Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Living On A Ship At Sea

     When you’re doing a world cruise, it takes a while to get places. In our case, we’ve got seven days of traveling at sea across the Atlantic before we bump up against South America.

     It’s a real sacrifice.

     Sleep in and get up whenever you feel like it – or there’s a good lecture going on. (We’ve heard two so far: one about Vikings, and another about a famous Chinese treasure fleet.) Stroll up for lunch – try not to pig out, because tea is in another few hours, and you’re bound to want a cookie or two. The food has a heavy British flavor – ‘bangers and mash’ (sausages and mashed potatoes with gravy) are a big favorite – but generally there’s at least one good dish, along with the inevitable curry, and big platters of sliced fruit and veggies. Bread pudding, in any number of forms accompanied by vanilla sauce, is a big seller, too. (I still need to try the ‘sticky toffee’ pudding made this way.)

     In the afternoon, there’s a movie – or three movies that repeat, over and over, on tv. We may lounge by the pool (water’s too cold to swim yet) or soak in the hot tub, with the waves going placidly by. Then a nap before the evening’s show – and a nicer meal in the restaurant, with multiple courses. Our dinner companions have been, with one (German) exception, British, Welsh, Irish – particularly Scottish. (Why the frugal Scots, I wonder. This cruise isn’t exactly dollar-light.)  This has made for interesting discussions, especially about Brexit, which just went into effect in the United Kingdom, and our President – the source of much curiosity from our friends over the pond.

      We usually stop after supper to hear a wonderful Ukranian violinist and her pianist, in the main atrium. Returning to the room, our bed’s made and everything tidy, with the next day’s schedule neatly printed and ready to read. Maybe an after-dinner tot or cookie, then bed.

      It’s a burden…but someone’s got to do it.

Monday (er, Wednesday) Stuff on the Way to Other Stuff: Funchal

     Well, Gentle Readers – you’ve probably already noticed that my posts are coming in bunches when they do arrive. Part of the problem lies in the ship’s internet – it’s crazy-expensive. And part is in the lack of coffee shops, so far. Or when we visit, it’s on a Sunday – and they’re closed. It’s frustrating, but on the other hand, we can’t spend much when everything is largely closed. The religious influence, I’d guess…if you’ll remember, it used to be that way when we were younger. Now, the only big business I can think of that closes on Sundays is Chick-Fil-A. (Good for them.)
     Funchal (pronounced “Foon-chall”) is actually a Portuguese word meaning ‘wooded;’ this is one of two inhabited islands and two uninhabited island groups that make up Madeira, a territory of Portugal. Funchal is the capital. We never saw a building that looked like some, but it certainly has several cathedrals, office buildings, a thriving business section. But the memorable part are the rows and rows and ROWS of pastel-colored houses that line the zigzagging streets. Every square inch, seemingly, has houses until you get toward the top of the mountains – then there are more.
     We took the cable car up to take a closer look at this former volcano-turned mountains. The people below are so used to the cable cars overhead, I would guess, that they didn’t pay a bit of attention. We saw washing being hung out; chickens pecking in yards; fruit trees (especially banana palms); people puttering in their gardens. The barking dogs noticed us – but the one kitty visible could have cared less.
     At the top were some lovely flower and exotic plant gardens…and a neatly stacked pile of wicker sleds with wooden runners. Any day (but Sunday, apparently), hapless tourists can take a breakneck speed ride down the narrow streets, with their guides hanging off the back. (Accidents only happen once in a while, we were assured.) We had planned to do this, but took the cable car back down instead, then limped down the ocean walkway (the malecon, in Mexican) to the waiting ship. Along the way, we stopped to buy a couple bottles of the after-dinner wine Madeira is famous for, plus a round of spicy bolo chabom. Gingerbread, I think.
     Funchal was the major stopping-off point for treasure ships making the long trip across the Atlantic – or just checking in. It was a favorite spot for pirates; the Spanish were also fond of making a raid or two. And the architecture shows their influence. But it is definitely an isolated place. We were surprised to find out later that Daughter #1’s partner’s family came from Funchal. Beautiful gardens, pastel houses stacked upon each other, lush greenery, what’s not to love about this gorgeous island.
     Now we have a week on the Atlantic, before our next stop: Curacao.

Only a few entries this time -- but I hope to do better next week, after we find a coffeeshop with free wifi.

Have a great week yourself.

