Mattie Miracle 2021 Walk was a $125,000 success!

Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation Promotional Video

Thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive!

Dear Mattie Blog Readers,

It means a great deal to us that you take the time to write to us and to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on Mattie's battle and death. Your messages are very meaningful to us and help support us through very challenging times. To you we are forever grateful. As my readers know, I promised to write the blog for a year after Mattie's death, which would mean that I could technically stop writing on September 9, 2010. However, at the moment, I feel like our journey with grief still needs to be processed and fortunately I have a willing support network still committed to reading. Therefore, the blog continues on. If I should find the need to stop writing, I assure you I will give you advanced notice. In the mean time, thank you for reading, thank you for having the courage to share this journey with us, and most importantly thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive.

As Mattie would say, Ooga Booga (meaning, I LOVE YOU)! Vicki and Peter

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation celebrates its 7th anniversary!

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation was created in the honor of Mattie.

We are a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. We are dedicated to increasing childhood cancer awareness, education, advocacy, research and psychosocial support services to children, their families and medical personnel. Children and their families will be supported throughout the cancer treatment journey, to ensure access to quality psychosocial and mental health care, and to enable children to cope with cancer so they can lead happy and productive lives. Please visit the website at: and take some time to explore the site.

We have only gotten this far because of people like yourself, who have supported us through thick and thin. So thank you for your continued support and caring, and remember:

.... Let's Make the Miracle Happen and Stomp Out Childhood Cancer!

A Remembrance Video of Mattie

December 31, 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in January of 2003. Mattie was nine months old, and celebrating his first new year. Mattie was always a night owl and required VERY light sleep. Needless to say, as the ball in Times Square was going down that year, Mattie was wide awake and sitting with us. You can see the energy and happiness on Mattie's face!

A New Year's Poem (author unknown)

The day does offer promise
A change for something new
Time for new direction
To make a change or two

This burst of inspiration
Does come but once a year
A time for something different
And hopes that change is near

How will you use this moment
What will you choose to change
What aspect of your story
Are you poised to rearrange

In truth it's just illusion
It's not about the day
It's how you view the future
And challenge in your way

Frankly it did not even dawn on me that today was New Year's Eve until my friend Tina emailed me and told me she was going to be watching the fireworks tonight. Honestly I had to stop and ask myself, why? I had no idea why there would be fireworks going off tonight, until I put two and two together and looked at the date.

It seems to me that we can't get through a New Year's without hearing the word.... RESOLUTION! My friend Charlie sent me the link below about New Year's resolutions. I have never made a New Year's resolution in my life. Mainly because if I want to do something or change something about myself, I make that commitment and try to abide by it each day. I do not need December 31, to help or inspire me. However, what I like about the article Charlie sent me is that the author tries to encourage us to think outside of ourselves as we make a resolution for 2012. In fact the article presents a campaign that challenges people to make outwardly-focused resolutions to care for others, instead of inwardly-focused resolutions for self-improvement. This notion caught my attention because I do believe that simple acts of kindness do make the world a better place to live. In addition, I will go out on a limb and even say that helping others provides us with much more happiness and in the end enrichment of self than any form of self improvement or self change could ever produce.

New Year, New You: Making Resolutions Matter.............................


It was a slow start to the day for Patches, our calico cat, and myself. Patches illustrates how I felt all day. Despite feeling tired, feeling as if I was still swaying on a ship, and cold, I got it together and headed out on a walk with Peter.

I entitle this photo....Spring in December. Believe it or not, some cherry blossoms do bloom at this time of year. However, to me it is still a very unusual sight and when you take into account that it is cold out, these flowering trees seem down right miraculous.

Peter and I took a 3 mile walk today. We walked around Roosevelt Island and I came armed with a sleeve of crackers. I snapped a picture while we were feeding the ducks. The ducks devoured the crackers and I laughed when I recalled Mattie feeding ducks on Roosevelt Island. Mattie would feed the ducks, but he always popped some of the bread or the crackers in his mouth as well. It was like one piece for Mattie and one piece for the ducks!

A Duck close up! There is something so beautiful about the coloring of a male mallard duck!

For the most part, today was another grey day in Washington, DC. These are very common during the winter months, which is why to me summer is so glorious here. Sun almost every day! While walking, the sun did come out and was shining between the trees. So I snapped a picture of sunlight through the woods at Roosevelt Island.

As we were completing our walk on the trail, I heard a sound in the woods. I stopped and looked around me. Here is what I saw.... A New Year's Eve Deer!
To all our readers, we wish you a healthy and happy 2012! We are thankful to you and appreciate your support as we move into our third year without Mattie in our lives.  

