Day 4: Riviera

We’ve been on three cruise lines to this point: Royal Caribbean (many times), Norwegian (once), and now Oceania. We hadn’t even heard of Oceania until Courtney received an email from her alumnae association for this trip. This was much less surprising when we found out that the cruise line had only been in business since 2003.

Oceania is advertised as the “food and wine” cruise, and for good reason. Jacques Pepin, of PBS fame, is the executive director of all culinary activities on the ships for the whole line, and it shows. From the standard buffet lunches to the specialty restaurants on board, everything is absolutely decadent. I went to get a steak at the buffet on the first day, and they cooked it right there in front of me! Not only that, but the ship itself is much more refined than many other ships we have been on. It’s more the little things that we noticed, such as being greeted by name at our dinner this evening depsite never having met the waiter at any other point in our voyage. (He must have looked up our boarding photos based on our reservation.) It’s these tiny attentions to details that have pushed Oceania to the top of our cruise line list (that, and the amazing food and wine).

After waking up today, we went to the Terrace Cafe for breakfast, which is what would be your standard buffet meal on other cruise ships. I chose a traditional American breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns, while Courtney had a more varied start to her day with a sticky bun with pecans, a hard boiled egg, assorted fruit, and a yogurt parfait.

After breakfast, we scoped out some chairs in the shade on the pool deck to read for a while. At 11 we had a free cocktail reception for our tour group where we enjoyed some mimosas, bloody marys, and assorted canapes as we talked with the other Sweet Briar alumnae about the various goings on with the “reboot” of the college.

Once we were done conversing, we grabbed a quick lunch back at the Terrace Cafe and then went to the gym to burn off some calories in preparation for our wine pairing dinner in the evening. One of the great amentities on this cruise line that others didn’t have is that you can get free vitamin water or gatorade in the gym to help replenish some fluids after a hard workout. We took advantage of this after our runs on the treadmills, had an after-workout stretch, and then went back to our room to shower and get ready for team trivia!

In our previous cruises, we have won team trivia twice, and this time we came pretty close, coming in third when we teamed up with the other alumnae from Sweet Briar. We all won one “O Point” for our efforts, which we might be able to redeem for a shirt or hat or something at the end of the cruise, provided that we earn a few more points throughout our voyage.

Once we had secured our prize in team trivia, we went back to the room to get ready for the captain’s reception and our wine pairing dinner. The reception was similar to the receptions we’d been to on other cruises with free drinks and the captain introducing the senior members of the staff, but they also had some free appetizers that were delicious. On the other cruise lines, these are normally reserved for the upper tiers of the cruise line’s loyalty program members.

When the reception was over, we made our way to La Reserve, the top tier dining establishment on the Riviera. It was here that we enjoyed a seven course meal, each paired with a glass of wine that complemented the dish magnificently. We saved the menu just in case we are able to find these wines once we return home. We shared a table with some great fellow cruisers who were fellow wine enthusiasts that we discovered might be sharing some of our vineyard tours later in the week. It turned out that they were here on a tour with a California winery called O’Brien, and they invited us to a wine tasting with their group tomorrow. We are going to show up and either get some free wine or get kicked out. Stay tuned to find out what happens! Will the Silverthorns be forced to walk the plank, or will they get free booze? (Or will they just go back to their room and drink their free bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon?)

Tomorrow is our first stop in Italy at Taormina, Sicily, where we will be visiting Mt. Etna as well as San Michele’s vineyard! We are excited to visit our first winery in Italy and get a taste of some old world vintages. We’ll let you know what happens tomorrow!

Days 1-3: Athens

We’ve been looking forward to this trip to Europe for a very long time, and one of the things we were most worried about was jet lag ruining the start of our vacation. With this in mind, we spent the three days prior to our departure adjusting our sleep schedule. On Friday morning, we got up bright (?) and early at 3AM. Chad picked us up at 7AM and dropped us off at Dulles, where we waited for our 1PM flight to JFK.

