I could hardly hold my tongue.

October 22, 2017

I was pleased that Jeff and I were invited to go camping with our son, Rob, his wife, Marseille and their 6 children. As the previous post indicates we have some nice new equipment that makes camping so much easier and more comfortable, I want to do more of it.

But when after driving a little less than 3 hours we pulled into a dusty, rather desolate wash, I could hardly believe my eyes. No water, hardly any flora but for some scrubby cedars and not enough fauna to tempt a buzzard.  I kept a cheerful face, hoping that I simply hadn’t seen enough to appreciate why we had driven past lovely autumn canyons with laughing brooks and peeping deer and squirrels to this desolation. The girls bathrooms looked suspiciously like large rocks or for the boys, scrubby little bushes. (There is an outhouse about 1/4 mile from where we camped.) But the only water is the water you bring yourself.

Rob pointed out the old Uranium mines up on the mountain. Hmmmm. I’da brought my Geiger Counter to check out the campsite, if only I’d known.

We roasted hotdogs and made smores. Things were looking up. The sun went down and the kids went to bed. The night was utterly still and the dark, moonless sky revealed a heaven carpeted with stars. It seemed late in the season for shooting stars, but I saw four, two of which had orange tails as they burned out in the atmosphere.

The magic of the place began to work on me. . . or maybe it was just the radioactive dirt under my feet.

In the morning, we enjoyed instant oatmeal and hot chocolate with some of the gourmet syrups and melting marshmallows. The kids rode their bikes all around the camp and we hiked to the top of the mountain whose shoulder we had camped on.

Ancient Pictographs Near Goblin Valley

A cozy ledge for Christopher to meditate upon

Jeff has had a lot of adventures in his Indiana Jones hat.

(I have no idea why the server rotates some of my photos 90 degrees. I tried rotating them in the edit, but they come out in the same position, no matter how I insert them. I’m too tired to keep messing with it.  I hope you’re using a laptop and can rotate it. But the last one of Michael looks pretty awesome with him standing on his hands!)

But the fun really started when we drove a few miles to Goblin Valley. We stopped on the way to oogle the ancient pictographs. We could see a cow something with an un-cowlike tail and head wearing a saddle of sorts, a man with a dead deer and another man with a spiral shield. There were buildings, I guess, too.   

Meditating Shaaman? He watches over Goblin Valley

But Goblin Valley itself is a geological wonderland with nooks and caves and hoodoos and strange fantistical formations. If Dr. Seuss ever designed a playground, this would be it.  This fellow meditated so long he turned to stone!

This fellow looked pretty cheerful about being turned to stone

Beth Stephenson climbing the walls at Little Wild Horse Canyon. Even Grandma can’t resist!

This fellow had to take a break from meditating.

Joseph and Matthew on a natural windowsill.

But it’s not just a kid place. In fact, some of the formations are not kid friendly. But young and old alike scampered all over the place, challenging our bodies and courage. 17 month old Zachary grinned from Marseille’s backpack most of the time, but yearned to be set free to clamber up some wild stone serpent or exotic seeming Mars-scape.

In fact, NASA has tested Mars related gear there. Movies have been filmed there too, (I think Rob said it was Galaxy Quest)

Cute Marseille with her oversized Goblin, (Zach)

It’s true that there is no more flora or fauna there than near our campsite. The stone has been shaped by wind and water but the water now visits only in the form of flash floods. The ever-present wind whips dust and grit into the eyes until you get back into the higher more intricate natural mazes.

It was a ton of fun to explore and had the kids not been so little, a perfect place for the best EVER game of Hide and Seek or Sardines. The place is huge extending miles until a cliff drops off into flat, nearly featureless plain.  Rob was the host of a fantastic adventure!

That night back at camp, the wind was up and we had to improvise with our dinner. Instead of the planned foil dinners, we cooked the whole mixture in a dutch oven on the fire. It turned out wonderful with just chicken, potatoes, carrots and onions cut in small pieces and a bottle of barbecue sauce poured over the top.  Hunger works wonders with camp food.

Someone had  “mistakenly” drunk up the Sprite intended for the cobbler. (They had poured it into a water bottle for protection.) But the “cobbler” (a cake mix stirred with a cup of water and a can of cherry pie filling) was tasty, too.

I had brought a different sleeping bag than the one I’d used in Washington. This one seemed warmer and more suited for cold weather. I knew it had belonged to one of my sons, but for some reason, had been rejected by him.

I soon found out what the unnamed son objected too. It LOOKED warm, but with the temps dropping into the 30’s, I was cold even with a hood and several layers. At least my feet were warm in their wool socks.

I still love our Marmot Limelight tent. It stood up to strong winds and the ventilation is great. The shape is so convenient, too, we have room in the 3 man for Jeff and  me and our stuff.

Big to little bridges in Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT

This is a tame pose for little mountain goat Makayla

Michael posed for me, but he was fearless climbing the walls!

 

The next morning after fire roasted bagles and more hot cocoa we drove back near Goblin Valley to Little Wild Horse Canyon for a hike. It’s a narrow slot canyon, but is easily passable, even for the small fry. There are many places where we could climb the walls and our tennis shoes stuck to the bare sandstone so well that we could ascend the steep walls with ease. Even the little guys loved climbing  the stone walls, hiding in nooks and crevices and trying to outdo each other in daring.

