The Countdown Begins! 5 Days Until Europe

Okay, for a change, Brighid seems to be the first one totally ready.  Her wardrobe is across the dining room table in neat little piles, and she has recorded her outfits on the sheets of paper I pulled out so that I know we all have enough clothes through mixing and matching.  It’s getting exciting now!

I’m taking the girls to my mom’s for dinner, and so Eilis can try on her two new dresses for the formal nights.  My in-laws have left Florida this morning on the auto train, headed for Jersey, and they have a few things in tow that I’ll need to pack.  But by the end of the day tomorrow, we should all be completely ready to go.

Jim tried his tuxedo on, and while it’s a little on the big side, it’s certainly wearable.  We’re taking navy blue and lavendar accessories for him, so I’ll try to pull out stuff from my closet that will at least coordinate well. 

We shopped on Saturday and bought slacks and shirts for him, slacks and tops for me, and I think it will be much easier now to pull outfits together without having to bring along too many pieces of clothing.

It’s getting more exciting now that we can log into Princess cruises and see how close we are!

Join My Team in the National Kidney Foundation Kidney Walk

http://walk.kidney.org/site/TR/Walk/DelawareValleyInc?px=1136961&pg=personal&fr_id=1081&et=DnVG2xgAITASOfMMvWE7HQ..&s_tafId=1167

My father was, far and away, one of my favorite people.  He was the type of person I would have wanted to be friends with even if we weren’t related.  His death at the age of 66 due to kidney failure was devastating to me.  Not a day goes by in the three years since his passing that I don’t think about him, miss him, and curse the kidney failure that took him away from us much too soon.

1273Please consider joining my team or sponsoring my team’s efforts in raising money toward not only the research and treatment of kidney disease, but also to help raise awareness of the importance of organ donation.  My father was a recipient of a donated kidney, and this is just a small way to repay the debt owed to the family who looked past the grief they felt at losing their loved one so that we were able to have my dad here with us a little bit longer.

There Should Be a Time Limit

It is just after 1:15 in the morning, and I am sitting here trying to keep myself awake.  I have to go get Jim at the airport.  His flight was delayed, and instead of getting in at midnight – which is late enough, thank you very much – he is getting in at 2:15 AM.  I am tired.  I’ve been up since about 6:15, I ran some errands, did some laundry, cleaned a room, and really could have gone to bed hours ago.  I would have gone up and probably fallen asleep, but Brighid had some kids over, and I couldn’t leave Granuaile with them without some adult supervision.  As it was, she ate too much junk and ended up puking on the floor – not a lot, just enough so we knew she was full to the gills with junk food.

But anyway, I think there should be a cut off of 1 AM.  If the flight can’t get in by 1, which gets us in the door before 2 AM, then he has to take a cab home.  Because it’s not enough that I have to drag my tired bones out of the house this late, but I have to leave the kids this late, and that makes me uncomfortable.  And then he’ll want to come home and talk, get something to eat and drink, try to get some additional attention, and I won’t get to sleep before 4 AM.

The first time this weekend he says he’s tired of hearing how tired I am, I might beat him to death with a rolling pin.  And I’m planning the funeral for a decent hour of the day. 

Starbucks

I do not like coffee.  Tell anyone in my family that, and they will laugh at you, because they think I have a coffee addiction.  I don’t.  If you presented me with a cup of coffee or a cup of turpentine, I’d be more inclined to take a swig of the turpentine.  I know what coffee tastes like, and I hate it, so I’d naturally go with that which seems least offensive.

About 2 years ago, I had gastric bypass surgery.  One of the things they don’t tell you when you have surgery is that you are going to get cold.  As I lost weight, I seemed to also lose the ability to regulate my own body temperature, and was constantly craving hot things to drink – like soups or hot teas.  One day, as I was sitting at my keyboard shivering, I happened upon a post on a weight loss surgery support group that pointed out the fact that a Starbucks Latte contains protein – 13 grams or so in a Venti.  They went on to say that even if you don’t like coffee much, with the sugar free syrups, you could really make a latte that you might enjoy.  So I decided to try.

2 years later, I am a daily visitor to the Starbucks on Route 70 in Cherry Hill.  I could go to any number of other Starbucks in the area, but I find the customer service at this particular location to be the standard by which all other Starbucks should set their customer service bar. 

 I order the same drink virtually every day (sometimes twice on weekends).  It’s a Venti (which is the largest size at Starbucks) non-fat latte with 7 pumps of sugar free vanilla syrup.  It is the rare occasion that the coffee is wrong.  I might get a new barista who misses a pump here or there – and believe it or not, I actually got the drink once with no coffee in it (a latte is a blend of steamed milk and espresso), but for the most part, I can trust that what I order at this particular Starbucks is exactly what I will get.

