Welcome to the 1st annual Harper Family Annual Report. Just an update of some of the things I’ve done outdoors this year, and some of the going’s on in the Harper household. We hope it allows us to share what’s going on with us, especially for those friends we don’t get to see or talk to enough, maybe something here will encourage you to get away from work and go have some fun, or maybe to spend some quality time with your family, or maybe you’ll find it terribly boring, that’s ok too.
I’ll admit right off the bat that the inspiration for doing this report, which I hope to do each year, comes from a good friend of mine, Buck Fuller. Buck hails from South Florida, about 4 hours away from us, and is a self-described Horseman, Gladesman(as in everglades), and Pistolero. He knows more about hunting and fishing the Florida backcountry that I ever will. In addition to a report like this each year of his outdoors exploits and world travel, not a month goes by that I don’t get in the mail a copy of a magazine article that may interest me or a photo of some recent fishing outing he’s been on. I will say that getting this constant barrage of hints to get out and do something other than work, has done exactly that. I get motivated everytime he sends me something and getting his annual report is like getting a good magazine at the end of the year. Ours is no comparison to his, but I hope it enlightens you to what we’re doing in our lives, and motivates you to do the things you enjoy in yours.
Our highlight of December and probably of the year was on the 17th, when Emily’s physicians told us we could take her off the oxygen she had been on since birth. If you don’t know, Emily was born July 29, 1999, 13 weeks early. She weighed 920 grams (2lbs) at birth and spent 3 months in Neonatal Intensive Care before coming home. I can’t imagine going through anything more difficult than those 3 months, but I can also say that I feel like we were the luckiest people in the world to have come out of there with a beautiful, healthy baby girl. It seemed like every day around us there was something going wrong with one of the babies near us, a serious infection, a surgery that had to be performed, or issues with development that will effect the child and the parents for the rest of their lives. We certainly had our ups and downs during that time with her, but in the end, at least so far, Emily doesn’t have any effects of the premature birth. I can promise you that spending time every day for 3 months in an NICU ward will change your attitude about life forever, it certainly did mine. When we did get to bring her home, she still needed supplemental oxygen and medication, so we came home with oxygen bottles, compressors, tubes, monitors, etc; but as of December 17, 1999, we finally had just a normal, healthy, hungry, crying baby.
We also spent a long weekend at the Anchor Inn at St. Pete Beach on the West coast of Florida. That was spent with my sister, Kelly and her family, and my dad and stepmom, Gayle. It actually ended up raining the whole weekend, just our luck, but we did our Christmas, and hung out in the tourist shops all weekend. I caught a fish off the dock on the Bay, just a small Jack Crevelle, but it was fun.
Well, we survived into the new year. Can you believe. Did your lights go out?
Did you run out of water? My gosh, I was so sick of the doomsday stories I
couldn’t believe it.
January is traditionally the best month for deer hunting in Alabama, so that’s where I was. I spent 3 1/2 days hunting at River Bottom Lodge around Selma with Ken Campbell, my stepfather. Ken and I try to go on at least one hunting trip a year and we always have a great time. It was warm the first day and a half we were there, but then the temp got down to freezing and the deer started moving. We both saw several deer, but I was the lucky one this trip and got a nice 8 point. River Bottom Lodge is owned and run by Ivy and Wayne Johnson and they are about the nicest people I’ve ever met. They have a gorgeous 4000 acres on the Alabama River. It was a great time and I hope I get to go back.
I also ran my first ‘race’ in quite a while, the 1st annual Run in the Hills 10k. Yes, we have hills in our area of Florida and you do feel them after running 6 miles in them, just believe me on that.
‘Little’ Ashley keeps growing up, a birthday about this time every year. Six years old on the 20th. We had a party at The Dinosaur Store, where the kids, (and a few adults) got to dig for real fossils. Everyone found a bunch of shark teeth and various fossils. Ashley and I have had fun trying to identify what she found using a fossil book that she ‘had’ to get.
Ashley started taking horse riding lessons this month. She’s a natural at that and is ready to buy a horse any day now, never mind we have no place to keep it, that’s just details that she knows Daddy will work out.
I took Tamara to her first NASCAR race, the Daytona 500. We went over that day, bought great tickets from a scalper, (hiding from the police to make the transaction), and had a super time. We bought shirts and caps to support our favorite racers, drank beer, and got mad when our guys didn’t win. If you think watching a bunch of cars driving around a circle for 2 ½ hours is boring, you haven’t been to Daytona. Forty cars with 750 horsepower each going 190+ mph within feet of each other can get pretty interesting.
Managed to get out on the water with Ashley for a little fishing in the jon boat, which is always an adventure. We fished this piece of water that looks so FISHY, I’ve been there 3 or 4 times, but never a bite. We didn’t catch anything this time either but we had a good time. We saw an Osprey catch a fish and carry it around the whole time we were out, proudly showing us that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing.
