J’adore: St. Maarten, West Indies

Kinda cool to wake up as you sail into TWO countries’ lands–with room service breakfast on your balcony.

We arrived in St. Maarten (French), Sint Maarten (Dutch). By either name, it’s a lovely island that truly lives up to its universal nickname: The Friendly Island.

 

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The border, nearly right down the middle of the island. The story? A Frenchman and a Dutchman stood back-to-back, then walked in opposite directions along the coast. Where they met, a horizontal line was drawn to set the border. Our tour guide also explained why the French side is a good five square miles larger. The Frenchman spiked his Dutch counterpart’s hiking beverage with rum. Either way, it’s a charming little legend!

Lunch friends

Beach fun

Yes, we played in the waves, got footrubs and walked the long stretches of lovely soft sand. (No, we didn’t do “as in Rome” and participate on the nude beach side. Although as our teenage fashion-conscious daughter noticed, that would avoid tan lines. Pas tres bien, mon amie!)

 

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Family Go Pro selfie at Orient Beach.

We also shopped a bit, mom got to see some churches, and then headed back to our boat via water taxi after a gloriously friendly day.

Thanks for writing your culture on our hearts and minds, Saint Maarten. J’adore.

Thanks for the gift, Mr. Rockefeller

Move over, Yellowstone, we have a new favorite U.S. National Park.

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Meet St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, the most tranquil, unspoiled spot in the Caribbean/South America. That’s thanks to Laurence Rockefeller, who donated much of it to the U.S. Government to create a National Park. Before that, the United States had purchased this 20-square-mile jewel from Denmark in 1917. (Note the year: it was when Germany was poised to overtake Denmark; imagine if Germany had achieved this foothold. Whew.) Before THAT, it was a haven for pirates. So what is not to adore about St. John?

Our cruise ship actually ported in St. Thomas, one of the four U.S. Virgin Islands.

Yay, our pilot is here. Oh, cool, hope Captain Jack Sparrow is here, too.

Once off the Oasis, we boarded the Island Girl with Captain Mike. It was a wild ride through once-pirate, still amazing waters, while Mike pointed out landmarks new and old with charming, entertaining stories.

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Madonna’s ‘lil spot on St. Thomas

 

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Joe and Jill Biden’s Water Island getaway.

And then, we arrived in what surely must be similar to heaven: St. John. On the short drive from the port to “our” beach for the day in our safari truck, each beach we passed was more stunning than the last.

 

Mr. Rockefeller’s home is still here, now as a resort, with remnants of a sugar plantation.

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Our destination: Trunk Bay, ranked in the World’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches by National Geographic Society. We loved every grain of sand on it, from the velvet soft beach for long walks, to the underwater snorkel trail of coral and fish in the clearest waters ever. (We brought our GoPro snorkeling, too!)

After exploring this glorious place, we headed back on the Island Girl, really refreshed the way only Mom Nature and a National Park can do so… (with a little help from a local brew of course)

We’ll be back, St. John. Stay unspoiled.

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Nice find, Ponce de Leon

Approaching San Juan, Puerto Rico by sea, it doesn’t look very welcoming.

Miles of stone walls and the Castillo San Cristobal fortress protected Spain’s critical settlement from frequent attacks, invaders who were after the gold, silver and other treasures from the New World.

Today, San Juan is an exuberant blend of colorful Latin culture. It was the very first time our ship had ported in this gorgeous city, and we loved every minute of exploring what is now a very approachable city.

Lucky us, our port side of the ship gave us a perfect view of arriving.

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A dolphin and her baby even escorted us into the port!

First stop? Birthplace of the Pina Colada, of course.

Then on to some sites–and sights–in our Latin whites!

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Doesn’t our Caroline look thrilled at another historical site?

Lots of cats in Old Town … probably not a rodent problem there, either, huh?

Knock, knock

It’s not just a gate; for centuries, this doorway, La Puerta de San Juan, served to keep invaders out of the city. And when Spainards arrived, they walked straight up this roadway to the Cathedral to, like good Catholic boys, thank God for a safe voyage.

Plaza de la Rogativa

Amazing views, both panoramically around the sea and up close in the plaza.

The bronze sculpture, “The Procession,” tells the legend of a Catholic Bishop and his companions during a British invasion on San Juan in 1797. The Bishop and his friends made a procession in faith holding crosses, torches and chanting. The British thought they were Spanish Army reinforcements and gave up on the attack. “Faith does move mountains,” huh?

What do J. Lo and Ponce de Leon have in common?

Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony here. Ponce de Leon’s tomb is here. It’s graceful Catedral de San Juan Bautist or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It’s also the second-oldest Cathedral in the Americas. Juan Ponce de Leon’s body is encased in a marble tomb here, but it wasn’t his original burial place. He was originally entombed in theIglesia de San José where his family worshiped. After 350 years in his original resting place, his body was moved to the Catedral de San Juan in 1912 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of evangelization. Nice resting place, Juan.

