Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Cruise to disappointment

     3 disclaimers before I start my bitching.  1. It has been 20 years since my last cruise.  2.  I sometimes know too much about the food business to be easily satisfied 3. This is all my opinion, I claim no insider information or special knowledge.

     Everyone was telling us how good a deal Cruising was and that the bad economy had even made the pricing better.  The 2nd most popular opinion we heard was that the food on the ships was plentiful and great.  So my expectations were set early on, and I only expected 2 things, great food, and a bargain vacation.  How sad that I ended up with neither.

     With Danny headed off to college this year, we wanted to have a more special spring vacation. We waited until we heard back from Molly that she couldn't join us, and then started to look into cruises.  We didn't do much research, shame on us, but we had a lot going on at work, school, Scouts, Senior Bash Committee and the Golf Tournament so we took our chances. 
If all of our friends are to be believed, there must be a vast difference in the quality of some cruises versus others.  We picked a bad one.  The cruise line and ship will go unnamed here except to say, it was a "Circus" that we were "Destined" to be a part of.  We booked about 2 months out from the actual cruise, and right away the bargains started to disappear.  We quickly found out that the rates offered for the room are based on the whole family staying in the same room, with no doors to close between them.   I wouldn't even consider this as an option, with a libido like mine, so the first upgrade was to get 2 rooms.  I was fine putting the kids anywhere else on ship, but my wife insisted on connecting rooms (With a maternal instinct like hers, my plan wasn't even an option.), so the 2nd upgrade was the connecting rooms on a higher deck.  Of course that meant that we lost a balcony and now were in an interior room, with no windows.  Our base package jumped immediately from $300 per person to $500 per person, so $2,000 was spent pretty quickly.  We booked the airfare and even took the kids out of school a few day prior to the break to get a deal, but that still was $352 per person, so add another $1400 on to the trip (actually add $1500 after baggage fees).  Still a bargain at this point I suppose, but I'd like to stop hemorrhaging money soon.  We decided to fly in the day prior to the cruise to avoid delay and hassles, so we should include the $150 that the hotel would have cost, if I didn't use points.  Now onto the ship.....

     I thought the boarding process went pretty smoothly, except for the oddity of not being able to get into your room immediately.  I thought the delay was so that the luggage could be distributed, but that happened later in the day, so I really don't get why they make you wait a few hours to get into your rooms.  We had a buffet lunch up on the Lido deck, and the food was so unremarkable I can't now tell you what was on the first buffet we had.  I do know that the 2 drinks we chose off from a waiters tray cost $8 each, as did every alcoholic drink on board it seemed.  The alcohol billed will be added up later.  We finally got into our rooms and were able to get settled and we all went off to explore different areas of the ship. The rooms we had were adequate, small as expected, but they were fine.  Our room unfortunately was right next to a crew passageway, so early each morning the heavy steel door would be open and shut loudly as they made their way through the ship.  This was not conducive to our plan of sleeping in late while on vacation. During the day, we racked up some more charges, money for the arcade, unlimited soda for each kid, add $44.28 to the total (incidentally that is probably our annual budget for the soda we drink at home), more drinks at the bar, and some small shopping.  We chose the late dining option, so at 8:00 we headed to the dining room and I, in particular, was excited about the great meal we were about to enjoy......

     The dinner started well enough, with our Indian waiter, Samson, introducing himself and presenting the "wine deal".  We chose 3 bottles for the cruise (add $90), and then we opened our menus. The choices were extremely limited, but we all found things that we thought we would like, and then ordered them.  I was optimistic, right up until they served me my shrimp cocktail.  On my last cruise, they had put large shrimp up on the buffets each night, and those were likely 16/20 in size.  What I got served at dinner were 5 limp small shrimp in a dish, that were more like 31/40's.  Not a great way to start my gourmet dining experience. 
The waiters bidding us farewell on the last night.
I immediately pulled our server aside to complain, but it wasn't in his power or the Maitre D's to change the quality of the food. The entrees came and the portions were extremely small, but as everyone told me later, you can ask for more of them.  I never did order more than one entree at any meal, it seemed weird, you really have to wait until you get your first ones to see what the food and portions are like to do it, and I had no desire to be waiting for my 2nd entree while my family ate their desserts, but in fairness, this apparently is an option.  The dessert choices were again very limited, although later in the cruise, I found a chocolate lava cake with a molten center that was pretty good. All in all, the first night, I left dinner feeling very disappointed with the food and somewhat depressed that I was now stuck on a ship with bad food for 5 days.  Yikes.

