Friday, September 15, 2023

Making Up for Lost Time Part 2

Following our short Danube River Cruise, we flew from Vienna to Rome where our next adventure began. We have been to Rome before, so having just part of a day to do some exploring was fine with us. Rome was packed, hot and dirty so no extra time was needed for me.

Regent Mariner
On August 14th we took a cab from our hotel to the port to board the Regent SS Mariner, a 700 passenger ship. We have always cruised on the 3,000-4,000 passenger ships in the past, so this was a different experience. It was nice to have fewer people on board, yet we still had access to multiple restaurants, a swimming pool, evening shows and a casino (which is not our thing, and we never stepped foot in it.) The Regent offers free alcohol all the time (unlike the river cruises which give you wine and beer options only at lunch and dinner), free (for the most part) excursions, free laundry service, and no up charge for any of the restaurants.

While the Mariner is one of the older ships in the Regent line, it was still very nice. Our stateroom was spacious and had everything we needed. Service onboard was good for the most part, and the food was plentiful and tasty. A bonus is that the ship had a pickleball court on it!


We met up with our long-time friends on the ship. We have traveled with them extensively, including the trip to South Africa earlier this year. It's so great to experience new places with people you can truly relax around because you know each other so well. Being able to see them twice in one year was a real treat!

Salerno, Italy
First port of call was Salerno, Italy. For our excursion we choose to visit the historic Herculaneum archeological site. While it was quite a drive via bus to get there, it was amazing to see the ruins of a town that was built in 1243 BC. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD buried the town in ash, and it wasn't until the 1700s that the town was rediscovered. 


Messina, Italy
Our second stop was Messina on the island of Sicily. We took a bus to Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano. It is known for Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-­Roman theater still used today.


August 17th was our one and only day at sea, and we welcomed the opportunity to relax for the day as the excursions had kept us on the go. Friday we came into Santorini, Greece. We opted for one of the paid tours, which involved a 7 1/2 hour day that included a stop for lunch and wine tasting at a local winery. We visited the archeological site at Akrotiri village, which can be traced back to 4,000 BC, and then toured the village of Pyrgos before stopping at the Aroma Avlis Winery. The afternoon ended with a walk through the village of Oia, one of the most beautiful stops on the whole trip.

Santorini, Greece
Ephesus, Turkey
August 19th was our 45th wedding anniversary. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we would spend it in Turkey. We docked in Ephesus, which is a city in Turkey's Central Aegean region. Here we toured the Ancient Ephesus Archeological site, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Oia was my favorite beautiful spot, the archeological site in Ephesus was my favorite historical spot. Ephesus was founded about 10th century BC. The ruins are beyond fascinating.
Ephesus ruins
Gythion, Greece
The next day our stop was Gythion, Greece. My stomach was not too happy following a breakfast that included some questionable fruit, so I remained on the ship while the others did their tour of Mystras. I spent some time on a lounger under the shade as well as my first and only foray into the pool. I essentially had the area to myself, so that was kind of nice following all the crowds we had been in on the excursions. 

Corfu, Greece
Fortunately I felt better the next day for our port of call at Corfu, where we did a walking tour of the town. Corfu is an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea. While the area is beautiful, it was incredibly crowded and our bus had a terrible time trying to navigate the narrow roads.

Tuesday we arrived at Dubrovnik, Croatia. We had a wonderful guide who told us the story of the town. We began with a cable car ride up to Mount Srd, where we visited the War of Independence Museum. After the cable car took us back down we toured the old town of Dubrovnik, which is also a World Heritage Site.
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Our cruise ended in Venice, where we spent the last night on the ship in port. This is not necessarily a good thing as the the location is in an industrial area and adjacent to a camping or perhaps trailer park.  We did have an excursion here, and we elected to go to Murano and Burano. We have been to Venice before, and were spending a couple extra days there, so we did not need a tour of Venice. 

