Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Perfect Lamb

One thing I really love doing is taking photographs.  I especially love nature photography with all the amazing colors and textures.  Taking photographs of animals is really fun, but usually the photos don't get snapped in time before slight movement or even dramatic disappearances!  On a recent family vacation, we were ascending a mountain to visit some good friends in Idaho.  On the way up, we saw a herd of sheep which contained a lot of lambs.  Most of the lambs had blemishes or odd shaped heads ... except one.  It just looked perfect.  His coat was flawless and his is face was sweet.  I just couldn't get over the cuteness of this lamb and was surprised he continued to stay nearby as I fished out my Canon DSLR camera.  He watched me intently as I decided the perfect #VantagePoint from which to get the best shot.

A camera that could produce high quality photographs, but could fit in your pocket or purse, would be so handy in catching nature in the moment.  I recently heard about a new camera called the L16 by Light.co.  This camera is about the size of a cell phone and takes 16 different pictures from 16 different sensors and blends them together to produce a high quality DSLR-like image.  I think it will be interesting to hear how this new camera performs.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Five Reasons Cruising is an Affordable Way to Vacation

It's no secret that our family loves to go on cruise vacations.  My husband and I took our first cruise in May of  2003, and since then, we've been on more than 15 cruises.  Completely hooked, addicted, whatever you want to call it... we are cruise enthusiasts!

There's just something about those beautiful sunsets on the water that draws me back to the boat over and over again.  Well... that and... the fact that cruising is about the cheapest way for our family to vacation!

Here are some reasons why it's so affordable:

1.  It's All Inclusive.  Your very comfortable lodging and all your food (well most) is included in your cruise fare.  There are some specialty restaurants, coffee shop foods, and some room service items that aren't included, but for the most part, anything you could ever want or need is available to you and is included in your price.

2.  Free Entertainment.  There is usually something going on somewhere on the ship at any hour of the day or night.  There are Las Vegas style musical shows, magic shows, comedians, musical bands of all types, and karaoke all over the ship.  Not to mention most ships have an outdoor movie theater where they show movies at night.  There is always something to do, and unless you are playing Bingo or in the Casino, it's all included in your price.

3.  Conveniently Located Ports.  In the past, if you wanted to take a cruise, you had to travel to Florida or California.  Today, you can cruise from ports that might be located closer to home, like Texas, Maryland, South Carolina, Louisiana, New York, Alabama, Virginia, Washington and more.  That means less travel expenses to and from debarkation ports.  We live just under 5 hours from the port in Texas, so driving makes more sense for us rather than flying a family of six to the port.

Cozumel during the month of December
4.  "Off Season" Pricing is Reduced.  At most vacation destinations, they have "off season" pricing, which is sometimes reduced a small percentage.  But with cruising, "off season" pricing is sometimes about half the price of what a summertime cruise would be.  If you are able to vacation during the winter months, just remember, it's still great weather at most Caribbean ports of call and sometimes you can get pricing that is very affordable, even for a large family.

On a cruise during the month of February
5.  Payment Plan.  When booking a cruise, we try to book at least one year in advance.  That way, we are able to pay the deposit and then make a small monthly payment to the cruise line to get our cruise paid for well in advance of our sail date.  In addition, some cruise lines will credit you for price drops that affect your booking.  So in other words, your price can't go up, but it could come down.

These are just some of the reasons I think cruising is super affordable.  I know that we have taken road trips to Colorado, and spent tons of time in the vehicle, slept in less than comfortable beds, and eaten frozen pizza and corn dogs all week, to keep expenses down, and we still spent more than we would have if we had cruised.  Cruising isn't for everyone, but it sure is an affordable way to spend a week being pampered and spoiled!  And we love it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


We recently returned from a long 15 day road trip to California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and many other states.  My favorite part of the trip was our drive up the coastline in California and Oregon on Highway 1.  The views are amazing... the cliffs are steep... the road is treacherous... but it's so beautiful!  You can look to the left and see the beautiful ocean and look to the right and see grand mountains... all God's wonderful creation.

On our second day of traveling up this highway, we saw some beautiful seagulls.  Now, the seagulls we have on the Texas coast are pretty small.  The seagulls in California are HUGE!  They are the size of a small German Shepherd.  I took photos of some beautiful birds.

