Caribbean Cruise – Sea Days

Our first and last days of cruising were spent at sea.  They served as the maritime equivalent of our road-tripping repositioning days where we do nothing but driving.  However, unlike entire days spent trapped in a car with five other people, the cruising equivalent was wonderfully relaxing.

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As you may have noted if you have read any of the travel episodes of this blog, we jam-pack our vacations with activity.  There really is very little down time, not for the adults at least.  However, on the ship – with no chores to do, no cooking, cleaning, or laundry* – I found myself with large chunks of free time.  What a luxury!  I read two and a half books within one week.  I even (accidentally) napped one afternoon.  Woah! With the exception of the two times when I had ‘flu, I have not napped since I became a parent almost 16 years ago.  We took ourselves off for afternoon tea – sometimes formally, with dainty sandwiches and little helpings of sugary treats, and sometimes informally, with mugs of tea and slices of cake from the buffet.  One evening, Mr Pict and I sat out on the lido deck to watch a movie on the big screen.  It was pouring with rain but the air temperature was warm so we stuck it out.  We wrapped ourselves up in beach towels, complete with snoods, and made ourselves feel cosy with mugs of tea and a packet of popcorn.

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There was lots to do on board, including areas we had absolutely zero to do with such as casinos, bars, and clubs.  The swimming pool was small and often so crammed full of people that it was akin to human soup so the kids only really used the pool on a couple of afternoons.  They loved the flumes and hot tubs.  There was a volleyball court, a mini golf course, and some deck games.  We took advantage of the library, not for the books but for its collection of board games.  Sometimes we played in the library and other times we took the games back to our rooms.  We participated in some trivia events (including a satisfyingly challenging Harry Potter one where the kids and I got to exercise our nerd knowledge), we went along to some stand up comedy routines, and we watched several shows in the ship’s large theatre.  The production values of the stage shows were incredible.  While the quality of singing and dancing could be professional but patchy, the production was always slick, polished, and very impressive.

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While I did not take advantage of the opportunity to eat whenever I felt like it, the boys sure as heck did.  They absolutely loved being able to wander along to the buffet area and order a burger, munch a slice of wood fired pizza, or construct a burrito, or (less often) make up a salad or grab some fruit.  They certainly took advantage of the amazing desserts on offer.  I had to give one of my sons a dressing down upon learning he had eaten seven slices of cake in one evening.  Seven!  At home, under the auspices of parents, they eat at set mealtimes and have the option to snack on fruit between meals.  Needless to say, they loved the freedom of being able to snack on pretty much anything they felt like it whenever they felt like it.

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We had a formal dinner as a party of eight every evening.  We had the same table and the same waiting staff each evening so we got into a relaxing groove with it, even when we had to dress up for the “elegant” nights.  I cannot remember the last time I managed to eat three courses in one sitting but – largely thanks to sensible portion sizes and partly just due to irresistible deliciousness – we ate three courses each evening.  Everything was cooked to perfection.  Some meals were tastier than others, of course, but all were impeccably cooked and immaculately, sometimes exquisitely presented.  A whole week without meal planning, with zero cooking, no washing up, and no complaining from the kids about what they were being served, was very much a luxury for me.

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I was not sure that cruising would be for me.  I definitely have the mindset that vacations have to be utterly packed with experiences in order to represent value for money and, therefore, I found it mentally difficult to transition into a vacation that involved entire days of doing “nothing”.  I actually found it difficult to give myself permission to relax.  I also felt guilty that my ability to relax and experience the luxury of laziness was down to the hard work of incredible numbers of crew who were missing the holidays with their families in order to cater to mine.  However, despite all that, I did enjoy the experience of cruising and would consider doing it again as a way of sampling different destinations.

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*No laundry for seven days was a thing of wonder for me, someone who usually has to do an average of one load per day.  Of course, I paid for it when we arrived home and disgorged the contents of our cases as I had to do several loads in 24 hours but it was very nice indeed to have a break from the daily grind of laundry nevertheless.

