Saturday, January 6, 2024

An unexpected gift....

 

As my readers know, I enjoy cruising, both alone and with a companion.  But cruising can get expensive, especially when one wants to take bucket list trips such as cruising the Norwegian Fjords.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find that because I qualified for Social Security survivor benefits (I was married for 11 years, and was widowed at the age of 39), that I could get a payout on my late wife's account before converting the payments to come from my account.

Today, I received the survivor benefit payout, and I can now afford to take a cruise out of Los Angeles in the Spring.  Hopefully, I'll be able to visit my uncle before this cruise, as he doesn't have many years to go on this planet, and I want to see him while he's still (sort of) vertical.

- - - - - -

Now, the big question is: Where do I want to cruise to?  I can easily afford a 7-day California Coastal cruise.  And I can afford a 15-day Hawaii cruise.  But which one makes more sense?  That's the question I must answer soon, as I will miss having RQS with me even more if I were to take the longer trip.

Friday, January 5, 2024

The work looks done ...and none too soon

 

Although the photo quality isn't great, the retaining wall looks great this morning.  Why is this important? Over the years I've lived here, this wall was constructed and then failed.  My co-op needed to repair it, and I was one of the loudest advocates for this repair.  The repairs were finally completed while I was on my cruise.

Why is this important?

Given retaining wall failures which have affected the commuter rail line I live near, the last thing I want to see is a preventable landslide which could either destabilize our building, negatively affect downhill neighbors, or both problems.  

- - - - - -

As I've noted in the past, I live in a naturally occurring retirement community (for many of us long term residents), as apartment ownership has proven the best investment for our needs.  We know that someone else has to take care of the property, and that we can reside in the apartment as long as we are able to pay the maintenance.  (I won't get into other issues for leaving in this discussion.)  And that's where the problem lies.  Most of us, myself included, live on fixed incomes.  Older people usually have fewer resources to draw on, and are least likely to afford maintenance hikes or property assessments. 

Most co-op boards have to balance the needs of their shareholders.  Do we raise maintenance charges, knowing it might be a hardship for some?  Do we apply an assessment for needed repairs, as we did when we had to replace our windows many years ago?  Do we defer maintenance, so that we don't have too many bills being presented to the co-op at once?  There are so many things a co-op board must address, and there is no way we can make everyone happy.

I am lucky to have the resources to pay my bills (and a little bit more).  Many others are not.  The position a co-op board member has to take is similar to being a fiduciary - one must act in the best interest of the client, and not of his firm.  In my case, my responsibility is to the health of the co-op, and not any one individual member - including myself.  That's why I pushed for repairing the retaining wall as much as I did.  And now it's done... 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 8 - Debarkation & Cruise Thoughts

 

We're finally home!  As much as I enjoyed being by myself for a week, I missed having RQS by my side and couldn't wait to meet her at Grand Central.  

But first things first....

I didn't much get sleep, and I ended up watching the ship's virtual porthole TV channel as the ship was about to go under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge around 4:30 am.  Although I tried to rest a little more, I was unable to do so and proceeded to get ready for the day.  After showering, making up my face, and getting dressed for the last time while on the ship, I packed up all my gear, double checked that I was leaving nothing in the room, and left my cabin for the last time around 7:00 am. Then, it was off to my last breakfast on the ship, where I was seated next to a couple who drove to the pier from Canada.  (I can only imagine what their drive home will be like.)  We struck up a conversation and found out that they had similar feelings to mine in regard to this cruise.  All too soon, they had to leave, and I finished my breakfast at a leisurely pace.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stall things any longer, and proceeded to an area where I could sit and kill a couple of hours - the main dining room.  Although it was a staging area for people who needed assistance in leaving the ship, I was welcome to hang out there as the buffet area upstairs was already mobbed with people trying to get their last ship board meal.  

