Thursday, March 30, 2006

March 19 - Day at Sea

It was our last-ditch effort at relaxation and sunshine... we weren't disappointed. We woke up with little or no agenda. We layed around on the deck, soaking up the sun and taking turns between looking at our books and looking at the insides of our eyelids. It was wonderful.

But you're probably wondering why we're in togas.

The theme for the evening was Roman Night. The night before, it was dresses, coats and ties. Tonight, it was a bedsheet. You'd be shocked to find out just how uncomfortable this outfit can be. I'm so glad I'm a guy. My pits were so chafed by my toga I was ready to rip it off at dinner.

In the evening, we went to the final show of the trip. It was a Guest Talent Show. I was amazed at just how many people have talent. Some people sang, some people danced... okay... that wasn't all that amazing. It was a good end to a great trip.

We went to bed thinking about our kids and looking forward to getting home.

March 17 - Grand Cayman Island

We celebrated St.Patrick's Day in the British West Indies. The book I'm reading - Caribbean - talks about what an important area the Caribbean Sea was in the growing assets of England, France and Spain. The area was ripe with naval warfare and piracy. That folklore and history was never more obvious than in the Cayman Islands. This picture shows one of many "pirate ships" in the harbour at Grand Cayman.

We managed to avoid any swashbucklers on our boatride from the cruise ship to shore. There, we did a little shopping in the very civilized shops of the port city. This was all in killing time before the highlight of our stop... the wreck and reef snorkel tour.

CaraLee put on a brave face, but it was pretty obvious that her mind was on the trip. She was being a real trooper but she was nervous about the possibility of getting seasick on the ride out to sea and even more nervous about the possibility of an overabundance of fish. She's not a big fan of being touched by wildlife.

Well, it turned out that we didn't have a long trip in the boat and the fish were manageable. Our first stop was over an old shipwreck. It was very cool being able to swim down and actually touch a boat that had been underwater for decades.

Our next stop was where most of the fish were. We tied up over a reef and the yahoo driver started throwing bits of muffin into the water. This - naturally - attracted a LOT of happy fish, which was great for me, but a nightmare for CaraLee. She toughed it out and we had a great little snorkel tour of the reef. We saw some amazing fish. One - in particular - had a head the size of a basketball, but a body only about 3 feet long. The eyes were like tennis balls... very odd-looking. There was a chance that we'd see turtles or rays, but we got skunked.

After we got back ashore, we wandered the shops for a little longer before heading back to the ship. There, we got ready for our second "formal night". Dinner was amazing - as usual - and we followed it up with an amazing show. "Cinemagique" was a musical tribute to all sorts of genres and movies across the generations.

It was a little funny when my wife (and probably every other wife in the place) took at least a little offence at the scantiness of the women's costumes. Then, to the tune of "You Can Leave Your Hat On", 5 male strippers came out and did the "Full Monty" down to their red bikini briefs. Those upset wives turned into whistling wolves as each layer was peeled off. I was so offended. :)

We whimped out and didn't make it to "Grease Lightning" after the Rock & Roll Party. We hit the hay in preparation for our day at sea on the 18th.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

March 16 - Ocho Rios

Next stop... Jamaica! It was love at first sight. Unlike the other port views, the topography was a lush green with some hills! The other places had been so flat. It was another beautiful day and we hung our hats on the plan of visiting Dunn's River Falls.

As you can see from the pictures, we made it. The trip there was pleasantly uneventful. We tagged along with some others from our group, negotiating a $4 one-way trip instead of a $16 round trip. We walked into the park and were blown away by the beauty.