As we tore down the campsite to come home, I found myself thinking of how much my other kids and grandkids will love Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. I just HOPE we can get our great campsite back again. . .

Camping, not glamping, with a stowaway!

September 29, 2017

Jeff has never been a fan of camping. A little here and there, not too primitive and not too long.

But I like to camp. There’s something romantic and exciting and earthy about it. For the first time in our married life, he and I went camping together with just the two of us.

We had packed some of the food in the cooler but the sandwich fixin’s were in the cab of the car. When we got to the campground, I was puzzled that my usually tidy husband had gotten into the Great Seed Bagels and left the seeds scattered all over the seat.

I like the little rocket stove that folds to pocket size when not in use. The fuel provides the base.

These trees were growing over an old stump. They look like they want to get up and walk away.

It was raining in the Fairholm campground at Crescent Lake (Olympic National Park). Long traffic delays put us there in the evening, and we were hungry. A pause in the rain last just long enough to get the brand new tent unfolded. I tried to figure it out while Jeff went to pay the campground fees.

There’s a special kind of panic while trying to set up a new tent in a smattering rain. I managed to get it mostly done/but the rain fly didn’t fit right, so we rotated it 90 degrees and restaked it. It still looked weird. But we fastened it anyway, and put the extra pole and a rectangular sheet of nylon into the stuff sack.

We had bought a Marmot Limelight 3P.  Our son Chris has one and we liked the way it’s more like a cabin, with usable space all the way to the corners.  It turned out that the rainfly fit weird because the extra pole is supposed to cross over the other poles at the peak to lift the ceiling and walls even higher out of the way.

The “extra sheet of nylon” was the footprint, designed to protect the tent floor. That’s a big oops, but we got away without damaging the floor.

Miraculously, after wiping up the rain that got in before the fly was on, the tent stayed completely dry in a significant rainstorm. There’s lots of room and there are dozens of clever little add on’s, that make it comfortable. It’s also well ventilated, even with the rainfly reaching all the way to the ground.

We also each got a Klymit V sleeping pad. They’re extremely light weight but I was actually comfortable, lying on the ground without a cot. WELL worth the money if you’re going to do any primitive camping.

I’m excited that it did so well, since now I’d feel confident to take it backpacking.Surely, it will be even better when I set it up correctly.

The next day, I grabbed the bagel bag for breakfast and realized that something had chewed a hole in the bag and dined on the seeds and part of two bagels.

What in the world? We’ve never had any sign of mice at home. We concluded that a chipmunk must have crawled in the window while we were in a gas station and worked really fast.

But before we left the camp two days later, we emptied everything out of the trunk. One loaf of bread that had been in a different place the night before was chewed into and a hole burrowed through the middle. The critter had pushed all the crumbs out of the package and there was a huge pile. We checked in the spare tire area, we poked into every corner, swept out from under seats. Nothing. 

We kept all chewable food packages in the cooler for the rest of the trip.  We suspect that Stuart Little enjoyed the trip to Olympic National Park, Seattle and San Juan Island, WA. We HOPE that he abandoned ship somewhere en-route but since we never found him in the first place, we can’t be sure. But we couldn’t get all the crumbs out, so our little pal may be feasting in some dark cranny even yet.

But overall, the camping a big success. It’s a BEAUTIFUL place with dozens of fantastic hikes. It was fun to do as a couple and fun to experience such adventures for very little money.

 

Beggars, beggars EVERYWHERE!

September 24, 2017

Jeff and I are in the midst of a trip to the northwest. We started with a short visit with my youngest brother Hugh and his wife Theresa in the farmland area of Richland, WA.

The next day we spent almost the whole day driving,/ferrying to Olympic National Park. Breathtaking scenery, FUN hikes and interesting flora, (we didn’t see much fauna, (ducks, deer, and a cougar track ). Then on to Seattle where we tried out our very first Air BnB. I’m not sure what the concept implies, but the second ‘B’doesn’t stand for ‘breakfast.’

We found a place in Capitol Hill, not knowing that the area is known for it’s “colorfulness”. I’ve never seen so many same gender couples in my life! Even more distinct is the hoard of beggars. Every block has several actively begging and more sleeping on the streets and parks. Camping tents are in the medians, on the shoulders and in parks.

We rode the monorail from downtown to the Space needle, (More later, I’m going to write about the Space Needle and the Chihuly exhibit in Americana columns) and after those tours, went into the armory to get something to eat.

Food is typically expensive and after our ‘meal’ we both wanted a little more. We were scouting around the food court area. My mind was on ice cream and I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. I stumbled against a chair that had someone sitting in it and I mumbled, “excuse me,” as I moved away.

But that stumble set off the fellow’s table mate. He jumped up and started yelling at me for disrespecting them and the man in the seat (who I jostled but didn’t even touch). Soon his language turned vile and he followed us toward the exit. He insisted that I had no respect for other people because they were poor. “You think you’re so much better than us, just because you’re rich and we’re poor!” he yelled. “You MUST respect me, you !@#$%^&*()_+!!!! I’m an AMERICAN!” (Does that seem like a non-sequitur to you?)

