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Remembering My Dad

Today marks 19 years since my father passed away. Even though so many years have passed, my memory of him has not faded very much nor has my capacity to miss him. He was a very special man and we had a great relationship for most of my life although that wasn’t always the case. From as early as I can remember until about age 13 I didn’t always feel comfortable around my dad. That is not to say he made me feel uncomfortable but often when we were alone, I didn’t really know what to talk about with him.

I don’t know if it played a part but my dad was good at everything he did, at least that’s how I saw it. Later, I realized that he had his flaws just like everybody else but at that time he was just a hard act to follow.

My dad also seemed to find himself involved in lots of interesting events. He and Mom saw the filming of The Blues Brothers and an episode of The Streets of San Francisco. He was actually on a hunting trip and ended up in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He was on a plane with Henry Winkler. He was stationed in Germany at the same army base as Elvis Presley. He walked into our local Kmart just as their roof collapsed from too much snow. There were other incidences that I don’t remember but all of that just reinforced the image of him being a hard act to follow.

Our personalities were different too. I was more like my mother, easy-going and soft-spoken, while my dad was a big storyteller and liked the attention. I always downplayed my stories while my dad could stretch the truth into a very interesting yarn.

My father also had different interests than I did, although I did learn to appreciate some of his interests later in life. We would go on camping trips when I was a child and I never really liked it back then but when I became an adult I learned to appreciate the outdoors. He was also a computer programmer but it wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I started taking computer programming in college, too late for him to help me from 1200 miles away.

One thing he did that I never learned to like was hunting. He used to go on hunting trips a couple of times a year but I never went with him because I never had the heart for it. I suppose that might have been a good bonding trip for the two of us but it was not meant to be.

I remember the turning point in our relationship came when I was around 13 years old. I used to give him a hard time sometimes. Not often, maybe once a month or so, but I would argue with him about something to the point that I would really piss him off. There were times where he literally chased me upstairs to my bedroom where I expected him to give me a good beating but his beatings were always pretty lame, which I later really respected him for. He was doing the best he could with a difficult son.

Huss family portrait

Huss family circa Christmas, 1975 – L-R Me, Mom, Matt. Dad, Holly

One day we were all in the car and I said something that really angered him. I don’t remember what it was but I remember I was in the backseat and he was driving. He tried to smack me but he couldn’t reach me. At that moment I had an epiphany. I thought maybe our relationship problems were my fault and I decided to try to be a better son.

I don’t recall exactly what happened in the months to follow. I’m sure I wasn’t anywhere near perfect but our relationship did get better. Before I knew it, we actually had a real father and son relationship. I could hang out alone with my dad and actually have a good time.

A few years later he got a job as a college professor and I went to college where he worked, although I was in a different career program at the time. Even so, we still had some common interests that we could talk about. In fact, I enjoyed listening to his college stories. They may or may not have been a bit embellished, but I didn’t care, they were still interesting. One story involved him teaching his class how to use the floppy drive on their computers. He told them to insert the disk into the drive and then close the door. A student in the back row got out of his chair and closed the classroom door.

I moved to Florida in 1988 and Dad and I drove his van down packed with most of my stuff. It was a nice trip and dad and I got along very well. On the last leg of our trip, about 30 miles from our final destination we were on a lonely road and I was driving. Dad saw a turtle, probably a gopher turtle, on the side of the road. He told me to stop the van, which I did. He then wanted me to pick up the turtle because he wanted to take it with us. I said “No. What are you going to do with it?”

I don’t remember what he said but he proceeded to pick it up himself and bring it to the van. I felt like the parent then and told him this was a very bad idea. Just as he got the turtle inside the van it started peeing all over the place. Dad said, “Here, take it!”

I said “No way! Get it out of here!” He then set the turtle on the ground and we continued our trip. It wasn’t pleasant having turtle pee in the van but it gave us something to laugh about for a long time.

I think it was the laughing I will remember most about Dad. My fondest memory is of him telling this joke: “What do you get when you cross 25 female pigs with 25 male deer? 50 sows and bucks.” It wasn’t the joke but it was the way that he laughed at his own joke that I will always remember.

