Friday, December 30, 2016

Vacation 8: Zumie zumie

It's always sad to wake up on the last day of vacation. It's like you know that it is almost over, so you want to make the most of it, yet you're not sure exactly how to do that.

Nate still wasn't feeling well, so we decided to take it pretty easy.

That meant making our way back down to the pier to relax in the sun and read for a few hours before a quiet lunch and some time in the pool.

The playmakers in the pool were always thinking up crazy games to play with people, and we were grabbing some frozen beverages when one of them invited us to play Zumie Zumie.

We shrugged our shoulders, having no idea what the game was.


It turned out to be a rhythm game. Everyone was given a number, and you had to tap the table twice and then clap twice in rhythm. If someone called your number, you said your number on the taps, "8-8" and then someone else's number on the claps, "2-2."

Someone was out when they messed up the rhythm or forgot their number or did anything like that wrong.

We played a number of practice rounds and then turned it into a winner-take-all tournament. Nate was out after a couple of rounds, and I stayed in as the numbers dwindled.

As people in front of me were out, my number changed, and the playmaker would change them up every once in a while to make it harder.

Finally, it was down to three. Me, another guest and the playmaker.

I was 1. The other guy was 2. The playmaker was Zumie.

My goal: Don't ever say Zumie.

I knew that if I just kept it consistent and didn't have to think, I could pull out on top.

"1-1, 2-2."

"2-2, 1-1."

"1-1, 2-2."

It went back and forth, back and forth. Then it happened. My competitor tried to switch it up.

"2-2, Zumie --- Zumie."

He kept going like he didn't break the rhythm for that split second.

"No, no, no," the playmaker shook his head. "You know what you did."

I raised my hands in victory.

We capped the day off with a dinner at the French restaurant on the resort --- mussels au gratin - yum, scallops - yum, and artichoke and cheese crepes - yum.

An early night for sicky boy, and that was it. It was over.

Good-bye tomorrow Jamaica. It was nice to see you again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Vacation 7: Sick day

Thursday morning was the day I had been looking forward to --- spa day.

I had never had a massage before, and our booking came with a spa credit, enough for me to get a 90-minute massage. We had the spa credit before and I had forgotten to use it, so this time I was determined not to forget and made my appointment within minutes of being on the resort.

Nate walked me to the resort spa, located next to the gym and across from tennis courts, where I forgot to mention I whooped Nate the day before. Finally, a win for me. And he went back to relax in our room while I enjoyed some relaxation behind these doors.

After checking in, I was led into a darkened room and told to get underneath the sheet. I did as instructed and laid there, feeling quite awkward and a little bit nervous before the masseuse came back.

Then, there was 90 minutes of glorious. A full body massage that after tip and "service charge" only cost $40. I'll take it.

I came back to the room and we relaxed a little bit before venturing out for lunch, and it was at that point that Nate admitted he was sick. He had a head cold that was absolutely exhausting him, so following our meal I headed out the pier to sunbathe while he took a nap.

About an hour later, I realized that Nate wasn't going to be making our snorkeling reservation, so I walked down to the Aqua Center to cancel our spots.

Three hours of sitting in the sun, having people bring me drinks, reading my book and enjoying pure relaxation, the sun started to dip behind the tall building our room was in. I could see our balcony from where I was seated, and there had been no movement at the closed doors or the curtains that were drawn inside.

I decided to sneak back in, and Nate was still out, so I tried as quietly as I could to head to the porch.

I laid my head down on the wicker table to continue reading my book and was soon out as well.

I woke to a foot that was completely numb, because I had been sitting on while I dozed, and tried to get some feeling back into it.

Nate appeared and instead of going to play beach volleyball as we had planned. We played a little cribbage and then snuggled in bed while we watched TV. We ate a quick meal at the Italian restaurant where we had reservations --- I found I love arroncini --- and then back to the room.

Being sick on vacation is no fun, but luckily I still felt fine. I hadn't planned to spend half the day alone or watching TV, but honestly it was quite an enjoyable day. Like I said yesterday, if you just appreciate what comes your way instead of complaining about something going wrong, you can make the best of even a sick day.

At least when you're not the one who's sick.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Vacation 6: An ocean rainbow

The calendar turned over one more day, and we were already halfway through our vacation.

We signed up at the Aqua Sports desk for the glass-bottom boat tour and headed out with a few other couples. We saw corals, some bright-blue fish darting to and fro, black and white sea urchins and a few other things below the surface.

The tour guide then told us about some of the sights on shore, including the Sandals Plantation resort that was next door. Apparently the all-butler resort costs about $15,000 per week, which is about incomprehensible to me, and has noise strictly forbidden on the beach. The servers there respond to you when you raise a flag and need to order something.

"And they just upgraded," the tour guide said. "If you have to go to the bathroom, you just raise your flag and someone will pee for you."

When we arrived back on shore, we decided what else we were going to do that day, and Nate saw that there was beach volleyball that afternoon.

I kind of scrunched up my face.

"OK, I'm not a huge volleyball fan but that's fine if you want to do it," I said.

"You don't want to?"

"I played volleyball in seventh grade and spent the entire season with bruises on my forearms. It hurts."

We made our way over to the sand volleyball courts that afternoon and hit the ball around a few times while waiting for others to show up.

It still hurt.

