Friday, September 27, 2013

Cruise Flashback: Cozumel Mexico!

This was the port I had been waiting for! When I was in 4th grade, living in Georgia, my parents took us to Sea World and Disney World in Orlando, Florida. That's where I fell in love with marine life. Nothing left me more in awe than Sea World. I wanted soooo badly to be a marine biologist and swim with whales and dolphins. This desire was magnified more in 7th grade science when we had a unit called "Voyage of the Mimi." According to Wikipedia: The Voyage of the Mimi was a thirteen-episode American educational TV program depicting the crew of the Mimi exploring the ocean and taking a census of humpback whales. The series was created to teach middle-schoolers about science and math in an interesting and interactive way, where every lesson related to real world applications.

While my math and science grades probably wouldn't have supported a biology degree, I still maintained my love for whales and dolphins. Moving to Alaska at the end of my 9th grade year was also thrilling. Even though I never saw orcas in the wild, just knowing I lived where they did was pretty darn cool.

Jared and I got married in the San Diego LDS temple
and while we didn't have the means for a honeymoon, we did go to Sea World! We went early to the Shamu show because if they were doing it like they did it in the past, they would need some members of the audience to participate and I wanted to be one of them. I asked one of the workers if they needed a volunteer for the show because I'd gladly do it. She said they actually already had a female volunteer and just needed a male one. I was super disappointed for 1.2 seconds until I pushed Jared forward and said, "He'll do it!" The way I figured it, if I couldn't be in the show, one of us should be. Jared got to give Shamu several different commands and signals. Jared also got VERY wet too when Shamu splashed only him while "waving" with one of his fins. *sigh* So close, yet so far. One day....just maybe...

Who knew that 15 years later the opportunity would present itself for me to get up close and personal with marine life! Seriously...aside from being on our belated honeymoon, and not having to cook or clean or be mom for a week, swimming with the dolphins was what I was MOST giddy about. I'm really grateful Cozumel was our last port. It made the whole week exciting. The other happy thing about the dolphin excursion was the price. The most expensive one was our ziplining/kayaking in Jamaica (which got cancelled). It was $125 each. The beach experience and gourmet lunch we did in Jamaica, instead, was $49 each (and totally worth it!). The kayaking in Grand Cayman was $75 each. Imagine my surprise when I saw that to swim with dolphins, it was only $99 each. That made my little prudent heart leap!

When we woke up on Thursday, March 1st at 8am, we were already docked in Cozumel.

We ate breakfast and then we were off! Our excursion wasn't until 10:15, so we scoped out the shops and took notes so we could go straight to those places when we got back. Happily, there were a ton of little shops right beyond the dock so we didn't need to take a taxi anywhere. And the prices were great! Better than Cayman, same as Jamaica, which is no surprise there. Boy, did those vendors work hard to get you in their shop. I liked watching the locals create their art right out in the open.

We got a chuckle when we noticed you could pick up a certain (ahem) medicine at the local "Drug and Deli". Now that's convenience.

And of course, we had to get a picture in front of the mega ship. This was actually the first opportunity for us to get it in one frame.

Around 10:15, we gathered at the appointed place for the dolphin encounter. We drove just three miles away (on the right side of the road :) before arriving at Chankanaab State Park. We were told that we paid to get into the park, so after our encounter with the dolphins we would be able to stay and swim in the pool, go snorkeling in the cove, and watch the sea lion show. There were three different times for us to catch the shuttle back to the dock so as long as we got the last ride back, we could do as much or as little as we wanted. Very cool.

After putting our stuff in lockers, we gathered in two different groups and got some "dolphin 101" training. We practiced the things we'd do in the water with a stuffed dolphin :)

Then we broke off into smaller groups. We gravitated to a family of four to make our smaller group of 6. The couple had a son and a daughter and they looked to be about the ages of our kids. Turns out they're from Illinois just like Jared...not too far from where he grew up. They were kind enough to take this picture of us while we waited to get our life jackets on.

This link will show an aerial view of the park. We went all the way down the left ramp (as you look at the picture) and then across the only walkway that runs parallel to the back part of the entrance. We went down some metal steps and stood on a wire ledge where we were about thigh high in the water. It was a cool temperature at first, but it didn't take long to warm up. There was wire fence running from the top of the walkway down to the bottom of the enclosure. Obviously this lets the ocean water move in and out freely. We actually saw a sting ray right below us while we waited.

