Category Archives: Family-Friends-Home

Post related to our family and close friends and projects around the house.

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NOTE:  There are four (4) photos with captions in this post, taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

MONDAY 15 – SUNDAY 21 April 2024 — The third week of April

 

Monday 15 … TAX DAY!

  • Nothing of note on our calendar for today. Personal tax returns needed to be postmarked by midnight, but Linda had already filed or delivered all of the returns that she prepared.

 

Tuesday 16 … A delivery, a project, and a guest.

  • … The towable lawn rake was delivered today by XPO. The truck had a lift-gate service and dolly, so the driver was able to unload it and move it into the garage.  ABIR, the shipping weight was about 180 lbs., so I was glad to have this service.
  • Delivery of the lawn rake meant that I now had a project assembling it and connecting it to the lawn tractor. I had previously moved the F-150 out of the garage to make room for all of this so I could work on it inside.
  • Our first Boondockers Welcome (BdW) guest, RamTam9, arrived today.
  • Linda met Diane at the Metropark for their weekly walk.

 

Wednesday 17 … The project continues; and a birthday.

  • … ABIR, I unpacked the lawn rake and did some preliminary assembly, but did not finish the job until the next day. I also needed (wanted) to get a properly sized bolt and lock-nut to secure it to the pin hitch on the lawn tractor.
  • Today was Nancy’s birthday. Happy birthday, Nancy!

 

 

Some of the components for the towable lawn rake.  (The furniture was eventually picked up by our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.)

More lawn rake components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nuts and bolts of the lawn rake, literally.

 

Thursday 18 … Dinner with friends.

  • Our BdW guests left for their next destination.
  • We had dinner at John and Diane’s house and visited well into the evening.

 

The assembled lawn rake attached to the Cub Cadet lawn tractor, ready to clean up branches, twigs, and leaves around the property.  I do not recall when I actually used it for the first time, but it was relatively soon after this photo was taken on the 18th.

 

Friday 19 …

  • I think Linda started proofreading the backlog of blog post drafts, beginning with our AK-HI cruise. (I did not start uploading them to our WordPress site until she was well-along with this work as I wanted to post them in chronological order and wanted all of them ready to go for any given time period or event, such as this cruise.)
  • I continued to trim trees that were not part of the work done by Davey Tree Service
  • I arranged for Keith to do the first mowing of the property this year in early May.

 

Saturday 20 …Another BdW guest, and continued work on the property.

  • Our second Boondockers Welcome guest of the season arrived today; WildCoddieWamplers.
  • I suspect that we spent at least part of the day continuing with the tree trimming and yard clean up, but we do not tend to record things like that in our calendar.

 

Sunday 21 … Just another day at home.

  • Nothing of note on our calendar today. We might have been busy, or we might have relaxed, or we might have visited with our BdW guest, or all three, or none of these things, or something else entirely.  No idea.

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NOTE:  This post is mostly narrative, but there are two (2) photos with captions.  Photos were taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

MONDAY 08 – SUNDAY 14 April 2024 — The second week of April

 

Monday 08 … A solar eclipse, oh my!

  • I called Lakeside Service Company to set up an appointment for annual service on the air-conditioner portion of the HVAC unit for our library. The temperature has to be above 45 deg. F for them to test the system, so I made an afternoon appointment for the first week of May.
  • We observed the solar eclipse from home. It was not total at our location, so not total darkness and no corona or stars, but it was still interesting to see.  We thought about driving south, perhaps as far as Bowling Green, Ohio but decided against it.  Probably for the best as it turned out, as there were reports of people taking many, many hours to get home from there.  We tried to photograph it with our phones using a neutral density filter, but were not really equipped for this and the photos did not turn out very well.

 

Our new Rec/TV room furniture, minus the cardboard and Styrofoam packaging.  (Photo from 05 April.)

 

Another view of the Rec/TV room furniture and its relationship to the location of the TV/monitor and associated equipment.  (Photo from 05 April.)

 

Tuesday 09 … I took care of a couple of errands and a major task (with Linda’s help).

  • As I headed out to take care of the errands, I performed my first turtle rescue of the season. I spotted a small turtle on our street just east of our house.  It was crossing the road from the small swampy area on the south side to the pond on the north side.  I picked it up and placed in on the north side, well away from the edge of the road.  I know that one has to exercise great care when doing this on any road, especially with heavier and/or faster traffic, but I am always dismayed by the utter disregard that most drivers seem have for these small, vulnerable creatures, who are not evolved to deal with motor vehicles and roadways.
  • My first errand was a visit to our local Tractor Supply Company store. I was looking for a tow behind lawn rake with a pin-hitch that would work with our lawn tractor/mower.  They had the one I wanted online, and I had seen one in the local store many months ago, so I was hoping they still had one in the store.  They did not, so I ordered one for delivery to our house.  Delivery was by freight truck, and would take about two weeks to get here.  Oh well; there was rain in the forecast for the later part of this week, so I would be lucky if the property is even dry enough to use it when it arrives.
  • Errand number two was a visit to our local Rural King store for some work clothes. I put on few pounds during 2023 and early 2024, mostly due to dining on cruise ships, and I needed some work trousers with a slightly larger waist size.  I ended up buying two pairs of bib overalls; built-in suspenders and no belt.  Perfect!
  • Our major task was to disassemble and clean (wash) all of the bird feeders. I handled the disassembly and brushing out (both done outdoors) and Linda handled the cleaning (inside).  When they were dry, I reassembled them and then filled them with the appropriate feed.  We did not fill the hummingbird feeder, as Linda’s research indicated that they had only just made it to southern Ohio.  We decided that the Oriole feeder needed to be replaced so Linda found one on Amazon and ordered it, along with some kitty litter.  Yup, we decided to set up a litter tray for Cabela and see how that goes.
  • Sometime during the day, I received our first Boondockers Welcome (BdW) stay request for the 2024 season; one-night on Friday 26 April. Our site is typically “blocked out” on our hosting calendar from the beginning of fall until the end of winter, plus any time we are traveling, but the exact dates vary each year.  We also block it out if we have projects with workers on site, or have social gatherings.  This year, we kept our guest site blocked out through April 15.

 

Wednesday 10 … early release, vision, streaming.

  • We received notifications that our vision examinations, set for tomorrow, needed to be rescheduled. Linda called the clinic and got us back-to-back appointments with an optometrist the last full week of the month.
  • Today was an “early release” day for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, so Linda was on-tap to drive down and retrieve the grand-daughters from their respective buildings. Because she handles child care when needed, she sees the girls more often than I do, so I decided to go along and get some grand-daughter time.
  • After dinner we were discussing what to watch on TV/streaming and decided to subscribe to Netflix. We watched Netflix a lot during the CoVID-19 pandemic, and have some favorite programs that are only available there.  Our profile was part of a friends’ account, however, and Netflix has since clamped down on that arrangement, so we needed our own account.  We set up two-factor authentication (2-FA) for the account, something we are gradually doing with most of our online accounts, along with setting up Passkeys to use in place of usernames and passwords.

 

Thursday 11 … rain, Rx’s, deliveries, and another BdW stay request.

  • Rain started overnight and continued through the day and evening, so we did not get any outside work done today.
  • My new blood pressure medication prescription arrived, but it was not exactly what I expected. My new doctor told me during my visit last week that he was raising my dosage from 10 mg per day to 20 mg per day.  I watched him type in the new prescription, but I could not see what he was typing.  When I looked at the bottle, it was for a 20 mg tablet, but the instructions said to “take 1/2 pill daily.”  Oh oh.  I checked and, sure enough, the bottle only contained 45 pills and could not be refilled for 90 days.  In other words, I had enough medication to take 10 mg per day (my original dosage) for 90 days, but only enough to take 20 mg per day for 45 days.  This was not what I expected and not what I needed based on what the doctor told me to my face.  I called the number for our mail-order pharmacy (OptumRx) to verify that they had filled the prescription as submitted.  They had, and there was nothing they could do other than suggest I contact my doctor.  Since this was not an emergency, I messaged him about the situation  via UofMH’s version of the EPIC portal.  I had still not received a reply to my earlier message from late last week, and I did not expect one right away to this new one, but it would be an understatement to say that I was a bit miffed at this point about the situation, and the lack of a timely response.  I decided to wait until next week to follow up with a phone call.
  • We had an Amazon delivery of coffee pods, Red Lentils, and other such things. Amazon Prime trucks seem to stop at our house a lot.
  • Sometime during the day, I received our second Boondockers Welcome request for the 2024 season. This one was for one-night on April 16, the first day for which a stay request could be requested.

 

Friday 12 … More rain, and a walk (but not in the rain).

  • The rain continued overnight and into today, so Linda met Diane at the mall to get their steps in. She stopped at the grocery store on the way home to re-provision fresh fruits and vegetables.  Or vegan (whole-food plant-based) diet require more frequent visits to the store for fresh items.
  • I hung out at the house and worked on our blog. An Amazon delivery showed up with our kitty litter and new Oriole feeder.  Amazon Prime trucks are on our street almost every day, sometimes more than once, and we do not have that many houses in our little subdivision.

 

Saturday 13 … Nothing of note.

  • There was nothing of note on our calendar for today. I’m sure we did something, probably many somethings, but whatever we did is lost to the sands of time.

 

Sunday 14 … A partial family get-together.

  • Our son and his family were here for brunch/visit, and to pick up a printout of their 2023 tax returns.

20240401-07_Spring-is-finally-here

NOTE:  There are no photos for this post, but it is quite long.

 

MONDAY 01 – SUNDAY 07 April 2024 — Transitioning into Spring

 

Although the first day of Spring in 2024 was officially March 19th, here in SE lower Michigan, April is the month when winter really transitions into spring.  During the first full week of April, we were still having overnight low temperatures below freezing along with episodes of light snow.  But we also heard the “spring peepers” (frogs) start their evening mating chorus.  Indeed, spring is heralded as much by sights, sounds, and smells as it is by hours of sunlight and seasonal weather.

Notable among the sounds, along with the spring peepers, was the cacophony of gaggles of Canada Geese, the unmistakable calls of the Sandhill Crane, other bird song, and the loud drumming of distant woodpeckers, the latter suggesting that Pileated Woodpeckers were in the area.  Robins had already appeared in late March.  Plants started erupting from the ground, trees/bushes started to flower, and the grass started to grow, all sure signs of spring.  (Our property, however, was still too wet to mow, which is one of the challenges of spring in this part of Michigan.)

While we waited for warmer/drier weather, so we could work outside comfortably, and took care of several important tasks during the first week of the month.  Although a bit mundane, we broke down a large amount of corrugated cardboard packaging and recycled it; all of it accumulated from various things we have purchased over the last many months.

We have now lived “in the country” for over a decade, some 30 miles farther out from the downtown hub of the Detroit metropolitan area than our previous house.  During that time, we have maintained core medical, dental, optical, and veterinary services with the providers we have used for a long time; 48 years in the case of the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) and almost as long for the others.  Those providers are now anywhere from 30 to 50 miles from our house, and getting to those locations has become ever more challenging for us because of traffic, road construction, and weather.  We have talked about finding closer, more convenient, providers for a while now but, absent a compelling reason to change, it’s always been easier to stick with what we have.  The travel distance/time/difficulty has finally become compelling.  The same is true of lawyers, financial advisors, car mechanics, house and property service providers, etc., of course  We purchased our current vehicles locally and have them serviced by those dealerships, about 4 miles from our house and property maintenance providers come to us.  We need to find an attorney in our area who specializes in estates, wills, trusts, and elder law, but have not gotten around to it yet.  Although not local, we are very satisfied with our financial advisors.  We mostly interact with them via e-mail, phone, and ZOOM calls, but make in-person appointments if we are going to be in the St. Louis, Missouri area.

Top of the list was my decision to change my (Bruce’s) primary care provider.  While I wanted a more convenient location I also wanted a more specialized focus.  I turned 72 this year, and although my health is generally good and I feel fine (most of the time), I am also realistic about being in my 8th decade and part way into my 73rd trip around the sun.  It seemed an appropriate time to move my care to a clinic with a specialized focus on the health issues of the elderly.  (I would have liked a setting that was also focused on men’s health and plant-based nutrition, but that proved to be a bridge to far.)

Yes, both of us are now considered “elderly.”  Indeed, we entered that category (broadly speaking) when we turned 65.  I might not be “old” yet (in my mind), but I plan to be someday, and want to be set up in advance with appropriate medical care.  After checking what was available from the HFHS and the University of Michigan Health System (UofMH), I decided to move to the Geriatric clinic at UofMH in Ann Arbor.  As a bonus, UofMH also has clinics for some specialty services in Brighton, the city closest to our home.

Early in the first week of April, I had my first appointment with my new doctor (Dr. N), and it was very interesting.  He is Nigerian, and did his medical training in London, England.  Besides getting acquainted, checking the usual things, ordering comprehensive blood tests, and modifying my blood pressure medication dosage, he examined strength, range of motion, and gait (motion and balance), this being a specific interest of his.

While I was there, the med-tech (MT-V) removed impacted/hardened wax from my left ear using a 50/50 solution of diluted hydrogen peroxide and warm water.  I had already had a “new patient” intake ZOOM call with a social worker (SW-S) the week before, but had a second, in-person, meeting with a social worker (SW-A) as the first part of my new patient office visit.  SW-A confirmed some of the things I had self-reported or told SW-S, but her main purpose in seeing me was to administer the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA).  (She did not identify it as such at the time, but Linda found it online afterwards and I confirmed that it was the exact set of questions and tasks administered to me.)  This is one of those assessments where you are not supposed to practice in advance, which might distort the results.  That would not be in my best interest anyway; what I want from such an assessment is an accurate evaluation of cognitive status.

Starting at age 65, a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit is supposed to include a cognitive assessment, but this is the first time I have had such an evaluation, and Linda has never had one.  I was slightly apprehensive at first—no one wants to have problems with a cognitive evaluation—but it was interesting and I apparently did okay.  More to the point, however, is that I really appreciated being evaluated to establish a baseline with my new doctor, and look forward to repeating this from time-to-time.  Indeed, the fact that the UofMH-Geriatric center includes social workers as integral team members is a big deal and underscored that I had made a good choice.  Mental decline is often a major health issue as people live through their 70’s, 80’s, and into their 90’s, and this decline can impact their physical, emotional, and social health as well.  Early detection means earlier treatment, including changes in lifestyle and living arrangements, with the possibility of better outcomes.

As long as we were dealing with medical arrangements, we checked out the UofM Kellogg Eye Institute (UM-KEI), a world-class center for eye health, that came highly recommended by a neighbor of ours who is a nurse.  The main Institute is in Ann Arbor, as is the case for all things UofM Medicine, but they have a satellite clinic in the UofMH specialty clinic closest to our house.  The specialty care facility is less than an eight-mile drive with no highways.  We made appointments for both of us to have routine vision/eye examinations in the second week of April and get new prescriptions for glasses.  Linda definitely needs new spectacles, and I probably do too.  The only downside to moving our eye care here is that they do not accept our EyeMed vision insurance.  We can submit bills for services to the insurance plan and get some reimbursement, but we will likely get our glasses at one of the local optical shops that accepts our insurance.  It’s just easier that way, and I think we get slightly better insurance coverage as well.

Linda has her ENT/audiology services through the Michigan Ear Institute, which is affiliated with Ascension/Providence, located in the northwest suburban part of the Detroit metropolitan area.  Although not as convenient, she really likes her doctor and audiologist, who did her Cochlear implant surgery and maintains her Cochlear and ReSound hearing aids, respectively.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had my hearing tested and thought it was probably time to do that.  UofMH also has an audiology clinic in the nearby specialty center, so I called to make an appointment.  Unlike the vision/eye exam, however, audiology requires a referral.  I messaged my new doctor and asked for one, but did not have a reply by the end of the week.

