Friday, August 31, 2007

OJ's book: Sickening

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Behold, the cover for OJ Simpson's debacle of a book: IF I Did It. Could they have made the word "If" any smaller?

Don't think so.

How proud the Goldman Family must be, seeing their dead loved one's name splashed all over this disgusting piece of trash written by a unremorseful murderer. And now, thanks to all the pre-orders the book has received, Barnes and Noble announced yesterday that they've changed their minds, and WILL indeed stock the book in their stores.

What's that sound you hear? Oh, don't worry, it's just the very fabric of our civilized society being irreparably torn into a million pieces.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

At Sea Day #3 -- Houdini Highlights & More

Saturday, July 14, 2007 – AT SEA DAY

Our last At Sea day on this cruise—I can’t believe how fast the trip went! We slept in a bit, then I headed up to the Horizon Court and brought down some breakfast for Rich and the kids. Rich took them to Bingo at 11:15 while I tried in vain to find a quiet place to relax and write. Unfortunately, all of the nice chairs in the atrium lounges were full, so I ended up at the Painted Desert restaurant amidst the people playing bridge and board games. It wasn’t too noisy at first, but eventually got crowded, so I left and met up with Rich and kids.

After Bingo, we watched an ice carving demonstration on Deck 14, and then had a quick bite to eat before heading to magician Bernard Reid’s presentation, “Houdini: The Man, The Myth, The Magic.” It was FANTASTIC. Reid is one of the world’s foremost experts on Harry Houdini, and his presentation included some fascinating information, including extremely rare video and audio clips of Harry Houdini. He clearly has a passion for the subject matter, and has devoted his life to being as informed as possible. I wish they’d given him more time…an hour wasn’t nearly enough to squeeze in all of the information he had to impart.

We stayed put in the Vista Lounge and tried out hand at Masters Team Trivia, but it was really tough and we didn’t win a prize (which was fine, because we’d already gotten prizes a few days ago—one of the social staff had some extra water bottles and slipped them to the kids at the end of one of the trivia sessions because we’d come in second place).

After that, it was time for Snowball Jackpot Bingo. The prize was up to $2,200 but nobody won it, although we tried our best.

Soon it was time to head back to the room and start getting ready for our last Formal Night. We purchased a few of our Formal Portraits already, and they cost a small fortune, so we had no intention of sitting for any more pictures. We headed straight for the dining room, and the staff there mentioned the Princess Questionnaires we’d be getting soon in our staterooms. They made it clear that if they received any rating less than a perfect 5 out of 5, they would get in big trouble. While I had no problem giving high marks to our waitress and her assistant, the Powers That Be at Princess got an earful about the rest of the dining room staff and the folks at the Purser’s Office. I’m not sure if it made any difference, but I’m hoping it did.

Right after dinner was a brand new production show, “Do You Wanna Dance”. It was the best show of the entire trip. The dancers performed a wide variety of dance styles, including Irish step dancing (like Lord of the Dance) that was energetic and perfectly executed. The kids absolutely loved it, and so did everyone else in the audience. We gave them a standing ovation.

After the show, we headed for the atrium to see the Champagne Waterfall at 11:30pm. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was so much fun. White-gloved waiters walked around handing out glasses of champagne to all of the adults, and there was a huge tower of glasses stacked in the bottom floor of the atrium. At the designated time, the Maitre D’ began pouring the champagne down the glasses, starting at the top, and as the bubbly flowed we all toasted one another and our wonderful trip we’d enjoyed thus far. It was the first time I could remember every staff member with a smile on their faces, and when I got back to my stateroom—lo and behold!—the Princess rating questionnaire was waiting for me. Perfect timing, eh?

Coming up…Our last port of call: Le Havre, France

Saturday, August 18, 2007

British Isles Souvenirs, part 1

I know, I've been remiss in posting these last two weeks. I've been busy enjoying my summer and attending a writer's workshop. This week, I'll be finishing up the last of the travel blogging for my trip to the British Isles, and then get back to my usual everyday blog topics. It was fun while it lasted!

