Life At Sea

Endless sea and sunset

Before I jump into the activities and adventures we did and had in our ports of call, I thought I would clear up the notion of a Sea Day. Until I took my first cruise, the idea of days at sea with nothing to do troubled me. I thought I would be bored. I assumed days floating at sea would be a waste of time and money. Many of my friends who have said they would never take a cruise vacation claim the “wasted days at sea” as their reason. I get it. I felt the same way until I had a day when I had nothing to do, no one to answer to, nowhere to rush off to, and the freedom to do exactly and only what I felt like doing. How many days do adults get like that in their busy lives? Not many.

A day at sea allows you to truly relax. It does not mean you will lack for things to do. Many cruise ships are like floating theme parks with water slides and zip lines and climbing walls. Cruises on Celebrity are aimed more at an adult crowd, though, so their sea day amenities are more about pools, spa treatments, casino time, and fine dining, but the lack of children tearing through the passageways and screaming and splashing at the pool more than make up for that. Cruise directors load the day with potential activities for those who want more and are looking for distraction. There are lectures and art classes, wine tastings and friendly on-board competitions (passenger versus crew pool volleyball and putting tournaments, for example). There are movies and games and ship tours too. At night there are karaoke sing-offs, live music performances, theater shows, comedians, and plenty of opportunities for dancing. If none of that appeals, you can read a book or nap in a deck chair facing the sea or play cards or watch for sea life. We enjoyed searching for dolphin pods and seeing them race and jump and flip alongside the ship. If you get bored at sea, you have no one to blame but yourself.

One activity that costs extra but is well worth the investment is a behind-the-scenes ship tour.Our tour took us through the galleys and into the belly of the ship where food is stored. We learned about how the ship processes recyclables and waste, does epic amounts of laundry, plans their shopping, and stores the food for the journey. On our ship, there were 1500 people employed for food preparation and service alone. We learned about what cruise life is like for those who live on the ship and work in its service. We visited the engine room and learned about what powers the ship and keeps it running smoothly and on time. The final stop on the tour was to the bridge where we learned about what training the captain and officers undertake for their careers, as well as how they bring these huge ships into port. It was fascinating.

When we finished our ship tour, we grabbed some lunch, gawked at the desserts, and then went to a wine tasting with premium wines and cheeses. After that, we sat on deck and enjoyed the view and the peace and each other’s company until it was time to dress for dinner and head to the Raw on 5 restaurant for Joe’s birthday dinner choice….sushi. We topped off our day with some silent disco because why not?

If the notion of a sea day or two on a cruise, where your every need is catered to, vexes you, perhaps it’s time to reassess your priorities. Do you not deserve a day where you don’t have to cook, clean, or care for anything or anyone other than yourself? Have you not earned a day or two with no obligations and thoughtfully prepared, delicious meals served with whatever cocktail calls to you? Come on. Live a little. Become reacquainted with yourself. When the sea day is over and you wake the next morning to find yourself in another exotic port of call, rested and ready to explore, you realize this is why you took this vacation. You’ve let yourself go in the best way possible.

The silent disco is a vibe

A Colorado Avalanche Legacy

Our little Joe

We are an NHL family. My husband and I have been Colorado Avalanche fans since the team first came to Colorado from Quebec in 1995. During the Avs’ 2000-2001 season, I became pregnant with our first child. My due date, based on my best guess memory of my most recent menstrual cycle, was calculated to be July 26th, 2001. The hockey season progressed alongside my pregnancy, and the Avalanche were killing it. Thanks, in part, to team captain Joe Sakic’s phenomenal scoring year (118 points from 54 goals and 64 assists), the Avs completed the regular season with 118 points, winning the President’s Trophy. Steve and I were over the moon. Hockey is fun to watch, but it’s a lot more fun to watch when your team is showing up in a big way.

