Monday, March 30, 2009

Help the Bonobos Fight the Flu!


Terrible news: there's been a flu outbreak at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary. It is located in the Congo in Africa, and is a safe haven for the intelligent and beautiful Bonobo ape.

They've been hit hard by the flu, and nearly a dozen apes have died already. They are short on funds and need support in order to treat these sweet and gentle creatures. If you can help in any way with a monetary donation--$5, $10, whatever you can spare--please do.

Thanks!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cruise Day 4: Defying Death in Labadee!


We'd been to Labadee before, during our cruise on Celebrity last February, so we knew what to expect in terms of the horrendous tendering process. When you take the elevators down to the tendering gangway on Deck 1, the doors open and you are faced with an angry mob of people barking at you to get to the back of the line...IF you can squeeze your sorry ass back there past said angry mob.

On the plus side: Celebrity & Royal Caribbean are in the process of building a dock on this private section of Haiti, so that tendering will soon be a thing of the past.

It was more of a pain to get beach towels this time around. When we took RCCL in August, all we had to do was tell our stateroom attendant how many towels we needed for the following day, and they were waiting for us in our stateroom when we turned in for the night. This time, Rich had to go up to the pool deck and sign out pool towels. I'm not sure why they changed this policy, but it was just another little annoyance (like the lack of chocolates on your pillow at bedtime and the overworked room attendants).

We left for early Labadee, so tendering wasn't too bad this time around. We had a couple of hours to kill before our excursion, so we spent some time relaxing on the beach. Since we got there early, we were able to snag some prime beach chairs.

Here's a video panorama...about midway through, you can see the construction cranes working at the site where the new dock will be:

video

Christina and I booked the Dragon's Breath Zipline excursion, and I was already having second thoughts. It's touted as the longest zip line over water: 500 feet high--that's the height of two average ferris wheels stacked one on top of another--and 2,600 feet long, the equivalent of 65 Greyhound buses lined up end to end.

In the end, it was a thrilling experience, and one that I would absolutely do again in a heartbeat!

It really helped that we met up with a great guy named Larry, one of our fellow passengers on the Explorer. He was outgoing, funny, and really helped me to chill out and relax about the zipline. He'd done it before, and said it was no biggie, and for some reason, his reassurances helped to calm my nerves. (He also took the pics you see here from our excursion, since we didn't bring our camera along with us to the zipline.)

They start by asking you to step on a scale--not exactly my favorite activity during a cruise vacation--to see what weight category you fall into. The tension on the zip lines are adjusted based on your weight, so that you don't go too fast or too slow.

There was quite a strong headwind that day, so the minimum weight requirement was raised from 75lbs to 100lbs. I had no trouble with that. ;)

The instructors fitted us with harnesses and took us to a mini-course to get us used to the feel of zipline. This was a really smart move. The elevated platform was a bit scary, but if you freaked out here, there's no way you could do the main zipline. They taught us the three positions to use (starfish--for when you have a tailwind and want to slow down, torpedo--for when you have a headwind and want to speed up, and chair--a standard sitting up position). Because it was windy and some folks were getting stuck before the finish line and had to be towed to the end, they encouraged us to use the torpedo position. This entails laying back, almost completely horizontal, with your arms across your chest like a mummy and your toes pointing forward. Good lord--it felt like being a corpse. You also had the option of holding onto the straps of the harness, which I did, and that felt much more secure.

Of course, Larry did the "mummy" position and flew down that practice zipline like he was shot out of a cannon. Crazy man! He loved it.

Christina and I managed to survive the mini-course, so we loaded into the jeep and headed for the big one. The ride up the mountain was scarier than the actual zipline. We saw overturned jeeps, men with rifles, and bounced around on the potholed roads like kernels of popcorn the entire way up.

Once we got to the top and waited our turn on the 500-foot-high platform, I felt strangely calm about the whole thing. The finish was so far away, we couldn't even see it. Christina and I were right on the cusp of the lowest weight category and the next one up, so we were able to ride the zipline side by side, which was great.

The view from the top of the platform--it's a LONG way down!


