Friday, November 30, 2007

Singing Christmas ditties

Yes, Thanksgiving's barely over, and Saint Pat is already singing and humming Christmas songs. Purists like MadPriest will heap shame upon her, for sure.

What's a poor girl to do? The merchants have made it clear it's Christmas NOW. The municipal Christmas parade will roll in tomorrow's muggy evening air. (It's still warm here, though a "cold" front is supposed to move in midweek.) Betsy, the best dog in the world, will be crushed to find the saintly employer won't have a float this year; therefore, she will be unable to march in the parade.

Betsy loves marching in parades. She doesn't mind motorcycle roars and truck backfires, as long as she's marching. The only things that spook her are horses. Those are big, scary dogs, the likes of she's never seen before!

Though we won't have a parade float tomorrow, tonight, my employer will take part in the downtown open house, so us employees will have to be Christmas-y.

Meanwhile, what is Thanksgiving weekend without football? Just fine, to me. I don't watch it.

Friends are more into pigskin punting, though, and even get their kids and grandchilluns into the act:

Even mighty football players get tired and fussy!

Sunday, my dear friends from church invited me over to feast on Thanksgiving leftovers, then we went boating on the Halifax River.

The Halifax is an intercoastal waterway, separated from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean by only a thin peninsula of land. It is wide and shallow, with salt water from the inlet mixing with freshwater from the Tomoka basin. You can see dolphins and manatees along its stretch.

While the St. Johns River is quiet, deep and mysterious, the Halifax says, "Come on and play with me!" Fishermen, jet skiers, and boaters of all sorts share its waters.

Watch a flock of seagulls winging low over the water, searching for dinner, and you'll never think of them as awkward or ungainly birds again.

The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse looks over the Atlantic Ocean in the background, while a sailboat makes it way up the Halifax River.

To see more photos of the Halifax River, go to Pat's Flickr photo album.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Moving into holiday season

Saint Pat spent the day as a bird of the air, or a lily of the field: She toiled not, yet her good Father provided for her.

Thanksgiving was a day of living off the fruits of other people's efforts, and it was a good one!

I went to church in the morning, followed by a great Thanksgiving luncheon in the parish hall. I sat at the table with the bird griller. Yes, the parish turkeys had been grilled over charcoal, and the turkey was quite tasty, with a slight mesquite flavor!

Our turkey chef and his wife had been in a bad auto accident. They were cheerful, and grateful for their continuing recovery, though the missus still wears a large brace around her midsection. When I left, they reminded me to wear my seatbelt. Sweet people.

After a few hours at home doing some housekeeping chores and baking a pumpkin pie to take with me, I went to my friends Bob and Linda's house for a small dinner party. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of roasted Cornish hens with mashed potatoes, peas, cranberry sauce, salad, wine, and of course, aforementioned pumpkin pie for dessert. It was cool enough to eat on the front porch, which had been decorated with Japanese lanterns. The whole house was lovely, and the feast beautifully presented. My friend Linda can outdo Martha Stewart!

I did think about the things for which I am grateful. The nasty cold bug made me appreciate my overall good health, and the senses of smell, taste and hearing!

I'm grateful for good friends, for my home -- my haven -- and for the ability to enjoy life. I'm grateful for the cruise. I'm grateful to God for pulling me through the bad times and giving me the good ones.

God gave me good things for my enjoyment, and it's disobedience not to honor his intention.

I want to enjoy life. I watched my mother refuse to enjoy it, and I don't want to be like that. She was determined that Thanksgiving (and every other holiday) was nothing but another day to her, and even though a turkey may be prepared, there was no joy allowed in her house, especially if it was just her and me for the holiday. And was it was usually just her and me. My brothers always had better things to do. I spent some dreary Thanksgivings and Christmases at her house.

This is no disrespect to my mother. It was her woundedness, and her anger with God and the world, which got worse after Dad died. Dad enjoyed holidays, and they were good when he was around, but Mom outlived him by many years.

I will celebrate the holidays. Holy days are holy.

Thank you, Lord for all the good things of this life.

Today, I'm going to the newspaper office for a little while, but I'm not going to work all day, and I'm taking Betsy, the best dog in the world, for whom I'm also grateful, with me.

Tomorrow, I'm going to the house of friends Michelle and Ken, where there will be a big Thanksgiving party, and more turkey feasting.

Thank you, Lord.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Great vacation, back to the daily grind

I'm back. The cruise was great!

Here's what we did:

The band of cruisers met in the church parking lot on a chilly Monday, Nov. 5, and climbed on a charter bus headed for the Port of Tampa, where we boarded the Carnival ship Inspiration.

A view of the Inspiration from a tender boat at Grand Cayman. The ship got underway that afternoon, and the chilly weather was soon left behind.

We spent Tuesday at sea, and Father M led us in a church service. It was a day to relax, hit the decks, and get involved in shipboard activities. After supper, there was a show, with rock-and-roll song and dance.

Wednesday, the Inspiration dropped anchor at Grand Cayman. We had choices of scuba diving, snorkeling, shopping, island tours or whatever we wanted to do. I went snorkeling, which was terrific -- until I got back on ship and was horrified to discover videos of my wide load climbing into the snorkeling boat was being broadcast hourly over the ship's TV station!

Thursday, we docked at Cozumel, where again, we could choose from a number of excursions. A number of us opted for a trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, which overlook a cliff along the Caribbean. We traveled there by a catamaran bus-taxi and a wheeled bus. The ruins were beautiful and fascinating relics of a bygone culture.

