Cruising Baltic Style

Posted: July 29, 2015 in Family, Travel, Vacation

We gave Jake several options for a trip to celebrate his graduation. When he chose a Baltic adventure, we were all thrilled!

After our good friend Bob drove us to the airport on Friday afternoon, we were off to Stockholm via Iceland. Our evening flight over Greenland was beautiful and we were hypnotized watching the ice flows. Landing on Iceland’s volcanic tundra, in daylight, just before midnight was surreal. Taking off, still with natural light, was just as impressive.

We rolled into our hotel in Stockholm Saturday morning to find our rooms available and showers very enjoyable. From there we explored the old city, took the ferry to Djurgården to see the amazing Vasa Museum, and enjoyed a historical canal tour by boat before finding a traditional Swedish restaurant near our hotel and sampling herring, reindeer, elderflower schnaps, and more.

On Sunday, we enjoyed the Hotel Reisen‘s vast buffet before a final stroll and a taxi to the cruise port where we’d meet the Serenade of the Seas. We’d actually sailed on the same ship back in 2006 so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. We found our upgraded balcony cabins and settled into life at sea!

Monday was our first stop – in Helsinki, Finland. We rode a shuttle bus into the city and enjoyed our explorations. We strolled the Esplanadi and enjoyed its open air performers, crossed the Senate Square and climbed the stairs at the Helsinki Cathedral, strolled the waterfront and viewed the magnificent Uspenski Cathedral, and shopped the open air market before lunching at the Kappeli Cafe back on the Esplanadi, shopping a bit more, and returning to the ship.

Tuesday and Wednesday were devoted to the centerpiece of the cruise, St. Petersburg, Russia. We met up with our local guide, Kseniya, and our driver, Anatoly, who would spend the next two days showing us their home city. Anatoly’s English vocabulary consisted of “Vodka” and a few choice phrases, but Kseniya spoke fluent English and taught us all about the Russian Czars, the history of the city, and even told stories of her parents and grandparents. They were a great team.

We toured the city including the Rostral Columns, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Saviour of the Spilled Blood Cathedral, before driving to Peterhof, snacking on Russian calzones, and returning by hydrofoil to tour The Hermitage. Though we had plans for dinner in the city, the day was too much and we returned to our ship for a little rest.

Rested and ready, we started the next mornign at St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral and then took a tour of the incredible Metro System. We emerged to tour a farmer’s market before snacking on meat and fish pies and driving to the amazing Catherine Palace. We finished up at The Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral before, exhausted, returning to our ship.  Just wow.

Our next stop was the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia. After a brief walk from the pier, we were immersed into the high walls and cobblestone streets of the old city. We strolled the market squares, St. Nicholas’ Church, and the 12th century St. Olaf’s before stopping at an outdoor cafe for local treats including wild boar stew. Though crowded with the cruise boat passengers, we loved the charm of this small ancient town.

Our final port was Riga, Latvia. Docked at the cargo port, we took a shuttle through stacks of wood and coal to reach the city where we rented some bicycles to tour the local monuments. We rode around the city and then found a midtown cafe for lunch (including Sea Red Mullet and Mussels in green curry for John!) and people watching. We finished with a stroll around the old city and a visit to the local churches including the Riga Cathderal, the magnificent St. Peter’s, and the awesome ceilings of St. John’s.

Want to see more?  Here’s a ten minute video that gives a taste of what we saw!

If you still haven’t had enough, even more photos can be seen here.

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Spring Sports 2015

Posted: June 26, 2015 in School, Sports

Building on the skills he’d learned in last year’s debut season, Jake was a regular starter on the varsity lacrosse team this year.

Playing as a defensive midfielder, he was credited with many stops and steals.

He’d also put his speed to work after obtaining the ball to deliver it to the attack.

Senor night honored the ten soon-to-graduate seniors that will be greatly missed by next year’s team. Shawn and John were certainly proud parents!

The team punched their ticket to the 2015 MIAA Boys Lacrosse North Division 3 tournament but, after a blow out win in the first round, came up against the #1 seeded Ipswich, and couldn’t hang. We were still so very proud of the team and of Jake’s growth as a player in his short two-year career! He went from clueless ot the “#1 defensive midfielder” on his team in the words of his coach!

