The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 30, 2010

Happy New Year… Now What?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 2:24 am

Don’t look now, but 2010 is rapidly approaching its end.  Normally this is where one would be inclined to comment that the year either seemed to drag on forever or seemed to go by way too fast, but to be honest, I think this one seemed to go by at just about the right speed.   Christmas was as it’s always been in our family with everyone gathering from our various far-flung locales and spending some family time together.  Unfortunately, this year’s festivities were marked by a visit from one of the various forms of galloping crud that goes around about this time of year.  I wasn’t able to completely dodge it myself, but I seem to have gotten a watered-down version of the stuff, and managed to avoid the worst of it.  Which is a good thing, because I really hate it when I have to throw up, and although the rest of the symptoms of the various stomach bugs going around aren’t exactly much fun to deal with, at least they’re reasonably tolerable if needs be.  It’s when you find yourself at the wheel of the proverbial porcelain bus that you know this one is starting to suck.

Anyway, getting back to Christmas, when people weren’t getting sick it was a pretty standard affair with the big extended family gathering on Christmas Eve, and the immediate family gathering on Christmas day.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything particularly fancy for the White Elephant gift exchange this year, just some tacky High School Musical lamp with a speaker in it that just happened to hit the exact sweet spot between cheapness, tackiness, and demographical inappropriateness (after all, you’ve got to make sure nobody who gets the thing is actually going to LIKE it, that would ruin the whole point) to work well for the purpose.  I figure a repeat of last year’s Ikea prop CRT monitor would probably go over like a lead balloon.  Or at least some other really heavy thing.  Which was kind of the whole point really.  For Christmas itself I actually got a pretty decent chunk of the stuff I had on the list I posted here (apparently I’m kind of hard to shop for if I don’t do something like that) and enjoyed the chance to see everyone.  Although some of the more far-flung members of the family are quite some distance away and not here all that often (especially my brother Jason who lives down in Provo,) lately I’ve come to realize that lately I haven’t been seeing even the ones who are relatively close often as I used to.  Granted, I do live a little bit further away than I used to, but getting to my parents’ house  is still just a quick trip down 520 from here, so I really don’t have much of an excuse.

Anyway, another Christmas has come and gone, and New Years Day is approaching quickly.  To be honest, I have to admit that this isn’t exactly my favorite time of year.  After all, Christmas is done with, New Year’s Day rarely seems to be much more than an excuse to throw big loud parties, and once you’re done with those you find yourself with most of the Winter sitting in front of you, and not much to break it up.  For obvious reasons I’ve never been big on Valentine’s Day, and Summer is still basically six months away.  I suppose one coping strategy is to get away from the stuff and go somewhere sunny, but there’s one little problem:  the cruise I’m booked on isn’t scheduled until the end of March, a few days past the Vernal Equinox.  It’s actually less than three months away now, but that’s three months of some of the crummiest weather of the year.  Now that I remember what it’s like to spend three months waiting for a vacation, I think I’m starting to see the reason why I seem to end up planning this kind of stuff on short notice most of the time.  I’m not a patient person, and I’ve never been a patient person, Even if it takes a bit of scrambling to plan things out, I find that I do a lot better with vacation coming up in three weeks than I do with one coming up in three months.   

Anyway, here’s a couple of random thoughts to close out the year:

  • As much as I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Day, I do have to admit that it does provide some occasion for introspection and evaluation.  I’ve actually got a couple of days off work here at the end of the year (one scheduled holiday, and one “use it or lose it” floating holiday) and it’s kind of nice to be able to take the time off (mostly) without feeling guilty about it for one reason or another.  It’s interesting to recall that it was a year ago today that I was getting laid off from what now appears to be my last Microsoft contract, at least for the time being, and was trying to figure out what the heck I was going to be doing with my life.  I’m pretty sure if my current self had gone back a year and let my past self know how things would have turned out I probably wouldn’t have believed myself, but after a bit of a roller-coaster ride of a year, things finally seem to be going in the direction I’d like them to be going.  In the process I’ve even managed to check off a few items on my lifelong to-do list, which is nice, but right now I seem to be sitting on one of the really tricky ones:  Get Married.  No pressure there…  I’m kind of hoping that this is one of those things that will eventually work itself out, but something tells me it’s going to take some doing.  I suppose I should probably get to work on that one, unless some nice, caring (and preferably relatively sane) girl out there would like to do me a favor and fall madly in love… 


