My Dad is a writer too. Well, he was.. for a few days.

My dad (who is 80 this year) decided for the first time ever, to keep a journal on a recent cruise he went on. We’ve never, ever known him to write anything, including postcards.  We couldn’t resist sharing this though.


My Cruise Journal, By Steve Lawrence

DAY 1 – From Ft. Lauderdale

Arrived at the dock at 1:00pm. Beautiful ship, The Equinox. Had a gorgeous lunch and Vieng was amazed at the variety of the menu. Waldorf Salad was delicious.

Our room was first class. Greeted by a magnum of cold champagne and large bowl of fresh fruit. A large deck with chairs, table. Large by any standards, at least 11’ x 10’ with clear view of ocean.

Ship left dock at 5:00pm and we went for a swim and hot tub. Had wonderful dinner of shrimp, lobster bisque and salmon steak. Had a couple of dances to a great band and retired early!

DAY 2 – 2:00am

Awakened by cool breeze off the ocean. Sat on the deck drinking champagne and eating grapes, pears and oranges then back to bed. Breakfast at 6:00am, waffles and strawberries, followed by fresh fruit, bacon & eggs, and croissants.

Check out dialysis room. Fully modern with lay down beds. Went to pool, caught lots of rays. Vieng is like a little kid – hot tub, pool, hot tub, pool – can’t get enough!

Our room is the best on the ship. 75’ from the pool & bar area, on the sunset side of the ship! More beautiful sunsets you will never see.

DAY 3 – Cozumel, Mexico

Landed on end of pier, too far for me to walk, so sent Vieng by herself to market – big mistake! She came back with 3 bags of jewelry and a couple of shirts no sane person would be seen dead in. Only cost her $100 total for stuff worth $5. I’m quite content to still suck on the remnants of my magnum of champagne!

Haven’t quite figured out the shower yet, maybe by the end of the trip. Cabin boy brought 2 more bowls or fruit & enough ice to freeze Manhattan. He says I drink too much. He may be right! Vieng is off to pool, hot tub, pool, hot tub!

Tuesday is also dialysis day, got to dialysis at 1:00pm. Met with nurse, he was quite pretty in his gown. He was taking off a patient and said he would have me on in 10 min – he was right! I said to him doesn’t someone need to clean and change tubes, pipes, etc.? He said “no, I do everything. I have been doing this for 18 years and know these machines like the back of my hand.” Then he said where do you want me to inject this epo? I was just about ready to vacate the premises when he laughed! “My joke”, he said! I was quite thankful he didn’t make a pass at me since he had me to his advantage.

Then to my relief entered the Doctor, right out of the MASH unit. Looked quite spiffy in his bright orange and green swim trunks with a stethoscope hanging from his neck. He looked over my charts and medication list and said “You don’t need most of this stuff, it’ll only kill you quicker!” I thanked him and said I think I’ll check with my real doctor and get his advice. He asked me how long I have been on dialysis. When I told him about 5 years, he was amazed. He said “most of my patients only last about 4 years and then kick off.” I said to him “please don’t move to Canada.”

DAY 4 – Costa Maya, Mexico

A rugged shoreline, coral reefs and rocks. No sign of a beach as far as the eye could see, only a couple of piers jutting out into the sea. A few buildings on shore filled with pirates waiting like sharks to pluck your last buck from you. I will go ashore today to make sure Vieng comes back with her own teeth.

The pier was very long and I knew I would never make it walking, however Vieng said I will get you a wheelchair. Reluctantly, I agreed and our adventure began. We were met at the end of the pier by a young Mexican with a large orange snake wrapped around his body. “$1.00 a picture,” he said. I said “No thanks, but do you have any relatives with leprosy?” He looked rather ill and we moved on. We came to a large tent filled with numerous mementos and junk. A jolly Mex, at least 300lbs, said “Come in, my prices are very low.” Vieng tried on a few dresses that I thought would be good for Halloween and the Mex said “Only $50 each!” After I haggled for a few minutes and offered him $5.00, he looked extremely mortified and grabbed both from Vieng’s hand and said “For you Amigo, $100 each.” and slide back into his cave.

The jewelry store was my cup of tea and I knew I would make my mark there. Vieng was looking for a set of earrings to go along with the junk she bought the last stop and tried on a pair of ungodly earrings and said “I like these,” The salesman was quick to catch that phrase and pounced on her “Only $150” he said. I again haggled for a minute and said “I’ll give you $5.00” He looked like he had lost his sense of humour and when I asked “What do you have for $1.00?” he immediately had us ejected by the local police. “But, but, I’m in a wheelchair” And he said “You should all be locked up in a rest home somewhere. You must be from Canada.” I assured him I’m not from Canada, I’m from Ontario.

