Sunday, August 30, 2015

Biking By Moonlight

The front of the shirt-it glows in the dark!
Last night at midnight Hubby Tony and I were lined up (along with thousands of other people) on our bikes ready to start this year's Moonlight Ramble bike ride.

Last year was our first time to participate.  We had so much fun that when I got an email at the end of May saying registration was open I immediately signed us up.  Since that time we've received regular updates, with a large flurry of information coming the last few weeks.

Thursday we picked up our t-shirts and ride numbers at a nearby bike shop.  Last night about the time I'm usually thinking about packing it in for the night we got in the car to drive downtown.  We got to the start/finish area a couple of hours before the ride began, and had time to check out the vendor tents, get our picture taken, and listen to the band that was playing.

This year we knew more about the procedures, so we headed towards the starting point earlier and ended up at the back of the first wave of riders to be released.  Once we started, the pack was so slow-moving for almost one block it was easier for me to walk my bike than to ride it.  However, once we made the first turn we could use all four lanes of the street and the group spread out.

The route went in a different direction, but just like last year the side streets were all blocked off and each had a volunteer standing by to keep traffic at bay.  A couple of miles into the ride all bike traffic stopped to let a firetruck and ambulance go by. I heard a rumor the emergency vehicles were for a rider who had taken a turn too quickly and injured themselves, but that was never verified.   After 15 minutes of waiting they let us resume.

There were two ride options.  The short version was almost 10 miles miles, and the longer was a little over 18 miles.  We chose the abbreviated one, and turned off the main route when told to.  About an hour and fifteen minutes after we got going we saw the 'finish' sign and knew our ride was over.

 Five years ago today: Pop Goes The Bubble

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can This Be Reused?

This morning I took an interesting quiz called Can This Be Reused?  The test's explanation said,
"Here are 10 household items that often end up in the trash. See how well you know how to reuse them."
Either the quiz was easy or I know a lot about recycling.  I got most of the answers right, but the factoids I learned will help me do an even better job in the future.

Five years ago today: Let's Go Ride A Bike

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How To Plank

I exercise on a regular basis, but my abdomen has always been my least-favorite part to work on.   Yesterday when I was at the chiropractor we were having a discussion about abdominal muscle weakness.  He said that the best exercise for that area was not crunches (which was news to me), but planks.  I told him I hated planks, and he replied that when you hate an exercise, it's probably because you need it the most.

He was a fan of the side plank, which he said did the best job of targeting the oblique muscles that give your spine stability.  Even though I told him I knew how to do the exercise, when he was finished adjusting my back he made me get up on the examination table so he could show me the proper form.

The first step was to lie on my side and prop my upper body up on my elbow and forearm, with my elbow directly below my shoulder.  Next, I placed my upper leg directly on top of the lower one, then straightened my waist so my body was rigid and straight.   After holding this position for a couple of seconds, he made me repeat it on the other side.

It was awkward doing the movement on a narrow table with someone dressed in street clothes standing two feet away, but he was insistent, saying too many people do it wrong, which doesn't give them the benefits of the exercise.  He gave me a couple of tips as I went along, then seemed to be satisfied with my form and let me get off the table and leave.

Five years ago today: Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


A friend of mine retired last year.  Now that she has time on her hands, she's taken to sending out a daily joke email.  Here's one of her recent groaners that I liked--and thought you might too.
Math Teacher Arrested at JFK Airport

A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy International airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a compass, an ancient wooden device called a “slide-rule”, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, the Attorney General said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-Gebra is a problem for us,” the Attorney General said. "They derive solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values. They use secret code names like ‘X’ and ‘Y’ and refer to themselves as ‘unknowns,’ but we have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.”

"As the Greek philosopher Isosceles used to say, 'There are 3 sides to every triangle'." The Attorney General went on to say that "Teaching our children sentient thought processes and equipping them to solve problems is dangerous and puts our government at risk."
Five years ago today: Wonder

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vacay 2015--Another Day, Another City, Another Country.

