Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Winter 2010

The G-W Family and Luis at "Heaven's Gate"
So, I'm pretty lame as a family blogger. I write tons of posts in my head, honest! And as soon as they perfect that app where I can just think the post and it will appear here, this blog will be much more entertaining. In the meantime, I'm still just a mom with too many commitments who may carve out a few minutes to blog when there are way too many pictures stored in the computer.

So, 2010 - Quite a fun year so far!

Luis and Rose - Dec 09
Luis at the Art Institute - Dec 09
In December, Luis joined our family and we helped him through the last part of his exchange year. Luis is from Paraguay and he likes Art and Architecture. So our first order of business was to take him to the Art Institute of Chicago,


Luis Decorates the boy's room - Paraguay style.
the "Bean" and the Chicago History Museum.


We had LOTS of snow in Dec, Jan, Feb, March... April?  Seems like it just went on and on. Lucky for Luis, he liked snow...





E Learns what it felt like to ride bikes on cobblestones in the early days of Chicago.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Year in Review

~Coming Soon!~
I'm mentally composing our family, holiday letter turned blog post. So keep checking back!


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Happy Birthday Baby Rose!




My baby is going to be TWO tomorrow! Wow! It seems like just yesterday I was waddling around Costco getting a case of oranges to satisfy my craving and calling the midwife to say "I might be in labor"



Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cancun 09 - Day Three - Rest

Today was much brighter and sunnier when we woke up.  Here is a better picture of the view from our room.  I changed up the routine a bit by going for a run.  I ran down the street to the beach and then returned on the beach.  It took 15 minutes to go by street and 33 to hike back on the beach.  But it was beautiful!

Today was a "down" day for our trip.  While I let information and experiences wash over me in the Morter Elite Masters event, John and the kids bummed around the hotel and visited one of the three pools and the beach.  John was intrepid and got the kids on the bus to go downtown for lunch.   
Here is M with his prize sombrero - bargained hard for in La Palapa at Tulum.  
 

When I caught up with them before dinner - well, ok, they had to come shoo me out of the jacuzzi so we wouldn't be late for dinner - everyone looked happy. And beautiful!  We had to "dress up" for dinner so the girls were in their matching dresses and M had his outfit with a collar on. A SpongeBob outfit, but still.  I thought about getting a picture, but we didn't.

We had a delightful dinner at DaVinci.  You know it's a good restaurant when you wished you would have brought your camera so you could have photographed your meal.  The highlight was dessert.  A Chocolate Piano - yes, a piano made from chocolate -albeit a miniature grand piano.  I ordered the "Artist's Palette" - a cookie shaped like a palette with three little scoops of ice cream for the paint and the most delicious piece of chocolate cinnamon fudge for the paint brush.

R slept through the meal.  A blessing since this was a very "nice" restaurant and if she had gotten bored it could have gotten ugly. But, apparently, twelve hours is about her limit for constant wakefulness.  It's the second night in a row she's gone to sleep at 6PM and I assume she will sleep all night again tonight.

So, what did I learn about all day? I have a ton of notes and thought provoking quotes to share on my blogs and facebook.  Ultimately, I was challenged to bring my life into focus.  If I had seven days to live, would I still be doing what I am doing right now?  Lucky for me, the answer is YES! However, it did cause me to think a little more closely about HOW I am doing it.  Adjustments to follow.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cancun 09 - Day Two - WET


To describe today in one word... WET.
As we learned, the Mayan spirituality was all about duality. The "good" God and the "bad" God were the same God. For example... if it rained, this was good because your crops could grow. Unless you were trying to harvest, then it could be bad because you'd loose your crops. There was always two sides to everything. And so it is today with the conditions and our day in general.

We woke up to our beautiful view (that was good), but it was rainy and overcast (that was bad). We enjoyed breakfast on the balcony (that was good!) The kids balked at taking their vitamins (that was bad). We got to the lobby in time to meet our tour (that was good) but the tour guide did not have us on his list (that was bad) But, it meant there was an extra seat on the bus, because they sent a different bus to pick up the other passengers (that was good!). It took quite a while to pick everyone up and get to Xel-Ha (that was bad) but it rained the whole time and cleared up some by the time we were at the park (that was good!). I thought our tour would go to Tulum first, it didn't (this was bad) but it meant we got the best part of the day at Xel-ha (that was good!)

