Monday, January 27, 2014

Christmas catch up

Cody's birthday was Saturday November 30th. We started the morning with Tucker at wrestling practice. Heather spent the night with her boys, and watched all the kids so that I could go watch Tucker too. There isn't a lot of room in the small gym for spectators. He is really enjoying the sport and I'm learning the terminology and moves. Tucker likes to try and wrestle me, but I'm still stronger than him. For a few more years! After wrestling we drove up Lake Creek to cut down our Christmas tree. Cody found the perfect tree and hiked off to saw it down. Unfortunately we borrowed a crappy chainsaw and it took a long time to timber. We stopped some trucks passing by to help Cody drag it out. I'm pretty much useless when it comes to moving heavy objects. Our tree is hard to see in the picture, but it's the smaller dark pine tree above the top white strip of snow in the middle of the photo.
 Hauling it out.
 December flew by wrapping presents, dance performances for me and finishing up school for the kids. Because the holiday fell on a Wednesday the kids got 2 weeks off of school. Fun for them, not so much for parents. We went to cousin Parker's birthday party on the 23rd and had our annual Grant family party at the Reid school on the 22nd. Christmas Eve we spent with Kristin and Chris. We ate dinner together and the men watched a football game. Santa came that night and the kids were very excited Christmas morning!
 I will probably never be in the stairs shot, but I'm glad I capture the moment each year.  Cole received Skylanders for the Wii game.
 Aubrey received a Kohls brand version of an American Girl doll. She received the Target brand last year, but the leg broke off. She's promised to take extra special care of her. I got lucky and this doll looks like Aubrey.
 Hair color is pretty exact!
 Tucker got an mp3 player and Blake a Jake and the Neverland Pirates ship. Cody got a new office chair and I received an ottoman. Smiles all around. After breakfast and cleaning up a bit we drove to my Grandpa Fosters house. We had a nice lunch with my parents, Grandpa, aunt and uncle and cousin. We played our trading game and enjoyed each others company. It was an off year for my siblings to be with us Christmas day (I screwed that one up I believe). My brain doesn't help me remember, but we all had a great time. We were able to skype my brother on his mission.

 A couple days later I took the kids up to the cabin to spend time with their cousins. Cole and Blake were my little buddies on the snowmobiles.
 Cabin cousin times turns into movie time around the fire.

 Tucker and Parker received rockets for Christmas. My brother is a rocket scientist engineer at ATK and helped them prepare for launch.

 They were able to launch twice. This shot is fun because you can see it right at takeoff.
 The parachute would pop out and we'd carefully watch it fall back to earth.
 The cabin has been in my life since I was born and I'm glad I get to share that with my kids.
 Aubrey, Cole and Halle.
 All the kids piling on the tube. I think my Mom ended up in the middle at some point.

 I was gifted tickets to the Mannheim Steamroller concert from my in laws. Cody thought it would be nice if I took my Grandpa out on a date to the show. We enjoyed the show and spending time together. It's been 2 years now since my Grandma passed away.
I forgot that I also had an MRI in December. Everything still looks great in my head. My doctors cut my dosage of my anti seizure medicine to see if it will help with my weight gain. So far no weight loss, but not a lot of gaining either and I'm still seizure free. My MRI's are spread out to 4 months now instead of 2. Good news! I had them print out my scans so that I can show comparisons of what my brain looked like 2 years ago at diagnosis and what it looks like today. The white areas in the upper left quadrant are tumor.
 Now it is a dark hole where the tumor was removed. It is filled with brain fluid now.
I also participated in a Gastric Emptying Study. I've had some stomach/bile issues and my GI doctor requested the study. Everything came back normal. That's good, but didn't answer my questions. Oh well. I've decided to focus on the healthy me and not possible problems.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Lisa and I spent the last week on a wonderful vacation in Aruba.  The weather was fantastic.  Sunny, highs in the 80's, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.  Just the perfect break and opportunity for us to escape the mayhem in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival (the city gets turned into one giant circus, so I chose to avoid it this year).  We decided to try Aruba to go somewhere new and because the hotel option through my SPG credit card points got great reviews.  This was another one of those vacations for us that we were able to get free airfare and hotel through my business card points.  One of the perks of being a small business owner.
We arrived Saturday mid-day and showed up at our hotel, the Westin at Palm Beach.  This is the view we had from our balcony.  So amazing.  Check out that Caribbean water!

We toured the hotel grounds to check out the fun pool area and the beach.

