Trip to Puerto Rico

Ok, finalized a trip to Puerto Rico. We wanted to donate supplies while there, but can find nothing online about donations when visiting, so I am going with a trip to a local church and then dropping off kids toys and school supplies. Wish we had a real list of what is needed, so if you have suggestions, let us know. No China for now, but Puerto Rico and a Cruise while visiting.

Les Nomades, Chicago

Next year, we are going to try this restaurant out, but looks like reservations are required. We loved the feel, look and menu of this place. It is so close to our hotel, we could walk over. Date night idea 2020!

We would do the early menu and just splurge!

Mendenhall Glacier & Nugget Falls, Juneau Alaska

A bus ride from the cruise dock to Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls was only a few minutes from our Port. We had three choices when we arrived at our destination, check out the small museum movie and gift shop – walk over to the river to watch the salmon spawning, or a hike over to the Mendenhall Glacier & Nugget Falls. We choose to hike over, just over 20mins one way. We were really glad we did.

I must admit, on the hike over, I kept thinking we could be eaten by a bear. We had a saying – Bears don’t like surprises, so we talked while walking, nice and loud.

Smells like Heaven

The plaque says – Romeo, the spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.

End of Road, Juneau Alaska

On our tour in Juneau the bus driver told us about the one and only road that leads to no where in Juneau. The road only goes from one side of town to another, and connect to nothing, the only way in our out of Juneau (the capital of Alaska) is by boat or plane. He laughed when he told us, they always recover a stolen car, because there is no where to take it.

End of the Road 24 miles ahead, 36 total miles of road is all there is in Juneau, Alaska.

Whale Watching in Juneau, Alaska

Were in Juneau Alaska – On the excursion agenda – Whale Watching, with Allen Marine Tours – and guess what we saw …Whales, lots of them. First lets set the stage, they pick us up in a bus from the pier, and it is overcast and raining – a lot of rain. But when I see the boat I am excited, it is covered and at least we can stay inside. I am not a cold weather girl, so am dressed warm and ready for this.

Heading on to our ship for whale watching, lets Go!

Inside the boat it is warm and we are headed out to look for some whales…

Babe did you get that, nope missed it, but here is a great picture from my husband!

Yes, we saw this!
A whale tail. We were told if you see a whale tail, you are blessed with another year or two of life. Well we saw dozens of tails, so glad to live to 90!

There was a guarantee, if you do not see a whale you get back $100, no worries there, we saw lots of whales.

We also had a wonderful buffet dinner on the whale watching boat and it was all Alaska based locally made foods, we loved it!

A Yummy dinner of everything delicious from Alaska.
The Blueberry dessert was my Favorite, but David loved the Reindeer.
Honestly, I am falling in love with Alaska, and this was supposed to be a trip for David and me just tagging along. One day in and I am enjoying this A LOT!

From Tokyo to Seattle, Washington

This trip is just David and myself, our kids are back at home safe and sound. We flew to Seattle to travel to Alaska, but first stopped in Seattle for the beginning of our travels.

David and I have never been to Seattle, so we researched as we always do a TripAdvisor search, a WordPress search for blogs on the area and last – when we arrive, we ask as many locals about everything fun to do within a short period. We narrowed down our less than 24 hours in the area to a visit to:

1. Pikes Place Market

2. Space Needle

3. Chihuly Gardens

Straight off the plane, we head to our hotel – Seattle hotels are expensive ($230-300/nite) down town, but since we only have one day, we want to be where the action is and stay at the Motif Hotel (just purchased by Hyatt this very week). It is a clean and cool hotel. In fact the entire ride from the airport over in our Lyft, the town looks young and hip – we see many people walking around with dogs and lots of public art. Our first thought is – this town might be too cool for us – lol, so we will soak in the youth and try and learn a new trick or two.

Our view of Seattle coming in from the airport. We head straight from the hotel with an early check in to Pikes Market.

Pikes Public Market is a huge fish, art, collectibles, dining & farmers market – where you walk for what feels like miles up and down and lengths, both inside and outside. It is a wonderful sunny day – warm and perfect for walking. We are only 0.6 miles to the market from our hotel. As we approach the market we realize it is busy, really busy – but we love these types of out door/indoor markets. The first thing we see is….

