web analytics

National Kidney Foundation Kidney Walk – We Need Your Support!

Please consider joining Team Grandfather, Sir on September 28th at 8:30 AM at the Philadelphia Zoo as we walk in support of the National Kidney Foundation. 

We are walking in memory of John Bilbrough, a beloved husband, father, grandfather, and friend.  The loss of such a wonderful man was devastating to our family, and it is our hope that with our participation in this walk we can spare another family the same tragedy we suffered. 

John was an advocate for organ transplant, having received a donated kidney after diabetes destroyed his own kidney function.  Helping to spread awareness for organ donation is another reason we are walking.

Thank you for helping us reach our fundraising goal! This is an exciting opportunity for us to work together to help people understand the need for early detection of kidney disease. In addition to raising funds for research and help for patients and their families, the Kidney Walk is a great way to bring the community together!

You should consider walking with us too! With your help, we will be able to make a difference in chronic kidney disease!


Sunday, August 17th, Who Lives There???

After a quick breakfast at the buffet at the hotel, we headed out to the lobby to see Manilo has already arrived and is waiting for us to depart the hotel for Castel Gandolfo, which is where the Pope’s summer residence is.  It is a 30 minute drive, but this is Rome, after all, and everything is just so beautiful, you are constantly turning your head from one side to the other to drink it all in.

We arrived at the summer home of Pope Benedict – and all the other pontiffs before him – and Manilo drops us off almost right at the front door.  It is just a short walk through some light security to get to the waiting area.  We are there about an hour before they will begin to allow people in, but there is already quite a crowd gathered.  There were two members of the Swiss Guard at the entrance to the courtyard of the amazing home, and an area is barricaded off from the shops and restaurants.  It is inside this barricaded area that we have to wait.

As it draws closer to the 11 o’clock hour, when they are supposed to begin letting people into the courtyard, we are standing in a crowd of easily a couple of thousand people.  When the security team comes down and begins letting people in, it’s almost like herding cattle.  In the crush of people trying to make their way through security and into the courtyard, I get separated from Russ and Dot, but fortunately, Jim sees that I am corralled in the opposite direction and he follows me, so I’m not off by myself.  Our line is going much more slowly than the one Dot and Russ are in, and I am starting to get worried that we won’t make it!  Just when it seems like they surely must be going to close the gate at any moment, we are through, and we find out that the courtyard is really only about half full.  We are going to be so close to the Pope, I can’t even imagine!  The gates do eventually close, and there are about 500 people still waiting outside.  They do have TV screens set up for everyone to see, but I feel sorry for those people that do not get what they obviously had hoped to get when they arrived.

There is still an hour wait before the Pope is scheduled to appear, but it passes quickly, thanks mostly to a Church group that has come from Africa.  They are singing, swaying, and waving banners, and they put such a feeling of excitement in the air!  It was crowded, cramped, and hot, but you hardly noticed those things when you were caught up in the moment.

When the Pope finally arrived at the podium, there was a deafening cheer from the crowd.  It really almost moved me to tears.  I am particularly religious, and we certainly don’t go to Church as often as we should, but there is something about being here, surrounded by people from every walk of life, countries too numerous to count represented by the crowd.  There is no hatred, no bigotry, no racism.  The courtyard is absolutely filled with love.  There is no other way to describe the feeling.

After speaking and praying in no less than four languages that I could make out, our encounter with the Pope draws to a close.  As we left the courtyard, we spot Manilo, who has waited outside for us.  He tells us he was able to secure a reservation at a restaurant just down the road here in Castel Gandolfo, so we make our way through the thinning crowd to follow him.  We arrived just a minute later at il Ristorante Bucci.  When I tell you this place is right out of a painting, I am not exaggerating.  The ceiling is covered with real grape vines, loaded with clusters of grapes, and the views are absolutely breathtaking.  There is a lake below us, and a train running just above the water level.  It is just picture perfect here, no matter where you look.

The kids were hot and getting cranky, but they have found renewed energy with the promise of food ahead of them.  There is cold water on the table, and we invited Manilo to join us.  He spoke to the waiter, and without opening his menu, he has chosen a meal of gnocchi with fresh asparagus with a creamy pesto type sauce.  Nearly everyone at the table follows suit and orders the gnocchi, and it is a huge hit at the table.  I can’t eat gnocchi, but I was certainly not disappointed in my meal.  I ordered a fresh green salad, and the greens, which could have been in the ground that morning they were so fresh, are simply dressed with olive oil and salt.  I don’t know if it’s the whole beautiful day or what, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a salad that tasted so good.  Eilis ordered spaghetti and meat sauce, which she generously offered to share with Granuaile when Granuaile decided she did not like the gnocchi.  Other than that little blip, the meal was perfect.