Larry went first, naturally, did his torpedo thing, and flew down the line like a pro. One scary moment: they warned us that the winds were so strong, they could turn you sideways, making it necessary to pull on the straps to adjust yourself. Larry did go almost completely sideways at one point, because he was in the "mummy" position. I kept my hands on the straps, and when I started twisting sideways about halfway down, I was able to adjust much faster.

The ride itself was over within about a minute. They had guys waiting at the bottom to help catch you and get you out of the harness safely.

Christina and I loved it. Here's a photo of Chris at the finish...you can see me peeking over on the left:


Afterwards, we were all smiles:
Thumbs up after surviving the zipline with our buddy, Larry


We met up with Rich and the girls to have lunch (a nice buffet BBQ spread) and spent the rest of the day bumming around on the beach. The hammocks were so relaxing!

It was a great day. Back at the ship, we enjoyed some Name That Tune before dinner (It was supervised by Darryl, one of the cruise entertainment staff who was absolutely hilarious. No matter the activity, if he's hosting it--go! You won't be sorry!!)

Next up: Samana in the Dominican Republic. We also had to turn our clocks ahead one hour before going to bed that night.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cruise Day 3: Family Time

After getting lots of relaxing in yesterday, we decided to try participating in more activities on our second at sea day. The weather outside was gradually warming up, and more folks were out on the pool deck so the ship was less crowded.

Rich and I had already booked dinner at Portofino's--just the two of us--so we tried to make this day about "family time" since we wouldn't be with the kids later in the evenign. We went to an Arts & Crafts class and made a cute seashell and mother-of-pearl key chain. The two ladies leading the class were very nice, and provided all of the materials and instructions. It was a great way to pass the time, and we each came away with a nice keychain as a souvenir.

We had lunch at Johnny Rockets for the first time. We had to wait awhile for a table, because it was still a bit too windy to sit at one of the outside tables. While the jukeboxes on the table and the festive atmosphere were fun, the food was really nothing special. The kids loved the milkshakes, but the burgers were just so-so. Still, I was glad we went so that we could finally see what the fuss was all about. On future cruises, Johnny Rockets won't be considered a "must do" activity.

video

Rich and I checked the casino at one point, but the chain smokers that flock there make it unbearable. The place reeks, and the payouts were few and far between.

In the evening, we checked out the pre-dinner show, but found the "dynamic entertainer" to be a bit cheesy and boring. (Think David Copperfield-type fog machine/strobe light production values and some guy with three shirt buttons unbuttoned sitting at a piano). After making sure the kids were settled in for dinner at the Windjammer, we headed to Portofino's.

One of the things you pay extra for at Portofino's is the ambience. Yes, it is certainly quieter and more intimate than the Main Diningroom, and the presentation of the food is definitely kicked up a notch. Still, I found the service to be lacking, and the pace excruciatingly slow. I enjoy a relaxing meal, and not being rushed between courses, but this was ridiculous. Our meal took two and a half hours, with long gaps of time when we didn't see our server or his assistant. Definitely a disappointment, and not as fine a dining experience as I've had at other specialty restaurants on other cruise lines.

We skipped the late comedy show because we didn't find the comedian that funny at the welcome aboard show. Instead, we headed to the champagne bar and had a nightcap, which was a nice way to end the evening.

I was already getting nervous, thinking about tomorrow's adventure in Labadee, Haiti, where I'd agreed to do the zipline excursion with my daughter. It's the highest and longest zipline over a body of water...what the heck was I thinking??

Cruise Day 2: Valentine's Day at Sea

As we headed towards warmer waters, it still a bit too chilly outside to take full advantage of our balcony, but some brave (or maybe just crazy?) souls ensconced themselves in the hot tubs on the pool deck, despite the cold temperatures. Gotta get your money’s worth, I guess.

It’s days like these—a full day at sea on a ship packed to the gills with passengers—that you appreciate being on such a large vessel. Despite the ridiculous number of kids on board, it still wasn’t difficult to find a quiet spot if you really wanted one. The Promenade was always bustling, but the bars on the higher floors of the ship (Dizzy’s in particular) offered a respite.

A word about the “Kids Zone” programs: for teens and tweens, they were for all intents and purposes NON EXISTENT. My two teens checked out the program on our first night, and while the 14-year-old managed to make some friends, the 12-year-old found it boring. The list of planned activities that is handed out each day is a total waste—every time my girls showed up for an activity, it was cancelled or just not happening. My eldest daughter ended up going to Deck 14 simply to meet up with her new friends, and then they were left to their own devices to find stuff to do. By the last two sea days of this cruise, that became problematic. There were “packs” of children wandering around the ship, pressing all of the elevator buttons, bored stiff and looking for things to do.

