Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Carnival Elation recap Day 3: Running at sea and a feast in Cozumel

My alarm clock rang bright and early around 6:30am. I had these amazing plans to go up to the top of the ship and put in about 3 miles around the jogging track while I took in the beautiful sights of the ship pulling into Cozumel.

And then there was this.....

And my running plans were destroyed. There was a 35mph cross wind on the upper decks so they were closed to the guests. So I did the next best thing, I hit the treadmill. Ever tried running on a treadmill at sea? It's laughable and I'm shocked I didn't twist my ankle. I had to hold on to the rail of the treadmill the whole time to maintain my balance and we weren't even in any sort of rough seas, they were calm as could be but the back and forth motion of the ship means my feet were all over that treadmill. Still, I finished my 3 miles and headed back to the room to shower and get ready to go ashore.

After waiting in a long line to get off of the ship, we were finally walking down the pier heading toward the taxis. I snapped this cool perspective of the ship along the way.

I'd planned for my mom and I to spend the entire day at Nachi Cocum Beach Club, an all inclusive beach club that is only open to 100 pre-registered guests per day - in other words, no crowds! It was just $55 per adult and well worth the money. We spent about 4 hours at this place and it was absolute paradise.

My view from my lounge chair - who wouldn't want to stare at this all day?

I took several dips in the warm, inviting water.

I laid in the hammock.

From the moment we got there, our waiter never let our drinks stay empty for long. Even when I was laying in the hammock, he would seek me out to bring me more drinks. He was amazing. I wanted to bring him home and let him serve me drinks forever.

We each had 4 food credits, which could be used for any combination of appetizer, soup, salad, entree or dessert. We soon ordered our first feast of the day, a plate of nachos and chips w/guacamole. The guacamole was some of the best I've ever had and I'm not a big fan of it to begin with, so it says a lot that I devoured it - even my mother who doesn't care for avocados devoured it.

After feast #1, I took more dips in the ocean, made more trips to the hammock and in between all of it, read my book and drank my drinks.

Eventually, we ordered feast #2, enchiladas and fried tacos, which came with more guacamole. I've never felt so fat in my life.

After feast #2, we couldn't even think about feasts #3 and #4 that were waiting for us so we just let our other food credits go unused.

Our waiter brought more drinks, including this bad boy that did me in for the entire day.

After this, the taxi ride back to the port and haggling over overpriced children's clothing was a blur. We did buy some fabulous coffee, strawberry, mango and coconut flavored tequilas to bring back to the States with us.

The party continued once I was back on board and I'm pretty sure I showed up to dinner that night fairly tipsy. Sorry to my tablemates (haha, little did they know the following night I'd show up beyond tipsy after a martini tasting). My mom, on the other hand, wasn't handling the combination of too much food, sun and alcohol too well and spent most of the night in our stateroom sick. I went to a game show and the love and marriage show (which I participated in back in 2005 on our honeymoon cruise!) then I checked on my mom who seemed to be feeling better, so we headed up to the Mexican dance party on the Lido Deck. We just watched, we're not really into participating in those kinds of things. It was fun and then before long we headed back to the stateroom to catch some zzzz's.

Stay tuned for one final installment, the last day at sea which I am thrilled to report I finally got to go for a run up top on the open deck!

Friday, May 24, 2013

I have a kindergartener

When I was a kid, we didn't have pre-school graduation. We didn't have kindergarten graduation. However, the last 3-4 days, those pictures and stories have been flooding my Facebook feed. Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I enjoy seeing proud parents showing off their smart kids! It sure beats reading another rant about politics or religion.

My kiddo didn't have a pre-k graduation, but she did have a ceremony where she got a certificate. It was cute watching her wait for her name to be called, spring out of her seat up to the superintendent and give him a hearty "THANK YOU!" when he gave her the certificate.

