Florence (and Pisa)

Although Pisa is in parentheses, it actually was the reason for this excursion. After the fiasco that was Rome, we seriously discussed cancelling our other planned excursions. But we knew that Sean had his heart set on seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so we decided we would take our chances with this excursion and cancel our train tour of Nice the following day to remain on the ship. Guest services gets very anxious when you cancel an excursion. And when you tell them you are cancelling it due to a bad experience in Rome, well, then they want to know all about it. As in, they set up a meeting with you and the head of entertainment, which encompasses excursions, and he wants to hear all about what went wrong in Rome. And he is extremely apologetic and gives you a full refund of the Nice excursion, even though generally excursions are non-refundable after a certain point.

So. Florence. Our tour guide was also a woman, and we think she was a retired school teacher. She had her attendance list, and if at any point the number of her flock did not add up, she literally took attendance to determine who was missing! Her accent was much easier to understand but I still found I seemed to be missing some key points. For example, the Ponte Vecchio. It seemed to be extremely significant, but I completely missed the WHY? But I was a good tourist and took a photo of it regardless. This was a city tour, and I think Florence needs much more than a half day to be fully appreciated. She pointed out museums and art galleries, and I could sense Stephen itching to sneak off and explore an art gallery or five, but alas, it was not to be. Our Border Collie guide herded us along most efficiently. We saw religious statues, churches, a cathedral or two, bridges, museums, galleries and much more – just all from the outside, though I believe we did go in one church. Lunch is what I remember best about Florence. Well, lunch and the overwhelming crowds. We had the option to have her make us a reservation at a little restaurant she recommended (as in, she got a kickback from the owner, who was probably her cousin). We figured that was the safest option, rather than trying to find something on our own, and I’m so glad we did that. The restaurant had several little rooms, all interconnected and we were seated in a small back room where there were about 7 tables. The waitress came to take our drink order and Sean and I both asked for Diet Coke – actually, Coke Light, as it is known in Europe. We had commented the day before that we had had no difficulty finding Diet Coke in any of the restaurants. No one had come back at us with that annoying “Is Diet Pepsi OK?” Until Florence. That poor waitress. We asked for our Coke Light and for the first time in Europe we heard, “Is Pepsi Light ok?” All three of us burst out laughing, much to her confusion. We ordered our lunch and admired the decor while we waited. One thing we kept noticing was that the lights would periodically go off, then come back on. We realized it happened only when someone went to the bathrooms at the back of the room. We concluded it must be because the light switch was confusing and people thought they were turning on the bathroom light when they were actually turning off the room lighting. Lunch was delicious. Sean and I both had spaghetti and meatballs and thoroughly enjoyed it. After dinner I braved the bathroom light situation – and just like everyone else, turned off the main lighting by mistake! One would think the switch right outside the bathroom door would be for the bathroom?  No, no it’s not.

After lunch we had free time to explore, and then it was back to our bus to make our way to Pisa. Now, truthfully, I’m not quite sure what, exactly, I expected of Pisa. But somehow it didn’t quite measure up to what I had anticipated. We were dropped off at the outskirts of a pedestrian area and left to make our own way to the site. Easy enough to do – just follow the general flow of humanity. We came round a corner and there in a big open field were the three buildings – baptistry, cathedral and bell tower. And thousands of tourists. We walked along the roadway towards the leaning tower, but decided it was just too far along to go any further in the heat. We took the requisite shots of each of us holding up the tower and agreed to head back in search of ice cream. Our guide gathered us all up, herded us all on the bus and blessedly let us fall asleep on the way back to our ship.

The next day, while everyone else romped off to Nice, we stayed aboard the ship and relaxed and enjoyed the amenities. And unfortunately, the next day was back to Barcelona and off the ship. We spent that night in Barcelona and headed for home the next day, our thrilling European vacation now just memories of wonderful shared experiences.

