Wednesday, October 30, 2013


This trip was spent running from city to city so it was perfect to have a little break at the beginning in Athens.  We met up with Scott and Heidi (and the rest of the family), squished as much clothing as possible into our suitcases so we didn’t have to pay the hefty extra baggage fee on Easy Jet and started our journey from Rome to Athens.  Chad and Jenni flew out earlier in the day and found their way around the city and metro stations by our hotel.  It’s was obvious (and sad) to see what has happened to Greece because of their economy crashing and everyone wanting more and more from the government.  A scary sight of what can happen to our country if we continue in the direction we are headed.  Most of the businesses are vacant, locked up for good and covered by graffiti.

It was the perfect time to travel.  Fewer tourists, perfect weather and cheaper flights and cruises.  We got to Athens airport and found a car that could fit all of us.  Our driver kept saying how our hotel was in a very scary location and to be cautious walking around outside.  We couldn’t stop laughing since Scott booked this hotel without any input from the rest of us.  We were nervous getting out of our taxi and shocked to see Chad and Jenni walking around the corner after a leisurely walk around the neighborhood.  Jenni said the next neighborhood over was really scary but it seemed to be safe by our hotel.

There were some positives to our scary neighborhood hotel -- rooftop pool with amazing views of Athens and the Acropolis.  

Chad and Jenni wanted to take us to this great little spot for gyros and greek salads for dinner.  The gyros were yummy and only cost 1 euro ($1.30).  This is when where we found out Chad is Greek and at one with his people.  One of my favorite things about Greece is the food.  I’m not a big pizza and pasta fan so after only one day in Rome, I was ready for a change.
 Yes, those are french fries inside the gyro. Delicious!

When we first started planning this trip, I was most excited to go to Athens and back to the Acropolis and Parthenon.  I went to Athens when I was 7 years old and was anxious to go back and see what I could remember from that trip, besides feeding and holding pigeons and catching frogs. 

My brother, Chad,  had this great idea of reenacting our picture from Athens.  35 years later.  Wish I still had those awesome tube socks with footprints on the top and tennis dress (and those legs!).

We toured all around Athens.  Starting at the Acropolis--an ancient fortress on a high rocky hill above the city that has buildings that were constructed in the 5th century BC-- with our tour guide and personal photographer, Kula.  I remembered the Parthenon from 35 years ago but didn’t remember all of the stairs that it took to get to the top of the Acropolis.  I also remembered being able to walk inside and touch the columns.  Our tour guide, Kula, confirmed this memory and said it’s just been these past few decades that they've stopped letting tourists inside the temples.

As we walked up the hill towards the Parthenon, we were able to get a great view of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus.  This theater could seat 17,000 spectators.

When we came to the top of the stairs, the Temple of Athena Nike was on one side and the Erechtheum was on the other side.  This ancient Greek temple was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.  The entire temple is on a slope and built entirely of marble.

Kula did some crazy moves to get this picture and lots of “excuse me, excuse me” to other tourists who were getting in the way of our personal picture. On a side note, Blake was also transformed into a huge Greek God on top of Acropolis.

We finally made our way to the Parthenon,  a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.  It is considered the most important surviving building of Greece and one of the worlds’ greatest cultural monuments.  We saw a lot of ruins on our trip but I think this was my favorite just because of the memories of seeing it for the first time as a child and being able to return and see it again.

I have way too many close up pictures from this trip thanks to the timer camera app on my phone.  

We walked back down all of the stairs and made our way over to Mars Hill.  This is where it is said that the Apostle Paul gave his sermon.  After seeing all of the idolatry, temples and statues built up to Greek gods, he preached to the Athenians.  He taught “you shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself any carved image. . .”  His sermon had 3 main points.  1.  The power of God and that  His power “made the world and everything in it” (Rom 1:20).  2.  The omnipresence of God. “He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28).  3.  God’s plan is that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:27).

We sat on top of Mars Hill and looked around the city and up at the buildings on top of the Acropolis as we listened to Scott read Paul’s words from the New Testament.  It was definitely a highlight of the trip.

We made our way through ancient Agora and stopped to strike a STATUE pose (this used to be our favorite thing to do on our European vacations back when we were teenagers) until we got the whistle blown on us and had to get down before we were thrown out.

The Temple of Hephaestus can be seen from the Acropolis.  It is just a short walk from the acropolis to Agora where this temple sits on a hill.  It is one one of the few temples with the roof still intact.  It was built around the same time as the Parthenon and used as a Greek Orthodox church from 700 AD to 1821.  

We did a little shopping in Plaka and learned more about the charms and key chains we were seeing in every shop that looked like an eye.  Made to fight off the evil eye.  And of course we had to purchase lots of these lucky charms to take home to our loved ones.  Mia wore her “lucky bracelet” to school the first day after we got home and came home disappointed.  “This bracelet isn’t lucky.  The whole class had to do time out for not listening during story time."