In terms of medical providers, we are still considering what to do about dentistry.  Our dentist’s office is 50 miles from our house and getting there takes over an hour on some combination of highways and surface streets.  It’s road construction season in Michigan.  This year is a dozy, and the next year or so will be just as bad.  All of the reasonable routes into Metro Detroit have major construction projects in process, and are usually chocked with traffic, so getting there is very inconvenient and frustrating.  But we have been treated by this clinic for almost 50 years; initially by our current dentist’s father, and now the son, who is the 3rd generation to have the practice.  It’s a good clinic in every way, and it’s hard to walk away from that, but it’s just not convenient for us anymore.  Unless we have some dental issue, we won’t have to go there again until early September for our bi-annual cleanings, so we have time to figure out what to do.  My guess is we will keep the September appointments and deal with changes next year.

Along the same lines, we have used the same veterinary clinic, near our previous home, for over 40 years.  That location is now 35 miles from where we live, with the same attendant road construction projects and traffic issues.  When we lost our last cat (Juniper) we decided we would not get another pet, which would have made the issue moot.  Cabela (the cat) had different ideas, however, and has effectively adopted us.  She originally belonged to the neighbors across the street before they moved and left her behind.  We know that she had two litters of kittens and was then spayed, and we know what veterinary clinic in our area was used for these services.  We will eventually need to get her examined and inoculated, and will probably use the same local clinic since they (should) have that history in the files.

In terms of non-medical things, we took a large load of corrugated cardboard and Styrofoam to our local recycling center.  It always feels good to get this stuff out of the house without throwing it in the trash.

Other tasks during the first week of the month included:

  • Taking the cover off of the outdoor furniture set and cleaning it (the cover). I also took all of the bird feeders down from their hangars in preparation for cleaning them and putting them back in service.  We have always suspected that the many birds who come to our yard are return visitors if they have survived the winter and the journey back.  One of the challenges this year will be where to put bird feed for the Mourning Doves.  They are ground feeders, which poses a dilemma now that Cabela has claimed our house and yard as her own.  She is a very skilled and determined huntress.
  • Getting the lawn tractor/mower ready to use. We have a lawn tractor (riding lawn mower), so one of my tasks over the first week of the month was putting it back in operational condition.  This specifically involved re-installing the battery.  The tractor lives in the shed during the winter, but the shed does not have electricity (yet).  As such, I bring the battery into the garage, which is heated and stays above freezing, and where I can attach it to a maintenance charger.
  • Linda wrapped up several tax returns and mailed them to the family members and friends who are out-of-state so they could sign them and mail them to the IRS. For family and friends in Michigan, she files most of them electronically, or delivers them in person.
  • Linda also continued to work on period and year-end accounting tasks for the bakery, where she retired as the controller a little over a decade ago. Like all accounting and tax-related work, January through April tend to be the busiest time of the year, but the period accounting work is steady and evenly distributed over the calendar year.  She also works on special projects, as needed.  Those are harder to plan for, but she works closely with the controller of the bakery (who was hired when Linda retired) and lets him know when we will be traveling.  She can do much of the period accounting work remotely, but year-end work is more difficult, and special projects can be a challenge depending on what they are.

Our lawn maintenance guy (Keith) texted me last month to let me know that he was ready to start mowing for the season whenever we were, but the yard soil is still very wet, and we are at least a few weeks away from having him start mowing.  Indeed, we had snow again late in the week; not much, but it was still moisture that ended up in the ground.  The snow seems to be alternating with rain, but no surprise there.  April is typically our rainiest month, but we can have ice storms as late as early May, and we have had years where Keith could not mow the west part of the property until sometime in June.  (That was before Phil installed a French drain in that part of the property, so Keith can now usually get started sometime in May.)

We have used Keith for all but our first year in this house.  He does a great job and does not ask for a contract or pre-paid amount for the season; we just pay him each time he mows.  He doesn’t mind if we occasionally have him skip a week, and will adjust his schedule and/or make an extra visit, if we ask and he is able to do so.  We don’t do that unless we have to, and skipping weeks usually corresponds to either very wet conditions, making the lawn un-mowable, or conditions when the grass is not growing very quickly, such as an extended summer dry spell or late in the season as fall gives way to winter.  The only reason we would ask for an extra mowing is if we had an important weekend gathering, wanted the grass cut on Friday so it looked nice, and I did not have time to do it myself.  Our usual day is Tuesday.

20240301-31_Return-to-home-life_the-end-of-Winter

NOTE:  This post contains 20 photos with captions and some narrative.  All photos were taken by me (Bruce) using a Google Pixel 6 Pro, except for the last one, which was taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.

 

March 2024 — Return to normal home life; tree pruning and house/home/family stuff

Upon returning from our Disney DREAM family cruise at the end of last month, we quickly settled back into the routine of normal home life.  Besides the usual chores of cooking, laundry, paying bills, and tending to the cat (Cabela), this included extensive work catching up on blog posts (which included processing a LOT of photographs), making and attending appointments (medical/dental, automotive), providing child care (Ann Arbor public schools were on spring break the last full week of the month), hosting or attending get-togethers with friends (walking, dinner, phone chats, and ZOOM), doing some travel planning (for the fall and next year), and a few special projects.

Special projects included the following:

  1. A chat with Phil Jarrell of Precision Grading to firm up trenching and grading work he will do for us this year, including a French Drain and sump drainage in the back yard.
  2. Taking delivery of the new furniture that we ordered last month for our recreation/TV room.
  3. Purchasing comprehensive travel insurance from Allianz.
  4. Getting CoVID-19 booster injections.
  5. Successfully booking a full-hookup site at Wilderness State Park (Michigan) for a couple of weeks this September.
  6. Meeting with Dan from Everlast Doors & More to firm up our options for new garage doors.
  7. I (Bruce) also signed up for the MyUofMHealth Portal and completed a new patient intake ZOOM meeting with a social worker in advance of my early April visit with my new primary care physician in the Geriatric clinic at UofM Health in Ann Arbor.

Most of the photos that follow, however, relate to one special project on March 11 and 12.  Not too long ago we contracted with Davey Tree Service (DTS) for “dormant season pruning.”  This term applies to the pruning of trees that must be done between late fall and early spring; in our case, mostly Oak, Ash, and Maple trees.  (Elm trees, and perhaps some other hardwood species, also require dormant season pruning, but we do not have any of those on our property.)  We do have a lot of Oak trees, however, and we still have some living Ash trees.

It doesn’t hurt to prune other trees during this same period of time, so we contracted to have DTS do some fairly extensive trimming, including the large grove of diverse trees in the northwest portion of the property.  This stand of trees had not been professionally pruned under our ownership of the property, and I doubt that previous owners ever hired anyone to do this work.  Over the years, I have done what I could removing deadwood with a pole saw or chainsaw, but these trees are large/tall and needed more serious attention, especially higher up where I cannot reach.  We did not have DTS prune most of the pine and fir trees, however, as they can be trimmed any time of year, and I can usually do that myself.

In addition to the debris from their own work, DTS cleaned up most of the brush piles that we had created around the property over the last many years.  I think we had 13 of them, and they disposed of at least eight (8), but it might have been 9 or 10.  That meant we did not have to cut them up, transport them to our “burn pile,” and set them ablaze.  Money well spent, in our opinion.

 

A boom truck positioned to work on the Oak trees near of east driveway entrance.  The small tracked vehicle, left-center, has claws on the front for picking up limbs, branches, and other related debris and moving it to the chipper/truck.

 

The chipper and truck in the east section of the pull-through driveway in front of the house.

 

Looking west at the boom truck positioned in the street just beyond (west of) our center driveway entrance.  Most of the large trees that are visible here are Oak trees.  The crew has set out orange safety cones around the truck as well as “Workers Ahead” signs.  DTS is a very safety conscious company that uses good equipment and knowledgeable, well-trained crew.

 

The tracked brush loader moving limbs and branches to the chipper, visible in the lower right corner of the frame.

 

A view of the bucket truck looking east.  As mention in a previous caption, DTS is very safety conscious.

 

The crew leader studies the Ash tree behind our house.  The central trunk above the large branches is dead.  It’s unattractive and not good for the tree, so it will be removed.  DTS cannot get its boom truck back here without damaging the yard, so the crew will climb the tree using climbing gear.  DTS’s technicians do NOT use spikes to climb trees, something we very much appreciate.

 

This is the Tulip tree behind our house.  (These are often called Tulip Poplars, but that is incorrect as they are not poplar trees).  Again, climbing gear was used to get up into the tree.  This tree had a lot of deadwood to be removed.  Unfortunately, the entire southern trunk (closest to the house) is dead.

 

A wider view of the back of our house and the work being done on some of the trees.  L-2-R:  Tulip tree, Mountain Hickory, and Ash.  Barely visible at the left edge of the frame is our Crimson King Norway Maple, which also got some deadwood removal and decorative pruning.

 

The Locust tree at the SE corner of our house.  This tree tends to put out lower branches that swoop down, posing a risk to someone (like me or Keith, our lawn care guy) hitting their head when operating a riding lawn mower.  DTS has very nicely trimmed it up.  Not visible in this photo are the power and phone lines that are just out of the frame at the top and relatively close to the tree.  Dave is not allowed to work on any limbs or branches within a certain distance (10’ I think) of the power lines.  Again, it’s a safety thing, and might be a power company requirement.

 

Our small stand of Black Walnut trees in the yard ENE of the NE corner of the house.  Barely visible just below the center of the frame is a pile of logs, the remnants of a Pear tree that was long dead.  We try not to remove dead trees that show signs of use by woodpeckers, squirrels or other critters looking for food or shelter, but at some point they have to come down.

 

The nicely pruned Crimson King Norway Maple.  This is a beautiful tree when it’s leafed out, but they grow prolifically, and in a somewhat tangled way.  As such, they require a lot of maintenance to keep them under control and attractive.  They are also not native to this part of Michigan, and are considered somewhat invasive.  I do as much of that as I can with this tree, but it was nice to have the DTS professionals have a go at it.

 

I just liked the composition and exposure of this photo.  It’s hard to provide a context for it, but basically this tree had a long, large limb that was rubbing on the trunk of a nearby pine tree and damaging the pine tree.  Removing the limb ensured the health of the affected pine tree, and opened up the area where the limb had been to allow light to get to other adjacent trees.

 

A portion of the stand of trees in the northwest part of our property.  The crew leader and the newest hire are discussing how to approach pruning the tree closest to them.

 

The crew leader (L) explaining to the new guy (R) how to prune this tree.  I walked over and ended up getting a lesson in how to properly prune a limb or large branch.  Basically, an enlarged area called a “collar” forms around the base of the limb and, ideally, the limb needs to be cut cleanly right at the collar without cutting into the collar, and without leaving any of the limb protruding.  ABIR, the tree produces four (4) different types of growth to heal the wound left by the removal of the limb, and pruning it in this way maximizes the tree’s ability to do that.  Even with hiring DTS, I still end doing a lot of pruning every year, so I was grateful to have this in-person lesson.

 

The boom-truck and the chipper/truck combination have moved just beyond the third/west driveway entrance (by the barn) to work on the trees on the north side of the road.  The trees on the left side of the road (and the grassy area leading up to our neighbor’s pole barn) are also part of our property.  This portion of the property also includes a stand of large Oak trees, but it was not part of the work order for this job.  Next year, probably, maybe, hopefully.

 

Another view of the trees in the northwest portion of the property, to the W and NW of the barn, showing the telltale signs of having been pruned.

 

A wider view of some of the trees in the northwest portion of the property.  Showing this entire area required a panorama, which I could not take as the DTS crew was moving around as they worked.

 

The new furniture for our recreation/TV room.  L-2-R:  Metal end table with metal lamp, 3-cushion sofa with two power loungers (one each end), metal end table with metal lamp, 2-cushion love seat with two power loungers, metal coffee table.  We purchased custom cut protective translucent matts from Linovent for the top surface of each of the three tables.  The matts feature beveled edges and appear to be a high-quality product.

 

A panoramic view of the new furniture in the recreation/TV room showing its relationship to the repositioned television set and associated equipment.  As a result of this rearrangement, both of us now have the same viewing angle and distance from the TV, with no glare from the lighting, and much more comfortable/adjustable furniture to sit on.  We really liked our old furniture, but it was over 30 years old, and we were ready for a change.  The old furniture was still serviceable, and will be donated to the local Habitat For Humanity ReStore, if they will take it, or somewhere else if they won’t.

 

Linda provided childcare for a week at the end of the month while the Ann Arbor Public Schools were on spring break.  She snapped this photo of Madeline (L) reading a book about dinosaurs to Sadie (R) at their house.  (Photo by Linda)

 

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NOTE:  This post has 11 photos with captions interspersed with narrative.  The photos are in chronological order, but do not always correspond to the closest text.  Photos by me (Brue) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 28 February (T8-C6) — Debarkation & Flying Home

 

Cruises always end and, like any vacation trip packed with things to do, there is a sadness at it being over combined with a sense of relief (exhaustion?) that’s it’s done (for now) and the anticipation of returning to “normal” life.  We have always experienced that same combination of emotions at RV rallies, both small and large.

The Disney DREAM is back at the dock at the Disney Cruise terminal in Port Hollywood, Florida.  Looking aft from out stateroom balcony we see the RUBY Princess (Princess Cruise Line) at dock.  (In late January of this year we booked a repositioning and British Isles cruise on the REGAL Princess for April 2025.)

The Disney Dream returned to Port Hollywood early in the morning and was docked by sunrise.  Debarkation is generally less of a hassle than embarkation, which includes the check-in process, but it can also be somewhat abrupt.  One gets the sense of “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.”  Or, as my parents relayed to us after their visit to Hawaii, where they were presented with leis when stepping off the plane and greeted with “Welcome to Hawaii, enjoy your visit, go home.”  (True story.)

A wider view of the Disney Cruise terminal at Port Hollywood showing some of the activity taking place on the dock prior to debarkation of passengers.  The full length of the RUBY Princess is visible.

Our stateroom on the Disney DREAM looking in from the balcony doorwall.

While Disney tries to make guests feel welcomed everywhere, and at all times, the reality of a cruise ship is that they need ALL guests off the ship as soon as possible so they can “turn it around,” i.e., prepare it for the guests embarking for the next cruise, which usually leaves that same day by late afternoon or early evening.  While guests are getting off the ship, large amounts of trash are being off-loaded, and large quantities of supplies—including food, beverages, and fuel—are being taken on-board.  It’s quite an operation, and I always find it interesting to get a glimpse of it.  For me, at least, seeing these operations does not detract from the “magic” or luxury of the cruise experience.  Indeed, one of the best cruise ship experiences I have had was the “behind the scenes” tour of the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) JOY on our Panama Canal cruise with Paul and Nancy.  Cruise ships are floating cities and amazing machines, with everything on-board to provide the necessities and comforts of life, including culture and entertainment.  How all of these systems function is fascinating to me.

The “bath” room in our Disney DREAM stateroom, which had an actual bathtub and included a sink.  This made perfect sense as these staterooms can accommodate more than two people, some of whom are often children, and younger children need a bathtub rather than a shower.

We were off the ship at 9 AM, the scheduled time for our debarkation group.  We claimed (found) our checked bags, and then cleared customs (since we had been out of the country).  We used our Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) Global Entry (GE) status for the first time.  (ABIR the entry process was fairly quick and easy, but I don’t recall the process ever being slow or difficult, except when re-entering the USA from Los Algodones, Mexico at a walk-through CBP station.)  Everyone else also got through Customs without any hassle or delay.

The “water closet” in our Disney DREAM stateroom.  Again, it has a sink.  We really liked the two room, dual sink arrangement.  The DREAM was the first ship we’ve been on that had this as part of a regular stateroom (not a suite).

