Monday, December 31, 2012

Caribbean Cruise - The Diet Soda Debacle

If you missed any of the other installments, you can find them here:

Day 1 - Boarding in Galveston
Day 2 - At sea
Day 3 - Cozumel


Let's take a minute here and talk about the availability of something M could drink besides water on the cruise.

M is hypoglycemic, so he avoids sugar.  No full sugar soda for him.  No lemonade.  Even 100% fruit juice is something he tries to avoid.

On recommendation of his doctor for health reasons and as a personal choice, M doesn't drink caffeine.  No coke.  No coffee.  No regular tea.  No ice tea.

Near as we could guess, there wasn't going to be much left that M could drink besides water, so we tried to bring some diet caffeine-free soda on board.  Everything we read seemed to be very split as to whether or not they would let you do this.  On all the boards we checked, some people said yes, some said no.  We threw a 12-pack into one of our bags and went for it.

The bag didn't make it to our stateroom that first night.  We had to go down to claim our bag along with all the people who had smuggled booze on board.  The rules were pretty clear about not bringing alcohol on board, but they weren't very clear about soda. Nonetheless we had to get into the line of shame and then have our cans of soda confiscated, to be returned on the last night of the cruise.

Showing a rare rebellious streak, M went straight up to the guest services desk to ask them what exactly he could drink on board if they wouldn't let him bring his own diet caffeine-free soda.  Because in all honesty, if they reliably sold something he could have, he would buy it.  We only brought the soda because we suspected there would be nothing.

We were almost right.  After he cited a lot of options that were in fact either NOT sugar-free or NOT caffeine-free, the guy at the guest services desk finally concluded that M could drink the hot herbal tea and that some of the bars somewhere might possibly carry Sprite Zero by the can.

(The last day of the cruise, we decided we missed carbonation and we had some shipboard credit to blow, so I tried to track down one of these elusive Sprite Zeros.  The first bar they sent me to could barely figure out what I wanted.  Then the bartender disappeared for a long time.  I don't know where he went, but I suspect he went to ask someone else what to tell me.  In the end he said they were out but to try the bar in the casino.  The casino was DISGUSTINGLY smoky, but apparently I was desperate.  I went down there and after a little bit of confusion again, they also concluded they were out and sent us to a third bar.  This last bar finally had 2 cans of Sprite Zero for $2.25 apiece.  I suppose you could call it a victory.)

We went away from the guest services desk grumbling that there was nothing for M to drink (this was the only thing even CLOSE to a bad customer service experience we had the whole week, I might add). It didn't help when we ran into other people on board happily carrying brands of soda the ship didn't carry.  We'd ask them and they'd tell us that they just brought them in their bag because they knew that brand wouldn't be on board.  I guess we just got unlucky.  If there's one thing more annoying that overly-strict rules, it's overly-strict rules that are inconsistently enforced.  Hmph.

And then, about 4 days into the cruise, I finally noticed that the flavored waters available at the buffet were calorie-free. So what if they weren't carbonated!  They weren't just water!  In fact, there were even 3 different flavors to choose from.  Too bad no one thought to mention this to us when we'd asked.  I had been happily drinking them for days, having no idea that they were sugar-free and M could have been enjoying them too!  Suffice it to say that M's thirst was much better quenched the second half of the cruise.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Meet the Chickens

Guess What?

Chicken butt!!!

My parents have about 20 chickens at their place.

They live in this adorable hen house mounted onto a trailer so it can be moved around the property periodically.  (Helps keep the poop from building up too much in one place!):

They are free range and go into the hen house for the night on their own.  The hen house has a light sensor that closes the door when it gets dark.

My parents bought about 20 chicks last spring.

They were supposed to be buff Orpingtons, but most of them ended up being more of a mottled red color.

A few are more buff-ish colored than others:

Every spring, the 1st graders at my kids' school hatch chicken eggs as a class. I volunteered my parents' ranch as a good home for the chicks after they hatched.  Seemed like going to live on a ranch was a better fate than sending them off piece-meal to suburban backyards where they would end up eaten by neighborhood dogs.  So this last spring, my parents also ended up taking in 18 more chicks - a grab bag of breeds.

