Monday, 27 February 2012

Celebrity Eclipse Cruise - Part 2

Click here for Part 1.
On Tuesday we stopped at St. Maarten.  Two years ago we had gone on a zipline adventure tour and we loved it so much that was one of the reasons we chose this cruise - so we could do it again. After about a 30 min drive with a tour bus into the French side of the island we arrived at the Loterie Tree Farm  It was just as much fun the second time!  We're hoping to be able to do the extreme version next time :)

Tuesday was also Valentine's Day.  We enjoyed dinner at the Moonlight Sonata and each woman received a rose.  After walking the ship and the shops, we went to the theatre for a Cirque de Soleil style theatrical circus - it was quite impressive!

Wednesday was our final port of call day and was our first ever visit to St. Kitts.  We took the "Essential St. Kitts Tour" and enjoyed a stop at Romney Manor (home of Caribelle Batik) which had amazing gardens and this huge tree.

Our next stop was the Brimstone Hill Fortress.  As we were driving up to it, Nathan recognized it from a documentary he had seen - it's one of the top 10 most impenetrable fortresses of the world!  He's into history so he definitely appreciated being able to see this fort in person.

We got back to the ship for a late lunch and lay by the pool for the rest of the afternoon (with an ice cream break in between of course!).  Nathan actually ran on the treadmill 5 of the days we were onboard.  Running on the ship makes me nauseous, so I happily declined and simply vegged by the pool reading.

For dinner we had reservations at the Tuscan Grille - the Italian steakhouse onboard.  This was likely the best meal of the whole cruise for me!  I had a mushroom ravioli appetizer, chop chop salad and an incredible filet mignon (also with mushroom sauce) for the main entree.  Dessert was an incredible chocolate fondue with berries, bananas. melons, marshmallows and a brownie.

That night's show was an incredible performance by Antonio Salci.  I have my ARCT (performer's degree in piano) and I was impressed.  He's definitely one very talented performer/composer/arranger.  I found this on YouTube .....

Thursday was an at sea day and we spent the entire day by the main outdoor pool.  We got up around 8:30 which was just early enough to snag some decent poolside loungers before heading in for a quick breakfast buffet and back to enjoy the sun.  We ate a quick lunch inside at the lunch buffet as well (I ordered a turkey burger from the Mast Grille poolside and brought it indoors for a little break from the heat), and then went back outside for the rest of the afternoon.

That night was the second formal night on the cruise and we ate at the Moonlight Sonata.

Friday was our final at sea day.  Thursday we managed to both burn ourselves, so we spent the day lounging poolside - but in the glass enclosed Solarium this time.  All the benefits of the sun with none of the cons. :)  Once again we ate breakfast and lunch at the buffet (turkey burger for me again!).  We had one final dinner at the Moonlight Sonata and thoroughly enjoyed the evening show which was encore acts from the best performer's of the week (and a performance by the Karoeke X Idol winner).

Saturday we got up for our final breakfast at the Oceanview Cafe, then read for a bit in the dining room while waiting for our turn to disembark the ship.  This is one of the few times our flights have left late enough in the day that we're not in a rush to get off the vessel.  Because of that, the crowds were definitely higher and we waited longer than ever before to get a taxi to the airport.  We had lots of time to eat (Chili's!) before boarding our flight back to Winnipeg (with a connecting flight in Chicago).

Sunday Nathan took Jacob to Sophia's hockey game while I took Emma & Olivia to church (not Sunday School though, we slept in!) - and it almost felt like we were never gone.  Was it all just a dream?!

The good thing is though, that because we've been on so many cruises by now, we had a similar feeling when we first got onboard - it immediately felt like we had been there for a few days already.

Can't wait till next year - already got my eye on 1 or 2 options! :)

Friday, 24 February 2012

Book Review: Sweeter than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott

About the Book: Music offers Kate sweet refuge from her troubles . . . but real freedom is sweeter.

In Westerville, Ohio, 1855, Kate Winter’s dreams are almost within reach. As the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she’ll be guaranteed her deepest wish: escape from the dark secret haunting her family. But with her mother determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, Kate must face reality. She has to run. Now. And she has the perfect plan. Join the upcoming musical performance—and use it to mask her flight.

Ben Hanby, Otterbein College’s musical genius, sees Kate Winter as an enigmatic creature, notable for her beauty, yet painfully shy. Then he hears her sing—and the glory of her voice moves him as never before. He determines to cast her in his musical and uncover the mystery that is Kate. Still, he must keep his own secret to himself. Not even this intriguing woman can know that his passionate faith is driving him to aid fugitives on the Underground Railroad.

