Sunday, January 30, 2011

January Update

I am so glad to see January ending. That means we're one more step toward warmer weather and all the happy things that come along with it!!!

January has been a blessed month for us. We finally bought a new bed!!!! And we paid cash for it, which feels almost as good as sleeping on our new pillow top :) We also hit our 3-months savings in our 3-6 month emergency fund (Baby Step 3!!). We are going to continue to keep saving that up, Justin wants it to be a 10-month stockpile fund just for safety. Once we finish that then we'll start saving for a downpayment for a house. One day we'll get there. For now we just LOVE our apartment and are happy to stay put! It's fun to own everything completely and to not have a mortgage hanging over our heads. We love being out of debt and loved putting in the work to get here.

Now that we've hit our 3-month emergency fund mark, we're going to start Baby Step 4, which is investing!!!!! We've been so excited to start doing this. We met with our financial planner last Tuesday (one of Dave Ramsey's ELP's in Peachtree City) and will meet again with him tomorrow to actually open our Roth IRA accounts and sign forms, etc... SO EXCITED. We absolutely love this guy and love Dave and highly, highly, highly recommend all of you to this plan. LOTS of hard work and some sacrifice, but TOTALLY worth it!!!

New Year's Resolutions: some are going well, like making new dishes. We had some really yummy new food in January. Lots of things are joining our family favorites list. Working out is going great for Justin - Delta's new gym just opened and so he enjoys going before/after work. Working out for Erin is not going as well, but I really think I'm ready to commit :) At least I'm eating super healthy and getting plenty of veggies - that's all I eat for lunch :) Plus a little peanut butter ;) We're both staying healthy busy and being productive with our down time.

We're really feeling blessed with having some amazing people in our lives. There's a wonderful family we have just fallen in love with. They are truly uplifting and brighten our spirits every day. And while we know that technically we're giving service by being their ride to church/ youth group each week - WE are the ones who feel blessed beyond measure. I don't know how that works but I'm so grateful it does. You would never realize their situation because they are so happy and positive all of the time. It makes us feel much more grateful for all of our many blessings and want to do more to help others out.

In other news, we found out this weekend that...

the Atlanta Temple is reopening!!!!

The rededication will be Sunday May 1, 2011. The Open House, which is for ANYONE who would like to tour the temple before it's been dedicated for worship, will be April 9 - 23. We are SO excited to have this opportunity to share our beautiful temple with our friends and family, especially those not of our faith. Yes, that's what I said, you don't have to be a Mormon to take a tour of the temple during the open house!! So, for any of our friends who would like to check it out, just let us know and we'll be sure to get you tickets to one of the tours. We don't know anything else about tour times/ticket dates right now, but I'll be sure to keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you have questions about Mormons or our temples, there are answers on this website.

YAY JANUARY! Thanks for being a fan-tabulous month!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The end of Les Miserables

In March of 2009, Justin and I set out to conquer our own Mt. Everest. We wanted to read the complete, unabridged 1463 pages of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

(Note: NOT our table cloth/pet hair. Only a depiction of how big this book is.)

Fastforward 9 months to December 30th and 31st, and we completed the book (Justin - 30th, Erin - 31st).

We could not complete such a life-changing, MARATHON of a book without expressing our love and gratitude for Victor Hugo and for the amazing spiritual upliftment that is Les Miserables.

I received my copy of the book in high school when my parents gave Katie and I the book for Christmas (with 2 tickets to see the broadway show tucked inside). The show was AMAZING. I really can't describe how touching it is. To me, when discussing Broadway shows, there are the fun ones like Mary Poppins or Lion King (ground level), and then there's a step up to Beauty and the Beast or Aida (top of Empire State Building), and then there's a step up to Wicked (top of the Burj Khalifa). And then there's a giant leap learger than the distance from the Sun to Pluto, and that's where Les Mis is sitting.