There are flowers – huge long stalls of flowers. I want to buy some, the flowers are fresh and different from anything I have seen, and really well priced, but we are only in town for one day, so no flowers for us.

Walking around Pikes Place Market.

We buy a cup of hard pressed apple cider at a vendor. Then a BBQ Pork bun and pork meat stick at Mee-sum pastry – the lines were long at Mee-Sum, so that had to mean it was a good place, and it was the bun was fluffy and the BBQ pork stick was perfect.

We looked at so much – I will add in more pictures here as soon as David gets his together, we are in transit today so posting while moving can be hard, but nice to remember while still fresh.

Nakamise Shopping Street, Sensoji Temple – Asakusa, Tokyo Japan

Our family left the Confucious Temple and walked toward our goal of Nakamise Shopping street and Sensoji Temple. We heard this was a great tourist location, and we are tourists and want to shop.

Check out the serious number of little stores here – like a tourist shopping paradise!
We buy a lot of little gifts.
High five a statue, and head on over to the temple
Katrina, David and Sabrina posing in front of the Sensoji Temple Entrance.
David and Garion in front of the temple entrance

Lets go In!

Sometimes I stand in awe – thinking how lucky I am. During this trip it is probably my 100th time of just thinking how Blessed and lucky I am to be here with my family. Even when looking at these crazy demons in a temple. Inside the temple it is even more interesting things. I buy a health charm for my mom and say a quick prayer of safety and health for everyone in my family and the world and we walk around the grounds next. We see a Prayer/Fortune area, will check that out in the next post.

The Masked Dancer Dances Backward on Dance Dance Revolution Game – This video is Amazing! Sega Akihabara Tokyo Japan

While inside the SEGA Building in Akihabara Japan, after checking out the Crane Games and Virtual Reality and playing until we were almost out of money for the day, we saw this….. The Masked Dancer is what he calls himself. Look! HE IS DOING THIS BACKWARD!!! with a Mask on – he has memorized this Dance without even looking at it.

Backwards!

Forward is just as impressive!

I could watch this all Day!

Louvre

The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum and is in Paris, France. The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre Castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. The building was added onto many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV moved to the Palace of Versailles, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection.

360 degree view of the Louvre (outside).

We did not go inside, honestly we have been inside back in 2008 and we all agreed spending the day in a museum when there is so little time was not on our schedule.  So these are some pictures of our time at the Louve (out side) or above as the museum is below this area we are in.

Tip:  We have seen the Mona Lisa picture, it is inside the Louve, but surprisingly small and a very crowded exhibit.

Tip:  The entire Louvre area is a HIGH ALERT pic pocket area.  We use strap over shoulder purses, and money pouches to minimize loosing all our money.  In busy areas, the boys put there backpacks on the front side.

†

Garion being Garion

Next posts: Lock Bridge and Eiffel Tower

Hop on Hop Off Bus – Paris

Hop on Hop off bus

On the Hop On Hop Off Bus – Paris

You see them all over the place in the major tourist towns – Hop On, Hop Off Buses.  We love them.  This is probably our sixth time using a Hop on Hop off, but we have no favorite.

Tip:  Use the HopOn HopOff Bus service at the time and place you are in.

Tip:  Buy your tickets online (best your phone in hand) – it is always saves money and time.

We have checked into it from every way, waiting in line at the location, buying from the bus driver, buying online – the cheapest and quickest way is buying right off your phone.

We did learn something new this trip – buy the service you are standing in front of.  We bought one we saw driving by – but then could not figure out where the stop was – looking at a map on a website of stops and trying to find it was – ARGH!  After a 30 minute lesson of figuring out a stop and standing at several other service stops that we did not buy (3 services with three different stops location made a difficult morning for us).  Finally after a lot of back and forth and we were on our way.  Even with the bus service app downloaded we could not find the stop quickly.  Follow a bus, find the stop, buy the tickets.

TIP:  Get to the stop, buy your bus passes for the service at the stop – even if you miss that bus, another will be back shortly.  Trying to figure out even on a map from your phone exactly where a stop is at is much harder than you might think.  Follow a bus, Find a stop, then buy the tickets. 

