About Me

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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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Life...And Hope


Copyright 2014 by Ralph Couey

"Babies are such a nice way to start people."
--Don Herold

There are so many wonderful things about the birth of a baby that it's difficult to sort through that blizzard of emotions.  But no matter how many births a person is a part of, somehow that sense of wonder is never lost.

She became our 10th grandchild, counting one given up for adoption and another who, after six difficult months, went to live with God.  It was the latter experience which has taught our entire family the most important lesson about the value and sanctity of life.

Sophie Kim, as her parents have named her, arrived on a hot and humid Friday evening, all 7 pounds and 19 inches of her.  Her appearance was the culmination of a fast-paced series of events, that began with the onset of contractions while she was at the pool with her first two kids.  About 5:00, she called our son, who against all odds was mere minutes from home.  A neighbor came over to watch the two kids, and Robbie and Yukyung jumped in the car -- all right, crawled in the car -- for a risky 35-mile drive to their assigned hospital in Fort Belvoir.  Being Friday, and at the beginning of the tourist season, and in the middle of the DC region rush hour, I did not give them good odds to complete the trip.  But complete it they did, arriving just before 7:00.  Less than an hour later, Sophie emerged into our world.

This morning, my wife and I drove to the hospital, albeit at a more sedate pace, bringing along the first two kids, 7-year-old Diana and 3-year-old Ian.  Once there, their sense of wonder at seeing their new baby sister was something to behold.  Ian's persistent question, "How did the baby come out?" went largely unanswered.  My cryptic response, "The same we she got in there" was far from a ray of light as far as he was concerned.

Cheryl, exercising the Grandma's Privilege, was the first of us to hold the baby.  As I watched, her eyes softened and her face was illuminated by a gentle smile.  She was in her element.  She was born for this moment.

I watched as she explored little Sophie, looking into her face, arms, legs, fingers, and toes, searching for, and finding those distinctive genetic markers identifying her as one of us.  Knowing how important this time was for her, I withheld my impatience until she finally looked up and with a big smile passed her over.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Saturday, Glorious Saturday!*

*Somerset, PA Daily American  April 30, 2010
as "There's Something About Saturdays"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Like people, the days of the week each have their own reputation. Monday is most often the demon of the group, at least until football season, while Friday gets all the glory.

The origin of these names is intertwined with cultures dating back a thousand years. Sunday is “Day of the Sun,” and depending on the culture can be either the first or the last day of the week. Monday derives from “Day of the Moon.” Tuesday comes from Tiw, the Old English god of war. Wednesday, the one with the odd spelling, was named for the god Woden. Interestingly, in Germany this one morphed into Mittwok, or “mid-week.” (In Spanish, it is “miercoles,” for the god Mercury.) Thursday is named for the Old English god Thunor, and also the Norse god Thor. Friday became the day of the goddess Venus (Frige in Old English).

But of all the days of the week, none hold a special place equal to Saturday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Miles and Milestones


Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Two years ago this month, I woke up one morning and decided that it was time to exercise.  I started walking on the treadmill that day, and in the time since, I've gotten to the point where I'm running 4 to 5 miles four to six days per week.  I long since have forsaken the treadmill for the great outdoors, except on those days when the weather is so bad as to make outside activities dangerous.  The benefits to my health are multitudinous, as the enthusiasm of my cardiologist attests.

The following February, I was out in California for a visit with our oldest daughter and her three boys.  She introduced me to a smart phone app called "Map My Run."  The app, using the GPS feature on the phone, tracks runs (and walks and hikes as well) for distance, time, and pace, uploading to a regular website at the end of each activity.  Also immortalized are maps of the routes I've run, a handy tool as well.

Even after two years of use, I still get surprised by the information stored therein.  Quite by accident, I stumbled on a page showing "lifetime stats."  I was startled to realize that sometime last week, I topped the milestone of 1,000 miles.

