Sunday, December 31, 2023

Adéu, 2023. Bon Dia, 2024!

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

In 2022 we had a lot of time off, and 2023 sort of followed that same theme.  I think we're gearing up for retirement so we're testing out long stretches of no work.  Of the twelve months in 2023, we worked about six months in total.  I'm happy with that split - six months working, six months off.

Do you know what I learned in 2023? 

You can't possibly have a bad year when it starts out in Spain!

We started the year with three weeks in Spain - a week in Madrid, a week in Valencia, and a week in Barcelona.  Man, what a wonderful trip that was.  I LOVED Spain!

Interior of La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

When we got back to the States, I started dreaming of my next vacation.  I definitely want to go back to Spain but we have lots of Europe to cover.  In 2024 we want to visit France, Italy, and maybe Ireland.  I'm not sure yet if we can fit the Emerald Isle in, but I'm going to try.

We are still spending a lot of time with our parents and this summer we took Ed's dad on a little trip - first to Salt Lake City for a week so he could visit his brother, and then to Orlando to join us for the Landstar BCO All-Stars Celebration.  We stayed at the beautiful Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort, which had been fully renovated since the last time we were there.  It was beautiful!

In this post, I usually go over a few celebrities who passed and this year is no different  We lost a lot of good ones.  Most recently, and unexpectedly, was Matthew Perry.  This was a real shocker.  We grew up with Friends, it's the most quoted sitcom among two of my closest friends.  Matthew Perry was, obviously, a huge part of that influence.  What a shock to us lifelong Friends fans.  

Olive Selection at the Mercado Central in Valencia, Spain

Some others who've passed are Suzanne Somers, Burt Young (of Rocky fame), Bob Barker from The Price Is Right, Harry Belafonte, Alan Arkin, Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), and Sinéad O'Connor.  The incomparable Tony Bennett.  Canadian superstar Gordon Lightfoot.  Global Superstar, Tina Turner, who was simply the best.  Jane Birkin, who inspired the famous Hermes Birkin Bag (which range in price from $10,000 to $2 million).  Raquel Welch - who ever thought a deerskin bikini could look that good?  Lisa Marie Presley - we saw her grave and learned more about her life at Graceland on our visit there in October.  Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Henry Kissinger, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Italy's longest-serving Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.  

But the one that hit me the hardest was a blogger that I discovered over 17 years ago. She's actually the reason I started blogging.  Her name is Heather Armstrong, but she's known to almost everyone as Dooce.  I stopped reading her years ago because her subject matter no longer appealed to me but apparently, she had some problems with drinking and her mental health issues over the years only got worse.  In May of this year, she committed suicide in her home.  She was 47 and left behind a boyfriend and two teenage daughters.  What a tragic way to leave the earth and how horrible for her daughters to have to have lived not only with her alcoholism and depression but to now have to live with a mother who killed herself.  

Sunrise on I-70 in Colorado

For me, though, 2023 was a really great year.  And I think 2024 is going to be even better.  So, let's recap the past twelve months! 

Here we go....

1. What did you do in 2023 that you’d never done before?
Well, as I said in the intro, we started the year with three weeks in Spain, a country we've never been to before.  Let me tell you -   a vacation really is the best way to start a new year!  We flew business class to Madrid and stayed at the Hilton DoubleTree Prado, which was close to everything. We went to the Prado Museum, took the double-decker tour bus around the city, saw the Royal Palace, met up with an online friend and her husband, and ate some fabulous food.  

Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace), Madrid, Spain

When our week there was done, we took the train to Valencia, where our friends had rented an apartment for a month.  

Atocha Railway Station, the main train station in Madrid

They said we were welcome to stay with them for the week (no charge!) and we did just that.  We LOVED Valencia!  The old town, where the apartment was, was wonderful.  We walked to the Mercado Central, toured the town, went to the Fallas Museum, visited the famous silk exchange, ate more great food, and took the bus thirty minutes south of the city to a phenomenal little Michelin-guidebook-recommended restaurant called Arrocería Maribel, for the most fabulous meal of our entire stay - paella!  It was a fantastic week!  I'd definitely go back to Valencia.

