A Travelogue

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oh, the food!

No blog about a cruise would be complete without mention of the exquisitely presented food.

On some days the choices were so tempting that it was too hard to choose just one. So some people at our table - I won't mention any names, but it wasn't me - ate 3 appetizers. This was sometimes followed by two entrees. Yes, self denial was not practiced here. Actually, all the men at our table were at one time or another guilty of multiple selections and on one memorable occassion, all six of us did it.

That was lobster night.

The menu said something like "lobster tail", not "tails". We all ordered it and we asked our waitress if we could each get an extra lobster tail.

"No problem," she said and when our plates were delivered, there were in fact 2 lobster tails on each plate.

"Excellent," said someone, "she already put them on the plate instead of bringing an additional one on the side."

Two minutes later she showed up with, you guessed it, 6 plates each contained another two lobster tails. Evidently the menu should have read "tails", not "tail".

We each ate 4 lobster tails that night. But in our defence, they were small.

Rocco, one of the 6, is Italian. The Head Waiter for our section is also Italian and in a bizarre twist, the two men came from neighbouring villages in Italy. They formed an immediate bond and we all benefitted from it.

"I will personally cook you something delicious tomorrow," announced Carmelo, and asked if we all liked mussels. Pat can't eat them, but 5 out of 6 was enough to convince Carmelo to make them anyway and sure enough, the next evening Carmelo delivered a platter of about 3 dozen mussels. We feasted! Naturally, this in no way caused us to pull back from our usual multiple menu selections and we waddled out of the dining room groaning the whole way.

After that, every other night Carmelo would treat us to a specialty from Italy that he prepared for us. One night it was pasta with garlic roasted in olive oil. So simple but delicious. Another night he prepared seasoned shrimp and calamari.

"Not too much calamari," I say as he prepares to serve me. I actually hate calamari because it's so tough and chewy, but I didn't want to say so to Carmelo. He gives me just a few pieces and I tentatively taste one. To my great surprise, it's soft. My teeth actually bit clean through it without having the chew. It was delicious!

"This is the best calamari I've ever tasted," I tell him with delight. He's not at all surprised to hear me say so and explains that calamari has to be very fresh to be so soft, and also not to overcook it.

I tried it again the next day but it was back to being chewy.

Grenada and River Tubing

Two fabulous days in a row!

First, a 45-minute drive from the capital city of St. George through the scenic hilly interior of the Grand Etang Rainforest Reserve to the Balthazar River. The river is nestled in the exotic and magnificent tropical rainforest. Quite a trip in itself. I couldn't help wondering just how steep this river was when our bus crested at 1900'.

The roads are very twisty and heart-stoppingly steep. I don't remember ever having seen such steep grades. At the top of one hill, we were greeted by the unlikely sight of a Dickie Dee ice cream truck playing calliope music.

Many houses are built on stilts due to the very steep terrain, and their clotheslines are under the house. Clever. It makes use of otherwise lost space and also protects the laundry from the frequent light showers. Oddly, no building in Grenada may be built higher than a coconut palm.

Grenada is also knows as the Isle of Spice because it's the largest spice producing island in the Western Hemisphere. The nutmeg tree wa introduced in 1843 and the prodution of the aromatic seed and mace, the seed's ibrous covering, has since grown into one of the country's biggest industries. I bought some real saffron here, not the turmeric they usually try to pass off as saffron.

Our tubing river is nestled in the exotic and magnificent tropical rainforest. Quite a trip in itself. I couldn't help wondering just how steep this river was when our bus crested at 1900'.

Then, an introduction and safety briefing as "Precious", one of the skinnier tour guides, demonstrated the correct seating position in the tube. Having inserted my bottom into a tight-fitting kayak just a few months ago, I seriously eyed the tiny hole in the middle of the bulbous tube.

"Do you have bigger tubes?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Cause this one won't fit my bottom."

I was relieved to see that everyone got bigger tubes, not just fat bottomed girls.

We were issued safety vests and helmets. The tubes themselves have thick plywood bottoms to protect your butt from the rocks, and it's a good thing because we got whooshed and twirled through some wild rapids. Often we needed our feet to push away from rocks. Sometimes the current would push us away from an eddy and we'd sit in calm waters virtually incapable of moving because the tubes are so fat only your fingertips actually reach the water. Then a guide would have to come by and push you back into the current.

