Some friends of mine live most of the time in Papua New Guinea, but are currently living in North Carolina.

Truthfully, I've never met these "friends," who are actually friends of the daughter of someone who is a real-life, in-the-flesh type friend of ours.  But I've followed their story and prayed for them ever since they came to the United States to deliver quintuplets, six years ago.

Last I knew, they were still doing fine in North Carolina, and this is what they had to say about their experience, despite school and church closures and curfews:

The rain we've had from Florence is much less than we have on a near-daily basis in PNG.

Granted, they're not in the area hardest-hit by the hurricane.  But it still offers an eye-opening window on other climates.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Edit
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I recently had the opportunity to read The Excellence Habit: How Small Changes in Our Mindset Can Make a Big Difference in Our Lives by Vlad Zachary. As a whole, I did not find the book helpful, because despite the promising title, it is primarily directed at the business world. However, the following passage clearly applies to us all.

The one stress factor that always reduces our choices and affects how we react is the availability of time. ... At any moment we are hurried, or feel hurried, we will exhibit a diminished ability to respond in line with our circumstances. Even when we encounter new, unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous circumstances, if we had plenty of time, we would have a better chance of self-control and adequate response. When time starts running out, so does our capacity for reaction, problem solving, and creativity. This is almost universal as a response to time pressure.

Having read that, my reaction was to be confirmed in my belief that we need to build more time-space into our lives by reducing our commitments, beginning preparations well in advance of an event, building deliberate open spaces into our schedule, and not getting into the car with just enough time that if all the lights are green and there are no slower drivers in front of us, we will just make it to our destination as the event begins.

The author, however, heads in a different direction.

Awareness and preparation, therefore, are critical to how well we perform when short on time. ... Practice and how well we do under pressure are positively correlated. ... The more we prepare, the better we will perform when it matters.

I can see that, too. The correlation is obvious among athletes, musicians, artists, the military, and my friends who carry guns: practice is the only way to build up the good habits and automatic responses that will enable us to react correctly and effectively under pressure.

I would go further. For any positive trait we wish to acquire, or instill in our children—compassion, timeliness, responsibility, courtesy, self-control ... good handwriting, mathematical facility, driving skills ... the ability to handle pain, to resist temptation, to follow the right course in the face of opposition—without correct, consistent, and constant practice under more favorable circumstances, a crisis situation will leave us wide open to panic, paralysis, poor decision-making, and the betrayal of our own values.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 6:32 am | Edit
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Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Not long ago I had a chance to view this 2017 movie of Heidi. Unfortunately, Netflix doesn't have it, but that link will take you to the Amazon version. The film endeared itself to me immediately because the grandfather is played by Bruno Ganz, whom I first met as the amazing grandfather in Vitus (another great movie set in Switzerland).

I remember having seen a movie version of Heidi many years ago, but which one it was I have no idea. All I remember about it is that this new one struck me as quite different. Having never actually read the book (yes, I'm embarrassed), I decided it was necessary to remedy that omission and learn the truth.

Normally I prefer reading a book before seeing any movie version, so as not to have someone else's ideas and images come between the author and my experience. However, in this case, the movie is good, and true enough to the book that seeing it first is fine—and the movie would be worth seeing for the Swiss scenery and culture alone. If I'd read the book first, I'd probably not have enjoyed the movie as much, because my mental commentary always intrudes: That's not right, that didn't happen, why did they change that scene?, why did they leave out the best parts???

So go ahead, see the movie. But be sure to read the book! There really is a lot to this beautiful story that's left on the cutting room floor for the film. I strongly recommend reading the book, especially for anyone lucky enough to have friends or family in Switzerland. It would be a great read-aloud choice, and the Kindle version is free. Unfortunately, I can't find any information on the translator for the Kindle edition. I like the translation very much, because it's fine English but retains just a little flavor of the German—for example, the neuter gender of das Kind—which adds to the atmosphere. The only time I notice this getting in the way of understanding is that apparently the word for "yawn" is translated "gape," which can lead to some confusion in one chapter. Otherwise, it's just delightful.

It's lovely to be able to recommend a book without reservation!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 10, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Edit
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When you are young you write either romantic or depressive poetry or both. When you are older, you write stories of whatever genre. But you know you are really getting old when you start writing essays!

— Anaya Roma, The Mindverse Chronicles, "Going to Hell."

I am officially old, and have been much of my life.

