1.20.2019

A Belated New Years Resolution

I did not have much need for resolutions at the start of this new year, mainly because the ones I set about adhering to last year were still in play and going strong. I'm usually not very good at establishing resolutions prior to the start of a new year, mainly due to having my mind focused on other demands. And this distraction usually continues for several days into the new year, with no resolutions in sight.

If you'll recall, last year's resolution was to follow a vegan diet for health reasons. I did it and I am still doing it. I had thought following this diet would have a secondary indirect benefit of decreasing my body weight. That was partly true, but I plateaued (wow, that is a lot of adjacent vowels) about mid-year and couldn't get my weight below about 215 pounds consistently after that. So, in early October, I established what I guess we would have to call an "old year resolution." A one-off, if you will. I started using a fitness app to strategically track caloric intake and output with a goal of losing more weight. It worked, and by year's end, I was down below 200 pounds consistently. Blah, blah, blah.

The point being, I rocked my 2018 resolutions and I couldn't really find the time to think about 2019 resolutions. Last week, I was able to rest my mind and body on a trip to Florida, during which time I began to give more mental bandwidth to some ideas for resolutions to pursue in 2019. After writing a blog post that featured Stephen King in a cameo role, I decided that I'd like to resolve to do more writing - for its own sake, but also indirectly to try to finish work on the first draft of my science fiction novel. I have not fleshed out the specifics of this resolution, only the generality: to write more. If I am using Stephen King as a role model (and I am, because his non-fiction book on the art of writing is most salient to me), I'd like to carve out a specific time and place to write a few times a week. I really enjoy writing, but with the demands of graduate school and life in general, it's hard to do it seriously and regularly. I tend to write a few blog posts here and there, as time permits, to keep the writing machinery oiled and functional in my brain, and that certainly serves its purpose. However, much like daily meditation, I want to establish a schedule and flow to it. Based on all the research I have read on the best ways to write, pounding it out for a solid 3-4 hours without interruption seems to be the general consensus, with strong recommendations to cease all writing activity after 4 hours, due to the very low return on investment from wrung out writing neurons after that point.

So we'll see what happens. Today is Sunday and I have already been writing for close to 4 hours, mostly blog posts, but also a little bit of sci-fi novel outlining and revision of stuff I have already written for it over the past few years. So, I need to stop soon, in no small measure due to the fact that I have to learn a metric pantload of songs on bass guitar for a jam session at a pub later tonight, and I haven't rehearsed any of the material on account of being on a tropical vacation for the past week. Tomorrow is Monday, but it's also a holiday, so my intent is to pound out some writing tomorrow as well, and jump start this belated new years resolution.

Tropical Vacay Day 8 - The Thrilling But Mostly Chilling Conclusion

Soon after takeoff, the plane that Deborah and I were on played chicken with a flock of brown pelicans, which we had learned during our nature kayaking excursion three days prior are considerably heavier birds than their white cousins in the Avian world. There were no winners. Many of the pelicans were shredded to feathery mincemeat as they were sucked into the jet engines of the Boeing 737. Said jet engines subsequently exploded and the plane plummeted toward the Caribbean Sea. At that point my senses were neutralized by a cabin full of thick smoke and the collective screams of the passengers around us. I don't know how we alone survived, because I must have lost consciousness for a time, perhaps due to a sudden loss of breathable air. When I awoke, I was still seated next to Deborah and she next to roughly one half (the lower half) of the woman who had been sitting by the window. However, our seats were no longer seated inside the airplane. They were resting, remarkably upright, on a palm tree lined beach of white sand. Gentle waves lapped the shore about 30 feet away and warm sunshine bathed my face and head. My regaining consciousness startled the handful of seagulls that were using their beaks to pull shreds of intestine from the exposed body cavity of the half-passenger beside Deborah. They screeched* and took wing, circling above us. I leaned toward Deborah and assessed her condition. Her head was rolled forward and I could hear raspy breaths that indicated she was alive. This was confirmed by the slow rising and falling of her chest. "Deborah!" I shouted, tapping her on the knee. She sat bolt upright, sucking in breath sharply and looking around with a look I had seen many times after she woke from a deep slumber. After a few seconds her eyes settled on my face and she said, "What happened? Where are we?" "Don't look to your right," I said. Of course, she did. "Oh God!" she screamed leaning hard into me to distance herself from the partial corpse beside her. That's when I felt the sharp pain in my ribs and gasped. "What's wrong?" she said, her concern for me overriding her disgust at the gull-saliva soaked human innards slowly drying in the sun beside her. "Might have broken ribs..." I partly moaned, partly hissed. Deborah fumbled with the seatbelt that was still holding her into her seat and unbuckled it. She leapt forward and fell to her hands and knees in the sand. "Fuck!" she cursed. "You OK?" I asked, chest pain receding enough for me to speak audibly. "I think so," she said. "Foot is killing me, but I think it's normal." "I might need help out of this chair," I said, unbuckling my seatbelt as well. Deborah stood up and stumbled toward me. "Get on my left side," I requested, after lifting my left arm over my head and determining that motion did not cause any pain to the left side of my body...

