Saturday, April 2, 2016

Umbrella Closing

They say April showers bring May flowers. But I wasn't looking ahead that far when I tried to close my golfer's size Pebble Beach model umbrella with my right foot positioned inside my car in front of the driver's seat and the left foot planted in a three inch deep puddle. No, the month of May was not on my mind at all. I had just come out of the grocery store and was trying to maneuver two plastic bags, one umbrella, and my firm and fully rounded buttocks into my car without getting totally soaked.  This April shower was turning into a deluge and I was quite busy at the moment cursing the designer or engineer or whatever masochist thought up that portion of the mechanics required to close the umbrella which by this time was threatening to turn me into Mary Poppins (fat chance, pun intended) as an updraft tugged forcefully on the handle I was desperately trying to manipulate into a closing configuration of the canopy.  My tech savvy brain, besides getting soaked was trying to wrap itself around what seemed like a simple concept; to open my Pebble Beach model umbrella, all I have to do is push a button located right above the grip handle and...WA-LA...the arms with their accordion-like nylon fabric magically expand with a "swoosh" sound into the protective canopy to protect me from the elements. Thank you! Now why don't you apply your same engineering skills to the reverse motion so a press of the same button collapses and folds the arms and fabric back into their original cocoon-like shape?  But no, I guess you'd rather watch me struggle with trying to slide the arm bracket down the shaft towards the (now useless) button to lock it all into the closed position, requiring more strength than I can muster with one arm because it requires about twenty five pounds of torque so I have to stick the butt of the handle in my gut and pull with two hands which means my second hand while clasping the car key remote is dangerously close to pushing on the red emergency button, conveniently placed below the "lock" and "unlock" buttons, which if pushed while struggling with my umbrella closing contortions would set off horn honking alarms so that everybody in the parking lot would be able to laugh at the old guy who pushed the wrong button on his remote.  I live in a "55 + community" so parking lot alarms are not an unusual phenomena but I prefer to be the observer rather than the culprit of these parking lot alarm occurrences so I can shake my head side to side, cluck my tongue, and mutter to myself (or my wife if she's with me), "Yup, just one more example of someone who's too old to drive. Better turn your license back in to AARP grandpa (or grandma)!" Well, this time I managed to avoid the red button pressing maneuver by deftly losing my grip on the remote so that it dropped into the same puddle my left foot was soaking in. I didn't think that was a healthy environment for a battery powered remote vehicle starting device so I postponed the umbrella closing actions and reached down with my right had to retrieve the key/remote and tossed them onto the driver's seat. With my arms spread in opposite directions, the weather protection features of the umbrella at this juncture were pretty close to nonexistent. And the rain just kept on coming, harder and harder. So, with one last desperate attempt to close the umbrella and find shelter inside the cabin of my car, I resumed my two-handed closing technique on the Pebble Beach monster and pulled the arm bracket down to the button and finally heard the reassuring sound of it clicking closed. I slid my thoroughly drenched carcass into the driver's seat and shook the umbrella to remove excess droplets of water before bringing it inside. Which was kind of dumb because it still gave the passenger seat a pretty significant soaking. Anyway, the car started up fine, the windshield wipers were working fine, the defogger was working fine and the trip home was unremarkable. Someone still needs to find an easier way of closing an umbrella. I'm thinking maybe the car engineers could design a remote that would open and close the umbrella. Just don't put an alarm button on it. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015


     Catchy name, don't ya' think? ENCORE, maestro, ENCORE!  Pretty smart advertising, if you ask me. Get a Buick Encore and get one again. Since I got a two year lease on my new Encore I suppose if it works out okay I just might get one again. We'll see. I have had it for over three weeks now and like it a lot. If I feel the same in two years then I can lease another one or if I really like it a lot I can buy the one I've got now. At least I'll know how the car was maintained and if there were any problems noted by the previous owner. Pictured below. Ain't she puuurrrr-ty? 


     This photo is from the brochure. My Encore is not silver like the one above. Mine is "Deep Espresso Brown Metallic." It's a small SUV, about a couple of feet shorter than the GMC Terrain I had before. Leased it with free SiriusXM and OnStar service for the full two years. Small 1.4L turbo engine that Edmunds whines about slow acceleration but what do they know? It's got plenty of power for me. I gave up concerns for 0 to 60 mph performance records many decades ago. And haven't had any problems getting up to speed on I-75 yet. I also like the fact that the small car and the small engine so far have been averaging 27 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. Mostly city, so that's pretty good. I've seen it register high thirties at 70 mph on I  -75 so I'm looking forward to what the fuel economy will average when we drive up to MV next summer. 

