Saturday, August 19, 2006

I Love My Job

During the summers, and in a limited sense during the school year, I work in the Technology Department at Minnehaha Academy, a Christian, Covenant affiliated high school in Minneapolis. My job consists of helping the faculty and staff with their [sometimes / often really simple... oh, was that my out loud voice?] computer questions, helping teach technology workshops, and work on the school website, be it mere updating or full scale redesign, as well as implementing individual web projects (such as our new Tech Request system, which was my little baby). And I help with the creation process for the image that we put onto each of our computers (it's "ghosting" in the PC world, it's "imaging" in the Mac world).

And I love my job.

I love knowing almost everybody in the building (moreso office and other staff than faculty, but still), and I love that almost everybody, even some of the new people, know me. I love being able to learn on the job, be it about life and theology or more specific tasks such as PHP and database programming. I love being able to have fun, have real life conversations with my boss, share jokes with my colleagues and former teachers, or put a picture of a stuffed Tigger toy on the front page to our admin mail login (our admin mail is hosted on a server named "Tigger"). And I love helping to lead the tech workshops - that's my one chance to really get to know the teachers at the other two campuses that I never had, and it's almost always a really fun mix of people. Plus I get to look smart, since we usually only teach basic programs like Word and PowerPoint.

So anyway, the moral is, I love my job. I know I won't be at Minnehaha forever, and this may even be my last summer there, but for the time that I am working in that school, at the end of the day, no matter how stressful it's been, I know I'm doing good, and I'm having a good time, and I like to think those two things are the most important in choosing a vocation.

When Technology Just Works

Technology is an awesome thing, and we've all seen how it can be used for both good and bad. For now, I like to focus on the good - and I'm not necessarily talking in terms of computers right now.

About two weeks ago or so, I was in an informal meeting at work when my phone vibrated. It wasn't a call - I could tell from the vibration pattern that I'd received a text message. Assuming it to be from a friend, I flipped the cover open and realised, no, this isn't from Matthew or anyone like that, this is actually important, dare I propose emergency-level information: an Amber Alery had just been issued in the Metro area, and, because I'd signed up some many months ago to receive the text alerts, I was now able to read, on my phone, within minutes of it originally being posted, an alert about a missing child. Now, granted, the message was somewhat cryptic, lacking any sort of punctuation or line breaks, but still, this was a neat thing: technology working for the better in order to help save lives.

The same thing happens on the interstates - when an Amber Alert is issued, the overhead electronic signs that normally tell you how long until the next major interchange or landmark change to display the alert information, along with phone number contact. To me, anyway, I think that's just really really neat. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to see how our modern marvels of the electronic age can be used for the good and protection of our citisens. Now granted, it still takes the vigilant eyes of the public to take the investigation from search to rescue, but it's that initial mass network of critical and life-saving information dissemination that makes it all possible.

The Hidden Costs of Cruising

I got home late last night from my first ever cruise, and, though it was tons of fun (see previous blog entries), I also feel inclined, for my future benefit and the benefit of others, to note that there are a lot of what I like to call "hidden costs" associated with cruising.

The 4-night cruise we booked was fairly inexpensive (about $300 something), and this does include all meals (including the choice of several different restaurant areas to choose from for breakfast and lunch) at no cost - you can even order as many different dishes (like escargot or shrimp) from the unique daily menu as you please, all "free" (ie, 'all included in the original ticket price') - and their dining room service is exemplary! And there are a number of onboard activities, such as swimming pools and hot tubs, and high quality nightly shows, to keep one occupied. Again, all free.

But what the ticket price doesn't cover are any special excursions to land: guided tours, rides, extra adventures, nothing. Nor does that initial price tag mention the air fare required to get to and from the port of departure, nor the cost of taxis to and from the hotel (from the airport and from the cruise - a total of four trips for us this past week), nor any specially elaborate or alcoholic drinks onboard, nor the added gratuities for the waiters and other servers onboard the ship (no dispute that they earned every penny, I'm just saying that the price isn't included on the initial figure).

And the price tag doesn't include what were, for me, the most significant expenses: the financial opportunity cost of taking a week off from work (which, for those of us who work several jobs - one in the day and freelance projects at night - this is significant), and the killer: the time spent away from loved ones. It was this last one that really got to me all week, not being able to be in email contact with my friends and loved ones back home.

So, worth going? Sure. It was an experience, reasonably fun, and now I know a lot more about how to prepare and what to expect for the next time. But I'm not going to go on a cruise again with only just friends. Yes, I'd want to make sure I had lots of friends with, of course, but frankly, the next time I go on a cruise, I want it to be shared with a significant other.

My Cruise Vacation: Day 6

Friday, 18 August 2006:

We were once again rudely awakened by the sound of the PA in our room, saying all guests who have white, lavender, or grey luggage tags could disembark. Who cares? I'm still asleep, and we were assigned green tags anyway.

So instead of sleeping until 7:45 like I had planned (we had to be out of the room by 8:00), I woke up at 7:00. Oh, the pain.

