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.

Alaska License plate

We are going to try and start something new – post license plates from places we have gone, so here is ALASKA! Who knows maybe we will start a trend! Like posting beautiful Doors photographed on Travels, we will post Travel License Plates!

I did check and see if this is allowed, and a lawyer commented this is because they are public and there is no malleus or personal information attached.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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Armada Fair

We visit the Armada Fair annually, we look forward to the atmosphere the animals, the food, the exhibits.  So much fun.  Check out these fun pictures!

Bunnies!

PIGGIES!!

Sheep!!!

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FAMILY!!!!!

Chickens!

 

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So many more fun things at the Fair!  It runs thru today, so if you want to go, plan on it for next year

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!

 

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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First day on Vacation

Short post.  We flew into Fort Lauderdale, Fla the night before our cruise, and we spent the night at the Link hotel, about 12 minutes from the airport, $100.00/nite with breakfast, small rooms, but clean and free transportation to the airport, but it only runs until 8 pm and we missed the ride to the hotel from the airport.  We woke up around 7:30am, ate breakfast and shuttled over to the airport again, where we took another shuttle to the cruise ship yard.

A day a sea, and then we will be in Grand Cayman.  Looking forward to posting next.

 

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.

Hoover Dam

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On the way to Hoover Dam, a quick stop at Lake Mead.

Going back a few weeks, we visited Hoover Dam.   We were already in Vegas, and David has never been and he wanted to see.   The downside, the elevators to the inside powerhouse were down, so we only were able to see the outside and the museum, which was amazing.  The upside of this day trip – a quick nap on the bus ride and beautiful sites, with education learning that fascinated me.  As a physicist, I love learning how things work, and the museum there had a lot of information on both the history of Hoover Dam and the science behind the design.  The quick summary, is there were two years of fertile farming, and then years of severe flooding in the surrounding areas, which lead to this (originally named Boulder Dam) project.  The Dam is a concrete arch gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, right on the boarder of Nevada and Arizona.  It was built during the great depression, which paid super low paying, very dangerous (112 deaths) jobs to those who were desperate and had nothing.   The water is taken into the towers, then down the narrowing funnels to the powerhouse, the water pressure turn the turbines, which make electricity.  There is a lot of past fighting over who gets what % of the energy, but I honestly ignored that portion and focused on the awe and science.

We bought the bus ride on Groupon, with Grand Canyon tour (below)  just two days before we left, and they picked us up at the hotel, took us to a depot, where we sat for about 20mins before leaving for our trip.  Since the Hoover Dam, Powerhouse tour was not available, they did refund us for that portion, and I would definitely recommend this tour.

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Below we are on the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which was built to help with traffic and to help with safety on the Dam drive over (to minimum traffic which helps maintain security).  Note each of those (which look like lego blocks are 6feet tall), it looks so small, but the size is almost unimaginable.

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Seeing the world with my husband, is my dream, and I am living it.  We don’t travel as much as we want, but we make it work, and I love looking back at these pictures and how happy we were and are.

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.