Monday, December 28, 2015

Love ya man

Today, I was looking at old pictures of my son Josh.

The time has flown by. Josh was born 29 years ago. I used to hold him in my arms and now he's taller than me.

In just a few days, he'll be married.

He's the youngest and last to marry. His oldest sister, Nikki, got married first ... a few years ago, Alissa was the most recent bride and now Josh.

So here I sit trying out a few stories to tell the crowd on New Year's Eve.

Maybe I'll tell story that's a family favorite ... the time that Josh stood on his bunk bed and peed on the floor. Did I say the time? I meant EVERY time ... EVERY day.  His mother and I wondered for the longest time why his room smelled like our dog (who had died the year before).
Or there's the story his grandfather tells about a shopping trip to Publix. Somehow Josh got caught between the wheels and the basket as he was climbing around. He caused quite a scene as the store manager and a crowd of bystanders were busy trying to figure out how to take the cart apart. They figured out just before the jaws of life showed up.

Oh ... Then there was the day I came home and the girls had  covered him with makeup, nail polish and jewelry. I was not happy.

But the story I'll never forget is not a funny one. I still feel the same pit in my stomach when I tell it. It happened after a football practice in high school. I got a call at work. Josh was in pain ... serious pain ... across his shoulder and down his side. Got him to the ER at All Children's Hospital where it was discovered that his spleen was ruptured. In practice that afternoon, he was tackled as he held the ball, falling full force on the tip.  

He was immediately sent to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where he was monitored night and day as doctors evaluated whether to remove his spleen or let it heal naturally. It was almost 50% damaged. After many days in the unit he eventually healed and kept his spleen (which I found out regenerates itself if it's not too far gone).

So many stories.

His friends and family will all be there to help celebrate. He's a great kid and a special man. It has been such a treat watching my children grow into adults. and a pleasure to welcome new members of the family: Steven Cohen, Nikki's husband and Nate Lawver, Alissa's husband and now Theresa Evans ... the woman who will be my new daughter in law.

Every one of them hold a special place in my heart. Nikki's two children Cole and Grace are so damned cute that I am continuously posting pictures of them.

So Josh, I've probably exhausted every story about you just as I have your two wonderful sisters. But it won't stop me from repeating them again.

By the way ... does Theresa know you pee in bed?  


Monday, November 30, 2015

Find It Yourself

We all do it.

Each of us in our own way uses labels. We label people we meet or see every day ... like the old woman in line at the grocery store buying cases of cat food ("lonely") or the kid who whines about everything ("spoiled") or the guy running for President with the comb over ("narcissist").

We can't help it. I think that it somehow helps us keep our sanity to put labels on things. I might label something differently than you or we might have multiple labels for the same thing. We could both be listening to the same Celine Dion song and you might say "beautiful" and I might say ... wait a minute ... I wouldn't be listening to Celine Dion.

If you are really organized, like my wife Debbie, labels are in your DNA. Just about everything in our house is labeled and categorized. A couple of weeks ago, Debbie organized the bathroom cabinets into interesting containers:
1. Eye (not kidding)
2. Ointment (you don't want to know)
3. Bandaid (this makes sense ... different sizes)
4. Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, etc. (really? that many toothbrushes and toothpastes and flosses?)
5. Surplus items (this was my favorite because it really was everything else that you would look for in the bathroom if you didn't cut yourself, stab yourself in the eye or need an immediate tooth cleaning with new dental products.)

But what do I know? I can't ever find anything I need, I don't label stuff and I'm perfectly happy using my tried and true method:

"Debbie ... do you know where the _______ is?"    

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Miss You Man

Happy birthday, Wayne.

Lots of changes since we last talked. Dad died last year. You probably knew that. I imagine that you've run into him up there. (He is up there isn't he?) I was always impressed with how much patience you had with him ... more than I did. And with mom too. Hey, do they get along up there? Are you keeping things under control?

This past year, Deb and I took Mom and Dad back to New Orleans. You would have enjoyed it. Went to all their favorite spots and then left their remains in Lake Pontchartrain (where they always wanted to live  and ... as you know... could never afford it.)

Your nieces and nephew miss you.  You'd be so proud of them.

Josh (who looks more and more like you as he gets older) gets married at the end of the year. He and Theresa tie the knot on New Years Eve. Cool huh? It's a small wedding ... just family and their friends. He's working for the Rays, by the way, and loving it.    