All of our group was flying home from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, with the Michigan contingent flying home on the same Delta flight.  Marilyn was flying back to St. Louis, Missouri and Katie to the research triangle area of North Carolina.  We proceeded to the Ride Share area of the cruise terminal and called the number for the van shuttle service that transported us from our hotels to the cruise terminal at the beginning of the cruise.

A view of the living room area of our Disney DREAM stateroom.

With regards to the preceding photo; The sofa was very comfortable and, as Disney does in its land-based resorts, the back folded down to make a single bed.  It was NOT a typical pull-out (articulated) sleeper sofa (which tend to be extremely uncomfortable) or a slide-out (trundle) bed.  The desk (left) was also a good size, and the desk chair was reasonably comfortable.  The table was small, but big enough for coffee cups, etc.  It would have been a bit small to dine comfortably, but we never ordered room service or brought food back to our cabin.  We also had two chairs and a table on the balcony.  Linda provides a sense of the scale of the room and the space available to us to move around, which was very adequate.  If our stateroom on the MSC Magnifica had been as nice/comfortable as our DCL DREAM stateroom, we would probably not have cancelled the World Cruise we had booked starting in early January 2025.  Alas, that was not the case.

Our flight back to Michigan was scheduled for early-to-mid afternoon, giving us plenty of time to get to the airport and take care of things there.  It meant we would wait a while for our flight, but better that than rushing to make the gate in time.

A better view of the desk and associated storage in our Disney DREAM stateroom.

At the airport, we self-checked our larger bags and proceeded to the TSA security checkpoint.  This was our second time using TSA Pre-check.  As before, DELTA had also tagged our boarding passes with “Digital ID.”  And, as before, the process was smooth and easy.  We waited for the rest of our party to clear through security and then proceeded to our gate and settled in to wait for our flight.  The timing was such that we got a light lunch well ahead of departure.

We had to vacate our staterooms early so the cabin stewards could start the process of turning them around, but had to wait a while for our scheduled debarkation time.  All of the other guests were in the same situation, and people found places to rest while they waited.  Sadie was a perfect fit for these porthole windows on the promenade deck.  (Photo by Linda)

The flight home was uneventful, the best kind, and we arrived back at Detroit Metropolitan International Airport (DTW) a little ahead of schedule.  (This is usually the case, as I think Delta publishes longer flight times than are required for their flights, giving them some wiggle room to arrive on time even if there are departure delays or weather routing delays.  I suspect that all airlines do this, as they get “dinged” for late arrivals.)

A wider view shows one of the lifeboats hanging above the promenade deck.  (Sadie’s eyes are open.)   Chris is in the chair at the left edge of the frame and some of our suitcases are just visible at the bottom of the frame.  (Photo by Linda)

We arrived at the gate at the DTW McNamara Terminal around 4 PM, patiently took our turn getting off of the plane, and made our way to the baggage claim area, where we retrieved our larger suitcases and then headed to the US Park shuttle area in the attached garage.  The rest of our party were not parked where we were, and made their own arrangements to get home.  Back at the US Park fenced/secure lot, we were dropped off at our truck, paid our bill at the exit gate, and headed for home.  We got home around 6 PM, and it didn’t take long for Cabela (the cat) to appear and come in the house.

Silly Sadie has re-awakened.  I think Chris was ready to go home.  He really enjoyed the cruise, but he has a very demanding job managing a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan and had to check-in regularly to make sure everything was running smoothly in his absence; clearly more difficult and stressful than when he is there in person.  (Photo by Linda)

Linda had stocked microwaveable frozen meals before we left for the cruise to make sure we had something to eat upon our return that was quick and easy to fix.  We unpacked the essentials (technology, medications, toiletries) after diner, but not our clothes.  I like to launder all of our clothing after a trip, but that would happen over the next day or so.

A view of the area where our family hung out waiting to disembark the Disney DREAM.  Considering the number of passengers waiting to get off the ship, we had no problem finding a comfortable, quiet place for all of us to sit and wait.  Brendan grabs a power nap while Madeline uses Shawna’s phone.  Yup, that’s about right.  (Photo by Linda)

Was this family cruise/vacation all that we hoped it would be?  Yes, it was.  Would we do it again?  Absolutely, although we might not pay for (as much of) it as we did this time.  🙂  Cheers!

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NOTE:  This post mainly consists of 33 photos with captions.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 27 February (T7-C5) — Castaway Cay; Last Night on the Ship

 

Today was our second, and last, port-of-call.  Like many cruise lines that sail the Bahamas, Disney Cruise Line (DCL) has a private island here.  It’s named Castaway Cay, and we spent most of the day there.  The day started in earnest, however, with the Meet the Princesses event onboard the ship.  Sadie got to meet the four princesses shown in the following eight photos.

 

At age 5, Sadie understood that these were not real princesses, just actresses in costumes.  Or did she?  Here she is in her princess outfit, very much in the moment.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie meets Aurora, who has the same color outfit.  They are obviously having an important conversation.  Like her older sister, Sadie is very comfortable talking to adults.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie possess with Aurora.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Next up was Belle from Beauty and the Beast.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Another photo with Belle.

 

Sadie with Mulan and Commodore Donald Duck (statue, in the background).

 

Another photo with Mulan.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Sadie poses with Rapunzel.  (Photo by Linda)

 

While we were docked at Castaway Cay, some of the crew took the opportunity to deploy and operate some of the life boats.  One is already in the water and another is in the process of being lowered.

 

A closer view of the mechanism for lowering and retrieving the lifeboat.

 

Madeline (L) and her mom (R) on the outside aft section of the Cabanas Buffet.

 

Madeline (L) and Sadie (R) on the outside aft section of the Cabanas Buffet.  Sadie was still eating her breakfast, and didn’t fully appreciate Madeline’s proximity.    (Photo by Linda)

 

Part of Castaway Cay, Bahamas (Disney’s private island) as seen from our stateroom balcony.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The port-side bow of the Disney DREAM with multiple shore lines securing the ship to the dock.  Part of an anchor is visible at the lower right on the frame.

 

A view from the dock looking aft along the port side of the Disney DREAM.

 

The stern of the Disney DREAM as seen from the dock.  Note the large 3-D characters hanging off of the stern on either side of the DREAM emblem.  This is a hallmark of all DCL ships.

 

As shown in this information sign, all of the guest areas on Castaway Cay are to the left of the dock, with most of them located along the shore.  Much of the island is actually not accessible, at least to guests.  The long horizontal yellow line is the centerline of a runway/airstrip which is still used if/when needed.  All guests arrive on cruise ships, however, and there are no overnight guest accommodations on the island.

 

One of the activities on Castaway Cay is a 5K walking/jogging circuit.  Shown here is the sign designating the official starting (and ending ?) point.  We did at least part of the circuit and, ABIR, Meghan and Chris did the entire circuit.

 

I think this is an actual Beechcraft Model 18 twin-engine airplane, or what is left of one.  It’s long decommissioned, of course, but is one of the classic/iconic aircraft in the history of flight, along with planes like the DC-3.  It is, appropriately, displayed adjacent to the airstrip and speaks to the historical commercial use of the island for a long period of time before it was purchased by the Disney Corporation.

 

A display of a DCL anchor and mooring balls somewhere along the 5K walking/jogging circuit.

 

A panorama formed by stitching together (compositing) nine (9) separate images from my SONY a6400 using the Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) software.  The photo is 1920 x 345 pixels, and can be displayed full-size on a suitable display.  This image was taken from the top deck of the observation tower along the 5K walking/jogging circuit.  Most of Castaway Cay looks like this, and is not accessible by guests.

 

Me (Bruce) with some additional decorative/thematic elements along the 5K walking/jogging circuit.  I presume the wood barrel represents the storage and transportation of rum.  (Photo by Linda)

 

One of the shuttlebus-trains on the runway.  As shown in a previous photo of the island map, there is an “adults only” beach area at the far end of the road system, and the farthest point from the dock.  “Adults only” in this case simply means no guests under a certain age.  This is Disney, after all, so nothing risqué going on there.

 

Whether on a cruise ship, or at a Disney resort, being there with younger children, and first-time visitors of any age, lets you experience it through the wonder of their eyes.  While Disney certainly caters to families with younger children, they are also very much aware of their adult guests (who pay for everything) and provide plenty for them to do on their ships and at their ports-of-call.  The one thing that is missing onboard their ships, however, is a casino.  That was just fine with us, but it is something Meghan and Chris would have enjoyed.  Would we do another Disney cruise without out grand-daughters?  Probably.  The ships are nice and provide a nice experience.

 

This photo provides a sense of the size of the runway/airstrip; it’s wide and long and can handle larger aircraft.  The sign at the left says “BEWARE of Low Flying Aircraft.”  It’s decorative in its appearance, but it is an actual warning sign.  Not that aircraft are likely to land here while guests are on the island, but we could imagine that they might, for instance to affect an emergency medical supply or evacuation.  Linda is visible at the right edge of the frame (white hat and towel draped over her shoulder).

 

Another Beechcraft Model 18, underscoring the iconic nature of this aircraft and its importance in the history of commercial aviation and its use in the Caribbean.

 

All of the architecture and décor is suitably Caribbean, as you would expect from Disney.  This building is a gift shop.

 

Another view of the main beach area on Castaway Cay as we walk back to the dock.

 

A marker buoy on display labeled “Castaway Cay.”  I think this is positioned so that it’s one of the first things we passed as we headed down the dock onto the island.  We did not photographer going onto the island, so snapped a shot on the way back to the ship.  I do not know if the Latitude and Longitude are correct for the buoy’s current location.

 

This is a panorama of the main beach area of Castaway Cay.  Notice the absence of people.  It was taken moments before 4 PM, which was probably the “all aboard” time.  One of the things you do not mess around with on a cruise is the all-aboard time.  The image is a composite of three photos from my (Bruce) Google Pixel 6 Pro.  The resolution is 1920 x 548 pixels.

 

A photo of the TV in our stateroom showing 5:00 PM in the upper right of the screen.  The map display shows the location of Castaway Cay, essentially due east of Miami Florida.  The light blue color is the continental shelf, where the water is relatively shallow.  The dark blue is where the continental shelf ends and the ocean depth plummets.  The left side of the screen shows that the ship is located at 26 deg 04 min North latitude, 077 deg 32 min West longitude.

 

Sadie and her mom posing with tonight’s dessert choice, featuring “Mickey ears.”  This is our final dinner meal aboard the Disney DREAM, and our only meal in the Enchanted Garden dining room.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Enough with the photos, lets dig in.

 

I think our final towel art animal was a dog, but you can decide for yourself.  I also think these are my reading glasses, which I must have left out in the room.  Very clever on the part of our cabin steward to make use of them.  (Photo by Linda)

 

One of the things that happens on cruise ships is that you can put your luggage outside your stateroom door the night before you debark, and the stewards will move it to an area of the ship where it is off-loaded to the terminal and set out in a large baggage claim area.  Alternatively, you can keep your bags in your stateroom, and take them with you in the morning.  We have always set out our larger suitcases as it makes debarkation the next morning much easier for us.  The staterooms have to be vacated fairly early, and this way we do not have to take them with us to the buffet for breakfast.  It is important, however, to NOT pack anything in those cases that you turn out to need the next morning, like medications, ID cards (cruise, passport, driver’s license, etc.), wallets/cash, or even the clothes you plan to wear.  We typically each have a smaller, carry-on, suitcase which we do NOT put out or check when flying.  This suitcase has an essential change of clothing, all of our technological gadgets, medications, and any other small items that we cannot afford to lose.

Since we would be flying tomorrow we were allowed to check-in online within 24 hours of our scheduled departure time.  We always do this with our phones, if we can, so we end up with the QR code boarding passes on our phones.  We also take a screen shot of the boarding pass so we don’t have to actually be online to use the airline app to display it.  I do not recall how we managed to get connected, but I suspect we did this while the ship was still at Castaway Cay.

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NOTE:  There are six (6) photos in this post, all taken by Linda using a Google Pixel 6.

(Edited on 13 June 2024 to correct information related to “Dress like a Pirate night.”)

 

MONDAY 26 February (T6-C4) — At-Sea; Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boutique; & Pirate Day At Sea

The Disney DREAM left Cozumel, Mexico yesterday around dinner time, eastbound for Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, with arrival scheduled for early tomorrow morning.  That meant we would again be at sea for almost 36 hours, including all 24 hours of today.  It was also a second full day at sea.  (Note:  We were wearing our pirate t-shirts at dinner last night which, according to our trip planner (Linda) was indeed “Dress Like a Pirate Night”, although we do not have many pirate-related photos.)

Based on the photos I have available, the big event today was Sadie’s visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  She had her hair done (including extensions), a manicure, nail polish, and makeup (that included glitter).  She also got a princess outfit and matching accessories.  Tomorrow would be “meet a princess” day, and she had a reserved time for her turn.  The Boutique was a big deal for Sadie, as shown in the following few photos.

 

Sadie already has her princess dress on, with a flower crown and a cape protecting the upper portion, while her stylist applies nail polish.

 

Sadie discusses the finer points of princess styling with her Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo stylist.

 

Thanks to the opposing full-length mirror, Linda’s photo shows the front and back of Sadie’s princess dress and the matching multi-colored hair extensions.

 

Sadie, fully princessed with a matching carry bag and wand.

 

Sadie (left edge of frame) overlooks the main/center lobby of the Disney DREAM.  The costumes being worn by the Disney characters on the balcony appear to all be nautically themed.

 

Nothing to do with Pirate Day, or princesses, but one of the things that often happens on cruise ships is that the cabin stewards, when preparing the room for sleeping, make animal characters out of some of the towels.  We don’t always photograph these, but Linda thought this elephant deserved to be shared with the world, or at least remembered by us.

 

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NOTE:  This post contains 30 photos with captions.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless indicated otherwise.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 25 February (T5-C3) — Cozumel, Mexico; Shore Excursions

 

Meghan and Chris take in an early morning view of  Cozumel, Mexico from their stateroom balcony; the first time either of them has seen the island (or perhaps any part of Mexico).  Cruise ships do provide good views of ports-of-call.  It’s 7:30 AM, and Meghan already has her morning coffee.

 

The first stop on our shore excursion was San Gervasio, an important Mayan archeological site managed by CozumelParks.  This racoon-like mammal is a Coati (Nasua narica, AKA coatimundi).  It is native to Mexico and Central America and belongs to the Procyonidae family, which also includes raccoons.  (Photo by Linda)

When we arrived this morning, around sunrise, at the downtown cruise port/dock for the island of Cozumel, Mexico, we had been at sea for over 36 hours since leaving the Disney cruise terminal in Port Hollywood late in the afternoon of Friday, February 25th.  We had a great time on the ship while at sea, but Cozumel was the first of only two ports-of-call for this cruise, and we were all looking forward to going ashore.  Linda had signed all of us up for a shore excursion that lasted about six (6) hours and included three different venues/experiences.  We had to be off the ship and at the meeting point by a certain time, so we all got an early start to our day and had breakfast in the Cabana buffet.  Based on our apparel at dinner, it was also (apparently) “dress like a pirate” day.  Additional details about the day are in the captions for each photo.

 

Madeline, Sadie, and Shawna (mom) at the entrance station to the San Gervasio archeological site.  (Note the boot on Madeline’s left foot.  She injured it not long before the cruise, but it did not slow her down.)  This site has the remnants of a large village that was one of the centers of pre-European Mayan culture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another photo of the Coatimundi.  It did not seem to be fazed in the least by the large group of people passing by and stopping to take its picture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as we reached the first ruin in San Gervasio, we encountered Iguanas and other lizards.  Things like Coatimundi and Iguanas underscored that we were someplace very different from where we live.    (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remains of a fairly large structure.  The roof is a modern construction to help preserve the underlying stone work, but something like this might have covered the original building when in use.  Wood and palm fronds, however, do not survive the ravages of time.    (Photo by Linda)

 

This photo of an elevated platform provides a sense of the number and size of stones that had to be quarried and moved for its construction.

