Why the blog?

I write as the Spirit moves me. I have prayed about what I'm supposed to do with my life a lot. A lot. Writing. Writing is what I believe God is leading me to do. Whether or not He wants me to write for anyone to read is His business. Much of my writing has been therapy for me so maybe I'm the only one who is supposed to read it. So, why the Blog? As a sounding board, a note pad, a place to keep my ideas and thoughts. A place to share and promote my books, and photography. Written prayers, a place to vent. Possibly, even a place for the unknown reader to learn about the love of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

5 for 50

This is the year that I celebrate my 50th birthday.  I'm so excited!  In honor of this great occasion I plan on hanging up my running shoes, packing away my Camelpak, and take it easy for the rest of my life.  I'm going to get a pedicure, scrape away all of those nasty callouses and paint my toenails red.  I'm going to get a manicure and grow out my nails so I'll look like a lady.  I'm going to throw away my running clothes and buy silks and satins.  Then, I'm going to put my feet up, sit on my new porch swing and relax.  I mean, after all, I've worked hard for the first 50 years of my life.  According to my grandmother, who is in her late 90's, I've got about 50 more to go. So, it is time for me to take a break, take it easy, relax, and.......




HEY, WHO HIJACKED MY COMPUTER!!?????

Yeah, right.  I'm not going to do any of that.  

This year alone I have hiked on several islands, snorkeled, kayaked, went on a zip line course for the first time, and raced my 5th marathon.  You really think I'm going to slow down? 

My new motto is - "If you can, do, because there will soon be a day when you can't and wished you had."

Thanks be to God, I still can, so I will keep doing as long as He gives me the ability.  

Last week, for example.  I wanted to do something to celebrate my 50th birthday. (It's not until July, but hey, why not start early?)  I found a trail race.  I've always enjoyed running trails so I found an off-road marathon, signed up, then promptly got a season pass to Wekiva Springs State Park.  There are more than 20 miles of trails there and with a season pass you can also get an after-hours pass with a code to let you in at any time of the day.  I'm a dawn runner.  Perfect.

Twice a week I drove to the park for training.  Met lots of nice, and not so nice animals.

I prayed a lot during those runs.  "Please God, don't let me trip and break something."  "God, keep the bears away."  "Thank you God for the beauty of the deer, the squirrels, and the weather."  "Dear Lord, keep this cute little raccoon away and don't let him bite anyone." "Thank you, Jesus, for strong ankles.  That root came out of nowhere."  

I invented a handy little device.  It's called 'rubber bands on CamelPak for iPhone'.  It put my phone front and center so that 1) I don't need to use headphones, 2) I can easily make emergency calls, and most importantly 3) I can play my music loud enough to let oncoming mammals, i.e. bears, know that I'm coming while allowing me to hear my surroundings.  

Never saw a bear.  Thank you Jesus. (saw one on the road once but that's a different story)

Race day came and I felt prepared.  I slept well, ate well, packed plenty of #Runergy, intestines did what they needed to when I needed them to.  My only hesitation was the fact that the race was very small.  Four race lengths - 4 miles, 10 miles, marathon, and 50k with a total of less than 250 people.  There were less than 30 in my race.  Well, two hesitations.  Would I get lost?  Would the trails be marked well enough?  

At the start line, the race director gave us a brief, told us which colored tape to follow. (Mine was pink).  He also told us that part of the trail had just recently been burned and there may be some smoke.  That didn't bother me too much because the 50k runners started ahead of us and they were on the same course at that point.  If there was a problem, they would alert the rest of us.  At least I hoped they would.

Go! was called and I was off.  There was no electronic timing or chip timing.  All by hand, so I started near the front.  The first three people shot off, the next two close behind, and I fell in behind a tall young man.  Seventh in line.  The course was mostly single track.  We stayed in this order for the first 6 or so miles.  

Then it happened.  Hills.  First hill, not so bad.  A little difficult to grip, being sand and pine needles.  I stayed behind the guy.  Second hill, I slowed down.  By the fifth, I was walking.  I lost count of the hills.  To say the least, I did not expect so many, if any.  At least not tall hills.  In central Florida. I trained on hills, on wet grass up hills, but not for 26 miles.  Uphill.  I had to jump over a fallen tree, twice.  Came to an 8-foot drop, a gulley, and had to stop and figure out where to go.  Down, back up, continue on and up another hill.  

