What up recently…. not much but working and Grad Party

So we have not posted lately, but that is because we are not doing much. We did however have our sons Garions Graduation party – that took all our free time for about a month and a half in preparation! But our youngest son is now graduated and starting online community college next week – it is way cheaper and I went to community college prior to moving on to Oakland University – where he has decided to go as well.

Sharing a few pictures of him. The party was small and separated some inside, some outside, some downstairs some in the garage, the ultimate social distance party. It has been three weeks since the party and I am feeling rested and ready to start posting again.

Sushi at Sea

Were back from our cruise, but then I came down with a fever of 103, and a cough. Since I work in a hospital, prior to returning they made me get tested and turns out I only have a stinker flu – my temp is down to 100 at this point so on my way back to health.

David and I are ready to make some sushi, I love how goofy he is with this hat and face!

So lets move on to fun things, such as Sushi Classes on our Sea Day. We wer on the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas and had a sea day, decided to try a Sushi making class, and honestly I learned a lot.

Check out our handy work – we could only eat about 50% of what we made – such a shame!

With out a doubt as soon as I can get over to our local super Asian grocery store, I will buy some ingredients and make a huge pot of rice try this class with the kids as home.

Day at the Detroit Zoo

We took the girls to the Detroit Zoo today. When they were younger, this was their favorite day. They still loved it. We have not been in two years and we see a lot of changes, including the tiger exhibit.

This lemur was just hanging out
They had the zoo decorated for Halloween, this exhibit said elusive mermaid fish.
Halloween Stay Puft decoration at the alligator exhibit.
The butterfly cocoons ready to hatch and be let out into the butterfly house.

Butterfly house at the Detroit Zoo.

Since our daughters are in college now, we know we get less and less of these fun days with them, so just enjoying this time together.

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.

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.

Arc De Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile or Triumphal Arch of the Star in Paris, France. It is a monument to the fallen solders of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

The name of all French Victories and general are inscribed on the inner and outer surfaces.

You can walk under the circle intersection of twelve roads and pop out in the center – and walk around checking out the twelve roads surrounding – you can take the elevator up to the top – but the line was HUGE – or you can book this in advance and skip the line – remember the tip of doing these at least 30 days in advance.

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.

Epic Adventure Before it begins

Epic Adventure – Before it Begins

Our family trip to Paris, France – Tokyo, Japan – Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The Airbnb’s are booked.  In Paris we will stay at:

In Tokyo we will stay at:

Let us compare afterward – what we booked and what we got.  So this is the before, same post after the trip with the details of each location.

We have the exchanged moneys, we used a credit union, which had no fees according to my husband and his mother – Wings Credit Union.  Next time we exchange I will for sure ask a lot of questions on this no fee, same exchange to assure this is true, as I want to report back to each of you.  It seems too good to be true, as the airport charges the best fees I have found, and my current bank has large fees associated with foreign money exchanges. 

Tip:  Check with a Credit Union or a friend who could exchange $ for you at a credit union for great foreign money exchange fees.

We have the credit cards – we are bringing two, one each with no foreign exchange fees (this could cost you upwards of 10% per transactions, so very important to have this in place). 

Tip:  ALWAYS bring two credit cards when traveling – as I will read about in a future post, if one is compromised you will have a back-up.

We have our luggage picked out, our three largest suitcases, with another in each (for bringing home gifts).  We are traveling with three of our five children and sometimes we question why we would ever do that, but I already know the answer, I love them unconditionally and cannot wait for this Epic Family Adventure.

Flying out of Toronto Airport on Air France.

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.

Beekeeping

The Spring and Fall mean a lot of work to a beekeeper.  We would love to share a few pictures of our hard work.

Walking to the back yard to start some bee work.

20180929_111220  Notice how he only wears the top section and thin gloves.  Yes, he has been stung, but only one time this year, five times last year.  The tool in his hand helps him pull the honey frames out of the boxes.

 

Notice our Caution sign.  This is for legal reasons.

We also collect the wax.  After we extract the honey, we break down the frames and put them in a metal pan, that is put into our home made wax melt box.

The box is closed with the wax inside and it has a clear window that is faced toward the sun, the wax melts out of the frames to the bottom of the box.  It is way easier than picking out the wax.

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Then we take that wax out along with scraps of wax and melt it in a crock pot, and pour it into molds.  We have a lot of wax, and this year we are thinking about making candles for Christmas for our friends.

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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!

 

5 things I wish I knew before I went to Cuba

 

20180409_213740I knew you cannot use credit cards in Cuba, and they have cigars and rum, but I did not know….

 

  1. We were told we had to have a cultural tour booked or we would not even be allowed to step off the Cruise ship (or if we flew in – not step off the plane).  This is not true.  The threat is empty.  We saw several couple walk off the ship (they were Americans) they said they had nothing booked and were unconcerned and when we were back on the ship they said they had a wonderful day.

2.  Everyone in Cuba, LOVES Che Guevara!

 

ErnestoCheGuevara  was an Argentina Marxist Revolutionary, a doctor, an author, guerrilla leader and HERO in Cuba.  He was a major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his picture and vision has become a symbol of rebellion in Cuba and popular culture.

I saw two pictures of Fidel Castro, saw 1000 pictures of Che Guevara.

3.  Every person in Cuba (except politicians) make only $50 per month.  You could be a doctor or street dancer, it is the same salary.

