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Ship's Log: Updated January 22, 2011

So Long, Texas. Adios to the Alamo. We're Back to Cocoa Beach!

San Antonio was great, but the new job became increasingly insupportable and finally, unfixable. Bottom line: Life is short and integrity matters. So we loaded up the truck and headed back to Florida. Crossing Escambia Bay's wide blue water on I-10. What a welcome sight!

We're so happy to be back here! Heckle and Jekyll were happy to see us, too. Quack, quack, where's our snack?!

A Heart-Rending Discovery---Literally!

WARNING: Do not scroll down any further if you are squeamish!





One glitch upon our return: increasing chest pain, shortness of breath, and strong pressure in the left side of Tracy's chest. He was in a cardiologist's office just days after we got back to Cocoa Beach. One week later, he was recovering from having his sternum sawed in half for open heart surgery! Ouch!

Turns out he had a stenotic aortic valve. That means the valve was not opening and closing normally. Something, most likely an infection when he was younger, caused his valve to calcify over the years. The only cure? Replace the valve.

We were referred to a top-notch cardiac surgery team, Drs. Sanabria and Sims, who practice out of Wuesthoff Hospital in Rockledge. They were the best! After surgery, the surgeons said that on a scale of 1-10, Tracy's valve was "a solid 9" in terms of calcification. Fortunately, there was no damage to the heart muscle itself, and his coronary arteries were also in great shape, so there was no need for any bypasses. All that clean living and exercise paying off!

Cape Canaveral Diversions

While Tracy was in the hospital recovering, there was a scheduled rocket launch from the nearby Kennedy Space Center that we got to watch, and shortly thereafter, a secret rocket launch that rattled the windows and shook the building. Cool!

The Air Force Thunderbirds were practicing out of Patrick Air Force Base for their Cocoa Beach Air Show the week Tracy was in the hospital. They roared low over our house many times, thrilling Sharon with their acrobatics. The pictures do not do justice to the feeling of power and pride you feel as your whole body resonates with the roar of the jet engines as they thunder by...the sound of freedom flying!

Graceful as birds, loud as rockets.

Setting up for the loop-de-loop over the wide sand beach...

Watching them was a much-welcome diversion from hospital-induced anxiety!

On the Mend

Twelve weeks of recuperation later, Tracy is feeling better than he did before the surgery, and he's pushing the schedule a bit. He's already gone golfing, motorcycle and bicycle riding, and is looking forward to getting back to all the other activities he had been slacking off on while his valve was shutting down. It's amazing how much more energy you have with a normal blood think!?

An Addition to the Family

Anyone who knows us knows we are pet people. We miss our Panama-based dogs and Jasmine madly, and the condo just seemed like it needed a pet. Tracy needs to walk regularly after his surgery. What better motivator than a dog? You see where this is going?

When the weather was bad we'd sometimes take our early heart-rehab walks in the nearby mall. A side-trip into the pet store was a diversion. Of course the puppies tugged hard at our hearts, but besides being way too expensive, we don't want to support the puppy-mill trade. Still, the idea of having a dog in the house took hold...

Visits to internet sites for rescue dogs eventually led us to Lulu. After a very thorough initial screening, her foster mom Toni brought her to the condo so that they could interview us.

I guess we passed! And what better way to recuperate than with a new dog to love?

We have never thought of ourselves as small-dog people, but since Lulu has no idea that she is a small dog, it works out! She's a four year old, eight pound doll. We are completely smitten with her!

A Southern Plantation Thanksgiving

One great benefit about the enforced recuperation-leisure? It allowed us to spend the holidays with our families!

For Thanksgiving we drove up to South Carolina. Tracy's sister Carole and husband Dick drove down from North Carolina, and brother George drove over from Alabama. Dick's son Rick and wife Lauren had recently bought and restored a guest house at Litchfield Plantation, and we all stayed there while they were in Georgia visiting other relatives (ah, the over-extended family!).