A Day on the High Seas

We woke up one morning to banging and an uncomfortable up-and-down feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Waves, white-topped and threatening, were crashing against the ship. A storm was brewing, the captain announced, so we’d be turning away from that (no more stop in the Azores) and heading for Funchal, Madeira (a Portuguese territorial island) instead. The top-floor buffet was closed. The entertainment was minimal. (Too dangerous, otherwise.) Use the rails at all times. And for God’s sake, be careful, he implied.
     Walking the corridors was an adventure. First, you angled one way – then, if you weren’t paying attention, you found yourself leaning the opposite direction. Barf bags festooned the rails at regular intervals, and trying to climb the stairs was frightening. I almost went backwards on one step when the ship lurched. (We took the elevators after that – but what if the power failed?)
     Lunch (at the only available place on the ship) was delicious, but crowded. A plump lady ahead of us lost her balance, grabbed for a curtain, and it came away in her hands. Down she went. (Fortunately, she was more embarrassed than hurt.) Dishes on the table slid back and forth, and regular crashes came from the direction of the kitchen. (We heard one of the big coffee machines fell, as well as several trolleys. The downstairs main area was a melee of moving chairs and tables.)

     We had some decisions to make regarding excursions, so retreated to the library. Fortunately, I didn’t stand too long in front of the glass cases. A huge bang, and the books literally shot off the shelves, smashing open the glass doors, and forming drifts on the floor. One of the ship stewards started to pick the books up – and they did it again. (Fortunately, they were back on the shelves before the ceiling caved in next morning, and a flood poured in.) The same bang threw me out of my ‘comfy chair’ and sent me sprawling. Tables and furniture moved across the floor, then shifted back again.
     Now you have proof – books are dangerous.

     The Brick was unmoved, in more ways than one. After all, he’d seen much worse during his six years in the Navy. I could also see ship’s employees going on about their business, with no safety lines on. (Though they staggered around inside, just like us.) By suppertime, people were being hustled in quickly to the same restaurant – but the food was good, even if it was served on plastic dishes. (How the chefs and waitstaff did it, I have no idea – they were amazing.) The sliding had become so commonplace that you automatically stabilized whatever was in front of you, whether yours or not.
     We went to bed earlier than usual, and watched some movies. (We’re still fighting to get off Colorado time, which is five hours earlier than United Kingdom time.) The drop, then fight to get back up, was unnerving, even cushioned by pillows. (The Brick thought the waves were 15-20 ft. Have you seen bigger ones? I asked. Oh yeah, f+ ar bigger.) A few seasickness pills, hours of sleep – and the sun was out in the morning. Still a little bumpy, but nothing like the day before. Back to normal – but the ship was heading for Madeira, instead of the Azores. The captain assured us this was the worst. Given the Atlantic’s reputation for more temper tantrums than its Pacifying sister, though, this probably won’t be the only storm we experience during the cruise.

     Strange – I found myself holding tightly onto my glass at suppertime that night, even while I was eating with the other hand. Apparently I was unconsciously making sure it wouldn’t slide.

Five Lessons Already Learned from a British Cruiseline

*HOW TO MAKE SURE THE AMERICANS ARE ON BOARD:  Stuff them in a (very nice) hotel…but don’t give any instructions until late in the evening before. (Or not at all, as two of our compatriots almost found out. They woke up at 11 – we were supposed to meet at 11:30.) Hustle them out to waiting busses, and load their luggage. Then wait. And wait. And wait some more. They’ll be so relieved that they don’t have to figure the way to Tilbury (the ship’s dock) that they’ll wait forever. Besides, who’s going to take off without their luggage?
     Finally, drive them out to the check-in point, and stick them in a queue, hours before the paperwork said they could register. We may still have to stand in line, but at least we’re doing it ‘early.’ Reward them with a glass of champagne or orange juice before they board – getting them at least partly snockered takes the edge off the confusion.

*QUEUING:  There are INTERMINABLE lines. The Brits call them ‘queues,’ and we stand in line for everything --  checking in, food, questions, payments, etc. This wouldn’t be too bad, except the counter people (or the guests – I haven’t figured out which yet) are the slowest people in the universe. That, and my bum right knee won’t let me stand in place more than ten minutes or so before it starts grumbling. The only fun has been talking to the people around us, who are mostly from the U.K.
     After we got on the ship, the Brick and I decided to rebel. We usually wait until fewer people are around, or go just before the event starts. Or, in the case of requesting to see passports and visas again, we just don’t go. They’ve already asked for this twice before, and we’ve shown them each time. Did they lose everybody’s paperwork?!? 
     The Brits we’ve talked to also think all this queuing is silly…but they say they’ve grown up doing it, and are resigned to it. Not the Americans, we’ve noticed.