I always wanted to read it, but never did. When Justin first started with Delta Oct '09, he was throwing bags and had a LOT of down time. He read several books and then decided he wanted to read Les Mis. So he goes out and buys the book, brings it home, and then I remembered that I had a copy too. So I dig around a bit and find it, and we decide to start it out together and that when we finish we'll go see it on Broadway in Europe (the only place it was playing at the time).

Now, word to the wise: choosing to read Les Mis is like committing to run a marathon. Not kidding. 1463 pages is a LOT of pages, especially when the print is not very big. But I promise that if you will stick it out, it will be worth EVERY minute. I'll definitely read it again in the future.

I'd heard that Victor Hugo can be wordy at times, or describe things that are seemingly unimportant for pages upon pages... Rather than be annoyed with this, I let myself be submerged completely and in the process found out what it really means to be a hopeless romantic. Stop and smell the roses doesn't begin to express the love affair Mr. Hugo had with his characters. By spending so much time in every detail of his story, I felt like I really got to know these people (plus I had the songs they sing in my head). By the middle/end of the story when people start dying, it was tragic and sad and I cried like my own friend had died. At the very very end when our giant angel dies I wept.

If you would like to immerse yourself in a book that will literally change your life, that will touch the spiritual and human side of you, that will teach you how to be better than you ever thought possible, how much you could do for someone you truly love, that people are human and can be cruel and unforgiving, that God is merciful and kind and full of grace and truth, that there really are angels in human form among us, or that God's love and forgiveness apply to ALL of us, then I recommend you read Les Miserables.

In Victor Hugo's own words (p.1242):

"The book the reader has now before his eyes - from one end to the other, in its whole and in its details, whatever the omissions, the exceptions, or the faults - is the march from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from the false to the true, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from rottenness to life, from brutality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from nothingness to God. Starting point: matter; goal: the soul. Hydra at the beginning, angel at the end."


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year, New Goals

In all the excitement of going on our cruise, planning our next one, and having FOUR SNOW DAYS (I wish they'd just cancel Friday too instead of doing this day-by-day thing... Definitely getting old by now), I have neglected to share our Goals for 2011. For some reason sharing them to anyone who could possibly read makes me feel more accountable and thus I think I'll have a higher likelihood of achieving them. Justin and I made a huge list with goals for lots of things (physical, financial, spiritual, homemaking (me not him), spouse, personal, professional, and "other"). Since it's a pretty detailed list, I'll share the most important/difficult ones.

1. If you've ever been my roommate, you know that I can sit on a couch and watch tv with the best of them. Really, I love to veg. I don't know or care about Kim and Khloe, but as soon as I flip on E!, I get sucked in and can't cut it off. Please say that this happens to some of you? My husband calls it mindless television, and that's exactly what it is.

Recently I've been reading this talk called "Reflections on a Consecrated Life" by one of the big leaders of our Church. Whether or not you belong to our church, I highly recommend this talk! In it, Elder Christofferson talks about how a consecrated life is a life of purity (as demonstrated by Jesus Christ), a life of labor (again, we have a perfect example in Christ), a life that respects the gift of one's physical body, a life of service (Christ = example), and a life of integrity.

Anyways, coming back to my love to veg. While reading this talk, I stumbled across the following quote (in the "life of labor" section):

"Having spoken in praise of labor, I must also add a kind word for leisure. Just as honest toil gives rest its sweetness, wholesome recreation is the friend and steadying companion of work. Music, literature, art, dance, drama, athletics - all can provide entertainment to enrich one's life and further consecrate it. At the same time, it hardly needs to be said that much of what passes for entertainment today is coarse, degrading, violent, mind-numbing, and time wasting. Ironically, it sometimes takes hard work to find wholesome leisure. When entertainment turns from virtue to vice, it becomes a destroyer of the consecrated life. "Wherefore, take heed...that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God" (Moroni 7:14)"