Around mile 13 (I think) I came to the burned out section.  There were hot spots with smoke and ash and burned out trail. I pulled my shirt over my mouth and nose to breathe. Someone drew with a stick arrows to point the way.  Thank you!!  A tree branch with the trail tape had fallen over and I had to jump over that.   A large tree, that was still smoldering, had fallen across the trail.  I sideswiped that and barely missed getting burned.  If the air temperature had been 5 degrees warmer I think the forest might have erupted in flame.  A woman passed me who wasn't wearing knee socks (I was). The back of her legs were black with ash and dirt and mud.  

Once the guy in front of me was out of sight, I pretty much ran alone.  That didn't bother me because I was too busy making sure I was on the right path, dodging roots, and praying.   Oh yes, I prayed.  "Thank you God for giving me this ability."  "God, I run today for those who can't."  I named a person for each step.  I take this step for Loretta.  This one for Corelai.  This one is for Angie.  Mrs. Matthews. TJ. Grandma.  James.  Ken.  Darryl.  The list went on and on.  I pretty much convinced myself/decided right there and then that as long as I was capable of running, I was going to continue to do so.  I am going to be the oldest person in the race one day.  I am.  Just ask my husband. 

At 4 hours and 38 minutes and 31 seconds the battery in my GPS gave out with less than 3 miles to go.  I texted my husband and let him know where I was.  Using Siri voice activation, I thought I said, "On the last loop."  The text went through as, "Just our luck to."  Ha Ha.  That's okay.  The point was to let him know I was still alive.  

I made it to the finish line in 5 hours and 13 minutes.  Not fast at all for a marathon.  But - and here's the BUT - IT WAS THE HARDEST RACE I HAVE EVER DONE AND I FINISHED!!!   Not only did I finish, I was still breathing, not crawling, not bloody (except for one blister), not broken, and pretty happy.  I even had enough energy to jump up and slap the FINISH LINE banner.  

After drinking a full bottle of cold water I said to my husband, "You know, that was fun.  I think I want to do a race ON my birthday."  It is is 4 months.  


Running the trails

Hello deer

Raccoon on my trail

Follow the pink ribbons!
Nice feet! Only one blister.

Ready to run!

My reward, a shirt and a medal.  5 for 50.
Results.  10th overall.



P.S.  I have signed up for my "birthday race".  It is in Utah on 7/24/2015.  
  

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's strawberry picking time!

Up the road from me is a U-Pick-Em Strawberry farm, Oak Haven.  For those of you who don't know - and I didn't until recently - that means you go and pick your own berries straight from the plant. It's fun for the family, or me all by myself, and you know they are delicious because you pick the ripe ones, the big red delicious ones.  Then, if you can restrain yourself, you go and pay for them before eating.

Here are a few pictures and a recipe.

Just picked.

I filled the carton!

Still on the vine, for a second longer.

Time to go and make something yummy.

About to make dairy-free strawberry ice-cream.

2 cups chopped berries.

2 frozen bananas

add 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey, 1 TBS coconut oil, and 1 TBS vanilla extract.

Pour puree into mold.

Melt 1/2 TBS coconut oil, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 cup dairy-free dark chocolate chips

Melt in microwave on very low heat or use double boiler.

Pour chocolate onto partially frozen mixture.

Add a second layer/second batch. 

Add raw almonds to left over chocolate.

Cool for a garnish.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Oak-Haven-Farms-Winery/170470146484213

RECIPE:

1/4 cup regular canned coconut milk
2 cups of fresh strawberries, washed and cut into halves or quarters (measure after cutting up)
2 frozen bananas
1/4 cup raw, local honey
1 TBS coconut oil
1 TBS vanilla extract

ADD CHOCOLATE IF YOU WISH:
1/2 cup dairy-free dark chocolate chips
1/2 TBS coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
       - slowly melt in the microwave or with a double boiler.  Let cool, but not so much that it hardens, then drizzle into strawberry puree.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sunshine over the Atlantic - St. Maarten

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  I have had so much fun, not only on my cruise, but in putting together the videos and the blogs.  I had only done one slide-show video before this and I've learned a lot.  They are far, far from professional quality, but they are getting better, at least I think so.  I'm thinking I may go back into my archives and make videos of past trips, just for practice and for a kind of 'living scrapbook'.  

So, where are we?  St. Maarten, one island, two countries.  Read all about the history of the island here.  

