Randy’s Bucket List – Tahiti and an OverWater Bungalow

Randy has wanted to go to Tahiti for eons but it was always too far, too expensive, and then too difficult to leave the trailer and Elko.   When we lost our sweet boy last summer (Elko’s Last Blog) we wanted something to look forward to.  When faced with all the health issues since, we needed something to look forward to!  

P1010026We flew Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete with free luggage, two meals, entertainment, blanket, pillow and supply bag for our eight hour flight.  

fullsizeoutput_52c1We landed in Papeete, Tahiti at midnight and went straight to the hotel and bed.  We enjoyed a breakfast buffet and free time the next morning.   Tahiti is the largest of the 118 islands in French Polynesia.

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Randy made it to Tahiti – bucket list!

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We took a short ferry ride to Moorea.

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We were quite happy with our garden bungalow at the Intercontinental Moorea.

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P1010170Because of renovation work being done far away from our bungalow, we received complimentary dinners in addition to the breakfast buffets.   That was nice because everything in French Polynesia is expensive.  Throughout our stay we were surprised by the number of young couples and families visiting the islands.  They surely have different spending priorities than we did at that age.  Good for them!

P1010056The resort has a Turtle Hospital and Sanctuary.  There are a range of care levels from full human support to minimal support before release.    Two hundred and thirty three turtles have been treated and released since 2004.  

 

P1010065There were 12 turtles in residence including the mascot Tortilla.  She arrived in 2004 with a severe floating problem caused by a damaged or diseased shell.  She was unable to move effectively and feed herself.  Tortilla is about 60 years old and is a permanent resident.

fullsizeoutput_52bbThere was also a Dolphin Experience on site with three resident dolphins. We enjoyed watching others but didn’t feel compelled to partake ourselves.

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A Man and His Dolphin

We purchased a tour for snorkeling with rays and sharks with lunch.  Several tours were leaving from the same dock and, because we speak no French, we didn’t understand where to wait and when to leave.  We were told to watch and follow one particular man.  It was a very humbling experience.

fullsizeoutput_52c8While we (and 30 of our closest French speaking friends)  were waiting to leave, this Brown Booby showed us that he was not intimidated sharing HIS dock with humans!    Thanks to our friend Mark for the bird identification.

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We made it on the right boat!  Boat personnel feed the sharks and rays to gather them.

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Randy snorkeling with the sharks!

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We had our own ray experiences but not quite this close!

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Our tour included a polynesian lunch cooked in traditional fashion.

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Our captain tried his best to tell us what we were eating.  It was mostly delicious.

 We came back from snorkeling to find most of our tour companions had left!  Our captain was still there.    He indicated we were okay and would go back on a smaller boat.   While traveling we have always depended on someone speaking passable English or our basic Spanish. This was a whole new level of uncomfortable.

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The ride back was some kind of beautiful!

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Salt water has its perks, like sharks and rays, but we prefer to swim in fresh water pools.

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Our complimentary dinner benefit included the Polynesian Dinner Show!  We ate to the tunes of the ukulele and percussion ensemble.  Similar groups are everywhere in French Polynesia.

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fullsizeoutput_52d4Chicken varieties are everywhere and help clean restaurant floors immediately.    This one wanted to help us clean our plates!  We enjoyed their presence.

After three nights on Moorea we headed to the airport and Bora Bora.  Our driver spoke great English and gave us a bit of a tour.  Two diesel generators supply Moorea with power costing about $250 a month.  He said island life is expensive for tourists and locals.  People fish and grow a lot of their own food.   He spear hunts for wild boar.

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Airplane views of Bora Bora

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Bora Bora is an island surrounded by coral reef and smaller islands called the motu.    The airport is northernmost on a motu island so airport transfers are boat rides.  The Intercontinental Bora Bora is near the southern point of the main island.

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An iconic image of Bora Bora!

P1010260This is another iconic image!   We kept wondering which of the many over-water bungalow resorts we passed was going to be ours.   Staying in an overwater bungalow was part of the bucket list event.  We learned later that about two thirds of all Bora Bora accommodations are overwater bungalows.

fullsizeoutput_52a3We finally arrived and it was so exciting to go out on the docks and see our bungalow!

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Ours, number 38!

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I put a black dot on number 38.

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P1010275This is looking down into the water from directly above the glass topped coffee table.  The top slides open to feed fish.  It is especially nice when lit at night.

fullsizeoutput_52d7This is the neighborhood view from the upper back deck.   There are two, one at the bungalow level and one nearer water level.  A ladder lets you go from your bungalow right into the water.  And then when you get out, there is a fresh water shower on the lower deck!   

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Come on already – Aren’t we going snorkeling?   

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They have done a nice job of creating coral stands to attract fish.

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And the occasional ray and shark.

P1010313Randy found this nice shell while snorkeling and then noticed it was still occupied. 