Anyway, on the way back to Illinois we picked up Dad’s parents, who lived in Clearwater at the time, and drove them back to Illinois to see my brother, Matt, graduate high school. I planned on bringing them home a week or two later when I moved to Florida permanently.

Mom and Dad with his parents, Ed and Betty

By the early 90s, I had a computer with a modem so I was able to access something that, at the time, was mostly used by college professors like my dad. It was called email.

Back then a long-distance call was expensive but with email, my dad and I were able to communicate back and forth essentially free. I had a free account that was provided by the Hillsborough County Public Library System, even though I lived in Pinellas County. We had a lot of conversations through email and I feel very fortunate that I was able to save some of them. I have emails that go back to April of 1996. Unfortunately, I was not able to save earlier emails, probably because I didn’t have the ability to copy and paste until I got a computer with Windows 95. Nevertheless, reading through these emails now is almost like having him here.

Early in 1995, I got an invitation to go to my brother’s wedding that summer in Illinois. I wanted to go but I could not afford to take a week off from work. Not long after that, I learned that my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. I thought I would be a pretty lousy person if I both missed my brother’s wedding and missed an opportunity to see my dad in the event that this disease was worse than I hoped it wasn’t.

I brought my son, Chris, with me. Living so far away he hardly knew his grandparents and I wanted him to get to know his grandfather, and vise versa, before it was too late.

It was a wonderful wedding and Chris and I had a great time visiting my brother and his new wife as well as my Mom and Dad. Dad seemed to be in good health and I left there with a feeling of hope that things were not as bad as I feared.family photoMy parents came to Florida at least twice, possibly three times, after that. They came down in late June of 1997, shortly after my separation from my first wife. Dad drove their motor home down even though he had recently undergone chemo treatments and was bald from the drugs. He seemed perfectly healthy to me. That could have been an act for the benefit of others. If that was the case, he did a good job acting. We all went to my cousin’s wedding and he seemed to have a good time at the wedding and while he was he was here. I know he and my mom also went on a cruise but I don’t remember if it was during that particular trip or the next one, or perhaps both.

 

 

Chris and I drove back to Illinois with Mom and Dad in their motorhome. We stayed at their house for a few days and while we were there, Dad seemed to take delight in showing off his new wig. It looked good on him but I don’t think he really cared to wear it. He didn’t seem to have a problem showing off his bald head.

The next time I saw him was about a year later when Mom and Dad came down to Florida again. I remember him talking about his chemo group. I’m not sure if this was an actual group or if it was just several people that got to know each other through chemo treatment. He said there were five of them and at that time the other four had already died. That was the ultimate good news, bad news story. Was I supposed to feel hopeful because he was stronger than the rest of them or was he destined to follow in their footsteps?

I chose to remain hopeful but his health deteriorated at the beginning of 1999. Early in February of that year, I got the news that he may not last much longer. I don’t remember if I was given an actual time but I think I felt he had a month or two left.

Many different things happened in my life at about that same time. I was laid off from my job just before Christmas. That is the worst time to look for a new job but I was able to find one early in January but, unfortunately, making significantly less money. As fate would have it, at about the same time I was contacted by a mutual friend of my former boss who said that they were looking to hire someone. I arranged to go back to work for them but I had to go see my dad first.

Also happening at that same time was that my live-in girlfriend and I were splitting up. I left for Illinois with Chris and understood that when I came back she would be in the process of moving out, which actually pleased me.

We arrived on Friday, February 12th. Dad was worse than I expected. Hospice had come that day and brought a hospital bed for him which they set up downstairs in the basement. The room was actually a family room that my dad had converted years before and we spent most of our time down there as a family. He was almost too weak to walk up the stairs but was able to use the bathroom downstairs.

The next day he seemed to be even worse and the day after that even worse yet. He seemed to go in and out of stages of delirium. He had a scheduled appointment to see his doctor at the hospital that Monday morning. At that point, the only way to get him to that appointment was by ambulance. The hospital they took him to was a good 45-minute drive from the house. If memory serves me correctly, my mother rode in the ambulance and I followed behind with Chris and my brother Matt. I assume Matt drove us in his car but I don’t remember that.

