Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reunited and It Feels So...

Warm. It feels so warm and fuzzy inside my heart this afternoon, and it's not just the sleep induced haze of the last of my dawn o'clock carne a campfire breakfasts. My heart is content today. I've not only spent nearly a week with my grandmother after 34 years apart (there, I said it) but I also have new family to enjoy; an uncle and aunt I'd never met, and more memories to cherish of my father and sister. 
The feeling of contentment stems from the fulfillment of a dream started about 6 years ago. Ray and I were returning from our first overnight trip as a couple. Stopped to eat at a Mexican restaurant in Bremerton and sat across from a huge map which happened to show Tenamaxtlan, the place my family was from I told him. How could I know at that time that saying how I would like to take my daughter (if I had one) to visit my grandmother in Mexico would become a nearly desperate desire in the years to follow. Or that I would in fact go on to have two beautiful hijas with this guy who'd been just a horsey smelling bank customer who happened to make me break into a sweat everytime he came in. 
It's funny how the paths of life twist and turn, sometimes becoming more worn, and sometimes vearing off in new directions as we age. How the people we think nothing of, or have never met, can suddenly change our lives... or reinforce our idea of how life should or could be lived. Of course my "former" life was so different than the one I live now i.e. lots of hot dogs, Hamburger Helper, and tuna fish, not to mention only my little boy dog Spunky to care about outside of my small circle of family and close friends. Not that I would trade any of that in for the healthy eating, country living, craft-a-licious life I enjoy now, but would I be in the same sort of life appreciating mental space without his influence? 
I'm sure I would still love to spend time with people, and I was a scrap-a-holic long before any of the Bradshaws entered the picture. Would I have ever had reasons to consider how much a father's influence makes in a child's life? Would I know without a doubt that I am doing exactly what Nature wants from me most of the time...and enjoying communing with that force during the before dreaded GARDENING I've meticulously avoided my entire life- not probably lol. 
Throughout this trip I spoke over and over to anyone trying to converse with me about how important my family is to me; how important recording and preserving my ancestral stories is. Putting a face and personality to names I hear infrequently gave me a gift I had not expected... the feeling of Belonging. Of not just knowing the name of the town my "other" family has lived in for over one hundred years, but of actually walking the streets to enter the houses where they still live. Of seeing stone walls surrounding the garden of a house my 97 year old grandmother has lived in for the majority of her life. I've slept in the same room that my four aunts shared as children. Perhaps the hand laid brick roof is different, but thats not the point.
I have been included in a Ruelas family reunion of sorts, and it feels Awesome! What a wonderful surprise to have my Uncle Gonzalo accompany us to the airport this morning, and as we wandered el mercado in historic Guadaljara, I reveled in shopping the stalls under their shared protective gaze. After picking out a few souvenirs bargained for on my behalf, it was only a few stops and a quick photo op later that again it was time to bid Adios to the Ruelas brothers. 
I made sure to let them both know how much this trip has meant to me, and exacted promises that it would not be so many years to pass before we are together again. Mi Tio even offered me the use of his house should my family ever be able to visit with me... he may not realize that I'm so taking him up on that lol. The best farewell gift was the big smile on my father Efren's face as we hugged goodbye. I guess I have a bit of haggling in me as well to get something so valuable for free huh? 
Flying through airport security, I've settled in for another long wait for my plane which isn't due to arrive for another 6 hours or so. Hey, when you can catch a two hour ride to town, you take it around here! And you know I wouldn't trade the time waiting here for the time I got with them both this morning for all the free airfare in the world. Well, maybe a little free airfare if anyone reading this has any?
After a much needed bathroom break, I selected Starbucks as the prime spot for an expulsion of emotion in typed form. Would you believe I have been sitting here for over an hour with 3/4 cup of Organic, non-instant cafe del dia left and an uneaten piece of cheesecake in front of me?! What could possible have kept me from these delicacies? Oh just a little run in with a beautiful woman returning home from caring for her father to Sacramento, the place of my next (5 hour) layover.
Martha and I both have Samsung phones, and that's how we first began conversation, with her inquiry as to whether I had a matching plug to charge her cell phone. Alas, the one cord I did not bring (I have three along to accompany my many gadgets) is the one that would have fit. As we small talked we shared pictures of our children, our reasons for visiting Mexico, and which estados we'd be returning home to in America.
When we moved on to our work and personal life, it became apparent that this was going to be another of those WhileWeWait4It moments that my mom's been blogging about for the last month. Would you believe Martha works as a hospice caregiver for cancer patients? We not only bonded over that, but shared how difficult it can be to remember that the more we love in life, and look for causes of celebration despite frustrations. I was able to send her home with some new ideas and a card for her husband. I'll be able to continue to develop our friendship through our shared information... a beautiful card for a lovely woman will be a pleasure to create as usual.
I've started and ended my trip with reminders that life isn't about what's missing, but about living each day to the fullest. It's about loving those around us with an open heart. About interpretting the actions and words of our loved ones without the expectation of hurt... I've wept a little (okay, a lot) more than usual, but the tears have been ounces of happiness, of gratefulness, of a non-alcohol induced I Love You, Man- No, I mean I Really Love You, Man! mentality that is up to me to maintain. 
So while I wait a little longer and continue reliving my memories, I thank you for reading along with me again on my most recent journey. Hopefully you live close enough to join me this summer for a reinactment of my new three stone cooking method... but friends, lets try it around 5 at night, si? ¡Muchas gracias y adios por ahora amigos!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fresh Is the Best