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He put it near the coral reef under our bungalow but it left us.

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The resort provided complimentary kayaks, snorkeling equipment and paddle boards. They also provided enrichment activities like learning to open a coconut.  It’s a finesse move – not force!

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We made our own Tahitian crowns!

I learned a variety of ways to tie a pareo and we kind of learned to weave palm leaves.

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Mostly the teacher did it for us.

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An enjoyable spot for morning coffee.

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We had complimentary breakfast buffet late each morning and usually ate just once more. Randy usually opted for typical American breakfast items.  I preferred an eclectic international mix and had it day after day:  Fruit, crepes, bread and brie, and fried rice with corn.

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Most afternoons we ended up in the fresh water pool overlooking the lagoon.

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Nightly call for Happy Hour!

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With no complimentary dinners at Intercontinental Bora Bora, we branched out.  We ate at the nearby Lucky House several times.  They have yummy, reasonably priced pizza.

P1010430Another night we went to the famous Bloody Mary’s.  We didn’t actually know it was famous until we saw the signs of all the famous people who have been there!

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This is only one of the signs!

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I think this was the first time we’ve ever ordered Happy Hour Bloody Marys!

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You order your meal as you enter.  Both the ribs and tuna steak were delicious.

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We took a Jeep tour to experience the island beyond our resort area.  Bora Bora is the oldest of the French Polynesian Islands and was created by a volcano.   At the current rate, our guide said the islands will be lost because of rising seas in about 2000 years.

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Our guide told us the islands are 95% protestant thanks to missionaries from England arriving  222 years ago.  An earthquake struck the island on March 3, 1797.  When missionaries arrived the following day, the islanders connected the events and welcomed them.

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We were shown a variety of flora and this plant is quite special.  The blooms begin the day yellow, change to pink during the afternoon and finish the day red – and then they are done.  The leaves of the same plant are multi use, including stacking for plates and use as toilet “paper”.

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This is a water collection station but the water is not drinkable.  Water at a restaurant costs you the bottle rate, usually from Australia.

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The building behind this one holds the diesel power generator.  A single generator supplies power for the 10,000 island inhabitants.  Our guide did not remember the last time it failed.

Our guide took us to a family operation making pareos.  We saw how they dye the cotton cloth and use stencils and the sun to add a picture.  I found one to buy!

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Alex was a great tour guide!

 

fullsizeoutput_52dfRemember the map with the island, reef,  and motu?  There is just one way into the interior and because of that Bora Bora became a strategic location for America after Pearl Harbor.  Within a few months American soldiers arrived and built the 22 mile road around the island, still in use today.

fullsizeoutput_52eaThey brought and installed eight cannons around the island but they were never fired.  With only the one entrance, the Japanese never tried to engage at Bora Bora.

Alex said islanders in general have good feelings about Americans and what they built and left on the islands.  Many natives have some American blood because of the soldiers stationed there.  Thankfully, the mixed race children were accepted without issue in Bora Bora.   He said the French came in after the Americans left and at least he isn’t happy about it.   We couldn’t see any visible signs of acrimony toward France in French Polynesia, but we may not have understood it if it was right in front of us either!

fullsizeoutput_52e2We left our overwater bungalow in Bora Bora at 10:30 am on Saturday and arrived in Surprise, Arizona at 6:00 pm on Sunday.  That included some waiting around the pool time and waiting at the airport time but it was still a long trip.   But it was still awesome!! It was well worth the distance, expense and difficulties.

My bucket list trip is a cruise to Norway to see the Northern Lights – already booked for the fall of 2020.  We can only hope it will go as well as Mom’s bucket list cruise through the Panama Canal and Randy’s to Tahiti!

May your bucket list dreams come true as well!

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The Cruise Main Event!

cropped-fullsizeoutput_51a7.jpegOn our 15 day Panama Canal Cruise,  only two days were spent in Panama.  (All the other days are detailed in the previous post Mom’s Bucket List Cruise.)  We met people on our ship who had traversed the canal several times.  We met people who had entered on the Atlantic or Pacific side, sailed a bit and then exited to the same ocean.  We opted for our Panama Canal crossing to be the whole thing – ocean to ocean.  

 

We were novices at canal crossing but not novices on Panama, at least that was true of my mother.  My parents and brother lived in the Canal Zone for three years while it was still operated by the United States.  They lived on the Pacific side and boated often in Gatun Lake.  My memory of a brief visit there was of seeing a cruise ship in the jungle! This was our opportunity to experience the canal in a different way.

As soon as we boarded the Coral Princess, we started learning about the history of the Panama Canal through lectures and ship TV.   Thoughts of a waterway began in 1513 when Spaniard Vasco Nunez de Balboa walked the 43 miles across the isthmus, the first European to do so.  Many dreamed the dream.  The first sustained effort to build a waterway across the isthmus was by France after their 1860s success building the Suez Canal.