The beach in front of our hotel was fantastic.  So beautiful.  It had the soft, powdery white sand.  The gorgeous, brilliant blue water, and no surf or undertow which made for easy swimming conditions.

Our hotel had a casino.  We dressed up for dinner that first night and decided to go hit the casino for a little bit before our dinner.  We played roulette for a little bit.  Had some fun, made some money, then lost it, but when you're playing with 5 cents each time, it makes losing the money not hurt so badly.

We ate at the fancy restaurant in our hotel, Pago Pago, and had some delicious seafood dinners.  Here's Lisa showing that she can pull silly faces too in a photo.  Maybe I'm finally starting to rub off on her.

The next morning we got up and decided to do some snorkeling.  We first went to the beach Boca Catalina to check out the reef and fish.  The mornings are so calm and quiet on the island.  I think most people are sleeping off their hangover from the night before and end up getting a really late start each day.  That made it nice for us because in the mornings we would have the beaches to ourselves.

There is an old lighthouse on the north end of the island that we checked out after Boca Catalina.  There are some great views of the island from that spot.

After the lighthouse, we went and found a secluded section of beach that was part of Arashi Beach.  It was so calm and peaceful.  We did some more swimming and snorkeling, and then read our books in the sun.

We saw tons of different tropical fish.  Some of the coolest looking fish wouldn't sit still for me to get a good photo of them, like the barracuda, parrotfish, cowfish, and surgeon fish.  And then my batteries died when I saw some of the other cool looking fish like the lionfish, some lobsters, and a moray eel.  But we did have some that cooperated.  
Like the French Angelfish.


?  Not sure but it looked cool

French grunts

Blue tang

Spotfin butterfly fish

Showing off my muscles.

Lisa enjoying her book on our quiet beach we found.

These signs were all over the island.  Lisa really wanted her picture taken next to one.

Monday morning we got up and went out for some authentic Dutch pancakes.  Our good friend Jessica who grew up in the Netherlands recommended the bacon and apple pancake, which I tried and loved.

Then after our great breakfast we went to the butterfly farm.  They have about 100 butterflies hatch each day.  It's incredible how many different species we saw there.
The Tree Nymph.

Mormon Swallowtail (I promise that's it's name)

The Postman

Mormon Swallowtail

The Blue Morpho and a Monarch

Scarlet Swallowtail

Blue Morpho


Orange Tip


Another of my favorite, the Blue Morpho

In all it was a very peaceful place.  Very fun to see that many different butterflies in one place.  After the butterfly farm we then decided to go into Oranjestad and do some shopping.  On the way into town we stopped by the famous divi divi tree on Eagle beach and took some photos.  The tree is leaning sideways because the wind is constantly blowing on that island.  I mean constantly.  All day, every day.

The architecture and paint colors in Oranjestad are very fun and festive.  Lots of bright colors everywhere.

After getting our fill of shopping (we got some fun gifts for the kids and our parents) we headed back to the hotel to do some more snorkeling.  This time we went to Malmok beach.  We had a great time snorkeling there as well.

Tuesday morning we had a scheduled sailboat trip.  Like I mentioned before, the beaches were generally vacant in the morning, so I took some cool photos of the beaches at our hotel.  This platform that you see in this photo was really fun.  We would swim out to it and jump and dive off the platform in the water.  

This is the hotel we stayed in.

We went on a fun 5 hour sailboat trip that day that took us to some secluded coral reefs.

They dropped us off at this boardwalk that would get you over to a secluded and protected area of reef that had incredible visibility with some cool reef formations.

Four eyed butterfly fish

Lisa and I spotted a flounder.  This photo will show you how well camouflaged they are.

Here's a close up where you can see their goofy looks.  They have both eyes on one side of their face so they can feed on the bottom and keep their eyes upward for predators.  Amazingly, flounders are born with their eyes on both sides of their face, but as they grow the one eye migrates to the same side as the other.

The owner of the sailboat brought his Jack Russell Terrier, Buster, along.  Such a funny dog.

We also did an open water drift snorkel where they took us out of the protected area from the reef and let us snorkel along with the current pushing us.  They followed along in a little boat as we drifted with the current.  Very fun adventure and a great day of sailing.

On Wednesday we decided to go check out Arikok National Park.  Aruba is kind of a unique Caribbean island because it is a desert island.  Not tropical and lush like most Caribbean islands.  It actually reminded me of my mission in Sonora Mexico.

There are a bunch of goats that just roamed around everywhere.

Here is a cool leaning tree that illustrates how harsh the terrain is there.

