A quick correction

So sorry I mistakenly sent out a link to a depression blog on this site – I hit the wrong button when meaning to share another’s post via Tweet – wound up on my site – I deleted it but not before email notifications were sent out – my apologies!

Next stop, Portland, Oregon

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View of Mount Hood, flying into Portland

View of Mount Hood, flying into Portland

Finally, getting to Chapter 2 of our summer trip out West…we left Washington DC before dawn, heading to Portland, Oregon, to meet up with an old grammar and high school classmate, Bob Burgan. Bob and Mary extended an invitation to stay with them a couple of nights at their beach house in Manzanita. I haven’t seen Bob since high school but have reconnected through FaceBook and have been intrigued by his photos of Manzanita, which is just south of Cannon Beach. It’s a 90 minute drive from Bob and Mary’s lovely house in downtown Portland, west to the coast. When you reach the westernmost point and head south to Manzanita, the view of the ocean is phenomenal…it most definitely qualifies as a “Holy shit!” moment.

Cannon Beach, just north of Manzanita

Cannon Beach, just north of Manzanita

The stroll from the Burgan/McArthur house to the beach is a short one and stepping out from the grassy path onto the shore is a shock to the senses. This is a much different view than our east coast shoreline. The Pacific is not as forgiving and the rocky cliffs in the distance make for treacherous waves. I just had to dip my toes to check out the temperature when a rogue wave caught me up to my knees. And, yes, it was cold!

Nola's a happy camper on the Manzanita beach

Nola’s a happy camper on the Manzanita beach

Bob and Mary’s pup, Nola, loves the beach and was in constant motion. The next day Bob took us on a short hike from the Oregon Coast Highway to Oswald West State Park, another beach with magnificent views, this time with surfers taking to the waves. Unlike Florida beaches, the water is so cold the surfers have to be covered head to toe before making their way into the frigid water. Tsunami warnings and evacuation route signs dot the roadway. An issue we, on the east coast, don’t think twice about.

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A couple of fossils


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Pacific waves

All bundled up

All bundled up

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Bob leading the way

Bob leading the way

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We spent the rest of the day being shown Bob’s old haunts…he’s been living in Oregon since the ‘70’s and knows EVERYBODY in Manzanita. This was proven over and over again on our journey. Bob is a story in itself and his most recent escapades can be found in the Habitat for Humanity Disaster Corps newsletter. Years ago, he fell off a mountain and lived to talk about it but was left with a crooked leg which can be seen in some of the photos. It doesn’t hold him back, however. I don’t think anything’s going to kill Bob Burgan. (Well, I take that back, maybe Mary will!)

Kelly's Marina, Nehalem Bay

Kelly’s Marina, Nehalem Bay

The always busy Kelly

The always busy Kelly

Back in Portland, we were dropped off at a boutique hotel on the Willamette River, the River’s Edge Hotel & Spa, which is just a couple of blocks from a Portland Streetcar stop. (Got a really good deal through Priceline)  The mass transportation opportunities are abundant and provide an inexpensive way to tour the city. Before we said goodbye to the Burgans, however, they took us for an early evening walk around the International Rose Test Gardens which, as the name implies, serves as a testing facility for new rose varieties. The park covers 4.5 acres with over 7,000 plants. It’s a sensory overload of color and fragrance…a truly amazing place.

Intl Rose Test Gardens

Intl Rose Test Gardens


Mary and I with the founder of the rose garden, Jessie Currey

Mary and I with the founder of the rose garden, Jessie Currey


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Later, we dined at Meriwether’s, sharing a generous portion of Paella with local craft beers. Our time with Bob and Mary will never be forgotten. The bond that is forged in childhood never seems to break and our respective spouses added to the enjoyment of reconnecting at a stage of our lives where we appreciate the value of friendship.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

The next day we were on our own to explore the city and we fell in love. Portland is a progressive town that felt, to us, like home. I have a feeling we will be spending a lot more time there in the future. Divided by the Willamette River, we took the streetcar over the bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) where we toured the USS Blueback, a Naval submarine which was assigned to Pearl Harbor, among other places, and is currently a permanent fixture at the OMSI.

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We then headed back over the bridge to the Pearl District, which houses the famous Powell’s City of Books, taking up a full block, chock full of tomes for the taking. Just walk in with a bag of books to trade and you can walk out with a new collection. It’s a busy place. The city is also home to Portland State University, which is bisected by the streetcars giving riders a mini tour of the campus. For the most part the weather in Portland, and Manzanita, was pleasant and cool for the middle of summer, except for our day in the city when the temps reached 97 degrees…an anomaly for the mercury to reach that level. It was manageable, however, as the humidity level was so low, and we all know “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”

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CAR2GO saw these throughout the city

CAR2GO saw these throughout the city

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After our night at the River’s Edge, we were driven (complimentary) to Union Station where we were to start the next leg of our journey on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, overnight, to San Francisco. More on that in the next chapter.

Union Station, Portland

Union Station, Portland

Part One of our many-layered trip – Washington, DC

Representing hyeorlando

Representing hypeorlando

Last month’s trip was full of “holy shit!” moments. From beginning to end, the two weeks was chock full of eye-opening events and scenery. Our first leg took us to the 38th Annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference in Washington, DC. It was my fifth year of attending and I wasn’t disappointed.

Margie & Bob's home in Falls Church

Margie & Bob’s home in Falls Church

Arriving a day early, we were picked up at the airport by a friend I’ve known since we were in the fourth grade. Margie and Bob reside in Falls Church, VA, and were gracious enough to put us up on our first night in their lovely home. Decades ago, Margie’s mom managed the Home and Hobby store on chic Park Avenue in Winter Park, which was the go-to place for crystal, china and anything shiny and breakable. Margie’s welcoming home reflects her mother’s taste and charm.

Is this Hillwood or Margie's place?

Is this Hillwood or Margie’s place?


But first, Margie took us to the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which includes the Georgian-style mansion of Marjorie Merriweather Post (of the Post cereal empire). Some of you, as old as I, might recognize Ms. Post’s daughter, Dina Merrill, the actress and philanthropist, who carries on her mother’s legacy. One of my favorite stories on the tour was about an incident which occurred during the depression of the twenties. Ms. Merriweather Post gathered up her collection of jewelry, placed it in a safe deposit box, then used the savings from the insurance on said jewelry to open several soup kitchens for women and children. She served up food and drink for the poor with linens and china, respecting the dignity of those who were not as fortunate.

Hillwood Estate

Hillwood Estate

The mansion/museum is full of art, china, and original furnishings; and the magnificent gardens are resplendent with color. This jewel of an estate is tucked away in the residential Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and provides an enlightening and quiet side trip from the tourist areas of the city.

Which fork do I use?

Which fork do I use?

While Charlie hung out with an old school friend of his own, the rest of the weekend put me into star-struck nerd writer overload. The roster of speakers at the NSNC conference was incredible. Beginning with Connie Schultz, I was thrilled to meet this prolific writer, of whose FaceBook page I am a stalker. Connie used to write for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer but left the paper when her husband, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, campaigned. She now is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate and writes for Parade Magazine. This Pulitzer Prize winner gave me a “holy shit” moment when I realized she was following me on Twitter.

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

Holy shit! Connie's following me!

Holy shit! Connie’s following me!

Other speakers kept us enthralled and in stitches, such as Craig Wilson, retired USA Today columnist; John Avlon of The Daily Beast; Gene Weingarten, Dana Milbank, Marguerite Kelly and Alexandra Petri, all of the Washington Post; and Llewellyn King, who currently is host and executive producer of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, and whose background is too lengthy to list here. These are but a few of the journalists who graced us with their presence over the weekend and were so inspirational to a “wanna-be” writer.

The Capitol at Dusk

The Capitol at Dusk

Again, I was thinking, “holy shit!” while having dinner in the bowels of the Capitol building after a short tour of the rotunda, with nary a soul around but our small group of writers. Having toured the Capitol before with hordes of tourists, it was an eerie feeling to be there without the crowds. Our footsteps echoed in the pristine rooms which have held so much of this country’s history. It was an awesome experience and one I will not soon forget.

Hallowed halls

Hallowed halls

Washington Monument through Capitol window

Washington Monument through Capitol window

The next chapter takes us to Portland, Oregon…to be continued.

YMCA…one more thing to appreciate about the Orlando area

Getting ready for a big trip in a few weeks, been trying to get into shape. Since moving back to downtown Orlando we have no excuse to lazily while away the summer. Charlie can’t run because of a torn Achilles tendon but our local Y provides a ton of other opportunities to get in a workout. My latest HypeOrlando blog is an homage to our area YMCA’s and why they should not be taken for granted.


My new passion is the Zumba class which is the best aerobic experience I’ve had in a long time…and I’m not the oldest one there. Has it really been 20 years since I took that dance class and had to learn intricate moves? Those 20 years have wreaked havoc with my brain-foot coordination but fun is had by all and the sweat is proof it’s a great workout. Move over 30 year old hard bodies, make room for grammy!

Our leader, Alaina, in a rare moment of almost standing still.

Our leader, Alaina, in a rare moment of almost standing still.

Not your grandma’s B&B


A little over a year ago our friends and neighbors, the Smiths, opened a bed and breakfast in New Smyrna Beach overlooking the Indian River. The opening was the result of a multi-year production involving the renovation of a beautiful old home, retaining the ambience and historical importance of the residence. We were blown away by the design and the end result but figured we were biased as these are super friends and we knew how hard they worked.

A bit of background…the Smiths have been involved in the hospitality industry for decades. Brett and his twin brother, Scott, started working together in their college days; Brett met Sheila while working an island property; and Sheila’s brother, Joe, is the Chaine des Rotisseurs educated Chef of the Inn. When not in New Smyrna Beach, Scott runs the Chateau Inns & Suites in Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Their experience speaks for itself so it is no surprise that they have started racking up so many awards they can’t keep up with the press releases. Soon after they opened the doors, kudos were received from The Guardian as one of the Ten B&Bs and Guesthouses in Florida and, most recently, huge accolades from AAA, TripAdvisor, and Select Registry, among others.


Here’s the list of awards so far in 2014:

AAA – The Black Dolphin earned the coveted Four (4) Diamonds – they are one of only 4 B&B’s in Florida earning this designation.

TripAdvisor – Awarded the Black Dolphin Inn the 2014 Traveler’s Choice Award for the Top 25 B&B’s and Inns in the United States.

Select Registry – Being included in this listing of Distinguished Inns of North America means membership in an elite group of under 400 inns which are invited each year.

BedandBreakfast.com – Given the distinction as being one of 20 luxury inns in the state of Florida who have qualified for listing in the Diamond Collection.

iLoveInns.com – If you haven’t heard of this site, it placed the Black Dolphin Inn into the Top 10 Romantic Inns in the United States.


The Inn has also housed a few movie and TV crews while filming in the area. Sharon Lawrence calls herself their unofficial ambassador in Hollywood as the result of her visit with a movie crew.


Last year the Black Dolphin Inn received more accolades from BedandBreakfast.com as one of the Top Ten Beach B&Bs in the world…that’s global! We knew they had a magnificent property and now the rest of the world can appreciate what has been accomplished in such a short time.

Seizures ain’t pretty


Another entry into the hypeOrlando blog community…Seizures ain’t pretty from Forever Young but Growing Old.

Hope you’ll stop by and leave a comment.

One of these days we’ll be back on the road and I’ll have travel stuff to add here. For the time being we are still getting adjusted to our move back to Orlando and staying busy here at home.

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hypeorlando has launched!


There’s a new blog community in town called hypeorlando – a product of the Orlando Sentinel – and my blog Forever Young but Growing Old is included. This is an exciting opportunity to expand into other areas and reach more people with my musings…hope that’s a good thing. Hypeorlando is loaded with talented bloggers covering a ton of topics. If mine doesn’t float your boat, I’m sure you’ll find one that does.

Hippies to Boomers will continue, without change, as I chronicle our travel adventures and the hypeorlando blog will not only delve into travel, but include an added Lifestyles element. My first entry, “Everything old is new again,” is live on the website. Hope you enjoy it.

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Orlando’s Jewel

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Having grown up in Orlando before the city was just a glimmer in the eye of Walt Disney, my parents would take family and friends visiting from the North to Lake Eola, in the heart of downtown. The lake’s green-domed fountain was a favorite of visitors and locals alike. A nighttime drive-by provided a colorful sight, complete with oohs and ahs as the jets of water shot to heights, not quite as soaring as Lake Geneve’s Jet D’Eau, but high enough to amaze and delight. A leisurely walk around the lake was usually in order during the day where one could hop on a Swan Boat to explore the fountain close-up and take in the sights along the shore.

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Over the years the fountain has taken hits from lightning; the latest almost caused its permanent demise when funding was scarce to repair the electrical system and get the waterworks back in working order. However, successful fundraising got the job done and our showpiece was returned to its former glory, and then some.

Recently with the help of the non-profit See Art Orlando, private funds were collected to bring a gaggle of artistic sculptures along the perimeter of the lake, turning the area into a virtual arts-appreciation learning experience. See Art Orlando’s mission is “to enhance the aesthetic experience and cultural image of Downtown Orlando.” I’d say they achieved that worthy mission in spades.

My personal favorite, “Monument in Right Foot Major”, by Todji Kurtzman, resides in the southeast area of the park. Caste in bronze, it creates the look of determination but also might give one a feeling of being stuck in the mud, on a day when it is difficult just putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever the interpretation, I just know that it makes me feel good when I see it.

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A few steps away you will encounter “Cedar of Lebanon”, by Jacob Harmeling of Orlando, a three-story high sculpted tree which is particularly impressive at night with its subtle lighting from within.

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“Discovery Muse”, by artist Meg White, is an enormous body at rest with hand extended, as if inviting a weary traveler to rest in her palm. My visit on this day was during a cold snap which caused her to be blanketed with a sheet to keep the greenery covering her from the harsh temps. (Yes, Orlando winters sometimes dip into the twenties!)

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Douwe Blumberg’s “Take Flight” represents a sight we have seen many times, a flock of birds, perhaps startled, suddenly flying into the air in a group. The visual experience of this sculpture changes with the setting sun and is dramatically lit at night.

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The artist Ralfonso created “Union”, on the northeast corner of Lake Eola. He describes the sculpture as “wind-driven kinetic stainless steel/aluminum sculpture” with multiple “wings” moving with the breeze. A fellow admirer of this piece told me that he imagines the spirits of deceased loved ones causing the parts to move.

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These are just a sampling of the many works of art surrounding our jewel of a lake in the middle of downtown Orlando. If you’re making the trip to central Florida for the I-Drive experience, you might enjoy getting away from the tourists and taking an afternoon to meet the “other” Orlando. The Swan Boats are still operating so hop on and experience Orlando like a local.


Laugh Often And 19 More Rules To Live By, Gina Barreca

Today I’m sharing a column by Gina Barreca. Gina’s an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar, writer of eight books and columnist (Not That I’m Bitter) with the Hartford Courant. At the last NSNC conference in Hartford, we were lucky enough to be her audience as she taught us “A Lesson in Being Funny.” Needless to say, we were in stitches LOLing, ROFLing, LMAOing…she’s hysterical.

This being a travel blog, my fave is number 8. Enjoy, and thanks Gina for your words!


Laugh Often And 19 More Rules To Live By
Not That I’m Bitter

I’ve made a list of 20 rules to live by.

1. Bring your sense of humor with you at all times. Bring your friends with a sense of humor. If their friends have a sense of humor, invite them, too. Remember this when going to hospitals, weight-loss centers and funerals, as well as when going to work, coming home, waking up and going to sleep.

2. If it’s worth crying over, it’s probably worth laughing at. Cultivate a sense of perspective that permits you to see the wider and longer view of the situation; this will help you realize that although your situation is upsetting, it might also one day become a terrific story.

3. Other people don’t care what you’re wearing.

4. Don’t be a sissy. This is especially important if you are a woman. Girls can be sissies, but behaving like a simpering, whining, fretful coward as an adult is unacceptable no matter what your gender happens to be. If you are anxious, scared and feeling powerless, you don’t need to change your behavior; you need to change your life.

5. Don’t lie. Cheat the devil and tell the truth.

6. There is one exception to the rule above: Never say a baby looks like a sausage wearing a hat. The parents will not forgive you. This is a situation in which telling the truth is not wholly necessary. If it’s not possible to tell the whole truth for fear of causing undue pain, just say the baby looks “happy.”

7. Never use the passive voice. Do not say, “It will get done.” Say, “I’ll do it” and then offer a solid, unwavering deadline. Always make your deadline.

8. The pinnacle is always slippery; no peak is safe. Only plateaus offers a place to rest. Are you ready to stay on a plateau or are you climbing? Decide and pack your bags accordingly.

9. As we age, love changes. As a youth, you fall for an unattainable ideal. When you’re more mature, you fall in love with a person: “Sure, he has only one eye in the middle of his forehead,” you’ll rationalize, “But he never forgets my birthday.”

10. Power is the ability to persuade stupid people to do intelligent things and intelligent people to do stupid things. This is why power is dangerous.

11. Sherlock Holmes said, “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” Listen to Mr. Holmes.

12. Everybody wants a short cut to love, prosperity and weight loss, although not necessarily in that order. Apart from being born into an adoring family, getting good genes and inheriting the mineral rights, however, there are no short cuts. The rest of us have to work at it.

13. Help the dramatically self-pitying to understand that they are not, by definition, sympathetic or interesting. Encourage them to address topics other than themselves.

14. Be kind, not nice. Kindness is both intentional and meaningful. Acts of kindness requires generosity, emotional and otherwise. Perfunctory and superficial niceness is, too often, mere window-dressing.

15. Only poor workers blame their tools. It’s not the fault of the computer, the school, the train, the government or poor cell phone reception. Take responsibility.

16. You know how sometimes you don’t think you’re asleep — you’re half listening to a conversation or the television — only to discover you were unconscious? One part of your head would swear it’s awake, but when you actually snap out of it, you realize you were wholly elsewhere? Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes the only way you know you’re truly in love, in the entirely wrong profession, being a moron at parties or a great poet is when you snap out of it.

17. You can always stop what you’re doing.

18. You should either be doing something useful or you should be playing. You should not be thinking about playing while at work or thinking about work when you’re out having fun. Compartmentalizing your life is not inevitably a bad thing. It’s easy to waste pleasure by feeling guilty and waste potentially effective time by feeling resentful.

19. Be aware that a safety net, if pulled too tight, easily turns into a noose. Don’t trade independence for security without being aware of the consequences.

20. Someday you will die. Until then, you should do everything possible to enjoy life.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from O-town


After a multi-year hiatus, the Orlando Sentinel has decided to publish a My Word column at last…here’s the link “Orlando indeed incomparable to others”.

Here’s the unedited version…

Beth Kassab’s column about the best “other” downtown reinforced my feeling that Orlando is THE best downtown around. Having just returned, after a seven year “retirement” in New Smyrna Beach, I am so happy to be back that I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, New Smyrna Beach is a wonderful retreat and our go-to choice for a beach vacation, however, living there full time was just not as fulfilling as we envisioned. Many would comment on their wish to live in paradise year round but they might think twice for what they wish.

A typical trip to the grocery store in a beach community, depending on the season, might mean dodging shopping carts among aging snow birds or standing in line with beachgoers who forgot to cover up overexposed body parts. (I know it’s the beach but, please, folks, wait till you hit the waves before showing off your new bikini!)

On the other hand, our visits to the downtown grocer, located under a high rise apartment building, have been much more pleasant since we are usually the oldest shoppers in sight. We find ourselves surrounded by, what used to be called, yuppies of every type. The dress code is office casual or, sometimes, it is apparent they are picking up dinner after a visit to the gym. In the case of the latter we have seen many a finely sculpted bottom. As you can imagine, my husband now accompanies me on every trip. “Where shopping is a pleasure,” has a new meaning.

Replacing the beach with the various lakes available downtown for daily walks has been a delight. Shade is a valuable asset which cannot be found along the shore, and there are just so many shells one can collect on the beach. The addition of sculptures around Lake Eola is a testament to the city’s nickname, The City Beautiful, and adds to the sense of metropolitan culture which we have missed.

It was tough leaving our neighbors and friends but know they are only an hour’s drive away. Our small town experience was a lesson which made us realize we were not ready to leave the city. We’ll save those “other” downtowns for day trips. Meanwhile, we will relish being a part of Orlando’s cultural growth and retire in style.

A one-way ticket to Orlando

After seven years of “sort of” retiring to New Smyrna Beach, we have decided it is time to rejoin the living and move back to O-town. Not that beachside living is the place people go to die…it’s just that making a vacation town your full time residence is a bit isolating in terms of diversity. Depending on the time of year, the demographics of a beach town goes from snow birds to spring breakers to day-trippers to bikers…99.9% of which are white, Anglo and straight…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Don’t get me wrong, the town of New Smyrna Beach is lovely and the full-timers made for wonderful neighbors and loyal friends. We were so grateful to have the ocean just a short walk away when we had our grandsons visiting, or living, with us. The beach is a giant playground where they can make as much noise as they want and expend enough energy to make them collapse into bed at night.