Gavin and Scott were able to have a race on the track inside the original Olympic Stadium, Panathenaic Stadium.  It looks like Gavin may have had a little bit of a false start but they both somehow ended up taking 1st place.

Next we made our way to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  This is the view of the temple from the Acropolis.  Construction began in the 6th century BC but was not completed for almost 700 years.  

This temple was the largest in Ancient Greece (even larger than the Parthenon).  Today only 15 of the 104 massive columns remain standing.  The 16th column was blown over in a severe windstorm more than 150 years ago and was left where it fell.

The Arch of Hadrian is right in front of the Temple of Zeus.  The gate separated the old city from the new city.  The side facing the Acropolis says “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus.”  The other side, facing the temple says “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.”  You can see the acropolis through the arch.

Very few Athenians spoke English which made for interesting conversations.  Gavin and Scott only added to the confusion as they switched between English and Spanish while talking to the locals.   And who knows what Gavin was doing when we were trying to speak with our cab driver, who only knew a few words in English, and was asking us what “holiday” meant in America (since we use the word vacation instead of holiday for a trip).  Gavin, in all seriousness,  looked at the taxi driver and said, "Christmas is coming.  The goose is getting fat. Please do put a penny in the old man’s hat.  If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do.  If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!”  

The best was when we stopped in a bakery for breakfast and nothing was in English.  We decided to be adventurous and all get something different and try our luck.  Scott asked the worker if there was cheese inside as he pointed to something.  She hesitantly nodded her head.  He took a bite and found a hot dog inside, he yelled “HOT DOG!”  The worker laughed and said, “Yes!  That’s it!”

We had a few hours the next day before we had to get on the cruise ship and spent the morning at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens which I liked for the first 60 minutes then I sat on a bench while the rest of the group explored every room.  Heidi wasn’t able to join us since she stayed back at the hotel to take care of some scheduling back home (even though it was 1 in the morning in the states).  She missed out on a lot of great picture opportunities. 

We got back to the hotel and gathered all of our belongings and started the 20 minute journey to the metro station.   Walking through Athens, pulling our luggage behind us.  In an area where we were warned to not carry backpacks or purses.  

It was time to say good bye to Athens as we made our way down the metro to the pier to board our ship!

Next Stop, Mykonos . . . 

Monday, October 28, 2013

European Family Vacation {ROME}

I’m finally feeling free of  jet lag and getting some energy back (and time) to look through the thousands of pictures I took while traveling around Europe the last few weeks.  Gavin and I joined up with my parents; sister, Heidi  (and her spouse, Scott); brother, Chad (and his wife, Jenni); and my brother, Blake for a European family adventure.  What started out as a Caribbean cruise with just Chad and Jenni quickly turned into a Mediterranean cruise with most of my family after we found a great deal on a Greek isle cruise and free airfare with our frequent flier miles.  The best part of the vacation was just being all together.  Really, we could have gone anywhere and had the best time but luckily for us, this wasn’t just anywhere.  (Warning:  Picture Overload).
Rome to Athens to Mykonos to Kusadasi to Santorini to Naples to Rome to Amsterdam to Seattle.

I had this great idea the night before our flight to stay up most of the night, making sure I would be really tired on the plane ride over and sleep.  Never having to deal with jet lag.  I packed and cleaned and took a bubble bath.  Painted my nails.  All of the things I usually don’t do at 3 am.  We got on our plane and were excited to see some empty benches.

So we moved from our row with only 2 seats and took the open bench with 4 seats.  As we were taking off, we realized why that bench may have been up for grabs.  Sitting right behind us was a mom and her baby and toddler.  They cried and cried.  Nonstop.  I think the baby finally fell asleep for about 3o minutes and so did I.  Flying over, we skipped right through the night and what should have been midnight at home when we landed, was 8 am in Rome.

First Stop: Rome
We bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus tour in Rome and started our adventures.  On our own. We lost my mom, dad, Chad, Jenni and Blake on the way from the ticket station to the bus but quickly caught up with them after one stop.

First place we visited (or walked by) was the Altare della Patria.  The monument holds the tomb of the unknown soldier with an eternal flame, built after World War I.  The monument has been controversial because it’s construction destroyed a large area of the Capitoline Hill (where we lost my parents and siblings as we walked to the bus stop).  It stands out as the construction is white, boxy and lacks a dome or a tower.  And is often called “the wedding cake” building.  (Thanks Wikipedia).

We got to Vatican City just in time to watch, with thousands of other tourists, Pope Frances conduct the Sunday mass services.  We never got to see anything like this when we visited the Vatican 6 years ago so loved being able to see the new pope, even if we aren’t Catholic.  And bonus . . . he’s Argentine!