Scrapbook page I made during Joe’s first year as an Avs fan

The team entered the playoffs and we did not miss a game. I was still working as a technical writer and editor for the National Renewable Energy Lab and started my day in the office at 6:30 a.m., but that did not stop pregnant, tired me from staying up late so as not to miss any of the action. When we progressed to the championship series against the New Jersey Devils and were down 3-2, to put on a brave face knowing we might lose our shot at the cup, I told Steve it was okay if we lost because then at least I would get some much needed sleep. But, we didn’t lose. We came back from that 3-2 deficit to win the series and the Stanley Cup on June 9th, roughly seven weeks from my due date. When the clock ran on out on that last game and the jubilant Avs players threw their sticks in the air and flew off the bench to celebrate, I screamed and jumped up and down like a crazy person for minutes. My heart was racing. I was over the moon. When Steve and I finally were able to soak in the win and relax, we went to bed with an early alarm set so we could wake up and drive downtown to pick up Stanley Cup Champion merchandise.

In 2011 with my guys at a game

On the morning of the 10th, we drove down to the Sports Castle on Broadway and picked up our gear and began trying to figure out if we’d be able to attend the Championship parade on Monday. Later that day, we took the light rail downtown to see a Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field. It was 90 degrees when we got to the ball game. I was feeling a little off, which I attributed to my pregnancy, the heat, and my lack of sleep the night before. At some point, though, I became aware that my water was definitely leaking. We decided to go to the EMS at the field to get their opinion. There were two EMTs there, both male. They inquired about my due date and asked if I was having contractions. I told them I didn’t think so. They took my vitals, noticed I was not soaked down there, and dismissed my concern as an overreaction by an irrational pregnant lady. I didn’t appreciate their cavalier attitude, so I called my midwife. She told me to get in a cab immediately and meet her at the hospital.

The boys with Bernie in the age of Covid

At the hospital, I measured 3 centimeters dilated and 50% effaced. I was in labor. Because my due date was still seven weeks out, the doctor made the decision to stop my labor. They medicated me to stop contractions, checked me into a room, and told me they would have an ultrasound tech check my amniotic fluid levels the next day. The ultrasound revealed too much fluid had been lost, and the doctor ordered Pitocin to stimulate labor again. I panicked. We hadn’t even had a baby shower yet. The nursery was not finished. I had no car seat, no onesies, no diapers, no nothing. The midwife, doctors, and nurses said we would have time to gather all that up because our infant would likely remain in the NICU for 6-8 weeks. It was a lot to absorb, but it was what it was. We made our peace with it and tried to remain positive.

I watched the Stanley Cup parade from the hospital. Labor was induced around 4 p.m., and our five-pound son was born at 12:31 a.m. on June 12th, a little over 48 hours after the Avs had won the Stanley Cup. As soon as I heard him cry and knew he was breathing, I inquired how long they would be keeping him in the hospital. The nurse (and I will never forget this) turned to me and replied, “Oh no. This one goes home with you.” Our son had scored 8/10 on the APGAR. I had gotten my conception timing wrong and we, thankfully, had a fully cooked baby after all. Steve and his parents went shopping to buy baby gear. I was told to pick a name for the birth certificate because we would both be released into the world the next day.

Joe in his Sakic sweater watching Gretzky offer post-game commentary

We decided to name him Joe as a nod to Joe Sakic, and our son’s tie to Colorado Avalanche history was cemented. We’ve attended hockey games with our sons since they were infants, sometimes as a family of four and sometimes with my Avs fan father-in-law who would always buy the boys the something at the game. Joe went to his first Avs game on October 31st, 2001, when he was five months old. Joe has always had Avalanche gear, onesies and toddler rompers gave way to t-shirts and sweatshirts. For his first birthday, my sister gifted Joe an adult-size Joe Sakic sweater, which we held onto until his 18th birthday.

An Avs doll (Matt Duchesne) hanging out at our house

Steve and I watched every game, save one, in the Avalanche playoff series this year, missing just the first game in the Stanley Cup series because it played out while we were asleep on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. Joe refused to miss that game, however, waking up at 2 a.m. to watch it in his cabin in the Joe Sakic hockey sweater he had hauled to Europe from home. We woke up at 4 a.m., ahead of our planned flight home from Rome, to catch the final period of the second game in the Stanley Cup series in Italian. Twenty one years and fourteen days after our Joe was born, the Colorado Avalanche, helmed by Executive Vice President and General Manager Joe Sakic, won their third Stanley Cup two days ago on June 26th. Yesterday, I took our grown sons to a sports store to buy us all Stanley Cup championship gear. We’ve come full circle.

