Saturday, December 16, 2023

It's the Holiday Season

Christmas festivities have begun around here. We had the two holiday walks here in the neighborhood the first week of December. Different parts of the community hosted on two separate nights, and you walk from area to area to eat, drink and be entertained by the Singing Elves of Imagery. It's a great way to meet new neighbors and kick off the season.

one of the Elves hopped into our photo
Last Sunday we went to the Singing Christmas Tree performance, which was held at a local community college. One of my pickleball friends is in the chorale group, so seven of us from our pickleball group went to see the show. There were multiple singing groups (including a children's choir) and dancers performing. It was wonderful!

The Singing Christmas Tree
Thursday our Imagery ladies pickleball group held a fun round robin event, where we dressed in festive attire. Following our play we had a luncheon. About 36 women showed up for food and games. The Imagery Elves even came and sang for us.

Pickleball Party
Today we pick up our daughter at the airport. She will be with us for several weeks as she can work remotely. Then Friday our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter will join us for a few days. To say we are looking forward to this Christmas is a gross understatement.

Wishing all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas, and all the blessings a New Year can bring!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

When a Negative is a Positive

Christmas blessings
The biopsy report from my colonoscopy was finally posted in my online medical chart folder. The results on both of the polyps removed were negative, which is fantastic news and an even greater reason to be thankful this Christmas. This is a great representation of when a negative becomes a positive.

Speaking of Christmas, both our children and their families will be with us this holiday. We are really looking forward to having a little one around again. We are in the process of baby proofing the house as Baby W is now mobile. Hopefully she won't pull the tree down on top of herself! We are debating moving it to the second floor to be out of reach, but will probably wait and see if it becomes an issue once they get here.

I have our Christmas cards addressed and ready to go in the mail. Nearly all the presents are purchased, and the ones that have arrived are all wrapped. I'm feeling pretty good about where I stand in the process right now. I need to figure out the daily menus and get a start on the grocery purchases. I'll wait on any baking until we get closer to when the kids will arrive. Until then we have a lot of upcoming fun activities coming up over the next couple of weeks. Ho, ho, ho...

Friday, December 1, 2023

Bottoms Up!

Tuesday I had my first North Carolina colonoscopy. Since I have had polyps in the past, I am on the five year plan with the test. Lucky me! I'll admit that this test was a little overdue. As we know, no one loves having this test done.

My doctor, like most, wants his patients to do the two-step prep with Suprep. While it has the benefit of drinking less in one sitting, the downside is that you must drink a second bottle. In my case, the second dose was to be taken 6 hours prior to my procedure - so, at 2:15 AM! You combine the 6 ounce Suprep bottle with water or a clear liquid of your choice into the provided 16 ounce cup. Then you must drink two more 16 ounce cups of water in the next hour.

I used Crystal Light Lemonade as my mixture for the first dose at 6:00 PM the night before the procedure, and even having the drink cold and utilizing a straw to bypass some of my taste buds, the concoction was not pleasant to drink. But I got it down, and managed to not throw it back up. One thing that I experienced was extreme coldness once I consumed the product. Even under my electric blanket and covered with quilts, I had uncontrollable shaking for over an hour.

It began working within a half hour, and let's just say I stayed close to the bathroom the rest of the night. Due to this, being awake at 2:15 for the next dose was not a problem. So I repeated the process, and once I was finished with the two additional cups of water at 3:00 AM, I was not allowed to have any more liquids.

We had to be at the endoscopy center by 7:15. Concerned that I might have an accident on the 25 minute drive to the center since I was still experiencing diarrhea, I wore an adult diaper and carried an extra set of clothes. I ended up being able to make it to the bathroom in the center when we arrived, so it was not an issue. But I felt more relaxed knowing I was covered in case it happened.

The staff at the center was great, and the procedure went just fine. Unfortunately the doctor found and removed two polyps, so that keeps me on the five year plan for the test. Hopefully the biopsy reports will come back negative like they did last time. It can take up to a week before I will know.

The test can be life-saving, I'm aware. But I am surprised that they get as many people to complete it as they do because the diet and prep required are literally a pain in the ass. Which makes me wonder - do the gastroenterologists who do colonoscopies tell their friends that all their patients are assholes???

Saturday, November 25, 2023

A True Friendsgiving

turkey cheese and meat tray
Because we had just driven up to the kids a couple weekends ago for the first birthday bash, we decided to stay at home for Thanksgiving this year. Our neighborhood had a Friendsgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day, and we participated in that instead. It was perfect for those of us who do not have family living in the Charlotte area.

