Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Smith Christmas 2012

We kicked of the celebrating with my family last Saturday.  Rob had a final that day for his class so no one was more ready, than him, to celebrate! (He did well, by the way.)  As usual, my parents had the giant spread of food ready for us to dig in.  We did do a little digging, but we also didn’t make the kids wait too long for their stockings and gifts.

By the way, Kerry took every single picture I have here.  It’s quite nice to have a photographer in the family.  Especially since I’m the exact opposite.  I think she caught so many candid moments and true expressions.  Here’s a few of my favorites:

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We opened from youngest to oldest so Riley was quick to open her biggest present and pulled out this giant horse.  GIANT!  As big as she is.  She loves this guy.  It didn’t take her long to name him Butterscotch and they are bosom companions.  Butterscotch has now been around for a week and he follows Riley around the whole house and threatens to go on most of our outings (with minimal success).

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Ellie’s two gifts went together and she opened the Taylor Swift CD first.  Honestly, I’m not sure she really even knew what a CD was.  I had to explain it to her.  Her second gift was a Hello Kitty CD Player/radio that will also connect to an MP3 player.  Once she figured it out, we had some tunes to go with our Christmas celebration.  And our mornings getting ready for school.  And bedtime.  And anytime in between.  I would also like to note that for about 48 hours it was hard to catch Ellie without a candy necklace on (in various stages of consumption).

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This picture just makes me laugh.  He got a Captain America shield.  It seriously is a brightly colored frisbee with a strap on the back.  You would have thought it was an autographed movie replica.  Austin also received some nerf-type cross-bows, a nerf water gun, and a smaller nerf gun.  The boys retreated to the guest bedroom for most of the day for who knows what kind of war games (and video games).  You can’t blame them when what was waiting for them back in the main room was a lot of this:

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Once all the wrapping paper was torn off, the parents were put to work opening packages and adjusting this and that.

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But, as the kids get older, we have less and less to do for them.  It’s nice.  We adults were able to play quite a few games without interruptions.  And we even involved the kids in a round of Christmas charades.

My parents really put together a great day for us as a family!  Which brings me to two of my favorite emotions captured by Kerry. (She’s sneaky.  Or, maybe it’s just that the room is chaos and you don’t notice the lady with the camera).

First, my dad:

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This is a very typical expression of his when he opens a gift.  He’s happy.  We know he’s happy.  You can see it in his smirk and the crinkle of his eyes.  He tries to act more excited since we always razz him about not being excited enough, but this is his natural reaction.

Then there is my mom:

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This is her natural reaction as well.  You would think she had just unwrapped a box full of keys to the various convertibles we all bought her (it has been on her list for years).  Instead, I think this present was a Chinese cookbook with a few Asian sauces and spices.

She more than  makes up for anything my dad might not have expressed.

All in all, it was a another great Christmas with the Smiths!

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p.s. – Can you believe we are all looking at the camera and almost all smiling?  Next year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Concert Series–Part 2

After a fun kick-off to our Christmas celebrations on Saturday (more about that later), it was great to continue the merry-making at Riley’s Christmas concert on Monday.  We ran into a bit of a wardrobe problem in the morning because the Christmas dress I had set aside for her (4T) was way too small.  She was all too happy to wear Ellie’s “first day of school” dress instead.  I definitely need to hunt for some bargains because Riley has decided to skip size 4T and just slipped right into a girls 5.  Yikes!  Pretty soon Ellie will be getting the hand-me-downs.

Anyway, back to the concert.  Riley definitely does not take after her sister when it comes to performing.  Or talking to people she doesn’t know.  Or people she does know for that matter.  These are the pictures I got from her:

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Anytime she caught me trying to get a picture she shied away from the camera.  She was next to her friends Addy and another Riley.  That little boy in the front had a hard time staying upright.  He was falling all over the place with his exaggerated movements.  Made for a little comic relief.

Despite her repeated claims that she does not like preschool I think she is very slowly warming up to it. 

