Saturday, October 16, 2010

Remembering Donna


A few ago I wrote a tribute to my late father called “Speaker for My Dad”. I got that idea from one of the science fiction books that I read called “Speaker For The Dead”. The “speaker” character in the book would go, mostly on request, to memorials for people who had died and chronicle their lives. His intent was not to deify or degrade but simply to present the persons life in terms of why things were said and done, presenting the good and bad points about the person’s life.

I now want to write a blog that I have been thinking about for a very long time called, “Speaker for Donna”, in remembrance of her passing thirteen years ago this week (October 16th, 1997). This is, in a way, very hard for me because she was my wife, but I think that it will also be cathartic, allowing me to express thoughts about my wonderful times with her.

I want to say right up front that none of what I write here in any way is intended to compromise or diminish my love for my current wife Saraphen. Most of you know our story of meeting and marrying. If anything, looking back on this has strengthened my love for her.

When I look back on my life I realize several key mistakes on my part. For one I think that I got married too soon. But in spite of that, I did the very best that I could to provide for my family. But the flaw that I had in my life as a young man was my propensity to want to “run the streets”. Consequently, my first marriage to a very nice lady ended in divorce. I will not get into the details of that but just say that I left her; but left her with the house, the car, the furniture, the kids and promises to provide whatever support was necessary. So in April, 1980 I moved to an apartment at 5902 31st Avenue.

Shortly after I moved there I noticed a lovely young lady who lived there, but whom I could never meet face to face because each time I saw her it was from a distance and she was on her way out or on her way into her apartment. Then one day I got on the apartment’s elevator and she and her girlfriend were already on it. Our introductory conversation was very brief but at least at that point I knew her name was Donna and that she lived on the ground floor. So from then on we spoke to each other, mostly in passing. Then one day I was on the ground floor laundry room doing my laundry and she came in with her’s. I remarked in our conversation that something was cooking somewhere on the ground floor that smelled really good. She replied, “that’s my liver and onions, do you want some”? So that’s how we started, over a plate of something I really don’t like.

When I entered her apartment, which was about as sparse as mine, the first thing that I saw was a photo of her that mesmerized me and came to be my favorite photo of her.

In the conversation that day I learned that she was separated from her husband and that he had custody of their two kids, ages 7 and 11.

She told me that this was about the third time that she had left her husband because he was abusive, mostly just emotionally, but still abusive. She said that she was really frightened of him because he was a policeman and therefore had a gun. In addition she said, on occasions when they had heated arguments and she called the police the people who showed up were his buddies on the police force. They would then spend time shooting the breeze and then leave without really being concerned about her plight.

Now I am sure that it was a difficult decision to leave her young children. But she knew that they would be safe with their father and she could see them when she wanted. She would not let him bring them to her apartment, or go to their house to get them for visits. Instead she would have him drop them at her mother’s house, or her aunt’s house, both of whom lived close by. It was clear that she really wanted absolutely no contact with him.

One of the reasons that I had such a difficult time meeting her was that she would spend the weekends with her kids at her mother’s house, and sometimes bringing them to her apartment. In between that she would spend most weekends with family (two brothers and a sister, plus several aunts, uncles and cousins) playing cards or just enjoying family. Her main concerns was that her kids were not in her life and she was not in their’s at their early ages when they needed both parents. She also felt that her husband would bad mouth her with their kids, telling them that their mom didn’t care about them since she left them with him. The truth was she loved and really missed her kids but had to get away from him.

Donna worked for the US Postal Service, not delivering mail but in an administrative desk job. That job wasn’t bad she said, but it was barely enough to meet her expenses which at this point included child support for two kids. So she decided to join the National Guard so she could collect a small paycheck for a weekend a month’s work. While her guard duty was also administrative and at a desk, she had to go to basic training and crawl through the mud and mosquitos in the swamps down in Alabama somewhere. Although she was a small woman, she had a big heart and was willing to “do what she had to do” to support herself and her kids.

When I had my first conversation with Donna at the “liver” dinner we talked about growing up, our families, and a lot of other things. I was surprised that she grew up in Duckettsville, Md near Bowie in a situation very similar to mine 1500 miles away in Mississippi. We talked about going to the corner store with a quarter to get goodies and coming out with a little bag full of candy. She grew up in a wood framed house where she had to share a bed with her brothers and sister. She had very humble beginnings.

In later conversations I told her that I was dating a lady named Jackie and asked if she had a friend too. She said that she did have a friend but that he was kinda shaky. So we agreed to just be friends but I told her that if she ever needed anything to let me know. It was some time in June when I first met Donna and it was sometime in early December when she asked me if I would go to see a play with her, “Arms to Short To Box With God” with Patty Labelle. I accepted her invite and told her that our car club was having a Christmas party but I could not invite her for obvious reasons. She didn’t seem upset with this but I think she was just a little upset. Then on the night of the party Jackie came back to my apartment with me and at the same time Donna was coming back from her visit with family. I could tell that she was really pissed by the way she walked right by my car and not only didn’t speak but also didn’t even look my way.

In one of our conversations about the upcoming Christmas season Donna mentioned to me that she wanted so perfume, Oscar DeLarenta, that cost about $50 an ounce. She said she loved the perfume but could not afford it. So after I finished taking care of my kids and mom and dad for Christmas, I decided to surprise her and buy it for her. As I recall that was a pretty dismal Christmas for me. After I visited briefly with my kids and with mom I came back home and sat around watching TV. I did have a small artificial tree decorated but there was hardly anything under it except Donna’s gift. I tried calling Donna a couple times because the play was that evening, but she didn’t answer her phone (this was 1981 and well before cell phones). Then about 5:00 PM Donna called to ask if I was still going to the play with her. I could tell from her tone that she was still pissed about the party and seeing Jackie visiting me. She said she would be home soon and would be ready by 7:00 PM. So a little before 7:00 PM I went down and knocked on her door, gave her the present, and said I was going to warm up the car and pull up close to the door. She told me much later that when she opened the gift and saw what it was she was so shocked she couldn’t speak. Needless to say we had a nice time at the play.

I don’t remember whether it was during the play date or later but I told Donna that I really liked her and that I would like to have some time to get to know her better. So I suggested that we take one of the bus trips up to Atlantic City while we were both off work between Christmas and New Year. She said OK and that later became something that we did every Christmas week for years.

That was a nice trip, four hours on the bus each way and six hours to walk the board walk, gamble in the casinos, and shop. That’s when I first found out what a shopper Donna was. We spend just a short time playing the $10 we each got back for our trip. Then she shopped in every store on the boardwalk. But that aside we had a nice trip with plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. I learned that she had a very close and fun loving family and they got together to celebrate all of the holidays.

My car club had planned a ski trip for late January and I had asked Donna back in November if she and some of her friends would like to go. She and a couple girlfriends eventually paid a deposit to go on the trip. About three weeks before the trip Jackie and I had dinner and she let me know that if I was not committed to marrying her after I got my divorce, she wasn’t interested in continuing our relationship. I was just a little shocked at this but also happy that we ended our relationship amicably. I was elated that I could then concentrate my feeling on Donna and immediately called her when I got home to give her the news. As usual, she was not at home. So I wrote her a note to call me as soon as she got in. She did and that was the official start of a very beautiful relationship.

A few weeks later was our ski trip and Donna and I went together. When we all got to the tour bus was when I first noticed her laugh. Amid all of the laughing and talking on the bus as we were getting ready to depart I kept hearing this laugh that was louder than any other sounds on the bus. Donna had a very distinctive laugh, very high pitched and not like any I have ever heard before or since. My one regret is that with all of the video of her that I have, I never captured her laugh. I have giggles and chuckles but not the real laugh that everyone knew as unique to her.