I italicized the part that stood out to me. He was talking to me!!! It's amazing how every time our church leaders talk, they talk to me as an individual. So cool. Anyways, it hardly goes without saying that I am resolved to spend my time more wisely. In the same talk, Elder Christofferson quoted Richard L. Evans by saying "Life offers you two precious gifts - one is time, the other freedom of choice, the freedom to buy with your time what you will." I'm not exactly maximizing either choice when I choose mind-numbing and time wasting television over more productive alternatives. So, this year I will be using my time more wisely and come December will let you know how it goes. And feel free to ask/prod/give ideas on how to do this. My ideas: cook more new things, finally finish the 2 quilts I started last year, learn how to do other crafty things, be a better housekeeper so it's always 100% straight, read more books, blog more, keep in touch with friends, read scriptures/journal (I count blogging as a journal), exercise/learn tennis, etc...

2. Other than using my time more wisely, I would like to be more healthy. Eventually, I would like to enjoy running. My friend from high school LA did this and I really admire her for it - she's even done a 1/2 marathon. Another friend did a 10K. I'm thinking maybe I'll set a goal to run next year, but for this year I'd like to get back to eating healthier (for a few months in the fall I ate 100% veggies for lunch and I felt SO good) and just good old exercising. Justin and I bought P90X in November. I started it and lasted a few days, but allow myself to whine and take a few days off... I'm still on that little break and feel the athletic angel on my shoulder saying to buck up and just do it. I love exercising, really I do, but I don't like hurting and boy does P90X hurt :) So my goals were to eat healthy and do P90X twice this year. Maybe not in 180 days, but to just get through the program to where the push-up/pull-up workout doesn't make me cry anymore and I can honest to goodness do EVERYTHING in the workout 100% like they do.

3. Build a better relationship with Christ. In church on Sunday I taught the 14-15 year old young women for the 3rd hour (it's like another Sunday School but the youth split up for this one). The topic was on Building a Relationship with Christ.

This picture was part of the lesson. Something compelling is that the outside of the door has no handle. Reminds me of Matthew 7:7 "...knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Of course Christ wants to be in our lives, but it's US who has to invite him in. It's ME who has to work to cultivate that relationship. I can do SUCH a better job of this, and so one of my resolutions is to improve in all of those things that can build a better relationship with Him. This is definitely the one I'm most excited about.
*I'm super pumped about my major goals this year. I feel like they all tie in together really well. As I build a better relationship with my Savior, I will naturally choose more uplifting leisure activities. and vice-versa. As I do a better job taking care of this wonderful gift of a body, I will fill my free time and come closer to Christ, etc... How fun will this be?!?*
Wish me luck! And ps - I'd like to point out that I have already surpassed the total number of blogs we posted in all of 2009 and I'm one short of 2008. I guess it's easy to improve when you have SO MUCH improvement to make. Hopefully that's how I'll look back at this year when all is said and done :)
What were your New Years Goals?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

And we are SO excited :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 8: Arriving in Tampa/going home

Day 8: Arriving in Tampa :(

Day 8 began less pleasantly by the other days because we jolted back to the reality that our cruise wouldn't actually last forever. Dang it! (see Claire's farewell video at the very bottom - it accurately expresses how we all felt having to say goodbye for the final time)

We went to our sit-down breakfast one last time with Sariyono (LOVED him). Then we waited for our group to be called. We were one of the first ones off the boat b/c we were trying to catch an earlier flight. .

We took a quick taxi to the airport. There was zero traffic and zero wait at the airport. We were off the boat and at our gate in no more than 20 minutes NO KIDDING. Then, to continue our magical experience, not only did we make the flight but we were in first class. YAY!.

We returned to Atlanta and it didn't feel too cold, but there was snow on the ground! It was the first white Christmas since the 1800's (Claire was sad to miss it). Justin had to scrape our car before he could drive it back to get me (he parks in the employee lot when we travel so we don't pay for parking).

Here's a picture of the parental's house: Now, for Georgia, this snow is really exciting so you Northerners are not allowed to bash it!