The chicks grew up and lived free and happy for a time.  But a lot of the breeds were not... ideal.
After awhile, it was decided that they were more ideal for chicken soup. Only a few of the original motley crew "made the cut," but a couple of roosters were included:

As long as these guys stay reasonably non-aggressive and quiet, they get to stay.  But my very NOT morning person sister has sworn that the first time one of these guys wakes her up, he's history.

Stay quiet, my feathered friend...

So you lose a few of the poor behaved birds here.  A few of the weird breeds there.  A few runts got trampled by the others (nature sure is cruel). A few deaths from random natural causes and in the end their numbers dwindled down from 38 to about 20. It's a comfortable group for now, but they're talking about getting more in the spring again.

I've been thrilled because almost every time I see my parents I get fresh free-range eggs!

The chickens have almost entirely eliminated the scorpion problem my parents used to have.  Phew!!

In their spare time, the chickens enjoy table scraps and pecking at my shoes.

They do not enjoy it when Scott keeps trying to chase them.

But they make up for it by occasionally chasing Kate just enough to make her nervous.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Doctor's Office is Avoiding Me

I get seasonal allergies and winter is the season.  So far this year though, they've been... different.  Usually I get a runny nose and itchy eyes starting in late December.  But this year my problems started earlier.  For a couple weeks now I've been having asthma. Wheezy with a side of hacking cough.  (So if I'm sitting next to you and I'm coughing like I have consumption - never fear!  Just allergies, no plague.)  I don't know if the nose and eyes just haven't started yet, or if this worse than usual asthma is going to replace them.  I guess I can only wait and see.

But my asthma inhaler has been getting a lot of mileage. When I noticed I was running low last Friday, I tried to call my doctor's office.  They're supposed to be open until 4:30 pm on Fridays, but when I called at 3:30 pm, the after hours message was already on.  Hmmm...

So I waited until Monday (yesterday) to try calling again.  All day yesterday when I called their number, it would bounce straight to some woman's voicemail box.  "You have reached the voice mail box of 'So and so'..."  And not any name of any of the doctors.  Weird.

I tried the same number again after hours yesterday just to see what would happen.  I got the after hours message... for the OTHER location on the other side of town.  Wha????

Finally when I called this morning, someone picked up and everything was perfectly normal.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Caribbean Cruise - Day 1

So I've been a little shy about bragging about our cruise, but a lot of people have asked me for more details and you have to give the people what they want.

Also, I have thought of another way to justify being a braggart.  I knew NOTHING about cruises going into this, so in some ways I wish more of my friends had bragged about their cruises so I would have known more of what to expect. The unknown was kinda stressful for me. In the end, I found friends to tell me more about cruising before I went, so all was well.  But I'm going to share about our trip in the hopes that it might help someone else somehow if they're considering a cruise.

I want to state for the record that this was a big deal for us.  We are not insanely wealthy and able to flit off to do this sort of thing all the time. In fact, when we got married we both talked and decided to opt for a simpler honeymoon in favor of a big trip later. We were newlyweds, so we had tons of fun driving to a nearby town for a few days and sleeping in a Super 8 Motel for our honeymoon.

But now - 10 years and 3 kids later - NOW was the time for the big trip.  We actually had things we needed a vacation from now.  The timing worked out.  No babies and my parents live nearby and could help watch the kids. So we went for it and I'm so glad we did.


Day #1 - Boarding in Galveston

View from the "scenic" Port of Galveston, TX.

We decided to cruise with Royal Caribbean.  It seemed like the feel of that cruise line was the best match for our expectations and personalities. We weren't cruising to get drunk and party.  But we also weren't super old and boring (or at least I like to flatter myself that we're not).  Royal Caribbean seemed to fit the bill.  Once we chose RC, we limited ourselves to the cruises available out of Galveston so that we didn't have to pay for or hassle airfare in addition to the cruise. And that pretty much left one ship to choose from:

The Mariner of the Seas (part of Royal Caribbean's Voyager class of ships)

Our ship left on a Sunday, so we left the kids to spend the night at my parents' house on Saturday night and came home and packed until about 1:30 am.  Then we woke up early Sunday and attended a different ward (congregation) that meets at our same church building, but at an earlier time (8:30 am). We only stayed long enough to take the sacrament, then we hit the road for Galveston. A drive of about 4 hours.

