Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Orleans; Art Deco; City Park and the Carousel; San Jacinto; USS TEXAS (BB-35); Caught with a Paw in the Cookie Jar

New Orleans provides two opportunities each year on our tour: first, the chance to spend time with my family, and second, the annual foodfest that the Crescent City offers. This trip allowed us to combine these opportunities to sample favorites like gumbo, fried oysters, charbroiled oysters, shrimp and grits, and beignets... if you're drooling, then book a flight to NOLA. We enjoyed a delicious brunch at the renovated Old New Orleans Lakefront Airport on Lake Pontchartrain. The airport (then called Shushan") and terminal were built in the 30s in art deco style, and while Hurricane Katrina damaged the building as well as the rest of the city, it has been restored to its former glory. 

Murals by Xavier Gonzalez ring the second floor and recall the early days of commercial aviation. Of note, Amelia Earhart stopped at this airport on the way to California to begin her tragic around-the-world flight. 

City Park was a jewel when I was growing up, and remains a favorite for locals to spend weekends with family. The "lagoon" you see here from a gondola is ringed by live oaks and cypress trees, and provided a great place for a young kid to learn to canoe, fish and catch turtles...

My sister Karen was also anxious to ride the Carousel - Debbie rode with her on the flying horses. Carousel (merry-go-round) aficionados might appreciate that this ride built in 1906 contains 56 animals -  53 horses plus a lion, a giraffe and a camel, many of which were created in 1885. 30 of the horses are flyers, but there is no brass ring on this carousel. 

Our last night in Sin City found us at a movie, The Zookeeper's Wife, with my sister Lynn. Movie fans will notice one unique feature found in this picture of the movie lobby - a full bar, complete with beer, cocktails and daiquiris... only in New Orleans!

Thanks to Gayle Hancock, Colette Sasina, Barbara Miller, and Judson Emens for the replies on my request for floral help - the purple and gold flower in last week's blog was indeed the giant blue iris (Iris giganticaerulea), and is the Louisiana state wildflower. (Judson's strange sense of humor suggested that it might be the rare LSU Fighting Iris, not to be confused with the Notre Dame Fighting Iris found in South Bend, Indiana. (MOAN!!!)

From New Orleans, we headed west to Houston - normally a five hour drive, but one that took us ten and one half hours due to I-10 being closed for a semi-trailer fire. One five mile stretch took us four hours to navigate. Once in Houston, we spent an afternoon visiting two historical sites. The first was the San Jacinto Monument. To get there, we took a free ferry across the San Jacinto River. The monument is 567 feet high, 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument. 

History buffs will recall that the 1836 battle of San Jacinto followed the defeat and massacres of Texans at the Alamo and Goliad. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Texians met the Mexican army under General Santa Anna (self-described as "The Napoleon of the West") and in 18 minutes had routed the enemy. Santa Anna surrendered and agreed to evacuate all Mexican troops from what would become the new Republic of Texas.

The WWI/WWII battleship USS TEXAS (BB-35) was our second stop - she is moored just a half-mile from the monument. Having served aboard USS IOWA (BB-61), it was a thrill to visit TEXAS. What was amazing was that as soon as we stepped aboard, we caught the unmistakable scent of a Navy warship - a mix of hydraulic fluid, paint, electrical insulation, and maybe a whiff of gunpowder.

We had a personal tour of Turret 1 with Jim Moon, a volunteer docent, who gave us a lot of inside information about the ship and its weapons. Here Jim is at the breech of the right gun, describing the ramming sequence of the powder which propelled a 1,500 lb projectile 35,000 yards from the ship to its target.

Suzanne and I enjoyed walking around the lower decks and seeing how much ships have changed since Texas was built to the present day. This was a berthing area where sailors (all men) slept. Each man had a small locker nearby of about 4 cubic feet to hold everything he owned. Not much privacy here!

