2015 In Review: Leadership ops, the start of a great relationship, and fantastic travel

Hmmm, where do I start in looking back at this year. Well, perhaps I’ll take a paragraph or two from an entry that means a lot to me in each month. Needless to say, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this year, and it leaves me looking forward to the next. Join me as I step into my time machine?

January: NDA President and 50Book50Author Launch

First, excitedly, I have been named President of the Norrie Disease Association. This was necessitated by our previous president having to step down due to some unfortunate circumstances that have made it difficult for him to continue in that role. While the reasons make me sad, I am still appreciative of having this opportunity and hope I can make the most of it. I got a strong vote of confidence from my fellow board members, though I honestly am not entirely certain why. Me? One who is sometimes too shy to make a simple phone call? Who definitely has a ways to go before he is as assertive as he would like to be? But, I hope I have made and am making progress in this area, and it will help to have such knowledgeable people to assist me as I do so. We’ll see if this August’s conference goes off fairly well…

I have it as a goal this year to reach fifty (5-0!) books. That’s a lot for me, as I normally don’t have a whole lot of time to sit and read. I’m doing them two at a time though, and already about a third of the way through both books three and four.

February: Winter Attacks!, and My New Girlfriend

NOTE: I only wrote the Winter entry in that month. The one on the start of my relationship was posted as March began, but we officially got together on February 28th.

And on blocks, Old Man Winter decided to show up and throw a bunch of ’em at us last week. Whatever that stuff was, snow? ice? I call it “snice” confined me to the inside of my beautiful, well insulation-missing, electrical heating can barely keep up, 500-sqft apartment from Monday when I got off of work at 1 PM till Friday when I was finally able to return to said work at 6:15 AM. And o man, that was some of the coldest cold I’ve ever known, as we hovered around 5 degrees F with sub-zero windchills. And slide slide slippedy slide! All the way to the building…

Anyway, we discovered that we had many things in common. Chief among these is our enjoyment of music, and particularly 90’s R&B. In one conversation, she clicked on different songs in her little collection and we reminisced on the things we were doing and experiencing when that song was popular.

March: A Look At My Work life

The only thing I really talked about this month was what I thought about my current work experience in the post entitled Job Days 3.

First, I ask myself if my morning routine has altered any. It’s amusing to ponder how small changes here and there slowly turn into something quite different from what was, isn’t it?

APRIL: The iPhone App that Should Be

Only one post this month too, sadly. The April 1, Express App!

If you choose “Summary” the app will still take pictures of the person’s face, but instead of vibrating regularly it will generate a report of overall mood: how often did they fluctuate, were there sudden changes, and the like. This might be a good idea if you don’t want the person to wonder why you keep vibrating.

I recommend reading that entry in full, if you want a quick laugh. I wish I had posted more in this month, and really throughout the year, but aside from developing my relationship I’m not sure much else happened in that first third of the year anyway.

MAY: Trying To Re-Stimulate

Hi. In reality, I have absolutely no time to be writing this entry. There are about ten minutes till I need to skitter down the street and hop onto the bus that will convey me off to my eight hours of enforced confinement wherein I will madly stuff sticks into a box while singing, tapping, and otherwise engaging in activities to keep myself awake. So, apologies for spelling and other errors, as I have no ability to edit till I return. The problem is, of course, that I rarely have time to write anymore at all, but I need badly to get back on this horse!

Again a month with virtually nothing. But, it does mark our first trip to Charlotte to visit family as a couple, and also attendance of a church service at my mom’s adopted church in Southern Pines on Mother’s Day. I met her family over a delicious cookout in a comfortable Fayetteville backyard as well. Good stuff.

JUNE: Celebrating The Transit Revolution

The only real entry I wrote this month was about my use of Uber, as I had just crossed the one-year mark.

Anyway, today’s post is to be about my experiences with the car sharing service Uber, with which I have navigated Durham for almost a year now. Actually, according to the stats they emailed me when celebrating having been in the Triangle for an entire year, I’ve used these folks 62 times. Sixty-four now, as in my first trip with them, I went today to have my hearing aids repaired. (My trip to Charlotte was brought to a screeching halt by the right side’s clogging yesterday, not fun&) I was therefore forced to take a day off of work and schedule a last-minute appointment. Maybe someday I’ll master the skill of acting more preventatively, but in my defense this time I didn’t notice that I was losing hearing till too late.