Tip:  Sign up for PayPal prior to your trip, link it to a credit card – this will making buying things online so much quicker, and you won’t have to put in a credit card while standing on a street corner. Plus your safe if your account is compromised.

Notre Dame – still standing just like us!

Notre Dame is still standing – battered and in renovation, but she is still standing despite what we all thought was the end of her and the fire that was so devastating only just 2 months ago.

This month David and I will be married 3 years and together 5 years. We are winning against the odds of a second marriage succeeding. Our marriage and my life is testament that regardless of your current situation, you can fight hard, and win – in a big way. Our children are thriving and growing up surrounding by love and we are a family. Six years ago, my life was so different. I was in the middle of a divorce and thinking my life was over, I was fighting for my health, my finances, and my children. I was devastated and burnt down to my core. At the time I could have never predicted that point of my life was just the beginning of things to come. I still have to pinch myself to believe this is my life. I feel so blessed and grateful, it can be overwhelming.

Seeing the Grand Dame was also a memory of 2008, and my last visit to Paris with my parents and children. When we were there, we went to Palm Sunday Mass, which was crazy busy with mass mobs of people – in fact we were separated by the crushing crowds. I was just laughing about that with my parents last night – what wonderful memories of this trip, and the memories are still strong.  

Six years from now, I would love to visit Notre Dame and see her completely re-built, toast her and myself for both over coming against the odds.

Chinese Lantern Festival – Philadelphia, PA

At the end of our visit with our Son in Phily, PA, Brett had to head back to his job at Dover Air Force Base for a 6am Shift on Sunday. While we only had Friday and Saturday to be with Brett, the visit was wonderful and this left a date nite for us parents. We chose to visit the Chinese Lantern Festival -which was at Franklin Square, within walking distance from our rental apartment. The festival moves from town to town and is in downtown Philadelphia thru June 30, 2019. This website has more information: http://historicphiladelphia.org/

Walking into the Festival

The Festival has these Extreme oversized light sculptures, some that move and change colors. There is also food, alcohol, acrobats, snacks, vendors and these incredible visual explosion of color and showmanship of what looks like paper or silk lighted lantern art. I loved this and would recommend it with a 10 out of 10. The price was $20 each, and even though it rained the entire time, I did not even notice I was so memorized. Fun night, and my husband is wonderful company.

David with Angel Wings – he says – see I told you I was an angel
In front of the mouth of a dragon!
Panda Tree that Changed Colors, it was Magical!
As it became darker it was even more magical.

Henderson Castle – Kalamazoo, MI

Had a date weekend with my husband. We visited Henderson Castle for a dinner date, while you can stay at Henderson Castle, we did not. What a great date night. This is a little history of the castle: The Castle was built in 1888, by Frank Henderson. He was the owner and president of the Henderson-Ames Company which made uniform regalia for secret societies, fraternal organizations, and the military. I noticed many pictures through out the bar of Males in Church robes, Militia service outfits, and Fancy Pants outfits, the bartender explained a quick history lesson of the Castle and how these clothes were his handy work. The Queen Anne style house cost $72,ooo and was designed by C. A. Gombert of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The house has twenty five rooms, seven baths (one with a thirteen-head shower), an elevator, a third-floor ballroom.

Davids beard is looking a little shaggy in front of Henderson Castle.
Fancy Romaine Salad.
We had steak, which was really tasty, but $$$ – Good thing we had a Groupon.
Beautiful interior

Overall wonderful Nite, beautiful location and I heard they give tours and I would really have loved to do that, but they were scheduled. Not going to lie, service was slow, no one ever answered when we called or even called us back to confirm the reservation. But we did not care because we were enjoying each other and the conversation. Without the groupon – this would have been a very expensive meal. Would I go back, sure if I was willing to wait, and had another Groupon.

Y-12

20180417_072218As I am driving thru Oakridge, Tn – I see atomic symbols everywhere – so my interest is peaked.  Following signs to the Y-12 museum – I have to investigate what this unusual atomic symbol is with the name of Y-12.  I learn Y-12 is a national security complex tucked away and rarely heard and the small museum is a wealth of interest to a physicist and history buffs.

