Tuesday, December 31, 2013


365 days ago we were in this very same spot. December 31st is often a day of reflection. Another year in the books, a fresh start just around the corner.

I have now been spilling my thoughts here for 5 years, about to embark upon a sixth. Admittedly, by now I thought I would be discovered as a blogging phenom and have several published books under my belt (although truthfully - I have never aspired to write a book so I'm not sure where I came up with that dream.) Clearly, my goals were a tad too lofty. I quickly realized that wouldn't be happening but I kept writing all the same. My readership has grown at a snail's pace but I'm thankful for all my loyal readers. You may not like all my posts but you come back anyway. I'd like to think you've grown with me over the years too.

You've gone through life changes and exciting times, just like I have. When things weren't going your way, you moped about it just like me. In the end, the sun rises each day whether you want it to or not. Your only choice is to face it with a positive attitude. Something I've been working much harder on and have noticed a huge difference in my outlook on life because of it. If there's someone or something in your life spreading negativity and bringing you down, get rid of it! And don't feel guilty.

I don't mean to get deep on you. I'm really not a philosophical person in the least. Next week, I'll be back to my normal recipes, mileage tallies, and embarrassing stories.

I don't know what Ashley See, Ashley Does has in its future but, I sure am glad you're here.

Live happy, folks. Please?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Post-holiday Hangover

Well, well, well. It's the Monday after Christmas and I feel like if you put a quarter in me a cookie would pop out. Anyone else?

Things I Know

-I got so many awesome presents that I should probably get rid of some things in my house to make room.

-I should have worked out more than twice this past week.

-Catching up with family and friends, some of whom I haven't seen for a year or more, was totally amazing. I would have traded all my presents for more time with everyone. Well, maybe not ALL of them.

-My body likes a routine. It likes vegetables. I didn't get enough of either this week.

-I am incapable of staying up until 2:00 AM. I did that at least twice and I'm paying for it.

-All the planning, shopping, wrapping, hauling was worth it watching everyone open the presents we bought for them.

-But.....we had to take all the gifts north in two separate trips. Luckily, I knew at Thanksgiving that it wouldn't all fit. Next year, simplify.

Did you have a wonderful Christmas?

I sure hope so.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

The presents have been wrapped.

The cookies baked.

The visions of sugarplums will dance in our heads.

From me to you this year, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

May your day be filled with family and friends and warm wishes this holiday season!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beer Me: Top 5 Christmas Ales - According to Me

I have been lax in my beer drinking. My apologies. This is a fantastic time of year for beer lovers. The brews are warming and rich with flavor. Perfect for a snowy eve. Today, I'm bringing you 5 of my favorites, in no particular order. OK, the first one is my absolute favorite, but the rest are in no particular order. And they're all good.

1) Troeg's Mad Elf


This is the most expensive one at around $15.99 for a 6-pack (or it may be a 4-pack). It's also sold in 22 oz. bottles and is 11.0% ABV. But....it's worth it.

From the site: "The Mad Elf is a cheerful creation to warm 

your heart and enlighten your tongue. The combination of 

cherries, honey, and chocolate malts delivers gentle fruits 

and subtle spices. Fermented and aged with a unique 

yeast, this ruby red beer has significant warming strength 

that underlies the pleasant character of this intriguing yet 

delicious Ale. The Mad Elf is a jolly and delicious beer for 

 the holidays."

2) Southern Tier 2XMAS

Absolutely love Southern Tier and their beers. They make my favorite fall beer, Pumking, so it's only fitting that their Christmas offering is high on my list as well. I wrote about them last year HERE.

3) Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas

Now, I heard rumor that the brewer of 12 Dogs used to work for Great Lakes Brewing and tweaked their Christmas Ale recipe to come up with the 12 Dogs of Christmas. I don't know if that's true or not but it seems plausible. This is for sure one of my favorites. I wrote about it last year HERE.

4) Fat Head's Holly Jolly


Fat Head's consistently puts out some quality beers and this Christmas is no different. I believe this is a new offering from them this year and it's a winner! Full of spice!

From the site: "Once upon a frozen evening way up north, a 

sweet local honey named Holly inspired our Jolly Fat Man 

(as only Holly can) to create this festive spiced holiday ale. 

We think you will enjoy his holiday creation with it's aromas 

and flavors of Christmas day. Sweet malt, ginger, honey 

and cinnamon spice. Sip this by the fire with your significant 

other. Who knows, maybe it will lead to a little inspiration of 

your own. From our Jolly Fat Man to yours, Happy Holidays."

