The Cabins at Madill


Horses in the pasture.

I had the opportunity to spend some time in what some refer to as flyover country. My wife and her sister share property bequeathed by her father in southeastern Oklahoma, a place very few people not from here would consider visiting. I would not say those people are missing out, as it would not be possible without the benefit of owning a chunk of this area to experience it like I did. But given the chance, it is a place of beauty, challenge and reward.

Early sunset with barns

My wife is investing a large amount of time and effort rehabilitating a house on the land that sits on a hill. We refer to it as the cabin, but it is really four old small houses and parts of houses stuck together at various times many years ago. This is why we are now calling it “The Cabins at Madill”, a fancy sounding name, like a resort in the woods. Madill is the nearest town, small and very “country”, nine miles away. The man doing the work is named Galen, and he is very talented at construction and hard-working. He grew up in the area, and knows its secrets, hidden roads, fishing spots and most of the locals.

The main part of the house has a bedroom, large living area, open kitchen and dining area. My son-in-law, Evan, and his friend Andy from Texas installed “mini-splits” two weeks ago, which are permanent HVAC units installed high on the walls. The units work great, and are necessary in a place where it is really hot in the summer and really cold in the winter. Galen reworked the ceiling in the living area, creating a high ceiling with cross beams, and installed a wood-burning fireplace. He put in new flooring all around, redid walls, rebuilt two bathrooms, installed new kitchen cabinets and appliances, and has replaced several windows. Rewiring required disturbing a skunk family and a snake under the house in the crawl space.

Early in the planning stages, the living area.


The living area with the new fireplace and the mini-split.

My wife and I arrived at DFW airport the night before July 4, following a three-hour delay for thunderstorms in Philadelphia. Fortunately, my rental pickup truck was still waiting in the lot for me, key on the seat, although the desk person for Budget was gone. We headed up to Denton, Texas and checked in to the Hampton Inn. Hampton Inns have great beds and always seem to be a delightful place to stay. The next morning at the breakfast buffet, we planned our day. It turns out, we had a lot of purchasing to do, at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s. First, though, we headed to the Guitar Center in Denton. After all, what good is a place in the country if you can’t sit on the front porch and strum your guitar? I found a nice acoustic, nylon string guitar to keep at the cabins. We then headed to Home Depot, where we bought a number of essentials, a shovel, some tools, a drill, a Weber grill, and a few other items. Back on the road, we reached Madill in an hour and a half, then went on to our house. It was warm, and as we stepped inside, the coolness told us the mini-splits were doing their job.

My new guitar. Galen brought his guitar over, and we sat in the living area playing music together.

We had plenty more to do to equip the house. We took a trip to town to the Walmart, to get groceries and household items. The grocery section of the Walmart is remarkably well stocked. They even had Mt. Rainier cherries, of which I am a huge fan. For dinner, we bought a roasted chicken and some broccoli. The Walmart also sells beer, nothing too exotic, but beer nonetheless. As we ate dinner, we were enjoying a marvelous sunset seen through our dining room window with the cows and a few horses in the near pasture, the subtle reds, oranges and purples of the sky and clouds, and the gentle hum of the mini-splits. After dinner with the darkness upon us, we sat on a tandem rocker on the front porch, playing the guitar and drinking a beer. Before long, the Independence day fireworks started, and we could see bits of four different displays, over Lake Texoma, in Madill, and in a couple other locations. Bugs were buzzing around us but were leaving us alone; we wisely had applied insect repellent.

Porch in daylight.

Galen had fixed plywood to the kitchen cabinets as a counter top until we could get our real counter tops installed. We had a working kitchen sink, and an unbelievably beautiful stove. We had a little old Sunbeam drip coffee maker that had one button, on/off, and made terrific coffee. Over the next couple of days we visited Lowe’s in Ardmore and Durant, buying a stackable washer and dryer and a dishwasher. These we hauled home in the back of our rental pickup truck, including bringing home the counter tops which had been previously custom ordered. We are not going too fancy with this place. We have vinyl flooring which has a wood look, and Linoleum counter tops.

Our bright red Ford four door F150, on a tour of the ranch.

