Archive for December, 2012

Our Pre-Christmas Caribbean Cruise

Happy New Year’s Eve to you.  I’m so ready for 2012 to end and I’m excited about the new adventures that lie ahead for me and for all of my friends in 2013.  It’s also hard to believe that one of the biggest adventures of my life ended one week ago today and I’m just now posting a blog and photos about it.  Yes, I’m talking about our western Caribbean per-Christmas cruise.

After booking the cruise in May 2012, it finally arrived seven months later with us heading off to Chicago December 18th to start our journey.  In Chicago, we met up with Ray’s sister, Cindy, and his aunt and uncle, Virginia & Joe, for an evening of conversation, Mexican food, and margaritas.

Anthony Gretel Mexican Chicago

Last Wednesday, Uncle Joe dropped us off at Midway and Betty (Mom) flew in from Cleveland to fly down to New Orleans on the same flight with us.  While sitting at the airport, Gretel entertained herself by drawing each of us on her Kindle.  This is me.

Anthony Art by Gretel

As we arrived in New Orleans Wednesday (12/19), you were bracing for a blizzard back home and we headed out to the French Quarter with temperatures in the 70s for tasty sandwiches at a funky little place called Jimmy J’s Cafe.  We then walked down Bourbon Street, along the Mississippi River, and to the Christmas display at Harrah’s casino.  That evening we also met a dear college friend of mine, Crystal, and her husband, Ants, for beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

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While shopping in New Orleans, Gretel bought herself a hoodie sweatshirt and a mask and Ray bought an old man hat (don’t tell him I said this) as a souvenir.

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On the afternoon of Thursday, December 20th, we were ready to leave New Orleans after having a yummy muffuletta for lunch and set sail from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico to the western Caribbean Sea to Cozumel, Mexico, on Saturday, and then turn around to return back to New Orleans on Christmas Eve.

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Within minutes of leaving the Port of New Orleans, we were on one of the top decks of the ship for Gretel to act out “King of the World” from “Titanic”.

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And, then it happened.  No, Gretel wasn’t hurt!  As we were walking on the deck, the wind caught Ray’s hat and off into the air it went.  As it dropped toward the back of the ship, it appeared that we lucked out and it would land on the deck below.  As I started off toward the stairs to retrieve it, it hit the rail and became one more piece of matter to decompose in the Mississippi River.  We sadly watched it disappear at 20 miles-per-hour.

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This picture was taken moments later.  Without a hat, Ray still managed a smile.  In all honesty, as ugly as I thought it was, I was sorry that Ray lost his hat!

We were at sea all day Friday and the one thing that blew us all away was how the water changed from murky and muddy on the Mississippi to crystal clear, blue water at 6,000+ feet deep in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

One thing that was very obvious about going on a cruise is that you never go hungry.  You can get pizza, ice cream, and room service 24 hours a day and there were breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night buffets, along with formal dining each night.

While it was nice to sample many things, one thing that saddened me about the cruise was not so much the amount of gluttony that took place, but the amount of food that people took or ordered and wasted.  This just blew my mind.  People wasting food has always been a pet peeve of mine and I tried not to let it bother me, but it was hard to ignore.  Don’t get me wrong.  I ate plenty on the cruise, but I never wasted anything and I ate everything on my plate.

Here are some of my favorites:  alligator, lobster, sushi, Caribbean jerk chicken, Wisconsin cheese stuffed tomatoes, cold mango soup, warm chocolate cake, cherries jubilee, and bitter/sweet bread pudding, and Tiramisu.

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On Friday night, it was the Captain’s Dinner.  That was the one night that it was highly recommended that you really dress up.  And, I think that my cruise mates and I pulled it by looking stunning and dashing.

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On Saturday, we arrived in Cozumel, Mexico, for our seven hours on land.  While there, we shopped and went to a beach.

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This was the view as we left Cozumel and our Mexican sunset.

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After that, we were back on the ship and we spent much of Sunday at the pool and I even went down the big slide into the saltwater pool with Gretel.

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And, Gretel and I tried to be very Gaga on the cruise.

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And, Miss ABBA got to “enjoy” the ocean, too. 🙂

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We didn’t have any trouble going through customs getting off the ship Christmas Eve morning and both flights and the three-hour drive home was uneventful, i.e. no delays.

This first two shots are of our plane descending into Chicago through the clouds.  While both are cool shots, it looks a little freaky.