*VARY YOUR ANSWERS: First, we were told we could use the bonus credit in our account for anything onboard. Then we were told that meant only things like liquor, coffee and meals at the upscale restaurants. THEN we were told we could use it for paying for excursions. Which was what we wanted, in the first place.
     Once again, as one of our lunchmates said, “Don’t ask until you know you’ll like the answer.” Or just keep asking until it changes to that, I guess.

*USE INTERESTING PHRASES:  Since we really don’t speak ‘English,’ or so several grinning meal partners have said (or implied), we keep hearing phrases that need translation. Not only are there ‘queues’ and the ‘loo’ (or bathroom), but others – like exits, for example. (They’re marked ‘WAY OUT.’) This isn’t so bad; you just have to ponder it for a moment before you understand. My favorite, so far, has been the British wont for marking attendance: ‘ticking off,’ they say. Every time someone announces this, I find myself automatically wondering what they’re so angry about. One of our new Scottish friends says it means that the list is complete, when it’s ‘ticked off.’

*KEEP THE FOOD (AND DRINKS) COMING. AND COMING. AND COMING.  Sausage (very soft and fine-grained inside, much like the ones we had in Ireland), bacon and hotcakes (served with jam and honey) for breakfast. All sorts of stuff, from salads to main dishes, for dinner (lunch). One of the entrees is always a curry. (We’re told that the head chefs are from India.)
     The evening meal is the same, if you hit the buffet, but much more gourmet if you use your ‘seating’ at the main restaurant. Order whatever you like from the two or three choices; they’ll arrive, elegantly presented, with fresh silverware for every course. Of course, they’re tiny – but after so much food, you’ll be grateful. And yes, the Indian influence shows up here, as well.
    The food has been very good, though their presentation of ‘American dishes’ has been laughable. ‘New England clam chowder’ was a grainy potato soup with a few clams thrown in. ‘Chicken Mexican fajitas’ had no garlic, and the overcooked pieces had a suspicious yellow glaze. (Curry powder, I suspect.) The salads are crunchy and fresh, and the bread is outstanding, as are any kind of stew or slow-simmered dish. (Unfortunately, vegetables like zucchini, or ‘aubergines,’ are treated the same way, until they’re watery and mushy.) Their ‘mash’ (mashed potatoes) are doable, but the ‘chips’ (French fries) are terrific. And the fish? Oh my. Tender, crisp (when it’s fish and chips) and seasoned just right. I may be living on fish a lot these coming months.
    For drinks, you have coffee, tea and water – that’s it. Order a Coke, a glass of wine or specialty coffee, and you’re going to be paying extra for it. We’ve noticed a fair number of Brits ordering a full bottle of wine, then reserving with their room number on it. The next meal, their bottle is brought out for a few more glasses. They tell us this is much cheaper than buying wine by the glass.
     We Hollanders would rather choke than pay for overpriced drinks. So the Brick bought a bottle of Jameson’s whisky in Rotterdam, and has a tot every evening. (For medicinal purposes, naturally.) Our next stop is Funchal, a Madeira town known for its famous fortified wines. We’ll have to get a few more bottles. Strange, the other lines we’ve gone on haven’t allowed liquor back on board. But this one doesn’t seem to care.
     Add in sandwiches and sweets for tea, and late-night snacks, and we could be easily waddling out of here if we’re not careful. So we’ve instituted a more iron standard: a light breakfast (if at all); mostly salad for lunch; and no more than three or four courses for dinner (supper). I miss potato chips – ‘crisps’ -- and popcorn, and the Brick’s yearning eyes turn toward real brownies. (The ones here are incredibly dry – though not that bad with whipped cream or ‘pud’ – pudding.)

Occasionally we splurge. But we also take the stairs.

     P.S. No one has said a word about the ‘I Believe in Bigfoot’ tote bag I brought along, Darn, darn, darn.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Leaving London

It's Sunday night -- and we board the Columbus tomorrow.