The trip up was quite precarious. There were SO many people walking hand-in-hand in groups. (The guides preferred it that way so they could all reach the top together and he could get his tips.) We shook off our wannabe guide (I told him we'd be fine) and braved it alone. CaraLee was a remarkable climber! She was especially good at the most difficult parts! Originally, we had thought about trying to do the climb in our bare feet - to save the $5 each for boots - but we were glad that we didn't. It was all so beautiful and tropical. It was a wonderful excursion.
Our return trip was a little scarier. Our driver suffered from a little case of road rage and picked the wrong combatant. Just as it was about to come to blows, our guy peeled out and we were off ot the ship. We arrived safely and went straight to the beach to calm our nerves.

The beach was amazing. You can see the white sand and crystal blue water. That's our ship in the background... home. :) We relaxed for a little while - I was more restless than CaraLee, she seemed content to lay there longer - and then went for another walk.

This time, we ventured to the Island Village, close to port. There, we wandered through some very commercial-looking storefronts and bought a little snack to tide us over until supper.

Back at the boat, we were getting geared up for "Tropical Night". Our waiters put on a little dance for us. This picture is not of our waiter, but there's a funny story that goes with it. When they were all doing their conga line around the room, our waiter leaned over and said to us, giggling, "He's a REAL GAY!" It was so un-PC that it reminded us just how far from home we were.

Later in the evening, we went to the Theatre for a Variety show which was amazing. Then, we got good seats to watch everybody dance to the tropical rhythms of the ship's raggae band. CaraLee confessed later that her ideal husband would have taken her out to the dance floor to be fun... I was too content to be boring.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

March 15 - at Sea

It's amazing how we hit a new level of "relaxed" on our day at sea. We traveled from Mexico to Jamaica
this day and there was absolutely nothing that we had to do. It was a lot of sitting in the sun, reading, sleeping, eating... you get the picture.

Because much of our day was spent in a state of unconsciousness, I'll take this time to give you a tour of the boat...

Our cabin wasn't much to speak of. It was very compact, but not uncomfortable. Our "maid" - is that what you call her? - was unbelievable. She - literally - tidied our room about 4 times a day. We felt so spoiled. Seriously, I wish we could have brought her home with us. Three kids can make a big mess.

The dining room "Ristorante Smerelda" was very nice. Even better was the service. Our meals were usually about 5-6 courses. We'd begin with an appetizer, then a salad, a soup, a pasta dish (apparently, this is the Italian way), followed by our entree and then dessert. It was no big thing to spend two hours enjoying your meal.

There were many smaller events in the Gran Bar Saliento. The dance floor was the main feature as people enjoyed the continuous acts from the little stage. CaraLee and I embarassed ourselves on several occasions, dancing with the "pros". That over 70 crowd can really get their groove on!

The Urbino Theatre was our evening haunt. Every night there was a show of some kind, some of a grander scale than others. This picture doesn't do justice to the decadence of the theatre. On our day at sea, they had a singer "Edmundo Rahme" belt it out for a couple of hours. We were less enthralled with that show than the late evening show. At 11:15pm, they did the Newlywed not-so-Newlywed Game. The crowd was on the verge of soaking their pants with each question and answer. The star couple was Charlie and his wife from Long Island. They'd been married for over 51 years and knew EVERYTHING about each other. The questions got quite personal, but they didn't flinch at all. Charlie (pronounced CHAH-lee) was quite the piece of work.

The deck was pretty impressive as well. There were three pools, 6 hot tubs, a pickle ball court, at basketball court, a running track and a bocce court. Our favourite deck amenity were the sun chairs, though.

One of the more impressive features of the ship was the 10 storey atrium with a piano bar at the bottome. The picture probably won't do it justice (have I said that before?) but it was pretty spectacular. (picture to come... technical difficulties)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

March 14 - Cozumel

Our pictures from Cozumel really are worth a thousand words. Try to look past my broad shoulders and CaraLee's wind-blown hair. You'll notice the wasteland that is left after the storms hit Cozumel. The entire island's trying to rebuild, but - in the meantime - it's a wreck. Look at the dock CaraLee's posing in front of. The waves ripped it apart, rebar, concrete and steel. It was a grave testimony to the disaster that struck Cozumel.

