Friday, April 29, 2011

Course, course, course

It has only been a little over three weeks since we returned home, back to reality and now I'm finally getting to the blog. I have intended on several occasions to put fingers to keyboard to update you but have instead ended up working on my course. This is the paying the piper part of the two lovely vacations. My goal is to make it through all the material once and hopefully a bit of time for review. The first exam will be May 9th and I have one section and a half yet to complete and it's respiratory as in acid/base balance, arterial blood gases, ventilators etc. Arggh.

I jumped back into the swing of things at work and things sure were swinging. We've had a full house for so long that we wouldn't know what to do if we had a bed to admit a patient to instead of warehousing them on a stretcher in the Emergency Dept. The last night I worked we had four ambulance deliveries of really ill folks and there's no way to get caught up with that kind of pace. The friend who has been accepted into the Continuing Care Assistant course can likely handle what health care will throw at her and she (and myself) are pretty excited that she'll be a student in the fall. We'll need new blood as the expansion of one of the local nursing homes is depleting our staff.

We've had the added excitement of our union voting on a contract which passed with only 30% casting ballots and a 55% acceptance. The main point of contention was not the 1% and 1% we were given for each of the years but....standardized uniforms so that patients can tell the Registered Nurses (and in some facilities - not ours - the Licensed Practical Nurses) from the kitchen staff and cleaners. The only problem with voting NOT to accept the collective agreement  would have been the strike vote which came next. I can't really see myself or others standing on the picket line because they don't want to wear black pants and a white top. Those who were opposed were RNs who had graduated wearing white polyester uniforms, white pantyhose, white shoes without another line of color on them and a starched white cap - so that part of the equation really puzzled me.  There were technical and logistical problems as well with voting online or by phone and only 72 hours in which to do so. Glad that the VP, not myself, is headed to the union AGM next month. There will be lots of chatter about it for sure!

I got my act together and voted in the advance poll last week for the federal election as I'm scheduled to work a LD on Monday. The coworker who I took with me said "how dumb are we? everyone else but us is getting a few hours off to go vote" But at least I know I've exercised my right.

I worked part of Easter weekend but at least it was the part which gave me some overtime as I did a LD on Easter Sunday and it was worth being paid for 18 hrs and a LN on Easter Monday which wasn't much better. We were graced with the presence of the baby daughter for an Easter Sunday visit and so the Easter Bunny didn't get to retire just yet - the one time that getting up at 5:15 a.m. is a bonus. The boy Capt. who has found himself in a relationship which includes a three year old told me that he did something he hadn't done before this Easter and when I dared to ask "what was that?" he says "hide Easter eggs instead of look for them, you know you have to hide them low because she's kind of short".

Last week the lad managed to hit a deer on his way to go lobstering and took the front end out of his vehicle. Now the tussle with the insurance company to cover the costs. It apparently was a $6,000 deer. He is driving a loaner (a Dodge so he's not impressed) and dealing with autobody shops, adjusters et al. He and his lady friend dropped in for a visit last evening as she has horses in a local barn and that was a nice surprise.

I had word from the tropical medicine course I applied for in Peru and was not accepted. I did have my name placed on a waiting list but was not on the short list. Sigh. The colleague who I hope to attend with has been doing some research and there is a three week course held in Liverpool, England which looks promising for 2013. It would afford the chance to go to the Beatles Museum as well which would be a nice diversion:

We opted not to try for Tulane which was $10,000 tuition for four months as we'd be 85 before we paid that off. She is attempting to lure me to Amsterdam or South Africa as possibilities. When it comes to travel I could be persuaded I think.
Last week on April 20th was not just the birthday of a good friend but.....National Pineapple Upside Down Cake Day, in the USA that is. Not only did we not have that kind of a cake, we had to wait until a week later to celebrate her birthday as we were all so busy. The shore captain saved lobsters and we had them with herb bread and chocolate cake for dessert which was kindly provided by a guest. We had a wonderful evening catching up on the news, until the shore captain fell sound asleep in the rocking chair at 11 p.m. so it was the cue for the guests to head home.

Part of the reason I was too over scheduled to celebrate the week before was that I had to travel to the city to do my skills lab for the Emergency Nursing Course I'm taking. It turned out that we weren't tested on the skills, it was just a review and although I had only six items on my list which weren't signed off I was the last one out of the room. Organization is not these folks strong point. I did get to stay over with the daughter and son-in-law in their new place and they are all settled in very cozily.

Had a nice chat with the oldest daughter yesterday and she is doing well with her electrical course. She's passed her first provincial exam and will be finished with the second part by August. Apparently female tradespeople are a growing segment of the industry.