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I’m going to start by warning you that I don’t have much good to say about Rome. It was not the most pleasant day. Most of the issues were caused by our guide who seemed determined to lose the whole lot of us anywhere along the way. Most group tour guides in Europe carry something tall to make them stand out from the crowd – an umbrella, or a selfie stick extended with something dangling from the top. Our tour guide was an ancient Italian lady who stood all of 5 feet tall. She was dressed in beige and carried a tiny beige umbrella which she didn’t seem to think necessary to actually open and hold up. It tended to rest about shoulder height on her. Note – she was wearing beige. The umbrella was beige. If you look at pictures you will see that 90% of the architecture in Rome is also beige. She was an expert at camouflage. She vanished against the backdrop of old buildings. She also seemed intent on leaving us behind. Stay tuned for more on that.

Our first destination was the Trevi Fountain, which I was quite eager to see. It was closed. Yep, closed for renovations, all blocked off with scaffolding. Why did they even bother taking us there? Apparently so our guide could stop for ice cream. “You have free time to explore. I will be in ice cream store. We will meet at the church.” This was accompanied by a hand wave generally encompassing the entire square – and four separate churches. Then she vanished. Poof, no more tour guide. We spent our free time in the square wandering from church to church, avoiding the sidewalk salesmen desperately trying to unload selfie sticks for only 5 euros. We peeked into the ice cream store, but with its beige walls we couldn’t have seen the guide even if she had still been inside. More of our tour group began collecting and we tried to figure out which church she meant. Finally we stationed representatives at every church, with instructions to call the rest of us if she showed up. Which she did, eventually, as she sort of materialized out of the shadow of a beige wall, and our much relieved flock headed off to the next stop.

That next stop was the Roman Forum. Now, I’m a bit hazy on my Roman history, and I keep meaning to look up what, exactly, the Roman forum was, because goodness knows I didn’t learn anything about it from our guide! She had rather a shrill, old lady voice and her accent was much more pronounced than our previous day’s guide, and quite frankly, all of us were experiencing great difficulty understanding her. Part way through the Forum I just gave up and pulled the earphones out so I didn’t have to try to decipher what she was saying. I spent my time instead focusing on following her without falling flat on my face. That beige, low-riding umbrella was nearly impossible to see against the beige buildings, and we were walking along uneven cobblestones, which necessitated watching one’s feet quite closely. The pattern became watch the feet, look up, find the umbrella, glance at the building, look quickly back down at the feet. All through the Forum. As we were leaving the Forum, she pointed out a lookout spot where “is popular to take photos. You take photos, I wait here by trees.” And she waved rather vaguely at a grouping of trees about a block away. Obediently, our entire group turned their backs on her to take photos. Which was her signal to turn and flee. Luckily, Stephen didn’t trust her, so he followed her along the path, down to the trees, around the trees, and around a freaking corner to disappear in a throng of tourists! At the tree line he yelled for me to come because she wasn’t stopping! I in turn yelled at our group that the guide was leaving, and I raced after Stephen, who was keeping the fleeing guide in sight. After turning yet another corner, she finally stopped and some of the group caught up to her, at which point she had the nerve to say, “Oh, so few. Where are the others?” Um…waiting for you back at the trees, like you told them to?

I think we had lunch in here somewhere, but I have to admit, I simply cannot remember – no, wait, it’s coming back. It was a pizza and burger restaurant, upstairs, with long tables and there was a set menu that was included with our tour. I seem to recall that the food was good, but there was nothing really outstanding – no, wait, wasn’t this the place with the statues of Obama and Putin dressed as ancient Romans? Yes, yes it was! And Sean had his photo taken next to them. Yes, that was lunch in Rome, I remember now. The tour guide was nowhere around for lunch. Well, maybe she was, but since the walls were beige there too – well, you know how she could blend in.

