Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Sixth Candle Is Lit ....

The Sixth Candle Is Lit ....

David and Tricia invited Bonnie and Mike over to participate in the Family Chanukah celebration on Tuesday, 15 December 2009, which included the lighting of Candle #6 on the menorah. We found Tricia cooking the traditional fare of latkes, which are potato pancakes, eaten to symbolize the central theme of the holiday, the miracle of oil. Tricia told me that many of the foods are cooked with oil to carry on this theme - Tricia used Omega Light Oil made with Canola oil, soybean (vegetable) oil, and olive oil. There is a custom of eating foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil), as the original miracle of the Hanukkah menorah involved the discovery of a small flask of pure olive oil used by the Jewish High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. This small batch of olive oil was only supposed to last one day, and instead it lasted eight.

Accordingly, potato pancakes, known as latkes in Yiddish, are traditionally associated with Hanukkah, as they are prepared by frying in oil. Latkes are an incredibly versatile food because, depending on the recipe, they can be an appetizer, side dish, entree, vegetable, dessert or snack. Tricia served hers with applesauce, or alternatively, with horseradish.

Similarly, many Israeli families have the custom of eating all kinds of jam-filled doughnuts (Yiddish: פאנטשקעס pontshkes), (sufganiyot) which are deep-fried in oil. Ours were the quick-fry type of sufganiyot, and thus were more like donut holes. The kids are shown in the picture shaking the still hot sufganiyot in either powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. Yummy!

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights celebrated in countries all over the world. In 165 B.C. there was a great battle between the Maccabees and the Syrians. The Jews won the battle and when they went to their temple, they found that the Syrians had allowed their sacred light to go out. They only had oil for one day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil lasted 8 days until a messenger could return with more. There are nine candles in the menorah. One of the candles is used to light the other candles and the other eight stand for the eight days that the oil kept burning. You put the candles in the menorah right to left, and light them left to right so the oldest candle is put in first, and the newest candle is lit first. The last night, nine candles, counting the server candle, will glow. Hanukkah lights should burn for at least one half hour after it gets dark.

David reminded me that there are many spellings of this Hebrew holiday, because the English is transliterated from Hebrew. You'll see H-a-n-u-k-k-a-h a lot because that is the Associated Press spelling.

Christmas is always on 25 December however Chanukah falls on a different date each year in relationship to the common calendar, because it's a lunar calendar that loses time yearly. To compensate, a leap year adds a 13th month every few years. That leap month is called Adar II. In truth, Chanukah falls on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which was Dec. 12 this year and will be Dec. 2 in 2010.

Parents give their kids Chanukah gelt (gold-wrapped chocolate coins) and other trinkets for eight nights to enhance their enjoyment of the holiday. On this 6th night, Bonnie and Mike, and Ian and Charlene, were instructed to close our eyes, and when we opened them, we each found before us Hanukkah cookies and both gold and silver-wrapped coins. A miracle indeed! Bonnie and Mike fought over theirs. The kids were pretty good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Texas and Nephews

Texas and Nephews

Bonnie and Mike traveled to Houston during 13-15 November 2009 for Mike’s 50th High School Reunion (see for the details and photos on this gala gathering). During two events of the Reunion, we went by the old 2307 Gramercy homestead to ensure it was still in existence, and not looming as large in life as in memory.

Post-reunion we made two family related visits. On Sunday afternoon we went to the Nottingham area, Kellywood Lane in Houston, to visit with Eric and Kristen and 3-year old David. This is a beautiful residence in a beautiful residential area, and we enjoyed meeting David: he’s cute and bright-eyed, and actually behaved better in the restaurant than we did! (see photos). We went to Escalante’s for Mexican food – next time we may try Nirvana for Indian food… well, maybe not Bonnie!

Eric’s job with Decision Strategies Inc keeps him busy as he is ‘farmed out’ to Energy companies for his decision analysis skills – he is a methodologist in this area, as opposed to an oil and gas specialist, so his role is special. Kristen has begun working again, part time – not the job she wants or is challenged by, but conveniently located right across the street from David’s pre-school, and it gives her 20 hours a week.

On Monday morning, we checked out of our Hilton Garden Inn Galleria (Reunion hotel) and headed Southwest on 59 to Sugar Land. There we received a good/not so good surprise: Sarah Grace was there with Anne and Andy – great as we had expected that she would be in school/not so great as she was home because she was feeling punk. Sarah Grace was still gracious however, so we did get a few photos of her, before we took Andy out to lunch at Salt Grass Steakhouse (and send home a cheeseburger for Anne who had stayed home with her 3-year old patient.)

Andy commutes about 15-20 minutes each Tuesday and Thursday to teach his 15 hours (5 three-hour classes!) in biblical studies at the College of Biblical Studies. (Note: one of the reasons CBS was so eager to hire Andy was to strengthen their accreditation efforts - this has recently been successful! Yea, Andy!) Andy also travels to different locales for churches that want him to come talk at their venue. For several years, Andy and Anne have talked about creating a text book for Andy. We also talked about creating a web site for a non-profit that the team is building. So much to do!