France’ desert based Suez experience didn’t translate well to the jungles of Panama.  The isthmus was rocky, the jungle was thick, and the bugs carried all kinds of diseases killing thousands of workers.  Ultimately the failed project cost France $240,000,000.

Rights to the project were sold to the United States in 1902 for $40 million.   Under the vision, determination, calculation and bullheadedness of Theodore Roosevelt, the US began work on the canal in 1904.  The newly independent government of Panama granted control of the Panama Canal Zone to the US.

The United States learned from the earlier attempt and improved living conditions for workers.  They also determined a single waterway going ocean to ocean was not viable given the terrain.   The US design called for a man made lake allowing fresh water to flow through lock systems on either side of the isthmus to raise and lower ships.   Gatun Lake, the largest man-made lake in history at the time, is 164 square miles in size and 85 feet above sea level.  

The most difficult challenge of the canal project was cutting through the continental divide.  The Culebra Cut, an excruciatingly difficult eight miles, was necessary to connect Gatun Lake to the locks on the eastern Pacific side.

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You read that correctly.  Depending on your location, the eastern side of Panama is the Pacific side while the Atlantic/Carribean is on the west.   

 

The Panama Canal opened in 1914 servicing about 1000 ships that first year.  Two weeks are saved by not having to navigate around South America.

fullsizeoutput_522eThis lecture picture is of an Iowa class American battleship, clearing the canal by a comfortable 11 inches!  The Coral Princess wouldn’t be quite that tight but was built slightly narrower than most cruise ships to be able to traverse the canal.  We noticed the difference right away in hallway width in the cabin areas.   

During the lectures we also were introduced to how controversial the decision to turn the canal over to Panamanian control still is with some Americans.  Our lecturer indicated that the US “occupation” was never meant to be permanent.   President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty in 1977 and it was narrowly approved by Congress.   There was a period of joint control and then full control was given to the home country at midnight on December  31, 1999.   My parents and brother lived in Panama during that transition period.  They agreed with the decision to return the Panama Canal to Panamanian control.

We sailed into Puerto Amador the day before our actual crossing.  We opted for a tour of the new locks and a boat ride on Gatun Lake.

P1000430 As ships were getting bigger Panama recognized the need to build new locks to accommodate larger vessels.  Panamanian citizens approved expansion by vote.   The five billion dollar project was completed in 2016 doubling the capacity for goods to traverse through.

fullsizeoutput_51c8The new locks use a sliding gate mechanism and also gather 60 percent of the fresh water for reuse as the locks raise and lower ships.  The original locks let the fresh water from Gatun Lake free flow to the oceans as the lock gates are opened.  Gatun Lake depends on annual rainfall to refill the lake and keep the locks viable.

P1000447Our tour also gave us an opportunity to see some of the former canal zone facilities on the Atlantic side.    These former quarters had been restored as a lovely hotel.

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There were many more that remain abandoned.

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Mom and I were in good position at the front of the bus for her trip down memory lane.  In hindsight it probably would have been more enjoyable for her to get a private taxi to take us to places she remembered.  For Randy and me, learning about the new locks was very interesting.

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As we were leaving Puerto Amador on the tender I noticed the Panama sign I should have taken a picture of!  Backwards is better than not at all!

P1000502Our transit day began with a 27 member pilot team coming on board to drive the Coral Princess through the Panama Canal.   This transit cost Princess $330,000 and was determined by passenger count.   They also paid a $35,000 booking fee a year ago to reserve our spot.   The average toll is $54,000 with the largest ever paid being $829,000 for a container ship in 2018.

fullsizeoutput_51caOur first event was to travel under the Bridge of the Americas.  Some of the largest cruise ships can’t go through the canal because they won’t fit under the bridges, even though they would fit in the new locks. 

P1000518As we approached the Mira Flores Locks we saw this COSCO container ship beginning its transit in the new locks.  Over the course of the day I watched its progress.  They made it through sooner, perhaps because there were only 3 ships scheduled to use the new locks that day while 26 were scheduled for the old locks.

P1000555The old locks are two lane, sometimes both ships are going the same direction and sometimes they are going opposite.  

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This was our view from our balcony as we approached the Mira Flores locks, the first ones coming from the Pacific side.

 

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A comfortably tight squeeze!  Notice the swinging gates between locks on the right channel.

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The Crown Prince of Thailand was present that day and watched our ship go through the Mira Flores locks.

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These special electric engines actually pull the ship through the locks.

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Mom joined us on our balcony as we approached the Culebra Cut

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Crossing the continental divide, the Culebra Cut, photo off our cabin TV.

 

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My parents and brother used to boat frequently on Gatun Lake.  Individual islands like this one were available for lease through the canal zone.

