Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Squashed 2011!

Squashed.  My garden that is.  Completely and utterly squashed by the ugly little insects known as squash bugs.  So much for my great experiment in planting by the phases of the moon using the Farmer's Almanac!  Planting by the moon didn't help our garden out (even before the squash bug invasion) at all.  The transfer from seedling pots to the garden was too late to get a decent harvest for us.  The almanac said that we could transfer in June, but from now on we will transplant no later than Memorial Day Weekend.  Planting in the ground in June just didn't give the plants enough time to weatherize/establish their roots/and become sturdy before the real heat of summer arrived in full swing.  Combine the late planting with a massive squash bug infestation and our garden was a major bust this year.
These little bugs "squashed" my garden. :(
We did get some things from it, but none of the tomatoes, squash (butternut, yellow, zucchini), watermelon, pumpkin, or cantaloupe that I dreamed of in the Spring.  We harvested all of 5 cucumbers before the squash bugs moved on to kill those plants before I realized what was going on and it was too late.  Our tomatoes grew, but the fruits didn't ripen in time due to being planted too late and the deluge of rain we had toward the end of the summer (Tropical Storms Irene and Lee).  They rotted on the vines still mostly green.  I planted a few potato plants to see how our land did with them and was pleasantly surprised we got a decent harvest of them!  They were delicious, too!  We also got one ear of corn before Tropical Storm Irene hit and demolished all of our corn stalks and A.R. just harvested our carrots yesterday.  We had to harvest them to save them from the bunnies!  So far, the harvest looks pretty decent.

Okay, as I type this and am reading about what we did harvest from our garden, maybe it wasn't a total bust.  We just didn't have anything of the squash variety and we have a dozen gorgeous giant sunflowers to look at right now just like this one:

Next year, we'll buy our tomato plants already started as we have had no luck in getting ripe tomatoes from seeds I start myself.  Also, we'll be tilling and fertilizing this fall in addition to adding some Sevin to the soil to kill the squash bugs.  I had hoped to stay organic and not have to use pesticides, but I feel okay doing one treatment in the fall, burning the plants we do have that have the squash bug eggs on them, and then not planting any squash type plants in the spring for one season.  I've read tons on how to get rid of an infestation and it can be rather difficult, so this is the route we'll take.  I'm going to ask my in-law's if I can plant a few squash plants at their house next year in exchange for garden space at our house, so we'll hopefully get some cukes, squash, and pumpkins.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

I didn't read the synopsis of this book before I picked it up at the library for my bookclub and had I done that, I doubt I would've read it.  Adoption hits a little too close to home for me.  I can only imagine what my parents would have gone through had they been in the same position as Ellen Gleeson in the novel.  My two younger siblings were adopted and my sister wasn't officially "ours" until a full year after her adoption took place because her father was unknown or what they called a John Doe on her adoption paperwork.  We very well could have lost her, had her birth father come forward and I know that while my mother did not give birth to her, it would've tormented her to have to give her up again. 

I can also empathize on Ellen's need for closure and to have to follow through on her discovery even if it meant the worst for her in the end.  It is possible for an adoptive parent to love as much as a biological one and it IS possible for them to feel that mother's intuition.  This book was emotional for me.  Having placed a child of my own for adoption, I have felt what it's like to love and lose.  To give birth and then he is no more.  Yes, he's alive and thriving and the decision I made was my own and the best for my son, but it doesn't make it an easy one.  I grieved for many years just like a mother who lost a child does.  In this story, Ellen was really a true mother.  I don't want to say too much without giving the storyline away, but if you read this book have some tissues nearby.  I know I needed them!  It was well-written and an easy read...just a little extra emotional for me.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I didn't read this book as part of my book club, but it was on my "to read" list and I had to wait for the book that I was supposed to read, so I snagged this one while I could.  Of course I still had a three and a half week wait for this book!  I honestly had no idea what it was about until I caught one of the movie previews on the television and then I was hooked.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing the movie even though I know they are never the same (I tend to prefer book over movie).