A terrifying accident brings Kate and Ben together, but threatens to shatter both their secrets and their dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage—and her voice—if she is to sing a new song for their future.

Read an excerpt here.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book just as much, if not even more, than the first in the series, Fairer Than Morning, and I really liked that one!

The writing style is elegant and almost poetic, helping to set the book into the time period in which it was written. But far from being stilted by this writing style, Elliott immediately draws you into, not just the story, but the character's lives.  Important, considering this is based on a true story (something I forgot from the first novel, and didn't realize until I had finished reading this one).  Not only are you awaiting what happens to the characters in the plot, but also how what happens changes the characters as individuals.

Like Fairer Than Morning, this book dealt with a lot of heavy subject matter - the Underground Railway, abolitionism, alcoholism, familial estrangement - as well as faith, courage and love. And, with my love of music and piano background, I appreciated that aspect of the book as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to more from this writer.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Celebrity Eclipse Cruise 2012 - Part 1

Cruising has become a yearly event for us we love it so much!  We do also happen to get those trips for free so that sure helps too (from the CU MC points from Nathan's company - we get a $4,000 vacation for free every year and only have to pay a $25 booking fee, not even any taxes!).

So far we've done....
Western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale with stops in Key West., Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica in 2007
Western Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Legend from Tampa Bay with stops in Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Belize and Roatan in 2009
Eastern Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's large ship Freedom of the Seas from Port Canaveral (close to Orlando) with stops in Coco Cay (that one got rained out), St. Thomas and St. Maarten in 2010
Eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America's Eurodam from Fort Lauderdale with stops in Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay (private island in the Bahamas) in 2011.

This year we chose the Celebrity Eclipse (their newest ship) from Miami with stops in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and St. Kitts.

Our flight out of Winnipeg was scheduled to leave at 3pm Friday afternoon (the 10th) which was nice since I still got to send the girls off to school and then finish up last minute packing and tidying up before leaving for the trip.  Due to bad weather in Chicago (our one connecting flight), we were delayed about a 1/2 hr.    They had a ground stoppage order (which means they weren't landing any planes) in Chicago for awhile so we expecting a rough landing.  At first we could see the lights below us so we figured it couldn't be that bad.  But then, as we were descending, all we could see was driving snow flying past the windows and I started getting a bit nervous as it seemed we were really close to the ground and I couldn't see a thing!  But, it turned out we were just in some low lying clouds, and once we were below them we could see the ground again and it all turned out fine - the plane seemed to brake pretty hard, but we made it!  Our layover was long enough that we could eat supper at Chili's before boarding our connecting flight to Miami.  We had rented a couple movies from iTunes for Nathan's iPad and watched 127 hours on the flight from Chicago to Miami (it was really good, but I couldn't watch some parts!).  We arrived in Miami shortly after midnight, too late for the complimentary hotel shuttle.

We took a taxi to the Best Western Premiere Hotel and Suites - I had found a good deal at, and Best Western has an online price guarantee so they had to beat that price, so we stayed there for $113.  We slept in, ate breakfast at the buffet (slim pickings by the time we got there) and took the shuttle to the port.

Our ship was the last in line so we were the last ones dropped off by the shuttle, around 11:30.  It took us about 30 mins to go through the embarkation process and once on the ship we headed straight for the lunch buffet (OceanView Cafe - open all day, fantastic food, never had trouble finding a seat) located on Deck 14 as the staterooms would only be ready by 1.  After lunch we headed to our room (#8240 on Deck 8) - compared to last year's suite it felt small, but it was a typical size for a verandah stateroom - our balcony had super comfy chairs (which we rarely used anyway) and the bathroom had a fairly large shower for a cruise ship.  Our luggage hadn't arrived yet but, seasoned cruisers that we are, we had packed swimsuits in our carry-on so we quickly got changed and headed for the Solarium - an adults only glass enclosed pool.  The weather wasn't quite warm enough in Miami to be poolside outdoors, so the Solarium was a definite plus for that day, and any other day that would have less than ideal weather.

