Last (best) day

I couldn’t bring my camera to our outing today, but never fear! I lifted images off of the internet that show exactly where we were and what we saw.

Trip one:
Akumel for snorkeling with sea turtles, a barracuda, parrot fish, giant sting rays, coral reefs, and an enormous green eel. The eel was coiled up inside of a coral cove, but you could see its mammoth head and neck near the opening. The guide asked us, “shall we continue?” to which I responded with my solo chorus, “YES! Let us please continue!!!” I swam away from that as fast as my flippers would let me.

After forty five minutes in the ocean, I felt cold and very ill, but I did emerge with a shifted paradigm. I had no idea how interesting snorkeling could be! To be honest, I didn’t even feel that scared of being eaten by a shark, even though we were out deeper than I have ever swum in a body of natural water.

Here are my copied pictures:

Akumal beach where we snorkeled.

Akumal beach where we snorkeled. The sky and water and sand looked exactly as they do in the picture.

We saw so many sea turtles! They were everywhere. The babies were so cute.

We saw so many sea turtles! They were everywhere. The babies were so cute.

We didn't get quite this close, but the turtles were very friendly and not scared of us at all.

We didn’t get quite this close, but the turtles were very friendly and not scared of us at all.

Trip 2:

We went to two cave pools that looked like this. They were called, "Dos Ojos."

This is one of the pools we visited. The pools are called, ‘Dos Ojos.”

The caves where we snorkeled. I was so cold that at first I just sat on that ledge, but Kim from our little group (we went with just Abe's boss, Lucas, and his wife, Kim), convinced me to come in.

The caves where we snorkeled. I was so cold that at first I just sat on that ledge, but Kim from our little group (we went with just Abe’s boss, Lucas, and his wife, Kim), convinced me to come in.

This is what I saw when I entered the pool.

This is what I saw when I entered the pool.

It was amazing. I have never seen anything like what I saw today.

After the adventures and lots of good times visiting with Kim and Lucas, we headed back to the resort to spend a couple hours on the beach reading…and ordering food. The food came right to our lounge chairs by the ocean. It was not only magical, but also a little windy and cold. So as soon as we ate our food, we headed to our room to warm up and get ready for dinner.

The farewell Qualtrics dinner was set out on the beach. We ate a bunch of fish that the deep-sea fishing group caught today, and I got to visit with some of my favorite people from the trip.

And now to finish packing. Tomorrow we will be back in Salt Lake with our girls!!

Happy birthday, Abe!

Happy 31st birthday Abe! We celebrated with excessive self indulgence. We skipped our scheduled outing and instead lay by the pool and beach for most of the day. When we’d had our fill of lounging, we got massages (and I got an additional facial). From there we headed straight to the best restaurant on the resort, where we ordered a five course meal, after which we retired to our rooms and ordered brownies for room service. I feel like I can only have one day like this a year if I still desire to call myself a Christian.

Everything we’ve prayed for in terms of Abe’s big deal happened today. It was the best birthday present of all. Thanks, Mom, for your prayers! I know they helped.

We also got to Skype with the girls! It was so fun to see their beautiful faces. That might have been the highlight of my day.

Also, I am sick today. Darn. But it was so good otherwise, I don’t feel like I can complain much. Tomorrow we are snorkeling with sea turtles and in underground caves. It is very uncharacteristic behavior for me to be so adventurous, but I don’t want to let our little group down.

I also took lots of pictures, so here they are:

I walked to breakfast this morning with my camera and snapped pictures en route. It's very pretty here.

I walked to breakfast this morning with my camera and snapped pictures en route. It’s very pretty here.

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There are lots of these haciendas on the resort. They all look the same, so I took a picture of this one, even though it's not ours.

There are lots of these haciendas on the resort. They all look the same, so I took a picture of this one, even though it’s not ours.

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Approaching the beach. We spent the morning at the infinity pool, but right behind us was an equally beautiful pool.

Approaching the beach. We spent the morning at the infinity pool, but right behind us was an equally beautiful pool. I think there are four or five beautiful pools here, not counting the “lakes” and hot tubs that are hidden in miniature jungle alcoves everywhere.

The birthday boy at breakfast.

