Annus Horribilis

In the Caribbean, this has been a horrible year. I know, because I’m scheduled to go there at Christmas. My wife and I have our annual cruise scheduled, in spite of the fact I’m still looking for a job, because we just need to get out of town for the holidays.

This year, there was a particularly nice cruise available on the Norwegian Jade, a ship we have sailed before and enjoyed. It’s ten days, so a good length of time away. It wasn’t that expensive, compared to other years. It was also calling on a number of ports that we had never visited before. So, with all the stresses of not working, I was looking forward to a cruise.

Then Irma. Then Maria.

Here’s our cruise plan, as of the original booking. All the red ports are currently closed. We should know in a couple of weeks where we’re actually going to sail, but as all the cruise lines have the same problem, and all of them will have a multitude of ships in Florida for the winter, it’s going to get interesting. The scheduling of multiple ships of multiple sizes (which limits which ports can be visited) with random cruise lengths to the same area of the sea will be challenging, to say the least.

This is not a complaint letter about our cruise being changed, although you can find plenty of those around. Our itinerary will change, we know that, whatever. It’s hardly Norwegian’s fault that two of the worst storms in history tracked almost exactly over their planned Christmas cruise.

That said, we learned a couple of bizarre things while watching Mother Nature destroy our vacation plans. One, many people care more about their vacations than other people. When Norwegian announced all their Eastern Caribbean cruises were suddenly sailing Western Caribbean routes until at least the end of November, people complained. Complained.

There are people living in the islands who depend on tourism who now won’t get tourists because the port has been destroyed, and by the way, their house is gone, and you’re whining that your vacation was ruined? Get a grip, people.

It was particularly painful for us, because we’ve been to some of the islands and we know some of the people. I fed birds in St Thomas. I haven’t heard how the resort made out. We made our own perfume at Tijon in Saint Martin. The store remains, the owner’s house is gone.

We support a dog rescue on Saint Martin. We donated what we could to their campaign to build a shelter last year. The shelter is gone now. It took a couple of days for someone to locate the founder of the organization because the power was out, nobody could get to her house, and she had refused to leave the dogs. Even though we haven’t met in person, it was freaking us out that nobody knew if she was OK.

So, having to go to the Western Caribbean instead of the Eastern Caribbean is not really a problem. Trust me.

I was very pleased to see multiple cruise lines donate ships, crew and time to get supplies to the islands and get stranded people off of them. I was horrified by some of the comments of passengers diverted by a hurricane to Cozumel. (“It’s humid here!”) Honestly, I would be freaking out if I was working (and paying a dog sitter) and suddenly had my vacation extended by an unknown amount of time, but I would like to think I could handle it more gracefully. It’s a freaking hurricane. It’s not really under the cruise line’s control. Have a margarita. Chill out.

We also learned that the islands don’t seem to exist in much of the US media’s eyes. At best, they’re flyover country – a large number of independent entities that are all just lumped together. Storms generate in the Atlantic, pass over the Lesser Antilles and then go towards Miami. There are over thirty islands. It’s not one clump. Some were hit, some were grazed, some were missed. The distinctions are important and it is newsworthy for each individual island. The Weather Channel seems to dwell mostly on what might or will happen instead of what has just happened.  CNN did a better job of reporting results, but if you’re all about weather, why aren’t you covering where the weather just occurred? Personally, I don’t really care right now if Miami is going to get hit in four days if someone I care about is getting hit at the moment.

(I also learned that you can find information, you just need to find the official channels or newspapers on the web. However, when their power goes out, the news gets spotty.)

Also, the US Virgin Islands are part of the US. The name should be a major clue. Newspeople don’t seem to know this. These people are your fellow citizens. (Here’s where to donate.) The same applies for Puerto Rico. I’m really appalled by the lack of coverage or concern because everyone was looking down the calendar at Florida.

I’m actually appalled by the media not covering more of the islands at all, even the ones not directly tied to the US. The Caribbean is a major tourist destination. There are expats living all over them. There are cruise ships steaming towards them, filled with drunk Americans. There are people spending their vacation money, planning to visit in the next few months. It does matter.

The Caribbean should be more important to us.

The islands will rebuild. They always do. However, a lot of what they need is imported (expensive), so it will take time. Months. Maybe years. Support them. If the ports aren’t open, I’m pretty sure you can still transfer funds. Donate, people.

