Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dreaming of Sunshine

Late last night I received a confirmation email from Carnival Cruise Lines, which included some important information regarding my sailing for today aboard the Carnival Sunshine ship, leaving out of New Orleans.

Except, you know, I'm not really booked to depart on any cruise ship vacations today (or any time in the near future, for that matter.) Doh.

Shortly after receiving this initial email, Carnival sent along a retraction message, stating that I had received the message in error and that I'm not, in fact, scheduled to depart today. Damn it!!

Intrigued, I decided to check out the itinerary for today's sailing:

Feb 23 - New Orleans
Feb 26 - Jamaica
Feb 27 - Cayman Islands
Feb 28 - Mexico
Mar 2 - New Orleans

For the low, low price of $399, I could be relaxing in an Interior state room aboard this luxury ship for an entire week.

Sigh. I've already visited all the above locales before, but there's always more to see...... and for $399?? Yes, please, I will happily vacate this frozen tundra for a warmer clime.

It's interesting, the Sunshine was actually the first Carnival ship I ever sailed on -- although back then it was known as the Destiny, and it's main port was in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It's recently received an extended makeover and has been renamed the Sunshine, sailing primarily out of New Orleans and Port Canaveral (Orlando).

And, judging by some of CCL's photos, it's makeover was a huge success.

The Seaside Theatre, best for viewing late at night under the stars.
The Twister slide.
The adults-only area, Serenity.
The outdoor sports complex.
The colourful indoor Atrium.
In case you're wondering, no, I'm not on Carnival's PR payroll.... but, frankly, I probably should be, as I would gladly take their money.
But the reality is simply that I just wish I could be on vacation somewhere warm right now. The Christmas season is long over, and the Sochi Winter Olympics have just aired their Closing Ceremonies, so I officially have no more use for winter.
But given that I'm too pregnant to board any ships these days, I'm going to have to live vicariously through whoever that initial email was intended.
Lucky buggers.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Life changers

In addition to Photo News, I'm also receiving a few other free magazine subscriptions (shocking, I know), including one to Canadian Living. I've just finished reading last month's issue, which profiled "four ... women who (tried) something new and are now reaping the rewards".

Essentially, each of these four women stepped out of their comfort zones to do something they'd never done before, and each event ended up changing their lives for the better.

The life-changing events ranged in complexity -- from writing a novel to deciding to go on anti-depressants -- but the underlying message I took from each of their stories was that they were finally putting themselves first and doing something just for them.

I know I've talked about this before, but it's still something that I really struggle with each day. For example, whenever someone asks me what I like to do for fun in my spare time, I really don't have an answer for them.

My responses are always in the past tense. As in:

I used to volunteer at the zoo.
I used to be a runner.
I used to paint my nails and wear make up.
I used to watch hockey and attend the occasional game.

There was a whole lot of fulfillment in my former self, but now I just feel tied down with obligation all the time. And I really shouldn't complain, either, given that I'm very blessed and don't have it all that bad.

Things first changed for me when I became a parent, but everyone has SOMETHING in their lives that runs interference in this regard, whether they're parents or not. Everyone is facing some sort of challenge - and often times it's actually a multitude of challenges and not just one single thing.

But it doesn't have to be this way, does it? At some point we should be able to take control of our lives and do something we've always wanted to do, right?

Thinking back to my first maternity leave from work nearly four years ago, I'm reminded of just how naïve I was at that time. One full year off work? Fabulous!

I was going to organize and decorate the house. And diligently work out every day. And have a healthy dinner ready on the table each night. Oh, and aside from all those things, I was also going to get around to scrapbooking my wedding photos and become a published author.

Ahem. All in my spare time away from work.

Of the above things on my list of things to do, the only thing I achieved was the getting published part. Well, sort of. It was just a few articles in a local publication, and I didn't exactly get rich off of them. (But they did buy us some groceries... does that count??)

This time around I'm much more realistic going into my next absence from work, and I've set my expectations much, much lower. As in, if I manage to get a shower in there somewhere, then that's the mark of a good day.

The truth of the matter is that staying home with a child is more work than, well, actually going to work.

But, again, I have difficulty in just accepting that this is the way it's going to be. I have to find some way to take that first step and, like the four women in the article, do something I've never done before. And then maybe that will lead to something else. And so on.

Of the four women in the article, I was most intrigued by Katherine Hilton who, in her early 40s, finally wrote a book and found a publisher. The thing that really got me was that, on the surface, it appears as though she did this all in her spare time. But this isn't entirely accurate, either, and that's the lesson I really need to learn.

Like me, this woman had a family and also worked full-time outside the home, so to say that she had any spare time at all is probably a fallacy. But what sets her apart from me is the fact that she committed to her goal and MADE the time to write.

She started out by carrying around an idea book in her purse. Then she hired a babysitter to look after her kids every Sunday afternoon so she had a set time to write. And then, eventually, she went down to working just four days a week outside the home, which allowed her to devote more time to writing.

Obviously the success of her writing career didn't happen overnight, and she certainly had setbacks along the way, but she pushed on.

And so I truly believe that nothing significant is going to happen to any of us if we simply leave it to occurring in our spare time. Without proper planning and dedication, that's just a recipe for failure and disappointment.

So if I really want to achieve a healthier lifestyle while on my next maternity leave, then I have to make time for it. And I suppose there's no better place to start than by scheduling in those weekly daily showers.

And after I achieve that, then maybe I'll start making healthy dinners again each night..... and eventually work my way up to writing a novel.

Entirely plausible, right?

Photo hound

There are two truths about me: I tend to take too many photos, and I love free stuff.

Several years ago I signed up to receive a free magazine subscription to Photo News, which has offered a few tips on becoming a better photographer, but mostly what it's done is emphasize just how much my own photos suck.

But I'm okay with that, for the most part.

I'm not looking to become a pro photographer or sell my photos or anything like that, so by no means is it essential for me to own thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment.

But boy would it be nice to just have my photos really capture the beauty of what I see each day.

So many times I've returned from vacation with a camera full of exotic landscapes and wildlife, but those photos almost never see the light of day. I find myself almost apologetic for them. "The photos don't do that place justice; you really had to be there."

In the current issue of Photo News (Volume 22, No. 4 / Winter 2013-2014), Michael DeFreitas wrote an article titled "Put the Wild back in Wildlife: Add some bite to tame wildlife images" in which he offers some pro tips on wildlife photography. He even features multiple photos, including one he took of a pink flamingo in Curacao.

(Jo's note: I, too, was in Curacao a year and a half ago..... but none of my photos look quite like THAT. Ahem.)

For the most part, these tips are way out of my reach ("Use a slow, quiet, zigzag approach to get closer to animals), because, with a toddler in tow, I almost never have the opportunity to approach anything quietly anymore. All my photos these days are snapped up quickly while I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

My version of exotic Curacao.

But for those who have the time and patience to put these tips into practice, then it could be worthwhile to check out this magazine and make the most out of your photo-taking endeavors.

To sign up for and receive your own free subscription, check out this link.