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

After Valencia, we took a train to Barcelona to spend our last week in Spain.  There we visited the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) also known as Ciutat Vella ("old city" in Catalan), Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), Passeig de Gracia, and the famous Sagrada Família. What I loved most about our visit to Barcelona in January was the thin crowds.  Off-season, no waiting in line for hours, and getting to see all the famous sites in cool weather.  Which makes everything 100% more pleasant for me.  Casa Batlló was by far my favorite - amazing architecture in a house that a family actually lived in.  Imagine seeing this every day?

Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain

When we got home from Spain we did a few loads to Canada, one out to Nova Scotia and two up to British Columbia.  On one of the Vancouver Island trips, we spent about two weeks there and finally crossed off my list a place I've been wanting to visit for years - The Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, British Columbia. We had a wonderful room, with great views, and a Tasting Menu meal that was, by far, the most expensive single meal we've ever consumed.  Definitely an experience we won't ever forget. 
The view from our room at The Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, British Columbia

We drove all around the island, from Victoria to Port Renfrew to Nanaimo to Coombs to Ucluelet to Tofino.  In Nanaimo we tried the famous Nanaimo Bars, in Coombs, we saw goats on the roof of the Old Country Market, and in Tofino Ed surfed in the Pacific while I took pictures of rocks and the beach and the rugged landscape. 

Goats of the roof of the Old Country Market in Coombs, British Columbia.

One of the most beautiful places we visited while on Vancouver Island was The Butchart Gardens.  I have never in my life seen a more varied or beautiful display of flowers.  Stunning!

The Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay, British Columbia

We also went to the Malahat Skywalk, where high above the Salish Sea, you get a bird's eye view of both the area of Vancouver Island where it's situated, and across the water, the United States.  You can even see Mt. Baker in Washington state from the very top!

Over the summer we went to Salt Lake City, Utah to bring Ed's father to see his brother who lives there, and then we took Ed's father with us to Orlando to the Landstar BCO All-Star Event. We spent five days in each city, visiting and relaxing.  

In August we went back to work and stayed out on the road until October when we came home to prepare for three other trips we had planned.

The Sky Train at San Francisco International Airport, California

At the beginning of November, we went to New York to see my youngest cousin get married.  We took my mom with us - she hadn't flown or seen the family for seventeen years, and since it was her goddaughter getting married, it was an even bigger event for her!

My cousin looked gorgeous, and it was the first time we all met her handsome fiance. We had a fantastic time and we all agreed that we can't wait another seventeen years for everyone to get together again.  We only spent three days, so we definitely need to get in a longer visit in the future.   

Mr. and Mrs. Brian Doyle

After we got back from New York, I had one day to rearrange items in our luggage to head out to San Francisco to go to our lawyer's 70th birthday slash 20th wedding anniversary party.  We stayed at a cute little lodge in Tiburon, California and the party was held nearby at the San Francisco Yacht Club.  We had a wonderful time at the party and even had time to take the ferry into San Francisco for the day, getting in a quick ride on their vintage streetcars.

"Coming About" sculpture in downtown Tiburon, California

The trip to San Francisco was short, just two days, but when we got home I had less than twenty-four hours to pack a whole other set of luggage, this time for our week-long cruise to the Mexican Riveria. 

Our cruise would be visiting Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, and La Paz (Pichilingue).  Our friend Kim recently got a passport and wanted to christen it by going on a trip somewhere with us.  This was a quick, easy trip from Tucson and would get her a visit to her first foreign country.  We sailed out of San Diego and spent 7 days on one of Holland America's newer ships, The Koningsdam.  

El Arco (The Arch) at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo and Mazatlán were blazing hot.  I seriously thought I was going to stroke out from the heat.   When we got to Cabo we had an excursion booked to swim with the dolphins.  The dolphin water was freezing, which was such a godsend to me because if I had to walk one more inch in that heat, I was going to give up on the whole thing altogether. 