Initially, my husband and I had not planned an excursion.  The island was small, we already had three excursions, it's another island, maybe we'll just hang out like we did in Grand Turk.  Well, my adventurous side wanted a little more...adventure.  But, just a little.  At the last minute we opted for a 'Scenic Coastal Hike'.  A coastal hike was just the thing.  Not too hard, not too slow, and lots of scenery for this photographer. 

We met our tour group at 8:00 am in one of the ship's lounges then were led through the port's tourist area to a bus.  On board the bus we drove past the little tourist shopping mecca, up and around the outlying hills to the eastern coast.  To my surprise, we turned a corner and stopped on the side of the road.  There were a few homes and a dirt road.  Curious, we all hopped out of the bus and were met by our guide.  The hike was along a single-track path up the hill in front of us.  At the top of the hill was an abandoned home, owned by the Benny Goodman family.  Past this home is where our hike began.  See the video below.  My words cannot do the scenery justice.  There are not enough adjectives to adequately describe the beauty of the oceans and the islands in the Caribbean.  I only wish I had brought my "good camera".  

My only complaint with this excursion was the speed of the guide.  I felt he was walking too fast.  I started out in front so my pictures could be human-free as much as possible.  I stopped every few minutes to take a picture, look back in the hope that I wasn't holding up the rest of the group and they'd be several yards to ten yards behind. They weren't in a hurry either.  On the return trip (it was a point to point or there and back hike) I stayed in back so I could drag as slow as I wanted then run to catch up.  This turned out to be a blessing because at one stop a lady offered to switch places and be last because she was tiring.  My husband explained my wandering and suggested she stay in front.  Good thing because not ten minutes later she was stung by a bee.  Not that it was good she was stung, just good I wasn't because I'm allergic!   I did have creams and a bandage for her and she was fine.  

When we returned to the starting point the guide gave us water then led us down another path next to a home down to an uninhabited bay, the Guana Bay Beach.  Due to tides and rip currents no one swims here.  We rested, took lots of photos then headed back towards the port.  Our guide gave us great advice for the shopping area.  I'm not a huge shopper, but several in our group were.  He said don't buy from the first person or first store.  Don't pay the asking price.  Negotiate.  Most stores have the exact same items.  I applaud guides who are actually helpful and not pushy.  We were unable to tip him because we had left all of our cash on the ship.  (Not a good thing to do!).  

For some reason, I had gotten it in my head way back in Grand Turk that I wanted something "Sea Turtle".  Something unique.  In one of the jewelry stores that we had wandered into I asked if there were any 'local artists" or stores that carried "local art".  The sales woman directed us to a store called "Shipwreck". It turned out to be a run-of-the-mill t-shirt and souvenir shop, however, there was one case that carried (relatively) one-of-a-kind artisan pieces.  I found my sea turtle.  I'm not going to show you the picture because a) I didn't take a photo b) I'd like to keep it as one of a kind as possible. Go to St. Marteen and get your own sea turtle.  Really, go. Take a hike, see the cliffs and beaches. See the butterflies and go snorkeling. Go on an Eco Tour with Tri Sport. You'll be glad you did! 


See the video here:  http://youtu.be/Q3FMBYTd2sI



Friday, March 6, 2015

Sunshine over the Atlantic - San Juan, Puerto Rico

I hope you are enjoying my online chronicling of my recent trip.  I'm doing this for several reasons - 1)  It's a sort of diary for myself.  A scrapbook, if you will, of my adventures with my husband.  I want to be able to look back and remember, see the pictures, and perhaps show my grandkids some day.  2)  It may be a helpful review of the places I've visited for someone who is planning a similar trip, a kind of TripAdvisor but on my own blog.  If this is your first visit to my blog, welcome!  This post is #4 of five planned.  I hope you will read them all (and see the videos) then leave a comment.

We are now at port of call #3, San Juan Puerto Rico.  This stop, we decided to be a little daring.  Me, really.  You see, I'm an adventurer, but a control freak adventurer.  I have panic attacks in crowds, get sick on airplanes, am terrified of roller coasters and pretty much every ride in theme parks.  Basically, I like to stay on the ground or in water.  

Naturally, I sign us up to go zip lining in a foreign country.  Naturally.  It's an obvious choice. 

We dock at 8 am.  Our excursion starts at 9 am so we wander around the shopping area next to the port for a half hour or so.  The quaint shopping district is geared towards tourists with shop after shop selling basically the same thing plus a lot of jewelry stores.  The streets are narrow and made of cobblestone. Very pretty and reminded me of pictures I've seen of Italy. One day I'll take my own... but I digress, the excitement awaits!

