Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The gingerbread house that wasn't...

We don't have a ton of long-standing traditions at Christmas time. And I'm certainly not a crafty person by any means. But as we were browsing the aisles at Target the other day, this little gingerbread house kit almost jumped off the shelf...taunting us with the utter and complete ease of having a festively decorated house of our own. Note the green bubble: "everything included! pre-made icing, E-Z build tray and lots of candy."

I know what you're thinking...where could this go wrong? Well, let's just say by the time we got everything unloaded out of the package we realized (just a little too late) that our two roof shingles were broken into multiple pieces. Did that deter us? Heck no! I figured with the super strong pre-made icing I could just patch the shingles back together and they'd be good as new except for a few cracks.

This was all true up until the time of actually trying to attach the shingles onto the rest of the structure. It didn't take long to see it was never going to work...unless the look we were going for was a post-earthquake gingerbread house. I say hey, work with what you have...and after all, this IS Southern California so it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Here's a view of the disaster from the front (note the remaining pieces of shingle debris to the right side):

And the overhead side view with the support wall collapsing as well:

What the heck is this guy so happy about? Doesn't he see his house is in shambles?

So much for trying to start a new Christmas tradition. Megan and I were so disappointed we didn't even open the packages of candy to attempt to decorate our disaster zone. Maybe next year we'll get a kit with everything intact. Or maybe we'll just come up with some other holiday activity with a better success rate!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thoughts on and from the ward...

Tonight I got together with some friends from my singles ward. Amongst the food and conversation we reminisced about "the good ol' days" (none of us still attend the ward). We even busted out the year end DVD from a couple of years ago and basically laughed ourselves silly. It was good to be with some old friends and it was really good for me to remember the experiences I had in the Roosevelt Ward. Even though I found that it was time for me to move on from there, I will be eternally grateful for the great leaders, friends, lessons, activities etc that formed a HUGE part of my life. It will forever be the best singles ward I had the opportunity to be a part of and it was good to remember/feel that again.

Moving on... As mentioned in my last blog, my new ward is quite interesting. Heidi and I decided that a quote book is a must for our experiences there. Yesterday in church I was reading some of the stuff from past weeks and decided it was time to post some of the quotes on here. I realize that some of them might be "you just had to be there" quotes but I'll post them nonetheless. Disclaimer: names have been changed to protect the innocent.
October 12th, 2008--Fast Sunday
-As we stand to be read in as new members of the ward, a man enters the chapel yelling and throwing a fit. We stood for a very long time. Can you say awkward?
-The therapy dog is the first one to the pulpit.
October 25th, 2008--Primary Program
-We find out that we are now officially considered of High Priest age. There is a fireside for High Priests and their wives...plus all single women over the age of 31.
-During the Primary program Brother "Lucky" (he looks like a leprechaun) gets up and starts taking pictures of the children while they are performing.
-Our Relief Society teacher, Sister "Smiley", is on some sort of an upper. Or multiple uppers.
-A man from Jamaica says something to Heidi but she didn't know he was talking to her. I thought he said to her, "I like your bra." Later he said it again, "I like your brown." We think he meant her brown bag?
-When passing out hymn books, a woman says, "Sorry, I can only see out of one eye, okay? Thanks for sharing."
November 2nd, 2008--The Callings
-Heidi and I are called into the bishop's office-together-and are called to be Sacrament Meeting greeters-together. We thought moving to a family ward would have gotten us away from made-up callings. We are asked to coordinate reverence measures for our ward.
-When the counselor in the bishopric findso ut that our condo faces his street he confesses that he has always liked "snoopy" kind of things and that if he lived in a tall building he would have binoculars so he could see what everyone is doing. A) creepy! and B) why would you divulge that to new ward members?
-The therapy dog yelps during the sacrament prayer.
-Sister "Tina-look-alike" bears her testimony and says she doesn't know who to vote for as president. She says, "I wish God or Jesus was here because I only want to vote for them."
-Sister "Dachsund" bears her testimony about finding her teeth-the good ones for the top-inside her couch.
-The therapy dog is napping on his bath mat (yes, I said bath mat) but almost loses his life because his owner has also fallen asleep and drops a binder smack onto the mat.
November 9th, 2008--Greetings to all
-We begin our calling and hand out programs and our reverence flyer. I fail at keeping the reverence as the first lady I try to greet is so deaf that I finally end up practically yelling "How are you today sister?"
-A man who sounds exactly like Chewbacca from Star Wars randomly breaks out into scary noises and yells all during the meeting.
-Sister "Therapy Dog" stands up to give the opening prayer and nearly has a heart attack when they lower the pulpit for her. She screams and jumps back from the microphone.
-We are sustained for the 2nd week in a row as the ward greeters. What exactly does this mean?
-When talking about the signs of the 2nd Coming, Sister Dachsund wonders if the "moon turning to blood" may have aready been fulfilled because man has walked on the moon and those men had earthly blood in their veins. Very loose interpretation to say the least.
Oh yes, my friends. Good times are had by all at the Ninth Ward. So please feel free to join us any Sunday from 1-4 p.m. on the corner of 5th South and 3rd East. Or at the very least, stay tuned for more updates from the quote book!