After being around Donna for a while I found that she was a pessimist. She felt that whatever bad could happen WOULD happen. She wanted to get off of the ground floor of the apartment building because she was afraid of a break in. So a short while after I met her she was able to move to another unit in the building. I helped her move and also met another of her brothers who came with friends to help also. A short time after she moved Donna had to go off to North Carolina for two weeks of National Guard duty. We had grown very close to each other by then and she was sad that we would be apart. I am sure that I was filling the space in her heart that was left by the absence of her kids in her life every day. We had come to start doing almost everything together. So I decided to go spend the weekend between her two duty weeks with her. I drove down to NC and we then went to Myrtle Beach for the weekend. The following year she had duty again, but at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod. So I did the same again and we had a good time on Cape Cod for the weekend. These two trip were the beginnings of many travels we had together.

I was in heaven dating Donna because when I got home from work I really didn’t have to go anywhere to be with the one I wanted to be with. We kinda split our time between her apartment on the first floor and mine on the fifth floor. Many a morning one of us would be using the back steps to get to our apartment to get ready for work. Even though Donna had a good job and the extra income from the National Guard she was still kinda struggling. A part of that was because she liked to shop, especially for shoes and pocketbooks. So at some point I suggested to her that she give up her apartment and move in with me and spend her rent money paying off her bills. I knew that this would work for me because I had observed Donna enough to know that she was a fastidious person who didn’t like things out of place. For example, one evening she was cooking at her apartment and asked me to hand her some seasonings from the kitchen cabinet. After she used it I put it back and she quickly said, “no that does not go that way”. She actually had her spices arranged by name in the cabinet. From then on I always teased her about things being out of place, saying things needed to be in their assigned “square or circle”. But the bottom line was we both likes things neat and orderly.

Sometime after we started dating officially Donna asked me if I wanted to go to church with her. She said it was the church that her mom and other family members attended. I accepted her invite and when we attended I found that I loved the church and also not only was her mom there but also her kids and a couple aunts, uncles and cousins. I think we attended church services there for about 8 months and then in December of that year we both joined it officially. A few years later we would be married there.

A couple years after we met I decided that I wanted to get out of the apartment and buy another house. So Donna and I went looking in our spare time. We looked and looked but never found the right one. Then one day she had something to do and so I went looking by myself. I think the reason she had something else to do was because she was not really sure what the new house would mean for her. I had assured her that my intention was for her to come along with me. So on this one trip that she did not accompany me on I found the house at 5800 Oland Drive and signed a contract on it. She was somewhat angry that I had signed a contract without her seeing the house first but after I took her to the neighborhood and showed it to her ( from outside since it was occupied) and explained what features it had she started to get excited about moving.

We moved in and our furniture didn’t make a dent in the space in the house. But Donna took care of that over the twelve years we were in the house together. While I had no eye for decorating, she did and so I pretty much left all of the inside stuff to her. Several months after we moved, and after my divorce was official (and so was Donna’s), she asked me straight up where she stood with me. She said she liked the house but it really didn’t feel like her’s. That was a little of her pessimistic side coming out. I assured her that I had no intentions of letting her go anywhere. She was the type of person who did not let things fester on her mind. If something was bothering her she would just say, “we need to talk”, and get it straighten out. We didn’t always agree on the outcomes but we talked civilly and aired our feelings and differences so that it was no longer an issue. This was definitely not how it was in my previous marriage.

I decided that I would give Donna an engagement ring for Christmas, along with some other things. I bought the ring and wrapped it, and then put it in a larger box and wrapped it, and then put it in a box that was even bigger and wrapped it again. Then I also bought her an automatic camera. On Christmas morning we finally got up and I told her to open the box that had the camera in it first. She did and said that was nice. Then I took the camera, which I had put film and batteries in, and told her to open the other box. By the time that she opened the second box she was somewhat disturbed at my antics. Then when she opened the third box with the ring I snapped a picture of her reaction; I actually got a before and an after.

Its interesting how when you proposed to any woman they do not want to waste any time getting to the part about “I Do”. So we started talking about a date and it quickly moved from June to March or April. Her comment was , “why we gotta wait that long?” We finally settled on a date after a counsel with our pastor and checking to see when the church would be available. We had a small wedding at church and then a reception at our house.

A few months later we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon.

Life with Donna was great, no SUPERFANTASTIC. It seemed that she loved to do any and everything that I liked to do. She was a touchy-feely person who always wanted to do things together (that was one of her favorite words). If I was relaxing in front of the TV she was right there not just beside me but with a head on my shoulder and/or a leg on my lap. From her I learned to be touchy-feely myself. When at night she was ready to go to sleep she would say come on its time to go to sleep, regardless of whether I was ready to go or not. She just wanted us to go to bed at the same time. We always walked holding hands in the mall, or wherever and also kissed and hugged a lot. When we first got married she would ask me frequently if I loved her and when I replied yes she would say, “if you do, you should say it without out my asking”. So I learned to do that and not feel any awkwardness about it.

Donna loved sports and I do not mean just sitting with me while I watch. She would get into the game, be it football, basketball, or baseball. And she loved going to sports games live. We did college games as well as pro games. One year we were able to get from one of her friends season tickets to the Redskins games and she went to every game. She actually went to the opening day at the Redskins’ new stadium as a volunteer for a boy scout troop selling hot dogs. We went to the Bullets (Wizards now) basketball games at the Capitol Center. We went to Oriole’s games at Camden Yards in Baltimore. We even went to a couple hockey games.

She and her family all loved sports but when she watched the Redskins it was not always from a seat on the sofa. If John Riggins was breaking off a long run, or Doug Williams was completing a long pass she was up off the seat running across the room helping, always with her patented laugh going.

Every year or so her family would have a big family reunion and we would attend that and you could always hear Donna’s laugh over everyone else. We started to make an annual trip to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and in the park Donna was not a stand on the side and watch type person. We would go into Busch Gardens and ride the Lock Ness Monster (roller coaster) about 4 or 5 times in a row before we moved on to other roller coaster rides. Although she couldn’t swim, whenever we went to the beaches or pools Donna would always get in the water, but many times with a death grip on my arm. Donna eventually joined the bowling league that I had a been in for years and we were teammates. That meant we were together on Friday evenings instead of her sitting at home. She eventually worked her way up to a decent average of about 140 and we actually won the league championship one year (we had another female on our team who regularly rolled in the 170's or higher).

Donna continued to participate in her kids lives as much as she could. As teenagers they didn’t show much interest in talking to her. But after her youngest got out of high school they both started to call and come by to see her, even though it was not frequent. But overall her relationship with her kids was improving as they got old enough to see for themselves how their father really was. With time her relationship with them had greatly improved and she helped them both begin college (bother dropped out after a year or so).

Donna also liked to stay in shape and had a member ship at Ballys Health Club that limited her to one club on certain days. So for her birthday one year I gave her an upgrade to the same type unlimited membership that I had. We both did the health club but at slightly different times because she was off from work and home before I even got off. Donna liked to eat out and we eventually got to the point where we went out to eat at least once a week and then we decided that the two of us would have a standing date for dinner every Friday. She was not a picky eater so we could try a variety of restaurants.

We continued our annual trips to Atlantic City but soon started making a couple trips to Las Vegas every year.

We made a couple more trips to Hawaii, then to Cancun, and then we started doing cruises.

In November 1996 I retired and spent time just putting around the house. Then after about 7 months at home I decided to do something that had been on my mind for a long while and go to travel school to become a travel agent. School was all day five days a week. At about the time that school started I did some looking around and found a cruise for us to go on which was the day after my travel school ended. In anticipation of going on the cruise, Donna went shopping and found a gown and shoes for the formal night. Then I convinced her that we should take swimming lessons. I can swim enough to keep from drowning, but she would get in the water but not let it touch her face at all. She would not even let water run on her face standing in the shower at home.

A few weeks before the cruise we started the swim lessons at the local community center pool. I was in an intermediate class and Donna was in the beginners. She made great progress and I will never forget the sight of her after about three classes floating face down in the pool with her hands stretched out in front of her on a float. She was not really swimming but had overcome her great fear of water on her face.