  • One thing that I’ve learned over the past year is that if you can help it, cheap low-grade ice cream just isn’t worth bothering with.  You can be just as happy with a few spoonfuls of the good stuff as you can with a whole bowl of the cheaper stuff.  I particularly like the locally produced Snoqualmie Gourmet stuff, particularly the coconut and the chocolate gelato flavors.  Granted, the stuff isn’t exactly good for you, but when you’re only eating a little bit at a time it ends up being less calories.  Of course, that does assume that you can manage to restrain yourself from wolfing down the whole pint in one sitting.  Back in my young and/or foolish days I have been known to go through a whole pint of Cherry Garcia while sitting on the couch watching soaps (actually, the whole soap opera part never happened.  As far as you know.  Besides, you can’t prove anything.)  These days I’m a lot better at putting the stuff away before going overboard, but the stuff is also good enough that a few bites is plenty. 

  • Even though it seems like these days we’re getting four straight months of wall-to-wall Christmas from our various retail establishments these days (this year, I was seeing Christmas stuff starting to appear on the shelves literally before the end of August,) Christmas also seems to be a holiday that disappears in a hurry when its time has passed.  The minute the calendar flips over to December 26th the 50% off tags start flying, and I can’t say I blame them.  After all, the “Christmas in July” bit has met with only limited success over the years, and even the marketers have been forced to admit that the “Christmas in April” campaign turned out to be a total flop.  Given the fact that the 26th fell on a Sunday this year and that I spent a good chunk of Monday in various degrees of gastric distress, I didn’t make it to any of the stores until several days after the closeouts begun, but since I don’t have any intention of actually buying any of the stuff that’s OK.  It is somewhat interesting (in the usual “watching a trainwreck?” fashion of course) to see what’s left over at this point.  Case in point:  This LED-powered Technicolor Santa.   If you really wanted a Santa that colorful, even at the closeout price I think drugs would probably be cheaper.  Even so, there’s still some bargains to be had if you’ve got the space for them (which I don’t) but you better hurry because they’re going fast.  After all, there’s only 45 shopping days left until Valentine’s Day.

Anyway, thanks once again for your visits to this Blog in 2010, and I hope you’ll stick around in 2011.  Although I’ve never been big on resolutions, I’m trying to set a goal to write roughly 2,000 words worth of material a week on here over the course of the next year, and I also want to work on picking some of my long-term Blog projects (particularly the malls) back up.  In the meantime, have a Happy New Year, and try not to freeze out there, OK?

December 25, 2010

He Knows When You’re Awake

Filed under: Holidays, Short Stories, Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:47 am

(A semi-autobiographical short story…  Except for the parts I made up.  Which is is most of it.)

Although the clock had not technically ticked past Midnight yet, as far as I was concerned Christmas Eve was finished.  Another fine family Christmas Eve get-together was now in the proverbial books, all present had been well fed (with the possible exception of a couple stubborn children that seem to regard any food which isn’t made of sugar to be a necessary evil at best,) friendships and kinships had been renewed,   and all of the usual traditions had been carried on for another year.  Everyone had gone their separate ways to prepare for their various Christmas celebrations the next day, and as far as I was aware, nobody’s car had broken down on the way home this year.  I had retired to my own apartment to settle back into my usual late-night routine.  If Midnight Oil is a commodity to be burned, I seem to have enough of the stuff to supply a small country with a healthy strategic reserve, and don’t anticipate a shortage anytime soon.  When you frequently go to bed at 1:30 in the morning, the stroke of Midnight doesn’t often mean much more than a few numbers on the clock, and even though Christmas would be arriving soon, tonight didn’t seem to be any different from any other night.  With maturity and responsibility (sort of) comes a certain degree of pragmatism, and the knowledge that even if I had a stocking hung by the chimney with care (assuming I had a stocking or a chimney in the first place) the chances of it being filled with anything were slim.

So on this particular occasion when Midnight arrived, I found myself momentarily startled when an unexpected clatter arose from the roof.  Yet, after a brief pause as my mind sought out a plausible explanation, I dismissed it and went back to whatever task I had been working on. Until a couple of seconds later it started again, and sounded suspiciously like… hooves?  By this point my mind seemed to be trying to rationalize the noises in one way or another, and yet at the same time virtually every bit of Christmas lore I had squirreled away over the years was flooding back into my conscious mind with a vengeance.  I just knew that it couldn’t be possible, but at the same time I found myself wondering:  Could it really be Santa Claus?