Monday, September 22, 2008

A new ward = new challenges

So way back when I took a poll because it was time for me to change wards. Congratulations to those who voted for the family ward because that is where I have decided to go for the time being. Given that I live downtown, I was somewhat prepared for this to be an interesting experience. However, as I learned yesterday, this is going to be one heck of a ride. When we talked to the bishop he gave us this info on what is found in the boundaries of our ward (I call this "informed consent"):

  • 2 women's shelters

  • A halfway house for schizophrenics

  • Transitional housing for the recenly homeless

  • Housing for people with AIDS

  • 2 towers of fixed income living (mainly geriatrics)

  • 400 members with a 50% turnover each year (200 in, 200 out)

  • A core group of 40-some-odd folks who keep the ward afloat.

Needless to say, we are in for quite a change from the relative stability of the singles ward. But based on the above, I would argue that they could use a couple of gals with some leadership ability...and a social worker to boot. This is going to be a big adjustment for me but I am hoping that I will be able to find ways to serve that maybe I haven't experienced before. I am a little worried about my own growth in gospel knowledge/understanding but I guess that means I'll need to focus more on my personal efforts in that area.

I am excited for this new opportunity in many ways. I was also a bit scared/taken aback by a few things yesterday. Is it bad to laugh out loud at some of the stuff that happened? Heidi and I will be starting a book of quotes that we hear and I'm sure I'll post some of them here. Your sampler from yesterday, as given by an elderly woman in a flowery dress:

"Sometimes when I look into the eyes of my Dachsund, I see the eyes of Jesus."

SAY WHAT?!?! Stay tuned for more adventures in the Liberty 9th Ward.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Every couple of months or so I get together with my "married with children" friends Maree and April for a girls' night out. We usually pair some sort of activity with dinner at a random SLC place. Last time we went to the driving range to hit some golf balls and went to Mama's Southern Plantation followed by a quick stop at Sawadee Thai for some yummy desserts.

This past week we were going to take the canoe out for a spin and have a picnic up at Silver Lake. The weather didn't look too cooperative so we opted for some good times at Bonwood Bowl and dinner at Moochie's Meatballs. I have driven by there a million times but had never gone in. It's an Italian-ish place that also boasts a mean Philly cheesesteak sandwich. They also sell pottery inside. Kind of a random place but fun at the same time. We ordered 3 different dishes and 3 different desserts so we could try a variety.

Moochie's--232 E 800 S

Apparently Moochie's is quite popular at lunch time. They are only open past 3:30 from Thu-Sat so don't show up on an off night. Perhaps the best part of the whole experience involved the swamp cooler...yes, the swamp cooler. We placed our order and decided to eat outside. When we asked if they would bring our food out or how we would know to come get it, the girl said "Listen for your name through the swamp cooler." WHAT?!?!

We made our way out to the picnic tables and I decided to go try to set up my camera on my car to get a picture in front of Moochie's. When suddenly we hear the word "APRIL" booming as if it were a voice from heaven. April looked at me, thinking I had called her name from my position over by the car. And even though we should have been expecting it, it took us a minute to figure out that her name had indeed come from the swamp cooler and our food was ready. You probably had to be there but it was quite hilarious.


Moochie's is located in a house type structure. Their overflow seating is another "house" next door. Note the bathroom complete with tub full of plants. :) Again, very random...but that's what I love about finding these little places. So if you know of any random local dining establishments in northern Utah, send suggestions my way. In the meanwhile, you can check out Moochie's for yourself or if you want a preview, check out the show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" on Food Network sometime in October where Moochie's will be featured.

Interesting bathroom set-up

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Labor Day weekend in Escalante

It's kind of hard to believe that Labor Day was two weeks ago. I wanted to post this earlier but between having a nasty cold and then traveling to Phoenix and California, there hasn't been much time. Anyway, having purchased my new canoe nearly at season's end, I was anxious to get my vessel afloat. Labor Day weekend is prime camping time here in Utah so most every spot was already reserved. After much looking, I located a campsite near a body of water that we could reserve ahead of time...Posey Lake near Escalante.

I had never been to Escalante before but had heard plenty of good things about it. The only major drawback was the distance but after inviting some folks, I soon had enough to fill up the car and head down. Many thanks to Heidi, Hilary, Analee and Jose for joining me on this adventure. And let's not forget Hurley, who experienced his first real camping trip.

We loaded up the car on Friday afternoon and hit the road. Thanks to Mapquest it took us FOREVER to get to Escalante. **Note to self, don't always trust Mapquest.** Once there we still had to drive 15 miles up a gravel/dirt road to get to our campsite. After a wrong turn at a fork in the road and some impressive map reading skills by Jose we finally arrived at our camp a little before midnight and set up our home away from home.

Saturday morning we headed out to drive the scenic loop over Hell's Backbone with a stop at an overlook. It was indeed quite scenic. We then made a stop at Anasazi State Park and let's just say it's a good thing we only had to pay 2 bucks to get in. I was certainly underwhelmed. We then proceeded to the trail head for Upper Calf Creek Falls. Hurley did a pretty great job hiking over the slickrock and I think would have done much better if not for the heat.