However, the culture of the area is different than that of Orlando. It was like a seven year vacation and we were ready to go home. Now, in the right place at the right time in our lives, we couldn’t be happier to be back in the middle of a diverse city among people who are in the business of living their lives and enjoying the downtown urbanity that the City Beautiful has to offer.

Below are a few photos of our new digs for anyone interested…

Our new abode

Our new abode

View of Lake Emerald from our driveway

View of Lake Emerald from our driveway

Koi pond

Koi pond

Ricky's coping with the move well

Ricky’s coping with the move in stride

We even inherited a couple of gnomes

We even inherited a couple of gnomes

Just around the corner is Lake Davis with this view of downtown

Just around the corner is Lake Davis with this view of downtown

St. Augustine…not just for school field trips anymore

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Living in Central Florida all our lives, we are very familiar with the St. Augustine School Field Trip. As a student, myself, I was bussed to the oldest city in the U.S. as part of my eighth grade trip, circa 1962, to see the Cross and Sword, which later was designated as the official Florida state play. Years later when my children were in school, they each trekked to the old city with mom in tow as a chaperone. Just this past summer, my husband and I took our oldest grandsons for a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos and a glimpse into history.

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Recently, however, we were given the opportunity to visit St. Augustine without children along for the ride, rediscovering a city full of culinary and cultural surprises. Our newfound experience of this historical town created a feeling of European ambience with narrow brick lanes leading to our lodging of choice, the St. Francis Inn, on St. George Street. Here we were welcomed to an inviting suite complete with complimentary sherry, to be sipped on the wrap-around porch in rocking chairs, surrounded by lush, native Florida landscaping. Our hosts, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, provided an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality, while enlightening us on the Inn’s historical past. After each day of exploring the city, we enjoyed a relaxing time in the courtyard with a selection of evening wines and desserts along with ghostly tales from our hosts.

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St. Francis in the dining room

St. Francis in the dining room

The St. Francis Inn’s Gardeness, Jill Ziebell, schooled us in her techniques for preserving the grounds with natural Florida flowers and shrubs. As a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist, Jill exudes passion for her craft and calls her own design style “Artistic European with Historic Flavor.” She is a true earth mother and the St. Francis benefits from her expertise.

Gardeness Jill Ziebell

Gardeness Jill Ziebell

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Our culinary experience in St. Augustine left us amazed at the diverse menus available and the passion of the chefs who deliciously hone their craft. Our gastronomic journey started at the Bistro de Leon on Cathedral Place, where we met Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard of Lyon, France. He states, “When you cook, you have to love people. My cuisine is like a symphony; I cook to the rhythms of music…” Chef Poinard welcomed us with tasty samplings of his creations and left us feeling loved.

Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Earlier this year, a new attraction took over the two acres on St. George Street which previously housed the Colonial Spanish Quarter. A multi-million dollar renovation created the Colonial Quarter which includes a unique experience of sixteenth through eighteenth century life in the Nation’s Oldest City. The endeavor is partnered with the University of Florida and provides an educational, historical and adventurous experience for all ages. The attention to historical accuracy is obvious, the hands-on encounters with the past are priceless, and you won’t see mouse ears or death defying roller coasters anywhere on site. We had an enjoyable time among actors portraying British and Spanish characters with enthusiasm and charm.



After our adventure we were treated to lunch at La Taberna del Caballo, on the Colonial Quarter property, providing a sampling of menu items from Cuban fingers to cheese fondue to flatbreads of all variety. Pair that with sangria worthy of a two hour nap and you get a fantastic meal prepared by Chef Murphy Leathers, who graced us with his presence. We waddled back to the St. Francis Inn where the aforementioned nap was in order.




Later that evening, we were hosted by Photographer Hookey Hamilton and her goldsmith husband, Joel Bagnal, on the balcony of their 211 year old home overlooking the harbor. Stories of their home’s history, ghostly events and their serendipitous meeting, made the cocktail hour a special time to get to know this lovely couple. Their home reflects the love and passion they have poured into their craft.


More food on the horizon when we walked to Meehan’s Irish Pub and were greeted with wine, whiskey and superb food. John Meehan’s passion for fresh ingredients made for a delightful menu of Grilled Lamb on a Stick, Steak ‘n Stout Stew in Pastry and Bangers & Mash, among others. The daily house-made Irish Cream was the kiss of the Blarney Stone. John’s secret recipe was the perfect ending to our little trip to Ireland.



Breakfast, the next morning, at the Hot Shot Bakery started with a chocolate dipped datil pepper, which this cowardly diner just couldn’t bring herself to try. I stuck with Sherry Stoppelbein’s Pumpkin Pecan Waffles with homemade Caramel Sauce and bananas which were delectable. However, Sherry’s Wall of Flame exhibits hundreds of photos of more adventurous diners who dared to take a bite. A Minorcan staple, St. Augustine is the leading producer of datil peppers in the U.S.



The rest of our day included a visit to “57 Treasury” with Karin Sufalko who created wonders with discarded palm fronds, turning them into works of art. Karin is from the Bavarian region of Germany and exudes the warmth and friendliness we encountered on our trip there last year. Her stories, told while creating a masterpiece floral arrangement, were as whimsical as her shoes.

Karin Sufalko

Karin Sufalko

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More food was in store as we joined Tour St. Augustine for a lunch excursion which included the Old City House Inn & Restaurant’s presentation of cod on a bed of lemon grass mushroom risotto with pea puree and mango dash (my personal favorite of the trip); Athena Cafe’s flaming cheese and Minorcan clam chowder; and dining al fresco at The Gourmet Hut for a crabmeat salad with mango nectar and a blackberry platz crumb cake.

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St. Augustine Vintage Car Tours gave us a ride back to the Inn on their electric-powered shuttles, where we were treated to a cooking class with Janice Leary who showed us her Strawberry Fruit Soup, Eggs in a Basket and Swan Cream Puff techniques. Janice runs a tight ship and manages to feed many appreciative guests each morning with an array of menu choices culminating each year in a Holiday pairing of desserts with the “12 Days of Christmas,” thus the Swan Cream Puffs for the Seven Swans-a-Swimming.

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Janice Leary preparing Strawberry Soup

Janice Leary preparing Strawberry Soup

Not knowing how we could possibly have room for another meal, we later walked to O. C. (Outta Control) White’s for dinner overlooking the historic Bridge of Lions on the Matanzas River. Between courses we were entertained with ghostly tales, by an animated server, about the building which goes back to 1790. (There seems to be a ghost living in every inch of the city.) Live music, shrimp and grits with cool evening breezes…it doesn’t get any better.

Full of ghost stories

Full of ghost stories

Shrimp 'n Grits

Shrimp ‘n Grits

A farewell brunch at the St. Francis, the next morning, surprised us with a visit by Henry Flagler himself, a dapper gentleman, worth millions, who put St. Augustine on the map in terms of becoming a winter destination for wealthy northerners. His stories transported us back to an earlier time when customs were quite different and men of his stature were the definition of genteel. Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to fall out of character. He was quite surprised to hear that there was a college named after him! (Flagler was portrayed by the actor John Stavely, the Colonial Quarter’s Director of Historic Programming.)

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Our whirlwind visit certainly gave us a new perspective on the Oldest City and will be our destination of choice when we crave the flavors of Europe and the historical experiences of our country at its inception. Once you have chaperoned the mandatory school field trips, return for the grown up version of St. Augustine and you won’t be disappointed.

Just the two of us!

Just the two of us!

Next stop St. Augustine’s oldest inn…the St. Francis


On our way today to the St. Francis Inn, an historic bed and breakfast in St. Augustine. We’re looking forward to three days of fun, food, history, food, ghost tales, and more food! Previous trips to this old city were with children or grandchildren in tow but this time we are on our own and not having to worry about picky eaters or “where’s the closest potty”. Gastronomical posts and photos to follow…


Jellyfish everywhere!

Taken from the bridge with the sun playing tricks on the water.

Taken from the bridge with the sun playing tricks on the water.

A walk on the north bridge across the intracoastal waterway in New Smyrna Beach today afforded an amazing sight of migrating jellyfish. My research came up with the names Moon Jellys and Cannonball Jellyfish. The Moons look like huge, graceful, translucent discs with a pink petal-like formation in the middle. The Cannonballs reminded me of large acorns floating in the water. My phone wouldn’t get good photos so I grabbed some from Google.

Cannonball Jellyfish like those seen bobbing in the water today

Cannonball Jellyfish like those seen bobbing in the water today

Last week my friend, Pam, and her son-in-law, Mike, were paddleboarding the river amidst hammerhead sharks…good thing they had great balance and didn’t slip off the board. I was thinking of them today with the threat of massive stings. Must be why I didn’t see a single paddleboarder on this gorgeous day.

By the way, summer is back. Our brief sojourn with fall temps is over and the A/C is back on, much to our chagrin!

Moon Jellyfish

Moon Jellyfish

Snakes on the Beach?!?


Aren’t sharks bad enough? Now we have to worry about rattlesnakes?

Check out this report on WFTV – how surreal it must have been to look over and see this huge snake surfing back to the shore.

Our seven year vacation in New Smyrna Beach is coming to an end as we prepare to move back to Orlando (more later)…hope this guy doesn’t hitch a ride with us!

Looking forward to a media trip, in a few weeks, to the St. Francis Inn, exploring gardens, food and fun in old St. Augustine. It will be a pleasant break from packing and hope to have lots of stories and photos.


Grammy’s Summer Camp

What’s a grandma to do when charged with the care of 7 and 8 year old grandsons for a month in the summer? This kind of challenge might empty one’s wallet if the plans include visits to theme parks in the area, not to mention the pain of dealing with massive crowds and oppressive heat. We found an inexpensive solution locally in our nature preserves, environmental centers and National Parks which didn’t break the bank and proved educational for all of us…no, really, the kids did have fun without knowing they were actually learning something useful.

A perk of aging (read 62) is the $10 one time price of a lifetime pass to all national parks across the country. We took advantage of this and made numerous trips to the Canaveral National Seashore, saving the entry fee, a mere $5 per auto, but when added up comes to a chunk of change. Just driving into Yellowstone National Park can set a tourist back $25 but with the senior pass one can take as many days as they’d like to explore without a fee.


Canaveral National Seashore is a jewel of a park and provided many hours of educational fun for the boys. Their Junior Ranger program turns kite flying, boogie boarding and turtle nest watching into fun activities while teaching important lessons about the environment, laws of physics as well as beach safety. It was gratifying to see them put down the video games and find awesome adventures in this natural habitat.

Receiving their official Junior Park Rangers badge.

Receiving their official Junior Park Rangers badge.

Turtle hatching season is sacred here on the east coast, so we were excited to be able to witness the excavation of a hatched turtle nest. The Park Ranger dug deep to find approximately 80 eggs, most of which had hatched properly while a few had not fertilized and were intact. The little rangers got to hold the un-hatched eggs and feel the soft, leathery shells, unlike the brittle shells of chicken eggs. They learned that the baby turtles who survived and found their way into the ocean will return to this exact spot many times during their lives to lay their own eggs, regardless of how far they venture from this part of the coast.

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The simple act of boogie boarding brought valuable information about beach safety as a lifeguard sketched a typical rip current diagram in the sand, along with teaching measures to take when caught up in one. A fun hour was spent with a Park Ranger who enjoyed the activity as much as they did, while educating them in the nature of waves. Catching wave after wave, and riding them into shore made for some happy, and exhausted, campers.

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Kite flying was also turned into a learning experience, comparing its flight with the wings of pelicans. The boys learned to keep the kite above the dunes which can block necessary winds for a successful glide.

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The Marine Science Center, in Ponce Inlet, also provided some excitement when they released rehabilitated loggerhead turtles back into the ocean. On one occasion we witnessed the liberation of three turtles, the largest of which seemed to wave at us as he was whisked away on the waves. Listening to the boys’ speculation as to where these sea turtles would wind up was proof that their imaginations can be triggered by something other than the Mario Brothers.

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We also visited St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, another National Park allowing the use of the Senior Pass, where the boys reveled in the views from top of the fortress. The dank, dark storage rooms throughout brought up conjecture about what it would have been like to live in the 1700’s when the structure was necessary for the safety of the town. The explosive cannon blasts, the bridge across the moat…all provided a wide-eyed experience that will create memories for a lifetime. History becomes a lot more realistic and relative when you can touch it.

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When it was time to pack up and take them home, we knew our time was well spent when the oldest stated, “This was the best summer ever, grandma!” And, best of all, we don’t have “It’s a small world after all” stuck in our heads.

Black Dolphin Inn earns BedandBreakfast.com Top Ten Award


BedandBreakfast.com recently named the Black Dolphin Inn, New Smyrna Beach, FL, among their 2013 Top Ten Beach B&B’s. Sharing the list are Inns throughout the United States, Canada, France and Mexico…quite a big deal for our little seaside town.


Having just opened in February of 2013, this award arrives on the heels of The Guardian’s recommendation as their Top Ten B&B’s and Guesthouses in Florida. This is high praise for such a new inn.

The awards are well-deserved as the Innkeepers have paid attention to every detail and consider their guests’ comfort first and foremost. The rooms are to die for, the breakfasts tastefully creative and the classy, beachy ambiance provides a relaxing atmosphere in which to unwind.

Congrats and thanks to the Smiths for providing a fabulous getaway to weary travelers and beachgoers who are looking for a home away from home while being pampered at the same time!


“Travel is Fatal to Prejudice” Mark Twain

Detroit, Macon, Hartford, Bloomington, Indiana…do these cities come to mind when planning a summer vacation? Probably not on your bucket list, nor were they on mine. However, my eyes were opened to the wonders of these towns while attending annual conferences of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a gathering of gifted and enthusiastic writers.

These destinations have so much to offer in terms of American history and cultural milestones, as well as tragedies and triumphs which helped shape the ever-changing character of our country. We were schooled in the rise and fall of the automobile industry in Detroit, as well as its funky record of Motown’s musical creations, allowing us to better understand the current status of this troubled place. We were also introduced to new industries and start-ups, which are trying to revitalize the city center and bring new creativity and economic success into the area. Detroit became one of my favorite American cities.

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Macon, Georgia, provided yet another education, this time in Southern rock and roll. We learned about the Allman Brothers and their creative time living in this town, touring the home in which they lived and created so many unforgettable tunes. We were introduced to several celebrities who currently or once called Macon home, including Nancy Grace; Durwood Fincher, aka Mr. Doubletalk; and Ed Grisamore, The Macon Telegraph columnist. The conference was an experience in Deep South culture, food and humor.


Before visiting Bloomington, I only knew it as the home of Indiana University. Exploring the campus, we understood why Travel and Leisure named IU Bloomington one of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses. The city also is host to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Here we were shown the bedroom used by the Dalai Lama when he is in town. Humbled by the room’s sparse décor, we were reminded of his humble, peace-loving existence. The academic culture of this town where theater, arts and sports activities abound, makes it a wonderful place to visit on more than one occasion.



This year’s conference was held in Hartford, Connecticut, home of Mark Twain. We learned that he lived in the Hartford house for seventeen years with his new wife and children until unfortunate financial decisions forced him to leave his pricey abode and travel Europe on speaking junkets to earn back his losses. Mark Twain’s quote is timely as we see signs of bigotry still prevalent in parts of this country. Our minds cannot help but expand when being exposed to cultures beyond our home town and culture.



Hartford is also home to Billings Forge Community Works, which bills itself as “a driving force for community participation and empowerment…through promoting access to healthy food; engaging youth; and developing employment opportunities and economically sustainable social enterprises.” They have taken a blighted area and turned it into a diverse community which includes mixed-income housing, nourishing gardens, afterschool care programs, as well as providing employment, encouraging civic engagement and promoting access to healthy food.


Having only attended four NSNC conferences so far, my intent is to plan each future year around this event, regardless of how innocuous the locations might appear. Our country’s cities, both big and small, offer too many edifying opportunities to pass up. Once again, Mark Twain says it best, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Don’t forget your hometown…


Travel bloggers might take for granted their home base and not think to write about the place in which they are most familiar. It occurred to me this morning, while walking the beach, that writing about European travels is exciting but I would be remiss to ignore the jewel that is New Smyrna Beach, my current hometown.

In my case, the beach is just a block away and there are times when we get wrapped up in the minutiae of life and forget it is there. A brief walk, with toes in the sand, can take away stress and make one realize how small our concerns might be compared to the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and our place on the planet. An Orlando friend once told me that whenever she drives over the bridge onto the island, she is overcome with a sense of calmness and relief, leaving all the city craziness back on the mainland.

Our little town is still relatively unknown, except for its unnerving distinction of being the “Sharkbite Capital of the World”. We’ll just forget about that for the moment while other, more palatable aspects of our town are described. We have two bridges from which to enter the barrier island. If you are in a hurry to get to your destination, the South Bridge, as we call it, will whisk you from State Road 44 to Atlantic Avenue, heading south towards the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Along the way you will see neighborhoods and condominiums, a lot of which are owned by our neighbors to the west in Orlando.


My preferred route is to the north, a bascule bridge spanning the Indian River. It is a favorite walk-over for guaranteed sightings of dolphins and the occasional manatee along with kayaks, sailboats and mini-yachts, the latter causing the bridge to rise three times each hour. If you are caught in your car at the time a tall boat is cruising through, it is a good time to lower the windows, turn off the engine and just relax and enjoy the salt air.

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Once over the north bridge, you are on Flagler Avenue, a funky main street dotted with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and lodging. And, if you are visiting at the right time, you can enjoy the monthly wine and art walk. You might also notice a banner spanning the street announcing whichever monthly event will close the street to auto traffic and allow revelers to meander the avenue for celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, Flamingo Follies or numerous food events, coupled with live music and dancing in the streets. The residents of New Smyrna do not need a reason to party!


Currently a movie is being filmed in town causing some roadblocks, but how can one be upset when the ambience of the city lends itself to being laid back and carefree. The film, “Waves of Grace” is centered on a surfing community and sightings of the crew shooting scenes in various areas of town is common. They are based at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Black Dolphin Inn, located on the west side of the Indian River. This new B&B just got named in the Top Ten Bed & Breakfast Inns by The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper and is a wonderfully stylish asset to our town.


The beaches are great for body, board and kite surfing, and provide family fun all year round, offering thirteen miles of flat, sandy shore. A couple of miles to the north you will find the jetties across from the Ponce Inlet lighthouse which shines its welcome each night. You are also at the spot where New Smyrna Beach gets its infamous reputation as the aforementioned Sharkbite Capital of the World. Surfers love this area which provides the biggest waves against the rocks jutting out into the ocean. Small sharks also love this spot as a perfect feeding place full of bait fish and the occasional ankle. Intrepid surfers sometimes bump into a feeding shark and might require stitches when their dangling foot is mistaken as that day’s dinner.


With Orlando to the west and Daytona Beach to the north, there is no shortage of entertainment in central Florida. However, it is always nice to retreat to the tiny town of New Smyrna Beach to refresh, renew and relax.


Too Cold Toronto

The next leg of our Canadian journey would take us to Toronto via bus and train. The transportation center was just a half mile walk from the Niagara Falls Doubletree, which we gingerly took through snow which had accumulated that morning. The cost of our two-hour trip was only eight dollars and change as we were once again reminded that we are “seniors” and qualified for a hefty discount. From Niagara Falls we disembarked at Burlington and boarded a train headed for Union Station in Toronto.

The train ride took us through some seedy areas, which was a surprise as we were accustomed to the rails of Europe traveling through gorgeous countryside and beautiful neighborhoods. Arriving in Union Station we opted to walk fifteen minutes to the Hyatt Regency while struggling with a suitcase whose wheels have seen better days. Time to shop for new luggage! Check-in at the Hyatt was quick. I read somewhere to ask for a room facing the CN Tower and we were instantly upgraded (even though we had booked through Priceline) to a room with a view on the 17th floor. The only complaint here, once again, was the lack of WiFi. I’ll never understand why an upscale, 4-star hotel will charge $15 a day to go online. Of course, we could opt to use our laptop and Kindle in the lobby for free access, but what a pain in the rear that is! Not to mention it didn’t work half the time and we were forced to go to the adjacent Starbucks for coverage. Other than that inconvenience, our stay was just fine and the location was perfect with many restaurant choices within two blocks.

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Our first night’s entertainment was a show at The Second City, which was right across the street…The Meme-ing of Life, by an ensemble of talented comedians/singers/actors. Look out for Stacey McGunnigle, the whole cast was super but she really stood out and had us wishing she was in every sketch. We would recommend a night at Second City if you are in town looking for a laugh. Instead of purchasing tickets from the box office, we checked the T.O.TIX booth at Dundas Square for discounts. This is Toronto’s version of TKTS in NYC. Second City tickets were almost half price for that night’s performance so we grabbed them. The venue was full that night so not sure why we got such a deal. The only gripe was the watered down drinks…do not order a Zombie, you’ll just get a glass of fruit juice (and don’t ask me why we ordered Zombie’s, they just sounded good).