5) Rivertown Winter Ale 


This is the Christmas offering from Rivertown but because it's a Winter, I'm hoping it will stick around through the new year. Let me say, the 6 pack we just recently purchased ($8.49) was the freshest I had every tasted! Like it came directly from the bottling line and into my glass 30 minutes later. Holy moly!

From the site: "Winter spiced ale is our winter seasonal offering. 

With its thick body, creamy head, ruby hue, and big bold flavors 

with hints of caramel, toffee, and cinnamon, it is sure to keep you 

warm through the cold winter nights. "

I did not include Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Blasphemous, I know. Truth be told, I do like it. I just like the ones I listed better.

Happy Beering!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Second Stitch Fix

My second Stitch fix arrived!
Unfortunately, I was not as enamored with my items as I was in the first Fix. In case you missed it, that post can be found HERE. I was so excited to get my second one having experienced the success I met the first time around but, sadly, I am underwhelmed.
Want to see what was included?

I actually like this black and white sleeveless blouse quite a bit. The design is like nothing in my closet and it’s a versatile piece that can be worn all year either layered in the winter or on its own in the summer. At $78, it’s not inexpensive but the quality is top notch. The cut, however, is not right for my body. It’s a bit big in the armpits and the cinched waist hits me at an unflattering spot. I was bummed it didn’t look great on me but I didn’t want to force it.

OK – I love a good maxi dress. Don’t we all? I especially liked this one because it’s form fitting through the waist and all my other maxi dresses are super flowy. However….where in the heck am I going to wear this? It’s pretty dang fancy and I don’t get invited to a lot of fancy places.

 John asked if I wouldn’t wear it to work? Uh, well, I suppose I could but I think I’d look a little overdressed. I offered New Years’ Eve as an option. That’s one night a year, folks, in case you’re keeping track. I feel as though I’d be looking for opportunities to bust it out and none would be presented. It’s $78, so not a bad price for a nice dress. I love the chevron skirt. But sadly, it’s going back.

This one. You guys. This COMPLETELY missed the mark. I don’t know who in their right mind wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Oh, today I should wear that sweater that adds about 50 pounds and kind of makes me look like a homeless person” but it ain’t me. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all? Well, okay. I liked the color and I liked the pockets. Tell me, would you wear this?

I didn’t think so.

On the accessory front, we have a teardrop bib necklace in a bright emerald green. All the rage these days, yes? I liked this, but was a bit put off by the fact that it’s all acrylic. (read: plastic) Not even the gold beads and clasp are metal. I don’t mind spending $28 on a necklace and as bold as this is, I think I would get a lot of use out of it. But, $28 on a plastic necklace that feels pretty cheap. Color me unimpressed.
Last but not least…

We have a camel cowl-necked sweater with a hi-low hem and leather elbow patches. I am a total sucker for elbow patches. I don’t currently own anything with them but am in the process of adding them to a sweater I’m refashioning. This was a hit with me right away…..until I saw the price tag. 

When I started Stitch Fix, I told myself it was okay to spend more than I normally would on clothing because I was getting unique, quality pieces. Somehow, I cannot bring myself to say that it IS okay to spend $108 on a single sweater. It’s a wool/viscose/cotton blend so it’s not like it’s cashmere. And those elbow patches? They’re vegan leather. (read: pleather) John encouraged me to get it. Truth be told, I was having a rough day and John encouraged me to buy lots of the pieces. What a guy!
I wrestled with the idea of keeping this sweater for awhile but I only had 3 days to decide. I didn’t want to eat the $20 styling fee so I felt I HAD to buy something. Do I drop a hundy on myself right before Christmas? Or, do I spend $8 more and just keep the necklace that I hope won’t break? Does referring to one hundred dollars as a 'hundy' make me sound gangster?

These are all important questions. I think if it weren’t Christmas time and my credit card bill wasn’t giving me palpitations, I would have had no issues buying the sweater. But knowing full well that I’d be receiving clothing in a few short weeks anyway, I wavered.
In the end, I liked the sweater but didn't LOVE it and wouldn't get my money's worth out of it. I kept the necklace and sent everything else back. 
I did schedule a third Fix for myself to arrive in January. I requested to have the stylist I got the first time around because she did a great job. I asked for pattern and color and adjusted my styling profile a bit. I'm hoping that helps.
Don't let this dissuade you from trying Stitch Fix out for yourself. If you want to order your own Fix, use THIS LINK. I get a $25 credit if you do and that would make me smile.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian

You know how Amazon makes suggestions of books for you to read based on your reading history? This was one of those books.


