Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Carolyn J. Rose

Sometimes I feel like a duck in a shooting gallery.

Except, unlike those metal waterfowl, I have the ability to dodge bullets coming at me.

And, in my case, the bullets are figurative. They take the form of accidents, incidents, opportunities, rejections, windfalls, entanglements, penalties, illnesses, and all the other variables of life.

Sometimes, when “bad” bullets flew, I’ve been quick enough to escape unscathed. Sometimes I received only a scratch or a minor wound. But sometimes I took a more serious hit—a hit to my health, my finances, my pride, or my heart.

I dodged some serious bullets before I was even born. I was conceived in a democracy to parents who valued education, hard work, humor, and an inventive spirit. As a toddler I was struck by the polio bullet, but was fortunate enough to shake off the virus and suffer only the fever. After that, the comparatively smaller-caliber bullets of mumps, measles, and chickenpox seemed like marshmallows.

As I grew to my teen years and the world entered the 60s, new projectiles came at me—or maybe it’s more realistic to say there were times I threw myself at them. I rushed toward stupid choices, listened to bad advice, and allowed my emotions to rule. I tried cigarettes and alcohol, puffed marijuana, had sex, and questioned authority. Mostly I hid all that from my parents. Or I lied about it and convinced myself they believed me. At the same time, I longed to be “grown up” and “finally on my own” because everybody knew “I could take care of myself just fine.”

And then I was on my own.

And I discovered how large and fast and powerful some of the bullets coming at me were. I discovered how badly they could damage my mind, my body, and my future.

There were toxic friends who played on my insecurities or steered me down roads less traveled—less traveled for darn good reasons. Some of those friends were obviously needy and greedy. Some were more subtle. They all sucked time, money, and energy. Some sucked at my soul.

There were job choices—decisions made because I wanted new experiences or because I wanted to escape a boss in possession of the title but not the skills.

There were poor health and wellness choices—too much of what tasted good or numbed the pain, too many late nights, too little exercise.

There were the boys and men I convinced myself I wanted to be with. All were charming or fascinating or addictive in their own ways. Many also—whether they would admit it or not—wanted me to live my life according to their rules. And sometimes I did. For a while.

Now, scarred and bullet-riddled, I’m still upright, still crossing the landscape of the shooting gallery called life. I’m the person I am now because of the bullets I dodged. I’m also the person I am now because of the bullets that struck. The bullets I didn’t dodge because I couldn’t. Or because I wouldn’t.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Cheese—A Metaphor for my Life

Carolyn J. Rose

Recently—for no reason I can recall—I thought about cheese as a metaphor for my life, my personality, and my growth and development.

 For the record, I love cheese. For many years, I was all about cheese sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, wedges of cheddar on warm apple pie, extra gratings of Parmesan on my spaghetti, slabs of Gouda sandwiched between crackers, and cream cheese slathered—not smeared—on bagels. Beyond that, I never passed up the opportunity to dip my fingers into a bag of cheese puffs or a box of orange crackers in any shape or size. To this day, they have me under their spell. They beckon from supermarket shelves, airport gift shops, and vending machines. I can smell them from across the street. I can hear their crunch above the conversations in crowded rooms.

Given my cholesterol level, however, I now limit my daily intake to a few crumbles, a thin smear, a small slice, or a handful of puffs. But, given the background on my romance with cheese, thinking of it in symbolic terms isn’t a stretch. Neither is comparing myself, at different times in my life, to various types of cheese.

As a baby, I might have been cottage cheese or perhaps ricotta. Without parental arms to hold me or clothing to swaddle me, I would become, if not exactly formless, then more or less a puddle of flesh and baby fat and soft bones and muscles.

As I grew, I became like cream cheese or Mascarpone, soft and perhaps a little sweet, but able to hold a shape and have enough substance to resist—even if just for a few seconds—the knife of authority.

As a teen, I was more like Gorgonzola or blue cheese. I crumbled at the slightest slight. I fell apart over loss or failure.
 Time and experience, however, made me firm and sharp, like white cheddar, perhaps Vermont Cabot. Later I grew even more firm and sarcastic, with a bite like aged Gruyere. But, like Jarlsberg, I maintained a hint of nuttiness.

Now, I think of my life as a block of Swiss or Emmental. There is still shape and strength and flavor, but there are also empty places. 

They represent interests abandoned because of physical limitations or lack of energy. They represent bucket list items I may never check off. Most of all, they represent people who are no longer with me. There are large holes for those who died, smaller holes for those who moved or drifted from my orbit, and still smaller holes for those whose orbits I launched myself away from.

As I grow older, it’s inevitable that the holes will grow larger and more numerous. The cheese between them will soften and diminish.

How much will be left in five years? In ten? Or twenty?

How long until there are far more holes than cheese?

How long until, as the children’s song says, “the cheese stands alone”?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Towel Art

Months from now, when we look back on our recent vacation, we’ll recall a number of events, incidents, adventures, and misadventures—spotting whales, gorging on lobster rolls, getting an eye-boggling glimpse of Fantasy Fest, and being surrounded at dawn on the Lido Deck by herds of animals and flocks of birds.

 It would have been a nightmare worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock movie except for one thing—these creatures were crafted from towels.

Still, we were startled. Up until then we’d seen only single critters, and only in our stateroom. 

We’d marveled at the way a few choice tucks and folds and a pair of stick-on googly eyes could transform simple towels into a seal or a koala, a penguin, a squid an anteater 
or a . . . 

Say, what are you anyway? 

The Lido deck display, however, took us well past mere marveling and into the awed-and-amazed zone.
A giant towel monkey sat at a table as if waiting for a refill on coffee to enjoy with the morning paper.

Spiders hung from the rafters of the gazebo.


 Alligators and lobsters made their way across the deck.

A giant cobra slithered up a pillar.

 Smaller creatures swarmed the pool enclosure, occupied every lounge chair, and perched on the branches of potted plants.

  The stewards aboard the Rotterdam had risen earlier than usual that morning and created hundreds of critters—all kinds, all sizes, all shapes.
  Like many of the others on board, we grabbed our camera and darted here and there, making ooh and aah noises, clicking away, and trying to stay out of others’ shots.

One passenger, however seemed unmoved by the whole experience.
Who knows, maybe he overdid happy hour at the Crow's Nest Bar.

 As they say, “if you snooze, you lose.” Within a few hours, the on-deck zoo was no more. The towels were back in service. And only the photographs remain. Carolyn and I were, as usual, astounded by the talent, smiling can-do attitude and artistry of our Holland America crew. They made our trip a memory we'll cherish forever. 


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.