This past week in London has been an education. I've seen things I've only ever read about:

*The Rosetta Stone (British Museum). WAY larger and more impressive than I would have thought. I'm not trying to be mystic, but there is something almost otherworldly about it. It nearly glows.

*The Great Bed of Ware (Victoria & Albert). Interesting, certainly -- but how in the world did 26 people squeeze onto that fat, lumpy mattress?!? Turns out it became famous as a stop along the pilgrim way -- which was abruptly discontinued when Henry VIII outlawed the monasteries. The bed persists, nonetheless. It's dark brown, heavily carved -- and frankly, kind of clunky-looking.

From, via Pinterest. Couples who spent the night in it
would scratch their initials in the post, or use their wax seals as a 'Been there, done that' mark.

*Tapestries -- everywhere, you name it. Turns out that Charles I -- the British king beheaded by his own subjects -- actually founded his own tapestry works. One of the things produced there were copies of tapestries Rafael was commissioned to do for the Vatican. (Rafael's 'cartoons' of the pieces are proudly displayed at the V&A, along with an English tapestry copy.)
      Huge old tapestries of every design, often with crests and important motifs connected with the royal and well-born who commissioned them, hang behind marquetry and other beautiful furniture pieces.
     On the other hand, if people were living in the Tower or somewhere equally drafty, I can understand why tapestries were so popular.

*Buckingham Palace. It was -- a bust. If you don't get there for the changing of the guard, don't bother. Hundreds of tourists stared through the bars at two lone soldiers, motionless in long gray coats and furry hats. (Winter uniforms?) Occasionally they went through a sort of ordering and presenting arms, according to the Brick, or marched forward and back a few paces. (It was freezing. Maybe they were trying to stay warm.) The most exciting moment was when one of the guards yelled at someone to quit hanging on one of the gates.
    On the other hand, there is a huge fountain nearby, with all sorts of interesting statues. Much more interesting to gawk at than these guys, and the bored policemen who guard them.

*The Underground. Sounds romantic -- but London's subway is just that -- a subway not much different than New York City. A little worn and grubby, with garbage in spots. By the way:
      Londoners are NOT clean and tidy, from what we've seen, but they sometimes have good reason -- there are very few garbage cans out in public. And public bathrooms? Ha. The few we saw required 50 pence. (So much for the "spend a penny" phrase associated with British toilets.) The Brick was so grossed out by the way he did see inside, that he refused to use it.

*Piccadilly, Chelsea and other London areas. Who knew they'd just look like regular streets?

*Westminster Abbey and other public buildings. Westminster has some of the most delicately-worked spires, stained glass and other details. You'd swear that the statuary and arches were carved from wood -- but they're stone! This is one amazing place. Unfortunately, we were only able to glimpse the inside -- just as we were walking forward, the guard announced in a loud voice that it was closed, and wouldn't be open until Monday. When we're on the boat. (sigh)
     I was surprised, though, that the building next door, a former palace, houses Parliament. Other than no stained glass, it is just as delicate. A lot of the old architecture here is Gothic in style.
     You can just feel the age emanating from these buildings. Incredible.

*The Tower of London isn't just a tower! Instead, it's a whole complex of buildings and towers, one of which houses the Crown Jewels. (The Cullinan Diamond in Queen Elizabeth's sceptre, more than 500 carats, sparkles like a house afire.) The famous rooks are there, and croaking; no doubt, we were being given an important message for Charley and Ruby.
     Even though some of the United Kingdom's royalty made their residence inside the thick stone walls, one thing was clear -- anyone forced to live in that chilly, drafty place probably had permanent colds. Not to mention the prisoners housed there. One odd thing: the moat from the Tower is frozen over, and people are using it as an ice skating rink, complete with lights and music. The Brick wondered whether anyone during Elizabethan times did the same thing.

*Fish and chips, meat pies and other culinary delights.  The fish and chips are delicious here...but not wrapped in newspaper, like my favorite Helen Forrester novels talk about. (The fish and chips we had in Ireland were more like their Thirties versions.)
      We had steak and ale pies tonight for supper, and they were delicious. But the taste was familiar: like the Swanson's beef potpies I used to eat as a kid. Huh?
      We keep seeing advertisements for a 'full English' breakfast, but haven't tried it yet. Probably on the boat, which is run by a British cruiseline.

