My Eye in the Storm

It’s snowing today, so as a matter of personal therapy, it seems like a good time to blog a little about the cruise. Warning: This post will include vacation photos mingled with deep thoughts. Proceed with caution.

So this right here…

is an actual satellite photo of Hurricane Paul. He came ashore in Cabo San Lucas the same day we were supposed to dock there. For obvious reasons, our ship itinerary took some detours, but still managed to get up close and personal with a Category 3 hurricane. (And by up close and personal, I really mean a mostly-safe distance, but still plenty too close for my own comfort.) Let’s just say that we spent a whole 24 hours in bed as to avoid being thrown back and forth while about 50% of the passengers and crew puked their guts out. Luckily, Matt and I never got sick, and if we closed our eyes and pretended we were in a baby cradle, it was actually quite relaxing.

I am NOT complaining though. It happened, and we survived, and the rest of the week was very lovely, and hello, it was a FREE prize vacation.  So I won’t dwell on the hurricane other than to say that (because I have a tendency to imagine every worst case scenario and all the possible outcomes … like me floating at sea in a life raft in a hurricane with 30 drunk, crazy people) the whole event made me quite reflective.

I am also a professional people watcher.  That’s a nicer term than gawker, which is what my mother always called it.  Anyway, there are plenty of people to observe on a ginormous cruise ship, and so I did. There is a reason that Americans have the reputation of being gluttonous and spoiled. I won’t list the poor behaviors I saw, but one example is impatiently waiting for the elevator to go down ONE flight of stairs in order to gorge one’s self at the all-you-can-eat Chocolate Buffet. Enough said. There were also people who were deeply good, like our sweet waiter who works six months at a time with no days off in order to support his wife and children back in the Philippines.

In summary:  Hurricane + People-watching + Lots of uninterrupted quiet time = New insights and some personal revelation for Stephanie

I’ll come back to that.  Let’s look at some photos, shall we?

This was my view for most of the trip (including the napping husband):

Our first stop was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which was tropical beauty mixed with a roadside landscape of houses and communities that reminded me so much of my mission days in Argentina.

We were accosted by a guy who threw reptiles on us and took our picture for “a tip.” That’s my fake smile, but the background is so pretty, huh?

Our taxi driver took us up into the jungle mountains to wander around at a resort area, and the scenery really was magnificent.

We also spent some time in the old colonial city center. I love to visit old cathedrals and city plazas, and there were both.

On the first day of the trip, they did a safety drill where everyone had to line up with life jackets and practice the emergency de-boarding procedures. Right next to us, there was a man who was already drunk and being rude to his family members. I watched with dismay for a while and then we were all released. That night at our first dinner seating, the host led us to our table, and guess who was seated there? I thought, Oh boy, this is going to be a long week (You share the table with the same guests the whole trip), but then they realized that we were supposed to be at table 411 instead of 311 and led us in another direction while Matt chuckled at the irony. We were seated in a booth with a nice-looking couple who we quickly learned were from Utah. Seriously? So I was relieved because we quickly fell into natural conversation and formed a friendship throughout the week.  Here they are with our rock-star waiter, too.

I’m leaving their names out on purpose so you don’t Google them and steal their children. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate that. (And in my defense, lest you fear my reaction was as sheltered or narrow-minded as it seems, I could have been perfectly happy to share a week-long dinner table with people from any state or religion or race or creed or whatever, but “drunk” and “belligerent” are not my first choice for dinner companions.)

This is getting too long already. Do you care? Whatever, you know how to scroll and nod.

Next on the agenda: Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico, two days post-hurricane (It was actually a tropical storm by the time it hit shore, but the locals said it was crazy).  We liked this place. Matt wants to go back and spend more time there some day with the kids.

That last photo shows our boat off in the distance. (Now you can see why this is good snow therapy.)