At Burano we visited a shop where they make lace by hand, which was very interesting. The colorful shops and houses make Burano a fun stop on the tour. On Murano we visited a glass blowing factory for a demonstration. It was so incredibly hot that I ended up going outside for some relief.
Burano & Murano
We spent an extra two days in Venice with our friends before flying from Rome to London before catching our flight to Charlotte. This was an incredible three-week adventure, and I'm glad we got to experience two additional ways to travel by ship. It was fantastic to do carryon luggage only, and that's what we will do in the future whenever possible. My big takeaway was to not travel to Europe in August. It was hot and crowded, and that took away from the experience for sure.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Making Up for Lost Time

Budapest, Hungary
This is a year of make-up travel for us. Because we stuck close to home for the first three years of Covid, we decided to take some trips in 2023. We recently returned from our first ever riverboat cruise, which was followed by travel on a larger ship on the Mediterranean Sea. There was a lot to love about both forms of transportation.

We flew from Charlotte to London on August 5th. This is the second long trip that we did with carryon luggage only. The South Africa trip made a believer out of me. No more hanging around the airport waiting for our bags to come off the carousel. And no more lost luggage! 

After a long layover (8 hours) we then flew from London to Budapest. We spent a couple days touring this beautiful city before it was time for our cruise. Budapest is a charming city, very clean with friendly residents and lots to see. I had heard that if I liked Prague, I would love Budapest. I have to say that while I enjoyed Budapest, I have found no city yet that compares to the storybook feel of Prague.


Avalon View
On August 9th we boarded the Avalon View, which was docked a short walk from our hotel. I was not familiar with this ship line, but it was the only one I could find that worked time-wise with the later cruise we were taking with our friends. It turned out to be a great selection, as the ship was new, and the staff and food were great. The stateroom was a generous size, with a large bathroom and the bed facing the sliding doors.

This was a short cruise on the Danube River from Budapest to Vienna, with stops in Bratislava, Slovakia and Melk, Austria. Not knowing if we would like river cruising, this was a perfect trip to get a feel for the experience.

Bratislava is a pretty town along the Danube. We did a walking tour of the area in the morning, and then hiked up to the castle after that. We had met a couple from Louisiana and another couple from California on the boat, and the six of us ended up spending a lot of time together. 

Bratislava, Slovakia

Our next stop was Melk, Austria. There were low-lying clouds in the area when we docked, and the setting was beautiful. We took a short bus ride to the town center for our tour of the palace and the town.

After the tour we had time to walk through Melk before making our way on a path through the woods back to the boat.  

Melk, Austria
This cruise ended in Vienna, where we had an opportunity to have one last dinner with our new friends before we all parted ways for our next adventures. We had an opportunity to see a bit of Vienna before it was time for us to fly to Rome. It's definitely an interesting city, and one I wouldn't mind spending more time in.
Vienna, Austria
We both very much enjoyed the intimacy and ease of river boat cruising, and it is definitely something we would consider again for future travel. With only 166 passengers on board, it was easy to meet the other folks at meals and on the excursions. I'll cover the next part of our journey on a 700 passenger ship in the next post.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Where the Wild Things Are

One of my favorite things about living here on Mountain Island Lake is the interesting wildlife we see in our backyard. While we certainly don't see the deer, wild turkeys and groundhogs as much as we did when we first moved in three plus years ago, there are still interesting critters that come by. 

We have had a lot of hawks hanging around. Hopefully they haven't eaten any more of the mourning doves, but I'm fine with them keeping the mice and squirrel populations in check. And they certainly are pretty predators.


juvenile hawk

Most days we see the white squirrel scampering around the yard. We named him Whitey Herzog after a winning St. Louis Cardinals baseball coach. It is still surprising to me that he manages to co-exist with the gray squirrels as I understand that squirrels are very territorial. Perhaps he is someone's grandpa and that's why he's accepted. I enjoy having him around as he is not one of the naughty ones who insist on climbing the pole to get to my bird feeder. 

white squirrel

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." ~William Shakespeare 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Covid Booster Shot

Covid booster shot
My husband and I got a second Pfizer bivalent Covid-19 booster shot today. If you are over age 65, the CDC recommends a second booster if it has been 4 or more months since your last bivalent shot. We received ours last September, so we easily qualified for the shot. 

