French fries

Pam and I decided to drive up to Weeki Wachee today, home of the live mermaids, and the Hernando Beach area. We cruised on up in Pam’s Miata, top down and radio blaring, enjoying the bit of cloud cover that helped keep the temperature down to a reasonable level. Once we got out of Tampa traffic and hit the Suncoast Parkway, life was very good.

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Driving around Weeki Wachee is like driving back in time to a slower and simpler Florida. The moss covered trees hanging over Weeki Wachee Springs and River, the kayaks and canoes on the water, the kids swimming in the 72 degree water. . . It seemed like we had stepped back to Florida of the mid-1960s.

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About mid afternoon we found a cool bar right on the river. I grabbed my baseball cap and we went inside. Good beer, decent hamburgers, great music, and perfect French fries. As we were eating I could start to feel my forehead. As in that toasty, sunburned kind of feeling. Dang. It’s still summertime, and even with the cloud cover, the rays were still beating down. Without any sunscreen, my forehead, cheeks and nose turned into French fries. I left my hat on when we got back to the car, but the damage had been done.

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Ah well, live and never learn.

The drive back this evening was spectacular, thanks to a huge thunderstorm off in the distance. Lightning lit up the sky with brilliant streaks, and the thunder rolled. Awesome.

When we got back home we were completely pooped. I grabbed a nice cool shower then put some sunscreen on my face (like that’s going to do anything at this point). Right now? Just chillin and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Two cows

This morning as I was driving to Fort Lauderdale, I passed a couple of cars parked by the side of the road. The people looked kind of excited, but I didn’t see anyone in trouble; didn’t see any type of collision.

Then I looked on over into the field beside them and saw a mama cow taking care of a very newborn calf. How cool is that?

Pretty cool.

Daytona vacation

Another cloudless morning as the sun comes up over the Atlantic. There’s a very gentle breeze drifting by, bringing along the smell of the ocean. (And I’m not talking about the smell of low tide. 🙂 )

Yesterday I gave surfing a try. First time in oodles of years. My last time out – eons ago – I bashed my chin on the board and had to get 7 stitches. Bummer way to retire from surfing.

But the waves here have been flowing in nicely everyday – not too large, not to small. There have been a few folks surfing, and they made it look like fun. The rental place on the beach had some “soft” boards with some kind of cushy surface.

So…I had to give it a go. I figured that even if I didn’t stand on the board at least I’d get a lot of good exercise.

It was fun.

And it was also a lot of hard work. The waves were coming in in pretty tight groups, not leaving much time between each. Getting out just past where they were starting to break was a bit of a challenge.

I felt like a little kid trying to ride a bike, just trying to stay on top of the board while laying down, crashing into the waves as I paddled out. With my 8 foot floating log I couldn’t deftly submerge beneath the breaking waves like the cool guys do, so I had to try to go over the break. As a result I spent a lot of time climbing back on the board after getting knocked off.

But I’d eventually make it to the primo spot, sit up on the board like all the other pro surfers do, and wait for the ultimate wave.

I spent two hours in the water. I spent a total of about 10 seconds standing up. My longest “ride” (if you could call it that) was about 3 seconds long.

Hey, I stood up, though.

So this morning? Yeah, I might have to give it another go. I watched some guys yesterday evening as the sun set. They would pop up almost immediately. I realized I was waiting way too long before trying to stand. And I was too far back on the board, making the tail plow through the water whenever I’d start to stand. (And my feet were too close together, and my knees weren’t bent, and I was facing forward instead of sideways, and . . .  the list could go on forever.)

Hang loose!

Stuck

Been traveling all week and ready to head home. Not knowing my full schedule when I booked my travel plans I played it safe & booked my flight home for Saturday. Last night I checked to see how much it would cost to change my flight to one late this afternoon. $200 just for the change fee, plus any difference in the fares. I didn’t even bother to ask what that would be.

Ah well. One more night in Atlanta then it’s home sweet home.