As we drove, we would pull over into some turnouts to take a better look at the views.  At one of these turnouts, as we were taking pictures, someone else pulled over and dumped out a big load of birdseed to feed the gulls.  The problem was, they dumped it out very close to the highway.  So as the birds were eating, there wasn't enough room for this group of birds to all eat at the same time, and a couple of the birds started to walk backward to get out of the way of other birds.  One bird walked backward right into the lane of traffic in the highway, and a car came around the corner and hit him.  It was the most horrible sound and sight.  And as the car left the bird in the roadway, I thought he was dead.  But no ... the bird tried to get up and walk away, but he wasn't fast enough, a truck came up next and ran over him with his tires.

I was a little relieved actually because I thought, "Okay, he's dead now.  He won't suffer anymore."  But that wasn't the case.  Again, the bird tried to get up with great determination, but he was too injured and just fell back down into the roadway.

By this time, I was completely in tears and the boys were horrified at seeing all of this transpire.  A man pulled over into the pull out and ran over to him, picked him up by his feet and carried him over to the guardrail and placed him on a rock just beyond the rail.  The bird didn't make any attempt at escape.  He was dying.

I glanced over at the pile of birdseed, expecting to see a swarm of birds eating away.  But there were no birds eating.  Not one bird was eating from the huge pile of seed.  I looked up into the sky, and saw that every single gull from this group was in the air, flying in a circular pattern and screaming out.  They were circling the dying gull.  They were mourning his loss.  They didn't want to do anything else.

This must be what it feels like when a loved one dies and you have no hope.  You don't know where their spirit will go when it leaves the body.  But I'm so glad that as Christians, we do have hope.  We know that our loved ones who die with Christ will be with Him in heaven when they die.  Of course, there is mourning ... because we will miss them here on Earth.  But we have a promise from God that we will see them again.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.  And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.    -- John 14:1-4

Friday, March 25, 2016

Vintage Finds

I love thrift store and garage sale shopping!  You just never know what you are going to find.   I love to find vintage items that can be repurposed or reused and I love to find vintage items that I can sell to make a little profit.  I've been selling a few items on Ebay for a while and I'm seriously considering renting booth space at an antique mall in addition to what I already do.  So my eyes are peeled for just the right items that I think will go well in an antique booth.

I have my favorite thrift stores around town, which I try to go to fairly often, but I recently went to a tiny garage sale near my home and when we drove by I thought, this isn't even worth getting out of the car, but we did ... and man was I glad!  I found several things and paid a total of $3.00 for everything.

First, I found a stand up metal puzzle from New York that is worth about $35 new, and it was only $1.00.  I ended up selling it on ebay last week for just under $20.00.

I also found a Pyrex divided dish that is probably worth about $15 and I only paid a quarter for it.  I think this will be a good addition to my future antique booth.

Another item that that cost me just a quarter, was this Thomas Kinkade hanging plate from The Bradford Exchange.  I just thought it was pretty.  We'll see if it sells.

I found an unopened Spanish edition of Scrabble there also and it cost me .... you guessed it .... 25 cents!  These are selling on Ebay for about $15.

My last quarter item was this old metal sign with the alphabet punched into the tin.  I thought it had character and would look good in my antique booth.

The last thing I picked up at this yard sale was a brown paper shopping bag full of fabric scraps.  I just peered in briefly and saw a couple of, what appeared to be, vintage fabric swatches.  It had a price tag of $1 for the entire bag.  I snatched it up quick and went to pay.  When I got home, I couldn't wait to dig into this bag and get a better look at what was inside!  I was shocked to find 6 different vintage flour sacks, one of them was still made into a sack.   They all had the stitching holes around the edges and the fabric was in very good shape.  I just love the look of these.   I listed these all on Ebay and so far I've sold two of them.

Searching for old things and selling some of them is just a hobby for me.  In all honesty, I love to shop for things, and selling some of them on Ebay, helps finance my habit!  I love searching for vintage finds!

No More Babies ... What Will You Miss?

Josiah - Age 4
I just realized that our youngest child is about to turn 5 years old next month.  That can only mean one thing ... no more "babies" in our house!  When kids are under 5, you can safely say, "he's the baby" or "that's my baby", but no more!  He's turning 5 and that means he's a big boy!

There are good things that come along with having no more babies, and there are things I'll certainly miss.  But change is good ... it is a sure sign of life.

I won't miss diapers and potty training!  I thought that stage would never end.  I won't miss washing baby bottles and the hundred thousand pieces that go in them because I used Dr. Brown's.  I won't miss teething babies and the sleepless nights that go along with all that.