December 30, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2002. Mattie was eight months old and as you can see he desperately wanted to walk! I loved the particular onesie he was wearing because of the reindeer featured on the backside. Mattie was an active baby. He did not like sitting still and crawling was a joke to him. Forget tummy time! Mattie did not care for lying on his stomach even as he got older. With Mattie I learned to be creative with movement and even when he was a little bitty thing, I couldn't just hold him in my arms. He wanted to be bounced and really jiggled hard. To others what I was doing must have looked quite bizarre, but if this movement calmed him down, made him happy, and stopped the crying, I did it! Clinically, I would say Mattie conditioned me to do these activities because they generated positive feedback or results.

Quote of the day: Kind hearts are the gardens. Kind thoughts are the roots. Kind words are the blossoms. Kind deeds are the fruits. ~ Kirpal Singh

I am working in slow motion today. We both feel like we are still on the ship, despite being back on solid ground. It is a very funny feeling and hard to describe. Needless to say, I am still taking Dramamine because this is the prime time when I can develop motion sickness.

Patches is now home and she is thrilled to be back. For her this is a major adjustment, and I can tell that she is very anxious and uneasy from being away from home. Needless to say she is sticking close to her buddy, Peter. She is Peter's shadow. He can't do anything without her following him. She even sits in the bathroom while he showers!

We received our mail today in bulk from our time away. This year, we were inundated with Christmas cards. To all of you who thought of us, we thank you! Naturally we are also very grateful to so many of you who have made a contribution to the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation. This is a wonderful way to memorialize and remember Mattie, and to us this is the ultimate holiday gift.  

December 29, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2008. Mattie's last Christmas with us. In this particular picture, Mattie was terribly sick. He was running a high fever and feeling absolutely depleted. However, Linda (Mattie's Childlife Specialist) had Santa and Mrs. Claus make a special visit to Mattie's clinic room since he was unable to attend the Hospital's Christmas party. When Santa came in Mattie's head was planted on top of the pillow. Slowly though as Santa began talking to Mattie, Mattie lifted his head up for a quick picture and to see all the wonderful toys Santa brought with him. Santa (with the guidance of Linda) brought all of Mattie's favorites, Legos and remote controlled cars!!! This picture may seem cute, but you need to understand how awful Mattie was feeling and the enormous effort it took for him to lift his head, taking that into account, this makes this picture seem superhuman and leaves you in awe of his strength.

Quote of the day: One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession. ~ Sophocles

Disembarkation day is always stressful to me. Maybe it is because over 2000 people have to orderly pack up, leave the ship, claim their luggage, and find their way to the airport. Either case, there is a level of freneticism at the end of a cruise that I don't care for. Ten days on the Ship went fast and yet I was ready today to get back to solid ground. No matter how big a cruise liner is after a while you can feel confined and also you can reach your fill of their commercialism and the crowds with which you have to share your vacation space.

We had breakfast together with my parents this morning before saying our good-byes. Our waiter today was Dejan. Over the past several days we have had the pleasure of interacting with him. He is from Macedonia and is simply delightful. He is a quick study and gets to know his passengers well. In any case, when you are sitting at his station within the dining room, you always feel cared for. Or as he says, he wants his passengers to feel as if they are visiting him at his home, and he wants us to feel welcome. He is very successful at accomplishing his goal.

I am in amazement by many of the cruise ship crew. These people work seven days a week for 10 straight months. They never get weekends or holidays off! Frankly I am not sure how these people avoid burnout! Their work isn't easy, especially when you take into account that they work on a moving ship, which can be rocking and swaying. They also have to contend with challenging passengers who at times have unrealistic demands. If those two things aren't bad enough, then consider that they live in rooms underneath the waterline of the ship and share tight quarters with other crew members. Yet the crew is away smiling and works hard to make sure you are happy. As we got off the Ship, 2000 new passengers were headed aboard this afternoon. The crew then starts the process all over again. To me their work is exhausting and it leaves me wondering how much they are getting paid. Many of the crew are motivated by the money, which helps support their families back at home.

We waited for four hours in the Ft. Lauderdale airport today until our flight was scheduled to take off. The airport was an absolute ZOO! Way too many people in a confined terminal. Our terminal was old and tired, with few stores and restaurants, and not enough seats for those of us waiting to take off. Peter and I spent over an hour walking together back and forth in this small space. I am sure we looked nuts, but we did not care. It beat sitting on the floor or having people crowding our space. I wish I had my pedometer on me, because I am sure we walked at least two miles in the terminal space.

