Life Happens

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One week ago today, early in the afternoon of February 25th, Susie got the phone call that she frankly expected, but that she dreaded getting. It was from Highfield Gardens Nursing Home in Great Neck, where her Mom has “lived” for the past 4 years, and it was to sadly inform her that her Mom had passed away peacefully at 1:40 that afternoon. As I said, expected, but still sad.

Susie’s Mom, Edith Sanderson Booth Johnson was born on December 26th, 1924 in Astoria, New York. She was one of two children born to Doris Ionian Thompson and John Sanderson Booth, and from all accounts, had a wonderful childhood. As a young woman during the Second World War, she worked as a secretary for some unknown US Government agency in the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan. It was only after the US dropped the two Atom Bombs on Japan, ending the war, that she learned that she had been working on the Manhattan Project, that developed those bombs. She was very proud of the pin and letter of commendation she received from that work, and held it as a prized possession for the rest of her life.

Shortly after the end of the war, in 1945, she married Susie’s Dad, Robert Walter Johnson. Just recently back from serving in the US Army in Italy, her Dad was married in his uniform and her Mom in a simple suit. As they told the story, they got engaged one weekend, and married the next. (Edie’s Dad wasn’t even there as he was away on a hunting trip!) That’s just the way folks did things in the aftermaths of World War II! After a honeymoon in Niagara Falls (so typical in those days), it was time to get on with their lives!

Bob and Edie started their lives together in Astoria, and then were one of the first families to move into Long Island’s Levittown in 1950. They were living the post World War American Dream! That dream also included children, and they welcomed their first daughter Barbara Alice in 1947, then five years later, my wife Susan Lynn, in 1952, and then 10 years after that, their younger brother Donald James in 1962. Susie’s brother was named for her Mom’s beloved younger brother, who tragically died shortly after the war, from what we’ve only recently been able to deduce would probably be called today PTSD, but which was totally unknown in the 40’s.

The family moved around Long Island after Levittown, first moving to Hempstead, then out to Bayshore with Susie’s Grandparents, and finally back to Brown Avenue in Hempstead, where they spent many years.

In 1977, the Johnson Family came into my life when I met their daughter Susie, and in 1978 when I asked her to marry me, they became my family! Susie and I were very fortunate because unlike so many married couples we hear about, we both liked our new in-laws. Susie’s Mom and Dad became my Mom and Dad, just as mine became her’s. When holidays came around, we were one big family, with her folks coming over to my folks’ house in Bayside or my Mom and Dad traveling to Hempstead for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Life was good, and it got even better when our little guys entered the picture!

Seems like between my Mom (my Dad had died when oldest son Billy was just over a year old), and Susie’s folks, a couple of our kid’s grandparents were always in our house. They were there to volunteer for babysitting for work, and especially when Susie and I wanted to have some alone time, and keep reminding ourselves that even with 3 kids, we were a couple first and always. Unfortunately, Susie and I were in Las Vegas when Susie’s Dad died in 2001. Our kids were home on Long Island, and we were 3/4 of the country away, but Susie’s brother stepped up to the plate and got our kids ready to accept that “Pop-Pop” had died!

Susie’s Mom really never wanted to continue without him, but continue she did for what turned out to be many, many years. First at the Knolls in East Meadow, where they’d moved from Hempstead, but then about 12+ years, things started to change and unravel in her life. It was a Labor Day weekend, and Susie’s sister Barbara and family were out at Montauk, and Susie and I were down in Ocean City. Only her brother Donnie was there, when she apparently suffered a heart attack. This was the beginning of Vascular Dementia, and over the next couple of years it progressed to the point she couldn’t continue to live alone. From there it went fast. She had several accidents, and honestly we thought the end was near, but she always rallied…physically, but never mentally.

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Easter of 2015…4 Generations..Susie’s Mom, Susie, her Mom’s oldest Grandchild (our son Billy) and her first Great Grand Child, Billy’s daughter Layla

Four years ago she entered the nursing home in Great Neck where her dementia only proceeded to get worse. Most visits, she didn’t even know her children. She knew she’d seen them before, but had no idea of who they were. Occasionally a name would click, but mostly she had no idea about family history. She’d forgotten her husband Bob, her Mom and Dad and brother, and frankly, some of the stories she’d tell when you visited were off the wall. It was hard for all of us who loved her to see her that way, but Susie was happy that she was well taken care of by people who actually seemed to care for her. It’s a horrible way for someone’s life to end and if it hasn’t touched your family or your circle of friends, consider yourself fortunate!

Having moved to Ocean City 2+ years ago, we didn’t get back to see her as often as when we lived in Mineola, but the last time Susie and I saw her in January was one of the best visits we’ve had in years! She was happy to see us, was upbeat, and happy to have us there. She was the one who told us to leave, and as Susie returned her to the common room on the floor, she said she was happy that we’d been there. Whether she had any idea who we were, or was just “faking” it, we’ll never know, but looking back on that visit, and how good it was, has helped Susie get through the last week!

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Mother’s Day 2015 in our Mineola Backyard..Susie’s Mom with all her kids

Christmas, 2015 with Susie’s sister Barbara and Mom’s first Great Grand Child Layla, and her 91st Birthday

When Susie got that call a week ago, we were in a rented condo in Indian Rocks Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Our son Kenny and his husband Chris were with us, planning to fly home the next day. As soon as she got the call, Susie got on the phone with her sister and brother and worked out what they thought would be an appropriate plan for her funeral. Four years ago, Susie and her sister had planned the funeral when they thought she was going to leave us then, and before her money ran out, they paid for it, so Susie also had to coordinate with the Funeral Home. Lots of phone calls in the next few hours or so after getting the original call. Then it was my turn to get online and plan our transportation back to NY for the weekend. It was decided that we’d leave our rental a day early, pack our car, and drive across the state and fly out of Ft. Lauderdale Airport, as the rest of our Florida stay was taking place on the East coast of the state. On Wednesday, we took the boys to the Tampa airport, and then proceeded to start packing up from our month’s long stay!

