Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rest in Peace, Fluffy

We came home from work today to find that Fluffy had passed away while sleeping under our bed.

When our last cat Brownie passed away in 2011 after being with us for 17 years, we were very sad. She had been with us since very early on in our relationship. When we took her to the vet to get her cremated, we saw a flyer for two older cats whose owner had passed away and were in need of a home. The house was very quiet without Brownie and we kept thinking about those two cats.

We called the number and over Labor Day weekend, a woman brought them to our house: a long-haired black cat named Fluffy and a short-haired Tortie named Tammy. According to their paperwork, they were both 15 years old. We knew that we were setting ourselves up for loss by taking in older cats, but it wasn't their fault that their owner died, and we wanted to give them some comfort in their remaining senior years.

Fluffy had a hard time adjusting at first. She seemed to have been traumatized by the dogs at her foster home. Tammy adjusted quickly, but they didn't really seem to get along. They tolerated each other and that was about it. We joked that they were probably hoping they'd be adopted into separate homes. Though we were told Fluffy was a lap cat, she hid in our closet for weeks. Eventually she came out of her shell. She was a quirky cat, and we loved that about her. She became very affectionate. She also seemed very smart, and would often respond vocally when we spoke to her.

She had long fur, even on the pads of her feet, and she would slip when she walked on our laminate flooring. She started to join us every night when we sat to watch TV, curled up on our laps. Lately she had taken to sleeping with us, sometimes between our pillow, and sometimes on our pillows and practically on our heads. She loved drawers and cabinets. She would never resist the opportunity to climb in and explore. She also liked it hot. She would go into the boiler room on the hottest days of the year, and generally hang out where it was warmest.

We had to keep her food separate from Tammy's because they each had medications they needed take. Once in a while Fluffy would try to eat Tammy's food. All we would need to do would be to say her name and she would slink off sulking, knowing she had been caught. Tammy, on the other hand, would need to be physically removed from Fluffy's bowl when the situation was reversed.

We were only together for less than two and a half years, but we became very attached to her. She would follow us around the house and would always greet us when we arrived home from work. That didn't happen today, and Craig immediately suspected that something was wrong.

Rest in peace, Fluffernutter; we miss you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Paola's Quinceañera in Panajachel, Guatemala

The second eldest daughter of our compadres Humberto and Paulina celebrated her fifteenth birthday on January 4. It is an important rite of passage in Latin American culture, and we wouldn't miss it for the world.

We awoke to the beginnings of a large snowstorm in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, January 2. Luckily, we were able to fly out of Logan Airport with only a slight delay for de-icing of the plane's wings before the bulk of the storm hit. We made our connection in Miami and arrived in Guatemala City at 11:30 a.m.

After a three hour van ride, we arrived at the house in Panajachel at 2:45 p.m. It was so nice to see all of the kids again! They all grow so quickly! As usual, Humberto had completed many more improvements to the property since our last visit 6 months ago.  An extra bathroom is now hidden behind a Mayan tapestry under the stairwell. With the family now running bed and breakfast services as well as hosting clients in Humberto's office, an extra bathroom accessible from the outside is quite handy.

The rooms on the second floor of the guest house are nearing completion, and these rooms will be used as the venue for Paola's party. We climbed up to the third floor roof terrace. There were no hand rails, so Craig, unsure of his footing due to his MS, had to be very careful. As the quinceañera party would be on the second floor, Humberto was going to have hand rails installed the next day for safety during the party.

From the terrace, we could see Lake Atitlan several blocks away, and its surrounding volcanoes. Humberto showed us the fire pit where they had a fire to celebrate Christmas. Several guests were staying in the first floor guest rooms. Yoselin and Yasmin have moved their bedroom back to the main house to make additional rooms available for guests.

Eddy, Aracely, and Craig
Brittany, Yasmin, and Yoselin
Paola and Loren making decorations
Paola was continuing to make preparations for her big party on Saturday night. She was gluing gold glitter onto styrofoam letters to spell out "Mis 15 Años", or My 15 Years. Humberto told us that they named his nephew Juan Carlos and his wife Yolanda as the padrinos (godparents) of Paola's quinceañera. In Latin America, godparents are chosen for all of the important rites of passage in life, not just christening. Humberto told us that they have been a tremendous help in planning and preparing for the party.

