio license to carry a concealed handgun given by Richard Stark (above) a NRA certified instructor at Bake’s Best Shot in Morrow County.


Just weeks after that fortuitous email two husbands and their wives plus my lady friend were enrolled in concealed carry training and I was along for the day’s adventure because they happened to choose the training facility I had used six years ago and I was welcomed back as an alumnus.

For my lady friend Sue, her decision was astounding to her family. Her daughter said to me via a Facebook comment, “You have my mom carrying a gun! ARE YOU CRAZY??? LOL...”

For Sue, this would be the first time in her life to ever even fire a handgun. Likewise with Roberta and Nancy.

The latter two gals live a somewhat secluded lifestyle, sometimes finding themselves home alone. Whether they ever carry a gun remains to be seen but the training was regarded as being highly desirable in becoming familiar with the safe and effective use of a handgun.

Sue, being a widow, also must rely on herself in those lonely hours. One of the husbands often leaves work in a seedy end of town where you sometimes suffer the discontent of the hair rising on your arm in the darkness.

So, there we were facing 12 hours of coursework with the emphasis on the laws of using lethal force, how handguns work and how to use them safely.

Stark presided over the class of 14 students which included five ladies. I don’t know what he does for a living but it should be in a classroom, somewhere.

The early morning start dissolved into dusk when we moved to the range for the shooting part of the class. Facility owner Dave Baker, also a NRA certified instructor, joined Stark in a very careful patrol of the shooting positions, lavishing personal attention on any challenges that emerged.

I had the privilege of helping Sue who fired one shot through a .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver, carefully laid the gun down, turned to me with a startled look on her face and said, “I want to go home.”

We shared a hug and some deep breathing. I could feel her heart pounding. After another hug and some comforting words she consented to try again. The snappy little revolver was painful to the web of her hand.

She tried a 9mm semi-auto and it wanted to jam because of her relatively limp grip. She still wanted to go home.

Then, Dave provided her with a .22 caliber semi-auto which she handled tentatively, then perforated the middle area of the silhouette target with the 50 rounds of ammo Dave provided.

He brought her another box and soon the target looked like she was using a shotgun at close range.

As the event concluded the students were proud to learn all had completed the $125 course successfully. Written exams were reviewed and any questions answered incorrectly were discussed.

Dave provided everyone with an hour’s free shooting range time and strongly encouraged continuous practice to develop their new skill.

To say Sue liked shooting would be stretching the truth a wee bit.

But, it was nice to watch her be part of the congratulatory toast as the six of us enjoyed dinner after a very long day.

I really enjoyed the smile on her face when, at her daughter’s birthday dinner the following day, she displayed her newly earned diploma.

That’s Instructor Stark in the small photo above and at right below as Roberta Karger’s 9mm Glock shows it’s muzzle blast on the course range.

Postscript: Sometimes folks ask why I carry. Quite simply, I am enjoying life and I refuse to be defenseless victim. Further, I treasure the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution.

Photographers Note: It takes more luck than skill to capture the muzzle blast. I tripped the shutter at a speed of 1/13th of a second just as I sensed Roberta was going to press the trigger--with exquisite timing. I was able to hold the camera still by leaning against the rear wall for the shot and the good depth of field was achieved by using a very wide 17 mm Canon lens.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

NRA Instructor Richard Stark (middle) works with Roberta Karger in safely handling a handgun while husband Don looks on.  The Karger's were part of a class of 14 folks recently completing their training at Bake's Best Shot facility in Morrow County.

in Ohio's Concealed Carry Training

Candidates for an Ohio License to Carry a Concealed Handgun must satisfactorily complete a rigorous 12 hour course given by a NRA Certified Instructor--for one example--including two hours of time demonstrating safety and competency on a shooting range.  With certification of course completion in hand, candidates then submit their application to a local sheriff's office who will launch a background check to insure the candidate has no criminal record.

Candidates also must have a background free of any questions of mental competency and meet Ohio residency requirements.

Please join us Saturday for the story on the Kargers, my lady friend Sue Brooks and Mark and Nancy Meinzer's quest for their licenses.  All are fellow Square Dancer's with the Johnny Appleseed Squares of Mansfield.  Your author obtained his original license in April 2004 and tagged along to report on their story.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


This is one of the most detailed photos I've ever seen of our neighboring planet Mars.  Datelined January 6th this photo is of a network of valley's on Mars known as the Warrego Valles in the southern highlands of that "nearby" planet.