And because this post is long enough already, I’ll review the second half in a subsequent post. I should have a lot of consecutive posts in fact, which I suppose is a good thing. More soon.

DOING THE CHARLESTON!: Piers, Plaques, and Prison

Tuesday starts a bit more slowly than had Monday, but it turned out to be a great day in its own right. I of course woke up early and posted while rocking out to local Charleston radio again. I also picked up and put down at least four different books and could settle on neither, so with that, I basically capitulate to coming up just short in my 50Book50Author challenge. Well I am now reading book 50, a fictionalized history of Charleston by John Jakes that promises to be interesting and bring the history to life. But it’s 19 hours of audio, so no way I finish by tomorrow night. It’s ok though, as I learned much just from the attempt.

Anyway, we decide to take advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast today, so she goes to grab a couple plates and bring them back to the room. I had a sausage patty, eggs, and pretty good grits. The orange juice was the last of the take, but it did its job fairly decently I suppose.

Out we head, I think around 11:20, for the trip to Folly Beach. I had been here before, but couldn’t remember much about it. As we did on this trip, I believe we’d probably visited the Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier that extends nearly a half mile out over the Atlantic. It goes so far out in fact that you can’t even hear the waves anymore. There is just a cold, brisk wind. We spend a little time on a bench at its far edge, then retreat to benches that are a bit more sheltered where you can in fact hear the breaking waves. A gaggle of teens with their chaperone comes bouncing by, stopping to take pictures before continuing on. She also sees people preparing for a volleyball game on the sand down below. Finally, there were some folks actually in the water. I’m sure I’d have been a popcicle if I’d done that.

There wasn’t a whole lot else to do here though, especially as it was a bit frisk for a picnic. So, we made our way back to the car to get into something else. We found a Sonic Drive-in, yes a chain, but not one we go to very often. The cheese coney I have is good, but the strawberry and banana milk shake hits the spot! She finds an old-school station, and turns it up for an hour-long sit in the car till about 2.

Back to downtown, but this time we park at the Mills House Hotel’s outside lot. Even with two days, there is so much history in Charleston that we’d barely scratched the surface. We pass a courtyard with fountain where you are permitted to wade, with the proviso that “No lifeguards are available. Wade at your own risk”. They also list a series of disgusting things, (spitting, blowing nose, releasing other bodily fluids) that you are not to do. If you do opt to wade in, you have to also be accompanied by someone else. I might be tempted to do something like that in the summer.

We find a pier that extends out over the river also, not as far as the Folly Beach one, but a good enough distance to take us to a more isolated spot where we listen to motorboats zip by. She notes that some have metal, as opposed to fiberglass bottoms, causing them to make a different sound as they slap the water. Someone else goes by on a jet ski.

Many things impressed me about Charleston, but one of the neatest was the plaques denoting history as it occurred in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, located right outside of the Harborview Inn. These plaques had a Braille overlay, somewhat dusty but readable. They were also quite long! I’d have to stand there for about a half hour to complete them all. But I’m impressed that someone took the time to make that accessible to a wider audience, should blind folks want to read things for themselves. It reminds me of the Braille Trail I saw up at the waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains.

The final thing we did was cool. We entered the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, the place where ships came to pay taxes on imported products, and where persons who opposed the British had been imprisoned during the American Revolution. They’d shoved 60 people, men and women mixed, into a small hall; providing only four buckets of water and four buckets into which they should urinate. Yuck, I’m certain it got unimaginably nasty in there. The dungeon below had broken up floors and still smelled very old. The Great Hall, on the level above the museum, contained a scent of horses and perhaps sweaty men. It wasn’t hard to picture George Washington and the other 200 or so important folks who would cram into that room both for partying and to hold assemblies. If you think you’d be interested, visit their website. They provide an extensive and rather interesting history of the facility and of Charleston.

And that’s about it. The only other thing we did, after a brief respite in the hotel to try and get a bit of rest, was grab a couple sandwiches from Ye Ole Fashioned Café and Ice Cream Shop. Good stuff, but I kinda had to suck down the last of the gigantic burger. I wasn’t wasting it!