Another gripe: the Crown & Anchor coupon for Arcade Game Credit was a total ripoff. As it is, many of the games that offered prizes (especially the “claw” game) were broken throughout the voyage. There was one game that gave out tiny little trinkets (rubber balls and plastic rings, mostly) which my daughters loved, but of course, that was constantly on the fritz, too. Still, I let them play because there wasn’t much else to do on sea days, and the coupon we had was good for “$15 of arcade credit when you purchase $10 of arcade credit.”

It turns out, after we tried to redeem it, we found that the credit is only good for certain machines—the ones that don’t give any prizes. It also took a few days for the credit to kick in, and by then, the kids had lost interest.

So, it was a bit of a "lazy" day for us, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We spent lots of time just strolling around the ship, popping into the gift shop (yes, Cathy had to buy another towel animal...no surprise there) and attending one of the "jewelry unveiling" events. We didn't win the raffle this time, but the girls always love the anticipation of it. We also spent some time up at the 19th Hole, watching the "mousetrap" machine.

Highlights for this sea day: Rich sent me chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day, which I shared, naturally. We also brought along stuffed teddy bears and chocolates for the girls. Since there wasn’t much to do other than a couple of trivia games during the day, we all had plenty of time to get ready for Formal Night.



We also had a visit from a couple of folks we’d met during the Muster Drill on Day 1. Mike was traveling with his daughter, Cassie, who was around the same age as my youngest daughter. The girls hit it off, so they popped in for a little while before going to dinner (they had early seating, we had late seating). Cassie was amazed by all of the hair implements my daughters had lugged along with them, so I offered to do her hair for the next Formal Night. Throughout the rest of the cruise, Mike and his daughter become good friends, and we exchanged email info by the end of the vacation.

The lines for formal portraits were, predictably, quite long. For some reason, though, there was one photographer just outside of Studio B on the lower level that had no lines whatsoever. The backdrop he had was a bit plain, but he did a great job and we were glad not to have to wait. We preferred his backdrop to the cheesy fake sunsets anyway.

The menu in the dining room was fantastic, and included Escargot as an appetizer. It was absolutely delicious, and rivaled the escargot I had in Paris eight years ago. Photographers came around the table to take pictures, which were matted with a Valentine’s Day border—very nice.

After dinner, we went to the stage show, Vibeology. It was good—not great, but not a bad way to wrap up a lazy day at sea.

video

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Caribbean Cruise Day 1: Embarkation & Settling In

Our trip began on February 13th (yes, indeed, Friday the 13th!) in Bayonne, New Jersey. It was a quick ride to Cape Liberty, and we didn’t hit that wall of traffic that we experienced back in August for our Bermuda cruise. This time, we drove right up to the luggage/passenger drop-off area.

Unfortunately, Rich ended up waiting on a long line of cars to pay for the parking, and it took nearly half an hour. If we’d gotten a car service, we could have just walked right in.

It wasn’t so bad waiting, though, because we got to meet lots of our fellow passengers (most of whom were standing around because they, too, had someone parking the car out in lord-knows-whereville). We also made small talk with the Royal Caribbean representatives who standing just outside the check-in entrance. They were quite friendly—until I asked them, “So, any word on whether or not the propeller is fixed?”

I should explain: thanks to the message boards at www.cruisecritic.com, we found out that in late January, the Explorer struck a coral reef while leaving Samana in the Dominican Republic, damaging one of the ship’s three propellers. It ended up skipping Labadee that trip, and limping back into Bayonne for a repair, arriving on February 1st. Unfortunately, the water was deemed “too murky” and the ship sailed again later that day on 12-day cruise. One of the passengers from that trip continued to provide updates from the ship’s internet cafĂ©, so we knew that they were skipping San Juan and heading straight to St. Thomas at a reduced speed, where they hoped to fix the problem.

