Feb 26, 2015

Tiny Updates, Big Impact


We're still caught in a deep freeze here (24 days until Spring!) so the big projects requiring power tools and extended time in the garage are on hold for a while longer.

Instead, we've made some small changes that have a big impact - for us anyway. Last weekend I finally got around to caulking the gap between the medicine cabinet and the wall in the updated ensuite bathroom.

If you've never used caulk before, it's so easy, yet makes your project look "finished", like it was part of the original build. To caulk a seam you'll need a damp cloth, a dry cloth, caulk of course, and a caulking gun. If you don't have a gun you can still use a smaller toothpaste-type tube of caulk, but the gun sure makes it a lot easier.

caulking medicine cabinet to wall

My method: I run a bead of caulk down the seam I'm joining, making sure to let off the trigger a few inches before the end as the caulk will continue to come out of the tube.

caulking medicine cabinet to wall

I then run my finger down the seam, removing the excess caulk and wiping it on the dry cloth. I guess it's obvious that you'll throw away that dry cloth when you're done!

caulking medicine cabinet to wall

Once I've removed most of the excess caulk, I run the damp cloth down the seam to get a smooth finish. One more wipe with my finger to remove any cloth marks, and leave it to dry.

caulking medicine cabinet to wall

caulking medicine cabinet to wall

After sealing the medicine cabinet I took a close look at the faux board and batten in the bedroom and noticed that some of those seams were visible too. Raw, green wood shrinks as it dries, so some seams had opened up over the 6 months or so since the boards were attached to the wall. I just repeated what I did above, getting the wall treatment back to a "built-in" state.

Another update was to install new wall outlets in the kitchen and front foyer that have USB ports built into them. We charge two phones and the iPad daily, and have always had to use a bulky adapter to handle it all.

We went from this:
usb wall outlet combo

To this:
usb wall outlet combo

To this:
usb wall outlet combo

Having 4 ports was nice, but with a USB outlet in the foyer now, Tom is happier to charge his phone by the door where he'll remember to grab it on his way out in the morning. I don't have photos or instructions on how to swap out the outlets - these were done while I was sleeping in and apparently, due to some crazy split wiring behind the wall, it took about 45 minutes and a little bit of cursing for each outlet. These outlets are deeper than regular ones, so it's a bit snug back in there.

We also plug in the "house phone" here - it's a bluetooth-enabled setup that lets us answer our cell phones from any of 4 receivers in the house. Now that the USB ports are built in, it still leaves one outlet free for whenever we need it.

The final change was to swap out our old dull floor register covers for some fancy new ones. Ever since we put a new flat register cover in the ensuite bathroom I've been wanting to replace the ones in the rest of the house.

standard floor register cover

updated brushed nickel register floor cover

These ones are brushed nickel - Tom's not sure if he likes them with the terracotta tile, so we're going to try out some other ones, maybe oil rubbed bronze or black. I like them though - such an improvement over the old ones that were scratched and dented and a boring shade of brown.

standard floor register cover

updated brushed nickel register floor cover


And now, looking at these pictures, I think I'm scrubbing my baseboards this weekend!




Feb 19, 2015

Eastern Caribbean Cruise - 2015

Who's tired of this never-ending deep freeze? I know I am. A couple of weeks ago we made our escape and took a cruise to the Caribbean. Seven days of nothing but warm sun, far too much food, and endless relaxation.
trunk bay st john usvi
We left from Fort Lauderdale and sailed to Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas, USVI). There was also a stop at Half Moon Cay, a private island in the Bahamas owned by the cruise line.