There was a sign posted outside before we got on the walkway that said NO Personal Cameras. I had ours with me and worried about that. (They make a lot of their money by taking pictures of you and the dolphins). I asked one of the park workers if it was okay that we had it. He said sure. I looked at the sign again wondering if he understood me. Once we made it to the end of the enclosure, I asked another gal the same thing. I didn't want to be dishonest or perceived as such. She said it was fine. I asked, "Are you sure?" She said yes. So I shrugged my shoulders and said "Okay."

Here we are making our way to the far end of the dolphin discovery area. There were smaller enclosures along both sides of the largest one that made a huge rectangle. We suspected those were for smaller interactions where you would, at most, get to pose with and kiss the dolphin. Our excursion however was the "Dolphin Push, Pull and Swim with Manatee Encounter." We made sure the excursion specifically said "swim" in it because there were a few different options and not all are created equal.

Meet Chaac! (Pronounced 'Chuck') Isn't he cute?? Jared took these awesome pictures with our camera.

He was our 18-year-old dolphin for the day. 

Omar was the trainer. Oh, how I wish I could have Omar's job.


We got to pet Chaac as he swam past us. Then we took turns out in the water with him. We had to go 20 feet or more away. Just when we thought we were far enough, Omar told us to keep going. The first thing we did was we put our arms out, palms facing up, like we're going to hold something. Once he got his cue, Chaac would come and lie in our arms like a big baby.
Here he is with me. Definitely different than holding 6 month old JJ in my arms :)
Omar had Jared swim out and join me. (The nice couple from IL were kind enough to take pictures of us and we did the same for them). This is the dolphin "pull" part. First we had to put our right hand straight out and left hand on our heart. Then Omar sent Chaac out to us. We took turns, but when Chaac passed under our right arm on his back, we were supposed to grab the underside of his fins and hold on while he pulled us back to the platform! That was, in the words of my kids, EPIC!!

Jared got this picture of Chaac underwater. He looks Chinese :)
After everyone had a turn being pulled, it was time to get pushed. We took a little float board (about half the size of a boogie board) and went out even farther from the platform than we were before. We were instructed to keep our legs strong and straight with our knees locked. When Omar signaled, Chaac would swim out to us, put his nose on the bottom of one foot and he would push us back. What's interesting is Chaac had a hard time getting his nose on Jared's foot positioned right. But that dolphin didn't push until he was in the place he needed to be. Chaac then peeled off to the left when he had you propelled enough that you could glide the rest of the way. Wow those animals are STRONG!
After we made it back to the platform, Omar taught us some signals so we could personally interact with Chaac.
First, we kissed :)


Then we danced.

And finally, Chaac did a little trick. [The photographer is up on the platform above us. That's who we're looking at and posing for.]

We all lined up in the water one last time as Chaac splashed us with his tail fin to say goodbye.

Then it was off to another enclosure nearby to see and pet the manatees. The sliminess of their skin is algae that grows because they move so slow :) They can also eat an enormous amount of lettuce each day. Something like 150 pounds!

A "headless" manatee--not too bad considering Jared couldn't aim the camera underwater.
The manatee interaction didn't last long. Jared led the way out of the enclosure and when he turned around to see how I was doing, he saw that the two manatees had totally blocked the way for the family from IL. They were seriously stuck! Pretty funny! The trainers turned on the water "spigot" to divert the attention of the manatees and it worked ;)
After that, we had five minutes before the sea lion show started. Perfect timing! The performance was cute but it was bright out there. I didn't have my sunglasses with me so I squinted most the time. Man, those sea lions can get biiiig. 
We got a picture taken with Carla (who was smaller than this bad boy). Right as the camera took the shot and before I had a chance to react, Carla planted a kiss on my cheek!
After the show, we rented some snorkeling gear and snorkeled around the lagoon for about a half hour. Then we got some super nachos for a snack and sat here to eat them.
We wanted to help support the local economy, so we bought all the dolphin encounter pictures on a CD and the sea lion one for my parents and waited for our ride back. We were on the last shuttle back to the dock.
I actually had a really bad headache starting to set in. I'm guessing it was from too much sun. After boarding the boat and passing through security, Jared suggested we take the elevator to our stateroom. No way. I'd done stairs only the whole time, I was not about to break the streak. Once back in the room though, I laid down and hoped the headache would go away. Jared massaged my temples and forehead which helped. We had just enough time to get ready for our last formal dinner.
The other two couples showed up, but Jen left before the appetizers because she felt nauseous. Sadly, Jen never came back that night. When our table mates heard about our excursion that day they were jealous. They had done a dolphin thing in Jamaica, but they couldn't use their own cameras and they didn't get to actually swim or play with the dolphins. That made me even more grateful we did it here in Mexico. We exchanged emails so we could share pictures and keep in touch and then I got my second and last massage with Amy again. Divine!!
When I got back, we totally crashed. What a day!! The dolphin encounter was, without a doubt, the highlight of the whole trip!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