In Italy, no one appears at your table with check in hand, rushing you out to pay your bill.  It’s a wonderful system, but we’re in a bit of a rush, since Manilo has gone off to get the car.  Dot and Russ take the girls to pick up a souvenir or two, and Jim and I offer to stay behind and wait for the check.  After 20 minutes, I need to find a restroom, so I leave the table with Jim waiting for the bill.  I walk through the whole village without seeing a public restroom, and I am all the way outside the walls, where the car is.  Now Granuaile decides she has to use the bathroom.  We head back in towards the Pope’s residence (no, I did not expect him to let us in to use the toilet!!), where there is a police officer standing.  I ask him if there are public facilities, and he tells me no, but I should go inside the bar to use the bathroom.  Eilis has joined us, and we had into the bar – which seems to serve more ice cream and coffee than anything alcoholic – and without question they direct us to the ladies room.  By the time we are finished, and back at the car, Jim appears and we are on our way back to the hotel.  Manilo makes one more stop – in the village where he lives – and he stops the car so we can see the spectacular view he has of the city of Rome.  Incredible!

As we get out of the car, Manilo gives us a very generous gift of a bottle of wine, and Jim learns that Manilo is available to take us to the airport in the morning.  Eilis is thrilled, and we’re all somewhat relieved that we don’t have to worry about the safety of a different driver.  It all works out perfectly.

We head in to let the girls change to go swimming for a little while.  Brighid, Dot and Russ take them down to the pool while we pull the bags together to be ready to leave early in the morning.  After the quick swim, it’s time to head down to dinner.  The food at the hotel is pretty good – even for hotel food – and we have a nice dinner.  We head back to the executive lounge for a cup of tea before we go to the room to go to bed.

It’s been a wonderful two days in Rome.  In my previous visits here, I have left feeling like I really wanted to come back, and this time is no different.  I love this city, and having seen it through new eyes with Manilo’s incredible knowledge, now I’d want to come back even sooner!

Review – Limousine Service In Rome


Phone +39 339.2892669

When planning our trip to cruise the British Isles, I came up with the brilliant idea that we could go a couple of days early, and visit Rome.  When we last visited, Dot and Russ were rushed through the important parts of the trip, and Dot really had her eye on a book they sell to tourists with beautiful pictures of the whole area.  Time did not permit her to pick up a copy of the book, so I figure a quick visit to Rome – since we’re in Europe anyway, and everything in Europe is so close to everything else (did I mention I got a D in Geography?) – will allow them the chance to maybe see the Pope and get that book.

Of course when I came up with this great idea, I gave no thought to the fact that we would be in Rome.  In a hotel.  Carless.  Clueless.  Oh, and we don’t speak Italian.  Among the 7 of us, Granuaile is the one who most closely sounds like she COULD be speaking Italian sometimes (well, at least we don’t always understand her); and among the rest of us, we know how to say Pizza; Pasta; and Orangiata (this will get you an orange soda in some places).  So now we have to find a car, a driver, and an English speaking tour guide.  I head to the web, where all the world has to offer can be found, and I start to browse Rome, limo services, and tour guides.  I find a bunch.  No, really, a bunch.  Like way more than you would want to have to weed through if you have a whole year to plan.  We only have a few weeks.

While browsing, I come across the website for Limousine Service in Rome, and there is an adorable video on the site.  Of course, Manilo is handsome and Italian.  And handsome.  And Italian.  Oh, and handsome.  And the video has beautiful Rome in the background, with the beautiful sound of Church bells in the background.  And handsome, Italian Manilo doing the talking.  I send an email, and in no time at all, I am on the phone with Manilo to get some of the details.

Now, I will tell you that from the time I first talked to Manilo, we went from just getting transfers from the airport to the hotel, to adding a day of touring on Saturday, to adding a day to see the Pope in Castel Gandolfo on Sunday, to cancelling Saturday, to touring Saturday.  Yes we made an adjustment or two to the itinerary.  Through it all, Manilo was patient, helpful, and never once cursed at me in English OR Italian for not knowing what the heck I wanted in the first place (this is not to say he didn’t curse after he hung up the phone or backed away from the computer, but he was considerate enough to keep it to himself!).