That’s about it for February. We did make a couple of trips to Cocoa Beach, and one to Busch Gardens with my sister, Kelly and her family. Busch Gardens is one of our favorite places to take the kids, that and Sea World. We buy annual passes each year and use them quite a bit.
I managed a fishing trip in my kayak to lake Walk-in-Water. Caught 5 bass, two that were very nice. It was a great way to spend Saturday morning. The kayak is about the best one person fishing boat I’ve ever seen especially for around here. A little nerve wracking when BIG alligators start hanging around close, but I think I’ve seen enough episodes of ‘Crocodile Hunter’ to be ready to handle them.
Buck Fuller and I met at in Lake Placid, Florida, about ½ way between
us, for a morning quail hunt. It couldn’t have been a nicer day, no wind,
clear blue sky, perfect temp. To make a perfect day better, quail were everywhere,
the dogs performed flawlessly, and we were shooting good enough to both shoot
doubles and have our limit before the morning was half done.
Also in March, I attending my first BIKE WEEK. Only about 600,000 other motorcycles were in attendance and THAT is unbelievable. The whole city of Daytona is taken over by motorcycles, if you like’em, that’s the place to be in March. Nothing but bikes, leather, scantily clad women, tatoos, music and beer. And more bikes. I rode my Triumph over with my across-the-street buddy, Rich and his father-in-law, Pete. They’re Harley guys, and after going to Bike Week, I’m somewhat converted. Not totally, I’ll never get rid of my 110 horsepower, fuel-injected, liquid cooled MODERN motorcycle, but I sure hope to add a big Harley cruiser to the garage one day.
April, May, June 2000
Summer’s here and you can bet that every weekend that isn’t accounted for below, our family is at the beach or a theme park. Seems like we go and go, and haven’t scratched the surface of things to do around here.
The beginning of summer and triathlon season. I did four in Clermont, placing 6th in my division in the second one, which was the first of a series of 4 races. These are short races, with only a 1/3 mile swim, 12 mile bike and 3 mile run, but I was very happy with that finish, considering I’ve been able to do very little running/cycling, and NO swimming.
Managed a few fishing trips both to the East and West coasts of Florida. Over in the Mosquito Lagoon/Indian River area, I caught several nice Redfish, some keeper size, and 6 oversize fish at 40 plus inches. Fishing the flats for these fish is an absolute hoot. The water is anywhere from 6 inches to a few feet deep, and you can see the fish in the water. If you can cast accurately, and the fish is in the mood, you are in for a heck of a fight on light tackle.
I also became an uncle again, when my sister, Kelly had her third child, Katie.
The only other big event I can think of for this time period was my hernia operation. Now THAT’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. Tamara had the fun time of having FOUR babies for about a week while I whined about how bad I was hurting. I’m glad that’s over and I know she is.
July started with a mini-vacation for Tamara and I. Thanks so much to my Dad and Gayle for keeping the 3 wild ones while we escaped to Daytona and Cocoa Beach. Tamara and I headed to Daytona first to watch/experience the Pepsi 400. July 4th fireworks, our national anthem sung by Tricia Yearwood, Governor George Bush, delivering the traditional ‘Gentlemen Start Your Engines”, (introduced correctly as the NEXT president of the United States), and F-16 fighter jets flying overhead make for a VERY patriotic evening. If you weren’t proud to be an American that evening, you just might as well not be here. 200 mph Nascar racing at night under the lights and a few beers just capped off a great night.
The next morning, we headed to Port Canaveral, and went out on a deep sea charter boat. The waters were very rough, and not very comfortable, but it didn’t stop Tamara from hauling in a 60 inch Sailfish. A real beauty and her first fish to ever catch off-shore. It was tagged and released, we have the tag certificate on our wall and ‘her’ fish should be swimming out in the Atlantic somewhere right now.
Mid month I took a trip up to Atlanta for a motorcycle racing school. I trailered my Triumph Speed Triple to Road Atlanta, for 2 days of the most intense motorsport I’ve ever imagined. I’ve ridden motorcycles most of my life, I’ve done some motocross racing, and I’ve flown airplanes as a private pilot, but that’s NOTHING like taking turn 9 at Road Atlanta at 140 mph on two wheels, with no-one to help you if you get in trouble but yourself. For two days, about 300 miles, in 20 minute track sessions, broken up with 20 minute learning sessions, the group of about 30 of us in the class had free rein to go as fast and lean as far as we dared, the only speed limit was in our stupid brains and right wrists. No worry of police, dogs, little old ladies, or gravel in the road. A motorcyclists dream. About 5 people fell off, thankfully not me, but no-one was seriously hurt.