Greeting us at the end of our journey was the waterfall and several pools of water. We jumped in to refresh ourselves and about froze to death. Jose showed us his best impression of an Acapulcan cliff diver and we also enjoyed a small natural waterslide. The sky around us began to darken and we could see a storm was rolling in.

We were able to hike back out before the rain hit but by the time we got into Escalante it had been raining at a steady clip. We stopped at the small town grocery store to get some cold medicine for Hilary as well as some needed camping snacks...oh yeah, and a toothbrush for me seeing as how I had forgotten to pack mine! My favorite thing about the store was the sign at the checkout that said something along the lines of "Please bring money when you shop. We will no longer be writing down your groceries."

We started making our way the 15 miles up the canyon to get back to our campsite and began to see the signs of flash flooding that is very common in Southern Utah. Water was pouring over the mountains in waterfalls here and there and rushing alongside the road in some places. There were also large rocks that had washed into spots in the road and some places that were extremely muddy. It was a bit nerve-wracking at points but thanks to the 4WD of my beloved Passport we were able to mush on through. I have to admit I really enjoyed digging in the mud...it had been a long time.

I had seen the weather forecast before leaving and knew it was supposed to rain and be a bit colder so fortunately we were somewhat prepared. I don't think we realized just how cold it would be though. It continued to rain all through Saturday night and most of Sunday. So we either huddled in our tents or under the small tarp I bought last minute that we rigged up over our cooking area. **Note to self, next time get a bigger tarp.** Poor Hurley was so cold that he was shaking so at one point I actually bungee corded my sweatshirt on him. **Note to self, bring warm clothes for the dog too.**

When we got a break in the rain on Sunday, we took the canoe out on the lake for a while. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it would seem Hurley did too. Sadly, for some reason none of us could figure out how to get into the kayak that Hilary had borrowed from her friend. **Note to self, try out kayak before you haul it over 500 miles roundtrip only to not be able to use it.** We then started up a campfire for a quintessential camping meal of roasted hot dogs and s'mores. We also played a game, whose name I can't remember, but consisted of "would you rather" situations and was both hilarious and disgusting at the same times. Example: Would you rather eat 1 cup of toe jam or a bowl full of hair pulled from the drain?

Sunday night was quite cold and rained some more. I wouldn't have been surprised to have woken up to snow but we were fortunate. The weather finally cleared up Monday morning but was still cold. By this time I think most of us were done with the wet and the cold so we loaded up and started back to SLC. Thanks to a tip from the campground host we were able to cut out about an hour and a half of the drive, which made things much more tolerable.

All in all, it was a good weekend adventure and the scenery was beautiful. I wish the weather had been nicer so we could have done more hiking and canoeing but I am most definitely planning to return to the area in the future. Here are some pics from the weekend:

Hell's Backbone

Jose prepping for his cliff dive

Pool above Upper Calf Creek Falls

Deep pot hole

Natural waterslide

Storm rolling in

Bungee cord fashion

Posey Lake

Canoeing it

Circled round the campfire

Hurley and I at the lake

Monday, August 25, 2008

I *heart* Jack!!

A week ago today I went to the Jack Johnson concert with my coworker and friend, Kristen. We had really great seats--the first row just beyond the mosh pit. Although Jack really isn't the kind of music you would normally mosh to. Guess somebody should have told "crazy dancer guy" that...he was either drunk or high or maybe both. He looked like he was doing some weird pow-wow dance pretty much the whole concert. Good times. But nothing could take away the wonderfulness that is Jack. His music is just so relaxing and fun and chill. Oh yeah, did I mention he's hot and he's from Hawaii and he surfs?! Bring it on! Anyway, it was a great concert and I wish every Monday could be a day spent with Jack. Here are some images from the night:

It was waaaayyyy too hot before the sun set.

Jack introducing the band.

Sing to me baby!

So much cooler when the sun went down!

My favorite pic of the night!

Yet another reason why Utahns should stop bringing their small children to concerts--use the $50 for a babysitter so your kid can sleep in a bed not on the ground!

The worst part of every concert--the parking lot traffic jam.

One thing I can say is that Jack is one of the few artists I have seen that sounds as good as or better than the recording! I could have listened to him for many more hours, but alas, every good thing must come to an end. I got to hear all of my favorites, but perhaps the best part was his encore as he came out alone...just a man and his guitar...and sang 6 or 7 more songs for us. So yes, now and forever, I *heart* Jack!


p.s. I tried to upload one of my favorite songs of the night but I think Blogger didn't like the size of it or something cuz it was a no go. Maybe I'll try later.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Costa Rica--PURA VIDA!!

I'm sad to say that it's already been a week since I left the beautiful land of Costa Rica. I wish I could go back tomorrow. I certainly do plan to return in the future and would seriously consider owning property there at some point. I found it to be a very forward thinking, socially responsible, peaceful, animal loving, friendly, organized, wonderful country and would highly recommend it to any traveler. Anyway, here's a bit of a day-by-day of my adventures there.

