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Best of 2009

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Last year, I copied Cindy and wrote my Best of 2008. I had intended to do more summary posts from 2008, but I don’t think I got around to it. So, here is my attempt at the Best of 2009!

Best Restaurant: Once again, we didn’t really eat out very much. We had an anniversary dinner at Second Empire, which was new to both of us. I ate at Poole’s Diner for brunch before my Christmas date with Audrey. Those were the two notable restaurants. Both were very good, but I think I’m actually going to make an odd choice here and not go for “tastiest” or overall great experience but make the choice based on the frequency and convenience of Ruckus Pizza. We find it easy to take Maddie and have found it to be a good place to go with family and friends. We like the pizza and garlic knots.

Best Book: This is always a difficult category for me. I don’t get the opportunity to read as often as I did before having Maddie, but I still read enough to make it a challenge to pick the “best.” Once again, I’m going to limit this to books that I read for the first time this year (My Sister’s Keeper and To Kill a Mockingbird are disqualified). I choose The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This is a book club pick for March, so I’m a little ahead in reading it. Of course, I haven’t yet read the books for January or February, so I’m not that ahead.

Best Vacation: We actually managed to take several significant trips this year that did not involve visiting family at their homes. We went to Bermuda, Cincinnati, and New England/Canada. All were wonderful trips! I’d have to pick the New England/Canada cruise as the best of the year.

Best Movie: We didn’t get to watch too many movies this year. We saw even less in 2009 as we did in 2008. One of these days, we’ll get to the theatre more often, though I have a feeling we’ll be seeing even more kids’ movies. I’d have to say the best movie that we saw this year was Pixar/Disney’s Up.

Best Reunion: While this isn’t a reunion exactly for me, it was great to finally meet Gabe’s dad, sister, and niece on our trip to Cincinnati.

Best Album: I just don’t listen to new music all that much these days. Gabe got a bunch of new albums for Christmas, but I haven’t had a chance to give them all a listen. I guess I’ll have to pick Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants (another children’s album). I haven’t had a chance to listen to it too much, but I’m hoping Maddie will like it, too!

Best Board Game: I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this category last year. We were exposed to several new games this year as we had the opportunity to play more this year. My favorite by far has to be Dominion (and associated expansions). It has great replayability, is fairly easily accessible for less serious gamers, and plays awesome with two players.

Best Video Game: This is another new category for 2009. I have to admit that I barely played any video games, but I wanted to include the category so I could plug our newly acquired New Super Mario Bros for the Wii. Fun! Maddie shows some interest in “playing the Mario,” and we hope to turn her into a mini video gamer sometime in 2010!

Best TV show: I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this one last year either. Let’s see, looking over my Fall Television Update, I think I’d have to pick either LOST, Chuck, Gossip Girl, or Dollhouse. Tough choice! Since LOST and Chuck haven’t started yet for this season, I think I’ll have to pick Dollhouse. Too bad the series only has a few more episodes. It seems like we often like shows that get canceled. Boo.

Favorite toy: Ok, this is random, but I’m trying to pick MY favorite toy of Maddie’s (not necessarily her favorite). I think I’d have to go with her new Melissa & Doug Sandwich Making Set from Christmas. The wooden pieces are cool, and I love how they stick together with velcro and are quite satisfying to cut with the “knife.” Fun toy!

Happy 21-months, Madeline!

Friday, November 20th, 2009

It’s time for another letter to Maddie! As usual, I have a lot to say about my little girl. I’m sure many of you are shocked.

New England and Canada Cruise – Day 3, Bar Harbor

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

More photos have been posted from our trip! Click on any of the photos in this post to see the full album from Day 3.

We had another early day with a shore excursion in Bar Harbor, our second and final stop in Maine. Kristin and Chad ordered room service for breakfast, and the rest of us went to the Windjammer for the buffet. Gabe and I weren’t too impressed with the selection and quality when we ordered room service breakfast in May. We were happy with the Windjammer this time! Maddie had another great breakfast to start her day.

