Sunday, February 22, 2015

ROAD TRIP!



Tori and John on their hotel balcony. Happy.

Pirates, penguins, porpoises and more. What a great, serendipitous road trip we had.

Tori and I were talking about going to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., this June for the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival. It's an easy drive from here, it's supposed to be a really good festival, and our friend Tom Mason is the featured performer.

Tori on the road.
But we don't know the town. The only time either Tori or I have been in Florida was stopovers on flights from the states to the islands. We were having trouble figuring out where would be a good place to stay so we could enjoy the festival and do as little driving as possible during the event.

Finally, Tori said, "What the hell! Let's go!" Thursday we jumped in the car with our toothbrushes and a change of underwear each and four hours later we were in Fort Walton Beach. (Whoever told us it was two hours to Pensacola lied – or drove about 130 miles an hour. But that's OK, it was a nice drive. Who knew Mobile has such a great skyline?) We felt right at home. It's a beachside town, and there's something similar about them, whether in Florida, Southern Cal or Oregon. A certain sandy funkiness that we recognized instantly.

Gulf of Mexico sundown.
Pirate and pirate
Unlike our last attempt to enjoy the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, this was a really nice place. I could stay there a while.

We found the waterfront park where the festival takes place, and found a resort approximately a hundred yards away. That would be perfect. We spent the night there, liked it, and the next morning we reserved the last room they had available for the early June festival weekend, a room big enough for us and Kate and Max.

While we were packing up to check out, the phone rang. It was my doctor, who wanted to talk over the results of my blood test. Nothing to worry about, in fact he said it was pretty much exactly what I had told him when I first walked into his office. The only thing to be concerned about is high cholesterol, which I had told him. I've got a cardiac stress test Thursday and assuming all goes well (or at least well-ish) we'll talk about how to get the cholesterol down.

That having been said, a big, greasy road trip breakfast was off the schedule. Tori insisted. For some reason, she wants to keep me around.

We asked at the desk for a good local spot for breakfast would be and they directed us to an out-of-the-way, not at all touristy restaurant called the Neighborhood Cafe. Well named, because that's what it is. It's a neighborhood place that tourists wouldn't even find, let along want to go to. But it was really good. I had an omelet made with egg whites only. It was delicious, and the best part was the hash browns. I'd swear they were cooked in bacon grease. Maybe not the best thing for my heart, but delicious!

But here's the thing –

The cafe was full up – Friday, I guess, the local clientele comes in for their chicken fried steak or biscuits and gravy. And except for the table of guys from the nearby Air Force Base and one other table, we were the youngest customers there – by far! I'm not kidding, I can't think of the last time I saw so many walkers and canes. It's not often these days that I walk into a place and lower the average age of the room.

After breakfast we stopped in at the chamber of commerce, which has a sign boasting "the Billy Bowlegs Museum," which turns out to be their conference room with a bunch of pictures on the wall. We introduced ourselves, Tori mentioned TLAPDay, and the next thing I know the chamber director is out there signing me up to do some radio spots announcing this year's festival.

Tori chats with Cranberry.
Tori and Cranberry
In the afternoon we went to the local aquarium, the Gulfarium. I'm sure during the tourist season it's a terrific place. In February, it was cold, cloudy, there was hardly anyone there, and half the exhibits were closed for the season. But it was a fun afternoon with a dolphin show, at the end of which, Tori got to feed a penguin. She and a girl, about 12 or so, were given instructions and told to sit cross legged. The little penguin, a South African penguin called Cranberry, wasn't interested in eating. Instead, she jumped right into Tori's lap!

It was, all in all, a terrific road trip, two days of just me and Tori. The weather was cold, the sky was  cloudy, and we had a great time together. And this the same week that we celebrated Mardi Gras.

      Sometimes life is too good.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Picture This: Pirates Prowl the Streets for Mardi Gras


It's an old, old saying, but it bears repeating.

To most of the world, yesterday was Tuesday. In New Orleans, it was Mardi Gras! In most of the world, people went through their normal weekday routine. They may have work a colorful tie to the office, or had a little party after work. But they went to the office, they went to work.

Here's the whole city was one big party.

I was again a guest of the Krewe of Pirates, the New Orleans group that parades through the crowded streets of the French Quarter and the surrounding area, pushing the pirate ship over the cobble stones, firing the bead cannon into the crowd. (Although the bead cannon was a little disappointing this year, lot of misfires. I think we need cannon Viagra.)

It was a great time. I learned a couple of important lessons the last time I went with the KoP. You can read about it here, here and here.

