Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve...

The children are nestled all snug in their wee little beds, 
 while visions of sugarplums dance in their wee little heads.

Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap, have just settled down for a long winters nap...  
Then again, maybe not.

Here at our house, Papa has settled down for the night (although not wearing any kerchief or cap that I am aware of)  and mama is sitting at the table, blogging, while she waits for her pumpkin cheesecake to finish baking.

Yes, I really meant to get it done much much earlier during the day, like before we went over to my parents house for our Christmas Eve festivities, but instead I created our holiday cards ("happy new year", instead of Merry Christmas, since i am a bit behind this year), then went to pick them up and spent time wandering around in various stores looking at (and buying) more gifts (that we really don't need.)  It was rather fun though...

We spent the evening at my moms, eating hawaiian haystacks for dinner, then re-enacting the nativity.  (if you can call our comedy of events such a thing)  We didn't even use costumes this year - I really wanted to just TELL (and discuss) the Christmas Story (without the comedy acting) but the kids seemed to think that was too grinch-like and I was out voted!  I attempted to act as Narrator.  Instead of reverent and humble wise men, Aaron declared that they were the 3 "wise-guys" (or in this case, 2 wise-guys (Aaron & Shawn) and one wise-gal (aunt Rachael).  We had a couple of shepherds (Jinsuk & Caleb - Eric was recruited to be a shepherd, but then was re-delegated to be our "tech guy" and get "part two" of the nativity ready to roll), an angel, (uncle Mike) who, with his violin, doubled as the entire heavenly hosts whenever any "glory to God's," "away in a mangers" or any other music was called for (including donkey plodding music while our Donkey (Tim) carried Mary (Katrina), being led by Joseph (Bryan).  Aaron also stood in for an innkeeper, as did grandpa.  and Caleb also played the rolls of Ceasar Augustus "HEAR YE HEAR YE - everyone come pay your taxes"  King Herod, and an innkeeper.  (His least favorite roll was the innkeeper, when Joseph used his (caleb's) stomach as the door to "knock" on.  (and he knocked a little too hard...)

As you can imagine, it was not a very reverent or spiritual re-enactment.  Thank goodness for LDS.org.  we pulled up the Luke 2 Nativity clip, Uncle Eric hooked it up to the TV and we got to see a re-enactment that was actually doctrinally correct AND invited the spirit!  Halleluiah!!  (This was more important for Shawn, who isn't really familiar with the story of the Nativity, and I'm pretty sure our re-enactment didn't do much in the way of clarification, but he sure seemed to get a kick out of watching Katrina shove a doll up her shirt and then ride around on Tim's back while Tim made donkey noises...)

Typically, after the re-enactment, we let the kids open their "Christmas Eve gift" - which miraculously turns out to be a pair of pajamas, and then Tim and I head for home while the kids stay to have a Christmas Eve Sleep over at Grandmas.  (a spin off of MY childhood (all the way to adulthood) tradition of sleepign at my Grandma Allreds house on Christmas Eve)

This year is a little different for us, since my nephew Shawn just moved here from Japan (Got here last week) and is living with my parents for a while.  Plus the fact that my kids just spend the past two weekends at my parent house, while Tim and I were in the Caribbean...  Anyway,  with everything going on we cancelled the sleep over and brought all the kids home with us tonight.  They opened their jammies, such a ruckus they make - these wild and crazy kids of ours!  (i will add the jammie pictures after Tim gets them off the camera for me.)  Then we finally got everyone to bed (except Aaron who stayed up to help me with the last minute baking stuff, then volunteered to be "Santa's elf-helper."   I'll tell you one thing - it is easier to get things ready with no kids around... :)

Aaron helped me put together the breakfast casserole for tomorrow morning, "Baked Apple French Toast," and it is ready to go in the oven while we open presents.  (I'll just have to make the caramel sauce that we pour over the top.  YUM YUM!  The Cheesecake for tomorrow's dessert is now done baking, and I'm letting it cool before putting it in the fridge, then I will be off to bed!  Hopefully the kids won't wake us up too early - but really - what are the odds of that????  I hope they enjoy the bounty under the tree...  and even more that that - I hope they really do understand and appreciate the real reason we celebrate the season.

