Friday, May 31, 2019

Do something you love - for me, it's scuba diving

There seems to be a lot of advice going around lately on how to lead a good life. I've been getting advertisements for an app called Fabulous - enhance your life. On top of the advice list is to Do Something You Love! I think I've got that down. In fact, I live my life by not doing anything unless I love it! I love learning about technology, I love teaching people about technology, I love writing, I love going for walks with Jim, I love traveling, I love creating content on websites, I love photography, I love presenting seminars with Jim (actually I love doing just about anything with Jim.) But number one on the list of things I do for no other reason besides the fact that I love it ... is scuba diving ... and it's something I do with Jim!

This week we went on a dive trip to Little Cayman Island. It was arranged by our dive club - UnderSea Adventurers, or USA Dive Club. We were here as part of a trip last year for our 20th wedding anniversary - that was on the dive boat the Cayman Aggressor. We dove all over the area, but I think my favorite dive sites were on Little Cayman, so when we heard about this club trip we signed right up.

If you've never been scuba diving, let me tell you about it. 

First of all, I'm talking about warm ocean water - someplace like the Caribbean or the South Pacific. That means you need the minimum of wetsuit coverage - just something to protect you from scratches and stings, but not confining. When you jump into the water, you are entering another world - literally. The undersea world is not a place where humans live, we are visitors and we need to open ourselves to the wonder of it all. But, before even looking around you can appreciate the soft touch of warm water and the buoyancy. It takes some experience to know how much lead weight you need to balance the buoyancy, but once you get it right the weightlessness is so cool. I've heard it said that dreams where you're flying indicate reaching a higher spiritual level. Well - dream no more! You can reach this level by going scuba diving!

Any yoga instructor will tell you, the key is to focus on your breath. When you're scuba diving, all you can hear is your breathing, whoosh as you breath in and bubbles when you breathe out. No distractions, just the meditation of breathing in and out.

Then there are the sights and experiences. I am a fan of walls, and Little Cayman has the best. It's an entire underwater park called Bloody Bay Wall and it has over 20 specific dive sites. Most of them incorporate the wall. This is where the bottom of the ocean just drops off. In Little Cayman, the wall drops off to several thousand feet. There are several places where there are canyons or tunnels from the reef to the wall. You're just swimming along the reef at about 30-50 feet, then you can enter a tunnel - feel a little spooky as you descend and wind your way through this narrow space, and then you come out the other side - into the abyss! I find it thrilling.
Chris in the Abyss

Jim took lots of video with his GoPro camera. Once it's on YouTube, I'll come back here and post a link.

Then there is the life. You know that space movies must get a lot of their inspiration for alien creatures from those we see in the depths. They are so different from us.
Grouper getting his teeth cleaned by cleaner shrimp and wrasse
Southern Stingray under a blanket of sand taking a nap
Up close and personal with a turtle

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

May rally and home

For the first week of May we had an RV Rally in Georgia - SKP ACRE. They had about 70 RVs there. There were only a few seminar presenters - only one track - we really like that. It means that everyone who is interested in seminars comes to see us, there are no choices for each time slot. And the relatively small number of attendees means we got to know folks. Offering our one-on-one smartphone help desk let us get up close and personal. And, the rally provided many group meals so we got to know folks even more. And, many of the people here are folks we already knew. FUN.

While we were still at the rally in Georgia, we were scheduled to do a remote presentation for APCUG (Ass'n of Personal Computer User Groups) It was an online presentation and we were able to get it set up and working in our little camper van. Fortunately - both AT&T and Verizon service were pretty good so all worked well. We were told it would be available on YouTube soon, but it's not there yet. I will come back here and give the link when it's available. The topic was Google Photos: our 7 favorite features.

After the rally, we drove straight home. Time to catch up on web work, do our shows, and go to Toastmasters until time to go on our dive trip at the end of the month.
I visited Mom a couple of times too. She's still on Hospice, but she seems quite well.


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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

April recap

When April began, we were in northern Florida, headed to Sarasota for a gig at the Sarasota Technology User Group. We made another stop at a Florida Springs along the way. This is Crystal River Three Sisters springs.