Here are some of the great souvenirs I picked up on this trip:

A Crown ornament from the Tower of London Jewel House gift shop

A Claddagh wall plaque from Ireland

Tea Towels from Ireland, and an angel ornament

Some items from House of Beauly in Scotland
This is Whisky cake, a honeyspoon made of polished animal horn, and some homemade Scottish jam

I had the one on the left (without the whisky added) and it was fantastic...just like the one I tasted in Edinburgh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Dolphin Costume

My Favorite Dolphin
Originally uploaded by LisaYak
I was looking at the beautiful dolphin pictures that Rosie O'Donnell has posted on her site, and couldn't resist posting this picture of my youngest daughter. She is obsessed with dolphins, and in 2005, decided she wanted to be a dolphin for Halloween.

I searched everywhere for a dolphin costume, and eventually had to end up sewing one myself. I still consider it one of those "great moments in motherhood" that I even pulled it off.

UPDATE: You can find complete instructions and photos for this costume HERE

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tagged, like a wildebeest on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom...

Okay, so apparently there's this "tagging" thing making the rounds on the blogosphere, where you post "You've been tagged" on someone's blog, and then they have to post 8 interesting things about themselves.

And wouldn't you know it, I've been tagged.

Normally, I'm one of those people who detests chain letters or "pass it on" emails of any sort, even when they come from a dear friend. Heck, even when they come from my own mother, I get annoyed. I know my mother loves me, so why must she feel compelled to forward me every "Here's an angel wishing you joy" email she comes across? (Especially when these overtly religious epistles of love and harmony inevitably carry dire warnings of death and dismemberment if I don't forward it to 10 friends by sundown?) It drives me crazy.

Normally. But not this time.

This time, I must confess, I am so pathetically happy to have been included in this merry-go-round membership of cyberspace shenanigans, I'm actually going to respond. What's more: I'll probably go and tag someone else.

If you're reading this because you've been tagged, don't feel obligated to keep passing it on, because nothing bad will happen to you if you don't.

But I hope you'll pass it on anyway, because.....why the heck not?

So without further ado, here are 8 interesting things about myself.....

1. I hate chain letters, and ALWAYS break the chain. Bwah ha ha ha ha!

2. I chose Journalism as my major in college. The deciding factor: it was the only major that did NOT require Calculus.

3. The first concert I ever attended was Jay Black & the Americans at Belmont Racetrack in the early 1970s.

4. In an attempt to earn extra credit in Social Studies, I volunteered to be in a gubernatorial mock election debate for my 6th grade class in Brooklyn, circa 1978. I chose to argue for the incumbent, Governor Hugh Carey. Instead of going to the library and flipping through newspapers to do my research, I let my fingers do the walking and called his campaign headquarters. I told them I was representing the governor in an upcoming debate and needed to know where he stood on some of the issues. I was put on hold for a moment, and the next voice I heard said, "Carey, here." The campaign worker had put me directly through to the Governor of New York. I was 11 years old.

5. I've been stuck on #5 for about 20 minutes now, no lie.

6. I almost died giving birth the first time. I did it again less than 2 years later, just to prove I could do it WITHOUT losing half the blood in my body.

7. I can' t carry a tune, even if it's strapped to my back.

8. I truly believe, with all of my heart, that there is no problem so big that it cannot be solved with sufficient quantities of chocolate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Edinburgh/S. Queensferry: Walking the Royal Mile

Friday, July 13, 2007 – Edinburgh (South Queensferry), Scotland

The ship anchored off the port in South Queensferry, and after a tender ride under the red railway bridge, we arrived. There are two options for those wishing to get into Edinburgh on their own: take a train into Waverly Station (the heart of downtown Edinburgh) or grab a taxi. We were told that taxis were limited, but did not want to make the steep climb up 150 steps to the train station. [NOTE: Later on in the day, I met a lovely older couple on the return tender who told me they walked up the steps to the train without a problem, so it might not be as bad as the ship's tour folks make it out to be.] The trains also run only about once an hour, so we waited a bit and caught a private-hire car into the city, at a cost ₤20—not bad for the 5 of us. (This was a flat rate charge—no meter. On the way back, our taxi w/meter cost ₤17.50. We were told ahead of time it would cost ₤15-₤20, so depending on traffic and weather conditions, I’d say that was accurate). NOTE: there’s a shop just across the street from the dock area that has business cards for several taxi companies by the cash register. If there are no taxis waiting at the taxi stand, you can call for one yourself—provided you have a Blackberry or some other cellular phone that works there. Two of the cab companies that serve the area: Hawes Cars, 0131-331-1077, and Queensferry Cabs, 0131-331-4433. For our return trip, we lucked out and got a taxi that was just dropping off someone at Cannongate Kirk (opposite the Museum of Edinburgh).

