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!)