The HOA provided the turkey and dinnerware, and those attending signed up for either appetizers, side dishes or desserts. I made the turkey appetizer as shown above. It was super easy to put together, so I got off pretty easy this year. Thirty people attended the event, and there was lots of great food. But more importantly, it provided us with an opportunity to meet new people, including two couples who only moved in three months ago. 

At the end, we each told our name, what street we live on, and what we were thankful for that day. It was so heartwarming to hear so many folks say how happy they are with our community and the new friends they have met. That is why we moved here, and our opinion hasn't changed in the four years we have been part of Imagery. It was a great way to end Thanksgiving Day.

Friday, November 17, 2023

First Birthday and Last National Park

first birthday
Our granddaughter turned one recently, and that is so hard to believe. It seems like yesterday that we were told we were going to be grandparents for the first time. We traveled up to Virginia to celebrate the big day, arriving on a Thursday. We had family photos taken on Friday, and considering that the little gal had her 12 month shots that morning, she did surprisingly well. Unfortunately it rained, so we could not have the pictures taken in a nearby park as had been planned. You know what they say about planning...

Saturday was the party, and again Baby W did really well with so many strangers in her home. Her naps were planned strategically, and she was content during the party. I think it was fun for her to have some other little people visiting. She certainly had no problem enjoying her birthday cupcake! She got a lot of fun as well as practical gifts, so I know she will be entertained for awhile.

Sunday we left the kids' house and drove to Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted, West Virginia. We wanted to visit New River Gorge National Park on Monday, and Hawks Nest is right next door to the national park. It has a lovely 31 room lodge, and that is where we spent the night. In this season between fall colors and Christmas lights, the lodge was pretty empty. We were given a lovely room on the 4th floor, with a balcony overlooking the gorge. We had dinner at the lodge, and our breakfast was included the next morning. We woke up to a lovely sunrise over the mountains.

sunrise at Hawks Nest Lodge
After we checked out of the lodge, we drove a quick 15 minutes to one of the entrances to New River Gorge National Park. Previously known as the New River Gorge National River, Congress in 2021 redesignated the area as the newest United States national park in 2021. Thus we were able to tick off one more national park in 2023.

The park is 70,000 acres, so obviously we did not see it all in one day. But we hit the highlight of seeing the New River Gorge Bridge. It is currently the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States and the third highest bridge in the country. We also drove Fayette Station Road, a winding 8-mile one-way stretch of road that takes you to the bottom of the gorge. The park service has an audio tour available for download that describes what you are seeing on the drive as well as the history of the area.

We very much enjoyed our visit, and will plan another trip back to the area. There is a lot more to see, and it is only three and a half hours away from us to boot.
New River Gorge National Park

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Visiting the Sunshine State

Last week we traveled to Florida to visit some friends from the neighborhood who purchased a condo in Port Charlotte last year. Originally this trip was supposed to take place in January of 2023, but they got sick and we had to cancel our trip.

At their suggestion we had purchased tickets on Allegiant Air, which flies out of the Concord-Padgett Airport (as opposed to Charlotte Douglas) directly to Punta Gorda, Florida. It is a discount airline, which I have always tried to avoid. But the pricing was quite decent on it, despite bucking up for checking a bag, picking a seat and Priority Boarding. The package deal also gave us cancellation insurance, which we ended up needing in January.

What they don't tell you about the insurance is that all taxes and fees are non-refundable, and the price of the insurance is deducted from the credit that goes onto your account. So needless to say, you are not made whole on the deal. But at least we were able to rebook the tickets.

We were dropped off at the airport on October 23rd, and were very grateful that we had Priority status. The regular line was quite long, but we only had a couple of people ahead of us so we got through quickly. I was amused by the fact that if you needed to charge any devices at the Concord airport, there was a fee for that as well.

On the plane we found the seats to be fairly spacious, if not the most padded in the industry. There are no frills, however. No snacks or drinks are provided, though they were offered for sale. As the flight was less than an hour and a half long, it was no big deal to us.

Being picked up at the Punta Gorda Airport was a breeze, and we were quickly off to begin our Sunshine State adventure with our good friends. We played a LOT of pickleball, both in their community as well as the Pickleplex in Punta Gorda, which has 24 courts. Wow! 