The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

Good Reads' Synopsis: "Josh Hanagarne couldn't be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn't officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6'7" when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette's tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to "throttle" his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City's public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette's.

The World's Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living"

What I Thought: This was a very interesting memoir. I don't know anyone with Tourette's, just what you see on TV, but Hanagarne described it in a way that made you understand the syndrome a whole lot better. Josh's journey took a circuitous route ending up with a life he probably couldn't have imagined happening and the ride there held my attention. It's a quick read but worth a shot.

Rating: * * *

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Recipe Reblog: Crockpot Cheddar Beer Chicken Tacos

This recipe comes from one of my favorite bloggers over at How Sweet It Is. It called to me because it was for the crockpot and I love a good slow cooked meal.

Crockpot Cheddar Beer Chicken Tacos: I really liked the mix of seasoning in this. No sodium-riddled taco packet here. No, sir. I ended up using 6 chicken breasts instead of 4 so we could have this for three nights but I didn't increase the amount of seasoning and it turned out just fine. For the beer, I used a leftover amber red ale which added to the full-bodied flavor. After 8 hours, this came out super moist and just fell apart while shredding. Wrap it up in a tortilla and you've got yourself a tasty dish!

P.S. The other night at 7:00 pm, I was tucked under a blanket, drinking sleepytime tea and knitting. Basically, I aged 50 years overnight.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Beer Me: Fistmas Holiday Ale

Ah, the Christmas beer season is in full swing! I have been drinking my old standbys for awhile now and I hope to do a Top 10 (or 5) post for you soon. I am running out of time though. Less than two weeks until Christmas. EEK! But, I do have one here for you today that is new to me this year.

This is Fistmas Holiday Ale from Revolution Brewing Co. Bonus points for the cool can design, right? Its rich amber red color is quite festive too.

From the site: "Red ale brewed for the holiday season with specialty malts to achieve a beautiful deep red hue and the aromas of fresh baked bread, caramel, and stone fruits. Steeped with ginger root and orange peel."

What I Thought: Well, this wasn't as Christmasy as I wanted it to be. There was really only the slightest hint of ginger and I like a bit more spice this time of year. I also detected a bit more hops than I like to come through. It was an okay brew at $9.99 for a 6-pack but I probably wouldn't try it again. If red ales are your thing, you'll probably like this. But if you crave dark, warming beer this time of year, skip it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Make It: Knitted Headband

When the temperatures in Ohio reach the frigid category, I reach for my knitting needles. I made myself a couple cowls recently. A girl can never have too many cowls, although I would be embarrassed to count my collection. I wanted a project that would use up some small amounts of leftover yarn and came across the perfect one.

I made up my own pattern on this and I think it turned out okay. When I put it on and grinned at my handiwork, John said it was cute but looked a little like a flapper hat. Beg pardon?

 I used my size 13 needles with a partial skein of Lion Brand's Wool-Ease Thick & Quick yarn (one of my faves!). I cast on 14 stitches and went to town with my seed stitch. Seed is my absolute favorite stitch in the whole wide universe. To be fair, I only know 3 stitches but I adore its result.

I wanted to make the headband look like a giant bow but I only sort of succeeded. The center of the bow sticks out from my head a bit more than I'd like. I'm working on a second one now with smaller needles and thinner yarn so we'll see if that helps.

I didn't make any Christmas presents this year, which is odd for me. I also have no plans to sew a Christmas outfit like I did last year and the year before. But, we're about 2 weeks out from Christmas so chances are good that next week, I'll decide it's a good time to start that project.

What have you been creating lately??

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Allegiant the third book of the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. It's a dystopian series in the young adult genre. I always say this but please don't be deterred by young adult series. They can be totally amazing.


Good Reads' Synopsis: "The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. "

What I Thought: Well, unfortunately it has been several months since I read Insurgent, the second book in the series. In that time span, I plum forgot half the characters, which side they were on, and what they were attempted to do. That didn't do me any favors while reading Allegiant. However, this one wasn't the page turner that the first two were and that made me sad. I knew I had to see the series through and I'm still super excited to see the Divergent movie when it comes up but Allegiant left me a bit underwhelmed. It took until about 3/4 of the way through the book to give me some good suspense and then the ending just felt a bit anti-climactic. I wanted to love this. I just didn't.

Rating: * * 1/2

Monday, December 9, 2013

These Days

Come on in! Can I pour you a cup of coffee? What's new with you?