We were a little concerned that the weather would cause some sort of major delay, but we only experienced minor delays that didn’t affect our overall schedule. We were on Delta for both the flight to JFK from Dulles as well as the flight from JFK to Athens. We did what we could to sleep on the flight across the Atlantic, only meeting with minor success. However long we actually slept, it must have been enough because we have not been jet lagged at all since we arrived.

We landed on Saturday morning at the Athens airport, which was build for the Olympics back in 2004. Since it’s such a new airport, it’s very easy to get in and out, and we were easily able to find our tour group, get on our bus, and head into downtown Athens where we would spend two nights at the NJV Athens Plaza. This hotel is perfectly situated, just across the street from Parliament and within walking distance of all of the historical sites we wanted to see.

Our room was one of the few that were not ready when we arrived, so we decided to walk down to “Souvlaki Row” for lunch. This is a small little side street that has been taken over by a few restaurants who have filled it with tables for al fresco dining. We randomly picked Thanasis where I enjoyed an amazing pork souvlaki while Courtney had an equally delicious chicken souvlaki. After lunch, we went back to the hotel, showered, and then walked to the National Archaelogical Museum. For seven euros each, we were able to view the most comprehensive collection of ancient Greek artifacts in the world. In addition to sculptures, pottery, and everyday items from the Greek civilization, there were also artifacts from the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations. I have never seen so much gold all in one place.

After a few hours at the museum, we walked over to The Ant and the Cricket for dinner. When we sat down, they gave us our water, some fresh olives, and a free pre-dinner shot of some sort of clear alcohol. At least, we thought it was a pre-dinner shot. After we had toasted and consumed the beverage, we noticed that the glasses at the other tables near us were still full. Had we outed ourselves as ignorant Americans and messed up a Greek tradition? We sighed with relief when a Greek family sat down nearby part way through our meal, and three of the men immediately drank their appertif! Hooray! We weren’t stupid foreigners! 

For an appetizer, we decided on the fried gruyere with bacon, which was just as delicious as it sounds. I had an amazing pork dish with capers (a criminally under-utilized ingredient in America, in my opinion) called Santorini. Courtney had a lamb and eggplant dish topped with bechamel sauce called moussaka that she also really enjoyed. We both had a glass of the house Greek wine (varietal unknown) that perfectly complemented our meals that tasted very much like a sauvignon blanc.
We needed to stay up until at least 9PM to escape the worst of the jet lag, so after dinner, we walked back to the hotel where we had a small food and wine pairing in the hotel lounge. I chose a local cabernet, and Courtney had a sauvingon blanc blended with another local varietal. Both were delicious. Once we finished, we took the very tiny elevator up to our room and immediately crashed.

We woke early the next day and headed down to the mezzanine level for our complementary Greek breakfast. There was an assortment of breads, fruits, and smoked meats as well as yogurt and freshly squeezed juices. The breakfast, like every meal we would have in Athens, was great. After breakfast, we met our tour group to board the bus that would take us to the various sites we would visit before lunch. Our first stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built on the site of the original Olympic stadium for the first modern games in 1896. It was restored to look exactly as it did in the 2nd century (miserable stone seating and all). It was an impressive structure, but nothing compared to what we would see throughout the day.

After snapping some photos, we got back on the bus in order to head over to the Acropolis museum. This museum is dedicated to artifacts found in or immediately surrounding the Acropolis, including original stone panels from the Parthenon itself. There is actually an active excavation of an ancient neighborhood going on immediately underneath the museum, and when they’ve finished, tourists will be able to walk through. After getting our fill of ancient sculptures, we left the museum and walked on foot up to the summit of the Acropolis itself. There we saw Mars Hill, where the Apostle Paul would have preached; the Odeon of Herodes Atticus; the Theater of Dionysus (see Facebook selfie); the Temple of Athena Nike; the Erechtheion; and, of course, the Parthenon. There was so much crammed into this small area that I wished we had more time there.