What wasn't cute was that there were 200 people crammed into a very small cafeteria which, no joke, was about the size of the downstairs of my house. Granted, we've got a good 1000 square feet down here or so, but try cramming all of those people into my house and yeah - no thanks. The school is a special needs school, so the children are hypersensitive to crowds, lights, noises, etc and I have to laugh because even I was going into sensory overdrive with the crowd, lights and noise from the kids crying!

There were 2 actual graduates of the school - the school is ages 6 months through 21 years. One of the graduates has downs syndrome and I can't even begin to tell you what it was like watching him graduate! It was so special and his parents were beaming so much that I thought the smiles would burst right off of their face! It was heartwarming and incredible. Their son was grinning ear to ear the entire time. It brought tears to my eyes to think of all of the things we take for granted that other families struggle so hard to achieve.

I admit much of the ceremony was boring and I found myself thinking a lot about how far Maddie has come in the last year since I sent her off to school that first day. She wasn't a stranger to school. She'd been enrolled in a private pre-k3 program last year, but it wasn't designed to get her ready for real kindergarten. It was just learning and socializing with other kids. This year was the real deal and her teachers/aides worked hard to get her ready to transition to kindergarten. I dropped her off the first day of school and she ran into that classroom and didn't look back. She's gone from being recommended to being in a self contained classroom to being in the general ed kindergarten room at the school she'll transition to. She's always amazing me with how far she's come and people always give me credit for it, but the credit is all on her. She always tries and never gives up. Sometimes I feel like I'm just along for the ride and that my job is to keep her from getting killed LOL.

Here's a comparison pic first day of school vs last day of school:

If you look at where the dress falls in relation to her knees, you can see how much she's grown this year! She looks bigger in the pic on the left because she's closer to the camera, but she has grown probably 3 inches this year if not more.

I'm so proud of her and I can't wait to see her excel in kindergarten, but I won't lie, I am afraid of bullies. Kids already think she's weird because she flaps her arms and says strange things, plus her speech is still far behind - it's more like that of a 3 year old. Hopefully she can make a friend or 2 who will help her in bully situations.

Hope everyone has a great start to their summer!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Carnival Elation recap: Day 2, Beautiful Day at Sea

The second day of our trip started off wonderfully.

The evening before, we'd been given coupons for a free drink (coffee, soda, or a handful of "classic cocktails") but the catch was that we could only redeem them in the main dining room during breakfast or lunch. *groan* I try to avoid the main dining room for those meals because I like to get my meal from the Lido buffet or one of the specialty restaurants and take it to overlook the sea while I eat. Plus, service in the MDR can be kind of slow. But, tell me I get a free drink and oh how my perspective changes!

My mom and I got up around 8, threw our swimsuits and cover ups on, gathered our belongings and headed to the MDR for breakfast.

 This day was my mom's birthday! She was turning 60 and I made sure everyone knew it. I gave her the purple beads that say "60 CLEARLY A CLASSIC" and the pin that says 60 AND SENSATIONAL and told her she had to wear them all day long, no exceptions except for during our formal attire pictures we'd be taking later that night. She happily obliged and sported her beads and pin all day.

We went to the MDR where we both ordered an omelet, bacon and hash browns for breakfast. Felt a bit strange ordering drinks at 8:15 in the morning but she ordered a mai tai and I got a mojito, no alcohol. I'd been having some problems digesting some sugar free ice cream I'd eaten the night before we left for New Orleans and alcohol was only making the situation worse even though the ice cream had long been digested by that point. So I was abstaining from alcohol the entire day in an effort to preserve my stomach for the day of drinking we'd be doing in Cozumel the following day.

As we left the MDR, we ran into Jorge, our waiter from dinner and he was totally judging us for drinking at 8:15 in the morning. Haha! We loved Jorge.

