Around the World 2016, Day (-4)

All is becoming ever more real as the countdown continues.  This is Monday and we leave home at 320AM on Friday.  Still have one doctor followup, dogs getting groomed, a free recall maintenance on the car, house cleaner, final briefing with Kim, our house sitter, last minute laundry, and throwing last things in carry on bags.  The four bags we shipped already should be in Florida today.  At least that’s all that is on the list as of now.  I’m sure some other last minute things will come up.

We plan to doze in our chair/recliner while we watch the New Years Eve playoff games and whatever comes on next, most likely the interminable discussion of the game that will follow in a few days for the national championship.  The dogs will be very confused by all of this, but will be happy when Kim shows up to move in later in the day.  They really love that she sits on the floor to play with them, as well as taking longer walks with them than we do. If the ship sinks or terrorists get us (and we have NO worries about either one, though some neighbors and friends do) the church and the kids get everything.  Well, they don’t get the dogs, Kim gets them.

Today is, for me, taken up with final sorting, charging, and packing of electronic equipment.  The final things on that project will be done about 200 AM on Friday. That isn’t because of procrastination but because of staying online most of New Years Eve.

Soon we’ll be where it is warmer, and may within a couple weeks be complaining about the heat in Brazil.  I can hardly wait.

Around the world 2016, Day (-14)

This is one of those days with many relationships to others. It is a week before Christmas, two weeks before New Years, seven weeks before my 73rd birthday (5 February 2016).  Yes, I’m a calendar and numbers geek, but most of my friends knew that already.  I spent 14 years living at an address that irritated me.  It was 3577.  It should have been 3579, but wasn’t, for no good reason other than some guy in some city office said so.  I wasn’t irritated enough to try to change it, but it was always there.

It is an emotional time of the year for so many reasons. Family is far away for both of us. Gail’s only relatives are in the bay area. Our kids are in Idaho, Illinois, and New Mexico.  We’re not going anywhere this holiday other than the three church services we’re serving at, plus stores and restaurants.  We’re not complaining, and have made our choices. Two weeks from the time I’m typing this we should be getting settled in our room at the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale for two nights.  We’ll be tired after a night and day of traveling, but we’ll be on our way on our biggest adventure yet.

Both of us miss our parents and siblings who’ve gone on ahead of us.  Gail’s sister passed away at Thanksgiving two years ago, so that’s another thing that made that a tough holiday. We both remember some 70 years of “good old days” in our memories.  Growing up, going away, getting married, having kids, getting married, and so on, they all splash around in my brain.  All of those memories are good for us, even those with sad parts and special memories of those we miss so much.

I’m a guy who is particularly emotional with lots of music, and frequently has tears down his face during certain songs. Tears always appear during Taps, Eternal Father Strong to Save (The Navy Hymn), Let the Day Begin, Kyrie, Amazing Grace, The Road Goes On Forever, It’s My Life, Livin’ On a Prayer, and Highwayman.  The list is obviously eclectic and far from complete.

So what inspired this digression?  As I started this entry, a Jon Bon Jovi compilation of performances started playing on Palladia and I got blindsided by two of his songs, which again brought tears to my cheeks.

She says, “We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.

It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.

We’ve got each other and that’s a lot.

For love we’ll give it a shot.”

[Chorus:]

Whoa, we’re half way there

Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Take my hand and we’ll make it – I swear

Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

 and 

[Chorus:]

It’s my life

It’s now or never

I ain’t gonna live forever

I just want to live while I’m alive

(It’s my life)

My heart is like an open highway

Like Frankie said

I did it my way

I just wanna live while I’m alive

It’s my life

And those Bon Jovi songs got me off track.  But I’m never “on track” unless I’m following what is on my calendar on the phone, ipads, and computer (all Apple, all synced at all times).  Even then it takes Gail to make sure I check the calendar and do what I should.

So we live our life, do “crazy things” like taking round the world cruises, and so forth.  After all, it is now or never, we know we won’t be around this earth forever, so we’re doing it our way.  Maybe not your way, but our way.  And we’ll be loving every minute of it.

Around the world 2016, Day (-17)

This is the first post in a week, and it has been relaxing but productive.  All of the “big stuff” has been done for a couple weeks and I’m completing my bronchitis antibiotics today, so we’re “over the hump”.  Four large bags (50 lbs each) are being picked up a week from today, and three are already packed and weighed and waiting in the garage.  Besides those four bags we’ll check one more large bag and take our carry on bags.  Kim has spent more time with us this week bringing us papers and gifts from the cruise line and her office, as well as catching up more on the house and fish. At the moment I’m waiting for a plumber to come fix the hot water in the bathtub.  We never use the tub, but Kim does, so it needs to have hot water.

