28 November 2008

Holiday Thanks

I realized yesterday, as I was finishing up my baking, that I really do have a lot to be thankful for, but often I take it for granted.

I want for nothing. I have a house over my head, food on my table, clothes to wear (although some are rather too large for me now), a wonderful husband and fantastic friends and family. I am lucky enough to be able to travel the world, indulge myself with assorted craft supplies and books, and hang out with my dogs and cats.

We spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, meeting in Staten Island instead of driving all the way to my SIL's in Long Island. For that I am extremely grateful! Last year, a normal hour to 1h, 20m drive took us FOUR and a half hours. I did not want to do that again. The food was great, the company delightful. It's not the same as being with my family, but times change. Even Thanksgiving at my Mom's isn't the same anymore without my grandparents. I had fun, enjoyed the cameraderie and that's what's important.

I made a Praline-Pumpkin cake to take with us - it was delicious. Since a couple people asked for the recipe, here it is:

Praline-Pumpkin Cake

1 spray(s) cooking spray
15 oz canned pumpkin
12 oz fat-free evaporated milk
1/4 cup(s) fat-free egg substitute
1/2 cup(s) sugar
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
18 1/4 oz unprepared white cake mix
1/2 cup(s) pecan halves, chopped
1/4 cup(s) reduced-calorie margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat bottom and sides of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Stir pumpkin, milk, egg substitute, sugar and pumpkin pie spice together in a medium bowl until smooth; pour into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture and gently press it into pumpkin mixture to moisten. Sprinkle cake with pecans and then drizzle margarine evenly over top.

Bake, uncovered, until knife inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cool completely before slicing into 16 pieces. (WW points info: 5 points for one slice.)

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

img 004
Originally uploaded by MarciNYC

The praline-pumpkin cake is in the oven, but my pumpkins pies are done. Here's a shot of one of them last night.

After debating whether to try a new (Weight Watchers) recipe or my grandma's recipe, I opted for grandmas. I did however made a few concessions -- using fat free evaporated milk and egg substitutes.

Here's my grandma's recipe:

1 large can pumpkin
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 t. vanilla
2 c. milk (I use one can of evaporated milk, then top off with regular milk to bring it to the required amount.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes; lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 minutes.

Makes 2 9" pies.


21 November 2008

Home Again

Crown Princess @ Grand Turk
Originally uploaded by MarciNYC

After 7 days at sea aboard the Crown Princess with stops in Princess Cays (Bahamas), St Maarten, St Thomas, and Grand Turk, we landed in Newark about 12:15 PM on Sunday. Perfect timing - my Mom picked us up at EWR and we made it down to Kelly's for lunch and football before the 1st Quarter of the Bengals-Eagles game was over.

All in all it was a wonderful trip -- for the first time ever, I think both Mark and I were able to relax fully and not think about anything back in the 'real world'.

The Crown Princess is a stunning ship. Our stateroom was on the Aloha Deck (12) and was perfect for the days when we were in port. We sat on our balcony as we entered and as we left port. I took a bajillion photos - some great, some not so great, but that's the beauty of digital photography.

Our first stop was at Princess Cays - the cruise line's private island on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It's pretty much a beach with not a lot of other stuff to do - although I did discover there was some souvenir shops on the island as we were getting ready to head back to the ship.

Mark and I rented snorkel equipment and he gave it a whirl. I started to, but decided the beach was just a bit too rocky, so I set off on a walk along the beach, looking for shells. In his snorkeling attempts, Mark found a small but gorgeous conch shell which we tossed in our bag to bring home with.

Our first day at sea was also formal night. Earlier in the year, when Mom and I went on a cruise, we didn't bring dressy clothes, so we bypassed formal night. Mark was really into it and we rented a tuxedo for him which was waiting for us in our stateroom. There were a few issues with the fit of the tux, but we managed to get it resolved prior to the first formal dinner. Since I've lost weight, none of my dresses fit, so I had a shopping spree at Lord & Taylor - getting several dresses for less than $35. I took four of them with me, figuring I'd return the ones I didn't wear - and that's what I did. For some reason, I didn't bother asking anyone to take a photo of Mark and I together on formal night, but you can see how we looked all dressed up here (me) and here (Mark).

If it's Wednesday, it must be St Maarten -- or so that's what I thought when I woke up. Our original plans were to go to Orient Beach (St Martin - the French side of the island) but once we were on the ship, we had a peek at the excursions and swapped out a day at the beach for a kayaking adventure. With our French-speaking guides, we kayaked in a lagoon on the Dutch side (although we did paddle to the border), toured the mangroves, and then went out into the ocean and swam for just under an hour at Simpson Bay.

I was really surprised at how hilly/mountainous St Maarten was -- guess I thought the islands were flat and boring. We had to travel a bit around the island to get to our kayaking site - so we saw a bit of Phillipsburg, the Dutch (side) capital. If you've seen on Caribbean city, you have a basic idea of what Phillipsburg looks like. We didn't stop to shop -- even though St Maarten is supposed to be a place for bargains on jewelry and watches, we weren't in the market.