Another early morning outside in the still-darkness with my father avoiding smoke and enjoying the carne asada prepared fresh over an open fire had my day started with a full stomach. About an hour later my Uncle returned to pick us up, and together the three of us traveled to Atango for some fresh queso. 
Queso is spanish for cheese, but it is also a type- you'd recognize it sprinkled on top of your frijoles in any Mexican restaurant. It's a soft, crumbling cheese that tastes, well, muy delicioso! My father had spoken of this farm before, and I was looking forward to seeing the operations ran by a husband and wife team. You never know what your future holds, and milking cows could be a talent of mine someday!
Bumping down the road out of town, I couldn't help but notice that the ears of these brothers are shaped the same, so I tried to capture that on camera but my pictures are not as good as I hoped. All that bumping! It will be interesting to look at my daughters features when I return home and notice more similarities to my side of the family perhaps. Turning off the main road, we traversed maybe a mile or two of a downward sloping dirt road enclosed on both sides by another of those made-from-a-million-rocks walls, or fences.
After parking our SUV in the couple's yard, we walked down to where the two of them were hard at work on thier milking stools squeezing out steaming hot fresh milk. I could practically hear Ray begging for a glass, but warm milk has never had any appeal for me so I was glad they did not offer lol. I've stated my fair share of no me gustos and no, gracias' while here already and it has only been a few days. We were soon joined by their daughter, Veronica, and her brother. 
Veronica has the same beautiful green eyes of her mother, with strong, Frieda-ish eyebrows to frame them. Black silky hair hung down her back in a ponytail and I gathered that we'd be taking her to school! I hadn't noticed but apparently she was very upset at being late for school to start, but once she found out she had a ride, she nearly skipped into the house for her things and bounced into the back seat behind me. 
Enthusiasm for school? So un-American!
Following the rio into the heart of Atengo we could see the rounded tops of the church long before the bridge crossing the river. Now, if there was a walking bridge and a driving bridge, wouldn't you use the walking bridge? Especially if the driving side had only one lane? Well if you said yes, you must be American lol. I saw five people with armfuls of items crossing with hardly enough room between their loads and the rear view mirror of my Uncle's truck. Not a single soul on the walking bridge though! How strange.
After delivering Veronica to her school we hit the dusty trail (literally) again back for the farm and the promise of that fresh queso. By now the milking was almost done but the cows still had to be let back into their pen. I noticed a lot of them didn't seem to have been milked completely, but I understood once they got in the corral when all the babies came running for mama. Wincing for the moms as their kids headbutted their swollen udders, probably a trick to get the milk going. Every nurser seems to have one (Sunday).
The river we had been driving beside had done considerable damage to the stone farm walls surrounding the pasture, and I was told that the price for repair comes to about $5/meter about 5 ft high... Sounds like a pretty good price if you are interested in shllepping rocks yourself. The week before I came there was a freak rainstorm that had lasted something like 38 hours before letting up, raising the river up over it's bank with the swirling force strong enough to demolish the unprotected pasture wall. 
 I headed down to investigate the river bank and found a small clam shell... it may be illegal but I have a few treasures to take back. There is a beautiful purple flowerering tree that only blossoms before Easter; the locals say that it represents Christ's crucifiction and resurrection. Between the pages of my spanish/english dictionary I pressed a few of these fallen flowers, as well as the red ones my father handed me one night after visiting a freind. This shell, a smallish heart shaped rock, even a ball of my grandmother's hair, to complete my collection! 
I know the last one is kinda gross, but I guess I just want some tangible way to stay connected with her. One of the first times I left, Saturday afternoon, she was getting her hair down up by a lady living nearby, and I always loved getting my hair done, doing my own daughter's hair, etc. I can only hope that before my trip is over I might get an opportunity to fix up her slilver strands myself. 
Well after a few pictures down by the riverside, we all headed back to the house. Here was my chance to see how real "country" folk live around here. Hmm, pretty much like every where else I guess, aside from their open air, wood burning cook stove and the stack of wood to go with it. Green Eyes showed us the beautiful wood cabinets and wardrobes her brother had made. Her son showed me the bird coop, where I recognized a few of the same varieties we house on our own little "country" farm. 
Placing the fresh, still wet cheese in a cooler between layers of plastic wrap and paper towels, we bid our hosts adios and returned to the house.
One of my favorite feelings is when ever I return, mi abuela turns towards the sound of my call and her whole face lights up as her arms reach out to embrace me before I am even close enough to hug. It's a lovely way to arrive! Guess what she made for us while we were away? Fresh menudo! Talk about lovely, right {yeck}. So I wasn't too upset to learn that we'd basically be turning right back out the door to go help round up a calf outside of the town of Juanaxactlan, about ten miles from here. It could be ten kilometers... ¡no se! Far enough away from the menudo lol.
Passing through the main part of town, I learned that this is the place that the family of my sister's mother come from. I also learned that it is where an old friend of my father's, who had come to visit he and my mom while they were living together in Tacoma, I'm thinking before they had me. Turning onto another dusty road, ahead in the distance loomed a large enough hill that it had it's own cloud on a cloudless day. This may actually be a mountain! And yes, it was confirmed that there are actually two mountains, right next to each other- hey another qualification, this time, it's a ridge lol. The one whose top is covered with snow is the one that has the cloud above it. However, it's sister is actually a live volcano know to still shoot sparks and fire into the sky. 
Later, as we tromped through the tall grass pastureing  the steerlings we'd come to rope up for ear pierceing, I was surprised to see what looked like a small dark grey cloud rising from the active volcano... as I wondered, my father called out that indeed, the volcano had just had an eruption. What the what the? I confirmed the vision, and had to laugh as I ran back to the truck, chagrined that he had to tell me to, go get my camera! 
So far I have not followed through with my intention to seek out the jogging park in the mornings, but I sure got my exercise as I high stepped back at sprint, until I got to the barb wire fence. My friends who've been through boot camp would have been proud of how quickly I dropped to the ground and rolled under the wires (I was pretty proud myself). Still racing time, I grabbed the cell phone and took off again, choosing a different path. Surprise, another barb wire to roll under, but I sprang up and leapt across the field, snapping pictures as I went. The color of the rising cloud had changed to white, but the whole experience was so intense I just continued to take picture after picture of what could be another once in a life time experience.
After all that excitement, it was somewhat of a let down not to have anything to do while the men continued to visit. Well, like any American of my generation, I figured it must be time for a selfie (check out my new facebook profile). I'm totally diggin that ranchera look lol. You can't even see the grass I found in my hair later on haha. I'm sure that only enhanced the look though right? And, I got to "roll in the hay" on vacation hahahahaha.
Thanks for joining me for another partial day's recap!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Another Best Day Ever Page To Make

While I was waiting in la cocina en la casa de mi abuela for the boiling rice to cook, I captured un poco mas photographicia through la ventana, al lado de la stufa. (See, I'm getting the hang of this and I'm not even using Google translate- I have that thick book of language along, remember?) Out I went to gather the fallen lime my lens eye found. Taking them back inside, I finally connected in a lingual exchange that made sense with mi abuelita! I think switching to saying, Que? Instead of Repete is helping. 
So what was the topic? Lime ade, or Limonade, and how to make it from real limes. What a treat! Squeezing the juice from each rind over the mixing bowl she'd provided me, and adding mas agua y uno poquito cuchara de sucar, I again reached for the camera. I simply had to hold on to the moment as long as possible. We stirred a lot of love into that pot of juice!
I tia Carmen arrived with her son-in-law and grandaughter, as well as a big supply of groceries.  For some reason I felt she was just what I expected her to be; a short and sassy red 'do, beautiful blouse on, trendy square glasses, and a smile like mine. I have always loved to see the dimples in my family. I could not keep up with her quick talking, though my uncle did try to help with the translations..
Although I wasn't able to talk a lot with her, I did spend some time going over my photographs again with mi primo, "Oz'" He's a very loving father and it was lovely to watch he and his ten year old daughter palying around. There we sat around the table that is so often only seating my little grandma and I had to comment that, this is the way it should be. A family gathered around their matriarch, laughing, catching up, and sharing more than just a bite to eat. Sharing life!
Later I was invited to my uncle's house to meet his wife, Olivia. She could also speak very good English from all her time working in the states, and they made me feel very welcome with a cappuchino and some fresh salad on crackers. I was surprised to find out that Olivia had gone to school with my father!  There are so many connections between the inhabitants of a small town and I've really enjoyed hearing friends and accuaintances call out to one another in passing.
My Aunt decided to stop by before heading back to Guadalajara and I took the opportunity for another perspective by handing my camera over to my cousins daughter, instructing her to take pictures of anything and everything in the flower garden. Looking back through the pictures this evening, I can see that artistry is a talent that runs throughout the many branches of my family tree. The frame filling pictures she took would make great screen savers, card backgrounds, or maybe some mouse pads!
I was able to invite my sister Cynthia and her husband Joaquin over and there went the water works again, lol. I cured them with a shot and half or so of some tequila as we visited in English and Joaquin talked with Gonzalo and his wife. My younger sister is the middle child of her set of siblings, and I've always felt like I bonded with her first when I met the three of them. Many years have passed but when we are together I feel as young as the first times we played Barbies together; me as a 20 year old and her being about 8 I think?
We left after much hugging (and picture taking of course) and after bidding her husband mucho gusto, we headed to the main Plaza for some more chit chat and free WiFi use. Go ahead and take a moment to Google Tenamaxtlan and you will see that it is known for it's week of celebrating the town's 300+ year history. Every night there is music long into the night being performed in the two plazas. In all my research these last four weeks, it never dawned on me that I'd be visiting during this one particular week! The dancers were arrayed in traditional dress and just like at the Puyallup fair, the food vendor's offerings wafted enticingly our way.
Cynthia is so beautiful to look at and it has been a long time since we were able to be alone together. Now that we are the two "married" sisters, we have different perspectives to share, and it will be a new dream of mine for her to spend more time with my daughters, especially Sunday who none of my three hermanas have got to interact with. My oldest younger sister Ruby was out to visit the summer that Rainier was born, but my youngest sister Jennifer, and Cynthia have not got that chance yet, so I'm thinking a girls get together is in order. I do have a big birthday coming up...(isn't every one)?
As Cynthia walked me home, I couldn't have figured the day could get any better. Two selfies later, it was even better though, and coming in the door to embrace my grandmother sent it off the charts. I still haven't had a chance to use any of the papers and adhesive I brought with me (not to mention 5 pounds of embellishments), so I just may have to craft up some new Best Day Ever somethings to adorn those future pages you know I'll be making. 
This trip has already fulfilled so much of my heart, and after a day like today there is a feeling of contentment (mixed with more happy tears) right up there with having just delivered a baby. All is right, right now, and as the festival music continues, I look forward to another day of learning about this area and the traditions of my families cultural infulences. And sharing it all with you, dear reader! Buenas Noches, Hasta Manana...