Next stop was the Colosseum. For me, this was the highlight of Rome. Luckily, Stephen and I had watched an amazing Discovery channel documentary all about the Colosseum and knew what was what, because once again I had to pull out my earphones since I couldn’t make head nor tails of what she was crackling through them. The Colosseum was packed with tourists, and it truly didn’t take much imagination to transport myself back in time. All the people milling around me were suddenly dressed in togas, and there was an air of excitement in the air as we made our way into the seating area to find our seats for the upcoming spectacle. Shaking my head, I came back to the present just in time to see the tour guide duck sharply into a side alcove where she hid while our group filed on past, carried by the flow of bodies around us. Stephen nodded at me that he had seen her hide as well, so we waited by her alcove for her to emerge, and when she did, we continued following her. The Colosseum was everything I’d imagined it would be. History right there in front of me. I could touch the stones touched by thousands of Ancient Romans and place my hand on a piece of history. I loved it.

We managed to follow our guide out of the Colosseum and to the edges of Vatican City, only suffering a couple near losses as she ducked into yet another alcove and zipped around a corner, turning left after she told us she would be turning right. By this point there was a great deal of grumbling and growling from our tour group, and I sincerely think that had the tour lasted much longer the guide would have been in serious danger. However, this was the point at which she left us on our own to enjoy free time in the Vatican. Our journey back to the bus and ship would be supervised by a different hostess who had actually been with us all day, but who seemed equally skilled at camouflage and vanishing techniques. The Vatican was – well, the Vatican. There were throngs of people everywhere, and huge lineups for the Sistine Chapel etc. None of that was high on our list of “must do’s” so we opted to enjoy some ice cream and sit in the shade in St Peter’s Square and just enjoy people-watching. There is a portable post office set up in the Square so you can send postcards with the Vatican City postmark. Sean considered sending his dad a postcard, but we hadn’t taken any addresses with us, so he couldn’t.

At the appointed time we made our way back to the pre-set meeting point and followed the hostess – wherever it was we followed her to. And this, my friends, is why I really need to blog trips immediately after the trip because I forget little details like how we got from the Vatican City to a bus which took us back to the port and our ship. And thus, that tidbit of information has been forgotten, never to be recorded in the annals of history.

Next stop, Florence. I think. Yes, I’m sure.


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Naples (aka Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii)

I wanted to write about Christmas in the Dominican, but really can’t until I’ve updated the summer holiday in Europe. At least, in my orderly, chronologically progressing Leo mind I can’t.

The first day on the ship was spent at sea, and we spent it relaxing, enjoying our balcony and finding our way around the ship. And buying an engagement ring.

The second day we woke bright and early, ready for our first excursion day. We docked at Naples, and our excursion encompassed Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii. We reached Capri by boat and took a funicular ride up (notice, we’re still doing the “up” thing!) to the top of the hill. The view from the top was magnificent – the city built into the hillside sloping gradually down to the harbour with that beautiful Mediterranean blue sea. I’m not quite sure what exactly we were supposed to be seeing here, as our primary destination seemed to be a garden which, while it was lovely, wasn’t necessarily worth the boat ride to get here. However, I can now say I’ve been to Capri. Next boat ride took us off to Sorrento, another hillside town. This time a bus took us up (there’s that “up” again!) to the top. We toured a factory making beautiful inlaid wood furniture and had free time for lunch. We sat at an outside cafe and had a delicious lunch while we watched the tourists flock by. “Flock” is the operative word – Italy was the place to be this summer, apparently.

After lunch we were bused off to Pompeii. This was the main reason for booking the excursion. I’ve read so much about Pompeii that to be able to actually see it was so exciting. Our tour guide this day was amazing. A spry elderly gentleman with the patience of Job. He answered everyone’s questions, shared so much information, and was calm and unruffled the whole day. We wore earphones and receivers so we could hear what he was saying into his microphone – so much more civilized than trying to crowd round to hear him yelling – and he always told us in which direction he would be heading and where he would wait, and he followed it up with a laid back “Do not rush. There is no hurry. It is hot. Take your time.”

