Friday, January 13, 2012

Cruzin … For the First Time

So Scott and I took our first cruise ever just before Christmas … a great time of year for a get away!  Carnival Cruise Line on their ship Paradise.  We had fun … enjoyed ourselves … a little disappointed about a few things.  Would we do it again?  Probably … but next time I will chose a ship that has more of what we like to do (a bowling alley, maybe? Or a cruise for 40+ year olds? LOL) … AND maybe a different cruise line … for variety (I’m sure they’re not all the same.)  Here are some of our ‘Upsides’ and ‘Downsides’  … from our perspective:

UPSIDE: The staff waits on you hand and foot … literally … anything you want … they will get it for you (within reason, of course lol)  Especially so on the Lido Deck, where they are constantly asking if you need anything!!!  DOWNSIDE: Most do not speak very good English and are very hard to understand.

UPSIDE: The ship is clean … very clean … constantly!  From your Cabin to the Hallways, to the Public Restrooms, to the Pools and Hot Tubs … everything spotless!  DOWNSIDE: The ship d├ęcor is very gaudy and outdated … casino-ish!

UPSIDE: We reserved a room with a window … didn’t know until we boarded if it would be a porthole or a true window but we got a real window … a definite must have … at least for me … even if we weren’t in the room except to sleep.  It was nice waking up every morning seeing the ocean and getting your equilibrium in balance … otherwise, you might get a little off balance lol  NO, we didn’t get sea sick (thank goodness).  DOWNSIDE:  We had some rocking and rolling going on every day (bad enough at times that you had to ‘hold on’) … we were told by a couple we met (who had done some dozen or so cruises) that the rocking and rolling we were experiencing was very unusual, though they had never cruised at Christmastime before … usually the ocean was like a sheet of glass and totally smooth.  The only time it bothered me was if I was walking on deck (Lido) and looking out at the ocean at the same time … I learned NOT to do that LOL

UPSIDE: Your Cabin Steward, I believe that’s what they are called, are awesome … at least ours was.  He came by the first day and introduced himself and said “whatever you need just let me know ” (such as more towels, toilet paper, blankets, problems, whatever).  We never had to ask for anything!!!  Our Cabin was spotless and clean everyday.  DOWNSIDE:  Only one outlet (no, not like in our homes where there are two in one outlet …I’m saying ONLY one outlet PERIOD.  If you want to plug in more than one thing … you best come prepared with a power strip.

UPSIDE: Our Cabin Bathroom was very very clean, everyday and there was plenty room in the above the sink medicine cabinet for our toiletries!!!  We were shocked at the awesome water pressure in the shower!!!!  OMG better than any hotel I’ve ever been in  …. Surprisingly!   DOWNSIDE: Outdated and sorta old (though very well taken care of) with PINK tile!!!

UPSIDE: Food was never a problem … available at all hours of the day!  Neither of us gained any weight!  We did enjoy the fresh fruit and salad buffets.  DOWNSIDE: The food was mediocre … which totally surprised us after everything we had heard.  Quality of the food was definitely a problem with us.  I tried numerous desserts but ate no more than a bite or two … not impressed AT ALL!  Actually there wasn’t a single thing we ate that we went back for seconds on … nothing!   Oh and don’t expect the Sweet Tea to be well “Sweet Tea” like us Southerners make … not even worth drinking!  I only drank water or wine with my meals. 

UPSIDE: We had seafood one night at dinner in the dining room … a shrimp appetizer and a small lobster tail with a steak … and at dinner in the Dining Room (like everywhere else on the ship) you can ask for all you want and they bring it to you … Scott ate two lobster tails!  DOWNSIDE: We expected a Seafood Buffet daily … heck we were on the Ocean, right?  NOPE!  NO SEAFOOD BUFFETS!!!

UPSIDE: The Breakfast Buffet was good … how can you go wrong with breakfast?  Scrambled Eggs, Fresh Fruit, Oatmeal, Toast or Croissants, Bacon, Sausage, Pancakes … these were main items served daily.  They even had grits … one day.  The Lunch Buffets changed daily … a different theme each day (i.e. Mexican, Caribbean, Italian)  DOWNSIDE: Never had biscuits at Breakfast … a disappointment.

