Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Renewed Blogging Enthusiasm... and Congratulations are in order!

So it seems that all the bloggers we know have taken a break from their blogs over the past few months. We hope that by playing catch-up with these posts we can motivate others to do the same, or at least start blogging more going forward.

We know some of you (ahem, Felicity & Karthik) have a whole lot to blog about, so no excuses!!

Here's to a renewed dedication to blogging. And that's not the only thing we have to celebrate these days... break out the champagne!

CONGRATULATIONS to the parents-to-be!!!! We love you and can't wait to celebrate with you in person in next weekend! (Felicity, I'll drink your share of the champagne. You can have sparkling cider.)


Phil and I joined Spectrum back in July, which is a local chain of gyms in San Antonio. The one closest to our house is literally so close it's within walking distance (although come to think of it, we haven't walked there once yet). Our favorite feature about it, aside from the normal gym perks like individual flat screens on the elliptical & treadmill machines, a full array of strength training equipment, multiple classes, state of the art locker rooms with showers, razors/lotion/soap provided, etc. is the POOL! They actually have 2 swimming pools-- one lap pool which is in a covered area with multiple lanes for exercise, and another outdoor pool which is just for play. One side of the pool has a children's area which is no deeper than about 2 ft, then in the center is a big water slide and on the other side is the deeper area for hanging out, and where the slide empties out (only about 4 ft deep). This pool has been great for us to lounge by on the weekends, work on our tans, etc. We love it!

Another great feature of the gym that we enjoy is the HealthMiles program. I had been a member before the wedding of this same gym and they did not have this program before but I really think it's a great incentive. They give you a pedometer to start, and for every day that you use it, you get "miles" which are basically points towards a reward system. They have levels of steps (0-7000, 7001 - 12000, 12001 - 20000, 20,000+) and you get different amounts of miles depending how many steps you take that particular day. I tend to make the 12,000 step area each day (if I work out) because by the time I leave work on any given day I typically only have about 4,000 steps. Phil has an entirely different situation. His work is considered a "campus" so even walking from meeting to meeting amounts to a great number of steps every day. So he typically hits 20,000+ every day (if he works out). Once you get to 6,000 miles you enter level 2, where you're awarded $25 to use towards prizes or your membership dues, 2 free fitness assessments, and a water bottle. Phil already hit this level, and when he hits the next level he gets $50 (on top of his $25), a t-shirt, a few personal training sessions, etc. The higher you go, the better the prizes. You can also do other things to earn miles. For example, each of us did a Fitness Assessment with a personal trainer at the gym a few weeks ago. Because Phil was considered "Ideal" overall, he earned an extra 2000 points. Because I was considered to be in the level just under ideal, I did not get these points. They recommend doing these assessments every 6 months to track change so you can bet I'll be back in February! Also, you can take "measurements" and you get points for entering them as well. Extra points if you're in the "Ideal" category. Turns out I am considered under-weight and my BMI index is below ideal, so I didn't get those points either. So, as I sit here with a 1/2 gallon of ice cream and a spoon, I know that it's in really my best interest... anything to reach the next level (I really want that water bottle). Only 4 more pounds to gain!


For about a week during August, Blake and Drew came to stay at our house. Robin and Jack were able to take care of them during the day while Phil and I were at work (aka break from the responsibilities of kids!) but we were able to have fun with them on the weekend. On Saturday night when they arrived, Jack grilled hot dogs and chicken for dinner. Afterwards, we all ate our weight in S'mores! Yes, we have corrupted the Nelson children. I made sure to document with photographs.

The rest of their stay was filled with Drew & Blake getting haircuts, Drew being potty-trained, the kids going down the slide at the pool again and again and again, Drew being "the cat in the hat" (he wore my circus hat around for most of his stay and meowed), and both of them staying up as late as they wanted and watching as much TV as they wanted. Yes, again with the corruption!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Another Vacation

For the 4th of July, we traveled to New Jersey for a family reunion. This is the family on my mom's mom's side, all of her brothers and sisters and their children and grandchildren. (There were no matching t-shirts for those of you who are wondering.)

