Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year in Pictures

Here I am . . . at St. David's Episcopal Church. Gary snapped this from the scaffolding where he and his cousin, Jim Bass, were working on the sculpture of Christ that had been damaged in the fire that destroyed the sanctuary. I have been talking with Tamra Scheid at Visit Topeka about putting together a tour of Topeka churches. Those featuring the works of Jim Bass will be front and center. His garden gates at the Congregational Church are perhaps the loveliest site in Topeka.
I was looking at photos posted by a couple of my buds. Fred Chiaventone posted this image of himself with longtime friend, colleague and former roommate, Dave Petraeus. It's a wonderful photo and I'm tickled to share it. Fred, and his wife, Sharon, are two people I consider myself fortunate to know. They are talented, disciplined, interesting. If you have read this blog at all you know that Fred is one of my favorite authors. One of my proudest possessions is a certificate signed by General Petraeus thanking me for my media participation at Fort Leavenworth. I had the opportunity to visit with him on several occasions and to hear him speak often. He's simply the best of the best.

Another great image appeared from my bud, Phil Schrier, an NRA bigwig, with his hero and "president," Charlton Heston. Phil is one of my favorite people and I know how much this photo means to him. If you're ever in the DC area, stop in and tell Phil hello. The museum at the NRA offices is really spectacular and features, by the way, a lifesize statue of Charlton Heston as Will Penny.

I started going through some of my own pictures from the past year. How lucky we are to have cameras; how lucky we are to have the internet through which to share them; how lucky we are to have one another to make these good times and to share them with one another. How lucky I am to know such interesting, talented and dedicated people. Like this man, Gary Bisel. How Gary & I didn't know each other for so many years is beyond me, but the important thing is that we met and became inseparable. God's timing is right, Gary reminds me, and I have to agree.

This one was taken of Gary and me at one of the Sidelines jams, hosted by Josh Vowell and the Rumble. Every Wednesday night, the blues band hosts a jam of some wildly interesting folks. Stop in and tell them Deb sent you.

Earlier in the year, I had the great pleasure of working on the mayoral campaign of city councilman, Jeff Preisner. It was a treat to get to know Jeff and to work with the other great folks who believe in him. I still believe in Jeff and would campaign for him if he ran for president or dogcatcher. He's a good guy and we're lucky to have him in city government. Nope, he didn't make mayor but the campaign team learned a lot and perhaps next time, there will be bigger and better fish to fry!

One of the areas of my life for which I am most grateful is history. In the paraphrased words of Darryl Strawberry, "History been very, very good to me." Through the study of history, I have come to know some incredible people, both living and dead. Among the most dear and distinguished is Michael Burlingame. Michael spoke to a packed house at the Lied Center in Lawrence earlier this year, and Ken and Terry Hobbs and I drove over to visit him and to enjoy drinks afterward at the Eldridge Hotel. Here we are--Terry, Ken, the 16th president, Michael and myself. It's rare to get a photo op with Lincoln!

Like Gary, Sue Ann Seel is one of those people that I should have known since we have so many folks in common. We have been aware of one another but when we found out we were soul sisters in bluegrass, the tie was tightly bound! Here we are--some Wednesday night at the Little Grill in Manhattan, Kansas, waiting for Chris Biggs and Steve Hinrichs to kick into high gear. When Sue Ann isn't picking banjo she's preaching. I think we must be related somehow.

Since moving to Topeka, two women have become dear friends and lasting influences upon me. They have enouraged me to express myself, to have fun, to give back to my community. June Windscheffel (left) and Marge Heeney(right, below) are known to nearly everyone in Topeka and in many parts beyond. When Marge was honored by the American Business Women earlier this year, swarms of talented women were on hand to pay homage. The every flamboyant Marge encouraged women to don distinctive hats and man, noone's hat was more unique than Carol Ann's!

