Thursday, February 23, 2017

Monthly Update; BVI Cruise; Hateful Places; Cooper Island Sunset; Sarasota Event; Yard Work; Who Designed That?

Gosh, it's been ages since I've posted on this blog, but we have been REALLY busy. Who ever said retirement was relaxing?

The highlight of the past month was a boating trip in the British Virgin Islands. Our voyage had been planned last year at a dinner party when we were visiting Cave Creek, Arizona. Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson and Lynn and Jeff Hollahan made up the starboard (Arizona) side of our 48 foot catamaran, while Irene and Tony Vouvalides (from Hilton Head), Suzanne and I occupied the port (East Coast side) cabins. Each couple had their own cabin complete with queen bed and en suite head (shower, toilet and sink), much nicer than my stateroom aboard a US Navy destroyer. (Hardly seems right, dontchathink?)

Tony and Irene were real sports, because on the very day we invited them on this trip, just an hour before they had signed up for a week's cruise aboard a 48 foot catamaran in the US Virgin Islands! That meant they would be living aboard a sailboat for two weeks. They were real troopers... or CRAZY! 

Our shipmates were all members of Helping Parents Heal, a support group for parents who have lost children that allows the open discussion of spiritual experiences and evidence for the afterlife. In fact, Elizabeth is one of the co-founders of HPH. Suzanne has spoken to several of their chapters and fully supports their mission. Our four kids (Carly, Morgan, Devon and Susan) were present with us throughout the week; after all, they had brought us all together! We had many spiritual discussions and visits from our kids speaking through Suzanne that week - more and more evidence that they were right there aboard the sailboat with us.

Lest you think that we had to get by on typical Navy food (let me recall some of the shipboard delicacies from the late 60's/early '70s: SOS, fried Spam, horsecock (salami) sandwiches, frozen pineapple crush, and bug juice), none of those meals were served aboard our boat. Thanks to the caterer at The Moorings, where we had chartered our brand-new catamaran, we enjoyed local fish, roti, fresh fruit and veggies, etc..... I gained about 4 pounds on this trip. (Of course, Cyril and Tony, our diligent bartenders, may have been partially responsible for my weight gain with their rum drinks, Champagne, and other potent spirits.)

Cyril also served magnificently as our Grillmeister, French Chef Extraordinaire, and Uber Dinghy Driver. Elizabeth was the ship's fashion coordinator; a former model, Elizabeth impressed us with her perfect runway walk and stunning wardrobe.

Jeff (AKA Long Arms) was an admirable Director of Selfie Photography - no one came close to having his reach. Lynn is an amazing wildlife photographer - she sent us some of her butterfly photos, which were National Geographic quality. (Oh, and Lynn's runway walk was also remarkable!) 

Tony was our Resident Naval Historian and Sailing Master, but regrettably, we had almost no wind the entire trip, and had to power from harbor to harbor. Irene put together a mean fruit plate, kept the deck clean enough to eat off of (well, almost), and as social director, brought along a fun game to help us all get to know each other even better.

Suzanne learned a great skill on this trip - keeping her loving husband fed with grapes and beer. Unfortunately, this skill has not transferred to life back in Florida... Smack! "Ouch! Hey, that hurt!!!"

One night was spent on a mooring off Cooper Island, which claims to have some of the most beautiful sunsets in the Caribbean, due to the view westward down Sir Francis Drake Channel. Suzanne and I jokingly refer to locations like this as "hateful places"...

A great stop for hiking was Peter Island, the largest privately-owned island in the BVI, which is owned by the family that owned AMWAY. Deadman's Bay, shown here, is a beautiful and very popular anchorage.

Because we had a well-provisioned galley, we only dinghied ashore for one dinner, at Pusser's Landing in Soper's Hole. It was a fun outing, but very noisy, and we all much preferred quiet dinners aboard our catamaran.