Not because of the grey in my hair;
Not because I'm on Medicare.
Not for the wrinkles on my face,
Or because my grandson can sing bass,
And today my granddaughter is turning ten.
No, I am marked by the strokes of my pen:

Sad poems and novels were never my art;
The essay's the form that speaks from my heart.
My muse was set in the days of my youth:
To seek, and ponder, and write the truth!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 6, 2018 at 7:33 am | Edit
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There are plenty of times I grumble about Google, but not today.

As I work my way through the nearly 5,000 photos and assorted memorabilia from our recent vacation, I feel nothing but gratitude for the location information embedded in most of the photos, plus Google Maps, Google Maps' satellite images and Street View, Google Image Search, Google Translate, and Google Search itself—allied with all those good people who post images and commentary from their own trips.  I could not begin to handle this enormous job without them.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 3, 2018 at 9:53 am | Edit
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I don't care if your question is about climate change or about your niece's latest romance, I can answer it with two words: It's complicated.

Simplistic answers to complex problems sadden and infuriate me. That's how we end up leaping from one problem to another, from one error to a different error.

My father always greatly admired people who, when seeing a job that needed to be done, just did it, without debate and without complaining that it was really someone else's responsibility. I mostly agree with him, and when our kids were growing up, we had something called "Grandpa's Award" that I gave out when I observed such behavior.

While that philosophy works heart-warmingly well on smaller points, such as washing dishes, changing a diaper, or running an errand, most larger issues are not well managed without research, thought, and debate—yet we still jump on simplistic answers, embarking on pathways that accomplish little at high cost, or even result in great harm. Out of compassion, we are quick to donate money to what appear to be good causes, not seeing in the end the food rotting in port instead of being distributed to starving people, the books mouldering in a forgotten storage closet, the money enriching the coffers of corrupt politicians and businessmen. Dreaming of an end to poverty, we pass laws providing for the needs of indigent single mothers and children, only to find that we've created a culture in which it is to a family's financial advantage for the father to be absent, and young girls seeking independence have an incentive to get pregnant. German chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to an urgent, growing, and heart-wrenching refugee crisis, quickly opens the doors of her country without consideration for those who warned that there should first be put into place a workable plan. Now both Germany and the refugees are suffering from the inevitable consequences of trying to absorb a large influx of people with great needs and a markedly different culture, and of a significant portion of the population who feels unheard and unrepresented, and can rightly say, "I told you so."

All this came to mind because of the recent outcry against plastic straws. I am certainly appalled at the waste produced by the restaurant industry, but what does banning plastic straws really do? It seems we've once more jumped on a feel-good bandwagon without actually researching the problem. In our house, replacing plastic straws with something biodegradable would create a good deal more waste, since we wash and reuse plastic straws hundreds of times—we are still less than halfway through the package we bought four years ago. What waste is created, what environmental damage done when a company retools its system to create a substitute for its plastic straws? Is the good accomplished commensurate with the cost incurred—especially since the biggest man-made contaminant of the world’s oceans is not plastic straws, or even plastic bags, but cigarette butts?

You will understand, then, my appreciation for a recent post by my friend Eric Schultz on his Occasional CEO blog: Food Foolish #8: What About the Birds? As co-author of Food Foolish:  The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change, he might be expected to endorse uncritically any attempt to reduce the large quantity of food that ends up in our landfills. Inspired by a listener's question at one of his lectures, however, he decided to investigate this problem: How dependent are birds on human food waste, and what happens if we reduce it—as so many individuals, corporations, and governments are now committed to doing?

That turns out to be a complicated question with not enough data for a clear answer. It's worth reading his analysis.

If even something as obviously good as reducing food waste has unintended consequences to consider, surely our thornier environmental, social, and political problems could benefit from more research and thought and fewer highly-charged emotions, from a lot more light and a lot less heat.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 2, 2018 at 6:55 am | Edit
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[Embedded videos are still not working; I'll fix this when and if I can.  In the meantime, clicking the links provided will take you to the videos on YouTube.]

During our recent visit to the Netherlands with our Swiss grandchildren, we enjoyed a visit to the Openluchtmuseum (Open Air Museum) in Arnhem. As far as learning Dutch history goes, the kids might benefit from another visit in a few years. But when it comes to having fun, they got what they came for.

The museum occasionally features concerts and other events, and very near the beginning, the theatrically-minded of our crew were hooked. Not that this sign explained much to us, though our eyes lighted on the word "Annie." The sound of singing drew us like a magnet. Well, most of us. Porter and Joseph spurned the SRO crowd for comfortable chairs and some man-to-man discussion time in the wings.

I'm not much of a fan of Broadway musicals myself, but I was intrigued by the familiarity of the music. Later, I concluded that there's a similarity among musical theater numbers that makes them nearly indistinguishable to the non-initiate, especially when the lyrics are in a foreign language. At the time, however, all we could conclude was that this was defnitely not the Annie we were expecting.