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Hay Dia de Magnifico Con Mi Familia

First off, let me begin this post with an apology if there are more spelling or syntax errors within these posts de Mexicana, but I have only occassional wi-fi and once I write my heart out and send it off, it's not getting opend again for inspection. ¿Vivo en poco, no? Besieds, how can I edit these living dreams that are happening around me lol. There's no rewind in this life, and if it's one thing that my struggle with the linguistics of this city have taught me, it's that I'm reminded again and again how happy that I've been to be sharing this experience, regardless of joy inhibitors like tehse. 
"They" say a person only needs to see the correct letters, however arranged, to grasp it's meaning. Try it out by creating a secret note for a whippersnapper in your life. You'll earn some cool points for having a secret code, and you'll find out just where your kid stands on the richter scale of figuring things outedness. Picture your next slumber party with passed notes about who likes who and what lip gloss is best. Note to moms- writing notes is a quiet time activity- as in, when they are writing, you get some quiet! Unless your kid needs you to spell out every letter for them still (Rainie).  
Today's interactions began with a bang... more like a firm knocking in actuality, but to my dreaming state of mind it seemed like the walls are crashing down emergency rousing kind of banging accompanying my father's query of whether I was awake yet or not. Yes! I shouted with eyes fighting for alertness. Cleared the frog from my throat and again shouted YES! As I sprang for the door I could already hear is retreating footsteps on the stone tile floor, heading towards the enclosed back yard. "Breakfast is ready," he called over his shoulder without breaking a stride. Back to my room I went after peaking through the entrance to the outdoor area and thankfully gathering enough sense to go back for shoes. As you know from my post-cruise review, struggling for awarness at oh'dark-thirty has consistently proven not to be a problem of mine. However, the day before had finally cast a sleep shadow far enough for me to dream under and I was unusually reluctant to step into the light again.
Herein I discovered the problem: it wasn't even light out! Now, in our house it is a rare treat to sleep past 7 am. Since before Rainier's conception I had my morning routine of rising early established. Some people are not great at mornings, but I am, and its even become a Saturday morning treat of mine; getting up even earlier to enjoy a couple quiet hours writing up blog posts and making myself all fancified for a day at work. I often tell people, if I'm already laying there thinking of things I could be doing, I might as well get up and DO.
While inhabiting my womb, Rainier also showed an early affinity for rising early. At around 6 months of gestation she was doing the flutter kick to the left of my belly button every morning before my alarm had gone off. Fast forward 5 years and she is still the first one popping open her big blue eyes to greet the day with an exclamation of, "It's Day!" Cute, right? Every day. At 6 am or earlier...I trained her well! / Well, I trained her. Per my earlier info share, t's all about the arrangement hahaha.
Speaking of arrangement, yesterday I learned that the name of the town of Tenamaxtlan has a name originating from a word that means, "to cook between three stones," and this morning I was somwhat surpised to find my father with the small fire, three blocks surrounding it, and the grate with carne sizzling away on top. WITH tortillas fresh made the night before...Hell to the ya-ah!  You can bet your flip flop I was grubbing on that fresh from the fire goodness. Even if it was dark as, um, night! out there. I couldn't help but think of my sisters as I returned to my room satiated from the visiting and the wonder at having been roused so early still fogging my thoughts. On the door to the guest room I'm inhabiting is a metal inset of a crown with three points on it... perhaps this is thier room? I mused... was this designed for them especially, and also how happy they would be for me to know that I was being treated like a real Jalisco princess should be lol.
I had mentioned going for a jog in the early morning, but dawn had yet to peak over the horizo so instead I turned my attention to the cobwebs. At home I take a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that when I see a chore that needs to be done, I tend to take care of it asap. True, sometimes its more like an "intend" that gets over looked for a while, like dusting cobwebs, but there are certain days I dedicate to tasks like laundry and vaccuuming well as daily reminders to do the dishes. No really, I'm a list maker and I literally write that down twice just to have something mundane give me a sense of accomplishment. I'm also the supreme scheduling natzi so I mark off and make note of spring cleaning catagories for a bunch of activites I can involve the kids in. Grab that old toothbrushe you've been dying to get your hands on and you can pretend to be Cinderella scrubbing the floor, honey! No, you may not do it for longer than a half hour, what do you think this is, the fun factory (Rainie)?
Dawn came and went and still no sign of mi abuelita. She finally appeared in her doorway and from what I could interpret from her body language was just as happy to see me as I was her. Once again there was a lot of squeezing and signs of contentment from us both. Again I shared a lovely me-n-gramma moment over NesCafe and a sweet biscuit. 
Tired from her medications, she took a little nap while I changed out of my work jeans and into a more Sunday appropriate outfit. Domingo esta los diez mi tia vive la casa de mi abuela. We knew to expect her but did not have confirmation of this, only that it would be after ten o'clock if at all. I took the extra time to snap a few heritage photos (sounds better than I photo-stalked my sleeping grandmother lol). Shots of her hands folded in her lap, the right angle of her frail body in repose, and evidence of the aforementioned black threaded wispy silver hair pulled back in a delicate french braid. 
Just after I put my cosmetics away and gathered my spanish phrase book, she awoke and feigned embarrassment. Comprendo la repunacia   at growing old, a sentiment unfortunately voiced by so many of the people who parented the baby boomers I love. It's not easy, and that's a fact. However, there are certain parts of us which do not have to age, and one of those is our heart's capacity, which can grow immensely, continuing to nourish a soul even as it's shell decays. I completely understand the need for rest, so much that I have indulged my children with nightly sleep ins long after I told myself I'd want to, and was overjoyed when she layed her silver head on my shoulder to complete her snooze. 
Another banging on a metal entry door by la otra hijo de mi abuela, y el hermano de mi padre, Gonzalo. A lot of times you hear on the radio that people are leaving Mexico to come to Los Esatdos un Americanos but after over 35 years, he and his wife Olivia decided to return to thier home town, and they live just up el calle, across from mi hermana Cynthia. What a welcome surprise, even if it did abrupty end our siesta :-) 
Right away he asked me about my Uncle Tommy whom he worked with in his first days of working in America. My entire family rotated through the staff of a restaurant off South Tacoma Way that went by the name of Sambo's. You may be familiar with the contemporary and renamed version; Cattin's. My mother and father met there and my grandma eventually retired from a waitressing career- did you know that was an actual thing that can happen? There's no pension or anything, unless you've been saving your tips as she aways did.
Over the pictures I brought, we shared the results of the paths our lives had taken and he lovingly adored each photo of my sweet girls, our log home, and thier hardworking father. Finally, I was able to speak without faltering too much and could use all that Spanglish I'd been working on, what a confidence booster! There is a lot to be said for a person who is bilingual helping an eager learner like me- they can at least attempt to understand what I'm trying to say using my limited vocabulary. As he and his brother headed into the man cave/garage to catch up, I was thanking God for the story he had shared about reconnecting with my aunt Patricia around the year of 1990, about how beautiful a person she was from the heart out, and how he could tell I was the same kind of person.
In every family there is usually one of us who seems to concentrate on keeping the familial bonds strong. On knowing which weddings, babies, and surgeries are planned, and occassionally feeding the goosip mill to boost the connections. That person for us was definately my Aunt Trisha. Since her passing two years ago, it has been my pleasure to take on her role via facebook stalking my cousins and informing my grandma of the latest and greatest tidbits I've discovered during my "research." 
Together abuelita y yo set about to make a little lunch of sopa de arroz. Take a half stick of margarine and melt, saute rinsed, uncooked rice until slightly browned, add fresh chopped onion, add water, raise heat, stir, cover, and... walk away?! A watched pot never boils, but this one already was, and at our house, that usually hearalds a boil over of the most horrific sticky rice kind. Gazing out the back window after capturing some pics of the stone sink en la cocina, my eyes picked out a neon green nerf ball. Or is it- yes, it is- a fallen lime from the tree pointed out to me the afternoon before. 
My next lesson was in the preparacion de el frugo de limones. Add sugar, water, and the hand squeezed juice of three limes in a large pitcher, stir, and enjoy. ¡Muy delicioso!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Yo Puedo Ayudar?