The next evening we didn’t have a swim class so Donna decided to go to the gym after work. On that Wednesday morning she packed up all of her stuff, kissed me goodby, and headed out the back door to her car, headed for work. I said to her “See You Later Bag Lady” because she had her pocketbook, her lunch bag, her gym bag, and a shopping bag full of sale fliers and sale magazines. Those were my last words to her ever.

Wednesday afternoon I got home about 5:00 PM and since we were pretty much all packed to go on a cruise in a couple days I didn’t think I needed anything special for dinner. So I just made myself a sandwich and had a beer. About the time that I finished my sandwich the phone rang and it was Donna’s mother telling me to meet her at the hospital, they had taken Donna there. I tried to question her about it but she didn’t know any more than that; she had gotten that information from a niece who worked at the health club where Donna worked out. My first thought was that she had been in a car accident. I was not prepared for what came next.

When I got to the hospital and found the room where other family members were gathers the doctor came in a few minutes later and said “we are trying to get her heart started again”. When I finally saw her she was on a hospital table in the emergency room with tubes in her mouth and her eyes were wide open, but she was not awake. The heart monitor showed a beat but it was about three times normal. That was such a traumatic experience for me that to this day I do not care to see movies and TV programs depicting life in hospitals and emergency rooms. We took turns visiting at her bedside and later one of the nurses came in and said she was stable but not out of the woods yet. We all prayed and though that she would recover. After all she was the healthiest person in the family, no diseases, not overweight, never smoked, exercised regularly, watched what she ate, etc.

Between the emergency room and the critical care ward we waited about eight hours until about 2:30 AM the doctor told us the bad news, her heart rate would not stabilize not matter what they tried. He said that when they took away the medications her heart would stop. We all had time to say a goodby and start a new chapter in our lives. Her kids were there and so was her mother and one of her brothers, along with a bunch of her close girlfriends. The autopsy which I received a copy of a few weeks later said died of a congenital heart defect, “Right Ventricular Myopathy with Displasia”. The same heart problem that has killed athletes like the runner Jim Fixx and the former Boston Celtics player, Reggie Lewis. There are no symptoms, the person dies and the problem is discovered afterwards..

We cried some that night, but it took me several weeks to get that really big cry that I knew I needed and was coming to hit me. It did come after a visit to her grave and I had to stop the car and let it all out. The long term healing process took a lot longer than that and a lot longer than I thought it would. I signed up for bereavement classes and then signed up for a second session. After about a year I started to date, but I could not develop any feeling for anyone because Donna still had all of them. It was more than three years later before I could really look seriously for another mate. So four and a half years later I got a message from Saraphen and the rest is new history.

I wrote a paragraph about Donna for the funeral program but it did not do her justice. She was a remarkable person, loving and caring and a person with an innate sense of what is right. She was kind, gentle and concerned. She was a blood donor, a bone marrow donor, took CPR training, served in church, and volunteered when the need arose. Her funeral was the largest that I have ever seen. We printed over 1,000 programs and they were all taken, so was every seat in the church, and the funeral procession to the grave site was about half a mile long.

There is more that I could say about this wonderful person, Donna, and our 16 years together but it would fill a book. 

POST SCRIPT: What I learned from this time in my life was that when you lose someone that you love dearly, be it a parent, spouse, child, relative or friend, you do NOT get over it. You just learn to live with the loss. It took me more than three years to move on with my life but it's different for each person to get to that "move on" moment. I have a friend, a former co-worker, who when I first met her had lost a son, her only child, and she would get very melancholy every year around the anniversary of his death. For a long time I did not understand this. But I do now.

Friday, October 15, 2010


A few days ago one of my Facebook friends said she needed help picking out a new television. At the time I didn’t provide any advice but then I remembered that I had written a blog about buying a new high definition TV back a few years ago. So I went back through my blogs and came up with this re-post. I have revised it a bit and also want to dispel in this revised edition an untruth that is broadcast on TV regularly by the Dish Network. They have a couple of advertisements that give the impression that you must have a cable or satellite TV connection, and preferable the Dish Network, in order to receive high definition TV reception. That is absolutely false.

First, if you have an older analogue TV that you are viewing right now via a cable or satellite connection, you can still use that TV without a cable or satellite connection by instead connecting it to a digital receiver and an inside or outside TV antenna. A digital receiver will cost you between $40 and $70. The one that I purchased, and is very highly rated, is a Zenith Model DDT901. You can order one from internet sites; that’s what I did. With the digital receiver and antenna your old analogue TV will pick up the free digital TV stations. In most locations these will be the network stations, ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX, plus local Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS).

Second, if you have a high definition TV that is connected to cable or satellite you can also get free high definition reception by simply connecting the HDTV to an inside or outside antenna. With both the digital receiver box and the HDTV it will be necessary for you to run a setup, i.e., let the digital box or HDTV re-scan to locate the free over the air channels.

In addition to the network stations many of you will be able to receive also additional free HD and digital stations now being broadcast. In my area we receive a second CBS network station called THIS which runs movies all day and evening. It even has a web link to give you the program schedule (movies): . The ABC network has 2 additional stations. One is called the Live Well (LW) station and it also has a web link: It has programs like travel, cooking and money management programs. It may not be available in every area of the country but its locations are listed. Then the ABC network also has a news and weather station that it broadcasts. The NBC network also has 2 additional stations. The second station broadcasts past sporting events all of the time but not mainline stuff like football and basketball. The third NBC network broadcast station is a news and weather station. In addition to FOX network broadcasts there is another station called RETRO TV which is very much like the TV Land station on cable and satellite connections. It runs old programming like Marcus Welby MD, Magnum P.I., The “A” Team, Knight Rider, I Spy, and other such. It has a web link also and its available almost all over the country. and: .
I also get over the air broadcasts of UPN TV shows: and the CW Television Network: . These stations have shows like Smallville, Supernatural, and the Vampire Diaries. I also get 3 Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) and some Hispanic language stations too.

So unless you want or need to have cable/satellite stations like CNN, ESPN, and/or C-SPAN there are plenty of free over-the-air stations and you can receive them in high definition on your HDTV.

There is some mis-information about the community/neighborhood associations covenants and restrictions as far as TV reception is concerned. The gist of the mis-information is that you must hide your antenna or dish behind the house or behind bushes and trees in order to comply with the community/homeowner association rules. Those requirements have no legally enforceable validity because there are Federal Government regulations that prohibit state, county and local governments, AND, specifically homeowner/community associations from interfering with any property owners access to free over the air TV reception.

The following is an excerpt from the regulations:

“As directed by Congress in Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the Over-the-Air Reception Devices (“OTARD”) rule concerning governmental and nongovernmental restrictions on viewers' ability to receive video programming signals from direct broadcast satellites ("DBS"), broadband radio service providers (formerly multichannel multipoint distribution service or MMDS), and television broadcast stations ("TVBS").

The rule (47 C.F.R. Section 1.4000) has been in effect since October 1996, and it prohibits restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming. The rule applies to video antennas including direct-to-home satellite dishes that are less than one meter (39.37") in diameter (or of any size in Alaska), TV antennas, and wireless cable antennas. The rule prohibits most restrictions that: (1) unreasonably delay or prevent installation, maintenance or use; (2) unreasonably increase the cost of installation, maintenance or use; or (3) preclude reception of an acceptable quality signal.

Effective January 22, 1999, the Commission amended the rule so that it also applies to rental property where the renter has an exclusive use area, such as a balcony or patio.

On October 25, 2000, the Commission further amended the rule so that it applies to customer-end antennas that receive and transmit fixed wireless signals. This amendment became effective on May 25, 2001.

The rule applies to individuals who place antennas that meet size limitations on property that they own or rent and that is within their exclusive use or control, including condominium owners and cooperative owners, and tenants who have an area where they have exclusive use, such as a balcony or patio, in which to install the antenna. The rule applies to townhomes and manufactured homes, as well as to single family homes.

