Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Discovering happiness in the moment

Bailey out and about and enjoying life at Chuck E. Cheese's.
Bailey was vegging out in her car seat, savoring the memory of the tasty milkshake she had just devoured. All was good until I told her we were headed back to her house and she made it screamingly clear that she had other plans.

We can stay out another 10 minutes, I told her. No, she bargained, three more minutes. Bailey, thankfully, has yet to master the ups and downs of time!

She had spent the morning with her Bubbe at synagogue, chatting and playing and sort of praying -- see what I did there?! After chowing down on a bagel and a handful of cookies at the Oneg, Wendy and Bailey drove to a nearby Lakeshore Learning Store where I met up with them for a little arts and crafts adventure.

We then stopped briefly at one of the ubiquitous fast food spots nesting in our little corner of the world and had a sugary snack: a vanilla milkshake for Bailey, while Wendy and I shared a root beer float. Yummy!

Avi, Pops and Bailey sharing a little Kodak moment.
A few moments later we were headed home when the screeching and bargaining began. Bailey and I eventually made it to a lake in her subdivision where, she said, she wanted us to stop and spend a little quality time sitting on a bench and watching the world go by.

And that's pretty much what we did. It was hot and humid, I was tired and more then ready for an afternoon nap, and Bailey was just a tad snappish, wallowing in her toddlerness and wanting what she wanted -- now!

A day later, not only had I forgotten the heat and humidity, my weariness and Bailey's momentary lapse into childhood churlishness, but I found myself happily thinking about our short adventure at the lake and wondering when we'd be getting together again.

The image playing out in my mind was bathed in a golden glow, a cool breeze whisking away the summer heat and mosquitoes. The real stuff -- Bailey pointing out a couple of turtles sunning themselves on a rock and a raft of ducklings enjoying an afternoon snack -- seemed both casual and intimate, a slice of life of a slice of life. Add a soundtrack filled with a gentle melody heavy with strings and I'm thinking we have the centerpiece for a coming-of-age blockbuster.

I mention all this simply to make the point that happiness sometimes is hidden away in the moment, but almost always surfaces in our memories.

And this is what I remember most.

As we sat quietly chatting about this and that, enjoying the day and the moment, I glanced down at Bailey and realized she had quietly reached over and was holding my hand. It was a sweet and innocent gesture of trust and unconditional love. And it's one of the best perks of being a Pops.

Monday, May 7, 2018

O Canada: Wobbly cruise filled with surprises

Enjoying a few hours in Bar Harbor before entering Canadian waters.
Wendy and I, another passenger and several crew members aboard the Veendam were in an elevator, the captive audience of a fellow traveler and would-be comic.

What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef! What do you call a cow missing two legs? Lean beef! What do you call a woman with one leg? Ilene!

Yes, the humor was lame and so was the humorist. His hands shook as he delivered his practiced one-liners and he had to maneuver his way about the ship with a walker. He wasn't alone.

There seemed to be an entire army of seniors using an assortment of devices -- motorized wheelchairs, walkers and canes -- to remain upright and moving forward. Welcome to Holland America!

For 10 days in late April and the first week of May we battled the elements and all the geriatrics as we made our way along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. The itinerary had us hopping aboard ship in Fort Lauderdale, leisurely cruising the Atlantic for two days before visiting Boston and Bar Harbor in the U.S., then Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Montreal.

Somewhere in the Maritimes as we cruise toward Prince Edward Island.
All did not go according to plan.

A medical emergency on the first full day at sea forced the captain to make a hard left toward Charleston where he managed to rendezvous with a Coast Guard helicopter to off-load an injured passenger. The ailing woman, by the way, is reportedly well on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, the Veendam was woefully off course with little chance of making up lost time quickly.

We arrived in Boston 10 hours late, had no time to get off the ship and were once again cruising north after an additional 75 passengers boarded. The next day we were six or so hours late arriving in Bar Harbor, enough time to dash into the village, snap a few photos and buy a souvenir or two!