At least, she warmed up to singing Rudolph:

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Live Music

Something about live music versus a CD is special.  But when it’s your Kindergartner’s class it’s even better!

Last Friday Ellie, and her Kindergarten classmates, serenaded us with their Holiday tunes.  I volunteered in her classroom the Wednesday before so I had a sneak peek of what was to come, but the official version was even sweeter!

She was everything she was in preschool (just a little taller).  She still loves to sing her heart out and do all the actions requested by the song.

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Here’s a video snippet:

 

She is the sweetest little girl you’ll ever meet.  Yes, I’m biased, but she truly is.  I bet she tells me she loves me over 50 times a day.  As I’m writing this, she is sitting next to me and has written “ Mom is my favorit Mom  She is speshl. I luv hr.”

I think she is pretty “speshl” too.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

An Update on Mr. Snaggletooth

He is still snaggly.

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He did loose one of the two top front teeth, but that just leaves room for the remaining tooth to shift sideways.  It gets worse every day, but yet, not loose.  It’s bizarre.  Even this photo is out of date (from last week).

Also, Snaggletooth is now a green belt in karate (so don’t make fun of his tooth or he might land a swift kick in your kneecap). 

It was a bit of a hectic Wednesday.  The girls had their final dance class on Wednesday, which means the last 15 minutes was their “recital”.  The class ended at 5:30.  That is the exact same time that Austin’s karate graduation started.  And Rob was in Florida.  But, my parents were able to juggle things with me.  My mom and I stayed for the recital and my dad took Austin to graduation.  Then as soon as the girls finished their tumbling routines we ducked out (before it was over) and headed over to karate.  We didn’t miss much.

Austin pulled Grandpa out there to beat up on him:

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A couple punches, some kicks, and then Grandpa Smith attempted to choke Austin so Austin could display his self-defense.  I’m a little nervous for his progression because someone of the advanced belts were just about knocking their parents down with their kicks.  We’ll invite Grandpa back for that!

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Austin made his promises to work hard and someday earn his black belt.  He was excited because Master Worley was there (in black) and is a 7th (or something like that) degree black belt.  He is also excited because he gets to start working with a bo.  My family room is no longer a safe place to relax.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tamarindo (Part 4)

Since we arrived in Tamarindo around 8pm, it was too dark to take in any of the town.  I was anxious to go exploring the next morning (and more importantly to find a place to get some coffee).  Needless to say, I was a little less than impressed with my surroundings:

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This was just off the main (and only paved) road in Tamarindo.  The whole town is situated on the beach, and then has about 3 other “main” roads that were gravel (like above).  We rented a condo just on the other side of that gigantic white building.  It was a fabulous deal at $89/night (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, living room, & pool)and about a 5 minute stroll to the beach.  Since it was off the beaten path we didn’t get a lot of the street noise, but we did have a pet.

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I named him Pepe.  We only saw him one night up near our ceiling.  And I preferred him to the random ants.

But, what the streets lacked in charm, the beach made up for.

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It went on forever, had hardly anyone on it, and had very little debris from the ocean.

And the ocean was bathtub warm.  The waves were mild, and there was no drop off for as far as I could walk.  Tamarindo is a surfing hub.  At least for beginners.  I’m not sure someone who actually knew how to surf would enjoy it because the waves would probably seem boring to them, but both Carrie and Michelle tried it out.

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They’re out there somewhere.  You could rent a surf board for $10 for the whole day.  I opted for relaxation. I rented a lounger for $6 (all-day) and grabbed my book.  Although Michelle did great and had a blast, her knees were scraped and bleeding from all her attempts and that told me I made the right decision!

We didn’t do any excursions in Tamarindo.  Instead, we spent our days roaming the town and our nights eating at some of the many beachfront restaurants.