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Overall, we all had a good time.  One thing that we didn’t account for was pairing two women, Tammy and Betty, in the same room.  Both have lived alone for many years and they didn’t exactly room together perfectly and butted heads a few times.  It reached a climax Sunday morning.  After a heart-to-heart talk with each one of them, the rest of the cruise and the vacation went off without a hitch.

Tammy and Gretel both experienced seasickness the second day of the trip, but after a Dramamine, they were okay.  Gretel was also fighting off a cold she caught from her mother before the trip.

Another thing that caught us by surprise on the cruise is that Gretel did not want to participate in any of the Camp Carnival events geared toward kids on board.  So, while they had many things to do, she wanted to hang around the adults, which prevented the grown-ups from checking out the clubs and casino each night.  However, Tammy did do some nighttime activities on her own and Betty hit the casino several times.  Ray and I did stop by the casino and we ended up losing only about $8, but we got to play for a bit.

Overall, we all had a good time on the cruise.  However, if I do another cruise or a major vacation, it will be just me and Ray.  We travel well together and you’re not trying to please everyone and play peacemaker.

A final note about the cruise is something that I found very disheartening.  While the cruise was reasonably priced, I found out that the reason is that Carnival pays their employees very little money (maybe as little as $74/month) and they rely heavily on tips.  They work for almost eight months straight and then get two months off to go back to their home country.  In addition to working seven days a week and months on end, they work multiple shifts in a 24-hour period.

So, my plea to anyone taking a cruise, please make sure you tip your servers and stewards very well before you leave the ship.

I’ll be posting all of the cruise pictures on my Facebook page tomorrow.

Anthony

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Random Thoughts 2012 Recap, Part Three

Okay, new blogs start tomorrow.  This is my final installment of the recaps of my “random” blogs from 2012.  Those are the ones where I talked about multiple topics in one blog.  Basically, it was whatever was on my mind that day!  To read the individual blogs from this fall, I’ve made it easy.  Just click on the title once you’ve opened today’s blog.

September 15, 2012

In this blog, I covered Osama bin Laden, 9/11, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Argo”, “Lincoln”, freaky fish, Asian carp, bananas, and marriage equality.

I’m Having More Random Thoughts

September 27, 2012

My random thoughts on this day included Ohio and the presidential election, heavy rain expected in Houston for my vacation, our fish pond and raccoons, “The Impossible”, Christmas, Reba and “Malibu Country”, “The New Normal”, “Elementary”, and new music from Calvin Harris.

A Buffet of Thoughts — A Little of This & That

November 10, 2012

In this blog, I put the elections into perspective and behind me and I covered the top-selling artists in English music history, how many people believe in God, Christmas cards, and featured new music from Reba McEntire.

My Early November Random Thoughts

November 15, 2012

In this blog, I talked about Channing Tatum being named the “Sexiest Man Alive”, Christmas, Christmas music from Rod Stewart and Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.  Also, I blogged about “The Campaign” and “Arthur Christmas”, bigotry, Madonna, and PSY.

I’m Thinking About Christmas & Much More Today

December 6, 2012

Christmas was on my mind in this blog, along with human rights, Hillary Clinton, the lack of snow, my sister, Tammy, Shania Twain in Las Vegas, Britney Spears and will.i.am, Christmas decorating, Ke$ha, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and “Love Actually”.

Random December Thoughts

December 15, 2012

And, finally, Christmas, “Dexter”, marriage equality, killing camels, ice, snow, winter, and the fish pond were on my mind in my last random blog of the year.

I’m Having More Random December Thoughts

Anthony

Random Thoughts 2012 Recap, Part Two

Here’s another round of the random blogs that I posted this summer that covered multiple topics.  To read each random blog, I’ve made it easy so you only have to click on the highlighted title inside the blog.  Have a great Saturday.

June 21, 2012

You Know What I’m Thinking?

In this blog, I talked about classic rock and kitchen renovation, causes of death in the United States, the summer drought and being ready for fall and winter, Olivia Newton-John, my future pick hit from Chris Wallace, and chocolate wine.

July 10, 2012

I’m Thinking About These Things Today (And You May Agree or Disagree)

In this blog,  just ten days before the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting spree, I said “guns don’t kill, people do”.  I know that guns caused the actual deaths, but there was a person behind them.  Sadly, when I wrote this segment of the blog, I referenced the Tucson, Arizona shooting and I had no idea of what would happen later in the month.  And, now we have the fresh, sad memories of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.  You might find the reading interesting and I welcome your feedback.