The good news, I guess, is that we arrived in Sydney right on schedule. Sadly, the weather had turned cool and misty and there was absolutely nothing -- zip, zero zilch -- to do in the city. Lowlights included circling a mammoth fiddle at the dock and a quick visit to a nearby Tim Hortons for a donut and cup of coffee.

One of the two highlights we discovered in Sydney.
Fortunately, there was plenty to keep us busy aboard the Veendam. Meals were tasty and plentiful -- breakfast, lunch and dinner, mid-morning snacks, afternoon tea and late-evening treats. We also stayed busy working out in the ship's gym most mornings and attending cooking classes taught by a chef from America's Test Kitchen.

There was also a cornucopia of entertainers -- singers and dancers, comics and musicians -- and a piano bar that captured our attention and had us tapping our tootsies most evenings.

Sir Stryker -- yep, that's what he called himself -- was the man behind the piano belting out pop and show tunes and offering up a bit of amusing shtick that was fizzy fun and a grand way to end each day!

Meanwhile, it was drizzling when we docked in Halifax. Once ashore, Mother Nature blasted up with a triple whammy: frigid temps, blustery winds and heavy rain!

Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.
We attempted to battle the elements and make it into the city, but quickly retreated to the safety and relative comfort of several warehouse malls catering to tourists around the port. If nothing else, I now have a cap from Nova Scotia.

I'm happy to report that the storm played out quickly and by the time we reached Prince Edward Island the next morning the weather was pleasant: clear skies and moderate temps in the low 50s. We spent the day mostly hoofing it around Charlottetown in search of tchotchkes, but also managed to make it out to the countryside to visit Green Gables.

The 19th century house, a picturesque cottage at the heart of a series of hugely popular books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is hidden away in a stand of trees surrounded by vacation cottages and motels. After a pleasant enough drive from here to there and back, a quick visit to yet another Tim Hortons and a walk around the port, we returned to the Veendam.

The next morning we woke to a spray of water from a fireboat just outside the port of Quebec. Turns out we were the first tourists of the season and the city was offering a warm and watery bonjour!

Chateau Frontenac towers above the lower town of Quebec.
At first blush, Quebec is picture-postcard perfect. The old city is a cobblestone maze of colorful restaurants and shops, nestled comfortably below what appears to be a massive castle that, in fact, is a massive hotel: the towering Chateau Frontenac.

Wendy and I spent the day stumbling about on our own and, after a time, with a dozen or so other tourists on a mid-morning walking tour. We were rewarded with an up close and personal look at the city's colonial core, a jarring blend of stone buildings and narrow streets in the upper town. Eventually, we managed to stumble down to the shops and bistros of the lower town, the Petit Champlain, then finished up the day strolling along the northern bank of the St. Lawrence to our ship.

A day later we docked in Montreal, made it to the airport by mid-morning and were back home in time for dinner. Sir Stryker, unfortunately, wasn't around with his piano and patter to help ease our way back into the day-to-day world of dirty laundry, cable news and frozen dinners.

Welcome home ... welcome home, indeed!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Avi racing around the sun into a bright future

Avi came bounding into the room with his preschool teacher and classmates, a 30-pound bundle of energy in search of adventure. He spotted me, revved up his engine and headed my way in overdrive.

Avi, Bubbe and Bailey (in the background) having a giggling good time.
Unfortunately, his legs were a bit ahead of his balance and he tumbled the last few feet before coming to rest where I sat. I bent over and lifted him up into my lap and he thanked me with a broad smile before resting his head on my shoulder.

A moment later he wiggled his way to the floor, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the gaggle of kids preparing for Shabbat morning sing. He changed course mid-step and headed off toward the entrance to the sanctuary, making a dash for the lobby and freedom!