The last stop of our Mediterranean cruise found us in a new city and a new country.  The first four were all in Italy, but on Friday we docked at the port of Toulon in France.  Hubby Tony and I chose to use the day to experience (as the name of our shore excursion suggested) 'The Best of Provence".

The excursion focused on the city of Aix-en-Provence, which was once a Roman town noted for its hot springs.  Aix was a 90-minute drive from the port (including a rest stop at a gas station, because the guide told us bathrooms were hard to find in the historical section of the city).  When we reached Aix we stopped at the house where the artist Paul Cézanne was born, then got back on the bus and continued towards the old section.

Along with our guide we walked down the Cours Mirabeau (a major thoroughfare planted with rows of plane trees) and other streets stopping to see noteworthy and interesting buildings, statues, and fountains.

There are over 200 statues in Aix

A natural hot water fountain covered in moss, dating back to the Romans
After the tour was over we had a couple hours of free time.  Tony and I walked around the old town area, browsed through a farmer's market, and bought some souvenirs.   When it was time for lunch we grabbed an outside table at Les Deux Garcons, a historical cafe frequented by notables such as Paul Cézanne, Émile Zola, and Ernest Hemingway.

The placemat had a nice depiction of the restaurant, so I took a picture of it

Because I had spent so many days visiting Italian cities, all day long I kept slipping up and using the words 'si', 'buongiorno' and 'grazie' instead of the French 'oui', 'bonjour', and 'merci'.  If anyone noticed they were nice enough not to call me out on it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Vacay 2015--la Superba

For six out of seven mornings of our cruise, when Hubby Tony and I woke up our ship was docked in a different port.  This day it was Genoa, one of the two cities where we'd decided not to book an excursion.  After rolling out of bed we got ready leisurely, then we gathered all the things we'd need for the day and went to the dining room instead of the buffet for breakfast. 

When we left the ship there were taxi drivers and tour operators lined up just outside the port building door asking if we'd like to use their services.  However, when we declined, one of the tour salespeople was nice enough to give us a map of the city.  Much of it was written in Italian, though, so we relied heavily on chance and gut feeling to get us through the day.

It was about a half-mile walk from the dock to the city.   According to Wikipedia, Genoa has been nicknamed la Superba ("the Proud one"), but the area immediately around the port was industrial-looking and didn't live up to the nickname.  Once we reached and crossed the first major street we started passing the omnipresent shops that sold touristy trinkets.  We made a stop at a produce market where we bought some fruit to eat later, and kept going.  We missed the street Tony thought would take us to the city center, but instead of turning around we decided to just take the next one and see what happened.

What happened was a couple of hours wandering through the city center and rubbernecking as we passed by the beautiful buildings

Couldn't figure out the name of this building, but isn't it awesome?
and fountains

Piazza De Ferrari Fountain
that gave the city its nickname.

After several hours of exploring we were hot, tired, and hungry, and couldn't agree on the quickest way back to the ship.  When I saw a friendly-looking woman I decided to take matters into my own hands and went up to her holding my map.  I quickly determined she spoke no English, but by a little pantomiming (pointing to the ground in front of me and saying 'here' then pointing to the map and shrugging my shoulders) she got the idea that we wanted to know where we were and pointed us in the right direction.

It was another 20 minutes before we got back to the ship.  The air conditioning felt so good!

Chocolate and pistachio dessert at dinner

Friday, August 21, 2015

Vacay 2015--Port of Livorno/City of Florence

The fourth day of our Mediterranean cruise found us docked at the Port of Livorno, which was touted as 'the gateway to the historic cities of Florence and Pisa'. Once again, the cruise line offered a plethora of shore excursions.  Hubby Tony and I really had to give this one a lot of thought, but in the end we chose one that gave us a guided tour of Florence and time on our own to explore the city.

