Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cruisin' Wednesday and Thursday

Wednesday - Cabo San Lucas

Normally when I stop writing on vacation it is either because a) we're having too much fun or b) I'm miserable and don't want to talk about it.  Disneyland last year was the latter, fortunately this trip is the former.  By the end of the day, I'm too wiped to think creatively and I think, "I'll just write extra tomorrow."  Which of course doesn't happen tomorrow either, and thus the snowball rolls.  I'm going to try to recap the highlights of the last three days.

Ryan, my dad, and the boys went on an Extreme Canopy Tour, which is kind of a misnomer.  A canopy tour is a zipline experience that goes through the jungle treetops (i.e., the canopy.)  So it was a little surprising when the "canopy tour" took place in the desert with nary a tree to be found.  Plenty of cliffs, though, and some of the ziplines were 1/4 mile long.  They loved it.  The company they used was Costa Azul and I booked it with, who gave us a much better deal than going through the cruise ship.  While the boys were touring the non-existent canopy, my mom and I took Darcey and walked around Cabo.  It was basically streets of souvenir shops that sold variations of the same things, over and over again.  The street vendors were aggressive but not overly so.  I don't like buying things from vendors like this - I feel like they're looking at me like I'm a sucker and there's pretty much no way I can change their opinion of me.  I'm the worst barterer ever.  Just tell me how much the dang trinket costs and I'll pay it - don't turn my shopping experience into embarrassing proof of my gringo-ness.

My dad won another ship in Super Duper Trivia.  I started thinking that my cause was hopeless and I'd be leaving the cruise empty handed.  But that was okay - it was mostly fun just answering the questions; I didn't have to win to have fun.  (Yeah, that's what all losers tell themselves.)

We went back to the restaurant for dinner that night and our waiter Welly looked genuinely hurt when he asked where we had been for the last two nights.  I never understood the idea that people would form relationships with their waiter on a cruise...until we met Welly.  He's from the Philippines, he works for six months on the ship and then gets two months off at home.  He's got a 1 year old son so he's super attentive to my kids. He cuts Darcey's dinner into bite size pieces at the table for her.  At Friday's dinner he spent ten minutes at least making an origami Optimus Prime out of a children's menu for Zack.  He remembers where the kids sat once and the kids menus are always waiting on those seats when we get there.  He's friendly and you get the feeling that he would do anything to make sure you're happy with your dinner.  And he doesn't do it in a fake or condescending way, like he's only doing it to get a good tip.  Other than the second Elegant Night on Friday, I think it was the unspoken family decision that we wouldn't miss a dinner in the restaurant again.  We wouldn't want to disappoint Welly.

Speaking of food, here's my opinion of the food:  it's pretty good.  Quantity is of course the food's best selling point - there's the restaurant that's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then there's the buffet restaurant that's open from early in the morning until sometime at night.  Pizza and ice cream are available 24 hours a day.  There's a wide variety of food to choose from - regular buffet, deli, Indian, sushi, and more.  There's plenty of options to please the 3300+ cruisers who eat every day.  The only bad thing about the food is that because it has to please so many people, they make the food a little on the bland side.  No strong flavors - no garlic, few onions, even the french fries can stand a little extra salt.  The restaurant food is (I think) better than the buffet food on the Lido deck, but the barbeque sauce I had on the ribs had little more flavor than ketchup, and that's just a shame.  The desserts are plentiful and don't suffer from the same problems as the other food - everyone raves (and rightly so) about the chocolate melting cake, but I'm not a huge chocolate fan so my favorite dessert was the bread pudding.  Mmmm, it was delicious.  The worst part of traveling with kids is my reliance on fast food and familiar places - by the time I get home, I never want to eat another burger again, ever.  But this trip isn't like that at all.  Yeah, Zack's had pizza for approximately 14 meals this week, but that's okay, because I've had filet mignon (fantastic!) and pasta and prime rib and other wonderful foods that were definitely not McDonalds.