A wide covered verandah overlooking the stream was the ideal setting to greet the morning.

We took care of the family cat and dog while we were there. Beautiful, blue-eyed puppy!

Kitty found a cozy place to hang out in the winter sunshine.


The Plantation grounds surrounding the house were pure deep south, with huge Spanish Moss-draped, oak-lined avenues.

We walked through the neighborhood to a sumptuous Thanksgiving buffet feast at the Plantation's Carriage House, complete with...Turducken! A tradition reprised. Thanks, Carole and Dick!

The family came home Saturday evening and we had a warm reunion with our Cerro Velero house sitters Patten and Adham. (Rick and Lauren are Patten's parents, and Adham and his family live nearby.) Patten had graciously given up his room for us. Can you tell which door might be his?

Thanks, Lauren and Rick, for the hospitality!

The Deer Hunter

Never one to let minor details get in the way, just five weeks after his surgery and feeling better every day, Tracy decided to follow through with his prior plan to go on his annual deer hunting trip with friend Dan and his sons Pat and Matt. This year the venue was Kansas. "Only" a 1500 mile drive from the condo...and since he'd already paid for the deer tag...and they are over-populated in so many places because there are not enough top predators...

Under strict doctors' orders, he promised not to shoot a rifle or to lift anything over ten pounds. Dan and the boys were also under strict Sharon's orders not to break him, please! Well, thankfully, they didn't, but they sure had a great time!

The ranch was fabulous, the trip was a success, and seventy-five pounds of processed venison is now in the garage in our new Cocoa Beach chest freezer. Yum!

Condo Colors

While Tracy was in Kansas, Sharon was experimenting with colors to make the condo feel more beach-y. We think these will work. But still trying to figure out what color to use for the cabinets themselves, before we go out and buy the gallons we'll need to finish the project.

Cocoa Beach Christmas Ships---Continuing the Tradition

We have a Christmas Ships tradition that goes way back. For Sharon, starting all the way back in 1980 in Seattle, Washington, where she saw her very first Christmas Ships sailing on Lake Washington, off Leschi Park. Seeing them made her so happy, she vowed to watch every Christmas Ships parade she could, forever after! So the tradition continued as she moved around, to parades on Lake Union and Elliott Bay, across Puget Sound in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, and then finally up north in Port Ludlow and Port Townsend, before she moved to warmer climes.

After they met, it turned out that Tracy had his own Christmas Ships tradition, and had watched Christmas ships in Stuart, Saint Mary's and Jacksonville, Florida. We watched our first Christmas Ships parade together in Dana Point, California, our first year together, and it became a mutual tradition, which continued in Charleston, South Carolina, Redwood City and Half Moon Bay, California, Mobile and Gulf Shores, Alabama, and then in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and Bocas del Toro, Panama. It is probably our oldest, and certainly our favorite tradition! Well, OK, turducken comes close...

When we heard that there is a Christmas Ships parade that passes right by our dock in Cocoa Beach, we were thrilled!

It was a perfectly calm night for the boats.

Our condo is right after the turn, so we see the whole long parade, curving back on itself.

This one looks like the boat we were on in the Christmas Ships parade in Gulf Shores, with Ken and Kathy and Craig!

You don't need a big boat to participate. Just ask Rudolph!

Tracy was in Kansas for the parade this year, though, so he'll have to wait until next year to see them from his own dock. Or by then, maybe we will have a boat here to decorate!

Christmas in California

Since Tracy was already more than half-way across the country just two weeks before Christmas, it seemed sensible to just keep driving west after the hunting trip, and end up in California for the Christmas holidays. Dan drove west with Tracy, while Sharon flew out to Palm Springs with Lulu for the rendezvous. Max was happy for the company!

Christmas Eve day, working up an appetite on the putting green. Don't you just love winter weather in the desert?

Then, the making of the Christmas Eve eggnog. What a major event---in preparation, in taste---and in calories! A half gallon of whipped cream, one dozen eggs, quarts of milk and rum and sugar...oh, My!

