Why I Left The Mormon Church

With all the recent news about the Mormon church’s stance against the children of gay couples, I thought I’d finally write a blog entry I’ve been contemplating for months.

Earlier this year I had my church membership records removed.  It took several attempts.  First they wanted me to meet with church officials.  I said I had no interest in doing so.  I finally had to threaten legal action.  A few weeks later I finally got a confirmation letter in the mail.  Of course they sent me a letter telling me that I had eternally damned myself.  I guess I’ll deal with that IF the time comes, but I don’t believe in a God that would do that.  He/she/it knows my heart.  And if all we do is rot in the ground and get eaten by worms, then I’m safe.

I chose not to advertise this to anyone.  I spoke with my parents before I took action to make sure it wouldn’t upset them.  They were very loving, understanding, and supportive.  I talked with a good friend of mine, who had years earlier gone through the same process.  He too had not been active for decades before deciding to take action.  I hadn’t been active in the church for over 25 years, but everywhere I moved the home teachers or missionaries tracked me down.  My wife even told them I died at one point.  That kept them at bay for a few years.  I just got tired of the game and decided enough was enough, since they weren’t honoring my wishes.

There have been 108 billion people that have lived on this planet up to this point.  I’m gonna take a guess and assume there have been about 30 million Mormons.  That’s 0.0003% of the people that have lived on this earth that have been Mormon.  Mormon’s believe you must be baptized into the church to obtain the highest level of heaven.  To account for the other 99.9997% of people that didn’t have the opportunity to accept the “true” church, Mormons baptize for the dead.  That’s right.  When you die, Mormons will key off your death record and have you baptized by proxy so that you can accept the church in the afterlife.  I have to assume that the conversion rate will be pretty low.  My iPhone games only see about a 1% conversion rate for in-app purchases.  I don’t believe in a God that would allow only 1.0003% of all humans to enter into the highest level of heaven.  I have no testimony of Joseph Smith.  From my perspective he was a cult leader that founded a religion that became mainstream.

I don’t say any of this to upset my family or friends who are still Mormon.  I totally respect anyone’s perogative to practice any religion they want.  I also respect those who choose to practice no religion at all.  Only 1/3rd of the planet bases their religion on Jesus Christ.  I won’t discount the other 2/3rds or profess that they are wrong in their beliefs.  I only have issue with religion when it causes harm to others, represses women, turns a blind eye to abuse, or causes it’s members to be intolerant.  I don’t think the Mormon church actively does any of the above, although I think there are members who might.  I was always told the church is “perfect”, the members are not.  I’ll at least accept the later part of that sentence.

I don’t agree with a lot of the policies the church has come out publicly against (I don’t think churches should get involved politically).  I disrespect everything they did against Proposition 8.  I don’t agree with the recent decision either.  But here’s my advice… there are PLENTY of religions that tolerate whatever lifestyle you choose.  If you need religion in your life, find the one that best suits you, be loving and God-like in your dealings with others, and don’t push your beliefs on anyone else (unless it’s about a crazy-ass person running for president).  The “pushiness” of the church is one of the reasons I left.

God/Allah/Buddha Bless You!

 

 

What Was I Weighting For?

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I weighed 230 pounds!  Close to the heaviest I had ever been.  I was approaching 50 years old.  My knees and hips hurt.  I was having shooting pain in my thighs.  I was feeling sluggish.  I couldn’t ride my bike more than 5 miles without huffing and puffing.  I needed to do something!  I had lost weight before but quickly put it back on.  My attitude about food and exercise had to change!

So starting back on January 23rd of this year I decided to change my eating habits, start doing some moderate exercise, and I set a goal of losing 30 pounds.  I was motivated by my younger brother who had lost well over 100 pounds several years ago as well as a friend of mine, 2 years my senior, who recently biked across Antartica to the South Pole after coming to grips with his own mortality.  All my life I’ve poo-pooed nutrition.  In my first marriage I put butter and salt on everything.  I ate tons of red meat.  There were always desserts and snacks around.  I did very little physical activity.

A year ago I married my girlfriend of 10 years.  She is someone who understands nutrition, knows about organic healthy food, and exercises regularly.  For years I watched her stick to her routine, while I continued with my old bad habits.  2 years ago I came face to face with my own mortality when I fell off a ladder and split my head open.  While I lay in the emergency room I realized how unfair I had been to my girlfriend.  How easily I could have been gone in a split second.  That’s when I decided to propose to her.  As I look back at the wedding photos, I’m amazed at how heavy I had gotten.  Even after the accident I didn’t care enough about my weight to lose some before the wedding.  It took me several more months to realize I had to do something.

I had started some physical therapy to try and get rid of the numbness and nerve pain I was having in my thighs.  I didn’t work that hard at it at first.  I didn’t believe it would do anything.  But then something happened.  I started to notice I was feeling better.  I could get out of bed easier in the morning.  The pain was starting to go away.  So I started upping the physical therapy and began using the treadmill.  Every day I began to feel better.  My wife got me a bluetooth scale for Christmas.  That was the tipping point and the motivation I needed.  Some may say checking your weight every day is not the right approach.  For me, it was exactly what I needed.  Analyzing each day and seeing how my diet and exercise affected my weight was critical.  I began to see that patterns that worked and the ones that didn’t.