I personally don’t mind visiting an island that’s half recovered, just to spend some money there and help the recovery by having some fun. I hope more people think that way. From what I’ve seen online, there are some who agree with me.

“It’s not like at home” is one of the great reasons to travel. I hope we all remember that.

Oh, and if you’ve been thinking about adopting a dog, I can help set you up. You just have to wait until they can arrange the flights, assuming the airport is open.

Holidazed

This is specifically written to make me feel better, because I’m about to have my annual panic attack. Read this, and you will probably understand why. This is all just self-reflection, and not designed to insult or offend anyone who may be mentioned or thinks they may be mentioned. So, apologies in advance, just in case.

I hate the holidays. I will admit that. I used to deny it, but even I realize I really dislike this time of year. This has been true for so long that my first wife warned my second wife about it while we were still dating, and I’ve been married to my second wife for fifteen years. I was never sure why, but I’m pretty sure I know now. I’m beginning to recognize some of the annual patterns, and they may have something to do with how I feel.

First of all, for anyone that is even tangentially connected to a sales organization, Christmas is really the end of  fourth quarter and the end of the year – when the sales guys are either going to make their quotas or not. Not making end of the year quota is bad, since reviews are coming up, and you’re about to get a number between 1 and 4 attached to you that is not a ranking (Really. No, it’s really not. It’s just everyone with low numbers is better than people with high numbers. But it’s not a ranking.) So, if you’re a technical resource like me in a sales organization, you can get called into anything that resembles a sales opportunity no matter how hopeless – and the hopelessness will be matched by the desperation of the salesperson. Unfortunately, their bonuses are riding on my performance, so they will expect me to work 80-hour weeks. I don’t get a sales bonus, and I know desperation when I smell it. Usually, once it is apparent that the sale is completely lost, someone will start suggesting that a visit on-site would save the day. The site will be in a remote area, prone to being snowed in, with crappy air service. The only customers available will have no purchasing authority.

I will begin crying at stupid things, especially commercials, starting at Thanksgiving. It may be that I’m really sentimental, it may be the crushing disappointment of never getting a pony for Christmas, it may be the realization that my extended family will probably never get together for an event again – no matter how much we talk about it, or it may just be I gave up drinking too soon in life. So, please just ignore me if I’m crying. It’s probably not you, and it will be over soon.

I will have my annual theological issues with the commercialization of Christmas. These feelings start at the Fourth of July when the first decorations go up. This then leads me to the realization that I’m quite possibly a really, really bad Catholic. However, I’m not especially welcome in the Church since I’m divorced and remarried. Or maybe I am welcome. It depends on whom you ask, and what you mean by “welcome”. Also, I have a fundamental issue with the Church hierarchy who lately seem much more interested in being popular with people and fixing global warming than actually saving souls, which I thought was their job. I understand politicians pandering to the masses, but the Church should be keeping people on the straight and narrow. So, trying to be religious this time of year is very difficult for me. The Catholic Church is a lot like most big corporations – there’s somebody in charge somewhere that has a vision of what should happen, but they keep hiring incompetents to implement the vision.

The Spousal Unit does not want to be home on Christmas. This has been true since her Mom passed away seven years ago. That’s fine, I can live with that. So, logically, we have to go somewhere. In 2009, for lack of better ideas, we went on a cruise, and survived – actually, it was fun. So, now, we take a cruise over Christmas. Interesting point – Christmas Week is the second most expensive week to cruise in the entire year (only New Year’s is worse, and one year, we had both holidays in one cruise.) So, as with anything you have been paying for since at least February, the expectations are high. Anything with high expectations is pretty much doomed, at least on some level, because the expectations amplify minimal imperfections – for some hilarious examples, just read the CruiseCritic website. Also, since the cruise and accouterments (airfare, hotels, excursions, drinks, souvenirs, pet sitters, new clothes, camera gear, insurance)  cost quite a bit of money, anything that can threaten it (work, injuries, pet issues, family issues, travel issues, possible divorce) is made that much worse.

Since we’re gone for Christmas, my family will want to have a Christmas gathering (much like the one the Spousal Unit is avoiding) some time before we leave, since nobody in my family wants to go on the cruise with us – the Parental Unit wants to stay home just as much as the Spousal Unit wants to leave. So, Christmas will be between the 12th and the 23rd and then again on the 25th. If the Spousal Unit’s family ever figures this out, I could end up with three Christmases a year, which is more than my son had as a child of divorce.