I’ve always loved the combination of sunshine and wind. It just feels so relaxing and warm, so I loved being on deck on the sailing ship. There wasn’t much deck space available at the front of the boat, but I made it my mission to find a spot where I could stare off into the great beyond ahead of us. I finally did find a spot atop of a fake boulder on the mini-golf course. It was perfect, and no one was there in the early morning hours, so I would go up there and do my morning “devotional,” and watch the sun coming up, and enjoy the strong breeze and natural beauty, and think about my life and my testimony and all that stuff.  When I told Matt about some of my thoughts one morning, he teased me about my Mount St. Mini-Golf, so that’s what we called it the rest of the week.  Here are some of the things I learned at Mt. St. Mini-Golf.  I realize they are random and disconnected, but that’s how revelation usually comes for me anyway.

  • When people are given so much, they often forget what matters most, and they use their prosperity to buy their way out of the kinds of experiences they were meant to have. I need to be careful to not avoid or shirk the responsibilities God has given me, even when other options seem easy or comfortable.
  • Vacations are so nice, and I promise I enjoyed every minute, but my children are what God wants me to do with my life. The break was refreshing, but my heart told me where I really belong.
  • As I stared off into the horizon, I was thinking of Elder Holland’s most recent conference talk as well as many other related gospel references. I had the clear thought that God doesn’t want cruisers; He wants fishermen. We have a work to do, and it’s not a lazy, relaxing meander through life. It’s the up-at-dawn and work-til-dusk kind of life as fishers of men. And that kind of life will make us happy.
  • I have always loved the scripture in Moses 6:62-63, which teaches that all things in, on, above, beneath the earth testify of Christ. I loved looking at my unfamiliar ocean and beach surroundings and finding the symbolism. There were so many things about wind and sun and boats and waves and even storms that teach great lessons about the role of the Savior in our lives. The hymns, “Master, the Tempest is Raging,” and “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me,” and “Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy,” and “Lead, Kindly Light” all came to mind. I just felt so blessed to have that kind of direction and love available to me in life, no matter what storms may come.
  • Oh, I’m coming back later to add this one more. A lady we spoke to was upset with the cruise line because they changed around the itinerary. I kept thinking, But there was a hurricane! It made me realize how often we might get upset with our Heavenly Father or the prophets for changing our plans unexpectedly or not meeting our own expectations when, in reality, they see dangers ahead that we don’t know about.  Just enjoy the ride and trust the Captain.

Well, that’s definitely more than you ever wanted to know about my vacation. Thanks again to those who voted and helped us win this break. It was much needed, and sufficiently refueling to get back to “my Father’s business” here at home. There truly is no place like home. But I’m thinking I might need to pick up my home and put it somewhere not snowing.

So I owe you a postcard, right?

Back in early summer, I made many of my reader/victims watch and vote incessantly for this video that was entered into a contest at Deseret Book to promote their new momedy web series, “Pretty Darn Funny.”  (They really are clever episodes; you should go check them out.)

Behold my entry (which, in retrospect, is public evidence that I have very little pride):

And here is the amazing thing:  I WON. I won, I won, I won!  And so right now, at this very second (Honest to goodness. I pre-scheduled this post the day before I left), I am floating around in the ocean with my husband ON A CRUISE to the Mexican Riviera.

Since I could not have won without your tireless voting– I mean, seriously, some of you went back to that site every day and clicked your mouse over and over again out of pure love. :)– I know I owe you something. I wish I could bring you all back sombreros or something, but this postcard will have to do:

Yay. THANK YOU!!!  You can be jealous for this week, but then you’ll laugh at me when I’m back and I’m crashing and burning and trying to catch up with real life again.  I’ll take pictures. 🙂

The Disney Diaries

You knew this post was coming, right?  Our vacation was wonderful, but, of course, had its mishaps too.  Some things worked great.  Others, not so much.  Here’s how it all went down.

We pre-paid our hotel almost a year ago through a time-share sales-pitch offer.  We didn’t buy into their program, but ended up purchasing a one-week trial at any of their resorts.  One happened to be in Orlando, where we knew we planned on going when Matt graduated.  It ended up being about $115 a night, which was more than 50% off their regular nightly rates, and we LOVED it when we arrived.  We had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen, washer/dryer, balcony over a lake and 3 pools, master suite… awesome.  And it was 1-5 miles from any of of the Disney parks.  So nice and so convenient.  Clark said he wanted to live there.

