Friday, October 31, 2014

Demons are a Ghoul's Best Friend

Thought for the day:  Halloween was confusing. All my life, my parents said, "Never take candy from strangers." And then they dressed me up and said, "Go beg for it." I didn't know what to do! I'd knock on people's doors, and go, "Trick or treat!" "No, thank you."  [Rita Rudner]

Halloween gives us a good excuse to be lazy put off some of that pesky housecleaning. After all, dust bunnies and cobwebs help us create the proper atmosphere, dontcha think? The perfect place for the kiddies to play hide and shriek. An eerie kinda place to sit back and sip a nice cold Blood Lite...

Okay, I'll stop. (Sorry. Just kidding!)

Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers? Nope. They always eat the fingers separately.


Okay, I'm not one to lose my head over Halloween decorations, (at least, not any more...) but no bones about it... Happy Halloween, y'all!!!

Didja check the weather forecast and today's horrorscope to see what kind of evening might be in store for you? Gonna have fettucini a-fraid-o and a nice bottle of boooze for dinner? Or maybe some nice fried poultry-geist?

Okay, I'll stop now. Really.

But in honor of Halloween, we've gotta talk about something scary...

It was a dark and dreary night...

except for the moon. There has to be a big full, pizza pie in the sky kinda moon...

maybe coyotes howling...


and a bunch of hungry buzzards...

No, wait! Forget the buzzards. At my age, the idea of impatient buzzards hanging around is entirely too scary.

But how about... a doll? A haunted doll?


Now, I'm not talking about Chucky, although those movies did scare the bejeezus out of me. Smarticus even claimed I turned into that creepy doll at the stroke of midnight one Valentine's Day, when, in a deep gravelly voice, I oh-so-sweetly suggested...
But that, of course, was a gross exaggeration. (Hey! I only did it for comic effect. By the way, it worked. I got my chocolate...)


Anyhow, the doll I'm talking about is named Robert. Robert the Doll. (Makes sense...)

Claimed by some to be the creepiest toy in America, the doll was given to Robert Eugene Otto, a well-known Key West artist, in 1906, when he was just a young boy. It was a gift from his nanny shortly after she became his ex-nanny. His voodoo-practicing ex-nanny. The doll she made for the little boy bore a striking resemblance to him, and even had human hair stitched onto its head... hair which had come from the boy's head.

Almost from the start, the doll was... different. The boy had conversations with it... two-way conversations. The family heard creepy giggles. Tiny feet scampering in the night. Schoolchildren claimed to see it move from window to window... watching them as they walked past. Things disappeared, got broken, got moved. And always, the boy claimed, Robert did it. .

Even as an adult, Otto kept the doll nearby, and never painted without Robert sitting beside him. After he got married, he built Robert his own special room in the attic. His wife was spooked by the giggles, sounds of scampering feet, eerie events, and other sounds coming from the attic, and after Otto's death, she moved out, and left the doll behind in the attic, where he continued to spook tenants who rented the house.

Now? Robert resides behind glass in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, where he continues to freak people out, who claim the doll changes expressions. A sign hanging beside him instructs people to only take pictures with Robert's permission. He allegedly gives a little nod to signal his approval. Failure to ask could lead to... a voodoo curse of some kind. I kid you not...

As creepy as that doll is, I can think of something even scarier. Early polls are showing a strong possibility that both our gubernatorial and senatorial races may be so close, run-off elections will be required. Know what that means? Enduring TWO MORE MONTHS of toxic political mud-slinging ads and robo-calls.
                      OH, NOOOOOO!!!!!!!
                                                          Now THAT'S scary.

Okay, just one more. Know where the goblin threw the football? Over the ghoul line! Y'all have a de-fright-fully boooootiful Halloween.

                  Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Grandkids and Another Re-Run Hero

Thought for the day:  The laughter of a child is the light of a house.  [African proverb]

Armfuls of giggly sweetness: Persephone, Olivia, and Ella
We're baaaaaaack. We had a grand time in Florida with our son and his family, and ya know what? It really is true that happiness is grandchildren fighting (very sweetly, of course) over who gets to sit on your lap.