Here’s a video of their season! (Jake’s #3. He first appears about 5:30 in.)

In a slightly more relaxed fashion, Jake played soccer again this spring with the now U19 Black Hornets. Comprised mostly of players from the High School Team,they were a force to be reckoned with. Many of the team had been playing together since at least their U-8 season and could well anticipate each other’s moves.

Finishing in first place in the league, they took the #1 seed into the tournament and played Hamilton-Wenham in the finals. The Hornets took a 1-0 lead when Jake caught a long pass, beat his man into the box, drew the keeper, and then made a sweet pass to a teammate at the six who one-touched it in for the goal. Unfortunately, a sketchy call with only a couple of minutes to go gave H-W a penalty kick on which they tied it up. After two scoreless overtime periods, the game was decided on PKs and North Reading came up short. It was a horrible way to end what had been a stellar run for the Black Hornets. Many hats off to Joe and Peter and all the others who helped coach along the way. The boys will never forget their NRYS experiences!!

Jake’s Graduation

Posted: June 6, 2015 in School

Behind every proud graduate is a proud Mom!

The days leading up to graduation were cool and damp but the weather cleared and (unlike Josh’s graduation) the ceremonies were held outdoors and 174 seniors followed the piper from the new school to the stadium field.

Speeches and musical performances were accompanied by frivolity among the candidates.

When Jake’s turn to step up came, there wasn’t a dry eye in the family!

And we we’re proud of him too!

Jake poured on the effort in his upperclassman years and graduated with honors, AP credits, and an exciting future at The University at Albany. We’re so proud!

Even Gramsie made it out for the celebration!

Way to go boi!!!

Senior Prom 2015

Posted: June 3, 2015 in Family, Prom

It’s Jake’s senior year and (most likely) our last prom!

The lacrosse team got out of pre-tournament practice a bit later than expected and there was traffic and rain and everybody was a bit rushed but nonetheless showed up at a friends house for the pre-prom prep and pictures.

Jake waited patiently for his date, Rachael, to arrive. She did, with a full entourage keeping the rain off her beautiful dress.

Flowers were pinned and re-pinned and shown off and photographed before they all piled into the party bus for a trip to the high school for the Grand March – relocated indoors because of the weather.

The prom itself is, of course, shrouded in mystery. We did see a couple pictures pop out, including this shot of lacrosse players and their manager, Rachael.

We’re pretty sure they all had a good time!

Snowmageddon 2015

Posted: March 10, 2015 in Home
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Our winter started so gently. Through the end of 2014, we had a cumulative total of 3.6″ of snow. Through January 24th, we’d gained only a single inch more. And then, it began: Snowmageddon 2015. Over the next 33 days, we received 95.1″ of snow! That’s practically eight feet!

By January 27, we’d had a couple of 6″ storms and, from the weather patterns, we knew we might be in trouble. The winds were from the north, as clearly indicated by the top of our smoker! (This was about the last we’d see of the smoker.)

Over the next two weeks, we got another five feet including dumps of 19″ (1/28), 13.5″ (2/3), 10.8″ (2/9), and 14.1″ (2/10). And nothing was melting. Observing his father’s reluctance to step off the ladder, fearless Jake went up to shovel the flatter rear roof of our house. Over spring break, he and his buddy would make a killing shoveling roofs at half the cost of the roofers and more than they ever thought their labor would be worth!

Three dumps the next week added another 14″ and we were digging backyard trails for the dawg.

Of course, just digging out our house wasn’t enough. We had to keep Gramsie’s clear as well.

And it stayed cold! February was one of the coldest months ever on record and nothing melted. The stuff just piled up everywhere. It was getting dark in our family room and we had to do a second round of roof shoveling.

Throughout it all, we managed to keep the grill functional (though the smoker went under) and thumbed our noses at winter by continuing to prepare food outdoors. (The snowbank on the right made a great beer holder while grilling!)

As things began to melt, we suffered the inevitable ice damns and one significant leak in our living room. We believe that battle is over now and tonight, a sure sign of spring!

That’s the ground peeking out above our septic tank! Hallelujah!

