Love at First Sight, Honest….

I am back in Louisiana for my daddy’s birthday. I try to come every year, although I had an extra trip this past spring when the oldest of the four “boys” passed away after a long, good life that had its share of joys and sorrows. In the way that family reminiscing goes at these times, Daddy began to smilingly recall how my uncle and his wife met. It was during World War II when the two oldest brothers were in the Navy, and managed
somehow to be on leave together. They were from a farm in Arkansas and town was
several miles away. Notwithstanding the small size of the town, there was certainly more going on there than at the farm and in the course of one afternoon, they met up with one of the local teachers that Daddy knew and another young lady teacher who was visiting the friend. They all chatted for a bit and made arrangements to get together that evening; no particular thoughts of romance on Daddy’s mind. Daddy said that as they left, my uncle said something like, “You need to plan on being with Sally (or whatever her name was) because I’m going to be with the other one.” Daddy said he was fine with that, and then my uncle explained it had to be that way because that was the girl he intended to marry. Apparently Daddy assumed my uncle was joking except that my uncle and aunt were married less than three months later and the marriage continued for almost 67 years until his death parted them. In fact, my aunt and uncle
celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in Hawaii when we were stationed there. My husband was in Thailand participating in a big war game at the time and so Dustin and I went down to Waikiki and had dinner with my uncle and aunt. I wish I had known the charming story of their first meeting then, but what I did know was this couple sitting across from us had a palpable sense of happiness even after fifty years.

Sure, you can say, “Well, that was a long time ago, and things like that don’t happen now.” I agree it is easy to mistake “lust at first sight” for love, and I have certainly passed large quantities of tissues to weeping girlfriends who made that error, but as with my uncle and aunt, I have also known one or two other instances where it was
the real thing. How about you?  Anyone want to share thoughts on this one?

Guest Blog, More on the Spiegel Grove…..

For those who share our love of diving, my husband is providing Part II of a great dive he had a couple of weeks ago on the USS Spiegel Grove in the Key Largo area. Two pieces of information before I get into his post. My husband is the one who introduced me to scuba diving when we were stationed in Hawaii. I mean, if you’re going to learn to dive, what better place? There are actually two types of diving – recreational and technical - and then there are specialities within recreational and technical. The primary difference is that recreational diving (like I do) is restricted to no deeper than 130 feet underwater. When you cross into the technical side, you can go deeper and/or stay longer because you have additional equipment and training. My husband, the scuba instructor, decided to get into technical diving several months ago and he is thoroughly enjoying the new dimension. The previous post he did for me and this one are chock full of “tech diving” terms, but even if you have never had the pleasure of slipping beneath the waves (that will be a future post), I think you will pick up on the wonderful sensation of diving.

Part II of diving inside the Spiegel Grove:

Fast forward to Wednesday, Stephanie, Mike, and I are busily preparing for a different type of dive on the Spiegel Grove.  Double tanks with two regulators, 100% Oxygen
for our last deco stop, multiple lights, reels and much more are setup and checked and checked again.  We’re going Tech Diving.  Deeper, longer and with planned decompression (letting the excess Nitrogen in our bodies escape safely) means we will plan our dive carefully and execute it exactly.  We’ll be doing 40 minutes at 110 feet and
will then take 20 minutes to return to the surface. The weather is beautiful as we
pull away from the dock on Cheeca View ( thanks again Dan) and on the ride out
we continue our discussion of the dive.

Our plan is to drop through a hatch just forward of the port  crane to the second deck and then work our way forward as far as we can go.  We’ll then retrace our route back to another hatch and pop out of the wreck.  With our remaining time and gas we will
explore a little of the main deck and the well deck before starting up. Light current and good visibility greets us as we tie up on the best spot for us, the portside crane.
Most of the other divers on the boat will be doing two shorter dives with a one hour surface interval so we let them get in first as we do our final pre-dive checks.  We shuffle forward and drop in,then it’s hand over hand forward and down the mooring line.  As we reach the ship there is one last check of equipment, then lights on and into the “Technical Diving” realm of the Spiegel Grove.

Mike leads and Steph trails with me in between.  The first 40 feet or so are through an open corridor with several holes cut to the outside.  At the stairway that is our planned exit Mike deploys his reel and ties the line off. This line will be our guide to safety in case of any loss of visibility due to light failure or more likely silt being stirred up or falling down from above.  We move forward through the darkness being careful not to snag any of our equipment or to get tangled in any of the wires and lines we encounter.