We got to Sarasota on Tuesday and our gig was on Wednesday, so we called Horseshoe Cove RV resort where we have stayed before and booked one night. Then we had plenty of time to get caught up on emails and get ready for our seminar.

The seminar ended about 8pm and we decided we were rested enough to just go on home. So we drove across Alligator Alley at night and got home a little after 11pm.

With nothing on our calendar for a while, we could relax, soak in our hot tub, have dinners with friends, enjoy the neighborhood, and do our YouTube shows.
Beautiful flowers in our neighbor's yard.

We also took the opportunity to attend our Earlybird Toastmasters club on Thursday mornings at 7am.

We did have one more gig at a Computer Club - Cascade Lakes in Boynton Beach.

Then, we had to be in Georgia for a rally for the first week of May - so we allowed enough time to stop off at Alex's in Melrose and join in for a family dinner at her sister's on the lake.

And that was it for April.
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Saturday, March 30, 2019

March recap

It's taken me till today to finish the blog posts for the New Zealand trip. Today is May 29 - we got back from New Zealand on Feb 28. That's 3 months to catch up :-(  My plan is to do just one post recapping each month so I can get up to date and tell you about what we're doing right now.
I still keep up the photo albums for each month because that is just so easy. So I can look back at the albums to see what we did in March. Here is the link to our March photo album.
We were actually quite busy. We were at home in the beginning of March, so we had our fully equipped studio to do our YouTube show - Episode 161 about how we remember our travels with photos, maps, and a blog. If you only watch one of our shows - this is the one! I think remembering travels is our signature topic. I just love our photos, maps, and blog and I love to teach others how to do it.
Episode 161:How to Remember your Travels with Photos, Maps, and a Blog

Next in March we attended our USA Dive Club meeting, and presented a seminar to a local computer club - Deerfield Beach Computer Club. Then we headed up to Georgia for the FMCA rally. We stopped to pick up Alex along the way and got to say hi to her friendly donkey. Alex helped us out at our table while we taught seminars. It was great to have her along - Thanks Alex!

We've presented our seminars at every FMCA convention since 2005 - at 2 per year, that comes to 29 rallies. We're feeling a bit old and a bit tired. We're now focused on being semi-retired and have decided not to go to the next convention. It's in Minot N Dakota and we have no plans of being anywhere near there in August. It's crazy to drive 2500 miles just to present a few seminars, and flying just doesn't seem right. Then it's just work - not fun. So, we've sent our regrets to FMCA. The next convention is in March 2020 in Tucson. That conflicts with a big dive trip that we've already booked to the Maldives. So we won't be doing that rally either. I expect their summer 2020 will be in the east somewhere so we could do that ... if they still want us.
We came back home to rest for the week in between the FMCA rally and the RVillage rally. We decided to splurge and upgrade our home Internet to Gigabit Fibre ... OH BOY! This will help us in our plan to focus more on our website to make our living rather than traveling to RV rallies.

We ended the month with the RVillage Rally 2.0. The signature event of this rally is gathering around the Firebirds at night. Firebirds are those tall metal sculptures that they fill with wood and light like a giant pot bellied stove. The weather was gorgeous so everyone was  out, musicians gathered everywhere and a good time was had by all. Of course, we still did our seminars and our Smartphone Help Desk services as well.

After that rally, we had a couple of days to enjoy a Florida State Park - Manatee Springs. Don't you just love the color of the water?

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Christchurch and Akaroa, then home

When we got back to Christchurch, we had booked one more night at the Jailhouse accomodations. It's a great place, but we'd also heard that the YMCA hostel was wonderful, and it is right across the street from the Christchurch botanical gardens, so we booked our 2 remaining open nights there. You think that staying at a hostel is an inexpensive way to go, but you don't expect to get the best location for the cheap price. Yet, that's exactly what you get at the Y. Across the street one way is the huge botanical gardens and the Canterbury Museum. A couple blocks in the other direction is the town center with the old church that was heavily damaged during the 2011 earthquake.