     Anyway, I've always blogged about any new car I've gotten so I'm just upholding my blog traditions with this post. In other words, I'm car blogging again. You could call this an encore blog. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grocery Store Savings and Bagger Blahs

     Feeling pretty good these days because I'm saving money at the grocery store. Every time we settle up with the cashier in our favorite grocery store we get a receipt that shows a "You Saved $___ Today!" entry. But I've never really tried to calculate or verify however much money I save. Saving from what? I just sort of take their word for it and silently pat myself on the back for being so successful in accumulating savings and walk out with my head held high and feeling proud. Unless, of course, the bagger gets pushy in asking if I need assistance to bring the groceries out to the car. I know they've got to ask but when I decline do they have to say, "Are you sure?" (Am I sure? Oh, you're damn right I'm sure! Get the hell out of my way is what I want to say but I'm too much of a gentleman [or wuss, maybe?] to do anything but smile and say "no thanks, I've got it)!  When that happens, my proud savings glow morphs into senior citizen gloom because I take such offers as an insult. ("Me? You're asking ME if I need help wheeling my groceries to the car? Do I really look that pathetically old and feeble that I need help pushing a grocery cart out to the parking lot?") They've got a lot of nerve, those baggers. Now that I think about it maybe next time a bagger insults me like this I'll turn the tables on him or her and ask them to explain how "I Saved $___ Today." But, no, I'd better not because if they can explain it, it'll just mean they're smarter than I am and I'll be so embarrassed I'll probably give in to the cart pushing offer just to hide my shame. Listen up, if I sink that low to allow you to assist me then I've got a nice surprise for you Mr/Ms bagger person...I've got a cooler in my car for frozen and refrigerated items that my standard operating procedure requires immediate transfer from the bags to cold storage on ice. And I'm gonna' stand there and watch you do it to make sure it's done right! You want to help this feeble old man take his groceries out to his car then you've got to pack said groceries into his feeble old trunk in accordance with his feeble old rules!  Frozen on the bottom, chilled on the top and don't mess up or I'm bringing the melted ice cream back for replacement. What do you think of that, huh, bagger person? 

     Now I'm not totally incompetent when it comes to monitoring my "Savings Today" itemizing. It's just that when you've totalled up with the cashier who hands you the receipt and wishes you a nice day and the bagger issues their insulting readiness to assist me and the customer behind me has their disgusting array of groceries (beets and lima beans? are you seriously going to eat that crap or are you taking it home for the pig trough?)  spread out all over the conveyor belt and breathing down our necks, and I'm thinking, (Geez, is this what my life has come to; condescending baggers, bored and fake smiling cashiers, and idiotic shoppers who are probably "Saving $bundles Today" more than me because they buy stuff even the pigs are going to turn up their noses at so the store is literally giving away)? When "Today's Savings" notated receipt is presented, the ambiance of the check out line is such, that one doesn't really feel comfortable stopping and saying, "Well, how nice of you to point that out for me. I'm so happy I saved $___ today and I'm so happy I just might come back tomorrow and save some more if you'll just tell me how you arrived at the $___ figure. Please?" No this is not the time to do that. You can see the pig-feed shopper chomping at the bit and the cashier has turned and asked them if they found everything they needed okay, so you're just chopped liver in their bar code screening mind now, a forgotten memory in their history, and there's no time to chat with the bagger unless you've agreed to let them humiliate you and push your cart out to your car. You know you can't do that so gritting your teeth and swallowing your wrath you pleasantly as possible decline the offer for assistance and get the hell out of the way. This shopping tour is over except for sorting the refrigerated items into your cooler in the trunk of your car. If you're still feeling morose over the bagger's insult you can cheer yourself up by taking your sweet time loading the trunk, especially when someone else has backed up traffic in the parking lot waiting just for your prime parking spot. Now is the time to complete loading the trunk with your grocery booty and then pull out the receipt for an in depth true savings analysis. You know how much "You Saved Today" because it's right there in black and white. But...did they really ring up the BOGO's correctly? Make sure. And if they charged you twice for twofers that should have only been charged one time, well there you have it...close up the trunk and walk back into the store and get your bill adjusted.  And do all this s-l-o-w-l-y so the poor sap who was waiting for your prime parking space will finally give up and find another spot to park. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fifteen Seconds of Antarctica Fame

      I mentioned in my blog with photos of the Antarctica cruise that we had posed with photos of ourselves holding newspapers published in Sun City and our old home town in Massachusetts. The Sun City paper has a standard operating procedure to publish photos of residents holding up the paper when they are travelling. Sure enough ours appeared right after we got back from the Antarctica cruise and emailed the photo to them.