Thursday, Puerto Vallarta

On Thursday we hit Puerto Vallarta.  I booked us on a Pirate Ship Adventure excursion where we get off our ship (which Darcey calls the "airplane" ship from the giant wings sprouting on top of it) and got on a pirate ship where swashbuckling mateys entertained us as we sailed to a private island.  They served breakfast and lunch, which was mediocre at best, but the entertainment was a lot of fun.  Brad was chosen to be in the "pirate show" and the family won a Zack-sized t-shirt for answering trivia questions.  What is it about cruising and trivia?  My parents insist that they've never been on a cruise that has this many trivia contests (sometimes 6 in a day) but whatever the case is, I like it.  The t-shirt is going into the pile of Trivia Loot that we will be photographing at the end of the cruise.

The private beach was, for me, the best part of the day.  The water was calm and clear.  The boys got boogie boards and played around in the waves and Brad went snorkeling and maybe kayaking too, I can't remember.  Ryan played in the beach volleyball game and Zack went on a hunt for buried treasure.  I sat in the sand and watched Darcey and Zack digging holes and building sand castles and read my book.  My only complaint was that our time on the beach was too short.  I could have stayed there all day.

Naturally, in those two hours or so on the beach, the sun found all of the places that the sunscreen didn't quite make it, so I got burned on my scalp and around the edge of my swimsuit top.  I even reapplied sunscreen and I still got burned.  I don't think I'll ever understand people who can lay out for an entire vacation and come home brown instead of red.  Must be something in the genes.

After we got back, there was just enough time for one trivia game before dinner in the restaurant.  The theme was Pop Culture and I finally hit my stride on this one.  Here are some of the questions (or what I remember of them):
Who invented the term "security blanket"?
What Revlon spokesmodel claimed she was fired because she was too old?
What activity does "five finger discount" refer to?
How much would you get for coming in second place in a beauty contest in the game Monopoly?
What celebrity got her start as a dancer on In Living Color?
How many people does McDonalds serve in one day - 40 thousand, 400 thousand, or 400 million?
What is the first of the seven dwarves, in alphabetical order?
What talk show host has a Top Ten list?
Who is the father of Britney Spears' children?
What tv show was responsible for Ashton Kutcher's rise to fame?
What tv show was the first to pay its actors $1 million per episode?
Who was the first Nike employee of Thai descent to make more than 40 cents an hour?
What vegetable drink claims it is "99.9% Clam-free"?

There were 20 questions total and I ended up with 14 right.  The Royal Flush Casino Lounge was unusually packed for this trivia round, so we ended up at a table at the very far end of the room.  I had to crane my head towards the stage and sometimes repeat the questions to the rest of the family so we could all hear.  Joe, the cruise-guy-in-charge-of-trivia, said "Who has more than ten right?" and a handful of people had our hands raised, but nobody had more than 15 right.  So he asked the people near him how many they had right, and the highest number was 11.  Which of course led to me running down the aisle waving my paper over my head and announcing loudly, "I have 14!  I have 14!"  Joe looked at me like he'd never seen me before (which is nuts, because we were basically stalking him for an entire week) and I pointed that I was sitting waaaaay down there.  The two people that tied at 11 were denied their ship-on-a-stick glory and Joe handed me my coveted trophy.  I finally won!!  I had looked at that trophy as my family members paraded them past me and I thought it'd be pretty cool to have one - once I got it, it was actually even better than I thought.  I wanted to get a strap for it and hang it around my neck so everyone could see it, like an even more impressive medallion.  Cruise ship bling.  I might be the most shallow and pitiful person you've ever met, but winning that trophy really made me happy.  I took it with us to dinner and sat it next to my plate and could have stared at it all day.