Susie’s Sister Barbara and her husband Rob coordinated flowers back on Long Island and made sure they got clothes for their Mom to Weigand Brothers Funeral Home in Williston Park! Thank God they were there and able to take care of those details. Our friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf offered us to stay in their home in Mineola, and for that and their friendship, we’re thankful! We packed the car Thursday night, and early on Friday morning, we drove 200 plus miles across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and through Alligator Alley to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and our Delta flight back to JFK. After picking up a car at the Hertz office, we made the drive to Mineola, arriving about 7:30 at Pat and Steve’s house. A long day of travel!

Saturday morning I dropped Susie off at the Cuttin Club, and her old hairdresser Laura, who’d responded to an urgent call from Florida to help Susie with her hair. Kenny and Chris drove up from Ocean City, and had clothes for me so I didn’t have to go to a funeral in my Florida vacation clothes. They also picked up brother Bill from the Long Island Rail Road station in Mineola, as he’d just taken the Air Train from JFK after flying from North Carolina! (Another change in plans…he and his wife Lori were supposed to drive up, but our oldest Granddaughter Layla came home from school with something called Slap Cheek, (Fifth’s Disease) which promptly changed those plans). At about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, the family started to gather at Weigand Brothers. Susie’s sister Barbara, husband Rob, and their son Ryan, her brother Donnie, Susie and I, and our kids Bill, Krissi and her husband Mike, and Kenny and his husband Chris.

It’s never easy going in for that first viewing, but everybody was very happy with how Susie’s Mom looked. Everybody said that she looked just like herself and would have been happy with her appearance. During this early period, Donnie’s ex-wife Diane showed up and was welcomed in as family. They may be divorced, but she’s always had a very good relationship with Susie’s Mom, who she called Nana. In fact, Diane was the last person to in the family to see her alive, having visited her on Saturday afternoon.

There were lots of visitors during the first session from Donnie’s Union and from his Fishing Club, and several of our former neighbors and folks from the Boy Scout Troop. There were lots of stories, and looking at pictures, and the usual talk about the shame that get-togethers like this only happen at funerals. Between sessions, the family went down the Street to TR’s for dinner, some drinks, and continuing reminisces about their Mom and the 95+ years of her life! The evening session was more of the same, and as the 9 o’clock hour approached, and it was time to say good-bye, there were tears and memories, and a mix of emotions, as well as kisses and hugs.

Another night at Pat and Steve’s, a drive to JFK, and another quick Delta Flight, and we’re back in Florida. Six nights at the the Doubletree Resort in Hollywood Beach will be time to recharge and reflect on this weekend, and be thankful for a great family and for friends who are there when the need arises. Thank you all…we love you!

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PS – At the funeral on Saturday, Susie’s sister Barbara gave me the the following, which she had found in her Mom’s “stuff”, that I had written to Susie’s Mom and Dad on the occasion of the their 40th Anniversary.  Interesting that Susie and I just celebrated our 40th Anniversary.  I wish I had pics of Susie’s Dad Bob to include, but I’m doing this on the road, and only have what I have!  Miss you Dad!!

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Week One In Florida!

We’re a little past our first week in Florida, and thought it was time to update you on our journey. There will be a lot of pictures this time around, because strangely, we remembered to take them…no guarantees going forward! So, here we go!

We arrived in Indian Rocks Beach late in the afternoon of Saturday ,February 1st. We have a new condo this year, that we’d only seen via the internet, so turning the key and walking in, there was a little mystery. Would it be as nice as what we saw on the internet, or would those pictures have been old, old, old! Well, our fears were unfounded, it’s very nice, but also HUGE! Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge kitchen, huge living/dining area, and huge balcony. Not the decor that we’d choose for a beach house (more dark Mediterranean than beachy), but probably bigger than our Ocean City house! Take a look and see for yourselves!

Of course, the sunsets in Indian Rocks Beach, on the Gulf Coast of Florida are legendary, and our first night on the beach was exactly what you’d expect!

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Last week was a bit chilly and windy, so a beach day was in shorts and t-shirts, which was more than I’m sure we would have been doing on our home beach in Ocean City! The pool was warm, and sheltered from the wind, and we got to sit by the side and take a dip, so again, a win!

Did we eat out yet? Yes, we crossed the street and went to Keegan’s, one of our favs from last year. We also had breakfast at JD’s, and on Tuesday, instead of the Back Bar at Charlies with Sue, we walked down a couple of blocks, and enjoyed our night at Guppy’s!

Towards the end of the week, my cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt joined us from the East Coast of Florida. They spent 4 nights with us, and joined us as we tried some new places to dine!

One afternoon, we traveled down to Madiera Beach (a place Susie used to go with her Grandma a long time ago) and had lunch at the Mad Beach Brewing Company. Lunch was good, the surroundings were great, but the waitress was a pip, and soured it a bit for us!

On Saturday, we traveled up the coast to Clearwater Beach, for a wonderful lunch at the Columbia Restaurant! A great place, with incredible food and drinks, and this day, Taylor a wonderful waitress just enhanced the experience! Such good things like a 1905 Martini (their original location in Tampa opened in 1905), a 1905 Salad made table side, an incredible Cuban Sandwich, Sangria (made table side), and desserts to die for! We will be back!!

Sunday night, we tried another new place..PJ’s Oyster Bar, just down the road in “downtown IRB”. A nutty setting, a great waitress, and wonderful food!! It checked off all the boxes!!!

When we got home, there was a great light show out on the balcony, as the Full Moon rose to the east! A great Sunset, followed by a great Moon Rise!

Today Jeanne and Walt headed home (we will be back with them in about a month at their home in Barefoot Bay, Florida), and once we made some beds and such, we headed to the beach and pool! 80 degrees on February 10th, is nothing to dismiss as unimportant! We spent a wonderful couple of hours on the beach, and then took a dip in the pool! Also met and talked to some folks from Ohio. Life DOESN’T suck!