Back at the dock we meet our tour handler.  Our young newlywed dinner mates are there, a handful of teenagers, and an elderly couple in their 70's.  How difficult can this zip line thing be?  The minimum age is 5!  I'd look like a silly scary cat if I chickened out now! (My nerves were already on heightened alert!  This is not anywhere near the realm of my comfort zone.)

We board the bus and drive to Hacienda Campo Rico.  There we are greeted by a young staff of trained, well-trained, zip line guides.  They put us into harnesses and helmets then give a safety demonstration on a low line near the ground.  I must have looked nervous.  The guide, Ricardo, looked me straight in my sunglass-veiled eyes and said, "Are you a control freak, Colleen?"  Without missing a beat, I said, "Yes, I am!"  "Takes one to know one,"  he replied.  This was all to demonstrate that if we paid attention and did what we were told, we would be perfectly safe.  Hah!  I wasn't convinced.  My knees were shaking and even the antics of the pig and goat who were running around looking for attention couldn't take my eyes off the wires strung from little poles hundreds of feet in the air.  

Still unsure if I could go through with it, I get in the back of the line when our guide leads the group up the really, really tall pole that looks like it was taken off an old sail boat with its several round holding areas.  They look like nests on pirate ships.  The older couple is near the front and our dining companions, the newlyweds, are in front of us.  I watch all of them carefully.

Once I get up to the very top, my knees are shaking, my heart is racing, and I'm telling myself over and over again, "I want to do this.  I signed up to do this.  The old people did it and so can I.  I want to.  Really, I do.  I'll regret it if I chicken out."  Then I start praying.  "Lord, don't let me chicken out."

Our nice guide, bless him, talks to everyone individually as he hooks them up the the wires.  "Hi, How're ya doing?  What do you do for a living?  Oh, that's interesting.  Having a good trip?", etc.  I think his calm demeanor and his unwavering speed and attention to detail getting people hooked up and on their way was the only thing that kept me from climbing back down that pole.  (You'll see and hear our conversation on my video below).  

I have my camera around my neck and already on video.  My initial thought is to let it video whatever and hold on tight with two hands.  Dear Ricardo had other plans for me.  "Hold on with your left, and hold the camera with your right," or something like that.  "Your'e a strong woman, you can do this."  What does he know?  I'm about to pee myself.  I do as I'm told and he gave me a gentle yet strong shove.  I screamed like a little girl (by the way, the little girls on this trek didn't scream).  About two seconds later I'm thinking, hey this is pretty cool. When I reach the end, the automatic brake jerks me a bit and my heart is racing.  The guide at the other end says something encouraging, don't remember, I'm shaking.  We are immediately whisked to zip line #2 which is tandem.  Me in front, my husband in back.  I feel a whole lot better knowing he's got his legs wrapped around me.  

I survive #2 and feel pretty good.  We hike over and through the woods on a rope bridge which was cool and then we are off to #3.  I am now officially having fun! I video each and every line - there were seven of them - and by the time it's all over I want to do it again.  

This topped the kayak trip, but just barely.  Me facing my fear is what pushed it to the front.  However, and I cannot stress this enough, this does NOT mean I'll be on a roller coaster anytime soon.  NO. Absolutely not. No desire to do so.  I will be zip lining again. There are lots of places in Florida.  

Back to the excursion.  After a brief rest and a snack provided by the tour company we returned to San Juan.  There were still several hours left before we had to board the ship so we stopped at a burger joint that claimed to be the "Best in San Juan".  Maybe there aren't many?  It was good, though.  Then we were off on a self-guided adventure to see Castillo San Cristobal, a fort built over 150 years ago to protect the city from land attack.  I recommend a full day to see the entire fort system.  We were only able to spend an hour to take as many pictures as I could.  

My only complaint about this port of call was time.  Nine hours in San Juan is not enough.  There is so much to see and do.  It was like coming to Orlando and only spending a few hours.  You can't do Disney properly in a few hours. I told my husband that on a future vacation I wanted to return and stay at least a week.  To go zip lining again! 

PS, our guide wanted me to tell you he is single.  See video.  

Watch the YouTube video here.  There is no sound on the slide show due to the length.  Enjoy.  


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sunshine over the Atlantic - St. Thomas


If it's Monday, we must be in St. Thomas. 

St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, a territory of the US is located in the Caribbean due east of Puerto Rico.  If you want to know more, click here.

