Saturday, November 3, 2018

October Travels

When you’re miles from your next harbor and you see the crew tying down the deck chairs, you know the ship is in for some rocking and rolling courtesy of wind and waves.

But more about that later.

First, a detour to the Catskill Mountains where the leaves were putting on a fall show against a background of stone walls and steep hills. 

We visited with Lorin and Shirley Rose for a few days and were delighted to be accepted at the daily Geezer Breakfast and Insult-fest at a wonderful place called Bread Alone. 

Mike played something that vaguely resembled golf at a lovely Catskills Mountain course. Luckily, there were no life-threatening injuries and creative language skills were exhibited by all the players.

Before we wore out our welcome, we boarded a train for Montreal, rolling along through more incredible scenery. The weather turned cold and crisp, perfect for a walk around the city.
Statue of Paul de Chomedey Maisonneuve Montreal Founder

And then we hit the deck, boarding the Rotterdam for a two-week cruise that would cover 3,764 nautical miles and wind up in Tampa. 

 The next morning we woke up in Quebec and scaled the hill to the Plains of Abraham. It’s a tough climb for legs that have done 7 decades of walking, and it was a tough return to the ship because Carolyn took us about a mile out of our way.

Quebec Skyline with Le Chateau Frontenac left rear
 On the plus side, Mike no longer has to endure the “Natty Bumpo” jokes about his sense of direction. The compensation was sights to see along the way and an encounter with two police officers who found great joy in agreeing that Mike was correct about the route we should have taken. Hi fives were enjoyed by 3 of the 4 people present. 

Quebec had a lot of street art, much of it historical, but our favorite was this Salvador Dali installation outside the historic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
The sunrise on the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the 15th was awesome—and so were the rising wind and mounting swells. That’s when the Captain announced we’d have to scratch Prince Edward Island and spend another day at sea. Making the most of the opportunity, Mike got into a poker tournament and won enough to cover our train tickets.


The storm abated and we made it to Sydney and made the most of the opportunity to pig out on a lobster roll and take a long walk. That evening we logged our first win at trivia, joining Gary and Sally from the St. Louis area and Alan and Diane from Ottawa to form a team Mike liked to call the Numpties. Note that a lobster roll differs from the similar sounding lobster role, which has to do with an actor, who, desperate for work, dressed up as a crustacean.  
Actor planning on firing his agent

On Thursday we reached Halifax and, despite a brutal wind and flurries of snow, made it to the Citadel. The view from the crest of the hill was amazing, but when you’re losing feeling in your ears and fingers, it’s hard to appreciate history. We beat a quick retreat for the ship and bowls of hot soup.

Friday the 19th found us in Bar Harbor devouring another lobster roll, admiring the town’s library, and walking the less tourist-trodden streets.
Quaint alleyway in Bar Harbor

Then it was on to Boston and an immersion in Revolutionary War history at Lexington and Concord. Our guide was a touch gormless, but we sat in on a great talk by the park ranger at the Concord Bridge.

Concord Bridge

We followed our Minuteman tour with a stroll through Harvard Yard. A Harvard student informed us it was just a place full of old brick buildings that weren’t any smarter than old brick buildings anywhere else. Expect this guy to end up in the White House some day.

Harvard Student Union

Another storm kept us from Martha’s Vineyard, but the tradeoff was getting to New York earlier than planned and passing the Statue of Liberty in daylight instead of at night. 

 The skies were clear, but the wind was still vicious and so powerful that Carolyn was at its mercy and couldn’t stay on deck without getting a death grip on the railing. She clung to Mike all the way back inside, mumbling something about "my own personal anchor." Or words to that effect.

Monday the 22nd we took a walking tour of the Battery, Wall Street, and the 9/11 Memorial, a powerful place. 

Our guide, a long-time city dweller, was terrific, melding the present with the past and personal recollections. One of the ironies is that the pools were designed as a place of quiet reflection but the din of conversation from tourists makes it a place of noisy reflection. 

At Wall Street we go a picture of the symbolic Bull (surrounded by  tourists taking selfies) and the little girl who stands nearby glaring at the bull. 

One of our favorite buildings was this one which we thought looked like a game of Jenga. 
56 Leonard Street Apartments

Sure enough, our guide said she didn’t know it’s official name, but Everybody calls the biggest building in Tribeca the “Jenga Building.”

The next day we cruised south and on Wednesday docked in Charleston Harbor. Pelicans flew past and dolphins surrounded the ship, diving and leaping in their search for snacks. 

Our own search, after a walk to Battery Park and along streets lined with historic homes, took us to Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit for a thick, tasty, crumbly golden brown treat. We made no effort to go light on the butter. Calories don’t count while you’re on vacation, right?
Mortar on The Battery Charleston Harbor

Historic Church in Charleston S.C.

Our day at sea on the way to the southernmost point in the continental U.S. was highlighted by a spectacular sunset off the Florida Coast, somewhere in the general vicinity of Miami.


Arriving in Hemingway country, Key West Florida, an event  billed as Mardis Gras on steroids was in full swing. 

The free-for-all featured some colorful and imaginative costumes. 

Clothing seemed to be pretty much optional at the event, and not just because it was around 90 and humid. We’re starting a drive to supply mirrors to the needy Key Westerites who obviously didn’t have one to examine themselves in before stripping and slathering body paint hither and yon.