Here it is Thursday afternoon, and I finally caught up with all the comments from last week's post, but I didn't leave myself  much time to get a new post written and ready to go for tomorrow. Since so many of you commented about the amateur radio aspect of last week's post, I'm gonna do a re-run of another radio post. It was part of the A-Z challenge from 2012. I hope you enjoy it.

But first... for those of you who asked for them, a few more pictures of the grandchildren. (Since you twisted my arm...) If your eyes tend to glaze over at the prospect of looking at grandchildren pictures, scroll on down and check out the radio post. Go ahead. I won't be offended.

All five of our beautiful Florida girls. This was actually taken this past Easter, but I didn't think to herd them all together for a picture when we were down there this time around.

Ollie's favorite question: "Guess what?" (Usually followed by, "Chicken butt!" and gales of laughter.)

In case ya can't tell, our son and granddaughter Chloe were spelling WOW with their hands. (Me? I say, WOW! How the heck can we possibly have grandchildren this old?!?)

 Jordan and little brother Atlas, (AKA Bud) who was sick most of the time we were there, poor little guy. We all put in lots of rocker time with him, but he wasn't up to smiling for the camera.

Our clever daughter-in-law took this picture and added the caption. Ollie told me grandmas give LOTS of hugs and kisses, and I was more than happy to reinforce that concept. Unfortunately, the day before we left, she got sick, too.

An hour with your grandchildren can make you feel young again. Anything longer than that, you start to age quickly. [Gene Perret]

Um, no Smarticus isn't napping here. (ahem) He's just... resting his eyes. Yeah, that's it.

Do you know why children are so full of energy? Because they suck it all out of their grandparents.  [Gene Perret]

This turned out to be mostly about our granddaughters, didn't it?. Maybe next time, Atlas will be feeling up to snuff, and we'll catch up with Jacob and Joshua, too. (Yep, quite a crew...)

Okay, now let's take a gander at that old radio post. It's fairly short... Originally, it was called, A Single Signal.


Thought for the day:  Like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond, the actions of a single person can sometimes change the world.

[THEME: Amateur radio]


Think of August 2, 1990. That's the day Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Iraqi tank on road to Kuwait. [Wikipedia]

Think of mayhem, terror, explosions. Telephone lines cut. Fear. No way for Kuwaitis outside of the country to know how the rest of their family and friends in Kuwait were doing. Were they alive, or were they dead? When would they know? How would they know? How would the world know what was going on?

[image from Abdul's QSL card]
Now, meet Abdul Jabar Marafie, amateur radio operator 9K2DZ. 

From the day of the invasion until the liberation of Kuwait nearly seven months later, Abdul, at great risk to both himself and his family, used his radio EVERY SINGLE DAY to send vital information to the outside world about what was going on in his country.

The invading Iraqis confiscated equipment from all Kuwaiti amateur radio operators, but Marafie was able to thwart their efforts by turning over some of his older equipment, while hiding other gear ... gear he could use to feed real-time information to the rest of the world. 

If you watched any news reports about Kuwait during that time and heard a reporter mention "an unknown source" of information, that reporter was talking about Marafie. Although he has received little recognition within his own country for his heroic acts, he received the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Humanitarian Award in 1992, and is featured in an amazing documentary entitled, The Last Voice From Kuwait. (available on Youtube in three parts)

Oil fires, set by the retreating Iraqis. [Wikipedia]

Clockwise from top:
USAF planes flying over burning oil wells;
British troops;
View from Lockheed AC-130;
Highway of death;
M728 Combat Engineering Vehicle.

[Images courtesy of Wikipedia]

So, yes, think of Kuwait. And when you do, think of Abdul. A single amateur radio operator, who, with the help of a network of other amateur radio operators around the world, made a difference. A real difference.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. Time's running short for you to enter this month's contest on author Carol Kilgore's blog. You can win free stuff there every month, but this month? It's an autographed copy of my novel Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade PLUS a copy of a very cool poetry book, Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Just click on the spiffy contest badge in her sidebar, and post your response to the prompt. Go ahead... it's easy! Ya can't win if you don't enter.