Alissa and her husband Nate moved from DC to St. Pete. They just closed on a house a few blocks from us now. She's working for WellCare as the state wide communications director.

And Nikki has a new baby ... Grace. What a cutie! Four months old and sharing the love with her big brother Cole who just turned two. Nikki is now a partner in her Internal Med practice in Savannah. She and hubby Steven also just bought a beautiful house. We will see them all on Thanksgiving.

Hard to believe you've been gone for 20 years. Miss you Wayne. Not a day goes by that I don't think about you.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Allen Toussaint Remembered

We lost another musical giant yesterday.

Allen Toussaint (that's "too-sant" for the Non Orleanians) died in Madrid from a heart attack after a concert. He was only 77 years old.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Toussaint was one of the best known performers, writers and personalities in the city. He worked for my Uncle Smitty at Minit Records in the 60s. That's when I knew him. I was just 10 then and used to hang out at his house and play on his upright piano. He lived down the street from us in an old shotgun house. Every day, people were there playing, singing on the porch and telling jokes. Irma Thomas, Benny Spellman, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey ... I was in awe. I had NO IDEA that I was in the middle of greatness all around me and not one of them ever made me feel like the stupid kid that I was. They were all encouraging as I plunked away on the piano.

Just in case you never heard of him, here's a partial list of what he wrote:

"Working in the Coal Mine" for Lee Dorsey
"Right Place. Right Time" for Dr. John
"Mother In- Law" for Ernie K-Doe
"Ruler of My Heart" and "It's Raining"  for Irma Thomas
"Fortune Teller" for Benny Spellman
"Southern Nights" for Glenn Campbell            

He also wrote for and produced with Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and Bonnie Raitt among hundreds of others. Every year he played at the Jazz and Heritage Festival until Katrina destroyed his house and most of his manuscripts. He moved to New York for a while and then came back home a few years ago.

He was in the Right Place ... at the Right Time ... for yours truly.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

CIAO ... for now

Our ship docked for the final time in Venice, Italy on Saturday and we caught a cab to the rental car company with only the clothes on our backs ... and 10 suitcases.

Fortunately, the car company upgraded us from a two door speck to a four door speck. Tom and I were not happy with the amount of baggage. His entire wardrobe and mine fit in one third of one suitcase, but it all fit into the back and the middle of the back seat and the floors of every seat.

Tom drove without the benefit of seeing out of any window.

Lake Como was about 3 hours and 45 minutes (and forty two "roundabouts") away according to our British GPS woman.

On the way to the hotel, we stopped at one of the fanciest rest stops I have ever seen. They served cappuccino and had a fresh bakery and a beautiful restaurant inside. I was only expecting a clean bathroom and ritz crackers.

The hotel was fairly easy to find if you maneuver through streets that looked more like sidewalks (I think we drove on a few real sidewalks too).

Our rooms were side by side. I was happy to find our bathroom had an extra sink right next to the toilet. I've seen these before and realize that they must be put there as a convenience if you want to wash your hands immediately while you are seated.

The rest of the bathroom was not very user friendly. It seems that most of the European bathrooms that are in hotels are about the same size as the ones on our ship, I could only fit half my body in at a time (granted, that is buffalo size ... but still).

The view from the room was spectacular.

We got to know that balcony well ... not only for the view but also because the heating system at the hotel only had two levels hot and off. The door to the balcony stayed open a lot.

The first night we ate at a little café (Caffe Duomo) across from the Cathedral.

I will tell you ... without a doubt ... that the food was as delicious as I have ever tasted ... ever. I had spaghetti carbonara that was perfect (not too heavy on the carbonara and not too light on the consistency). Tom had lasagna and the girls had salad dishes that they loved.

We explored every block of this beautiful city.

From the Cathedral at night ...

,,, to the street markets in the afternoon ...

... where even the lady in the poster was impressed with the fresh veggies ...

... We took the ferry to Bellagio (amid the hordes of lost tourists) ...

... basked in the beauty of Lake Como ...

... and the homes that were edged into the mountains ...

By the way, I repeatedly remarked ... "THAT'S WHERE GEORGE CLOONEY LIVES!"

Of course no one listened to me until I showed them a picture of Amal and me at an awards event when George asked me to be her date.