Finally, a word about our wonderful Rudy... normally he is a very well-behaved dog. He is never fed from the table, and hasn't eaten any people food, even a bite of cheese, since he developed a food allergy over a year ago. We never leave food out, but as the saying goes, "Hope springs eternal." Suzanne and I were going out to the grocery, so we told the pups that we would be back soon, and they both assumed their normal places in their beds for a nap. We closed the door of the coach and got into the car. I then realized that I had forgotten my sunglasses inside. I went back in to find our beloved Rudy on the top of the couch, about to step on the counter where we had just fixed lunch; he had a look of, "Oh, shucks... I've been caught!" I could almost hear Gretchen snickering from her bed...  Anyone who thinks dogs' faces aren't expressive has never seen a guilty look like this one on our Rudy.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Heading West; Styx River or River Styx? Foggy Dawn; Baton Rouge Red Shoes Event; Drones and Discus; Delhi or Deli?

As recounted in the previous post, we rode out a big storm in Pensacola. The day after the nasty weather, we enjoyed pleasant temps and sunshine, so we launched our kayaks on the Styx River near Pensacola. 

Classics scholars may recall that the river Styx in Greek mythology was the boundary between this world and the underworld (Hades), and that when souls passed from this life, they crossed the river in a boat rowed by the ferryman Charon. Relatives of the dead often placed a coin in the the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon, and failure to pay the toll might result in the deceased not being able to cross the river. The Styx also supposedly had supernatural powers, and the mother of the Greek warrior Achilles was said to have dipped him in the river to make him invulnerable; but because she held him by his heel, it was his only weak point, and there he was struck by Paris' arrow during the Trojan wars, hence the term Achilles' heel. Fortunately, we encountered only birds, and no arrows, on our pleasant paddle on the river Styx. Here are our kayaks pulled up on a convenient sandbar, allowing us to stretch our legs at the midpoint of our paddle. Note: this river does not have the "stygian" darkness of its namesake, although it is indeed somewhat murky.

We departed Pensacola and spent a night in Slidell, LA, at Fontainbleau State Park, and enjoyed a nice dinner with my sister Karen and her partner Debbie. They took us out to a great Italian restaurant, and before we departed the next day, we got out for a hike among the oaks. Here we see My Lovely Bride trying to imitate a giant oak's limbs... 

She also decided to take a break lounging like Cleopatra on the lower branch of this stately live oak (Quercus virgiana) hung with Spanish moss- you can barely make out her form at lower right. (She almost fell on her derriere dismounting, but I would never laugh at such misfortune... Smack! "Hey, I was only kidding...")

One trail took us to a marshy area where purple flowers were displaying their beauty... okay, can a botanically-challenged sailor have some help identifying this specimen?

While Suzanne was giving a reading, I went for a mountain bike ride in a nearby pine forest, reminiscent of Ocala National Forest near our home in The Villages. The trail and occasional jeep doubletrack didn't have the elevation gains found in Colorado, but frequent soft sand made the ride challenging enough for an old guy...

Before continuing on our tour progress, I'd like to mention three interesting people from our time back in The Villages. The first is our neighbor, Diane, who is a radio controlled airplane enthusiast. She has seven or eight RC aircraft hanging from the ceiling in her garage. But she is seen here with her newest acquisition, a drone with attachable video camera... I don't think Diane works with the CIA, but she has a small air force in her garage with capabilities of which the Wright Brothers would be very jealous! 

The other Villager that I would like to highlight is Ron Kock, from Cincinnati, Ohio, who is a Senior Games discus champion. He only started throwing the discus at age 68 when he moved to America's Friendliest Hometown. We encountered Ron while walking our puppies Rudy and Gretchen at Miona Rec Center, and he was kind enough to show off his technique. (You can just see the discus at the top of the photo.)