The night before we left, we headed to the grocery store for snacks and drove past Duffy's Sports Grill. You may know about our backyard fold-down bar - and Tom's running joke with his friends about Duffy's Bar & Grill.
duffy's fold down bar
So of course we had to stop there for dinner. The place is huge!
duffy's sports grill fort lauderdale florida
When we told the waitress about the joke, she gave us menus, coasters, and MVP cards to take back with us. If only our Duffy`s served fried plantains!
duffy's sports grill fort lauderdale florida
The next morning we headed to the port. The ship we were on was the Eurodam - on the Holland America Line. Holland America has the reputation for being, umm - quieter - than other cruise lines. We had mulled over different lines, and finally decided that quiet was what we were looking for - plus it had an itinerary that we liked. These were three islands that we would probably never have the chance to visit otherwise - they're all very expensive to fly to from Canada.
eurodam holland america grand turk
The sail-away from Fort Lauderdale was subdued as it was overcast and windy that day. Still, one of my favourite things is seeing the huge, huge houses that back onto the waterway. Can you imagine enjoying those views every day?
fort lauderdale florida
fort lauderdale florida
fort lauderdale florida
We had a balcony cabin - nearly the same one we had last time. There was more than enough space for us to spread out - and I appreciated being able to go outside whenever I wanted to.
eurodam cabin 6096 holland america
eurodam cabin 6096 holland america
Of course the highlight of any cruise is the towel animal that is waiting for you when you get back from dinner. And our room steward didn't let us down. The floppy-eared puppy was my personal favourite - no surprise there.
eurodam cabin 6096 holland america towel animals
One of the towels in the bathroom was always falling down and landing in a pile on the floor. More often than not, you would open the door to find this guy waiting for you. Tom liked to call him the sleeping pope.
towel pope
Our first full day was an at-sea day that I spent sprawled in the sun while Tom found a spot in the shade to read a book. I also made him get up every morning to go to the gym, though he was never up early enough to see the sunrise.
sunrise caribbean
That first night we ate dinner with three retired ladies from England, Scotland, and Wales who had met each other on a past cruise and now cruise together each year. We found a shared interest in trivia and teamed up with them to test our knowledge - even winning when the theme in the piano bar was 70's music (mostly thanks to Tom). We had so much fun with them; it was sad to say goodbye at the end of the trip.

Our first port of call was Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos islands.
grand turk turks and caicos bvi
In (on?) Grand Turk we went snorkelling and...I forgot my underwater camera back in the cabin. I could just kick myself. While we were snorkelling, one of the guides gave me a water bottle half-filled with fish food, and suddenly I was every fish's best friend. I would squeeze the bottle so that some food came out, and the fish would be right up in there gobbling it up. They'd even come up and nudge the bottle, demanding more. And I have no pictures of it. Not a one.

We also went to Gibbs Cay, which is known as Stingray City. The tour guide found a stingray for us to get up close with - each of us getting to support it in the water, and then kissing it. Yes, supposedly it is good luck to kiss a stingray. We did win $10 at the casino slots that night, so maybe it works!
stingray grand turk turks and caicos bvi
stingray grand turk turks and caicos bvi
Back from snorkelling, we went to Margaritaville for lunch. Fancy Jimmy Buffet-themed sandwiches and free wi-fi on the beach.
margaritaville grand turk turks and caicos bvi
margaritaville grand turk turks and caicos bvi
grand turk turks and caicos bvi
After lunch we took a walk down the beach towards the south end of the island and the conch graveyard. Thousands of conch shells have washed up on shore and stay there to bleach in the sun. There was this crazy black rock on the beach with a maze-like pattern on it. I saw another one underwater a few days later while snorkeling around a reef - brain coral, maybe?
conch graveyard grand turk turks and caicos bvi
conch graveyard grand turk turks and caicos bvi
brain coral grand turk turks and caicos bvi
This port is interesting because the ship docks so close to the shore - it's as if you could walk right through the water and touch it. And the water itself is just incredible - so many different shades of blue.
eurodam holland america grand turk turks and caicos bvi
grand turk turks and caicos bvi
The next day was an afternoon and evening stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan isn't really known for its beaches, but more for its history. The old city is notable for its two forts - El Morro and San Cristobal - and its narrow cobblestone streets. This was our introduction to San Juan as we rounded the island heading to port:
el morro san juan puerto rico
We spent the afternoon wandering through both forts, then down into the city for some gelato.
san cristobal san juan puerto rico
san cristobal san juan puerto rico
san cristobal san juan puerto rico
san cristobal san juan puerto rico
san cristobal san juan puerto rico
el morro san juan puerto rico
el morro san juan puerto rico
el morro san juan puerto rico
el morro san juan puerto rico