We debated waiting until this fall, when it is rumored that a combined flu/Covid shot will be available. But we have some travel coming up, so we decided to arm ourselves prior to that.

A friend of ours got Covid following a cruise but while she was still in France, and she thought she was going to drown in her own fluids. The hospital there refused to treat her. The thought of being so ill in a foreign country is very scary to me, so I'll do anything I can to avoid getting Covid.

It seems most people do not take Covid into consideration anymore. But I think it is important to understand that it is still around, and people are still dying from it. Here are the latest stats:

North Carolina has had 3.5 million cases and 29,279 deaths. In the United States there have been over 107 million cases and 1.2 million deaths. Worldwide there have been nearly 768 million cases and 6.9 million deaths. It is notable, however, that reporting is no longer required so the statistics are not necessarily accurate. One thing we can say for certain is that the numbers are certainly higher than what is being shown online. So I'll take a shot in the arm to hopefully avoid becoming one of the statistics.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

It's Lantern Parade Time

It's time for the annual Mount Holly Lantern Parade. Well, okay, the parade is not until October but it is time for us to start building our lanterns. For the third year in a row, Imagery will have an entry in the parade under the "community" category. The pressure is on as we have taken first place the past two years.

This year's theme is "Heroes and Villains", so that offered an abundance of opportunities for sure. We decided to go with "101 Dalmatians" since the story contains both heroes and villains. There are a lot of families with children who attend the parade, and we felt like they would get a kick out of seeing the Dalmatian puppies. I don't think we will have 101 of them, however! Let alone trying to build that many lanterns, we would struggle to find enough volunteers to carry them the night of the parade.

A small group of us have begun making some puppies because we will have a lantern-making workshop here in the community next Sunday night. It's an opportunity for new neighbors to see what we are up to, and hopefully recruit some volunteers. We will also get a jump on getting some puppies constructed.

We will have four stations at the workshop, and will have completed lanterns at each to show the process. The first station will construct the lanterns with wire, the second will add lights to the lanterns, the third will glue the specialty paper over the lanterns, and the fourth will add the black spots to the Dalmatians.

My specialty is stringing the lanterns with lights, so I will man that station. I did the structural wiring of two puppies in preparation for next week, and I really did not enjoy the experience. I'll leave that to the wiring experts and stick with lighting. One thing that is nice about lighting is that I can bring the lanterns home and do it in front of the television.

lit Dalmatians 

There are a lot of logistics to work out, but we have a very experienced core group working on this so I'm confident we will have a great-looking entry again this year. And the crowd will ask, "Who let the dogs out?" Who, who, who, who, who!

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Life is a Beech

Grandfather Mountain
Some friends invited us to come and stay at their condo near Beech Mountain, and though it is only a couple of hours away the temperature runs about 20 degrees cooler. In the summer, that change is quite welcome. They are avid pickleball players, so we spent quite a bit of time playing on the courts at Beech Mountain Club Pickleball.

On our way home we stopped at Linville Falls to do some hiking. It was refreshingly uncrowded, unlike the last time we went. That was during the heart of Covid, when everyone was pouring into the parks to escape being stuck at home. It's a nice area with moderately challenging trails. Some of the rhododendrons were still in bloom. We miss seeing them around here, so that was a pleasant surprise for us.

Linville Falls
Now we are back home in the heat and humidity. It's time to plan another escape!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Happy 4th!

