All posts by Tom Dills

One Thing Leads to Another

Pan-American Bridge over the Panama Canal

People in our neighborhood have gotten used to the fact that we’re gone a lot.  When we first moved here it was because we worked all day and often traveled on the weekends.  Recently we’ve been off on one adventure or another.  A couple of our neighbors say they can tell when we’re home because our window shades are open.  I guess that’s a reliable indicator, although I’ve thought about leaving them open just to fool ’em!  It is nice to have someone keeping an eye on things, although that has its limits.

Ready for Shuffleboard
Ship’s Lines in Aruba

One of the most asked questions when we talk to our neighbors is “where are you off to next?” When we got back from our recent trip to Ohio and Virginia we didn’t have anything on the books.  But within a few weeks of our return we got to planning, and we now have (I think) 5 trips in various stages of planning.  Kathy says she has finally found her calling – planning vacations!  For us!

Hazy sunshine in Puerto Vallarta
Hats for sale in Puerto Vallarta

One day we were sitting on our porch talking about our upcoming plans and I said, ” you know, when we were younger, one thing would lead to another and we’d end up with a baby.  Now, one thing leads to another and we end up with a vacation!  Life is good!

Huatulco Mexico

Retirement – One Year Later

Lunch at Johnny Rocket’s aboard Symphony of the Seas

May 25 marked the first anniversary of our retirement.  And boy, what a year it’s been!  What we most wanted to do in retirement was to travel, and I’d say we did a pretty good job of it.  Looking back over my Lightroom catalog provides a visual history of our adventures, starting with an amazing trip to Italy, shorter trips to the NC mountains and NC coast, a road trip to Ohio and Virginia and a month at the beach in Hilton Head.  And that was just in 2018!  So far in 2019 we have been away 61 days out of 151.  We’ve taken two cruises (29 days at sea, including two back-to-back 7 day cruises and a 15 day cruise through the Panama Canal), made a road trip to Florida, another to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and we just finished another Ohio-Virginia road trip.  But we’re home for a while, I think.  Frankly, we’re a little tired!  The next scheduled trip is a trip to the beach in August, although there is a pretty good chance that something will come along in the interim!

Our visit to the Colosseum in Rome
Altesino winery near Montalcino, Italy
Aboard the train from Florence to Rome at the end of our Tuscany photo tour

One of our neighbors asked us the other day if we were trying to spend all of our retirement money in the first year!  We’re not, of course, but we obviously have done more than our financial advisor might prefer (sorry, Steve!).  But travel is what we do – we don’t have other expensive hobbies, our kids are self-supporting, and we have very reasonable monthly expenses.  We are very aware of how fortunate we are to have started the savings habit early and to live (mostly) within our means for the last 39 years (our 39th wedding anniversary is in October).

Sunset Beach Bar at Maho Bay, St Martin
In Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas
First Cocktails Aboard! Symphony of the Seas

Here are some of the things we have learned and experienced in our first year of retirement:

Expected (good & bad)

  • LOTS of time to do whatever we want.
  • We really like being able to come and go as we please, without having to check vacation schedules and “request” time off from a boss.
  • We especially like not having to stick to a week-to-week or weekend routine.
  • We love to cook, and having time to shop for good ingredients and be creative in the kitchen has been fun.  As a result, we rarely go out to eat any more.
  • Less going out to eat has meant that we’ve both lost weight and saved money (to spend on travel!)
  • We manage to get in a good walk just about every day, continuing a habit we had established at work.

Unexpected (good & bad)

  • Lots of time means it is easy to get lazy.
  • We didn’t expect to miss work, and we really don’t.  At first, we missed the people and were really good about checking in.  We still miss the people, but the farther away we get the less often we seem to make contact.
  • It’s hard to keep track of what day it is!
  • We’re even more laid back and relaxed than we thought we would be!
  • We’ve gotten a lot more reading done, although we read more at home and less on the road.  It used to be that we needed to go on vacation to read!  Now our vacations are busier and we’re more relaxed at home with more time to read.
  • We can go for days without getting in the car.  Other than going to the grocery store or visiting the kids we rarely leave the neighborhood.  We need to make a point of getting Kathy behind the wheel periodically so she won’t forget how!
  • Our monthly expenses have gone down, due mostly to not eating out as much and not using as much gas, but also due to just not buying stuff.
  • Without an alarm every morning, our sleep schedules have diverged.  I like getting up early in the morning and don’t mind going to bed early.  Kathy is just the opposite and our schedules can some days be a couple of hours different.
‘Tween Waters Resort at Captiva Island, Florida
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Sunset on the beach, Palmetto Dunes Oceanside Resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina

So what’s in store for the next year?  We’re telling ourselves that we need to do a better job spacing things out.  The first 5 months of this year have seen a lot of travel, partly because of the last-minute addition of the Panama Canal cruise but also because of the January road trip immediately followed by the two cruises.  We’re anxious to continue checking off states as we try to get to all 50, so there will undoubtedly be a few more road trips.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find us on another cruise or two, and there will most certainly be visits to the mountains and the beach.

US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Jungle Gardens in Avery Island, Louisiana
Lunch at Johnny Rocket’s aboard Symphony of the Seas
Outdoor display area at Homestead Furniture Company near Mount Hope, Ohio

So watch this space!  I’ll do my best to keep posting articles and photos – when I have time!