While walking a shiny penny caught my eye. It caught my eye because it seemed to have landed right by Peter's foot as he was walking. I had Peter stop and pick up the penny in remembrance of Mattie. Mattie loved collecting pennies and had an eagle eye to spot them! My parents introduced Mattie to the penny fairy (they would plant pennies all over our home for him to find and tell him that the penny fairy came by to visit him). Now that Mattie is gone, we can't help but think of Mattie every time we see a penny on the ground.

I have been in a ship, taxi, and plane today and I can say that I am thrilled NOT to be moving tonight. Though my head hasn't reached equilibrium. I still feel as if I am on a ship rocking and swaying. This feeling will last for days for me. As we were flying into DC, Peter snapped some wonderful pictures of the city. Unlike Ft. Lauderdale, it is cold and grey in DC. As always the flight from Florida to DC was turbulent, which I absolutely can't stand. Today's remedy that kept me in my seat and dealing with these feelings was singing. I did not do it out loud, but I did it in my head. I am not sure why I selected Day by Day from Godspell, but that was what was playing in my head. You know how it goes..... Day by day, Oh dear Lord, Three things I pray..... To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly, Day by Day. 

As we arrived at the airport and were headed out of security to collect our luggage, I observed a little boy who was traveling with his dad. The boy was reunited and greeted his mom at the airport. He was so excited that he ran up to his mom as she was coming out of security. I absorbed this and so did Peter, yet neither one of us said anything. Because just a few years ago this was us, when I got back from a conference Mattie always acted just like the little boy I saw today.

Any case, we are back in DC, and though I haven't been following the blog counts while I was away, I am thrilled to see that the blog had almost 2000 hits during this holiday break. As always thank you for checking in with us and for reading.

December 28, 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken on Christmas Day of 2008. Mattie was home recovering from his limb salvaging surgeries. A hospital bed was in our living room because Mattie was unable to walk and really move much. Naturally given his circumstances, he was in a terrible mood and the tone in our home that day was very somber. That particular evening, one of Mattie's preschool friends dropped off some Christmas hats and rudolph the reindeer glowing noses. This brighten Mattie's spirits and made us all laugh. This was of course short lived, but that moment of happiness was something I wanted to preserve on camera. It is hard having these as our last Christmas memories with Mattie, but this is our reality. Though as bad as that was, and it was BAD, being without him now seems much worse.

Quote of the day: I am convinced that the greatest legacy we can leave our children are happy memories; those precious moments so much like pebbles on the beach that are plucked from the white sand and placed in tiny boxes that lay undisturbed on tall shelves until one day they spill out and time repeats itself, with joy and sweet sadness, in the child now the adult. ~ Og Mandino

As today is the last day of the cruise, the whole tone of the Ship has changed. People are tensing back up, they are not participating in as many activities, and for the most part they are trying to spend as much time outside and on the decks as possible. Hallways and restaurants are not crowded and in a way it is much more peaceful.

Just like our last cruise to Alaska in August, today we were awoken at 4:40am, with a greeting from the Ship’s captain on the emergency public announcement system. Just like with the Alaska cruise, a child was reported missing by her parents. This morning’s child was a girl named Victoria, who is 14 years old. It took 30 minutes for the Ship’s crew to find her. I do not know the details, but she was found and returned to her parents. I thought Alaska was an anomaly but after this morning’s broadcast, I am beginning to see a pattern. Parents are NOT keeping track of their young teens aboard these vacation trips. I try not to be judgmental, but having been a parent, I can’t see this ever happening with Mattie. Furthermore, why wait until 4am to report a child missing!!??? By that time so many hours have passed by and anything could have happened. If your child does not show up at the agreed upon time (again I am making another assumption that this was discussed between parent and child) at night, then don’t you do something about it then? Why wait for several hours to lapse!? I also want to make it clear that both the child missing in August and the one missing this morning were NOT participating in the Cruise line’s child supervised activities!

We began our day by attending a cooking demonstration hosted by the Executive Chef and the Maitre D’hôtel of the Ship. The executive chef was born and raised in Germany and the Maitre D’ was born and raised in Italy. The cooking show featured these two men working and playing off each other to cook a full four course meal. In front of us they created a Caesar salad (in which they showed us how to make the dressing from scratch), then a vegetarian linguine pesto, followed by shrimp fra diavolo. At the end, the Ship’s chief baker made an appearance and put together a black forest cake in front of our eyes. He made it look easy, but then again, I assume if I had a team of assistant bakers helping me with the set up, I too could perfect the assembly. But the prep work for this cake looked intense! After the cooking demonstration, I would say several hundred people then followed the Ship’s team to the Galley (kitchen) for a tour.