The only bummer about this whole thing was that M and I both caught colds before our trip.  I was about a week into my cold and M was only a couple days into his when we left.  By the end of the cruise I was mostly better, but M was sick pretty much the whole time. It wasn't that bad but it was embarrassing to cough and blow your nose in public all the time.  If you can enjoy a trip as much as we did despite the fact that you have a terrible cold, it MUST be a great vacation!!!

The fact that I got almost completely better halfway through the week except for a wheezy cough has made me wonder if I was just having asthma from allergies at the end even though my cold was gone.  But I don't know what would have caused it?  Am I allergic to sea air??? Cigarette smoke?  There wasn't much smoke - just a whiff here and there when we would pass a bar or the stairs to the casino or when someone else was out on their balcony smoking, but that's still a lot more than I ever encounter cigarette smoke in my normal life of Mormon stay-at-home momming in suburbia. (Seriously, religious reasons aside, who still smokes in this day and age? No one where we live seems to smoke anymore. I have to conclude that the reason we saw so much smoking on the cruise is that the only people who still smoke are old people and there are a disproportionate number of old people on cruises.)

We stood in line FOREVER in order to board.  People with previous experience said it was much worse than usual. I was extremely grateful that we had the porters take our luggage so that we were not dragging it in line with us.

I tried very hard to be patient when M admitted that he'd had a sore throat and runny nose on the health forms.  I knew they were mostly worried about flu or gastrointestinal illnesses and I just had a common cold so I didn't tell them about it.  I am not as honest as him.  M got to wait in line AGAIN for the nurse to come talk to him and take his temperature and then make him promise to wash his hands a lot. Then finally we got on the ship, and everything was pretty great!

We spoiled ourselves with a balcony stateroom:

(Note: This shot was taken in Jamaica but I include it here to show what the balcony looked like. Unfortunately, those turquoise waters are not Galveston.)

M is an introvert and he was nervous about constantly feeling surrounded by too many people on the ship.  In the end, I think it wasn't as bad as he feared, but the balcony was our insurance.  There were A LOT of people on the ship, but the ship is so big and well laid out that nowhere we went ever felt that crowded and it seemed fairly easy to find little corners and places to be mostly alone.  I think we would have been okay without the balcony.

That being said, the balcony was glorious.

We enjoyed watching the dolphins in the water while we waited for the ship to depart:

Not a very clear picture (they were hard to catch), but you can kind of see the tail just under the surface in this shot:

We watched the sun set from our balcony as we set sail:


If you're looking for the later installments, you can find them here:

Day 2 - At sea
The Diet Soda Debacle
Day 3 - Cozumel

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

For Thanksgiving, all of my dad's siblings and their families came out to visit.  It was REALLY fun.  I hadn't seen some of them in a REALLY long time.

We spent Thanksgiving Day at my parents' place, engaging activities we most definitely would not have done at home.

The big kids had a little target practice:

This is becoming a Thanksgiving Day tradition:

And I learned to drive the riding lawn mower:

(No, I don't normally dress up to mow the lawn.  I was dressed nice for the holiday and planned to mostly just eat a lot of good food.  Mowing was kind of a spur the moment decision.  I had grass stuck to my suede boots the rest of the day!)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

He's a Keeper

I looked at the kids' chalk board easel and saw that M had drawn this:

Now you can all imagine M and me on our cruise while we're away!

Friday, November 23, 2012

We're Outta Here!

In honor of our 10 year anniversary that we had in August, we're leaving on Sunday for a cruise. I am INSANELY excited.

Bragging begins here: 7 nights to the Caribbean. Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica via Royal Caribbean. Leaving out of Galveston. Balcony room!

We are very fortunate to have my mom living near by, so she will be watching our kids. My mom is a life saver. M and I REALLY need this break.

So here's to 7 days with M!  No kids.  No house cleaning. No cooking dinner.  No homework help.  No getting kids ready for bed.  No reminding kids what they need to be doing every 15 seconds. No church responsibilities.

I swear we could be going to a shack as long as these conditions are met, so the cruise/Caribbean part is just icing on the cake. Very delicious icing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


On Monday nights we have a family night. Sometimes we play pictionary together as a family.  Each of us takes a turn drawing a picture while everyone else tries to guess what we're drawing.