The rule allows local governments, community associations and landlords to enforce restrictions that do not impair the installation, maintenance or use of the types of antennas described above, as well as restrictions needed for safety or historic preservation. Under some circumstances where a central or common antenna is available, a community association or landlord may restrict the installation of individual antennas. The rule does not apply to common areas that are owned by a landlord, a community association, or jointly by condominium or cooperative owners where the antenna user does not have an exclusive use area. Such common areas may include the roof or exterior wall of a multiple dwelling unit. Therefore, restrictions on antennas installed in or on such common areas are enforceable.

This Information Sheet provides general answers to questions concerning implementation of the rule, but is not a substitute for the actual rule. For further information or a copy of the rule, contact the Federal Communications Commission at 888-CALLFCC (toll free) or (202) 418-7096. The rule is also available via the Internet by going to links to relevant Orders and the rule.

Q: What types of antennas are covered by the rule?

A: The rule applies to the following types of antennas:

(1) A "dish" antenna that is one meter (39.37") or less in diameter (or any size dish if located in Alaska) and is designed to receive direct broadcast satellite service, including direct-to-home satellite service, or to receive or transmit fixed wireless signals via satellite.

(2) An antenna that is one meter or less in diameter or diagonal measurement and is designed to receive video programming services via broadband radio service (wireless cable) or to receive or transmit fixed wireless signals other than via satellite.

(3) An antenna that is designed to receive local television broadcast signals. Masts higher than 12 feet above the roofline may be subject to local permitting requirements.

In addition, antennas covered by the rule may be mounted on "masts" to reach the height needed to receive or transmit an acceptable quality signal (e.g. maintain line-of-sight contact with the transmitter or view the satellite). Masts higher than 12 feet above the roofline may be subject to local permitting requirements for safety purposes. Further, masts that extend beyond an exclusive use area may not be covered by this rule.”

You can read the entire rule and fact sheet with questions and answers at this web link:

And for your information, here a


This is the antenna that I bought:


A few years ago I posted this blog about buying a new HDTV. I am re-posting it here with a few revisions. Replacing a big screen TV may sound like an easy job, but its not. You probably say all you need to decide is what size TV you want and what manufacturer do you prefer, Sony, Samsung, RCA, or the Sears or Wal Mart brand.

Well now days it’s just not that simple. The first thing is I discovered that there are a lot of acronyms that you have to learn and understand before you can even think about choosing a size, make or model. DTV, HDTV, 720p, 1080p/1080i, ATSC, EDTV, Plasma TV, DLP, LCD, Aspect Ratio, CRT, Front Projection, Rear Projection, D-ILA, LCoS, Comb Filter, Interlaced, Progressive Scan, and Flat Panel are the terms that I have run into. Then you also need to be concerned about what you plan to hook up to the TV, like a DVD player, or cable. Then you need to know about A/V connections, S-Video jacks, HDMI, CableCard Slots, and Video Card Slots.

All of this is driven by a Congressionally mandated change in the broadcasting standards. Then on top of that there is a lot of mis-information floating around about what is mandated and when and for whom. Researching to buy a new TV has been an eye opening experience.

I know that some of you are familiar with the web site where you can get answers on how any and everything works, called HOWSTUFF WORKS.COM . Then there is another site that is useful for good accurate technical answers, CNET.COM . So I went to these sites searching for information on High Definition TV’s (HDTV) and I also visited a couple other places that my Google search turned up and I ended up printing more than 70 pages to read over. I printed it so that I could highlight stuff while I read. That’s where I got the headache. And I am gonna try my best to make this blog less than 70 pages.

Ok, the first thing is the Congress did not mandate that everybody convert to HDTV by 1996 as we have been led to believe. What the Congress said was BROADCAST STATIONS, i.e., NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and other independents BROADCAST STATIONS must convert to a DIGITAL TV (DTV) broadcast format by May, 1996. Congress did NOT mandate High Definition TV (HDTV) in 1996 or any year. What they mandated was like saying you gotta move up from the Chevy Nova to a Cadillac Escalade, but you don’t have to buy a Maserati. In addition, the new standard does not apply to Cable and Satellite transmissions, since they are not broadcast. What has further confused things is some stations, like FOX and ESPN have already gone past the minimum standard, digital, and starting showing what they call HDTV programs. However Fox’s broadcasts in many areas of the country are at 480p and while this meets the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation it is the minimum standard and is not HDTV.

Here are some other significant dates:

* July 1, 2006: All new 25" or larger sets must have DTV tuners or be DTV-ready
* March 1, 2007: All new 13" or larger sets must have DTV tuners or be DTV-ready
* February 17, 2009: Proposed shutoff date for over-the-air analog broadcasts (in other words your old TV will not be any good without a converter box)

OK, lets make it even more complicated. The Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) has set voluntary standards for digital television. These standards include how sound and video are encoded and transmitted. They also provide guidelines for different levels of quality. All of the digital standards are better in quality than the old analog signals. HDTV standards are the top tier of all the digital signals.

The ATSC has created 18 commonly used digital broadcast formats for video. The lowest quality digital format is about the same as the highest quality an analog TV can display. The 18 formats cover differences in:

* Aspect ratio - Standard television has a 4:3 aspect ratio - it is four units wide by three units high. HDTV has a 16:9 aspect ratio, more like a movie screen.

* Resolution - The lowest standard resolution (SDTV) will be about the same as analog TV and will go up to 704 x 480 pixels. The highest HDTV resolution is 1920 x 1080 pixels. HDTV can display about ten times as many pixels as an analog TV set.

* Frame rate - A set's frame rate describes how many times it creates a complete picture on the screen every second. DTV frame rates usually end in "I" or "p" to denote whether they are interlaced or progressive. DTV frame rates range from 24p (24 frames per second, progressive) to 60p (60 frames per second, progressive).

Many of these standards have exactly the same aspect ratio and resolution - their frame rates differentiate them from one another. When you hear someone mention a "1080i" HDTV set, they're talking about one that has a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and can display 60 frames per second, interlaced.

Now I could go on and on and define or try to explain all of the acronyms above but I will let you (if you are interested enough) go to the web sites I gave you above and get your own headache. Besides I know you don’t want to read five pages, let alone seventy.

So why do I need to know all of this about TV’s? Well first of all I don’t want to buy somebody’s TV that’s on sale for a great price and then find out that it’s a great price because its no good after February 2009 because it does not have a digital tuner. Then I have to decide whether I want to spend the extra money to get a HDTV, vs a DTV, when there are not enough broadcast or cable programs on right now. (That has now changed over the past couple years and there are now lots of high definition shows.) I am already pissed that I can barely find anything on TV to watch. And finally I need to decide whether to get a TV that has a 4 to 3 Aspect Ratio or one with a 16 to 1 (wide screen) Aspect Ratio. DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS !!!

The information that I read over included some technical reviews by experts. Not just folks like me and you expressing our opinion. Based on my research and their reviews I have decided on the brand I want, Mitsubishi, and the technology I want, DLP Rear Projection with a 4 to 3 Aspect Ratio. Man that was hard. Now I have to find the TV in the screen size I want and hope I can catch a good sale price or special.

So did I give you a headache with all of this good information?????

Monday, October 4, 2010

All You Need To Know About Booking A Cruise

I have had discussions recently with several people about going on cruises and enjoying what I/we have been enjoying for years. So I decided to create a brief description of the important information that you may want to know in deciding to book a cruise. The following will give you an outline of things to be aware of when you decide to book a cruise.


All cruise cabins are sold based on double occupancy and the prices you see listed anywhere on web sites or in publications will be per person and based on at least two people going on the cruise. If you have a 3rd and/or 4th person in your cabin (adult or child) their fare is generally about 50% of the first two persons. Children, regardless of age, i.e., even 6 months old, do NOT cruise free. Sometimes cruise lines will run specials where the 3rd and 4th person in your cabin gets a huge discount and pay only about $200 each; or there may be occasions when special promotions allow children or even adults to cruise free in your cabin. But those occasions are very rare. The price you pay for a cruise will depend mostly on the type cabin/accommodations that you choose.

