Centenary World Cruise Day 70: As Far As I Can Sea

Another day at sea. Sydney marked the end of one leg of the journey and the start of another, and as with every new leg, we have a whole new group of passengers. Many of them are only on from Sydney to South Africa, which is about three weeks. It’s always fun watching the new passengers wandering around the ship, trying to get their bearings. Awwww…remember when that was us? It seems like so long ago.

Today was also the day we dragged every souvenir we’ve bought since Stonehenge out from under the bed where we’ve been storing them, and packed them into the new luggage. We realized that, because we’ve also bought ourselves a bunch of things that we’re still using (mainly new clothes), that we couldn’t fit everything, even in these giant new suitcases. We decided to ship all the textiles (clothes, dish towels, etc.) and books (OMG, did I ever buy a lot of books). We packed it all up and, since we didn’t have anything planned for Melbourne (we land tomorrow), our adventure will include THE POST OFFICE!

Centenary World Cruise Day 44-45: I Can Sea for Miles

Day 44:

Today is a day at sea – one of two between Singapore and Thailand. And I’m sick. Like, snotty, hacking, coughing up phlegm sick. I started the day with room service breakfast – oatmeal and lots of orange juice. I made a pot of tea in the new teapot and drank it, then made another. I had to carefully consider how much tea I was going to drink, because the water from the taps here is nasty, and the drinking water comes in 1-liter bottles, of which we get 2 a day when they make up our room. Except that they haven’t had a chance to make up our room since yesterday morning, because I’ve been ill.

It made me think about the kind of packing I used to do for my 10-day residencies at grad school. I’d take plastic wine glasses and a corkscrew, dishes, sharp knives and scissors, a tiny cutting board, a fruit bowl, laundry detergent and fabric softener, all kinds of over the counter meds (Excedrin, Sudafed, Mucinex, antacids), a power strip, a sewing kit, a small electric kettle, a teapot, tea, first aid supplies. This all went into a big plastic box, because I drove to residency and had the room for it. We also took all this stuff on trips for piping competitions, which were normally only two or three days. And these trips were in cities, where I’d be near grocery stores, etc.

All that stuff, packed for less than two weeks, and yet, I didn’t pack most of those things for a four-month trip where I would have very limited access to stores! Here are some things I regret not bringing:

  • Command hooks (there are just never enough hooks, and they’re not where you want them)
  • Normal scissors (I brought hair scissors, but you can’t use those on anything else)
  • Sudafed and Mucinex (why did I think we wouldn’t get sick on a four-month trip?)
  • Powdered hummus (they never have enough vegan protein options, and hummus is always a nice snack)

Having not brought that stuff, here are some things I learned from shopping abroad:

  • Other countries have unexpected restrictions on pharmaceuticals (for instance, in the UK, you can’t get more than 32 pills of the over-the-counter painkiller paracetamol – in the US, you can get Tylenol in Kentucky Fried Chicken-sized buckets)
  • Speaking of pharmaceuticals, other countries don’t call stuff the same thing we do, or use different drugs for the same effect, so you have to do some decoding (we couldn’t find guaifenesin, an expectorant, but we could find this other stuff that works even better and doesn’t taste like burnt hair)
  • In Asian countries, people are expected to be smaller than they are here (if a piece of clothing says “one size,” it’s a good bet it’s at most an American size medium)
  • Hummus is mysteriously elusive – we haven’t been able to find it in Dubai, Malaysia or Singapore, and I feel like we’re just not looking in the right place – either it’s sold in a can or jar, or it’s sold as a powdered mix. However they sell it (if they, indeed, sell it), we haven’t been able to find it.

Hopefully, I’ll be over this creeping crud in time for Thailand. 

Day 45:

All the days at sea are eerily the same. But I got a lot of work done today.

Centenary World Cruise Day 3 – What I Forgot

Just before we left, I worried that I was going to forget something. One of the things I listed was a full set of professional water colors and an easel. At the time, I was joking – it was an example of something obviously unnecessary that was in my brain for no reason other than the fact that I worry about everything.