Except when it's Kate turn to draw, she doesn't really draw anything.  She just scribbles all over and keeps going while we guess random things.  When she finally hears something called out that strikes her fancy, she will declare, "YES!" and then her scribbles retroactively become that thing.

Last night she was scribbling big arcs of brown interspersed with bits of pink and blue and white. We all called out lots of things and we weren't having much luck.  Finally M called out, "Gravy!" and apparently Kate liked the sound of that one.

I'm not sure I like the idea of gravy that has pink and blue bits in it...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Scott is Going to Lose My Mind

Yesterday when I went to pick up Scott from school, he didn't have his backpack. He went off to look for it while I wrestled the jogging stroller. First he went and checked the cafeteria where they line up at the end of school. He emerged still not having found it, so he checked the classroom. No luck. He also checked the lost and found. Nothing.

I decided to check for myself. I walked into the cafeteria and immediately saw his backpack, all by itself smack dab in the middle of the floor.

I know the phrase is a bit cliché, but Scott really would forget his head if it wasn't attached.

This reminds me of how things went after school three days ago. It was cold enough that the kids wore coats, gloves, and hats. When I picked Scott up, I told him his backpack looked a little small. Was he sure his coat was in there? The brand new coat I had just bought and that this was his first time wearing? Yes, he assured me. When we went to put his coat on outside because he was cold, we found that his coat WAS NOT in fact in his backpack. So Scott ran back to the cafeteria to get it. When he returned and started putting his coat on, I saw one of his gloves dangling off the velcro on the front of the coat. Then we determined that his hat was ALSO not in his backpack. I asked him about it and he said, "I don't know. It was in my hand when I left the classroom, but when I got to the cafeteria, it wasn't there anymore."

So basically he forgot to keep his fist clenched around an object he was carrying. (Luckily it had already made it's way to the lost and found and we recovered the hat almost immediately. We are not usually this lucky with all of his stray water bottles and such.) I wish this was a more isolated incident, but it's not. I have had to drop his forgotten backpack off at school for him in the mornings more times than I can't count.

My advice to Scott? Don't do anything where anyone's life depends on you remembering something. You know, tricky stuff to remember like the fact that your muscles need to stay contracted to keep an object from falling to the ground.

And then when we finally got all of Scott's winter gear sorted out, Claire turned to me and announced that her hat was missing too.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Meet the Cat

My parents also sort of have a cat.  He doesn't have a name.  Well, unless you count, "Kitty, kitty, kitty..."

They got him through a rescue organization that helps feral cats.  The idea was to keep the rodent population down.

They actually got two kittens to start with and neither was truly feral.  They went through a long process to try to get the kittens to feel attached to the property and to stick around.  One of the two disappeared, but this little guy still comes around every evening looking for the little bit of food my mom gives him.  In return, he leaves dead rats on their porch occasionally.  So I guess mission accomplished.  (Of course, he also leaves lizards sometimes, which my parents would rather stayed alive. Guess you can't win 'em all. Hopefully the combined effect of the bad things he kills and the bad things he scares off with his smell is a net positive.)

The cat is funny.  It meows and meows and meows at you like he's begging for you to pay attention to him and come bring him food.  But if you walk in his general vicinity,  he switches to hissing without warning.

Fickle, fickle cat... I'm not much of a pet person in general, but I just REALLY don't get cats.  Thank goodness I'm allergic so I don't have to have that fight with my kids!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meet Nick

Last time I introduced you to my parents' sheep.

My parents also have a llama named Nick:

Nick is a guard llama.  His job is to protect the sheep from coyotes, dogs, and other predators.

Before my parents brought Nick home, they had him "fixed."  Or "nicked" as it were.

Nick is a eunuch of sorts. He's been castrated and it's his job to guard "the harem." So "eu-nick" because he got "nicked"... "Nick" became his name.