When we got to the hospital, they admitted Dad right away. They had him on a bed all hooked up with tubes and wires. He looked terrible. His skin was yellow and I think it really hit me at that point that this was the end.

We stayed at the hospital until evening, although we did leave for lunch. Matt dropped us off at my parent’s house probably close to 10:00 that night. A few minutes later the phone ring. It was my uncle Dick, my dad’s brother. He said my dad was gone.

Even though the news was expected it was still incredibly saddening. I knew my brother hadn’t made it home yet so it gave me time to breathe a little before I called him with the news. When I did, he asked if I wanted him to break the news to Holly, our sister. She was still in Arizona and had tickets to fly down in a couple of weeks. I took the easy way out and said, “Yes, you could call her if you don’t mind.”

Holly arrived in Chicago the next day and I borrowed mom’s car to pick her up. We spent the next few days busying ourselves with funeral arrangements. We went with Mom to pick out a casket and a gravesite. While we were there the funeral director suggested making a memorial on poster board. So we bought a 3-panel poster board, like the ones you see at science fairs, and I got to work scanning pictures of my dad. I then printed those pictures on my dad’s color printer and we pasted them on the board. I also designed a memorial flyer. It was good busy work.

When my grandfather died I didn’t go inside during the viewing. I wanted to remember him alive, not lying in a casket. At my dad’s funeral, I didn’t have a choice. Up until that point in my life, I had never actually seen a dead person and the first time, unfortunately, had to be my dad.

I don’t remember the funeral much but I know seeing my dad in the casket is a memory I don’t want to remember. After the service, I was one of the pallbearers that helped bring dad into the Hearst. We then drove to the cemetery where there was another short service.
It’s strange the things you think about at a time like that. I was looking around at all the people there wondering if I was the only one shivering on that cold February day. I was.

After that, Chris and I went back home and I went about my life but things will never be the same, in both good and bad ways. My dad was gone so I would never be able to talk to him or send e-mails back and forth to him again. But my ex-girlfriend had moved out shortly after I got back and two months later I met the woman who I would spend the rest of my life with. I just wish that I had met her a few months earlier or my dad lived at least a few months later so that he could have met her and she could have met him.

I have a few regrets from that time that I still live with. I regret that I didn’t tell my dad that I loved him. That was just something that we never did. He never said it to me and I never said it to him but I’m sure we both knew. At least I hope he knew.

Another regret was not telling my sister to come sooner. I saw that Dad was deteriorating fast but I had no medical knowledge so I didn’t know what that meant. Holly had tickets to come down in a couple of weeks and I was worried if I told her to come now she might come too early and then be forced to go back home. As it turned out, she was not there for Dad’s final days and I blame myself.

Finally, I should have bought a Valentines Day card for my dad to give to my mom. He was not in a position to do anything for her that Valentines Day but he could have written something in a card that would have been meaningful, but the thought did not cross my mind until it was too late.

So today my father would have been just over 79 years old. Many men live to be 79 or older so it’s not unreasonable to think my dad could still be around if it wasn’t for that cancer. I know so much more today about health and cancer and I sometimes wish that I can go back in time and help my dad recover from his illness. But, of course, it is a foolish waste of time to think about what could have been. Instead, I should think about the people I love that are alive today, help them to be healthy, and never forget to tell them that I love them.

The Irish Potato Famine and the Wreck of the Carricks

I wanted to start this story with the introduction of the potato to Europe around 1570 from Spanish explorers returning from South America, but it actually starts a bit earlier than that.

This story begins in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which question the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences. He then supposedly posted it on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. That was the catalyst of the Protestant revolution which would eventually lead to the death and persecution of millions of people in the name of a man who taught love, peace, tolerance and forgiveness.

During the early 1500s, much of northern Europe, including what is now Great Britain, became under the control of Protestants. King Henry VIII was largely responsible for transforming England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one. Ireland, on the other hand, remained mostly Catholic and Henry worried that allegiances might be formed with that of Catholic Europe, such as Spain.

Thus began a policy of “Plantations,” where land was confiscated from Catholic Irish and given to soldiers and colonists (Planters) of England and Scotland. This changed the demography of Ireland, especially in the north, by creating communities that were mostly Protestant British.

