Pappa Jake

This piece was written about ‘Papa’ Jake Manzi. Papa was the Father of Carolyn Marzano, Grandfather of my friend Joey, and friend to a whole lot of us. As a kid, I loved being around him and getting to go with Joey to Silver Lake Caterers in Cranston, R.I. and “help out”. I guess I didn’t realize what an impression he’d made.


The phone rang late last night…and a part of me died. A distant, protected corner of my heart, saved for old friends and memories, openly cried.

They say that our adult life is defined by impressions made upon us as children, the depths of those impressions perhaps not being known of or felt until some key unlocks them later in life. I find it strange that, at almost 30 years old, I am affected of memories of both a man and a time, over 15 years ago. Memories that led to feelings I didn’t realize were that strong.

If I sit here quietly and close my eyes, I can still smell the scent of garlic and tomatoes. I can hear the clang of pots and pans inside the kitchen of the Silver Lake Caterers where he would sometimes take me and his grandson Joseph. I remember him letting us watch him and the other men prepare the gravy, sausage, and meatballs for the meals.

I can remember equating their cooking style to my Mother’s use of measuring cups–they just seemed to know how much of a handful equaled a cup.

The noise. God, I can almost hear the sounds of five or six old, Italian men, each shouting to be heard above the other and the noise from the kitchen.

He let me serve with them a few times at their catered parties. I remember being the only little non-Italian kid in the room as Joseph and I scurried to set or clear the tables, yet I never felt out of place.

There was a movie released in 1996 called “ROOMMATES” starring Peter Faulk as an older Polish baker trying to raise his young grandson by himself. I can remember turning to my wife halfway through the movie and asking her, “Do you remember me telling you about a smart-aleck old man named Papa Jake? I swear that this is the Polish version”.

If nothing else, Papa Jake was consistent. Every night after school the guys on the block would get together to play ball in the road. Every night Papa would stop his car on the way past and ask, “Did you see the pink elephant walking up the road? What, you don’t believe me?” Or he would just stop the car, roll down the window and say, “What?” You’d answer, “What, What?” and he’d come back with, “I don’t know.” Then he’d roll up the window and go on his way.

It seems he was always coming or going somewhere, always visiting someone. He just wasn’t Papa if he wasn’t cooking, eating, or telling stories. God, he was a character. He worked hard, played hard, and always had time for his family. You can’t paint a more complete picture than that.

My focus comes back to the present and I realize that knowing Papa Jake and spending that short amount of time with him all those years ago, made more of an impression on me than I ever knew.

I look at my life now and I have to smile. He’d taught me well.

Family, regardless of blood. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

God bless, Papa Jake.

–Doug Clark

June 15 1997

Simple as that…

It takes a bit to stop me in my tracks.

“Excuse me Sir, can I tell you something?” I heard from this 7 year-old kid we had just seen in the Emergency Room. “Thanks for sitting and talking with me when the Doctor put my stitches in.  I was kinda scared.”

I tilted my head, my forehead scrunched and my cynicism melted, just a little. I wondered who had left all the onions out on the counter.

I find it sad that manners and respect are so rare these days that they stand out and deserve recognition.

No, I’m not originally from San Antonio, Texas.  30-something years and about 2,000 miles ago, well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I grew up in Rhode Island.  I was taught, with NO uncertainty, that “please and thank you” and “yes Sir/Ma’am” was expected. My friends were no different and, if you thought you could sass because your parents weren’t around, your friends’ parents were perfectly fine calling you out.

“Yes Sir, point taken.”

We learned by example that, as a boy, doors would be held open for ladies.  When we were old enough to date, you pulled out the chair for her at dinner and when she left the table to go to the bathroom, you stood.

You wanted cash for the movies or to do something?  You worked.

Work sucked.

In San Antonio right now, minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  At the fried chicken place around the corner from my house, they’re starting cashiers at $10.00 an hour.

In 1983/84, for $3.35 an hour I bused tables, washed dishes and stripped floors at a small restaurant in town. As a trade-off though, I learned to cook and my boss then turned out to be my closest friend to this day.  Alright, there were steaks involved while we waited for that floor to dry.  It was cooking practice!!

When I got out of high school, was money tight?  I never ate Ramen Noodles but Chef Boyardee ravioli was such a regular staple that I still can’t open a can.  I’m sure that Jack still eats his Fruity Pebbles though.

I realize I generalize here but I find it hard to accept the overall unassertiveness, feelings of entitlement, and lack of appreciation I witness almost every day.  Assuming, for whatever reason it seems, that things should just be given to them.  Unfortunately, just like manners, these habits and feelings (insert Race, Religion, Politics or Gender here) are “learned by example”.

I’m not speaking out of turn here when I say all this does affect me personally.  I’ve tried understanding and seeing things through different ‘eyes’.  I’ve gotten frustrated and angry and stood up.  I’m tired of hearing “we’re just different”, “you didn’t grow up where I did”, or “you wouldn’t understand”.  I’m also frustrated by the indifference, thinking these things will just work themselves out.

Perhaps I’m wrong; I’d be okay with that, but I think not.

I shake my head, and drop my hands, and I know that my attitude/feeling now has to be just simple respect. Though I still don’t believe simple ‘manners’ should be different based on geography or politics.

I don’t have to understand.  I don’t have to agree with what’s being said.  I don’t have to agree with your choices.  I just have to; I think, take a slow, deep, quiet breath and simply respect you for what you choose works for you.  Somewhere along the way , trying to find my own center.

By the way, when that young man left our ER that night–he shook my hand!

Who does that anymore?

–Doug Clark

San Antonio to South Dakota January 2015

The “deep, cleansing breaths” weren’t working anymore. I think it’s time for another ROADTRIP!!

I started a new job a few months ago and, among other benefits, the schedule was 3-on, one off, 3-on SEVEN off.  To anyone who has worked in the healthcare field, this definitely has some mental health benefits!  So, now what, or more importantly, where??

The answer came to me a few days later when I spoke with my buddies wife and I told Stacy, “Pack the cameras. We’re going to South Dakota”!

