Category Archives: Journal

Big Bend Adventure, Updated

We’re filling in our travel plans as we get closer to actually doing a drive across the State. So, naturally, this is the year gas prices are skyrocketing.

We were just going to drive straight down to Terlingua (587 miles, 8 hours, 51 minutes per Google Maps), but then we watched some of the videos of the existing bubble places (we’re staying in the new section that opens in July, so we don’t even have the official address yet), and they are dark at night. Very dark. This is, of course, one of the selling points, but if you don’t know where you’re going, it may be difficult to find under the stars.

I have experience with finding a place to stay in the dark. I spent over an hour on a business trip in Massachusetts, driving circles around my hotel because there were no street lights and my GPS wouldn’t sync.

Now, Massachusetts probably doesn’t have coyotes, rattlesnakes, and the other denizens of Big Bend Country, but Terlingua does, so I’d rather not arrive there in the dark, with no GPS, no streetlights and only a vague idea of where we were going.

So, I added an extra day of vacation, and we decided to drive half-way or so the first day, and then we can make it into Terlingua in the daylight. Half-way is pretty much Midland, but I decided to keep going a bit further, and that’s how I found Monahans. It has a Hampton Inn, which is where we stay on a lot of our trips, because they are very predictable, and have breakfast.

The new overnight gave us a 399-mile, six-hour drive on the first day, and left us with 188 miles and about three hours for the second day. Now, we’re not arriving at night, unless we really sleep in.

We decided that on day two, on the way to Terlingua from Monahans, we will stop and visit Marfa. It is a testament to the size of Texas that if you are going to be within a couple hours of a place, it’s “close enough to visit.” We always wanted to visit Marfa and this was a good time, even if it is slightly out of the way, and even if we can’t easily get there at night for the Marfa Lights.

I was thinking about taking a day in Terlingua to just go to Marfa, but it’s just over 100 miles (and almost two hours of driving), which means a lot of driving, so it is faster to visit on the way down. If we leave Monahans relatively early, we can be in Marfa by lunchtime, grab some food, wander around a bit, and still make it to Terlingua before dark – which was the whole purpose of stopping in Monahans in the first place.

Now, we have a 399-mile, six hour drive to Monahans on the first day. The second day is now two hours and 133 miles to Marfa, hang out in Marfa, and then finish with 109 miles and a bit under two hours to get to Terlingua.

Of course, after I booked in Monahans, we realized we could stop and visit family in Midland on our way. So, now we’re working on that.

It’s a big State, but there are friends and relatives everywhere.

We’ve booked a Jeep tour in Big Bend National Park one day, and we’re still planning what to do the other days.

We’re just waiting for instructions on how to get into our bubble, and where in the complex it actually is located. That’s an email a couple of weeks or so before we leave.

Conqueror Completions

For those who haven’t found The Conqueror virtual challenges, I have found that it is a good way to make you pay attention to how much exercise you are getting. I can walk a mile a day just by taking the long way around the house when getting stuff and two miles a day if I am in the office. My Apple Watch tracks my steps and the app reads them once a day – so every morning, I can check my progress on the map.

I’m waiting until the exercise bike arrives to try the longer challenges, because a mile a day isn’t very much! Still, it is much more than I was walking before I started the challenges, and that’s the point. This is 533 miles which is more than I was doing before I started paying attention.

The challenges with Galemeadow Castle means that my wife was walking with me – we pooled our steps. I don’t think she was as interested. So, on those races, I probably did about half the steps.

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A Marriage in Dogs

In my wedding vows, my wife insisted that I promise to have a dog. “A” dog. Over the years, I have kept that promise many times over. The chart doesn’t even mention Max, who was with us such a short time, he didn’t make it over an anniversary.

I will have to update this chart each year. I thought about it after I had to update the spreadsheet I have because Katie left us the day before my birthday in 2022. When you need a spreadsheet to track your pets, you have kept the promise to have “a dog.”