Before boarding the ship, we had a drink at one of the bars in the cruise terminal. Mark decided to try the local beer, Carib. He drank one, then a second one before pronouncing it 'awful'. He said the Heineken served post-kayaking was much better.

Our next port of call was St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. For some reason all passengers had to go through an Immigration Drill before they could disembark. Mark and I had to take a letter to one of the lounges, turn it in, show our passports and were issued a landing card. I think it took the ship's crew longer to print out and deliver the letters than it did to get everyone through the immigration process.

Like St Maarten, St Thomas is a mountainous island as well. Although our ship docked in St Thomas, we didn't spend much time there. We were ferried over to St John for an eco-hike adventure. Over the course of the trip to St John, our guide pointed out the homes of celebrities on the island: Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan (lives just down the hill from MJ; wonder if they ever have pick up games?); Wacko Jacko, and Madonna to name a few. Yes, I took pics.

We hiked the Lind Point trail from Cruz Bay and ended up on Honeymoon Beach. I think this was one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been on. The water was so clear and warm -- I didn't want to come out of the water to catch the transport back to the ship. The hike was a lot of fun and I took several pics along the way.

Before we hopped back on the ship, we stopped for a drink. I had a Diet Coke while Mark tried the 'local' brew - Virgin Islands Summer Ale. He proclaimed it to be quite tasty, but was disappointed to see it was brewed in Maine. We both agreed that we liked what we saw of the USVI and thought we'd like to come back and stay at a resort for a week or so.

Remember that beautiful conch shell Mark found for me in the Bahamas? On Friday morning, he noticed something trying to crawl out of it. Eek! I asked him if it was empty when he found it and he thought it was -- but there was a crab living in the shell. We decided to take it ashore in Grand Turk and return it to the sea.

We docked in Grand Turk shortly after lunchtime on Friday - unlike St Thomas and St Maarten, Grand Turk is f-l-a-t.

I knew that Grand Turk had been hit hard by Hurricane Ike in September, so I wasn't expecting too much. Other than the beach, diving or snorkeling - or getting drunk at Margaritaville - there ain't much to do on Grand Turk, even without Ike's help. Our original kayak excursion had been canceled, so we opted to do a catamaran/snorkeling excursion instead.

We joined several others and hopped on the cat and after a brief sail and snorkeling tutorial, we found ourselves at the Grand Turk Wall. Before our visit, I'd never heard of the wall - but I saw it when I went snorkeling. My words won't do it justice -- but imagine swimming in the ocean water about 25 deep and then all of a sudden it drops off; to 6000-7000 feet. Yes, that's 6 to 7 thousand feet deep. To see this while snorkeling, along with many fish of all different colors, made me wish I almost was certified to dive. Almost. I'm still kind of freaked out about diving after reading Shadow Divers.

After the snorkel, we boarded the cat again and she put in closer to shore so we all could swim for a bit. I jumped right in (lovely warm water) and Mark grabbed some snorkel equipment for a second go around. The cat's crew mixed up pitchers of rum & coke/rum punch and swam out to serve the other swimmers. Once I was back aboard the cat, I looked to see Mark snorkeling with his rum punch held up out of the water. I tried to take a photo, but never quite successfully caught him face down/cup up.

We had one last day at sea while we traveled from Grand Turk back to Port Everglades. Because of this, we slept late and decided we'd hang out by the pool. At breakfast we ran into one of the couples from our dinner table who invited us to hang with them.

I went to claim lounges poolside while Mark went to the room to get his book. When he came back, I was in the hot tub, strawberry daiquiri in hand. When he tells me it's too early to be drinking, I insist it's 10:45 - at least that's what my watch says. When our dinner mates arrive, I ask them to confirm the time - 9:50 AM. At this point, I'm horrified to realize I've been drinking since 9:15 AM -- but as you know, it's always 5 o'clock somewhere.

We both woke up early Sunday morning before the ship was docked, so we sat on our balcony as the ship pulled into Port Everglades. The debarkation process was quite smooth and quick -- we were at the airport by 8:45 AM and managed to get on an earlier flight. We were back in Newark before our scheduled flight left Ft Lauderdale.

Would we cruise again? Definitely!

On Princess? Oh, hell yea!

We purchased future cruise credits and are looking at a 10 or 11-day Caribbean cruise in 2010. I just need to figure out which itinerary interests us most and keep an eye on pricing. We'll definitely do another balcony -- sitting out there as we entered/left ports was delightful. In the meantime, we're looking to go to Ireland together in 2009 and I'm booked on an Alaskan cruise (with my Mom) for May 2009.

It's hard to believe a week ago, I was on the Crown Princess, enjoying temps in the low 80s. Here in Jersey it's in the 30s and they're saying we could have snow early next week. While I'm glad to be home, part of me wishes I were back on the islands.