On 6/26/22, our son’s namesake, Joe Sakic, hoisted the Stanley Cup a third time, this time as General Manager

Watching Avalanche hockey with our sons over the past two decades, both in person and on the television, has been a priceless gift. These games are family ritual, this team part of our family identity. And this Thursday, I will finally get to attend a Stanley Cup parade here in Denver and I’ll get to do it alongside my Joe. I’m not sure what the legacy of this year’s Colorado Avalanche team will be, but I know the legacy the Colorado Avalanche organization has created in our family.

All the small things, indeed.

If our family has a theme song, this is it now and forever. Go, Avs!

My Stock Market Took A Plunge

There are dramatic moments in your life you never forget. Most people my age will remember exactly where they were when the Challenger exploded or the planes hit the Twin Towers. Maybe they even can recall, as I can, the elation and sense of possibility they felt when they watched the Berlin Wall come down. I had one of those memorable moments today. I was sitting at our kitchen island working on my laptop when my oldest said, “The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.” I turned slowly to look at him. My expression must have landed somewhere between disbelief, disgust, and dyspepsia because then he followed up with, “They did. I saw it on my news feed a little while ago.”

I knew it was coming. I’ve known for a while now. Still, I was not prepared to have it knock the wind out of me. Nor did I expect the tears would come as quickly as they did.

I know there are women who tonight are going to bed saying prayers of gratitude to their god for this ruling. I know they think this will save innocent lives. I know they feel a wrong has been righted. I know they will rejoice about it in church and with their friends and family. They will celebrate. I don’t begrudge them their right to feel vindicated. They’ve waited a long time for this.

I wish I could find reason to rejoice in this, but I cannot. Tonight I am going to bed with the understanding that a majority on Supreme Court believe a woman’s life is less important than the life of a fetus. And don’t give me chat about how this is just a course correction because Roe. v Wade was unconstitutional and this should be a states’ matter anyway. I get where you are coming from with all that. It’s just different for me. To quote American Idol’s Randy Jackson, “You see, dawg, for me, it’s just the mere concept that the government can determine and force my reproductive choice, or any choice, well, that’s gotta be a big no from me.” My entire life, I had rights my mother and grandmother did not have. I had them when I woke up today and then they were gone by lunch. Poof!

It’s just hard because, while I know my value, I just realized the government has reset my worth.

Ciao, Roma — Hello, Mediterranean

On the morning of June 11th, it was time to say goodbye to Rome. We had a shuttle arranged for 11:30 a.m. to take us to our cruise ship at Civitavecchia Port. Although we wanted to get to Greece, we didn’t really want to leave Rome. We decided to wake up early and soak in as much last minute street wandering as we could before meeting our ride.

Buongiorno, Roma

Very few people are out and about on Roman streets at 7 a.m. on a Saturday is what we discovered when we opened our balcony doors that day. This was not surprising as people were still out getting gelato and socializing on the streets below us at midnight. We packed our bags and took to the quiet streets. First stop had to be to our coffee place and then we were off to Trevi Fountain again.

Alone at the fountain

Although Steve and the boys had all previously taken the opportunity to throw a coin in the fountain to assure their return to Rome, I hadn’t braved the crowds to get close enough to do it yet. So, with coin in hand, we wandered the last hundred feet to the fountain to find it, for the first time, uncrowded. I had Luke snap a quick photo of me in front of it and then I tossed my coin in. Done. This meant I would certainly return, which eased my mind. From there, we took off in a new direction to discover the Spanish Steps.

The Spanish Steps were created to make the travel up the steep hill from the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom to the Piazza Trinití dei Monti at the top easier. The 135 travertine steps are the widest and longest staircase in Europe. They were not busy that morning, save for the people who were having others photograph them in various poses, photos we assumed would be gracing Instagram pages shortly. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the steps, but I figured you can’t go to Rome and not see them. So, we did. None of us posed for a photo on them for our Insta pages, though, deciding instead simply to enjoy the walk up.

While on our mission to extract euros from an ATM, I snapped photos of details in Roman architecture. I enjoy the small details placed on Roman buildings, intricate facades, imposing doorways, ornate door handles, window baskets filled with flowers. We miss these things in the United States, plopping down endless suburban streets filled with identical homes in HOA-approved colors. It’s all so banal. We have no flair.