Did you have a nice weekend?

Oh, me?

I got all my Christmas baking done and only burned my hand twice. I made 5 different cookie recipes. There was a lot of bowl licking going on in these parts.

John and I finally got to go see Catching Fire and it was AMAZING! Catching Fire was my favorite of the 3 books although I think I liked the Hunger Games movie better. How will we wait for Mockingjay?

There are so many movies coming out for Christmas. When will I see them all? Until yesterday, I hadn't seen a movie in the theatre since.....Great Gatsby? YIKES!

And last week, I had a complete sewing failure. Instead of trying again, I just gave up. Not my proudest moment.

But, over Thanksgiving I got to catch up with some high school (and earlier than high school) friends and it was GLORIOUS! Friendships are so important. I need to work harder on them. I always feel completely re-energized after hanging up the phone with a good friend.

I'm impatiently awaiting my second Stitch Fix. I hope it's got some great stuff inside. Even though I shouldn't be spending any more money whatsoever. It arrives this week. Stay tuned!

Next weekend I have a hair appointment and I am counting the hours until it's here. I can't stand to look at my roots any longer.

I still don't have any vacations planned for 2014 and it's making me antsy.

I am thisclose to finishing my Christmas shopping. I like to be done by Black Friday so I am technically behind. I went to the mall much later than I cared to this past Saturday. It was just as terrible as I thought it would be.

I think that about does it. You're all caught up now!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Recipe Reblog: Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark

Oh, I have a sweet one for you today!

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark: I first tasted this at a work function and ate more pieces than I care to divulge here. Even though it has two sticks of butter and it goes against my religion to use more than one in any single recipe, I made it anyway. Because I'm including it on my Christmas cookie baking list and it will mostly be given away, I deemed the butter consumption acceptable.

This is a pretty simple recipe and has only 5 ingredients. You may even have all of them in your possession right now! I used dark chocolate chips because they are far superior to milk but that was the only time I strayed from the recipe. If you groove on a sweet/salty combo, you will LOVE this bark!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

November Running Round Up

How was your Black Friday, everyone? I did some solid shopping (at a respectable 7:00 am, NOT the night before) and only have a couple more gifts to buy. Then, I'll be done shopping and can focus on card writing, cookie baking and wrapping.

On Thanksgiving as I looked out the window and saw snow, I cursed myself for saying I should run that morning. But, I didn't want to let myself down so out I went. It was pretty awful as my toes were numb the entire time even though I wore two pairs of socks. I only saw one other intrepid runner and may have waved a bit too vigorously. That run made me thankful for my treadmill. Probably not something you heard around the dinner table that day.

Nov 3: 8 mi TM in 1:13

Nov 5: 4 mi TM in 35:42, 8:56 avg

Nob 5: 4.1 mi TM in 36:31, 9:24/8:22/8:22/8:28

Nov 9: 3.5 mi TM in 30:05

Nov 11: 5 mi TM in 46:11, 9:14 avg-sore legs

Nov 13: 4 mi TM in 34:18,   8:59/8:34/8:27/8:18

Nov 16: 3.1 OT in 42:??, run/walk race for Girls on the Run

Nov 17: 6 mi TM in 54:05, 9:01 avg

Nov 19: 4 mi TM in 36:46, SORE

Nov 21:  3.3 mi TM in 29:33,     9:12/8:51/8:46

Nov 24: 4 mi TM in 36:09

Nov 36:   3.5 mi TM in 29:42  8:51/8:29/8:18/4:00

Nov 28: 2.1 mi OT, turkey trot in the snow

54.6 miles total

That's my highest mileage month this year. Yea hooray! But, I have a confession. I have been taking it way too easy on the treadmill. Hulu has made me slow. I get so wrapped up in the shows I'm watching while running that I don't push the speed or incline. I'm not losing any weight and I'm not getting any faster. 


For December, the only TV-allowed run will be Sunday's long run because I'm going for distance and not speed. The other two run days will be music only. We'll see how this goes......

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor

The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor (The Governor Trilogy #1)
Do you people watch The Walking Dead on AMC? In case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s all about zombies. Don’t worry. It’s not as cheesy as it sounds. Fact: It is pretty much the most awesome show on television these days. The series is based on a comic and graphic novel and now, the writers, Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga, have also put out (back in 2011) a series of actual novels. I picked this one up in the airport bookstore for John to read and when he was finished, I happily cracked the spine.
Good Reads' Synsopsis: In the Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. The despot who runs the walled-off town of Woodbury, he has his own sick sense of justice: whether it’s forcing prisoners to battle zombies in an arena for the townspeople’s amusement, or chopping off the appendages of those who cross him. The Governor was voted “Villain of the Year” by Wizard magazine the year he debuted, and his story arc was the most controversial in the history of the Walking Dead comic book series. Now, for the first time, fans of The Walking Dead will discover how The Governor became the man he is, and what drove him to such extremes.