Our driver into Edinburgh, Owen, was great. On the way into town, we had some great conversation with him about the super-strict smoking laws in Scotland and the crackdown on cell phone use while driving. I asked him for recommendations for lunch (since I was not going to leave Scotland without trying haggis first) and he said the best haggis in town can be found at a pub on the Royal Mile called The Mitre. Owen said it was a child-friendly pub as well, so we had him mark it down on our map for us (on High Street between Carruber and north Gray’s).

Owen agreed with our plan to start at Edinburgh Castle and proceed down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, because that way, you’re walking downhill the entire time, rather than doing a steep climb in the other direction. He dropped us off at the Esplanade and we were on our way.

There were preparations in place for a Blondie concert that evening, so lots of stage scaffolding blocked our initial views of the castle. Once it came into view though, it was beautiful and impressive. When I got to the ticket office, I asked about a family rate, and it was then that I discovered a big mistake I’d made the day before. There’s a Scotland Pass you can purchase that is good for admission at many other sites throughout Scotland [For more info, see earlier blog post titled: SCOTLAND TRAVELERS: Money-Saving Tip] . If I’d purchased one at Urquhart Castle, admission to Edinburgh Castle would have been free. Darn it! Oh well…now YOU know, and you can save the money that I didn’t. It’s cheaper to buy the 3-day pass than it is to purchase 2 adult tickets and 3 children’s tickets, so I purchased the pass anyway, taking note for next time.

The castle paths are all cobblestone and quite uneven, so those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers will find it a very bumpy ride. The castle itself has several steep inclines, so those with mobility issues will also need to take it slow and careful. There were many cannons, including the famous Mons Meg, and a couple of small gift shops (not worth a visit, in my opinion). We went up to see the “Treasures” (aka the Crown jewels). There were lots of displays detailing the history behind the jewels, including how they were crafted and how they were smuggled away and hidden for over 100 years, lest the British melt them down during their struggles with the Highlanders. The kids compared these displays (with mannequins and animal figures posed in vignettes) to the wax museum in London. There is no photography allowed in this section, but that didn’t stop other tourists from snapping pictures, despite all of the signs prohibiting it.

When we finally wound our way through the rooms and arrived at the Crown jewels, I confess it was a bit of a letdown. The room is dark and cramped, with a small two-sided display containing the scepter and crown, and another flat wall display (with many people crowded around it, making it difficult to see) containing some rings and necklaces.

We exited out onto the castle grounds once again, took a few more photographs (there are some great views of the city from the castle) and then left to walk the Royal Mile.

Just outside the castle is the Camera Obscura, where you can ascend into an observation tower and get 360 degree views of the city, but we decided to skip it, since we’d already seen some beautiful vistas from the castle. Right across the street is the Scotch Whiskey Center, with its impressive gift shop (a huge array of scotch brands available). The tour was about an hour long, so we opted to pay ₤12 and just take the barrel ride instead. It’s very similar to those rides like It’s a Small World at Disneyworld or the Great Movie Ride at MGM in Orlando. except the cars you’re riding in are shaped like barrels, and you’re learning about the history of scotch whiskey. I think the adults got more out of it than the kids did, but it was a nice break for them to rest their little feet after the cobblestone climb of the castle. The barrel ride also includes a whiskey tasting for the adults at the coffee shop (Dewar’s White Label) and some soda pop for the kids.

We proceeded just up the street and down an alley into the Writer’s Museum. The younger kids waited outside with my husband while I went inside with my eldest daughter and checked out the displays on Robert Louis Stevenson. We popped in the small gift shop and I picked up a writing journal as a souvenir, and then we headed down the steps and across Market Street to the National Gallery.

The artwork at the National Gallery was wonderful: great works by Monet, Degas, Matisse, and more. Definitely worth a visit!

From here, we crossed the street once again, and crossed over the George IV bridge to take a picture outside of The Elephant House, which is the pub where J.K. Rowling has said she sat and wrote the first Harry Potter book. We doubled back over the bridge again and followed High Street to St. Giles Cathedral. Took a few pictures, and then proceeded up the Royal Mile, stopping in shops along the way to pick up a few souvenirs before arriving at The Mitre, the pub Owen recommended to us.