Then tonite, we returned to where it all started! Three years ago, we stayed at the Indian Rocks Beach Holiday Inn. After getting settled, we ventured down to the “Hotel Bar”, Jimmy Guana’s, where we met our new friend Lindsey Sterry. We had such a great time with Lindsey, in Jimmy Guanna’s and in Indian Rocks Beach, we turned our 2 day stay into 4, and started our love affair with a little Florida Gulf Coast town! It was good to go home tonight with Tony, one of our favorite local performers on the bandstand, but we did miss Lindsey!

So that’s a wrap up on week one in the Sunshine State. We’re here in IRB till the end of February and in Florida till almost the end of March! Stay tuned…lots more of Sue and Frank’s Really Excellent Florida Adventure 2020 to come! We’ll save a seat for you in the back of the CRV!

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See you next time!

Florida, Here We Come!

It’s Snow Bird time for the D’Elias, and Susie and I leave the cold and inhospitable beach in Ocean City, for what we hope will be a warm and inviting, Gulf of Mexico beach in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida!

We left OC yesterday morning, and our friend the Waze GPS App took us in a way that we’ve never gone before. Rather than across the 9th Street Bride to the Garden State Parkway to the Atlantic City Expressway, it had us go south to 34th Street, and across the Roosevelt Blvd bridge. Then it took us on back road, after back road, after back road (some we’d been on during one of our “Sunday Drives”, and eventually dumped up on the New Jersey Turnpike a couple of miles from the Delaware Memorial Bridge (or DELMEMBR)! Perhaps it was because we left the house at 7:45 and this was to avoid rush hour traffic heading towards Philly, but honestly, it wasn’t a bad way to go!

Traffic once on I-95 was good, and we hit Baltimore and Washington, DC at the perfect time to sneak right through, before the traffic Gods knew we were even there! As we approached Washington, Susie was driving and got this great Instant MPG reading on the Honda CRV! Not bad for driving 60-80 most of the way in a fully loaded SUV!

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Everything was going along fine, till we started seeing overhead signs talking about a “major accident” by mile marker 103 in Virginia with the right lane closed!! What a colossal waste of our time, directly related, I think to the (sorry but) CRAPPY way so many people drive today!! Speaking about that, if anything, Americans’ Driving Skills are even worse that we’ve seen on other car trips we’ve taken! Driving 20-30 miles above the speed limit, tailgating at speeds in excess of 70 MPH, cutting you off as they change lanes, weaving in and out of 2-3 lanes, just to get ahead of a car…you name it, we’ve seen it! Amazed there aren’t more accidents!! Well, the Waze took us off 95 to a ridiculous detour, that was backed-up FOREVER, because of a traffic light within the first 1/2 mile, that only let 3 people turn at each sequence! We lost 40 minutes and I was pissed, till getting back on 95, we came upon people who were right next to us when we exited 95! The age old question…get off or stay the course! Looks like it didn’t matter!

We ended up getting to Billy and Lori’s new house in Wake Forest, NC a bit after 5, but once we got hugs from the littlest D’Elias, all was right with the world! They’ve been in the house since just a bit after New Years, and have done a wonderful job getting new furniture, and making the house into a real home! So proud of the two of them and happy for their new house and their great success!!

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Susie and our 4th Grandchild, Beatrice!  A wonderful, loving soul!

We took off this morning about 9 and it was 36 degrees and overcast. No rain, but that would come before our day was half over! Of course, we had to take our obligatory, yearly South of the Border pictures, as we passed from North Carolina to South Carolina. It continues to be very sad, and we won’t be surprised to drive by and find it abandoned one day!

img_2476We enjoyed our “Traveling Guilty Pleasure” of Arby’s for lunch again today…we did it yesterday too…but since we get the roast beef sandwich without the bun, accompany it with a side salad with ranch dressing, and a diet soda, our carb intake is very low, (under 5) so do we really have anything to feel guilty about anymore?? Wonder why we never drive down to Cape May Courthouse to have it for lunch back home???

Then the rain came! Cold, yucky, light to heavy and everything in between! We usually love getting to the one rest area in southern South Carolina, where we first see palm trees! Those trees were very sad today in the cold, driving rain!! No dreams of shorts and flip flops there today!!!

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Our stop tonight is in Darien, Georgia for one of our favorite stops along the way, B&J’s Steak and Seafood for our first shrimp meal of the trip, the 1/2 pound Fried Shrimp Basket! Tonight was also the Friday Night Seafood Buffet, which all looked great, but we’d only eat too much and suffer tonight!

Tomorrow we’re out of here and head to Florida. We are 49 miles from the Florida/Georgia border tonight in the Darien Hampton Inn, and just 300 miles and about 4 and a half hours away from our condo in Indian Rocks Beach, and what we hope will be our preview of the Summer of 2020!

Stay tuned!!

The First Christmas

No, not the one that took place in a manger in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.  I’m talking about the one that took place in a small village on the North Shore of Long Island in the year 1979.  I’m talking about the first Christmas Susie and I spent as a married couple, in our apartment at One Firwood Road in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington!  

Back in September, we celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary, so this Christmas will be the 40th Anniversary of the first Christmas we spent as married people.  To back up a bit, right from the beginning of our relationship, I knew that Susie loved Christmas.  It was by far her favorite holiday, and she loved the music, the decorations, the food, and everything about it!  So, on Christmas Day, 1978, I asked her if she would spend the rest of her life with me, and be my Mrs.Clause, and she said yes!  So, with that as a background, I’m sure you can imagine how important that first Christmas was for us!

The first item of business was decorating our apartment.  One of the first purchases we made were two sets of red bells that blinked on and off in sequence, kind of like they were ringing.  These we hung in the windows  of our second floor apartment, looking out onto Firwood Road.  They were with us for years!  Of course, a tree was a very important symbol of the holiday, and I wanted to make sure ours was perfect.  It was going to be a real one, and Susie and I headed to Keil Brothers Florist on the corner of the LIE and Springfield Blvd, near my folks Bayside house.  So let’s talk about that tree.