The birthday boy at breakfast. He was, as you can see, very restrained when it came to putting food on his plate.

The view from breakfast.

The view from breakfast.

Abe was intent on photographing this seagull above my head. I was sure it would poop on me. Thank goodness I was wrong.

Abe was intent on photographing this seagull above my head. I was sure it would poop on me. Thank goodness I was wrong.

By the pool.

By the pool.

With my room service brownie.

With my room service brownie.

Beach day.

Right now there is are some beautiful vocalists serenading one of the terraces of the main building on the resort. Our hacienda is very close to the main building, so it feels like I am being personally serenaded with arias and Broadway hits. Very lovely.

I think I actually went into gastronomic shock at dinner tonight. The food is just so amazing, so creative, so abundant, so all-the-time available, and so free. I had no idea we were embarking on a vacation that had the same food issues as a cruise. Tomorrow I am going to practice restraint, if only so I don’t see stars at the end of the day.

Today was also a beach day! Hallelujah, though I think I put on too much sunscreen. I didn’t tan at all! Not making that mistake tomorrow.

And tomorrow just happens to be Abe’s birthday. I do so hope he can submit his big deal to the legal department tomorrow. That would be an over-the-top birthday present for him. Today he got some great news, and he is literally one step away from submitting it all to the legal department and getting this all wrapped up. It’s so close that I’m not sure if Abe is entirely relaxing on this vacation, but he sure put forth a good effort today.

He played tons of beach volleyball, and he convinced me to kayak in the Gulf of Mexico with him. I was scared to death that we would be eaten by a shark, but because I love him, I went with him. I got a little seasick from the waves, but it was fun. We just headed out as far as we wanted towards the horizon, and when the ocean turned black beneath us and the waves got extra choppy, we turned back and returned to shore.

We also had a great visit with some of Abe’s coworkers over lunch. There are just no words to express how pleasant everyone is. I enjoy them all so much.

In the evening we headed downtown to get some shopping in. We took pictures with Abe’s phone there, but they didn’t come through to my email yet. I will post them tomorrow.

I am also getting slightly sick here because at night it gets cooler and I didn’t wear properly warm attire the past couple days.  Off to bed so I can be healthy on Abe’s birthday!

Chichen Itza, the most frightening wonder of the world

Today we visited Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world. I took a ton of pictures, so I’ll just post those here with captions.

This is the tree that produces the fruit that makes chicklet gum. ("Chichen" means "to chew.")

This is the tree that produces the fruit that makes chicklet gum. (“Chichen” means “to chew.”)

This Mayan temple is one of the seven wonders of the world. The Mayans would perform human sacrifices in this building. There is a lot of astrological significance to the architecture of the building as well.

This Mayan temple is one of the seven wonders of the world. The Mayans would perform human sacrifices in this building. There is a lot of astrological significance to the architecture of the building as well.

The Mayans played a ball game wherein they had to shoot an eight pound ball through that hoop without using their hands. The captain of the losing team got beheaded, and his head was displayed on a special building constructed for the sole purpose of displaying severed human heads.

The Mayans played a ball game wherein they had to shoot an eight pound ball through that hoop without using their hands. The captain of the losing team got beheaded, and his head was displayed on a special building constructed for the sole purpose of displaying severed human heads.

Our group learning about the ancient Mayan ball games.

Our group learning about the ancient Mayan ball games.

the serpent head. The serpent was the symbol of life for the Mayans.

the serpent head. The serpent was the symbol of life for the Mayans.

The reclining warrior. Victims of human sacrifice would be tied down on this while their hearts were cut open with obsidian knives.

The reclining warrior. Victims of human sacrifice would be tied down on this while their hearts were cut open with obsidian knives.

Standing cheerfully in front of this edifice of ancient horror. I am hiding the camera lens cap behind my back.

Standing cheerfully in front of this edifice of ancient horror. I am hiding the camera lens cap behind my back.

The well where ancient Mayans threw virgins and other people for sacrifice. If the virgins survived until the next day, it was a great omen from the gods since this pool was supposedly the connection between the underworld and our world. The virgins would have to first go to a sauna (Mayans had those), be dressed in heavy clothing and weighed down with jewelry before being pushed off a cliff into this pool. The pool was dredged in the last century, and scores of human skeletons were discovered at the bottom of the pool. Yikes.