Speaking of the kitchen, we, that is my wife Kathleen and I, love to cook.  There’s nothing quite like a gas stove to cook on, since one has complete control over the amount of heat applied to the pot.  So, what does one do when there is not a gas line to the house.  Yes, there is an old propane tank outside, but the idea of cooking on a propane stove was not very appealing.  Thermador makes a nice one for $5000 at the low-end of their range, but you’re still using propane, which is dangerous.  I talked my wife into going high-tech, still expensive, but much less than propane, and so much better than typical electric ranges which produce heat by heating a coil, or using radiant heat.  We got a beautiful induction range with a convection oven.  Briefly, induction ranges work by creating a magnetic field, which causes a current to form in a stainless steel pot set on the stove top.  The pot heats up, but the cook top only gets as hot as the pot sitting on it.  If one removes the pot, no heat is generated and in fact, the unit stops working until the pot is put back on the stove.  In our early experiments, it has functioned beautifully, heating quickly, easily controlled, and very similar to cooking with gas without heating up the house.

The amazing induction stove top.

This whole part of the country has been variably under shallow seas or dry over the last 550 million years.  It presents a great opportunity to go fossil hunting.  Galen showed us to a very special spot along the bank of lake Texoma, where many fossils can be found.  We piled into our pickup and headed down to the lake.  The roads we took would be impossible for a visitor to follow without a local to guide the way.  From two lane highway, to gravel road, to dirt road, to a track with overgrown grass and trees, we made it to the lake.  Here, we hiked down a steep embankment made up of broken up chunks of limestone, to start our fossil hunt.

Galen uses his keen eyes to hunt for fossils along the bank of Lake Texoma.

Every rock we looked at was packed with fossils.  Mostly, they were small shells, clams, scallops, and other bivalves.  With careful probing amongst the rocks, we found trilobites, ammonites, and clams.  I also found a fossilized bone.  Doing a little research, I found that trilobites and ammonites lived in different eras, so it is interesting and a bit puzzling that they should be found in the same vicinity.  Trilobites were incredibly long existing and diverse, with thousands of different subspecies.  They lived during the Paleozoic era, starting 542 million years ago, and lasting until the great Permian Extinction, 251 million years ago, or almost 300 million years.  Ammonites, a form of a cephalopod, lived mainly in the Cretaceous period, 200 million to 65 million years ago.  Lake Texoma is a large, man-made lake, so perhaps the rise and fall of the water has caused the various strata to wash up on shore, or fall down the side of the cliff, into the same location.  An interesting bit of information about the lake:  the dam to create it, Denison Dam, was started in 1939.  The last two years of construction, 1942 to 1944, German prisoners of war captured in North Africa were used as the labor.

Aside from creating one’s own entertainment, the big entertainment mecca here is the WinStar World Casino, located off Highway I35, one mile north of the Texas border.  By square area, it is the worlds largest casino, and boasts 7,400 electronic games (like slot machines).  We went to the casino on a Friday night to see Bill Maher, the comedian and talk show host from HBO.  While he is on the liberal side, and Oklahoma is a very conservative state, between North Texas and southern Oklahoma, and some from parts farther away, he packed the 3500 seat auditorium and gave a great show.  Typical of casinos, we had to walk past a mile or so of slots and blackjack tables to get to the event hall, and most of the machines were being used by hopeful gamblers.  When we left, around 11:00 PM, the place was even more crowded.  The casino is owned by the Chickasaw Nation, the tribe which is located in this area

Exploring the ranch on which our “cabins” are located, there are a number of barns, out buildings, fenced areas for cattle management, and a few structures for which the function was not immediately clear.  One barn has a bobcat living in it, which makes it a dangerous place to explore.  Another barn has an old pickup truck that was deeded to my daughter, for some odd reason.  The truck doesn’t run, but the tires are apparently in good shape.  It would take some significant expense to get the truck running again.  A big question for us is how to best utilize this property.  Cattle ranching requires a lot of attention and not insignificant risk.  Other ideas, however, include growing hops, creating a guest house experience for visitors who want to learn about the area, or several other ideas we are kicking around.  It will be a great family meeting place to have Thanksgiving together.


The barn with the bobcat as tenant.


This tree has clearly not let anything get in the way of its growth.


