Friday, October 19, 2012

My Six Year Hunt

October 19, 2012

About six years ago I worked as a television reporter for a local news station. My boss encouraged me to do a segment each week where viewers would send me questions and I'd pick one to answer in as entertaining a way as I could. After a few months of doing the segment, a photographer and I were traveling to a story when I saw something on the side of the road that I'd never seen before. It looked kind of like a beaver, it stood on its hind legs sometimes and it manipulated things with its hands like a person. My friend and I turned the vehicle around and tried to catch the thing on video, but it scurried away before we had the opportunity.

This identical set of events occurred a few more times, sometimes with other photographers but usually the same guy, and each time we were unable to catch it on video before the cute little guy would vanish.

Shortly after I'd seen the thing a few times in different locations throughout Northwest Arkansas, people began sending me letters about it. There were a ton of people who were seeing it and who were also in the dark as to what it could be. That ignited my desire to locate one, get video or a photo of it and then take it to an expert to give me the answer.

Now, even then, I could speculate on what it was - and many of you reading this may already have a good idea. My guess is that it's a groundhog, and I think I'm right - but that doesn't matter because I can't verify that with an expert unless I can say, "Here is a picture of what I saw, what is it?"
For months I'd see this thing and made countless unsuccessful attempts to capture an image of it while out on other news stories. My boss - to whom I'd passed on all my war stories related to the little fuzzy thing - called me into his office one morning and said, "Forget covering news today. You and Ben (the first photographer to see the little thing with me) take the day, go find one of those things and find out what it is."

I think he was sick of hearing about it, plus a lot more people were writing in and asking what it was. Never-the-less, Ben and I were excited. We grabbed a couple of camera batteries and headed out. For whatever reason, we felt we'd have a good chance of seeing one on the way to Eureka Springs and in less than an hour we found out we were right. Just as we passed the Clifty Store, we started on a big curve to the left and BAM - there it was. We saw it. Standing on two legs on the right side of the road. I was ecstatic...for about two seconds. That was roughly the time it took the little guy to run directly under our car. That's right. We killed it.

The inside of the car went completely silent. We were both horrified. There was nothing we could do. Not that we would have, but that particular location wasn't safe enough for Ben or I to hike back with a camera and get a shot of the gruesome evidence. In a bit of shock, we drove home mostly in silence.
That was it for me trying to cover the story for my news segment. We rejected any and all suggestions that we continue, but we did both continue to see that little guy from time to time and still always failed to catch an image of him. This went on for years. There were times when I would spot one, pull over and just watch him. The second I'd reach for a camera, he was a ghost. On a couple of occasions, I was able to capture an image on a cell phone camera but I was always too far away to really get a got picture. Then, I started as a reporter at The Record.

One morning, I pulled into my usual parking space and there was one of those little fuzzy creatures just standing in front of my car. I was surprised, but at this point in the saga - every time I saw another one - it simply felt like the thing was taunting me. It didn't end up being a one time affair either. He was there a lot in the mornings. I told the story I just told you guys to one of my co-workers, to which he replied, "Oh yeah, that's our groundhog."

Apparently he'd (actually "she'd" because I understand the thing had babies last summer) been around for a while. This was my chance. I started making sure I had a camera with me in my vehicle most all the time. There were times when I'd pull up and see him, but as soon as I'd get the camera ready - gone. This thing really was taunting me, and these occurrences went on for several months. On my trips up and down Highway 74, I see them a lot - yet I never get any closer to getting a picture of the thing.

Fast forward to October 15. I needed to get a picture of the folks running the haunted house down in Aurora for The Record. The trees on Highway 23 are currently showcasing an absolutely amazing array colors, so the trip was beautiful. I had a blast with the haunted house folks and got some great pictures before heading back. Incidentally, that meant I had a camera sitting on the passenger's seat of my truck...just as I saw the little guy sitting on the side of the road.

With no high hopes, I reached for the camera and snapped off three quick shots as the little guy darted for the weeds and, believe it or not, I got him.
Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

These three pictures may not be great, but they're good enough. In fact, you know what, they are great. They're fantastic.

It took more than six years to finally get a pic of one of these guys, that I still haven't officially confirmed to be a groundhog, but it was worth the wait. The feeling of accomplishment is quite satisfying. I was giddy all the rest of the way back to the newspaper office. Once there, I walked in the door and announced my victory. The same co-worker whom I'd first told the story simply relied, "Nuh uh."

I tell you this story not just to share my accomplishment, which I just could not be more pleased with, but because I really love the story - and it will be one of the last I get to tell you. As some of you may be aware, The Record is currently looking for my replacement. I've taken a position as a weekend anchor and reporter with a television news station in Missouri. I'm very excited about the new adventure, but I'm also quite sad about leaving all the great people here in Madison County that  I've been blessed to get to know. This is a great place, and I'm going to miss every inch of its beautiful landscape and its unbelievably kind and warm welcoming residents.

I knew quite a bit about Madison County before I started working here. Spending a lot of time here while I was in college at the U of A, I got to know a few people and started being able to find my way around. If I hadn't returned years later to report for the newspaper though, I would have missed out on so much. I wouldn't have gotten to know so many of you so well. I wouldn't have gotten to find out about the issues that matter to you so much. I wouldn't have covered the story at the pet shelter where I found my amazing little dog. I wouldn't have gotten to play donkey basketball (which you have to admit, I was pretty good at), and I wouldn't have finally gotten a picture of that little fuzzy guy who has been taunting me for years.

Madison County has given me memories, experiences and new friends I will cherish for the rest of my life. I plan to subscribe to The Record just to keep up with what's going on here, and I don't plan to be a stranger. It will always be a place that I visit. So, until then, thank you for everything and - of course - Go Eagles!

Information, Inspiration and Motivation

September 21, 2012

In the next edition of The Madison County Record, I'm going to take a look at obesity in the state and particularly Madison County.

I believe everyone will be surprised at what is revealed, statistics-wise, about obesity issues in the area. It should be an eye opening article with both scary and encouraging things. For instance, we live fairly healthfully here. That's good. The bad news is, that may be on a downward slide.

As a person who used to live a typical college kid/bachelor life of fast food, late nights and zero exercise - take it from me - change is never out of the question or beyond reach. Change just requires change. Some things are harder than others, of course. I smoked cigarettes through all that unhealthful living, which just made things worse. Even after making the decision to exercise, eat right and take charge of that part of my life - I continued to smoke for at least four more years. Some things are definitely harder than others.

I'm not trying to be preachy. I'm just mentioning some facts from my own life to preface the story I'm trying to tell. If you've ever wanted to lose weight, shape up and make a positive change in your health, don't miss the next edition of The Record. Sure, I'll have some facts and figures about obesity, but I'll also bring you an inspirational story AND news about a contest that could win you a free trip to Branson. So, just to recap - you'll get information, inspiration and motivation. Not too shabby. The title of this BLOG's making a little more sense now, huh?

Mailbox Baseball Rough on Mailboxes & Elderly

September 6, 2012

Remember all the stupid stuff you used to do when you were a kid? Well, I don't. Namely because I did so many stupid things. My memory can only be expected to remember just so much. Out of all the mindless, ridiculous things I've attempted or successfully carried out in my youth, being destructive to others was never on the list.

In recent weeks there has been a significant rise in mailbox vandalism. From the accounts I've gotten from victims, it appears the mailboxes are being damaged by a baseball bat swung from a moving vehicle. Sounds great doesn't it? No? Well, you must not be a thoughtless dolt. Like I said, my teenage years were filled with some of the dumbest, and often dangerous, acts imaginable by an intelligent individual - but they never resulted in the burden of someone else (except maybe my mother).

I was able to speak with a couple of Madison County residents who fell victim to this mailbox vandalism. Both had dealt with the issue on multiple occasions, both were somewhat advanced in their years and both were forced to replace their mailboxes using their own hard earned money. I'm not sure if these types of crimes are the type where perpetrators return to inspect the aftermath, but if they are - I do hope it's a bit disheartening for the offenders to watch a stranger near the age of their grandparents pick up the broken pieces of their mailbox before reinstalling a new one in 100+ degree heat. What's more, though the young folks responsible for these crimes are probably not carrying out these crimes on their own grandparents and family members - they are, undoubtedly, carrying them out on the grandparents and family members of their peers.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I'm so quick to blame teenagers. To that, I'd ask you to consider a small list of things. Firstly, if while reading this you are over the age of 21, I ask - Since reaching adulthood, how many times have you piled into a vehicle with friends, driven down a road at night and smashed a mailbox with a baseball bat? Secondly, How many times have you ever heard of an adult taking part in such an activity and third, I have it on good authority that these crimes aren't being carried out by adults. I'll have more on that last one in an upcoming article in the next edition of The Madison County Record.

