Wednesday, December 31, 2008
But first, off to Grand Cayman. Our ship got the short straw, and had the furthest out anchor point, but they started transferring people to shore by 7:15. We were up and out the door not much after, and caught a taxi to the public beach access on Seven Mile Beach -- a long strip of soft, white sand beach on the western part of the island. IT's lined with hotels and resorts, but there are still lovely public beach areas. We snapped up beach chairs and umbrellas (which can be a bit spendy!) and sprayed each other down with sunscreen.
The water is warm and so clear that you can snorkel in really deep water and still see the fish and rocks below. We hung a little closer to shore, just floating aimlessly in the water and watching Peter do his fish impressions. Jenna even clambered down into the water (although we had to give her a hand getting back up into the beach).
We spent maybe four and a half hours on the beach, but then the Adorable Husband had a massage appointment, so we all stuck together and headed back to the tenders and back to the boat. Jenna and Nin wanted to shop a bit, but with all the sun we couldn't summon enough energy to even try. It was enough to just walk back to the pier and we were dozing off on the ride back.
We all got dressed up in our fancy clothes and met in Dad and Pat's suite for champagne before heading down to dinner. Which was fantastic. The scalloped potatoes were addictive and dangerous, and followed great steaks and wine and a lovely bottle of Veuve Clicquot. But it was the chocolate dessert that nearly did us in. We fairly waddled from the restaurant. The Adorable Husband had five desserts. Well, bits of five of them. Even he couldn't finish!
We surrendered and were in bed before midnight. Hah!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
We stayed back with Nin and Peter and had lunch, then took the shuttle to the waterfall. One of the options is to climb the falls -- everyone links hands and snakes their way up the 700 foot falls, scrambling up the rocks and through the different terraces. It's not as easy as it is made out to be, actually -- we were a bit boggled that it was allowed, actually. There is no way that anything like this would be allowed in the states, period. But, if you have a good group and everyone works together, it's easy enough to get up the rocks. I, however, am a klutz, and after slipping once and falling on my butt (because the guy in front of me let go when I tried to scramble up, and then bashing my head not once, but twice, on the concrete bridge, I bailed out about halfway up, along with a bunch of other people. They said that the hard part was already done, but I'm still sporting a half-dozen bruises from the climb, so I'm not so sure! Mark and Peter, though, toughed it out and made it all the way up! Nin was very concerned that Peter had been scared or freaked out, but he was just fine with Mark and did a great job. You really, really need good, solid, rubber-soled shoes for this one. And a waterproof camera!
We were all soaked and sunburned and ready to go back to the ship, and we caught one of the last busses back to the pier. I have a goose-egg on my forehead, which is sunburned. Wah!
There is a huge age range on this cruise - lots of kids (600!), lots of older people. Apparently the average age of the cruise goes up dramatically after the holidays. Princess is not a "party" cruise, like some of the other cruise lines, and the passengers tend to be older. There are tons of activities for kids, though. One thing thatI have noticed, though, is that there is a (hopefully) small group of cruise passengers who are just rude. They don't say please or thank you, they don't even make eye contact with the many staff on board, they just order them around as if they are somehow beneath notice. It's kind of weird. Yes, I know the staff is there to serve, but barking, "water!" at a waiter without bothering to look up and just shaking your glass while continuing your conversation with someone else is just rude. Snapping orders at people, or expecting them to read minds to bring what you wanted, and not what you asked for, is out of line in my book. I was raised to ask for things, not demand them, even when they will be delivered without question. "Yes, please, if you could bring me a glass of diet coke, that'd be great!" is a much nicer answer to 'can I get you a drink?' than "diet coke!" accompanied by an airy wave of the hand.
I wonder if it's the "all inclusive" part of the cruise concept that breeds this. You pay quite a bit of money to be waited on hand and foot, perhaps some few people take it a bit too seriously and think that they are entitled to instant, complete gratification of all their demands. I don't know.
