Sailing Away From the Cold

For quite some time, I had been keeping my eyes on cruise prices; none of us have ever been on one, and I knew that it’d be a fun adventure at the very least. When Carnival finally dropped a last-minute deal on a balcony room during a week that the girls were out of school for winter break, I pounced. I had my doubts, to be honest. I thought we would be cramped in a small, sub-par room for 5 people, with sub-par food and kitschy entertainment, packed on a boat with thousands of other people with nowhere else to go for 4 nights. But I wanted to see what the hype was all about. Glad I did.

Our cruise departed from Miami, and it just so happened that direct flights out of Philadelphia were super cheap on my loyalty airline of choice (American). At the very least, I told myself, it was a way to rack up miles ahead of our anniversary trip. So I booked flights out of PHL to MIA, and then grabbed a cheap Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly. Total cost was less than our flights out of NYC would’ve been, counting taxis to and from the airport. Who knew?

NYC to Philly to Miami

The train was great as usual (one of my favorite modes of transit), and after a stop at Barnes & Noble to get some trip reading for the little ones, we headed to one of my personal delights in Philly: Tony Luke’s. You should definitely visit the touristy spots (Pat’s, Geno’s), but for my money, Tony Luke’s is the best cheesesteak in town. The wait was insane, though, but still worth it.

Grabbing a wiz wit' at Tony Luke's.

Grabbing a wiz wit’ at Tony Luke’s.

Crashing at the Admiral’s Club in PHL for a couple of hours was great as well, and gave us a break before jumping on a nearly three-hour flight to Miami. Was a fairly smooth flight, albeit long. We checked into our hotel for the evening (again, a loyalty spot at a Hyatt near the MIA airport), and I headed out into the humid Miami night to find food. The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, stopped by Books & Books to get some additional trip reading for me, and then headed to board the ship.

Boarding in Miami

We boarded the Victory and went straight to lunch on the primary open air deck. It was then that I began to think that we got more than we bargained for, in a good way. The tacos I had from the Blue Iguana cantina were legit: fresh made tortillas, cooked right in front of me, with well-seasoned meat and a serious hot sauce bar. Color me impressed. We shortly left PortMiami, with the Miami skyline slowly fading in the background.

Carnival Victory leaving PortMiami with Miami in the background.

Carnival Victory leaving PortMiami with Miami in the background.

After dropping our luggage off at our room (which was only slightly larger than expected, though the balcony was great), the family and I took a tour of the ship, including the kids’ club, called Camp Ocean, and the spa. The spa reeled me in with a men’s haircut & shave offer that also included a much needed skin care treatment. My generally dry skin betrays me most in the winter months. Plus, I look great wrapped in towels.

Stunning and stunned.

Sophia enjoying a meal.

Sophia enjoying a meal.

Throughout the trip, dinner was what solidified my opinion on the food. Night after night, we had exotic bites (rabbit, ox tongue, strawberry soup) paired with well-executed entrees (filet mignon, grilled pork chop, BBQ brisket) and delicious dessert options. The tiramisu was legit great.

Key West

The first mile marker of US Highway 1.

After a good night’s sleep (the king bed was fairly nice, though the pillows a bit thin), we awoke to being docked in the southernmost area of the continental US: Key West. We skipped the shore excursions, and opted instead to spend our half day wandering the Key ourselves.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying Cuban Queen coffee and meandering in and out of the small businesses lining the warm sunny streets of Key West. Eventually, we made it to a semi-educational phase of our cruise.

One of the highlights of the entire trip, at least to me, was our visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. He’s an author that’s pretty fascinating to me, in that I care more about him and his life than his actual works. Until this past week, I don’t believe that I had actually read anything by him. I changed that by picking up Old Man & The Sea, which was worth the hype, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his creative space, his pool, and his home. While his death was tragic, his life seemed to be frenzied, enjoyable, and productive. The girls enjoyed the home as well, and Ava is currently reading Old Man & The Sea.

Emma meeting a Hemingway cat

We had to re-board the ship fairly early in the day so that we would make the trek to Cozumel for the next day. I snapped a pretty majestic picture of the Carnival Victory, and after grabbing some lunch and key lime pie, we headed back to the pools for an afternoon in the sun.

Our ship, Carnival Victory, docked at Key West.

Cozumel

Ah, Mexico. While Cozumel wasn’t our beloved Merida or Playa Mujeres, it was still great to be back within our warmer southern neighbor’s borders. Again foregoing the Carnival-sponsored shore excursions, I had booked us a beachside cabana at a park on the island. These things can often be hit or miss, and this one was a shot out of the park. We loved it.