After breakfast, we headed up to the deck above the Lido deck and got situated in a couple of loungers where I would plan to stay until the early afternoon. We'd wanted to see the Master Mixologist competition and where we were sitting, we had a great view for it. I happily picked up my book Born To Run and started settling into it.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into it. I am extremely disappointed by the book. I won't write a review of it here at this time, but to quickly hit on the reasons for my disappointment, it seemed to jump all over the place with no rhyme or reason, the storyline was too far fetched but this was supposed to be a work of non-fiction and I knew I'd have problems with the way the book was written and edited the moment I came across an instance where the author used the term "could care less." I am not a perfect writer, but you can bet if I were being paid to write a book, I'd be a bit more careful in the editing.

Eventually, my mom got up to leave because she was hot. This was unfortunate because as I quickly found out, people seem to think it's OK to ask other people who are sitting alone if they'll get up and move to accommodate a group of people who want to sit together. The first person who asked me to do this also thought it was OK to grab my foot to ask if I'd move. Um- yeah. Don't touch me. He asked me to move 2 seats down. I wasn't thrilled to do this because I'd been there for 2 hours at this point and was so comfortable, but I also didn't want it to be awkward should I be around these people in an elevator later on in the cruise, so I gathered my things and prepared to move. In my quest to move just 2 seats down, I burned -literally burned- the bottoms of my feet on the hot deck. I was pissed! Here I go trying to be nice to some people and I get my feet burned!

So I just left. I didn't say a word to them either, I just gave them my infamous icy glare. I didn't want to be around them after that and made my way to another part of the ship to find another place to sit. I settled on this.

Well that's a better view than the one I had. Again, 1 empty chair on both sides and twice I heard people in groups of 3 walk by and talk about "asking that lady to move" to which I can only assume was me since I was the only single in the whole area. I waited for them to just try it, but thankfully they kept walking. I wasn't moving again.

Eventually I was hungry for lunch so I gathered my things and headed for the wok. Oh how I love the wok! So many delicious vegetables stir fried and steamed to perfection. I ran into my mom while trying to find a place to sit down to watch the Master Mixologist competition and we finally nabbed some seats.

After lunch I had to head to the gym. I was committed to working out every day of my trip. Most people think that's crazy, but I think it's just part of my day that I enjoy doing so I don't mind doing it on vacation either. Plus, with views like this, I totally did not mind giving up a part of my day to work out while enjoying beautiful scenery.

I rode the exercise bike for a while and then did some core/legs. I thought it was odd there were mirrors on the ceiling.

After my workout, I headed back to the room to shower and get ready for the formal dress up night. Mom and I strolled up and down the Promenade Deck getting our picture taken against cheesy backdrops. We then met our favorite photographer of the trip, Thewin from Thailand. He was so funny. He thought we were sisters (WTH?) and encouraged us to "make sexy face" for every picture. We got to laughing so hard at him that our pictures turned out hilariously, capturing us in mid-laugh most of the time. We had probably 5 or 6 pictures that he took. He would arrange single strands of my hair around my shoulders and face and then tell me "ahh yes. Perfect, perfect. I like that. OK. Now I want you to throw back your shoulder and make sexy face at the camera." Instead of making sexy face, I'd made a gut busting laugh face. He was hilarious. My mom ended up buying one of his pictures. I wish I had a copy of it, but I don't.

Pretty soon, we headed down to the bar to get our pre-dinner drink. I had this fabulous Miami Vice smoothie -strawberry smoothie mixed with pina colada smoothie- while my mom had a Hurricane Wave daiquiri - hurricane daiquiri layered with banana daiquiri.

Each night as we grabbed a drink before dinner, I was in awe of how beautiful and grand the atrium was where this particular bar was located.

The picture doesn't do it justice.

We headed to dinner where we dined on fabulous prime rib and baked potatoes. Since it was my mom's birthday, they brought her a piece of banana cake with a candle in it and several waiters came to sing Happy Birthday to her.

In the background of the last picture are 2 of our tablemates that we loved so much, Joyce and Bob from Arkansas.