All of this was kept very hush-hush by Royal Caribbean (in fact, several passengers who called the main hotline for RCCL were told that the prop had been fixed already, when we knew—thanks to the passenger onboard—that it had not). I suppose they didn’t want to panic anyone or have folks canceling their trip, so the official word from RCCL was there was nothing wrong.

Not exactly.

It turns out, a short-term fix was made to the propeller, but it won’t be fully repaired until the ship goes into drydock, which is not scheduled until January 2010. The damaged propeller was shaved down in order to balance it better, but it wasn’t a perfect fix, which means the ship cannot go at full speed. The difference between 22 knots and 19 knots may not seem like much, but it’s enough to make RCCL alter their itineraries (mostly arrival and departure times) from now until the repair is made.

The slower speed didn’t affect us too badly: we ended up staying longer in St. Thomas than originally expected, and cutting things really short in Puerto Rico. That was a bit of downer, since we arrived at 6am and had to depart by 11am. Nothing was open before 9am, and the girls didn’t end up getting off the ship at all in San Juan. Still, I was glad that we made a stop there at all, and Rich and I did manage to do a bit of sightseeing in Old San Juan.

What bothered me was Royal Caribbean’s reluctance to admit that anything was amiss, and their obviously calculated campaign to do everything they could to hide the truth from the passengers. The staff members at Bayonne looked at me as if they had no idea what I was talking about when I asked about the broken propeller…and then I walked about 10 feet from where they were standing with their walkie-talkies, and another employee handed me a letter informing me of the itinerary changes. The letter revealed nothing about why these changes were necessary; all it said was “the Explorer of the Seas is temporarily sailing at a slightly reduced rate of speed.” Several shore excursions had to be cancelled as a result, but those folks did have their money refunded. Still…I was very happy that I was “in the know” as to the real reason we were switching things up, and once again, gave thanks for the great info that I had received from those who posted on Cruise Critic.

The check-in process itself went smoothly. Even though the lines can seem intimidating, they have things down to a science, with plenty of staff on hand to corral you to the next available window. The shuttle buses were crowded, but arrived quickly to take us to the ship. We were excited to see our rooms, because we booked aft cabins this time (7688 and 7690). The balconies for these cabins are larger than most, and we were looking forward to the increased privacy (and decreased foot traffic) that comes with staying at the rear of the ship.

Now that we’re back, I can tell you that the aft cabins were definitely a great find, and I would stay there again in a heartbeat. I slept soundly every night, and was not woken up by people walking past my cabin constantly. There was a low humming noise and a bit of a vibration back there—some said it was due to the broken propeller!—but whatever it was, it helped us get a good night’s sleep, so no complaints here. We loved the aft cabins, and I intend to book that location again if we do another cruise. Yes, there is some extra walking involved to get to other parts of the ship, but the bit of extra distance was well worth it.

video
A snippet of muster drill. Cathy asked me what the light was for, and I told her that it activates when it gets wet so that rescuers can find you in case of an emergency. Of course, she immediately tried to put it in her mouth to get it wet, and I corrected her. That's why she's asking if she can wear it in the pool.

After the obligatory muster drill, we headed up to the 19th Hole bar, where we’d pre-arranged to spend Sail Away with the folks we met online in our Roll Call thread on Cruise Critic. One of the posters was nice enough to make name tags for everyone (thanks, Gail!) and we also had a book exchange, which was fun. The lounge was a little smoky, though, so we didn’t linger as long as we would have liked.

Oh, another great thing: one of the folks we met was staying on the Concierge level, and she snagged a bunch of extra tickets to the Ice Show: “Blades: The Ice Challenge Show.” Normally, they’re not available for distribution until 7pm in the Royal Promenade, but I guess a perk of staying on the Concierge level is that you can have them in advance of everyone else. The tickets are free, but it can be a bit maddening to wait on that line, so she really helped us out by giving us the tickets.

We were happy to see a few familiar faces amongst the crew, and one of the holdovers from our cruise aboard the Explorer in August was the Cruise Director, Mike Hunnerup. He’s from Australia, and his signature greeting is “G’day, folks!” to which you must respond, “G’day, Mike!” We enjoyed seeing him again, and thought that he and his staff did a great job—especially Darryl, who was absolutely hilarious. It got to the point where we would attend any activity Darryl was hosting, whether or not it was something we were even remotely interested in. We weren’t the only ones, either—he drew crowds wherever he went.