[Placeholder for currently non-working embedded YouTube video.  Click here.]

I submitted this recording to my Facebook audience, some of whom are very knowledgeable about musical theater. But no one came through. This lack of response was inexplicable until I realized that the amazing Tim Hanes—who, as far as I can tell, knows every musical ever penned—was himself out of the country in my hour of need. On the other hand, even when I got back to a good Internet connection and the full resources of Dr. Google, it took me a while to track down this show.

It is as Dutch as you can get. According to Wiipedia, Annie M. G. Schmidt was "the mother of the Dutch theatrical song and the queen of Dutch children's literature."

in 2007, when a group of Dutch historians compiled the "Canon of Dutch History" [they] included Schmidt, alongside national icons such as Vincent van Gogh and Anne Frank.

(Even her death was Dutch: I have never before seen a cause of death listed as "euthanasia" and I hope never to see it again. Some parts of this lovely country are surreal and disturbing—but that's better left for another post.)

Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster, one of the most popular Dutch television shows of all time, was written in the 1960's by Schmidt. In 2002 it was made into a movie (English version Yes, Nurse! No, Nurse!) As you can see from the excerpt below, it's no more a children's show than Into the Words (despite the latter's fairy tale setting).

[Placeholder for currently non-working embedded YouTube video.  Click here.]

Since the version we saw was designed for children, it was shorter, and presumably cleaner—in any case, even the most multi-lingual of our grandkids doesn't know enough Dutch to deciper the lyrics (and he wasn't listening). This particular song, however, is a powerful earworm, and certainly made an impression. All the children enjoy play-acting, and the three-year-old, especially, treated us to many subsequent performances of her version, in which the title morphed—understandably, for one who speaks English and German—into Jah Sister, Nah Sister. The only part of the original they maintained was this refrain, but it spawned endless variety. You'd think I'd have had the sense to video at least one of the innumerable performances, but I didn't.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 at 7:05 am | Edit
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In one of the early episodes of the TV show Monk, Adrian Monk's assistant, Sharona Fleming, explains, "I never vote; it only encourages them."

I believe that informed, intelligent voting is the duty of citizens in a democracy. I really do. But having arrived at (primary) Election Day, I'm inclined to sympathize with Sharona.

Take the school board race, for example. I don't need anything more to make me over-the-top thankful that my era of intimate involvement with the public schools is long over, but the priorities of this year's candidates reassure me that I would still be bashing my head against the wall it it weren't.

What are the hot-button issues for the candidates in our safe, mostly suburban school district? School safety, mental health counselling, vocational education, and getting rid of standardized testing. They're so consistent on this that the one guy who is a little different may well get my vote—despite his bizarre rant about how he doesn't want to carry a gun, as if he can't tell the difference between allowing someone with a carry permit to bring his own gun onto a school campus, and somehow requiring all teachers to carry guns.  (To be fair, teachers are asked to do so many things besides teaching these days, I can understand his paranoia a little.)

I'm all for vocational education—in which America as a whole needs to do a much better job—but could we not have at least one candidate who is concerned about academics? Who will make a priority of offering our students a first-class, high-quality education? If their top concerns for our schools are safety and mental health issues, then it's not an educational institution we're running. I don't know what it is, but it's not a school.

The other races aren't much better. Looking through their campaign literature is an exercise in, "Nope, not that one. Not him. Not her. Certainly not that one. Oh, look, one who doesn't completely vilify her opponent, how refreshing."

If it's my duty to vote, isn't it someone's duty to provide candidates worth voting for?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 4:34 am | Edit
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As usual, jet lag is kicking me on the return trip. (The outbound trip is much easier, for several reasons.) I had thought I was over it the first day—but it turns out I was only so exhausted that sleep came at any time, any place. :) But it's getting better. Gradually, my wake-up-and-can't-get-back-to-sleep time has stretched from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to this morning at 4:30 a.m.—almost normal. I knew there was no hope of getting back to sleep today, because I woke up thinking about how far away our children and grandchildren are, and how much that not only hurts now but potentially makes life difficult years from now if we don't get hit by a truck but have to face becoming too old and infirm to live independently. a sad situation many of our friends are currently going through with their parents.

Lying in bed awake was not producing any solution to that problem, so I got up and went to work. And one of the first things I ran across, on a totally and completely unrelated search, was this song: "The Missing Piece," by Cherish the Ladies.

