Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer of Postcards

I just wrote out ten postcards and I'm not even on vacation.
"Why?" you ask. Well, long ago in the Jurassic days before Twitter, Facebook, email, cell phones and text messaging, my brother and his friends communicated by post cards. I'd make some out of boxes and other materials and send them to my bro wherever he was living. He'd send home some classics, too. Jackalopes and popes and anything that wasn't a typical vacation-style card.

Over the years, everyone pretty much got out of the habit. After all, technology makes things so much faster and easier.

But is faster and easier always more desirable?

A few weeks ago, one of the Pastafarians (Those of you who are familiar with my annual visits to Cape Cod for the reunion of friends and family know what this means.) suggested we go back and recapture the joy this summer. I've embraced the card adventure -- that's cod if you're from Massachusetts. Yesterday, I picked up 10cards at a souvenir shop and bought stamps at the post office. Post card love takes some effort.

You folks on Twitter who are proud of yourselves for communicating in 140 characters or less, eat your hearts out. I wrote my messages as haiku on seven of the ten cards.

I look forward to mailing these out tomorrow. I also look forward to eventually receiving some from others who are participating in our summer of postcard love.

When did you last send a postcard to someone?

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee final round on television. It is by turn an exciting, heartbreaking, humbling experience. I've always had a pretty good vocabulary and excellent spelling apptitude, but any one of the 11 finalists would absolutely kick my ass in this competition.

If the announcer wasn't able to give the language(s) of origin, the part of speech, the definition and use the words in a sentence, I'd accuse him of making them up as he goes along.

Yet, kid after kid meets the challenge and spells complicated, multisyllabic words that I've never even heard or seen. So far, I've recognized only four -- Reykjavik, Anasazi, blancmange, and goombay. The only reason I know that last word is because they hold a Goombay Festival every fall in Key West.

I think the simplest word thus far was simnel. It's a good thing the kid asked for the definition because I sure as hell never heard of this cake often made in the Mid-Lent season.

Axolotl... herniorrophathy... hypallage...plaidoyer... arrhostia.

These kids are 13. I'm pretty sure they've been practicing spelling since they were six months old. I don't know how they aren't cracking under the pressure. I'm not related to any of them and I'm tense enough to break the bones in my jaw.

Oh no. The bell dinged, signalling that the competitor spelled his word wrong. He's crushed and covering his face with his hands as he walks over to his parents. Don't cry, young man. Be proud! Just to get to this round you spelled words that 98% of the adults around you couldn't pronounce without the phonetic spelling in the dictionary.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Joy of Fishing

Friends came down from Miami yesterday and we went out yellowtailing at the reef. That's fishing talk for we went out to the reef to try to catch yellowtail snapper. A couple of us had fished before. A couple hadn't. An excellent charter captain took us out on his 28 foot boat on a weather-perfect day. Depending on depth, the ocean colors varied from sparkling London Blue topaz to deep sapphire. A light breeze kept us cool under the glowing sun.

On the surface, fishing is pretty basic. You bait a hook, drop it in the water, and hope a desirable fish takes the bait so you can reel it in. Humans are the big brains in this situation so we ought to be able to figure it all out and fish the limit no sweat.

What happens is often vastly different from what ought to be. Even though I've yellowtailed before, if I'd rented a boat and taken out my friends, we could have soaked bait and lines for hours and never caught a fish. Even an experienced fishing captain is no guarantee. Fish might not have humongous brains, but they don't exactly line up to jump on your hook just because you choose to show up in their territory on any given day.

The captain had all of the tools. A good boat, his experience, his knowledge of the habits and habitats of this particular type of snapper, his fish finder, etc. He found a likely spot, anchored us up and put out a chum line. He instructed us on the technique of fishing with the bales open on our reels, constantly letting out line so our shiny bait drifted out like any other bit of chum. We'd know we'd hooked a fish if the line began to zip off the reel, at which point we were to close the bale and start winding it in -- quickly.

So. We went to work. We waited. And fished. And waited. And fished.

There's a question you'll hear around here from time to time. Did you fish or did you catch?