Well, time to close as I agreed to switch a shift with a coworker who is moving her daughter from one apartment to another this weekend. Been there and done that so completely understand about the need to be off. Speaking of days off I've requested a couple of days in May when friends from Saskatchewan will be 'home' for a few days to visit. Quite a few changes since they've moved on five years ago.

And the quote of the day is...One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries......A.A. Milne

Monday, April 4, 2011

We did it all!

As another wonderful trip (in less than a month) draws to a close it’s time to update you all. And yes the title is correct - we did it all - and more. The plans for snorkeling, rain forest, canals and more did all work out. And yes I did manage to fit into my going home clothes which is a good thing as the shorts with the legs which zip back on come in handy with the 6c temperatures we encountered. This will not be an easy transition. Spring please head our way.
Holland America was a wonderful (if very senior) cruise experience. I haven't seen as many wheelchairs since I worked in long term care. The staff (for the most part Phillipino) were fantastic and we were suprised to find that there were only 35 countries respresented by staff - only three Romanians on the whole ship. The pace was a little slower - the bars were absolutely deserted after 7 p.m. and there were pleas for passengers to attend the 10 p.m. show.  We’ve traveled with some rather antique Brits on Princess Cruises before but those are pretty spry – must come from all that hiking across the moors and such. We were quite surprised to find that almost half of the passengers were from Canada though as our expectation had been for a predominantly American demographic.

Looking back over the past two weeks will require some fine tuning of the brain as it’s been a packed trip. Hard to believe we’re already home. We started out on the CanJet charter two Sundays ago after an uneventful early morning drive down and picking up the ‘moving into the new home daughter’ and having her drop us at the airport. The truck being used in our absence for the moving from the apartment last weekend.

After finding the check in counter we discovered that we had to schlep our luggage to the other end of the terminal and upstairs to check in and clear customs to the USA. We quickly discovered why the three hour pre-boarding time as it took us over two hours to get through. We also discovered that we were only two of about 12 passengers NOT heading directly to a Carnival cruise off the plane so we got bright tags for our luggage proclaiming us as ‘special’ Time to grab a quick hand held breakfast and we were jammed on the plane. We’ve been spoiled for a while with WestJet and acceptable leg room it seems. Never mind, a direct flight that in a little over four hours transported us to the sun of Fort Lauderdale. Ahh. We caught a taxi with the usual Haitian cab driver downtown to the hotel and he regaled us with stories of the city – “Did you know that condo has 13 and a half bathrooms? How many people live there do you think? One! You’re right” We checked in to find the Ocean Sky Resort is a repeat vacation destination and although a bit older was very friendly with lots of activities. We were even close to a Walgreens and able to provision ourselves for a couple of meals quite nicely. The pool, hot tub and deck chairs got lots of use and there were cabanas to rent by the pool and we indulged ourselves on our final day. Every room had a veranda as well so we didn’t have to miss many warm breezes.

On Sunday evening we followed our noses back to a restaurant we had passed in the taxi on the way in called Greek Islands and it was without question the BEST Greek meal we’ve had and we have had a number of those in the past. The lamb chops were amazing and everything was such large servings we actually had to take food back to the room with us and NOT eat dessert. Highly recommended for anyone cruising out of Ft Lauderdale and we would definitely revisit it. Nice little tavern which was very popular and known as the best Greek food in southern Florida.

We spent Monday enjoying the city which is known as the Venice of America because of its canals on the Water Taxis. For $20 for the day you can hop on and off as you wish and there is commentary from the staff about what you’re seeing in the way of homes and watercraft of the rich and famous, the history of the city and various attractions. Beautiful warm weather, lots of great photos and very relaxing. We checked out Las Olas Boulevard which is Ft Lauderdale’s version of South Beach – but we didn’t buy any $450 shirts here either! We did find a nice shop which provisioned yachts and picked up some wine, bread, cherry tomatoes and Muenster cheese for a lunch. Met a nursing student from Denver and encouraged her to push through with the studies as her career will enable her to do anything she wants.

We booked an Everglades tour for Tuesday and fully enjoyed it. Had a great van driver for the 90 minute driver each way who was a retired Vietnam war vet who had lived most of his life in St. Thomas/St. Croix (American Virgin Islands) working in marinas etc. Found he couldn’t’ afford to live there on a fixed income and so worked in tourism now in Ft Lauderdale. First view of the everglades would make you think you’d traveled to the midwest as it appeared to be prairie. The Sawgrass National Park was a great place with animal exhibits, air boat rides and even a souvenir photo. I felt just like Dennis Weaver’s assistant as we headed out on the airboat where we saw an alligator, herons, osprey and other birds courtesy of Captain Chuck who conducted gator school. We were surprised to learn how large and diverse the everglades are. Wonderful way to spend the day and the travel partner who had stated he was indulging my airboat fantasy asked “oh, is it over?” when we headed back to the dock so a good time was apparently had by all.

