Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cruise Flashback: Grand Cayman!

I love that we were in the Caribbean on Leap Year--February 29, 2012!

On Wednesday, we were up and about around 6:15am because we had to leave early for our kayaking and snorkeling excursion. We watched from our balcony as our ship approached George Town amid the muddled sunrise. We spotted a Carnival cruise boat in the distance. It was kind of eerie watching it quietly get closer and closer.

Here are some early morning pictures of the Solarium (adult only pool and deck with the red lounge chairs) and the track above it that a few people were taking advantage of. The deck with the blue lounge chairs is the pool open for all ages.

The Carnival boat gaining on us! I was curious to know if it was the same one that left New Orleans when we did.

We stopped in the harbor because there are no cruise-ship sized docks in Grand Cayman. I'm not sure why...maybe it's too shallow? Little boats would come to the ship and get a group of people and take them all the way in to the island to a smaller dock. I learned this process is called tendering.

These pictures are taken right from our balcony.


This Carnival boat was Valor. We left port New Orleans with Elation. Not the same one. I did wonder, though, where Elation was headed and where Valor began.

As we headed to shore on the tendering boat, I spotted this "pirate" ship!

And wanted to snap a shot of our ship since we don't get to see the whole thing very often.

We found our excursion group and at 8:30am, we got on a bus and drove to the beach. On the drive there, we passed tall, fancy buildings and gated communities and well as many high-end vehicles. It was clear that Grand Cayman is much better off economically than Jamaica. (And why wouldn't they be? This is where all off-shore bank accounts are, right?)

I could not believe it when I saw the name of our beach--Tiki Beach!! (For anyone who has watched the Backyardigans episode "Surf's Up"--they will know the significance of this).

We got fitted for fins, dumped our belongings in a locker, then jumped in our kayaks and went 20 minutes back down the shoreline toward our ship. I was in the front of the two-man kayak and took these pictures while Jared paddled.

I wanted a picture of the two of us in the kayak (with both our faces showing, not the bottom half of one and the top half of the other), but this was as good as it got.

Once we got to the appointed beach, we got our snorkeling stuff on and swam about 1/4 to 1/2 mile out and explored the reef.
The cool thing about our camera is that it could take pictures AND video underwater. Jared took, LOTS of pictures and several video segments.
Admittedly, this was fun, but I was mildly disappointed at how murky the water was and how non-vibrant the fish were. My family went to St. Thomas and St. John (the Virgin Islands) when I was 11 and the snorkeling was amazing there. I've heard the snorkeling is really great in the Caymans, so perhaps it was our location and the time of year. Don't get me wrong, it was really cool to snorkel and see through water 15+ feet deep and have all the fish swim around you. We also saw some concrete ruins near the edge of our allowed distance from the shore. I had just hoped for some more eye-catching colors of fish, coral and sea anemones.

This is a picture of the shore where our kayaks were. Notice the nice fancy hotel...

This fish was the most prevalent in our area. I wish I could remember the name of them. They remind me of the fish in "Finding Nemo" near the end of the movie when they create shapes of different things to try and cheer Dory up.
Looks almost like a white version of Nemo.
A pretty yellow fish.

There's a spiny something in the middle of this picture. I'm not sure if it's a sea urchin, but that would be my guess.

And here's a black and electric blue fish. The colors were out there, just in small quantities. I think the hazy green water is what made everything seem muted to me. Even still, there were some lovely treasures below the surface, you just had to look for them.
At one point, I was out near the guide...a kid who wasn't far removed from high school, if even that old. He had some bread and asked if I wanted to feed the fish. I said sure, so he gave me a piece. Like an idiot, I put my hand holding the bread in the water and in a split second, I had about 30 of those big silver fish swarming me. I screamed out loud because it startled me and of course dropped the bread. But the fish enjoyed it. I think the guide enjoyed my unexpected scare.
We snorkeled for a little over an hour and slowly the group congregated back on the beach by the kayaks.

