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... 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Yard Work; A Navy Reunion; New Friends; Extraordinary Wines; Ladew Gardens; Vito's; Uh-Oh; Fall Colors; A Russian Feast; "That Very Dangerous Place!"

Well, it's been awhile since my last post, and Suzanne and I have been very busy. Hurricane Matthew came and went, fortunately with little impact on The Villages. We had winds in the high 30s and moderate rain, but no significant damage in our area. We are quite far inland, and significantly higher than the low-lying coast of Florida. Okay, so 87 feet elevation doesn't sound like a lot to you folks in Denver or Pinedale, WY, but we are happy to be in the Florida Highlands. 

After the storm, we got some yard work done, including a new Sylvester palm tree (Phoenix sylvestris) for the front yard. This sucker weighed about a ton, and was delivered with a truck and front end loader. It replaces a scraggly crepe myrtle whose leaves were staining our front porch...

The same delivery brought us a small fountain for the area between our patio and covered lanai. I thought about horsing it around myself until the guys said it weighed about 400 lbs. "Nah, go ahead and use the loader." This was one of my smarter decisions this month...

We were home for a few weeks before departing again for Suzanne's events in Northern Virginia and Asheville, North Carolina. On the way, we stopped in Richmond to visit Dottie Cleal, a Naval Academy staff colleague of mine from 1977-1980. We were both lieutenants back then, and both retired as Captains. Coincidentally, Suzanne and Dottie served together at the Naval Academy in the late 90s. It's a small world. We had dinner with Dottie and retired Navy Commander Paul Galanti, an A-4 Skyhawk pilot who was shot down over North Viet Nam in 1966 and spent 7 years as a Prisoner of War. I had met Paul when he was a Battalion Officer at the Naval Academy; it was great for the four of us retired Navy officers to catch up after so many years. Dottie prepared a magnificent meal, and we enjoyed the spectacular view of the James River from her beautiful home on a bluff overlooking the rapids.

Our next stop was in Manchester, Maryland, visiting our good friends Jerry and Karen Facciani. They live in a renovated hunting lodge on 35 wooded acres near Prettyboy Reservoir, where we enjoyed a great hike. But trees weren't the main draw - it was getting to know this fascinating couple. And oh, by the way, Jerry is a wine expert with a wine cellar that made me green with envy. Here is Jerry showing off a few bottles of his favorite Chateauneuf du Pape... 

Karen is a jewelry designer/maker and certified gemologist. Her studio and workshop has a selection of tools and equipment that astonished me, but we were most impressed by her beautiful jewelry creations... Suzanne is very happy because she now has one of Karen's beautiful necklaces and matching earrings! 

Karen and Jerry took us to world-famous Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, MD. I would have taken some photos of the neat topiaries (this is the tiny Tivoli Tea House), but the rain started to pour down. We headed for the main house where the docent started her tour with us standing in the rain while she stood under the porch overhang... for almost ten minutes! I felt that I was in a parallel universe... but being a Southern gentleman, I didn't complain - until later.

After our visit to lovely Ladew Gardens, Jerry and Karen took us to dinner at Vito's Ristorante Italiano, one of the best Italian restaurants in the world. Now, I have to ask you wine lovers out there if you are familiar with the point system that wines are given, like in Wine Advocate magazine, and on the bin labels in wine shops? Of course you are... well, the guy on the left INVENTED that system! Yes, you guessed right, that's Robert Parker, the world's most distinguished and influential wine critic, and his wife Pat. They are best friends of Jerry and Karen, our hosts for our Maryland visit. Robert and Jerry brought some spectacular wines which perfectly complemented the fabulous dinner that Vito's Chef Luca prepared. (My favorite was the 100 pt Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape; Suzanne's was the 99 pt Aubert Chardonnay). Needless to say, we were all treated like royalty. (I could get used to that!!!) Boy, I'm glad that I didn't bring that bottle of Manischewitz...

As we were departing Jerry and Karen's lovely estate, I made the worst decision of the trip (and maybe of the year)... I backed out of his drive, and we got stuck... for two hours our coach was a yard ornament. I called our roadside assistance service and a tow truck the size of a fire engine showed up from Littitz, PA (no crude jokes, please, I'm very sensitive). Fortunately, one of Jerry's assistants, Chris, and the tow truck operator were able to jack up the coach and get some boards under the drive wheels and we were on our way with no damage (except to my pride).

We departed Maryland for our campground at Prince William Forest Park, in Dumfries, Virginia.The fall colors were in fine form. I got several hikes in, and Suzanne and I had a great bike ride in this large preserve near the Marine Corps base at  Quantico. Suzanne's Serving Spirit class (almost an hour away from our campground) was filled to capacity, and everyone loved it. My Lovely Bride was a bit tired when it was over, but the forest setting provided an opportunity for her to recharge her batteries before starting the next leg of our journey. 