The cruise also has a pretty loose dress code, too. Some cruises have many "formal" nights, and the rest of the time everyone still dresses in snazzy clothes. We have two formal nights -- which means that suits and dresses are worn to dinner, but the rest of the time is casual. Dinner is always a bit more dressy than daytime, but a pair of khakis is more than enough. YOu can't wear your bathing suit into the dining halls, and they frown on jeans or shorts. But everything else is fair game. The Adorable Husband complained that hti sis the first time he's been on vacation where he had to bring a suit. But it was fun to see all the people dress up (and some people really dressed up, in sequined evening dresses. Or, in the case of some of the Japanese tour group, in full, formal kimono!
I think I'll limit the days I have to wear high heels on vacation to one or two.
I thought that I packed pretty lightly (at least compared to my sisters -- and after seeing some of the luggage being hauled onto the ship, I am even more boggled). But I realized that I could have packed half what I did and had plenty of clothes to wear. I wish I had another bathing suit -- putting on the suit this mornign was a wee bit clammy -- but could have managed with a couple of t-shirts, a beach coverup, one medium dressy outfit (khakhis and polo shirt) and one dressy outfit (dress). I pretty much wore the same thing every day, and the Adorable Husband wore a swimsuit and t-shirt most days, too. I spent 90% of my waking time in a t-shirt and bathing suit and flip-flops.
Monday, December 29, 2008
The boat is huge. 950 feet long, 165 feet wide, carries up to 4000 passengers and 1200 crew. The Ruby Princess is a new ship (Oct 2008), and it's very comfortable. There is a huge theater (where they have live shows and movies), an enormous video screen on the top deck that shows movies, four pools, three dining rooms, a wine bar and international cafe, library, pub, a couple of nightclubs, a casino, spa, the works. We wandered around poking our noses into things and just enjoying the breeze from the deck. It's nigh on impossible to get a lounger around the pool, but there are plenty of other places to relax and enjoy the sun.
Our room steward is Polish -- his name is Piotrek, and he got everyone's last name right the first time (which is not common if you're not actually polish, too). The crew of the boat hail from all over -- we saw a ton of people from England, Italy, Serbia, Slovakia, Greece, Thailand, the Phillipines, China. Apparently, the jobs on cruise ships are contract gigs, and there is fierce competition to get the slots. Some of the people we talked to were on their sixth or seventh contract - each one is six months long, and they work 12+ hour days most of the time. We often saw the wait staff from one restaurant working elsewhere later in the day -- enough so that we asked if they were just locked in the hold for the few hours they weren't on duty! They have their own quarters and lounges (and even a pool) belowdecks, since htey aren't really allowed to mix with the passengers in their off hours. They have their own crew mess, too, so they don't really get the same food, either. But everyone seemed to really like it (and going for four years at a stretch adds some credence to that claim). Me? Well, I'd be hard pressed to be that pleasant to everyone all the time!
We stopped and got a "soda stamp" -- food is always included on the boat (except for some speciality cafes), but soda, coffee, and any alcohol will cost you. You can buy a stamp up front for 25 bucks that lets you drink soda for free all week. For us, it was a great deal. We drink a lot of diet soda, so it was worthwhile to get. THey have a coffee stamp, too, but that's less of an issue since coffee is included with meals. and you only pay for coffee at other times.
Dinner was excellent - seafood and lamb and steaks. The menu changes every day, and it's worth it to wait for dessert. Michael, my BIL, has it down: order two or three desserts up front to save time!
Despite the number of people on the boat (I think we were near capacity), it never really felt crowded in most places. The pool was always crowded, of course, but we never waited in line or got caught in crowds going to any of the other parts of the ship. Intellectually I know there are some 5000 people on the boat, but it doesn't really seem possible. Dinners are not crowded, the theater was rarely full, even the main plaza seemed open and airy. There are simply so many places for everyone to go that they rarely end up in the same one, I guess. We only aborted our plans once when too many poeple showed up and that was to the movie showing on the upper desk with the huge outdoor screen -- we were a little late and couldn't find a lounge chair free.