After a red-eye flight from Denver we arrived into San Jose about 5:30 a.m. Passing through immigration and customs there was a very easy process. We found our man with the CARAVAN sign with no trouble and were soon whisked away to our hotel, the Barcelo San Jose Palacio. We were met by our tour guide Patricia who made every effort to get us into our room earlier than the 3:00 p.m. check-in time. We were very fortunate to only have to wait until about 10:45 given that check-out for other guests wasn't until noon. We wandered around the hotel grounds a bit but then fatigue took over and we passed out on a couch in the lobby area. I'm sure we looked like scraggly vagabonds but we just couldn't help it!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that San Jose is not very humid. It was really overcast and actually quite cool. Apparently its location makes for a very temperate climate, ranging from about 60-80 degrees year round. Yeah, I could definitely handle a place like that! Anyway, we got into our room and did some heavy duty napping and lounging for a while. Our accommodations were fantastic!

We finally roused ourselves in time to go to our Caravan orientation at 6:00 p.m. We did brief introductions of our group--46 in total--and some general overviews of the tour. Our meals at this hotel were provided in a high end buffet area so we headed there and then went out by the pool area to sit and chat for a while. We were too tuckered out to do much else so we watched a little TV back in the room and hit the hay.

We all piled onto the bus for our first day of sightseeing. We had a brand new black Mercedes Benz bus...very nice...and one heck of a driver, Luis. We drove through some of the cities of the central plateau en route to Poas Volcano...a dormant volcano with a large crater with a lake. We visited Costa Rica in the rainy season so I should have paid attention to that little nudge I felt to pack my real rain jacket instead of just my emergency poncho. Oops!

We arrived at the visitors center in pouring rain and crazy wind. It was actually quite cold as we were almost at 9,000 feet. I donned my emergency poncho and started hiking up to the overlook area. It was a disappoinment as the whole crater was covered by clouds and we couldn't see a blessed thing. My emergency poncho held up quite well under the circumstances. We decided to take the loop trail back to the visitors center (which thing I will never do again)...I finally realized this was the "death hike" I overheard some girl talking about in the bathroom. At least it was pretty scenery, right?

We left and hit the road again, stopping at a little restaurant for lunch. The food was quite good...the typical Costa Rican meal is called "casado" which means "marriage" and consists of rice and black beans with either chicken, beef or fish accompanied by some sort of salad and fried sweet plantains. It is amazing and I was in heaven most of our trip. I'm actually surprised that I didn't gain any weight as I am not used to having 3 solid meals a day. I also ate more beef on this trip than I have probably in the past 6 months or more. But the food was just so dang good!

The restaurant was situated overlooking the central plateau and afforded wonderful views of the hills and valleys. I just wish it hadn't been so overcast. We finished off the day returning back to San Jose and visiting the National Museum. Quite interesting. We took some time to relax once we got back to the hotel and then Heidi and I took off to play racquetball. Yes, I said racquetball!! What luck is it that our hotel had 3 racquetball courts? I could hardly believe my eyes. It was fun to play...a perfect end to the day. We took a quick dip in the pool, which was actually quite cold and then tried to warm up a bit in the sauna. We finished with dinner and went to bed as we had an early departure the next day.

Today we departed San Jose to begin our way to the Caribbean coast. We drove through Braulio Carrillo National Park (although seriously, the whole country could just be one huge national park...it's that pretty!) We made a stop at a supposed top-rated tourist attraction--the aerial tram through the jungle canopy. It was nice but definitely overrated.

We started out on a walk through the forest with our guide. As luck would have it, the three of us who HATE snakes are the ones who ran into a nasty brown one on the side of the trail. The guide later confirmed it was a poisonous snake. Perfect! I spent the rest of the walk on edge with my eyes darting every which way hoping to not see any more yucky creepy crawlies.

We then spent about an hour and a half on the aerial tram part. It is a two-cable tram where your gondola glides through the upper level of the rain forest and you return via the other cable to see the lower level. It was very peaceful and beautiful. Perhaps a bit too peaceful though as I kept dozing off! The only wildlife we saw was some birds. I did purchase a ring and a Costa Rica patch from the gift shop though so the visit was worthwhile. Hehehe.

We continued on towards the Atlatnic coast and stopped for a wonderful lunch at a place that had a butterfly garden in the back. Costa Rica has many beautiful butterflies but if you have never seen a Blue Morpho you are missing out! Back on the bus and we eventually made it to Cano Blanco where we boarded a motorboat for a 1 & 1/2 hour ride through the rivers and canals of Tortuguero National Park. You can only get to this area via boat or plane as there are no roads. Tortuguero is sandwiched between the river/canals and the ocean.

It was really awesome to boat through the rainforest...so gorgeous! It reminded me of the Amazon on a smaller scale. We arrived at the Laguna Lodge and had a wonderful passion fruit welcome drink. The lodge consists of a number of small buildings that are divided into simple cabin type rooms. When we arrived at our room we found our triple accommodations consisted of two twin beds pushed together. Yeah right!! We went back to the reception area and were soon provided with third bed and linens.

It was definitely more warm and humid in this part of the country. We decided to take a dip in the swimming pool, hoping that no rainforest creatures had made their way into the pool to join us. The main meat at dinner was fish so Heidi and I were out of luck. Randomly there was some shredded turkey meat on the salad bar and they were also serving mashed potatoes so we had our own mini Thanksgiving meal. There really wasn't much else to do as it got dark pretty early and we didn't have a TV so we called it a night.

