Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some Random Photos and Thoughts on the Long Weekend

Our two pusses. They were enjoying a cuddle together when I snapped this one.

My friend Melanie and me on a recent night out on the town.

It's been a lovely holiday weekend. We had a great Thanksgiving, including lots of great food, laughter, friends, and family. Gillian and I learned a crazy new card game, and we sang karaoke until late in the evening. Friday was a lazy day, and Saturday Gillian went to play at a friend's in the afternoon, and we watched a bunch of movies in the evening. Today, Sunday, we ended up at the Outlet mall in Williamsburg, about 20 miles west of here. I didn't go expecting to buy anything, but I found some good deals, and came home with some loot! A few Christmas presents, and some new snowmen to add to my collection. Here they are, along with Gillian's Advent Calendar:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Making Friends with the Starbucks Barista

It's official: I love Starbucks.

Gillian and I were at the mall Monday evening, and I asked her if she wanted an Advent Calendar this year. I didn't want to assume, now that she's 11 years old, because maybe Advent calendars are babyish? But she assured me that she definitely still wanted one, so I thought we'd look to see what Target had while we were there.

But then I remembered that Starbucks sometimes has very nice Advent calendars, so we wandered over to see. We walked in, and sure enough, there was a table display of Advent calendars. As I was picking the display up to look at it, a guy sitting at a table next to the display said they'd be on sale for 50% off starting Wednesday. But when I turned over the box, it already had a sale sticker of $9.95 displayed, so I took it up to the counter. Unfortunately, the sale stickers were on a little too early, because the calendar still showed as $19.95. The barista was very sweet, though, so I didn't give him a hard time about it, but I did mention that since the stickers were already displayed, I could have given him a hard time about it. So.....he told me if I came in Wednesday morning to purchase the calendar, he would treat me to a cup of coffee. He said he'd be working, so I told him I'd be back.

Sure enough, when I walked in this morning, there he was, and there was the display of Advent calendars. And, it did ring up for the sale price, and I got my Americano with an extra shot. Plus, they had a coffee roast, the Pikes Place roast, that I haven't seen at a Starbucks outside of Seattle, and he gave me a pound of beans for about half price!

What a lovely way to start the holiday weekend. And, to find someone who knows how to treat customers, well, that is definitely worth repeating.

That's why I now love Starbucks. The End.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Excursions: The Ruins at Chaccoben

Our second excursion was to the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben. This was my first visit to a Mayan ruins site, and I was very excited. Incidentally, I had just seen the latest Indiana Jones movie, so we had been joking about crystal skulls and aliens all week......

After docking at Costa Maya, we took an hour bus ride to the site. Diana was our tour guide, and she was fantastic. She knew the site inside and out and had a great deal of information to share.

This is a map showing where the Mayans lived in Mexico and Central America.

Several photos showing some of the structures at the site.

Cruisin', Part IV: The Excursions

We took two excursions on the trip. The first excursion was at Cozumel, the underwater helmet dive.

I was a little nervous about this one. There was a certain leap of faith that I needed to take in order to go about 15 feet underwater, under the deep blue sea, in nothing but a swim suit and a helmet that was attached to a hose that fed oxygen into the helmet. The helmet weighed 70 pounds which kept you submerged, and the pressure of the oxygen in the helmet kept the water from sneaking up into the helmet.

I was fine, just a little nervous, up until I had to climb down the ladder and have the helmet put on me just before going below the surface. RIGHT before that happened, I almost panicked: could I really do this? Was I actually going to be able to breathe underwater with just a helmet on me? But I followed through, and the helmet went on and down the ladder I went, to the ocean floor.

After that initial feeling of panic, this unbelievable wave of euphoria hit me as I followed the rope that was attached on poles to the ocean floor and walked to meet Gillian and Dan, who went down before me. All I could is giggle as I realized what I was actually doing! I felt a little bit like James Earl Jones' character in Field of Dreams as he walked into the cornfield. It was amazing! Here are some photos of us:

Cruisin', Part III

Back to the cruise highlights. It really was an amazing week. Since we managed to avoid the hurricane, our weather was glorious the entire week. Never too hot, although our excursion to the ruins at Chacchoben was almost too hot, but not quite.

The Disney cruise line spoils its passengers wonderfully. And, like that dreaded ride at Disney World, it truly is a "small world after all." Let me explain how Disney accomplishes this.

The staff onboard the ship are literally from all over the world. Our dinner serving team were from India and the Phillipines, and our room wait staff was also from India. We met other staff from Poland, France, the Czech Republic, the U.K., Peru, Chile, Germany, Scandinavia, and Italy. In addition, the staff doesn't just work, they take the time to talk with guests, and we made friends with several staff onboard. Making those connections is part of the magic.

A special connection happened to me, Thursday afternoon, when we had high tea at Palo, the adult only restaurant on board. Our server, Laura, is from the U.K. I asked her where she is from, and she said Manchester. I said, wow, my mother is from Manchester, so she asked what part. When I told her New Moston, she just about dropped what she was carrying, as that is exactly where she's from! We talked, and shared family names, and I promised to email her after I spoke with my mom to see if she knew Laura's grandmother. Laura said she would mention the family name to her grandmother and email me after she heard any information. It really was a "goosebumps" kind of moment, and really did illustrate that "small world" mindset that Disney tries very hard to execute!

Other things: food was DIVINE, and I especially loved the smoked salmon that was available every morning for breakfast, no matter where you ate breakfast - the buffet on deck 9 or in one of the restaurants. Lots of wonderful seafood. There was also pizza and chicken fingers available at almost any time. Can I tell you the chicken fingers were some of the best we've ever had? I kid you not.