Storms and strawberries

Right now we’re somewhere over Virginia / North Carolina and we just skirted around a couple of spectacular thunderstorms tonight. Lightning streaked across the sky, filling my window. It was as if someone had electrified large sticks of fluffy cotton candy. We were above and to the side of the storms; the stars visible and shining up above us. Inspirational.

Switching subjects completely…

I ate lunch at a mall in King of Prussia, PA (I love the names of places up north), and bought an umbrella at an Eddie Bauer store before leaving. The purchase paid off. It rained the whole time I was inside buildings, but whenever I needed to go out, the rain stopped. Psych! Karma. If I hadn’t bought the umbrella the skies would have been dry while I was inside, and opened up wide anytime I wanted to go out. I needed a new umbrella anyway, especially one that has auto open and close.

What’d I eat? I tried a Cuban sandwich at the Cheesecake Factory. Pretty good, especially considering I wasn’t in Tampa. I only ate half, though, saving room for some strawberry shortcake afterwards. Ooooohhh. Now that’s what I’m talkin about. It was massive and mouth wateringly good, and if I’d tried to eat it all I would have hurt myself. The berries tasted fresh and were piled high; the ice cream, homemade. Instead of sponge cake, the ice cream was sandwiched between a homemade English muffin-like cake/biscuit. All this, topped with a huge swirl of whipped cream. I could have made an entire meal out of it. Maybe next time I will.

Call me sated.

It’s hotter in Philly

[begin whining]

The Philly airport needs to invest in a better air conditioning system, in both the D and E concourses, but especially in the D concourse. It’s a roaster.

Oh, and the E concourse? More seats. It’s SRO at all gates this evening.

One more thing, while I’m at it: this AVIS branch has to be the worst run in the universe.

[end whining]

Space shuttle Endeavour launch

I was in Orlando for a business meeting today. Tonight after dinner Scott, my roommate for the night, had the TV on a weather channel as we talked about stuff. The hours flew by and suddenly it was after 11 PM. We were about to turn off the TV when I heard the magic words “space shuttle launch.” Huh? Launch? When? And they were talking about a launch tonight. From Kennedy Space Center, less than an hour away.

Scott was too pooped to go. I called Ken. He had just seen a launch a few months ago and didn’t want to do a late night road trip. But he said Patrick was interested. Cool! I gave him a call and sure enough, he was game. Neither one of us had ever seen a launch in person.

We met in the hotel lobby, hopped in my truck and ROAD TRIP. We followed my GPS to get to the toll road across the state, then followed the signs to Kennedy from there. The traffic was fairly light until we dropped down past US-1 and headed into the Space Center itself. Then it was a complete log jam. We still had an hour to go, but we were just inching along. Then we made some progress, but completely stopped again. And again. Then we noticed the advances we made were from the cars that were turning around way in front of us, and heading back the other way. This wasn’t going to work.

So we turned around as soon as we could, got onto US-1 southbound, then stopped at a McDonalds to get the scoop on the best viewing area from a local. The gal in the drive through told us of a park and boat ramp just across the street and down the road about 100 yards, right on the Intracoastal Waterway with a perfect view of the launch pad. Cool! We were in business.

The parking lot was full, so we parked along US-1 then walked to the waterfront and sat on the seawall. Way off in the distance we could see the spotlights pointing at a little dot of white – the shuttle! We still had about 25 minutes to liftoff so we talked to some of the others around us. One couple from was Connecticut and vacationing in Ft. Lauderdale. They’d driven up in the morning and spent the day and most of the night waiting, waiting, waiting. It was their first launch also. Another guy had just been hired on as a security guard at the Space Center and was going to start next Monday. He was from the area and had seen a ton of launches over the decades. It was old hat to him.

A guy nearby had a radio tuned to launch information and announced 2 minutes to liftoff. The crowd was buzzing. 30 seconds! I started recording on my camera. 15 seconds. . . And then a small flash of light. . . And then a huge burst of light as the ship took off. It filled the sky with light! It lifted up and up, and then into the clouds. Completely out of sight. It lasted about 30 seconds. I kept recording until the sound hit us, a little more than a minute later.

