Saturday, January 25, 2014

St Thomas USVI

After touring the Bahamas I had been thinking "I wonder what American cities look like to tourists. Are we as dirty and crumbling as I had thought Nassau looked?" 

I remembered a half a dozen apartments that Travis and I had lived in and another hundred at least that we had looked at early in our marriage.  How when they are empty and new to your eyes you see every little flaw, but that when you filled them up with the things from your home and lived in them for a bit, the things that had bothered you, you hardly even registered anymore except for when you had guests over and the niggling doubt crept back in.

But after a day at sea we arrived early morning in the Virgin Islands and from first sight it was magnificent and reminded me why the USA is awesome.  The towns were beautiful, well kept and the cities had the normal energy and enthusiasm of the entrepreneurial spirit of America.  It was the land of sailboats, yachts and luxury vacation homes.
Travis and I had scheduled a two dive snorkeling excursion.  The first was off the one side of Buck Island in Turtle Bay.  We saw tons of fish, turtles, coral and Travis saw and retrieved an earring that had dropped from a previous diver, we assume.  Then we went around to the other side of the island and snorkeled a sunken boat and the coral reefs.  We fed the fish honey dew and the hours flew by.  The tour was amazing.
Then we discussed taking a water taxi over to St. John's to go to the famous Honeymoon Beach visiting more castles (Bluebeard and Blackbeard) or sticking to the beaches of St. Thomas.  Practicality and the need for relaxing won out.  By 1pm we were laying on the beach soaking up the sun and sleeping away the mid-day hours.  Around sunset we made our way back to the boat.
I wish I would have had more time to explore and visit.  This is a place I would like to return to for a week to rent a beach house and see both the history and more of the amazing beaches.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bahama Mama

Our first stop on our cruise was to the Bahamas.  In my head, I heard the Beach Boys singing songs like "Kokomo" and I pictured pristine beaches, fine white sand, crystal blue waters and the coolest island towns ever.  Well the beaches were great on Paradise Island, but I never made it to any on the main island.  
The water super clear and that was wonderful.  But the images of cool island towns was stolen by the reality of poverty and economic unrest.

We went to New Providence, the biggest island with the capital of Nassau as well as Paradise Island which is home to the Atlantis Resort, which unless you live under a rock you are probably aware of.  Fun fact:  Staying in the suite in the arch is $20,000 a night.
Well that morning as we prepared to debark on the boat, the captain announced a travel alert - which is less than a travel warning but still sort of serious business - had just been issued by the US for the Bahamas.  Nice...instructions for passengers if they still planned on touring the island were to wear no jewelry, carry minimal cash and stick to only tours and service provided by legitimate servicers including Carnival and their partners and to stay in groups.  Why the travel alert?  Well there had been increased attacks on American tourists, mostly robberies, etc....So as we got through port authority we saw the increased military and police presence, not the most bucolic image that I had previously been imagining.

We did see the Queen's Staircase, Fort Fincastle and Fort Charlotte before hitting up the beaches. 
And the stories surrounding the Queen's Staircase are generally a 65 step stairway was cut into limestone by hand by citizens in gratitude for the Queen of England granting freedom to slaves - 1 step for each year of her life. 
It was an awesome feat/story.  Even cooler is the vegetation that has learned to live in a 100 foot rock wall - a testament to the fact that all living things find a way to survive.
At the tops are the forts and the stories surrounding the settling, defending and eventual freedom of the Bahamas.  Because of the travel alert I didn't feel as comfortable touring the island as much as I would have normally.

But of the 7x21 mile island, I probably covered 3x7 square miles and what I saw was the deterioration of the city and buildings, some definite hostility towards rich, white Americans, poverty that made me feel both sad and uncomfortable and some crazy scary driving.  But I also saw the capacity for people to work hard, use recycled materials for cool tourist souvenirs and the glowing pride of the moms who were working so hard so that they could send their kids to private schools and have a better life than what they were living.
In the end it was interesting,  I'm glad I got to go but I probably won't ever return.

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Cruise or Not To

When I started sharing the joy of my winter vacation to take a cruise to the eastern Caribbean, many people weighed in with their views of cruising.  They ranged from "love them"  to "I didn't like it at all."  Very few people were in the middle ground.  I found this interesting beforehand, but now that I have gone, I totally know what this is about.

A cruise is a mobile resort sailing through the ocean to several locations.  In theory I thought, "What's not to love?"  Below is my list of pros and cons.  You can make the decision for yourself!!!