And so pretty much ends 2015. What a fantastic trip that hopefully puts my mind in a better place as I venture into the craziness that the New Year is likely to bring. Given the gallons of rain this area has gotten, we were really fortunate to avoid it down South. I’m just glad that I got to build such great memories with a special person, and am looking forward to more. Later.

DOING THE CHARLESTON!: Over the River and Through the Streets

So the second day and first full one arrives early, with me of course posting that first entry. I sat here on the couch, as I am now, and used the writing to help me survive the reading of that Dickens book. I guess it’s possible to listen to a story without having a clue what it was about. Maybe it broadened my horizons a bit?

We actually got going a bit earlier than we thought, leaving the room just after 10, and thus missing the hotel’s complimentary breakfast by just a few minutes. But it was ok, because sunning while eating was better anyway.

And that’s just what we did, at a nice downtown Starbucks as people hurried by. I think the location we chose was at 475 East Bay Street, but am not certain as of course there are locations across from locations. In any event, I got my usual sausage egg and cheese biscuit on an English muffin. She had a lemon pound cake.

At about 11:20, we head for the Maritime Center at 10 Wharfside Street, from which the Carolina Belle would depart. This 2-decker takes quite a few people on a historic tour of Charleston Harbor, leaving at 11:30 and 1:30 each day, and lasting an hour and a half.

Before hopping aboard though, we first stroll along then sit on a bench on the Wando River, one in a series of waterways that flow into each other to create an excellent harbor in this city. The Ashley and Cooper rivers are primary among these. There is of course the slightly damp smell that pervades all rivers. It was mostly quiet, other than the occasional gentle lapping that occurred when the wind picks up.

We trek to the boarding area shortly after 1, where a picture is taken of each group of people that can then be purchased for $20. We each held onto a giant foam ring that said Charleston Harbor Tours as the cameras snapped. Then we scrambled on and took our seats up top. I was worried about being a bit wobbly, but was ok in the end. The sun was spotty but great when it appeared, beating forecast rain!

As we begin to motor away from the docks, the captain narrates an amazing amount of history that I could not of course entirely remember. As he does, we make our way past the giant Carnival Fantasy Cruise Ship, also anchored at harbor and preparing to sail in mere hours. Ah, I wanted to go!

The only real thing i do recall is that the first shot of the Civil War wasn’t fired at Fort Sumter, as many think. The Wikipedia article makes no mention of this, but I guess that isn’t particularly surprising.

They of course have to mention the contributions of slaves both to building that area up and to the war effort itself, and in so doing their reluctance comes across. I think that’s always gonna be a sore point in the South.

We also pass Sullivan Island, the Morris Island Lighthouse, and a couple of young kids waving to us from a beach. Overall I would recommend this tour, as the ride feels good and you can learn a little. I suppose it’s easier for folks who can see to pick up more, but there’s stuff in it for blind folks as well.

Next, we hopped in the car to head downtown. We had to pull it into a parking deck and go up to the fourth level, as parking is quite limited in that area. If you can, I would recommend getting alternative transportation down there. As I mentioned, all we really have is that spotty hotel shuttle.

We got out and did some good walking, with the most interesting place being the City Market. This open market is a collection of covered stalls that definitely take you back to the 1800’s. The oddly evocative smell of horse manure (in the sense that it stirs long-dormant childhood memories of being astride those beasts) hangs in the air. I find it easy to imagine people, probably including slaves, coming there to purchase goods. The Sue Monk Kidd book I read earlier this year, The Invention of Wings, takes place here, and would give you a good sense of what those times were like. She gets a sort of headband, and we try a piece of dried okra chips. It is smaller due to the loss of moisture, but still tastes the same. I guess it was ok, but would I eat a whole bag? Probably not.

One thing I WOULD eat in abundance is the homemade ice cream we got next, from a place called Kilwin’s Chocolates. They have a copper kettle that is heated to near 700 degrees in order to melt the sugar. I opt for a fudge brownie that is chopped up in the ice cream, and she gets the peach. This place is a cash-and-carry, with no tables, so we head outside to eat our treats. I have to quickly lop out the top of my cup before the stuff oozes all over my hand, but hey, that means it’s good!