Vanesa's quinceañera, two and a half years ago, had been a low-key family party.  Vanesa doesn't like to be the center of attention. Paola, on the other hand, has been mentally planning her big day for years. She planned to go all-out, inviting family and friends to celebrate in her rite of passage.
Josue and Brittany
Yoselin and Steph
The next day, Friday, preparations for the party continued. Welders came over and installed iron railings on the staircase. Plastic tubs full of chicken arrived at the house. The girls peeled and cut beets. Dozens of plastic tables and chairs arrived and were brought up to the second floor of the guest building. Paulina's sister Olga arrived with her son Chilo to help prepare the chicken. Juan Carlos and Yolanda came over to help with decorations and cooking. Their children, Junior and Fatima came to help as well. Junior is now 12 years old, but has grown so much lately that he looks much older.  The kids' 8-year-old cousin Josue and his 3-year-old niece Brittany were around as well.

Paulina and the women were cooking in the kitchen while the guys and kids put up decorations on the second floor. Paola and Junior filled the piñata. The piñata was Belle, of Beauty and the Beast. It stood taller than Brittany!  The kids filled it with hard candies and lollipops.
Yolanda, Juan Carlos, Craig, Olga, Paulina, and Humberto
Everyone took a break from their preparations to eat a nice dinner of pasta in meat sauce. Then Humberto broke out a bottle of Venado light rum and Juan Carlos mixed it with some  Squiz citrus punch, and all of the adults toasted to the occasion.

After a couple of drinks and some good laughs, everyone returned to their duties. Humberto gave the kids bags of green pine needles to spread on the floor to infuse the air with a lovely pine scent. The kids blew up gold and silver balloons. Humberto's niece Sandra brought over a beautiful arrangement of yellow roses. The walls were decorated with gold ribbons. At around 11:30, we called it a night. Juan Carlos' brother Victor arrived, and we capped off the night with a little more rum.

The day of the party dawned with beautiful sunshine. Paola's actual birthday wasn't until the next day, but the family had elected to hold the party on a Saturday night. Humberto went out to do some errands and arrived home in a tuk-tuk carrying three "party packs" of XL light rum. He also brought home 12 pineapples, 6 watermelons, and 6 cantaloupes for a home-made rum punch. Humberto, Juan Carlos, and Junior started an assembly line to process the fruit. Sandra and some of Paola's friends started constructing a balloon arch.

Paulina and Paola returned after picking up Paola's dress and jewelry. We went to the market with Paulina, Eddy, and Aracely to buy the two youngest kids some new clothes to wear to the party.As we were running behind Paulina's schedule, we took a tuk-tuk there. This was probably good for Craig. Tonight's party would last until the wee hours and we didn't want him to tire himself out too early.  Craig's MS sapped a lot of his strength lately.

After each child picked out an outfit, we stopped at the barber shop to get Eddy a haircut. Despite his intense and rambunctious nature,  Eddy always sat stone-still in the old-fashioned barber chair, so much so that the barber could use a straight razor to finish off the edges.
Craig and Aracely
We went home and the last-minute preparations had commenced. Paulina's brother Juan was helping to mix the rum with the gallons of fresh fruit juice they had extracted earlier in the day. The balloon arch was completed and installed in the doorway to the guest building.

They served everyone a bowl of corned beef and cabbage for lunch. Then, as we took showers and got dressed for the party, everyone disappeared. Paola and Humberto took Paola to get her hair done, and the neighboring relatives went to their respective houses.

Family friend Letti and her daughter Nidia arrived with the cake they had baked and decorated. The cake had three separate tiers, though they were not stacked. She placed a doll wearing a gold gown on the center tier. All of the rented plastic tables had been transformed with white table linens and centerpieces. Everything was perfect!
Julisse, Paola, and Vanesa
Soon after, Paola appeared, looking radiant in a floor-length gold gown. She was allowing us a rare glimpse into her girly-girl side, with make up, high heels, fresh flowers, and delicate jewelry.  Craig and I each got a tear in our eye at the sight of her. When we had first met Paola, she was only 8 years old. She had grown from a precocious tomboy to a mature young lady.  It felt like we were seeing our own little girl, all grown up.