More stuff probably happened that night, but I don't remember any of it.  Can you blame me?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cruisin' Tuesday

If today had any theme, it'd be Trivia Day.  Brad wanted me to call this post "Dipped in Trivia" and that's pretty accurate.  It was a great day, though, and it helped keep the family together a little bit better.  Yesterday and Sunday afternoon we let Brad and Noah have free reign of the ship, and it was a little bit too much freedom for my taste.  I don't think they need to be under constant surveillance, but they tended to wander aimlessly and have no plans, and as a result, they seemed bored.  There's enough options of things to do that you can only be bored on a ship if you try really hard.  So today I told the boys that they had to either be in their Camp Carnival group, at a scheduled activity, or with the family.  It worked out so much better, and even though both of them were irritated by the strictures at first, I think they enjoyed themselves more being together as a family.

It helped that there were half a dozen trivia games sprinkled throughout the day, so we knew that we could always find family members there.  Today was our day for winning ship-shaped plastic - while I didn't get one myself, the family walked away with three trophies, and I ended up with two more medallions, also for a total of three.  If I don't end up with a piece of ship-on-a-stick, my medallion collection will comfort me.  I missed the Trivia: Fun Challenge this morning at 9:30 but we went to Trivia: Food, which I thought was my best chance for a win.  We refined our trivia teamwork today: each person fills out their own answer sheet but we collaborate on the answers.  Anything one of us knows for sure, we all write down.  Anything that no one knows, we each make our own best guess.  (Teamwork is totally fine by the trivia game rules, btw.)  Well, by guessing that 3 out of 10 plain m&ms are brown and that a sangria is made from pineapple and lime juice, Brad walked away with the coveted prize that round.  He was absolutely thrilled to be the first to strike gold.  Next we went to Name That "Toon" where, in a surprise upset, my mom beat out Ryan the animator to win trophy #2.  She had an amazing score of 19 out of 20, the only question she got wrong was "How many dalmations were captured in 101 Dalmations?"  We all said 99, but they claim the answer was 98.  Internet access costs $.75 per minute, so I haven't yet looked it up, but I question the veracity of that answer.  Mom did know that Riki-Tiki-Tavi was a mongoose and none of the rest of us knew that one, so she definitely earned it.  Super-Duper Trivia at noon was too much for most of us, but my dad ended up with 13 right and won it all.  Three trivia games in a row, and three ships on sticks.  At 2 we met up again in the Spectacular Theater for a trivia game where they gave prizes out to the first person who answered correctly.  My dad  won an underwater camera (film was like winning a corded phone) and a snorkel.  I answered two questions right and won two more medallions and two bingo cards (bingo is a really big deal, apparently - the cards were worth $10 each, but I would have traded them for a trophy).  My questions were: Who was the first President to dance onstage with Ricky Martin? (George Bush) and What are the final words in the movie "Gone With the Wind"? (After all, tomorrow is another day.)

I feel like I'm hitting my groove, cruise-wise.  Yesterday I was feeling a little hectic, like there were always three different places I wanted to be and so I wasn't satisfied with wherever I was.  Today I played it cool.  I was relaxed and I enjoyed myself.  I had an hour to myself on the deck in the sun to read my book - if I could do more of anything, it would be this, but with four kids (and six games of trivia!) it's pretty difficult.  The next time I cruise with kids, I will definitely get a balcony room - it'd be worth it for those times when the kids need to chill somewhere and not be so stimulated, and I could be sitting on the balcony instead of in the air conditioning.  I might have been doing well, but clearly other people are falling apart.  I shared an elevator with a guy who was complaining about the cost of his drinks in the casino after he had spent more than $2,000 gambling.  He said, "The next person I talk to about this will be the ship's captain, and if he doesn't fix it then when I get off the ship in Cabo I'm flying home and suing their butts!"  Seriously, dude?  After dropping (I refrain from saying 'wasting' but that's what I'm thinking) $2k on glorified computer Solitaire, you're complaining about your $7 Red Bull?  There's something majorly wrong with that story.  I also heard an adult daughter fighting with her mother - when the daughter was younger, she wanted a belly button ring, but her mother convinced her to get a tattoo instead, which the daughter now regrets and blames her mother for.  A body piercing could have closed up by now, she said, but she's stuck with the tattoo.  I so desperately wanted to know what the tattoo was of, but there was no way really to ask without sharing some of the wrath directed at the mother.  It was kind of a hysterical insight into family dynamics right there.