Livestock management areas.


This creature decided to take a ride with us on the windshield.


It is hard to say what he is thinking.


Every weed in this place has sharp thorns.



Galen’s coop of speckled Sussex hens provide him and his family with plenty of eggs.


A local denizen who wandered far from the pond down the hill.


Another local denizen, this one seen at Fort Washita, a fort built in 1842 to protect the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians from the plains Indians, and now owned by the Chickasaw Nation.

I had to leave our beautiful ranch on Sunday, five days after arriving.  My wife stayed on to take care of some family business in West Texas.  I look forward to coming back soon, to play my guitar on the front porch, to grill on our Weber on the back slab of concrete, and to explore some more of this very fascinating and attractive place.

Looking forward to the next trip down to OK.

Kathleen has a soft spot for kittens.

Making Mistakes with Money

Control Board for Maytag Dishwasher

Control Board for Maytag Dishwasher

This story has almost nothing to do with running, but it does have something to do with learning life lessons.

Our Maytag dishwasher stopped working.  It was only about four years old, but one day recently I tried to start it.  It was full of dishes and silverware, soap tab in the soap holder, ready to go.  The start button did nothing.  It would not light, click, nothing happened.  My first thought was that the circuit breaker had tripped, as has happened in the past.  I grabbed my flashlight and headed to the basement.  In the far corner, I opened the panel cover and took a look.  All of the breakers seemed to be intact.  I clicked a few, just to check, and went back upstairs to look at the dishwasher.  All the other lights and appliances were working, but as I recalled, the dishwasher was on a separate breaker.  Never mind that, it still wouldn’t work.  The front panel has two sides, one, on the left, which controls starting the machine and setting the cycle type.  On the right, things like sterilize, heated dry and other options are available.  I pressed the right side buttons and to my surprise they responded.  So, in fact, the breaker was not the problem as electricity was getting to the machine.

Time for a confab with my wife over what to do.  Our first thought was that repairing appliances is expensive, and rarely worth the money.  It usually is cheaper to replace the appliance unless one happens to have paid up front for a service contract.  Of course, those are only usually good for three years anyway, and we didn’t have one, so this was not pertinent to our discussion.  Although, we brought it up.  Should we have gotten one?  Well, we didn’t so why mention it?  But how can it be so expensive to fix the machine, when most of it is in good shape?  With the marvel of YouTube, it is easy enough to search what to do when the dishwasher won’t respond to ones caresses.  The problem is, one is faced with an entire algorithm to go through to figure out where the problem is.  This requires special screw drivers, electric meters, and the time to mess with it.

My wife called a repair man.  He had been at our house before, to fix our dryer, and to work on an old refrigerator, which we ditched shortly after he worked on it.  We still have the dryer.  He came over a few days after we called and did a service call for diagnostic purposes.  I was not at home, but spoke with him by phone afterwards.  He charged $143 for the combined visit plus diagnostics.  He said the control board was bad, needed to be replaced and that would cost a bit over $400.  Adding that to what we already spent on the service call, I decided I could replace this thing myself, and we would have a working machine and still not pay as much as it would cost to replace.

I went back online and looked for a control board, which is a circuit board, a computer which runs the dishwasher.  To my surprise, this was not a cheap item.  I wound up ordering one from Sears Parts Direct for $180.  There was a $10 shipping fee as well.  There were a few places cheaper, although not much, and this way I could be sure it would be the correct part, since we bought the dishwasher from Sears.  Completely tangential to the story of how I learned what I learned, our part did not arrive as planned.  It was supposed to be shipped by UPS.  We received a tracking number.  I checked online and saw it left the Sears distribution place and was headed to Horsham, PA.  This was about a week after we ordered the part.  Then, every day I checked, it was just sitting, or so it seemed, in Horsham, PA.  Meanwhile, expecting it to jump on a truck at some point, I purchased the special Torx screwdriver set and electric meter I would need to deal with this little job.