Our tour was an hour later than the previous morning, but we were tendered instead of docked, so we had to allow some extra time to get to our tour. The tender process was quite easy this time, so we had plenty of time when we arrived on shore. Maddie enjoyed pointing out all the boats in the water. We walked around a little before the tour, but we had to get in line early so that we could sit together and hope to get Maddie a seat.

We liked Bar Harbor much better than Portland! The town had a lot more character. We were excited about our tour, Cadillac Mountain and Rinehart Pavilion. I knew when we were going to Bar Harbor that I definitely wanted to go to Acadia National Park.

Our bus was a bit full, and we were worried that Maddie would have to sit on our laps, but fortunately a few people didn’t show up. Thank goodness. It turned out that this excursion was going to be difficult enough as it was with our little toddler. I think she decided that two days in a row on a bus were not her idea of a good time, plus this tour was a bit long and only stopped twice. I was disappointed that we didn’t get more chances to get off of the bus for photo opportunities. Perhaps that is why Maddie was not happy about being on the bus either! The worst part is that Maddie had a stinky diaper in the first 15 minutes of the tour. We didn’t stop for at least an hour and a half. It was awful! We decided that this was Maddie’s last excursion for a long, long time. Ah well, we learned our lesson.

The views in Acadia were beautiful, especially from the top of Cadillac Mountain. We even were able to spot a little fall color. We had nice views of our ship from the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, we only had about 15 minutes at the top, so Gabe and I didn’t get much chance to enjoy it. We had to change Maddie’s diaper and barely had time to walk to the restrooms and back.

Overall, I definitely prefer tours that have more stops for photo opportunities. The only other stop on the tour was for blueberry pie. The pie was very tasty, but we didn’t have a lot of time for photos at this stop either. All in all, it was a pretty long tour for toddlers (and adults) with little chance to stretch our legs. Maddie hated the time on the bus, but she did love the blueberry pie!

We all opted to get off at the first stop when we returned to Bar Harbor, and Gabe, Chad, and Dad spotted a Brewery right away and went to investigate. They participated in a free, personal beer tasting of four different beers including an interesting blueberry one. Maddie was so tired that she fell asleep in the stroller when it was parked in the tasting area.

We walked around Bar Harbor and visited various shops while Maddie napped. Chad, Kristin, Gabe, and I went to eat lunch while Maddie continued to nap. We were shocked that she napped through the entire meal. Everyone except for me enjoyed their lobster rolls (and I certainly did not feel left out, yuck!). After lunch, we walked around a bit more and then headed back to the ship.

Once back on the ship, we got some food for Maddie and went to hang out on my parents’ balcony. Maddie enjoyed her banana and had a funny moment when she was requesting more banana. She was pointing at the plate of banana, saying “nana! nana!” Then she got a funny look on her face and looked over at my mom and said, “Nana…” You could really see the gears turning and the light bulb appear above her head.

We took Maddie to the Crayola art session. She was the only kid to show up, and the session was geared towards older kids. I’m not sure that oil pastels are a good match with toddlers! She learned that she could easily write on the glass table (which fortunately easily wiped off). At one point, I said, “don’t let her write on her shirt or anything.” Maddie immediately looked at the fistful of pastels in her hand and looked at her shirt and proceeded to draw on her shirt. Oops! Turns out that oil pastel draws nicely on shirts, too.

We got ready for dinner and spent some time on the deck outside before heading to the dining room. Dinner did not go especially well, and Gabe ended up taking Maddie out of the dining room before the entrees were served. Unfortunately, this was Italian night when the waitstaff dances around and sings for us. Gabe was able to catch most of it.

After Maddie went to bed, my mom watched her for about 30 minutes so that Gabe and I could spend a little time in the casino together. We felt like winners when we left the casino with all of the money we brought into it. We didn’t leave with any of the casino’s money, but breaking even with slot machines and video poker works for me.