The corridor is tight with lots of interesting rooms off to either side. I see arrow crabs and shrimp in several nooks and crannies, but so far no Lionfish.  Then a cloud of silt
billows between Mike and I and a “small” Goliath Grouper shoots under me.  I look back and get an OK sign from Steph.  As I look back forward to Mike a second larger (70 – 80 Lbs?) Grouper careens toward me.  I fend him off with my left arm as he “thumps” us then turns and scoots by Mike and into a side room.  After several deep breaths we move forward to our turn point in the last room we can get through.

With Stephanie now in the lead we work our way back, up, and out to open water on the side of the ship.  After a quick check of time and gas remaining we head back inside and drop into the Well Deck, swimming all the way forward under the superstructure.  We explore an equipment room containing a large capstan winch which was used to pull boats in to the Spiegel.  Nearing the end of our bottom time we swim back toward the crane and our mooring line. We slowly ascend stopping at 40 and 30 feet to
allow nitrogen to leave our bodies.  At 20 feet we execute a gas switch, going from the Nitrox in our double tanks to the pure Oxygen in our small deco tanks. This switch will allow our remaining excess nitrogen to be eliminated much more quickly, saving almost 20 minutes. Since pure O2 can be toxic below 20 feet we carefully check each other’s depth and that we are switching to the correct gas.  After our required time and a slow ascent, it’s up the ladder and the beginning of our discussion of just how big those Groupers had been.  All in all a great dive with great friends and dive buddies!!

 

 

Your Realistic Life List/ “Bucket List”….

In my latest book, Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid, I included a section about a realistic life list.  Until the popular Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman movie “The Bucket List”, came along, the term Life List was more common; that list of things that you wanted to do before you died or perhaps reached a certain age. Learn to bake bread from scratch, Take an RV trip to California, or Watch the sun set from the Eiffel Tower; plans that are as varied as are individuals. These are good lists to make since most people won’t strike up an acquaintance with a billionaire who can provide funding for exotic adventures. Retirement planning takes these goals into mind and whether or not you have the resources of time, money, and physical ability to complete your Life List depends on many factors, some that will be utterly out of your control. Situations with your own parents, grown children, or grandchildren can easily affect your plans; the death of someone you love certainly has an impact,
unforeseen economic downturns, and other events can arise.

The length and content of your list isn’t as important as if the items are realistic. At some point, you need to address how you intend to work through your list. Mastering the intricacies of growing African violets is a different dream than going white water rafting down the Grand Canyon. Physically and financially speaking, you might want to
plan the Grand Canyon excursion earlier than joining the local horticulture club. On the other hand, you may also decide that you can achieve satisfaction by taking a less intense trip through the Grand Canyon, or for that matter, there’s an IMAX theater presentation that is pretty thrilling. Is it the same thing? No, but it may fulfill your desire for the experience and if so, then it doesn’t matter that you diverged from your original idea.

“I just don’t have the desire to travel anymore,” an elderly friend confided when the subject came up. “Long car trips are tiring and flying is more trouble than I want to mess with. The kids and grandkids are close by. I’d much rather have a crowd gathered around the dinner table than take another cruise.”

Examining your Life List is a valuable exercise because the feeling of having “lost out” and been deprived can easily escalate in your later years. Even if you don’t intend for it to, the very real human reaction can be bitterness toward others who may still have the ability to pursue their dreams. This can be especially true if you’ve had to make more
sacrifices than you expected to in order to help out family and therefore had to give up things that you wanted to have/do. Most of us live in the real world where time, resources, or both have limits. Rearranging or adjusting your Life List can help you focus on what you genuinely can check off and what you may need to keep as a pleasant, but unfulfilled dream.

Guest Blog – A Day Diving the USS Spiegel Grove

Today’s post is from my husband, Hugh, from some recent dives he made on the USS Spiegel Grove.  As way of explanation, my husband is a scuba instructor as his fun second career. The Saga of the Spiegel Grove is one of the chapters in my non-fiction book, Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the USA. This post is what we’ll call Part I.