Mount Holly fireworks
We began celebrating the 4th of July on June 29th, which is when our community of Mount Holly put on their fireworks display. They alternate dates with the surrounding communities so that they don't compete with each other. It is kind of nice because you can go see fireworks every night for several days if you want. Though we went by ourselves, we ended up sitting with other people from our community, which was fun.

Our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter drove down for a visit on June 30th. Luckily many people in our neighborhood have baby items they are willing to lend out. It's been over 30 years since we have had a high chair in the house! 

It was the first time the baby had gone on a long car ride, and she did great. She also did well sleeping in her pack-n-play, which they hadn't tried before. Another first was a visit to our community swimming pool. She was not too sure that she liked that, but seemed to enjoy the wading pool we put in our screened porch the next day.

The kids were able to go out twice while they were here, while we watched the baby. They do not have any family living near them, so adult time is pretty scarce for them. Needless to say, we were happy to have the baby all to ourselves.

We will go up to visit them in September, and I am hoping that our little gal will remember us. I know that around 8 or 9 months they start to be afraid of strangers. Hopefully with enough FaceTime she will still recognize us.


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain

For whatever reason our area is caught in a rain pattern right now. We are in our third day in a row of rain, with another three forecasted ahead. While there is a tropical storm out in the Atlantic Ocean right now, it is not anywhere close to the coast of the United States. So I'm not sure what is causing these storms. We did manage to get in a little pickleball early Monday morning before the rain began, but since then all outdoor activities have come to a halt.

Sunday I took my husband out to a local brewpub for Father's Day, and we stopped at the Mount Holly Community Garden to look at the garden beds. The flowers looked amazing, and since I am tired of the gray around me I'm posting a few of my favorites here. They are the only color we will see for a bit.

Mount Holly Community Garden

Monday, June 19, 2023

Hawk Eyes

Sharp-shinned Hawk
The other day we heard a loud bang on our sliding patio doors, and looked out to see feathers floating to the ground and a smear on the glass. When we walked out back, we saw a hawk up in the tree. We assumed it was the bird that hit the window as he sat very still on the limb. 

After a bit I went outside to wash the window, and I saw a mourning dove next to the patio doors. Its neck was bent at an unnatural angle, and it was not moving. It became clear that this was the bird that had hit the window. We assume the hawk was chasing the dove when the dove flew into the glass when trying to get away.

I asked my husband to dispose of the dead bird, and when he went out to pick it up he was startled by the hawk grabbing the dove off the pavers.  I guess the hawk was surprised as well since he ended up dropping the dove back to the ground. 

I know this is just the circle of life, but all I could think about is that some mourning dove will now be missing its partner since they normally mate for life. That made me a little sad.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

When Friends Come to Call

early morning on Mountain Island Lake
Last week some friends from St. Louis came to visit us for the first time since we moved to the Charlotte area. It was fun being able to show them our new house, and drive them through the neighborhood to let them see why we chose this particular development. While our lot with a lake view certainly speaks for itself, all the other amenities such as the pool, game cabin, library, pickleball courts, sewing and ceramics cabins, fitness cabin, etc. were certainly a big part of our decision-making process. After showing them around, they said they understand why we made such a big move several years ago.

We also took them to a couple of our favorite waterfront restaurants, showed them some of the quaint towns in the area and drove to a beautiful old mill that we had visited in the past. They really enjoyed the history and beauty of it, as well as the covered bridge that is located a few miles from the mill.

cherry jam
The guys took off on a motorcycle trip, so I busied myself with pickleball clinics, attended a dueling piano concert here at our pool, and tried my hand at making cherry jam. I made blueberry jam for the first time a couple weeks ago, and I saw that our local produce market had cherries in stock. I absolutely love bing cherries and cherry jam, but had never attempted making it due to the hassle of removing the pits. But then I remembered that I had picked up a pit removal tool, and decided I would give it a try. At $5.99 a pound, the cherries were certainly not a steal. And it took nearly two pounds of them to make four pint-size jars of jam. But I have to say the results were worth it. It is delicious! Now I will keep my eyes peeled for a better price so I can make some more while the cherries are in season. Soon it will be time to make peach as the freestone peaches from South Carolina will be arriving in a couple of weeks. About the time my granddaughter will be coming for her first visit!