Whether or not they get caught by police, most of us will never know who the kids responsible for the recent vandalism are because they're juveniles. The law specifically protects that information because, are prone to making a few mistakes along the way that don't necessarily need to stick with them throughout their lives. Making mistakes is a part of life, and that doesn't mean it should be blamed on bad parenting either. I've never had anything but positive adult role models watching over me throughout my life - yet I still broke my left arm in a particularly competitive shopping cart slalom in the alley behind my place of employment at the age of 16. That was just as ridiculous a sentence to have to type in my 30s as it was a recreational activity in my teens, but what it wasn't was destructive to anyone other than myself...and possibly my parents' insurance premiums.

I have a pretty strong notion that there probably won't be many teenagers that will read this BLOG. There will be a few adults though, and maybe you can pass some of the sentiment of it on to a teen or two in your life. Within reason, doing dumb things and making mistakes is okay - but going out of your way to do harm or cause problems for others is just thoughtless. Even if they're strangers and what you're doing seems innocent enough - if it hurts someone else, what does that say about you?

All that said, I would also like to point out that I do not advocate shopping cart slaloms as a replacement activity. Trust me, it's really not as fun as it sounds, and broken arms are exactly as fun as they sound.

Time to Call Those Hogs

August 31, 2012

We've made it to the weekend once again and, for some of us, it will be a three day weekend at that. Plenty of time to get some laundry done, maybe a few other chores and...oh who am I kidding? It's time to call the Hogs!

Hog fans are a unique bunch of folk. They come from all walks of life and, in some cases, from all over the country. Razorbacks fans never cease to amaze me. Good season, bad season, coaching fiascoes (of which there have been many), it really doesn't matter. Each end of that stadium will be filled with tailgaters (I prefer the North side - The Pit) and then they'll pile in to call those Hogs - loud and proud.

I love being a Hog fan. I'll serve as both tailgater and screaming fan for their (our) first game of the season come rain or shine. Side note: who thought rain would be a possibility? Go figure. That being said, here's something to think about when considering this match-up and especially interesting if you're one of our younger readers who may not remember this.

Back in 1992 the Hogs lost to the Citadel in their first showing representing the SEC. Guess who was coaching us? Jack Crowe. Now, guess who's coaching Jacksonville State? Yup. Jack Crowe. Also, Frank Broyles fired Crowe immediately following that game. So, the guy might bring his team in with a little bit more fire than one might hope. Here's a recent quote from Crowe regarding that incident.

“It ended with me saying, ‘Frank, I’m going home to have lunch. If you want me to be your football coach, call me.’ And he didn’t call me.”

Now, Crowe was also recently quoted as saying he holds no ill will toward the there's that. Also, apparently Crowe still has a framed photograph hanging in his office with some nice words written on it by Broyles in 2006. Maybe all is forgotten, but maybe not.

None of this is too relevant. I just want everyone to keep these things in mind. I am a very superstitious Razorback fan. In fact, it's the only thing I'm really superstitious about. I never ever wear Razorback related items on game day (due to a lucky Hog shirt that turned its back on me back in college), and I never make game predictions. Again, only when it come to the Hogs. Otherwise, I'm pretty verbose.

Regardless, win or lose, Hog fans will support this team all season long. We're a tough breed. Just like you, I bleed Razorback red - and proud to say it. Football season is finally upon us and what a season it will be! Good luck to the Eagles tonight and the Hogs tomorrow! WPS!

More than Fair

August 23, 2012

This week I will officially visit the Madison County Fair for the first time ever. Now, I have already been once this week but just to take some pictures. There weren't any rides running or a crowd or anything, so I'm not counting that as an official visit. Therefor, I just don't know all that much about the Madison County Fair and that's a good reason to be excited.

William "Hootie" Kirkland and Charles "Buster" Johnson work on the Rock-O-Plane ride in preparation for opening night.

I've always enjoyed fairs. Growing up I was a regular attendee of the annual fair in Little Rock and, more than any other, the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair in Fort Smith. I've been to others in other states, but they all pretty much made the same impression on me. Namely, I grew to love foot-long corn dogs.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Tilt-a-whirl and the Gravatron. I loved the Sea Dragon and the Spinner, but I've grown out of some of those over the years. Yet, I still enjoy a good foot-long corn dog. Not to mention, I'm willing to bet most people are familiar with the rides I just named, but quite possibly by a different name. From fair to fair and carnival to carnival (there is a difference I'll explain farther down), the exact same ride will go by a different name. So, if your buddy went to the fair the day before and you ask if they have the Sea Dragon this year, his answer isn't really all that helpful. He may tell you no when the ride is actually there but going by a different title. If you ask if they have foot-long corn dogs, there's a pretty good chance you're going to get a definitive answer...and that answer will probably be "yes."

I've been to fairs when the summer heat was still a bit unbearable, and I've been when the trip required a light jacket - but fairs always remind me of fall. The smells of the food, the screams of the ride goers in the distance and - yes - even the smell of the livestock. It all just seems to ring in the change of the season for me. The Madison County Fair comes a tad early to be getting too excited for the upcoming fall, but that won't matter while I'm there. I'll still be thinking about it.

All that to say, I really like a good fair and in tribute to that - here are a few interesting things about fairs.

  • Fairs and carnivals are not the same. In fact, fairs are better. Carnivals, according to Merriam-Webster, are a traveling enterprise offering amusement. A fair offers much of the same but adds the exhibition of farm equipment, livestock and often agriculturally themed competition.
  • The first Ferris Wheel was built by George W. Ferris, Jr. for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was used several times in several locations before being demolished in 1906.
  • The first corn dog seems to have appeared in the early 20th century, but the inventor is highly disputed by corn dog aficionados. No word on corn dogs of the foot-long variety.
  • According to long time Madison County Fair organizer Barbara Parker, this year has one of the biggest showings of livestock she's seen at the fair in 19 years of being involved with it.
  • The fair only lasts until Saturday, so if you haven't gotten a chance to go - there's no time like the present to correct that. I'll be there tonight, so if you recognize me - please stop and talk. I'll be the guy holding a recorder and talking to folks...there's also a pretty good chance I'll be holding a half eaten foot-long corn dog.

Back to School Already

August 16, 2012

It's hard to believe that it's back-to-school time all over again. It seems like just yesterday I was writing articles about high school graduation. I guess time flies when you're melting from heat.
Going back to school, after a summer that never seemed long enough, was always a little rough on me. Prior to getting out for the summer, I always had these monumental plans of what I would do with my time off. Sometimes those things would get accomplished but, more often than not, I always wished I had a few more weeks. For stay-at-home parents, I'm sure it's a little bitter sweet. It's great to have the kids around all day, but I'm sure it's also a relief to get a little time to yourself. At least that's the joke those folks keep telling me.

Never-the-less, here we are. The school supplies are purchased and kids are working to make the most of their time left to stay up late, sleep in or just goof off. Come Monday though, Madison County kids will hop to it early and be back at the books. It should be an exciting year too. Out of the four schools in Huntsville, three will be under the guidance of new principals. Eric Miller has moved from his position as high school vice principal to principal at the intermediate school, and the high school and primary schools will now be under the watchful eyes of Lewis Villines and Matt Cook, respectively. From hearing them talk, I know that all three are very excited about embarking on their new endeavors.

Mike Cain, principal at Huntsville Middle School, celebrated stellar benchmark exam scores with his fellow educators on Thursday and said he's looking forward to a great year. In St. Paul, Principal Daisy Duerr is starting a really cool after school program that will offer a host of useful things for students and parents. Principal Marsha Shaver, in Kingston, will welcome students back to new renovations at their facilities along with a large group of new staff or staff filling totally new positions. Really, there are just too many things going on to name them all, and you'd be hard pressed to find a group of workers at any job more elated to get back to work.

We've experienced mildly cooler weather in the week past and that certainly got some minds daydreaming about the upcoming football season. In fact, Huntsville has their first scrimmage on Friday. See what I mean? There are a ton of reasons to be excited about back-to-school this year.
So, I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish parents, teachers, faculty and students (especially all the first time students) good luck on their first day of school. It's going to be a great first day and an even better year to come.

