Thursday, August 28, 2014

Traveling to the Tranquility of Trinidad -- NOT

After two short months in the Pacific Northwest it was time to prepare for the trip back to Trinidad. Normally we’d be excited to get back to the boat, but this time we knew how much work was waiting for us, plus the heat and humidity we’d live in until the work was done.

We’d waited until the last week to do our major provisioning, not a good idea.  I was off to Fisheries Supply to buy a variety of boating items, including one $375 120 ft. length of rope. Isn’t there something in Greek mythology about ropes of gold? Well, this was about as close as you get. Super high-strength Dynema is the new thing:  lighter, smaller in diameter, and as strong as steel. We needed it for our new Code Zero gennaker, and it would cost at least double in Trinidad (where they add a 15% VAT on top of every purchase).

Meryl did the usual route of Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer, QFC, and, of course, Costco. Back at Jim and Chris Berry’s we spread out our booty, covering their living room floor. Jim just shakes his head. No commentary is needed.

As a (former) airline employee, we can take two 70 lb. bags in addition to our carry-ons.  With Jim’s help we packed two large duffels and three large cardboard boxes.  We had everything weighed (we put Jim on the bathroom scale and he lifted the 70 lb. boxes up to his waist while I laid on the ground with a flashlight trying to read the weight.  Getting all this stuff into our little Honda rental car was a challenge. It reminded me of when Jim would help us load our cars after camping trips.

Leaving at 3:30 am, and allowing plenty of time, we filled two baggage carts to the hilt at Sea-Tac and tried to balance leaving the car unattended versus leaving the bags unattended at the check-in counter. Someone always yells at us no matter what.

I took the car back to the rental car facility hoping the best. Sure enough I got a call with Meryl in a panic saying United wanted $1100 for the excess baggage fees. Meryl then opened some of the boxes and rearranged weights and went back. Next quote was $800. She got another agent who figured it at $500, and finally a third rather frazzled agent who quoted $300 (which is what the computer said when we checked in online). We swallowed hard, handed over the credit card and then ran for the plane. Luckily TSA Pre was wide open and we whizzed through and raced to the plane, where amazingly, we got the last two seats. We even got to sit together, a rarity these days.

When we flew through Houston last year the connecting flight was at the other end of the airport and we didn’t make it. This time the departing flight was at the same gate so we got a snack and relaxed a little. On the flight a nice Trinidadian lady switched seats so we could sit together and we had a enjoyable flight, but still wondering whether our bags had made it because of the all the delays during SeaTac checking-in.

Landing in the familiar heat and humidity of Port of Spain at 8:30 p.m. we had to get some special paper work to clear Marine Customs at Chaguaramus Bay, about one hour away.  Since it was now after 10:00 pm we had to pay a surcharge for the taxi, but he was a nice guy and waited for us at Marine Customs as the agent made me open each box and show him the contents. By law goods brought in for a “yacht in transit” are duty free, but that is very loosely interpreted by Customs. The agent wasn’t in a great mood by let us go with no extra fees. We had reserved a room at the modest hotel at Peakes Boatyard, and hauling all those boxes from the cab to the hotel room left me and cab driver soaked in sweat, but it was good to finally be there with all the boxes in one piece.

The boxes, duffels, and suitcases all survived the trip, barely.
The next day we enlisted our buddy Ragnor, the Trinidadian with blonde dreadlocks who looks Norwegian, to help with the boxes. I thought we’d use the motor hoist to lift them up, but he just put them on his shoulders and climbed up the 10-ft ladder to the boat. I gave him a $10 tip which he seem embarrassed to take, but he certainly earned it. Naturally the boxes were on the verge of self destruction as they sat in the cockpit, I'm always amazed they survive the trip.

The boat seemed to survived OK, a little musty and with some mold, but not too bad given the time away. The one huge bummer was that we were supposed to have a portable air conditioner installed, but ours was on some super yacht that was supposed to have launched but was now on a rolling delay. It was around 94 degrees inside the boat and all the fans simply circulated the hot air more efficiently.

Welcome to the Taswell 44 sauna.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Last Days of Summer

Aug. 19th

Returning from Colorado we were generously hosted by our old friends, Jim and Mary Ann Sanders, at their beautiful home on Beaver Lake in Sammamish, WA. Jim used to crew for me when I had my 26 ft. Thunderbird sailboat, Phoenix. He is probably one of the smartest sailors/tacticians I'd ever sailed with.