After journaling the events of last evening, we left the room to meet the others up in the Windjammer for one last meal onboard. And I needed to grab a new customs card, since the one I picked up last night was actually in Spanish. My customs card filled out, we waited patiently upstairs for our color tags to be called. And we waited. And then the restaurant closed down, so they wanted us to leave, but fortunately, on our way out the door, the announcement came for our green tags and Chad and CJ's purple tags, so we were ready to go!

Down to fourth floor, wait in line, scan our SeaPass cards at security, and then leave the boat from the opposite side from where we came in. Down a hallway, down an escalator, and to the baggage claim carousels. Then it was time to actually cross through customs, for which there was a rather long line. Fortunately for us, one of the porters pointed out that there was actually a second line with literally no one in it, all we had to do was cross around to the other end of the barricades to enter - so we did and passed right through!

By coincidence, we found the same taxi driver (Lorenzo) that had brought us to the cruise port on Monday, so we hired him to bring us back to the hotel, where we would sit and wait until it was time to go to the airport for our flight tonight. We checked our bags with the bell man on duty, and sat in the hotel lobby for the next considerable amount of time, reading, talking, doing stuff on our laptops, whatever we could to keep us entertained. I even wrote a few letters that I won't need to deliver until next year!

One benefit of having all this spare time to just sit and do "nothing" is that I could spend a lot of it calmly going through some of my post trip "processing", such as downloading my pictures from my phone (I used my RAZR as my camera for the whole trip), moving voice records from my voice recorder onto my laptop for later transcribing and actions, and going through a few of the emails I didn't have time or interest in addressing yesterday, thus getting me closer to being back "online", or rather, up and running, so to speak, when I finally get home.

To the relief of myself and CJ, our group of four that was leaving today (Matthew, Chad, CJ, and myself) got to the airport plenty early, checked through their security, and then waited. We boarded about 5 minutes early, left about 5 minutes early, and landed 5 minute early, so not a bad deal. I called Mom and Dad as we taxied to the gate, and then met them at baggage claim a few minutes later. It's good to be home.

A couple of random cruise notes remain, but I wasn't able or didn't remember to work them at the times, so this list stands as thus:

We were the only table in our dining room (that we noticed) that drank milk with dinner. Everyone had their water and wine glasses, of course, but we were the only table that added goblets of milk each night. And our servers were very cool about it, too - they were slightly confused the first night when we were all asking for milk (I started that trend), but each night since they brought out a pitcher and a tray filled with full milk goblets - they learned quickly.

I never did make my way to the exercise studio on the boat with all their fancy machines, but I did get plenty of exercise by almost always using the stairs instead of the elevators (I took a total of three elevator trips). This is significant when one considers we lived on deck 2, while the Windjammer is on deck 11, the pool (where I often met up with the others) is up on deck 10, and the balconies looking out to the oceans were only on deck 7 and above. So I got lots of exercise on the stairs, which made me happy.

And I never got sea sick. I was worried, as I had felt a little queasy-like back in July when we took the ferry over Lake Michigan, but I never felt nauseous at all on this trip (well, not from the waves - the over abundance of food did admittedly cause an amount of stomach discomfort on more than one occasion).

That's it. It's "tomorrow" - Saturday - and, though I had a decently good time, I'm very glad to be home again.

Friday, August 18, 2006

My Cruise Vacation: Day 5

Thursday, 17 August 2006:

I was rudely awakened to the noise of the cruise director's voice over the intercom, telling us that we had docked at Key West, FL, and would have to go through US Customs, and that the top deck (deck 10) should start on their way for that now. Great, but for those of us on deck 2, that was not a pleasant way to have to wake up.

So I got up and going, waited, read a little, and finally went through "customs", which, apparently, since this isn't our final port of call, simply meant: "go through the line, show them your passport, and let them punch your SeaPass card with a little anchor". Seriously, that's all it was. What a waste of time. But without that little punch, they wouldn't let us off the ship.

I met Allen and Rob, and later Matthew, Debbie, and David, up in the WindJammer café for breakfast, and afterward we all (except Matthew) headed into town (Matthew stayed behind to catch a quick nap before his para-sailing adventure an hour later).

The shopping in the stores near the port was okay, but nothing all that special, and we came back after not too long a time. I went out again soon after with Debbie to meet up with Matthew and David after their para-sailing. We met up with Chad and CJ not too long after, and found a Hard Rock Café to sit down, cool off, and get a drink (the others got food, too, but I, as usual, was full from breakfast, and saving myself for the free food back onboard the ship).

We trickled out of the restaurant one by one, some back to the ship, and me to a nearby Internet Café we'd spotted earlier (I had brought my laptop along this time). After being unable to connect to their wireless, I finally wired myself into one of their waiting ethernet cords and checked my email for the first time since Monday afternoon. Oh my goodness, that was chaotic. Well over a hundred real messages, some of which could be lumped together and filed, but a number of others with some level of "I really want / need to respond to this"-ness about them. The most frustrating part of checking, though, came in discovering that several rather important messages that I had sent from the hotel on Monday never got delivered. They didn't bounce right away, they were just delayed, and then finally returned with fatal errors. So, instead of reading the replies to them that I was hoping for, I had to resend the originals. Argh. Thus is life with technology.

