Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lincoln Logs

Whoever thought Lincoln logs could be so much fun!  And whoever thought one could have so many Lincoln logs!  Lois asked what Elizabeth wanted for Christmas and I mentioned how she had h fun playing with Avery and Madeline's Lincoln Logs while visiting Seattle.  Lois researched Lincoln Logs and found the biggest box you can possibly buy!  The great thing is that you can build all kinds of stuff and not run out of parts.

Daddy and Elizabeth decided to see how tall they could get their castle (complete with built in potty on the ground floor and three fire places!).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow days

Andrew got to experience one of his first snow days last week as we had about a foot of snow.  We did not  stay outside very long as the kids got cold very quickly but we did get the chance to take a few pictures.  And Gregario even got to play in the snow!  He is so funny to watch run around in the snow.  He loves it with his thick fur coat and always seems in his element.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Elizabeth and her buddy Andrew (13 months old)

Elizabeth and Andrew get along so well together (at least the majority of the time . . . I often here 10-20 times during the day, "Mommy, look at what Andrew is doing!"  poor little guy, it will be that way for the rest of his life).  Elizabeth does such a good job including Andrew in play.  Elizabeth is always playing doll house with all kinds of little friends (bugs, dinosaurs, mommy, daddy, baby, prince, princess etc).  Andrew likes to be the doll house daddy and the dinosaur.  Elizabeth and mommy get to be everyone else.  Elizabeth just goes along with it when Andrew creates an earthquake, shaking the doll house and all of its contents and never seems to get upset with him.  One of their favorite games is sailboat.  They get into the laundry baskets and pretend they are sailing somewhere.

Andrew is 13 months old now and talking up a storm.  He has a very distinct vocabulary that would make no sense at all to an outsider but that Jan, Elizabeth and I can figure out.  His favorite words are apple and yogurt ("do do") and of course bottle ("ba ba").  Andrew likes to play with his play cell phone (which he calls da da).  He picks it up, opens it and says hello.  Then he'll listen for a few seconds and hand it to me as if saying here mom, the call is for you.  His other favorite activity is dancing.  This little boy, unlike his daddy, likes to dance!  He spins around and bops up and down to whatever music is on.  Lois and Jan got the kids a singing and moving dog for Christmas which he and Elizabeth dance to.  It is pretty cute.  He is also super interested in wind up toys (Elizabeth was afraid of them at this age) and likes to follow them around the room and then pick them up or turn them over and see what happens.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christmas break in Cozumel

We haven't been diving in almost 2 years and with Andrew now a year old and weened onto cows milk it was time to get back under the water!  One of our favorite places to dive is Cozumel, Mexico.  The diving is spectacular, its close, its cheap, the people are friendly, and the food is spectacular!

We managed to get some free tickets using miles which got us to Cancun - thats when the adventure began.  The Cancun Airport is completely nuts - there is the laid back domestic terminal that with regular flights to Mexico City and other Mexican destinations, the is the International Terminal which feels more like a shopping mall inside and complete insanity outside where all the locals try to sell you something to provide a taxi service... and then there is private aviation terminal which also happens to have flights to the island of Cozumel.  It also happens that in the instance that you are hungry and desire a snack while waiting for your flight you are SOL unless of course you have pesos for the vending machine.  Then the airline staff uses a laptop with a wifi connection to check everyone in.  Want to fly standby to catch an earlier flight - too bad - no such thing.  The airline's agent tells you that the earlier flight has empty seats which would get us there about 3 hours earlier (where this is also wonderful food only a block from the hotel) but will cost $20 US per seat for us to "change" our flight...  gotta love Mexico - I'm sure that 40 bucks went right into her pocket...  
So then they walk us out to the "plane" which looks like this:
Trust me - the picture makes this thing look way cooler that it is - we were the first to board and climbing in we found that every seat is both and isle and a window seat by virtue of their being only one seat on either side of the plane.  Additionally it was physically impossible to stand anywhere near upright.  As for carry ons... overhead bins - no way...  stuff it under the seat in front - not a chance - you just have to hold it and be happy.  You will also notice in the picture that the fuselage of the plane has a square-ish cross section which means that it is not pressurized which means that it can't fly very high.  Well once we took off we were informed that the "cruising altitude" would be 1500 feet - not meters or yards, but feet.  Just for perspective the Sears tower in Chicago is only 1450 feet tall.

As for security - well now-a-days every commercial flight in the US has some kind of a vaulted door to keep would be terrorists out of the cockpit - on this flight Kate and I sat in the front row directly behind the pilot and co-pilot / flight attendant / ground crew / mechanic.  The picture on the right above was the view from my seat on take-off... 

Fortunately the travel drama ended here and the flight was smooth.  Once we landed the co-pilot brought all of our luggage in from the plane and life was good.  I was also able to get the cool picture out of the window on our final approach coming into the island.  It turns out 1500 feet is a fun altitude to fly at in the Caribbean.    