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Remembering on Memorial Day

Memorial Day
It's always interesting to me that people don't seem to know what Memorial Day is all about. From decorating family members graves to barbecues, we often lose sight of the fact that the this day was set aside to honor U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. 

For the second year in a row our community chose to remember by having a parade, and I was proud to participate again. Led by residents on bicycles (the first of whom was a veteran), the decorated golf carts followed as the parade wove its way through the neighborhood. Patriotic music played, and residents lined up in their driveways to cheer us on. It was heart-warming to see all the flags on display, and to see the community come together. It was our chance to show that we understand that freedom is not free.

Memorial Day Parade

Sunday, May 28, 2023

A First Mother's Day

Mother's Day flowers

We were able to spend Mother's Day with our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. It was a year of firsts, as Megan celebrated her first Mother's Day and I celebrated my first Mother's Day as a grandma. What a special time!

On the day before Mother's Day we went to a winery, and Baby W was as good as gold. Then on Sunday Andy surprised us with flowers, and the guys made us a nice steak dinner with all the trimmings. The kids also gave me a Grandmother's Journal. It contains a lot of questions about my family tree, childhood, teen years, adulthood, marriage, birth of my son, etc. I have been enjoying the thought-provoking questions. I try to answer a few every day so it is not so overwhelming. Hopefully my granddaughter will enjoy reading through it some day. How I would have loved to read about either of my grandmothers, in their own words!

We were able to spend several days with the kids, and it is so wonderful to observe the changes in the baby each time we visit. We are hoping that they will be able to come and see us next month.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Voices from the Past

Elmwood/Pinewood Cemeteries
Saturday we attended Voices from the Past at the historic Elmwood/Pinewood Cemeteries in Charlotte. It's an event where volunteers tell the story of one of the interesting characters from Charlotte history at their grave site, dressed in period clothing. Because we are not from this area originally, we thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the people who once called Charlotte home. The event had been rescheduled from its original date in April due to rain. Because of that, not all of the 28 re-enactors were available but we probably listened to around 20 of them.

Elmwood was one of Charlotte's first cemeteries, and it opened its 72-acre plot in 1853. Many of the Who's Who of early Charlotte are buried there. It included Pinewood Cemetery, a segregated African American cemetery. There were two separate entrances, and until 1969 a chain link fence divided the cemeteries. Now they appear as one cemetery.

The event was well-attended, and we very much enjoyed the stories. The re-enactors did a fabulous job of staying in character. The most interesting was a clown, who stood at the grave of John King. King was part of a circus that was in town in 1880. The elephant he cared for crushed him. The circus moved on, but King was buried in Elmwood. His stone has an elephant carved on it.

John King's grave

The most memorable was Randolph Scott (1898-1987). He left Charlotte for Hollywood, and became a famous actor. While he appeared in a number of genres, he is mostly identified as a star of western movies. The man who portrayed him was just fantastic!

Randolph Scott's grave
Jim and I enjoy walking through cemeteries and looking at the artistry involved in the mausoleums and headstones. We are happy to learn of these historic cemeteries here, and will definitely go back when they are less crowded and we can spend time wandering around.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Professional Pickleball in Charlotte

The PPA North Carolina Open was held for the second year in a row in Charlotte last month. As in the previous year, Jim and I decided to volunteer at the event. Unfortunately the PPA cut out some of the benefits of volunteering this time around, such as no included lunch and no free access to the venue except on the day or days you were volunteering. We liked our volunteer positions last year, and those were only available on Saturday - the semi finals of all events, so a good time to be there. I worked in the VIP section, which was right by Championship Court. I made sure all people in the section had the correct arm bands on, and made sure they had enough to eat and drink and answered questions. It was a great group of attendees, so I was mostly able to watch the pros play.

