Sunday, February 17, 2013

Old friends, high times

Tampa, Feb. 17, 2013—Some things get better as they age. One of those things is old friends.
This weekend 14 of the 20 “George’s Kids” got together for our 48th reunion. I think we all leave on an emotional high, anticipating when we will get together again in September of 2015 for our 50th reunion. (God willing, we will all make it!) 

Sharon Goodnight Sylvester—whom we identify as being the force for bringing us all together 23 ago—will be the coordinator of our next adventure.

Our Peru 1965 Group Director was George Zucker. His daughter Lisa helped organize all the details of our weekend, from arranging for the hotel to coordinating with the Peruvian restaurant where we feasted on traditional Peruvian cuisine, including the best ceviche all of us had had since leaving Lima in 1965.

Who was there? Well, if you look at the picture below, starting with the bottom row, you’ll find Mary Mullins Sugar, Mary (Coche) Carr, Sharon Goodnight Sylvester, George Zucker, Nancy Jones de Villalobos, Diana Glad, and Izora Harrison White. Top row includes Cheri Biddle Engber, Sherrie Hitchcock McKenna, Irene Gnemi Melendez, Rita Marsh-Birch, David Clapp, Linda King Kelsey, Linda Jefferson Segall, and WinEllen Gruber Marcum.
George and his "kids" at our 48th anniversary celebration.

George Zucker had 20 "kids" to take care of in 1965. We are grateful he took on the task of herding us around Peru and teaching us Don Quixote!

The picture does not include Craig Zucker, George’s oldest son. Craig was 2 years old and his brother Eric about 3 months old when the Zuckers took on the task of watching over our diverse group in Lima. We all felt old when we realized that little Craig had turned 50!
Craig Zucker with Irene. Craig was just 2 years old when he had his year in Peru!

Who wasn't there? Sue Turner, Coleman Dirhan, and Richard Lee--all because of health issues, either their own or a family member's. The others who weren't there were Carolyn Blanchard and Trina Tyler, both of whom we cannot find, and of course Jane Brown, who died in an airplane crash in 1998.

Several of the spouses accompanied the reunion goers: They included Marcelino (Irene’s husband), Bobbi (Dave’s wife), Jim, Mike Engber (Cheri’s husband), Wade Birch (Rita Marsh's husband), and Howard (WinEllen’s husband). George’s lady friend Maxine, Lisa’s daughter and husband, and Craig’s wife also enjoyed the festivities.

Jim, as a former travel agent, was surprised that we had not scheduled a group activity for the “down time” on Saturday before we met for dinner (other than meeting at George’s house). We didn’t need a planned activity; what we really wanted was to get to talk to each other. And talk we did! I think this time I spent time with everyone who was there.

It’s interesting, really, how the conversations have changed over the years. The first reunion we held, in 1990, I think we reminisced the most. I remember that we didn’t recognize each other. We had to catch, find out what everyone was doing (we were all working), and then talk about our Peru experiences.
Cheri Biddle Engber

Mary Carr. We all call her Coche. (Coche means car in Spanish.)

David Clapp and Nancy Jones de Villalobos. 

Diana Glad and your Reluctant RoVer

Izora White Harrison and Nancy

Linda King Kelsey and Irene 

Mary Mullins Sugar. Mary and I go back to high school! We were in the same city at Indiana Girls' State back in 1962.

Sherrie Hitchcock.

This year, the main question was, “Are you retired yet?” Followed by, “Do you have grandkids? How many and how old?”

As we were saying our good-byes, Nancy, Coche, and I observed that one of the nicest things to come out of these reunions was a re-renewal of friendships. When we were in Peru, natural “friend groups” formed. We all liked each other, but we just did not have the opportunity to socialize for one reason or another, outside of group activities.

The reunions have given us the opportunity to get to know each other on a different level—to become friends all over again. It’s a great feeling.

It’s also a great feeling to know that of all the IU Junior Year Abroad groups, ours (to our knowledge) is the only one to keep in such close touch. We give credit to Sharon Goodnight Sylvester, who, a few years after we all graduated, started sending out an annual newsletter. She would solicit news from us (via snail mail, since e-mail had not yet been invented), compile the juiciest parts, and even occasionally include photographs.
Sharon Goodnight Sylvester and Mary

Finally, in 1990, somehow we decided to get together. It took 25 years, but since that first reunion, we have met every five years—until now. We decided that because we are getting older, the reunions ought to come more frequently. Hence, this was our 48th anniversary celebration. We intend to meet in Chicago in 2015 for our 50th.