Earth averages 93 million miles from our Sun.  Mars is the next planet farther from the sun at an average distance of 142 million miles.  "Nearby" as used above is always relative in celestial terms.

Scientists often view this valley system as evidence for a more Earth-like climate on early Mars.

Source:  NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hiking companions Lynn Rush and Ken Johnson (center right) pause to enjoy a close peek at the Mohican River as it meanders below the Pleasant Hill Dam on the early part of its run to New Orleans. Here, the trail to Big Lyon’s Falls leaves the river and begins a cooperative ascent to that frozen geologic attraction.

Aglow in late winter sunshine

High up on the rock formation while hiking above the Pleasant Hill Lake outlet we peered at the near vertical fall from our trail position to the roaring water far below.

We had just concluded it would be a very unpleasant experience to tumble from here when my feet shot out from under me and I landed smack on my pack while my head snapped back into the loosely trampled snow.

Fortunately, my prone bones were parallel with the trail, safely away from the tumble and the only damage came in the form of mild embarrassment.

Earlier that morning we headed along the Big Lyon’s Trail from the covered bridge in Mohican State Park. The crystal-clear river sluiced along beside us, its gentle swish barely nudging the natural silence of the snow-clad, pine woods.

An uncommonly brilliant mid-winter sun was just clearing the ridge line behind us and spraying crisp shadows across the sparkling snow.

We flushed a blue heron from its breakfast fishing spot along the stream’s edge and he loped from our view in his slow-motion impersonation of a prehistoric Pterodactyl.

The trail contours along the river for about ½ mile then turns sharply left and ascends gently another half mile or so where it passes a sign announcing an intersection with the Stagecoach Trail, just before the falls arrives in view.

No matter how often I pass this “intersection” I cannot possibly imagine a stagecoach ever negotiating its way through this convoluted maze of sedimentary rock hills.

Over geologic time the falls has chiseled a vertical amphitheater in the sandstone formation and on that winter day was proudly sporting a crystal column frozen in the gentle flow of the creek over the far above rim.

You want to tip your hat and give Mother Nature a round of applause.

From there it was another ½ mile or so of ascent to Little Lyon’s Falls; ever more slippery as the sun splashed us with its welcome warmth. That formation looks like a large, pesky sinkhole in the process of collapsing into itself—but, I was thinking kind thoughts about its geology until I was safely past.

Somewhere along there I heard Ken share the tune, “Hey Diddle Diddle, I’m off into the trees for a Piddle,” (or words to that effect). Lynn and I enjoyed his merriment with a discrete pause as he went out of sight muttering something that sounded like “yellow snow”.

Somehow I missed the concluding words to that rhyme.

The ascent portion of our hike ended with a “U” turn on the Pleasant Hill Lake dam and a very careful descent along its slippery face, accomplished, in part, by Ken as he whizzed the last little bit of the way compliments of a nearly destroyed plastic slide which had been abandoned by its previous owner.

Hope I never grow too old to go outside and play.

In the smaller photos above early morning sunshine coaxes delicate color from the evergreens along the Big Lyon’s Falls trail (top) while companions Ken and Lynn are dwarfed by the crystallized column where water has frozen below the fall’s rim.

In the lower photo Ken and Lynn are silhouetted by the covered bridge as we head back to the car—clearly the only one in the parking area that morning. The only person we encountered on the near 3 mile hike was a lone fisherman casting for Saugeye in the dam’s tailwaters.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Our hike that day launched about a mile down the Mohican River Valley along the far right side of the upper photo which was taken from the dam at Pleasant Hill Lake. That trail begins at the covered bridge in the Mohican State Park, follows the river upstream then climbs moderately to Big Lyons Falls. After Big Lyons, the trail continues its ascent, passing Little Lyons Falls then on up to the dam.

Hiking companions Lynn Rush (left above) and Ken Johnson are shown descending the dam before crossing to the left and following a level trail back downstream on the opposite side of the river to the starting point; a loop of about 3 miles

The small photo right was taken between Big and Little Lyon's falls.