Some of the others found me in the café, and then we walked a few blocks to see the Earnest Hemmingway house. We saw the outside of it just fine, but none of us realised it actually cost money to go inside to tour, so we turned around and came back to the ship via the shopping street.

Not too many hours later, we pulled away from dock, which, for as exciting as one would think it *should* be, is actually a rather uneventful process. I suppose it's because we have this strange notion of procedures and safety, rather than speed and excitement. Funny that. The ropes are untied from the dock one by one, rolled back into the ship, and finally, after the last is released, we start to drift out. Then the side engines kick in on low gear, moving the boat away from dock and rotating it to face toward the open sea. About 20 minutes later, all the engines stop, there's a brief delay, and the rear engines turn on, thrusting us slowly out toward sea as the captain and crew skillfully pilot the ship through an obstacle course of red and green buoys. A total of about an hour from when they first started untying the ship and we are finally out on open sea. For as slow going as it is, though, watching the whole process unfold is very relaxing, soothing away any stresses the day might have had, and giving one opportunity for quiet introspection.

Before dinner, about half the group made our way to the theatre to watch the singing and dancing goodbye performance, similar to the Boogie Wonderland two days ago, except this time with a Latin pop music theme. I suppose I liked it better than the other, illustrated by the fact that I wasn't eagerly anticipating the end as I had on Tuesday. In any case, it was fun.

Then time for dinner - we actually got there early for once, only to discover the doors weren't open yet. There was live music playing in the Centrum, and an elderly couple enjoying the time by dancing, so we watched them - seeing "old love" like that, still so alive and active, was really heart warming for me; it reminded me a lot of my Grandma and Grandpa.

Dinner was, as always, wonderful, and at the end of tonight, being the last night, all the waiters gathered around the dining room to sing to us (they had also done this yesterday, but that was more of an audience involvement singing led by the head waiter in his fancy red suit). Afterward we each took our turn to shake our waiters' hands, thanking them for their truly magnificent service, and also to pass along our gratuity envelopes for them. Of course, this was a special dinner for me, too, as it was the first one all week that I managed to dirty all the 10 pieces of silverware at my spot (through methods like the clever use of a spoon and a fork and a knife in the clam chowder).

Following dinner Matthew and I headed to the Centrum area shops, just to look around. I didn't really see anything particularly great for buying - I'm not a huge shopper for trifles and souvenirs - but Matthew picked up an expandable tote bag to help carry all his purchased drink glasses back; he's been collecting shot glasses, margarita glasses, etc, all week to take back to furnish his new bar in his basement.

Then it was time for Bingo! I'd never gone before, but it was the last night, so I went to cheer on Chad, CJ, Rob, and Matthew. None of them won, but it was still fun. And I learned that there can be some level of formal rules to the game, such as standing when you have only one number remaining to Bingo, and a whole procedure for calling back numbers once someone has actually called Bingo. Cool to watch.

But by the time that was over, my bed was calling me. Except I had to finish packing first - Royal Caribbean required that we deposit our suitcases in the hallways the night before departure, so, even though I had done most of my suit-case packing earlier in the day, it still took another 15 minutes or so to figure out how to reduce my carry-on load for tomorrow, and then just get all those minor details of packing taken care of.

This, followed by some writing, followed by sleepy-bye.

My Cruise Vacation: Day 4

Wednesday, 16 August 2006:

Matthew was hopeful of going on a scuba excursion this morning, but of course it had to be scheduled for 8:00 am. Oh, the pain. His alarm turned on at 7:15, and I'm not sure I fell back asleep after that. So eventually when my alarm (aka mobile phone) started dinging at me at 8:50, I was ready to get up. After a short shower in the claustrophobically small bathroom, and after being unable to raise anyone else in the group on our little radios, I went on my way up to breakfast alone, and proceeded to have a most wonderful conversation about school, life, and Christianity with two of my table mates (a couple from New York, also on their first cruise, as I learned).

As I was ordering my meal, Matthew happened to beep me on the radio, which was inconveniently hiding in my pocket not within easy reach. Turned out his scuba excursion had been canceled because no one had signed up (he was going to sign up this morning right before hand), so he, Chad, and CJ were out on the deck watching the rain (yes, it has rained for part of the day every day so far). I finished breakfast then set out on my way to find them (by way of the purser's desk, whose system was still down and thus unable to fix my key card), eventually running into Matthew, who talked me into coming with them to the beach.

And when I say beach, I mean that we shuttled from the boat (or "tendered", if you will), anchored a fair distance from shore, to the Royal Caribbean privately owned island of Coco Cay. Though it's a relatively small island, there was still plenty of beach for all, and for today they were also serving lunch there. We walked around a little bit, saw a sting ray and some other fish swimming about in the near pristine water, then went to eat. Well, the others ate; I was still stuffed from breakfast, so I subsisted on a mere glass of watery fruit punch.