We also had one fun discussion about the value of past life regressions; I was given some undeserved (well, in my mind, anyway) grief when I referred to past life transgressions... one of which was apparently revealed during a hike ashore when Suzanne found out about my "other life" as an island charter boat captain and beach bum... 

In sum, our BVI trip was spectacular, and Suzanne and I are looking forward to the next opportunity to share a week somewhere with our wonderful shipmates.

Oh, and this happy couple wasn't quite ready to leave the boat, but their faithful puppies Rudy and Gretchen were calling... fortunately, they were being cared for by our great house/pet-sitters, Maureen and Marc, for the second year in a row.

Our trip back home did have one funny moment. Here we are loaded in our plane from Tortola to San Juan, Puerto Rico. You are looking at the pilot and half of the passengers! The guy in the right seat next to the pilot is a passenger... I was glad that he wasn't a suicidal jihadist on vacation in the Virgin Islands!  All he would have had to do was grab the controls and we would have been swimming with the fishes.  Our luggage was loaded into small pods behind the engines, and as we were taking off, Suzanne noticed that the strap of her backpack was sticking out of the cargo hatch and flapping in the wind. Yikes!

Back in Florida, My Lovely Bride suggested that I get some pine bark (AKA wood chips) for our garden. Being a basically lazy lout, I decided to blithely ignore her request until she repeated it about 17 times. All was going well until I saw some lawn guys spreading pine bark in a neighbor's yard. I thought, "Darn! Now Suzanne is going to see how good Jerry's yard looks, and I'll be sleeping in the garage..." I quickly asked the lawn guy for an estimate, wrote a check, and proudly announced to MLB that I would have the pine bark installed in a few days. She said, "Ty, I am so impressed. That will be a lot of work, just driving back and forth to Wal-Mart, and then lugging and spreading lots of pine bark. You will get a special reward when you're done." (Okay, folks get your minds out of the gutter... it was to be one of my favorite meals.) What I didn't know was that three enormous pallets of pine bark would be delivered and then spread out by a team of three burly yard guys. They did a great job, saving me about 25 round-trips to WM and days of backbreaking labor. Thanks to Demarius (seen here), Chance and Ferlin for your hard work!

We were pleased to have a visit from two friends from D.C., Anthony and Annette Baker, who are now cruising the east coast of the US and the Bahamas aboard their Morgan 43 sloop Magnolia. Anthony and I had worked in ballistic missile defense (BMD) on the Navy's SM-3 missile project before we went sailing. It was great to see them again - they have been out cruising for four years and are now expert sailors, with lots of sea stories and storms under their belts... including one lost anchor during a storm in the Bahamas (and yes, they actually recovered their anchor after a harrowing night). All part of a sailor's life...

We then drove down to Sarasota for Suzanne's next events, hosted by Unity of Sarasota. We enjoyed a delightful dinner with Rev Amy Zehe, her husband David, Gail DiNoia, and her friend, Judy at the Zehes' home. Both events at Unity, Heart Gifts and Living in the United States of Awareness, were very well-received. 

While in Sarasota, we stayed at a huge RV resort. One day found us walking around gaping at the gaudily-decorated golf carts awaiting the start of the annual Homecoming Parade. The Villages has some fancy golf carts, but these were decorated to a much higher level than we have seen at home.

Finally, I ask every male reader to evaluate the professional capabilities of the plumber who designed this portion of a men's head ("head" is a Navy term for toilet). Now, c'mon... this guy must have failed plumbing design 101!

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Vacancy Reply; Return to Hilton Head; Benjamin W. Latham; Back to Basics! Hearts and Love in the Forest; Dos Equus

In my last blog post, there was a photo of a street rod golf cart with a "Vacancy - Apply in Person" sign in the window. At the time I thought this was a humorous way for a guy to try to get a date, or at least to meet someone interesting. In fact, Suzanne said to me, "Isn't that interesting..." That was her way of implying that the owner of said golf cart might be a bit, well, "eccentric", perhaps. Imagine my surprise when I received this comment the other day: "Like that street rod. If the owner wants to start a conversation (re:vacancy) he may write Jennie at the following address..... I know. Unusual." Jennie (name changed for your protection), I don't know the owner of the aforementioned golf cart, but if he contacts me, I will let you know. I also don't know you, but suspect that you are a fun-loving, adventurous woman with a good sense of humor. If you aren't familiar with The Villages, it's a fun place, and a lot warmer than Pennsylvania right now. 