The next day we opted to travel up the CN Tower, over 1,800 feet tall and the 5th tallest in the world. For decades it was number one but has been surpassed by Dubai, among others. Our ears popped as we rose to the observation area and the view was phenomenal; the clear, sunny day insured optimal views of Lake Ontario and the city of Toronto. Charlie agreed to join me but wouldn’t stand on the glass floor. Of course, the little girl who was jumping up and down on it didn’t help. Our 20-floor hotel was dwarfed by this giant structure…a must see when visiting Toronto.

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We lucked into “same day” tickets to the theatrical production of Wizard of Oz at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, and, even though our seats were not together, they were only seven and twelve rows from the stage. For only $35 a ticket, we were entertained by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s huge staging of the familiar story of Dorothy and her cohorts with seating that would normally sell for over $250. It always helps to be flexible and spontaneous when trying to score drastically discounted theater tickets.

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The next day the temperature had dropped even further, with a dusting of snow so we took advantage of Toronto’s PATH underground walking system which is made up of eighteen miles of underground shopping and restaurants, connecting various transportation centers and more than 50 buildings and office towers. It’s a bit confusing to navigate to your destination but such a relief from the cold temps above ground. We also took advantage of a Groupon deal to ride the Jump On-Jump Off city tourist buses. They took us to Casa Loma, the only castle in town, and the Distillery area which houses the Old Town section of the city. The enthusiastic tour guides added many interesting and little-known facts about the sophisticated, yet friendly Canadian metropolis.

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We became great fans of the Tim Horton’s franchises, which started as donut and coffee shops and have since expanded to bagels, healthy soups and sandwiches, and, of course, coffee. Their fast food prices drew us in many times when we needed a respite from the cold. We learned of the feud between Horton’s and Starbucks over who has the best coffee. Walking the streets it seemed that we ran into one or the other on every block in town, so there is no shortage of java to get you through your day.

Homeless in Toronto

Homeless in Toronto

Heading back to the Niagara Falls International Airport on our final day, we retraced our steps and rode the train to Birmingham, transferring to the bus which led us back to Niagara Falls. The walk back to the Rainbow Bridge was a bit brutal as the wind chill factor made the air feel frigid. We stopped at yet another Tim Horton’s to warm up and spend our last few Canadian dollars before the trek back to the U.S. border. We thought we had plenty of time before our scheduled flight so there was no sense of urgency to keep moving.

Once we got through customs I searched for the bus schedule and realized I had misplaced it so we were on our own, looking for the bus stop at which we arrived the previous week. Of course, it was a Saturday and the schedules were different. Again, never make assumptions that the bus would just reverse its previous route and show up eventually. After a frantic call to our daughter to check the schedule online, we found the bus would arrive on the next block but the times were sketchy. After standing in below-thirty degrees for almost an hour, we panicked and realized we needed to grab a taxi if we were going to get to our flight on time. We were standing in front of a large casino so it was not difficult to find a cab. When we told our turbaned driver that our flight was leaving in 35 minutes, he flew onto the expressway and got us there with fifteen minutes to spare. Since IAG is such a tiny airport, ours was the only plane visible and the Allegiant desk was just inside the front door. We checked our bag, under the justified disapproving looks of the gate personnel, dashed through security and were in our seats within 5 minutes. Do not try this at home if you have a heart problem!

I don’t think we actually thawed out until we stepped out of the Sanford airport into the warm, humid air. We have had our fill of cold temperatures and might not curse our summer heat this year, but I’m not making any promises. Actually, we heard from some Canadians that their summers can be extremely hot, too, with Lake Ontario providing uncomfortable humidity levels, but I’ll never believe they are as miserable as we are in August and September.

Our overall impression of Niagara and Toronto is positive. The Falls are a must see for anyone who appreciates the wonders of nature and the city was welcoming, cosmopolitan and gave us yet another window into a culture other than our own. As the recently departed Roger Ebert would state…two thumbs up!

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Don Draper would love this!

Sorry, my comments on Toronto haven’t made it to the blog yet…making a quick trip to Panama City to visit our son for a few days. Seeing as how it is spring break here, we decided not to stay in our favorite place on the beach, to avoid all the craziness. So, we chose a Holiday Inn Select which seems to be in a 60’s-70’s time warp. No complaints about the important stuff…clean, quiet, comfy bed…but the bathroom decor will wake you up in the morning…bright red shower/bath unit along with a red, push button, phone on the wall.

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Charlie said he knows how Don Draper must have felt back in the day, sitting in the john with a red phone at his disposal!

Shivering in Niagara

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Every time we head north on a winter holiday and tell people we are from Florida, they look at us and ask “Why?!?” Finally, we are asking ourselves the same question after a week spent in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario, in sub-freezing temperatures. The sights were worth the trip but we have sworn off the frozen tundra for awhile.

Walking into Canada

Walking into Canada

Since we decided not to rent a car, using mass transit instead, we found ourselves standing on snowy, windy corners, waiting for a bus or train to take us to yet another spot where the wind chill made the freezing temps drop even lower. I am surprised my photos of the Falls came out clear with my shivering hands trying to focus the camera. Our plans fell into place, however, with just one glitch at the end. Allegiant Air was on time and zipped away from Sanford, landing in the tiny Niagara Falls International Airport Monday night. (The size of the airport would prove beneficial later.) As soon as we grabbed our luggage, the bus was waiting for us just outside the door and led us to the Rainbow Bridge, which was a short hike across a huge gorge within sight of the Falls.

The everchanging view outside our window

The everchanging view outside our window

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We found our way to the hotel, on foot, enjoying tolerable temps…they didn’t drop until the next day. The Doubletree Resort was a good choice and a good deal through Priceline. The maddeningly slow WiFi was the only drawback, resulting in no blog posts while we were away. The next day we walked to Niagara Falls and took in the magnificent view, with a trip down an elevator to the tunnels behind the roaring water. Two of the portals were frozen over, however, but we weren’t disappointed as the ice was a sight in itself.

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Frozen portal

The rest of the town is like a mini International Drive, in Orlando, with haunted houses, carnival rides and overpriced restaurants. We did become fans of Tim Horton’s, however, with their delectable donuts, as well as bagels, sandwiches, soups and, of course, their famous coffee. They would do well in New Smyrna Beach since it looks like all of Ontario is in our little beach town during the winter.

We heard about the negative ions from the Falls which produce positive effects on the brain. I think we were suffering from brainfreeze, due to the low temps, so maybe those ions couldn’t penetrate. However, we were in a good mood to start with so maybe we just didn’t notice. It is a glorious sight, though, and well worth the trip to see one of the natural wonders of North America.

If you are planning a trip to Niagara and are not interested in the tourist stuff, just plan on one full day there. Unless we missed something, the main attraction is the Falls and they can be seen in a day. We really enjoyed our time in Toronto and could have just taken a day trip from there, had we known what we do now.

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Stay tuned for our Toronto adventures and our mad scramble to catch our flight back home…

Heading north and beginning to think we’re crazy

As long as Charlie doesn’t catch the God-awful stomach virus I had this week, we’ll be heading up to Niagara Falls and Toronto on Monday. Let’s hope that sleeping in another bedroom did the trick and the bug didn’t find its way into his tummy. For the first time ever we are flying out of Orlando-Sanford International Airport, which is much closer than MCO. We are reading all the fine print on the Allegiant Airlines website so we’re not stuck wtih a piece of luggage that is an inch or two over their limits, as happened with Ryanair last summer. Allegiant charges $30 for each carryon going into the overhead bins and $50 for a checked piece of luggage, so we decided to go ahead and bite the bullet. No way could we fit everything we need to go to such a cold climate in a bag that would fit under the seat (those are still free to carry on). The cost of the ticket was so inexpensive ($250 total for two roundtrip tickets to Niagara Falls) that we can justify the extra charge for checking on a bag.

Our plan is to travel as cheaply as possible and we’re taking every shortcut we can, so we’ll see how it all pans out. Our daughter can drop us off at the airport but not able to pick us up so we’ve opted to rent a car when we get back and take it back to Sanford the next day…much cheaper than paying the $12 a day in parking fees at the airport for 6 days. We’re flying into the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area at a smaller airport, similar to Sanford, which makes the transportation choices fewer when trying to get to the Canadian side of the Falls. The plan is to catch a bus to the Rainbow Bridge and walk across, then catch another bus which will let us off close to our hotel. Arriving at 6:30 pm means we’ll be in the dark but we hear the area is well lit and very accessible to the walker. Of course, if it’s raining or snowing, or both, we’ll be miserable and may have to opt for a taxi (at a cost of $80 plus) to get us into Canada.

Priceline gave us the best prices on hotels in both Niagara Falls and Toronto at around $75 a night for a four star stay. Once in Toronto we can depend on mass transit either by bus or subway. And we picked up a Groupon for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that lasts three days which we can use at our leisure.

We certainly cannot complain about our winter in Florida, after hearing about our friends up north suffering through one storm after another, but I’m getting tired of cold weather and ready to put away the winter gear. This will be the last snowy trip for awhile. Of course, by June we’ll be cursing the humidity down here and planning the next trip to the tundra.

Hopefully, the next post will be from two healthy travelers in a toasty room in Niagara Falls!

Remember, it’s all about the kids…

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Over the weekend we celebrated our eight year old grandson’s birthday with a road trip to Nickelodeon Resorts & Suites. The Friday afternoon traffic through Orlando on I-4 reminded us why we choose not to go out that way unless we really have to. Bumper to bumper for no apparent reason, it always amazes me how traffic crawls on four lanes with no wrecks at which to gawk and no rain to cause a backup.

Check-in was seamless with the announcement of Carter’s birthday over a bull horn, which was much appreciated by the shy birthday boy. We booked through Travelocity with a room rate of $134. Add to that a “resort fee” of $30 per night and you can do the math. I have always thought the extra cost to be like a car lot with the “dealer fee” added. Just give us the total amount to rent the room, with no surprise fees tacked on. Charging extra kind of insults one’s intelligence.

Another pet peeve, usually with more expensive hotels, is the lack of WiFi in the rooms. This place didn’t even offer it with an added fee, only available in the common areas. However, the rooms are supposed to be equipped with a hard-wire to connect a laptop to the internet. Not so in our room, though, and when I went downstairs to secure the missing wire I was told that our particular room was not able to get the internet via DSL and they insisted on moving us to another room. Several hours later we were in a new room with the aforementioned cord plugged into the wall. All of this hoopla was for naught, however, when we realized our laptop and net book weren’t configured for their method of accessing the internet anyway. Much ado about nothing just to stay connected to cyberspace. Actually, it was nice to take a break from email and FaceBook for the weekend.

The two-bedroom unit was very comfortable with a separate bedroom for gma and gpa, another room with twin beds for the older boys, and a foldout sofa in the living room for mom and Isaiah. The kitchenette included a tiny fridge, microwave and sink, which gave us the option to store our own drinks and snacks. Since the resort is for kids, we didn’t worry about the boys getting noisy, and we weren’t bothered by anyone else in the building. The beds were comfy and we slept well.

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The food court “mall” offers a couple of buffet restaurants, a Subway, pizza place, a cafe that sells Starbucks coffee along with bagels, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, etc. Pricewise, this was the best choice for breakfast as the buffet is expensive and the character breakfast is extremely pricey. Get to the mall early to avoid lines of grumpy, bleary-eyed parents scrambling for their caffeine fix.

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The heated pools are made for kids – a huge lagoon with slides, kiddie areas, and daily sliming was a big hit. A smaller pool, near our room, proved popular with our guys as it came with a calmer atmosphere and a separate area for the little ones. The security situation around the pools was stellar; always a presence of at least four, very vigilant, lifeguards. We witnessed one female lifeguard standing in the shallow area scanning the water very methodically, every quadrant of the section to which she was assigned. Shift changes occurred regularly, so they wouldn’t get passive in a situation with so many kids in and out of the pool. It seems impossible to stay on top of everyone, but they did a great job, even rescuing one little guy who went under, with no parent nearby. The lifeguards jumped right in and pulled him out while the mom nonchalantly took him, with no sense of urgency or thanks to the young people who saved him from drowning. We went away with the secure feeling that if one of our kids was out of our sight for a second, they were being watched by professionals.

Of course there is no accounting for parents behaving badly. We saw several dads, over the course of the weekend, imbibing heavily, and witnessed one being demanding of staff but not making any sense in his drunken state. The staff, in turn, was very polite and just kept smiling and trying to help. Kudos to the staff over the entire weekend…they were very professional and always with a smile.

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One of the free perks was a shuttle bus to Disney, so Saturday night we rode to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the monorail to the Polynesian Hotel and enjoyed an inexpensive dinner at Capt. Cooks, then headed out to the lakefront where Peter Pan was being shown on a big screen. At 8 p.m. the fireworks started which were enjoyed by all, especially the big kids, while sipping a fruity glass of sangria. The boys had a great time; the weather was perfect, sitting on the beach with a full moon felt so relaxing after a frenetic day with three wild and crazy kids. We then took a boat to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the riverboat to the transportation center, and then the shuttle back to the hotel. Taking advantage of free stuff at Disney is always a favorite.

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Nobody does it like Disney, however, so do not expect that kind of experience at Nickelodeon. However, if I were the eight year old child celebrating a birthday, I wouldn’t complain about a thing. The bottom line is that the kids were thrilled and that’s why we were there.

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What to do on spring break…

Just got back from a long Holiday trip and already ready for a short getaway. Methinks we got bit by the travel bug and we’ve turned into junket junkies. Gma and Gpa duties will suspend during the second week of March, for Spring break, and we were thinking of a restful, warm cruise but just not completely sold on that idea. Then, lo and behold, I was perusing the Sanford-Orlando International Airport site, looking for Allegiant Airlines destinations, and Niagara Falls popped up with ridiculously cheap fares…as in $250 for a non-stop round trip for both of us. And, Toronto is only an hour and a half drive away. Of course, there might be a reason for the low fares…we’d basically be flying into Buffalo, NY, in March. Perhaps, the worst of the winter weather is over with Nemo having found his way to the northeast. Anyone have any experience with visiting the Falls in March? Sounds like another adventure to me!

Traveling as a “Boomer”

Traveling as a “Boomer”

Today’s New York Times piece, In Travel, We’re All Boomers Now, we see yet another take on Baby Boomers…I’m getting a bit bored with the term, which groups those of us born between the years 1946 and 1964. A lot of us from that generation do not want to age (self included) and are fighting the stereotypes of aging (grandparents, retirees, The Villages, etc.) and are still experiencing that rebellious attitude of the 1960’s as we sprint through our 60’s. We are no longer rebelling against authority and the establishment…but rebelling against being type-cast as the plump, gray-haired, rocking chair bound, geriatric of our parent’s generation (well, I’ve got the “plump” down but still fighting that affliction).

When we travel, a lot of us do not want to join a tour group and be part of the herd on the bus…we’re a bit more independent and adventurous when choosing to explore foreign lands. “Whether it’s a yen for Wi-Fi in the Serengeti or a disdain for bus tours, boomers’ latest needs, whims and aspirations are determining 2013’s large and small vacation trends.” This passage brings to mind Bob B., from the class of ’66, who is about to depart on an African voyage, looking for ways to stay connected globally while on a safari.

As usual, the online comments to this article are just as interesting and informative as the article itself….

Walk the Talk for Epilepsy

Please check out the “Epilepsy” tab of this blog…it will give you info about the upcoming fundraiser walk for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida…a cause close to my heart as our daughter, Alison, is on meds for grand mal seizures as a result of brain surgery when she was 11 years old. Anyone out there who has had experience with a traumatic brain injury knows that, even when the patient recovers fully from the event, there is a major chance of epileptic seizures happening later as a result of scar tissue from the surgery. Seizure control meds, and the neurologist visits which accompany them, are extremely expensive and usually not covered by health insurance as this is considered a “pre-existing condition.” We are hoping the new ACA will help Ali in the future but right now we depend on the EFOF for assistance with the cost of her meds.

Unfortunately, too many of our returning vets are experiencing seizures as a result of head injuries while in foreign wars. We hear about their heroic acts and are happy to see them survive horrific events, however, we do not usually hear about the residual effects of those injuries. Please help by donating to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida so they can help those in need.


A love letter to La Chevrerie

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One of the many perks of home exchange is the aspect of living like a native in a foreign country. In most cases, the neighbors are as interested in us as we are in them. In Vermont we were looked at as those crazy people who left a Florida winter for two months in the frozen tundra of the North country. While in Germany we were lucky to spend time with our hosts and were given a lovely tour of Zirndorf as well as a taste of authentic German food. We were not disappointed in Switzerland, as we met many residents of La Chevrerie and treated to their hospitality, both gastronomic and geographic.

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Our first neighborly encounter was with Helena, whose chalet sat just above ours. This generous lady, originally from Finland, took us under her wing, fed us and treated us to a wonderful morning in a French market. Our first meal with her, after a selection of wine and appetizers, was a fondue, or raclette, which brought back memories of the 70’s when no self-respecting cook was without a fondue pot full of gruyere mixed with white wine…one of the reasons we are on cholesterol meds now to clear out the arteries! The flavors were delightful and the conversation was amazing. We learned that our hostess has lived in La Chevrerie for several years, following the death of her husband. Her intent to downsize landed her in, what is lovingly referred to by friends, the Hobbit House. Walking into Helena’s home we immediately felt swept away into a warm, glowing ambience that was a welcome relief from the snowy walk up the hill from our chalet.

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We heard stories of Helena’s past which included a road trip, in the 70’s, with two friends from Finland to Bangladesh. Just imagine the countries through which they traveled, which are now impassable without the threat of death. We also learned of a trip with her elderly aunt which led to her driving a taxi through the streets of Jerusalem. It would take a book to explain the details and tell the many stories this lovely woman has to tell. We feel so lucky to have met her and the others to whom we were introduced, who made an impact on us as well.

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Christmas Eve is when the festivities of the holiday are held and our new BFF Helena invited us to join her and a family who were her neighbors in Arzier, before she moved to La Chevrerie. We met Patrick and Anne, along with their 16 year old son, Philip, who is Helena’s godson. What a lucky guy to have a godmother like Helena. One summer the two of them traveled to Finland for several weeks to enlighten Philip to his godmother’s heritage. The affection between the two was obvious as Philip helped with the traditional meal and jumped in to take on the part of St. Nick. We finally met a native Swiss in Patrick, the soft-spoken gentleman who carved the holiday ham and told stories of his life in Arzier and Geneva. His beautiful wife Anne, originally from Argentina, raised in the U.K., was inquisitive as to our interest in Europe and offered details about their country’s politics and society. It was the first time Charlie and I had been away from home on Christmas but we felt part of this family and enjoyed the warmth of their hospitality.

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A couple of week’s later we missed Helena’s birthday celebration but were invited to a meal of “leftovers” which turned out to be a Swiss smorgasbord of appetizers, wine, salads, more wine, and a full array of cheeses served with, you guessed it, more wine. Another couple from the neighborhood were invited, this time an American, Duane, and his British wife, Joy. We found out that Duane is originally from Iowa but his travels as a civil engineer working to develop water systems in third world countries, has kept him traveling the world for decades. He met Joy in Tanzania where, along with her time in Nepal, she has established Mama Masai, a group of 200 women who create beaded items to sell through Fair Trade organizations. Needless to say, later when we realized we had complained about not having a clothes dryer, we felt like typical “ugly Americans” when comparing our “plight” to that of the abject poverty Joy and Duane have witnessed in their life work. Later, during a tour of their house, I was relieved to see that Joy does indeed enjoy modern amenities and owns a clothes-dryer!

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The day before our departure, Joy took us on a hike which demonstrated her skill at attacking vertical stretches which left me breathless. Our only regret was that we didn’t start the walk earlier in the day as we had to turn back before we reached our destination of architectural ruins in the woods ahead. The sun was dropping below the mountains and we didn’t want to get caught in the dark with no flashlight!

So as we prepared to leave this little village overlooking Lake Geneva, we go with the knowledge that we made new friends, who opened our eyes to other parts of the world and renewed our realization that we want to further experience life outside the bubble of the U.S. Some societal and political issues which bog us down here mean nothing to those experiencing global issues happening around the world. We can all learn from each other and it’s my goal to keep learning as long as I’m able. Au revoir, sweet La Chevrerie.

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Still loving Switzerland

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Our last week in Switzerland and still so much to see. Last week we checked out Montreux and the Chateau Chillon. Very interesting stories surrounding these castles/forts…and dating back to the times of Game of Thrones. Difficult to imagine living in these freezing, stone fortresses. They must have had fires burning all over the structure, all year round, to stay warm, even in summer.

