Saturday, February 21, 2015

Happy Hedgehog Birthday

Happy Birthday to this girl. She celebrated a big #10.
What she really wanted and begged for all year long was a hedgehog. She got one--stuffed!
She also got running shoes and few little things to find around the house.

Birthday Menu:
Breakfast: Cookie crisp cereal
Lunch at the BBQ joint with dad
Dinner: steak and salad. Dad's specialty
Dessert: fruit pizza

Adrie 's big news is that she got her ears pierced. This was the 2nd time because age 8 didn't work out so well. She was brave and it wasn't so scary this time and she is going to take very good care of them.

Day Trip to Arches

I'd only been home from California a couple of days but the kids were out of school for President's day. We had to take advantage of the day off and fulfill #1 on Sofie's bucket list for Utah

Delicate Arch

The desert in this part of the state is beautiful! We marveled at all the cool rock formations. 
The sky quickly became grey and before we knew it we were in a blizzard! It didn't stop us from running up the trail to see Windows arches.

Thankfully the storm blew away quickly and the sky was at least partially clear. We decided to take the 3 mile trek to get up close and personal with the famous Arch.
After wandering through sandy desert trail past petroglyphs, up a steep slick-rock mountain, we wound along a narrow trail with a cliff drop off one one side and sheer rock cliff on the other. Then we turned a corner and suddenly...this!

Well worth the effort!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

California Girls

It's here and gone--the much anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed student exchange trip to California. 
Day 1: Leave UT, lunch at In'n'Out Las Vegas, afternoon/evening at Laguna Beach
Day 2: Disneyland and California Adventures
Day 3: Universal Studios, Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe
Day 4: Huntington Beach 
Day 5: Las Vegas Strip, arrive home

After a quick oil change for my van we were off.  Entrusted to my care were Brazil, Belgium, and three Danish girls, including our own student. After incessant begging, Kate earned the privelege of being co-pilot...and photographer, and DJ

Anne from Denmark was giddy about crossing the border into a new state for the first time since arriving 6 months ago.

After a long drive these girls were ready to dive in. The waves were fierce! and swimming was short but exciting.
 We strolled in and out of shops and settled on Nick's for a fantastic dinner.
Sofie was surprised to get a pile if lettuce and noodles when she thought she was ordering Thai soup. Kate loved Nick's famous bacon deviled eggs.

Hotel in Anaheim welcomed us weary travelers with very spacious rooms and super comfy beds. We were just a short drive from the magic of our next dsy's adventure at Disney.
Day 2: Disneyland

The 2nd Tuesday of February is a great time to to be here. It was a pleasant 75 degrees and 20 minutes is the longest we had to wait in line.

It's a Love Thing

I hosted a Valentine's Tea Party for my visiting teachees--that's mormon speak for friends.  My sister helped. She made awesome cranberry orange scones and fancy trifle cups. We had a selection of herbal teas and hot chocolate with sugar and cream. Completing the appetizers were eclairs and cucumber sandwiches. We had a lovely afternoon of visiting and munching with some classical harp in the background. After the ladies left, I put out a second helping of all the goodies and re-did the tea party for when the kids got home from school. 

I got the valentine mugs, placemats, doilies, and rose petals at the dollar store. The hanging pom-poms were $1 each at walmart and required quick simple assembly. 
You may notice the dining room table. It is the most rewarding furniture purchase I have ever made (Costco) because I had been waiting so long to replace our old sad one (botched pinterest project.) I ordered a custom glass table top to preserve its beautiful finish. 

Our local beauty college was having a special this month of 2 for 1 pedicures. That's what I gave the girls, the boy got chocolate, and husband and I got 2 tickets to the upcoming Nathan Pacheco concert. 

All About that Brynn

This girl celebrated birthday #12 

Her special day started with a breakfast of caramel sticky buns.
She found some little gifts around the house like candy and a jewelry holder. For her big present she requested clothes so we scheduled a little trip to the city for some shopping. 

We had sweet pork burritos for dinner, angel food cake for dessert. Brynn played a great basketball game in the evening and did a great job. We were all there to cheer her on. This is her first year playing and she has done very well.  Even though it was a school night we ended the day with the exciting movie rental, Maze Runner. 

Extending the celebration...A LOT of cute 12 year old girls came over for a sleepover party over the weekend. They had bean dip for dinner, lots of treats, went to the gym to play games, and came home to homemade funnel cakes with whipped cream, caramel, and chocolate toppings. 

The much anticipated shopping trip arrived. We met Grandma at the mall. Brynn tried on a million dresses, finally settled on one, and then we went to lunch. 

I thought this one looked adorable but brynn settle on something that she felt was more "her" style....12 year olds.

We had a fun day together and we are sure glad to have this fun, kind, talented girl in our family. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

MEXICO Adventures

Hooray for our first trip together in 3 years! It's great to be an international coordinator. We joined many other coordinators from around the nation for a training conference in this beautiful part of Mexico. There was a good mix of adventure and relaxation with a chunk of learning and job training in the mix.

 BIENVENIDOS!  Our accommodations were  so very nice. I felt very pampered with all the fancy toiletries (shower cap and sewing kit) and a spacious room.

The resort was amazing. From the marble lobby, we followed a wooden path through fountains, palms, past exotic birds, which then led us through jungle. Monkeys hung in the trees, lemurs scavenged, and these gentle rabbity rat-like rodents called agoudis turned up every where. 

The jungle then opened up to a spectacular series of pools.

We walked past the cabanas and came upon the grand finale--the beach!