When I wasn’t reading or spending time with the girls, I was here enjoying the view. Excuse my feet. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The ladies seemed to have a great time as well, with them splitting time between reading in the hammocks, building sand castles with the provided sand toys, and finding adventure. Ava particularly enjoyed the hammock, though I’m not sure it enjoyed her.

Ava being rejected by the hammock.

Ava being rejected by the hammock.

Our hosts for the day were wonderful, and they took to the girls well. Freshly-made guacamole and ceviche kinda helped the ambiance as well. Loved our time there, but wrapped up after a few hours and headed into the town of San Miguel before we had to be back on board. I introduced the girls to fresh churros and a marquesita, which is a Yucatan specialty, comprised of a cheese-filled crepe with Nutella. We found a local taco spot (recommended to us by a local where we picked up the marquesita), before heading back to the ship. The tacos were good, but they honestly didn’t compare to the ship’s tacos, much less the tacos al pastor of Merida or the late night tacos suadero of Mexico City. But still: it was February, snowing in New York City, and we were eating tacos in Mexico.

Los Otates in San Miguel, Cozumel. Good service, decent tacos, great beer.

The Return

Our last full day on the ship was a “fun day at sea”, and while we battled a bit of waves on the way back, it wasn’t strong enough to detract from our enjoyment of the day. I read a lot, we swam a lot, and overall enjoyed the open ocean. We got into Miami early Friday morning, and began our trek back to NYC via plane and train through Philadelphia again. Overall, a very successful trip, and the girls slept great.

The Gulf of Mexico

My current phone wallpaper, taken from our balcony.

Recap

Would I do it again? Absolutely. My family enjoys traveling, they’re good at it, and the cruise was a welcome escape from the twenty-degree weather we have been having here in the five boroughs.

What I Read

  • A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
  • A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
  • Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Week’s Soundtrack

Highlights

  • Tony Luke’s cheesesteak
  • Books & Books in Miami / Coral Gables
  • White Rose Coffee in West Miami
  • Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West
  • Our stateroom’s balcony
  • Many more memories & smiles with the girls

Until next time, here’s a GIF of Ava being Ava in the Miami airport.

Ava being Ava.

Ava being Ava.

 

Settling In. Part Two.

Ava, Emma, Sophia in Living Room

So we’re more or less moved in. Sure, there are a couple of random boxes here and there, but we’re no longer sitting in an empty house! There are still a couple of loose ends here and there, and we’ve had our maintenance guy on-site throughout the last week or so, but it’s getting there. The hot water works, the doors are sealed up, our recyclables tied off, and the basement is dry. Most of our furniture is settled, the clothes are hung in their closets, and the books have found their places on their shelves. Of course, the bathtub has been put through its paces as well. Now of course, it will take quite some time for this place to go from house to home, but that’s normal. A few weeks will go by, and there will be doubts, but it’s part of the package. As soon as it starts to really feel like home, we’ll have the age-old question of “do we move again?” to answer. Considering we started looking at other properties last fall, it’s great to be nearing completion on this prolonged move.

It’s also pretty great to explore another neighborhood, and one that feels like a real neighborhood. Chelsea and Downtown Brooklyn were great for a season, but they don’t have the same “lived-in” feel as Bed-Stuy. In those prior neighborhoods, I always felt like a tourist in my home, and that’s certainly no longer the case. There are multiple coffee spots within a couple of blocks of my house, some great bakeries, and a few great restaurants. Not to mention the wine stores, and the local hardware store that I’ve already frequented a number of times (and no, not the nearby Home Depot). Not to mention a diversity that makes New York such a great city in which to live.

All of this effusing aside, I’m excited to take a little break before diving back into the professional world (seriously, I promise news there soon), as the family and I will be traveling this coming week. More on that later.

Settling In. Maybe.

Anyone who knows me knows that my family and I move every 12-18 months. It’s kind of crazy. It’s also the life I lived growing up (and actually enjoyed most of the time). When we’re not moving halfway across the world for a few months, we’re trekking across the country to change cities. Even if we don’t change cities, we change houses. School districts. Boroughs. Neighborhoods. And this time is no different…kind of.

I can’t talk about what’s happening in my professional life yet, but I’m very excited for it. It’s another new beginning, but at the same time more of the same. But it also means I have line of sight for the next couple of years at least. It means that my family and I can settle in somewhere.