     The attempt to do the same with the Massachusetts paper was a shot in the dark because we subscribe to the weekly publication and have never seen similar photos. But, sure enough, the March 5 issue came in yesterday and there we were posing with the newspaper in Antarctica. 

     If any other papers or magazines want similar photos they should contact our agent. Maybe, if the price is right, we could even do lunch.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

ANTARCTICA CRUISE - The Trip Of A Lifetime

     I have been remiss in my blogging. Scroll down to my last posting and it's clear I haven't had anything to blah about (as in, "blah, blah, blah") since last July. My other blog, ( has been almost as quiet with a September date on my last posting. I feel guilty about that one because I need to add subsequent chapters to close out my research on my mother's Kansas connection. We made a genealogy road trip to Topeka last summer so it would be a shame not to fill out that posting with information gathered. I'll get to it one of these days, I promise.

     This blog, "JD's Blahs," carries no guilt when I don't post. I just haven't felt the need to blab about much lately. Until now, that is. Sandi and I recently enjoyed a fourteen day cruise in South America, including two days of cruising through the Antarctica Peninsula on the northern extremities of that continent as well as an up-close look at Elephant Island. Between my cell phone and two cameras I took over 1400 photographs and recorded videos on each day of the trip. I'll try to trim that down a bit for the remainder of this post. As much as possible I'll let the images speak for themselves (unlike the commentary I added to the photos I posted on Facebook).  I entitled my Facebook album, "Antarctica, the trip of a lifetime."  It was all that. And more! So I reused the title on this blog. 

                     Our official cruise ship photograph


We cruised on the Celebrity ship, "Infinity" out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Everything was coordinated through a travel agency out of Pinellas Park.  The agency manager got comped a stateroom so we even had a "mother hen" of sorts to rescue us if we got lost.  The only thing we had to pay for outside the agency was a "reciprocity" fee of $160 to Argentina.  The flights to Buenos Aires (Tampa to Dallas/Ft Worth, then DFW to Buenos Aires) were mostly smooth but cramped in coach. Ten hours on the last leg was agonizingly long but at least at night so we could try to sleep.   The ship,  "Infinity," on the other hand was a great size for the cruise with a passenger capacity of only 2174. Big enough to handle any rough seas but small enough so we didn't feel crowded like on the big super ships. The ship crew were friendly and efficient but some of the passengers, I won't mention what nationality, were frequently rude and noisy. It was evident their Southeast Asian culture doesn't honor the principles of "first come, first serve."  They were very good at embracing, "me, me, and more me." 

We departed Buenos Aires at 5 pm Sunday and cruised to the bottom of South America in three "at sea" days. The swells increased in size as we made our way southward but not bad. Buenos Aires temps were mid seventies so each day we sailed south the thermometer started to drop. Monday's low 70's dropped to 60's and 50's and finally 40's  over Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, just before dawn we pulled into the harbor at the city of Ushuaia, Argentina. Ushuaia advertises itself as the "southern most city in the world" and with a population over 60,000 it's technically correct. Chile has a town with 2000 residents located on the south banks of Beagle Channel that lays claim to the same slogan so the two countries just have one more thing to bicker about. We were warned to wear multiple layers of clothing if going ashore as temperatures were going to be in the 30's with gusting winds lowering the wind chill factor into the teens. We should have known better when we got up at dawn to witness the arrival in port and saw a dramatic sunrise in clear skies and in temps still in the high 40's. Sandi and I went on a combination catamaran/bus tour that took us east on Beagle Channel (named after the ship Charles Darwin sailed on a 5 year exploration of South America) and finished up on a bus tour through Tierra del Fuego National Park. The tour was great except for the weather predictions...most of the day was in the 70's so we ended up peeling off those recommended layers to avoid sweating to death. 

We wonder if this mailbox belongs to Birdman!