JJ turns 2

JJ's birthday was Sunday, August 11th. We aren't big party animals here at the Hough house, but we wanted to make his day special by having the McCulloughs over for dinner. JJ and Wes are bestest buds. JJ runs away from us when he sees Wes. Although the other day, I will say that JJ actually acknowledged Bev with Wes in the close vicinity :)

I invited another guest to join us...a young man named Jakob who regularly sits with us on the "McHough" bench during Sacrament meeting. He is a recent high school graduate and convert to the church. He's very sweet to allow the kids to sit by him (and on him). We are very grateful for his tolerance of our children on Sundays. A dinner invite was the least we could do!

I debated about what to have for dinner and finally decided on Pasta Florentine...a spinach and pasta dish. It's JJ's favorite. Every other Hough loves it too. Although, I worried about our dinner guests. Not because they're ungrateful or picky--far from it. But because what your family likes, isn't necessarily something that will satisfy the palates of another, I worried they might not like it. It was meatless for one. Had spinach for another. I know I shouldn't worry about things like this, but I do!

Much to my great relief, dinner was well received and we had a lovely and lively dinner with our friends.

After we ate, we had JJ open his gifts. We got it all on video (and not any photographs, of course) but JJ got a Blue's Clues DVD about shapes and colors from Karcyn and Calvin, a big word book from Jake and Cooper, a toy airplane from Mom and Dad, a generous $20 from Aunt Kelly and Uncle Steve, $2 from Great Grandma Nina and the crème de la crème....a big nerf ball and a Velcro catch game with another ball from the McCulloughs. JJ is BALL CRAZY. If there's a ball nearby, JJ will find it, spot it, go to it, get it, attach himself to it, etc. He's like a moth to a light when it comes to balls.

Then it was time for marble birthday cake. Before the McCulloughs left, we decided on a whim to take a group picture...with the tripod.

It took a couple of attempts, here's the test shot.

And the "real" shot. Can't get more real than that...bunny ears and everything.

(Back row, left to right: Calvin on Josh's lap, Jakob, Karcyn on Bev's lap, JJ on Wes' lap--I'm sensing a theme here--and Cooper. Jake, Jared and me on the floor.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Calvin gets in trouble

In case you missed it on Facebook, Calvin got into trouble at school on Wednesday, Sept. 11th. He hadn't even been in Kindergarten a week before I got a call from his teacher.

When the phone rang, I saw the school's name on the caller ID. Oh no....My first thought...Karcyn. She had been absent Monday and Tuesday, due to illness and she had been fine for 36 hours. But it wasn't the nurse or her teacher. It was Calvin's teacher. She started the conversation by talking about my offering to volunteer in her classroom. And then she transitioned into an issue that had come up with Calvin that day.

She said he's been having trouble keeping his hands to himself and today, he had made a fist and punched a classmate! She knew he had done it but when she asked him if he did, offering him an opportunity to be honest and accountable for his actions, he completely denied it. (Yup, that sounds like Calvin).

His name clip had been on green (like a being good, yellow being a warning, etc.) but because of the seriousness of his actions, she made him move it directly to red, which means there's a big problem and parents would be contacted. Calvin's teacher spent some time talking to him about his behavior, why it was wrong and reinforced the school and class rules which are: be safe, be respectful, be responsible. Then she told him because of what he did, she was going to call his mom and let her know.

She said he responded to that with a slight challenge in his voice and said, "You don't know my mom's phone number." Like "go ahead, Lady, I dare ya." She actually kind of chuckled when she told me this. I don't know if it was because she was shocked or impressed with his audacity.

She made a point to share with me some of Calvin's positive attributes--he's very smart and a good reader, eager to learn. Then she wondered if we might be able to visit with Calvin about his behavior at school.

I cackled a laugh and assured her that Jared and I would do more than just "visit" with him. When our kids get in trouble at school they get in worse trouble at home.

When Calvin got home from school an hour or so after the phone call, I told him that his teacher had called me. He said he knew. I asked him who he punched. He said he hit a girl! (What???) I calmly explained to him he should never hit a girl. Ever. And asked him what happened. He said she was teasing him.

"What was she saying?"

Looking hurt he said, "She was calling me a bully!" Ohhh, the irony. And then I told him that when someone does things to other people to hurt them (like calling them names or hitting them) they are being a bully. I also told him if he does that again, he could very likely be kicked out of school.