Juan Carlos and Yolanda met us, and their daughter Fatima was dressed like a little princess in a sparkly purple gown. Humberto set off firecrackers as we walked down the alley toward the road. We took tuk-tuks to the San Francisco de Asis church in time for the 6:30 Mass.
Paola walks in the opening procession at church
Yolanda, Humberto, Paola, Paulina, Juan Carlos
We sat with Aracely, Eddy, Fatima, and Yasmin in the third pew. The first pew was reserved for Paola, Humberto, Paulina, and godparents Juan Carlos and Yolanda. The five of them walked in as part of the opening procession, and Paola's quinceañera was announced from the pulpit. Paola sat in the front pew with her parents and godparents, holding a beautiful bouquet that Sandra had prepared for her.
Yolanda, Humberto, Paola, Paulina, and Juan Carlos
At the end of the Mass, we took pictures of Paola and the family in front of the altar. As we exited the church, Humberto set off more firecrackers just as the same van that brought us from the airport pulled over in front of the church. People piled in and we were driven the short ride back to the house. A bunch of Paola's friends were waiting near Humberto's office. There were more firecrackers as Paola walked down the alley to her party. The balloon arch welcomed guests, and the newly installed handrails on the stairs kept guests safe as they climbed up to the second floor. There was a receiving line where Paola greeted guests.

Paola arrives at her party with Paulina, Humberto, and Aracely
Three rooms contained tables and the fourth was for dancing. Two dj's played traditional Guatemalan music while guests were seated and served the fresh and tasty rum punch. As we entered the room where we were to sit, we noticed Rocio and her mother Juana sitting at a table with Josue, Josue's mother and father, Brittany, and her father Daniel. We were seated at a table with Paola's godparents from her christening and their young daughter.

Aracely, Yoselin, and Yasmin handed out favors: small roses made of gold ribbon, on which was printed Paola's name and the date of her quinceañera. The girls pinned these onto everyone.  Paola was introduced to the crowd and a toast was made in her honor. She was absolutely beaming.
Paola and her piñata
Soon it was announced that it was time for the piñata. Everyone congregated on the stairs (leaning up against the brand new, sturdy iron railings) and in the courtyard to watch Paola try to bash open the princess piñata. She eventually gave up and let Julisse at it. Soon there was candy falling onto the ground. Little kids with plastic bags scurried to pick up as much as they could. Paola threw handfuls into the adoring crowd.

We went back to our table, and Humberto and Paulina sat down with us. Olga's 5-year-old son Chilo came over and asked to use my second camera. He is usually very shy, and I was happy to let him use it. It got him to come out of his shell a little bit as he took photos of the various guests.
Paola, Steph, Humberto, Paola's godparents, Paulina
The family served plates of food: chicken in mushroom gravy, julienne beets, and rice with vegetables. Paola came and sat at our table to eat. After folks were finished eating, the dj's played more modern music, and Paola had the first dance with her dad, Humberto. The empty bedroom had been transformed into a disco, and brightly colored lights played on the ceiling, walls, and floor.

We saw Paulina's sister Estela, and her daughters Laisa, Yesmy, Loren, and Michele.  Laisa looked all grown up, very pretty in a traditional huipil (blouse) and skirt. Blanca introduced us to her baby Dulce Natalie. Olga's youngest, Alison Margarita, was enthralled by Craig as always. Rosa and Victor had come with all of their kids: Julisse, Alex, Andrik, and Neli.

Blanca and Dulce Natalie
Craig, Alison Margarita, and Olga
Paola cut the cake, and good-naturedly let them push her chin into the frosting. The cake was vanilla with jelly in between the layers. The batteries died in my second camera, and Chilo brought it to me. Craig ran down to the room to get more batteries. I replaced the batteries and let Aracely and Loren have a turn to use the camera. Chilo looked crestfallen, and kept asking for the camera in Spanish. It was as if his night had been ruined. When Aracely and Loren were done, I made sure to find Chilo and return the camera to him.

Yoselin asked Craig and I to dance, and we danced with her until we all got tired and needed a rest.
Paola danced the night away with her friends. The younger kids also really enjoyed dancing with one well. Eddy ran around like a wild man. Aracely asked me to dance with her and when we went into the disco room, Rocio joined us.