Running the kitchen on a large cruise ship is a master undertaking. In fact, 515 crew are dedicated to the kitchen operation. Within this count includes 184 dining room staff.

I love this picture because it captures some of the huge pots used aboard the Ship. Also keep in mind that there are 52 dishwashers (people NOT machines) aboard the ship. The kitchen operates 24 hours a day!

As several hundred passengers were on this tour, I had a real feeling for the level of chaos that must ensue in this kitchen when the wait staff is running around trying to serve meals. The kitchen is extremely clean but the floors seem slippery and frankly every corner of the kitchen looks exactly alike to me. So if left to my own devices I would be thoroughly lost down there. As we were touring the galley, the crew put together several displays for us. As you can see featured here were a huge halibut and salmon.

This display caught my attention as it was filled with color and was whimsical!

My mom and I posed with the Executive Chef (on right, Klaus Baumgarten) and the Maitre D’hôtel (on left, Ignazio D’Agostino) at the end of the tour.

The Chief Baker, who showed us how to make a black forest cake during the demonstration, designed this beautiful gingerbread village. To me this was a work of art and having made several gingerbread houses from SCRATCH, I know that this is a major LABOR OF LOVE!

This afternoon, we could see Cuba off in the distance. In fact, for the majority of the day the Sea was SO calm, blue, and beautiful. The sun was shining and it was the best day at sea we had during the whole trip. Then as we approached Cuba, things began to change.

It is my hope that with this intense cloud formation you can tell that we had significant weather! It was raining intensely and the wind was wiping. The funny part about all of this is we really wanted to walk around the outside deck this afternoon and wanted fresh air. So despite the rain and wind, we walked through it. This was no easy feat and after our 4 mile walk we were wet and windblown.

This is my last blog from the Island Princess. Tomorrow we will be back in Washington, DC. The return home for us is always problematic. However, this is the first cruise in which I observed that the other passengers weren’t happy about the end of the journey. I observed this distinct feeling TODAY, the day before the cruise ended, which in a way spoiled this last day.

December 27, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 -- Mattie died 120 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2007. Mattie attended Peter's office party and one of the founders of the company has a husband who looks just like Santa. Though Mattie never wanted to go to the mall and sit on Santa's lap (because he found the whole notion scary), he was intrigued by this real life looking Santa. I snapped a picture of Santa and his reindeer together because I thought they made a charming pair. Mattie loved attending the party and he particularly loved the secret santa Christmas present exchange. Mattie came home that year with a light up gingerbread house and this item became one of his favorites to always display over the holidays.

Quote of the day: Empathy, the capacity to feel with another in his suffering, is born first of awareness, then of sympathetic connection. ~ Daphne Rose Kingma

Christopher Columbus set foot on land in Ocho Rios in 1494. Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, and Ocho Rios is located on Jamaica’s North Coast. The origin of the name Ocho Rios remains a bit of a mystery. Directly translated from the Spanish, it means “eight rivers,” but since there are not eight rivers in the area it is more likely the name was derived from the words, “las chorreras” (the spouts), because of the nearby waterfalls.

The first stop on our tour today was Prospect Plantation. Beginning in 1936, Prospect Plantation produced pimento (allspice) trees and limes and was overseen by its Scotland born owner, Sir Harold Mitchell. After his death in 1983, the 1000 acres were transformed into an eco-destination to inspire visitors and offer a true Jamaican plantation experience. However, the Plantation is still owned by the Mitchell family.

On the grounds of Prospect Plantation, small plaques mark the trees which were planted by visiting guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Henry Kissinger, and Drew Barrymore. I want to call your attention to three things in this picture. First, this is a royal Poinciana tree (it has a leaf like a mimosa tree and pods which when opened have beautiful red colored beads used for jewelry and maracas) and was planted at the Plantation by Drew Barrymore. Second, you will see our tour guide, Jackson. Jackson was very entertaining and taught us the Jamaican phrase…. Ya Mon! Third, what I like about this picture however is it shows you this large brown mound embedded in the tree. This brown mound is a termite hive. It is huge, and actually there were many around the plantation. Termites build their homes in trees rather than the ground, to protect them from the hot sun. Look closely at the picture because you will see brown trail lines up and down the tree trunk. This is how the termites travel around the tree and do not get exposed to sunshine!

We had the opportunity to hold and smell the leaves of a lime tree and a pimento tree. The lime tree has a citrusy smelling leaf which we are familiar with since we have a Meyer’s lemon tree growing in our living room. But the pimento tree was an experience. Pimento or the allspice tree has very fragrant leaves. Three spices are captured in the leaves…. Cinnamon, cloves, and pepper, which is why the tree is call ALL-SPICE.