It was an interesting project building the spreadsheet, because most of the past twenty-two years is a blur, and all the dogs seemed to be here at once. I really couldn’t tell who knew whom or shared the house. So, I put together a spreadsheet with approximate birth dates (i.e. the date we told the pharmacy for their prescriptions), the date they actually joined the household, and the date they crossed the bridge. I then added a function to show who was in residence on any given date. That’s how I built this table.

We know Bubba’s actual birthdate because he was a wedding gift. We know Flower’s because my Mom-in-law got her from a breeder. Yes, mistakes were made. All the rest are rescues, so birthdates were approximate. Flower was actually older than Bubba, but she didn’t move in to the house until my mother-in-law moved in with us.

J. Gilhooly
2/11/2000 (Wedding)

Kaitlin Renee Gilhooly (2006-2022)

Katie on patrol

Katie was my dog. She was one of the few dogs that have owned us that would give me a kiss. This was ironic, since I voted against adopting her in the first place. (I was outvoted by her Mom, 1-1.) As with all dogs, Katie determined the person in the house who was not her champion, and chose that person to be her person. In all the time she slept on the bed with us (after we trained her to use Ripley’s ramps), she would sleep next to me. On the outside, so she would never touch Virginia. However, if she needed something in the middle of the night (like going to pee), she would jump off the bed, wander over to Virginia’s side, and whine until she woke Virginia up.

Katie was our one dog that I thought was a knee-jerk reaction to another of our rescues. We had rescued a dog I named Max (as in, “we’ve hit our max!”) in August of 2006, left him at the vet for observation while we were on vacation, and he died in quarantine that weekend.

A few months later, Katie showed up from the same rescue. Somewhere in near West Texas is a backyard breeder trying to make PBGVs (see below), because Ripley, Max and Katie all came from the same area.

Katie the lawnmower

Virginia saw Katie in late September, and she joined the family in October. She was named for Katie and Renee, two friends who ran East Lake Pet Orphanage. The thought was naming her after rescue people would be good luck. It was a good thought. It wasn’t really correct.

I would not say she was a terror, but much as her older brother Ripley (they looked very similar from a breed perspective), she was her own dog. However, Ripley was passive-aggressive. Katie was active-aggressive. She had what someone desperately trying to sell her would call “spirit.”

Katie was the only dog who barked at us. “Open the door!” “Get me some food!” “Change the channel!” I’m pretty sure she thought we were idiots.

Katie and Murphy doing laps
Katie and Rocky, relaxing

She was the fifth dog when she joined the household pack. She assumed that she was in charge about ten minutes later. She was behind Bubba, Ripley, Murphy, and Flower. Flower had her Mom with us, Bubba and Murphy were easily intimidated and Ripley was willing to have pretty much anyone think they were in charge.

So, it was Katie’s house. The rest of us just lived in it.

The best example of this was the Chair incident. My mother-in-law used to sit in her wheelchair to watch TV, and Virginia wanted to get her a nice “real” chair, so she bought a new chair, had it placed where her Mom sat, and went to work. That left me to do the dirty work – mainly, listening to ten minutes of bitching about not liking the chair, and moving it out of the way.

It’s my chair now.

Katie adopted the chair. She loved it. She could jump in it and nobody could touch her. This naturally enraged Mom, who said, “That dog is in my chair!” I said, “It’s not your chair – you didn’t want it. So, I guess it’s her chair now.”

So, thank you to Katie for getting your Grandma to sit in the insanely expensive chair Virginia bought for her.

(When my Mom-in-law passed away, Katie got the chair back. Virginia kept the chair for years.)

Very few of our friends ever met her because she didn’t really like people. She didn’t like men, except me. She didn’t like the vet, but she tolerated Dr Young and many of the staff at Rutherford Veterinary Hospital. She didn’t like strangers. I’m not sure she really truly liked us, but we knew how a can opener worked, so we were accepted as necessary.

An example – she was being boarded at the vet because she had pancreatitis, and Dr Vaughn said, “She’s fine, she’s just lying in her crate.” An hour later, Virginia got the phone call, “Uh, could you come down here with that muzzle you mentioned? Nobody can get near her.”