Still to come: packing the last bags, ordering a six month supply of prescription meds, one doctor follow up appointment, having the dogs groomed, haircuts for humans, and odd things around the house. The cleaning lady will come a couple days before we leave, so all will be beautiful for Kim.  We’re also eating up all the food in the fridge and freezer. Kim is a vegetarian, so we’re being sure to eat up all of the fish and meat.

The freezer is full of frozen fish food for six months and one pantry contains many boxes of nori for the fish, and three 1.75 liter jugs of vodka for the fish (they get a tablespoon a day to help balance 180 gallons of water chemistry).  Another pantry contains more than enough kibble for the dogs, which Kim supplements with chicken and pumpkin and veggies.

The last few days we’ll probably eat out or bring home takeout.

Around the world 2016, Day (-24)

It has been two and a half weeks since I last blogged about the upcoming trip.  Why?  It has been busy and just for fun I’ve caught a sinus and lung bug. Yesterday I started the hellish treatment, a combination of levofloxacin (generic Levaquin) and prednisone. Both have serious side effects and risks, but they’re the only things that really work for me. That meant a stretch of 30 hours without sleep, but that should get better day by day as this continues. Other than the lack of sleep, I’m getting better.

In the meanwhile we’ve been busy going to our final round of doctor checkups, buying most of the last minute things we will need to pack on the 23rd when our four large suitcases are taken away, working out more details on the house with Kim (house sitter) and Mike (the fish wrangler, who will visit monthly), and doing our best to trim ourselves down further before the cruise. All is going according to schedule, and in many ways we’re on the downward slope to departure at 0320 on New Years Day. We doubt we’ll sleep much before the cab comes, and we’ve warned our neighbors that we’ll try to be quiet, but if they wake up it isn’t an emergency of any sort and to go back to sleep.

We went to a bridge club Christmas Party today and will go to another tomorrow.  We’re not playing bridge until we get on the ship, and the break has been good for all our preparation.

Whenever possible we choose cruise tour sites that are historical, or else snorkel/swim sites. This trip will include April 17 at Corregidor, the last bastion on Luzon in the Phillipines as the Japanese invaded during WWII. Earlier today we watched Cry Havoc (1943) about the nurses in the tunnels at Bataan.  Like all others on Bataan, if they didn’t die in the battles a great many of them died on the Bataan Death March to the POW camps to the north. The island fortress of Corregidor was the last to fall on Luzon, so we’re now watching John Wayne in They Were Expendable (1945) about those small plywood PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats that were so important in the effort. And they were all expendable.

Other war historical sites we’ll vist include Hiroshima, Okinawa, Saigon, and Hanoi earlier in the trip and near the end, a special dinner on the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, docked near the Arizona Memorial, which we’ve visited before. We so honor all of those who served in that war and others. We’ve also visited Omaha Beach, Arlington, The Wall, and Punch Bowl in the past. I tear up every time I visit one of those sites, and every time I hear Taps or Eternal Father Strong to Save (The Navy Hymn).  We hear it in church a couple times a year as well, and I get the same tears.

I might not be here if my father’s service in the Navy during the war had been in a plane or ship. He wanted to fly, but his eyes good enough.  So, using his technical background he served, mostly in Southern California, inspecting newly built aircraft before they were sent off to serve in carriers.  Like all the others that served at home or in non combat duties, we thank my dad, Chief Petty Officer Andrew Lawrence Lester, for his service.

Around the world 2016, Day (-41)

This has been a busy week getting ready, mostly with medical things.  We are both healthy and happy, but since there are, at our ages, always things to check out, we did so. I had my semi-annual visit to my cardiologist and he was happy with my EKG and all my other numbers as well.  He had no worries about me taking this trip.  I also got checked by my stomach doctor and my dermatologist, who of course reminded me to eat healthily and to avoid too much sun, respectively. Yesterday Gail and I both got shots, her in her bad knee and me in my thumb and two fingers. Mine are “trigger fingers”, even though the index fingers are fine.  When I asked why in the world I would need the shots in my middle fingers he joked “maybe you’re using them too much”.  We’ve also been to the dentist, as though the ship has good medical personnel and facilities, they don’t have dental services other than giving you a pain pill until you get to a port where you can find a dentist to get your problem fixed.  At least all of our medical checkups and treatments are completed at last.