Now, ket’s look at what always seems to occur within a few days of Christmas, usually a week or so before – i. e. when I’m trying to close out work projects and get out of town for vacation. When most of this happened this week, I realized it was time to document it.

Some time during the week before we leave:

  • One of our dogs will have a minor to major medical issue. (This actually happens before most vacations in addition to Christmas.) This week, Ripley spent an $845 day at the veterinarian’s. So much for my bar tab on the ship. (On this day in 2011, Bubba crossed the bridge, so I am very glad Ripley is home in one piece, but I wish we didn’t have to spend almost a grand to find out he’s old and temperamental.)
  • The Spousal Unit or I (maybe both) will have a very painful, short-term medical issue that has the potential to derail the entire vacation. Last year, the Spousal Unit had stress-induced vertigo the night before we left that was so bad, I moved our flight eight hours later to give her time to recover (and pack). This year, I managed to slip on a pee puddle in a dark hallway and sprain my ankle. (Yes, pee puddle. The dogs don’t always wait until they’re outside.) I’ve almost finished limping.
  • Someone in the family will start a very distracting project that will then keep the Spousal Unit very distracted until the absolute last minute – to the point where I assume I will be sailing naked, and even though nobody said the project was actually her problem or that it had to be done before Christmas. My Parental Unit will have house repairs or insurance paperwork. Someone somewhere will be ill. Someone needs desperate pet advice, whether they know it or not. My sister-in-law will have some of the carpet in her house replaced. One of the dogs will have a new medication, which requires a sixteen-hour rewrite of the ten-page pet manual for the pet sitter. Something. (One year, it was an actual death, so carpets aren’t so bad.)
  • There will be a major crisis at work. I will be one of three candidates in the Universe that can solve this issue, even if it is not in my job description, my department or even my field of expertise. I will be the only one of the three available. It will blow over eventually, but it may be January before it’s fully resolved. Usually, because of the way annual budgets and finances are designed at work (“Fall Plan” starts in May and ends in February, if you’re lucky), there will be a wee question of whether I will have a job when I return. One year, I had a paper for a conference rejected and found out about it on the ship. So it goes. Then, they said, “No. You have to rewrite it. By Monday.” I redid the paper from my Spousal Unit’s aunt’s house via a T-Mobile hotspot we bought at Home Depot. (She didn’t have Internet access, but she did have a fax machine.)
  • The pet injury and family projects will be the number one, single most critical issues for the Spousal Unit, which make my work problems seem trivial in comparison to her, even if my work crisis is helping management figure out how best to phase out my own job. Having to hear about a Chihuahua’s possible ingrown toenail or how difficult it can be to choose tile while I’m trying to find an extra half million dollars somewhere or I’m patiently explaining for the third time why if a job is necessary in December, it’s probably still necessary in January tends to be slightly annoying. Possibly stressful. Just saying. Maybe it’s just me.
  • I will be told by at least one manager to “forget about work and enjoy your vacation.” I know this is a trap, because I just spent a week trying to figure out where to cut the budget. So, $250 for Internet access on the ship, and I need to watch my email.

On Christmas Day itself, I will not realize it’s Christmas, because we’ve already had the celebrations, I’m still stressed from work, and I will probably be snorkeling. On the bright side, there will probably be rum.

Some years, the calendar is particularly cruel, and I will have work days between the end of the cruise and the end of the year. That’s the case this year.

I don’t really know why I hate the holidays.

Holidaze

The end of another year. Christmas. Hanukkah. Year-end close at the office. Budget deadlines for next year at the office. Family in town. Leaving for vacation.

Stress.

Wow. There is approximately 43% more crap going on right now that I can process.

I was promoted to manager this year. This is the major reason I haven’t posted in a while – I’ve been too busy trying to identify and put out fires. I got promoted just in time for all the budgeting and arguing for next year. What fun it is! I don’t understand the numbers yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to defend them. It’s also the time of year that you get questions which demonstrate nobody is actually reading the contracts they are signing. This scares me. I read them and I correct the typos, because I assume my job is on the line. If that is a bad assumption, that is what is wrong with the company.

