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?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wanta Funny-Looking Cat?

Thought for the day:  You can keep a dog; but it is the cat who keeps people, because cats find humans useful domestic animals. [George Mikis]

[image courtesy of Morguefile]
I don't know who that cute kitty in the picture is, but I think he's laughing at Smarticus and me, because the cats of the world have us right where they want us. They've got us well-trained, pegged as a couple ol' softies, and have been tweeting and re-tweeting their mews far and wide: Visit the Swiderski Cat Resort.

Believe it or not, that isn't necessarily a good thing. Sometime messages get intercepted, ya know.

This is Dot. She's kinda the alpha cat around here. (When Dash lets her.) If we hadn't named her at such a young age, we could have named her better. Something like Ethel. Or Tankerbelle. (Um, yeah, she's rather large. And clumsy.)

Cats can work out mathematically the exact place to sit that will cause the most inconvenience.  [Pam Brown]

This is Dash. A better name for her would have been Lucy or Tinkerbelle. Or maybe Dora the Explora. She's tiny, but incredibly fearless when it comes to climbing.

A cat can purr its way out of anything.  [Donna McCrohan]

These two have been in charge ever since we rescued them as teeny kittens five years ago.

And this is Daisy. Yep, she's still with us. This is the sweet little girl neighbors left behind when they moved away. She's nice and healthy now, and eats like a lumberjack. But alas, we still haven't successfully assimilated her into the house. For one thing, number one and number two divas haven't exactly welcomed her with open paws. Yet. ( I haven't given up, but it'd be great if someone local would adopt her...)

I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It's not. Mine had me trained in two days.  [Bill Dana]

For now, Daisy is living in our Florida room. Because it can get rather toasty in there in the hottest part of the day, she also has an egress point so she can slip out into the yard. Unfortunately, an opening to allow escape also allows for entrance. And not just for Daisy.

Remember Cowboy? He's the neighbor's cat who spends most of his time hanging out at our place, because he obviously thinks he belongs here. Used to be, he'd look into our house all pitiful-like from the front porch or back step. Let me tell ya, he's verrry happy Daisy has taken up residence in our Florida room, because it's a much more comfortable spot for him to grab a snack and take a snooze.

We don't mind the big fella's visits. We don't mind the other neighborhood cats who likely stop in for a bite to eat, either. They're very polite. No fights. No messes. Just nibble-nibble, nap-nap, and on their way. No problem.

Until there WAS a problem. When we came home from a recent four-day trip to Tennessee, our Florida room was a disaster area. The five-pound feeder was knocked over and completely empty, and the dishes of water were black with filth. Dirt and feces everywhere. It was obvious someone was being a crappy house guest. Literally.

To catch the culprit,  Smarticus baited a trap with cat food and set it out the next evening. Next morning, we found one of the funniest-looking cats you ever saw...

Eating cat food doesn't make you a cat any more than hanging out in a garage makes you a car.

Things are back to normal again around here, or as normal as any feline resort ever gets, I suppose. I had no idea raccoons could be so nasty, though. Cute, but nasty... and definitely devious. Check out this video of another raccoon thief. The last part is a hoot.

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

Oh yeah, I almost forgot! The lovely Carol Kilgore is featuring me(!) as her featured author for her giveaway contest this month. Winner gets an autographed copy of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade and a copy of the super-duper Old Broads Waxing Poetic. To enter, visit her website and click on that nifty contest badge in her sidebar. It's easy, and it's FUN! Just respond to the question she poses there. Heck, why not make it a habit? She gives away neat stuff every month. No telling what we might sniff out...

Friday, October 3, 2014

How's About a Brawny Brain?

Thought for the day:  When I was younger, I looked forward to getting up early every morning to exercise. Nowadays, getting out of bed in the morning pretty much IS my exercise.

Remember the Charles Atlas ads that used to appear in the back of comic books? According to good ol' Wikipedia, the ad shown here is from about 1949,  but the ones I remember best featured 98-pound weakling Mac, who was forever getting sand kicked in his face at the beach. Poor guy. The ads promised to turn Mac and every other skinny boy in America into a muscle-bound chick-magnet. (That's what boys all over America read between the lines, anyhow.) All they had to do was buy the kit, follow the directions, and bada-boom, bada-bing,  they'd develop abs of iron and buns of steel.

I really don't think I need buns of steel. I'd be happy with buns of cinnamon...  [Ellen DeGeneres]

Yeah. What Ellen said.