 Since we had checked out our reflection that morning on board the Rotterdam, we rode the Conch Train around the city instead of frolicking alfresco, and then succumbed to the lure of conch fritters and chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick. Damn the calories, full steam ahead. One slice of pie destroyed six months of swimming laps..

And then, after another day at sea and a third win at trivia, it was over and we docked in Tampa and made our way home.

We’ll remember a lot of things about our trip, and one of them will be the towel creatures that swarmed the deck one morning. More about that next time.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pondering Lost Things and a Memory I Can’t Shake

Carolyn J. Rose

"You Can't Have Everything. Where would you put it?"

Comedian Stephen Wright

When I was about ten and visiting my grandmother, I fell in love with a tiny metal grooming implement—a nail file attached to a tweezers. It was small and cute, and I wanted it. Never mind that, in those days, I used my teeth on my fingernails and couldn’t understand why anyone would suffer the pain of plucking their eyebrows. The point was, as I said, that I wanted it.

So I did what most ten-year-old kids do, I cajoled and pleaded and whined. I promised to use it and take care of it. I promised not to hurt myself with it. After what seemed like hours, my grandmother caved and gave it to me.

I put it in the pocket of my shorts and took off to show it to a friend, my fingers touching the cool metal now and then while I trotted along the summer-baked asphalt county road. As I hoped, she had nothing like it. She was envious. She intended to ask her parents to buy her one just like it.

And so, mission accomplished, I jogged along a dirt road, climbed across a stone wall, and cut through a field on the way home for dinner. At the far edge of the field I slid my hand in my pocket. To my horror, I discovered my treasure was gone.

I checked my other pockets. I backtracked along the faint path, hoping to see sunlight glint off its silvery finish. I stooped low. I cocked my head. I riffled the grass with my bare feet. I crawled and combed it with my fingers.


I returned the next day and the next one after that.


I never told my grandmother I’d lost that little tool. I suppose I knew she wouldn’t sympathize or offer to replace it. And, when I got older and spotted similar items in stores, I never purchased a one. They no longer seemed unique and I never felt the need to experience the thrill of ownership.

In the past sixty years I’ve lost plenty of other things—money, tickets, papers, books, and even—now and then—my way. Recently I’ve spent far too much time hunting for socks gone astray, pens I was sure I put on my desk, and keys I was positive had to be in the kitchen where I “always” put them. Some lost things I’ve found and some I haven’t. Some I’ve replaced and some I haven’t. Most things lost in my youth I have only vague memories of.

But the memory of that tiny implement hasn’t faded. It flits across my mind when I see a field of tall grass or file my nails or declare war on the rogue hairs in my eyebrows. I have no idea why the mental video of my ten-year-old self searching for it remains so clear and firmly embedded.

The mind is a strange and wonderful thing.

You can't have everything. Where would you put it? Steven Wright
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Monday, August 20, 2018


Carolyn J. Rose

My mother was a nurse and read many books on nutrition. When we were kids, she planned meals that contained all elements from the food pyramid, with an emphasis on vegetables.

Potato chips, cola, and white bread didn’t make many appearances at our house.

Neither did candy.

Sure, it turned up around Halloween, at Christmas, and in the bunny baskets at Easter. But desserts or sweet snacks—and those snacks were pretty darn small because of that pesky food pyramid—consisted of fruit in a pie, or fruit in gelatin, or just plain fruit.

My grandmothers, however, often had cookies or cake, and they had candy every day of the year. They had it right out in the open, in their living rooms, where anyone who came to visit could see it. One kept butterscotch bits and caramels in a crystal dish with a heavy lid. The other stored mixed candies in an inlaid box someone had brought her from Brazil. The top featured butterfly wings pressed beneath glass.

That lid often seemed more enticing and interesting than the contents of the box. The candy wasn’t what I considered to be prime. Oh, there were mints, and sometimes spicy gumdrops, and almost always chunks of black licorice. But digging through the box in search of chocolate was usually an exercise in futility.

It was also an exercise in learning about manners, hygiene, and how germs spread. “Are your hands clean?” I’d be asked. “If you touch a piece, take it, and eat it,” I’d be told.

It was also a lesson in playing well with others. My brothers and cousins all knew about the box and all hit it on a regular basis—sometimes as a group. “Don’t be a pig,” we’d shout at the person who got there first. “No fair taking the best ones,” we’d whine.

I imagine there are many people who still have candy boxes or covered dishes in their living rooms. I’m not one of them. First, Max the entitled Maltese would no doubt sniff it out and find a way to get to it and thus require me to make a frantic race to the emergency clinic to have his stomach emptied. Second, I don’t trust myself to pass a dish of candy without relieving it of some of its contents. Passing a dish two dozen times a day would expand my waistline. And it doesn’t need expanding.

This is not to say that candy isn’t welcome in our home. We buy dark chocolate bars, stash them out of sight, and take segments now and then. On low-stress days, I may not eat any. On days of higher stress—particularly those when I’m subbing for challenging classes—a single segment isn’t enough.

On those days I think of my mother. She loved chocolates and, after we were all grown and gone, often indulged. When she found a good deal, would buy a pound or two. She’d eat a few and then ask my father to hide the rest for a few days and save her from herself. He’d do his best, but she was as experienced at hunting as he was at hiding, and she often said, “He didn’t do a good job. It took me only an hour to find them.”

Their house has been sold twice since they died, but sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a bag of chocolates hidden behind a baseboard or stashed high on a rafter. I like to imagine my mother is still searching for it, and my father is smiling and shaking his head when she asks if she’s hot or cold.