Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Recouping, relaxing and ready for what comes next!

As dawn broke the other day it was a spectacular reminder that, despite our worst fears, the sky really isn’t falling nor is the earth coming to a standstill. Given all the headlines, including those telling us we are on a war footing and facing an invisible enemy, there is still beauty all around us. I am not trying to trivialize the pain and suffering many of us are experiencing other than to just take note that this too will pass …

Too simplistic? Too insensitive? Well, not exactly! Being a couple that survived a month on a Princess cruise in February with little more than a bad case of strep nevertheless, just two weeks later, we were diagnosed with the flu. In our case, it was only Influenza B and we were advised to self-quarantine for a fortnight but as that came to an end, we felt no better. Blood was drawn and x-rays taken but we look good (as far as that all goes) and yet, sad to say, we are a little more lethargic than we normally are at this time of year.

I wasn’t spending too much time looking to the east as dawn broke. Rather, it was a case of getting up early as our local big-box store, Costco, was letting in seniors an hour or more sooner than regular opening hours. Walking into the store we were stunned to see row upon row of paper products. The aisles were literally impassable as toilet tissue, facial tissue and paper towels rose from pallet after pallet. Wowie! Oo-aaahh, my precious!

Paper products, wine, coffee and even whipped cream made it into our trolley as did some eggs and flour. You know, the basics. If we are too hunker down for another month, we could at least bake bread, shake cocktails and pour wine and yes, have whipped cream on top of our home baked cherry pies. There was a quip made somewhere suggesting that whereas in the past, witches could easily be detected by pushing them under water – if it didn’t kill them. Today, in this environment, a witch can be just as readily detected - if they put on no weight at all! 

We have some very sad news. Well, at least on one front. While at Costco we stocked up on spirits – all the big bottles we could grab. These are the 1.75 liter deals so in went two Bullitt Rye, two Tito Vodka, Two Kettel One Vodka, Gin, Whisky, Vermouth and much more – dark cherries included. Did I mention cherries a short time ago? Well, we had it all until coming out of the doctors following our last check up, we got the call that we still had stomach / gut issues and back onto antibiotics we went.

Fair enough but then the penny dropped. With these antibiotics it would be ten days without alcohol! Just looking at it on the shelves was too much so we put it all away, storing it out of sight in a large drawer! Makes all of our diligence not to miss a deal on alcohol seem a moot point. But then again, we only have a few days to go – anyone near Ft Collins wants to drop by for cocktails? You would have to proactively practice social distancing, of course but we could shake a few!

Sipping a cocktail while nibbling on cheese and sausage tidbits, all very sensible! And did I mention, enjoyable? This has been a regular practice of ours since we finished our media room and bar. For a couple of weekends we have been binge watching programs from all over the place starting with popular series filmed in Australia before moving on to serials from New Zealand, Scotland, North Wales and finally London. 

Who would have guessed? Seems as though there are really good shows that are filmed in places other than Hollywood or Vancouver! As for favorite shows there was 800 Words (NZ), Loch (Scotland), Hidden (North Wales) and yes, Winter and Deep Water (Australia). Sure did make our self-imposed time of quarantine pass by quickly even if binge watching for a weekend without cocktails was less than ideal.

We continue to fare well when it comes to meals. Making bread from scratch just has to be done if for no other reason than to fill the void in our home with amazing scents. Margo has turned her hand to making pies, pancakes, Aussie scones (helped out with copious amounts of strawberry preserves and clotted cream) and yes, bread. It took little motivation by Margo to bring me into the kitchen at these times. You say fine dining and I say, pass the bread!

Who would have ever predicted that an extended period spent at home, recouping and yes, relaxing could prove to be this enjoyable? To put it another way, since arriving back in Windsor February 29th, we haven’t been anywhere else but at home. No road trips! No conferences or symposiums! No forays up into the mountains. It is such a sad and indeed forlorn sight to see a garage where battery tender chords are splayed all over the place. To think, spring is now officially upon us and the cars are all gassed up but that’s it. Silence in the garage as if the cars know that they have been sidelined indefinitely.

Whenever we do make something special it’s also an occasion to pull the cork from a good bottle of wine. On the occasion when pasta was being served we pulled the cork from a bottle of 2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I chose the 2001 as I didn’t want to disturb the 1997 and 1995 vintages we still have in the cellar. Did you know that in life, there is only one thing you should never plan on leaving to your kids - that being, your wine cellar!

Sadly, April is a birthday month for Margo’s family – her daughter and all three grandkids were born in April! Margo is filling a box with gifts but we are unsure as to whether (and when) we will be able to deliver them – social distancing continues as we make sure none of our bugs get to the kids! This weekend Margo was talking with her family - using Hangouts – not even close to being able to hug the little ones.  

Here they are during happier times, playing on Halloween!

On the other hand, during these times, having a well-stocked pantry is a godsend even if the stack of Coffee K-Cups rises from the floor and touches the ceiling. No way could we remain self-quarantined if we somehow managed to run out of coffee! We have always maintained a well-stocked pantry and I have often wondered was it really necessary but for now, I am so pleased that Margo always planned for the long haul.