san juan puerto rico
san juan puerto rico
capitolio san juan puerto rico
seahorse bahia urbana san juan puerto rico
parrots san juan puerto rico
eugenio maria de hostos san juan puerto rico
At dinnertime we returned to the ship for a shower and a change of clothes, then back into Old San Juan for dinner. We were looking for something authentically Puerto Rican, and stumbled upon Triana Tapas and Flamenco Restaurant. The food was fantastic - Tom had mofongo and I had scallops and plantain. But the music was a bit loud for our taste. You had to yell just to talk to each other or the waiter. We still had plenty of time after dinner, so we walked around a bit more and back to the ship, getting to see what it looks like lit up at night.
eurodam holland america
The following day was a port day again. This time Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. We had plans to snorkel in Trunk Bay on the island of St. John, so we were up early and ended up being the first ones off the ship. We took a taxi across St. Thomas and caught a ferry for the short ride to St. John.
cruz bay st. john usvi
Trunk Bay was rated one of the world's most beautiful beaches by National Geographic and it's well-deserved. The water is just gorgeous, the bay is fairly small, and the beach isn't crowded at all. There is an underwater trail for snorkelling with signs telling you about the coral below. This time I did remember my disposable underwater camera, but the pictures aren't back from the developer yet, so you'll just have to wait! I've decided that we need to buy a digital underwater camera - waiting two weeks for pictures is just crazy.
trunk bay st john usvi
trunk bay st john usvi
trunk bay st john usvi
After exhausting ourselves snorkelling, we hung out on the beach for a few hours and then headed back to the ferry dock for some lunch before the ferry arrived. We ended up in a taxi van for the trip back into Charlotte Amalie and were a little stressed about how long it took because everyone was being dropped off at different places. We wanted to do a little looking around at the buildings and historic sites before our 4:30pm all-aboard.We were dropped off at "99 Steps" - a staircase street that joins the main street to the residential area. The streets are steeply sloped, so these little staircases are a great way to make your way down the hill.
99 steps charlotte amalie st thomas usvi
We walked from there to Fort Christian - the oldest standing structure in the USVI, and currently a museum. We are huge fans of the Amazing Race and when I saw the fort this past season I knew I wanted to go there. Unfortunately it was being renovated, so all we got were pictures of it covered with scaffolding.
fort christian charlotte amalie st thomas usvi
After trudging back into the town center, we found a cute pub in an alleyway and stopped for a couple of drinks. This is where I discovered lime-flavoured rum and put it on my to-buy list for when we got back to Fort Lauderdale.
side street pub charlotte amalie st thomas usvi
charlotte amalie st thomas usvi
charlotte amalie st thomas usvi
windmill st thomas usvi
st thomas usvi
The rest of the cruise was pretty relaxing. We had another at-sea day and then a day at Half Moon Cay on an island in the Bahamas that the cruise line owns. We didn't have any plans except to sit in the sun and read books.
half moon cay bahamas holland america
half moon cay bahamas holland america
half moon cay bahamas holland america
half moon cay bahamas holland america
half moon cay bahamas holland america
captain morgan pirate bar half moon cay bahamas holland america
half moon cay bahamas holland america
So how about the food? As most people know, there is an over-abundance of food available on a cruise. We ate far more than we needed to, but tried to keep it as healthy as possible. Their salad bars were incredible and I'm trying to replicate some of those salads now that I'm back at home.
eurodam holland america
eurodam holland america
eurodam holland america
Twice we ate at a specialty restaurant on board called the Tamarind, and I swear, it was the best food I've ever eaten in my life. It's an Asian restaurant with choices from just about any region you could think of. One night I had potstickers and Thai shrimp, while another night I had various spring rolls and Vietnamese-style lamb. Tom had Malaysian and Thai satay and wasabi-crusted tenderloin the first night, and sushi and curry chicken the second.
tamarind eurodam holland america
tamarind eurodam holland america
But I have to tell you about the desserts. Oh, the desserts! Picture this - tempura battered coconut ice cream. Seriously, can you believe it? And banana bread pudding with caramel sauce. It was like little banana bread fritters. We rolled out of there each time, almost ashamed at how much we'd eaten, but it was all so good!

We had a really great time, though we think we might stick to some land-based vacations for a while. There are just too many place we want to see!




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