Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cruisin' a tale of Cuban Rum and it's effects, Uber'ing, and dining pals - and enemies.

Well something new that we did for this vacation was use Uber for our ground transportation. It made sense as we would not need to rent a car and navigate Miami - a city that we had never been to before. So we did a test run in Dayton a few weeks before leaving to make sure it would work for us. Which it did, we simply had them drive us from the TJ chumps in Miamisburg to Fricker's in Centerville.

That short trip went well and something else that we learned - other than that we could rely upon Uber, was that every driver has a story(Excuse me for mangling the name of an old news show). One fellow was testing Uber as a means of making extra money in retirement and we found that his wife was laid off from lexis-nexis too. Seems like a lot of that has happened over the years...

In Miami, we again used Uber and again we met some interesting people. One young driver had a Dodge dart with a stick shift. We complimented him on being one of the few of his generation that can drive a stick. Turns out that he was an immigrant from Venezuela and that his grandfather had a 1970 Dart. So when he went out to buy his first car it had to be a Dodge Dart. Oh and we found that his grandfather left Italy after world war 2 to start a new life in South America.

Unbeknownst to us Becky's niece, Jessica, had booked a cruise a week ahead of us. So when we found out,we made plans to get together for a day in Miami. We had lunch at a restaurant by their hotel. Then we hung out at their roof top pool for the afternoon. Jessica and Tim went on a 'shiprock' cruise where they got to be groupies for a week and listen to rock bands every night.

At supper time, I campaigned for Cuban cuisine, but was outvoted. We did end up at a nice Mexican restaurant and ate outdoors since it was so pleasant. As we walked there a Lamborghini drove by and Tim, who is a car buff, remarked that he had never seen so many expensive cars in one place. Must be the drug money in Miami I suppose.

So when it was time to return to our motel we called for another Uber. While we were waiting we talked about all of the different ethnic backgrounds of the drivers so far - lots of folks with Latino backgrounds in Miami of course. We later discussed that if you wanted to live in Miami, you would do well to learn Spanish. But Becky then said that wait a minute - we have not had a woman driver yet! So of course who else is driving the Uber car but a woman! Found that she had came to the US from Cuba 2 years ago. She spoke English well enough, but we could tell that she was struggling at times, so we spoke amongst ourselves for most of the trip. She did make one wrong turn, and had to make a u turn on one street to get us back on track.

Well finally we began our cruise. We met up the first night with a group that we had joined on Facebook. A fellow from North Dakota probably had the longest trip - I would imagine that he was happy to escape the bitter cold. Met a building inspector from Denver who seemed to spend a lot of time at the lounge bar at the back of the ship. I think that the stool has his name on it by now. But we met folks from a variety of backgrounds and they were all friendly. Being first time cruisers we had a lot of questions for the more experienced folks.

The next day we had a group event - a slot pool in the casino. We put our money together and every person got a turn at the slot machine. It was my first time ever inside a casino. I had the idea from TV years ago that the machines were mechanical with a lever on the side. Wrong - they are electronic with touch screens and buttons. So we all took our turns and I was up. The machine was a 'Wheel of Fortune' machine. I matched three spins and that gave me a push of the 'Spin' button. The arrow at the top of the machine spun around and around and stopped on $2000!

Talk about your beginner's luck! Shared a lot of high fives, but we got to share something else - 30% went to Uncle Sam! Out international waters and still the government reaches out and puts their hand in our pocket. Well I guess someone has to pay for our middle Eastern wars. We still ended up tripling our money so we had some extra pocket change for Cozumel.

Cozumel was our first stop. There were some Mayan ruins that we wanted to see. Jose was our guide, he was born on the island and knew 3 languages: Spanish, English,and Mayan - which he learned from his grandmother. And me – I can barely use English. Since he was raised on the island he was very knowledgeable on the tour.

One of the temples was a place where young women went to be├žome fertile. There was a large stone meeting place for Mayan VIP's. Even with the cleared paths, it was rough going at times going about the complex. The rock path ways were uneven in places and tree roots were at the surface in places.

Next up was Belize where we to a place called Starfish Island. It lived up to its name there were about 6 good sized ones in a pen in the ocean. We found another that was about a foot across about 35 feet out. It was a cozy 4 acre island, about the right size to walk about and spend an afternoon in the sun. The beer was cheap and the food was good.