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Homemade Cola

The great thing about spending time with small kids is that they come up with all sorts of ideas for activities that we, as grown ups, probably would not have thought of.  Last weekend, our youngest son, aged 8, mentioned that he would like to make cola from scratch.  Other than lemonade, I don’t believe I have ever made a soft drink from scratch.  Making cola would definitely be an interesting challenge.

Mr Pict decided to take the lead on this project since I was so busy.  He googled and found a recipe, he took the littlest Pictling to the store to gather the ingredients, and then they set to making it.  The mixture of citrus zest and juice and spices smelled wonderful as they cooked.  It made me think of mulled wine on winter nights but I admit to cynicism about whether it would end up tasting remotely like cola.

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Once the syrup was made, it was added to a glass and topped up with seltzer water.  Our youngest son obviously got to be the first to taste it.  He sipped and declared it was delicious.  It actually was really tasty.  It did not taste like cola in the way that Coke or Pepsi taste like cola but it did remind me of those glass bottles of old-fashioned cola you can find in places that also sell drinks like dandelion and burdock or sarsaparilla.  The older brothers also approved.  The experiment was a success.

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Tie Dye Fun

Between our own road trip out west and the grandparents taking a brace of boys on a brace of vacations, we have not had a huge amount of time this summer for group activities.  It is for that reason that I did no run a summer project this year.

One group activity we did do, however, was tie dying t-shirts.  We decided to work outside so that we reduced the risk of staining things we did not want to dye and essentially reduce my stress levels.  Since we have done tie dying before, this time I felt able to let all four of the boys take complete ownership of their shirts and complete the process for themselves from beginning to end (though I did do the laundry stage).  My youngest son needed a bit of help with getting the elastic bands around his spiral folded shirt but otherwise they all worked independently.  My oldest even decided to go for an ombre effect which was a style we had not attempted before.

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Predictably, we did make a bit of a mess but that may have been because we were outside and knew we had the freedom to be a bit more lax.  Blasting the patio area with a hose was all it took to make the dye puddles disappear, however.  I think we will definitely do all future tie dye outdoors.  I think the kids did a great job with their t-shirts and they seem pleased with what they created.

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Painting Peg Dolls

The Thanksgiving break gave us a healthy dollop of uninterrupted quality family time and that afforded the kids and I the opportunity to experiment with another arts and crafts activity.  I had some little wooden peg dolls of various shapes and sizes and we each picked a few out that we customised.  We used layers of acrylic paint and finally some paint pens for the smaller finishing details.  Everyone had lots of creative fun and everyone was pleased with the results.  My seven year old made a trio of aliens, including a large gold one; my 9 year old made Flash and a Scout and Titan from the anime ‘Attack on Titan’; my 11 year old made four ninjas; my 13 year old made a trio of little characters he decided were little demons or voodoo dolls; and I made the Bride of Frankenstein, a diminutive zombie, and a figure inspired by the portraits of Gustav Klimt.

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Sock Cthulhu

After making sock monsters a few weeks ago, my 9 year old has been well and truly bitten by the sock transformation bug.  Every few days he is looking to eke out time to sew a sock and turn it into something cuddly.  I may have to create a security system for our socks soon to keep them safe from his scissors and needles.  He and I are also making his Halloween costume.  My sewing related stress levels are soaring yet somehow I keep encouraging him.  Maybe some day he will be doing all of the sewing repairs in the household.

Most of his monsters have just evolved from the meeting of sock, thread and buttons but then he decided that he wanted to aim for a specific outcome.  He wanted to make a Cthulhu.  Mr Pict is into Lovecraft (and a board game called Eldritch Horror) and I have painted Cthulhu twice, despite not being a Lovecraft fan, so I guess that sewed the seeds of the Cthulhu plan.

He picked out a black sock with which to construct his Cthulhu and then he found a black glove (also in my sock orphanage) for the tentacled bit of the face.  Orange and red buttons became the fiery eyes and he used some black felt for the wings.  I think he did a fantastic job.  The best praise he received came from his brothers who all declared it to be amazing and to wish they had a sock Cthulhu too.  He was beaming from ear to ear.