Unfortunately, about a month before we arrived Jim took a rather bad fall off a ladder and cracked a number of bones. By the time we got back we was fairly mobile, rolling back and forth in house with help of a walker.  His spirit and sense of humor were still intact and he took injuries in stride.

Mary Ann, always the consummate hostess, made us feel at home and cooked some great meals. Most of the time we just enjoyed sitting on their deck and getting caught up with each other's lives. We took Jim's canoe out for a spin on the lake to get a little exercise and see how the other half lives. What an incredible place to live.  We also got a chance to talk with their daughter, Megan, who now works with our son at Concur Technologies.

Maya leading the way.
We then spent a few days dog-sitting Maya at our son's house in Sammamish while they were gone to a wedding. We miss having a dog and enjoyed taking long walks in the near by Hazel Wolf Wetlands Park. At night we finished off the season of House of Cards. Can't wait for the next season.

Anita, Marilyn, and Meryl
 We also had a chance to get caught up with two of Meryl's high school girl friends, Marilyn and Anita. They are all fairly statuesque and gorgeous. I imagine they were somewhat intimidating to boys in high school (including those of us who are vertically challenged). It was fun to get caught up with everyone's careers, retirements, and families.

We also had dinner with Patsy (former Pan Am) and Steve, and Steve's sister Georgia and her friend John. Fun to go out to a hip Queen Anne area restaurant and have a great meal and conversation.

Lena, Meryl, and Liz.
Rounding out our visit home, Meryl met her former Pan Am stewardess (that's what they called them then) friends during lunch before we left. Even though we had two months this year it seemed there just wasn't enough time to touch base with everyone. That's one of the most difficult aspects of our cruising lifestyle.

In a couple more days we head back to Trinidad, which we're not looking forward to given all the work we need to do. This is coupled with the joy of living on a boat (on the hard in a boatyard) without use of our sink, toilet, air conditioning, or refrigeration. Should be fun.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Aspen, Breck and Fairplay

Aug 13th

We learned that even on a bright summer day it can be cool at 12,095 feet.
In keeping with our new fitness regime, Tryg drove us over Independence Pass on our way to Aspen.  Approaching the outskirts of Aspen, we marveled at the affluence as we drove by one mountain mansion after another on our way to the bus pick up for the Maroon Bells hike.

A short 20 minute drive, including an ongoing commentary by the driver of everything that's happened in the valley since the beginning of time, and we were dropped off at the Visitors Center. A lot has changed since Scott McRae and I did this hike back in the 70s, but still as spectacular as ever.
Hikers at Maroon Lake with the Maroon Bells in the background.
Along with hordes of the other people, we hiked the short distance up to Maroon Lake, then continued on the longer trail to Crater Lake. The Maroon Bells are one of the most photographed mountains in the U.S., and it's easy to understand why. Although the light was rather flat the day we hiked, the Bells are normally a brilliant red color from the oxides in the rock and soil.
Some mention should be made of the terrorist chipmunks in the area. Watch your nuts.
After a short snack and rest we hiked back enjoying the beautiful scenery all the way. We headed into Aspen and walked around the downtown area, finally finding a a great lunch place called The Big Wrap. Even managed to find a frozen yogurt on the way back to the car.

Aug. 14th -- Breckenridge and Fairplay

There's a wonderful river that comes right through the village of Breckenridge.
This crepes stand was packed at all hours whenever we drove through the town.
On the next day we drove south of Frisco to the mega resort of Breckenridge, called Breck by the locals and wanna be locals.  It's a great town with lots of shops and great restaurants. We got caught in a nasty thunderstorm and waited it out in a little bakery with good hot chocolate.

Must have been amazing to have lived in Colorado during the gold rush days.

While this is actually a restaurant, it's an accurate replica of a gold dredging rig.
While played-out mines dot the hillsides, a lot of the valley floors in this area were extensively mined by massive dredging boats that were literally winched up the shallow river beds leaving large hills of river rock in their wake. There is a good mining museum in Breck (there, I'm sounding like a local) that provided a lot of info on the history of the area.

The Fairplay Hotel, which has been recently remodeled.
From there we continued down the mountain to the funky town of Fairplay. An old mining town, Annie's mom had once owned the historic Fairplay Hotel, which looks like it hadn't changed much since its heyday.