Right after breakfast we boarded a bus for the 90-minute trip to Florence.  The day's tour guide was a native of Livorno.  She apologized for the seediness of the industrial area we had to drive through to reach the highway, and said most of the town was very nice.  Along the way to Florence she gave us facts about the area we passed through.

When we reached the city the bus had to let us out on the perimeter because the old city streets were so narrow.

City streets

The tour lasted for almost two hours.  Our guide did a great job showing us the city highlights, including the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which was completed in the 15th century. Legend is that the church was founded by St. Francis.


The tour did not include the inside of the Basilica, but Tony and I visited it during our free time.  In addition to the beautiful Gothic architecture and stained glass windows, the sanctuary contains the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo.

Machiavelli resting place

Unfortunately, the Baptistery (a separate building across the Piazza del Duomo)  was being renovated in anticipation of a visit by Pope Francis in November.  The building was covered with plastic adorned with a replica of the original.  The tour guide told us that one of the highlights of the building is its bronze doors.  I'll have to wait until my net trip to Florence to experience them.

Baptistery under wraps
Next we moved to the Piazza Della Signoria, the city's main square.  There we saw a replica of  Michelangelo's David, standing in the original location.  The authentic statue is now in a museum (and we chose not to stand in a very long line to see it).


Right before our tour ended our guide took us to the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno River.  The bridge dates to the 1300s, and was the only structure across the Arno River that wasn't destroyed in World War II.

Ponte Vecchio bridge

Five years ago today: Are You Paying Attention?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vacay 2015--One Day At Sea

Our vacation cruise was a busy one.  Hubby Tony and I were on the ship for seven days; only one of those was a day at sea.  With only a single free day, I had a hard time figuring out how I wanted it to flow.  On the one hand, there was a plethora of interesting-sounding scheduled activities to take advantage of.  However, it would also be a nice idea to recharge my batteries for the rest of the week.

I ended up doing a little bit of both.  Since we didn't have somewhere early in the morning, we did not set an alarm.  I thought it was nice being able to move slowly and get ready at my own pace.  After breakfast we went to a presentation about our next ports of call.  The Shore Excursion director had a dry sense of humor and gave us some good information.

Next, I tried to do a load of laundry, only to find out that other people had the same idea I did and all the washers in the laundromat were in use.  No problems, though.  When I travel, my motto is 'Have sink, will hand wash'.  While Tony went to a fitness seminar.  I stayed back in the room, cranked up the Latin music channel on the TV, and cha cha'd around while I took care of enough of the dirty clothes to get us through the week.  When Tony came back there were wet things tossed over every empty hanger and dangling from all the laundry hooks I'd brought.

For lunch we decided to eat in the dining room instead of hitting the buffet again.  We ended up being seated with some lovely people, and we sat and chatted long after the food was gone.

Stuffed pepper for lunch
Stomachs full, we pondered what should come next.  It was too hot to sit poolside,  but we were able to find a table in the shade where we played a lively game of 500 Rummy while we watched the people jumping into the pool and hot tub.  We walked a few laps on the Promenade deck, then went back to the room to get ready for dinner.   After dinner we viewed a production in the ship's theater, and just like that our 'free' day had filled itself up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vacay 2015--Sorrentine Peninsula Fun

The second day of our Mediterranean cruise found us docked in Salerno, Italy.

Salerno was a substitute for the original port of Tunis, which they'd eliminated because of security concerns in Tunisia.  Having never been to either place, I didn't have an opinion about which city was better.  I did know that there were almost too many choices of things to do.  In addition to exploring the city itself, just a bus or boat ride away were the ruins of Pompeii or Herculaneum, the Isle of Capri, the city of Sorrento, and drives along the Amalfi coast. If you were so inclined, you could even hike to the top of Mt. Vesuvius!

After a lot of discussion, Hubby Tony and I chose an excursion that offered time to wander through Sorrento, a bus ride along the scenic coast, a stop for lunch, and more free time in the city of Amalfi.