Our trip was not quite as disastrous. Again, we were like little sheep, nervously creeping off the boat and into the port. We worried about the stories we'd heard... people asking to be taken somewhere in a taxi and getting a bill for $50 after an unwanted tour of the island. We decided we'd walk to a nearby beach for some snorkeling.

Along the way, we met a North American lady at a booth who volunteered to answer any questions we might have. In the process, we were offered a free lunch and snorkeling experience if we'd just step into their hotel and get the "pitch" for a timeshare-type-thing.

Ever heard the expression "there's no such thing as a free lunch?" Now before you roll your eyes and shake your collective head at our naiivety, we did get out free lunch! The guy gave his hard sale and we managed to resist the urge to give him $5,000 as a down payment to belong to his club. He did also give us a voucher for lunch and snorkel gear at the beach down the road.

Proud of ourselves, we sauntered down the seawall to an authentic little beachside joint with open sides and a grass roof. We put off getting our snorkeling gear until we'd eaten. The food was amazing. We both had quesedillas until we were stuffed. I talked CaraLee into enjoying a Corona and we were feeling like we had pulled one over on the world.

Ever heard the verse, "pride goes before a fall?" As we were eating, it started to rain. It didn't bother us a bit because we were under cover. We even counted our blessings to point out that we wouldn't get sunburned when we were snorkeling! I walked the 15 feet back to the snorkeling hut to get our stuff, only to find out that it was - apparently - Cantina time. 1:45 in the afternoon and it was time to go home for the locals who ran the shop. The truth was that it was raining and they could see that they weren't going to get any more business for the day.

Sadly, our Cozumel snorkeling experience eluded us.

That night, we got dolled up in our "casual" clothes and had another amazing meal. I just had to take a picture of CaraLee's prime rib dinner. It was a little obscene. The photo really doesn't do just to how gigantic this slab of meat was.

That evening, we were treated to a violin/piano duet (are we cultured, or what?) in the theatre. Shortly thereafter, we traveled through 4 different short shows which featured acts from different Mediterranean countries. We started in Egypt & Turkey, where we saw a 7' white guy dressed as a lady teach us to belly dance. Then it got a little better in Greece, where we learned to OOPAH dance. In France, we spent some quality time looking at the butts of some can-can dancers... it was a bit much. Finally, some Spanish dancing in... you guessed it, Spain.

Went to bed exhausted.

March 13 - Key West

We woke up the next morning in complete darkness. Oh... I didn't mention that we had an "inside" room. (Not a window cabin.) It was really disorienting. CaraLee went up early to do her devotions, I slept. As became our morning tradition, she came back to get me and we'd go off to the Buffet Belagio for breakfast. All the traditional staples were there. Waffles, pancakes, bacon (lots of it) and eggs. I got used to about a pound of bacon - what?... we're on a cruise! - and a couple of bagels with cream cheese. Needless to say, it made for a sweet bathing suit body for the rest of the day. CaraLee was a little more experimental.

Today we were docked at Key West, Florida. It was our first stop, but we never really got more confident with our plans for going ashore as the trip went on. Each stop was an adventure. We started with two, small goals. We wanted to get some sand - for a friend of CaraLee's - and put our feet in Florida water. Our goals expanded to include: taking in the cool houses of the area (specifically Earnest Hemingway's) and finding the "Southernmost point" in the USA.

We did a lot of walking. At one point, we were strolling along a "harbor walk" when I spied a large shadow moving through the water. Just about 15-20 feet away from us, it looked like a shark, probably 6-8 feet long, was cruising through the water at the same speed we were walking. After closer inspection, it wasn't a shark, but a very large fish. When we asked later, it was guessed to be a Tarpin. (Not very good eating, apparently.)

We sat down for a more "proper" lunch today. We ate in the same restaurant that we have our dinner in. We ordered a 4-5 course meal and enjoyed it - and our new company - thoroughly.