The plantation was very beautiful and lush and we traversed it on a jitney being pulled by a tractor. Jackson drove the tractor, however, there was another man standing on the tractor at all times near Jackson who never introduced himself. During the tour my dad inquired about this man. Jackson explained to my dad that this man standing behind him was a security guard for the bus. This helps to put crime into perspective, especially since we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, on a 1000 area plantation.

Jackson stopped the tractor, jumped out, and explained to us about the production of sugar cane. Sugar cane leaves are apparently hard to touch, cut, and work with. So once the sugar cane has matured and is ready to be harvested, they burn down the whole crop. After the burning is complete, the only thing remaining is the stalk of the sugar cane plant. This is where the sugar is located. The stalk is SO tough it is completely unharmed by fire. As you can see in the picture, there was a 17 century sugar cane mill machine there on display. At one time, a harvested cane or stalk was placed in the machine and horses would be tired up to this mill to make it turn, which would grind the stalk and produce sugar juice. The juice is then boiled to produce molasses. It is from molasses that sugar and rum (VERY popular in Jamaica---- so much so that they were giving out free samples on the tour!) are made.

The plantation was filled with glorious butterflies. We had many Mattie sightings today. Peter captured this beautiful one!

Jackson selected me from the group to attempt to climb the coconut tree! As you can see I did not get very far. There seemed to be no place to grip onto or to place my feet!

Then Donald, who works on the Plantation, showed us how to climb a coconut tree. By the way he did it in bare feet!

At the Plantation we got to see a coconut demonstration! Peter was paying close attention, since NO saws or electrical equipment were used at all. Though I have to admit, this is the component which made Peter’s coconut opening demonstration at Mattie’s preschool and kindergarten so entertaining. The kids loved seeing and hearing the saw and hammers!!!

However, notice the wooden spike on the ground. Donald literally hit the coconut with its husk on it right onto this spike. He then easily peeled the husk away and with your average kitchen butter knife, he used the handle to knock at the coconut shell and split it apart. He made it look SO SO easy!

Donald gave us fresh coconut water to drink and fresh coconut. Apparently Jamaicans like to eat coconut with sprinkled sugar in the raw on top of it. It was delicious!

The house that sits on the Plantation grounds belongs to Sir Harold Mitchell and his family. They bought it in the 1930s. The house reminded me a lot of Mt. Vernon in layout. This family was clearly very wealthy. They owned properties all over the world and knew all the English royalty and dignitaries. This was very evident from the pictures framed throughout the house!

Peter snapped a picture of the first floor of the house. I want to call your attention to the picture of the woman sitting on the piano. This is a picture of Mary Jane, the Mitchell’s only child. Mary Jane died at age 39 from brain cancer (before dying she had two boys and they now own the property). The story of Mitchell’s only child dying from cancer affected me. A great sadness came over me, despite the fact that they were clearly wealthy and lived a magnificent lifestyle. I have to imagine to some extent at the end of the day that did not matter, their lives were permanently affected and in that sense it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. Nonetheless, I observed that the majority of the people in the room with us today had not personally experienced the devastation of losing a child. But it was that information that truly made me feel united with the Mitchell’s.

As you walked out the back door of the house, it opened up onto a beautiful patio that overlooked spectacular gardens. In the distance you can see a fountain that came from Italy. The fountain was said to bring luck and good fortune.

Within the fountain were exquisite water lilies and frogs. Peter captured a frog that poked his head out of the water. This was another sighting that reminded me of Mattie.

One of the last stops at the Plantation was to visit the camels. Peter and I had a lovely camel encounter. He was a very sweet, docile, and affectionate animal.

Our next stop on the tour today was to Dunn’s River Falls. I could have done without this stop altogether. Our tour guide at the Falls was terrible. She never did a head count and was simply surly. However, what truly bothered me was over 1000 people were visiting the Falls today, which made it super congested, very uncomfortable, and certainly not a beautiful and tranquil experience. Here is the description given to us of the Falls……………………

"Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s national treasures and the most beloved attraction in Ocho Rios. It is a dramatic 600 foot drop of cascading water which dominates a tranquil rainforest setting. The falls are a living phenomenon, as they continually regenerate themselves with deposits of travertine from the river that cling to the falls, replenishing the rocks. A climb up its limestone tiers and a swim in the sparkling pools is a delight, although, a walkway built into the forest environment allows you to experience the spectacle without getting wet."

As you can see from the picture, the water moves at quite a clip and over some steep rocks. To be quite honest I am not sure how the park avoids accidents since there is NO restriction as to who can participate in the climbing of these Falls. Though we did not get in the water to experience the Falls, we did climb all the steps to walk out over the Falls.