We also finally completed all the work we can do on our taxes for 2015 before we leave.  We’ll be gone when all the final numbers come in and won’t be back for Tax Day in April, so have prepared estimated taxes and an extension form so Kim can mail them in in April.  Utah is the only state I’ve lived in that doesn’t require estimated taxes to be submitted for investment or other income that doesn’t have taxes automatically withheld. So there will be a check for estimated taxes with the extension forms for the state.  We’re always happy to not have to send money to the state every quarter like we do to the IRS.

We also spent a lot of time yesterday making our reservations for dinners at the premium restaurants on board the Insignia. One is Italian and one is a steak house.  Unlike most cruise lines, there is no surcharge for dining at these venues (as opposed to the main dining room or the buffet, which are also excellent), but there is a quota on how many you can reserve. We booked all 14 of our allotted dinners at each as soon as we were allowed to do so. I know I’ll be having steak or prime rib on my birthday in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Angola.

During the next week our main preparation activities will be avoiding stores, having a simple holiday meal at home, and doing some volunteer work at the Jubilee of Trees, at the Veterans Home, and at church. We’ll also continue sorting through clothes and getting ready to send off four large suitcases to the ship several weeks ahead of our departure.  We think we’re over all of the big humps and relaxing a bit more.

Around the World 2016, Day (-49)

One of the favorite topics of Americans (and, I imagine, citizens of most countries) is FOOD.  We want to have enough to be healthy and strong but not so much that it is wasted or that we get fat and lazy.  I’ll confess that I’m writing this in a crowded McDonalds, featuring new kiosks, food delivered to your table after you order it from a kiosk or the counter, and a double drive through line that is even more crowded than inside. So, how do we survive on a cruise ship without McDonalds?  Easy, we go to one on shore.  Seriously, we have eaten in a couple of McDonalds in Thailand and Australia, as well as at a Starbucks.  We didn’t need to do so for nourishment, but they had free wifi and air conditioning, so why not?

Most of the discussion of food on cruises is regarding the quantity and the difficulty of making decisions about it.  Should I have rack of lamb or prime rib or Maine lobster tonight?  Decisions, decisions. And of course you don’t have to make the decision based on the cost of the item, as you already paid for it when you bought the cruise.  Even more difficult may be the decision about dessert: molten chocolate cake, cheesecake, homemade ice cream, key lime pie, or something with a fancy French name?  The biggest problem is not cleaning your plate at every meal or ordering three desserts, which they’ll happily serve you if you ask.  On one cruise a dinner companion, who was not a big guy, ordered two different entrees at each meal, and ate both of them.  Ask and you shall receive.

The buffets can be even more difficult, since you can pick some of everything while trying to avoid taking too much of each thing.  On most ships food is available in one location or another 24 hours a day, and if you don’t feel like leaving your stateroom, there is always the 24 hour room service.

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise away all of those calories you ate. Ships have a workout area with treadmills and such, and may have a trainer or classes for those who are interested, as well as one or more swimming pools, though most aren’t big enough to swim laps. Our ship has a walking/jogging track that goes above the swimming pool, and that is my main exercise area. Since I don’t like treadmills, preferring to control my own pace and variations in pace, my indoor exercise when necessary is walking the passageways inside.  Most of them are a couple hundred yards long, so some walking back and forth the length of the ship a few times adds up pretty quickly. Most of our day trips off of the ship include quite a bit of walking also, so that helps as well.

Just as in the rest of life, how you control your exercise and eating is up to only one person.  YOU. It is possible to be sane and healthy on a cruise with both.

Around the World 2016, Day (-51)

Holidays are special, and I’ve been asked about their observance on a cruise, so this holiday, Veterans Day in the USA (Remembrance Day in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and many other countries) seems like a good time to comment on it.

We’ve been on cruises on Thanksgiving (American), Christmas, New Years, Easter, and other holidays, plus assorted Jewish and Muslim holidays.  In general, the ships observe the “American” holidays and observe the religious holidays of the three major faiths (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) to the extent possible. Many cruises have a priest or pastor on board, at least for Christmas and Easter. This is most frequently a Roman Catholic priest, who also offers non denominational Christian services.  Cruises that operate from Australia and other countries tend to observe their own holidays (ANZAC Day, for example).

