Boozey Brunches

Once upon a time there was a lazy Sunday in May, seventy-eight degrees, a carrot-infused  bloody mary, a roasted beet and honey salad, lavender scones, and three perfect hours with my childhood best friend.

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Then there was a closet shelf of just the perfect size to become a shrine to Chanel … the perfect pumps with the baby soft lambskin soles in nearly perfect condition.

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And there were bacon jam samples at the deli where I stopped to pick up frommage D’affinois.

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My family was healthy.

My heart was full.

And for that day, life was better than I even dare to hope for.

Cruising? A Supposedly Fun Thing I Thought I’d Never Do Again

So, You’re Considering a Family Cruise

When I read the late David Foster Wallace’s essay on cruising in Harper’s, Shipping Out, On the Nearly Lethal Comforts of a Luxury Cruise, I laughed with the deep understanding that comes from having been there, and felt all of that.

Yet, two months ago*, there I was, planning a cruise with my family of four for Christmas. Our lofty goals of a cruise through the Mediterranean were quickly tempered by the reality of traveling with two tweens through museums, UNESCO sites, and endless cathedrals.  Once reality struck it was decided that we’d start with a beginner’s cruise: a week in the Caribbean followed by a week of Disney magic (before they become too old to enjoy the Mouse).  Perhaps I should have lobotomized myself in anticipation.

As a mother, and frequent traveler, I have learned that the secret to traveling well with Royal Caribbean Deck Six Mapunruly travelers is planning coupled with flexibility.  

*Note that this article was originally written in 2015, since then RC has rolled out a more flexible upgraded dining package.

My Theory of Traveling Successfully with Kids

When it comes to travel, I firmly believe nothing of value is gained by leaving your hard-earned vacation days to the fates. That said, after months of research I selected the Royal Caribbean, Independence of the Seas six night, seven day cruise to Grand Caymen, Jamaica, and Labadee Haiti. I booked two adjoining rooms (6575 and 6577 for those who know this ship). Our trip would be followed by five days in Orlando, Florida at the Universal Cabana Bay, and a night in Fort Lauderdale at the Marriott Pompano Beach (gotta use up those points), heading home on Christmas morning.

Dining on Royal Caribbean Cruises

The Royal Caribbean group has decided to make understanding their dining program unnecessarily complicated and difficult, but I will not be deterred when there are bloggers who’ve come before me who’ve simplified the information that Royal Caribbean has not.

In order to simplify things for those that follow … here’s what we found:

The Independence of the Seas, offers a number of varied dining options:

The Main Dining Room (Breakfast lunch and dinner, Deck 3-5) The three-deck-high dining room (called Romeo and Juliet on Deck 3, Othello on Deck 4 and King Lear on Deck 5) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breakfast: features eggs Benedict, pancakes, granola, and omelets as well as a daily special such as chocolate-chip pancakes, a bacon and gruyere quiche (which was quite good), or almond-crusted French toast. Seating is available for individual parties or communal seating. You can order mimosas or bloody marys with minimal hassle since the breakfast crowd is mostly at the buffet.

Lunch Salad Bar

Lunch: the Independence offers Brasserie 30 (the Dining Room called by another name, but still smelling the same). Lunch features a menu/made-to order salad bar combo where guests pick their toppings, and a crew member mixes it together.  The salad bar also features a light antipasti selection. The set menu features traditional lunch entrees, pastas, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts and a two course meal can be completed in 30 minutes.

Dinner: passengers can choose between two standard dining times (6 and 8:30 p.m.) or My Time Dining, where you can make a reservation to dine at different times each day. In selecting My Time dining you give up the cruise tradition of having the same waiter and set table mates each night and can sit by yourselves at tables of two, four, or more. With My Time dining gratuities are paid up front (if you’re one of those obstinate sorts who asks to have that removed so you can tip based on service, I saw the email that goes out to the entire service crew that you’ve requested that, so BEWARE).

The dinner menu features salads, soups, appetizers for starters, classic entrees, and desserts. Each night new entree, soup, and starter options are introduced and there are also “every night” selections including vegetarian pasta, broiled salmon, chicken breast, and a sirloin steak.

Review of the Main Dining Room: Faux-tastic … the dining room attempts to look elegant and sophisticated, but rolling trays of detritus are stacked up just feet from where you’re dining. The constant table turnover makes the room unpleasant and loud, and the service attempts to be five star, but with weird hangups (they squirt the ketchup for your fries for you rather than leaving the bottle or bringing a small ramekin of ketchup.  Why can’t I just have the damn ketchup bottle!?!)