Got home, took a nap, unpacked, etc... We've been drinking our juice out of wine goblets and wearing tropical colors ever since. It's been a hard adjustment back :(

Things we loved the most: chocolates and animal towels EVERY night (always SO fun to plan for the next day's activities on a freshly turned down bed), taking showers every day that were the PERFECT temperature and the PERFECT pressure, fresh towels once a day, having the bed made twice a day and turned down each night, not having to make dinner or clean up after it, just showing up and eating as much as we wanted (which was usually a LOT - we basically paid for our dinner - the room/entertainment/etc... was all free!), soaking up the warm Caribbean sun, having zero responsibility besides getting to the next meal on time :), it was so romantic!!!, and lastly and most importantly, we had so much free time to just spend together - so much time to bask in our love. SO MUCH FUN.

We're seriously trying to plan our next cruise and are 95% committed to the week of Thanksgiving 2011.

One other bit of happy news: Justin is on his way home from work right this very minute via the Original Mattress Factory to purchase our BRAND NEW BED!!!!! Yes, that's right ladies and gents, we finally saved up enough in our savings fund that we are allowing ourselves to get a bed! The bedroom furniture is right behind it - we'll get that hopefully by the end of the month. The bed should get delivered on Saturday and our lives will be changed forever. YAY!

Cruise Day 7: Christmas at Sea

Day 7: At sea

Day 7 was a nice, lazy, Christmas day. We were able to sleep in because there was nothing we had to get up for. Justin had a migraine the night before, so we'd actually gone to bed relatively early. Now, I'm usually a pretty light sleeper, and all night I'd been up to the bathroom a few times (I drink too much during the days :), so imagine my GREAT surprise when there a full Christmas stocking next to our bed the next morning. I was SHOCKED. Totally didn't expect anything, but somehow Santa and his helpers found us all the way on our boat in the middle of the ocean! So that was a fun, magical start to the morning.

We met up with everyone at breakfast. I think we all felt like Claire at the thought of leaving the next day :(

But before I can truly begin with the rest of Day 7, let's rewind to the wee early morning hours of Day 7. (Maybe even all the way back to the end of Day 6 - I don't know, we were sleeping!)

There was an adult air guitar contest. Scott really wanted to do it, and finally convinced Katie to do it. Good thing he did, because they BOTH won another trophy!!! This was #2 for both of them! Way to go kids! There they are with Carnival Cruise Entertainment friend Jonathan.

Katie's only a little bit excited to have 2 of these, don't you think?

Anyway, so back to Christmas breakfast. The following picture is just to let you know how indulgent we really are on a cruise, because I don't think you're understanding what I'm trying to explain. Every morning for breakfast we get to order juice. I think we all order 1-2, but Christmas morning I'm not sure what happened, we ordered and drank more than what you see below (the rest of us still have at least one glass in front of us):

Love this pic :) What more could a girl want that a fun, handsome, wonderful, WONDERFUL husband with her on Christmas day... on a big boat... in the middle of the warm ocean... in the warm ocean sun... with unlimited food... *sigh* I've found the REAL heaven.

Yes, we like our grapefruit juice!

Throughout the day everybody spent time with the friends they'd made during the week. Scott and Claire were nowhere to be found, but here's Katie with Team Michigan, playing putt-putt. Good thing she had practice during the Amazing Cozumel Race!

Dad took his shirt off to lay out and ended up with a "fanny chest" - it's a cousin to the "bro" (a bra for men). It's all the rage these days.

There was an ice sculpture demonstration that was SO cool. Just before the ice sculpting, there was a men vs women synchronized swimming competition. Of course me/Katie/Dad/Justin entered (along with the 2 boys and 1 girl in Team Michigan, plus one other new cruise friend) - nobody was there to take pictures. Mom video taped the whole thing (PRICELESS), and she doesn't have 3 hands, so we have a great video (I'll try to get it from them) so you can see the winning routine. The boys won by a LANDSLIDE, and also meant that Justin and Dad each earned ANOTHER trophy.

Celebrating the win with some chocolate/fruit sushi. YUMMY!