On the way in Umberto, our fabulous tour guide, explained the different activity options at Xel-ha. The Sea Trek program only required you to be able to walk - no swimming needed - to go under water and meet fish and sting-rays. John has never learned to swim, but his curiosity got the better of him and he agreed to give it a try. E wanted to snorkel, but insisted she didn't want to do a "tour". I really wanted to do the snorkel tour, having never tried it before, so I envisioned myself going off for an hour by myself to visit with the fishies. Somewhat like a massage.

Getting into the park, finding lockers and signing up for the activities took some time. I had an 11AM snorkel tour and John's Sea Trek would follow at 12:30, so it made the schedule seem tight. When we met Carlos, for the snorkel tour, I was the only one signed up, so he invited E and the rest of the family to give snorkeling a try. M was enticed by the fins and the mask, but in the end, he hated the taste of the salt water.
It led to some very bad parenting on my part as I had to walk him around to find John, who had left to take R to the kiddie pool. I felt cheated out of my one hour of fun. In the meantime, E was enjoying learning to snorkel and at least through the generosity of Carlos, we were getting the benefit! Deal of the day! 2 for 1 snorkeling tour!

Once I returned, I had to learn how to put my face in the water. I would have thought after a lifetime of mouth-breathing, it would have come more naturally. But, eventually, my rhythmic breathing skills kicked in and I was enjoying myself.
We floated around a beautiful inlet where the fish are in their natural reef habitat. Carlos would break out the fish food and we'd be in huge schools of fish! E was hooked and couldn't wait until we could do more.

Then it was John's turn. He went off to do the Sea Trek while we went to lunch. He donned a large helmet that didn't require him to remove his glasses and walked ten feet under the water where he got to view a variety of fish and pet sting-rays. Amazing for a guy who doesn't know how to swim! We bought an underwater camera, so we'll look forward to seeing some of his shots.

The buffet (pronounced "boo-fet" in Espanol at least by our tour guide) was wonderful. Some of the best food we've had so far! (that was good!) We were racing off to enjoy our last half hour of the park before getting ready to go to Tulum and we left the camera on the restaurant table (that was bad). When we returned from snorkeling we found the camera at the restaurant (that was good!) so we'll just have to remember the beautiful rainbow fish we found on our own. We will have another chance to take underwater pictures when we go to Xcaret next week.

There wasn't as much time for just relaxing and taking it all in today. We got to spend a short time in Tulum before there was a downpour. But, we did finally find M's sombrero for just 200 pesos at La Palapa shopping center in Tulum. Here is a video of what everyone enjoyed most about the day. I agree with E, I LOVED the snorkeling. video
I DID wear the same shirt to Tulum that my sister wore there when she went (8 years ago??). But, alas, I did not get any pictures taken with it before the rain came. I did get this great picture of me and E and the mcaaws though!

And to the left is a picture of Rosie. It's amazing that she puts up with our globe trotting and doesn't act this way all the time. This was her one brief moment of despair all day. At other times she was singing and generally enjoying herself... as you can see in this video.
video

Tomorrow I begin the Masters training for B.E.S.T. Though it will be interesting and stimulating, the Morter's will really have a challenge in making their program stand out after these first two glorious, exciting, adventure-packed days in Cancun.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cancun 09 - Day One - Isla Mujeres


We arrived safely in Cancun yesterday! It is a long day to travel and a direct flight might be much better, but for the money, it was a relatively easy travel day. I was very impressed with Continental Airlines. Both for being on time (early in the case of our Chicago departure) and for the smooth take offs and descents. My two older children really suffer when the descent begins. On the first flight, a passenger offered them gum and that seemed to help. We bought some, but it didn't offer any relief to E for the second flight. She swears she will never fly again, but we have so much fun traveling! We must find a solution!

We got through immigration and customs and the tourist trap booth in record time and made it to our hotel a little over an hour after landing. We did have our bag searched by customs. I had one whole suitcase full of Cliff bars and tons of supplements. I guess that didn't look so good on the camera. He was very polite. At first when I said "vitamins" he said "oh, like candies", I said yes. Then, as he was closing up my bag, obviously satisfied, he said, "like, nat-ur-al med -ee-cin"? I smiled and said "yes." Whew!