It is a sobering time for all communities. No matter which continent you happen to have made your home, there are restrictions in place aimed at protecting each of us from this global pandemic. In my last post I only briefly mentioned coronavirus but now its impact on society as a whole cannot be missed. Practicing social distancing? I wonder what it will be like when it is all over?    

For me, there is comfort in knowing we have jams and preserves to see us through to Christmas, at the very least. However, sad to report, we have run out of Vegemite. No kidding – there goes the damper with Vegemite and cheese. Oh dear, we are doing it tough, I know, but then again, we really cannot complain as fortunately, as a couple, we do like spending time together.   

Latest favorite has been Apricot preserves with aged cheddar. Margo and I have kept an eye out for any potential overeating occurrence and to date, we have done OK. Then again, that pantry continues to be a strong drawcard whenever we tire of sitting on the couch, binge-watching a television program from who knows where. If only I could put into practice social distancing from the pantry! And our bathroom scales are out of sight having been pushed deeper into the closet.

Living in semi-rural Northern Colorado we have been buffered from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Barely had the sun come up then the golf course green keepers were hard at work preparing for another day of golf. Those enthusiastic golfers wishing to get in a morning round couldn’t take carts onto the course as social distancing was in force.

Watching them, scattered across the fairways, did bring with it a sense of normalcy even if anything normal could be associated with these times. And yet, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future even as we give thanks for being able to enjoy a sunrise. You just know that this one will be followed by another and then another … 

The biggest paradox of these times however is obvious everywhere you turn. In Colorado the price of gas has continued to drop and filling up the car can be done for less than $30.00. Premium gas for just a tad over $2 per gallon: Unbelievable! And very few cars lined up for their chance to fill up. In these times we have saved a proverbial fortune in gas having just topped up the tank in one car, one time, this month.

This week I was reminded of my family heritage. The Buckle family was always into cars – my earliest memories of my father were of him changing a head gasket on a 1930s-vintage Essex (look that one up!). At that time, his younger brother, David was living with us and my earliest memory of Uncle David was that each month, or so it seemed, he showed up with a new car. As for my other uncles – Ern and Ken – there seemed to be a constant parade of cars with Uncle Ern, in particular, fond of British imports!

What triggered these memories was news just arriving of my Uncle Ken turning 100. And looking pretty good at that; the Buckle family enjoys longevity and so I am constantly reminding myself that perhaps I have a ways to go and maybe that 30yr mortgage isn’t so ridiculous, after all. Having said that, I am only too pleased to send a big cheerio to my uncle Ken! As they say, now that he has batted his way to 100, he can go chasing runs …

The timeliness of this news from my Uncle Ken at this time was just another reminder too that even as we remain housebound, recouping and yes, relaxing thoughts of being ready for what comes next aren’t too far away. Cars may be on the driveway ready to go but so too are we. Temperatures have climbed into the 70s – maybe I should wash and polish the cars. Then again, snow is once again being forecast for the weekend. So much for living in Colorado.

What that next chapter holds for Margo and me isn’t all that clear as of right now, but one thing is for certain; not only will this too pass, but perhaps more importantly, memories of today will fade away replaced with new memories formed in times that by all accounts will be vastly different from anything we have experienced to date.

Stay safe. Practice self-distancing. And wash your hands!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

As the tides take us where they will … a voyage to remember!

There are times where knowing a princess is magical and then there are other times where confusion reigns. For four years now Margo and I have pulled together itineraries that combine business with a little downtime and it’s usually around this time of the year. Whether it was time spent in Sydney or simply sailing around islands, with birthday’s book-ending the period it seems more than appropriate to pursue time away from home and this year, having made the bookings a year in advance, we headed out to sea one more time. Our city on the seas on this occasion would be the Emerald Princess. Yes, she is a magical princess!

Margo would be celebrating a birthday in and around the Hawaiian Islands whereas I would be celebrating my birthday close-hauled by Moorea in French Polynesia. It would be a voyage that expanded on our previous voyage to Hawaii, this time sailing over the equator and deep into the South Pacific. If the ship looks familiar it is because the Emerald Princess is a sister ship to the now infamous Diamond Princess and being just another gem, some confusion did arise.

We boarded our vessel in San Pedro, just south of Los Angeles, at a cruise line terminal that is adjacent to the container terminals of Long Beach. For this trip, we had taken our daughter’s advice and reserved an inboard cabin; the darkness was to make it better to sleep, we were told, but never again! We tried it but no, it’s simply not for us! On all other voyages we have had a veranda suite but as we were headed towards the equator we reasoned that, being able to sleep in a fully blacked out environment, would have its advantages. But again, it was a lesson we have learnt and not one we will repeat any time soon.