Around 9:30-9:45 am, my group number was called, and I finally got off the ship.  Although it was a long walk to the baggage claim area, my suitcase was waiting for me there.  Since we cleared customs while in Miami, there was no reason to stop for an ID check when debarking at Brooklyn.  So I took another long walk with my luggage to the ferry, walking through slow moving people and around vehicles picking up passengers for their rides home.  Unfortunately, I just missed the ferry as it was leaving the dock, and I had to kill an hour before the next ferry came.

Around 10:35 am, the ferry came, and I was off to Grand Central.  I texted RQS to let her know that I'd be in Manhattan by 11:00 am, and would likely be at Grand Central's waiting room by 12:30 pm. Instead of walking to the subway station on Wall Street, I decided to do a shoreline walk to South Ferry.  It was a nice day, and I could use the exercise. So, after 15 minutes or so, I caught a uptown bound train and made it to Grand Central ahead of time. 

As I got to the waiting area, I noticed that the women's room line was out the door.  Winter tourist season had begun, and Grand Central was much busier than usual.  After taking care of business, I picked up a sandwich downstairs and proceed to wait for RQS.  It wasn't a long wait, as we were able to make the 12:23 train to Croton with a few minutes to spare.

- - - - - -

Would I take another cruise on MSC in the future?

I'm just as ambivalent on this as I was before taking the cruise?  MSC is a cruise line for "value oriented" (price conscious) cruisers.  If Carnival is the Walmart of cruise lines, then MSC is aiming to be the Target of cruise lines. Nothing shouted "Don't cruise with us again" or "I can't wait to cruise with you again."  Instead, everything said "I don't care if I cruise with MSC again or not."  Everything seemed to be a notch below that of other lines I've cruised with, save for the glitz in the public areas of the ship.  That was often over the top.

The other day, I watched a cruise Vlogger whose main gig is being a Travel Agent. One of her clients noted that they tried MSC and told her empathically that they would never cruise with MSC again.  Another said, "No, I will never cruise with MSC again," but was attracted to cruise with them twice because of MSC's low prices.  Yet, this travel agent wouldn't be honest with her viewers about this cruise line, trying not to say bad things about them, so that she could collect her fees when booking people on this line.

MSC provides decent value for the money spent for their cruises.  But I wouldn't expect a top notch experience unless one has spent the money to enjoy their Yacht Club experience.  (Like most cruisers, I can't afford that experience.)  It's a line I might cruise on again of the price and itinerary was right.  So far, I haven't seen any future cruises that would get me to take another cruise on this line.



Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 7 - Sea Day

 


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 7 - Sea Day - 12/15/23

It is the last day on the ship, and part of me wishes it wouldn’t end.  Hopefully, I didn’t gain that much weight on the ship, as it will take some time to get it off without the average of 2-3 miles of walking every day.  Luckily, we have a clear sky today (a rarity on this cruise) and a smooth sea.  

The only reason I got up this morning was to go to the buffet for breakfast, and later for lunch.  While out for breakfast, I turned on the light to tell the steward that he could make up the room.  However, he was delayed, and I had to kill some time.  So I went to buy a couple of pictures from the photo lab - and they tried to upsell me a package of 5 photos when I was only interested in 3.  Instead of buying 3, I bought the 2 I really wanted and went back to my room. The steward was cleaning my room when I arrived with his supervisor discussing work with him.  He asked for another couple of minutes and I gave it to him.


After lunch, I found the disembarkation instructions in my cabin.  Looks like I’ll be one of the last people off the ship, as I have been assigned debarkation group #21.  This is fine with me, as it makes it easier to connect with RQS and travel to Croton together.  The only thing that concerns me is getting back to Manhattan and then to Grand Central. Today, I’ll have the luxury of time on my side.  But I won’t be sure of when I will get there.  So I’ll call RQS when I get on the ferry, to give her an idea of how long I’ll be waiting at Grand Central for her.