One scary moment: our two largest pieces of luggage didn’t show up at our room, and it was getting close to dinnertime. Rich and I couldn’t believe that this was happening AGAIN—as you may recall, Celebrity lost our luggage (along with the luggage of two dozen other unfortunate passengers) during last February’s Caribbean cruise, and for about 45 minutes or so, it really seemed like lightning was striking twice. We asked our room steward, and he said that all of the luggage had already been brought up. Lovely.

We headed down to Guest Services, and they said that sometimes labels fall off of suitcases, or the bags are otherwise misdirected or placed in the wrong stateroom. They told us not to panic, but as we were looking at two full sea days with no clothing, it was definitely a nail-biting experience.

The rep excused herself for a moment and said she would go in the back to call down and see if there were any bags matching the description we’d given her. Rich and I were already resigning ourselves to the idea of having no clean underwear for 3 days when she returned to say that our bags had been located and would be sent up immediately. A happy ending!

We were so thrilled, we proceeded immediately to the Crown & Kettle for a celebratory drink. Let the vacation begin!

On the way back to our room, we passed the freight elevator, and saw some bags sitting there. Two of them looked familiar, and sure enough, they were ours. We didn’t bother waiting for our room steward—we each grabbed one and lugged them down the hall to our stateroom. Crisis averted!

The kids were tired and decided to skip the Welcome Aboard show and meet us in the dining room. It was just as well: the featured act was comedian Steve Smith, and we thought some of his material was inappropriate, and just not funny. Example: he did a riff making fun an interpreter who was translating his show into sign language for a special needs passenger. It wasn't funny, it was rude and a bit cruel. I was glad the kids didn't go, and Rich and I agreed to skip this guy's other show scheduled for later on in the cruise.

At dinner, we were seated at a table for 10, although for the first few nights, it was just the 5 of us there. After a few days, the other family showed up, and once their growing teenage boys realized that you could order two of everything (including the NY Strip steak), they showed up every night promptly at 8:30. ;)

Our dining room staff (Sevitan and Rolando) were a bit quiet but courteous that first evening, but one thing was clear: they worked well together. The service was quick and efficient, even though it was the first night—one when they’re usually working out the kinks. As the days passed, our waiter opened up and became chattier, doing magic tricks for the kids and making small talk between courses. The head waiter Tomislav was also a great guy, and hailed from Croatia—the same country where Rich’s grandparents are from. When I tried out some of my phrases on him and expressed a willingness to learn more Croatian words, he was so pleased he immediately produced a Croatian travel guide/phrase book and loaned it to us for the rest of the cruise. In return, the girls and I studied up and rattled off some new words every night. The smile on his face when my half-Croatian daughters counted to 10 in his native language was really something to see.


After dinner, we headed back to the room for some much needed rest. We had two full days at sea ahead of us, and were looking forward to Formal Night the following evening—which just happened to be Valentine’s Day!

Reviewing our RCCL 9-Day Cruise: 2/13/09-2/21/09

I'm finally getting around to posting a review of our most recent cruise: a 9-day trip to the Caribbean onboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. I'll be breaking it down in manageable increments over the next few posts: first, departure from Bayonne's Port Liberty and the two At Sea days, then a review of each port (Labadee, Haiti; Samana, Dominican Republic; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and San Juan, Puerto Rico), and then a wrap-up of the last two At Sea days.



Some general impressions of the ship: this is the same vessel we sailed on back in August, 2008, when we took a 5-day cruise to Bermuda and back. Once again, the highlight of the ship is the bustling Royal Promenade, with its shops, restaurants and lounges. Its central location made the Promenade a magnet for people, especially during sea days or to kill some time before dinner.

Speaking of meals, the food was very good on the Explorer, and there were many dining choices to suit every style of eating. A few quick reviews, in no particular order:

Cafe' Promenade (Deck 5)
Rich and I always woke up earlier than the kids did, but we didn't want to go down to breakfast without them. The Cafe' Promenade was a great option: one of us would hop down to Deck 5 and grab some coffee and a few pastries to nibble on until the kids were ready to go to the Windjammer. The smartest thing we did was bring our insulated travel mugs with us. They held more coffee than the ship's cups, and at one point, they ran out of lids, so our mugs definitely came in handy. This was also a great place to snag a slice of pizza or a wrap sandwich, without fighting the crowds in other parts of the ship. The Ben & Jerry's ice cream was also a nice treat, but the service was slow and there is an added charge, so we didn't do it that often. The kids preferred the free soft serve up on the Pool Deck anyway.