 

The base of another ruin and its modern protective roof.

 

For most of our time at the San Gervasio Mayan Village, we were on a guided/narrated tour.  The tour guide explained what archeologist think each of the buildings were used for, but I had no way to capture that information for later recall.

 

I do remember that this was one of the entrance gates to the Village.  Note the road/path leading up to the gate from the forest in the center-right of the frame.

 

I don’t know if the Iguana pictured here understands or appreciates the historical significance of the stones on which it is sunning itself, but it certainly picked a good spot, and seems unconcerned about the many human guests to the site.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over many years, this tree took root and grew around a crumbled part of what remains of this building.  The modern roof was constructed around the tree.

 

Remnants of yet another building at San Gervasio.

 

 

One of the stone walkways that connect the various buildings at the San Gervasio archeological site.  Note the drainage ditches along each edge.  When the Mayan Village was inhabited, archeologists claim the space between the stones was filled with something like a limestone grout, resulting in a smooth surface that would have been easy to walk on, and permitted the use of wheeled carts.

 

Another Iguana photo because … well, just because we find them fascinating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A map of the San Gervasio archeological site with all of the buildings identified.

 

 

This map highlights the Mayan Areas of Cozumel, Mexico in a darker green color.  The next photo indicates that San Gervasio is the highlighted area near Acalán.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a photo of a map that shows the full extent of the island of Cozumel, Mexico, its location relative to the rest of Mexico (just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula), and the location of the San Gervasio archeological park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second venue on our Cozumel shore excursion was The Mayan Cacao Company, located at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.  Shown here is the entrance sign.  Note the Macaw on the perch, upper right, which is protected by a thatched roof.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A closer view of the entrance sign and greeter macaw at The Mayan Cacao Company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like San Gervasio, this was also an educational experience.  This display is about cacao beans as a form of currency, and how it compared to other things that served the same purpose.  (From my Money and Banking course at the University of Missouri – Columbia, “Money is anything that acts as a store of value and a medium of exchange.”)

 

Part of the Mayan Cacao experience was a demonstration of the processing cacao beans to make “hot chocolate.”  This was followed by a tasting.  (It was not sweet, but it was very tasty.)  (Photo by Linda)

 

For the third and final venue/experience of our Cozumel shore excursion, we got to hang out at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.  I believe this park is open to the public but has an admission charge.   Besides an extensive beachfront with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas, the park included some play structures in the water as well as food and beverage stations.  Brendan and Sadie are in the foreground with their backs to the shore/camera.  Katie brought her snorkeling gear, and was already out in the water somewhere.  (I think Brendan and Sadie might be looking in that direction, but they might just be eyeing the large play structure in the water.)    (Photo by Linda)

 

The seating/sunning area at Playa Mia Beach Resort in front of where I happened to be sitting.  (I am not a “sun bunny,” and require shade in places like this.)

 

 

L-2-R; Katie, Linda, and Marilyn with what I think is the Disney WISH in the background, tied up at the dock for the Punta Langosta Cruise Terminal.  There is another cruise terminal down the coast toward Playa Mia Grand Beach Park that is used by Carnival and other cruise lines.

 

The sign welcoming us to the Punta Langosta port area.  It is the closest cruise terminal to the main/downtown area of Cozumel City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Sadie with buccaneer Ama (Linda) at dinner in the Animators Palate, the second of our three dining rooms.  (Friday and Saturday we were in the Royal Palace dining room, Deck 3 midship; Sunday and Monday we were in the Animator’s Palate dining room on Deck 3 aft, and Tuesday we were in the Enchanted Garden dining room, Deck 2 midship.)  This restaurant had amazing visual technology.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2-R; Madeline, Meghan, and Marilyn at our dinner table in the Animators Palate dining room.  We had a table for 10 every evening for dinner, and it was always table number 81; our waiter and assistant waiter moved with us when we changed dining venues.  Our dining time was always 6 PM (first seating).  Linda selected this time because Sadie was only 5 years old, and it allowed members of our group to seek out various entertainment venues after dinner and still get to bed at reasonable times.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Brendan and his buccaneer dad (me, Bruce, Apa, grandpa, etc.) in the Animators Palate dining room on the Disney DREAM.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shawna and Brendan share a moment while we wait to order dinner.  Our children both have wonderful spouses and our three grand-daughters are a delight.  We are very fond, and proud, of all of them; they are all a great source of joy in our lives.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE:  There are seven (7) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 24 February (T4-C2) — A Marvel(ous) Day At Sea

 

Today, I was up earlier than I intended to be.  I thought my phone said 6 something, but it was actually 5 something.  I was tired of lying down anyway, so I got up and finished working a Multi-Sudoku puzzle.  It was still dark, and Linda was still asleep, so I worked on drafts of the blog posts for this trip/cruise.  At some point I heard voices outside.  Brendan, Shawna, and Sadie were on the balcony along with Meghan.  Meghan gets up very early and had already been out to get coffee.  Madeline joined the group shortly thereafter.  This is the first cruise we’ve been on with family/friends in adjacent cabins.  Yesterday, we had our cabin steward open the dividers between the four balconies so we could visit easily.  It was a nice arrangement.  We had a brief discussion about breakfast but failed to coordinate a plan.  Other than meeting for dinner every evening, our group took a “freestyle” approach to the cruise, which was great for everyone.

Sadie sits in a large, blue, throne-like chair by one of the two impressive mosaics with themes related to fairytales (prince/princess) that ended up in animated Disney features.  The mosaics were located in one of the elevator/stairwell lobbies on one of the decks, but I don’t recall which one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadie in the other (red) throne-like chair by the other mosaic.

It was Marvel Day at Sea, so we got dressed with our Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirts and went to Cabana’s (the buffet) for breakfast.  We thought our son’s family was also headed there, but we somehow missed them while walking around looking at food.  Our son saw us go by, however, and found us to let us know where they were sitting.

 

 

Breakfast at the Cabana’s buffet offered a lot of choices, and we all found something that we liked.  The things I chose were well-prepared and tasty.  While both of us appreciate the finer dining in the restaurants, neither of us object to the buffet food, and appreciate the convenience of many hours of availability with the attendant flexibility to eat when you want, and choose from a broad selection of food offerings.

Chris and his daughter, Katie, at one of the shuffleboard courts on the exterior promenade deck.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Meghan and Chris at the same shuffleboard court.  Chris is sporting his “Star Lord” t-shirt for Marvel Day At Sea.  (Photo by Linda)

Today was Marvel Day At Sea, and there were many special activities taking place around the ship.  These included photo opportunities with official costumed “crew” members.  Perhaps surprisingly, we did not get photos of any of these events.  While that might seem strange in retrospect, the members of our party who were most excited about the day where our daughter, her husband, and his daughter.  I don’t recall specifically what Linda and I did all day, nor do I recall what Marilyn or our son and his family did today, nor would I even know if they off doing things on their own.  What I do know, is that Madeline had already become very comfortable with the “Edge Club,” a dedicated/staffed space for guests ages 11 – 13.  At age 11, she places a high value on any independence she can negotiate.

 

Sadie with her great-aunt, Marilyn.  Sadie is seriously focused on whatever Marilyn is showing her on the phone.  Based on Sadie’s attire, it appears that she went swimming today.  Not surprising; if there’s water available, Sadie is usually in it.  (Photo by Linda)

The Disney Cruise Line (DCL) app includes a messaging feature that allows guests to message one another without purchasing a “Internet” package.  The feature requires guests to establish connections, so Linda took care of linking her phone with at least one phone from each of the other cabins in our group.

Fairly quickly, Madeline took possession of her mom’s phone and accomplished her number one goal for the cruise; to be allowed to roam around the ship on her own as well as come and go from the Edge Club at will.  This actually worked out very well, and she made several friends her age.  ABIR, Sadie continued the who-dun-it game with her mom and/or dad.

 

Yes, Sadie is using crayons on the white linen tablecloth at dinner.  But it was okay.  Our assistant waiter, Trevor, was the first to do this at dinner last night as he set a puzzle for Sadie (and the rest of us) to solve.  After that, it was “game on” for the remainder of the cruise!  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to well-prepared and tasty dishes, dinner was always nicely presented.  This photo is typical of how desserts were plated.

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NOTE:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)  Photos are chronological and captioned, but are interspersed with some narrative.

 

FRIDAY 23 February (T3-C1) — Disney Cruise Line (DCL) DREAM, Embarkation and Sail Away

 

It’s around 1 PM; we are all on the ship and busy doing things.  Meghan helps Sadie figure out how to play the who-dun-it/discovery game while Marilyn looks on.  Clues were hidden in electronic pictures.  Displaying a game badge would “open” (change) the picture and reveal a clue.  (Photo by Linda)

I was up early and met up with our daughter (Meghan) in the elevator on our way to get coffee.  I rarely get to chat with her alone, and enjoyed a relaxed conversation over coffee.  Linda joined us a bit later.  Meghan eventually took coffee and muffins back to her room for Chris.  Linda and I got breakfast and chatted until she went back to our room to take a shower.  I returned to our room after finishing my meal, got my shower, and got dressed for the day.  We then repacked our suitcases before Linda went back to the lobby to join Meghan, and others, who were having breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Brendan helps Sadie with the who-dun-it game in the lobby of the ship with the Golden Mickey statue in the background.  Having been to Walt Disney World several times, the look and feel of the interior of the ship was familiar and pleasing.  (Photo by Linda)

Everything up to this point had been fairly routine travel—planes, taxis (ride shares), and hotels, with some walking thrown in, either to find food or just because—but with a certain added anticipation of things to come.  Today started in the usual way, but was soon new and different for most of our party.  Indeed, even for us, as we had never sailed on a Disney cruise ship and so had not experienced a ship with soooo many children.  Not that we have never been with large numbers of children; we presumed that it would be similar to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and there is a certain positive energy associated with so many children having such a good time.  Indeed, it even seems to bring out the child in many of adults.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long to discover the self-serve soft-serve ice cream station on one of the upper/open-air decks.  This turned out to popular with everyone in our party and, apparently, most of the other guests on the ship.  L-2-R:  Meghan, Sadie, and Brendan.  (Photo by Linda)

When we arrived at the Hyatt Place hotel on Wednesday, we signed up for a shuttle to take the six of us staying here to the port at noon today.  We did not get a shuttle at exactly that time, but they were scheduled to arrive at the hotel approximately every 10 minutes.  It was at most a 10-minute ride to the port, and only that long because of traffic, so we were still there ahead of the 1 PM check-in time for us (the rest of the group had 1:15 check-in times).  It turned out that these assigned times didn’t mean much.  We dropped our checked luggage with the porters at the curb and then walked some distance into the cruise terminal building.  But the line moved along at a reasonable pace, and various adults took turns keeping Sadie occupied, which is the key to a happy life.

 

Linda on the main top deck. (There are additional small decks at the front and rear of the ship.)  Camera is pointed aft.  The enclosed water-slide is prominent, with the main swimming pool to the right and down one deck.

Looking forward, the large screen on the forward exhaust stack tower, indicates that the ship is “Sailing Away.”  “Sail Away” is a big, festive deal on cruise ships.  Many guests gather on the upper/open decks, while others go out on their stateroom balconies, to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea.  In some ports, there are crowds on-shore waving to the ship.  The time-stamp on this photo is 4:29 PM, but I don’t think the ship has left the dock yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other cruise ships are visible from the port side of the ship.  ABIR, the larger one is a Royale Caribbean ship (emblem on the lower rear hull).  The smaller one was from one of the luxury or ultra-luxury cruise lines, but I don’t recall which one.  Note that our ship is in its berth bow first, with the dock on the other/starboard side.  Our ship had to back out of its berth and make a 180-degree turn (pirouette) before heading out to sea.  The maneuver was precisely and smoothly executed.  The maneuver was very smoothly and precisely executed.

 

Soon enough we were all checked in and were headed onto the ship a bit before 1 PM.  There were a couple of things about the check-in that were different from our previous experience.  For one, they did NOT issue us our cruise cards and said they would be waiting for us by our cabin doors.  For another, they checked every page of our passports, at least for the adults.  I asked why and was told “because there are children on board” but the boarding agent could/would not tell me anymore.  Our presumption is that there must be something in passports for individuals who are not allowed to be around children.  Further research, however, did not provide any additional information.

 

A view looking NNE of the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) and a bridge to a barrier island, as seen from the starboard rear upper deck of the Disney DREAM.

Some of the adult members of our travel party, L-2-R: Chris, Marilyn, Meghan, Linda, and me (Bruce).  Not shown are Brendan, Shawna, Katie and the munchkins (Madeline and Sadie).  I do not know who took the photo with Linda’s phone.  The previous photo was taken around 4:33 PM and this one was taken around 5:22 PM.  This and the next photo indicate that the ship is backing out of its berth.  Thus, logic tells me that we must have departed at 5 PM (cruise ships tend to keep a tight schedule) or we departed at 6 PM and all of my photos are off by one hour (but I don’t think so), or we departed at 4 PM and I have no idea what’s going on.

Our staterooms (on Deck 9) would not be available until 1:30, so some of the adults went with Sadie on an exploration to solve a “crime” while I stayed with Madeline, who needed to sit and get off her injured foot.  (She strained or stressed a growth plate in her left foot a week ago while ice skating, and got fitted with a boot yesterday morning before flying to Fort Lauderdale.)  DCL uses a system to control room access that we had not seen before.  When Madeline and I tried to use an elevator to go from Deck 5 to Deck 9 around 1:20 PM, it would not open the doors at Deck 9.  Clever Disney.

 

The Disney DREAM is definitely underway as it has backed out of its berth into the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) where it backed around to port (behind the camera) into a “turning pool” and swung around to point into the channel leading to the sea, as shown here.  Cruise ships have both bow and stern thrusters, smaller propellers in tunnels that go through the ship sideways.  Besides moving the front or rear of the ship to the left or right, their coordinated use can move the ship sideways, such as towards/away from a dock, or turn it around its mid-point, such as it will do here.  Many cruise ships, especially newer ones, also have “Azipods,” a steerable propeller  mechanism, for propulsion rather than aft-facing propellers and one or more rudders.

 

Our first dinner together in the Royale Palace dining room aboard the DCL DREAM.  We had a table for 10 every evening for dinner.  Our table number was 81, and remained so for all of our dinner meals, regardless of which dining room we were in.  Shown here is our son’s family, L-2-R:  Shawna, Brendan, Sadie, and Madeline.  I think Sadie was just tired, not unhappy, as she really enjoyed the cruise.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2-R:  Cousins Madeline and Katie at the dinner table.  (Photo by Linda)

Once in our room, we scoped out the available storage and started unpacking.  Our balcony stateroom had plenty of storage; hanging closets, drawers, and shelves.  It also had the usual safe, and our wallets and passports went in there right away.  We used to turn our cell phones off and put them in the safe as well, but these days we put them in airplane mode (to turn off the cellular radio) and turn on the wi-fi radio to connect to the ship’s wi-fi system.  On the DREAM, this allowed us to use the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, which was our access to any/all information about the ship’s activities, including menus for the restaurants, reservations (if needed), and our account.  (Most cruise ships now operate this way, so you really cannot go on a cruise these days without a smartphone.)

Linda poses with a statue of “Captain Duck” in the main lobby of the Disney DREAM.  Or perhaps it was “Commodore Duck”?  (I presume this is Donald Duck.  I have no idea what the name of the statue is, if it even has one.  Nor do I know the context of this particular outfit.)

 

 

 

We watched the safety information on the TV in our stateroom.  At 4 PM we went to our assigned assembly station (DCL does not call them muster stations) for the mandatory safety check-in and presentation.  Unlike our other recent cruises, where our muster station was on an outside deck near the lifeboats, we were seated in the large Walt Disney Theater.

 

 

 

 

 

Marvel Day at Sea was still to come, but this display was already up, and Chris is a big fan of the Marvel series.  Disney has a way of bringing out the kid in all of us.