The well where ancient Mayans threw virgins and other people for sacrifice. If the virgins survived until the next day, it was a great omen from the gods since this pool was supposedly the connection between the underworld and our world. The virgins would have to first go to a sauna (Mayans had those), be dressed in heavy clothing and weighed down with jewelry before being pushed off a cliff into this pool. The pool was dredged in the last century, and scores of human skeletons were discovered at the bottom of the pool. Yikes.

When we weren’t being scared silly by tales of ancient Mayan worship, we were…eating. The breakfast buffet was the best buffet I have ever been to in my life. There were multiple cheese plates with incredible cheeses, fresh ricotta, a ton of fresh exotic/non-exotic fruit, delightful fruit compotes, stuffed veggies, smoked salmon, an omelette bar, a taco bar, a bread bar, and hot buffet bar, and whatever drinks you could possibly desire to accompany your breakfast.

We had dinner at Las Ventanas, and the whole affair took two hours and forty five minutes. I wanted to take pictures of everything but it wasn’t appropriate. And now we are chowing down on room service. I love this place.

Back home the girls had fun in day care! We are so relieved. They were on our minds throughout the day, and when we heard Lydia tell us she made a lot of new friends, we were so happy. Mary even talked to us tonight! We are so happy they are so happy.

Cancun!

We made it to Cancun! After twelve hours of travel (including a layover, obviously), we finally made it. We are staying at The Royal Hideaway Playacar Resort, a five diamond all-inclusive resort. I feel almost guilty for how nice everything is, but we’re grateful to Qualtrics. In fact, a recurring theme in this trip’s conversations with Abe’s coworkers is how happy everyone on this trip is with Qualtrics right now.

Abe’s coworkers who came on the trip are exceptionally pleasant people. You can spot the Qualtrics people a mile away because they’re all young, married, hipster-Mormons. When approached, they smile and say “thank-you” a lot.

The head of sales told us all to eat a ton because the resort is making a killing on all of us due to the fact that none of us drink. When we got here, there was a huge reception room filled with a full table of freshly poured cocktails, perfumed towels, and chocolates, and the drink-pourer looked bewildered at how every single person went for the bottled water instead of his drinks. I felt bad for him, but I didn’t know how to tell him it wasn’t personal without being awkward.

My favorite thing so far is that I can order room service at any time, day or night, and free food will magically appear at my door. I am contemplating ordering some ceviche, grilled fish and lemon tart, but I am still full from dinner. Maybe if I wake up at 2 am with a hankering, I will take advantage of this amazing, magical service. The only other time I’ve been able to do that was in the hospital after I gave birth to Mary. All the food was free, and you could order a meal every two hours, which I did with religious punctuality. By the time I checked out, the hospital kitchen was exceedingly glad to see me depart.

Oh, boy! Some nice resort worker just showed up at our door with night time chocolates. Yummy. Maybe I don’t need room service after all…

We are going to some ruins tomorrow. Here is the one picture we have from today:

IMG_0912Posting a picture makes me miss the girls. Usually I post pictures of them, but I won’t see them again until Friday. We were so nervous about how they would do on the first day away, but they seem to be doing great. Well, Mary refused to speak to us on the phone, but that was to be expected. (She shunned me for two days after I returned from my Martha Stewart trip. I was sad but not surprised when she refused to say “hi” on the phone.) Tomorrow is their first day in day care (we enrolled them for this week while we’re away), and I really, really hope it isn’t too traumatic for Mary.

Anyway, more pictures tomorrow.

Birthday borscht night

We celebrated Abe’s birthday today by having over our friends, Morgan and Jessie, for dinner. Afterward we went to Paige’s art show at BYU. I am now so exhausted I can barely see the screen.

I get so frustrated at how slow I am in the kitchen. I started cooking around 2pm and didn’t end until 6:30. I made borscht, beef stroganoff, and blood orange tartlets. I made Abe assemble the smoked salmon appetizers because I was so far behind I couldn’t even squeeze those in.