Everyone had a great time and the party ran until 1:30 a.m. At that point, the music stopped and everyone except the teenagers went to bed.
Rocio and Juana
Michele and Alison Margarita
Neli and Rosa
Estela, Michele, and Laisa
After sleeping in a bit in the morning, we woke up and had breakfast with the kids. Paola opened her gifts from the party. She got a lot of nice gifts befitting a young lady. After that, we all got into clean-up mode. We disassembled tables, cleaned up trash, swept up pine needles, etc. Having been her party, Paola took the lead on clean-up efforts. She worked very hard.

At lunch time, Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Fatima, Junior, Victor, Julisse, Alex, Andrik,  Neli, Josue, and Brittany arrived for lunch. We had leftover chicken in mushroom sauce and rice. Juan Carlos made a cabbage cole slaw and included some hot peppers straight from the garden.

Vanesa, Fatima, Neli, Julisse, Eddy
Aracely and Paulina
After lunch, we made a puzzle of a map of the world with the kids. It was a lot of fun, and as soon as one group of kids finished the puzzle and disassembled it, a second group got to work on it immediately. Craig and I played tic-tac-toe with Yoselin and Fatima, respectively.

Fatima, Aracely, Yoselin, and Josue complete the world map puzzle
It got dark and soon Humberto came home from a day of taking 23 clients on a lake tour. He was done for the day and ready to unwind.  Rosa and Victor, Juan Carlos and Yolanda, and all of their respective kids arrived for dinner. Rosa and Victor set up the charcoal grill and  got some marinated steaks cooking. The adults all drank beer, except for me (I'm allergic). Humberto broke out a bottle of Chilean red wine that he had received from colleagues for the New Year for me.  Victor and Rosa also toasted tortillas on the grill, which we enjoyed with fresh guacamole. The evening air was chilly, and after we enjoyed the delicious steak, we all huddled around the grill like a campfire. Embers popped out of the fire and we brushed them off of ourselves. The radio was on and we joked about keeping the neighbors awake two nights in a row. Luckily most of the neighbors were the family, and they were participants. We disbanded at midnight.

Victor, Rosa, Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Paulina, Humberto, Craig, and Alex

Gathering around the fire: Junior, Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Paulina, Humberto, and Craig
The next morning Aracely and Eddy returned to school after their Christmas break. We hung out with the older girls in the morning (they wouldn't start school for another week). We gave them a rainbow loom for making bracelets out of small colored rubber bands. Yoselin and I tried to follow the pictured steps with the loom, but we were unsuccessful after over an hour. Paola made some bracelets by hand, and we determined that this was the best course of action and did the same. Josue and Loren also joined in. They were soon making brightly colored bracelets, rings, and necklaces.

Yasmin making bracelets
Eddy got home from school at 12:45. We showered, ate lunch, and then walked to the school to pick up Aracely. When she got home, we taught her how to make the bracelets, Soon she was flying through, making bracelets for everyone in her class. She could literally do it with her eyes closed! Paola and Paulina tried using the loom, but were also unsuccessful.

Humberto had to go to a meeting, and he and Paulina announced that the rest of us would be going down the street to her sister Isabela's restaurant for tacos,. Yum! But Eddy crashed and fell asleep at the dining room table before we could go. So instead they decided to get the food as take-out.  Paulina and the kids made a list (many of the kids wanted burgers and fries instead of tacos), but when they tried to order, they realized that the restaurant was closed today.

Paulina didn't want to make food, so we assumed that they would order pizza delivery instead. A few minutes later, she told us that Rosa would save the day by preparing the taco order herself. This surprised us and we wondered how she could prepare so much so quickly, with no notice.