The author wrote about "The Help" in the deep South town of Jackson, Mississippi in the heat of a time and place where racism was rampant and black people were seen as inferior. Reading this book brought me back to the eighth grade when I did a Social Studies project on slavery in America and I wrote a paper on the day in the life of a slave from a slave's perspective. I won third prize in our social studies fair for my project and learned a lot about the history in our country from the project. Some of the things truly ashamed me and I felt the same way when reading this book. While this book is fiction, I know it's based on true experiences. The fact that white women didn't let their black house cleaners use the same restrooms as they did, yet they let them raise their children appals me and embarasses me.  I really felt for little Mae Mobley who was more attached to "the Help" than her own mother and for Minny and Aibileen for having to bite their tongues so much when faced with unfair and humiliating situations.  I love what Skeeter did for these women and felt sad for her when she learned about her beloved Help, Constantine.

The book was well written, easy to read, and hard to put down after the second chapter.  I will most definitely read more from this author at some point.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Three Years Ago Today...

I said, "I do!"  I cannot believe it has been three years already and yet I can.  I can truly say that A.R. is my soulmate and he completes me.  He makes the good parts of me better and accepts my flaws (sometimes with gritted teeth :p).  We complete each other's thoughts and have silent all-telling smiles between us.  He is the father of my beautiful daughter, my best friend, my lover.  Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for sending him my way. 

I'll never forget the first time I laid eyes on him as I rode down the escalator into the main lobby where we both work.  He was pacing nervously back and forth and then stopped for an instant and looked up at me.  At that moment, I knew.  I knew my life was going to be different and better.  It seems silly to think that one quick glance changed everything, but it did.  Everything else was a blur of slow motion as I stepped off that escalator that day and heard the first words he spoke to me, "You must be Heather!"  After a two and a half hour lunch date our fates were sealed.  Now, here we are with a family, a house, two dogs, and three years post wedding...I think we forgot the picket fence along the way, but I think it's safe to say that A.R. is my home and I'm totally in love and smitten with him, like I was on the day we first met.  Happy Anniversary, Babe.  You truly do complete me. 


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Vacation!! Part 1- The Cruise

This post is quite delayed and I'm sure you've been sitting on the edge of your seat biting your nails in anticipation waiting for it.  Okay, maybe my life isn't that interesting, but at long last almost a month after our cruise departed I'm going to finally write about our fabulous vacation.  A.R. and I are just in love with cruising and were desperate to get away since last summer with a newborn we didn't get farther then a long weekend camping in Rhode Island.  Please note that for us, camping was NOT a vacation...my nephews enjoyed it and it was fun for me as a child to go camping, but man as and adult is it a lot of work!  As for the cruise...

Birdseye view Deck 12 down to Deck 7
This was our first cruise on Norwegian and our first experience with their "famous" Freestyle dining, but it was my sixth cruise and A.R's fifth.  I have to say that after sailing on Norwegian, we are still "Loyal Royals" and won't purposely stray away from Royal Caribbean again in the near future (except for maybe a Disney Cruise for our kids one year way down the road).  There is just more to do on Royal's ships for both adults and children including mini golf, ice skating, rock climbing, clubs, more pools, and hello?!  What about Johnny Rockets at all hours!  Of course, we still had a great time on our trip and it wasn't awful, just not as good as we expected after hearing reviews of Norwegian and how convenient it was.

From the chocolate buffet

Chocolate show pieces at the chocolate buffet
We sailed on the Norwegian Dawn and had heard that it was recently released from dry dock after some sprucing up.  To be honest, it still looked kind of meh to me.  I think we've been spoiled by the Royal Promenade on Royal's ships.  Getting around the ship was a pain in the neck.  The quickest route from our port side cabin which was literally three doors down from the aft cabins on Deck 9 to the kiddie pool just a mere three decks right above us involved traipsing through the spa and gym.  The other option would be to walk to mid-ship just to catch the elevators that actually went up to Deck 12.  We had booked an aft cabin to be closer to the kiddie pool and it ended up backfiring on us (we are usually mid-ship).  Getting to the internet cafe which we ended up not using for a change was a scavenger hunt in itself that actually ended down the hall from us to an inconspicous door that read "Go through here to internet cafe".  I never would've found it had we not been staying on that deck and walked by it on our way to the front of the ship for a show. 