P1000543Over the course of our eight hour transit we passed under two additional bridges and traversed two more sets of locks. We had the option of watching our ship’s progress on deck, on our cabin TV (in the air conditioning) and on the Movie Under the Stars screen.  We did some of each.   We appreciated the commentary by the ship’s destination expert.  He did a fine job with quality and quantity of content.

For a time our transit seemed to be ahead of schedule.  We were sailing right along and then we came to the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side…

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Randy and I happened to be sitting on the port side bow as we went through this last set of locks. We had the perfect view for the fiasco that was taking place on the adjacent lock.

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This crane barge got stuck!  Not physically stuck in the canal but it couldn’t move forward because of the crane apparatus on top.  Continuing forward would have wiped out infrastructure on either side.  Somebody made a big mistake!  We got to watch while they moved it forward, drained the water, had to fill the water back in, and then used tugs to move the barge out the same way it came in.  OOPS!

 

All in all it was an exciting day.  I’m glad my mom’s bucket list trip gave us this unique experience.

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And we even got commemorative certificates!

Thanks for sailing along!

Once again, I apologize for the length of this blog – I think it took me longer to write it up than to do the transit itself..Whew!

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 Mom’s Bucket-List Trip

During a discussion about potential cruises, my mom Beverly mentioned that she really wanted to go on a Panama Canal cruise.   My parents and younger brother lived in Panama during the early 80’s.  (Randy and I were in college and getting married during those years but I did get my wedding dress in Panama.)   We booked a fifteen day ocean to ocean cruise on the Coral Princess.

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We met at the Los Angeles airport and went through an easy transfer and embarkation process.

fullsizeoutput_519dRandy and I once got a complimentary upgrade to a balcony cabin,  a smart move by the cruise industry because now it feels like mandatory accommodations to us.  My mom opted for a very spacious inside cabin and that too was very comfortable.

Princess uses their “Love Boat” history to advantage.  The safety video playing in our cabin when we arrived featured former cast members.   Ship TV had Love Boat reruns showing intermittently.

Our cruise itinerary was Puerto Vallarta Mexico,  Huatulco Mexico,  San Juan del Sur Nicaragua,  Puntarenas Costa Rica, Puerto Amador Panama, Cartagena Colombia,  and Ft. Lauderdale Florida.

Of course, there were sea days interspersed and we enjoyed those too.   Mom connected with other mahjong players and even learned to play Chinese mahjong.   Randy enjoyed rest and recoup time on sea days and looked for dolphins, turtles, flying fish and the occasional ray from our balcony.    I went to Zumba classes and sang in the Princess Pop Choir.

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Princess Pop Choir just prior to our end of cruise concert in the atrium.

fullsizeoutput_5201Another sea day gave us the cruise director, executive chef, and head maitre’d in a cooking demonstration comedy routine followed by a tour of the galley.   We learned there were 200 tons of food brought on board for our 15 day cruise.  The kitchen serves 20,000 meals a day for guests and crew.  They use 4000 eggs each day.  Approximately 7000 assorted rolls and pastries are made fresh and served every day.  Four tons of fresh vegetables are prepared and served each day.   A crew of 385 people make and serve food on the Coral Princess.   Passenger capacity is about 2000.

 

We took a Princess sponsored shore excursion at each port. Our first was in Puerto Vallarta and our tour spent way too much time on tequila.  No worries, we still love Mexico!

fullsizeoutput_5236The next port, also in Mexico, was Huatulco where the guide spoke frequently on the safety and cleanliness of the community.

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Our Huatulco tour was to Capalito, an archeological site.

fullsizeoutput_51a9Afterwards, we had some beach time and lunch.

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Randy’s coconut shrimp!

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Can we assume the mice and rats were scared off the ship lines?

P1000292Our next port was San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.  We had memories of the Sandinistas, the Contras, the Iran Contra-Affair and Daniel Ortega and didn’t have high hopes for a stop in Nicaragua. We were so wrong! 

Daniel Ortega is still president and there are still challenges – only 29 percent of kids finish elementary school.  Yet, there is resurgence and a budding tourism industry.  Our guide told us about support from the European Union, including solar panels so more people have rudimentary electricity.

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We went to the old city of Granada, founded in 1524. We learned that the size of the roof tiles vary between buildings because the tile makers used their thighs as a form.

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We took a ride on Lake Nicaragua, the second largest lake in Latin America.

 

 

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There is a crocodile there!

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On the return drive we saw oxcarts along the highway.  They were returning home after a month long pilgrimage to a small church in Rivas where they worshipped at a recovered/restored statue of Jesus.  Pilgrims trust that their efforts will be supported by fellow countryman along the way with a place to park and perhaps some food.

And from Nicaraguan history –  Tennessee native William Walker arrived in Nicaragua in 1855.  He led a war effort and promptly appointed himself president in 1856.  Several Central American countries united to drive Walker out of Nicaragua and he was executed in Honduras in 1860.  Our guide was pretty neutral on much of Nicaragua’s past trauma but not on Walker!