Christmas 2014

Posted: December 30, 2014 in Family, Holiday, Home
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Weeks of planning resulted in a well-coordinated menu ready to go. Shawn decorated and John shopped. And as the guests started to arrive, we put the plan into action and the fun began!

Sarah, Shawn’s niece and our pastry chef, was first to arrive, flying in from South Dakota on Saturday. She immediately began cooking desserts. (Her boyfriend, Jordan, who was with us last year, had to stay behind this time and we missed him!) The trend continued through the week – we all gained at least a pound or two.

The next day, it was Shawn’s brother and his wife Susan arriving after a drive up from Greensboro, NC. Later the same day, their second daughter Kim arrived from Providence, RI with her boyfriend Kevin. While Shawn, John, and Kevin had to work Monday and Tuesday, the Duff’s headed north for a night to visit some of their old stomping grounds. On Monday evening, we picked up Ellie and Cleon from the Lake Shore Limited.

By Tuesday night, we were back at full strength for some nice pork roast with assuage & cranberry stuffing. And then on Wednesday, for Christmas eve, we enjoyed an early antipasto followed by seafood dishes including calamari, clams, baccalà, muscles, scallops, crab, and haddock – seven fishes in the Italian tradition. We even had fresh bread flown in from John’s cousin Larry’s Hearth and Stone Bakery!  John and Jake attended the 7:00 PM worship service at our church and later, Thor and Heather joined us for cookies, laughs, and limoncello. The holiday spirits were running high!

Shawn’s nephew, Pete, was expected in on Christmas Eve but, due to fog, couldn’t get out of North Carolina. He finally made it in late Christmas morning and joined in the Christmas day festivities including breakfast bread, opening presents, and a huge roast beast for dinner! It was a great relaxing day with all the family, even Marie, enjoying a good time.

The next several days were all about sloth and indulgence. We enjoyed movies, football, beer, chili, wine, old photos, family stories, and a general good time. We had visits from Heather and Thor and Camden and Madison. We installed a new stereo in Jake’s car and tried on new clothes. We all got in the new shower… It was a great time.

Come Sunday, Scott and family departed and things got quieter. We wrapped up things on Monday night with dinner at Ristorante Pavoratti in honor of Cleon’s 88th birthday!

We dropped Ellie and Cleon at South Station on Tuesday morning and Casa Intorcio began to settle back into its usual mildly chaotic state, preparing for New Year’s Day and Epiphany.

It was awesome to have all the family around on Christmas. We can’t wait to do it again next time!

Thanksgiving 2014

Posted: November 30, 2014 in Family, Holiday

Shawn did her usual  fine job of making sure Casa Intorcio was decorated for the season and we all enjoyed a bit of a break and a fun Thanksgiving!

Josh had the entire week off from school and made the drive home from Syracuse with several friends. It was great to have the whole family together again for a bit!

Thanksgiving Day itself started off with our first real snow of the season on the ground. But the sun was out and the North Reading 5k Turkey Trot didn’t feel cold at all. Though Jake remained sidelined with his collarbone injury, Josh, Shawn, and John all began the day with the race. Josh took family honors – firmly dusting his parents, while John out-leaned Shawn at the line.

Gramsie joined us after the race for a day of food and football. Our neighbor Dante and her daughter Miss Sarah joined us for the Thanksgiving meal. We all had much to be thankful for and enjoyed a relaxed and hearty dinner with good company.

Later in the evening, we walked over to the new home of our good friends Heather and Thor and joined their extended family for some post-dinner libations. It’s great having them right here in our own neighborhood now! Although, John did make Madison cry a bit…

Black Friday was a casual shopping day for the family. Jake and a buddy hit the mall when the Massachusetts stores opened at 1:00 AM, Shawn and Marie trolled for bargains, Josh got to the mall for some browsing, and John shopped online. We all did a little bit to help the economy!

Saturday, it was off to Boston College’s Alumni Stadium to see BC play Syracuse. The Orangemen didn’t play that well but we still got to celebrate Shawn’s alma mater’s win.

Sunday morning, Josh hit the road back to Syracuse and we finished up the weekend with some friends around the fire pit watching the Patriots get beaten.

Ain’t holidays grand? So much fun with friends and family.  Bring on Christmas!