After touring the Acropolis, we returned to the hotel on our bus. There was an optional tour in the afternoon that would go to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, but our ticket for the Acropolis also got us into a ton of other locations in Athens, so we decided to strike out on our own and follow the walking tour in the guide book we brought. We started off by walking to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. The arch was my favorite part, as it literally says on one side, “This is Athens, ancient city of Theseus” and on the other side, “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.” I envision Hadrian as the Donald Trump of his era, putting his name on everything and letting everyone know how great he was.

From there, we walked through the gorgeous and compact side streets of Athens, through tightly knit neighborhoods speckled with free-roaming cats and dogs, around the back side of the Acropolis, down past the Roman Forum and Trump’s Hadrian’s Library to end up at the Ancient Agora. This enormous area was the main marketplace of Athens. It also has the best preserved temple in the city: the Temple of Hephaistos. This was probably my favorite location, not only because of its very pristine state, but also because you could get very close to it. Another cool building in the area is the Church of the Holy Apostles, an 11th century Christian church.

We finished off the day eating at Antica just outside the Agora where we had tzatziki, fried calamari, and an awesome Greek pizza that was neither thin crust nor thick crust.  I don’t know how they did it, but it was culinary magic. We wandered back to the hotel, relaxed in the room for bit, and then had another food and wine pairing in the lounge before hitting the sack.

This morning we packed our bags for pickup, had breakfast, checked out, and then walked through the National Gardens while we waited for our bus to the port. The gardens were gorgeous, cutting off the sounds of traffic from the outside to the point where you forget that you’re in a sprawling metropolis.  Nestled inside was a small zoo, a botanical museum, a playground, and even some ancient ruins. Building anything new in this city must be a nightmare. I imagine you have to stop every other day when you uncover something ancient that must now be preserved.

After strolling through the gardens, we boarded the bus and made our way to the cruise port.  We have checked in, boarded, and I’m writing this from our awesome stateroom as we await our muster drill. There’s a lot to say about the ship, but as we have a full sea day tomorrow, I will just wait until then. I’m really excited for Italy, Monaco, and France. We’re just getting started!

Saying Goodbye


Today we had to say goodbye to one of our best friends. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Roxie was one of the most loving pets I’ve ever had. She was our lap cat: if your lap was empty she would sit in it; if it wasn’t, she would sit on whatever was in your lap. She would occasionally go to bed with us and fall asleep on my chest, purring softly. Even people who hate cats liked Roxie.

We adopted her and Max a little over ten years ago, but she was already seven while Max was just two, so she was a very old lady. She had been sick for the past couple of months, and recently she stopped eating, so we made the very hard decision to have her put to sleep. The doctors at Banfield in Leesburg were great and very understanding of how big of a deal this was for us. They even gave us a clay impression of her paw print to take home with us. It was an incredible gesture that I was not expecting. We brought Max with us in the hope that if he was there he would understand that Roxie wasn’t coming back with us. Max and Roxie weren’t really close and mostly just tolerated each others’ existence, but I think he will miss her just the same.

There were a lot of things about Roxie that made her unique. Unlike most cats, she liked to lay on her back with her paws up in the air, and if you scratched her back at the base of her tail, she would lick whatever you put in front of her. If there was nothing there, then she would just lick the air, which provided endless amusement to many of our friends. The best thing, though, is that she would obey the rule of “fives.” Roxie was notorious for stealing your seat when you got up and laying in the warm spot. But if you called “fives” when you got up and she heard you, she wouldn’t take it. Courtney used to think that this wasn’t a real thing and just coincidence. Then one night she got up from the couch to get a drink. As she was walking to the kitchen, Roxie made her way over to the recently vacated spot. Courtney turned around, pointed at Roxie, and said “fives.” Roxie stopped where she was, looked up at Courtney as if to say “well played,” and went back to where she had been resting before.

