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Next issue, we'll talk about the end of the Special Legislative Session, what was accomplished, and what was not. This issue, I have two subjects to discuss: the recent terrible storm that hit Fort Wayne, and cruise ships. First, the storm.

You read about areas in the country, such as Missouri or Minnesota, that get rainfall by the buckets for several hours at a time, but somehow, it never really hits the Fort Wayne area like that. At least, not until the evening of June 26th.

I happen to live in the southwestern part of the county, and my neighborhood was virtually at ground zero for the worst of the weather. We received eight inches of rain in the space of four hours. It was a freak storm that moved into Fort Wayne, parked itself, and refused to move on for several hours. It continued to regenerate itself, so that there was little or no relief from the lightning, rain, and hail. At the worst moments of the storm, the trees began to bend almost completely over, and rain was coming in sideways by the bucketful. It was at that point that I rounded up the family and headed for the basement. I had to drag my ten year old down the stairs while he howled at me about getting all of his toys rounded up and brought down with us (it was his birthday, and he wasn't about to part with the goods he'd gotten unless they came with him. They didn't!).

When the storm finally cleared, there was a serious mess outside. Many trees down in our neighborhood, and no power anywhere. But we had no idea what had just missed us until the next day, when the devastation in the neighborhood behind us, Brierwood Hills, was revealed. The storm snapped fifteen power poles, and uprooted or destroyed hundreds of beautiful old trees. AEP spent three days around the clock working to clean up the mess and restore power (we were without power ourselves for 48 hours). A mess like that is hard to explain. The official explanation from the National Weather Service was "wind shear". However, to a man, the AEP workers, who came from as far as Ohio and Michigan, all said that they'd seen it all, and this was a tornado! The way the trees had been twisted; the way some well-rooted trees had been literally yanked out of the ground; the pattern of the destruction all led them to say a tornado had quickly struck and left.

The way the trees bent and the rain and hail hit, I'm not about to argue with them. I just feel lucky that we were able to dodge a bullet that passed within 300 yards of our home. Believe me, our ten year old was given the big lecture about what is important and what isn't. I think after he saw the devastation in the neighborhood behind us, and he talked with the AEP workers (they became good friends), he understood why, when the call goes out to hit the basement, you drop everything and run down there. It was a good lesson for me also: we need to practice our family's response to an emergency like that, and we will, from now on.

The other matter I wanted to write about was the cruise my wife and I recently took to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Neither of us had ever taken a cruise, so we had a lot of people's opinions, but no idea what to expect. Let me tell you, it was wonderful.

We traveled out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, aboard the Grand Princess, the flagship of the Princess cruise lines. The ship is monstrously large: over three football fields in length, and 17 stories high. It can carry 2500 passengers, plus a crew of over 1100! You'd have thought you would be crowded like a sardine, but not at all. The ship amazingly can handle a full crowd with ease. We hardly had to wait at all for our meals, and were able to go anywhere on the ship without having to line up for much of anything.

The food was the highlight in a trip full of highlights. Absolutely fabulous, no matter when you chose to eat. We had breakfast delivered to our room every day (no extra charge), where we ate on our balcony (80% of the rooms on this ship have balconies!). You could eat lunch at any time, and there was always plenty of delicious entrees to choose from. Dinner was flexible, and always first rate. We chose to pay a small amount extra ($15 each) to dine in the ship's Italian trattoria, and it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. A 17 course meal, and each portion was terrific. The service was impeccable as well.

There were at least six large pools on the ship, with numerous areas to stretch out, take in the view, and read a book. The shows at night were top rate: Broadway type musicals and dancing; comedians; audience participation. Whatever your tastes, there was something for everyone. For those who love to gamble, the ship also has the world's largest ocean going casino.

We visited the island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands; St. Martin, which is part Dutch and part French, as well as Princess Cay, which is owned by Princess Cruise lines and is basically a playground full of water sports, shops, snorkeling and scuba facilities, and, of course, great food!

The most amazing part of shopping in St. Thomas and St. Martin were the duty free prices on certain items, particularly jewelry and liquor. Now, my wife and I aren't big drinkers, but we did purchase a couple of bottles of liqueurs. The thing is, one could purchase a bottle of vodka or scotch for more than 60% off the standard prices here in the States. The reason: no taxes. You are limited on what you can bring back duty free ( ie. Without having to pay US taxes on the item ) via US Customs, but most everyone brought back something of value.

All in all, we had a wonderful time, recharged our batteries, so to speak, and enjoyed the time alone together. We would recommend this type of vacation to anyone. Yes, we had to save our nickels to make this trip, but it was worth every penny. After 20 years of marriage and two great kids, we figured we had earned it. And...we've already decided that we're going to celebrate our 25th Anniversary the same way!


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