We just learned to adapt. After one unfortunate occurrence with an incompetent pet sitter, Katie learned to hide under the bed. I would try to talk her out, which worked some time. I would just grab her collar and pull her out, and after I stopped bleeding, I would try to talk her out again. Eventually, we just left a leash on her, and then we could drag her out spread-eagled, without losing any fingers.


Any pet sitter had to pass the Katie test before she was hired. The garden is full of the bodies of pet sitters who didn’t pass the test. (OK, that’s not true, but it is believable.)

Virginia always said Ripley, Max and Katie were probably from the same breeder, since they were all rescued in the same area west of Ft Worth. We thought they were PBGVs (Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen – a basset hunting dog.) They are known as the friendly breed. Max and Ripley were friendly. Two out of three ain’t bad.


Katie is apparently a basset crossed with some “bitchy.” She was friendly when she needed you to use the can opener for her. The rest of the time, you rolled the dice.

I’m not saying that she was a hellion. She only bit Virginia a couple of times, and usually, it was because Katie was trying to kill Rocky and Virginia was unfortunately in the way. So, she was pretty nice to us, as long as we weren’t in the crossfire.

Katie lived with us for fifteen and a half years. We think she was about sixteen years old. She was the longest serving member of the PsychoPuppies by about three months – she passed Ripley earlier this year. For a dog I didn’t think was going to last a week, she has made me very proud. She was the one that taught us adapting to a dog’s ways was sometimes much easier than getting the dog to adapt to ours.


When her spirit faded, we knew it was time to say goodbye. That time was unfortunately today. I hope she can find Max on the other side of the bridge, since they never met. Bubba, Ripley and Murphy will welcome her, and then go find somewhere else to be.

I will miss her. We all will, but she was my girl.

Kaitlin Renee Gilhooly

Texas Trails

I am trying to track our multiple trips around the Great State of Texas to see where else we need to visit. (This includes the planned Big Bend trip.) We still need to go to the Panhandle. We still have far West Texas. We’ve covered a lot of ground, though.

We cheated and flew to the Valley. We landed in Lubbock because of weather in Dallas. Everywhere else, we drove.

Big Bend Country

This is the longest drive across Texas I think we’ve planned. From Dallas to Terlingua, and then into Big Bend National Park (and Big Bend Ranch State Park, if we have time.) We are going so we can sleep in a bubble.

It’s almost 590 miles according to the step-by-step driving instructions from the Google Map. If we went in the other direction, we’d be halfway to the kids in Ohio. The difference is that this drive is all within one State. (El Paso is even further away, and in a different time zone.)

I have been trying to get Virginia to go to Big Bend for years, but she never had much interest. I finally realized I was using the wrong approach.

“Hey, do you want to visit a ghost town in the middle of nowhere?”

“Hey, do you want to see Big Bend? It’s only ten hours from here, and you can’t really fly there.”

“Hey, do you want to drive half-way to Ohio, in the other direction?”

“Hey, do you want to sleep in an inflatable bubble?”
Tell me more. What is this bubble of which you speak?

It has taken me longer to see all the regions of Texas than it has to visit most of the other States. This is a bit sad, but it shows the size of the State.

I grew up in Dallas, and am still here. I went to college in San Antonio. I worked in Houston for a couple of years. I’ve sailed on a cruise ship from Galveston. I had a college girlfriend from the Valley, and we visited her family. My family used to go to Port Aransas.

I spent a weekend in Midland years ago, helping a college classmate find an apartment. (I heard when his wife from St Louis landed and saw all the glory of West Texas, she cried. They may not have been tears of joy.)

Midland was about as far west in Texas as I have been. Once we get past Midland, it’s new territory for me. Plus, I flew to Midland, so I didn’t really see the landscape.

The Spousal Unit has been as far west as Weatherford, I think – we went to the Peach Festival one year. She may have been farther west to rescue a dog. (She reminded me we did spend an hour or so in Lubbock one year when Southwest needed to divert for storms in Dallas.)

She’s been through East Texas, because it’s on the way to New Jersey and Ohio. She’s been to South Padre and the Valley. She’s been to Galveston and Houston. She’s been to San Antonio, Castroville, Hondo and D’Hanis. We visited the Hill Country one year for Spring Break.