*British people. The 'typical Brit' we've seen, over and over, is Muslim! A good 50% or more of the women we've seen on the street are wearing hajib full-robes...or at least headcoverings. What I would have thought of as 'British'... fair-haired, red cheeks, striding along in a trench coat or tweeds...were probably 10% or less of the people we've been walking with, or sitting on the Underground carriages.
     On the other hand, we've been in a lot of heavy tourist areas, where all sorts of languages and accents are flowing around us. (And not a lot of them American, I might add.) Surprisingly, we've seen very few people with Irish accents. I thought there would be more, but even the waitstaff in the pubs tend to be Polish -- or from somewhere else -- with heavy accents.
     Spanish, like the strong Hispanic/Mexican presence at home in Colorado? Fughgeddabout it.

     I may be just one of those rascal Americans, but in places like the British Museum and especially in the V&A, I got a distinct feeling that we were being given a subtle but continuing pep talk on how accomplished, wonderful -- and above all, important for continuing existence -- Great Britain's monarchs are.Surprisingly, ol' Charles I -- whose portraits often suggest he was a whiner who wanted his own way -- seems to be heading up the cheerleaders, especially in the V&A. 

Here he is -- what a wussyboy.
     Granted, I am not a huge fan of royalty past or present, though some, like King George VI, Elizabeth's father (and he of The King's Speech) certainly kept chins up and life continuing during WWII. (Unlike George's brother David, who gave up his throne to marry what else -- an American.) What exactly are they doing to earn their keep? Why should a shared DNA give you the right to rule over a country? (And on a side note: why didn't a British king who was the mirror image of his cousin Nicholas of Russia, try harder to rescue that wretched family?) 

     Sorry, Prince might be a fine chap, but I still believe in electing your country's leaders, no matter if that may be flawed on occasion.

     Maybe I'm not the only one who feels this way. Maybe the Brits need regular reminders why they should be funding incredible sums for these people. Who knows.
      So --my overall impression of London? Full of traffic, busses (many double-deckers) and people on their way to one place or another. Colorful, lots of lights, and jammed with all sorts of cultures -- and more than a little grubby around the edges. The "foggy day in London town" rhyme still holds. Although it only rained at night, and obviously hadn't had a killing frost yet, the cold fog made walking around numbing. 
     Lots of incredibly old buildings -- and many more old-looking brick homes, sandwiched next to each other, that originated closer to post-WWII.  (Thank the Blitz and various fires, which really wiped out architecture -- and surprisingly, revealed old Roman foundations, walls and artifacts as places were being rebuilt.)
     The resemblance to New York City, particularly the older areas like Greenwich Village, was surprising. So who inspired who? 

     I'm skipping some other surprises, like Nelson's TALL pillar at Trafalgar Square, the statue of Boudicca, whipping up her horses while her daughters cower alongside, and a rather sad embroidery in the V&A by Mary Queen of Scots, using motifs representing courage and patience during troubles. (After a short reign, she was imprisoned by her little sister for 19 years -- then executed. An equally sad painted miniature, done not long before Mary's death, was commissioned by that sister, Queen Elizabeth. She had never met her sister in person...and never did.)

From, via Pinterest. The sky never looked this blue while we were there.

And the Charles Dickens museum. I made it there -- but it deserves its own post. 

In five or so days of staying here, we only got a taste of this busy, fascinating city. Guess a return trip is in order. 

This is the first time I've been online all week, so only a few items are on the Monday Stuff list. Our time sense, thanks to the 7-hour difference from Colorado, is all messed up. The Brick just reminded me it was 2 a.m., and we've still got suitcases to lug to the boat this morning. (He's snoozing now. I, unfortunately, am wide awake.)

     It feels a little weird to be here -- but wonderful.

10 surprising outer space discoveries from 2019...drinking wine will keep you healthier out there! (From Listverse)

Just watched Gladiator again -- that fine Russell Crowe movie that's 'sort of' based on history. Noticed several nuances this time around, including the fact that Crowe fights his final battle right-handed. Know why that's important? Because Commodus knows he's naturally left-handed...and not being able to use that arm, due to a stab wound in the side, should be critical.
     Unfortunately, the Emperor doesn't factor in the General's war experience. You would have to be able to use both hands well. In fact, lefthanders all through history, yours truly included, have learned to be ambidextrous, out of necessity.
      Nice touch, Ridley Scott. Good onya.

How to start 2020 on the right financial foot.  (From The Simple Dollar)

Is the United Methodist Church splitting? Some very important issues and questions rotate around this possible action. (The Brick and I, by the way, are Christians -- not Methodists, Baptist or any other --ist label that can be pasted on.)