I also referenced work and seniority, which is another ill-fated topic since I’m no longer there.

There were also random thoughts about Hank Williams Jr. calling President Obama “Hitler”, food, the remake of “Steel Magnolias”, Carrie Underwood, and the music of Laura Pausini.

August 7, 2012

My Wandering Mind — Here’s What I’m Thinking About

The heavy topic on my mind here was about returning soldiers and the demons they face, which leads to more suicides.  I also touched on human rights.  On a lighter note, I had random thoughts about “Dexter”, fall, food, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Artpop”, Lady Gaga, “The Paperboy”, “Lebanon”, and the music of Demi Lovato.

August 26, 2012

Oh No, He’s Thinking About Random Things

Topics here:  nuclear power plants, healthy eating and cheesecake, bigotry, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, fall, Thomas Roberts’ upcoming marriage, hot new music from Zedd and Madonna, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Argo”.

One more coming tomorrow.

Anthony

Random Thoughts 2012 Recap, Part One

Some events in our lives are random.  And, so are many of our thoughts.  As the one year anniversary of my blog approaches, I looked back and I’ve done more than a dozen random blogs  — blogs that cover many topics instead of just one thing.

And, since some of you have been with me and my blog since the beginning and some have joined throughout the year, I want to share those random thoughts and see what your thoughts are on them.  That way, you don’t have to go through the archives to find them.

All you have to do is click on the underlined title of the random blogs and it’ll open them up.

January 22, 2012

Las Vegas, South Carolina, A Womanizer, and Murray State

My first random blog covered a fundraiser that I worked on and the great prizes we won in a silent auction, Las Vegas, the South Carolina primary, (yes, election season was getting underway one year ago), and the Murray State Racers basketball team.

March 31, 2012

Totally Miscellaneous Blog Entry

In the late March blog, I covered basketball, priests, golden retrievers, and Christmas (?).

May 16, 2012

I Definitely Think Too Much — Check Out This Mish Mash of Thoughts

In this May blog, I talked about Mother’s Day, crazy dreams, immorality, the Bible, exciting new music, American Idol, Lady Gaga’s new tour, and two disturbing videos.

June 6, 2012

Rambling Mind and Random Thoughts

On my mind that day was swimming, diet and exercise, the MDNA tour getting underway, cheesecake, political thoughts, Kylie Minogue, and summer movies that had me excited.

Some of the thoughts you may agree with and some you may not, but we can always talk about them diplomatically.

Have a great rest of the year.

Anthony

My 2012 Favorites CDs

Do you like year-end lists?  Maybe you find them interesting or as a starting point of a heated debated, especially if you disagree.  Yesterday, I shared with you my favorite movies that I watched in 2012.  Now, here are my favorite albums that I bought this year.  Semantics!  Although one of them was released in 2011, I just bought it this year, so it’s new to me and this is my list!  🙂

Just missing out on the Top Ten were #11 “Christmas Spirit” (Richard Marx), #12 “Hello” (Karmin), #13 “Cheers, It’s Christmas” (Blake Shelton), #14 “Christmas With Scotty McCreery (Scotty McCreery) and #15 “Electra Heart (Marina and the Diamonds).

10Ten

“ROCK OF AGES” — ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK

9 CD

KYLIE MINOGUE — “APHRODITE:  LES FOLIES (LIVE IN LONDON)”

#8 CD

LIONEL RICHIE — “TUSKEGEE”

#7 CD

LADY ANTEBELLUM — “ON THIS WINTER’S NIGHT”

#6 CD

ROD STEWART — “MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY”

#5 CD

KYLIE MINOGUE — “THE BEST OF KYLIE MINOGUE”

#4 CD

SCISSOR SISTERS — “MAGIC HOUR”

*NSFW*

#3 CD

CALVIN HARRIS — “18 MONTHS”

#2 CD

MARTIN SOLVEIG — “SMASH”

#1 CD

MADONNA — “MDNA (DELUXE EDITION)”

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*NSFW* (This is one of the best Madonna songs ever — very angry and violent!)

Here’s to 2013!

Anthony

Anthony’s 2012 Favorite Movies

I love lists.  I love reading them and I love compiling my own.  When I sit down each December to put together my favorite movies and compact discs of the year, I consider anything that is new to me that year.  So, yes, a movie that was released in the past may make my Top Ten list, even though it isn’t “new”.