There are standouts among the baristas there.  Sandi is friendly, funny, and never ceases to be cheerful – even when she may not be having a particularly good day herself.  Jeannie and Rhianna are both expert baristas, and neither has ever once gotten a drink wrong or forgotten a smile and some pleasant conversation.  But overall, the employees there seem to just fit the Starbucks personality perfectly.

In addition to always getting my drink right, they never seem to run out of boxes of chocolate milk – a staple for my daughters, and not always available at most of the other Starbucks we’ve been to.  They also almost always have the cheese plate there – and for someone who can’t eat sugar, having this yummy cheese selection as an option while the rest of the people in the car are eating coffee cakes and pastries is a life saver.

You can’t go wrong with this particular Starbucks.  They make efforts to get to know their customers, and they go to great lengths to make sure you get your coffee your way.  Even if you don’t like coffee.

Carnival Vacation Club – The Little Engine That Couldn’t

My in-laws are avid cruisers, and have cruised all over the world – from the Bahamas to the Mediterranean.  They have been on a wide variety of cruise lines, from Carnival to Costa and many in between.  When they were approached about the Carnival Vacation Club during a cruise they took, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Basically, you purchase a set number of points from Carnival Vacation Club, and you redeem those points toward cruises.  In their pitch, they make it seem like by using points, it works out that your cruise is discounted from what you would pay if you bought your cruise in cash instead of vacation points.

There is only one good thing I can say about the club.  It is no longer available to buy into.  Thank goodness that other unsuspecting vacationers won’t get sucked into this nightmare.

I did learn in my research for this blog that Carnival Vacation Club is not owned and operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, however their association with each other seems to be a blurry area to me.  They were obviously allowed to sell this stuff on Carnival Cruises, and the Carnival logo appears on some of the club documentation.  Hmmm….

The sad part is that so many people – my in-laws among them – were on a vacation, enjoying the luxury of a cruise, resistance lowered by the sounds of the sea hypnotizing them into things they otherwise might not do – and they were lured into this mistake of a vacation club.

Carnival Vacation Club is putting together a new incarnation of itself.  Run, folks.  Avoid it at all cost.

European Vacation – Skamarakas Style

This is actually a bit of a pre-trip report, just so in years to come, when my girls are looking at pictures of what a great trip we had, they will also know everything that has gone into the planning of this event of a lifetime.

Back around Christmas time, my in-laws invited us to take a vacation with them.  We started looking at options offered through the Carnival Vacation Club, and after some discussion, a few phone calls, and confirmation that we could all get the time off to go (okay, that was only Jim, since the rest of us are persons of leisure in August), my mother-in-law decided we would do a cruise of the British Isles.  This happens to work out perfectly for my husband, who, unbeknownst to my in-laws, dared Brighid and I to ride the Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios in exchange for a trip to Ireland.  He’s off the hook, and we’re going to Ireland! 

We looked into airfare, and decided to stay in London a couple of days before the cruise and a couple of days after, so Jim booked the Marriott County Hall for everyone.  Right on the Thames River, across from the Parliament building, we had a wonderful stay here a few years ago right before Eilis was born, and we’re looking forward to the stay here as a bonus part of the trip.

British Airways was running a buy one, get one free promotion, which made it an option to upgrade our airline tickets so there are only two of us sitting side by side, as opposed to four, which is how we have flown to Europe on our previous trips.  This should make it much easier with the squirmy children, give us all a little extra room to sleep on the flight over (we leave Philly at about 6 PM, so we’ll be flying overnight), and alleviate the worry of having to wake up a total stranger to climb over them to go to the bathroom. 

After all of the arrangements were made, we talked about some things and decided to cancel our stay at the Marriott in London before the trip and head to Rome instead.  There were a few things we didn’t get to do when we were there last spring, and it would be so nice for my in-laws to get to do them.  My mother-in-law especially wants a book that is really a pictorial essay of the beautiful city of Rome, which seems to be available only in the city itself, so we’ll be on a mission to find one. 

 As the months have gone by, we’ve modified a few other things, gone through torment with Carnival Vacation Club, added sightseeing tours in Rome – including one to Castle Gandolfo to see the Pope, and confirmed dining plans.  We booked our excursions – although I think they may yet be modified based on information we receive when we get to the ship. 

We’re looking forward to the trip, to the time away, to the exciting things the kids will get to see.  I’m journaling each day for a full report when I get home.