On a side note, I remember my first day of school quite vividly. I must have asked my mother 100 times whether she thought the teacher would send me home with homework. I wanted homework so badly. I've got to be honest though, that desire subsided pretty quickly.
Good luck!

Keep on Going

August 9, 2012

Starting about four months ago, on my way to work each morning, I began noticing the same guy jogging along the road. The only reason I noticed him was because his running form was pretty bad. I could tell that he wasn't an experienced runner. He was wearing athletic shorts that were way too long, a cotton t-shirt that would get soaked with sweat and cause chaffing and he had these big Aviator style sunglasses that no seasoned runner would opt to wear while bobbing up and down along the side of the road. Plus, he often looked liked he was having a pretty rough time of it. I predicted his enthusiasm for running would wear off pretty fast. Every morning though, there he was. Running.

Over the course of several weeks, I noticed his form became a little more textbook. As a runner myself, I know it's pretty common to seek out the advice of experts when trying to improve your performance. For the first few months after my decision to become a runner, I had all the grace and technical skill of a sack of potatoes barreling down a steep slope. I read running magazines, picked up two different books on the subject and made an effort to run better. I started thinking my prediction the morning runner would peter out might have been a bit premature because every morning, there he was. Running.

By the second month of seeing this guy every day, more had changed. His Aviators were now sporty sunglasses that held tightly to his face, his running shorts were actual running shorts and his shirt was made of a quick-dry material worn by runners. This guy was clearly serious about his decision to become a runner. Very serious. I can only muster up about three runs in a week on a good week, but every morning, there he was. Running.

Three months in and the morning runner had become kind of a symbol of ambition and endurance. Stick-to-itiveness. Dogged perseverance. It's hard enough to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, much less to go for a run. Not to mention, it was hot. This was around mid-May, and I don't need to tell you how hot it was in May - even early in the morning. I'm not sure what made this fellow decide he wanted to be a runner. I'm not sure what made him decide he wanted to be a better runner, and I'm not sure what gave him the drive to keep going - but it was kind of inspiring. It was consistently inspiring because every morning, there he was. Running.

About the middle of July, though, the morning runner was nowhere to be seen. At first, I thought maybe he was just taking a week off or away on vacation. Maybe he'd taken up running in order to drop a few pounds for that vacation and was off enjoying his hard work. You would think a person who had trained so consistently and worked so hard to improve his skill would probably get right back on the horse upon his return though. The heat was pretty unbearable, so I theorized he also may have simply switched up his running schedule to accommodate. Whatever the case, I hoped he hadn't just given up. I only glimpsed the morning runner for a brief moment each day, but I respected him for persevering through his difficult task without wavering. He really had become a symbol, and one I'd begun to look forward to noting on my daily drive to work. If he could get up and do it, anybody could. Anybody could make the unpleasant difficult but wise choice instead of taking the easy way. Anybody could overcome their shortcomings and become better. It was uplifting in a way.

July came and went without a trace of the morning runner. For whatever reason, he just wasn't there anymore. It was kind of disheartening, but it didn't mean all the good things I'd taken away from this person I'd never met were any less valid. If anything, they were more valid. He could still be a symbol. He could now stand for not letting your hard work go to waste...or something like that. Really, I wasn't sure, I was just kind of disappointed. And then, about a week ago, there he was. Same time of day, same road, same guy. He was running again. There's no telling what made him stop or if he actually ever did stop, but regardless he was once again persevering - and every morning since, there he is. Running.

I tell this story because a lot of folks in our area - around the country even - are trying hard to persevere. The drought is hurting farmers something fierce. Cattle farmers are making the tough decision whether to throw in the towel for the season, whether to sell their cows at a greatly reduced price or hold on just a little longer. Poultry producers are struggling because of the heat and produce farmers are simply struggling to keep things alive. Now the hardships faced by those farmers is resulting in families having to pay higher prices at the grocery store. Times are tough for pretty much everyone in one way or another, and it's important to hold on to a positive outlook. It's important to persevere. It's not easy, but it is necessary and - if there's one thing I've come to learn about the people of this county - it's something that can be done...and probably with a smile.

I'll never meet the morning runner. I can't imagine the awkward conversation upon pulling my truck alongside him and saying, "hey, where have you been? I watch you run everyday and you've become a symbol of perseverance." In fact, I feel quite confident that would probably make the guy run a great deal faster and away from me. The point is, I don't need to meet him. He's no different from the rest of us. He's just some guy who wakes up every morning and tries hard. We just need to make sure we do the same. No matter what the hardships or obstacles in our way, we just need to get up every morning and just keep running.

We can appreciate all our hard work when we get a vacation.

Dogpatch U.S.A., Kind of a Big Deal

July 26, 2012

This week, I want to talk about something that many many Madison County residents will remember - and probably quite fondly. Dogpatch, USA.

Located about an hour from the Madison County line in Newton County, it's safe to say that countless area residents enjoyed visits to the park themed to the Li'l Abner comic strip imagined by cartoonist Al Capp in 1909.

If you don't recognize any of these characters, you're not alone. That ended up being an issue for Dogpatch. It started as quite a draw, but after Capp retired and the comic strip disappeared from newspapers - the characters became less well known to each new generation of park goer. During my visit to the park, which I remember absolutely loving, even I was unsure about who the characters were - so my mom settled on telling me they were from the comic strip on which The Beverly Hillbillies was based. That trip took place in the 80s and the thing my mom told me isn't true. I suppose it was just easier to explain. I was probably 10.

Never-the-less, Dogpatch was loads of fun. There were rides, games, fishing etc. You could even catch a fish and then have it prepared for you at the park's restaurant for $1 a fish. Unlike parks like Disney, the environment at Dogpatch was genuine. That is to say, it was supposed to look like a little town nestled into the hills of the Ozarks, which is exactly what it was. I remember standing at the edge of a pond trying to catch crawdads when the actor playing the Li'l Abner character came up to help me. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. Who knew they caught crawdads just like us regular folk?

During the park's hay day, it did pretty well. The Li'l Abner comic strip ran in hundreds of papers throughout the country, essentially serving as free advertising for the park. In fact, 8000 people were there to watch Dogpatch open, according to some extensive research on the subject by the guy who runs the site

What got me thinking about Dogpatch was a conversation I recently had concerning ghost towns. A subject that almost immediately made its way to a discussion about Dogpatch. I'd known that the bulk of the park still existed and very much in ghost town fashion. From what I understood, it would not be too outlandish to visit the once bustling park only to run into Scooby and the gang trying to solve a mystery. I mean, an abandoned and dilapidated theme park? That's just the proper amount of spooky to peak my curiosity.

Over the years, when I would meet someone from the area, I would often ask if Dogpatch, USA was still there. I met some who had snuck into the park (which is now posted with no trespassing signs) to explore when they were teenagers, and a few "urban adventurers" who claimed to have done the same. I'm told it can still be seen from Highway 7, but it's been a long time since I was on that stretch of road.

After years of wondering about the park, I'm finally putting some effort into finding out for myself. I research, write articles and take photographs for a living, and I have for almost my entire adult life. Why not combine what I do with my long time curiosity? Hopefully it will result in an interesting future article or BLOG. Because of that, I won't go into too much detail about the history of the park or what's become of it here in this BLOG.

What I would like is your input. If you went, I'd love to hear about your experiences and/or see your pictures. I believe I've located the current owner of the property - but that's actually a tough thing to nail down. There have been a lot of owners, so I'd appreciate any info you might have on that too. Until then, I'll leave you with a picture from Dogpatch past with a picture of Dogpatch present (actually February of 2011).


It's Hot Out There

July 12, 2012

 If you haven't noticed, it's hot out there.

We've been lucky enough to catch a small break from the 100+ degree heat in the past week and even pick up a little rainfall, but it's still hot and we all know it. So, this week I thought I would offer up five small tips on beating the heat I came across while researching the subject on the Internet.

1. This is pretty cool...pun intended. It's a trick that is apparently often used in the dessert because it works better the dryer the air is, and guess what? We've got some pretty dry air out there. When that's the case, try hanging a damp sheet in an open window. The air blowing in will be cooled by the evaporating water.