Our ship departed Ushuaia Friday night and headed eastward back out of Beagle Channel and then turned south again with Cape Horn as our destination. Cape horn is infamous for it's weather and often violent seas. At this part of the world the winds and the waves are always out of the west heading east for a collision between the South Pacific and the South Atlantic Oceans. Throw in the sucker punch of cold air flowing North from Atarctica toward South America and Cape Horn becomes the bulls eye for some of the most violent meritime weather on the planet. Thus, Celebrity Cruise Lines made no guarantee that they would hold to the scheduled arrival at Cape Horn planned for 6am to 8am on the sixth day of our cruise. We arrived just before dawn and were pleasantly surprised with fairly smooth seas and clear skies. We were extremely fortunate. Even the temperature was treating us kind with temps holding in the mid 40's. We had a clear view of the Chilean Navy Station that also maintains the memorial sculpture of an albatross dedicated to the sailors who lost their lives trying to navigate around Cape Horn. A Chilean pilot boarded our ship while we floated a mile or so off from the rocky coast. The ship made a couple of slow 360's so that passengers on both sides could view the Horn from their balconies and decks. Our photos were taken from our balcony. 

We departed Cape Horn shortly after 8am and headed south on a heading of 165 degrees into the Drake Passage. The temperatures remained in the 40's but the seas picked up significantly with fairly large swells creating a moderate rock and roll motion that wasn't difficult to get used to but most noticeable when trying to keep our balance while walking down the hallway to get to our stateroom.  One "rogue swell" came up during dinner that evening and the motion was accentuated by the sounds of food trays all of a sudden falling over with retaining pan covers, glassware, and silverware clattering to the floor while waiters and their assistants quickly hurried to put things back in order. I don't think they violated any five second food drop rules but we and our fellow diners were too busy to notice. We were all ears and wide eyes waiting for the abandon ship call to be announced from the bridge by Captain Michael and hoped if such orders were issued he would speaka' more cleara'ly than hisa' daily updates on the loudspeakers had been.  The stabilizers quickly recovered the ship to more horizontal attitudes and kept us sashaying like a Hollywood bombshell back on our journey towards Antarctica. 

On Saturday we entered Schollart Channel in Antarctica about 11am with temps in the high 30's and a light but hazy fog. We left the swells behind us in Drake Passage with the islands and Antarctic Peninsula shielding us from the open sea. As we cruised south toward Paradise Bay the fog slowly dissipated and we were able to see the sights more clearly. We were accompanied  by whales from time to time but only saw their backs, no breaching of the surface. We also saw penguins leaping through the water as though racing the ship. And we noticed a few sea lions resting on the snow banks. There were also some pretty huge icebergs that seemed awful close but Captain Michael kept us safe and managed to avoid them.  The map below shows the direction of our cruise through Antarctica on Saturday culminated with our arrival at Elephant Island on Sunday. And by the way, the photos of us holding newspapers were our attempt to gain fifteen minutes of fame by submitting them to our home town newspapers. The paper in Sun City followed through with our photo with another Sun City couple on the cruise. Not sure if the Massachusetts newspaper will be so accommodating.

Antarctica and Elephant Island Photos

You have to look real close to see penguins in this and next photo.

Two of the fourteen days of our Antarctica Cruise were spent in  Antarctica. We are not disappointed at all. We had excellent weather throughout the cruise and none of the itinerary had to be adjusted. We would have liked to have been able to take one of the "cruises" that actually land on Antarctcia with zodiacs (we saw a few of the "expedition-type" ships) but the cost was prohibitive. And I'm wondering how they would have handled the swells in Drake Passage. Nevertheless, we feel our once in a lifetime journey to Antarctica was a good choice and we have absolutely no regrets for booking this cruise. I'll condense a little more on the remaining legs of our trip. We made port calls and enjoyed land tours in the Falkland Islands, Puerto Madryn, Argentina,  Montevideo, Uruguay, and finally a full day in Buenos Aires.

The Falkland Islands is thoroughly British and the residents are proud to show you battle sights and relate war stories about their defense of their home from Argentina's attack in the 1980's. Land Rovers are the predominant vehicle for tours as you have to travel over some pretty rugged countryside to see the wildlife. Gentoo penguins, King penguins, Galloway Belted cows, and geese are the main sights. The Gentoos were all babies (less than a year old) who were waiting around for their parents to return from fishing to feed them.  Some slept, some went to the ocean but stopped short of going in as they are too young to swim. All put up a pretty good racket similar to geese honking.  The King penguins with their colorful markings mingle with the Gentoos and the two species just seem to ignore each other.  Mankind should learn a lesson from these creatures! The harbor at Port Stanley is not deep enough for cruise ships so it was the only stop where our lifeboats were used to tender us in and back between the ship and the town. Again, the weather cooperated with calm seas as some cruises have to cancel tenders when the waves get too big and wild, even inside the Port Stanley harbor. 