Are you a list maker like me? As I prepared for my trip South of the Border earlier this week, I went through my usual 4-5 checklists of household chores to complete, as well as the ones for deciding which clothes, toiletries, electronics and electrical cords to keep them operating I'd be taking with me in my cutest purple suitcase. I'm favoring reading off my Kindle ever since recieving one as a hand me down last year, but at the last moment- I mean, getting into the car leaving for the airport last minute- I happened to grap our barely flipped through Spanish/English dictionary. I also happened upon a duffel bag with wheels that my cutie suity fit inside, so I had a secret cute suit with me during my 19 hours of travel.
Do you think I've regretted carrying that 1350+ page tomb around with me a few times as I shlepped my bags around two airports, multiple bathroom breaks, and a sightseeing trip around Guadaljara? I'd be lieing if I said I hadn't. Things is, it actually has been extremely useful... turns out, relying on a few choice explain-my-life phrases and a Kindle loaded with four, Learn Spanish in A Week books? Not a great plan for attacking a language barrier. Even if you think you "understand" what you're hearing. 
After I finally "understood" the last Customs Agent's requirements, I ventured out solo through the automatic doors and scanned the line of waiting cowboy hat wearing mustachiod men for one who looked like I remembered. It HAS been a long time, but the years melted away when I found his seldom shared grin from across the room and concentrated on keeping my feet from running toward him. What is it about dads that brings out the kid in you- oh, um, yeah, that whole parenting thing lol.
After introducing his friend and taxi for the morning, I again had to stop myself from reaching for his hand as we crossed the parking lot. Trying to play cool and sneaking glances at the newest version of my father distracted me from the fact that I wasn't participating in the conversation as mentally planned and rehearsed since the day I asked to come down here. No matter that I hadn't yet (and if I can chicken out, wouldn't be) asked him to speak Spanish to me the entire way down, I'd just eavesdrop! An easier feat once I ensconced myself in the back seat of the Mercury SUV. Following along as best I could, I soon determined that my best basically sucks. This is getting to be kind of a downer post, with all my non ability breaking through, so I'll move on to talking about the excitement that over rode all that. 
Imagine, if you will, that you are about to embark on a two hour trip with a relative you've not spent much time...awkward! Now detour it to stay in Guadaljara exploring la historica sites, dining al fresco, and even perusing our way through a few mercados. Oh snap, I did learn a word or two today... and that's not all.
My father showed me a thing or two about wheeling and dealing in the open air market. Visiting many, but buying nothing, His strategy was much different than mine, which generally includes committing to spending nothing and leaving with crap I can't keep and no money in my wallet. Totally could have used him along with at Diamonds International Jewelers during cruise week, ya feeling me?
Then a few stops later and it was back on the road again, this time heading towards the town where a Jalisco princess was born, Tenamaxtlan. Named for the ancient native word for "a pot between three rocks" (ancient cooking method) it is full of colorful houses, friendly inhabitants, my spirited younger sister, and much thought of grandmother. The house I've only seen pictures of? Turns out it was built by mi familia. Once I'd been given a tour I was able to appreciate so many more details than I first observed. The hand tiled curving archways, custom doors and Through the Looking Glass wardrobes simply didn't hold my attention because I was on the look out for my little abuelita, who I could hear rustling about in the kitchen like a little Mexican mouse.
With her silver strands still threaded through with black at her ripe age of (insert unbelievable number here), her wisend face lit up with joy and I later realised my choked ABUELA! probably went unheard as I crushed her to my much taller body. HOld up- no idea what is being said right now, but how in the world am I bigger than someone who is not a child?!
Oh, this lady is small like a bird, and so again I toned down my exhuberance and simply held her tiny shoulders as she grasped mine. What a moment. Are you crying now too? As if it could not get any better, we were actually communicating too! Well, I could "understand" her anyway, as she asked about my family and reminded me that she hadn't seen me since I was a wee baby. I won't say how many years that has been either, but literally, a life time apart. 
Sitting down on her little loveseat, we again collapsed against one another, with laughs and "Ay, Dios Mio!"s on her part. As tears slipped down our cheeks there was more silent embracing, and I savored every awkward moment of it. When do you let go, right? Cause, I'm gonna get tears in your hair here! 
Why wasn't I surprised when she reached for the toilet tissue for a three square hand off to me. Isn't that what the best grandma's do, give us the best shared feelings imaginable and then clean us up before giving us back to our parents? Back out onto the road again we went for a rousing hike through cattle lands bordered by an insane amount of rock walling. 
Pulling back into town at sunset, I was eager to be in grandma's arms again. Perhaps the travel fatigue, or the last four hours of speaking ONLY English are to blame for the helplessness that engulfed us both as I tried to share the forty or so pictures I had brought along and practiced speaking about. Oh, did I mention she lost her glasses before I came? Poor little abuelita, and me running around shouting some cock-a-many made up spanglish about where or where can my grannies glasses be... words I picked out of my dictionary between field crossings. 
Remember my last post about being ensconced within another culture and realizing I don't have a clue how to communicate naturally? Not much has changed there! Which gave me a new approach to my list making tonight. This time I searched for the phrases I could relate to my current situation when I copied verbs from the Kindle to Notes. 
Here's to hoping I'll finally be able to offer her some assistance- and figure out what the heck in the camasita she's been talking about...*

*No grandmothers are intended to be harmed by the writing of this somewhat snarky ending blog post. She's blind, remember?!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

Friday, March 20, 2015

While I Wait in Fresno

Sometimes a simple strength can endure the longest...  