And that was just about it. Finding dinner was tricky, because we’d left the area, chose to go to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, then discovered going there would require re-entering the deck. No way. So, we settled for fast food from Wendy’s over in Mount Pleasant, just across the long Arthur Ravenel Bridge. Perhaps we should have gone with one of those ultra-high priced establishments we passed along the way. Most probably came to at least 34 dollars per person. One placed 4 wine glasses on each table. Maybe I’ll go to something like that one day, but not likely too often. If I’m parting with that kind of dough, I wanna be fed more!

And we arrive at the last full day of our trip. I’ll be back with its happenings later, but we’re hoping for a picnic at Folley Beach, a place I visited in 2002. We shall see, though.

DOING THE CHARLESTON!: Ebb and Flow, This or That

Hello, from the nice SpringHill Suites in Charleston, South Carolina. Located close to the banks of the Ashley River, this hotel has unusually large, wel-equipped rooms with kitchenettes, comfortable beds, and even full living room furniture; including a couch on which I currently lie.

Arriving here yesterday at 5 was no easy task. We depart my apartment at a bit before 12. While I await her arrival, I am amused by the arguments of angry neighbors.

“Hey, open this f―in’ door! My name is on the (dang) lease too, don’t forget that!”

I know not about what she was so mad, but just shook my head.

A quick stop at McDonalds, where I wolf down the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit as if it might well be my last meal. We sail unencumbered through Cary, Raleigh, and onto the way leading to I-95. Where all just about stops.

Progress is slowly made, but even so, she says the level of driving required to keep both from plowing into and being plowed into is nearly too much. I am sadly of little use here, other than attempting to conduct pleasant conversation while watching my Carolina Panthers against the Atlanta Falcons through play-by-play via the Sports Alerts iPhone app. We lost our first game, y’all! How disappointing, but I knew it was likely. Hard to beat a team, and especially an arch rival, twice in three games.

Anyhow, we finally broke out of the traffic snarl once merging onto I-26 about 30 minutes outside of Charleston. Then it was hugging the speed limit before exiting and following the somewhat loopy GPS directions until we approached the hotel at 98 Ripley Pointe Drive.

That was the longest car ride I’ve taken in many years, so to stretch was grand. We hauled out our luggage and made our way to the second floor check-in area. As it turns out, our room would also be on this level. While on the elevators, some other travelers asked where we’d come from. I think maybe they were from Charlotte.

The hotel offers a shuttle to downtown starting at 5 PM. We’d contemplated using that, but it didn’t take long to decide that having the car would be better. This is primarily because the rides are provided only once an hour. So, we worked through the vast selection of restaurants on Google Maps to choose a quaint place called Crust Wood fired Pizza, located at 1956 Maybank Highway, #B. They have a greater selection than pizzas though, so we figured it would be a good option.

I really liked the atmosphere here. Even though all of the tables were taken, the volume of conversation was such that one didn’t have to pitch one’s voice way up in order to be heard. The staff were also accommodating, allowing us to move from a less back-friendly bar to a booth once it became available.

My only issue with this place is that they need to update their online menu. I’d settled on a meatball sandwich, supposedly made with balls in house, but they’re no longer there! So, i go for a giant Italian sandwich that comes cut in half, along with some deliciously crispy fries that more resembled hot potato chips. She opts for a shrimp gnocchi, (pronounced yokey). I think it is composed of potato-based noodles, but have never tried it.

And not much else. I finally purchase the tickets for the boat ride around Charleston Harbor we will take in a few hours. I’d discovered this through the Charleston SC iPhone app. It never ceases to amaze me the degree to which this technology allows me to assist in the planning of a trip like never before. I’ll probably post about how today unfolds sometime tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I’m suffering through a Charles Dickens book called The Chimes, available free on Audible, so I can quickly notch book 49 and hang onto a shred of hope that I’ll finish this challenge before 2015 finishes me! More later.

Braille Test Post

This is mostly a test post to see if, could it be, I can now write on my iPhone with the Braille display? For so many reasons, this would make it a lot easier for me to write more regularly.

I’d been hoping for this before. The problem was that the Brailliant BI 40 from Humanware, even for all its greatness, had a tendency to lock up way too frequently. It seems that may have been fixed, yay!