The best part about Cabo?  We swam with a dolphin!  It was pretty amazing and a lot of fun! See us with the dolphins here and here

In La Paz, we just headed to a beach in Pichilingue and hung out for the day. I finally got a little color on my pasty white skin!  Overall, the cruise was a success...Kim enjoyed it, and we didn't kill each other.  Good outcome!
A dancer performing in Plaza Machado in Mazatlán, Mexico

Another first for us this year was visiting Memphis and Graceland.  In 20 years we've driven right past the gates of Graceland many times, saw the mansion from the street and the private plane named Lisa Marie right across the street from the house, but have never stopped to tour it.  This year we did and it was great. 

We hit Beale Street downtown, visited the
Memphis Pyramid (6th largest in the world!!), toured Graceland and the Elvis Museum, and went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. 

The Lorraine Motel sign in Memphis, Tennessee

Let's see - what else did I do in 2023 that I've never done before?  I think I listed most of the highlights.

Oh, wait! I started the year 9.6 pounds lighter than last year.  That's gotta count for something, right?

2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 
I'm not doing these anymore.  Why set myself up for certain failure?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My step-cousin gave birth to her second son in July.  Gorgeous little boy!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
I'm happy to say no one I know has died although Ed had a VERY close call in Spain when he stepped in front of a bus and almost got killed.  Of course, he blamed me.  I was talking too much and distracted him...or something like that.  Insert huge eye-roll here.  I'm so glad he didn't get hurt.  One, because I love him and wouldn't want anything to ever happen to him.  But coming in a close second... his dying would have really ruined our vacation.  

5. What countries did you visit?
Spain, Canada, and Mexico. 

The Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain

6. What would you like to have in 2024 that you lacked in 2023? 
More snow.  I'd like a week in a snowy location.  Somewhere, anywhere, preferably after a blizzard.  I want to be snowed in with no ability to leave. Can we make that happen, please?  

7. What dates from 2023 will remain etched in your memory, and why?
Our January trip to Spain.  It was definitely one of our best vacations. 

November 4, 2023, when we went to New York for my cousin's wedding.  I had SO MUCH FUN with my family, it just made me miss them all the more.  It sparked a stronger desire to spend more time with them and it's something I'm going to work hard to do this year and going forward - carving out time to see everyone.

And the day my oldest nephew got Hawaii!  I remember the day he was born!  I can't wait for that wedding!

Mystical pile of rocks at French Beach on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I don't think I had any significant achievements this year.  I can't think of anything that would fit into this question category.  Hmm.  

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not taking better care of my health, probably.  I made one particular personal goal (in my mind) that I didn't meet, so I'm not happy with that.  Will have to try again.

An orange tree in Valencia, Spain

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? 
I got sick just after we got back from the cruise and I still don't feel back to normal.  I have a chronic cough that was worse a couple of weeks ago - my ribs were killing me and I couldn't get a full night of sleep -  than it is today but I'm still coughing an unreasonable amount.  It's annoying and exhausting.  

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The two best purchases this year for us, have been a new TV and a Christmas tree.  The TV is an 85" Samsung QLED 8K smart television.  It's ridiculously enormous and does things I don't even know how to initiate.  I actually had to rearrange my living room to accommodate the television because you have to sit at least twelve feet from the screen.  It was really Ed's purchase, but I love it so much I'm probably never going to leave the house again.

The second purchase was a Christmas tree. After Christmas Ed and I went out to buy a bunch of Christmas decorations for next year since almost everything was 50% off.  That's when we saw The Tree.  It was 7' 5" tall, 4.33 feet in diameter, had 1,200 pre-strung LED warm white lights, and 1,497 branch tips.  I have no idea how many branch tips my current tree has!  The tag read $189.00.  Half of that price was pretty good for a tree, but then Ed saw a tag underneath that tag that showed it had been marked down even $94.00.  Now we're talkin'.  He took the tag up front to the cashier, pointed out the lowest price, and requested they honor the 50% off.  After some back and forth, the manager said, "Oh, just give it to him."  So Ed got the tree for $47.00 plus tax!  The total came to $51 and some change.  Oh.  My.  GOD.  It's the best deal we got on anything all year!  Can't wait to decorate it.