Speaking of Pennsylvania, Suzanne grew up in West Chester, and she went to college in Lancaster County. Our New Year's dinner was traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare - pork and sauerkraut for good luck. Here we see Brent, Ruthie, Bev, Suzanne and Cheryl waiting patiently for our staff photographer to sit down so they could enjoy their meal...

We are recently back from another short trip to Hilton Head, this time for Suzanne to give her Living in the United States of Awareness workshop and to speak to the local chapter of Helping Parents Heal. Both events went swimmingly, as the Brits say. (That has always been one of my favourite words since being stationed in the UK back in the early '80s - crikey, that was a long time ago!).

Frequent readers of this blog may recall that kale, quinoa and vegetables in general are not exactly at the top of my food hit parade. While in Hilton Head, we had dinner at the elegant home of our dear friends Tony and Irene Vouvalides. Here we see the lovely Irene surprising Your Faithful Correspondent with a specially-prepared kale and Brussel sprout salad and a green smoothie with several "healthy" ingredients... "Tony, please pass the Cabernet!!!" I have to give Irene credit on this one.... she really pulled one on me!

Tony and Irene also took us to Palmetto Bluff Resort, an historic locale where 21 plantations existed in the 19th Century. It is now a high end resort complex with a hotel, cottages, vacation homes, shops and restaurants. Rooms in the hotel in the background go for around $700/night, but hey, you get the use of a Mercedes to drive around the grounds or to go to town for shrimp 'n grits!

Tony (a master model builder) was kind enough to present me with a special gift during our visit - a beautiful, hand crafted half-hull model that he carved himself. This 84 foot fishing schooner, the Benjamin W. Latham, was originally built by the Tarr & James shipyard in Essex, Mass, in 1902. She operated as a mackerel seiner and dory trawler from 1902 until 1943 in Noank, Connecticut, New York City, and the Caribbean, when she foundered off Puerto Rico. Tony's model now hangs in a place of honor above the commissioning pennant that was presented to me following my change of command ceremony after two years as Commanding Officer, USS John Rodgers (DD-983).

I was transferring old files and photos the other day and ran across this one - it is posted on the patio of a restaurant in Colorado. Perhaps there is a reason for parents wanting middle and high schools to delete subjects like "gender studies" and return to traditional courses like English, history, math and science...

Those familiar with Disney may have heard of the Dopey Challenge, a four day event for runners, consisting of a 5K run (3.1 miles), a 10K run (6.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles), and finally a full marathon (26.2 miles). Suzanne's niece Michelle and nephew Matthew came down to run all four events (from Virginia and Montana, respectively). Here we see Matthew and daughters Olive (7) and Ruth (3) vising their great grandmother Ruthie before heading home to Whitefish. 

Suzanne and I didn't get to run the Dopey, but we did go hiking one fine day in the Cross Florida Greenway, where we found this pine cone heart on the forest floor. There was another set of cones laid out to spell "LOVE".

We also saw two riders and their trusty steeds approaching on a cross-trail. I turned to My Lovely Bride with a clever smile and said, "Sweetheart, it's Dos Equus". (Classics scholars and biologists will recall that Equus is Latin for horse, and in fact is the genus name for horses, asses and zebras. Beer drinkers know Dos Equis as an excellent Mexican brew.) I explained my witty remark to the two riders from upstate New Yawk and Ontario and was initially met with blank stares until my humor (or lack thereof?) sank in...   