UPSIDE: If you’re a hamburger, hotdog, french fries, chicken fingers and fast food junkie … you’d have a great feast … all you can eat buffet for this stuff …. Everyday!!!  Plus they had a Sandwich Bar with made to order sandwiches.  DOWNSIDE: We don’t do junk food much.  One day, I had a mediocre, made to order, Reuben … didn’t even finish it.

UPSIDE: Great comedian shows and song/dance shows on a couple of nights.  DOWNSIDE: If you didn’t get in to sit down at least 30+ minutes prior to show … standing room only!

UPSIDE: The bartenders are AMAZING!  99% of the drinks I had were very very good … be careful though … they do not skimp on the alcohol!  I had a great drink called the “Fun Ship Special” … it was like a Rum Runner.  The Banana Daquiris, Pina Coladas, Bloody Marys were equally awesome!  DOWNSIDE: The drinks are very pricey … restaurant prices!  And the one bad drink I had … a Margarita … I couldn’t even drink it and Margaritas are my FAV drink!

UPSIDE: Cool Dance Club.  DOWNSIDE: It was closed several nights/evenings … first night for a wedding, second night for a reception, third night for a children’s gathering and the one night we went it was full of young people … we felt out of place (not with the music but with the young crowd) … so we didn’t go back the following night.

UPSIDE: If you’re into Piano Bars … there were 3 (I believe).  DOWNSIDE: We aren’t into Piano Bars … plus they were all non-smoking.

UPSIDE: They have a great selection of off shore excursions!  Anything you are interested in doing and at fairly decent prices.  DOWNSIDE: Even with the ship’s TV broadcast about shore excursions … it is not very well explained … HOW you get off ship  (even just to do your own thing on shore) … that was a learn as you go experience.

UPSIDE: There is ALWAYS plenty of lounge chairs and/or seating on the decks.  There are spaces that have constant music playing (upbeat dancing type music) and there are spaces where there is quiet.  ALL with plenty of lounge chairs!!!  DOWNSIDE: None

UPSIDE: There are photographers EVERYWHERE beginning from the point you enter the ship … they walk up to you and take candid shots, sometimes asking for a pose, they are EVERYWHERE … no charge (unless you buy them) … we took advantage of most of these.  Hey, they’re free and if we didn’t like how they turn out (which was the case with MOST of them) we didn’t buy them.  We actually only bought two.  DOWNSIDE: The cost of purchasing the photos is very expensive … $10 for one 5 X 7 print.  You could spend a fortune if you’re not careful.  And most don’t give you a chance to pose … you’ve gotta be ready … snap snap snap … pretty much. (Though they did have some ‘portrait’ sittings with really cool backgrounds … and you did get a chance to pose properly for these.)

UPSIDE: We enjoyed our excursion to Tulum, Mexico (on the Mainland).  Tulum is a Mayan ruin site and absolutely beautiful and fascinating.  Scott and I both love history and historical stuff so this was right up our alley!  We loved it.  DOWNSIDE: Our excursion (which we did know ahead of time) took up almost every minute of our shore time.  We had to quickly get off the ship, jump on a ferry (a ride of about an hour to the Mainland), then walk to a bus (past a beautiful beach I would have loved to have actually touched), once on the bus we travelled another hour and a half to get to Tulum.  We passed a Mexican checkpoint where there were guards armed with machine guns (kinda a scary site) and stopped once for a potty break at a rest stop which was heavily guarded and gated (only open to tour buses).  So … we didn’t actually ‘SEE’ Cozumel =(

UPSIDE: We loved our Dining Room experience every night.  We had an awesome server from Indonesia and man could he dance!  LOL  Every night he called us each by our names … which was impressive!  We figured he must have been the head server because he was the one who started the after dinner entertainment nightly … from getting up and slow dancing to joining in the conga line … it was a lot of fun.  DOWNSIDE: The food (again) … though it all had fancy smantcy names …was just mediocre … not 5 Star quality by any means … more like 2-3 Stars.

UPSIDE: The ship provides a schedule and list of entertainment and goings on on the ship daily.  DOWNSIDE: There weren’t many things that interested both Scott and I.  One thing we regret attending was a ‘shopping workshop’ where we fell for their advice about shopping in Grand Cayman … convincing us the shops were 70% off retail … NOT EVEN CLOSE … they were all (From Fossil to Gucci to Swatch to Guy Harvey to the local diamond stores) very expensive … some equivalent to Atlanta stores and some a lot more expensive!!!  But by no means … 70% off retail!  We felt we’d been conned by Carnival!  That was a kick yourself in the butt moment … cause we wasted several good hours checking out the shops instead of checking out Grand Caymen … and when we were ready to check out Grand Caymen it started pouring rain and so we returned to the ship early … as most did because the rain didn’t stop until we left port.  We don’t know what the shopping was like in Cozumel since we really didn’t get to ‘see’ Cozumel.

