Sunday, November 22, 2009

Best of June

After flying back to the United States and clearing customs I had a few days to relax in Los Angeles and let my vacation wear off slowly rather than jumping back into real life. Although... June ended up being a pretty fun month anyway - real life and all! As always, I had to participate in some great outdoor activities with my brother Diego and his wife Mariela. This time we went to Devil's head and did some rock climbing on the beach. We parked above the rock, set up a rope, and rappelled to the bottom to begin the fun. It was pretty challenging for my out-of-practice skills, and I fell once just trying to start the climb. Good thing I was top-roping instead of leading!

If nothing else, the location was great for pictures!

My brother likes to surprise me. He told us all to get dressed up, and he drove us downtown. This was a pretty cool surprise - I got to see my brother be sworn in as a lawyer. I'm so proud of him!

I got back to Vegas eventually and was able to see my mission trainer Haley Flake when she came in to town for a teacher's conference around the 9th. I picked her up from her hotel and we got to spend an evening together. Good times!

On the 12th my Polynesian dance group - called the Ofa Angas (sweethearts) danced in a Luau that was hosted in the backyard of one of the group members. We did the Luau as a fund raiser for new costumes and earned a good chunk of change! I only danced in one number, but it was fun! Here are a few members of our group...
Bubs and Rachel:



Our instructor and good friend Siva, her middle child Leo, me and Jessica. By the way, it is quite possible that I am the whitest girl in the group! Rachel might give me a run for my money, but I'm even tan in this picture!!!

The next day I accompanied my friend Ashlyn to her friend's wedding and reception. The location was pretty cool - an old famous mansion with an indoor pool in the middle of the reception hall (no, we weren't allowed to even dip a toe in it!). We enjoyed good food, and then were ushered on to the dance floor for the boquet toss. I won.

Little did I know however, that in non-lds culture the guy who catches the garter then wins the priveledge of putting said garter on the leg of the girl who caught the boquet. I was suddenly really grateful that I had chosen to wear slacks instead of a skirt that night!!!

'Twas now nearing the season of my birthday, and I was pleasantly surprised to get a birthday package from my parents. Can you say hooray for cute flip-flops?!?!?! Love them!!

On the 18th some friends of mine threw me a birthday party. With the help of my roommate Rashida I did my hair all cute and had a fun night. Julie Koch hosted the party at her home and made me a beautiful (and delicious!) cake. It was fun to be surrounded by friends and play fun games... like Chutes and Ladders!!

The next night was filled with more friends at a dance party. I saw my old roommate Airline and her husband Eric and said hello to baby-to-be Kaleb. And of course, there was dancing!!

Well folks, it took me only 26 years, but I finally did it. On the 21st (my BIRTHDAY!) my friend Pamela and I got up dark and early and drove to DISNEYLAND!!! Can I just say I was excited??

If you know me well at all - you know I love moose.

I was also to see part of the Small World ride pay tribute to New Zealand. I had to take a picture to share with Ashley!

I had a great day filled with all sorts of adventures... finding treasure, capturing Pamela, running (and riding) around in circles and becoming characters from great movies.

I even thought I found my frog prince... turns out he was really just a toad.

It was a short trip and we wore ourselves out - so much so that we had to pull off at a rest stop somewhere near the Nevada boarder on our way back home that night so we could sleep a little instead of driving off the road.
On the 25th I drove to the institute to meet up with members of my ward's Relief Society to go see the Wizard of Oz. I hadn't been to the institute at all during the summer but was excited to discover that this one random day I had chosen to be there was the same day that one of my MTC teachers Nicole Harr was randomly passing through Vegas and had made a stop at the institute too. I hadn't seen her since I left the MTC! She had her husband with her - who happened to be another teacher we'd seen at the MTC; he had even taught us a couple of lessons toward the end of our training. I didn't get a good look at their baby though - she was sleeping in a dark room.

The Wizard of Oz was GREAT! My friend Jessica played Dorothy, and I swear at times you couldn't tell that she wasn't Judy Garland! Even her voice sounded the same. Talk about skills! I also enjoyed the opportunity to wear my own ruby slippers for the first time!

Back to Los Angeles! On the 27th my ward took a temple/beach trip to LA. It was fun to spend another few hours with my brother at Santa Monica Beach.

On the 29th I got a new battery put in my car and I headed out of town to Chandler, Arizona where my very kind cousin Eric and his wife Stacy let me stay the night, and then abandon my car for three weeks while I went to New York. I was dropped off at the Phoenix airport the morning of the 30th, and surprised my friend Dianna with my presence - she had no idea I had booked my flight the same as hers... I'm a good secret keeper! We had fun playing in the Atlanta airport during our loooong layover, but eventually we got tired of waiting around and started getting a little nutty. We even had to take a picture of a wall that looked like it had an image of a brain on it. I know. We're weird.

And that does it for June!!! I can't talk about our arrival in New York state yet... because technically we landed in July. So that will be saved for the next "best of" post. Goodnight!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goodbye New Zealand!