After this trip, we still have the Panhandle to visit. I think I’ve covered the other regions of the State.

RV Plans

So, for a couple of months after I left IBM in 2017, we were seriously considering getting an RV and hitting the road, mainly because we couldn’t afford a cruise ship. Being the planner that I am, I had a bunch of routes mapped out, just in case. (We’re still in the house. Sigh.)

So this is the only map that we actually didn’t travel. (Actually, we’ve driven parts of it in the car, so I guess that counts somewhat.)

Not Immortals

(Originally posted in August. Updated.)

RIP Charlie Watts.

We saw the Rolling Stones in Houston in 2019. It was the first time I had seen the Stones live, which is just insane, except I was really a Beatles person growing up.

We had tickets to see them in Dallas this year, but we actually skipped it. I wasn’t into it (see below) and my wife really wants to avoid crowds, so we just stayed home.

A couple of weeks before Charlie passed away, the Stones had announced that he was sitting the tour out. That was disappointing, but health comes first.

Now, we’ve lost the chance that he would change his mind or have a miraculous recovery.

I’m a lot more upset than I thought I would be over hearing that Charlie passed away. He was 80. Anyone in a rock band that lives to be 80 has lived a good life. However, these guys were supposed to be immortal.

Between the Beatles and the Stones, John Lennon died at 40, but it wasn’t his fault. George Harrison died at 58, but it was cancer. Brian Jones died at 27, but that was a rock and roll death.

This one hurts. I miss Charlie. Even if the Stones have had multiple incarnations and “Keith and Mick ARE the Stones”, it just wouldn’t be the same without Charlie.

Even though I was a Beatles person, I listened to the Stones, and they grew on me. I think you have to be a certain age to actually get the Stones, I think. I know I appreciate the Beatles more now, as well.

However, as much as the Stones records grew on me, I learned in 2019 that they are really a live band. They tore up the stadium in Houston. As much as I enjoyed Sir Mick prancing around and Keith banging away, the most compelling member of the band for me was the quietest one (with the loudest instrument) and that was Charlie.

  • Mick Jagger, fresh out of heart surgery, running around the stage.
  • Keith Richards, leading the charge, playing fifty-year old licks that never age.
  • Ronnie Wood, playing the licks Keith can’t remember.
  • Bill Wyman, at home, because he retired from the band 26 years ago.
  • Charlie Watts, a quiet gentleman, looking bemused behind a drum kit and apparently enjoying himself.

I thought that night that he had surely discovered the secret to a long life in rock and roll – never really believing you were doing what you were doing.

I am so glad we made the trek to Houston to see the Stones live. The trip actually got postponed once when Mick had heart surgery and I thought, “I hope we didn’t miss our chance.” When they rescheduled, we drove down again (we had gone the original weekend anyway because we had so many side trips scheduled.)

It was like being a teenager again.

We had dealt with Mick’s age a month or so before, but now they were ageless.

This year, we dealt with Charlie’s age, and now he’s timeless.

I may regret not going to see them in 2021, but I will always have 2019.

The Grand Consolidation

This was the year I finally started looking at my website costs. Ouch. I have managed to try a number of services over the years, and there really is no consistency on pricing. Also, I tend to leave sites in place years longer than they need to be.

For websites, I love WordPress as a development and content management system. You can use the commercial version and pay to have your domain routed, pay to have ads removed, pay to have email, pay, pay, pay.

You can pay GoDaddy to host WordPress for you – it’s not the commercial version, so there are not as many options, but it’s cheaper. It’s just you have to do much of the maintenance yourself. This should not be a problem because I am in IT, but I am also busy.

You can pay Namecheap to host WordPress for you – it’s cheaper than GoDaddy and WordPress, and they keep the software updated. You do have to do something about spam yourself.

So, I’m migrating to Namecheap, site by site. The other advantage is that their website charges are less, as well.

Now, I’m trying to combine all of my WordPress sites into one, and just point to the individual sites from the different domains. That’s the ultimate goal.