We met a couple from Germany with 2 sons. We saw the oldest one playing with an American football. So we asked if he played and they explained that yes some areas had football, and that was why they had brought it. The youngest really enjoyed the licorice that Becky had brought. He had never had any before.

We had signed up for anytime dining on board the ship. This way we could eat supper any time between 6 and 9. Since we were not assigned a table we are at a different table every night with new people. So we met a variety of people this way.

A retired airforce officer, nurse from Chicago, Norman - a retired IT guy from New York, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot(retired), a lawyer, etc. Most were fun to spend to spend time with , Norm in particular was a delight. He was witty and I wonder if he had owned his own company or had a high up IT position with a big company as it seemed like he was very well traveled and every time we saw him on the cruise he was well dressed. His shoes always matched his shirt. Blue, white, and when we first met him – a black and white hounds tooth shirt with matching hounds tooth pattern on the shoes. He must bring a suitcase of just shoes on every cruise!

On the other hand we met Shane from Maryland, not once but twice. He seemed to be well to do as well. But seemed more anxious and high strung. We never did find out what he did for a living, but it must have something to do with his mouth. Newly rich (Nouveau riche for those that know french) he was celebrating his 50th birthday and was in high spirits that first night. The second night we were seated at his table again by chance. It is a crowded dining hall and the wait staff was running behind. We had to wait quite awhile to get our order in. He was making comments about how “This would be a good place to open a restaurant” and “We might as well ask for the breakfast menu.” He finally called for the maitre d' and began unloading on him while flashing his platinum carnival cruise card for emphasis. Really made for an awkward table.

I much prefer the relaxed demeanor of Norm to the angst of Shane. There still exists a thing called class which Norm definitely had while Shane still had a lot of growing up to do despite his 50 years.

Next stop was Mahogany Bay, Honduras. It was the hilliest and probably the poorest of the countries that we visited. Very beautiful place to view. But the roads are a bit scary by our standards. No guard rails and in a few places a short 6 inch curb is all that stood by us and a steep clift.

This beach had the calmest waters yet, and Becky got out and had a good time. With her balance it is difficult for her to get out if the water has very many waves at all. It is true what they say about the water being clear in the Caribbean. It is pretty much like standing in a swimming pool as far as clarity. I could stand in water up to my neck and still see my feet.

There were occasional vendors that walked by on the beach. Becky bought a nice bracelet off of one and I bought 5 Honduran cigars. Later I was wondering if I would regret my decision – for all I know the old man in the straw hat that was selling them just wrapped lawn clippings in tobacco leaves! Now later in the Cayman Islands I did buy some Cuban cigars – so even if those are duds, the Cubans should make up for any shortcomings.

We did meet a crazy Cuban guy at the Cayman Islands while killing time at a bar before going back to the ship. A local was playing calypso music in a small bar (probably open when the 1st one is at capacity) that was not in use at the time. The Cuban guy is dancing to the music and when the music stops, he does a backflip off of the bar but does not ace the landing at all. We all cringed when he landed, but he hopped right back and came our direction. He must have been made of rubber – or maybe all the rum he drank really limbered up his muscles.

Turns out that we were next to his wife. “Hope his life insurance is paid in full!” I quipped. He said that he would probably feel it tomorrow, but today he felt great. He came to the US from Cuba 42 years ago. He could not wait for the liberation of Cuba from the last Castro. But he did turn us on to some Cuban rum before he left. It was very smooth. So maybe next year it will be Cuba for vacation – I can try some authentic Cuban cuisine, then sit down for a cigar and some of that Cuban rum! I would like to see some of the places where Ernest Hemingway hung out. But rest assured that I have no plans for backflips off of bars.

We enjoyed the cruise overall. Even though we had 18 foot waves on the 3rd day out. Some of crew were saying that they had not seen seas that rough ever! Becky went back to the cabin and laid down for a spell. Many people were ill.

The cruise gives you a small taste of each port of call. Myself I would rather have a deep drink of each island. There are no beaches right there at the port so you have to take a bus or taxi to get to a beach. Then the ship is only there for 8 hours. So by the time you get to the beach, then break for lunch, then go back to the port to check out stuff there – you only have like 4-5 hours tops to be in the water. So I always felt rushed and had to keep one eye on the time.