In the picture below, Terry Hobbs, me, Carol Ann Turner and Lynn Stillings. Terry (looking very Jackie Kennedy-esque) is a real estate agent and history convert. (Sooner or later, everyone succumbs.) Lynn and her husband, Mark, were on our winning trivia "Team Turner" a couple of years, along with Dan and Carol and Cheryl Logan and John Arnold. We stomped the competition! And we were incredibly un-gracious winners. The event was a fund-raiser for blind athletes and the prizes were great, among them, dinner at Greg Fox's Row House Restaurant. We would have physically kicked butt for that one!

In March, I spoke in Philadelphia among some distinguished folks. The best part though, was hanging out with my dear friend, Carol Waskie -- so smart, so beautiful, so talented. Here we are in one of Philly's fine pubs complimenting one another.

Speaking of talented people, the lady who comes to mind first and foremost is Barbara Waterman Peters. She is an incredible artist and a wonderful, original human being. This photo was taken when I spoke to the Friends of the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library. I was thrilled that Barbara and her talented husband, Larry, would turn out to hear me speak. Also in the audience was Gary Clarke who put the "world famous" in the world famous Topeka Zoo. Surely, I know the coolest people on the planet.

One of the best things about this year was the emergence of my alter ego, Dixie Lee Jackson. Dixie, is just like me but has big hair and more fun. As it turns out, she found her true love in Woodrow Dean (below).

Dixie Lee found her true barbecue love with Cow and Sow 2 Wow. Here, Dixie Lee and Kari Forman at their booth at Advance Auto's car show. Since then, they have opened a permanent place at 2nd and Gage Boulevard. Kudos, Kari & Steve!!

Longtime friend and mentor, Doug Wallace, had a grand soiree at his newly redecorated home. Champagne and good times flowed freely.
My sister-in-law, Scarlet, came to visit and we had a gay old time. Gary, me and Scarlet at a local pub.
The lovely Brenda Miller and myself at "Dome Party."
I love this picture. Gary's cousin, artist Jim Bass, snapped this on top of the church where he and his wife, Jean, had an art exhibit. In the background is Kansas City's Plaza.
Inside the church, Noel and I checked out the sanctuary.

Dixie Lee had so much fun this year. She hosted the Apple Festival at Old Prairie Town. Dixie Lee and Sara Leeth, director of this wonderful site.

My first Winfield experience!!! Kelsey Cohen, Mick Brazeal, Nancy Hewitt, and me!

Dixie Lee also hosted the Grape Escape at TPAC. Barbara Wiggins does such a fantastic job there!
Of course, the best blessings are babies and we got one this grandson, Devyn-Ray.
A wonderful Christmas Day with Gary's mom. She fell the next day and her health has declined quickly. How grateful we are to have had that special day with her and the rest of Gary's family.
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and my brother, Dave Chuber. Gary snapped this one in September.
Also in September...Gary on the ferry as we crossed the Ohio River. It was a glorious day.
One of the giants of Custer lore and legend...Father Vince Heier. What a wonderful time we had with the Little Bighorn Associates!
The culmination of years of research was Jim Speicher's new volume on the Sumter Flying Artillery. Great event in Kansas City with Jim and his wife, Cindi.
A highlight for me was the induction of Buffalo Bill into the Kansas National Guard's Hall of Fame. For my bud, Dale Vaughn, the highlight was the induction of James Ross. Details on both in coming blogs.
Oh heck, another highlight of the year: meeting Dean Smith. What a fantastic evening at Topeka High discussing the segregation that marked the 1949 (and previous years) basketball teams. Dean was captain of that team; Jack Alexander was captain of the all-black Ramblers.
Halloween (could you guess???) at Varsity Blues....Carol Ann and Gary. A good time was had by all!
Dixie Lee woke up Washburn! WU's president, Jerry Farley, explaining the Ichabod bobblehead to bubblehead Dixie Lee.
And finally, waving good-bye to this year, I wanted to share this image of Santa in Afghanistan. We are enjoying life, pursuing our dreams, stumbling, fumbling along in our lives while all over the world, good men and women are undergoing tremendous stress and making incredible sacrifices so that we can work hard, goof off, and sometimes lie on the sofa watching classic movies. God bless them, every one!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Breaking Up Christmas

No, we haven't shoveled the sidewalk nor have we shoveled the steps. Gary did so a couple of weeks ago when we had the big snow and his back has hurt ever since. With the way this snow was blowing, it really wouldn't have mattered anyhow. That being said, I may get out and move some white stuff around today. Maybe.