Later in the month, I also managed to slip over to the Indian River and catch 3 awesome Redfish, (39 inches, 42 inches and 45 ½ inches), caught ‘em in that order too, with the big boy coming in just at quitin’ time. A perfect day on the water, hot, sunny, no breeze so the water was like glass. Those are the days you can see the fish so well, and the sight of 100+ 40 inch Redfish swimming around the boat is a real experience.
Little Emily, turned 1 year old on July 29th. It’s hard to believe a year has passed, but the little angel is doing so well. We had several friends over and had a little party/get together.
William, 2 years old, is starting to pee on his own in the pot! Yahoo!!! One more out of diapers soon.
August found me fishing in the Atlantic Ocean out of Port Canaveral for Tarpon and Kingfish. It was a great day to be on the water, and the first fish hooked was a huge 100 lb. Silver King. These fish are like oversize shiners, with a prehistoric ‘lung’ that allows them to gulp air at the surface. It took an hour and 5 minutes to boat this bad boy, and he’d dragged us over a mile from the hookup point. He graced us with spectacular jumps clear of the water at first, but the last 45 minutes were a battle of me pulling him up, where he’d take a big gulp of air, and go back to deep water. By the end of that fight, I was almost crying when he made those last few runs to deep water. To insult me even more, we get this guy in the boat on the deck, and before we can get any good photos before releasing him, he slides off the deck of the small flats boat we’re on, while we had turned our backs to attend to other duties like getting camera’s out and lines in order. We could do nothing but watch him swim away, and bid him farewell and thanks for pulling our line. That was the big fish of the day, with little else happening except catching 5 small Blacktip Sharks and a couple cutoffs from skyrocketing Kingfish. Three lines out, two with wire leaders and the King’s bite the one monofilament line both times!
My consulting firm, Clienttech Online Solutions, Inc., has been fortunate enough that each year we’ve been able to have a company get together, where we bring all our employees and their spouses together in some locale to meet, catch-up and have a great time. Our business is really crazy, as computer consultants that travel all over the country, working with clients all over the country, we frequently have employees that me, our sales people, or other consultants may have talked to many times on the phone, or traded endless e-mails over the course of the year, but have never met face to face. This once a year gathering is our chance to put faces with names, voices and e-mail addresses. Last year was the Bahamas, this year we all had a long weekend in Las Vegas. We stayed at the Luxor,(the Pyramid) which was awesome, and most of us managed to make our arranged delicious dinner outings and shows to see Sigfried & Roy perform their remarkable magic with White Tigers, Cirque del Soleil Mystere a non-stop show of incredible acrobatics and entertainment, and The Blue Man Group, which I can’t describe, but it’s the 3 guys you see on the Intel TV commercials. Very unusual. We all had a great time, and I think all lost a little too much money in the casinos, but the highlight for Tamara and I, was the one extra day we stayed, and did a helicopter tour of Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. The helicopter ride reminded me of the light planes I used to fly, low and slow. And cruising through the Canyon, with the pilot skimming over the water or beside the canyon walls, sometimes stopping and hovering so we could examine the vertical walls up close, was an experience we’ll always remember. It was truly an awe inspiring sight. We landed beside the river, and had a champagne lunch, and about 45 minutes to walk around and explore. By that time, we felt hot as a turkey on Thanksgiving morning, and were happy to hop aboard the chopper for the ride back. The perfect ending of the day was cresting over the Grand Canyon, and hurtling along at 100 mph or so just above the ground with music from the movie ‘Last of the Mohicans’ playing in our headsets.
The first part of October is opening bow season in Mississippi, and I was lucky enough to get an invite from my buddy, Jerry Pierce. Not only did he invite me to come up and hunt, but when I arrived from a 10 hour drive about 3:00pm, he had a stand all set up for me and ready to go so I could hunt that evening. Can’t beat that, thanks Jerry. This is a private hunting club near the Mississippi River, that he likes to call the Zoo, and he’s right about that. I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve seen so many deer, and this 3 days was no exception. After being there last year to hunt with him, I couldn’t wait to go this year. 90% of the hunters in the club, gun hunt only, so we’ve got the place to ourselves during bow season. I saw deer every morning and evening, and while I saw some nice bucks, saw one make a scrape, and had 3 does bed down 50 yards from me for a complete morning, the chips never quite fell in my favor and neither of us connected that hunt. Jerry ended up with an awesome 7 point a few weeks later.
One of the software products that myself and the consultants in my company
work with quite often is called Peoplesoft. Peoplesoft has a conference every
year, and myself and some of my consultants and sales people attend that. This
year, it was in Los Angeles, CA, which was my first visit to that huge city.