I have written a lot of crap over the years. Keyword: crap. Still, I think it should be saved for posterity – if nothing else, as a warning to others, or for bloggers to learn by example, because a bad example is still an example.

Stay tuned.

International Travel Thoughts

This page is a work in progress.

There was a time when I was traveling a lot. In fact, at one point, I seemed to be in Europe two or three times a year or more. After a while, you find the patterns. The challenge to international travel is that once you stop, you forget. Then, if you ever start up again (say, go to Kuala Lumpur on twenty minutes notice), you have to relearn things.

Painful things.

When I was younger and unattached and working for a company obsessed on treating employees well and not just making next quarter’s numbers, it was pretty easy. If I had my passport and my corporate card, things would work out. If I needed something, I just bought it. If it was work-related, I just expensed it. If not, I just paid it.

That was then. This is now.

I have a wife who really dislikes when I travel. I have dogs that have their schedules disrupted which can cause all sorts of issues. I don’t have unlimited funds anymore, because I have a wife and dogs.

So, travel means planning. Usually, I obsessively plan – for personal trips. For business, I try, but if something comes up last-minute, I just go.

Here’s some things to remember, that came flooding back while I was in Malaysia in March 2014: 

  • Communications
    • Remember time zones! You won’t be able to just call home.
    • Google Voice will let you send and receive texts from your (Sprint) phone or from the web, as long as you have an Internet connection. Texts are better than voice calls (Skype, etc) because you don’t have to both be awake at the same time.
    • There’s always email, for the same reasons – it’s not real-time, so you don’t both have to be awake.
    • Pay for WiFi in the hotel. Don’t just think “I’ll wait until I’m at the office.” If your company won’t reimburse, eat the cost, but ask yourself – why does my company not want me to be productive?
  • Power
    • Always have a plug adapter in your computer bag. Always. I had left mine in my backpack from years ago, and I’m glad because I really needed it when I got to KL, and I hadn’t thought about it until I arrived.
    • Having a small power strip is also a good idea. Foreign hotels don’t have a lot of outlets. If you have a plug adapter and a power strip, you can plug everything in.
    • Make sure you have USB cables for all your excess personal devices. Worst case, plug them into your laptop, and plug your laptop into the wall. This way, you only need one outlet – but everything takes longer to charge.
    • Along with the plug adapter – make sure you know which electronics you have are dual-voltage. You may need a converter, as well. This is different from a plug adapter. If you plug something in and see smoke, you needed a converter, not just an adapter. Oh, and you need a new device.
    • If you need electronics to sleep (I have a C-PAP), you really need a power strip or you need flexibility. I’ve had to sleep with my head at the bottom of the bed before, because there was no place by the headboard to plug in.
  • Life
    • Pack light. This is true for all trips. If you don’t need it, don’t take it. I don’t care what your wife says, if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
    • Take a week’s clothing, max. Hotels have laundry service.
    • Don’t expect ice. This is painful for someone who loves ice in drinks.
    • Don’t expect refills or large glasses.
    • Don’t just automatically go find American food, even though it will be around almost anywhere you go. You’ll miss local specialties and it annoys your hosts. Let’s not make people self-defensive about their food, shall we? (My rule is to always let my host choose. If I’m alone after work, eventually, I am going to find an American chain for homesickness. I admit it.
    • Same with drinks – just ask the bartender, “What am I supposed to drink?” In all my years of travel, I’ve never been given American beer, except for one bartender in Linköping, Sweden who was obsessed with Budweiser. (I declined. The local beer was a Pilsner, so the bottle said “Piss” in script, so I decided Piss beat Budweiser.)
    • Take your own entertainment. Pre-load videos on your  iPad, eBook readers, something, anything. If you go far enough from home, you will have CNN, maybe Discovery channel and everything else will be local language. TV will not be the crutch it can be at home. Bruce Springsteen once complained about 57 channels and nothin’ on, so he’s obviously never watched TV in Malaysia.
  • Travel
    • Pay for GPS in the rental car. You will kill your phone batteries if you use the “free” GPS in your phone.
    • If you don’t have to drive, don’t. It’s always exciting to navigate a new city, just not always in a good way.