Monthly Archives: February 2013

Night Run

I get back to the house, shoulders thrown back, I unzip my sweatshirt and slow to a walk, cooling down. Slam the door on the way in, and when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I can feel my heart thump. I feel alive.

I had a bad feeling about tonight’s run. Probably just nerves. It’s been a while since I’ve run, longer since I’ve taken one at night. But I bring my new tazer anyway. It’ll probably pass for a flashlight. No reason to scare the neighbors.

Wearing black on the bottom, navy on the top, with a little reflective tape on my feet- I need the flashlight just so I can show cars where I am. ‘Try to hold the light steady on the ground in front of me as I walk down the front steps, break into a jog, avoiding the cracks in the pavement, getting my feet under me. It takes half a block to find my gait, and then my feet feel sure, like paws gripping the ground- that’s it. When I’ve got my breath I feel fine, but as soon as I get on the track the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. The blood rushing in my ears makes it hard to hear. Is that my own footsteps echoing back at me, or someone following me? Was that scuff of the gravel a noise I made, or not? A dog barks, and my shoulders jump imperceptibly. I’m on edge. I stop. Take a breath. Turn around and just look. Heart slows, breathing quiets. Nobody but me out here. I turn the flashlight off and activate the tazer. It has a red LED that stops killing my night vision. I turn it over and point the light at the ground, start again. Now I don’t hear an echo of my footsteps. I pick up the pace up the steep slope, as always, and my blood is rushing in my ears again. I can’t hear, and I feel vulnerable. Can’t hear, can’t see. I don’t like this one bit. Almost run off the path. Turn the flashlight back on, startle at some playground equipment that looms. Almost done with my first pass of the track. It takes two. Flash of brilliance. I’m going to run the second lap back the way I came. If there’s someone behind me, I’ll run right into them. Better that way anyway. Now feeling like the hunter, my pace quickens, and my teeth show. Flashlight shining, I take the second lap quicker than the first. No stops, precious little slows. And the uphill I take at an absolute sprint, grinning like a demon.

Red light on for the second half of the second lap. I know this ground now. This is my house. My track. Just try and take it from me. I dare you.

I turn on the flashlight as I come back to the road, to let the cars know where I am. No sense alarming the neighbors.

I come into my home parking lot, shoulders thrown back, and unzip my sweatshirt.

My house.

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Words of Wisdom

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

-Barbara Kingsolver

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Cruise January 2013 – Day 10 – Disembarkation and the drive home

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Day 10 – Monday:

Seven am rolled around, and with it, the need to haul my sand-filled eyes open, and get out of the Very soft bed that made my whole body ache the entire trip. Neither Gene nor I slept very soundly on that very expensive, very soft mattress. The sheets weren’t as soft as ours at home, and the bed didn’t support us the way our straw mattress does, so I would wake up every morning having had bad dreams of no particular import (zombies, etc.)  and be sore all over. It didn’t help that there was no natural light to help our bodies’ clocks wake us up naturally. Left to our own devices, we would probably have slept at least nine hours a night, and not felt rested even so. Thank goodness for good coffee.

So I got up first, as I generally do, and took my shower, and put on the clothes I’d left out the night before, and tucked the last few things into the bag I’d left open for them the night before. Gene woke up half an hour later, and we were ready in plenty of time, which was good, because when we stepped out the door to go wait in the Centrum for the rest of our party to stumble out their doors, there was a bill on the floor of the hallway with a bonus $50 charge for pool towels not returned, which we had in fact returned. So we went to the customer service desk to get that sorted (easily done, it turns out), and finally to meet up with the family for breakfast. Mom had organized it so that we were allowed to leave our carry-on luggage in our rooms while we ate breakfast, an extra hour and a half of leeway. So we did, and I was too nervous to eat much besides granola and milk. Coffee was appreciated, though. And post-breakfast, we all trooped back to get our things, and carried them, winding through long lines of people snaking all over the centrum, who were waiting to exit the ship (the first people off are the ones who checked no luggage, so they just walk off as soon as the ship has been cleared by port authorities for disembarkation.)