Perhaps we should have paid a little more attention to the Emerald Princess as we boarded in San Pedro – there were many more questions being asked about where our travels had taken us of late and, recovering from a cold we had caught back in Windsor didn’t put is in anyone’s good books but then again, who knew! We were hearing about the Coronavirus causing concern in China but well, that was a long way away from where we were headed. Pulling away from the dock it was all smiles as we contemplated the voyage that lay ahead of us.

However, what did turn out rather ominously was that in shooting a selfie in the highest lounge on our vessel, the Emerald Princess, I captured the arrival of the Grand Princess in Honolulu. It would head back to California before continuing on to Mexico and ultimately back to Hawaii. As we now know, it was on its return to California that second time that it made headlines. It was not allowed to dock in San Francisco for several days as Coronavirus was detected among crew and passengers. It’s amazing how many inquiries we received from friends and family as to which Princess vessel we were on – Diamond? Grand? It’s all the same, sort of, isn’t it? Actually, it was pretty easy to explain and we just got on with it.

When it comes to the big cruise lines we like Princess not that this is an overwhelming endorsement of the line. It’s not the same as it once was, back when it was still an independent cruise line. Ever since Carnival became involved, the food has steadily declined – the dining room service is a total waste of time. High tea, too, is messed up – no clotted cream on the scones with jam, but whipped cream instead! Yuck … but we did give it more than one try! Fortunately of a morning the International Café is a good place to start and contrary to all other statements we may have made in the past, the buffets were not all that bad if you timed them just right.

As for the bars, you could find us there most nights at Crooners relaxing and sipping a martini. More often than not however, we spent the early evening at Vines where plates of sushi and sashimi came with wine orders and it was more than passable.

One change to the specialty restaurant options was the introduction of SHARE, by Aussie glamor chef, Curtis Stone. Three different six course menus were available and you could mix and match from any of them and they were very good – among the best meals we have had on any cruise ship of late, including Seabourn and Viking. And did I mention the wine list? You could get a And did I mention the wine list? You could get a Penfolds Grange if you happened to have a spare $950+ and there was Penfolds RWT available as well. We did skip the fancy wine this time, but it was pretty cool to see that they were dipping into the good stuff for us! As for the ambience it was wonderful as very few guests took advantage of this restaurant so we squeezed in four visits. As for the non-appearance of Curtis Stone himself well, Margo was shocked! 

When I started cruising with Princess, back in the early 1970s, when it was just P&O and was sailing out of Sydney’s Circular Quay, the full effect of the oil crises of the times had a major impact on itineraries. Destinations were being dropped as a vessels range was being calculated on the fly. Despite the uncertainties, together with my sister Judy we first sailed on the Himalaya and then a year later on the Oronsay - vessels that were built “especially for the Australasian service.” Yes, you might have guessed it – migrant ships to Australia and then cruise ships before they returned to Europe. And yes, no A/C at all while sailing the South Pacific at the height of summer.

I only mention this in passing as the last four cruises Margo and I have taken not one has completed the voyage as advertised. Whether it was the  approach of bad weather, the changing water depths or simply not being allowed to dock at a port, we have come rather blasé about where we would likely end up and on this cruise, we were prohibited from visiting Samoa. There is nothing you can do as cruise lines look unfavorably on any talks about a mutiny!

Then again, all those years ago, we really didn’t care too much where the ship went – we were on the high seas finally. Let the tides take us where they will …

I found this photo of the Oronsay alongside Circular Quay where the buildings in the background – ESSO, IBM and Caltex - were the skyscrapers of the day. Given that this photo was taken in the early 1970s I would like to think that it was the day we boarded her looking forward as I did to a journey to New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji. And to think, I was a fresh lad doing computer programming for the commercial arm of P&O, Overseas Containers (Australia) Limited – OCAL.

While the Himalaya was sold for scrap immediately after we sailed on it (no further comments necessary) a similar fate awaited the Oronsay and it was just a year later, while sailing on the “glamorous” Lloyd Triestino Galileo Galilei (also built for the Australian immigration route) plodding through the old Panama Canal, that coming around a turn sailed the Oronsay with its final cruise pennants flying high!

But lazy days, doing little other than catching a few rays while reading the book, continues to appeal to us even today and there were plenty of opportunities to indulge ourselves in this pastime.

Mixing business with a little downtime is something we now have down pat. By sailing into the Pacific and visiting the islands we set ourselves up for an early morning rise. Coffee and almond croissants at 4:30 am, Emerald Princess time, meant that I had access to the internet almost entirely to myself. This gave me ample opportunity to write my articles commentaries and blog posts and to express opinions on various social media sites. It allowed me to respond to email even as it allowed me to take calls and, on more than one occasion, participate in conference calls spanning the planet. By 9:30am ship time, I was essentially done for the day even as I did return to email late in the day for one final round of correspondence. 

One of the true blessings of being at sea is that the amount of input you normally are subject to on land declines rapidly. There’s plenty of time to read, think about things and, in general, let ideas take hold. Between Margo and me there is a steady demand for us to create new stories every day so being able to throttle down the interruptions we found it just as relaxing to pursue this work / downtime combination in this manner. The bars may not be as good as the one we now have in our Windsor home and none of the restaurants could quite match Margo’s culinary skills but then it is easy to find a nook where quietness reigned!