After we kayaked back to our beginning point, we hung out on Tiki Beach until the next ride back to the port.
Jared tried to take a couple more pictures and that's when he realized the camera wasn't working. It came on, but appeared to have a black screen. My first reaction was "Oh no..." but I wasn't panicked or upset that our once in a lifetime pictures could quite possibly be totally lost.
I credit this feeling from a similar trial we experienced at the end of our visit to Denali National Park in Alaska five years earlier.
There wasn't anything we could do but say a prayer (or two or three) and wait. Jared did take the memory card out to see if we could salvage the pictures. So much for waterproof. We rinsed off in the showers there at Tiki Beach. Jared also changed his clothes and we had a Snickers ice cream bar while we waited for the bus to take us back. We even got sprinkled on by just a tiny bit of rain while we waited at the bus stop, but it was so inconsequential it was hardly worth mentioning.
Once we returned to the port, we did our souvenir shopping. I have to say that I didn't like the way the shopping was set up in George Town. It seemed to be all over, as opposed to just in one concentrated area. In addition, there wasn't any particular thing that jumped out at us that had a Cayman flair to it. So for someone who doesn't like to shop anyway, it was harder for me to decide what to get our peeps back home. After quite a bit of time, we finally got some bamboo towels for my parents, handmade shell ornaments for the kids, a bib for JJ, a sweatshirt for me (which is now too small...get bigger sizes!), hot sauces for Jared, bookmarks for Jake and Cooper and a bracelet for Karcyn. Calvin would get the black pirate shirt made out of bamboo that I "won" at the shopping show on the ship.
The first thing we did when we were back on the ship was make a beeline for the photography area and put the card into a digital printer/CD burner to see if we could view them. ALL the pictures were there and safe. There was a photo guy manning the gear and at our request, he burned them onto a disc for us. It was $30, but we didn't want to take any more chances. Phew...what a blessing that was!
We rested up for dinner and then met our table mates, Jen, Todd, and Jesse. Jenney was getting a massage so she couldn't join us. But to Jesse, she was there in spirit. (Jesse reminded us of Deeks from NCIS: LA). 
We all decided to exchange email addresses and share pictures when we got home. Before dessert, we got a fun musical show from our waiters and waitresses. There's our man, Eric, in the middle of this picture with Todd looking on. It was an impressive number considering all the different nationalities that were participating. I didn't realize singing was a job requirement. Maybe it's not, and if that's the case, that was a great performance!
After dinner, we came back to the room so Jared could get ready for his massage. He went for his appointment while I went down to deck 2 to pay for the CD of pictures that we couldn't pay for earlier that day. Then I went to email the kids. It was $18 for 27 minutes--I hoped. One gal in the library warned me that her mom had gotten on the day before and thought she had disconnected, but didn't really and racked up a horrendous bill for internet usage. I decided to risk it because I hoped the kids were behaving for my mom and if they weren't...I wanted to remind them of the importance of doing so--even from over two thousand miles away!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guess what day it is??

Jared is a commercial addict. Ever since he was a little kid, he would be mesmerized by commercials. He can watch them once and then spout them off to anyone who is in his vicinity for days and weeks afterwards. (Cooper has most definitely inherited this ability to see and hear something once and then turn around and perform it verbatim. As impressive as it is, however, I have learned it's selective. What Cooper memorizes has to be something he wants to remember :)

To this day, after the passage of twenty years or more, Jared still has the Jet Stream Oven slogan memorized. In college, the appliance was being shown again on TV and Jared piped up and said, "Oh, it's the Jet Stream Oven! It cooks oven quality food, microwave fast." His roommate's mouth dropped open and stared at Jared like he was an alien.

This is Jared's favorite commercial at the moment.

It is funny. The camel strutting through the office, the annoyed facial expressions of the office workers and his vocal exuberance. It's hilarious to Jared's audience because he's a one-man-show. He can imitate all the facial expressions and voices He had the girls at the office rolling with laughter the last couple of weeks he's done it.

And every week since then, on Wednesday, I end up with 3 or 4 little camels running around the house shouting "Guess what day it is? Whoot! Whoot! Hump daaay. Yay!"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A new do, times two

The moment finally came when I felt JJ's baby locks needed to go. Which may surprise some because I didn't cut Calvin's curls until after his 2nd birthday and his hair was much longer than JJ's.

Calvin missed our recent hair cutting session so he was also in desperate need of a hair cut. I swung by Great Clips, mostly because I can't do JJ's haircut. My skills are still developing (read: slow) and less than stellar (read: cheap). Plus the kids have to be able to sit still for me to even attempt it.