The third person is Joe Pistell, a marketing guru, who is new to the spiritual path but who is enthusiastically using his expertise and enthusiasm to help Suzanne's guides Sanaya's messages reach more hearts. Joe and his lovely wife Cindy visited us just before our departure, and we had a delightful lunch with them before we got on the road. Joe is seen here perusing our Recreation News, and we are hoping to convince him and Cindy to move down from Vermont... there isn't nearly as much snow here as in Stowe!

I love dawn pictures, even if it means getting up early. There is no better time to find some peace and tranquility than before the mass of humanity gets out and about. This shot was taken from our patio on the day we left The Villages...  

Now, back to our travels ... After departing Pensacola, we headed west for Suzanne's first event of our Summer 2017 Tour -at Red Shoes Spiritual Center in Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana, my home state.  Suzanne presented her Your Emerging Soul (YES) course here, and the reception from attendees couldn't have been better. 

Roberta Guillory, founder of Red Shoes, was our hostess for this event, and also had us over for dinner at her beautiful Victorian home on a lake across from LSU's Tiger Stadium. We met her lovely family, including her two daughters, Laura and Virginia, and her grandchildren, Georgia, Phoebe and Oliver, the most charming and well-behaved young people we have met in ages. 

After Suzanne's workshop, we were invited to a birthday party in Roberta's honor at the beautiful Baton Rouge home of Boo Thomas. It was a quintessential Southern party, with fabulous food, drink and warm hospitality. 

While on a run in Denham Springs' South Park, near our campground, I noticed this sign... as a Volunteer member of the National Apostrophe Police, I was suitably appalled by this misuse of punctuation, and issued a citation on the spot.

We departed Baton Rouge and spent two days in New Orleans with my family. Here we see sisters Lynn and Karen (on the right), and Karen's partner Debbie, in a gondola in City Park - thank you, Debbie and Karen, for a wonderful experience with Roberto the Gondolier Extraordinaire.

As we were departing our campground in Baton Rouge, I noticed this unusual RV - was it a Hippie camping trailer, or an artist's canvas??? We'll never know...

Finally, I would like to relate one interesting interaction between Your Humble Correspondent and His Lovely Bride. We were walking past Toojay's Deli, when I mentioned to her that in order to continue on my spiritual path, I was thinking about making reservations to spend a week in an ashram. She replied, "And where is this ashram you are thinking about attending?" "Uh, well, let's see - maybe Delhi?" "Oh - Toojays?" 

Monday, April 3, 2017

March Update; Back to Your Center Retreat; Oenophiles; Sailing Friends; Bachelor Feast; Mavis Pittila; Messages of Hope in Spanish; On the Road Again!

Winter has ended here in America's Friendliest Hometown, AKA The Villages, Florida. We are back on the road again, but first let me recap the past month or so... 

Suzanne held a joint Back to Your Center Retreat with Dr. Mark Pitstick (far right), in St. Petersburg. Mark is a spiritual teacher, author, counselor, and chiropractor who serves on the board of Helping Parents Heal. Thanks to Irene Vouvalides (in the Carly's Kids shirt) for this great photo!

I managed to get out for two short backpacking trips recently. The first was on a section of the Florida Trail in Ocala National Forest, where an ongoing drought has caused most of the water sources to dry up; this "prairie" is normally studded with small ponds full of water, but the only water sources I could find were muddy puddles. 

The second trip was on the Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway. This section of trail was lined with bright green deer moss (Cladonia rangiferina), also known as reindeer lichen. It is not a moss, but a fruticose lichen, and in addition to being a primary food source for reindeer in the far north, it is also used by some Himalayan people as a cure for kidney stones or diarrhea. It is edible, but more palatable when mixed with berries. (I had plenty of trail food, so didn't try eating it in either of its forms.)

What I did avail myself of along the trail was a can of Dr. Pepper from a cooler of Trail Magic provided by a generous local resident and hiker. Thoughtful people like this renew my faith in humanity! The water jugs are particularly important because of the paucity of water sources along the Florida Trail.

