My Many Interests

Friday, December 23, 2022

NORAD tracks Santa!

My daughter learned how to track Santa from an early age. It's kind of a cool tradition in this technological age. You can track him on the computer, an app, or even call a toll-free number. Even as we get older, we still get a kick out of knowing where the jolly old elf and his eight reindeer are at any given moment on Christmas Eve.

Tracking Santa all began with the Continental Air Command (CONAD) way back in 1955. NORAD, or North American Aerospace Defense Command, replaced CONAD in 1958 and have been tracking Santa since. You can go to the NORAD HQ for more info on the history, how's and why's and clicking the image below will take you directly to the tracker.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Haunting of Oaklea Mansion in Winnsboro, Texas

It's funny how things come back around. I was working at Borders Books in Lewisville (northwest of downtown Dallas) in 2010 and was in charge of events.

April Slaughter had been a staff writer for TAPS magazine which was published by the team of Ghosthunters. My wife and I were big fans of Ghosthunters on TV and I saw that we had this book in the store and saw that the author lived in the area. One thing led to another and October 31, 2010, we had her come in for a signing.

It wasn't until last year while researching haunted Texas locations for a post, did I come across the chapter on the Oaklea Mansion Bed & Breakfast. I was working at the library and made sure to get a copy in for circulation. It's just strange that I would eventually move to this beautiful little town with a literary connection to my past.

If you have any local hauntings that you've witnessed or have heard from family members, please share!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Visiting The Edison Exchange inside of The Historic Oaklea Mansion

The Kid and I, while out hitting all of the Winnsboro Autumn Trails events on Saturday, dropped by The Historic Oaklea Mansion. While there we visited Dustin and Gabriel of The Edison Exchange.

The Edison Exchange deals in antique/estate jewelry, Art Deco, and Native American jewelry/art. Beautiful pieces can be found everywhere you turn. One of the more intriguing displays was this exhibit of mourning jewelry.

Per The Gemological Institute of American ~


The tradition of wearing mourning jewelry goes back to at least the Middle Ages, when motifs like skulls and crossbones served as a tangible reminder of death. The exhortation memento mori, which literally translates to remember death, urged the wearer to live a moral life.

The popularity of mourning jewelry reached its peak during the Victorian era (1837-1901). Queen Victoria was deeply in love with her husband, Prince Albert, and when he died in 1861, she fell into a long depression. Queen Victoria spent much of the next four decades wearing black crepe dresses and mourning jewelry. She commissioned portraits, memorials, and busts of Prince Albert and other mementos that were reminders of her deceased spouse.

Hair Jewelry – jewelry that contained locks of a loved one’s hair – was particularly popular during the Victorian era. The Victorians believed that hair had a sacred quality because it contained something of the essence of the person. And because it was somewhat imperishable, it also symbolized immortality.

Many of the items on the tray were made with strands of hair woven into them or the entire piece was composed of braided hair from the deceased.

The Edison Exchange is located inside The Historic Oaklea Mansion at 407 S. Main St. in Winnsboro and is open Wednesday through Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturday 11am to 4pm. You can visit their website here or look them up on Facebook.

Photos are of the mourning jewelry and other pieces on display and for sale.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Affordable Connectivity Program Helps Families with Internet Costs

I recently received an email from the Social Security Administration about how to get a discount on internet. It seems that the offer stems from the infrastructure bill that was passed earlier this year.

It's tough for families to make ends meet nowadays and sometimes cuts have to be made. It's really hard when internet has become a necessity in some households. I really saw the divide between folks who live in the city and rural folks when I worked at my local library last year. Locals would come in to use the libraries facilities because they couldn't afford a computer or internet and what internet was offered was spotty in quality and availability.

Hopefully the infrastructure bill will address the availability of internet to rural areas, but in the meantime it has done something to help with the affordability of it.

The program is called the Affordable Connectivity Program and it us run through the FCC. If you meet any of these checkpoints then you may be eligible for a discount or free internet:
  • Households that have an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • People who use certain federal assistance programs, including Federal Public Housing Assistance, Lifeline, Medicaid, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • People who already use a discounted internet service from a high-speed internet provider that is aimed at low-income households.
  • Households whose children get free or low-cost school meals.
  • Households that participate in programs specifically for tribes, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
  • College students who receive student aid in the form of federal Pell grants.
Discounts range from $30 a month (which may mean free if you go through certain companies) to $75 for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Some households would even be able to receive a discount of up to $100 for purchasing a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers.