The other thing wrong with the company is that everyone expects 24×7 access to everyone else and instantaneous replies to requests, no matter how trivial – even though manager’s training specifically tells you not to do that. So, while on vacation, I’ll still be checking email at cruise line Internet prices. If my Internet bill is higher than my bar tab (again), it’s not a great vacation. It’s an office with sand and rum. At least there’s rum.

It’s funny – when I made the vacation plans, being out for two weeks was going to have very little consequence, since not much was going on in my old department at this time of year. Apparently, now the world will end prematurely if all my emails aren’t answered quickly and completely.

One of my goals before I die is to teach the people above me that not every problem is a severity one problem. This may be an impossible task.

My son is a PhD now. His family all came down for graduation, so the three grandkids are in residence. Every time my wife and I try to corral the two boys – even without watching their baby sister – I have more and more doubt on the sanity of people my age trying to have kids. We’re watching the kids because their parents are tired – and they’re in their twenties. There’s a reason old folks don’t have kids – kids are active and inquisitive and fearless. Sure, it sounds like good exercise, but a heart attack really doesn’t help you lose much weight, unless you count only getting fed what fits down a tube while you’re in the ICU.

At least we now know that nothing in our house or my Mom’s house is actually child-proof. Oops. On the other hand, I’ve virtually given up drinking Diet Dr Pepper at home, because I can’t get into the cabinet where the soda is kept. I guess I’ll have to get one of the grandkids to open it for me before they leave.

It’s sad that I have to stop and think if sending a “Merry Christmas” note to my team is going to offend anyone. It’s Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not. There are enough people who either are Christian or believe in the secular values of Christmas, that companies close for the day. It’s Christmas vacation whether you honor the day or not. It’s still vodka, even if you don’t drink. Call Christmas vacation what it is.

One more meeting to go.

Christmas Newsletter 2013

Editor’s Note: The physical Christmas cards are a wee bit late this year. We plead vacation. Every year, my wife demands a Christmas newsletter, because all our friends have one, and every year, I realize I just don’t have the energy or creativity to do one. So, I’ve decided to let the pets take turns. This year, Rocky the Chihuahua drew the short straw. However, he seems to think it’s a privilege, so it may become his job permanently.

Feliz Navidad!

Hola, everybody!
RockyMy name is Rockford J Gilhooly, and you can call me “Rocky.” I am the newest member of the Gilhooly clan, Galemeadow chapter, and my very wise Cocker Spaniel brother Murphy told me that the new guy receives the honor of writing the family Christmas newsletter. He was giggling after he told me that, but I’m not sure why. Dad told me I wasn’t supposed to make the newsletter all about me, so I guess I will talk about some of the other people around here, too. It’s just I’m the most important.

I have never actually been in a family where the pets write the newsletter, but I heard that Murphy’s newsletter was much better received than Dad’s.

So, this is the 2013 (semi-) annual Christmas newsletter, but the story actually begins on April 30, 2012. That morning, Mom was at the vet with one of the other guys when a lady carried me in. I had been hit by a car, and both my back legs were broken. The lady was very nice, but she technically was not a Good Samaritan, since she didn’t pay for my operation. Sparky’s Pals (and some of their very generous donors) did, and Dad took the corporate checkbook away from Mom after that. I had a femoral head ostecotemy on both legs. Dad said that my surgeon, Dr. Mountain, removed the heads of each femur and that scar tissue (hopefully) would grow up and replace the joint. (I don’t know what’s he’s talking about, either, and they’re my legs.) Dr. Mountain thought one leg would heal well enough to let me walk. He wasn’t sure about the other one.

Well, I can run and jump and climb on Mom’s head when she’s sitting in her chair or lying in bed, and I even climbed over a baby gate to say “Hola” to Uncle Stephen one day, so I guess the operation worked! Mom and Dad tried very hard to find a family that would adopt me, but eventually, I wore Mom down, so I’m staying here, with the rest of the PsychoPuppies. Dad said even if I left, I would still be here because I shed. Ha ha. So, now, I get to write the newsletter! (Dad said they named me “Rocky” since I fought a Cadillac and almost won. I don’t know what that means.)

Enough about me. For now. Let’s get on to the other news, even though there isn’t much happy to report this year.

