Monthly Archives: June 2016

♫ New York, New York ♫ – 1st Stanza

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I have written before that teaching my course has allowed me many, many visits to some really cool cities—San Francisco being one in particular. And it has been nice that some of my kids have lived in these cities so my teaching trips could become family visits as well. But just like when that Tony Bennett song, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco”, starts playing in my mind as I take off from SFO leaving family members behind, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” served as background music for a recent excursion of mine to the East coast.

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For a time, my oldest son and his wife lived in New York so often my wife and I would combine a trip there with me teaching in New Jersey. And even before they lived there, my wife and I would travel by train from our hotel in New Jersey into New York to spend the day.

In addition to taking in many Broadway plays, one of my wife’s favorite activities, we visited the Empire State Building…

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…the 9/11 Memorial…

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…multiple museums…

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…the Brooklyn Bridge and park (under construction)…

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…and sometimes we’d just sit in the rotating restaurant atop the Marriott hotel at Times Square, enjoying a beer while we watched the city go by as dusk fell upon our day.

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Now that I am teaching a second course, I have even more opportunities to travel to these cool cities. So in the spring when my second course got finalized for New Jersey, I found out I could travel a day early to save on airfare and spend the day in New York. But all my thoughts of what I could do in the Big Apple changed when I found out that I would not be teaching at the usual hotel that is easily reached by train straight from the Newark airport—the same train that also goes straight into New York. Instead, it would be necessary for me to rent a car on my own if I wanted to take a side trip into the city. Fortunately, I had just earned a free one-day rental from my business travels so this little snafu wouldn’t even cost me the car rental. With access to a rental, I broadened my horizons of what to do.

In spite of going to New York over two dozen times, a couple of possibilities immediately popped in my mind.

First, although seen from the air as I landed in Newark many times, I had never actually been to the Statue of Liberty. But since one of my favorite things to do is to read a book about the building of something and then go visit it, Lady Liberty was added to that list of mine after reading a book about the construction of the Statue and the man behind it, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.

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Second, in spite of visiting numerous museums in New York over the years, one I had never been to before was MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). With my choices made, I just needed to figure out the logistics.

When I went to purchase my online ticket for the Statue of Liberty, I was saddened to learn that tickets to go up to the crown had to be booked at least six months in advance. I could still get a ticket to go up into the pedestal and it also included admission to Ellis Island. But since I didn’t know if the course would actually occur until just three weeks before the scheduled date, there was no way for me to plan the required six months in advance.   I did figure out that with a car, it would be easier to catch the ferry from the New Jersey side rather than taking mass transit to Battery Park and catching the ferry there (I was not going to drive in New York). After seeing these two parks, I would drive to a train station, take the train to New York, and then walk to the MOMA.

With plans all made, I looked forward to my trip. But as the English translation of the Yiddish saying goes, “Man plans, and God laughs.”

First I got sick just days before my scheduled flight. A quick trip to one of those drug store clinics ruled out strep and a sinus infection but a raw throat from drainage, congestion, and fluid in my ears at least earned me some meds. I left optimistic for a quick recovery but with the caveat that if I couldn’t pop my ears before getting on the plane, that my eardrums might burst due to the pressure change which she said would be very painful (fortunately that didn’t happen).

Second, the weather took a turn for the worse. What had originally been forecast as a nice sunny day in the 60s, the closer to the trip I got, it turned to rain and then cold was added to the forecast. On the Sunday morning when I left my hotel at 7:30 AM, it was raining and 48 degrees. When I arrived at the wharf, there was also about a 40 mile an hour wind. Reading online that you have to go through airport-like security before boarding the ferry (thanks to the world we live in today) I arrived early and was just able to catch the first ferry of the day.

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As we approached the Statue, I felt excitement at being closer to her than I ever had before. But I had to dampen this excitement with the knowledge I had just learned upon boarding that from the New Jersey side; the first stop is Ellis Island (that probably was explained in some small footnote on the website I overlooked). As I exited the ferry, rain was coming down but fortunately everything to see on Ellis Island was indoors.

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To be continued…

A Small Taste of Retirement?

In February of this year, I had major surgery that resulted in me being off of work for 18 consecutive days (12 work days and 3 weekends). In my 35+ years of working full time, this was the longest time I had ever been off work. So part of the way through my convalescence, I started thinking: “Was this what retirement would be like?”

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Admittedly, the first part of my recuperation was no picnic. The first two days off (Thursday and Friday) were the actual day of the surgery and the first 24 hours following it. In fact for the next five days, I spent most of my time lying on this chaise in our sunroom—a room my wife had recently redecorated—because it was just too painful to do much else. But every morning after I awoke, took my medicine and had my breakfast, I got to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do. And after almost a week post surgery, I felt well enough to do more than just lie around. That began to seem more like retirement to me.

So what did I do?

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Well for one, I did a lot of reading. At that time, I was on a binge reading James Bond novels and watching the companion movies. Over the time I was off, I read six Bond novels and watched eight Bond movies. This was a fun way to spend my time recuperating.

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When it was less painful to sit for an extended period of time, I started working on some of my miniature chairs I’ve written about before.   I had time to complete one and get a pretty good start on a second one.