Our ship, the Carnival Sunshine, arrived on a sunny day at around 1 pm.  Looking for a little adventure, my husband and I booked a 'Kayak, Hike, and Snorkel' excursion.  He had never kayaked and only snorkeled once.  I've done both quite a bit when I was younger.  It sounded like fun, and since neither of us were into shopping, this seemed perfect for us.

We disembarked the ship a little after 1 o'clock.  While in line with about a thousand other people to exit we heard over the loud speaker something along the lines of, "please have your Sign and Sail card and a picture ID."  We looked at each other.  Whoops.  We only had our Sign and Sail cards, which I figured was enough since our photos are embedded.  (We didn't read the FunTimes informational handout!!)  Oops.  Since we were in the crowds and our tour was supposed to leave at 1:30 we shrugged it off and set out to find our tour group.  

The signs for each excursion were clear with lots of helpful guides to get us to the right waiting area.  My husband overheard a conversation between a tourist and the gate guard that left us a little concerned - he didn't have a photo ID.  Too late now, so we joined our group.  

We hopped an open air bus (no windows) with 5 other couples and drove up and around narrow streets for about 20 minutes then pulled up into a nondescript shack.  Once off the bus we were led to a small area with bench seats, maps, t-shirts, snorkels, swim shoes, and the like displayed on the front and back walls.  A very energetic young lady greeted us.  I believe her name was Lisa.  

Our guide gave us a brief history of the EcoTour company, the island, and the area where we would be visiting.  She then briefed us on safe kayaking.  Almost everyone had done it at least once.  They had a free locked storage area for us to leave towels and other items we didn't need or didn't want to get wet.  I mention this because our dining companions were on an excursion and they were told they had to pay for storage lockers.  Don't ever pay for storage on an excursion.  Bring only what you need, pack according to the outing, and use ziplock bags or water bags to keep your stuff dry and with you.  Rant over, time to paddle.

We all boarded our kayaks successfully and head out to the mangroves.  Lisa guided us around and through the clear waters, shallow in some areas, deeper in the middle.  Did you know the mangrove plant has one 'sacrificial leaf'?  It's true.  Toxins or waste from the water are diverted to this one leaf.  It turns yellow and falls off.  We then paddled over to Cas Cay for a short hike to the Blow Hole at Red Point.  (See photos).  During the short hike...well, before that we had a crab race.  It was funny.  Our crab never left it's shell.  So, during the hike, we stopped in front of a small tree.  It's called the Manchineel tree.  It's DEADLY.  The small green fruit it produces are called "death apples".  Don't burn it, the fumes and smoke are deadly.  Don't stand under it during rain, the water that drips off the leaves will burn you.  Don't touch it, you'll have a reaction similar to poison Ivy. What I want to know is - why is it still there?!  I don't think I took a picture of this thing, it was a bit scary.  I'm highly allergic to poison Ivy.  Apparently, early settlers, visitors (pirates and such) died because of this tree. 

At the Blow Hole we took turns taking pictures of the water spraying on us.  I got hit in the face almost immediately.  One couple never got a wave even after 10 minutes.  The waves crashing through the rocks and spraying it's mist was a beautiful sight.  The clear blue sky made for a picturesque scene for everyone and we stayed nearly half an hour just taking pictures.  I took about 50 just in this one spot.  The cliff that stood on the land side of the hole was unattainable.  Lisa told us the rocks were sharp and fragile.  It was too dangerous. Darn, I really wanted to climb it. 

We hiked back to the kayak and put on our masks and snorkels.  Lisa instructed us on how to de-fog the lenses by spitting on them and rubbing it around then washing it off with sea water.  It works!  My camera was an underwater camera that I had never used (underwater) until this day.  With the camera rolling, we swam out towards the reef.  Oh, I forgot to mention, the cay, or little bay had a reef across the entrance where it met with the ocean.  The waves crashed against it and kept the cay side calm.  We didn't go that far but stayed in the protected area marked by a flotation device (I can't spell boyee/bouyee/whatever).   

I swam and floated around taking pictures and video for what seemed like an hour.  It was great fun and saw a lot of fish and coral and someone saw a shark, which I am glad I did NOT.  My husband had a great time, too. After about 45 minutes of playing with the fish and exploring the man-made reefs it was time to head back to the kayaks.  Lisa handed out our snacks, which were mini candy bars.  Luckily, I had brought my own.  

The sun was beginning to set on our paddle back to base.  It was beautiful, it's bright rays dancing on the water.  The other couples seemed to be in a hurry as they raced back.  I took my time, pausing to take sunset photos.  We all made it back to land safe and sound.  Exiting a kayak is tricky on a dock but no one fell in. 