We wandered up to the upper-level formal dining room, to sit at a table, and drink coffee, and chat aimlessly until our disembarkation number was called (39). Sir John and Lady Honor had been assigned the same waiting area, and I introduced John to my family (the lady was talking on her cell to her son- who John thinks is a mama’s boy). He made the appropriate social noises, and later on, I wandered over to talk to lady Honor about her team for the Golden Rose Tournament. She told me that she had been talking to John even before they got on the cruise, about how she was hoping to get Syr Justus for her team, as he had really impressed her when they met at a crown tourney. Evidently, someone new to the SCA had asked him what this “crown tourney thing” was all about, and he took time out of his day to instruct them and describe the event. She was so impressed, the day stuck in her mind, so when they moved to Atlantia and she was charged with putting together a team for this tourney, it was incredibly lucky that his squire just happened to be on the same cruise ship as they were, and John just happened to strike up a conversation with Gene about the SCA, who likes to brag on his squire wife.

I am so lucky : )

In any case, eventually our number was called, and we made our way to the gangway (which is, if you can imagine, a square spiral ramp going down the several stories to ground level, inside a framework coated with what looks like saran wrap, to keep out the cold.) Eventually, we got to ground level, and waited in a quick-moving line to see a customs agent so we could be officially let back into the country.

A search through a huge hangar for our checked bags, and a heavy (but blessedly short) walk out to the pick-up area, putting the bags in the car and then a 45 minute ride home that just FLEW by, we had so many stories to tell, and Dee had so many polite questions, he kept us talking the whole time. I was so surprised to see our neighborhood when we pulled in!

Thank goodness we cleaned the house before we left. Walking into our bedroom was a little déjà-vu, as the set up is almost identical to that of our stateroom. Gene had it bad, because he did the unfortunate JUMP onto the bed, which is NOT soft, and he was quite surprised!

Laundry in the wash, pizza ordered, drinks made with our duty-free rum, and now we start the process of re-acclimating to a world where the food is NOT prepared for us all day long, and nobody does our dishes or makes our bed, and where if you want dance lessons or a day at the beach, you have to pay people money and arrange a ride and a dozen other things.  We especially missed the sunshine, and a long walk outside helped a lot, even though we were all bundled up against the cold, and the sunshine was grey and thin, compared to the tropics. The saving grace of the real world is all the digital media and internet we can sink our teeth into. That, and in the real world, the bed feels amazing, and after seven and a half hours of sleep I felt so rested and restless, I was up before my work alarm, not sore, no nightmares. Thank goodness : )

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Cruise January 2013 – Day 9 – Tidying Up

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Day 9 – Sunday

Today is the last full day of the cruise, the day for everyone to tidy up paperwork, and pepper the poor harried staff with questions. Gene and I spent some time this day in and out of the pool and hot tub. Sir John and Lady Honor wandered by to say hi (why do they always appear while I’m in the hot tub?) but hustled off because it was cold and windy out on the deck. It was kind of fun to test our mettle by getting out of the nice cozy hot tub and jump in the relatively cool pool, dive and play for a minute, then get back into the (now burning hot) hot tub. I absolutely wanted to get as much sun as possible before going back to winter and totally covered skin and no Vitamin D.

Dinner was come-as-you-are, which was good, because I was tired of dressing up. So I wore jeans and a T-shirt to dinner, possibly flaunting some rule or other, but I didn’t care on this, the last night of the cruise. We gave our envelopes of tip money to the head waiter, our table waiter, and his assistant Murat (leaving one in a lock box with guest services for our stateroom attendant). And I wrote sweet notes to Murat and Sandro, and put their tips in decorative cards I’d bought to send folks as new year cards.

After dinner, it was time to pack all the bags, and put the bags we wanted to check out in the hallway before they came around at midnight to pick them up. “checking a bag” on a cruise ship means porters take it on a big metal cart to who-knows-where, and later it appears where you’re going to be (in your stateroom at the beginning of the cruise, and in an organized line in what looks like an airplane hangar next to the parking lot when it’s time to leave). It also means worry, because you have to tag it with special sticker tags they provide, and you have to carefully pack them, because you know it’ll be roughly handled, AND you need to have your name on the bag somewhere, in case the provided tag gives up the ghost, and it’s a good idea to tie a big piece of ridiculous ribbon to the handle, so you can find your bags in a sea of bags that look just like them, in a giant hangar. (We used fat Christmas ribbon with an unseemly amount of glitter on it. Thank goodness! Someone had luggage in the exact same pattern, and had tied plain red ribbon on theirs.)  You don’t Have to check any bags at all, but on the cruise, I was changing clothes three times a day, and that’s a lot of clothes, considering laundry service is comparatively expensive. ($25 for a small bag)

So we ordered room service, to make sure we had something to nibble while we packed, and finished packing, and got to bed after midnight. Probably 1am. 