Of course, this being an apartment building, I figured that even if it were somehow true that Santa Claus was actually here, he would have to be here for someone else.  And yet, morbid curiosity demanded that I investigate further.  I hastily put a semi-decent looking shirt back on, found a convenient pair of shoes, and slowly opened the door to my bedroom… And almost jumped at the sight.  There, in my very own living room, was Santa Claus!  Every last detail, from the impeccably polished black boots to the jolly red stocking cap, was just the way you’d expect it to be.  As quietly as I could, I closed the door down to just a crack to try to see what he would do…  But he didn’t seem to be doing anything.  He was just standing there, apparently looking out the window at something, until he turned in my direction:

“Oh, just come on out, I know you’re watching in there.”

As I slowly opened the door, my mind was racing even more than it was before.  What I was seeing was impossible.  There’s no possible way that what was happening right there, right before my very eyes, could ever happen.  And yet it was undeniable.  Santa Claus was standing right in front of me, staring me in the face.  If I had been thinking rationally at the time I probably could have come up with at least a dozen different questions I would have asked in this situation, but I had never anticipated the possibility that this would ever happen, and even if I had I  was clearly not thinking rationally at this point.  After taking a couple of seconds to try to regain some semblance of composure, I stammered out:

“Um….  Mr. Claus?”

“Please, just call me Santa, I’ve never been big on formality.”

For some reason I found some small degree of relief in that statement, and I slowly began to calm down a bit.

“OK Santa…  So…  Um…  What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s Christmas, isn’t it?  Why else would I be here?”

“Yes, I know that…  But, why are you HERE?  I mean, don’t you have presents to deliver?”

“Oh, that?  Don’t worry, it’s being taken care of.  Everyone will get their presents on time.”

It was quickly becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to be getting any clear answers out of Santa, but still, I had to ask.  “I’m not worried about people not getting their presents, I’m just curious as to why you’re here, in my apartment.  I mean, I’m just some random single guy in a big city full of nice little boys and girls, I certainly haven’t done anything that would warrant a visit from Santa this year.  I mean, it’s not like I asked for a new bicycle or anything like that.”

“Hmmm…  You’re right.”  Santa paused for a second, almost as if to think.  “I don’t think we’ve received any requests from you since you asked for that electronic Animator thing back in 1987.  How did you like that one anyway?”

Pausing briefly to poll some of the dustier corners of my memory, I recalled the toy in question.  “Well, I enjoyed it, but I was never much good at drawing on it.  I think the batteries eventually leaked and it stopped working though.”

“Well, I’m glad you liked it, I had a particularly clever elf that came up with that one.”

“Wait, the whole elf thing…”

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the operation.  Granted, some people have taken a few creative liberties with that one over the years, but I’d like to say I’m pretty proud of the way we’ve been able to modernize the whole operation over the past decade.”

Although I probably would have been fascinated to learn more about the logistics of elf-based mass-production techniques, it seemed to me that Santa was dodging my questions.  It looked like I was going to need to take a different strategy if I was going to get any answers.  Although I remained in a state of shocked disbelief at this point, I figured that I could at least follow the standard rules for this type of thing.

“Oh by the way, I’ve got some extra cookies over here if you’d like some, and there’s some milk in the fridge.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass.  I’ve gone through about 756 million cookies so far tonight.  A glass of water would be nice though.”

I fetched a cup from the cabinet, poured a glass of water, and handed it to Santa.  He accepted it, and quickly drained half the cup.

“Thanks, I was getting thirsty, and all that eggnog really gets to you after a while.  So, have you been good this year?”

I found myself taken aback by the question.  Pausing for a second to think, I briefly considered making up some sort of story, but quickly came to the realization that any effort to do so would prove futile.  After all, who in their right mind would think they could get away with lying to Santa Claus?  Finally I replied, “Well, um…  I’d like to think I’ve been good this year, but sometimes I’m not so sure of that.  I’ve got things I need to improve on, and things I need to stop doing, and some that I should be doing that I’m not.  For the most part though, I think I’ve been reasonably good.”