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The streets of Montreux are filled with expensvie shopping areas and parks on the lake. We never see skyscrapers…would imagine Zurich is the place to see the larger office buildings. Everything here, and the other cities we’ve visited, are old buildings, each with their own character, and winding, narrow streets, which somehow still allow tiny cars to travel slowly. There are very few stop signs or red lights, instead, the intersections are made up of roundabouts which require driving with care and courtesy. Somehow it works, but I can’t imagine it in major intersections in the states. If a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk, the cars on the road automatically stop to allow them to cross…it’s standard operating procedure and, so far, we’ve seen everybody follow the rules.

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We spent an afternoon shopping in Geneva, a city full of watches. It was my goal not to leave without a Swiss watchpiece and I was finally successful with this trip into town. They range in price from around $50 to $50,000. Swatch stores pop up everywhere, along with Swarovski products. I wound up finding a Swiss Military plain, black leather-banded, largish numbers, so I can actually see what time it is, and officially made in Switzerland. It feels good to know the time as we’ve been depending on Charlie’s dopey watch which jumps an hour or loses an hour at random so we can never depend on it…it’s been the joke of the trip, but not so funny when needing to get to the train on time.

Lunch was enjoyed at Chez Ma Cousine…a cafe that serves chicken, and only chicken (along with salad and the best, most crispy potatoes we’ve had)…your choice of half a roast poulet or chicken salad. We found it to be one of the most reasonable restaurants in terms of cost and the portions were generous and delicious. We have not eaten out much as the cost is exorbitant with $25 to $35 an entree being the standard, and how about a burger and fries for no less than $20. Pizza is very popular here as it is about the only dish which is affordable. Like Germany, it costs about the same to enjoy a glass of beer or wine as a diet coke or fizzy water, so you know what we chose.

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The walk to the restaurant was strictly vertical as it sits in a courtyard close to the cathedral which is on the highest point in the city. From there the narrow streets go in all sorts of directions, eventually leading back to Lake Geneva. There are department stores which remind me of our Macy’s or Dillards, then there are the stores which are guarded by armed men who look like they could defend their merchandise from an army of jewelry thieves. Louis Vuitton has its own building, as does Cartier…the town is dripping in money. At a small boulangerie, we sat next to a young woman with a cute dog (they are allowed inside restaurants). The ring on her finger almost blinded me at one point when the light hit it just right. This frumpy American felt even more inadequate in the fashion department sitting next to such a fashion plate, and they’re everywhere.

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Fur is the norm, and it doesn’t look faux, with no PETA protesters in sight. Charlie has a habit of rolling his pants up a bit when putting on his shoes. On this day he forgot to put them back down, which went unnoticed by me, but, stopping in for a coffee, I noticed a man giving Charlie a double take at the cuffs of his pants..maybe he thought it was a new American trend, haha. What’s funny is that when I brought it up to him, he did roll them back down but said that at his age he doesn’t give a damn! C’est la vie!

Ooh la la…Paris in Winter

On our way to Paris, flying out of Geneva…it was a bit disconcerting that no one asked us for our passport or an ID of any kind on the flights from Geneva to Paris and Paris to Geneva…we printed out our boarding pass at a kiosk in the airport, where all we needed was our eticket number. All we had to show at the security checkpoints were our boarding passes. Interesting, too, that on Air France there are no announcements about “turning off all electronics.” On the take-off and landing those around us were tapping away on their devices.

Upon arrival at Charles De Gaul airport in Paris, there are Roissey bus stations easily available which, for 10 Euros, take you to the middle of the city at the Opera House, where there are several Metro stations ready to whisk you away to your hotel.

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The "lift" only has room for 2, along with an ashtray in case you want to smoke up the joint (a relic from the old days).

The “lift” only has room for 2, along with an ashtray in case you want to smoke up the joint (a relic from the old days).

Hotel Champ de Mars proved to be a good choice, thank you Rick Steves and TripAdvisor. It’s in the Rue Cler area, full of cafes, shops and just a short walk to the Eiffel Tower, which was visible from our room. Tiny accommodations but very clean and updated, comfortable. Very affable reception desk with only one complaint…the doggy bed was empty the entire three days. Apparently, when the owner/operators are present, they bring their puppy, who resides under a window.

After walking the city each day, we would collapse in our room and actually enjoy watching tv, since we are without it in Switzerland. We found a couple of stations running old American movies, in English., not to mention CNN, not that we wanted to watch that…good to get away from cable news.

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The Eiffel Tower was awesome but the holiday crowds were too large to try to go for the top, and reservations were not available for a full week. Very disappointed that there were no fireworks or even light show on New Year’s Eve…we didn’t get the memo that fireworks have been canceled…not even a light show this year.

The first night there we had skipped lunch so were too hungry to shop around much for a good restaurant and chose the first one which printed their menu in French and English. We ordered steak and fries (yes, “French” fries) at a cafe around the corner – Charlie called it a “mis-steak” – we should have gone for something more French.

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Oh well, there's always dessert.

Oh well, there’s always dessert.

Next day, after a breakfast of croissant, orange juice and coffee, walked to the Champs Elysee at the Arc d’Triumph and all the way to the Louvre, passing through a huge market full of food shops, souvenirs and hand-made items. Once at the Louvre there was no chance at getting in, because of the crowds, but the architecture was awesome and just standing in the courtyard was impressive. It would take days to get through it, even if we could get in…would require a much longer visit.

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From The Louvre we walked to the Notre Dame cathedral, which is celebrating its 850 year – again, impossible to get in but awesome architecture. The whole world must be visiting Paris this holiday! By this time we had lost track of how many miles we had covered and took Metro back to hotel. We have found that every big city just takes a little time to figure out the mass transit systems. Once you get past your initial feelings of inadequacy, you figure out the color coding and, voila, it’s an easy system.

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Most of the nicer French restaurants were only open for a price fixe holiday meal, since it was New Year’s Eve, but found a local place, Tina Pizza, where we had osso bucco milanese…yummy but not as good as The Garlic back home. Pleasant people and good price, though.

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Since I wanted to see the Champs Elysee lit up at night, we made our way to the Arc d’Triumph, which obviously was the place to be at midnight and the party had already started with thousands milling about. There was a major police presence, some with crazy uniforms and packing crazy weapons. The lights were gorgeous and the ambience reminded us of Times Square.

But, since we are old fogies we weren’t up for staying out til midnight and it was getting really cold, so we rode back to the hotel, learning that the metro was free after 5 pm as it was the official start of the holiday…stayed free til noon on Jan 1. So, we stayed awake til midnight and opened up the window, stuck our heads out and listened to people counting down, watching the top of the tower sparkle at midnight. Amazing we even stayed awake after trudging all over the city all day.

Next morning we found our way to the Galerie Lafayette, which is similar to our NYC Bloomingdale’s or Sax Fifth Ave., to see the awesome holiday windows. I have to say they rivaled NYC. Lots of animation and gorgeous colors. Would have loved to check out the stores but they were all closed for the day. Nature was calling so bravely tried one of the automated bathrooms, for which Paris is known. After each person completes his mission, steps out and closes the door, it self washes and disinfects. Seems to work because there was no odor and everything seemed freshly clean…and free.

Saw the Bastille Center, the Place des Vosges (home to Victor Hugo for a time) and the Rue de Rivoli and the Cathedral of Saints Paul and Louis, which was beautiful and overwhelming. Our last meal in Paris was at a cafe in the area called Sant Antonio, where I had the best eggplant parm ever and Charlie enjoyed a pizza (which are very popular over here)…and trading beer, wine and diet coke for the water “with gas”.

Now it’s time to head back to the hotel and meet the driver who will take us back to the airport for our departure to Geneva. Seeing Paris in just two and a half days is not recommended as there is just too much to see and one should spend time to savor the history and beauty of it all. Au revoir, gay Paree!

Nasty bug sidelines the festivities

Took a bit of a break from the blog as I picked up a stomach bug and been under the weather, ugh. We had a delightful Christmas Eve dinner with Helena and her godson, Philip, along with his parents, Anne and Patrick. It was a lovely time but, unfortunately a bug got the better of four of us. Charlie and Philip seem fine so far. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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I can just now talk about the food we enjoyed…oysters on the half shell, salmon pie, foie gras, ham, a mashed root (kind of like turnip but not) and a bowl of chopped up carrots, beets and other things I’m not sure of. All of this was accompanied by champagne, bordeaux, chablis, more champagne and glog. The lovely Anne brought a trifle for dessert along with a special Christmas cookie that I can’t remember the name of. Helena is from Finland and included Finnish dishes in her menu.

The conversation was varied…they knew much more about the U.S. than we do of Switzerland…heck, they probably know more about the U.S. than we do. They had an interesting take on our country’s politics and we learned a lot about theirs. Anne was surprised that we were even interested in European politics. I think she thinks our idea of them is that they are all a bunch of “socialists”. Gee, I wonder where she gets that idea. They figured out that we were all on the same page in that department and so the conversation remained very civil. Traveling Europe makes one so much more aware that we might not be the smartest country on the planet.

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After dinner we had a special surprise of a visit from Santa Claus (Philip mysteriously disappeared.) We were even included in the gift giving. Somehow Santa knew we would be there and I received a box of champagne truffles while Charlie was given a can of pate…both of which were apperciated and will be tasted when my appetite returns. At the moment I’m only consuming broth and water. Not a fun way to lose weight!

The Montezuma’s revenge didn’t hit til the day after Christmas so Charlie and I roasted a small turkey breast and skyped Jess and Ali soon after the boys had opened their Christmas gifts. They were all a bit preoccupied and Jess was fixing breakfast so we weren’t on the call long, but it was great to see all the happy faces. Later we skyped Patty and got to see mom and dad and the rest of Patty’s family. Dad was quite confused through it all but looked happy so that’s what counts. We were able to pan the camera over Lake Geneva and the Alps so they could get the gist of what our living arrangements are like high in the mountains. Patty mentioned that she didn’t realize we were so close to Lake Geneva…close but so far away…as it takes us about 30 minutes to get down there through winding roads and tiny villages.

We hoped to go to Lausanne yesterday but it wasn’t in the cards…hated to waste a beautiful day. Today is cold and rainy…not cold enough for snow though. Planning on going out some tomorrow, that is if this nasty bug doesn’t catch up with Charlie.

Hoping everyone enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and looking forward to a fun New Year. We’ll be off to Paris on Sunday…

More adventures

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We are lucky travelers to enjoy such a hospitable neighbor in Helena. Her house is just above ours..and even though it is so close, it’s a bit of a challenging walk up the path and around to her driveway. The snow and slush have melted due to the ice and warmer temps but there is a stretch in the shade that remains slippery. Helena had us over for a fondue dinner on Saturday night starting with champagne and foie gras, then gruyere fondue with wine, followed by a salad, then an Irish coffee. We also just had to finish the champagne bottle so we were lucky we made it back to our chalet without taking a tumble and sliding down the hill.

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Helena’s house feels so much like what you would picture a typical Swiss chalet, looking over Lake Geneva and the Alps. Very cozy with a warm fire and beautifully tasteful Christmas settings. Dinner and conversation were splendid. Helena has had quite the life and we heard stories of her driving a taxi in Jerusalem at the age of 17; taking a road trip from Finland to Bangladesh with a friend (before it was too dangerous to travel through Afghanistan); and, as a registered nurse, taking a trip to the states as part of a seminar to learn more about AIDS in the eighties. She is from Finland with three sons residing in Finland and China, has traveled the world and is full of knowledge, wisdom and humor. We are so happy to have met her.

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The next day, Helena took us to a market in Divonne, France, which was full of cheese, meats, fruits & vegetables, textiles…just about anything you can think of.

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The scents and sights were wonderful as we wandered up and down the streets filled with Sunday shoppers. A stop at a tea room gave us a break and a chance to try cafe au lait and a donut (unfortunately, they were out of croissants!).

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On the way home we stopped at a French grocery store where Helena and Charlie mulled over which wines to buy…at only 1 to 3 Euros per bottle. It's a secret place she's found to purchase her wines at a great price. We are allowed to take 3 bottles each across the French-Swiss border. Of course, on the path through the small towns back to La Chevrerie, there were no border guards to check.

This morning we woke up to another sunny day with the temps rising and the snow on the roof thumping and sliding to the ground. After enjoying a lazy morning, we drove down to Nyon where Charlie could get in a run along Lake Geneva.

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Many of the shops were open, even though it is Christmas Eve, and I was able to find the perfect gift for Helena, as we are joining her for dinner tonight, along with her godson and his parents. A Christmas ham is on the menu and, if our previous dinner is an example, this one will be a culinary experience to remember.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

The trip to Zermatt

Thursday morning we boarded the first train that would eventually lead us to Zermatt. One can always tell which are everyday passengers versus tourists. We are agog at everything we see and the locals just sit in boredom tending to their particular electronic device. We traveled around Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc in sight, through small towns and past snowy fields. Even though the trip took several hours, the time went by in a flash as there was so much to see.

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Arriving into Zermatt, we walked to our hotel, The Phoenix, which meant scaling a bit of a hill but the hike was worth the result. Very happy with the hotel and Trip Advisor will receive a top-notch rating. Wonderful view of the Matterhorn, however, we never saw the cloudy peak til we were pulling out of the rail station the next day.

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As we arrived late in the afternoon, there was not much time to waste and we managed to hop on one of the last gondolas up the mountain. Several skiers and snowboarders were trying to take one last gasp at the slopes. There are a series of gondolas heading up to a mountain lake, however, we didn’t get up that far. The wind was getting stiff and, at one point when we were changing gondolas, we got hit with a gust of wind and snow that turned us around to head back down to the town.

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Breathtaking views that we are just not used to in Florida. The closest we’ve seen to anything like this in the states was Big Sky, Montana.
By the time we hiked back into town we were ready for supper and found a reasonable place that Rick Steves recommended. Turned out it served the best burger we’ve ever tasted…perhaps because we had worked up an appetite with the icy adventure we had just experienced. The cozy warmth of the restaurant coupled with a good burger and beer made for the perfect meal. We’d recommend the Brown Cow to any Zermatt visitors.

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After dinner, we had just enough time to visit The Matterhorn Museum, located underground, below a glass dome. (BTW, our rail passes gives us free entrance to all museums in Switzerland.) A lot of the exhibits were authentic artifacts from the first successful climb which resulted in half the team losing their lives in a fall on the way back down. A short movie about the everyday life of mountain rescuers was enlightening. They risk their lives daily to save stranded climbers who might take on more than they can handle.

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After walking the snowy hill back up to the hotel, we took advantage of the fireplace in the cozy lobby and enjoyed a Bailey’s coffee. We also were surprised to see three girls from California, who we had met on the train. Who’da thunk we’d be staying in the same hotel. They are studying in Spain for a couple of semesters through their Seventh Day Adventist college in southern Cal and take advantage of their breaks by visiting various parts of Europe. Very sweet girls who seemed to appreciate the beauty and diversity of this part of the world.

The next morning we caught the Glacier Express, which travels at low speed through mountains and valleys of the most overwhelmingly beautiful scenery you can imagine. It’s impossible to capture it with my little Nikon but the memories will last forever. This time we sat next to students from Beijing, studying in Nottingham, England. Their English was sketchy but they seemed to want to practice and were just as gaga over the sights as were we. The whole trip takes around 5 hours and left us at Chur, which is the oldest town in Switzerland. We learned that the man who started the Ritz Hotels had lived in one of the small villages along the way and actually was surnamed “Ritz”…thus the origin of the word “ritzy”.

After an hour in Chur we boarded a train to Zurich, then on to Nyon, then back to La Chevrerie and the snowy walk up to the chalet, which was warm and inviting. Saturday will be a day of catch-up with laundry and chilling out. Sunday we are dining with a neighbor, Helena, after a trip to a market just over the border in France. Toodleoo from snowy La Chevrerie! – More pics to follow – it’s taking a super long time to upload them to the blog, for some reason.

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Each night of Advent, several villages participate in open-houses, with a different home hosting an event each evening. The lovely people living in La Chevrerie invited us to their party last night, complete with homemade pumpkin soup and hot wine, among other yummies.

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Each time someone arrived, they greeted each person attending with a 3-point kiss…right cheek, left cheek, right cheek. I’ve seen the two-cheek greeting before, but was surprised by trois bussing. Very sweet people and such a diverse group. We stayed until our toes went numb as the gathering was held outside while snow was falling all around us. We have already been invited to dinner by another neighbor when we get back from Zermatt and an invite to be taken to a market just over the border in France. We definitely feel welcome.

Earlier today we took a short train ride to Nyon for some additional grocery shopping. Found a multi-story mall a short distance from the train station with Pere Noel wandered around greeting the children.

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Shops were open along the street and the smell of something baking drew us to an oven baking something (we’ve yet to translate what was cooking). At one point the baker popped out and took a tray out, determined the items weren’t done and popped them back in, then returned inside the shop. We’ll definitely return to Nyon to spend a day and find out what was behind the oven doors.

Tomorrow we’re off to Zermatt for a night, then onto the Glacier Express on Friday. Bonsoir!

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This is what we woke up to on our first morning in La Chevrerie.

We arrived after dark and were lucky that Mike, from the neighborhood, was on our train. He knew we were arriving and led us to Jesus and Polina’s chalet. So happy he was there and had a flashlight as it was pitch black outside and we would have had a difficult time finding the path to the house. We muddled through slushy snow and ice, dragging our luggage behind us, finally reaching #20 La Chevrerie.

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A neighbor turned on the heat before we arrived but the house had not warmed up yet so we were shivering as we unpacked and found our way around the house. It’s quite rustic and this morning, looking out the window at a heavy snowfall, it’s everything we imagined Switzerland to be, in the middle of winter.

The train shows up hourly just below the chalet and we caught it this morning into St. Cergue where we enjoyed coffee, quiche and danish at a small boulangerie, a short distance from the train station.

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We feel we are in another world, having left the Florida humidity for a snowy mountain retreat, where French is the spoken language. However, we did run into an English-speaking Irish woman at the train station in St. Cergue, who was on her way to Milan for an opera tonight. More later, as we heard there is an open house in the neighborhood to which we are invited. Au revoir!

Ready to “Wi-Fi” in Switzerland

Received the XCom Global WiFi Hotspot yesterday. Will be trying to pick up signals throughout Switzerland over the next month. They are allowing me to use it on the trip, free of charge, and write about our experiences using it. So, please excuse the “product placement” over the next several weeks. We could have used one of these on the trains in Germany last summer!

T minus 5 days and packing the longjohns…

sandsnowmanSaw this on the beach the other day. It felt like an omen of our upcoming trip. Found out the little village in which we are staying has 3 feet of snow waiting for us. Suffice it to say we added more sweats to our baggage. The Christmas cookies are baked and now the deadline is near to have all the gifts wrapped and ready to go. The humidity was so high here today, I was sweating while wrapping. Then we got blasted with a super storm, the skies went black at 5 p.m. and we were on a tornado watch. Some 30 homes were damaged about 5 miles from us.  After wind and rain, the temp dropped a little but still in shorts and flipflops but we’ll be trading them for coats and boots soon. The rest of the week will be a blur of cleaning and preparation for our new friends, Jesus, Polina and little Francisco.

The beach is back!

So glad there was a beach to walk on today. The north winds are fierce again and the waves are wild but the sun is finally out. Heading back home was a treat to see our neighbor, Sheila, with the doors open and music drifting out to the porch, while MacKenzie photographed her grilled cheese creations. Check out her blog, GrilledCheeseSocial, for some mouth-watering grilled innovations that aren’t your mother’s grilled cheese.

Time to get the rolling pin out and make the pie crusts…

Walking in high tide

Attempting my usual beach walk today was daunting. At first I reveled in the fact that I was the only one on the beach; and then I realized WHY I was the only one on the beach. The tide’s been up all week, limiting cars and visitors. The weather service says the higher than normal waves and tides are a result of a strong onshore flow, whatever that means. In my case, it means not much available sand on which to walk. Living close to the Atlantic ocean offers a changing shoreline almost every day. Sometimes the tide is so far out we have yards and yards of space to walk, the water might be as calm as the Gulf, and at other times the waves are moving as if driven by a washing machine motor. Today the waves were so far up the beach I could only make it about a half mile to the north before I gave up fighting the wind and water up to my knees.

A normal day at NSB

A “normal” day at NSB

High tide leaving not much space on which to walk

But I did see one brave soul out in the water windsurfing. His strength and control of his craft was amazing, flying over the waves and sailing out so far I could hardly see him. Then he’d steer back to shore as if there were just a gentle wind at his back. My struggles were lame compared to what he was accomplishing out there in the wild waters. (No photos of him because my phone died).