Ah, Fresno, land of the... um, Fresno? Is that where the cult classic Pauly Shore/Brenden Fraser bromcom Encino Man was based? Oh, no, I guess that was Encino... According to the advertisements greeting departing guests in terminal C, Fresno is a great place to leave in favor of a casino, or to start a business!
Starting a new business is kind of the norm for a gal my age. How many second careers have happened to fall on the shoulders of moms looking for new income while juggling the needs of a household involving small children? The more my crafting takes on a life of it's own, the more I'm reminded that sometimes, you have to open a door yourself, sometimes doors open on their own, and sometimes others open them for you. Having a great conversation with the barista closing down Starbucks at an unforeseen ten o'clock, AJ reinforced those thoughts as he engaged me in conversation which I selfishly centered on myself. No, I did get to listen in agreement as he shared a bit of his similar-to-mine life's philosophy of open interest in the life of another.
Eagerly he invited me to share my passion for capturing and sharing memories (with the aid of pretty papers and glitzy stickers when able). As I shared my St. Patty's day collection of cards I plan to fill out and send before leaving US soil, I told him about how lucky I am to get the time, support, and space to create, and about the incredible opportunities that have come my way over the past couple of years. Writing online, teaching classes in scrapbooking, cardmaking, bookbinding, home decor and more, and selling through the shops and my expanding Etsy catalog. All doors that have opened one after another in my quest for Craft Diva Superstardom!
We laughed as I shared my amusement at realising I'm every parents dream come true-"We have an artist in the family, oh joy (chachingchaching). " On the flip side, he pointed out how happy mi familia must be whenever they receive a pretty little something made just for them... can you tell I like this kid?
Then this sweet boy of 19 had a chance to open up about how he loves creating masterpieces himself! OH ho, little craftster, tell me more; turns out he's a wiz with the spray gun and routinely offers his services to friends looking to spruce up their whips. We compared the tricks of our trade and bonded over "popping" a look. I use inked paper edges, and he looks for ways to highlight shadows imbedded in vehicle bodies. Same dif!
Next thing I knew it was time for tears as he lovingly shared his grandmother's 6 time fight with cancer, and how he honored her spirit with a tatooed rose of her favorite color, yellow. The color of friendship. The color of daffodils, the flower that graced the card I'd just handed him reading, "Unique." Daffodils being the symbol of breast cancer in England. 
The tribal bands are deep black and branch out over his chest, representing the strength of cancer, and the rose looms mightily in the center, a stark juxtaposition and source of light amongst the swirls infinitely remembering his grandmother's own strength. How could he complain about a bad day at work when she had fought so many times against something so foreign and malignant? What right do any of the well have to complain, right...Wow did that ever move me. 
Lucky for him I held it together and moved our conversation into the celebration that is the Relay for Life.  For four years or so now I've been involved in this event around Gig Harbor and this year we'll be hosting a tent on site again. I can't wait to see my mom marching around in the Survivor lap. If she's not feeling up to a rousing polka, I'll push her round myself haha. 
When I got back from Cruisin, I was shocked to find she'd started a blog herself! Shocked because, like me, she doesn't really like to talk about the stuff we consider "bad." Like, not happy stuff. If I'm tired when I get to work and someone asks me how I am, I say, I'm happy to be there! It's more true and I firmly believe we live what we project. I get that from her, as well as a tendancy to want to focus conversatins on what we want to talk about! In other words, not cancer for cryin out loud (literally).
Reading her posts, centered on the idea of what we observe, or consider, or whatever it is that happens to us while we are waiting... they've allowed me to connect with her about her diagnosis, the treatments, her fears and celebrations, in a way that is much more comfortable because, I don't have to ask her about anything she may not want to discuss. I can comment with a story of my own so she knows I've seen her musings, and the fear of saying the wrong thing assumes some of the succinct impersonalness of online chatter. 
That's always my fear, that I'll seem insensitive by not responding to this disruption to her life with the proper gravity. There have been other times when a surgery or in home care has been required for her, but it's never been one pronounced with a capital letter. And it's also that it seems so unbelievable that the strongest, most vibrant don't take shit person I know could be made to sit in a recliner for any amount of time! As she has started to share, I'm proud that my girls will have these testimonies from her about how a change in attitude can make all the difference. 
While I wait for my 2:45 am redeye flight to Guadalajara and the fulfillment of a life's dream trip to visit mi abuela in Tenamaxtlan, not to mention a week with my father whom I've not seen in almost 15 years, I'm grateful for a reflective few hours to catch up on some picture file sorting (sorry to say I have to put you away get ou, cruise photos), Pinterest posting and of course, blog reading. I even have paper, glue and stickers handy so who knows what kind of craft will come with me out of Fresno. 
Thanks for staying up a while longer with me,
<3 Anna

Early Morning Musings From Mexico

If there's anything I've come to expect of a Saturday morning, it's that I'll be lying awake at some point before dawn brightens the sky,  thinking to myself about all the things I could be up writitng about. I'm not sure if the discomfort of my non relcining seat or the two cups of coffee I had while posting about my chat with AJ last night is what kept me from slumbering as my plane meandered southward on it's red eye flight out of Fresno to Guadaljara. Regardless, another weekend starts with me sharing a little bit of my life with you, dear reader.
I planned this trip a little over a month ago; about a week before leaving on my week long cruise vacation, a fond memory that you can now view all the postings for under the tab at the top of my blog marked Travel. My grandmother's in her late nineties, with another birthday marking the calendar of the end of this month. I've always known that my heart's desire was to sit with her and learn more about my family, but something about this last year passing had me nearly desperate to get down to her home town for what is probably a once in a lifetime visit.
Me hace espanol? No, no me have espanol. Um poco, si, para no infrequencia. Hopefully you could guess that I don't speak spanish, only a little, and very infrequently. Understandably, since my return from lala land onboard the Navigator of the Seas, I've been immersing myself in the written and spoken language of our southern neighbor. 
There are times when I feel quite confident attempting the use of the few words phrases I've learned to say, and yet, whenever I'm given the chance to converse, some part of my brain shuts down and my mouth literally gapes open and shut like a fish while I mumble half syllables with no conviction. Needless to say, I don't get asked for help more than one time! 
For a people seeker like myself, the realization that seemingly the entire plane of people I'd waiting and travelling with are somewhat off limits to me due to my fear of failing to communicate effectively was a huge blow to my confidence. I don't know that I've felt quite that lonely in such a huge crowd in a long long while, but you know the shared grins of my fellow sitters in the terminal were a big comfort and even though they probably could tell I was evesdropping up a storm they were still pleasant towards me. 
I know that hand gestures and the spanish translation book(s) I've brought along will smooth out the awkward silences and slow understandings of the week to come. I know that my family will be so pleased to have me trying that they will laughingly overlook my language shortcomings. The photos and crafts I've brought will help me to learn to speak about the people and hobbies that are important to me, and the familiar bonds will be strengthed, just as my biggest hopes wish for... and just as the suns rays finally peek through the cloud cover to herald a new day, understanding despite our language limitations will come. 
With shared hugs, the exchange of my inherited smile, or just a shoulder rub of happiness- mixed in with those 100 awkward pauses or so.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hello, Baby! Feeling Lucky? Feb '15 Card Kit Review February 2015 Card Kit Review and CraftWithAnna Tutorial
Greetings Crafters!
What a whirlwind of craftivity I've been in since returning from my vacation/research trip onboard Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas. In case you hadn't been following along, I went for a one week cruise with my best friend at the end of February. We each paid a little extra through our travel agents, Gail and Cheri over at CruiseOne to have crop space in the conference room onboard with one of our favorite teachers from Creating Keepsakes Conventions of the past, Shelby Dredge of Embellish It!  
You may remember, I had the opportunity to interview Shelby for the August edition of DieCutCrazy, a digital magazine whose back issues are now available free through the Apple store. As many classes as I have taken from her and cool tricks I have learned over the years, I was thrilled to spend a week with the other 90 or so crafters who enjoy her projects as well. So many beautiful memories, and even better, terrific relationships formed with my fellow cruisers.
I'm beyond excited to announce that each month, I'll be showcasing the new kits offered from There are many hot products included in each release, and I'll be sure to include a quick tutorial, as well as showing my finished projects and even a few bonus creations made from the leftover supplies (there are always a lot of those). 
You'll want to head over to my YouTube channel and click the subscribe button (if you haven't already)- now you'll have my latest videos posted directly to your watch feed!