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NOTE:  This post does not contain any photos.

 

THURSDAY 22 February (T2) — The family arrives for the cruise

Katie (our 20-something grand-daughter) arrived from North Carolina ahead of the rest of the family, made her way to the Hyatt Place (via Uber?), and checked-in to the room she was sharing with Marilyn.  We were all hungry so we took her to Carrabba’s for dinner.

Marilyn arrived later from St. Louis, Missouri and waited for our son (Brendan) and daughter (Meghan) and their families to arrive from Michigan.  Once everyone was at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, they got a cab to take them to their respective hotels.

Katie, Marilyn, and Meghan/Chris all stayed at the same hotel we were in.  Brendan and his family stayed at the nearby Embassy Suites as they got a room that would sleep all four of them.

Marilyn, Meghan, and Chris had not had dinner, so we walked to the nearby Publix supermarket where they pickup up ready-to-eat sandwiches and chips and brought them back to the hotel.  We sat in the breakfast room, which had a high table for six, and chatted while they ate.  Brendan’s clan made their own arrangements for dinner.  ABIR (or learned the next day) they had pizza.

Everyone arrived safely, and with all of their luggage, which were the main things.  (When traveling by air, we always try to arrive enough ahead of whatever we will be doing to allow time to go shopping in the event that we need to replace the contents of a lost piece of checked luggage.)  Air travel is always a bit exhausting, but there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as everyone was genuinely looking forward to the cruise.

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NOTE:  There are not photos for this post.

 

WEDNESDAY 21 February (T1) — A Family Cruise is just around the corner

Our cruise on the Disney DREAM was set for departure on Friday, 23 February at 3 PM EDT.  We like to be in the vicinity of a cruise port somewhat ahead of time, so Linda booked a flight for mid-morning today.  Delta Airlines again, of course, as Delta has a major hub at Detroit Metropolitan (Wayne County) International Airport (DTW) and can get us non-stop to many places in the USA.

We were up at 6 AM, got dressed, set the thermostats on HOLD at lower than usual temperatures, and loaded out luggage into the F-150.  We were going to take Linda’s Honda HR/V, but she got a recall notice yesterday for a possible fuel pump problem.  We could not afford having the problem occur enroute to the airport, so we took the truck.  We left at 6:45 AM and arrived at the US Park facility, adjacent to the airport property, about an hour later.  The shuttle was coming down our aisle as we parked and picked us up along with several other customers.  We were at the drop-off point in the garage attached to the main (McNamara) terminal by 8:15 AM, well ahead of our 10:20 AM departure.

We normally roll our bags into the terminal, print the luggage tags for the two larger bags, attach them to the bags and then get in the self-tagged luggage drop-off line, which is usually long and understaffed.  Before crossing into the terminal, however, we noticed a DELTA self-tagged luggage drop counter in the garage.  It was staffed, and there was no line, so we figured we would try it.  There were about eight kiosks for printing the luggage tags, so we took care of that in short order.  There was a short line at the drop-off counter by then, so we joined the queue.  It did not take long for it to be our turn, and in no time our bags were checked.  The agent asked if we wanted paper boarding passes, so we said “yes”; it never hurts to have a backup.  A good start to our trip.

The next step in the process was clearing through the TSA checkpoint.  We had “checked in” for the flight online yesterday and had our electronic boarding passes on our phones.  This was the first time we would go through a TSA checkpoint since we qualified for the Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) and got our Global Entry (GE) cards from the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  We noticed that the boarding passes said “TSA Pre-check” and also said “Digital ID.”  We knew what the first one meant, but we were not sure about the second.

We went to the TSA Pre-check area, showed our boarding passes, and walked right in.  No line.  We were directed to the left where an agent had us stand in front of a camera lens, and then waved us through; no need to show our passport, license, boarding pass, or any other additional ID.  We were motioned towards a scanner lane with no line, set our small carry-on cases and a few personal effects (glasses, belt for me because of the buckle, phone with holder (metal clips), and keys) into a tub on the conveyor and walked through the scanner.  There were no issues and we were through; all without having to remove our shoes!  This was our easiest airport entry ever; more than worth the time and cost to get the TTP/GE program/card (the cost of which was reimbursed by AMEX/DELTA).  All-in-all a much better and less stressful experience than the last time we were here earlier this year.

And with that, there was nothing else to do except wait to board the aircraft.  We always travel with our iPads, which we use for a wide variety of things, such as:  reading, streaming, games/puzzles, research, maps, checking on weather, or logging in to subscribed services, including checking-in when appropriate.  For travel, however, we usually do the final check-in on our phones so that we have the boarding pass / QR code immediately available.  To make sure it is also immediately accessible, we take a screen shot so we don’t have to (rely on) use the app or website.  Sometimes we also bring actual books, but usually avoid the added weight and bulk in our luggage.

Frankly, commercial air travel is not very comfortable nor is it much fun.  I say that as a licensed private pilot.  Most of the seating is too small (narrow) and too crowded together (front-to-back).  Sure, comfort class (if you can get it) and first class (if you can afford it) provide a bit more room, but we choose to spend our money on things like cruises that are slightly less ephemeral.  The dumbest thing about the passenger aviation industry, however, is the way they load the aircraft.

IMHO, aircraft with a single loading door near the front, should be loaded from the rear to the front.  The first people on are the ones seated in the last row.  No “running the gauntlet” and bumping into other passengers to get to our seat.  If the first-class passengers don’t want to mingle with everyone else, create a separate, enclosed waiting area for them.  EVERYONE is limited to one carry-on item that does not exceed the allowed size so that it will absolutely fit in the overhead pin BY THEIR SEAT.  That way, everyone is guaranteed to have a place for their carry-on bag BY THEIR SEAT.  A second small item that will fit under the seat in front is fine with me.

Now that I’ve had my say, I will regain some perspective and acknowledge that, in the end, the only thing that really matters is that the plane takes off and lands safely without any incidents, such as rude/disorderly passengers, or doors that blow off mid-flight.  As for our flight, all’s well that ends well, which ours’ did.

The rest of the family booked flights for the following day.  Once we deplaned at FTL, we headed to baggage claim, retrieved our two checked roller bags, and then headed outside to find the ride-share area.  We booked an Uber, and in short order we were picked up and on our way to the Hyatt Place hotel near Port Hollywood.  We are still relatively new to using Uber, but so far it has worked well for us.

I don’t recall if our room was ready when we arrived at the hotel, but if not, we did not have to wait very long.  Given the price, the room was nothing special, but it was fine for us.  And it had a mini-fridge, which meant we could get keep some beverages cold and/or store any leftovers from meals we ate out.  Besides, we knew ahead of time that the price had more to do with a location that is convenient to both the airport and the cruise port than with the accommodations themselves.

The first two cruises we ever took (2012 and 2013), on the MSC Poetia, sailed from Port Hollywood, Florida.  I suspect a lot of construction has taken place since then, and there was certainly construction ongoing in the area, but neither of us had any specific recollections of the Port to serve as a comparison.

The hotel was a comfortable/safe walking distance to a major shopping area that included a Publix supermarket and several restaurants.  We wanted to stretch our legs anyway, so we went in search of dinner.  ABIR, we ended up at a Poke’ Bowl place and had tasty meals.  We then stopped at the Publix and bought some beverages and perhaps some snacks, but I’m not sure about the latter.

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NOTE:  There are no photos for this post.

 

TUESDAY 20 February (T0) — A Last Minute Thing

By 8 PM, we were basically fully packed and settled in to watch TV before going to bed at bit earlier than usual as, and we wanted to get a good night’s sleep in advance of our flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida tomorrow morning.  But there always seem to be last minute things, and this time it involved the cat’s feeder or, more specifically, the wooden enclosure I built back in August 2023, to house her automatic feeder.  A critter, which turned out to be a raccoon, had been clawing and/or biting the opening where the food drops into a metal bowl, trying to get to the feeder itself.  I decided at the last minute (11 PM) that I needed to reinforce that area before we left.

I made a quick trip to the barn to fetch tools, screws, and see what wood scraps I might have.  I found a couple pieces of 5/8” plywood left over from the original housing project.  They were the same width as the front panel; perfect.  A little drilling, dry fitting, and attaching these pieces to the front with screws, and I was satisfied that the critter would at least be delayed from succeeding until we got home.  So much for getting to bed early and relaxed.  I think that the housing is going to need a metal sheathing at some point in the future.  That point, however, will be when the daytime temperatures are more pleasant for doing this kind of work.

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NOTE:  This post contains four (4) photos.  First photo taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.  (All other photos taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

01-19 February 2024 — Preparing for another cruise

Cabella (the cat) has several places around the house that she likes to sleep but, when available, this is her favorite.

I suppose the first thing of note about this month, but not the most important, was my birthday; seven decades and change, and still counting.  Not bad for a guy my height and weight.  I am still in generally good health and feeling good about our active retirement, which is what really matters.  Happy birthday to me.

From the moment Linda had booked the cabins, preparations had been on-going for our upcoming Disney DREAM cruise.  Research was done, and shore excursions were booked.  Our daughter (Meghan) is an excellent and enthusiastic researcher, and she dug in.  Our 5-night cruise included a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirates Day,” all of which required some kind of suitable attire (or costume) in order to be a full participant in the events of those days.  She also learned that it was common practice to “decorate” cabin doors.  The doors are steel, and the decorations need to be magnetic, but it turned out that such decorations and widely and easily available.  The group ended up agreeing on custom t-shirts, one for Marvel Day and one for Pirates Day.  We each got our own color for each shirt, but the same designs.  (We did something similar a few years ago the first time with did Walt Disney World with Paul and Nancy.)

Linda and Diane try to get-together and walk once a week.  Weather permitting, they meet at Kensington Metro Park.  This image from February 9 clearly shows that the lake was still mostly covered in ice.  (Photo by Linda)

Of the ten of us going on this cruise, only Linda, her sister (Sr. Marilyn), and myself had ever been on a cruise.  Linda and I tried to provide useful/helpful specific information about packing, luggage, embarkation, etc. without overloading everyone.  Each family or individual was on their own to make flight arrangements to/from Fort Lauderdale International Airport, as well as hotel arrangements, but they were all experienced travelers, including the three grand-daughters.

 

 

I got this MURDLE (Murder Puzzles) book for my birthday from our friend Kate,.  Linda and I were at one of our local Panera locations, and I took the book with me to work some of the puzzles.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda booked us into the Hyatt Place hotel about 1/2 mile from the Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades in Hollywood, Florida (Fort Lauderdale area) and shared that location with everyone else.  Our daughter and her husband, his daughter (Katie), and Linda’s sister also stayed there.  Our son and his family made a reservation at the nearby Embassy Suites as they were able to get a room that would comfortably accommodate all four of them.

 

 

 

 

Sadie at home being Sadie a few days before the Disney cruise. (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s about all there is to say about everyday life while getting ready to go a trip.

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Note:  There are six (6) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

January 2024 — Rearranging furniture, and a night out

A week after we returned from Florida we had a proper snow event, as seen in this view of the rear deck of our house.  (Photo by Linda)

We enjoyed our brief sojourn to Florida, including our short cruise on the MSC Magnifica, but not enough to spend 116 days aboard the ship, in that class of stateroom.  But it was also good to be back home.  We have had a relatively dry winter, but we knew winter was not over.  Winter weather here can linger, if intermittently, until April.  Indeed, some of the worst ice storms we have had in this region occurred in April to early May.

We decided to rearrange the furniture in our basement recreation room to provide better viewing of the TV set, which included moving the TV set and associated furniture and electronics.  As a result, we also had to relocate the LAN Ethernet and OTA TV antenna coaxial cables.  Fortunately, I had left extra cabled coiled up above the suspended ceiling when these cable runs were originally installed.

The TV was previously located by the post next to the ladder at the left of the frame, so the LAN Ethernet and OTA TV antenna coaxial cables had to be relocated to the new location at the right edge of the frame.  I had to move quite a few of the ceiling tiles out of the way in order to affect the relocation, but I had plenty of cable to work with.

The Rec room TV/furniture arrangement as seen looking to the northwest from near the stairs to the main level.

The Rec room TV/furniture arrangement as seen looking northeast from near the bar.

The Rec room TV/furniture arrangement as seen looking east from the northwest corner of the basement.

Kate (L) and Linda (R), at Socotra Coffee House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  This was a new place for us, and looked like a very new establishment.  It features coffees, teas, and desserts of Yemeni origin.  ABIR, we each had a different coffee.  We agreed that they were different from what we are familiar with, but very good.  The desserts were also unusual in the sense of being unfamiliar but, again, very tasty.  The fact that there were open late was a bonus and provided a new option for someplace to go after dinner to enjoy extended conversation over coffee and dessert without the (apparently) inescapable noise of our usual restaurants and bar/grill establishments.

One of the things we look forward too each month is getting together with our friend, and my former colleague, Kate.  On this occasion, we tried a new place for coffee and dessert; Socotra Yemeni Coffee House on Packard west of US-23 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It was a nice way to close out the month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE:  There is one (1) photo in this post taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 15 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (4 of 4), Return to Miami and home.

We took many more photos on this brief cruise than I have used in these blog posts, but they were mostly for our own documentation in support of a decision-making process.  During the cruise, we had not yet decided to cancel the World Cruise but were actively discussing the pros and cons of doing the trip on this ship with this cruise line.  It came as something of a surprise to us that we made that decision while sitting in the Miami International Airport waiting to fly home.  After letting Paul and Nancy know our decision, we called our travel agent before we even got on the jet.  But then, once it was clear that we did not want to do this trip on this ship, there was no reason to wait.  If nothing else, we had a significant deposit on file, and the sooner we got it back the better.

Apparently someone at the Miami International Airport has a sense of humor.  This waste basket had two separate holes, one marked “Waste” and the other “Recycle.”  Note, however, that the can contains no divider and has a single bag where everything goes.  (Photo by Linda)

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NOTE:  There are 16 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY a6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 14 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (3 of 4), Ocean Cay

A panoramic view (Google Pixel 6 Pro panorama mode) of Ocean Cay taken from our stateroom balcony on the MSC Magnifica.

A composite of 8 images (SONE alpha 6400) forms a panoramic view of Ocean Cay, MSC private island in the Bahamas.  Photo composited with Microsoft Image Composite Editor.

A view of one of the elevator lobbies in the MSC Magnifica provides a sense of the “style” of the public areas of the interior.  I took very few photos of the interior of the ship, in part because I wanted to respect the privacy of our fellow passengers.

L-2-R, Nancy, Linda, and Paul on Ocean Cay, Bahamas.  The island was originally the site of mining operation.  MSC has rehabilitated it, creating both a marine reserve and pleasant place for their guests.

A map of Ocean Cay.

The MSC Magnifica as seen from Ocean Cay.  (Photo by Linda)

Another (better?) view of the Magnifica from Ocean Cay.

One more view of the MSC Magnifica from Ocean Cay.

L-2-R, me (Bruce), Nancy, and Paul.  We were not able to snag a cabana, but found these lounge chairs unoccupied.  (Photo by Linda)

Part of the coastline of Ocean Cay.  I recall that the day was pleasant but, as this photo shows, it was overcast.  Those are not mutually exclusive ideas.  (I am not a sun bunny.)

Not exactly the MSC Magnifica, but technically Linda is still in an MSC boat.

I (Bruce) try the same ship on for size.  (Photo by Linda)

Another view of the MSC Magnifica as seen from Ocean Cay.

Dramatic weather often makes for interesting photos.  Ocean Cay, Bahamas.

The lighthouse on Ocean Cay as a “Disney like” illumination system that is used to put on a light show just before a ship departs from the island.  We took videos of the show, but I don’t post videos here because of the large file sizes.