Did I mention Avi is filled with energy? If he's not moving around then he's thinking about moving around. Today, I'm thinking, he might notice his mom and dad, big sister Bailey and school chums will be giving him plenty of time and room to do his thing with abandon. After all, it's his birthday!

Avi's managed to make it around the sun twice now -- a happy, curious, whirling dervish of a toddler.

His life is filled with a pleasant blend of play and schooling. It's also filled with two of his favorite pastimes: eating and sleeping. He's happy to grab hold of as much rack time and chow as possible, taking a quick nap in the early afternoon and going off to bed without a peep each evening.

Avi and a few furry friends during visit to the Atlanta Zoo.
When Avi's not sleeping, there's a good chance he's eating. His day is a running smorgasbord of treats and grub, a jarring cornucopia of yogurt and cereal; bagels, crackers, goldfish and cheese; pancakes and strawberries; applesauce, fish and chicken; cake, cookies and donuts.

It's reasonably easy to figure out his diet each day. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or chef to discover his culinary choices. Just follow the trail of crumbs scattered about the floor and his clothes, and the stains on his hands and face.

Avi's also got an odd fascination with water. He likes holding onto a plastic cup filled to the brim when running about and, whenever near a water fountain, enjoys holding his hands under the running water. Go figure!

Meanwhile, all this play and coming and going is a studied effort, I'm told, at figuring out the world. Avi, it appears, is doing a fine job at being a toddler.

He's happy and enjoying his young life; loves his mom, dad and big sister, and is excited about what's waiting for him just the other side of the horizon. Me, too!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Another trip north and another grand adventure!

View of lower Manhattan after hiking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Feeling a bit restless and having a few hundred bucks in airline credit to burn, it only made sense for the lovely Miss Wendy and me to take yet another nibble out of the Big Apple earlier this year.

We had visited New York in December, but decided to embrace the ancient Talmudic belief that you can never be too thin, too rich or visit Manhattan too often!

Atlanta chums Margaret and Peter, also in need of a chilly getaway, joined us on the trip north the first week of February, adding a whole new level of fun and adventure.

We spent the first afternoon zig-zagging our way about Midtown, strolling by Central Park and the Plaza Hotel, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center, Times Square and the Broadway Theater District.

Yummy way to end the day when visiting NYC.
Another ten minutes and five blocks along Broadway and we found ourselves in front of Ben's Kosher Deli -- can you say righteous hot pastrami? Can you say yummy? We can and we did!

An hour or so later, after a deli-licious dinner of corned beef and hot pastrami, chopped liver, matzo ball soup and a choco-licious slice of warm babka, we managed to shuffle our way onto Broadway and back to the Theater District.

Margaret and Peter were off to see "Come From Away", the Tony Award-winning musical focusing on the residents of Gander, Newfoundland and the thousands of airline passengers stranded there following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Wendy and I had seen -- and enjoyed -- the musical on our last trip to New York, so we decided to spend the evening with Bernadette Peters, aka Dolly Levi, and say "Hello"! It was a splendid, toe-tapping choice and a grand way to end the day.

Up early the next morning, Peter greeted us with the news that New York's a wonderful town, explaining giddily that the Bronx is up and the Battery's down. Okay, I'm playing a little fast and loose with his words so I can get the lyrics of "New York, New York" into this post. But I'm not exaggerating the ebullient vibe that had us all psyched and ready to take on another day in the city.

Wendy and Peter crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
After a little "ride in a hole in the ground" -- yes, that's another musical reference, this time to the city's world-class subway system -- Margaret and Peter headed over to Ellis Island in search of their ancestral roots, while Wendy and I strolled around the World Trade Center.

In recent years we've visited the "footprint" fountains on the site of the downed Twin Towers and the nearby museum raised in honor and memory of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. But we'd never actually been inside the new building.

The structure towers over lower Manhattan, 104 stories of glass and steel soaring a breathtaking -- and symbolic -- 1776 feet high. There are 54 high-speed passenger elevators, a special few that can zip you up to the One World Observatory on the 102nd floor in a stunning 47 seconds.