Turns out, there’s a daily watercolor class for which you may purchase materials. So it turns out I needn’t have worried.

And we have figured out what I forgot. Despite the fact that I have about a dozen receptacles into which one can put pills of any description, and despite the fact that I spent an entire evening putting my daily meds/vitamins into little packets so I would remember to take them, I utterly neglected to bring any kind of painkiller. This meant that while we were in New York and for the first two days on the ship, I had a whacking headache. See? Told you I’d forget something.

We’ve taken to hanging out in the lounge set aside for those doing the entire world cruise. It’s nice, because one can always find a table, there are conveniently-located outlets, and there is always tea and a variety of snacks. Except “snacks” here means “canapés.”

I had never before in my life eaten a single canapé, and now I find myself faced with them several times a day. Honestly, I’m not impressed. I’m sure that canapés handmade by the host of a dinner party eager to make a good impression on their guests are delicate and delicious. These are mass-produced, industrial canapés, and are therefore…well, let’s just say uninspiring. Although I will never say no to skewers of shrimp.

Centenary World Cruise Day 1 – Embarkation

It was dumping rain when we left our hotel. Back in 2010 when we took my mother to Scotland for three weeks for her birthday, we stayed a night or two in one city, and then moved on to the next city in our itinerary, eventually making a circuit of the entire country. It seemed that it was always raining on the days we traveled from one city to the next. Since then, I’ve just taken it for granted that if it’s a travel day, it’s raining.

My biggest fear once we got on board was that our luggage wouldn’t be there. I’ve never shipped luggage ahead before, so I had no idea what to expect. When we boarded the ship, the queue for the elevators was ridiculous, so the Pirate and I ducked into one of the zillion lounges for a much-needed cup of tea to wait out the crowd. The Pirate took the stairs up to our stateroom to retrieve our keycards (they’re used for paying for things on board), and the luggage wasn’t there. After a tiny, silent panic attack, we reassured ourselves that luggage was still being brought on board, so it wasn’t hopeless.

Tea drunk, we went up to our stateroom (which, I’m going to be honest, is just a really posh way of saying “closet with a bed in it”) and were joyously re-united with our luggage. Because we’d shipped it two weeks ago, and in that two weeks I’d flown to LA to teach a class, my younger sister came out for a brief pre-holiday visit, my daughter and her husband came out from Connecticut, and then there was all the holiday hoopla, I had honestly forgotten all about a lot of the clothes I had packed. It was like Christmas all over again, looking at a bunch of clothes I’d bought specifically for this trip (OMG! Those great flowered cigarette pants!)

After dinner, we took a little stroll around the ship to familiarize ourselves with it. This is by far the largest ship we’ve ever been on, so there’s a whole lot of stuff we haven’t seen yet. I don’t have a good feel for the layout of things, but I have four months to figure it out. One thing we did see was a giant bas relief with scenes from different parts of the world. The very first figure in one of them is a woman wearing some kind of headdress and a sort of drapey skirt thing. No shirt, no artfully-arranged hair, no leaves – just her bare breasts hanging there in midair. EXCEPT: she had no nipples. Because you can’t tell they’re breasts without nipples, right? There are so many things that could be floating around right below a woman’s shoulders, right? Even weirder, a few feet further down are a bunch of topless men, and they all have nipples. They don’t even have a use for them, but they have them.

Yes, it looks like she’s wearing a shirt, but she’s not. And on the right, that’s not a trick of perspective – he really does have a weirdly prominent head and a posture that suggests he’s parading down a catwalk, showing off his nipples.

I keep feeling like I have to do every activity, fill up every minute. And then I remind myself that I have four months. There’s no hurry.

Future Perfect Tense

We leave in just under three days. I say “just under,” because at this point, the time until we leave can be comfortably counted in hours (about 68). I have made my packing lists, I have begun packing up things that I’ll take on the plane. Our clothes left two weeks ago. And yet, my own travel experience tells me that I will forget something. Nothing show-stopping, and nothing that cannot be purchased anywhere in the world, but still, when one has had more than 18 months to plan, forgetting anything is galling.