[For some reason, embedded videos have suddenly stopped working on this site. I refuse to let that stop me from posting and will fix the posts when the problem is fixed. In the meantime, you can see this one on YouTube by clicking on the placeholder link.]

[Placeholder for currently non-working embedded YouTube video. Click here.]

Yes, I cried.

There's a sadness woven throughout Irish music, despite the gaiety of many of its songs. Naturally, this song of family far away and of the expat's dilemma—homes in two countries and yet a stranger to both—moved me especially this morning. Like most music of this sort, it also dredged up other sorrows, present and ancient, from family visits recently postponed to the loss of loved ones almost half a century ago.

We need such moments of grief and remembrance, and that's one of the strengths that make Irish music what it is.

Then it's time to move on and get to work. (After writing about it, of course. That's how I cope.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 27, 2018 at 6:11 am | Edit
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Test1 YouTube video inserted with Lifetype YouTube button.  (URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuPPTowPrSM)

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Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 26, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Edit
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The infamous Blue Screen of Death is all too familiar to my generation of Windows users. It may be that blue screens are now causing death in a different way.

This Popular Science article reports that prolonged exposure to blue light can cause irreversible damage to the cells that allow us to see. (And truly, I thought of the Blue Screen of Death analogy before I noticed that the article's author did, too.) That would be light from our televisions, computers, phones, e-readers, and even increasingly popular LED illumination.

Catastrophic damage to your vision is hardly guaranteed. But the experiment shows that blue light can kill photoreceptor cells. Murdering enough of them can lead to macular degeneration, an incurable disease that blurs or even eliminates vision.

Blue light occurs naturally in sunlight, which also contains other forms of visible light and ultraviolet and infrared rays. But ... we don’t spend that much time staring at the sun. As kids, most of us were taught it would fry our eyes. Digital devices, however, pose a bigger threat. The average American spends almost 11 hours a day in front of some type of screen, according to a 2016 Nielsen poll. Right now, reading this, you’re probably mainlining blue light.

Obviously, more research is needed before we panic about this. But maybe it's time I stopped putting myself to sleep by reading on my Kindle, or playing a move or two in Word Chums, or praying through our church's Prayer Chain list. They say you should turn off "devices" an hour before bedtime, because the blue light can keep you from falling asleep. That's never been an issue for me. But damaging my eyes? That's a much bigger issue.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 25, 2018 at 9:13 am | Edit
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altNobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What You Can Do about It by Steven Pressfield (Black Irish Entertainment, 2016) (This subtitle is for the Kindle version. The paperback subtitle is And Other Tough-Love Truths to Make You a Better Writer. Don't ask me why.)

I hate this book. That's why I'm considering buying my own copy.

Our grandson received a Kindle for his birthday, a rite of passage in his family. Fortunately, he didn't mind in the least that it was a used Kindle by the time it was placed in his hands. I took full advantage of the temporary access to his father's library of e-books during the weeks it was in my possession, devouring six books, one of which was this title. Thus I read it quickly, and do not have access to the notes and quotes I would normally have for writing a review. But here's what I remember:

  • The language doesn't get any better than the title, and lacks the courtesy of the asterisk. This shouts unprofessionalism as well as rudeness.
  • There are 119 chapters in this 208-page book. You can guess the length of most of the chapters, which read more like Facebook posts than book chapters. This was actually handy for reading in the few spare minutes I could snatch during our recent cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam, but it made the book—not the boat ride—choppy and disorienting.
  • Pressfield has very definite ideas about how a story must be written, and reading his prescription my immediate reaction was, "If this is the way books are supposed to be written these days, it's no wonder I find very few that I like."
  • He sees little to no difference in how to tell a story, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, books, TV, movies or advertising copy. That's another reason for me not to like modern books.  There's a reason I far prefer the written word to film.
  • Pressfield sprinkles his book liberally with movie references, which of course leaves me completely at a loss as to the point of the illustration he is using.
  • He has a style reminiscent of Ann Voskamp, which I know recommends him to many people, but not to me. I find her writing disorienting and not particularly helpful.
  • Basically, the book was annoying to read, often confusing, and seemed to speak of a world totally foreign to my own.

So why on earth am I considered purchasing Nobody Wants to Read your Sh*t?

Because I think it has something to say to me. I think I can learn from it.

One place I agree with Pressfield is that all writing is storytelling. Much of speaking is also storytelling. It's a skill everyone should learn, and while I've picked up some experience flying by the seat of my pants, I'm a babe in the woods when it comes to the art itself. Pressfield, who is a successful writer of fiction, history, and self-help books as well as movie and television scripts, clearly knows much that I'm not even aware that I don't know.