...is the beginning of the story I'd like to be able to tell you about Deborah's and my trip home from Florida. But the reality is far more mundane.

Deborah and I got up on either side of 7 AM, respectively. While she washed her face and dressed, I made coffee in the Keurig in the kitchen and food processed us both a couple of the frozen fruit smoothies that would power us for most of the morning. Deborah's family was milling about and we chatted about this and that, most notably their apparently defunct dishwasher. Deborah soon joined the fray and we gathered ourselves for the inevitable farewells. After hugging it out, we left Chez Goldberg for the last time this trip about 7:50 AM and drove the rental car over to the Carlisle Hotel about five minutes away to pick up my parents, before driving to the airport in Tampa FL.

Joe and Deborah Poolin' Around

Other than keeping our distance from several aggressive drivers on the highway, the drive up to Tampa was smooth. It took a bit of doing to find a gas station near the airport at which to top off the rental car's gas tank and thus avoid the ridiculous refilling fee the car's vendor would otherwise charge us. But we found a Seven-Eleven that met the need for both filling the gas tank and emptying my Keurig coffee-bloated bladder. As noted in yesterday's post, my parent's destination of Cleveland OH was hard into the middle to a brutal winter storm. But as of the time we pulled up to the curb at the airport's departure terminal, their flight was still showing ON TIME on the Spirit Airlines website. So Plan A devised the night before was executed. Deborah, my mom, and I hauled all our respective baggage into the airport, while my dad took the rental car back to Alamo. That was the only driving he actually had to do during this entire trip, because I had been the chauffeur for the family all week (which was perfectly OK). Deborah and I were going back to Madison WI on Sun Country Airlines, an outfit that has only recently been offering low-cost, non-stop flights between Madison and Tampa, and their ticketing and check-in desk was right next to that of Spirit Airlines, on whose plane my folks would hypothetically be going back to Ohio. Since Deborah and I had an earlier flight and my mom needed to wait for my dad to return from the rental car lot, we got my mom situated in a seat near the check-in counter and bid her safe travels, post-hugs.

Mom and Pops

We checked our suitcases and were expedited through TSA security thanks to Deborah's legitimate** request for a wheelchair. The only hitch was when some old chap in the security line decided to usurp Deborah's wheelchair...but Deborah would have none of it and assertively reclaimed her right to it. It was whilst we were waiting at our gate to board the plane to Madison that I checked the status of my folks' flight and saw that it was marked CANCELED. I called my mom and let her know. My dad had returned from returning the rental car, but they had not yet checked in for their flight, so they were able to troubleshoot. More on this below. The wheelchair we had also got us onto the plane before everyone else, so we could get comfortably situated in our seats before the masses boarded and jammed up the aisles with people trying to fit oversized carry-on bags into the overhead compartments.

Joe and Deborah Having Sun Fun

A family with three young kids who had also been on our flight to Tampa the previous Saturday were seated behind us. They seemed like generally good people. However, one of their rugrats decided to turn our seat backs into chair massagers by repeatedly kicking them, until Deborah pleaded with the father to reign in the kid's twitchy limbs. Other than that, the flight was uneventful. There was a decent amount of turbulence over Lake Michigan, probably due to the winter storms pounding their "lake effect" snow into Trump-Belt cities in Michigan and Indiana (#GHT). But knowing that the inside of a flying airplane is statistically LITERALLY the safest place on the planet, and observing that the flight crew seemed quite at ease while the plane was buffeted around, I wasn't too phased and was able to keep working on my blog post referencing Stephen King, the horror novel author, and his fictional cameos in my life. In so doing, I hatched a belated New Year's Resolution, which I'll share in a different post.

Mom Enjoying Her Birthday Cake as Pops Looks On

Landing in Madison, I turned on my phone and turned off Airplane Mode to discover a voice message from my mom. Unbelievably, they had been able to get on a later afternoon flight to Cleveland, even though said city was still being gut punched by a blizzard. I had kind of hoped they would overnight in Tampa and fly out the next day. Deborah and I were picked up at the airport by her sister Julie and we treated her to pizza for her altruism. We then collected our dog Maddie from Deborah's son's house, where she had been staying during our trip, and went home to relax and avoid the arctic weather we had, unfortunately, returned to. My mom called later in the evening to report they had not only made it into Cleveland, but had also braved a 40 mile cab ride in near white out conditions to make it back to their home in Akron OH. I probably would have preferred the bliss of ignorance rather than knowing of the risk they took. I was surprised they had not erred on the side of caution and either stayed in Tampa an extra night or rode out the winter storm at a Cleveland airport hotel until roads were clear enough to travel safely. 40 miles! God bless the cab driver...