One day, the tracking information changed.  There was a notation that UPS had turned the parcel over to our local post office, and it would be delivered by the coming Friday, in three days.  Hallelujah! While hand washing dishes is quaint, and a way to have a joint activity with one’s spouse, we wanted to move on.  I found myself rinsing the same plate and coffee cup over and over to not have to wash too many items.  Of course, Friday came and went with no package delivered.  Back online I went, and found there was a USPS tracking number.  Clicking on that, I saw our package wound up somewhere in Cincinnati, Ohio.  There was a little subscript saying it was sent to the wrong post office, and a correction would be made.  Another week went by, and the message from the USPS had not changed.

I finally called Sears Parts Direct and told them of my plight.  They responded quite appropriately.  I was able to speak with a representative without a single menu item to get through.  He looked up my tracking numbers and saw the same thing I did.  He said he would have another part sent out right away, this time directly by USPS, and he would remove the shipping fee from our original order.  Sure enough, five days later my part arrived.  It was packed a little haphazardly, but it was there.

The next day, don’t want to rush into a job like this, I recruited my wife to check the dishwasher while I went in the basement to turn off the circuit breaker.  After finding the right one, I proceeded to make the switch.  It wasn’t too difficult to disconnect all the cables but one did have to keep them straight.  I installed the new circuit board, put everything back together, then flipped the circuit breaker back on.  As you might have guessed, nothing had changed.  The buttons on the right side of the panel worked, but the on/off button was dead.  Either the problem was with the front panel, or my new circuit board was defective.

At this point I decided not to throw more good money after bad, as the saying goes.  A few days later, my wife and I headed out to Sears and bought a new dishwasher.  We got a nice one, a Bosch, which is super quiet and cleans like crazy.  It cost a bit more than our old one, and had to be professionally installed, but it was completely worth it.  Life is back to, no better than, what it was before.  We can have a normal conversation in the kitchen with the dishwasher running and it doesn’t interfere at all.

So, what did my tuition for this lesson get me?  I learned it is expensive to try to repair an appliance, which I already knew, but had to learn again.  I also learned I can do it if I know what the problem is, but figuring that out is the hard part.  I also learned what a Torx screwdriver is, and I now have one that ratchets if ever I need it again.  Perhaps I’ll pass it to one of my children in my will.

Arrivederci Winter

Moon, 4:30 AM, Friday, March 5, 2015.

Moon, 4:30 AM, Friday, March 6, 2015.

The whole eastern part of the U.S. was under the icy clutch of a band of frigid air the last two weeks. This air traveled from the Pacific, over the north pole, through the northern reaches of Canada, freezing Niagara Falls as it crossed the border and settled on our home. When winter comes upon us, everyone wonders, will this be another year of little snow and mild temperatures, or will we get hit with big snowstorms, creating scenes of pathways dug through backyards to driveways, snow piled high in parking lots, plows running up and down our roads, salt spray painting our cars gray-white, and people walking through the snow bundled with layers of clothing, knit caps, and big gloves.

While the weather forecasters got it mostly right this year, they did miss on a couple of occasions, when the snow hit Boston but pretty much missed us in South Jersey.  We managed to get a late winter snow three days ago, in the early days of March, while the temperatures were still in the frigid single and teen digits.  I went for an evening run the day of the latest snowfall.  It was only 7:00 PM, usually a time of the later rush hour crowd irritated and pushing to get home, but the roads were oddly quiet.  Since it had been snowing all day, it seems many businesses closed early.  The snow plows had passed through, but the snow kept falling, so the streets were covered with a thin layer of snow which had not turned to ice.  The combination of fresh snow everywhere, low clouds, and streetlights made for a very well-lit run in spite of the sun having disappeared an hour earlier.  There was a nice, faint crunch under foot as I ran, and the cold air felt good in my lungs.  My run took me past many local small shops and restaurants, all closed for the weather.  With one exception, that is.  The bars were hopping.  I think the bar owners get special attention from the snow plow drivers cleaning their parking areas.  Perhaps they need to pay a little extra for this but I’m sure it is worth it.  Teachers can’t get to the schools, but they make it to the bars.  Office workers get in late and sent home early, but they can make it to the bars.  Doctors, lawyers and dentists close early, no patients or clients are braving the slick roads to make their appointments, but they all make it to the bars.  The last few miles of my running route I pass about ten bars and every one of them was doing business like it was St. Patrick’s day already.  There is a quaintness about bars in the depths of winter.  It’s dark outside, the windows are frosted over, and one sees the profiles of the people inside all animated and lively.