Phil and I flew inexpensively on Southwest Airlines into La Guardia airport... apparently not the smartest thing to do but, hey, it was cheap. We picked up our red Mustang rental car and got to drive through the heart of NYC at about 5:00 in the afternoon. Luckily it was the day before a holiday or the already terrible traffic might have been unbearable. On the bright side, at least we got to see the city! We drove into Red Bank, NJ to the home we'd be staying at, owned by Faye, the girlfriend of my mom's cousin Dick. My parents, Aunt Carol, and Aunt Pris were already there waiting for us and we all had a lovely dinner that evening. It must be mentioned that Faye is a fantastic hostess. In each of the guest bedrooms she provided a welcome basket consisting of snacks, an eye cover mask for better sleep, water bottle, etc. Plus she had stocked the rooms with current magazines for our reading pleasure. And, when Faye says that this is the way she always keeps her home, I believe her, because she is so good at it! Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the home has been featured in decorating magazines-- Faye remodeled and redecorated after moving in and did a wonderful job. She actually has the home for sale now since it's such a large home for just one person to live in.
The next day, July 4th, was the family reunion. We all went over to Dick's home and spent the afternoon in his back yard catching up (or meeting everyone, in Phil's case). These are people that we don't see very often since we all live so far apart, so it was nice to get re-acquianted. One of the best parts of the reunion was visiting with my Aunt Jeannette. For my entire life she was special to me because although we rarely saw each other, we always kept in touch. The basis of our communication stemmed from her sending me $2 in a greeting card for each holiday of the year (sometimes two one-dollar bills, and sometimes a $2 bill, always crisp from the bank). It was so fun to get mail at every single holiday (Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, etc) and I would always promptly write her a thank-you note at which time I would also update her on my life as I grew up. We got to visit in person only a few times over my life when we traveled to New Jersey but we kept in touch much more frequently via mail. I am glad that Phil finally got to meet her, because a few weeks after the reunion, Aunt Jeannette passed away. I am glad to have such great memories of her and she will always hold a special place in my heart.
The morning after the reunion, a bunch of us took a walk on the boardwalk of Asbury Park and got to see "tent city". We didn't know what else to do the rest of the day so we decided to drive up the coast to Sandy Hook. All 6 of us piled into my parents rented Ford Focus (that's my Dad & Phil in the front and my mom, 2 aunts, and me in the back... it was cozy!). We didn't want to go to the beach since it was drizzling out, but we thought we'd go see the lighthouse and walk around on the island. We had a really fun time at one of the stops where there was an old canon, where I proceeded to hop on in what apparently was similar to a Playboy pose. My mom and aunts proceeded to yell things like "give me Sexy" and "give me pouty"... it was then that we realized I don't know how to do pouty. Guess I will need to to hone those skills before I can become one of "The Girls Next Door".

The following day, my parents, Aunt Pris, and the two of us decided to spend the day in NYC. We took the train in early that morning and when we got to the city we decided to find a tour bus to show us around. We did a tour of lower Manhattan with stops like the Empire State Building, Chinatown, Little Italy (which is much smaller than Chinatown), the Financial district, SoHo, Macy's, etc. It was a good overview and we were able to hop on/hop off which was nice as well. We ate lunch in Little Italy at an authentic little Italian spot. In the afternoon we decided to walk over to Central Park as well. That evening, my parents and aunt headed back to NJ and we stayed in town to meet one of Phil's college friends for dinner. She is working in the city and was able to take us to a great Vietnamese restaurant nearby her job. It was great food (we both had noodle bowls) and actually pretty inexpensive, for NYC! We took the subway back to our train stop and got back to Jersey around 10:30 that evening. It was a full day of sight-seeing!

For the next half of our vacation, we drove our rental car to Washington DC to sight-see for a few days. We checked into our hotel in Silver Spring, MD which turned out to be in a really good location. Downtown Silver Spring is filled with all sorts of restaurants so after a long day in DC we were able to stick close to our hotel and still get good food for dinner, all within about 2 blocks. Plus, the Metro stop was about 2 blocks away as well. We would buy all-day unlimited Metro passes each morning so that we could visit whatever attractions we wanted to, which was great. Their public transportation system is so well organized that it just makes us wish we had something similar in Texas. Hopefully some day we get there...

