Day 4- At Sea- To Eat or Not to Eat

Today we are sailing from Split all the way around Greece, up through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus River- the location of many battles over the centuries- to Istanbul. As it turns out, we had to face our own battles- based on food. First of all, as I previously mentioned, there were too many tasty treats readily available. We tried to keep an eye on the kids in order to prevent them from gorging on sweets, but it seemed like we were always saying “No”.

With three adults monitoring the situation, we slowly recognized how often this was happening and began to feel terrible. Wasn’t this cruise supposed to give them independence and personal responsibility? We became very distressed with ourselves. How can we be responsible for their eating habits without giving them all these limits? In the end we decided the reasonable thing to do was set some general guidelines on what to eat and how often, and hope they had more self-control than most children. This strategy may have given them 10 days of excessive eating, but it was better than fighting over the issue every day.

In contrast, Susan who was underweight due to a shattering life change (mentioned earlier), was trying to put on a few pounds. She needed to learn some “bad” habits. She added croutons, nuts, olives and eggs to her salads, ate whole sandwiches instead of open-faced, and threw some chips or fries on the side. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though. Her appetite had severely dropped and she was only able to eat small portions at a time. It probably didn’t help to keep checking in at the gym to see if she was putting on any weight. We made a plan for her to always eat with someone for company and to limit how often she was checking her progress.

More Food for Thought

When we went to dinner tonight, we had a huge private table for 8. It was so wonderful to all be together and talk about our day. We shared our favorite shore adventures so far, the funniest things that had happened (for Kate, Amy and myself this was the pepper shaker story, which I’ll save for another time), or a report on the ping-pong matches of the day.  This tradition of sharing while eating as a family has always been important to me- a value instilled when I was growing up.

Ever since I was a girl, dinner has been more about socialization than actual eating. It was a family gathering time- a place to catch up with each other and share our day. My parents made this time an important family value and I continue to carry on this principle in my own home. Ever since my kids were little, I have enforced the 10 minute rule. This meant you must sit at the table for at least 10 minutes before you may be excused (remember when kids are little, 10 min is an eternity). As they have gotten older, we rarely have to enforce this rule unless someone is in a surly teenage mood.

Obviously on this cruise, our dinners lasted over an hour and we had plenty of time to talk. The thing that really impressed me though, was the variety of foods the kids were willing to try- watermelon soup, stuffed mushrooms and even tuna tartare. They may not have liked them all, but some were surprisingly delicious. I was just proud of them for trying.

When Food Choices Backfire

Sometimes, trying new things can backfire, though. On this night, David decided to be adventurous and order the roasted quail.  He took a few bites of it and then recognized that his dinner had once been a real bird- similar in size to the pigeons he loved in Venice. He politely excused himself from the table, saying he didn’t feel well. When I went to check on him later, he was very upset. He declared he was never eating animals again.

David is a very compassionate person and when he makes a decision on a principle it is very difficult to dissuade him. I tried to be supportive, figuring it would only last a few days (I was so wrong and this became a concern as time went on). Do you know how hard it is to support your child when you are concerned that their decisions will have a negative effect on him? I have certainly done enough research on healthy eating habits to know vegetarianism can be very beneficial if done correctly. There were multiple vegetarian options on the cruise menus so I was not concerned about what he could find to eat, but Mike and I did convince him to continue to eat fish as a source of fat and protein. For the remainder of the cruise, David declared himself a Pescatarian and enjoyed all the fruit, vegetables and sushi he could possibly eat.

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Post-mortem Insight: Why wait til it’s too late?

Yesterday my family and  I attended a memorial service for my father-in-law. It had been 9 months since his passing.  Our wells of tears had dried up and our minds were open to honoring his life accomplishments. Many people came up to the podium to speak of him- the challenges they faced together in their career, the obstacles that they overcame and the principles that motivated them. As his daughter in law, I had not known him during his career days. While I knew drips and drabs about his work, I never fully understood his personality and the drive that sometimes triggered conflicts of interest.

Listening to what people had to say about him yesterday  gave me so much insight into who he had been and gave me so much more respect for his ideals. I always knew what a warm, passionate person he was but this window into his other life outside of family gave me a whole new perspective. My children respectfully listened to the stories about their grandfather and one of them even got up to thank people for giving her this opportunity to learn about him.

This whole experience really got me thinking: why do we wait until someone dies to reflect on their life? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if families got together to share these stories at a time when you could still ask the honoree questions? There are so many things left to second guess. We only know the facts through other people’s eyes. What if we had a chance to clarify the rationale behind his choices; or ask what he was most or least proud of doing?

Children never seem to pay attention to what their parents do outside of the home. Sure they know what profession their parents have chosen, but they have their own lives to live and can’t bother with more than that. By the time they do become interested, they are likely involved in their own careers and families and have limited time for in-depth discussions. And then the grandchildren come along, but they are more interested in hearing about when grandpa was a little boy- not the ups and downs of his career.