We watched Gravity Falls on TV with the kids (quite funny, even dubbed in Spanish) and soon dinner arrived...plates of tacos, plates of burgers and fries, large bowls of frsh guacamole, salsa, and picante sauce. How could Rosa prepare so much so quickly and professionally? Then it dawned on us. Victor and Rosa own the Yulex restaurant next to Humberto's office. Though they have been working at some nearby villas and haven't had much time for the restaurant lately, Rosa had the food and equipment to make a complete dinner for ten on the spot. We slathered our tacos in salsa and the delightfully hot picante sauce. They were different than Isabela's tacos, but just as good! Chicken, onions, peppers, and cheese. Yoselin and Aracely shared their fries with us. Everything was delicious!
It was Yolanda's birthday today, and she and Juan Carlos stopped by with Junior and Fatima on their way home from dinner. The girls broke out the rainbow loom and taught Fatima and Junior how to make bracelets manually. Juan Carlos attempted to figure out the loom and was actually successful! We were so happy that someone could actually figure out how to use the thing! The party broke up at 11:30 p.m. We went back to our room and started to pack.

It was very windy during the night and we were constantly reminded of the fact as we slept. We were awakened by a crash which turned out to be the empty 750 liter water tank took flight from the third floor terrace of the guest house, smashing down onto the corrugated metal roof attached to the main house. It made quite a dent in the roof, but luckily didn't cause any permanent damage to the tank.

The next morning, we woke up early to continue packing. We met the family for breakfast at 8 o'clock, and then said our goodbyes to godchildren Aracely and Eddy as they headed off to school.  Our van arrived at 9:30, and we said goodbye to the family and headed home. It had been a wonderful visit, as usual. And we had a little surprise waiting for us in our luggage: Yoselin and Yasmin had wrapped up two small stuffed animals for us and hid them in our bags as a surprise.
Saying goodbye to Eddy and Aracely

We are so blessed that we were able to attend Paola's special birthday celebration. She is such a lovely, responsible, intelligent young lady. We are proud of her for her accomplishments in school as well as the way she helps her mother around the house and her father around the office.

We have been a part of the family for six and a half years. We have seen children growing up into young adults as other new babies are born. Every time we visit, there are new family members to meet. Life is a continuum, and this family is ever-changing. We are lucky to be a part of it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thanksgiving in St. Thomas with Marty

When last we traveled, Craig's multiple sclerosis flared up in Ecuador. When we got him back home, he was hospitalized for 5 days and in rehab for an additional 8 days. He continued his recovery at home, with occupational and physical therapists visiting the house. Heavy doses of steroids alleviated most of his symptoms, but he was still having difficulty walking.

After 7 weeks, he was well enough to return to work at the beginning of November. At first we didn't know whether he would ge up for traveling right away. Luckily, our annual trip to St. Thomas to spend Thanksgiving with our good friend Marty is not strenuous.

Craig, Steve, their Mom, and I flew direct from Boston to St. Thomas on Jet Blue on Thanksgiving morning. The direct flight was at 10:20 a.m., which means that we didn't have to be at the airport at the crack of dawn, but would still get to St. Thomas by mid-afternoon. We always enjoy flying Jet Blue. And not just because it's non-stop. When they didn't have Craig's free snack of choice directly on hand, they gave him an alternate in the meanwhile and then soon came back with his choice. Try that on American or United! Oh that's right; they don't even offer free snacks.
When we arrived n St Thomas, we picked up our rental car at Budget. Craig had bought additional insurance online through Expedia so that it would allow an additional driver on the policy. If Craig was not feeling well enough to drive,  (or just felt too tired to drive on the left), Steve would be able to drive. He had experience driving there, and it didn't bother him. Neither their Mom nor I, on the other hand, wanted anything to do with driving on the opposite side of the road.

Marty on our patio
We went out to the car, a blue Ford Taurus. Craig felt well enough to drive, so he got behind the wheel and drove us to Food Center to buy provisions. Marty met us there on his Harley. We bought food and drink to stock our little kitchenette, and then headed to Secret Harbour. We checked into room 322, a beachfont 2 bedroom suite. After we settled in and put the groceries away, we were able to relax out on the west-facing patio and enjoy the view of the beach, palm trees, and the bay. It was like we had never left. We enjoyed chatting and catching up with Marty. The weather was a bit cooler than usual, so we opted to turn off the air conditioning in favor of overhead fans and the breeze blowing in through the screens.It was a nice change not to have to be sealed up in the room.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to Molly Malone's for their all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving dinner.  Marty had made the reservation in advance to secure us an outdoor table. The restaurant is right on the water in Red Hook, and there were TV's showing the requisite Thanksgiving football. We were served turkey vegetable soup, salad, wine, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberry sauce. Mom was tired of turkey, having cooked it  over the previous weekend, so she opted for the alternate of Black Oak ham. It was all delicious, and a bargain at $24.13 a person, all-you-can-eat and drink.  Craig and Steve each had an additional plate of food. And then for dessert there was pumpkin pie. It was a lively atmosphere and we enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner.