A view of the central lobby of the MSC Magnifica.  The interior décor of MSC ships is a somewhat glitzy “over-the-top Italian.”  I’m not saying it isn’t attractive, it’s just not really our style.  That was not a factor, however, in our decision to cancel our World Cruise booking on this ship.  Indeed, we found the ship, service, food, and entertainment acceptable given the price.

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NOTE:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY a6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 13 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (2 of 3), Nassau, Bahamas

We sailed overnight and arrived at Nassau, Bahamas early this morning.  The MSC Magnifica is tied up at the dock with guests going ashore (including us, obviously).

A composite image of the lobby of the British Colonial hotel in downtown Nassau, Bahamas.

The area near the port in Nassau, Bahamas has a quintessentially Caribbean look.

An outdoor “mall” of little shops near the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas.  Linda is in the lower right corner (white shirt) walking away from the camera.

The MSC Magnifica in the Cruise Port in Nassau, Bahamas with two more cruise ships behind it.  The Disney WISH is just behind the Magnifica.  The ship in the background is a Royale Caribbean vessel.

We did not spend very much time in Nassau, as we explored it when we were here in 2012 &/or 2013 and not much had appeared to change since then.  Following are a couple of views of our stateroom.  We had the room next to the room we booked for the World Cruise in 2025.  Paul and Nancy were in the same suite that they booked for the World Cruise.

Our stateroom as seen from the balcony doorwall looking towards the door to the hallway.  Closet to the left and bathroom to the right.

Our stateroom as it appears when coming into the room.  Beyond the queen-size bed is a desk (on the left) and 2-seat sleeper-sofa.  There’s a hassock under the desk and a small table in front of the sofa, and two chairs on the balcony (which stay out there).  The sofa was so uncomfortable that we could not sit on it for more than a few minutes.  Although this was not our stateroom for the World Cruise, it was next to it, and we had no reason to believe that the sofa in that stateroom was any better.  This ended up being the deal-breaker for the World Cruise.  Paul and Nancy were equally unimpressed with their suite.

Pulling away from the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas shortly after 5 PM.  (Photo by Linda)

Linda on the starboard promenade as the Disney WISH backs out of its berth at the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas.

Every cruise line has a logo or emblem that they display on each of their ships.  MSC’s emblem is patterned after the compass rose.  I believe MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company, or did at one time.  MSC is a major shipping company, headquartered in Switzerland, but I think the MSC Cruise Line division operates out of Genoa, Italy.  We often see their pale-yellow shipping containers.

A view of the starboard bow of the Disney WISH with the Royale Caribbean ship sailing away behind it.

I think this is another Royale Caribbean ship leaving Nassau, Bahamas ahead of us.

The MSC Magnifica leaving the dock at the cruise port in Nassau, Bahamas.  This is a view of the dock from the stern of the MSC Magnifica.

After a pleasant enough day in Nassau, Bahamas our ship set sail at 6 PM for an overnight trip to MSC’s private island, Ocean Cay.

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NOTE:  There are two (2) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

FRIDAY 12 January 2024 — A test cruise on the MSC Magnifica (1/3), Embarkation & Sail Away

A subtitle for this post would be “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” (but not in that order).  As mentioned in the previous post, back in February 2023 Linda and Nancy found an “around the world” cruise on MSC for what seemed to be a very good price.  The World Cruise was scheduled to depart Genoa, Italy on 6 January 2025, head west across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil and take 116 nights to circumnavigate the globe.  Much of the trip would be south of equator, eventually coming up the Suez Canal into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back Genoa.  The itinerary included 50 ports-of-call spread across 21 countries.  We have never been south of the equator, and this seemed like a unique opportunity to visit places me might likely never get to otherwise.  And the price seemed really fair—almost too good to be true—but it would only be a bargain if it was truly “value for money.”

Reviews of MSC from sources like Cruise Critic, and Gary Bembridge’s Tips for Travelers Youtube channel were mixed, so we had our concerns about basic cruise things like food, service, and entertainment.  But top of your list was whether we would enjoy being on this ship for that long, and especially whether our staterooms would have adequate storage and comfortable seating.  The later, we have learned in limited but recent cruising experience, is not a given.

Sometime in the intervening months, Linda found that the Magnifica was doing a 3-night round-trip sailing, January 12-15, 2024 from the Port of Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, and back.  The cruise started on a Friday and returned on Monday, which meant it was going to be a bit of a “party cruise,” but that was not really relevant to us.  We wanted to check out the general condition of the ship, especially the staterooms, as well as the food, entertainment, and service.

The Miami Cruise Port is about a 4-hour drive from Polk City, Florida.  Rather than spend that much time in a car, and pay quite a bit for parking at the Port, Nancy and Paul had decided to take the relatively new high-speed rail from Orlando to Miami, which meant we were going to take it as well.  The Orlando International Airport was about a 1-hour drive from Paul and Nancy’s house and had convenient parking dedicated to the train.  The parking was under roof and reasonably priced, at least compared to the cost of parking at the Port.  We all purchased our tickets well in advance and had reserved seats.

We enjoyed taking the train, which allowed us to relax and doodle on our iPads (or read).  The end of the line terminal in Miami was walking distance from the Cruise Port, so we decided to walk there with our roller bags rather than hail a cab or call an Uber/Lyft.  That turned out not to be our best decision of the trip; it was a warm, sunny day, and we found the most direct route blocked by construction.  We ended up walking a bit father than we originally planned, but we got there, so all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

I distinctly remember that embarkation was relatively smooth but, ABIR, we had to wait a bit to get into our staterooms.  This is not uncommon, and we found a lounge to sit in while we waited.  (Drinks are always available immediately upon embarkation.)

 

Sail Away was at 6 PM.  A few minutes later, the Magnifica pulls away from the MSC Terminal at the Port of Miami.  The view is from our starboard side stateroom balcony.  ABIR, we were on Deck 9, just above the lifeboats (obviously).  (Photo by Linda)

 

Looking back at the Miami skyline with sunset well underway.  The ship has cleared all of the buildings but has not yet cleared the breakwater.  (Photo by Linda)

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Note:  There are four (4) photos in this post.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 06 – THURSDAY 11 January 2024 — A quick trip to Florida in advance of a short cruise

Back in February 2023, we were waiting for a couple of days before boarding the NCL Joy for our trip with Paul and Nancy from Los Angeles , California to Miami, Florida via the Panama Canal.  While Paula and I were our buying some beverages, Linda and Nancy found an “around the world” cruise on the MSC Magnifica for what seemed to be a very good price.  Paul and Nancy had never sailed with MSC, but we had on two previous occasions (2012 and 2013).  We were on the MSC Poetia both times and had a good experience each time.  These were the first cruises we were ever on, and they were special Holistic Holiday at Sea programs organized by Taste of Health out of Miami, Florida.  The program featured plant-based food and provided its own ingredients, executive chef and assistants to supervise the regular kitchen workers.  It was basically a floating educational experience.  As best we could recall, the ship was very nice, the service was fine, and the staterooms were comfortable.  Indeed, we had a waiter who was outstanding!  We did not, however, have any experience with the usual ship food or entertainment, nor had we signed up for any shore excursions.  It had also been 10 years since with sailed with MSC, so there was a lot we did not know about what it would be like to be a regular passenger on one of their ships.

The world cruise was scheduled to depart Genoa, Italy on 6 January 2025 and take 116 nights to circumnavigate the globe back to Genoa, much of the trip south of equator.  Sailing west from Genoa through the western Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean, the itinerary went to South America, around Cape Horn, and up the west side of South America before heading off to French Polynesia and points west, with stops in New Zeeland, Australia, and Malaysia, eventually coming up the Suez Canal into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back Genoa.  21 countries and 50 ports-of-call.

We have never been south of the equator, and this seemed like a unique opportunity to visit places me might likely never get to otherwise.  And the price seemed really fair—almost too good to be true—but even “value for money” involves money, and it was enough money that we had our concerns about whether we would be comfortable and enjoy being on this ship for this long.

Sometime in the intervening months, Linda found that the MSC Magnifica was doing a 3-night round-trip sailing on January 11-13, 2024 from the Port of Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, and back.  The cruise started on a Friday afternoon and returned on Monday early morning.  The timing meant it was going to be a bit of a “party cruise” as people local to the area could take Friday afternoon and Monday off from work and go to the Bahamas on a big cruise ship.  That was not really relevant to us, however, as we wanted to check out the general condition of the ship, especially the staterooms, as well as the food, entertainment, and service.

On January 6th we flew into Tampa – St. Petersburg International Airport, where Paul and Nancy picked us up and drove us to their new home in the Mount Olive Shores North (MSON, pronounced “Moe-son” or “Moe-sen”) development in Polk City, Florida.  MOSN is an RV community that includes several lakes.  Some of the lots are just RV pads, with perhaps a small storage shed and/or a gazebo, while others lots have large homes with carports or garages for maximum-size Class A RVs.  This fenced/gated community has a strong HOA.  The homes and properties all have a certain look, albeit a nice one, and are all well-maintained.  Class A motorhomes and large 5th wheel travel trailers have to be under cover or inside while smaller motorhomes must be inside (out of sight).  Travel trailers are not permitted.

We were familiar with the Polk City area and MOSN, having wintered three times at the LeLynn RV Park and visited Paul and Nancy at MOSN when they had their previous Winnebago Tour motorhome on a lot there for one winter, and again when they had the American Coach Eagle motorhome on a different lot there.  But this was our first opportunity to see the lakeside house/property they had purchased.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Nancy, and me (Bruce).  In the central plaza at Disney Springs.  The stairs to the closest parking garage are to the left.  (Photo by Linda)

We spent five (5) nights at Paul and Nancy’s home.  We had just spent all of November with them at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but it was nice to see them again.  As usually happens when we are together, Nancy and Linda did joint menu planning and took turns as chef and sous chef.  Paul and I did our part, and ate whatever we were served.

 

Almost every store at Disney Springs is interesting.  Some are unusual, and a few are amazing.  The M&M Store, was all three!

But first on the list of things to do was a visit to Disney Springs.  When we get together with Paul and Nancy in this area, we always visit Disney Springs at least once.  Once turned out to be all the time we had for this visit, but we did manage to find some things at the Marvel Studios store for our cruise in February on the Disney Cruise Line DREAM.  After all, the cruise included a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirates Day” themed events.  We had dinner there, somewhere close to the Cirque de Soleil building, but I don’t recall exactly where or what we had to eat.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Linda, and Nancy pose in front of the Sorcerer Mickey LEGO statute in front of the Disney Springs LEGO store.  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is still my all-time favorite Disney animation, but I grew up involved in classical music, so …

Marty and Pat, our friends and fellow Great Lakes Converted Coaches (GLCC) and Converted Coach Owners (CCO) members from Michigan, were at LeLynn again this year, so we arranged to have them over to Paul and Nancy’s one evening for dinner.  It was great to see them, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening.  Our GLCC friends from northern Indiana, Pat and Vickie, were also in the area, staying at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness campground resort, as they do every January (and have for quite some time).  We drove up there one day to visit with them.

 

 

 

 

 

The LEGO Store at Disney Springs has an amazing outdoor display of life-size and greater-than-life-size, figures.  Star Wars is heavily represented in this collection, but this serpent in the water has always been a favorite of mine.

Those are the highlights of these six (6) days; a bit of running around and socializing, with plenty of time to eat, relax by the lake, watch Morning Joe, and chat about RVing and cruising and being (mostly) retired.

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Note:  There is one (1) photo in this post, taken by Linda using a Google Pixel 6.

 

MONDAY 01 – FRIDAY 05 January 2024 — A new year begins with new adventures

Madeline and Cabela around 9:30 in the morning.  Mads looks happy but a bit bleary-eyed, so maybe we did let her stay up until midnight wish 2023 adieu and welcome in 2024.

The youngest and middle grand-daughters spent last night with us.  I think we let the older one (Mads) stay up until midnight, but maybe not.  Or perhaps she was tired and didn’t see the point.  I doubt that, however, as staying up until midnight seems like a very adult thing to do; and at the newly turned age of 11 years, she wants to be very adult.  Anyway, that was certainly my family’s tradition as I was growing up, and we carried that into our adult/married lives.  There was a period of time when my parents even hosted a sizeable party of neighbors and other friends.  We always went outside at the stroke of midnight and made a lot of celebratory noise.  Being in the St. Louis, Missouri area at the time, the weather might be pleasant or cold and snowy.  Marilyn had to return to St. Louis before the turn of the year, but for many of her holiday visits over the years she was with still at our house on New Year’s Eve.  And we were usually working hard to finish a large jigsaw puzzle.  Part of the tradition was also food, especially smoked salmon (me), cold shrimp cocktail (all of us) wine and finely bubbly at midnight.  Carbonated non-alcoholic options were always available, of course.

I don’t recall if Brendan and Shawna drove up to get the girls, but I think we picked them up and brought them to our house and dad/mom drove up to retrieve them.  The rest of the week, through Friday the 5th, mostly involved getting things ready for us to fly to Florida on Saturday the 6th.  From the calendar it appears that:  we renewed our domain name, and possibly our hosting plan; one of us had a doctor’s appointment, and; we went out to a movie with John and Diane and then had dinner.

 

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Note:  There are four (4) photos in this post, all taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

TUESDAY 26 to SUNDAY 31 December 2023 — Wrapping up the year

Marilyn was here until she started for home on the 27th.  Our calendar suggests that Linda (and Marilyn) might have had lunch with Diane on the 26th, and that Linda and I definitely went to John and Diane’s house for dinner on the 27th.  Getting together with them between Christmas day and New Year’s Eve is something we done most years since our eldest children were born in 1978, if we are not traveling, of course.  It looks like we also Zoomed with Paul and Nancy on the 29th, but that is something we do fairly regularly anyway.

 

The dinner table decorated with Happy New Year! 2024 napkins.

One of the things we did during the last couple of weeks was create a Happy New Year card.  In the past we have done a “year in review holiday letter” that included, as much as possible, at least one photo from each month, but focused on major events and outings.  We don’t have any notes on the calendar regarding this, so I don’t know the exact dates that were involved.  Nor does it matter.  What matters is we got in done in time to mail it out and have them arrive by January 1st.

 

 

 

 

 

The “girls” at work in the kitchen preparing the New Year’s Eve dinner.

 

Sadie’s place setting at the dinner table.  As Madeline got older we started using placemats that had something interesting on them for them learn.  We started with alphabet placemats.  This one has to do with addition of numbers.

Of note is that we decided to use Shutterfly for the first time to create the holiday card.  Our son/daughter-in-law have used it for some time for all sorts of things, including an annual calendar that they gift to us at Christmas.  The quality of the products has always been very high and Linda suspected that this approach would be quicker than me putting together the annual letter.  She was right, and we were both pleased with the result.

 

 

The big, and not quite as big, sous chefs with their 2024 tiaras.

 

 

 

Knowing that Brendan and Shawna would appreciate some adult only time on New Year’s Eve, Linda offered to have the girls sleep over at our house.  Following are a few photos of our dinner meal, which I’m sure the girls helped the “Ama” prepare.

 

 

 

 

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Note:  This post contains three (3) photos, all taken by Linda with a Google Pixel 6.

 

MONDAY 25 December 2023 — A Christmas Surprise

Although we do not celebrate Christmas (Easter, etc.) as religious holidays, we have always gathered as a family, if possible, on these days.  Since Madeline came into the world 11 years ago, it has been the family tradition to gather at her parent’s house (our son and daughter-in-law) on Christmas day.  The tradition has always been to have some form of breakfast meal before opening gifts.  That meal has occasionally involved some serious cooking, but more recently has been fruit and bagels with lots of choices of things to put on the bagels.

 

The family at the breakfast table, minus Linda (who is taking the photo).  L-2-R, Chris, Meghan, Madeline, Brendan, Shawna, Sadie and me (Bruce).  Marilyn’s right arm is visible in the lower left of the frame.  Note that Brendan’s family is sporting matching holiday pajamas.