As it was, I had to PIN JJ in my arms and he almost squirmed his way out from under my "death grip". Thankfully, those girls at Great Clips are fast and effective and good with the kids

I'm very happy with the results. This picture is hard to see, but we now have a big boy in our midst.(Once we get rid of the diapers, we'll have a REAL big boy and a super giddy mom on our hands!)

Jared took the four older kids to Utah to see his parents the day before school got out to give me a Mother's Week :) I was actually going to cut Karcyn's hair when they got back for the summer, but Karole beat me to it. She asked if it would be alright if she took Karcyn out on a Grandma/Granddaughter date to Fantastic Sams to get her hair done. I was thrilled with the proposal and so was Karcyn. I didn't think Karcyn could get any cuter. But apparently she can. :) This cut is SO adorable on her. The best part is that once her hair is dried, it seriously falls back into place. It doesn't require any curling. If there are some hairs out of place after sleeping on it at night, I spray a little water on it, brush it out and it goes right back to it's original place--like memory foam...for hair.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Helvetia 10K

As a Deacon (ages 12-13) in the Aaronic Priesthood, Jake has been working on his "Duty To God"--a program to help each young man in the Church focus on what he is becoming and teaches him to learn, act, and share. There are projects in each different stage of the Aaronic Priesthood (Deacon, Teacher & Priest). The project during the Deacon years is a physical one. Jake has run several 5Ks in the past, so he set a goal to prepare for and run a 10K (6.2 miles).

I decided I was going to train for and run it with him. I only had 8 weeks to prepare, however. And after a month of training, I lost a week due to inclement weather and mommy duties. I'm not a natural runner like Jake and need every single day to train--and then some--to improve my time. So I told him I was going to graciously back out. Besides, Jake is so fast, (okay, everyone is faster than me, but he's really fast) and I wanted to be able to see him finish, not have him waiting for me in the end.

The day of the run was a beautiful one! We couldn't have ordered better weather. Fortunately, the run started at 8:30am for Jake so it wouldn't be too hot. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a sitter so Jared was the appointed photographer and cheerleader representing the family that day.

Here he is pre-race. All smiles now. We'll see what he looks like after...

Warming up. I'm glad Jared got this one. It was the only picture of Jake actually running.

So serious. I think Jake prefers to call it "focus." Maybe it's because he's surrounded by a sea of females!

Ah ha...there's a smile.
He had some cool pictures taken by the photographers on the course. If you want me to forward those on to you, let me know. He got in a neck-and-neck push for the end with another lady. The announcer said it was making for an exciting finish as they came into the stadium. The lady overtook him at the finish line--but just barely. A nice bonus...the announcer actually pronounced our last name correctly! I think we have Julianne Hough to thank for that. (I was Jenn Hugh when I ran it 4 years ago). 
And here he is post race. A little bit of a smile. :) Must have been before he had his complimentary burger that he claims was the best burger of his entire life--I'm not sure if the fact that he just torched through 1,000 calories had anything to do with that or not.
Notice he changed his shirt. I would have too. I found the one he wore during the race in a bag later that day. Oh, my. It could have walked into the house itself. It was soaking wet and let's just say it didn't smell like roses, so the shirt took its rightful place outside on the back patio where it could air out until another load of laundry was done--later that week!

Race stats:
Division: 15 and under
33 runners in this age group
Jake finished 2nd for the boys
and 4th overall with a time of 47:44.
WOWZERS! Okay, based on my 10K time of 65 minutes from four years ago (told you I was slow--but that's actually fast for me...I usually start out running at 12 minutes per mile), if I had run this with him again, he would have been waiting for almost 20 minutes for me to finish. And of course he ran this without any music or distraction in his head. He says he likes to think when he runs. Not me, man. I need the noise to drown out my strained breathing and wheezing.
43:18 was the fastest boy. Two girls beat Jake running 43 minutes and 44 minutes. Our friend knows one of the girls from other running events and says she's pretty elite. WAY to go JAKE!! Run with fast people and you get faster, too.
He finished up his track season with school the middle of May. He ran in the 800 and 1500 and almost always finished in the top three in his events. Although as he trained for the 10K, I think he found he actually enjoys the long distance running more and is looking forward to trying cross country.
Jake's next goal...a half marathon. Go get 'em, Tiger!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Eagle Project

Jake has had a project in mind for his Eagle for at least 2 years. While in the upper elementary grades, Jake spent his higher reading classes with a small group of peers with the librarian, Mrs. Hanzel. The Reading hour with Mrs. Hanzel was always an adventure and something Jake always looked forward to.