“Well then, let’s see here…”  Santa went to his bag, and pulled out what appeared to be an incredibly long list of names.  “Lute, Lutt, Lutto…  OK, here we go, Lutz.”

Santa paused for a minute, squinting into his glasses, providing just enough time for a certain degree of low-grade dread to settle over me, for reasons that I still couldn’t quite explain.  Finally, Santa looked up.

“Well, It looks like you made the nice list, but just barely.  You really should work on not judging others so quickly.”

At that moment I felt some relief, but at the same time a bit of reproach.  I still couldn’t be sure that I was seeing what I was seeing, but I could not deny what I had heard.

“So… Um…  What does that mean?  If this is about presents, I really don’t need any.  I have what I need, and can get what I want.”

“I know that.  I just wanted to make sure you know where you stand.  So, is there anything you’d like to know?”

By now, I had no shortage of questions, and almost no answers, but some of the sounds coming from the roof seemed to suggest that the reindeer (or whatever else happened to be up there) were getting impatient.  Knowing that time was of the essence, I quickly asked the first question that came to mind:

“So, what’s the deal with the whole Rudolph thing?”  Silently I scolded myself for asking something so frivolous, but Santa answered.

“Oh, Rudolph?  Yeah, he’s up on the roof leading the sleigh team tonight.  I do have to say that the whole thing’s been exaggerated quite a bit over the years though, The nose is more of a brownish-red really.”  A thud from the roof startled Santa for a minute, then he looked back:  “Well, I better be going, I’ve still got most of the West coast to finish up.  Have a merry Christmas, and remember that I’m watching…”

At this point Santa moved toward the door and went into his familiar laugh, which faded quietly into silence as he walked straight through the closed door and off to attend to the rest of his duties.  I stared blankly at the door for some time, still not believing what I had just seen, until I caught an unfamiliar glint in the corner of my eye.  Turning toward the Christmas tree, I found myself looking at a new ornament I hadn’t seen before hanging from one of the upper branches of the tree.  This ornament, although relatively plain compared to the rest of the ornaments on the tree, seemed to sparkle a lot more than one would expect it to.  I stared at this ornament for a few moments as rational thought slowly began to return to my mind.  As I looked out the window, I could see a faint glimmer of what almost appeared to be a sled  pulled by nine reindeer.  I could almost swear that I heard some jingle bells off in the distance too, but couldn’t be entirely sure of this.  Still a bit shaken by the whole experience,  I returned to my room, and prepared to settle down for what I suspected would prove to be an unexpectedly short Winter’s nap, with a lot more than visions of sugar plums dancing through my head.

Once again, I would like to offer a thank you to all of my Blog readers, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

December 22, 2010

Coal is Overrated: The 2010 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:53 am

Admit it, you’ve been putting off your Christmas shopping until the last minute.  Again.  Just like you swore you wouldn’t do a year ago.  And the year before that,  And the one before that.  And pretty much every year since 1987 for that matter.  And, just as usual, you haven’t got a clue what to get anyone.  Yes, it sounds like there’s yet another Yuletide disaster brewing under the tree.  You need help and you need it fast.  Well, we’re here to help…  Sort of. 

Once again, it’s time for the annual (in spite of better judgment) Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, an ever-so-slightly popular list of some of the hottest (or otherwise) Christmas gifts that’ll be gracing the finest closeout racks and bargain bins three days after Christmas.  Guaranteed to cause blank stares, or your money back (you DID save the receipt, didn’t you?  No?  Well then, tough luck kid.)  As usual, I don’t actually endorse (or even recommend, for that matter) any of these items for use as Christmas presents and/or doorstops, and I feel it necessary to note that if I receive any of these items under the tree on Christmas day I’ll spend the next six months coming up with fun and exciting new ways to ruin your lives.  Why do I bring this up?  Oh, no reason really.  Just carry on with your shopping and think nothing of it.  Anyway, the roundup begins, as usual, after the jump.

Other Christmas gift and/or kitsch roundups on this Blog:


December 17, 2010

Photo Dump: Winter Not-so-Wonderland Edition

Filed under: Photo Dump, Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:12 am

Mrs. Claus could not be reached for comment.