I was talking to my sister on the phone last night, and telling her about the fight in my OCD brain between trying to be as complete as possible in my listing and also trying to anticipate what I’m going to forget. Because I can’t shake the feeling that I will start unpacking things once we get into our stateroom and I will have forgotten something. (Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved title.) But how do you anticipate what you’re going to forget?

At this point, all the big things are accounted for, which leads me to speculate that the thing I’ll be kicking myself for is something I don’t currently have, but wish I had. That lip mask Sephora sent me a sample of that I’m really liking. A new hat of some description. A full set of professional watercolors and an easel. I have no idea, but there will be something. And then there is the part of my mind that says that because I’m worrying about little stuff, I’ll forget something big. Medication. My passport.

It’s like in fairy tales where the main character is told not to do a certain thing (look in a room, eat something, ask a question), and although they live their whole lives knowing about that proscription, circumstances conspire to force them into doing the very thing they were prohibited from doing, with disastrous consequence. My worrying about forgetting something will force my brain into such a spin that it will, in fact, cause me to forget something.

My only hope is to pack everything now, put on the clothes I plan to fly out in, and just stand by the door for the next two days and two nights until I leave, moving only to add things to my bags as I remember them.

Yeah. That’s a great idea. I think I’ll do that.


Days Spent in Free Fall

You all know that we sent off our luggage just about two weeks ago. Meaning that we are reduced to a tiny fraction of our normal wardrobes, but at least the luggage is out of the way. Okay, most of the luggage is out of the way.

But even with that large hurdle cleared, it still hadn’t sunk in. It still felt hypothetical. I could joke about our luggage not showing up in our stateroom, I could joke about testing positive for COVID, I could joke about shocking our fellow passengers with…well, with just about anything I wear, say, or do. I thought the panic I felt was as bad as it was going to get, but I was so, so wrong.

As the time came closer, I realized just how much work I had to do for Zoetic Press, how much work I had to do to prepare for Christmas (for which my older daughter traveled from Connecticut), and how much work still had to be done to prepare for the trip. But I STILL didn’t freak out.

And then my husband did our final check-in for the cruise.

Why was that the thing that made me lose my shit? Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t decide which of the four thousand things on my list to do first, I couldn’t sleep.

I spent 12 hours a day working nonstop to get all the Zoetic Press stuff done, another six working on Christmas stuff, and the other six sleeping. When I wasn’t lying awake and thinking about everything I still had to do. And finally, I just snapped. I told my poor husband that I never wanted to go on this trip in the first place, that I didn’t want to go at all. That this whole venture was dumb. And, saint that he is, he took it as well as can be expected when one is told that the thing they’ve spent a year and a half planning, preparing for, and getting excited about is dumb. I am lucky beyond description that he’s lived with me for more than twenty years and so doesn’t get angry and vindictive when I lose my everloving mind.

Then I finished all the Zoetic Press stuff, and nearly all of the Christmas stuff, and I was still panicking. There was still so much stuff we had to get before we left, and suddenly we’re looking at the luggage we have and the stuff we need to bring (like four months’ worth of meds) and realizing we’re not going to have quite enough room. The good news is that we have time to figure stuff out.

I forced myself to put everything down and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day focusing on time with my family, and it gave me a chance to breathe and calm down. It was an island of happiness in a sea of naked panic.

As of today, we’re six days away from leaving. The house is a wreck with the stuff we brought home from Christmas, and I’ve changed my mind about what I’m wearing on the plane and from there, onto the ship, about sixty-eight times an hour.

Stuff that’s going horribly wrong:

  • I need refills of two meds, and I’ve contacted my doctors, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll even see the messages between now and the time I leave
  • Our washing machine, which is likely as old as the building we’re in, has now sprung a leak – we have to buy a new one
  • Our refrigerator is completely full of more food than we’re likely to eat in six days

So…less than a week to go, and so much stuff to do. We’ll see what gets done, and what will sit here for four months and greet us when we step through the door! I’m really hoping it’s not a refrigerator full of angry, sentient leftovers.