A few years back there was a need to have the books in the library catalogued for the Accelerated Reader Point system. A scout from our troop caught wind of it and used that as his Eagle Project. At that time, Jake discussed his desire to also do something to help improve the library with Mrs. Hanzel. She told him she actually had another big job that's been hanging over her head, but hasn't had time to do herself....replace all the brittle and ineffective plastic pegs holding up the bookshelves that are the original pegs from when the school was built over 35 years ago.

She wasn't sure it would qualify as an Eagle project, but it would be a huge help to the school library...a need most people wouldn't even know about. For a few years before this conversation and since then, shelves would randomly fall with or without someone bumping them while looking through the books. So Jake told her back in 4th or 5th grade that this is what he wanted to do for his Eagle project to help her out and give back to his community.

One of Jake's goals before he even entered the Boy Scouts at 12 was to work hard so he could get his Eagle before turning 14 years old--because even then, he understood that the older teenagers get, the more involved they are in clubs and other activities, making time for scouts a lot tougher.

And work hard he has...advancing in rank as soon as the time requirement was up and he hasn't allowed for any lag time. If a merit badge was started with his leaders, Jake would do what was needed to finish it up on his own. His first year of scout camp was the "get her done" year...he cranked out 6 merit badges...the most you could get at this camp and a total rarely earned. In addition, he's sought out other merit badge counselors to earn badges on his own time (with very little "memory jogging" from his parental units I might add). He's been on all the camp outs offered except one because we were out of town and one cold, rainy overnighter in November, it was just Jake and Jared and a leader (bless that leader's heart!). Jake shows Scout spirit every week by faithfully going to the activities and is always in uniform unless his leaders say it isn't necessary. He's a wonderful example of what a Boy Scout should be.

He actually made the rank of Life Scout the end of February, which was when we started thinking more seriously about his project with Jake still clinging to the idea that he was going to help Mrs. Hanzel. Once we met with the Eagle Project advisor and got his packet of paperwork, Jake moved forward with his intent to improve the elementary school library. (Ironically, Jake wasn't awarded his Life badge until the next Court of Honor which happened to be two days before he did his Eagle project.)

Fortunately for Jake, replacing the old pegs was still a need. Though I suppose in a district where major cutbacks are happening, this task wouldn't be anywhere near the top of the priority list...probably not even on ANY list, unless it belonged to Mrs. Hanzel.

Jake got his paperwork started, outlining his project intentions, in order to gain approval from the local board. Yikes. I'm a very organized and do-things-by-the-book kind of person anyway, but this Eagle paperwork stuff has me all anxious and nervous! (And even though the project is done, he's only halfway through!) But I backed up my parenting helicopter to keep from hovering and made sure Jake was running this show. Other advantages to this project is that a) it wouldn't involve power tools--yay for pegs!--which would complicate matters and b) it didn't involve fundraising...more paperwork and of course additional organization. What Jared and I didn't know when Jake met with the Scout leader from Council to get approval is that he told Jake the project was on the fence. Leaning more toward a regular service project than an actual Eagle Project. The project wasn't approved at the time because Jake was missing all the necessary signatures at the end. Whoops! (Pretty sure I wouldn't have missed that, but it's not my project and at least I didn't hover!!! :)

So Jake got his signatures, waited the two weeks until there was another night for approvals and Jake went back. This time, Jared had to sit in for two-deep leadership and that's when Jared discovered the iffiness of the project, according to the same Council member. There is no longer an hourly requirement for the projects since that's too hard to gauge and would just depend on how much help you had. Jake didn't mention the fact that the project was questionable to us originally because in his mind he thought that's what an Eagle Project was--service in your community. Hard to argue with that logic. Jared isn't sure if the project idea was questioned because there was no it just wasn't "enough" stuff or wouldn't provide enough opportunities for leadership. But that's hard to consider when I know of at least one project where people were just helping out at a shelter. Jake would definitely have opportunities for leadership having to give a safety class, oversee the task and make sure it was done right. I guess it was meant to be because the guy went ahead and gave his signature of approval on the project. That alone, was a huge relief! Being somewhat new to this project stuff, however, we weren't positive the project would hold up in review after completion. But after a few phone calls, we were ensured that once the project is approved, the BSA has to honor that. Besides, we have a BSA bigwig in our area and he said he'd raise all sorts of stink if they didn't. It certainly makes sense to me that once it's approved it would have to be honored, but nowadays, you just never know.