 

Madeline poses in front of the Christmas tree, which is surrounded by wrapped gifts.

Christmas is still a big deal for the two youngest grand-daughters, as the previous photos show, but this Christmas held a special surprise; the revealing of the family cruise in late February 2024 on the Disney Crise Line ship DREAM.  The moment was met with the anticipated squeals of delight.

The girls were, understandably, very excited, especially the 11-year-old (Madeline) who exclaimed (in a high-pitched, excited voice) “I finally get to go on a cruise.”  This seemed to imply that she was “finally” getting to do something that she felt she deserved to do but had somehow been arbitrarily and unfairly denied the experience.  And she was very much aware that Linda and I (Ama and Apa to Sadie) had been on a couple of cruises recently and obviously had enjoyed the experience.  But she had been to Walt Disney World three times and had a very tangible understanding of what it meant to be doing something “Disney.”  We also knew she had been hoping to go a cruise someday (sooner rather than later) and we were pleased at her obvious excitement, and that we were able to make this happen sooner rather than later.

The itinerary was western Caribbean, including Cozumel, but that was not an important detail at this stage.  This was going to be all about the cruise, which would include a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirate Day.”  Arrrgh, matey.

 

Sadie takes her turn in front of the Christmas tree and gifts.

The 5-year-old (Sadie) was also very excited, of course, especially when she understood that whatever else this experience might be about, it was going to be a Disney-based family outing that included her parents, sister, and everyone else in the room, plus her cousin Katie, who was not able to make it home from North Carolina for the holidays.

Linda had booked the cruise, in consultation with all of the affected adults, and we were covering the cost of the four adjacent staterooms and the shore excursions, with everyone responsible for their own transportation and hotel costs.  So, it was really a big Christmas present for everyone, including us.  There will be blog posts on this family adventure sometime in the spring of 2024.

 

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Note:  There are seven (7) photos in this post.  Photos were taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda were taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 24 December 2023 — A Christmas Eve family gathering

One of our family traditions is that our daughter (Meghan) and husband (Chris) host Christmas Eve dinner.  We are not always home at this time of year, but when we are, we look forward to this event.  It’s not just dinner; it’s a whole day family gathering, and many hands contribute to the preparation of the dinner meal.  And it’s not just a meal; it’s a themed meal based on traditional dishes from other countries/cultures.  This year’s theme was African, specifically Ethiopian.  Following are a few photos from that day:

 

When Marilyn visits us for the Christmas holidays, part of tradition is to assemble a jigsaw puzzle.  ABIR, the one this year was borrowed from our daughter, Meghan.  I also recall that it was difficult to do, so I suspect that Linda and I had started on it before Marilyn arrived.  (Photo by Linda)

Marilyn watches as Madeline mixes food coloring into the icing for the cookies.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

Meghan, Marilyn, and Madeline working on the cookies.  (Photo by Linda)

L-2-R, Brendan (our son), Sadie (the 5-year-old), Meghan (our daughter), Madeline (the 11-year-old), and Shawna (our daughter-in-law).  (Photo by Linda)

L-2-R, Chris (our son-in-law), Linda, and Madeline working their way through the serving line.

Another view of the serving line for dinner.  L-2-R, Marilyn, Chris, and Madeline.

A closer view of the main/hot dinner dishes.  Both our daughter and son are excellent cooks, and coordinate with Linda in making sure there are plant-based dishes available at family gatherings.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Note:  This post has three (3) photos, all taken by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

SUNDAY 17 to SATURDAY 23 December 2023 — Getting ready for the holidays

Things were busy for us, as they are for many people, during the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve and the end-of-year holidays.  Our middle grand-daughter, Madeline, turned 11 years old this week, and we attended a birthday gathering for her on the 17th at her family’s house in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She is almost as tall as Linda, and is so grown up in many ways.  We also built a gingerbread house early in this week.  It was a kit that our friend, Kate, gave us late last week when we met her for dinner.  Here are three photos of it from the 18th:

 

Gingerbread house, left oblique view.

 

Gingerbread house, front view.

 

Gingerbread house, right oblique view

 

From our calendar for this time period, it appears that Linda made a second trip to the bakery and had an appointment with her audiologist, who takes care of her Cochlear Implant and associated devices.

On the 19th, we had the core group of our neighborhood “gang” over for some pre-holiday festivities.  We really do enjoy the company of these people.  Although we are all retired, we all seem to have active, busy lives.  As a result, we don’t get to spend as much time with them as we would like.

Linda’s older/only sister, Sr. Marilyn, arrived on the 21st, having taken two days to drive here from St. Louis.  She has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis, Missouri all of her adult life, but has spent many Christmas holidays with us over those years.  Linda and I are both part of relatively small families.  I have a sister and Linda has three siblings, and none of our siblings live in Michigan, or even close by.  We appreciate and value that our children, and our two youngest grand-daughters, have had a chance to get to know Marilyn.

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Note:  There are 3 photos in this post, all taken by me (Bruce) on a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

SUNDAY 03 – SATURDAY 16 December 2023 — Getting back into home life

 

Sunday, December 3rd, 2023 — Getting the house back online.

When we are away from the house for more than a few days, I deactivate or adjust various things:

  1. I deactivate the water softener and chlorinator/filter by unplugging the AC power adapters.  The coin batteries remain in the controllers, but when the signal for a regeneration cycle, the motorized valves cannot respond.  Thus, nothing happens.
  2. I also turn off the UPS units for most of the electronics in the house. The exceptions are the one in the basement that powers the Xfinity gateway/WiFi-router and network switch, and the one by Linda’s desk in the kitchen, which powers the network switch that the whole-house generator communication module is plugged into.
  3. I also shut off the circuit breakers that feed the RV electrical outlets in our driveway.
  4. We might set some mechanical clock timers to control a couple of lights.
  5. We set all of the thermostats down and place them in a HOLD condition. (The thermostat in the workshop of the barn is set to maintain a temperature above freezing in the storeroom above it.)

Thus, one of the first things I have to do upon our return is reverse all of this.  I plug the water softener and chlorinator/filter back in, and will also typically initiate a regeneration cycle on one of them.  Which one depends on their remaining water treatment capacity.  UPS units are turned back on and electronics are powered up.  Thermostats are returned to the automatic/programmed operation, and light timers are put back in the switched position.  The RV outlet by the driveway in front of the house obviously gets turned on.

Apparently I have the (annoying) habit of laundering EVERYTHING upon our return from a trip.  In the case of RV travel, that includes towels and bedding in addition to clothes; sometimes even jackets, if I feel they need it.  This does not happen, however, in one day.  For one, it’s too much stuff that would take too much time and, for another, that much laundry at one go would overload the septic system.  And nobody wants that.  I suspect that I started on this task today, moving everything to the basement, sorting it, and selecting a load or two to start.

 

Monday, December 4th, 2023 — Chores, Chores, and more Chores

Whatever else we did today, I suspect that I spent part of it continuing to do the laundry.  I don’t mind doing the laundry, in fact I somewhat enjoy it.  In any event, it has to be done and Linda handles the kitchen pretty much by herself, so this duty falls to me.  It’s also likely that I powered up my laptop computer, downloaded e-mails, and started copying photos from our various devices to our NAS.

 

Tuesday, December 5th, 2023 — Winterizing the Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer

I do not recall why I waited, but according to our calendar I winterized the Airstream travel trailer today.  My best guess as to why I waited a few days was that I had too much else to do on Sunday and Monday immediately after returning home, but it’s also possible that the weather today was more amenable.  Whatever the case, absent any other information to the contrary, I will just have to accept that today was the day for this task.  This is not one of my favorite RV maintenance tasks, but it is what it is and it has to be done, as the RV portion of our barn is not climate-controlled.  Actually, they main thing I really don’t like is having to do it in the cold.

 

This is a photo of the internals of the thermostat in the shop portion of the barn.  I don’t recall why I photographed it, but I obviously removed the cover to check something.  As it turned out, it is wired correctly, and it works just fine.

For the rest of this time period, we attended to various things.  I obviously put the Airstream travel trailer back in the barn once it was winterized.  Linda had a routine medical appointment, did some child-care for the two younger grand-daughters, resumed walking with her friend, Diane.  She also did some accounting work for the bakery, and booked shore excursions for the Disney Cruise Line DREAM in late February of next year.  (NOTE:  The two youngest grand-daughters did NOT know about this cruise yet, but I did not upload this post until May 2024.)

We also had two different HVAC service companies at the house; Lakeside Service takes care of our BOSCH hot-water baseboard heating system, and Schutz Heating & Cooling takes care of our Mitsubishi-Trane Heat Pump system, which they installed.  We had dinner with friends (and fellow Prevost converted motorcoach owners), Chuck and Barbara, and with our friend, Kate.  We also opened up our Boondockers Welcome site to accommodate a special request from a couple who had stayed with us before.  They needed a place to camp for a few nights while they took care of some medical issues at the University of Michigan Hospital.  It turns out that we are one of the few good options for this situation, and we have had other RVers stay here for the same reason.

 

Saturday, December 16th, 2023 — Cloning, ham radio, and a concert

Earlier in the week, I took the 1 TB Samsung 870 EVO SSD (solid state drive) out of my ASUS laptop computer and tried to clone it to a 2 TB version of the same drive.  I wasn’t sure I had done it correctly, so I arranged to go over to Mike’s house (W8XH, from SLAARC, the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club).  He did the clone of my original HDD to the 1 TB SSD a few years ago and used his equipment to do this one.  While I was there, I had a chance to look at some amateur (ham) radio gear that was for sale and for which he was acting as custodian.

 

This Kenwood transceiver caught my eye, but I was equally interested in the HP Signal Generator underneath it.  Ultimately, I had to pass on buying anything as I am not currently active enough in the hobby to justify buying more equipment.

In the evening, we attended the Holiday “Pops” (popular music) concert of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (AASO) at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor main campus.  The orchestra was good, but our main reason for being there was the Ann Arbor Youth Chorus standing behind the orchestra in the photo below.

 

The AASO and AAYC in concert.  Our middle grand-daughter, Mads, is in the last row, 6th from the left.  She was still 10 on this date, but would turn 11 a week later.

 

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Note:  This post contains two (2) photos near the end.  Both were taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

FRIDAY 01 December 2023 — Another travel day

Our trip last month from home to Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama in October was around 1,400 miles and took 15 days because of our transit of the Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP).  The trip in the other direction was estimated at around 1,050 miles and a little over 14-hours driving time.  A shorter distance, for sure, as it would be more direct and we were not planning our route to include any special sites along the way.  Still, that would be an average daily driving distance of about 265 miles for each of the four travel days we planned for the trip, with a total driving time of 21 hours for an average 5 hours per day.  Our trip yesterday, however, was only 223 miles, so we still had 827 miles to travel over three days, or about 275 miles per day.  That was still within the 150 – 300 miles per day target that seems to work well for us.  In spite of cold temperatures, which would require us to quickly winterize the travel trailer once we got home, we were nonetheless eager to get there.

Our next overnight stop was the Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, a place we have stayed several times, including at the beginning of our drive down the NTNP.  We like this RV park, and find it convenient when RVing up and down I-65 through Kentucky and Tennessee.  Our mapping/routing apps indicated a 256-mile drive which we estimated to be about 5 hours driving time at our estimated average speed of 50 MPH.

Check-in at RV parks is generally sometime after noon, but can be as late as 3 PM.  A call to the resort confirmed that we could arrive and check-in sooner than that.  I suspect, but I do not recall, that we broke camp and were on our way between 9 and 9:30 AM and arrived between 2 and 2:30 PM.  As best I recall (ABIR), the weather was nice when we arrived, which gave us plenty of time to leisurely “make camp,” and then go for a walk around the RV park.  We then detached the truck from the travel trailer and went in search of food and fuel.  I do not recall what the weather was like during the evening and over-night hours, but if we had storms (which can be fierce in this area) they must not have been too bad as we were not awakened and our truck/trailer did not have any damage.

 

SATURDAY 02 December 2023 — A minor technical issue, and home at last

As mentioned above, when we left Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama on 30 November, we intended to take four days to make the trip home, stopping for three nights along the way, and arriving home on Sunday, December 3rd.  Indeed, Linda had made a reservation for each of the three nights.  ABIR these many months later, our last and final stop was booked at the Lebanon / Cincinnati NE KOA northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio and east of I-75, another KOA where we have stopped in the past.  The distance for this leg was approximately 300 miles, with a time estimate a little over 4 hours, which we figured would be closer to 6 hours.  (We use KOAs because when they are convenient to our route as it is easy to book online and easy to cancel with little or no penalty.)

One of the issues for us, when towing the travel trailer, is that the fuel economy of the F-150 / trailer combination usually averages around 12 MPG.  This is about 60% – 50% of the 20 – 24 MPG we can get from the truck during extended highway travel without the trailer.  We have a 36-gallon fuel tank so, hypothetically we can travel 432 miles before running out of gasoline, but we do not like the run the tank below the 1/4 mark if possible.  As a practical cutoff, as we approach the 300-mile mark of a leg we start to incur additional travel time because we have to stop for fuel before reaching our destination.  That also means trying to find a filling station that we can get into, position the rig for good access to a pump, and exit without getting stuck or damaging the trailer.  Yeah, we worry about things like that.  (Our preferred routine is to get to our campsite, set up camp, and then disconnect the truck and go find fuel.)  Fuel economy combines with other factors to determine a realistic ETA such as:  a) the time required to exit an RV park and make our way on surface streets to the highway we plan to travel, and b) the fact that we tend to drive at 62 MPH on highways posted at 65 or 70 MPH.  Basing our ETAs on that average speed has worked remarkably well for us.

Our only technical mishap of the entire trip (with the trailer) happened this morning.  Everything was going according to our usual routine for breaking camp and packing up.  When I tried to unplug the “50A RV” shorepower cord from the socket end of the Hughes Power Watchdog EPO surge/transient protector device, however, the ground pin on the cord broke off and remained lodged in the Power Watchdog.  The ground pin turned out to be potted metal surrounded by brass, and was much weaker by design that I would have expected.  Also, the plug was molded so, given these two facts, there was no chance of being able to do a field repair on this expensive piece of junk.

We did not have a spare “50 A” cord with us, as they are just too bulky and heavy to carry a second one.  (We always had a spare in the converted motorcoach, but we have the space and load capacity for that.)  We also did not want to try and buy a new one as they are expensive, the RV park store was unlikely to have (a good) one much less at a bargain price, and we did not want to take the time to go find one somewhere else.  We did have a “15 A” cord that was sufficient to run the lights (LED) and control circuits for the refrigerator, hot water heater, and furnace, which would allow us to use propane as the heat source, but because we were moving into an area with much colder temperatures, we were not comfortable with that option.

While our planned drive today was 300 miles, we were still almost 600 miles from our house.  That distance represented a 12-hour drive, including one or two fuel stops.  We pondered the situation for a while, but fairly quickly decided to cancel our overnight stop for this evening at the Lebanon / Cincinnati NE KOA, and just go home.  I probably drove faster that 62 MPH, but we still arrived home in the dark just ahead of a looming drop in temperatures.

 

The dining room portion of our open floor plan with the entry vestibule and kitchen.  Rather than try to keep the trailer warm, which would use a lot propane, we unloaded most of the food and other cold-sensitive items from the interior of the trailer.  Some of them are spread out on the table and others are on the floor in the vestibule by the stairs to the lower level.

 

Since we did not have a chance to winterize the travel trailer before getting home, I plugged it in to shorepower (which I had to turn on inside the house), turned on the propane furnace, and set it to about 45 degrees F.  Winterizing the trailer in the next few days would be a high a priority.

 

More of the stuff from the trailer on the counters in the kitchen.  Stuff tends to get loaded into the trailer gradually but unloaded quickly, so the unloading process tends to reveal just how much stuff we have onboard.