We were finally greeted by our first full sunny day! And what a day to have the weather cooperate. We took a morning cruise through the park's canals and saw iguanas, various birds, a troop of howler monkeys and caymans (similar to a crocodile but smaller.) After the cruise we went to the Caribbean Conservation & Sea Turtle Research Station to watch a short video about the nesting of the sea turtles. This was also known as Alyssa's nap time--I couldn't help it--put me under a fan and turn out the lights and I'm a goner. Yet another sign of old age! We then walked along the beach for about 10 minutes until we arrived at the town of Tortuguero where I had about the best tasting ice cream of my life. It was so hot there in the midday sun but I actually wish we would have had more time there to explore and shop.

Instead we had to head back to the lodge for lunch and then we attempted to takea very hot sticky uncomfortable nap. It reminded me of being on my mission and trying to sleep when there was no electricity to run my fan! Then it was time for our afternoon boat tour. We had such an excellent guide and driver and were able to see more birds, including toucans, spiders, spider monkeys (one with a baby on its back) and a cayman that came too close for comfort!

We had signed up for the night tour to watch the sea turtles nest on the beach. There were two groups--an early and late--to be determined by drawing. As luck had it, we got the late shift from 10 to midnight so we had dinner and tried to take another quick nap. We met up with our group of 9, which included the Baltimore crew from our two and an unknown couple. The organization of this tour was impressive. The conservation society divides the beach into sectors and send out two scouts on the beach who then radio back to the guides when it is time for us to come out. Apparently the turtles are very sensitive to disruptions until they actually start laying the eggs...then natural instinct kicks in and they literally can't stop the process until it is complete. We were not allowed to take cameras or any lights onto the beach. Only the guides and scouts can use red night lights so as to not disturb the turtles.

We awaited our turn and let me tell you, it was pitch dark on that beach. I thought I was going to stumble to my death a number of times. Our first time around we didn't see the turtle lay any eggs but we did see her use her huge flippers to send sand flying to cover up her nest. We had to rotate with other groups every couple of minutes so that everyone could have a chance. We were then able to follow one of the turtles on her journey back toward the water. We were this horseshoe of people walking behind her as she made her way back. It was one of the most moving and amazing things I have seen. We were able to see another turtle nesting and in our rotations got to watch as these perfect white eggs dropped into the whole she had dug. What an experience! As we waited for our boat to come back and pick us up it started to pour down rain. I was grateful we were transported back in a covered boat.

It seriously poured rain all throughthe night. I expected to wake up and have to swim to breakfast! We got back on the boat for the 1 1/2 hour journey back to Cano Blanco. At one point the water was so shallow that our boat got stuck and we were asked to move to the front of the boat to off-set the weight. The guide was pushing with stick while the driver gunned the engine but eventually our guide actually had to get out of the boat and push it from behind. It was pretty hilarious! We loaded back on the bus and along the way stopped to see the workings of a Del Monte banana factory. Quite the process I must say...and I will not take the beautiful bananas in the store for granted any more. We made another quick stop at a rain forest lodge and were able to walk about across a 300 foot suspension bridge. Kind of cool. We spent a lot of time driving today...our destination being La Fortuna near the active volcano Arenal.

We first got a glimpse of the volcano from a distance. It was so cool looking. Little did I know how close to it we would be staying! The town of Fortuna is quite a cute little town. I wouldn't mind living there if it wasn't so humid. As we drove up to our hotel, Lomas del Volcan, I could hardly believe our good fortune. We were right next to the volcano...and we each had our own little cabin with a view of the volcano off our back porch. If you go to Fortuna I would highly recommend staying here. They also had free internet access...non-existent at other hotels we stayed at. We unloaded and checked in and quickly piled back on to the bus to drive around the backside of the volcano where it is the most active. We were able to see some lava flow and a mini explosion from the top. UNBELIEVABLE! I really love this place!

Today we decided to stay back from the offered tour (another jungle cruise recommended for bird lovers). It was kind of nice to sleep in a bit and have a leisurely breakfast. Against my better judgment and fear of heights I agreed to attempt a zip line tour through the forest. We ended up with about 10 or 11 others from our group that went with us. We got suited up and my blood pressure was rising. The nice thing about this zip line is that they have a little training line for you to start out on. Leave it to me to be the special ed student that had to repeat the line twice. Somehow my hand slipped out of the brake glove the first time around...oops! Ok, so the zip line was actually really fun! I loved it and was not scared of heights at all. It was breathtaking to zip through the trees on the side of the volcano and look out at the valley below. And then we came to the Tarzan Swing. Um yeah, the only reason I didn't back out of this was that I didn't want to be the only chicken in our group who skipped it. I was soooo scared. They basically attach your harness to cable and rope hanging from a very high tree, open the gate and you step off a platform that is at least 30 feet up and then swing like a pendulum Tarzan style until they start slapping your legs at the bottom to slow you down. You can see my video here. I screamed on the first drop and felt my heart leap out of my body. Needless to say, I will never be doing that again but I am glad I didn't chicken out.

