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 Amazon.com.   For Richard's ethereal music, visit RichHeartMusic.com.


















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...





Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dinner Date! Escargot? A Cardio-Genital Defect? Wakeeney, Kansas; Unity Village; St. Louis Events




Before departing Denver, My Lovely Bride indicated that a nice dinner out would be appreciated. The local Taco Bell was fully booked, but I found some good recommendations for an alternative restaurant on a local haute cuisine web site. It sounded decent, if a bit pricey, but it was in an eclectic neighborhood alongside tattoo parlors and across the street from Goodwill. I am not kidding... when we drove down the street, the establishment didn't even have a sign out front. It was like walking up to a speak easy in 1931, except the bouncer/doorman with the Tommy gun was off for the night. MLB was a bit apprehensive about even leaving the car on the street... forget about valet parking... this neighborhood had drunks lying in doorways and mostly punk rockers with green hair and millennials with full-body tattoos and black nail polish. But once inside Beatrice and Woodsley, the atmosphere changed dramatically.



B&W had faux aspen trees around the booths and chainsaws holding up the bar shelves, reflecting the Oregon and Colorado history of the family that founded the restaurant. As you can see, MLB was happy to find that I could pick a good restaurant (occasionally).
















The food here was fabulous; we particularly liked the crawfish beignets, Australian sea bass and lamb rotolo... and the wine was very nice, as well.















Before we left, a trip to the head was called for. Someone has a sense of humor - this is a photo of the ceiling in the men's room.





















One last photo from Beatrice and Woodlsley's - this is one of the sinks outside the heads. The hot and cold water is activated by pulling down on the wooden handles on the chains on the right and left sides of the sink, which is a galvanized bucket. There is no faucet ... the water runs down the chains in the middle.  Very cool! 


















Shifting gears a bit... Words can be fun. They can also be abused, misused and misconstrued. Imagine this scene: we are driving down I-70 in The Coach, and a Tesla Model S is in front of us, doing 5 mph under the 70 mph speed limit. It's been a long day, and I would have preferred that this hot sports car (top speed about 130 mph) would at least be doing the speed limit so we can get to our campground before Happy Hour fades into total darkness. I mention to Suzanne my concerns about the parentage of the Tesla driver and the fact that he is driving a car that can outperform a Corvette, which My Lovely Bride drove until just last year. As I accelerated (yes, all 49,000 lbs and 60 feet of Coach and Honda CR-V) past the middle-aged Democrat in his Tesla, MLB said saucily, with a big grin on her face, "Well, look at that S car go...! You know, as in "snail"? I moaned,  "Oh, nooooo.... you didn't really say that, did you???  ( Yes, Shelby, I was thinking of you as we zoomed past that guy!)



Another funny "word incident" took place at an undisclosed location... I was talking to a security guard about dogs. He mentioned that his Chihuahua/Dachshund mix (called a Chiweenie) had a serious medical problem. "Yep, little Fritz has an enlarged heart. It's a genital defect." I felt very sorry for Fritz, but was perplexed about the connection between his heart and, well, you know...    













After departing Denver headed east on I-70, we stopped in Wakeeney, Kansas, for the night. I love Kansas, and even had some relatives here way back when, so I am not criticizing this great state... but I can honestly say that Wakeeney is a pretty quiet place. This was the scene on the main drag at sunset... I could also show the other three directions, but they would be the same - not a car in sight. And you thought The Villages was a quiet place... 









My Lovely Bride decided to liven things up in Wakeeney by climbing the 150 foot high water tower (you can just make her out at lower right in the photo); fortunately, she heeded my sage advice about not meeting the local sheriff or spending the night in a city facility with no toilet seat and decided not to go all the way up...







































There were a couple of houses in the town that took my breath away - this "fixer-upper" in particular seemed to have been designed as a bunker, probably because of the frequent tornadoes that occur here. I thought it was very cool, but MLB was less impressed...








We continued east for a brief stop in Kansas City, where we visited Unity Village, one of Suzanne's favorite places. Here she is with our Faithful Canine Kids, Rudy and Gretchen, again at sunset, enjoying the tranquility of UV's beautiful Mediterranean-style campus. R&G were looking for squirrels, but fortunately, they were all in hiding.













We are now in St. Louis, Missouri, for the final events of our 2016 summer tour. Our dear friends Brenda and Lynette came in to continue their summer stalking of Suzanne and attend her Serving Spirit mediumship class and a Sanaya session. These two gals are a hoot, and keep us in stitches whenever we get together. Brenda is also our book table queen - a volunteer position that Yours Truly greatly appreciates. 








Our host for Suzanne's classes here in St. Louis is Meg Berry, owner of Silver Lining, a beautiful "inspired space" boutique in Town and Country, Missouri. Meg and her husband Mark also hosted us for a fabulous Fall harvest dinner at their home, much of which was prepared by their son, Keenan.
















The Sanaya session was held at the Center of Spiritual Living in St. Louis, where Rev. Marigene DeRusha is Senior Minister. That's Marigene on Suzanne's left - her congregation/community is probably the most enthusiastic and friendly group we've met on tour, and we love returning to CSL St. Louis every year!  








Monday, September 12, 2016

Pinedale, WY; Rocky Mountain National Park; RV Repairs; Buckley AFB; MORE SNAKES!


Wyoming has been one of our favorite destinations during the 2016 Summer Tour. The scenery and good friends we spent time with are obvious reasons, but here's one more: the local newspaper, the Pinedale Roundup. Now you big city folks are probably thinking, how can the Pinedale Roundup beat out the New York Times or the Washington Post? Well, podnah, while those mammoth papers have front page stories on mass murders, heroin epidemics and race riots, here in Pinedale the lead stories are (1) Town Hall to be sold again; (2) Union Wireless gets nod for 45-foot cell tower, and (3) Fire Chief gives Cliff Creek report. I know where I would rather live!!! 








