Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: The State of the Bucket List

My bucket list isn't made up of crazy stunts and bizarre experiences.  My main goal for the end of my life is to travel more.  I want to see as much of the world as possible.  In 2013 I made a rather unfocused blog post about my biggest travel priorities.  Since I made that post, I have crossed a few destinations off the list.  I have also made some more focused travel goals for my priority destinations for the next several years.  I thought it would be fun to compare the notes and share my revised lists.

Places that were on my previous list that I have been to since then:

Costa Rica - I saw much more of this beautiful place in 2014 than I saw on that cruise ship 10 years earlier. I explored rain forests, rode a horse on the beach, and swam and snorkeled in the Pacific.   This is a definitely bucket list destination.

Italy - I said I wanted to return there and particularly wanted to return to Venice.  The 2015 cruise took care of some of that.  (I would still go back to Italy 100 more times.)

Croatia - This wasn't a high priority destination, and I didn't go to Dubrovnik, but I did make it to Croatia on the cruise. 

Greek Islands -  I only saw two islands on the cruise, but it was a start

San Francisco - I went there right after posting my last bucket list.

Yosemite - This was part of the San Francisco trip.  

Places on the previous list where I will go in 2016:

Chincoteague - It broke my heart a little to not go Pony Penning last summerI am happy to return in 2016.

Hawaii - (including Volcanoes National Park) - Heading here in February as an early celebration of our 15th anniversary.  Kevin can cross a national park off his bucket list.

Prague - I have a family vacation scheduled in August.  This was another second tier destination, but I am looking forward to seeing what looks like a beautiful city.

European destinations at the top of the list:

Amsterdam and BeNeLux - I was actually planning to go to Amsterdam this year, but lack of money on my part and the offer of free cruise from Dad changed the plans a bit.  I hope to regroup and plan a trip in 2017.  My plan is to stay based in Amsterdam and do day trips to Brussels and Bruges.  If I can conveniently do a Luxembourg day trip, I will definitely consider it.

Danube River Cruise - In my previous list I mentioned a few second-tier priority cities in Europe that I would like to see, but wasn't sure how much time I wanted to devote to them.  This included cities like Prague (which I'll be staying in for a while after all), Budapest, Vienna, and the Bavaria region of Germany.  A river cruise like this one would take care of these nicely.

Loire Valley Barge Cruise - My dream had always been to do a horseback riding tour through the Loire Valley.  Kevin is less enthused about further riding vacations.  They are fun, but they are physically demanding and can be a bit harrowing if your horse isn't on his best behavior. I recently learned about barge cruises.  Old canal barges are made over and fitted out with luxury trappings and high-end cuisine, making them into little floating inns.  A barge cruise can offer me similar advantages to a horseback tour.  I would travel the countryside at a slow pace, visiting the local villages, castles, and wineries. Most barges have bicycles on board too, so if I get tired of sitting for long stretches of time, I can bike alongside the boat as it heads down the canal.  It's not a horse, but it would keep me active.  Some barges have small swimming pools on board too, but I think those are really pricey.  Best of all we could take a day or two in Paris at the start or end of the cruise so I can return to my beloved beautiful city.

Top U.S. City Destinations:

These haven't changed since the last list.  Kevin and I haven't traveled in the U.S. (other than Chincoteague) in almost 3 years.

New Orleans
Salem, MA
Florida Keys 
Santa Fe
Las Vegas - I have to see it once

Top U.S.  National Parks

Acadia - Since this is on the east coast, we could probably see this in a long weekend.  It would be easy to fly out on Friday morning, spend Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday in the park, and fly back on Monday. 

Glacier - One of the guides from our Grand Canyon tour with leads a tour in Glacier.  She was great at the Grand Canyon, so I would like to travel with her again.  Then again, I have a hard time believing any trip with Natural Habitat Adventures could be bad.

Olympic - The varying ecosystems here would pack a lot of bang for the buck. 

Ultimate Indulgence for a special occasion: 

2021 will be our 20th anniversary and we need to celebrate in style.  How can we possibly top our 10th anniversary where we spent a week at a horse farm in Tuscany?  Anniversary #20 needs to be spectacular.  We first discussed Bora Bora (who wouldn't want to stay in one of those overwater bungalows?)  Then we realized what would be even cooler would be Galapagos.  Once again, nature tours don't get any better than Natural Habitat Adventures.

I think that's a pretty good list.  If I can cross these off in the next ten years, I will be thrilled.  Once I do that though, it will be time again to decide where to go next. It' a big world and life is short.  Let's make the most of it.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For Everyone Planning To Get In Shape in 2016

Do it.

Don't do it to lose weight.  Don't do it look hot in a bathing suit.  Don't do it to make yourself more attractive to current or potential sexual and romantic partners.  Don't do it because you fear obesity.  Don't do it because you fear other health risks.

Do it because you can.

As a klutzy, unathletic nerd, I spent years developing physical skills and a certain level of fitness that I felt I could be proud of.  My accomplishments were never impressive to most people, but to me they were everything.  I was proud of my strength gains and the crazy stunts I could pull off at the gym.  I was proud of how I managed to ride a green pony through the phases of her education.  I was proud of the complex tap dancing steps I could execute.  I was proud of my endurance for long hikes in nature.  I was proud of the time I was able to swim out to a sandbar and tow a drowning man to safety on my boogie board.  I was no athlete, but I proved to myself that I was fit.  I wasn't naturally coordinated, but I had managed to develop some coordination.  It felt wonderful.  I had come so far.

Then one day it all changed. Injuries happened.  Surgery followed.  I missed months of riding, dance, weight lifting, and so many other activities that brought me pleasure over the years.  It wasn't just about feeling down because I gained 30 pounds and fell out of shape.  I was depressed over my lack of ability to move.  I was not doing the activities that brought me joy.  You truly don't realize how much you miss your physical abilities until you don't have them.

My condition was temporary.  I was able to ride again 5 months after surgery.  I was back in dance class 9 months after surgery.  My elbow has prevented me from doing anything vigorous with my upper body, but I am slowly coming back from that.  Being out of shape is not a permanent state for me (at least not yet).

There are millions of people out there who aren't as lucky as I am.  Their physical functionality has been taken from them.  Maybe it was due to illness, or injury, or hereditary conditions, but whatever the reason, they will never feel the joy of physical movement.  We forget that our ability to exercise could be taken from us at any moment.

If you have a functional, reasonably healthy body, it's time to start appreciating that fact and take advantage of it.  Stop wasting the health and abilities that have been gifted to you.  You're not getting any younger.  If you don't use your muscles they will atrophy and stiffen up.  The less you use your body now, the less ability you will have to use it in the future.  Get off the couch.  Step away from the computer.  Put down your smartphone.  Take a step forward on those functional legs and experience the world outside.  Take advantage of the body you have.  Don't hide it away from the world.

Our society has come to see exercise as a mere necessary health routine at best and "punishment" for bad eating at worst.   I hear many people say they hate exercise because their narrow definition of exercise means a sweat session at the gym or a punishing run (YUCK!). We are taught at an early age that physical activity has rigid definitions.  In our gym classes we are taught to run laps around the track and do push-ups and sit-ups, or else have the non-athletic kids be humiliated by the athletic kids in team sports.  Somewhere along the way we learn to separate the concept of fitness from the concept of fun.

As adults fitness experts tell us exercise is just a daily health chore like brushing your teeth.  I read an article by one fitness trainer who believed running is the exercise equivalent of eating your vegetables - something that must be done no matter how much you might hate it.  Tell me something: when you were a kid your mother probably had to remind, and even nag you, to brush your teeth and eat your vegetables.  Did she need to remind you to go ride your bike with your friends or go to the pool on a hot day?

If fitness is your New Year's Resolution for 2016, then make this the year you find your true fitness.  This is not the year you are going to lose 50 pounds and be extra lean.  It's not the year you are going to look like the mass media ideal in a bathing suit.  It should be the year you find your fun.  Make 2016 the year that you find the joy in using your body in all its imperfect glory.