Happy Thanksgiving to all…we’re gearing up for a family celebration at my sister’s place. It’ll be a pie baking marathon at the Young residence while watching the NYC Macy’s parade. Lots to be thankful for! Then some serious planning for our Switzerland trip. Tickets are purchased, plans are being made. All that’s left is a Christmas shopping, cookie baking and a major house cleaning and baby-proofing as our visitors have a newly-walking baby, Francisco. Can’t wait to meet them. More to follow…

Blowin’ in the wind

The wind gusts are fierce here in New Smyrna Beach, as Hurricane Sandy skirts the shores. Wondering how high the stack of palm fronds will go.  Who needs tree trimmers when all it takes is a windy weather system to do the job. At least we don’t have to worry about huge oak tree limbs crashing into our house…the bamboo and palm trees just sway in the breeze. We’re more worried about flying political signs turning into moving missiles…waiting to see if our Obama sign outlasts the Romney message across the street. Hope everyone stays safe and our neighbors to the north don’t get the storm of the century when a tropical system mixes with a snow event. Meanwhile, we’ll dodge the palm fronds down here!

Rick Steves – European health care doesn’t have to mean “Socialism”

After years of going to Fodor’s and Frommer’s for travel advice, I was turned on to Rick Steves and his travel books, radio and TV show. He’s extremely thorough in his travel descriptions, especially of Europe, and goes a step further by including out of the way places to visit when you need a break from the typical tourist destinations of a city. He also is not afraid to throw in some of his political views about the country he is critiquing. His recent post about the health system in France is worth checking out…I’ve included the text below.

A Tour Guide’s Experience with Health Care Phobia in France

I believe that, especially with a good guide, travel can be transformative and richly experiential…both a political act and a spiritual act. It forces people to grow, to deal with others who see things differently, to get out of their comfort zones, and to grapple with their own ethnocentricity and hang-ups. While people don’t generally sign up for a tour thinking they are investing in the growing pains of a broader perspective, I encourage my guides — like a loving parent who works to broaden a child’s palate — to thoughtfully set up experiences that can pry open a little wider the hometown blinders of an American traveler. Recently, one of our guides (who happens to be an American) shared this fascinating experience relating to health care in France. Here’s her report:

When I’m leading a tour in France, I always give a talk on the French tax, education, and health care systems. When speaking to a tour group — many of whom are relatively well-off, middle-aged Americans — these subjects can be a little controversial…even taboo. But I believe these issues are essential for anyone hoping to understand contemporary French society and culture.

The French pay lots of taxes for social programs. These taxes allow for “free” universal health care (not socialized medicine, but rather a quasi-private system overseen by the government — rated #1 in the world by the World Health Organization) and “free” education through the university level for all French citizens. Of course, health care and education are not free — they are paid for collectively by the entire society through taxes.

The French, in general, believe this is a good system. As is the case with other Europeans, they are not eager to pay high taxes (the French pay about 30 percent income tax, plus about 20 percent sales tax). But they have high expectations for the programs their taxes pay for, and they generally embrace the system. The French see their tax dollars at work each time they go to the doctor of their choosing and pay only a small co-pay (about $20); when they don’t have to worry whether they can afford their cancer treatment; and when they don’t have to ask, “How will I pay for higher education for my child?” No one in France is in debt because they have cancer or because they went to school to become a teacher.

When I explain this to my tour members, I let them know that I don’t think the French system is perfect, and neither do the French.  It’s expensive. There is abuse. And some people fall through the cracks. But I believe that when our tax, health care, and education expenses are added together, we Americans end up paying more for less. The French, by their communal nature, prefer the collective approach — life with more taxes and without the economic stress that we treat as normal. I graduated from the University of Washington owing $30,000, and my parents owed even more. My 30-year-old brother, who is self-employed with no insurance, fell off his bike and had to wait more than six hours to be seen in the emergency room. He was billed $7,000 for that visit. My underinsured father had quadruple bypass heart surgery and had to file for bankruptcy because he couldn’t pay his medical bills.

Rick Steves groups are filled with people of all political stripes, but nearly everyone is rational, open-minded, and willing to respect (if not agree with) the opinions of others. But on a recent tour, a few of my tour members were angered that I would “talk positively about socialism” (as they put it). One couple (I’ll call them Jane and John) said they vehemently disagreed with everything I said — not just my opinions, which I could understand, but even the facts and statistics I had cited, and the personal French accounts I’d collected. Jane insisted that no one could be happy living in a system where one is responsible for carrying the weight of their neighbor.

The next morning, when I went down to breakfast, Jane and John weren’t anywhere to be found. Finally John appeared looking like he’d seen a ghost — like he hadn’t slept all night. Turns out he hadn’t. Jane had suffered a severe medical problem the night before, but she wouldn’t let John come get me to help — she refused to see a doctor in France. I went to see Jane and convinced her to go to the hospital. When we got there, she was seen within two minutes of walking through the door, they were giving her tests within five minutes, and after ten minutes, she felt comfortable enough with the quality of care that she told me I didn’t need to stay.

I went back when it was time for Jane to be discharged. Fortunately, her condition had not caused long-term damage, and with medication she’d be able to return home to follow up with her own doctors. But John was struggling to sort things out with the discharge nurse. I translated the nurse’s explanation that she couldn’t accept their US insurance information — in fact, there was nothing to pay. John turned to me and said, “Do you know how much this overnight stay would cost in the US? This is crazy! Are you sure I don’t have to pay?” Determined to “pay their own way,” John and Jane took out their credit card. After some convincing, I persuaded the nurse to charge them a small “donation” of about $200.

I’m so thankful Jane was able to walk away from the incident. And I also hope that maybe their experience opened their minds a bit. We don’t need to embrace European social ethics. But we should be open to learning about them and respecting people who choose to design caring societies a little differently than ours.

About This Entry

You are reading “A Tour Guide’s Experience with Health Care Phobia in France”, an entry posted on 17 October 2012 by Rick Steves.

Big news about XcomGlobal

Keep your fingers crossed! On our trip to Switzerland I may be able to participate in a free trial of a new WiFi system which is being offered internationally by XcomGlobal. While traveling we take our netbook and a Kindle Fire with us, taking advantage of free WiFi signals along the way. However, our recent experience in Germany, missing a train and having to stay overnight in Munich, forced us to pay for coverage so we could scout out a hotel and make reservations while en route. With XcomGlobal’s equipment, a traveler can access the internet anywhere, as long as they are in a country with access. Switzerland is on their list and they are looking for travel writers to test the system and report their assessments.

It will be a boost for the blog as I’ll be able to post while on the road (or rail) rather than waiting til we get back to our home base.

Still working out the kinks as their offer is for 2 weeks and we will be away for a month, but it sounds like they will accommodate us. The offer was made available through Travelwriters.com which describes XcomGlobal as “a leading provider of low-cost wireless internet access rental services for international travelers.”

More later…

Christmas in Switzerland…New Year’s in Paris??

So…we didn’t think we would be making another trip this year, especially to Europe again, but….we received an offer we just can’t refuse. A young couple are thinking about relocating to Volusia County…they have friends and family in Orange City. They asked if we would exchange homes for a month over the holidays. After much angst and feelings of guilt, we decided to take them up on their offer. (You only live once, right?!) Their place is just outside of Geneva, close to France (3 hours by train to Paris)…just a short walk to the train. So, we’re committed. We Skyped the other day and they’re lovely people with a 13 month old son. We’re also doing a car exchange so we’ll have a bit more flexibility and won’t be tied down to the trains for short trips. Night skiing is available within 15 minutes of the house and they’ve offered their equipment for us to use. More details to follow…

Back to the beach

Finally home to report that our home exchange went smoothly with no problems or issues. Some commented, when told we were exchanging homes with a stranger, that they could never do that and aren’t we afraid of returning to a trashed house? Nope, didn’t happen. Everything was left the way we left it…with a few extras in the fridge. And we left Ruediger’s house in the same shape. The concept really works and the best part is staying in another part of the world for 24 nights free. We never would have taken on this experience if we would have had to dish out the extra dollars for lodging. It’s a win-win. Of course, you have to do your homework and stay in close “email” contact with your host prior to the trip and follow the rules laid out by homeexchange.com.  It doesn’t make sense that someone would pay the annual fee only to trick someone in order to ransack and steal items from your home. Maybe one might be paranoid if they had tons of gold lying around or expensive cars with keys available. But, common sense prevails and it is an adventure worth looking into.  It was only our second house swap but we’ll be pursuing more.

That being said, I guess it’s obvious we found Germany absolutely charming, in terms of countryside and citizens. Something happened to Charlie just days after we returned which might show a fundamental difference in American versus European attitudes.  He was jogging down Peninsula Avenue, as usual, and hugged the side of the road which was shaded; no sidewalk on that side, the sidewalk, on the other side of the street, was being baked in the sun. Not much traffic on that portion of the road and when he heard a car approaching, he drifted off the pavement onto the grassy shoulder. As the car (truck) passed, the drive yelled out…”The sidewalk’s on the other side!” (He was probably also calling Charlie an idiot under his breath.) Jess has run that route, only to be yelled at. I’ve even experienced it while walking on the sidewalk…kids yelling something stupid. We just accept this idiocy and move on; however, I dare say this would never happen in Europe. There is a lot more respect evident within that society. Just standing at a roadway waiting for the little green man to appear, letting us know it was safe to cross…my impulse was to go ahead and cross when I didn’t see any cars but the rest of the pedestrians just waited patiently until the red light turned to green. We saw a lot more respect for the law, for other people and for the environment. Not sure when our country took a turn toward disrespect and intolerance, but it’s made much more evident when traveling to other parts of the world. Does it make me “unpatriotic” to have those opinions? I would hope not…just wishing our country would learn from others in areas where we need improvement.

I know the saying “the grass is always greener” probably comes to mind and we did hear about heavy taxation. We were surprised to hear that each German is responsible for paying into a tax used for reunification after the events of 1990. Per Wikipedia “The “solidarity tax”, a 5.5% surcharge on the income tax, was instated by the Kohl government to restore the infrastructure of the new states to the levels of the western ones. The tax, which raises €11 billion a year, will be maintained until 2019 at least.” When asked how they feel about this, they just shrug their shoulders and say it’s something that needed to be done and they just pay it. I’m sure I’ll hear rebuttals from my far right friends about how we pay for the results of Katrina, etc., (bring it on)…but my point is that our country needs an attitude adjustment.

OK, enough politics…not sure if I’ll keep this blog going. You certainly don’t want to know what I have for breakfast every morning and most of you are not interested in my political rantings so not really sure what to do with it. I started it to document our journey with my parents and their aging issues. Now that they are ensconced into a lovely assisted living facility, our angst is eased. It’s not a perfect situation as mom is not 100% happy with it, but it’s certainly better than their previous situation and help is just outside the door if they need it. Of course, as the sandwich generation, we are all still involved with our kids and grandkids, and when one crisis is resolved, another one seems to appear, so we’re not off the hook yet. Let me know if you have any suggestions for furthering this discussion and/or what direction to take from here on out.

So long for now…

That Crazy Ludwig

The Neuschwanstein Castle – traveling south to  Hohenschwangau, approaching the mountains, one might feel like breaking out in song…the hills are alive with the sound of music. Pristine green rolling hills with mountain peaks in the distance, windows open in the train car, it’s a beauty that might be individual to the region. The farmers keep those fields green with some pungent fertilizer, however, and occasionally we’d get a whiff that would wake up the nose hairs.

Reaching the town we just missed the bus to the castle and looked like we were going to have to wait an hour, while already on a tight schedule, but found a student from Taiwan who was in the same predicament and shared the cost of a taxi with us so we wouldn’t have to wait. We chose to walk up the wooded path to the castle, which is a bit of a challenge with the incline and takes about 30 minutes. Viewing the castle from the town below makes it look like an impossible climb but there were hikers far older and heftier than us so we figured we’d give it a try.  Much of the building was covered in scaffolding, however, as it takes constant maintenance to keep up, so the photo opps weren’t that great.

Arriving at the castle doors we were glad we made the trip. The vistas were breathtaking and the castle, itself, was a reminder of the Magic Kingdom since Walt Disney patterned Cinderella’s castle after King Ludwig’s design. This one doesn’t date back to medieval times, however, like the others we’ve seen, as Ludwig had it built in the mid 1800’s in his quest to be the medieval king about whom he fantasized. He was a bit unbalanced mentally, lost his monarchy and, in an effort to pretend he was still king of his castle, so to speak, used up all his money, was deemed mentally unstable and was put away by the state, which also took over his possessions when he could no more pay for them. Now it is a tourist destination and a must see if you’re in the region.

Another Radler, this one mixing beer with Coca Cola


Another lovely lunch in a lovely restaurant.


Details of the castle




Bye, bye, Bavaria…

My husband likes to live on the edge. Instead of spending 25 Euros on a taxi to take us to the Nuremberg rail station to catch our 6 a.m. ICE train to the Frankfurt airport, he’s put together a schedule which includes catching a bus at 5:20, to the underground system which, ultimately, gets us to the Hauptbahnof with 6 minutes to find Platform 7. If we miss the 6 a.m. train, we have to wait an hour for the next one which will put us in the airport barely an hour before our flight leaves…not a smart move with an international flight. So, the day before our departure we decide to have lunch in Nuremberg and practice a dry run of our bus/train combination. The first time we got to the rail station, we went the wrong way and would have missed the ICE by 5 minutes. Retracing our steps we found a more direct route to the platform and had 3 minutes to spare. Of course, the question is, how will this play out on the actual morning of departure? Well, I’m here on the ICE to tell you, yes it worked, even though the underground was on the opposite side of the platform when we arrived and it was just dumb luck we stepped on the train with 4 minutes to spare. Who needs a stress test to check out the status of your heart’s health? Just travel with Charlie.

So it’s goodbye Germany, time to go home. We’ll miss speeding across the countryside seeing fields of corn growing next to fields of solar panels with wind turbines in the distance. We’ll miss the bicycles and tiny cars on the roadways. We’ll miss the friendly people of Bavaria and their willingness to speak our language when we could not find the words in German to communicate. We’ll miss Ruediger and Andrea, Robin, Jason and Belana…our new friends. (Oh, and now we miss our luggage as it did not arrive in Orlando. After doing so much research and homework to make sure this trip would go without problems, we somehow missed the fact that, once in Dallas, we were supposed to pick up our baggage and re-check it in for the flight to Orlando. We were already running late as the flight out of Frankfurt was turned back on the runway due to a fuel pump problem…a bit disconcerting. So we just marched ourselves through customs and up to the gate, leaving our baggage behind. Of course, this was after being up 20 hours straight, so we’re not going to beat ourselves up about it. Happy ending, American Airlines is flying the luggage back to Orlando and delivering it to New Smyrna Beach.)

All in all this was a great trip and the memories will last forever. I’d like to return and visit the places we missed…and Ruediger sounds open to the idea of exchanging homes again.

Beautiful Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg…a purely Bavarian town that harkens back centuries and preserved in such a way that makes it easy to imagine life when the night watchman walked the protective wall surrounding it. The streets are narrow, lined with shops and restaurants, one of which made for a yummy lunch.

It was kind of hot the day we visited so a Radler beer hit the spot. These are wheat beers mixed with lemonade, sprite, coke, or whatever sounds good. Sounded awful to us at first but so far have tried all three and now we’re fans. The round dumpling-like things on Charlie’s plate are Kloss…a ball formed by cooked and raw potato, mixed with a special flour that holds it all together. Andrea fixed some for our dinner and they were tasty with gravy.

We found a pathway along the wall with tremendous views and walked upstairs to dark passageways with small holes in the wall, presumably to aim guns through, if needed. Another small space along the wall had a bench seat made from stone, with a hole in it to sit upon and take care of business, if you get my drift, which would drop approximately 40 feet below. As if that weren’t bad enough, there were actually two holes, side by side, so one could have company. I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go, even when you’re the nightwatchman.

Rothenburg is know for doughy cake balls called Schneeballen. Word is that they are still edible years after they are made. We opted for ice cream, instead. This town is a must-see if you’re in Bavaria and includes some of the prettiest photo-ops. These people were so creative with their architecture.  There isn’t a dull spot in the city.

Ruediger brought Florida’s heat back with him!

I think a lot of the charm of this part of Europe, for us, has been the delightful weather…low temps and humidity. But since Ruediger has returned from NSB, the temps are hot and humid…ugh. Spent part of Sunday roaming the Zirndorf festival with Ruediger, Andrea, sons Robin and Jason, along with the neighbors upstairs, Peter and Aliya. We wound up at the major biergarten for beer, appetizers, beer, main course…and more beer. OK, the beer is finally getting old, but really refreshing on a hot day.

Now we’re up to a full liter!

Andrea, Alya and Peter

Ruediger paying the tab.

Salted radish slivers on the left. German form of steak tartare on the right…only it’s made with raw sausage. (I can imagine Ali and Jess gagging at this one).

On the far right, dark bread spread with cheese and chives. The white stuff on the bread in the middle, is the cold fat you scrape off from the top of gravy mixed with spices…I just couldn’t bring myself to try it and I’ll be looking at the Thanksgiving turkey gravy in a whole new light now.

After stuffing ourselves at the biergarten, we walked to Andrea’s house where she served cake made with fresh plums from a tree in her backyard. Andrea was born in Zirndorf, where her father had a business. That’s Jason on the far left, Andrea, Ruediger and Robin at the top. On the right Peter and Aliya (the tenants above us) and Charlie.

Andrea’s backyard includes a bird and rabbit sanctuary with 40 canaries…tried to get us to take some home but I don’t think customs would allow it.







Festival time in Zirndorf

Spending a couple of days again in Zirndorf, enjoying their festival weekend, beginning with a parade Saturday afternoon. It’s all about the beer here in Zirndorf, with a brewery just up the street (Zirndorfer) and another close by (Tucher). The bands were not made up of high school kids but of mixed ages from young to old.

This reminds me of our parades on Flagler Avenue…lots of candy thrown out to the kids. And in the tradition of The Garlic restaurant tossing out garlic cloves, the garden clubs were giving out vegetables. This lady got the mother of all zucchinis…

And, of course, after the parade, the festival starts with amusement rides, carnie games and biergartens.

Ruediger is back in town and will be taking us to one of the biergartens for a German feast later today. We look forward to trading stories of our discoveries and his experiences in the land of Disney.

A common sight at celebrations, and, also atop new home construction, is the Christmas tree with the lower limbs stripped and the top decorated with ribbons. The Tannenbaum, German for Christmas tree, was, according to some historians, started in Germany when Martin Luther started the tradition of decorating it with lights. This one is towering above the marketplace during the festival.

Notice blue skies without a cloud in sight…temps are rising, though, and might actually hit 90 degrees. When the mercury rises to that point the local weatherman puts out the following warning: “High disruption due to extreme high temperatures!” Ha! This is a respite for us. Low humidity and breezy…feels great.

We’ll be squeezing in two more trips before we leave on Thursday. Rothenburg tomorrow, probably, and not sure of the other. Ruediger is already hinting at exchanging homes again next year so if we miss something on this trip, we might just be back next year for more!


After two days of rest and relaxation, chilling in Ruediger’s house and exploring Zirndorf, we headed to Berlin early Friday morning, as in 6:15 a.m. When we finally got to Nuremburg, we hopped on an ICE directly to Berlin and arrived around noon. Enjoyed our coffee on the train, while watching the countryside speed by at 180 kilometers per hour.

Charlie found a walking tour on Tripadvisor.com which is how we spent the next several hours upon arrival to Berlin. Lunch on the river Spree, more beer, of course, then started our trek past ancient museums, sculptures and cathedrals, making our way finally to the Brandenburger Gate. Difficult to imagine that a few short decades ago this city was split in two. You’d never know now with the hoards of people bustling on both sides of the gate.

Yes, that’s an old VW bug parked picturesquely in front of our lunch spot.

Leek quiche…


Got beer?

Brandenburger Tor

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe for those who died in the Holocaust was amazing…so simple but so awe-inspiring, 2,711 slabs or pillars of concrete, in all sizes, representing each page of the Talmud. People wandered among them as if in a maze of remembrance for all those who were lost in another era not too long ago.

Went to snap a hot air balloon when this enthusiastic girl popped into the picture.

Across from the memorial park was the Tiergarten which was the main focus of the book In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larsen, one of my favorites. Didn’t have time to locate the house from which the stories were told, but one could imagine the events that took place here in the 1930’s leading to Hitler’s terrible reign.

Berlin feels like it’s in a different country from the Bavarian section of Germany, being a large, crowded city loaded with tourists. Interesting, though, that we still have not heard an English speaking American in Germany.

Now to board a crowded train to Hanover for our trip back to Zirndorf. Hoping the crowds subside on the longest leg of our journey back. Yikes, they didn’t! On the 2 hour trip to Hanover, the train was crowded and hot. Managed to get a seat but it wasn’t pleasant. It was the first time we had a not so good experience on the DB. Once in Hanover, however, we were able to hop on an ICE and travel in comfort. Good thing as we had another 3 hours to go to Zirndorf.