The boat rocks a little when underway, but it's almost soothing. I can't imagine that anyone gets seasick on a boat this big, but the doctor last night assured me that many people do. I find the gentle rocking very pleasant, actually.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Sailed all night and by the time we all got up and had breakfast, we were moored outside of Princess Cays - the little island of Elutheria (which is owned by Princess, I am led to understand). A little island with nothing but beaches, watersports, and a little cafe. The tenders to the island started by 8am, and we were on the beach in a couple of sun chairs by 9am and floating serenely in the water a few minutes after that.
I bought a new swim suit for this trip (which I've posted before was quite a fretful and fraught experience), and I was really self-conscious about it. I shouldn't have been. Once I was in the water, we just lounged about and watched everyone else as they basked in the sun or paddled in the water. It was lovely.
My pale, pale, pasty family had to be reminded to reapply sunscreen every hour or so, but most of us managed to avoid getting too much sun on the first day! My dad doesn't do so hot in the sun - he tends to dehydrate quickly, so we spent some time with him up in the cafe so he could get some water while the Husband, Pat, and Jenna rented a little catamaran and went sailing. They were the only boat that didn't have to be towed back in to shore -- everyone else had problems, but the Adorable Husband got the boat back by himself.
We all headed back to nap (again). However, getting up for dinner, the Adorable Husband felt really crappy, and after a few minutes contemplation, realized that he was having another episode of A-Fib and off to the ship's emergency room we went. He's had this this twice before, so he recognized it right away, and the solution is to once again cardiovert him (i.e., shock his heart back into normal rhythm, for the non-medcal among us). They tried to do it with beta blockers first, but when that didn't work, they sedated him and zapped him again. Voila! Eight hours in the ER on the boat, and then he was back to normal. He was fine, although tired, and the next morning was up and going like normal. Way to spend a day of vacation, though! Eek.
I have to comment on dinner, though -- everyone always talks up the food on cruises (all the time! food everywhere! five-star dining!) and they are pretty accurate. Dinner is a lavish and tasty affair, the buffets (which are open 24 hours) are pretty good, if not of the same calibre as dinner service, and there are snack and other yummy things available all over the place. I'm glad I brought stretchy pants.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
But, we followed the hordes, got our room keys and had our passports checked, and went up to our room to nap until the rest of my family showed up. The room is really nice, and a lot larger than I thought it would be, we aren't cramped at all, and even have tons of closet space! Who knew? We have a lovely balcony and are on the furthest "out" deck on the ship, right over the lifeboats. Nice!
The porters on the pier laughed at us about our luggage when we got it out of the taxi -- I packed a small carry-on-sized LandsEnd bag, and Mark had a suit bag. That's it. We plopped the bags down and the porters sort of squinted at it. "That's your luggage?" Nod. "All your luggage?" Another nod. "Are you sure?" We giggled about it all the way onto the boat.
I crashed like a big crashy thing and slept for two hours or so, before the Adorable Husband returned with ice cream and diet cokes to wake me up so we could see if anyone else had arrived.
We've been trying to fix the flight situation for Nin and Peter for almost two weeks, and have had no luck at all getting different flights -- the cruise line booked her to land at 3:15, and also says that they have to be on the boat by 4. Ridiculous! But - the boat did wait for a bunch of people that were running late because of weather, and she ran up the gangplank at 5:05 and was still there with an hour to spare! One of the security guys at the chekpoint radioed to the terminal to see if they were there yet and the terminal personnel reported taht they had a "couple dozen" people in taxis and on busses on their way to the boat!
So, she made it on time, we all got together in time for dinner, and we're off!