     I have always been taught to complain if the service or product that you purchased is not right, and that a good business will find a way to make it right, so I did try and complain on the cruise.  After complaining in the dining room to the people with no power to fix anything, I went to the guest services area and spent the better part of a half hour trying to fix something.  I actually stopped a total of 3 times while on board, and they were great at documenting my gripes, but not at addressing any of them.  Managers were too busy to see me on 2 occasions, but promised to call me later (we never connected). 

One time I was told that it was too close to the departure time to see the manager.  I was a little surprised to  find out that the guest services manager apparently has to help cast off the lines on the ship too, but admittedly pretty impressed with the degree of cross training that goes on aboard ship.  I did find out a very interesting fact about cruising out of the US and having the first stop at another US port.  You can escape the ship at the first port (I did offer to do just that), but there is a $300 fee per person to get off in the US port.  You can avoid the fee if you wait until you leave the US, but then you are in a foreign country with your family trying to get home.  The conspiracy theorist in me wonders who lobbied for that rule, and if it wasn't intended to do exactly what it did in my case, keep me hostage until the end of the cruise.  So, in spite of the time and effort spent complaining (and I am an expert), nothing was ever offered, no discount or refund, except that they would document it or that they could talk to the Maitre D' (Would you like to be mugged at a different table Mr. Yarger?, No thanks, I'm comfortable here).  It was at this point that I realized that I really needed to accept what it was that I had purchased, and to try and look at the positive side of it especially for my family's sake.  I did vow to do 2 things though, blog about it to try and help others, and to go to the Casino frequently to relieve my stress. It did work. 

     I'll finish on the food with the fact that I never had a decent meal on board.  The breakfast items were comparable to those free breakfasts that you get in a hotel in the am, cheap bacon, pre-cooked sausage, scrambled eggs in a bag, and frozen pastries popped out of boxes and placed on silver trays (ooh how elegant).
  On "lobster night" I got a 3-4 oz tail propped up on it's shell, and I would have ordered another one or two, but honestly the first one was so bland, it wasn't worth it. I did rotate through the restaurants like some women go through shoes.  The pizza was inedible, the Chinese food was OK, the grill served over-cooked hamburgers, the NY deli served small sandwiches with bad pickles (how do you screw up a pickle?), and the "gourmet" dining room on board was a joke.  We ate breakfast there one morning, and it was the same food served on the buffet with a few minor changes, same bacon and sausage, same pastries, but they will do a bad eggs Benedict for you if you order it.  I had high hopes for that one as it was described as having gourmet cooks or something like that.  Don't get your hopes up.  I read a review of the food on our ship, after the fact, and the cruise line reviewer gave it a 5 out of 10.  I think he was being generous. If I haven't been clear by now, the food sucked, period.

     The trip we booked had 2 ports of call, Key West, and Cozumel.  I'll include the meal costs from there as the arrival times were set at times to make most people miss lunch and/or dinner, so I think it is legitimate.  My son and I toured the Mayan ruins of Tulum, but were forced to eat at a "recommended" Mexican restaurant at the site.  No menus were available, but our taco plates and a shared dish cost us $38. I'm no expert on pricing of food in Mexico, but last year in Mexico I got a bucket of 8 Corona's hand delivered to me on a beach for 10 bucks, and the tacos cost 60 cents each.  Again, the conspiracy theorist in me noticed that the owner of the restaurant paid the tour guide a visit on the bus prior to us all leaving.  Interesting. My wife and son went to swim with dolphins and their meal was included.  I did notice that all the excursions booked through the cruise lines were slightly more expensive than if you did it yourself (shouldn't it be the other way around), and that you really need to be aware of all of the expenses, ahead of time.  The Dolphinaris outing is a perfect example.  For $129 a piece you can swim with the Dolphins, but not get any good pictures of it unless you pay through the nose for them.  We got 3 pictures for $99, but you can spend a lot more there to remember your visit.  The staff was overly aggressive at trying to upgrade the package.  I'm not giving them the satisfaction of posting one of the pics here, but there is a reason they have the dolphins "kiss" your kids, who wouldn't want that picture?
     One of the other oddities aboard ship is the "tipping" set up.  We ended up paying $270 in total tips for the trip, but after the fact, I found out you can avoid it, by paying your own tips, which we did anyway. I don't know who the $160 that we were billed went to, but I comped the waiter and room cleaner guy (I think his name was Rhum Stuart) another $50 each.  We tipped the good waiters at the bars, but there were few of them, so next time I would go immediately to the guest services area and have all tipping removed and do it at your discretion.  The rooms really don't take long to clean, so they make animals out of towels to place on your bed to entertain you. 