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These dining experiences were often accompanied with some beautiful sunsets:

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On Thursday morning we packed up, checked out of our condo, and made the hour drive to the Liberia airport.  While we were waiting to check in our rental car something bit/stung me on my back.  After doing the “there’s a bug on me!” dance I had Michelle check it out and she couldn’t find anything, but it stung!  Fifteen minutes later, as we were in the shuttle going to the airport, I turned to my friends and said “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but my throat is really tight and my face is crazy hot and tingly.”  By the time we got to the airport my throat felt huge and Carrie said my eyes were kind of puffy.  Unfortunately, I have learned no medical terms in my Spanish lessons so I had a really hard time describing “allergic reaction” to the non-English speaking paramedics at the airport.  I was able to say “my face is hot” and “my throat is closed”.  A little dramatic but he understood and rattled off something in Spanish and all I heard was the name of a drug.  So, I pulled Carrie into the room because she is a Doctor of Pharmacology.  That guy understood “doctor” and I’m sure he thought she was an M.D. so he started handing her ampules of medicine.  She looked at them, found an antihistamine and told him to give me it.  So, my departing gift from Costa Rica was a shot in the butt.

I still don’t know what it was that bit or stung me. I’m not allergic to American bees.  But, Carrie and I also left with about 20 bug bites each from the beach that itched for over a week so as Carrie put it, I guess Central America’s bugs are a bit heartier than American bugs!

Despite the ending, it was an amazing trip that I’m very fortunate to have been able to take!  Everybody at home (Rob, his parents, my parents) pitched in to cover all my duties and I really appreciate that!  I look forward to going back someday to explore the other side of the country (and to zip line again).  I’ll keep working on my Spanish and make sure I learn some medical vocabulary!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Zip Lining (Part 3)

Zip lining through Costa Rica has been on my “list” for a LONG time.  It’s actually what made me propose Costa Rica to Carrie in the first place!  On our 3rd day I was able to cross it off the list.  The whole experience was fantastic (once again, minus the roads…thank God for 4 wheel drive!).
I knew going into this that Carrie was not excited about this part of our trip.  Well, she was excited, but completely anxious.  She had prepared ahead of time to take plenty of Xanax that morning.  Even still, her outlook was grim.
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She didn’t even want to be in this picture and it took everything she had to smirk.
What I didn’t know was how nervous Michelle was.  She just giggled a lot and said she was a little scared. 
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We zip-lined with the company Sky Trek.  First, you go through a line to get all your gear, and then you take a tram up to the top of the “mountain” (I’m not sure if it’s a mountain or just a really tall hill?)  The first 2 lines were practice runs and really tame.  After that, the fun begins!  At this point there is no turning back so if you didn’t enjoy the first 2 lines at all, then you can take the “chicken exit” and go back down on the tram.  But, if you choose to do the 3rd zip line, then you have no other option but to finish the course.
Here’s me on the very first line:
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You can see how short it was, and how close to the ground it was.  No problem.
After the first two zip lines Carrie was totally okay.  She was ready to go and opted to have a guide go with her across the first big line:
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They call it a taxi.  And here she is 2 seconds later floating over the rainforest:
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Can you see her?
Unfortunately, the first 2 lines did nothing for Michelle and the view of this 3rd line, and Carrie floating off on a tiny cable 656 feet above the ground (the highest line) didn’t help.  She was a lot more nervous than I knew.  But, she eventually let them hook her up to the cable and shove her off!  It took until the 5th line, but she did start to enjoy it!
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That’s Michelle coming in for a landing on the 4th line.  The guide sends out a little knot tied onto the cable and then shakes the cable which is your signal to start breaking (this just involved you pushing your pulley back and forth against the cable to create friction), then you’re suppose to spread your legs because if you come to an abrupt stop your legs will swing up to the cable and they want the cable to go between your legs rather than burn your leg against the cable.  They said that was called a Costa Rican Tattoo.  Anyway, breaking never did much for me but I didn’t really need it.  That knot they sent out usually did everything I needed and then once you land on that yellow step they help you stand and unhook you.
The 7th line was the longest and fastest.  It was about a half-mile long, 275 feet above the ground, with speeds between 50-52 mph.
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That little dot is me 2 seconds after take off.  The little hole in the trees in the distance is where the cable goes.  It was about 40 seconds longer after you entered the trees.  This was, by far, my most favorite line.
Before our last run, everyone was all smiles:
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No forced smirks or nervous laughter!  I loved the whole thing and both of these ladies said they’d definitely do it again.
We ended this day with another treacherous drive around the lake, but a nice dinner on the beach…our final destination.
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Costa Rica (Part 2)