 

Much to our delight, and something of a surprise, Cabella (the cat who is not our cat but is basically becoming our cat) quickly appeared and did not hesitate coming into the house.  I worried about her the whole time we were away, even though our neighbor (Mike) was checking on her automatic feeder every week and restocking it as needed.  I was relieved that Cabella had clearly been getting enough to eat and looked well.

 

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Note:  There are three (3) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce), were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 30 November, 2023 — Escaping the weather and making our way home

 

We were keeping a close eye on the weather forecast over the last few days.  Based on what was happening, and forecast to happen, we decided to leave Luxury RV Resort a day early to try to get ahead of a weather system that had the potential to make breaking camp, driving, and setting up camp somewhat unpleasant.  Yesterday, Linda made one-night reservations at Birmingham South KOA (Birmingham, Alabama) and Grand Ole RV Resort (Goodlettsville, Tennessee).  When possible, we like to know we have a place to spend the night before we hookup and pull out.

 

Our travel trailer in its site for the night at Birmingham South KOA near Birmingham, Alabama.

We were successful in avoiding the weather and had an uneventful day leaving Gulf Shores, Alabama except for the “info-navi-tainment” screen/system in the F-150, which had developed an issue wherein it could not remember previous or stored destinations or how to pair with my Pixel 6 Pro smartphone.  I had spent quit a bit of time the last few days fussing around with this, resetting the system and installing updates, all to no avail.  I could still pair my phone, but had to initiate it manually each time.  The GPS/navigation system still worked, but if we turned the engine off for any reason, such as stopping for fuel, we had to re-enter the address of our destination.  Not the end of the world, but the most annoying thing was the radio came on when I turned the ignition on, and I could NOT turn it off or adjust the volume before performing a soft-rebooting of the system.  It was annoying, given the price of the truck, but we have a bumper-to-bumper extended warranty that includes all of the electronic systems onboard, so we knew it would be taken care of once we got home.  Besides, Linda always puts the destination in her phone and tracks our route and progress in parallel with the built-in system.

 

A view of the other side of our travel trailer in its site for the night at Birmingham South KOA near Birmingham, Alabama.  I mean … it’s a thing of beauty and joy to behold, so it has to be shared.

The drive to our first overnight stop was uneventful and we arrived at the Birmingham South KOA near Birmingham, Alabama, well before sunset.  It was a very nice RV park, and setting up camp was routine, even if we were a bit out of practice after sitting in the same spot for a month.  The park was already decorated for the Christmas Holiday season, which gave it a festive look and feel.

We unhooked the truck and drove around the area a bit, mostly to find fuel and food (Panera), but also to just have a look.  In the process we found ourselves driving through some very nice areas with very nice houses.  This wasn’t the first time this had happened to us.  I’m not sure why, but it came as bit of surprise just how much (apparent) wealth there is spread out all over the nation.

 

The entrance road and office/store/laundry building at Birmingham South KOA after sunset, all decked out for the Christmas holidays with the lights turned on.

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Note:  There are 19 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUE 21 – WED 29 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 3/3

 

This post covers our last nine full days at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Our reservation was through the night of the 30th with departure on December 1st but we left on 30 November, one day early, to try and get ahead of a weather system that was moving our way.  Up to that point, however, the weather had generally been very nice.  Gulf Shores is a lovely place, climate-wise, in the late fall and winter.

At the Sunliner Diner in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Counter-clockwise (L-2-R) around the table:  Evan, Anne, Paul, Robert (obscured, at his request), Linda (behind Nancy’s arm) and Nancy.

We continued to visit with Paul, Nancy, and Robert and occasionally also Kate and Charlie from the nearby Escapees RV Club Rainbow Plantation RV Park.  This small group of people are very much kindred spirits; each of them very much of the same mind as us when it comes to religion and politics and food (by and large), which makes for a comfortable and enjoyable time together.

This antique car is inside the Sunline Diner.  The doors on the passenger side have been removed to make a dining booth.

 

Paul makes a final inspection of the layout of our Thanksgiving dinner food in the Luxury RV Clubhouse in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Paul and Nancy’s son, Evan, and his wife, Anne, drove down from Ann Arbor, Michigan and joined us for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Nancy arranged for the use of the Luxury RV Resort clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day, which allowed us to share a meal in comfort with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended, including Kate and Charlie, and shared the work of putting together a nice meal.

 

 

 

 

The first of two tables for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Robert (obscured), Nancy, Anne, and Evan.

 

The other table for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Charlie, Paul, me (Bruce), Linda, and Kate.

 

Me (Bruce) sitting on the sofa in our Airstream travel trailer and using my iPad Pro.  Since Bella is also on the sofa, we were probably dog-sitting while Paula and Nancy were doing something that precluded taking their dog along.

We made a couple of visits to the Sunliner Diner during this time, and visited Historic Fort Morgan at the tip of the peninsula that extends west from Gulf Shores into Mobile Bay, stopping for lunch at a bayside restaurant.  Nice weather and dramatic sunsets continued during these nine days, with the later eventually portending of approaching weather.

 

 

 

A view of Fort Morgan, Fort Morgan State Historic Site, Alabama.

 

One of the entrances to the interior of Fort Morgan SHS.  The rectangular block centered above the opening says “Fort Morgan 1830.”  The two parallel lines on the pavement are embedded railroad ties.  My presumption was that these made it possible to use trollies with railcar wheels to move heavy loads in/out of the Fort.

 

 

The previous photo, this photo, and the next two (2) photos were taken at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site.

 

From Wikipedia:  Fort Morgan is a historic masonry pentagonal bastion fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Alabama, United States. Named for American Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, it was built on the site of the earlier Fort Bowyer, an earthen and stockade-type fortification involved in the final land battles of the War of 1812. Construction was completed in 1834, and it received its first garrison in March of the same year.  …  Fort Morgan is at the tip of Mobile Point at the western terminus of State Route 180 (Alabama). It and Dauphin Island, on which Fort Gaines is situated, enclose Mobile Bay. The Alabama Historical Commission maintains the site.

 

An interior view of part of Fort Morgan, clearly showing the masonry construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another entrance tunnel into Fort Morgan.  I thought the way the bricks were arranged to create the arch was architecturally interesting, although I presumed that they were set this way for fundamentally structural reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the Sunliner Diner for breakfast before Robert checks out of Luxury RV Resort and heads for points West.  From L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  me (Bruce) taking a selfie of the group, Robert (obscured). Nancy, Paul, and Linda.

 

Robert’s class B motorhome and Jeep in front of the office at Luxury RV Resort while he connects them together in final preparation for his departure from the resort.  The foreground is a sitting area with a firepit.  To the left are some holiday decorations that are featured in the next two photos.

 

Linda provides a sense of scale for the Christmas holiday decorations at Luxury RV Resort; a travel trailer pulled by two Flamingoes.  Two lawn chairs and a Christmas tree with wrapped presents are also visible.  [Note that the door of the trailer is on the “driver” side, which is incorrect.  The main entrance doors of all commercial RVs are on the passenger/curb side, with the utility connections (hookups) on the driver/street side, and RV parks and campgrounds are built around this conventional arrangement.]

This photo of the other side of the trailer decoration shows more clearly that the trailer is a large/round straw/hay bale and that the trailer has tires.  A doll (or small mannequin) that is approximately half normal human-size, is holding one end of the brown sewer hose which runs down into the “dump” connection.

 

We were treated to a nice sunset on our final evening at Luxury RV Resort.  This view is looking southeast, so I could catch the sunset reflecting off of the windows in our travel trailer along with the general soft pink illumination of the aluminum siding and the effect of the color on the clouds to the southeast.

 

The play of light on the clouds seems to say “look at this trailer,” so I did.

 

A composite of four images creates a panoramic view of our final Gulf Shores sunset as it provides a wonderful backdrop for our travel trailer.

 

A composite of three images produces a panoramic photo of an amazing sunset behind some of the tall buildings in the downtown/beach area of Gulf Shores, Alabama, as seen from our travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.

 

One of the three images used for the previous composite photo highlighting the letters A I R S T R E A M across the rear of our travel trailer, just above the awing over the large/opening window.

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SAT 11 – MON 20 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 2/3

 

Magnetic Minnie Mouse name placards for Madeline and Sadie’s stateroom door on the Disney Dream.

During our second 10 days in Gulf Shores, Alabama, we did a variety of things.  Linda brought accounting work for the bakery, of course, and spent some time on that.  She also walked almost every day, and we went on a few hikes together.  Linda also spent time planning and preparing meals with Nancy and Robert, and the five of us (the three just mentioned plus Paul and myself) dined together almost every night.  We also continued to make plans, and purchase odds and ends, for the Disney cruise Linda booked for late February next year.  The two younger grand-daughters did not find out about this until Christmas, but I wasn’t posting in real-time anyway (obviously).

 

Our walks along the marsh and over to Gulf State Park afforded a variety of views.  I am always on the lookout for nature images that have an element of abstraction and this caught my eye.

 

As seen from this vantage point, the marsh surrounding Luxury RV Resort extends well to the north and east to Gulf State Park

 

We ate well during our time at Luxury RV Resort, which is to say, healthy, delicious, and attractive.  The dishes shown here are an amazing salad and a pear upside down cake.  Yummy.

The sunrises and sunsets in Gulf Shores can be spectacular, and we had several of each during these 10 days.  Our trailer was parked with the rear end pointing slightly east of south, so the large wrap-around rear windows provided good views of both the sunrise and the sunset; good enough at least to see that something was happening and get outside with the phone and/or camera if called for.

 

 

Our travel trailer and truck against a beautiful sunset, but this turned out to just be the warmup for what was to follow.

I suspect that most photographers take sunrise and sunset photos (and flower photos, etc.), always hoping to capture something stunning and unique.  They can be a bit of clique; I lay no claim to unique, and stunning is rare.  But one of the first photos I ever took that I thought was worth printing and looking at was a sunset I saw while stopped for the night in Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  I was on my way from my parents’ house in St. Louis, Missouri to Red Fox Music Camp, in southwest Massachusetts.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, and I was making the drive by myself, so that probably had something to do with why I liked the photo.  I still have the print, matted and framed, and on display in our rec room.  I have been interested in sunset (and sunrise) photos ever since then.

 

Ooh, that’s nice!  But wait, there’s more!

 

And here it is!  Sometimes you have to go wide, and sometimes you have to zoom in.  The photographic capabilities of the Google Pixel 6 Pro smartphone really are impressive.  And, most importantly, I always have it with me, which cannot be said for my SONY cameras, as much as I enjoy using them and like the results.

 

Robert (out-of-frame to the left, Nancy (right) and me (center) making pasta for dinner.  (Robert does not like his image displayed in social media, so I have tried to respect that in my posts without ignoring his important presence in our group.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought this more subtle, pastel sunset was worth capturing and sharing.  Pretty isn’t always dramatic.

 

Again, zooming in and isolating the most important features of the scene resulted in a stronger photo, IMHO.  But hey, it’s my photo and I get to make that decision.

 

Linda was out for a morning walk and captured this image of work being done to restore the beach in central Gulf Shores, Alabama.  These large pipes were serving a dual purpose, being used here to drag and smooth the sand.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Another photo from the same vantage point as the previous one.  A bulldozer is moving larger quantities of sand.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The other use of these large pipes was pumping sand onto the beach from the dredging barges used to collect it just offshore, up and down the beach for quite some distance.  This stretch of the shore at the northern extent of the Gulf of Mexico is subject to serious weather during hurricane season and the attendant beach erosion.  Nice white-sand beaches, in pristine condition, are central to the economies of the many towns that dot this coastline, and to the region in general.  As such, considerable effort and resources are put into their maintenance.  (Photo by Linda).

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce), unless otherwise indicated, were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WED 01 – FRI 10 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort, Gulf Shores, Alabama (1/3)

This is the first of three (3) posts that cover our time in Gulf Shores, Alabama during the month of November, 2023.

We arrived at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama on November 1st per our reservation, which was for the entire month (we got a better rate that way).  We had stayed here before at the suggestion of our friends, Paul and Nancy, who now keep a 5th wheel trailer here during the winter, with their Goldendoodle, Bella.   Robert, our new friend from this past summer, and his dog Buddy (an English Retriever), were also there for the month.  Our friends, Kate and Charlie, were at their place at the Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV park in Summerdale, so not too far away.  Having explored the area on our previous visit, we were looking forward to just having some time to relax and enjoy the pleasant weather in the company of these friends, including walks to the nearby seashore nearby (~1/2 mile), along with occasional visits to a few of the many things to see and do in the area, such as Fairhope, Alabama.

 

Our first sunrise in Gulf Shores, Alabama (for this visit) as seen from the rear windows of our 2020 Airstream Flying Cloud 27 FBT travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.  The weather was generally good during our visit; not too much rain with mild temperatures and some nice sunrises and sunsets.

 

The passenger/curb side of our travel trailer parked in our site for the month at Luxury RV Resort.  Spacious enough site with a concrete pad/patio with a picnic table and good utility hookups.

 

 

A view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico looking east from the central beach plaza where Hwy 59 ends between E Beach and W Beach roads.

 

A view to the west from the same vantage point as the previous photo.

 

Gulf Shores is a somewhat quirky beachside town that trades on its location.  It’s a well-maintained and attractive place, with beautiful white sand beaches, restaurants (with fish and seafood on offer, of course), night life, surf shops, t-shirt shops, and quintessential “tourist” shops, as well as a very nice state park and lots of nature and history in the surrounding area.  It is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly place as well.  The central beach area was approximately a 1/2 mile walk from the RV park.  The photos that follow highlight a few of these things.

 

Souvenir City on the west side of Hwy 59 in downtown Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Linda is standing in the mouth of the giant shark “sculpture,” which is where the entrance to the store is located.  This place is definitely a “beach town” souvenir shop, and we spent an obligatory amount of time exploring all that it had to offer, which was impressive for its sheer quantity and diversity.

 

The “kitsch” at Souvenir City didn’t end with the entrance shark.  This fiberglass model of the head end of a hammerhead shark was setup for photo ops, and we used it in accordance with the mandatory rules of  tourist etiquette.

 

We only got the entire group together a few times during the month, but Nancy arranged for the use of the RV park clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day so we could share a meal with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended and shared the work of putting together a nice meal, but a bit more on that in post 3 of this set.

 

What would a tourist/beach town be without a diner?  Hungry, I suppose.  Not a problem here.  The Sunliner Diner might not be authentic, in the sense of having been around for a long time, but it definitely had the look and feel, with some nicely preserved/restored old cars thrown in.

 

Just south of Luxury RV Resort, a major marsh extends east from Hwy 59 all the way to Gulf State Park.  This boardwalk provided walking access to the Wade Ward Nature Park part of it.  Linda walked almost every day while we were camped in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and I sometimes went too, along with Paul and Nancy.

 

 

The marsh mentioned in the previous photo caption clearly had some open water as well.  We were always on the lookout for wildlife, especially alligators, of course.  We saw birds and waterfowl and small animals, but never spotted any “gators.”  The Luxury RV Resort office building and a few RVs are visible, center right in the photo.

 

Our travel trailer, center-frame, with the bathhouse to center-right.  It was close enough to be really convenient.  Also, the clubhouse was just across the street, and it also had bathrooms with showers.

 

This photo was taken some four (4) hours after the previous one.  I think Linda is looking out over Mobile Bay as enlarging the photo faintly shows tall buildings on the distant horizon (in the direction of Mobile, Alabama).  But don’t hold me to this.

 

 

The Gulf of Mexico from the beach west of the Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Even when the weather was not all sunshine and unicorns, it was interesting and sometimes dramatic.  A couple of oil platforms are just barely visible on the horizon, center and left in the frame.

 

Another photo from the same place on the beach.  From left-to-right:  Buddy, Robert, Linda, Nancy, Paul, and Bella.  There was a small parking area out-of-frame to the left, with public access to the beach.