In my house, we retreated to the front part of the house where the den with the fireplace is. The back half is beset with all sorts of problems. We live in an old Victorian, and the original design did not account for living in the 21st century. Bathrooms and appliances have been added over the years, and in spite of best intentions, cold air manages to sneak in like a cat burglar, freezing the water within. This past week, as the temperature dipped to a cruel zero, streams of that dense cold air moved in and around our old pipes, freezing some and leading to a couple of burst pipes.  This year, I had the foresight to at least turn off the inflow to these pipes so the damage was minimized, but we’ve had to wait until the thaw before we could fix them.

This weekend, though, brought a break in the icy pattern.  As we clicked over to daylight saving time, temperatures soared to 52 degrees.  The sun shone brilliantly, melting the patches of ice on the sidewalks.  Constant rivulets of water flowed down the street as the snow melted.  And people are out getting all their usual weekend errands in, not sure how to deal with a day when the only cover up needed is a light jacket.

Now we can start thinking about getting the garden ready for planting, cleaning up the debris that conveniently was covered up by the snow, and watch the road crews fixing all the treacherous potholes which have multiplied the last few weeks.  I’m sure in a couple of months we’ll be baking in premature heat, barely remembering how cold it got and stayed this winter.  Before that happens, I’d like to have a few more fires in the fireplace, have a reason to wear long tights and two layers on top when I run, and feel the cold air filling my lungs.

The Salt Flats of San Francisco Bay



In 1850 in San Francisco, there was a commodity almost as valuable as gold, and it was plentiful. Not that it brought in the same reward, ounce for ounce, but it made a few individuals very rich. That commodity was salt. It was in easy reach, wherever the briny water of the bay lay very shallow, lapping on the littoral edge and drying in the sun. A white crust of salt on the sand and dirt was the result. The gold rush brought thousands to this mecca of fortune, but they needed to be fed, and salt was in high demand. To get it to the boarding house kitchens, though, took some ingenuity and very tough men. The southern and eastern part of the bay is a large flat expanse, and creating drying ponds for the salt crystals to grow was a natural for this area. Acres of space was available, and the early inhabitants of the area, the Ohlone tribe, had harvested salt here for centuries.  Former sea captain and failed gold miner John Johnson started commercial mining of salt in this area in 1854, selling it for $50 a ton, according to a Wikimapia article on the subject.  Competition developed, bringing the price down to $2 a ton, but still it was a profitable venture. Eventually, the ownership of the salt production passed through the Leslie Salt Company, and finally to Cargill, Inc., the largest, privately-held corporation in the U.S.

Why bring this up on a blog purportedly about running?  I had the opportunity to attend my nephew’s wedding two weeks ago, in Newark, California, located in the heart of the salt flats.  The San Francisco Bay area is an amazing mix of have and have-not, beauty and ugly, ultra-high tech and grunt labor, old and new, the arts and sport, and academic and common knowledge.  I flew in from Philadelphia to San Francisco and headed for the car rental area.  This is reached from the terminal by a very modern, automated rail line.  On arrival in the car rental pavilion, where all the rental companies have counters, I was amazed at the huge number of people waiting in line to get a car.  Clearly, this would be a major week for tourism in the bay area.  I was impressed how the lines moved, and the rental process was very streamlined.  Thousands of people were renting cars while I was there.  Once one’s contract is complete, a walkway leads to the garage where, on multiple levels, the cars are parked.  I waited in another line until a young man escorted me to my car.  We took the usual tour of the car to note scratches and dents, he gave me his card and told me to call him if I had any problems (a nice touch, Enterprise), and I was off.  Instead of heading north into San Francisco, I headed south on Highway 101.  This is a famous road, known in the early Spanish settler times as El Camino Real.  Today, it passes through Silicon Valley, home to such major corporations as Oracle, Apple, Google and Adobe, to name but a few.  Silicon is an element.  It is the basis, due to its semiconductor properties, of transistors, diodes, and integrated circuits.  From these came computers, and thus, eBay.  The companies in this area have been enormously successful in recent years, and their employees are very well paid.  The homes in this area are absurdly expensive.  For example, a two bedroom, two bath ranch style house in Mountain View, 1953 sq. ft., with very little style on a quarter acre lot, is listed at $1,875,000.