  • Always something to do on board: night club, comedy shows, musicals, gambling, etc...
  • You visit many locations (depending how long your cruise is)
  • Tons of food, all free, any time of day or night
  • Free room service
  • Someone cleaning your room for you multiple times a day
  • Lots of daily excursions on shore offered (premium prices)
  • Spa and gym, pools, mini golf, etc...
  • In boat daycare or "Kids Camps"
  • Great sleep (due to rocking)
  • Constant rocking - think movie French Kiss scene where she is on the train shouting "Stop the rocking"
  • Weird balance then when you are on land and for days afterwards
  • Everyone I know gains tons of weight, myself included
  • gaudy and garish
  • So many absolutely drunk people 24/7
With all of that being said...for my taste,

I don't know that I like cruising very much.  I will probably go again someday to take the kids/whole family and because my husband seemed to love it, but for me it wasn't a great fit.  Here's why...although I liked seeing so many different places - I never got a feel for any of them in such a short time.  I like to travel and see new places and this was less about that and more about the cruising experience.  Almost everyone on the cruise is in couples.  And although I went with my spouse our ideas of fun vary greatly (his - laying in bed sleeping, relaxing or watching tv and mine - acting ridiculous, burning energy and finding mischief) and so I was next to never with him except for onshore excursions.  Perhaps this is a couple's issue and not a cruise issue.  Note to self to look more into that!  But ship exasperated the issue. 

All the food although abundant was always sub-par and mediocre at best.  Water was at a premium and not readily available since everyone else is pounding liquor like it is the elixir of life.  The ship was awful in terms of taste with a million colors, textures and designs even making my brain overload.  And at the end of the day no matter how huge or how many floors, it is still an enclosed space that made me feel cabin feverish and crazy by day four.  This is coming from a girl who also left the hospital the day after giving birth each time.  I can't stand to be pent up. 

If you've never cruised before I hope this helps.  If you have, weigh in on your thoughts...

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Yeah I'm leaving on a jet plane,
but that's only so I can get to this cruise ship. 
I've never taken one. 

I'm excited to try it. 
I'll let you know what I think when I get back,
probably in more detail than
you ever wanted to know.

Until then you enjoy the snow and cold
wherever you are...
because I'll be sinking into the hot sand
sleeping, reading,
watching the blue water
and touristing - yeah I've made it a verb.
Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Resource Family Events

So as registered foster parents in Lancaster County, they have quarterly thank you gatherings as well as a chance for the kids to play and celebrate.  Each year the Christmas Party is a huge hit.  Last year they had a magician.  This year they had Steven Courtney, musician.  The kids love him and sang and danced along to his mini concert (sorry video won't upload).  They also got awesome presents, ate yummy breakfast, said hi to Santa and frosted gingerbread man cookies to take home.  It's always a fun day and it just happened to be early the next morning after my night out.  I took pictures of my cute self to post on our Grind Fit fb page, since as a non-drinker, I awoke feeling as bright eyed and bushy tailed as normal.

Monday, January 6, 2014

On My Mind

Yesterday during fast and testimony meeting at our church, one mother bore her sweet testimony of the power of prayer.  And that even when we pray for certain things, Heavenly Father may not take away our trials but he still answers our prayers usually by blessing us with support either through family, friends or otherwise. 

My husband looked at me and asked if I was okay - knowing that this particular topic is close to my heart:
1.  Because I have always had a very close and open communication with my Heavenly Father and each time I contemplate on it, I am moved to tears with feelings of intense love from him, and...

2.  Because I feel like this woman was referring to the struggles and trials that she is facing with her son, 3, who has a sensory processing disorder, on the scale of Autism.

This is a something our family has faced as well.  Many don't know, but Kody was diagnosed with this same disorder when he was about 3.  We were told that the behaviors that were causing me so much angst would mellow out through learning to communicate, age and structure but that this would be our reality for the remainder of his life. 

After some traditional intervention, alternative treatment practices, Priesthood blessings and two years, his behavior had changed enough to not register on the spectrum at all.  Professional assessors looked on in awe and I was repeatedly told that this couldn't be.

Fast forward to present day...Kody is in first grade, the youngest in his class.  You see his birthday is after the cut off date, but we felt like he was academically ready and as behaviorally and emotionally ready as we could reasonably expect.  This decision in and of itself has rendered me praying in the car, on my knees, late at night and a million other fleeting thought pleading prayers.  To say that I know the decision I made was the best one or even the right one would be a gross overstatement.  I remain as unsure as ever. 