These plantations started out slowly but increased as Irish resistance to British occupation increased. This culminated in the “Nine Years War” between the forces of the Gaelic Irish chieftains and of England. It nearly bankrupted England but in the end, the Irish lost. A few years later in 1609, the Plantation of Ulster by Scottish Presbyterians began on a large scale.

In 1641 an Irish rebellion broke out against English rule and the English and Scottish settlers. About 4000 settlers were killed in the early months of the uprising and many more were forced off their property. Troops were sent to quell the rebellion but were recalled in late 1642 when civil war broke out in England. After the rebellion, much of Ireland was under the control of the Irish Catholic Confederation, formed by Irish Catholic nobles, clergy and military leaders

The war kept the British troops occupied until 1649 when Parliament prevailed and King Charles I had been executed. By August of that year, Oliver Cromwell landed near Dublin, with an army of battle-hardened soldiers.

Cromwell had a hatred for the Irish and considered them nothing more than savages. Under his command, many were brutally massacred at Drogheda and Wexford. After the massacres, many towns feared Cromwell and quickly surrendered while others feared what would happen if they did surrender. By 1653, the country was devastated and as much as 25 percent of the population was dead.

In 1652 Parliament passed the “Act for the Settlement of Ireland,” which was supposed to punish participants in the Irish rebellion but was really designed to relieve the Irish of their land ownership and put it in British hands. Many of the Irish were forced into less fertile lands. Other laws were also passed by the late 1600s that denied most Irish Catholics many rights, including the right to own land or to hold office. Some of those rights were restored by the early 1800s but by then the damage was done.

By the 1800s, most Irish Catholics were tenant farmers. They leased small plots of land from which to feed themselves and earn enough to pay the rent. They grew crops to sell and they grew potatoes to eat because potatoes were easy to grow in Ireland and they provided more calories per acre than any other crop. During this time the population of Ireland grew to over 8,000,000 by 1841.

In 1845, blight hit the potato crops in Ireland. One-third to one-half of the crops were lost. This blight also hit crops in many other countries but no other society had become so dependent on the potato for survival.

A Relief Commission was established to set up local relief committees composed of landowners, clergy, magistrates, and others. The committees were supposed to organize employment projects and distribute food. They were also tasked with raising money to cover half of the cost and the British government would cover the other half. Nothing went as planned as many of the committees were run by poorly educated farmers who could not get the land owners to donate any money.

The British government appointed Charles Edward Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary of the British Treasury, to oversee relief operations in Ireland.  Trevelyan was a micro manager and managed every detail of the operation. In the spring of 1846, he set up a large scale public works project that was supposed to help the unemployed but it was so burdened with bureaucratic red tape that it only resulted in anger and confusion. Other attempts to relieve the Irish were made by the British but all failed just as miserably.

By the summer of that year, British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel’s government had fallen and was replaced by the Liberals, also known as the Whigs. They believed in the principle of laissez-faire, a theory that opposed government intervention in business affairs, believing the free market would naturally take care of things. This might have worked except the market was not free for the Irish. They were held down by laws that made it nearly impossible for them to compete under British law.

In 1782-83, Ireland experienced a famine and ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland. No such port closures happened this time. Throughout the famine, Ireland was exporting enormous quantities of food. The country was producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population, but those were considered “money crops” and weren’t interfered with.

The government, through the Irish poor laws, opened workhouses that were little more than death camps. Worse, in order to get into a workhouse, one had to give up any rights to property they might have.

Landlords at the time were responsible for paying the rates, or poor taxes, of all tenants whose yearly rent was £4 or less. That meant that Landlords whose land was mostly poor tenants were faced with large bills. They began clearing the poor tenants and by 1847 there was a great mass of evictions. Getting the farmers to leave their land was not always easy and the landlords soon discovered that it was cheaper for them to book passage for their tenants on ships leaving the country.

Many ships in the 1840s were importing lumber from Canada and were happy to get paid to ferry people on the return trip, for a price. The conditions on these ships were deplorable and became known as coffin ships because as many as a third of the passengers died on the trip across the Atlantic.