We did like the social aspect of cruising – meeting all sorts of people. We enjoyed the shows and the comedians. They have events scheduled all day and into the night. So you can keep yourself as busy as you want to be. I do regret that I did not talk Becky into letting me go watch the booty shaking contest they had at midnight ;-)

So we talked about maybe just going to a place like Cozumel (or Cuba) and staying for a week. That way you can hang at the beach all you want, maybe take a day or so for sight seeing. It would be slower paced – no watching the clock, and also person would have the time to get a little deeper into the local culture.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The election is over

Well the election is over for us - we did our part and mailed in our ballots a long time ago.  As what often seems to be the case, the elections are not about the true issues.  But rather a mess of mudslinging and character assassination.  Long ago I determined that every politician will promise the moon.  So you can't use that as a reference.  But rather you need to look at what they actually did in past as opposed to what they say now.  Both of the major party candidates are lacking in this regard, which is why I voted 3rd party.

Well there is that and the fact that there really isn't that much separating Democrats and Republicans. They agree on 90% of the issues and only use a few hot spot issues to get their bases fired up.  And even when they disagree, there is generally an area where they can compromise and come up with a solution that works for both parties.  Take abortion which is a hot spot issue.  The cause of abortion is unwanted pregnancies.

So instead of doing legitimate work to join hands and reduce unwanted pregnancies - it is easier to name call and finger point.  The net result is nothing gets done.  And both parties can dust off their arguments for and against for the next election...   In other words it works better politically that this remain an issue to stir up the base on either than to actually compromise and work towards resolving or at least reducing the problem.  Guns are another hot button issue and I could list a few more.

Ohio is a battle ground state so we have listen to the bucket fulls of drivel that are spewed out on our local broadcast stations. I will be so glad when this is over.  The way I see it about 1/3 are Democrats and about 1/3 are Republicans.  It would take a major act for either of these two groups to turn about and vote for the other party.  And about 1/3 are independent. Yeah, I know folks like me are voting 3rd party, but this group is still a small blip on the radar.  But this last group has to have some inkling about who they are voting for come fall.

So of this last 1/3 maybe 5 or 10% are truly undecided. Therefore all these ads are aimed at these few who have no clue.  I wonder how much per vote of these undecided that each candidate are spending. It has be a hefty amount.  Someone needs to vote on a button where if you are already a decided voter that the political ads are skipped for you!  I can see why cord cutters leave the networks - ad fatigue!

Well win or lose Trump has changed politics in America.  The democrats were against him, the mainstream Republicans were against him.  He was like Custer taking arrows from all sides.  And Hillary had everyone campaigning for her - her husband, Joe Biden, the President.   Yet it seems like this will be a close election. It is the political machine vs the outlier.  The bully versus the crook.

  Yet I still feel confident in my vote.  It does not matter for this election, but I hope that in years to come that it helps set the foundation for a true 3rd party.   Insanity is doing the same thing over and over - that is voting for the lesser of two evils as is the case for the past several presidential elections.  Neither one of these candidates are worthy of being president in my opinion.   But over 90% of Americans will vote for these buffoons.  Am I the crazy one for voting Libertarian - or the 90%+ that do the same thing election after election but expect different results...  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Summer Vacation Ends

Well I ended up with an extended summer vacation this year.  Thanks to a layoff from Luxottica.  They are going with another vendor for their manufacturing software and so they will no longer do any further development on their existing software. No developers, no need for me and many of my coworkers. 9 out of 22 were released. Once they change, they plan to also have this same vendor do their support, so my whole group could eventually be shrunk down to a handful of analysts.

So I was let go in June - it was like being in school again and having the summer off. Even went to Gulf Shores, Alabama with the girls and their families to celebrate Vanessa getting her degree.  And I actually lost weight, did some honey do stuff and kept busy working around the place.  It was a trial run for being retired.  It worked out OK - I planned my week by the day each Sunday evening.  So each day I had something to do - no sitting around on the porch.  Then I cut back on spending.  I was able to get it fairly close to what we are planning to spend monthly upon retirement.  So in that sense it was good to get a trail run and get a feel for what to expect. I did not sit around and do nothing - even on the weekends.

I was kind of sort of hoping to stay under the radar on unemployment.  If I had not gotten hired by January then I would have officially retired at that time. I cannot touch my IRA until age 59 and half, although I do have about 2 years of income I can get my hands upon. So that would have bridged me until that time. But I was contacted by a company for a job and restarted work in September - I am  working for a subcontractor to a subcontractor doing work for Wright Patt.   So summer vacation has ended - it is back to the grind for me.  I guess on the plus side it is an opportunity to put even more back for retirement so that we can do that trip to europe that we were talking about.