Funky elevator doors
Wednesday was a day to sleep in, hang out by the pool and leisurely head over to the cruise port. We were able to arrange for both the everglades tour and the transfer to Port Everglades Cruise Port through the hotel and we had the same driver for the trip. Very busy cruise port and apparently more so on Sunday when the seven day cruises are going and coming. The Zuiderdam was waiting for us and we headed over to arrive by 1 p.m. so as to enjoy every minute of the cruise. Having express checked in we only spent about 10 min. getting our photos taken, the cards issued and certifying we didn’t have gastroenteritis before being escorted onto the ship. It was our first glimpse of the very senior passengers and the life partner says “wow, this a much older crowd than before” to which I reassured him they’d likely all arrived at once….I am wrong once in a while it seems. We had a wonderful cabin steward named Mary (from Philippines of course) who kept the stateroom immaculate although he was almost completely invisible. The bar staff was great and the drink of the day was a pretty decent mojito so poolside was the place to be. The ship was easier than some others to find your way around on – none of that ‘you can see it but you can’t get there from here stuff’ although the décor was over the top just as it had been described and as you can see on the left. There was a great sail away BBQ next to the pool, Tina and the HALcats provided get live music and we watched the Ft Lauderdale skyline and beaches receding. Indulged ourselves in a premium wine tasting afternoon for the second sea day and also purchased the premium wine package which was seven wines at quite a savings. A nice warm evening with calm seas and off to our stateroom.

Thursday morning found us off Half Moon Cay, Bahamas which is Holland America’s private island. The tenders came out from the island as they were converted boats and we were transported to paradise. Beautiful white sandy beach, waterslides etc for children, shops, bars and restaurants. We spent a while on the loungers but the life guard confirmed our suspicions that the best snorkeling would be on the excursion out in the boat. A quick trip to the booth to book and we were on for 10:30 although when we settled in the captain’s suggestion that “anyone who is not an experienced snorkeler and good swimmer can leave now before we start and not be charged” cleared about ½ of the would-be tour participants. It was a rough steam out so some people were seasick and didn’t get out of the boat and a few more only lasted several minutes in the water. It wasn’t ideal conditions but we did manage some underwater photos and there were different and larger fish than we’d seen in some places. Three different reefs to explore in about 16 feet of water so a nice view.

Friday was our first sea day so after breakfast we headed to the Culinary Arts Center and were entertained by the chef from the Pinnacle Grill who demonstrated how to make lobster salad and crème brulee as per the Cirque de Soleil which is NOT the circus but an upscale restaurant in New York. We explored the ship and found that an older crowd means there’s no problem getting a deck chair though. The pool was great and there was a ledge around it with about 4 inches of water to just lay like rhinos in. Ahh. We reserved supper at the Pinnacle Grill which is the specialty restaurant on this ship and it did not disappoint. The meal was fantastic, the service flawless and the décor was very elegant. It was especially special as we got all gussied up for formal night. The experience was so positive the travel partner headed over to the maitre d’ and booked the final two sea days at the Pinnacle as well. A great deal at $20 each as the meal would easily be $80 each on land.

Saturday found us heading in to Aruba and we docked about 1 p.m. and headed out to catch the local bus to Arishi Beach. The Aruban bus system is a very good deal with round trip for the two of us on the 20 minute ride costing a total of less than $5. Although conditions were a bit breezy we managed some good underwater shots here with some puffer fish and other not previously seen varieties. The beach was a very coral one with a view of the lighthouse. We headed back to the ship to clean up and head out again to explore Oranjstad for the evening. We started with Dunkin Donutes as there was wi-fi available there to catch up and then wandered a bit to check out the downtown. The stores had removed ALL the jewelry and security guards were highly visible. We stopped at Iguana Joes and finished off the tour with ½ pitcher of sangria then headed back to the ship accounting for us not being on deck for the night time sailaway at 11 p.m.

Puffer fish and more
Sunday found us docking early in Willemstad, Curacao and we headed off the ship early to find a taxi so we could check out the snorkeling. Most passengers were taking tours, wandering the city or just staying on the ship. Cabs were expensive and the leeward side of the island was about 40 minutes away on rough roads but we found a driver to agree to $80 return and he’d leave us at Playa Porto Marie for two hours. It was a good choice as the beach although small was beautiful, with a small restaurant/bar, lots of cabanas and trees for shade and amazing snorkeling off the beach. It is a dive area and we snorkeled in crystal clear waters to the edge of the reef and looked down on the scuba divers below us. We saw large schools of fish, new varieties and good sized ones as well. Time for refreshments before the cabbie arrived and taking us back giving us the tour of the area and the city. We asked him to drop us off by the pontoon bridge and headed over to the other side of the city with cafes, boutiques, street art , musicians and craft stalls. Found a few souvenirs, bought some blue curacao, checked out Fort Rico and wandered back to the ship.