We moved to a local bar with music, sat in a chair and was accosted by a waiter “Beer or margarita?” he said. I said “Free bottled water.” He said “These chairs are for paying customers.” “What do you have for a dollar?” I asked. He said “Fresh air” and quickly wheeled me outside! “Your mother wears army boots!” I said, and gave him the finger.

Disgusted by now, Vieng began wheeling me back to ship. My plan had worked – 2 hours of shopping and zero spent!

As I sit by the pool writing this journal I witness a great display of gargantuan humans walking by, some waddling, some rolling, some being carried by the wind. I’m so glad this is not a nude cruise, if there is such a thing. May I never be blessed to go on such a trip.

Last evening was a diner’s delight, taking a trip to the Indonesian and Japanese culture! A delightful display of sushi and other Asian delicacies. No wonder most of these people will get off this boat as a giant herd of hippos and baby elephants. After dinner we sat and listened to a great band, did a few jigs to a jivey tune and turned in for the evening.

DAY 5 – At Sea

Also dialysis day. Arrived at 1:00pm and noticed all 4 beds occupied by people who looked like they were ready to be moved to the morgue, all covered with white sheets up to the neck. Frankie, my nurse, looked very gay with his matching powder blue outfit and tennis shoes. “Sit over there Steve,” he said “I’ll have you in ten minutes.” I was looking for the exit when he corrected himself and said “I’ll have you on in ten minutes.”

“I have a surprise for you Steve.” Frankie noted as he corrected the tubes, “I have my other nurse here today. Her name is, what else but Kathy, with a K.” Yes,” he said “They found her working in the kitchen this morning at 5am and redirected her to the medical lab.” Kathy was a morbid looking woman in her 40’s who looked like she had survived a recent train wreck, but had been on an alcoholic binge for 2 days.

“Where are you from?” I asked. “Phili-phili” she blurted. I interjected “Philadelphia?” “No,” she said “Phili-Philipines. I worked in hospital in Manilla when Frankie found me. I was cleaning bed pans for 3 years. He said come with me, I will make you a dialysis nurse in 2 weeks.” “A pleasure to meet you,” I said “By the way, did you wash your hands this morning?” “Oh yes,” she said I wash my hands every day.” “Thank god.” I said.

I ignored her the rest of the hour until Dr. Rook arrived. I think he misspells his name. It should start with a ‘K’. “I see you’re still alive,” he said “So I must be doing something right.” I said “Your bedside manner is what is doing the job Doc and your wardrobe brightens my day.” He said “Yes, thanks. I got this shirt in Hawaii last year on another cruise and these shorts in Panama.” He looked like a stop signal changing from green to caution to red. He said between cruises he teaches at John Hopkins Hospital in Miami. I asked “Do you have a permanent home anywhere?” The Doc answered “Oh no, I ‘m too busy. I have lost 3 wives in the past 20 years. I would come home from a cruise and find them gone with most of my furniture.” I said to the Doc, who was probably in his late 50’s “Good luck with # 4 if you ever find her.” I asked “What do you teach in the hospital?” “Oh a little bit of everything,” he said “But my specialty is a rectal surgeon, but I’d rather concentrate on being a gynecologist!” I said “Doc, please don’t send any of your graduates up north to Canada as we have too many doctors and they wouldn’t make a living. Nice visiting with you Doc, but I think I’ll sleep the rest of the treatment.”

SATURDAY – Limon, Costa Rica

Again, a pier extending out to the sea and with a few buildings that house the local sharks. Vieng tried to buy several ugly items emblazoned with Costa Rica on them, but I managed to insult several merchants with my low-ball bids. They refused to sell to me at any price. You must be from Canada, you cheapskate, they said. I again said No, I’m from Ontario. Vieng managed to escape my vision for a few minutes and came smiling back. “Look what I got for $10. A wooden set of coasters for my dining table.” she said. “Not on your life,” I said “It’s okay for the poker table in the basement.”

Thankfully back to the ship. Several groups were coming back from the trips by bus to the rain forest. Most said not worth the $40 to get wet. We sat by the pool and watched a bunch of women 40ish to 60ish, I would guess getting lessons in a dance called the salsa. When they were in their turn, a young Greek officer in his 30’s was walking by, he looked like a Greek god, some the woman hollered “Adonis”. They stumbled and fell over each other and some older ladies even lost their teeth. I think they ended up calling the dance “Jumble-ia!”