I had one last thing I wanted to accomplish before we headed to the cruise port. I had, on our first evening in Rome, spotted a standee cutout of my favorite F1 driver. I only recently acquired a favorite F1 driver after watching Drive to Survive on Netflix in preparation for an upcoming trip to the Monaco Grand Prix next May — fingers crossed. I adopted young Charles Leclerc (he hasn’t requested a restraining order for me yet but he may eventually consider it). I decided to cheer for Charles because reminds me of my oldest with his green eyes, stubbly facial hair, and sweet nature, and he is from Monaco, making him Monagasque (a term I recently discovered exists and relish the opportunity to use). Now, like any mother, I get angry when Charles does not finish a race despite his flawless driving because his car fails him. I’ve tried to take this up directly with Scuderia Ferrari, but they won’t answer my calls. Still, I decided to take a selfie with my adopted son Charles because this is likely as close as I will ever get to him, especially once he gets that restraining order.

Steve tries out the infinity veranda

Eventually, we made our way northwest through the Italian countryside to the port in Civitavecchia. We had jumped through hoops to get to this point, having to pass Covid tests, upload vaccine cards, answer health questions, and swear a blood oath that we were not contagious with anything, but we had made it. We passed through the final embarkation procedures without trouble and boarded our home for the next seven nights, the Celebrity Edge. Our first stop after completing the mandatory safety briefing was to our staterooms. We had booked AquaClass rooms, Celebrity’s spa class, a slightly upgraded experience just below the suite class. Our rooms had the new Infinity veranda, which basically means we had a wall of windows at the back of our cabin that lowered halfway and became an in-room veranda.

We unpacked our bags and decided to tour the ship. I took the boys up to the pool deck and they took off on their own explore from there. We all met up at the buffet for a late lunch. After eating and some more exploring, we headed to the Sunset Bar at the back of the ship to claim a table. We wanted to get a good viewing spot for when we set sail. Steve and I grabbed some Aperol Spritzes, Joe got a Stella, and Luke had a Coke, and we waved goodbye to Rome as we headed south along the Italian coast on our way to the Cyclades.

For the finale to our first ship day, we booked a table for something called Le Petit Chef. We were seated at a table for four set with white linens and white charger plates. There was a set meal for dinner and, as soon as our wine was poured, the lights in the restaurant dimmed and a projection appeared on our table. Basically, the projection used the white tableau as a movie screen and on every table in the restaurant a story played out of a young chef who met a girl and fell in love. Together, they cooked for us. As soon as the projected chef finished preparing the food, servers brought plated food to the table and set it down on the chargers and the food became part of the scene. It’s hard to explain, so I am sharing a couple photos of different scenes on our table, along with a short video. Gotta say it was a pretty touching story as the young couple grew from the spring of their lives to the winter of them. Four courses, four seasons of life. I could have done without the reminder of my own place in the fall of my life, but it was a unique experience I am glad to have shared with the people who mean the most to me.

Next up: A much shorter post covering a quiet day at sea for Joe’s 21st birthday

Touring The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, And The Vatican Museums

Our local coffee spot

For our first, and admittedly only, full day in Rome, I booked us a couple tours so we wouldn’t miss must-see attractions. We all wanted to see the Colosseum and the boys were adamant about going to the Vatican. After grabbing to-go doppio espresso shots and a couple cornetti from a store helmed by the friendliest shop manager ever, we walked towards our tour meeting place near the Roman Forum.

Again, I have to admit that I remember next to nothing from my time studying ancient Rome in college. In my defense, when I studied ancient Rome, it was through the Classics department where I spent my time reading Livy and Virgil in Latin. I wasn’t mapping the Forum Romanum. So I was happy to have an actual Roman tour guide lead us through the ruins, some of which date back to 42 BC. The Forum was a gathering place. It began as a marketplace and over time morphed into much more, serving as central location for public elections, speeches, trials, and religious ceremonies, as well as business dealings. The Forum, the heart and soul of early Rome, expanded in size over time to nearly 5 acres. Walking among the ruins was awe-inspiring. Seeing the Arch of Titus, the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, was pretty cool too. The the view from Palatine Hill was worth the trek up there in the 90+ degree heat.