I was utterly baffled how to respond to this man. His behavior told me that he was mentally ill. It struck me as so extremely strange to be accused of disrespecting him because he was poor, when my true sin was that I hadn’t noticed him at all before he started cussing me out. I had been thinking about ice cream when apparently this man needed me to acknowledge him (in a louder voice than my mumbled, “excuse me.”)

At last I said quietly, “That’s not true,” and walked away.

He continued his tirade as we headed out. I found myself considering what was truly the best way of handling such a situation. I decided that walking away was probably best after all.

The next day, we packed a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, apples and trail mix. I made some extra sandwiches to share if asked.

Within 10 minutes of walking toward the downtown and Pike Market, a man accosted us. “Will you give me some money so I can get something to eat?”

“I don’t have any money,”(which is true, I don’t carry cash) ” but I can give you a sandwich.”

The man scowled. “I don’t want a sandwich. I want money.”

We walked on. We passed a park that had at least a dozen men sleeping around the perimeter. A man and woman were wrestling and the woman was getting the best of the fellow. A few cross-dressers simpered past us.

Another beggar was just setting up. As we (RICH FOLKS) approached, (not so fresh after camping) He started rocking violently back and forth, eyeing us and positioning his sign so we could read it. As we passed by without speaking, the rocking stopped and he mumbled something ugly.

As we progressed down the street, beggars continued to ask for money. Many had a cigarette in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

One man held up a sign advertising himself as an ugly prostitute.

Female beggars use a universal, distinct voice. It’s high, quavery and weak. But if you hear them address a friend, they speak normally.

I began to realize that begging has become theater. The best actor wins.

Late in the day, we gave a little change from our supper to this street performer.  

It’s tricky to know what to do. I’m unwilling to buy a junky drugs. Begging has become a scam business that replaces honest employment. I’m supposed to feel guilty for not assisting them in their dereliction.

As I sat in church in a Seattle ward today, I thought about the dilemma. We had ended up carrying both sandwiches home to our lodging.  Once beautiful Puerto Rico has been destroyed. Huge earthquakes in Mexico are causing grief and loss on grand scale. The more I thought about the world today and how to do the most good I can, I realized that there are many far more needy and more innocent people within reach of my pocketbook.

Seattle itself needs to figure out a way to help these people get off the streets. A little tough love might go a long way.

The term ‘skid row’ or skid road actually started in Seattle, referring to the skids that slid logs to the water/wharves. The sailors/longshoremen/gold prospectors that frequented the docks also attracted pickpockets, drunks, thieves and prostitutes to the neighborhood.

We passed dozens of help-wanted ads posted in business windows. Apparently there’s a shortage of cooks, janitors, cashiers, etc in Seattle.

As for Skid Row beggars, I hope that by NOT giving them money for NOT working, they’ll move on to finding something productive that will give them what they need as well as self respect and respectability. But I’m also going to make it a policy to carry an extra sandwich when we’re tourists, just in case I meet someone who genuinely needs food.

 

Hiking the Unitas

August 27, 2017

We have made the hike to upper Silver Lake above Tibble Fork Reservoir twice this summer. The first time, we had kids and grandkids with us, and concluded that it was too difficult for young children. Scott ended up carrying at least one and sometimes two of his kids much of the way up and down.

Jeff carried little Gracie most of the way up. She’s heavier than she looks! What’s more, it was too strenuous for our daughter, Tricia and she waited trailside for us to come back from the last half mile.

Yet, as you can see, it’s a spectacularly beautiful hike. I didn’t get any good pictures of the waterfall that comes out of the lake, but it makes the last steep, rocky climb a little easier.

These penstamon above are common in the Uintas as are the asters, (below).

I guess we’re slow learners. We thought that because we didn’t have kiddos with us, it would be an easy hike.

 

I was so eager to share the breathtaking scenery, I forgot to consider the breathtaking elevation.  The next set of guests we took had recently come from sea level and it turned into an ordeal rather than a pleasure for my sister in law Catherine.

So NEXT time we make this hike, we are going to carefully interview potential hikers for their fitness level and length of time at higher elevation.  But for Jeff and me, it was much easier without the kids. Add to that our increasingly strenuous exercise regimen, we were better prepared.

If you’re fairly fit and adjusted to altitude, (The lake is at about 10000 feet), the hike is beautiful and varied. It starts in aspen and conifer forest with wildflowers blooming profusely on every side. We heard a bull moose bellowing in this part, but never saw him. Next you cross a stream and begin to climb a little more steeply. Each switch back reveals a new mountain vista. The last third of the hike, wild blueberries, (huckleberry’s) hang in clusters along the trail. Several patches of raspberries stalls us a few minutes and another berry that is thornless but similar raspberries is also tasty.  A waterfall spills down the mountain and the wildflowers change from wild geraniums , yellow daisies, sunflowers and penstamon to Indian paintbrush and yarrow and a bright yellow cluster flower that I don’t know the name of.  The smells of fresh air, wild mint, willow and pines make your nostrils hula!