Friday, December 26, 2008
Actually, we're off in about five hours to the airport for our redeye flight, to arrive in Florida tomorrow morning and boat the Ruby Princess for a seven day cruise.
Should be fun! I'll try to fill in this week, if I have any internet access at all.
My first attempt to pack for this trip - taking into account the need to swim, cover from the sun, dress up for dinner, and really dress up for at least one night - resulted in a pile of clothing far too large to fit into my rolly carry-on.
Despite my claims that I could pack for months in a carry on, I had to work pretty hard to get the pile down to a reasonable size. And then I remembered that I had to pack a pair of dress shoes. As you may have experienced, these don't squash down much.
So, I abjectly apologize to my sister for picking on her for packing like a Victorian steamer-trunk traveler. Eek!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Seven days in the Caribbean. I had to buy a swim suit. I haven't bought a swim suit in twenty years. Do you know how hard it is to find a swim suit that doesn't expose the pale and pasty parts of me that never see the sun? Eek!
At any rate, since YS (Youngest Sister) has a late flight in to the port city, one of the suggestions from the more experienced cruisers is to not check luggage. That is, pack everything in a carry on.
I mentioned this to The Adorable Husband, who laughed uproariously. "Are you kidding? There is NO WAY that she can just pack a carry on. I'm worried that she'll be able to pack in one suitcase!" WHich is exactly the response I got from my sister when I suggested it as a way to save time.
She laughed. And snorted. And laughed again, a little nervously.
There is no way on earth that she can pack for a week in a carry on. Now me? I can pack for a MONTH in a carry one (well, carry-on sized, although I usually check it for long trips). She can't. No one in my family can. These are people who pack three suitcases for a long weekend. She'll pack six pairs of shoes to go to the beach. These are full-size toiletry packing type people. My family would have fit right in with Victorian traveller with four steamer trunks and a host of servants to haul everything around.
No amount of cajoling works. No amount of quite reasonable arguing that she doesn't need forty-leven different outfits works. This is a woman who normally changes clothes a couple of times as day. I suggested that, just perhaps, she could wear the same pair of pants for more than one day, since we weren't doing anything but lounging around.
The Adorable Husband noted wryly that she doesn't wear one pair of pants for even a whole day!
I shouldn't pick on her, really. She's the only one of us that has any sense of style at all, and I have to admit that she does dress well and looks awfully cute. But when travelling, cute and stylish take a back seat to light, easy to pack, and washable! We're on a cruise ship, people -- we can do laundry (or get people to do laundry for us!)
So I propose a wager: she can pack like she usually does, but at the end of the trip, we will publically air out all the things that she hasn't even touched in the suitcase. She's not allowed to make an extra effort to wear everything, but I bet that she doesn't even touch half of what she packs. Hah!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Easy, too, to identify the season by the variety of "documentaries" that show up on the various history and science channels. Most are interesting, if a bit predictable, and I won't go off on a tangent here on the false basic premise of most of them*. No, My ire here is directed at one specific show: "The Naked Archeologist', with Simcha Jacobovici traveling around the middle east in search of evidence that supports the bible.
Well, not quite. What he's doing is accepting the basic truth of the biblical stories without question and adding a dollop of politics and his opinion that "regular archaeology" is populated by fascists and anti-semites, and that he is fighting the good fight for "biblical archaeology". Archeologists in general treat the bible as fiction, not fact. This is the view supported by the evidence, and represents the view of most scholars. If evidence arises that supports specific stories, then archeologists incorporate that into their theory. But they do not accept the bible as historical fact, preferring to apply actual facts to their work.
No, Jacobovici says, that is just fascism and anti-semitism, and a political attempt to denigrate Judaism and the truth. He compares archeologists who view the bible as literature, not history, as akin to holocaust deniers. "Biblical archeologists", he says, are entirely wrong -- ignoring, of course, that his definition of "biblical archaeology" is completely backwards. He still classifies modern archaeologists who don't accept the historicity of the bible as "biblical archeologists" (a definition that fits his agenda). Wrong. That term belongs to the people who go digging "with the bible in one hand and a spade in the other". i.e., his own approach.
