Friday, October 16, 2009


I think I just died and went to Austenland:

These (and more!) all all available from Brookish on Etsy.


I've been off and on with my scrapping since I've been so busy lately. But here's what I've been able to get done:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some traditions are meant to be broken

We've tried on three separate occasions to see the balloons at Balloon Fiesta. Every time we've gone, the event has been canceled due to weather. So it's become a family joke that we have a tradition of NOT seeing the balloons every year. Ever the optimist, I wanted to go again this year. Now, for those of you who are not from Albuquerque, this is no minor feat, especially with children. The mass ascension begins at 7:00 am. This means that you should be situated well before then. It's also quite chilly this early on an October morning, so it requires packing and hauling coats, hats, scarves, mittens, and blankets. We're also too cheap to buy breakfast at the fair, so we have to pack breakfast for everyone and hot chocolate. (Interesting fact: the breakfast burrito was invented at Balloon Fiesta.) This means that you have to wake up at 5:30 at the latest. Not so very fun. Once you get to the Balloon Fiesta, you have to haul all this gear around plus chairs, strollers, and children.

Given our history with the Balloon Fiesta, Aaron was understandably reluctant to go through all of this to not watch the balloons. But he indulged me, and I'm sure glad he did. The weather was gorgeous. There was hardly any wind, and it was even warm enough that we didn't need most of the cold weather gear we brought. Friday was the Special Shapes Rodeo, so the had the most fun balloons taking off together. The kids were enthralled and kept changing their mind about which was their favorite. It's really an incredible experience to watch that many balloons take off at once. You are also right there on the ground and nothing is roped off, so you can be right next to the balloons.

After all the shapes ascended, we figured the morning was over and began packing up to go home. Then we noticed a mass of balloons descending on the park. Hundreds of regular balloons were participating in various competitions, and it was so much fun to watch them. They tried to throw things from the balloons to hit targets, and there was also a race to see who could grab one of five poles. It was so amazing to see the control those balloonists had. There were so many times that the balloons were in such close quarters that you just KNEW some were going to collide, but it didn't happen.

I loved the moon in this shot.

Aaron's favorite balloon. This is from Lithuania and it features two famous Lithuanian aviation pioneers.

Someone left the package of bear claws open, and Averi helped herself to about six before we caught her.

Aaron and I have decided that we'll need to take a hot air balloon ride one day. It would just seem wrong to have lived in Albuquerque all this time and never experience that.

This picture of Averi just captures how we all felt when it was over: spent.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bahama Mama

We're finally back and decompressed from our ultra-vacation! After ELEVEN DAYS away for our 5th anniversary, we were definitely ready to come home. We missed the kids, we missed our beds, and we missed our projects. I have no idea how people can just take off and travel the world for months or years. I've decided that a week is the perfect amount of time, unless it's just a "chilling" vacation where we're all with family (and our kids are with us). But it really was a wonderful trip and we're so grateful to Aaron's mom for helping us out. We'd be real homebodies if it weren't for her.

We started off with a few days in Washington, DC. On our first day we visited most of the monuments and the Holocaust Museum. I bought a new camera lens specifically for this trip and I was SO excited to use it. So we made sure to pack the camera and all the lenses in our backpack before we left the hotel. When we got to the Washington Monument, I grabbed for the camera, shot, and...nothing. I had left the battery in the charger at the hotel. So no pictures from that first day.

On the second day I triple checked to make sure we had all our camera equipment and then we headed off for the Capitol Building. Obviously we wanted to make up for our lack of camera the day before, because we took a million photos while we were there.

Then we hopped over to the United States Botanic Gardens. We listened to a fun (if odd) cooking demonstration. The chef received her training in a "raw foods" school, which doesn't believe in cooking food and is vegan. She made a "carrot cake" that she was really proud of. It just tasted like carrot slaw with frosting.

To avoid the downpour that then hit, we ducked inside the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I didn't realize before we went that all of the Smithsonian Museums are free. It makes it very easy to pop in and out and hit the highlights. Of course we didn't do that. We spent almost the entire afternoon on the first floor and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We got to see Julia Child's kitchen (they actually dismantled her entire kitchen, including her famous blue pegboard, and reinstalled it in the museum). That was definitely our favorite exhibit at the museum. Now we'll have to go see Julie and Julia. (Not likely. I'll probably have to rent it while Aaron's out of town.)

