Friday, December 07, 2018

Fall Catch Up & Sky Diving

Kolya's first smile

In a serious mood, he's a real redhead like his father and
Uncle Sean.
Well Scott did not become State Senator from Rutland! But he ran a great race and campaign. For a relative newcomer to the area, he came in quite close to the winners. And we replaced a previously long held Republican seat with a Democrat Progressive, Cheryl Hooker. That means we've heading back to Scott Free in Guatemala on 12/31. 
Our new grandson Kolya (born 8/1) is thriving and such a happy handsome boy.  Heather went down for a week in October and then we both went down for a week at Thanksgiving. James and Morgen are such relaxed parents that it's no surprise that Kolya is an easy baby. His laughing fits are so contagious! And they put on a great Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Sean & Will flew down from Boston for the week too.
Heather has been very involved in the Living in Place group here in Shrewsbury. Formerly Aging in Place, we changed the name to reflect the reality that it sometimes involves younger persons that face temporary or permanent disabilities.  "Aging in place" is a term used to describe a person living in the residence of their choice, for as long as they are able, as they age. This includes being able to have any services (or other support) they might need over time as their needs change. Heather has organized cooking groups that meet in her kitchen once or twice a week to cook meals for needy neighbors. Four farms in our community and lots of individuals have donated vegetables and meat to our cause.  We've filled several freezers with food, ready for anyone that needs it. Other teams have collected medical equipment and volunteers to do work around the house and yards. It's very satisfying work.
Sean, Kolya, Will, Julie and Gary (Will's Aunt & Father) at
the National Museum of Art.


James and Morgen and Kolya

We're very excited about Christmas this year as hopefully all our family will be here. Josh, Michal and five of our grandchildren are flying in from London (where they are now living). Zoƫ, George and two more of our grandchildren fly from California. Sean & Will are coming and hopefully James, Morgen and Kolya. We've had snow on the ground for weeks now and the skiing is excellent - a real White Christmas!
Oh and to celebrate their respective Birthdays, Heather and Sean went sky diving at Jumptown, Orange, MA. See the photos below!



We visited the National Arboretum, beautifully decorated
for the holidays. 
Heather and Sean celebrated their respective birthdays this year by Sky
Diving at Jumptown in Orange, MA
And it was FUN!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

New Grandson "Kolya" and Scott runs for Vermont State Senator

Kolya (formal name Nicholai Roy Garren) was born August 1st at 11:15 am by C Section at Sibley Memorial Hospital to our son James and daughter in law Morgen. He was 8 lbs 13 oz at birth, very alert and happy. And he's a red head just like his Dad and Uncle Sean! 
We're all very happy!!
We drove down to Washington DC and had dinner with James & Morgen on July 29th. They checked into the hospital that night but had a long wait before finally having a C section. Mom, Dad and Kolya all doing well and now home. We stayed around for the rest of the week oohing and aahing. Heather will be back for a week in September to help out and both of us will return in November. 
Scott is running for State Senator here in Vermont. There are 3 seats representing Rutland County and until now they've been held by Republicans. We are a Conservative corner of the State. But we're all hoping for a change this Election Day. If elected, Scott will serve an initial two year term in Montpelier. The legislative session usually runs from January into May so this would mean a change in our cruising life! We'll see!
Kolya hours after arriving!

Happy Mother Morgen

Yes, another red head!

And it's number 8 for Scott...

Uncle Sean visited 

I love this shot of James and Kolya

Ecstatic Grammy

Josh flew in from Tulsa right away to see his new nephew

James caption on this was "I thought I ordered a
sub!"
Uncle Will has a serious discussion with new nephew