But the best of all was being at sea, surrounded by it, and on one occasion, immersed in it (I'll get to that in the next blog). I truly believe that sea air will cure whatever might ail you. Being on the water, feeling and smelling the breezes, hearing the sound of the water, was invigorating. I know that someday I will need to live permanently near the sea. It's where I belong.

Gillian had an amazing week, and was usually headquartered at Ocean Quest, the hangout for pre-teens. She made a gang of friends, and they did everything together, all week. She made very good friends with a girl from Chicago, and they had dinner together with each family on two nights, and generally ran around the ship together. It was also very nice that Ocean Quest was on the same deck as our cabin, and she could run back and forth whenever she pleased. We just had one rule: dinner together every night.

Coming up: photos from our two excursions: the underwater helmet dive in Cozumel and the trip to the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cruisin' Part II: A Few Photos

Here are a few photos of life onboard the Disney Magic. Just a couple, to whet your appetites!

This is me at Palo, the adult only restaurant, about to enjoy high tea. Don't I look so posed? Actually, as the restaurant is on Deck 10, and the ship was going full tilt at this time, I think I was contemplating an almost nauseous tummy. Thank goodness for the tea!

We had the most marvelous dinner serving team imaginable! This is Charlie, he is from the Phillipines. He is actually cutting Gillian's steak for her!

This is the Disney Magic docked at Cozumel.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cruisin', Part 1

Yep, I'm finally getting around to blogging again. I've been meaning to get to it all week, but the slide back to reality has been pretty bumpy! Plus, and several of you have already heard me whine about this, it's COLD, really COLD in Iowa, and I'm not ready for it yet!

So, I promised I would blog about the week aboard the Disney Magic. But first, a word about hurricane season.

Let me explain a little about why hurricane season is important.......we tend to vacation during the late summer/fall months, for a variety of reasons. One, it is difficult for me to get time off from the library during the summer (we'll save that for another blog), and two, it tends to be less expensive to travel then, and of course, it is less crowded. All good reasons to travel during hurricane season, especially to coastal areas, right? Even if it is hurricane season.......

We've always been ridiculously lucky when traveling this time of year as well......and until last year, we were batting a thousand. Four years ago we traveled to Key West the week after one hurricane and the week before another. Three years ago we traveled to Texas right after Hurricane Katrina and before another hurricane hit Galveston. Two years ago we traveled to Puerta Vallarta right after a typhoon hit there. You see the trend........

This year, our hurricane dodging skills were absent. Of course, in the middle of November, the hurricane season is usually about over. Not this time! We were supposed to cruise to St. Maarten and St. Thomas, but this time a hurricane changed our course. We ended up cruising to Cozumel and Costa Maya.

Our vacation week started on an adventurous note! To be continued....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What an ABSOLUTELY GREAT Night!!!!!

I'm watching ABC and they've just projected that BARACK OBAMA will be the 44th President of the United States!!!!

I have GOOSEBUMPS!!!!!!!!!!

This is absolutely amazing!!!!! I am so proud, tonight, to be an AMERICAN!!!!!!

GO OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fall Back!

I haven't blogged for awhile, it was a long week. Work has really been draining, exhausting, and frustrating, and I just haven't felt like doing much at all when I get home in the evenings. All I can say is if things don't change soon, I don't know how much more any of us (on staff) can take. Being a librarian is a joy to me, and I know without a doubt it's what I'm supposed to be doing with my life, but lately it's been very difficult to find the joy. But that's enough about that, because the weekend has been really lovely so far....

Since Friday was Halloween, and an absolutely gorgeous one to boot, Gillian went trick or treating, and one of her best friends came over to trick or treat with her. They wanted me to come along. I didn't think it was necessary for me to go with them, they are 11 years old, but I was glad I did. It was fun to see all the families out with their little ones and be a part of the neighborhood, but it hit me that I have really limited time to do things like this with Gillian. She may trick or treat one more year, but as she gets older she'll be spending more and more time with her friends and need mom around a little less. It's a little bittersweet, isn't it? It's incredible to watch your child grow and turn into this amazing person, but the price for that is that they begin to need you less and less as they become that amazing person. I'm just lucky to get to be a part of it.

After trick or treating, we went to a friend's party for a little while, which was lots of fun, and then we came home and watched Jeepers Creepers, a very scary movie. The girls had never seen it, and I'd seen it once but a long time ago, so we ALL screamed!

Yesterday, Saturday, we did a little vacation shopping. I was counting on Kohl's to have some good clearance deals on summer clothes, since that's what we need for the cruise. We did very well. Gillian needed a dress for formal night on the ship, and we found an absolutely adorable dress for her - on sale. Then I found a cute little dress for one evening, a pair of shorts, and Gillian found FOUR new shirts. Grand total for all these clothes???? Only $48.00!!! I was very pleased.

Last night was a Halloween party at Dan and Jerry's, and we had a GREAT time. Gillian and I dressed up as beat up Cubs fans, and our costumes were well appreciated. It was a very laid back party - lots of talking, great food, good music, and an overly dramatic interpretation of Time Warp, a la Rocky Horror, by a few of us!

Today is a lazy day, but even better, it's the day we move the clocks BACK an hour! It is one of my favorite days of the year. Isn't that goofy? It's just one hour, but it really seems to stretch the weekend! Gillian and I are going to have a little pre-vacation spa time, and later today we'll meet up with people to celebrate a friend's birthday.

Two days until Election Day, although I've already voted. It's going to be a monumental day. I'll be up late watching the returns, I'm sure. Please, to all of you - VOTE! Be a part of the process. Everyone's voice DOES matter.