Both the ride -- the elevators are equipped with digital screens that offer a unique glimpse at the history and growth of the region -- and the observation deck are 21st century amazing!

Wendy and I enjoyed all the bells and whistles that greeted and welcomed us, took time to watch one last video that set the scene, then stood in amazement as the screen lifted revealing a jaw-dropping vista that stretched off to the distant horizon.

World Trade Center towers over lower Manhattan.
The observation deck -- actually two floors that include a snack bar, restaurant, meeting rooms and gift shop -- circles the tower, offering a 360 degree view that includes Manhattan, Queens, Harlem and Long Island to the north and east, the Hudson River and New Jersey to the west, and Staten Island, much of Brooklyn and the Jersey shore to the south.

If you're lucky -- and we were -- you can see forever. A gaggle of skyscrapers, roadways, bridges and green space dot the landscape. It all blends together like the phantasmagoric work of a master builder, a mighty ode to the greatness of America.

During a 30-minute stroll, high above it all, we managed to spot Central Park and Rockefeller Center; the United Nations, Chrysler and Empire State buildings; the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Verrazano-Narrows bridges; Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.

After making our way back down to earth and meeting up with Margaret and Peter, we wandered about Greenwich Village, visiting Chelsea Market, the nearby High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail, and Washington Square.

We then began a slow and chilly trek up Fifth Avenue. In fact, trekking pretty much filled the next day or so.

Margaret takes a little spin on a carousel in Brooklyn.
Before calling it quits and heading back to the land of cotton and warmer temps, we criss-crossed midtown yet again, traveled back to lower Manhattan and hiked across the Brooklyn Bridge into the Heights and the gentrified district of DUMBO.

We then stumbled about SOHO, NOHO and the East Village before making our way to Rafele -- can you say sangria? It's one of our favorite New York restaurants just the other side of Bleecker Street in the West Village and only a hop, skip and a cannoli away from Rocco's, a pasticceria worth visiting if you're in the neighborhood. We were and we did!

Weary, but happy, Wendy and I bid our traveling companions a fond farewell the next morning and returned home -- Margaret and Peter hung around Gotham another two days. To paraphrase Julius Caesar: We came, we saw, we ate, drank and conquered. And so it goes!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Bailey Boo and New York, Too!

Bailey, Bubbe, Lauren and Josh out and about in NYC.
Our winter getaway this year was a family affair to New Jersey and New York, a couple of days to attend and celebrate our grand niece Jessica's Bat Mitzvah, mixed with a few days to chomp away at The Big Apple yet again!

Highlights included Bailey flying the friendly skies of United for the very first time and riding a train, then venturing in to Manhattan and getting chilled to the bone, dancing the night away at her cousin's party and filling up on enough sugar to keep her spinning about for hours.

We also spent some quality time with Lauren and Josh, first in Jersey with family and friends, then into the Big Apple for a quick trip around Times Square and Rockefeller Center. Then we were off to the Upper East Side to try out the pastrami at a little hole in the wall, The Pastrami Queen, that came highly recommended. Two words: Good Eats!

On Sunday, after a few days of folks and fun, Wendy and I returned to the city after dropping Lauren, Josh and Bailey at the airport in Newark. We generally spend a longish weekend in Manhattan in late January, but decided to go ahead and eat our way across the city and attend a few shows since we were already in the area.

Great view of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights.
We mostly wandered about the neighborhoods in Chelsea and Greenwich Village, revisting a few of our favorite restaurants and bakeries -- Rafele and Rocco's in the West Village and S'MAC, always a cheesy delight, just this side of SOHO. We also took a walking tour that had us trekking across the Brooklyn Bridge, offering up amazing views of lower Manhattan, with stops in Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo -- trust me, it's a New York sort of thing!