They are nice and all, but not really worth $40 a day.  I have to give kudos to our Indian waiter Samson, who did an excellent job both entertaining us and serving us on the cruise.  Even after all my bitching, he was cordial and friendly, and attentive.  After getting bad wine glasses the first night, he chased down a pair of nice red wine glasses for us for the rest of the cruise.  He taught several tricks to my son, and even after he received his gratuity, he sat down with us and shared a fair amount about his life in India and while aboard ship.  That was nice.  There is no way of saying the next part without sounding a little racist or xenophobic, so I'll just go ahead anyway.  The majority of the ship's personnel is made up of people who do not speak English as their first language.  This can be pretty interesting, Nolan for example learned a lot from a girl name Sonia, from Macedonia.  At other times, however, it can be work to communicate your needs to some staff.  Several times while at the roulette table I was unsure of whether I was receiving instruction or whether my dealer was trying to make small talk with me.  I had a few issues communicating with bartenders also, trying to communicate words like ice, double, tall, gin, tonic, and lime.  Not huge issues overall, but something to be aware of. 

     I had a variety of other complaints as well, but I think I will finish and total here.  I do have a comment about the amount of ship space and time dedicated to taking and hawking pictures to you.   Too much, and too expensive, for something anyone with a decent camera can do.  When I added up all the expenses on board, off board during the cruise, and pre-paid, the total for our family of four was around $6,000 or $1500 per person.  That's a lot of money to pay to be held captive on a ship with bad food.  2 things made it bearable.  First, the kids described it as their best vacation ever (they have low standards).  Second, I took $2,300 from the roulette table that wasn't mine to start with.  We spent the rest of the vacation at Deerfield Beach, near Boca Raton, and I was able to finally get some good food and reasonable drinks.  The last picture below is me out with my beautiful wife, content, well fed, happy, and with the right combination of tall, double, gin, ice, and lime in my hand (add contented sigh here).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'm off today, but Nolan is filling in for me.....

I decided to take the day off today, but my wife suggested that it might be fun to post Nolan's homework as my blog this week, so feel free to comment.  My comment is, leave it to the wife to make me work on my day off, anyway.  The Family Circus comic strip guy does this all the time.......


Today was the day we got on the cruise ship! We checked the hotel to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind, and then we were off! When we got to the boarding station a porter took our larger bags and we went on with our small bags to get checked by security. We went into a line of people and after a little bit of waiting, we got to the 1st part where someone checked your birth certificate and photo ID. Then we put our bags on conveyor belt, and we walked through an electric scanner. Then we got on the ship and were given our room keys. We explored for a while, because we couldn’t get into our room until 1:30 PM.

Lido deck of the ship with the big screen
 At 1:30 we went to our rooms and unpacked our stuff, Danny and I were in one room that connected to my Mom and Dad’s room. After the ship left port at 4:00 PM, Dan and I went to explore a little bit. We found a water slide that was surprisingly large, so we went down it at least 8 times. Then we went down to the pool where my Mom was, and she told me to go get something called bottomless bubbles. This basically means you get a sticker on your room key to show Bartenders and you can get unlimited juice and soda! Then I went to Laser tag with my brother. It was a large inflatable dome for four people. My brother came in second place and I came in third. Then Dan and I found a mini-golf course and played the last hole continuously until we got a hole in one! Then we found Mom and Dad, so they came with us to swim at the pool. I remembered that the pools were saltwater when my eyes suddenly started burning! I decided not to go in the pools without goggles on again. Then I explored alone for a little bit. I found a candy shop and an arcade! I went back to our cabin to go to bed.