There are 4 basic types of cabins on ships;
- inside (no window),................................… least expensive
- outside (a window or porthole),
- balcony/veranda, and
- suites and penthouses.......................... most expensive.
On some Royal Caribbean ships they have inside cabins with a window that overlooks an interior pedestrian mall and they are a great price; generally a little more an other inside cabins but less than an outside cabin

The "FROM" prices that you see on web sites and in cruise booklets will almost always be for an inside cabin, the cheapest cabins on the ship. There are also some subcategories within each category listed above with cabins on a higher deck, and/or a better location on ship, like midship and/or that are slightly larger, costing more.


My advice is to always book the best cabin that you can afford. Some people will tell you to just get an inside cabin because you will not be in it much. What's true is that if you DO get an inside cabin you will not WANT to be in it much; its like sitting in a closet with no windows. The cruise lines make inside cabins look nice with decorations where a window would be and lighting. And inside cabins are generally about the same size (sq ft) as the outside and balcony cabins. In most cases the cruise lines will have information about the size of each type cabin listed in terms of square footage. So pay attention to that also.

But if you get a balcony cabin you WILL be in it more and you will enjoy your cruise more by for example, being able to go/sit outside at night, or first thing in the morning as you approach a new port stop. That glass wall of the balcony cabins make them seem much larger than they are. Other things to consider are the length of the cruise and how many "at sea" days your cruise will have. If the cruise is a short 3 or 4 days then an inside cabin may suffice. If you have a longer cruise of between 7 and 15 days and/or your cruise will have 2 or 3 days with no port stops you just may want to spend more time in the privacy of your cabin and still enjoy the sea.

Inside cabins are also not in the best locations on ships. Cabins mid ship are considered premium/better because there is less motion in that location and its also easier to go to activities on ship from there, i.e. pools are generally always mid ship, dining rooms generally on the back of the ship or midship; the show room is always on the front of the ship and in most cases so is the gym and spa. Pools, hot tubs, gyms, and buffets are always on the upper decks so a cabin up higher puts you closer to them. Cabins on lower levels have less motion than those on higher levels.


The first thing that you should do is research the type cruise, i.e., Caribbean, Mediterranean, you want to take. You’ll need to consider first the number of days as that is a big part of price. Then you consider the itineraries because not all cruises to/in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Europe or South America will include all of the same port stops and/or order of ports. And they do not all depart from the same port and departure port can also affect price. For example cruises of the Mediterranean can depart from Southampton, England; Barcelona, Spain; Rome, Italy; Venice, Italy; or Athens, Greece. And cruises of the Caribbean can depart from New York, Baltimore, Charleston, many Florida ports and Gulf ports such as Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston.

The next thing you need to know is what the usual prices are for the various cruise itineraries and dates. Cruise prices for the exact same cruise/itinerary do vary by date. After you research the options the main thing that you want to do is book your cruise very early and by that I mean 9 to 12 months or more in advance. Cruise prices do go up as the cruise date approaches and only occasionally go down. So with early booking you can get the best price and the best selection of cabins. Also, book on the date(s) when the price is lowest as opposed to picking a date (like your birthday or an anniversary) and then trying to find a low priced cruise on that date. Its always good to look for the specials that will be listed on each cruise line's web site. But you’ll need to have done your research to recognize when a listed special or deal is really a great price. The hurricane season in the Caribbean is June through the end of November and many times cruise prices during that period are lower. Finally, almost all of the cruise lines give discounts, even on their specials, for repeat customers, military, police and fire personnel, and even for residents of certain states. Not all of the discounts apply to every sailing but you should pay attention to the questions on cruise web sites about these categories of bookings, and/or ask your travel agent if any of these apply to you.


The prices you see listed on web sites and in publications will be for the cruise fare only and taxes and port charges will be added to that price for each person. For example a fare of $899. per person may have an additional charge of $75. for taxes and port fees. Then when you pay your cruise fare all taxes and port charges you’ll need to pay (except gratuities) are included in that fare. Regardless of the cruise line or cruise ship the price of your cruise includes your cabin, all meals including breakfast, lunch dinner, snacks and free room service; free admissions to all shows, the disco, and entertainment on ship; and free use of all facilities on ship like the pools, hot tubs, gym, and recreation activities like using the water slide, basketball/volleyball/tennis court, miniature golf course, rock climbing wall, ice skating, shuffleboard, etc. However, you do have to pay if you want to use the golf simulator, on some NCL ships to bowl, on some Royal Caribbean ships to shoot pool, and to play video games. All of the cruise lines have programs just for kids ages 2 through 17 and these are always free. Most ships have specials areas and activities for kids that are also free.

The major things that you will have to pay for over and above your fare are:

GRATUITIES: They will amount to between $10 to $12.00 per person in your cabin per day, depending on the cruise line. The gratuity is applicable to kids as well as adults. Some cruise lines will let you pay the gratuities up front as a part of your cruise fare. Otherwise, when you check in at the pier they will set up an on-board charge account for you to cover any and everything you may buy on ship. They will issue you a "cruise card" which will also serve as your room key and pass to get on and off the ship. The cruise card is called by different names on each cruise line but that all function the same way. At the end of the cruise the cruise line will add the gratuity to your on-board tab and you can pay with a credit card or cash, your choice. So everything on ships except the casino is cash-less; everything you buy goes on your on-board account.

These gratuities cover your cabin steward, your waiter and assistant waiter, and the MatreD or head waiter in the main dining room. Those are the only person you are required/requested to tip at the end of the cruise; these should be considered pretty much mandatory although you can ask the purser to adjust them if you have a problem with any service received from these persons. Some may not like the idea of having to pay gratuities. But consider the fact that your cabin steward will clean your cabin twice a day each day and bring fresh towels and ice, plus try to satisfy any other requests. Your wait staff will serve you every day at dinner and those same persons will also be working in the dining areas for breakfast and lunch. So that $3.50 per day that you give the waiter is really just a little more than $1.00 per meal. The income of those who receive gratuities is based mostly in the gratuities. So unless there is some seriously bad service, which I have found is very rare, do pay all of the gratuities and even more.

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS AND SOFT DRINKS: Coffee, tea, milk, juice, and lemonade and/or punch will be provided FREE but you must pay for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages and the cruise ship will add a 15 percent gratuity to each alcoholic drink and soft drink order. Drinks of cruise ships are generally in the range of $7 to $9 including the 15 percent gratuity that is included in each tab. Beer and wine are generally slightly less, maybe $6 to $7.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Cruise ship employees will take plenty of photographs of you when you first board the ship, all over the ship, in the dining room, and as you exit the ship in ports. These will cost a lot, between $15 to $25 for most and the cost of them goes on your on-board tab.

TOURS/EXCURSIONS: You are not required to book any tours and you can get off and on in the ports as much as you want. But the cruise line will offer a lot of tours that are NOT included in the price of your cruise and these are expensive.

SOUVENIRS: Anything you buy on ship from a gift shop or duty free shop goes on your on board account.

CASINO: If you plan to gamble in ship’s casino you will need cash for that; its never included in the cruise fare. All cruise ships except Disney will have a casino.

OTHER: All ships have what they call "specialty" restaurants where there is a gratuity or service charge to eat there. The price will be between $20 and $25 per person per visit for most places. Norwegian Cruise line ships have the most specialty restaurants but now days almost every ship has at least one or two of these. But remember that all other food on board the ship is free and its not really necessary to budget for food; you cannot eat all of the FREE FOOD that will be available.

SPA SERVICES: If you want/need to have your hair done, get a massage or wrap, or any services from the spa, you will have to pay for them. Spa fees start at about $70 to $80 and they go on your on-board tab if you use the spa services. You can use the gym free but the spa stuff cost big bucks.