We circled the tree lot multiple times, and looked at a lot of trees, before we found the perfect one for our first Christmas.  It was full, just tall enough, not too wide, and cost $75!  Now, that seemed like a lot back then, but I needed to make our first Christmas perfect for Susie.  As an aside, $75 in 1979 is equal to $265.71 in 2019…know any jerk that would pay $265.71 for a Christmas tree today??? So, we bought this perfect tree, had it tied to the roof of our car, and drove home to our apartment in Port Washington.  

Ginsu KnifeThen it was time to set the tree up in our living room.  We got the stand out and prepared to cut off an inch or so from the bottom of the tree, when I remembered that we were supposed to stop at my folks house in Bayside and pick up the tree saw.  We hadn’t done that!!  So what did we do?  Well, a couple of months before, we attended the NY Auto Show, and at one of the booths there, selling all manor of items, we watched a very fascinating presentation, and then bought a Ginsu Knife!  Yes, we cut off the last inch of our first Christmas tree with our newly purchased Ginsu knife!  Not only did it work (it took a long time but ultimately worked), but that very same Ginsu knife from 40 Christmases ago still resides in our utensil drawer in our Ocean City house!!  As it was our first Christmas, there were not a lot of meaningful ornaments, but we did a pretty good job decorating that first Christmas tree, placing it right in the middle of our living room’s picture window, for all of Port Washington to see.

Growing up, because of the fact that my folks both were members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus, and might be doing one or two performances on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve had a bigger presence in our household.  That first Christmas laid the groundwork for what Susie and I would do going forward in our life…Christmas Eve with my folks and Christmas day with her family.  That first Christmas Eve, we celebrated with my folks, opening presents while eating Italian cold cut sandwiches.  My folks had a friend in Minnesota who worked for Litton, and our present from my folks that first Christmas was one of the first microwave ovens we’d seen!  Smartly, we chose to leave it at my folks when we headed home late to our Port Washington apartment.  

One Firwood Road

One Firwood Road, was a small 4 unit apartment building, just across the street from Port Washington Harbor in one direction and across the street from the Empty Pockets Bar in the other.  An Asian lady owned the building, and the woman in the apartment below us was the “manager”.  She also was an interesting woman, who would bring home guys from her Saturday nights out, and we heard EVERYTHING!  Well, on this particular Christmas Eve, apparently she’d decided that the crowd at the Empty Pockets was bit rowdy, so she decided to lock the front door of the building…a lock we didn’t have a key for!  So here we were, late at night (1-2 AM) on our first Christmas Eve, after celebrating with my folks, and we were locked out of our apartment!  It was late, cold,  wet, and my new wife and I were locked out!  So what did we do???  We banged on the door and shouted till she showed up and let us in!  I’m sure we disturbed her, and her latest biker “friend,” but we were in our home, and ready for the big fat man in the red suit to show up later that morning!

That first Christmas morning came very early for us, as we wanted to have some alone time to open presents in front of our first Christmas tree, while drinking a little champagne and orange juice, before joining the rest of the family.  What we thought was going to be a special treat for us that morning, turned more into a joke.  WABC Channel 7 had a special Christmas morning showing of Susie’s all time favorite movie, White Christmas.  This was back in the day before we had multiple copies of that movie on video tape, DVD, or digitally, so this was indeed a special treat!  Unfortunately, they showed the movie in a 60 minute time block, complete with commercials.  They probably had about 45 minutes or less, to show a movie that runs over two hours.  As you can probably imagine, the movie was cut to time rather than content, and frankly made little sense to us…and we both knew the movie!  As I said, a potential special treat that turned into a joke!

And that was how Our First Christmas went!  Later that day, we joined the rest of Susie’s family, and a great day was had, and for a brand new couple, Christmas #1 was under our belts!  40 years later, there are lots more Christmas Memories mixed in, but there will only be one first, and that was ours!!  The story of our Ginsu cut Christmas Tree, being locked out, and the very different White Christmas will forever be my memory of my first Christmas with my love, and the beginning of mixing the Johnson and D’Elia Families!  

Christmas Traditions

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In my last blog, I mentioned that we lived in a Hallmark Christmas Town, and that along the way, we’d been watching a whole lot of Hallmark Christmas movies!  Frankly, we are suckers for the movies because we love this time of the year!  Right from the beginning, I knew that Susie loved Christmastime, and that she’d make the perfect Mrs. Clause, so on Christmas Day 1978, I asked Susie to marry me!  Thankfully, she said yes, and started everything for us, including a heck of a lot of our Christmas Traditions!

Christmas Traditions, like all family traditions, are more often than, not born out of necessity.  Do you know the story about the young girl being instructed by her Mom about how to cook a leg of lamb?  Her Mom tells her to cut off the last 2 inches of the leg of lamb, and place it next to the leg.  The girl asks the Mom why, and she replies, “I don’t know, that’s just the way your Grandma always did it.”  The next time she’s with her Grandma, she asks the same question, and Grandma’s answer is, “I don’t know, that’s just the way your Great Grandma always did it.”  A couple of weeks later, she visited her Great Grandma in the Nursing Home and told her what her Mom and Grandma had told her, and asked her Great Grandma, why she cut off the last 2 inches?  Grandma’s answer, “I didn’t have a pan big enough!”  

When I was a kid, both my Mom and Dad were singers in New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus.  Holidays were just days on the calendar, and unless they fell on a Sunday, the Met gave a performance.  If it happened to fall on a Saturday, they gave two performances!  The last thing they needed was a little kid (me) waking them up at sunrise on Christmas morning, when they may have gone to bed at 2 AM, and probably had to work that night.  So, in our family the tradition of Christmas Eve became a bigger deal.  Once I was a little older, our Christmas celebration started as soon as my folks got home from their Christmas Eve performance.  Everybody would get into their PJs, we’d drink Andre Champagne, eat Italian cold cut sandwiches, and open presents.  On Christmas morning, I was free to get up, lay under the Christmas tree, and play with gifts, while they got to catch a couple of more hours sleep!