We went to bed early since we had yet another early excursion the following morning (plus we were losing an hour that night due to the time change). It’s a little exhausting to start the cruise with three straight port days, but we were excited that we would be visiting a new Canadian province the next day (New Brunswick).

New England and Canada Cruise – Day 2, Portland

Monday, October 12th, 2009

The photos have been posted from Day 2. Click on any of the photos in this post to see the full album.

Our first full day was also our first port stop. We haven’t experienced too many cruises, but I think that I prefer having a sea day as the first full day! Our other two cruises started out in that way. You don’t get as much time to relax or explore the ship when you start out with 3 port days right in a row.

Our day started with breakfast in the Windjammer. In our other trips, we preferred the dining room but we found the food to be better on this trip all around, except for the quality of the pastries. I think we all agreed that the pastries were lacking. Fortunately, they had plenty of choices so the pastries were easy to avoid. Maddie didn’t mind as she had her favorite Cheerios to keep her happy. We tried to give her a taste of an English breakfast with baked beans, but everyone knows baked beans aren’t breakfast food! She wouldn’t touch them.

All 7 of us were signed up for the Lighthouses of Maine tour. It was nice to be together on the shore excursion (plus, we were able to get quite a few photos). The tour stopped at 3 different lighthouses: Portland Breakwater Lighthouse (known as “Bug Light”), Spring Point Ledge, and Portland Head Light. The stops were spaced well enough so that Maddie didn’t get too upset about being on a bus (and she was able to have her own seat). She was still amused by the new purse and new toys, so that helped, too. Our liberal usage of the pacifier didn’t hurt either.

The tour guide talked constantly but seemed to be making up things as she went along. She was quite fond of Portland and took every opportunity to tell us how “lovely” that it was. She also seemed obsessed with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who is actually a prominent local figure (so her facts in some cases were not botched). She talked quite a bit about the statue of Longfellow downtown and how that local people decorated him around holidays and such with Santa hats for Christmas or hearts around Valentine’s Day. Chad joked that she was probably the one doing all the decorating. We all thought that was hilarious.

She told us about the American Revolutionary War that happened in 1865 and that our 3rd United States president was Alexander Hamilton. I’m not sure what these things had to do with Portland, but apparently they were significant. We couldn’t get past the fabrication of “facts” on the tour. It also seemed like every other building in Portland was filled with low-income, elderly people. This may be true, but we felt it was a bizarre thing to talk about every other block. We did see some signs around Portland that said, “elderly pedestrian crossing” which is something I had never seen before!

My favorite thing that she said was after she was coughing. “Oh, I think I’m getting a cold!” Um, yeah. That’s not the sort of thing that you should be telling a tour full of cruise ship passengers. We’re a little concerned about the spread of disease. I kept my distance from her after that and certainly wasn’t about to shake her hand. Come to think of it, maybe that’s where Kristin and Chad got their cold that they had later in the trip. Hrm…

We could see our ship from the first stop (Bug Light). I tried pointing it out to Maddie, “Look, Maddie! There’s our ship! It’s our big boat!” She got a big smile on her face, and then started saying, “dog! dog!” Several dogs were playing in the park. Funny girl.

After walking around the Bug Light area, we headed to our next stop at Spring Point Ledge. This is the lighthouse that we were able to see from our stateroom as we were pulling into the dock. We weren’t able to get real close to this one as it is at the end of a long, rocky path.

We took a bunch of photos at this stop of the scenery and each other.

Our last stop was at Portland Head Light which had a little museum and a lady who talked to us about the history of the lighthouse. I’m pretty sure that her facts were more trustworthy than our tour guide’s! This lighthouse was very picturesque. All of the stops on our tour did not have access to any gift shops or stores with drinks or snacks, and the only restrooms were port-a-potties. Fortunately, we brought some snacks for Maddie but felt like we should better prepare for our next tour!