What have you always wanted to try?  What activities have you admired from afar and never thought you could do?  Maybe you want to join that new local boxing gym you have been looking at lustily since it opened.  Maybe it's time to try that salsa class.  Maybe you want to rekindle your childhood love of ice skating.  Maybe it's time to dust off that bicycle that has been sitting in the garage.  Maybe it's time your lived out your fantasy of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  What would you enjoy?  What interests would you like to rekindle?  Go out and find a way to pursue it.  Use the power of the Internet for good and find classes and Meetup groups in your area.

This won't be easy.  Unless you're athletically gifted, there will be a learning curve for any new activities.  If you have been inactive, new physical pursuits may be a struggle for a while.  You will fall down - perhaps metaphorically and perhaps literally.  You will fail.  You will feel foolish.  You will feel convinced that you are a klutz who just can't do this kind of stuff.  Whatever happens, don't give up.  Very few people get anything right the first try.  You will only truly fail if you stop trying.

Let's face it, if you were automatically good at something, there would be no challenge and no sense of accomplishment.  Part of the joy of learning something new is seeing your own progress.  On the other hand, if you truly give your new activity a good try and find you don't like it, or the struggle isn't worth it, then it's okay to quit.  Find your passion elsewhere.

I recent watched a series on Ovation called Big Ballet.  Former RBC principal, Wayne Sleep, gathered together a group of plus-sized, wannabe ballet dancers and staged a performance of Swan Lake.  The dancers were ordinary women whose dreams of dancing were dashed years ago for various reasons, including their size.  Sleep himself was told when he was young that he wouldn't make it as a dancer because he was too short.  He proved them wrong by working hard and showing his talent.  He dreamed of giving other non-typical dancers a shot at the same dreams.  It wasn't the most beautiful production you have ever seen.  The choreography had to be adjusted because some of it just doesn't look right when not performed by sylph-like women.  The dancers are not en pointe.  Still they are eager and graceful and willing to put in the work necessary to make the production happen.  They were happy.  They were enjoying themselves.  That's what fitness should be about.

So if fitness is your goal for 2016, go out and pursue that fitness, but pursue it in a way that is truly meaningful to you.  You have a body.  Learn to enjoy it before it's too late.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Letting Go (or "Why I will have myself a Merry Little Christmas")

Thanks to following Spandau Ballet on Facebook, I learned that Tony Hadley has released a Christmas album this year.  I'm not a fan of celebrity Christmas albums.  I don't like most contemporary Christmas music and most popular Christmas songs, both traditional and contemporary, have been done to death.  I wasn't sure what Tony Hadley could bring to the table.  Still, Tony Hadley is my long-time crush and the man can sing Row Row Row Your Boat and make it sound like a choir of angels singing.  I considered giving the album a chance.

I took a look at the song list online. To my horror, the second song on the album was my Christmas musical nemesis Have Yourself A Merry Little ChristmasWhy? I lamented.  Why why why does  every singer need to record that song on a Christmas album?  Does any pop singer every consider that not everyone loves songs that are so hokey and maudlin?  I remembered how several years ago when Sarah McLachlan (my favorite female singer) put out a Christmas album and I refused to buy it because she recorded that song. Could I buy Hadley's album and just skip over that song?

Then suddenly, after more than 20 years of finding that song unbearable to listen to, I stopped and asked myself this question:

Why do I continue to let that song have power over me?  Why must I be this ridiculous?

As silly as it might seem to others that I would have such a visceral reaction against a simple Christmas song, there is a reason and a story behind it.  Years ago I was in a situation where I was happy and content, but knew that it would all be coming to an end soon.  The reality of it came crashing down around me at Christmas time, and the song had become a way of triggering it.  (If you don't know the full story, I am sorry but I will not discuss the actual association.)  It was a painful reminder that my life was about to change, possibly for the worse.   People who were close to me, who were a constant presence in my life, were no longer going to be there.

For a few mercifully short years, my life did change for the worse.  I went through a period where I felt more loneliness, depression, and despair than I would ever admit out loud to anyone.  Hearing that song brought back the situation where I was, and contrasted it with what my life had become.  That song just stuck me in that time period.  It reminded me of the people no longer in my life.

I'm a sentimental and sensitive type.  I tend to cling to people and situations, because I try to hold on to something that was good in the past.  I rarely ever admit when a relationship of any kind isn't working for me anymore.  I tend to want to keep people in my life who have indicated by their actions (although rarely in their words) they no longer want to be there.  I was putting out enormous amounts of effort that were rarely reciprocated.  Despite what internet memes and inspirational posters like to tell you, not everyone you care about is destined to be part of your life forever.  People's lives go in different directions; their attitudes and interests change.  It's all part of reality.  If we were meant to be with everyone we were ever close to, we would all marry our first loves and never divorce.  If your romantic relationships can change and end, then it makes sense that other close relationships can end as well.

In recent years I have made an effort to stop wasting efforts on people who aren't interested in staying in touch and start concentrating on and appreciating the people who still want me in their lives.  I think I have a pretty strong circle of people who matter.  I am not in the same position I was all those years ago.  My life is full and happy.  Sure there are people I wish I could see more of, and I sometimes wish I were included in more friends' activities, but sometimes that's as much my fault as it is theirs.  I'm not always picking up the phone and inviting people to spend time with me.  Regardless, I have a job, hobbies, friends, and a husband.  I travel often.  There is no guarantee that any of this will last, but right now I'm living a happy and contented life.  I have no need to dwell on happy times of the past.

That's why I need to learn to stop letting myself be dragged into the past. It really isn't about a song.  It is about me dwelling on a time that will never come around again.  I am mostly over the old days, but there is obviously a little bit of it I can't let go of.  I can't let something so harmless drag me back to a time when I was on the brink of unhappiness.  I can hear the song and think about how things did go bad, but I need to remember how much better they became.   There is just a little bit of my past I need to stop wallowing in. The time is now.

Don't get me wrong though.  I will still hate the song.  It's hokey and maudlin and that will never change.  But in the end I guess it's no worse than half the Christmas music I hear every day.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Moving My Body Forward - Phase 2

So I survived my first phase of getting my fitness back and moving my body forward.

The first week felt pretty good.  I started my Piyo workouts and my new habits on a Sunday morning.  The workouts were both easy and difficult at the same time.  The workout consisted of simple moves that I have done all my life, but I haven't done them much in the past year.  My body hasn't moved in certain ways for a long time.  I really had to struggle with some of them.  However, muscle memory began to kick in after two or three workouts and they felt more comfortable.

Midway through the first week, I was tempted to check in.  I wanted to see if I had made any progress at all.  I found myself staring at my scale and tape measure, wondering if I'd see a difference.  Is that crazy or what?  I wanted to see if I had results after 5 days?  After all this time trying to learn that my body is going to change slowly and on its own time, I still want instant results.  I knew that a few days of mild workouts wasn't going to change my body, but I still wanted to believe it could.  I was smart enough to tell myself to wait until the end of the month to check in when I could see more accurate results.

The second week presented some challenges.  There was Thanksgiving of course, as well as a pre-Thanksgiving dinner out with friends.  There was a day I went out to lunch and just didn't feel like eating any vegetables.  Even though I did my best to stick to my habit, I know I was eating too much.

Plenty of times I found myself thinking I should start giving my diet more structure and be more attentive to planning healthful meals, but I realized that part of the strategy for success is sticking to one habit at a time.  I will not overwhelm myself.  I would stick to one habit with each phase.

Week 3 brought a few more challenges with the workouts and a return to saner, post-holiday eating, but I still had some weak moments.  I was almost positive I was backsliding badly.  At the end of the week I reviewed my compliance stats and saw that I had stuck with the habit for over 80% of my meals.  I was doing better than I gave myself credit for.

