Saturday, August 30, 2014

The boy on the billboard

My personal blog

For the past several months, I have seen a billboard on the Gulf Freeway, northbound, just north of the Galveston causeway. Nothing too special about a billboard on the side of a major highway, right? This one, though, really caught my eye. On it was a child’s face, not advertising McDonald’s Happy Meals or the latest juice box sensation, but asking for prayers.

I’d pass this billboard each day on my way home from work, always wondering how this child was doing. Is he getting better? How is he holding up? Is his family doing OK? I’m not a physician, but I was a paramedic for a long time, have worked in a clinical pathology lab and now do infectious disease research, so I do have an appreciation for the dreaded “c-word.” My wife and I don’t have children, so I can’t even imagine what Percy’s parents are going through.
Ever since I saw this billboard, I’d include Percy, his family and health care team in my prayers, when I remembered to do so. Yes, you read that correctly. I would forget at times to include them in my prayers, especially when other closer to home thoughts took precedence.

About a week ago, on a Monday afternoon, I was driving home from work and noticed a different billboard. I don’t have a photo of this one, and the one above I got from a Google search. This new billboard really broke my heart. I’m paraphrasing here, but I think I have it pretty close: “Percy lost his battle with cancer. Age 7. Thanks for all of your prayers.”

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

I was not expecting to see that particular message. The logical part of my mind asserted that such a thing shouldn’t be a surprise, but the emotional part of my mind was saddened and disappointed. After I got home, I wanted to know more. Another Google search revealed that this child was Percy Hayes, suffering from “undifferentiated abdominal sarcoma.”

I read the article and watched the embedded video from my search and learned that the billboard went up in January. The article was written about the same time. So, it took me seven months to actually research the story behind the billboard. Seven. Months!

I don’t know this child or his family and thus have no real personal connection, other than a billboard. I really have no right to feel sad other than mourning the loss of a child to such a disease. My biggest regret is not researching this sooner, and reaching out to the family and letting them know that strangers such as myself were praying for Percy. It’s too late now, but this would’ve been a great opportunity to have a friend of mine, Mutzie, get involved. He could’ve help spread the word and exponentially increased the prayer circle. Anyway, once I finish this blog and post it, I’ll e-mail the reporter on the story and ask her to forward it to the family. It’s all I can offer at this point.

Rest in peace, Percy. I know you are in a better place, free from this dreaded disease, free from pain and basking in the glory of our Lord.

To Percy’s parents and family, I will keep you in my prayers and ask God to help you through this time. Please know that word did get out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Caches and portals and Munzees, oh my!

My personal blog

Is my cup starting to runneth over? At times I think so and yet I eagerly refill it as soon as even the slightest hint of rim appears. This is no mere 3 oz. Dixie cup, either. My cup here would be more of the 52 oz. “bubba mug” variety. I’ve never been one to be satisfied with a sampler size of anything, especially when it comes to having fun. I’m referring to, of course, the way I choose to spend my “spare” time.

Hobbies….we all have ‘em, right? Some of us are content with one or two, while others, like me, aren’t satisfied unless every spare minute of every day could be taken up with something. The immediate reference that comes to my mind is Chet Morton, friend of the Hardy Boys. Life is full of irony and at times I’m astounded by how much life and art are so closely intertwined.
Chet has been described as a freckle-faced, rotund lad that loves to eat. Generally, each new Hardy Boys mystery will have Chet taking on a new hobby. I’m surprised my middle name is Charles instead of Chet. Then again, a friend of mine from my college days, John Myers, said I’d make the perfect Hobbit. I beg to differ, though, in that I can’t be the perfect hobbit. I don’t care for mushrooms nor do I smoke. Other than that, though….

As usual, I digress, but no surprise there, right?

Let’s take a look at what I’ve done in the past, and see what I’m up to now. In college, the same John who deemed me Hobbit worthy introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. Up to that point, I had only heard about it, but never played it. I was reluctant to play, though, as I wasn’t one of “those weird, oddball types” that I heard made the vast majority of players. Hey, these were some of my friends, and they were cool! Recently I read the book Of Dice and Men, which is a history of the game. I recommend it to anyone curious about “those weird, oddball types,” as I think you’ll find that that’s really not the case, at least any more. I haven’t played since college, but I think I see a bit of rim forming on my bubba mug. Any unemployed dungeon masters out there?

What else have I spent lots of time and money doing since D&D? I’ve had fun skydiving, playing golf and managing stage productions at a local theatre. Please, don’t bother asking the standard question: “Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” The short answer to that is “There’s no such thing as a perfectly good airplane.” Seriously. Take a look at most jump planes and you’ll probably agree. Those who saw my car when I was skydiving and playing golf regularly were often amused to see two decals on my back window….one for the US Parachute Association and one for the US Golf Association. I bet my previous blog about my “schizo” music makes much more sense now, doesn’t it? Would it surprise you to know what I’m listening to right now as I write this blog? Probably not.

Technology’s rapid advance not only creates new jobs, increases productivity and generally enhances life, it also creates new ways to have fun. Two items, the GPS receiver and the “smartphone” demonstrate what I’m referring to. Once Selective Availability was discontinued in 2000, civilian GPS units now had the ability to locate its position within a circle of about 9 feet….anywhere on the planet. This created many opportunities for entrepreneurs to take advantage of such accuracy. Enter geocaching. I first discovered geocaching while looking online for accessories for my first GPS unit, a Magellan GPS 315 (now considered obsolete). Geocaching is essentially a worldwide “treasure hunt.” I don’t know the original source of this, but my favorite description of geocaching is “utilizing billion dollar US government satellite technology to find Tupperware hidden in the woods.” I created my geocaching profile in May of 2003 with the name “Lefty Writer” (sound familiar?). Compared to many other cachers, I don’t have near the number of cache finds as they do, but both Cindy and I have fun. We’ve found caches in 14 states and 8 countries. One of the first things I do when we book a cruise is to search for caches near the cruise terminal. Admittedly, we don’t cache as much as when we first started, but we still enjoy the occasional foray into the woods, parks or urban jungle.