Last week was my chance to spend lots of time on the Spiegel Grove.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Spiegel, it is a 510-foot long Navy Landing Ship Dock that
was purposefully sunk off of Key Largo in 2002. It is one of the largest Artificial Reefs in the world and one of my favorite spots to dive.  I’ve wanted to get out to it to shoot some video for a presentation that Charlie will be doing in October, so Saturday a week ago thanks to Dan and the whole crew at Horizon Divers I jumped in.  Two great dives with
almost no current and the kind of visibility that gives a certain sense of mystery to a video.

For the first dive we were tied in to the helipad close to the stern (back end) of the ship.  I dropped down to around 95 feet and swam along the port (left) edge of the well
deck.  The well deck (think giant pickup truck bed) is where landing craft and hover craft could be brought into the Spiegel for repair or to be transported. I was accompanied by barracuda, angel fish, and file fish as I approached and entered the Shop area with its wood and metal working machines.  After getting some good footage of these I dropped down through a hatch into the well deck and swam out and up to get shots around the rear of the superstructure. Slowly drifting past the enormous cranes I was able to get a really good feel for how big this ship is.  After a slow assent up the mooring line with a couple of safety stops and a lazy surface interval its time to get back in.

For the second dive I wanted to get to the front of the ship.  Captain Troy put us on the number 6 mooring which ties in to the superstructure at 67 feet.  From here it was an easy swim forward and into one of the mess areas for more video. Back outside and up one level to the Executive Officers cabin, I got some shots of the conference table and then swam out and up to the Bridge area.  Through the Bridge with a detour to the Radar/Sonar room and it’s already time to head back to the mooring and the dive boat.  Time really does fly when you are having fun.

As we pulled up to the dock Ms. Joni from the office asked if I could work that afternoon guiding two divers back on the Grove.  Throw me into that ”briar patch” please!  One of the two guys was a new diver who had not yet gotten his Advanced Certification so I would be along to make sure that he and his buddy would have a safe and enjoyable time.  I really enjoy introducing new divers to our deep wrecks, especially the Spiegel. We spent plenty of time planning our dives and discussing the ship.  A good time was
had by all and I think both divers were glad that I led their dives.

The Route de Vin in Alsace…..

I am not even sure what caused me to think of this today other than checking the wine cabinet and seeing the bottle of Pinot Blanc from Alsace. If you are in a position to take spontaneous trips, or you like to plan in advance for next year, France and Germany are lovely places to travel in September and October. I will talk about some great locations in future posts, but my focus today is on the Route de Vin (or Route de Vins) in the province of Alsace that borders Germany.

The Route de Vin is a narrow, winding 75-mile stretch from Marlenheim (close to Strasbourg) to Thann, and it goes through numerous charming villages in a countryside filled with  lovely scenic outlooks, vineyards, and “Caves” open to the public for tasting. This not necessarily a trip to take if you have never been to France, but it is an experience that is intended to be simply relaxing, to celebrate the beauty of the mountains and valleys, and to enjoy food and wine as the activities of the trip, although there are ample photograph opportunities and the ever-present sense of medieval history.

When my husband and I were in a situation where we were in great need of just a few days to genuinely decompress, we chose this route and it is a fond memory. We were in Germany at the time, so the first day was to enter Alsace, stop at a Cave, sample their offerings, purchase a bottle or two, and go to the next village for a prolonged lunch with wine, of course. Two or three more Caves, and another village for the night in a small auberge. Dinner was the traditional three-course, lingering pace. Nothing overly fancy, basic steak au poivre and roasted lamb as our main courses. In the morning, buttery croissants accompanied by cafe au lait for me, coffee Americaine for my husband,  and we set out again meandering south. Repeat driving, sampling wine, reveling in French cuisine. The Route de Vin is favored among cyclists, so we exchanged conversations with one group that we encountered multiple times. We had no schedule, no commitments, and it was exactly what we needed.

Do you have memories of short trips that helped re-charge you?

Baby Boomer Alert – About That Checking Account…..

One of the sections in my new book, Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid, has to do with having someone else on your checking account in the event that you become ill or injured, or otherwise not capable of conducting financial transactions. I was in a bank yesterday and there was a gentleman at the far window attempting to perform some type of transaction for his mother. The initial conversation was low, but as the exchange escalated, the words were difficult to avoid. It appeared to be a case of his mother having an accident and being unable to come in, and his father, the only other person on the account, had Alzheimer’s. The situation did not get resolved to the gentleman’s satisfaction and he departed in what seemed to be angry frustration.