At that first spot, we fished a lot but caught very little. The one keeper sized yellowtail that one of us eventually hooked, we almost lost. A hungry barracuda can swim faster than a human can reel in line. The water was so clear, we saw the predator snap at the fish! Luckily, he only got the tail before my friend brought the remainder of the fish on board.

For whatever reason, the fish did not cooperate. With so few strikes, after awhile, the captain decided to move us to another spot. He found a promising one that the fish finder indicated was loaded with fish. We chummed again, put out a couple of lines and waited. Before long, one of our lines took off. Gus flipped the bale but, in his excitement, started winding in the wrong direction. Another lesson -- It's difficult to reel in a fish when you're really letting out more line.

Zip! Zap! The fish began to hit, and the anglers discovered new ways to screw up. Some of us are accustomed to setting the hook. The captain told us that ripped the bait out of their mouths. I apparently didn't lift my rod fast enough or high enough, but let it point to the fish's head for too long and he escaped into the reef rocks.

Vicky was taking a turn, when a monster fish hit her hook. She squealed like a, yes I'll say it, like a girl and said it was too strong, so I grabbed the rod from her and reeled in like crazy. The captain gave me incredible coaching -- fight it with the rod, now reel. Lift the rod, get him headed in your direction. Keep winding!

This was both fishing AND catching. I've boated a fair number of yellowtail in my life, but never fought one like this. I also felt just how much more strengthening I need to do with my left wrist. The surgery in April left me with some residual weakness. Let's just say I'm glad that I managed to get the fish to the surface before my wrist gave up. I would never have survived the humiliation!

The fish looked to be about 25 inches long and weighed nearly 5 pounds. Considering the average is 1-3 pounds and the Florida record is 8, it was definitely big.

The biggest fish of the trip also set off the biggest debate. Vicky claimed responsibility but I maintained that I caught it since I did the hard work. She says that if she hadn't hooked it, I'd have had nothing to catch. We finally decided in favor of teamwork and are now sharing the claim.

We could actually see the fish flashing beneath the clear water off of our stern. For a good chunk of time, we continued to catch fish. Some were keepers; others didn't make the size limit. We continued to lose fish through the occasional boneheaded error in technique. (Captain Chris, must have mentally been tearing out his hair.) We also saw other interesting things -- like large remora swimming up to attack the chum and a gigantic leatherback turtle swimming several yards off of our portside bow.

All of a sudden, Gus's line took a big hit. He flipped the bale and, this time, started reeling in the right direction but to no avail. Line screamed off of the reel and there was nothing he could do. Captain Chris exclaimed that a shark must have grabbed the yellowtail. He took the rod from Gus and tried to help. All of sudden, we saw a dorsal fin surface. That was no shark that had robbed Gus of a big fish. It was a dolphin!

"There goes our yellowtail fishing," the captain announced. "Once dolphins show up, it's pretty much over." He and I then talked about how opportunistic and smart dolphins are when they happen upon some active fishing. We'd gathered up the yellowtail for them by chumming them up close to the surface. When we caught one on a hook, the fish then became more focused on trying to escape us than on fleeing the dolphin.

Now, I know this must be super annoying if it happens early in your day when you're just starting to catch the big ones, but we were near the end of our trip and had caught enough for a good dinner and then some. It's hard to be upset when yu've enjoyed yourselves and then also got to see dolphins!

The Joy of Fishing probably means different things to different people. For me, I love to catch, certainly, but there is a great deal of pleasure for me in just being out on a boat on the water with good friends enjoying the adventure and whatever it brings our way.

I also view it as a great life lesson. You can prepare to the max, bring your best weapons and strategy to the battle, and success can still turn on what the opponent does, or doesn't do.

You win some; you lose some.

Some days you catch; some days you fish. Any day you can have a great time!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Supermarket Observations

Yesterday, our dog park group bagged groceries for tips and collected other donations for the park we want to see built in Marathon. I sat at the table for at least half of the time outside greeting people and answering questions. This gave me ample opportunity to form some impressions. My data is totally unscientific, of course, and could be prone to generalization. I'll factor in that it was a holiday weekend and that might also impact the observations, but what the heck. It's my blog and I can generalize if I want to.