UPSIDE: You can’t smoke in the Cabins or just anywhere you want to.  I’m a smoker but I don’t even like a stinky - smoky smelling room or to be subjected to someone else’s smoke.  DOWNSIDE: Smoking areas are very limited: outside (on deck) to just one bar where there were 15-20 tables and 6-8 bar stools, to the Dance Club, which as I already mentioned was mostly reserved for private groups, at the Casino (if you are gambling only) and neither of us gamble and at one bar located just outside the Casino with 4 barstools (no lie) for smokers and the rest for non-smokers.

OVERALL UPSIDES: Very relaxing.  Loved being waited on.  Drinks were perfect.  Slept really great (good mattresses and awesome pillows).  Loved the water pressure in the shower … didn’t want to get out!  Loved the friendly servers.  So appreciated the cleanliness.  We can now say “we’ve been on a cruise”.  OVERALL DOWNSIDES: Not sure it’s worth the cost when the food was only mediocre … the food was our biggest disappointment … second to that would be the entertainment or “stuff to do on ship”.

Would we do another cruise?  Probably!  The food wasn’t awful or inedible, just not the quality we are used to.  On the other hand, I think I might prefer flying directly to an island or destination and stay in a resort where there is 5 Star quality food and a wait-on-you-hand-and-foot-staff (if the price is right).

(NOTE: The two ‘real’ Margaritas I had in a Mainland Mexico local restaurant … were the BEST Margaritas I’ve ever had … BEST Tequila ever … smooth … they were perfection!  And Mexicans DO NOT skimp on the alcohol … so again … be careful LOL) 

P.S. I don’t know how I forgot this … MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL ... yes we ate pretty healthy (which was easy when the best food was the fresh fruit and veggies) but we also did the stairs … every day … every time … no elevators for us … I’m sure that contributed a lot to the fact that we didn’t gain any weight!!!  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Learn the Heimlich Maneuver ~ Save a Life

I had something very scary happen to me in December … one of the scariest things that ever happened to me!  After hearing that a dear friend of mine just recently had to have someone perform the Heimlich on her, I thought I’d share my story so people can understand the importance of knowing how to do the Heimlich Maneuver and to understand how quickly someone can go from breathing to having their airway blocked and not breathing to actually passing out.

I, for one, have used this life saving maneuver a couple times in the past … once on my niece when she was about 2-3 and choking on a very small piece of a hot dog and another time on my own daughter, when she was 2 and choking on a hard piece of candy that someone at church had given her innocently … yet without my permission.   Both times it worked beautifully and as it should but small children are a little easier than an adult.  There is a way to do the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself if you are alone and start to choke but in my case … I never had the time to think about it before I passed out …  it happened so fast.

We (me, Scott and Alayna) were at Anthony and Kay’s house, Kay was to graduate from college the next morning.  We had been out to a wonderful dinner at 4 Rivers … an awesome bar-b-que place in Orlando … and were sitting around their dining table playing cards … having a good time … we’d just finished the first game …I had just gotten the hang of how the game worked and we were on our second game … I was doing good (with Kay’s help, of course … and she’s a great teacher). 

I took a big swig of my green tea and Kay, who was to my right, said something funny … I started laughing before I could swallow and quickly put my hand over my mouth cause I really didn’t want to spew all over her OR Scott, who was across the table from me.  This went on for several more seconds … me trying very hard not to laugh or spew … my right hand covering my mouth tightly.  Holding my breathe with my mouth full of green tea.  Then finally, my body did it for me with my hand still tightly covering my mouth … I half swallowed … half spewed … my green tea all over the table and immediately started throwing up … everything I’d eaten at dinner.  This is where it all went wrong … I apparently inhaled quickly while this was going on (since I’d been holding my breath) and my airway became blocked … I wasn’t choking … actually I didn’t know why I couldn’t breathe. 