There was plenty of fun to be had here. It was like a cruiseship on land. I did some zumba then cooled off with a dip in the ocean and a pina colada. 

Adventure awaited the next day. We took a group tour to see the Mayan ruins of Tulum. 

 Iguanas were everywhere, sunning on rocks, scampering around the ruins. We even saw one shading its head in the window of the ruin, while its body hung out soaking the sun.
  This is our whole group, or at least as many as could fit in the photo.

Our guide said they are still finding jewelry and fossils at the site, especially after rain. I kept my eyes to the ground for awhile but all I found was a shedded iguana tail.
We haggled from $50 to $25 for a couple of souvenirs for the nacho libre fans back at home. 

Next on the agenda was Xel-Ha--a must-see eco-park with a lot of options for adventurers like us.

Our first adventure took us on a bike ride through a jungle

 Took a break because who could pass up this?

We made it to the river head and began our slow, yet scenic float down to the lagoon, where peering  over the edge of the tube one could see colorful fish below.

 After a lazy river float we hopped off our tubes for some ziplining.
 and cliff diving

  We snorkeled around a Mayan Cave

Ever tried fish therapy? I didn't but this lady said it was nice and ticklish. 

The next day it was back to the beach.
 The resort had snorkel gear and kayaks available for guest. Of course we had to take advantage of that!

 The Caribbean side of Mexico has some of the best diving and snorkeling. We took a little boat excursion and did the latter.

 I purchased a water proof phone case for this trip ($10).  It worked pretty well until I went to snap a photo of a giant ray below me and the screen went black. I came up for air and saw an inch of water in my waterproof case! Yikes.  Meanwhile, Brandon was drowning.   His snorkel was taking in water, he couldn't get a good seal on it, and apparently all these years when he told me he couldn't float, he was right, even with a life jacket.   Back on the boat my phone did recover and at least I got a few shots of the amazing sea life of the reef.  Brandon was okay too. He at least got to see the sea-turtle and the ray.

Back at the resort we cleaned up and got ready for some fine Mexican Dining. We celebrated our last night as a group together at one of the resort's reservation only restaurants.

Brandon and I had booked a couple extra days in Mexico. So after everyone went home, we checked out and spent our next 2 days at a different place. I thought we'd like a little more adventure by staying right in town, on Playa's popular 5th avenue. We got a cute little place called Hotel Banana
and went from this pool....

to this pool....

We walked along busy "Quinta Avenida" where unlike the resort plenty of vendors were ready to swoop on us with "the best price in town."

Our plan for the next two days was to visit the most famous and largest of the Mayan ruins,  Chitchen Itza, swim in a cenote or sinkhole, and maybe take in some parasailing.  We got it all in, but not in a way we expected.

A tourist vendor sold us all the above mentioned activities at a great price. In addition, we could spend the afternoon at a beautiful beach resort with food. All we had to do was listen to a 90 minute presentation about the resort with no obligation to buy. Hindsight would have been really handy at this point but no, we got sucked in and off we went in a taxi...

Wow. The resort was paradise. The presentation not so much. Talk about high pressure with the Mexican Mafia on hand to ensure that we signed away our US dollars for a vacation package.  90 hours turned into 3 hours.  Lesson learned: NEVER GO TO A PRESENTATION.  All was not lost however...we returned to the city for some parasailing

Parasailing, like snorkeling with sea turtles, was on my bucket list. We took a jet-ski from the beach to get to the boat.  They strapped us in and up we went. It was exhilarating to fly over the ocean. We didn't even touch the water.

The next day we woke up early to catch our guided tour to Chitchen Itza. That was a long bus ride! Our first stop was to a nature park where we got to swim in a Cenote (yes, another bucket list item)  A cenote is a sinkhole or an underwater lake and the Yucatan is full of them.

I was in a little better health than Brandon, who was suffering a bit of the "mexican malady" So while he watched, I took a swim in a cenote! It was cold! Black fish swam around me and knowing there is not bottom to these, gave me a bit of the creeps. My swim was pretty short.

Warming up after my cold swim in the jungle sun...
 Traditional Mayan dancers entertained us while we ate lunch.

Enjoyed the provincial scenes from the bus window

Finally, we made it to this most spectacular of the Mayan ruins, Chitchen Itza.

Imagine digging this out of the jungle!

Unlike, Tulum, Chitchen Itza was very "touristy." You could not walk down any path without hearing a dozen vendors yell, "Mayan calendars only $1."  They weren't really $1. That's just how they suck you in!  

Our tour guide, in his thick Spanish accent rattled on about human sacrifices and the process of hauling all the limestone from miles away without wheels. How did they do it? Mysteries.

We had some fun picking out souvenirs for the kids.

 We had a quick 20 minute stop in the colonial city of Valladolid, before heading back to the hotels.  
Besides our long drive back to Playa, our hotel had to drop off each and every person on our bus at their respective hotels!!! Aggh. Our 8 hour tour turned out to be a 12 hour tour and some of us were not happy about it. The tour guide explained matter of factly that we wouldn't have purchased the tour if we were told it was 12 hours.  That is how things are done in Mexico, people!   Never trust a salesman. 

That concluded our stay in lively Mexico. The next day we took a taxi to the airport, flew to Mexico city and made our connecting flight home to SLC.   Oh it was nice to be on freedom's soil again. Our luggage wasn't so lucky.  It had to be returned to us by UPS a couple days later. I was glad to get it back. It contained all my dirty clothes and a lot of Mexican vanilla--the best!