His lecture theme in Pompeii was that everything new is actually old. We think we have the market cornered on new ideas but we don’t. Pompeii had speed bumps to slow the carriages down as they came into town. Pompeii had fast food restaurants where you could pick up dinner on the way home. Pompeii had refreshment bars where you could get a cold drink on a hot day. Pompeii even had servants who would carry your purchases home after a long day of shopping. And Pompeii had graffiti. What Pompeii did not have however, was longevity, and as we know, the city was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which even today can be seen shadowing the city. This was my favourite tour of the entire cruise. The guide brought history to life and made us realize we were walking on ground where others had tread so many years before. Wonderful day.

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In Which Our Author Offers A Most Humble Apology

Well, she would offer an apology if she thought it really mattered to anyone that she hasn’t updated her blog in – oh, 3 freaking months! But since it has taken 3 months for anyone to even NOTICE that she hasn’t updated her blog, (thank you, Sean!) she’s not concerning herself with an apology. So there.

An awful lot has gone on in three months. I think I’d need to be blogging nearly every day to catch up, but I suppose since I’m not training anymore, I’ll have some time to do just that! Yeah, you heard that right. In December I quit my trainer’s position with Sharps. The official reason is that now that Stephen and I are married I will be doing more to help him with navigation, book-keeping and basic truck stuff in general. The real reason why I quit is not going to be put in print for all to read. Sorry. So I’m back to cheerfully just driving my bus morning and afternoon, and have even been picking up some charters here and there. And I’m happy with that.

Over Christmas we all trooped down to the Dominican Republic but that will be a separate blog entry, I think.

In January all hell broke loose out in Edmonton with Brianna and James. I am still steaming about this one, so I think I’ll make this blog entry primarily about that and get it off my mind as much as I can.

Background – James and his mom had been rather estranged, but reconciled and he visited her several summers ago, which is what led to him deciding to head out there when he turned 18 to move into her basement. With Brianna.

It all started out swimmingly enough. His mom helped them find jobs within the first week and took them to the license bureau so Brianna could change her license over, and so that James could write his test for the Alberta equivalent of Ontario’s G1 license. I was a bit taken aback to learn she was planning to charge them $600 per month rent for two rooms and a bathroom in her basement. I wasn’t quite sure how she expected them to “get ahead” when she was taking such a large chunk of their income, but the kids seemed ok with it so I kept my mouth shut.

I guess the first hint that there might be a problem was how she handled teaching James to drive. Basically, she didn’t. In my books, a parent has the responsibility to ensure their kid learns to drive. It’s a huge step towards independence and increases their employability. If I remember correctly, her husband took James out once and said he would never do it again because James “treated it like a video game”. I have no idea what happened, but keep in mind it was the first time he’d been behind the wheel of a car in his life. And, if the parent isn’t willing to teach the kid how to drive, then it’s the parent’s job to find someone else to do it, like perhaps a driving school? And since the kids had no extra money to pay for driving school because it was being sucked away in rent, perhaps Mom should’ve used a portion of that rent money to invest in James’ future by paying for driving school. It’s what I would’ve done. But no. So now, nearly two years later, James still cannot drive. Brianna can’t teach him because she does not yet have the equivalent of our full G class license. So that’s Mom’s first failure. If you don’t count gouging your kid for rent money. If you do, then it’s the second failure.

The next problem surfaced when she started messaging me whining about how the kids kept their rooms a mess and didn’t clean the kitchen and were unappreciative and disrespectful. The kids claimed that since they knew how anal she was about cleanliness they were diligent in cleaning up the kitchen after themselves. I can’t really comment on that because I wasn’t there. I don’t know what was going on. But my gut reaction was – hey, they’re kids, teenagers, really. Get over it. Make your expectations clear. It’s not my problem.