We went to a second night of family friendly comedy, and this guy was funnier.  Ed Regine, I think his name was, and yesterday's slightly-less-funny guy was Paul Lyons.  I missed half of it when I took Darcey to the bathroom.  That's what I get for finally (mostly) potty training her.  (On Wednesday she had an accident, but it's the first one all trip so I'm feeling pretty lucky.)

I am loving this trip so much.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cruisin' Monday

Morning dawns early on the Carnival Splendor, at least it does when you have a three and six year old in your room.  They were awake by 6:30 but I managed to keep them in their beds until about 7.  Zack's first words to me were, "Can I put my swim suit on now?"  He'd been waiting, with all the patience of hyper kid off his meds, since yesterday afternoon, when it was 60 degrees outside and I was trying to keep my brains from lurching around inside my skull. (From the rolling of the ship.  I don't know if that was clear or if it was one of those things that made more sense in my head.)  I told him yes, then took the two of them up to the Lido Deck for breakfast.  The hot chocolate was wonderful, creamy and just the right temperature for the slightly cool morning.  The kids had pancakes and croissants, yummy.  My stroke of brilliance came after breakfast when, instead of getting into the glacial pool water at 8 a.m., I went upstairs to Deck 10 and plopped the kids in an empty hot tub.  I joined them and relaxed - we were probably in there for an hour or so, and the only people that came in were other kids.  It was perfect!  They could splash around and not bug adults, and Darcey was tall enough to touch the bottom.  This was an enjoyable enough situation to make it okay that I got up at such an unreasonable hour of the morning, and I'm almost okay with doing it every morning.

I eventually got Zack and Darcey checked into the Club Carnival with my mom's help, then Ryan and my parents and I claimed some loungers in the sun to read.  It was lovely and relaxing, exactly what I wanted this vacation to be.  For about 45 minutes.  And then Ryan got too hot and went inside and my parents went to do...something.  I can't remember.  Then I was alone and that was even better!  For about 15 minutes.  And then it was time to go pick up Zack and Darcey and begin parenting again.  Ugh.  Parenting takes the fun out of a vacation and turns it into work.  We had promised to take Zack to the real pool but even at 2 p.m. the water wasn't any warmer.  It was basically torture.  I'm going to fast forward through this part of the afternoon because I don't really want to relive it, and you don't really want to read about it.  You're welcome.

My quest for trivia gold continues.  Today I did the Triviathon: Fun Challenge with my dad where we improved our score to 13 out of 20.  I missed Super-Duper Trivia, but mom and dad went and came in second.  Noah, Darcey and I hit the Triviathon: Movies where I scored 12 out of 20 all by myself.  I'm smart enough to know not to bother attending Triviathon: Sports today, so that was my last chance until tomorrow.  This does nothing but whet my appetite for the authentic 24-karat-plastic symbol of my intelligence.

I was writing this at 5 pm on Monday.  There are a million places to sit on this ship, and a million reasons why each one is just this far from being the perfect place to sit.  The Lido deck is a constant party.  Deck 11 has a cold breeze.  The lower decks aren't in the sun.  Whichever deck is perfect is also the deck that has no chairs left.  It goes without saying that the deck preferential rankings change every time the sun shifts positions, which is to say, constantly.  I found a perfect deck this afternoon, when Darcey was truant from the Club Carnival play area she's signed up for, and we sat down right next to Brad, who also deemed it perfect.  That is until the drunk twenty-somethings decided to see how long one of the guys in the group could stand there with his swimsuit down.  You know, the guys who take up a challenge like that are never the ones with a butt that anyone actually wants to look at, and this guy was no exception, his fat, white, dimply butt and hairy legs and ugh.  The only good thing was that his back was to us, otherwise I would have had to burn my eyes out with a hot poker.  I asked Brad if he wanted to find a new place to sit, and he was off like a shot.  Then a guy in a different group yelled at Butt Man to go take his show somewhere else and a war of f-words ensued.  I ended up carrying Darcey out of there while she asked, "What was that man saying?"  I'm pretty sure this is one of those moments that my kids are going to tell their therapists about someday, when identifying traumatic events from their childhood.

