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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Friday, July 29, 2011

Civil War: Events of August 1861

On August 1, Tennessee voted to adopt the Confederate constitution.  Brazil recognized the CSA.
August 3rd marked the first use of aerial reconnaissance from a ship when a Union naval officer went up in a balloon to look at Confederate-controlled Hampton Roads.  Also, a Federal fleet bombarded Galveston, Texas.
In a naval action at Fernandina, Florida, the USS Vincennes ended the Rebel blockade of that port.
President Lincoln signed a variety of bills produced during the special session of congress.  Among them were a new issue of bonds, tariff increases, and the first direct income and real estate tax.  But the most important one was the Confiscation Act of 1861 which gave federals the right to seize property used in the insurrection.  This meant that slaves forced to participate in the Confederate war effort were essentially freed.
Also, Union enlistments were increased from 3 months to 2 years.
On August 6th, the Second Wheeling Convention met to discuss the separation of Kanawha, what would eventually be the 39 counties called West Virginia.  Votes in these counties had run as much as 20 to 1 against secession, which necessitated the division.
In Kentucky also on the 6th, a naval officer, LT Bull Nelson was ordered to build a camp for the training of the Kentucky militia for the Union.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Speech: "She'll Always Bring You Home"

Copyright ©2011 by Ralph Couey
The sea is seductive. It holds an indescribable power over the soul of a human.  It is a place of awesome beauty and fearsome power.  Yet, at dusk when the sun’s dying rays appear to sink into its depths, it also inspires quiet reflection and deep emotions.  As author Kate Chopin put it,
"The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."

Standing on the deck of a ship, you look around you and behold a perfect world of water, unbroken from horizon to horizon.  Beneath you lies a tower of water many hundreds, or even thousands of feet deep.  At night, far from any polluting light source, the sky is crowded with stars.  As the bow cleaves the water, tiny creatures are stirred up in the wake, giving the foam a glowing phosphorescence as it trails out astern.  During the day, you are struck by the sheer size of the planet you inhabit; at night, the majestic infinity of the universe awes you.  Either way, you feel very, very small.

But under your feet is a steel deck.  The engines are turning and the Captain is on the Bridge.  In the middle of incomprehensible vastness, you find comfort in the solidity of your ship.  

A mass of haze gray steel floating on the water.  That’s what most people see in a Navy ship.  But to a sailor, it is a vision that ignites strong emotions.  

To outsiders, the love affair between ships and sailors is a mystery.  You have to understand that a ship is not an office building.  It is a workplace, to be sure.  But it is also the vessel that carries sailors across the trackless seas to places of wonder and duty.  They work there, sleep there, eat there, and if necessary, fight there.  Some die there.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Earn This!"*

Copyright ©2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 14, 2011
as "We must earn heroes' sacrifice"
I recently spent a weekend in New Orleans attending the reunion for my first ship, USS Ouellet.  We had a great time reminiscing and laughing at those memories.  We talked about deployments, the thousand incidents great and small that make for lasting memories.  We spoke of shipmates we had served with, officers we had served under, and ports we had visited.  It was a fine way to recall that in our most vulnerable years, we had done something worthwhile.  The friendships we had established decades before were revived as easily as sliding into an old comfortable pair of blue jeans.

In high spirits, we walked the narrow streets of the French Quarter in the same way we had done in exotic places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Tokyo, Karachi, Mombasa, and Bangkok, all of us falling into that curious rolling gate that marks a landed sailor.  On our heads we proudly wore those blue ballcaps with the ship’s name emblazoned on the front, and once again, we were shipmates.

In recent years, it’s become common for people to thank veterans for their service.  Having grown up during the Vietnam era, this is something I’m grateful to see.  A few times over the weekend, I was stopped by folks who, seeing my ballcap, offered a handshake and their thanks.

My friends might react in disbelief at the idea that I’d ever be at a loss for words.  But in these situations, I really don’t know what to say.  I am grateful, to be sure; but also a little embarrassed by the attention, mainly because like all of us who have worn the uniform, we don’t think of ourselves as being worthy of such things.  We’re not the heroes.  

The heroes never came home.
There is, however, deep inside something I wish I could say.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peace...And a Cup of Tea***