I think the least notable part of the Forum tour was the Temple of Divus Julius, the final resting place of Julius Caesar. I mean, I don’t know what I expected after 2,000 years, but the dull mound doesn’t exactly rival the Pyramids of Giza. I guess, in the end, it really doesn’t matter how important you are because you will end up a pile of ash just like everyone and everything else. And how many people of Julius Caesar’s importance or notoriety have there been among the multitudes of people since the dawn of upright humanity? Not many. Even the most notable of us today will be forgotten soon enough. It’s a good reminder not to take life too seriously.

After the Forum, we walked to the Colosseum to see what that was all about. Our Italian tour guide was brilliant. She was extremely knowledgable. I was happy that Luke spoke up and answered questions she asked. When she told him he should read SPQR by Mary Beard and he told her he already had, she was visibly impressed. At any rate, stepping foot inside the Colosseum was an experience. You can’t imagine the size and scope of it until you are there. It’s massive. There were elevators underneath the floor, operated by slaves, of course. Pretty cool way to make a wild animal appear on the Colosseum floor back in the day, I bet. The engineering was crazy. The tour guide debunked some of the myths about the gladiators, mainly that they weren’t exactly hardbodied like Russell Crowe in his Oscar-winning film and that many of the gladiator battles were more WWE than battle to the death. It was all about spectacle, and who the hell could tell what was really happening on the floor of the Colosseum from the nose bleed seats without binoculars anyway? The Colosseum was for entertainment and while some of that entertainment meant loss of human and animal life, not every event in the Colosseum was bloodsport.

When our tour of the Colosseum ended, we were starving. We’d not eaten since breakfast, and it was 1:45. We had to be at the next tour location for the Vatican by 2:30. So we high-tailed it to the Metro station, figured that out in a jiffy thanks for our time riding the Tube in London and the Metro in Paris, and made it to the meeting point by 2:15 with enough time to grab some Cokes and a couple bags of chips to hold us over.

Our tour guide for the Vatican may have been the most enthusiastic guide we had in our 11 days of travel. He was what Americans would term a stereotypical Italian, the type from the movies. Animated and over-the-top, full of gestures, and passionate about every last thing. I swear he knew every single item in the expansive Vatican museums, and he would talk ad nauseam about every item we passed by that grabbed his interest. So thorough he was, in fact, that we were all exhausted before we’d even reached the Sistine Chapel. Luke actually nodded off while we listened to him explain the ceiling of the chapel before entering. There are no photos from the Sistine Chapel because none are allowed. I will say that I was deeply moved by the artwork in that room. I will never forget my time there.

If I’m being candid, overall, I was a little bit disgusted by the Vatican museums. The artwork stored there is impressive, but it bothers me that a religious group holds that wealth and keeps it rather than using it to help the poor. I can’t help but think Jesus would agree with me. Just saying. Still, when the tour was over, we bypassed the museum gift shops (figuring they didn’t really need our money) and walked to St. Peter’s Square because it seemed like something that had to be done.

Then it was off to get dinner at another recommended place. We were told Hostaria Romana was a place locals frequent because it’s known for its Italian comfort food. Fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, and cheese, were offered up as complimentary starters. The bread just kept arriving. We had the freshest melon with the leanest prosciutto we’ve ever had. Then we devoured our pasta (even I ate pasta because the flour in Europe is vastly different and doesn’t make me ill) and shared the best tiramisu we have ever eaten. Dining al fresco in Rome. Is there anything better? Judging by our faces in these photos, I think not.

We waddled back to our rooms without using Google Maps because we were becoming that familiar with the area around the Arpinelli Relais. Although we were excited to be starting our cruise to Greece the next day, we were already missing Rome. When you book a trip to Rome, you may think you are going there to visit, but what you’re actually doing is inviting it to live rent free in your heart forever. It just happens. É la vita.

When One First Meets Rome

After missing out on sleep completely on the overnight flight from Denver to Munich, I was dying to get to Rome. While a layover in Munich is not a hardship because there are pretzels and Haribo gummi bears to be scarfed down there, Munich is not Rome. And, as I learned when I finally stepped foot in Rome itself, Rome is unparalleled. It reminded me of Paris without the fuss. Something about it being wild and chaotic, ancient and yet modern, made it more accessible somehow. I fell in love almost immediately.