Then the family moved. And the kids’ living space was downsized from two rooms to one, but the rent remained the same. And I started to hear murmurs of discontent from Brianna. Complaints about how James’ mom was two faced – posting on facebook about how wonderful and perfect her life was and hiding any hint of imperfection, but in reality she spent her time with her husband yelling at him and berating him for imagined slights. She had a new baby just before the kids moved out there, and this child was the center of her world. She spent vast sums on toys, clothes, etc, even taking the kid to his first movie before he was a year old. Guess that’s what she needed that rent money for. Meanwhile James was having some difficulty with employment and had been through a couple jobs. Her main concern was not whether the kids had enough money for food, rather she was distraught that she might have to wait for her rent money. She began to hassle James constantly about work, calling him a failure, a fuck up, and useless. Tell me, what kind of mother ever says that about her child, much less to his face? I was horrified.

The kids supposedly were allowed use of the kitchen to prepare meals, but they got to the point where they were afraid to go upstairs for fear Mom would go off on one of her tirades. They spent their free time hiding out in their basement, doing their best to avoid her. One evening Brianna was sneaking up the stairs to take out a bag of garbage and Mom caught her and proceeded to ream her out because she and James supposedly never took out their garbage. Um, did she not see what was in Brianna’s hand?

Things blew up seriously in early January when Brianna had the nerve to ask Mom about something of hers that had vanished. Apparently Mom had thrown it in the garbage, and Brianna asked for it back. That brought on a screaming, raging fit which included Mom standing on the front porch yelling at Brianna and calling her a “fucking little bitch”. Brianna and James called me from a restaurant asking what to do and saying they were afraid to go home. We decided bribery might be the best way to get back into her graces, and the kids slunk home with a bottle of wine, since Mom preferred to spend her evenings consuming copious quantities of wine once the little dude had gone to bed. Peace reigned temporarily. James was still seeking work, and Brianna was taking on every extra shift she possibly could to ensure the rent got paid.

Then all hell broke loose.

Brianna phoned me at 1:30 am my time on Jan 19, sobbing because Mom had kicked them out. I was dumbfounded. She literally threw them out of the house at 11 pm in the middle of January into an Edmonton winter night with nothing but the clothes on their backs and no concern at all about where they might end up. James was not even able to go downstairs to retrieve his phone. Absolute total parental failure there. Un-fucking-believable. Brianna luckily had her phone and, after calling around to some friends, found a place to crash for the night. She phoned me because she was afraid Mom would message me and she wanted me to know they were safe so I didn’t have to worry.  Right. Like I wouldn’t worry anyway. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night at all. And yes, Mom did message me. Based on the content of the ranting message, I suspect she might have been drunk.

The next morning I called my bank and had a supplementary visa card issued in Brianna’s name for her to pick up at her bank. Then I called a hotel close to where she works and arranged for three nights accommodation charged to my card with the option for the kids to extend their stay still on my card. Mom had texted Brianna and told her she was welcome to come and pick up their stuff, but James would not be permitted on the property. So far as she is concerned, she doesn’t have a son anymore. Now, from what I’ve been told, the argument started when she lit into James yet again about not having found a job. She called him every name under the sun and made up a few extra. Then, she claims he swore at her and came at her to hit her. Personally, I can’t see James hitting anyone. What I have seen on occasion is James putting both hands on Brianna’s shoulders to calm her down when she’s been upset, so I wonder if that’s what happened. Mom was screaming and ranting and he wanted to calm her down but she misinterpreted his motion. But I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Brianna stopped by the house and picked up as much of the essentials as she could carry and the kids moved into the hotel. With the help of a friend from work, Brianna found listings for rooms and basements for rent and managed to secure a basement bigger than what they had, including a bathroom, use of kitchen and laundry, (and including wi fi!) for a bit more than what they had been paying She-Who-Used-To-Be-Mom. They moved in on Jan 27. Now, because SWUTBM wouldn’t allow James on the property, Brianna had to go rent a truck and enlist the help of the only one of her friends who was off that day to move all of their furniture and possessions by herself. And then she went to work at 1:30, leaving James at the new place to unpack.