It was quick, but it was impressive. And it was worth missing a few hours sleep. VERY COOL.

What? It’s leap year again?

Wednesday, Feb 27 – Plant City

We rode the yellow horse (Pam) and Holly (me) during our riding lesson this evening. Tonight was the first time I’ve ever loped on a horse (faster and more comfortable than a trot, slower than a gallop). I instantly threw my right hand in the air, made a lassoing motion, and yelled “Yee ha!” I think I embarrassed Pam.

Relaxed from the fresh air, we headed home and packed for our cruise.

Thursday, Feb 28 – Miami

Less than five hours of driving, a slight detour (even with the GPS I managed to miss an exit – the same one twice!), and here we are in Miami. We’re standing in the cruise ship terminal , and Pam asks me a simple question: “Did you get the hanging bag?” Oops. Still hanging in the closet. In Tampa. All of Pam’s dresses. My suit and Dockers. All we have are jeans and shorts, so no eating in the main dining room for us. Pam laughed it off: “You know – who cares? Let’s just relax and enjoy this trip.”

Beautiful sunset out of Miami. Was it only two months ago that we did this the last time? With the bottle of sparkling white wine that we found waiting for us in our cabin we toast ourselves and the good weather. We ate a leisurely dinner on our balcony, light years away from the cattle herd in the main dining room, and finished off the bottle. The wait staff doesn’t quite know what to do with us. We confused them – “You’re going to stay in tonight?” they’d ask with a look of disbelief.

The wine. The sound of the waves. The warm air. We slept like babies.

Friday, Feb 29 – Key West

Leap Year cruise. Have we started a new tradition? Every leap year do we have to go on a cruise, and be on the cruise on Leap Day. Dunno. We’ll see.

We ate a big breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, coffee – in preparation for our walking tour of Key West. Our tour guide was a delightful little lady who’d been living on the Key for about twelve years. She had a great sense of humor and was just a bit irreverent. Highlights of the day – Hemingway’s house, leaning against mile marker 0 on Highway 1, and the original Sloppy Joe’s (which is now called Captain Tony’s), and a slice of Key Lime Pie. Now that was a piece of heaven. Lowlight of the day – the “actor” who was our tour guide in the house itself. He was a loon who thought he was God’s gift to Key West. We endured his flat jokes and failed attempts at drama while we rolled our eyes at each other and snickered.

Then there’s Duval Street. Apparently Duval Street can get pretty rowdy at times – one of those starting a couple of weeks from now when spring break season begins. Bet it’ll a real zoo then. Now? Just a bunch of people enjoying a sunny, mid-70 degree February day in the Keys.

Dinner on the balcony again. Well, not really dinner, but simply a slice of pizza to tide us over. We ate a huge lunch on the ship after our walking tour. Me? Hamburger, hot dog, fries, chocolate chip cookies. Yummy health food. So just a slice of pizza for dinner, then lights out.

Saturday, March 1 – Cozumel

Where is everyone? At 8:00 we head topsides for breakfast, and there’s just a handful of people on deck. The sun is out, it’s warm, the skies are clear. This is definitely different. Unlike on our other cruises, nobody has “reserved” blocks of chairs for their group, hours in advance of their appearing. (If they appear at all…)

We ate another big breakfast just like yesterday, then head to the upper deck to catch some rays. We hang out for a few hours – our tours don’t start until noon – and still there’s hardly anyone on deck. Wonder what kind of party we missed last night?

Saw some flying fish this morning. Had never seen them in the Gulf before. Coolness. These have darker colorings on them than the ones we saw in the Atlantic, which were completely silver.

At noon we head downstairs for our tours. Pam’s on the horseback tour of the island, I’m on a two tank scuba dive. We’ll see each other in about four or five hours.

The diving was great. In January when we were here the waves were extremely rough – all of the excursions were canceled (even the shore-based ones). This time – warm air, light breeze, little waves. The scuba diving was sweet. Clear water, beautiful reef and coral, lots of fish. The dive master gave a us a solid pre-dive briefing which made me very comfortable – no “Open Water” movie experiences with this dive boat. And everyone (only 13 of us) on board seemed to know what was going on, unlike the folks on my boat in Grand Cayman. We split into two smaller groups, so it definitely wasn’t an under water circus.