INTERNET SERVICES: Cruise ships now have an internet café and WiFi but the there is a fee for internet access and it is very expensive. On most cruise lines and ships internet access is in the range of $40 tot $50 an hour, a little less if you buy a plan

ROOM SERVICE/MINI-BAR: You cabin will likely have a minibar with soft drinks and munches; you have to pay for anything you take out of the mini-bar. The cost of items will be listed in your cabin and anything you take will go on your on-board tab.
You will have free room service (24/7) in your cabin and you can order by phone or on some ships on the TV. The food is always free and only Royal Caribbean charges a delivery charge of $3.95 between midnight and 5:00 AM


You can reserve a cruise by (1) booking on line; (2) by calling the cruise line, or (3) through a travel agent. (None of these add to the cost of booking; they are free) You will pay at booking the minimum deposit which for a 7 day cruise will be between $250 and $350 per person, depending upon the cruise line. The deposit amount for shorter cruises will be less and the deposit for cruises longer than 7 days will be more. For example, the deposit for a 14 day cruise will typically be about $450 per person. The balance will be due approximately 60 to 75 days before the cruise departure date, depending upon the length of the cruise. You can make periodic payment on line, with your travel agent, or with the cruise line. The final payment date will be included in the booking documents. If you book within about 60 days of the cruise you will likely have to pay the full amount.

There are some differences, though minor, in the dinner dining process on cruise ships. All cruise ships have a formal dining room, a casual buffet eating place, some other places where free food is available, and also the specialty restaurants. When you select your cruise you will be asked whether you want "early seating", "late seating", or open seating for dinner. The early seating usually begins at 6:00 PM and the late seating at 8:30 PM. All of the cruise lines now have an open seating plan that permits you to go to dinner any time you want. They all call it something different but it is the same process. On Norwegian they have what they call "Freestyle" cruising. On Princess Cruise lines they call it "Personal Choice" dining. On Holland America they call it "As You Wish" dining. On Celebrity they call it “Celebrity Select Dining” On Royal Caribbean it called "Your Way" dining. On Carnival they call it “Your Choice” dining. You must select one of these three options when you book your cruise. If you select a first or second seating you will be assigned to a table in the main dining room and you must go to your table each day within about 15 to 20 minutes of the dinner seating start time. You will be assigned to tables of 4, 6, 8, or 10, with others, or you can request a table for two. If you select the open seating option you can go to the main dining room any time after 6:00 PM and request a table and you will be assigned to available tables, or you can request a table for two, or a table for your group.


There are several factors to consider when planning a cruise:
(1) how luxurious the ships are;
(2) what activities are on the ships
(3) the demographics of the other passengers on the ships; and
(4) what port stops will be made, i.e., what the itinerary will be.

There are some differences among the major cruise lines in terms of all of these. Several of the cruise lines have relatively new ship, i.e., launched into service in the past 5 to 10 years. A cruise on a newer ship is definitely better. Cruises also differ by the size of the ship. Older cruise ships, i.e., those about 10 years old or older, generally have up to about 1500 to 2,000 passengers. The newer ships are now accommodating 3,000 to 5,000 passengers. Some people like big ships while others prefer smaller ships. Luxury cruise lines like Crystal will generally accommodate only about 750 to 900 passengers.

Princess, Celebrity and Holland America have great ships and are more classy and reserved. People have fun but are not loud. The food is great and tends to have emphasis on “presentation”, like at a fine restaurant. They are just a little more upscale and luxurious than the other cruise lines. Passengers tend to be middle aged and up and have cruised multiple times. The best service we ever had was on Celebrity. Holland America has mostly senior citizens cruising on its ships; mostly people age 60 to 70 and above. On Holland you will likely see lots of scooters, walkers, and/or oxygen tanks. All three cruise lines have some new ships but Princess and Celebrity have the most among these.

Norwegian cruise line caters to families and have mostly passengers in the range of age 35-40 and up. It’s the line that you want to go on if you want to be informal for pretty much your whole cruise. They have formal nights like other cruise lines but they do not stress dressing up; the call it "dress up if you want to”night”. Norwegian has the most alternative specialty dining places on its ships and most require a gratuity or service charge to eat there. NCL has a few new ships also.

Carnival is the budget cruise line that generally has the lowest prices. Most of their cruiser will be in the 20 to 45 age group and there will be lots of kids on board. Carnival is known as the “party cruise line” because they have many young folks who want to party 24/7, and they do. Their ships have some good on-board activities like water slides, mini-golf, and basketball court. The best of their ships are their newer ones.

Royal Caribbean is also caters to young cruiser and families. It has the advantage of having the most on-board activities. The ships have things like ice skating, roller skating, mini-golf course, a full sized basketball/tennis court, the rock climbing wall, and on the new Freedom and Oasis Class ships the surfing simulator, the Flowrider. Some RC ships have a pool table. Royal Caribbean has lots of new ships. We have found that passengers on RC are more friendly than on Princess and Holland America.

All of the cruise lines have the same dress policies. The dress on ship is casual all day until 6:00 PM, so your can wear shorts and swim wear just about everywhere on ship. After 6:00 PM they request that you wear "sports or resort casual" attire. That's attire that you would expect a person to wear in a business office, (like a bank employee), shirt with a collar, slacks, skirt, blouse, etc. You can still wear shorts and swim wear after 6:00 PM in the gym, pools, and hot tubs but not in public areas like dining rooms and restaurants, show rooms, bars, casino, etc. If you attempt to go to the main dining room for dinner in shorts or ragged jean, flip flops, etc, you will be turned away by the MatreD or head waiter.

Your cruise will have a formal night or two when you can wear your best stuff. A 7 night cruise will have 2 formal nights, shorter cruises 1 formal night, and longer cruises 3 or 4 formal nights. On the formal nights that is the REQUESTED attire. You DO NOT have to dress up formal nights unless you want to and you will not be denied entry to the main dining room or any other venue if you decide not to dress formal, as long as you are dressed at least sports/resort casual.


The places to which you can cruise are:
Alaska (the season is mid-May through mid-September only)
New England/Canada (the season is mid-July through September only)
Bermuda (all year around)
Bahamas & Caribbean (all year around)
Panama Canal (all year around)
Mexico - Pacific coast (all year around)
Europe (all year around but spring and fall are the best times)
South America and Australia (their cruise season is during our winters)

There are really three basic types of itineraries for the Caribbean.
(1) Western Caribbean cruises typically go to Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Falmouth, Jamaica; and a private cruise line island. If you go to Cozumel or Belize there is the opportunity to buy a tour to see Mayan ruins, if that's your interest. Cozumel considered the best place to go for scuba and snorkeling. If you go to Jamaica the two main attractions are a river raft float trip (not rapids) and the Dunn's River Falls climb. If you go to Grand Cayman you will likely want to go to 7-Mile Beach or do a swim with the dolphins/stingrays tour.

(2) Eastern Caribbean cruises typically go to St Thomas; St Maarten; Tortola British Virgin Island; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and maybe Grand Turks. The cruise ships will also have a private cruise line island stop. If you want to do a lot of shopping then pick a cruise with St Thomas and St Maarten as the port stops. In fact both are mainly a beach and shopping stop

Most Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises have a private island stop where the ship will take food ashore for an all day beach party with games and entertainment. All of the cruise lines have what they call their private island (mostly located in the Bahamas) and you can have a great day on these islands; only ship's passengers on them for the day. Norwegian Cruise line uses Great Stirrip Cay, Bahamas. Carnival uses Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Princess Cruise line uses Princess Cay, Bahamas. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have two private islands that they use, Coco Cay, Bahamas and Labidee, Haite. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines have THE best private island I have ever been to at Labadee, Haiti. It’s a huge place that has multiple beaches and many activities.

(3) Southern Caribbean cruise itineraries typically start in Puerto Rico and go either to Aruba, Curacao, and St Thomas and St Maarten, OR they go to the southern Caribbean islands like Barbados, Grenada, Antigua, St Lucia and maybe St Thomas and/or St Maarten. There are a few cruises that do the Southern Caribbean Itinerary from Florida but are longer at 12 to 14 days. The main difference between these two Southern Caribbean itineraries, aside from the different islands, is the Aruba cruise has two "at sea" days with no port stops, while the other has a port stop about each day.