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, twice served as British Prime Minister starting in 1855. In 1847 he was Foreign Minister and owned land in Sligo and elsewhere. He was one of the first landlords to carry out what some call “forced emigration.” Whether forced or not, people at that time were starving and desperate and would have probably welcomed the opportunity to leave the country. In October of that year, 177 tenants of Lord Palmerston’s estate boarded a ship, along with 300 other Irish immigrants, called the “Lord Ashburton.” 107 people died during the trip and 87 had to be clothed by charity groups before they could disembark.

Earlier that year, if what I have learned so far is true, my great, great, great grandparents, Felix O’Rafferty and Helen (McCormick) O’Rafferty were tenants of Lord Palmerston in Sligo. They boarded a ship heading to Quebec called the Carricks on April 5, 1847, along with their eight children, including sixteen-year-old Eliza, My great, great grandmother.

The Carricks was a 242 ton brig built in 1812.  It was a two-mast ship, 86 feet long and 26 wide. It was bound for Québec City under the command of Capt. R. Thompson. Aboard were 176 tenant farmers and 20 crew members.  On April 28, a storm forced the ship onto the rocks, less than four miles from Cap-des-Rosiers, where it broke apart and sunk. Of the passengers, only 48 survived, including, incredibly, all ten of my family. Of the crew, one boy lost his life.

The voyage and subsequent wreck must have been very hard on everyone, especially Helen who died a few weeks later. Eliza went on to marry Patrick Blake, who became an undertaker in Detroit after the Civil War. His funeral home business grew to be one of the most successful in the country.

By the end of the Potato Famine, 25 percent of the population was gone; half from starvation and disease, the other half from emigration. Surprisingly, the population of Ireland continued to decline for over a hundred more years, reaching only 2.8 million inhabitants by 1961.

The story of the Carricks is true but I have not been able to confirm that my ancestors were on the ship. The timeline seems right but passenger records were destroyed in in a fire in Quebec in 1865. Other names I have come across do not include O’Rafferty. In any case, the fact that they survived the famine is a story worth telling, especially since I am here to tell the story.

Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade at Marker 1 Marina

The annual Holiday Boat Parade in Dunedin, Florida is a beautiful procession of festively lighted boats that leave Marker 1 Marina on the Dunedin Causeway, head south through the Intercoastal Waterway to Marker 2, turn around and finish at the Dunedin Municipal Marina.

We were fortunate enough to live near Marker 1 Maria and saw a few boat parades from our back yard. From our vantage point, we watched the boats leave the marina, head west and then south until they were out of sight. The parade starts around dusk and I was in an ideal location to get some great pictures, as you can see from the photo below.

Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade 2008

Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade 2008

We now live on the other side of the marina and cannot see the boats exit into the Intercoastal. We are, however, closer to the action and can see people getting their boats ready. Before we were seeing more of the “big picture.” Now we get to see the people involved and get a closer look at the boats, although admittingly, only half the marina comes by our home. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see the parade from a new perspective.

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People are getting their boats ready for the parade.

2013 Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade at Marker 1 Marina

A boat full of Charlie Browns.

We saw a boat full of people dressed as Charlie Brown. That was something we would not have noticed from the other side. We yelled for them to turn their lights on but they had to save their power for the parade. A few boats left with their lights off, which was disappointing but understandable since we were at the opposite end of the marina from the exit.

2013 Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade at Marker 1 Marina

 

Daylight soon faded away and all the boats passing by us then had their lights on.
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It was a beautiful night for a boat parade and from what I could see, Marker 1 did a great job getting the boats out in an organized manor. I am already looking forward to next year.

Why do I Still go to Wal-Mart?

It seems every time I find myself in a Wal-Mart store, as I am leaving I tell myself “Never again!” Unfortunately, I have a short memory and end up back at Wal-Mart a couple of weeks later, where I repeat those same words to myself again.

I stopped at Wal-Mart after work on Friday. I parked a mile away, as usual, and walked past 45 handicap spots (I counted them). Most of the spots were empty and the cars that were in those spaces were probably people parked illegally, people who are not handicapped but driving their grandmother’s car, or people who have no trouble walking but our government classifies them as a handicap because they were able to file the request form. My grandmother had a handicap parking permit for her car because she was blind. What?????