The internet is never more miraculous than when one is snowbound. Last night, we poured a couple of glasses of wine and I wanted Gary to hear "Breaking Up Christmas," an NPR production by my old friend, Paul Brown. There are sound clips on Amazon, so check it out. One of the clips included Eleanor Coleson. Eleanor was married to my cousin, Jess. I loved Jess and Eleanor. Hearing her voice just caused me to choke up unexpectedly. Hearing Uncle Tommy Jarrell sing always does that. There are so many recordings and film snippets of Uncle Tommy. But Benny, his son, is on this album as well. Bless you, Paul, for keeping them alive!

"Breaking up Christmas" comes from the tradition of going from home to home each night from December 25 to January 6. (Granny did not call this night Epiphany; she always referred to it as "Old Christmas.") So folks played and sang and danced and broke up Christmas. This is the tradition I so wish to revive!

Arnold's Christmas Stories

Dear friend, scholar and historian, Arnold Schofield, has written a wonderful article in the Fort Scott Tribune on Christmas during the Civil War. Check it out at

A Tribute to Austin

On this day in 1836, Stephen F. Austin, father of Texas, passed away. He was 43 years old and Texas barely a Republic. The blood still stained the ground of the Alamo from that March. Sam Houston still roared like a lion.

Stephen F. Austin, I never tire of reminding people, was a Virginian. Read my post from March 5, 2007, for more on this beloved figure. At right, the Shot Tower, which stands on the banks of the New River, near Austinville, Virginia. Austinville, Stephen's birthplace, was the home of the lead mines that furnished the materials for the shot made in this massive structure. Austinville was named for Stephen's dad, Moses.

The railroad track that runs by the river, just below the tower, has been converted to biking/hiking trails and is glorious. It leads to Fosters Falls, also a state park now. When I was younger, it was still private property but we knew folks with access to it and Fosters Falls was my refuge when the world became too much.

The image below is Wytheville (pronounced with-vul or, wifful), Virginia, earlier this month. Wytheville is the county seat of Wythe County (which includes Fosters Falls and Austinville). Isn't it lovely? Somebody sent me a snow/frost/ice photo of Fosters Falls, would you, please?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Blizzard of Blessings

The blizzard is begun. We are snug in our little bungalow, Gary and I, watching the flakes get bigger and bigger. He is making an omelet and we'll wash it down with some wine. An "Acoustic Christmas" is on the CD player. He is whistling along. Noel and her baby are safe and warm. Tomorrow, we'll have Christmas dinner with his mother, most likely her last Christmas here on Earth. We will give the baby his first little wooden rocking horse. We had hoped to be back in North Carolina and Virginia right now, but God had other plans. We are blessed.

This Christmas Eve, while you are gathered in your church, with your family, with people you love--stop and breathe in the stillness. One of the first instructions to relieve stress is to take deep breaths. My gift to you is a poem by William Stafford:

The Center

Whenever you breathe God comes in:

"I'm home again, I'm home."

And curtains lean, then resume

their silent wait.

Listen--that is the sigh of welcome,
and after that no breath.
Whenever God stands, it is there that

the world will start again.

Merry Christmas and God be with you.

More Gift Ideas

Kansas has such an unique and rich history that I look for any opportunity to share it. Our friend, George Paris, has shared his own story so eloquently that I daresay it is one of the best collections of stories to be put to paper, but then to be read in his melodious voice is just a bonus.
Back When I Was Alive is a collection of George's memories from his Dust Bowl youth in western Kansas. Read more about him and find out how to get this CD at

Another talented Topekan is Andy McKee. To call Andy a guitar virtuoso would be an understatement. I'm sure that any guitar he touches is thoroughly exhausted after being played, but tingles in the corner anticipating the next time Andy picks it up. His video is just about the most watched on and he is receiving accolades and playing concerts all over the world. Andy also contributed to Josh Groban's 2007 grammy nominated Christmas album, Noël, playing guitar on the song "Little Drummer Boy". Groban's album went on to become the best-selling CD of 2007 in the U.S.[7], hitting #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

Anything by Andy would make a perfect gift. Visit for more information.

