Thursday, November 12, 2015

Turning green on the blue Atlantic!

The seas grew choppy as we made our way into the Atlantic.
After spending a week sprinting across the Mediterranean, hitting ports in Italy and Spain, Wendy, I and 1,500 or so other passengers aboard Holland America's Zuiderdam headed for open sea.

The good news is we eventually made it to the Azores, 800 miles due west of Portugal. The islands are postcard perfect, picturesque bits of volcanic rock and greenery euphonically blended with quaint seaside villages.

The not so good news is Mother Nature was in a feisty mood as we maneuvered our way through the Strait of Gibraltar, leaving the relative calm and sheltered waters of the Mediterranean for the choppy seas of the north Atlantic.

For two days it felt like we had been transported to Coney Island and were riding endlessly aboard a roller coaster instead of a state-of-the-art cruise ship. There was much waddling about as we steamed into the sunset and much joking about having a bit too much to drink.

But most of the jokes and laughter faded as the seas continued to rise the second night out. The ship's stabilizers seemed no match for the churning and frothy swells that assaulted the ship and it was clear there was a growing problem when it was announced that Meclizine, an anti-emetic used for motion sickness, was readily available at the front desk for anyone in need.

The Azores offered views that were postcard perfect.
I was in need!

Food from the lavish buffet and gourmet dinner that had drawn my attention hours earlier was now sitting heavily in my gut. After an evening of ignoring the gurgling of my innards and growing nausea, I toddled off to our cabin, popped a pill and curled up uncomfortably in bed.

Fortunately, both my stomach and the Atlantic had grown quiet the next morning when the sun rose gloriously in the east and I was yet again ready for another day of cruising -- and touring.

Just outside our balcony the lovely village of Ponta Delgada in the Azores beckoned.

Wendy and I spent the day ashore, walking along quaint cobblestone streets, exploring and getting lost in quaint little plazas; snapping photos of distant mountain peaks and lush, verdant valleys; chatting with locals who pretty much ignored us and tourists in search of adventure.

Life was good and the calm Atlantic spread out to the distant horizon, a sun-kissed watery highway filled with promise.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sagrada Familia: Gaudi's surreal ode to Christianity

Barcelona's Sagrada Familia remains a work in progress.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I have spent the last several weeks wandering about the Mediterranean.

We've walked along cobblestone streets in quaint and beautiful seaside villages and strolled up and down serpentine alleyways filled with ancient secrets; enjoyed glorious and transcendent sunrises peeking above the eastern horizon and fiery sunsets melting into the sea.

Our days have been filled with exotic sights and smells, the stuff of life for people in Italy, Spain, and the Azores; places like Cinque Terre and Pisa, Barcelona and Malaga, Ponta Delgada and Horta.

It's been an adventure, a journey filled with something new and exciting at every turn; and if there's been any meaningful work in the effort, it's been mostly about the creation of memories.

Columns twist and turn inside the expansive cathedral.
All of this is a long and rambling way to wax poetic about the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's stunning ode to Christianity in Barcelona. Construction on the Basilica began in 1883 and it remains a work in progress.

It takes center stage in a working class neighborhood, surrounded by shops and restaurants catering to tourists and across the street from a park where locals can be spotted playing bocce ball!

Like hundreds of other churches in Europe, it's a spiritual and artistic blend of stained glass windows, soaring columns and cathedral ceilings, intricate sculptures and elaborate ornamentation.

Unlike other such places of worship, Gaudi's vision seems pulled from the fertile and fevered imagination of an artist on drugs. It's a surreal happening of columns that twist and turn bizarrely as they soar to heaven, surrounded by biblical scenes chiseled with modernist precision and whimsy, all cloaked in vibrant colors filtered through stained glass windows framing the expansive space.

At the heart of all this beauty and madness is a statue of Jesus on the cross, soaring high above the floor of the structure, a beacon for pilgrims and tourists. He offers up a vacant stare, just one of the complex pieces making up this bizarre and wondrous place

No matter your belief or spiritual path, La Sagrada Familia is worth a visit. It's a transcendent, spiritual happening for the faithful, an artistic masterpiece for non-believers and lovers of art and a fully realized essay on the human condition for philosophers and poets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cinque Terre and Barcelona and Malaga -- oh my!

Blogger's note: Wendy and I are just back from a transatlantic cruise aboard Holland America's Zuiderdam. This feature was written during the trip and I'm just now getting around to posting it.

Leaving Livorno, heading west into the Mediterranean
Here I sit at the moment, high atop the Zuiderdam, glancing out at the Port of Cadiz in southern Spain just this side of the Strait of Gilbraltar.

The lovely Miss Wendy and I are a week into a 19-day transatlantic crossing and the good news is we're still speaking to one another!