We arrived at the hotel and got checked in and went to the restaurant for dinner. M had a huge meltdown because he was starving and I didn't let him get the buffet. The waiter - Carlos - was so wonderful. He literally RAN M's meal to him as soon as it was ready.

We caught the tail end of the nightly show. A cowboy doing amazing lasso tricks and some traditional dancers. Once M had some food in him, he was in shopping mode. There were artisan vendors set up near the outdoor part of the restaurant and he enjoyed looking at their wares. For the second night in a row, my kids were too full and tired to have dessert!

We went back to the room and straight to bed. We needed to be in the lobby by 7:30AM to change money, get our voucher's for Wednesday's excursion, change John's departure transport and make sure we were on the right bus. Amazingly, we got it all done and arrived at the Dolphin Discovery shop at just the right time.

We had a great room service breakfast of empanadas (like chicken quesidillas), orange juice, and pineapple turnovers... and of course for John, COFFEE. We got the beverages complimentary and on the form, they asked for how many... so John actually got COFFEE FOR FIVE!

I forgot to take a picture of our view, but it is a gorgeous view from the 18th floor of the lagoon. The only complaint with our room would be the loud hum of the water treatment plant across the street. You can't hear it if you are blasting your A/C. But once I shut that off, the street noise is loud and noticeable. Can't complain for $30/night... and the rest of the hotel is outstanding. Marble floors, balcony, huge towels, comfortable beds, bathrobes... FREE Wi-Fi! A beautiful 5-star resort hotel. I think the only reason it doesn't get more business is the lack of a "kids club" but we don't need that, so I'm thrilled. If you want to come to Cancun, check out the deal at the Radio Shopping Show for Omni Cancun. I see it is down to $99 for a five night stay! Amazing!

OK... so back to our day...

It was raining when we boarded the fairy. Between getting wet and the motion of the boat, M was NOT happy. Soon enough, they broke out the donuts and Sprite and he cheered up... almost enjoyed himself, as you can see here. The girls just naturally love water and boats. R was happiest when she could stand by the side and feel the breeze in her hair. Too bad we couldn't have gotten a shot from the outside of the boat.

I was amazed at how the emcee on the boat ride could speak all the languages of the people on the tour. In this case, Spanish (both Mexican and South American dialects), English (he made a great joke of quoting the times in "half-past" for the people from England and Scotland vs. "two-thirty" for the Americans) and even Japanese! He started off in Spanish and I had a slight grasp of what he was saying. Now I have an idea of what it is like to be an exchange student! I would have figured most of what he was saying out, but I would have missed alot.

When we arrived at Dolphin Discovery, we went to the dock and the trainers came out and had the dolphins do tricks for us. One of the staff was near where we were standing and he introduced us to the dolphins we were near and also told us about the three nursing dolphins and their moms who were in a special area. There are 25 dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. As it turned out, we had these same two dolphins, DaVinci and EeShell, in our Swim Adventure.

The Dolphin Discovery is like a day resort. There is a playground, a pool, a hammock garden and a restaurant/bar, plus gift shop and several play fountains. It is on a small island, Isla Mujeres. (Woman Island - because they discovered some large Mayan statues of women there many years ago) As we walked down the dock, one of the waiters started asking us if we were interested in purchasing the buffet and asked us to find him. He would give us the all-inclusive buffet for $600 MXP. When we got to the restaurant. It was explained that you see the waiter to purchase your meal plan. There was a sign posted stating the buffet was $15USD for adults and $6USD for children, so the price he quoted was fair. However, I went to find him and couldn't, so another waiter, Israel, asked about my family and offered to not charge for R OR M, bringing the price down to $475MXP! Our first deal of the day!

The kids immediately noticed the playground and the cool swings by the bar we had seen in the travel video and of course Rosalita was just happy to see SAND! John took M to the staging area for the Dolphin Encounter program. This program was billed as being suitable for ages 1-80 and great for non-swimmers. From the pictures and even the travel video we watched, it seemed like participants were in shallow water with the dolphins. What we discovered, was that the programs are held on a platform down in the water where you see the trainer standing in the picture above. Miguel freaked and would not go down the stairs into the water. So he and John just watched the program from the pier. Not exactly my plan when forking over the cash, but I was proud of him for even considering it. He's usually not one for adventure.