We only had time for two shows and decided to take a chance on the Rockettes and the annual Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. It was definitely a spectacle, sort of a mega-cruise ship production on steroids. I'm thinking it's the type of show that a kind and forgiving critic would roll their eyes at, then report truthfully that "a good time was had by all!"

We also made it to Broadway to see "Come From Away," the Tony award-winning musical focusing on the residents of Gander, Newfoundland and the thousands of airline passengers stranded there following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

"Come From Away" funny, sad and delightful.
It's a creative and energetic production, funny and sad, filled with music that manages to be both uplifting and melancholy. The story had Wendy and me laughing, crying and up on our feet cheering with the rest of the sold-out house when the final curtain came down!

The trip, unfortunately, became a bit of a jarring adventure, thanks to the weather and an electrical fire that messed up the return journey home. The kids' flight was delayed, then canceled when the airport in Atlanta suffered a blackout that played havoc with flight schedules around the globe.

Lauren, Josh and Bailey were forced to spend an extra night in New Jersey; thanks and a tip of the cap to our niece and her family who provided them with a place to rest for the night and got them back to the airport the next day. The flight delay and cancellation eventually had them flying to Nashville, renting a car and driving the final four hours back home to Atlanta.

Josh, Lauren and Bailey finally on the way back home.
Meanwhile, Wendy and I boarded our flight right on time, but flew smack dab into a torrential thunderstorm hovering about northern Georgia. We spent 30 minutes of the flight being battered by high winds, then white-knuckled our way through an aborted landing before arriving safely, if a little shaken, at Hartsfield Jackson -- aka, the Atlanta airport!

I'm holding on to the idea that often a trip is just a trip, but when something goes wrong it all becomes an adventure. So I'm pretty sure that our little trip up north this year was a grand holiday and one heck of an adventure!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Turbulent flight home a white-knuckling, shaky affair

Sky cloudy, but calm in Newark as we board afternoon flight home.
Most everyone has an "airplane" story, and now I do as well.

Wendy and I returned home earlier this week from a trip to New Jersey and New York, a couple of days with family in Jersey and a couple of days chomping away at The Big Apple yet again!

We were flying United Air out of Newark and managed to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was worried the flight might be delayed or canceled since the weather in and around Atlanta was bad -- fog, rain, possible thunderstorms and high winds.

But the boarding call came right on time and we were in the air and headed south just as the sun was casting a golden glow across the western horizon. All was good, for the moment. About an hour or so into the two-hour flight, the plane's PA system squawked to life and a flight attendant calmly announced that the captain had just reported there might be some light to moderate turbulence in a few minutes.

There was; a little shaking and rattling, then a bit more, followed by nothing but smooth air -- at least for the moment. The PA squawked to life yet again 30 minutes later and the flight attendant announced we were on our final approach to Atlanta and would be landing soon. Just a few minutes later there was a gentle nudge that had the plane dipping a bit, followed by a series of bumps that rattled my teeth and had me and others grabbing for anything solid within reach.

The buffeting continued, growing more intense with each passing second. There was now a jarring blend of nervous laughter and squeals mixing with the rattling of stuff as the plane shimmied and shuttered its way to the ground.

Storm clouds, high winds and rain made for a rocky flight.
A young woman, sitting in a seat directly in front of me, had become increasingly agitated as the turbulence intensified, finally calling out for help. Most everyone wanted to help, but short of latching onto a skyhook, there was simply no way to battle the elements and stop the shaking.

I heard the plane's flaps and wheels lowering and it seemed we'd be touching down in a minute or so. Unfortunately, the turbulence continued to intensify. One moment we were headed down and an instant later the engines roared to life. We picked up speed and began rising above the airport. The shaking and rattling strengthened, the frightened woman in front of me rolled into a fetal position and more than a few passengers, I imagine, were quietly chatting with God.

After another few moments, that seemed like an eternity, the turbulence slackened and a moment or so later the PA came back to life. It was the pilot this time, talking in his very best "Right Stuff" voice and explaining he'd aborted our initial landing because of high winds and rain, that we were circling back for another try and would be on the ground in 15 minutes.