I don’t know that I would call cruising a hobby as much as I just call it “vacation.” It’s a good way to get us to some really awesome dive spots in the Caribbean. Now that there are scuba caches, we can combine two hobbies. My first scuba cache find was at Mammoth Lake in Clute. What a cool overlap, huh? Caching and diving. Hold that thought, though, as I think you’ll see there’s gonna be even more overlapping.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find a cell phone that isn’t a “smartphone.” Yes, there are some basic cell phones still available, but one really has to look for it. Smartphone technology has evolved by leaps and bounds in a short time. I can only imagine what will be available in 5 years. For now, though, I have everything I need with my phone, including GPS navigation. I still take my standalone GPS receiver with me when traveling or caching, though. Yes, even this device, a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx has been discontinued by the manufacturer. I now use this more to generate a track log of our trip and download it to Google Earth.

Who isn’t tired of hearing/seeing/reading: “There’s an app for that.” in our everyday lives? I’m not against useful or fun apps, not at all…..just that goofy phrase. In July of 2011, a game called Munzee was created. Munzee is very similar to geocaching, but instead of an actual container to find, one looks for a specific sticker with a QR code on it. The player then scans this code with their phone to claim the find. I created an account shortly after the game went live and to date have found exactly ONE Munzee. Yes, you read that correctly… Oftentimes a Munzee is very close to a geocache, so those who enjoy these types of games can do both at once. I don’t know why I never really got into Munzee, but my account is still active and I may start doing more of this. You’ll see why shortly.

Late last year a new smartphone based game was released called Ingress. Leave it to me to only discover this game in the last week….seven months later! Actually, my sister Victoria found out about it from her co-workers and let me know about it. This game has an extensive science fiction back story and is location based like geocaching and Munzee. Of course I had to create an account (Join the resistance!) and start playing, right? Just as with geocaching, I now look on a map to see where “portals” are as I plan a cruise or a trip to the local library or grocery store.

What I noticed when checking out the various game maps is the incredible overlap between them all. My local library has all three in close proximity. I’ve noticed several other locations where all three games have their own destination in the same place.
The only downside to the Munzee and Ingress games is that being smartphone based,  it will limit my game playing to the US. I don’t want to pay international roaming and data charges looking for Munzees or portals in Caribbean ports. I can download caches to my GPS receiver and log my finds when I get back, but can’t really do this with the other games. I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with diving and caching then. Wow, how will I cope?

Until next time……

carpe cerevisi

Monday, June 30, 2014

Up the creek.....but which one?

My personal blog, 6/29/14

So, last weekend my dive club (“BAD”) had a group dive at Athens Scuba Park. While the viz wasn’t too good, we still had lots of fun. We drove up I-45 until we got to Buffalo, then took highway 79 into Palestine and then highway 19 into Athens. Now, any true Stephen King fan will be able to relate to me wanting to get a photo of a highway 19 sign. If you don’t get it, well, your local library should have plenty of Sai King’s works to help you figure it out. Yes, the library (or an ebook). Please don’t cheat yourself out of some fantastic reading by googling it.

Driving up I-45 and highway 79, we crossed many creeks. Now this in and of itself isn’t particularly noteworthy except for what I happened to notice about their names. We crossed (in no particular order) Beaver Creek, Otter Creek, Bear Creek, Wolf Creek, Catfish Creek and Boggy Creek. Wow, lots of animal names here, don’t you think?

Before I get too much further, though, I’ve always wondered why some people pronounce creek as “crick.” The double-e in the name should impart a long e sound, like street, right? I mean, I’ve never heard someone pronounce street as “strit,” so why is creek referred to as “crick?” Just curious, that’s all…..

Anyway, after passing the third or fourth creek with an animal name, I started laughing, because it was amusing to me. My wife was studying and glanced at me, wondering why I would just spontaneously start laughing. I had to explain why I thought it was funny.

Now, right off the bat, no pun intended, three of these creek names immediately reminded me of something other than what Wikipedia refers to as “a body of water that is a small to medium sized natural stream.”

Boggy Creek, to me, will always be a movie about a “bigfoot” type of creature that I saw as a child with my eldest sister (the movie not the actual critter). I’m tempted to try to convince my sister, as well as my wife to attend an annual festival for this creature. In all honesty, I didn’t know this festival existed until I googled “Boggy Creek” for a suitable reference. Naturally, I looked at google maps and see that it’s just over a 5 hour drive from the house. So, who else is with me? Road trip, anyone?

Beaver Creek is a ski area near Vail, right? At least that’s the image my mind conjures whenever I see “Beaver Creek.” I never actually got a chance to ski Beaver Creek, but I did ski Arrowhead, which is now part of the Beaver Creek resort area. Since I’m writing about Colorado, I should mention why Wolf Creek is something more than just another “small to medium sized stream.”