We were transported back to the hotel and had lunch. We then decided to hop a taxi into town with some other folks to do some shopping. Again, I really liked the town of Fortuna...I mean, c'mon, they actually have a Burger King! :) I was able to find a few cool souvenirs including a long tribal mask that you'll just have to come see at my house to appreciate. We then met up with the rest of our tour group who had gone on the boat tour and proceeded to the next adventure...volcanic hot springs. I was hoping it would be much more rustic but it was actually like this huge resort. They had different pools with different temperatures of geothermally heated water. The hottest we got into was about 118 degrees. Yikes! The most comfortable temp was around 93 degrees. This pool also had 3 waterslides (which they called waterfalls). We got some peer pressure from a kid in our group to go down, which I mistakenly did and got a huge wedgie on impact. We later witnessed some older lady knock herself unconscious going down. Needless to say we didn't brave it again.

We went back to the lodge and attempted a quick swim in the pool (as we were already in swimsuits) but the water was pretty cold. We had a great dinner (amazing spaghetti for me!) and then I wanted to take advantage of the free internet. Because there were only 2 computers I had to wait for a while. In the meanwhile this insane thunderstorm rolled. I have never felt, yes-felt, lightning like I did then. We were right in the middle of it all because this massive lightning would zap through the air and was almost immediately followed by absolutely deafening thunder. It was quite scary. And it didn't let up. It went on for hours. I thought I was going to be struck dead running back to my cabin from the reception lobby.

I was really sad to leave our fabulous hotel and Fortuna today. I'm sure I'll be back some other time. Today we spent a lot of time on the road as we made our way to the Pacific coast. We drove through a lot of windy curvy roads which left me with a bad headache and upset stomach due to motion sickness. We stopped in a cloud forest area and my first order of business was to buy a Coke to try to help my stomach. It was the best tasting Coke in the world...so different than ours here. Anyway, we then hiked with our naturalist guide and I really enjoyed the experience. We were given bamboo poles for a hiking stick and I wish I could have taken mine with me. Then back on the road with a stop at a "cloud forest" restaurant. They also had the best souvenir shop in all of Costa Rica and I did my part to sustain the economy by purchasing nearly the whole store!

After a very long day on the bus we finally arrived at our posh hotel, the Doubletree Punarenas. We had the all-inclusive package which certainly made the drinkers on our tour happy but we were pretty pleased to get as many virgin pina coladas as we could down! Our room was nice and had the strongest air conditioning unit I've ever experienced. We watched TV for a little while and then wandered about the resort grounds checking things out. I didn't really like the dinner buffet but I guess you shouldn't complain about free food, right? We attempted going to the night show put on by the resort but found it to be even more ridiculous than a cruise ship show so we soon ditched out on that. Candice went off on her own with some of the tour folks and we opted to spend some time relaxing.

We again opted out of the offered tour today partly because of the 6:30 a.m. departure but more because it involved a 2 1/2 to 3 hour bus ride (one way) to then hike 45 minutes (one way) to a beach before reversing the process to get back. It seemed like a lot of commitment with little return. Besides, who can resist a day in the sun at a posh resort? We had a nice breakfast and then decided to take advantage of the included non-motorized water sports. We took out some sea kayaks with the Durgin brothers from Pennsylvania. Getting the kayaks out over the waves near shore was a feat and we got a little beat up. It was nice to be out in the ocean though. After a while we decided to head back in and Heidi and I would have had an awesome ride on a wave had Candice and her Durgin not decided to ride in backwards, crash into us and just about kill everyone. I was bashed in by paddles, kayaks and some human bodies at various points while also being dragged underwater. Not fun! We all came out with bruises and cuts as proof.

We then checked out some boogie boards...the waves were really strong and I was getting frustrated because I was having a hard time catching a wave. Then on two separate occasions I thought I was near drowning so I took a breather on the beach before heading back in. My luck was better the second time around and I caught some awesome waves. Somehow, don't ask me how, a wave actually pulled off my over shirt at one point. Had my arm not been attached to the boogie board strap I would have lost my shirt. Then at another point a wave pulled my shorts off too. The ocean was not playing my friends! We all climbed out very waterlogged and made our way to the snack bar for lunch. Taking advantage of the beautiful day we spent another few hours in one of the pools. I don't know that I've spent that much time in water any one day! We enjoyed virgin pina coladas and strawberry daquiris from the swim up bar. Does life get any better?

We were lucky to have only gotten a little bit sunburned based on the amount of time we spent in the sun. We probably should have reapplied sunscreen more frequently but all in all it wasn't too bad. We went back and showered and relaxed for a bit. As dinner hadn't been too good the night before Heidi and I headed out to the snack bar before it closed as it was a safer bet. We spent some time wandering around the resort again and tried to give the night show another shot with only marginally better results so we had to ditch out again. As there really wasn't much else to do (I didn't really want to head to the discoteca for dancing) we headed back to the room for a movie before bed.