So, anyway, when we got there and it was 70+degrees and our place was so nice, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  We spent the first day there just relaxing, eating a doughnut picnic at the Orlando temple, swimming in the hotel pool, reading books on the balcony, and grocery shopping.  Continue reading

Calling all Mouseketeers!

Matt graduated from law school this month (YES! YES! YES!) and we’re going to celebrate.

We’re going to Disney World!

Other than my own visit as a teenager, we’ve never been.  I’m so excited, and a tiny bit overwhelmed by how to navigate the big wonderful world of Disney.  I need help from you experienced Mom travelers.


  • We are staying off-site in a condo that has a kitchen, 1.5 miles from Disney World.
  • We will have a rental car/van.
  • We will be in Orlando for 6 full days (including one Sunday)
  • Three children:  ages 7, 5, and 3.
  • We have a behavior plan currently in place where kids can earn “Disney dollars” they can use to purchase snacks or trinkets at the park.  Good behavior earns dollars, bad behavior loses them.  Pretty simple.

Questions: (answer any or all of them.  I’m “all ears.”  Get it?)

  1. How should we divide up 5 days between the 4 parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios)?  Please consider my kids’ ages and recommend what they’ll like the most/least.
  2. I don’t think we can afford to eat at Disney restaurants and such.  How realistic is it to eat off site or bring a lunch?  Could we “run home” and eat or is that really a 2-hour round trip?  Suggestions?
  3. I know about the “Fast Passes” you can use to come back later and not wait so long in line.  How does the “Ride Sharing” (thing where you and your husband can take turns going with/without children) work?
  4. Any great insider tips?
  5. What about must-see attractions, events, sites to see within the parks?
  6. Natalie is 3 and never uses a stroller any more.  Should I take one anyway?
  7. Anything I should pack that I probably haven’t thought of?
  8. Should I pay the upgrade for the park-hopper passes or is any one park going to easily occupy the full day?
  9. Anything you thought your kids would love and they didn’t?  I don’t want to waste my time.  I know for a fact they won’t like things like walking tours (for example, the Animation studios tour).
  10. I can’t think of another question, but name anything random you want me to take a picture of while we’re there and I’ll do my best.

p.s.  Don’t forget to join us in the Winter Poetry contest.  Entries due by Tuesday night.

The Vacation Diaries: Love and Hate

We just did our third camping trip of the summer– this one was five days long, which is the longest we’ve ever attempted.  I’ve complained before about how much work camping is.  I spent two hours at the store at midnight the night before our trip trying to buy all the ingredients I needed to cook camp meals for five days.  Then I try to shove them all into a cooler and bins that aren’t too heavy to carry.  I give the kids packing lists and let them pack their own bags; luckily, the margin of error has so far not caused any major disasters.  Planning for weather, possible outings and activities, how to keep them quiet during camp “quiet hours,” and stocking the car for the road trip portion is no small task.  Five days, five people. Bruises, body odor, and mosquito bites galore.  This much laundry:

DSCF0065But what’s not to love about this?


and this?


and this?


and this?


and especially this?


So for all its hard work and exhaustion, I believe camping is here to stay among our family traditions.  I could sleep for three days straight, but the kids want to start planning our final trip.

“Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

On camping with small children: A compilation of Haiku, and a contest for you.



Matt says, “Five hour drive.”

We go on and on and on.

There eight hours later.


Mosquitos abound.

They stalk me and consume me.

My flesh, bug manna.


Lost in the forest,

Children say, “I can’t go on!”

First family bike ride.


Please go to bed now.

There’s no time to brush your teeth.

Smores are good for smiles.


Day Two: Must shower.

What? I forgot underwear?

Heaven help me.  (Sob.)


I say “stop!” a lot.

My voice echoes through the air.

Children don’t listen.


Old people like quiet.

They go to camp in nature.

Then my kids arrive.


Oh, Summer Solstice,

Sunny day is long and bright.

Children wake at five.


Scripture reading time.

Sorry, Mom’s gasp interrupts.

Her foot has a tick.


Four days, four state parks.

Dirt roads and pop-up trailer.

All hail DVDs.