Windjammer Cafe' and Island Grill (Deck 11)
We ate here every single day. This is definitely the best layout I've seen on any ship when it comes to buffet dining. The staff does a great job cleaning up tables quickly so that seating is available for guests. We are a family of 5, so it can be tough to find a table large enough to accommodate us, but we were usually able to get something without too much hassle. One morning, when the Windjammer was really packed, one of the staff took my tray and motioned for me and the kids to follow him. I wasn't sure where he was taking us, but he suddenly ducked behind a partition and the next thing you know, we were in the Portofino dining room--beautiful tables, quiet atmosphere--it was a nice treat. Rich said that this is a perk usually reserved for suite guests, but I guess it was so crowded, the guy decided to give us a break.

The food at the Windjammer was also excellent, and we were surprised that the coffee wasn't half bad. My youngest daughter is a picky eater, but she was always able to find something to her liking at the Windjammer.

Dizzy's Jazz Lounge (Deck 14)
One of the nicest things about this place is that it is a no-smoking bar. We came here a few times to hang out for a half hour when we wanted to escape the crowds and find a quiet nook. They give you a glass cruet filled with trail mix to go with your drinks.

The 19th Hole (Deck 14)
This is where we decided to do our Sail Away meet-up with the folks from our Cruise Critic Roll Call thread on CruiseCritic.com. Unfortunately, this is a smoking lounge, which makes it a tough place to spend any length of time if you're a non-smoker. The highlight of this bar is the "mousetrap" contraption--it's absolutely mesmerizing, and my kids loved it. The frozen drinks are very pricey here, so stick with a beer.


Portofino's (Deck 11)
Rich and I ate here once, the day after Valentine's Day. The ambience is lovely, but we felt that the pacing was a bit too slow. I know, it's supposed to be a "kinder, gentler" dining experience, set apart from the hustle and bustle of the other dining rooms, but after a while, we found ourselves twiddling our thumbs wondering when the heck the food was coming out. There's an extra charge for this restaurant, and while the food was nicely presented, I didn't think it was any more flavorful than what we had in the main dining room.

Johnny Rockets (Deck 12)
We took the kids here for lunch one afternoon because we'd heard that it was "must do", plus, we had a coupon in our Gold Crown & Anchor book. Again, there was an extra charge involved, and we had to wait a while before we could get a table.

The kids killed some time at the arcade until we were finally seated. Bottomline: it was a good burger, the tabletop jukebox was cute, and the dancing wait staff was fun, but the food was nothing to write home about. The milkshakes were a bit hit with the kids, and we enjoyed our lunch, but I wouldn't wait more than 15 minutes for a table there again.

Crown & Kettle Pub (Deck 5)
This place is always hopping, and I think it's because it has a nice vibe to it. It feels like an old English pub, and the cafe chairs out front give you a perfect spot to sit and people watch as folks stroll the Royal Promenade. There's a sports bar located right across the way--with all the same drinks--and that place was almost always empty.

Columbus Dining Room (Deck 5)
We ate dinner at the Columbus Dining Room every night except one, and we loved it. The service was wonderful, and the food was terrific. One night, escargot was on the menu, and it was just as good as (if not better than) the escargot I had in Paris.

Father/Daughter Time

Today would have been my Dad's 77th birthday. He's been gone a little over two years now, but I still think of him every single day. I was very lucky to have a great father who showered me and my sisters with lots of love and caring. I feel most fortunate that while he was alive, he gave us the greatest gift of all, which was his time. He was never too busy to help me out with my homework, always gave great advice when I needed it, and was always there for me. I miss him.

I'm also very lucky that my husband is such a good Dad to our daughters. He reminds me of my father so much in that way. Even though work keeps him busy (especially with this awful economy) he always has time for the girls. Later on tonight, he'll be taking his 3 beauties out for dinner and a hockey game--some special Father/Daughter time that I am sure my girls will be very thankful for when they get older.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A snowy start to Spring

I was really looking forward to today, the first day of Spring. So long frigid Winter, hello sunshine!