After 1 month I had lost 8 pounds.  I was motivated!  The next month I had lost another 7.  I was halfway there!  Then I hit the brick wall.  The weight wasn’t coming off as quickly anymore.  So I stepped up my exercise and made my best effort to get 10,000 steps in 4 to 5 days a week.  I started biking.  And I started eating salads most days for lunch.  The weight started coming off again and I reach my goal of 200 pounds on June 16th.  At that point I set another goal to lose 10 more pounds, which took me another 3 months.  Now I have a goal to lose 5 more pounds by the end of the year.  At that point I will weigh 185.  45 pounds lighter than when I started.  A weight I haven’t seen since my late 20s or early 30s.  I can now bike 25 miles at a time.  Most days I feel pretty good.  I am wearing pants that are 4″ smaller around the waist.  My t-shirts all fit nicely without a belly bump.  People tell me they can see the weight loss in my face.  I feel great about my body.

So what’s working?  How do I plan to keep the weight off?  It’s might sound cliche, but it’s a lifestyle change.  It’s an attitude change.  My philosophy about food has changed.  I view food as fuel.  What do I need to put into my body each day to keep this 50 year old machine running and feeling good?  Certainly a donut tastes good!  But from a fuel perspective it really does nothing healthy for my body.  That’s not to say that I don’t allow myself to still enjoy a good meal.  I just do it in moderation now.  I know that much of my eating was out of boredom or feeding some emotion I wasn’t dealing with.  I find taking a walk or riding my bike and connecting with nature curbs that impulse.  Of course, I’ve seen people who then turn to exercise as their new crutch or addiction and overdue it.  I feel like I’ve kept a pretty healthy balance.  I’ve been told I should run to lose weight.  I’ve chosen not to.  I enjoy biking and I enjoy walking my dog.  I enjoy exploring all the nature trails the metroparks of Columbus offer.

Why am I writing this?  Because just like other people inspired me, I hope I can inspire you!  I strongly believe that there is no reason anyone needs to be overweight.  That might sound critical, but I truly believe it.  I made excuses for years why I couldn’t exercise.  I over ate at every meal not understanding the implications of doing so.  Any time a dessert was around I had to try it and then have a second helping.  Just as I slowly began to see progress, I believe anyone can do the same if they just take that first step.  Maybe your first goal is to get up out of your chair and walk to the end of the street.  Do that for a week.  Next, take a spin around the block.  Do that for another week.  Decide that for lunch you will limit your meal to 500 calories, this means putting more fruits and vegetables in your diet.  Eat a handful of nuts or an apple instead of that candy bar.  Watch a half hour less of TV and take the dog for a walk.  Take up yoga or stretching.  Do something!  If you’ve been stuck at the same weight forever it’s because you’ve been doing the same thing forever.  Losing the same pound over and over is not losing weight.  Make a change.  You’re going to slowly see a difference and become motivated.  Think of your body as a machine.  If you put crap in you’re going to get crap out (literally).  Put the best fuel in you can.  I waited too long to come to this realization, but I’m glad I did.

The Ryan Homes Dilemma

One year ago when you did a search for “Ryan Homes” on Google one of the top hits was http://www.ryanhomesnightmare.com.  Today it doesn’t appear in the first two pages.  Ryan Homes is trying to clean up it’s image.  Perhaps somehow they got Google to change the ranking.  I’ve even read speculation that they gave clients incentives to write Pollyannish blogs about their building experience to try and pad the Google results.  Seriously… I’ve never seen so many blogs devoted to a home builder… and they are all pretty cookie-cutter.  I don’t know if any of that is true.  That’s why I wanted to give my take on Ryan Homes.  Not to complain, but hopefully to give you a little more balanced opinion other than the 2 extremes I mentioned above.

I am a Ryan Homes condo owner in Dublin, Ohio (actually it’s WE, but I’m gonna leave my partner out of this blog entry — so I’ll refer to everything as I).  I was the 4th house to be built in a complex of 53 detached units.  I love my floor plan (Chantilly Place).  I love being closer to work.  I love all the options and upgrades I had to choose from.  I love that there is a community pool, that the condos are detached, and that there are good sized backyards, that we are on the back path, and that there is a huge park just to the west to take the dog for walks.  I fell in love with the model (also a Chantilly) the moment I saw it and knew it was what I wanted to build.

I didn’t know much about Ryan Homes at the time.  So as we all do I typed it into Google, and as I said I stumbled right into the ryanhomesnightmare site immediately.  I freaked out.  But of course, the internet is pretty much filled with negativity and plus this was some whack-job who had a dispute many years ago and was still holding the grudge.  I discussed it with my salesperson, who also was familiar with the site, and she assured me that none of the horror stories were true and that Ryan Homes did a nice build.