Seaside resting spot

Only Puerto Rico can make a cemetery extraordinary! Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis is elegant and beautifully perched on the Atlantic, radiating tranquility and rich history. The oceanfront location symbolizes the journey over to the afterlife, reflecting the Spainards’ superstitions and fear of death.

UNESCO says yes

A UNESCO site, Castillo San Cristóbal is a magnificent fortification. We visited on a Sunday, walking from the cemetery to the huge fort while people had picnics set out and were flying kites. So appreciate the Latin focus on family and fun!

The color of San Juan

…is anything but old. Strolling along cobblestone streets while the teenagers worked on their Spanish verbal skills with vendors, we soaked in the radiance of this marvelous Caribbean city.

We’re grateful you sailed into San Juan, Sir de Leon. And thankful for the vibrant history lessons and colorful day in today’s bright city! Thanks for making us feel so welcome.

Hi again, Haiti

The only “repeat” stop from our last cruise was this lovely private island, Labadee, in Haiti. Such a country of contrasts: gorgeous mountains, beaches, people and culture. Yet such a heartbreakingly troubled history–and present–laden with turmoil and hurt. With all this in mind, we appreciated our day in Haiti.

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Good morning, land! The very tip of Haiti.

 

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Early morning view of Haiti from our deck balcony.

Walking ashore, where it’s hard to decide which view from the walkway is more gorgeous.

The first beach you encounter has big oceanside waves, yet also ankle-eating rocks and coral. So it was our mermaid Caroline’s favorite playground! Julia and I were happier on the shore at this beach.

Haiti in the sand

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Hi, Cara. Could you come in now? You’re making me a little nervous… my lifeguarding skills are a tad rusty.

 

The next two beaches are sandy and absolutely perfect for a beach day. Just the thing for this Midwestern American family. It was a day that brought us all peace.

As our feet sank into the sand, those early mornings of icy darkness as we all headed off to school and work — those sank away. As the waves lapped, those days of shoveling snow melted away. Under the Caribbean sun, the stress of tests and presentations and travel dissipated. Swimming, floating and playing in the salty waves, the chill of very late nights at hockey rinks washed away. In the wind of the palm trees, the tension blew away. And in the pages of new stories, the sting of that missed 27-yard field goal even faded. A bit.

We came out of the water refreshed, renewed. And hungry! With a steel drum band nearby, we enjoyed a yummy shore lunch. Caribbean jerk chicken, ribs, loads of fresh veggies and exotic fruits … and lemon coconut cookies. Love you, Haiti.

Thanks for starting our cruise port experiences off just perfectly yet again, Haiti.

Goodbye Haiti
Farewell, lovely land. We wish you the peace you so generously gave us.

Shipping the Hansen family

IMG_1147A 10-day cruise? Three full days of sailing? Whatever will you do? So asked one of our friends. We all smiled, a bit knowingly, since we’d been on the same ship, Oasis of the Seas, two years ago for Spring Break, and were all eager to get back onboard. (The one place we never did find: The Library.) Highlights of our second cruise on the Oasis:

Time together

At home, we have careers, jobs, school, studies, sports, volunteering…gosh we’re busy. Which means we’re rarely together. So the real value of this cruise was all the time together. Mostly laughing. Lots of great chats. And more laughing.

Family selfie in the elevator one night after dinner.
Family selfie in the elevator one night after dinner.

Exploring the ship

Of course the first place we found (just a few doors from our staterooms)? The Library!

Oasis of the Seas Library

Working out

A few laps on the track, more laps in the pool, Zumba!, weight lifting, dancing poolside. Ahhh.

 

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One lap to go | or maybe three | Tonight’s dessert | Will be guilt-free
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While our boys watched their UND hockey team win online, we went ice skating!

Some Vitamin D and “Sea”

 

Showtime tonight!

We took in at least one show every day, including CATS (yeah, it’s a weird musical), dive shows, an acapella group, a singer/comedian, ice skating show, Latin dance party, adult comedy (highlight = Jim David of Comedy Central in this election year!), international belly flop contest and Greg’s favorite (laden with BeeGee’s tunes): 70s dance party.

ice show

The Dreamworks characters were always around for some fun.
The Dreamworks characters were always around for some fun.
Yo, Alex.
Yo, Alex.

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Movie night! We saw Creed and, finally, Mockingjay 2.
Movie night! We saw Creed and, finally, Mockingjay 2.

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Nice, Jules.
Nice, Jules.
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Groovy. The Village People showed up.

Hot-tubbin’

View of one of the hot tubs that cantilevers out over the sea, which we could see from our cabin’s balcony.

We relaxed in all of the whirlpools at all hours. My favorite: A late-night soak with Matty where we solved all the world’s problems under the stars.

Admiring the sculptures

Creations in our cabins each evening and at the towel stands made us laugh…

 

This was in the kids' cabin one evening. Our stateroom attendant kept the light on so they weren't totally freaked out.
This was in the kids’ cabin one evening. Our stateroom attendant kept the light on so they weren’t totally freaked out.