We recently signed a lease for 286 Clifton Place. We’re staying in Brooklyn, which is incredible. I’ve loved living here, to be honest. I’m stoked. While it doesn’t have a dedicated home office space for me, maybe I can find one nearby. Plus, the condo has plenty of space, a yard (puppy!), an outdoor patio, and a fantastic living area. It’s also in a great location, right on the border of Clinton Hill & Bedford-Stuyvesant, just a block away from some great local haunts. Not a crazy commute, either. We’re moving in this weekend. Pictures coming soon.

Does this mean that we’re settling in for a while? Maybe. Does this mean we’re settling in for now? Certainly. And I, for one, think it’s great.

Fast Forward 2019: Goals

Despite my intuition-driven, roll-with-the-punches nature, I also firmly believe in the values of setting goals. And I’m not talking about the New Year’s resolution type nonsense, but more of a concrete achievable thing, along with the “hows”. In addition to setting personal goals this year, we also had a family discussion about what our collective goals should be. This post is a look at those goals, along with some of my thoughts on each.

PERSONAL GOALS

  • Read 60 books this year. I set a reading goal of a 50-book pace in the middle of the year last year along with some concrete steps to get there, and started tracking my reading seriously for the first time in quite a while. I read over 30 books in the last half of 2018, and hope to continue that pace for a year in 2019. It will certainly be challenging, but in my Reading Strategy post, I’ll talk about how I plan to do that.
  • Figure out the next phase for Exeq (and by extension, myself). We’re going through some great changes at Exeq right now, and I’m excited about where it all could lead. It’s a bit too early right now to discuss, but could end up in a very exciting place for myself professionally. Goal for 2019 is not to drop this ball.
  • Make progress on a novel. If you can’t tell, I enjoy writing. I’ve had a world in my head for literally decades now, and I need to get it on paper. I don’t think I’ll actually finish a novel this year, but I want to make substantial progress on it (namely, a fairly firm plot outline).
  • Blog weekly. It’s been a few years since I wrote with any substantial regularity outside of my professional life. I’ve enjoyed writing here thus far, and hope to continue doing so, with a goal of writing at least 52 posts in 2019.

FAMILY GOALS

The way we determined these is literally going around the dinner table and everyone gets one goal, no matter how ambitious. Miranda and I whittled them down to within reason, and here’s the list along with the likelihood that it gets done, at least in my opinion. Pretty interesting to hear the suggestions.

  • Take 2 family trips this year. This one is pretty straightforward: travel as a family at least twice this year. Outlook good.
  • Take 3 food adventures this year. A “food adventure” in our parlance is going to eat somewhere (even in our own backyard of NYC) and trying something outside of the girls’ comfort zone. This can include momos from Nepal or Japanese BBQ. It’s also an excuse for the adults in the house to eat good food with minimal noise. Outlook good.
  • Collectively read 300 books as a family this year. I’m not yet sure the best way to track this, but I’m sure we’ll get it done. We’re a reading family, and an average of 60 books per person is doable but a stretch all at the same time. Outlook good.
  • Learn Spanish as a family. This one is probably the biggest stretch, I think. It’s also hard to define. Should we start with courses? Books/workbooks? Should I start teaching it & speaking it in the house? I need to work on this one a bit more, it seems. Outlook not so good.
  • Improve manners and respect. Our girls are generally very respectful, particularly among strangers. But behind closed doors, they’re typical sisters and daughters. We want to reduce the backtalk, the infighting, and the whining. I’m sure we’ll make progress against this, and calling it out in January will help us remind the girls throughout the year. Outlook good.
  • Eat more vegetables. See the above goal. Calling it out explicitly as a family goal has already started to pay off, and not just for the girls. By forcing me to not be hypocrite, I’ve found myself eating a bit more with every dinner sitting. Don’t judge me. I became an adult so I wouldn’t have to eat vegetables. Outlook good.
  • Try one new fruit per month. This is a good one from the girls. It’s in the same vein as a food adventure or travel, but it’s also concrete and clear. Not sure what we’ll pick for January yet, though. And will we run out of available fruits to try? Unclear. Outlook iffy.
  • Grow plants. More greenery around the house. I’d love to see herbs or other usable plants in the house. But our housing situation right now is in flux (oh, NYC housing market!), so TBD on how realistic this goal is right now. Outlook iffy.
  • Build LEGO project. We want to build a large-scale LEGO project this year. This will be hugely dependent on resources (namely space and time), which I don’t have clear insight into this year. The girls and I are very excited about getting to it, but we’ll have to see. Outlook iffy.
  • Look for a new house. We put in notice to leave our apartment (long story, summarized with massive building issues), but haven’t found a replacement yet. The girls obviously are concerned about this, and rightly named it as a goal. I figure that we will accomplish at least this goal this year. Outlook good.