In walking around the area, we stopped in to a tourist information center where they convinced us to take a bus tour out to Akaroa - we're so glad we did!

The bus ride was quite pleasant, and the driver had rich stories of the history of New Zealand. The Dutch explorer, Abel Tasmen was the first European to discover the islands. The Maori were already here - they call it Aotearoa. I'm not sure if Tasmen was too respectful of the Maori to "claim" the land for his home country or he was just lazy. Nevertheless, Dutch laid no claim. The French sailed into Akaroa harbor in 1838 but did not have the paperwork to "claim" the land for France so they sailed back to France to consult with the King and then sail back. Meanwhile, the English signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori in 1840 and the ship named HMS Britomart sailed into Akaroa harbor on Aug 10, 1840 and immediately raised the Union Jack claiming New Zealand as part of the British empire. 5 days later, the French made it back complete with settlers and proclamations from the French king to claim the land for France. What a story. The end result was that the french were allowed to settle in Akaroa as long as they vowed allegiance to the British.
To this day Akaroa has a French section and a British section, you can tell by the names of the streets and the restaurants.
What a beautiful place.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with seating overlooking the harbor. Who needs food when you have this view? But, the food was good too.

Part of our tour included a harbor cruise. Oh Boy.

It was a gorgeous day. We even saw the world's smallest penguin.

Back to Christchurch and we moved to our last hotel, the Doubletree. This had been booked as part of our skeleton plan for the whole trip. Very nice. Good breakfast. Then we're off to the airport and our LONG flight home. So cool to see this mural in the Auckland airport. It's a photo of the Castle Hill area near Arthur's pass, the place we call Birthplace of the Gods ... been there

First flight: Christchurch -> Auckland: 1.5 hrs + 2 layover
Second flight: Auckland -> San Francisco: 12 hrs + 2.5 layover
Third flight: San Francisco -> Miami: 5.5 hrs + 1.5 hrs train home

Home safe and sound, and not even much worse for wear. We didn't feel much jet lag at all. We were even able to do our YouTube show on Sunday. We show our photos, maps, and blog posts and teach you how you can do the same to remember your travels ... easy-peasy with Google Photos, Google My Maps, and Google Blogger. Episode 161:

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Monday, February 25, 2019

A train ride, Kiwi, and beer

We like train rides, so when we heard that one of the world's great train rides went from Christchurch to Greymouth over Arthur's Pass, we booked it. That was before we adjusted our RV route to go from Greymouth to Christchurch - over Arthur's Pass. I am generally against retracing my steps, won't this be a waste of time when there is so much to see in New Zealand? Jim said no - when we're on the train, I'll actually get to enjoy the view! So we kept the reservation and I'm glad we did. Train rides are relaxing - just sit back, eat and drink, and watch the beautiful scenery.

I think it is possible to go over and back in one day, but that's not relaxing! We had heard that the small town of Hokitika was very nice, so we found a place to stay on AirBnB and took a bus from Greymouth.

What a great AirBnB we found! It was upstairs in a building that used to be an old movie theatre. People bought it and converted it to a home with the upstairs as a separate apartment. We had a full kitchen, dining room, living room and bedroom. And the WiFi was screaming fast.

We had our own separate door ... the Green Door ... and the key was in a place specified on the website. We were home. For 2 nights. We almost did one of our YouTube shows from there, because the WiFi was so good - but thought better of it and went to the Kiwi museum instead!

We were just a couple of blocks from everything. Restaurants, beach, museum, bars, everything.
In case you don't know - Kiwi is not only a fruit, and the nickname for people in New Zealand, it all started with the bird. Kiwi is a flightless bird known only in New Zealand.