During the last week I finally felt as if the habit was going in the right direction.  I was noticing the changes in my satiety levels as I ate.  I found myself leaving a few bites at the end of some of my meals.  I now like to think I will be well prepared for my next habit.

In terms of the workout, how do I feel about PiYo?  I have mixed feelings for sure.  I do the workout and I'm covered in sweat and out of breath.  It is intense, but for the first 1-3 weeks, it didn't feel effective.  I worked hard and diligently with each daily scheduled workout, but wondered if it was really doing anything for my body.  By the third week I started to notice more effectiveness.  The program was incorporating harder workouts, but it was more than that.  I think in the early stages I was just going through the motions to learn the moves.  Once I really had the moves imprinted on my body and the muscle memory kicked in, I could concentrate on them harder.  I was beginning to work deeper into my muscles and even had some soreness.  While I don't love the workouts in general, there are some aspects I enjoy.  The workout called "Sweat" has a segment that is all balancing moves and when I do it I feel very flowy and graceful.  The second phase will incorporate only the most difficult and longest workouts, so we'll see if I still feel the program is ineffective.

I haven't suspended my gym membership for the two months I'm doing PiYo because I assumed I would want to pop into the gym now and then for some time on the cardio machines or to take Zumba classes.  I admit this hasn't happened yet.

No it's on to Phase 2.  What is the plan?

Habit: Eat only until satisfied

Sunday: AM Scheduled Piyo workout, PM riding
Monday: AM Scheduled Piyo workout, PM dance class
Tuesday: Scheduled Piyo workout
Wednesday: Scheduled Piyo workout
Thursday: Scheduled Piyo workout
Friday: Scheduled Piyo workout
Saturday: Riding

This month I really should try to get to the gym and hit the cardio machines or at least do a Zumba or dance Kinect program.

The habit will be tricky with Christmas coming.  I have a party on the 19th and then I'm making Christmas dinner.  I need to buy a lot of gum so I don't sample and nibble too much when cooking.

So what are the results of Month 1?

Weight: 149.4 lbs
Waist: 32.25
Hips: 41.75
Bust: 39
Arm: 13.75
Thigh: 25.25

I lost 2.4 pounds (two pounds a month is pretty typical for me) and I lost a quarter inch in my hips and my waist stayed the same.  I gained a half an inch in my bust and arm and a quarter inch in my thigh.  Visually I don't look any better.

First I have to post a cute little fuzzy bunny photo so the fat photos don't display when I link this on Facebook.

Now for the photos of me....

I'm not giving up.  I did this before and I can do this again. 

It's Okay To Not To Not Feel The Cheer

I see memes like this all the time around the holidays.  These are usually posted by well-meaning liberals who just want everyone to get along.  I understand the sentiment.  "Stop this War on Christmas crap!  Stop being too sensitive if it's not your holiday.  Can't you just take it when someone wishes you well?"

Here is my take on it.  We can all just get along fine, but being forced to feel the love whenever you receive a holiday greeting is not required to get along.

Every year around this time of year someone passes around this little bit by Ben Stein, Republican speechwriter, character actor, and the Token Jew of the Religious Right.

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees. 

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crib, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

So the message is, "Everyone stop being so sensitive when someone says, 'Merry Christmas'.  It's just a cheerful greeting.  Take it as a compliment."  We're supposed to listen to Ben Stein.  He's Jewish, remember?  He's a big, rational intellectual type (never mind that he made a ridiculous "documentary" about poor science teachers being persecuted for teaching nonscientific hypotheses in a science classroom).  Gen-Xers love him.  He's the "Anyone...anyone" guy!"

Once upon a time I would have agreed with him.  I agreed with him adamantly.  Who cares what someone says to you as a greeting during the holidays.  You're just wishing someone well.  Are we supposed to say, "Have a rotten day because you don't celebrate Christmas?"

Then one day everything changed.  It changed when I found myself on the other side.  If you don't feel like reading that entire blog post, I'll quickly recap it.  I have never once said to anyone that I was Jewish.  I have never told anyone I know that I celebrate Hanukkah.  I have never once given any indication to anyone that I am Jewish at all.  Yet people will continue to assume I'm Jewish because my name just sounds Jewish to them.  I have been told that I don't "seem Italian" and yet I'm sure if my name were Gina Mantucci, no one would be assuming I'm Jewish instead of a mutt of Italian and Swiss (that's where the name comes from) extraction.  To cut a long story short, due to these assumptions I received a Hanukkah card from people who have known me for years.  I was by no means insulted.  I was flattered that these friends who had never sent me a holiday card today actually put me on their list.  Nonetheless, it felt weird and awkward.  I don't celebrate Hanukkah and almost never have unless it was because I was invited to someone else's home to celebrate.  I remember thinking at that very moment, This must be how a non-Christian must feel when being told "Merry Christmas".  

Years later when Jewish coworker, who didn't know me very well and probably was making assumptions based on the name, wished me Happy New Year on Rosh Hoshanna.  I knew she meant well, but I almost felt bad accepting the greeting and wishing her Happy New Year in return.

Before the Internet was awash in holiday memes and I could easily look up stories and essays, I read an essay by a Jewish man who was dealing with his feelings of being innundated by Christmas cheer this time of year. Unfortunately, since this was pre-Internet, I don't have a copy of the article to repost here.  The one point the article made was how uncomfortable a non-Christian can feel when being wished a Merry Christmas.  Please note I said uncomfortable and not offended.  There is a difference.  The author of the article stated that being wished a Merry Christmas when you are Jewish is like being wished a happy birthday on someone else's birthday. 

Are any of these viewpoints wrong?  No they aren't.  We are all entitled to feel the way we do at this time of year.  The problem now is that we are being made to feel like we don't have a right to our opinion.  If you say that it makes you uncomfortable to be surrounded by the trappings of a holiday you don't celebrate or by being given a holiday greeting, it is treated as if you are taking offense, and that makes others offended.

It seems that if you aren't all smiles and happiness and Christmas cheer, even the well-meaning liberals are grabbing you by the lapels and screaming, "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST TAKE THE COMPLIMENT?  WE'RE WISHING YOU WELL.  CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND?  STOP BEING SO OFFENDED.  YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM.  YOU MUST ACCEPT MY HOLIDAY GREETING."

While I agree that it's silly to take offense (it isn't about you, or offending you), I'm tired of this idea that everyone has to like it.  I'm tired of seeing people who don't celebrate Christmas being told they don't have a right to feel uncomfortable.  Why do we have to invalidate the feelings of someone who feels uncomfortable?  We should all be allowed to feel the way we feel as long as acting on our feeling doesn't hurt anyone.  Unfortunately, if someone were to politely respond to a "Merry Christmas" with, "Thank you, but I don't celebrate Christmas," it would be considered a personal affront and the height of rudeness.  Yet really it's not more rude than saying, "Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday, but my birthday was two months ago." 

Why do we take it so personally, why are we offended, when someone doesn't want to participate in the holiday cheer we are trying to spread?  Just as we may not mean to personally offend someone when we wish him a "Merry Christmas," no one means to offend us back when hearing that greeting makes her uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, having someone not reflect our well wishes has us flying into a rage.

I suppose in the end it's all about power.  Once upon a time, this country was firmly in the grip of Christianity.  Sure there were people practicing other religions, but with Christianity as the majority religion there was an assumption out there that everyone had to either publicly celebrate Christmas, or take their celebrations underground.  It wasn't just a majority religion, but a dominant culture.  Now that secularism is on the rise and non-Christian religions are asking for more recognition and the right to reject Christian culture, it feels like a loss of power.  The "War on Christmas" fear isn't about no longer being able to celebrate Christmas in public.  It's about seeing the culture you were raised in lose its influence in the broader society.  No one's right to celebrate Christmas is being compromised.  However, the right to not celebrate Christmas is being legitimized and that scares some people.  If they lose power in the religious space, where else will they lose their power and influence?