Families on vacation who are staying in a home or vacation condo as opposed to a couple of hotel rooms, apparently consider grocery shopping a group activity. I wonder if the father and kids ever go with Mom back home.

If two families are traveling together, the above does not apply. The women know that they can more efficiently gather what they need if they go as a team. They will hit all of the major food groups, including several bottles of wine, and still remember to buy three different varieties of chips. I bagged for two such women yesterday. They filled three carts and the bill was almost $1000.00.

Local men who are out doing errands with their ladies would rather drop her off at the supermarket door and sit outside in a hot car or with the a/c running than go into Publix for a full morning's shopping. If alone, they will run in for beer and a sandwich.

Men who came into the Keys for a fishing weekend without their wives, hunt (i.e. shop) in a pack. They come out with steaks, chips, corn on the cob, already-fried chicken, brats, and beer. That's their version of fitting the nutrition pyramid.

Local women are more likely to come in with reusable shopping bags. I think I saw one man carry them into the store. Perhaps he was the single man who preplanned his trip and needed something other than beer and a sandwich.

Someone should start a supermarket shopping service for single dads, particularly those with young daughters. A professional shopper would say no and make it stick when the kids are crying for balloons, candy, cheap toys, and thirteen varieties of cookies.

The rare man who appears to enjoy the shopping experience is more likely to balance the red meat in his cart with fresh vegetables and fruit.

Some men are on overload with the whole hunter/provider thing. Two men came in with their wives to stock up for the family barbeque. Among massive amounts of other things, they also bought two big packages of the freshly fried chicken. The swipe had not cooled from their debit card before they dove into the packages. They'd also bought a package of paper napkins and thoughtfully opened that up, too. The men then served the rest of their family members with pieces of chicken, all while still in line. (It was a big order that took time to bag.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Four Days Off and Much to Do

It's Memorial Day Weekend here in the U.S. Not only do I have Monday off, but I also took off Tuesday because friends are supposed to come down and visit. A lovely four day weekend stretches out ahead of me like a lovely blank canvas just waiting for me to paint in recreational activities.

Right after I take care of some responsibilities. Tomorrow I'm joining several members of our dog park group to bag groceries at the local Publix. Tips for our service will be collected as donations toward building the dog park. I spent the last hour printing out additional invitations to another fundraising even we've planned (A Gold Party!) and creating a letter/receipt form that we can give to people who hand us cash donations.

After the bagging adventure, I have major cleaning to do around the house. There are some serious dog hair tumbleweeds lurking under cabinets and in corners. Beware, dog hair. You can't hide from the mighty Oreck vacuum.

I wish I could rent a handyperson for a few little tasks around the house. My porch needs to be pressure washed and painted and my front door should be painted, too. I could probably handle the front porch painting. It's just a big rectangle. No big challenge. Technically, the door is a rectangle, too, but it has the door knob and lock which are circular. I think I'd have to remove them first to make my brushstrokes straight and that could be courting trouble. I'm sure it isn't that big a deal to unscrew the screws that hold those things in place but what if I can't reinstall them correctly? I'd have to call a locksmith to fix things and probably pay extra for a Saturday. This would negate the money I might have saved by attempting to paint the door myself.

So why not just cut straight to the checking account and get that handyperson?

I could make a list of other projects. Okay, I already have a list of other projects in my head. I just haven't tackled any of them. For this weekend, the basic cleaning chores will suffice. Vacuum, dust, mop floors, polish the appliances, make up the beds in the guest bedroom, tackle the overflowing towers of books in my bedroom, do laundry, give the dogs a bath, clean the algae off of the aquarium. Joy at the thought of all this domestic bliss builds inside me until it wants to bubble over like... like... acid reflux?

Okay, Mary, quityerbitchen, I remind myself. It could be worse. I could have all of these chores to accomplish and have half the time in which to do so.

Rainbows might be faint, but at least they're still rainbows!