Jim was down by the Championship Court ensuring that people who had purchased court-side seats had the appropriate arm bands and a place to sit. From last year's experience we knew that they had oversold the seats and Jim had to deal with angry folks who couldn't find a place to sit. That was corrected this year, and there were no problems.

For Sundays finals we had purchased court-side seats. We arrived very early to make sure we would get a good seat, and that ended up to be a good move. Between Saturday and Sunday we met and talked to many of the pros we watch on t.v. or YouTube, and it was quite a thrill for us. There is just something about being able to see them play in person, and the Charlotte audience is very enthusiastic and appreciative of the PPA having one of their tournaments here.

Last year we hosted two pros at our house, but neither one was coming to Charlotte this year. Though I had put it out that we were willing to host, apparently there was a problem at the tournament in Florida recently with misbehaving female pros at a host's home, so the PPA is no longer reaching out to people to arrange housing. That is too bad, because we had such a great experience and were hoping to repeat it again. Hopefully our guys will come back next year!

North Carolina Open 2023

Thursday, April 20, 2023

More Basal Cell Surgery

basal cell surgery
Yesterday the dermatologist performed an ED&C to remove the two basal cell carcinomas they found on my neck last month. Basically this involved them numbing the two spots, and then using a tool to scrape off the skin cells. She performed this procedure three times on each spot, using a cautery machine between each scraping to stem the bleeding. It really didn't take her too long, and the worst parts were the shots to numb the areas and the smell of something burning when she used the cautery machine.

The two spots were bandaged when she was done, and I reminded them that I have an allergy to the adhesive on bandages. This time they used gauze and some non-latex tape. I'm supposed to keep Vaseline and bandages on for two weeks, but I doubt I'll be able to tolerate that even with the new tape. She said as long as I keep the spots moist with Vaseline, the bandage really doesn't matter. I suspect they are really to protect my clothes from the ointment, as well as the sores from being rubbed by my clothes.

I haven't removed the bandages yet as I am going out to dinner and to a play with a few of my female pickleball players from the neighborhood. I wasn't sure I would be able to secure the gauze as well as the nurse did. I'll definitely do it when I get home tonight though. It will be interesting to see what the wounds look like since I haven't had this procedure done before.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Down to Destin

Last month we went to Destin, Florida, a place neither of us had been. While many of our friends in St. Louis made an annual pilgrimage there, that was not something we had done. Some good friends of mine have an ocean-front condo they rent out, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to visit. On the way down, we stopped at Stone Mountain State Park outside of Atlanta, Georgia. 

Stone Mountain is the world's largest exposed granite outcrop. By Georgia state law, the entire 3,200-acre park is designated as a memorial to the Confederacy. Today it is rather commercialized with an amusement park, train and gondolas to take you up the mountain, and they charge a ridiculous $20 entry fee which only covers parking. We hiked in different parts of the park, ending up in the area where you can get close to a memorial carving in the side of the mountain. It depicts Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Located 400 feet from the ground, the carving measures 90 x 190 feet and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. Work began on the carving in 1924, but for various reasons was not completed until 1972. 

Stone Mountain State Park

From the park we drove to Montgomery, Alabama where we spent the night. The next morning we continued on to Destin, stopping first at a delightful gulf-side restaurant for a late lunch before going to my friend's house to pick up the condo keys. It was great to see them, and we had a couple of meals together and played games and pickleball.

lunch spot and balcony view

The weather was not the greatest while we were there, with lots of clouds, high winds and a few showers thrown in. Nevertheless, we made the most of our time in Destin. We played some pickleball, visited museums and wildlife refuges, did some walking on the beach and very much enjoyed a trip to the Gulfarium. We are glad we got a chance to see the area, but will probably check out other parts of Florida before considering a trip back there.

Destin, Florida