On the first dive, just after I’d settled to the bottom I spotted a young sea turtle having a mid-afternoon snack. It lay there going about its business, not at all caring that I was filming it. It looked like a Disney animatron. I ended up taking a lot more videos than pictures. Some of both turned out pretty cool. The dive leader took us through some coral tunnels, then pointed out a nurse shark and later a sea horse. I’d never seen either before. All in all, it was a good afternoon of diving. I didn’t want it to end.

Pam got back to the ship just a few minutes after me. Her horseback ride was hot hot hot, but fun. The guide would point to something and say, “I’ll tell you what this is when we get to some shade.” You had to buy bottled water if you wanted some, but the Coronas were free. Cool. I would have liked that place. So Pam was a bit droopy after being in the sun all day, followed by a few beers on an empty stomach. We ate a big lunner then crashed for the evening.

Sunday, March 2 – en route to Miami

This morning the chair hoarders were out en masse. Most of the chairs were “reserved” with beach towels, and not a person in sight. Now this is more like it – real Cruise Ship attitude. The morning started off cool and overcast, with the head wind adding to the boat’s 20 knot speed. It wasn’t comfortable at all, but we were determined to stick it out for a while. About 10 minutes later I’d had enough cold, sunless air and started for the cabin. But as I got to the front of the Lido deck – no wind! It was being blocked by the superstructure. We found an open patch of deck, dragged our lounge chairs over and instantly our mood brightened.

With our promising new location secured we waited out the clouds in one of the 4 hot tubs. A few minutes later the sun broke through and the temperature climbed into the low 80s. And we didn’t have any wind blasting us. Perfect. We slathered on the sunscreen and settled in for a few hours of sun worshiping.

In the evening the clouds returned and it was just too windy to have dinner on the balcony. We dragged the table inside and ordered a full room service meal with a bottle of sparkling white wine. Suddenly we were in our 20s again, eating, drinking, and laughing, not a care in the world…. and fell sound asleep. A beautiful end to the cruise.

 

Speaking of . . .

I’m going to be talking at some community events in February on database change management using Team System. I gave the talk at the Orlando SQLSaturday! where it was well received. Hope to see you at one of the upcoming events.

Cayman Island dive video

The first segment is at the beginning of the first dive, starting in 45 feet of water. We were at the top of a wall that dropped to over 2,000 feet. The group huddles up for a moment, making sure everything is working properly. In the background you might be able to hear some of the SeaDoos buzzing nearby. They didn’t have any respect (probably no knowledge) of the rules requiring them to stand off a few hundred feet from the dive flag. Be careful when surfacing! We didn’t stay in the tight group for long, and I wound up at the back of the pack, taking pictures and videos. My dive buddy had a hard time staying down. He didn’t have enough weight, so most of the dive he was feet up, kicking to stay at depth. I could tell he wasn’t having fun.

I was surprised by how few fish there were on the reef. There was much greater diversity on the reef in Roatan Island. Although, I did see a nice, large lobster that would have made an excellent meal for two. And in the video I captured a huge blue angelfish. Visibility was over 100 feet, but since we were so deep most of the colors had filtered out, leaving everything a blue color. Snorkeling closer to the surface in Roatan drove home the point that deeper isn’t always better. Max depth for the two dives was 76 feet.

As we were surfacing I was still shooting video and wasn’t paying attention to where I was. I was watching my depth and ascent rate, but wasn’t looking overhead. I suddenly noticed I was directly under the boat, only a couple of feet from bonking my head. That would have been embarrassing.

Anyway, it was the first time I’d used my camera in its new underwater housing. I was really pleased with the outcome and learned a bunch of things such as when shooting video, pan the camera slowly. So much of my video looked like something out of the “Blair Witch Project” – chased by some horrible underwater creature. : )