Continuing my randomness now just to see how long I indeed can, I am beyond ecstatic that the holidays have begun. As is usual when they come, I need this break in the worst way. I don’t have a whole lot planned, other than chillin’ in the cut (whatever that means) till the 27th, when I’m to hit the road with my girlfriend for what will hopefully be a fun trip to Charleston, South Carolina. The biggest threat to it is the endless rain that, on the other hand, is keeping the temperatures abnormally elevated.

Speaking of elevation, what about my Carolina Panthers! 14-0! I really don’t know how many more times we can play with fire, as we did this past Sunday in letting the New York giants come back from 28 down to tie it, and not get burned, but well it’s just been that kind of year. I think that game will show us what we must avoid come playoff time though, so it was good that happened. You can’t let up!

So, there have been a couple of glitches in this experiment, but thankfully they do not involve locking up! So I may in fact be able to make this work, and blog for Dunkin’, aboard a GO Triangle bus, and even from the beach. We shall see. In any event, I wish you a merry Christmas, and a safe and happy entry into 2016. I will do some kind of end-of-year post next, though I’m not yet sure what form it’ll take. Do you also have any fun trips planned?

My (very late) Thanksgiving Post

Holidays tell us to remember that we love our significant others, family, country, and higher power of choice. But very few exist (well ok putting aside the murky historical underpinnings of it, which I know that one can hardly put aside but stay with me!) to remind us to just, be, thankful.

As the day arrived, sunny and quite warm for late November, I reflected that I had much to be thankful for. I’ve never had a year quite like this, where I have such a powerful, stable relationship with another human being. Where I find the courage to begin the process of stepping out and getting to where I really want to be in life. Where I am inspired to take on what may seem a frivolous but possibly life-changing books challenge, (I’m up to 47 by the way). Where, even my sports team, the Carolina Panthers (NFL) are having a truly historic year at 12-0 already, smashing records and expectations along the way. It’s just been amazing.

I found myself in the unusual position of not going to my own family’s place for a gathering, as everyone decided at the last minute to just sort of do their own thing. This did make me a bit sad, as Thanksgiving is maybe the only day where we really get together anymore, but then it also presented me with a great opportunity to start a new tradition with the woman, whatever that ends up looking like in the end.

This year, we went to Fayetteville and ate with her folks instead. I was a bit nervous about this, mainly because of my hearing issues. But, I found it surprisingly easy to just slip right into conversation and never really felt left out of anything. It probably helped that only immediate family was there, but I was prepared to cope with a larger gathering if it had been so.

Mostly all I have to do anyway is get my eat on! Sometimes I choose not to have turkey, as I so did this year. Instead, I sucked down some delicious ham, mac and cheese, dressing (as we call it in the South, an NPR story said most everyone else calls it stuffing but so what), green beans, a roll, and some cranberry sauce. Outside of her father, I’m the only one who eats that last. I grew up enjoying it at our feasts, though. One thing I’ve learned is that it is very important that I not overeat, as doing so can make me feel faint and awful for the rest of the day. So I give myself just enough.

Then they fired up the TV in the little downstairs room where the tables were so we could catch the Panthers game. They of course feasted on the Cowboys, ultimately winning 33-14. Her folks, again other than her dad, aren’t really into sports either, but they did have fun trying to ascertain what was going on in that game. We hit the road for my hometown of Charlotte midway through the second quarter, so that I could get in some valued time with my cousin.

Not much happened during our stint in the Queen City, but it was definitely welcome relaxation. My cousin and I did watch the nightcap between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, then stayed up chatting till nearly 1 AM. We also got more time chillin’ while his wife and my girlfriend went for a shopping run that afternoon. We closed the day with carry-out meals from a Greek-style restaurant called Shomars, where I got, as always, their Callabash shrimp. I only regret that I wasn’t able to finish all of mine then nor on Saturday, before we deemed it had been exposed to the open air too long for safe consumption.

So in the end, I was pretty well satisfied with the balanced weekend I had. I got to get more comfortable with her folks and to enjoy some time with mine. It doesn’t get much better than that, right?

p>How was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember. Do you eat anything that you think most people don’t? Finally, what has been the thing about which you have been most thankful this year.