Just before I went to dinner, I packed everything into my large suitcase, and prepared to set it outside the door for pickup and delivery to the pier the next morning.  This would be the last of my specialty restaurants on the package, and I was underwhelmed by the seafood joint.  Few of the dishes on my package were worth the price, and I chose the spaghetti with clam sauce - which was very good.  After dinner, I had time to go back to the room and put some more dirty laundry into the suitcase before it was picked up by the stewards.  By doing so, I lightened what I’d be carrying with me in the morning, and committed myself to staying in the room for the rest of the evening.  So I called it a night, though I wasn’t sleepy yet.



Tuesday, January 2, 2024

I went to a meetup, and the meetup wasn't there.

 

This will be a short post, as I'm too tired to think about much right now.   As I've mentioned, my circadian rhythm has been "off" for the past few days, and it's more likely to see me awake at 3 am, than 3 pm.  This didn't matter much on a day when I had nothing scheduled (like yesterday), as I could stay in my jammies and get something tasty from the refrigerator.  Today, it mattered....

As much as I wanted to be awake by 9 am, I didn't get out of bed until noon.  This didn't matter, as I had a meetup scheduled in White Plains at 7:30 pm.  So, around 6 pm, I started to get ready to go out as Marian.  Using every short cut I knew to save time, I was out the door by roughly 7 pm.  Arriving in White Plains, I parked my car and went to the scheduled venue to be with the meetup group.  Well, there was no one there.  I sent texts to the organizer, but received no response from her.  Something is fishy, as we are friends from outside this group, and I gave her no reason to be out of contact.  Even stranger, the original post for the meetup vanished, and no messages were sent out to notify anyone of the cancellation.

This was frustrating - I wasted 90 minutes of my time to be with people who weren't there.  Since I know I'm not losing my mind (at least, that fast), I know something must have happened, such as a cancellation due to the cold weather.  So I'll ask the organizer about this the next time I get the chance to see her.


Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 6 - Sea Day

 

Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 6 - Sea Day - 12/14/23


Today, choppy seas were the order of the day.  Barf Bags were found by all the staircases, and people were complaining in the cruise forum about the rough seas.  Although there is not much that the captain of the ship can do other than to try to find a calmer path to sail, newbies don’t have enough experience cruising to understand this.  They don’t know what really rough seas are like, and will likely complain about the slightest problem


I decided to go to the buffet for both breakfast and lunch, and was glad I did so.  There was no way I was going to get out of my cabin in time for a more formal meal, when I could get what I wanted when I wanted at the buffet. Between meals, I heard several announcements that informed passengers of activity location changes from the pool area to locations in the interior portions of the ship.  With weather the way it has been for the past 24 hours, it was prudent to do this.

 


Since tonight is gala night, I made sure to have everything ready to go.  My LBD with a zipper puller is hanging in the closet.  My stockings (and a backup) are ready to be worn.  And my flats (I chose not to wear heels) are out.  All I needed to do was wait until 6:00 pm to dress to impress.  And I couldn’t wait for this time to come, as I want some nice pictures taken of me tonight.


All too soon, I’ll have to start packing, and I’ll be sad.  Even with all my negative comments about this cruise, I am enjoying it.  At least, I’ll soon be at home and in my own bed with a new CPAP mask.


Monday, January 1, 2024

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 5 - Miami, FL

 


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 5 - Miami, FL - 12/13/23


The day started with the knowledge that half of it would be wasted by a CBP (Customs and Border Control) requirement that all passengers disembark the ship, then re embark after returning to US waters before a final stop in the US.  What I didn’t know was how poorly this procedure would be in Miami compared to what I’ve experienced in Portland, ME.  


But first….


The ship was about 2 hours late coming into Miami.  This gave me the time to watch the ship’s virtual portholes on the TV, seeing the port entry while I was getting ready for breakfast.  Since I didn’t expect that the dining room would be open as normally scheduled, I decided to get a quick bite at the buffet - and it was mobbed as usual.  At least, I was able to get a seat at the back of the ship and watch the ship’s final docking movements.