Packing Hack!

When you hit a certain age, you have meds. It’s just a fact of life. And when you travel, you have to take those meds with you.

Now, you could pack giant bottles of pills, although they take up an unnecessary amount of space. If you’re the kind of person who is okay with opening several bottles of pills and fishing out the right dosage every day, maybe that works for you. It doesn’t for me. I am absolutely one of those people with the giant pill organizer that I sit down once a week and fill.

Twice a day, morning and night, I get to take a big fistful of pills – a lot of vitamins and supplements, a few prescription medications. I feel like that scene in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, where they’re having breakfast in the middle of nowhere and Bernadette’s breakfast consists of nothing but a bowl full of pills and capsules. With that organizer, it’s easier for me to remember to take my meds, and when I take them, I know I’m taking all of them.

So how do I have that same confidence once I’m on the ship? A few months ago, I ordered some pill pouches – tiny zipper bags that will each hold a morning or evening’s worth of pills. Now that we’re getting down to the time that everything has to be packed and shipped, I realized I needed to pack my meds. How do I do that in a way that won’t take hours?

I specialize in breaking down processes into their component steps, and here, there are two steps: sorting the pills into groups, and then getting them into the pill pouches. There’s really no easy way to sort the pills, but that doesn’t take a long time. The time consuming part is getting them into the pill pouches. There are big, commercial machines that will help you do that, but I don’t need to spend $1400 to do this.

Not only am I great at breaking down tasks into their component parts, I’m also great at improvising solutions from what I have at hand. Here’s what I put together.

It’s a letter-sized sheet of paper, folded in half vertically. I cut the edges 2/3 of the way to the center so that I had four flaps on each side. Then I folded each flap into a tube using a Sharpie as a rough size guide, and taped it together. I put tiny craft clothespins on the folded edge to make it stand up better, but tape would work just as well. Now all I had to do was fit the pill pouches onto the tubes and sort the pills – they’re already packed! It took less than half the time I expected it to – a little over three hours to do 240 individual pill packs, and I only used the one sheet of paper.

Now that they’re all sorted and packed, that’s one less thing I have to worry about.

Time for Second Guessing!

I spent most of a day packing and re-packing my list of stuff, and felt pretty good about it. Smug, almost.

But even before I went to sleep that night, I was already second guessing every choice I had made. Should I have packed more than one black turtleneck? (Although seriously, who do I think I am – Steve Jobs?) Should I have packed those really cute cigarette pants with the roses? And did I pack those walking shoes I had bought specifically for this trip? The problem is that I packed on Sunday so that my husband could clutter up our bedroom with his packing on Monday so that the luggage could be picked up Tuesday.

After he was done with his packing Monday afternoon, my husband came down and announced “Wow, even after I packed a bunch of extra stuff, I’m still not even close to filling up my suitcase.”

Now I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, I am happy to fill that mouth with those cute cigarette pants, the walking shoes that I had not, in fact, packed, and a bunch of other stuff. We weighed our luggage, and what we just shipped is collectively 220 pounds of luggage, clothes, and sundry other stuff. And that’s just what we shipped. See those two little carry-on bags in the corner? Those are coming with us, along with our overnight bags.

Today, that luggage was carted off, and the next time we lay eyes on it, it will be in our stateroom aboard ship. Theoretically. Hopefully.

This is the part where someone says “What could go wrong?”

Switching Gears

Normally, I’m in this space talking about my whole weight loss thing and how that’s going, but it’s time to switch gears, because this next four and a half months is going to be all about the cruise I’m taking with my husband. “Holy shit!” I hear you cry! “A four and a half month cruise?!” To which I reply “Don’t be silly. We don’t leave for a couple of weeks, so the cruise itself will only be four months.”