I hope that this season no one ever be made to feel their feelings are invalid or wrong.  We have a right to not participate in holiday cheer.  There is a difference between feeling offended and feeling uncomfortable.  I only ask that if any person dislikes holiday cheer and holiday greetings, he should not be a jerk about it.  One can be gracious and still express his feelings. 

I generally avoid the entire trap by not saying anything to anyone in general.  I don't go around giving people holiday greetings, especially if I don't know if they celebrate a holiday or not and which holiday they celebrate.  If it's not Christmas day, I won't say "Merry Christmas" to someone who hasn't said it to me first. I certainly would never say it to someone whose religion I didn't know or who wasn't directly celebrating Christmas with me.  If you give me a greeting first, I will give you a greeting in return, but in my daily life I don't share holiday greetings with strangers or short acquaintances.

Quite frankly, it seems to me that the War on Christmas brigade are the ones who are the most obnoxious.  It's not the non-Christians who are going around insisting the world bend to some "politically correct" (how I hate that term) standard.  It's the self-righteous Christmas people who demand the world wish them "Merry Christmas" and obnoxiously state that they won't ever say anything else - others' feelings are not important.  I would rather someone not give me a holiday greeting at all than give me a greeting with attitude.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Getting My Fitness Back - Begin Phase 1

I almost titled this post, "Getting My Body Back," but I realized it's not a good post title.

I didn't lose my body.  The body I have spent the last (number deleted) years living in is still here, where it has always been.  I can't even say I want a previous version of my body back.  That is not quite right.  My body is always changing.  I may not be able to make it look the way it did two years ago.  That time is passed.  My body will be what it's going to be.  As I have learned so painfully in the past year, there are going to be times when I have limited control over how I look and feel.

I know these paragraphs have nothing to do with the main subject of this post.  I wanted to say it anyway, because I realize I'm not the only woman who has referred to a change in diet and exercise, hoping to slim down, as "Getting my body back."  In other words, women often feel the body they currently inhabit is somehow not the correct one.  We feel we can and should revert to some earlier version of our bodies - ones that never had an injury, or experienced a pregnancy, or suffered from an eating disorder, or even went through puberty.  We can't do this.  We can only move our bodies forward.  We take care of them the best we can and we concentrate on what we can do to make them stronger and healthier (not necessarily thinner) in the future.  From here on out, I will not talk about getting my body back, but getting my fitness back, and moving my body forward both figuratively and literally.

As many of my previous posts have stated, I never thought it would take this long to recover from everything that happened last year.  I imagined I would be back to the weight room, and back to the barn, and back to the dance and Zumba studios by spring.  I couldn't imagine gaining more than 10 pounds.

That's not how life works.  My body decided how long it was going to take to heal from both the hip surgery and the elbow tendinitis.  At least I can say I am old enough and wise enough to allow that to happen instead of rushing things along and causing further injury.  I used to wonder what it was going to be like on the other side of recovery.  Now I know.  It's not pretty.  It's not close to where I want to be.  I still have to deal with it and do the best I can with what I have.

I also can't blame injury and my body's slowness to heal entirely for the shape I'm in today.  I let myself go.  I had strong eating habits two years ago.  I have become lax in my food choices since then.  I have eaten too much food and made too many unhealthful choices.  Although I rarely admitted it, I saw my period of convalescence as a vacation from good food choices.  I think I believed I could just fix everything once I was able to work out regularly again.  When I first had surgery, my appetite had decreased somewhat because I think my body was wise enough to know it didn't need as much food to function anymore.  I let my love of good food and the desire to keep eating it override that sense of physical satiation.

Although it has been a year since my surgery, I still have twinges in my hip.  I also can't seem to turn that last corner with my elbow.  Still, as I know I am on the mend, I really want to start with more serious exercise and better nutrition habits.  The question was what method I would use to become as strong as I used to be.  What nutrition program did I want to adopt?

My first thought was that I should do another year of Lean Eating.  I was so sure I should do that again, I put myself on the presale list for 2016.  I started to rethink that decision.  My reasoning was that by January I was sure to feel better, so I might as well start my fitness program in the new year.  Then I wondered what would happen if I felt better prior to January.  If I were pain-free in December, would I continue with poor habits in  December, believing I could "fix" it in January?  I had a strong feeling I would do just that.

Also, while LE worked well for me, there were aspects I didn't enjoy.  The program is very self-promotional.  They don't want those professional photo shoots to make you feel better about yourself.  They want slick photos to use for their marketing. They also make it sound as if your coaching group is a small team.  Your coach is working with another 200 women.  It's not as personalized as it seems (although I will give my coach credit for the effort she made).    Let us not forget that main drawback of LE  It's expensive.  Did I want to shell out another $1500?  Getting it back in prize money would be quite a long shot.  They don't issue prizes just for sticking to the program.  They choose finalists who have extraordinary results.  I don't lose weight easily.  I will never have extraordinary results.

I know what Lean Eating entails.  It requires several phases of weight training ranging from 4-6 weeks along with new nutritional habits every two weeks.  I know what the main habits are.  They still hang on my refrigerator.  Many of the same habits are part of The Habit Project, which I did earlier this year.

As for finding the right exercise program, I first considered dusting off my copy of The New Rules of Lifting For Women.  It is a seven-phase weight training program.  I was using it post-LE to make sure I maintained a good training program.  I made it to Phase 6 before I had my surgery.

Unfortunately my elbow, while better, is slow to heal entirely. I wasn't sure is I would be able to grip and lift significant weight.  What if I started now with a light program while my elbow recovers, and then switch to NROLFW when I truly felt able to lift heavy again?   Then I could combine the nutrition habits of the former programs in conjunction with the the new weight programs?

I was channel surfing while on the bike at the gym when I came across this infomercial

PiYo uses no weights (so I don't have to deal with pain from gripping or pulling), is low impact (easy on my bad knee), and is geared toward women (so everything is light with no serious upper body work).  It would also be a major change from what I have been doing for the past 10 months and I think my body needs to be shaken up a bit.  My hope was that by the time I finished the 60 day program, my elbow will be pain free and I will be ready for some serious weight lifting.

I almost want to make fun of myself for for doing something associated with Pilates.  I generally make fun of Pilates as a useless exercise unless you're a true beginner with weight work.  My muscles are probably in the beginner stage right now, so maybe it's not so useless.  Besides, there is no longer a patent on the term Pilates.  Anyone can call anything Pilates these days.  PiYo didn't look like your typical, boring, lie-on-your-back-and-circle-your-legs-in-the-air-and-consider-it-magical kind of Pilates class.

I had a good plan together, but I realized that it lacks the one thing the LE (and Weight Watchers and every other pay-to-lose diet program) offers - accountability.  When I was on LE, I had to give weekly weights and measurements, quarterly bodyfat checks, daily habit and workout check-ins, and monthly photos.  I had someone to answer to.  If I failed to keep up, my coach would check in with me.  Paying the money for the program, knowing that I wouldn't receive a refund just for deciding I didn't want to do it anymore, gave me the motivation as well.  I didn't want to throw money out the window (plus I had the chance to win prize money).

In the end, I decided I still don't want to pay.  I will do this on my own.  I have spent enough years trying to get in better shape that I have the tools to do what needs to be done.  I just need to do it.

So my plan is that I will be accountable to this blog.  I will record stats here.  I will trust that there are some people out there reading it.  If I don't keep up with my program, anyone who reads this blog will know I failed  I want people to cheer me on, not be let down (or experience schadenfreude at my failure).  If I believe I'm being watched, I'll be motivated to keep up.