My inspiration came from Mimi Thorisson’s blog. It’s so pretty! http://mimithorisson.com/2012/12/17/borscht-blinis-beef-stroganoff/

At any rate, I only got a picture of my tartlet today. The rest of the food got expedited to people’s stomachs because I was so late getting it ready.

I didn’t get any pictures of the girls because I spent the whole morning cleaning and the rest of the day cooking. To make sure they didn’t do undo my work, I parked them in front of Amazon Prime and voila! My house is perfectly clean, and all of the food (eventually) got cooked!

Here’s one of my tartlets:

Inside that chocolate crust s a blood orange curd. It was delectable.

Inside that chocolate crust s a blood orange curd. It was delectable.

Everything is a gift.

Everything in life is a gift. That’s my big takeaway from today. Abe and I spent an hour this evening chatting, and we both came to that conclusion. Abe is stressed out by a mammoth work deal right now, and I am stressed out by culinary school. As we talked through our frustrations and reviewed past situations in our lives where God has helped us through, we came to the conclusion that no matter what trial we’re staring down, each experience in our life is a gift from God.

I also have spent the past couple days thinking about the prophet Jeremiah and the Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom. The latter said, “God is good all the time.”  She said that God was as good to her in the midst of her suffering as he was towards the end of her life (when she lived in abundance and ease). Jeremiah was thrown into a mire without water and left there until he was about to die (and indeed would have died, save for the compassionate intervention of his Ethiopian friend). I wish I could talk to Jeremiah and ask him if he had the same experience of Corrie Ten Boom. Was God good to him during his trial? Did he figure out the gift in that experience? Was that experience a gift?

I have never had trials of remotely similar scale to those people, but from my own experience, I can look back and see how God’s hand is found in every part of my life–even the hard parts. Right now cooking school is hard because I find it very difficult to feel successful. I pray all the time for God to get me through, and yet here I am, six months away from graduating, and I don’t think there’s any way I’ll look back on this time and say, “Wow, God really helped me to ace culinary school!” What I can say, though, is that He has helped me navigate and learn from the multitude of mistakes I make during this experience, and having to face and fight through my weaknesses so frequently has been spiritually transformative. There’s my gift.

Abe has dealt with the trauma of having a deal that he’d hoped and prayed over for three years at his past job go through (a huge high!) and then be taken away, through no fault of his own, just weeks later. Right now it looks like he’s “caught a whale” (his dad’s term) at work, but that trauma lingers in his mind and makes him paranoid and afraid during the long, drawn-out process of complication-navigation. Since he’s what working through feels so big, the complications that arise and his past trauma make him feel intense anxiety and stress.

(Side note: We went to the eye doctor today, and the doctor detected loads of stress in the blood vessels of Abe’s eyes. He told Abe to take a vacation. Mexico, good timing!)

Anyway, the point is that once we understand that all our experience is a gift, we can move forward with confidence. If this deal goes through, what a gift! If it doesn’t, I know God heard our prayers and must be answering us with something better. Abe and I both feel comforted knowing that our lives are in God’s hands, and that He answers our prayers with the best possible gifts.

Pictures:

I took a picture of Mary in her favorite place because it's hard to convince her to stay anywhere else for long.

I took a picture of Mary in her favorite place because it’s hard to convince her to stay anywhere else for long.

Lydia played with Bazi for an hour today. Also, I just washed those windows, inside and out, last week. You can tell they're due again for another wash.

Lydia played with Bazi for an hour today. Also, I just washed those windows, inside and out, last week. You can tell they’re due again for another wash.

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Quiche for dinner.

Quiche for dinner.

More quiche.

More quiche.

Just pictures (because it’s almost 1 am)

Abe won a huge TV last month at work. We got it today.

Abe won a huge TV last month at work. We got it today.

The girls watched Frozen on our new TV and enjoyed the movie like it was the first time they'd ever seen it.

The girls watched Frozen on our new TV and enjoyed the movie like it was the first time they’d ever seen it.

Thanks to Dorie Greenspan, I made the best soup I have ever made today! Well, I took a nap while it simmered an almost simmered it dry, but the flavor was amazing. Her recipe for Indian barley soup in the cookbook Around My French Table, is amazing. Even better: I ruined the cookbook with drippy egg whites, and so now I get to keep it! (...after I pay for it.)