We drank the cold, cold (unfiltered) water out of the stream and the lake with no ill effects. My gauge is if I am certain there are no beavers or outhouses upstream, I will drink the water.

The fishing seemed to be pretty good on the edges of the day, but not great where/when the sun was on the water.

The hike to Upper Silver Lake is a little more than a five mile round trip. My step counter indicated just under six miles.

A New Book I joyfully recommend!

August 23, 2017

I would not risk my reputation as a writer or the good opinion of my readers on a book I didn’t think was important.

It’s not perfect. If I were the editor, I (might) take out some occasional wordiness. I even must admit that it has a little bit of a slow start.  Before I knew the main character, Jacob, I didn’t much care what or why he thought as he does.

But I started to love him. I started to love Prudence. I found myself not wanting to lay the book aside when I was too tired to read.

Part way through, I was somewhat rude to my mother-in-law, opting to stay in the car reading while Jeff walked her into her home. I usually am attentive and eager to participate in such formalities.

It’s been awhile since I had a book in which I was fully engaged. What’s more, I didn’t expect to like it. I felt brave by undertaking to read it, fully expecting to have to gently tell the author, (whom I know well) to keep trying and hoping and maybe take some writing classes.

I’m not even entirely sure that the author himself understands the magic he has wrought. I can’t even tell you what the genre is. Folktale? humor? family? religious? But it will get you to thinking and laughing, hating,  loving and repenting in turn.

I say in the title of this post that I can joyfully recommend The Backward Ride of Jacob Markoby: The Unexpected, by Mark E Mitchell because I finished the book with a satisfied sigh, not wanting to know in advance what stories the sequel has in store, but eager to read it when it is published. I believe myself to be a bit of a literary snob, but I can think of no audience, (other than young children) who would not only enjoy, but benefit from reading this tale. And that feeling brings me joy because I feel like I have discovered something important that almost nobody else knows about.  The fact that the author is my brother doubles my delight. This is far from his first book, but this is the first that has delighted me.

It’s $2.99 on Kindle and $9.99 in paperback.

Here’s a link to it on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Backward-Ride-Jacob-Markoby-Unexpected-ebook/dp/B073S15STP

 

Ah SUMMER/ Discount kindle notice for Americana

August 15, 2017

It’s hard not to feel a little nostalgic as the kids get ready to go back to school. There’s the excitement of new classes and new friends, but a bit of pain considering the freedom of the summer is ending once again.

Jeff and I are planning next year’s travel and solidifying plans for the Americana columns and attendant travel for this year. Both our mothers are settled and so are our kids. Our company has dwindled down to my brother and sister in law, Mark and Catherine.  Things are quieting down.

One wonderful thing we did this summer was buy a grandparents deluxe pass for Thanksgiving Point. It was pricey at $300 but it gives access to all the venues for us, two adults and any and all grandkids for a year. The gardens are knock-your-socks off beautiful and the museums are delightful. We visited the Museum of natural Curiosity last night with Rob’s family and we all had a blast. SO FUN!

One scene from the Light of the World garden at Thanksgiving Point

The Monet’ garden bridge at Thanksgiving Point

 

I am feeling so grateful for this beautiful earth and for this free nation!

If you’re interested in reading Beth Stephenson’s Americana volume 1, there’s a Kindle price promotion Aug 18-Aug 24. It’s $.99 for that week only. Please share with anyone you think might be interested. Here’s the link. The price will change on the appropriate dates!

https://www.amazon.com/Beth-Stephensons-Americana-Everything-America-ebook/dp/B06XH4RCSQ

 

Contacts!

August 3, 2017

No, not the kind that interface to help a career, but rather the ones for your face that improve vision. Or so they should.

I didn’t need reading glasses until I was in my forties. But eventually, I got to the point that I needed them for both reading and distance. I wear them all the time now. But when I’m outdoors and getting a little sweaty, my glasses slip down my nose. If I’m gardening and therefore looking down, they fall off.

Beside that, it’s hard to wear sunglasses over correction glasses and bifocal sunglasses are expensive.

Enough! I went to Costco and got a prescription for bifocal contact lenses.

I look spiffy. . .I think. I can’t see worth a darn.

The doctor explained that the better your distance vision, the worse your near vision with multifocal contacts. So I’m supposed to try to find a happy medium. Apparently my brain should be capable of finding the proper focus with the lenses that is good enough for both distance and reading.

But there’s more to it than that. The contact doesn’t want to stick to my left eyeball. . .and then it doesn’t want to stay put. I can feel it on my left eye all the time. Twice it’s actually fallen off and been lost and other times I find it up in the corner of my eye.

I’ve been through three brands so far and none are any better than the last. I can hardly wait to get them off and back to seeing normally in my old-lady bifocals.

Today I went back for the fourth time to Costco. The regular doctor is back from an injury and he agreed that I’ll never have vision as good as I can get through bifocal glasses.

But he gave me another brand of contacts to try. If these don’t work, I guess I have two options. Either I can give up and resign myself to regular glasses or I can try to find something that’s comfortable on my eye that only corrects for distance. I would use reading glasses for close.

At least glasses act as goggles when I’m doing something that creates sawdust or sparks. . .