Fortunately, this time around, the weather had improved and the captain stuck the landing to relieved applause.

I happened to pass the distraught young woman in the terminal who told me she'd never fly again. I lamely responded that, yes, it was a very difficult flight but that she should remember that a trip is often just a trip, but when something goes wrong it becomes an adventure.

A few minutes later I saw a group of flight attendants from our plane and, curious and looking for a little context, I asked them what they thought of the flight. One young attendant began to shrug her shoulders when an older colleague blurted out, "bumpy as hell!"

And so it was.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Island Hopping: Out and about aboard the Regal Princess

Larry, Amy and Wendy say howdy from St. Thomas.
The sun was well above the horizon, mirrored in the calm waters of Antigua harbor as I made my way to one of the upper decks of the Regal Princess. Wendy and I, my brother Larry and sister-in-law Amy -- along with 3,000 or so cruising companions -- were relaxed and joyfully content after casually drifting about the Caribbean.

We were only three days out of Fort Lauderdale, had already visited St. Thomas and Princess Cays, a spit of sand nestled up against a tropical rain forest just this side of Nassau, and for the moment were treading water in a five-star cruise ship parking lot.

Off to port was a few hundred million dollars of floating real estate, Celebrity's Silhouette and Eclipse, while on our starboard side was the Disney Magic. The thousands of tourists -- and their tourist dollars -- pouring into Antigua was good news for the area. After all, the region had been hit hard by the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September and early October.

Afternoon tea: A little snack between lunch and dinner.
All of the ports we visited, at least around the shopping and downtown districts, were in decent condition; but it was clear much work was still needed, especially in and about the interior of the islands, before life would return to anything resembling normal for local residents.

Meanwhile, normal aboard the Princess Regal meant that Wendy and I were up and about with the rising sun. After breakfast and a quick workout in the ship's fully loaded fitness center, a shower, change of clothes and light mid-morning snack, it was time for a nap! The afternoon began with lunch, obviously, followed by a little light reading, a brisk walk around the ship's promenade deck, afternoon tea -- scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam -- and another short nap. Then it was time for dinner! Well, I'm guessing you get the idea. I did mention there was food, right?

Calm sea and clear sailing out of the port of Antigua.
There were also other distractions and happenings of note: Memorable sunrises and sunsets; calm, expansive seas and deep blue skies; a vast night canopy filled with an achingly beautiful full moon and an infinite number of stars spilling into tomorrow. Oh, there was also a bit of testosterone-fueled, horn-blowing one-upmanship! I'll explain.

When heading out to sea, ships sound their horn, a loud -- very loud -- wail that can be heard over great distances. As often as not the horn is a Johnny-one-note, a basso profondo on steroids that will rattle your teeth if you're in the neighborhood. In recent years, cruise ships have added a few additional notes to their repertoire, allowing them to play a short tune, as often as not a little ditty linked in some fashion to the parent corporation.

Disney Magic toots goodbye with a little ditty!
The Regal Princess is part of a line of ships that is inextricably linked to a television show, The Love Boat, that was hugely popular for a decade or so beginning in the mid-1970s. Each show began with a theme song that is now the little ditty -- at least the opening notes -- played by Princess ships when leaving port.

On this day the Regal was docked next to the Disney Magic in Antigua. As you might imagine, Disney ships have a huge number of songs to toot on its horns, but only one that defines The Magic Kingdom and mega-corporation: "When You Wish Upon a Star ..."

The Magic, leaving port in the late afternoon, sounded off. The Regal responded and the game was on. The ear-shattering play only lasted a minute or so, but brought a smile and applause from most everyone milling about the two ships and port area.

Truth to tell, there was something grand and fun and over the top that the horn play captured, a fitting -- if loud -- bow on our vacation package getaway.