The PiYo program is 60 days long.  I will report in at the end of the first 30 days.  I will do a nutrition habit for 30 days.  Once I finish that workout I will move on to The NROLFW (if I am able).  It is split into 7 phases that are 4-6 weeks long.  For each phase, I will do one or two nutrition habits.  For example, the first phase is 6 weeks, so I will do one nutrition habit the first 3 weeks and the second for the next 3 weeks.  For a 4-week habit, I will do a nutrition habit for 2 weeks, unless I feel it needs more attention, so I will do that habit for the full 4 weeks.

My check in will consist of weight, measurements and photos that I will post on the blog.  Weekly is too much blogging and too much measuring. I will periodically dust off the calipers and take bodyfat measurements (as long as I can find the mind-bending and  baroque calculation methodology)  I want this to be about how well I do the work, not just about the numbers.  On a daily basis I will track for myself if I did the habit.  I will post my success percentage on the blog post as well.

Here is my plan going forward.  With the extra weeks in this phase I am giving more time to what Lean Eating calls "anchor habits".  These are the ones that help you focus in on how you eat rather than what you eat.  They are what creates built-in portion control.

Phase 1

Nutrition habit 1 (first 30 days) - Eat slowly

Exercise Plan:  Piyo workouts according to the programs calendar.  The Piyo schedule has your starting on a Monday and makes Friday a day off.   I will be starting on a Sunday and making Saturday my day off (I will still be riding that day).  My rotation of workouts will be exactly what is prescribed on the PiYo calendar.  I will still be riding on Sunday as well as Saturday and dancing on Monday.  I will be taking these next two months off from working at the gym, but I will get some workout variety in from riding and dance.

So here comes the part that's toughest to record - the stats.  Where am I starting?  What do I look like?

Weight: 151.8 (YIKES!  I've never been this heavy before)
Waist: 32.25
Hips: 42
Thigh: 25
Arm: 13.25
Bust: 38.5
Bodyfat:65% *

How do I look?  Not too good at the moment.  Let's see how I look a month from now.

See you in a month!

*Accounting for caliper margin of error.  I may be was overestimating or underestimating skinfolds and readings, but the point is to see if I can make this number go down.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Another Long-Winded Trip Post: Cruising Italy, Etc.

The world is a book.  Those who never travel read only one page
 - Quote on the wrapper of the chocolate placed on my bed in the evening

After nearly a year of anticipation, the Mediterranean cruise has happened and is now just a memory.  It was a special one, and I am grateful to my family for giving me this unique opportunity.  To preserve the memories, I am writing about it in my blog, as I do for every vacation, and I hope that some of my readers will enjoy sharing them with me.

Day 1+ - Kevin and I packed our bags on Saturday morning and  Saturday afternoon we hopped in our taxi to head to the airport and begin our adventure.  We met Dad and Beth at JFK so we could all check in together. Most of our flight was uneventful, but we did have some incidents at the airport.

Dad and Beth have enough frequent flier miles to fly business class.  They wanted us to stay with them in the business class lounge prior to the flight.  We were happy to do that.  They asked at the check-in counter if this was possible.  The clerks behind the counter began a flurry of activity, looking information up on the computers and even asking Dad for his credit card.  After what must have been 10 minutes busywork, they told us to go ahead.

We arrived at the business class lounge where the woman behind the desk asked for our boarding passes.  Dad and Beth showed theirs, but when Kevin showed his, she said he only had a coach class ticket.  Dad and Beth told her about everything we had just gone through at the check in desk to get us in.  The woman behind the desk said they did not have the power to allow someone in the business class lounge and that she was the one who would allow or not allow someone in the lounge.  She did let us in, so all's well that ends well.

Not so well for the start of the trip was losing Beth's wheelchair!

Our flight passed with no further events (and the help of some Ambien) and we landed in Rome.  We had representatives from the ship waiting for us to take our luggage and get us on the bus to the pier.  We made it to Civitavecchia in good time and were ready to board.

Embarkation was the fastest I have ever experienced on a cruise ship.  I suppose that's because the Mariner is a much smaller ship than I have been on in the past.  Still, you don't just walk on the ship and find Julie McCoy is there with a clipboard directing you to your cabin.

We could not get into our suite right away, so we ate lunch, took a tour of the ship, and went for a swim.  I was smart enough to pack a change of clothes and a bathing suit in my carryon bag.  We were finally able to go into our suite and have our luggage delivered before the muster drill.

Our suite was big, but it was still one of the cheap seats, so it wasn't as big as some.  We had a bathroom with a tub, a huge walk-in closet, a separate seating area (divided by a curtain), and a decent balcony.  There was also a bottle of champagne waiting for us.

We had a visit from our cabin steward who showed us all the features of our room.  We were spoiled to death on this trip.  No matter where we went, we never wanted for anything.  Regent has some topnotch service!

After the muster drill we returned to our room and the ship began to pull away from the dock.  Kevin and I thought it would be nice to have a pre-dinner drink in the Observation Lounge, which is a bar on the fore end of the top deck and has a beautiful panoramic view.  We asked Erik and Janeth to join us, but they had trouble rousing the kids from their suite.  While we were there, we met Libby and Mike, a very nice couple from Australia.

We had reservations that night for the ship's steakhouse, so we met the family at 7 for dinner and had a celebratory first meal aboard.  Our adventure was underway.

Day 2 - There is nothing like waking up in the morning to stand on your balcony and watch the ship arrive at your new destination.  Arriving in Sorrento was no different.  My morning was not very leisurely though.  First, I woke up way before Kevin did.  I walked out on the balcony to enjoy the view and closed the door behind me.  To my horror it was locked.  I couldn't get back in the room.  I had to knock on the door and wake Kevin up to open the door for me. He let me back into the room so I could get to the gym when it opened at 7.  I squished in a workout and returned to our suite for a room service breakfast.  We had to be ready to meet our tour to Pompeii by 8.

All tours met in the ship's main theater and then we had to exchange the tour tickets in our room with bus and tender tickets.  We met up with Erik's family who were coming on the tour with us.  After exchanging our tickets, we had to wait until our group number was called to board the tender.  The wait wasn't tortuously long, so soon we were on our tender and on our way to the mainland of Sorrento.

When we first met our guide Roberto, he was rather brusque.  He hurried us on to the bus impatiently and I hoped he wouldn't be like this for the entire trip.  Once our group was all on the bus and everyone relaxed, his real personality came out.  Roberto was 80 years old (and it seems we share a birthday) and still spry.  He was very entertaining.  He now lives in Naples, but made a point of saying he is Sicilian - complete with Mafia jokes.  He did a wonderful job of taking us through the ruins.

The roads in Sorrento were not made for buses.  They are very tight and winding.  Every time our driver went around a corner, he had to honk the horn to warn drivers on the other side.  There were even scrapes on the sides of the buildings where vehicles rubbed against them.  Roberto said the lines in the  middle of the street are only suggestions for what side to drive on.  Sorrento would only scratch the surface for the types of roads we would experience on our trip.

My only complaint about the trip was that he used radios to talk to us on the tour.  Our listening devices had just a single earbud.  I can't wear earbuds.  My ear is just too small to fit one in, so I was constantly having to either stand right behind Roberto to hear him speak live, or else walk around holding the earpiece up to my ear.

Most of what one sees in Pompeii is buildings and frescoes.  There are few artifacts or casts of bodies.  These have mostly been moved to prevent looting. 

It was a scorching hot day and the ruins were crowded.  Our family managed to get through it with no issues.  It was rough on the kids though.

After Pompeii we returned to Sorrento and went to a shop that sold handmade inlaid furniture.  We received a lecture on how inlay work is done.  The guide was rather rushed in her descriptions as she showed us the tools they craftsmen use.  I would have loved an actual demo rather than a talk.  There was some beautiful furniture in the store though.  I would loved to have had an excuse to buy some, but I don't have the space for more furniture or tschotkes.  The store also sold lovely textiles and ceramics.

We had some free time in Sorrento after that and we also had the option to stay even longer than the tour allowed and take the cruise shuttle back to the ship.  We opted for the latter.  I would have liked to explore Sorrento more, but the kids were really tired, so we just stopped for lunch at a place Roberto recommended.  I had some pretty good pizza.