After lunch, Allen, Rob, and I cruised the small shopping complex of stores (at least they were selling different things from the stores yesterday!), then got back on board one of the tenders heading for the Majesty.

Coming back on board the boat is always an adventure for me, having so many things, specifically metal things, in my pockets. And for that reason I really dislike having to go through security checkpoints - it just takes so long to empty and then restock. Some day I'll learn to just carry less stuff.

I stopped by the purser's desk again in the hopes of getting a new key card, but the system was still down. Now I'm a little irritated, as I'd been told this morning that it would be functional in only a short time (ie, before I returned from shore). They called room service again, and this time they actually showed up to let me in. How kind. A little journalling later and I was off to take a quick nap before the afternoon.

Allen came by the room at about 3:15 or so, and we headed off to the Art Auction. After registering, we took the next half hour to walk around and look at the art pieces, which were sprawled over two entire levels of the centrum. Hundreds of pieces, some of which looked very nice, others of which looked, well, not to my taste. The way the auction was set up, only requested pieces actually made their way to the block, so we used our sticky notes that came with our bidding card to mark the pieces we were specifically interested in. There pieces there ranging in value from $50 to $50,000, so there was plenty to choose from. I only marked the cheaper ones (not that they had price tags, but you could ask one of the suits to look up the price for you). Then we took up prime standing spots, centered on the balcony level overlooking the auctioneer and his display, and waited for the event to begin.

The first piece up for auction was valued at around $3000, and the auctioneer started the bidding at $1. Yes, $1. And no one raised their cards. He dropped his microphone and walked off the stage, then returned a moment later to try it again (it was a joke, and people laughed). This time the bidders responded, including Allen. When the bid was up at about $120, Allen raised his card again, then leaned over to me and whispered that he didn't really want it, he was just raising the price against the woman in the front row downstairs. But then all of a sudden he was the only bidder left. The auctioneer kept asking the audience, "Should I let him have it for only $120?", and everyone shouted "Yes". So the auctioneer pounded the gavel and said "Sold!" and Allen was taken by surprise. But, not to despair, the auctioneer followed this up by saying he would do us one better - he'd let him [Allen] have the piece for free! Seriously, Allen won the piece for free, just for being the last bidder. So that was exciting.

Allen placed bids on a number of other items, and, for better or worse, won about 5 of the auctions. And in the midst of that, he also won a $500 certificate to use on the art, just for laughing loudly at one of the auctioneer's jokes! And then the auction was over and it was time for the raffle drawing. Three $2500 art prizes. We knew our odds were getting to be pretty good, since you had to be present to win, and a majority of people had already left, so we were happy campers going into it. But then Allen won!! We were both stunned, but really excited. He has an appointment tonight at 10:00 to go pick out his free art from the gallery (this segment of my journal being written at 7:30, I don't know the results of that yet).

Not only was the experience downright fun (especially once the auction staff started paying special attention to Allen, giving him some heads up on upcoming pieces, etc), but it was also educational - we learned all about some of the up and coming artists, like "Max" (full name is Peter Max, but everyone just says "Max"). He's the European-born-now-American-citizen who raised millions in donations to refurbish the Statue of Liberty not too many years ago, and almost all of his recent paintings (of which there were quite a few brand new ones in the auction) combine images of the Statue, American flags, and hearts. And their colourful and nice to look at. That was my culturing for the day. But in addition, those several hours proved to be good friendship-building time for me to get to know Allen better, and vice-versa, which, him being one of Matthew's best friends, and me also being one of Matthew's best friends, seemed duly appropriate.

After the auction, I stopped by the purser's desk again, and this time they were finally able to re-magnetize my keycard so I can get into the room again. Then it was time to run off on my own with my computer, write this (sitting in yet another seating area that I haven't tried before), and just relax before dinner.

Dinner time was fun. Or rather, the dessert time was fun. About half an hour before dinner started, I approached our table's waiter in the dining room and asked him to deliver a special present to Matthew at dessert time tonight - the Mickey Mouse hand lotion gag gift that has been going back and forth between us ever since New Year's Eve. So at dinner time, after we were done stuffing ourselves (in my case, with shrimp), our waiter delivered our dessert menus, took those orders, then proceeded to bring out the special dessert. At first Matthew didn't see it coming, but as our waiter cleared around the corner of the table with the Mickey Mouse hand lotion prominently centered on an elegant white plate, he said something to the effect of "no way", and then started with a combination of laughing and blushing. Everyone else who had been at the New Year's party and knew the story, once they saw what was coming, also started laughing, very hard. I got a few compliments on how clever a delivery that was.

After our real desserts (chocolate cake for me), we went up to the ship's library where the art people had set up their displays for the evening, to watch Allen pick out his winnings. Turns out he won a total of 7 paintings! Unfortunately, it wasn't "pick any painting", it was "choose a quantity from this selection of 4". But still, not bad at all for a day's winnings, and it was fun to listen to the art dealer describing some of the other, more expensive pieces, that were available for purchase.