Here is my list of my favorites movies I saw in 2012.  I encourage you to check out the trailers for the movies that are not mainstream or blockbusters in the United States since you may not have heard of them.  And, some of them may be a little scandalous depending on your sensitivities!!!!  🙂

Before I get to my Top Ten, here are ten others that barely missed out!

#20

The Descendants

#19

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

#18

Drive

#17

The Ides of March

#16

The Skin I Live In

#15 Movie

Jitters

#14 Movie

The Men Next Door

#13

Worldwide Box Office:  $22.8 million

#12 Movie

Worldwide Box Office:  $247.9 million

#11 Movie

Worldwide Box Office:  $56.4 million

#10 MOVIE

Worldwide Box Office:  $28.3 million

Worldwide Box Office:  —

Worldwide Box Office:  $1.1 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $295.1 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $159.8 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $116.7 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $151.1 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $6 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $114.9 million

Worldwide Box Office:  $1 million

 

There you have it — my favorite movies.  What are your favorites movies you saw in 2012?

Anthony

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, my friends.  I wish you the very best today and every day.  If I wanted to try to save the USPS all by myself, I would have asked for your address and sent you my Christmas card and letter this year.  But, that would have cost about $1,089 in postage and another $1,044 in cards.  So, I’m doing it this way.  🙂

CHRISTMAS 2012

(Click on the picture to see more detail!)

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“Everything will be alright in the end, so if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end”.

Hello friends!  As you know, I always close my Christmas letter with the same quote I’ve been using for more than 2o years.  But, this year, I’m starting my letter with my new philosophy for 2013 from the movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

This is my favorite time of the year.  I love when neighborhoods glow and sparkle from Christmas lights and holiday music soothes your soul.  I also take extra time to reflect on my life and realize, that even with setbacks, how blessed I am.

Last Christmas, I told you that Miss ABBA was diagnosed with cancer in March 2011 and she was given two to three months to live.  By God’s will, spring turned into summer and summer into fall and before you knew it, winter was here.

Miss ABBA was happy and healthy until February 2nd.  The following day, she went to “puppy heaven”, about three months shy of her 12th birthday.  It was so hard to say goodbye to my best friend that traveled the country (and Canada) with me from Ohio to Chicago to Maryland to the Quad Cities.  We had the best time in life and I carry her memories around in my heart every day.  It’s been almost ten months since she left us, but it feels like years.  I hope you enjoy the Christmas card of all twelve of Miss ABBA’s Christmases.

And, on Halloween, after almost seven years, the station I worked at as a meteorologist informed me that my contract would not be renewed.  While saddened, it wasn’t a total shock.  I’ll take the rest of this year off and face the future in January.

Life at home is wonderful.  I love my beautiful family and I love having my sister here in the Quad Cities.  Ray is still the Planning and Development Director for the City of Moline.  Gretel is now in the sixth grade, which is junior high at her school.  And, Tammy is still working as a server at Ryan’s here in Moline.

Earlier in the year, Ray, Gretel, and I spent a week at Ray’s parent’s house on Spirit Lake in Iowa.  I went fishing for the first time in about 30 years.  However, it was strange not having Miss ABBA there to go swimming.

This fall, I accompanied Ray to a conference in Houston, Texas, and in October, we went to Las Vegas for my birthday to see Madonna for the third time.  As always, she was amazing.  While there, we also got to see Elton John in concert and that man still has it.  He was incredible.

In the Quad Cities, we also saw The Band Perry and Pam Tillis in concert and we got to meet both acts backstage.  Coming up, in late January 2013, Ray and I are heading back to Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga in concert for the third time.

The big news this Christmas is that we, along with Tammy and Betty (Mom), are taking a Western Caribbean Cruise.  We’ll fly to New Orleans on December 19th to see the city decorated for the holidays and let Gretel enjoy gumbo and have real beignets.

The cruise, from December 20-24, is mostly out at sea.  When we told Gretel about the cruise, her first question was “Will we hit an iceberg?”  I replied that there are no icebergs in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean.

She then asked, “Will a shark bite a hole in the bottom of the boat”?  I don’t think she understands that this “boat” is 855 feet long with a width of 118 feet and that it holds close to 3,000 people. J  This trip is going to be so much fun!!

That is what’s going on with us here in the Midwest.  I wish you the very best this holiday season and in the new year.

 “May hope and faith conquer fear and hate this Christmas”

Anthony