One – I got some gel insoles for my boots. In 2013, by the time we got back my feet hurt so badly I could barely walk. The insoles made all the difference. My legs are sore, and my toes were sore, but the soles of my feet were fine.

Two – There is NO place to go to the bathroom when you're out on the streets. No place. The bars and restaurants all have "Restroom for Patrons Only" signs up and they mean it. I spied one bank of portapotties, but the line was as long as most parades. When we got back to our starting point two years ago, I was practically doubled over from the bladder pressure, and I swear, I timed it and it took a full two minutes to pee.

So this year I did not drink my usual half a pot of coffee in the morning, and I stayed away from the beer and champagne. I drank rum from my flask, and I nipped at it, no guzzling. It felt SO much better.

So I had a great time. A GREAT time. Met some terrific pirates I'm proud to call brother. Reconnected with the boys from the Whiskey Bay Rovers, a group of maritime musicians from Lafayette, La., and great guys.They were along for the ride, and sang a tune at the bar.

Tori couldn't come along this time. Max is in the EJHS band and they were marching in the Krewe of Argus parade in Metairie (you wouldn't believe how many parades they have during Mardi Gras – about 30, I think) and Tori went along as one of the parent chaperones. She walked 6.2 miles keeping the crowds away from the kids and making sure they kids got water when needed. I only walked 3.7 miles, albeit pushing a pirate ship, and I got rum! I win.

You can see a video of the fun here.

As always, thanks to Charles Duffy and all the members of the Krewe of Pirates. It was a rollicking good time and I was delighted to be asked aboard. Now for some pix.


Eric of the Whiskey Bay Rovers

Manning the bead cannon.

Irish, a captain of the Krewe of Pirates.

Yeah, that's exactly what it looks like. 

Pirates on the prowl!

Steve of the Whiskey Bay Rovers.

Ol' Chumbucket flanked by Jared and Steve of the WBR.

Irish – A big man full of love – and rum.

A pirate from Tampa – the home of Gasparilla.

Charles Duffy, master of the fleet of KoP.

Not sure what this is supposed to be.

All sorts of costumes take the streets.

The streets become on big party!

Mardi Gras is for everyone!

Dodging a cannon shot of beads.

There's quite a lot of canonical costumes.

This guy's suit could have come from my own closet.

My favorite shot of the day – love the "Praise Cheeses" sign.




Irish's buddy, Shane.

A small group of Christians rally each year in front of the cathedral,
trying to convince revelers to change their ways. Fat chance.


Gandalf the Gray finds that he cannot pass.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Turns Out I'm OK. Not Great, but OK

I passed my blood test today. At least, they stuck a needle in my arm and blood came out. Sounds like a win in my book.

I went to the doctor Monday for the first time in eight years. I haven't had insurance, and I've been feeling fine. But now I have insurance (thank you President Obama) and Tori thought it would be a good idea to actually – you know – see the doctor.
I was fine with that. I was less comfortable with the idea of him seeing me.

I feel OK, but you know, I'm about to turn 60 and I've had a few "issues," as would anyone my age who just doesn't pay much attention to health.

Tori came with me, partly to make sure I went through the door, and partly because she thought there was a chance they'd be rushing me into surgery or calling a priest, or at least calling in the other staff at the clinic to "get a load of this!"

But no, I'm "OK." Not great, but I'm OK. I'm not gonna die today, and I probably won't tomorrow, and really, considering the way the word is, who can honestly say more?

I had an EKG and the doctor said it looked good. He actually sounded a little surprised when he said it. Today's blood test was another part of the battery. He said he's gathering data. It's like he knows there must be something wrong, and he's gonna find it.

The doctor – who seemed so painfully young that I kept wondering when the field trip would be over and he'd get on the bus to go back to school – agreed with what I had said when I first walked into his office. If I lose a little weight, most of those issues will go away. 

Sigh. So long, doughnuts (except on TLAPDay.) Goodbye red meat. Been good knowing you, ice cream. And barbecued pork ribs (again, except on the holiday.) Hello whole grains and leafy greens.

Good thing the Super Bowl was Sunday, It was hard enough watching that game. Watching it without my pulled pork sandwich and a bottle of Shiner's "Birthday Beer," (a chocolate bock that literally tastes like a piece of chocolate cake, yet is unmistakeably beer) would have been too much to ask of a Seahawk fan (It was in the bag man! There was no WAY we could lose!) Can you imagine watching that with nothing to support me but rice cakes and room temperature spring water?