I believe our government, in its infinite wisdom, probably requires Wal-Mart to have one handicap spot for every two regular spots because the government loves making rules and because nobody ever bothered checking how ridiculous that rule really is. I could not find the actual requirement online, because I didn’t bother to look, but I am sure my reasoning is either right or wrong.

The reason I went to Wal-Mart in the first place was to pick up flowers for Rose. I knew she didn’t have a vase at work so I thought I could get both the flowers and the vase there. Sure enough, as I walked in the door, the flowers were right there but there was not a vase in sight. I guess that would make too much sense putting the vases near the flowers. Its better to have the customers go searching in hopes that they will find something else to buy.

It worked. I picked up some fruit, which I was going to buy anyway, so I guess it didn’t really work. I then went on safari for the elusive vases. I thought I spotted them in housewares but I was wrong. They can be elusive creatures but fortunately Wal-Mart has several guides to help people on their quest. unfortunately, those guides are as elusive as the very vases I was looking for.

Alas, after a long and exhausting search, I ran out of time and had to give up. At least I had my fruit. Now came the worst part of my trip: standing in line.

The Wal-Mart planners did one thing right; they put in 52 cash registers because they knew that these supercenters get very busy and they needed plenty of cash registers to keep the customers happy and coming back. Of course, somewhere between the planning and actual implementation, something went very wrong. I don’t think I have ever been to Wal-Mart and seen more than 10 registers open at one time. Usually, when I am there, I see two or three registers open on one end and two or three at the other end, so if the lines are long, you could take the long walk to the other side, but since you can’t see that far there is no way to know what you are getting into.

Finally, after a ten minute wait in line, I headed out the store thinking, “Never again!”

My Observations: Part One

I will turn fifty years old in July and I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of the things I have noticed throughout my lifetime. People tend to like their information and quotes in the form of pictures these days so I thought I would start out with some words of wisdom:

Post Quotes as Pictures!

Just kidding, here is my quote for the day by yours truly:

I am amazed at two things

 

If you like it, please share.

How Do You Divide The Kindle Books In A Break-up?

Rose and I both have an Amazon account and after I bought her a Kindle I signed her up for the Amazon Prime membership which, among other things, allows her to borrow certain books for free. Around the same time I put the Kindle program on my tablet computer and linked it to her account. I just thought it would be easier and more efficient if we just had one library.

For anyone who does not know how it works, Amazon remembers all of your kindle purchases and keeps them for you “in the cloud.” When I purchase a kindle e-book, it goes to my (technically Rose’s) virtual library. I can then download the new purchase to my device, whether it be the Kindle, my tablet, my desktop computer or even my phone. To do this, all these devices must be registered to the same account.

If I end up with too many books on a certain device, I can remove some of them and still bring them back in the future if I want to. Another nice feature is that I can read a book on the kindle, then later pick up where I left off on my Android phone.

Here is where it can get confusing. A Kindle e-book is not like a regular book in more ways than one. Besides the obvious, you can’t sell a book when you finish reading it. You can’t even give it away. The best you can do is let someone borrow it for two weeks, but even then, that option must be allowed by the author or publisher. I don’t know all the details but I believe you do not purchase a book but it is more like you buy the right to read it.

I wonder what happens to that right when you die. Does it disappear or does it go to your next-of-kin? Can you leave your rights to someone in your will? Sure, anyone with your username and password can have access to them but what if your benefactor does not know it? Can they petition Amazon for your library?

What I am really curious about is what happens when a couple gets divorced and the one who’s name the account is under changes the password?  I have a good marriage and I don’t have to worry about this but many people do not. I am not a lawyer but I believe anything purchased during a marriage is community property so when the assets are divided up in a divorce the e-books should be part of that division but there seems to be no way to do that.

Technology has changed our lives so much these last couple of decades and the laws that were made for a non-digital society just don’t always apply anymore.I guess for now, in cases like this, we need someone like Judge Solomon to threaten to cut our Kindles in half. What do you think?