"Gardening" With Mom and Pops

Anyway, there was no cannibalism on our trip home. Even had the fictional plane crash described early in this post been non-fictional, cannibalism is too strong of a word for what our hero and heroine actually ate. They used the innards of their eviscerated seat mate as bait to capture seagulls (aka, sea rats), which they plucked, cooked, and ate. One could argue that the seagulls had eaten human flesh and thus our fictional alter egos indirectly ate human flesh. But that's kind of like saying that you are eating grass when you consume a slab of "grass fed" steak. Conversely, when you eat a conventionally produced steak, you are consuming a form of C4 carbon molecule derived from the corn that is fed to the steers. It's a fine line. Pigs eat all kinds of things and they are biologically the closest thing to humans of all the agriculturally produced livestock. They are also more intelligent than dogs, and most people don't want to eat dogs, but they will eat pigs. It's messy. So the non-fictional Joe and Deborah try to eat vegan as much as possible to avoid these kind of dissonant cognitive conundrums.

Jellies

*Note: "Screeched" is one of at least two words that have the distinction of being the longest one-syllable words in the English language. The other is "scratched." They are nine letters long, if you want to skip the work of counting yourself.

**Note: I'm not saying, I'm just saying...if you are ever late for a flight and airport security is overrun by those people who fail to take their iPads out of their carry-on bags, slowing everything down, request a wheelchair. It gets you to the front of the security line and it has the added perk of allowing you to board the plane first too. Many headaches are avoided by the use of a wheelchair. Ethically, I would not worry about denying a needier person a wheelchair. The airport always has bazillions of wheelchairs and even people to push them, if you are flying solo. If you are flying with other people, only one wheelchair gets all of you through the sh!ttier aspects of air travel. By law, the airlines cannot ask you to provide proof of a handicap, and if I am being totally honest, air travel headaches ARE a form of handicap in some cases.

Fam-Tastic

Moi

A 'Gator and a Bird

1.19.2019

Tropical Vacay Day 7 - Gardening

We hit the gardens in the morning. By we, I mean my parents and me. Deborah opted to catch a few more winks in the guest room. But first, I drank coffee and cooked myself a hearty breakfast of crispy chickenless vegan burgers at Chez Goldberg. Only then did I cruise over to my folks' hotel in the rental car to pick them up and drive them downtown to the Selby Botanical Gardens. My timing was off, because the gardens opened at 10 AM, unbeknownst to me, and we arrived there about 9:45 AM. On the bright side, we found a great place to park before the lot got crowded.


We only had about 40 minutes in the gardens proper, inasmuch as we needed to get back to Chez Goldberg by about 11 AM for lunch with a visiting relative of Deborah's dad. But we got to see the orchid display in that brief window of opportunity at Selby. So, my expectations were fully met. Life lesson: Don't let perfection be the enemy of the pretty good. Setting realistic expectations increases the perceived awesomeness of any situation. Truth be told, I didn't even know there was an orchid display. My actual metric for the garden outing was simply to find decent parking and mill about amongst the groovy tropical flora for a spell. So my expectations were actually exceeded by the orchids. Plus, my mom and pops got some exercise as we mosied around the Selby property, which was far too expansive to cover in its entirety in the time allotted.


The luncheonette at Chez Goldberg was pleasant. The spread was modest, comprising vegan chili, bread, grapes, corn chips, olives, and salad. It was very tapas-esque. My meal emphasized the chili and chips. However, I made a culinary discovery. Honey mustard spread on a slice of decent bread is standalone delicious, without anything else added.


Deborah and I wanted to get a bit more sunshine exposure on the trip before we left Florida the following day to head back to what the weather app on my phone indicated was a subarctic brutality. With that objective in mind, we made our way over to my parent's hotel and spent the bulk of the rest of the afternoon poolside, slathered in SPF-50 sunscreen. It was ridiculously refreshing. My mom napped most of the time we were at the pool, but my dad joined us for a little while. The sky was 95% cloud free, so the solar rays were flowing down from space at near full throttle. By the same token, the temperature was in the low 70s Fahrenheit, offsetting the radiant heat of the sun almost perfectly. Eventually, the sun sank so low in the sky that there was little useful vitamin D left in its rays, and the temperature began to drop. We took that as our cue to wrap up our afternoon of sun worship. Deborah called her family from poolside and they collectively hatched a fully formed dinner plan, which I subsequently mutated slightly, as you'll see below.