After a crazy drive through the dark rainforest, a soak in the natural hot springs, we all slept really well our first night.  We decided to go horse back riding to a waterfall for some swimming.  First, we drove into town to do a little exploring and to see what our eating options were.  We figured the Pizzeria the first day was random and we’d be offered more traditional fare here on out. 
We ended up here:
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The guy who owns this place lured us in from a few blocks away claiming good food but “more importantly a clean place”.  The sign is right.  It was just good food….not great.  We also went here because many years ago the same group took a camping trip in Wisconsin and ate at a place called “Ain’t Bad Food”.  Which was also accurate.
After our lunch we headed out to find Chavez’s Horse Ranch.  We drove around this small 10 block town for 30 minutes looking for this place when we finally stopped for directions.  Hurray for my small amount of Spanish once again.  What I learned from this is that when I pose my question to the locals, what they don’t know is that it took me about 3 minutes to figure out what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.  And then they would rattle off the answer in Mach speed Spanish and I would catch every 3 words.  We finally found it (it was a super shady looking tin roof place housing some mangy looking horses)…yee haw!
We had an hour ride to the falls, and hour at the waterfall, and an hour ride back.  My horse’s name was Camellia.  Her goal in life was to be the lead horse at all times.
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This is about the closest anyone ever got to me throughout the whole hour ride.  And that is because Carrie is an experienced horse rider and got her horse to catch up to me.  As soon as she did Camellia took off once again.  I spent my hour long ride yelling back to the guide asking for directions.  We rode through a few open pastures like this, but spent a great deal of time in the rainforest on a muddy path about 12 inches wide.  Every once in awhile, without any notice, the guide would make some kissing noises which sent the horses off at a trot.  I finally got the hang of it, but the first few times I nearly fell off.
But, we made it!  My horse slipped and laid down once, but was pretty quick to get back up.
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That’s the volcano in the background. 
And here’s the waterfall we were trying to get to:
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Just a little hike. 
Through this path:
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It looked like it would take forever, but it was probably just a 10 minute steep walk down there.
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It was much colder than I thought it would be, but felt great after the hot horseback riding.
We also got to watch some monkeys playing in the trees:
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The hike back up was a workout!  I had mixed emotions about getting back on Camellia.  I was tired from the hike and swimming, but my butt was not ready for another hour.  Camellia wasn’t quite as competitive on the way back, only leading by a block instead of 2-3.  She did decide to explore a remote section of the forest at one point, stopping short a few feet before a 10-15 foot drop, the guide brought me back to the group, but not before we jumped down off a 4 foot drop.  Safe to say, I was ready to be done with this excursion.
We ended the night at another restaurant and the only full view of the volcano the entire trip:
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We also had a snake slither across the restaurant floor.  Carrie spent the rest of the dinner sitting cross legged on her chair.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pura Vida! (Part 1)

I just got back from a most amazing trip to Costa Rica!  “Pura Vida” is kind of the Costa Ricans motto for their country.  Loosely translated, it means “life is good”.  I was able to spend 6 days testing it out.  I think their slogan is pretty accurate (as long as you are not driving at night). 

I went there with two girlfriends from high school, Michelle and Carrie.  It started as a random adventure that Carrie and I threw together.  Rob had been traveling for work non-stop and recently spent a few weeks in Peru so he suggested I take a trip someplace cool.  About a month before we were ready to leave Michelle worked some magic and was able to join us.  We all met in Atlanta at 9:30am on Saturday and traveled to Liberia, Costa Rica together.