I told him if someone is bothering him to walk away. He quickly countered, "but we're supposed to sit in our seats and not get up." Apparently, he hit the girl he sits next to in class. That's when I encouraged him to ignore it and if that doesn't work to ask his teacher for help. I really, really hope this isn't a preview for Calvin's educational career.

Part of his consequence here at home was writing apology notes to his teacher and his friend. He spoke them, I dictated.

Dear My Friend,
I'm sorry that I hitted you. It was wrong. Will you forgive me?

Dear Mrs. P,
I'm sorry I was in a bad mood. This time I'll keep my hands to myself. I'm going to be safe, responsible and respectful.

Calvin lost electronic privileges that might be his that day and on the weekend for this behavior. The next evening, happened to Back to School night. When it was done, Jared and I went to see his teacher and introduced ourselves as Calvin's parents. We told her not to worry, that we have her back and apologized for Calvin's behavior. We pledged we would work harder to help him react appropriately to things, since what we're doing doesn't seem to be working.

She told us that when he came in to class that morning, he said very seriously, "I have an apology letter for you." She asked him if he wanted to get it for her. He said, "No, I'll give it to you later" and that's what he did. At an appropriate time even. We shook our heads and said, "He's 5 going on 15." She laughed and said that his mannerisms are definitely beyond his years. She was happy to report he had a much better day and his clip ended on blue, which, although not a part of a stoplight, is above the green. Green is good, but blue is best. And I say, "Anything but red!"

Karcyn's prayer

Last Sunday morning, Karcyn got sick. In the past, Jared and I would alternate who stays home with sick kids, but since Jared's in the bishopric, that means, I stay home. I teach the 15-turning-16-year olds in Sunday School, so I had to scramble to find a substitute at the last minute. The lesson was more of a student-led discussion that day so it wasn't going to be too difficult or overwhelming. Lucky for me, I was able to secure a future missionary who leaves within the month for Paraguay. I thought it would be good missionary prep for him :)  I also needed to find out if the McCulloughs were going to be in church and if they were up to watching our entire boy crew for us. I dont' know who I'm kidding because that's what they do every week! Fortunately they were up to the challenge, which meant the other kids could go to church as well--which was really good since Calvin was giving the talk in Junior Primary! (Wes has always helped our kids with their Primary talks since Jared and I are unavailable second hour). And finally, Jared was going to be in a very important meeting almost up until the start of church so I needed to see if the McCulloughs could swing by and take the kids in our burb as well and they could. Phew. Arrangements done. Thank goodness for church at 1pm.

A quarter past noon, I was surprised to see Jared walk through the door to the house. He said he felt like he might be sick. Oh boy. He went straight to our room and I didn't see him for quite a while.

I had the kids ready and waiting for the McCulloughs who came a few minutes later to pick up the crew. I helped load the kiddos and wished them the best! (The McCulloughs, not the kids!)

Poor Karcyn was bored of resting. In the first hour the kids were gone she went from the rocker, to the living room couch, to the family room couch to a different couch in the living room. I sat at the dining room table and worked on catching up in my journal.

She came over and let out a huge sigh. "I hate being sick." I told her it stinks for sure.

She waited a few seconds and then announced, "I'm going to go pray."

I asked, "What are you going to pray for?"

"Ohhhh...that God will make me feel better."

I told her I thought that was a great idea and inside my mommy heart was melting that she would think, all on her own, to turn to our greatest source of peace and comfort--our Heavenly Father.

She left the table and walked into the living room, kneeling down by the far couch. With her head bowed, I could barely make out her words, but she said, "Dear Heavenly Father, please help me not to be sick anymore. And thank you for all of our blessings and I hope everyone else had a good time at church. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Eating leftovers and words

On the way home from our camping trip last week, we stopped to get some fast food for lunch. Jake got a mongo burger and mongo fries to go with it. I had some chicken nuggets to share with JJ. Jake polished off his burger lickety split but he was sweet enough to share his fries with JJ. JJ ate two or three nuggets and I saved three more for him since he was still working on one at the moment. Jake wanted to know if there were any nuggets left. Since Jake is a bottomless pit and he shared his fries with JJ, I figured he could have a couple of the nuggets while they were still partially warm (although now that I think about it, it wouldn't make any difference to Jake if the nuggets were cold).