2. This one comes from Bill Nye the Science Guy, so you know it's a good one. I always see people who put fans in their windows to keep the air circulating, but they generally point inside the house. Try it the other way. A house can get pretty hot throughout the course of a day and may even be a bit warmer than the air outside by nightfall.  If you turn the fan around, it works to vent the hot air from inside according to Nye. "Kind of surprising," said Nye, "Having a fan blowing in is a good idea―but it's not as effective as one that's blowing out."

3. While we're on the subject of fans, I should point out that fans do not cool a room. They circulate air and as that air blows over you, it gives you a sense of relief. Air conditioners do cool air, but often don't aim that cool breeze directly at you. So, combine the two. While your AC is running, prop a fan near the vent and aim it your way. By the time a normal running of the AC would have cooled you down, you'll already be chilly.

4. This one seems counter intuitive, but it makes sense. Remember all the times you heard that back in the day cowboys dressed in extra layers during hot days to promote more sweating, therefore helping to cool them down as the wind whipped by them while they rode their horses? No? Well I do. I'm not sure it's true - but another thing that promotes extra sweating in the human body is capsaicin...the chemical in peppers that makes them hot. It makes you sweat more easily, and when the sweat evaporates it apparently cools you down.

5. On a related note, eat light. Robert Kenefick, a physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, in Natick, Massachusetts, studies the effects of extreme climates on soldiers' bodies. He suggests eating plenty of fruit and vegetables because they help keep you hydrated, plus they're easier to digest than your average fast food lunch and will keep you from feeling sluggish in the middle of a hot day.

As I write this at my desk, I'm sitting in conditioned air with an additional fan blowing in my face. My eyes are dry, sure, but it's my go-to plan for beating the heat each day at work. Everybody has their own system to stay cool, but maybe these might be something to add to your arsenal. I'm interested to see if the one about the sheet works. If you don't have any extra sheets lying around, just hose down the curtains. It's too hot to be rummaging around for sheets anyway.

100 Years of Stories

July 6, 2012

For last week's edition of The Record, I had the opportunity to write an article on Madison County resident Tobe Bohannan. For the story, I drove out to Tobe's house and interviewed him - but really I just sat around and talked with him and his family. Honestly, I probably could have stayed all day just listening to stories and looking at pictures. Tobe has a lot of both. At almost 100 years old it would be tough not to, I suppose, but his stories are better than most. He's lived through an entire century. Imagine how much he's seen.

Many of you probably know Tobe Bohannan. He's from Madison County and, though he lived a lot of time elsewhere, he's also spent a lot of time here. If you don't know him, then you're missing out. Which is why I've put together an audio piece made up of portions of my interview with him, his wife and his son...also you might catch a time or two that the family's dog decided to chime in. It's one thing to read the things Tobe said, but it's a lot better to hear it from his own lips.


Summer Driving Dangerous for Teens

June 20, 2012

We hear a lot about how different events increase or decrease depending on the particular time of year. For instance there are a lot more chimney fires toward mid-fall and early winter because a lot of folks are firing up their chimneys for the first time of the year. It's a numbers thing. More people are doing it so the number of chimney fires rises. So what does summer bring? Car accidents.

Today is the official first day of summer. Accidents increase in the summer months because there are more people on the roads. Especially teenagers, according to a two year old study by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the summer, teens have three months where hours that would normally be occupied with in-school activity can be spent doing plenty of out-of-the-home activities. So, there's quite a bit of opportunity for driving and often not a lot of things to fill the time but goofing around.

Trust me - I'm all for goofing around - but it's not a great idea while driving. Especially for teens who are easily distracted by things like texting...and teens text a lot according to a 2009-2010 Nielson study.

Teens age 13-17 send an average of 3,339 texts a month! That's a lot of texting. The numbers go down as age goes up. 18 to 24 year olds only send about 1,630 texts each month, but the number of texts sent each month increases each year. Look.


That was in 2009 and 2010, so the numbers are undoubtedly higher now. Now you might say that your teen would never text and drive, but a recent government survey would disagree with you.  In the survey, about 58 percent of high school seniors said they had texted or e-mailed while driving during the previous month, and roughly 43 percent of high school juniors acknowledged they did the same thing.
Here's a quote from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; "We need to teach kids, who are the most vulnerable drivers, that texting and driving don't mix," LaHood said.

Distracted driving deaths are most common in teens and is blamed for about 16 percent of teen motor vehicle deaths, according to federal transportation officials. What does this have to do with teenagers driving around in the summer? Well, remember it's a numbers thing. A phenomenon that already exists (distracted teenage driving) can increase in frequency when the number of occurrences of teens behind the wheel goes in the summer. Also, five of the deadliest days for teenage drivers fall in the summer months according to AAA. The deadliest is the 4th of July.

Here at The Record, we've already seen an increase in vehicle accidents in the area. Nothing too shocking, but more than we've been seeing in the month leading up to summer. To my knowledge only one of those involved a teenage driver, and that one didn't seem to have anything to do with distracted driving. That doesn't mean parents shouldn't take notice, however. In fact, AAA suggests "parents and teens should establish a driving agreement that keeps teens off the road at night and restricts their riding in cars with multiple passengers."

Three times in the last three months, I've been on the receiving end of a teenage driver attempting to scare me by swerving a vehicle toward me while I was jogging. Three times in three months. And I use the word "attempting" loosely. They each succeeded in scaring me. I remember being a teenager, and I remember doing stupid, poorly thought out things. The thought that someone of that age was playing with my life is more than a little scary. It just goes to show that your teen may not be the vigilant, consistent and undistracted driver you may think he or she is.

Summer is here, your kids are on the roads and we all want them and everyone else to make it through without incident. Summer is such a great time when you're young, so take a few minutes and remind your recently licensed what it takes to be a safe and responsible driver. It's important to everyone who will be be on the roads this summer. All of us. Even if we're jogging.

Madison County Horror Movie, More Horror than Movie

April 29, 2012

After months of anticipation, I finally located a copy of the film Madison County. If you're unfamiliar with the movie, let me direct your attention here. That's a link to a write up by fellow Madison County Record-er Matt Shelnutt on the validity of the filmmaker's claim the movie is based on true events. I'll quickly sum up the plot for you and then we'll get to how well that's executed.

Madison County is a horror movie. In it, five college students travel to the "town" of Madison County to interview the author of a book about a serial killer who once lived in the area. I've been excited about seeing this movie. I really enjoy a good scary movie, I enjoy low-budget independent films and this one was "based on true events" from Madison County. If you took the time to click the link above, you know that "loosely based" would better describe the "true events" on which this film is based.
In reality, there appears to be no reality to this movie whatsoever. I understand when a filmmaker claims a movie is based on true events, there is probably going to be quite a bit of embellishment. However, I think the only true thing in the film Madison County is the metal sign the actors pass on the way into "town" that reads "Madison County." I think that actually was one of our signs. I'm not sure of the road it was on, but it looked pretty real.
It was pretty cool catching the little references to the area and seeing some of the scenery that was clearly filmed here in our neck of the woods. Toward the beginning of the film, the students are told to turn on Pettigrew Road and there was a diner called the Oark Cafe (Johnson County, but still). All that being said, this movie was pretty much your run-of-the-mill horror flick. I don't think it necessarily made the people of our area look bad...unless the actors were local (also it's never mentioned what state the town is in). The story itself isn't overly intriguing, there are no twists or turns in the plot, the acting is a BIT better than in a lot of B grade horror movies, but the ending is fairly mundane and predictable.
Because I could not find a copy of Madison County to rent, I was prepared to purchase it in order to watch it. I wouldn't suggest that though. I was able to find a rentable copy at a Redbox machine, and I used a coupon code for a free rental I received from Redbox. That means I was able to watch the film for free. That fact made me feel better when the final credits rolled. If you have 82 minutes to kill, it may be worth your time to watch the film. The production value is actually pretty impressive for an independent, and you might even recognize some of the areas where the crew filmed. Don't expect to be blown away though. I only found a couple of good reviews online for Madison County, and I found quite a few reviews.
So, we didn't get a great horror movie based on (set in) our area - but it is a movie that was filmed (at least a small part of it) in Madison County, so there is that. Watch at your own risk. FYI, that last sentence is far scarier than this entire movie. Also, I'll probably still buy the DVD. I'm a sucker for a "good" horror flick.

Motherly Stories in Honor of Mother's Day and My Mom

May 10, 2012
Mother's Day is just right around the corner. A day to honor the woman that raised us and cared for us through good times and bad. And though many will honor their mothers by picking up a little something at Walmart on the way to her house on Sunday, she won't care because she's mom. She's just happy to see you.