What I Thought: Well. This was quite interesting…..if you know the show. It had some great tie ins and explained a lot about the Governor and his roots. If you haven’t seen the show, I’m not sure if you’ll find it as good as I did. The story is captivating but I think that’s because I knew the Governor already. It had an awesome twist and I’m so glad I have the second book waiting for me at home because I can’t wait to start reading it.
Rating: * * *

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Are you stuffed yet?

I'm hoping to start the day by running my own personal turkey trot. It's likely in the 30's (or less) so I'll be bundling up and cursing the entire time. But, I won't feel as guilty about that second helping of mashed potatoes.

Wishing you a wonderful day with family and FOOD!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stitch Fix

I am in big trouble.

I received my first fix and I want it ALL.

If you're unfamiliar, Stitch Fix is a website that will send you clothing and accessories to try for a $20 styling fee. You keep (and pay for) what you want. Anything that doesn't work gets shipped back within 3 days. The $20 fee is subtracted from your total purchases and if you keep all 5 pieces, you get a 25% discount.

For quite some time, I've been less than enamored with what I've seen in stores so I decided to go rogue. My wardrobe needed a shake up anyway. When you schedule your first fix (dates usually aren't available for about 6 weeks out), you fill out a very detailed questionnaire about your style, sizes, wardrobe needs, likes, dislikes, etc. VERY detailed. If you have an event coming up or if you need work clothes or something specific, you can say that too. You pick your price points (the "as cheap as possible" option means under $50 so it can add up fast) for each category: tops, bottoms, outwear and accessories. I don't need outerwear so I opted out of that. It's all very flexible.

Then, I not so patiently waited for my friendly Fed Ex man to deliver my first Fix. Nervous that I wouldn't like anything. Nervous that I would like everything knowing I shouldn't keep it all.

It finally arrived last week.

Want to take a peek?

Sweater - $98, Corduroy Pants - $78, Infinity Scarf - $34

I love love love these pants! I was a little concerned with their fit when I saw the size but then I put them on and they were perfect. They are from Kut from the Kloth. I now want to go buy them in every single color. I've been looking for red pants for awhile so my stylist was spot on with these.

This chevron scarf. I know. It's so voluminous and lovely and I really wanted to keep it. However, $34 is a bit more than I like to spend on accessories and I was concerned the fabric would snag easily so it went back. Currently, I'm on the hunt for similar fabric to make my own for less. 

The brown sweater was also a great choice. So great that I actually have a nearly identical version. Same exact color and style. I did like the hi-low hem but since I own its twin and it was the most expensive piece in the box at $98, it went back too.

This blouse and necklace were the last two pieces in my fix.

This top it probably not something I would have picked out in the store but I really liked it. Isn't that the whole point of StitchFix? The above picture is actually my Thanksgiving outfit this year. You get a sneak peek. Aren't you lucky! I thought the necklace was interesting and also unlike anything in my wardrobe but at $34, it went back. It was already scratched on the back from the journey and I questioned how much I would really wear it.

They also include these cute styling cards to give you other ideas about how to wear things.

I kept two out of five pieces and mailed the others back in a pre-paid envelope that is included with the box. When you send items back, you can include information about why you didn't like it. Maybe the fit wasn't good or it just didn't look right on you. All the feedback is sent to your stylist so your next Fix can be improved. Had I kept everything it would have cost $210, after the discount. Yowza! I don't ever go to the mall and just drop a couple hundred on clothes and jewelry.

But, I did love my experience enough to schedule another fix. It's coming December 11th! You can set them to come automatically every month but I didn't think my wallet would appreciate that. When you sign up, you pick a date about 6 weeks out. It was sure hard waiting that length of time but it was worth it!

