Landlubber time is running out

With November upon us we began stepping up our plans to head back to Ice Floe. But first, there is one more visit to Michigan and Thanksgiving to share with family and friends. November, you must be thinking – it is already February.

An aside, I will do my best to catch you up on all the great adventures we have had this season in the Caribbean as soon as possible. Camera and photo and internet and emergency dental challenges have presented obstacles to summarizing the wonderful time we have been having here.

Sneak preview. Hanging out between dental appointments on Canouan

Brief Michigan Visit

George has an often-used phrase “Its on the way if you go that way”. That attitude has allowed us to sneak in visits with friends and loved ones en route to quite different destinations. On one such trip to or from Marilla’s and Mitch’s we made a quick stop at Allison’s and Mike’s for a day or two. We were able to see Riley participate in a climbing competition. She is strong and lanky and beautiful on the wall in the gym (or the side of a cliff).

We also had a chance to have Tristan try on the Halloween costume I was working on. It was a challenge for me with my deficiencies as pertains to any kind of orientation. All’s well that ends well and Tristan made a very fine dancing shark. Riley made herself up to be a little, pink, Piggy.

One of our favorite Halloween Persakins, Edna, was a fine model during construction of Tristan’s costume.
Tristan, Riley, and PD all ready for Trick or Treating
Tristan, the dancing shark

Thanksgiving 2021

We did not have a Thanksgiving Family gathering in 2020 due to the pandemic. To the best of my knowledge, it was the only year I celebrated Thanksgiving without family and friends. With almost everyone vaccinated, we felt comfortable gathering in 2021.

Conversations with several family members led to re-consideration of how we wanted to honor this tradition. Most participants were indifferent as to whether we celebrated on Thanksgiving Day. Switching up the date would mean the flights would be cheaper and airports less crowded. However, it did present challenges to children in school. Everyone was in favor of making it simpler. Some voted to have a family gathering independent of Thanksgiving entirely. In the end we decided to celebrate on November 13th and to move it to Florida. Our Floridian family members have born the task of flying for years.

The Best Laid Plans….. Covid Strikes Back

Susan, David and Brenna had to hold up the younger generation’s end as last minute Covid infections took out some who planned to come – Tristan days before he was eligible for vaccination, Mike, who caught it from Tristan and Brian. Marilla and Mitch, having vacationed with family for several weeks earlier in the year chose not to come.

That left us with several extra bedrooms and we filled them with friends, Diana, Ruth, Ann Marie and Matt. Sometimes we elect change and sometimes it is imposed by circumstances. Those who could not participate were surely missed, but the inclusion of these friends certainly marks our 2021 Thanksgiving as one of the very best.

Each Thanksgiving is unique and 2021 was remarkably different from all others. We spent an entire week together. Many brought contributions from home including breakfasts to please any pallet (pumpkin rolls, egg bites, waffles, English muffins, baked eggs, smoked salmon and cream cheese (and bagels))….

We simplified the menu, keeping some favorites (mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, string beans, roasted roots and added a cornbread and sweet potato casserole (no doubt I missed some).

Lunches throughout the week were a wide variety of “appetizers” which for prior Thanksgivings were saved for lunch on Thanksgiving day.

We reduced the number of pies to 6 and started eating Margaret’s contributions of lemon tart and peanut butter and chocolate pie BEFORE Thanksgiving day. We played board games that Marilyn brought and labored over a ridiculously difficult puzzle Susan contributed.

We took a walk through Robinson’s Preserve across the water from Ana Maria Island, FL, sighting many waterfowl and birds of prey.

We rested, gathered, shopped, ate, drank and thoroughly and completely enjoyed each other’s company.

And a week later, we were on a plane to Grenada.

Back Home and Gone Again (Part 2)

Visiting Marilla and Mitch in their new home

A week after Grandma’s Summer Camp we were on our way for a visit with Marilla and Mitch. They recently purchased a home in Flagstaff, AZ and it would be our first time seeing it.

George planned a leisurely pace for the trip, driving 7 hours each day and he reserved hotels for each night’s stay. What a wonderful change from our typical approach which had been to drive more like 10 plus hours, start looking for a town with a hotel that accepts dogs, is near our route, has a room, and won’t break the bank. Inevitably we would arrive near or after most restaurants were getting ready to close, search for something to eat, drop into bed and wake up the next day to do it all again. Our 7 hour drive turned our road trip from 3 exhausting days to 4 relaxing days with time to stop along the way for lunches, sometimes a walk and line up a dinner location / reservation before arriving at our hotel. Each day we enjoyed a relaxing dinner, a good night’s sleep, and got up refreshed looking forward to doing it all again! This is our new and improved road trip modus operandi.