When I sit by the pool sipping on a huge Margarita I tend to people-watch and give certain folks a name I can remember. Like “Beluga”, a name I gave to a giant guy from Poland. When entered the hot tub, it sent two young ladies from Ohio over the top with the giant spill. The staff had to refill the tub with hoses.

At 5:00, they started their band music as I watched an old lady in her 70’s wearing a bikini and very drunk, started to do the limbo. I call her “Gina Lollobrigida”. On her third spin, she lost the top of her suit and most of the men nearby almost lost their lunch. It was a terrible scene as 3 men tried to help her reassemble. She is a permanent fixture on the dance floor. I cannot imagine how they could have packed almost 3000 of the worst bodies in the world on one boat.

SUNDAY – Colon, Panama

We docked next to the town. I could see high rises and stores of every description and the piers covered with 10 story cranes and containers stacked 8 high. A flotilla of ships anchored in the bay awaiting passage through the Panama Canal. This is indeed the largest seaport I have ever seen!

As I am on dialysis again today, I have sent Vieng on a 5 hour excursion to see the operation of the canal and local historic spots. As I sit by the pool writing this journal, I see a man 3 ½ ‘ wide and about 4’ tall walk by wearing a pair of shorts that are dragging on the ground. I have nicknamed him “Shorty”. He is with a girl so thin, I have nicknamed her “The Pencil”. I see Beluga about to enter the hot tub and the rest of the passengers hot-footing out of the tub. When Beluga sat down it created a tsunami that took Pencil and about 3 ladies from Cleveland almost over the side of the ship. This is great fun, better than a comedy show at Yuk Yuk’s.

Breakfast this morning was a zoo, a million ants moving too fast with eyes gazing only in food, not looking for my cane. A large man with two plates tripped over my cane and as he fell, lying in his eggs and fruit, he was looking for a place called “Sunova Beach” I believe he said. I quickly moved to another space with lightning speed. Who says you can’t have fun on a cruise?

Vieng came back with 2 dresses and a pair of shoes that really looked good on her. Said she saw the canal and the old city as well as a beautiful park with lots of wild birds. Next stop, Columbia.

Entering Cartagena harbor was very different. Several small islands covered with warehouses and docks, and large cranes lifting containers of every size and colour blocked our way. The city looked magnificent, hundreds of white high rises and condos that lined the large bay. Hundreds of small boats dotted the inner bay. This is also a very large port situated on the north coast of South America. Truly the gateway to the south. A small mountain was a backdrop to a very clean looking metropolis. This was the city that hosted the movie “Romancing the Stone” but we didn’t see any crocodiles.

I’m writing this on my deck and noticed a canoe going by with two people paddling. Looked like they knew what they were doing. I yelled down to them “Where are you from?” “Montreal” they said. “Well if you expect to get there, you better head north. Give me your parent’s phone number and I’ll call them and tell them you may be back by 2012.”

MONDAY – Valentine’s Day

I went to dinner last night and noticed a table over in the corner at least 20’ from the others with the waiters ignoring calls for more vodka and one gent wearing a Russian style hat sat in the middle. Being curious and my usual ignorant self, I ventured over. “Hi folks,” I said “Anyone speak English?” The Hat answered “I speak a little bit.” I said “Do you always wear a hat while dining?” He said “We not dining, we having supper.” “My error,” I said “Where you from?” “We from the Ukraine,” he said “We make plenty money now that Russian mafia moved out of our town. We grow beets and potatoes and make plenty of vodka. I promise wife, Toda, take her on pleasure cruise.” Toda turned and grinned with a smile. Her name seemed to fit, especially with two front teeth missing. I said “Do you have any children?” “I had 19,” she said “Most in the field and some died before I finished work.” “My name is Egor,” the Hat said. “Is it custom to wear a hat all the time,” I said “Even in the shower?” He said “Wat is shower?” I immediately thought his name should be “egad”. “You must be Canadian.” he said. I said “No! I’m from Ontario.” He said “We thinking of moving to Canada.” I said “Not good idea, we are full! However, Winnipeg is taking in good farmers.” When is best time to go to Winnipeg?” he asked. I said “January is best. The banana trees are in full bloom.” He thanked me and said “You should come visit us in Potova.” “When is the best time to visit?” I asked. “In March, when ice starts to break in Vulva River. We have big party and festival. Lots of vodka and borscht. Everyone takes annual bath ice cold water. Everybody nude.” He said. I said “Thanks for the invite, I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. I’ll make it a point for my next trip.”