After dinner, we went to the big Las Vegas type production show, a song-and-dance type of deal. It was excellent - and also my third time seeing it with it being the third time I've been on the Elation in the last 2 years. They don't change out their shows very often but I didn't mind because this is one of the better shows I've seen, featuring music from the 50s to the 80s and well choreographed dance numbers that meshed seamlessly with the music.

We went to one of the comedy shows afterward, but I didn't care much for the guy. There was one other comedian on board and I felt he was much better at his job than the guy we saw on this night. My mom stuck around for the other comedian, but I was so tired and had to get up early to work out that I headed back to the room to go to bed around 10:45. I know, party pooper!

We had a dog towel animal waiting for us on this night.

I headed to bed and slept so soundly that I didn't even hear my mom come back in the room. Stay tuned for my favorite day ever, our day at Nachi Cocum Beach Club in Cozumel.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Mother's Day getaway on the Carnival Elation

The idea of doing something special for my mother's 60th birthday had been in the back of my mind for a while. After discussing it with my husband, we decided the timing was exactly right and I decided to pull the trigger and ask her if she'd want to go for a mother-daughter getaway. My husband would only need to take off of work on Thursday afternoon and Monday morning to assist our daughter with getting on and off the bus since he gets every other Friday off and the birthday vacation would fall over his 3-day weekend week.

Thus, the birthday/mother's day/mother-daughter getaway was born. On May 9, we would embark on the Carnival Elation out of New Orleans for 4 nights on board the ship, including 2 full days at sea and a 7-hour stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

My mom's flight got in to New Orleans on May 4th. I'm so glad she came in a few days early. We had no way to know it when I booked her flight, but it would turn out that she would have just moved to a new house in the days/hours before leaving to come down here, so by coming early, it allowed her to get some much needed rest before we left for our trip. She spent her days here sleeping while I was working and it worked out beautifully for everyone.

Eventually, May 9th was upon us. We donned our cheesy matching t-shirts, I saw my daughter off on the bus, we packed up the car with our many pieces of luggage and headed off on the 90 minute journey to New Orleans. We arrived at the cruise terminal around 10am, paid, dropped off 2 bags and a hefty tip to bribe the porter not to "lose" our luggage, parked and headed down the elevator to the check-in area.

This was my 4th cruise out of New Orleans and checking in was, as usual, a breeze, made even breezier by the fact that I'd gone ahead and forked over the extra money to buy the priority benefits that allowed us to check in at a separate, dedicated line, get on the ship before everyone else and go to our room to drop off our luggage before the rooms were actually ready for everyone else. By avoiding the regular check-in line, we were able to check in immediately, then were escorted to a separate seating area where we were in the 2nd group of people allowed to get on the ship after a wedding party was shuffled on board.

This is the photo they take of you while you're waiting to board the ship.

We immediately headed to our room. Since we had the priority benefits, it was supposed to be ready for us even though the other rooms weren't ready. Well, it wasn't ready. We were allowed to leave our luggage but we couldn't stay in the room to unpack because apparently our priority status had been overlooked. I wasn't too happy, but I got over it because at least I didn't have to drag the bags around the ship. That in and of itself is 1000000% worth the price of buying the priority benefits. I can't stand lugging the bag around the ship waiting for the room to become ready. One thing that was nice was that both of our pieces of checked luggage made it to the room either before or while we were in it - I've never gotten my checked luggage so fast! Sometimes we're still waiting on it when we go to bed the first night only to find it finally magically appear overnight.

We headed up to Tiffany's, the Lido buffet restaurant to enjoy a lunch overlooking the Mississippi River. 

After lunch, my mom went to the Drama Bar (yes, that's the name of it lol) to get her first drink of the trip. She is normally a beer drinker, but she decided she wanted to branch out and try some fruity drinks this trip. She got a Pina Colada.

After the drink, we headed back to the room to see if it was ready and unpack. I quickly slid outside the room to decorate the door, complete with an embarrassing picture of my mom from her youth.