Whenever a family gets blended, traditions from both sides get shoehorned together, and img_1733the Christmas Traditions of that new family are born!  In the early years of our marriage, we’d celebrate with my folks on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day head over to Susie’s folks.  As time went on, there were new traditions born, and more blending took effect.  Somewhere along the line, probably in an effort to emulate the Italian Seven Fishes of Christmas Eve, my Mom and Dad started hosting a lobster dinner on Christmas Eve.  Within a couple of years, Susie’s folks were coming to my folks house on Christmas Eve, and my folks would join us at Susie’s folks’ house on Christmas Day.  The families were indeed blending! 

Then came the kids!  When you have three little kids, Christmas gets to be an even bigger day on the calendar, and the D’Elia Family, since Mrs. Clause happened to be the 3 kids’ Mom, was right up there with the best of them!  Christmas Eve’s at my Mom’s house in Bayside became a huge event, complete with Susie’s folks, lobsters for all, and a need to run to church, where the 3 kids could be a part of the Christmas Eve Pageant every year.  Eventually, as my Mom got older,  Christmas Eve moved to our house in Mineola, but the lobster traditions and the run to the Community Church of East Williston continued, until our 3 were too old to be a part of the pageant.  In later years, as the kids grew, and driver’s licenses were earned, a new tradition was born.  Billy, Krissi, and Kenny would head down to Jordan’s Lobster Farm in Island Park, pick up the lobsters and on the way home, stop at a local diner for breakfast.  

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It’s hard to believe, but it was 40 years ago this Christmas that Susie and I  spent our first Christmas Eve at my folks house as a married couple (we got a microwave).  Although our traditions have changed and been modified here and there, I think my late Mom and Dad would be proud that what started for them out of necessity, is still a huge part of our Christmas life!  While we kept the food traditions that were started years before with my folks, the opening of presents went traditional and landed on Christmas morning!  Dad would come down the stairs to open up the house and turn on the tree, while Mom kept the 3 little one’s at bay.  On the all clear signal, they’d come down the stairs, along with Grandma D’Elia, and everybody would take their “assigned” seats, and we were off and running!  

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Those 3 little kids that we rushed to church on Christmas Eve, and who ran down the Mineola stairs every Christmas morning, are all married adults now, with our oldest even being the Dad of his own three.  We no longer live in the same house, same county, or even the same state.  We won’t be together with all our loved ones this Christmas, but we will do our best to keep the traditions alive!

This year, Our Boys are with us for Christmas.  Kenny and his husband Chris, just back from an almost year long contract with Royal Caribbean, are spending some time with us before starting their new adventure in January.  Krissi and her husband Mike will be up in New York, as a mid-week Christmas doesn’t really lend itself to travel, and Billy is down in North Carolina with his wife Lori and our darlings Layla, Henry, and Annabelle, making their own Christmas Traditions!  Susie’s brother and sister will be home on Long Island.   So, it will fall to Susie and Me and the boys to keep the D’Elia Family traditions alive this year!

img_1732There will be lobsters this year, but rather than getting them at Jordan’s Lobster Farm on Long Island, they will come from the Fish Department at Shoprite in Somers Point.  Not sure about the boys having breakfast out…it may just be some Chinese Food from the hot bar at Shoprite!  The Italian Cold cut sandwiches, and the fried eggplant, and cheeses will be eaten at night, but not be coming from Aridito’s Italian Deli in Mineola, but rather from Shoprite’s Sandwich counter (one stop shopping!).  The cheap champagne however, still has an Andre label on the bottle, and will be drunken out of our Christmas Toasting flutes, that have been a part of every one of Susie and my Christmases!

So there you have it, some of our Christmas Traditions!  Of course, there will be tuning into Jean Sheppard’s Christmas Story on TBS all day, and the sandwiches and champagne will, as always be accompanied by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!  There will be a lot of time hanging in our jammies, laughing at each other, and just creating memories!  That’s what Christmas means to us!!  

Will we miss our other kids on Christmas Eve and Christmas day?  You bet we will, but that’s just the way life is.  One benefit is that it expands the Christmas holiday!  Billy and Lori and the kids will be coming here to Ocean City the day after Christmas, and we’ll get to re-live the traditions all over again!  Early in January, we will visit with Krissi and Mike in Astoria, and once again it will be Christmas!  Things change, but the spirit of those Christmases long ago live on, and I hope they always will in our kids and Grandkids!

So, from our family to your’s, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Chars!!!  Bonkers!

A Tale of Two Tables

 

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It was just about two years ago, in November of 2017, that a huge change happened in our lives.  It was on November 9th of that year, that we sold our Mineola house, a place that had been home to the D’Elia Family for 31 years, and we officially became full time residents of Ocean City, NJ.  It was a major change in the life of two people who had never known anyplace else but Long Island as home (Susie and I), and an emotional issue with leaving a home that our 3 children had grown up in….including for our 3 children!  I don’t think I’ve written about this before, so here’s brief recap to set up today’s story.

As often times happens, the anticipation of doing something causes you to put it off, and then once you’ve done it, you realize how stupid you were for dragging your feet.  That was our case when we faced the prospect of selling our house!  Our anticipation was that it would take months, and that it would be a painful process involving realtors, and all kinds of folks traipsing through our house.  Our reality was that one of the people that had told us they were interested in the house, came by with their family one afternoon and before we went to bed that night, they made an offer, and we accepted!  Never put the house on the market, never dealt with one realtor, never experienced one bit of pain, but afterwards wondered why we’d waited so long to do it!

The night they made their offer was a little less than 3 months before we went to closing, and our main job during those 3 months (besides a two week trip out to the West Coast to meet our prospective Son-in-Law Chris’ family), was figuring out how to empty the Mineola house.  We’d already taken the things we wanted to Ocean City, and all three of our kids had staked their claims on other items, and even some friends had taken a few items, but the sad Baby Boomer truth is, that we’re all looking to get rid of things, and NOBODY wants them!  Not our kids, not folks running tag sales, not even neighbors!  So, in the end, as the closing date got closer and closer, we had to pay somebody to empty out our house!