After all, I'd like to embrace the "holiday" part of holiday weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

American Idol - The Big Winner

I'm not actually talking about Kris Allen. I meant me! After months of intense competition, when the final points were tallied, I kept my spot at the top of the AI Pool and won the first place prize. After a donation to my favorite organization in honor of the awesome Jen and Joe Schmidt who organize and run the pool, I will put my winnings to good use.

While I bask in victory and bragging rights (Hey, this was a serious competition!), here are a few final thoughts on last night's final.

Adam didn't need to win. He'll go light years farther and faster with his career than Kris.

I like Kris. I think he'll have a career, but it will be more on the level of Josh Gracin (who isn't doing half bad) than Carrie Underwood (who quickly achieved superstar status).

For his big finale costume, Randy shopped at the House of Urkel.

Adam incorporated scraps of Thunderdome in his outfit for the Kiss number.

They should do montages that mock the judges at the beginning of each week's results show.

Rod Stewart should change the lyrics to Maggie May so he sings, "The big spotlight when it's in my face really shows my age but that don't worry you none cause in your eyes I'm a super rich, baby-making, sugar daddy."

The producers were cruel to make Scott McIntyre learn all of those dance routines. Just let the man sit at his piano and sing!

Steve Martin performed on banjo while Megan Joy and Michael Sarver butchered his song. His expression said, "Jaime Foxx got a mentor gig and I'm stuck with these second rate bozos."

They should do away with the "Idol Awards" that lets them trot out the worse performers and mock them again. Either that or make one award for "Biggest Whacko".

Until next season, Stella out!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol - The Final

Weeks of performances, vote-offs, judge debates over song choices, booing of Simon Cowell for the least non-positive comment, and inane analogies and ramblings by Paula came down to tonight. Adam Lambert and Kris Allen performing three songs for their last chance to be named American Idol. For me, it was sort of a let down, like popping the cork on expensive champagne only to have the bubbly be flat.

The best performances happen in the first few minutes. So, I'm left without a clear feeling on which contestant "won" the night. Not that it matters, since the title will go to the man with the biggest legion of fans that have unlimited texting accounts.

Some things that stood out for me. Did you catch Randy criticizing the song choice of What's Going On for Kris's second number? Kara tried to save him by subtly reminding everyone that the boss of American Idol, Simon Fuller, chose the song. Way to go, Randy. Dis the boss.

Not even that really compares to Simon's obvious dislike of the so-called "Winner's Song" that Kara co-wrote. Unfortunately both Adam and Kris had to sing it. I'm sure Adam meant to project true emotion in his facial expression, but instead he resembled a guy trying to evacuate a watermelon through his butt. Perhaps it dawned on him that if he wins, he'll actually have to record that as a single.

I felt really bad for Kris. When none of the judges want to judge you on that specific performance and hope that all of America votes based on your season, you just know that you last impression sucked like a late-on-rent hooker.

Paula puts the hyper in hyperbole. She declared Adam "iconic". Next to "catatonic", that's her favorite "ic" word. Ten years from now when he's impersonating Cher at the Legends show in Vegas, and trying out for the umpteenth revival of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, I hope she remembers those words.

Paula, you have never looked so bad. Did you fall asleep in the tanning bed, sweetie. Maybe you passed out in front of someone you pissed off and they took revenge by slathering on a self-tanning lotion. Your face was so bronze and your makeup so wrong that it looked like your cheek bones caved in. Sort of like an overbaked cake left out in the rain.

Sometime before tomorrow's results show, I have to figure out how I'm voting in the American Idol pool. Tonight, it isn't about which performer I think will win, or which I think America vote for. It's all about looking at the rankings of my opposition in the pool and figuring out how the points will stack up depending on how THEY voted.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