Oenophilia - No, Bob, it's not a rare disease that you wouldn't want to catch... in fact, it's actually quite a pleasant affliction. Let me explain. As I mature, like a fine Bordeaux, I find that I am enjoying an occasional glass of nice wine - mostly for its positive medicinal value. (My Lovely Bride is snickering in the background. "Suzanne, please quiet down - you are disturbing my train of thought!") In any case, we recently had a group of retired Navy friends over for a wine tasting and dinner. Bill and Gayle Hancock and Mike and Cheryl Breault are oenophiles - serious wine lovers and collectors - and we sampled some excellent French and California wines that evening. 

The Breaults also have expanded their beautiful lakeside home to add a dedicated wine cellar - we were blown away when we saw it! It makes most restaurant wine cellars look puny by comparison. 

The reason for going over to see Mike and Cheryl's wine cellar was to pay for a new piece of "furniture" that we acquired - this was their old wine cooler, which is now in our house, but which is seriously underfilled (there are only about 20 bottles in it, but its capacity is 350). Bill, hope you're not suffering from "cellar envy"!!!

Speaking of Navy friends and oenophiles, we drove over to Titusville on the Atlantic coast to catch up with our sailing friends Greg and Marie Rodgers, also known by their boat name, Second Sally. As I recall, they have been cruising the seas for over 20 years, and their boat name reflects the second "sally", or extended trip, they have made on cruising boats over the years. They are two of the most accomplished sailors we know, with several Atlantic crossings under their belts, and are also fine wine enthusiasts. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at a Cuban/ Mexican restaurant near the water. (Okay, Greg, I forgot to ask... is that a Hemingway beard you're growing? In any case, you look very distinguished!)

During one of Suzanne's out-of-town trips, I took the liberty of making one of my favorite down-home New Orleans meals (one that MLB does not share a love for) - a fried oyster po-boy, accompanied by a Fat Tire amber ale and a Moon Pie. What a feast!

Suzanne has been giving presentations locally as well. This was a large group of several hundred residents at the Del Webb community who enjoyed her presentation about the transformative power of hope.

In our off time, we are getting back into kayaking, as shown here on a trip to nearby Lake Okahumpka (yep, that's its name all right... almost as bad as Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta.) The weather has been perfect here - 70s and 80s, mostly sunny, hardly any rain (oh, and of course, no snow...). We're taking our fiberglass kayaks with us this summer and hope to get them wet often out west, including on Perdido Bay, the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound and the Willamette River.

Suzanne's mentor and friend, Mavis Pittilla, was back in town recently to teach another session of her highly acclaimed mediumship course. Mavis (in pink), her partner Jean, Suzanne and Bev Garlipp are seen here.

Mavis and Suzanne also did a joint demonstration of mediumship here in The Villages for an audience of over two hundred, who were treated to evidence of life after death. The evening culminated in the two of them doing a double link, where both connected with the same gentleman on the other side.

One of the students in Mavis' class was Daniel Chumillas, an editor at Esfera de los Libros in Madrid, Spain. Here we see Suzanne signing a contract for the Spanish translation of her book Messages of Hope and worldwide distribution in that language.

Final preps for our six month summer tour completed, we took a last look out of our picture window at the oak grove behind the house... we will miss it, but look forward to mountain scenery and meeting new friends (and some old ones) on our trip out west.

We are on the road again! Today's blog is being posted from Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where we are hunkered down waiting for a line of severe thunderstorms with hail and tornadoes to pass. This screen shot with lots of brown and red shows some serious weather passing directly overhead as I write this.

Unfortunately, we had to change our route and postpone a visit to Tuscumbia, Alabama, because of the storms. We had hoped to get together there with our great friends Judson and Donna Jo Emens, and their daughters Haylee and Nadia; fortunately, our route back home in October will take us through northern Alabama. See you guys in the Fall, and Roll Tide!

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!