Below are the 8 cards I completed from the contents of the February 2015 Card Kit. Each of their kits contain complete cutting and assembly instructions, those gorgeous quality papers we love, embellishments, and all the cardstock bases and custom envelopes to inspire you to create card collections that you will love to give away. Heck, sometimes I even put mine in a little frame on the mantel for a while... so go ahead and show off: you certainly have my permission!

#1 "Baby Love," and #5 "You & Me Baby"

The best part about the kits for me, aside from all that delicious product, is that the complete instructions for each card are included with full color detail pictures, so I can hop around from card to card completing them as the desire strikes me. Knowing that some of my cards will end up in the shop for sale, I was able to change the designs by simply alternating the patterns or elements- super easy!

First off, let me show you my versions of the large, 5x7 card, number One, "Baby Love," and the 6x6 "You & Me Baby" card with the blue Bazzill base. While many of the same suggested elements appear, you'll notice I added a few more chipboard pieces and fussy cut images to my little hearts desire.
#2 "Hello Baby"

Next up is my this darling little elephant saying, "Hello Baby." Again, by simply choosing an alternate 3x4 card from the kit and that chipboard friend, my card takes on a new look that was so simple, I can't wait to duplicate it!

Now, we all know how fast babies grow. One moment they are a twinkle in our eye and the next thing you know they are thier own person! No matter what stage of life, we care for them with "Love Beyond Measure," which is the theme of card number three in this kit. See how I changed the design from landscape to portrait? And that I used a smaller chipboard heart, and turned the stick pin on it's side. The addition of another fussy cut pennant added to the expressed sentiment and brought in some of that lovely pastel turquoise. The adhesive backed satin scallop trim can be used as a whimsical banner, and home for another enamel dot. Bling bling, baby!

#4 "Baby" Banner

Speaking of banners, don't you just love when the paper does all the work for you? The six by six papers included with this kit make mixing and matching all these patterns a breeze. For this card, I actually just used the piece I had cut for the bottom; one piece of paper, two patterns= one crafty masterpiece! Whoa, that was a little to close to doing math for me to feel comfortable haha.

Something I had no trouble with? Reaching into my seldom used stash of baby themed embellishments to add a little more flair to the bottom of the card. This would have been the perfect place to add a sentiment sticker or even Baby's name! Shelby's idea of wrapping a bit of the included baker's twine and layering the chipboard flower elements is one of the reason's I've always enjoyed her classes... sure, it's a simple trick, but it's one I'll actually remember!

#6 "Love You To the Moon"
& #7 "Hello Baby W/Duck"
 Now for two of my favorite cards in this collection, #6 "Love You To the Moon," and #7, "Hello Baby w/Duck." Aren't they precious?

Again, you can see that I've taken a few liberties with the designs. A few placement differences on our Moon card simply bring the focus to one side and saved me a little fussy cutting. Between elmental-color-matching ruler patterned strips cut from a six by six piece, my little Duck is smelling the tulips atop a distress ink watercolor background.

That's another valuable, unadvertised element included in these kits; they are packed full of Inspiration! Do you identify with a go-with-what-feels-good craft-itude, or are you more apt to read and re-read directions before committing to the cut? No matter your style, you'll be making something... BONUS!

Leftover's Galore!

Created this before I even got off the ship :-)
Let's jump ahead to my bonus projects for this kit! Remember how I mentioned the scores of left over's there would be after this collection's completion? As you can see, I've got lot's more patterned papers to play with, plenty of enamel dots, and some large chipboard elements that will be great for more card making, or even ...some scrapbooking!

Time for the Bonus Round
This simple card used a few fussy cut pieces from the six by six pad, including a little of that ruler print I adore. Shelby's trick for tying a bit of ribbon around the flag is mimiced by knotting what's left of the grey polka dot grosgrain and using a glue dot instead of tying it. Wow, that was easy!

Last but not least by any means, is our featured card for this month's video preview, "Expecting You." Created in a matter of moments, little details like the organza ribbon around the chipboard flag make this a wow card big enough for multiple signatures inside. Can we say, office party (or baby shower, or just big handwriting lol)?

Thanks again for stopping by and playing with me today!
You can preview February 2015 Card kit from EmbellishOnline in the video below. Shopping for your must-have card kit is easy and only a click away at

And just in case you missed the linked picture at the top of the post-

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lemmings to Landlubbers

I've upgraded my solo cup 
(Sigh)... how to say goodbye to one of the best weeks/vacations of my life. Daphne has been to the crop room and cleared her desk, as well as the room of all her contents, neatly stowed- with space left over I'll add- in her luggage. Well, I despite my best intentions, I had not been in any of the four hot tubs on board during my stay, so I made plans to meet Nancy and Lani in the adults only area at 9:30 Saturday. Hadn't been able to finish my celebratory champagne at dinner but didn't think it wise to bring that to the party, so I cleverly filled a plastic water bottle, grabbed what was left of the dark chocolate Trader Joe's peanut butter cups I'd rationed for the week, and headed out to relax in splendid company.
The bags aren't due out in the hall until 11pm, and our formal ship photos aren't promised until 10:30, so I've got plenty of time! Hmmm, perhaps I will just pause for a moment to gather my belongings the best I can; you never know when the urge to continue conversation uninterrupted may present itself in a hot tub! Can you imagine the mental crowing that occurred when I found not one but 6 Survivor watchers outside under the faux star sky? Oh around the time the champagne kicked Nancy out of the tub I realized I'd better get my bikinied bottom dried off and in line those prints we'd ordered.
I should have guessed I'd not be alone down there in the photo gallery, located just outside the Sapphire Dining room on deck 3. Yet, I stood there grinning like the only person not going home tomorrow, handing out candy to whomever I could tempt. Enjoyed another one of those, my scrapbook could help your life moments when I engaged in conversation with a young woman whose mission upon getting home would be to write the sort of introductory letter one sends to a prospective birth mother giving her child up for adoption. Not only have I been blessed with astoundingly easy conceptions- I am also best friends with someone who has herself struggled with infertility.
This trip was full of times when I would be reminded by a loved one back home, like this one- or even a whole group of them, like when I saw those family pictures being taken! I gained a new appreciation for the small parts each of my friends and family make in getting me through each week, one shared call or text or coffee chat at a time. I'm super supported in a life that other's would find extravagant- for as my bio reads, literally every spare moment not dedicated to child rearing, food prepping, or house cleaning is spent with a bit of paper nearby and probably some glue residue on my hands (which is why I don't wear gloves for doing dishes- gotta get that gunk off somehow)!
When I finally got back to the room, I was desperate for a shower, but realized that if I didn't get my suit in my suitcase and out in the hall, I'd be carrying more than just a wet bag off the ship. Stripped down in a flash and, propping the door open with one foot, pushed my tiny crop bag I'd used as luggage outside and tried to shove my wet clothes, now bagged in a Belize souvenir transportation device (i.e. plastic bag, which will remind us of all the "stuff we don't need" left behind), into my already full to bursting bag.
Sayonara Champagne Sippins
Just as my hair decides to fall in my face, exasperating the situation, I am started into the air by a loud "Whoooeeee!" Oh Lord, it's Gina, across the hall and holding her door wide open and laughing for Donna to see what she found! Thank goodness they didn't have cameras in hand. Although, now that I'm retelling it, a photo would have given new meaning to that expression, Priceless. I finally secured my belongings and after a quick mental debate about closing the club a fourth and final night, opted instead to retire early and cherish my fading buzz and accompanying memories.