This guy clearly didn't care. Making out with his girlfriend the whole trip ... WAIT A MINUTE!

OKAY ... Just seeing who was paying attention ... here's Bellagio!

... pretty darn cool huh?

There was SO MUCH MORE ... a couple of trips to funky casinos, a wacko waiter who called Tom and I "Big Bosses" and lots of great stories.

Flying back tomorrow! 

CIAO (for now).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cruising Continues

Man ... the time has flown by. We are almost finished our vacation and I am still only on Day 5 of my posts.

I'll try to give you just the highlights of the rest of the cruise for now.

Next post will be the remainder of our trip and time spent in Italy.

This is the Monastery Paleokastritsa in Corfu. Built in the 15th Century, the name translates into "Old Castle". That's about all I remembered ... well that and 38 busloads of other cruisers all trying to maneuver the narrow steep paths to the monastery, while competing tour guides gave information to their groups simultaneously.

(Don't you love how rich and detailed my descriptions of our travels are?)

These are "Tenders", the vehicles that brought us to and fro the shore.

I posted this one because it was the cause of many discussions about "how the driver got up to his seat and why his seat was up there to begin with".

You can see why no one concentrated on significant facts like what caused the wars between Athens and Sparta ... or what were the great discoveries during the ancient times in medicine and physics.

However ... There were a lot of questions about nudity and the Olympic games (okay I asked if it was uncomfortable).

I think Dubrovnik was the most beautiful of the cities we visited in Croatia.

It's amazing to see where they are today when you consider the devastation and genocide that happened here just 15 years ago with the Serbian/Bosnian wars.

I snapped this shot as we ate at a local outdoor café. Life is now normal and the people are some of the kindest we have met (even though they have a series of wife-beaters hanging on the line).

AND ... they are even filming Game of Thrones here for the fifth season. I don't know what that means because I don't watch it but I'm sure it's pretty cool.

Our last port was in Croatia at a tiny village named Sali.

This is a guy sitting next to us at a coffee shop smoking Marlboros and drinking coffee and wine with his buddy.

His face tells the story.



Sunday, October 4, 2015

Next Stop Olympia

The service at the restaurants aboard the ship was just incredible  In fact the service on the ship in general was incredible. Everything you wanted was there and if it wasn't, the crew was truly happy to oblige.

The restaurants had fancy names like The Restaurant and Restaurant 2 (seriously). The menu at Restaurant 2 was preset and each item was described in detail ... followed by a half hour dissertation by the wait staff. You'd think foie gras was an entire meal by the description. Geez ... even geese probably are embarrassed by the amount of space it takes to describe their livers. And, of course each item was about the size of a quarter.

Okay enough about the liver ...


Our next stop was Olympia, home of the Olympics in ancient Greece which began in the 8th Century. .. located in Elis on the Peloponnese peninsula. There are a variety of buildings (all of which are sadly reduced to columns and pieces of stone).
Included are: Temple of Hera, Temple of Zeus (remember him? Temple in every port), hippodrome (chariot racing like Ben Hur), Gymnasium (practice facility) and the Stadium (main stage) where Deb and I practiced the 100 meter dash (slowly)

Our guide was knowledgeable but ... how you say? ... monotone. And she tried to fill every second with an interesting fact like how many olive trees there are in each city. I noticed as we went from guide to guide that the facts changed slightly.

One said that the population in Athens was 5 million while another said 3,4 million and yet another said 3 million. We heard that the gods became devils in modern times and yet they also became modern saints.

I was ready to do the "Airplane" suicide on the
bus between stops,

NOTE: Hey ... guess who we saw at the Olympic Museum? ROCKY!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Day 4: At Sea and Off to Monemvasia

The cruise started on the 26th … it was a Saturday.

We took the cab to the Seabourn Odyssey. What a ship. It has about 450 passengers and all the rooms are suites. They spoil you rotten. Our room was stocked with food, champagne, wine and our own personal assistant.

I didn’t know how to act.

We even had breakfast served in our cabin this morning ... I could spill food on my robe and not even get a scolding from Debbie.

Only one negative thing about the ship. Internet service is slow, expensive and has really impacted my blog writing. (Maybe that's a good thing).  

I think I'll try to cover multiple days to save time and space (and pain for my readers) ...