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Cruise January 2013 – Days 7 and 8 – Cruising Home

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Days  7 and 8 – Cruising Home

At 3:30 pm yesterday, the captain came on the loudspeakers, and told us we were 2,400 miles from Baltimore, and we would be travelling there at full speed starting now. It was so sad! I was so glad the number was so high.

For two days, we got into a bit of a routine, having breakfast in the formal dining room with a table full of random folks, hitting the hot tub and the pool, taking a shower to get the chlorine/salt off (one pool is a salt pool, the other a chlorine pool), and then heading up to the Viking lounge on deck 11 for quiet book reading. One day I took off to get some time in the gym, and Gene waited in our stateroom, reading his book, until I returned. The cruise ship had run out of signature glasses, so our drinks were $2.50 cheaper, but still delicious, as we dulled the pain of our vacation ending with ridiculously tall mixed drinks in various flavors. Our books ran out, but we were so relaxed, we hardly cared. I’d brought my kindle, so I started another Terry Pratchett novel. Gene played with his iPad when he could remember to charge it, took a book out of the ship’s library when he couldn’t.

We went to a Q&A session in the Orpheum Theater with the captain and top officers, where two or three servers ran around the audience with microphones, letting folks ask questions of the officers- mostly smart, one kind of whiny “Why don’t we have the major television networks on our stateroom televisions!?” but generally interesting. I learned that to fill up the gas tank on a cruise ship costs around $750,000. and that the ship takes about 100 gallons to go a mile. They showed a video on how the ship was expanded (pretty cool) and the captain talked about how he’d gotten to BE a captain of a cruise ship (my question), and had some tart opinions on the media coverage of the rival cruise company’s cruise ship disaster- where the captain cowardly refused to get back on the ship to help the efforts to save the passengers. Captain Gus wanted us to remember that although 60 people died, over 4,000 were saved by the heroic efforts of many people. So while a few people were screwing up big time, many many people were doing just what they should be doing.

Captain Gus has an accent that makes him sound remarkably similar to Walter, the heavy fighter that comes to Haven practices from Germany. Walter sounds this way because he is German and French. Captain Gus is from the Netherlands. *shrug* he also LOOKS like a “Gus”. Like he should be the cook and owner of a greasy spoon somewhere, with a dirty white apron tied around that big belly. He has an amazingly calming voice, however, and had a quick wit too. “How does one come to be the captain of a cruise ship?” – Pause – “Well, it’s a three week course… I’ve only got one more week to go.” (and one of the other officers chimes in) “Yes, and when you’re done, I’d like my Nintendo back.”

Everyone was surprised when the “Compass” (the ship’s daily publication- which had ads and specials of the day and the schedule of all the activities on and off ship) declared day 8 a third formal night. All our sources had led us to believe there would be only two. Luckily, I had brought the cruise ‘uniform’ and kept it back out of the rotation, so it was still clean- a sparkly shirt and and black formal pants/skirt (I had both, but chose the pants, because all my black pantyhose were dirty). I think if you don’t bring enough formalwear, they just roll you in glitter until you’re good. I totally understand, though, why all the middle aged and older women wear sparkly shirts and flowing pants. They’re like pajamas! So totally comfortable.  And when you’re eating ridiculous amounts of rich food for a week and a half straight, a girl straight up needs a set of formal pajamas.  The pictures don’t come out so well, though. 

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Cruise January 2013 – Day 6 – Whale Watching in The Dominican Republic

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Day 6 – Thursday, February 1st

This morning, the plan was to go whale watching in the Dominican Republic

The night before was a formal night at dinner, so I had worn my black velvet clinging strappy gown. After dinner, we had meant to go to see a professional illusionist and his hot blonde wife/assistant at the Orpheum Theater, but I had been having some nausea issues with the ship tossing since we left port that afternoon. Sitting bolt upright is one of the Worst positions in terms of causing nausea, and as you can imagine, the seats in the theater don’t recline. The theater is also located at the far end of the ship, so it moves quite a bit more than our stateroom. Since we’d gotten the time of the show wrong, and arrived forty five minutes early, I would have been miserable by the time the show even started, so we went back to the room, and as one might expect, laying flat on my bed in a dark room at night with a belly full of food, I fell asleep  : )

Before we passed out, we ordered breakfast, to be delivered the next day (this morning) some time between 8 and 8:30am. This way, we could leave our room at 9 with plenty of time. This was not how it played out. Despite our calls and questions, breakfast arrived at 9:02, thirty seconds before our names were called to get on the little boat that was going to ferry us to shore- The Dominican Republic.