Anyway, that ties into something else. I'm getting ready to move this blog  to Word Press and was thinking of categories for the different parts of my life. Family Life. Pirate Life. Now I can have another category, related to my health.

The categories will be: Family Life. Writing Life. Pirate Life. and – wait for it –

Clinging to Life.

I won't be moving right away, and I'll mention it before I do it. But it's in the works.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Only One Thing You Can Say

Well, that was disappointing. A great game, really a classic, but Aaaaagggggghhhhh! So disappointing at the end. They had it won. THEY HAD IT WON! Second and goal on the one with 30 seconds left, two time outs and Marshawn in the backfield? We got this. That play call was an atypical panic move.

Oh well, it was a great game, with ups and downs and edge of the seat excitement. As a Cubs fan, son of a Cubs fan who was the son of a Cubs fan, I'm used to disappointment, and know that the only thing you can do is brush away the tear and say, "Wait 'til next year!"

Game Time! The Perfect Pulled Pork

 Three reasons why, in this house, my pulled pork sandwiches are required Game Day food.

– It's a simple recipe. Couldn't be easier.

– It's delicious, one of the very best things I make.

– It's the only thing I make that lets me use my meat cleaver. Seriosuly, I have this heavy, razor sharp cleaver, and I only bring it out for these sandwiches.

Here's how you do it.

Two pound pork roast. Most recipes call for pork loin. I use the pork sirloin tip roast from Costco. Throw it in the crockpot.

Add a 12-ounce can of root beer. Yes, root beer. I also add a bit of basil for sweetness and oregano for bite. Then close it up and let it cook on low for about five hours.

After five hours, take it out, pour off the liquid and shred the meat. This is the fun part. I've got a nice, heavy cleaver and go at it, hacking it into shreds. If it's halftime, and your team isn't doing well, this is also therapeutic. Two weeks ago, watching the NFC championship game, the pork was particularly finely shredded.


Then it goes back in to the Crock Pot, and pour in your favorite barbecue sauce. If you make your own, great, sometimes I go that direction. But if it's game day, you don't want to miss a thing, so an 18-ounce bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's or whatever your favorite is poured on top, mixed around. Then close it up again and let it simmer on low for another hours.


Then toss it on a roll or bun, and get back to the game!


Go 'Hawks!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Avoiding Temptation at Dot's

Tori and I went out to breakfast this morning at a place called Dot's Diner. It's kind of a greasy spoon place, which usually means good breakfast. And we weren't disappointed. Everything we wanted in a breakfast, plus gravy.

I did NOT order this item for breakfast, though I was sorely tempted


I have a doctor's appointment Monday, and the Super Bowl is tomorrow (Go 'Hawks!) so I'll be making my legendary – at least in our house – pulled pork sandwich. So this probably wasn't a great idea for a man of my years and health.

It's a great price for a sandwich with 12 strips of bacon, but the crossed-out heart logo speaks volumes. Talk about truth in advertising.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bad History, Teeth, Cats, Idiots


Bad History

I watched the first two episodes of "Sons of Liberty" on the History Channel. I might watch the final episode tonight, but it's hard. It makes good TV I guess, but it's lousy history.

I don't know why I'm surprised. Despite its name, there's an awful lot of non-historical crap on the History Channel.

Through the first two hours of the show I kept throwing up my hands, and a couple of times had to leave the room. It's like that Heath Ledger movie, "A Knight's Tale," which supposedly is about jousting knights and treats them like rock stars – literally, considering some of the music was by Queen. There's a 21st century mindset or attitude that I guess is supposed to help us "get" the issues. But what it really does is hide what's real about those times and those people under a simplistic veneer.

And in the movie, they were fictional characters in a fictional setting. In "Sons of Liberty," these are real people. They really existed and really did things that created this country. And the History Channel's effort gives lip service to some of it, short cuts, truncates and oversimplifies most of it, and then just makes stuff up because it makes good TV.

I forget who said "History is a great story that just happened to have really taken place," but there's a lot to that. I just wish the History Channel had bothered to tell the story that really happened.

Teeth

Went to the dentist last week. That's not particularly noteworthy, except it was the first time in six and a half years. The last time I went to the dentist it was about a couple of teeth towards the back that were breaking off, chip at a time. Necrotic (dead.) Not painful, just kind of annoying. That dentist told me how we'd take care of it over the next few months if treatment. I pointed out that I was moving to St. Croix in three days, and that was that.