The way it works at The Mitre (and many other traditional pubs) is that you seat yourself, noting your table number, then grab a menu and place your order at the bar. You pay in advance, and then the wait staff brings you your food. I ordered the Haggis with Nips and Tatties (turnips and mashed potatoes) and it was DELICIOUS. It was similar to corned beef hash, and very, very tasty. [NOTE: They offer Haggis as a starter or as a main course, so if you're not qute brave enough to have it for your entire meal, you can order the starter portion. I was very glad I ordere a full entree portion, though--it really was fantastic.] Rich and Christina both tried it and agreed it was great. There is a kids’ menu at The Mitre, but Cathy didn’t want anything they had listed (Chicken strips, fish & chips, veggie nuggets) so she had some of the Garlic Ciabatta Bread w/melted cheese (meant as a side order, but it was just the right amount for her). The older girls had the Lasagne off the adult menu, and Rich had the fish & chips, which was outstanding. As usual, we also sampled the local beer: Rich had a Bellhaven’s Best, while I sampled the Caledonian Light.

Our next stop was Neanie Scott, a wonderful shop on the Royal mile (131 Canongate), where we met Kathryn Erikson, the proprietor. The items in her shop were all Made in Scotland, with gorgeous cashmere ponchos, scarves and sweaters at competitive prices. Amy found an adorable Westie dog toy dressed in a tartan that was handmade in Scotland, and is sold exclusively at this shop (they also had a black Scottie version available).

We stopped in the Museum of Childhood, which starts out as a small toy shop that you walk through in order to access the other floors of the museum. The kids enjoyed seeing the old board games, dollhouses, model trains, and the many other toys on display in the 5 galleries located here. There are restrooms available on the 4th floor, too, and admission to the museum is free.

There wasn’t much more to see along the Mile until we reached the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where we quickly experienced sticker shock at the admission price: ₤33 ($66US) for family admission! We decided to take pictures of the outside of the Palace and skip the interiors, since the kids had already had their fill of spiral staircases, musty rooms and antique furniture. We walked back up the Royal Mile and stopped outside of Canongate Kirk, which is directly across the street from the Museum of Edinburgh. The kids sat on a bench outside of Canongate and I got them some homemade ice cream from Angel’s Espresso cafĂ©, located next door to the Museum of Edinburgh. The only flavor they have is vanilla, but it was thick and rich and the kids agreed it tasted more like cake batter than vanilla—absolutely decadent and wonderful.

A large taxi pulled up to drop off passengers at Canongate, and since the kids had just finished up their ice cream, we hopped in and headed back to the ship. The rain started falling right after we got into the taxi, so the timing was perfect.

We relaxed for awhile, got ready for dinner, and went to the late show. It featured a return performance by comedian Rikki Jay (once again, he was hysterically funny) and singer Phillipa Healey. At the end of the show, the Cruise Director reminded everyone that we’d be turning the clocks ahead one hour that evening in preparation for our stop in LeHavre, France. We all looked forward to our last At Sea day, for some much-needed rest after all of the touring.

Coming up: Our last AT SEA day…

Jalapeno Hands: something that actually works!

Pardon me whilst I take a quick break from my travel blogging for this important public service announcement:

I was making gazpacho today, and stupidly cut up some jalapeno pepper without wearing gloves first. I washed my hands right afterwards, but it was too late: the oils got into my skin, and my hands and fingers started burning really badly.

I "googled" burning + hands + jalapenos and found a loooong thread filled with home remedies for the charming condition known as "Jalapeno Hands", but none of them worked. (Washing my hands while holding a stainless steel spoon made it only a little better, but not much. Other stuff I tried: Dawn dishwashing soap, lemon juice, white vinegar, milk, rubbing alcohol, sanitizing gel, hydrogen peroxide, cortisone cream, burn cream, pure aloe vera.)

FINALLY, I found the solution: Calamine lotion! It's a drying solution that helps draw out the oils that cause itching and redness from exposure to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Well guess what? It works like a charm for jalapeno oil, too!

I slathered on the Calamine lotion, letting it dry completely on my hands for about 10 minutes. Then I rinsed off with cold soapy water, and the stinging was COMPLETELY gone.

To anyone out there suffering from this same malady, get thee some pink calamine lotion!