Ordering a glass of wine (or God forbid, a cocktail) is an ordeal that requires a separate server, your SeaPass card*, and a hassle that becomes downright obnoxious by night four. Why do they make it such a hassle considering the servers are the same, they know your name and room number, and they’ve already seen your SeaPass card and therefor drink package half a dozen times by then! The food is fine, occasionally good, and I might have even had something that was great at least once. The dress code is weird; on formal night we were wedged between octogenarians in their tuxedos and ball gowns and a Danny DeVito look-alike in a T-shirt and shorts.

Independence of the Seas Windjammer Buffet

The Windjammer Café (open for breakfast lunch and dinner, Deck 11) is a traditional buffet that will ignite all of your “ick” sensors – think Food Court without the filter of price or quality.  People belly up to the bland servings of fake mashed potatoes, undercooked pancakes, and overcooked bacon and create Jenga-like towers of food that no human should ever consume.

I know that it is paid for in advance and therefore people want to “get their money’s worth”, but why does that have to happen all on one plate?  They aren’t kicking people out.  Fill your plate to a reasonable level, take a breath between bites, grease up your hips so that you can get in and out of your chair, and repeat.  No need to strain your wrist trying to wrangle that platter of bland, lukewarm fried chicken stacked over a cheeseburger, with a saddlebag of tater tots back to the table.

Jade: The buffet also has a section called “Jade” which cruise advertising attempts to feature as a separate restaurant, but it isn’t.  Jade is a row of about 12 “Asianish” options that represent Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Indian fare all grouped together. It is also rumored that Jade offers a special “Sushi night” on some ships, but I never saw or heard of this and the buffet is so gross, dirty, and crowded that I wouldn’t be eating any cruiseship-sushi anyway.

Windjammer Review: Ick, Yuck, and a pile of muck.  We ate here twice (lunch once and breakfast on the final day) because my kids wanted to gorge on cookies. I had bad coffee, a bowl of cold/bland miso soup, and salad. I didn’t want to go anywhere near the food, or the people throwing elbows to get to the food any more often than I had to.

Sorrento’s Pizza (Deck 5, on the Promenade) – Pizza by the slice, tirimisu, beers, and a daily sandwich/calzone option.  The pizza wasn’t bad, there were plenty of tables, and the lines were minimal.  Most afternoons we’d meander down to Sorrentos and graze on a slice. We did have a moment of awkward when my son ordered a tirimisu and the attendant got mad at him for trying to order liquor underage … so there’s that (I guess they soak the lady fingers in rum instead of rum flavoring).

Café Promenade (Deck 5, on the Promenade) – Sandwiches, cookies, pastries, specialty blended coffee drinks, and free drip coffee was served here all day.  The options weren’t bad, the line was never too long, and they make some “adult” coffee beverages that were quite good.  We enjoyed afternoon tea here most days.

Room service – available for free until midnight, the room service menu was somewhat limited (burgers, sandwiches, and pizza) but the kids enjoyed ordering cookies and hot chocolate every night, and a couple times I ordered nachos and a cheese plate while we prepared for dinner, because, hey – it’s all you can eat, and I paid for it.

Options for an Additional Charge:

  • Chops Grille Steakhouse – (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. $25 surcharge, Deck 11) with a $35 per person charge. This was our best meal of the evening and is comparable to the quality we’d get at a steakhouse at home.  We booked before we left and ended up getting a discount on our drinks packages.
  • Giovanni’s Table Italian Restaurant – (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. $25 surcharge, Deck 11) – We never ate here, something about it just seemed too similar to The Windjammer for my taste (though that may have just been weird personal interpretations, not based on actual fact). The menu includes: focaccia della casa –- a flat bread with potatoes, marinated artichokes, olives and pesto, and oven baked, almond crusted scallops with red bell pepper,
  • Johnny Rockets (Deck 12) – I found it annoying that we had to pay $5 per person to eat here, plus another $5 to order a shake – it should be either/or.  The food was fine, the ambiance was fine, but I left annoyed about the additional charge for shakes.
  • Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream – this place was a graveyard, the lights were never on, and it never appeared to be open.  Maybe it was, but I couldn’t tell.
  • The Cupcake Cupboard – (Arrival day 2:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., sea days from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 pm, surcharges from $1.50 – $15.00, Deck 5) The Cupcake Cupboard is located on the promenade and offers gourmet cupcakes at $2.75, minis at $1.50, cake pops for $1.50 and giant birthday cakes at $24.95. The shop offers design classes priced at $22 for adults (11 years-up) and $15 for children (five years-10 years) with a maximum of 10 people students per class. It was cute, but we preferred the free treats at the Cafe.
  • Sprinkles Ice Cream Station: (Pool deck, with a line 15 deep at any given time, open from 11:00 – 6:00 daily) The ultimate in gross (see below for the image of the slop trough set below the machine, which slowly fills up throughout the day and attracts every manner of gross).