Monday, January 2, 2017

December 2016 Finale; Mavis Pittilla; Hilton Head Guests; A 6.9 Mile What? Trains! Kayaking;

Our last post had us back in The Villages, Florida, our "home port" for the winter. We are not "snow birds," since we keep our house year round and Suzanne travels back several times during the summer to visit her mom Ruthie, AKA "The Bridge Shark". Winters are also very busy with Suzanne's work as an evidential medium. December found her hosting one of her mentors, Mavis Pittilla, a British medium who is one of the "rock stars" of that select group of people. All of Mavis' events were very well-attended, and Suzanne is pleased that Mavis will be returning to The Villages the last week in March. 

This was Mavis' group of enthusiastic students for her mediumship class held right here in The Villages. 

We had the pleasure of a visit from two of our favorite people, Irene and Tony Vouvalides, from Hilton Head, SC. They came down to celebrate Tony's and Ty's birthdays, which are just two days apart. We gave them a golf cart tour of The Villages, and they were impressed by our home town, if not by Ty's skills in driving a golf cart (which we had to rent -  we are one of only four families in TV that doesn't own a golf cart.

Speaking of birthdays, this was almost my last one... seems that My Lovely Bride told me that I had to start following her birthday tradition of running one minute for each year - that gave me a 69 minute run to complete, but we added a couple of minutes to make it a 6.9 mile run. She even ran with me to make sure I didn't take a 45 minute nap along the route. Darn that girl...

We have had some great weather down here in Central Florida, and some spectacular sunsets, but no snow! I think on this particular day, it was -8F in Coon Rapids, and 81F in The Villages... sorry to rub it in, Terri of the Frozen North!

One of the highlights of the Christmas season here is the annual Model Train Show - the club of the same name takes over a huge recreation center and fills eight large rooms with model trains, a hobbyist's dream. This was one of the larger displays...  

Suzanne is the daughter of a train engineer. Bill Smeltzer started on the Pennsylvania Railroad shoveling coal in the '30s, and became an engineer for Penn Central and Amtrak, driving the Broadway Limited and the Main Line west of Philly. In fact, this was a model of one of his engines. My Lovely Bride can still do an awesome train whistle... woo-wooooo!!!!!

This is the season to get together with friends, and another dinner out was enjoyed with Michele and John Uss, from Connecticut, but now living in America's Friendliest Hometown. We had a great meal at the Arnold Palmer Country Club. Michele and John also were extraordinarily helpful in helping Suzanne with Mavis Pittilla's event at Temple Shalom. There was one funny moment when we walked up to them and Suzanne said, "Michele, I have an outfit just like that!" (Seems that they both shop at the same boutique, Patchington - in fact, Michele even models their clothes! Good thing they didn't wear the same outfit, eh?)

Winter also gives us mild, sunny weather for kayaking on the rivers and spring-fed streams of Central Florida. Here we are enjoying the Withlacoochee River near Inverness with Bob and Jan Blythe. Water levels were down about four feet because of the drought affecting the southeast US. Surprisingly, we didn't see any alligators - and no, I didn't put Suzanne in the lead just in case there were 'gators lurking!

Another kayak outing took us to Lake Panasoffkee. Here is My Lovely Bride looking pretty dapper in her 15 ft NC kayak. 

It's always amazing that five minutes from the put-in, it seems like you could be in the wilds of Africa - there is rarely anyone else in sight, except for birds, turtles and splashing fish.

Finally, lots of people "from away" make fun of the wild reputation that our town has. Okay, maybe there is some drinking and sex going on here; retired folks know how to have fun just like their grandkids, right? This photo captures a bit of the unique lifestyle here in The Villages. The owner of this fancy "street rod" is advertising for a mate (full- or part-time?) with a sign in the window... "Vacancy - Apply in Person". 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Isn't That Interesting! Asheville Event; Hilton Head; Early Reveille; Southern Cuisine; Gator! Marines; Gym Babies

My last post was on November 6th, two days before our presidential election. I recall an expression that My Lovely Bride uses often: "Isn't that interesting!" I will leave any comments on the results of the aforementioned election to media pundits and those readers who are (a) celebrating and dancing, (b) wailing and gnashing their teeth, (c) making reservations to move to Canada because The Donald won, or (d) cancelling reservations to a Caribbean island because Hillary lost. I personally am a member of group (e) - those who have fun watching groups (a), (b), (c) and (d) and who plan to enjoy life in the greatest country in the world no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office. "'Nuff said!"