At 7:30 a.m. we followed a stream of fellow cruisers to our gathering area, where we showed our excursion tickets and received a sticker showing what group we'd be with. We didn't have to wait long until it was time to go outside and board the large motor coach. The guide was a middle-aged woman who spoke English with a lovely Italian accent. During the 90 minute drive to Sorrento she pointed out parts of modern Pompei, and we got a glimpse of Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. We also saw a lot of olive and lemon trees and a few vineyards.

When we reached Sorrento the guide pointed out our meeting place, then we were free to explore.  Tony and I walked through the main part of the city, and bought a snack in a grocery store.  We also stopped at a cafe for a cup of coffee and a wi-fi network to make sure there were no emergencies back home.

A collection of Euro coins

When our time was up we boarded the bus again and headed towards the lunch restaurant, which was located a scenic 45-minute drive away along the Amalfi Drive.

Amalfi Coast from Tony
The restaurant sat at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea.  When we arrived there were bottles of wine and mineral waiting for us, and as soon as everyone was seated the wait staff came around and poured glasses of Prosecco.  After a wonderful multi-course meal we got back on the bus and continued towards Amalfi.  The road got narrower and more winding, and I decided I didn't want to know how close we were to the edge of some of the cliffs.

When the bus parked at Amalfi the guide told us what time to be back, and once again we were free to explore.  Although the city's cathedral was visible at the top of a large stairway, Tony and I decided to spend our time browsing on one of the main shopping streets.  I bought a small ceramic plate, which the clerk wrapped securely for the trip back.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Vacay 2015--Gotta Go!

Our Mediterranean cruise stopped at a different port almost every day. On Saturday night at 6:00 the ship left the dock in Civitavecchia. When we woke up on Sunday we were in Palermo, Sicily.

Instead of purchasing a shore excursion for this port, we decided we'd just explore the city on our own.  After breakfast we left the ship and navigated a small gauntlet of locals offering taxi services and tours.  We decided to sightsee via a hop-on-hop-off bus, so after looking at a couple of different options we bought tickets and walked a short distance to the bright red bus parked just outside the port area.

It took a while for the bus to fill up and get going, but while we were waiting the guide passed out ear bud headphones that would allow us to plug into the sound system and hear the commentary in one of six different languages.  Unfortunately, when we got going I figured out that the system on the back of the seat in front of me was static-filled.  I could understand enough to get by, though, and enjoyed riding by the historic attractions.  In my area 'old' is considered 250 years, and I had a hard time contemplating the timelessness of the centuries-old things I was seeing.

Tony and I got off at the first shuttle stop, a museum, but when we realized the admission fee was hefty we decided to pass and explore the area on foot.  It didn't take long for us to see the steeple of a church (the Palermo article on Wikipedia lists 17) and we decided to step in and take a look.  There was an older woman sitting on the left side of the entrance with a girl (I'm guessing her grand daughter, about 5 or 6 years old) at her feet.  We smiled at each other as we went in.

The sanctuary was modest, but beautiful.  There were several other people doing the same thing we were, and Tony and I wandered around admiring the building's statues and multiple side chapels. Before long I realized I needed a bathroom break.  I went back to the front door, and asked the woman where I might find one.  All I got in return was a blank stare.  I don't think she spoke any English, and my Italian is limited to just a couple of words.  I tried asking for the 'baño' and got the same result.  The woman must have read into my expression, though, and when she asked "pee pee?" I enthusiastically nodded.  She had the girl guide us to the far recesses of the building, where there were two rooms labeled W.C.   I used the seatless toilet and flushed it with the foot pedal, then washed my hands in the small sink.  When  both Tony and I were done the girl was waiting to guide us back to the church.

As we made our way towards the door the church bells pealed the call to worship, which indicates that Mass will be starting soon.  Tony and I looked at each other, and quickly decided to stay and join in.

church shortly before Mass started
I've been to a couple of non-English services a couple of times over the years.  The order of the Mass is always the same, but there are local differences that are interesting to see.  Not understanding Italian I can't say I got much out of the homily, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the cadence of the priest's beautiful deep voice.