P.S. For the record, I gained 3 lbs on the cruise - which I didn't think was bad. I did step on the scale in the ship's gym and it told me I had gained 9 lbs. Of course, all scales are not equal, so not knowing what I started out as on the gym scale, I was quite pleased with only a 3 lb gain on the WW scales. I've tried to eat well this week so I'm hoping that those 3 lbs will be 'alcohol weight' and disappear quickly.

20 November 2008

Another SPCA Star

Check out the cat at 0:20 -- it's Mac!

Update: Lauren just left a comment on YouTube that Mac's featured about 3:55 as well. Go Mac - you're a star!

08 November 2008

One Day More

The bags are packed, we've checked in for our flight, and I've confirmed our 4 AM pick-up with the car service. We're ready. Now if Paloma will just stay out of our travel path, everything will be hunky dory.

I'm a bit stressed -- feeling like I've got a million and one things to do before we leave. Mark wasn't helping much saying stuff like "We can finish up in the morning. We'll have time." Don't know about you, but I don't function well at 3 AM -- especially on a short night's sleep.

I'm trying to unwind a bit now before taking the dogs for a last walk and showering before crawling into bed. Mark's been in bed for about an hour already -- he's sleeping. I guess he'll be all bright-eyed and bushy tailed in the morning. I'll be grumbling looking for hot tea.

I drove the car to Philly this morning and left it at the airport for my Mom. She'll be arriving tomorrow to dog/house sit while we're gone. Took the train back to Trenton where Mark picked me up. Not a bad trip -- about 1h, 20m from the airport. Not that I'll do it frequently, but it worked out well this time.

At this time tomorrow, we'll be out to sea and heading towards our Caribbean adventure. I'll have plenty of photos once we're home again. Looking forward to warm weather and hopefully a bit of sunshine.

04 November 2008

Election 2008: Get Out and Vote!

I believe polls are open across most of the Eastern US now - so my fellow Americans, get out there and VOTE!

Not even 100 years ago US women didn't have the right to vote. But a movement that started small and grew into a loud voice called for change. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucrecia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul stood up for what they believed was right. In 1920, their dream came true -- American women were given the right to vote.

I don't care who you vote for just as long as you do. Please, just vote. Even if you don't care for either of the Presidential candidates, there are local races where your vote can make a difference.

I have just come back from casting my vote for the next President of the United States. Although I didn't have any line at my polling place here in Central Jersey, the poll workers told me there were between 40-50 people waiting on line at 5:30 AM. (Polls open in NJ at 6:00 AM.)

I will be staying up tonight to watch the results as they come in -- and surely missing Tim Russert. I pray that the results are obvious tonight. I do not want a repeat of 2000. I want the people to decide who our next President is, not the Court.

So, if you haven't voted yet -- what are you waiting for?

01 November 2008

Halloween Recap - It's O-V-E-R

Tara - Halloween 2008
Originally uploaded by MarciNYC

We survived. Tara donned her Indian costume and sat with me as I greeted the trick-or-treaters. Suki, sans costume of course, sat with us and greeted the kidlets with her mighty bark.

I didn't go all out this year with the full size candy bars like I did last year -- instead, I got fun size Tootsie Rolls. Went through a bag and a half, so I'll return the one I didn't open today. (Yea, I'm thrifty.) I purposely held off buying candy until the actual day. I didnt want to be tempted to nibble on it. I did pretty well, until I got some of the mellowcreme pumpkins. (Two pumpkins = 1 point for my WW pals.)

There were an assortment of costumes - my favorite was a little girl dressed as a NY Jets Cheerleader (her first time going trick-or-treating) and her Dad was dressed as Brett Favre (as a Jet). The worst -- a six year old in a burqa who told me she was a "terrorist." I'm still shaking my head over that one.

What really annoys me and has me to the point of turning off my light and never giving out candy again is the lack of manners some kids have. Several rang my doorbell and when I didn't answer immediately, they bolted to the next house. Fine - you don't want to wait, that's okay with me. But what really burns me up is that I open the door and they stand there looking at me. When I ask what do you say they stare at me. If you want candy, you better well say 'Trick or Treat'. Or the kids who start grabbing for the candy. Geez louise.

I'm grateful for the parents who come up the drive with their children and remind them of Halloween ettiquette. Or the kids who come and say 'Trick or Treat' without prompting and 'thank you' for what I'm handing out. Are simple manners just not taught by parents/guardians any more? I know my Mom would have been there to gently remind me if I neglected to say thanks -- even if I didn't like what given to me.

It's over for another year. Now I hope that people will take down their big obnoxious blow-up Halloween decorations. I do love this holiday, but the blow-up decorations look ridiculous in front of peoples' houses in my neighborhood. Of course, now come the big blow-up Santas, reindeer, snowmen, etc...