Spread a little Kansas cheer this Christmas season by giving away these three talented Kansans--William Stafford, George Paris and Andy McKee.

We are, indeed, blessed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tattoo Barbie

I'd say this makes it official. We have, indeed, gone to hell in a handbasket.
CHOKING HAZARD - Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.
Over 40 easy, no mess tattoos to design and decorate Barbie doll's fashions! Customize the fashions and apply the fun temporary tattoos on you too! Barbie doll includes additional fashions, tattoo stamper and tattoos.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow in Lowgap and Gift Suggestions

Is this not the most inviting scene? This is the creation of my cousin Cindi's two boys, Tim & Logan. The foot of snow that landed in Lowgap, North Carolina, was obviously enjoyed. I'm including some of her other photos, showing their home in the mountains. She commented that in weather like this, a husband with a backhoe is a handy thing. (Eat your heart out, Red Green!)

The view of the mountains (below) from Cindi & Victor's deck is the Blue Ridge in North Carolina and Virginia. Isn't it beautiful? And you can see the pines around their home. . . Lowgap is famous for Christmas greenery.

The young men responsible for the "cool" living room decor lounge to the left. Creativity really does run in my family!

Christmas Gifts

Got my first Christmas present the other day. Gary bought me The Assassination of Jesse James starring Brad Pitt. I jumped up and down I was so tickled!!! Isn't the image above just awesome? I'm sure my bud Chuck Rabas will weigh in, but honestly, this movie is worth the price just for images such as these.

This leads me to some gift suggestions for those distraught shoppers among you. Let's make it an historic Christmas!!!!

*Oil lamps. Have you heard the weather forecast? Oil lamps can be bought cheaply at Dollar General or more expensively at an antique store, but be sure to include lamp oil.

*Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame (left). While you're sitting there in the lamplight, you might as well be reading the ultimate biography of a very interesting and inspiring man, written by a very interesting and inspiring man. Okay, I'll level with you: This is a two-volume, two-thousand page tome and the cost is equivalent to our wine budget for the month (okay, the week), but not since William Herndon has there been such a significant work on the 16th president.

*Moon of Bitter Cold by Fred Chiaventone. Today is the anniversary of the Fetterman Massacre, 1866, just outside Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming. Fred's account of Red Cloud's War is priceless. The historic characters we know and love come to life in this novel--(people like Margaret Carrington and Jim Bridger). There is talk of a mini-series. Gosh, I hope so. While you're at it, buy A Road We Do Not Know...I can scarcely talk about this book without weeping. Absolutely the best account of the Little Bighorn.

*Gatewood and Geronimo and Lt. Charles Gatewood and His Apache Wars Memoir by Louis Kraft. Some folks worth knowing have been gone for a long time. Thank God we have people like Louis to bring them back to us, wholly and warmly. I can't tell you how much I love these two books, how much I love Louis, and how I can't wait to read his work on Ned Wynkoop. Louis can teach the class on how to write a memoir.

*Memberships. We all have enough crap. Let's give an experience--a newsletter that keeps coming, an admission that gets us in again and again. Some of my favorites:
Shawnee County Historical Society, Topeka
Pattee House Museum, St. Joseph, Missouri
Civil War Roundtable of Eastern Kansas, Topeka
Kansas City Civil War Roundtable, Mission, Kansas
The Great Overland Station, Topeka

*Music. I am the newest and most ardent fan of Mike Finnigan. Search and get a sample of "Let Me See the Light." In fact, that is my gift to each of you.

*Movies. Everyone knows I'm hooked on old westerns. Anything with Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland. Newer ones, movies with a message--just think about the person and what you want to say. There's a movie that fits and it gives joy again and again.

*Art. Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT, buy art from a furniture store or KMart or Walmart, or even Target or Macy's. Go to your local art gallery, tell them how much you can spend and get something original and unique. I know too many artists to offend anyone by mentioning names here, but there is something out there to fit your pocketbook and taste. I PROMISE!!!