Joshua at 6 months
I will, however, miss lots of other things ... like that first baby smile.  I remember back when Josh (our first baby, but third son) was about six weeks old, we went on a long road trip to Colorado.  On the trip home, we pulled over for a quick stop and I took him out of his car seat for a little bit and was using a baby wipe to wash his hands and face.  He was on my lap and when I brushed his cheek with the wipe, in a circular motion, he smiled the biggest baby smile - his first - I'd ever seen! I'll miss baby smiles.

I'm really gonna miss bath time in the kitchen sink.  I have a big farmhouse style apron front sink and it's like a small bathtub.  I've bathed the kids in that sink many times.  I'll miss that.

I'm sure I'll miss playing "PeePie" with the babies! Why is it that they laughed so much when I'd do that?  Do they honestly believe you actually disappear behind your hands?  All I know is, it's a big hit with babies and I'm gonna miss that.

There's just something about the innocence of a baby.  They completely trust you to take care of their every need.  Babies can make you smile, even when you're feeling down, and their joyful giggles are very contagious!

Take advantage of every moment you have with a baby.  The time goes by so quickly and the only thing you'll have of that time is memories.

What will you miss most?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ten Tips for First Time Cruisers

Vacations are such a needed thing.  Everyone needs a break from the stresses and burdens of everyday life.  We've taken road trips and other kinds of vacations to the mountains and other places, but the best vacations we ever take are cruises.  We recently returned from our 14th cruise and I just have to say, cruising is just about my favorite vacation ever!  People cook and clean for you and you just feel pampered every step of the way.  For the price, it's a wonderful vacation option for couples or families with children.

Here's a list of some of the tips I've picked up along the way:

1.  Book your cruise early and use a trusted Travel Agent.  When we cruise, we will usually book our cruise about 1 year before.  This is very helpful because you only need to pay the deposits for each person up front and then you have several months to completely pay for the cruise ahead of time and be ready to go.  Make your cruise payoff be one of your monthly bills until it is paid for.   Using a Travel Agent can be good because he may know of a better rate or room that would fit your family better.   The first few times we cruised, we booked directly through the cruise line and ended up in rooms that weren't in the best of locations.  Travel Agents will know which locations are the best.

2.  Pack light! - Every cruise, I always see people who have way over packed for their cruise.  It is so much easier and less stressful to pack much lighter and have your experience getting on and off the ship go easier.  My family will only take 1 small carry on size luggage per person.  Regardless of the number of days we will be gone.  The rooms on the ships are super small and there isn't much closet or drawer space, so bringing a ton of clothes and other items just simply isn't necessary or practical.  As a perk for cruise loyalty, we now get free laundry service when we cruise which is really awesome!   But even before we got this perk, we still only took about 3 changes of clothes per person.  I bought some of those laundry detergent sheets and brought along a coin purse full of quarters and one night (usually during the middle of the cruise), I would head over to one of the laundrettes on the ship and do a couple of loads of laundry.  When you debark the ship at the end of your cruise, you are given options on how you want to get off.  Self assist (which means you roll your luggage off yourself), or the traditional way where they take your luggage the night before and have it in a big warehouse for you to search for the next day.  Self assist is the best way to go, but only when you have minimal luggage to take off.  

3. Unpack! -  When you get to your room on the ship, and you get your luggage delivered to the room, go ahead and unpack.  Don't live out of your suitcase all week!  Hang things up in the closets, put away things in the drawers and in the bathroom.  It's much  more relaxing to have your luggage put away and just enjoy being on vacation.

4.  Main Dining Room - Take advantage of the Main Dining Room for dinner each evening.  I always see lots of people avoid the main dining room for dinner because they think they have to dress up or feel awkward about people serving them.  You're on vacation!  Don't spend every meal at the buffet getting your own food.  The food there is amazing too, but there is just something about the Main Dining Room food that is a little more special.  The waiters there really take time to remember things you like and don't like.  They remember your name and are wonderful at anticipating your needs.  Other than "elegant night", you don't have to dress up in the Main Dining Room.  They only ask that you not wear shorts.  

5.  Photos - take lots of them!  You are going to see some amazing sunsets at sea and the sunrises are even better!  There are plenty of opportunities to have your photo taken by the ship's professional photography staff.  Take advantage of each one.  There is no cost for them to take your picture.  Once the photos are up in the photo gallery, take a look at them.  If you like them, you can purchase them.  If not, you can discard them in the provided bins.  There is no obligation to purchase them.  My family usually has our pictures made by many photographers at different backdrops around the ship and then we check them out to see if any turned out great. 