We made it to the Spanish Steps and stopped to take some pictures and check out the tourists and vendors.  The steps are crowded with people going up and down or just taking a break.  We witnessed a random, crazy fight between the vendors and while we all walked away, Gavin decided to walk right in the middle of the fight.

There are artists at the top of the Spanish Steps who will draw your portrait for a fee.  Heidi and my parents got their portraits done while in Rome.  What talent!  I’m used to the crazy caricature portraits and nothing that looks like a true portrait.  Such a great souvenir!

Walking through the streets of Rome.

Trevi Fountain.  The largest fountain in Rome.  Tourists throw in coins using the right hand over the left shoulder in hopes of returning to Rome one day.  3,000 Euros ($4000 USD) are thrown into this fountain each day.  We decided to save our money so that we can afford to come back one day.

Sights and Sounds of Rome

We walked around the maze of streets from Trevi fountain and finally found the Pantheon.  (Not to be confused with the Parthenon.  We found that a few days later in Athens.)   The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings.  It was a temple to all of the gods of Ancient Rome but since then has been used as a Roman Catholic church.  My favorite thing about the Pantheon is that the only source of light is the open dome at the top of the building and the front entrance.  Last time we visited the Pantheon, it was raining and we got wet inside the building.

It was time for dinner and a gelato so we headed to my favorite piazza in Rome-- Piazza Navona.  This piazza is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian and is in the shape of an oval.  It’s full of beautiful artwork, fountains and yummy gelato.

We took one more round trip tour on the bus, fell asleep a few times and finally made it to the Roman Colloseum.  It was closed for the night but still such a beautiful, incredible place to visit, even from the outside.

Finally we made it back to our hotel, after way too many hours of no sleep, ready to begin our next adventure in the morning. . . Athens.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Frankenweenie Birthday Party

This little spitfire turned 11 years old a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t seem real to me.  She’s as tall as her 7 year old little brother and acts younger than a pre-teen but unfortunately that doesn’t mean everything  is delayed.  Her body is changing and, emotionally, I’m not ready for it yet.  It just doesn’t feel right when it still seems she’s a few years younger than her actual age.  But that’s what happens, ready or not, she’s growing up!  She has her 5th grade maturation program coming up in a few weeks but I think we will skip it since I won’t be in town.   So many changes come with this age . . . only one more year in elementary school and then she’s off to middle school and we’re still not sure what we are going to do for her school placement next year.  If inclusion will still be in her best interest or if a cluster setting at a different middle school, away from all of her neighborhood friends is a better fit.   Ugh.  It’s just too much to think about right now so I just pretend like it’s years away.  

Morgan’s favorite activities are swimming and watching movies so I knew she would be excited about doing one of those things (once again) for her birthday party this year.  I thought she would want a Hotel Transylvania party since she loves to watch that movie over and over again and got so excited to wear the Harry Potter cape at Griffin’s party and kept saying “Look!  I’m a vampire!” but when I asked her she kept saying, “Nope.  Frankenweenie Party!”  There was no changing her mind.  She was set on it! I wasn’t sure what we could do for a Frankenweenie party but somehow it all came together and ended up being a really fun birthday party!

We started her birthday with her favorite foods for breakfast--sausages, strawberries, jello with whip cream and chocolate milk.  Then she had a few minutes to open some gifts.  She was excited to get the Frankenweenie books and stuffed animals.  She only likes to open a few gifts and then she’s done for the year.  We have to almost force her open the rest of them.  So I try to keep our presents to a minimum for her.

Gift that came in the mail from Nan and Papa

Morgan talked about her birthday for weeks and was so excited that it was finally here.  She was all smiles and laughter in the morning until she found out it was a school day.  “Nope.  No school for me today.  It’s my birthday!”  And any good mom would have just let their child stay home from school on their birthday but this mom had way too much left to do to be ready for her birthday party and needed that break from all of the kids.  So I tried to make up for it with a birthday treat delivery to her 5th grade class.

Then it was time for her birthday party.  I lucked out on the decorations with her birthday being the month before Halloween.  I was able to find lime green halloween decorations that coordinated with her Frankenweenie theme and when else can you find bone sprinkles for the table and cupcakes?  All of the Frankenweenie dolls were marked way down on Amazon since the movie came out last year so, of course, I bought them all.  

We started with a Frankenweenie dinner-- green jello, green grapes, “weenies” (pigs in a blanket), chips and green soda. 

The Party Guests

There were lots of gifts with so many friends which takes a long time because Morgan likes to check out each gift and play with each one before opening the next one.  She was not happy about being rushed or about having to open more gifts.