We had to make our way back to San Jose today. En route we stopped in Sarchi, the artesans' town to see where they make traditional ox carts. More souvenir shopping was on the docket and I got to put my Spanish to good use helping the Durgin family buy a beautiful wood table and chairs. I will definitely furnish my house with items frm that furniture store...a family run business with beautiful pieces! Once back in San Jose we visited a coffee plantation. Although I am not a coffee drinker, it was interesting to learn more about the process...again, not something to be taken for granted. We took a group picture there as it was our last stop on the tour. Once at our hotel we had to say goodbye to our wonderful bus driver Luis. He did an amazing job of keeping us safe, taking care of our luggage and taking extra good care of us.
We dropped off our goods in the hotel and Heidi and I walked a few blocks to a grocery store to buy some candy and food items to take back to family and friends. It was a funny adventure that required two trips to try and spend the rest of our colones! We then got ready for our "fancy" farewell dinner on the top floor of the hotel. Sadly it was the worst meal I had the whole trip. We had some toasts and played a trick on our favorite oldy, C. Wayne from Texas. Then it was time for goodbyes and a few hours of sleep before we had to leave for the airport at 4:00 a.m.

Costa Rica is wonderful. I couldn't have asked for a better experience or a better tour guide. I was sad to leave but I know that I will go back someday. If you have never experienced group travel, give it a thought. You can pack a lot in for much better prices and great accommodations. Plus, group travel is like taking a little slice of America and sticking it on a bus for a week or more. A pretty interesting social experiment if you ask me! If you're interested in touring Costa Rica, drop me a line and I can answer any questions and also give you more info on our great experience with Caravan. I had issues trying to get my slideshow to post directly onto my blog so you'll have to click here to see the pics:


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don't call cuz I won't answer...

If anyone is looking for me in the next 10 days or so I may be at any of the beautiful places pictured here or any other number of exotic locations. I have wanted to go to Costa Rica for a long time so I am very excited to finally fulfill this travel wish. I'll come back with some beautiful pictures of my own and good stories to go along with them. Until August, my friends!

The Dark Knight

I decided that I really didn't want to leave for my trip before seeing the new Batman movie. I'm glad that I had the day off and that our plane doesn't leave until tonight. This morning Heidi and I headed down to the IMAX theater at Jordan Commons...we had heard it was the way to go for this movie.

This movie is amazing!! If you haven't seen it yet, get out of your bat cave and get to the theater! Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is soooo disturbingly brilliant! I've been a Heath Ledger fan since the good ol' "10 Things I Hate About You" days but this truly is his capstone performance. It's a tragedy that we have lost his talent. I would whole-heartedly endorse an Oscar nomination and win for him.

And of course, who doesn't love Christian Bale? By far the best Batman in my book. Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) is great, as is Michael Caine (Alfred) and Gary Oldman (Lt. Gordon) but he was great too. Maggie Gyllenhaal is not my favorite but definitely a big improvement over Katie Holmes.

I loved Batman Begins and I dare say the Dark Knight is even better. So a definite 2 thumbs up and 4 stars from me. I'm really glad I saw it before leaving!

Monday, July 7, 2008

River Rat part 2

I almost spent one third of the month of June living on the Green River...and LOVED it!! I've been home from my last adventure for almost a week so I figured I'd better get something posted before life carries me elsewhere.

From June 26-30th I had the privilege of participating in the Un-limb-ited Amputee Whitewater Rafting Camp. We took 10 teenage amputees from 4 different states on the Lodore Canyon stretch of the Green River. We had 8 counselors on the Shriners side as well as 7 staff from the National Ability Center. I had never been on a multi-day whitewater trip before but let me tell you...it was awesome!

We put a lot of preparation into the camp and it came off pretty much without a hitch. As the resident social worker, my main job was to run the nightly group discussion around the campfire. I was in cahoots with our resident rec therapist of the trip, Andrea, and I have to say we pretty much kicked butt!! We did a Native American (NA) theme for the trip and tied the daily crafts/activities into the nightly topic for group discussion.

After a very long bus ride to the remote put in location in Moffat County, CO we loaded up the boats and took off. The first day was pretty chill...all flat water but we still managed to get wet with some massive water fights (a pervasive theme throughout the trip!) We got to camp and got set up and then had the campers make our tribe flag incorporating NA symbols and other things they wanted to use. I was pretty impressed with their flag and thought the tribe name was hilarious. They named us "Those Who Use the Groover." Click here if you don't know what a groover is. Anyway, our first night's discussion centered around group guidelines as well as personal goals. Everyone was given a medicine bag and introduced to the idea of earning a different bead each day as they worked towards their goals.

Day 2 was good. We had a few little rapids but still mostly flat water. It didn't take us all too long to get to our next camp. This camp had a nice long wide beach but it was hot out so we threw up a shade canopy and some umbrellas to chill. I was able to wash my hair and take a river bath...go Camp Suds! It was luxurious. Once the sun went behind the canyon wall we started our dream catcher activity. Let's just say there's a reason I don't often do crafts. It took me like 500 hours to do mine and I couldn't even follow the real pattern for the weaving. Oh well, at least I finished it! That night at group we talked about hopes and dreams and everyone was able to share what their dreamcatchers represent about them. It was an awesome group discussion and I was impressed with how people were able to express themselves through the craft. Maybe there is something to this rec therapy stuff after all!

Day 3 started our big rapids. We hit Upper and Lower Disaster Falls kind of without knowing it. Then unfortunately one of the NAC river guides totally sliced his finger down to the bone so we had to make a stop for our camp nurses to bandage him up. It was really bad! Then we hit our biggest rapid of the trip (Hell's Half Mile). It was awesome!