I’m sure the specialty restaurants will be crowded on holidays, including Valentine’s Day.  Many people choose to go to a specialty restaurant (extra charge on most cruise lines, but not on Oceania) for a birthday or anniversary.  Gail is already planning for my birthday in a couple months.   We will also celebrate our Wedding Anniversary on board, even though it isn’t until August.  They don’t know when it is, so it will be when we choose to celebrate it.  One of the reasons for this cruise is to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on 8/17/16, shortly after we return home.

Whether you’re celebrating any special days or not, you can be sure that you’ll find plenty to keep you fed and entertained on a cruise.

Around the World 2016, Day (-52)

Another set of questions we’re often asked regarding the trip is whether we’re afraid of violence, pirates, or strange critters in various places.  The easy answer is no, never.  We’re educated on our surroundings and exercise reasonable caution everywhere we go. On a previous cruise on an identical vessel we spent ten days in pirate waters in the Arabian Gulf and off of East Africa. We had pirate drills but knew that the chance of anything happening was remote. It didn’t.

We also learned to be careful when snorkeling, wearing our lycra suits to keep from getting stung by jellies on the Great Barrier Reef.  I did get stung by another jelly on Aitutaki, where they supposedly weren’t around, but suffered no long term damage. We’ve also been careful in the areas where saltwater crocodiles are a risk, and will be in all other such potentially dangerous environments. One friend regularly asks how deep the water is in various places, and I simply say “deep enough for the ship” and have no fears about running aground.  Again, we know from previous experience that if there are typhoons or other dangerous weather that we’ll skip a port, go somewhere else, or just stay in a previous port.

Overall, we know we’re 73 years old and won’t be on this earth forever, and plan to have as many experiences and memories as we can.  That’s why we are traveling now while we’re still healthy enough and able to stretch our budget enough to do it. If the pirates or sharks or crocodiles get us before old age does, so be it. But we’re sure not worrying about it.

Around the World 2016, Day (-53)

One of the things we’re commonly asked is “Are you rich?  It must cost a fortune to do this.  Can I ask how much?”   Since Gail and I are totally open in all aspects of our lives, our answer is easy: “All in, about $170,000, including balcony cabin, visas, shore excursions, land tours, airfare, travel insurance, house sitter, and so forth”  That then leads to “wow, that proves you’re rich” and then I explain that we’ve been saving for a long time, and do that by living in a small house, having no debts but a mortgage, having an efficient paid-for car, are almost always at home, don’t drink, smoke, or gamble, eat out, or go to movies.  We also don’t have a second car, second home, boat, or other toys.  No argument with those who do have those things, we just all make our own decisions on how to spend our money.  We’ve also never felt any obligation to leave an inheritance to our children, other than one of love and good training.

Our travel agent (who is also our house and pet sitter) reminded us that we could save $40,000 by booking an inside cabin.  We reminded her that we value the extra room, and most of all the balcony to watch the waves and the arrivals and departures from ports while having a coffee or tea.  Again, for those who choose to save with an inside cabin, or to enjoy a suite, that’s fine too. Their money, their choice.

I’ve always appreciated this quote from the song Aurora Borealis, by C. W. McCall:

“Life is simply a collection of memories, but memories are like star light… They live on Forever.

So we choose to make memories, and record in words or photos some of them for anyone who might care to share them.

Around the World 2016, Day (-54)

As many already know, we’re taking a cruise on the Oceania Insignia beginning on January 4, for 180 days, ending on July 1.  We will start and finish in Miami, Florida. The day above, -54, is the number of days until we leave St. George on New Years morning at 320 AM.  We will take a shuttle van to Las Vegas McCarran Airport, wait a few hours there for a Southwest flight to Ft. Lauderdale, and stay in Ft. Lauderdale for two nights before going to Miami for the night before the cruise.

We will be posting reports, hopefully daily, on this blog and on our linked photo site at https://lesterland.smugmug.com/Travel  All should be linked back to this Facebook page.

As of now all of our travel arrangements have been made and most activities on the cruise planned.  Over the next 53 days I’ll report on other things we’re doing to get ready, and of course report on the trip itself when the time comes.

Today we skipped church so that we could have Kim, our house sitter, pet sitter and travel agent, and Mike, our salt water fish guru, get together for Kim to learn more about the fish maintenance routines.  She already knows everything about our crazy little dogs, Dolly and Bobo.  Kim will feed the fish, add water to the tank, and have Mike do major maintenance monthly.  He will be on call in case she has any problems. We also changed the plans for getting to Ft. Lauderdale and that is finally set.

There is always plenty to do in getting ready for being away from home for over six months.