About an hour later, I went to the theater to await the call for people who would be staying on the ship this port day to temporarily leave the ship. And by 10:30 am, we were leaving the ship.  On the way out, we were handed disposable ponchos, as it was raining outside.  A few minutes later, I was off the ship trying to figure out how to get to the waiting area at which we’d be spending the next few hours.  Neither MSC nor Miami Terminal staff gave any of us any ideas of where to go and where to wait.  Luckily, I found the way back into the terminal, and received a ticket with a boarding group number.  You’d expect that this number would mean something, but it didn’t.  More on that later.  Finding an open seat, I struck up a conversation with the fellow next to me.  It was nice to be able to have a nice chat with someone after relative social isolation for the past few days.  After another hour, I made my way to the restroom, but decided not to relieve myself there.  When an attendant has to tell women not to pee on the floor or on the toilet seat, I knew that this was not a place I was willing to get some relief.  Instead, I decided to follow the crowd to another waiting area, and wait a little more.


After another 45 minutes or two, someone made an announcement to wait until one’s boarding group was called before moving to board the ship.  So I decided to take an open seat and wait for a while.  Then, the people who decided to stand in line started moving towards the ship’s embarkation ramp.  I asked, what group number are they up to, and I was told groups 3 and 4.  It made sense to sit down for a few minutes.  A few minutes later, I asked an attendant about boarding groups, and I found out that they didn’t even care.  All they were doing was managing the flow of people back onto the ship, taking boarding group tickets at random.  So, I figured it best to find someone who looked familiar and join them on the line.  (Given the confusion, why not do this?)  I finally made it back to the ship around 2:00 pm, hungry enough to deal with an overcrowded buffet again.


Once done with food, I decided to make my one call to RQS this trip.  Although it was too noisy for us to chat much, it felt good for us to chat again.  (I can’t wait to see her when I return.  But that’s another story.)  After that, it was back to my cabin to rest for a while. Before I took my nap, I noticed a small puncture on my breast form.  Considering that I don’t want it to leak, I figured that I should use medical adhesive tape (3M product - forgot the brand name) that I use to minimize my brow ridges.  Hopefully, this was the right idea, or I will need to buy a replacement from the Breast Form Store.  And then, I decided to get dressed up in a nice black dress, hosiery, and a pair of flats.  The idea behind this is to get a picture of me at my prettiest taken tonight.



Around 7:00 pm, I started to get dressed to impress.  No, it was not a gala night.  But I wanted to be a little dressy tonight.  So I put on a LBD, some earrings, stockings and a pair of flats in order to get some nice pictures taken.  From what I can tell, one photographer’s work won’t make the cut.  But I expect that one of the pictures taken on the glittery staircase will be a keeper. (Sadly, it wasn't) After my pictures were taken, I went to see the comic, Dave Konig, in the Carousel theater.  He had a completely different routine than when he was in the main theater.  Again, it took 20 minutes to make me laugh,  But not as hard as last night.


Once the comedy show ended, I walked down to the MDR.  Although the service was nice, one of the wait staff used the dreaded “S” word until I told him that I was transgender, still using my old legal identification.  Once I did this, he used the correct gender pronouns.  Like last night, I had a steak (similar cut to last night’s steak) but it wasn’t as good (in part, because it was covered in gravy.) At least, the octopus appetizer and the chocolate cake I had for dessert were as good as I expected from a MDR.


After dinner, I hung out a little listening to music before going to my room to take off the bra, stockings and other decidedly feminine garments I wore tonight.  I can’t wait until tomorrow night when I get to wear the LBD that I wore to restaurant week about a month and a half ago….


An early dinner with a friend

  Last night, I mentioned to Pat that I wish I could have been born a cisgender female who looked like this when younger.  If I were younger...