It was a terrific ride! Not nearly long enough, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Barbados

Today we swim with the turtles!

I had forgotten that the busses here, just oversized vans really, have additional seats that fold into the aisles to maximize seating. A short ride later we arrived at our boat which would take us to the turtle site and we were instructed not to wear fins while snorkeling with the turtles so as not to hurt them. Our guides brought turtle food and in no time at all, there wre 3 giant turtles swimming around us. We were able to touch them though we were asked to keep our hands away from their faces. No problem.

The fish food the turtles dropped quickly attracted a school of silvery white fish who fed on the remains, so we got a double visual treat. A half hour or so of this and we boarded the boat again to head for a sunken ship where we would snorkel with a variety of fish. In fact, there turned out to be thousands! Again, the guide fed them and fish of every colour swarmed him: black and yellow striped Sergeant Majors, lrge trumpet fish, slender silver/white fish called Jacks, and the surface hugging Gar and Ballyhoo. I was amazed to find myself smack in the middle of a huge school of Sergeant Majors with not one of them brushing against me or allowing me to touch it. How do they know? I so wanted to pet one.



We finished our afternoon on a gorgeous white beach where we soaked our happiness in glasses of rum punch.



Later, as the evening darkened I watched a distant cruise ship sink into the night.

Martinique


Always pose next to something large like a cruise ship. Next to something that size, you're bound to look small.

Fort-de-France is the capital of Martinique, an island of approximately 360,000. French is the official language and you could hardly miss that as all signs were posted in French. The first notable difference on this island is that the women are very stylish. They are also noticably distant, bordering on being unfriendly. The second is that it is very expensive here. Currently the island enjoys one of the highet standards of living in the Caribbean. Among its notable former residents was the future empress of France, Naoleon's wife Josephine who was born on Mortinique in 1763. Pau. Gauguin also lived and painted here in the late 1800's.

St. Pierre used to be the island capital until it ws wiped out by the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902. Killed all 30,000 residents except one, who was in jail.

The city itself isn't particulary attractive so we walked towards the fort which Hans and Alethea had toured on a previous visit here. However, since 9-11 they no longer allow tourists inside and despite my pleas in French, we were politely declined admittance. *sigh* On the way back to the ship, we got caught in a quick and dirty downpour. Luckily, we had just passed the fort and raced back to shelter in the lee of an old doorway leading into the hill and presumably the fort. We did get a little wet but there was a very welcome warm breeze pushing us back to the ship which dried us off in no time. However I noticed that our bodies are absorbing all this humidity through osmosis. Both of us found our fingers so puffy we couldn't make fists, but our skin feels like silk. Well, mine does.

Not a favourite island. Didn't like it much the first time we were here and still don't.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dominica



Hans, playing with his food.

I am a voyeur. From the deck of the ship I sit and look at a bright array of umbrellas spread out below me. There's a constant flow of people accompanied by throbbing drums.

It's overcast. The leaden clouds were excreting a lazy drizzle, more of a mist than a rain. There was an intermittent parade of clouds scudding across the sky interrupted by brilliant sun and spectacular double rainbows. Three rainbows framed the shore over the course of the day.

In town, the sidewalks are chopped up blocks of cement filled with weeds and broken glass. Music blares from every doorway and like in Korea, if you have something to sell, park yourself on the sidewalk under a sunshade and peddle your wares.

We walked to the Botanical Gardens where colourful birds twittered their welcome from the tops of every tree. The Gardens have huge spans of lawn which are cut with... weed whackers. Honest. We saw two men working the entire area with these inefficient little cutters. Others were raking the clippings into many small piles which were then filled into giant wicker baskets carried on the heads of corpulent women to the dumping ground.

We joined another couple sitting on a bench and soon were approached by a taxi driver who introduced himself by saying that not long ago, a woman had been walkig through the Gardens when she was attacked and had her leg chopped off!! Had we heard about this? No, we replied. He went on to tell us that there are many dangerous areas in Dominica, especially near the river (we hoped our 4 tablemates were okay tubing down this very river) but luckily, he himself was on hand one day when another woman was attacked and had her purse cut off as well as her arm. Amputations seem to be a popular method of robbing people here. He went on to say how other drivers would not tell us the truth about this island but not him. No no.

He gave me the creeps. Did he think that in gratitude for hearing his grisly stories we would actually set foot into his cab? I think not.