Thanks to Dorie Greenspan, I made the best soup I have ever made today! Well, I took a nap while it simmered and almost simmered it dry, but the flavor was amazing. Her recipe for Indian barley soup in the cookbook, Around My French Table, is amazing. Even better: I ruined the cookbook with drippy egg whites, and so now I get to keep it! (…after I pay for it.)

Silky French onion soup garnished with bread puree, bread cheese, and Halloumi cheese. The seared cheeses stood in for the usual crouton, and the bread puree stood in for cheese.

Silky French onion soup garnished with bread puree, bread cheese, and Halloumi cheese. The seared cheeses stood in for the usual crouton, and the bread puree stood in for cheese.

I made Gougeres for the charcuterie plate. We had mini sliders with gougeres, fennel jam, whipped chevre, pepperoni, and a fennel frond. My partner, who actually owns a lovely little restaurant in Maine and is an amazing chef, whipped out incredible pickled veggies and some orange-tarragon mustard.

I made Gougeres for the charcuterie plate. We had mini sliders with gougeres, fennel jam, whipped chevre, pepperoni, and a fennel frond. My partner, who actually owns a lovely little restaurant in Maine and is an amazing chef, whipped out incredible pickled veggies and some orange-tarragon mustard.

passion fruit mousse, buttermilk cake, some type of spicy cookie, and blood orange curd with edible candied flowers.

passion fruit mousse, buttermilk cake, some type of spicy cookie, and blood orange curd with edible candied flowers.

Great day

I liked everything about today. Everything! The best part was that I didn’t have to go to school today, so we got to have a real Family Home Evening tonight. We decided to teach the kids a lesson on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and then we started reading the Book of Mormon as a family. The girls get to color all of the verses we read together. Tonight’s grand total: Two. I wonder how long this is going to take…?

Here are the pictures:

Pre-dinner dance party, per Mary's request.

Pre-dinner dance party, per Mary’s request.

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This is a Jerusalem artichoke/artichoke pasta from a lovely cookbook called Roots.

This is a Jerusalem artichoke/artichoke pasta from a lovely cookbook called Roots.

Ina Garten's stuffed chicken with goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Ina Garten’s stuffed chicken with goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes.

I made an apple cake from the Dorie Greenspan cookbook I need to return to the school library tomorrow. i substituted water for rum, and it came out acceptably.

I made an apple cake from the Dorie Greenspan cookbook I need to return to the school library tomorrow. i substituted water for rum, and it came out acceptably.

Post FHE apple cake tuck-in.

Post FHE apple cake tuck-in.

Happy early birthday, Abe!

Today was a perfect Sunday. Pictures of the day’s progression:

I made eggs Benedict with chard and red-pepper-saffron hollandaise sauce. I found the sauce too thin, but Abe professed to enjoy it.

I made eggs Benedict with chard and red-pepper-saffron hollandaise sauce. I found the sauce too thin, but Abe professed to enjoy it.

Lydia watched the washing machine like it was a movie this morning.

Lydia watched the washing machine like it was a movie this morning.

While Mary was napping, Lydia made us all "hats." Abe took a picture.

While Mary was napping, Lydia made us all “hats.” Abe took a picture.

While I studied the Sunday school lesson, Mary ate a snack in this carefree manner. She made me smile.

While I studied the Sunday school lesson, Mary ate a snack in this carefree manner. She made me smile.

Abe's birthday at the Miners' birthday celebration.

Abe’s birthday at the Miners’ birthday celebration. I made another chevre cake for his birthday.

We went to the Andersons after the Miners' party and a stop by Christina and Isabella's house. Abe tried out Paige's accordion while we were hanging out with the Andersons.

We went to the Andersons after the Miners’ party and a stop by Christina and Isabella’s house. Abe tried out Paige’s accordion while we were hanging out with the Andersons.

Ada and Lydia hugged each other as soon as they saw each other, and they proceeded to play beautifully for the rest of the evening.

Ada and Lydia hugged each other as soon as they saw each other, and they proceeded to play beautifully for the rest of the evening.