Another advantage of living in Pinedale is the public transportation system. Using this eco-friendly method of moving tourists from one part of the city to another is highly recommended to avoid heavy traffic in the six-block long metro area... and it's FREE!











We reluctantly departed Pinedale, Wyoming, and the spectacular Wind River Range heading for Colorado. After a night spent with our most gracious and hospitable friends Jeff and Lynn Hollahan in Denver, Suzanne flew back to The Villages to spend time with Her Lovely Mom Ruthie and to teach her Serving Spirit course. While these two gals were out at dinner one night, I got this photo of the party girls with a margarita and a mojito... I asked My Lovely Bride, "What kind of 'spirits' are we talking about, My Darling?" (I was happy not to read about them in the Daily Sun's police blotter the next morning...)












During Suzanne's extended trip to Florida and Massachusetts, Rudy, Gretchen and I camped out up in Estes Park, Colorado, a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park. I got out hiking almost every day for a week, sometimes twice a day. I met some interesting people on the trails, such as Troy and Adam, old college buddies from Tuscaloosa, Alabama... When I saw Adam's ballcap, I greeted them with a hearty "ROLL, TIDE!!!" They were pleased but surprised that an LSU grad like myself would say those words, but I told them about getting my Alabama visor from our good friend Judson Emens back in Tuscumbia, earlier this summer. We had a good chat about football and down home cooking before I finished my hike up to the summit of the Twin Sisters (11,400 ft). 





The view from the summit of the Twin Sisters was expansive, to say the least. Several of the highest mountains in Colorado were visible, including several Fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 ft).














This tree, twisted by the frequent high winds on the north slope of the mountain, was representative of the harsh winter climate above 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. 
















Normally I hike alone, but on the way down the trail, a 20-something Vietnamese-American guy fell in behind me and we continued on together, passing the time with discussions about his family and work (Nam is an MRI tech). His father is just a year younger than Your Faithful Correspondent, and was a soldier in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) at the same time that I was on my first destroyer operating off the coast of his country in support of our troops and the ARVN. His family escaped the communist occupation by boat to the Philippines with just the clothes on their backs, then resettled in the US and built a successful life here. Just goes to show you what hard work, education and perseverance can do to fulfill the American Dream. And I know Nam was raised right, because he called me "Sir" about 30 times...






During my week in Estes Park, our good friend Jim Wohlleber, a former Navy sailor (PBR skipper in VN) and retired airline pilot, visited for a few days. We did some sightseeing, drove the  park's Ridge Road (almost all above 10,000-11,000 feet) on a stormy day.












Jim is also my firearms adviser. We went to a local pistol range for some target practice, and alternated using Jim's model 1911 Kimber .45 semiautomatic. We both shot pretty well - those paper targets didn't stand a chance! One funny incident occurred when a family from the People's Republic of China arrived for a lesson from the NRA instructor/range supervisor. They had never fired a weapon before, and had a blast target shooting. Guess their communist leaders don't think much of giving the masses access to firearms; hmmmm, I wonder why not???






My favorite hike during my week in Estes Park was up to Chasm Lake (11,760 ft), a trip that I had made several years ago. This hike's scenery and destination, across the lower slopes of Mount Lady Washington and on the flank of Long's Peak (14,259 ft), is so dramatic that I wanted to see it one more time. I may have forgotten (or subconsciously ignored) the fact that it is a strenuous climb up to the base of the lake, and then you have to scramble up a 100 foot high moraine of boulders. Gee, I didn't remember it being this difficult a few years ago...










... but the reward for an 8 mile hike and rock scrambles is worth every ounce of sweat! The 1,000 ft vertical cliff is called Diamond Face, and the buttress to the left of it is Ship's Prow. Both are very popular rock climbing destinations.














I was bushed when I returned to the parking lot at the Long's Peak Ranger Station. I opened the car, and noticed a small piece of paper under my wiper blade. Having parked between two big pickup trucks, I was concerned that I had parked too close to one of them. When I read the note, I was touched deeply by the thoughtfulness and sentiments of an Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). He/she had seen the decal with a gold star, indicating a family that had lost a service member on active duty, on my rear window. 






After my stay in the Rockies, I drove the coach to Frederick, Colorado, where we had purchased it, for some repairs. Here we see Rob the RV tech replacing a seal on one of the slideouts. He later replaced one of our air conditioners whose compressor had failed. These repairs put us back on the road at near 100% readiness, but as every RV or boat owner will tell you, "It won't be long before something else breaks!"















Our next stop was at Buckley AFB in Aurora, Colorado. The campground there is located right next to the runway, and visitors are treated to daily air shows courtesy of the US Air Force and Air National Guard. Typically, flights of 4-6 F-16 Fighting Falcons would take off, conduct high altitude combat maneuvers, then do touch-and-go's and low level fly-by's on afterburner before landing. The noise levels were incredible, but as we say in the service, "It's the Sound of Freedom"!








Buckley's campground was having a water problem during our visit - a leaking water main that hadn't yet been repaired. They had to add several porta-potties to accommodate the campers. The campground also has a reputation for snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous varieties. We've seen a lot of snakes this summer, but this one was disconcerting. I was on my way to the head (porta-potty, in this case), when I saw a 5 foot long gopher snake crawling out from under the loo... "That's okay, I'll find another one... just in case his mate is inside!"