So I signed the contract and the hole was dug shortly after July 4th 2012.  I am anal.  My father was a builder.  My grandfather was a builder.  I know what quality is suppose to look like.  I know how ethical a contractor SHOULD be.  So I expected a lot.  And I made this clear to my project manager.  So I was over to the construction site at least every other day.  I had built 2 homes previously and I knew you needed to keep on top of things, especially when lots of subcontractors are used.  The build went well and my project manager was patient with me and took the time to explain anything I asked about.  He really treated me with respect.  Unfortunately… towards the tail-end of my build they had SO MANY houses trying to beat the year-end deadline, that I think he started to get overwhelmed and let some things slip.  He has since left the company (some people said he was fired).  I had no problem with him.  In fact I was sad to see him go.

The last 2 weeks of my build he was really stressed.  He actually asked me to stay away because there were just so many details and I was getting overwhelmed and taking too much of his time.  I respect that he asked me to do that, although I wish I had been there for a few items to verify (like the missing support post I will talk about later).  Finally we reached the closing date and the final walk-thru.  My list of uncompleted or unsatisfactory items was HUGE.  There was paint all over the vinyl windows outside.  The stairs squeaked in multiple places.  I can’t even remember how many issues there were, but there were lots.  I went ahead and closed with the agreement that they would come and fix all the items on the list after I moved in.

And they did fix everything, but in the meantime, the list kept growing.  I suppose at one point there was at least 30 items outstanding.  This might be entirely typical for a builder that mass produces houses.  When I mentioned things during construction (squeaks or crooked walls) they said they’d hit those items later at “knock-out” time.  In other words, they have a tight schedule and the train keeps on moving and it’s more cost effective for them to send in a crew later to tear down walls and fix them than to fix it at the moment the problem is discovered.  Yes… that seems backwards, but I kind of understand their reasoning (no… not really… I was just saying that… I still really can’t figure it out).

I’m not singling out Ryan Homes either.  I think any mass-production builder that hires out to the cheapest subcontractors will experience these issues.  My expectations were just set a little too high.  The good news is, that one night after I made a snarky comment on the Ryan Homes Facebook page they called me up directly and asked what they could do to make things right.  BTW… they’ve since blocked me from posting any comments on their Facebook page (LOL).  So I got specialized treatment and I’ve had them out to my house probably a total of 5 or 6 full days to fix things.  And the crew that has done the repairs has been exceptional (except when they bring in subcontractors — then things start to fall apart again).  The lead guy has shown me nothing but respect (if you want to see disrespect — see my earlier blog entry on Artistic Concrete).  He has listened to all my requests and gripes and been patient.  He has shown a true concern for the entire community and was visibly upset on one visit when the neighborhood was a mess with construction debris (it looked like a war zone).  He has assured me the issues we’ve seen in our neighborhood are pretty typical and he knows what things to look for.

So I just reached my 10-month review.  The list is down to 4 or 5 items.  I’m feeling more comfortable in my own home.  The floors don’t squeak as much.  The water-pressure still sucks.  The kitchen is friggin’ awesome!  The morning room is beautiful in the morning (and in the evening).  The sunken landscaping has been fixed.  The gutters don’t leak.  But damn it… I’m still anal… and I find things to worry about… to the point that I make myself sick sometimes.  But I did spend a chunk of change on this place, so I don’t think my demands or expectations are unreasonable.

Recently we started a community Facebook page.  I’m a huge contributor to it.  Perhaps I’ve gotten too involved (our HOA isn’t very active yet).  But the Facebook page has helped a lot.  I’ve posted about what issues to look out for, we generated a community-wide issues list we sent to Ryan Homes, and I’ve learned from other people’s building experiences what to look out for.  And that’s where the missing support post comes in.

During the build I asked the project manager about these 2 posts in our great room.  I didn’t like them and asked if we could have them removed.  He said they were facades and that after the build I could remove them if I really wanted to.  Turns out… no they aren’t facades… the woman down the street had some issues with hers and come to find out there was suppose to be a metal support post inside one of them.  They fixed hers and told her they would correct all the others in the neighborhood.  I was never told.  It wasn’t until she mentioned it on Facebook that I asked Ryan Homes about it and they fixed mine as well.  I am baffled where the inspector was in this process.  In fact, Ryan Homes has a class-action lawsuit against them in Pennsylvania right now for not putting insulation in an outside wall that had plumbing in it.  Number one, where was the inspector again?  And number two, what drywaller doesn’t realize there is no insulation and goes ahead and drywalls over it anyway?  I’m pretty sure my Dad never would have done something like that.  But a subcontractor?  Hell… why not?  It’s probably something the Project Manager should have been on top of as well, but again… he was probably trying to manage too many homes at one time.

Alright… so…. you might think I’m complaining.  But this is actually meant to be a positive critique on Ryan Homes.  Our home is lovely.  Our neighborhood WILL BE lovely (once the construction mess is out of here).  I look forward to the day my repair list is complete (and new stuff stops breaking).  Ryan Homes has some terrific floor plans.  In my experience they have terrific customer service.  Our salesperson was outstanding (in fact she is moving into the neighborhood… if that tells you anything).  I think the real problem is middle of the road building materials and poor quality subcontractors.  Hopefully that’s something Ryan Homes can work on rather than making sure no more snarky comments are left on Facebook (well… they should probably still block me).