Not that I'd mind having a sleek body again, but I don't know how much exercise I'm willing to do to get it back. I mean, we bought a membership in a really nice gym a couple years ago. Spent almost five hundred bucks on it, too, and I still haven't lost any weight. (sigh) What can I say? Apparently, you have to actually show up at the place. Wouldn't you think spending all that money would be good for a pound or two...? Oh well. Doesn't really matter. At my age, I'm more concerned about having a fit brain. Having a fit brain is much more important to me than having a twenty-two inch waist.

 I don't recall ever seeing any ads in the back of comic books offering a kit to help us beef up our gray matter, but it sure would be nice if there were a way to keep our brains in shape so they can continue to do the heavy lifting throughout our lifetimes, wouldn't it?

There IS a way! Lots of 'em. Reading, of course. Stimulating conversation.

I consider conversations with people to be mind exercises, but I don't want to pull a muscle, so I stretch a lot. That's why I'm constantly either rolling my eyes or yawning.  [Jarod Kintz]

No, I mean stimulating conversation. Fun conversation. Laughter.

And of course, games and puzzles. Now, I'm not talking Candy Land, although it can be fun to play that one with the grandchildren. I'm talking about games and puzzles that make you t-h-i-n-k.

Think 1-2-3-4-hold... and stop. And again... think! 1-2-3-4- hold... and stop. Think harder! Dig down deep and feel the brain...

It's never too late for us to form new pathways in our brains, ya know. We've just gotta stimulate them, and get the blood pumping.

To keep our brains in good shape, we've gotta USE 'em. Challenge them. Phyllis Diller said her idea of exercise was a good brisk sit. (Sounds good to me...) But there's no reason she (we) couldn't engage in some mental calisthenics at the same time.

I've always liked to play games and work puzzles, simply because I think they're FUN, but now? I still think of them as fun, but I also recognize them as a possible way to stick a proverbial finger in the dike to maybe slow down the aging of my mind.

So you can imagine how intrigued I was by one of the books offered to me by the folks at

Part of this book's blurb asks, Want to get your frontal lobe breaking a sweat? Make your blood pump to your cerebellum? Stretch your occipital lobe to its limits?

Heck, yeah! (Especially if I can do it while enjoying a nice brisk sit...)

The book is called Bend Your Brain, and while my brain is already bent enough, thankyouverymuch, the promise of stimulating my gray matter... while having some fun... was too much for me to resist.

Created by some of the keen-minded puzzle-makers of Marbles: the Brain Store, the different types of puzzles compiled in this book are intended to target specific parts of the brain... and make them stronger. Puzzles are divvied up into categories of visual perception, word skills, critical thinking, coordination, and memory, so there's plenty of variety from which to choose. Some fairly familiar ones, and some brand new and rather innovative.

So what did I think? I thought some of the puzzles were too easy, especially the ones meant to develop word skills. (But that's probably my strong suit.) I thought some of the images were difficult to decipher, but through process of elimination, they eventually became apparent. I must admit, I skipped some of the puzzles altogether. Like the ones involving standing in front of a mirror and following directions to form a letter. Um... I generally avoid standing in front of mirrors. (It's much easier to maintain my illusions that way.) But I did form the letters mentally... (Just as good, right?) Some of the puzzles, I thoroughly enjoyed. Some simply weren't for me. (It's impossible to identify celebrities by a single facial feature unless you're actually familiar with the celebrity. Seeing the whole face wouldn't have helped me.)

But bottom line? I enjoyed the book. It was fun. If it also stimulated my brain while I was having fun, I'm all for it. Yep, I'd recommend it. For sure. And you know? I think it actually helped my brain grow, too. Smarticus called me a fathead the other day. Nice of him to notice...

For more information on this mind-bending book, see here
For more info about the minds behind the puzzles, see here

NOTE: I received this book for free from the fine folks at Blogging for Books in exchange for writing an honest review.


The only reason I would take up jogging is so I could hear heavy breathing again.  [Erma Bombeck]

The trouble with jogging is that by the time you realize you're not in shape for it, it's too far to walk back.  [Franklin Jones]

Whenever I feel like exercising, I lie down until the feeling passes.  [Robert Hutchins]

You know what? One of the best things you can do for your brain is... exercise. Honest-to-goodness physical exercise...



The lovely author Carole Kilgore has been running some very cool contests on her website for the past few months. Month-long contests in which she gives stuff away. Good stuff. Books and other goodies. This month, the author she's featuring is... me! If you go to her spiffy tiki hut and click on the contest button in the sidebar, you can see what it's all about. All it takes is a simple response to the question she poses (or a more detailed response, if you prefer) and you, too, will be entered into her contest of the month. For October, the swag waiting to be won is an autographed copy of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, AND a copy of Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Next month? Only Carol knows for sure. So why not make it a habit to visit her blog? It's fun, and no exercise involved...

                        Although with proper exercise, we can accomplish great things...

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