Anyhow, the first day after driving into town from NJ, we decided to go into the heart of DC and walk around. And boy did we walk! I think we probably walked at least 5 miles that day-- our whole bodies were sore from all the walking, especially our feet! We saw all of the monuments (Lincoln, Vietnam War, WWII, Korean War, Jefferson, FDR.....) and we hadn't even made a dent in all that DC has to offer! Our favorite memorial by far was the FDR memorial. He seems to be a perfect example of the type of president we need right now in our country, one who realizes the values of equality and most importantly PEACE. (haha I first typed peach, which is also important, but more of a flavor than a value)
The next day we took the Metro out to Arlington National Cemetery which was a very moving sight, with the gravesites of JFK and Jackie O, plus the guarded Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Very respectful and humbling place...
The following day we went to the Spy Museum which was very cool, but almost too thorough! We got hungry so we probably didn't get to see everything we could/would have! It was really well done. My favorite exhibit (which Phil thinks is fake, of course) is of how they used to have pidgeons strap cameras to their stomachs and fly over enemy territory where otherwise planes or cameras could not go. They had a cool photo of an aerial shot and you could see the bird's wings on either side of the frame! After the spy museum (and lunch), we walked through Chinatown, to the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and past the Supreme Court building.
That afternoon we decided to take our family members who lived in the DC area up on their offer to stay with them, so we checked out of our hotel (after a big fight about it being pre-paid, which we eventually won after talking to the manager) and moved over to Patty & Bob's house. They were so welcoming and fun to hang out with, along with their two kids Haileigh and Tyler. They had visited us last year in SA so the kids knew us and since two of them had stayed with us while they were in town, they were more than happy to reciprocate and let us crash there.
That evening, Patty & Bob took us to Annapolis which is a beautiful town (home of the Naval Academy). We walked along the boardwalk at sunset and got ice cream cones while we walked through the heart of town. Very charming place.

On our last day in DC, we went to the Holocaust Museum in the morning and then met a friend of mine from college for lunch. It started pouring down rain while we were in the museum and of course there were not any restaurants anywhere near the museum, so we had to trek across the city in the pouring rain to find food. Erin was such a great sport; she had just moved to DC after graduation a few weeks earlier, so she was not very familiar with the city either. But she led us to food, which was the most important thing. That afternoon we took the Metro to Old Town Arlington, as many people had recommended it as a romantic, charming little town. We walked up and down the streets and were not all that impressed, although the dreary drizzling weather might have contributed to our feelings...
There is still so much to see that we did not have an opportunity to visit in DC. We didn't make it to the National Archives, the Federal Reserves, or take a tour of the capitol. That just means we'll have to visit again!


While many people would rather jump in front of a moving train than have their in-laws stay with them for weeks at a time, I really must say we're in the minority. In mid-June, Phil's parents sold their house and moved down to San Antonio. Well, actually the sale didn't close until mid-July but the tenants moved into the house in June so that's just a technicality... although an expensive one since they had to wait until they closed to get their money! Anyway, at the risk of sounding like I'm sucking up, I can honestly say that it was not a negative experience at all. In addition to being good company, they were very helpful around the house with cooking, taking care of Cooper, etc. I think they could/would have stayed longer if only we didn't just have those minor annoyances in our small house, i.e. no storage space, only one bathroom, etc. But all in all we lived together really well! They recently moved into an apartment complex just down the street, so we still get to see them frequently, not to mention that we work out at the same gym, shop at the same grocery store, eat at the same restaurants, etc.

Belize Vacation

For multiple reasons, we're really glad we chose to visit Belize when we did.

1) The resort we stayed at consisted of a few condo buildings (with more being built while we were there) plus a few individual cabana-style rooms called "casitas". Jennelle & Greg and Phil & I stayed in these casitas, which were thatch-roofed, with hardwood floors and very cool decor. They had a/c, a small refrigerator, coffee pot, small sitting area, king bed, and bathroom. Most importantly, they were right on the beach! We had a good sized front porch with 2 chairs, which overlooked about 100 yards of beach with only palm trees, hammocks and some beach chairs between us and the ocean. These casitas were the main reason we chose Captain Morgan's Resort. But sadly, during our stay we learned that these casitas are soon to be torn down to make room for more condo buildings. The resort is big on time shares, which must be big business for them, but for us the draw was the privacy of not having neighbors on either side of your walls, being right on the beach, etc. It will be sad to see them go...

2) Hurricane season! What a year Belize has had. I hope that they have survived these storms but who knows what kind of damage they are facing with the high winds and heavy rains they've experienced.

