Imagine you’re attending the biggest social event of the decade, and everyone who is anyone received an invitation. Famous actors, politicians, religious leaders, business titans and a who’s who from the world of sports will be there, but unfortunately for them, so will you.

Yes, you received an invitation weeks ago, but you felt yours was more akin to a subpoena. You know your attendance is mandatory even though much of the A-list crowd detests he sight of you.

But It wasn’t always this way. At one time, you called these notable people friends, and they in turn, adored you, but no more. As you walk about the massive venue you feel their loathing eyes upon you and hear their whispered insults and curses.

This is what grocery shopping is like for me today.

I walk in the store and old friends like Aunt Jemima and her neighbor, Mrs. Butterworth, look at me as if I’m Judas. I hurry around the corner to escape the look of betrayal in their eyes and enter the cereal aisle. Cap’n Crunch sees me and raises his sword, Count Chocula bares his fangs, and on an oatmeal box a white-haired man in an old fashioned black hat bows his head and publicly prays for my judgment and repentance.

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My wife and I lead what we consider to be simple, unassuming lives.

We still live in the same modest house we bought over 30 years ago when we were in our mid-20s. That’s a time in life when many couples buy their “starter” homes.

Fast forward 30 years and most starter homes in our area are far larger than the house we bought, Based on a couple of decades of conversations with young couples, I doubt the majority of them today would want to begin their lives together in a home that is a cracker box by modern standards.

We never up-sized when our family was growing and have no plans to downsize now that we are empty-nesters. In other words, our starter home is likely to be our “finisher” too.

If you were to look up the demographics of the suburban Bay Area of Houston, you would see many spacious, elegant homes owned by people much more affluent than a couple of teachers–one full-time and one a part-timer.

It was odd to me when our boys were growing up that their friends were much more likely to hang out our little place than host our sons in their often newer, more spacious houses. At the time I couldn’t understand why our humble house served as a hub, but I now think that, to many kids, our simple abode felt more like home than the houses in which they lived.

As with our home, a pattern of modesty and simplicity covers many other areas of our lives. When we cruise we almost always book inside cabins, which allows us to cruise more frequently in cramped simplicity than once a year in relative luxury. Allthough I usually book small, windowless cabins, I try to book them on floors where they are across the hall from the high-end suites. This mimics the placement of our home where we live in one of the most modest areas of an affluent community.

In our home city we can expect a responsive government and dependable services. In the same way, we know the cruise lines are going to take good care of the people spending big bucks on the most desirable and expensive cabins. For us, bunking in proximity to some of the most opulent quarters on the ship means we will never have to worry about being assigned to an inexperienced or inattentive cabin steward.

With that type of planning it could be argued that we don’t want to live as simply as we claim, and I would not have you believe that we lead lives of asceticism. In truth, we like some of the better things in life, but mostly as a change of pace. Like poor Cinderella who got to attend the ball in style before the clock struck midnight and it all went awry, we enjoy the little luxuries of cruising before returning to reality.

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As I am trying to go to sleep at the end of the long embarkation day, I’m struck with the thought that this whole vacation might have been a huge mistake. That thought is hardly uncommon for me. I’m hit with it at the end of the first day of every cruise and many other vacations too.  

Fortunately, I’ve learned in most circumstances that my snap judgments are not very reliable, and this proves the case once again. On our first day at sea, I’m always looking forward to the opportunities the day will hold.  

Today, Tuesday, we wake up early. Becky is up by 5:30. Shortly after that I snap out of the stuporous fog that occupies the shadowland between sleep and consciousness. I start to get out of bed, but settle for sitting up, a pillow propped behind my back.  

Morning routine phase one, complete.  

Becky asks me if I remember the idiots who came down the hall and had a loud conversation near our door at 3:00 in the morning, and oddly enough I did. I’m not easily woken from a deep sleep, whereas Becky wakes up when a flea clears its throat. The Mom gene is strong in her, so she did not rest well overnight.  

Shaking the cobwebs from our eyes, we throw on the clothes we wore yesterday and take the elevator to the Lido restaurant on Deck 10. 

There are many things to like about Carnival cruises, but the 24-hour access to fresh coffee, ice and a few other drinks in multiple locations is a major plus. (Do you hear that, Royal Caribbean?) 

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We finally got into our cabin at 1:45 and were pleased with our selection. It’s an interior cabin, but squarer than the usual rectangular room, and the layout gives us far more room to move around the room than on other cruises.

On every cruise Becky insists we take a nap after our embarkation lunch. Of course, she insists on naps after lunch when we are at home too.

Normally I’m not too excited about beginning our vacation with a nap, but today was different.

I had gone to sleep the night before about midnight and woke up at 4 AM that morning. When I saw the clock, I intended to go back to sleep, but I was wide awake. By the time we got to our room, I was running on the fumes of my four hours of sleep and desperately in need of nap.

We were ready to lay down by 2:00 but this ship was having an early muster drill, so I figured we could sleep for 45 minutes and have 15 or 20 minutes to recharge with coffee before we had to head to the muster station.