 

Sad Times For The Orangutans

Rose and I went to the Lowry Park Zoo last weekend and I was shocked when I learned that the zoo had put all the orangutans out with nothing but the fur on their backs and an old shirt and some paper bags to protect them from the sun.
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One was too embarrassed to show his face.
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Another decided to just wait until the sun went down or until zoo officials changed their mind and let them back inside.
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One thought he could go over the top like Bruce Wayne.
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Yet another decided to use this time to relax.
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With only a few pieces of lettuce to eat, food was getting scarce.

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Soon depression started to set in. This fellow contemplated jumping.

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And this one plotted a way back inside.
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I sat down and talked to one of the orangutans.

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He told me, and I quote, “he he he he he he heeeeee.” I couldn’t help but cry.

Author’s note:
For the one percent of the people that do not know that this is a joke: This is a joke. Please do not call Lowry Park Zoo to complain. Never-mind, call them if you want. It might be funny.

My Smoothie Fiasco

When I was I child I decided the two worst foods in the world were spinach and coconut. This, of course, was before I discovered lentils. I pretty much avoided those two foods until after I met Rose. She made a spinach pie, which I ate out of out of courtesy at first, but then realized that it was quite good. I then discovered that raw spinach was good too and not the horrible toxin that I remember from childhood. Now I will actually order a spinach salad in a restaurant because it is the best salad on the menu.

I think my dislike for spinach goes back to when I was little and my grandmother gave us a bowl of cooked spinach, probably from a can, and told us we had to finish it before we could leave the table. I must have been at the table for an hour before I finally forced it down. I then got up and puked. I think the trauma made me more sick than the spinach. It’s funny how events from childhood can affect us long into adulthood.

Coconut was another story. I didn’t have any trauma connected to coconut, I just didn’t like it. I was well into my forties before I discovered that coconut did not actually taste bad, I just didn’t like the texture. It is like chewing on ground cockroaches.

Ladybug

For those of you grossed out by that statement, let me rephrase it. It is like chewing on ground ladybugs. They are much cuter unless you see them close up.

Ninja BlenderThere is a point to all this, so here we go. Recently Rose and I bought a Ninja Blender. We wanted something better than our old blender for making fruit smoothies and other healthy drinks. This one has 1100 watts and blends much quicker and quieter than I am used to. The first time I used it I was afraid a vortex was going to open up in my kitchen and my brand new blender would be sucked into another dimension. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

Naturally, I looked through the big book of recipes that came with the blender but I could find nothing that I would want to make. Most of the recipes involved opening a can of something or putting perfectly good fruit in the microwave. I’m glad I didn’t pay extra for the book.

I ended up looking on YouTube for some smoothie ideas. I find YouTube to be a great source when you need to learn something and I found plenty of videos on how to make various kinds of smoothies. I saw a few recipes that used coconut and I learned that the fresh, raw, coconut water is very healthy for you. I also knew Rose liked coconut  and I believed that if I could blend it up well enough with other fruits then I could drink it with no problem, as long as I didn’t have to chew it.

The next day I bought a coconut on my way home from work and the following morning I got started on my experimental smoothie. I had watched some videos on the proper way to open a coconut, which all happened to be different, and I thought I was ready. I was wrong.

It seemed so easy. A couple wacks with the back of a meat cleaver and BAM! Of course that didn’t work. The only thing I accomlished was to get Rose yelling at me that it was too early and I was going to wake the neighbors. It didn’t matter that the neighbors moved out days before. So now I had a coconut AND Rose to contend with. How do you quietly pound  the crap out of a coconut? Hmmm…

I decided that I needed to open it fast and to hell with the noise so I got a hammer and screwdriver and pounded until it opened. Even then it took several hits and more yells from upstairs. After it finally opened and I put the water in the blender and then had the delema of breaking the two halves ito smaller pieses, again without making noise.

Once I finally broke the halves into smaller pieses, I then pried the “meat” out of the shell. Unfortunately there is a skin that needs to be removed as well so I had to scrape it off with a potato peeler. When I was finally done I put the pieces in the blender with bananas and other fruit and blended. It came out pretty thick so I added some more almond milk and blended again, this time leaving it on high for a consideable amount of time. I wanted to make sure the coconut was blended smooth.