We also visited their community pool, went out to dinner with their friends, and played some rousing games of Mexican Train. But the thing I enjoyed the most this trip was going to the Peace River Gardens. It was a beautiful day to walk through the botanical gardens and see not only the plant material but also the wonderful sculptures they had on site. 

Peace River Gardens
We flew home on Friday the 27th, and were again thankful that our status enabled us to skip the long, general check-in line. It is certainly the only way I would consider flying this airline again.

It was another fun trip, but I am happy that we don't have any others planned for 2023. It's time to stay home for a bit and enjoy life here.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Birthday Pickleball

Joola Scorpeus
Saturday was my birthday, and what beautiful weather we had for it! Jim got me the Collin Johns version of the Joola Scorpeus pickleball paddle as my gift. I feel a connection to Collin since he stayed with us several days a couple years ago while in town for a tournament. But also I love the way he plays, handling the right-hand side of the court while his brother Ben dominates the left-hand side. Collin has such a nice touch at the net, and I feel that is my strength in the game as well. Not that I am anywhere close to his caliber of play, of course. So far the paddle is working well for me.

Sports Connection, a local pickleball facility, was offering Cosmic Pickleball this weekend, and I told Jim that is what I wanted to do for my birthday. So we rented a court and invited two other couples to join us for pickleball under the blacklights. I had always wanted to try it, and believe it is an event we could have here in our community for the pickleball club. It was a blast! And what a great way to usher in my 68th year.

Cosmic Pickleball

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Grand Canyon National Park

Having left Colorado, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona after dark. We had chosen to stay two nights inside the park for easy access to sunrise and sunset photos in the park, plus the ability to just park our car and leave it while using the bus service within the park.

We had not been to this park since 2006, when I took Jim there for his birthday. Our daughter had never been. It is certainly a national treasure and one that all Americans should strive to see. There is nothing else like it, though I suppose Canyonlands comes closest.

We got up early the next morning for the sunrise before grabbing some breakfast. We spent the day on the park shuttles, getting off at each stop for photos. In the evening we went back out for sunset pictures.

Grand Canyon National Park
The next morning we took off to our final stop before heading home. We drove to the Hoover Dam, and took the Guided Dam Tour. This tour takes you on the original elevator down to historic tunnels along with a guided powerplant tour. It was very interesting to learn about why the dam was built and how it operates.

Hoover Dam

 Las Vegas is a short drive from the Hoover Dam, and we spent our last night together at Harrah's on the Vegas strip. It is not one of my favorite places, but it is certainly entertaining to walk there at night. Jim says it is like the bar scene from Star Wars, and that is pretty on point. 

Las Vegas
In summary, we put over 2,000 miles on the rental car, traveled through four states, and visited seven national parks and two national monuments in addition to a few other things. We recognized the vast diversity of landscape in this country, and found ourselves wondering why we travel so often out of the country when the United States has so much to offer. It was wonderful to spend this time with our daughter, and I'm confident more national park trips are in our future.

Friday, October 27, 2023

More National Parks

Following our stops at the Grand Staircase-Escalade and Capitol Reef, we arrived in Moab, Utah just after dark. For the first time on the trip, we stayed in one location for three nights. Our two bedroom townhome was equipped with a washer and dryer, which was perfect halfway through the agenda as we had all brought just carryon luggage and it was time to do laundry.

The unit was located very near Arches National Park and was also convenient to Canyonlands National Park. We spent Thursday, September 21st at Arches, going back in the evening to catch a sunset there. Arches was the only place we visited that required us to purchase a timed ticket ahead of time. While you did need to arrive within the hour time slot on the ticket, you could come back later in the day if you wanted.

There are over 2,000 natural stone arches in the park. What mostly impacts the rocks today is erosion from water. It's a spectacular landscape.

Arches National Park

Friday we left our unit early to drive to Canyonlands. This was another great park for hiking and sightseeing. The area was formed again by erosion, this time by the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Canyonlands National Park
Saturday morning we had a four hour drive to Mesa Verde to visit the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Along the way we stopped at Hovenweep National Monument. It was established as a national monument in 1923, and archeologists consider it to have the finest examples of ancestral Puebloan masonry found anywhere. The ruins were very fascinating.
Hovenweep National Monument
We arrived in Mesa Verde in time to check in and then enter the park for a short hike. We wanted to capture the sunset in the park, and though it was a little overcast we still saw some stunning skies.
Mesa Verde National Park sunset
The next morning we went back to Mesa Verde National Park to see the archeological sites in the park. We also had purchased tickets for a ranger-led talk about the Cliff Dwellings. That is the only way you can hike down to the actual site. The hike involved steep ladders and narrow stairs, but was so worth the effort it took to get down and back up. It is fascinating how these structures were built so many years ago in such a harsh landscape.
Mesa Verde National Park
When we finished with the tour and our drive through the park, we took off for the Grand Canyon, which is about a four hour drive. More on Grand Canyon National Park in the next post.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Heading to Moab