Check out the article below for more info or apply directly to the FCC, contact your current internet provider, or by mail.

20 Providers Offering $30-a-Month High-Speed Internet Access - AARP

Monday, August 29, 2022

Ancient Tablet Not a Smoking Gun but Still Stirs the Imagination

Comet above trees after sunset
Comet NEOWISE July 2020
by James H. Pickering 
So, they've found a stone tablet from about 13,000 years ago that points to a swarm of comets. I find the headline a little misleading as it doesn't necessarily mention an actual impact, but I still find archeological artifacts that show astronomical events from the past fascinating.

I especially love this particular find as it was unearthed at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey which is a site that is spoken about often in Ancient Alien episodes. I'm not a true believer of ancient aliens and am skeptical but I love the idea!

Check out the article below for more details about this interesting find.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Birthday Wishes!

As we get older our birthday wishes tend to get simpler. We don't actually worry about celebrating another lap around the sun, could care less about a party, and really we're just happy that we woke up.

I had all intentions of staying in my PJs on Sunday, but as I began to retire the night before, I saw a post on Facebook about a local zoo and the animals you could see. I realized that all summer, I really hadn't seen my kid because she was off making the rounds visiting grandmas, aunts and friends. School would be starting in just a few days and we really hadn't spent any time together. Oh, well. Who wanted to nap all day anyway.

The Kid and I got up bright and early and headed south to Grand Saline, known for the salt prairies southeast of town, most of which are owned by the Morton Salt company. There used to be a big old salt block in the middle of town that you could look at or lick, if you were daring, though there were signs advising against such a thing. It's not there now, or maybe too many people licked it into oblivion (photo was from last year.) We stopped off at a local eatery aptly named Salt Lickers for some grub. Serving a little Cajun and home cooking we got our fill and then proceeded on down to see the critters.

Located off in the woods, East Texas Zoo and Gator Farm is hidden from the road by a picket of trees. Once parked we walked into the main building and immediately got to see wildlife from parrots and tarantulas to lizards and hissing cockroaches! From here you purchase your tickets to gain entrance to the park and you can also purchase food to feed the animals and access to the baby room. We bought the tickets with the baby room access and some food for the animals and made our way outside.

We were just in time for feeding time. Alligator feeding time, that is. The Kid wasn't as excited as I was about it, but she gave in so I could enjoy it. We talked gator with the keeper in charge of them. They take in rescues and nuisance gators from around the area. One of the gators, 515, is from Lake Fork where Hwy 515 crosses between Yantis and Emory and he's a big old boy, but he's not the biggest. That goes to the chief of the swamp, Domino.

After feeding the gators we made our round to the other animals. It's a self tour with signs along the fences describing the animals. It was hot and early afternoon so some of the animals were in the shade snoozing. The laziest out of all of the animals were probably the kangaroos and they weren't shy about it either. Zebras, wild cats, baboons, tortoises, porcupines and many others were to be found. The tortoises are free roaming so you could actually walk up and pet one. I don't guess you have to worry about one trying to get away at the speed they move.

We hit the baby room last and got to meet Walter and Steven, a wallaby and a wallaroo. I can't remember which was which, but the wallaby was an albino with white fur and pink paws and eyes. They were accompanied by two zebu calves and a little pink screaming hairy armadillo, who wasn't screaming but enjoying a nap and appeared to be running in his dreams like a dog. We got fifteen minutes in the room with them and they were very cute and loved the petting they got. 

All in all, it was a fun visit and we got to see animals that we hadn't seen before in other zoos. We'll probably visit again when it's a bit cooler as the animals didn't like the heat either. If you fancy a nice little excursion that won't take up your whole day, visit the Grand Saline area and the East Texas Zoo and Gator Park. 

You can also visit my Facebook page for more photos.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Meditation from the Backroads of Lake Winnsboro

I took a drive around Lake Winnsboro, as the Kid and I often do. Tonight I didn't have her with me because she is visiting Grandma before school starts up again. 

I had suggested this drive to a friend on Facebook the other night as she asked for ideas for places to visit with her husband who can't get out much due to health issues. I figured I'd take some of my own medicine after supper.

I usually start at the Marina and sit on the little point behind it to get a good view of the lake and Pleasure Point across the way. I hadn't been out this way since the July 4th fireworks display and was surprised (though not really in hindsight) to see how far the water level had dropped. Timbers from an old pier were raising their tops above the waterline. 

