Sunday, February 22, 2015


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!