When Mass was over we walked back to the shuttle stop.  We must have just missed a bus, because we had to wait for almost a half hour in the hot, humid sun.  By time the next bus came all we wanted to do is go back to the boat, have lunch, and cool off.

Dinner dessert
Five years ago today: Would You Like A Tomato With That?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Vacay 2015--From Shore To Ship

Our first night in Rome Hubby Tony and I slept for almost 12 hours.  However, since we had crashed so early the night before it was only 8:00 when we rolled out of bed. We dressed quickly, then went downstairs and helped ourselves to an excellent buffet breakfast in the hotel's dining room. After we were filled up and caffeinated, we gathered our things and headed out on another adventure.

We knew a car would pick us up at noon to take us to the cruise ship pier, so we only had a short time to take in as much more of the city as we could. For a little more than two hours we walked up and down streets, getting a little lost and then finding our way again. We stopped at the Spanish Steps, and admired the “Fountain of the Old Boat” at the bottom.  Next we walked down the Via Condotti, gawking at the displays in the high-end designer store windows.

Spanish Steps
When nature called we were too far away from the hotel to go back, so we followed the signs to a familiar place that we knew would have a bathroom available:

The fanciest McDonald's I've ever seen!
All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel to check out and wait for our ride.  The driver showed up right on time and loaded our luggage in the car for the 90 minute ride to the Civitavecchia port.  As we were leaving the city, he took a less-direct way that took us by the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.  Seeing those ancient monuments made me realize I needed to come back to Rome some day.

The cruise check in was uneventful, and before we knew it we were settled in our cabin and ready for what the week would bring.

Five years ago today: Play Ball!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Vacay 2015--When in Rome...

Before we could begin our Mediterranean adventure we had to get there.  We left our house about 9:30 Thursday morning for a flight from St. Louis to Charlotte.  There was a short layover, then we boarded the plane for our nine hour red-eye flight across the Atlantic.  We arrived in Rome about 10:00 Friday morning.

I knew that if I didn't sleep on the plane I'd have real jet lag problems, so after a surprisingly edible airplane dinner, I arranged my memory foam travel pillow around my neck and attempted to catch some winks. It was hard to get comfortable, though, and the voices in my head kept telling me that if didn't go to sleep NOW! I'd be tired and ruin my dream vacation.  I finally tuned them out by listening to the inflight jazz channel.  I probably only got a couple of hours of fitful sleep, but it ended up being enough.

Thanks to our travel agent we had a driver to meet us at the airport.  When we got to the hotel the room wasn't available yet, so we left our suitcases and went out to explore.  First we got a grab-and-go lunch, which we ate while walking to the Metro station.  Our destination was Saint Peter's and the Vatican Museum.

St. Peter's Square
The hotel desk told us that the station was 15 minutes away.  We found it with no trouble, but since the instructions on the automated kiosk were in Italian it was a challenge to figure out how to purchase a ticket.  My 10 Euro bill (the smallest one I had) got rejected, and I wasn't sure what to do.  All of a sudden someone was there to help us.  From his handful of 1 Euro coins he handed me five, deposited three in the machine to pay for two tickets, then smiled and walked away.  He was gone before we realized he'd earned a nice commission for his good deed.

We could have bought tickets for the Vatican Museum online before we left, but since there were too many unknowns (Would our flight get us there on time?  Would we have energy?) we decided to wait until we got there. Our driver suggested we skip the sure-to-be long-line to get in, and find one of the people standing on the sidewalk selling tours for about twice the price of the official entrance fee.  Sure enough, when we walked up to the building there was a line snaking down the sidewalk.  There were also salespeople on the sidewalk on the other side of the street.  We talked to one of them, figured out the price wasn't too much of a gouge, and let him walk us to a nearby storefront to purchase tickets.  He walked us back to the building, where we met the tour group inside the lobby.