For us and with our sole intention of finding time to pursue little more than peace and quiet, our ship is truly our destination and the time at sea our sanctuary. We rarely go ashore these days and indeed on this trip it was a matter of an hour ashore at Kona and about the same time walking along the dock in Papeete. We have visited in the past years nearly all of the ports making up the itinerary, more than once, so this time, it was about simply sighting places that were new.

For me it was Moorea and Bora Bora - Moorea was the real gem, Bora Bora less so. As big a ship as the Emerald Princes was, it did find a way to anchor close to shore and the sights were spectacular. Again, Moorea topped the list! Anchored all day as it was, it was the ebb and flow of the tides that swung as ever so gently around whereby giving us a different view of the island without necessitating us getting off our chair. Ahhhh – wonderful! 

As you can imagine, each time we did weighed anchor and then departed a port, we were entertained with such a changing panorama that it made staying onboard totally worth it. The light would come from different directions and what was in brilliant sunshine in the morning would now be in shadow late afternoon. Sunsets became every bit as enticing as had been the sunrises. The most intriguing aspect of sailing either side of the equator, particularly when all around you is the relatively flat Pacific Ocean, is the complete lack of twilight – the sun sinks beneath the horizon and, as if a switch is thrown, darkness descends almost immediately.

This is a region of the planet where we were never alone.  While other guests were intent to head for the gangways to go exploring the islands, staying aboard came with surprises. On more than one occasion we saw flying fish taking flight as our ship bore down on them. There were dolphin sightings and on more than one occasion, miles from shore, a solitary albatross was seen skimming the waves. For Margo and me, the seas were never anything but a gentle rise and fall but for almost everyone else, sailing the South Pacific means passing through deep swells that made some passengers a little uneasy with the movement of the ship.

Perhaps though the best sight of all occurred while anchored off Lahaina on the island of Maui! There were a lot of humpback whales making their way through the channel that lies between the islands of Molokai and Lanai, to the west of Maui. It was while watching these whales surfacing and breaching that we sighted one such calf pulling right alongside the ship and where, from the out of the deep, it’s ever watchful mother just glided up from the deep; yes, it all happened as we stood by the ships railing.

Flying fish, dolphins and whales weren’t the only sights to be seen in the islands. When it came time to drop anchor there was more than one occasion where it was other ships that caught my eye. Shortly after we arrived in Bora Bora, a modern day “tramp steamer” pulled in behind us and dropped anchor. I had seen pictures of this vessel in magazines but to see it was altogether something very different – a distinct and somewhat unique interpretation of vessels that formerly plied the South Pacific a century or more earlier. My father sailed from Sydney to Fiji on one such vessel - the specifics remaining sketchy to this day – all I ever saw was one black and white photo taken by my father in the mid-1930s.

This ship, the Aranui 5 represented the perfect idealization of all that sailing among the islands entails. Of course, we googled it to see what it was like inside and from the photos we saw, it would be interesting to entertain the idea of joining the ship for one of its voyages. Has anyone reading this post ever been aboard? Up alongside the Emerald Princess it didn’t look all that bigger than the tenders that shuttled us back and forth to the shore and yet, as we watched it unload just one pallet of cargo, we couldn’t ignore it’s primary role of getting the necessities of life to where they were most needed. 

Whereas this ship was idyllic to us, pulling alongside us in Paleete was one very big luxury cruiser. Yes, it was none other than James Packer’s new flagship, the 354-feet Benetti built, IJE. Got $60,000 base per day and you can evidently make a booking. As it was, it dominated the wharf to where it was difficult to see much of anything else. And yet, Margo and I could daydream – would we like to have a toy as big as this? Of course we would if the situation ever arises but then, realistically and as we often hear, that ship has definitely sailed!

And yet, we did enjoy a really big window on the world!

It was those same tides that brought us back to San Pedro a short time later. Cruising the South Pacific has been more than a passing pleasure for me for almost a half century. However, watching Margo take as much delight in the long days as sea that were involved as I have enjoyed numerous times before was equally as pleasing. We missed a couple of ports even as we missed catching coronavirus, but we didn’t miss a beat when it came to mixing business with opportunities for downtime. Call is bizcations, but this has been how we have mixed the two worlds together for some time now. With so much uncertainty ahead and with itinerary changes happening almost overnight, one thing is for sure – there will be many more voyages ahead. And to that, we raise just one more toast!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Time is not on our side!

How often have you heard someone saying that they have run out of time? It seems that whenever the topic of time comes up, we simply do not have enough of it and yet, it’s a sobering thought when you think about. Particularly those of us working in the gig economy with no plans on retiring any time soon! I was reminded of this just recently with the passing of Clive James, an Australian critic, journalist, broadcaster and writer who was never short on answers. The way James viewed life, it was all rather simple. “Stop worrying – nobody gets out of this world alive.”