We returned to the ship in the late afternoon and spent some time at the pool (always spend time at the pool).  In the early evening there was a "meet your neighbor" party in the hallways.  You brought a glass from your room into the hall and the stewards came down the hall and poured wine and served canapes.  Then the captain and cruise director came through the hallways shaking hands.

 Dad wanted to avoid all of this, so he had us meet up in the Observation Lounge before dinner. 

Another great day down.  What does Day 2 in Taormina promise?

Day 3 - The ship pulled into Taormina at a much more reasonable hour, so Kevin and I had time to eat breakfast in the buffet instead of rushing through room service.  As per usual, I watched us pull into port from my balcony. I found it interesting just how mountainous the island is.  The cliffs are so steep that very little of Sicily seems habitable.  The towns were all concentrated on the coastline and occasionally on flat rises above the coast.

We boarded another tender after breakfast with Erik, Janeth, the kids, and Dad.  In Taormina we met our guide Angelo.  He had the most interesting accent.  He spoke with very slow and careful enunciation and his accent almost veered into British at times.  It turns out he was a retired English teacher.  That would explain the English accent.

Our walking tour was a bit hurried.  We rushed up the Corso Umberto with almost no stopping (although with plenty of narration).

When we reached the Greco-Roman theater (Mt. Etna steams in the background), he slowed down and explained everything about the theater's history and construction.

The theater was originally built into the hillside by the Greeks for theatrical performances.  The Romans rebuilt it more for gladiatorial purposes.  The walls remaining are Roman.  You can tell because they are made of bricks and mortar.  This is purely Roman technology.

Since our time in town was so hurried, we were eager to spend more time there after the tour.  We strolled through the shops at a more leisurely pace and had a lovely lunch in a restaurant on a side street (food blog post will come eventually).  I did more shopping here than in any other destination.  I bought a lovely ceramic platter and a lot of limoncello.

We also explored 3 local churches.  Each one was different and seemed to correspond with the different countries that had once occupied the island.  The first church we visited was small and simple.  Its most distinctive feature was a pair of paintings at the back of the church.  In a church that looked sparse and Medieval, the paintings were new and quite modern in style.  It's as if the church administration had an artist friend it wanted to promote.  The second church had ornate floral carvings that seemed to suggest a German influence.  The third one was much more in line with what you expect from an Italian cathedral in terms of artwork.

We stopped for gelato and returned to the ship.

On our way back, we saw such an impressive array of fresh produce growing everywhere.  We could be in the most crowded, poorest areas of the city and there would still be small farms growing fruits and vegetables. 

Day 4 - Our ship didn't anchor in Zakynthos until Midday.  That gave us the first truly leisurely morning.  We tried to eat a late breakfast and headed to the buffet at 10:30, only to be told it was closed.  Had we waited another half hour, it would have been open for lunch and we could have enjoyed an early lunch of Greek barbecue, but instead we went to the Coffee Connection, which offered an unsatisfactory cold buffet.

Zakynthos is the largest of the Ionian islands and like Sicily, is made of towering limestone cliffs.  The architecture and lush vegetation made me think more of Italy than of what I typically think of when I think of Greek islands.

The ship didn't offer any good tours in Zakynthos, so I arranged a local tour privately.  The ship was accommodating about making sure we could leave the ship on one of the first tenders.  We met our guide Jackie at the dock and were ready for our next adventure.

The tour was meant to be a boat ride to the island's famous Shipwreck Beach and then around the Blue Caves.  Whatever time was left we could use to tour the area or have something to eat.  All 8 of us went on the tour, but we weren't sure if Beth could handle the boat ride.  Our main concern would be if she could get on the boat.  Jackie had said that at the dock they could pull the boat up close and level so it would be easy for her to step in.  Unfortunately, due to choppy water, they had to pull the boat up to another dock.  Dad had to take her wheelchair down a long hill to get to the dock and once we reached the boat, there were steps.  We realized getting her on the boat wouldn't work.  Jackie had agreed earlier to take them on a land tour if she couldn't handle the boat while the rest of us did the cruise.  I just felt bad for Dad having to push her wheelchair back up the hill!

Our boat took us past the beautiful limestone cliffs and rock formations in the blue water until we reached Shipwreck Beach.

We had an hour at the beach.  It was an interesting beach.  The shipwreck happened in the 80s when a ship carrying contraband cigarettes and liquor (and marijuana they say) washed up on a small strip of sand.  The captain was arrested and the locals partied on the cargo for years.  The beach formed around the ship.

Like every other beach in the region, it is rocky and not sandy (if you find a sandy beach, the sand was likely imported from elsewhere).  The stones ranged from sandier small pebbles to cobbles to small boulders.  You never know what you might step on when you walk out into the water.  The water also becomes deep quickly.  The slope of the shoreline is pretty steep.  On the good side the water is clear and the surf is almost nonexistent.  My biggest issue with the beach is that two huge boats had tied up there and took up much of the swimming space.

We all enjoyed swimming for a while until our boat came back for us.  He took us along the cliffsides where the Blue Caves were carved out.

The formations were beautiful and the water was so clear.  It could not have been less than 20 feet deep, but we could see straight down to the bottom.

At the final cave, the captain stopped the boat so we could all get out and swim again.  It was one of the Top 5 Swimming Experiences of my entire life.

Back on dry land we met back up with Jackie and the van.  As we drove along the island roads, she told us many entertaining stories about the island history and Greek mythology (especially the ways that Greek mythology related to the island's features).  What impressed me the most was how much fresh food was produced on the island.  There were olive trees and beehives and citrus trees everywhere.  Farm stands sold the goods right next to the farms.  At one point I saw a field of watermelons and right down the street there was a watermelon stand.  Seeing all this fresh food really made me want to eat better.

Jackie took us to a taverna for a late lunch.  During the meal she had a friend play the guitar and the two of them sang a few Greek and Zakynthian folk songs for us.  She also gave us one last photo opp at a lookout point for Shipwreck Beach.
Reluctantly we went to the dock and boarded the tender back to the ship.  It was a good day.

Back on the ship we ate a late room service dinner (and finally drank the bottle of champagne in our room) and then headed to karaoke night.  They had a pretty lame selection of songs, but I managed to find a few decent tunes (I had to sing the Debbie Gibson version of Cabaret.  Yes, it's as bad as it sounds).  I am no great singer, but I love karaoke bars.  Normally when I perform in theater, I'm surrounded by people with 10 times more talent than I have.  When I'm singing with a bunch of off-key drunks, I'm a star!

Day 5 - Our ship arrived early in Corfu.  This time we docked instead of anchored, so there was less rush to get on a tender.
Once again, the ship didn't offer much in the way of shore excursions, so I booked a private tour.  We were able to just walk off the ship and meet our guide Eleni right at the port.

Since I booked the tour, it had my name on it.

Eleni took us to the Achilleon Palace, named for its statues of Achilles, both as a warrior, and dying as he pulls the dart from his foot.  The palace was built as a summer home for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria and is Corfu's main tourist attractions.  It has beautiful artwork, gardens, and views.

Next we headed to the monastery at Paelokastritsa.  This is still a functioning monastery and the gardens and views are gorgeous.  We had to abide by the dress code.  As members of our party were wearing too-short shorts and sleeveless tops, they gave us shawls and skirts to cover ourselves (my bermudas were an acceptable length, but I did have to wear the shawl, which was so pretty I wanted to keep it). It had beautiful gardens as well as a very interesting historic church.  We also saw some other artifacts such as an ancient olive press. 

The best part was tasting the local kumquat liqueur!

Eleni took us to a cliffside restaurant for lunch and a view.  The lunch was one of the best meals of my trip. (Food blog post will be up eventually with more details on cruise food.)

Finally we walked a bit through Corfu town, looking at some of the old palaces and fortifications.