After the art show, I took a moment to fill out the automatic gratuities form for our servers - though I had come into the trip grousing about having to pay these added expenses, after the exemplary service we've received, I'm gladly throwing in the extra few dollars per day. The way it works, I filled out the form last night, so they will charge my credit card on file and then give me vouchers to put into the envelopes to give to the servers. Then, tonight, when we deliver those envelopes, I also have the option of throwing in a little extra in cash if I want, which I think I will.

And then the would-be highlight of the evening (if I hadn't been so absolutely stuffed from dinner): the chocolate buffet! An all-you-can-eat buffet of chocolate and other sweet delicacies, held in the lower dining room. Go through the line, take what you want, then indulge. Except I was too full to enjoy any more than two and a half small pieces. Drat.

My Cruise Vacation: Day 3

Tuesday, 15 August 2006:

I woke up at 8:00 in the morning, still feeling tired, but having rested well. Knowing we had a 9:30 tour on shore, we scrambled to breakfast in the lower dining room, and a few pancakes and sausages later I was ready to go.

We made our way down to deck one and disembarked onto the Bahamas island of Nassau, where we met with our first tour guide, himself fittingly dressed as a pirate (the name of the tour was something along the lines of "Pirates of Nassau"), who led us on a short walk along the pier to our bus. The bus itself was kind of neat - since it's used for tours, it had been made very space efficient, in that the isle seats had a fold out seat that filled the isle, allowing for extra passengers. Interesting design.

Our driver took us around the local city, giving us all sorts of interesting tidbits of information along the way. For example, we drove by the police station and learned that all police stations are painted in a particular shade of light green, all public schools are painted yellow and white, and other government buildings are similarly colour coded.

And, spouting slogans such as 'the primary industry of the Bahamas is tourism', he also brought us to places to shop, cleverly positioned near an historic fort. Now, I'm not much of a shopper, so this didn't really appeal to me, but it was made worse for the fact that every single storefront (and they weren't stores, they were outdoor, one-sided kiosks) sold exactly the same stuff. It reminded me a lot of Italy, around all of the major touristy spots - everyone sells exactly the same things, usually at the same prices, and no one really has anything unique. So I was bored quickly, but then, after a long while, we moved on.

At the end of the tour, the bus driver dropped us by a pirate museum, where a separate museum guide took us around. It was okay, but not terribly exciting. Same with the Nassau tour as a whole - decent, but not necessarily worth the 20-some dollar ticket price.

Anyway, our group left the museum and went through a large covered bazaar... all the vendors in which were selling the identical merchandise we'd already seen. At some point, we split up, and I set out searching for a bookstore. I like to collect Bibles in the native languages of the countries I visit, or rather, since my trip to India, it is my goal to purchase a Bible in each country I visit, seeing as I missed out on doing this during my European adventures years ago. After a long search, and some help from local shopkeepers, I found a bookstore, and successfully located their religion section, which had quite a few Bibles... in English. Then I had my revelation: the national language in the Bahamas is English. Worse, the Bibles that they had on the shelves had themselves been published in the United States. Crumb!

Disheartened, I set back toward the boat, only to discover that, in my time inside, it had begun to pour outside. I did my best to navigate the streets that had the most awnings, but eventually I had to take the plunge and just get wet as I walked out along the pier. They scanned me back in at the ship and gave me a nice warm towel to dry off with, and I went back to the room to change into something that was less wet than my current attire.

I only had a small helping at lunch - that was all I could manage, still being somewhat stuffed from yesterday, and then went down to the room to write (the latter half of the journal from two days ago), and nap. Surprise surprise.

After the nap, I found a nice place out on deck 7 overlooking the port, where I sat with my computer, people watched, and typed. It may not be very "cruisy", but I came on this vacation so that I could have a chance to just sit back and write, so this is very valuable time to me. Unfortunately, it also happened to be a very noisy spot, just from engine and ship noise, and became even noisier when another cruise ship (a Royal Caribbean twin) pulled in to port right next to us.

Around 7:45, I made my way back to the room to change into my suit for the formal dinner, then met up with the others at our table. Dinner itself was excellent; after hearing good reviews from Chad and Matthew, I opted to try the escargot appetizer, and, a little to my surprise, it was quite delicious. I mean really really really delicious. And "free". And we could order more if we wanted, again for "free" (since it's all included in the cruise ticket price). The meal then, for me, was another salmon, which was pretty good, but it couldn't top the snails and their sauce. And then cheesecake for dessert.

Immediately after dinner, we all rushed to our rooms to grab our life jackets, then back to the centrum (right outside the dining rooms) where the photographers were doing pictures of everyone all dressed up. So we posed as a group of 10, wearing our tuxes / suits and our life jackets, garnering more than a few laughs of hysteria from passers-by.

