Saturday, December 26, 2009

A memorable Christmas

Can you recall a Christmas holiday when things went awry?

Well, it happened to me this year. My family and I had just returned from a cruise in late December and ate way too much, so the last thing on our mind was to have another big feast. However, two days before Christmas, my sister and I decided on an impromptu get-together. We planned our menu (the usual suspects were ham, turkey with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy, pumpkin pie and something refreshing - Jello cheesecake. For hors d'ouvres, we decided on deviled eggs and black-eyed pea salsa) for 13 and went shopping. Oh my, what a zoo!

On Christmas eve, we started to make butter cookies and gingerbread cookies, only to realize that we did not have cookie cutters. I went hunting for them in my neighborhood stores with a mere two hours before they shut down for the holidays. Of course I couldn't find any. So we improvised. Needless to say, the cookies were not photogenic.

The next day was Christmas Day. We got up bright and early to start cooking. Our 15-lb turkey was in the oven for almost 3 hours (with 45 mins more to go) when lo and behold, the power went out. This cannot be happening. It had rained during the night, and we could see dark clouds from the back of the house, but nothing ominous to warrant a blackout. Was every household cooking up a storm, draining the power grid? Hard to believe. So, we waited, and waited. And waited some more. Thirty minutes later, still no power. With guests arriving in two hours, we were starting to be concerned. We have a half-cooked turkey and a ham that has yet to be heated through. Many thoughts crossed our minds. We initiated plan B, which was to move the turkey outside and cook it on the BBQ grill. It was a tad windy, but warm, in the high 60s. Merely fifteen minutes on the grill and the power came back on. We turned around and moved everything back to the oven and the stovetop.

Meantime, I had started to peel the hard-boiled eggs. Apparently, I had either boiled it too long or did not soak them in cold-enough water because the shells would not peel off without ripping the egg white. The solution? I saved the eggs for another meal. Thank goodness the black-eyed pea salsa was a winner!

In spite of the panic, everything turned out delicious. We hope your Christmas holiday was memorable (in a good way) and exciting as well. To joy and peace!

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas lights at Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

Christmas lights inside the Gaylord Opryland Hotel
Whenever people visit us in Tennessee, we almost always take them to Nashville, and one of our favorite stops is the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. The nine-acres of jaw-dropping indoor gardens with 50,000 tropical plants and trees, along with waterfalls and cascades, restaurants and retail stores, never fail to impress us or our visitors. If walking the nine-acre complex is too much, you can opt for a Mississippi-style flatboat ride on the river that meanders around the resort.

Having spent eight winters in sunny Florida, I was so ready for a magical Christmas experience, something akin to a Winter Wonderland, perhaps with some ice-skating, along with sensational Christmas lights. So when I heard about the Christmas lighting ceremony at the Gaylord Opryland Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Nashville on Nov 19, I persuaded my husband to stay in Chattanooga until then (we usually leave after Halloween), so we can drive over to Nashville to see the Christmas lights.

My expectations were raised even higher when I learned that Travel Channel's Extreme Christmas show had touted the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to be "the most Christmassy hotel in the U.S." So, here I was, thinking Christmas in New York City or Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, my two favorite Christmas destinations.

Well, I was disappointed. The ambience at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel was not as festive as I had envisioned it. I did not see carolers, Santa, or even a whiff of snow. The only Christmas music I heard was in the restrooms! We saw one beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the Delta atrium, with throngs of tourists all over it trying to capture its beauty on camera. There were some spectacular lights in the Cascades atrium (see above picture.)

The fountain show was disappointing too. For some unknown reason, the show was delayed some 45 minutes. This small section got very crowded with families. No one knew what was going on. You would think that a hotel in Nashville, the capital of country music, would have thought of hiring a musician to entertain its guests with Christmas songs or music. I hope it was because they were swamped by all the shows and events happening the first weekend of the holiday season. Anyway, enjoy the video, and Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

PC-centric traveling

Savvy travelers are increasingly planning their trips online. Many often travel with their notebooks. Which is why I decided to add this category (computers) to my blog. We may not be early adopters (no iphone or Windows 7 yet), but we love our computers (a desktop and a notebook) and we continue to be amazed by the internet. As ex-IT professionals, we have, over the years, provided technical support to friends and family, and fixed many a PC (personal computer).

We use our PC for everything. We listen to music, display pictures, edit videos, watch movies on DVDs, and surf the internet (emailing, blogging, social networking), in addition to all the regular PC Windows applications. We also use our PC to watch TV. Hauppauge Computer Work's WinTV-HVR-950Q USB Stick transforms our 22-inch monitor into a high definition TV and a digital recorder system. Recording our favorite programs has never been easier. The key is to have plenty of hard disk space.
Passport external drive, Roku, Samsung tablet
We keep an external hard disk drive as a back up for our personal data. Anyone taking videos and pictures with 10 megapixels will need plenty more hard disk space. Prices for storage have come down tremendously. Walmart is selling a 1 Terrabyte External Hard Drive anywhere from $90 (Western Digital) to $123 (Iomega). At Amazon, Seagate has the same for $99.99. With Black Friday approaching and retailers vying for your dollars, perhaps you can find an even better deal! Who knows?