Suzanne had a great event in Asheville at Unity of the Blue Ridge (Your Emerging Soul workshop), where Reverend Darlene welcomed us with open arms and real Southern hospitality. But before we left one of our favorite cities, we had to get in one last hike in Pisgah National Forest. As you can see by this cute young hiker's fleece, Fall had already arrived. We were too late for the height of the color change in the leaves, and many trees had already shed their colorful livery. But it was still a joy to get out in the fresh air and hike the woods and mountains of western North Carolina.

We departed Asheville and stopped to visit our dear friends Irene and Tony Vouvalides in beautiful Hilton Head, South Carolina, for two days. Here we are at dinner one night - Hilton Head has some fabulous seafood, and Tony and I were lucky enough to have lovely dates that night!

But before we left Hilton Head... yep, you guessed it... another hike! This time there were no mountains, but South Carolina's Low Country provided a beautiful setting in the form of Pinckney Wildlife Management Area. This is a kayaker's dream - easy paddling on a cool, sunny day with minimal tidal current, at least along the shore and up the narrow inlets. There were lots of great blue herons, osprey and other birds here to watch.

Arriving back in The Villages, we got settled back into our usual routine. Well, almost usual... My Lovely Bride has taken to rising early because of her busy schedule and getting out to run right at the crack of dawn. I would prefer to get some extra beauty rest, say until 0900 or so, but "that ain't in the cards these days". One of the benefits of rising with (before?) the sun is getting to enjoy some spectacular sunrises...

Now before some readers deduce that MLB is a tyrant, let me prove otherwise. Here is Suzanne looking at my plate of fried chicken livers with envy and lust... well, okay, maybe "disdain" - she likes to eat really healthy food... but after all, she did go out of her way to make them for me one night after I had mentioned to another couple that I missed that quintessential Southern dish (after all, I did marry a Yankee, but at least she is a thoughtful and considerate Yankee!) 

While walking off the previous night's epicurean delight, I passed a small pond just two blocks from our house. The photo isn't very clear because of the distance, but there is a 7-8 foot long alligator on the bank in the center of this cell phone photo. Normally The Villages calls a gator trapper to relocate these beasts when they reach 5 feet in length, but apparently this guy was visiting from a nearby swamp and went unnoticed until I called security. He was trapped and removed the next day, before he caused any serious trouble. (Coincidentally, I think this occurred the day after the Alabama Crimson Tide rolled over the Florida Gators in the SEC title match.  ROLL TIDE! (Yes, Judson, that was for you...)

Part of getting settled in our new house was putting a flagpole in the front yard. This being a very patriotic community, there is NEVER an issue with "Oh, our homeowners association doesn't allow you to fly a flag in your yard!" (Good thing, too - I wouldn't live in a place with those kind of neighbors.) We fly the US and Marine Corps flags, the latter in memory of our daughter, Sergeant Susan Marie Giesemann Babich, USMC.

There are lots of former Marines here in The Villages, and some of them are seen here in a USMC-sponsored dragon boat. The paddlers are all Villages residents, male and female, all in their late 50s, 60s and 70s. They are not required to be former Marines, but I think that they are all honorary Devil Dogs. OOH-RAH! 

I don't paddle on a team, but have a rowing machine in our home gym - which used to be called our third bedroom. While Suzanne lifts weights, I row, and Rudy and Gretchen (our gym babies) relax in their beds in the sunshine under the window. Every now and then Rudy will lift an eyelid to see if we're about done; he knows that there will be a treat for him when we finish our workouts. I tried to get him to use a treadmill once, but couldn't get the machine to run that slowly...