Please stop by Saturday for more photos and the story of this hike--my favorite in this marvelous state park.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lady friend Sue Brooks and I took a close look at this vacant home in Vero Beach, Florida and discovered we could purchase it for less than I paid for a camper just a few years ago. We know when things appear too good to be true, they probably are. But....


Long-time Bellville friends Dick and Jan Shafer recently relocated their Florida snow-bird digs from a rental on the southeast coast to ownership of a modular home in Vero Beach.

They wound up with a two-bedroom model in excellent condition which they bought furnished for less than most folks pay these days for a modest priced new car.

And, by furnished, I mean completely—right down to spices in the kitchen and food in the freezer.

When they told us about similar offerings in their development, lady friend Sue and I drove down for look-see during a brief holiday vacation.

We were not disappointed.

The second place we visited was a similar, but unfurnished, two-bedroom modular just down the street.

It went on the market awhile back in the lower teens but had been de-valued to $9,000 and dropped to $4,000 before we even discussed any negotiations.

Here’s why: Not only is their real estate market depressed like most other places in the US, these homes are in a development where the land is rented at costs ranging from about $515 to $630 per month—the latter being lakeside lots.

The rental is not unlike fees charged for condo living and, in this case, also include a massive and modern recreation center/pool with tons of scheduled activities, some utilities, and lawn and street maintenance. This place also is a “gated” community but that protection is marginal, even when the gate is working.

This home (pictured) was long owned and cared for by an aging couple. Then, the husband died and the widow, at her daughter’s encouragement, moved to be close to her in Jacksonville.

But, that left her facing the continuing rental costs which quickly consume the home’s value. In fact, if this doesn’t sell soon she will simply abandon it to the ownership of the park where it will either be used as a rental or sold at a similarly depressed cost.

A quick calculation shows annual rental would be about $6,200 for this home—which happens to be far below the cost of renting something comparable for just a few months during the winter season.

Insurance is not a factor for most folks. It simply is not affordable when an annual premium easily exceeds this level of investment.

So, at this writing, we are beginning to explore our personal options as an unmarried couple. I have a canine partner who is very much part of the decision-making process. Sue is rapidly approaching retirement.

Is the benefit/cost/risk ratio in our favor?

We’ll keep you informed.

As I compose this blog story and I am looking out the window of my Ohio home at modest snowfall with temperatures in the teens. It is very easy for me, indeed, to envision writing some future story while enjoying the view from this front porch of the house pictured above.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

With the dead of winter bruising Ohio's soul it is very easy to dream of sub-tropical beach scenes such as this one we recently enjoyed during a brief winter visit to Vero Beach, FL.  Please stop by Saturday while we examine an early opportunity in our search to buy our first-ever snowbird digs in this Atlantic coastal town.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In spite of the travails of our highway trip south described in the following story you can see from the above we did manage to arrive at our Vero Beach, FL destination where my lady friend Sue Brooks enjoyed a jacket-weather romp in the surf.


On short notice Sue wound up with vacation time between Christmas and New Year’s so we decided on a quick sprint south to visit friends in Vero Beach and family in Jacksonville.

We left Ohio the day after Christmas and trundled south compliments of our interstate highway system to an overnight stop in Savannah, GA. That segment went nicely until we were between Columbia and Charleston, SC on I-26--where the traffic came to a grinding halt.

Two lanes of pent-up horsepower—stopped dead.

Then, we would occasionally lurch forward. Sometimes the whopping distance of a couple of car lengths.

As we eventually neared the junction with I-95 we could see those southbound folks also in the lurch-and-stop of an interstate highway suffering traffic convulsions.

It was just the southbound lanes in trouble. The northbound folks were zipping merrily along.

I was hoping we would quickly pass the obstruction—whatever it was—and resume our mid-winter escape from Ohio’s polar attitude.

We snail-paced our way onto southbound I-95 while I imagined myself racing the fellow earthworm beside me. The mind does silly things to escape the sometimes painful reality of interstate highway travel.

Then it dawned on me.

I told Sue, “I think Florida is full.”

Authorities down there won’t let another car across the state line until one leaves the state somewhere else I mused.

I could imagine cars plunging off the end of Duval St., in Key West.

About 50 miles north of Savannah the lurching traffic began to spurt itself. The healing process is slow, however, while the lane-changing maniacs rip off another 30 feet of highway—and collectively bring the improving flow to a stuttering stop once again.