Here is a picture of my mom and I by the Falls. As we were boarding the bus to leave the Falls, three older women were missing from the bus. Our bus driver was going to leave them behind, since he told us they probably decided to climb the Falls and he would come back for them in an hour. However, I knew NO ONE from our bus got into the water to climb the Falls and I basically told him he shouldn’t leave without these women. In fact, one couple on the bus was mad at me for speaking up. But seeing the physical strength it took to climb those Falls, I knew those three women were bright enough not to attempt that. The Park was congested and our Park guide was awful. Therefore, I deduced these women got lost in the Park and were trying to figure out how to get to the bus. Guess who was right?!

After the trip to Dunn’s Falls, we were dropped off at a shopping area. OH MY WHAT AN EXPERIENCE THAT WAS! Basically nothing was affordable, even after haggling down prices. One store owner told us that the philosophy many Jamaicans have is that US citizens are ALL privileged and wealthy and therefore they are entitled to charge us these exorbitant prices. That notion did not sit well with any of us on the tour bus and therefore nothing was purchased.

Before embarking the Ship, Peter snapped a picture of the Island Princess. Since tomorrow we are at sea the entire day, we will not have a chance to see the outside of the ship again until we arrive at port in Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday.

I end tonight’s posting with a picture of a smiling Mattie Moon over the Caribbean....

December 26, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tonight's picture was featured on the front cover of our 2007 Christmas card. What I immediately see in this picture was Mattie's Christmas train. Mattie LOVED trains and was fascinated by their power, speed, and mechanics. In this particular toy train, Santa was the engineer and as the train went around the track, it played Christmas music and puffed out steam. This became a holiday tradition for Mattie. Each year, he looked forward to setting up his train around the tree. Naturally this train remains in Mattie's closet even today and though it is not set up anymore, I remember its sound, but also I vividly recall the sound of excitement and laughter it produced in Mattie.

Quote of the day: Imagination enhances our lives by supplementing the inadequacies of the real world, or our experience of it, and can also give us the vision to transform present reality into something new and better. ~ Erik Blumenthal

On Christmas night, the Ship had a formal dinner. On our way to dinner, Peter snapped a picture of me. I am posting it because I wanted to show you how lovely the Ship was decorated for the holidays. There are Christmas trees, wreaths, boughs, real gingerbread villages, and Menorahs everywhere.

Some of my blog readers have emailed me and asked me to post a picture of me with my parents. Here is a picture of us together at Christmas.

I haven’t explained dining on the Ship. But it is an experience. In fact, I would say that food may be one of the biggest forms of entertainment on any major cruise liner. With our Ship holding 2200 passengers and over 1000 crew, feeding this army of people at ALL hours of the day is NO easy process. Yet Princess does it well, because it isn’t easy cooking in such large quantities and yet keep the food looking elegant, enticing, and fresh. The Ship has two main dining rooms, two specialty restaurants, and a 24 hour a day buffet. Not to mention an ice cream bar, a pizzeria, and a grill for hamburgers and other items.

Our wait staff at dinner is Manny and Jeannette. Both are from the Philippians and they work very hard to make us happy. In fact, Manny is teaching us card tricks during dessert and Peter has already mastered how to perform a few of them. Keep in mind that most cruise ship employees work 11 hour days and unlike us, they do NOT have weekends off. In addition, they work 10 out of 12 months a year.

Dinner is typically served as a four course meal and last night the two main featured entrees were turkey or ham. If you know me well then you are well aware of the fact that I could eat Thanksgiving Day food ALL year round. I love turkey, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes! Eating for me is an experience, it isn’t just an important necessity in life. While at Dinner last night, my mom took a picture of Peter and me. The funny part about last night is one of the ship’s photographers came around to our table and took a group shot of us. He thought Peter and I were brother and sister. We laughed hysterically. I guess they say couples look alike after spending so much time together, I don’t know! But since I do not perceive us as looking a thing alike, the whole notion was a riot.

We have been having rough seas each night. This is our first Caribbean cruise where we are actually experiencing this kind of weather one day after another. In fact, one man near us fell in the dining room the other night when a wave hit the ship and caused it to rock substantially. This morning, Peter captured some beautiful clouds. So I wanted to share this with you. Mattie and I used to look at clouds all the time and create stories about each one of them. Somehow when Peter showed me this picture, I felt like this was Mattie’s cloud, following us and cruising right alongside us.

In addition to clouds, Peter saw this very beautiful sight over the Caribbean. I did not have the chance to see it, but I am so happy he captured it for me.