So now that I'm covered on Tori's dental and optical insurance, she insisted I go to the dentist. It wasn't bad. Not painful. Yet. Now I have a treatment plan that the insurance will cover about half of. And some of it – scraping and planing and removing the roots of those two missing teeth – does not not sound painless.

But I'm a grownup, and I recognize that if I don't do something, I'll probably lose most of them. So I'll do it.

But first I've got a doctor's appointment next week. Haven't been to a doctor in eight years, since I didn't have insurance. Now I do thanks to the Affordable Care Act (thank you, President Obama.) I could have signed on to Tori's health insurance at work, but adding me would have been so expensive there'd almost be no point in her working.

I feel fine. Not great. I will turn 60 this year and there's plenty of little things. But mostly I feel fine. I've got a list of little nagging things that will make him sit up and keep him busy for a while, running tests and whatnot.

And with new glasses – that's also on the agenda – I'll soon be a new man.

I just hope I'm still funny.

Cats

We are down to zero cats – we're 3 of 3.

In November, Tori brought a kitten home from the Spaymart adoption center for us to foster. She was sick, couldn't be with the other cats. We fed Jane (Tori had named her Jane Austen) and fattened her up, took her in for her shots and neutering, played with her, shared the computer with her, cleared up her ear mites, and took her back so that someone could adopt her. She was a Christmas present for two young kids and is now a pampered and beloved member of that family. They brought photos by the Spaymart the other day.

While we were fostering Jane, Tori brought home Lucy. We were told she needed some discipline, she was unruly, attacked and bit and was unsociable. Sounded fun. She had been found on a boat. Young, probably not more than six weeks old, she was still a little feral and HATED being in the cage at Spaymart. Hissed, growled, bit. It took her a day to get comfortable in our house, but playing with Jane, she got used to us.

In fact, she quickly showed her true colors. She was a little love. She still played kind of wildly. Every morning for about an hour she'd be sort of manic, so much so that we thought maybe Lucy was short for Lucifer, but all of a sudden she'd leap – absolutely leap – into my lap while I was trying to work. She'd scrambled up my leg, up my chest (I still have a few scratches from that) and perch on or near my shoulder, purring. It's hard to type one handed. If you sat in the recliner, any time of the day or night, you were almost certain to wind up with a cat purring on your chest, vigorously rubbing the top of her head into your chin.

But every time Tori brought her back to the Spaymart she went berserk. It was all Tori could do to hold on to her, but no one else could touch her. So she'd come back here.

We tried bringing another cat home to help Lucy socialize. but she was more standoffish than Lucy ever was. Lucy actually helped her socialize, rather than the other way around.

After a couple of weeks, we took the third cat (who had been given the unfortunate name Sweetie Pie. Max temporarily renamed her Bon Quee Quee) back to Spaymart, and she was finally adopted last weekend. back to Spaymart in the hope she'd get adopted.

Which left us with Lucy, and I was getting worried that she'd never get adopted. But Tori put ads on Facebook and Craigslist, and we got a call from a couple that were looking for a cat and thought she was the one. They came by and, instead of hissing and running away like I'd expected, Lucy played with the woman. And the guy has a beard, which Tori is convinced was an important part of the cat's imprinting on me. So she's adopted and I heard today from her new family that she's settled in, happy and loved.

We got them when they were kittens, and got to help them find families. And now they're out, and we don't have to deal with cats. Mission accomplished.

Until Tori brings the next one home.

Idiots

Tori has been having lots of fun with her Galaxy pad, my Christmas present to her. She just found (on Hulu) and binge watched a show that makes "America's Next Top Model" look like Shakespeare. It's called (ironically, I think/hope) "America's Most Smartest Model."

It pits models, male and female, in both modeling competition and quizzes by none other than that asshole Ben Stein. And those parts are hilarious.

My favorite was the blonde (had to be, right?) who somehow managed to last five episodes even though it was obvious she would not stand out intellectually in a vat of toothpaste. Asked the last name of Napoleon, she "thought" – if that's what you want to call it – for almost a minute and then blurted out, "Pierre?" Kudos to her for trying French (though Napoleon was Corsican, which would have blown her tiny mind.)

Even better was when asked "Who assassinated John F. Kennedy?" You could practically hear the hamsters in her head spinning the wheel as she thought and thought, and finally, desperately, said, "Brad?" I'm laughing just typing it.

There were others even stupider than her, but somehow not as flamboyantly stupid. When she finally got eliminated, her last words on camera were a whine, then "Oh no! I really AM dumb!"

And in the final salute to inanity, "America's Most Smartest Model" was won by a Russian. Go figure.