Now you’ve got to understand … I wasn’t able to say a word during this time and so I kept waving my right hand at everyone to let them know I was okay.  I’m still trying to breath … but nothing is coming in … I’m thinking in my head … “oh I’ll be alright in a second” … just need to get a breath so I’m still waving my right hand  … to let them all know I’m fine and concentrating on trying to breathe.  I remember hearing them in the background … talking to each other and me but I was concentrating on finding my breath … Well I wasn’t fine …

Next thing I remember, I’m thinking “OMG something is really wrong” and feeling panicked … I never had time to indicate this to anyone or try to do the Heimlich on myself … or say anything … not a single utterance … because, in a split second, I went from thinking “oh I will be fine just as soon as I can breathe” to thinking “OMG something is really wrong … something is really wrong” …And then …. everything went black … just complete blackness. 

Next thing I recall was seeing all the mess I had made … all over me, the table, the floor … being a little embarrassed … Kay and Alayna making a fuss over me “are you alright?” … “Mom, are you okay?” … Alayna’s voice sounding panicked … both trying to help clean me up … Alayna asking if I was okay, over and over … telling me how I scared them … fussing over me.  It was surreal … those few minutes afterwards … not remembering what happened.  First words I recall saying were “Damn, I pissed all over myself” … yea that lightened up the moment but … I really had!!!  LOL  (Funny even after all that had just happened)

I don’t recall what happened in those seconds before and during the time I blacked out … I just know the last thing I remember was being very frightened and thinking “OMG something is really wrong”) but Scott and Anthony helped piece it together for me later.

Scott said they were all asking if I was okay and I was waving my hand at them as if I was going to be fine … but when I started throwing up they all jumped up to try to help me and Scott says that’s when he saw my head drop to my chest and knew I had stopped breathing and passed out.  He said Anthony must have seen it too because he didn’t even hesitate … he grabbed me up and did the Heimlich …not once but twice.  I don’t remember any of this … don’t remember even being touched much less grabbed around my middle and performed the Heimlich on … not at all.  After it all, it was a very scary feeling … knowing I had gone from waving my hand “I’m fine” to passing out … all within seconds … NEVER had a chance to indicate something was wrong … NEVER had a chance to utter a sound … I thought I was fine and I wasn’t … I was far from it.

I thought when you were choking or stopped breathing you had time to indicate to those around you that you were in fact NOT OKAY … I never had that chance.  If I’d been alone … Lord knows I do not believe I would have recovered …I wouldn’t have been able to do the Heimlich on myself … to save myself.  It happened that fast!  I obviously had an Angel looking over me that night because there was no way I could have saved myself.

Learn the Heimlich … know the signs of when someone stops breathing … especially, like in my case, where the person is never able to indicate they need help.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas Trees for the Porch

I got this idea from Pinterest ... easy, cool and inexpensive ... yet beautiful.  To make them you will need:

A Tomato Cage
Lots of Wired Garland
Christmas Tree Lights

Simply wrap the Garland around and around the Tomato Cage, securing one of the wired limbs onto the Tomato Cage every so often to keep it secure.  Then wrap the Garland with Christmas Lights and waala ... you have Lighted Christmas Trees for your front porch.  If you've ever priced ornamental trees the size of these that are pre-lit (not the skimpy ones) ... they cost somewhere around $100 a piece and sometimes you can get two for about $150.  I'm not sure how much it cost me to make these as I had the items already on hand but believe me it wasn't even close to what it cost to buy ready made pre-lit trees.

Beef Stew

This is my own recipe … Beef Stew the way I like it and its yummy!  Great on a cold or chilly day.  I’m not a fan of celery or carrots, but I do love the flavor both add … besides, what’s Beef Stew without them? …  I cut mine very thin … you can cut yours however you like.

1 lb Stew Meat, cubed
Meat Tenderizer
2-3 Tbsp Flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 tsp Thyme (Fresh is best)
1 tsp Savory
4-5 Cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lrg Onion, chopped
2-3 stalks Celery, chopped
3 cans Beef Broth
4-5 lrg Potatoes, diced
Handful Fresh Baby Carrots or 4 Carrots, chopped

Place cubed beef, flour, salt, pepper, thyme, savory and about 1 tsp meat tenderizer in a large Ziplock bag.  Toss to mix.  Place olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add meat mixture  and cook until beef is evenly browned.  Add more olive oil, if needed, then stir in onions, celery and garlic cloves and cook about 2 minutes.  Slowly stir in beef broth until desired consistency (thick or soupy).  Add potatoes, carrots and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer about 2 hours or until potatoes are tender.