(Quotes taken from an article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and a televised report from KHON-TV.)
Copyright ©2011 by Ralph Couey
except the quoted portions as noted above.
*Chicago Tribune
July 29, 2011
as "Peace and a cup of tea"
*Somerset, PA Daily American
July 30, 2011
as "Peace and a cup of tea"
*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 7, 2011
as "A cup of tea"
Shining out of a clear blue sky, the golden sunlight lay gently on the waters, the surface ruffled by the ever-present trade winds. A crowd of 150 people gathered, some clad in traditional kimonos, some in business suits, others in Aloha shirts. In the quiet of the morning, the pure white arches of the Memorial rose above them in peaceful beauty.
An old Japanese man sat before a table and with grace, dignity, and great ceremony, prepared a bowl of tea. He then rose and walked to the end of the room and placed the bowl on an altar and bowed deeply and reverently before a marble wall upon which was etched 1,177 names, the crew of the Battleship Arizona. Below the Memorial, they remain entombed within the hull of their ship which slowly rusts away in the waters of the inlet the native Hawaiians call “Wai Momi.”
We know it as Pearl Harbor.
No one from this hemisphere can possibly overstate the importance of the traditional tea ceremony to the Japanese. It symbolizes harmony, purity, tranquility, and reverence, fundamental elements of that ancient culture. Over the centuries, it has been performed on many occasions, from the celebration of love between a man and a woman, to a moment of peace during war. The ceremony is so revered, so symbolic of peace that even the warrior Samurai left their swords at the door.
The event on July 19th was a ceremony of peace and reconciliation offered by the Japanese people in memory of those who lost their lives on that terrible Day of Infamy. It was the inspiration of former Hawaii First Lady Jean Ariyoshi, wife of former Governor George Ariyoshi. “I had this vision of people getting together, healing together, and honoring the war dead and praying for world peace. There’s no more beautiful place than to do it here.”
The Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship and has since its inception been a place of reverent pilgrimage for Americans. Moored nearby, another battleship, USS Missouri, the scene of the Japanese surrender, reminds us that every war has two places in common. Where the blood first flowed, and where the killing finally ended.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Baby, It's Hot Outside!!!"**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Chicago Tribune's hot"
July 22, 2011
as "Man, it
*Somerset, PA  Daily American
July 23, 2011
as "Man, it's hot"

For most of my life, I’ve lived in places where summers were uncomfortable, and occasionally intolerable.  Muggy heat makes me almost claustrophobic at times.  The National Weather Service has given us an additional measuring tool, the heat index. But I hated the heat index.  It’s already hot.  Do I really need to be reminded that it feels worse than it actually is?
In Missouri, summers were torture. Starting in late May, temperatures would rise into the upper 90’s and frequently topping triple digits.  The humid air would trudge in from the Gulf of Mexico, adding to the already-high temperatures.  I couldn’t walk from the driveway to the front door without breaking a sweat.
When we moved to the Laurel Highlands seven years ago, I truly thought I had died and gone to heaven.  The summers were mild.  90-degree days were downright rare and the humidity didn’t hold a candle to Missouri.  The nights cooled down nicely.  It was always a pleasant way to pass a summer, although frequent trips to Pittsburgh and the DC area kept me in touch with reality.
We have had some hot spells, generally short-lived.  But not this year.
Over the last ten days, temperatures have ventured into the 90s and this quasi-rain forest  has been very dry.  The combination has left our yards turning brown and our gardens panting. 
Several years ago, I stopped putting the window air conditioners in.  Part of that was the effort involved in carrying them down from the attic and installing them.  They’re bulky and heavy, and to be honest, my back hurts just thinking about it.  Really though, in the past few years, we haven’t needed them but maybe one or two days out of the whole summer.  But in looking down the road at the extended forecast, it seems that this hot spell is going to be with us for a while, anyway.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Attention NFL: Go Ahead; Make Our Day*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
July 24, 2011
as "Autumn of silence?"

The approach to every autumn, for as long as I can remember, brought for me a rising excitement.  The arrival of the cooler breezes meant that football season had arrived.
But this fall may arrive with an uncommon silence.  In stadiums across the country, instead of the roar of the crowds, only the whisper of the wind will be heard.  Owners and players find themselves athwart serious issues that have to be resolved to ensure the healthy future of the game and those who play it.
Owners want an 18-game season.  More games, more tickets, more revenue.  Players want to be compensated for those extra two weeks (and who around here wants to work for free?) and are very concerned at the effect of two additional weeks of violence will have on their bodies.  This is a very real issue.
Earl Campbell was a dominant running back with the Houston oilers.  He was an immensely powerful man with thighs the girth of which would rival a mature oak tree.  His best year was 1980 when he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards.  But his career lasted only 8 years. 
And the last time I saw Earl Campbell, he was in a wheel chair.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The 300th Post

Copyright ©2011 by Ralph Couey

Welcome to my 300th post! 

On November 3, 2006, I started this blog as an outlet for thoughts that were swirling around inside begging to be let out to breathe.  As my newspaper columns became more popular, this blog became the repository for the things I wrote, not only the pieces that were published, but also ones that were too long or just didn’t work as a column. 

The subject matter has been broad.  As I look down the post index, there is a heavy preponderance of motorcycle-themed essays.  Included are those neat little “slice o’ life” subjects that columnists love so much.  Things like head lice, cows, seasons, the weather, and walks in the forest.  There are also deeper pieces discussing life, death, love, and United Airlines Flight 93, which really covers all three of those subjects.  There’s almost no politics here, a lack that really pleases me.  While I am active and I do vote, I understand fully that those decisions are mine alone and discussing them only serves to divide the audience.  And we have more than enough anger floating around these days.