We departed the Falkland Islands Tuesday evening and cruised northwest to Puerto Madryn, Argentina where the Infinity docked in their port Thursday while we toured Peninsula Valdes National Park. A two hour bus ride through the desert countryside was required to reach the park but the motor coaches were new and clean and most of the roadway was paved. Inside the park the roads were a little more rugged combining dirt and gravel. Puerto Madryn is in the area of Argentina known as Patagonia. Few grasses grow here and most of the vegetation is low scrub brush, the official names I don't remember. What I do remember is that the sparse growth provides little nourishment to any animals except sheep and wild guanacos, a relative of the llama. We saw plenty of both on our monotonous bus ride. The Patagonia wilderness is unsuitable for cattle because there isn't enough grass for them to eat. The animals that thrive in Peninsula Valdes are sea lions, elephant seals, and Magellan penguins. Some tours have reportedly seen orcas come up on the beaches to grab seals. Fortunately for the seals we did not witness orcas or orca feedings. But the penguins were plentiful and made themselves available for our cameras while being oblivious to our wandering among them. We had to stay within well marked paths but the penguins had no such restrictions. The sea lions were on a beach which we observed from above on some high bluffs. Nobody in their right mind would want to mingle with them as some of the bulls were huge. The bulls with harems of up to twenty-some females spent a lot of time chasing off younger males who wanted a piece of the action. 


The last port of call during the cruise was on Saturday, February 14th in Montevideo, Uruguay. We took a city tour by bus that was narrated by a tour guide throughout and saw various places of interest associated with the country's history. Uruguay lays claim to being the origin of the tango. So included in the tour was a visit to a "museum" that advertised itself as a museum/tango show/restaurant/antique shop. The proprietor, a young man who appeared to be in his thirties, explained in broken English that he had inherited this museum from his father who was a collector of oil lamps. Lamps used for lighting, heating, and cooking. But the main attraction was a piano player, a singer, and a couple who gave an energetic tango demonstration and then shared a few dance steps with any in our group who wanted, mostly just photo posing opportunities. Tourist trap? You bet. Fun? Absolutely!  Our general impression of the city was that the buildings overall were newer or better constructed than those in Buenos Aires because we didn't see a lot of cement decay and stains in Mentevideo.  Most buildings appeared to have individual cooling units mounted in the windows or on the walls so assume central air is a rare luxury. The harbor where our ship docked was right next to a jetty where a slew of junk ships appeared to be sunk and deserted. Not sure if this was just a convenient dumping ground or perhaps a breakwater.  And there was one abandoned tugboat mounted on braces almost as if it was a model put on display. Very strange. 

The last tour we enjoyed was after disembarking from the Infinity in Buenos Aires. We were off the ship by 9am and weren't scheduled to fly out until after 11pm so we booked a tour that would show us the city and then traveled into the countryside outside the city to visit a ranch.  We could have booked a tour that included another tango demonstration (Buenos Aires also lays claim to being the origin of the dance) but after Montevideo we wanted to see more than just city attractions. The areas outside Buenos Aires are in what's called the "Pampas" region, lush farming soil and grass for cattle to graze on. Hence, the famous Argentinian beef that the country is so proud of. We had lunch at the ranch (another tourist trap but entertaining nevertheless) where we enjoyed beef steaks, ribs, pork and beef sausages, and Argentinian wines. Very tasty and you could easily fill up but it was served on hot griddles in sample sizes. After all the hype about Argentinian beef I would have liked to sample just one sirloin or filet but never got the chance. We were entertained at the ranch by gauchos dancing (with gauchettes?), men and women in native costumes. Again I got a chance to dance on stage with one of the girls but Sandi was unable (or unwilling?) to get a good picture of me. These South American women must have a sense for my manliness and keep asking me to dance! I'm not sure why. After the dancing we were given a gaucho horse riding display which was fun to watch. In the city we got to tour a famous cemetery that consisted of individual family mausoleums. Recoleta Cemetery is filled with mausoleums housing the coffins and remains of many prominent Argentinians including Evita Peron. I didn't see hers to recognize it but couldn't hear everything our tour guide was telling us. Evita is in there somewhere, supposedly embalmed with glycerin that preserves the body and the organs for ages. That thought and the cemetery itself was kind of creepy but real interesting and provided great photo ops to see the artistry and creative imagination that went into construction of each family plot. 

Our flight out of Buenos Aires left around 11:30 pm (they are two hours ahead of Florida time, three ahead of Texas) and got into Dallas/Fort Worth around 10 am. Cramped spaces in coach again but after a successful cruise we couldn't complain. All in all, the Trip Of A Lifetime.