While the boys were at their program, the girls enjoyed the pool and my personal favorite, the hammock garden. It was at this time I really decided I love this type of vacation. It really made me wonder why we go to Disneyworld and consider it a "vacation." Our itinerary today sounded just as crazed as a day at the Magic Kingdom, but in reality, there was plenty of time for lounging, relaxing, talking, exploring and just enjoying the surroundings. It was not at all crowded. No lines, no waiting. Just beautiful and relaxing. I guess Disney has it's place... but maybe they should consider adding a hammock garden.

This is E - doing her impression of a dolphin caught in a tuna net. Please, only buy dolphin safe tuna. It really IS impossible to get out of a net when trapped on your belly....

At noon - the buffet opened. Not spectacular, but convenient and reasonably priced. At 12:15, we began our adventure. They showed us the various hand signals for kissing, hugging, and dancing with the dolphins and then explained how we were going to be able to do a belly ride and a boogie board push. Then, we went down into the water. E couldn't touch and I was even a little intimidated and could understand M's hesitance. I got to swim out first to do the belly ride and I was in awe that I was swimming in the Caribbean sea with huge animals! I was amazed at how peaceful it was when the dolphin swam up. I grabbed on to its dorsal fins and was pulled back to the ledge! So cool! I wished we could do that twice! E was hesitant to try that, but I swam out with her and showed her how. She did it one handed! The video is very cool! She did not want to do the boogie - board push (you hold on to a large kick board and the dolphin pushes your foot) so she got to do the belly ride twice.

The pictures are awesome!

After swimming all day, we got to go to the downtown.
The kids bought some overpriced masks from "Cheapo Philipo" He lured us into his shop and dumped out a huge bag of these things for the kids to try. He started out at $400 MXP - EACH! Kept making me offers on the silver. Said his shop is new and he can discount the prices. In the end, he gives us two masks for $400MXP and the kids are happy. I'm skeptical, but he is very nice.M is obsessed with sombreros and insists he is going to buy one. I keep telling him I don't think we can get one home on the plane! He sure wears it well though.

The Isla downtown shopping area is very much like the Mexico you read about. The people are hanging out in front of their shops and will do anything to get you to stop and buy something. They haggle the price, they open the door and invite you in. It was a neat experience. We go to the beach for a little while and the kids are in heaven. The water is warm and calm, the sand is soft. We have to leave too soon for them. We run the gauntlet of more shops and stop to buy a t-shirt, then get to the boat just in time.

When we get back to Dolphin Discovery, R is FINALLY asleep. No nap all day. I go to the customer service kiosk to see if they have been able to arrange any sort of refund for the Encounter the boys skipped. They give me a generous photo/dvd package and I am thrilled! I really wanted the DVD, but didn't want to spend $40USD for it. Deal of the day number 2!

When we return to El Embarcadero, all of the pirate ships that offer dinner cruises are lit up. There are various "Pirates of the Caribbean" strolling about, so we get some pictures. There was an amazing full moon we saw rise - you can see it in the photo on the left.















It was time for dinner. We walked quite a way until we got to a light so we could cross the street to catch a bus. This is a very strange thing about the main drag here. It is not very pedestrian friendly, yet there are a ton of pedestrians.

We settled on checking out El Shrimp Bucket John and I tried the "All You Can Eat" Shrimp deal - beer battered, coconut and breaded shrimp for $20USD per person. The waiter kept teasing us that the record is 216 shrimp! We vowed to beat it... it made me think of the Simpson's Episode where he sues the all you can eat seafood buffet. I can't find any clips on You Tube, but if you can, send them to me! As it turned out, we each got through about a bucket and a half. It was delicious! The restaurant was very clean. No ADA laws in Cancun however, the bathrooms are tiny!

From there, we were able to walk back to our resort.

I am so amazed and grateful for my wonderful children! They really enjoyed themselves today (in between minor meltdowns) and I heard very little complaining. M and John were strategizing about how we could move down here (John could teach golf, E could teach bike riding...). On the ferry on the way back, E pointed out that she will be ten in 14months. When I asked her where she wants to go for her 10th birthday, she says, "Mexico!" And at dinner, she says, "when we leave, well, if you can get me outta here!" All this from the girl who didn't want to come on this vacation!