Cruises to Bermuda re usually 5 to 7 days and that’s plenty enough time to enjoy the island as there’s not much there to sightsee, just great beautiful beaches that are free and easy to get to by public transportation. Cruises to the Bahamas are usually short cruises of 3 to 4 days. Cruises to the Panama Canal are typically 9 to 12 days (because it’s a longer distance to cruise) and usually include a port stop in Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and maybe Grand Cayman.

Cruises to Mexico on the Pacific coast leave from Los Angeles (Long Beach) and generally go to
Cabo St Lucas, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and/or Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. These are generally 7 day cruises.

For cruises to Hawaii there are three options. Celebrity, Princess, and Holland America cruise lines do 14/15 day cruises from California to Hawaii and back. Royal Caribbean cruise line does one way cruises from the west coast to Hawaii and also one way cruises from Hawaii back to the west coast. Norwegian cruise line is the only one that does 7 day cruises of Hawaii that begin and end in Honolulu, Hawaii. All of the cruise lines have the exact same port stops in the Hawaiian islands. There are also some longer cruises in the Pacific that may stop at one or more Hawaiian ports in route to or from South Pacific islands.

Cruises of the Mediterranean can depart from Southampton, England; Barcelona, Spain; Rome, Italy; Venice, Italy; or Athens, Greece and typical ports are Nice, France (Monte Carlo); Florence/Pisa, Rome, Naples, Sicily, and Venice Italy; Athens, Rhodes, Mykonos, and Santorini, Greece, Kusadasi (Ephesus) and Istanbul, Turkey; Alexandria, Egypt; Israel, Barcelona, Palma, Cadiz, and Malaga, Spain; the Canary Islands; Portugal and Gibralter.

Cruises of South America start in Valparaiso, Chile, makes other stops in Chile and in Argentina and end in Sao Paulo, Brazil after a stop in Rio. Or, the cruises run the reverse of this itinerary. There are also some shorter cruises that cruise Brazil ports only.


You can cruise to the Caribbean and Bermuda from as far north as Boston and NY City, but also from Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, and Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Ft Lauderdale and Miami, Florida, plus New Orleans, Houston (Galveston) Texas, and Mobile, Alabama. If you want to go on the cruise lines’ newer ships your best bet is to go to the Caribbean out of Port Canaveral, Ft Lauderdale, or Miami, Florida, or from New Orleans or Galveston.

All cruise ports have parking that cost between $15 and $25 per day, payable in advance by credit card or cash. Driving to the port can save on air fare and also the hassles of flying, including the charges for luggage.

It’s always advisable to go to the departure port city a day early so as not to miss your cruise because of a flight delay or cancellation. If you fly to Florida for a cruise from Port Canaveral you’ll be flying into Orlando Airport and that is an hour’s drive from the port; you’ll need a bus transfer, van service or rental car to get there and back to Orlando. If you cruise out of Ft Lauderdale, the cruise port and airport are right next to each other; a 15 minute taxi ride. If you cruise out of Miami and fly into Miami airport the cruise port is a short taxi ride and there is a set fare of about $25 per taxi for up to 4 persons. The Miami and Ft Lauderdale airports are about an hour’s drive apart and a taxi between the locations will cost about $75.


NO!! If you are a US citizen and depart on a cruise from and return to the same port you do not need a passport. These type cruises are called "loop cruises" and the cruise lines and US Immigration officials all recognize them as an exception to having a passport. However, you will still need proof of citizenship, i.e., original or certified copy of birth certificate, and proof of identity. These will be checked by the cruise line before you board the ship and again by US Immigration officials when you return from your cruise. Once you are on the ship you will not need your passport or proof of citizenship again until you return to the departure port. You will not need it to get off the ship in any port because the cruise line will issue to each person in your family a cruise card that serves as your pass to get off and back on the ship at port stops. You should take your photo ID with you but you will not need your passport. The only exceptions to this are some ports in the Mediterranean, like Egypt, and Brazil in South America.

The US Passport Office now issues a passport card that cost $45, vs more than $100 for a passport book. The Passport card is good for land border crossing between the US, Canada, and Mexico and sea cruise border crossings in the Caribbean and Bermuda. The passport is acceptable everywhere. Both are good for 10 years. Regardless of which you apply for you will still have to submit the exact same documentation; photos, proof of citizenship and proof of identity. So the bottom line is which is more convenient and conveniently priced for you.


All of the new ships now being built have automatic stabilizer that all but eliminate any rocking from side to side. And these newer passenger ships are so long, most 900 feet to almost 1,000 feet, that the front to back motion is also all but eliminated.

Cruise ships generally move from port to port overnight, generally about 6:00 PM. You go to dinner between 6 and 8 PM, maybe go to the evening show and maybe the disco and then go to bed. And when you awake the next morning you are in a new port. So you are busy or sleep a good portion of the time when the ship is moving. Most of the time you will not even know that the ship is moving.

Cruise ships make every effort to stay away from bad weather that would affect the ship, even changing the order of port stops if weather is bad at one. They will cruise through a rainstorm but if there is a hurricane or big storm they steer away from it.

There are some options to combat sea sickness if you are really sensitive to motion. One is a prescription from your Dr for either pills or the patch that is applies behind the ear. Another option is a wrist bracelet that you can purchase at boating stores. And, if you do not get any of these before your cruise, the ship will have a doctor who can dispense sea sickness pills.

Ginger is useful in controlling nausea and vomiting. So, if you can, take along some ginger crackers, cookies, or candy, or other forms of ginger such as tea, gum, or capsules. Also, avoid closed in spaces where you cannot see the horizon and stay near the center of the ship and on lower decks whenever you start to feel sick because these places get less motion.


There are some luxury cruise lines that provide the best service and aminities and offer cruises on smaller ships and to more ports. Theses cruises cost about 50% to 100% more than the so-called "mass market" cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. The fares are higher but you get more for your money and you do not have as many passengers on ship to contend with. The dinner settings are more formal. The luxury cruise lines are:






Other cruise lines that most people go on:









Then there are some cruise lines that operate mainly out of Europe but also do the Caribbean and other areas around the world. These cruise lines generally have a more European flavor:





Friday, October 1, 2010



Back when I was in high school I was not much on reading literature. In fact other than my school books I had only read a couple of books that people had given me;” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and “the Catcher in the Rye”. Then when I got to college and had to take literature courses I came to have a different view of literature and actually enjoyed most of it, especially Greek literature, like the Odyssey and the Iliad. It was then that I learned in these and other books to look past the story line of the books at the themes put forth by the authors. I learned to look for what the author was saying about people in general and about the times. Now I read quite a bit and always keep a book or two going, almost exclusively science fiction.

But there was one theme that I remember very well from the Greek literature that I think is very much applicable to the United States as a nation right now. And that theme is “Hamartia” which, as I learned it, means a tragic flaw in an otherwise good person or entity. Hamartia is a concept used by Aristotle to describe tragedy in his characters. As I listen to people doing all of the rah-rah about how great the United States is I always think yes we are a great nation but we do have tragic flaws. Actually as I began thinking of writing about this my initial purpose was to talk about one tragic flaw but as current events have unfolded the past several weeks and months I have concluded that I really want and need to talk about two tragic flaws. And I am not saying that we have only two. Its just that I have something to say about these two.

The dictionary definitions of hamartia state this:

“The term can simply be seen as a character’s flaw or error. The word hamartia is rooted in the notion of missing the mark (hamartanein) and covers a broad spectrum that includes accident and mistake, as well as wrongdoing, error, or sin. Described by Aristotle as one of the three kinds of injuries that a person can commit against another person: (1) is an injury committed in ignorance (when the person affected or the results are not what the agent supposed they were); (2) an error in judgment or unwitting mistake; and (3) hamartia leads to the fall of a noble man caused by some excess or mistake in behavior, not because of a willful violation of the gods' laws.”