Dad said this was probably the first Christmas newsletter that has an obituary section, but some years are like that. He said if I knew basic Latin, 2013 would be Annus horribilis. I think he was just trying to remind you, my dear readers, that he and Uncle Stephen went to prep school.

Mom’s Aunt Lucy Veccia died in December, 2012, just before Mom and Dad left on their annual vacation. They were with her the night before she passed away. On the day Aunt Lucy passed away, Mom found out that she had been appointed the executor of her estate, and she’s hoping to have all the paperwork done before the end of the year. Aunt Lucy would have liked me, because she was a dog person. Dad said her dog was named Rags. Mom and Dad created a memorial website for her at www.lucyveccia.com for her family and friends to visit.

My grandpa, John Vincent Gilhooly, died in February 2013. Mom and Dad had dinner with him the night before he passed away, so the last thing Mom did was feed him (the Italian way) and the last thing Dad did was get him a drink (the Irish way.) If I had been there, I would have climbed on his head (the Chihuahua way.) I never got to meet Grandpa, which is sad, because he would have loved me, even though he wasn’t a dog person. Everyone is a Chihuahua person! You can visit his memorial website at www.johnvgilhooly.com for more about him, including the obituaries and eulogies. Mom said that most of the people in the Church laughed during Dad’s eulogy, but they were supposed to laugh, so it was OK. I’m not sure Dad understands funerals very well. (Grandma is just glad Dad didn’t refer to all the priests and deacons as “Men In Black.”)

While Mom was starting to work on Aunt Lucy’s estate, her cousin Donna (one of the beneficiaries) passed away, so Mom got to help deal with that estate, too. So, there were three deaths in the family in about six weeks, and that was just the start of the year. Do not make Mom your executor, unless you want a very cranky one.

To summarize 2013: Mom spent all year doing estate paperwork, Dad spent all year at the office with three new managers in three months, and I spent all year working on the newsletter. I think I did the best job, don’t you?

Sparky’s Pals was pretty quiet this year, except for their stellar failed adoption of me, which started last year. Mom and Dad are hoping to get the school programs going again next year, estate paperwork willing. In the meantime, Dad did manage to get KNON to play public service announcements for Sparky’s Pals, so if they’re not in schools, at least they’re on the radio.

KNON was nice enough to play the PSAs because Dad is President of the radio station! It’s actually a non-profit, community station, and if you’re not in Dallas, you can listen online at http://www.knon.org. Dad said to remind you that you can donate online, as well. They say if you don’t like the station, just wait and they will change it for you, which is true, since most programs are only two or three hours long and then the format changes.

Dad was also Principal for a Day this year! He got to shadow the principal at Dan D Rogers Elementary school, visit all the classes, do the daily announcements, and sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the students. (Dad thinks this may have been hazing.) He also did Sparky’s Pals presentations to two of the grades so he managed to tie most of his volunteer work together. (He went back to the school for their career day and talked about IBM and KNON, so he covered everything he does at the school.) He did not take me, which was unfortunate, since I am a very good enforcer.

Mom and Dad took their annual Christmas cruise a week early this year, so they were home for Christmas. They had also taken an earlier cruise this year, in April, across the Atlantic, on the inaugural cruise of the Norwegian Breakaway. They sailed from Southampton to New York. Dad said it was on his bucket list. Mom’s friends reminded her it was about the same time of year and route as the Titanic. Luckily, they made it home. Mom said they had a cabin with a butler. She’s mad Dad won’t get her a house with a butler. I’m mad that they didn’t bring me anything. I was hoping for some British treats, even if I had to eat them on the wrong side of the couch.

Christmas this year is at Grandma Gilhooly’s house – I’ve already been there, and it’s a nice place, but there are too many closed doors – and there will be a lot of people there! J. R. and Ginger and Caleb and Carson (and a new granddaughter on the way – news if you’re not on Facebook) will be coming down for Christmas, so they will be in Dallas for almost two weeks. (Did I mention J. R. is now teaching in Ohio? No? Are you not on Facebook? J. R. is now an Instructor in Theology at Cedarville University, so the Grand Prairie gang moved from Grand Prairie to Cedarville, Ohio for the start of the school year earlier this year. Mom and Grandma are waiting for Ginger to freeze so they will move home, but considering the Icepocalypse Dallas just had, Ohio may actually be warmer.)