Summary: much energy in Houston! Great visits! We need to return before our next 50th Reunion!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ranch Roundup

Ranch Roundup

Every decade or so, the family gets together for a Reunion of sorts. This July we had a great visit to Alma New Mexico.

Billy loaned us his Polaris Ranger – plenty good for running around between ranches however not for long distance or high speeds. We made it down to Hugh B’s (about 2 miles) fairly easily on Friday night for the hot dogs and hamburger cook-out. Hugh B and the grandkids were already in swimming. What a place for a reunion for all ages: swimming, horse shoes, tennis court, horses, and they even had El Fuego for a photo op – who is willing to climb up on El Fuego?

At the end of the evening, there were fireworks – Bonnie kept saying, “We don’t want to ride home on the highway after dark, do we?” Well, there is a back route – don’t have to go on the highway, just follow the old County road around the back between the two Alma areas. So off we went – there was actually a little light when we started – Rusty had said “stay to the left” and apparently I took that way too seriously – I took the first left, ended up on the levee, and after about a mile we were thoroughly lost … no road, no way out, headlights tht showed about 10 feet ahead – and Bonnie worred about snakes. I had to get out and walk around looking for the road and while I was gone, Bonnie started looking for what we had to save us – all she found was two lollipops and a flashlight with no batteries. Bonnie was wondering if she could make it through to daylight by eating just one of the lollipops – but then was worried that one of the bears would smell the candy and we'd be goners ...

Well, Rusty saw our headlights in the wrong area - we weren't supposed to be along the levee - and came out and rescued us. Bonnie said, "I've got a new boyfriend!" However, she kept calling him "Dusty" so I think that won't last.

Then the next day was the Tractor Pull. If you haven't attended a Tractor Pull, you haven't lived! Well ... maybe you've lived, but you haven't seen it all. Now we have.

What a great Ranch Roundup! We need to do this more often!

More Photos

See my Facebook page here for more photos of the Ranch Roundup as selected from Suzanne's collection on

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Doo Doo Doo Lookin' Out My Back Door

Just got home from Illinois - Lock the front door oh boy!
Got to sit down take a rest on the porch.
Imagination sets in pretty soon I'm singin'
Doo doo doo Lookin' out my back door.

There's a giant doing cartwheels a statue wearin' high heels.
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn.
A dinosaur Victrola list'ning to Buck Owens.

Tambourines and elephants are playing in the band.
Won't you take a ride on the flyin' spoon?
Doo, doo doo.
Wond'rous apparition provided by magician.
Tambourines and elephants are playing in the band.
Won't you take a ride on the flyin' spoon?
Doo, doo doo.
Bother me tomorrow, today, I'll buy no sorrows.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Day At The Races

"Legends" are 80 mph, precisely-responding, sophisticated racing machines. Conceived about 10 years ago, they are designed from the ground up like a NASCAR Cup car, with coil-over shocks, weightjackers and tube-frame steel construction covered with fiberglass bodies resembling the original "legendary" NASCAR stock cars of the 30s and 40s. They are powered by four-cylinder, 1250 cc, 125 hp Yamaha air-cooled engines with 5-speed sequential transmissions. And personalized with slick-looking professional paint jobs.

The 2009 Oval Schedule is in full swing at Sandia Motor Speedway, New Mexico's premier racing facility. Bonnie and Mike were provided a Pit Pass by Katy on Saturday 9 May and were witness to "The Miracle of Duct Tape." The 10-lap heat started well for the Legends however in the back stretch it was Cardenas on Cardenas as Car #7 (Matthew) spun out while trying to pass and Car #23 (Tony Jr.) ran up over him.

Then it was truly a race against time as Tony Sr. and crew attempted to put Car #7 back into racing condition in time for the 25-lap main event. Many hands working with many tools (and significant duct tape) helping made it happen and Matthew was out racing again - and spun out again - but finished in good shape. An excellent adventure all around!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jiking the Jemez

Bonnie planned a wonderful Valentine's surprise for me - a ride into the country to parts unknown (to me). Unfortunately, or rather, as it happened, we had an early Valentine's Dinner at Cervantes where we split a Silver Margarita. We were both wiped out after that, so the trip was postponed until Sunday 15 February.

Wonderful adventure, any of you readers can repeat it: Head toward Bernalillo and take Route 4 West. Then look for 485, and take it about two miles into the Jemez Recreational Area of the Santa Fe National Forest. The last three miles (through the tunnels) are on 367.

What great photos! The originals are of course larger and thus more spectacular. Perhaps we should make this "from our house to yours" for 2009?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


We are conducting the ultimate family business - Bonnie's mother Sally died last week and the services are tomorrow. Sally was quite a woman, a mother, a grandmother, great- and great-great. Sharp mind for 94 years and fortunately no real suffering at the transition. I only got to know her for these last two years however I felt a bond and a welcoming - even though we tried to team up on Bonnie in a spirited game of Boggle we still could not defeat her. Which brings me to the Second Reading.