After lounging poolside and reading all afternoon (using our ereaders - perfect for trips - lightweight for packing, and the pages to flap around on windy days!).  At 5pm we went back to our room to watch the ship leave Miami, then we got dressed up and went to the main dining room, the Moonlight Sonata, for dinner.  The My Time Dining (come anytime for dinner) was on Deck 4 and that's what we signed up for.  The traditional set seating dining was on Deck 3 - same menu, but you have to come at the same time every day and sit at the same table.  We always choose flexible dining and always request to eat by ourselves. :)  We both had steak and it was delicious!  After dinner we did a little shopping (I bought DKNY polarized sunglasses for a great deal) and then went to the Welcome Aboard Variety Show at the Eclipse Theatre (Decks 3&4, om the opposite side of the Moonlight Sonata).

Sunday was an at sea day and we spent the entire day lounging, suntanning and reading by the main outdoor pool.  We had breakfast and lunch at the OceanView buffet.  For breakfast I usually had made to order omelettes or eggs and lots of watermelon.  For lunch I either had tacos (with chicken), pizza, subs or turkey burgers - and lots of watermelon. :)   Today was the first formal night at the Moonlight Sonata and we enjoyed another great dinner - I think I had lamb that night.  After dinner we did some more shopping (Nathan bought a Fossil watch and I bought a DKNY watch) and then we headed to the evening show, "Edge" performed by the ship's singers and dancers.

Monday was a port of call day but we were only scheduled to arrive in Puerto Rico at 3pm so we spent the first part of the day poolside once again!  Then we went ashore, walked the streets of Old San Juan, took the free trolley around the city, got off and walked some more, and I bought a purse at the Coach store for a pretty good deal, before heading back to the ship.  We had reservations at Murano's (one of 4 specialty dining restaurants on our ship) for 7.  Murano's is a fine French dining restaurant - Nathan had lobster which was prepared tableside, and I had the petit filet mignon trio - fantastic!  (Even with me being an extremely picky eater, there was always several choices of food I liked at all the restaurants - the food selection and quality on cruise ships is superb).  After dinner we did some more shopping (Nathan bought Oakley sunglasses) and then we headed to the evening show which featured the comedic juggling of Steve Rawlings.  He was pretty good, but a bit too hyper/weird for us.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Mater Birthday Cake Tutorial

Jacob has always loved the Cars movies, so this year I made him a Mater cake for his 4th birthday.  I looked at several different pictures online and took some tips from all of them, and then just did my own thing.  It was actually quite simple and is one of the quicker cakes I've made.

I baked the chocolate cake (recipe to follow in a later post) in two loaf pans.  One was used for the main part of the tow truck.  Then I cut the other one in about 3 equal pieces.  Two of them were stacked (I had to cut it down slightly as one was too short, but two was too tall) to make the cab of the truck, the rest was put in the "leftover bowl".  

Then I iced the whole thing in chocolate icing, and used white icing for the front windows/eyes.

In the meantime,. I had Emma gather up all the supplies for decorating him - I just used whatever we happened to have on hand, I had not planned well ahead of time!  But it worked out great.  This is what we used....

Oreo cookies = wheels and the front thingie
Gum (2 different sizes) = teeth
Peanut M&M's = headlights, taillights, tow truck flashing lights
Chocolate wafer = eyes (could also you M&M's but we didn't have any brown ones)
Mini and Regular sized Kit Kats and Mini Aeros = tow truck equipment
Caramilk = ears/side mirrors

And that's it!

Monday, 20 February 2012

"Mornings with Jesus" giveaway winner

The winner of the "Mornings with Jesus" book giveaway is Erin!  Erin, please email me (tammyisblessed at gmail dot come) your mailing address by Friday in order to receive your prize.  Congratulations!!

Operation Christmas Child 2011 edition

I realize this is super late. but I'm posting it anyway - it's my blog! :)

Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are a tradition around our house.  The kids love it!  This year the boxes came blank to they could decorate them too.  Here they are working on their boxes.

They each made a card for the box recipient, and we included our family Christmas photo/card.

 Here's a sample of what we put in the girls boxes - school supplies such as pencil crayons, scissors, pencil sharpeners, and pens; hygiene supplies such as facecloth, toothbrush, soap; fun stuff like stuffed animal, bouncy balls, fancy hair ties.