Now, I now that's not comprehensive, as there are several months of work that have gone unrecorded because I was laboring in software ignorance.  But it was interesting to realize that in the time since I got the app, I've spent some 245 hours so engaged, roughly the equivalent of a smidgen over 10 complete days.

Getting Slapped in the Face by Real Life

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

You know how it is.

Days get loaded up with the "have-to-dos" endemic to those whose responsibilities seem to squeeze out everything else.  Yes, it's better than sitting at home staring out of a window, wondering if you really could hear grass grow, but in the discharge of those duties, hours and days are lost.

My day job involves an unusual schedule, Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.  I used to not have to be there until 1:00 p.m., but a recent reappraisal of the incoming workflow resulted in the adjustment to the new schedule.  I like getting off earlier, but in the effort to keep my exercise schedule, I'm now on the road in the middle of the morning rush.  Along with several hundred thousand of my closest friends.  As a result, what was a 40 minute commute has become a creeping 90-minute ordeal.

Anyway, my days off run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, which I am happy about because of two things.  Having Sunday and Monday free means I don't miss any pro football.  Plus, there's just something wonderful about sleeping in on Monday mornings...

My wife (with whom I just shared a 36th anniversary) works a similarly convoluted schedule, but we share Sundays and Mondays off, while I have Tuesdays and she has Thursdays to our respective selves.  Monday, though, becomes Honey Do day.  We run errands, do our shopping, work around the house, and make sure that we share a trip to the local Cineplex for a movie.  Today was no different.  I woke up first, going for a 4-mile run while she slept a little longer.  This was earned rest because she was on call last night and ended up spending 7 hours doing surgery.  I got back from my run, cleaned up, and when she arose, we went ahead and did our movie date, taking in the Disney flick "Maleficent."  I won't bore you with a review of the film.  Afterwards, we made our weekly pilgrimage to our friendly neighborhood CostCo.  We picked up the necessary items, paid for them, and headed for the parking lot.  We were loading our car, when I heard a woman's voice call, "Sir?  Sir?"  This directed towards three men who walked by, whether in ignorance, neglect, or indifference.  I turned towards the voice to see a 50-ish lady in one of those electric shopping carts who was trying to load groceries into her SUV.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Civil War: Events of August 1864

Union General Phil Sheridan was named to command the Army of the Shenandoah on August 1st.

August 3rd saw the start of one of the major naval actions of the Civil War at Mobile Bay.  With the loss of New Orleans and Vicksburg, Mobile Bay was one of the last ports available to the Confederacy.  Indeed, a regular parade of blockade runners had been sortieing out of the Bay bound for friendly ports of supply in the Caribbean.  Admiral David Farragut entered the bay with 18 ships on the 5th, far outnumbering the five representing the CSN.  The Union lost ironclad TECUMSEH to a mine (then called "torpedoes"), part of a large field laid by the South.  Despite the loss of that ship, Farragut pressed forward, gambling that the extended submergence would have rendered the mines inert.  It was here that one of the classic naval phrases was born "Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!"  The balance of the Union fleet entered the Bay successfully, engaging the Confederate ships and also the three heavily defended forts lining the bay.  In short order, the Southern ships were sunk.  The only one left was the ironclad TENNESSEE, which gave a good account for itself, inflicting heavy damage and standing her ground until she was literally pounded into scrap.  Without a fleet to defend them, the forts eventually were forced to surrender on August 23rd.  Shoal water and a lack of ground troops prevented the immediate capture of the city itself, but the loss of one of their last sources of supply followed shortly thereafter by the capture of Atlanta was the first of the final knells that would lead to the death of the Confederacy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Civil War: Events of July 1864

On July 1st, the United States gets a new Treasury Secretary as William Pitt Fessenden is appointed by President Lincoln and immediately confirmed.  Fessenden, a Senator, replaced Salmon Chase who resigned following the failure of a loan offer to the government to receive any acceptable bids.  Without the ability to borrow money, the entire war effort was in jeopardy.

On that same day, the Senate approved the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill, which Lincoln subjected to a pocket veto.