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And I wrote four different blog posts (this being one of them).

Once I felt well enough to drive, I went to the mall to walk and get some exercise and also did a little shopping while there.

I even worked on income taxes although that certainly wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do, just needed to do.

Two weeks after my suregery, I decided to get started working back into an exercise routine even though the doctor had told me it would be at least four weeks before I was fully recovered and able to run again. So the morning I went to the gym, I left the house at a leisurely 7:30 AM rather than my usual 5:30 AM. I certainly encountered a lot more traffic at that time which took me longer to get there but I didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time so it didn’t really matter.

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And over those 18 days off from work, I never once set an alarm; I just got up at whatever time I felt like. That certainly seemed like retirement!

Into my second full week off from work, I did start to go through some work e-mail once my unread messages got to be over 350. And I had to read a book for some management training I was going through at work bringing my total number of books read to seven. But even this small amount of work didn’t dampen my sense of feeling retired.

In talking with friends and work colleagues who have retired, I know part of the adjustment to retirement is just getting use to not driving to work and following a set routine. For me, this wasn’t a problem as I had an automatic disrupter, the surgery that broke my routine.

While being off from work almost three weeks is a far cry short of being off work permanently, it still gave me a taste of what it would feel like. Never did I wonder what I would do with all my extra time, puzzlement many early retirees probably ponder. Rather I only wondered of all the options I had what I wanted to do next. So I liked this small taste of retirement I was given under the circumstances. And I know when that actual day comes, I ‘ll think of many other things I want to do, things I never had time to do while working full time.

A Bond Binge

Earlier this year I wrote about how I had gotten interested in reading James Bond books. And I must admit that this interest resulted in me going on a Bond binge. After reading three Bond books over the first three weeks of January, I proceeded to read six more Bond books in three weeks and watched a total of 12 Bond movies.

As I detailed in this previous post, my plan was to read the book first and then watch the movie which is opposite of what I normally do—watching a movie and then in the credits learning that the movie was based on a book that I then read. And is often the case, I enjoy the book more than the movie.

Credit: Biography.com

Credit: Biography.com

For those unfamiliar with the Ian Fleming books upon which many of the movies are based, Fleming published a total of 14 James Bond books, one a year starting in 1953 and ending in 1966 (two years after his death).

At first, I added the movies to my NetFlix queue in the approximate order in which they were released but then realized that I should probably read the books in the order in which Ian Fleming published them instead. I made the switch thinking that Fleming might have made references back to previous books in the newly published book. I’m glad I did, as there was references from earlier books in each book and in one case, the outcome of the previous book factored significantly in the subsequent book and in fact would have been a spoiler to the previous book if I had read them out of order.

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The main exception to this was my reading of the three books that made up the SPECTRE trilogy which were Fleming’s ninth, eleventh, and twelfth books published. These three represented a continuation of Bond’s clash with SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.

For these three, I read the book first and then watched the movie. For the first two books, Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the movie followed fairly closely the plot of the book so the book provided helpful background information that made some of the events in the movie more understandable. For the third book of the trilogy, You Only Live Twice, the movie was quite different from the book.

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After reading these three books, I decided to read Goldfinger, Fleming’s seventh book (the third movie released) since I had watched this movie out of order. Seeing the movie before reading the book provided me with some enjoyable visual images in my mind as I read the book. The plot between the book and the movie was very similar but the movie added some additional action scenes not in the book in order to make the movie more exciting.

Having completed these four books and companion movies, I got back to reading the books in the order in which they were published and proceeded to read the next five Bond books: Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, From Russia with Love, and Dr. No.

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For the first three of these books, I found that the book was much more enjoyable than the movie since the movie deviated so far from the book. In fact, some of the parts of the movies were a bit “cheesy”, a far cry from the action scenes that dominate the Bond movies of today. In the case of Moonraker, the only similarity between the book and movie was the name of the villain and one scene where the villain is trying to kill Bond and his female companion.

For the last two books I read, the movies followed the plot of the books fairly closely. These were in fact the first two Bond movies released in the early 1960s and since Ian Fleming was still alive then, he must have had the opportunity to prevent the movie from straying too far from the plot of the book. The one exception was in From Russia With Love; the Russian plot is almost half the book, which is critical to the story. In the movie, this is almost completely left out which would have made certain events in the movie confusing had I not read the book first. For Dr. No, the few plot changes incorporated in the movie were definite improvements to the story and who could ever forget that classic movie scene of a scantily clad Ursula Andress emerging from the tropical waters and encountering James Bond on the beach, a famous scene repeated many years later by Halle Berry in another Bond movie, Die Another Day.

Overall within a six-week period, I read nine James Bond books and adding in Casino Royale, which I read in December 2015, I have consumed 10 of the 14 Fleming books. And with few exceptions, I enjoyed the book more than the movie (no surprise there) although there were some good plots added in the movies to update the stories from the height of the cold war (mid to late 1950s) when many of the books were published to the space age (mid to late 1960s) when the movies were released. But as enjoyable as the books were, not once during my reading did the ubiquitous “James Bond Theme”—that now classic guitar instrumental—begin playing in my mind during a particularly exciting part of the book as is often the case in the movies.