Good luck, and happy Thanksgiving!

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Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse) from icy Chattanooga! 'Tis the season to be jolly

updated 4/29/15

Friday, November 13, 2009

Remnants of Hurricane Ida drench the Mid-Atlantic

Hurricane Ida lost steam when it came ashore Alabama Tuesday this week. Still, it soaked the Deep South pretty good. There have been some reports of rock slides, and flooding along rivers and creeks. Boaters doing the Great Loop passage are starting to reach Mobile, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle area. While these boaters wait for a good weather window to cross the Gulf of Mexico either from Pensacola or Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs, the rest of the loopers are stuck further north. Until marina slips are freed up, they have no place to go. Guess it's better to be stuck in a safe area than to be out in the open seas with 10 to 15 foot waves!

Meanwhile on the mid-Atlantic side, snowbirds on the IntraCoastalWaterway(ICW) are being hammered with the remnants of Hurricane Ida - rain, waves, and wind, which continue to gust in excess of 35 mph.

I feel for them. Around this time in 2004, we were one of those boaters on the ICW. Having spent that summer cruising the Chesapeake Bay, we were headed south in mid-September. You may recall that Florida was battered with four major hurricanes - Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne - that year. When Hurricane Ivan hit in October, we were in Annapolis, Maryland, hiding in a lovely anchorage called Weems Creek on the Severn River. By early November, we were exploring Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of N. Carolina.

Ocracoke Light
Below is our trip's log below.

Oct 19-23, 2004
We split with "
Colorado Cat" and headed east to Ocracoke on the Outer Banks. Entering unfamiliar territory can sometimes be a challenge, and this was no exception. You leave the red markers to port as you enter Big Foot Slough channel. To add to the confusion, there were a bunch of range markers sticking out there. We made it in ok and were the only boat at the Silver Lake anchorage. During our stay here, we would hear boaters over the radio asking questions on the approach, and to our surprise, boats and ferries come in and out, no matter what the weather.

Home to the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse, Ocracoke is a charming town that exudes Cape Cod ambience. It is dotted with restaurants, and hotels, inns and many private homes are all for rent. No doubt this is a busy place in the height of summer. And apparently, fishing IS the thing to do here. We saw 4-wheel drive vehicles on the beach carrying fishing rods up the ying yang.

High winds had us hunkered down inside the boat for two days. North winds blowing at 25-30 knots, and seas building to 9-12 feet made for boisterous conditions outside. We were stuck. It is no coincidence that the Outer Banks has been called the "graveyard of the Atlantic." Over the centuries, thousands of sailors and boats have met their fate here, as did the notorious pirate Blackbeard. When we had a good weather window, we got out of there as fast as we could!

Nov 11-15, 2004
As we entered Georgia, a nor'easter whipped up north wind of 25 knots with gust to 35. We sought protection at Cumberland Island. The wind was relentless for two days, causing "Mai Thai"to rock and roll much of the time. That was the toughest we've endured in our cruising life. By the time the ordeal was over, a couple of zippers in the bimini had been ripped. All things considered, we rather be here (temperature in the mid 60s) than be in Boston (temp 30s)…

The passage was rough at times for sure, but wow, what an experience! Boating is such an adventure. Every trip is an experience of a lifetime.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall Colors and Color Cruise

This past weekend was our marina's annual Color Cruise Festival. Grey skies and rain threaten to dampen the spirit. Saturday(Halloween) morning was windy and raining, but luckily the wind died down in the late afternoon. The festival this fall was much smaller in scale, with a handful of vendors and two bands. With pretty good singing, I might add.

Dockside, the vibe was more vibrant. The marina employees were running around helping to tie up boats when one after another started arriving Friday. Rumor has it that our dock had great parties in years past, and that was why these boaters kept coming back, each year with a bigger flotilla. This year saw about a dozen boats coming from Irwin Marina, Island Cove and Guntersville. Boaters, in general, are a fun and gregarious bunch. These folks were no exception, and boy, can they P A R T Y. We had one potluck after another. The array of food was incredible, enough to feed a whole village!

On Sunday, after the visiting boats departed, a few of us took our boats out in search of some fall colors. What we found were mostly shades of yellows and gold, not so much the brilliant reds and orange that are typical of fall in New England. Next week perhaps?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Happy Halloween!