 With Christmas a bit more than a week away now, it’s probably a good time to start panicking if you haven’t got all your shopping finished yet (note to sell:  Now is probably a good time to start panicking.)  As you can probably guess, here in downtown Bellevue they tend to make a bit of a production out of Christmas, with the temporary  ice rink at Downtown Park and the nightly Snowflake Lane production at Bellevue Square being the main attractions.  I don’t have anything nearly that fancy going on here at my place, although I do have a Christmas tree in the house (a small one, don’t have space for much more than that) for the first time in three years.  To be honest I’m still not quite sure where I’d put it in this place at the end of the holiday season (probably somewhere behind the golf clubs I haven’t used in two years) but it’s kind of nice to have one around.  Most of my ornament collection fell victim to mold as a result of a leak in the storage closet at my old apartment, but the small tree I have is just about the right size for the remaining ornament collection (mostly from this year’s ornament exchange, where I’m happy to report that my laser-cut ornaments were a hit.)

Anyway, with the Holiday season in full swing, I thought I’d share a few random photos off my phone, since I haven’t done a photo dump post in a while.  These actually go back a couple of months, since most of the stuff I’ve got on there is being saved for the upcoming Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide (of Doom).  You’ll find the pictures after the jump.


December 9, 2010

Dear Santa, I can explain…

Filed under: Holidays, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:56 am

To:  Mr. S. Claus, North Pole

From:  Brian Lutz, Bellevue, WA

Dear Santa,

You know, it’s been quite a few years since I wrote a letter, but if I recall correctly, it’s more or less customary to start one of these by talking about how nice you were over the past year.  I’ll dispense with this, mostly because I’m posting this on my blog, a fact which has the uncanny ability to turn such declarations almost instantly into egotistical blathering (well, more so than usual anyway.)  Not that it matters much, since I’m pretty sure I’ve already managed to make the naughty list, but still…  I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be some sort of formal appeal process for such things, but I’ve never heard of there being one, so I figure I might as well give this a shot.  If you would be so kind to ignore for a few minutes all that stuff I posted earlier this year about the inability to suspend disbelief, I would appreciate it.  In my defense, I should point out that I didn’t technically say I don’t believe in Santa Claus, only that I don’t necessarily believe in Mickey Mouse, in case that makes any difference.  If you can kindly overlook the fact that I made those nice carolers we had down the apartment lounge this evening sing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, I’d be grateful for that too.

Anyway, as a relatively new resident of a community populated by a significant number of ecologically-minded  citizens, I feel it necessary to point out that the use of coal is generally frowned upon here (and if that isn’t enough, I don’t think my apartment lease would allow it anyway.)  Some have suggested organic tofu to be a more Earth-friendly substitute for coal in naughtiness applications, but I feel it necessary to point out that I’d most likely just find some recipe to use the stuff in and promptly mess it up, which would kind of defeat the whole purpose.  To tell you the truth, I really haven’t been keeping up on the latest trends in Yuletide punishment technology, but I’m sure you’ve made a list of such materials and (apologies in advance for the old cliché) checked it twice, so I’ll leave that one to your discretion. 

But, as I stated earlier, I am not writing this letter to haggle over such inconsequential details as that, but to make an effort to try to prevent my impending naughtiness, if it somehow happens to be possible.  To that end, I shall attempt to explain a few things.  First of all, I would like to point out that I have now ceased my previous efforts to be “Mean Uncle Brian” to my four nephews.  I am under the impression that this act was in large part ineffectual, and efforts are now well underway to try to rebrand myself as “Crazy Uncle Brian” instead.  So far, this has provided decidedly mixed results.  I should also note out that Imola and Minardi most likely still consider me to be either their third or fourth favorite person in the whole wide world, even if I don’t let them dig holes in the dog park quite as often as they would like., and prevent them from licking off the plates in the dishwasher.  Isn’t that all part of the whole job description for a packleader?  Finally, I should explain that the use of words such as “Bunghole” and “Fartknocker” in some of my bug reports this year resulted from nothing more than standard professional necessity, as unconvincing as that may sound.  It’s a long story really, but let me state that I’ve already been through the whole undersupervised teenager phase once (minus the overexposure to questionable music videos,) and I have no  intention of revisiting that phase if I can help it.