Also known as Day Eight - May 31, 2009

I woke up not believing that our trip was already coming to a close! We got ready for the day (wearing very tourist-y matching shirts) and packed up our things, checked out of the hostel and loaded our luggage in the car. It was time to explore Auckland by day. We walked a couple of blocks to the base of the space needle-type tower that we had seen lit up the night before. Ashley explained how a co-worker of hers had paid to jump off the tower once - if you look at the left side of the tower you might notice a couple of wires stretching from the ground up to the balcony of the tower - somehow you can get harnessed up and slide down these wires to the ground. Too scary for us. We just took pictures and walked on.

Remember Ashley's fear of eels? Well, we finally found one next to a playground that she wasn't afraid of. Way to conquer your fears!!

We wandered our way down to the Victoria Park Market - a semi-outdoor shopping place that is great for tourists. Being the goofballs we are, we bought matching tote bags whose logo just happened to match our shirts...

We strolled by the yacht docks and dreamed of sailing the world in one of these awesome vessels. Oh the things I'd do if I were rich!! (See the matching shirts now??)

After picking up the car Ashley and I drove around the city a bit trying to find a park, and crossed a really cool bridge in the process. I snapped a picture of the flags on top of the centermost part of the bridge, only to notice later that there were people standing up there! I had no idea! The view of the city on the way back across the bridge was excellent too.

From off in the distance we could see a hill that we assumed would offer a good view of the city, so we drove off to find it. It was a short walk up to the top, and it was beautiful! The hillside was covered in flowers - planted there as a memorial to members of New Zealand's military that had fallen during their service to the country.

The plants in New Zealand never ceased to amaze me - this tree looked as if it's roots were growing down from its branches.

It was relaxing to sit on the benches and gaze at the city. As was typical in New Zealand there was livestock (cows this time) sharing the space; I loved how all the pasture gates were designed to let visitors pass through easily - it seemed very unselfish that anyone would allow people to spend time on their land whenever they wanted.

While on the hill we talked to a very nice couple who pointed out a better hill another few kilometers away (named One Tree Hill) that was taller, and home to a national monument. We chatted for quite a while about their son's business, what we did for a living, etc, and exchanged contact info before getting directions to One Tree Hill. The park area surrounding this much bigger hill was beautiful - trees everywhere!

The monument was to honor the first Maori in New Zealand. The hill had been named for a single tree that had been planted at the top of the hill (and survived) even though it was not originally from New Zealand. Unfortunately, the tree is no longer there... someone was upset that it wasn't a native tree and tried to cut it down. The stopped the guy in the process, but he had already done too much damage, so the tree got infected and ended up dying. There's a plaque next to the stump.

We were running out of time. So, we had a countdown. Or, I mean, we went to a countdown. This was one of the major grocery store chains we saw during our entire trip, and one of our favorite places at which to find our meals. This time we went with one intention: JUNK FOOD! We had to bring some New Zealand treats home with us.

The entrances to grocery stores were interesting... these poles allowed you to walk in, you could even push a cart through them, but it was impolssible to walk the other direction. No stealing here! We loaded up on giant chocolate bars, unique flavors of Mentos and suckers, and of course - Tim Tams!

Sadly, we left the city and headed to the airport. Our exit said what I felt - that we were coming to the rainbow's end.

But, we did find a pot of gold... right at the turn off the exit there was one of our church buildings under construction! We had only seen a church building in Hamilton, and NO WHERE else during our entire trip! I'm sure they were around, we just hadn't noticed.

We topped off the gas tank, and returned our car and camping gear before being shuttled off to the airport. The sign at the rental office explains what Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) stands for.

Ashley and I got through check in and made our way to the concourse and found some things to occupy our time as we watched the stormy weather roll in. By the way, kiwi filled chocolate is really good!

As the rain came in, so did the delays in departing flights. At first our flight said it was delayed an hour... and then two... and three... We tried to keep in good spirits by playing card games. It became increasingly difficult however as people around us took over table space to feed their families, etc. I REALLY wasn't in the mood to be cleaning ketchup off of my new deck of cards, so we balanced everything on the armrests of the chairs we occupied. There was an adorable 6 year old girl waiting with her family for a flight to India; she was so SMART! Some of the questions she asked surprised us:
girl: "How can pilots fly when it's cloudy? They can't see out the windows!"
dad: "They have instruments to fly the plane."
girl: "How do drums and instruments fly a plane?"
dad: "Not musical instruments; they're tools that tell a pilot where they are - they can even steer the plane with them."
girl: "Then why do they need windows?"
She also talked and asked questions about governments and ruling bodies - she was trying to understand the difference (or similarity) between a king, prime minister, a president etc. It was fun to explain things to her.

When it was finally time to head to the gate we were a little worn out. We had been delayed nearly four hours. Ashley had recently experienced delay after delay while flying around on business trips, and was not happy by this point. She really needed to catch her flight from LA to Utah so she could be back to work the next day. So, to make her laugh I pulled out my camera and took a picture:

And another...

And yet another...

But then even I was getting tired of waiting.

We were tired!

At last we boarded the plane and got ourselves situated with our blanket and pillow, and a fresh "goodie bag" of socks and eyemasks like we had on our way down. We waved goodbye to New Zealand, stuffed our faces with the dinner they brought around, popped a Tylenol PM started watching a movie or two before happily passing out.
It was an excellent vacation!