Why not in the U.S.?

OK, time to get on the soap box…what the hell is wrong with our country in terms of utilizing renewable energy? Of course, I know what is wrong…big oil corporations getting huge tax subsidies and using their lobbyists to encourage legislators to vote their way and put the kabosh on any movement toward using the most natural resources of air and sun. But, regardless of your political preference, it just makes sense to use that which is free and abundant when powering our homes and cities. No matter where we travel in Germany, we are passing dozens of wind turbines in addition to the massive numbers of solar panels, both on house roofs and in fields. And this is a country with not near as many sunny and windy days as we have in Florida, especially along the coast. Not to mention the number of people we see on bicycles…bringing them on the trains or parking them en masse outside the stations. We have not seen one large SUV being driven on the streets. If they drive their own vehicle it’s a small, gas efficient car. The only  American auto we see here is Ford, and lots of them, Ford Focus as well as other small models I’ve never heard of. Add VW’s, Saab’s, Audi’s, Mercedes, all of which are small versions of the monster trucks we see in the states (BTW have not seen a truck yet). Of course, their system of trains, regional, intercity and high-speed long distance, are available throughout the country. Even though their diet is made up of mostly carbs and fatty meats, we don’t see too many chubby Germans, mainly because they are walking or pedaling their bikes everywhere. Our country tends to look at Europe as a region we do not want to emulate…perhaps we’re not ready for their socialist method of government but they are the smarter ones in terms of keeping the planet and their bodies healthy. End of soap box…

Mainz to Koblenz on the Rhein

So after that debacle, we made the one hour flight back to Frankfurt Hahn and bussed to Mainz for the night. Stayed in the popular InterCity hotel, just a couple of blocks from the main train station and a one mile walk to the Rhein River cruise. We were pleasantly surprised with the accommodations and the buffet breakfast was delish but not free. The room was only 72 Euros, tho, so well worth it. Had to catch the boat at 8:45 so headed through the town to the river…beautiful place with vendors setting up a farmers’ market in the center of town next to a cathedral.

Boarded the boat for our 4 hour trek along the Rhein River with several stops along the way. Saw so many castles we lost count…what history this place must hold! The weather was chilly and needed our jackets in the morning, however, it got warmer in the afternoon and the sun forced us inside for awhile.

Made our way to Koblenz where we trekked another mile or so to the train station…another wonderful town…cobblestones, churches, unique architecture…had a great meal across from the station. (BTW, we pre-purchased 7 days worth of German Rail which averaged $59 for the two of us per day. Sounds expensive but it also got us on the KD Rhein boat and unlimited trains for each day…we’ve covered hundreds of miles each day we’ve used it and saved thousands of dollars versus paying per trip and much less expensive than renting a car.)

Arrived back to Zirndorf exhausted and overwhelmed. Need  a couple of days rest then off to Berlin on Friday.

If it’s cheap, there’s usually a reason

Departing London we were introduced to the reason why Ryanair gets such bad press. They warn you about carry-ons – have to meet certain size and weight standards. I had carefully measured our luggage and it fit the requirements, except for the wheels at the base. Departing Frankfurt Hahn for London, there was a cage-like container where you could determine if it fit. We were told as long as it fit upside down, regardless of the wheels, we were good to go, and it did fit that way so everyone was happy. However, upon our departure from London, we were held up for an extra check of our passport, for some reason, and then told we had to put our bag in the cage to make sure it fit. Followed the previous protocol and placed it in upside down but the attendant insisted it didn’t fit. Of course, this was while we were supposed to be boarding so not much time for negotiating. They refused to let us board with the bag and charged us 50 Euros to check it. Later we wished we would have just emptied the contents into a plastic bag and left the suitcase behind. We paid less than 50 Euros for the damn thing at Marshalls and we didn’t have much in it. So that’s how Ryanair put the screws to us. We will be following up with written complaints but doubt we’ll get anywhere after hearing others having had the same problem. Chalk it up to experience!

I’ll take New York

Traveling to London was a daylong affair since we chose to fly out of Frankfurt-Hahn airport, which houses Ryanair, the cheapy airline of Europe (and we found out why…later). It takes a few hours on 3 trains, then a couple of hours on a bus to get there. Tiny airport and first come, first seated…one can always pay a few more Euros for priority seating but didn’t see the need so just got in line and duked it out, so to speak. Then they guide us out to the tarmac where we climb on board, front or rear. We’re so spoiled at OIA. Something triggered the scanner which led to Charlie being wanded and me being wanded and pat down. And, yes, it was a thorough pat-down but anything worth complaining about? No! It’s their job and I don’t care if I look like the furthest thing from a terrorist, I don’t mind it for my safety and everyone else’s. That was for you, Jack, end of TSA soapbox. So once on board it’s only an hour’s flight but they try to sell you everything from water to smokeless cigarettes, to handbags and perfume. Flying over the English Channel we saw dozens of wind turbines…can you imagine the power that could be generated off New Smyrna Beach? I vote no for oil drilling and yes for wind turbines off the coast.

Arriving at Stanstet Airport outside of London we borded a minibus and headed into the city where we were dropped off on Baker Street and bussed to Trafalgar Square. Northumberland Street was just off the square and our quarters for the next two nights were just down the street. These college kids have it made here, beautiful historic building in the heart of London and just steps from the Thames, Hungerford Bridge and The Eye. We opted for Sherlock Holmes’ restaurant, across the street as we were tired and hungry and not in the mood to search out something else. We think this is a chain but it fit the bill with comfort food and drink, walked down to the river and saw the lights, then off to bed. Our room was typical dorm fare with the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever seen, but it housed a toilet, sink and shower, which was all we needed. Checked out some Olympic coverage in the common room downstairs before hitting the sack. Why is traveling so exhausting when most of the time you’re just sitting there?

The London School of Economics and Political Science, our home for 2 nights

Next morning grabbed breakfast and found a spot along the race barricade in front of our lodging. The crowds didn’t start forming til around an hour before the start of the race, 11 a.m. Everyone around us was chatty. In addition to the Irish guy mentioned before, on our other side was a photographer from Holland who spoke great English and we had a jolly time with him. (Yes, I’m beginning to speak with an English accent…I’m sure the German accent will return when we get back to Deutchland). The race itself was just too cool. The runners made a total of 4 passes in front of us, the start of the race was only about 1/4 mile away so they were in a bunched-up group the first time, but by the third passing (11 miles) they were spread out and one of the American runners dropped out in front of us – hamstring issues. The crowd cheered every last runner as if he were the first…and there were some stragglers…the last one with a huge grin on his face until the last lap when he looked totally whipped.  We really thought the Kenyans would be 1 and 2 but the Ugandan just kept up and surpassed them in the end. Such a shamethat the last American standing came in fourth. But he said he was just glad he was fourth in the world.

Crowd management was handled beautifully and cheerfully. It was a difficult run with all the twists and turns and by the time it was over I felt like I’d run it myself…we were exhausted but walked the distance from Hungerford Bridge to the Tower Bridge which was an awesome sight. The Thames was so busy with boat traffic, lots of barges and definitely not a place to take a dip. Actually kind of gross on the river bed.

This guy’s sunbathing on the banks of the Thames (yuk) with a microphone, singing while playing the guitar. London’s answer to NYC’s naked cowboy?

London as a whole was a bit dirty. Comparing it to NYC, I’d choose NY. Granted we didn’t have time to visit all the museums, other than walk by them, but London just didn’t ring my bell. Perhaps, if we had more time to explore we’d appreciate the city more. We were ready to return to Germany. More later…

Close enough to see them sweat

Not able to upload photos right now but lots to come. Got a lot of video of the marathon, up close and personal. These athletes are so amazing that they can continue a pace after so many miles. The made four passes down Northumberland and by the last lap the final runner was still receiving a much cheer as the first. Of course, the biggest noise went out for the British marathoners. One of our USA runners dropped out right in front of us.

Silly thing happened right before the start – a couple of security cars would make a sweep of the street before each lap and caught a guy jumping the barricade with a huge keyboard and suitcase…he plopped himself down on the street as if he were going to serenade the runners. They swarmed him and scooped him and his gear into one of the cars off they took him to a thunderous cheer.

All in all, though, it was a happy crowd…we met a 72 year old guy from Ireland who has run over 100 marathons since he was in his 50’s. He now organizes races for charity in his home town. Gave us an application form for an upcoming race. Nice people. But I’m not too impressed with the cleanliness of London, probably because of the crowds but didn’t appreciate someone urinating in the street in front of  me – too much ale I guess!

Now that the race is over, off to see the sights. Cheerio!

Don’t miss your train…

Today’s plan is to ride the Black Forest Railroad through farmlands, valleys and little towns full of great architecture, green grass and whatever else we might see.

We’ve even seen fields of solar panels, then you’ll see a wind turbine, or several, next to a cluster of houses, always with a church steeple peeking through. Ruediger told us about a “million roof initiative” with the end result of many more than a million homes with solar panels providing their electricity. Don’t know the details yet of monetary incentives for purchasing themand they are not only on the larger homes, but also smaller houses. Seems like a no-brainer – why aren’t we doing this? We have more wind and sunshine than Germany so why aren’t we utilizing it?

Our main route is from Offenburg to Singen then the Bodensee – beautiful Black Forest homes/farms. For Ali and James, we saw an Aldi. Must be 30 tunnels. We’re taking 9 different trains from 9 am to just after midnight. Every one on time, smooth , quiet and scenic. Between the larger stations are farmlands and homes with colorful flowers. Met a nice woman who spoke broken English – visited the states once before as her aunt lives close to Seattle. We originally meant to get off the train in Singen, hang out an hour or two, get a bite to eat and head back for the 5 hour return trip. However, she said Sengen was not a pretty town (she was actually getting off there to visit her daughter). She told us to go to the next stop – 7 minutes further – and we could check out the Bogensee then head back – we’ll see how that works out.

The Bogensee was beautiful, definitely worth the stop – huge lake loaded with boats of all kinds, hills on the other side and a cool little town with great restaurants. But we’re a little off kilter with our train back so we’re hoping against hope that we make the midnight train to Zirndorf from Furth. We might be spending the night in a train station!

OK, update on train situation…we did miss the train and wound up in Stuttgart at 10:30 pm with no train to Nuremburg. So Plan B has us heading 2 hours to Munich and staying overnight. We planned on getting there at some point and looks like it’ll be tomorrow. Good thing I brought the contact lens cases and cleanser. Of course, didn’t bring anything else, not even a comb. We’ll look lovely tomorrow. At least the hotel gave us toothbrushes and toothpaste. We managed to get online and find a place a few steps from the main train station..decent review in TripAdvisor and reasonable. Got there around 12:45 and dragged our butts up to the tiniest room I’ve ever seen. But the bed was comfy and that’s all that mattered. Couldn’t leave the window open because of partying on the street below so got a little stuffy but we were too tired to mind. The hotel advertised free breakfast adn we weren’t expecting much but were wonderfully surprised at the selection of fruit, yoghurt, mueslix, pastries, juices, coffee and a whole buffet of bread and lunchmeat and cheeses. Turned out to be a good choice and they were so sweet accomodating us when they found out we had missed the train and didn’t have any overnight stuff.

Got back safe and sound…tomorow London bound.


Old really means Old in Europe

Spent part of the day in Nuremburg in the Old Town which is surrounded by a huge wall and moat along with a castle on a hill, and ancient cathedrals interspersed with modern shopping areas and biergartens. It’s overwhelming to think of the history here and I won’t bore you with it, but following are photos which cannot capture the beauty of the architecture…

This one’s for Patty – yes, that’s George in a Williams-Sonoma type kitchen shop.

Our mode of travel for the duration – this is a regional train…super smooth and quiet. Also, taking the ICE trains, even faster with fewer stops.

Wish I could bring all these flowers back for Isaiah!

So many nasty gargoyles hiding in the architecture of the cathedrals. Scaring off the devil?

Amazing sculpture…

More of the same amazing sculpture…

…and the X-rated side of same amazing sculpture.

More to come…it’s getting late here and too pooped to add more.  Tomorrow we’ll be on the train all day getting to and through the Black Forest via rail. Night, night…

We made it!

ImageOur travel day was, for the most part, uneventful…everything went as planned. We only missed one train, due to our error of boarding a first class car by mistake, and upon realizing it, hopped off but by the time we reached the second class section the train was closing up and leaving the track. Not to worry, another one arrived within 30 minutes which took us from the Frankfurt airport to the center of Nuremburg. The ICE train is so quiet and smooth we got a little too comfy and kept falling asleep during the 2 hour trip. After very little sleep on the 9 1/2 hour plane ride, fatigue was starting to settle in but upon arrival we perked up when we found Andrea who drove us to the house in Zirndorf, a mere 15 minute drive. She is Ruediger’s girlfriend who lives only a few blocks from Ruediger’s place and showed us all his electronic gadgets and how to make coffee, which requires checking the Google translate site to remember her instructions. Several areas of the house have motion detectors which automatically light up as we’re walking through. No need for screens as threre are no bugs to worry about and it’s cool enough to leave them all open.

Everything we need is within walking distance…grocery, restaurants, etc., so explored and ate in a little Italian place – pizza is very popular over here, just don’t order one with pepperoni as that word has a different meaning and you will get hot peppers – if you want the pepperoni we are used to, order it with salami!

We forced ourselves to stay awake til 9 and then crashed, sleeping almost 12 hours. This morning we feel fine, no jet lag, and ready to roll. Looking forward to exploring Nuremberg and the old town this afternoon after a leisurely morning of coffee and Olympics.

A couple of notes about the flight…a little disconcerting when we were delayed a bit out of Dallas as someone’s bags had been loaded but the passenger was nowhere to be found so had to wait til their luggage was taken off the plane. And, this will sound ageist and sexist, but do you remember when flying was kind of glamorous? Remember the Braniff flight attendants (stewardesses), cute, stylish…I swear all four of the flight attendants were older than me (meaning older than dirt)…one even reminded me of my mom with grey hair, curly perm…not that they don’t have the right to work but really felt bad watching them struggling with the food/drink carts up and down the aisles…and this was American Airlines with American attendants. Maybe I could have a second career as a flight attendant…they were even a bit short and pudgy so maybe I could get away with it!



Our new German friends

Ruediger and Belana arrived early Friday morning (2 a.m.) as their flights were delayed…so we were all ready for bed as soon as they got here. We’ve been showing them around the beach and helping Belana with her English…very sweet girl. Ruediger brought gifts (the beer is already gone!) and loves our heat and humidity, ugh. We’ll be taking off in the morning, Sunday…ready to get out of their hair.

Off to Europe

It’s time to dust off this dormant blog and get it back in circulation. We’re leaving for Germany on Sunday as part of a home exchange with a family from Nuremberg and will use this as a central portal for pictures and journal entries. Our German visitors are Ruediger and his 9-year-old daughter, Belana, who will be arriving Thursday night. The rest of their family couldn’t travel this summer but they have a second home in Zirndorf, which is where Charlie and I will be staying til the 23rd of August. They are experienced travelers and love the U.S. but have always stayed in hotels. The great part about exchanging homes is the ability to live like a native. They’ll use our location as a central point for all of their vacation destinations and be able to enjoy the beach on their days at rest. We’ll be staying in their condo, just a short walk from a train station, which will be our transportation of choice for our entire stay.

At the moment we are frantically putting the finishing touches on deep cleaning the house, clearing out closet and drawer space, and putting together instructions on appliances and electronics. It’s amazing what you’ll put up with until faced with strangers living in your abode and it’s a good excuse to get rid of “stuff”. Friday and Saturday we’ll be showing them around, introducing them to the neighbors and giving them a chance to settle in and get over jet lag. Then Sunday we’re out of here and they’re on their own.

Our former neighbor in Thornton Park is letting us park our car there for the duration…a bus to the airport is around the corner so we’ll pick that up for the start of our trek. Then we head west to Dallas for our 9.5 hour flight to Frankfurt, hop on the 2 hour ICE train to Nuremberg where Ruediger’s wife, Andrea, will take us to the condo. Then we’re on our own. We’ve already planned several day trips via train and bus, a cruise on the Rhine, castle spotting, Black Forest Railroad, Alps, etc. We are also sneaking in a quick trip to London to catch the men’s marathon on the last day of the Olympics.

If anyone’s interested in following our journey, subscribe to the blog and you’ll be notified when we update it with, hopefully, fun times and pics. And if any of you have visited Germany recently and have “do’s and don’ts, let us know.

Gesundheit!  Susan & Charlie

Ease up on yourself…

Aargh…another month goes by without a blog entry. If I were making resolutions, my first would be to post more…but then, I’m not making any resolutions, just going to try harder.

Below is an excellent piece from Caring.com about just that subject…

By Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com senior editor

Last updated: December 26, 2008

Six New Year’s Resolutions If Someone You Love Has Alzheimer’s

By Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com senior editor

 If there’s someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia in your life, the last thing you need to ring in the new year is more nudges toward self improvement. You may already be thinking, Forget resolutions about losing weight and giving up alcohol – I just need to figure out how to survive the stress (not to mention the economy) in 2009.

Fear not. This list of resolutions is meant to help you. How? By making taking care of someone with dementia easier. It’s stuff you may already know – what I’m asking is that you consider it through a fresh lens. Make it your ultimate resolution to see tough situations as opportunities to make life better for yourself.

So as 2009 [in our case 2012] begins, why not vow to:

  • Bite my tongue rather than say the dreaded words, “You just asked me that!”

There’s an old saying, If you want to get along, go along. Losing patience or quarreling lets you vent — but actually makes the situation worse, since the person with dementia is apt to grow frightened or agitated.

Learn little tricks for smoother communication. For example, when repetition is a problem and your patience is fried, try moving to a different room to redirect the conversation around new, different stimuli.

  • Move out of my comfort zone to find fresh ways to help my loved one stay occupied and connected.

True, it’s work to think up meaningful activities for someone with dementia to do. But in the long run you save time by making the person feel more content. Staying busy provides a fortifying sense of purpose, even if it’s folding (and refolding) towels or organizing (and reorganizing) a tool box.

One starting point: Music. Because of the way the brain is organized, music can reach even those who never showed the slightest artistic inclination.

  • Have a weekly date night – with myself.

Couples with young babies often receive the advice to have a standing evening out to stay in touch with their relationship as partners, not just as parents. Similarly, you need to preserve a sense of yourself as an individual, not just a care partner. The trick is to set a regular appointment with regular care coverage — whether it’s to exercise, to meet a friend for coffee, or just to go “Wal-Marting,” idly pushing a cart down the aisle with nobody else to worry about.

Then ink this regular appointment in your datebook like a doctor’s appointment. You wouldn’t skip that, would you?

  • Let it go, let it go, let it go.

When you catch yourself second-guessing yourself (Oh why didn’t I realize Dad would be hungry…OMG it’s my fault I let that bedsore develop!) take a deep breath and just quit. Nobody is a perfect caregiver…because nobody’s perfect.

  • Be open to advice – but toss out what doesn’t fit.

There’s a saying, When you’ve seen one person with Alzheimer’s…you’ve seen one person with Alzheimer’s. Each person’s disorder manifests uniquely. So do snarf up all the info you can find on day-to-day life with dementia, but realize that it won’t all apply to your situation. Don’t waste a second feeling isolated or like you’re doing something “wrong” if a certain approach doesn’t work. There are many approaches.

  • Draw yourself a support circle.

Can’t get out of the house often enough for regular meetings? No excuse nowadays. Like-minded people with big hearts and lots of ideas are only clicks away. And believe me, we all need them.

One final resolution: Tear up those this-year’s self-improvement lists! A whole year is too much to plan for. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, all you can do is take it one day at a time.

Forever Young – Life in the Middle

Check out my new monthly column in the Forever Young insert of the Hometown News (page 8)…Life in the Middle. It will be about dealing with the many layers of the sandwich generation in which many of us find ourselves. A new edition is published the beginning of each month.

On a sad note, the print editions of The Observer, New Smyrna Beach, have stopped, after over 90 years of publication. The paper will still have a presence online, however, so Liberal Lines  will continue on an irregular basis, when the inspiration moves me. There is so much craziness, politically, going on lately, that it will not be difficult to stay inspired!

The Reunion

Recently I jumped at the opportunity to attend my forty-fifth high school reunion. Orlando in the late sixties was a much different place in which to grow up than it is now. Weekends would find us at the Orlando Youth Center, which is still a viable
community gathering site in the middle of town. What better place to reunite
than the building in which we boogied to the rocking sounds of Louie Louie and
experienced the highs and lows of teenage romance, and/or angst.

A lot of changes take place in the span of forty-five years and no one can prepare you for the in-your-face realization that, yes, you really are sixty-three years old. However, my car found its way to the parking lot without using the GPS, and it was like time stood still and froze in the year 1966.

