Archives for July 2011

Island Hopping

 

On a hot and balmy Sunday morn, the Keller, Adams, Harvill family (including my parents, husband and our two older children) boarded the Carnival Valor at the port in Miami. 
Carnival promotes itself as the “fun ship” i.e. family friendly line and I noticed the majority of the passengers were big extended families just like ours.  The kids were giddy with excitement and it was a treat to see their glee through unjaded eyes.
As soon as we passed customs and our feet hit the deck, the kids and I went exploring.  The Valor theme is Heroes and Heroism, paying homage to the greats of our time and times past. But despite the big theme, it’s not a particularly gaudy ship. It’s actually quite opulent and grand, like the interior of a castle or an old New York brownstone manse.
We felt like Harry Potter and his pals investigating Hogwarts or Diagon Alley for the first time with magical wonders around every corner. The kids and I giggled and oohed and ahhed with each new discovery. 
There was a giant twisting water slide, a multitude of splash pools, an outdoor grill, kids and teen clubs and trendy dance parties on the agenda. Art shows, live music and the piano lounge beckoned.   The spa looked soothing and sumptuous with a well equipped gym (which I am proud to say I used). 
There were shops and bars, a sushi bar, and a coffee-house.  The casino was lively and the adult only serenity deck, (where they make the best Bloody Mary’s ever) called out to me, “Sam, there are no kids here, come lay down on my hammock and chillax.”
How could I refuse?
But my absolute favorite part of this ship was the dining room. The service was divine- the waiters made us napkin animals, they sang and danced for us and magicians strolled about doing card tricks and amusing the children.  It was elegant, blissful even, as we watched the ocean waves through the large picture windows, and then there was the food.  The food was “to die,” as my dear friend Paola likes to say.  It was decadent, rich and tantalizing with lovely presentation.
My husband, the sauce connoisseur, generally had two entrees and three appetizers nightly.
Waitor-“Please sir, your order?” “
Tim-“I would like the shrimp cocktail, cheese plate, and seafood bisque, a lobster tail, the prime rib, and for dessert-another cheese plate please.”
Good thing we were busy enough to burn off all those calories we consumed!  After a blissful day at sea, our first stop was Grand Cayman, one of three of the Cayman Islands. We took a short taxi ride to seven mile beach and were greeted with majestic jaw dropping beauty.
Because the Cayman’s are a huge financial haven for off loading tax exempt fortunes, the island has a distinct upscale edge to it. It’s a strange mixture of island paradise juxtaposed with large banking institutions. My eyes are drawn to the bizarre mix of beaches, hotels and large fortress like banks all jumbled upon each other. 
We arrive, hop out of the taxi and try to exhale without holding our breath.
It’s surreal.
The water is a crystal clear aqua blue, the sand a blinding white and coconut trees sway in the island breeze. We lounge, we swim and we order over-priced drinks from the tiki bar. It’s awesome!
Our next stop is Isla Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. As we pull in to the port I am transfixed by the sight of ships wrecked off the coast.  My mind conjures up images of violent storms, monkeys flying and total chaos.
Tim and Kyle take off to go ziplining through the rainforest while my parents, Faith and I head to the beautiful town and resort Carnival recently built next to the port. 
It’s a stunning sight with a lagoon, restaurants, private beach, gondola ride and of course, the topaz ocean and white sands surrounded by jungle.   We find a few lounge chairs under the palm trees and settle in with big blended rum and juice frothy concoctions while Faith plays for hours in the warm water. It’s hot and I’m soooo relaxed. Now this is vacation!
Next day is Belize, home to the Great Barrier Reef and islands worthy of Corona commercials. We are warned not to go anywhere in Belize without a tour and guide because of the poverty and third world conditions, which of course, we conveniently ignore.
The boat anchors about ten minutes off the coast, and we take tenders ( smaller speed boats) into the city. This is ridiculously fun because we sit outside on the boat and get splashed in waves by the warm ocean water. As we pull into Belize City, I notice colorful but decaying buildings and extreme poverty on a level we have not yet encountered. The port is heavily guarded to protect the tourists.
Only a few minutes after we arrive, there are screams and a small ruckus.  The police are called after a family walking in front of us is pick-pocketed.  We grab the kids and hold our bags tighter.  I wish I hadn’t brought my ginormous beach tote because now I am totally paranoid.
We walk to the edge of the gates and peer out. There are crowds of locals banging on the gates and yelling for our attention.  I’m kicking myself for not getting the armed guard and the advised tour. After an hour of walking around aimlessly and buying crappy trinkets we head back.  The boat ride to and from Belize was by far the most rewarding part.
I feel a bit cheated. I am missing what Belize has to offer because of our desire to scrimp and save money. I’m guessing we won’t ever come back, unless it’s on a mission’s trip or we win the lottery  Next time, if there is a next time, maybe we will actually listen to Goose the cruise director.
The last stop is Cozumel and clearly they saved the best for last for us. I have never in my life seen a more breathtaking beach.  The sand is pure white and the ocean so blue it’s as if the sky and ocean meet in an endless pool of azure.
At Chatanaab Park in Cozumel, Faith and I have paid for a date with the dolphins.  It’s a bit crazy and a little scary at first as we lower ourselves into the dolphin tank, but we end up smiling and laughing so hard my cheeks ache. 
Our dolphin Rachel kisses us on the mouth and then pulls us with her fins. She pushes our feet with her big nose and launches us high into the air on our boogie boards as we squeal in delight.  Rachel jumps in lovely arches and dances for our approval.  She is majestic and I am in awe of her dolphin glory.
Rachel has a baby dolphin that stays close by her side, mimicking her motions and learning the ropes.  It makes me sad because I miss my baby Kolby so much on this trip.  I envy Rachel’s ability to be a working mommy dolphin and keep her baby with her.
I didn’t factor in the I miss my baby so much it hurts side effect of being halfway across the world without her. During the day I am fine, because I am busy and having fun, but at night I miss her so much I cry. Only a mother understands this tension of wanting to please her husband and bond with him, while she simultaneously carries this enormous ache for her baby who can’t understand why mommy has abandoned her.
Then I am left to fall asleep, both sad and happy, rocking to the rhythm of the ocean and thinking about our crazy adventures. “Yo Ho!, Yo Ho! A pirates life for me,” plays in the back of my mind.
The funny thing about the Caribbean is the sense of danger that lurks just beneath the surface, only acknowledged at night as I mentally recap the day.
This place is untamed, wild and tropical.  The hurricanes are ferocious, the poverty is desperate and it’s hard to ignore the massive disparity of the island people and the tourists.  But mostly, there is an inherent unknown element to the vastness of the ocean and being on a boat in the middle of nowhere, no matter how big the ship is; it’s still a tad risky and I revel in it.
I fall asleep to the memories of my parent’s smiles, the kids pure joy, and the loving eyes of my husband  who is rested for the first time in ages.   