If you’re thinking of building with Ryan Homes and you don’t have the money for a custom builder… then go for it.  Just keep on top of things and demand perfection.  Are they the best builder in town?  Nope.  Are they the worst?  Nope… I think that belongs to Fischer Homes (well… in Columbus that’s what I hear anyway).  But if your looking for affordable, well then probably a good option.  I hope this helps you if you stumble across this site in your searching.  Heck… maybe someday I’ll show up in the first page of results for Ryan Homes.

 

Problem Client

That’s what I was called today.  After spending $9000 to have a patio put in, I was called a “problem client” by the contractor.  All because I sent an email asking about some hairline cracks that had formed in the seats/benches around the patio.  Can you believe that?

Here’s the email correspondence as it actually happened.  I have not editted it in any way.

Click here to read the entire conversation

Artistic Concrete of Ohio did a wonderful job on my patio and it’s beautiful.  Unfortunately towards the end as they got paid, their attitude changed.  I withheld $500 to have some final work done on an electrical plug.  They did a half-assed job on it, after doing such a beautiful job on the rest of the patio.  I would have thought they would be embarrassed, but all they really cared about was getting the final check.  In fact they left the plug to dry with a bucket holding it up and told me to keep the bucket so that they didn’t have to return.  And then a few months later I send them an email to ask about my concern with the hairline cracks and I get the silent treatment.

I am so tired of contractors.  I’m pretty sure my Dad and Grandfather, who were both builders, never would have treated a customer in this manner.

Donny & Marie Cruise

(NOTE: If you are only interested in my evaluation of the Donny & Marie events and the cruise line, skip down to HERE)

INTRODUCTION

My girlfriend Jane approached me last September about the Donny & Marie Cruise.  She’s always wanted to see them in Vegas and we hadn’t had the chance yet (even though we go to Vegas everytime we go out to Utah to visit my parents).  So she thought this was a great opportunity.  We booked the cruise and our airfare not knowing exactly what to expect (the itinerary didn’t really clue you in).

I’m not a huge Donny & Marie fan.  They’re a little bit country and rock n‘ roll… I’m a little bit head banger (KISS, Motely Crue, etc.).  Also I grew up in Orem, Utah… the sister city to Provo where the Osmonds grew up and so to us they were just the local celebrities.  When I was older and bought my first house it was just 2 blocks south of Osmond Lane (Dover Drive) in Provo.  I always wondered if any Osmonds still lived on the lane?  There’s also Redford drive right next to it, but I don’t think Robert lives there.  At any rate I had seen Donny & Marie perform at various 4th of July events in the BYU football stadium (wonder if Donny remembers being suspended in the helicopter when Bob Hope MC’d?) and seeing Marie at softball games (not sure if that was husband #2?).

But I knew Jane really wanted to do this and I personally love cruising (mostly for the days at sea where I can curl up with a book on the top deck).  It was also my birthday week, so we were excited.

DAY 0 – FT. LAUDERDALE (photos)

As with any cruise, it’s a good idea to fly out the day before.  So we decided to spend the night in Ft. Lauderdale at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six just minutes away from Port Everglades where the cruise ship was to leave the next day.

When Jane booked the room we just thought we were booking a normal hotel room.  Wow… were we surprised when we walked into a suite with a lobby… yes a lobby… a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, huge bedroom, and 2 bathrooms!  Unbelievable.  And as we talked to other people we found out we got this suite for 25% less than they paid for 1 room.  Nice!

We went to a fantastic birthday dinner at the Pier 66 Grill and Jane surprised me with a birthday cake.  We then went walking along the pier and came across Steven Speilberg’s Yacht worth $220 million.  We learned you could rent it for $1.6 million a week.

DAY 1 – BOARDING THE SHIP (photos)

The next morning we swam in the beautiful pool and waited until we could head over to the port and start boarding the ship.

Once at the port, things got a little bit confusing — and I’ve been on 4 other cruises.  I’ll say this up front.  MSC is by far the worst cruise line I’ve sailed on, with NCL (Norwegian) being the best.  I’ll comment more later on what went wrong with MSC (which had very little to do with Donny and Marie).

We managed to get boarded, go to our room, find registration for the Donny and Marie events.  They gave a lanyard with a pass that said either GUEST, VIP, or STAFF.  On the reverse side they all seemed identical.  This becomes very important later when I discuss one of the main problems with the way the D&M events were handled.

We then explored the ship and accidentally stumbled into the theatre where Marie was rehearsing (and quickly got kicked out).  Pretty soon it was time for the lifeboat drill that everyone must attend before leaving dock.  This was utter chaos is all I can say.  We showed up at the scheduled time of 5:15p with our life vests and sat for an entire half hour waiting.  When they did show up they proceeded to do the drill in 5 different languages which basically multiplied the time by 5.  By the time we finished we had 5 minutes to get back and get ready for dinner.  I have never experienced this chaos on any other cruise line.