Maybe they just downplayed the bloodier aspects of Mayan life here, but I got an impression of a more peaceable life at Tulum than I got from the Mayan ruins I visited in Copan, Honduras a couple of years ago. Tulum temples celebrated the air, the water and other life-giving forces of nature.

It was a beautiful spot, with buildings lining a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Friday we spent at sea. Mother C celebrated the Eucharist, then it was time for fun -- games, the giant water-tube slide, or relaxing in the spa or on one of the decks. We saw a Latin-music inspired show -- watch out, Carmen Miranda!

Passengers responded to the dare to come to a midnight deck party in bathrobes.

Saturday, we were back home again, and trying to decide where to go next year.

Yes, I know -- I've been back for a week without posting.

I came down with a nasty sinusy-cold thing as soon as I got home. Better than on the cruise! But I couldn't take off work, and worked 11 and 12 hour days, then came home and collapsed into bed. No blogging.

I'm over the worst of it now, and a weekend to mostly rest is definitely helping.

Comparing cruises

I had a good time aboard Carnival.

If I had to compare, I would give last year's Royal Caribbean an "A-" and Carnival a "B."

Perhaps this was a misfortune of everyone arriving at the same time, but there was a long queue to check-in and board the Carnival ship. Lunch on deck, once we got there, was zooey, with people grabbing for tables and chairs and juggling carry-on bags, because we couldn't yet get into our cabins to deposit them. It went much more smoothly for last year's cruise.

Carnival's dining room offerings were good; Royal C's were superb. The service was great on both ships. Traveling companions who had been on other Carnival cruises said the food was better on those trips. Some didn't like the "entertainment" in the dining room -- after the main course, the Maitre D' and wait staff would sing and engage cruisers in song and dance. I thought it was fine and fun.

Our Maitre D', George. Part dining room supervisor, part showman.

I didn't like Carnival's scrambled eggs, either in the main dining room or at the grill, which also served breakfast. The eggs tasted like they were made from cheap powdered stuff. The other food, while not top-notch, was good, though. The buffet lunch and supper food served in the Brasserie was very good.

The wait staff was great.

Cardinal sin No. 1: Carnival's coffee wasn't very good. It tasted rather bitter and overcooked. I ended up drinking hot tea or hot chocolate at breakfast. One could supposedly buy gourmet coffee beverages at an onboard coffee shop, but I never did, in protest. I did have a great cuppa at a coffee shop at Georgetown on Grand Cayman, and sipped it while I watched the boats come in and out of the bay from a seat by the window in the second-floor shop.

Cardinal sin No. 2: the drinks weren't very good. Those of you who know Saint Pat knows she has a certain fondness for Margaritas. She never makes them at home, but at a Mexican restaurant, or on a cruise, she might order one. The Margarita ordered on the cruise just wasn't very good. It tasted like it was made from cheap mix.

The entertainment was great on both ships. On Royal C last year, there was a professional-stage show every night. On the Carnival cruise, there were audience-participation games a couple of nights. Maybe that was due to the lengthier voyage.

Carnival came up tops in staterooms. My budget-priced cabin was much larger than Royal C's, with a nicer shower.

Both ships had loads of activities. You could stay busy constantly, or opt for the quiet of your cabin or the library. I took some naps in between events.

I felt slightly more like I was being herded around at times aboard the Carnival ship, which was brimming with passengers. Sometimes it was hard to find a place to sit on deck, at least with a little table for my cup of tea.

But, as I said, I had a good time. After hearing some good and some very negative stuff about Carnival, I'm happy to give this cruise a thumbs up.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Going on vacation

At last, it's here. My much-awaited vacation. Dear Lord, may we have safe travel and a joyous trip.

More about that to come.

New prayer gig

Friday night, I took my first shift doing intercessory prayer at the new, faith-based free clinic in town.

It was awesome.

I prayed with four people, two couples. In between, and before and after, I prayed up the building, the staff (all of whom donate their professional skills) and the patients.

And, in between, I sat with my prayer book and read evening prayers and compline and the collects for the day. I had time to meditate and just be with God. I soaked it up.

The people with whom I prayed thanked me. They had no idea. I was the one who was blessed, by them and by that time in the prayer room.

Thank you Lord, that you call us to you, from the business of the world. You refresh us with your spirit.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A trip up the St. Johns River

I went up the river with a watchdog-conservationist group called the St. Johns Riverkeeper the other day. They rightly figure the more people know and love the river, the more they will want to protect it. I snapped these photos during the trip.

Like most of our water resources, the St. Johns, one of the few rivers to flow south to north, is threatened by development, by the growing need for water, and all the other indignities with which we can threaten it.

An anhinga (snakebird) dries itself on a dock alongside the river.

Plans to withdraw water from the river to satiate the thirst of the population boom in Central Florida are a major cause of concern. The various cities along the river are talking about pulling a total of 262 million gallons of water a day from the river. Treatment plants would pull salts, other minerals and pollutants from the drinking water. Guess what they'll do with the waste: discharge it into the river, thus not only reducing the water level, but increasing the water's salinity, threatening the river ecosystem.

What a mess we make of things.

The old fishermen who grew up on the river say it's gone downhill from the times of their youth, but the St. Johns is still gorgeous, and there's still plenty of fish and wildlife, even if the quantities of bass aren't there anymore.

The Riverkeeper believes it isn't too late to save the St. Johns, but like for the rest of the planet, time is running out.

Rivers are like people, I suspect, each with its own personality. The St. Johns is lush, darkly beautiful and mysterious.

A bald eagle watches our boat go by.

The water, the hyancinths and short vegetation, the taller grasses and the trees all provide habitats for wildlife on the the river. The trees are filled with snowy egrets.