Well, off to bed. Tomorrow is Xel-Ha and Tulum!

Change - Combiar


This week's Unplug Your Kids theme was - Change
We spent most of the week packing, cleaning and running errands. Seemed much like every other week. Except that all of our tasks were leading up to our big vacation to Mexico.

This morning at 7:30AM, we started our day in the lobby - "changing" our money into Mexican Pesos.

We spent the entire day out on Isla Mujeres and had many opportunities to practice our math while figuring out what things cost.

Other changes included the kids being thrilled to be in Mexico, several changes of plan as we learned more about where we were going and what we were doing and a huge change in diet as we enjoyed the all inclusive nature of our lunch package and I dropped all dietary restrictions for the day, including the moratorium on orange soda!

It was a wonderful day! See the other posts to hear all about it!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Unity Halloween Party 2009

One of our favorite events at our church- Unity Church of Crystal Lake is the annual Halloween bash. It came early this year, since Halloween falls on a Saturday.

In years past, my kids have had any number of store bought costumes to choose from. I think they were addicted. At one point I called a costume moratorium because they each had about 5 and their not the kind of kids to wear them year round either.

So, it's been a few years since we bought costumes and I was sure I'd get the constant pestering, nagging and harassing when the catalogs started coming in the mail. I figured I might need to give in because directing to costumes that were too small wasn't going to work.

M of course talked about being various Star Wars characters and asked for a snazzy costume from the magazine. When I pointed out it was $60, he thought long and hard and said ... "nah... I can do something else." I fully intended to go to Joann's and get some brown felt and make a Jedi costume for him... but it never happened.

For a couple of weeks, E was talking about being a cat. But somewhere along the line, she and her friend Katie cooked up a plan to go as pioneer sisters. E asked for a black turtle neck and some black boots and I just stalled around and ... well... like the Jedi costume... they never materialized.

On Friday, we were invited to a party at the fabulous Nolans I hadn't been feeling my best on Thursday, so I didn't really tell them we were going until Friday morning. They bounced around and were costumed up in a flash!

Pioneer girl and "a stranger" from Star Wars. Oh yes, I'd been planning a Marilyn Monroe costume for R, but... guess what... I DID buy some big sunglasses, but as for the rest of it... it never happened. Luckily she had a hand-me-down Tinkerbell costume with the matching shoes in the closet. She loved it. She wore it all day.

We had a blast on Friday. They were so excited going to bed on Saturday night in anticipation of the big day at church on Sunday. Ok... well, maybe I'm just a mean, self-centered mom. I ran around on Saturday and managed to purchase a few items for my own costume. John had stopped into the costume shop during the week and picked up his one necessary prop. Well, we never got any guff. I think they were really happy to be putting together costumes from what they had around the house.
The kids go to "youth ed" at church and today they had Mad Science presenting on dry ice, the kids made puking pumpkins and slime. Luckily, I don't believe any slime made it home.
Afterward, there is a big potluck. And then the games begin.

Here is M, doing the infamous... Eat the Donut Off The String Game. It took him like, 30 minutes because he has no front teeth!

R figured out the trick right away... just go take a prize from the black prize buckets near each game. Though, she had been "taking" things all day... she helped herself to three juice boxes from the snack cart in the big kid's classroom.











Then came the voting for costumes.
The Gibson-Wetterholts cleaned up!
E won for best kid costume. Her friend V won for most original. I think the coolest thing about E's victory is that she put that entire costume together from things she had at home, ALL BY HERSELF!

As you can see from the pictures from the two different days, it took her a try or two to find just the right shirt to go under her dress. And yes, the hat is small. We got it 3 years ago at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL. I'm so proud of her for sticking with her vision. She's been reading Little House on the Prairie every night before bed and is really enjoying the story.


Then... the big surprise of the day... John and I won for best couples costume!

John is the Swine Flu and I am the remedy. I have syringes of LOVE and REST and medicine spoons of FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE and Vitamin D and Trace Minerals on a lanyard. And I have soap and chicken soup in my pocket.

It was a very exciting morning. Thanks Rev Tom and Ms. Marie and Ms. Maria for all the hard work that goes into this event. We really appreciate it!