The best thing we bought that was not for us, was the Litter Robot for my mother.  My mother has two cats and at her age, scooping poop has become quite the chore for her. Often, especially when we're home, the task falls to us.  The cats are cute, but I'm really not into scooping poop and I really want to make my mother's life as easy as possible at her age, so Ed and I decided to get this robot.  It detects the cat once it climbs into the bot, weighs it, identifies which cat it is, and then after the cat is done doing its business, it goes through a cleaning cycle that removes the poop automatically, which it then stores in an air-tight chamber, cutting down any odor.  It really doesn't get any easier than that. And, it comes with an app so you can see all the data in real-time.  Amazing.  

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Mine.  Because I started going to aqua fitness classes when I was home.  It's me and 25 eighty-year-olds in the class, but it's fun and it doesn't feel like exercise.  And I like that I feel like I've moved my joints.  I will try to keep it up going into the new year.

Vintage Streetcar in San Francisco, CA

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? 
I'm not one prone to depression of any kind, so I'm never "depressed" by anyone's behavior, but I'm frequently appalled.  Other than one asshole in particular, I'm often appalled by the behavior of young people, which is often just a reflection of their upbringing but still, do you not have any manners?? Ugh.  

14. Where did most of your money go? 
Fuel and dining out.  Fuel for the truck is almost always our biggest expense but I usually don't mention it because it's not something we can do without or really, reduce much.  So other than fuel for the business, I think we spend most of our money on food and dining out. 

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing my family in New York at the wedding!

16. What song will always remind you of 2023?
"Lose Control" by Teddy Swims.  I didn't hear this song until December when it was posted on Kelly Clarkson's Instagram.  I instantly fell in love and every day since I discovered it I find myself singing bits and pieces of it. "outtamymind howmanytimes..." Listen:


17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
Not happier or sadder, just right in the middle.  Almost ten pounds thinner.  And, slightly richer.  

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
My around-the-house projects.  I put them off thinking I'll do them another day and before you know it, months have passed.  I'm hoping this year I'll get around to sanding and staining my dining room table.  That project has been on the books waaaayyyy too long now.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Squander my free time.  I have SO much time but somehow manage to say, "I don't have time." when something doesn't get done.  WTH?  I'm usually pretty good with time management but in 2024 I've got to get a handle on it because I have a lengthy To Do list.  

Christmas in the desert.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home, just Ed and I alone. We planned on having everyone over for Christmas dinner but we were still not feeling well and then my sister-in-law came down with a hellacious virus and cough so we decided to preserve the health of the old folks, and not have everyone sitting around hacking up a lung, we'd postpone Christmas dinner for another time.  So it turned out to be a very quiet day with Ed and I eating lasagna and watching Netflix on our giant TV.

21. Did you fall in love in 2023?
I think I did - with the 85" television Ed bought.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I.  Love. Television.  This year I was very into The Gilded Age -  I like the characters, love the clothing, and adore the excess.  I wish I lived like those people did.  The rich ones, of course.  I also liked Only Murders In The Building and The Bear.  Oh, how I loved The Bear.  And I started watching Homeland.  I have seven seasons to go.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

24. What was the best book you read?
Did not read any books this year.

Vendor at the Mercado Central in Valencia, Spain

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Teddy Swims.

26. What did you want and get?
Side diamonds for my engagement ring.  I actually opened a gift box with an IOU in it, so I have to go pick them out and have the ring redesigned to accommodate them, but I know exactly what I want and I'm soooo excited to pick them out and have the ring made!  In addition to that - something I didn't know I wanted but did get - a sapphire and diamond tennis bracelet for our 6th anniversary.  It's stunning!  

The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest by El Greco, seen at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain

27. What did you want and not get?
A getaway to a snowy location.  We just never seem to fit it in.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I don't have a standout favorite, but I liked Bank of Dave, Nyad, Air, The Beanie Bubble, and Tetris.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
We were on the road this year for my birthday and I have no idea where I was on the actual day but I turned 56 years old while it was happening.