MSC dinner’s were a disappointment.  The presentation was non-existent and it also was becoming clear that no one spoke english very well (it’s an Italian cruise line with Indonesian employees).  Lots of mistakes made and the food really wasn’t up to the caliber I’ve had on other cruise lines.

That night was a Q&A session with Donny and Marie.  Our first event.  Donny came down the isle right next to where we were seated.  Pretty cool.  Then Marie came on stage.  They then proceeded to answer questions from the audience.  The only problem with this is right before the cruise they had asked us all to email questions to them.  None of those questions were used.  Instead we got crazed fanatics who told Donny that they owed them this or that he promised them that.  It was really embarrassing.  I walked away from the event somewhat disheartened.

By the way… here are my two questions I submitted and still would love to hear the answers to:

  1. Hi Donny. I use to live in Provo, Utah just 2 blocks south of Osmond Lane. I heard you once lived just north of there in the house on the hill. I got to walk through it once when it was up for sale. What was with all the jacuzzis and the bar? Definitely seemed like a bachelor pad. LOL!
  2. Hi Donny.  I know you are an electronics tinkerer. I heard that you are the one that actually invented the wireless microphone? I think I remember being one of the first people to use one on the Donny & Marie show. Is that true?

That night we got back to the room and realized we had 1.5 pillows (one was a baby pillow).  We called 99 (the reception desk) and immediately it would say push 5 to get a callback.  We did this and would get a callback with no one on the other end.  This continued several times.  Finally we got through to someone and asked for 3 REAL pillows.  An hour passed and nothing.  We called again.  Same sequence… 99… 5… wait… no one on the other end… repeat… repeat… finally someone.  “Can we get our pillows?”.  “They’ll be right there!”.  Another hour later… we did the same thing.  Finally at 1AM I went down to reception and informed them I was going to stand right there until I got our pillows.  I sat there for 15 minutes and finally she said they were headed up to our room.  15 minutes later he arrived with 3 of the worst excuses for pillows, but they were sufficient.  Another MSC fail.

DAY 2 – NASSAU (photos)

I had been to Nassau 20 years ago.  It had been with my first wife and all she liked to do was shop.  So I wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of going there again.  Especially since we hadn’t booked any excursion because the D&M people hadn’t bothered to give us an itinerary up front.  We only knew what we were doing when they left the program in our room each night for the next day.  So we didn’t have anything planned for Nassau.

However… while staying in Ft. Lauderdale we talked to a couple at the pool who had just come back from Nassau.  They told us we should rent a scooter and drive half the length of the island down the Jaws Beach (where the movie was filmed as well as the Flipper TV show).  I had a little trepidation about doing this as I don’t think I had been on a scooter since my brother’s mo-ped in our teens.  But we did it.  Once we got out of the city and got the hang of driving on the left side of the road it was a blast.  After only one wrong turn the entire time we arrived at Jaws Beach.  Check out the photos to see how beautiful it was.  There were Manta Rays in the water and it was so blue.

Unfortunately Jane had an accident here.  One of the pier planks had broken and she tripped on it and landed on her knee and elbow.  It proved to hinder some of her activity the rest of the trip.  And when we got back to the boat and called for ice, 3 hours later nothing still had arrived so Jane used various items from the mini bar to keep it iced.  Friggin’ MSC.

So Nassau was AWESOME and we got to do something we hadn’t done before… scootering.  We also had a great lunch down by the Fish Fry restaurant and had a fish stew consisting of Snapper, Grouper, and Conch.  Yum!  Plus they had a Calypso band playing.  Lots of fun.  It was just unfortunate Jane got hurt.

When we got back to the ship Jane went to Marie’s talk while I took the opportunity to take a dip in the pool.  When Jane came back she went on and on about her new admiration for Marie.  She said it was a very emotional talk and she related to so many of the things Marie talked about.  So thanks Marie for helping so many women.

That night Jane was really excited.  It was the sock hop.  Well, that’s what the paperwork said.  It really turned out to be a 70s TV themed costume contest.  So the poodle skirt Jane had gone out to buy, thinking this was a good ole’ fashioned sock hop where we would be dancing, suddenly had to become a Laverne and Shirley Poodle Skirt as Marie would later put it (same for the other 6 or 7 women who showed up in the same thing, thinking that’s what a sock hop meant).  So now that it was a costume contest and there wasn’t really any dancing (whew… I was relieved) Jane decided to go up on stage and have her costume judged.  I cheered for her… even though no one else did.  But she got to meet Marie and be up on stage with Donny, even if it was just for a moment.  Pretty cool!  I think the kid in the young Donny costume was the winner.  Marie and her husband dressed up as Farrah and Lee Major while Donny and his bandmates dressed up as the Village People and did YMCA.

When we go back to our room we watch a NCL ship come in drop someone off and take back off.  We assumed a heart attack or something.  Shortly after that another NCL ship came in with party horns blaring.  A little more exciting than the viewing of “Inception” taking place up on our pool deck!