Finally he left and we decided that we didn't really want to see the rest of the Boatanical Gardens after all.

So, we spent another idyllic afternoon by the pool. Earlier in the cruise we found a round freshwater pool under a roof which would shield us from the blazing sun - and occasional tropical downpour. There were also 2 jacuzzi hot tubs but best of all, this was an adult only area. No kids. Perfect.

Sitting there looking at the shore I fantasized that we were in our own private villa in the Caribbean, enjoyng the seaview, sitting outside and sipping a cool drink, reading a book. But on a ship someone else was cooking and cleaning. This definitely beats having your own villa.

A 2 minute tropical deluge forces us to seek shelter and we head to our favourite side deck, level 7, and sit on the lee side facing the island. There's not a drop of rain here and I watch the fog flow down the hills of Dominica towards the ship accompanied by a brilliant rainbow and its larger but weaker twin. The hills recede into near invisibility. The fog turns out to be another quick and heavy shower which passes in mere minutes, leaving behind a blue sky and freshly watered green hills. Beautiful.

Antigua

So we're idly browsing around Antigua and talking about our upcoming river tubing tour.

"I'm almost positive we booked for Dominica," I said to Hans, "so it will be fun to join Rocco, Pat, Clark and Deb."

"I don't think it was Dominica," said Hans. "Could it be Antigua?"

We stopped short and started at each other. We had been lulled into such a lazy state that when we first entered our cabin and saw the ticket for our upcoming tour, we never even checked it, just put it away. Out of our heads.

Now, suddenly the thought that our tubing tour might be taking place even as we were sauntering through Antigua, we virtually sprinted back to the ship in breathless anxiety.

"Thank God it's not Antigua!" I said as I looked at the ticket. "It's in Grenada. But I can't believe I would have booked us on an 8:00 a.m. tour. They obviously made a mistake," I insisted, disappointed we wouldn't be joining our friends on the river.

Our tour ticket instructions were fairly clear: check your ticket as soon as you get it to make sure everything's okay. Now 3 days later it turns out things weren't okay. Not only would we have to get up for an 8:00 a.m. tour *groan*, but the river tubing tour in Dominica was now fully booked so we couldn't change.

Back to town we went this time to hire one of the many cabs to take us to the Nelson Shipyards. On our earlier foray we were accosted every two feet by someone wanting to take us there. Only $20. Now, all the cabs were gone. No one approached us. We had to seek out a cabbie and yes, he could take us but in the interim the cost had skyrocketed to $72! Unless, of course, he could find 2 more people; then it would be $20 each.




"Okay," we said, "we'll wait." So we sat in the shade of the town square listening to steel drums beat their rhythm into our blood. Meanwhile, our cabbie tried hard to find two more passengers. Apparently everyone who wanted to go to the shipyards had gone earlier. We were the last two people left who wanted to go. Finally an hour later we thought, who wants to see the shipyards anyway?

We spent the rest of the afternoon sunning ourselves by the pool.

Tortola

This island is the reason we chose this particular itinerary. About 5 years ago we stopped here on another cruise and in addition to spending the day snorkeling at fabulous Brewer's Bay, our driver also took us to an old rum distillery which has been a family operation for over 200 years. It had the best rum Hans ever tasted. We only had enough money with us to buy one bottle and that bottle haunted Hans.

This time, we were here to buy a case.

With fins and snorkels in hand, we asked a cab driver to take us to Brewer's Bay first.

"I will take you, but the water's so choppy you won't be able to snorkel," he says, eyeing our gear. Disappointed, we asked if there were any other areas where we could snorkel.

"Not today," he replied. "The surf is too high but I'll take you to a beach and you can at least play in the water. And the rum distillery you're looking for is just up the road."

He was certainly right about the surf. It pounded me. Unlike Hans, who has much stronger legs and remained standing while the surf boiled around him, I immediately lost my footing. The current dragged me butt first along the sandy bottom and deposited me briefly on the beach then sucked me back and repeated the process.

Who knew my butt and cleavage could act as shovels? When I finally got out, I scooped handfuls of sand from my top and bottom. Fluffing out my hair, the comb came out covered in sand. Covered, I tell you! Shaking my head like a dog I lanced everyone around me with grit.

Franzell Penn, our cab driver, was definitey right about not snorkeling. We would have been cut to shreds.