On Sunday we needed to board the cruise ship, so we called down to the front desk at the hotel (which is in Baltimore) and ask them where we go to get on the cruise ship. She asked us where it docked (this should have been the first warning sign) and I told her that all my documentation said was "Port of Baltimore." After a few minutes, she got back on the phone and told us that a map and directions would be waiting for us down at the front desk. We assumed that this meant she actually knew where we should be going. She handed us the map and informed us that we could simply take the light rail and walk about 4 blocks to the harbor. Fabulous! We had all of our luggage with us, but a few blocks should be no problem. We try to exercise regularly, right? However, after walking forever with no sign of a cruise ship (which are incredibly large and impossible to overlook), we realized that she had simply typed in "Port of Baltimore" in Google maps. Google then selected some random address at some point in the harbor. It turned out that the ship was docked on the OPPOSITE side of the harbor (which is very very large) and required a significant taxi ride. My poor hands were blistered from toting my luggage all over the city.

We had 2 days at sea before we reached Port Canaveral, so we had plenty of time to decompress and explore the ship. The problem was, we had too much time. We cruised on Carnival, which we had heard of as "the party ship." Since I had never spoken to someone who had actually traveled on Carnival, I didn't know what this meant or if this was an undeserved reputation. Unfortunately, the reputation is well deserved. If you don't drink or gamble, there is very little to do on the ship. And out of what's left, well over half were poorly veiled ads (art auctions, "detox" seminars, etc.)

The ship did have a cool-looking waterslide:
However, we wouldn't know if it was any good or not, since it was never running when we went. I don't know if it was turned on the entire 7 days we were there. The ship also had a golf course. But you could only check out clubs and balls from 11 to 5, and it was closed the majority of the time due to wind. So we spent a lot of time wandering, swimming, exercising (we took a spinning class that was KILLER), and watching TV in our room. And of course eating. That's the fantastic thing about a cruise ship. You can eat all day if you want to, and the food is quite good. We did karaoke the first night, which was fun, but the other karaoke nights they held tryouts for the talent show, and we're not nearly good enough for that! It's also not as much fun to sing karaoke with people who take themselves so seriously.

I did get a pedicure and manicure at the spa and Aaron won a free back massage, so that was fun.

Here are a few shots from our time on the ship:

Super handsome guy at sunset.

Inside our cabin doing sudoku. That was the only word game they had available in the "library" (which was open for one measly hour a day).

For some reason, we thought that a picture of me eating a huge slab of meat while decked out for formal night would be funny. We were right.

Our first port day was in Port Canaveral. To avoid the racket known as shore excursions, we rented a car and drove down to Orlando to Aquatica, Sea World's new water park. We got the car, parking, and both of our admissions (after some serious internet bargain hunting) for the cost of ONE person if we went through Carnival. And it was dang fun. We didn't want the hassle of a camera (for obvious reasons), but this is what the park looked like:

We wished our kids would have been there with us. They had so many fun kid slides and play areas!

This was our favorite ride. The really nice thing about Aquatica is that almost all of the rides are doubles. It makes things much more fun. We were also there at the perfect time of year. The weather was warm but not blistering. We were also there on a Wednesday, so there was hardly anyone there. It was fantastic! I would definitely recommend it if you're ever in Orlando.

The next day we went to Nassau, Bahamas. We booked a snorkeling trip through Stuart Cove. I'm a licensed scuba diver (all the members of my family are), but Aaron hasn't had a chance to get his license, so we had to settle for snorkeling. Getting him certified is definitely on the agenda for next year. The tour company took us to three spots, but it was definitely the last that was a highlight of the trip. They took us to an area where the ocean floor dropped from 40 feet to 6000 feet. This is where Caribbean reef sharks congregate to feed. They lowered a bait box to the ocean floor and a whole slew of sharks (15 or so) started swarming around it. Then they let the snorkelers go out and watch. Aaron and I were the first ones in and the last ones out, so we had quite a bit of time out there watching the sharks. After everyone was back on the boat, they pulled the bait box up to the surface and the sharks were close enough to touch. It was so incredible. I wanted to be a marine biologist for FOREVER when I was younger and Eugenie Clark, also known as the Shark Lady, was my hero.