At another time, James said it a little differently but it resonated even more with us: “Life is a gig where nobody leaves alive!” Perhaps it was better expressed by long time journalist and television commentator, Andy Rooney, who famously said, that “I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.” Of course, that may be just a tad crass and yet it is an illustration that is hard to forget. All the while, the years count down and inevitably, there are the anniversaries we all celebrate and for Margo and me, January was a time to celebrate yet another wedding anniversary.

On this occasion, before heading out for our traditional celebratory dinner, it called for a wee dram of whisky. Having previously been gifted a bottle of Johnnie Walker “Blue” Scotch Whisky it was time to tackle the top shelf and help ourselves to just one glass. Yes, there is a difference and yes, according to our good friends, the Kennys, who just a few days previously likewise had sampled a glass, “Every other Scotch now tastes like turpentine!” According to Brian, it will be a tough act to follow but then again, with Brian, I have to believe that there will be a bottle or two added to his top shelf in the coming months.

Celebrating anniversaries has always been important for us both but even as we do so, we are also cognizant that yes, it’s been another “trip around the sun.” I only recently read that motoring journalists enjoy long road trips as it gives them the opportunity to be “input free” and for Margo and me, there is no question whatsoever that this is indeed one of the major upsides to driving to the many meetings we commit to support. In any given year you would be hard pressed to miss reading an update about a town we have just visited. Did I mention already that the Blue was incredibly good and oh, yes, the bottle was jointly gifted to us by us back last year on Christmas Eve.

I was just asked to provide a picture of my desk. Not sure why but the folks at HPE who support the HPE blogging and influencer communities thought it would be fun if we shared such pictures with fellow bloggers and influencers. As it so happened I was in the middle of multitasking – meeting a shortened deadline for writing an industry blog post as well as finalizing the books for the year. And yes, there was also a lot of material being pulled together on a topic new to me that I was to write about shortly. In other words, no matter how I try to describe it, or justify the results, my work desk was a mess!

Then again, at this time of year, the opportunity to go on one of those long road trips isn’t in the cards. The weather in the Rockies is always a deterrent to any planning for road trips. Our SUV has gotten quite the work out even as the other cars remain on battery tenders. On the other hand, writing is something that I enjoy doing and pursuing new story lines is always a challenge. Then again, if you look back at posts during February and March of previous years, you will pick up on a common theme – the ideal garage. I have often mused about how many cars you really need and then what would they be? But it is now 2020 so where do we start?

It was back in early summer of 2019 that the Corvette pictured above – a Corvette Series 7, Z06, with the optional Z07 track package (or C7 Z06 as it’s more commonly called)triggered a series of events that looking back brings a smile to our faces. While we may have just celebrated yet another wedding anniversary, we were hoping to celebrate the beginning of a reduction in the number of vehicles we possessed. The path to such a rationalization was neither straight forward nor without diversions and yet, it has brought us one step closer to where we hope to be when February 2021 comes around.

The presence of this Blue Corvette brought me back to the Corvette dealer a matter of just a few weeks later. And yes, it was still on the show room floor and yes, it was only a matter of weeks before General Motors would reveal its next generation of Corvettes – the revolutionary mid-engine C8. To put this all into perspective, I had no plans to buy this Corvette but I just happened to run into a Corvette sales manager I knew from dealings with another dealership where he previously worked and this led to us sitting down, having coffee and talking about cars. After all, I had plenty of time to just talk …

It had only been a few weeks earlier that in pursuit of our plan to rationalize our garage(s) and by this, I mean reduce the number of cars present in our garage, we ended up with more cars. For only the second time in our married life we found ourselves in possession of six cars. Well then, it looked like the plan was going along swimmingly I had to admit. On the other hand, the lease on our i8 Coupe was just about up and that would bring us down to five cars and at this time, we still had the RV, the trailer and the Corvette C5 Z06. And an off-premise garage, to boot! What to do? What would be the perfect garage for us? And yes, there is a label now that will walk you through this column through the years!

As the coffee continued to be poured, our good friend at Corvette suggested “why no trade the RV, the trailer and the Corvette on a new Corvette ZR1!” Whoa … a ZR1? What about the newer Corvette that was coming? The C8? “You wouldn’t want to be among the first to own such a radical change to the Corvette, now would you? As an IT guy you must appreciate just how much new software there will be and do you really want to be involved in debugging a car?” And so the conversation took on a life of its own. 

In an unrelated move, having leased a Range Rover Evoque ragtop convertible, Margo did a terrific job selling the aging Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 that we had owned for many years. So now, we had five cars parked alongside the garages. We knew that it was only a matter of days before we would be down to four cars with the BMW i8 being returned to BMW, so surely, unloading the RB, trailer and Corvette would be a smart move. However, in this endeavor, Margo came up short. Selling a used RV is just so hard to do!