It was a good and workable plan, but sleep evaded us thanks to people banging the walls and yelling in the hallway outside our door.

Just when I was on the verge of sleep someone barking in the hall would startle me back to full consciousness. After my anti-nap I got up feeling worse than when I laid down.

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After an uneventful 32 minute drive from Friendswood to the Galveston, I dropped Becky off at the Carnival terminal where a porter took custody of our bags. Becky grabbed our carry-ons to wait for me while I went to park our car.

Even though the lot I always use, Galveston Park n Cruise, is directly across the street from the Carnival terminal, I am forced to follow a long, congested road in the opposite direction. Eight minutes after dropping Becky off I finally exited the port and drove a mile back toward the terminal.

I checked in at the parking lot and used a crosswalk to get back to the port. The police officer directing traffic wished me a great cruise.

Nice cop.

Once across the street I walked a clearly defined foot path with my eyes directed at the terminal to see If I could spot my wife. At this point I heard a shrill voice yell “You can’t do that”. The voice belonged to a young female officer and it was directed at me.

Preoccupied with finding my wife I had forgotten the walking path crossed a lane for exiting parking shuttles and I had walked out in front of a distantly approaching vehicle full of departing passengers and their luggage.

Perturbed cop.

Having cheated death by shuttle bus, I found Becky and we were inside the terminal a minute later.

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They blew up the first Pasadena State Bank building today.

Yes, I know the modern terminology for for taking down a building like that is implosion. But this was a building of the 1960s, so I’ve decided to forgo the the refined vocabulary I enjoy today and address it like I would have in my youth. To a kid of my day, turning a 12-story concrete and steel building into dust and rubble meant you blew it up.

Growing up in Pasadena the building was a fixture of my formative years, and really, the whole town’s life. Even before the now-departed skyscraper was built in 1963 my father had accounts at their original location in old Pasadena.

Looking back at some of his banking records after he was gone, I found a thick stack of cancelled checks. There were 360 checks tightly held together with rubber bands. More than a decade after paying off the mortgage he kept these as tangible proofs of 30 years of timely mortgage payments.

Looking at the check he wrote for his first mortgage payment, I was surprised to see that in the mid-1950s there were no account numbers at the bottom of his checks. The only identifying information was my parent’s names pre-printed at the top of the check.

Back then, I guess banking, like life, was a lot more personal.

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When I was a kid, the idea of a ham in a can (from an exotic, far away land like Denmark no less) was fascinating. My parents, raised in the Depression and steeped in frugality, never bought one, which only added to the notion that these were some alluring delicacy and the fare of a people far more aristocratic than us.

As an adult I now know the pale, slimy horror the colorful can hides, and the desire to buy one is permanently gone along with some of my naivete.

So much of the stuff the world tries to sell us is like that, and the surprising thing is how long it takes us to realize we’re being conned.

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For the first time since Liam was born, Henry stayed overnight with us. I laid down with him and put on ocean wave sounds. Within 10 minutes he was out.

2 1/2 hours later I woke up and I had been pushed to within a 1/2 inch of the edge of the bed. Not only that, but he had intertwined his arms around mine. I was slowly able to extricate myself and push him back to his side of the bed.

When I woke up at 4:00 he had his head on my chest and other arm wrapped around me. I was also teetering on the edge of the bed again. I didn’t try to move him this time.

It was a night without much sleep, but knowing how fleeting these early years are, I decided to enjoy the experience of trying to sleep next to a thrashing octopus of a boy.

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I was looking back through some of my Facebook posts and came across this one from 2015. Back then, my only thought was of the medicines that were going to “save me” from the complications of diabetes. In the post I mention how the drug “worked wonders in allowing me to regain control of my blood sugar.”. At the time, a drug that worked wonders was one that gave me blood sugars below 150.

I am not going to demonize diabetes medications or the pharmaceutical industry, but I now know I can’t count on medicine to be the primary force in fighting diabetes and obesity. 

Four months on a keto diet have given me nearly normal blood sugars, substantial weight loss and lower blood pressure. 

You know what else is expensive? Buying new, smaller clothes, but that’s a joyous expenditure. 

The Battle 

On the way home from school I had to stop at CVS to pickup a refill one of my diabetes medications. With my insurance and a manufacturer’s special discount card, I’ve been able to buy a medicine that costs almost $600 a month for just $25. This medicine has worked wonders in allowing me to regain control of my blood sugar when nothing else has worked very well.

At CVS I got the news that my new discounted price is $314 a month. Surely, I said, that was a mistake. I came home and called AstraZeneca and after spending almost 15 minutes trying to get a human on the phone I finally got the word that the price was right. No explanation, but I was told that if I didn’t have any insurance I could probably get the medicine for free.

After 2 hours of fuming and doing my best “guess I’ll go eat worms” act I calmed down and regained rational thought.

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This was the best picture I got of my grandsons with Santa.  At this moment Liam was still in the curiosity phase of looking at Santa.  Moments later the look on his face was pure anguish. It was like I told him he was getting kale wrapped licorice in his stocking.

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