Laughing, playing days.

Little children get so tired.

It is all worth it.




So how was your weekend?


I think it’s time to ressurrect the Diapers and Divinity Poetry Contest.  Write a Haiku* or two about summer vacation with children.  All entries must be in by Saturday night, and on Monday, I’ll put up a poll so you can vote for your favorite.  The winner will get a summer spot on my sidebar  (It’s a great honor, trust me.) and I’ll send you some kind of summer treat…. to be determined.  This is an easy one; haiku doesn’t even have to rhyme. 🙂  Hit me with your best shot.  Leave your entry/entries in the comments for this post.


*Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry, short and simple.  The Americanized version is only three lines long:  1st line is 5 syllables, 2nd line is 7 syllables, and 3rd line is 5 syllables.  No need to rhyme.  For amazing examples of how this works, scroll up and see the masterpieces above.  Each little stanza is one complete haiku.


(I’m sorry I missed posting for the GCBC this weekend.  We just rolled into town tonight and I’ll try to get up this week’s article very soon along with my comments on last week’s.  Thanks for your patience.)

Financial security and other mini-vacation lessons

We took a mini-vacation this past weekend because Matt has about two weeks off of school in between semesters.  I found a great hotel deal online, which simply required us to participate in a 90-minute time-share sales pitch,* and came with free food vouchers and everything.  So we packed up the kids, a few bags of clothes, and a variety of road trip entertainment items (read: DVD player, Leapster, junk food, and a pile of library books).  Before we left to come home this morning, I made the mistake of looking at some Webkins at a store.  This, to Grant and Clark, was a bona-fide contractual offer that a Webkinz purchase was in our near future.  Grant could not understand why the purchase was not made, and spent most of the trip home speculating about when we would go to a local store and pick up the Webkinz that I had cruelly and carelessly forgotten to purchase this morning.  I told him we’d take a look at the bank account when we got home and see about the possibility.

He immediately corralled me to the office upon arriving home.  I had transferred a vacation budget into my checking account right before we left town.  I didn’t do a great job of keeping track of spending, so I cringed a little when I looked it up.

“Uh oh, Grant, we have a problem.”


“Well, it says here that my bank account has -$18.73.”

“Is that enough for a Webkinz?”

“Um, no.  It means I have $18.00 below zero.
(Long pause.)
“Don’t worry, mom.  I know where we have thousands and thousands of dollars.”
He ran across the room and came back with this:
DSCF2027Wow.  If only I had known, we could have vacationed in New Zealand.  Just leave it to a six-year-old to solve all your problems.  Verdict: Chores for Webkinz.  Hopefully, he won’t get done until the next payday.

On Sunday, we met up with my good friend Molly and her family.  I’m stealing pictures of Grant, Clark, and Natalie from her blog because she’s one of those moms who actually thinks to bring along a camera when her family has a little outing.  It was great to see her.  She’s on my top-ten cool list.
p.s.  Indoor water parks are really fun, but they have way too many stairs for out-of-shape people, especially the adult variety that are forced to carry all their children’s inner-tubes over and over and over again.
p.p.s.  Even if you look over your things 7 million times, you will always leave something behind in your vacation locale, like a portable DVD player power cord that is still plugged into the wall behind the dresser, and the library book that is still in a booth at the local Pizza Pub.

*Those people who do time-share pitches are tricky, tricky, tricky.  If Matt had his way, we would now be the proud owners of 40-years-worth of tropical vacations and an Alaskan helicopter skiing package.  Since I am only slightly more disciplined, and withstood their amazing deals and plummeting prices, for four– yes, FOUR– hours, we are instead only the proud owners of a pre-purchased vacation to Disney World that we had already planned on making when Matt graduates in the spring.  Call me a sucker if you will.

p.p.p.s.  If you are a careless packer, you might have to use your husband’s deodorant, and it’s a weird, unpleasant kind of feeling when you find yourself smelling manly.
p.p.p.p.s.  That Excedrin Tension Headache really works.
The end.
(I have just a few more Women’s Conference classes to review over the next several days, so watch for those, and then we’re back to our regularly scheduled . . . um, stuff.)