Exploring the ship

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Because if there’s a carousel, you ride it.
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And when there’s a Johnny Rockets, you go there. Best. Malts. Ever.
Order room service breakfast and eat on your balcony overlooking Central Park (the kids' cabin this cruise).
Order room service breakfast and eat on your balcony overlooking Central Park (the kids’ cabin this cruise).

 

Sipping in the Rising Tide bar, which goes up and down. Yeah, gimmicky. But yeah, cool.
Sipping in the Rising Tide bar, which goes up and down. Yeah, gimmicky. But yeah, cool.

And a late-night stroll…

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under a full moon, with people I so adore.

So that. That is what we did on our cruise days.

Why I will miss elementary school lunches. Truly.

Today was my last lunch date at our kids’ elementary school. Ever.

After 10 years, you’d think I walked out of school relieved. I didn’t.

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It all started when our oldest, Julia, was in first grade. She wanted me to come to lunch every day. I am a self-confessed helicopter parent and surely would have. Instead, we compromised: She picked a certain menu item, and every time that was served, I would come to lunch with her at school! Julia selected Build Your Own Hamburger day. So I went every one of those days.

Our middle kiddo, Matt, selected Chicken Patty on a Bun. And our youngest, Caroline, opted for Lakeville Nachos.

For one year, all three kids were in the same school. I had a lot of school lunches that year. More than that, I learned a lot from my 20 minutes in the lunchroom. I learned about their classmates (yeah, some of them ARE weird). I learned lunch ladies are polite and kind and encouraging. I learned our kids were so proud to buy my lunch, because I could never remember their lunch codes! I learned the latest gossip at the lunch table. I learned the kids’ dreams and goals–and fears. I learned who always brings home lunch. The last few years, our girls have brought their own home lunches, but I still joined them on “our” days.

lunch with c 2

So after lunch, while Cara skipped out to recess with her friends, I walked through the parking lot crying at this end of an era: but mostly happy tears, remembering all our kids’ had let me experience.

I’m not much on giving advice, but I will venture this: if you have a kid in elementary school, join him or her for lunch. Just once a school year if you can. Flex your work schedule, change your workout class, forget the laundry. It’s 20 minutes. But it’s a rare peek into your kid’s world. And I, for one, thoughts the Nachos were pretty tasty.

 

 

Girls in the City: Introducing Our Daughter to NYC

Our eldest Julia had one 16th birthday gift request: A trip to New York City.

Oh, alright then. (It’s her parents’ absolute very favorite city in the world, and we have been to many cities on most continents.) So mom Elizabeth introduced her to this amazing city! We also met some other inspiring women along the way…

Girls who can do ANYTHING.

Our cab driver from the airport to our hotel was a lovely young woman who drove fast, smart, honked when necessary, and enlightened us on what Julia ought to see while in town. We had a lot of great airplane and cab rides!

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cab ride

Women who history remembers (history rarely remembers well-behaved women!).

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my favorite Manhattan church:

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On TV and in-person.

We stopped by the Today Show, visited with the very smart, friendly Peter Alexander and Erica Hill. Family and friends back home said they saw us on TV. Jules realized getting up early has rewards.

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today show

with erica

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In killer shows.

We took in two Broadway shows, both led by ladies. Chicago and Wicked. Both are beautiful musicals. Chicago more simple and traditional but with lots of familiar music, fabulous dancing and wry humor. Wicked just over-the-top!

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wicked

The real women of Trump Plaza.

Inside this golden tribute to capitalism is tucked Niketown. It was one of our many shopping stops, and under these batons, to symbolize the Olympic Women’s Relay Team’s amazing win, our girl of summer Jules found some rocking new tennis to keep leading the race!

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Women of Wall Street.

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Obligatory Bull Market shot.

Several women are amongst those who have had ticker tape parades in their honors.

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The most amazing lady we met.

One of the Park Rangers at the Statue of Liberty really made Julia smile. Referring to the long entry lines, the female Ranger said, “Well, she is a very popular lady.” What a charming way to describe this incredible monument! We planned ahead (FAR ahead) and scored tickets to climb all the way into this lovely lady’s crown. Very cool.

It was a tad chilly on our ferry ride out to the very popular lady.
It was a tad chilly on our ferry ride out to the very popular lady.

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Here's where we're climbing!
Here’s where we’re climbing!

 

At the pedestal!
At the pedestal!
Up the spiral staircase to the crown!
Up the spiral staircase to the crown!
In Lady Liberty's crown. Most beautiful accessory.
In Lady Liberty’s crown. Most beautiful accessory.
What a view, huh?
What a view, huh?
Looking up to her torch. It was a very special moment, talking about how all those immigrants must have felt when they first glimpsed her torch, welcoming them to America. +chills+
Looking up to her torch. It was a very special moment, talking about how all those immigrants must have felt when they first glimpsed her torch, welcoming them to America. +chills+
Down the spiral steps...
Down the spiral steps…

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Ah, what a memorable girls weekend in NYC with our amazing young Julia. Thanks for showing her your best, women of Manhattan.