Opposite our low expectations for Nicaragua, we had high hopes for Costa Rica.  We know people who go there repeatedly.   We knew from our ship’s destination lectures that literacy rates top 98 percent and that Costa Ricans are rated, along with Norwegians, as being the happiest people in the world.

The Costa Rican government puts much effort into environmental science and became, in 1994, the first country to get to 98 percent renewable energy.  We know eco-tourism is huge here, so why was there so much trash along side the roads?  

P1000393Our tour involved a river cruise and a rainforest tram – with opportunity for wildlife viewing.   

P1000399We saw this termite nest and that was about it.  Fortunately we had seen monkeys, birds and crocodiles in Nicaragua!   Perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to visit Costa Rica again someday and have a better impression.

Our next stop was Panama but I will save everything Panama for the following post.  

Given that we were wrong about Nicaragua and Costa Rica – who knew what to expect in Colombia!  We knew they had a painful past with drug cartels near Managua, the country’s capital, but knew nothing about Cartagena.   It ended up being our favorite port on the trip!  It was also our first time in South America!

P1000649 Much of the trip we felt our starboard side cabin was the “wrong” side, but in Cartagena it was great for watching extensive dock works with cranes moving shipping containers around like puzzle pieces.  

fullsizeoutput_51e6Our tour took us out in the harbor for views of the modern city and the Virgin Mary statue that was destroyed by a lighting bolt in 2015.  Her pieces were later retrieved and restored. 

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Do you remember the secret service agents that had some inappropriate behavior prior to an Obama visit? That happened in the “stair step” hotel on the right.

P1000683We also motored by the Old Walled City, a UNESCO Heritage Site and Cartagena’s big attraction.  Then we got to go inside!

P1000697The port of Cartagena was active in the slave trade, with persons being bought and sold on this wall just inside the city gates.

P1000707There were several old cathedrals inside the walled city.  I’d love to come back and explore the old city further someday!

P1000731This building was started too close to the walled city threatening its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.   The building was abandoned and will likely be torn down.  The mayor who approved the project is in jail.

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We also saw the Fortress of San Felipe de Barajas, built by the Spanish to defend “their” riches  from pirates and other countries.

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The Fortress came under attack five times during the sixteenth century.

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Each day in port, as we prepared to go back aboard the Coral Princess, we were met with cool washcloths and flavored water.  That was great since it was usually hot and humid.

fullsizeoutput_51e2  Concerning other drinks, I enjoyed the “Isaac,” named for the bartender on the Love Boat program. 

IMG_3634One of our favorite activities throughout the cruise was a late afternoon drink in the Crooner’s Piano Bar, specializing in martinis with personalized shaking service.  The pianist assisted with dancing/shaking music.    

 

Randy ordered a Milky Way Martini and it became my drink of choice throughout the cruise.  There is chocolate in that martini!

fullsizeoutput_51a4During our bus transfer from the airport to the port, mom sat right behind friends Larry and Patti.  Larry worked with my dad years ago.  We all marveled at the unexpected meet-up and spent pleasant time together throughout the cruise.

IMG_3647We watched a few movies on the Movies Under the Stars screen.  The technology is amazing because the screen is bright and sharp day or night.  During the day they show  Discovery channel video (no sound) and in the evening there are movies with blankets and popcorn!

P1000833Of course there was lots of entertainment on board including the Voice of the Ocean competition.  Several people from the Princess Pop Choir were in the finals.  Mom and I enjoyed the process and the final show complete with the turning red chairs.

At the end of our cruise, we docked in Ft. Lauderdale many hours before our flights went west.  We opted for an airboat tour to fill time and have a convenient way to get to the airport.  It ended up being quite interesting!

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fullsizeoutput_520fWe enjoyed the ride through the swamps and mangroves and seeing a few gators but most interesting was when our guide told us about being a member of the Python Apes.  

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Air boat captain on the weekends, volunteer Swamp Ape Monday through Friday!

Burmese Pythons are a big invasive species problem in the everglades.  Former python “pets” being released was problematic but the real crisis occurred when thousands of pythons escaped a breeding facility during Hurricane Andrew.  With no natural predators, pythons are wiping out native species and even eating alligators.

Swamp apes search for three species of pythons.  When found, some are euthanized and others are genetically modified through a University of Florida program to render them sterile and then released.

P1010013Of course there was an alligator show –  educational not confrontational.

fullsizeoutput_5219Randy though I should hold the baby so our grandson could have a picture of his “Beema” holding the alligator.   I was surprised how cool the alligator’s underbelly felt.

Overall it was a great trip.  Fifteen days was a good length.   We wouldn’t have been ready to get off in one week but were ready to move on after two.  It was strange to tell people we were from Arizona (instead of Idaho) but it felt natural by the end of the cruise.

If you read this to the very end, thank you.  I apologize for the length but we did cover 15 days, 4,562 nautical miles and three continents!