The next day we arrived at Key West. We got off the ship and rented an electric car. We traveled around in

it for a little bit and we found a lighthouse. Then we drove to the southernmost point in the continental US. We drove by the Hemmingway House. After that, we parked the car in a parking lot. We walked around for a little bit, and found an aquarium. My Mom and I went into the aquarium, while Dad and Dan went to a shipwreck museum. At the aquarium, there was a “touch tank”, where you could pick up sea urchins, sea cucumbers, horseshoe crabs, starfish and hermit crabs. There was another tank that contained stingrays and sea turtles. Outside at the Atlantic exhibit, I held an alligator! Then we went back inside and found a nurse shark tank. Next, we heard that there would be a guided tour in 5 minutes, so we waited and went to that. The first place on the tour was the touch tank, and the guide talked about the animals and plants in there.

Then we went over to the stingray tank and the guide fed the stingrays, who would jump up and grab the food. Next we went over to the nurse shark tank, where she very carefully fed the hungry nurse sharks! She brought over a baby nurse shark, and we got to touch it! Then we left and met up with Dan and Dad, and it was time to re-board the ship. We had to take the electric car back, so dropped us off near the ship. It took him a long time to come back, because he couldn’t find the place to return the car! On the way to the ship, we went into a store and got a free bamboo necklace. We boarded the ship and I went to the arcade. After losing at the arcade games, I walked around to explore the ship some more. I found Dan laying near the pool and I asked him to help me win the prize at the arcade. We tried, but lost again and went back to our cabin. We got dressed up for dinner and went to the Galaxy Dining Room. Our waiter’s name was Samson and he was from India. He showed me some cool tricks, like making four triangles out of two triangles by only moving one side of the triangle. He also got a bowl of water and a glass and he lit paper on fire and put in the bowl and quickly put the glass over it and it sucked the water from outside the glass to inside the glass. After dinner, we walked around a bit and then watched part of a movie on an outdoor big screen. Then I went to bed.
The day after yesterday (today), we went to Cozumel, Mexico. We ate a Breakfast and then we arrived at Cozumel. We got off at 1:00, and Dan and Dad went to the Mayan Ruins, while my Mom and I went to a Dolphin Swim and Ride. We took a 7 minute bus ride to Dolphinaris. When we got there we put on life vests, and got a quick explanation of hand signals. Then it was time to get into the water. We got in and the trainer told us that the dolphin’s name was Linco. The dolphin swam around and let us feel his leathery skin. I put one hand on my chest and the other pointed to the left. This was one of the hand signals.

The dolphin swam up behind me and turned over onto his back. I grabbed onto his fins, and he pulled me through the water at 25 miles per hour! Then I got to shake hands and hug Linco. The dolphin gave everyone a kiss on the cheek. After that, the dolphins raced, and then we got out of the water. We went in and had lunch, bought photos and a video, and then left Dolphinaris. It was the best day of my life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! After that I went back on the ship and met a bartender named Sanja, she was from Macedonia. Dan and Dad weren’t back on the ship when it was time for dinner because the trip to the Mayan ruins was very long. So my Mom and I ate dinner alone. Samson did a trick where he got two forks, a glass, and two tooth picks. He put the two forks on one tooth pick hanging them by the prongs and then he balanced the tooth pick on the edge of the glass. After that with the other tooth pick, he picked up the tooth pick with the fork on it, and balanced them back on the glass! I tried it a few times and eventually I got it and made it balance again.

Samson and Nolan
 After dinner, I went to a party. First we went outside and played flinch and scooter races. Then we went inside to play video games and to dance. Lastly, we went to a lounge to play capture the flag and hide and go seek. We got done at 3:30 AM and then they took us back to our cabins! I went to sleep after that point

Today was a full day at sea. I really didn’t do much other than go to the arcade with Dan and buy candy. I went to pack for tomorrow when I was leaving and then I saw that there was going to be a kids party at 10:00 PM, so I went. At the party there was musical chairs, dancing, and PlayStation. I mainly played musical chairs and danced but I played PlayStation for a few minutes after that and then my parents picked me up for me to go to bed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

She hides my stuff, and wants credit for doing it.....

     I am a creature of habit, so much so, I swear that I have started a blog this way before, but I have to start this one, this way, to set the tone.  A little more background is probably in order too, so I'll tell you a story about my Dad.  My dad used to work between 2-3 jobs at a time, and there was no doubt that he was king of his domain when he came home.
Not my Dad's actual foot, but you get the picture
His jacket would come off and stay in a convenient location, he'd empty his pockets and leave all his stuff where he stood, and he'd kick back in his recliner and call for the nearest kid to untie and take off his work boots.  That was a smell that was hard to forget.  I understood how hard he worked, but the understanding didn't make that task any more pleasant, but I digress, the point was, he paid the mortgage and no one told him where to put his stuff.  By definition, the place he left it, was the exactly correct proper place for whatever he had placed there, to be.  My house, however, does not work that way. 