Having read 10 books so far, my plan is to save the last four for next year to kick start my reading year in 2017 with some short, fun reads. But I must say that for anyone who has ever enjoyed a James Bond movie that I would highly recommend reading the books and reading them in the order in which they were published. I dare say that you too may find yourself going on a fun James Bond binge.

SIBSAB X – 2016

Recently my three siblings and I got together for our annual SIBSAB—our yearly sibling sabbatical. In case you have not read one of my previous posts about SIBSAB, this is when just the four of us get together for a weekend separate from our spouses and kids (and now grandkids). After what we now consider the “grand slam” SIBSAB last year in Amsterdam, this year we gathered in Memphis, the town we all moved to with our parents over 45 years ago and the town I still live in.

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We started off our weekend in what our mom would consider grand fashion, lunch at a Mexican restaurant, one of the best in town. It seemed appropriate the day after Cinco de Mayo. As we shared a great meal together, we talked about SIBSABs in the past. Being what I would consider the family historian, I rattled off each of the previous ones we’d had from the photos on my phone as my sister made notes. We realized this was the tenth one but then couldn’t decide if we keep up with them by number or by year (thus the use of both in my title).

Next up was one of my brother’s and my important activities—beer drinking.

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We first stopped at one establishment…

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…and then a second to get a wide variety of beers. Over our adult beverages, we began our usual conversations of telling what all was going on in the lives of our spouses, our kids, and our grandkids. Even though we typically only get together once a year, it is much more enjoyable to wait and tell these stories in person rather than over the phone or in e-mails throughout the year.

We ended our first day over a steak dinner at home and conversation about growing up. We each shared childhood memories we had, some of which had never been told before. One in particular took on dark connotations but we realized that we would never know the true story since our maternal grandparents were long gone. With this realization, I encouraged my siblings to write some of their stories down before they were forgotten. I know if we don’t, we will lose them.

On Saturday, we decided to go downtown to spend the day there. In spite of being open for over a year, I had never been to the Bass Pro Shop in the former Pyramid sports arena.

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Having been to the Pyramid for numerous basketball games in the past, it was amazing to walk in the door and see the tremendous transformation that had taken place.

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It is best described as a huge store filled with clothes, toys, food, and watercrafts built among an indoor Louisiana bayou with waterfalls, fish filled ponds surrounding cypress knees, wooden docks and even live alligators.

It also sports the tallest freestanding elevator in the world that whisks you up to top of the pyramid…

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…where you will find a great view of the city…

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…at a restaurant decorated in Steam Punk style with an aquatic and nautical motif.

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Before lunch, we had a chance to take in all the views of the Mississippi River from a glass-floored balcony that felt a bit precarious from the height.

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Lunch was surprising delicious, for a restaurant inside a sportsman store.

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After lunch, we got to do a bit more shopping and exploring and even were able to take in the alligator feeding.

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We ended up spending much longer there than we expected so we had to revise our downtown sites schedule and head straight to our next venue.

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I had visited the Stax Museum for the first time last fall so I felt it would be a good excursion for all of us. I think it was a hit. If you have not been, I would highly recommend it as it is amazing to learn all of the artists that were associated with this Memphis recording studio.

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And Isaac Hayes’ gold-plated Cadillac is a great exhibit whether or not you are a car lover.

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At dinner that night, we continued sharing our stories and braced ourselves for the inevitable—having to leave. But before we turned in for the night, we also planned the date and location for our next SIBSAB—XI in 2017.

Sunday morning was Mother’s Day and while my brother and I were not celebrating it with our wives, we wanted to take our sisters out for a hearty Mother’s Day breakfast. While we were waiting for our table, we tried to share the pictures we had taken on our phone with each other. Being the not so “tech-savvy” elderly siblings that we all are, we ended up with multiple copies of each photo as they replicated each time we shared from one phone to another. Well at least we had them.

Soon after returning home it was time for our sisters to head home. But not before our traditional sibling photo together.

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We struggled trying to come up with a different pose…

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..and eventually came up with this one.

As my brother and I waved goodbye as our sisters drove off, we both stood there silent. I know for me, it was a sad moment of departure.

To escape the sadness, my brother and I jumped back into one of the activities he and I wanted to do—beer drinking. We drove to another microbrewery where we had some great selections.

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Since my brother was not flying home until Monday afternoon, we had almost a whole day to satiate our beer desires.

But besides good beer and good conversations, we also enjoyed driving around in my two Miatas with the top down.

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Interestingly, my brother also had a Miata a number of years ago when he lived in Memphis and this was the first time he had gotten to drive one of these fun little sports cars (possibly planting the idea for another one some day).

Overall, it was a great weekend that went way too fast. My brother and I both remarked that we couldn’t believe how quickly the weekend flew by. Fortunately we will all be getting together this summer for a joint family vacation so it won’t be a year before we will all be seeing each other. But it will be a year before we take a sabbatical from the rest of our family and just spend time together. And after the great weekend we had this year, it can’t get here soon enough!