Christmas In Scotland

I’m spending Christmas in Bridge of Weir, Scotland this year. It’s the first time I’m waking up on Christmas morning with my dad, since 1969 (when we lived in Okinawa).

The photo below was taken (47 years ago) in the back yard of our home in Okinawa, just before my parents marriage fell apart. I love the snapshot, not only because I’m so HAPPY with my daddy, but also because of the custom tree he made for us. Can you tell what it’s made from? No? Well, the tin circles are used chicken pot pie containers!

I’m hoping to recreate a version of the tree today. Follow me on instagram at @MyLastBite to see more.

Have a wonderful Christmas all!

(Update 11:28pm Christmas night)

Okinawa, Christmas 1969

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The Ruby Princess – Welcome Aboard!


Cruising never really interested me in the past. I’ve always loved traveling, even as a child when I lived in Okinawa (where I was born in 1964). Airplanes, especially jumbo jets, still give me great comfort when I step inside and take my seat.

My sister Janet is a few years older than me, and we often joined our parents for long-haul (1960s era) flights from Okinawa (via Tokyo to Honolulu) to California where our grandparents lived.

Our dad was in the Navy when he met our mother in Okinawa during the Vietnam War. She ran successful nightclubs for most of her life, until she passed away in 2013. After they divorced in the early 70s, Dad moved to Scotland and remarried.

When one of your parents lives (lived) in Okinawa and the other resides in Scotland, traveling is simply a way of life. It’s not about “taking a holiday” or saving up for a vacation.

In my 20s, I was married to an airline pilot, which really fueled my travel bug. Back then (in the mid 80s), major airlines used hand-written tickets for employees. This meant that when the ex was a pilot at United Airlines, I (as his wife) could enter any worldwide destination and just GO there.

During that time, I started working for a wildlife photographer, which was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Those free airline tickets took me around the world, including safaris in Africa and polar bear expeditions in the Arctic.

It was flying, not cruising that moved my world. Taking a cruise just wasn’t a part of the conversation back then. It didn’t help that my ex-husband referred to large cruise ships as, “floating kitty litter boxes”. That stuck for years. Besides his disdain for cruises, he also didn’t eat seafood or cheese. Those were what we called “irreconcilable differences”.

In September, when Princess Cruises invited me on a media cruise, they said I could invite a guest as long as we shared a room. I first asked my husband Peter to join me (we met in ’94), but he was too busy with work, so I invited my sister Janet. We hadn’t really traveled together except to visit our father in Scotland, and more recently, to bury our mother in Okinawa.

We are so different,  my sister and me. For starters, she doesn’t eat meat (just fish), and she LOVES to exercise. Janet will work out for hours a day if she could. Me? I’m the bacon-obsessed overeater and am happy if I get 10,000 steps on my fitbit (step counter) each day. How did we handle a cruise TOGETHER? This being, BOTH our first cruises? Did we make it through without disagreeing? Check back soon for more blog posts, including a guest post by Janet as well.

For now, let’s get on board the gorgeous Ruby Princess. Hopefully, these photos will be helpful to those who are considering their first cruise. Enjoy!


Partial view of the Ruby Princess from the World Cruise parking lot ($17 max per day) in San Pedro, CA. You print and tag your checked bag at home then leave them with a Princess Cruises porter at the curb before parking. They (thankfully) deliver the bags to each room.


Checking in is similar to an airport terminal.


Look for your deck check-in on the screens. You’ll have received the info via email itinerary.


Ruby Princess Cruise Card. It’s your everything on the ship, from cocktails, buffet and the gift shops. The card (size of a standard credit card) is also swiped when you disembark and embark the ship. Security will also take your photo to match up with the card information.


After you’ve checked in you’ll go through metal detectors and security. Note: You can only bring one bottle of wine or champagne per adult. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of booze on the ship (trust me)!


Boarding the Ruby Princess. The ship (launched in 2008) can accommodate 3080 passengers and was refurbished in December 2015. Click on “Ship Facts” for more details here.


My sister and I shared a balcony state room on the Aloha deck. We were surprised at how large it felt for 231 square feet! More about the rooms here.


One of the beds were covered for with a heavy vinyl blanket for unpacking.


The small card on the desk lists the direct paging number for your stateroom steward. Joey was awesome!


Life Jackets easily accessible from the closet. Comfy robes awaiting and room safe nearby.


Those are two full-size suitcases on the shelf. Plenty of room for both of us.


The small bathroom was next to the closet. It had a full shower, sink and toilet.