C.W. McCall is best known for his song Convoy, released in 1975. Ironically, his song Wolf Creek Pass on his album of the same name made the top 40 before Convoy did. Wolf Creek Pass is one of my favorite “fun songs” and while I haven’t had a chance yet to drive across the real Wolf Creek Pass, I’d sure like to one day, just as I’d like to take a rafting trip through Lodore Canyon. Yep, that’s the setting for another song by Mr. McCall, and the imagery of a rafting trip on this wild river makes me want to sign up for the next trip.

Hhhmmmm, Stephen King and C.W. McCall……

The obvious connection between these two guys is Colorado. Our last road trip to Colorado in 2010 allowed me to experience a little “real life” magic by visiting places either directly mentioned by one of these gentlemen or at least served as an inspiration for one of their works. This, my friends, will be the subject of my next blog, or the one right after that.

Until next time…

carpe cerevisi

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day...twice!

My personal blog, 6/15/14

First and foremost, a very happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there reading this! To those who have their fathers around, please, please give them a hug and tell them you love them while you still can. There will be a time when this won’t be possible, and you’ll wish every day to have one more chance to do so. At least I do…..

Today’s blog is an attempt to show my respect and love for two men I had the privilege to call “dad” as well as honor many other fathers I have the privilege and honor to call my relatives or friends.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have guidance from two dads… biological father and my dad who married my mom. Not using the most popular moniker of “stepdad” caused a little confusion at times, but for me anyway, the term “stepdad” tended to create an artificial distance that wasn’t there. I didn’t care to add “step” to his title, so Dad he was. So, throughout this blog, I use “my father” for my biological father Harold, and “dad” for my mom’s husband Cletus, or “CB” as he preferred to be called.

Both of these men instilled good values in me and provided crucial life lessons that to this day I am grateful for.  Both had their unique view on life based on where and how they were raised and I benefitted from having a diverse point of view. While both shared a somewhat rural upbringing, their paths diverged as adults. With all the differences in their adult lives, there were just as many similarities. Both were veterans, with my father being an Army vet who served in Korea during the Korean War and dad, who served in the Navy in WWII.

I really don’t want to turn this into an extended eulogy for either man. That’s already been done, and I see no reason to change something that doesn’t need to be changed. Rather, this is more of an opportunity to share a few details about my father and my dad. Quick disclaimer here….family members reading this may have a different view or interpretation of what I’m writing, and that’s OK. These are based on my memories and how I perceived things through my own filters. Yes, I know, “facts are facts,” and I’m sure somewhere along the way I’m gonna get some factual details wrong. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be OK, I promise.

Harold L. Newman, 2/25/33 – 7/2/95:

One of my earliest memories is of my father driving his company car. At the time, he worked for NL Baroid, which supplied treating chemicals to production wells. The company colors were red and yellow, so the company cars had a predominantly yellow body with a red top. This was in the early 70’s, so just imagine the styles of cars at the time and you’ll have a good idea what I’m referring to. I really don’t know why that’s always stuck in my mind.

He loved to hunt, and once I was about 10 or so, I was allowed to accompany him on some of these outings. We would hunt deer in the Huntsville, Texas area and hunt dove in the Rio Grande Valley. When I first started dove hunting, my father modified the stock of a bolt action .410 shotgun to fit my small frame. Now, he didn’t just cut down the stock and call it good. He sanded all the woodwork down and restained it. Years later, my late brother Dennis (more about him later) completely changed the stock of this shotgun with a handmade version that looked like something out of one of the original Planet of the Apes movies.

After leaving Baroid and accepting a position with National Lead – Treating Chemicals (“NLTC”), his job required extensive travel. At this point, he was in the sales part of the company rather than working as a field engineer. NLTC transferred him to London as the Eastern Hemisphere Sales Manager in the late 70’s. At the time, I was living in Calallen, and he and his “other” family lived in Houston. I was able to visit him frequently by flying from CRP to HOU via Southwest Airlines. Once he moved to the UK, though, I was limited to letter writing and the occasional phone call. Letter writing? As in pen on paper, stick it in an envelope kind of thing? Yep! Twice a year, NLTC would buy me an airline ticket to go see him.

My father actually accompanied me on my first trip across the pond. I met him in Houston (driven there from Calallen by my mom and “dad,” by the way) and we flew on National Airlines from IAH to MIA on a 727 and then from MIA to LHR on one of National’s DC-10’s. I can still vividly remember that trip, even after all these years. Yes, there’s a reason I’m using a bunch of airline lingo. For one thing, it’s an efficient way to communicate. For another, this is where the travel bug really took hold of me. Flying has been a passion of mine as far back as I can remember.

London was, in a word, epic! Their public transportation is impressive. During one summer I spent there, I would wake up most mornings, have breakfast, and walk less than a quarter of a mile to a bus stop. I’d take the bus to a nearby subway station (The “tube”) and from there the city was mine. I would just pick a random museum or other destination, and go exploring until lunchtime. I would then take the tube to close to where my father’s office was and meet him for lunch. One of my favorite spots was the Old Vienna Restaurant. Another was Maddox Square Garden. After lunch, I’d explore some more and then meet my father near his office and we’d head home together.

After a couple of years back in Houston, my father took a job with Treat-O-Lite, a division of Petrolite. This company was similar to NLTC, and it was off to live in Singapore as the Global Sales Manager. Once again, I had to rely on letters and phone calls to keep in touch for most of the year. Just as when he worked for NLTC, Treat-O-Lite allowed me two plane tickets per year to visit him. Yep, pretty much on the other side of the planet, now…..13 hours ahead of Texas time. I got to experience just what an awesome airline “SQ” is. I would fly from CRP to SFO via IAH, typically on Continental, then pick up SQ from SFO to SIN. The SFO – SIN segment was 24 hours long, with transit stops in HNL and HKG. These trips, while long, were always fun. Unfortunately, Singapore’s public transportation wasn’t as developed as London’s, but I managed to get around either via taxi or riding with his wife.