I had rented two rooms at a guest house a stone’s throw from the Fontana di Trevi. When our airport shuttle driver turned from the chaotic main streets onto narrower side streets where the sideview mirrors were nearly clipping pedestrians, I started wondering if I had made a mistake choosing the Arpinelli Relais instead of a larger, more well-known hotel. My fears were unfounded. We were met by a lovely Italian gentleman who helped us move our bags into a small elevator that had to be as old as Rome herself, and then showed us to two well-appointed rooms (one with a charming balcony). There were bottles of Chianti waiting for us there, and then the gentleman sat down at a table long enough for a large Italian family and proceeded to map for us dining and sightseeing recommendations. Italian hospitality at its best and so much more personal than a large hotel. We already felt we belonged. This wasn’t a hotel. It was a home away from home.

With our check in completed and our first bottle of wine emptied, we took off on foot for an explore. First stop was Trevi Fountain, a whole two-tenths of a mile from our lodging. I was surprised at its size and how crowded and popular a location it was. It was a challenge to capture a photo that wasn’t loaded with giddy tourists and lounging Italians. It’s right in the middle of a popular area filled with gelato shops, so it’s no wonder the area is consistently packed.

Knowing we were a two minute walk from this fountain and could easily return, we opted to head to the Pantheon. I didn’t know much about the Pantheon. Honestly, I didn’t know thing one about the Pantheon. I knew only that the Pantheon was not to be confused with the Parthenon in Athens. I was blown away. I had seen photos of the exterior with its columns because our youngest is somewhat obsessed with all things Western Civ and he has spoken to me about the building and even shown me photos discussing its architecture. But holy crap, Batman. People obsess about the Colosseum, but the Pantheon is something else. Originally built in 27 AD by Marcus Agrippa, burnt twice and rebuilt finally in 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian, it is the best preserved ancient Roman monument that survives. The best part about the Pantheon is that there is no cost to enter it. No tickets to be bought. Just walk up, get in line, wander through the epic doors, and have a look around. It’s phenomenal. The dome is 142 feet in diameter, and light inside the building comes through the oculus in the ceiling, which is roughly 24 feet in diameter. It has functioned as a Catholic Church since 609 AD. And did I mention it’s amazing? Photos cannot capture its magnificence.

We gawked at the ancient Roman edifice for a while and then decided it was time to take one of the dinner recommendations passed along by our host. We chose to continue walking our way through the city.

The Italian gentleman at the guest house told us about a couple authentic, Roman restaurants, places where for a fair price you could try local specialties that were excellently prepared. He also told us the restaurant to which we were headed did not take reservations but always had a line before opening at 7 pm. We arrived at Da Enzo al 49 at 6:45 and there was already quite a long queue. It was long enough, in fact, that we debated looking elsewhere. But we had walked thirty minutes to the Trastevere neighborhood for this, so we decided to cross our fingers and wait it out. We were in luck. Once the waiters had busted through the line in front of us, we were given one of the last available tables on a patio adjacent to the restaurant and were quickly greeted by an efficient waitstaff. It was clear this restaurant had a system. We ordered Aperol Spritzes and a couple appetizers, including Carciofi all Giudia (fried artichokes). For dinner, we each ordered pasta dishes. Luke and I opted for the house-made gnocchi with Bolognese sauce. Joe had the Roman classic cacio e pepe and Steve stuck with a carbonara. It was amazing, and as much as we might have enjoyed lingering a bit longer we saw the rest of the line that had been behind us, hungry and waiting for their shot at a table, so we finished up and headed back to our rooms.

Once it was dark, we stepped onto the balcony and noticed the streets below us were still teeming with life. We decided we had enough energy in us for a quick walk to view the Colosseum at night. We were treated to this spectacle.

And with that we called our first day (well, half day) in Rome a wrap and headed back to our comfy beds for a hard-earned rest.

Next up: The Roman Forum, a tour inside the Colosseum, and the Vatican Museums

The Cats of Italy and Greece

My family returned late yesterday afternoon after a glorious 11 days in Italy and Greece. I’m jet lagged, watching a Stanley Cup Final game, and not feeling 100%, but I have a plethora of photos from our travel and thought I would go ahead and share some. So, in this light-and-fluffy post (quite literally light and fluffy), I submit for your viewing pleasure the cats of Italy and Greece. And in the upcoming days, I’ll write about the our travels and the memories we made on this family trip celebrating our youngest’s high school graduation and our oldest’s 21st birthday.