Monemvasia (Sunday)

This was the first stop on our trip. It’s a beautiful island. One of the oldest … it was founded in the fifth century and was part of the Byzantine Empire. The town and fortress make you feel that you were transported back in time.

Our guide for the day was a very special friend of mine, Kathy (Dunathan) Waterfield. She was actually a former student of mine when she was in sixth grade at Canterbury School. Now she is a published author … living on this beautiful little Greek Island. They both write about ancient Greece and are prolific in Greek culture and history. Note: Kathy reminded me that when she was in my social studies class she made a super 8 movie about the death of Julius Caesar with cue cards and sound effects.  LOL I guess that had an effect on her future career.

Kathy offered to show us around. She generously spent most of the day with us, ending with a trip up the mountainside for a great lunch.
Thanks Kathy …. You are the best! And your film about the death of Jullie Caesar was a cult favorite (at least in my classroom)!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Day 3: The Acropolis

The Acropolis was only a block away from our hotel. Friday was the day that we set out on the trek to climb the famous structure … the ancient site where it all began.

I sound pretty sure of myself huh? Well trust me, when the time came for us to get up and get ready, all I wanted to do was stay in bed. Heck with the ancient ruins. My muscles still screamed at me from the day before.

But somehow I managed to drag my butt out of bed and limp downstairs to join the others in today’s adventure. Our guide was named Debbie. Easy name to remember … even though it wasn’t her real name. She told us her real name was too hard to pronounce so apparently she used a stage name.

The other Debbie was still getting ready. She’s typically the last one ready. Everyone expects it and therefore no one is really concerned that she is taking longer than everyone else. Ever notice how people who are always late are given a pass. The comments you might hear are …”Well, I guess she’s running late again. We’ll give her a few more minutes”. If you are the type that is always on time however …. Everyone is concerned and will give you endless amounts of grief for holding them up. I belong to the Debbie group unfortunately although not to the extreme that Debbie presents.
Okay … enough of the mindless backstory.

We drove our van to the base of the Acropolis and started our ascension to the top. As I walked, I could feel my calves, knees, hips and back scream out in pain. I noticed Tom was hobbling as well (his knees are shot too but he continued on) so I tried to remain stoic trailing the others. I think they only knew something was wrong when I said quietly, “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you feel any pain? I want to die right here!” Debbie quietly replied, “Joel … now we are still in the parking lot. Can you make it to the path?” I was brave, “I will try.”

There were literally hundreds that filled the narrow cobblestone paths that led to the structures. The cruise ships flood the ruins and make it a challenge to navigate around.

But in all seriously … it was awesome!

The size of the structure (what remains) is truly magnificent and the story of how this was built stone by stone, mathematically measured for stress and scope and how it was maintained so many years ago was incredible.

Below are the pictures that tell the story of places we stopped …

The Erechtheion was built as a religious temple. It is built on multiple levels to match the contour of the mountain. The porch has a roof supported by Caryatids (six chicks with thick necks) The originals are in the Acropolis Museum. One is missing ...  because the original was taken (stolen ... according to the Greeks) to the British Museum along with many of the other artifacts during a time that no one was really minding the store.

There are a series of underground floors and hidden rooms that no one quite understands but truly an architectural marvel.

All that is left of The Temple of Zeus are only a few columns in the center of Athens. The rest was destroyed or probably in the British Museum.

There are a couple of Temples of Zeus located in other cities. Apparently, Zeus who was the king of all the gods and the father of Athena, had numerous affairs and perhaps that's why he's got a temple in every port.

The Parthenon is the largest of the buildings and the temple that was first built to honor Athena and housed a large statue of the goddess.

The columns are built with a slight slant inward ... we were told that it was so that if they were extended, they would converge 3.2 miles in the sky. Not sure if the significance was "Pi ... 3.14" or if they just screwed up ... or if there truly were aliens that built the whole thing.

The Acropolis Museum was next door. We finally were able to see what the whole complex originally looked like before it was rubble. I wish we would have stopped here first. The guide also said that most of the buildings were constructed by Jewish slaves.

I had trouble understanding that historical fact . (Not that Jews were slaves ... but how Jews figured out how to use tools.)

It is certainly not a genetic trait.

Ballad of the Big Prostate

Here’s a little country tune I wrote just yesterday to commemorate a dark day in my history. I don’t have a tune but realized you can use an...