Now the clock wasn’t our friend, and as the closing date got closer, we got more and more desperate to just move on, and walk away from the Mineola House.  In the past two years, since Ocean City became our one and only home,  I can’t tell you how many times we have gone looking for something, only to realize that it was obviously one of those things we just left in the house, in haste, to be dealt with by the folks cleaning it out!  The list runs from things in the garage like snow brushes and shovels for the car, to snack tables, that we’d used for years, and that we have regretted leaving so many times since!  This, then, is the tale of those two tables!

These were well made, heavy oak snack tables, that we’d originally bought on one of our yearly trips to the Amish Country in and around Lancaster Pennsylvania.  We’d first bought one for my Mom as a Christmas present, and then added two more for our use on a subsequent trip.  We probably used them in the living room a couple of nights a week.  Sometimes they were the base for take-out food, or other times we used them when we had a meal we needed to use a knife and fork with (which necessitated sitting at a table, because you couldn’t do that with a plate on your lap!), and sometimes, just a base for Susie to write Christmas cards or such. 

We really don’t remember if we made a conscious decision to leave the snack tables, or it was just an oversight on our part, but we’ve missed them so many times over the past 2 years.  Wednesday, we spent the day righting that mistake, and along the way, we also took care of several other missions!

On our yearly trips to Amish Country, we always stopped at King’s Furniture.  It was place the kids loved to explore, and the place that Susie pined over a beautiful dining room set that ultimately came to live in our Mineola House (and one piece of which now lives in the den of our Ocean City House), so we knew exactly where we’d bought them!  Recently, I proposed to Susie that we spend a day, and make a great loop route through Pennsylvania, Delaware, and back to New Jersey, and in the process we hit King’s Furniture, then Total Wines in Delaware, and then Bagliani’s Italian Market in Hammonton, NJ before returning home.  And that’s exactly what we did on Wednesday!!

We left the house a little after 7:15 in the morning, and arrived at King’s Acres a little after 10.  The day was cold and clear, and the Amish countryside was as beautiful as always, and a little after 10:30 AM, we were back at the car, putting two lovely snack tables into the back seat!  Mission 1 accomplished and a wrong corrected that had been waiting 2 years to be made right!

Then we were off on the return part of our loop drive to Claymont, Delaware, and one of our multi-time a year visits to Total Wine & More!  It being mid-November, this trip would go down as our 2019 Holiday visit, and provide us with wine and spirits for Thanksgiving, Christmas and through to New Year, plus holiday gift items!  The prices are excellent, and there is no tax on liquor or wine in Delaware, so it’s a win/win!  

On the way home, we made a stop in Hammonton, NJ so that we could buy some of the great cheeses and sausages they have at Bagliani’s Italian Market!  A great end to a great day!

We left Ocean City about 7:20 in the morning and arrived back around 3:30.  In between, we traveled 257 miles, went through New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Delaware, drove briefly through Pennsylvania again, and back to New Jersey.  We replaced two tables that had slipped away from us two years ago, we stocked up on wine and liquor for the holidays, and stopped off at our favorite NJ Italian Market for some goodies!  All in all, a good day In Our Humble Opinion!

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November 10th, 2019

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Happy 244th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps! 

On November 10th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the Continental Marines with a decree to raise “two battalions of Marines.”  Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia is regarded as the birthplace of the Corps, as many consider it the location where the first Marines enlisted.  The Continental Marines, like the Continental Navy, was disestablished following the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783, but was re-established on July 11th of 1798 by an act signed by President John Adams.  Prior to 1921, it was that July 11th date that was celebrated as the Marine’s birthday, but in 1921 it was suggested that the original date of November 10th be declared a “Marine Holiday”.  Commandant John Lejeune created Marine Corps order #47 which ordered, that from that time forward, November 10th would be officially celebrated as the US Marine Corps Birthday!  

And how, you may ask, do I know all this?  Well, I know this because Susie and I have the honor to be living on Pennlyn Place, bookended by two good friends who are Marines!  Notice I said, “are Marines”, not were Marines.  Even though neither of them are actively serving, the tradition is once a Marine, always a Marine!   We have been fortunate to be included in the annual celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday several times, and that’s where some of this knowledge has come from.

Our immediate neighbor on our left is 98 year old Doie Barnes.  In World War II, Doie was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, having told Susie that her job was to dispatch planes.  She also told Susie one time when she realized that Susie had been a Registered Nurse, that she always wanted to be a nurse, but that her Father said she had to be a secretary, and so she went to Secretarial School.    It was indeed a different time, which only to my mind makes Doie’s service in WWII more incredible!

On the other side of us, one house away, lives our good friends Patti and Meade Rudasill.  As a student at the University of Virginia, Meade was a member of the NAVY ROTC program, and applied for and was accepted for the Marine Option.  Between his Junior and Senior year of college, he went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) and also Jump School at Lakehurst Air Station.  After college, he attended Basic School, where unlike every other service, every Marine Officer goes for 6 months to learn how to be a Marine.  Then it was off to Engineer School, where he could apply his UVA Engineering Degree, but as he said to me, “It was Marine Corps specific and they hadn’t taught me about blowing up things at UVA.”  He was on active duty from 1979 to 1984, having assignments on both the East and West Coasts, and being deployed with the Marine Detachment on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga CV-60 to the Mediterranean.  During his entire Marine carrier, he did “interesting stuff”, to quote my friend.  He rose to the rank of Captain and was selected for Major in the reserves.  After his service in the Marine Corps, he went on to have a successful business career, including being the CEO of QVC, and I know he would say that without a doubt, much of what he learned as a Marine Corps Officer helped him in his business life!  

This years celebration for our Pennlyn Place group was held at Captain Bob’s in the far South End of Ocean City.  Organized by Doie’s Son-In-Law, Doc Anderson, the group included, in addition to Susie and I, Doie and Doc, Patti and Meade, and neighbors Dale Nicholas, Barbara Kichline, and Bob Byrne.  Not exactly a traditional Marine Corps Ball (there was no dancing), but we do our best to help Doie and Meade, as Marine Order #47 orders, “commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of it’s long and illustrious history.” 