Highlights and low lights of the trip:

Sources:

  1. Cruise Critic Dining Review
  2. Taste of Hawaii Royal Caribbean Review

*SeaPass Card – the most obnoxious part of the cruise.  You receive the card when you arrive and it becomes your “credit card” throughout the trip, as well as your room key, and the card that gets you on the ship at each port.  The obnoxious thing about this card is that even if you buy the all inclusive unlimited drinks package, your card must be swiped for every drink you order, every bottle of water, and every cup of coffee – adding a few minutes of waiting to every transaction, followed by a receipt you have to sign.  Why not just give us a wristband and then use the SeaPass cards if an issue arises? Reason one out of 100 why I’ve decided I prefer the All Inclusive resort experience.

Why I Don’t Lie About My Age

Today I turned 36, and I don’t mind saying that one bit.  To my closest friends I’ve joked that my thirtieth birthday improves with every year I celebrate it, but the truth is, I don’t feel compelled to hide my age. If pressed, I’d say I look pretty damn good for 36, and there’s nobody in my life rude enough to tell me otherwise. Lately, I’ve felt so confident in how I look at 36 that half the time I find myself lying up (’cause if I look good for 36 I look AMAZING for 40).

The biggest reason I don’t worry about my age is that I have earned every single day.

I have been alive to witness 13,140 sunsets. I have seen the sun set on four different continents, during prayer call, after siesta, from the front seat of an ambulance whisking my baby to the trauma center, from the 6th Arrondissement while walking toward the Jardin des Tuileries, and in the most basic of moments while having my heart-broken, and while breaking a heart.

Jardin des Tuileries

Coco Chanel is quoted as saying, that as a woman ages, “youth must be replaced by mystery, prettiness by beauty” and to me, nothing is more beautiful, or more mysterious, than an accomplished woman who has been able to survive the constant request from the world that she dumb herself down for the love of some man. But, I’ve managed thus far to resist that pull, and now I can’t imagine a single man who’d dare ask that of me.

In younger, more naive, times I dated men who needed to be made to feel “like a man” by being with a woman less accomplished than he … stupid, silly men who thought they could explain wine, or geopolitics, or Nietzsche.  Now I nod gently, and smile to myself that some man would have such a limited imagination as to think that I’d need his instruction. Thirty six years, and as many, if not more, boys, boyfriends, lovers, and a husband have taught me the art of nodding gently and smiling. But, of all those silly men, the only one invited to stay was the one who reacts with surprise when I request his explanation, so confident is he in my accomplishments and intellect, and to me that shows he sees my true and ageless beauty.

I have watched the sky beneath a five hundred foot sandstone wall, stood on a stage to receive a national award, experienced laughter that made me snot Chinese food, meditated through a silent natural childbirth, clung to the bathroom floor while absorbing the agony of the death of a loved one, known heartbreak so raw I lost thirty pounds in a month, then loved so deep it took my breath, and I’ve seen rehabilitation from it all.

If my face and body carry marks of age then each line, and scar, and memory was earned. Why would I limit my story to claim fewer moments than I have been given? Which of my years would I ignore?

I’ve plucked gray hairs, sighed at the losing battle that is gravity, gained weight, lost weight, botoxed, detoxed, and unboxed thousands of dollars worth of “beauty” but I have never felt as confident in the skin sold to me by Madison Avenue as I do wearing the sun-kissed glow of an afternoon spent with my sons. With each year of my life that passes, those boys grow too, into toddlers, then boys, and now nascent young men of honor and intelligence; how could I possibly enjoy denying even a day of their lives?

If my face shows age, then it also shows my story, of life, and love, and loss, and that story is mine. I would not trade a moment for the collagen-rich dewy glow of my 22 year-old, untraveled cheeks. And, when my face is sixty, I hope the lines have doubled, and strengthened, and broadcast a richer story than I can even imagine today.

A life well spent, is far more intriguing than even the most perfect face, which offers nothing once it opens its mouth; and accomplishment and adventure can never be taken, or hidden by three-quarter moisturizing cream and a nylon-Spandex blend.