I lucked out in the mother department. My mom is the best. Probably just like your mom is the best, except we're talking about my mom here and I'm the one doing the talking - so in this case, she's the best.

My mother is a lover of all things related to nature. She's an animal lover, a bit of a bird watcher and a planter of all things that can be planted. Honestly, I have dug more holes for that woman to be filled with rose bushes, trees and other varieties of flora that I still can't even pronounce. So for this week's blog, I've decided to pay tribute to both mothers and nature in honor of my mother with three stories about some amazing "mothers" from nature. That was a mouth full. You'll understand those quotation marks around that last use of "mothers" in a second.

The crow that (sort of) raised a kitten
Several years back Ann and Wally Collito headed out to their Attleboro, Mass backyard and discovered a stray kitten in dire need of its mother. Like most of us, they decided to intervene and lend aid to the little guy - but they weren't the only ones. Before the Collitos could take action, a crow beat them to the punch.

They watched in astonishment as the crow walked over to the kitten, leaned down and fed the baby feline just as it would its own baby birds. Yes, yes, just like that. So I suppose it's a little gross but nonetheless heart warming. The kitten gladly accepted his meal of worms or whatever the crow brought him and they sparked a four year long friendship that inspired a children's book.
Here's a video of them romping around. I warn you, it's adorable.

The email forward you received that wasn't completely made up
This story circulated in email forwards for quite a while. The body of which usually described the heartbreaking tale of a mama lion in California who was simply devastated after the unexpected death of her three cubs. Zookeepers tried to locate orphaned cubs for her to raise but were unsuccessful. So, they tried the next best thing...piglets dressed like tigers. And it worked. Except it's not true.

However, this picture that made its way around the world with the email was true. It was taken at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand. The zoo puts on shows showcasing many different animals besides tigers and officials claim that by allowing different species to nurse and mother species not of their own, it makes the animals more tolerant of one another as well as of humans. Critics, however, say shuffling the baby animals from species to species is simply done for the entertainment of zoo goers.
1924 Olympic gold medalist Doug Larson once said, "Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon." If it's tempting to us, think how a tiger must feel. So, we may never know the exact reason zookeepers in Thailand manipulated a mother tiger into nursing and caring for those piglets, but it's certainly a testament to maternal instinct and how loving and caring a mother can be - even if she's a totally different species.
Here's a video. Less cute than the first, as several times it appears that the tiger might eat one of the piglets. I can assure you she never does though.

The sweetest thing about an oryx isn't their name
In 2001 the staff at Kenya's Samburu Game Reserve noticed something peculiar about a lioness on the reserve. She was walking around with a baby oryx and, as opposed to carrying it in her mouth like a lion style sack lunch, she was taking care of it.
Here's what a baby oryx looks like.

And while you're probably saying something like, "Oh that's an oryx?" A lion would probably say something like, "I call drumstick."

The lioness, nicknamed Larsens (In English) or Kamuniak by the folks at the reserve, apparently scared away the little oryx's mom and made up for it by taking on her role. Now, unfortunately this story gets a little sad but stay tuned. Your heart will still be warmed. After 17 days a male lion came by and did what male lions do. He decided the oryx looked more like a lunch than a tiger cub and proceeded to be a lion.

Some accounts have Larsens being upset, but experts say it was a blessing in disguise because the lioness had not hunted or eaten in the 17 days after adopting the "cub." Never-the-less the odd occurrence was over and the lioness could go back to being like a lion. Except she didn't. Instead she almost immediately sought out and adopted another baby oryx.

That baby was taken away from her by wildlife officials because once again Larsens stopped hunting in order to protect her oryx. Both her and the oryx were starving (the baby because it could not nurse from its mother). So what did Larsens do? She started following a large heard of oryx, from which she picked another baby to adopt.

It appeared that Larsens was learning how to be a good inter-species mama though because this time she allowed the baby to make visits to its biological mother to nurse. She herself took up hunting again and wildlife officials, completely stymied by the lioness' refusal to quit adopting little oryxes, just gave up and let them be.  See? A happy ending after all.

And of course, here's a video. It does contain the sad part of the story though, so you might want to stop watching around 5:30. It's not graphic, but it's does recount what happens to that first oryx.

Mothers just don't give up. They are a blessing without disguise and though you might get sick of hearing how you need to get married, eat better, get your haircut, takes a lot of work to be a mom; a lot of dedication and a lot of heart. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. Your work is appreciated.

And happy Mother's Day to my mom especially. Without you I'd...well I guess I wouldn't would I?

Nothing like riding a donkey for a good cause

Playing donkey basketball is a lot like trying to play basketball while riding a donkey. If that seems obvious, then you're a step ahead of me.


When I was approached about taking part in a donkey basketball game by my co-worker, Amy, I did not hesitate for even the briefest of moments. It sounded like fun and it was for a good cause, so why not? Well on Wednesday, I got my answer. I've played hours and hours of basketball throughout my life, but I have not once ridden on a donkey. Nor have I ever thought about combining the two.
Prior to the start of the event, riders are instructed on the rules of the game as well as what not to do. For instance, don't stand behind the donkey because it really wants to kick you. That sort of thing. The explanation of all this (mostly on what not to do in order to remain uninjured) lasted roughly half an hour. No kidding. It took half an hour to tell riders how to remain in one piece and recount stories of past riders who had not. Toward the end of the warnings I turned to one of my teammates and said, "this sounds way more terrifying than you'd think." To which he replied, "Ah, it isn't that bad." And he was right.

Somehow my team was designated to play in the first game, and I was designated to be one of the first four from my team to hop on a donkey. I was a starter in a "game" I'd never known existed. Not being the tallest of men, the donkey wrangler chose a tiny donkey for me to ride. Others may have found that to be emasculating, but I was relieved. My donkey was tiny and sweet.

The wrangler/referee called the game on and everyone scrambled for the ball that was positioned mid-court. Honestly, I have no idea which team got there first. I just knew it was time to hop on my donkey and get to work. So I did and before I knew it, I'd scored a basket. Like I said, I've played a lot of basketball; for organized teams and everything, so I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the sound of cheering following a successful attempt on the basket. This was different though. I drove down court, up the lane and threw a layup off the board and through the net...on a donkey. Of course, that exciting sequence of events happened at the break neck speed of less than a mile an hour, but it was still a blast.

The Madison County Record team ended up winning the game, against the famed "Lawnmower Boys" no less. It was all in good fun and there's something even more satisfying about a high five that comes from winning a game shortly after dismounting a small horse-like animal.

The Record team made it into the championship game and spent the other playoff game before it strategizing on how we'd take the final win. Actually, we all sat in different parts of the gym, laughing and cheering with our respective friends and families. I'm sure winning was on all our minds though.
By the time the final game had come and gone, we stood the victors. I have no idea what the score of any of the games ended up being, but I did score six points. I'll never forget that.

I've taken part in a lot of charity events, but this one took the cake. This one was simply the most fun I've ever had while, at the same time, helping out someone else. The event benefited the Arkansas Stray Dogs. They're a summer youth basketball league, and I hope that the spectacle of a varied collection of fellow Madison County residents making fools of themselves by falling off donkeys and scrambling for a tiny basketball did what it needed to to help them reach their goal.

If it didn't, I'm down for a rematch. Not quite yet though. I'm a little sore. Those donkeys didn't come with saddles.

Hidden Treasure of Madison County, AR

In this week's (April 19, 2012) edition of The Record we featured a small blurb about a legendary Huntsville resident named Ann Hawkins. The one sentence exert from an April 1928 edition of the newspaper concerned an attempt - be it successful or not...probably not - to rob the grave of Ms. Hawkins. It's an intriguing bit of history with which I'm sure many in the area are familiar, but maybe not all of you. So, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the story a little more thoroughly here.

I've spent some time researching through the archives here at the Madison County Record, online and received considerable help from the Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society. Here's what I've found so far.

Born Rebecca Ann Hawkins in 1846, she was commonly known as "Aunt Ann" by residents in the area. She was the daughter of James Matthew Hawkins (he went by "Matt"), who ran Hawkins Mill near Huntsville - as well as running a lucrative government still.
Supposedly, her father made quite a bit of money with his mill and still endeavors, and his farm and fortune were passed to Aunt Ann upon his death. She lived on the farm her entire life, and reports say that she never traveled more than 30 miles from her family home even once. She was a homebody and quite a frugal one at that. Her obituary read...
"She was of extremely penurious habits, and though residing on and operating a productive farm on War Eagle, spending but little of the income from it, she denied herself many of the common comforts of life and was content with less than the ordinary household accommodations and conveniences, when she could have had a mansion for habitation furnished with every modern luxury."