And that’s when SWUTBM started messaging me. Constantly. Bitching and complaining and whining. I didn’t answer. If I had answered I would not have been nice. This woman threw my daughter out into the cold without a second thought. This is not mother material. Her messages were bothering me however, and Stephen stepped in. Throughout all of this he had been most supportive and helpful. It was his idea to get Brianna the supplementary Visa card, and he sent the kids money for their first month’s rent at the new place. And now he dealt with SWUTBM. He hijacked my Facebook and sent her the following message:

This is Stephen speaking, Brianna’s stepfather.

I am interceding on Sue’s behalf and submit my comments as Brianna’s stepfather and as a friend of James’.

Your mailbox key will be returned at Brianna’s earliest convenience, which will be in a day or two and I would appreciate it if you would avoid having any contact with her during said delivery. Brianna, like ourselves, is appalled with your behaviour and now feels most uncomfortable dealing with you. Irrespective of whatever transpired between you and James on the fateful evening that you chose to evict them, your actions cause me to question your parenting skills. Obviously your attempted reconciliation with your son, and his subsequent move to Alberta, is a failed experiment.

Further, I find your vulgar tirade directed at my stepdaughter unconscionable. Any relationship between you and my stepdaughter is now at an end and I urge you to resist the temptation to torment or harass her further.

Please govern yourself accordingly.

You rock, Stephen! Her response was to unfriend and block all of us on Facebook. No great loss.

And so that chapter has closed. While I am devastated for James that he has lost his mother, I can’t help but feel it was for the best. Her behaviour was nothing short of unstable and she was consistently verbally abusive towards him. The kids are in a healthier environment now; James started a new job today; and he has decided that his Momma Sue is the only mom he needs. I shall do my utmost to support and encourage him as my son. We don’t know what the future holds for the kids but they’ve made it through some serious shit thus far, and I’m confident in their ability to hold fast and face down whatever comes their way.

With Momma Sue and Stephen at their backs, of course.

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The Disney Magic

So I have long neglected the continuation of my European summer holiday reminiscences. Bear in mind, I don’t write these just for my readers – oh no, the scrapbooker in me (who is two flipping years behind now!) needs to record her memories in order to provide herself with journaling material when she does (finally) get around to scrapping this trip. You don’t think I want to put into my scrapbook tidbits of utter brilliance like this:

“So this day we went – um – maybe it was Capri – or some island place. I don’t remember. All I know is we went on a boat, climbed up a hill – or wait, was that the place with the funicular? Oh, who cares, just enjoy the pictures of some random place in Italy”

Thanks, but no thanks.

So, without further ado, the Disney Magic.

We took a taxi from our Barcelona hotel to the cruise terminal and pulled up alongside the ship. I love seeing my Disney ship just waiting for me to board. There’s something about boarding a Disney cruise ship that is truly and utterly (at the risk of also sounding very clicheed) magical. The Disney fleet is opulent without being decadent, service without being obsequious, and just childish enough without being corny. Where else can you catch an elevator with Donald Duck? Disney service and attention to detail is second to none, and the fleet has won numerous awards to prove it.

As you pass through the doors into the atrium, a uniformed crew member greets you with a cheerful “Welcome Home!” and then asks your family’s name. When you tell him, he steps forward and calls out, “Please welcome the Stilwell-Burns family!” and the assembled cast members (Disney calls them cast members, never staff or even crew) applaud. It’s such a special touch that always leaves me feeling like I truly have come home again.

We began with lunch, knowing our luggage wouldn’t arrive in our stateroom until closer to 2 pm. The lunch buffet offers something for every taste, from mac and cheese, to hot dogs, right through to salmon and quiche. You’ll never be hungry on board, that’s for sure!