Our Corvette sales manager then told us that no, he didn’t have a ZR1 on the showroom floor and no more were being delivered, but he could find us one. What color did you want? “And give me the details about the package – the Vette, the trailer and the RV (with photos)!” Of course, the response from Margo when I greeted her with the news was to the point even as it was very simple; “Are you crazy?” Seems like another Corvette and indeed a top of the line Corvette was the furthest thing from her mind. And yet, as we noodled on it all, somewhere along the way a switch was flipped and we thought that perhaps other car dealers might be as flexible as our friendly Corvette dealer.
Five Cars? Siz Cars? So much for reducing the number of cars we had to a more manageable three. In time, we came up with a plan. Time was passing, as it does, and at least our BMW i8 Coupe was off lease and had been returned! If any car dealer came up with a plan to provide us with a short term lease on a car and were prepared to take our trade-in package then let’s just go with the dealer that gave us the most money (for the trade-in)! Simple enough, right? But what dealers would we approach? That turned out to be easy; we went back to the dealers we had recently worked with and this narrowed it down to Chevrolet, Jaguar Land Rover and BMW.

Turned out that even though we had surrendered our BMW i8 Coupe previously, the BMW dealer had a new i8 Roadster sitting on the showroom floor … and it had been sitting there for nine months. Coule we help them out somehow?. A deal indeed could be done and to make it happen, the dealership offered us more on the RV and the Corvette than any other dealership. Margo would have to find a buyer for the trailer but that seemed to be pretty straightforward to do and it turned out that even on the trailer, she did good! So it turned out, that cup of coffee and talk of cars has seen us come down from six cars, an RV and a trailer to just four cars and all’s well for the coming year. 
Oooh! Ahhh! Pretty Car! And so the saga continues. Margo and I spent some time in the local mall only to run across a new Aston Martin Vantage. Hadn’t had a chance to see one as of this time but it did lead us back to what would constitute the ideal garage for us. What do we really need with the work we do and the trips we like to take. As we continue to make trips around the sun, will there be a point where comfort and ease of operation become priorities? Will better fuel mileage and driver assists play an important role? Very quickly we settled on a couple of items and they were driven by where we lived and how long we expected to continue living in our current abode.

Turns out we do need an all-wheel drive SUV and to date, we are really happy with the Evoque. So, for starters, let’s keep it! With the SUV sorted out then we see that there is a difference between a grand tourer and a sports car even as we now know we no longer need a track car as well. Margo simply loves her Jaguar F Type and I don’t think that there is any way of taking that away from her anytime soon, even if the Aston Martin Vantage would be an ideal replacement for the Jag. So, that leaves the BMWs – the M4 Competition and the i8 Roadster. 

For as long as I have been writing these winter updates featuring cars and what would constitute an ideal garage, I have written about an exotic that could be a candidate for further consideration. Early on it was a Lamborghini Gallardo and then an Audi R8 – both mid-engine cars. And then there was the mid-enjoy Lotus Exige S-260 we tracked on the Nurburgring. In the meantime, Margo and I have leased a couple of BMW i8s both of which have been mid-engine vehicles that also benefitted from being true hybrids. And yes, we have grown to like hybrids even as we truly do enjoy the handling characteristics of a mid-engine car.

Returning to that conversation of last year with the Corvette sales manager and the off-putting remarks about software and software bugs, there is a very strong likelihood that the upcoming Corvette C8 Z06 will in fact be a hybrid. Perfect, don’t you think? And it is a proper sports car whereas Margo’s Jaguar is probably best viewed as a touring car. Again, perfect. And there you have it – a Range Rover SUV, a Jaguar F Type Tourer and a proper sports car, a mid-engine hybrid Corvette. It doesn’t get any better than that considering how we got here in the first place. And yes, I can live with that.  

What are these references to blue all about, then? Does this indeed mean that any new Vette would need to be blue? We don’t mind Blue Scotch, after all, but really, more blue cars? On that note I think we will have to wait another year before there is any further commentary on the topic of what makes a perfect garage. But perhaps time really isn’t on our side in this regard. On the other hand, it wasn’t just about Blue Scotch, a nice dinner out – there were flowers as well, as you would expect. And if this new, not so thoroughly thought through plan, is to flourish then I have to believe there will be many more bouquets of roses involved!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A decade that was special …

Just to kick things off, I am firmly in the camp that we still have one more year to go before the 20s decade really begins. There was never a year zero, right? But given how I am in the minority here, I suspect it’s only reasonable to expect a review of all that occurred in the 2010s that got us to where we are today. On paper ten years looks a long time but in reality, it went very quickly for Margo and me and looking back now at all that occurred, it was perhaps the most hectic period of our adult lives.

The decade though does belong to Pyalla. It has had its ups and downs the same as any business endeavor experience. Of late though, we have settled into a rhythm and are enjoying working for a number of clients and we really are having fun doing so. And yes, we have reached a point where we are becoming a little more selective as it’s proved to be a whole lot more fun when you work with folks who openly see you as being part of their team.