I could get something a little more chic in the glasses department. . .

I’ll post a picture next week that explains how I solved the dilemma. I’ve never been a quitter before, but I’m certainly considering i!

On the homefront, our backyard garage is getting it’s stucco tomorrow! We bought a house that had a disproportionately small garage. Add to that the generously sized backyard has no shade. So we had a pad poured and our son Scott (with help from his brothers and our brother in law) built us a nice one car garage with a covered patio off one side.

Once the garage has been stuccoed, I’m going to wire it, hang a light in the patio area install the big rolling garage door, and then we’ll set the flagstone that will form the patio. By then, the summer will be over and we should be able to get a good deal on some patio furniture. I think that’s the LAST of our big house projects!

Life is good!

 

What a summer!

July 27, 2017

I dropped out of the blogosphere when I mashed my right index finger as I worked on a landscape project. 11 stitches and a few months later, it looks like it will be fine. I have feeling back in most of the tip. As bad as it was, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. It’s hardly even ugly! Uglier than before, that is.

This has been a whirlwind summer. During the month of May we had 62 individual overnight guests. The month of July will double that number! That doesn’t count about 60 individual dinner guests that didn’t stay over night.

I LOVE IT!  I admit than when we ended up “buying down” into the biggest house we’ve ever owned last year, I felt a little guilty. Was I over consuming? Was I needing to impress someone? But now that friends and family are  accepting our invitations to come and stay, I don’t regret our decision at all. I love to have company. It also justifies my mammoth towel collection.

Right in the midst of our company inundation, Jeff and I had a trip to Long Beach. We had committed ourselves to  a press trip long before we realized that we’d be in the thick of visitors. If we hadn’t already received our flights, I might have tried to change it. But we went and had a fantastic time.

It was super fun to see cousin Ray and Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor, Cousin Ray, (Jeff is taking the picture) and me. We had breakfast together on Thursday at the Maya hotel near the Queen Mary.

Everette Hoard, Commodore of the Queen Mary, gave Jeff and me a private tour of the ship. (Gosh that dress is unbecoming!)

We got to stay on the Queen Mary. The old ocean liner has been turned into a hotel, event center, and museum, with a POSH restaurant called Sir Winstons on the top deck. I’d never had Beef Wellington before, but it was a Yorkshire pudding-like pastry around some of the most delicious (3″ thick!) filet mignon I’ve ever had.  Alas, I couldn’t finish, but it was so good. The salad that came first was so pretty, I am determined to duplicate it the next time I cook a fancy meal. The red and yellow beets were the stars.   It makes me happy just remembering!

We also loved Parker’s Lighthouse restaurant. It’s right on the water and cool ocean breezes made for a perfect setting. Jeff said his meal was one of the best hamburgers he’s ever had, (it was huge and so savory!) and my fish sandwich (salmon) was nicely done also. It’s less formal, but heavy on the seaside ambiance.

Two other restaurant stars were ‘can’t-miss delicious’ George’s Greek Cafe in the Belmont Shores area near Naples Island. It felt like a European cafe, very much like the one where we ate in Greece last year. But their food was better than we got in Greece. YUM.  Jeff had the gyro sandwich with spit roasted lamb and I had the falafal with a Greek salad. (Falafal is mashed chick peas seasoned with cumin and other herbs, breaded and fried. They look like meatballs, but they don’t taste like meat or have a meatball consistency.)

Last but not least, the Attic which is in a less touristy area of Long beach is in an old craftsman style house. I didn’t have enough imagination to marry  creme brulee with brioche french toast, but when I tasted it, I knew that garden variety french toast was ruined forever. They make the french toast, (light and eggy from the brioche bread) and then sprinkle it with turbanado sugar and then torch it into caramel. So there’s a sweet, caramel crust on the outside.  Jeff’s cheesy, meaty Monte Cristo sandwich was also delectable.

We enjoyed lots of other places on the trip, but these were tops.

Long Beach, CA is such a fun place these days. They’ve completely rebuilt and refurbished the downtown, so that where it was once dirty and dangerous, it’s now upscale, touristy, and clean with lots of water-related activities.

The Aquarium of the Pacific has petting tanks for sharks and rays, and is tons of fun. 

There’s a business called Gondola Getaways where you ride on a Venice-style gondola (boat) and are rowed around the canals that flank the homes of the uber-rich on Naples Island. Since my Uncle Bob and Aunt Eleanor lived on Naples for a lot of the years I was growing up, it was doubly fun to revisit that exotic place. Our gondolier sang Italian love songs to us under some of the bridges and we were supposed to kiss under the bridges, too. FUN! The sun was setting and there were few other boaters, so it was a big treat. 

The trip was a blast. Long Beach has 7 miles of clean empty beaches with biking and jogging paths and clean restrooms spaced at comfortable intervals.

We took a Whale watching cruise with Harbor Breeze Tours (right there in Rainbow Harbor near the aquarium). We saw tons of dolphins, (pods with over 100 members). We also saw sea lions leaping out of the water as they swam.