Speaking of eating and our company, our dinner was a formal one tonight. We all dressed up (it wasn't so bad) and spent our second evening with the other two couples from our table.

The first couple was from Gatineau, Quebec. Lillo (Italian name) works for the government while Joanne is "retired". They were such a nice couple. They've been married for over 21 years. Lillo was my resource for trying to figure out what all of the things were on the menu. He knows his food! Joanne stole the menu each night... she's a scrapbooker.

Andrew and Amanda live in Guelph, Ontario, but are originally from the west coast of England. They were a very quiet, but enjoyable couple who have been married for 5 years. He works for Nestle and Amada is a speech therapist. Andrew had a fancy camera and put it to good use on their excursions. They were the one couple who really got involved in all of the options ashore.

We were all dressed up this night as well. Again, the food was so so exotic and there was plenty of it. Every once in awhile I'd get burned by the language barrier and had to eat things like raw meat and anchovies.

The "gala" show was a musical tribute to magic from over the years. The group who performed was so talented. We went to bed stuffed and entertained.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Our Vacation... March 11&12

For those of you who didn't know, CaraLee and I went on a kidless vacation. I figured that I wouldn't make note of it on our blogsite until after we had returned. (Call me overly-cautious, but I didn't want to advertise that we'd be out of the house for a week.) Long story short, it was amazing... but when have I ever missed the opportunity to make a long story... long.

The pre-vacation...
CaraLee spent the three weeks prior to our trip "nesting". Although we are blessed with family around us to watch (and spoil) our kids, CaraLee didn't want to take anything for granted. She couldn't rest until she had all the kids' clothes packed, a schedule made, and a gift-a-day for them to open - complete with a pre-written letter to the kids for each day. I thought I had it rough with report cards... oh yeah... CaraLee had 27 report cards to do just before we left as well.

The journey to Fort Lauderdale...
After dropping off the kids at Grandma & Grandpa Bear's (the kids were happy to see us go) we made one more stop at Grandma & Grandpa Buzza's to drop off more clothes. Then it was off to... Guildford Mall! We had to make a pit stop for lunch and to get CaraLee some sunglasses. (Oh yeah, we had to buy a replacement charm for her bracelet as well - story for another time.) We felt more than comfortable about the amount of time we had left ourselves to get to Seattle. That was, until we hit the border. It was a madhouse... we were there for well over an hour. We did make it to our "Park and Jet" lot where we were going to save billions by leaving our car off-site and hitching a free shuttle to the airport. (To save words, let's just say that we do NOT endorse Park and Jet... at all.)
We casually entered the airport and found a place to grab dinner before our marathon plane rides. We didn't realize that we were supposed to check-in to the desk because we had purchased our tickets online. We almost lost our seats. We did end up sitting in the same row. CaraLee was between two people and I was between two others. Our connection in Los Angeles was tight, but we made it. This time, we enjoyed a romantic 5+ hour flight with two aisle seats "together".

In Fort Lauderdale...
We arrived at 5:30 am EST. Our luggage arrived (via Chicago) at 10:30. It was our first frustrating experience with losing luggage. The good news is that we didn't really miss anything, because we couldn't check into our cruise until after 11:00am EST. That connection went smoothly and we were on the boat (pictured above) before we new it.

On the boat...
We were actually on the boat by noon. Before we were even out of port, CaraLee and I had wound down completely. It was unbelievable. We sat in the sun, sorted out our room, had an amazing dinner (more on those to come) and enjoyed a comedy show in the theatre. We went to bed full of expectation for the week to come.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

And round one goes to... Emily.

David and Joshua were born four months apart. As they got older, they fought like brothers. There were some good tilts, but after several months wondering who would leave the octagon alive, they were buds. Now, they're as thick as thieves. David gets so excited whenever he even hears Joshie's name - which is often.