The hours went by in a blur of catching up with long-lost friends and, upon reflection of the evening’s events over the days to follow, some tips come to mind, which might help ease others into the crazy world of the high school reunion…

  • For those ladies who have packed on the inevitable extra pounds, leave the Spanx (a girdle by any other name) at home and dress comfortably. The majority of your classmates have grown into the same weighty issues.
  • Make sure your name tags are large enough for everyone to see – you’ll be surprised at how many people will not recognize you (am I that forgettable?), and vice versa (who the heck was that?). Don’t hesitate to ask them to remind you who they are; chances are they don’t remember you either.
  • If you don’t recognize the face or the name, just listen to them talk. We all
    agreed that the voice was one thing that did not change with years of physical
    changes. The inflection and tone of one’s speech, and the facial expressions
    that accompany them, made all the years melt away.
  • Unless you married your high school sweetheart, leave the spouse behind. Your partner in life will thank you for it and you will have a much better time not worrying about them. It also saves the embarrassment of having to introduce someone, whose name you cannot recall, to your husband or wife, whose name you may have also momentarily forgotten.
  • Exercise those facial muscles in advance of your gathering. You will find yourself smiling like a fool for hours on end…still smiling days afterward.
  • Be prepared to deal with clueless dummies who might rush up to you and bring up an embarrassing event from the past by blurting out, “Are you the one who…(fill in the blanks).” Yes, that really happened and we can only hope his excuse was that he suffered a medical incident somewhere along the line and lost the brain cells associated with tact, which would explain his rudeness.
  • Leave any discussion of politics at the door. I learned the hard way that those of us in our sixties are very opinionated and, unless you want to witness fisticuffs and name-calling among a group of baby boomers, just don’t mention anything regarding the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, or the upcoming presidential election. Trust me, you will lose Facebook friends by the droves.
  • Did I mention, don’t talk about politics? Add religion to that mix. Our class was from a small Catholic school so we all had religion embedded into our psyches at an early age. Many of us have strayed, however, to every religion, or
    non-religion, in the book. Better to just not talk about it, or be ready to
    have your arthritis pain or extra pounds handled with scripture verses…true
  • Leave the pictures of the grandkids behind. No one really cares that you have a
    budding Einstein. They will just counter you with pictures of their little Dwight Howards. Admit it, you don’t really care, either.

All in all I had no regrets in my decision to join this group of aging hippies, reuniting to celebrate a time which shaped our futures.  Happily, the feeling I experienced upon walking out of that night’s time warp was that, yes, I really am sixty-three years young.

Baby Boomer’s Method to Occupy Wall Street

I met Don at a columnists’ convention last year and, even though we don’t share the same politics, I like his latest column…

Baby Boomer’s Method to Occupy Wall Street

 Look what’s happening out in the streets
Got a revolution,  Got to revolution

— Jefferson Airplane

I’ve been expecting Occupy Wall Street to happen for the past three years.

Anger has been rising on Main Street since the bailouts and the million dollar bonuses.  Washington and Wall Street spent so much time talking to each other that they never noticed and figured it had gone away.

It has not.

Since 2008, I’ve written over 100 columns on Huffington Post and my new book, Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street  Guide to Making Money,  is a guide to getting Wall Street out of people’s lives.

If I were 22 instead of 52, I’d probably be out on the streets.  Instead, like most baby boomers, I’m watching the revolution on television.

And supporting the protesters in a middle-aged way.

Wealth Without Wall Street was released a few weeks before Occupy Wall Street took place. Along with sharing in the protest, I offer concrete solutions for reducing the power of Wall Street.

In a chapter called, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” I said:

I don’t advocate marching in the streets or writing a letter to your Congressman.A better form of protest is to set up your finances in a way that reduces the influence of Washington and Wall Street in your lives.

The book offers four steps to reducing the power of Wall Street over Main Street.

    1. Move Your Money from a Wall Street bank to bank or credit union in your community.    Arianna Huffington and others at Huffington Post were the first to advocate this movement which has really taken off since Occupy Wall Street started.   By moving your money. you decrease the power and influence of Wall Street.  It may stop those trying stunts like charging five dollars to use a debit card as Bank of America wants to do.Local banks and credit unions will make sure that money is going back to your community.    Use them as much as possible.

Get rid of your credit cards.   Most of them are issued by Wall Street banks.   Dropping your credit cards will take money out of Wall Street’s pockets and put it yours.

  • Get rich slowly.  A lot of the problems on Wall Street stem from their obsession with quick profits, in order to justify their million dollar bonuses.Those of us in the baby boom age range need to think about having money for retirement and for the rest of our lives.   There are plenty of opportunities, off Wall Street, for people to develop a safe nest egg if they do it slowly over a long period of time.    We don’t need Wall Street to “trade” our money for us.
  • If you fit into the world of self-employment, now is a time to think about it.   In order to make Wall Street stockholders and bond holders happy, many large companies are laying off thousands of employees, or slashing their benefits and pensions.   If you can use your skill sets in a business you own yourself, it is a better long term move.

The phrase “think globally, act locally” is one that baby boomers are familiar with.    Although it is usually associated with the environmental movement, the best way to think globally, act locally is to do two things at the same time.

Every person can work toward being a good citizen. That includes supporting local businesses, being a good neighbor, and gaining financial independence.

Then, recognize that your individual actions can ultimately reduce the power of Wall Street and Washington over Main Street.

People of in every age group,   in every part of the country, can do their share to help “Occupy Wall Street.”

Even if we are watching the revolution from our living rooms.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the bestselling author of the book Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money

McNay, who lives in Richmond Kentucky, an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at http://www.donmcnay.com

He is the Chairman of the Board for the McNay Group (www.mcnay.com) which provides structured settlement consulting for injury victims, lottery winners, and the families of special needs children.

McNay founded Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC, which assists attorneys in as conservators and setting up guardianship’s. It is nationally recognized as an administrator of Qualified Settlement (468b) funds.

Dad’s Birthday

October 2nd marked dad’s 87th birthday. We all celebrated at a favorite restaurant where they know us from numerous family gatherings. Mom and dad used to frequent the place a lot til mom got wary of driving so far. Dad remembered the restaurant but didn’t remember the menu and had a difficult time choosing a meal. He finally settled on a shrimp combo but insisted it wasn’t what he ordered when it was presented. We talked him into trying one of the shrimp and he liked it (but ate only the shrimp).

My sister and I put together a book of old and new photos, in an attempt to trigger memories, especially of mom, when he doesn’t seem to recognize her. We scanned the old pics and created a book through SnapFish (which is a great way to consolidate vacation pictures, too). He didn’t quite understand the concept, at first, as he kept running his hand over the pages expecting the photos to be somehow attached to the surface. He seemed to remember most of the photos with the exception of one on the page we set up displaying some of the cars he owned over the years. He had an accident with one, decades ago, and the pic portrayed the wrecked front end of the car. He insisted he did not ever have an accident like that and rebuffed our memories of it. (Subject was dropped!)

We featured a picture of them in 1947, the year they were married, on the first page, then ended the book with a picture in 1997 at their 50th anniversary.

Looking back, we probably should have given him the photo book at home, without all the noise and hoopla at the restaurant. It was quite noisy and I think he was overstimulated by it all. Afterwards, when everyone was leaving and wishing him a happy birthday, he said he didn’t know why everyone was wishing him a happy birthday. Sometimes, I think these celebrations are for the benefit of those around the celebrant, especially when the birthday boy forgets it’s actually his day to shine.

How to Not Take It Personally

This is good advice for those who cannot help but take personally the words of their spouse or family member. It’s easy to say “Just let it go”, but not so easy when you are the target of the verbal abuse.

By Paula Spencer Scott,  Caring.com senior editor

There’s a tricky underbelly to caregivers’ intense relationship with their care receivers: A can’t-always-help-it tendency to take situations too personally.

Why? Caring.com senior medical editor Ken Robbins, a geriatric psychiatrist, explains that caregivers tend to be a special personality type: Big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well intentioned…people who are motivated by and take deep satisfaction in doing right by their loved one…and people who, when unpleasant things happen, therefore, are prone to blame themselves, even for situations beyond their control or irrelevant to what they say or do, or fail to say or do.

Consider these six situations:

When your loved one is gruff and cranky
Even when cross behaviors are directed straight at you, you’re not usually the
underlying reason. More likely the outbursts are your loved one’s expression of
anger at the disease and the situation. For someone with even mild dementia,
outbursts reflect disease changes at work. You’re just the easy target.

When your loved one with dementia doesn’t recognize you It’s not because you’re no longer important to him or her. It’s not because you’ve failed to “imprint yourself” on him or her forever through the quality of your care. Failing to recognize friends and family, even primary caregivers, is an effect of the disease.

When your loved one vexes you with annoying behaviors (asking the same question over and over, leaving disrespectful messes, moving so slowly) Remember how the person “used to be.” In that context, it’s easier to see that illness, not an intention to be hurtful to you, can usually explain irritating actions.

When your loved one has an accident It’s not because you’re not managing incontinence perfectly. Accidents happen.

When no one says thank you It’s not because your actions don’t deserve thanks. More likely: You’re so effective at what you do, it’s practically invisible to family members.

When your loved one doesn’t say thank you Especially if he or she has dementia, the person’s ability to be aware of how much you’re relied upon becomes lost. Your loved one is so dependent, he or she literally doesn’t know thanks are in order.

I’m not saying feeling slighted isn’t a perfectly legitimate reaction to scenarios like those above. Nobody could blame you for sulking a little. But then — move on. Dwelling on imagined slights is energy-sucking and leaves you feeling needlessly sad. Re-framing these situations as having a bigger context helps you take them less personally. They’re not about you — they’re terribly unfortunate bumps that are about the road itself.

Staying sane…

My friend, Tory, passed this article along by John Shore, whose blogs appear
on johnshore.com along with his writings for Huffington Post… 

15 Ways to Stay Sane While Caring For an Elderly Parent

One of the most emotionally complex and difficult things a person can experience is taking care of an elderly parent. I recently spent time tending to my aging, widowed father, and thought I’d pass along these 15 points, each of which I found to be significantly helpful during this phase of my own life. (You can read of my experiences taking care of my dad at Mad Dad!)

  1. Accept that things have changed. When a parent starts in any way
    depending upon their child, a world has turned upside down. Be prepared for that radically new paradigm. Old roles may not apply; old
    methodologies may not apply; old emotions may not apply. Be
    prepared to work from — and write — a whole new script.
  2. Take it slowly. Taking care of an elderly parent is
    generally a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush it. You and they both are
    in uncharted territory. Let the process reveal itself to you; to the
    degree that you can, let whatever happens unfold organically. As much as
    you lead what’s happening, follow it.
  3. Expect nothing emotionally. At the end phase of their life,
    your parent might open up to you emotionally and spiritually; they might
    express for you the love that, for whatever reason, they haven’t before.
    But they also might not do that; your parent might even more tenaciously
    cling to their crazy. If as you care for your aging parent you bond with
    them in a new and deeper way, of course that’s fantastic. But going into
    caring for them expecting or even hoping for that to happen is to wade
    into dangerous waters. Better to have no expectations and be surprised,
    than to have your hopes dashed.
  4. Expect their anger. When you start taking care of your
    parent, they lose the one thing they’ve always had in relationship to you:
    authority. That’s not going to be easy for them to give up. Expect them,
    in one way or another, to lash out about that loss.
  5. Give them their autonomy. Insofar as you can, offer your
    parent options instead of orders. It’s important for them to continue to
    feel as if they, and not you, are running their lives. Let them decide
    everything they can about their own care and situation.
  6. Ask their advice. A great way to show your parent
    love and respect — and, especially, to affirm for them that they are
    still of true value to you — is to sincerely ask them for advice about
    something going on in your life.
  7. Separate their emotional dysfunction from
    their cognitive dysfunction
    . Insofar as you can, through your conversations and interactions with your parent, learn to distinguish between their emotional and cognitive dysfunction. The patterns of your parent’s emotional dysfunctions will probably be familiar to you; those, you’ll know how to deal with. But their cognitive dysfunctioning will probably be new to you. Track it; react to it gingerly; discuss it with your parent’s health care providers. Mostly, just be aware that it’s new, and so demands a new kind of response. This is a part of the process where it’s good to remember point No. 2.
  8. Love your health care providers. During this phase of your life, you
    don’t have better friends than those helping you care for your
    parent. Cleaning person, social worker, physical therapist, nurse, doctor,
    caring neighbor — treat well each and every person who plays any role
    whatsoever in caring for your parent. When they think of your parent, you want everyone involved in their care to have good, positive thoughts; you want them to want to care well for your mom or dad. Steady
    kindness, and little gifts here and there, can go a long way toward
    ensuring that’s how they feel.
  9. Depend upon your spouse. You may find that your parent is
    more comfortable relating to your spouse than to you. Though that can
    certainly hurt your feelings, don’t let it. It’s simply because your
    parent doesn’t share with your spouse all the baggage they do with you;
    mainly, they’ve never been the dominate force in your spouse’s life. Your
    spouse and your parent are peers to a degree that you and your parent can never be. Let that work for you. Depend upon your spouse to be as
    instrumental in the care of your parent as he or she wants to be.
  10. Protect your buttons. No one in this world knows your emotional buttons like your mom or dad does. Surround those buttons with
    titanium cases and lock them away where your parent couldn’t find them
    with a Rorschach test. Unless he or she is an extraordinarily loving and
    mature person, your parent is bound to at least once try to push your
    buttons, if only to establish their erstwhile dominance over you. Don’t
    let them do it. You might owe them your care, but you don’t owe them your emotional well-being. With your parent, let “No buttons for you!” be your motto.
  11. Prepare for sibling insanity. Expect the worst from your
    sibling(s). For perfectly understandable reasons, many people go
    positively bonkers when their parents start to die. Money, childhood
    mementos, furniture and possessions from the family house, money,
    diversified assets, money, the will… you get the idea. Prepare
    for the coming crazy. Do not participate in it yourself. Insofar
    as you must, of course protect yourself. But no amount of money on earth
    is worth your dignity.
  12. Take care of yourself . It’s so easy to surrender to the care of your aging parent more of your life than you should. But you serve well neither yourself nor them if you fail to take walks; to stretch out; to eat right; to make sure you spend quality time away from them. Make taking time to rejuvenate yourself as critical a part of your care routine for your parent as you do cooking their meals or making sure they take their meds. Your life still needs to be about you.
  13. Talk to a friend. If you have a friend with whom you can regularly meet and talk, or even chat with on the phone, do it. During this time the input and love of a friend is invaluable to you. Sharing what you’re going through with someone not immediately involved with it can be like a life preserver when you’re bobbing in the ocean. As soon as you get involved with tending to your parent, call your best friend, and tell them that you’re going to be depending upon them to do what friends do best: care, and listen.
  14. Have fun. One of the things we most need in life is the one thing we most readily jettison once we begin caring for an elderly parent: fun. Fun! Have some! Have lots! Rent a Marx Brothers movie. Wear a goofy hat. Make your parent wear a goofy hat — when they’re sleeping, maybe. Whatever it takes. But remember: A day without fun is like a day where you almost go to jail for pushing your old mom or dad down a stairwell. Whenever, wherever and however you can, truly enjoy.
  15. Pray or meditate. Life doesn’t offer a lot more emotionally salient or complex than caring for an aging parent. Accordingly, then, open yourself up to God, whatever that might mean to you. Be sure to with some regularly get down on your knees, or sit comfortably in a quiet place; close your eyes; breathe deeply and slowly; and wait to come over you the peace that surpasses understanding. What you’re undergoing with your parent right now is bigger than you, your parent, or anyone else involved. Do not fail to avail yourself of the great and mighty source from whose perspective it has all, already, been resolved…


Weekend at the beach

It was an interesting weekend with mom and dad staying with us at the beach. We picked them up Saturday, stopping for lunch along the way back, with plans for a “Back to School” barbeque on Sunday. Dad was in pretty good form throughout, with no “phantom pains” popping up. He was engaged with mom, in terms of knowing who she is and talking to her. His sense of humor is still intact and he came out with some zingers that had us all in stitches. Mom still overreacts to misstatements and would probably do better by just leaving him alone, rather than telling him he looks like he needs a pillow, a blanket, a sweater, yada, yada, yada!

At one point he did ask mom if “those people” were still at their apartment, and it was evident his reality changed the minute he was back home. Shortly after we dropped them off, mom called asking if we’d stop back because dad was refusing to take his meds and she didn’t want to fight about it anymore. Turns out he did actually take his meds but was balking at taking a vitamin, which is part of his normal routine. We were too far away to go back but Patty took over and he didn’t remember fighting with mom about it. Seems like he’s most confused when he is at home, which is odd, but he’s convinced there are more “women” in the condo and they’re not Marie, his wife. When he’s around the chaos of the whole family together, he’s less confused. He’ll get mixed up with the names but seems to get great delight from the great-grandkids, not to mention our cat. Whenever Ricky’s in the house, dad is talking to him and teasing him…we, of course, have to worry about the cat getting under foot and tripping one of them, but dad looks like he gets great pleasure from watching him. There is no way that they should take on the responsibility of a pet, however, I can see the benefit of having cats and/or small dogs as part of a long term care facility…they always seem to bring a smile to the faces of those who don’t have a whole lot to be happy about.

Six year old humor

Dad’s getting a kick out of his great-grandson, Carter’s, newfound ability to sniff a straw wrapper and make it look like a mustache.

We all got together for my husband, Charlie’s, birthday and Patty’s impending birthday on Tuesday. Everyone behaved…sort of…

Let the doctor be the “bad guy”

Obviously getting a loved one tested for dementia early is important. But it’s a touchy situation convincing them they might have an issue with memory. We took the “sneaky” approach mentioned in the Care.com article, “How do I convince my dad to get tested for dementia?” By giving his doctor a “heads up” about our suspicions, he was able to cognitively test dad and, ultimately, take the car keys away, without knowing that we were the bad guys.

Much needed support (group)

Patty and I took mom to a Caregivers’ Support Group meeting at the Winter Park Library, yesterday. Only one other person attended so mom got much needed attention from Linda, the facilitator. She shed a few tears, which was a good thing, and was reminded that she has to take care of herself as well as dad. We all went over the following Caregivers’ Bill of Rights…

The right to live our
own life, to retain our dignity
and sense of self.

The right to choose a
plan of caring that accommodates our needs and the
needs of those we care about.

The right to be
recognized as a vital and stabilizing source within our

The right to be free
of guilt, anguish and doubt, knowing that the
decisions we make are appropriate for our own
well-being and that of our loved one.

The right to love ourselves enough to have the confidence to do
the best we are able.

Linda talked about  “choosing our own battles” and letting some issues go, unless they result in a safety problem. A perfect example of this presented itself the other day when dad got out of the shower with his hair in disarray (more than usual). He had the bottle of shampoo by the sink and obviously had not rinsed it out of his hair. Mom kept trying to tell him he needed to get back into the shower and rinse it
out, but he refused, stating he needed to put more in. After much wrangling, he finally figured it out and begrudgingly got back in the shower. As crazy as it sounds, if he would have continued to argue the point, what would it really have hurt if he had just gone to bed with a head full of un-rinsed shampoo? It wasn’t a life-threatening issue and he probably would have realized his mistake upon waking the next morning. It’s kind of like raising children…how many times have you heard, “Choose your own battles”?

The other person in attendance is in an interesting situation. One week a month, she lives with, and cares for, her sister’s mother-in-law. Figure that one out…her sister’s husband’s mother. Several in the immediate and extended family devote a week at a time, 24/7, to care for this woman so she can stay in her own home. There is funding for this through her long-term care insurance and they receive $100 a day to care for her. It’s an interesting concept and one that might become more popular as more and more “boomers” have issues with mental and physical problems requiring full time assistance.

Linda suggested mom keep attending, sometimes alone, I’m guessing so she might open up a little more without my sister and I in the same room. The dynamics of a family make it difficult to really empathize with mom as he is our father…not the same as being her husband. I’m hoping she’ll keep going back to the group, with or without us, as it seemed to have a positive impact on her emotions and mood.

Free COA Newsletter

The Orange County, FL, Commission on Aging offers a free monthly email newsletter  summarizing the activities of the COA and other initiatives in the community.

Each month the COA informs citizens about senior transportation issues, scam alerts, events scheduled in the community and tons of other useful info. If you would like to subscribe to this information just send an email to  Officeonaging@ocfl.net.

Garage Sale Big Success for EFOF

Jess and Ali

Great sale on a scorcher of a day. As part of a service project for a class, Jess hosted a carport sale with benefits going to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida  Thanks to all her great clothes, my sister, Patty’s, fantastic toys and books, and our neighbor, Shannon, donating so much really good stuff, we raised over $450. Every little bit counts towards research to end seizures!