6.  Ports of call - Get off the ship at each of the ports of call on your cruise.  I hear people talking about how they've heard certain ports of call are not safe and there is no way they would get off the ship there.  That is just ridiculous!  The places the cruise ships go usually only even exist because of the cruise industry.  Their economy heavily relies on cruise ships coming to their country.  If the area was not safe, the cruise lines would not even consider them as a port of call.  As with anywhere, you should always be aware of your surroundings and be cautious, but the ports are very safe.  I remember being scared to get off the ship on our first cruise.  We finally did and were so shocked that it was so completely safe!  It's very interesting to see and experience a different culture.  Don't miss the opportunity!

7.  Excursions - The cruise line excursions are pretty expensive compared to what you can do on your own.  If you want to purchase a particular excursion from the cruise line, do your research first and find out what you can get the excursion for if your book it with a private company.  There are lots of tour companies that can save you about half or more.  Just be aware of the timing and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship before it leaves the port.  You don't want to get left behind.  Another option is to just get off the ship, find the taxi stand and get in one.  Once you're in the taxi, you can ask him how much per person he would charge to drive you around the city or island for several hours.  Usually, we can get a driver to accompany us for about $20 per person for about 4 to 5 hours.  This gives you a chance to really see the port or call, ask the driver questions about everyday life there, etc.  And this is way cheaper than other excursions.

8.  Tipping - The cruise line will automatically add tips to your account during the cruise so you don't have to go around tipping your room steward or wait staff throughout the cruise.  These automatic tips are spread out to the different people who made your cruise enjoyable.  It's really not very much considering all they do.  The cruise ship employees don't make very much money, and a lot of times, they send most of what they make back home to their families.  So, don't try to remove the tips from your account unless there is just something major that was wrong.  They work very hard and do a wonderful job.  In 14 cruises, we've never had a bad experience.  We've always had very attentive room stewards and waitstaff. 

9.  Kids programs.  Take advantage of the onboard kids programs for your children.  They are free (up until a certain time at night) and included in the cruise fare you paid for your child.  They have a ton of safe activities that your child will love!  

10.  Be open to try new foods and different things to do.  The cruise ships are full of foods that you've never had before.  Don't be afraid to try something new!  You just  might like it!  The cruise ship has a ton of activities onboard.  Try to participate in some things you don't normally do.  Go watch karaoke, take part in the photo scavenger hunt, go down the water slide, relax in a hot tub, and many other things.  Every cruise you take will be different from the last one.  Have fun!  Enjoy the pampering!  It will end soon enough and you'll be back to daily life in reality.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Our Fall Trip to Florida

Swinging Competition
October has just flown by for me.  We took a trip to Florida for a preacher's conference in Pensacola. Any time you have kids with you on a road trip, it turns out to be a LOONNNNNGGGG trip!  You know they each have to go to the bathroom ... at different times!  And then you have the random statements coming from the back seats of the Tahoe:  "Mom, I'm thirsty."  "Mom, I'm hungry."  "Mom, can we stop and buy a toy?"  "Mom, I wanna go to a park."  And every statement leads to another statement ... from another boy.  It's a crazy life!

So we found a park along the way, and let everyone get out and run around for a while.  It helps a lot!  We found a beautiful little neighborhood park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

All the fun came to an end, though, when Mom pulled out the camera and got the bright idea to take this opportunity to have a Christmas Card Photo Shoot!  The smiles which so easily adorned their faces, were wiped away and replaced with horrible fake smiles through gritted teeth.  But I was able to get a few good pictures despite the struggles!  

In Mobile, Alabama, we stopped and saw the USS Alabama, along with lots of military vehicles and airplanes.  The boys loved this stop ... obviously.

After the conference was over, we drove down to the Orlando area to visit some good friends who used to attend our church, but moved to Florida several years ago.

The boys had so much fun!  They live on a small private lake and took the boys out on the wave runners and the boat.  Alligators live in the lake, so you have to be careful to scare them away with the motors.   The only bad thing about the visit was that it was so short!

 While they were all out on the wave runners and the boat, I was able to sit in "The Hammock", an amazing screened in little house, complete with living are, dining area and kitchen.  It was one of the most relaxing days I've had in a while.  I enjoyed all the wonderful sounds and smells and the air was cool.  Heavenly day!

Sadly, we had to leave and head out for the 2 day trip back home.   Along the way, we spotted this airplane practicing stunts for an airshow and she stopped to watch him.  The boys loved it.

 The trip was a great time - heard some good preaching at the conference, had some fun with our boys and I got to spend a little time with my husband too.  That's a good trip!

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