Looking out to our deck. Our room was Balcony Stateroom A631.


Plenty of room for coffee in the morning and more importantly, wine (and champagne) in the evening.


View into the room (with my sister Janet).


Just breathe.


The Princess Patter guide will be placed near your door every day (note the date below the top image). Do take time to read it thoroughly so you do NOT miss a thing!


The Ruby Princess 
Details on upcoming California & Pacific Coast Cruises on Princes Cruises

This culinary media trip was paid for by Princess Cruises.
This 4 night Culinary Cruise September 26-30, 2016
The ship departed from Los Angeles and made stops in Santa Barbara and Ensenada.
Thank  you Princess Cruises!

Princess Cruises on twitter, instagramfacebook

Video – The Ruby Princess

Everything I Ate On A Princess Cruise

And because I do adore her… an older blog post…. A love letter to my big sister.

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My Sister and My Mother


Years ago, I remember reading an article about a wealthy executive and his children. He spoke about the fact that his two sons were growing up in an affluent family and how different his own childhood had been. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something akin to, “My kids didn’t have the advantage of growing up with disadvantages I had as a child.” That really hit home for me, and I often think about how lucky I am to have had such a “different”, at times very difficult, childhood.

Dancing with my big sister Janet, OkinawaThe first eight years of my life in Okinawa were pretty idyllic. Living on a tropical island, even though it was in close proximity to the Vietnam War, was simple and carefree. My older sister Janet and I both went to American schools, because our dad was an American citizen working for the U.S. Navy.

Since both our parents worked nights (our mother ran successful “hostess” clubs), there were many evenings where I was in Janet’s care. I can’t imagine leaving a 7 and 10-year-old alone night after night, but that’s just the way it was back then. Luckily, we spent many afternoons with our oba-chan (grandma) watching her make tofu (which she sold at market) and caring for her pigs (which we ate).

Our Parents, Okinawa (early 60's)I don’t have many memories of my mom being a “mother”, but I’m so grateful that I had oba-chan and my sister. If it wasn’t for oba-chan’s nuturing and love, I think both Janet and I would have turned out much differently. During World War II, oba adopted our mother, along with many other war orphans on the island. Our oba-chan was just a phenomenal woman.

The shock of divorce is never easy on children. Break-ups are rough, but when my father got custody of myself and Janet, we were suddenly on an airplane (just us little girls) flying across the Pacific to live with our grandparents in America.

My Sister JanetWe didn’t want to leave Okinawa, but looking back, our father made the best decision he could have made at the time. Okinawa had been under U.S. possession since 1951, but reverted back to Japanese control in 1972, the year our parents were divorcing. Our dad was simply afraid that he would have no rights as the American parent in a foreign land.

Janet and I settled in San Marino, California with elderly grandparents who tried to “Americanize” us immediately. We had visited them before when we were younger with our mother, but those were only quick trips. Our dear grandfather tried to make us more comfortable by treating us to Chinese food once in a while (heck, he tried… it was “Asian”), but our grandmother did not NOT like the “Okinawan” part of us at all. Let’s just say that she and I never became close.

This first year in America was turbulent and just confusing. Even though our grandparents (who became our legal guardians) did the best they could, they eventually placed us in a children’s home nearby. Janet and I always felt like the “lucky ones” though, because at least we got to spend every holiday with our grandparents, away from “the home”. We both lived there until graduating from high school. Janet “served” (as we joked) seven years and I struggled through ten. Looking back, it really wasn’t THAT BAD. We had a roof over our heads and plenty of food to eat.

Scotland Visit 1980After our parents divorced, our father was transferred to Scotland (his mother was from the Maxwell Clan), where he re-married and still lives today. As you can imagine, we had some rough patches during the past 35+ years and I had some major “daddy issues” that I couldn’t even admit to until a few years ago. Janet, who was older (and wise beyond her years), fared much better.

Now, I absolutely adore my dad and step-mother Mandy and visit them often in Scotland. My talented, younger brother Greg (who was born in Scotland) moved to Los Angeles a few years ago. As adults, we ALL moved past the blame and the pain. “Life’s too short”, is something we say over and over again.

My relationship with my mother was very complicated (she passed away in 2013). Over the years (as an adult), I travelled to Okinawa and Tokyo (where she had a second home) and although we had fun together, she showed very little affection towards me. I’m sure the disconnect was there because she never “mothered” me as a child. She was always busy working, helping to put food on the table, so I don’t blame her for that. The truth is, after we moved to America the only person “mothering” me was my sister. When my beloved oba-chan died (back in Okinawa), I didn’t feel the need to see my mother anymore. I didn’t need to, because my sister was then, and is now, my mother.