His assignment to Singapore is how I had the chance to also hang out in Tahiti for a week. Our time in Tahiti was special, but even more so because one night it was just my father and me, relaxing on the beach in lounge chairs, stargazing and……talking. Just, talking….about life, the universe, and everything (thank you, Douglas!). Tahiti is where my interest in scuba took root. Being raised on the Texas gulf coast, my only experience with salt water was limited. I had no idea that salt water wasn’t all silty like the Gulf of Mexico beaches can be. Tahiti was the first time I experienced salt water with the clarity of a swimming pool! We did some snorkeling while there and the beautiful reefs, teeming with colorful fish, made me realize just how wonderful tropical waters could be.

After retiring from Treat-O-Lite, my father and his family moved back to Houston, and this is where his part of this blog ends. I will write more about him in future blogs, of course, but it’s time to move on.

Father, friend, and fraternity brother 

Cletus B. “CB” Burgess, 4/12/23 – 4/28/99:

After my mom and my father parted ways in the late 70’s, she married a true country gentleman, CB Burgess. They met while mom was a real estate agent and “dad” was a builder. A new (at the time) subdivision was established in Odem and naturally builders and real estate agents must interact. After their courtship and marriage, CB brought a unique set of values into the family. Being a cattle rancher, horse owner and general builder, he exposed me to new situations that I had not yet had a chance to experience. I learned how to ride a horse, work cattle, and perform maintenance on tractors and various farm implements. He showed me how to train horses and show cattle and take pride in my work.

This is not to say that I was “spoon fed” these skills. In high school, I was in FFA and part of my requirements was to participate in a livestock show. I chose to raise and show “breeding beef” animals. My first project was a Beefmaster heifer. I was responsible for taking care of this animal from feeding and grooming to training it. During the livestock shows, I needed a “showbox” to keep all my grooming supplies in. My FFA Advisor provided me with plans to build one, and dad bought me all the materials to do so. One step called for installing wood runners on the inside of the box to support a shelf. I was trying to nail these runners in place, and was struggling to keep them in place until I got the nail started. Dad just stood there, watching me, not saying anything. After almost an hour of struggling, to the point I was about to lose my patience and start throwing things, the proverbial light bulb came on. I realized that if I started the nails from another side, the box itself would hold the runners in place. Duhhhh! I felt like an idiot! I looked up at dad and he grinned and said something like “It took you long enough to figure that out.”

“Why didn’t you tell me to do it the other way instead of letting me struggle?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t have learned anything if I did that,” he said, “but now you’ll remember it forever.”

Point taken, dad, thanks! And yes, I do remember! This simple lesson has lasted me a lifetime. Take a look at the alternatives if something isn’t working. Such a simple lesson, yet so profound.

Like my father, CB enjoyed hunting. We got to hunt deer at a lease near central Texas and hunt dove on the back portion of our lot in Odem. No, I’m not being purposely vague about the deer lease. I just can’t remember exactly where it was.

When I received my commission as a 2LT in the Army Reserve, dad was there to pin on my bars. Unfortunately, due to other circumstances, my father couldn’t be there for that, but this just shows what having two dads did for me.

His story ends here, for now. As much as I’d like to keep writing about him, I still have more to cover and this will turn from a blog into a book if I’m not careful. If you’ve managed to make it this far, thank you for hanging in there. I’m almost done.

A true gentleman

I want to take a few more minutes to recognize a few other fathers I know. This is NOT a “best father of the year” contest, and if I fail to mention some names it’s not because I think they don’t deserve comment. These are just a few guys that have left a specific impression on me and that immediately come to mind.

For a few years my late brother Dennis and I shared a house. We did this both in Gypsum, Colorado and in Spring, Texas. He raised two good kids, Amie and Lloyd. After his untimely demise, Amie and Lloyd went to live with their mom. It’s a pleasure to see them now as adults, and to hear both of them speak warmly of their father and his impact on their lives makes me feel good.

While in Colorado, I worked full time as a medic with the Western Eagle County Ambulance District (“WECAD”). I understand they are now called “Eagle County Paramedic Services.” Anyway, we worked closely with both the Eagle Volunteer Fire Department and the Gypsum Volunteer Fire Department. In fact, I was a volunteer with each agency when I lived in the respective districts during my time off from WECAD. The GVFD Chief at the time was Dave Vroman. I would sometimes meet him at his house for breakfast, and to watch him interact with his three kids was heartwarming. I could see and feel the love and warmth he had for his children, and it was always a pleasure being around them.

More recently, I’ve had the chance to see Kevin Schroeder be an awesome father to his kids. With social media sites like Facebook, it’s easy to see what a great father Kevin is. He’s a great Christian, whose love and support for his kids should be an example of how to be a good father.

A few years ago, Cindy and I were on the Carnival Magic (or was it the Conquest?) and we watched this comedian named Mutzie perform during one of the “family” shows. Carnival has their comedians perform a family show early in the evening and then an adults only show later in the night. I was strikingly impressed with Mutzie’s performance, but what really blew me away was what he said at the end of his family show. He asked for the house lights to be turned up and then asked for all the kids to raise their hands. He then asked for all the kids to hug their parents. “Kids, this may not seem like a big deal now, but trust me, it will  be later.” Wow…..just, wow! After the show ended, he was standing by the sound booth, drinking a glass of water. I hesitantly made my way up to him to extend my thanks and appreciation for what he said to the kids. I planned to say just that, and take off, as I figured he wouldn’t want to have to talk to some fans between his shows.