How many of us are lucky enough to have friends who are more than leaves on the breeze?  Renny was active-duty U.S. Army when we met at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas in the early 90’s.  We met as Radiography Techs in a busy Level 1 Trauma Center and grew close working and hanging out with each-others families.  He did a tour in Germany in the mid-90’s and came back to San Antonio, then Arkansas, and finally in Rapid City South Dakota where his wife, Nancy, took a job as a Respiratory Therapist. We kept in touch by phone or on Facebook, but the last time we’d shaken hands was almost 15 years ago.  It was time.

I talked to Nancy about my ideas and she reminded me about his upcoming birthday. So Stacy and I decided, it’s only a 20 hour drive, let’s just throw the cameras in the Jeep and go! Stacy travels differently than I however, and the next few days had her researching routes and hotels.  It all worked out.

MY preparation was musical accompaniment for the trip.  Along with my standard Eric Stone and Tom Petty I bought some acoustic guitar work. Peter Mayer “Elements”, Jack Johnson “Best of Kokua Festival”, and Jackson Browne “Solo Acoustic 1 & 2”.

We left San Antonio at the end of January and our first leg would put us in North Texas.  I had been talking to one of my co-workers and he reminded me of a restaurant in Amarillo I had seen on “Man vs. Food”.  Sounds like Amarillo and steak is in order.

The Big Texan

The Big Texan


Stop for the Night

Stop for the Night

They had room for us and even had a place to tie the horse!

The Big Texan’s claim to fame is it’s 72 oz. steak challenge. The steak is free if…someone can eat it, a roll with butter, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, and a salad…in less than an hour. As of April 2015, about 9,000 people had accomplished this.  In fact, as I was looking up background for this piece, a 120 lb. competitive eater from Sacramento set a record when she finished three, 72 oz. steaks, in 4 minutes and 18 seconds this past weekend! Four teams of two split 3 steaks, 3 baked potato, 3 shrimp cocktail, 3 salads, and 3 rolls.

We weren’t that ambitious but the food was excellent!

We planned to shoot the Palo Duro Canyon State Park just south of Amarillo but the light wasn’t on our side so we elected to save it for the ride back and hit the sack with full bellies.

Up early the next morning we headed north from Amarillo a short distance to our first way-point, The Cadillac Ranch.

The Cadillac Ranch

The Cadillac Ranch

Just off Interstate 40, the ranch is a public art installation created in 1974 consisting of cars half-buried, nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.  Nowadays, the spray painting of the cars is encouraged and The Ranch is memorialized in everything from a Bruce Springsteen song to Disney’s film “Cars”.


Stacy and Wilson

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My only disappointment at the site, and more-so with “people” in general, was the amount of trash and refuse littering the ground, despite the fact that trash receptacles were easily accessible.

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Heading North to our next eventual stop in Sterling, Colorado we passed many interesting, derelict old buildings and, more noticeably, fields of Wind-power generating plants reminiscent of California.

Once again, steak and calamari found us in Sterling that night and we weren’t long out of bed.

The next morning my navigator had us on the road headed north to our next way-point in Alliance, Nebraska.  The easy, rhythmic guitar work of Jack Johnson, Damian Marley, Willie Nelson and others from the Kokua Festival helped move us forward.

Just passing through a little “town” called Bridgeport, running parallel with the railroad tracks, was the first time this trip I had to stop and turn around.  I’m sure this was done as a public safety announcement for their local community, but from an EMS background I appreciated it.

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About 15 minutes further down the road Stacy saw Canadian Geese in a field so we stopped again.

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and they're off!!!

and they’re off!!!

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Back in the Jeep I threw the new Peter Mayer CD in the player.  I knew he had played accompaniment for Buffet and Mac MacAnally, but I hadn’t heard his solo work.  Not only is he a good guitar player, but he tells a thoughtful and humorous story.

I’m not practicing religious by any means, but one track that really struck a chord with me, world politics and religion being what it is, is called “The Birthday Party”. He tells of Buddha rising from his stone altar to make a trek to Jerusalem. He prays with Hindus in India and boards a train with Mohammed near Arabia.  Together they sit and discuss stories of their years before meeting with Abraham who takes them to Christs birthday. I think, basically, this is a well woven story saying to all the fanatics that feel their way is the only way, “Hey, our respective Gods were friends long before us humans got involved.”  It’s on You Tube and, I think, worth a listening.

That said, his next track is “Scatterbrain”. Jokingly referencing the man who forgets what he’s supposed to be doing or looking for his glasses…that are on his head.  Not that I can relate to ANY of that…

Our next artistic way-point is “Carhenge” in Alliance, Nebraska.


CarhengCarhenge is a replica of England’s Stonehenge formed from vintage American automobiles.  Built in 1987, and dedicated at the June Summer Solstice, by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father.

This IS my happy face!!

This IS my happy face!!

Carhenge consists of 38 visible, grey spray painted automobiles (and three cars that are buried) with a 1962 Cadillac serving as the heelstone, In a circle about 95 feet in diameter, some are held upright (trunk down) in 5 foot deep pits with others welded on top.  Carhenge will be in the path of the Solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.




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Also on the site are a few artistic works by various artists.


“The Ford Seasons”

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Waiting patiently

Waiting patiently

that's my smile

that’s my smile

Legs stretched, we were ‘forced’ to stop at an Arby’s for lunch.  I really dislike franchise-chain food while traveling but this seemed to be the lesser of the evils. It also got us back on the road quicker.  We had about 5 hours to make Rapid City and pull off this surprise!

Along Hwy. 385 we saw the beginnings of the Black Hills, stopped for a few images.

View out the right window heading North on Hwy 385

View out the right window heading North on Hwy 385

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Comparing notes later, I guess we both had the same composition ideas with the fence and barbed wire.

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Then we were off again.  We caught I-79 into Rapid City and found the hotel Stacy had gotten us reservations at by about 5:00pm.  All things said, it DID make a difference having a concrete destination to rest our heads.  The room had a full kitchenette and a living room/seating area.

We hung out there until Nancy got out of work and met us there around 6:00.  After hugs and tears, and welcoming Stacy into the family, we strategized. Renny, like me, is kinda a big guy and not one to sneak up on.  He’s also a country boy and very comfortable around a gun. So we agreed to the K.I.S.S. principle and kept things simple.

We followed Nancy a couple to miles down to road to their house, up a ways off a dirt road.  We stopped the Jeep in front of their neighbors house, and Nancy went in, faking a headache, to “just lie down for a bit”.  I gave her almost 5 minutes, I was pacing like a little kid, before rolling quietly into the yard and calling him on the phone.