It's 6:12 am. And it's snowing.

They're just flurries, and they won't last, but sheesh....it's like Old Man Winter couldn't resist flipping us all the bird one last time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Twilight on DVD tomorrow!



Yup, got the email from Amazon that my order has shipped.

Heaven help my mail carrier if she doesn't get it here by tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New YA Fiction: Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

Congratulations to my cyber-buddy Jeannine Garsee, on the publication of her latest novel, Say the Word.

My teenager loved Jeannine's first book, Before, After & Somebody In Between. I plan to delve into Say the Word this coming weekend, and I'm really looking forward to it.



Here's a bit about the book's plot, as described on Amazon.com:

The world expects perfection from seventeen-year-old Shawna Gallagher, and for the most part, that’s what they get. She dates the right boys, gets good grades, and follows her father’s every rule. But when her estranged lesbian mother dies, it’s more than perfect Shawna can take. Suddenly, anger from being abandoned ten years ago is resurfacing along with Shawna’s embarrassment over her mother’s other family. As she confronts family secrets and questions from the past, Shawna realizes there’s a difference between doing the perfect thing and doing the right thing.

If you get a chance to pick it up and give it a read, let me know what you think.

Way to go, JG!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Another puppy shipment!

Tomorrow morning, Amy and I will be volunteering at Luke's Place once again, helping out with a transport of adorable puppies from Georgia who are traveling up north to find their forever homes. As you may recall, the last time we volunteered with them, we ended up with a pup of our own.

Not to worry, though: I've already promised Scooter that we will NOT be bringing home any more pets. He likes being the only dog, and our cats Mittens and Tiger have threatened us with bodily harm if we bring one more creature into this house. We're looking forward to having some "puppy time", though, and assisting such a caring rescue group.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Facebook "Twitterized"...blech!

Last night, as I was checking messages on Facebook, the screen changed, and suddenly there was a whole new look to the home page. I knew it was coming, but I still wasn't prepared. I'd read that Facebook wanted to beef up its "real time" updates, in order to be competitive with streaming sites like Twitter.

The thing is, if I'd wanted to keep my friends updated every time I exhale, I'd go ahead and sign up for Twitter.

I don't. Which is why the old Facebook suited me just fine.

Actually, the old old Facebook was even better. A "redesign" a few months back has made the pages more cluttered and less user-friendly, but I finally got adjusted to the new format. Now they've gone and tweaked it again.

The result? I'm even less likely to use it than I was before. Nice going, Facebook.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Counting blessings

The past few days have been filled with many opportunities to reflect on life. On Friday, I attended a fundraiser for a 6-year-old girl with Stage 4 cancer. That same day, a friend's wife lost her long-fought battle with the disease.

Over the weekend, I corresponded with two online friends, both of whom are struggling with their own personal demons, leading them to question whether or not their lives have worth or meaning.

And yesterday, the father of one of my daughter's friends was killed in a car accident. He was a devoted husband and father of two young girls, and only a few years older than I am.

At times like these, I have to remind myself to step back and look at the bigger picture, to see beyond the darkness of these troubling days.

So today, I'm going to take some time to focus on the blessings that I have in my life: a healthy family, good friends, and the drive to keep appreciating these things, especially in the face of tragedy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ah...solitude!

Today marks the first time I've been alone in the house since February 12th, the day before we left for our cruise. It's been quite a roller coaster.

The cruise was wonderful--relaxing, lots of quality time with the kids, great food--but we crashed back down to reality pretty quickly. My youngest daughter ended up catching some sort of nasty skin virus on her face (we think it may have come from a dirty snorkel mask at Caya Levantando in the Dominican Republic) and our first week home was spent going to doctor after doctor to nail down a diagnosis and get the proper treatment for her. It was harrowing at times, complicated by the fact that my eldest daughter and my husband also came down with something post-cruise, running fevers and feeling congested and generally miserable.

Not a fun week in my household, that's for sure.

The good news is, one week, 8 prescriptions and $220 in co-payments later, every one seems to be on the mend.

We had a snow day yesterday, but now, everyone is back to school, and things are finally resembling something akin to "normal" around here.

Not a moment too soon.