Not only was Mutzie warm and friendly, but as I started to leave, he asked that I stay and just visit a little longer. We talked about losing our parents and 30 minutes later we parted as friends. I keep up with him via e-mail and Facebook, and can’t wait to see him again on another Carnival ship. He dotes on his two adult kids and again one can see what a great father figure he his.

Speaking of Carnival, I had the pleasure of meeting Carnival’s Senior Cruise Director, John Heald, when he organized a “bloggers event” when the Magic came to Galveston. His blogs and Facebook posts are a delight to read, and the way he lovingly speaks of his daughter is a pleasure to read. He recently lost his father, and from what he’s written, I can only imagine how hard it is for him. So, I’m devoting a few lines in my blog as a show of respect for him.

A longtime friend, Dan Griffin, is another good man who deserves a few lines from me. Dan is a remarkable father to some wonderful kids. His eldest just graduated from high school this year. My heart still aches for him and his wife for one of their other children, but that's all I need to say about it. There's no big secret really, but I feel it's up to them to share this particular story, not me. Hang in there, brother! (and BA #5 is still the best, just sayin'....)

As I finally wrap this up, I can’t think of a better way to end than give a shout out to one more “brother from another mother” Andy Scott. Happy Father’s Day, Andy! I love ya, bro!

Until next time……

carpe cerevisi

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Life has been the Pitts lately...

Life has been the Pitts lately… 

My personal blog, 6/5/14

 If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits? - Erma Bombeck

I had forgotten about Erma’s book until I started writing this blog today. I actually had my title in my head when her book popped up in my memory and I thought it would make a nice tie in…...sort of like Dean Koontz’s Book of Counted Sorrows


Yes, lately life has been the Pitts. I realized this while juggling not two, but three different novels. I just finished two novels in which the leading characters happened to share the last name of Pitt. First there was Owen Pitt, from Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. I stumbled upon this book, which is actually a collection of 3 novellas, in the new book section of my local library. Given the current pop culture fascination with zombies, this book has that and more. Just think of it as the ultimate monsters and villains combo plate and you’ll get the idea. 

The other novel is part of a series of books by Clive Cussler. I prefer to listen to audiobooks during my commute to and from work. While reading Monster Hunter International at home, I was listening to Poseidon’s Arrow in the car. Mr. Cussler has several different series of novels to his credit, and Poseidon’s Arrow belongs to the “Dirk Pitt adventures.” Actually, Poseidon’s Arrow belongs to the “NUMA Files,” which is a subset of the Dirk Pitt series. 

So there’s the other Pitt. 

It took me a while to discover Mr. Cussler’s works, but I’m glad I did. After finishing MHI (and Poseidon’s Arrow as well, to tell the truth), I started on Zero Hour, the most recent release of the NUMA series. While I’ve enjoyed his novels from the NUMA series, I actually prefer his books from the “Oregon Files.” I’m sure that’s because my first exposure to Clive’s works was a novel from this series. This also happened to be the audiobook version of Plague Ship. As of today, I’m 8th in line on the library hold list for the latest release of the Oregon Files, Mirage, so I hope they’ll buy multiple copies. 

I use both Shelfari and Goodreads as a way to keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. Both of these websites have many similar features, but there are enough differences in functionality between the two that I maintain lists on both sites. I use the export feature from both sites to collate a master list in Excel of my “want to read” books. I then organize these books by both title and author. It makes a handy list to use when looking for them in my library’s online catalog. Unfortunately, many of these books aren’t available at the library and I have to request them through the inter-library loan program. My “want to read” queue is even longer than my Netflix queue. A quick check today showed 135 books in my want to read queue and 109 DVDs on my Netflix queue. 

Now why does such a long list of books remind me of Time Enough at Last

Until next time… 

carpe cerevisi

Monday, February 24, 2014

What goes Up Up Up must come Down Down Down…

My personal blog
(not to be confused with my BAD blog)

So, I was compiling yet another playlist on both my phone and mp3 player (and old school Zune, by the way), and was struck by something. The intent of this list was to have a “hodgepodge” of music if I wasn’t in the mood for something specific. Once I really looked at this list, I realized just how chaotic the selection truly was. I named it “Schizo Mix” due to the widely varying styles represented. Now before anyone gets offended, I’m not disparaging those afflicted with any form of schizophrenia. In fact, to be completely accurate, “multiple personality disorder” would be closest to what my playlist would represent if it was a real person. It’s a common misperception, though, that schizophrenia = multiple personality disorder. It really doesn’t, and I don’t want to perpetuate such a thing. I just liked the way “Schizo Mix” sounded when I thought of it.


The point I’m making here, eventually, is that I have playlists for many different moods and activities. I have a workout playlist full of high energy music (including “jodies”), instrumental playlists for when I’m reading and playlists of various favorite artists. Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash and The Pogues are a few that come to mind.

Now my instrumental playlists aren’t just classical music. I don’t want to be distracted by words when I’m reading, so anything that would fit this criterion is fair game. One of my favorite instrumental playlists is a collection of tunes by R. Carlos Nakai. A flautist of Navajo/Ute descent, his music is quite haunting, yet soothing. In fact, one of my projects still to be completed is to create a finished video of our trip to Mesa Verde from back in 2010. His music would be the perfect soundtrack on so many levels. Yes, you read that correctly….2010. And no, I haven’t done it yet. I know, I know.