that's about it for my Christmas eve mid-night ramblings... 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

cruise day 5 - Belize

Wednesday, December 12th.  12/12/12  - visiting a Mayan ruin.  thank goodness it wasn't 12/21/12  (that is when the world was supposed to end, according to some people's interpretation of the Mayan Calendar... (that obviously didn't happen as scheduled)

This was a tour that I really, really wanted to go on, from the first day I started looking at excursions for our cruise.  Trouble is, we waited too long to book anything, and everything was sold out.  We found a tour company that had a 3 person minimum, so we booked that one, hoping to find a third person on the ship who might want to join us, knowing we would have to pay for that 3rd spot if we didn't.  Well, we didn't find anyone to join us, so we spent WAY too much money in this port, but I LOVED it!  It was a great tour and I would do it again.  

A termite nest.  There were millions of them - EVERYWHERE!

see - here's another one!  I found them fascinating!  I even touched one in Honduras was amazed by the delicate material it is made of.  Where I touched my finger to the nest, it just instantly crumbled, and I barely put any pressure at all, I just wanted to see what it felt like, I wasn't trying to break it or anything, yet it crumbled enough that it left an indent of my finger.  So interesting.

The big challenge in Belize is TIME.  We simply did not have enough!  I would have loved a few more hours at the ruins, or a more leisurely boat ride on the river, or a few detours to see more of the country on the drive back...  Belize is a tender port, meaning they don't have the huge docks for the ginormous cruise ships to pull into, so we had to join the herds of people trying to get on the tender boats to shuttle us in to land.  Then it was an hour drive to the village of Orange Walk, where we would hop on a boat for the 45 minute ride down river to the Lamanai archeological site.  

The drive out gave us a chance to see the humble circumstances of the people, and the boat ride was calm and fun to see a bit of "nature."  Mostly birds, and one crocodile on the way back.
tiny little houses,  many of them built on stilts for the flood season.  many of them homesteading on government property, hoping if they live there long enough, the government will let them buy it, but knowing that any day they can be kicked off the land and have to start all over somewhere else.
This may seem silly, but this was one of my favorite "finds."  While we were waiting for the others who would be on our boat ride, I found this cool thing in their outdoor kitchen, where the prepared out lunch.  I wondered about it, thinking it looked like a juicer, like for citrus, except that the jagged metal rounded end would shred right through the peels.  I asked someone, and in fact is it a coconut shredder.  They split the coconuts in half, then used this to shred the "meat" of the coconut.  I thought it was really cool!
on the boat ride out to Lamanai
birds taking flight.

arrival at the Lamanai site
 We arrived at the ruins and enjoyed a yummy "belizian" (is that a real word?) lunch, then went with our tour guide to check out the excavated ruins.  there are lots and lots of "mounds" there that have yet to be excavated, but the temples that have been uncovered are incredible.  

You're just walking through the jungle, and suddenly, there is a Temple.  Like it just pops up out of nowhere.  
Not the greatest picture, but added so you can see what I mean.  just walking through the jungle, you round a corner... and KA-POW - huge Mayan Temple right there!
Unlike Tulum, we were able to climb the ruins here.  The first temple was the "Mask Temple" - named for the carved faces.  

The next, and largest temple was next.  It isn't named, just identified by the archeological dig/structure number, N10-43.  I climbed about 1/2 way up before I freaked out and went back down.  The steps were so narrow and steep, and crumbling...  They had a rope for you to hold on to while climbing, but it was too scary for me still.  I read somewhere that the Mayans built the steps to their temples steep like that so that those climbing would have to keep their eyes lowered while they climbed - as a sign or token of humility and respect for the Gods. 

I made it 1/2 way up then want down and settled for a picture of me by the masks on the first tier of the temple. you can kind of see how small and narrow the steps are...

the gorgeous view Tim took from the top.  From the river we hadn't even noticed the temple back there.  Apparently this city was a big "commerce" location, people coming here from up and down river to trade.
I think this is about when I called up to Tim and said I was turning around.  (I'm the one in the purple'ish shirt) The tier below me is where I took the picture of me by the faces, not to be confused with the face at the Mask temple), then you climb down another set of steps (but not so narrow and scary) to the ground - which is at the very top of this picture.