We headed back to the dock where Kristin and Chad went back onto the ship for their hot stones massage. We went to eat lunch with Mom and Dad where everyone except me had a lobster roll. I tried a crab roll. I wasn’t a big fan of either. I’m just not crazy about lobster, and the crab roll was way too much crab meat for me. My dad and Gabe were happy to eat my leftovers. After we left the restaurant, we realized a few blocks later that we left the fancy, expensive camera behind. Thank goodness we figured this out before getting back on the ship!

Gabe and I went back to the ship for Maddie’s afternoon nap, and Mom and Dad continued to a railroad museum and to walk around Portland some more. Maddie napped in her stroller, and I had a second lunch to make up for not eating much of my crab roll. We went back to the room a bit too early as Maddie woke up shortly after we parked her in the stateroom. Gabe was kind enough to let me nap while he strolled her around the ship, but she never did go back to sleep. After my nap, we got ready for our first formal night.

We had several formal portraits taken with just the 3 of us and with all 7 of us on the trip.

Dinner with Maddie did not go as smoothly as the previous night, but she still did pretty well given that she had such a short nap. Our waitstaff was slow, especially considering that we told him that we preferred a quicker than average meal. Every night, other tables would be getting their entrees before we received our appetizers and would be completely finished with their meals before we ordered dessert.

By the end of this day, Maddie was saying everyone’s names in our family with ease. It was very cute to hear her say, “Keestan,” “uh-Chad,” “Nana,” and “Bapa.” By the end of the trip, she started calling my dad, “Papa,” so I guess we’ll see what sticks in the long run.

After dinner, Mom and I went to the Viking Crown Lounge while Gabe was putting Maddie to bed. We had a nice chat with the bartender. On this trip, we talked with several of the crew about their schedules and being away from their families. I’m sure it is a great opportunity for many of them, but it is difficult for me to imagine being away from my family for 7 months at a time.

Once Maddie was sleeping, all of us hung out on the balcony of our stateroom. We loved having a balcony! Mom and Dad shared their wine and cheese plate that we had ordered for them as a “thank you” for the trip. Mom and I continued to hang out on the balcony while Gabe, Kristin, Chad, and Dad all went to the casino to lose some money. Gabe discovered that they had a poker game, but we didn’t end up playing the rest of the trip. The game wasn’t great (similar to the other cruise), and it was $2-5 NL. We didn’t exactly have the bankroll to be playing $2-5 NL, so we stayed away. If the players were all awful, we may have played more!

We all went to bed to get ready for another early morning, this time in Bar Harbor!

New England and Canada Cruise – Day 1, leaving Boston

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

I’ve also posted the photos from Day 1. Click on any photo in this post to see many more in the full album (from Day 1).

We started the day organizing our luggage and getting ready to board the ship. Bags needed tagging with the special cruiseline luggage tags, and we needed to sort out what we were going to hand carry onto the ship. It took us a while to get ready! We then headed with my mom to find some breakfast. We ended up having a tasty breakfast at a sort of grocery store. Maddie ate a big breakfast while sitting on Nana’s lap (our “high chair” since they had none).

By the time we were finished with breakfast, it was time to gather our belongings and head to the ship. Somehow, we accidentally cut in line during the boarding process (which was an honest mistake). Things seemed like they were going smoothly as we filled out our health forms and acquired our sea pass cards. And then we had to stand around FOREVER waiting to get onto the ship. They were doing some sort of annual Coast Guard inspection, so I believe this was an unusual circumstance. No matter what the case, it was the worst boarding experience that any of us had ever had.

Since we accidentally skipped in the line (oops), they gave us “group 7″ as our boarding time. We still have no idea what that would have meant since my mom arranged priority boarding for us due to the pregnant woman and fidgety toddler. Once the line was finally started, it took a while for it to get moving. The actual boarding was awful as we had a VERY steep climb up to the ship. The man in front of us was in a wheelchair, and it took 3 strong people to get him up the boarding ramp. It was a ridiculous situation. I was concerned about carrying Maddie up that ramp onto the ship.