Busted! You've been tasting!

Boy, was it good! Cheers!

And the next day, the turkey feast!

It had been years since all four siblings had been together. They arrived in waves. First, Rob and wife Donna drove up from SoCal, then Justin and children Kai and Ana down from the central coast, and finally Chris and children Austin and Brynne from near Sacramento. By the 27th, what a houseful! For Austin, looks like the drive down was exhausting!

Aunt Donna and the girls whipping up some special treats.

Aunt Sharon got her toes painted, along with the nieces. Thanks, Aunt Donna!

Tracy's surprise Christmas gift was a model train set. He has been pining for a train set for years, and this one will get him started. Judd and the kids had fun with it, too.

Austin, missing his dogs who stayed home with Mom and brother Andrew, found a new friend in Lulu.

All too soon, it was time to head east and home.

Road-Tripping Our Way Home to Florida

So we started the drive home, only to get waylaid by a snowstorm near Sedona, Arizona, just a few hours into the trip.  

We love Sedona, but were not feeling adventurous---or dressed---enough to go hiking in the snow. By the time the snow had stopped and the roads were clear, it was time to be moving down the road.

Or up the road. Literally. Lots of elevation gain to get to the high desert plateau...5,000 feet, 6,000 feet, and snowier all along the ascent. We later read that over 150 cars had been stranded on the nearby highway the night we opted to pull in early. As Tracy is fond of saying, "Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from lack of judgment."

What a gorgeous ride it was in the sunshine!

Spent that next night, New Year’s Eve, in Tucumcari, New Mexico, tucked into the Safari Hotel, under a neon camel sign. That George Lowell song, Willin', made popular by Little Feat and Linda Ronstadt, kept playing in our heads and became our chorus. Over and over and over. For days! Sing with us!

“I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah…and if you give me: weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, I’ll be willin’ to be movin’…”

For some fun with misheard lyrics to this song, check these out...

Spent New Year’s Day driving from Tucumcari to Kansas, to pick up 75 pounds of venison from Tracy’s hunting trip, and then continued on to spend the night with a freezer full of frozen meat in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Sing with us: “I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee…”

We’ve never spent so many nights in a row in such alliterative cities!

Lulu was such a good road-tripper. Spent the long travel days in the back seat, just like this.

Finally got home on Monday the 3rd, after spending our last night on the road in Macon, Georgia. Where Sharon prayed to the hotel room's porcelain god at 3am, 8 hours after eating a rotten-tasting Wendy’s chicken sandwich in Alabama. As she bit into the sandwich, in the dark, in the car on the road, knowing full well that Tracy was never going to stop before getting to our destination, Macon, she actually said to herself: “This tastes like crap …Oh, what’s the worst that could happen?” Guess what she was saying to herself as she was hunched over the bowl?? Argh!!

Lulu was mirroring Sharon's feelings on the last day's drive: "Are we there yet??"

Lulu is very happy to be home, and Tracy is happy to be able to take a nap on his own couch after over a month on the road.

Waaaaaaarrr Eagle!! Yeaaaaa!!

Five days later we were back on the road, headed to Greensboro, North Carolina, to meet up with Tracy’s sister Carole and husband Dick, to watch Auburn University play in the College Football National Championship game against the Oregon Ducks. Auburn is Carole's (and most of her family's) alma mater, and she is a huge fan. The game, played in Arizona, didn't start until 8:30 pm Eastern time, and it ended well after midnight.

Coming right down to the wire, Auburn won in the last seconds with a field goal. Whew! What an exciting game! Sharon missed the last quarter, ZZZZZZZZZs, but the real fans saw it all! Too bad Auburn won't have Cam Newton next year...he's going to the pros.

It snowed the last two days we were there, and we got snowed in a bit, and then we drove to Raleigh, North Carolina for a business meeting, and left after an ice storm there.

Needless to say, we have vowed never to travel north in the winter. Well, at least not until the next time a good road trip comes up!