Amassing what some believe to be a small fortune through hard work and thriftiness, Ann lived alone for most of her life and never married. I use the word, "thriftiness" but from what I read, most who knew her used the word "hoarding." It was apparently a well known fact that she claimed to have money and gold buried and hidden around her property. Shortly before her death at the age of 82 in 1925, she was asked where she had stashed away her fortune and she replied by saying there was a lot hidden and that it would never be found. Not ones to walk away from a challenge, her heirs formed a committee to locate Aunt Ann's squirreled away bounty.

A three man team, made up of a county judge, a county treasurer and a third man who went without title, set to conducting a search of Ann's property. Ann died on September 1, 1925, which was on a Tuesday. The account I've found stated that "up to Wednesday evening the searchers had found $2,640." I'm not saying they were quick to bury Ann and get on to the treasure hunting - I'm saying they were lightning quick in doing so. Here's a direct quote from a 1925 article in the "Fayetteville Daily Democrat"...

"After the funeral and with the food not yet removed from the dining table where the last meal had been spread, the heirs gathered and consulted upon what was to be done. There was no will but there was much wealth. That they knew."

The cold blooded nature of that statement is not lost on me, but it appears there was no love lost between Aunt Ann and her surviving family either. The same Fayetteville Daily Democrat report describes Ann as "trusting none, hating all her relatives and hoping openly that none of them would ever receive one dollar that belonged to her." Friend of the Hawkins family, Congressman John Tillman backed that up by saying, "she hated her kin." I don't know much about Tillman, but I do know he said a lot with just a little.

So with Ann's utter disgust for them and dollar signs in their eyes to fuel them, the treasure hunt began - and by "hunt" I mean they immediately began tearing her home to shreds. Believing they would find close to $70,000 in the home, they removed the mantle from the spare room, tore up a stone hearth, threw bureau drawers to the ground and "knocked to pieces" the four poster bed in which Ann died. They also plowed and dug holes throughout the family farm. Searchers found quite a bit of money too; thousands in bills and gold coins. The bulk of the alleged treasure was never found though.

Here's a photo of the search party in action courtesy of the Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society.

Ann's grave was dug up three times in an effort to see if she took any of her wealth with her to the grave. She had asked she be buried with a particular quilt, and some believed that it contained additional money. The 1958 unearthing was reportedly the last. The Hawkins farm is no longer owned by the family, but Aunt Ann's grave remains on the land. The cemetery is not public and there's much doubt there is any "treasure" left to claim. Roberta Appleton, Ann's great niece, once said that all the gold that was found had to be turned over to the government and the rest of the money to the estate.

If that's true, it appears that Aunt Ann's heirs would end up locating roughly $4,940 (about $1,700 of what they found was in gold; exciting upon discovery, I'm sure - less exciting upon discovery they had to hand it over to the government, I'm betting), and $4,000 of the $4,940 was actually in a bank account Ann held at the First National Bank of Huntsville. So did Ann get her wish that not a member of her family would see one dollar of her money? Not exactly.

Ann had 18 heirs looking to inherit what she had left behind. If what was found was all that was found, each would have inherited about $274. That equals out to about $3,378 today. Which, isn't too bad and probably made the family happy. The problem is, I've yet to find any record of the exact settlement issued to Ann's family. I'll keep looking, but that's as near as I can figure at this point. One family member might have made out a little better, however. Another 1925 newspaper report makes mention of "a 'bad man' of the family" that may have "already found the treasure and gone with it."
So, maybe Ann's wishes didn't go exactly as she planned, or maybe Ann got a kick out of stashing little bits of gold and cash around her home knowing one day it would drive her family crazy as they frantically scrambled to find her hidden treasure.

I like the latter because it means everyone involved enjoyed a bit of a win. Unless, of course, there really was a "bad man" who ferreted off with the money. We can just choose to ignore that theory though.

If you'd like to take a look at the 1958 article we mentioned in this week's edition of The Record, I've posted it below.

Moving Past Petrino

April 10, 2012

You might have heard that Arkansas Football Head Coach Bobby Petrino was fired on Tuesday. At least, I'll just assume you have because the state is getting more attention than when our governor turned president. It hasn't been the good kind of attention though...until Tuesday.
Let me say, first, that I am and have been a Razorback fan since the days of Ken Hatfield. I've called the Hogs all across the country; even some places where I'm sure very few people had any idea what I was doing. I feel quite comfortable saying that had I been born on another planet full of green-blooded creatures, I'd still bleed Razorback red.
Like many of us, on Tuesday evening I turned to the Internet to gauge reaction to Athletic Director Jeff Long's decision to fire Petrino. Overall, I'd say the majority of what I saw was in support of Long. Let's face it. He made a very tough decision, that was unfortunately and undoubtedly the right decision.
The buzz word at Monday's rally to "save Petrino" was "forgiveness." I'm all for forgiveness. In fact, I believe in second chances and third chances and making sure that those who need it and genuinely deserve it get the forgiveness they seek. However, I also believe that very few - if any - of the fans in attendance at Monday's rally would take their own advice when faced with a similar decision to Long's when they went back to work on Tuesday.
Disagree with me? Let's step away and look at it from Long's perspective. Jeff Long visited his head football coach in the hospital, who then lied to him about the accident that put him there. Then Long's employee, Bobby Petrino, left the hospital and lied to everyone else except authorities who would have charged him with a crime had he decided to lie to them.
Petrino lied to every person in Arkansas, America, the media and anyone who was capable of hearing the words he was saying. He lied. People lie though, right? None of us are perfect – myself strongly included – but he lied to his boss and got publicly as possible.
What's worse, Petrino manipulated the hiring of a University of Arkansas employee - overlooking more than 150 other applicants. 150+ people who, presumably, were doing things the right way in hopes they would land a job at the University of Arkansas. 150+ people who also now have an arguably legitimate legal beef with the school.
Did I mention the woman Petrino hired, and with whom he had an "inappropriate relationship" was also engaged to another coach at the school? Petrino is dishonest and if one of your employees acted in the same manner, I think you'd fire that employee. If one of your friends acted that way, I think you'd reconsider how closely you held that relationship.
We all know we obtained our esteemed Coach Petrino amidst some shady dealings on his part. Three games left in the season and he left the Falcons to become a Razorback. He apologized and said goodbye to his team with a letter. He, once again, opted for the letter approach on Tuesday after the announcement he'd been fired. Bobby Petrino is that guy that breaks up with his girlfriend with a note. He's that girl who ends a relationship with a text message. Given the chance, he just can't stand up and take his licks.
I believe that Mr. Petrino does deserve to be forgiven. I believe he deserves a second chance. I don't believe he deserves it here though. I want the Razorbacks to have another winning season. I want my Alma Mater to become a powerhouse. I want my fellow fans to be happy, but not at the cost of the rest of the world seeing us just letting things slide.
Jeff Long made a tough decision, but I feel in my heart that it was the right decision. We're Razorback fans. We know how to take our lumps. We've had ups and downs, we'll have ups and downs - but I'm proud I bleed Razorback red and Jeff Long made me a little prouder.