So to make a long story short (too late) I am still in search of the perfect place to sit.  Right now I'm in an empty restaurant with my feet up on the windowsill and the sun on my legs.  There are more relaxing lounges, to be sure, but I feel guilty being inside.  If I was going to sit indoors, I'd have stayed home.  The whole point of this place is sunshine and water.  I know it sounds a little dumb, considering I'm 10 floors up inside a giant floating hotel, but there's a calming rhythm to the sea that I want to capture.  Listening to the band on Deck 9 singing Guns 'N Roses while judging the Hairy Chest contest is not bringing me that nature communion.  But sitting inside at the window in the sun and writing by myself is the closest thing to the perfect place to sit all afternoon.  I'm feeling really happy right now.

I need to buy a little notebook.  I keep having tiny little semi-brilliant insights and then by the time I get back to my laptop the brilliance has faded and I'm left with half a metaphor and some useless dross.  I had a unique thought but lost the insight and ended up with:  Drunk people sure are obnoxious.  True, but lacking a certain finesse.  I'm going to have to work on it.

Tonight was Elegant Night at the restaurant, which was too big an effort for any of us to bother with.  Walking through the halls were women in prom dresses, evening gowns, and cocktail dresses.  The men wore suits or just slacks and dress shirts with ties.  I saw no tuxes.  The kids wore basically church clothes.  Maybe it's an excuse for people to dress to the hilt, but especially with kids, I don't see an attraction to it myself.  Most people did, though, because the Lido deck was deserted during dinner...except for the random dressed up couple that we saw eating on the Lido deck - kind of the worst of both worlds.

The family all gathered at 8:30 (after Darcey's late late afternoon nap - poor kids are absolutely wiped out but are refusing to sleep in) in the El Morocco Lounge for the family-friendly comedy show.  I wonder how much effort it took to keep it clean, or if the effort comes from making it adult for the 10:30 show.  The one thing that I am experiencing but didn't anticipate was the amount of worldliness that my kids are being exposed to.  Not that we're on the S.S. Gomorrah or anything, but I'm realizing that my kids are pretty sheltered.  In a good way, though - I think I'm trying to protect them from the more negative things.  Now I'm aware of all the drunk people, the bad language, the 3/4 naked people everywhere, and I'm wondering what my teen and tween boys are thinking about all of it.   It's starting a discussion, and that's a great thing, but the conservative/lazier parent in me would rather avoid the issue altogether.  Still, we're having a great time and with the exception of Butt Man, I don't think I'd change much.

Cruisin' Sunday

I said we were aiming to leave by nine this morning - well, given the fact that we were all awake between 4:30 and 5:30, it was a pretty easy goal to achieve.  We didn't want to get to the ship too early, since they didn't start boarding until 12:30, but as it turns out, the earlier the better.  We checked in our bags and got in the first line at noon but didn't get on board the ship until 1:30.  We stood in a line to get our id card, another line for security, then for our souvenir photos, then our id card photos.  At each checkpoint we had to show a random and unpredictable combination of passports and id cards - whichever one I just put away was inevitably the one that was needed next.

When we finally made it on board we checked out the Lido deck cafeteria-style restaurant for lunch, then went down to our rooms.  Our room has a window and it's actually reasonably big, or at least, bigger than I expected.  Then it was off to the Casino Bar for the Welcome Aboard Trivia Game, where the team with the most correct answers wins a "ship on a stick," a little plastic Carnival ship-shaped trophy.  I took one look at that thing and I knew I had to have it.  I will not be satisfied in life until I win a ship on a stick.

Alas, it was not to be won on this game.  My team - me, my mom, my dad, and for one question, my dad's ipod touch - got a measly 6 questions right out of 15.  Brad, who benefited from some of our knowledge but went his own way on other questions, shocked us all with 10 out of 15.  (Seriously, who knows what color laser they use to remove a red tattoo??)  The team next to us, though, had 11 right and they took home my coveted trophy.  No matter.  This is just the warm-up round.  I've got a whole week to win my ship on a stick.  And next time, Brad's going to be on my team.