US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

A Lucky Shot

Ginger Blossom and Hummingbird

During our visit to Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica, we took an aerial tram tour and nature walk through a tropical rain forest.  I had been taking photos of this ginger blossom when I noticed a hummingbird flying nearby.  Just as I fired off a series of shots of the ginger the hummer flew into my frame!  I got off a burst of just a few shots before he flew away.  While this is the best one, it certainly isn’t “perfect” enough to win any nature photo contests but it works for me.

Cruising The Panama Canal

Transit through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess

Kathy & I recently returned from a 15-night cruise through the Panama Canal on the Pacific Princess.  It was a terrific cruise, and at only 600 +/- passengers this ship was a welcome relief from the 6000+ passenger behemoth we sailed on in February.  But like bottles of wine we’ve never had a bad cruise, so there are always great things to experience regardless!

Morning approach to the entrance of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess

The highlight of our cruise, which took us from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Los Angeles, CA, was of course a full transit of the Panama Canal.  These photos are just a sample of the ones I took during this event.  I will add more photos and commentary as I get through the 3000+ photos I took!  But we’re leaving soon for another quick trip and I’m planning to leave the computer at home, so they will need to wait until we get back.

Transit through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess

Hot Stuff!

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

Tabasco sauce is one of those condiments that I think everyone has heard of, and that many people always keep on hand.  I’m not particularly a big fan, instead preferring sauces with more flavor and less heat such as Cholula (Mexico) and Pickapeppa (Jamaica, mon).  But when it comes to pepper sauce, I’ve got a bottle and suspect a lot of readers do too.

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

When I realized that the Tabasco plant and museum, located in Avery Island, was just a few miles from where we stayed in Lafayette, Louisiana, going there was a no-brainer.  Adjacent to the grounds of the Tabasco plant is Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre botanical garden and bird sanctuary created by the father of Tabasco, Edward Avery “Ned” McIlhenny.  Jungle Gardens is a separate story and a separate post.

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

I learned a few things about Tabasco during our visit.  I hadn’t fully realized the time, effort and craft that goes into making hot sauce.  And I didn’t realize that there were so many varieties!  We got to try a number of them in the store after our tour, although I stopped myself before my taste buds got damaged!

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

All in all, the Tabasco story is an important part of Louisiana heritage, and I’m glad we had a chance to pay a visit!

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

A Toe In The (Photoshop) Water

Pink Plemmons General Store, Luck, North Carolina

For years I have been steadfastly avoiding the use of Photoshop for processing my photos.  No particular reason other than stubbornness and preferring to only use one program (Lightroom) for the work.  Recently, Adobe began sending out free special effects actions for Photoshop.  It sort of got me intrigued enough to download them and I finally got around to trying them out.  This is a photo that I took a few years ago but never really liked the “straight” version.  I’m not sure how much I really like this version using the “Watercolor Artist” action, but it is starting to grow on me.  Like any recipe I’m going to need to work with the options a bit to get a “look” that suits me.  But in the mean time it’s something interesting to look into, and it may even motivate me to spend more time catching up my Photoshop “chops.”  I only have a 10~ year learning curve to catch up on! 🙂

Yes, It’s Rocket Science!

Docents in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

As a kid I was a real space geek, and followed everything about the space program that I could get my hands on.  As part of our recent trip to Alabama and beyond, Kathy & I spent a day at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and took the bus tour.  It was a fascinating experience and brought back a lot of memories.

Space Shuttle replica “Pathfinder” on display at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Saturn V rocket replica on display at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Saturn V rocket replica on display at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

It would be possible to just tour the exhibits at the museum, but it was really special to take the narrated tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center grounds, with visits to several operating facilities.  We visited a the Payload Operations Center, training center with mockups of some of the actual ISS modules that are used to recreate situations on earth to help the astronauts deal with problems or answer questions aboard the station.

Payload Operations & Integration Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

The Payload Operations Integration Center is the “mission control” for all of the scientific activities that are happening on the space station.  The folks at the various workstations monitor these operations remotely, as we learned the the majority of experiments happening on board are not actually handled by the astronauts themselves unless hands-on is required.

Astronaut toilet in the International Space Station exhibit at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

The Environmental Control & Life Support Systems facility deals with the systems required to sustain life aboard the station.  A lot of the work done here deals with developing systems to maintain the environmental and sanitary needs of the crew aboard the ISS.

Exhibits at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Docents in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

The entire day was great, but the highlight for me was the visit to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which is a huge building that houses an actual Saturn V rocket along with tons and tons of memorabilia from the early days of manned space exploration through the Apollo moon landings.  One of the things I thought was really cool is that they employ retired scientists as docents, so it is not unusual to find yourself talking to one of the heros of the space program.  In fact, I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of my photos is of Brooks Moore, who headed the Astrionics Laboratory and is actually in the black & white photo in the picture of the old computer hardware!

An actual Saturn V rocket on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
An actual Saturn V rocket on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
An actual Saturn V rocket on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Apollo 16 command module on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

It was a great day and an excellent way to highlight our visit to Alabama!

Moon rock on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Redstone Missle Test Stand, a National Historic Landmark, at the Marshall Space Flight Center at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Cyprus Impressions

Cyprus trees at the Tupelo-Bald Cyprus Swamp on the Natchez Trace Parkway

While visiting the cyprus swamp on the Natchez Trace Parkway, I did a few impressionistic photos of the trees using camera movement to blur the trunks.  These are two of my favorites from that session.  I love how the motion simplifies the composition by making it all about the lines of the trees and removing the distracting details.

Cyprus trees at the Tupelo-Bald Cyprus Swamp on the Natchez Trace Parkway