Lending a Paw, Finding My Dog

The nation’s economic woes stretch further than what we see on the nightly news or skim over in our morning newspaper. Home foreclosures, downsizing, inflation; these things affect us all, all the way down from the head of the household to the household pet as it ends up.
Do a quick Google search for the words “overcrowding, economy” and “animal shelter” and you’ll see what I mean. Across the country people from all walks of life have fallen on hard times...and by association, so have their pets in some cases.
Like I said it’s a national problem, but one that affects us here in Madison County as well. For my article in the February 9 edition of the Madison County Record, I interviewed Caren Sharp. She works at the Madison County Animal Shelter and she’s also a part time animal control officer for the city of Huntsville. She tells me that finding a stray alongside the road was never all that uncommon, but now she’s seeing a lot more of it.
Caren attributes the upsurge to the troubled economy. Pet owners surrendering their pets isn’t a new phenomenon, but the reason for surrender has more and more commonly become that the family just can’t afford the extra mouth.
I recently covered a small story about the St. Paul library, where I met Bonnie Rodgers. She also volunteers at the Madison County Animal Shelter. She tells me the shelter often waived the nominal fee to surrender an animal if it was being handed over by a good Samaritan who simply found the pet wandering around. Not surprisingly as the economy tanked, more good Samaritans were “finding” the animals they were surrendering to the shelter.
That comes at a cost to the shelter; that then has to feed, house and provide veterinary care for the animal. Factor that with the fact that the shelter is small and can only hold very few at a time and you’ve landed yourself smack dab in the middle of one of those terribly sad commercials with Sarah McLachlan playing in the back of your head. If you don’t get that last reference, I envy you. Those Humane Society commercials haunt my TV viewing pleasure nightly.
If you can’t tell, I’m about to go Bob Barker on you. It won’t end the problem, but it will make a difference. Spay or neuter your pets. If they could weigh in on the subject your pets would probably tell you to skip it, but then again they don’t have to watch those depressing commercials.
There are discounted  spay and neuter programs available that can make the process a little easier on your wallet. Madison County doesn't have one, but you can search the web for special programs or you can just get in touch with these good people.


If you've spayed or neutered your pet already or don't have a pet at all. A great way to help out would be to head down to the pet shelter and adopt. It's not a pleasant subject, but the bottom line is - the more animals that are adopted, the fewer shelter volunteers are forced to put to sleep. I worked in a veterinary office in college. Euthanizing animals is awful and really takes a toll on the folks that have to do it.

I know not everyone can adopt a new pet, but that doesn't mean you can't still help out. If you've read this far then you probably have some interest in lending a hand to the good men and women of the Madison County Pet Shelter. If that's the case, below I've included a wish list compiled by the shelter.

Towels for bedding (no blankets)
Canned/Dry kitten food
Shelter Volunteers
Pet Foster Volunteers
Yard work outside the dog area
 Canned/Dry dog food
 Monetary Donations

One last thing the shelter could use that could truly make a difference - grant writers. Writing a grant is a bit of a difficult process and the shelter would love to get in contact with someone who can help them write and apply for various grants. If you're that person, I know they'd love to hear from you. Here is their number....479-738-1505.

Finally, I couldn't write this entire article followed by a blog about the same subject without doing my part. It only took one visit to the shelter before I made the easy decision to bring this little girl home. 

I'm not sure what to name her yet. Any suggestions?

The Commercials of Super Bowl XLVI

February 6, 2012

Let’s talk Super Bowl. Not about the game but about the commercials. Okay, we can talk a little about the game. It was a nail biter. I don’t enjoy a strong defensive Super Bowl because it makes for a low scoring game - which was certainly the case with Super Bowl XLVI. That aside, this game was a nail biter right up to the bitter end. I did, without question, enjoy that.  
The commercials were all a tad lack luster, in my opinion. In fact it seems like the quality of Super Bowl commercials has declined significantly over the last ten years or so. That doesn't mean there weren't a few gems though.
If you've ever wondered why M&M commercials never feature the most common M&M color of them all, brown; the Mars corporation answered that question in a commercial that took my number 3 spot.. It's funny, it's clever and full of the animated M&M charm that we've become all too familiar with over the years.
It was pure comedy that led me to my number 2 choice. Chevy presented this hilarious offering as the winner of its Chevrolet Route 66 Contest. Filmmakers from 32 countries submitted entries to have their ad played during Super Bowl XLVI. A man named Zack Borst took the prize and I'm sure you'll agree it was with good reason.
Number 1 one my list goes to Honda and Matthew Broderick. The "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" parody for the new CRV was priceless. I must have watched that movie dozens of times as a kid and I appreciated that Honda catered to the fact that I'd be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. If you missed it, you can check out an extended version here.
USA Today is allowing viewers to vote on their favorite commercials from this year's biggest of all football events. Right now America is voting a bit differently than I have here, but if you'd like to add your two cents; you can do so by heading to
The Super Bowl has once again come and gone. Many of us ate too much (it's statistically considered the second biggest 'pig out' day for Americans next to Thanksgiving), some of us probably lost a little money (I ended up handing over three dollars to an eleven year old) and a lot of us didn't even have a horse in the race. If you love the Super Bowl, you have a whole year to look forward to the next. If you hate the Super Bowl, you have the same amount of time to be free from the hype. Either way, it's now time to focus on more important March Madness.
Go Hogs!

Take it easy on old Phil

February 2, 2012
It’s a official. At 7:25 A.M. on February 2nd, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow and saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.
Now you can make of that whatever you like. Some might say, and have said, that they’ll be happy to take six more weeks of the type of winter we’ve been having. As I type this BLOG it’s 36 degrees outside with a prediction for a high of 64. That’s the kind of winter that most of us can welcome with open arms, but just how much can we rely on the prognostications of our beloved and famed groundhog forecaster?

I’ve done a little research.
In the world of weather forecasting, Punxsutawney Phil isn’t as beloved as we might think. After hearing of Phil’s most recent prediction, WGN meteorologist Tim McGill responded by calling the adorable little rodent (yes, he is a rodent folks) a “punk.” “We might as well ask a giraffe for stock tips. He could probably be just as accurate,” McGill said.
I probably won’t be hitting up any giraffe exhibits for my stock tips any time soon, but McGill’s comment did get me thinking. Really, how well do  the meteorologists we know, love and trust stack up to old Punxsutawney? Not as well as you might hope.
By all accounts I’ve been able to dig up, Punxsutawney Phil is only accurate 39 precent of the time. Remember the record snowstorm on Groundhog’s Day in 2011? Phil woke up that day and predicted an early spring. Don’t jump the Good Ship Punxsutawney just yet though.
In a seven-month study of weather forecasting at Kansas City television stations conducted over 220 days, from April 22 to November 21, 2007 - meteorologists weren’t batting a thousand. When predicting whether it would rain or not, most stations were correct roughly 85 percent of the time one day out. They were correct only about 73 percent of the time seven days out. That’s pretty good, but the study also showed that if a forecaster ALWAYS predicted NO RAIN...they would be correct 86.3 percent of the time. Yikes.
Regardless whether it was rain, snow, temperature or whatever; the more days out it was from the day in question - the harder it was for meteorologists to accurately predict an event. Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction covers six weeks.
I’m certainly not trying to cast dispersions on meteorologists and their predictions. Throughout my time in the news business I have often said they have the hardest job in the business. Literally dozens and dozens of times I have relied on a meteorologist to guide me around a storm during a day of storm chasing. I have a great respect for them.
In turn, I think they should maybe ease up a little on poor Phil. He’s doing the best he can and come on, let’s be honest; he’s adorable.
If you’d like to check out any of the articles mentioned above, I’ve included links to them, and I predict with 100 percent accuracy that they appear below.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Kony 2012" - Do Your Research

There is no question that Joseph Kony is a terrible human being. There is no question that bringing Kony to justice would serve to benefit the greater good of the world, and there is no question that infamizing this man is the right thing to do. People should be educated about atrocities throughout the world, but not just because they don't won't to be left out of the loop during a social media campaign that's gained enough momentum to become water cooler talk.

The majority of the people latching onto this cause are young. High school students are posting the Invisible Children's video on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. It's fantastic to see a good cause get so much positive attention. The fact that so many young people are jumping on board a bandwagon without knowing where it's going or what it's doing is a scary thought though. Without doing a little digging, it's easy to get led down a deceptive path. Remember how many people thought "The Blaire Witch Project" was actually a documentary? Video can be a powerful tool, especially when viewed by someone not concerned with forming their own opinion.

How many of your Facebook friends do you think actually researched Joseph Kony or Invisible Children any further than watching the 30 minute video? How many do you think can point to Uganda on a map? Until this story came to social media, I'm not sure I could give you more than a general idea.

If you want me to share this video, which I have, that's great. If you want to feel like you're a part of something bigger than yourself, that's awesome. If you want to talk to me about how the American government needs to do more to stop Joseph Kony and the terror he is bestowing on the people of Uganda...use Google first.

The movie is about the northern Uganda conflict that began in the early 80s. That war ended twelve years ago. By all accounts, Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army have not been in Uganda for the last six years.  CNN's Christiane Amanpour attributes this to Kony being well known for his crimes by the people of Uganda, not because of raised awareness in the United States.