Nursing the loss with cups upon cups of the strawberry bisque I mentioned earlier. They had it at the lunch dessert buffet the last day! SCORE!

The sun is lowering for the last time :.....( (that's a lot of sobbing teardrops)

Dad doing his favorite activity (say it with me, you know it by now!): NAPPING. See what I mean about the drooping arm? You can see where he just closed his eyes mid page, and the book fell down.

Because it was Christmas, there was organized Christmas Caroling in the main lobby between dinner times. SEVERAL hundred people showed up. This was the best picture I could get (sorry - crappy flash), but it was really a one-of-a-kind, wonderful experience! And the coolest part: we sang real Christian hymns too - not just wintery songs!

LOOK WHO WE SAW THERE! I know him! We were sure to thank him for the stocking and were grateful he stuck around. After such a long night, a cruise does sound like the perfect vacation. Hey, if the big guy is on a cruise, isn't that a sign that it really is the best vacation ever?

At dinner we had salmon for the (count it) fourth time! Each time seemed better than the last. SO DELICIOUS.

Now, you've heard me mention these little Carnival Legend trophies that we'd won throughout the week. By Saturday night, the count was up to 9. So we decided to bring all of our trophies and our medals (there should be 7 there - K/C forgot theirs) to make a Winner's Circle Centerpiece for our final meal.

Breakdown of the final count:
Dad won 2 trophies, one for winning the Hairy Chest Contest, the other for winning Synchronized Swimming)
Erin and Justin combined for a total of 3 (Erin's Minute to Win It, Justin's Synchronized Swimming, and combined effort to win Name That Tune in the piano bar)
Katie won 2 trophies, one for winning the women's division of the Air Guitar Competition, and one for winning a Karaoke competition
Scott won 2 trophies, one for winning the men's division of the Air Guitar Competition, and one for performing with the live band during a Karaoke event.
7 medals: 1 per person for taking 2nd at the Amazing Cozumel Race.

Again, I hope you've been listening: we're THE Coolest Family EVER. I think we just proved it.

As if that wasn't enough, as the family's walking off the boat, our friend Jonathan asked Mom and Claire how many trophies we ended up with. They said 9. He said that we were just so awesome we needed another as a tribute to our awesomeness. So M/C were awarded another trophy as they walked off the boat. We're so cool that we get trophies just for being cool. Final total = 10 trophies.

Here's a picture of our wonderful wait staff. They were such a joy and delight, we really looked forward to seeing them every night. We love you Rex and Santos!

I just thought this was so funny I had to include it :)

Mom and Dad with Nancy - THE hostess with the absolute mostest. She was a JOY, delight, and pleasure every single time. She brightened our day each morning and evening and if you are able to go on the Legend between now and May when her contract is up, PLEASE take the time to meet and get to know her just a little bit. SUCH a darling, precious, sweet young woman!

Sorry we didn't do a great job of taking pictures of food. Like I said - weird flash. Plus we forgot a lot :) But here's the Christmas dessert. Justin could tell you more about it.

Our last animal. I think it's a puppy? It was almost as much fun trying to figure out what they were as it was to come home and find them :)
Home Sweet Home. I miss it already...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cruise Day 6: Cozumel

Day 5: Cozumel

Day 6 began a nice, lazy day. Our excursion wasn't until 11:30, so we got to sleep in and have a nice, big breakfast. When we did make our way off the ship, we found out we were parked to the Allure of the Seas. This is THE newest (just started sailing Dec 2010), biggest boat out there (6 inches longer than its twin - the Oasis of the Seas). She was MONSTROUS. I can't decide if 6,000 guests on one boat sounds like fun or craziness. I guess we'll have to go and find out!

We were SO excited about our excursion in Cozumel. We signed up for The Amazing Cozumel Race. We LOVE the show The Amazing Race, so when we saw this listed as an option we just HAD to sign up for it. Let me tell you, it was probably the most fun thing you could ever do. Almost.

Along the way Katie had to get a dragon Henna tattoo for us to find our next clue. The dragon had 4 dots on it, which correlated with a certain Mayan number, which was the next location on our map!