3) Construction -- the island was filled with it. We feel that if we were to visit again in 15 years, every spare inch of the island of San Pedro would be covered with resorts and tourism. For now, we were able to experience a more true sense of what the Belizean culture, food, and ecosystem is... before tourism takes over completely.

During our stay, we rented a golf cart, because the streets of Belize are not (yet) paved. They claim that they will never pave them (to save the island from being taken over by tourism), but we doubt that is true because we could see the roads deteriorate day by day as the construction trucks and tractors drove back and forth over them, causing bigger and bigger pot holes. And the dust! A normal ride home from dinner in the golf cart (which lasted about 30 minutes) would require a shower if you were the 2 lucky passengers sitting in the back, due to a thick layer of dust that would gather on your entire body. But on the bright side, it was certainly an adventure navigating around the island on that little cart.

The scuba diving in Belize was good; we were able to swim amongst 6 ft sharks, 5 ft wingspan sting rays, and many other large fish, not to mention the beautiful colorful smaller fish, conch shells, and coral that can be found underwater. We dove on two different days. On the first day, the water was so rough most of the passengers were getting sea-sick. But we all stuck it out and did our 2 dives. On the second day we dove, the water was much calmer and made for much more fun dives. Another day we took a snorkel trip during which we got to hold sharks, and pet the sting rays if we chose (much more interactive than during the diving). Our guide also dove down to the bottom of the ocean floor to retreive conch shells as souveniers for all the females on board. Pretty smart of him, as the shells were abundant and it certainly increased his tip!

We also took a trip inland one day for zip line/cave tubing. Our group took about a 45 minute boat ride over to Belize City where a van was waiting for us to take us to the zip line area. It was kind of like an amuzement park. We got all suited up and waited in line to go up to the top of a hill where the first station began. We then got to zip from one tree to another across the rainforest, well at least where they had the zip lines set up. But it wasn't like you could see wild animals or anything; this spot was very commercialized so there were not wild monkeys hanging from the trees like I'd hoped. I had been soooo excited about the zip-lining; I had convinced our whole group to pay $210 per person for the day trip to do it, and it really was lots of fun and (I think) worth the money. When in Belize...

The cave tubing was pretty funny, in that it made me realize how many people don't have the luxury that we Texans do to go tubing frequently. Most of the tourists had not ever been tubing before and as we went into the set-up area, they told stories of how we must wear shoes or our feet would get all cut up, and how we should not wear our flip flops or we'd certainly lose them, etc. The little store was renting water shoes and against the recommendations of everyone around us, we decided to take our chances and wear our flip-flops. Come to find out, we simply had to walk on a dirt path for about 15 minutes, then hop in the river which had no rapids and simply flowed slowly (needed to paddle to move at a good pace). Plus, we got to tell everyone about how tubing in Texas is all about bringing an extra tube for your ice chest. Our tour guides really liked that idea. We did get to wear "cool" headlamps around our foreheads to see up in the caves where it was very dark. We got to see some cool cave formations and bats, but other than that it was pretty much any other tubing trip, minus the beer.

Another cool thing about Belize was that the people really seemed to appreciate the tourists. After visiting other places, we know this is not always the case (sometimes you get the "this is my island and if you don't like the way we do things you can leave" attitude). But the Belizeans came up to us multiple times during our stay to thank us for visiting and to let us know that they appreciate the tourism, and ask that we return to visit again. It was nice to feel welcome!

And finally, the BEST part of our stay: the taco stands! On one of our first days, we found a taco stand that made pupusas right on the street, whose smell drew us right in. These were stuffed with pork, beans, and cheese, and you could have 2 of them with a Belikin (Belize's local bottled beer - very good according to the guys) and make a meal for about $4. They also served great tacos! Another day we tried out a different taco stand located a few blocks away on another street, where a woman had a large circular griddle with meat and onions cooking all the way around it. When we ordered she would bring out small corn tortillas and throw them on the griddle to warm them up, then add the meat/onion mixture and a little hot sauce (for those who wanted it). Each order was for a batch of 3 tacos, and they were to die for. I told Jennelle, Greg & Phil that if I was rich I would fly this woman (and her family if necessary) to San Antonio to live with me and cook these tacos for me all the time. They were DELICIOUS. And they went great with bottled Coca-Cola, another one of my favorite Central American delicacies.
Would we go back? Maybe, but there are so many other places in the world we want to see and to compare Belize to St. John, the beaches in St. John were far superior (although they did lack the taco stands).