But BEST OF ALL, we got to see a blue whale! They’re the biggest mammal ever to live on earth. I’ve wanted to see one my whole life, so it was just amazing to see that creature. Unfortunately, we didn’t find him until the end of the tour, so once he dove the second time, we couldn’t hang around to watch him. The boat got its prow about 50 feet from his tale. We were in the front of the boat so could see him really well.   His blowhole was about 14 inches long.

We used Groupon tix for the whale watching excursions and got them for half price. The PR company gave us an extra day and a gift card to book any excursions we wanted, so it worked out well.

I had never thought of Long Beach as a destination all in itself, but it really does have everything. The airport is nearby and easy to get to. It’s also easy to book cheap flights into there. Long Beach  I’d allow a week next time to really enjoy everything right there in Long Beach and longer if you want to hit other LA attractions.  It’s not far from Disneyland and other attractions. If you want more info go to VisitLongBeach.com and check it out. Stay on the Queen Mary. It’s mid-priced and comfortable with loads of history.

 

Cruising with kids. Ups and downs

April 30, 2017

We’re getting lots of travel in this spring. After our Thailand/China trip, we were home for almost 2 weeks and then took off for a family Caribbean Cruise. We chose Carnival, mostly because they’re the least expensive for the Caribbean. They also have very fun ships for kids with a fun water play area with slides, pools, splash parks etc. The movies on the Lido were generally family friendly, too.

We all met in Miami and sailed Saturday to Saturday. We wanted this particular itinerary because we wanted to be at sea on Sunday. We were able to reserve a room with doors that closed out the noise and music where we could gather for a testimony sort of meeting that included a bit of a Primary lesson and game for the kids. We sang “As a Child of God” thanks to Kimberly and took turns sharing our thoughts about being a disciple of Christ. It was a quieter day and though we couldn’t take the Sacrament, it felt good to be together and hear each person’s thoughts.

The first stop was the Cayman Islands. We went ashore and walked around St. George, some. Later we took a semi-submersible boat ride which the kids loved and the adults, not so much. The boat made us wait 45 minutes below decks where there wasn’t much to see after our appointed time so they could combine tours. Then the tour guide made a series of dirty jokes and knew very little about what we were seeing. Cap it off that there’s not too much to see if you’ve ever been snorkeling.  This is the wreck of the German made Cali in the harbor at Grand Caymen.

 

The jokes went over the kids’ heads so they thought it was amazing. Add to that they are insistent on your obligation to tip them. We gave a dollar. Cap it off that the delay in our tour made us return to the ship at the same time as 500 other people, all trying to tender to the ship at once. We had to wait in the HOT sun for over an hour to get on the tender boat.

Next stop was Roatan Honduras. Carnival owns the little island near the dock.

coral beach in HondurasThere are some interesting shipwrecks sticking out of the water in the bay. The island is a garden of beautiful flowers and palms and the beach is sugary white with aqua marine crystal clear water. We had watched videos of the snorkeling and concluded that it would be so-so. We were VERY pleasantly surprised. The grassy area near the beach sports rays and pretty fish and the reef is diverse and colorful with lots of interesting and beautiful species of fish. There’s a dramatic shelf that drops into the deep blue water where we couldn’t see the bottom, just like in ‘Finding Nemo’.

Carnival ship Glory in the harbor at Roatan, Honduras.

I had crushed my finger between two rocks about 9 days before we left for the cruise and got the 11 stitches out the day we left. It was very tender and only half healed, so I swam and snorkeled with my finger out of the water. (It’s still healing, and it’s going to be ugly. . .but at least I’ll be able to keep it. I hope to get feeling back on the side.) The weather was hot, the water was pleasantly cool. Fun day.

The next day, we were in Belize. I had been to Caye Caulker and Shark Ray Alley, so decided to help Tricia with the little children on Caye Caulker while the other adults went snorkling and swimming with the sharks and rays. They had a good time, although 7-year-old Nathan was too young to enjoy the snorkeling or to get his equipment properly adjusted.

Caye Caulker is one of my favorite places in the world.

Grandma with Baby Rachel on Caye Caulker

While we were on the island, the elder folks enjoyed swimming with sharks and rays. Chris dives down to the reef for a closer look.

 This little bakery is just as good as it was 8 years ago! I found it like a homing pigeon. Food is so good and so cheap on this little island Paradise!

. Grace finished off the fresh squeezed juice!

Sandy streets, cheap but delicious fry jacks and fresh squeezed OJ or watermelon juice: I just love the pace and the feel of the place. There again, it’s better with more time than we had, but if you need a week in heaven, check out that Caye and bring your own snorkel gear. There’s plenty to see the water is spectacular. Fresh caught fish in the restaurants is the norm. They don’t know the menu until the fishermen come back. Hope for some grouper!

Last was Mexico. The ship docks at Cozumel and Brian and Kelsi rented a motor scooter (or some vehicle) and went exploring. They found the little area where the artists were carving the wooden masks and bought an awesome one for a  mere $30. The rest of the family rode a ferry to the mainland and went to a natural waterpark called Xcaret. There is an underground river that you can swim through, beaches, dolphins, pools, all sizes ofl sea turtles and a spectacular aviary.

These handsome birds fit right in.