Sock Cthulhu

Sock Cthulhu

PS  If you like monsters crafted from textiles then you should totally check out the wonderful creations to be found on the CrawCrafts Beastie Blog.  Helen’s Beasties are a monstrous marvel and an inspiration to my wee monster crafter.

Learning to Bake

One of our Summer “pot luck” activities involves each boy learning to bake a recipe of their choice.

The first to bake was my 9 year old and he chose to make banana bread.  I probably make banana bread at least fortnightly.  It is so simple and straightforward to make and it is impossible to fail at making banana bread – which is great since I am a pretty good cook but a pretty basic baker.  I also like that banana bread uses up bananas that are so overripe and squishy that nobody is going to eat them so it prevents waste.  I tend to make banana bread that contains either chunks of sticky date or chocolate chips but we had some surplus blueberries so my 9 year old decided to experiment with making banana and blueberry bread.  It was pretty tasty and very sweet.

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Next to bake was my seven year old.  He elected to make Dulce de Leche chocolate cake from the Hungry Mum blog.  Last time I made it, it was no chocolatey enough – though still delicious – but I have since got my hands on some better, more robust cocoa which made all the difference.  My youngest did not have his patience tested making the actual dulce de leche: I already had one in reserve as I boil up several cans at once to speed baking up and then store them, labels off, ready for use.  He was a great little pastry chef and followed the instructions given.  His reward was getting to lick the spoons and bowl clean.  We did end up overfilling the loaf tin but, since it was silicone, happily it expanded during cooking to accommodate the expanding cake batter.  It was scrumptious and very sweet.

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My 10 year old chose to make Tablet.  Tablet – if you have not hear of it – is an incredibly sweet Scottish confection made from milk, sugar, and condensed milk.  It is so sweet it makes teeth scream and gums cry.  I do not, therefore, make it very often.  However, I made some for my ten year old not so long ago as he was delivering a presentation to his class all about Greek mythology and decided that they should sample Tablet as a stand-in for Ambrosia.  Imagine Zeus nibbling on Tablet?

Tablet is actually pretty simple to make.  The real hassle is that it requires constant stirring for up to half an hour.  The kids got fed up of stirring a pot of very hot sugary goop after approximately five minutes.  This cooking stuff is hard labour, don’t you know!

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It turned out we went a bit awry in our process (I said it was simple but apparently it is not foolproof) and probably let the sugar boil into too much of a syrup.  The result was that when the tablet set it did so in a way that was still sticky rather than it becoming firm and smooth like fudge.  Never mind.  Since this batch could not be eaten as a bite size snack, we just had to turn it into dessert and serve it with vanilla ice cream.

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Last but not least was my 13 year old son.  Since he is older and a little more experienced, I selected a slightly more complicated recipe to work through with him.  We made Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, a recipe I found on Cooking is My Sport.  We found it a little challenging because I don’t own a mixer so we had to do everything by hand and the dough mixture became quite dense.  He certainly worked his arm muscles stirring.  I must admit that I was worried that we had allowed the butter to get too brown but my concern was unfounded as the finished cookies were absolutely divine.  The flavour was incredible and they were just the perfect balance of chewy and crisp.  I heartily recommend the recipe.

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Picasso Characters

The boys loved our Picasso studies last Summer so were very happy when they pulled a slip of paper from the pot luck box inviting them to draw a favourite book, film, or television character in a wonky Picasso style.  There is definitely something very liberating about not having to worry about accuracy of shapes and proportions when constructing a character.  The key to this activity was, therefore, keeping enough of the character that would enable them to be recognisable while simultaneously having fun with the composition and shapes.

My 10 year old comic book nerd chose to draw Wolverine before and after being Picassoed.  My 9 year old chose to draw Predator because he knows that Predator is one of his Dad’s favourite characters from the movies and graphic novels.  My 13 year old and I both drew Harry Potter and it was fun to compare our different versions of the same character.  My 7 year old chose not to draw a fictional character and instead drew a Picasso portrait of our tripod cat, Satchi.

Picasso Style Wolverine

Picasso Style  Predator

Picasso Style Harry Potter 1

Picasso Style  Satchi Cat

Picasso Style  Harry Potter 2