Morgan with her buddy, Paxton.  He has always gone out of his way to look out for Morgan-- requests the seat right next to her in the classroom, asks if he can be her reading partner, etc.  One day when I was asking Morgan if she had fun swimming at my parents’ house with lots of neighborhood friends she said, “Yes!  And Paxton?”  “Oh.  Did you have fun with Paxton?”  “Yes!  He’s my cousin!”  Which is her way of saying he’s so much more than just a friend.

Grandma and Grandpa came to the party too!

Make a wish!!

After cupcakes and ice cream, it was finally time to watch FRANKENWEENIE.

Gift bags:  
Frankenweenie character mask (“Weird Girl” was the party favorite)
"Turtle Monster" green slime ($ section at Target)
Frankenweenie soda 

And since she’s 11-- here are 11 things you may not know about Morgan:

1.  I think she is going to grow up to be a sound effects artist.  She loves to watch movies with subtitles because she likes to read along and say the lines with the actors.  All of those random sound effect sounds?  Yep, they also get subtitled.  I never really thought about it until we were on a hike this past summer and stepped on a branch,  Morgan said, “twig snapping”.  I wasn’t sure what she said so I asked her again and she repeated, “twig snapping”.  I couldn’t stop laughing but at the same time, was excited to hear her use new vocabulary that she picked up all on her own from subtitles.  She has now become our official closed captioning commentator.  For example, we were sharing a hotel room on our last trip to Lake Powell and Ryan would not be quiet as we were trying to fall asleep.  Yawning too loud.  Pretending to sneeze.  Knocking on the nightstand.  Morgan was quick with each reprimand, “Stop sighing!  Stop sniffling!  Stop sneezing!  Stop knocking on the door!”  Then the other day she was petting our neighbor’s dog and the dog was making her dog sounds as she was excited to be getting loves.  Morgan quickly said, “oh, she’s whimpering”.  And she couldn’t have chosen a better verb!  Of course, there is always bad that comes with the good, like the words we don’t want her to know and repeat. 

2.   She’s in 5th grade and goes to her neighborhood school.  She has a morning aide and afternoon aide who are very loving and patient with her.  They know Morgan well since they were both with her last year as well.  

3.  She is a great reader and loves to read Pinkalicious books, church song books, subtitles and whatever books are around.  She reads on a 4th grade level.

4.  Spelling is her best subject in school.  She usually gets 100% on her tests and has the same words as her peers.

5.  She started swimming for the Special Olympics this fall.  She loves going to swim team but is still working on swimming the full length of the pool instead of floating or underwater swimming to the bottom of the pool.  She competed in her first meet last month and got a bronze medal.  She took 3rd out of 3 swimmers (that’s a nice way of saying she took last.)  She has her first state meet this next weekend.

6.  She still cheers with Elite Angels and loves the competitions and performing but doesn’t love the practices.

7.  She has sensory issues with her feet and hates shoes and socks and wants to wear flip flops everyday.  Which doesn’t really work that well in Utah with our cold winters and lots of snow.  

8.  She holds all of her dolls by their head (Jessie, Merida and Tangled are her favorites) as she watches movies or reads books with them.  They help read the book or act out parts of the movie.  She’s recently started talking to herself through her doll.  It’s actually been interesting to listen to her talk back and forth with the doll and get a glimpse into what she is really thinking.  She has detailed conversations with them.  Morgan is the naughty one and the “barbie" is the parent. 

For example--
Morgan: “Oh my God!”  (a phrase we don’t use but she picked up from subtitles and movies)
Barbie:  “You shouldn’t say that.  That isn’t nice.”
Morgan: “Oh I’m sorry!  My bad!”
Barbie; “That’s ok.  Just don’t say it.”
Morgan: “Ok” 

9.  She works hard every day at school to earn a “Super Day” which means she earns watching her favorite movies on the computer after school.  Of course she can’t watch them without subtitles, Jessie and skipping back to the same scene over and over and over again.  

10.  Morgan loves to sing and the first time I heard her singing “Reflection” from Mulan it was like the first time I had ever really listened to the words of that song.  The words took on a whole new meaning as I listened to Morgan sing the song.  
Look at me, 
I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter. 
Can it be, I'm not meant to play this part? 
Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself. 
Who is that girl I see? 
Staring straight back at me? 
Why is my reflection someone I don't know? 
Some how I cannot hide, Who I am. 
Though I've tried. 
When will my reflection show? 
Who I am 

11.  Stats.  Height and Weight =  4’2” and 65 lbs.

And one more just for fun-- She never hides her excitement or frustration.  You definitely know when Morgan is happy because you will hear lots of “whees” and “woohoos”!!!

Happy 11th Birthday Morgan! We are so lucky to have you in our family!  We love you!