Silly picture done, we deposited our life jackets back in our room and moved into the theatre for the 10:30 show: Boogie Wonderland, featuring musical and dance stylings of 70s artists like Stevie Wonder, Abba, and others. The show was decently entertaining, well choreographed, and well sung, but I was ready for it to be over when it finished 45 minutes later.

After the show, we all went back to the rooms to change into much more comfortable clothing, and also to find that the maid service people had some fun - they'd made a small plush animal shape out of a towel and put Matthew's sunglasses on it. Very cute. We found out the other rooms also had various animals and accouterments waiting for them. And then we made our way top deck to the pools to watch the party going-ons there. I stayed until the others decided to go upstairs to the upper most lounge to smoke cigars - I opted to head to bed instead.

Except I couldn't. For whatever reason, my keycard decided not to work. 20 tries later, I went up to the purser's desk to ask them to fix / replace the card, but it turns out their system was down. Okay, I can understand that, and it is 1:00 in the morning, so maybe the person who would be fixing it can't get to it until morning. The woman on duty (Kimberly) was very friendly, and called room service to go let me into the room. So I went and waited. And waited. 15 minutes later I went back to Kimberly, and she called room service again. And I went back down and waited again. And waited. And about 1:40 Matthew (and the others) came back, so he let me into the room. I called the purser's desk to tell them, and then fell asleep.

My Cruise Vacation: Day 2

Monday, 14 August 2006:

We had arranged for a late checkout the night before, so no one was particularly concerned about waking up early. Thus when I woke up at 9:00, it wasn't to an alarm or the nagging voice of someone saying "it's time to go", which made me happy.

Chad and CJ had already eaten, but the rest of the group met down in the hotel's restaurant for breakfast - I gladly dove into the breakfast buffet of eggs and meats and pancakes and other tasty such foods.

Because Matthew was a priority club member (or some such), our room had a luxuriously late 1:00 pm checkout time, so everyone else threw their bags into our room before we all went across the street to check out the shopping at the mall.

An hour and a half of that and we were all pretty much done, so it was back to the room to grab the bags, and then we waited in the lobby for the taxi van to come fetch us.

Our ride to the cruise ship was short, maybe 5 minutes, and upon arrival we said goodbye to our checked luggage and went inside with our carry-ons to check in. Security looked the same as at the airport, except we didn't have to do the shoe thing this time. And then we were sent into a line to check-in at a long row of desks., again, similar to the airport.

Checkin went smoothly - we had already done most of the work through the online stuff - and then we were off on our adventure... which started by going up an escalator and down a long glass hallway toward the gangway. After a quick stop for the mandatory 'welcome on board' touristy-picture op (taken by a helpful Royal Caribbean photographer), we crossed through the similarly glassed in gangway onto the boat, the "Majesty of the Seas", and then, for me at least, the awe struck - immediately inside the entrance was a large, glassy, rather fancy looking atrium, complete with all the service desks needed to sign up for the many extras on the cruise. From here, we navigated our way downstairs to our stateroom (on deck 2), which, in contrast to the grandeur of the welcoming hall, is quite tiny. We set down our carry-ons and then went to meet the others for lunch in the Windjammer café on deck 11.

An all you can eat, serve yourself buffet of salads, noodles, meats, fish, soups, and more, topped a the end by several tables of beautifully crafted desserts in all shapes and sizes. My favorite was the key lime pie. And it's all included with the price of the ticket - finally this trip is starting to pay off. But of course I was still mostly full from breakfast, so by the time we finished lunch, I was stuffed! By the time we arrived back at our staterooms after lunch, our luggage had been delivered, so we unpacked a little and then I took a nap. I know, what a waste, but I needed the rest.

Then there was the muster drill - the aquatic version of a fire drill. Starting at 4:00, when I was still asleep, the announcer came over the PA system to remind everyone that at 4:30, after everyone had boarded the boat, we would be having a "muster drill". And he did this in 4 different languages, very loudly, and thus very disruptively to those of us who wanted those extra 15 minutes of sleep. Another announcement followed at 4:15, and then at 4:30 the actual drill began (though we had already started up a few minutes early). We put on our life jackets (kindly waiting on our beds) and followed to herds of people to our "muster stations" (determined by residence deck), the areas on deck 7 right below the life boats where said crafts would be lowered to in the event of a real emergency. Finally, when all had arrived, the announcers said some things, and then at 5:00 we were dismissed. Fun fun.

In the lapse of excitement between the muster drill and dinner, I made one last call home (just to leave a message saying "we made it okay"), then stood out on one of the decks to watch us cast off. About one hour later, we were clear of the port and out on open sea. I knew it was a big ship, but I underestimated the amount of time it would take to cast off, turn around, and move out of the no wake zone.

In the evening, before dinner, the group went to the onboard theatre (this is a big ship, mind you!) to watch a comedian - he lived up to his title, having a very amusing act. I was actually a might bit surprised he could get away with a lot of the jokes, since most of them poked fun at the cruiseline itself, but I guess it was all allowed in the name of comedy.