Any, I thought I’d take a little look at that number, 300.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Matches Made In Heaven*

Pacino and DeNiro
(Regency Pictures publicity still)

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
July 17, 2011
as "Screen pairings we love to see"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.

A match made in heaven

This is a phrase that’s normally used to describe a couple who seem to be perfect for each other.  But that expression can also apply to situations where two of the best take the stage at the same moment.  It’s always the stuff of legends.  And for us fans, it’s just plain fun

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were paired in a movie called “Heat.”  Pacino played a homicide detective who applied himself wholly to his profession at the cost of everything else in his life.  DeNiro was the consummate career criminal, an audacious planner of, as he put it, “big scores.”  The two sparred and weaved throughout most of the movie, coming together for one unforgettable scene, sitting across a restaurant table.  Powerful stuff.  They were the best of their generation at the peak of their craft, the quintessential tough guys.  Watching them, you knew one of them had to lose.  And that was the only bad part.

One pairing I regret never seeing, was Clint Eastwood and John Wayne.  

It could have been a story that unfolded on a Pacific Island during World War II, or on the dusty streets of Laredo, Texas.  Maybe on a city’s mean streets, one as the cop, the other as the bad guy, or both on the same side.  Any of those locations would have suited both actors.  

In a way, they were opposites.  

Not Only Names, But the People They Were**

The Columbine Memorial

*Chicago Tribune
July 15, 2011
as "A fitting memorial"

*Somerset Daily American
July 16, 2011
as "A fitting memorial to lives taken too soon"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

The sky was overcast as I came slowly up the sidewalk.  The wind was gusting out of the northwest, a cold and bitter presence reminding me of my thoughtlessness in not bringing a coat to Colorado on this grim-looking day in May.   Enduring the frigid winds, I turned onto a wide path, the head of which was decorated with a low stone wall and a simple sign:  “Columbine Memorial.”

April 20, 1999 was a cool, cloudy morning in Littleton, Colorado.   At Columbine High School, students arrived for a normal school day.  But at 11:19, just as the first shift of students began gathering in the cafeteria, shots rang out.  Over the next 45 minutes, two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked through the school, taunting and then shooting fellow students, some at point-blank range.  In terror, most fled the school, while others hid under desks.  The two shooters fired 176 times, saving the last two rounds for themselves.  In their wake, 12 students and a teacher were dead. 24 more were wounded.
The shock of this terrible tragedy was felt well beyond the boundaries of this middle-class community.  The entire country was in mourning.
It’s been 12 years since that day, a day that fundamentally changed schools forever. 
A broad walkway takes you into the memorial between two low stone walls, opening into a circle.  To the left is a wall with six openings through which pour a steady stream of water.  Straight ahead, three stone and marble arcs mark the center of the memorial.  At my feet is a large inlaid ribbon, and the words, “Never Forget.” 
On raised sheets of granite are engraved individual memorials to the 13 who were lost that day, written by the parents and families.  It is through those words that those thirteen cease to become names to be read, and become people to be remembered.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

My Lap Band Life: Six Months In

Copyright ©2011 by Ralph Couey


                                                   Before                                 So Far

Second picture is a bit misleading since I'm wearing a baggy shirt and pants that are 4 sizes too big.  The difference really shows in my face and neck.  In case you're wondering who those cute kids are, they're two of our grandchildren, Diana 5, and Ian 5 months.


The adjustment at the end of May really helped.  From then until the end of June, I lost 14 more pounds down to 240.  That makes the total weight loss now 44 pounds since the surgery, and 73 pounds since the pre-op seminar.  I've gone from a size 52 pants down to 42, and my shirts from 3XL to XL.  My target is 180 pounds, so I still have 60 pounds to go, but I can see a glimmer in the far distance that just might be the light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm much better now at being happy with 3/4 cup of food.  I find I still have to have quite a bit of salad to...um...keep the plumbing functional.  I've learned to limit my intake of soup because it doesn't stick around to keep hunger away, but merely drains on through.  I'm really working on taking small fork/spoonfuls and chewing a lot before swallowing.  After the adjustment, I had quite a bit of discomfort because I had started to go back to eating too much too fast and I had to re-teach myself to slow down and cut down.

The heat and humidity of summer has arrived, a time that has always been intense torture for me.  Not only was I uncomfortable, I was sweating a lot, which made for some uncomfortable social situations.  I find this year, however, that my tolerance for summer weather is much better.  Granted, the temperate Laurel Highlands area isn't Florida, but when I venture out of the mountains to DC or Pittsburgh, I really notice the difference.  Of course, the flip side is that with far less bodily insulation, winters will now feel much colder, solar minimum notwithstanding.

It's hard to argue with results, and results is what I've gotten.  But the crowning glory happened this past weekend.  We went down to DC for the 4th and on the way we stopped at the Hagerstown Outlet Mall in Maryland.  We had our middle daughter with us who is newly preggers and needed some maternity wear.  While Mom and Daughter were shopping, I wandered around.  My first stop was the Polo store where I found quite a bit of clothes that fit.  But the best moment came a bit later.