One thing that I noticed is that when your income is limited, you use a lot more discretion when shopping.  You go in a store, get what you need turn around and get out.  Since I got rehired, I do the opposite - hey I could use that, and look here - this is on sale. How quickly that thrifty habit is forgotten about.  Once again there is no worrying about the total amount, and just getting whatever you want,  not just what you need.  I went to a store to get a $5 item last week, and walked out with over $40 of stuff.  On the way to the car I was shaking my head at myself.

Worked both Cash and Serenity this weekend. They helped me with firewood. Both worked hard and earned some $$ to take home. We also got to play a little bit - Cash and I played World of Tanks.  The next morning he was not listening to me - I had to tell him several times to do things. I gave him a stern lecture that he does not want to make Grandpa mad by ignoring me when I give him an order to do something.  He was taken aback and did finally help cleanup as requested.

Serenity looks as though she will be like me - partially left handed.  She picks up and throws things with her left hand but does some things with her right hand.  I also saw that Cash can be timid at times and has Serenity do things for him.  He wanted to check out a boat, but he told Serenity to go up there first and check it out.  Then when all was OK, he went up.  Apparently Serenity is expendable in his eyes...  When I told Sarah the tale, she remarked that Serenity should wear a red shirt - a reference to the red shirts worn by the expendable junior officers on Star Trek.

Both kids got to explore on their own for the first time. I figured that they were old enough now to go traipsing over the hillside on their own.  Something that I enjoyed as a child.  I hope that our woods is as full as adventure to them as the woods that we got to play in as youngsters. Lots of Indian and Civil war battles, lumber jack camps, etc. as I recall.   Although Cash was of course drawn to some of the old cars that his father left on the other side of creek years ago.  Old rusted heaps in my eyes, restorable relics in his.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sudden Sunsets

This has been a tough summer for my peers who have suddenly had their sunset thrust upon them too early.  Yes - my age bracket (50+) is playing on the back nine, but there are still more holes to play before that final putt into darkness.  Several of our classmates have fallen this summer.  This is in contrast to a couple of summers ago when it was a happy summer - the summer of the boy where we had 3 boys born into the family within about 2 months of each other.  This is a somber summer where instead of new life beginning - lives are being taken before their time.

Cancer seems to be the worst culprit.  Slowly and painfully chewing the life out of people. No quick ends,  I guess that you do get to say good bye to those you love and make amends, but it seems like such a tortuous way to go. But some have gone fast, too fast for any last words for your loved ones. And with this wave hitting,  5 that we know of so far and the summer is not over.  It makes it hard to think that this is part of getting older - saying good bye to classmates and relatives.  And realizing that the next Memorial Service you go to could be your last - your own!

And all this against a backdrop of the mass shootings in Europe and the US. It puts a person into a funk. You start to get numb to it all.  But it also makes you think of your own sunset, which we all hope doesn't come for a long, long while. And we need to think to ourselves -  that if we all live a righteous life and make those around you better then your sunset will be golden however and whenever you go.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Young Thomas

Young Thomas,

As Shakespeare once said, advice is wasted upon the young. But as a moth futilely finds itself drawn to a light, I find myself drawn to sharing what little wisdom that I have acquired over the years. But if perchance I can help you avoid a pothole or two on this lifes road then perhaps all was not in vain. So what follows is advice from the eldest to the youngest.

Neither a lender nor a borrower be. Lending money to friends or family is not loan - it is gift. If the money is paid back then so much the better. But don't hand over money willy nilly no matter how earnest the recipient is. And I hear that you are going to Wright State – a frugal move. Try to keep your students loans to a minimum. It all has to be paid back - with interest. And when you graduate the inclination upon getting that first job is to treat yourself to a new car. Get a car new to you that is 2-3 years old and still has good life in it. Again payments and insurance on a new car can put you in a bind financially. Our father is frugal and being frugal - but not cheap is a good way to lead your life. Life is easier when you have money. Ask any homeless person.