See that fin above the water? That's how close we were. We're sitting on the deck on the back that's about 2 inches above the water.

I loved the house colors in the Bahamas. Pink, lavender, yellow, mint...they're so lovely and girly!

That evening we went out to look around Nassau and I got suckered into getting my hair braided. I'm sure that I paid far more than I should have, and she didn't do what I wanted at all, but oh well. Live and learn. I'm usually a pretty good negotiator, but sometimes my brain takes a vacation and I'm left wondering, "What just happened?" But my bangs we're far too long and I just wanted an excuse to feel like a "Bahama Mama."

Okay, I just realized you can't see the braids at all when the photo is that small. But do you see what I mean by the cruise ship being HUGE? It dwarfs all the buildings and trees. Our ship was definitely the largest docked.

Here's a close up of the 'do:

The next day we docked in Freeport. We didn't do any shore excursions here because of the racket going on between the tour operators and Carnival (don't even get me started), so we thought we'd just hang out. Wrong! Freeport (at least by the port) is BORING. Seriously. Just a few cheesy souvenir shops and that's it. Maybe the rest of the island is better, but we don't know.

We had another sea day while we sailed back to Baltimore. This is when we had the epiphany that seven days was the perfect amount of vacation time for us. Because by Friday we were done. And we didn't return until Monday. By Saturday evening I was ready to call Southwest to see how much it would cost to change our tickets so we flew home on Sunday instead of on Monday, but Aaron talked me off the ledge. What made it so frustrating was the fact that we were bored silly on the ship. On our last cruise (Royal Caribbean) they had so many fun activities. They had a ton of dance classes, which I loved, since I know nothing about dancing. So that was one thing I was really looking forward to on this cruise, since I actually had someone to dance with this time. Nothing. Finally on Saturday they had a country line dance class scheduled! Sa-weet! We were so excited. We went, began learning a dance, and then we were kicked off the stage. After 15 minutes. In the middle of a song. To make room for BINGO. Arghhh!!! I was so frustrated.

We couldn't even go to the dance shows in the evenings, which on our previous cruise were very fun (at least as far as I can remember). We were so offended by the sexual nature of the shows that we walked out in the middle of one. They billed the shows as "Vegas-style" entertainment. We thought that meant campy with fun costumes. Wrong. They meant the other type of Vegas entertainment. The dancers were gyrating in thongs on stage. And there were kids in the audience. Even the ventriloquist was full of ribald humor. It made me so mad.

We got off the boat on Sunday in Baltimore. We decided to visit the B&O Railroad Museum. You know that square in Monopoly? It stands for Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Betcha never knew that. Now you can amaze all your friends the next time you have game night with your stunning collection of impressive but irrelevant trivia.

Anyway, the museum was hosting the tour for Disney's A Christmas Carol that will be coming out this fall. Admission was free, so we thought, "Why not?" Stupid thought. The economist in me should have known that when price isn't used for rationing, something else is. In this case it was queuing. We stood in line for over 2 hours to tour the show train and see the preview. Was it cool? Definitely. Was it worth the wait? Don't think so. Did we have anything better to do? Not really.
Carolers to serenade us while we were waiting.

The saltiest tub I popcorn I have ever had. But we were starving.

The train that housed all the tour exhibits.

Bob Cratchit's costume.

The suits and cameras used for 3-D animation.

Scale model of Big Ben.

Examining the movie concept art.

In my sexy 3-D glasses.

On our final night in Baltimore, we decided to eat crab cakes. I don't know if it was the restaurants we picked or the area we were in, but they were the biggest rip off. You would think that since the crabs were hauled out of the water 20 feet from where we were sitting that the price would be cheaper than you could get in Albuquerque. You would be wrong. I'm afraid that I was so mad about the price the entire time I was eating my dinner that I couldn't enjoy them at all. I really need to learn how to let things go.

So there you have it. If you stuck through this post, I applaud you. Overall, we had a really great time. We learned a few things (like don't cruise with Carnival, check out the prices of crab shacks before you're starving and weary, and return home BEFORE you're ready to call it quits) and we were delighted to come home to our babies, but I'm sure that it will be a matter of weeks before we're chomping at the bit for our next vacation.