                                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Willie, our "grandpuppy"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fishing for Fun and Hunting for Heroes

Thought for the day:  Good things come to those who bait.

You like to fish? There's nothing quite like being out there on the water just as the sun starts to show its sleepy face. If you've never experienced it, believe me, the under-eye bags are a small price to pay for the privilege of seeing those glorious early morning golden rays shimmer across the water.

Anyhow, NO, I'm not going fishing. It's been a lot of years since I had that particular pleasure, but maybe soon. One of the perks of being an old bag in the state of Georgia is we get a free lifetime fishing and hunting license. Cool, huh?

Nope, what we're going fishing for is... fun. With our grandchildren. Which means I'm not actually here at my computer. (Dontcha love Blogger's auto-post feature?) Just because I'm unplugged doesn't mean I'm gonna leave y'all high and dry, though. Nope, I'm gonna leave you with an oldie but goodie rerun. The following was originally posted on November 9, 2011 as Veteran Heroes Get it Done. I hope you enjoy it... along with a few updates.


Thought for the day:  As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary. [Ernest Hemingway]

me, at an Atlanta science museum
When you spoke to him on the air, he was JY1, and he had as much fun on amateur radio as anyone else you contacted. Off the air, the friendly Hussein was King Hussein of Jordan. (For a while, he and I even ran the same radio, a Drake TR-7. Pretty cool, huh?)

One of the fascinating aspects of amateur radio is you never know who may come back to you when you put out a call. Could be a king, sheik, politician, entertainer, singer, astronaut, or just a friendly "1938 model with a shiny top," which is how one contact described himself to me when I was operating W4WOW, the station at (now-closed) SciTrek Museum in Atlanta. Not to be a name-dropper, but ... okay, so I AM being a name-dropper ... but some names you may recognize from the amateur radio fraternity are Barry Goldwater, Walter Cronkite, Priscilla Presley, Joe Walsh, (of the Eagles), Ronnie Milsap, Chet Atkins, and Arthur Godfrey. {NOTE: In a 2014 update, actor Tim Allen just got HIS license, too.} Lots of royalty from all over the world. Lots of politicians, and lots of famous people. Since there's amateur radio gear on the International Space Station, as well as on other space crafts, most astronauts are hams, too. And they seem to get as much of a kick out of talking to us earth-bound operators as we get out of talking to them.

So, I've had the privilege of speaking to and meeting some really neat people, of hearing my echoing voice bouncing back at me from a satellite, and even shaking the president's hand. All because of amateur radio.

With Veteran's Day coming up in a couple days, I wanted to tell you about one of my favorite amateur radio experiences, the contacts I will never forget. This is the saga of a group of honest-to-goodness American heroes, who captured both my imagination and my heart. A bunch of geezers who knew how to get 'er done.

[LST 325, Normandy, 1944-Wikipedia- public domain]
In 1943, General Dwight Eisenhower said, No amphibious attack in history had approached this one in size. Along miles of coastline there were hundreds of vessels and small boats afloat and ant-like files of advancing troops ashore. 

Ike was specifically referring to a landing at Sicily, but he could just as easily have said the same about multiple other WWII amphibious landings. And in every one of those landings, the LST was a major player. An indispensable star. LST stands for Landing Ship, Tank, and those vessels were specifically designed to carry tanks, troops, and supplies directly onto enemy shores, a vital job no other vessel was capable of performing.

Fast forward to the late '90s. The non-profit organization USS LST Memorial, Inc., a 10,000-member strong group of LST veterans, wanted to acquire and restore a WWII LST as a museum for the American people. One major problem from the get-go? The United States didn't have any. The government  had already either given away, scrapped, or sold all of them to other countries. At that time, Taiwan had 23, Brazil had a couple, and some were in Mexico and the Philippines.