Monday, July 23, 2018

First Time Ocean Liner Cruisers

This is a map showing our cruise - Land of the Midnight Sun - with our stops
On our balcony in Amsterdam before departing.
This was our first ever cruise on a "big" boat. To be honest we had no interest in booking one until our very good friends Walt & Honoree invited us to join them on Holland America's Konigsdam Norwegian Fjords Cruise June 10 to the 24th. We hadn't seen them for too long and this seemed like a great itinerary - Land of the Midnight Sun and gorgeous scenery. The cruise exceeded our expectations.
The first surprise was how tasteful and manageable it all was. We expected a gaudier "Las Vegas" look. It is the newest ship for this company and was pristine and elegant (mostly). There was a nasty smell of tobacco in the Casino but we managed to avoid it as much as possible (it was necessary to occasionally speed walk through it on the way to something else). And the food was uniformly excellent, especially in the Main Dining Room (MDR). We chose the fixed time at 5:30 PM and were very pleased (I know it's early but the only other time was so late). The couple that joined us at the table were lots of fun and great company. And we liked getting to know our waiters and wine steward - excellent all. Scott and I ate at two of the specialty restaurants: Tamarind and Sal de Mer. The former would probably have been excellent but we had the rijsttafel and it was disappointing compared to others we've had.  The service and decor were excellent however. 
Sal de Mer was wonderful. The food, service, decor were all outstanding. The six of us from our table at the MDR came and we all felt it was worth the additional charges. They even coordinated with our Wine Steward to provide our reserved wines. The Lido market provided plenty of good choices at every meal. We generally had lunch there, although we enjoyed the burgers at the Dive In and the sandwiches at the New York Deli. Breakfast was fine, although we enjoyed it more in the MDR when we had time. 
The entertainment was also better than expected on the whole. Exceptions were the other acts in the Main Stage - with the possible exception of the pianist (we were mixed on that). The dancers and singers that performed the 5 big shows were wonderful. Our favorite performers were the Lincoln Center quintet - fantastic! The particular musicians on our cruise broke all records for attendance. The dueling pianists and B.B. King Blue's Club were also fun once in a while as were the BBC Earth videos (one in the Main Stage with live music). We also enjoyed the demonstrations in the America's Test Kitchen by Erin (and the TV hosts). 
Our main critique was the relentless plugs for products. "Demonstrations" were usually sales pitches. And these made up too much of the day's activities. Interesting "non profit" events were often scheduled opposite each other. And although there was a very nice gym with plenty of equipment, they CHARGED for yoga or cycling sessions! Alcohol pricing is often mentioned as a problem but we found the prices comparable to a good city restaurant. And we often were able to go to a "wine tasting" or "martini tasting" and save money. The later was really fun! 
The excursions were always very expensive and generally unnecessary. We four went on the Stappen Island Bird Watching Trip in Honnigsvag and felt it was worth while. Scott, Walt and Honoree did the 8 hour Pulpit Rock Hike out of Stavanger and it was great. Otherwise we organized our own trips or used local tour companies. We spent much less money and saw more! In Haugesund for example we saw everything from two excursions (would have cost almost $300 each) using the public bus!
So in summary, the best thing about the cruise was being with Walt & Honoree. Would we take another cruise? Nothing in the distant future - but I could imagine us crossing the Pacific Ocean as an alternative to sitting in a cramped plane to Australia/New Zealand (at least one way). And we'd be happy to go with Holland America if we did. But as long as we're spending half the year cruising on our own Scott Free, we've no need of any other ship.
PS - We took WOW airline round trip to Amsterdam and will never do that again.
We took the offered tour of the kitchen but it was pretty
empty and there was little cooking to be seen. We did meet
and talk to the Head Chef, which was interesting.



Erin gave fun demonstrations of 3 dishes, all coordinated
with a video from America's Test Kitchen. They were
standing room only!

There was a Captain's reception which we attended with free wine/beer and a chance to meet the charming Captain Werner Timmers. He was a big hit on the "Meet the Crew" presentation. That's him between Scott and I. 

This is my only shot of our room - I've included a stock one
further down in the blog post as it's much clearer. We thought
the room was very comfortable and attractive - lots of storage.
We were in a Salon Veranda room - 1052. 

This is my shot of the pool area - better stock one below.
Our room was just inside the door on the second floor
above this location - great spot!

You can get a feeling of the size here.

Our room was on the 10th floor near the bow.

We had breakfast in our room several times with Walt &
Honoree to watch the scenery. Other times we had
champagne (brought with us) and appetizers before
dinner.

The complimentary robes were very nice. We ordered coffee
as a wake up every morning and it was excellent.