LAST STOP – Georgetown, The Cayman Islands

They look like pancakes thrown on an endless sea. I doubt any of them are 50’ high. Even the buildings are only 3 stories. If a tsunami ever came in here, it would be hasta la vista, goodbye Cayman Islands. The cruise ships have to anchor in the harbor and go in by tender. The water is very shallow here.

By now Vieng has been very friendly with every second passenger, including every waiter, pool boy, janitor and even the engine room staff. And even a few German nationals on board “Goot morning fraulien Vieng.” They said. The only place she hasn’t been invited yet is the bridge. I’m afraid she may try to tell them how to run this boat, as she calls it.

We went ashore on a tender and entered the pier to the sound of a calypso band and hired a taxi to take us to 7 mile beach. A lovely spit of land with sparkling green waters. Vieng wanted to swim but after a few minutes of dashing wildly into the froth she came out and said “This so salty!” I said “But you’re not supposed to drink it.” “You don’t think there are any sharks out there?” she asked. I answered “Did you ever see the movie Jaws?” She answered “Yes!” I said “Well, they hired 3 of the sharks for that picture. They came from this very spot.” Vieng paled a bit and said “I think I will pass on the swimming.”

On the way back to the ship, Vieng spotted a man selling coconuts “I have to have fresh coconut drink.” She said, as she had begged for one in every port to no success, so I obliged. Every sip to her was a delight. Little did she know that I had paid the man an extra 2 bucks to put a shot of rum in it. Back to the ship and lunch.

Last day of dialysis. Frankie looked like a model just back from a fashion show. Light yellow shirt, pants and matching tennis shoes. I thanked them both for the treatments and after hugs all around we departed for the bar by the pool. Two margaritas was a great end to a wonderful trip.

Next morning I finally got the shower right. A huge breakfast and off to the airport. Goodbye Florida and hello Canada!

The end of my first and last journal.

It’s DONE! Making My Brother’s Wedding Rings 6: The Finishing

This is where the rubber meets the road in the jewelry-making process. Finishing can make or break a piece.

With casting, if care is taken with the wax (ie. making sure the wax if very smooth, free of nicks and scratches, and nice and even) then your finished piece will be that much easier to clean up.

I’m going to be very meticulous with the finishing here, because I really want these rings to be beautiful and shiny. They are, after all, wedding rings, and need to be extra special anyway!

Check out our starting point:

Gold rings direct from the casting flask and ready to polish.
Gold rings direct from the casting flask and ready to polish.

First step in finishing; filing off the remnants of the sprues. We’re left with hearty balls on the band after the casting; and its no easy task to file that down with hand tools to make the bands smooth and even again. The goal is to make sure one would never know it was there. That takes some time, and some elbow grease.

I save my gold filings for use in future projects. It may seem like overkill to keep gold powder/dust, but it adds up for future use.

Bubble left on the band from the sprue.
Bubble left on the band from the sprue.

Once the band is even again it gets a nice light sanding. I used a Foredom tool with a coarse then a fine sanding drum to make the work easier. It cleaned up it very nicely.

Once the sanding is complete; it’s over to the polishing wheel for a liberal coating of Tripoli compound; a waxy paste that is mildly abrasive. It can quickly and easily remove the fine marks the sanding has left, and is the first of the polishing steps to ensure a mirror finish.

Tripoli compound being loaded into the polishing wheel.
Tripoli compound being loaded into the polishing wheel.

After the tripoli does its work, the rings get a quick scrub in soap and water, and then on to the second phase of polishing compound; Red Rouge. This is where the rings buff up like a dream. A few minutes under the rouge wheel and they shine.



Another quick scrub up, and….. they’re done.

It’s been months of slow work (I had the privilege of being able to take my time with these) but I’m VERY happy with how they turned out. This work could be done in just a couple of days, but it was also a learning process for me I had no desire to rush. It also helped that my brother asked me to do these last fall.

The wedding is July 27th. I hope you’ll join me in wishing the newlyweds-to-be a lifetime of happiness … and great looking jewelry.



Love it! So shiny I can see the pattern of my phone case in the ring!
Love it! So shiny I can see the pattern of my phone case in the ring!




Making My Brother’s Wedding Rings 5: Casting Part 2

So last night we made the moulds (see Part one of the casting blog for that).   Tonight we’re liquefying gold and turning it into rings.

If we’ve done a good job at the spruing, investment, and kiln drying; this is the fun and easy part.

First steps; prep the equipment.