Rather than have detours and road blocks, etc... it was really just a scavenger hunt. The picture below is when we were the first to check in for the halfway point. That's right, first. By this point we'd already been running all over town and even got to go see a museum. Not that we looked at much more than the words we needed to find, but it was still really cool :)

After the halfway checkpoint, we hopped on a boat that was moving a LOT.

Why is Scott wearing a mask? Because he had to SNORKEL to find our next clue!!!!!!!

Then Claire had to get a bracelet, which doubled as one of our clues.

We also had to play 3 holes of putt-putt. If we couldn't make the hole in the given par we could choose to do it over or purchase water/tequila. We played them over and only had to buy one water. At the last hole Mama made it on the par shot!!!! Again, we were first to EVERYTHING we got to.

That's right, we were the first to finish. We had to wait about 45 minutes for all the rest of the teams to arrive. (These are our Amazing Cozumel Race id badges)

We were so dedicated that we put our blood and sweat into it. Yes, that's blood dripping down Scott's leg. His wet bathing suit chaffed the inside of his knee and when we finally stopped to breathe we realized we had a battle wound.

Don't ask any of us how we were first to EVERYWHERE and somehow ended up second? Doesn't make sense to us... (the "winning" couple's snorkel boat got stuck and so they took away 40 minutes of their total time. But here's the thing... the other people stuck on the same boat with them ended up 6th. Does that sound weird to you?)
However you cut it, we had SO much fun and walked away with some sweet medals. Go us!

This is right before the policeman came to yell at us for climbing on the letters. But seriously, how could you put such perfect climbing letters in such a perfect place and NOT expect people to climb on them? Somebody wasn't thinking that one through...

It was Christmas Eve and it was fun to see a local, life-sized Nativity. Complete with pigs :) (and I'm not talking about my Dad/Scott/Justin - haha)

Right at the end of our pier there was a FANTATSTIC cantina called The Three Amigos. Everything had to do with the movie and it was done to a T!

And of course there's always time to wrestle an alligator (sp?)


Didn't get any pictures from back on the boat, but we were pretty tuckered out from running so much. I think they said that total it's a 3-mile course? It was SO FUN. If you're ever in Cozumel, I highly highly highly recommend that you do this. You will LOVE it!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cruise Day 5: Belize

Day 5: Belize

Day 5 began medium early? We had to wait in line for tender tickets, and we're lucky our cruise director knew Katie or we may not have made our excursion in time. If you're ever going to Belize, skip the big breakfast and get in line for a tender as early as possible. There were SEVERAL people who missed their excursions b/c they were too late/ the system didn't work as good as it could have/ etc...

When we did get on our tender, the drive in was a few miles. We were REALLY far out there. As we got closer to land, the seagulls swarmed around the tenders. It was really pretty, actually. And we were under shelter, so nobody got any surprised from above :)

K/M/D on the tender.

C/S/E/J. Can't you tell we're getting tanner?
While waiting for our excursion, we spotted a George Lucas (right Scott?) look-alike and Scott wanted to take a picture, so we had to pretend to be the subjects of said photo while pointing to the real subject. I feel like he can see right through us...

Claire. What a joyful child.

We went ziplining first. Justin tried to film a few times, but we ran out of tape and he couldn't brake so he was going to fast. Oops.
The other women. I think Katie is caught in a yawn?

Scott did take some video, but it's at the bottom of the post so scroll down to see those!
After ziplining we went cave tubing. Again, we're so on with the matching bathing suits. And my new water shoes are so cute!

Carrying the inner tubes - it was about a 15 minute walk/hike through the Belizean jungle.
We took pictures of the caves with our water camera, but they didn't turn out b/c it was so dark (duh), so here's a few floating down the river afterwards.

We floated down the river linked up together so our guide could guide us better.
And from the back...

The best one at the end of the cave tubing while still inside the cave.

Video of me ziplining. We were doing Tarzan yells, then I was having fun and kept yelling.