The day of the project was a wild one for me as I ran errands that Jake couldn't do (like order the pizzas and get ice and bottled water, among my other regular errands and the timing had to be just right. JJ and I spent more or less 5-6 hours in the car running around that day.) I picked Jake up from his school early so he could go to the elementary school a couple hours ahead of time to set up and make sure he and Mrs. Hanzel had everything ready to go to start receiving help at 4pm.

When I had Jake walk me through his explanation of the job, he discovered he wasn't sure how the helpers would know where to put the pegs once the old ones were removed unless they took them out one at a time. He told Mrs. Hanzel this when he arrived and apparently she was already thinking the same thing because when I went to the library after unloading some of the food an taking it to the break room, Jake was using chalk to mark lines on the vertical shelves to show where the pegs should line up.

Once I dropped Jake off, I went home briefly to put the Costco stuff away and then got back in the car to drop Cooper off at the school, pick up the pizzas and then the babysitter before taking the pizzas to the school and heading to Calvin's preschool graduation which happened to be at 5:30. Calvin, Karcyn and I would go to that, while Jared and the big boys would be at the project. JJ would not be coming with me. He's at that age where it would make more sense to stay at home than take him out in public to a special event where sitting still is a difficulty for him. He's into everything and SCREAMS to communicate. It was totally worth the $10.

As I was waiting for the sitter to come to the car, Jared called me at 4:40. He wanted to know if I was going to be there any time soon with the pizzas. I assured him I was a couple of blocks away and would be there shortly. He said they were almost done! WHAT?? They started less than 45 minutes ago!

Holy cow...there were 15 volunteers helping out, 6 of them scouts so Jake had plenty of people to supervise and manage. And they were very efficient. In fact, they did more than just take 10,000+ books off the bookshelves, replace the old pegs with metal ones, and wipe the shelves before replacing the books in their proper order. They cut out laminated posters, sharpened 300 pencils, wiped down all the hard surfaces and even vacuumed! Because they were so efficient, Jared and the boys were actually able to attend Calvin's graduation. It was an unexpected surprise.

Here's the project in pictures:

Scout motto: Be Prepared--medical bag...just in case.

Jake signing in the volunteers so he could track the number of man hours the project took and see who attended to write thank you notes afterwards.

And then giving a safety class before they proceeded to work.
Cooper manning the front door and opening it for volunteers as they arrived. It needed to stay locked after hours for security reasons.

The supplies--over 400 metal pegs and Lysol wipes--graciously donated by the Hillsboro School District and Butternut Creek Elementary.

Scouts and adult helpers removing books, cleaning the shelves, replacing the old pegs with the new ones and putting the books back--and Jake supervising and monitoring their work :)


And here they are working on those extra mini projects. A friend of ours who spoke to Jared the week before who is involved in scouts and whose son is an Eagle, suggested that if there was anything additional that could be done while you had a large group of people gathered to work anyway, it always looks good to go the "extra mile." So that's what they did.

Sharpening pencils the "old school way"--now that's work!


Cutting out laminated papers and posters.

Wiping down all hard surfaces.

And even vacuuming!

The hardworking, super mega crew (minus a scout who had to leave early)!

The finished product! Nice, clean lines and shelves laying flush and flat against the sturdy pegs.

Mrs. Hanzel told me later that Jake was a very serious and focused supervisor. He was also lamenting a little that he couldn't tell they'd actually improved or done anything. But Mrs. Hanzel knew and she was giddy with excitement! She told him it made a world of difference. It also saved her about 15-18 hours of labor if she did it herself.

Working close to dinner time, here's another way to reward the hard work (or motivate it)...cold drinks, pizza and brownies. I like how this food is on a table under a big sign that says "Teamwork." Extremely fitting under those circumstances that afternoon. I was told the group even got to eat together and left before the custodian locked up...who didn't need to clean the library that evening.

And finally...

Yes! Thank you!! Jake couldn't have done it without the people who showed up to volunteer and help!