On the way to Moab from Bryce Canyon we decided to stop and see the Grand Staircase-Escalante National monument. We hiked part of the area, hoping to be able to go through some of the narrow passageways. Unfortunately the water was a little high, so we couldn't go as far as we would have liked. It was still a beautiful walk.

Grand Staircase-Escalante
From there we drove to Capitol Reef National Park. Known for its long wrinkle in the earth called a Waterpocket Fold, the park has canyons and striking rock formations. Due to time constraints we ended up just driving through the park. We saw a beautiful sunset on our way to Moab.
Capitol Reef National Park

Monday, October 23, 2023

Mount Holly Lantern Parade

Imagery and 101 Dalmatians
(photo by Bob Leverone Photography)
I'll get back to my national parks trip postings later, but Saturday night was the Sixth Annual Mount Holly Lantern Parade. For the third year our Imagery community has entered the group category in the parade. This year's theme was Heroes and Villains, and we decided when we heard the theme last October that we would do 101 Dalmatians as our entry. It has wonderful villains in Cruella and the Badun brothers, and super heroes with Pongo and Perdita coming to the rescue of the puppies.

We began the lanterns in earnest in June, and many, many hands participated in making our dream a reality. Cruella reached a whopping 8'6" height, and Pongo and Perdita were built to the size of actual Dalmatians. The remaining puppies were much smaller in scale so we didn't need 101 walkers in the parade.

We put puppies on stars, on poles and on hula hoops to make it all come together. All told we had 42 walkers on Saturday night, and enough people dressed as puppies with painted faces and lit up ears that we ended up with 101 Dalmatians.

The entry was a hit with the crowds as well as the parade organizers. For the third straight year we took first place in our category. That puts a lot of pressure on us for next year, the theme of which has not yet been announced. But I'm sure we are up for the challenge!

Mount Holly Lantern Parade

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Seeing our National Parks

flying to Vegas
Last month we did some domestic traveling. We flew into Las Vegas to meet up with our daughter before heading out on a national parks adventure. Lots of discussion and planning among the three of us took place before we decided that we could visit six of the national parks, primarily in Utah, within our twelve day timetable.

We picked up a rental car and spent the night in Vegas. As none of us are particularly fans of the area, I selected a hotel on the north side of town to give us a head start on our three hour drive to Washington, Utah. Here we spent two nights so that we could visit Zion National Park. 

We hiked the park the first day. It is quite beautiful, but it was incredibly packed with tourists. We did not expect the crowds considering that it was mid-September.

Zion National Park
We drove though the park the next day. They do not warn you that once you do the drive and exit the park, you will be in no man's land with limited cell service. We considered turning around, but the line to reenter the park at this back entrance was easily a couple of miles long. And there was only one attendant at the gate. We ended up about two hours away from our hotel, which was only a 20 minute drive to the main park entrance. We made lemonade out of lemons, however, and found an interesting cave to visit as well as a cool spot to go for a hike.

Kanab, Utah
The next park on our itinerary was Bryce Canyon, which was a couple of hours away from our previous hotel. We did some wonderful hiking in this park. The landscape is very unique from other parks we have been to visit.
Bryce Canyon
The next morning we went back into Bryce to see the sunrise. It was worth getting up early to experience it. We did a small hike before going back to our lodge to pack up for the next leg of the trip. I'll cover Moab in the next post.
sunrise at Bryce

Monday, October 16, 2023

Beauty out Back


Mountain Island Lake sunset
The other night I was blessed to see this beautiful sky behind our house as the sun was going down. It is hard to imagine all the ugliness and cruelty going on in the world right now when I'm surrounded by such incredible scenes on a daily basis. Just in the last few days I have spotted an eagle on the lake, a lizard making himself at home on our porch, a praying mantis, and some of our perennials bursting with color despite the date and the cooler temperatures. We are truly blessed to be here.

Mother Nature at her finest

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.