DAY 3 – AT SEA (photos)

The days at sea are my favorite.  I took my copy of “Walk In The Woods” paperback by Bill Bryson and headed up to the top deck.  Jane wasn’t feeling well, but decided to go to the gym and work out (she’s way better about this than I am).  Plus she had picked up on a comment Donny had made earlier about being in the gym on Thursday to train some women who had won a workout with Donny.  So she wondered if he might show.

As she was finishing her routine Donny came in with the women.  I was thumbing through my paperback when Jane came running up ecstatic.  “Where’s the camera?  I don’t have my camera and Donny is in the gym!”.  I handed her the camera from my pack.  She asked me to go, but I was really enjoying the sun and the good book and I really wanted her to experience this.  So I encouraged her to go back and see if she could get a picture.  So she did, and Donny was gracious enough to take a photo with her.

One comment here… Donny and Marie made themselves pretty accessible to the public, though they always had body guards around them.  I personally never spotted them on the ship or islands, but Jane saw them various times.  Probably because I was always looking for places to be away from the crowds and Jane was always out doing something.  Donny and Marie were unconditionally polite, even if the fans sometimes weren’t very courteous… for example the guy who squeezed Marie’s butt when he hugged her.  I don’t quite understand this ENTITLEMENT that fans (or fanatics as Jane eloquently put it) feel.  One women showed up at every event in the first row and continually took up time to ask Donny some crazy question.  Again, a little disheartening… but I commend Donny and Marie for handling it so graciously.  They are really sweet people and don’t act like “hollywood” type stars.

That night was the concert we had all waited for.  This was definitely the highlight of the cruise.  They performed a lot of classics and their broadway stuff.  I have to say… Donny’s vocals were spot on.  And the band was fantastic.  The keyboardist was really really good.  After that event we felt pretty good about the experience and were glad we had made the trip, even if some things up to that point had not gone completely smooth.

DAY 4 – COCOCAY (photos)

Before heading over to CocoCay we went to the donny.com event.  This was mainly a venue for Donny’s Make A Difference Foundation, but he intermixed it with some musical numbers.  He did YoYo (not something I was familiar with — not being a Donny fan) and danced unbelievably.  This guy is fit!  We left that event early, knowing that all the tenders (little boats over to the island) would get crowded once it was over.  We heard later that Donny came over on the public tender along with everyone else.  That tells you how accessible he made himself.  I don’t think many stars would do that.

CocoCay was just beautiful.  Again… we found a nice secluded cabana and I whipped out my book while Jane went exploring.  She again saw Donny over in the lunch area.  She came back and encouraged me to take a walk a ways down the beach to the nature trail.  It was really beautiful.  Jane almost stepped on a string ray.  It was within 5 feet of her when we noticed it.  Yikes!

For that evening’s dinner Jane again surprised me and had the waiters sing Happy Birthday and brought out a cake for our dinner.  That was really sweet.  Thanks Jane!

It was then time for our final event.  The talent show where Donny and Marie were like American Idol judges.  It was a really good event.  I’m assuming Donny and Marie did not intend for it to end like it did.  I won’t go into any more detail than that.  Let’s just say Donny and Marie were both on the floor laughing when the event was over and the curtain had to come down.  I imagine they wanted to do more as far as let us know where we could leave feedback about the cruise, etc.  Kind of a strange ending, but it just went to show how human they are and how comfortable they felt around all there fans.  It was like we were one big family just joking with each other.  I suspect from Donny’s comments about the video montage that he wasn’t impressed with MSC and that they had been questioning the MSC choice as well.  I hope so.

SUMMARY

You might get the impression from all my complaining that this cruise was unenjoyable.  Quite the contrary.  We had a fantastic time.  My purpose for doing this lengthy prose is to hopefully help Donny and Marie out with next year’s cruise.  I am by no means alone here.  I heard these sentiments from many others.  So here’s my opinion of things that could be fixed to make the cruise more enjoyable next year.  I’m splitting out the MSC comments from the DONNY AND MARIE ones because the MSC failures had nothing to do with them.

DONNY AND MARIE

As I said above.  Donny and Marie are true professionals and the most gracious stars I have ever seen.  Even when the fans were inconsiderate they were sweet and brushed them off nicely (although the guy who squeezed Marie’s butt should have been banned from all future events — and possibly dumped overboard).  When the woman needed help getting through her Make A Difference speech because her hands were shaking so bad, Donny came over and held her papers for her.  How sweet.  Both Jane and I have a new admiration for both of them.