I totally understood, and I also understand that not everyone has a younger family member that should be on a checking account for emergencies. However, if you reach a certain age as a single individual, or one of a couple has become incapable of conducting financial transactions, then having a trusted individual who can write or cash checks for you is important. If you have no family or close friend you can trust, it may be time to see about finding an accountant and/or attorney that can perform those kinds of functions. That should also be approached with caution, yet as I stress in Your Room, making plans and arrangements before it is a crises situation enables you to do things like properly research an accountant and/or attorney. Plans and arrangements can be modified to reflect what is actually going on in your life as opposed to what you thought was going to happen. It is having no plan that adds more stress when already stressful events such as illness and injury occur.

An Easy Fish Stew That Re-Heats Well…..

I was in the grocery store earlier today and ran into an acquaintance who was planning to do chicken in a Dijon sauce tonight. At one point we briefly discussed fish stew and while that isn’t on our menu this week, I do want to write about it because the recipe that we use is one of those incredibly simple ones. The concept of the meal is also simple; a bowl of the stew, chunks of fresh bread, a salad, and a crisp white wine or cold beer (if so inclined). You can also serve it over a bed of rice if you want more substance. The entire process requires less than  an hour, and even better, the stew can be kept for 4-5 days and it tastes great reheated. Yes indeed, it is one of those make-on-the-weekend and serve during the week type of meals. It is also low fat, low calorie, and low carb, although calories and carbs obviously go up when chunks of bread or rice are involved. If you don’t make rice to go with it, it is also a one-pot meal.

The main ingredients of fish, canned tomates, broth, and sauteed vegetables can be augmented with as much, or as little spice, as wanted. The recipe we use is loaded with herbs because that’s what we enjoy, but the basic stew is good even if you don’t use fewer herbs and prefer only salt and pepper.  Ready?

Ingredients: 4-6 white, firm fish fillets (use more than one type of fish fo added depth of flavor) cut into large chunks; 1 15-oz can of tomatoes; 2 cups of seafood or chicken broth/stock; 1/4 cup white wine (optional); 1/2 medium onion; 2 cloves minced garlic; 1 stalk celery; 1/2 sweet pepper (red, yellow, or green); 1-2 Tbs olive oil; 1 tsp salt, 2 bay leaves; 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes; 1/4 tsp dried basil; 1/4 tsp dried oregano; 1/4 tsp dried thyme; 1/4 tsp dried rosemary; 1/4 tsp black pepper. Note:  We prefer sea/kosher salt and 4-5 grinds of fresh black pepper, and you can increase the herbs up to 1/2 tsp of each.

Dice all vegetables. Saute them in olive oil on medium heat in a 2 quart pan for approximately five minutes or until soft. Add tomatoes, stock, wine, and all spices. Stir thoroughly, bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for twenty minutes. Cut fish into large chunks, salt and pepper lightly on both sides. At the end of the twenty minutes, immerse the fish chunks into the liquid, stir, cover and continue cooking on medium low for another twenty minutes. That’s it, you’re done – discard the bay leaves, ladle it up, or let it cool and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to re-heat.

Another option if you want to turn the fish stew into seafood stew is to use a 3-4 quart pot. Increase the stock to 2 & 1/2 cups for the initial twenty-minute cooking period. Add the fish, cook for ten minutes, then add a dozen peeled and deveined shrimp, making sure to immerse the shrimp fully into the liquid. If you like clams or mussels, add a dozen of those on top of the fish and shrimp, cover and cook for the remaining ten minutes. Discard any clams or mussles that do not open during the cooking time. However, shrimp, clams and mussels do not re-heat well, so I would save this option for when you cook and serve the same day.

There is some question as to if this dish has more a Mediterranean flair or a Caribbean one, but there is no question as to how tasty it is.

 

 

Everyone Has A Story – Creating Family Memoirs…..