Dad tripped over a rock (like a loose paving stone) crossing the street and hurt his ankle pretty badly.  It was unpleasant for him, but it did give me some warm fuzzies about the people of Corfu.  One elderly woman came up to him and began frantically chatting in Greek about whether or not he was okay.  She even gave him a blessing.  Then she came back a few minutes later to check on him.  A server from a restaurant across the square came over with a bag of ice!  Now that's a town with nice people.  You would never see that in NY.

We couldn't stay in Corfu forever (I might have liked another day to spend at one of their beautiful beaches though).  We were back to the ship at the end of the day.

I had eaten so much at lunch that I couldn't even think about dinner.  I stayed behind and did laundry.  Ship had free guest laundry including detergent.

Day 6 -The ship zigzagged a bit and we were back in Italy.  This time we docked in Bari.  When the ship first approached Bari, I wasn't impressed.  Bari has an Old Town and a New Town and the new town is what is visible from the water.  It looks like any big city.  You need to actually go into Bari and explore it to see its charm.

We went on a ship excursion this time.  We met our Guide Clara at the dock.  For a long time I kept thinking she looked familiar.  I thought she reminded me of someone I knew.  Then I realized that I grew up in the town of Harrison, NY, where a good chunk of the population hails from southern Italian heritage.  Clara just looked like half the girls in my high school.  She was almost as short as I am, so I had to spend the tour sticking close to her in order to follow her.  Otherwise I could have potentially lost her among the much taller members of the group. She was also quite young and her English was not nearly as good as some of our previous guides.  She was correct, but hesitant.  You could tell she was trying to remember the right words sometimes.

First the bus drove around the New Town.  We went along the Corso Vittore Emmanule, which was like a smaller, cleaner 5th Avenue.  Then we left the bus and had a walking tour through Old Town.  This area is much more like Sicily and Venice.  It's a complicated network of narrow streets and charming old buildings.

As with Corfu, it also had fortifications and lookout towers along the water.

We walked down a small alley where we saw many women sitting outside their homes making orechiette pasta.  It is fascinating to watch them.  They work so fast.  We stopped and chatted with a mother and daughter who were making a huge batch.  The mother rolled and kneaded the dough, while the daughter cut the pasta.  She rolled the dough into a snake, cut of a small piece, and quickly rolled it into a round shape.  She had a tool that was a knife on one end and a roller on the other.  She moved so fast I could barely see how she used it.  They assured us they make it to sell and don't eat it all (with Clara as a translator).  My response was, "Voglio mangiare tutti," (I want to eat it all).  The daughter was tickled by my statement and my Italian and joked that her desire to eat much of it was the reason why she was a bit plump.

Next we visited the two main churches in Bari.  The first was San Sabino.  The remarkable aspect of San Sabino is that it is two churches in one.  The upper church is a simple Romanesque design, but there is a lower church that is elaborate baroque.

Finally we visited the cathedral of the patron saint of Bari, St. Nicholas.  The church housed his remains that had been stolen from Turkey by sailors.  These "heroic" men have their names carved on the front of the church.

The romanesque style of the church is simple and very similar to that of St. Sabino, but the ceiling is magnificent.

In the crypt we saw St. Nick's tomb and icon.

Upstairs was the ceremonial statue used for parades on religious holidays.  St. Nicholas is always shown with 3 balls as he is the patron saint of unmarried women.  He provided dowries for 3 poor single women in his day.  We all joked that with the 3 balls he must also be the patron saint of pawnbrokers.

After the churches Clara walked us through the main square that separate Old Town from New Town with its ancient clock tower on the old city hall and the old pillory.

We had some free time after our tour.  We didn't stay too long and left with the tour to return to the ship.  Kevin did want to do some shopping on the Corso Vittore Emmanule though.  He was looking for some nice shirts and shoes.  He saw a shirt in the window of one shop and we went in.  We didn't see it on the shelves and a sales person came up to help us.  Unfortunately, her English was worse than my Italian.

"C'e' una camicia nella finestra.  E` blu con bianche..." (Make finger motions to indicate polka dots)

She understood me and found the shirt.  We had some fun trying to assess his size.  She wouldn't let him try anything on.  She kept saying "Eslim" "Non eslim."  It took me a while to figure out she was using the English word "slim" to describe the cut and that she was saying, "E` slim."  At the end she complimented me on my Italian and even asked what country I'm from.  I was shocked.  I thought all Europeans know an American when they see one.

Back at the ship we had a light lunch and then headed to afternoon tea.  After tea they had a Teatime Trivia contest.  Kevin and I did pretty well.  We were one of the second place finishers.

Day 7 - We zigzagged across the Adriatic again and headed to Montenegro (Latin for Black Mountain, but the residents call it Black Mountain in the unpronounceable local language).  Our ship pulled into the bay slowly, giving us a beautiful view of the mountains and villages.  It looked like the landscape of a fairytale.  A dolphin even followed the ship for a few moments. I was really looking forward to exploring on land.

We were taking a "highlights" bus tour.  We started on the bus with our guide Iva.  I think Iva could probably persuade anyone to want to live in Montenegro.  She was outspoken and funny and explained that people in Montenegro are very laid back and enjoy a sense of humor.  It's a very casual lifestyle ("Rise and shine - it's noon!").

The trip was mostly on the road - but what a road it was!  We went up the old mountain road.  This was built in the days before cars.  Now it is used mainly by tourists for the experience.  It contains 25 hairpin turns.  Each turn is numbered so you know how many more you have to endure.

If we felt apprehensive at all, Iva kept us calm with her stories and her humor.  She really made Montenegro sound like a great place to live.  People are happy, they drink often (but never drink and drive), they take a casual relaxed attitude toward life, and unemployment is quite low.  They also are very invested in the local economy and culture (they don't import food for example) and care about the environment (there is oil in the bay, but they won't drill for it).

The road is sometimes called the religious road or the holy road because people often exclaim, "Oh God!" while ascending or also, "Holy Cow" or "Holy Mackerel" (Iva said she heard "holy" other things, but she didn't want to repeat them).

We ended up in a small village where we stopped for a snack of a sandwich of local cheese and prosciutto as well as local wine and liquor.  We could try the local Black Stallion wine or the local firewater called rakija.  I tried the latter.  I think it was the strongest liquor I ever drank.

There was a lot of power in this little cup.

We did a little shopping in the local flea market right outside the restaurant.  I had an interesting moment in the market.  The market sold local (or items made in China and passed off as local) products and crafts.  I had been admiring many of the textiles I had seen in the various ports and wanted to buy one of the beautiful embroidered tablecloths that were common in local shops.  I found a vendor in the Montenegro market that had the perfect one.  She didn't speak English, so she just pulled out a calculator and told me it was 50 Euros.  I had exactly 50 on me, but I only had 40 within easy reach, so I gave that to her.  As I dug through my bag for the remaining 10 (I kept my credit cards and varying amounts of cash in different places in my bag in case of pickpockets), Kevin informed me that he had no small change on him, so he needed my small bills for tipping the guide.  I tried to tell the vendor that I didn't have 50 Euros.  She tried to make it 45.  Again, I told her I didn't have it.  I tried to take my 40 back and just give her back the tablecloth and end the deal.  She made it clear she was not going to let go of my 40.  She held it tightly.  Finally she let me have the tablecloth for 40.  I'm not a haggler, but I guess I can be happy I got a discount.

After the village, we headed to a lookout point.  I wish it hadn't been so hazy.

From there we visited the town of Centinje.  There is a palace here that housed the last king and queen of Montenegro.  As palaces go, it was small.  I was reminded more of the mansions along the Hudson River rather than the towering castles of Europe.  We did go inside and got some more history of the royal family.

We went inside the museum, but I didn't have any good pictures.  It was lovely, as one would expect such a place to be.  I was most impressed with the dining room as so much of the tableware (plates and serving pieces) were on display and all of it was stunning.