Next time:  The destination itself – The Panama Canal and crossing.

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Our Grand New Plan

When we left Boise almost five years ago we assumed we would eventually return.  After thirty-three years our lives were there along with family and friends.   Over time (and winters in Arizona) we gradually thought of landing in Arizona but it wasn’t to be soon.   We loved full timing and had no plans to stop.

Health issues are frequently the cause for full-timers to hang up the keys.   As you know, we’ve had to deal with a fair amount of those in the past six months.  Even though Randy’s surgeon, the ultimate cheerleader, thought we could keep traveling, we just didn’t feel it was prudent,  given the complications we continue to work through.  We didn’t feel good about getting in the truck June 1st and heading out on a seven month road trip, as had been the plan.   Nor did we think living in the trailer through the summer heat could be pleasant – we learned about that last September.

We still plan to wander in our trailer but decided to accelerate the plan for finding a home base in Arizona.  That is our grand new plan.

Over the last months we have been looking and praying about where we should locate. Randy and I have looked at a variety of 55+ communities over the years and knew we were headed to one of those.   Our rental properties in Meridian were prepped and listed for sale.

fullsizeoutput_4ebbOur friends Warren and Connie showed us around their Sun City community north of Tucson along with several others.  We considered their community seriously.

P1020856Our friend Beth went with us to explore another community north of Tucson.   We had a fun afternoon and joked that this kitchen island was really a kitchen continent – especially to three people used to living in an RV.   

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This master bathroom was bigger than Beth’s motor home or our fifth wheel!  And way more than we needed or wanted!

Randy grew up in Tucson and had always wanted to return there.  The desert is beautiful around Tucson, even having Saguaro National Park nearby.  Tucson was the leader in the heart-strings, clean air and beauty categories.

Yet, we had enjoyed our times in Mesa so knew we should also consider the Phoenix area.  For two people who used to drive through Phoenix during our college commute from Flagstaff to Tucson, to be considering it as a landing spot was a major mind shift!    

Phoenix is the choice we eventually made – for a variety of reasons.  We want to live by a major airport.  Mayo is in Phoenix and will be part of our lives going forward.  Randy’s brother and our sister-in-law are here.  Spring Training is here.

fullsizeoutput_5087In the northwest Phoenix area, we liked Surprise and the community of Sun City Grand.   The amenities in Sun City Grand are beautiful and widely varied (like the 55+ RV Resorts we’ve grown to love).  

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Lake Pleasant is nearby for paddling and White-Tank Regional Park has great hiking (and campsites).  The Seattle Mariner’s Spring Training facility and the very economical Sun City RV storage lot are nearby.   We identified our preferred community.  We just needed to find a house.

While waiting for the sales on our rental properties to finalize, we defined our basic requirements for an eventual home – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a den, a three car extended garage and a big bathtub (one of the few things I missed from our house). 

Because we want to continue to RV, we needed an extended three car garage for the big truck.  It takes up most of a two car garage on its own and we intend to replace my Audi convertible.   

Given our list, we saw exactly ONE house that met the criteria and we really liked it.  Randy measured the garage to see if the truck would fit.  We made an offer the next day  and it was accepted.

Our realtor called a few days later to ask if we wanted to see the house again and Randy asked if the sellers would let him actually drive the truck in to make sure it fit.  They laughed and agreed.

 

fullsizeoutput_511bWhen we met our friends Kent and Pam in Las Vegas a few weeks ago they brought us a painting and two suitcases they have stored for us.

fullsizeoutput_50c6Darrell and Cindy brought our possessions that had been stored at our daughter’s house when they came down last week.  We hadn’t kept much when we left the big house.

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Darrell and Cindy were with us on our pre-purchase walk through.

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We are homeowners again!  One house in Boise became two houses in Meridian which became one house in Surprise!

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Our friend Joan, with husband Patrick, painted us a lovely watercolor as a housewarming gift – even though she hates that we didn’t find a house in Mesa!

fullsizeoutput_511dWe have owned our new house for three days now.  It has been a whirlwind, partially because we have NO furniture!   We bought a few things from the former owners but are really starting over with most of it.   We’re going back and forth from the house to the trailer and will be for a couple months.

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Randy’s always wanted a front porch – a front courtyard will do!

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And a back patio too.  This is one of the projects – add more shade back here!

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We have an orange tree and a grapefruit tree.  It is a good thing we’ve learned to tolerate grapefruit juice.

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We have a good sized lot with desertscaping.  Lots are differentiated by color of rock.

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The truck still fits!

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The bathtub hasn’t been used in the first three days 😦

 

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The previous owners were great – leaving us tons of documentation.

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We had our first over night guest – Beth of course!

Are we sad that we had to give up full time RVing and have a new plan?  A little, of course.   Given an option, we would never have gone through the last six months and the life changes it necessitated.   But we did and we move forward. 