We’re using a centrifugal casting set up, which consists of a large drum (to protect you if your flask explodes with hot metal inside), a crucible (where the metal gets melted down), a cradle for your casting flask or your mould, and a spinning arm which gets wound up like a top, and has a brake put on until you’re ready to go.

Heating the crucible
Heating the crucible

We heat the crucible first, to help lower the time it will take the melt the metal.  Once it’s piping hot, the flask is removed from the kiln, wired into the cradle, and the crucible and flask are pushed together.

Removing the casting flask from the kiln
Wiring the hot flask to the arm.

More heat is applied to make sure everything is warm, and the metal will flow freely.

Then it’s time to add the gold (good bye old unworn gold, hello new, shiny wedding rings!).

The collected gold, about to become shiny and new.
The collected gold, about to become shiny and new.

It’s all piled in and heated until it’s 100% liquid; Teacher Trevor checks the molten goodness for lumps of unmelted metal, which could not only wreck your pour, but could also cause the flask to explode.  (Thank goodness for that drum!).

FIRE!! (in the crucible)
FIRE!! (in the crucible)

Once Trevor is satisfied everything is a go, he releases the brake and centrifugal force takes over; sucking the gold deep into the flask so it fills everything.

Brakes OFF; the arm spins around, using centrifugal force to pull the metal in.
Brakes OFF; the arm spins around, using centrifugal force to pull the metal in.

The arm spins for a couple minutes, then the flask is left to cool off a bit before quenching it in water.

Gold peeking out the top of the "funnel" part of the casting flask.  Cooling before quenching.
Gold peeking out the top of the “funnel” part of the casting flask. Cooling before quenching.
Quenching the flask in water.
Quenching the flask in water.

The water begins dissolving the investment almost immediately and it crumbles out of the flask.  We hear a soft ‘plunk’ as the gold rings fall out and hit the bottom of the quench bucket.  Trevor fishes them out and….  Boy, do they look rough still!

Still a bit chalky from the investment...
Still a bit chalky from the investment…
Cleaned up but still not pretty & shiny...

So what’s a sister to do?  Part 6 (and final part): Finishing.

Ready for the FINAL step: finishing.
Ready for the FINAL step: finishing.

Making My Brother’s Wedding Rings 4: Casting Part 1

Now the action begins.

Casting is a 2-day process and it starts with prepping the wax rings by attaching sprues; essentially little hoses, which will attach to a wee wax funnel where the molten metal will flow in.

Attaching the sprues with a hot wax pen.
Attaching the sprues with a hot wax pen.

The sprues are attached using a drop of hot wax.

Sprued rings, ready for the flask.
Sprued rings, ready for the flask.

Once that’s done, they’re fitted into the base of the casting flask, and its measured to see how much investment is needed.


Investment is an almost plaster-like substance, which fills up the flask and covers the wax rings.  It’s then baked in a high heat kiln overnight. The wax rings dissolve, leaving perfect little hollows, shaped exactly like your rings, and with any and all detail.


Making and mixing your investment is a specialty all to itself.  Trevor, my jewelry instructor of a few years is an expert, and he’s doing the bulk of the work here, and humouring me by letting me “help”. It’s a great learning experience for me; but I’d definitely be in over my head if I had to try this myself.


The investment power can be toxic, so wearing proper protection is a must.

Meaasuring the investment powder and using distilled water are also essentials.  Trevor is also adamant that the mixing technique is precise; using gloved hands to feel for any lumps (just one could cause your new plaster cast to explode in the kiln, or when pouring the gold), and timing the mixing exactly (we have 9 minutes to mix and pour and vibrate the flasks.

Hand-mixing the investment.
Hand-mixing the investment.

Vibrating removes any air bubbles inside which could cause similar unhappy endings to a casting flask, and thus all your hard work.

Vibrating the investment to remove air bubbles.
Vibrating the investment to remove air bubbles.

Once the mixture is just right, it’s carefully poured into the flasks and left to dry for a few hours.  After that it’s straight to the kiln.

photo 3 photo 4

Finished flask from the top.
Finished flask from the top. That little “scoop” is the funnel that we’ll pour the molten gold into.

Once the flasks have been fired for the appropriate time, they’re ready for the next step; melting down the gold and pouring!

That’s tomorrow….

One post-script on this:  this is by no means an exact step-by-step of the casting process.  Casting is a very specialized, very delicate and sometimes dangerous process that should only be done by the experienced, or under proper supervision.  This is my journal of the process of making my brother’s rings, so please, don’t read this and try it at home!