After a long ride home and one of Annie's delicious dinners we all retired to the couches to continue our serial viewing of The House of Cards. Kevin Spacy's portrayal of the House Whip brings new meaning to the word "sinister." One wonders how far from the truth the movie's plot is to everyday Washington politics.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

High and Dry in Frisco

Aug 11th

Having recuperated from three weeks with our ever energetic grandchildren, we flew to Denver for some R&R with old friends Annie and Trygve Johnson. They had just purchased a mountain cabin in Frisco and we were interested in seeing the progress on their remodel.  It was a wonderful three story, ski resort type house just two blocks from beautiful downtown Frisco. 
Three weeks after I shot this photo Tryg repainted the house, which must look brand new now.
The house is nestled at the base of towering mountain peaks and the air is alive with the smell of mountain spruce. We all slept in the basement, as the top floor was down to studs and plumbing. Every once in a while something would come crashing down from the ceiling as the contractor knocked out a wall upstairs.

One of the traditions when staying with Annie and Tryg is taking advantage of Annie’s extensive DVD collection. In this case we used Netflix to start watching a series Annie raved about, House of Cards. Even though A & T had watched the first season, they were interested in viewing with us to help figure out the somewhat complicated plot line.  After one night, Meryl and I were totally hooked.

That first evening we walked the short distance to town and enjoyed some of the best sausage and micro-beer I’ve ever had at Prost, a small restaurant on main street.
An easy hike around the lake near Lower Cataract Falls.
The obligatory "three hikers on the fallen log bridge" photo.

Amazing we're still hiking after all these years.
Meryl and I had been bemoaning the lack of aerobic exercise on the boat. Well, Tryg took had a solution for that problem. He had scheduled a full day for us on the 12th, starting with a hike up to Lower Cataract Falls. Given that you are hiking at 9,000 to 10,000 feet, we were glad our first day was a relatively easy hike. Not to be shortchanged, Tryg took us on a short bike ride to the marina on Lake Dillion near downtown Frisco.

While this photo is a little out of sequence, it does show some of the great bike trails around Frisco.
 The amazing thing about Frisco is the plethora of great, and I do mean great, biking trails.  I thought we’d be doing an Alp d’Huez type climb, but there is a whole system of bike trails featuring paved surfaces that follow the valleys and are perfect for road bikes. These trails link most of the towns and ski areas in a 20 — 30 mile circumference from Frisco. You can literally ride to Vail, Breckinridge or Copper Mountain viewing some of the most spectacular scenery in the US along the way.

The 12th was Annie and Tryg’s wedding anniversary and they invited us to a great little restaurant called the Blue Spruce Inn. The food was excellent, especially the Colorado Goat Cheese Chicken (as quoted from their menu: Marinated and grilled chicken breast with Colorado Goat Cheese, sun dried tomatoes and basil Beurre Blanc).

It was wonderful to share such a special evening with such good friends.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

World Wing's by the Sea

It has been over three years since I attended a World Wings meeting so I put it on our calendar early to be sure we could attend.  For those of you who don’t know about World Wings, it is a charitable organization of former Pan American Flight Attendants with over 35 chapters worldwide primarily raising money for CARE International and local charities in each chapters area.  I have been a part of this group for over 20 years and a board member serving as VP of Charities for seven years in the Seattle Chapter.

Every year a different chapter sponsors a convention in their area alternating between a US Chapter and an International Chapter. This year's convention takes place in Bangkok in October and between 200 to 300 people usually attend.  A good time is always had and lots of money is raised to help support CARE’S programs around the world.  I am still a member so I get notifications of meetings and hear what is going on, but I miss seeing all my dear flying friends.

Left to right, Diane Mathers, Meryl, Sherry Crawford, and Walter.
President Monique filling us in on some up coming events.
Alda Halldorsson-Duin our computer guru that keeps us all in touch.
This summer’s picnic was at Joni Warmington’s summer cottage on the western shore just past the Tulalip Indian Reservation.  It’s a darling cottage  from the 1950’s with many antiques throughout.  Everyone brings a dish and enjoys visiting and finding out what everyone has been up to.  Spouses are always welcome and Walter is a regular attendee and looks forward to seeing everyone. Usually there is a larger turn out but for some reason we are a smaller group this year which allowed us to get in longer visits.