We are EXCITED about our new home.  We think we will enjoy living at Sun City Grand.    Having a home base will make other kinds of travel easier.   We will continue to travel in the trailer – hopefully later this summer to escape the summer heat – the same way northerners escape the winter cold.

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We still have a map to finish, just not this year!

 

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And the Beat Goes On

A couple weeks ago I wrote about all the things we’ve been able to do,  making up for lost time after Randy’s stuff.  We’re still at it – and the beat goes on!  

We went to Las Vegas to meet friends Kent and Pam for the Mountain West Basketball Tournament.  We seem to meet together almost every year to watch our Boise State teams play.   The BSU women won the tournament – something they also do almost every year.  The men didn’t fare quite so well but were respectable.

On the way home we stopped overnight to see friends Mike and Nancy in Bullhead City.  It was fun to catch up and meet Nancy’s birds.

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Back in our resort I tackled a new glass project!  

I really liked this project because glass cutting didn’t have to be very precise.   Space between the glass is needed for grout.

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I am happy with our new patio table!

We went to our last tribute concert of the season – this one called Blue Bayou highlighting Linda Ronstadt songs.   The performer was great, but she didn’t sing Desperado. That was the first time all season that the song I wanted to hear wasn’t done.  Oh well, with so many hits, she couldn’t do them all!

fullsizeoutput_50dcWe went with RV Resort friends, Bruce and Janice, to the Arizona Renaissance Festival.   It was a people watching spectacular with participants in costume – but also a lot of attendees in costume too.

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The four of us enjoy playing Bocci so seeing this version of lawn bowling was a hoot!

Bruce and Randy tried Ax Throwing!

We enjoyed the pageantry of the joust…

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…and  a birds of prey demonstration.

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And then we went in the Carnevale…  I’m pretty sure Janice, Bruce and Randy enjoyed this sword swallowing show but…

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I thought it was creepy, impressive, but creepy.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, at least when I made myself look.

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Randy and I both enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna show here in Phoenix.   We have been to several Cirque shows over the years but this was in a smaller tent venue so everything was very close.   

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The show had a nice storyline and was a feast for the senses.  The acrobatics and specialties were amazing!

Also amazing are the friends who keep wandering down to Mesa to see us!  We know the good Arizona weather has something to do with it, but so appreciate that we get included in the vacation.

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Cindy and Darrell came down to visit and one of our outings included In-N-Out Burger.   Going to  In-N-Out seems to be a pilgrimage for those who have lived with them and no longer have access, or for people who have heard of them and just want to know what all the fuss is about!   Our burgers and fries were quite good this time, better than Randy and I remembered.  It must have been the company!

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Donna and Rodger came visiting on the PERFECT day for a celebratory adult beverage!  Earlier that day Randy had  great appointments at Mayo – passing his three month cancer screening with flying colors!  We are so glad Donna and Rodger were here to help us celebrate!

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Fun – At a Hectic Pace

We’ve had a lot of ups, and a few downs, over the past 12 weeks as Randy recovers from surgery.  When he is able, we have fun at a hectic pace.   I’ve waited way too long to catch up!

P1020862We’ve been blessed by friends who have come to see us.   In January Carl and Ruth came to Mesa and we enjoyed several outings, including Butterfly Wonderland.

P1020869We learned that they get four to five shipments a week from rainforests around the world and have 75 – 80 species of butterflies at any given time.

P1020873Only one percent of eggs become butterflies in the natural environment, but Butterfly Wonderland has 90 percent emergence in this protected setting.

There are many beautiful butterflies in the aviary. 

They seemed to be attracted to my white shirt and hair.  It surprised me that I could feel them land on my head.

We were reminded that insects are the most abundant life forms on earth.   We didn’t try the insect snacks!

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We enjoyed our time at Butterfly Wonderland!

fullsizeoutput_501aFriends Kent and Pam manage to find us wherever we are!  They drove from Wisconsin to Idaho, by way of Arizona.  Either they are grand friends or totally disoriented drivers!   We enjoyed a morning at the Musical Instrument Museum.  MIM is world class and I wrote about our visit there last year in the blog Chapter 5: Yours, Mine and Ours.

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Boise friends Bryan and Debbie came down in December and then again this week.  Thanks for keeping us in mind when you travel!

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Our Ontario, Canada friends, Rob and Kris, rolled into Mesa after spending most of the winter in Tucson.  It is always fun to reconnect with our RVing friends.

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And even though we just saw them a couple of weeks ago in Tucson, of course it was fun to spend another evening with Paula and Mike!

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With friends from our RV Resort we went to the Albesila Luminarium.

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It is part maze…

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and part light show!

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Twenty seven egg shaped domes, some with ceiling patterns, are illuminated by lights shining through colored plastic walls.  We totally felt like kids in a jump house!

One of the things I enjoy about being in Phoenix is that big events come here.  Last year we were able to go to Hamilton – although paying three times the ticket price was a challenge.