The rainy season started last week. May 10th, to be exact, according to the weather forecasters on television. True to form, we operated on "Keys Time" so no rain actually fell until May 15th.
We're making up for it now. It's one of those rare days when the clouds blanket the entire sky and send down sheets of rain. This could last for hours, or minutes. Who knows?
Well, those of us who automatically check the radar on a weather website know. Much to the pleasure of my cousin and his girlfriend, once this storm cell passes over, we should be in the clear for awhile.
I love the rain -- in small doses. We need it to overcome the drought conditions.
The Superboat Grand Prix race could be in jeopardy. I don't imagine they want to power those big expensive boats at high speed over rocking seas. If I hear helicopters and motors in a few minutes, I'll know.
Right now all I hear is the deep rumble of thunder, like the sky is dyspeptic and about to belch out lightning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Free Story

Since I'm a newly-minted Jack Kilborn fan, I'd like to share the wealth. Why should I be the only one huddling in the corner with the lights on, jumping when branches scratch the windows or some unexplained something rattles the trash cans outside at night?

Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouche (Hmm... King, Koontz, Crouche, Kilborn -- what is it with horror writers and that hard "kuh" beginning to their last names?) have teamed up to write Serial.

They've also teamed up to offer you this horror novella for free.

Check it out on the blog of Kilborn's alter-ego JA Konrath.

I'm going to download it myself and read it later. After I turn on all of the lights at home.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Under Construction

Hi, Everybody,

I've recently migrated my blog from Bravejournal to Blogger. It'll take me awhile to get everything situated in my blog's new home -- not unlike a retiree moving to Florida from anywhere else.

In the meantime, if you're a regular Postcards reader who followed me over here, thanks for taking the trip. If you're new to the blog, thanks for dropping in.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Read Afraid -- BE Afraid!

When I was 18, I read The Exorcist. I then slept with all of the lights on for several nights.

I used to read Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Then Twilight Eyes made me wonder what if ghouls and goblins really were all around us but most of us couldn't see them behind their human faces. I was so freaked out by The Stand that I stopped reading when everyone was in the Lincoln Tunnel and never finished the book.

I've never seen a Halloween movie, Nightmare on Elm Street or any version of Friday the 13th. Less you think I'm a total wuss, I read a lot of psychological thrillers and mysteries with plenty of evil serial killers and psycho villains, but given the list of things I won't see or watch, you might correctly surmise that the horror genre generally scares the shit out of me.

So why did I demand to read Afraid by Jack Kilborn instead of running far from the author's table at the RT Booksigning? Well, during Kilborn's March-long blog tour, he all but dared readers. Challenged us even, with his description of the torturous evil and relentless string of murders he promised his book would inflict.
You know me. Can't back down from a dare. Besides, I love the Jack Daniels mystery series by Kilborn's alter-ego JA Konrath. How horrific could this book be?
Very. A red-ops team with scientifically-enhanced brains and bodies honed in Spec Ops warrior skills crash lands near a small, isolated town in Wisconsin. The fighters are programmed to fight terrorist strongholds with a very clear, three-point mission -- Isolate. Terrorize. Annihilate.

So what if there isn't an Al Qaeda operative to be found. So what if these are innocent people?

Imagine sick, twisted, psychopaths that achieve maximum pleasure from inflicting torture and fear on a target before killing them in the most painful way possible. Think about them showing up in a neighborhood with the freedom to do whatever they want to whomever they find. Then imagine them doing all that to hundreds of people... while you read about it in evocative, gut-twisting detail.
Wouldn't that scare the hell out of you? Really, if anybody started to do to me what some of those sick bastards did to characters in the book, I'd pray to die of a heart attack first. So why, I hear you wonder, did an admitted horror-weenie continue to read this book?

Simple. It's terrific.

Kilborn is a master storyteller. Even while he served me a severe case of the heebie-jeebies with the bloody descriptions of what happened in that high school locker room, told through the terrified eyes of a woman desperately hoping to escape the same fate, he compelled me to find out what happened on the next page after page after page after page.

He weaves in a number of twists and sets up an ever-increasing tension. He gives us characters to root for that we pray will survive. We have to believe in our guts that heroes will rise to defeat the evil. So we embrace a core group of people and hope that they'll be the ones still standing at book's end. This continues to propel us through the story.

Are our hopes realized or are they crushed in merciless detail?
I'm not telling. You'll have to read the book for yourself.

Leave the lights on.

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