“Whatcha doing man?”

“AHHH, just trying to get boxes packed.  Catherine wanted dinner and Nancy just got home. What’s up with you?”

“Just taking a walk outside, trying to decompress.”

“Yeah, at least it’s warm enough to do that in San Antonio.”

As we’re talking I was trying to get around to the back porch and up the steps without the dogs hearing me.  I saw the doorbell and it all fell in place.

“You’re right.  What’s the weather like in Rapid…  Hang on.  Someone’s at the door.”

I reached for the bell as he repeated MY last sentence.  The curtain pulled back and the look of utter confusion on his face was priceless.  His phone fell to the floor as Nancy reached past him to open the door, and bear-hugs were had by all.

I told him, “You’ve been got” as I walked into the house. “Couldn’t have done it without Nancy’s help.  You wanna tell your daughter it’s okay, it’s Uncle Dougie?”

We sat on the floor and laughed, looked at pictures, and traded stories for an hour or so.  He called their other daughter and passed me the phone. “Are we gonna get a chance to see you and the new baby this weekend?”  She was speechless and I handed the phone back to her Dad so he could assure her that it really was ME.  We made plans for Renny and Catherine to pick us up at the hotel the next day.  We were promised a guided tour by Catherine of her two favorite places (and another I’ll share later).  It was a good night.

The next morning they met us at the hotel and came up to check out our room.  The simple itinerary was The Noses (Catherine’s word for Mount Rushmore) and to see the “Buflo”, the wild buffalo at Custer State Park and take pictures.

15 years later and just a little less hair

15 years later and just a little less hair

Stacy grabbed some poor tourist to take this image and had it posted to FB within minutes.  The first comment was from their daughter Renee who finally realized we WERE here, “Holy Crap! My Dad is smiling!!”. Stacy echoed “Holy Crap! My husband is smiling!!”

The site, and the museum especially, was quite impressive.  The collected photos and printed work that chronicled the building of the monument were just amazing! When you thought of the technology available at the time…



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A lone Birch. I liked the lines of the bark against the rough stone and the green shoot of color against the white bark

A lone Birch. I liked the lines of the bark against the rough stone and the green shoot of color against the white bark

Back into the truck we piled and Renny drove us into Custer State Park in search of Catherine’s elusive Buflo.  Many twists and turns later, through beautiful landscapes, we turned a corner and sat right behind a heard.

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Giving us the raspberry sticking out his tongue

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These are some of my favorite images, watching the buffalo slowly walking away through the mist.

Slow procession...

Slow procession…

...and away...

…and away…

...they go...

…they go…

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As we were leaving…  I said there was a third place Catherine wanted to take us to.

When Renny asked her, in their own special code, her face lit up with smiles and she was squirming like a puppy!!

Burger King was IT!!! Do you REALLY think someone's gonna tell me to take the crown off??!!

Burger King was IT!!!
Do you REALLY think someone’s gonna tell me to take the crown off??!!

After lunch we went our own ways to nap and agreed to meet for dinner later and see Renee’s new baby, Serenity.


After a fun dinner at TGIF we all headed home.  It was Superbowl weekend, the snow had started and things were getting messy.  We agreed to play it by ear the next day and see how the weather held.  By 10:00 the next morning the roads were passable and our guides picked us up to head toward Fort Meade and Sturgis.

Fort Meade was beautiful from an artists eye.  Just point your lens and shoot…

Unknown to us at the time, this was Nancy's grab shot.  Very well done!!

Unknown to us at the time, this was Nancy’s grab shot. Very well done!!

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Thanks Nancy!!

Thanks Nancy!!

Alright...enuff already!!

Alright…enuff already!!

And then Sturgis, on a non-bike rally month.




On the way back for lunch, Renny found a city park with some moving water to play with.

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We met the kids for lunch at one of their favorite home-cookin’ places

We were talking about the buffalo sticking his tongue out. Catherine was giggling so hard she snorted.... She and I were off after that!!

We were talking about the buffalo sticking his tongue out. Catherine was giggling so hard she snorted…. She and I were off after that!!

and we stopped at Walgreens and I picked up something to thank Catherine for showing us around.  Back at the hotel and,YES, I snorted in her ear as Nancy was taking our picture!!

“Tiger” was her thank you gift

It was a great visit with old friends and new memories!!

We headed out the next morning and went south on I-79 until I decided to detour at Hot Springs.  Supposedly there were wild mustangs on the premises and I wanted to see what we could get.

DSCN5553There were a few on the lower pastures.DSCN5569


We were able to watch a group in the distance traverse the rock

and go up over the hill.  Our glass wasn’t strong enough to bring

them in any closer.  Beautiful to watch though.




We headed south to pick up Hwy. 71 for the LONG FLAT drive to our next stop.  The mind-numbness finally got to me around Fort Morgan, Colorado so we found a room and some food.  Loading the Jeep the next morning we heard the geese playing on the pond behind the hotel.  Nice to not have a time table.

playing with reflections

playing with reflections



and down.

and down.






Breakfast at Burger King…just because…and we headed to our final way-point.

Just southwest of Amarillo was Palo Duro Canyon State Park that we had missed the light on on the way up.  Stacy found a hotel on the other side of town, closer to the park, but we STILL drove back to The Big Texan!  When in Rome…

Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the United States, is almost 70 miles long and averages 6 miles in width.


Formed by a fork of the Red River, it shows evidence of human habitation going back 10-15,000 years, and is believed to be inhabited to the present day.

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The first Europeans to discover the canyon were said to be members

of the Coronado expedition in 1541.  The U.S. military mapped the

canyon in 1852 and the land remained under Native American Indian

control until Colonel Mackenzie was ordered in 1874 to remove the

Indians to reservations. (A good read on this is “Cities of Gold” by

Douglas Preston).

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In 1934 the upper section of the canyon was purchased by the

State of Texas, turning it into a 20,000 acre State Park.

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Looking up...

Looking up…

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As always, Thanks for joining us on the ride!!