Okay? Is your mind moving in a different direction? Are you ready to make Christmas an historic event? I knew you could do it. Let me know if you need more help. I'm here for you.

Monday, December 14, 2009


In this season of counting my blessings, I put friends at the top of the list, but next must be the internet. Somehow I missed the October issue of Wild West. (Lapsed subscription, perhaps?) Anyhow, as I was perusing Historynet I came across this great article by Johnny Boggs. The interviewee is my dear friend, Louis Kraft(with me, above), and his subject is Ned Wynkoop (below). Never heard of Ned Wynkoop? Well, Ned is worth knowing, and thanks to Louis, you will have the opportunity to meet him. This quote comes from Johnny's article:

JB-Why have many historians overlooked Ned Wynkoop? LK-He is ignored by historians who only read what has already been published—a sentence here, a paragraph or two there. Like Lieutenant Charles Gatewood, 6th U.S. Cavalry, he, for well over a century, has been a footnote in history or relegated to the circular file. The reason is simple: Edward W. Wynkoop lived his life on the frontier his way. And, like Charlie Gatewood, he had a conscience and refused to accept the views of his times, the 1860s. This placed him at odds with the settlers, the press, the military, the government and even the Indians he worked with. Wynkoop’s stance during the 1860s Indian wars on the central and southern Plains turned him into a pariah. He dared to speak up against everything he thought was wrong.

Read the rest of this article at:

When I commented to Louis on the quality of the article, he replied:

Johnny's a good, good friend of mine. Actually, I need to talk to him about a writing project that I now won't get to until January 2010 at the earliest. . . . Johnny's a class act, a terrific person, one of the best novelists writing today, and I'm glad to call him "friend."

I'm glad to call Louis "friend." I am also encouraged that good people of conscience, like Louis, are applying their talents to history. Likewise Johnny Boggs.

Jerry Choate Obit

I was so saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Jerry Choate, well-known to many Kansans as well as those in the field of natural history. He had been a frequent guest on my radio show and was just a joy. Blessings to his family. His obit:

Sunday, Dec 13, 2009
HAYS – Dr. Jerry Choate, 66, former Fort Hays State University professor and director of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, died Dec. 9, 2009, in Denver, Colo.

Jerry was born March 21, 1943, in Bartlesville, Okla. After earning his bachelors degree from Pittsburg State University in 1965, he received a doctoral degree from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1969 and began his career at Fort Hays State University in 1971. Jerry retired in June 2009 from Fort Hays State University, where he had worked for nearly 40 years, teaching in the department of biological sciences and serving as director of two different museums – the Museum of the High Plains and then the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

Among many other professional groups, Jerry was a longtime supporter and member of the Southwestern Association of Naturalists.

Besides his wife, Fi Choate, Jerry is survived by his son, Judd; and a granddaughter, Mahlon.

His body will be cremated and a memorial service in Hays is planned for a later date.
Through the Fort Hays State University Foundation, the Choate family is setting up a memorial for graduate students working in mammalogy at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

Tommy Phillips Dies

My Kansas friends will not recognize this name, but folks back home will. Tommy's family operated the Mountain Top Restaurant and Motel at the top of Fancy Gap Mountain, Virginia, (below) for generations.

When my older daughter, Karen, won Little Miss Blue Ridge, we went to have breakfast the next day and she took her trophy, crown and sash to show Tommy. Over country ham and buckwheat cakes, I commented that this honor had not gone to her head and what an humble little beauty queen she was.

Tommy laughed, and asked, "Is that so?"

He could see Karen behind me, primping and adjusting her crown in the mirror above the piano.

Tommy will be so missed I don't even have the words. He was a friend to me and to my sister, Denise, for so many years. We have so many wonderful memories as does his family and we send them blessings.

I had a grandson born November 30. I am reminded that we take our turn coming into this world and we take our turn leaving it. Let us make the most of our time here, be kind and considerate of one another, and appreciative of the blessings of the rich relationships God has given us.