So when is the ideal time to have these reflections? I wish I knew, but there has to be a better way…

Cruise Day 3- Split Croatia

The compelling thing about a cruise is that you tour the land by day and travel great distances on water at night. So by the time you wake up the next morning, you can be far away. In our case, we had travelled across the Adriatic Sea to Split, Croatia. Neither Croatia nor our next stops in Turkey were places I would have considered making a separate trip to, but that was the appeal of the cruise. I couldn’t imagine getting there any other way.

Split looked like a charming little town with a historic palace, market place and some museums to explore. Mike and I took the kids to the tourist attraction, the Diocletian Palace, while the other three adults visited the museum and market.

The palace was crowded, but once we climbed up the tower, we had great views of the town and out to sea. Unfortunately, the height of the stairs, as well as the rickety construction, gave Kate second thoughts about ascending. I felt bad that I had gotten her into this situation again. However, she bravely waited with me or Mike at one of the lower landings, while we took turns climbing. We were very proud of her ability to deal with the crowds and her appreciation of the old buildings we were seeing.

Next we had fun wandering the market. David, always the animal lover, spotted a woman selling rabbits. He bent down to pat them, just as he had with the pigeons in St Mark’s Square. They took to him immediately. For the rest of the trip, he tried to convince me that he should get a pet rabbit when we returned home.

After our tour, we stopped at a restaurant for pizza and salad. We sat at an outdoor table where we could watch the pedestrians from many countries walking by. While we were waiting for our food, I had my niece call home. I knew my sister would be anxious to hear from her and it was hard to get cell phone reception on the ship (not to mention very expensive).

Predictably, Kate only gave her mom minimal answers; “yes”, “no”, “cool”; so when she was done, I took over the conversation, filling her in on the details of our trip so far. I remembered how much I had longed to hear from my daughter when she was away with her Nana last summer on the Baltic.

My sister could not thank me enough for calling her. “You just made my day!” she exclaimed. I am sure Kate knew her mom would want to hear from her; but, as children do, wanted to draw the lines between her life experiences and her parents’. Fortunately, she had no qualms about sharing this experience with her aunt- so we had plenty of fun moments together, which we will remember for a long time.

My Father’s Books in the Age of Tech

Over the last twenty years, my father has moved several times and across many states; but he has always held onto the things he held dear. Yesterday I visited my father’s house and he took me down to his basement. We looked at some of the things he had accumulated, family heirlooms and all. But the thing that stood out the most was the shelves he had arranged with his collections of old, hardcover books: The Hardy Boys series, novels by Jules Verne, L.Frank Baum and a collection of Grimms Fairy tales.

Many of these books had been bought during the 1940’s, on the heels of WWII and in the days of penny-pinching. As a boy, he had a paper route from which he diligently saved his earnings and used them to purchase his favorite books and Classic Comics. In the evenings, when his chores and homework were done, he would crawl into bed and read these stories over and over.

When he became a father, he gathered his treasured collection and tried to introduce them to his children. I read some of them, but I preferred Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys. I also fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder and soon began putting my allowance into paperbacks of her series. The one thing he did instill in me was a love of reading and the feel of a good book in your hands.

Now he has 6 grand children and it is a different time. There are so many ways for kids to get entertainment these days: computer games, internet, television, videos- and these modes seem so more interesting to them than old fashioned books. Yesterday he and I sadly looked at his beautiful collection, arranged by size, color, author and he asked me if I thought my children would be interested in them. I think he was expecting the answer I gave him, that even if the subject of the book caught their interest, they would prefer to read it in paper back or on an eReader.

I guess that means it is time for me to get rid of my Little House on the Prairie collection. Why is it so hard to let these things go?

Day 2- Part B Dilemmas of a Responsible Parent

After lunch, Megan, David and Kate explored the ship. They discovered the ping-pong tables, swimming pools, the basketball court and the Crow’s Nest. By the time they came back to the room, David had broken off his id bracelet, claiming he was almost 13 and shouldn’t have to wear it.So what is a responsible aunt suppose to do when Kate declared she wanted her’s off too?

At first I tried to explain it was for her own safety. I told her if David had his off, she could still roam the ship with him and no one would care. I did trust David. He has a good sense of caution while being confident enough to try new things. However, here I was in the Mediterranean with my sister’s child who I perhaps felt over-protective of, (but you can understand why). So I felt completely torn between what was best for them both- safety or independence?

As it turned out, no one really ever checked their bracelets. The ship was very secure and any time we exited, someone asked if the minors were accompanied by us. Kate tried to follow the rules about wearing the bracelet, but I could see that it was very uncomfortable- too tight and with a long tag hanging off. In the end, she managed to break it off when no one was watching, and that was the end of it.

Amy’s Anticipated Arrival

As the evening approached, everyone became more excited for Amy’s arrival. She had been travelling all day from the west coast of Canada. The last time we had seen her was at Christmas. There had been several family gatherings since then, usually on weekends, but Amy lived too far away for such spontaneity.

Amy and her husband loved their jobs and their location, except for the fact that all of their family members were on the east coast. Having no children of her own, Amy treasured her nieces and nephews and was looking forward to this extended visit as a way to bond with them even more closely.