Somewhere along there I listened to the last four chapters of Sue’s Book-on-a-CD, and, sunset turned into darkness.

Eventually we limped off at our Savannah motel’s exit with fuzzy visions of a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.

I tried to take comfort from the inn’s display of swaying palm trees festooning their entrance—until I had to retrieve our heavy coats from the trunk.

It appeared Ohio’s Arctic temperatures had passed us somewhere along the way.

Geriatric snow-birds are allowed bursts of giddiness such as my public display of affection for palm trees. This one occurred in Vero Beach as our host friends from Bellville, Ohio, Dick and Jan Shafer, record the event in the background. Please stop by next week for some additional material on our short, southern vacation.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Long-time Bellville, OH friend Mrs. Richard (Jan) Shafer rehangs some wind strewn Christmas ornaments on palm trees at their snow-bird digs in Vero Beach, FL.

Recently, my lady friend Sue Brooks and I zipped south for a quick visit with the Shafers, another visit with Sue's relatives in Lake City and a two-day stop at my daughter's home in Jacksonville.

Please stop by Saturday where we will begin to chronicle this latest adventure.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


BORN TO RUN by Christopher McDougall

Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner. This is their story and it is a good one.

APACHE by Ed Macy

A fast-read portrayal of the technical, the emotional and the courageous; it puts the reader in the cockpit of our country’s most lethal, attack helicopter. The author retired from the British Army after 23 years of service with 3,930 helicopter flying hours, 645 of them in the Apache. He was awarded the Military Cross by the Queen of England for his courage during a massive helicopter rescue in Afghanistan.

RESCUE WARRIORS by David Helvarg

Helvarg spent two years visiting coast guard facilities and the result is this well-researched book, spiced by the flavor of his personal experiences. The book came to me as a gift from my daughter (with gratitude) and was a delightful peek at the modern version of this service in great contrast to the service I knew from four years of active duty in the late 50s and early 60s. Thanks TJ!


A fast flowing mix of Islamic fanatics, crusading Christian zealots and old fashioned military heroes tying to make sense of...something. The Wall Street Journal called Peters “The thinking man’s Tom Clancy.” Peters has authored 23 previous books. Can’t imagine why I haven’t found any of them earlier.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Recently we published two photos of the space station as it orbits the Earth 17 times each day. Often it is visible to the naked eye.

This only happens when the station--250 miles above the Earth--is flying in early morning or early evening sunshine while it is then dark on earth. The station becomes visible to us because it is reflecting the sunlight while it is flying through the dark skies of our viewing location.

It is not visible every morning or evening because its orbit does not always pass over or near our viewing location.

To see the station you simply need to know the time of its being visible overhead and the direction of its travel.

To help us with that information, NASA provides a web site here: Click on that link and the web page will appear. If not, copy and paste the following information into your favorite search engine:

On the top left of that page you must select your country (the US is the default listing) then click on "Go to Country." Another panel will appear where you must click on your state. That will produce another panel where you will click on a near-by city. There are over 60 cities listed for Ohio. Just pick the one closest to your viewing location. Even if the chosen city is miles away from you it will make only minor differences in your viewing information.

That last selection you make will produce a list of days and times the station will be visible to your location over the next two weeks. If it is not going to be visible to you it will tell you that too.

Obviously you will need nearly cloudless skies with good visibility at your viewing time.

Look at the column entitled "MAX ELEV (DEG)". That tells you the maximum elevation the station will reach in degrees above your horizon. The horizon is at zero degrees and directly overhead is at 90 degrees.

The bigger that number the better your viewing will be. Low elevation numbers should give you a peek but the station could be obscured by nearby hills or other obstructions to your view.

Be sure you have the correct time on your watch. The station will come into view and could cross your viewing area in a minute or so, or, take 3 to four minutes to make its pass depending on its elevation. So, if your watch is off by a few minutes you might miss your sighting. Use your "atomic" clock time or set your watch to the local radio or TV station.

When the station becomes visible to you it likely will appear as the brightest "star" in the sky and it will be moving! Stars on the other hand, appear to be standing still. The station's velocity will be very much like seeing a jet airplane passing overhead at high altitude.

I've seen the station hundreds of times and it still is exciting to ponder the fact there are usually five astronaut/scientists aboard and they will witness 17 sunrises and 17 sunsets each Earth day--minus their sleep time, of course.