And as it turned out, some had also been transferred to Greece in 1964 under a Military Assistance Program. After serving as part of the Greek Navy for more than thirty years, the country had mothballed them in Crete several years earlier. Talk about serendipity. Greece was done with them. Ready to scrap 'em. So some of our heroes headed to Greece, negotiated, and picked out the LST with the strongest-looking hull. That proud old vessel, the former LST 325, laid down at the Philadelphia Navy yard and launched in 1942, commissioned in 1943, veteran of multiple campaigns in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, decommissioned in '46, and transferred to Greece in '64, was once again in American hands.

But that was just the beginning.

In July of 2000, a group of mostly WWII veterans, average age 74, went to Crete to undertake the herculean task of getting that old craft seaworthy again. In blistering heat, in the face of countless obstacles, back-breaking work, and frequent stonewalling by the Justice Department, those guys surmounted the insurmountable, and accomplished what some said was impossible.

The Crew

From the time the crew arrived in Crete, an online log chronicled the hurdles they faced, and the mostly good humor with which they faced them. That log is still available, but if you want to read it in chronological order, start at the bottom of the page and work your way up. One entry says, This ain't no job for sissies. And it truly wasn't.

The 8th of August entry reads If you want to know what it is like to be a member of the crew here in Crete, it's very easy to describe, it's hot as Hell and work all the time. (No exaggeration. Temperatures were well over one hundred on deck. Below deck, it was even hotter.)

On the 10th of August- Many needed items missing or damaged beyond use. Since there's another inactive LST tied up alongside us, the usual solution is based on the idea God helps those who help themselves. 

In spite of all the obstacles, in spite of the age and serious illnesses of some of the crew members, LST 325, refurbished and retrofitted with $25,000 worth of satellite navigational equipment, modern communications, computer gear, and life rafts, embarked on a 6500-mile voyage back to the United States on the 14th of November. Private donations of $70,000, plus a 50,000-gallon donation of diesel fuel from BP Oil Company, made the rebuild, repair, and voyage home possible, but it was the hard work and perseverance of those veterans, that crew of senior citizen sailors, that got the job done. 

In case you hadn't already guessed it, amateur radio was part of  the communications aboard that LST, and  WW2LST operated almost every day during the nearly two-month trip across the ocean. The ham originally slated to operate was unable to sail due to illness, so another amateur radio operator among the crew was drafted to pull the duty. You could almost see the twinkle in his eye when Jack Carter apologized on the air to all the hams who were so eager to talk to him, when he said he wasn't used to working pile-ups. (That's when someone puts out a call, and it sounds like half the world's population responds at the same time.) But you know what? He did a terrific job. I had the honor of listening to his conversations many times, and of speaking to him several, and he was always a delight. 

LST 325 arrived in Mobile, Alabama, on January 10, 2001, and our heroes were greeted by cheering crowds. Many newspaper articles were written about them, and the History channel even produced a program about the escapades of this never-give-up group of stubborn, wonderful veterans.

Today, the vessel is moored at its permanent berth in Evansville, Indiana. True to the aspirations of those veterans, it is a museum ship now, available for all of us to see and honor. But most of all, I honor that dauntless group of veterans who made it happen.

[LST-325 in her Evansville home port- Wikipedia]

Amateur radio operators exchange what we call QSL cards to confirm various specifics of our contacts, like date, time, radio frequency, power used, mode, rig, antenna, signal report, and often a personal note, as well. Here is the QSL card confirming my contacts with LST 325. (The MM stands for maritime mobile.)

On the back of the card, in addition to the confirmation specifics, it reads, We are sad to report that Jack Carter became a Silent Key on February 20, 2001 shortly after returning on this voyage of a lifetime.

{NOTE: 2014 update- Although Evansville is still her home port, this floating museum travels to other ports in the country to give more people the opportunity to visit this one-of-a-kind WWII LST. She was in Chattanooga, TN last month.}

                                  Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Just a reminder. The lovely Carol Kilgore is still running month-long contests on her website, and this month's swag is an autographed copy of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, as well as a copy of the sassy Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Just go to her blog and click on the spiffy contest badge in her sidebar. And not just this month... every month! It's fun... and it's FREE. What more do ya want?