Tamara managed to make that trip, thanks to Tamara’s parents for babysitting,
and while much of my time was spend in conference sessions, we manage to get
out and enjoy some of the sights, lunch at Santa Monica Pier, GREAT steaks
at The Palm on the Sunset Strip, we got to see the stars arriving for the premier
of the movie Charlies Angles at the old Mann’s Chinese Theater where
you can see the handprints and footprints of the stars, and some more recent
landmarks, like the liquor store where John Belushi bought his last bottle
of liquor, and the LOT on Bundy where O.J. Simpson used to live. The whole
place has been torn down and a magnificent new house has replaced it. Overall,
an interesting visit, but I sure wouldn’t live there.
‘Little Man’ William turned 3 this month. He had a blast with a party at Chuck E. Cheese, a lot of presents, family, grandparents, and friends from the neighborhood. No doubt he prefers the parties where he’s the center of attention, rather than attending someone else’s party, where he could care less about what someone else is getting or doing. Guess that’s the way it is when your 3. I must say, if you’ve got young children, the folks Chuck E. Cheese but on one of the best parties I’ve seen for … parents. You pay your money, show up, play for 2-3 hours, and leave with a bag of presents. They provide food, drinks, private table, a hostess to help with presents, and games to keep everyone happy. Couldn’t be easier.
November was quite, we didn’t do much, till Thanksgiving week, except that I took delivery of my new Calba Legend 18 flats boat. This is an 18 foot boat, designed for fishing shallow, salt water, for Redfish, Spotted Trout, Tarpon and Snook. (Calba means ‘Fat Snook’, a of species of Snook). I’d been looking for a good boat for quite a while, but the big name brands are out of sight pricewise. I lucked upon a small outfit in Rockledge, FL, that is just getting started, and basically building boats one at a time. That gave me the opportunity to get a boat at a great price, and basically have it custom built to my specifications, and in the deal I made a new friend, Mike Hankins. This guy knows boats and rarely do you run into someone who does everything he says he’ll do, based on his word. He was a pleasure to do business with. I couldn’t be happier, and if I can drag Mike away from his boat building business long enough, I’m going to take him out and show him how to fish.
The week of Thanksgiving, our friends, Vince, Fran, William and Jennifer Ansick came down from Huntsville, Alabama to spend the week. Unfortunately for our fishing plans, they brought our coldest, windiest weather of the year down with them. Vince, William and I got out 4 times in my new boat, and caught some fish, but it sure wasn’t easy. VERY hard winds, cold weather and clouds do not make things easy when you’re on open expanses of water trying to sight fish for reds. But, we still had a great time, the boat worked great, and like they say, ‘a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work’, and that is certainly the truth in this case. We had a typical Thanksgiving feast (after we got back in from our morning fishing excursion) and I’m already looking forward to next year.
On a sad note for us, in early November we had to put Bridgett, our dog of 15 years down. She was a puppy just under a year old when I first met Tamara, and within a couple of weeks, I’d taken her out for a jog with me on a cold, icy Louisiana winter day. She was hooked for life. For the next 10 years or so she ran 20-30 miles a week with me, waiting in our apartment or house until I got off work so we could go for our workout. I know there was many a day, I’d have blown off going out, but couldn’t take her staring me down, so out we went. The last few years, she wasn’t able to run with me, and I never really missed it. I do now and think of her during every run, our family sure hated to lose her.
The first of December, and I’m back at Silver Harbor Lodge with Buck
Fuller for a duck hunt. We were staying at the Lodge’s rustic cabin on
Lake Istokpogo, and everything was going as planned, except the ducks apparently
didn’t get our invitation. The weather dawned a wonderful clear, bluebird
day, which is great 99% of the time, but not when you want to duck hunt. A
quick change in plans had us back in the quail fields following those brilliant
pointers as they went about their work. My brand new Benelli Super Black Eagle
3 ½ inch Mag 12 gauge was more designed for ducks and turkeys than quail,
but I figured it would do the job. Buck was his typical self, hitting often,
missing rarely, while I floundered. In preparation for LASIK eye surgery, I
was forced to wear my coke bottle glasses, rather than contact lenses, and
it seemed to shift my vision when I looked over my shotgun, causing WAY more
misses than I care to talk about. At least that’s my excuse. It was a
great day, and we did eventually get our limit of birds.
The perfect ending to that day was Tamara performing her magic in the kitchen with those birds. Nothing ever tasted better.
Mid-December is the cutoff for my annual report, and the last item to mention is our early Christmas present. Little Emily started walking. As well as she’s been doing, we still took her to see a team of Developmentalists to evaluate her, and how she was progressing. They found some issues with her hearing and speech, which we were able to quickly correct with tubes in her ears, and some physical issues with her not walking yet. Only a month with the physical therapist to help her along, and how she’s walking all over the place, trying to keep up with big brother and sister. It’s hard to believe looking at her now, that one year ago, almost to the day, we were just removing the oxygen tubes that were helping her breath.
That’s our year 2000! I hope yours was as blessed as we feel ours was, and if you take anything away from this ‘annual report’, let it be to get outside, spend some time with your family, and enjoy life!