We landed in Rome eight days ago, made our way to Civtavecchia, the port of Rome, where we boarded the Zuiderdam, and settled into our stateroom before sailing off to Livorno. It's a port that mostly serves as a jumping off spot for cities and sites across Tuscany.

We jumped and spent the following day in Cinque Terre, a lovely group of villages built over an expanse of mountainous terrain that rest magically and majestically above the Mediterranean. The views were splendid, at times transcendent as Mother Nature, as she is want to do, managed to euphorically blend land, sea and sky!

I'm pretty sure if you looked hard and long enough you could find it written somewhere that on the eighth day God created this special place! But I digress.

Village of Portovenere, just south of Cinque Terre.
Over the next several days, Wendy and I stayed busy checking out the Zuiderdam -- eating, walking, exercising, eating, going to shows in the ship's theater, eating, meeting and making friends, eating, shopping, napping and, well, eating.

We also toured and walked around a half dozen ports of call along the east, south and west coasts of Spain, including Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga and Cadiz, with a side trip to the nearby island of Mallorca where we rubbed shoulders with the locals in Palma and tourists in the picturesque seaside village of Soller.

Today we are steaming west, headed toward Ponta Delgada and Horta in the Azores. The skies are overcast and the seas mildly angry, rocking us gently as we stay busy walking, exercising, eating and, well, eating yet again.

We've been warned by the captain that the seas here in the mid-Atlantic will grow angrier over the next several hours, with swells expected to toss us about for the next day or so, then grow quiet as we reach the Azores. Perhaps I might skip today's afternoon snack! Then again, you can never be too rich, too thin or visit the Zuiderdam's buffet too often.

Up next: Stumbling across the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and being asked to remove my cap. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ode to Bailey on turning two

The first thing you notice about Bailey is her hair. It soars about her head, a mass of curls that seem to defy the natural laws of physics.

At first glance, as she walks my way in childish glee, her helmet of curls and toddler's gait announce to the world the sweet and innocent nature of her being. She, like most youngsters her age, is a bundle of energy and spirit.

Bailey at 2, too cool for words
After all, Bailey Boo is turning two.
Yes, it's true, she'll soon be two.
Blink, and the days will rumble by,
and then, oh gee, she'll be turning three;
then another blink and time will soar,
and Baily will be turning four.

Okay, that rhymes, but I digress.
So shake it off and fix this mess.
Another rhyme, so stop it now,
and don't get smart or have a cow.
Okay, that makes no sense at all,
except when Bailey "moos" then falls atop her dolls;
and laughs and screams for more ice creams!

Ice creams, really? Enough; I say enough!

Let's focus on today, the here and now when life for Bailey remains a hidden mystery to be explored; and explore she does! There are no drawers she doesn't open, no buttons or switches she doesn't push,  no tchotchke she doesn't examine or box she doesn't kick. All this play is really work, the stuff of life and the business of living when you're still in diapers.

It's also what defines the "terrible twos", that exhausting, fussy period when a baby becomes a toddler and when "want" becomes part of their vocabulary. There was a time, not long ago in Bailey's short life, when there were only "needs". Keep her fed and watered, rested and clean and all was good with her and the world.

Now, there is no toy, book, doll or game she doesn't want. At the market she wants a cookie, at a department store she wants -- in fact, has to have -- whatever she spots; and don't even think about taking her into a shoe store!

Here's the good news. Wanting is part of life; it's the creative force that drives the cognitive, emotional and social development of a child. It's what gets us humans from here to there and it's what drives parents and others to drink!

It's certainly what had Bailey digging deeply into a planter in our kitchen this week, wanting to understand what all that dirt would look like spread across the floor.

And yet all is forgiven, even forgotten, when she bursts into our home most days, shouting for Bubbe and looking for Pops; when she rests her head on my shoulder and wraps her arms around my neck; when she blows a kiss and waves goodbye.

Two years ago when Bailey was born, I wrote that her birth ushered in a season of joy. I'm happy to report that the joy remains and the adventure continues.

So happy birthday, Bailey Boo,
and never forget that we love you!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Of rings and things and the nature of love

Ring back where it belongs and all is well with the world
So there I was, lost in a dream, sleeping away the early morning hours and happy to be warmly adrift in my head and in my bed. Sadly, some cosmic force tapped me on the shoulder and I momentarily opened my eyes.

Big mistake.

It was early. The sun was just a vague smear of orange on the horizon, but I noticed that the light was on in the master bathroom and I could hear the lovely Miss Wendy rummaging about in a frantic fashion.

I don't recall if I called out, or if Wendy simply began speaking. I do recall the plaintive and anguished tone of her voice. Houston, I groggily thought, we have a problem.

And we did. Between heavy sighs, weighted down with equal measures of guilt and loss, Wendy shared this tale of woe.