Today was a full day at sea as we are travelling about 400 miles from Costa Rica to Jamaica. Though we are at sea the Ship keeps you very busy with all sorts of activities. My mom and I did another zumba class this morning, we walked over a mile on the deck, did a foxtrot class, attended bingo, and then went through all the shops on board. Trying to do any of these activities was royally challenging since the Ship was rocking and pitching, but we managed.

Tomorrow we arrive at Jamaica and this will be our last Island visit before we return back to Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday. In a way returning home is also bittersweet for us and it is always an adjustment, especially since we are being forced to greet yet another year without Mattie in it.

December 25, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken around Christmas of 2006. We took Mattie to Boston to celebrate Christmas with Peter's family. One of the toys Mattie got that year from his grandparents was featured in the picture. Basically the toy allowed Mattie to build a robot of his own creation. If he put the parts together correctly this structure would actually move by a remote controlled battery powered device. Mattie loved it and created all sorts of robots that December! Mattie was all about creativity, but he also had an analytical side to him because he actually understood how to assemble structures and objects so that they were sound and operational. Which was why I nicknamed him early on as "my little engineer."

Quote of the day: And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. ~ Nelson Mandela

Peter and I hope that our blog readers, who celebrate Christmas, had a very happy and memorable day with your families and friends. However, we are also well aware of the fact that Christmas is a challenging time of year for all of our readers who have lost a family member (regardless of the amount of time that has passed by or where you are in the healing process). I know that despite being away from our everyday reality, our reality follows us EVERY where we go. I woke up in a bad mood this morning and missed the presence of Mattie in our lives. The ship is celebrating Christmas in many wonderful ways for the children aboard. Santa visited this afternoon and literally there were craft tables set up throughout the ship’s floors, along with designing your own sugar cookies and ice cream. Mattie would have loved all these hands on activities.

When the Ship docked in Costa Rica, I was greeted with amazing bird traffic right outside our window. There were Frigate birds, pelicans, seagulls, and buzzards. This is the first port we have entered on this trip which provided me with this wonderful sight.

Christopher Columbus landed near Limon, Costa Rica in 1502 but the town was officially founded in 1854. Costa Rica is the third smallest geographic land mass in Central America (with El Salvador and Belize being first and second). Limon is TROPICAL and is normally hot year round with temperatures in the 80s and 90s. However, you should note that it rains everyday in Costa Rica, which makes sense since it hosts an amazing and lush rain forest. Two thirds of Costa Rica’s specifies live in the canopy of the rainforest.

We went on a tour today that involved boarding the banana plantation railway. Our tour guide’s name was Percy and our bus driver was Gabriel. Percy was bright, humorous, and engaging and made our tour time fascinating and it passed by very quickly. In fact, Percy also introduced us to several Costa Rican expressions, the first one being Pura Vida! Pura Vida means pure life. Basically he told us that Pura Vida is a response you can give to someone to answer just about any question. For example, if someone asks you how you are.….. you can respond back with pura vida. If someone asks you how was breakfast or your day….. you can answer back with pura vida too. However, it is your facial expression and how you deliver these two words that will indicate to your recipient if you answer is positive or negative. Obviously if you deliver it with a smile and happiness in your tone, it is clear, that your pura vida is positive in meaning.

Some fun facts about Costa Rica are: 1) it has 50 different species of hummingbirds, 2) it has four different types of monkeys, 3) it is the 3rd largest banana producer in the world (Ecuador being the first), 4) it is the 70th largest coffee producer in quantity, but one of the first in quality!!!, and 5) 25% of the territory is dedicated to the national park system or biological, marine, and land reserves.

As you can see, Costa Rica is a very lush, green, and mountainous Country. Around 160 miles of coast line are on the Caribbean Sea and 1100 miles of the Country’s coastline are on the Pacific Ocean.

While we were in Costa Rica, it was gray and overcast, and rained multiple times while on tour. In fact, the Country receives 200 inches of rain fall in a given year! Percy showed us what a typical cemetery looked like, all the graves are above ground. This is a law, because with the given amount of rain fall, underground burials are not possible.

Percy showed us what coffee beans growing on a tree looked like. He brought the tree to us, because in Costa Rica coffee grows 2000 miles or higher above sea level. This altitude provides the right conditions for optimal growing of Arabica coffee (the type of coffee prepared in many Arab countries). Brazil and Colombia are the first and second largest coffee producing countries in the world. Though Costa Rica can’t compete in quantity it makes up for this in quality. It takes four years for a coffee bush to mature, and only then can beans be picked (when they are red).