After unpacking, we explored the ship some. I didn't take a lot of pictures of the ship because this was my 3rd time on board this particular ship and I didn't feel like taking pictures of everything I've taken pictures of before - nor do I feel like digging those pictures out!

We finally waited for the lifeboat drill to start and it was 30 minutes late. We headed to our designated lounge and they went through the spiel and I thought that was that. Ohhhh no no no. They then made us actually go up the stairs to the lifeboats. Ever tried to shuttle 2200 people somewhere in a span of 5 minutes? Yeah it took 10 minutes for everyone to get where it needed to go - and then we were literally there for less than 30 seconds (NO joke!!) and my mom and I had to split up because the elevators were disabled from use during the drill and my mom can't walk up stairs due to knee and leg problems. I could not remain in the lounge with her though since I was able-bodied. Yeah - not happy. By the time I found my mom and we got outside for the sailaway party, we'd already missed the 180 degree turn the ship made to head down the river!

We grabbed a fruity drink and headed up to the top to watch as we sailed down the river. It's an 8-hour journey to the mouth, so there was plenty to see.

We headed to the room to get ready for dinner and headed to get a drink before heading to dinner. We had a 6pm dinner seating and were the first to arrive to our table of 10. After about 10-15 minutes, a group of 4 showed up. They turned out to be great dinner companions. It was 2 brothers and their wives traveling together and the conversation with them never stopped. We had a lot in common, especially with an Air Force affiliation. They were interesting, funny people. I already miss them. On this night for dinner, I had an excellent plate of beef brisket and vegetables.

After dinner, we headed back to our room to find our beds turned down with our nightly newsletter, chocolates and towel animal on my bed.  We soon headed out to get some more drinks and catch the Welcome Aboard Show.  Once it was over, we wandered and drank a little more and then headed to bed. It'd been a long day and my stomach was hurting from some sugar free ice cream I'd eaten the day before. In fact, my stomach hurt so badly that I wouldn't drink a single drop of alcohol at all the next day!

Stay tuned for day 2, our beautiful, sunny day at sea.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I'm ba-ack!

Guess who's back
Back again
I'm back
Tell a friend!

Sorry, cheesy song lyrics pop into my head from time to time. They're usually not cheesy until I make them that way. That's just how I roll....

I just got back from four glorious days aboard the Carnival Elation cruise ship. We embarked in New Orleans, spent a day at sea, a day in Cozumel, another day at sea and then back to real life today.

The cruise was wonderful and I'll probably write a more comprehensive review later because well, that's how I remember things. Ask me about any trip I've been on in the past and I can't tell you 3 things about it until I go back and read my review for it and then suddenly I remember obscure things I never even wrote about.

For now, I'll leave you with my favorite pic of the whole trip. Please forgive the fact that the water/horizon line is not a perfect flat line across the picture, I'd had a lot, lot, lot of drinks in me by this point and the world was starting to swirl around me.

This pic is a combination of 3 things I love in life....a proper beach (the kind with nice, clear water since I don't get in water I can't see my legs in), a fruity drink (whether alcoholic or not) and....well, not a good book because a. I don't really read. GASP I know. I just don't and b. this was not a good book at all despite hundreds of glowing reviews on Amazon where I am convinced the author has paid those people to write about his poorly organized, poorly written, poorly edited book about my third love in life: running.

Until next time....

Monday, May 6, 2013

Random Monday Musings

My world has been spinning. I've had hardly any time to think, let alone sit down and write an entry.

My mom is here visiting. We actually got to go out on a date night Saturday night and didn't have to pay for a babysitter or be home early enough so as not to offend the babysitter by the late hour. It was bizarre. So bizarre we were still home by midnight where I was so inebriated I promptly passed out on the couch and finally made it up to the bedroom around 3am.

And then I got up 5 hours later and ran. Because I don't care if it's raining, snowing, sleeting, I had a rough night, I had a late night, I had insomnia, insert any excuse here short of injury or extreme illness, I don't miss my runs.