As is her custom, Wendy was up early and off to the bathroom to wash up and prepare for the day ahead. Still wiping the sleep from her eyes, she was in the process of putting on her wedding band -- a magnificent ring of gold -- when it slipped from her grasp, tumbled into the sink and disappeared down the drain.


Wendy worked mightily at removing the metal stopper atop the drain, but alas, it wouldn't budge. The harder she pulled, the more certain she became that her precious ring was lost, buried deeply in the innards of our home's plumbing system.


So she went in search of a solution. Google offered up a number of possibilities. All she need do to right this wrong is pull apart a few pipes and dig through the bits of nasty stuff that swirl about a bathroom sink. Right; that was never gonna happen!

Instead of jumping into plumbing mode, Wendy wrote  out a few cautionary notes to me, detailing the problem and the hope that I would somehow continue to love her despite the loss of the golden ring that has bound us together for nearly four decades now.

It was during this melancholy exercise that I joined the conversation. I listened and nodded, then listened some more. Then I unscrewed the stopper from the drain. The ring was resting comfortably atop a bit of plastic, strategically placed near the top of the drain to keep rings and other such things from tumbling into the darkness below.

Wendy retrieved her ring. I went back to sleep.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

All you need to know about my 'waspy' new neighbors

Paper wasp nest hidden away in magnolia in our yard.
The lovely Miss Wendy was getting the mail earlier this week when she glanced up at a nearby tree and spotted something a bit odd and a little unsettling.

What she saw looked like a wrinkled basketball, aged and whitish and attached to a limb about 15 feet off the ground.

On closer inspection, it appeared that the object was either some sort of exotic fruit that was withering on the vine or, more likely, a mini-condo for an entire generation of winged critters!

When a couple of flitting thingies poked their noggins out of the complex it became pretty clear that Wendy and I were now neighbors with a fully-developed nest filled with fully-developed wasps.

At first glance the insects seemed to be 'paper wasps', members of the vespid subfamily polistinae that also includes hornets and yellowjackets. Here's the good news.

Paper wasps are the least aggressive of this group of pests. The bit of research I've managed since spotting their home suggests the insects have a live-and-let-live attitude; don't bother us and we won't bother you.

Apparently, that seems to be the case. Nests are usually created in early spring, a starter home of sorts that expands as the waspy population grows. By early summer what started off as just a queen and a few eggs can easily grow into a bustling hive of several thousand.

The flying hordes, however, have yet to cause any problems. If they've been partying this summer, they've kept the music turned down Low. And here's some more good news.

Summer is already burning itself out and with the first chill of fall our waspy neighbors will begin dying off. By Halloween there's a chance the nest will be haunted and even a better chance it will be empty. Only the queen will survive Mother Nature turning down the thermostat and Google tells me she'll be looking for greener pastures next spring to call home.

So if you spot me tip-toeing down my driveway on the way to get the mail for the next month or so, I'm just trying to be a good neighbor. I'm also thinking that should take the sting out of having to share my property with a bunch of wasps!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Listen up: 'B' is for Bose, Bluetooth and 'buy me'

Bose Soundlink Bluetooth headphones.
My hi-tech buying spree continued last week when I finally pulled the trigger and bought a pair of Bluetooth headphones. After taking a hard look at the market and my wallet, I stumbled across a Bose discount store in my little corner of the world and spotted a deal that seemed too good to be true.

For a month or so I've been researching headphones and earbuds, checking out department stores, specialty shops and other retailers to see what's available; then surfing the web to see if I could find what I wanted at a price that seemed reasonable.

Here's the problem I initially faced. What I could afford I didn't want and what  I wanted I couldn't afford! Sound familiar?

That all changed when I was out and about recently with the lovely Miss Wendy. We had an afternoon to kill, so decided to venture out to the picturesque little village of Woodstock, and spend an hour or so walking around a new outlet mall featuring a wide assortment of retail stores.

Such islands of consumerism and abundance are part of the fabric of the world today, especially
in America. It's just about impossible to drive a few miles in any direction and not spot a new strip shopping center or mall. After all, you really can't be too rich, too thin or own too many pairs of designer shoes -- or shirts, pants, skirts or dresses, electronic devices or gizmos!

Speaking of gizmos, hidden away between a Clark's shoe store and a Sunglasses Warehouse, was the aforementioned Bose factory outlet. Bingo! It only took me a moment to spot a display of on-ear Bluetooth headphones. The good news is they were being offered at a discount that meant I finally had found something I both wanted AND could afford.

It's probably worth noting that this most recent buying spree began a few years ago when I traded in my flip phone for an updated 'smart' model, that got me thinking about tablets and purchasing an iPad, that led me to updating my iTunes library and recently downloading a satellite radio app which, of course, meant I needed some digitally friendly and fashionable way to access all this new and magical stuff.

In the memorable words of our 43rd president: Mission accomplished!