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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving with the Griswolds (Raudios)

Thanksgiving with family - isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

After making the 6-hour drive with downtown Chicago traffic
(picture me, jamming out to Pink, calling anyone who would answer the phone)
I finally arrived at my cousin, Jolene's, house.  It was a houseful of people, and I was exhausted, sore, and frustrated from traffic.  I hope nobody was offended that I wasn't my usual chipper self.

The weekend was mostly spent on the couch, helping out in the kitchen on Thursday without getting in the way, and hanging with the KIDS!
            (This term has dual meaning - I got to hang out with my cousin's kids, which I don't know very well since I don't see them often, and they grow so fast!  Great kids ... But ALSO, that side of my family is apostolic lutheran - when they are growing up, they tend to hang out with other kids from the church, and they always said "Im going out with the kids" ... meaning church kids)

The food was awesome (thanks Jolene!), the family time was perfect.  Friday was spent watching a Twilight marathon, and then going to the theatre with 2 of the kids to watch the grand finale (Breaking Dawn Part 2) - AWE-SOME.  Seriously.  AWESOME.  Of course, Georgia and Abby were just watching our faces and our reactions the whole time.  Can we say embarrassing?

Jolene hired a medium to come on Saturday.  This is where is gets really interesting.  And let me backtrack.  I believe I have a bit of sensitivity.  I have done a couple levels of Reiki (energy balancing) training, and have always been interested in ghosts and such.  In the last few years, I have had the unique experience of "hearing" the recently passed at their funerals.  And then this year, I acted as a pretend medium at a seance', but it turned out to be really real.  I had spouted some information to a girl I've never met about her father from the other side.  Nobody really seemed impressed.  Maybe they thought it was planned.  Im like "PEOPLE!  WE JUST TALKED TO THE OTHER SIDE!"  But back to this weekend ... I was excited to have a medium coming over because I have read that a lot of loved ones gather when they know there is someone that can speak for them.  He was great.  He contacted many of our relatives, and gave us very specific details to validate it was really them.
I didn't get much, but every now and then a name would pop into my head.  4 to be exact.  And guess what - they were all relevant to what was being said, although I didn't know it at the time.  So I'm putting this out there.  You may think I'm weird.  Oh you already think I'm all weird and new agey anyway.  This is me!  I'll be working on developing this ... I'll try to remember to keep everyone updated.

Peace.  Love.  Family.  Serene.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Puerto Rico

** Puerto Rico **

First, I'd like to share how important I think vacations are.  Just to get out of town, out of routine, out of work.  See the world, and forget yours.  I personally do not enjoy sitting on a beach for hours.  I prefer seeing everything a city has to offer.  While I love being a tourist, I also like the way it doesn't allow my mind to wander.  I don't stress about work.  I don't think about problems I might be having.  I simply don't have time.  So while my body doesn't necessarily rest, my mind certainly does, and that's what vacation is all about to ME.  And I think everyone should take the kind of rest that is necessary for you.

After a long flight, that Katy and I completely slept through, we were picked up by Katy's parents with gifts. They brought us various Puerto Rican food, including fried plantains, pork kabobs (PRs LOVE pork), rice, and various other goodies.  And rum.  And fresh-cut coconuts with a straw.  YUM!  They drove to the condo we were staying at, and I was mesmerized by the cloud-covered mountains that hold the rainforest.  It was majestic.  I couldn't wait to get up there!  We also saw random horses on the side of the road - sometimes tied to a post with rope, sometimes not.  We saw very few fresh vegetables, but there were several roadside stands and trucks selling bananas, weird colored oranges, and breadfruit (which we found out is a starch).  You won't believe how much we packed into 5 days - here are the highlights:

Private Beach
The view from our rented condo was amazing.  While Puerto Rico touts some of the most amazing beaches, I had a hard time spending time in the car, or paying for a ferry ride, when we had one right in front of us!  When we arrived we ran down to the beach and into the water.  There was not a soul in sight.  Palm trees, soft sand, and freakishly hot water.  Super salty, and great for the skin.  We played in the waves at least once a day.

Katy is kind of a health nut.  So what little fruit we found, supplemented with juice from the store, supplements brought from home, and coconuts we found on the side of the road, Katy made us smoothies daily, sometimes twice, or three times!

The Rainforest (and La Mina falls)
This was the highlight of my time in Puerto Rico.  I've never been to a rainforest before, and this one did not disappoint.  The air was warm and muggy.  The ferns grew as tall as the trees.  There were amazing tropical flowers.  And while the wildlife sightings were slim, we could hear birds, coquis (the national tree frog), saw a couple of lizards, and a woodpecker.  I would have liked to see more lizards, birds, parrots, and is it too much to ask for a monkey or two?

I had a bad cold, so the hilly terrain was tough, but it was worth it.  We finally made it to mid-destination, which was La Mina Falls.  Amazing.  Spectacular.  Cascading.  I actually swam in a WATERFALL in the RAINFOREST!  How cool is that?  We also climbed down some rocks into another pool (even though Katy thought we were going to hurt ourselves), and also stopped at a few pools along the waterfall while we were literally hiking up the mountain, alongside that same waterfall.  I wanted to go back and camp overnight, which apparently is allowed with some kind of permit, but after realizing I have no tent, or sleeping bag, or survival skills, I was convinced to sleep in a bed in the air-conditioned condo.