And what happens first? PACKING. How do you even pack for four months? My first question was “Do they have some kind of enormous luggage storage rooms so that we have somewhere to store our steamer trunks and hatboxes and croquet mallets and stuff?” For months I looked for that info, and couldn’t find it anywhere. On cruises we’ve been on in the past, we just shoved all our luggage under the bed, but the longest cruise we’ve been on before now is 3 weeks. Fitting a couple of big suitcases under the bed is no sweat. But how do you find room for luggage for FOUR MONTHS?

Turns out, even on a trip of that length, all your suitcases have to fit in your room. Since we’re not members of the royal family, we have a normal stateroom, which will be about the size of a parking space. Okay, two parking spaces. We’re taking two really big suitcases, two smaller carry-ons, two overnight cases, and two enormous duffel bags. What’s going to end up happening will be a sort of turducken of luggage: the folded duffel bags will go into the overnight cases which will then go into one large suitcase, and the packing cubes will go into the carry-ons, which will go into the other big suitcase. Problem solved!

Well, that problem at least. Now that we know how we’re going to pack, the next question is what are we going to pack?

First, we had to do a little reality check. Yes, we’re leaving for four months, but do we have to pack four months’ worth of stuff? I mean, I don’t own 120 pairs of socks. Wait, bad example. (I really like socks.) But I sure as heck don’t own 120 pairs of underpants. We decided that three weeks’ worth of clothes would be the right amount.

Then I started laying out three weeks’ worth of clothes. Oh, and also a bathing suit. And pajamas. And don’t forget the formalwear. And shoes. Undershirts. Sweaters. During the trial run, I had all my clothes stacked up on the bed such that the bed was almost entirely obscured. (See picture left.)

I did a little research. I mean, that’s why we have the internet, right? So that we might learn from other people’s mistakes. And what I learned was that, whatever you initially took out of your closet, put half of it back. Every single article agreed that less is more, and if there was anything urgent you had forgotten, other places in the world will have them and gladly sell them to you.

So I put stuff back. When I finally started packing, I was a little disoriented that it seemed like…not a lot. Especially considering we’ll be going from England in January, through the equator, and into a southern hemisphere late fall, then back. We’re opting for the classic plan: layers. I’ve got undershirts, button-downs, trousers and all manner of socks. I even have hats (one for cold weather, one for warm), gloves, and a scarf. I plan to be a warm, happy onion.

The luggage service comes on Tuesday to pick up all our luggage and take it to the ship. This isn’t a service of the cruise line – this is something you have to arrange yourself. But for a couple of non-neurotypical people who aren’t exactly spring chickens, it’s worth the cost to not have to keep track of eight skillion pieces of luggage.

This gives us about 20 days to freak out about “Did we pack X?” “Should we bring Y?” “Did you pack Z? I needed it!” I can hardly wait!

Monkey on the Radio

I could do a post wrapping up the end of the cruise, but to be honest, our last day at sea was largely spent packing and sitting by the pool. Now that we were back up north (having shoved off from Cabo at ~2pm the day before), it was really cold and windy out by the pool and most people were wearing jackets and hats. We did take that towel animal class, though.

1 bath towel + 1 hand towel = 1 elephant

The secret to a good elephant is a really tight trunk roll. Once you've mastered that, you're in the big leagues.

So…if you visit my house and use the guest bath, you are likely to see either an adorable fresh towel elephant, bear or monkey. Either that, or a slighly damp towel amoeba.

So, packing sleeping, disembarking, driving, unpacking, laundering, catching up on email/phone calls/mail…and now we’re at Wednesday. One of the things I did while on the boat was to put together this year’s reading for Ann Arbor’s show “Unbedtime Stories” on KFJC. I’ve done this every year, and it’s something I always enjoy. Without further ado, here is my 2012 radio appearance.

As always, big thanks to Ann Arbor for her generosity in inviting me back year after year to read on Unbedtime Stories. If you’d like to hear me reading something by someone else, I’ll be at Felton Library’s Readathon, tentatively scheduled for February 8. But don’t worry. I’ll remind you.