Marilla and Mitch’s home in Flagstaff, AZ (Winter 2020)

It has certainly been an education seeing the challenges facing our children in purchasing a home. With interest rates so low, fixer-uppers are hot commodities. Buyers are lined up to pay over the asking price in cash. They’ll flip them in a matter of months and make a pretty nice profit. Next level up in price is not much better and it has been routine for buyers to offer more than the asking price. Contributing to the competition amid rising home costs are now also supply chain issues that have drastically reduced the construction of new homes. Yikes!!

Marilla and Mitch purchased a home about 20 miles outside of the center of Flagstaff. Our visit was in early September (2021). The area is described as “high desert”, with an elevation around 7000 feet and limited precipitation outside the summer months when the native vegetation comes alive. In Marilla’s and Mitch’s case, the vegetation turned out to be predominantly Russian Thistle, otherwise known as, tumbleweed.

Two plus acres of tumbleweed
Manzi (right) and Ooni (left) in a winter field of Blue Grama Grass. OOni was added to Marilla’s and Mitch’s family a while after our visit, but I wanted everyone to meet him.

Russian thistle is native to southeastern Russia and western Siberia and was originally introduced into the United States as a contaminant of flax seed in South Dakota in the early 1870s. The seed is spread when mature plants detach at the base and are blown along by the wind. A large Russian thistle plant may produce more than 200,000 seeds. It also spread great distances in railroad cars transporting cattle. Within 20 years, it had spread to 16 western states and several Canadian provinces.

Russian thistle can quickly establish itself in disturbed soil, at the near exclusion of most other plants. It is much less successful in areas with established native vegetation. Luckily, it is an annual, and with persistence, can be eradicated and replaced by native vegetation. Time will tell, just how much persistence as Marilla and Mitch plan to return their 2 acre property to fields of the native Blue Grama Grass and the many beautiful wildflowers that thrive in the summer months.

We all set right off to pulling the obnoxious Russian Thistle and collecting wildflower seeds. During our visit, we collectively weeded out the Russian Thistle from about half of their 2 plus acres. Within a couple of weeks after we left, Marilla and Mitch polished off the rest.

Marilla and Mitch purchased enough Blue Gramma grass seed to heavily seed the weeded fields in the late fall and early spring in addition to purchasing and collecting wildflower seeds. We are very excited to visit again to see the progress.

Mitch and George also installed a beautiful new wood stove and a door on their front porch that enters into the garage. I took on a fun project of stripping an alarming array of bold wallpaper borders (very satisfying).

Marilla and Mitch are still waiting on some of the living room items they bought (supply chain delays) but they have made short work of transforming the living room (see below, before and after photos).

Well, we all know what is said about “All work and no play”.

George, Duhkxy and I took some time off to visit Zion National Park, one of Marilla’s and Mitch’s favorite for hiking and camping. It was our first visit. We stayed at the Zion Canyon (pet friendly) Lodge in the town of Springdale, UT. Springdale offers a free shuttle up and down the Main Street of town and, just a couple of minutes ride away, to the entrance of the park.

Springdale, UT
Zion Canyon Lodge, Spingdale, UT

Duhkxy was restricted to a short portion of the park just outside the entrance along a bubbling river bed.

Luckily, most restaurants welcomed him and he enjoyed long walks in the morning and evening. On one of Duhkxy’s morning walks, George and he encountered several tortoises. Just my luck – I slept in.

Some of the “wildlife” has become all too familiar with humans, and despite repeated messages to not interact with the animals, people find it difficult to ignore the brazen antics of the squirrels and chipmunks in hopes you will reward them with a treat.

We enjoyed an assortment of walking trails and hikes each day. Our first hike “Emerald Ponds” takes you high providing scenic views with water features.

We had dinner out every night and restaurants were plentiful and covered the gamut of cuisine and settings from the most informal to decidedly fancy. Every meal was wonderful. Virtually every restaurant was more than happy to accommodate Duhkxy. One evening just as we returned from a gorgeous and exhausting hike, we rode the shuttle back lusting after a tall fresh brew. Not only were we disappointed to find the first brew pub closed, we learned that a power outage affecting the entire town had resulted in most restaurants having shut down for the night. We returned sadly to our room and called one restaurant after another getting no answer or the answer that they were closed for the evening. There was one left – a ways out of town, with a $$$$ rating and super fancy. We called and they were not only open, they said they could “Certainly accommodate Duhkxy”.