Do you want your own fix? You can sign up through HERE! This is my referral link which means I get a credit for my next fix if you sign up. DO IT! Then you can share the love of Stitch Fix too!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cruising // Final Thoughts

If you’ve never taken a cruise before and aren’t sure whether or not you would enjoy it, I say you won’t know until you try. Any cruise is only as fun as you make it. If laying by the pool sipping pina coladas is your thing, great! No one said you have to leave the pool deck to go play bingo. If you’d rather not sit with a bunch of strangers at dinner, request a table just for your party and you’ll likely be accommodated. Would you like to spin the roulette wheel instead of seeing a broadway show? Go for it! Part of the problem with a ship this size is that even with 3 sea days, I still came away having missed things I wanted to do. It is hard to squeeze it all in but we had an amazing week and I would book it again in a heartbeat.
Sailaway in Ft. Lauderdale

I’ve been asked if there’s any way I could go back to a smaller ship and surprisingly, I definitely could. While I loved all of the opportunities and amenities of the Oasis, we had a ton of fun on the much smaller Grandeur cruise we took back in 2010. I don’t NEED a zipline, flow rider, ice rink, etc. to have a wonderful vacation. Cruises are about the experiences you have, the things you see and the people you meet. And no, I never once felt trapped at sea. I often hear that sentiment against cruising too.
I love Royal Caribbean but I’m also open to checking our other cruise lines to see how they compare. Different ships offer different itineraries and a chance to discover a new location I’ve never seen. I will say this. Before Oasis, I cruised for the ports. If I cruised Oasis again, I’d be cruising for the ship. If I sailed Oasis again (or her sister ship, Allure of the Seas) I suppose I would try the Western itinerary. It’s not as appealing but it IS cheaper and if I want to make the most of the ship itself, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Cruising can be a very expensive or very economical vacation. We got an awesome deal for this ship but it’s the most we’ve ever paid for a cruise for a lower category of stateroom. If you don’t drink alcohol, never go to the spa and don’t shop much, your on board expenses can be kept to a very frugal amount. I do recommend splurging on at least one paid specialty dinner though. It was well worth it. RCCL also offers an all-inclusive drink package. We considered it for a hot minute but ultimately decided it wouldn’t be worth it, and we were right. Sure, there were times we wanted to order another drink but didn’t because our bill was adding up. However, we would have spent the whole cruise drinking way more than necessary to try to make sure we at least broke even on the more than $700 expenditure (for two people). We would have had a heck of a time drinking our quota on the port days too. Don’t worry, I took my calories in plenty of other ways. (Donuts, coconut ranger cookies, pizza slices, froyo)
Can I share a couple of cruising tips?
-Take the stairs. The lines for the elevator can be long and this is a good way to sneak in a little activity. It’s especially helpful to walk off dinner.

-Wash your hands. A lot. All those passengers carry beaucoup germs. You don't want to be sick on your cruise, do you?

-Dress up for formal night. People gripe about having to look nice for dinner. Don’t you want to look nice for special occasions for the person or people you’re cruising with? You don’t have to go ball gown and tux but you’ll sure feel pretty if you put on a swanky dress.
Check out that healthy glow!
-Try dishes and food you would never dream of ordering. The beauty of a cruise is the ability to order as much as you want. You don’t like it? Try something else.
-Have fun people watching behind your sunglasses. You won’t believe some of the things your fellow passengers will do, wear, say.

-When possible, plan your own port activities and book private excursions. You’ll save money and get a much more personalized experience.
-Take more cash for port days than you think you’ll need. You will be cabbing it a lot. Lots of beaches charge an entry fee. All beaches charge for chairs and an umbrella.
-Do your research! A wealth of information can be had about every single cruise out there on Cruise Critic. Any concerns you have can be assuaged by someone who has been there and great tips are available.
-Talk to the staff on board. Your room attendant, waiter, bartender all have interesting stories.
-Reapply sunscreen! This is the first cruise I didn’t burn (except my forehead) thanks to multiple reapplications daily. I also wore a hat which is something I never do. My mom would be so proud.

-Relax. It’s okay to sleep in, lie around and do nothing. You are on vacation!

Monday, November 25, 2013

St. Maarten // Third Port on Oasis of the Seas

Our third and final port was also a repeat for us, St. Maarten. We like St. Maarten though so it's all good. On our honeymoon, we took an island tour with Bernard's Tours. This is an incredible way to spend a day and see the highlights of the island while adding in beach time and shopping time too. But as with St. Thomas, since we had already done that, we opted for a DIY day in port.