     I do not solely pay the mortgage on our house, my wife does contribute and we share our funds equally.  I still laugh when she calls me to "ask permission" to spend $40 on a dress or something, she puts more constraints on herself that I ever would or could.  I have also never worked more than one job at a time, that I can recall.  Those are the major differences, as I see them, between the position my father was in, and the one I am in.  So shouldn't I be able to do what he did?  That's what I thought.  Here's how it really goes down in my house....

     When I enter my castle, I usually come in the back door and go immediately through the small back "mud room" or foyer into the open kitchen/dining room area.  I take off my own shoes and leave them by a wall
How a counter in my house should look
where I can see them.  I divest myself of my pocket's contents and it all goes onto a small counter that sits in the middle of the room.  My wallet goes there, my phone, my Bluetooth, a pack of gum, some change, any business cards I have acquired, any loose receipts, and anything else I may have picked up on my trip.  The counter is centrally located in the house, so I pass it coming in or out of the house each time, it is really convenient.  My coat generally goes over a chair in the dining room.  I could go back to the foyer and hang it in the closet, but I am only going to wear it again, and truth be told, that foyer is small and tight, and I am slightly claustrophobic.  Later, when  I undress to get into my pajamas, my clothes might get strewn over a piano bench or sewing chair on the bottom floor, but only if the plan is to wear them again, like my jeans or something.  I am then finished with my interior decorating, and all is in it's proper place, and I head off for bed.  Can you guess the next part?

     I awake and start my morning routine, I shower and shave, I eat and brush, and then am ready to arm myself for the day ahead.  The trouble first starts when I go to retrieve my jeans from the piano bench, and
How my wife thinks our counters should look. 
they are not there.  I yell "Honey, have you seen (stolen) my jeans?"  "Try looking on your valet stand up in our bedroom", comes the reply.  Odd, the movement seems to defy the laws of physics as the pants were in a lower (convenient) location, and now are on a higher floor.  I dutifully trudge up the stairs, and sure enough, my pants are folded and hung over the valet stand, weird as that was not where I remember leaving them.  I head back down to claim my other things from the counter, and it is bare!  "Honey" I call again, "have you seen (hidden) my wallet?"  "Try the top of your dresser in the bedroom" She says.  So, another trip upstairs is in order.  At this point I start to imagine that it is just her devious plot to get me to exercise more, but I still have to get going, so I continue on looking for my things.  My gum is now found in the front foyer, my phone in the downstairs bathroom, any change is found in my wife's Pringles can where she collects it, business cards are stuffed in the wallet, my coat is hung in the closet, and my Bluetooth is under the couch (Okay technically the cat hid the Bluetooth there, but I am taking some poetic license with this story).  After a half of an hour of this early morning scavenger hunt, I am almost ready to leave, except for my shoes.  I scan the walls of the room that I left them in, and can see nothing.  "Honey, have you seen (diabolically secreted) my shoes?  "Have you looked under the buffet", comes the exasperated reply. "Under the buffet?" I think.  Really?  I creak and groan as I get down on all fours and peer under the buffet, and yes, sure enough, my shoes are there, way in the back.  I reach back to get them, all the while my 45 year old, slightly arthritic body sounding like a bowl of Rice Krispies.  I am damn sure I did not take them off under there.  I am, however, finally finished with our little game and am able to walk out the door.  My wife comes down to see me off me, and to give me my kiss goodbye,  and try as I might I cannot connect the words coming out of her mouth with the ones that should be connected with this type of activity.  It's not, "I'm sorry", or "I'll leave your stuff alone tomorrow", no, she actually says (with an air of superiority), "Boy, you couldn't find anything this am, what would you do without me?   As I stated earlier, not only does she hide my stuff, she even wants credit for doing it.  Women.