The museum was very noisy, so I was glad to find out the tour would be using a wireless transmitter system. Our guide (a middle-aged lady who spoke English with a lovely Italian accent) handed out the transmitters, then led us through the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, stopping often to tell us about what we were seeing.  She collected the receivers before leaving us to explore St. Peter's Basilica on our own.

The afternoon was hot, and there was no air conditioning in most of the buildings. Tony and I had been wearing the same clothes for more than 24 hours. When we left St. Peter's Square we were sweaty, dirty, and tired.  We made it back to the hotel, where we collected our key and headed up to the room.  The first order of business was a shower!  We set our alarm and took a quick power nap, then headed out for dinner. After the best Italian food I've ever had, we came back to the room and collapsed.

The perfect Margherita pizza

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Vacay 2015--Let's Go Cruising

I'm back! And (thanks to the power of pre-scheduled posts) you probably didn't even know I was gone.

Almost two weeks ago Hubby Tony and I left for a big-time anniversary trip. We flew to Rome, spent a day there, then boarded a cruise ship for a wonderful week on the Mediterranean Sea.

Our home for the week
We returned home late Saturday night. It took several days for my body to re-adjust to the local time zone, which made it hard to tackle the piles of paper and multitude of e-mails that were waiting for me.  However, this morning I woke up on time (instead of two hours early) and feel like things are getting back to normal. 

I can't wait to share some of our adventures with you.

Five years ago today: A Little Fish In A Big Pond

Sunday, August 9, 2015

One Day Of Beauty

I'm not a fan of the current 90 degree, 88 percent humidity weather, but our hardy hibiscus thrives in it.  Each dinner-plate sized bloom only lasts for a day but there are enough buds that the show goes on for weeks.

Five years ago today: New Year, New Job

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Accidental Onions

A couple of months ago I opened the lid to the the compost pile and saw some fresh-looking green onion ends laying on top of the coffee grounds and grass clippings. I don't know who tossed them in, but I knew it wasn't me (if I had been doing the cooking I would have thrown them in the stock scrap bag I keep in the freezer).  Back when I tried to re-grow green onion from the stem ends it was in water and I didn't have any luck, but I wondered what would happen if I planted these stubs in the dirt. I used my finger to poke holes in the wet garden bed next to the compost pile, inserted a onion bottom in each one, and tamped the dirt around tightly. When I was done all you could see were two little green stumps poking out of the ground.

 I didn't do anything to those stumps. There has been (more than) enough rain to keep the garden area saturated. Because of their location theonions weren't particularly easy to see, and after a while I kind of forgot about them,  However, a couple of weeks ago I noticed the green tops, which were now long, luxuriant, and very thick. I couldn't wait to see what the bottoms were like!  When I dug them up they looked like this:

The one on the right was like a green onion on steroids, but the one on the left was actually starting to develop a papery onion skin.  I chopped them up, ends and all, and threw them into the fritatta I was making for dinner, where they added a great onion flavor.

Five years ago today: Fat Cat

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Sunday Story

(From a friend....)

There were five houses of religion in a small town:
  • The Presbyterian Church
  • The Baptist Church
  • The Methodist Church
  • The Catholic Church
  • The Jewish Synagogue
Each church and synagogue was overrun with pesky squirrels.

One day, the Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about the squirrels. After much prayer and consideration they determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will.

In the Baptist Church, the squirrels had taken up habitation in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a cover on the baptistery and drown the squirrels in it. The squirrels escaped somehow and there were twice as many there the next week

The Methodist Church got together and decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creation. So, they humanely trapped the Squirrels and set them free a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.

But, the Catholic Church came up with the best and most effective solution. They baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the church. Now they only see them on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter.

Not much was heard about the Jewish Synagogue, but they took one squirrel and had a short service with him called circumcision and they haven't seen a squirrel on the property since.

Five years ago today: Thirty Years Ago Today...