Here’s a few suggestions for next years cruise:

  • Ditch MSC.  Worst cruise line I have ever been on.  I heard others say this as well.  Take a look at NCL.  Their staff is well trained, speak english, and are considerate.
  • Take over the entire cruise.  This split cruise was both disruptive to the non D&M’ers as well as the fans.  It was almost like 2 cruises were going on at the same time.  If you took over the entire ship and scaled back some of the activities I think people would be happy with 2 shows to choose from per night.  It would also prevent the problem of non pass holders trying to get into events they shouldn’t have been at.  I felt bad for the “other” entertainers on board who only got half an audience.
  • Fix your badges.  I heard stories of people misusing the badges.  Either slipping into the VIP line or sending a pass back out with someone to get a non-pass holder back in.  Maybe a bar code and scanner.  If you go with taking over the entire cruise then allow each person to attend only once per night.
  • Itinerary MUST be available at the time of registration.  I had no idea what we were buying and was unable to schedule any excursions because we didn’t know until the night before what was going on.  FIX THIS PLEASE.  And don’t taunt us with the fact that you have the entire schedule but don’t want to share it.  That’s just mean Greg.
  • Make the itinerary clearer.  A good example is the sock hop.  Do you know why there were so many poodle skirts?  Because I think people thought this was a sock hop.  No where did I see any information that this was a 70s TV themed costume contest. (UPDATE: someone sent me a link that showed that this was specified as a 70s themed event — but I still contend the description did not match what actually occurred)

MSC CRUISE LINE

  • As I said… MSC is the worst cruise line I have ever been on.
  • The tips are included in price so there is no reason to give good service.  Literally no one was friendly or considerate.  I waited 45 minutes for something to drink one night.  Another waitress said something to the effect of “LET ME FINISH” when someone at the buffet asked her something.
  • Huge language barrier.  Even asking for a P-L-A-T-E became a chore.
  • Life boat drill was a joke.  Started 30 minutes late and went right up until our 6p dinner seating.  Doing it in 5 different languages was completely ridiculous.
  • We never did know who our cabin steward was.  I’ve never had this happen before.  On NCL our steward always showed up when we returned and asked how dinner or our excursion was.  I never saw ours on this trip.
  • They washed the side of boat while we are sitting on tenders.  I don’t think that was just water coming down.
  • Calling the reception desk was a process in insanity.  Those who hit 99 then 5 and then waited know what I’m talking about.  Worst customer service ever.

Thanks to Donny and Marie for a wonderful cruise.  Yes, there were hitches, but that’s to be expected on the first outing.  Please listen to your fans and fix this for the next time.  Jane wants to go again.  I told her if it’s on MSC I will not go.  Now… if it’s the KISS cruise… well… I’ll overlook that! :)

Take care!

 

 

Happy New Year

A lot of people are proclaiming “good riddance” to 2010 with the hopes that 2011 is a better year.  I realize the economy has sucked for many and that people are out of jobs, but I really hate to see this negative attitude.  Will 2011 be any better without an attitude change?  Isn’t life what we make it?  Haven’t people been overspending and living beyond their means for years?  Shouldn’t we be prepared to self sustain if there is a crisis?

For me, 2010 was a great year.  I’ve learned so much on my job.  I’ve had time to pursue my iPhone hobby and make enough to not only pay for the necessary equipment, but to also supplement my income.  There are lots of opportunities out there if we are willing to reinvent ourselves and stop complaining about the government or how we might have been screwed over by a company, a spouse, or whatever.  I like to think I’m a pretty tolerant person, but I have a hard time finding tolerance for people who complain without “acting”.  We live in a country where you have that option.  Find something you are good at and do it.  The mighty dollar should not be the end goal.  Happiness and healthiness should be.

I took a hike through the woods yesterday with my girlfriend.  Something we haven’t done for quite a while.  But it was exactly the thing we needed to start the new year.  We got to talk, share a lot of feelings, see some awesome birds, listen to the running water, and just enjoy a little intimacy.  I took these hikes daily during my divorce, and it’s what kept me sane.  I need to get back to this.  So if I have one New Year’s resolution, it’s to get out into nature more.

White House Visit Snafu

This past Saturday while visiting DC we had a confirmed reservation to tour the White House. The plans were made in advance and we had the confirmation number. Our scheduled tour time was 8:30am. We showed up around 7:45a (cuz I’m just anal that way). We got up to the podium (ya, seriously… that’s all they have… no gate, desk, computer, etc.). The girl looks through the hard-copy list (it might have even been printed on a dot-matrix printer) and our names aren’t on it. She checks our IDs and calls a guy over (he couldn’t have been over 23 years old — I’m gonna call him Skippy). Skippy proceeds to make a cell-phone call with our IDs and confirmation number in hand. He goes over to a bird-bath (I’m serious) and sets all the stuff down on his little workstation the government has so graciously provided for both him and the pigeons! He comes back to us and hands us back our IDs and tells us he’s awaiting an email… yes, an email on his blackberry, cuz they ain’t got a computer anywhere in site… and Lord knows how secure sending our social security numbers over 3g is.

In the meantime, more 8:30 people show up (we were the first — did I mention I’m anal?). More missing names. The girl is really starting to get panicky. So they start making a little corral for us to “graze” in while we wait. Soon the corral is full of 8:30 attendees. A security guard shows up on his Schwinn, also a little panicked that some of us are outside the corral. He instructs us all to back up while they extend the size of the corral. By this time, all 8:30 tour people are directed to the corral, whether they are on the list or not. I can see they suspect a terrorist plot. Some “Jihad Joe” infiltrated the computer system, sabotaged the 8:30 list, in hopes that they’d just let us all go through. But haha… they are smarter than that. Instead, Skippy is going to take each of our IDs individually and process us 1 by 1. Shouldn’t take more than say… SEVERAL HOURS.