I think this was one of the best cruise ship excursions I have ever been on.  We all had a great time, our guide was informative and fun.  She didn't hurry us along at any point and didn't try to sell us anything we didn't want or need.  I was sad to leave and hope to go back. 

Oh, not to worry, when we got back to the gate to board the Carnival Cruise Ship Sunshine the guard didn't ask for ID.  We showed him our Sign and Sail card and he waved us right in!  God is Good!



see the video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3_MYBUyGj0

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sunshine over the Atlantic - first stop Grand Turk

In my previous post, I described life on board our ship, Carnival Sunshine.  Today is all about our first port of call - Grand Turk.

Grand Turk is the largest in the Turks Islands in the Turks and Caicos island group.  That's not saying a whole lot because it is only 6.9 square miles.  While checking out the excursions on Carnival's website and comparing them to the actual map of the island, my husband and I decided to forgo a guided tour and simply walk it.  Truth be told, I wanted to put on my running shoes and run the island.  I mean, why not, it is less than 10 miles from cruise ship to light house and 1.5 miles wide.  To be fair to my husband, I decided a walk would be just fine. 

After disembarkation, we meandered for a few minutes around the tourist shopping area and ended up in the parking lot where all the taxis and tour buses awaited their passengers.  A man just arriving for work asked us what our plans were.  We shrugged and said, "Don't know, we are winging it."   He suggested a taxi to historic downtown, which is half way to the  lighthouse, on the west side.  We took a picture of the map at the taxi station and decided it was a good plan.

The taxi driver told us that since it was Sunday, everything would be closed until later in the day, but we could walk around.  He also told us the population of the island was approximately 4,000 with either 6 or 8 churches (I can't remember exactly).  According to the taxi driver, the islanders are very religious.  

Once out of the taxi, I made a bee line for the beach.  It was that exceptional shade of blue that is only seen in the Caribbean with soft sandy beaches and coral reefs.  I took a few photos then we headed north, then east.  We meandered about a half mile when it began to rain.  Not a hard rain, just hard enough for us to want to take shelter under someone's front porch.  

When the rain slowed to a slight drizzle, we headed up Lighthouse Road, stopped for another short rain shower under another front porch, then finally the clouds blew west and the rest of the day was bright and sunny.

The driver told us something about livestock that we didn't quite believe until we saw it.  Horses and donkeys roam free.  The horses are privately owned and usually stay near their owners.  He didn't give an explanation of the donkeys except that they used to be the sole form of transportation.  We, I mean me, were able to get pretty close to the several small herds we encountered on our walk.  (see video). He also told us about the prison that still stands but is unused and that the governor is still appointed by the Queen of England.  More information than if we had purchased a cruise-ship excursion! Cheaper, too!  Cost of a taxi from the ship to downtown was $5.00 each.  Expensive until you learn the price of gasoline! (it was about triple that of gas at home at the time)

Always on the lookout for good photo ops, I noticed a semi-open fence/gate that had a path leading to the beach.  On the ground next to the fence was a sign that read, "Private Property, Please Stay On Path".  I, of course, dashed inside.  My husband was hesitant yet joined me anyway.  So glad we went down that path!!   It was beautiful.  Looked like no one had been down there since the last hurricane.  Beach was undisturbed, plant life flourished, seaweed in heaps from where it had washed up on the beach.  I could have stayed there for hours taking pictures.  Alas, we only had until 1:30, five-and-a-half hours total.  

Thirty minutes or so later, a young couple in a rented golf cart asked us if we wanted a ride. They were also headed to the lighthouse.  Gratefully, we accepted.  I told my husband, "God  provides!"  

The lighthouse itself was smaller than I had imagined.  No wonder we never saw it from the road.  It was built in 1852 and is the only lighthouse in the country.  The painted white structure sits near a cliff on the northernmost aspect of the island and is surrounded by a low fence in which live a family of.... donkey.  The tower itself stands only 60 feet tall, a total of 108 feet above sea level.

Upon arrival, I placed my backpack on a picnic table.  Immediately, we were rushed by several of the little critters looking for a handout.  I thought they were adorable, especially the baby.  My husband thought they were pests.  Cute pests.  

Near the cliff was an unused or unfinished zip line course.  It didn't look safe.  Maybe that's why it wasn't being used.  In any event, I took photos of the cliffs, the shoreline below, and just missed a herd of crab.  Darn.  