Yes, some things do get better when they get older. Friends are one of them.

(I apologize for the quality of the candid pictures, and the fact that I don't have any of Rita! I don't know how that could have happened, but that omission, unfortunately, occurred.)

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Feb. 16, 2018, Tampa—I guess you could call Jim and me “foodies.” We appreciate good food. Although we sometimes eat in “ordinary” restaurants and Chinese buffets that include freshly made sushi and sashimi, we prefer various types of ethnic foods, from Vietnamese to West Indian and everything in between. The best ethnic foods, we’ve discovered, are usually found in hole-in-the-wall restaurants frequented by peoples from that culture. We love it when we are the only non-ethnics in the place! It means the food is authentic. It has become our “rule” to seek out such restaurants when we are traveling.

Today we discovered an exception to our rule: The Columbia in Ybor City in Tampa.

The Columbia brags that it is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. It is famous for its architecture as well as its cuisine, and is spread among several adjoining buildings at the edge of Ybor City, which is famed as the (handmade) cigar-making capital of America. The Columbia was established in the late 1800’s as a corner cafe. In 1920 the owner added a dining room and decorated the restaurant in the fanciful world of Don Quixote, with hand-painted tiles and lavish furnishings. The restaurant has branches in St. Augustine, Sarasota, Clearwater Beach, Celebration, and two other locations in Tampa.

Jim waits for lunch at The Columbia. The Don Quixote-esque decor of the restaurant can be seen in the background.

The Columbia uses a lot of hand-painted tiles in its decor, like these, which festooned the outside of the restaurants.

Today, as we explored Ybor City (and learned about cigar making in America), we decided to would put aside our prejudices about dining in tourist restaurants and try The Columbia. We’re glad we did.
Jim ordered mussels and chorizo Andres, which is described: Fresh Prince Edward Island mussels, diced Chorizo, sauteed, simmered with extra virgin olive oil, onions, celery, tomato, basil, spinach and garlic splashed with dried white wine and lemon.”

When I eat at a Cuban restaurant, generally I order ropa vieja or picadillo. I passed on those choices and tried something new (to me)—salteado. The menu describes it: The Columbia’s Traditional Method of Sauté. Inspired by the Chinese who lived in Cuba in the 19th century, a very hot iron skillet with extra virgin olive oil is used to sauté onions, green peppers, fresh garlic, mushrooms, diced potatoes, chorizo, splashed with a hearty red wine. Served with yellow rice.”

I liked it more than Jim’s, so I would have to say my choice rated “muy, muy delicioso!”

This was a fine-dining experience, and the bill reflected it (for lunch). But, we agreed the price was well worth the cost. And we might consider returning—if only there weren’t so many darn good hole-in-the wall places to try!

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Is RVing cost-effective?

I just read an article in today's paper saying that the RV industry is experiencing a comeback. The show we attended a couple of weeks ago attracted about 55,000 people. Jacksonville will have its own "mega" show next weekend, when it is expected to draw about 8,000 visitors.

What's the lure?

As you know, I am a Reluctant RoVer. The "RV lifestyle" is not for me...that is, living in an RV for extended periods of time. I consider our motorhome a traveling hotel. So, is it worth the money?

Generally the longer the trip you take, the more cost-effective it becomes, aside from the initial cost of purchasing and licensing the RV.

For example: Last year, when we were on the road for 64 nights, our diesel and RV park fees totaled about $2600, for an average of about $40 a day. We also saved a lot of money by doing our own cooking--something that can't be done if you are traveling by car and staying in a hotel.

Our three-night trip to Tampa, on the other hand, cost us approximately $250 (about $82/night) for diesel and camping fees. Had we driven our car and stayed three nights in a hotel, the cost would have been about the same--assuming we could find a hotel for $75 a night during high season.

We will be going back to Tampa in two weeks for my Peru reunion. Our diesel and RV costs will be about $217. The Hampton Inn's rates are $119 a night, so you can see that for a two-night stay, traveling in our RV is more cost-effective.

Perhaps more important, though, is the comfort we experience: We sleep in our own bed, shower in our own bathroom, and have our own food available if we want to cook, or even make coffee.

RVs are cheap, but they make an excellent hotel-on-wheels--especially if you don't have to drive! (And I don't do that.)

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Back home again...

Rob and I hit the road about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 15. The movers were incredible: They had everything loaded into the huge moving tru...