"From a historical aspect, I take the Bible as history, unless someone demonstrates it's not. I have no reason to believe the stories in the Bible didn't happen. He paused, asserting, If you don't think it's true, prove it!"And so he sets off to the primary archaeological sites in the middle east, cheerfully explaining how it all fits together with his somewhat oddball theories. He has further filmed a multi-part show on the Exodus (wherein he argues that it wasn't the Red sea that was parted, but the Reed sea, in a particularly egregious mangling of interpretation, to make his "theory" fit). Scientific findings often challenge religious dogma. He doesn't seem to understand that it's the role of the scientist, the role of the archeologist, to view with a critical eye any claims and view the evidence *before* generating the conclusions. An honest scientist gathers the evidence and sees what the evidence says, a dishonest one interprets the evidence to fit their conclusion. Presenting the latter as equivalent to the actual practice of archeology is simply wrong.
He argues that some biblical archeologists are motivated by crass politics and a dislike of Jews.
How completely backwards - the goal of archeology is not to "prove false" the bible any more than it is to "prove true" the stories. The two are really unrelated, no matter how much the television shows try to link them this time of year. If the evidence shows that a particular story is plausible or true, so be it. But cherry picking and misusing evidence is the purview of bad science.
I am frustrated that the history channel airs such a show, which is based firmly on the unchallenged premise that the bible is historically accurate and every further assertion simply accepts this as true.
I am further frustrated to realize that Jacobovici is NOT a biblical scholar, he is NOT a historian, he is NOT even an archaeologist. He's a filmmaker.
If it wasn't so ridiculous and dangerous, it would be funny - he's the sort who starts off his "exploration" by saying that the bible is true, and seems to be one of those people who is determined to believe that this is so, just because the bible says it. His methodology is a joke, even if he is personable and seems credible enough to the uninformed. Therein lies the danger - this man has a specific agenda that is at odds with science and history, and yet his theories are presented as if they are supported and generally valid. They are not.
This is not an issue of religious vs non-religious, of belief vs non-belief. It doesn't matter which side of those issues you are on: you should demand basic adherence to the proper methodology from anyone proposing to know "the truth". Accepting an idea because we want to believe it, quickly undermines any scientific inquiry (regardless of which conclusion you support). Archeologists are, understandably, frustrated.. This is amateur hour, and it is deeply flawed, no matter how attractive.
The ideas might be interesting, they might even have some kernel of real evidence, and Jacobovici's obvious enthusiasm and charm make for a good show, but that's all it is: a show by a filmmaker with a specific message to get across. Each show starts off with his conclusion, which is heavily biased to his own political and religious views (and I find it quite interesting that many Christian sites are equally critical about his show as I am). He has weighed in on recent finds (the Ossuary of Josephus, Jesus' tomb, etc) as if he actually has the qualifications to do so, as if the bald assertion that "this is true" suddenly makes it so.
The show is sensationalist, makes unsupported claims, ignores current scholarly research, and yet it airs without any explanation that the producer of the show is presenting his own opinions as fact without any real support or evidence. It's entertainment presented as truth, and as we all know, a plausible "explanation" is often better accepted than the truth, because it is simpler and doesn't require much thought.
It would be an interesting show if he actually approached the topic with some sense of impartial and unprejudiced curiosity. Since he can't, the honest thing to do is to be up front about your biases and explain how he comes to his opinions and views. If any show requires a disclaimer, this one does.