The first thing Manilo did was advise us that because we were coming in August, and our big tour day was Sunday, that we should not expect to see Pope Benedict at the Vatican.  He spends the month of August at his vacation home in Castel Gandolfo, a fact we completely overlooked.  Had it not been for Manilo, we would have missed the opportunity to see the Pope at all, but it turned out that we were so much closer to His Holiness in the more intimate setting of the courtyard of his vacation home than we would have ever been at St. Peter’s Basilica.  Not only that, but Manilo arranged a WONDERFUL lunch for us at il Ristorante Bucci, with a view that was beyond breath taking.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

We spent Saturday seeing things that everyone goes to Rome to see – the Forum, the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain – and at each place, Manilo is able to bring us up so close that most of the time, even Dot can get out and enjoy the scenery, despite her mobility issues.  Even with increased security concerns around St. Peter’s, Manilo is able to allow us to get out without too much of a walk to the square, and he makes it back to pick us up.  That was so appreciated!  And then we see things that we have never seen on our past visits to Rome, like the keyhole view of St. Peter’s.  It was an amazing day, riding in absolute comfort.  The girls even all fell asleep during the tour, they were so comfortable.

Then on Sunday, Manilo arrived bright and early to transport us for the wonderful day at Castel Gandolfo.  As I said, he chose a restaurant that was so wonderful, we will be talking about it for years to come.  He arranged a perfect table for us, and when we invited him to join us for lunch, he ordered a meal that was quickly copied by nearly everyone at our table, much to their delight. 

After a wonderful afternoon, Manilo took us for an amazing hilltop view of all of Rome, and had us back at the hotel in time to wash up, relax and get ready for dinner.

Manilo also did a VERY early morning transfer back to the airport for us on Monday morning – an arrangement I had not made ahead of time.  We were grateful, and lucky, he was available.

If you ask my 7 year old daughter what her favorite part of the entire 2 week vacation was, she will tell you it was the two days with Manilo.  He speaks English beautifully, so we never had any difficulty understanding him; and his knowledge and expertise regarding the history of Rome and the must see locations is incredible.  We never felt unsafe or uncomfortable in his car, and despite doing several organized group tours in Rome before, we feel like we got a much better view of this beautiful city through Manilo’s eyes.

I would not hesitate one second to use this service again – and since we threw our coins in the Trevi Fountain, I believe we are guaranteed a return trip.  We cannot wait until the opportunity to go back to Rome presents itself again.  We only hope Manilo is available then to show us his wonderful city.

Rome in a Day? Or two?

Remember back when we checked in at the Philly airport and British Airways did not have the request on file for a wheelchair?  Well, they assured us that we would have a wheelchair for the rest of the legs of our trip.  So when we arrived in Italy, guess what we found?  No wheelchair!  Well, of course not!  The British Airways people are too busy preparing meals to worry about accomodating handicapped travelers!!

After waiting a little bit, Dot and Russ decide to tackle the task on their own and grab an unattended airport wheelchair.  We have to collect our luggage here in Heathrow, then check it in at the baggage storage facility here.  That makes it easier to travel on to Rome.  Thank goodness something is easier, because our flight has come in to terminal 4, but we leave out of terminal 5.  Terminal 4 is somewhere in London.  Terminal 5 is near Dubai.  Planes, trains, and automobiles later (okay, not all of that, but at least two trains), we are at terminal 5, Starbucks, and oh so close to Rome.

The people responsible for lining up wheelchair transportation are busy on our flight to Rome preparing our snack.  I’m pretty hungry at this point, so the egg salad sandwich with bacon and ketchup actually tastes pretty darn good.  The kids are tired from the lack of sleep, and they are especially crabby.  Granuaile finally falls asleep with about 30 minutes left until we hit the ground in Rome, but that’s enough to recharge her batteries.

We arrive a little late to our destination at Fiumicino Airport, but we have no trouble finding our driver.  We have searched the web to find a driver/tour guide for our whirlwind tour, and after a brief phone conversation with him a couple of months ago, I am confident we have made the right choice.  Manilo Tranquilli, the owner operator of a company called Limousine Service in Rome www.limousineserviceinrome.com is waiting for us with a big, comfortable, air conditioned van.  He very graciously assists us with our luggage, and patiently waits while we all climb in and settle into seats.  We make the drive to the Marriott Rome Park hotel, which is absolutely beautiful, and Manilo waits for us as we check in.  We make a mad dash to drop the bags in our three very beautifully appointed rooms, and then we head back down to the car for an up close and personal tour of the city of Rome.  It was so beautiful, and the best part of the ENTIRE trip?  Dot got her Rome book!!

And the Adventure Begins!!