Lucky for us… we were already being processed by the finely tuned line-processing team. Our names were called moments later and we were able to proceed. We mosey up to security gate #2. Showed our IDs. Oh crap… were not on the list. I say “Ummmm… we are part of the mixed up 8:30 list”. The guys walks over and finds the sheet over paper with our 3 names on it. Whew! We’re in by 9:00a.

What happened to the rest of the 8:30 group? We ran into one of them later at the White House visitors center. They were all asked to come back in a few hours. Not sure if any of them got to take the tour or not. We were lucky! The whole time I had to hold in my laughter. It was true poetry in motion. The epitome of our government at work. It would truly make a hilarious scene in a movie. Adam Sandler… feel free to steal this for your “Happy Gilmore: President Elect” movie.

What would have topped this all off? Jay was SO EXHAUSTED from standing he almost sat down on a 200 year old chair in the Red Room. OMG that would have been hilarious if it would have shattered. Luckily I caught him in mid-squat, even before the Secret Service did.

Want to see more of our trip? (BTW… no cameras allowed at the White House, so we didn’t get any pics)

Day 1: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=260050&id=705579767&l=c956220bbe

Day 2: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=260054&id=705579767&l=adb4b6c7f7

Day 3: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=260059&id=705579767&l=6bb51e60b2

Is Texting Harmful?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately.  I’ve observed kids (and adults) that are SO attached to their devices that they kind of lose site of the reality around them.  I know I’ve experience this with my iPad.  Is that a bad thing?  The person IS interacting with someone (or something), just through a different medium.  But that’s different than eye-to-eye interaction.  It’s hard to build intimacy through a text message isn’t it?  Plus isn’t it rude to be with someone else and dividing your attention between them and your offline conversation?  I’ve been at family gatherings where the kids are so busy texting that they aren’t interacting with each other.  That’s sad from the way I remember being raised and having so much fun with my cousins, etc.  I try to never respond to my phone during dinner, a movie, or time with family.

For me text messaging is great because it allows me and my girlfriend to interact throughout the day without interfering with each others schedules.  She can text me back when she’s not busy with a student and if I’m busy in a “train of thought” at work I can ignore the text for a little bit and respond later.  It’s not a distraction for us because we limit the interruptions to maybe a dozen or so a day.   But what happens to your brain when you are constantly texting and feel the need to immediately respond?  Is your brain rewired to always respond to the stimuli and you feel the impulse to do something about it?  How does this affect your real-world interactions?  Plus… what about all the time lost?  I know that after I’ve spent too much (unproductive) time on the computer or my iPad (playing “We Rule”) I feel kind of depressed.  Like… wow… I just wasted all that time and I could have been hiking, playing guitar, or working in the yard.

Then again, some may question if it’s a waste of time.  Is FaceBook a waste of time?  Isn’t it a good tool for interacting with someone?  Or is it just NOISE that we otherwise wouldn’t be “wrapped up” in?  I know I’ve spent many hours typing responses to messages that ultimately I really don’t care about and I probably wouldn’t have interacted with this person anyway.  In fact I recently “pruned” my FaceBook list to prevent just this kind of wasted time.

So… give me your thoughts.  I want to hear from those of us that grew up in the generation where we played outside and some dirt and a stick was sufficient entertainment to those who need constant entertainment and stimuli.  Of course, I don’t want you wasting too much time.  So make it quick! :)

Back From Christmas Cruise

Here’s our photos from the Christmas cruise we took.

Part 1 (Miami, Samana, St. Thomas)

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=185053&id=705579767&l=240e8cd01a

Miami – Arrived on Friday (18th) afternoon, checked in to hotel (right across from beach) and then walked Ocean Drive and had a fantastic dinner at one of the restaurants overlooking the beach. Next morning, took a stroll along the beach, had breakfast overlooking the ocean, and then packed up and head to the Port of Miami and boarded ship. Jane caught a cold and so we retired to bed early that night.

Samana – went kayaking and cave exploring.

St. Thomas – went into town for a “little” bit of shopping, then went snorkeling and saw a shipwreck and lots of fish and corral.

Part 2 (Tortola/Virgin Gorda, Stirrup Cay (Xmas), scenes from the ship)

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=185063&id=705579767&l=91b345334f

Tortola – Went to the baths of Virgin Gorda and enjoyed the beach (rough waves). Returned and went into city. Nothing special there, so only spent 30 or so minutes looking around.

Stirrup Cay (Christmas Day) – Enjoyed relaxing on the beach. Doug was a little under the weather, but Jane enjoyed dancing to the band.

Scenes from the ship – I put all the ship pictures at the end. These are various pictures taken throughout the cruise. Wish we had taken more. Beautiful ship. Wonderful room with our own private balcony and super-sized bathroom (relative to what you usually get on a ship). Every night they made a towel animal for us and left it on the bed. Fun!

We had a great time, but missed being with family on Christmas.