I consider myself a music fan, and generally enjoy pretty much anything, save a few genres that I just haven’t been able to connect to. Those genres know who they are and I’ll just leave it at that. I emphasize this, as I like to tell people “I have a little of everything from ABBA to ZZ Top.” What I find surprising, though, is how I’ve managed not to hear some really cool songs until I discovered them - usually by accident.

Lemme tell you what I’m referring to…

On season two of American Horror Story (“Asylum”), there was a record that one of the main characters insisted be kept playing in the common room of the asylum. I had to Google it and discovered it was Dominique. I told my sister about it, thinking she would appreciate such a helpful nugget of info since she’s a big music fan too. “Oh yeah, I’ve loved that song for years. I have it on my iPhone.”

Of course she would.


Lou Reed’s Perfect Day was just an interesting background on a PlayStation 4 commercial until I dug around and found out what it was. Wait, it came out in 1972 and I’m just now discovering it??

Yeah, I think you can see the pattern here.

A big source of my "new" discoveries, though, comes from YouTube videos where the music is generally just the soundtrack and not the main focus. I discovered some fun scuba themed music by the Barefoot Man while searching for videos on diving in Grand Cayman and Cozumel. I’m glad those who posted the videos typically indicated where the music came from.

Of course, movie soundtracks are an excellent source of my collection. Growing up, one of my favorite gifts from family was a movie soundtrack. I can definitely date myself by saying my first treasured collections were LPs from Jaws, The Towering Inferno and Patton. I’d love to hear from anyone reading this that had to Google “LP” to see what I was referring to. It’s OK, don’t be shy.

Now, not everything is a “new” discovery. Some of my favorites are indeed longtime faves that I’ve listened to for years. All in all, if it took me a while to discover something that’s been out forever, who cares? At least I have it now, right?

So, here’s my “Schizo Mix” playlist, and a brief description of where I discovered them:
  • ·        Broke Down by Slaid Cleaves. Thanks to a good friend of mine, Al Rampy, who turned me onto this song.
  • ·        Corpus Christi Bay by Johnny Rodriquez: YouTube video posted in one of my Facebook groups. Being from the Corpus Christi area, I really like this one!
  • ·         Destiny from the Cirque du Freak soundtrack
  • ·        Dominique by Debbie Reynolds. As mentioned above, but this is a different version than what was on the show. This is the English version and has a slightly faster tempo.
  • ·         Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmates, artist unknown. I heard this on the movie Master and Commander and looked it up.
  • ·         Down Down Down by the Expendables. I heard this as background music on a YouTube video of diving in Belize. This is also on my “Calypso Party” playlist.
  • ·     Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen I first heard this on the movie Pump Up The Volume.
  • ·        FSU Warchant by the FSU band. I’ve always liked watching Florida State play football, and naturally their catchy fight song made it on my list.
  • ·      Funiculi Funicula by Luciano Pavarotti. I was first introduced to this while working as stage manager on the play Winterset in college.
  • ·     Fun Time by Joe Cocker I thank Carnival Cruise Lines for this, as they used it to introduce their comedians.
  • ·        Gravity by John Mayer Discovered incidental to some of his other work.
  • ·     I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles artist unknown Heard this on the movie Green Street Hooligans. Apparently it’s one of the “fight songs” for the West Ham Football Club.
  • ·         In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry Longtime favorite, first heard on a car commercial years ago.
  • ·         Jose Cuervo by Shelly West Longtime favorite, and it reminds me of one of my sisters, who shall remain nameless.
  • ·      Klavierst┼▒ck in F, K.33B by Mozart First heard on the movie Amadeus. It took me forever to track down this specific title, though, as it’s not on the official soundtrack.
  • ·         Mr. Bojangles by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Longtime favorite, the best version, included here, has the “Uncle Charlie” intro.
  • ·         Misty Mountain from The Hobbit soundtrack I knew this would be on one of my lists the instant I heard it.
  • ·         Numa Numa by O-Zone A friend of mine, Ashley Grant, turned me onto this high energy song.
  • ·         One Time One Night by Los Lobos First heard on the movie Colors.
  • ·        Pearly Shells by Burl Ives One of my earliest memories as a child is listening to this as my mom cleaned house. Now if I could just find his version of Kentucky Turkey Buzzard
  • ·         Rocky Raccoon by The Beatles Been a fave for many years.
  • ·      Roll On Mississippi by Charley Pride Another longtime favorite, and an easy song to visualize.
  • ·         Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer First heard on the TV show CSI.
  • ·        Under My Skin by Gin Wigmore Thank you, Air New Zealand, for including this on one of your safety videos, and thank you to whoever posted it on YouTube!
  • ·         Up Up Up by The Givers First heard on Radio Margaritaville. I bet this blog’s title makes a little more sense now, huh?
  • ·         Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer Another Mayer song heard on the same episode of CSI as the other one mentioned above.
  • ·         The Walking Dead Theme artist unknown Yep, from the AMC TV series…
  • ·       Waltzing Matilda by Rolf Harris His version is entertaining, and explains some of the song’s background.
  • ·        Yeha-Noha by Sacred Spirits First heard on the CD Pure Moods. I fell in love with it the first time I heard it, as I could easily visualize this withered old man sitting by a smoky fire, singing it.