Friday August 15th

After months of planning and preparation for this trip of a lifetime, the big day is finally here.  Jim sails in at the last minute (no pun intended), calm as a cucumber, relieved of any bit of responsibility beyond lifting his wallet out of his pocket (yeah, okay, that’s a big one, but come on – who does he think shops, washes, folds, packs, plans for all of this fun and adventure?).  But here we are, about to embark on our trip, excited, anxious, and ever so grateful that my in-laws invited us!

After a late night of packing, I got up early this morning for a last minute manicure, pedicure and eyebrow waxing.  Jim drove me, which afforded us a last bit of alone time before the chaos of traveling with a family of 7.  It was nice tying up the loose ends before we head off on our trip.

I had a great time being pampered at the salon, then we left to go home and shower and pack toiletries.  Uh-oh. 

We hit the first of what will probably be many bumps in the road to Europe and home again.  I knew our bag limit was one per person, but apparently, elementary math is where my career as a brilliant mathematician went wrong.  I counted 5 bags, but did not include the toiletry bag in the number.  Normally, it’s something I keep handy to carry into a hotel wherever we go.  But  now that everyone who carries a bottle containing more than 3 ounces of liquid is potentially a terrorist – let alone the nail clippers and tiny scissors we carry in that bag – I can’t carry it on L  This bag is loaded with shampoos, conditioners, deodorants (why couldn’t we just be solid stick deodorant people???), and the 37 other over 3 ounce size bottles of liquid that will be required to keep a family of 5 from smelling like a sewer plant in the middle of a pig farm located in a landfill.  We start putting everything in plastic Ziploc bags and moving the toiletries around to bags that are not already dangerously close to the 50 pound weight limit.  Crisis averted, all is right with the world, and we have dodged the TSA bullet!

Dot and Russ bought lunch, so the kids ate cheese steaks while we finished the last minute stuff.  We had just started taking our bags out front when the white stretch limo pulled up.  2:30 – right on time!  We used Ocean Eleven West in Bellmawr, NJ – prompt, polite driver named Phil; beautiful, spotless car; and even for the 20 minute ride to the airport, the car was loaded with drinks and snacks.  While the men-folk loaded bags in, Eilis and Granuaile stood about to burst on the sidewalk, watching the car!  Eilis declared this was a Hollywood Celebrity car, and reminded us how she will someday drive a car like this all of the time.  I hope so, Eilis!  At one point, while the kids were standing on the sidewalk, Eilis yells out, “How much did this cost??”  A neighbor was walking by, and said back to her, “Never ask how much it cost.  Just get in and enjoy the ride!”  Definitely words to live by.

Despite being a little tightly packed in, with all the luggage, we had a nice, quick ride to the airport.  Eilis marveled at the changing lights on the ceiling of the car, and Granuaile marveled over the newly purchased booster seat.  In what seemed the blink of an eye, we were unloading the bags at the British Airways terminal.  The enchanted carriage ride was over, but the adventure was just beginning!


We had to wait for the counter to open before we could check in, and then Jim made the process confusing.  I assumed we were checking all of our bags, retrieving them in London, then rechecking the one bag to Rome at Heathrow.  Jim, however, decided he wanted British Airways to handle the bag transfer of the one bag in London.  The British Airways employees didn’t seem to understand what was happening, and it took a while to get it all straightened out.  Russ and Dot ended up carrying on their bag to Rome, which would not have normally been a bad thing, but since British Airways neglected to mark that we needed a wheelchair for Dot, and then when we finally got the wheelchair, there was no attendant with it, having that bag to carry was tough.  You can rest assured, however, if there is a fly in the Skamarakas ointment, his name is Jim.  He gets what he wants done with our one bag to Rome, and we make our way to security.

Now that our act is somewhat together, we breeze through security, with the kids beyond excited that they get to kick their shoes off and go barefoot through the metal detectors.  I bought them each jogging suits to wear, and Eilis’ has so much gold glitter on it, I am sure she is going to set the machine off and dozens of armed TSA people will run over to conduct a body cavity search on a terrified 7 year old, but even Sparkly Eilis gets through without incident.

Oh, fly!  Another batch of ointment has appeared!

Yes, this is the part where we go to the currency exchange desk to exchange currency.  Jim has a pocket full of American cash, but he decides we are going to use our credit card – the one that has never seen the light of day and is loaded with available credit – to do our currency exchange.  We will need both British pounds and Euros for this trip, so Jim confidently goes up to the counter and asks them to give him money.  The young girl happily swipes our card, only to inform us that she cannot complete the transaction.  DENIED.  What?  How could that be?  This is a credit card that has NEVER been in my hot little hands, so there is no way we have exceeded our credit limit.  