Images are ours, mistakes are mine


By the way, Catherine had so much fun watching her Mom and us taking

pictures that we made an investment.  We found a beginners digital camera

that’s tough enough to handle bumps and dumps and connects via USB to

their computer.  I’m told it’s never out of her sight and that every time her Mom raises the lens, Catherine is never far behind.

I can live with that.

Doug Clark

22 April 2015

The Short Road Home…to Galveston, Texas

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 It’s hard to believe, but today is our last full day on the water.  We’re due to dock in Galveston, Texas around 10:00 tomorrow morning. 

We woke to the sound of a special breakfast, and dinner, today hosted in the Southern Lights dining area.  It was nice, casual dress (nice pants and shirt, I’ve got that covered) so I dug out the iron to make us (me) presentable.

Under the door to our cabin was a piece of paper that, as I unfolded it, listed expenses not covered in our ticket price.  All was expected, until one jumped out at me!  Remember that first day on the ship…the ‘complimentary’ waters that I slugged down…$4.oo each!!  Dummy!!

We dressed and made our way to the dining area where we were seated at a round table with four other couples.  Drink orders were taken and we were each served with a fresh fruit plate, warm crescent rolls, eggs, hash browns, and filet mignon!!  Oh My God!!!

After we ate we changed back into shorts and just explored the ship.  We sat in a huge hot tub on the stern, hopped in one of the pools to cool off, and air-dried on the “adult only” upper deck.

Imagine that ...

Imagine that …

We went up to the water park on the very top of the ship…

Upper Deck Water Park

Upper Deck Water Park

 Hit the shops again, got some duty-free rum, and perused 14 walls of photos trying to find ours, and the ones she approved of.

We went back to our cabin and just relaxed ’til dinner. 

View from the Balcony

View from the Balcony

6:00 found us in the Piano Bar talking with Sassy and looking across the hall at the entrance for the comedy club.  One more try??

We were in our places in Southern Lights for dinner with the couple we had met the other day.  Now we understood why people advised us not to go upstairs to the swanky restaurants. 

Suwit and his helpers started with waters and fresh rolls.  Than came a lobster/crab sushi roll, crab cakes, baked shrimp, and prime rib!  We outdid ourselves, but when it came time for dessert, Suwit brought Starshine the bread pudding, the other lady got the warm chocolate melting cake, and me a big slice of sugar-free apple pie!  With a smile he said, “You try something different”.



After we went to visit Sassy until the comedy club opened and found ourselves entering with we couple we had met at Salsa, Salsa.  The set was really good and after we headed back to our cabin.

We still couldn’t sleep so we took the good camera out with the tripod and walked to the bow of the ship to try some night photography.  Using exposures ranging from 15 seconds to 4 minutes she tried to capture the feeling of the ocean, even with the slight rolling of the boat.  She got a couple of images before we were ushered off the bow.


Smoke off hte Stern

Smoke off the Stern

Smoke and Wind off the Bow

Smoke and Wind off the Bow

 So we went back up to the upper deck, water slide, and a chessboard with three-foot pieces and watched “Frozen” playing on the outdoor screen on the Lido deck.




Water Park at night

Water Park at night

We went to bed, exhausted, around 1:00 in the morning.

The tug in Galveston

The tug in Galveston

We were awoken around 7:00 with the announcement that we’d be docking in Galveston around 10:00.  The Lido deck was open for breakfast then we were to pick up and goods or alcohol that were purchased and wait in our rooms.  The attendants would knock on our door when it was time to leave, and we were to proceed down to the gangway.

We ate on deck, watching the ocean roll past.  We got the rum, and the pictures she’d decided on.  I’ll admit, I did have fun posing in some of the backdrops, but I won’t admit it.  I just relax better behind the lens than in front of it.  Then we went back to the cabin and waited. 

There was a knock on the door.  I opened it and the attendant said we could leave.


In 1979 there was a rock concert in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Who was slated to play for 18,000 fans, many of whom had camped out the night before.  Seating was first come, first serve, and only a few of the stadium door was opened due to the lack of ticket-takers.  Fans rushed the doors and, at the end, 11 were dead and almost two dozen injured.


It was absolute chaos as passengers ignored instructions and flooded the stairwells!  We were pushed sideways away from the stairs and an elevator door opened behind us.  We slid in to regroup and  I rested the box of Rum on my suitcase, until I got pushed and the Rum crashed to the floor.  Now the elevator was jam-packed and everyone smelled like rum.

The doors opened to just as much chaos and confusion as upstairs.  We had a family with young kids on one side and an elderly couple on the other. 

Five or six feet away was a big, loud, obnoxious guy in a sleeveless flannel shirt–holding hands with his, about, six-year-old daughter–hollering, “Get the *** outta my way! What, you wanna piece of me ***? Let’s go ***!”  This went on and it was bad for about 10 minutes until he wore himself out and the bottleneck cleared out.

We gathered our gear and humped down the gangway and off the ship to wait in the customs line to declare the one bottle of rum we’d managed to save.  It took us about 45 minutes to clear customs but we left with a quiet smile.  Karma.  Customs had detained Mr. Big Mouth and the Texas State Police were questioning him.

We rolled our gear to the shuttle bus and then to our car.  We sat there for a minute and decided, Yes, we’d do it again in a heartbeat!

I smiled to myself, sarcastically thanking my old boss for rejecting all those vacation requests.  You paid for this!!

All in all it’s been a pretty good ride,

And a damn good dance!             -Brent Burns



























Last Port of Call…Puerta Maya, Cozumel, Mexico

Infestation on the Lido deck

Infestation on the Lido deck

I woke early this morning to an unusual site, for me.  Every night before bed, when we got back to the room, there was a towel ‘figure’ done like origami on the bed.





Starshine and Swan

Starshine and Swan

On the internal TV network this morning, there were images of the Lido deck.  In every lounge chair sat origami ‘animals’ facing a large elephant who stood in front like he was holding court! 

Lido animals

Lido animals

Infestation on the Lido deck

Infestation on the Lido deck

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Very Neat!!

We took some pictures before getting our omelets and walking around a bit.  Shore leave was set for 10:00 in Cozumel and this is where I knew Starshine would get me back.  See I agreed to an excursion called “Salsa, Salsa, Margarita”. Basically, they would ply us with margaritas (we’d learn to make four), and Salsa (they would teach us to make four), and Salsa…they’d make me dance!!  My ER colleagues could hardly wait.