Then came Connor with Caleb four months after. It was like Kid Wars Episode II. Connor used a different form of warfare from the other boys, though. Once he figured out that Caleb HATES being called "little" or "baby", it was like a nuclear standby when things were going sour. The boys are - thankfully - at the tail end of the war.

It was inevitable that Emily and Abby - born 6 months apart - would engage in similar battles. Tonight marked the beginning of it all.

Emily had a sippy cup of juice. Abby wanted it. After a LOT of encouragement, Emily finally gave Abby some sips. This led to an advanced form of sharing where Abby was allowed to actually hold the cup. This was the beginning of the end for the girls.

Abby was doing a good job of maintaining her body position between Emily and the coveted cup. Shrieks ensued and Emily was getting more and more frustrated that Abby wasn't relenting. She seemed incredulous that Abby didn't understand that Emily always gets her way.

Enough was enough. Emily took the conflict to the next level and grabbed a hold of Abby's hair. (How do girls innately know how to fight like... girls?) This finally got me out of my seat and I tried to pry her fingers from Abby's curls. Her grip was strong, however, and it became a lot like trying to get gum out of hair.

Emmers ended up in the hot seat for a time out. She felt her shame and then came to make up with her cousin. At press time, they're playing together like best friends, laughing and dancing together. Seriously... girls are tough to figure out.

Soccer's Year in Review...

Both seasons came to an end this Saturday. David's Mighty Rangers wrapped up the season with a two-game tournament, while Conbo did much the same.

David's games began at 9:00 and began with great promise. David took an atypical early shift (the poor kid usually gets the short end of the stick because his dad is a coach) and took the ball right in for an early goal. After another left-footed finish, DNA testing is now in motion. (His dad has no left foot whatsoever.)

The Kickers proved to be more than a handful, though. Fortunately, David's cousin Joshie came to the rescue. After the ball squirted through the opposing defence, Joshie "Sniper" Douglas ran onto the ball, took it under control from centre all the way to the Kickers' net before he deftly slotted it in the yawning cage. The roar of the crowd was deafening. Rumour has it that the number of fans out to see Joshie and David exceeded that of the Blackhawk fans out to see Chicago lose to the Canucks the night before. It was a great moment.

In the next game, David's proudest moment wasn't either of his goals, but rather his "header". Joshua W. through the ball in from the sidelines and David got his head on it - a very rare occurance in U6 soccer. He pretty much giggled throughout the rest of his 3 minute shift.

After the game, there was the ceremonial donning of gold medals and water bottles. It was a great wrap-up to a really fun season.

Connor's "Motoring Munchkins" season was at its end as well. After reviewing the "magic moments" they had learned over the course of the season, the teams broke into four colours - Connor was yellow - and faced off.

Connor has a completely different mentality than David when it comes to playing soccer. David loves to win. Connor hates to lose. While these sound more like synonyms than antonyms, it makes a big difference on the field. Connor is so concerned about being scored on that he finds it difficult to move far from his own net. He is also very interested in the people he's playing with than David ever was. During and after a game, it's not unusual to see Connor engaged in conversation about this and that... David's all business when it comes to playing.

Well, shock of shocks Connor got a taste of success while playing against the mighty Greens. He took the ball from another kid at about centre and scampered in for a rare goal. I think we were all more excited than he was. To him, it was just another step closer to not losing. This pleased him.

Both boys were spoiled by our good friend Tim Horton. David received a "gold" medal and a water bottle. (He also gets to keep the uniform.) Conbo got the Tshirt, a gold medal, a water bottle AND a brand new soccer ball. Needless to say, I'm a fan of Tim Horton's. Okay... I was already a fan, now I'm just impressed at their contribution to the community.

The boys have truly been blessed by the programs they've been in. The people involved with administrating and coaching the kids were special people.

We're already looking forward to next season. But before that... ball hockey for Connor and Tball for David!

Web Site Counter