I took a quick shower in my folks' hotel room whilst they gathered themselves for our dinner outing. We were going to a very vegan friendly restaurant about 30 minutes southwest of our current location, and not far from where horror fiction author Stephen King's 6 million dollar home is located. Unbeknownst to me was that Deborah's sister-in-law had made a reservation for a particular, and probably realistically achievable, time. Beknownst to me, however, was that my mom wanted to go to Target to buy a warm sweatshirt or hoodie ahead of their imminent return to Cleveland, also ridiculously blizzardy according to the Weather Bug app, on the morrow. Minor miscommunication ensued, but suffice to say, the reservation time was pushed back and my mom not only acquired a new sweatshirt, but also a new hat and scarf, largely thanks to Deborah expediting the vestments acquisition mission to Target.

The aforementioned restaurant was called the Evergreen Cafe. Let me start my description of the dining experience by saying there was no cameo appearance by Stephen King. Since I had realistically set my Expectation-o-Meter for Stephen King sightings at "Zero chance," this outing can be marked Satisfactory. That being said, I admire Stephen King both professionally and politically, and, inasmuch as I am an amateur creative writer (which is to say minimally), had we crossed paths, I would have asked him to join me in a selfie, even though my ego largely frowns on gratuitous selfie taking with celebrities. The amateur writer in me also frowns on run on sentences like that last one, and so I hope Stephen King never reads this post. Or if he does, that he at least keeps reading until this line, where I say, "I am sorry, Mr. King...but if you are reading, please leave a comment below this post and regrets that I did not see you at supper tonight!"

Moving on. As a vegan, I often have the experience that many vegans have, of going to a conventional restaurant and trying to either: 1. Find a tolerable vegan option on the menu (usually a nutritionally-devoid garden salad), 2. Adapt a traditionally non-vegan food option to be vegan ("Hold the cheese!"), or 3. Hobble together enough vegan side dishes to form a sufficient meal (literally a "piecemeal"). So, it was kind of kickass to go to a restaurant that flips this mentality on its head. The Evergreen Cafe caters to vegans and vegetarians, with 80% of its menu options falling into these gustatory categories. However, it is "omnivore friendly," offering fish, lamb, chicken, and even (albeit "grass fed") beef dishes on a small section of its 4-fold menu. We had three omnivores in our party of eight, and all were accommodated amply, with the exception that my dad ordered tuna on his salad, not realizing it was seared tuna (put on a hot grill for about 10 seconds to nuke any potential pathogens on the outside of the meat, but pretty much raw fish internally). My dad abhors raw fish. Luckily, my mom had ordered salmon - fully cooked - on her salad, and she is partial to fish at any level of cookedness. So, they simply traded slabs of sea meat and all was well.

I mean, Stephen King may very well have been at the restaurant, inside, but we were all sitting outside on the patio (warmed by propane heaters). I want to make believe this was so...

Fed, we departed the restaurant, after my folks bid Deborah's family farewell, because they would not be seeing them again before our departure back to frosty climes in the morning. We returned my folks to their hotel, solidifying morning travel logistics as we did so. The known knowns of our pending travel were as follows:

1. A blizzard had been pounding its way across the midwest for the better part of the past two days.

2. The snowy weather was forecast to be past Deborah's and my destination of Madison WI by Saturday morning, well in advance of our scheduled arrival there in the early afternoon.

3. The snowy weather was forecast to be fully pummeling my parents' destination of Cleveland OH by Saturday afternoon, corresponding with their scheduled arrival there.

Bullet 3 was the wild card, inasmuch as it could predict what we ultimately did with the rental car we had. Deborah and I did not think it likely that our flight would be canceled due to sh!tty-arsed winter weather. However, it seemed pretty much guaranteed that my parents' flight was not going to make it to Cleveland, no way, no how, just based on a common sense assessment of credible weather reports. They might need the rental car for another day or so. Notwithstanding, as of the time we dropped my folks at their hotel at the end of the evening, the status of their flight was still ON TIME, per the Spirit Airlines website. So the plan was to leave Sarasota about 8 AM for the hour drive to Tampa, where we would (after filling the rental car with gas) drop me, my mom, and Deborah at the departures terminal whilst my dad returned the rental car to Alamo. Deborah and I would get my mom and her associated bags situated near the Spirit Airlines check-in desk before we checked ourselves in with Sun Country Airlines (our carrier), which was - spoiler alert - fortuitously adjacent to Spirit at the airport.


Tune in for tomorrow's post and the thrilling, CHILLING, conclusion of our tropical vacay adventure. Will the rental car hold out long enough to ferry the Leonard family to Tampa? Will they find a gas station near the airport in order to top off the car's tank and avoid the exorbitant refill fee charged by the rental car vendor? Will Joe and Deborah survive the turbulent flight across frozen Lake Michigan en route to Madison? Or will they be forced to violate their vegan diet by consuming the charred remains of their fellow passengers after their plan crashes near a small, deserted Caribbean island shortly after take-off from Tampa. Will Mom and Pops Leonard make it to snowbound Cleveland? And if they do, will they be stranded there for days? Same phat time, same phat channel.