It will be nice to see such a large group, because it’s more likely there will be leftovers for me! I am going to start whining extra early, so Mom will take me along. I am very good at parties, and Dad said if Caleb and Carson are there, most of the doors will end up open, anyway.

Mom and Dad both said 2014 is bound to be a better year than this one, and Mom is going to kiss a stingray for good luck while she’s on vacation. This annoys me greatly, since she doesn’t like doggie kisses (they’re the best!) but she’ll kiss a big, flat fish? I don’t understand her sometimes. There is probably rum involved. (Update: Mom’s stingray trip got canceled, but she still won’t kiss me. Species predjudice, I guess.)

That must be all that’s important this year, because Murphy said the newsletter had to be three pages or less or people stopped reading it.

I’m Rocky, and I approved this newsletter.

All Hallows’ Eve

I hate Halloween. It’s a stupid holiday. Technically, it’s not a holiday, because I had to go to work today. It is also a holiday of strife in my household, because my wife likes Halloween.

The difference may be that she was allowed to go trick or treating when she was growing up. I was not. My parents were convinced I would be poisoned by the same people whose houses I was in every other afternoon. It’s also possible they didn’t want to reciprocate. To add insult to injury, my mother discovered she was hypoglycemic in the midst of my candy-eating years, so I got carob instead. Carob looks like chocolate. So does dog poop. I think I would rather have dog-poop-covered raisins, because then I would know why they tasted bad. If my parents had just given out carob raisins, nobody would have bothered us the next year. Our house may have been papered or burned, however.

By the time I escaped my parents’ house, I was too old to beg for candy door-to-door, and people don’t like others begging for alcohol, unless you’re on a date.

There have been some years where children are being bused in from other neighborhoods to beg for candy. My wife does not mind, because she is a Democrat. Share the wealth. I am a Libertarian. Get your own damn candy, and I won’t stand in your way.

So, I do not enjoy Halloween. At least tomorrow we can celebrate dead people.

New Year’s Cruise

Just back from a week’s cruise on the NCL Pearl, a Christmas to New Year’s cruise. We visited Great Stirrup Cay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The Spousal Unit discovered she loves snorkeling. I discovered a Nikon CoolPix AW100 is a kick-ass point’n’shoot camera. Nobody got sunburned. We took my son and daughter-in-law, and we’re all still speaking to each other.

We were told this cruise is one of the most expensive cruises of the year – not because of Christmas but because of New Year’s Eve. People apparently really like to sail on New Year’s Eve.

Strangely, every New Year’s Eve, I’m reminded how arbitrary the choice of the date is. December used to be the tenth month (“decem”, a distant memory from my Latin class), not the end of the year, and there is no seasonal, solar or lunar reason for January first to start a new year, as far as I know.

However, January first does start the year, for whatever reason. Suddenly, at midnight last night, a ship full of people who had ranged from isolationist to surly became friendly. Every bloody one of them said “Happy New Year!”, even the ones who wouldn’t say “Hello” as they passed you in the hall an hour earlier.

Maybe it was the turning of the clock. Maybe it was the hope of a new beginning, no matter how arbitrary. Perhaps, it was just the accomplishment of getting free booze from a cruise line (and the champagne was nice). For a few short moments, we were all friends.

New Year’s Eve celebrations always seemed rather silly to me – you get as drunk as possible up to the actual minute, but that’s all there is – when the clock rolls from 11:59pm to midnight, you’re done. Plus, since it’s purely a timing issue, you can’t move to another part of the ship for a better view.

So, the Captain counted down the seconds, the previous year ended, and that was that. Then, the realization that it was after midnight, you were drunk, and your bags had to be packed and outside your stateroom by 1:00am kicked in. After that, the truly unlucky realized their spouse had decided 7:45am was a reasonable time to disembark.

People did not look as haggard as I expected this morning, as they left the ship with six hours or less of sleep, but Lord, they didn’t look pleased.

I really feel sorry for the crew who got to manage a midnight mob of merriment, herd people back to cabins, and then spend the morning preparing for the passengers due to start boarding by noon. I have a feeling there was more puke to clean than usual.

I’m glad we wanted a cruise to get out of the house for Christmas and to visit ports we hadn’t seen yet, because I don’t understand paying that much money specifically to hear ten seconds counted down in a Norwegian accent.