Dad’s Birthday Idea

Had an idea today (I’m sure it’s not an original one) to put together a SnapFish book, for dad’s birthday in October, full of scanned old pics from the early days of mom and dad’s marriage, bringing it to present day. Maybe it will help get him back in the present day timeframe when he’s lost in another decade. One day when he was insisting that mom was not his wife, she showed him some old pictures and don’t know if it convinced him, but at least it got him off the subject and interested in the pictures. A SnapFish book would be so convenient and easier than going through a bunch of pics. It will definitely take us til October 2 to go through them and publish it. Will let you know how it works out!

Birthdays and Anniversaries

Happy Birthday, August 1, to Mom…86 years. And now, August 2, Happy Anniversary to Mom and Dad…64 years! We all had a wonderful celebration lunch at Seasons 52 (my new fave) and dad was quite lucid throughout. I finally lost count, however, of how many times he asked me if we’d ever been there before. Dropped dad off at home and took mom shopping afterwards. It was a good day!

When dad realized it was her bday he said he was going to “walk across the street” to the WalMart to get a card. Walking across Hwy. 436 in Casselberry is a death-defying feat so she told him that his present to her would be NOT walking across the street to get a card. So, he didn’t.

Last week dad told mom there were 5 women living in the house and they were all too old to be his wife. Also, seems to think he was married 5 times…would love to be a fly on the wall of his brain to see what really is going on in there.

One problem seems to be solved with mom deciding to sleep in the guest bedroom. When he takes his shower at night, he gets very weird, closing doors so she won’t see him…apparently all the time thinking she is not his wife, and very paranoid about where she’s going to sleep. So, the first night she settles in the guest room, he pops in wondering where she is and why she’s not in bed! Ayayayay.

Dementia Drama du Jour

Happy Monday…waking up to a blurb on the Today Show about 30 somethings dreading the fact that they are turning 40. Sorry, can’t relate, until you fast forward 30 years later…I’m trying to enjoy my sixties as much as I can, in anticipation of my seventies looming down the road. It’s all relative. Just enjoy the moment!

The latest drama engulfing my parents’ living with dementia, is dad misunderstanding a quarterly financial statement from his broker. Standard stuff but he’s becoming paranoid and thinking money is being stolen from his account. This has prompted arguments with mom and a phone call to his broker (who has been with him for decades). Said broker has been notified of dad’s memory and cognitive issues – call hasn’t been returned yet, as far as I know. Dad lashes out at mom when she tries to explain it to him and she reacts with more lashing out…lovely scenario. This will last until the next crisis evolves or when one of us can remove the statement from his sight and mind. Meanwhile, keep repeating the mantra “Don’t Argue!”

It’s birthday extravaganza month with 5 birthdays and an anniversary in the family within the next 3 weeks. Our oldest daughter is turning 30 and her little sister is turning 28 this week. I can remember the surprise party held for my 30th like it was just yesterday…it was yesterday, right? What? Thirty-two years ago? Surely you jest! At the time, my friend, Nikki, gave my parents a plaque officially pushing my age back so they would feel younger…I could use one of those right about now.

As mentioned before, I won’t bore you with what I ate for breakfast, however, I am happy to announce that the South Beach Diet resulted in a loss of almost 5 pounds last week. Let’s see if I can handle another week of no sugar, no flour and no cocktails (I did sneak in a glass of Grand Traverse Reisling the other night, however, and it was well worth it). Now I just have to keep from tasting the plethora of celebration cakes and desserts tempting me over the next few weeks, starting Wednesday.

Getting back to reality and writing about it

My poor blog has been ignored too long! Something I learned at a recent columnists’ conference was not to waste the good stuff on FaceBook. How true…spending much too much time over there. To be honest, though, I’ve been putting some research on the back burner and just haven’t taken the time to get into it…like info my son sent me about the use of marijuana serum to treat dementia…sounds like something worth looking into. I also have a problem with “self-promotion”…feeling like anyone reading this doesn’t want to hear about how my grandsons are the most perfect little Einsteins in the world – not true but we all probably think that of our grandkids. And you don’t want to know what I had for breakfast while on the South Beach diet. TMI!

I do need to get back to the business at hand which is how to help my aging parents deal with dementia, depression, boredom and everything else that goes along with making them miserable. By the time you reach your mid-eighties, you deserve to be happy. Unfortunately, that is not the case in our situation. Dad is falling deeper into his alternate world and mom is not dealing with it well.

So this blog needs to address those matters more often, both reaching out for help and giving it when I can.

On a positive note, my sister, mom and I are signed up for a caregivers’ seminar at a local library in August – tried for July but was already booked – a reaffirmation that we are not the only ones out there dealing with the downside of aging.

Looking at the upside of getting older, especially in retirement, we’ve done some traveling over this past year to include a cruise to the Western Caribbean and a cool (in more ways than one) trip to Michigan, taking in Detroit and the upstate regions of Lake Michigan. The weather was wonderfully chilly and the wine was tasty. I’d definitely recommend a visit to this friendly and creative state. Ready for another northern adventure to get out of this damned heat. Sounds like Alaska is the only place to escape – even Montreal is in the 90’s today! Aargh

So, if anybody out there is interested, I will be committing to at least 3 times a week of updates, links, etc. Please feel free to send along any helpful info regarding aging parents, dementia, etc…as we need all the help we can get!

Interesting Observation on Choice

Law should allow choice of death over dementia
Mike Thomas
April 25, 2011

We need a physician-assisted suicide law in Florida.

Only we should go beyond the laws approved by voters in Washington and Oregon.

They allow people with terminal diseases to obtain a lethal prescription of drugs from a doctor.

This does not include dementia patients. Our law should.

Individuals should be able to choose now that they would rather die with dignity than be shipped off to die of end-stage Alzheimer’s in a for-profit Medicaid warehouse.

This is not a sensational or even unreasonable sentiment.

Florida nursing homes were a national scandal in the 1980s. They were warehouses. An Orlando Sentinel investigation found countless cases of neglect, infected sores, sexual abuse, malnourishment and deaths. All too often, the victims were incapable of reporting the crimes. Despite numerous infractions, the state allowed some of the worst homes to stay open.

Legislators promised to “clean up the hellholes,” while the hellholes demanded protection from lawsuits.

Gov. Jeb Bush seemed to resolve the situation with this compromise. He put limits on how much a jury could award in lawsuits while increasing funding to beef up staffing at the homes.

Things seemed to get better.

But in 2004, Florida TaxWatch reported that nursing homes here, while ranked third nationally in staffing and 11th in overall quality, faced Medicaid cuts that threatened to undermine quality.

The report spelled out why this is important.

“Almost anyone that is working or middle-class will end up in a Medicaid-funded nursing home, due to the great drain on personal resources required,” wrote Tim Lynch, the author of the report. “It’s not just the poor. It’s you and me and our parents we’re talking about.”

Seven years after Lynch’s report, the situation is much worse.

The way it works if you go to a nursing home is that you start out on Medicare. When that runs out, you burn through your life savings, and then end up flat broke on Medicaid.

The Legislature is proposing deep cuts in Medicaid funding for nursing-home patients. This comes on top of federal Medicare cuts to nursing homes.

The homes have long used the higher reimbursement rates from Medicare patients to offset their losses on Medicaid patients.

Now there will be bigger losses and smaller offsets.

The homes argue their budgets will be so thin that they can’t afford the cost of litigation. They say the money spent fighting lawyers and paying abuse claims will be money taken away from patients. So lawmakers are pushing more tort reforms that basically will eliminate most of this litigation.

Unfortunately, as imperfect a system as it is, litigation does serve to keep the homes somewhat honest.

With that check ending, Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers also have moved to limit state oversight of the homes in the name of deregulation.

We are bringing back the hellholes.

To pretend anything else is an exercise in seeing no evil and hearing no evil.

It’s only going to get worse as baby boomers age and put more pressure on the system.

The cost of Medicaid is projected to grow much faster than tax revenues. Those with the smallest voices, those without the lobbyists, will get left further and further behind.

I can tell you who they will be.

About 75 percent of nursing-home residents suffer from dementia. Most are poor elderly women. Those who do not have nearby family members serving as their advocates will be prime candidates for neglect.

Nationally, there now are about 4.5 million people with Alzheimer’s disease, a number expected to grow to 14 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s makes up a little more than half of the dementia cases.

So you can see the scope of the problem, particularly with Florida’s aging population.

I’m not blasting Rick Scott or the Legislature. I’m not arguing that we pour unlimited funds into nursing homes. Our plundering of the next generation has to stop somewhere.

All I want is an opt-out clause in my living will.

If I become incompetent and my family no longer can care for me, I want to move on. I should be free to set up my own death panel of family and friends.

With my advanced and very strict instructions, I would trust them to make the call.

If you chose to hang around, I respect that and good luck to you.

mthomas@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5525.
Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

Dementia and/or Alzheimer’s

This informative article was published on Medhelp.org, explaining the difference between the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s”…

What is Dementia?
When large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to stop functioning and lose connections with other neurons, thereby disconnecting parts of the brain that normally work together, dementia is the result. It’s not a disease in itself, but rather a blanket term for a set of symptoms relating to loss of brain function. These symptoms may include:

•Memory loss
•Personality changes and loss of social skills
•Language problems like forgetting the names of familiar objects
•Behavioral problems like agitation, delusions and hallucination
•Flat mood, loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
•Difficulty solving problems and performing tasks that used to come easily
Memory loss is a common early symptom, but having it does not necessarily mean one has or will develop dementia. Dementia is only diagnosed when two or more brain functions — like memory, language, perception or cognitive skills like reason and judgement — are severely impaired.

Dementia can be caused by a number of different diseases including Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme disease and HIV/AIDS. Reactions to medications, nutritional deficiencies, infection, poisoning, hormone abnormalities and heart and lung problems have also been known to cause dementia, or dementia-like symptoms. However, the most common and well-known cause of dementia in people aged 65 and older is Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease results in degenerative dementia, meaning symptoms get worse over time and are generally irreversible. As the disease progresses, patients’ ability to perform basic motor functions gets inhibited. They may have difficulty swallowing and lose bladder and bowel control. Eventually, Alzheimer’s sufferers may not be able to recognize relatives or speak, and will typically need total care. The usual life expectancy for those with Alzheimer’s is 7-10 years after diagnosis.

The main physical marks of Alheimer’s Disease in the brain are abnormal clumps of tissue called amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of fibers called neurofibrillary tangles. It is unknown whether these structures are harmful or if they’re merely a by-product of the disease process that damages nerve cells. What is known is that more and more of the abnormalities appear as the disease gets worse. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is made when certain dementia symptoms are present, and other causes of dementia are not found. However, the only way to know for certain that a person had Alzheimer’s is to examine brain tissue for plaques and tangles after death.

Published April 12, 2011

Ombudsman Program on the Chopping Block

The Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell’s take on slashing the Ombudsman program in the state of Florida.

This, mostly volunteer, program costs the state very little and has done so much good for those seniors who cannot defend themselves from abuse. This issue is so worthy of the effort of calling and/or writing your congressmen/women. If we’re lucky, we’ll all be old someday and wouldn’t it be nice to know there is a program out there looking out for us!

SNAP – Nutrition Assistance for Elders

Jacksonville, FL – ElderSource announced that it is now accepting applications for ‘SNAP,’ the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for elders 60 years of age or older. SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, is not welfare but a program that helps stretch your food budget without taking away from any other benefits. In order to be eligible for the program, you must have a net monthly income of less than $903 or a combined income with your spouse of less than $1,215; you must be a U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen; and have countable household assets of less than $3,000 (not including your home, vehicle or life insurance policies). To apply for SNAP benefits over the phone, you will need to have ready your income statements, information about your assets, and proof that you are a Florida resident. Once you have gathered all of this information please call ElderSource at 1-888-242-4464 and ask to speak with a SNAP operator. Serving as the state-designated Area Agency on Aging and the Aging Resource Center for Northeast Florida, ElderSource’s mission is to empower individuals to age with independence and dignity by providing leadership, direction, advocacy and support for a comprehensive coordinated continuum of care. ElderSource serves as the focal point to which elders, their caregivers and the general public can turn for information, referral, assistance and answers related to aging issues. To reach our helpful staff or learn more about our elder care resources, please call (888) 242-4464 or visit our website at http://www.myeldersource.org

Cruising into the Sunset

If you can afford assisted living care, why not use that money and live on a cruise ship? After returning from a recent cruise, my husband and I decided we are not really “cruisers”, so to speak. We enjoyed our vacation and the ports of call; however, we found ourselves kind of bored during the “sea days” and realized we had an issue with sitting on a lounge chair on the deck and just chilling. We tried and it felt good for about thirty minutes but then we found we had to be in motion…of the two-legged kind, not just the motion of the ocean. Of course the ship was so huge there was plenty to see and experience but it was a “been there, done that” kind of vacation. The week was definitely a good value, however, as everything was taken care of…the food was beyond excellent, constant entertainment and the cabins were very adequate.

Even though we are happier with a more active vacation, we could see the value for someone older who might require some help in their everyday life. Compare a cruise to an assisted living facility, for example, and the cruise offers the same benefits at a comparable, or sometimes reduced, price. There is a medical team always on call; the food is phenomenal with healthy choices as well as indescribable desserts. Extra charges were for alcoholic and soft drinks, but if you’re a fan of iced tea, coffee or lemonade, you can drink all you want without any extra fees. On our particular cruise, tipping was added to the bill at the end, at the rate of $10 per day per person. That means travelers are not constantly looking at a beckoning open hand and feeling obligated to tip with each service.

There was a terrific spa on board with all kinds of state-of-the-art workout equipment, along with opportunities for massages and the like. There’s no excuse not to get some quality exercise while onboard, regardless of the weather.

The ship’s employees got to know us by name within a day or two so imagine staying on the same ship for months at a time. Being assigned a table at one of the dining rooms, your servers greet you by name and seem to have a great attitude about their job. The housekeeping staff is equally affable, also showing an appreciation for the fact that they have a job, not to mention the unique aspect of working on a floating city. We always felt safe on board which a senior would particularly appreciate.

We opted for the cheap way out and reserved an inner cabin, which means no windows. The size was perfectly adequate with a great shower in the roomy bathroom. Not having a window meant not wanting to spend much time in the cabin, however…for a few hundred more a porthole, or balcony would have been great. If one would decide to spend several months on a ship, we think a window would be necessary.

Pricewise, our trip started at $600 per person for a 7 night trip with 3 ports of call in the Western Caribbean. Add another $10 per day per person for tips and you have $670. That’s about as cheap as you can get for a weeklong cruise. However, once you’ve taken your first cruise, the cruise line will give you all kinds of bennies to get you back onboard. We had the option of putting $100 down on our next cruise, fully refundable and you didn’t have to decide on a date, with the bonus of $200 shipboard credit. That’s a big bonus if you like to drink or want to avail yourself of the extras. So you’re looking at $2,680 a month. You can’t buy a whole lot of time in an assisted living facility for that kind of dough.

Of course, one has to be quite independent and pretty much able to get around on their own. We saw several passengers in wheelchairs so the ship is wheelchair-accessible if needed. It sounds like a great way to while away your final years. No worry about the yard, housework, cooking…and the entertainment is great and always changing. If you’re a social butterfly, even better…think of all the new friendships you could make…your Christmas card list will be bursting at the seams!

Medicaid or Private Pay…there are options

We met with Hallie Zobel to discuss the financial aspects of my parents going into an assisted living facility (ALF). First the topic was Medicaid. Many nice long term care facilities which include independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing, have Medicaid units among the private pay rooms. Hearing the term Medicaid, one might think of destitute individuals who qualify for Medicaid benefits due to their economic issues. There is also a portion of Medicaid called the Institutional Care Program (ICP) which, in Florida, is overseen by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). In order to qualify, elders must be 65 years of age or older; their home must be worth less than $500,000; they must have less than $2,000 cash. Their home, car, wedding and engagement rings are not included in their assets. Their gross monthly income must not exceed $2,022 ($4,044 for a couple). The spouse of the individual applying for ICP benefits can hold assets in the amount of $109,560 in his or her name, so it would behoove mom to have her own bank account and transfer any cash assets over to her name. If the individual has more than the $2,000 in cash assets, there are ways to distribute the funds and, basically, hide them. Since 2007 the laws have changed gifting. Used to be one could sign over large amounts of money and properties to family members and not have it counted towards their cash assets. This can still be done but it has to be done more than five years prior to their application. Hallie listed many ways to divert funds legally so the person can qualify; loopholes with names like Qualified Income Trust, Special Needs Trust, Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. They could also purchase an adult child’s home and live in it one full year to qualify. Spending down is also an option if the money goes towards upgrades on their home – renovating a kitchen, bathroom, adding a room, etc. (A good resource for questions about elder care issues is Caring.com.)

Once we determined that neither mom nor dad were needing a Skilled Nursing Facility yet or an ALF memory care facility, we broke down their monthly income to see if they could afford a place where they could live together in a small apartment as part of an ALF scenario. Since dad is a Foreign War Veteran, he would qualify for a program called Aid and Attendance through the Veterans Administration. The VA assists with funding a stay in an ALF along with surviving spouse benefits – these benefits amount to around $1,500 to $1,900 per month. That’s a nice chunk of $$ to help with monthly ALF expenses.

We were told about a few facilities in our area which are quite nice but don’t require a large buy-in from the potential resident. In a perfect world our parents would be in an ALF sharing a small apartment, having meals supplied in a central dining room, with activities available along with opportunities to have social encounters upon stepping outside the apartment. Of course, medical care being close by in case of need would be great.

All of this is not relevant, however, if we cannot convince dad that a move like this would be beneficial to both he and mom. Mother seems to be amenable to the idea but dad will be another story. They have such a nice condo on Lake Howell with a killer view and central location. Dad likes to take 2 mile walks which would be safer if he weren’t alone. It would be great for them both to stay in their own house but the dementia will probably preclude them from that scenario in the not too distant future.

Next on our agenda is to try and talk dad into signing over a Power of Attorney to Patty or I. He drifts in and out of thinking that we are all out to get his money and are just waiting for him to die. That, of course, is not the case but one cannot argue with dementia. More to come…

Grilled Cheese Social

Whether or not you’re part of the “Sandwich Generation”, you’ll love this Grilled Cheese Social website – when you need some comfort food, go with grilled cheese sandwiches. McKenzie’s website is full of yummy recipes…some bizarre…but all are creative. We are lucky to be neighbors of her parents, Sheila and Brett, and get to witness her creativity on their porch from time to time.

The Dagwood Generation

 We’ve all heard of the ‘Sandwich Generation’ but we might take it one step further and call it the ‘Dagwood Generation’. When you are squeezed between aging parents, children and then add grandchildren to the mix, you might feel like you are getting lost among the layers of needy family members. Are there times when you just want to escape to Tahiti and leave it all behind? You know you do….but we are all grateful to have our parents still alive and love those grandchildren…so we make ourselves available to all and put our future plans and travels on hold for a while.

However, we need to take time for ourselves, get away from all the drama and come back refreshed and ready for the next crisis. I am lucky to have a very supportive sister who shares helping with our parents’ issues.  She, however, bears the brunt of the burden as she lives only 10 minutes away and we are located an hour from their house. We try to make it into town at least once a week to take mom out shopping or get them to an appointment but Patty is on call if there is an urgent need to drop everything and get over there.

A little background with our parents’ situation…mom and dad are in their mid-eighties with dad suffering from vascular dementia. We suppose he’s beyond the early stages of this disease as sometimes he mistakes my mother with his sister, who passed away last year at the age of 93. Last week my sister and mom walked into the doctor’s office with him and he announced he was being escorted by his two sisters!

This is a man who did not graduate from high school, joined the army during WW II, and went to TV repair school upon his return, working on the first television sets to be sold. Several years later he found himself getting his high school diploma, bachelor’s degree and on to his master’s degree when he was in his fifties. He is an inspiration to me as I also finished college late in life, which was, what I consider, one of my life’s major accomplishments. Now, he cannot keep his bank account straight and, when asked how old he is, might say 56, instead of 86. This sometimes causes problems in the bedroom as he thinks he is still sexually active which mom nips in the bud, so to speak.

Next week my mom, sister and I will visit an attorney’s practice which specializes in elder issues. We met with them before mom’s open heart surgery last summer to obtain a Power of Attorney in case she was incapacitated by the procedure. Unfortunately, we could not get one on dad as the attorney questioned his ability to decide matters for himself. We were impressed with their firm and are now returning for a lengthy visit to figure out the next steps. They suggested we do not bring dad as he may be confused by the whole episode. Lately he has been ranted to mom that the three of us are just waiting for him to die so we can get his money. Five years ago he would have blanched at the idea of making such a claim and we have to realize that he is not in his right mind. However, it is difficult for mom to let such comments slip by without a retort. The one thing I learned while studying aging issues was to never, ever, argue with someone dealing with dementia.

I’ll continue to update our progress through this journey with our parents and will appreciate any and all comments and advice. We hope this blog will help others going through this painful search.