Bathroom in the 1.875 million dollar rancher in Mountain View.

Bathroom in the 1.875 million dollar rancher in Mountain View. (from the Zillow listing)

Heading down route 101, I made a turn onto route 84, which becomes the Dumbarton Bridge over the southern end of the San Francisco Bay.  Along this road I could see the salt drying along the roadside as the east bay area is reached.  This took me into Newark, home of Cargill’s salt headquarters and the site of the wedding.  I checked in to the Courtyard Marriot Silicon Valley.  They refer to it as Silicon Valley, but it is really on the wrong side of the bay.  It is hard by the salt ponds.  I arrived later in the afternoon and needed to get to the pre-wedding family dinner at my sister’s house in Livermore.  This was a very pleasant dinner with lots of wine and good food.  For the most part, everyone was in a good mood.

The next day, Saturday, was wedding day.  Since the wedding was not until 6:30 P.M., I had plenty of time to get a run in that morning.  Newark does not seem to be a runner’s town.  I asked at the hotel desk for advice where to run, and the desk person suggested a loop around the Lakeshore Park.  I asked how long the loop was and was told it was about 2 miles.  I went back to my room to check this out on the map.  It turned out the loop was a bit under a mile, and was about a mile from the hotel, so I needed a little bit longer run.  I put on my running clothes and headed out, trusty Garmin on my wrist.  My route took me past the park and over a freeway to the wedding venue, a very pretty park called Ardenwood Historic Farm.  It was where George Patterson, another unsuccessful gold seeker in 1849, was able to buy property in 1856 after working as a farm hand.  He had a house built on the property, and started his own farm.  Apparently, it was a very productive farm, as he was able by 1889 to rebuild the original humble farm house into an elegant Queen Anne style mansion.  Today, the farm continues as a working museum, owned by the city of Freemont, and host to many weddings, day trips and farm experiences for students.  Unfortunately, on my run, the whole park was locked up tight, and I couldn’t progress through it’s dirt roads.  Turning back, I made my way to the Lakeshore Park, a man-made doughnut shaped pond with a paved path around it.  I ran two laps around the pond, and marveled at the variety of birds that were attracted by this small body of water.  Many different breeds of ducks, geese, herons, snowy egrets and numerous other species had made a home here, and it made for an entertaining couple of laps.  On my way back to the hotel, along Cedar Boulevard, I made note of the homes along the road.  Again, they were small, ranch-style houses with car ports.  A number had for-sale signs.  The last leg of my run was through a very long strip mall of shops, which seemed to be not the original intent for the stores.  There were karate studios, hair salons, and a Chinese diner, to name a few, with empty shops between.

After I got back in my hotel room, I was again curious about the houses for sale in this area.  Looking up some prices, here the prices are much more reasonable.  Offered for $899,000 was a five bedroom, three bath house with 2500 square feet.

5 BR, 3 BA house in Newark.

5 BR, 3 BA house in Newark. (from the Zillow listing)

Still no bargain, but more living space than in the highly desired parts of Silicon Valley.

Of course, I was there for the wedding, and it went off without a hitch.  Well, not exactly, as my nephew and his new bride really did get hitched.  The wedding venue was just beautiful, the outdoor ceremony was quite nice, and the after-wedding party was very enjoyable.

My nephew and niece-in-law say their vows.

My nephew and niece-in-law say their vows.

George Patterson house at Ardenwood Farms.

George Patterson house at Ardenwood Farms.

On my way back to the airport the next morning, I again passed the salt encrusted shoreline, then passed a very large building being built along Route 101 with a Facebook sign in front.  I stopped for gas and turned around in front of Oracle headquarters, a collection of rounded steel and glass tall buildings aside another man-made lake.  I see it is thanks to these pioneers of computing and the internet that I am able to express myself on a WordPress blog.  We’ve certainly come a long way from George Patterson building a farm.


P.S.  Robert, from Zillow, Mountain View, can provide more information on the surrounding area properties:

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