Once we made it onto the ship, we explored a little and then went to lunch in the Windjammer. Gabe and I were impressed in the differences between our previous ships (Vision of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas) and the Jewel of the Seas. It makes a big difference to be on a much newer ship! The Jewel of the Seas is a little larger than our previous ships, too. We felt that the food in the Windjammer was much better than either of the other ships. We typically avoided the buffet in the past, but this time we were happy enough with it to have lunch and breakfast there almost every day. We did not notice any other kids while we were having lunch.

After lunch, we were excited to finally see our rooms and all of our awesome balconies. This was the first time that we have had a balcony, and we loved it! Maddie especially enjoyed it. Kristin and Chad and our family had hump rooms (8086 and 8088). The hump rooms have enormous balconies, compared to the other rooms. Maddie approved. My parents had an aft room which was also very neat and had a nice balcony.

We put Maddie in the stroller for her afternoon nap and explored the ship while she napped. Gabe and I were impressed by the Jewel of the Seas! It has a lot of nice things that our other ships didn’t have like extra restaurants, mini-golf, water slides, basketball courts, and self-leveling pool tables. Maddie’s nap was cut shorter than usual due to some dancing in the Safari Club. We headed back to our rooms where we found our baggage had been delivered, so we did a little unpacking before the muster drill.

Our meeting location for the muster drill was in the Schooner Bar, and we were not required to bring our life jackets to the drill. I guess we missed out on goofy photo opportunities this time! We did some more unpacking and headed to dinner after spending a little time on Mom and Dad’s balcony.

We were concerned about how dinner would go for Maddie since she had such a short nap, but she did great! She made it through the entire dinner. She was entertained by her new purse which contained some small books, new Little People figures, and her bracelets. The purse and contents were a hit and kept her entertained for part of the meal. The wait staff provided her with crayons each night, so that always entertained her a short while. She also enjoys wiping her tray with the wipes after her meal.

We walked around the ship some more after dinner with Kristin and Chad and ordered a special wine and cheese package for Mom and Dad. Somehow that was a much more complicated process than it should have been! I guess it’s much easier to order those types of packages before you set sail. Gabe and I couldn’t resist going to the casino on the first night. Mom and Chad wanted to go, too. Kristin volunteered to watch Maddie after she went to bed, and the four of us headed to the casino.

We looked for Texas Hold’em and didn’t see a game running, so we played blackjack, roulette, and video poker instead. We all took advantage of the once-per-cruise deal where you can buy $30 worth of chips for $20. Gabe and I did not have a successful first night in the casino!

We went back to the room, hung out a little with Kristin and Chad on our balcony, and went to bed. We didn’t have too much trouble sleeping in our stateroom, but we did notice that we can hear the music from the Centrum in our room. They seem to play pretty late (for us), so we were worried this might be a problem. Our room was the first one on the hall, right next to the elevators and the open 8-story Centrum area.

New England and Canada Cruise – Day 0, getting to Boston

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

It’s time for the first in my series of trip reports for the New England/Canada Cruise. I’m going to try to keep up with the photos this time as I go. Click on any of the photos in this post to see the full photo album (for Day 0).

We left midday on Friday, September 18th. The morning was spent with last minute packing and errands (including buying a cheap watch for Gabe since we learned from our last cruise). We really do try to pack light, but we can’t seem to do it. We were not light packers before Maddie, and now we need to bring so many more things.

We picked up Kristin and Chad from their house and managed to fit all of us and our luggage into the new minivan. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to cram it all into the van, but it worked out nicely! Gabe dropped us off with the luggage and went to park the car in the park and ride. This worked out pretty well because, as you can see, we had a ton of stuff.

After we checked our luggage and went through security, we had some time to kill before our flight. We all had lunch and then Gabe and Chad went to grab a couple beers before boarding. Our flight was leaving right at Maddie’s naptime, which we thought would be a good time to fly. She did not sleep at all, but the flight went pretty well. She stayed happy for the majority of the flight and was content to stay in her carseat.