One part of our celebration that is in keeping with tradition, is maintaining the cake cutting ceremony, as has been contained in the Marine Drill Manual since 1956.  To quote that manual, “By tradition, the first slice of cake is given to the oldest Marine present, who in turn hands it off to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the old and experienced Marines passing their knowledge to the new generation of Marines.”  Doc always procures an appropriate cake, and using Meade’s sword, Doie always makes the first cut.  Then, as tradition, Doie will get the first piece of cake and pass it on to Meade, but Doie loves her sweets, so some years it’s a struggle for her to give it up, but there’s always another piece on its way!

Susie and I are proud to have these folks as friends and neighbors, and proud to be included in this annual celebration with them, and in this small way, thank them for their service!   Again, Happy 244th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps, and to all who proudly have earned the name Marine, including our two favorite Marines, Doie Barnes and Meade Rudasill!

Our Marines!

Happy Birthday Marine!!  Semper Fi!

Family Life Changes

 

When our three kids were younger, we were very lucky that our immediate family lived minutes, not hours or days away!  Susie’s Mom and Dad were in Hempstead and later East Meadow. My Mom was in Bayside. Susie’s sister and family were in Huntington, and her brother and his wife in Merrick.  We, living in Mineola, were pretty much in the geographic center of our entire family.  A 20 to 30 minute drive, got us to any of their houses, so casual drop-ins were very easy to do.  

Then there were holidays.  The hardest thing to decide about most holidays was who was going to host, and what could the rest bring.  It seemed very normal and natural, and we never really realized how lucky we were.  Our oldest son Billy reminded us of this fact of his childhood recently, but now, as the title of this piece says, family life changes!

Life has indeed changed, and Susie and I are at the center of those changes.   We were both born geographically on Long Island…Susie in Amityville, and me in Jackson Heights, in the New York City Borough of Queens.  Our entire married life, we lived in Nassau County…first Port Washington, then New Hyde Park, and from 1986 to 2017, in the same house in Mineola.  Over time, Susie retired (June of 2013), I retired (January, 2016), and then we moved out of the Mineola house (November, 2017).  We not only moved out of Mineola, we moved off Long Island and out of New York State, and made the house we’d owned at the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey since 2005 our forever home! 

Changes happened in our three children’s lives too.  First, they are all married!  Krissi and her husband Mike live in Astoria, in the NYC borough of Queens.  Krissi’s twin brother Kenny and his husband Chris have just finished  up a year long contract on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, but before that, they were in Los Angelos, and who knows exactly where they will end up.  Oldest son Bill and his wife Lori made the move a couple of years ago off of Long Island down to Raleigh, North Carolina, along with our Grandchildren Layla and Henry, and just bought a brand new house as their family has grown with the addition of our newest Grandchild, Annabelle, 6 months ago.  So, like many American families, our family is now spread out, and we no longer have the luxury of living 20 to 30 minutes from each other.

On a recent weekend, however, we made the effort and were rewarded by spending some family time with two thirds of our children, their spouses, and our three Grandkids!  Susie and I took the 8+ hour drive from Ocean City to Raleigh on Thursday morning.  Krissi and her husband Mike flew down from New York after work on Friday, and it was a weekend of family, fun, and babysitting!  Just the best!!

From Russia (and elsewhere) with love!

Anyone who knows us, knows that the two of us like nothing better than walking into a bar or restaurant, and feel like we are with friends.  We love that feeling you get when the person behind the bar looks up, smiles, and says “Hello Sue and Frank”!  While lots of people will constantly try new places, we love going back to places where we are known quantities, and where we can be with friends.  People like our long time bartender friend Ralph at the Eden Lounge at Harrahs AC, or Dennis, the bartender at St. James in Mineola, that we spent so many “Nail Nights” with!  Or our friend Sue Waniak, who befriended us at Charlies when she was a waitress, and has now turned into a genuine family friend, as has the rest of the Waniak clan!  We’re still doing it, like on our weekly visits to Angelo’s in AC and our favorite bartender/waiter Michael!

 

Based on our history, is there any reason to think we would have done otherwise during our recent 2 week cruise with Kenny and Chris on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas?  Ha Ha…I don’t think so!  So this is a tale of 5 young ladies, who enhanced our cruise via their friendship!  Some on the Liberty and some off.

The R Bar

This is the 4th cruise we have taken on the Liberty of the Seas, thanks to contracts the boys have gotten to perform on the ship.  The first time was out of Bayonne, New Jersey when we sailed to Bermuda, and the next 3 cruises were out of Galveston, Texas, heading to the Western Caribbean.  To say we are familiar with the ship would be more than true, and as such, we realize that when folks board on deck 4, and want a drink, the first place they see is Boleros Bar, just next to the gangway.  However, as seasoned travelers on the Liberty, we know that just one deck up, in exactly the same place, is a nice, quieter bar called the R Bar!  This is our favorite place to hang on embarkation day till the cabins are ready.  This is our standard MO, and one we followed this year, and there we waited for my cousins Jeanne and Walt to join us, while taking advantage of our drink package!

That first day, Joey was behind the bar, and he was both welcoming and easy to be with, and so the R Bar went to the top of our list of possible hang-outs during our 14 days on the ship.  Then we met the girls!  Neither Susie nor I have a clear memory of first meeting them, but we’re pretty sure we met Irena first.

Irena is a Russian young lady in her mid 30s.  Her command of the English language wasn’t the best, but then my Russian is non existent, so no complaints here.  She soon learned our names and what our drink of choice was, and she was always very welcoming when we walked into the R Bar.  The first week, when my cousins were with us, she always wanted to know where Jeanne and Walter were if we went in alone.  Soon she wanted to know where Kenny and Chris where if we showed up without them!  During our two weeks with Irena, we learned that she had studied to be a Criminal Lawyer in Russia, and upon completion of her studies, had practiced for exactly one month, as she didn’t like being involved with people who were “trying to hurt others”.  We also found out that before she signed on the Liberty, she had almost no command of English.  