Steph, Marty, Steve, Mom, Craig - Turkey dinner at Molly Malone's
Craig's Thanksgiving dinner at Molly Malone's
Craig's recent illness and various factors conspired to prevent us from having our  traditional "Black Friday" boat trip (Cap'n Marty's Island Hop) this year. It turned out to be for the best, as the weather was stormy (showers throughout the day). Instead, we spent the day enjoying the Secret Harbour property. We had breakfast in the room and enjoyed the beautiful view from our patio. The skies were gray this morning and it started to rain. We saw a beautiful rainbow out over some sailboats moored in the bay.

Later we went down to the beach. We set up beach chairs in the shade on the far side of the beach, and then went into the water, drinks in hand, to float around in the warm water of the calm bay. This is what we dream of during long New England winters. Everybody swam - including Marty (who usually says that the winter water is too cold).  Craig found walking on the sand a bit more difficult than he had expected. He did well, but was a bit unsteady on the uneven slope down into the water.  It was a very relaxing day, which was what we all needed after a few stressful months.

As we sat in our chairs, we watched the hotel's wedding coordinator set up an archway in the sand for a wedding later in the day. The weather was showery, and we hoped that the weather wouldn't have a negative impact on the wedding. It was fun people-watching on the beach. The dive shop was renting out a lot of standing paddle boards, the trendy activity this year.

Steph swimming at Secret Harbour
Craig swimming at Secret Harbout
At 6:30, we headed to Latitude 18 for dinner, drinks, and live music.  It is a short drive from the hotel.  They had renovated the place since we were last here. Now there was a nice deck which was sheltered from the weather by a roof. We went to our usual spot, which used to be an isolated picnic table right next to the water. Now it was a proper table with chairs, and it was protected by the roof.  It was a very pretty spot from which to see the lights of Red Hook reflected in the water.

We got seated and all ordered frosty bushwhackers except for Marty, who drank Bud. For appetizers, we ordered shark bites and a Mediterranean platter featuring hummus, chickpeas, etc. As entrees, Craig and I both got the chicken roti served with fried plantains and mango chutney. We always like local Caribbean fare. Everything was delicious. Hudson and the Hoodoo Cats were the entertainment. We had seen them perform here several years ago, and they always put on a good show. We enjoyed good food and live music. The evening was topped off with the day's dessert: yellow cake with caramel frosting.

Dinner at Latitude 18: Steve, Craig, Marty, Steph. Mom

Saturday, Craig made breakfast for us. We each had a "Craig McMuffin" -  cheese omelettes on English muffins with fresh bacon. It is the kind of breakfast we only have when we are on vacation.
While he cooked, we listened to Ronnie James Dio's Elf albums on the iPod, a tradition since  our old camping days.

After our leisurely morning, spent looking out into sunny skies from our patio, we headed down to the beach. The weather turned gray and it started to rain off and on. We spent a couple of hours in the water, but were soon feeling chilly. The weather was degrading, and by mid-afternoon we had headed back into the room.

Craig under the sea grape tree at Secret Harbour
 Steve made a trip to Food Center to replenish some of our provisions. As soon as he left Secret Harbour, it started absolutely pouring, with thunder and lightning. Marty was thrilled, as they seldom get really good thunderstorms on the island.He stood out on the balcony watching the lightning bolts.

Steve returned successfully from his mission, but now nobody wanted to have to drive in the deluge. So we decided to just walk down the beach to the excellent Sunset Grille for dinner. I called to make a reservation, and they said they were closed for a private party. We were a little bit annoyed that they hadn't made an announcement to the hotel guests, but now the hotel and restaurant are managed separately, so things fall through the cracks. They assured us that they would be open tomorrow night, so we had to come up with Plan B for tonight.