Right at 10:00 we started to disembark in Puerta Maya.  There we visited many little shops (tourist traps) that were giving away trinkets and freebies.

We weren’t there long before our guide showed up and led 28 lemmings to three short buses.  It was about a 20 minutes ride to the Cozumel Hotel and Resort, above which sat Salsa, Salsa.

As each of us walked in we were handed a double old fashioned glass holding a margarita.  The glasses had no bottoms.  We found our way to our seats, along with another couple we had just met on the bus, and a 50-something pseudo-socialite with her 15 year-old daughter and her friend (people watching).



The Socialite..

The Socialite..

The staff had a table set up on one side of the room with different bottles of tequila and other assorted ingredients. 

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Drink teaching station

Drink teaching station

Is one strawberry enough???

Is one strawberry enough???


Over a period of 45 minutes or so, with attentive assistants alert (Hey, I made an alliteration!!) to refill our respective glasses.  Eventually we made Lime, Strawberry, Wine, and Frozen Margaritas.

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fresh limes

fresh limes

I think it’s almost time to get something in our stomachs!  As the instructors set things up, I got up to move around.  I wandered around the open balcony to look out at the ocean.

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It’s hard for me to believe, but the ocean here is even more vibrant and colorful than in the Caymans! I took a few images until I was distracted by a sign that read “Lela the Pig  Donations”, I had to ask.

Lela was created after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti with the goal to collect donations from guests at Salsa, Salsa to help make a difference.  Each month Lela would choose a new cause to donate to and if you knew of one, you were welcome to add it to the list for consideration.

Without hesitation I wrote the name of a musician I know from Sonora, Mexico.  Mark Mulligan ( ) works closely with, and donates from book sellings and concerts, to “Outreach for World Hope” ( This is a group that operates to help children and families in Haiti and Guatemala.  I, hopefully, added their names to Lela’s list.

Now it was chips and salsa time!  First came out the fresh ingredients:

cilantro, jicama, peppers

cilantro, jicama, peppers

tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers

tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers

They taught us how to make four different salsa like Cilantro, Pica dillo, Guacamole (YUCK!), and Mango/fruit.




Bear and the guacamole

Bear and the guacamole

It was informative, fun, and other than losing the top to the salt shaker in one, we did great!







 Now that we were all “warmed up” they cleared the floor, started a boom-box, and the Salsa lessons began!  Starshine definitely has more oil in her joints than I (think Dork!) but we had fun.  She even coerced a lady to take pictures which, I’m sure, were posted to Facebook before we even left.





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Ta Daaaaa

Ta Daaaaa

We had an hour or so left to kill before the bus came back so we headed downstairs to the resort.  There we found a small, well-kept beach where we rented masks and snorkels for $4.00.  The surf break was a bit rough but there was a small lagoon where we could dive around the coral and small colorful fish.

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We were able to get some good images and video and, other than Miss Graceful trying to dance on a piece of coral, we headed back to the ship mostly unscathed. We had our hands full of cooking knowledge and spirits, ready for a power nap!

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We got up around 5:00 to get our seats for a musical I got surprised with.  Yes, I wear a size 50 jacket, have a 19 1/2 inch neck, and enjoy watching gymnastics and musicals.   No, this isn’t part of my E-harmony posting!  It was a Rock-n-Roll musical featuring outfits, stage settings, and music from the 50’s through today.  Very Well Done!!!

Dinner tonight was also fantastic!  We each had beefsteak tomatoes with mozzarella and drizzled with olive oil, Oysters Rockefeller, Braised short ribs, and Filet Mignon.  We met a nice couple seated next to us, about our age, and enjoyed an easy conversation until Suwit asked about dessert.

At the same time Starshine said, “Warm Chocolate Melting Cake”!  The other lady said, “Bread Pudding with Grand Mariner”!  You could have heard a pin drop as a monster was born.  They each debated their side vigorously until Suwit came back with their respective desserts, and there was quiet for a bit.

Then, before seconds could be requested, Suwit and the other staff were up on the chairs and broke into song, “Gangham Style”!

It was an A-plus ending to a great day!


Swimming with the fishes…in the Grand Caymans

We got up early this morning and were eating breakfast on the Lido deck at 6:00.  Promptly at 7:15 we met in one of the theatres for an explanation on how we were going to board the tenders to the island.

Meeting about boarding the tenders

Meeting about boarding the tenders

Because the water was so shallow and the draft of the ship so deep, these smaller boats would ferry people back and forth.


Boarding the tenders for Grand Caymans

Boarding the tenders for Grand Caymans

We grabbed our underwater cameras and boarded the tender, excited again for our choice of excursions; we had decided to swim with the dolphins and stringrays! 

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We waited anxiously with a group of people under a tent until this character of a bus driver picked us up.  He good-naturedly gestured to a sign in the front of his small bus as each of the women boarded.

how to ensure better service...

how to ensure better service…

All the way to our stop he explained all that we saw, what had been improved, and what had been overtaken by mangroves and swamps.

We got to the dolphin stop and left the bus with a guide who lead us through a garden/preserve where birds were plentiful. underwater jamaica 026

This young bird took a liking to Starshine and almost snatched her glasses from her hat!


Watching and waiting...

Watching and waiting…










At the dolphin encounter we were all directed to find life jackets that fit and position ourselves along the dock.  Behind us was an older lady with three kids who tried to explain to the staff that she wasn’t participating but wanted to watch from the dock.  When the staff refused to let her through, Starshine and I “adopted” the kids. 

Remember boarding the ship, we saw that Oxford shirt wearing family with the “goth” girl?  Well, she was one of our charges, complete with the Olivia Newton John headband.  You know what else, she was a real sweetheart.

Us and our "adopted" charges

Us and our “adopted” charges








We all got to touch and kiss the dolphins.

Us and Luna

Us and Luna








Starshine getting loved

Starshine getting loved









Bear being a softie

Bear being a softie

It was fun, but not as in-depth as we had expected.

After about 45 minutes we got out of the water and most of us hit the bathrooms before boarding another boat to Stingray City.  The trip out was beautiful, 80 degrees with a breeze and the colors in the water were amazing!