Spicy Miami

I know, I know, I disappeared.

And though I am a little bit sorry, like the kind of sorry you are when you accidently lock your husband out of the house in the wee morn in his boxer shorts (because you are a neurotic door locker afraid of wolves) and then you get in the shower and can’t hear his cries of distress and see his sad little moans and shivers from the cold. And he’s mad, really mad and you genuinely try to look sorry but inside you are laughing so hard pee is trickling down your leg.

So, it’s sort of like that, not a real big sorry, because I seriously enjoyed myself on my vacation and I can’t wipe the cheesy smile off my face, but I did miss updating my blog and feel a teeny tiny bit sorry for being a flake, sort of.

But hey, now that you have forgiven me… let me tell you about our AMAZING cruise adventure to the Caribbean islands, rainforests and beyond!

But it’s going to have to be in segments, because I am long winded and have cool pics to share.

-Miami-Day 1

After the longest known flight from here to there, compliments of frequent flier miles on Alaska airlines, (Orange County to Seattle then direct to Miami…a mere 8 hours of air time with another three hours of layover), we reached the sultriest place on earth-Miami.  I could have flown to Europe in that amount of time, but I’m not complaining dear.

Because it was a red-eye and I suffer from severe apoplectic plane anxiety, I didn’t sleep at all, not a wink, despite taking an Ambien. Sadly enough, it just made me sleepier and still paranoid. Try to imagine me eyeballing potential terrorists, whispering scripture verses, random body tremors, laying hands on the plane and anointing it with oil…get the picture?

(And yes, I am aware I some minor have control issues)

But despite my freakish fears, we miraculously survived and our dearest Honeymoon besties, whom we met on our Mediterranean cruise, Paula and Donnie picked us up at the airport and whisked us off to their beautiful home on the barrier island of Key Biscayne.  

After feeding us breakfast, we climbed into their souped up golf cart and whizzed around the island. With low profile tires and a modified engine it can reach speeds of forty miles per hour. I had to hold on tight!

We dined at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club for lunch, and then went for a tour of the island, popped our toes in the warm Atlantic Ocean and then headed to South Beach for people watching and sushi.

So here is my impression of Miami-possibly skewed by exhaustion, organic vodka and lemonade, three Starbucks and my artistic tendency to exaggerate, but this is what I took with me.

Everywhere you look there is water-ocean, lakes, swamps, and canals.  I’m guessing it’s probably because the city needs an entire ocean to itself cool off. It’s that hot, and it’s not just the temperature I’m referring too.  Skyscrapers perch on the edge of the ocean, interspersed with grandiose mansions, cruise ships, boats and about a gazillion people all jumbled together simmering in this torpid heat.

And it’s not just hot, it’s stupid hot.  It feels like a hundred degrees with a thousand wet dogs licking me. The heat is a tangible thing here. It encompasses me. I feel languid and sensual with little rivers of sweat running down my back and chest.