There are droplets on the camera but what do you expect in a waterfall! Thomas and James helped each other along the 45 minute swim

Walt with Gracie, Chris with McCoey, I think the totem in the background looks a bit like Thomas

The water is surprisingly chilly in the underground river. It’s salt water, so it’s mixing with ocean water.

Scott and Lizzy pose with a couple of vultures in the aviary.

If I were staying in Cancun, I’d spend a whole day in Xcaret. We had only about 5 hours and it wasn’t long enough. Some of the kids enjoyed the swim in the underground river (it comes in and out. there are even bats in one part!) The babies liked it, but some of the older kids not so much. Ironically, we’d chosen that destination for the sake of the kids and they liked everything except the main attraction.

The boat itself had some excellent elements and some major fails. Bad stuff first, so that I leave you with an up note. The cruise director was obnoxious. He’d make loudspeaker announcements late and early when most kids and some adults were asleep. The “shows” that he participated in were not entertaining and just dumb. In fact there were some good musicians on the ship, but the entertainment was both sparse and mostly of low quality. Of the four cruises we’ve been on, (our second with Carnival), this one easily ranks fourth for the quality of the entertainment. The muster (safety) drill at the beginning of the cruise is tortuous and very poorly organized. Plus, they didn’t take roll, so they don’t know who skipped out. It was very hot and we had to stand crowded together on deck for over half an hour. One lady near us fainted.

I’ve never seen so many tatoo’s, shockingly immodest bathing suits or pregnant-looking men in my life. Here’s a funny thing I noticed. The white people were lying in the sun, baking their backsides to leather while the black people were sitting in the shade sipping cool drinks. There’s a reason black people don’t show their age!

We were up on the mini golf course at about 8:30 pm on Thursday night when the power went off. It was pitch black for a few minutes until the emergency lights came on. We skedaddled down to our rooms. Eric came on the loudspeaker saying that the extension cord from Miami got pulled out and that they sent divers to plug it back in, so don’t worry. Under the circumstances and with other ships having had issues that were serious, it was an idiotic thing to broadcast. If we wanted to know the truth, we could have gone to a meeting the next day. We didn’t go. The power was out for about an hour and it caused the cancellation of a stage show and the deck movie. We had intended to watch the deck movie.

The tendering arrangement on Grand Cayman was a nightmare. But the Belize tender went fine, with no waiting lines to get on or off the boat. I actually enjoyed both the tendering boat rides themselves.

The good stuff: The Carnival Glory is a fun boat for kids and adults alike. Carnival cruises are geared toward heavy drinkers, partiers, and generally a younger set, including little children. Even in the formal dining room, they bent over backward to make the children feel welcome. Even when the little ones got a bit out of hand, they were patient and kind and tried to help each child enjoy themselves, too. One waiter made the kids some origami jumpy frogs and an origami talking bird. Another overheard that McCoey wanted cherries for dessert, (his favorite part of the banana split from the night before) so they brought him a dish of cherries with ice cream on the side. Another time, I couldn’t decide between two chocolate desserts and I don’t think I even expressed it out loud. I decided on one and the waiter brought me both. I guess he’d seen my finger marking both alternately.

Tricia and Grace await their scrumptious meal of lobster and other yummies on formal night. Kimberly and Scott are at the table behind on her right and Chris and a bit of Kelsi on her left. Brian is behind Chris and Thomas has his back to the camera.

right to left Nathan, McCoey and Grace enjoying formal night in the main dining room on Carnival Glory

The chocolate extravaganza on the Lido deck on our last sea day was yummy!

Brian, Kelsi, Jeff and I are enjoying the Chocolate treats on the last sea day. Of course Jeff is taking the picture, but the evidence of his indulgence is obvious!

Add to that, the food on the ship is fantastic. I don’t notice much difference between the various cruise lines. It was fantastic on the Glory, too. I just can’t say enough good about the variety and quality of the food in the main dining room. The chocolate melting cake is a Carnival specialty and SO GOOD!  Add to that, you can get a variety of excellent sandwiches at the deli and to-die-for hamburgers on the Lido near the pool. The pizza place is good but thin crust, (I’m a thick crust girl). Top it off with the soft serve good quality ice cream available in a few places around the ship 24-7 and you get the idea.  When James beat me at Farkle, we snuck up after the family was getting in bed and had a winner cone on the deck and watched the ocean slide by for a little while.

We saw whales and flying fish from the ship, too. Adults and kids alike enjoyed the water attractions on board. Chris checked out the music and liked what he heard too. We didn’t discover the kids camp until the last day, but the kids like the time they spent there, too.

We were glad that they sold Aloe with Lidocain in the infirmary. It wasn’t too expensive. Some of us forgot that sunscreen wears off super fast in salt water and needs to be super strength in the tropics.

We had fun playing Bananagrams and Farkle. Kelsi is the undisputed champion of Bananagrams but I came close once or twice. I think Kelsi and Chris tied for the Mini golf title.

One last weird thing was that as we waited in VERY long, slow moving lines to get off the ship in Miami, there was a glitch and the official told three of our kids, (each in separate staterooms) that they owed several hundred dollars (for gratuities). We had set it up that all gratuities would be charged to Jeff’s card, so we don’t know what was going on with it. Brian told them, “No, I don’t owe anything.” The official looked at his paper again and said, “Oh, you’re right. We owe you some money” They handed him $25.