     In closing, I have to admit that over the last few years things have gotten better.  She bought me a little butler caddy box that she allows me to keep in a corner of the front foyer near the computer (not as convenient), and my stuff goes there each night.
My little butler caddy
It's probably the reason we are still married.  I still sometimes, find myself day-dreaming about the absolute power my Dad had.  I can envision  the daily collection that came from his pockets, his knife, his change, matches, an odd assortment of o-rings, wing nuts, bent nails, copper fittings, a tube of pipe grease, and a bunch of other stuff.  I had often thought, as a kid, that if I was ever an astronaut, and there was an emergency in space, all I would need to fix the problem, would be the contents of my Dad's pockets on any given day.  Back to my reality, however, I envision that, and then I look at my stuff, sequestered in a corner (you can't see my shoes, they are under the buffet), and it is one more reminder, that he was a better man than me. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Bucket List

   I have to give the first line of this blog to my wife.  While lying in bed last night, I told her of this morning's blog and she said, "Bucket List"?  How can you have a bucket list, you already do everything that you want to do?  Classic.  

    Mortality sucks. It just plain does.  Life would be so much simpler if we all didn't have an expiration date stamped somewhere on us (of course where we can't see it), and we could just be guaranteed immortality and good health, but alas, it doesn't work that way.  We therefore spend our youth preparing for the inevitable days when we can no longer work full time, be as active as we would like, or even maintain a home.  There is a profound sadness to it all, if you choose to dwell on it, so we just don't.  This blog is about the things I think I would like to do before I cease to exist, which is my way, this morning, of distracting myself from the inevitable bad that is to come and to concentrate on some possible good or fun.  I'll number these, but the list has no prioritization.

     1. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity - If you've ever been witness to me swinging a hammer, then you know that I have no business helping to actually build the houses, but I think I could do a bang up job in a
Nolan and I wiring the Garaj-Mahal
support role, like cooking.  I'd love to build a little trailer that I could tow to the locations and make lunches or dinners for the volunteers each day.   I don't claim to be an expert on this charity, but I love everything I've heard about it.  It's not welfare, you have to work for others before you make the list, and then work for yourself, and you still end up with a mortgage to the new house.  It's not a gift, it's sweat equity and hard work that allows these people to finally get into their own homes. What's not to love about that?  My wife says she will do this with me after we retire, so that makes it easy to envision that it could actually happen.

     2.  Visit California wine country - I've been to the West Coast on business a couple of times, but never have done the Napa or Sonoma thing and I know I would truly enjoy it.  This will probably happen next year, for our 25th anniversary.  I'd like to do it right, with a driver/guide and take two weeks.  I think it would be more fun
with at least another couple to go with, as 2 weeks is a long time to just be alone (I need my social interaction). The trip would have to include the great restaurants there, and the small unknown jewels too.  I'll probably have to enter Rehab right after this trip, but I think it will be worth it. 

     3.  Live in a commune with my friends - I have a group of friends who "plot" to do this all the time.  We all agree to pick an area in a warmer climate like North Carolina and we then will build our homes around each other.  We envision the commune with a nice club house and pool, but we all share it.  It's been suggested that we serve beer at our Sunday masses, and there weren't too many people who didn't agree that this would add to the service and to the attendance ( I voted yes....twice).  We all would have jobs, my girlfriend has already volunteered to be the nurse, I opted to be the Gigolo (We Yargers have a good supply of testosterone.) I can help cook too. We will know we are doing it right, when the government starts tracking our activities and starts calling it a compound.

     4.  See my kids settled - Now my wife would probably have put a wish in here about grandchildren, but honestly I can't stir up any emotion for these eventual, but currently non-existent progeny.  I know it will be different when they actually arrive, but for now, nada.  What I would love to see is, my kids firm in their paths, attached if they so choose, and bettering the communities in which they live.  I preach to them often about the obligation to give back, and I'd like to see how each of them chooses to do it, in their own style.  Of course they would be out of my house when they do all this.

     5.  Spend some time in France -  This one, I'll have to drag my wife kicking and screaming to, but I'd like to spend some time in France, and mainly for 2 reasons. Wine and Food.  I'm a pretty simple creature, and for me that satisfies 2 out of 3 of my primal instincts (the 3rd isn't shelter).  I'd stay somewhere
MMMM, Lyonnaise potatoes.
inexpensive, and maybe do a house swap deal for a month or two, and I would absorb all I could on wine, wine making, cooking and baking,  I've always loved the French sauces and would love to learn how to make some of the classic dishes.  I've actually gone to a restaurant before, just to eat their Lyonnaise Potatoes, I am that much of a fan. 