To Stingray City

To Stingray City


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The Captain was a tall, gangly man named ‘Ed’ (think Thomas Hayden Church). He explained the there were two “wranglers” who would go out into the water with us and corral the stingrays so we could touch them.  He explained that where we would anchor, the water was four feet deep in the front of the boat and seven feet in the back. It was funny later to watch the people not listening who hopped off the back of the boat into water clearly over their heads!

Looking off the bow, people were standing in the water as the rays glided slowly past.

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We were on the sandbar for about 45 minutes and had a chance to film the rays by ourselves and take pictures with the young man wrangling them for us.

Wrangler guiding a Stingray

Wrangler guiding a Stingray

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Starshine and Bear...and a new friend

Starshine and Bear…and a new friend

gliding slowly past...

gliding slowly past…

Yes, it was controlled, but I can’t find the words to explain the feeling of sharing the water with these beautiful, gentle animals.

stacy andi

Arriving back at the dock we were given the opportunity to look at, and purchase, some of the digital images taken.  Starshine is the better negotiator, so I stepped back when the young man quoted her $120 for a package!  He didn’t know she was not just a pretty face!  They didn’t barter for long before he agreed on her price.

The stingrays were definitely the high point of the excursion for us.  The “wheeling and dealing” with prices and the almost ‘greasy used car salesman’ attitude of the staff was certainly off-putting though.

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We got back to the ship around 3:00 and decided to walk around a bit.  We grabbed some food off the Lido deck and just wandered around til we got tired.  We took a short nap until it was time to attend an interactive “game show” put on by the actors there.  Starshine jumped up and down and got picked for the first ‘competition’. 

She was fitted with a belt around her waist with a rope hanging down from the belt attached to a softball on the end.  There was another softball on the ground and the object was, for her and her opponent, to swing their hips and hit the other ball, like bocce, across the stage!  It was hilarious and she even won a trophy!


We made it to the Southern Lights for dinner.  Tonight was caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, grilled tiger prawns with steamed vegetables, and of course, warm chocolate melting cake.

We walked off our dinner on the upper deck and through the water park in the dark of the night.  Really unique!

water park

We decided to try the comedy club but there was no seating, so we stood at he bar.  Just before the show began I was approached by a waiter who, very rudely, told us we couldn’t stand there.  We tried to explain theat there were others standing against the back wall and the hostess was still letting people in.  Again we got a rude attitude and we were forcefully told to leave.This was night and day to anything we had experienced before on this trip and I was, honestly, having a hard time with being talked to like this.  I asked the hostess for the manager of the club and was told there was no one there.  So we went downstairs to the concierge desk, who directed us to the complaint desk, who told us that there were no senior managers on staff at 10:15 at night. I asked him to call the Director and, after 20 minutes of being told he was busy, I gave up.

We went back to our room feeling a combination of embarrassed and angry and frustrated about the whole situation. 

We’re set to dock in Cozumel in the morning so we decided to just sit outside on the balcony and decompress.

At the end of the day, wherever I am, this is "Home".

At the end of the day, wherever I am, this is “Home”.

“Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead”

Decided to take a curve in our vacation story.  I found some pictures on the laptop from a segway we took on our wedding trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama a little over a year ago.


Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan

In the Summer of 1864 the Confederate and Union troops fought for control of the harbor entrance at Fort Morgan.  It’s also where the famous quote from Admiral David Farragut was uttered, “Damn the torpedos. Full speed ahead!”

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For some reason on this trip, I was really into architecture and lines.

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And I couldn’t leave without improving my portrait work

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From there we scouted Orange Beach, where we got married

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I played around, again, with lines trying to fit an image of the boardwalk that lead to the beach, with the image in my mind

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This was my final choice, with no edits, that we have canvas mounted on our wall


Then we got some time on the water


At rest...

At rest…

Scouting the next shot...

Scouting the next shot…


I was playing with attachments for the camera and these clouds


When I realized that I didn’t have a polarizer, I used my sunglasses

through a differrent lens

through a differrent lens

I had fun Starshine, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

First Port of Call: Montego Bay, Jamaica

We got up early, mostly to find sustenance but also cause we were both like little kids at Christmas and couldn’t stay in bed any longer!  On the Lido deck, among the abundance of breakfast foods, we found a little corner with two guys making omelets.  No, that’s not fair.  “Making omelets” is too bland for what this station was.  They started with either eggs or egg whites and then included a huge array of vegetables, meats and cheeses to fill it with.  Without doubt, a meal all in itself.

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We went back to our room to go through our camera gear (we both elected to bring our small, waterproof cameras) and paced…quietly… We stood on our balcony, looking through the haze into the dense greenery in the hills.

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I know that I’m showing my age, but I took my first “selfie” ever coming into Montego Bay.galveston cruise 028 - Copy

galveston cruise 027 - CopyWe docked right at 10:00 and made our way down the gangway to the bus depot.  Here everyone divided into their separate shore excursions.   We had decided, the night we bought the tickets, to do a combined zip line and river kayaking “experience”.

We filed onto the little bus (a limo compared to things to come) along with 12 or 14 other people who would share in our experience.  I know that there are upscale, wealthy sections of Jamaica’s second largest city. There’s also the “hip strip” of Gloucester Avenue.  From the looks of the scenery rolling by, I think we missed that left at Albuquerque.

We drove through small, populated areas with signs for food, groceries, and of course, a “Gentlemen’s Club”.  No, seriously, it was a big white sign with hand painted black letters. I’m pretty certain I’m not tough enough to walk in.

The ride was a little disconcerting because: they drive on the opposite side of the road, the roads are very narrow, and directionals appear to be non-functioning.  We wound up a steep hillside, with no guard rails, and into the dense greenery we had seen from the ship.

The driver, in his Jamaican patois, was very good at identifying and explaining places as we drove past.  After about 20 minutes we turned off the main road onto a narrow, one-lane dirt road for about 2 miles and ended at the “Chukka Jungle Outpost”.

We were greeted by two young men, maybe 23 years old, who explained that we’d do the zipline first and follow that with a 2-mile river kayaking trip.

I have to take a minute to say how amused I am at times with my ‘people watching’.  As the boys are talking, this girl behind me asks her boyfriend, “Do they speak English here or do they just talk like that to be original?”

We got fitted for our swiss-seat/harness and gloves and followed our guide out to the first of three platforms.  He explained there would be two guides at the next platform to catch us and one young man who acted as paparazzi.