Have a great week. I'll check in when I can.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Care to Join Me?

...and the Brick isn't far behind.

Where's the maid, to pack for us?

We'll probably be up all night before leaving tomorrow -- but that will let us sleep more easily on the plane.
     Win win in that respect, I guess.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Monday Stuff on the Way to Other Stuff: Ready?

At the very least, willing and able.

We leave New Year's Eve in the morning. After a stop in Minneapolis (oh joy), we fly straight to London. We'll land 9 a.m. on the first day of the new year. It's some days in London, exploring --  the Brick wants to see the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.
    I do, too. Plus Charles Dickens' home/museum. Maybe a look at the Portobello market; it's said to be one of the best flea markets in the world.

In between, there's a trip to Wal-Mart to get necessities like detergent pods and cough medicine; one more Red Robin meal with our dear friends; and the final packing. Some tasks, like the upcoming book, are on delay, but a lot of work still needs to be done before we leave. 
     Better get to it.

A 150-year-old Christmas letter by Charles Dickens -- rediscoveredTo the railroad that lost his holiday turkey.

Another church shooting, this time in Texas. Two people dead.

Caviar prices are dropping. Oh boy!

"I will be homeless soon." What would you advise next? Some thoughtful answers and advice at Quora.

Eight 'feminine' items -- originally made for men!  (From Listverse)

Zoe's almond pear tart -- I plan to make it with apples, too.  (From One Hundred Dollars A Month)

A surprise Nativity scene found under the surface of a medieval period painting.

Blueberry sour cream coffeecake. How's that grab ya for New Year's Day breakfast?

Favoring one child financially over the other.  (From One Frugal Girl)

Have a great week -- and Happy New Year.

from we (heart)

Frugal Hits & Misses: December Report

Is it really that close to the end of the year? This month has gone at lightspeed some days, then dragged on others. So strange. I spent much of it making lists, then trying to clock off tasks on same.

    We started the month at The Mama's, staying in her barnyard. Then it was on to Tucson for a teaching gig, and a few extra days to rest up, draw a deep breath, and do some treasure hunting research.  After returning to Colorado, we started final preparations for the cruise. It is hard to believe that it's finally going to happen. Don't worry -- I will continue to post on the blog, only now you'll hear about which countries we're visiting, and what we're seeing. Update:  One of the China stops -- for Shanghai -- got cancelled. Darn. But another country was substituted: Korea!

Christmas was nice. We enjoyed a few concerts, played for the Christmas Eve service, and spent Christmas Day with friends, Daughter #2 and Son #1. On our anniversary (38 years!!!), we spent the evening with all of our kids, enjoying the Seven Fish Dishes. Daughter #1 and her partner were kind enough to not only host the doings, but fix four of the entrees. 

All in all, it's been a different sort of month -- but then again, that could be said of most of 2019.

(some of these are from late November)

*Fell in love with a goofy truck terrarium at Target -- and got it for less. I've been watching this for weeks, thinking that when the holidays were over, I'd use it for plants. (The walls are plastic -- a bonus, when you're living in a fifth-wheel, and glass things break.) It was 30% off, but the decorations inside were out of position and tossed all over. Asked the manager if he'd give me 50% off, instead. He did -- 50% off after the 30% was applied!  It never hurts to ask.

*The Mama got a new phone and a new phone plan: more reasonably-priced, with a phone that should be easier for her to use. The Brick deserves special thanks for this one -- he helped her set it up.

*Tickets to the Denver Symphony's Messiah performance -- nosebleed tickets, but less than other seats in the house. (Do you really think that the sound will be any different, up in the rafters?? In fact, it should be better -- sound, like heat, rises.)Purchased for friends and the Brick as a Christmas present. It was wonderful -- one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

*A lovely handbell Christmas concert in Tucson...for a contribution. Thank you, Sonoran Bells.

*Some 'new' (to us) videos -- from my favorite spot, the library's used book room. They're more expensive now, but what the hey: $2 each, even for series videos, goes a long way.

*Bought myself a nice winter woolen dress -- for half-price and free shipping. I've been wearing it during the holidays; it will also come in handy during chillier parts of the cruise.

*Promised the kids a Christmas present from their chosen country. Our regular presents were rather modest, instead. (Yes, I'm keeping a list.)