If, for some reason, it so happens that I am able to successfully get myself reclassified into the “Nice” category, there are a few items which I would put on my list.  To be honest, I need practically nothing, and already have most of what I might want, so I don’t ask for much.  I also know some of these items are well beyond what I could reasonably expect to receive as a gift, but I put them here just out of sheer delusions of grandeur (oops, did I say “delusions of grandeur”?  I don’t have any of those, I swear!  Well OK, maybe 2 or 3, but who doesn’t?)  I also know that one or two people might be shopping for me this year, and might need some suggestions.  So, without further ado, the list:

  • A Cuisinart Mini-prep Food Processor.  I’ve seen these smaller food processors showing up in a number of places lately, and since I don’t really have the space for a larger one, I figure this would be a good compromise.  It’s also a lot cheaper than the full-size Cuisinarts too.
  • A silicone iPad sleeve.  For reasons I have yet to fully comprehend, I’ve been using my iPad since the day it was released, but have yet to purchase any sort of case for it.  iPad cases seem to be one of those annoying situations where everything seems to be either overpriced, hideous, or a combination of the two.  I’m not looking for anything fancy here, just a simple silicone sleeve, preferably in black or blue.  I’ve seen a few of these floating around at Marshall’s/TJMaxx, and can be had relatively cheap.
  • A good wooden/bamboo cutting board.  Not too big though, since kitchen space is, as I have already stated, in somewhat short supply.
  • A new set of snorkeling gear to take on the upcoming cruise in March.  I actually had an old set of snorkeling equipment I used for the cruise I went on in 2005, but I had to fight off about six or seven giant spiders to get at it when I cleaned out the storage closet at my old apartment in the process of moving, so I decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort. 
  • Buckyballs:  I need some new desk toys for my new cubicle, and I’ve heard these are supposed to be fun.
  • An iPad Bluetooth keyboard.  With the previously mentioned cruise coming up , I’ve been looking at the possibility of using an iPad as a notebook replacement, and the biggest obstacle to this seems to be the on-screen keyboard, which is just a pain to type on for any length of time.  It’s not that I necessarily want to be giving Apple money or anything, but having an actual keyboard for the iPad would be nice.
  • Lessons for PADI open water certification.  I plan to do at least one Scuba dive on the cruise, and although the thought of diving in Puget Sound in the dead of Winter sounds really, really, REALLY cold, I’ve thought about doing the certification for some time now.  I’m pretty sure this one’s way too expensive to get as a gift though.
  • A Magnetic Poetry set:  Nothing too pretentious though.  I’m not quite that cultured.
  • A pair of 24″ monitors:  My computer at my new job came with dual monitors, and although I’m still getting used to them, it’s makes it a lot easier to get things done having two monitors to see stuff on at once.  The things are getting pretty cheap these days too, but I’m pretty sure these would be too expensive to get as a present.

Anyway, that’s my list.  I’m afraid that the whole chimney thing is a bit tricky around here, so I’d recommend the freight elevator as an alternative.  There will probably be cookies of some sort on the counter when you get here, but the milk is going to be in the fridge.  Feel free to help yourself, the things are probably bad for me anyway.  If you still find it necessary to deliver the traditional coal, I would ask that it be tendered in the form of commodity futures.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Merry Christmas,


Age 32 1/2

December 2, 2010

The Cruise Taking Nerds Set Sail Again

Filed under: travel — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:21 am

Given the fact that for most of the last decade I have been working as a contractor, vacation time has frequently proven difficult to come by.  It always seems to be a matter of having either money and no time, or time and no money.  When I was working for Volt (which was a majority of the time I spent contracting) I would accrue vacation at the rate of 1 week for every nine months worked, but on all but a couple of occasions this meant I’d have vacation available only a couple of months before I would have to take three months off anyway, making it kind of pointless to take the time off instead of working all the hours I could while I was still there and getting the vacation time paid off at the end of the assignment.  As for the time and no money, that usually came in the form of unemployment, although even then, on occasion I might be in decent enough shape at the end of a contract assignment to sneak away for a few days.  With a couple of exceptions (including the Disney World trip in 2008 and the whirlwind Route 66 trip I took in 2007 shortly before I started this Blog, from which the material for my abandoned gas stations post came) most of the vacations I’ve taken  have been short ones, usually planned around only being able to get away with taking one or two days off. 