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I have never ziplined before. Now I have.  Can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as Starshine, but it WAS an experience.

After the third platform we dropped our equipment off at the “Outpost” and picked up our life vests for our kayaking trip

galveston cruise 034 - Copy  We started off behind their shop and wound through 2 miles of inland rivers.  Most everyone set off by themselves with the exception of one family who insisted on rafting up together and having one of the guides tow them for the whole trip!

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The scenery was beautiful with different flowers and trees.galveston cruise 040 galveston cruise 044

We saw a man poling his raft down the river.  The guide explained that he was a fisherman and trapper.  He would pole up and down the river each day checking his traps and fishing where he could.galveston cruise 038

It was amusing listening to the young guide behind us unabashedly hitting on one of the young girls in his Island lilt.


We beached the kayaks and got onto their “bus” for the most adventurous part of the trip.  The vehicle had an enclosed drivers cab and half-a-dozen bench seats for passengers–and NO sides!

Picture, if you will, giving your 23-year-old son and his friends a set of keys, access to an old vehicle, an old, bumpy dirt road, and simple directions to get from Point A to Point B.  It’s a recipe for stories.

One guide was driving and one was standing, hanging off each side of the truck.  The paparazzi, we out-weighed the others by about 75 lbs., stood on the running board next to me.  As we took off, I had my right arm wrapped around that back of the seat and my left hand wrapped around his belt so he wouldn’t fall off.  Then it was a contest for the driver to see how many ruts he could hit and how high off the ground he could get the truck, all with his buddies hollering encouragement at the tops of their lungs!  Let’s just say that there were many wide-eyed passengers.  Although we got back to the Outpost unscathed we brought home many stories to tell.

We got back to the ship hungry but there were sparse picking on the Lido deck so we decided to walk around a bit.  6:00 found us in the piano bar with Sassy talking, listening to the guitar player and waiting on 933

We talked about changing our sleep schedules or taking naps because we both came close to falling asleep in our dinner tonight.

We DID awaken though at another dinner tradition we weren’t aware of…dancing.  Suwit and his helpers, along with 20 or 30 other servers, broke into song and dance with Flo Rida’s “Shorty go Low” all over the dining area!  They succeeded in getting some guests up to dance, but most of us were just picking our jaws up off the floor!

It was a prefect end to an unpresictable day and we both went to bed smiling.  Tomorrow we have a 7:15 meeting on how to board tenders? as we dock in Georgetown, Grand Caymans!

Turn Loose the Bow Lines…

I didn’t realize how traumatic it would be to prepare for taking a 7-day cruise.  How many changes of clothes for different “occasions” I should have been prepared for!!  Hell, I live in scrubs! I really didn’t think a bathing suit, a couple of pairs of shorts and shirts was unreasonable.

I ended up with not just shorts and shirts, but two dress outfits, sandals, sneakers, and dress shoes!  Certainly more than my gypsy soul had bargained for.

Starshine, of course, looked beautiful and was right on the money with her decisions and choices…for the both of us…

One other decision she was right about was our cameras.  I’ve had the same Pentax film camera, on many road trips, since around 1984 and she’s still strong.  Try as I might, I’ve lost two good digital cameras to the ocean in about four years.  This time we decided I would leave my good camera on the ship and we purchased a 10mp, waterproof to nine feet, Nikon digital camera that worked like a dream!

With our final duffel packed we loaded everything in the car and set off on the 3-hour drive to Galveston. 

They started boarding around 2:00pm and it was like watching a herd of sheep shuffling through a chute.  Except for one thing, very few of these “sheep” seem to have looked in the mirror before they left their house. I really enjoy “people watching” and this was definitely the stage!   From bright multi-colored Hawaiian shirts on AARP members to the family in button down Oxford shirts, with the young girl dressed all in black, right down to her fingernail polish, with the Olivia Newton John sweat band on her head. (We’ll meet her again later).

It took about 45 minutes to make our way along the tortuous gangway and onto the ship.  We  made our way up to our room, beautifully marked with a pair of parrots painted on the door.  Every door was decorated differently, perhaps to ensure accuracy when coming home “in the dark”.

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The room was simple and efficient.  Two twin beds pushed together to make a Queen, a loveseat, dresser, desk, closet, and bathroom.  I don’t know that I ever got used to (remembered) the 3-inch step up into the bathroom.  I tried not to be vocal.  By far the nicest part of the room, for me, was the balcony.  Plenty of room for me and two chairs.  Although there was no ice in the room, thankfully there were two bottles of water on the dresser and I was parched!  I downed one and took the other exploring.

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There are many things I learned on this trip but pertinent now, I will always pay extra for a balcony room, and I will always arrange for a 7-day cruise rather than 5.  The latter simply because with both of us coming off long shifts and being strung out, that first day on the ship was almost useless as we napped, ate, and napped again.  That would chop at least a day off a five-day cruise.

So nap we did until it was time for our reserved 7:00 dinner seating in the Southern Lights dining room.  It was assigned seating so although we had our own table, we sat next to the same couples for the entire cruise.  Not so much that you were in each others laps but you could laugh and talk if you chose.

Our head waiter was incredible!! He introduced himself as Suwit (s-uh-weet) from India.  He confirmed our names and asked permission to use our first names.  I sarcastically commented to Starshine that, “Sure he’ll remember who we are.  How many people to they see a night?”

I learned later that they put at least 10,000 plates a day through those dining rooms and I was wrong.  Until the day we left he never slipped up on our names.

Food. Let me take a paragraph or two to talk about this. 

Our sit down (nice clothes…Thanks Stacy) meal was scheduled at 7:00pm.  This was with Suwit at a table for two in the Southern Lights dining room, they also have a Northern lights dining room and both have two seating per night.  You selected a beverage of choice, and then an appetizer. Once that was done you selected an entrée from a list of 5 or 6 things.  You were never rushed, but once you were done you were welcome to dessert…or another entrée!! I knew I was going to have to watch myself because most entrees, although portioned small, were definitely a treat at home.

How often could I choose:

Caesar salad, Flat Iron Steak, Chicken Breast or Fried Chicken?  Oh, I mis-spoke, that’s the “everyday menu”.  Here’s some of the daily specials.  Hint, it helps if you read them like an auctioneer.