Can you find Waldo?
Don't know what it is about  large crowd mentality that practically prohibits any expression of happiness, and man do I ever not enjoy being in that kind of negative atmosphere. Lot's of eye widening and brow lifting going on between myself and the other mutually oppressed happy souls standing nearby while our shipmates all slowly snaked out of the ships dismemberment terminal on the morning of Day 7. I even considered breaking into a sing-a-long, but memories of my off-key Karaoke session from Day 1 quickly dispelled that far fetched idea.
Not being dispelled? The thick layer of fog that engulfed Galveston- I couldn't even see to the back of the ship once we finally got outside. Delayed by an hour or more, we had finally started the final leg of our trip, from the ship to Seattle, after a lot of confusion about what the correct departure time really was for each of the sections being called to approach the gangway.
Until we meet again...
Our instructions, given the night before in paper form and confirmed by our crop leader, were to arrive early and wait in the theatre for further instruction. Trouble with that was that there were also repeated overhead announcements stating that departure times had been delayed one hour and please wait for your number to be called before approaching the gangway. Not hearing our group 3 called, I suggested we just wait in our room, enjoy the balcony view a little longer, and keep away from the cesspool of germs standing in the hallways! 
After a powerful brainstorming session, a quick once-over and a farewell pat on the hat we said goodbye to room 9228 and headed for the elevators and down to deck 4. Uh-ohhh, turns out they had already gotten to group 27 being called to exit! So we ended up swirling in the hallways until we were corralled in and around the top of the balcony of the theatre. I disgustedly told Daphne, jump in line earlier, like, don't follow all those people when you're standing where you'll end up!
Sensing her appalled feeling of demanding cut-sies, I pointed out that there was going to be a long line of just standing and waiting to get the exact same place we were at now. Looking down the line I selected our victim and formally requested that my friend's cane advertised her need to not walk and stand to excess. Honestly, that was the only time on the trip we used her status to gain a favor, and it was entirely against her will to, as she said, "take cuts." But the woman we approached was very gracious. Meet you at the suitcases! I called over my shoulder,  and proceeded to cut back (into my original place) in line too.
Once we were actually off the ship, I could see the people filing down the connecting corrider- literally walking the plank! Shuffle shuffle shuffle a few hundred feet and then it was another hurry up and wait inside the terminal warehouse. I had completely lost sight of D by now, but figured, really, how far ahead could she get? Happily, my sightings DID include my  dance floor diva friend Denise and her husband, who I kept wanting to call Dennis. Since I cannot remember if this is true, I'm hereby dubbing him my "protector."  What a relief to spend what I thought would be the last of the line standing time with one of my favorite onboard couples- and their ready smiles!
So, about it being the end of the line-waiting... how about a big loud NOT! Turns out, once we retrieved our luggage on the other side of the customs warehouse, we were then expected to return to the entrance for, you guessed it, more line waiting, that would once again, you guessed it, go directly by the place we had just been! Yeah right; I made Daphne stay with the bags and hopped onto the end of the snake so to speak.
Well it wasn't long before I swooped past her, snagged my luggage handles and entered ANOTHER winding line! This one (eventually) led us through Customs and out into the muggy Galveston day. Luckily it was no longer raining, because we ended up standing in line (some more go figure) while one of the rotating transport busses shuttled passengers to their airport destinations. Our plane wouldn't be leaving for another 5 hours or so, no worries for us as we enter the air conditioned high rise of the road. 

Consideration for a new 'Do?

Airport Amusements
The next time I go on a cruise, I'll book my return trip for the same time frame. The wind down time was great for letting go of the last week of pampering. I was able to get started with my blog posts, create  a few more photo collages, and even captured my next dream hair cut from  fellow passenger. A much different attitude was achieved in comparison to the other couple who had shared the front row seating to the air port. Their plane was scheduled to leave at 1:15pm they were just sure they would not make it.
Our driver hauled that bus butt like the dickens and I'm sure they did indeed make their flight- or at least I hope so after he accidentally knocked off his side view mirror on a bus stop sign trying to get them as close to their gate door as possible! That man was a saint, but I was to find another one waiting inside to brighten my day. Airport security is not known for the friendliness of it's staff, however the woman I observed assisting a wheelchair bound traveler had to be vocally complimented. Her warm voice and calming demeanor were a pleasure to hear and really, it's just not that often you hear a person doing their best to be kind to someone in an awkward situation. If I had flowers, I'd have gladly passed them on to her!
Red Skies at Night, Sailor's Delight
Well, you can guess how the rest of our return to normal went, one stunning sunset later and we were waiting curbside outside of Sea-Tac, watching for DF's hubby Bruce to arrive. I offered to load the bags while they canoodled and then it was home again after a swift retrieval of both our two dogs and the car waiting at my moms in Tacoma. The house was freezing and it took about two days to acclimate despite the soaring high temps of 55-65F in the afternoons. My children returned from visiting their East Coast grandparents and we all suffered the lasting effects of communal living in the way of a deep phlegmy cough and running nose that has lasted pretty much through the end of this retelling.
See, like the man in Belize said, you can take home "some junk you don't really need" as souvenir from any destination vacation!
Thanks friends both old and new, for following along as I relived my days of sea onboard the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas. I'll be hosting my own CraftWithAnna: Scrapology and CraftWithAnna: Back to Basics classes on 3 cruise ships next spring and fall, so keep the end of February 2016 open for vacationing and come back often for more updates.
I've got domain rights now so you can just type and end up here anytime you like. Also in the new business section of this post is the news that I'm now previewing Embellish It!'s kit club offerings, sharing kit contents, a tutorial from each, and even the bonus projects I complete with the left over scraps. A lot of fun will be had and it all starts on Tuesday, my dear grandpa Donnie's birthday and a great day for a celebration if you ask me... green beer, anyone?


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Day Before We Go Galley Tour

Chandeliers and Champagne
The head waiter came by our table earlier in the week to inquire if we'd be interested in joining a small crowd of 150 cruisers in a behind the scenes tour of the ship's kitchen. The amount of food one sees constantly available does invite some speculation, and most of our table chose to pay the $25 reservation fee. Any time we choose to dine at one of the specialty restaurants, there is a cover charge of about the same, so the value would be fair as the promise of a sampling from the Mexican and Sushi places onboard. After he had collected our stateroom information and provided each of us with a quaint hand written receipt, we laughed about them wanting to get rid of all the premade foods, since we would be home soon (wah).
Weren't we surprised to learn that in fact nearly all of the food on board is prepared fresh, even our evening dinner plates, which I'll go into with more detail later. At eleven o'clock Saturday morning, 150 hungry cruisers stood outside the Saphire dining room eagerly anticipating our decadent brunch options. I even managed to snag a few photos with some of my new friends from our crop room- and of course one with my friend Denise from the dance floor!

We had those moves like Jagger...