     6.   Get off the Grid for a while - This might seem like an odd thing for a Facebook addict, internet blogger, and TV junkie like me, to say, but yes, at some point, I'd like to simplify my existence, remove the constant buzz of electronics, and live day to day.  I'd grow as much of my food as possible, I'd power my dwelling with a windmill or solar panels, and I would read, and walk, and write, and live without machines buzzing and beeping constantly around and attached to me.  I sometimes feel my phone or Blackberry buzz against my hip when I'm not wearing it, and that cannot be a good thing. This would be a nice cure.

     7.   Grow an Herb Garden - You gotten by now, that you're not going to see Harleys and sky-diving on this list, but did you expect this one?  I love fresh herbs, but currently don't have a property or climate conducive to growing them.  I'd like nothing better than to grow my own herbs and pick them to use for dinner or lunch each day.  I had a friend who live in an upscale suburb of Philadelphia who had all his needs
met within walking distance of his home.  His town had a butcher, a flower shop, a wine store, a produce market, 2 bakeries, several restaurants, an art gallery, a few bars, a cigar store, and a small community theater all within walking distance.  He owned a Vespa and would use it for the trips that were longer.  I always thought, that if I lived in that town, I would turn off my refrigerator and walk every day to buy the ingredients for my meals.  That's the way I think provincial France is, maybe it's not, I'll tell you when I get there.

     8.  Connect with my family more - No, not the ones that live around here, some of those I'm so connected with, that people think we are Siamese twins.  I'd like to visit the cousins I used to play with on my family's trips and spend some good quality time interacting with them.  I'd like to catch up on their lives, and reminisce about our times together when we were younger. I'd be in Boston, Maine, Florida, and New York mainly, but who knows where they've moved to now.  I'd enjoy that.  I had a delightful afternoon once on Cape Cod visiting a cousin of my mothers that really wasn't connected to the family anymore.  We had a friend we were visiting whose parents lived around the corner from her, and I just ate up the story of her life and travels.  I'd like to do more of that.

     9.  Read more -  I read on planes, in bed, and a lot while on vacations, but not enough, so I'd like to plan to read more, and read better.  I'm a sucker for best selling paperbacks with their glossy covers, and come-hither titles and illustrations, so I read a lot of them.  I try to mix in biographies, and some classic literature, and I succeed about 25% of the time, but I aspire to do better.  That's not to say I will read all classics, I actually have a strong urge to revisit the comic books of my youth too. 
I'll leaf through the comic books in the stores now and really don't connect with them at all. There is too much skin, the failings of the heroes are all too visible (drugs, anger issues, etc), and the plots are too real world for me (I mean sure, I'd like to fight Doctor Global Warming too, but.....)  I loved the fantasy of the old Superman comics where they were campy, and drew you into believing in things that weren't really based in science. I guess that was the fun of it.  For the record I loved DC, and their characters, Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, but wasn't into the Archie or the funnier comics.

     10.  Be a successful writer - My family knows, that right before I left High School and my Dad was looking for me to make a decision about going to college, or to get a "Real Job"(apparently making chicken wings for hundreds of adoring fans does not qualify as a "Real Job"), I boldly announced that I was going to write (of course), the Great American Novel.  My family was in full support, and I don't remember if it was my sister Peppermint (first time in the blog, I'll call her Peppermint because she brings a little flavor to everything she does, and all the kids love her), who bought me a red typewriter or if it was my mother, but the support was overwhelming.  The ambition and ability to write, however, was not.  I don't like to leave things unfinished.   I'll clean my plate when I'm full, I drink the rest of a soda out of the can even when my bladder is bursting, I'll finish a bad book that I've started, so I'd like to finish that promise to my folks and siblings.  I don't know how I'll measure the term success, but my friend Frank told me a story two weeks ago that I hadn't heard before, so I'll finish with that.  The move Julie and Julia, about an author (Julie Powell) trying to make 524 recipes from the Julia Child's cookbook in 365 days, was actually the first American movie that was based on a blog.  The author chronicled her experiences, and the blog became popular, and then it was converted into a book, and eventually a movie starring Meryl Streep.  If something akin to that happened to these musings, I think my family would give me the pass, on the Great American Novel.  That movie grossed 129 million dollars, and if my movie did half as well, I could afford to go to France (and take my family).