We took the water taxi for $7/person unlimited round trips to Phillipsburg. I heard rumor after we got back that you can walk it in about 10 minutes. Had I known that, I would have saved my $14. We wanted to wander around the town a bit before we settled in on the beach. 
Old Street - Sint Maarten
There are lots of little souvenir shops and they all mostly sell the same things. What you can and should get here is guavaberry liquor. Pretty darn tasty! We also picked up some Coconut and Banana Vanille rum. One of the salespeople told us because it's homemade (?) that you don't have to declare this on your customs form. I don't really think that's true but we were nowhere near our limit anyway. 
Originally, I wanted to go into Marigot and visit the market and French section but the cab there was something like $25 (same for the return) and the beach was calling me. So was lunch. I had an amazingly fresh fish sandwich at a beachside restaurant while John had a burger (I think). When in the Caribbean, eat as much fish as possible!
There is a long, narrow beach here at Great Bay. Most places charge the same for chairs and an umbrella so we picked one that looked good. I can’t remember what we paid now but it was definitely less than $20 for both chairs. We got a bucket of 6 Carib for $12 and we were set!
Carib is far superior to Corona
The water was, as usual, amazing. There were a lot of people in our little section of beach but it was easy to find space to swim. 

This part of the beach also gave access to one of the grossest bathrooms I’ve ever used….including Europe. You could not flush toilet paper so there was a trash can next to the toilet for that. YUCK! I was also told I was beautiful by a Spanish guy while waiting in line. He asked me where I was from and then said I was beautiful. Also, I was only wearing my bathing suit. That was kind of creepy but I was a good foot and a half taller than him so I figured I could take him.

After a few hours, we decided to board the water taxi and head back to the ship. We stopped and had a guavaberry colada before boarding. Mmm! It was a pretty easy port day but the weather was beautiful and we did most everything we set out to do.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

St. Thomas // Second Port on Oasis of the Seas

After a lovely day at sea filled with pool time, shows and various other things, we were ready for another port.

St. Thomas - View from the Ship

We stopped in St. Thomas on our honeymoon but it is a beautiful island. On that cruise, we rented a jeep and drove all over the island giving ourselves a tour of Magen's Bay, Drake's Seat, the mountaintop lookout and other spots. We didn't feel like we needed to do that again. What I was interested in was St. John. It's another island in the US Virgin Islands and it happens to be a ferry ride away from St. Thomas. You can do this trip on your own. It involves a taxi to the ferry dock, the ferry over, a taxi to the beach on St. John's (and back) the ferry home and a taxi back to the ship. While not impossible, we decided that for $34.00 a person, we'd let Royal Caribbean figure out all the logistics.

Oasis does not dock in the same spot as all other ships due to its size. They have built some shops right at the port but it's nothing like all the jewelry and souvenir shops at the other dock we had visited. No matter. Instead, we hung out in the blazing sun waiting for our tour to gather and begin.

We boarded a 2 story ferry for the 25 minute ride to St. John. That 25 minutes turned into 45 minutes due to some pretty rough seas. High waves, lots of rocking. Not for the easily motion-affected. But, we survived and eventually landed at St. John.

On our way to the beach, the taxi driver asked if we wanted to stop at 3 lookouts to take pictures. Yes, we did!

I researched all of the beautiful beaches of St. John and settled on Trunk Bay as our stop for the day. Because St. John is a national park, the beaches are a lot less commercialized than on other islands. You could rent chairs and snorkel gear here and there was one stand serving food and drinks but that was it. Oh, there were bathrooms too. But you also had to pay to get in to contribute to the upkeep of the beach/park.

We had a burger and fries, grabbed a couple cans of Carib and headed towards the sand. Doesn't get much better than views like this.....

There is a snorkel trail here as well but we opted for the relaxation route. The water was warm, the sun was hot. Life was good. It came to an end all too soon and because I had a specific souvenir in mind to purchase, we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the ferry dock.

Just a short walk up the road was Mongoose Junction. There were several shops here and I knew this is where I would find my St. John's hook bracelet. You can spend thousands of dollars on diamonds and all sorts of other precious gemstones in all of these ports but I wanted something I would wear on a regular basis that didn't break the bank.


I got mine from the Caravan Gallery. There are other places you can purchase them but I noticed the bartender at the brewery had one on and I asked her about it. She said the ones from Caravan are all handcrafted so they're all unique and they age really well. Sold!

Oh, a brewery? Did you honestly think we wouldn't find a brewery in the Virgin Islands if there was one to be had? If so, I guess you don't know me AT ALL!

But if you do happen to make it to St. John, please please please grab a pint at the St. John's Brewers in Mongoose Junction. The tap room is upstairs.