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It was even more challenging to get tickets for Michelle Obama’s book tour event!   I had to pre-register, then get chosen lottery style to be able to go on-line for the chance to buy tickets.

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I was texting with our friend Janice as the countdown approached…. and my battery was dying…. but mission accomplished.  We enjoyed our evening.

fullsizeoutput_4f5e I was given the option to buy four tickets and could have sold the extra two for a bundle but, alas, my mind just doesn’t work that way.

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The next night Randy and I went to see Tony Orlando!    Talking before the concert, we thought we’d hear Candida, Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree, and Knock Three Times.  Those were the first three songs he performed!   Toni Wine, the songwriter who wrote Candida (and many TV jingles), performed with him – as she has for 58 years!  We were both skeptical that, since great entertainment is so reasonably priced here, he could be worth $85 per ticket,  but Tony Orlando was awesome! 

Randy thinks his Boise friend Rick (you know who you are!) looks a lot like Tony Orlando, in appearance and mannerisms. Of course, Rick is a much slimmer version.  Can you sing Rick?

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Soon after we went to a Karen Carpenter tribute performance.  We enjoy the tribute events very much and are always amazed at how authentic they seem.

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Another night we saw a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute band perform in our park.  They too were so good!  We recognized two of these show members from other acts we’ve seen this year.

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The weather didn’t seem to know it was time for spring training!   The opening day game was very cold and wet – and rained out in the second inning!

Games two and three were much better!  We hope to get in another game before the Cactus League is done for the year.

Back in the park, I tried a glass fusing class.  I chose and cut my glass, and fit and glued the strips and squares. 

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Someone “cooked” my trivet for me.  There are so many workshops and classes in our park!

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The resort artisans held a show and sale. Such talented people!   Randy loves talking wood-working projects, this time with artisan and friend Ted.

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Fun times at our resort!  Mardi Gras in the courtyard!

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We were able to dog-sit our friends’ boy, Luke, twice this week.  We enjoyed it so much!

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We are even trying to enjoy the grapefruit from the tree on our site.  Fresh squeezed with a little honey isn’t too bad!

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Driving Through A Desert Snowstorm!

fullsizeoutput_39dcAlmost two years ago I wrote a blog about The Other Road Between Phoenix and Tucson, the scenic alternative to I-10, and the adventures we had there.  They included a roadside stop celebrating the life of Tom Mix and a Greek Orthodox Monastery.   

fullsizeoutput_4fd2We traversed that road again a few weeks ago and had the once in a lifetime adventure of driving through a desert snowstorm!

 

IMG_3404For two people who have declared ourselves “done with winter,”  we sure did have fun stopping to take picture after picture.

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The scenery was amazing!

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We loved the Tucson newspaper headline the next day!

fullsizeoutput_4fd3We drove through the wintry storm to stay with our friends Connie and Warren, and to meet up with friends Paula and Mike.   We three couples attended the same church in Boise years ago and have had a blast making new friendships out of old.

fullsizeoutput_4fd4Connie, Warren, Randy and I began the weekend with a Tucson Food Tour.  Randy and I have enjoyed food tours many times and were happy to introduce one to Connie and Warren.

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We began at the Congress Hotel, a national historic site, and famous for the 1934 fire that led to the capture of John Dillinger. 

One of Dillinger’s gang asked for help taking down suitcases (of money) while escaping the hotel fire and was later remembered and identified.  That connection lead to John Dillinger’s capture in Tucson shortly thereafter.

Over the course of an entire afternoon we ate small portions at six area restaurants.

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Usually we are too full after a food tour to even think of eating again, but that wasn’t the case this time.  We were happy to hook up with Paula and Mike for dinner!

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The next day the six of us wandered around, ate again, and rode the streetcar.

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We got off at the University of Arizona to wander around the grounds.  The weather was still chilly but the snow was gone.

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We also toured the Presidio in downtown Tucson.

fullsizeoutput_4ff1This presidio was one of many that Spain built about 100 miles apart in the 1600 and 1700s. Spain had a two part strategy for the native peoples in the new world:   Christianize and Hispanicize those they could with missions, and defend against and subdue those they couldn’t with presidios.

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Soldiers enlisted for 10 years and declared their loyalty to Spain. 

The Apache were a resistant force and fought the Spanish to a standstill.  Spain eventually adopted a peace policy toward the Apache in the 1780s and the area that is now Tucson prospered.   The combined cultural histories of native peoples, the Spanish, and Mexicans are very evident in Tucson.

fullsizeoutput_4ffbJust as we had for many years, we were delighted to join together at the church Connie and Warren attend for Sunday service.    Warren sings in the Worship Band, something that I enjoyed doing for many years.

Although I seriously doubt we’ll ever have the snow storm again, we’ll definitely be getting together with our friends again sometime soon.

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