Find the cat

We started taking photos of cats (and some dogs) on this trip when we came across the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in central Rome. I had no idea such a thing existed or we would have made a point of finding our way to it rather than just stumbling across it. The sanctuary, which has been in existence since cats moved into the excavated area of Torre Argentina in 1929, relies on donations to stay afloat. Approximately 125 cats a year are adopted into loving families through the efforts of the sanctuary every year. If you want to support their mission, you can do so here. I took this photo of a lone cat resting on a wall in the ruins. I was pretty proud of my effort. A couple days later, Joe showed me this.

Hope he has at least one of those nine lives left

I mean, seriously? Santorini is pure magic. Joe’s composition here was on point. Of course, his brother would tell you he gets at least partial credit for spotting the cat in the first place. We found so many cats to photograph in Greece, both of feral and the family varieties. Without our dogs to provide our daily dose of furry love, we substituted the cats we met along our journey.

Shade seeker in Rhodes on a hot, sunny day

When we arrived in Rhodes, the cat competition took off. It seemed we couldn’t turn a corner without finding another feral cat that needed to be captured by our iPhones.

Although Rhodes was fertile ground for our cat photos, we hit the jackpot when we arrived in Mykonos Town. So, so many cute cats in one of the most photogenic locations of our vacation. Joe and I disputed who took the better photo of this cat. I will grant that Joe’s composition is better, but I like my photo’s focus on the cat rather than its place in the environment because ginger kitty pops on that whitewashed step when he is the focus.

But we weren’t finished battling it out yet. The photo opportunities kept coming.

This next cat, though, he took the cake. Well, actually, he nearly took my phone. While I was trying to photograph him through the slats on a porch railing, he reached out and stuck his claws into my phone case. I went ahead and pressed the shutter button for him since he lacks opposable thumbs, and we ended up with this green-eyed kitty selfie (and some damage to my phone case). That is the price of art.

The eyes have it

So many cats, so little time in Greece. Anyone who knows me well, though, knows I am a dog person first and foremost. I can’t publish this post without giving a little love and attention to a canine furball. So I shall leave you with this fluffy pooch hitching a ride on a scooter. Man’s best friend indeed.

Wide Awake In Economy

I love travel. I love seeing new places and experiencing new ways of living on this planet. But being on a flight for 10 hours is not my favorite.

Wide awake at 40k feet somewhere over the Labrador Sea

As I’ve documented several times in several ways here before, I am not a great sleeper. I want to be. I really do. I just can’t seem to make it work for me. And in an already cramped economy seat after the person in front of me has fully reclined their seat so their head is in my lap and I can smell their shampoo, my ability to sleep disappears completely. Still, in a desperate attempt to break tradition and at last fall asleep on a flight, I drank my red wine, took some melatonin, and donned my Airpods Max noise canceling headphones. Rather than feeling sleepy, though, I find myself air drumming along the beat in my ears. No bueno, but at least I am burning calories.

I am halfway into this flight from Denver to Munich en route to Rome and I am suddenly aware of what a pampered house pet I am. I keep telling myself I can survive another 5 hours, but my tush is debating the veracity of my forced assertion. And there is only so much time you can spend wandering the aisles in the dark, tripping over outstretched limbs and fallen faux pillows before you begin to look like an anxious toddler or a junkie struggling through rehab.

Perhaps now would be a good time for a haiku:

Too broke for business

Packed in coach like a sardine

Sleep, please find me soon!

FFS

The siren song of Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and pizza will pull me through tomorrow’s exhaustion, and then perhaps tomorrow night I shall at last get some rest. Until then, I shall daydream about sleep. That counts, right?

Not Quite A Mermaid Yet

My brother-in-law and husband working towards their diving certification

“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” ~Helen Keller

This weekend, I learned a few things about myself.