RIP, Roxie. My lap will be a little colder from now on.

Defining Morality

There is a brilliant post over on Reddit on how you don’t need a god to define morality and how taking the position that you do need said god actually weakens the definition of morality.

I think Christians are stuck on the horns of dilemma: is God good only because he defines what good is, or is he good because the things he does–the things he encourages and supports–are good in themselves? In other words, does God define “good” arbitrarily, or does he have a reason for saying that certain things are good?

Do you remember that episode of Friends where Joey needed money, and Chandler wanted to give it to him, but Joey refused to take charity? Chandler invented a card game called “Cups” that had arbitrary rules he thought up on the spot so he would “lose” money to Joey. You weren’t surprised when Chandler managed to “lose” exactly the amount of money he intended to give to Joey: Chandler made the rules, so of course he did what he set out to accomplish when he invented the game.

The choice of analogy for his explanation is spot on, and I highly recommend you check out the entire post here.

Vegas Reunion


I just got back from an informal reunion with some college buddies in Las Vegas, and we had a fantastic time. It was my first trip to that oasis in the desert, and I was really excited to go. I knew basically what to expect from others I know who had been there, but that still didn’t prepare me for the sheer scale of the place. The resorts there are enormous marvels of modern engineering, and it was fun just walking around the different hotels and seeing how they were designed.

We stayed at the Mirage, which turned out to be an excellent choice. It’s a reasonably priced hotel for being right on the strip within walking distance of tons of other places. I didn’t take a cab the entire time I was there (aside from the airport); we were able to walk to anywhere we needed to go. Granted, we didn’t go down to the far ends of the strip, but we were able to make it as far away as the Rio on foot.

We spent the majority of the first day wandering around and looking inside all of the different resorts. The architecture in those places is pretty amazing. Caesar’s and the Venetian are both large enough to get lost in and practically have full shopping malls inside. Some of the resorts connect to each other, like the Venetian and Palazzo, so you never even have to go outside into the blistering heat. There was even a tram that ran from the Mirage to Treasure Island next door. We ate lunch at a pub, but I have no idea which resort it was in. I think it was the Venetian. While there, we ran across this amusing sign:

In Vegas, it’s always an emergency.

We also toured Madame Tussaud’s (Steve got us in for free) and looked at the wax replicas of famous people. Some of the replicas were dead on, and some of them were a miss. It was interesting to see how much shorter people were than I expected them to be. Later that afternoon, I played in a poker tournament with Steve. I was doing pretty well until I lost to a bad beat (K6o over my AA). That happens all the time, though. I practically expect it at this point. Thought it would be nice to win, I really enjoy just playing in the tournament atmosphere. After Steve and I busted out of that, we all ate dinner at Otto Pizzeria in the Venetian, where I had the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had. It was their special of the day called Pizza Carbonara. It had cheese, a white sauce, egg, and some kind of non-smoked Italian bacon that I can’t remember the name of. I never would have thought to put egg on a pizza, but it was phenomenal.

My last day was spent doing a little gambling at the various casinos, mostly Caesar’s and the Mirage. I played some craps, blackjack, and slots. I didn’t come out ahead, but I look at gambling as part of the entertainment and budget out a set amount to play with. We had an early dinner at Joe’s at Caesar’s Palace where I had probably the best rib-eye I’ve ever had. It was cooked perfectly and deliciously seasoned. After dinner, it was off to see Penn & Teller at the Rio. We decided to walk from Caesar’s, and over the course of the trip we got catcalls from women and men. We also got yelled at by a homeless person. The Penn & Teller show was amazing, and I particularly enjoyed Penn’s patter. If you have the chance to see them, I highly recommend it. I still have no idea how they do the magic bullets trick. After the show, we capped the night off getting drinks and watching the fountains at Bellagio, a perfect ending to a truly enjoyable trip.