When I look back at family photos of the two of us, the most notable thing I see is that my big sister was always looking out for me—literally. Of course back then, I was the baby sister, but even as adults she still wraps me tightly in her arms. Janet was always determined to take care of me, and as a child, I was just as determined to escape her big-sister clutches. Thankfully, she never gave up on me, because I was NOT an easy kid, teenager or even young adult.

Through my entire life, the only consistently good thing I have had in my life is Janet, and I’m so grateful we had the “advantage of sharing so many disadvantages” together. It’s taken a lot of tears to get these words on paper (plus a wee bit of courage), and there’s no way I could have conveyed how much my sister means to me, without sharing a bit of our story.

Happy Mother’s Day, Janet. I love you so much. Thank you for always being my wonderful sister and mother. Love, Jo

My Sister Janet

My Sister Janet

Written 4/12/10 by Jo Stougaard, Updated 5/6/16

More photos of Janet

Visits to Scotland

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Janet also happens to be a terrific cook. Here’s her recipe for chicken chili that she makes every Christmas, but it’s great ANYTIME.

Janet's 4- 15oz. cans of White beans
2-15oz cans of Black beans/drained
4-6 cups of cooked chicken breast diced
4 onions minced
2-4 cloves of garlic minced
4 cups of broth
2 cups of white wine
1 small can of jalapenos
1 –7oz. can of diced green chiles
2 Tablespoon Oil
Juice of 3 freshly squeezed limes
½ – ¾ cups of chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Cumin

Sautee the garlic and onions in the oil

Combine all the ingredients **except the wine, cilantro and limejuice into large pot or crock-pot, simmer not boil.

Add the wine, cilantro and lime juice before serving.

Janet’s Notes:
These amounts are basic…I add more garlic for my family!
The chili is thicker and tastier the next day, so make plenty!

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Theme Thanksgiving – Grease! 2014

My sister Janet organizes our family Thanksgiving here in Los Angeles. Not only is she a fantastic cook but she goes ALL OUT with a fun theme for the day.

Theme Thanksgiving - GREASE (2014)If you’re feeling a bit bored with the usual Thanksgiving gathering, think about adding a theme to the day. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just a few ingredient tweaks, inexpensive table settings and a trip to the thrift store if needed.

Last year we went retro with a GREASE movie theme. I did my best Rizzo impression, the bad girl puffing cigarettes (candy) wearing a Pink Ladies jacket. My husband Peter suited up as Rydell High coach Calhoun. The entire family got in on the fun. We had “bad Sandy”, “good Sandy”, Danny Zuko and his greasers too. Check out the photos below.

Our 2015 theme? Check my instagramtwitter and snapchat (MyLastBite) on Turkey Day for photos.

2014 GREASE Thanksgiving:


Peter’s Rydell High coach outfit (found on Amazon).

Theme Thanksgiving - GREASE (2014)
My Pink Ladies jacket (found at Iguana vintage)


Twins, niece Kindal and nephew Chace.


Getting hot in the kitchen. Niece Kindal as “bad Sandy”, me as Rizzo and my sister Janet as “good Sandy”. Candy cigarettes only.


My brother Greg in T-Birds jacket, nephew Cody as a greaser.


Group photo before eating. Left to right: Nephew Cody, sister Janet, her husband Paul behind, my hubby Peter in red cap, me and my duck lips, brother Greg in black jacket, nephew Chace in white t and niece Kindal in front.


Vintage table setting for our retro Thanksgiving. The hand-painted gold plates belonged to our grandmother.

Theme Thanksgiving - GREASE (2014)
Menu


My sister Janet preps for days. I made Mom Parson’s Cranberries. Niece Kindal made the apple/blueberry pie.


Brother-in-law Paul carving the bird.


Let’s EAT.


Blueberry/Apple Pie.


Oldest nephew Camron and his wife Jennee stopped by for some fun too. Yes, we had lots of extra candy cigarettes!


Jamming (and more wine) after dinner.

More photos from 2014 retro GREASE Thanksgiving.

Photos from previous Theme Thanksgivings:

Greek Thanksgiving

Southern Thanksgiving

British Thanksgiving

Caribbean Thanksgiving

Master folder Theme Thanksgiving

Again, it’s all about sharing laughs and gathering around the family table. Enjoy and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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