Y-12 itself is a National security complex with three primary national security missions that protect our country.  They maintain the US nuclear Stockpile, reduce global threats, and fuel the US Nuclear Navy.

The museum show cases instruments and stories of Radioactive history.  My favorite part of this museum is this newspaper article.  This is the site the Atomic Bomb was made!  For some reason… Manhattan Project, made me think the WW2 Bomb was made in NY, but nope, it was made here.

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A few more interesting pictures to share:

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A “Moon Box” manufacturered here at Y-12 that was used Moon lunar geological samples to Earth.

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Sample badges and ID for Y-12 workers, looks just like the badges I recall from Manhattan project workers, although these are just samples.

Interesting side trip for a Radioactive Geek Girl!

 

Cruise to Cuba

After weeks of looking for a trip that we could take together (no kids) during the time our youngest would be on spring break (and could go to his mothers) we finally found a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico – Grand Cayman  – and two days in Havana, Cuba.  It is a Holland America Cruise, smaller older ship.  But the cost total for seven days and a day before stay in Fort Lauderdale is under $2100.  We searched Travelzoo, Travelocity, Groupon, Cruise.com and finally found a trip that meets all our criteria.  Whew, a lot and I mean a lot of looking (months of looking) our deal was on Cruise.com, but cheaper directly thru the Holland America site (like $150 each cheaper).    Now just to dream and figure out excursions, hopefully loose a few pounds and buy a nice outfit.

Retirement seminar

So David and I went to a Retirement pitch dinner, where they try and upsell you on a product.  Honestly we know so little about the variety of retirement programs out there.  What we do know:  A Traditional IRA is a tax-deferred retirement account. You save your $ today and are taxed later when you withdraw the money.  A Roth IRA, is like and IRA where you don’t get a tax deductions for the $ contribution today, but later can withdraw the assets when you retire without paying taxes.    A 401k or 403b is an employer sponsored retirement program. Taxes aren’t paid until the money is withdrawn from the account.  Sometimes employers match these on a smaller amount.  A SEP, is a Single Employer Pension Plan, which really is a small business owner traditional IRAs (SEP-IRAs) set up for employees.  Do not put all your eggs in one basket and diversify as much as possible, save and save in as many different methods for retirement as possible.

But If I am going to retire early, I figure I need to know Everything and make best choices, saving money is good, but saving it smart is better. So this seminar did teach me some things.  What I learned:

  • On a Roth or 401k/403b, you can withdraw your money as soon as your 59.5years old, (before will cost you 10%) and have to start spending these (or be penalized 3%) by age 70.5.
  • 403b’s are more restrictive, but also can allow higher contributions.
  • An annuity can go up, down, or stay the same.
  • A fixed annuity can go up or stay fixed – this is what they were selling – so going to learn more on this and report back later.  It sounds fabulous, but things always do at free dinner seminars.  I plan on researching this subject and getting back to everyone.

What do we have as far as retirement plans and income- well we currently we have a huge diversification – I have a 403b, with a small match plan.  David has a 401k.   We are not 401 millionaires.   We both have retirement accounts – David has stocks, and mutual funds, and MESP accounts for the kids college, which he is still adding to.   I have two SEP accounts – one for each business I own – an education website, and a physics consulting group.  These were added to at the advice of my tax accountant, who told me send a certain amount of money to these each year to avoid taxes in the current year.  I have a small Roth IRA, and an IRA.   I have three MESP accounts for the kids, that a funded.  We have three rentals, which I bought one at the peak of the market and two at the downfall.  We have an investment property, that too this point has not generated any money.  I have two pensions (one fairly small), and two pensions from my ex-husband (which can be collected upon 6 years after we retire).  David has a pension.  We cannot collect on our pensions until 3 years after we retire (at 55 years old) but that would be at a low rate, and waiting would be smart.

So we are need to bulk up and figure out how to live for those years in between when we retire and we can collect on our retirement funds.  Another post in the future will detail our plans, even though these are in flux and well honestly we are not 100% sure.  I guess we will learn and figure it out as we go.