This port of call is lovely, but does not have a deep enough harbor to accommodate our big ol’ cruise ship. So the cruise ship must sit a ways offshore, and ferry us to the docks in its little boats. Each boat in an emergency could hold 150 people, packed in like sardines. This morning we were going to shore in groups of about 30-40.

They warned us that we could get very wet during our boat trips, and it might be sensible to wear a bathing suit. So I wore my bikini and a pair of jeans, knowing the pants might get soaked, but not wanting a horrible sunburn from the near-equatorial sunshine. It rained quite a bit that day, but the rain was so fine, almost like a mist, and the sun so warm, we hardly minded.

The moment we got off onto the dock, there were locals who wanted to shake the money tree and get some out of the tourists. Some wanted to sell tours of the island (motorcycle tour, walking tour, horseback tour up trails to a natural waterfall, little six person trolleys pulled by motorcycle, etc.) There were locals with drums, and a child painted and dressed in traditional costume that danced for the tourists walking by, hoping for tips. For some reason that one really bothered me.  There were children with flowers or shells who would try to give you a flower, then pester you for money if you took it. One group of children followed us for half a block shouting insults in Spanish when we didn’t want their flower.

In any case, we were not pestered while in the company of our tour guide, but HE was pestered. Every local asked him the same question in Spanish “Where are you taking them?” and he would answer “The water.”

He did indeed take us to the water, to another dock not too far away, and onto a boat already almost full of other whale-watchers. It was a quick little fiberglass speed boat with open sides and a roof, and it hit the waves like it just didn’t care, riding up them like ramps, then crashing down on the far side. This was kind of fun for the first ten minutes, sort of okay if I stared at the horizon for the next ten minutes, and for the rest of the trip I was in absolute misery. I’d brought plenty of gallon-sized heavy-duty zip lock bags to keep my stuff dry, and ended up using one of them as a barf bag, which I’m sure was less than ideal for the other passengers around me. The tour did end a little early, but not because of my sea-sickness, thank goodness. One poor Frenchman exploded from both ends, much to the dismay of the people sitting around him, and the poor guy ended up miserably attempting to hang both his front and his backside off the edge of the boat while at the same time not falling out! The captain tried to encourage him to get back in the boat for a while, but eventually folks managed to explain the situation to him, and he decided to cut our tour short and head back in, dropping the majority of folks at their lunch destination, but dropping me and my party (my whole family decided to end the tour early with me) and the poor Frenchman and his friends off at the dock to make our way home. Once we got back to the dock, Chris and Nico decided to go on another tour with another local, this one a motorcycle-powered pedi-cab off to a hike up to a waterfall, and then a swim in the natural pools beneath. They said they felt pretty out of control, since they had no idea where they were after a while, and no idea where they were being taken. A pretty intolerable situation to my taste, but they said it all worked out fine, and they had a good time, and came to dinner that night tan and happy and full of stories. 

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Cruise January 2013 – Day 5 – Fort Frederik and the Virgin Islands

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Day 5 – Wednesday, January 30th  –  A tour from dad of Fort Frederik, in the Virgin Islands

We got off the ship, walking onto a Huge long concrete pier, and my jaw metaphorically dropped at the sheer SIZE of everything. The pier was huge, the pylons were huge, the ROPES were huge, because the Ship was Absolutely GIGANTIC.  I was sort of shielded from seeing it from the outside on our original boarding, but now, walking next to it toward shore, I got a chance to marvel at the sheer size of the thing. I took Lots of video, because I was kind of shocked.

Looking toward the shore, there were lots of unfamiliar trees, and low buildings, many made of painted brick. There was one that seemed a bit bigger than the rest-  I found out shortly that this was Fort Frederik, which had a cool history, and was even Cooler in person.