After lunch we explored, but since the Disney ships are all laid out similarly, we knew we wouldn’t be getting lost. When the staterooms opened, we went to meet our cabin host and check out our verandah. On my Alaskan cruise I had only booked a porthole stateroom, but Stephen prefers the verandah. We didn’t use ours much in Bahamas, but this time we sure did. The first full day at sea, Stephen and I were lazing out on the balcony when I noticed movement in the water below. I pointed it out to him and we realized we were watching a group of porpoises or dolphins, not sure which, happily romping and leaping out of the water! I had never seen that outside of captivity, so it was incredible to watch while they were alongside the ship.
Then on our final day at sea we were once again out on the balcony when I spied something unusual in the water. Keep in mind, we were on the seventh deck, so we were a good distance from the water’s surface. I gasped, stood up and pointed it out to Stephen. “Is that what I think it is?” I asked. And yes, it was. I had seen a shark! It was swimming just beneath the surface of the water, and its fin was actually above the water – so stereotypical, just as if it knew I was watching and it was putting on a sharky show for me. Needless to say, that’s one of the first stories I tell people about my trip. “Oh, we went to Rome, Florence, Pisa and Pompeii, but I gotta tell you about the shark I saw….”

I had joined a facebook group for our cruise and that first afternoon we held a meet and greet in the Promenade Lounge. That was fun and we met some great people. One couple seemed to be following us around – or maybe we were following them around, I don’t know. Whatever the case, we literally saw them every day somewhere or other aboard the ship.

Our serving staff at dinner were great! By the second day they had Stephen’s decaf and Sean’s and my Diet Cokes on the table as we sat down. And by the third day they realized that Sean tended to copy Mom in whatever he ordered for dinner. “You having same like Mom. Again.” became a familiar refrain. When they learned we had just become engaged, they offered Stephen no end of advice, from how big of a ring to buy me, to how to keep me happy (just agree with me and give me anything I want). And yes, they approved of the ring he bought on the ship.

I had reserved tickets for a meet and greet with Elsa, Anna and of course Olaf from Frozen. Stephen was giving me a hard time about a snowman being on a Mediterranean cruise, and saying I wouldn’t be able to get my photo taken with him because he would have melted before I got there. Our photo time was right after breakfast the first full day at sea, and as we were leaving the restaurant, Stephen told us to go ahead, he’d catch up to us. I figured he was just going to the bathroom, so Sean and I got in line for our photos. Stephen joined us, looking smug about something. As we neared the front of the line we were laughing and joking with the lady in front of us. Suddenly Stephen leaned in and said, “Do you want to see what Olaf looks like on summer vacation?” The lady was puzzled – as were Sean and I, but knowing Stephen, I braced for the worst. He pulled a napkin out of his pocket and unrolled it to reveal – a wet CARROT! Somehow he’d convinced one of the serving staff to fetch him a carrot out of the kitchen! When we finally got to the Olaf line, we were all laughing so hard that even the cast members wanted to know what was going on, so Stephen told them his joke and showed them his carrot. Olaf saw the carrot and did a funny little move, grabbing his own carrot nose as if the make sure it was still there! And we had a group photo taken – Olaf, me, Sean, Stephen, and the Carrot.

Speaking of photos, I have to say, if you ever do a Disney cruise, pre-purchase the photo package and CD, then every time you see a photographer on the ship, hop in line. They are fast, efficient, and take incredible photos! We’d had photos done in Bahamas that were just wonderful, and were astounded to meet the same photographer on board for this cruise! She in turn was delighted to hear of our engagement, and was thrilled that we had been so pleased with the photos she had taken the year before. She made a point of taking a wide variety of shots every time we ended up in one of her lines, and one of her photos has become the “Official Engagement Photo”.  Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to convince Stephen to pose with Mickey Mouse….maybe some day. On our next Disney cruise. Because we aren’t done with Disney yet. Still have one more ship to check out.




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“A-boat or a-boot.” That is the question.