What's Up Down in Panama?

The plan had been for Sharon to travel back to Panama and Cerro Velero in early October, but with the San Antonio job situation deteriorating it seemed prudent to put the trip off a bit, so that, if it came to it, she could help Tracy with the move back to Florida.

Well of course it did come to that. And then after the visit to the cardiologist and the surgery scheduled, it was clear there would be no traveling any time soon. Which threw the house sitting schedule into a real tizzy!

Fortunately, Jan and George, house sitting angels who had pitched in for us in July, were able to move back into the bay in October, and take over the house from Patten and Adham, who had come back from their Costa Rica travels and taken over from Michelle's brother Nick and girlfriend Amber...but of course, as willing as Jan and George were to help out, they couldn't stay forever...

Meanwhile, Sharon had been corresponding with a few folks who had responded to our ad for a house sitter starting in mid-Janaury. One in particular seemed like a good candidate, and she knew from their correspondence that his schedule might be flexible...A flurry of emails and calls later, David Brown was on his way to Bocas---two months early!

He describes his arrival here. He's a good writer and he captures the whole feeling of Bocas and arriving in the bay so well. In fact, his musings started at Cerro Velero have landed him a contract with a magazine in Canada. Good going! He has also been making some short videos around the property, including:

Jasmine's Rain Dance
Jungle Dogs Gellie and Indie
Howler and sloth
Michelle in a kayak
Michelle paddles home
Floating in the middle of Dolphin Bay
Jungle Rain

Watching these makes us just ache to be back there. One of these days...

Meanwhile, another changing of the guard. And once again, Jan and George to the rescue! What would we have done without them? David needed to leave a few days before the next set of house sitters was scheduled to arrive. Jan and George, back in our bay after a bit of traveling, offered to help with the transition by watching the house for a few days, and then get the new house sitters to the house.

So, everything seeming to be under control. Until an emergency email arrived, "Subject: EMERGENCY- please respond ASAP" while Tracy and Sharon were in Raleigh, North Carolina. Oh, no! Oh, yes...!

Re-enter Jan and George...and serendipitously, the house sitters scheduled for the March -May timeframe. They were already in Costa Rica, and had even hoped to visit Bocas and the house in early January, to be sure they would be comfortable at the house for the two months they had signed up for...

Emails flew back and forth: Could they maybe come earlier, and instead of visiting for a day, stay until the scheduled house sitters could arrive a week or so later than planned? Yes, they could. Wow.

Good people all around us! We feel so lucky to have found folks not only to care for the house and pets, but to care enough to respond to crises and rise to the occasion gracefully and generously. Wow. Wow.

So. Damon and Laurie are there this week. Jan and George are staying in the bay and doing some projects on the dock and helping all around with the transition and logistics. Rachel and Graham arrive in a few days... and we are keeping our fingers crossed!

Sadness in Darkland

Two weeks after Tracy's surgery, we heard the very sad news that our friend in Panama, Ron Nystrom, had developed an infection in his aortic valve, and had to undergo emergency surgery in Panama City to replace it. Unfortunately, his health had been compromised by earlier mis-diagnoses, and apparently erroneous treatments, and he did not survive the day after the surgery. Our heart goes out to his lovely wife Cynde. The Bocas community has lost a good friend, and he will be missed.

A memorial service was held in the bay out in front of Ron and Cynde's house, and lots of photos were taken. We are very sorry that we could not be there with everyone.

Rainbows and Sunsets

Cocoa Beach rainbows appeared to welcome us home.

There's that pot of gold at the end of the our mother ocean!

Winter sunsets on the Banana River, our backyard to the west.

And the sun slowly moves to the north, promising spring and renewal.

House Sitting in Paradise, Anyone?

We have been lining up folks to stay for two or more months at a time in Panama so Sharon and Tracy can be together in the states. At the moment we have folks through mid-May, but we will need to keep lining people up until Tracy decides to "retire" again. If you are interested, let us know!

Stay tuned...

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