We usually have pizza delivered to the room once during each trip. Tonight was the perfect night for it. We ordered two Hawaiian pizzas (one with jalapenos on half) and a pepperoni pizza from Senor Pizza in Red Hook. We enjoyed them very much. After dinner we had some drinks and played Pass the Pigs.

Pass the Pigs is a tradition which goes back several years. Marty had e-mailed us with the bad news that he had been unable to find his game in advance of our visit.  Luckily, Steve had a set that his Mom had given him last Christmas, so he immediately packed them and brought them with us. We had fun rolling the pigs as dice and gaining or losing points based on how they land. As usual, Craig was always good for risking all of his points and "pigging out" - landing the pigs in an "undignified position" which results in the loss of all points. Every now and then we would break to go out onto the patio and listen to the pouring rain. It was windy and felt like a tropical storm.

Pizza delivered to our room
Marty and Steve passing the pigs
Marty naps while Mom reads
Sunday, Craig and I slept late. Steve and Marty headed out early to do some errands. When they returned, we went out to the beach for an hour of swimming before our 2 p.m. football game. The sun was out and the water was a gorgeous shade of turquoise. We could see the fish below the surface, swimming around us. We dared part-time vegan Steve to sample a bit of seaweed that floated by, and he gamely did so. We sipped our drinks while we swam and soaked up the sunshine. There were no dark clouds in sight today.

At 1:30 we headed inside and took quick showers and watched the Patriots game against Houston. It was a tough game, but we ended up winning. After the game we watched a gorgeous sunset from our patio. It started out golden and then settled into a pinky orange. The variability of the weather on this trip meant that a picturesque sunset was not a given each night.

We started watching the next football game,  and then walked down the beach to the Sunset Grille for dinner at 6:30. Craig had a painkiller to drink, and I had a bushwhacker. We had focaccia bread and olive oil, and ordered a bruschetta appetizer. The "amuse bouche", or complimentary appetizer,  was "Caribbean turkey on a wonton" - a small dollop of delicious turkey salad presented on a wonton. Whatever they chose to call it, it was delicious! As entrees, Craig and I each go the sirloin au poivre which was in a really nice pepper sauce and served with truffled gourmet macaroni and cheese. It was fabulous. For dessert, I had chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream. As with most places in St, Thomas, it is not an inexpensive place to eat. But it is a true fine dining experience, and its convenience factor (being located on the grounds of the hotel) makes it irresistible.

We waddled back to our room with bellies stuffed, and watched some more football. Marty fell asleep before The Amazing Race was on. We watched it and then sat out on the balcony for an hour while Mom watched one of her TV shows.We enjoyed the sound of the ocean.  The weather was not hot and humid as it usually is, so the temperature outside was just as comfortable as inside.

Steve, Craig, Mom, and Marty swimming at Secret Harbour
Craig swims at Secret Harbour
Steph at Secret Harbour
Secret Harbour Resort; Sunset Grille
Secret Harbour sunset
Dinner at Sunset Grille - Steve, Marty, Mom, Craig, Steph
On Monday, Marty had to go to work early.  We could hear his Harley as he left Secret Harbour at 5:20 a.m.  We went back to sleep for a couple more hours and got up at 8:45. We ate some Food Center muffins for breakfast, put on our bathing suits, and went out to the beach by  10:45. It was a beautiful sunny day and we immediately went into the water.

At around noon we flagged down a beach waitress and ordered some lunch from the Cruzan Beach Club while still in the water. We each got frosty refreshing bushwhackers and shared an appetizer of calamari. We had dried off and were lounging in our beach chairs when the food came to us. Craig got a mahi sandwich with fries and I had a mango pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries.It was delicious. Iguanas lumbered across the sand and climbed trees to sit amongst the palms and leaves in the sun. As we were sitting in the shade of those trees, we would often look up to make sure that an iguana was not about to fall out of the tree onto our heads.

After lunch, we enjoyed the beach some more. We swam the length of the beach down to the Aqua Action Dive Shop. The weather was absolutely beautiful - sunny and with no rain to be seen. I sat in my beach chair reading for a while. As the sun got low in the sky, a white cattle egret was looking for food near the jetty. He was very photogenic with his tall and skinny stork-like legs and long orange bill. We had never seen this kind of bird here at Secret Harbour. He must have been taking the day off from his day job of riding on the backs of cows.