We were seated in an outdoor area just outside the windows in the next photo.

We made a grand night of it sharing a delicious sparkling wine and fabulous meal. George hit the jackpot with his order of rack of lamb.

Rack of lamb at the Switchback Grille, Springdale, UT

We made our first acquaintance with an unusual bird that repeatedly dunks its head underwater to catch insects.

On our final day we took “The Narrows” trail that follows a river up an ever-increasingly narrow canyon. We did not quite make it to the end where we understand it is less than 6 feet wide, but we certainly made a good effort and had a wonderful time.

Returning to Marilla and Mitch we capped off a wonderful visit with a paddleboard/kayaking trip on the Colorado River. Marilla and Mitch had taken this trip earlier on paddle boards, both paddling up-river and then back down. We accompanied them on this trip in which a boat took us up-river and we kayaked back down. Lest you think less of us, we were subjected to a lengthy downpour and the river water was quite chilly.

Manzi, as comfortable and surefooted on the paddle board as her parents did not hesitate to move around and switch boards.

Along our way we jumped on shore to view some very well preserved petroglyphs.

The steep cliffs bordering the river changed hue as clouds obscured the sun and daylight began to wane.

Long day filled with beautiful sights, memories, and friendship. Mitch drove on the three hour ride back while we filled ourselves with what was left of lunch and snacks, followed by a blissful, deep sleep.

Our visit ended with a birthday party for Manzi who enjoyed a cheeseburger for dinner with ice cream for desert. Duhkxy loves visiting Manzi.

Back Home and Gone Again (Part 1)

We returned to our home on May 7th, 2021; 1 year, 5 months, and 2 days after we left. Our lengthy stay in Grenada afforded us haven from Covid. During our stay Grenada saw very little of the disease, and none in Carriacou, one of their smaller islands, where we spent almost the entirety of our time. Despite a few bouts of homesickness, it was pure pleasure to get to know the island, its citizens, and make new sailing friends.

Back to Gardening

When we arrived home, our great friend and house sitter, Diana, had already planted half of our vegetable garden. I was longing to get my hands in the dirt and there was still plenty to do. I so very much enjoyed gardening again and the bounty of fresh vegetables every day. Late in October, as we were beginning to put the garden away, a great blue heron paid us a visit.

Gotta see the kids – Upper Peninsula, MI.

We got our first vaccination two days after arriving home Once we were fully vaccinated we headed off for a vacation in the Upper Peninsula (UP), Michigan with our daughters, son-in-laws and grandchildren. We all took a dip in the frigid waters of Lake Superior, none as brave as those who jumped from a clifftop.

Our granddaughter Riley planned this entire vacation; location, VRBO, restaurants, and excursions. We hiked, watched Marilla, Mitch, Riley and Tristan climb, toured a copper mine, ate our fill of pasties and ice cream, cooked and ate great meals and exhausted our dogs. The UP is a unique and very beautiful part of America.

Riley and Tristan joined us at home in August for two weeks of “Grandma’s” Summer Camp. This year, PD, their sweet yellow lab came along. For the first few days all Tristan wanted to do was play in the pool. PD cannot resist any water and joined in the fun. Margaret and Burt (my sister and brother-in-law) joined us with their lab Ana. Ana, decidedly, does not like the pool.

We visited Blue Marsh Lake to provide Riley and Tristan lessons on rowing a small boat. They mastered rowing in circles almost immediately and slowly made their way across the lake in this circuitous manner. They subsequently made great strides in rowing more efficiently.

We made bird houses from bottle gourds, and creations from my shell collections.

We spent a day at Longwood Gardens, fulfilling a promise we made at a previous Summer Camp.

No summer camp is complete without a trip to the Oley Dairy for ice cream and to visit their petting zoo.

As summer camp neared its end we hit the road to take Riley and Tristan home. Riley became suspicious as to why we were leaving a day ahead. She and Tristan peppered us with questions until they got enough clues to conclude that somewhere along the way, we were meeting their Mom and Dad. Riley then solved the mystery of where we were going. Based on the route we were taking and her long-held wish she announced we were going to visit the Columbus, Ohio Zoo.

It was now nearly September and we had past the midway of our 6 month stay in the US. The time flew by but our joy in visiting with our children lasts forever.

Landlubber Time is road trip time

Visiting Family and Friends

We would be home for a bit more than 5 months and one imperative was to visit with our family and friends.  It is a challenge as few live anywhere near us but George has an expression “Its on the way if we go that way”.