I had the pleasure today in giving a presentation at the Sunny Hills Assisted Living Facility in Homestead, Florida. It is a place that was designed to be as light and airy as possible, with pleasant decor and ample room for residents to move around and engage in social activites as they so choose. The director and a lady whom has been through all the different transitions of the facility, agreed that, Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid, was a book families of the residents should read, but they asked if I could prepare a presentation more appropriate for the residents. Capturing family memoirs is in Part 2 of Your Room and that seemed to be the right approach to take. My main point was that even though “young people” might not seem interested in “old stories”, bringing together famly stories and perhaps photographs and recipes or special traditions was something that could be then passed down from generation to generation. One of the women had actually written her memiors and was seeking the next step. I will be following up with her to see if perhaps there is something in her family history that might be of interest to a regional publisher. We had a fun exchange of ideas and we’ll see if anyone else in the group takes on this project.

The ability to scan items, perform internet searches, and self-publishing options are all tools that can be helpful in creating family memoirs.

When Your Child Chooses Another Path…..

Okay, you can’t see Dustin’s face, but he’s the one in the red shirt; the photo taken in the midst of a leap during a lively number as part of a Bowen-McCauley Dance Company performance. (www.bmdc.org). It is an entergetic piece that balances with some of the more dramatic offerings that Lucy Bowen-McCauley provides in her contemporary dance company. And it couldn’t possibly be more removed from the career that we thought Dustin was going to have.

Like so many parents, we expected our son to go to college, get a “normal” job, be successful, etc.,. When he decided he wanted to work with restoring animal habitats, especially working with wolves, or maybe the marine environment, we accepted that he wasn’t destined to make large sums of money. “Well, as long as he’s happy,” we said. Of course, what that usually really means is that, “As long as he’s happy and we can proudly show off his success.” What we never saw coming was that somehow he possessed a passion for dance that was ignited during his freshman year of college. Dance as a profession? As a hobby, yeah, but as a profession? And in our inability to understand this, and his trying to not disappoint us, we all made mistakes in communicating that I regret to this day. The essay on my website, “Of Course My Child Will…” gives more detail, but the end result was that Bennett and Debra Savage of the Fairfax Center for Ballet Arts in Fairfax, Virginia (www.thecenterforballetsarts.com)  saw the talent in him and persuaded us that he actually did have potential. They explained that even though he was coming to dance very late, he had such a strong desire and work ethic that they thought he could overcome the considerable obstacle of no previous training. We reluctantly agreed and they put him into an intensive program.

Dustin in now entering his fifth year of professional dance; performing and teaching with Lucy, teaching and performing with Benn and Debbie, and performing as a guest artist for other companies. Bless his wife’s heart for being so supportive both emotionally and with her work that helps make ends meet. The simple truth is that a dancer’s performing life on stage is brief, and had we not finally accepted what Dustin truly wanted, he would have missed his chance. Will he have that “normal” job some day as a post-performance career? Probably, although it will probably also be associated with dance. We understand that now and in those moments when we sit in the audience and watch him lift a female dancer to his shoulder, leap to a crash of music, or tenderly dip his partner in a piece entitled, “Falling Slowly”, we shake our heads that this is our son. And we are glad that we did come to recognize that this was the right path for him.

Another Example of It’s a Small World….

I write fiction as well as non-fiction and do corporate work for a few clients, but when I write my novels I try to be careful with non-fiction aspects. If I am writing in a particular locale I will create restaurants and such things that don’t necessarily exist, but I won’t put hills in South Florida or alligators in Paris. I try to be especially careful when working through plot details, so my scuba instructor husband (also retired Army) frequently helps me with technical items or I seek out other experts when required. For both Shades of Murder and Shades of Truth, I had a legal angle that was important to each story. Naturally I turned to my uncle, a retired judge, and my cousin, a current judge, to check these points before I included them in the plot. Naturally, I then listed them in the acknowledgements section of the books.

A few days ago, I received a delightful email from an individual residing in North Carolina who had found the three Shades books on Kindle and enjoyed them, but was curious about the acknowledgement to my uncle and cousin. She was from the small town close to them and had in fact, gone to junior high and high school in the same town where they live. She too was a graduate of Northwestern State University in Louisiana and said they had a little enclave of NSU grads that got together occasionally. We had a great email exchange and aside from having gained a new fan, it was a wonderful reminder of how it is indeed a small world and how the Internet has enabled us to have an increased level of connectivity. (Yes, I know that some people don’t always think that increased connectivity is a good thing.)