I guess that is the secret really for our longevity – yes, being in business for ten years does qualify as being a long time – has been our focus and it’s never wavered from being centered on HPE, Mission Critical Systems (MCS) and the NonStop platform. The NonStop community continues to go from strength to strength and with all that HPE does in the marketplace these days, the NonStop vendor community has become the biggest partnership with HPE of any system or platform! More recently, our working relationship with MCS has risen to new heights. Stay tuned as there is more to follow. 

There has been a lot more than business to occupy the time spent in this latest decade. We have been extremely fortunate to be able to couple our love for vendor meetings and events with our love of travel, the arts and yes, music. At a time when everyone just “googles that” unknown or unclear event or action there is still no substitute for meeting face-to-face. An emoji really doesn’t convey true body language. Nor does an email express sentiment in a manner that you can parlor into actions! So yes, for Margo and me, when we look back at what has been special this past decade, there are five distinct areas or categories that provided extra material for our highlight reel. 
First up, the house: As you already know we downsized our home even as we decided to stay in Colorado and to remain close to the front ranges. It’s cold in winter, but then again, we do get to witness four distinct seasons.  The downsize was massive and we are still wearing the repercussions from some of the decisions we made during the downsizing. Moving from 13,000 square feet (10,000 finished) anchoring a 1.2 acre lot is a far cry from 5,000 square feet (4,000 finished) on a tiny lot. We are contemplating getting a much smaller cat! Way less than a quarter acre of property I would guess, as I truly don’t know how small the lot is – then again, yard maintenance is now a blessing compared with what we once enjoyed in Niwot. Yes, we moved from Boulder county and the village of Niwot to Laramie county and to the township of Windsor.

So how do we feel? Well, when it comes to wearing the repercussions it’s taking some getting used to when our master suite is about a quarter the size of our former master while our kitchen is about one tenth the size. But then again, our bills for house expenses are way, way down from what we had grown used to paying. And talk about the bills? Taxes, insurance, gardening, trash collection and yes, housecleaning are a fraction of what we paid for almost two decades and as they say in business, it’s all about free cash flow and that has had a marked impact on our lifestyle. Moving house is usually traumatic but we made the best of it and it did go smoothly and for that, Margo takes all the credit as it was Margo that managed to a spreadsheet and everything happened when it was needed.

Secondly, the music: We went to Los Angeles’ “The Greek Theater” to hear a performance by the 2Cellos. Rated second only to the Hollywood Bowl, it proved to be quite an experience as we hadn’t even heard of it before we attended the open air performance. Have you ever watched the videos of the 2Cellos on YouTube and seen the manner by which they go about blending old with the new – music, that is? When you think about it, who else could have come up with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony morphing into Led Zeppelin’s Whole lotta love?  And who else can open with Vivaldi’s Spring from Four Seasons and morph to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – perhaps their best known performance of all.

Of course, their performance at The Greek came towards the end of the decade but it blew away the other performances we had attended during the decade. Well, almost all, as we have to acknowledge that attending the hundredth anniversary of Nat King Cole performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC certainly was an experience. But then again, so were a couple of performances of Mamma Mia in various towns, New York at the top of the list, and then we’ve seen the Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Part of our travels meant we wound up in Las Vegas more than once and we really like their O and Elvis performances even as we hope to catch a couple more in the coming decade.

Music and art have always played an important role in our lives together. We continue to collect paintings and one reason we chose the house we did as our new home were the many walls that enclosed the major rooms. Plenty of room to hang the pictures we have acquired over the years. Another important consideration was the opportunity to create a more open plan combination theater room, bar and wine cellar along with high top tables just for conversation. And it has worked out well for us so that now, we have an area where you can listen to the music, look at the art and enjoy a glass of wine!

Thirdly, the cars: They dominated many of the decisions we made in the past decade. Of course, we spent a goodly part of the decade on track, driving cars ourselves at track events around the western states of America. However, two events truly stood out for Margo and me included our track day driving a race-day prepped Lotus Exige S260 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife – the north loop, or as Jackie Stewart renamed it, “The Green Hell.” But there was also couple of laps that I took sitting behind Mario Andretti as he took me for a spin around the track at Sonoma (formerly, Infineon and before that, Sear’s Point) in a two-seat Honda Indy Car. 

However, no discussion of cars could possibly stop with just a reference to a track and a personality. We started out the decade buying Godzilla – a Nissan GT-R – that after a couple of years we updated to a newer model. Nothing, simply nothing, prepares you for driving Godzilla and it never ceased to put a smile on our face. And yes, it was Margo who had the opportunity to drive the east coast’s famous Tail of the Dragon, US 129, a highway that lies between North Carolina and Tennessee and is only 11 miles long. Whereas the Nürburgring has 150 turns over 12 plus miles, the Tail of the Dragon has 318.