First things first, George was pining over the fact that his boat was oceans away.  I inquired whether he might be interested in purchasing a little boat.  That way we could participate more in the Blue Marsh Sailing Club that Nancy and Bruce belong to and perhaps sail a little on the Chesapeake.  Didn’t take much persuading and before the day was out George found, and purchased, a nesting sailboat that he had been planning to build.  This one was already built, and offered at not much more than the cost of the plans and materials.  Small catch – it was on Marco Island, FL.

Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania road trip

We headed out the following day with the plan to visit our Florida family members in conjunction with picking up the boat.  In retrospect, we should have planned more time in Florida as Michael, Brenna, and David had conflicts.  Marilyn put us up for the night and she and Brian and George and I had a nice dinner out where even Duhkxy could join (thanks Marilyn).  We were on to Marco Island the next day and then to Michigan.
George’s first sail on our little red boat was with Riley and Tristan and he was pleased with how well the boat sailed in light wind.
Duhkxy is none too pleased to have been left behind

We invariably check in with Margaret and Burt when we travel between Pennsylvania and Michigan and we did so on this road trip.  It was the first time Duhkxy would meet Anna and the three dachshunds, Brody, Lucy, and Toby.  Duhkxy was still quite timid around most dogs, and both Lucy and Brody were decidedly unfriendly when they individually met with Duhxy.  Toby was more gentle and played chase with Duhkxy for a while.  Suddenly, when Duhkxy and Toby’s romping came close to the evil twins who were behind a gate in the kitchen, Toby turned and bit Duhkxy.  We saw first hand how the pack mentality brought out their aggressive behavior.  Anna’s excitement was a bit too much for Duhkxy, but they have since become good friends.

Landlubber Time is gardening time

Arriving Home

It is always exciting coming home after a long time away, but, it takes a bit of getting used to.  So much more space – so many things that need and/or we want to do.  Invariably, it feels a bit overwhelming at first.We had no worries when we were gone, as Diana looked after our house.  We arrived home, as always, to an immaculate home and staples and meals in the fridge.

This year Diana also planted two tiers of our garden so we were also met with garden-fresh lettuce, spinach, and radishes, quickly followed by peas, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, string beans, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, cucumbers, and enough heirloom tomatoes to feed 10 families.  The tomatoes kept yielding up until just before we left.

Diana continued to help with the harvesting and weeding throughout the summer. Nothing went to waste and the garden was weed free and tidy till the very end.  What a joy!

Our blueberry yield was great; as many as 8 quarts on many days.  Thanks again to Diana for all the help harvesting.  It is a time consuming task and you need to pick every couple of days.  I finally got my strawberry bed planted again and the raspberries pruned and fertilized – next year we should be swimming in berries.

We had the pool opened soon after we got home.  It had been closed for 2 years and we found a number of inhabitants had established their homes there.  One was the largest frog we have ever seen in Pennsylvania.  I caught and released him several times;  the first, hoping he would like living in our small water garden.  That lasted about 15 seconds – he leapt out and took off with great long hopping strides towards the vegetable garden.  The last relocation was about 1500+ feet away in wet portion of the wooded area of our home.  We did not see him for several months and figured he had finally found a new home but in August, Riley fished him out of the pool, bigger than ever.

We also found many large black rat snakes had enjoyed the winter months under the pool cover.  A “couple” decided to start some new snakes before they took off.

We are very happy to have as many rat snakes live with us as is possible.  They, as there name implies, do a great job keeping the rodent population in check.  Mother nature being what she is, you need to take the good with the bad.  While having breakfast on our living room porch, we noted a small head peaking out of a birdhouse that bluebirds regularly nest in.

With the vegetable garden well in hand, our attention was drawn to what used to be our hillside heather garden.  We lost the heather when we failed to religiously prune and re-acidify the soil.  Our soil has a pH a bit above 7.  Heather require a pH below 5 or they cannot absorb any nitrogen from the soil.  It is the same with blueberries.  The heather so beautiful, I convinced George we could maintain a small section of heather.  The remainder we planted with low growing shrubs.

Landscaping on the driveway side of our house was replaced, the prior inhabitants having overgrown, died, or been destroyed by deer.  It was a lot of work, but we have finally restored all our landscaping, with the exception of the perennial garden we established just before Allison and Mike’s wedding.  It bloomed the first time for the wedding, and was destroyed by the dreaded pine voles over that winter.

Sailing Time and Landlubber time – the best of times