The Spring Collection

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American designers launch their collections twice per year: the Fall collection is introduced at fashion markets in the spring and the spring collection in the fall (a calendar disconnect which makes it nearly impossible for me to speak about a collection without pausing to correct myself first).

The spring launch is out of sync with European markets, which launch once per year, beginning in April in Paris then sweeping through Europe until finishing in Moscow. (Unless, of course, you’re talking couture labels, and then the schedule begins in October, in New York, with Fashion Week, or Asia starting in February).

Basically, fashion is all over the map, and that means so am I. But, when people ask me “What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited?” I draw a blank.

Truth is, I don’t visit interesting places. I hit all the destinations any Octogenarian would hit on their Viking Cruise. Then I rinse and repeat.

Least you think I am complaining, I am not! I love my job, but now that I am on the “repeat” phase of the rinse cycle I’m developing a hunger for the unmannecured, unwashed, underdeveloped corners of the planet – corners that don’t buy couture.

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I’m craving the steamy pulse of Southeast Asia, or the rhythmic sway of South America, or the bustling grime of India.

I want to be covered in bug bites, glistening with sweat, and sipping a cold beer in a warm breeze while laughing with locals.

To me, that means Columbia – the Santa Marta islands, Cartagena, or my friend’s coastal farm a harrowing day’s drive outside of Bogota.

When you travel for a living,”getting away” takes on a whole new meaning.

When Women Were Protected and Stupid

  • 6:00 the alarm goes off
  • 15 minutes of yoga
  • Shower, Shave, and Shampoo
  • 7:00 wake the angry, sleepy kids
  • Home-cooked breakfast
  • “Where’s my shoes”
  • Hair, make-up, and fighting a stuck zipper
  • Carpool drop-off
  • 10 hour work days
  • Cook the dinner, eat the dinner, complain, clean up the dinner
  • Laundry, groceries
  • “I need a new Sharpie for school tomorrow”
  • Run to the store, home from the store
  • Kids in bed
  • Deep breath, feet up, finally take off the four-inch heels

And, then I ask: “Did telling women they should have an education, career, and a family really make women’s lives better or did it just turn up the heat on the pressure cooker of life?”

Home Organization: Make-up Brush Holders

I am an addict. I am addicted to make-up tutorials and home organization videos.

I know, there are more important ways for me to spend my time, but they just don’t offer the same mind-numbing thrill as turning on a good “Get Ready with Me” make-up montage while prepping, primping, and priming for a day at the office.

This weekend, I kicked it up a notch and went a little beauty guru myself.

Enter another useful way to use Downy Unstoppables (one of my holy grail 1,001 use products).

Make-Up Brush Holder Supplies

All the supplies you’ll need to make an easy, sweet-smelling make-up brush holder.

What you’ll need:

  1. Container: cute, wide-mouth container with enough depth and width to easily hold all of your brushes, leaving a little breathing room between each brush to make it easy to grab and replace them.
  2. Rice: enough to fill your container 3/4 full
  3. Downy Unstoppables: 1 Large tablespoon

Steps:

Pretty self-explanatory here, but the instructions anyway, because I figured out a little tip I like …

  1. Mix the rice and Unstoppables in a large container (I used the large clear vase shown here because it was hanging around in my laundry room), then pour the mixture into your container.
  2. Place the brushes (soft part up) into your container:  Tip – I organize my brushes in order of use, that way I’m never looking for a brush.
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Put brushes into your storage container in order of use: foundation brushes to the outside and fine, detailing brushes for your eyes on the inside. This way, when doing your make-up you work from one end of the container to the next, and you’re never looking for supplies.

 

 

Date Night

The idea of a date night is to take time, unwind, and reconnect. But, with the never ending schedule of summer camp, little league, and an endless to-do list at home and the office, the only “date” I have is with my Serta perfect sleeper.

But tonight, with the laundry scales tipping toward done and my littles tucked in front of a Redbox of Forest Gump for the fourth time this summer (don’t ask me why) I am taking ME out.

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I’ve taken a page from the book of a confirmed bachelor friend of mine and I’m settling in with a glass of wine, a LUSH sex bomb bubble bath, candles, and all things girly – tricks guarenteed to drop a pair of panties in no time flat*, followed up by some trash television – a.k.a. Real HouseBitches – and my comfy socks.

I might even give myself a happy ending (which as exhausted as I am right now means a second (okay third) glass of wine and lights out by 10:30.

*Okay so the panty dropping is essential for a bubble bath, but I imagine asking a girl if she’d like to take a bubble bath is pretty damn effective, even for harried moms with hectic schedules.