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.

 

border
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!)

 

family go pro selfie
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.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0450
Good morning, land! The very tip of Haiti.

 

IMG_0451
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

IMG_0522

IMG_0511
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.

 

IMG_1145
One lap to go | or maybe three | Tonight’s dessert | Will be guilt-free
IMG_1239
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.

IMG_0445

 

IMG_1136

 

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

IMG_0666

Nice, Jules.
Nice, Jules.
IMG_1210
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

IMG_1114

IMG_1116
Because if there’s a carousel, you ride it.
m johnny rockets
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…

IMG_1219

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.

lunch with c 1

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.

 

 

Air. Water. Food. Just gettin’ our basic needs met, Cancun style.

Like our friends and colleagues and relatives, our family runs in every direction, often at warp speed. It’s crazy good fun filled with love and laughs. But it’s also nice to get away a bit. So this Spring Break, we headed to Moon Palace in Cancun.

We went with a great group of fellow Minnesotans. Total of 14 adults; 13 kids, I believe.

Some old friends, some new. All amazing!
Some old friends, some new. All amazing!

Air

Matt got the most air, parasailing over Beach Palace one afternoon (looked like the jet ski ride out and back in to shore was quite a rush too!)

m parasailing

m jet ski ride in

Water

Our Caroline is a mermaid. We all joined her, too. How could you not? Fifteen pools (most with swim-up bars; all with water polo, water zumba, water volleyball), miles of beach (albeit not real swimmable, so our day at Beach Palace’s turquoise waves was a treat).

IMG_8497

 

c and v at beach palace

 

IMG_8513

IMG_8501

4 of us at swim up bar

me and g

IMG_8529
Swimming laps in the Olympic pool was more fun with a swim up bar at one end. Pina coladas after every lap!

 

IMG_8607

 

IMG_8612

IMG_8540

IMG_8532

a moon 1

a moon 2

“Pets” at our favorite pools

The Alligator at the edge of the Los Tacos pool.
The Alligator at the edge of the Los Tacos pool.
Iguanas - up to seven outside one pool in the perfect mid-morning sun. Skittish, prehistoric little guys.
Iguanas – up to seven outside one pool in the perfect mid-morning sun. Skittish, prehistoric little guys.
IMG_8555
Another reason we also ordered the Fish Tacos at Los Tacos. Plus, they were delish!

 

Dozens of restaurants, and this was our fave. Poolside Los Tacos.
Dozens of restaurants, and this was our fave. Poolside Los Tacos.
Thanks for the fish tacos...
Thanks for the fish tacos…

Food

It’s a good day when your biggest decision is where to go to dinner that evening…

I think we tried ’em all. Seafood? (The first night, Julia ordered baby octopus with “I think I’ll like that.” As they served it, she saw it really was baby octopus, suction cups and all. “I can’t eat this,” she admitted. Lesson learned for our Midwestern girl!) Mexican? Italian? Room service (why order 30 chicken nuggets? Because you can.)? Steakhouse? Hibachi? Japanese? Brazilian steak house:

IMG_8594

IMG_8595

IMG_8602
Mayan coffee!

IMG_8603

IMG_8604

Love those Mayans
Love those Mayans

Treats at every turn…

IMG_8672

 

dessert

crepes

IMG_8681 IMG_8682

A few other surprises:

Coconut milk outside our front door

IMG_8557

IMG_8558

IMG_8556

“Fresh Catch” one afternoon

Apparently this only happens once a month (we got lucky!). Fresh grouper, octopus, shrimp, mussels, clams and more, caught then grilled up on the beach.

IMG_8573

 

IMG_8578

 

IMG_8583

IMG_8584

IMG_8592

 

IMG_8588

IMG_8587

IMG_8586

Swing bar

We ventured here during the day; the teenagers hung out here after dinner and into the wee hours!
We ventured here during the day; the teenagers hung out here after dinner and into the wee hours! We heard tales. Probably not all of them, but enough!
Some crazy characters for our kids to hang with...
Some crazy characters for our kids to hang with… (Alas, no Captain Jack…)

Early morning beach walks

(just Greg and me) – note earlier info about teenagers at the swing bar!

IMG_8932

 

IMG_8933

Love

Most of all, it was time for us, together, unplugged. That is really all we need.

IMG_8895

IMG_8910
Look! She got out of the water (for a little while).

 

Late-nigh beach walk with my Jules was a treasure of a time.
Late-nigh beach walk with my Jules was a treasure of a time.

MCancun

fam last night

 

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!

IMG_7600

 

cab ride

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

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

IMG_7615

IMG_7614

84134892

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.

IMG_7618

today show

with erica

julia and peter a

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!

chicago cropped

 

IMG_7706

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!

IMG_7623

IMG_7625

IMG_7628

IMG_7629

Women of Wall Street.

IMG_7764
Obligatory Bull Market shot.

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

Earhart-1928

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.

IMG_7725

IMG_7726

IMG_7727

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…

IMG_7745

IMG_7757

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

Campfires forge great bonds (no S’mores needed)

Our North Shore camping trip was with our largest group yet (19!), and included Elizabeth’s dad’s whole family! “Grandpa Jerry” had his sister, her whole family, plus all his kids and grandkids (-1, Julia, who opted for a week in Florida. Teenagers?!).

No need for s’mores

We were especially happy the Illinois clan made the trek, since for their meal, they brought (get this) Portillo’s Italian Beefs, sides and the most amazing chocolate cake you have ever eaten. Proof: No one had s’mores when that cake was around! And also the people were a lot of fun, ha:

Cousin Maggie and her Tye, native of South Africa. He was smitten with the North Shore, and helped us all see its wonders through his eyes!
Cousin Maggie and her Tye, native of South Africa. He was smitten with the North Shore, and helped us all see its wonders through his eyes!

italian beefs

large

Hiking on the rocks, exploring Gooseberry, touring the Duluth harbor by foot and by boat, making meals, and especially around the campfire, we all realized that campfires together forge great bonds. Thanks for all the laughs and memories, fam.  Some of my favorite images of our precious time together…

Howie, Cara and their hors e'oeuvres.
Howie, Cara and their hors e’oeuvres.

photo 2-7

 Gooseberry Falls!

No mention of diving, however...
No mention of diving, however… 

dive justin

photo 2

photo 1

photo 4

matt in falls

Back at the campfire, we really raised the bar with the annual talent show. Poetry, songs, magic, comedy and of course the girls’ theatre production…

Eric and Dave as Abbott and Costello in "Who's On First." It was great, but the scriptwriting and performance by Allie and Cara won the grand prize!
Eric and Dave as Abbott and Costello in “Who’s On First.” It was great, but the scriptwriting and performance by Allie and Cara won the grand prize!

 

Little Lucy loved her first camping trip! (Well, it didn't start out that way, but she was a happy camper by Sunday.)
Little Lucy loved her first camping trip! (Well, it didn’t start out that way, but she was a happy camper by Sunday.)

 

Grandma got them started on embroidery! Way to go, girls.
Grandma got them started on embroidery! Way to go, girls.

 

Hats off, Davey, you organized another awesome reunion camping trip. Love you all.

Untitled 2