*Paid every bill possible ahead of time: including the tithe, for the next five months.

*Submitted the sales tax report for 2019. Early.

*Used free greenery for our Christmas 'tree' this year. Ironically, several of our friends did the same thing -- just grabbed a few branches, rather than go to the trouble of putting up a tree. And theirs were artificial!

*The Mama got an extra check -- ostensibly for restaurant fun, but we were really helping out with utility and storage costs. (She wouldn't take the money, otherwise.)

*Cookies, hot chocolate...and Meijer Gardens. A free shindig with The Mama and family in Grand Rapids. She paid for a few free meals, too.

*Treated The Mama to a buffet supper -- but went early enough to make it 'lunch' prices. As our favorite Hollander mantra says, "[dollar amount] is [dollar amount]," no matter how little. (And it DOES add up eventually.)

*Careful  attention to food costs while on the road. We ate at McDonald's almost exclusively for breakfast, or used Burger King coupons.

*Brought some goodies for our kind friends...who let us stay a few days over at their place in Tucson. (They put up one of our friends for a night, as well.) Beautiful mini-rosebushes at $3.99 each let us gift other friends -- and the girlies.

*The dollar store is a good friend at Christmastime. I got some real buys there, for presents, fill-in food and a few craft items. We also got some bargains at Sparta Variety's going-out-of-business sale, including the piggy pitcher that held our 'tree' this year. (See above)

*Grocery costs were minimal this month: Basics like milk, bread and eggs dominated. The shrimp for the Seven Fish Dishes was on sale. I did get some candy for stockings, but they were from sales and Daily Deals, a discount store.

*Refilled prescriptions, so we'd have enough during the cruise. You can get vacation-extended refills, all right, but the insurance company won't generally honor them. (Use Good RX instead, if needed, to get the best price.) I also ordered charcoal capsules (good for stomach troubles) and the generic version of Bonine. (I get seasick sometimes -- the Brick never does. That's what six years in the Navy will do for you.)

*Some Amazon steals during Black Friday: York peppermint patties, lots of them. Milano cookies. The daughters love these. (I do too, frankly.) The complete set of Columbo: $29.99. (That's where my allowance went this month.) Lieutenant Columbo's been keeping me company while I work on appraisals and finish up restorations.
     Another Black Friday buy: a specialized water bottle with filter, just in case we run into issues. (20% off, plus free shipping) Ordered three more portable filters, for use in camping for us and the kids.

*Still staying at our friend's place -- and able to store the fifth-wheel here through the winter. A kind offer, by a kind man, and much appreciated. We try to make it up to him by paying for utilities and more, plus doing chores.

*Found a friend who can watch the trailer while we're gone. He'll be staying here sometimes, but will make sure the pipes don't freeze.

*Stocked up on necessities to take with on the cruise: toothpaste, razors, detergent pods, that sort of thing. There's no guarantee what the ship stores will charge. (And I'm guessing it won't be cheap.)
     Bought a few after-Christmas items at 50% off, too. They'll come in handy for snacks before the cruise, and a few Christmas presents next year.

*Got extra dogfood and snacks for Charley and Ruby -- they'll be stocked up. Covered them for extras, as well, just in case they're needed while we're gone.


*Got the truck repaired.. A few recalls corrected, and the oil changed.

*Asked to have the deadline extended for the 'Curiosities' sequel to Colorado Ghosts and Legends. I just could not get it finished before we left for the cruise. (I'll work on it while we're on the ship.)

*Had to turn down several work offers. I'll make some of these up in May, thanks to kind clients.

*Not as much work done, because of illness.  Recovering from the pneumonia has really taken it out of me, in more ways than one.

*A few expensive meals in Tucson -- but they were delicious. I'm not sorry at all.

*Two doctor visits, thanks to the pneumonia. And they weren't cheap, either. The Michigan doctor's office didn't want to treat me, because I was from Colorado. (At least they eventually capitulated. I'd tried three other doctors offices who wouldn't do it -- period.) Our normal Colorado doctor, on the other hand, was reluctant to treat me because we'd been in Michigan for more than a month. ("So you're moving to Michigan -- right?") Aarrgghghghgghgh.
    I did get a discount on the Michigan doctor bill for paying cash. (Our insurance plan was not valid in Michigan.) But I had to talk long and hard for it. ("You got the bill for it right away, didn't you? What do you mean -- you weren't in Colorado in time to do that?")
    We had some more medical costs for the Brick, too -- but thanks to meeting the minimums, they weren't much.