We rented a little, cheap Toyota Yaris to run around in and unfortunately took that compact car where it shouldn't have gone.  We didn't read the map really well and ended up taking that poor thing down this incredibly rough, rocky road.  Thankfully we didn't break it and we were able to make it back up and out of there.

We came to this beach called Boca Prins.  Very beautiful beach, but very dangerous for swimming.

They don't allow swimming because of a nasty undertow that is here, so we didn't go in the water, but we did enjoy the beauty that it provided.

My smokin' hot wife!

After touring the National Park we went back to our hotel to enjoy the beach and pool for the afternoon.  These lizards, the blue whiptail lizards, are only found in Aruba.  They have an amazing turquoise blue color and can be found all over the island, especially around our hotel.

This big iguana was chasing off all the other iguanas near the pool.  He was quite the bully.

The sun sets around 7:00 in Aruba, and unless you like to go to bars and drink, you are pretty limited on options for entertainment.  We did however find a bowling alley and went and bowled on Wednesday night.  It was really  fun to go bowling together, kind of like we were dating all over again.  Lisa gave it a valiant effort, but I ended up beating her both games we played.  That BYU bowling class I took paid off.

Thursday we decided to take a drive to the south end of the island to spend the morning at Baby Beach.  It's a protected cove with beautiful views and really calm water.  It is only about 3 feet deep still 100 yards out.  It's a great place to teach people to swim.  In fact, while we were there we saw some local Arubans there teaching there little kids to swim.

We found our own palapa and kicked back for a relaxing morning.

That's what 30 pull ups every other day will do for your back.  Grrr!

I went out and did some more snorkeling.

Lisa made a friend while out wading in the awesome water.  A cool lady from New Jersey.

That night we went to a show called Aruba Sinatra, Lisa bought us the tickets for an evening out.  This guy pictured here, Fred De Jong, sings a bunch of Sinatra songs while you eat dinner in the Old Cunucu House.  He was really good, and sounded just like Ole Blue Eyes himself.  It was a fun evening.  I'm not the biggest Sinatra fan, but I still enjoyed our evening there.

Lisa really wanted this photo of our license plate.  All the plates down there say "One Happy Island".  It is in fact, one happy island.

All in all it was a great vacation.  I really enjoyed Aruba and would recommend it to anyone that might be interested.  Here are my positives- It's a very laid back island with the best beaches I've seen.  The temperatures are perfect, there is very little humidity, there are plenty of good snorkeling opportunities, and you have a wide variety of food options to choose from.  There are fantastic sunrises and sunsets each day. The island is a melting pot and has Europeans living there because it is a Dutch Island, has lots of South Americans because of it's proximity to Venezuela and Columbia, has tons of Caribbean people from places like Jamaica and Haiti, has a lot of Philipino workers, and of course plenty of Americans too.  Each culture brings it's own flavor and flare to that island.  The people also speak 4 languages fluently.  School is taught in Dutch and Dutch is the official language.  Around town and in their homes though they all speak Papimento with is a mix of many languages (thanks for the heads up AJ).  They also speak Spanish fluently because they are 70 miles off the coast of Venezuela and they all speak English fluently because of the American tourists.  Tourism is their #1 industry there.  It's impressive how multi-lingual Arubans are.  I can't forget either that you can drink the water from the tap.  Aruba has one of the cleanest water systems in the world.  It's nice to go on vacation and be able to drink the water.  Because it's a small island, you can see the whole thing easily.  It's only 20 miles long and 6 miles wide at it's widest point.
Here are my negatives though- the wind is always blowing in Aruba.  We had a constant 10-15 mph wind there.  It can get a little frustrating at times always having the wind blow.  Also, it's a little too laid back for me.  I like to be fairly active on my vacations and Aruba is not the best place for active individuals.  There aren't as many active options as some of our other vacations.  If you are a very laid back person that likes to just sit at the pool or beach the whole time on your vacation, then Aruba would be perfect for you.  I'm not knocking that style of vacation (to each his own), I'm just saying that's not quite how Lisa and I are.  Another problem is that the food is quite expensive, but that is usually the case on islands.  The melting pot aspect can also be a negative. There is no dominant culture or cuisine because of it.  I love how in Mexico or Hawaii you get a very distinct culture and cuisine.  You don't really get that in Aruba.
If I had to give it a score of 1-10, I would give it a 7 (only one place I have been gets a 10, and that's Akumal Mexico).  It's probably my fourth favorite tropical destination we have been too.  Not too shabby.  Like I said, we loved it and really enjoyed it, but I don't think we will go back.  We want to see some other places next and keep exploring.