Beach chairs at Secret Harbour
Craig swimming at Secret Harbour
Craig enjoys the view from Secret Harbour beach
Egret at Secret Harbour
At 5 o'clock, we headed back into the room to clean up for dinner. We watched the puffy clouds turn pink as the sun set. Marty had made a reservation for us at the Schnitzel Haus, a small restaurant run by a German expat named Petra. 

Marty was having bike trouble after work, so he would have to meet us there. We  arrived before he did. An orange cat was seated on Craig's chair, and was not happy to be dethroned so that Craig could sit down. We ordered some drinks. Craig had a Heineken and I had vodka and cranberry.   We had been looking forward to their garlic escargot appetizer (we even passed on ordering escargot at Latitude 18, saving ourselves for the Schnitzel Haus). Unfortunately, Petra no longer offers escargot, since the market price has gotten too high.

We ordered sausage and sauerkraut as an appetizer instead, while we waited for Marty.  All of a sudden, while enjoying our appetizer and drinks, Craig felt something stab into the back of his legs. The cat's claws had punctured his skin. The cat had apparently been sitting under his chair seething, and had chosen that moment to take out its aggression on poor unsuspecting Craig. As we are cat lovers, he was fairly forgiving. The waitress said that it was her cat and she apologized, but we don't think she realized just how much it had injured him. Anyone who is not used to cats would probably have bee traumatized by the unprovoked attack.

Marty needed to borrow his work truck to meet us, and he texted us that he was on the way. We got his order via text and ordered it for him. With perfect timing, he showed up 5 minutes before the food arrived. Craig and I each ordered the pepper schnitzel with  bratkartoeffeln potatoes and red cabbage. As always, it was delicious. Petra's home cooking is amazing. Petra was apologetic that she didn't have any strudel to offer for dessert. She sold out before Thanksgiving and hadn't had a chance to make more. We will need to remember to call and reserve a strudel next year!

After a delicious meal, we headed back to the room and watched some Monday Night Football.
Marty had to leave at 3 a.m. for work, and we would be flying out in the afternoon, so we said our goodbyes before we went to bed. Always difficult to say goodbye for another year.

Dinner at Schnitzel Haus - Marty, Steve, Steph, Craig, Mom
We got up at 7 o'clock the next morning, got showered, and packed everything up. We  checked out at around 10:45. Then we drove up to Paradise Point to visit Sean. Sean is a long-time friend of Marty's and Boston transplant who is the proprietor of a shop called the Pirate's Chest. Paradise Point is a mountaintop location which affords a great view of the cruise ship docks in the harbor. Sean's store had been up here when we met him a decade ago. Then he moved down to Havensight for a couple of years. Now, Paradise Point had undergone a multi-million dollar renovation, and he moved the store back. It was great to see Sean again and we bought a few items at the shop. Though this shop was smaller, Sean told us that a lot of his diving treasures are now on display at a museum he runs at Bluebeard's Castle Resort.  We didn't have time to visit it today, but we would definitely make sure to check it out next year; it sounded fascinating! We know that Sean and his girlfriend Carol do a lot of diving and they have come up with some truly unique treasures. Sean is a Boston sports fan and Mom enjoyed reminiscing with him about the Red Sox's  championship winning season. Sean had his pirate mascot dressed up in a Red Sox shirt and Patriots Santa hat.

Next we went to Havensight to eat lunch at the Delly Deck. It's a place where lot sof locals eat and we really enjoy their food. Craig had a Philly cheese steak sandwich and I had an Upper Deck sandwich.

After lunch, we went into a couple of stores at Havensight. We stopped for gas and arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our 6 p.m. flight. Unfortunately, there is no non-stop from St. Thomas to Boston. Our connection in San Juan was running about 30 minutes late, so we wound up arriving home at around 11:45 p.m. Even with the slight delay, we left later than ever and still got home before midnight. Jet Blue we just need them to start flying to our favorite South and Central American locations...

View from Paradise Point
The Pirate's Chest at Paradise Point- Sean, Craig, Mom, Steve