Leaving there and driving by the picnic tables at the little swimming area, I nod to some folks that I had seen at dinner just a little while earlier. Seems others had a nice evening visit to the lake on their minds. Some folks were still out fishing both on shore and on the water and the fish seemed to be jumping.

The temperature wasn't too bad and I drove with the windows down. Fortunately traffic was non-existent as I continued my tour at a slow pace. Nothing ruins a trip like this more than someone flying up on your tail because to them backroads mean no speed limits.

After turning north from Pleasure Point, I stopped at the first causeway to find that the only water left on the west side was a small puddle that didn't look like it would last another week, if that. Though there were no fish, turtles or frogs to watch, I did find two young does enjoying the green grass that was thriving in spot. They didn't seem the least bit afraid as I stopped the car and took photos. I guess the food was too good to leave.

More turtles, one huge bullfrog, and a few cranes were present as I crossed more causeways on my way to 515. My last sighting was of another small group of deer in a large open field. They looked like does and maybe a few yearlings, but it was dusk and my eyesight isn't too sharp anymore, even with glasses. They, too, didn't seem in a hurry to leave good eating behind, so hung around as I stopped to watch.

Trips like these are therapeutic. A meditation trip, if you will, as long as you stop the car to do the meditation.

For more photos from my excursion click this link: Facebook Photo Album-Drive Around Lake Winnsboro and while you're there, like my Facebook page, Winnsboro Living.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Remembering Mamaw Carmon Pickering

This lovely woman would have been 92 today. We lost Great Grandma Carmon last year and miss her so very much. She and Carroll loved each other so much that I am sure that they are having a time together now up in Heaven.

She was a big influencer on my life growing up. I know that most grandparents are, that's not really saying anything. My grandmother, though, catered to my interests by stoking my love of reading. When we would go to her house, she'd send me to her room to get a book. The walls of her room were lined with books stacked on the floor to where you had to crabwalk around the bed to get to them all. Books on gardening, wildlife, the sciences, everything. When I took an interest in space, she got me subscriptions to astronomy magazines, science magazines, science fiction literary magazines, and even a membership in the Planetary Society so that I could get the monthly Jet Propulsion Laboratory newsletter. She was a life-long learner and it's one of the greatest gifts that she could have given me, other than her love! Miss you Mamaw!

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Rainy Day Ponderings

It has been my intention to start writing again for a very long time. Just put pen to paper or in this case finger to keyboard. That’s the problem though. I have ideas racing through my head, ninety to nothing, but I abhor the process of writing, the “labor” portion of it. So, I think I’ll start doing what my 9th grade English teacher told me oh so long ago and what many people do all around the world. Just write.

So here you go. I just sat out on the patio for the last 45 minutes watching storms roll in from nowhere. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees really quick and the winds kicked up to high gusts blowing dirt and dust everywhere. I had to bring in the pansies and tomato plants so they wouldn’t get destroyed. It wasn’t until about 30 minutes into the display that the rain finally started coming down.

rainboots in a puddle
I love this kind of weather. Don’t know why, I just always have. I remember when I was a kid and the storms would roll in, my brothers and I would stay out in it as long as we could. With the thunder and lightning crashing above, I fancied myself a wizard commanding the elements. All kids love playing in the rain. I think it’s a primal thing. It just brings us down to our base selves where there is nothing else but the pure enjoyment of the moment. While I sat watching, a neighbor boy could be seen racing back and forth down the street in the deluge with wild abandon. Sometimes we forget how to enjoy simple things like this.

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Inspiration from the Ukrainian People and How to Help

I've been watching the news that comes out of Ukraine. It's hard to watch. Basically, it's your neighbor breaking in to your house all because he wants your stuff. It's all done in broad daylight while the rest of the neighborhood watches. It turns my stomach.

But many heartening stories are coming out of the country that gives me hope for them. At the borders, women and children are lined up exiting into surrounding countries, while their husbands, brothers, and fathers say good-bye, turn and head back to fight.

Being prior military, I get a swell in my chest hearing about the "Ghost of Kyiv." Look him up. The first Ace of the 21st century. Just a matter of time before his legend arrives in air combat video games! And if it turns out that he truly is a ghost, the story still serves a purpose of inspiring and rallying the country's people.

And lastly, there is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fighting alongside his people in the streets. When asked if he wanted to be airlifted out, he says “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” That's how you lead a country! As I watch with bated breath, I can only say to the people of Ukraine - Give Russia Hell!

If you're feeling inspired to help, here are two articles that list organizations that are working in and around Ukraine. Time - Here's What You Can Do to Help People in Ukraine Right Now