Going back to when the country was founded I am sure that the founding fathers had great wisdom. But the first of these tragic flaws that I want to talk about has to do with the inclusion in the US Constitution of that section that has to do with “the right to keep and bear arms”. My personal view is that this provision does not guarantee what so many people believe that it gives them the absolute right to have guns. But that’s not the issue here; my personal views on the US Constitution. What I do say is that right or wrong the result of this provision is a tragic flaw in the thinking and actions of the founding fathers. Now remember that I said in the definition of Hamartia that the mistake or flaw does not have to be intentional.

So in their great wisdom the founding fathers decided that a provision was expressly needed on having firearms. But consider this. The US Constitution was framed right after the colonies had completed a battle with the British for the right to be independent. And the history of the colonies up to that point had included battles not only with the Native Americans but also with the French. So I am sure that it was foremost in the minds of the framers of the US Constitution that the people MUST be able to respond to any other threat to their independence. And thus a provision to assure the people that they could again fight for their independence was necessary. And I am also certain that given the type of firearms available in 1776 the founding fathers did not or could not have foreseen the tragic consequences of this decision. There is a world of difference between a flintlock pistol or rifle and a 9 MM or 45 caliber handgun and an assault rifle.

So why the tragic flaw??? Just consider the results of this provision. A very large segment of the US society is obsessed with firearms of all types, and with war. Yes I’ll concede that there are some parts of the country and segments of our society where a firearm is necessary. And of course there is the argument that when the country was first formed there was a need for firearms for self defense in remote areas and in hostile areas when there was a push to take over Native American lands. Now days military and law enforcement uses are obvious and so would be those occupations where people must be in wilderness areas where dangerous wildlife may be present.

But just take a look at the results of this “firearms” provision. We have murders by firearms. We have deaths by accidental shootings, a significant number of which are kids who were playing with a parent’s firearm. We have “drive-by” shootings. We have police shootings, some of which we question whether they were necessary or appropriate. We have some people who are so obsessed with firearms that they buy a whole arsenal and thousands of rounds of ammunition as a hedge again the day when they mistakenly think the “Government” will take away their “right” to have guns. We have all types of radical groups in this country who have ready and legal access to all of the weapons they need to wage a war against US society. And sadly we provide a stead supply of guns to people who want to commit crimes and even supply guns for drug and other illegal activities along our southern border in Mexico.

**** I digress for a minute ****** I wonder why we never hear in the news reports about job cuts or even hiring at the gun manufacturing plants. I bet most of us do not even know who is producing all of these guns and/or where the plants are located. We never hear in the stock market reports that Colt, or Smith and Wesson, or Remington, and any other weapons manufacturer is on the rise or decline. Its like the guns just automatically appear in gun stores and the they just automatically end up in the hands of gang members and criminals.

This utter fascination with guns extends beyond the gangs, terrorists, and criminals. The public in the US loves to see guns on TV, in the movies, and even in video games and music videos. How many versions of CSI are there with the opening shots showing persons who are supposed to be solving crimes instead pointing guns??. How many other TV programs are there that feature a lead-in with a person pointing a gun??? How many movies have you seen wherein the majority of the action is gun fights??? And that love for guns extends to this country’s love for war. Have you ever looked at a listing of the wars and armed conflicts this country has been involved in since its inception???? And unfortunately the US is very good at getting into wars but also very bad at getting out of them.

**** I digress again******** Why does the US still have troops in other countries years after the end of the wars there? Why is the US still in Japan over 60 years after the war with Japan was over. Shouldn’t that situation be clear enough by now that Japan can take care of itself and defend that part of the world from whatever this or that country thinks needs to be defended there??? Why does the US still have troops in South Korea more than 50 years after the supposed end of the Korean war??? Can’t the Koreans by now defend themselves??? And why does the US still have troops in Germany more than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union???? In all of these countries there are thousands of troops, not just a hand full. I think its that love of guns and war. That in addition to all of the money that is made by some as a result of all of the military activities going on. Just think how much money is being made by whomever produces the military assault rifles and handguns used by all of the armed services. There is clearly a connection between the country’s love of guns and the wars we continually get into. Its that mentality of “you do what we say because we have more and bigger guns than you do”.

Is this Hamartia, a tragic flaw???. Just ask the people who have had loved ones shot, killed, raped, robbed, accosted by criminals, gang members, drug dealers, or in wars, whether they consider these a tragic flaw in our society.

When I began this blog my intent was to just talk about guns as THE tragic flaw in our society. But there is another even greater flaw that was not created by the founding fathers but which they certainly contributed to along with a long list of US law and policy makers who have followed in their footsteps. In my mind the most overwhelming tragic flaw in this country is racism and discrimination.

I am sure that you are aware of the categories against which there is protection from discrimination. This is not just a black/white issue but a matter of discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, ethnicity, national origin, and disability. Discrimination in this country is long and deep seated. Remember that it was not until 1920, 144 years after the US Constitution was adopted, that women in this country gained the right to vote. The US history since the founding of the original 13 states is literally awash with episodes on racial discrimination. First it was the Negroes/African Americans and Native Americans who bore the brunt of the discrimination. Negroes in the new country were enslaved and not even consider people. Native Americans were considered savage simply because they were different from the White settlers. The southwestern part of the US was literally just taken from the Mexicans who lived there, pretty much the same way that the lands in other places were taken from the Native Americans. Long standing Spanish land grants were just pretty much ignored by the White settlers as they took over lands owned by Mexicans. Later Chinese were brought to this country to build the railroad through the Sierra Mountains in California. Then after they worked hard and died building the rail line they were prohibited by California State laws from being employed and other laws prohibited their immigration to this country. ( ) Even the Irish and Polish immigrants bore the brunt of some discrimination in the big cities in the eastern part of the US. And we are all pretty much familiar with the internment of Japanese American citizens in camps during World War two.

And the discrimination extended to religion even though the country was founded based on religious freedoms. The African American Episcopal (AME) Church was founded as a result of discrimination in the United Methodist church. The Mormons were run out of the mid-western states of Indiana and Ohio because of their religious beliefs. They settled in Utah but then the Mormons discriminated and were responsible for massacre of 120 men, women and children slain at Mountain Meadows in 1857. ( ) The Mormons blamed the Native Americans in that area for the killings and no one was ever brought to trial or convicted of the murders. As late as 1960 the issue of the religion of a person running for President of the US was of concern to some. Some of you may remember that the fact that John F Kennedy was a Catholic was an issue when he was running for President. And the latest issue is the race, birth, and religion of the first African American President of the US. Regardless of all the denials its all about racial and religious discrimination against President Obama. And now we also have a flare-up of discrimination based on religion against the Muslim people. People here in the US just cannot get past their religious and racial prejudices.

The shame is that the Federal Government and people working for it in the executive and legislative branches are most often the ones who discriminate. I guess its because they can and there is no authority over them to hold them accountable. When I retired about 14 years ago a group of Black farmers had won a lawsuit for discrimination by the US Department of Agriculture in the processing of farm loans. Yet 14 years later these farmer have not been paid. The latest holdup is the US Congress which does not want to pay the settlement. I wonder why???? Still no 40 acres and a mule.

So don’t talk to me about how great we are as a nation when more than two hundred and twenty five years after this nation was founded we still have pervasive discrimination of all types. This is truly a deep seated tragic flaw in our society. And just like in the past we cannot hide it because people recognize it for what it is, when it occur and where it occurs. Many have attempted to hide the “sins” of our past by either ignoring them or by trying to rewrite history. US History books rarely if ever cover all of the true history of this country, including from the perspective of the Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexicans. If you want the correct and full story you must peace it together from various sources. Now I dare say that most discrimination and racism is the result of a mistake in judgment and/or knowledge. People do not understand other people and thus through ignorance they make judgments that are erroneous and tragic, Hamartia. Still, it’s a tragic flaw of the country.

And in all of the above there is another theme from my literature readings, “Man’s inhumanity to man”.