Well, we're getting down to the crunch time, and are getting ever more anxious to get on board - or at least away from the house. We have those four big suitcases sitting on the floor in an extra bedroom, and the cat seems to think that they make great places to soak up the sun! Speaking of luggage, though, we just went through a fiasco in the making. We received notice from our cruise agent that our luggage would be picked up on December 27 - we all get more efficient with a deadline, don't we? - and began shooting for that date.

When we didn't receive our shipping tags, we called the "baggage line" at HAL, where a really nice lady told us that we weren't on the list for a pickup! Of course panic then set in, but after a 40-minute conversation (doncha just love 800 numbers?) we received confirmation that FedEx would indeed come to pick up our four bags on December 27, and they emailed the luggage tags for them, lacking only the nice plastic covers that they promised would be given us by the driver.

In 2008, after sending off 8 bags (we had a veranda for our "once in a lifetime" cruise), we received one of ours back a week later, as well as someone else's package containing our address. Things have improved, but I guess glitches still happen.

As soon as the bags are picked up, the next goal is getting the house ready for the renters. We've found that living near the coast in Central California is very attractive to people from cold climes, and we've had the same renters twice now - from northern Montana. However, it does mean getting everything out of the way for them, emptying closets and drawers, and getting extra plastic storage boxes at Target and putting them under the bed. It's rather like partially moving out of your house, but it does get everything clean and orderly!

Besides Christmas coming in the middle of all this, John decided that the 23rd was a good date for his annual "alumni open house," when many of his former students come to visit us and each other. He taught grade 12 AP English literature for several years and coached the tennis team, so there are plenty of young people to invite. It usually averages about 50 or 60 - just what we need with everything else to do!

We've chosen most of our shore excursions and have the necessary visas. When we signed up for the 2010 cruise (our second), we realized that a 10-year visa for India might be a good idea, and for this one we get a 10-year visa for Brazil. It's good that we don't need our yellow fever inoculation, but we're taking the paperwork from 2010 along anyway.

So . . . we're getting to the really, really exciting part and are looking forward to arriving in Ft. Lauderdale, where we'll spend 2 nights beginning to catch up with friends from previous cruises - including Bill and Mary Ann, whose 2007 blog got us hooked. Bill and Mary Ann - it's all your fault!

We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. We are surrounded by our wonderful family, including our 5-year-old granddaughter who can use our IPad better than we can.
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John and Diane