Did you know that, as an island, New Zealand does not have any native mammals. None. No deer, no bear, not even any squirrels. If you see a four-legged creature  in New Zealand, it was brought here by people.  The only type of animals here as natives were birds, and fish. The Kiwi is the national symbol. You simply do not see them in the wild, not only because they are almost extinct, but also because they are nocturnal. So, when we learned there was a Kiwi museum in Hokitika, and you were guaranteed to see a real, live Kiwi, we had to go. What a funky little museum. To build up to the Kiwi, you were led along a path alongside a pond full of eels. Apparently eels are a major food source? And whitebait - a kind of minnow.
Then you go down a very dark corridor with darkroom lights and arrows pointing to the pen where you should see a Kiwi - indeed, we did see a bird - kind of a cross between a partridge and a penguin. You weren't allowed to take any photos because, well, it was dark - and the flash would blind the poor bird. There was only one, but he/she was quite active. They must have left food along the edge of the pen so that it would be running along where we could see it. When you left the museum, they gave you a printed photo of him/her.

We also enjoyed walking along the beach in Hokitika and picking up some Fish and Chips to take back to our BnB. You hear that Hokitika is a place where you can buy some authentic New Zealand Jade, aka Greenstone, aka Pounamu. Yep - I counted at least 6 different Jade jewelry stores, but I couldn't find much of anything in my price range. But, after hunting through several stores, I settled on a sweet little pair of gold earrings in the shape of a spiral. We learned that the spiral is a symbol of continual advancement in an upward, albeit roundabout, course. There tiny dot of Jade in the center of the spiral, making the price affordable at near $100. After putting them on and wearing them for the day, I decided I liked them a LOT. I'm so glad I bought them ... err ... rather that Jim bought them for me! It is considered bad luck to buy jade for yourself, you always buy it for someone else. So, Jim took them to the register and bought them for me :-)

The next day we had bad news ... our bus back to Greymouth and the train was cancelled. It was coming up from further south and part of the road had been washed out in a storm. Yikes! What do we do?

Lemons to Lemonade

We emailed our AirBnB hosts, Luke and Jose, to ask if they had any suggestions. How wonderful they were! Of course, they said, they know someone who is driving up from Hokitika to Greymouth this morning and they'll get us a ride with them and take us there. Wonderful people. He is a New Zealander and she is an American who has adopted Hokitika as her home. We loved meeting them.

They got us a ride with the van than transports bicycle riders. There is a well-known bicycle trail along much of the west coast of New Zealand south island and a shuttle service for the bicyclers. It just so happened that they were driving the shuttle van from Hokitika to Greymouth on the day our bus was cancelled. It's called the Wilderness Trail Shuttle and they were only transporting bicycles that morning so they had room for us!

In Greymouth there is Monteith's Brewery. This is a stop we wanted to make, but our original bus schedule didn't allow enough time so we wrote it off. Because of our bus cancellation, we were on the Wilderness trail shuttle and, guess where they were going? ... Yep! Monteith's Brewery.

And we arrived a good two hours before our train was scheduled. We were able to take the tour as well as taste a few beers and enjoy some wonderful food - I remember a Lamb pizza that was exquisite.
On our tour, we met fellow travelers who had a car and offered to drive us to the train station! Isn't it wonderful how things work out?!
The train ride from west to east was equally delightful as east to west.

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Geeks go to jail

After we turned in the motorhome and said goodbye to Melinda, we walked outside only to be greeted by a tall man in uniform, a constable, a member of the New Zealand Police force.
"I need to see your driver's license" he said
Already a bit dazed, and now totally confused, Jim complied and produced his Florida driver's license.
"Just as I thought," said the constable, "you don't have a New Zealand temporary driver sticker. You both will need to come with me."

Just kidding!

When researching a place to stay for a while in Christchurch, we looked at Airbnb, we also looked at Hostels. Sometimes referred to as Backpacker's Hostels, or just Backpackers, these are popular places for people to stay throughout New Zealand. When we found that an old Jailhouse had been converted to a hostel, well - we had to check it out, so we checked in.
It was great! For $82NZD (about $55USD) we had a private room with a double bed and TV, and shared a bathroom down the hall.
Our first room at the Jailhouse Accomodation
It clearly had been a jail in the past

The Wi-Fi was screaming fast, fibre optic. They had fun with the jailhouse theme!

We only stayed there one night the first time because we had reservations on the train to travel back across the Southern Alps.

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