After the comedian it was time for dinner, so we made our way into the upper dining room and were seated at our own table for the group. The menu had many options, but I chose some variety of fish (salmon and cod, I think) for both the appetizer and meal proper. The food, again, was good, and the service excellent. And the dessert was the highlight: a white chocolate fondue in a cup with a variety of fruits intermixed.

Because we are signed up for the later dinner slot (8:30 pm, which is actually good considering how long it takes to be hungry again after a very full breakfast and lunch), it was about 10:30 when we finished, and I pretty much went straight to bed. I'd made the mistake of taking a single dose of Walgreen's-brand dramamine right before dinner, purely as a precautionary measure now that we were moving out on the open sea. And I felt safe doing this because I've never been affected by medicines that say "may cause drowsiness". Except this time. This pill had me feeling drowsy and lightheaded all through dinner, so by the time we finished, I was ready for sleep. And I slept quite soundly, too.

My Cruise Vacation: Day 1

For those who haven't heard, I recently went on a Royal Caribbean cruise from Miami to the Bahamas! Here are my journals from that trip:

Sunday, 13 August 2006:

The day started so early, but well: my radio turned on at 3:45 with a song by Point of Grace, and then at 4:00, just as I had finished brushing my teeth and was almost ready to go, they played Lincoln Brewster's "Majestic", which has quickly come to be my favorite song to start a morning with. Great way to center my day before I begin.

My parents very kindly woke up at that unearthly hour of the morning to take me to the airport, then went on their way back home, presumably to get those extra hours of sleep that I couldn't. Checking my one bag of luggage at curbsite took a long time, but at least I didn't have to wait in the huge long lines that were inside, so for that I am grateful. And even security didn't take a terribly long time - people are used to the new requirements by now, so there weren't any delays in the line in front of me. Of course, there was my little blunder; I've at least wisened up to putting all my metalic pocket gear into my carry on before I get to security, but because I'm always paranoid about going through the scanners (I almost always beep, either because of belt buckle or glasses), I completely forgot to take my laptop out of my bag. I made it through the scanner fine, but the security people had to "bag check" my briefcase, remove the laptop, then run it again. Oh, how sheepish I felt.

In any case, we made it to the gate plenty early, boarded the plane, and departed a few minutes ahead of schedule. The plane ride was less than exciting. I napped for a while, then spent the rest of my waking minutes thinking about home and the future.

We arrived in Miami on time, or possibly a few minutes early, disembarked, claimed our bags, and taxied to the hotel. Because it was still only 11:00 in the morning, we couldn't check in yet, so we left our bags with the bellman and went across the street to meet Debbie and David, then eat in the outdoor mall. While we were walking to the restaurant, two of Matthew's friends from Texas called him on the phone, then he realised they were walking toward him just a few feet away. Turns out they were joining us on the cruise as well, and it all a big surprise for Matthew.

We ate lunch at Chilis - I had a quesadilla and lemonade; shocking, I know. Then it was back to the hotel room for a quick email check and a nice, long nap. The others went swimming for a while in there, but I was too busy catching up on my beauty sleep to care much.

When I finally did wake up, it was time to head off to dinner, so the whole group (10 of us by this point) met in the lobby and arranged for a large taxi van to take us to one of the more major shopping / eating outdoor malls. There we had a wonderfully long meal out under the setting sun, complete with some sparse lightning and gentle breeze. Two hours later (or so it felt, though I don't think I'm far off), we got up and started making our way along the store fronts, looking for a crêpe-serving bakery that Chad remembered from his last trip. But before lonog, that lighing I mentioned before started meaning rain drops. And about 60 seconds after I felt the first rain drop, it was literally pouring. Fortunately we were able to take shelter under a canopied entrance. Unfortunately for me it was the entrance to a bar, so everyone went inside, and, just my luck, Matthew talked the bouncer into letting me in. I was so hopeful I'd just be able to wait outside.

The next hour was torture. I hate bars, but I had no where else to go. Yes, there happened to be an Apple store across the street, but that wouldn't be able to serve as refuge for an entire hour. So I waited. In the corner. Alone. Bored. And then, after the rain had let up a slight bit, Chad and David decided they would set out to look for the crêpes (or "creeps" as Matthew called them) once more. So I joined them; we walked for many blocks but didn't see them, so we turned around and went the other way. Turns out the store was Haagen-Daas, and it was only a block away from the restaurant we started at. That's okay, though, since I really needed the exercise. Except they were sold out of the crêpes by the time we got there (of course we didn't realise this until we gathered the group and brought them down there). So some people bought ice cream instead. Then we split up - 5 of us came back to the hotel to get to bed, the other 5 went out to a nearby club or two. I'm told they had fun, though the clubs were mostly empty because of the rain, but still, for them, worth going. As for me, I was quite happy to get to sleep.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Wonderful Community

This is a short entry, but I've been reminded so many times over the past several week of just how special a place Minnehaha Academy is to work, that I felt inspired to share that today. It may sound cliché, but the reality is that Minnehaha is an exceptional and wondrously loving and fulfilling place to work (at least on the good days, which are the majority). Some of the best reminders of this in recent days have come from my friends down in the development office - I have reason to stop down there about once a week to help one person or another, but when I'm there, commonly two or three others from the office will walk by the desk I'm working at and ask me to stop in to see them, too - the key points here: they know me by name, later in conversation it's clear that they care about me and my life as a person, and when we're done it's apparent that they've truly appreciated my help. Words don't do the feeling of satisfaction justice; it's a form of completeness, knowing that I am known, appreciated, and loved within this community - by the development office, business office, faculty from all campuses (I help teach them in the summer workshops!) and even by the janitorial staff - and yes, I do know almost all of the Minnehaha janitors by name.