Sculpture at Galerie Alaux in Valencia, Spain

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having my front yard landscaped.  It's on the long-term to-do list but I am so tired of looking at the barren wasteland that it is that I wish we could have gotten to it this year.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2023?
Dresses.  Mostly floaty, more maxi than midi (or mini!), and comfy and cool materials.  I bought three of these dresses earlier this year and rotate them constantly.  I have a few maxi dresses that I really like, and I bought two of these for the cruise. I pair them with sandals or sneakers and I'm ready to go in an instant.  Plus, in this hot weather, they keep me cool.  

32. What kept you sane?
Talking to my Aunt Joya.  We spoke a LOT this year.  With the wedding of my cousin on the horizon, we were gabbing away earlier in the year about everything that needed to be done for the wedding and talking about dresses, shoes, and jewelry.  And then, we cover everything else that's happening.  We have honestly spent hours on the phone.  Ed knows I talk a lot but even he can't believe we have that much to say!

Window at La Lonja (Silk Exchange) in Valencia, Spain

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Hannah Waddingham.  Discovered her in Ted Lasso (had NO idea she was in Game of Thrones....shame....shame....shame).  I love everything about her.  Her body is insane.  Love her clothing.  Her hair.  Her personality.  Her down-to-earthness.  Her voice.  There's nothing she can't do.  What an outstanding female!!

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
The Israel-Hamas War.  I don't know a lot about the situation in Gaza and the years-long problems they have there, but seeing the bombings and killings of so many innocent people - children, especially - on both sides of the conflict is really heartbreaking.  

35. Who did you miss?
My father.  For some reason, he was on my mind a lot this year.  I think with my mother and my older family members aging - most in their seventies and eighties - it makes me wonder what it would have been like if my father was still alive.  He would have been 82 this year (he died at 64 years old) and it would be nice to have him around to see what's been happening in our lives.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
A girl named Sabrina (very close to my name) who shares my birthday!  We met at the Landstar event in Florida and it turns out that she lives here in Tucson!  We hit it off immediately and have lunch planned for the coming year.  It'll be nice to possibly have a new girlfriend to hang out with and our husbands are both trucking company owners so they'll have something to talk about. 

Also, when we went to Vancouver Island, we had lunch with a couple who are friends of friends.  They were fabulous!!  Very down-to-earth, interesting, well-traveled, and very gracious hosts.  They invited us back if we were ever in the area again and even offered us a place to stay if we were so inclined.  Their house is brand new and overlooks the water, so we might just take them up on their offer!

Paella at Arrocería Maribel in El Palmar, a village just south of Valencia, Spain

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2023.
I guess I'm going to have to go with "Practice Makes Perfect", because I've been practicing a lot of Italian and I notice the more I do, the better I am at it and the more I retain. So maybe at some point, it'll be perfect but for right now, the practice is where it's at.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do
~ "Happy" by Pharrell Williams


And my slogan for the New Year...

Possess a second soul.

Charlemagne said, "To have another language is to possess a second soul."  

I have been using Duolingo to learn and practice Italian.  It's fun because it's like a game, it's convenient because it's right on my phone, and it's helpful in that it provides a lot of vocabulary words.  I could definitely use help with grammar - that's even a weak point for me in English - and the app doesn't really address a lot of that.  This year I'm hoping to work more with written materials (I bought two workbooks) and possibly take one-on-one lessons either in person with a local Italian teacher or through iTalki, an app that provides instructors via video chats.

My friend is learning Spanish, she's studying much more than I am and I can see how much she's progressed in the last year, and it's inspired me.  So I'm going to try to set aside some time each day to do not just my Duolingo lesson, but a lesson from the workbook I bought.  I'm hoping it'll help with the verb conjugation, which I find the most difficult.

I'm hoping to be fairly conversational for my future trip to Italy.  I might only be able to speak to five-year-olds, but hopefully, I'll be speaking in complete sentences.

The Royal Armoury, located at the Royal Palace of Madrid in Spain

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