 A good time was had by all!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book review: Mornings with Jesus 2012

About the book: "Be still and know that I am God.” is one of the most beautiful verses from the Bible, but it’s not easy to practice in this busy world. Mornings with Jesus will help you do just that—“be still” in Jesus’ beautiful and powerful presence. For those who are seeking a deeper experience in their relationship with Christ, Mornings with Jesus offers a fresh perspective of who Jesus is (the Healer, the Son of God, the Comforter, the Good Shepherd) and what that means for day-to-day life. With a warm and friendly voice, 365 short devotional writings on the character and teachings of Jesus encourage readers to greet each day by drawing near to Him and inviting His presence into their day. Spend time with Jesus at the beginning of each day and experience His nearness and peace in a new way throughout the year. Each day’s selection includes: • a Bible verse • an entry based on Jesus: His words, miracles, and parables; His wisdom, compassion, and comfort; His mystery, power, divinity, and humanity • a “faith step” that will inspire and challenge readers to apply the day’s message to their lives.

My Thoughts:  As this is a year long devotional book, I haven't read through the whole thing yet, but I've read entries from several of the different authors who contributed to the book and am really enjoying it so far.

I like that it is short and doesn't take much time (which is great for busy moms, or busy people in general!)  I love that it's focused on Jesus because our understanding of who He is is vital to our relationship with Him..  I like how personal the reflections of the verses are, and also really like the "faith step" that challenges you to actually apply what you've read to your own life.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

I also have another complimentary giveaway copy!
To enter, please comment on this post anytime in the next week. Winner will be announced February 20th.


Friday, 10 February 2012

Book Review: Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole Seitz

About the book: Three lives are bound by a single book . . . and the cleansing waters of Molasses Creek.

Having traveled to the ends of the earth as a flight attendant, Ally Green has finally returned to the Lowcountry to bury her father as well as the past. But Vesey Washington is still living across the creek, and theirs is a complicated relationship—he was once her best friend . . . and also part of the reason she’s stayed away so long. When Ally discovers a message her father left behind asking her to quit running, it seems her past isn’t through with her yet.

As Ally’s wandering spirit wrestles with a deep longing to flee again, a young woman on the other side of the world escapes her life of slavery in the rock quarries of Nepal. A mysterious sketchbook leads Sunila Kunari to believe there’s more to her story than she’s ever been told, and she’s determined to follow the truth wherever it leads her.

A deep current intertwines the lives of these three souls, and a destiny of freedom, faith, and friendship awaits them all on the banks of Molasses Creek.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book and, in fact, read it in one sitting. As the storyline gradually and tantalizingly unfolds, you are drawn into these three lives and are almost bursting with anticipation by the time the book concludes.

Told from the perspectives of all three characters, and going back and forth in time (enough to give story background, not enough to get annoying) allowed you to thoroughly understand them all and gave an incredibly well rounded view of their life circumstances, and each character's interpretation and response to the situations they faced.  Very well done!

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

Book Review: The Sound of Red Returning by Sue Duffy

About the book:  After losing everyone she loves, concert pianist Liesl Bower has nowhere to go but to escape into her music. Searching for the peace she usually finds in her concertos and sonatas, Liesl can’t shake the feeling that she is being haunted by her past . . . and by someone following her. When she spots a familiar and eerie face in the audience of a concert she’s giving for the president in Washington, DC, the scariest day of her life comes back to her with a flash. It has been fifteen years since Liesl watched her beloved Harvard music mentor assaulted on a dark night in Moscow and just as long since the CIA disclosed to her that he’d been spying for Russia. She had seen that man--that eerie face--the night Professor Devoe was attacked. And now he’s back--and coming for her.

On the run and struggling to rely on the protection of CIA agent Ava Mullins and handsome newspaper reporter Cade O’Brien, Liesl learns she is the prey of an underground cell of Russian KGB agents determined to restore their country to its former Soviet might. But what she doesn’t know is that she is in possession of something--a piece of sheet music--that Russian intelligence is now frantic to find. Inside that music is a secret code, the hidden transcriptions of her deceased mentor, that clearly identify a Russian mole operating inside Israel’s Department of Defense, a mole with enough power and access to execute a daring assassination that no one would see coming.

Caught in a deadly conflict between American and Russian undercover agents, this innocent young pianist is just trying to survive her own personal trauma. Through it all, Liesl must learn that no matter how dark her world grows or how fiercely her enemies pursue her, God is still in control--if only she can yield herself to His grace. Read an excerpt here.

My Thoughts: Trained in piano performance myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the musical aspects of this book especially.  Double agents, intrigue, loyalty, alcoholism, secret codes, romance, humour, life choices, faith - this book did it all, and did it all well.

The storyline was fantastic and I loved that I thought I had the mystery figured out, only to realize that I didn't - but it was still believable.  That's a hard balance to achieve!

Loved the characters and felt that they were well developed as well as relatable and realistic.

Two thumbs way up on this one.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.


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