There was a little confusion over the proper dress attire for visiting the ship's kitchen; open toed shoes not being particularly sanitary even if they have been pampered to perfection in the onboard  spa. Of course on a cruise to the Caribbean it's no surprise that most of the women and even a few men arrived with their cutest sandals on! Some were sent back to their rooms to change, which led them to believe that it was a requirement, after all, it was a perfectly reasonable request. However, not Everyone was told to do so, and in fact when we inquired about whether it was neccessary we were informed that in fact it would be no problem at all... hmmm. Oh well, nothing a courtesy glass of champagne wouldn't cure!
Introductions of the head dining room staff were made, and the Polish Head Chef even took the microphone to address the crowd and welcome us into his territory. A few tidbits of info were dosed out to us and gave us a bit to ponder as we were then led into the stainless steel cavern that is the source of so much gastronimic delight throughout the trip. The crowd gave a collective gasp when our Head Matre'D stated the number of eggs required to sustain the breadkfast and baking needs of the ship's guest: 15,000! Think about that for a minute, and then picture an entire truck filled with cartons of eggs, lasting only One Week. Wow, right?
So, when first I started out working, one of my first jobs was at a restaurant, bussing tables. It was a pretty easy job, and Cricket's usually wasn't very crowded, and occassionally I would be required to run the commetcial dishwasher as well. Fast forward about 17 years, and in my house I'm generally doing about three sinkfuls of dishes a day. Not really fun (and I still can't figure out how they keep appearing-and why I don't use paper dishes), but I cannot fathom how overwhelming it would be to face the task of cleaning 15,000 dishes EACH NIGHT! I sure felt sorry for the young man drying cups before us, especially when my co-watcher commented that this same guy, "works so hard, that he was so tired he fell asleep on the tender boat the other day!" I'm not sure I'm going to have a change of heart about wanting to clean food off the plates, but I'll sure be glad it's only a sinkful, and not a ROOM full haha.
Next we learned about the room service prepping area. One of two on board, there were all the carafes, creamers, teas and plate covers I recognized from our morning meals delivered to the room. Again, I hadn't even thought of this, but there are two prep stations to aid in the speed of delivery. Apparently, the 15 minutes it can take to get from one side of the ship to the other would be too much to ask of the patrons waiting for their goodies?

Next, an observation of the most sandwiches I've ever witnessed being prepared all at once by one person. Subway workers ain't got nothin' on this gal! It is truly awe inspring to consider all of the different dishes, available at all hours of the day, that are continuously being prepared for consumption. Another point I hadn't thought of was that the staff are being fed in much the same manner throughout the day as well... what a task for whoever is the food manager!
Too many cooks in the kitchen?
Not on a cruise ship.
All of that food is delivered and stored in cold stoage on Deck One until the time it will be used; first in, first out. We learned there is even a food checkout of sorts; the time and temperature of items is documented both upon pickup and delivery. Four hours is the limit for food to be out, and then it is disposed and replaced. The thought of so much potential waste was quite appalling, but before it is deemed no good, it is offered to the crew, and then some is incinerated.  Their wet goods are mashed and pulped and then released when we are more than 20 nautical miles from shore. So, the fish are eating well too- and then we can go and catch and eat the fish, beginning the cycle all over again.
Can you spot my plate?
Would you be surprised that it cost $300,000 for the food stocked onboard for each week's journey? That explains how they can affored those eggs, 10,000 pounds of flour, and 25,000 pounds of beef! Is all this information making your stomach growl as loudly as ours did when it was announced that we could now go back into the kitchen for a visit-as-many-times-as-you-like smorgasboard of food choices?
As facinating as all of the information about the food was, the concern for our wait staff was apparent, with many guests wondering aloud all manner of questions about their pay structure, rate of advancement, length of employment (or deployment, I suppose). Our water, James, had shared with us early on that this was his first cruise as head waiter. He was excellent! His enthusiasm for giving us exceptional dining experienes throughout our voyage was almost as enjoyable as the warmth in his smile. His assistant Zekun was sweet as could be, too. Head waitors can advance and earn the privledge of more tables (i.e. more shared tips) through the scores they recieve on the after-cruise- questionairre mailed by Royal Caribbean. I'll be sure to remember how welcome to the table we felt each night when I respond to that email!
Well, friends, my time on board has nearly come to an end. There is still a day of departure tomorrow that I hope you'll join me for. No one wants to stand in line alone! I've so enjoyed reliving this "epic" adventure with you all. Feel free to come back and re-read these posts as I'll be filling them in with more memories as they reoccur. And of course, if you want to share these with friends, or feel inclined to comment, there are buttons to click beneath each lengthy rememberance.
My rise to Craft Diva Superstardom continues, but first... 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Perks of Cruising Alone

Considering tonight's entertainment options...
Did you know another bonus of vacationing on a cruise ship is that you'll get some dance lessons thrown in?  Yes, dancing! And not having anyone to not want to go with me along, I made sure to include a few in my stay on board. Salsa dancing lessons are the menu for tonight to be exact. A celebratory drink of the day at dinner is followed by a refreshingly sweet Disaronno on the rocks in the Star Lounge while I watch all the couples already on the dance floor one, and two, sal-sa-step out of sync. Already regretting my shyness at not having roped some willing mens into accompanying me to this event, I had to admit to that there was not a single available man to dance with. Not that there weren't men in the room not already dancing. No, these unmatched were simply unwilling. I guess I can just finish my drink and go back down to the crop room... 
Ha! Years of every imaginable type of dance instruction have taught me three things: I have rhythm (through the powers imagination usually), I have no junk in the trunk to pop, but above all, that I can dance with ANYONE, male or female. So, like the dance floor predator I'd encounter later that night, I swam up to a nice woman dancing in place next to her (unwilling) husband. Laughing, she agreed to let me lead- and then led me through the steps! We had a great time giggling, yelling Volley! every time we danced more than a four count of steps. Finally she was determined to refresh her husbands memory of the lessons he'd taken on their previous cruise, and I moved on to a sweet older gal whose partner had just thrown his hands up in despair- and then tried to pass her off to his friend who loudly protested he didn't want to dance.
It was obvious that she was not used to leading the dance, or maybe it was just too overwhelming when I kept shouting, "We're improvising!" because she quickly begged off and I went back to slurping down my liquid encouragement. I found my next partner near the bar-go figure- and wow, did she ever have the moves! Now it was my turn to stumble gracelessly while she twirled about me like a Spanish gypsy, complete with flaring and fluffing of her skirt, trills, and a lot of hair tossing.  I was almost relieved that the show I planned to see was about to start and I could beg out and quick step up the stairs.
Anyone willing to make a complete fool of yourself, please, step forward.
Liquid Encouragement
D and I had discussed the Newlywed Game as being one of my must-see highlights of the trip, so I found a seat near the entrance and kept an eye on the door for her, all the while chatting with a sweet gal whose husband had passed away many years prior to this vacation. We laughed loudly (okay, maybe I was a lot louder laughing) as the contestants were chosen from the audience. First, the couple who had been married the longest. I think it was like, 69 years or something?! Then the couple who had been married the shortest time, and then a contest between the applicants for the average couple. The audience was invited to show, by strength of applause, which couple could demonstrate the best "Tarzan yell followed by a kiss for Jane."
Oh. my. gawsh. Have you ever seen a rotund, hairy chested man with shirt half way unbuttoned take his wife to the floor with passion in front of a large crowd? We're talking a fill-the-Theatre sized crowd. Wow. What a surprise that it was the best dressed couple sporting the most sex appeal who ended up on the middle sofa. An even bigger surprise lay in wait as they blazed a matrimonial trail of knowledge for one another over their competition! It was a cute show and sharing laughs with that gal made it even more enjoyable. A perfect way to end the evening... but wait, there's more! Come back tomorrow and close the club with me and my solo cup of Disaronno .