That's it. Long rambling short: it's a special place, and for however long I stay there, I know it's an experience that is less than common in the "real" business world.

Monday, August 07, 2006

WWDC 2006

I'm in the midst of reading "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman, and, though I'm less than 100 pages in (after starting it for the third time, now), I'm loving it. In talking about the forces that flattened the world, the second chapter is basically a history of computing technology over the past 15 years, which is, for me, the most interesting and relevant kind of history there is.

Why write about this? Because today I experienced first hand just how technology has changed the way news and information flows, or rather, how it allows news to travel instantaneously across the country. Today was the start of Apple's World Wide Developers Conference, which means today was the day when Uncle Steve gave his keynote address offering the world its first glimpse at Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. For the Mac enthusiasts out there, such as myself, this is very exciting stuff.

But the keynote isn't broadcast live, which means that there's no way to learn about all the new announcements and such until later, right?

Not in a technologically advanced, flattening world. Using Apple's wireless Internet access from within the auditorium, reporters at the conference were able to post minute by minute updates on websites such as (that's the one I was watching) to tell those of us not lucky enough to attend in person all the exciting stuff Steve was showing. The page automatically pulled down new content every 60 seconds, which meant that every minute, from my desk in Minneapolis, MN, I was able to read the latest news from the Apple conference taking place hundreds of miles away.

Okay, it was really exciting for me, not just because of all the cool new toys and features we have to look forward to from Apple, but because of just how amazingly amazing this flow of information was, and how exciting it is to be living in a time with all of these realities in our every day lives that weren't even being dreamt of 20 years ago when I was born.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The River Church at Mall of America

It's such a novel idea, I've known for months that I had to try it, and today I finally had my chance: going to church at the Mall of America.

Their website said the music started at 9:55, so I timed my morning around that. As I entered the Mall, River Church volunteers held the door open for me and others, and that's when it occurred to me that most stores in the Mall don't open until 11:00 on Sunday, so all of these people around me were more than likely going the same place I was.

True to their online word, there were signs guiding the way from the west entrance all the way into Camp Snoopy to the Great Lakes Ballroom where the service is held. Smiling faces gave me a bulletin at the door and I made my way in, taking a seat in the back row (typical me).

A contemporary setting, waiting for the music to start was pecularly similar to the concerts I've been to at the Xcel Center with a timer counting down on the projection screen and Third Day playing quietly in the background. The counter reached 0, the drums started, the guitars joined, and singing commenced. I loved it, and not only because the performance was an excellent example of what could be strived for technically at Minnehaha (both sound wise and with regard to their much-better-than-PowerPoint multimedia presentations), but because here we were, a group of between 50 and 100 believers, gathered in a public Mall on a Sunday morning, coming together to sing praise to and worship God.

The music ended, the offering was taken, and the pastor introduced the guest speaker for the day, there to talk about something he called "The Jesus Manifesto". He talked. And he talked. And he talked some more. An hour and some minutes later, he finally wrapped up - a might bit longer sermon than I'm accustomed to, and also longer than I would have preferred, given the scattered and non-linear thought pattern he followed. In all fairness, though, he was a guest speaker, and perhaps no one told him that the service was only supposed to last "a little over an hour" (quoting from the FAQ on their site). To clarify, it's not that I have a dislike for long sermons (as long as they are coherent), but I just need to know ahead of time to expect it.

And then the service was over. The guest speaker sat down, the pastor said a few sentences, and we left.

The verdict: Overall I enjoyed myself, and I hope to go back again when they do not have a guest preacher in order to get a better feel for what the church is like. And thus I conclude, maybe there is something to this 'Church in the Mall' idea. What better way could there be to reach out into the world?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I'd completely forgotten how expensive glasses are in the two years since I've purchased them, but my reminder came not many hours ago as I entered Pearl Vision, fresh from my eye doctor. On the plus side, they had a 50% off lenses sale, which is nice because otherwise the lenses alone would have been more expensive than the frames. In any case, I settled on two nice pairs, one made of flexible material that will snap back into position after extreme contortionist bending. I had a similar pair up until two years ago, when one such bending demonstration caused the frames to unexpectedly snap apart (better still, this was the evening of my first night at college - very embarrassing). My other new pair is 'normal' and silvery-ish, similar to my current frames. Sadly, though, they won't be ready until Monday, so I guess I'll just have to be patient. Tragic, since I'm really really bad at being patient, but thus is life.