Hillary (Amy’s & my mother)  was beginning to appear anxious. All mothers worry about their children and Hillary was no exception. She was even more excited than I to have her family together and was already planning special activities with each one. I finally convinced her to take a walk on the promenade deck so we could get some fresh air and take our mind off the wait. It was relaxing to stroll around the ship and take in the views of Venice and the vaporetto action on the sea.

On the way back, we stopped in my suite to see what the kids were up to. We found them hanging out on the couch with some fruit salad, french fries and Fanta. Obviously they had wasted no time ordering room service. At least they made one healthy food choice.

Mike was sitting out on the verandah. When I stepped out to join him, my mouth dropped open and I blinked my eyes in disbelief. My surprise turned into pure joy as I stretched my arms out, shouting “Amy!” and ran around the table to embrace my weary but equally happy sister, who had just arrived and was sitting in the lounge chair. Hillary was four steps behind me and soon all three of us were entwined in a group hug.

Love is a powerful magnet to draw people together. Coming from 5 states or provinces, in small groups or alone, for the sole purpose of a vacation shows a strong committment to what it means to be a family. Over the course of this cruise we intended to take every opportunity to strengthen our ties and replenish our stores of love for when we would be apart again.

Day 2- Embarkation Part A: Organization & Challenges

Today we all slept in a bit – trying to catch up on some shut eye. However, by 10 am we were repacked and ready to head to our cruise ship. Once again we each had to drag our suitcases up and down stairs and through narrow alleys until we reached our vaporetto stop. By the time we arrived at the dock, we were soaked with sweat. Everyone received a room key but David and Kate were disappointed to learn they needed to wear identification bracelets due to their age. This would become a point of contention later in the day. However, at this moment everyone was eager to check out their staterooms and explore the ship.

We were staying on the Ms. Nieuw Amsterdam. We had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite for the four of us and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of our room! We had a king size bed, a large sitting area with ample room for the pull-out sofa, a spacious bathroom with 2 sinks and showers and a separate dressing area with plenty of storage space, including a large vanity. Our verandah was twice the size of the regular ones and had comfortable seating for 8 people- perfect for our whole group!

I’ll admit I am an organization maniac and I set to work right away trying to figure out where to store four people’s stuff for the next 12 days. The guys were easy. They were able to share a closet and use some drawers. I found some drawer space for myself and used a closet for shoes and hanging things. That just left Megan’s stuff.

I knew she had packed way more than she needed, but a 15-year-old girl needs her fashion and her make-up so we agreed that, as long as it fit in her suitcase, she could bring it. As it turned out, the dressing room was perfect for her. She could fit everything in the closets, lay her makeup out on the vanity and I could draw thew curtain on her mess so the rest of the room looked presentable. Problem solved!

Since Megan and Susan were returning Mariners, they were able to attend a special Embarkation lunch and invited the rest of us as guests. We walked in to the Manhattan Dining Room and were immediately impressed by how friendly and helpful the staff were. The choices of food on the menu indicated the luxury of the options we would have during our stay.

Since it was only lunch, I skipped the appetizer and ordered a chilled asparagus soup and a raspberry walnut salad, followed by a scoop of watermelon sorbet for dessert. Everything was as delicious as it sounds! Little did I realize what a sensitive issue our food choices were to become during the cruise.

At the outset of our trip, my mother-in-law was seriously underweight. Since being widowed less than 8 months ago, she had not been eating well. Compounded by the stress of her new situation and occasional depression, she looked shockingly frail. Her goal was to put on 5 pounds and revive her spirit on this trip.

Kate, on the other hand, had been sent on this trip by her mother- who tried to maintain healthy eating habits at home and asked us to be mindful of sticking to them. With so many courses to eat and tantalizing desserts everywhere we looked, we quickly knew this was going to be a challenge.

The remaining members of the group, myself included, were foolishly trying to enjoy a variety of foods without gaining a pound. This idea seems ridiculous in retrospect, as there was always good food available at the Lido buffet, in the Neptune Lounge or by ordering room service.  Fortunately, none of this was on my mind as we finished our first meal. Everyone smiled at each other and complimented the waiters on how delicious everything had tasted.

 

A Family Introduction

    In July 2010, my daughter returned from a cruise on the Baltic Sea with her grandmother and immediately declared that we had to take a family cruise together next summer (2011). Neither my husband nor I had been on a cruise before and we were not anxious to do so. However, this Baltic Cruise had been taken on the heels of my brother-in-law’s death and at the outset of my father-in-law’s terminal illness. He had originally planned to go to the Baltic, but became too disabled for travel. It was apparent that he would not be around by the following summer.

For these reasons, we decided to move ahead with our plans in the spirit of healing and bringing everyone together. By the time we had our final itinerary, we had 8 people, ranging from 11 years old to 76, on board for the Mediterranean! Our highly unusual combination included my children (Megan and David), my mother (Hillary), my mother-in-law (Susan), my husband (Mike), my sister (Amy) and my niece (Kate- the daughter of my other sister, not Amy’s). The following travel log is a testament to family spirit, the power of love and the lessons we can learn from each other.

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