One of the rare instances during this period where I was able to get away and take an actual honest-to-goodness vacation was back in April of 2005, when me, my brother Jared, his then future wife Emily, and my younger sister Heather were able to accompany my parents on a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Star Princess, from which the above picture came.  Although this actually wasn’t the first time I had ever been on a cruise (I had actually been on this same ship for a short 3-day repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver a couple of years earlier) it was the first time I ever had the opportunity to visit the Caribbean.  Destinations on this particular cruise included a short stop in Puerto Rico (San Juan,) St. Thomas, Tortola and Princess Cays (Princess Cruises’ “private island,” which isn’t actually so much an island as it is a beach on the southern tip of Eleuthera in the Bahamas that happens to be somewhat detached from the main island.)  It certainly wasn’t a relaxing vacation, but then again I’ve never been known to be any good at relaxing on vacations anyway, so this didn’t come as too much of a surprise.  The weather for portions of the trip was somewhat less than cooperative;  The trip ashore in San Juan resulted in a particularly notable drenching on that trip, and even though the weather mostly cooperated in St. Thomas it wasn’t exactly the dryest place I’ve ever been either.  I actually wrote a fair bit about the cruise at the time while I was on the ship, but the whole thing seems to be somewhere in the proverbial dustbin of history by now.  Still, I do have nearly 500 photos from the trip on my hard drive, and can recall quite a bit about it from those.

In spite of a little bit of rain here and there and some occasional rough seas, it was a nice vacation.  I found the dolphin swim on Tortola to be just a bit overrated, but one of my favorite parts of the cruise was getting to go scuba diving on St. Thomas, and I also managed to win $100 in the casino which helped offset  some of the onboard and shore excursion expenses from the trip (it could have been as much as $200 but I couldn’t quite leave well enough alone.)  I’ve been meaning to go back for another cruise for some time now, but due to the whole “money and no time/time and no money” situation noted above, the opportunity really hasn’t presented itself.  When we went in 2005 my parents were already seasoned cruisers, and since that time they have continued to go on cruises roughly once every 12-18 months, which almost always means that I end up staying here and watching Imola and Minardi for them while they’re off cruising.  Various factors have prevented me from being able to go again… until now. 

Having finally landed in a full-time job with full-time benefits means that I can now accrue up to three weeks of paid vacation time per year, which is a far cry from the one week per nine months that was the best I was able to get while I was contracting (most of the contract agencies either offer no vacation time at all or reduce your base hourly rate by a lot more than the vacation time is worth if you take it.)  For some time now my parents and several of my aunts and uncles have been planning to all go on a Caribbean cruise in late March of next year.  Thanks to my new job, it turns out that this will be exactly when I have enough accrued time to take a week off, meaning that for the first time in years I actually have both the money and the time to join them.  Not only does this mean that I get to join them on the cruise, but I also get to bring my brother Jason (who I don’t see nearly enough of these days) along for the ride.  I will be sailing in late March aboard the Ruby Princess (the newest ship in the Princess fleet) for a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, which will be making stops at Princess Cays (of course), St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Grand Turk along the way. 

It certainly seems like it should be a fun bunch of people to be stuck on a boat with for a week, although I’m pretty sure someone would probably yell at me for calling a 950-foot, 116,000 ton behemoth a “boat”.  One of the nice things about a cruise ship this big is that there’s enough space that even with 3,500 passengers aboard there’s enough space that things never really truly feel crowded.  I do find that I tend to get a bit sick of fancy food after a while on the ship though, and on the two cruises I’ve been on I’ve found myself heading straight for the junkiest fast food I could find as soon as I disembarked the ship.  On this particular trip, the only truly must-do activity I’ve got on my itinerary is to go scuba diving in St. Thomas again.  I’ve half-considered even getting PADI open water certification before going on the cruise, but a combination of expense and not exactly being thrilled about the prospect of having to dive multiple times in Puget Sound in the dead of Winter to complete the training probably mean that I’ll end up just doing the beginner dive at Coki Beach again.  Aside from that, it’s all pretty much up in the air for now.  Which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. 

It’s been nearly six years since I last went on a cruise, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting the chance to go again.  There’s just one minor inconvenience along the way:  Right now, there just happens to be an entire Winter between now and the cruise in late March.  A La Nina winter at that, which is apparently supposed to make things extra miserable or something like that.  Something tells me that in the unlikely event that I haven’t already been thinking Spring since the middle of October, I’m going to be doing a lot of it between now and then…

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