We had dinner in the Golden Pearl Restaurant.  I had the pork spareribs and with it came an insight that has been true through when I am writing this on Monday night:  the food's goal is to be non-offensive.  The food is decent, but not fantastic.  The barbeque sauce was bland.  Tuesday's pesto sauce had no garlic.  What makes food great (to me, anyhow, I know not everyone agrees) is impressive flavors - bold, spicy, complex, whatever.  What I've eaten so far is fine but safe.  None of this food would win anything on Top Chef.  (That's not going to stop me from eating, and prolifically. And I'm not complaining, just pontificating.)

We put the littles to bed and my dad, Noah, and I headed to the Spectacular lounge for Gameshow Mania.  They had three podiums set up with flashing lights and scores and Joe, the entertainment guy, asked for volunteers to be on the game show.  I asked Noah if he thought I should do it.  Frankly, as much as I enjoy trivia, I know that I'm only average at actually answering the questions.  But you don't win a ship on a stick by sitting in the audience, and I'm not going to be seeing any of these people again if I make an idiot of myself, right?  What I didn't count on was that my dad would run down to the room and grab his video camera.  I can't upload the video right now, but suffice it to say that a) I didn't win, but I came in a respectable second and b) I probably should have expected that the person who answered "Shake Your Bon-Bon" would have to do just that.  For my embarrassment and for participating I got a medal with a cruise ship on it.  Oh, that wily ship on a stick, staying just out of my reach!  I will have you, and I have a whole week to get you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pre-Cruise Check In

We woke up this morning, the first day of spring break, to see the ground covered with snow.  Utah weather is a fickle beast and April showers usually are of the white and flaky variety.  But for once I'm not joining in the mournful whining - I'm actually laughing.  In 36 short hours we are going to be setting sail from Long Beach, California and heading out into the open waters. It's supposed to be in the 90's in Cabo next week.  I couldn't be happier.

I told my mom that we were aiming to leave by 9 this morning, and by "aiming" I meant it the way a four year old boy "aims" when he goes to the bathroom, which is to say, not very accurately.  We eventually shoved off by 10, and that's about as good as I expected.

We took two cars which made for a fairly quiet, uneventful drive.  My parents took Brad and Noah, who they said were "invisible" and Ryan and I had Zack and Darcey, who were also well-behaved.  Somehow, though, had all of these well-behaved kids been in one car, they would have riled each other up until we were ready to ditch them in Beaver.

The four "invisible" kids reappeared when we got to the hotel room and discovered that the tv didn't have Nickelodeon or Disney Channel.  Zack and Darcey bounced around the room like it was padded (and I was ready for a padded room after just a few minutes).  This is the part of a vacation that I always forget about when I'm in the wishful-dreaming-about-vacationing stage:  being stuck in a cramped room with kids who were just freed from an even more cramped car while they bang around like balls in a lotto drawing.  (There are lots of other things I forget when I'm fantasizing, and they all come rushing back once I'm too far from home to pull the plug on the trip.  I really ought to re-read my past travel blogs - it's all in there.  Memory is the best reviser of history.)

So tomorrow we'll "aim" to leave by nine, most likely leaving by ten for reals, and drive to Long Beach.  We can board the ship, the Carnival Splendor, at noon(ish) and then the ship sets sail at 4:30.  Can you say "sets sail" if said ship is completely lacking in sails?  With all the engines on board, maybe "drives away" is more accurate.  Oh, speaking of engines, this is the same ship that had the engine fire last November and had to be towed back to California.  Brad is hoping for a similar catastrophe on our trip - not only would we get an adventure, but we'd get another cruise out of it, for free!  I love optimism as much as the next guy, but that's pushing it.  Although, it'd sure liven up the blog...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

A couple of months ago Ryan and I were invited to attend a Family History Sunday School class.  I don't think that I'm alone when I say that, growing up in the LDS Church, it was easy for me to say "genealogy is something I'll do when I'm older."  It was an old-people's hobby, not something young, hip people did.  Well, apparently 34 is old, because genealogy is about the coolest thing ever in my mind.  And if you are still in the save-it-for-the-nursing-home mindset, here's a story that might change your mind.