Monday was the second sea day and we got into the groove with the ebooks and sunscreen with a tropical drink. Ah. The BBQ on deck for seadays even included a pig roast - can you believe it? The afternoon brought the wine tasting and the Cellar Master Alvin lead us through how to smell, swirl and swish the offerings of champagne, two white and two red wines which were wonderful. We had reservations (no cost) at the Italian restaurant called the Canneletto which is one end of the Lido buffett converted for the evening. Great antipasto to start then seafood bisque, I had wonderful lasagna, the travel partner had seafood linguine and we finished off with limoncello dessert. Great conversation with passengers who retired to Georgia but had lived/worked in Singapore and Wales.

Heading in to the canal
Tuesday brought us to the Panama Canal and it was everything you imagine it to be. Up early to head out to the bow to see the engineering marvel and listen to the history, culture and geography being narrated. Great photos as we followed the Silver Cloud as we headed through three locks and into Lake Gatun with many freighters. No words to describe the experience. Tenders took about 1,000 passengers off the ship as they headed out on shore excursions to Panama City and area. Left lots of space for photo taking on the return trip as we lounged by the pool. Supper in the dining room was great, meals were very good and the service excellent as expected – Holland America sure knows how to feed people.

Three toed sloth on the canal

In the rain forest
Wednesday found us docked at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica which is an industrial port which is a major shipping center for bananas as Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita all have plants here. The major export of Costa Rica however is… chips! We were lucky (although practical as we had packed the rain jackets) that we didn’t get rained on in either Panama or Costa Rica as apparently it is more usual than not. The only shower we had was during the night before Costa Rica. We headed out through the dock and arranged a private tour to see the Tortagera Canals and the rain forest. We had a taxi driver who had worked for NCL in the past and had very good English. He told us all about his country and culture and was a great resource for the day. We managed to see sloths, herons, howler monkeys, lizards and more on our tour. The Veracura rain forest sanctuary was a research station, had an aerial tram and animal exhibits. We had a wonderful guide named Orville who was a fountain of information and a great sport – saw leaf cutter ants, all sorts of reptiles and butterflies and more. Rainforest that looked as if it had all been administered steroids viewed from the aerial tram. Wow

Sea days ahhhh
Thursday and Friday were sea days which meant sun, food, drinks and pure relaxation. And of course both evenings spent at the Pinnacle Grill. The last evening the maitre d’ rewarded us for our faithfulness by giving us a window booth in the interior dining room. Caesar salad and lobster bisque prepared table side, seafood kabobs for him and stuffed chicken for moi and chocolate soufflé with grand marnier sauce for dessert. Can you say decadent? Luggage outside the stateroom door by 1 a.m. how sad.

Saturday was disembarkation and it was very efficiently organized by HAL. Up early to catch breakfast on deck and watch the Fort Lauderdale sunrise docked next to the Oasis of the Seas which is one of the largest cruise ships in the world. Our number was called and we were off the gangway, over to collect our baggage and through customs. A quick cab ride to the Hyatt Summerfield Suites which was new and a pretty swish place – would be a good spot to spend some time if you caught a good deal like we did on Hotwire. The full kitchen had a fridge, stove, microwave, dishwasher, dishes and all needed for a long stay, a complete living room with pull out sofa and a separate bedroom with huge bathroom and it included hot breakfast. Glad to have the extra day before heading home. Not able to check in until 3 p.m. so we stored our luggage and headed out to the pool where were first entertained by two little girls then five raucous boys who were supposedly being supervised by their fathers as their mothers headed out to shop. We headed over to the Oaklawn Mall next door and checked out the low Florida prices on just about everything then found a place to eat – Alehouse where we had shrimp and crab quesadillas with rice and beans and calamari then and a pulled pork sandwich and ribs. Yum and very reasonably priced as well. We waddled over Barnes and Noble and browsed for a bit before making our way back across the I-95 and to the hotel.

Sunday morning after a sleep in, it was breakfast then getting the luggage together and down for the shuttle to the airport. We shared a ride with two pilots for Spirit airline who had good travel stories and then in to check in with CanJet. Why should it take only ½ hour to check in when in Florida and two hours at home? Hmmm. A snack, time to check email and then the plane which means (unfortunately) the vacation is over and word has it that temperatures are 3c at home. Sigh. Two days to get things organized on the home front, caught up on the course a bit and then back to work on Wednesday for me.

That was the plan but unfortunately I answered the phone this a.m. to the pleading of the staffing clerk so I was ordered in for a shift. The guilt took over when she said "I thought you'd be all refreshed after all that time off" so I gave in. Ah to be truly retired and not pretending.