Sweet and sour shrimp, Linguine with Italian Sausage, Stuffed Baked Mushrooms, Alligator, Maine Lobster Tail with broiled Tiger Prawns, Shark and Lagostino Fire Cracker Roll, Beef Steak Tomatoes with Mozzarella, Oysters, Filet Mignon with Braised Short Ribs, Mahi Mahi, Prime Rib…

Oh, dessert:

Strawberry Bisque, Key Lime Pie, Sugar Free Apple Pie, Grand Mariner souffle, Warm Chocolate Melting Cake (there were ladies that showed their teeth for the chocolate cake), and Bread Pudding.

Now mind you, this was the dinner seatings.  Food on the Lido deck started in the morning.

Buffett style was all your basic breakfast fare including fresh fruits, breads, meats cereals, and specialty omelets with eggs, egg whites, and nothing or all of almost any stuffing you could think of!

Around 11:00 the Lido deck came to life again and lasted throughout the day.  On either end was a Mongolian Wok, fresh pizza made to order, burger grill, carving and deli station, burrito and pasts bars.  In the center was a massive salad bar, a chilled section with sashimi, sushi crab legs and chilled shrimp.

If you chose to “splurge” (I couldn’t see how), on the next deck up there was a Prime Steakhouse on one end and Cucina del Capitano (Italian) on the other side.  Although with all this other high-end food, we never did explore this avenue.

After dinner we cried Uncle and went back to our room to fall into bed.  I don’t think either of us saw 10:00 that night and breakfast was lunch the next day.


We spent most of the next day walking the decks and looking at shops.  There were photographers everywhere and  different backdrops to create virtually any setting you could imagine.  We had fun with some of these.

Outside one of the shops, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, I saw someone I knew well from the hospital and I made the mistake of telling Stacy.  She kept prodding me to say Hello but “She’s with her family. I can’t do that.”

“What’s her name?”

My mouth said it before my brain realized it. Next thing I know she was walking up to this perfect stranger (to her) and saying, “Hey R***? I think you know my husband?”

I was embarrassed but all went well. In fact we all ended up sitting in the hot tub (one of 5 or 6) later that afternoon.

We had seen the sign for the Spa in our travels and back in the room we talked about it.  We tossed it back and forth and then both laughing agreed, whatever the cost, my old boss was paying for this with all that vacation time he didn’t give me!

Wow! Neither one of us really says “Let’s go” without checking all the boxes first.  I’m definitely NOT a Newport Rockefeller.  Let’s just say that we did the hot stone massage (they even massaged our ears!!) that left us both like limp noodles.  We had a consult later where they tried to push this detox for weight loss and told us that we needed to “exercise and stretch” more.  Jeez, all this for $300 plus tip!!!

We sat outside and watched some nameless movie on a huge outdoor movie screen above a pool until dinner.  Dinner tonight for me was: wilted spinach and mushrooms followed by sweet and sour shrimp and Saint Louis spare ribs.  The more elegant half of the party went with: black bean soup followed by grilled tiger shrimp and that warm chocolate melting cake.

After dinner we wandered through the decks and shops again, looking at all the displayed pictures taken that day that you could purchase.  We ended up at a piano bar on one of the upper decks listening to ‘Bob’ in a fedora play Billy Joel songs and other requests.  We also made friends there with a Cambodian bartender named Sassi (and about 26 other letters) who we enjoyed talking with for the rest of the cruise.

We decided to act our age and turn in “early” as we were due to dock in Montego Bay, Jamaica around 10:00 the next morning.

Our First Anniversary!!! Somewhere between Texas and Mexico

It doesn’t seem like that much time has gone by, but this July 14 was our first wedding aniversary!  However, up until a few weeks before we still hadn’t decided what, if anything, we should do. Certainly we had ideas, but they were all over the board, literally.  My work schedule was so tight and unpredictable that it’s near impossible to get any time off, especially any length of time.

We could take a few days and just go north of us, into the Texas Hill Country.  There are a few bed and breakfasts on our “list” that we thought might be neat.

Then there was the other end of the spectrum.  One unusually quiet night in the ER I found a show on You-Tube hosted by Savannah Jane Buffett (Jimmy’s daughter) called “Ex-Pats”.  This particular episode was about “Ahau Tulum”, an ecological friendly luxury hotel in Mexico–but it was a little more than I wanted to spend.  Also, I still haven’t put in the paperwork for my passport.

Now down the middle of the road we looked at San Diego or San Francisco, which I loved.

Sansibel Island or Fort Myers, Florida were Starshine’s personal choices.

Finally, I thought, maybe we could do Key West, Mallory Square, and down the Seven Mile Bridge to Marathon where there is a newly open Dockside Tropical Cafe owned by a musician, Eric Stone, that I enjoy.  Unfortunately air flights anywhere in Florida from San Antonio were almost cost prohibitive.

Now what???  What’s that old saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window”?

My work in the busy ER, which I love, was just eating me up with beureaucratic mis-management and the feeling that I really wasn’t helping anyone.  We were grossly understaffed and working crappy hours and schedules and there was no light at the end.

In the midst of all this I got a phone call.  I interviewed for and was offered  a position with a new ER in town.  Same money.  Better schedule.  No brainer, right?  So I closed my eyes and we held hands and jumped!! However…there was a two week period before I could start…

Now what?  We ran through ideas and Starshine searched online and came up with a thought. “Have you ever gone on a cruise?” she asked.

“Once, a long time ago. But how are we gonna swing that?”

“Remember those 300 plus hours of vacation time that you were never able to take?  When you leave, they get cashed in.”

“Okay!  Let’s do it!”

Right there and then she booked us on a seven-day cruise through the Gulf of Mexico with Carnival Cruise Lines.  There would be three stops in Montego Bay Jamaica, the Grand Caymans, and Cozumel Mexico before coming back to port in Galveston, Texas.  Along the way, all our meals would be provided (Bears are supposed to be big and cuddly), and they had everything on the ship from an exercise gym with a full spa to a waterpark on the top deck!

If you wanna come along for another ride, it looks like Starshine and Bear are sliding sideways into another adventure!!


***I promised Starshine I’d write this story, so keep following the next day or two for more pictures and stories!!

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