Amanpour said, "His crimes against these children were committed largely in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and because people have been going after him he's actually considered to be much more of a threat now in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Kony's army of tens of thousands of children mentioned in the Invisible Children film actually consists of less than 300 soldiers according to Reuters. As rebel terrorist leaders go, he seems pretty convinced he's wrongly accused and just misunderstood. Fortunately that's not the way the rest of the world views him. Here's the first and last known interview with Kony conducted by freelance journalist Sam Farmar in 2006.

The "Kony 2012" video has been viewed over 15 million times. To put it in perspective, the actual interview with Joseph Kony I posted above has only been viewed a little over 215,000 times.

Invisible Children is getting a lot of flack about how they spend the money donated to them, but I think that's unfair. Roughly a third of what they receive goes to Uganda. The rest allows them to spread their message to people around the world. If you've watched the "Kony 2012" video, then you know the organization offers kits to help you spread their message too. Posters, T-shirts bracelets, "action books," etc. That all costs money. Without the support they have received, the eyes of the world would not be where they are this week and where that is is a positive and powerful thing.

If you want to help the people of Uganda, then do it. The country is doing a great job of rebuilding after years of civil war, but Africa as a whole is suffering in more ways than at the hand of vicious killers like Kony.

The people of Africa are starving. AIDS has decimated the population. Severe droughts have caused crops to fail and livestock to die. Want to be moved by a video? This three minute video will break your heart and it won't take your whole lunch break to watch it.

If you want to help these people, there are plenty of things you can do. Here's a list of charities working on the ground in Africa to rebuild schools, develop education, provide food and medical care to orphans. They probably have videos too.

I know it may sound like I'm trying to condemn people, but I'm not condemning anyone. It's amazing to me that a 30 minute film can call millions of people to action. I love that there are organizations like Invisible Children that work to raise awareness about the plight of people in need in a place that might otherwise seem so far away. Invisible Children deserves your support, but so do so many other organizations that put far more of your donations to actual use on the ground in Africa.

There's no reason not to support "Kony 2012," but becoming educated beyond the impassioned plea of the filmmaker is also important. It's important to research where your support is going. Do you want a bracelet or do you want to be part of a cause? What cause do you want to help and who is doing the most to further that cause? Find them, help them.

Watching so many young people snap into civic awareness through social media is truly awesome, but show me an example of social media dictating or even having an affect on foreign policy or military action in the U.S. It simply doesn't and can't happen. It won't happen. "O Brother Where Art Thou?" was hilarious, but George Clooney has little to do the the decisions and actions of the United States military. I bet he's aware of what he supports though.

Find your cause. Research it. Support it. Raise awareness, but don't just click "share." Educate yourself. That's all I'm saying.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mammoth tale I'd love to believe

     Tweets, Facebook status updates and plenty of "news" articles are reporting the first video of a Woolly mammoth EVER! It supposedly comes to us from Siberia and shows a creature, that looks somewhat mammoth-like, crossing a river. If the video is real and untouched by Adobe After Effects, it's pretty cool...but I'm thinking bear with a fish in its mouth.
What do you think?
     Now, I'm not even considering that this video may actually depict a beast that is thought to have died out over 3,500 - But I'd love to believe that it's real. I just can't. That being said, I'm here to lend a little advice to the aspiring video hoaxster.

  • Grainy, foggy, out of focus footage is always the way to go. It worked for big foot and the Loch Ness Monster, it can work for you too. Also, if you can get your hands on an old late 90s video camera, all the better.
  •  If your video is super short, that's is a red flag. If it's actually a bear or something that you're trying to pass off as something else, I realize you cut the video just prior to it totally looking like a bear. People will shoot video of their baby or puppy or cat FOREVER, even if the thing they're shooting never does anything interesting at all...and then they'll still post every second of that video on their Facebook page. When you finally shoot something awesome like a Woolly mammoth crossing a river, let's keep that tape rolling.
  • Quit passing yourself off as something reliable. The mammoth vid was shot by "Russian engineer." I suppose we're supposed to believe it then? Let me present a scenario.. 
"Bigfoot caught on tape by nuclear scientist."    OR   "Bigfoot caught on tape by lunatic."
     Doesn't matter does it? We're going to watch your video regardless, and I think I have a predilection for the lunatic video anyway.
     My last tip is this - If you're just looking to up your page views, there's no need to go to any great trouble with faking a good video. This guy has almost 7 million views. 7 million.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Talent Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I had to share this. When I saw the title I didn't think I'd be impressed at all, but even I'm wrong sometimes. This is pretty perfect. Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" made entirely from film clips. Enjoy.

We have Holland-based videomaker Matthijs Vlot to thank for this! Find him and like him!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolutions: A Year of Firsts

As I was paying my late fee at the video store the other day, I told the man behind the counter that I bet he made more money from me in the form of late fees than he did on movie rentals (Yes, I still rent movies from time to time. I enjoy the experience). The man laughed and I jokingly commented that my New Year's resolution should be to start returning movies on time. To which he replied, "My resolution is to not make any more resolutions." As was my duty, I laughed but not because I found it funny. I laughed because I've heard that exact line dozens and dozens of times over the years and I figured he'd probably already used that line dozens of times that day. The conversation did get me thinking though.

I've never been much of a New Year's resolution maker. Sure I try to take stock of the past year and think what I'd like to do differently in the year to come but no actual resolutions. So, I decided to make one for 2012. Not a list, but just one resolution that will hopefully amount to a hefty list when I do my year in review just before the ball drops on naught 13. This year will be the year of firsts and I got right to it by starting on New Year's Eve.

This past Spring I caught the running bug. That is to say, one day I decided to go for a run and after several successful three milers I started to wonder if I could go four, then five etc. I've never been much of a runner. In high school I went through a brief distance running phase, but who knows how far I actually ever went. Probably not that far. Which is also the distance I predicted I'd make it as a 32 year old beginning runner. Not that far. When you tell someone that you ran three miles today, you don't get the reaction you might hope for. Three miles isn't easy. If you can say, "I ran three miles today and it was nothing" then you run a lot, you're in great shape or you're a liar. Three miles isn't easy unless you've been training, then it's four that's the tough part, then see where I'm going. Never the less, very few people are ever impressed unless you tell them you just ran a marathon.

After a couple of months I was topping out at six miles, three times a week with shorter runs in between. All in all I was running between twenty and twenty-five miles a week. My buddy Micah was impressed, I was impressed and that was about it. Anyone else I told just offered a "good for you" or a "wow." It was a bit disheartening and discouraged me from trying my hand (or feet) at some sort of organized race. I don't run extreme distances, I don't run particularly fast and I have a knee that gives me a little trouble from time to time. Enter the year of firsts.

I'm not sure how I found it, (Probably an iPhone app because it seems that's how I find all new things these days) but I came across info about a New Year's Day 12k. 12k equals out to about 7.5 miles. If you're keeping track, that's a mile and a half more than I've ever run...and I haven't been running all that much since the mercury dipped. That aside, I decided to sign up and the year of firsts began.

Seeing as how the race was 10am on New Year's Day; New Year's Eve would be a bit different than many of my past NYE experiences. This year was the first eve of a new year that I didn't take at least one puff of a cigarette or cigar (although I have to confess that I did give up smoking quite some time ago. Still a first!), danced to music played by a blues band, drank water and Diet Cokes exclusively and made it into bed before 3am. While many would start the new year still feeling the ill effects from the old, I woke up fresh and ready to run...and that's what I did.

10am came and went and as it went, I went running right alongside it. Unfortunately, it too runs quite a bit faster than I do. This BLOG isn't really about how the race went. About mile two I was ready to call for my ride, but I didn't. Instead I went ahead and finished my first organized race. I'm not sure about the official time. It wasn't good. 7.5 miles in about an hour twenty I believe. Regardless of the time, it was a first. Oh, and I won a pair of socks. Nice right?

I've got quite a few firsts lined up for the year. Some big, some small, some hopefully in the works already. A woman in Springfield, MO wrote me to tell me my BLOGS were hard to read because of all the pictures. I'm not sure how she found my page, but notice my sparing use of pics in this post. BLAM! You just got firsted! Feels pretty good doesn't it? "Firsts" are limitless. You can have as many or as few as you want and since it's a first, each one gives you a completely different feeling. It's kind of amazing when you think about it, but don't waste time thinking. Head out and get one under your belt or just start keeping track of the ones that fall into your lap. I bet you'll be impressed.

I've got to go return a movie now. Don't rent Green Lantern. Who knew? I know, I know...everybody.