Moderation in all things. Alcohol, food, love, etc. – all are beneficial in the right quantities but an overindulgence in one or all will cause harm to the body or to the soul. So indulge – but know your limits so that you are never in over your head. Otherwise you could end up in a motel room in Las Vegas and wake up in the morning with a hangover - married to a stripper named Bambi. She talks a lot and likes to crack her gum when she chews it. Yep, shoulda used moderation.

I am glad of your choice of professions. But don't be afraid to explore other careers. Lots of folks go to school, find something they like better and change majors. I started in Business Administration, but ended up in computers for instance. But your chosen profession is good from the standpoint that it pays well. So that will help with social security solvent for us old timers. I plan to travel a lot, so those SS checks will keep me in gas money. And an additional bonus is the degree is in the medical field. So the money we get from social security will be turned around to keep us in viagra and prostate medicine which you can provide. For this I am doubly thankful.

Oh, but who am I kidding. Life is like giant millstone that grinds us all down. You are young and full of ambition and dreams. But life will grind all this out of you – look at me. Leaving nothing but coarse husks on the grain elevator of life. And then some cow will eat these husks and then... well you know what the cow leaves on the pasture. Don't let this happen to your life. No what you need to do now is flee – find a steamboat with your graduation money and sail far away to the Pacific. There you can start fresh on a tropical island and fish in the afternoon and drink daiquiris in the evenings. Yes if I had it all to again that is where I would be!!!

Well my advice should not be followed by any rational human being – but there it is. Use it as you will.

Your older brother,

J. Chris Tilton

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Thorns and Flowers

Had a moment this evening.  Took Annabelle down to the creek and we did some exploring.  I explained how some plants have flowers, but some plants have thorns. I showed her some bramble bushes and hedge to show thorns.  So one has to be careful when exploring in the woods.  She wanted to climb to to the top of the hill.  I decided to let her go on her own to see how she did.  She carefully navigated the trees and eventually made it to the top - where she exclaimed,  look at me - I did it myself!

And it brought back to mind a melancholy moment watching Vanessa learning to walk years ago and thinking that those little feet are going to walk her out the door someday.  It brought me to thinking that as parents we teach our children the pitfalls and rewards to watch for, but it is their little feet that have to make the journey on their own.  You can only hope that your lessons of thorns and flowers hold true and that they remember what they were taught on their lifes journey.

We did have another learning moment - by the electric fence.  I explained that the fence bites - it has electricity and electricity can hurt you.  She went over by it and I held my tongue. I knew what was going to happen - some lessons we have to learn on our own. She reached out and I saw her snap her hand back. "Did you touch the fence?"  "No, no I didn't"  I knew that she reached out and touched it, but I also wanted her to learn to listen to gramps.  The next time I give advice - I have a feeling that she will listen. In life we enjoy the flowers but we must be careful of the thorns.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Satisfying weekend

This past weekend was satisfying on several different levels.  Chelsea and Dan were in town for his birthday, so it was nice to see them.  He seems to be on the right track with his job as a customer service rep, and heading in the right direction.  We went to Golden Corral and then bowled after the dinner.  Everyone had a good time and we stayed up until like 1am.

Robert called - it was nice to chat with him. We touch base every so often and it was an expected call, but I am always happy to hear from him.  His company is coming off of it's best year ever.  Coca Cola resigned him as an agent for 2016, so that is a big account that he can rely on.  He is also an outsourced VP for an Aloe company that is developing a drink for nationwide release.  They wanted to formally hire him, but he told them that he had too many commitments and could not back out.  So they made him a sub contractor and he even has 2 direct reports. We had joked about this at work - companies are outsourcing IT jobs left and right, so why not outsource executives.  Looks like this is coming true too!

 He made me feel good - told me that he considered me more of a real Dad than anyone else.  So it feels good to have a positive effect on someone.  He works hard and is successful - glad that things are working out for him.  In turn he has helped my kids from time to time.  So I appreciate that this has gone full circle and he has been able to mentor and advise my kids from time to time.

The weekend ended up with Joe coming back home late Sunday night. He flew from Japan to Atlanta and finally to Dayton.  He got in around 10:35pm.  He said that he thought that the cat was dead in Atlanta - he picked up the carrier at the baggage area and cat didn't move a muscle.  He finally tapped on the cage and called his name and the cat slowly responded.  I imagine that cat was happy to finally be released.  Ryker was fine at the airport.  All surely slept well last night.

So it is satisfying to have spent time with family and also to see everyone doing well.