Next we walked though a "Ball court,"  then the foundation remains of the "royal complex," and then to the Jaguar Temple.  

again, not a great picture, since we were looking into the sun, but we are standing among the foundation ruins of the royal complex and if you enlarge the picture and look beyond those trees, you can see the Jaguar temple in the background
Our tour guide pointing out the "face" of the jaguar.  look closely.  Hint:  his hand is in the jaguar's ear.
can you see the jaguar yet?  no STONE LION...  but close???
 Tim climbed to the tops of all 3 temples at this site.  I partially climbed all of all...  (that fear of heights just gets the better of me.)

Right near the end of our tour, we heard a very strange sound.   Our guide figured out pretty quick that I am extremely gullible and he had me convinced that the sound I was hearing was a wild jaguar.  I was a little concerned!  Turns out it was just a troop of howler monkeys.  It was SO amazing to see them in the wild and hear there howling back and forth at each other.

Howler monkey
We took our boat ride back to Orange Walk, then raced back to the ship.  We made it just in time - the next to last tender ship!  (this was not a cruise sponsored excursion, so we had no guarantee that that the ship would wait for us if we didn't make it back - so we were very grateful to get back in time.)

The Crocodile we saw on the boat ride back to Orange Walk
when we got back to our room, we found "towel friend # 2" - a cute little piggy!

That night after dinner, we went to the ships presentation of "HASBRO - the GAME SHOW."  We had watched the show the first night they did it and it was fun to watch and I decided I wanted to try to get up on stage and play.  I did make it on stage, and our team even won our game so we made it to the final round - where you pick a monopoly card thing, and slide it into the ATM looking thing, and whoever ends up with the highest amount of "money" wins a big prize.  (a whole bunch of Hasbro games...  I really did want to win - they would have made awesome Christmas presents!)  I didn't win :(  but it was fun anyway.  And a funny side note... as my consolation prize, I won the card game "Monopoly Deal."  We brought it home and it is the kids FAVORITE game.  They play it at least 2 -3  times a day!!!    Best souvenir they got!

OH MAN!  only 4,000 -  I lose!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

cruise - Day 4 - Cozumel

This morning we got to port in Cozumel, Mexico.  We hurried off the ship and taxied over to the ferry, purchased a tour to Tulum (mayan ruins), then took a 45 minuted boat ride over to the mainland.  (Playa del Carmen)    There we met our tour guide and drove the 45 - 50 minutes out to Tulum.

while we were waiting for the ferry, we looked over the edge into the ocean and saw this amazing little squid/octopus dude.  (obviously, i don't know what he really is, but he was cool.)  We watched him scoot around for about 15 minuted minutes before he disappeared.

We aren't big Hard Rock Cafe people, didn't even go inside to tell the truth, but just in case you were wondering where the smallest one is... now you know!

I thought it was fun that that we saw so many nativities on this trip.  I would estimate we saw at least 2 or 3 ( or more) in each port of call.  Just big ones like these, in parks, along the side of the roads, etc...  I loved it and took pictures of several of them.
we did NOT go up in a plane to get this shot, I borrowed the photo from this site: http://the-wanderling.com/tulum.html.  He had some interesting experiences about his visits to many of the mayan ruins as well, if you are interested...

Tulum is an ancient Mayan city, built overlooking the beautiful ocean below.  Not speaking Spanish, and not really used to listening to native Spanish speakers conduct a tour in English - I had a bit of a challenge understanding much of what was said, but i got enough that it was still interesting, and even if i hadn't understood ANY of it, it was incredible just to be there.  one day I would love to go back, except I want to be on my OWN time table, not the ship's or ferry's - because I would have loved to have more, MUCH more time there, to read all the plaques, climb down the many stairs down to the beach and take pictures from that direction, have time to wander through the more authentic Mayan shops, etc...

here we are, in front of a group of ruins in Tulum

a pretty shot that give you an idea of how the city was positioned over the ocean

look closely... can you see the Mayan dude giving you the evil eye? - no stone lion... (wink wink to all the members of USoSL's ) but still pretty cool!

our tour guide - can't tell you his name cause I never figured it our enough to make it stick in my memory.

the backside of El Castillo
being a huge fan of Captain Moroni (from the Book of Mormon), and all of the fortifications that are described, I  found it so interesting that this city was surrounded by thick walls, with only a few openings to get through.  This was the gate that we used to exit the city.  it was a good 12 - 16 feet thick (my best guess) and at least 10 feet tall.