I much prefer a cruise where all the  people are out-going all week, and not just storing all their happiness for a ten-second countdown on the last night.

It was a strange trip. People were very insular. Part of that may have been an “English as a Second Language” issue, as there seemed to be a higher percentage of passengers from outside the US than on previous cruises. Also, there were huge family  groups onboard – not just Mom, Dad and the kids, but Mom, Dad, kids, grandparents, cousins and more. Those two conditions gave the trip a completely different vibe than previous “mostly American, small families, couples, singles” cruises we’ve had before.

Fourteen people signed up for a Cruise Critic Meet ‘n’ Greet, which was a pretty low number. Two showed up, besides us and the kids. As the officers arrived, I was beginning to fear they would out-number us. So, there was no real passenger participation, which was a change from last year, where we were above 50% attendance or more, and had forty sign up. It was sad, because we made friends at the meeting last year and hung out with them the rest of the cruise. This was a ship full of individual groups, where in the past, we had made some friends relatively quickly. On this cruise, people had so many built-in friends, they either refused to make new ones, or just didn’t feel the need.

A bad cruise is still better than a week at work, and this was not a bad cruise. It was just disconcerting that it was so different from the previous ones.

If you check the calendar, I think it will be a while until Christmas falls on Sunday, the day many cruises from Miami begin. So, maybe next year, people won’t wait until the last night to acknowledge there are other families onboard.

If nothing else, 2011 has been defeated. Happy New Year!

Christmas Anonymous

I really don’t like the holidays. Actually, I dread the holidays. I spend the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s in a deep depression. I’m constantly on the edge of tears. I don’t know why. (I have my suspicions, but publishing them would probably offend a lot of people.) So, I thought what is really needed is an organization to help those of us who dread the holidays. We need Christmas Anonymous.

Now, Christmas Anonymous would be built on the basic principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is the foundation for many successful recovery programs. Even people who have never had a drink have probably heard of the Twelve Steps. (In fact, somebody may have already done this work, in which case, I apologize. Doing it has been rather cathartic for me.)

I’ve only been to one AA meeting in my life (on a date – which can tell you how well the relationship worked), and it was an amazing experience. It was a religious experience, as well – only people who share the same dark secret can relate to your true issues and from that relation can come salvation.

So, I’ve taken the original Twelve-Step program (quoted from Alcoholics Anonymous – thank you, Bill W.), and translated it for those of us who can’t seem to cope with the holidays. You’re out there. You’re hurting. You’re not alone.

I read the Twelve Steps just before I went to the AA meeting. Until then, I had no idea what the steps were (although since then I’ve received apologies from alcoholic friends over the years, so I recognized that was one of them.) Some people think AA’s Twelve Steps are very close to a religion – God is mentioned everywhere throughout them. While this may offend some non-alcoholics who think “it’s only a drinking problem”, in the case of Christmas Anonymous, I believe it is absolutely a core part of the solution. (As the sarcastic would say: What? God in Christmas? Surely not.)

Here are the Twelve Steps, for members of Christmas Anonymous.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over Christmas. No matter how hard we wished or bitched, it would still arrive every year on December 25th. Ads begin just after the Fourth of July.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. In this case, perhaps trying to restore the true meaning of Christmas as a religious holiday rather than a reason to spend ourselves into debt will help us through the season.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Wouldn’t Christmas be an excellent time to rededicate yourself to your beliefs? You don’t have to be Christian, but if you’re pummeled by Christmas music and commercials anyway, take a moment to connect with your God. 
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Why do we hate Christmas? Is it religious? Financial? Fear? Relationships?
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our hatred of Christmas. Tell your significant other, friend or family member why you’re so cranky during the holidays. Find someone who will actually listen. If nothing else, blog about it. 
  6. We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. This should always be true whether you hate Christmas or love drugs.  
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Perhaps this would be a good private prayer during Christmas services. If you avoid services, take a moment on Christmas to ask your God for this. 
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Who avoids you during the holidays? They’re on this list.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. In most cases, this is probably a sincere apology to friends and family for being such an asshole during the holidays.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. You’re not going to get through every Christmas unscathed. Remember this. Keep trying.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. If you can find God, you can celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. It was one at one time. 
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others in pain during the holidays, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Find others who hate Christmas, and give them this message. Think what else you hate as much as the holidays, and apply the steps. 

Merry Christmas!