So there you have it, my “Schizo Mix” playlist. This is a good playlist for me when I’m doing repetitive work in the lab and need something to listen to that won’t start boring me. Then again, I guess if something started getting boring, why have it on a list to begin with, right?

Until next time…..

carpe cerevisi

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: A banner diving year for me!

Let’s get a couple of things straight right now. Since being elected Communications Director for my dive club Bay Area Divers, I’ve been writing a blog for the club as well as maintaining this personal blog. The only minor issue is that I write the BAD blog under my own account name, so it will appear alongside my personal essays. What I want to get straight is that I’m not going senile (at least not yet). Yes, those who read both blogs will see similar material, but I’m repeating some things here because not everyone reads the BAD blog. So, I’m repeating myself for a reason.

I knew back in 2012 that 2013 would be a good diving year for Cindy and me. Due to the way we like to plan in advance, I could see how, if everything worked out, we would be doing some way cool diving. Now, I’m sure some of y’all are thinking: “What about 2012? Why wasn’t that a great diving year?” Good question….

We didn't do much diving in 2012. I think perhaps this had to do with taking an Alaskan cruise in May and having a new house built. First of all, I’m not interested in cold water diving, so that ruled out any diving in Juneau, Sitka or Ketchikan. With our house being built, all of our extra time went into that. So yes, we dove a little in 2012, but nothing of real significance. I did manage to squeeze in a first, though. I did my first night dive at Athens Scuba Park in May.

Our 2013 diving started off with a bang for us. We were originally booked on the Carnival Triumph for a 5 day cruise to Cozumel and Progresso in April. We booked a two tank dive in Cozumel with our favorite dive op Alison. In February, the Triumph had that engine room fire, which caused our cruise, and many others, to be cancelled. Fortunately, we were able to rebook on the Carnival Magic for almost the same time period. This was a 7 day cruise, though, and with the itinerary now being Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Montego Bay (Jamaica), we now had two places to dive! Due to the way the scheduling worked out, this would put us in Cozumel one day later than originally planned.

This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, unless you are booked with such a popular dive op as Alison. I e-mailed her about the change, but she was already fully booked the next day. No surprise there, really. A fellow member of BAD suggested contacting Chucho Divers. I’m glad he did, as Chucho turned out to be another fantastic dive operator. Now we have two trusted dive operators in Cozumel we can use. More on Chucho a bit later…

Our first port call was Grand Cayman. After doing a little research, I booked with Cayman Turtle Divers, and am glad I did! They are another top notch dive op, and one that I’ll gladly book with any time we are in Grand Cayman. I had originally booked a dive on the USS Kittiwake with them, but when we arrived, they told us the sea state would make this a poor dive. They took us to two other sites, though, that were fantastic. When we got to the marina, we found out we would be the only ones on the boat! Yes, it’s true! Instead of cancelling the dive trip due to a low booking, they took us out anyway. So, basically, Cindy and I had our own private dive boat for the day. Wow! Now you can see why I’m so quick to recommend Cayman Turtle Divers (“CTD”) to my friends or anyone who is looking for a quality dive op in Cayman.

The next we were in Cozumel. After a brief taxi ride to Caleta Marina, we arrived at the dock to find… guessed it…..we were the only divers booked that day with Chucho! Whoa, another day of having our own, private dive boat? How cool is that? These kinds of dive trips are as completely opposite of “cattle boat” trips as they can be. Since we had the boat to ourselves, Chucho asked us what we wanted to do, what we wanted to see, etc. My immediate answer was to dive the C-53! This wreck is one I’ve wanted to do since I first heard about it. It’s very “diver friendly” and we had a lot of fun diving it. A YouTube search will show you tons of cool videos to watch.  Our second dive that day was the classic Cozumel drift dive, which was fun.

So, I got to do a cool wreck dive in Cozumel that I’ve wanted to do. What’s next?

At the end of 2012, fellow BADdie Mei-Hwa Ferguson and I started planning a road trip to Florida to dive some caverns (NOT caves!) and the USS Oriskany. The Oriskany is definitely an “ambitious” dive, and nitrox is highly recommended. I arranged to have a friend of mine, and PADI Instructor, give a nitrox class to Cindy, myself and a couple of others. Dave Romano was gracious enough to schedule this one evening in our house, so not only was it convenient, but comfortable as well.

Anyway, in June several of us BADdies set out for Florida. The weather was really crappy the first few days, with torrential thunderstorms. This made us have to juggle our itinerary around. Even with the rough start, though, the trip overall was a smashing success! We got to dive the Blue Grotto, Ginnie Springs, a shore dive in Panama City and of course the Oriskany as a grand finale.

Now I get to add nitrox diving, cavern diving, another wreck dive and diving in another state to my list.

CTD was kind enough to sign off one of our dives as a “boat dive.” This is important to satisfy a PADI requirement for having a certain number of “adventure dives” to qualify for their Advanced Open Water (“AOW”) certification. The nitrox certification and a few other dives I did were also part of this requirement, so I was in good shape for getting my AOW soon.

About a month after our Florida trip, Cindy and I took PADI’s Underwater Navigator class from Bill Jones. Not only did we get the training to learn how to navigate under water more efficiently, this also finally qualified both of us for our AOW.

And a month after that….

We headed up to Clear Springs Scuba Park in Terrell for a BAD group dive. Terrell is just southeast of Dallas. So, here it is in August, near Dallas. Ummm, yeah, I don’t think we’ll be camping out for that one. Most of us elected to stay in a nearby hotel. Ironically, though, it was unseasonably cool that Friday and Saturday night, so those that did camp said it was most comfortable. We dove at Athens Scuba Park before, which is another hour southeast of Terrell from Dallas, but this was my first experience at CSSP.