The one thing Jim did not factor into the plan was the fact that when you do a currency exchange on your credit card, it goes through as a cash advance.  We have a very low cash advance limit on our cards, so when the girl tried to put through our exchange, it kept being declined due to the low cash advance limit.  Of course, it took a couple of calls to two different credit card companies to realize this is what was going on, but once we got it sorted out, Jim just took the money he had in his pocket and exchanged that for foreign currency.  We won’t need American money anyway, right?

I had not eaten lunch in the rush after my morning of pampering (and seriously, since when is eyebrow waxing pampering?), so I grabbed a slice of pizza and the kids got drinks and sat with me.  Granuaile began her sight seeing by visiting nearly every restroom in the international terminal at Philly International, but sometime after her 15th visit to the potty, it was time to board the plane.  YAY!

 I cannot say enough good things about British Airways.  I hear ya, my Irish brethren – up the Republic, money for plastic bullets (do they even still do that in Ireland??), etc. – but you just cannot beat British Airways for service, comfort, and holy cow, they feed you like your Italian grandmother feeds you!

The first thing we love about British Airways is the individual entertainment systems.  Everyone gets a TV, everyone gets headphones, and you get a pretty good selection of movies, cartoons, music, and video games.  It makes it easy to keep the whole gang happy.  Eilis watched Prince Caspian, while Granuaile enjoyed several hours of Horton Hears a Who.  Jim listened to music, and I caught a few sitcoms I don’t normally watch at home.  They also play some of the kids’ favorite Cartoon Network shows – and this is a big treat for my kids, because I don’t typically allow them to watch Cartoon Network.  That is definitely a Dad thing.

Then the food starts.  It seems like you are only in the air a few minutes when they are bringing you drinks and snacks.  This time is was salt and vinegar pretzel nuggets.  I saved my nuggets for later, but Granuaile opened her’s, ate half, and gave the other few to me, so I did eat them.  I like ’em. 

If you have ordered a special meal, they serve you first.  We ordered kids meals for each of the little kids, and Dot and I ordered diabetic meals.  I tend to order the diabetic meals on the rare occasions I am being fed on a plane.  If you order diabetic, you are more likely to get fruit as opposed to cake and cookies, and since I can’t eat the cake and cookies, and sometimes not too much of the meal itself, the fruit is at least something I know I can eat. 

On the journey over to London, the kids meal – which is ALWAYS huge – featured spaghetti and meatballs (the kids loved it, but what sadistic childless idiot thought that would a good choice of a meal for little kids??); a 5 Alive juice; a granola bar; a carton of milk; carrots and celery sticks.  They gave the kids a brightly colored set of silverware and pretty blue napkin.  Both girls had a great meal.

The diabetic meal consisted of some sort of chicken with mushrooms and other unidentifiable vegetables.  There was a sugar free cookie, an odd salad that also had chicken in it, and a bowl of blueberries and raspberries.  As a gastric bypass patient, there are some things I have difficulty eating.  Chicken happens to be one of those things that I have trouble with.  Often.  One place you do not want to be when you are having a chicken catastrophe is on an airplane.  Seated next to a toddler. 

So, I eat some of the salad, and I am really enjoying the mushrooms and vegetables when I decide to tempt fate and eat some chicken.  I avoided the cold chicken, figuring that would be dryer than the hot chicken.  It couldn’t have been.  I didn’t even eat that much of a bite of the chicken, but I felt it just “stick”.  It did not want to move down.  So I waited as long as I could, checking the line at the restroom periodically, and as soon as it looked like I could get in without waiting, I went and “disposed of” the chicken.  Puking is not fun normally, but it’s definitely not fun in an airplane bathroom.  Thank goodness, though, I didn’t have to wait too long for the room to be vacant!  Note to self – no chicken on an airplane.  Again.  Ever.

The regular meal, for those of you who are planning your next international flight based solely on their culinary delicacies, was a choice of chicken or salmon, with a salad, vegetables, and a nice cakey looking dessert type thing.

Now I know you’re worrying about me, not eating and all.  You just stop right there, because this is British Airways, and if your eyes are open, they want your mouth open too.  Not long after dinner, they bring pots of coffee and tea, so I enjoyed my sugar free cookie with a nice, hot cuppa.  Not a bad dinner after all 🙂

So a while before you land, just as you have found a spot you are comfortable enough to sleep in, guess what?  They want to feed you again!!  Around they come with snack packs for everyone.  The diabetic snack was yogurt, fresh berries, and a roll.  The kids meal had cereal and milk.  The normal meal consisted of a small cup of OJ, a croissant, butter and jelly.

And here we are, not even off the plane yet, and it’s Saturday!