But before we left, we had a very special event - a homemade Russian dinner with Rita and Anatoly Kozushin. Rita has attended several of Suzanne's events, including last summer's Unity Village retreat (when Suzanne's guide Boris singled her out and spoke to her in Russian) and was attending her mediumship class this weekend. Rita and her husband Anatoly prepared a dinner typical of what they would have served to friends back in Moscow.  Caviar, pirozhki, vodka, pickled herring, borscht, vodka, black bread, and oh, did I mention vodka??? I am afraid Toly must have thought that I was a bit of a wuss, just sipping on my vodka unlike a real Russian. It was a magnificent experience, made even more special by Rita and Toly's stories about life in Moscow and their transition to life in the USA.

Our next stop was Asheville, North Carolina, where Suzanne would give her YES (Your Emerging Soul) Workshop. But first, she had to get her nails done. (This seems to be a regular personal maintenance requirement for ladies.) I dropped her off and returned an hour later after making a grocery run and walking the puppies. She had a big grin on her face, and I asked her what was up. She said while her nails were drying, she chatted with another client about places to hike. The lady said that there was a beautiful waterfall nearby. The owner of the nail salon chimed in and said, "That very dangerous place. I have client who go there. She slipped on rocks and broke nail!"

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Final Summer Tour Blog Post; Asheville, NC; Retsina; Zen Tubing; HOME!!! Hurricane Matthew; What's That on My Lawn???

Well, this will be our final 2016 Summer Tour blog post - but don't worry, Der Blogmeister will still be posting updates on our fall and winter events and activities! We departed St. Louis and headed across Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, and spent 4 days in Asheville, NC. Suzanne and noted keyboardist/composer Richard Shulman collaborated on a guided meditation CD that Sanaya and Richard's Team in spirit "directed." Richard channeled the music and Suzanne channeled the words.  The results left them both dazed and amazed. Here we see Suzanne and Richard setting up in Richard's studio....

... and here, wired for sound. Both Suzanne and Richard were very happy with the production. You can download the CD, "Journey of Remembrance," Sunday on Suzanne's website, and very shortly on iTunes and   For Richard's ethereal music, visit

We also had time to go for a couple of hikes in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville while Richard completed post-production work on their CD. I took another chance wearing the Alabama visor that our good friend Judson Emens had given me (ROLL TIDE!), but fortunately didn't meet any overly aggressive SEC competitors that day who might have whooped my butt... This was a trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway - which follows the spine of the mountains in this area, making the footpath a rocky, up-and-down route.

Our next hike was on the sprawling Montreat (short for "mountain retreat") trail system, an Episcopal getaway and college north of Asheville. Here is My Lovely Bride scampering up a mild incline (45-50 degrees, thank you very much) just below the imposing summit of Lookout Mountain. It's times like this when (1) I start to feel my age and (2) wonder if Suzanne is part mountain goat...

Finally, at the top (our car was parked in that valley below MLB's derri... ummm... backpack). The mountains here aren't as spectacular as the Wind River Range in Wyoming, but they provide a good workout, lots of wildlife and pleasing scenery. Unfortunately, we were 2-3 weeks too early for the annual color change in Appalachian foliage, when the mountains are covered with bright reds and yellows, making it a mecca for "leaf-peepers".

While in Asheville, we met our good friends Sandy and Lisa for dinner at a Greek restaurant in Weaverville (the fuzzy photo is the result of a hired photographer who was walking by who focused on the building behind us... not the result of too much retsina... Oh, you don't know retsina

Retsina is a Greek wine that has a slight (some may even say "overbearing") taste of turpentine. It was originally flavored by sealing wine vessels, especially amphorae, with Aleppo pine resin. Retsina is called by some "an acquired taste", but since we sailed through the Greek islands for several months back in 2006, at least one of us did acquire a taste for this unique wine - and it is inexpensive, at least in its home waters. 

While driving around Asheville, we saw this billboard advertising a river tubing concession. The ad features a frog in a meditative pose and reads, "Zen Tubing... Get in touch with your inner tube".  Now, that's my idea of meditation!


After a two-day drive from Asheville back to The Villages, we are now preparing for the arrival of a most unwanted guest... Hurricane Matthew. As I pen these words (that's poetic license, for sure), this is the weather radar picture that Suzanne sent me from her phone - we are under the blue dot. We are expecting 50-70 mph winds tonight and tomorrow, and hope that our home rides out the coming storm without damage. Unlike when we lived aboard our sailboat Liberty, I won't have to get up in the middle of the night to check the anchor chain or dinghy riding astern. At least on this evening, I am glad that we no longer live on the boat, or even in a house on the coast - but we are saying prayers for our friends who still do.

Late breaking news from The Villages, for those of you who make fun of us retirees in Florida and think that we lead boring lives... yesterday morning one of our residents awoke to find this water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) in her front yard. It had evidently broken through a fence at a nearby farm and wandered across the Amberwood 6th green before winding up in the lady's front yard. The golfers also complained that the green had been disturbed by the hoof marks, but I am told that they were not allowed an extra stroke for the inconvenience. Surely this proves that The Villages is a lot more fun than, say, Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta...