Tuesday, December 30, 2008

9 Days in Paradise

We just go back from our nine day cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. Here was our itinerary:

We had a fabulous time on our vacation although we had a few bumps getting there and back. I could go on and on about our vacation but I'll try to keep it as brief as possible since super long blog posts are never fun.

Day 1: We were supposed to fly to Miami and spend the night. We were flying standby. My dad is a Delta retired employee and we get flight benefits where we can fly standby for a very reasonable price. We monitored the availability on flights and figured we'd be ok. Well, a huge storm hit the entire eastern half of the United States. A lot of flights were cancelled and rerouted and the space that was available evaporated. We made it to Atlanta but could not get to Miami. We rented a car and drove 11 hours through George and Florida and got to Miami at 3 a.m. We drove in the worst rain and wind I had ever seen in my life. We were hydroplaning all over the place. We counted 36 Waffle Houses and went to a scary gas station where the clerk was behind plexiglass.

Gassing up the rental car somewhere in Florida.

Day 2: We returned our rental car, picked up our bags from airport, and boarded the ship. We napped a bit, hooked up with our friends who were also on the ship and had a good dinner and went to a show. We had been upgraded to a room with a porthole window, so that was cool.

Leaving Miami

Our room

Day 3: Another day at sea. The weather was a little chilly - wind and clouds - so we stayed inside. We shopped and went to a couple seminars. It was formal night so we dressed up and enjoyed a good dinner and an entertaining magic show.

Dinner on formal night

Day 4: We stopped in Samana, Dominican Republic. The tour we booked took us on a speed boat to a beautiful national nature preserve. There were beautiful islands, limestone caves, and rock formations, and lots of wild birds. We toured a couple of the caves and saw some ancient cave drawings. The caves were dark, unpaved, and had random two-by-fours nailed as makeshift handrails. It was awesome. When our tour was over, we went into Samana Town by ourselves. We found a quaint resort where we shopped and enjoyed lunch. I had chicken nuggets and Justin had a cheese burger that came with a fried egg, ham, cucumbers as well as the typical toppings.


On the speedboat

There are cave drawings behind me if you look closely.

Day 5: Our next stop was Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We took a ferry to another island, Virgin Gorda, and visited the Baths there. The Baths are an area of beach that is dotted with massive boulders. They make for interesting scenery and also make fascinating mazes. There was a maze area called Devil's Beach. It was so incredible. I wish I could go back and be the only person there. We snorkeled and Justin saw a flatfish. After our excursion we shopped at a flea market.

The Baths at Virgin Gorda

A view of Tortola from Virgin Gorda

Justin posing in front of the Norwegian Jewel

Day 6: Now for Antigua. Our tour bus drove us half-way around the island to Stingray City. We learned a bit about the stingrays and saw some cool creatures they had caged (monkeys, iguanas, turtles, and tropical birds). We took a boat out to the reef and jumped in the water and swam with the stingrays. We fed them squid. Justin and I both wound up with "stingray kisses." They have very strong suction which is how they get their food. So our stingray kisses, or bites, were more like intense hickeys. Justin's was much worse, but they ended up being our favorite souvenirs. We had a fabulous lunch in a quaint little cafe. It was fabulous.


Our stingray kisses. Justin's is pretty obvious. Mine was a red circle around my wrist bone.

Stingray City, Antigua

Day 7: We sailed away from the Caribbean and into the Atlantic Ocean to Barbados. We snorkeled over two shipwrecks, one from 1995 and one from 1919. There were tons of great fish and the ships were fascinating too. We spent a little time (far too little) on a beach. Oh my goodness. It was amazing. The sand was like powdered sugar and had a pearly pink hue to it. The water was so incredibly warm. Wow. Then we toured the island by bus. The natives are very proud of their connections with Tiger Woods and we saw where he was married, the entrance to his house, and the golf course where he plays when he is in Barbados. We saw a bunch of monkeys frolicking on the golf course just like squirrels would run wild on a golf course here.

About this day there was an outbreak of gastrointestinal sickness. The ship shut down the self-serve buffet and took a lot of sanitation precautions. Luckily we never got sick.

A pirate "hideout" at our excursion

The Scotland District of Barbados

A wild poinsettia plant

On the eastern side of the island where the Atlantic surf is too dangerous for any swimmer.

Sunset taken as we left Barbados.

A monkey on the golf course (there are 2 more under the tree)

The entrance to Tiger Wood's house.

Day 8: Our last stop was at the beautiful island of St. Lucia. We had a fairly easy going day. We took a bus tour around the island. We saw banana plantations and some gorgeous scenery. St. Lucia is famous for it's towering peaks, the Pitons, and the world's only drive in volcano (it's steamy like Yellowstone - no lava anymore). We drove into the mountains and swam in a natural warm pool being poured from a warm waterfall. And the best part about these natural mineral springs was that they didn't smell like sulfur. It felt so good. We enjoyed some delicious sword fish, scones, and golden apple juice (also called Spondias mombin, jocote, or Spanish plum).

On the way back from the waterfall, I realized I was missing my credit card and my room key card. We figured they fell out of my camera case. We looked everywhere and the tour guide was kind enough take the bus back to every place we had stopped for pictures on the way down so we could look for my cards. By the end of the tour I was quite upset. Although we checked the bus we checked again, and found both cards in a crevice behind my seat. Phew!

St. Lucia

The famous Pitons and the town of Soufriere

The mineral waterfall we bathed in. It was so wonderful.

In front of the Pitons.

Our ship in Castries Harbor.

Day 9: We enjoyed a lazy day at sea. We slept a lot and ate dinner twice! The food was so good! We were so spoiled with three course breakfasts and lunches.

Justin with a towel elephant on our bed.

Day 10: Another lazy day at sea. Since we had to disembark the next day, we started packing that afternoon. As Justin was packing he bent over to pick something off the floor and stood up into the metal frame of the fold down bed (which was put away against the wall) and split his head open. He wound up going to the infirmary and getting four stitches from a kind South African doctor. Of course he had one heck of a headache for the next few days.

Justin's owie. Can you see the stitches?

Day 11: We disembarked the ship and took a cab to Miami airport. Since we were flying standby we were at the mercy of open seats and since we didn't have access to the world while we were on the ship, we didn't know how bad travel would be. I guess it hadn't stopped snowing the entire time we were gone. We stood by for two flights out of Miami, and got the second one to Atlanta. Once in Atlanta, there was no way to get to Salt Lake no matter what. I had my dad, my brother Brad, and my sister Julie working like crazy trying to find someway to get us home. We stayed the night in Atlanta and called into work.

Day 12: Brad found a flight for us. We could get a direct flight to Jackson, Wyoming. First we had to change our itinerary to get on that flight. We got to the airport 2 hours early and got in a huge line at the ticket counter (there were MANY passengers who had been stranded because of the weather). While in line, I called Delta and was on hold for 45 minutes. We finally got someone on the phone when we were about halfway through the line. The Delta agent on the phone made a big deal about Justin's confirmation number, but not mine, but she said she changed both our destinations. I was leary, so I called Julie and she checked online and saw that my destination had not been changed. We were running out of time.

Julie was able to work some magic online and got my destination changed. I ran to the kiosk and printed out our new tickets. We had 20 minutes to get to our gate in one of the largest airports in the world. Justin got flagged for a random search at security. We took the train to our terminal and our gate had to be at the very end. We ran as fast as we could and we were the last people on the plane.

We made it to Jackon and my brother Jordan drove out in his Jeep to pick us up. But as we were driving a blizzard hit. The highway we were on was closed. We saw a jack-knifed truck and stopped to offer help and put chains on the Jeep. We continued our drive in pure white out conditions. It was terrifying. It took us six hours to drive the 90 miles from Jackson to Idaho Falls. We picked up our bags from the aiport and drove home. Our neighborhood streets had not been plowed at all. We got stuck in our cul-de-sac and then we got stuck in our driveway (there was at least a foot of snow there). We left our car there and dragged our bags through all the snow at midnight just to get inside. It felt so good to be back in our beds and see our pets again.

This is what we came home to! This was taken at the Jackson airport.

We have so much gratitude to those who helped us get home. It was seriously a Hays family effort to get us back into our bed. Every member of my family helped us to get home. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Although it was a pain to get there and back, our cruise was wonderful. If you've never taken a cruise, do it! They are so relaxing. No worrying about directions, driving, getting lost, finding places to eat, prices of meals, and so on. Again, congratulations to my hottie hubby for his Master's degree. Hope you enjoyed your gift!

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Back

I made it back. Barely. And I really mean that. I have almost three weeks of writing and pictures but I just wanted to say that I am here. I hope you all had a very happy Christmas. We certainly did. I can honestly say I am so glad to be back and if I could, I wouldn't leave my own home for a very long time.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your front door." - Bilbo Baggins

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good Day

Justin is finished with school. He is now a Master of Mental Health Counseling. All day he's been insisting I call him "Master". He deserves it. I'm so proud of my man.

As a graduation present, we are going on a cruise. Tomorrow. We got a screaming deal on a 9-day southern Caribbean cruise. We're off in 4 hours. Guess I better get some shut-eye.

I just published a belated birthday post about my dad. I have started one for my brother Brad too but I haven't been able to finish it with all the packing and planning. Brad, I promise I will finish it when I get back and post a cute picture to boot.

As for me, for the next ten days I'll be hanging out here:
And here:

And here:

And here:

Feel free to be jealous.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad!

Dear Dad,
I'm sorry that I didn't get this post done on your birthday a couple weeks ago. I'm behind on everything lately. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite memories with you.

1. I remember going to work with you once when I was little. I think I was preschool age. I don't know why I went to work with you, it was a one-time experience and I sure felt special. I remember bringing color books and My Little Ponies and playing in your office. I also remember trying to draw a star like my preschool teacher Mrs. Call always did. I couldn't figure it out, so you taught me how to draw a different star - two triangles overlapping each other (a Star of David, really), but I was so happy I could finally draw a star!!

2. I remember you listening to beautiful opera records in the living room and reading along with the books to follow the story. How weird to just sit still and listen to something for entertainment! Your example made me appreciate and love beautiful music.

3. One time, Mom took Julie and Jordan to Brawley to visit Aunt Marianne over New Year's. I don't remember where Brad and Stephanie were, but I remember just the two of us being "left behind." I was so upset that I didn't get to go to California. You took me downstairs and we played Hangman on the T.I. computer. Instead of feeling left out that I didn't go to California, I realized that it was a treat to have you all to myself.

4. Last summer. Camping. Citronella candles. Moths. Need I say more?

5. You took just Julie and me camping. We stayed in the blue tent. What a brave dad to take two small girls and an army of stuffed animals camping!

6. You have a few signature dishes that I will always associate with you: stir fry, eggs benedict, twice baked potatoes, and milk, bread, and sugar.

7. I always felt like the daughter of royalty whenever we traveled. No matter where in the world we went, people always knew you (in the airports, at least) and treated you with respect and warmth. This realization came to me after one of your work acquaintances recognized you in Venezuela.

8. Once when Julie and I were fighting, you punished us by making us sit on chairs in the living room right in front of each other with our knees touching until we could be civil to each other.

9. I have many memories of you doing special things for Mom like taking her to a hotel for your anniversary or getting tickets to Les Miserables. Or even going to all over town trying to find the perfect ibuprofen bottle.

10. You introduced me to the joy of dominoes!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Follow up

I had a few people ask for the recipe I used for my yule log cake. It's basically a sponge cake with filling and chocolate frosting. You can use any flavors you like. Here is the recipe I used.

Also another question I got was where I got my gift certificate to. Well, I didn't say because I only cashed in my paper certificate for a real gift certificate today, but I got it for Target. Good for Christmas shopping! It ended up being $40. Not bad for baking a cake. By the way, I would suggest not to do as many holly leaves as I did. Way too much work!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bûche de Noël

Before Thanksgiving my department had their annual dessert party. I really wanted to win ($25 gift certificate to the place of my choice for a dessert, heck ya!) so I went for the least populated dessert category: most creative. Anyway, I made a Bûche de Noël, or yule log cake. They are a French tradition taken from classic yule logs, but since many people no longer need to (or even can) burn a log on Christmas, they make this fun cake instead. It's a chocolate sponge cake rolled up with cream cheese filling. I made two cake rolls and pieced them together to look like a log. Then I frosted it with chocolate icing. I dragged a fork through the icing to make it look like bark and I decorated it with "snow" (powdered sugar) and "holly leaves" and "berries" (gum drops). I did win the most creative dessert. People were pretty impressed. They were afraid to cut into the cake. Anyway, I thought it turned out great. And it tasted good too.

November Pictures

I haven't been very good at posting the last few weeks. Just kind of needed a break I guess. Plus I've been way busy. In the middle of November my oldest sister Stephanie came up for a visit. We realized it was the first time one of my sisters had come up just for a fun visit without a purpose like a holiday or on the way north. It was such a great weekend. She brought both of her boys and one of her girls with her. The weather was beautiful and golden - crispy fall weather. We played disc golf at the park, went to the dairy for ice cream, had some fun dinners (including grilling inside which set off all the smoke detectors). The whole weekend was full of perfect, memorable days. Thank you so much for coming up, Steph!

We stayed local for Thanksgiving. We went to my brother's house. This was our fourth or fifth Thanksgiving with Jordan and Cindy. This year was perfect for once. No cooking mishaps or raging tempers. No football games either which is a plus for me! We invited Justin's brother Jon and nephew Haiden since Jon's wife had to work all day. We had a great dinner, we kept to tradition and watched all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes, played wii and watched Elf. Great fun for all. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving too!

Here are some random pictures for the past month or so (although Haiden's birthday was in October as was the company Halloween party).


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