We then walked all the way back to downtown, bought a few souvenirs from a street vendor, then hopped a cab back to the ship. All in all, it was an excellent day. Perfect island to just go and wander.  I only wished we had a few more hours.....maybe next time.


Please see the YouTube video for all the photos.  http://youtu.be/Wuu3Zi94-3M



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sunshine over the Atlantic

This past Christmas, my present from my amazing husband was a cruise for two.  I love cruises for several reasons.  The most predominant reason is - we don't have to get on an airplane.  The nearest cruise terminal is conveniently an hour-and-a-half away.  As of this writing, I have now been on four cruises, all with the Carnival Cruise lines.  Each one to different ports of call and each one with great shore excursions, food, and service.  This time was no different, and perhaps even better.

Our cruise ship of choice, was the Carnival Sunshine. Destination:  Eight glorious days to the Eastern Caribbean with ports of call to Grand Turk, St. Thomas USVI, San Juan, and St. Maarten, NA.  We chose this trip specifically for the San Juan stop.  I had never been to Puerto Rico and wanted to see it.  Eight days seemed like a long time, however, we were willing to try to be away from home, work, and annoying cats for that period of time.  

Now, normally, whenever I'm preparing for a trip I write a packing list and begin organizing weeks in advance.  This time, however, I drug my feet.  As time drew near, I became anxious.  Some of it stemmed around my husband's job (I won't go into details here, not important).  The majority of my anxiety revolved around food. If you have read any of my previous blog posts you know I have an allergy to dairy. Plus, I'm training for my 5th marathon.  Which, of course, means I have to be doubly mindful of what I eat. On most trips - whether road trips or by airplane - I am able to pack my own and/or purchase locally.  The rules on cruise ships are very strict. Any food brought aboard must be 1) storebought.  No homemade food allowed.  2) In unopened packages.  3) Not need refrigeration.  There is a mini fridge in the cabin but the temperature is only low enough to keep water cool.  

The first thing I do once aboard the ship is go to guest services to make sure I won't starve. (This after packing organic whole wheat crackers and about a pound of raw nuts and posting my allergies on the web site.)  I was assured my needs would be taken care of.  I took a deep, cleansing breath and decided I would survive.  

Next, we spent a few hours walking the decks and halls to get the 'Lay of The Land'.  First stop, the Spa.  The gym was huge.  Enough treadmills that I could get my two-hour runs in without feeling like a gym hog.  They also had dry and wet saunas for hours of relaxation, which we took advantage of every chance we could.  

Our cabin was on deck 3, Lido deck 9, Spa deck 10, and the tippy top adults only deck was deck 14.  This meant we were in for a lot of walking!  I'm not a fan of elevators and especially so on boats.  We would have daily workouts whether my husband liked it or not. I did encourage him to take the elevators from time to time.  I'm nice like that. The climbs went like this: 3 to 9 for breakfast;  3 to 10 for the gym;  3 to 0 to exit the ship for excursions;  3 to 14 for relaxation in the sun.  I cannot tell you how many steps we ascended and descended, but I'll bet it was in the thousands! 

The stateroom:  We booked an interior cabin with a king-sized bed.  It was plenty big enough for the two of us.  Having a window was not important, so not worth the extra money.  We had enough closet space for the majority of our clothes (I say majority because I brought about 3 outfits per day. Hey, you never know what the weather or mood may warrant).  Our bathroom was small, but not cramped.  Never expect a big bathroom on a cruise ship.  Need a bigger space to shower?  Go to the Spa deck and use the ones in the changing rooms.  This ship came equipped with shower gel, shampoo, a round side mirror, one plug in the bathroom for a men's shaver, and a hair drier.  It also had a safe and a tiny mini fridge, a TV, and plenty of room under the bed to store your luggage.  

Lido deck:  This is where all the action is.  A small pool for kids; two hot tubs; a giant TV screen for movies, announcements, replays of the nightly events; two bars; Guy's Burger Joint on one side and a taco bar on the other.  Inside, more food.  If you are one of 'those people' who take elevators you could easily gain a ton of weight on a cruise.  Stair-climbers, too, to be fair.  Several of the food areas were open 24 hours a day.  

Serenity deck:  This is for grown-ups.  Lounge chairs, wicker cabanas built for two, and hammocks that rocked to and fro lulling you to sleep as the cool Caribbean wind blows gently.  Except for windy days when they had to close it down.  This was forward, or in the front of the ship just over the Spa.