* Ok, one tiny tangent - how can you have a show on the possibility that Jesus had a brother, if you haven't proven (even slightly) that the Jesus you are talking about existed? Or that God punished the builders of the Tower of Babel, if you haven't a shred of evidence that the god you are describing existed, or the tower itself? Sigh.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Eek. I hate flying anyways. I don't think they've had an incident at DIA before!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Berit has had ongoing problems with itching and losing hair on her feet, and all sorts of problems associated with allergies. We've been taking her to the veterinary allergist down in Denver and our first try to get things settled was to try a limited diet (which lasted three months, and there was no change when we went back to the regular food), and finally scratch tests to find out what she's allergic to.
So, just like humans, they do the grid scratch test for 60-some things and then make up allergy serum based on that. Berit is allergic to a half-dozen types of trees, weeds, insect bites, timothy grass, household dust, ragweed, and all sorts of other things. I took her in today for the test and they shaved a big spot on her side, did the poking and scratching, and sent us home with vials of allergy shots and a spiffy blue t-shirt. Poor beastie.
As soon as she wakes up (they sedated her to do the test and she's pretty groggy), I'll flip her over and show you the nifty pink grid she has.
So, allergy shots for the next year or so. At least we can do those at home!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Removing it was pretty uneventful, and it didn't even hurt much. Took a bit of work to get out, though, since the root was hooked. But I came home and went back to work, since it didn't bother me at all.
Well, that was before the novocaine wore off. I feel like a chipmunk today and my jaw hurts. Waah!
Monday, December 15, 2008
A system of heat-absorbing pipes and giant wind blowers will “keep tourists cool in the searing 40-50C heat.” Soheil Abedian, president of Palazzo Versace hotel that will be home to the refrigerated beach, said: “We will suck the heat out of the sand to keep it cool enough to lie on. This is the kind of luxury that top people want.”Dubai is the reductio ad absurdum of consumer culture.
Seriously? Well, I guess it doesn't matter that the leader of the free world is a) out of touch with reality and b) so condescendingly dismissive of truth.
BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take–
RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.
BUSH: Yeah, that’s right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they’re going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.
I think we're on our 10th or 12th collar for Berit, and at least three for Rowan.
For some reason, they seem to like to grab hold of them and chew them off when they play (including once when Rowan got his jaw stuck under Berit's collar and scared the living crap out of me -- she was turning blue by the time I caught them and unclipped her collar!).
Eventually, they're going to have to cut us off. But so far, we show up at our vet's office about once a month with a mangled collar and bring home a spiffy new one.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
We realized today (after the Adorable Husband bought three enormous bags of dogfood) that the Phouka household is going through about 120 pounds of dog food in a month.
Obviously, the puppies are in a growth spurt (which is scary enough in itself, since they are 100 pounds apiece), and it's getting cold outside. They need more food, but I hadn't realized just how much. Since we free-feed, we just leave a full bowl of food out (a 2 gallon bucket-full) and they eat as much as they want/need. Since they aren't Labs (who will eat until they burst), we have always done this. They are snarfing down more than bowl a day, I think!
We have a dogfood bin attached to the wall in the laundry room that holds a forty pound bag of food. We're filling it every 10 days, or less.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Spending two days in Milwaukee (well, really Saukville) WI sounded like a good idea -- until we got 6-8" of snow here in Denver, and the client told me that they were expecting a foot of snow in Milwaukee. On the day I was supposed to arrive.
Oh, great. That sounds like fun. And pretty typical, for me. If there's a way to be delayed, lost, snowed on, tornadoed, or otherwise suffer travel trauma while traveling for work, I'll figure it out. Land at the wrong airport and sit on the tarmac for four hours? Check. Land seven hours late? Check. Get the last seat in the last row of the plane? Check. No cars available at the checkout desk except a full-size, rear-wheel-drive cargo van? Oh, yeah.
But this time? Not a hitch. Well, a nearly white-out raging snowstorm, but the plane landed on time, I had a whole row to myself, the roads were plowed, and my directions were good. Coming back, an exit row seat and an early arrival. Can't complain too much about that.
I'm not quite ready to celebrate the passing of the Bad Travel Baton, but it was a nice change.