All of this brings us through August, and there is still much more to come.

Cindy and I have wanted to do a back to back cruise (“B2B”) since we started cruising in 2007. We figured with 2013 being our 5th wedding anniversary, why not go for it and just do one. We actually booked this B2B while we were on the Carnival Magic in April. This time, though, we would be leaving out of Miami so we could get to some ports that we can’t get to when cruising from Galveston.

Our first week was on the Carnival Liberty, and we stopped in Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Grand Cayman. Some of y’all are already thinking that the Carnival Magic, out of Galveston, does that same itinerary (sans Cayman). Yes, it does, but we still wanted to do a B2B with different ports. We could’ve easily done both weeks on the Carnival Breeze, which was our second week. Doing this, though, would’ve meant repeating some ports, and we just didn’t want to do that.

On the Liberty, we planned on diving in Cozumel, Belize and Roatan. We would use Cayman as a “rest day.” Once again, we booked our Cozumel dives with Alison and as usual had a great time with her. In Belize, we booked with Sea Sports Belize and wouldn’t you know it, we were…..….wait for it…..….the only divers booked that day! Wow, we keep getting trips like this and soon a boat with just 8 divers will feel like a cattle boat. We had a fantastic time diving with them, and the lunch they provided was delicious. Our divemaster Juan was most professional and friendly and gave us an extensive history of the area, as well as a thorough description of the area. I’m glad to now have a trusted dive op in Belize, and will use them anytime we are there.

The next day we were in Roatan, and dove with Subway Watersports. We had fun with them and the second dive site, “Sponge Wall,” was perhaps, my favorite site of the entire trip.

After a week on the Liberty, we then boarded the Carnival Breeze, which is much like the Magic, except newer. This was an 8 day “exotic eastern Caribbean” cruise, with stops in Grand Turk, San Juan (Puerto Rico), St. Maarten and St. Thomas. We booked dives in Grand Turk and St. Thomas for this trip. I could write a whole blog on just the B2B itself, which I may do if I can motivate myself to do it. Anyway, back to the topic at hand….

We used Grand Turk Diving Company and had a good time with them. An interesting side note here. For all of our diving on the Liberty, and with St. Thomas on the Breeze, we booked our dives using nitrox. Apparently in Grand Turk, nitrox isn’t available when doing single day dives. This is common throughout the island, and only those booking multiple day dives will have nitrox as an option. Obviously it wasn’t a deal breaker for us, as we still went diving, but it would’ve been nice to have it available. Now, why am I making an issue of this? I’m really not making an “issue” of this, so much as I am making an observation. PADI teaches in the nitrox course that the main benefit of diving nitrox is to reduce the nitrogen loading in your tissues and extend your bottom time. Many who dive nitrox, though, myself included, feel much better after a dive than when diving on just air. Even Alison, who’s a very experienced diver (and a PADI Master Instructor) swears by this. Is this just psychological? Who cares if it is or not? I feel much better when diving nitrox so if it’s available, I’m gonna dive it.

So, all this mumbo jumbo about nitrox aside, I’ll continue with our cruise diving. St. Thomas was our last stop on the Breeze, and our last diving spot as well. We booked with St. Thomas Diving Club and due to a miscommunication about the time, actually missed the morning dive we were booked on. Throughout both cruises, we based everything on ship’s time, which was Eastern Time. Even during the booking process with each dive operator, I was clear to state our port times based on leaving from Miami. Somehow, this detail wasn’t fully clear to STDC, as they are one hour different from ship’s time. Long story short, we missed the boat. When I called them, looking for our ride, they explained that we missed our pickup. They offered us an afternoon dive, though, and since we had the time we opted for that.

We got picked up near the cruise terminal by the boat captain and the two divemasters. Once again, and this is starting to sound pleasantly familiar, we would be the only ones on the dive boat for the afternoon. Oh, yes! What started out as a miscommunication and missed morning dive turned into another private dive in the afternoon.

We had two fun dives, including the wreck of the Cartanza. Cindy took over the camera for the second dive, so there are actually some pictures of me diving. I added STDC to my list of preferred dive operators, and now have one for St. Thomas.

If it seems like I sort of glossed over the details of all the different dive ops and locations, it’s because I did. I’m intending this to be more of an overview of the year. I do have detailed reviews of these dive ops on Trip Advisor, though.

What an amazing year it’s been for diving!

Both Cindy and I got new nitrox compatible dive computers, and the data generated from them is incredible!

We obtained not only our nitrox certifications, but also Underwater Navigator and AOW as well.

We added Florida as another state to dive in, as well as logging some cavern dives, some really cool wreck dives four more Caribbean locations: Belize, Roatan, Grand Turk and St. Thomas.

What will 2014 bring?

We originally planned on diving the Texas Clipper in September during “Dive Week,” but a tropical storm cancelled those plans. I still want to dive the Clipper, so maybe doing this outside of hurricane season will be the best way to go.

I’m hoping to get my PADI Rescue Diver and then Master Scuba Diver certifications, just for the personal challenge of it…..probably around June or so.

In April, we are planning a cruise on the Carnival Sunshine. This itinerary will take us to Mo Bay, Aruba, Curacao and St. Thomas. Hopefully I can add Aruba and Curacao to my list of Caribbean dive sites. At least I know who I can book in St. Thomas, right?

Who knows after that?

Until next time…

carpe cerevisi