Our favorite place to view the fjords was up on the top
deck. That's the 7 Sisters falls (only 4 were there for us).

The weather wasn't conducive to sun bathing. And the roof
only opened a few times over the pool during our trip.

Easy on and off the tenders for us. They were used only twice
during our cruise.

That's our lovely ship on the left.

The crew managed the traffic brilliantly for the ports 


The crew were mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines
(where I spent 2 years in the Peace Corps) and they were
 really nice and professional. Here's our bartender for
the "Martini Tasting".

The Duck foie gras with Lingonberry sauce at Sal de Mer

And my Lobster Thermador" 

You still need to polish some brass on the ship!


Walt and Honoree with our favorite waitress at the Lido.

Stock photo of the pool. Our room was just inside the door on the second floor on the left. We were the second room
inside and we never had any noise in the evenings even though they showed movies here in the evenings. And we went to bed early by cruising standards. 

The Tamarind Restaurant

Walt & Honoree, Craig & Lisa and Scott & Heather at
Sal de Mer


The World Stage Theater

A stock photo of our room

The gym. Walt and Honoree taught us Tai Chi and we often
used the machines.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Stavanger - the Petroleum Museum and Pulpit Rock

The pedestrian streets and colorful houses make another
section of downtown Stavanger very attractive for shopping
and dining.
Scott and I made separate plans for our day in Stavanger. He joined Walt & Honoree on one of the official excursions to Pulpit Rock. This was an 8 hour trip out of town to hike up to this iconic view. It was a very difficult hike with over 2.000 ft of elevation - I decided to pass and see the city instead. We both had a terrific time.
I managed to see the Cathedral, most of downtown, the Norwegian Canning Museum and the Petroleum Museum. It was all very interesting and fun. There was even time for a little shopping. Stavanger is a very attractive and accessible city. Despite the bright sunshine, it was cool - as you can see from the way people are dressed

Lots of people sat outside to have a drink or eat even in the
cool weather. 
 In the morning I took in the Cathedral, "Old Stavanger" and the Canning Museum. After lunch back on the boat I headed out again for the shopping district and the Petroleum Museum.
Opened in 1999, the Petroleum Museum from the sea looks like a small oil platform. It covers 5,000 square meters so there is a lot to see! The Museum focuses on offshore petroleum activity especially in the North Sea through films, photographs and lots of actual equipment. I followed the technological development from the beginning of the Norwegian oil industry in the mid 1960's  to today. Happily they also covered how this has effected people both in Norway and in developing countries as well as environmental costs. 
That's the Norwegian flag on the right and some unusually
pruned trees on the left.

There were great views from the Museum of the harbor. This
was the first time we saw groups of sailboats.

I believe there was at least one of every kind of machine
associated with petroleum drilling and underwater exploration.

And you could experience them yourself in many cases.
Not underwater unfortunately.

A view of the first floor from the stairs up to the second. I
enjoyed the films as they featured the people who worked
in the industry instead of the machines. It is a very dangerous
industry to work in - and that has a big cost for both the
workers and their families.

A huge new platform was being built right in the harbor

There were many statues through downtown. This one was
supposed to be a Viking man. I didn't think buttons were
invented back then!

I loved these beautiful costumes and admired the hand done
embroidery. Several women in the rear of the store were
hard at work creating them.

And I would have loved to buy some of these fabulous wool
felt boots. But they and the costumes cost hundreds of dollars.
Well worth it I'm sure, but too rich for me.

Another street reminded me of England with the half timbered
houses

And now for my other half. These are photos Scott took
on his hike up to Pulpit Rock. You can see the steep
rocky trail with lots of people. 
Walt and Honoree took lots of photos too.

The weather wasn't great but luckily the fog didn't roll in
until they were headed down from the summit. 

Pretty spectacular scenery!

I don't know if you can see the people in the center of this shot - it gives you more perspective.

The red jacket helps here.

Good view of the fjord. They took buses and boats to
reach the start of the hike.

Craig Smith also did the hike. He and his wife Lisa were our
table companions for dinner each night.

This is the famous photo you usually see of Pulpit Rock - Honoree took it.

And this one from the top. It was well worth the tough climb!