  • At the most trivial level, learning the art of storytelling will give me a new and fun way to look at books and movies, trying to puzzle out the patterns and techniques used to create the story line.
  • Since all writing is storytelling, knowing the techniques—even if I reject some of them—should help me make my own writing more interesting.
  • It might even help my speaking, since I've been told more than once that when I try to tell a story without writing it down first, I put in too much unnecessary and confusing detail and background, leaving listeners just wishing that I would get to the point. It's not good storytelling to bore the audience.

Well, I've pretty much convinced myself. Now if Amazon would just run one of their special $1.99 sales....

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 24, 2018 at 11:57 am | Edit
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From J. R. R. Tolkien, in The Return of the King, Appendix F.

In those days all the enemies of the Enemy revered what was ancient, in language no less than in other matters, and they took pleasure in it according to their knowledge. The Eldar, being above all skilled in words, had the command of many styles, though they spoke most naturally in a manner nearest to their own speech, one even more antique than that of Gondor. The Dwarves, too, spoke with skill, readily adapting themselves to their company, though their utterance seemed to some rather harsh and guttural. But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, thought models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 5:38 am | Edit
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I first noticed it when Porter was working with coworkers from India, part of the great outsourcing/offshoring boom in the early part of this century. He had discovered that he could never make more than one point in an e-mail. If he asked two questions or brought up two subjects—let alone a list of several—his correspondent would respond to one of them, usually either the first or the last, and completely ignore the rest. At the time, I blamed it on the language barrier.

Now I don't know what say, because it happens all the time, with people for whom English is as native as language can get. Over and over again people seem to be missing everything after the first paragraph of an e-mail.

Could it be a Twitter Effect, and people just can't take in more than 140 characters at a time? Have our attention spans degenerated so drastically? Are we perhaps just so busy, hurried, and harried, trying to accomplish too much in too little time, that we can't take time to read carefully? I think of doctors, nurses, teachers, and others who complain that they are so rushed they can no longer do their jobs properly. It may be those in the helping professions who feel it first and foremost, but it's no doubt true of us all.

Should we, perhaps, call ourselves a post-literate society? Once upon a time, not that long ago, literacy was not taken for granted. It wasn't until 1940 that the U.S. Federal Census stopped asking people if they could read and write.  But thereafter, every schoolchild was expected to learn to read and to write, and libraries flourished.

Now, I'm not so sure. Schools still teach reading and writing, but are we now creating graduates who can read, but don't? So many people never touch a book after leaving school! We've gone from reading solid, well-written, even scholarly books, to "beach reads," to newspapers and magazines, to USA Today, to blogs, to Facebook and Twitter, click-click-click. From long, newsy letters to e-mails to Instagram and Snapchat.

Certainly, there have been gains with each step. But we've also lost something important. I know people who can read very well, but have no patience with an e-mail that is longer than a few sentences. At least I don't need to worry about offending anyone with this blog post—the guilty won't get this far. :)

Ah well, one must move with the times. Pardon me while I go snip an e-mail into bite-sized fragments.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Edit
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We're home after a month overseas, and it's raining.

Europe has been experiencing a drought so severe that our Viking River Cruise devovled into a Viking Bus Tour. Looking over the California-brown land of the Netherlands, Porter—who had lived there for four years in the 1960's—recalled that he had never, ever seen Holland as anything but a lush, green country. His only concern about the weather for our planned adventure there with Janet and her family was that it would be a soggy affair, because "it's always raining in Holland."

Except that it wasn't. We had five beautiful days of almost unprecedented sun, accompanied by almost unprecedented heat.

And then, finally, it rained. The grateful grass took notice and stood up, acquiring a green blush overnight. It also rained some during our subsequent visit to Switzerland.

It wasn't until tonight that I realized why it the experience was somewhat disorienting. It rained in Europe much as it rained in America's Northeast when I was young. That is to say, I relearned what umbrellas are good for, and more than half the time didn't bother with one anyway. I got a little wet; I soon got dry.

But tonight we are back in Florida, and it is RAINING. The water is pouring out of the sky so fast that the gutters overflow before the flood has a chance to reach the downspouts. Any minute now I expect to see the Maid of the Mist cruise through our back porch. Then again, maybe I missed it when a lightning strike, so close that the bottoms of my bare feet tingled, sent us scurrying back inside.

If in the Netherlands we didn't bother with umbrellas because they were hardly needed, in Florida we don't bother because after 30 seconds one is soaked to the skin anyway.

Now that's rain. One night of this and all the cruise ships would be back in business.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 7:59 pm | Edit
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