4.  We had no idea how much to get in Cuba dollars, so we got $150, which was more than enough since there was not much to buy when on a tour.  We did buy rum, one cigar, a necklace at a local children’s center and could have bought typical tourist trap t-shirts and carvings and plastic items you could get at any tourist trap location, but we are past that type of vacation item. When your on a tour, you do not have an opportunity to buy much, but if your so inclined sharing a few dollars with the locals, would be wonderful, considering #3.

5.  The Cuban people are wonderful, we expected them to be angry with many things, including our President, but did not find that true.  I was not afraid even for a minute, and would not be even if we were wondering around town ourselves, it is a safe place.   We would go back in a heart beat, but first so many other choices to explore!

Tropicana Club, Cuba

I figured out how to add videos! Better later than never! so this is older post updated.

We only had two days in Havana, Cuba – so we made the most of it – a day of everything, then an evening trip to the Tropicana Club.  I would describe it as an outdoor larger version of the “I Love Lucy” Show’s – Ricky Ricardo’s Club – which was also originally called Tropicana – then renamed Club Babalu.  David and I saw the Las Vegas review – Jubilee, and this show is superior, the dancers have a fire, the music is the over the top and beats Jubilee for me.

We took a bus on a 20min drive to the Tropicana, which had a huge entrance first with a Billboard show casing the Tropicana Club name and a dancing ballerina (club icon), then we drive down a tropical foliage filled drive to the entrance.

We stood in line a long line, but only for 5 mins to walk thru a lobby,  where a Tropicana show girl hands out a cigar to each man and a flower to each women.  There is a sign posted  – all must pay to take pictures inside the club, which we did (hence our photos and videos), but we saw no one else pay and no one was stopped from taking photos, so if you skipped this fee, I don’t believe there would be any trouble for you.  We then huddle into what we assumed would be an indoor theater, but instead we were walked outside to a lush outdoor garden amphitheater style venue, with elaborate overhead lighting.

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This picture does this location no justice.  It is a 180 degree theatre, with a waterfall dancing stage to our far left, a main stage for singers directly ahead, a mini dance bridge in between.  To our right was a three level tower of dancers and in between the main stage and this tower was a hidden full orchestra.

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This picture also does this club a small justice there is stages to the left and right.

The girls and the costumes are incredible.  There were tall statues of art with about 12  costume changes that each were more over the top than the previous, we saw bikini (no nudity) wearing model ladies, with fruit baskets 3 feet tall on their head, they wore chandeliers on their heads, they danced in the 80 degree night heat like it was nothing.

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There were acrobats and singers and non stop Mambo, cha cha cha rhythms action for the entire 1 hour 45 min show.

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You get an entire bottle of rum (and a big bottle, larger than a fifth) to split with four people at your table, each person gets a tiny glass bottle of Coca-cola along with a bucket of ice.  So of course we drank most of it in the flaming heat, which made our bus drive home a boisterous spectacle to our bus mates, we laughed so hard, I think we had everyone else laughing too.  I highly recommend the Tropicana Club for the Havana experience!  We sat at the back, and I would have paid the extra $30/ dollars for a middle closer seat, but the front section is not necessary – all views are amazing.

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Bon Voyage

We are headed out to our 7 day Cuban Explorer with Holland America Cruise, on the Veendam.  We started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida then to Georgetown, Grand Cayman, to Cozumel, Quntana Roo Mexico, then Havana Cuba, back to Ft Lauderdale.   We choose this cruise specifically for the Cuba Experience and we are really are very excited to step foot in Cuba.   We did read in our paperwork, we had to book an excursion or we will not be allowed off the ship, and that is a recent change to the US requirements.   So we booked an 8hr – Best of Havana, and a night trip to the Tropicana Club.  While many might not ever even consider visiting Cuba, for us something about seeing what has been forbidden is a thrill.  This might be a short window of opportunity that we never get to experience again, but if we enjoy Cuba, and it is still possible a longer trip might be in our future as well.

This is our third cruise together as a couple, but Davids ~10th, I only started cruising when I met David, so my third cruise.   This is our second with Holland, where the population is significantly older, but then again our cruise with Celebrity was also an older group.  I guess most can afford to cruise when they are older and finally have the time, so the ships population is filled with motorized scooters, canes and stories of grand children.

When I checked online reviews of the Veendam, I see Excellent reviews, and that it is a small ship with a max capacity of 1350.  We will report back on what we experienced upon return.  I am sure I will drink a few Cuba Libras (Rum and Coke) during this trip, so I will try and report back daily on our adventure, or might forget a fact or two.

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.

 

 

Next Trip?

The cover picture, is David is holding a baby turtle at a turtle farm we visited in Grand Cayman, our first family trip together in 2015.  So we are now together almost 4 years.  I was divorce Feb 13, 2014 and joined Match.com the end of Feb 2014 and met David after about 30 coffee dates in 30 days (yep marathon dating) and after a Tim Hortons coffee date, I was hooked.  So end of March 2014 will be four years.

So now, we are trying to plan our next trip, which is always a masterpiece theater trick of timing, cost and minimizing kid inconveniences.    There is an upcoming winter break we could slip away for a few days, and so trying to find some close by 4 day trips.  Maybe New Orleans, or Mexico, or a 3 day cruise.  Some place warm for sure, but too short to head to China, or Greece or Italy.  So next we must plan.   I think the planning is half the fun, and waiting for the next trip is so much fun imagining what we will do once we are there.