Finally. After almost forty five minutes I was ready to taste my creation. I poured it in a glass, took a drink and…Yuck! It was like drinking a cat litter smoothie. I had to dump the whole thing down the drain and to top it off, I had to hurry up so I wouldn’t be late for work because I wasted so much time.

I don’t get it. How is it that so many people put coconut in their smoothies? Is it just me that is bothered by it or did I do something wrong? If anyone knows how to make this drink so it is actually drinkable plese let me know. In the meantime, coconut is back on my most hated food list.

What is Wrong With Carnival Cruise Lines?

Many of you have probably seen the news about the problems with the Carnival Triumph. I know that things like this could happen to any cruise line and this may just be an isolated indecent but my last cruise on Carnival showed, to me anyway, that they seem to have put maintenance and upkeep on the back burner.

In a nutshell, the windows were all so dirty you could barely see out of them. The carpeting on our floor was disgusting. There was a soft spot in the floor that I am certain was close to breaking. The laundry room on our floor had three dryers and none of them worked, but they did take my money. To top it off, the excursion we went on was nothing like it was described.

There was also a problem in the dining room. Parts of it seemed much hotter than the rest and there was a terrible smell coming from the area set up for drinks. The smell lasted the entire trip and we happened to be in the dining room around the third day when workers were, in my opinion, trying to track down the smell. Eventually one pointed to the ceiling as if to suggest that something died up there.

Dirty carpets near our cabin

I sent them a long letter detailing many of the problems that Rose and I encountered on their ship. I also included pictures of the windows and carpet. I wrote this letter in a very friendly manner, hoping to get a response from them. I thought the least they could do was give us a discount on a future cruise. What I got was a somewhat disappointing. The following email was dated September 24, 2012:

Dear Charles,
Thank you for contacting us following your recent cruise on the Carnival Destiny.

Keeping customers happy is at the heart of our business. A cruise is meant to be an escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life: a time to feel pampered, to enjoy fabulous food and great entertainment, to lie in the sun without a care in the world.

I am very sorry to hear this wasn’t the case on your cruise. You have my sincere apology for the overall lack of cleanliness you’ve described.

We regret to learn of your overall disappointment with your shore excursion in Jamaica. Although we research and select the best tour operators available at each port of call, there are those rare times when the tour may not be exactly what you envisioned. We apologize the tour did not meet with your expectations and have taken the liberty of forwarding your comments to those that can make a change.

We appreciate your having taken the time to send us your additional detailed comments. As part of our ongoing process to improve our product, your feedback has been shared with the relevant department managers for their disposition.

Please don’t let what happened this time around tarnish your entire opinion of us. We hope you’ll reconsider your position in the future. We’d love to welcome you back.

Sincerely,

Andrea Reyes
Guest Care Specialist
Carnival Cruise Lines | 3655 NW 87th Avenue | Miami, FL 33178 |
800-929-6400
iCare@carnival.com

The letter seemed to leave it open that someone else would contact me. Nobody ever did. I will say that we did have fun on the cruise. All of the people who work on the ship were very friendly and helpful. I also don’t think that experience would have kept us from booking another Carnival Cruise. We would have just made sure it was on a newer ship. It is the lack of caring that bothers me more. If someone would have just made the slightest effort to show us that they really cared, that would have made a difference. Now I think Carnival is about to reap what they sow.

A Ghost in St. Augustine?

Rose and I took a trip to St. Augustine just before the new year. On Saturday Night we had dinner at an Italian Restaurant called Nonna’s Trattoria. We sat outside for dinner and afterwards I took the photograph of the area where we were sitting. When I got home I noticed a strange figure in the photo (left center).

The figure appears somewhat transparent. I know that a long shutter speed and a moving object can have a similar effect but I hand-held this shot at a shutter speed of 1/4 second. Slow but not that slow. In addition, the person would have had to move more than the width of his body to produce this effect which does not seem to be the case. Also, his shadow is very distinct and not from a flash.

I don’t believe in ghosts but this sure is strange. If someone can explain it, please leave a comment.

Is this a ghost?