After that we were able to take a look around and see the church where the king and queen were buried (didn't go inside) and the local monastery (that is still operational as a monastery).

We returned to the port city of Kotor for a brief walk and lecture.  We didn't see much else.  We saw the main city church (9th Century), but didn't go inside.  I would loved to have climbed the fortification wall that goes all the way up the mountain, but I didn't have time.  The ship was sailing early.

Day 8 - We arrive in Zadar, Croatia for what would be our most disappointing day.  We booked our tour initially to visit Krka National Park.  It's famous for its waterfalls, but also has abundant wildlife.  Then we found out that we could have the same tour with a side trip of a cruise to a small historic town of Skradin after spending time in the park.  I was up for seeing more than just the park, so I signed up for that tour.  That was the first mistake.

The tour was badly planned and logistically awkward.  We arrived in the park and had to have our passes checked by rangers.  Finally we entered.  As soon as we entered we had a bathroom break and about 15 minutes to photograph the waterfalls before boarding the boat.  The boat was delayed a good half hour or so due to one member of our tour group having some kind of medical emergency. 

We took the boat to Skradin where we were brought to a restaurant for lunch.  If I wanted to walk around a cute town and eat lunch, I would have stayed in Zadar.  Lunch was way too leisurely.

When everyone was finished with lunch two hours later, we took the bus back to the park and ended up exactly where we started.  Our guide (whose name I never really caught) gave us a 45-minute walk around a boardwalk trail with no real nature narration.  (He pointed out some signs describing the flora and fauna of the park.)  After that we had about 40 minutes to go swimming in the waterfalls.  I had less than that because I wasn't wearing my suit and needed to take a long walk to the bathroom to change (and it was a pay toilet where I had to have an attendant change a 10 Euro bill and then exchange 3 Euros for the local currency.

It was a nice swim.  I would have liked a longer one.

A better option would have been a guided walk followed by free time in the park to explore and then swim, or just explore if swimming isn't your thing.  A cruise at the end would have been a nice way to end the day.

We headed right back to the ship and didn't bother to explore Zadar at all.  I went to another karaoke night later that night.

Day 9 - Our trip to Koper, Slovenia was a second choice.  We wanted to visit the Lipizzaner Stud Farm, but the tour was canceled.  We decided to join Erik and the gang for a hop-on/hop off bus tour.  The trip was called "Hop and Taste" and we had vouchers for food in each of the 3 towns we visited.  Our guide Jan was fun and very helpful with explaining how the tour worked.

Slovenia is a very wealthy country and rather small. It's a definite resort kind of area.  People seem almost more laid-back than they are in Montenegro, but they aren't as nice.  Schadenfreude seems to be a national pastime.  They have a saying, "When the neighbor's cow dies, we dance."  If your neighbors envy your fancy new car too much, don't be surprised to find it keyed.  I guess they have a sense of humor though.  We drove past a beach where I saw a guy selling those silly umbrella hats.  Who really ever wears those?  Who wore them back in the 70s?

We started in the village of Piran.  We spent a fair amount of time exploring this pretty little town and sampled both some local fish and local ice cream.  (Well, I didn't have the fish.)

We boarded the bus again and went to the town of Isola.  Charles was hungry and we had a voucher in this town for calamari and beer.  Calamari is one of the few foods Charles eats, so we decided to find the restaurant that was giving this stuff away.  It turned out to be a long walk.  We spent most of our time in Isola trying to find this place.  I was a little sorry I didn't see more of the town, but I guess that's what happens on a cruise.

Our final town was Portoroz.  We had vouchers for wine, but we decided we would rather just hit the beach.  We spent all our remaining time swimming.

It's an interesting "beach".  Like many beaches in the area, the sand at the water's edge is brought in.  The shallow end is like a regular beach, but you have to swim past a constant wash up of sea grass.  There are long piers jutting far out into the water.  You can enter the water from ladders (and there is a platform at the end to jump or dive) into the deep end from the piers.  I spent a lot of time in the deep end.  There was way less debris there.

We returned to the port city of Koper and explored it a bit.  We saw the Praetorian palace (didn't enter) and the Cathedral and decided to climb the bell tower for the view.

We returned to the ship for a quiet night.  A big day was coming.

Day 10 - Our ship approached Venice with a perfect view of St. Mark's square.  We were serenaded by church bells as we sailed past.

The ship docked and we met our tour.  We had to ride a boat out to meet our guide.  We had another guide on the boat who talked about the area on the water during the ride.  Unfortunately Kevin and I had the rudest people sitting behind us.  It was an American family made up of a parents, a son, and a daughter.  The mother and daughter were obnoxious.  They were very inappropriately dressed (the daughter wore butt-cheek-revealing shorts even though the ship's excursion guide warns passenger about local dress codes for public buildings) and would not stop loudly talking.  That meant we missed a bit of the lecture about how to use public transportation to return to the ship if we chose not to return with the tour.  Kevin and I spotted an empty bench farther away from them and moved.

We met our guide, Mirco, and began our walking tour.  This tour was meant to take the group away from the main crowds at St. Mark's.  It's a good idea to do this sort of thing with a guide because it's easy to get lost in Venice.  We viewed the Rialto Bridge and a few other historic sites.  Instead of St. Mark's we went to the Frari (Friar's) Cathedral.  While it is not as ornate as St. Mark's, it is very beautiful and contains many important works of art by Titian and Bellini.  Mirco talked about the art work at length and it was a fascinating lecture.

We went to the Rialto Bridge as we learned more of the history of the city.  Unfortunately, it was undergoing restoration, so it was difficult to take a good photo.

For George Clooney fans, Mirco pointed out the site of Clooney's wedding and also pointed out a water taxi driver he claimed Clooney used for the wedding.

 After our walking tour we had some time to explore San Marco.  We didn't go inside.  The line looked 3 hours long.  We took pictures of the outside.

 We were also able to take pictures of the Bridge of Sighs.

We decided to stay in Venice after the tour was scheduled to return to the ship.  We had lunch and tried to find some of the fun stores we passed on the walking tour.  While watching a documentary on TV about the Murano glass factory I had seen a glass blower make a glass horse.  The documentary showed several glass horses for sale in the shop.  I was obsessed with finding a Murano glass horse of my own.   We found one in a shop and he was small, so he wasn't too expensive.

Our trip back to the boat was no picnic.  First we had to get on the bus (we could have walked, but it would have taken an hour). It was a slow trip.  Once we arrived at the cruise port stop, we were unsure how to find the ship.  The cruise port was not anywhere near.  It turned out we needed to take the "People mover" train and take a long walk from there.  We would have known that if the noisy family sitting behind us had shut up while the guide was talking.

We were only back on the ship for a short time before we turned around and headed back into Venice for one last tour.  Our families took a sunset gondola tour with a musical serenade.  It was a beautiful night and I could not think of a better way to end our tour.

Day 11 - Saddest day of all.  We had to disembark.  Fortunately the process was not too painful and we were off the ship with our luggage quickly.  We had several hours before the flight left, so the cruise line arranged a short tour in Treviso.

We had no guide in Treviso.  We were just escorted to the main square and told where the main sights were.  We started with exploring the cathedral.  It had a painting by Titian in it.

The more we explored Treviso, the more interesting stuff we found.  For example we saw this old excavated mosaic in a piazza.  It looks like the ones in Pompeii.

 There was plenty of interesting architecture.
Everywhere we went, we saw remnants of old frescoes.  There were arcades above the sidewalks on the main strip and if you looked up, you could see frescoes on the arches and ceilings on many of them.  I would love to know more of the history of this town.

The time came to meet the bus again and head to the airport.  Soon we were on the plane, in the air, and home once again.

I missed Chincoteague terribly this year, but I'm so happy to have had this opportunity to see so much of the world.  This was an unforgettable and beautiful trip and I was glad to be able to share it with so much of my family.