Next goal:  A rainforest full of monkeys and wildlife.  Anyone know of one?  Or want to come with me?  I read online that St. Kitt's is one of the best.

Surfing lesson
Because hours of hiking through the rain forest wasn't enough for us, and because we took a wrong turn, we came across Ty of the Luquillo Beach Boys.  He cut us a deal because of cloudy weather, and after changing into some more appropriate clothes (I didn't want the girls falling out), we started our first surfing lesson EVER, and the instructions were great.  We tried on the beach first, which was NOTHING like in the water.  Ty pushed me out into the surf, and held on while he picked the perfect wave.  This is crucial since it's very hard to keep yourself in place if you are on the board.  Then he would turn the board around, and say "GO".  I would feel the push of the wave, and jump to my feet as fast as I could.  Thank goodness for gymnastics and balance!  I rode the board onto the beach 6-7 times over the coarse of the hour, which apparently is a great record.  I also took a couple of really good wipeouts, with the nose of the board getting sucked down by the wave, and me getting sinuses full of salt water.  Amazing time.  Can't wait to do it again!

La Kioskos
Short version of the story:  a mini mall of restaurants, all with bars, all displaying a case of fried foods at the entrance.  Good mojitos.  Bought my baby sister a necklace from an American chick at the Tattoo place.  Actually, it's a bar.  But they do tattoos there too.  Obviously sanitary.

Iguana Feeding
Our resort had daily iguana feeding.  BIG iguana feeding.  They were in cages - just wild iguanas who knew where and when to get fed.  Makes me miss Izzy.

A-MAY-ZING.  I didn't know what I was doing, and they didn't really tell you how, but turns out there's not  much to know.  Strap on the mask, put on your fins, blow out hard if water gets into the snorkel.  I loved floating around and seeing the super colorful fish, more types of coral than I've ever seen in my life, and I almost ran into a blue iridescent jelly fish!  When we saw each other, I tried to back up, which if you've ever tried to do in water with flippers on, it's not easy.  Apparently he had the right of way, because he just kept going.  Yes, He.

I can't wait to go snorkeling again.  Maybe some day I'll learn how to scuba dive.

Bioluminesent Bay
One of the coolest things I've never heard of.  Taking a kayak down a pitch-dark canal and out onto a lake. Apparently there are dinoflagelattes (micro plankton) that glow when they are disturbed.  You can't see them, and you can't feel them, but when you put your hand in the water, your whole hand looks like it's covered in glow in the dark blue paint.  If you splash the water, it looks like you sprayed paint in front of you.  If you quickly let it trickle down your arm, its a tiny bead of blue running down.  And when fish swam by, I could see them glowing under the surface with their movement.  The coolest thing was when they flicked their fishy tails and swam away fast - it left a trail of blue behind them like a cartoon.  And then the blue was gone as quickly as it was visible.  If anyone ever gets a chance to see this, you'll be speechless.  I couldn't take any pictures because of course it was pitch black.  And with a flash the glow factor went away.  You'll just have to believe me when I say it was the coolest thing EVER.

I wanted to learn to dance like the Puerto Ricans (hips baby hips!), and apparently Im an old dude magnet.  But at least I got to dance.  I've been told Im not half bad!  Salsa, anyone?

Pinonos Village
We went to a small village called Pinonos to see how the locals live.  We drank coconut water, had some shrimp & octopus ceviche, oysters from a really dirty cooler (GO ME!), learned a little bit of Spanish, drank beers, met a Puerto Rican soldier for the US Army, and some people watching.

Limbo Contest
On our way back from Rincon, we stopped at a random bar blasting a reggae band that looked like they were having fun.  We had a couple of beers and I won a Limbo contest.  Free shots.  Good times.

Old San Juan
Old San Juan was cool.  With 2 forts, multi-cultural restaurants, an amazing cemetery (I know it's weird, but I love cemeteries ... I think they are beautiful), and blue cobblestone streets to roam, we just didn't have enough time to see it all.  But at that point in our trip (on our way to the airport), I don't know if we had much energy left anway.  We had a $3.55 huge breakfast served with french fries (weird, but tasty), a tour through one of the original forts that protected the island of Puerto Rico, toured the cemetery where I swear something walked through me (EMF meter), and had a very good lunch at the birthplace of the Pina Colada (of course we tasted them ... I think they were from a mix now), bought a couple of souvi paintings - MOM!  They had door paintings just like in Ireland!  We also bought fake designer purses off of a cart.  But it's ok, there were cops nearby so we're not worried about being arrested.

I didn't mention the no-English karaoke bar that we came across, made friends with a Puerto Rican English teacher, and her friend that we're pretty sure won the karaoke contest, but we didn't stay till the end.  The coconut trucks.  Carlos making mojitos at the Burger Bar, Men with crabs (dirty mind  - they were on a stick!)  Killer dinners at the condo.  Driving around looking for coconuts that had fallen off trees (I think we collected about 40).  Borrowing a machete' for the coconuts.  Rainforest yoga.  Almost crashing a spanish party (more karaoke).  The rum house.  Bad grocery stores.  Buying bananas on the side of the road.    Speed bumps.  No, just drive through the speed bumps!  How many showers does Serene need to take?  Handstands on the beach.  Handsprings in the surf.  Fried plantains.  Co-kee.  Co-kee.  Co-kee.

Whew.  Wouldn't trade it for anything.  Maybe more dancing, snorkeling, and rainforest.  Next time.

Peace.  Love.  Serene