Walking onto shore, we were guided by very polite armed, uniformed security personnel to a central walking path, flanked on either side by pretty palm trees, with roads to either side for incoming and outgoing trucks and vehicles, which I assume were supplying the ship. There were tall walls and equally tall gates at these three entry points to the pier, and lots of armed security walking around in their navy blue with their brown leather holsters, pistols on hips. The town had obviously been gentrified in this area, and along the shore to our right was a long thin park, carefully manicured, planted with tame trees and dotted with benches and statues. Staff moseyed along inside it, with clipboards, giving surveys to tourists, asking how we had liked the town, what they could do better, etc. It was surreal.

To the left, there was a tiny market, where a few hand-picked vendors sold overpriced knock-offs to tourists, overwrought (I have to assume) with the fun of bartering on foreign soil for fake Gucci and knee-length sarongs. We skipped this ostensible “fun”, and went on to the red-painted brick fort, sitting on a hill right on the water.

Walking into the courtyard of Fort Frederik, I was immediately struck by how everything was either Way too big, or way too small. Doors were HUGE or tiny, and there was a few links of gigantic chain still bolted to the ground. The flagstones were laid in a time (dad explained) when brick was still made by hand- shoving the mix into the molds by hand, which resulted in a much softer brick, which is why it felt so nice under our feet. The sun was shining down with near-equatorial frankness, and the dusty red brick underfoot looked white in the full sun, dark red in the shadows. Plaques on the walls here and there told us that This room was used as ammunition storage, That room was a prison. There was one small door which was labeled “Solitary Confinement”, and contained a room with damp corners, and a ceiling that I could kneel and still touch with my hand.

We learned about the slave revolution- how the several thousand slaves on the island gathered together and came to the governor of the island- who was faced with the decision of freeing them, or having them  burn the town to the ground.  He sensibly declared them free, and there are paintings and statues everywhere of the “general” of the slaves, the leader who led the successful insurrection. If the paintings are correct, he was facially (and height-wise) anatomically improbable, and had stolen someone else’s clothes.

There were several rooms we were allowed to just wander in to. One of them a museum to the time period in which this insurrection occurred. I took SO many pictures of a reproduction of a headsman’s axe- which was a very interesting length and construction. I want one!

One room was obviously set up as if it had been lived in by a noble. It had three beautiful hardwood cradles, and it SMELLED like worked wood. Lovely. I took pictures of everything- the writing table, the piano, the four poster bed, the art, everything. So cool.

We poked into all the corners of the fort, even climbing up on top and playing with the cannons pointed at the harbor (they had a great view of any ships coming that way) with Dad talking the whole time about it’s history.  Owned by the Netherlands in World War I, bought by the USA to keep it from being bought by the Germans. We paid Millions of dollars for it, and the locals were Not best pleased when the US navy came up and took over their historic fort and started bolting stuff to it, replacing the guns, etc.

After the fort, we took a walk through town, with dad talking about how the town had been burned down by three young women protesting labor issues in the early 1900’s, and that is why this Carribbean town was absolutely Full of Victorian-style houses and architecture. It’s because the last time it was re-built from scratch, that’s what was in style. The town has been flattened by hurricane after hurricane since then, and it’s share of earthquakes too, but continues to be repaired and rebuilt in this Victorian style for some reason, although the outer buildings are mostly brick or poured concrete, with metal gratings for windows, because glass cannot survive the gale-force winds and the debris they carry. They’re still painted gaudy Victorian colors, too. Pink and blue and green and yellow, pale purple and crazy orange. The one thing which was really weird was the cars. You’d see a street lined with buildings that were obviously being repaired with whatever came to hand, a mangy dog panting on the street, an old guy sitting on a white plastic chair renting weird little tiny four wheeled vehicles to tourists, and a café who’s claim to fame was “free air conditioning”, and then there were all these new American cars parked and driving on the street. Expensive pickup trucks, etc. I couldn’t figure out why this was, and frankly, I was a little afraid to ask.

Anyway, after stopping in a kitsch shop to buy a $5 T-shirt from a very polite female shopkeeper, we made our way back to the long unnaturally clean park, and dutifully filled out a survey on a clipboard for a very earnest young lady, then walked back along the water toward the ship, listening to the waves and the wind in the palm trees, and an unusually musical solo by a guy standing in the shade across the street playing the triangle.

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