Add to that, the port authorities from Miami were RUDE. One lady scolded Chris roundly for letting a child she assumed was his son (but was actually his nephew) cry as he came down the escalator. She made a big fuss and was actually yelling! It was the weirdest thing! Then the guy checking passports made a rude remark Scott’s family with four children, (“You guys need to get HBO or something.”) Anyway, those incidents left a sour taste in my mouth. Then our shuttle was 45 minutes late, which turned out not to matter because the flights stopping in Dallas had been cancelled due to bad weather.

Overall, it was fun fun fun! I loved spending time with some of the people that are dearest to me. We’ll definitely plan large family trips again, but I don’t think I’d do another cruise with such young kids. The kids love it, but the adults can’t take full advantage of the ports’ offerings or the evening fun (even gathering to play games or watching the on deck movies) because of the wee ones.

Travels and more travels

April 20, 2017

We couldn’t resist the $1250 per person groupon tour to Thailand and China when Jeff’s sister Lynda and her husband Barry said they’d go with us. It was a ton of fun and even more fun because of such good company. Here are a few favorites from Thailand.

The tour was through Affordable Asia. At the bargain price, we expected to be roughing it here and there. But it was nothing of the sort. Both in Thailand and China we stayed in 4-5 star hotels and resorts. Each facility had amazing “breakfast” buffets that had every kind of food you would expect on an Asian dinner buffet and more traditional American breakfast offerings too. Can you see the little octopuses? (octopye?)

 

After a week in Thailand, I am now an expert on Thai food.

I’m sure you’ve always wondered but I’m here to tell you that silkworms have the consistency of cheese puffs and when flavored with garlic salt, aren’t half bad. Pad Thai is served with lots of bean sprouts, a sprinkling of peanuts and a dose of sugar over that.

Apparently there are no electrical codes in Thailand. This nest is in the heart of Bangkok and wasn’t the worst we saw.

 Yup, they are praying to a 10 foot tall, 5 1/2 ton solid gold Buddha. The idols in front are offerings.

Squid on a stick from a night market.

Buddhist monks beg for their food. All young men are encouraged to spend at least a short time as a monk, begging for their food and abstaining from touching women. That’s a homeless fellow sleeping next to them.

 

Thai banana pancakes are a yeast dough stretched very thin and baked on a hot griddle. They slice a banana into an egg and beat them together for a minute before spreading on the cooking pancake. They drizzle it with sweetened condensed milk and when set, fold over into a pocket. The drizzle that again with more sweetened condensed milk and chocolate syrup. Simple and YUMMY.

 

 

I do not eat rats unless they are hot off the barby. Thank goodness we didn’t find any that qualified. Those are raw-looking quail in the foreground. It was a roadside stand.  Lots of pictures but nobody bought anything.

 

 OH RATS! roasted rats

 Jeff takes off his shoes before a swim in the WARM South China Sea.

grasshoppers, crickets and silk worms We only ate the silkworms. The other insects were too leggy. 

 

 Images of the king (late king in this case) are EVERYWHERE. It’s illegal to say anything negative about the king in Thailand.

 Most of our tour group. Part of the fun is the neat and interesting people we got to travel with.

 

 

 A small portion of one of the breakfast buffets. They don’t have specific food they associate with breakfast, so serve a generous array of meats, soups, stews, vegetables, fruits, breads and rice.

 This golden structure is in the Grand palace complex. The figures are monkeys and demons. The both keep out bad luck and evil spirits, but the monkeys change into demons when threatened. You can tell the difference by the fact that demons wear shoes.

 A gorgeous pool at the first hotel. It was the smallest of any we stayed at.

 

 A beautifully carved wooden cabinet for sale at the floating market. It’s made of Teak.

  The floating market. That’s where I bought my cute hat I’m wearing in the elephant pictures.

 coconut groves from the canal on the way to the floating market.

 These delectable sweet little coconut pancakes are served in a folded banana leaf. They’re about the size of a silver dollar. Scrumptious!

 On the way to the floating market. We saw plenty of shacks but beautiful flowers too.

 Part of the Emperor’s summer palace. Very hot day but it was cool in the tower.

 Every had a kiss from an elephant? It’s warm, rubbery and slightly moist. It pops!

 Lunch at the floating restaurant overlooking the bridge over the River Kwai built by WW2  prisoners of war.

 

riding an elephant is prickly business. 

We were still wearing our bathing suits after a swim and raft ride at the River Kwai. When the driver hopped off and motioned me into his place, I gleefully took his spot. The elephant’s hair is prickly like a hairbrush. His ears are warm and smooth as they flapped against my bare legs. (He probably thought that the human’s hair was prickly on my legs, too!)

 Barry and Lynda (Baxter)  This is on the boat ride to the floating market.

My two favorite parts of the trip to Thailand were riding elephants and the River Market. I enjoyed swimming/rafting on the River Kwai, but it wasn’t that different from any other cool, clean natural swimming on a very hot day.