62DB0789-FB6D-4D61-91C1-FD8A20BD4C4CShe would often times squat next to our chairs and talk to us when the bar wasn’t busy.  We discovered that she had a sister and mother in Russia, and two nephews she was very proud of.  We also found out that she had a boyfriend on the ship (another bar server from the Philippines) and that she liked pocketbooks (an immediate connection with Susie…the Queen of Pocketbooks!).  We also found out that she and Shannelle were roommates!  Oh Boy…trouble!

Shannelle was another one of our R Bar friends who we got to know very well during our two weeks on the ship.  From Jamaica, Shannelle is in her first contract back from a Maternity Leave, and is the Mom of a little one year old boy named Xander.  Because of the itinerary the ship is on, she gets to see him every other week when the Liberty ports in Falmouth, Jamaica, and for this she was very happy.  She obviously loved seeing folks on the ship with young kids (especially those close to Xander’s age), and both Shannelle and Irena seemed to have a real rapport with some of the kids on the ship!  Shannelle is a young lady who knows how to have fun, and honestly, we never saw her without a big smile on her face!  She told us about her family in Jamaica, and of course about her son, and beamed all through it!  By the end of our two weeks, she was calling us Mom and Dad!  What a sweet, wonderful person, and how lucky were we to get to know her!

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The third lady at the bar was Kisa, the bar manager.  She is from Granada, and was at the end of her contract, and signed off when our two weeks were over on October 6th.  We didn’t get to know her as well as Irena and Shannelle, because she always worked the bar, but the night the girls had us join in singing Happy Birthday to her, cemented our relationship with her.  After that, there were hugs and hellos, and she worked very hard to make several special drinks for Susie! 

The last night of our two weeks on the Liberty were very sad.  We were sad to go and Irena and Shannelle were honestly sad to see us go (Kisa was sad, but since she was leaving, it was not to the same level as the other two), as we felt we were leaving friends!  

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Just before our final hugs, Irena and Shannelle gave us a package, and told us not to open it till we were back in the room.  Two sweet young ladies that we were so happy to get to know, and become friends with!  Here’s the note they gave us…

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I’ve already mentioned Joey, but can’t forget Jay at the Casino Bar and Mo the first week at the Hoof and Claw, and the second week at the Schooner Bar.  All great folks that enhanced our stay on Royal’s Liberty of the Seas!

Captain Jack’s Roatan, Honduras

The forth young lady was not on the ship, but rather a “friend” from the island of Roatan, Honduras.  When we were on the cruise in 2016, the boys took us to a little shack called Captain Jack’s Ceviche Bar and Grill.  Hanging over the water, just outside the port, we had some great drinks and some very freshly cooked seafood, and loved every minute of it.  

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When we were back in March, the plan was to once again hit Captain Jack,s, but the boys told us that there had been improvements to the place since our last visit!  Boy, they were not kidding!!  It had doubled in size, the bar was bigger and in a new place, and it even had bathrooms!  Even better, it had a young lady holding court behind the bar named Babe, and it didn’t take us long to fall in love!!  We had a wonderful afternoon with great drinks, some delish “Babe Shots” and the best Coconut Shrimp and Conch Fritters in the world!  When we left, there were hugs and kisses all around and we told her we were looking forward to seeing her again when we returned in the end of September.

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On its current itinerary, the ship visits Roatan about once a month, so the boys get to visit Babe and we get to hear stories.  On their last visit, they told her we’d be there the first week in October, and when she saw them that day, the first thing we heard from her was, “Where’s Mom and Dad??”  Both Susie and I got a bear hug that we weren’t sure was going to ever stop, and we knew immediately we were in for a glorious afternoon!  

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Her given name is Darcia Johnson, and when Susie told her that her maiden name was Johnson, Babe started calling her her “sister from another Mother!”.  We once again had a great time, again the best coconut shrimp, conch fritters, and fried plantains in the Caribbean, and many special “Babe Shots” (first a pink one, then a blue one, then a green one, then an orange one).  It was an afternoon to remember, and a Facebook friend we will always hold dear to our hearts!  Love you Babe and thanks for the hospitality!!

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Patrick’s Bar – The Strand, Galveston, Texas

The fifth young lady is someone we have heard about for years from the boys.  As I mentioned, this is the third contract they have done on the Liberty, and the second with it porting in Galveston full time.  Way back in 2016, they wandered into a bar on The Strand on one of their Sunday turn -around days to get a beer.  They got a beer, and so much more!  They met a friend!

We have heard about Sophie for over 3 years, and although we’d never met her, we felt like we knew her.  Her boyfriend Carl (a Galveston Fire Fighter) would hang out at the bar on Sundays whenever he wasn’t on shift, and the boys loved hanging with them just before they returned to the ship.  There were lots of sad eyes when their contract ended just before Christmas in 2016 and they were forced to say goodbye to Sophie!

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Last February, when the boys returned to the Liberty, on one of their first Sunday turn-around days, they once again wandered into Patricks, and suddenly almost 3 years of separation faded away!  Sophie and Patrick’s was always their last stop before heading back to the Liberty for another week.  Sunday is their only day in the United States, their only day off in Texas, and there are always things to do like shopping, picking up mail, and of course having a cocktail or two.  One thing they didn’t miss was a visit with Sophie if she was working!

Susie and I tried to meet her last March when we went on the ship, but she wasn’t working the Sunday we were in port. This time she was, and we finally got to meet this lovely young lady.  She is everything Kenny and Chris told us about her, and someone who is no longer just a bartender, but someone who has become a good friend (hmmm…does that sound familiar?)!  So much so, that when the boys sign off the ship early next month, and travel back to Nevada, they are going to meet up with Sophie and Carl in Las Vegas and celebrate Kenny and Sophie’s birthdays together! So thanks Sophie for taking care of Our Boys on a lot of Sundays, and for being a good friend to our two wandering minstrels!  

So there you have it, our tale of 5 young ladies who were a big part of the enjoyment we had during and just after our two weeks on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas!  Susie and I always love getting to know people and getting to cross that bridge from server to friend, and I suspect we will continue to make friends in bars and restaurants wherever we go.  It’s just who we are!!!