At one point during our tour, Gabriel stopped the bus and walked outside in the bushes and minutes later came back with a red frog in a glass. This frog was a poisonous dart frog. NONE of us on the bus were allowed to touch the frog, because if the “sweat” from the frog gets into your pores or in any cuts on one’s hand, it is fatal. Why Gabriel was magically able to touch this frog was beyond me!

Gabriel also retrieved for us a “banana butt.” It is the purple pod like thing that hangs beneath a bunch of bananas. Notice however that around each bunch of bananas is a blue plastic bag. This bag serves multiple purposes. For example, the bag provides heat inside of it to accelerate the growth and ripening of the bananas. However, the bag is a deterrent to animals, especially monkeys. Why? Because NOTHING editable in Costa Rica is BLUE. Therefore, animals know to stay away from blue. It is almost like a repellant. Percy said that even bugs stay away from people wearing blue, rather than orange and reds.

When you peel away the outer layers of the banana butt, you can see these yellowish flowers. It is from these flowers that bananas grow. A banana butt can produce hundreds of bananas, and they develop and ripen in layers. If you continue to peel away the layers of the “butt” you will find more and more layers of flowers. The yellow flowers that you see here are the female portion of the “butt.” The male flowers are within the “banana butt” and help provide nutrients to the female flowers. But it is ONLY the female flowers that produce the banana fruit.

We went on a two hour train ride today through an amazing, lush, and tropical banana plantation. This train was built by an American from Chicago named Minor Keith. Mr. Keith NEVER received a dime from the Costa Rican government for his work, but in lieu of payment he asked for land. What land did he request? The land on either side of the train tracks!!! One smart man!!! With that land he planted banana trees and then asked the Costa Rican government to allow him to transport his bananas to port using the train. Needless to say this man became very wealthy and developed the Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita companies! Keith hired thousands of former Jamaican slaves using working contracts, who arrived in 1871 to build the railroad which links Limon with the coffee plantations of the Country’s Central Valley for European export. Though the railroad was built for coffee transportation, Keith used it for banana exporting and made his fortune.

I do want to impress upon you that many people live along the railroad tracks. In fact many of the houses sit right in the mud and dirt, have no running water or electricity, and frankly I am not sure how these people survive and thrive given their surroundings. Remember it is always raining, there is no sewerage and
standing water is everywhere.

Bananas in a bunch are very heavy, specifically over hundred pounds when ready to be picked. So to prevent the plant from falling over or from limbs breaking, the trees are supported with this rope like system.

Peter captured what our train looked like while we were crossing over one of the many canals. The train was open air and it was like being transported through a sauna. I loved it, but I realize I am in the minority.

While on the train, we had the opportunity to see some fascinating sights. Actually we HEARD this sight before seeing it. It was a sound I have NEVER heard in my life. It actually seemed more like a person making Halloween spooky sounds than an animal. But today I got to hear the shrieks of howler monkeys. They can be heard up to 3 miles away. These monkeys are matriarchal and the females are even louder than the males. They like to hang out on fig palms and they were very vocal while we stopped and took pictures of them. In fact, Percy told us that these monkeys can be spiteful and fling poop at tourists at times. Luckily we missed this potential happening/hazard.

These monkeys are black and brown, have long and slender fingers, and tails that curl around trees in amazing ways.

We were also introduced today to the two toed sloth. This gal blends in beautifully with the tree. I learned that two toed sloths are nocturnal, unlike the three toed sloth which is up and about during the day! The sloth is a mammal and related to the anteater of all things. At around age 7 (they live up to 40 years), sloths are mature and begin having children. A female gives off pheromones to attract a male. However, after the act, she dismisses the male and carries the baby for 8 months independently. In fact, she gives birth to the baby while hanging from a tree. She holds the tree limb with one arm and uses the other to catch the baby she is birthing and then eats her own placenta. Beautiful no?! She raises the baby for over a year and then teaches it how to fend for itself and eat, and then the child and parent separate for life and the mother then releases pheromones and begins the cycle once again. She repeats this cycle for the remainder of her life. So much for my notion that sloths were slow and lived a sedentary life!

Costa Rica is very lush, beautiful, and its natural beauty captures your mind and heart. There is something very special about visiting a rain forest and it is definitely something one should try to do at some point in one’s life. While in a rainforest you realize that there are forces at play that are much bigger and more powerful than our man made worlds, items, and priorities.

At the end of the tour, Percy introduced us all to Banannitos. Or in other words, lady finger bananas. They are real cuties and taste just like a regular banana, though they are the size of one’s ring finger.

As we set sail tonight, the birds of Costa Rica were singing and giving us a bon voyage. I can’t remember the last time I heard SO much bird traffic. It was wonderful. We will be at sea all day tomorrow as we head for Jamaica on Tuesday.