I can feel my runner's knee creeping back in on me. I am at the point where I just don't know what to do about it. I've kept my runs to under 5 miles since my last 1/2 a month ago and I even took 10 days off with complete rest on my leg. Not that it saved my tattoo because it's still shedding and already looking miserable. A foot tattoo is a bad idea, but you know what? It means a lot to me and I don't care if it looks downright stupid from the discoloration, I would not change it if I could go back and do it all over again.

I've got 2 busy days of work left before I embark on a kid-free mother's day vacation. I'm getting hyped up for that for sure. I'm going somewhere that will hopefully be warm and sunny. Since, you know, despite the fact that I live on the Gulf Coast, it never got out of the 60s the past 2 days.

I distinctly remember when I got here exactly 3 years ago today on May 6, 2010. The humidity hit me like a furnace when I got out of my car. That's a far cry from today where I shivered under a blanket with the heat on while temps outside were in the upper 60s/lower 70s. I guess you can say I've acclimated and am a true southerner if I need my heat on in the 60s. Spring has not sprung fully here and I'm beginning to wonder if it ever will. I'm greedy. I like heat and humidity. It's been nice running weather, I'll give it that.

So, this blog has been all over the place, but it's just an update to say I've got no update. Haha.

Give me a week and I'll have a recap of what will hopefully be an awesome vacation.

Happy running!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Royal Pajama Party

My sweet little baby....the 6 pound, 4 oz bundle of joy that came into this world with a head full of thick red hair at 4:52pm April 28, 2008 turned 5 this weekend.

I brought this adorable little creature home from the hospital 2 days later. Now, hard as it is to believe, she's morphed into this intelligent, funny, sweet, beautiful little girl.

Copyright Portrait Innovations

The 5 years have not been without their bumps, as with all parents and their children. However, we have faced the additional challenge of autism. I'm proud to be this kid's mom, let me tell you. She's polite. She knows how to say please and thank you, usually without prompting. She's kind. She will share her toys eagerly and enthusiastically...most of the time. She IS a kid after all and an only child at that. She's caring. She's the first one to offer a hug to someone who is crying or sad and tell them they can be happy now. She never lets her disabilities stop her from doing anything and we try to ensure she lives as normal of a life as possible. She's a great girl. I'm so happy she's mine.

Her birthday started with gifts from us and a trip to IHOP for her annual birthday funny face pancake. Here were her favorite gifts.  

She's really into the new Disney princess, Sofia the First, so we had a Royal Pajama Party as the theme for her birthday. We had her friends dress up in their pajamas and come over to hang out, play games and eat cake.

It took nearly all day Saturday, but I got the cake and cupcakes frosted and the decorations up. There were a lot of pink and purple streamers in my house. The cake was a regular Pillsbury white cake with a pink layer and a purple layer, then filled with apple filling and frosted with homemade buttercream. 

We played Cinderella Bingo and cornhole-like game with a Disney Princess theme. 

Before long, it was time to cut the cake. But not before a brief outrage over not wanting to wear the Birthday Princess sash, or *ahem* I mean the princess belt. 

After we told her to take it off since it wasn't worth a tantrum, she loudly and proudly declared "I'M WEARING MY PRINCESS BELT!" Ok then. *shakes head*

Pretty soon it was time to blow out the candles and dig into the cake.

She opened her presents and then people slowly started trickling out. A friend who came late stayed and helped us clean up which I am eternally grateful for. Another friend served as my photographer since I knew  I'd likely be running around busy and not have time to take pictures, which I am also eternally grateful for.  We are so fortunate to have such amazing people in our lives!  

We had about 15-20 kids and every one of them seemed to have a blast! They all came in their pajamas, chased each other around, played well together and the girls especially took a liking to going into the toy closet in the dark, lighting up the Tik Tok Croc toy on the wall and screaming their heads off. The party was a smashing success. 

And now over 24 hours later, I'm still trying to recover!