Scotty and Trish, a couple we had met on the ship, wandered by and were going for a walk and we offered to keep their backpacks with us so they could walk unhindered. Off they went only to return a short time later completely drenched. Turns out that they were walking the beach along a wall when a particularly huge wave rolled in, hit the wall and bounced back to soak them.

Scotty tried a Mr. Bean impression: taking his shorts and underwear off under a towel. In the ensuing contortions not only did the towel drop, but his underwear which was lying on the stone fence dropped over and into the graveyard.

Even our lounge chairs didn't keep us out of the surf. We were a good 20' from the edge of the water but every few waves a big one would come and roll under us all the way to the stone fence where we had propped up our useless fins and sandals. A few times the sandals floated away. We hung our clothes and backpack in the trees as sometimes the waves frothed right through the lounger soaking everything on it, us included.

Despite the high surf it was a beautiful day, hot and windy. In the distance at the entry to the bay was a line of happy surfers riding the waves.

For us, there was still the bright light of delicious rum beckoning at the end of the day. The distillery looked exactly the way we remembered it: shoddy and crumbling. But their rum is second to none. Hans negotiated and since we bought a case, the price went from US $9 to US $7.50. We knew we'd get hit with duty back in Canada. It cost us an additional CAD $75 at the Calgary airport.

One final note about Tortola. Hans managed to keep his hat on his head in the surf mostly since he was holding onto it with both hands and also because he didn't fall down. However, the waves cleverly pickpocketed his bathing suit and extracted his Princess ID card.

Back near the ship we had to go through security. No card. We were escorted by security personnel to the gangplank where a second security officer eyed us suspiciously but allowed us to proceed up the plank. Inside the ship is a machine which scans your ID and which also has your photo in memory. It recognized Hans and so we were directed to the Purser's office to get a replacement card. Turned out to be no problem at all.

The ship also has an airport type machine which x-rays your bags. We deposited our 12 bottles of rum, 6 in each handy little carrying case, and fully expected them to be held for us by ship personnel until the end of the cruise. Nothing was said and so we kept them in our cabin for the remainder of the trip. Encouraged, we bought a bottle of liqueur at the next stop to enjoy in our room!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trouble at Sea

On our second day at sea, I was just sitting down to another Trivia Game when the captain's voice came over the loudspeaker.

"You may have noticed that the ship has been speeding. We have a very sick passenger on board and we are hurrying to Tortola. We were expecting to have her helicoptered off the ship but she has been stabilized. However, she needs a blood transfusion. If you are O or A negative, please come down to the ship's hospital."

I am lucky in that I am a universal donor, so off I went to give blood.

In the end they didn't need mine, but later the captain thanked everyone and announced that the response from passengers was absolutely overwhelming.

___________


The day before our cruise ended, we had occasion to check out the ship's hospital ourselves.

On a few occasions, Hans mentioned that he felt lightheaded and dizzy. That evening as we walked to our cabin after dinner he said, "I'm feeling a bit faint. I also briefly felt dizzy at dinner," he continued.

"Hold onto the rail," I replied concerned. "You better get that checked out when we get home." Although he'd had a completely physical only two weeks earlier and everything tested as normal.

At 5:00 a.m. he got up and briefly blacked out, dropping to the floor like a stone. I heard the thump when he fell and then nothing. By the time I got the light on, he was groaning and coming to, but couldn't move. Through some miracle he didn't hit anything in the small cabin on his way down, but he abraded his head and badly hurt his back. It took minutes for him to get up and agony to get back in bed where we waited for the pain to recede. It didn't. I phoned the ship's hospital at 6:00 and the nurse came to get him in a wheelchair.

I must say that the nurse and doctor were wonderful (although the doctor was so young and pretty I wanted to ask, "Does your mother know where you are?"

They did an EKG and gave him a shot of Voltarin to numb the pain. Lying on the bed with his back up, he felt dizzy again and the doctor started to lower the bed but the pain was so acute she had to stop.

Finally the shot kicked in and he could move enough to sit, so they took blood pressure lying down, sitting up and when he could, standing. The numbers changed each time but the doctor didn't seem alarmed.

We were both thankful that this was the day before we were to disembark as he was still lying in the hospital at 8:00 a.m. which was the time 24 hours later when we would have to leave.

In the end, the doctor gave us enough pain pills to control the worst of it through the long two flights home the next day and to see him through the weekend.