Our campsite that night was near some reported mountain lion sightings so we were on high alert. The river guide had to be taken further down river to be evacuated by a ranger because of his finger injury. The day's craft was tribal masks...painted/decorated on the outside to represent how others see us or their perceptions and the inside to represent how we see ourselves or our true selves. This was a big hit with everyone that participated. The group discussion was about fears and limitations (those others put upon us and those we put upon ourselves.) Everyone shared the tribal mask they had made and again, I was so impressed with the expression and openness and honesty.

Then during a lull in the discussion one of the counselors yelled "There's a SKUNK!" and a little creature scurried through the campfire. Well, pandemonium ensued and it was hysterical!! I had heard word of a prank happening that night so I didn't freak out. Instead I got to sit back and watch everybody else's reactions. It was probably the funniest thing I had seen in a long, long time. I was laughing so hard I was crying and couldn't catch my breath. People screamed and ran away...or for the kids that couldn't get up fast enough...rolled away! I later learned that Angie (the camp nurse) actually pushed one of the more fragile campers out of the way in her hurry to escape. HI--LA--RI--OUS!!!!

After the group was composed again, we finished up the night sharing the story of the great explorer John Wesley Powell...himself an amputee. It is an inspiring story of perserverance in the face of challenge after challenge. The kids really related and dug it. I think it was our best group discussion of the trip.

Day 4 was fun...most of the Shriners counselors ended up in the same boat so it was fun to get to know my coworkers better. We hit the confluence with the Yampa River and saw chances in the geology as well as water flow. This was the hottest day of our trip but also fun because we ran into more rapids...not as wild but longer and just fun overall. Unfortunately our boat missed the campsite for the night and long story short we all had to go to a different campsite a bit further downstream.

There was little shade there and LOTS of mosquitoes (we had been plagued a few other nights as well) so things were kind of miserable all around. The craft of the day was hemp necklaces incorporating the beads everyone had earned each day...to represent the cumulative experience and achieved goals of the trip. We had a super late dinner followed by group without a campfire. Everyone was able to share what the experience meant to them. Each camper and then counselor was able to cut a piece of the flag to take with them which was kind of cool. Overall I think we exceeded expectations for the crafts and the group discussion. We got good feedback.

Day 5 was fun...lots of rapids one right after another. We had a bit of a scare flying over this huge rock, which almost flipped the boat. Then we got stuck in this wicked eddy right behind the rock and it was crazy trying to get out. We had to high side twice to avoid flipping but it was pretty cool.

I was sad and glad to see the trip end. It was such a great experience for so many reasons. Some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen, wicked rapids, big horn sheep butting heads, neverending stars, yummy dutch oven food, new and/or strengthened friendships, LOTS of laughs, and some of the most amazing and inspiring teens I have ever met. What a blessing...and to think I got paid for it. I hope I am lucky enough to be involved again next year. In the meanwhile, enjoy a few pics from the scrapbook:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

River Rat part 1

Well, it's been a while since I've posted on here...not because I've lacked things to share, but rather I've lacked the time to share them. This has been a busy month and next month is even worse. So before I head out on my next adventure I thought I'd better at least try to post on one of my more recent adventures.

As has become the tradition every June, the Labyrinth Canyon Ladies Club hit the high waters of the Green River from June 12th-14th. We decided to add an extra day to our trip this year so we could actually take some time to enjoy the trip a bit more. It was a luxury to set up camp during daylight and not have to hurriedly cook our meal and jump in bed. Not to mention actually getting to hike and explore other parts of the canyon. Perhaps the best thing was that we didn't have to kill ourselves paddling full-speed at any point. I guess we should give some credit to the high water from the spring run-off as well.

Anyway, we had the small 4 person crew of Kim, Analee, Heidi and myself again this year. We had a blast and really the only big disappointment is that we didn't get to swim as much as we would have liked. The water was FREEZING!! Thanks again to the snow melt. Other than that the biggest tragedy was me getting stuck along the banks of the river in the thick quicksand mud. I honestly almost had to sacrifice my Chaco to the river the first night because I was up to my knees and had to submerge both my arms to first get my foot loose and second pull my Chaco out. DISGUSTING!

I love doing this trip every year. There is something amazing about the simplicity of floating along the river with the canyon walls towering above us. It is also wonderful to spend time with good friends and celebrate the forging of our relationship on this same trip back in 2005. I'm grateful that Kim and Analee, both newly married, were willing to leave the husbands to fend for themselves for a few days while we enjoyed our bonding time with nature.

The day after tomorrow I am off to the Green again...this time to the northern portion (Lodore Canyon) for a whitewater amputee camp with my work. I'm sure I'll have stories to share afterwards. In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures from our canoe trip:

LCLC trip 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

LOST party!

Yesterday was a day for two big events--Heidi's birthday and the season finale of LOST. We decided to celebrate them together so we had a LOST bbq and then watched the finale. Everyone was assigned to dress up as a different character and it was pretty awesome. I know, I know...we're LOST geeks, what can I say? And thanks to those who aren't LOST fans but still played along. Besides, every adult needs a good excuse to dress up in costume more than just on Halloween! So here are some pics from last night. You'll see the real character on followed by the person in costume :