I am overdressed, for Miami standards, in my modest floral sundress.  I should have worn the bikini (just kidding!!!).Women walk around practically naked in booty shorts with stilettos and miniskirts and the men are dark, flamboyant and metro.  It’s culturally diverse; to say the least and I can’t tell who is what. It’s like the colors of people merge into a South American, Cuban, Latin, black and white hodgepodge of tan bodies and samba music.

South Beach is like hot sauce to the senses.. You can see it, smell it and feel the intensity.  I am overwhelmed by exposed skin, the scent of sweat laced with spicy cologne and stares from both men and women. People check each other out here.  It’s hedonistic, highly sexual and a little scary to me, like a jungle of wild untamed animals.

I keep my eyes down and follow my husband like a mouse, scared of my own fascination with the scene playing out in front of my eyes. I keep looking for Don Johnson around every corner and the music from Miami Vice plays in my head.

When Paula introduces my husband Tim and explains he is a pastor, people here stand up straighter and start confessing. Tim looks at me with mirth in his eyes and that “oh boy here we go” smile.

 A guy in Starbucks buys him a drink. Paula says it’s the Jesus thing, because Tim is so open and relational.  They are standing in line talking about patience and laughing.  I love how my husband can turn any conversation into a ministry moment, but, I am more skeptical and think the guy might be gay trying to hit on my man, so I stand my ground and make myself known. “Pastor boy is mine,” I tell him with my eyes.

We board the ship tomorrow, headed for the Cayman’s, Isla Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel; but for tonight, it’s all about the magic of old friends, the thrill of Miami heat, and the longing to escape our life so we can better appreciate it when we do return.

 And ultimately, isn’t that what vacation is all about?

 

Facebook Squabbles

I admit it, I love Facebook.  I am a total media geek addicted to the social realm.  I tweet, link, post and blog mostly on a daily basis. Usually all this talky talk is a good thing, except for when it’s not.

Let’s just say, intent and interpretation can have a vast chasm between them.

On Saturday evening, as the blessed second day of July came to a close, I decided to thank all my friends and family for my lovely birthday wishes.

So, I took a silly picture of the baby and me and posted it to Facebook. My status comment said, “Thank you, thank you for all the birthday blessings!  Thirty-nine never looked so good.”

Now, just for clarity I was in jammies. No makeup, no hair styling, just a darling baby and a blissful mommy with a heart full of gooey emotions.

My husband glanced at my post and commented, “Umm, that seems sort of vain,”

“Huh?” I replied.

“Well, it could be interpreted you think you look pretty hot for thirty-nine.” Tim suggested. “I don’t think you mean that, but some people might.”

My eyes filled with tears and spilled over onto my cheeks. “That’s not what I meant at all!

What I meant to say was –turning thirty-nine isn’t as daunting as I thought it would be.  My life is bubbling over with precious riches like my toddler, tween and teenager. I don’t feel old; I feel twenty-nine with ten extra years of wisdom.”

“Ok” he said. “I understand your intent but other people might not.”

I lurched for my laptop and angrily deleted my post. I thought about trying to reword it but all my attempts sounded pathetic.

“Umm, yeah… I don’t mean I look hot for thirty-nine. I mean, I don’t look bad, actually, I think I look pretty good for birthing three kids, but I didn’t mean –aren’t I hot? But, if you think I’m pretty, that’s ok too, because it’s nice to feel attractive, but I wasn’t looking for a compliment or trying to brag all over Facebook like I’m some sort of diva.”

I admit I’m vain, but not that vain.

Right. Delete seemed to be the best option.

Over a yummy margarita and chips on Sunday at Casa Ranchera (yes it’s my favorite restaurant); I shared my Facebook tale with some of my closest friends, relative newlyweds who are beginning the journey of navigating marriage.

The husband laughed with a knowing look of insight and said-“Facebook causes more arguments than anything. We spent a whole counseling session over a misunderstanding regarding a picture my wife posted. “

He thought the picture portrayed him in an unflattering and possibly angry light. She thought it was funny. Then he really did get angry and she got hurt.

Bamm! $150 bucks on Facebook therapy.

I’ve learned the hard way, as in some counseling sessions of my own, not to write about my husband or post on my blog without his approval (as a pastor he doesn’t approve of the humor or shock value in some of the stuff I find hysterical, like an occasional well placed bad word, his unedited opinions and anything remotely sexual.

Social media inevitably leads to social conflict.

The beauty (or maybe the detriment) of Facebook  is that it reflects ordinary life, with all the misunderstandings between men and women.  But the old petty arguments are now  magnified in front of five hundred of our closest friends. What used to be an annoying slip of the tongue now morphs into a media fiasco.

Maybe in this new social planet, some things are simply better left unsaid, at the very least edited, or if it’s really funny…maybe worth a little squabble.

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