Nick isn't super friendly, but he loves his alfalfa "treats" and will eat them out of your hand if you are patient.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kate's Church Commentary

Lately Kate is really excited about listening to words in everyday conversation and trying to identify the letters they start with.  On Sunday this turned into trying to just identify the words we were singing.  For one of the hymns we sang "Be Still My Soul."  Kate got really excited and repeated a few words here and there. But then she got this confused look on her face and asked, "Why he steal my soul?"  "No, Kate, not steal, STILL."

Later someone made reference in their talk to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The speaker was briefly outlining the plot and mentioned how the Nazis shoot Indiana's dad in the stomach.  Kate was quite bothered by this and kept asking why they shot him in the stomach.  (The gist of the explanation I gave was mostly that it was because they were Nazis. What more reason do you need?) Finally she pointed out, REALLY loudly I might add, "No one got shot in the stomach in my Barbie movie!" I think she was just trying to point out the obvious superiority of HER movie over whatever this other junk we were all talking about.  I mean, who wouldn't choose mediocre writing and atrocious computer graphics over a movie where someone gets shot in the stomach?!?!?

And finally, this same speaker mentioned the idea of being in God's presence.  Kate got this excited look in her eyes and cried out (again, quite loudly), "God's PRESENTS!  Like from Santa!!!"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Meet the Sheep

My parents have a small ranch on the outskirts of one town over.  They've lived there for almost 1.5 years now.  Before that, they lived in a small house on a postage stamp lot in the San Francisco Bay Area of California.  It's been a big change for them and us.  Up until my family moved here, we had never lived near family. It's been really fun having them near by.

It's been EXTRA fun having them live on about 50 acres. (The original purchase was almost 20 acres, but just a few weeks ago they bought a piece of the property adjoining theirs and bumped their total up by about 30 acres.)  When they first bought the property, they were getting an agricultural exemption on their property taxes by having the next door neighbor graze his black angus cattle on "the back 15."  Now they are moving toward raising sheep.  In addition to the sheep, they have a llama, chickens, and a cat.  My sister and her little family live on the property as well and they were raising a few rabbits.  But it turns out rabbits can't handle 107 degree heat, so they didn't survive the summer.  Oops.

Recentlly my mom asked me to take some photos of their animals and their property to put in frames around her house. So as I finish editing some of these, I thought I would introduce y'all.


Meet the Sheep

My parents have selected a relatively new breed of sheep (developed in 1995).  They are called Royal White.  They are a hair breed, not wool sheep, so they don't need shearing.  They are primarily raised for meat.

They started out with just 3 ewes.  One of the 3 was extremely friendly.  She was the one with a little dot on her nose, so they named her "Dot":

The others are all really skittish, but not Dot.  I wonder if she was bottle fed as a lamb.  She will come up to you and let you pet her.

Dot is fun, but also kind of aggressive. If you have food with you, she will get really pushy.  She will sometimes butt you with her head if she's trying to boss you around. We had to start spanking her because she would head butt Kate and my little niece Jane a lot.  Dot would butt hard enough to knock the little girls down.  I guess Dot thought that since she was bigger than a couple 3 year olds, she could boss them around.

Because one of the original 3 sheep was named Dot, and there was one that was very tall and one that was pretty short, the original trio was dubbed "Yakko, Wakko, and Dot."

But now my parents have added another 6 sheep, bringing the total up to 9. They sleep at night in pens attached to the old barn on the property. At the end of the day, you ring a big cow bell and they all coming running and follow you into the pens where they know you will feed them:

One of the new acquisitions is a ram.  They named him "Shaun the Sheep."  More than one person has been looking at the sheep and has commented that one of them looked like it needed to be milked.  Then you have to tell them, "No, that's Shaun. The male. That ain't udders..."

The sheep have been a lot of fun, and before long, it will be extra fun to see new little lambs (hopefully in February)!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Turnaround Time is Terrible

I took some photos for a friend's wedding awhile ago.

2 months ago to be exact.

Tonight I finally finished editing them!

 This turnaround time is why I am NOT going pro.

I'm sorry, dear sweet friends, that you had to wait so long for your photos because I have too much on my plate.

Things were going okay for awhile, but then Halloween loomed.

We take our pumpkins and costumes pretty seriously around here.

So these photos had to wait until Halloween was over.

The craziness of Thanksgiving hasn't quite started yet, so I worked on them today.

I am so happy to finally have these done.

***sigh of relief***