Beth will deliver the Second Reading at the services, and even for a true atheist, these words have meaning and feeling and move me:

"For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6-8

Originally Bonnie came out after her mother had been admitted to the hospital to assist her sister in bedside vigils. Eventually she returned home, then returned with me via automobile. The feeling was surrealistic in that Sally was at home on hospice in a hospital bed in the living room while visitors came and went, talked and enjoyed each other's company, meals were eaten, drinks were consumed.

I certainly would never make light of Bonnie's loss, yet she was fortunate to have her mother so far into her own life. I for example lost my mother at my age of 29, when my mother was 64. Hardly a week goes by when I wish I had the opportunity to talk with her again, to ask her questions. Thus perhaps the popularity of Mitch Albom's third book, "For One More Day."

I will truly miss Sally. Bonnie usually called her each day (Sally told each of her daughters that the other two were calling daily!) and sometimes the phone was turned over to me. We had taken her down to San Clemente, and the photo is one I look at and enjoy from those times. She was indeed an inspirational lady.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tax Preparation Software

In the "olden days" (i.e., mid 1980s, during Lotus 1-2-3 Era but before Turbo Tax), before the Gentleman Pensioner was a pensioner, each year I would painstakingly create all the Federal Income Tax forms in Lotus. I had them connected, so the data would pass from one form to the next, just as the instructions would indicate. Then the following year, I would have to take each form and update it for the changes the IRS had made for that year. This took several hours of update, however I thought it was worth it. Of course, I could not send in 'my' forms, but I would print them out and use them to enter the 'final version' of my submitted taxes.

Then I found Personal Tax Edge, and said: hey, that $9.99 is worth the amount of time I'm putting into this each year. For several (about five) years, I used Personal Tax Edge. Ultimately, of course, Turbo Tax bought out PTE - and gave me one free year of Turbo Tax for my being a loyal Personal Tax Edge customer. That year convinced me that Turbo Tax was no better than Tax Cut, the only (I thought) competitor on the market.

For Tax Year 2007 (last year), here was the deal, as validated on 17 Jan 2008: TaxCut now had its cheapest version (was called basic, now called Premium Federal) for $19.95 (boo!); the next step up, (also called Premium Federal plus State filing plus e-filing) for $39.95. I don't know where TurboTax cost is at this time, however I have confirmed that even if one downloads TaxCut Premium Federal only from the web site, the biscuits still charge you $19.95! On 17 Jan 2008 I was able to purchase at CompUSA for "going out of business" discount of $4 which made it $17.01 after tax (yes, gross receipts tax, no pun here). For Tax Year 2006, I couldn’t find Tax Cut for less than $18.95 !!! (and that was at BX). Most of them were at the list $19.95 even for the Basic package. For Tax Year 2007, I looked into downloading the Tax Cut from their web site – still costs the same, and as mentioned several times in here, I never have used the CD after the initial installation – and once you do that installation, it says, “let’s go check the web site for latest changes” so you have no choice but to use Internet version download anyway – so start with it.

Then a month ago, on Dec 15 of 2008, Tax Cut sent me a CD which is nothing but a forced download of the Premium Federal for $34.95 (prepare plus e-file; state is more, that should kick it up to $39.95). I don't want that crap. I want the "basic" [prepare only] so I was thinking where can I get a price break? may need to go back to BX or Comp USA... but they all seem to be in lockstep on price ...

Because of the cost of both Tax Cut (and Turbo Tax), I looked around and was amazed to find TaxACT (which apparently has been around for 10 years!). TaxACT (created by Second Story Software) has a better price: FREE (Standard version) software and FREE e-file! The ~13MB install program is downloaded from their web site. (you can also file on-line, however for me download is the only way to go.) The [free] Standard version is limited in that you can only create one tax return and cannot import data from previous years.

I am currently trying TaxACT and evaluating it as I go - my initial reaction is: so far it looks quite good. I can already see ways that it is better than Tax Cut, e.g., in the Forms view which is my primary entry method. Tax Cut just shows you the list of forms, e.g., 1099-Div and says you have, say, six copies. TaxACT lists the six copies and shows the Payer for each. Also I found I can copy from Tax Cut (once I open the form) and paste the identifying info into TaxACT. ( Deluxe version allows you to bring in all info from LAST YEAR's TaxACT but since this is my first year ... ) Deluxe costs $13 and also gives you access to Lassiter tax law explanations as well as allows you to save forms as PDF documents so you don't have to keep the software version around for five years or whatever.

Here is an excellent comparison/review of the top ten tax preparation (online) software packages - I had no idea that there were more than two candidates until this year! Some of these offer purely on-line versions, and I prefer the desktop version for feelings of privacy and control. The comparison ranks Turbo Tax #1, TaxACT #2, and Tax Cut #3. I would appreciate your comments (if you wish email to me and I will post your comments below) - have you heard of TaxACT? Used it?