I handed the box to Jake and said, "There are three left. You can have two, JJ gets the other one." A couple minutes later, Jake hands the box back to me to put in the garbage. Casually, I asked, "You gave one to JJ right?" He said "yeah." I didn't see it on JJ's car seat or near him so I asked again, "You gave JJ one of those nuggets?" Jake had to think about it for a minute. He said, "Uhhh, no, I thought the one in his hand was the one he was getting." Good grief. Jared and I had a hay day with that one and joked around with him.

"Really, Jake? What part of 'JJ gets one and you can have the other two' don't you get??"  (Wooo doggie. Jake's a great kid, but that teenage brain, mostly just in the last six months for us, is something else!) When it comes to food, Jake's stomach seems to take over and his brain shuts off :)

Jared and I decided we need to have him "repeat after me" whenever we give instructions. Maybe that will help. Maybe not.

Today, for lunch, we had leftovers...shepherd's pie that Jake made for dinner last night and that everyone (except Coop and Calvin) enjoyed, as well as 8 slices of pepperoni pizza from my Sunday School class party Saturday evening.

Jared and I had some shepherd's pie while Jake and Cooper each had two slices, their allotted amount, of pizza. Calvin also had a slice of pizza. Karcyn was reading in the dining room and JJ was "napping" so we still needed some lunch for them.

Jared went on a 37 mile bike ride this morning and was starving. He asked me if he could finish off the shepherd's pie and I said sure. When I took my bowl to the sink, I assessed the pizza situation. There were only two slices left. There should have been at least one more. We questioned the boys. Coop only had two, Calvin only had one and there was Jake standing near the microwave with his hand on it. He looked at us innocently and said, "I was just warming up another slice." Sure you were. I confiscated it from him. Jared said, "Dude! Your sister still hasn't eaten yet."

Jake countered, "She probably won't even want pizza." We busted up laughing.

Jared answered. "Are you serious? In this house? Give me a break. Who wouldn't want pizza for lunch?"

We called Karcyn in to get some lunch before it became a Hough version of survival of the fittest.

As Karcyn came in I asked her, "What would you like to have for lunch, Sweetie?"

She thought for a second and said, "Um, I want what we had for dinner last night."

Jake slammed the counter with his hand and shouted, "HA!!! I told you!!"

Then Jared said, rather sheepishly, "Uh, oops. I ate it all. Sorry, Sis." Then he quickly added for Jake's benefit, "That still doesn't mean you get a third piece." Today, Jared got to eat leftovers and his words :)

And just so we don't all feel badly for Karcyn, Jared actually had a little bit of shepherd's pie in his bowl and offered it to Karcyn. We told her she could have a slice of pizza after that if she was still hungry, and that's what she did.

A productive time-out

Two weeks ago, as we gathered around the table for dinner and before we said the blessing on the food, we noticed Karcyn was not acting appropriately. She was playing with her plate and putting it on her head and because we had JUST addressed this issue with most the kids the very day before, we excused her to go to time-out in her room. We told her we would let her know when she could rejoin us for dinner. Obediently and without argument, Karcyn trudged to her room.

When most of us were about half way through dinner, we decided Karcyn could come and eat hers. She emerged from her room and skipped around to my chair. She was really excited about something. "Mom! Mom! Can I show you something?"

At the moment I was talking to or instructing or disciplining Calvin and looking in the opposite direction. "In just a minute," I told her.

When I finally turned to give her my attention, she excitedly pulled up her shirt, exposing most of her belly and midsection while tiltng her head coquettishly towards her shoulder and pointing her left foot out to the side as if in some exaggerated modeling pose. She smiled and exclaimed, "Look!"

I was shocked. What was she doing posing like that? "Karcyn! That is not appropriate. We don't lift up our shirts like that." Before I could continue my lecture on the importance of modesty, Karcyn, somewhat deflated, tried again.

"No, look!" While maintaining most of her pose and using her free hand, she pointed to her capri drawstrings at her waist. And then it dawned on me. They were tied! I was shocked for the second time in two minutes.

"Did YOU tie those?? All by yourself??"

Karcyn's proud smile returned. She nodded enthusiastically and said, "Uh huh. While I was in time out." We cheered and congratulated Karcyn and had hugs all around.

We made a goal for her to learn to tie her shoes this summer, since she finally owns shoes with laces. In fact, the only reason I got shoes with shoelaces was so she could learn how to do that. Slip on shoes are way more practical with kids and living in the northwest. Of course, this summer, if we wore any shoes at all, they were sandals. I saw her purple airwalks in the closet recently and had some slight mommy guilt for not working with her on this important life skill. So I sat down with her and we practiced it a few days before her perfect execution on her capri drawstrings.

If only all our time-outs could be as productive :)