We landed in Boston a few minutes early and were able to get our luggage and a cab with no problem. We weren’t sure if we could all fit into one cab with all the luggage and people! We met my parents at the hotel, checked out our rooms, and then went for a walk in the hopes that Maddie would take her much needed nap.

We walked around the waterfront and the area around our hotel. It was very windy and a bit cool! Some parts of that area seem a bit sketchy to me, as I remembered from a previous trip about 6 years ago. Maddie took a nap for about 45 minutes. Not great, but it would have to do for today. We went out to dinner at Legal Sea Foods Test Kitchen. Maddie didn’t eat very much and wasn’t in the best mood which did not surprise us given her short nap.

We returned to the hotel where we spent a little more time in the room before going to the lobby to meet my aunt and uncle. My mom’s brother and his wife have been living close to Boston in the past year or so. We chatted with them and had some drinks. Gabe took Maddie to bed to sleep in the crib (which has prompted us to want to bring a pack-n-play everywhere we go – the hotel crib did not seem to be the best choice for our precious daughter).

After visiting with my aunt and uncle a bit, we bid them farewell. Gabe and Chad went to the bar for a few drinks (hrm, I’m sensing a pattern here). I went to bed shortly after going back to the room to watch over Maddie. We were all excited about our big day tomorrow when we would board our cruise ship! Maddie’s night was pretty good, though she did spend the last few hours of the night in our bed. I didn’t mind snuggling with her one bit (especially given the fact that we didn’t like the crib option!).

The Sunday Somethings, 27sep09

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Others writing The Sunday Somethings: Audrey

Something that made me happy this week: Spending time with my family on the New England and Canada cruise.

Something I’m thinking: Traveling with a toddler can be exhausting!

Something I’m hoping: I’m hoping to get organized with my trip photos this week. We took less than a thousand, so that should be manageable, right?

Something happening around the house: Laundry and unpacking.

Something I’m reading: I read a little bit of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan on the cruise, but not much. I’m in another reading slump.

Something tasty I ate this week: I had many tasty things on the cruise! I really enjoyed the oatmeal each morning. Yum. Too bad I’m too lazy to make anything other than instant oatmeal at home…

Something Maddie did this week: Went on her 2nd cruise. She’s working on her Platinum status with the Crown & Anchor Society.

Something happening with the pregnancy: Our son is kicking more and more each day. Gabe was actually able to feel some kicks this past week.

Something I struggled with this week: Keeping a toddler on vacation happy. It’s quite different vacationing with a young child.

Something I’m doing towards my goals: As I mentioned last week, I added a new state (Maine) and two new provinces (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Maddie and Gabe had never been to any of those places either (and this was Maddie’s first visit to Canada).

Something I learned this week: I learned many things about Maine, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick through our shore excursions.

Something I’m looking forward to next week: Getting together with friends, book club, and a birthday party.

Something random: New Brunswick is the only official bilingual Canadian province.

Something I captured: One of the many photos from our cruise…more to come soon, I hope.

Our upcoming trips!

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

We have added a few trips to our list for this year. We’re planning to visit Gabe’s family in Kentucky for the opening weekend at Keeneland in April. We missed opening weekend last year since Maddie was so young, so we are glad we can make it this year. In September, we are going on a cruise to New England and Canada with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. Since our Alaskan Cruise, we have been interested in taking future cruises. We are very excited for the opportunity to take Maddie on her first cruise. We’re working on a few more travel plans and hope to have more to post soon!

Foxwoods updates!

Monday, August 8th, 2005

Updated Foxwoods Poker trip report. Added Foxwoods Poker photos. Added a Connecticut and a Rhode Island photo to the States photo collection. Added Connecticut and Rhode Island to the list of states that I have visited!

New Foxwoods trip!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Added the Foxwoods Poker upcoming trip.