Monday, December 10, 2012

cruise - day 3 - day at sea

 Monday, Dec 10th, was our  "day at sea."  (so not very exciting)  we spent the day exploring, getting lost on the ship, playing miniature golf & shuffleboard, eating, and I don't really remember what else...  (I'm telling the truth about getting lost - we couldn't figure out how to get to our dining room and were about 10 - 15 minutes late for dinner. Our dining companions (Art & Margaret/Janie) thought they had offended us the first night and we weren't coming back...no such luck, we were just lost.)   As expected, here are a few photos:

sitting in the "hot tub."  Should have been called the "luke-warm tub" instead.  I tried a couple of the hot tubs on the ship, and they were all not even close to HOT...  bummer!


our first little towel friend

after dinner we went to the Ebony Lounge for some "family friendly" comedy

Sunday, December 9, 2012

cruise - day 2 - almost missed the boat!

Sunday, Dec 9th, our plan was to get up, go to church from 9 - 12, return the rental car at 12:30, take a taxi to the port, get on the ship, and enjoy exploring the ship before the "set sail" party.  When will I learn that things never go as "PLANNED?"

We did get up, and we did make it to church.  So far so good.  The ward we attended was bi-lingual (as apparently most wards in the Miami area are) and they provided translation for sacrament meeting.  It was kind of fun actually.  The songs alternated between English and Spanish, and the speakers were also a combination.  I think there were two talks in Spanish and 1 in English, but it really doesn't matter.  Anyway...  it was an adventure and it was fun.

Since we had gotten an email from Carnival that they didn't want people showing up at the port until 1 - 1:30, we decided to get some lunch and stop at a store to pick up a few items we had forgotten to pack.  We realized at some point, that Tim had left a pair of shoes back at the hotel, so we drove the 30 minutes back out to the hotel to pick them up.  They didn't have them (they never did turn up, by the way, in case you are wondering, which is a mystery...) so we then headed back downtown to return the rental car.

On the way back downtown, we stopped to buy a new pair of sandals/slip on type shoes for Tim, and while I was waiting in the car, I took a picture of this mosaic that was across the street.  I thought it was cool.  (obviously not cool enough to get out of the car and walk far enough to get a picture without the tree right in the center of the mosaic, but cool enough to post it in my journal as part of the daily recap...

We got to the Avis location,  the one we picked because it was only 1 1/2 miles from the port, (a quick and easy $10 taxi ride) and surprise!!! SURPRISE!!!! that particular location closes at 1:00 pm on Sundays, and it was now after 2:00!  (I had read this important information at some point in the trip planning process, but didn't deem it important enough to remember since we were going to be returning the car right after church, which ended at noon, so no worries right???

We called Avis and found another location that was open, over in South Beach.  We drove the 30+ minutes that way, found the location and got the car returned.  Now we had to get back to the port, so we flagged down a taxi to get us back over to pretty much where we started.  (which cost us about 3 times more than we originally planned since the distance had increased by 25 minutes drive time - what a hassle)  The driver was aware enough of cruise schedules that he knew we were running late, and he drove like a maniac to get us there.  We got through the check in process in record time, since we were so late there was NO ONE ELSE checking in!!! We went through the various steps of check in, passed through security, and finally got onto the ship.  We were told to hurry and put our bags in our room and get to our "muster stations" for the life jacket / emergency / safety briefing.

What a crazy mess.  We were just glad we didn't miss the ship.  Everyone was supposed to be checked in by 3:30ish so they could turn in their passenger lists to customs/homeland security/whoever else... by 4:00. - one hour before sailing.  We got on the ship at 4:00.  nothing like cutting it close eh?  But at least we didn't have to wait in any lines...  I suppose I will look on the bright side and be thankful for that!
we made it!  here I am, as we are pulling away from the dock.  ("ugly school marm" memories???  anyone???  - trouble with pictures on a ship, there is usually a pretty firm breeze blowing...)
Tim on deck, as we sailed out of the Miami Port - (he always looks great in pictures, wind or no wind)

Miami skyline (and the sunset) in the distance as we sail away...
We found an empty double hammock swing, up on the Serenity deck and hung out (or maybe that should be "swung out") for a few minutes before dinner