First of all, I learned I am not yet ready to be a mermaid. The dive class Friday night went well for the most part, with my biggest stress coming when we were told we needed to sit underwater with our regulator in our mouth but no mask over our face. This was nearly impossible for me. I’m a fair swimmer, but not a great one. My first experience of swimming was being forced off a diving board into the deep end of a YMCA pool when I was 9. It did not go well. I swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated water, surfaced choking, and decided swimming was not my thing. I eventually learned to swim well enough. And while I passed the 10 minute float test with zero trouble, I remain a 54 year old who jumps into a pool holding her nose. I can swim underwater only if I exhale bubbles from my nose. So, yeah. Sitting on the bottom of a pool with air bubbles rising up from my respirator and hitting my nose was not my thing. I freaked out, inhaled more water up my nose and went home dejected. Still, I rallied and tried scuba class again on Saturday. I had no problem clearing my ears or learning to achieve neutral buoyancy. I loved swimming around underwater at 13 feet and diving for toys. But when it came time to take off my mask, hold it in my hands, swim around, then put it back on, I knew I was finished. I left the class early and alone. I will not be scuba certifying until I get my confidence issues resolved. My mermaid days lie ahead somewhere. Perhaps after a summer of swimming and some private lessons.

On the positive side of this unfortunate discovery, however, is the reality that when I realized I was not ready to meet this challenge at this time I was able to be honest with myself, tell the instructor I was out, and forgive myself for needing a little more time to prepare. I can’t be angry with myself for needing to learn to be a mouth breather. I can be proud of myself for recognizing my limits and being willing to step away until I can make progress with my swimming. This is big step forward for me. Even as it was a disappointment not to be ready to complete the scuba class, it was a growth opportunity I managed. Does it suck not to have achieved this goal as I planned? Sure. But I wasn’t ready. And I’m wise enough now to understand that “not right now” does not mean “not ever.”

Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag. It is difficult for me to admit defeat, even if it is temporary, but I am grateful I was able to acknowledge my current limits and step away. I will get my water issues sorted. I just need to trust the growth process and keep moving towards my goal. Someday I will pass my scuba certification and the accomplishment will be even sweeter for the time I spent working towards my goal.

Henry David Thoreau-ing It

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Me a bunch of years ago celebrating at Red Rocks (with food I can no longer eat)

Birthdays over age 50 are something else. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge you are definitely over that hill and the time ahead for you is far less than the time behind you. On the other hand, you know people who have already left this world, perhaps classmates that didn’t make it to your advanced age, and you are grateful to be here. It’s a mixed bag. I’m simultaneously glad to be 54 and annoyed to be 54. But time marches on and the only way to stop it is death, and that is not an option I am anxious to explore. My fingers are crossed that my luck continues to hold.

While I did not go into the woods like Henry David Thoreau, this month I have been taking a much needed hiatus from social media. My reasons are a little different than Thoreau’s, but the thought is the same. I wanted to eliminate the bullshit. I wanted to face only the essentials of life, to see what those people around me and the situations we shared in person together could offer me. I wanted to delete the distractions provided by the socials. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t wasting my life gawking at other people’s lives. And I needed to make sure I wasn’t so busy presenting a life to others that I was no longer consciously living one myself. I picked a curious time to do it too, given that this month is filled with experiences one would love to post on social media…birthdays, graduations, parties, reunions, and travel.

Still, I’m not doing it quite right. I admit to playing some games on my iPhone and watching playoff hockey and episodes of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I’m not checked in 100% of the time, but I am present more than I have been. This is both good and bad, as I’m struggling with accepting that our youngest will graduate one week from today, and in August we will drive both sons to Washington and leave them (along with part of our hearts) there and return to an empty house. So it’s useful to give myself, from time to time, the opportunity not to focus on the huge changes that are afoot. It’s important to feel your feelings, but it’s my birthday and I don’t want to spend it sobbing about my most challenging, most favorite job ever coming to an end.

This weekend, Steve and I will be taking scuba classes. This should keep my mind off my kids and allow me to celebrate myself and my life and what I am able to learn, overcome, and accomplish, even at the advanced age of 54. This weekend I start the next phase of my life even as the last one is wrapping up. It’s time to make new friends. And if everything goes well and my ears clear and I don’t freak out underwater trying things that are way outside my comfort zone, on Sunday I will finish my first two dives at the aquarium among my new fish friends. I’ve done a lot of exploring on land in my life. Time to see what the sea has to offer.

I’ve decided to refer to this social media time out as “Henry David Thoreau-ing it.” I think he would appreciate my wisdom and the shout out.