In addition to beer, they also brew their own root beer, which is what this is.....with a shot of vanilla rum. It tasted like a rootbeer float. John had a pint of the Island Summer Ale which was very refreshing on this hot Caribbean day. We had just enough time before boarding the ferry to split a Coffee Stout. Holy cats. This was, hands down, one of the best coffee stouts I have ever had in my life. Roasty and chocolatey and I didn't even care that it was 90 degrees outside. They do have some distribution in the states but not much, unfortunately. The bartender was friendly and there was only one other patron in there at that time (Tuesday afternoon). We are so glad we stopped.

The return ride on the ferry was much smoother and we made friends with a couple Canadians over some rum punch. Cruisers are generally happy, chatty people, which is nice. You can always bond over the fact that you are on vacation.

The day in St. John was nothing short of amazing. It's somewhere I would gladly return to and spend a week, which is my scale of whether or not the island is worth it. If you have the opportunity to go there, 

This guy was in our room that night at turn down

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nassau, Bahamas // First port on Oasis of the Seas

We booked the Eastern itinerary even though two of the ports were repeaters because the stops were far preferable to Western. The first stop was Nassau in the Bahamas on Day Two of the itinerary.  Unfortunately, ships of this size are a bit limited in their itineraries. Not all ports can handle that magnitude and having to tender 6,200 guests might be somewhat of a logistical nightmare. No matter. We were ready for our day in the BahamasThis happened to be the port we had yet to visit so we were excited! Unfortunately, it's a very brief stop with all aboard being 1:30 pm. Best make the most of our time!

I didn't even consider any of the Royal Caribbean sponsored excursions because none of them appealed to me. I wouldn't mind checking out Atlantis at some point but for what they were charging and the amount of time in port it just wasn't worth it. I'm accustomed to planning DIY ports anyway so I accepted the challenge!

I had printed out a walking tour of Nassau from Frommer’s but there were only a couple sites we were actually interested in visiting. We marched our hot, happy selves through the hockers at the Straw Market and headed off to find the Queen’s Staircase…..in the wrong direction. We walked through some pretty sketchy areas but it was a quiet Sunday morning and I wasn’t really worried about running into trouble.
Eventually, we reached our destination. I didn’t bother to stop and listen to the history of the staircase, although I suppose I should have because I can’t tell you a darn thing about it. It’s old and pretty neat looking though. There are locals who will stop you and say, “Let me tell you a story”. They give you some history (maybe) and then demand a tip. Pass on that!
The light in the middle of the picture is the top of the staircase

We hiked up the stairs. Screaming memories of European stairwells in my quads! At the top, we found Fort Fincastle. It’s a small historic fort. Why? Beats me! 

My dad would be so proud that I was really soaking in all that history. But, it provided gorgeous views of the ship and port area.

4 ships in port that day!
Off to our next stop! Heading down was a welcome respite from the hike up. I had asked the gentleman collecting my dollar to visit the fort for directions to Graycliff Manor which is where I thought we’d find the rum distillery I wanted to visit. Well, we followed his directions explicitly and found neither Graycliff Manor nor the distillery.
I pulled out a map that had been forced upon me in port and luckily, there was an ad for said distillery, with an address. We were nowhere near it. But, it was sort of in the direction we needed to go anyway to get back to the ship.
We made it down to Front St. and started to see signs for our promised land. Eventually and sweatily, we landed at John Watling’s Rum Distillery!

They make all their rum on the premises and offer free tours daily. We hopped in about 10 minutes late but that was okay. It was a short, small tour anyway and we were in need of refreshment. Refreshment of the rum variety. We are in the Bahamas, right?
During the tour we tasted their 3 types of rum and then moved on to the bar area to make our selections.

John ordered a mojito and I got adventurous with a Rum Drum, kind of a sour lemonade drink. His mojito was so fresh. The Rum Drum was just okay. Sour isn’t really my thing. 

Then, we split a pina colada. Now, that’s more like it! This was the absolute freshest pina colada I have ever had. No mix from a bottle here, no sir! The drinks were $8.00 each, in case you're wondering.

Since it was a short port day, we headed back to the ship at this point stopping in a few shops along the way and bargaining at the Straw Market for a straw grass bowl that we liked. We are terrible at buying souvenirs on vacations and we were determined to remedy that on this trip. So far so good!

This was a nice little morning in Nassau but if we went back, I'd probably book a snorkeling excursion or maybe just make it a beach day. You also have the option of taking one of the many taxi tours around the island. You'll find these right away when you get off the ship because there are about 25 guys standing there shouting, "Tour of the island?" "Twenty five dollar tour" "See Nassau!"

We deemed our Nassau day a success and were ready for the next stop after a day at sea!