And now to why I am prompted to write. Today as I volunteered in his class as I do every Monday, I helped administer/proctor for standardized testing with rigorous rules and procedures.  I watched helplessly as Kody tried hard to take this test and do his best.  The test starts easy and like most get progressively harder.  The kids worked through sections eventually independently and at their own pace.  Some kids knew all the answers.  Most didn't.  Many who realized that they didn't have all the answers finished by making their best guesses or filling in any random answer with much leisure and laissez faire. 

Kody's nature would not allow him to do this.  I watched as his anxiety level ratcheted up, I watched him tear up in class over his emotional angst of not knowing everything and I watched as he consistently would try to refocus his waning mental energy to finish this test.  I had to turn around to hide from everyone, but most importantly Kody, my own tears.  Travis laughed as he saw my reaction telling me how ironic it is that nothing makes me emotionally upset except for when I see those I love hurting.  And it's true.  And all today I have been left with the impression, what caused him to feel such stress:  Is this a byproduct of me sending him early and too much pressure, the undiagnosable but still ever present residual issues/behaviors he faced at three or the idiosyncrasies of his red hair and all of those accompanying stereotypes.  All of which I see the effects of with some regularity.

You can only imagine that I said a prayer or two today for him to feel comfort while at school.  I was thrilled to see him bounce off the bus happily.  But when we started to do spelling homework, I was frustrated but not surprised to see him openly defiant about practicing writing his spelling words.  And as I watched Travis try to use traditional means to coerce him into doing it, I knew that this was going to end up in an all out impasse.  It was then that an idea came to me.  I called Kody over with a calm that only years ago would have totally eluded me.  I offered alternative and fun solutions to writing his spelling list and landed with a huge success on shaving cream drawings.
And that's how we ended up in my bath tub making shaving cream palates that we would use our finger to carve our words into.  Once done, we would wipe the foaming cream around more and rewrite.  He happily spelled his whole list twice and we got some good bonding time in as I dabbed the shaving cream on his face and he spread his in my hair.  And this is when I remembered the testimony from yesterday.  My every burden hasn't been removed.  But I have felt the support of my Heavenly Father as I have watched my previously totally impatient self learn to be lots more patient and my structured and traditional self morph into someone with bits of creativity when needed.

I don't know what Heavenly Father has in store for this precious little boy.  He is his son after all, not really mine.  I just have him on consignment.  And I can't shelter him from every hurt and pain and my type of parenting doesn't even feel like that is the best way to go, but it still feels awful sometimes.  And then I remembered the lesson of another teacher at church yesterday.  He showed the children two blank pieces of paper folded multiple times.  One had no challenges and when returned to his Heavenly Father was lovely and just the same as the way he came, but the one that had been cut away and carved out from the trials of life when opened up turned into something more beautiful, an intricate snowflake.

I don't have all the answers.  It isn't always easy, but I do have a Heavenly Father waiting on hand to bless me with what I need and to inspire me with brilliance to help those I love. I couldn't feel more gratitude if I tried.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Grind Fitness

Get your Grind on!  Yeah it's not sexual even though it may sound that way.  Instead it is a class offered at my gym.  It's basically cross fit without all the branding.  If you're not a gym rat, cross fit is basically a super intense kind of crazy work out for those who consider themselves the elite in working out and fitness.  It's no joke, but I digress.  Our class is pretty close and so we decided to go out before Christmas to celebrate.  We went to a local restaurant and bar, Symposium.  They had a live band and dancing this particular night. 
While there, one of our group, decided to go out and have a smoke and asked if anyone wanted to join her.  As you can imagine she was met with scoffs and scorns.  Seriously in a world where smoking is diminishing in popularity, among this group it is downright frowned upon.  All this hoopla resulted in our next Grind class stopping for a smoke break - candy cigarettes of course.
And last it wouldn't be a night out without shenanigans, sketchy people and a host of hilarious stories for future retelling: like dancing on stage with the band, awful pick up lines "You look like a Roman goddess", guys dropping crumpled paper into your hands as they leave, and dancing elves.
Travis is convinced that this isn't some guy's name and number, but instead a number and a question.  Either way I think I'll pass.  Even if he was cute"ish".

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Days Between

After present time: it's Chow Time,
Then family visits and 150 lb. dogs,
Playing/using Christmas Gifts,
Jay came back and we opened more presents,
Visiting museums and field trips,
 and two more hockey days.