The GT-R may have been the highlight but we do need to give a special call out to the Maserati GT-S we had for half the decade as well as the much newer BMW i8s we have enjoyed. It was almost as if we were watching massive changes taking place in the automobile industry as we went from V8s to Turbo V6s and ultimately hybrid mixes of very small displacement combustion engines and powerful electric motors. This decade has passed and we have no V10s or V8s in the garage any longer and that is saying something for a couple like Margo and me.

You may also recall having read that at the end of the decade we dumped the RV, dumped too our beloved red Corvette that we used for track driving, sold off the trailer and ended up with the BMW i8 roadster as we traded the lot on just one car. It is not easy to sell an RV, so we feel pretty relieved we were able to complete what turned out to be pretty complex transaction! While it’s not really a highlight that we want to advertise all the same for us, being let off the hook is good news!

Fourth highlight of the year: Travel dominated much of our activities away from the house and it wasn’t just about crisscrossing the countryside in one car or the other. Then again, our travels did take us to numerous historic sites and there was rarely a time when we didn't pull over to take a look at something or other. Of course, visiting places popularized by Mark Twain was a must!

We traveled to Europe a few times; sometimes on business and at other times, very personal. We managed to squeeze into our busy business schedule a river cruise, our first Mediterranean Cruise to the Balkans visiting Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. We even sailed out of New York on a cruise that took us to nowhere (but with one short stop in Bermuda) and we enjoyed our time on a dinner cruise on Sydney Harbor as the fireworks celebrated New Year’s eve, 2019. Having Internet access on a cruise ship, no matter the size or the cruise line, pulling out our laptops meant we could continue business without any noticeable interruptions to our daily routines back on land. 

If we were to rank the cruise lines then yes, Seabourn ocean cruises top the list even as we did enjoy Viking river cruises. On the other hand, we remain a fan of the Windstar line. Of interest, the Seabourn vessel we sailed on has become part of the Windstar line. When it comes to our go-to cruise line for big ships it continues to be Princess. There is something iconic about seeing a modern cruise ship moored close by to Sydney's famous Harbor Bridge. ON this occasion, it was the Majestic Princess and the largest vessel in the Princess fleet. 

Call it a long history with the company – family ties as early in my IT career I worked for P&O line subsidiary, Overseas Containers Line (OCL) – but then again, we can see ourselves enjoying our tenth cruise on Princess shortly. We have done a cruise on Royal Caribbean as well as on Norwegian but they kind of fall short in some respects, but then again, there is still time to enjoy an Atlantic crossing on a Cunard vessel.

Fifth highlight is something very special: No story on this past decade’s highlights would be complete without a reference to Margo’s Mother passing away and Margo’ daughter getting married a short time later – Anna and Erich combining their honeymoon with a trip to Poland to lay Grandma’s ashes in the family’s grave. Then Margo became a grandparent for the first time. Daughter Anna first provided a daughter, Ella, before adding twin boys, Aiden and Even just a couple of years later. Certainly, Christmas Eve has become a family time and being around small children again brings back memories from way, way back in our lives. Having such a fresh family connection isn’t without its challenges but then again, long after memories from all of the above have faded, there will always be family.

My mother too passed away and that too was a milestone we knew would occur but all the same, it really is now just Margo and me. My daughter Lisa took a step toward independence late in the decade – as she studies for her Master’s degree; she now lives by herself. Almost, there are two cats that share her new place with her. 

My brother Greg and his wife Robyn became grandparents as well with the arrival of Chase. With three girls in his family, I have to believe Chase will not be the last grandchild and having spent the summer of 2018 – 2019 with him and the family, Margo and I are left to believe that this is only just the beginning. The second daughter, Stephanie, married at the end of the decade – who knows what the next few years will bring? We will always treasure the hospitality Greg and Robyn extended to us during our time in Sydney but I suspect it will be a long time before next we plan an extended stay in Australia. 

The past decade was indeed special for Margo and me. There was the business to be nurtured as there were sights to be seen, music to be heard and cars to be driven. There were many new dining experiences with untried foods to be tasted. Thoughts as to the best restaurant ever? There were plenty to choose from, but it really is a tie between a restaurant we like atop Eze, France and the Cottage Point Inn, Sydney, that accepts arrivals by seaplane. Although too, the reworked Bennelong restaurant at the Sydney Opera House now under the management of executive chef Peter Gilmore was a real surprise and worthy of a special mention.
Well, let us not forget friendships! We were blessed to enjoy friendship and company of quite a few great folks – we were quite blessed over the years with truly good friends! I will leave the friendship tales for later as we will be adding a couple of friendship-related adventures in 2020. To the Kennys of Simi Valley, the Millers of Windsor, the Monchs of Sydney, the Rosens of DC and the Jones of Atlanta – a big thank you for letting us be part of your lives as well.

And through it all we both added years to our lives – all of them remarkably good for us both. Now we have a new decade to look forward and even as it has been the subject of many discussions we know the business will continue, families will continue to grow, cars will come and go. Perhaps there will be one more move as our downsizing continues or perhaps, we change continents once more. Whatever transpires it really has been all about the journey and if the past decade is any guide, then look forward to even more perfect days ahead!