In case you hadn’t gathered by now, Stephen and I have dramatically different views on what, exactly, constitutes “art”.  He likes artwork, me, not so much. I can take it or leave it. Mostly leave it. Just don’t ask me to go to an art gallery. Ever.

In combining our households we are hanging Stephen’s paintings. Hundreds of his paintings. Well, maybe only about forty, but it seems like hundreds. We are running out of walls on which to hang things.

He has a favourite artist from Bermuda by the name of Birdsey. I could never figure out why he always said BirDsey, when the paintings appear to be quite clearly signed BirBsey, but whatever. Mind you, I also am not a huge fan of Bir-whatever-sey’s style, but I don’t feel strongly enough to ban it from my walls. Which I wouldn’t do anyway, because they mean a lot to Stephen. So Stephen hung one of these over the bed. (Where we still had available wall space.)

Last night I was tired. Very. Tired. As I was getting ready for bed I was looking through bleary, sleepy eyes at this painting over the bed. It’s a seascape of sorts, with boats and clouds and a docky thing. In my sleep-craving state I simply could not figure out why the sign over a little dock-side shop said “Boots for hire”. I fell asleep still pondering boot rentals, and had a very strange dream about an army of boots.

By daylight I took a closer look. I now believe it says “Boats for hire.” Which makes much more sense, don’t you think?
Moral of the story? Not sure, but I think it’s “Don’t look too closely at artwork before bed. It might affect your dreams.”

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The Speech That Should Have Been….(but wasn’t)

In preparing for this speech, I – of course – did some online research and discovered that most brides dedicate a large part of their speeches to their new husbands, prattling on about how wonderful they are and so on. I decided against that since Stephen already KNOWS how wonderful he is. Then they go on to thank everyone and anyone who has had a part in their lives, much like an Oscar winner, and that resonated with me. I had some people to thank.

This wasn’t quite what we’d originally envisioned as our wedding celebration. When Stephen and I first began planning our wedding, we rather thought we’d incorporate it into our already planned family vacation in the Dominican at Christmas. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we would be missing out on one very important part of this kind of celebration.

Our friends.

They say friends are the family you choose, and I believe that is true. Each one of you here tonight has chosen to be our friend, and we have chosen you. Those are not connections to be taken lightly. True friends will stand beside us no matter what life throws our way. I know this to be true. Five years ago, life as I knew it turned completely upside down. Many of you here tonight were right beside me through that time, supporting me, encouraging me, helping me pick up the pieces, and helping me clean up the messes. And there were some messes, weren’t there! I don’t know how you seemed to know just when I needed you, but somehow, when I was feeling down, one of you would call or show up at my doorstep with gifts, home baked treats, or just the shoulder I needed. You all kept telling me things would get better. And you know what? You, my friends, were right!

Three and a half years ago an amazing man came into my life. I knew right away there was something very special about this one. As Cheryl told me at my Christmas party that year after meeting Stephen for the first time – “This one’s a keeper!” And indeed he is. So much so that when he asked me to keep him permanently, there was nothing I could say but YES!

No doubt it won’t always be easy. We’re both Leos, so there tends to be a bit of growling and mane-shaking at times, but we can work with that. We’re very compatible – well, except for certain areas in which we have diametrically opposed opinions – like music. And artwork. And politics. And what colour to paint the living room. And how to properly make a bed. And what style of furniture we like. And how well a steak should be cooked. And Mickey Mouse. But other than that, we’re totally compatible. We envision ourselves many years in the future, sitting side by side in matching rocking chairs – no, wait, the chairs won’t match because we won’t be able to agree on a style. But there we’ll be, rocking on our front porch, not needing to talk because we understand one another so completely. This is our hope for our marriage.

And so tonight we have asked you, our friends, to share this celebration with us. You have followed our journey to this point, and we hope that you will be part of our friend-family in the years that lie ahead. We are grateful for each and every one of you and the parts you have played, and will continue to play in our lives. For all that you have done, and will do, thank you for being a friend.

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