Meryl,  Irmela Koehler (from Germany),  Reidun Decker (from Norway)
Sarah Berger, Joni Warmington, Monique Rounsavelle
Getting ready to walk the beach with Walter, me, Randy and Monique.
Ironically, next door a party for an Alaska Airlines flight attendant was going on with 20 - 30 year olds in tiny bikinis taking in the sun.  Someone in our group jokingly said, "this may be you in 35 years!" Brought a smile to my face.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Saying Goodbye

One of the most difficult things we have to do each summer is say goodbye to the kids and grandkids, whom we will not see for probably another year.

At Christa's rental house we hauled bag after bag down to the car and tried to figure out the physics of putting that much that stuff in that small a car.

For Quinn and Conner it was just another "hare plane" ride, this time around 6,500 miles and a 12-hour flight. I don't envy Christa and Nash for this long a flight, but Christa seems to have it down to a science with books, games, and iPad movies.

I always have a tear in my eye when I kiss Quinn and Conner goodbye, knowing they will be much different people when I see them next. Love you guys!

Mimi getting Quinn ready for the "hare plane" ride.
All ready to go back home to Hong Kong.
These kids have more frequent flyer miles than most adults.
Let's see, I hope I have enough room left for the kids.
Everybody goes to the airport with a water ski on their head.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Up Into the Wild Blue Yonder

If you've lived in Seattle for a long time, you know one of the highlights of the somewhat brief summer is Seafair and the performance of the Blue Angels. Unfortunately everyone else in Seattle wants to go see them, so the freeways and roads tend to jam up during the practice sessions during Seafair Week.

I had raved to Nash about them, and consulted Mercer Island resident Jim Berry as to the best strategy to get on Mercer Island to watch the Saturday practice performance.  It was a convoluted routing, but we did make it to the Park & Ride garage on Mercer Island and then hiked about 1/2 mile to the Mercer Island "Park on the Lid," a spacious park built on the lid over the I-90 freeway. With its elevation it would be the best view point looking over Lake Washington for the show.

We managed to set up camp on the tennis courts (much to the chagrin of those trying to play tennis) and waited for the telltale roar of the jet engines.  We put ear plugs and ear protectors on the kids, but it turned out the noise wasn't as intense as I remember.

It wasn't quite as intense as I remember when we'd watch from our 26 ft. sailboat on the lake, but still a great show.  The skill of the pilots to fly as close as 18 inches to each other at 700 mph is amazing. Unfortunately the kids lost interest after awhile and became engrossed in playing Frisbee amongst the tennis players.

So much for playing tennis on the courts.
Nash and pilot Conner, ready for take-off.

Quinn's eagle eyes scanning the sky for the Blue Angels.
Blue Angels screaming down the lake over the Floating Bridge.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Conner Family Reunion

For the first time in a long time we got together with my side of the family, including my sister Cindy, her husband, Jim, and two of her three daughters (Melissa lives in Houston and couldn't attend) and families.

We met at Pine Lake Park next to the playground, a great idea given all the kids in the group. Two of Cindy's daughters, Jennifer and Megan came, along with Jennifer's husband Greg and their three kids Emma, Conner, and Max.  With the birth of Christa's son, Conner, we now have two Conner James' in the family.
From left to right: Brad, Greg Smith, Ashley, Meryl, and my sister Cindy.
Two pretty girls:  Quinn and Emma.
A happy Max.
Conner James #1 climbing down the spiral ladder.
Left to right:  Brad, Nash, Jennifer, Greg, Megan.
Sisters forever:  Megan and Jennifer.
Jim and granddaughter Emma.
Nash, Christa, Jennifer, and Jim share a laugh.

A Gnome Hunting We Will Go

In the morning we got the opportunity to take a “gnome hunt” walk at the Evans Creek Preserve. Our son, Brad, spends numerous hours helping build the trail system and bridges at Evans Creek, so it's one of our favorite places to walk.

One of the attractions of Evans Creek is the gnomes, small replicas that are hidden here and there by local hikers for the kids to find. The rule is when you find a gnome, you have to "re hide" it somewhere else.

Unfortunately the gnome hunts were recently officially banned by the Sammamish City Council as being “too damaging to the environment.”  Too bad, but I have a feeling they will be back.

The competition was intense to see who would find the first gnome.
Ah, there's one.
Looks like a leprechaun.
The famous "hanging gnome."