The Sea Princess


The Sea Princess was fabulous. The moment we boarded we could feel it in the air, a ship alive with the texture of possibilities.




We brought back great memories. Oh, and six pounds.

Where to start? This cruise was meant to be a relaxing holiday so we focused and relaxed. Extreme Relaxation: do nothing all day, then have a nap. That was us. It was so easy to get lulled into the easy pace of life on a cruise ship. A favourite passtime the first week was reclining on a lounge chair on the side deck watching the waves go by, book in hand. Ten minutes later the eyes grew heavy and we'd drift off to the Land of Nod.

Our first night in the dining room we were seated in a section of 3 tables. Ours was a table for 8, at which we were the sole occupants. There was also a table for 6 with one couple and a table for 4 with another couple. Soon it became evident that no one was coming to fill the empty seats at any of our tables.

"I feel like taking my glass of wine and going over to introduce myself," I said to Hans.

"Go ahead" he encouraged.

It seemed so silly, 3 couples each at their own table, all alone. So I went. Both couples were very friendly, also Canadian, and we decided we'd sit together for dessert. Clark and Deb, Hans and I joined Rocco and Pat at their table for 6. We hit it off and decided to remain a table for the rest of the cruise, letting the latecomers fend for themselves.

They envied us, they told us some days later, because we were always laughing and having so much fun.

In between naps Hans did laps around the deck and I took a stab at the Trivia Quiz on board. People had already formed groups and I was reluctant to push in so I played alone, sitting next to another woman also playing alone. Not only was she a complainer but she was a stupid complainer. How was she supposed to know the names of musicals? She never went to them. And besides, her answers were right. The quizzer's were wrong. So there. I stopped going and resumed my naptime on the deck.

"It's never taken me this long to read a book before," I said to Hans one day. "I sit down, read a page, glance up at the sea and let my eyes glaze over. Before I know it, I have drool coming out of my mouth."

"You snore too," he added, not unkindly. "But it's a gentle snoring."

Our stop at Princess Cays was cancelled due to choppy seas with 9' swells. The ship felt totally stable, but it was too dangerous to tender passengers to shore. In the distance we could see a frothy white line of surf pounding the beach. Even had we been able to get there it would have been too dangerous to snorkel with the risk of getting smucked into the rocks too high. Hans and I have been to Princess Cays island before and quite frankly, it's nothing special and we relished another day at sea. It gave us an opportunity to get more familiar with the ship and resume the stair climbing, which makes up a good portion of the walking on ship. Our cabin was on Deck 9 so it was 3 flights down to dinner (52 stairs, not that I was counting) and the pool we favoured was on deck 14 (really 13 and 64 stairs). Deck 7 has the Promenade with many of the public lounges, library, etc. and also the hypnotic side decks so conducive to sleep.

And so the first 2 days at sea drifted by in a kind of somnambulic haze.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bootie Experience

Very early this morning - 0730 - Hans and I picked up our neoprene booties and flippers to bring on the cruise. We have our own snorkels and masks so we're all set.

I have a story about the neoprene booties.

A few years ago we first rented snorkelling equipment to take along on our cruise. We're on St. Thomas and Hans had arranged to spend the day golfing. Favourite Dotter and I took a shuttle taxi to Coki Beach. Before we left the ship, we did as instructed and wore our neoprene booties in lieu of sandals. This was, after all, one of their advantages. You can walk with them on asphalt and beach sand and then when it's time to snorkel, you slip your bootie clad food into the flipper and voila, you're set to go.

A cursory glance in the awkward mirror in our cabin showed that my blue cotton dress was long enough to just barely cover the tops of my booties which came about 4" up my leg. They're not very attractive and I muttered about it. But Favourite Dotter, who was in shorts and consequently looked much better in her booties, said I looked fine and who cared anyway? I was never going to see these people again.

That should have been my first clue.

We spent a terrific morning snorkeling our hearts out. Bone weary, we realized that if we hustled we had just enough time to get back to the ship's dining room for an elegant lunch. But time was tight. If you don't get into the dining room before 2:00 you have to eat on the buffet deck. That's fine, but buffets are available in every city and town on the planet. Fine dining, however, with crisp white linens, sparkling stemware and attentive waiters... well, that's less abundant. And I like it.