In Georgia, Confederate Joe Johnston ordered his forces to fall back from the Kennesaw Mountain position to a new position along the Smyrna Line on July 2nd.  Also on the 2nd, the U.S. Senate granted a charter to the Northern Pacific Railroad.

July 4th saw Johnston retreat again, this time to the Chattahoochee Line.

Newspaper publisher Horace Greeley received a letter on July 5th containing a Confederate proposal for peace negotiations to be held in Canada.  Greeley forwarded the letter to President Lincoln.

On that same day, Confederate General Jubal Early crossed the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry and entered Maryland with his division.  He turned his force eastward towards Washington.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hiking, Part 5

Crooked Run Valley from Sky Meadows State Park

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and images

Today's sojourn took me to Sky Meadows State Park near Delaplane, Virginia.  The Park, located south of the intersection of US 50 and US 17, was established when Paul Mellon, heir to the Mellon banking empire, donated 1,132 acres to the state of Virginia in 1975.  The park was expanded twice, once to encompass the section of the Appalachian Trail nearby, and again when Mellon donated an additional 248 acres.  The park now encompasses 1,862 acres beginning in Crooked Run Valley and ending along a ridge to the west.  The park property also includes an area on the east side of US 17, where you can find the challenging Lost Mountain Trail.  The park is wonderfully diverse in its ecology.  You hike through meadows, forests, and across streams, each section a visual treat.  In addition, the precipitous uplift from east to west provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

I had known of this park for some time, as it lay alongside one of my regular motorcycle ride routes.  I actually rode in there once, but my untrained eye didn't see much of interest.  But since picking up this hiking bug, I look at places like this with an entirely different perspective.

Sky Meadows has about 19 miles of trails and after conferring with the Ranger, I decided on a route which more or less circled the park, including about 2.5 miles of the AT.

It was a hot day with humidity to match.  Thunderstorms were forecast for later in the afternoon, but I figured to be done by then.  My route would take me from the Visitors Center, up the Piedmont Overlook trail, the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, the AT segment, and the North and South Ridge Trails, ending up on Boston Mill Road back to the start point.  The morning having been taken up with a doctor's appointment, I didn't actually hit the trails until 12:30.  The sun had come out and was definitely open for business, somewhat ameliorated by a persistent north breeze.  I started out on a flat grass-covered section that took me into the woods, onto Boston Mill Road.  A bit further on, a sign directed me onto the Piedmont Overlook trail.  The transition was actually a set of stone stairs, an indicator of what was to come.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Time Out Becomes Time Vanished

The Human Rhinovirus, from University of Wisconsin Virology

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I hate getting sick.  Not only is it uncomfortable, it's a confounded nuisance, intruding on every aspect of the life I am trying to live.  Another annoying aspect is the impact of age.  It seems the older I get, the longer it takes to recover.  This one started as an incipient cough acquired during our stay in Las Vegas.  Gradually, other symptoms began to pile up, including the usual suspects of sinus trouble, a fever that comes and goes, fatigue, dizziness, green goo in my lungs, and a general fog that rolls into the brain, much like the similar clouds that fill San Francisco Bay, which slows my intellect, makes simple things hard to do, and turns me into something of a vegetable.  If it were possible to admire the rhinovirus, I would have to tip my hat begrudgingly for it's persistence.  I've been carrying this thing for a week now and it shows no signs of being aware that it has manifestly worn out its welcome.  

This condition, of course, renders operation of a motorcycle too dangerous to attempt, and the constant fatigue makes any kind of exercise impossible.  I hiked six miles last Tuesday at Manassas Battlefield on an exquisitely hot day and haven't hiked or ran a step since.  Worst of all, I lost an entire week of work, cutting deeply into my jealously guarded storehouse of sick leave.  I tried to go in one day, but after a few hours of listening to my hacking cough, I was politely told by one of my colleagues to go home.  I understood.  With the multiple scares of various types of flu, we have been told that if we're sick, stay home.  Don't infect the rest of the office.