I have been working on Ryan's family tree, which has been pretty frustrating.  I can get a couple of generations back, but most of the family seems to be Jews that came from Russia.  I can find them in America, but they may as well have come from another planet for all the luck I've had in finding people.  So Ryan's family tree has borne precious little fruit.

But if I couldn't get quantity, I'd at least get some quality, right?  There's a family mystery that seems lifted straight from an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"  Ryan's grandpa, Bernard Axelrod, was raised by a single mother.  Dora Berg was apparently divorced from Burnie's father when he was a kid, and the dad was out of Burnie's life after that.  Burnie was so angry at his father that he legally changed his name to Burnie Allen in the 1960's.  Jill, Burnie's daughter and my mother-in-law, didn't even know Burnie's dad's name - she only knew that his last name was Axelrod.

So that was my mystery - could I find Burnie's dad?  It didn't seem too pressing - the dad had been out of the picture for sixty or seventy years, Burnie's dead, so it was more out of curiosity and the OCD need to fill in all the blank spots on the family tree that drove me to searching.  On Monday, I found the 1930 census that listed Dora and Bernard as living with Benjamin Axelrad.  Cool!  His name's Benjamin!  And there must have been a transcription error, Axelrad instead of Axelrod, but whatever - mission accomplished!

If that was the whole story, even I would admit that it was pretty boring.  But here's where it gets good.  On Tuesday, I was poking around, trying to figure out who Benjamin's parents were, or the ship he came on, or really anything else about Benjamin.  I ended up at the message boards where in 2001 a woman named Beth had asked if anyone knew anything about a Benjamin Axelrad.

Beth's grandmother was Frances Axelrad who had been married to a Benjamin Axelrad.  At a family party in 1986, just a few years before her death, Frances was lamenting to Beth that she didn't want people to forget her when she was gone.  Beth promised that she wouldn't let that happen.  Frances asked how she planned to make sure and Beth replied that she would put together Frances' family tree.  At this, Benjamin's sister (who apparently Frances didn't get along with all too well) piped up and said, "If you're going to do a family tree, then make sure you include Benjamin's first wife and son, because that boy deserves to be on this family tree."  This was the first time Frances had heard that her husband had been married before, let alone that he had had a son.

Side note:  I really wish I had been at that party.  The drama!  The emotion!  It's like watching a soap opera, except it's real people - I love it!

Anyhow, back to the story.  Beth searched wherever she could to try to find her new uncle.  Her only clues were that his name was Bernard Axelrad and that he moved to California.  She didn't know that he had changed his name.  So in 2001, she posted several messages on the message boards, looking for any information at all about Benjamin's first wife.

I sent Beth a private message on Tuesday, saying that I knew Bernard and his mother, but I was looking for her husband Benjamin.  At first, she thought it must be a joke - but there were too many accurate details for it to be fake.  She sent me back a message not ten minutes later, full of excitement and exclamation points.  After searching for 20 years, she had finally found her missing uncle!  Last night I talked to Beth on the phone, along with her mother Rose, who is Burnie's half-sister.  They were so overjoyed to talk to me and to discover this half of the family that they knew nothing about. I called Jill and told her that I had just gotten off the phone with her aunt, and she was shocked to even find out that she had an aunt.  The last time I had talked to her, we didn't even know her grandfather's name.

If this were a reality show, we'd be flying to the Bronx to meet our new family, but unless wants to pay for it (hint, hint), well, this family reunion will have to be brought to us by Facebook instead.  Isn't that cool, though?  Family history doesn't just involve the long-dead, it's also very current and can impact a person's day-to-day life.  Good thing I didn't put this off until I was "old enough."