Immediately upon arriving we got our rental car and got on the road.  We knew we had about 3-4 hour drive ahead of us.  We knew the roads weren’t going to be that great but that was the extent of our knowledge.  So, when we came across a random pizzeria on the side of the road, we couldn’t resist.

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Thus started our adventure.  It also started our first tastes of Imperial beer.  A beer, I’m convinced, I would think was complete crap at any other time, but it sure was delicious on this trip.  We were the only customers in the restaurant (not surprising given it’s completely remote location) and there was only one worker (out of 3) that spoke a tiny bit of English so I got to use my Spanish right off the bat (I’ve been taking an on-line course similar to Rosetta Stone).  We got what we wanted so I’ll call it a success.

After our long (and late) lunch, it was back on the road for more driving.  We stopped once to admire the view.  In the picture below is Lake Arenal.  It’s the largest man-made lake in Central America.  It powers over 40% of the country.  When they planned the lake, they put absolutely zero planning into the road surrounding it.  What followed was some of the most stressful 2 hours I have ever spent in a car. 

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The roads were up and down and left and right.  Fallen trees were covering parts of the road, bridges were single lanes (and just barely), and it was crazy dark by 4pm.  But, we finally made it to our hotel around 5:30 and immediately found our way to the natural hot springs….and more Imperial.

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Jose was our bartender and told us whatever we were drinking was his specialty.  While he made these drinks Carrie and I questioned him about snakes.  Michelle was adamant there were no dangerous snakes around and Carrie and I were certain there was.  I said “Jose, do you guys have snakes around here?” and he paused with a goofy smile debating what he should say to the tourists.  Finally he just said “Si.”  I said, “Are they bad snakes?” and he said “Si.”  I said “Where do you find them?” and he said “On that railing next to you.”.  That pretty much ended our night.

Our first hotel was in La Fortuna.  It was called El Silencio del Campo (“The Silence of the Forest”).  Sounded like a little bit of a creepy name, but it was anything but creepy. 

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It was a beautifully manicured place made up of about 15 of these little cabins.  The staff was incredibly friendly, and it had several natural hot springs.  The picture below is one of the smaller springs.

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Included in our stay was one free facial.  Well, that wouldn’t work with three girls, so we decided to all get a facial and split the cost of the 2 extra.

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It was straight out of a magazine.  Facials might be my favorite indulgence ever so I don’t say this lightly, but that experience was amazing.  It was everything Aveda tries to replicate, only it was truly natural things they make fresh daily.

And for good measure (sorry if you’re already bored, but this is my “scrapbook” so too bad), here’s a couple other pictures of the surrounding area:

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It probably would have been a photographer’s paradise.  But, I had to make do with my old camera that has an extremely dirty lens.  So, from here on out, picture the colors 10x more vibrant than what I’ve captured.

That’s probably enough for now.  Part 2 will be our first scheduled adventure…horseback riding.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Feast Day

I had the pleasure of joining Riley, and her class, today for their Feast Day!

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As far as her preschool programs go, it’s one of my favorites.  The kids each bring in any food they want, it’s placed at a big table and we eat!  Well, first they sing us a few Thanksgiving songs (mostly about turkeys) and then we eat.  Who wouldn’t want to eat a bunch of preschoolers favorites?  The only bad part, if I had to pick, is sitting in a chair 6 inches off the ground.

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Today, Riley opted for a Go-gurt, Ritz crackers, chocolate cookies, chunks of cheese, popcorn, and string cheese.  She tried both a crescent roll and the Hawaiian bread but those both ended up on my plate (along with Tostitos, goldfish, Angry Bird animal crackers, and a gumball).

It was a feast indeed!  I can’t think of anyone better to share it with than my favorite preschooler!  It was a nice warm-up for the real deal on Thursday.