SkyCourt/SkyCourse:  This area was a sports area with basketball, pool tables, ping-pong, a ropes course, water slides, etc.  Typically the 'kids' area.  It also was home to a hot-dog stand.  

I could stop here and make all kinds of commentary about clothing.  I'll be polite and just give this brief observation:  The older and heavier a person aboard this ship, the less clothing they wore and vice versa.  Are older people more confident in their bodies or do they just not care?  No judgements here, just an observation.  

My dining experience:  For breakfast I kept things simple - fruit, boiled eggs, and peanut butter.  Lunch was hit or miss, mostly by my own lack of effort.  I did speak to the head chef and the Marketplace (Lido deck) manager who was extremely helpful.  I could eat anything in the Asian restaurant and the pasta bar cooked to order all dishes and I also met both chefs.  Selections got old after a while.  Mostly, I was just too busy to stop and eat. 

Dinner was amazing!  Our waiter made my dining experience exceptional.  He was a young man from Russia named Svetislav.  I discussed my allergy with him he went to great lengths to make sure I had great food, including desert!  In fact, every evening after dinner he gave me the next night's menu and I wrote down what I wanted.  He looked it over and gave the approval (meaning it was safe) or suggested something else.  On the third night I flipped over the paper and wrote:  
                                    CAN YOU:
                                     coconut milk, strawberries, banana, cocoa powder 
                                     and/or peanut butter.  Puree.  Freeze.

Svetislav looked it over, tilted his head from side to side and said with a wink and heavy Russian accent, "I'll see what I can do."   I had my coconut milk shake for four straight nights!  Including the night we ate in the steakhouse, which was also amazing.  

We met some great people at dinner.  A couple from Georgia, a retired couple originally from New York who were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and sweet newlyweds from Virginia who I hope to do the Princess Half marathon with next February. 

One morning I got up early to get breakfast and bring it back to the room.  I, along with other early risers, were surprised with Lido Deck Towel Zoo!  There were towel monkeys, frogs, swans, gators, penguins and other animals on deck chars, hanging from lighting, holding onto poles, sitting at the bar, and frolicking on deck.  So much fun!  

Sunsets and sunrises were beautiful.  So different from the ones seen on land.  In the morning, the sky is bright for 30-45 minutes before any trace of the sun is seen.  There were usually clouds on the horizon in the morning but I did get a few pictures of cloudless sunrises.  In the evening, the sun shines hot and bright and seems to speed up and only take minutes to dip below the pool of water that is the horizon.  

Entertainment:  This boat had a lot going on.  The ship's cruise director, Jaime Dee, was a fireball of energy jumping around in her 3-inch heels.  We didn't have kids with us so I'm not able to comment on the kids activities except for the Dr. Suess story time with Cat in the Hat.  It was hilarious.  Jamie read the story and had parents and kids act out scenes.  Even though I'm not a huge fan of stand up comedy we went to two performances which the audience seemed to enjoy.  The stage shows comprised of a group of eight performers, four male and four female plus a guitarist.  The guitarist was the best part of the entire entertainment line up.  I wish I had been able to video him.  Alas, it was not allowed.  Think of the top four rock guitarists and roll them up together.  He picked, he strummed, he wailed.  My husband was floored and that's a huge compliment.  Unfortunately, the dance routines were more ambitious than the stage could handle.  That coupled with the rocking of the boat during the first performance left me a little disappointed.  The ship, as with most had a casino. Whenever we passed through I held my breath to prevent smoke inhalation.  There was also a smaller stage for a small band and trivia games, an arcade, shopping, EA sports bar with TVs, a library, and photographers to capture your every movement.  Hmm, maybe I should apply...

Overall, I give this cruise experience an A-.  The minus is mainly for the weather, which was less than ideal (lots of wind), and the underwhelming stage shows.  They weren't bad, I was just hoping for more.  As in longer, maybe a storyline and not just song and dance.   The wait staff were perfection.  The cabin crew were all extremely polite and helpful.  I never went hungry (the candy store needed more licorice Jelly Belly, my personal preference).  

Sit back and enjoy the slide show.  Forgive me, I'm an amateur videographer.  



This is the song that I quoted in the slide show.  http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/l/littlerainmustfalla.shtml 


Colleen Wait Edits

Colleen Wait Edits

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This YouTube channel was created to add video to my blog.  Read it here:  www.colleenwaitwrites.blogspot.com.  I write about my life, my books, my family, my cats and kids, and of course travel.