In my last post, I mentioned that I am a volunteer and substitute ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) teacher at the Chattanooga State Technical Community College. Mrs Nelson, the teacher I work with, was so gracious as to host a party for all her ESOL students and their families at her home yesterday. Located in the farm country of NW Georgia, her property is situated right next to cow pastures. Seeing the cows grazing the land was quite a sight for us city folks. The driveway to her house was a bumpy gravel road, about a quarter mile long.

As someone who has lived in the U.S. well over thirty years, you would think I know most, if not all, of the customs in this country. Well, I don't and I learned something new yesterday. It is about "bobbing for apples." Apparently this is a traditional game played on Halloween. A large tub is filled with water and apples, and the players, one at time, try to get an apple with their mouth. This game does not look too hygenic, and with swine (H1N1) flu fast becoming an epidemic, I do not recommend this game. Anyhow, watch the video below to see what "bobbing for apples" is all about.

A big thank you to Mrs Nelson and all the students who brought some delicious food!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

A day in the life of a liveaboard

Friends and family often ask us questions about our boating lifestyle. Our number one question is "What do you do all day since since you don't work?" And this is our number one answer ...

We normally get up around 10 am, make ourselves a bloody Mary, have breakfast, lounge around and read the paper. Before you know it, it's lunchtime. After we eat, we zip around in the dinghy, swim and snorkel around the reefs, walk on the beach and look for shells. In the evenings, we get together with other boaters for cocktails and watch the sun melt into the horizon.

Yeah right. What's missing in the picture is a captain, chef and maid! The last sentence of my answer is true of the Florida keys. Everyday, around 5 pm, boaters would walk around the docks with a drink in hand to watch the sun set, rain or shine.

We keep busy tending to all the mundane tasks of everyday life - laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking most of our meals. There's always projects on the boat - things that cannot wait to get repaired, such as a broken pump (water pump, bilge pump, sump pump, fuel pump, there are so many of them on the boat!), battery and electrical problems, engine problems, you name it. Incidentally, the captain has turned into a true mechanic. Which is a very good thing. Unlike a house, the boat takes more abuse not just from the elements, but also from the constant pounding on the water. The ocean is very unforgiving, as we all know; being stranded out in the open waters can lend to horror stories, if you live to tell them!

A big chunk of our time is spent poring over charts (paper and electronic), and reading about the ports-of-calls that we'd like to visit. We have to deal with the logistics of getting from point A to point B, not unlike planning a road trip. On the water however, there aren't many exits that you can just get off to top off your fuel tank, or check into a motel when you are tired. We would need to know these information in advance - a channel with deep enough water to get in (Mai Thai needs at least 4 feet), the tide (if near the ocean), a marina or anchorage that we can stop for the night. If stopping at a marina, we would have to call and make reservations first.

These days, we are now what they call liveaboards - people who live aboard a boat docked at a marina. What do I do these days? Since we are not moving all the time, I am able to volunteer my time at Chattanooga Technical Community College as an ESL (English as a second language) tutor two mornings a week; I substitute for the teacher whenever the need arises. This morning, I helped a neighbor boater color her hair. Then I email, blog, write articles, surf the net, read, etc, etc. Sometimes we walk up the hill, and sometimes we walk other neighbor's dog. I make salmon turnovers for a snack. Come 5 o'clock, some of our boater friends are back from work, and we hang out. Now, it's time for dinner. Gotta go. Catch you at the next posting!
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Seize the day - hiking at Lookout Mountain

Boats heading south on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)
"Seize the day" is a phrase that resonates with boaters. In fact, Seas the day is a popular boat name. As the temperature dips and the hurricane season wanes, boaters start to head for warmer climes. You never know what mother nature has in store for you, so when the weatherman forecasts a good weather pattern, they seize the opportunity and go. Speaking of weather, Chattanooga hasn't seen the sun in a while. All last week, severe weather pummeled the deep south, bringing torrential rain to the region. Sure, we needed the rain, but ten days of incessant downpours were a bit much. Some areas saw their first flash flood in 75 years. Fortunately for us, we only saw debris on this side of the Tennessee River (Lake Nickajack).
Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia
When friends visited us last weekend, we had but one sunny day. We seized the opportunity to go outdoors - we went to Lookout Mountain on the Georgia side to watch the hangliders fly. It was exhilarating for us to watch them take off, so can you imagine how they must have felt.

After the excitement, we had a little picnic at nearby Cloudland Canyon, then hiked the .8 mile (roundtrip) waterfall trail. Walking down the canyon on a trail with some 600 steps in between was not too bad. We were rewarded with spectacular views of 2 waterfalls that cascaded off from 60 and 90 feet. The climb back up was a bit strenous; we took it slow, and stopped every so often to catch our breath. There are benches throughout the trail for the much needed resting. We will definitely be back to see the fall colors.
Updated 8/25/16

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