Child sized lounge chairs by the pool = PRICELESS!
We had three sea days on board the ship and M was only allowed in ONE of the pools on the entire boat.  It was a kiddie wading pool that was maybe 8x8 with warmer than bath water by the end of the week (pee pee water?!).  We tried to take her to the larger kid pool which was the only one that had some shade over it and were told she couldn't be in there.  Forget about trying her in the adult pool as it was sea water and she couldn't go in it, either, according to the staff.  Frustrating for us, but she did enjoy the wading pool which also had a small slide into, so we lived with it. 

Our row waiting for the show to start
As for the Freestyle dining- Not. A. Fan. At all.  I get the convenience factor it's supposed to offer, but in reality everyone on board wants to eat at one of three times: 1) early to see the late show in the theater or 2) late to see the early show or 3) somewhere inbetween because the kids can't wait until super late, but also would be too exhausted for the late show and eating too early would mean they are starving before bed.  In theory, being able to chose when you eat sounds appealing, but it just doesn't work.  Especially, on a sea day without other options for dinner off the ship.  The two sea days we did use the main dining halls (included in your fare) we had to wait.  One night we waited 45 minutes for dinner!  Yes, we could've gone to the 24 hour buffet or visited one of the five "Specialty" restaurants (for a small fee- the lowest was $15 cover charge pp), but we paid for the cruise and wanted to enjoy a nice 3-course meal in the dining hall because let's face it...we don't do it home.  To attend a Specialty restaurant you had to make a reservation and most of the best times were booked early (as in the first 2-3 days on board).  We did try out one of the restaurants, Teppanyaki, which was a Hibachi grill and it was fabulous, but the cover charge for us to eat there made us both swallow hard.  We (all 12 of us in my family that traveled) also felt that the wait staff for the main dining halls for the most part did not work as hard as on other liners.  I think it has to do partly with the fact that they weren't working for extra gratuities (while you could tip if you did feel so inclined) and usually, you didn't get seated with the same staff twice.  On other liners you tip on the last day on board directly, but with NCL an auto gratuity per person, per day is added to your state room tab that is then split among that staff, so tipping more is at your discretion only.  Why would they want to go above and beyond when most people wouldn't be seated at their table more than once.  There were a couple waiters/waitresses that we had that were fabulous, but more than half weren't.
Our chef at Tappenyaki

Okay, I could probably rant about a few more things, but let me add in some positives before this becomes a small novel...The food on board the ship no matter where you went was FABULOUS.  It's amazing that I only gained 2 pounds the whole trip.  Seriously!  Our stateroom staff was top knotch and knew all of our names (even M's) by the morning of the second day and greeted us each day.  Of course M put on her charm, cocked her head, waved, smiled, and said, "He-ey!" back at them each morning. :)  The spa.  OH, the spa how I love thee.  A.R. and I indulged in a hot stone couples massage that was pure bliss and I had a facial that was so relaxing.  A bonus was the staff didn't try to push their products on us after each spa service like we've had on other liners, which I appreciated.  Also, the entertainment shows were actually not completely cheesy.  Okay, maybe a little bit cheesy, but it was a nice smooth, tastey cheese.  The production staff was fabulous, the singers, dancers, and aerialists were amazing.  Yes, the ship had its own aerialists!  I think the best part of the cruise was the fact we were docked in Bermuda for three days instead of a new island each day.  This change of pace for us worked out nicely having a little one along for the first time.  We didn't have to rush, we took our time to really explore the island and got to see all of it instead of picking and chosing what was worthy, and we saved money doing tours on our own and using Bermuda's public transit system to get around the island on our own.  Oh and chocolate buffet!!  No further explanation needed. :)
One of the aerialists at a performance (he's middle of screen hanging from ceiling)

Overall, the ship wasn't horrible, but it wasn't the best we've been on.  Bermuda was a beautiful island and I'll share more about our adventures there in Part 2.  We had a wonderful and very relaxing trip and came back rejuvenated.
Final production- some of our cruise staff

A view towards the ship's front from our stateroom balcony

Towel animal decapitation about to commence
Getting her Barney fix with puffs and Papi- a toddler dream vacation
Yup, they were alcoholic. Best thing about cruises = no driving!
Our stateroom
Dining in the Venetian with the family
The whole gang except my brother-in-law, Javiel, on Embarkation Day
Bye Bye Tropical Storm!  PHEW!