This trip we decided to splurge a little bit and upgrade from the $50 per night roach motel to the $100 per night place.  Great Idea!!!  We stayed at the Casa Mexicana Cozumel which I would highly recommend if you are looking for a nice place in town and isn't an all inclusive type place.  Each day we would find some new animal made from our towels greeting us on the bed.  The rooms were clean, the staff very friendly and helpful, and probably the most amazing breakfast spread I have ever seen at a hotel.  It puts the Hilton, Marriott, Westin, breakfast to shame, and its free.

Every time we have been diving in Cozumel we have always used the same company, Scuba Du.  They are simply awesome! 

As you can see the diving is simply awesome!  The visibility is always unbelievable and the sea life and coral formations never disappoint.  This trip we had some long dives - most of which were nearing an hour under water which is pretty good considering we made it down to 90 feet on some occasions.

Each day after diving we decided to hang out at the Presidente hotel where the dive shop is located and enjoy the most delicious Mahi sandwich and french fries I have ever had - the ocean side ambiance was also very enjoyable!

While we were there we even went on a night dive which is usually pretty fun.  It was raining when we went in but that doesn't matter much under water.  The reefs completely change at night and a lot of different creatures come out that you don't usually see during the day like octopus, crabs, giant parrot fish, lobsters, and moray eels.

Our other favorite thing about Cozumel is the food.  Its just plain good.  Yucatan Mexican is my favorite kind of mexican which uses a lot of grilled meats and sea food and the best place on the island for that is at Casa Denis right off the main square.
Every night the place is packed and for good reason - the food is spectacular and relatively inexpensive, atmosphere is also very entertaining with all of the mariachis trying to play music for you which is usually horrible and being on the square makes for some good people watching - the shot of tequila on the house at the end of the meal is also a nice touch. 

After three days of diving we decided to change it up a bit and give the saltwater flats a go and try for some bonefish.  We had great luck fishing the flats in Belize, each of us landing several bones so we were looking forward to this.  We hired a guide through the "legandary" Carlos Vega, proclaimed by the locals to be "el Mejor Pescador" (the best fisherman) in all of Cozumel.  As it turns out his wife was very nice, Carlos was pretty drunk still from a few too many new years cervesas the night before and his guide that we were to go fishing with, while sober, really didn't seem all that interested in fishing and a bit lacking in the seamanship / boat handling department.
After a long boat ride in a very cool Panga, we arrived at a beach.  In trying to beach the boat the guide had a few issues and we spent about 10 minutes fiddling around with a stern anchor and numerous failed attempts to get the boat up on the beach.  I just sat and watched and shook my head... not my boat... not my place to say anything.  Some people just make things much harder than they need to.
Now with the boat finally beached we got our tackle together - which consisted of my nice fly rod and the guide's POS that had seen much better days.  I gave the nice rod to Kate.  Then with tackle in hand we set out inland through the jungle to find a swamp about 50 yards inland from the beach where all of the "flats" are located.  We found a few fish initially - nothing that we could cast to though and then set out on a hike though the flats looking for fish.  After a couple of house of hiking, we never found any and went back to the boat.  Exhausted and thirsty Kate and I just sat down in the boat.  (Kate called it the death march through the flats.) The guide pulled up the anchor and off we went to some new place... only to find the same thing.  No fish.

Kate did find some cool Mayan ruins on our little excursion - makes you wonder what it was back when they built it...
So after spending 6 hours trudging through the swamp and not seeing any fish that we could actually cast the guide told us it was time to head back...  pretty disappointing in just about every way imaginable.  We still tried to have fun and not let it ruin our trip but that turned out to be an expensive boat ride and hike.

We did have a nice boat ride back, with the waves this time, and got to see some parts of the island that we would otherwise never have seen so it wasn't a total loss.  We will also never wonder anymore if its worth while to try fly fishing in Cozumel.
Our last two days on the island were a little different - one was new years day, and the other was Sunday.  On Sunday there aren't any cruise ships on the island and the place seems to breath a collective sigh of relief.  The usually busy little town stays pretty quiet and the locals aren't trying to sell you stuff every time you pass them.  Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it the Casa Denis was closed for these two days forcing us to eat at other establishments.  Asking a police officer he recommended "Choza" and when we showed up it was full of locals - our kind of place!  The food was amazing!  Interestingly, on a more cultural note, all of the restaurants, hotels, public squares etc on the island had very impressive nativity displays which is what you see Kate sitting in front of above.  Its refreshing to see a culture where their Christian faith can be openly expressed and displayed in a place of business - I don't know how we have gotten it so wrong in the United States...

In the end, it was a wonderful trip and a great opportunity to get away.  We can't wait to get back again!