I definitely plan to go back to Vegas because I had a really fun time, and there are tons of places I wasn’t able to see on this short trip. I’m hoping that we can make this an annual thing with the guys, and I know a few of them are keen on the idea themselves. If you haven’t been to Vegas, and you get the chance to visit the city, you should go. There’s no other place like it.

Me, Jim, Jeff, Steve, Matt, Phil, and Ray having dinner at Joe’s

Our Little Slice Of Domestic Paradise


Spring is finally here in our part of the world, and we are loving the (generally) warm weather and the green appearing everywhere. We bought our house in December, so we had absolutely no idea what the yard would look like in the spring. We knew it would be pretty, but we didn’t know just how beautiful it would be. The previous owners definitely put a lot of work into the place, terracing the hill in the back yard and adding a large variety of plants, bushes, and flowers. We knew we had rose bushes and holly bushes, but that was about it.

When spring first arrived and all of our neighbors’ yards started blooming (read: they had landscapers come in and plant fresh annuals) we were a little disappointed. Everybody’s yard looked so nice, but ours wasn’t blooming yet. Fast forward a few weeks, and our yard has exploded. It looks gorgeous! We already loved our new place, but now we love it even more. We’re very thankful to the previous owners for putting so much work into the yard. Now all we have to do to see paradise is look out the window.

Click the images to view full size.









Oh, and we’re not the only ones who appreciate the newly flowering back yard. The cats have been glued to the screen door every day when we have it open. We have squirrels, birds, and rabbits that they would just love to murder. Luckily for the wildlife, they are strictly indoor cats. Sorry, Max.


32 Years Was A Good Run


My wife and I recently purchased our first house and moved in back in January. Now that spring is finally here, yard work has begun in earnest. Prior to owning this home, I had never done yard work in my life. When I was growing up, the yard was the purview of my father, who would occasionally allow us entry into his domain to play football or soccer or Ninja Turtles, so long as we did not throw its pristine state into disarray. I don’t recall my dad ever complaining about yard work, which leads me to believe that he actually enjoyed it. This hypothesis is further supported by the fact that I was never once asked to mow the lawn when I entered my teenage years, a duty most of my friends’ parents were all too happy to burden their children with when they reached the appropriate age.

When I grew up and left home to start life on my own with my wife, life conspired to place us in habitats that either had no yards or the yard work was taken care of for us. We lived in two apartment complexes and one condominium in the ten years prior to now, and not once in that entire time did I ever have to deal with yard work. As the title says, thirty-two years was a good run.

But that streak has now come to an end. Now that we are homeowners, it has fallen to us to tame the wild vegetation that grows upon our land. Toward that end, I purchased a small electric mower and an electric string trimmer. I chose these options for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are both zero emissions appliances. I like to help out with the environment where I can, and the fact that these are both pure electric with no emissions were great selling points to me. Yes, there is inevitably the environmental impact of generating the electricity itself, but that is more or less a sunk environmental cost.
  2. My yard is small enough that a single 100′ extension cord will let me mow/trim the entire property. I can plug the cord in a single outlet in the back and do the entire back yard and the same with the front. Sure, it’s sometimes a little annoying having to move the cord out of the way occasionally, but I think this is a small price to pay for not having to remember to go to the gas station to get fuel for a gas-powered mower. I also don’t have to worry about charging a battery-powered mower and replacing said battery when it inevitably dies. I can see the two pieces of equipment I’ve bought lasting for a very long time.

I’ve only had to mow/trim the lawn a few times since we’ve moved, but already I can see why my dad didn’t pass this chore on to me. It is, indeed, work, but there is something very satisfying about sitting down on my deck, cold beer in hand, and surveying the fruits of my labor once I have finished. Living in the modern age we do, I no longer have to till the earth for my food, but when I have finished molding and sculpting the yard around my home, I feel like I am tapping into some small portion of what my ancestors must have felt when they harvested their crops. We have taken the soil and bent it to our will and made it ours. And so, for now, I will savor these moments while they are fresh. I hope they never grow stale.