I threw my dress on over my wet bathing suit, fluffed up my salt crusted permed hair, and sprinted for the shuttle with FD hot on my heels. Laughing, tired, sand stuck to every pore, we piled into the shuttle. But the shuttle driver wouldn't leave until we had brushed off, lecturing us the whole while about desecrating her shuttle with drying sand flaking from our legs.

Finally, our mean shuttle driver dropped us off at a point well distanced from the ship. I wanted to smack her but there was no time. FD and I ran to the ship and arrived at the dining room doors in good time. As always, we were politely greeted at the door and escorted to join a physician couple who had arrived shortly before us.

They looked me up and down and I realized that my bathing suit had leached through the thin cotton. Specifically, the tips of my breasts were now highlighted by two circular wet spots. I realized my butt must also be sporting an enormous wet spot but I hoped they hadn't seen it. I assumed my hair and face looked okay. They didn't. Later, I saw that my smile had left crusty salt trails on my cheeks. And my
hair... it didn't look okay at all. It had dried and was unattractively frizzy like only a perm can be.

I further noticed that while my initial impression had been that the hem of my dress covered my bootie tops, in reality it did no such thing. The hem came a good 3" above the top of my black neoprene booties.

I still laugh when I think about how I looked. And earlier when I wrote that FD said I'd never see these people again? I hope I don't. I'll be wearing the same outfit this year and I think they might remember me.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Omigod!

I have a new car!!

A brand spanking new white Prius. And it's made for directionally impaired people like me. It has a navigation system! Simply type in the address and voila - a display maps the way. How cool is that? I have been warned, though, that it's not always that up-to-date for Canada but if I were driving in the US, I wouldn't get lost. On the other hand, how often have I been lost with no navvy system to help out? Shame forbids me to be honest here. I have been known to pull over and phone Favourite Dotter and asking, "Where am I?" This too will now be easier since there's a built in phone! Of course I don't know how it works yet, but there's a cute little phone pad on the display panel. Somewhere thee's sure to be a mike that's picking up my voice.

So the car not only has all the bells and whistles, it also has a phone!

And a camera! See below for details...

This really is an uber-cool feature... a teensy weensy camera in the back so when I reverse, I can see exactly where I am going. Live and in colour. No more backing over cats. We tested it yesterday and backed up to within 6" of a car. With that cool little camera, it was a piece of cake.

I love it love it love it!

I will be picking it up Wednesday after work and I can't wait.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Cruisin' the Caribbean!

Next week at this time we'll be skimming the skies on our way to Ft. Lauderdale. But that's not all. Princess (no, not me. The cruise line) is putting us up in a 5 star hotel overnight and then we board the Sea Princess for 14 pampered days.

Isn't life grand?

The dining room food and service aboard a cruise line can only be compared to 5 star dining in the finest restaurants. It is mouth wateringly eye-appealing. And tasty to boot. Not for me the buffets on ship. No! No! I can eat from pretty looking buffets in my own town. On a cruise ship I allow myself to enjoy the exemplary service available in the dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't wait.

But, there is a price to pay. I'm paying some of it now as I hoof it up the stairs at the library. This is my training. If I start at the basement, there are 51 steps to the top floor and let me just say that when I get there my thighs are screaming in pain and I'm sucking air hard enough to pancake a soccer ball.

I know from previous cruises that our cabin is usually at least 7 flights - not half flights - of stairs to the pool deck. The first 2 flights, which would be about 50 stairs, are okay. Then I start to hurt. By the time I'm at the top I can remember using both arms to haul myself up, a rictus smile contorting my face. Yikes.

I better go and do my training stairs a few more times.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Beginnings

The holidays are over. Gone with them are the last of the decorations and the last of the company. Most of the pine needles have been vacuumed up, but a few always remain to serve as a reminder of good times gone by. And to pierce your foot.

I love bringing out the decorations year after year. The earlier the better. But after Christmas, I am just as eager to get rid of them.

Today, the house looks normal again. The fridge is nearly empty. All the whipping cream and nuts have been eaten, as evidenced by the tug of our clothes, and the remaining chocolates have been packed away to be enjoyed another day. The treadmill has been dusted off and waits for us.

This first day of 2006 is pretty, with hoar frost glittering beneath a feeble sun. I see the cats play in the tree outside. They don't know there was a holiday season which has come and gone. They just know they have a delightful new toy.