*Vaccinations for the cruise: $1499. I am not making this up. Polio, Hepatitis A, malaria (pills to take on the cruise), typhoid (also pills, but we've started those already), tetanus. Ironically, we went in to find out about yellow fever vaccines -- a friend who went with us on the Brazil trip said that the vaccine was no longer made, and the WHO (World Health Organization) decreed that once you got it, you were covered for lifetime. Since we'd had shots back in 2008, we were ok, provided we had our cards. (And we did.)
     Thankfully, a lot of these should cover us for years to come. Hepatitis A is good for our lifetimes, and the tetanus for 10 years. But still... I was wincing, and not just from the shots, either.
     Grousing later to a friend about this, she said, "But Cindy -- 29 countries. What did you expect?"
                 And she's right.

*One more visa on the 'got 'er done and approved' list: India this time. (One more to go: we have to wait until getting on the boat before we can apply to Sri Lanka. You just do what they say.)

*Extra gas and traveling costs. Both from the trip to Tucson (3 full days of driving, just to get to Tucson -- and 2 days of driving back to Colorado). Fortunately, the working gig paid for this.
      Plus the flying trip back to Colorado (18+ hours each way). Not to mention the fun stop in Chicago. 

*'Hotspot' use for our phones was overextended -- for more than one month. True, it was an extra fee, but we needed it to use the internet out in the boonies.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Last month's report is here. Last year's December report is here.

Now it's on to the cruise...and a far different life than our 'usual.' The little farm girl inside me is scared -- do we know how much money we're spending, for something we'll just be experiencing as it happens? (In other words, we won't be in control ALL the time.) 
     I remind her that this is something I've wanted to do all my life -- and we've budgeted for it. I also remind her that the crest for my maternal clan, the Cumings family, is 'Courage.' She marches over to the corner and sits down, mumbling to herself. Maybe I'll put her on my Christmas present list, too.  

And here we go.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Hacking Away... a huge list of tasks that must be finished before next Tuesday.

Why? Because that's when we're headed out on the world cruise! 

Christmas and Christmas Eve were quiet -- and nice. More on the Seven Fish Dishes soon.

Hope you're well and enjoying a break. We'll relax when we get in the air on New Year's Eve. Until then -- nose to the grindstone.

...or an appraiser with deadlines...

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Eve Has Finally Come...

Monday Stuff on the Way to Other Stuff: A Bit Harried

Not 'hurried,' though that's factoring in, too. Nine hundred bazillion jobs to finish up in less than two weeks -- and oh yes, Christmas to be celebrated, too! We are clocking items off. If we work steadily, everything will get done. At least the important stuff, like an extension on taxes and the Seven Fish Dishes.
     The cruise tickets arrived. The India visas came through -- no problem. Apparently they're nicer than some of the other countries, or they're not as strict, and let these yahoos come visit. Who knows. The Brick realized that China had granted both of us visas, but mine is for 10 years, and his for 30 days. Weird. 
     Taking typhoid pills right now, which leave both of us a bit nauseous and flu-ish. Oh goody. At least it's warm and sunny here in our living spot. The sun feels good.

Some beautiful vintage Christmas ornaments...found in the thrift shop. Lucky girl!  (From Living Rich on the Cheap)

Bill Clinton's advice to President Trump on his impeachment? The answer surprised me -- see what you think. (I'll give you a hint, Gentle Readers; it could be summed up in three words.)

Alan Alda said he didn't think about divorcing his wife of 60 years... but she probably contemplated murder occasionally. No doubt the Brick has had the same thoughts now and then in 38+ years...

Ten strange exhumation stories. Did you know that Sammy Davis Jr's body was disinterred, so his wife could retrieve $70,000 of jewelry buried with him? Shades of Dante Gabriel Rossetti... (From Listverse)

Laura Ingalls Wilder's gingerbread recipe -- and some others. (She was famous for it, by the way.) A classic from yours truly, resurrected thanks to Cuz Amanda.

Comfort foods that are easy to make. A recipe for Biscuits and Gravy in casserole form? Sign me up!  (From Betty Crocker)

What were typical diets like in medieval times?  An interesting slideshow from Ranker.

Christmas comes but once a year...why not relax and enjoy it? I'm saying that to myself, as much as to you, Gentle Readers. Have a great week.