Some avid beach volleyball players came over, chatting about the other games they had played that week, and I ended up joining a team to even out the numbers. Blessedly, the staff person that was playing went to get a different ball that was softer, and that made me happy.

I stood back a little, on a team with all males, and tried to hit it when it came near me, but they seemed to want to hit it more so I just let them. In turn, that made them think that I couldn't do it, and soon they ran to get it even when it was directly at me. It was one of those frustrating sports moments when you just want to say, "Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I can't hit it, back off," but I didn't.

I did the splits a few times, hit some nice serves in my opinion and got completely sandy. And Nate had a blast. That was really all that mattered, this wasn't for me anyway.

The thing that I will always remember about that Wednesday though wasn't anything that we did. In fact, it was something that many people complained about.

When we were in Jamaica, it rained every day. And I was flabbergasted that people were complaining to the staff about it. Honestly, what on earth were they supposed to do about the weather?

Well on Wednesday, it started raining right after our glass bottom boat ride. We waded out into the water a little bit, because we're certainly not afraid of a little rain, but it was colder than we thought it would be, so we headed up to our room to sit on the balcony.

We played cards and watched as the pretty good winter storm rolled in and laughed as the rain started to go sideways and hit us on the balcony.

About an hour later, the storm cleared. And then, there it was --- a gorgeous rainbow that started on the turquoise blue waters of the ocean and ended on a forested peninsula.

I was just in awe. The colors were vibrant. The arch perfection. I could actually see where it came out of the water, something that I had never seen before.

As we were oggling and taking photos, we started to notice that it was not just one rainbow but two. A double ocean rainbow.

It was an unexpected blessing and a reminder that we should appreciate all the little things. Had it not rained on vacation, we would not have experienced this epic moment.

Even rain brings blessings.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Vacation 5: Sushi and oxtail

We slept in a little later on Tuesday morning but still had plenty of time to grab the shuttle to the other side of the resort so we could have breakfast at the French restaurant we have loved at other Sandals resorts we've been to.

I slipped on the gray dress I had worn for an hour or so the morning before, hoping that no one would notice the repeat wear, and we headed out.

Nate ordered the official Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish, and I went with salmon eggs benedict. We also both tried the "Local Juice of the Day."

A glass filled with a vibrant pink liquid showed up on the table, and we sipped it trying to place what fruit would create such a color. Watermelon? Some kind of a passion fruit? Something mixed with mango?

We kept sipping trying to figure it out until I finally asked the waitress.

"What is this?"

She looked nervous. "Do you like it?"

"I do. I just can't figure out what it is!"

"I'll go ask."

Nate and I looked at each other and laughed that she didn't even know what she had served. She came back momentarily.

"It's a mixture of all our fresh fruits."

Well no wonder we couldn't place what type of fruit it was. It was a menagerie.

I stared out the window to the large pool outside, and a group of middle-aged adults were starting a fitness class. I smiled and laughed softly to myself as they bobbed and squated and flailed their arms during the water aerobics course, figuring they probably didn't think people were getting breakfast entertainment while they worked.

I took another sip of the juice.


That's what I was tasting.


We just enjoyed that day outside. While walking along, I once again spotted a black and white lawn chess set and challenged Nate to a game.

I knew his strategy at this point. He will leave his pawns protecting his king and queen and he will bring out the big guns, immediately on the offensive.

So I played just as offensive.

Turns out, Nate is a little smarter than I realized and knew that I would know his strategy and completely changed up his game plan.

At one point, the smoke was starting to come out of my ears.

"That's moves you into check," he said when I was moving a piece.

"I know."

He smiled his coy little smile that he gets when he knows I'm mad.

"Don't talk."

I calmed down by the time the game ended because I at least caught up and made him work for it a little more. I gave him a high five. That was the best sportsmanship I could muster.


We enjoyed a glass of wine on the balcony before getting ready for dinner and played some cribbage, which Nate also slaughtered me at. I guess I should just admit defeat before we even play.

On our way to dinner, we stopped on the patio where they just happened to be serving sushi since the sushi restaurant had closed for repairs.


I love sushi. I went up with the tiny plate they gave us and asked for one of everything. While talking to a couple from Ohio, I demolished the first plateful and went to get a second. Which I also demolished. I highly considered skipping dinner and just eating plate after plate of sushi, but I thought that would be frowned upon by the people serving.

So we did go to dinner.

I ordered braised oxtail, because I had seen it on various shows on the Food Network, and Guy Fieri always seemed to like it. Nate got the red snapper.

When our orders came out, I separated some of the beef from the star-like bone and tried it. Interesting. It was kind of like roast.

"Do you like it?" Nate asked.

"It's fine. It's beef."

"Here, try this," he said, giving me some of his fish.

"Yeah, that's way better."

"Want to trade?"


"Yes. I ordered this as a back-up for you."

"What were you going to order?" I asked.

"The oxtail, but I thought I should have a back-up."

We traded plates, and I just laughed.

"You're sweet."

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Vacation 4: Sunset and Mama

I'm not sure what it is about tropical vacations, but I always seem to wake up earlier than usual.

I don't know if it's the bright sun that starts streaming through the patio windows about 5:30 a.m. or the fact that I'm relaxed enough to not need as much sleep or that I'm excited to get started with the day. But as per usual, I woke up about 8 a.m. (7 a.m. our regular time) on Monday morning in Ocho Rios.

A haze was lifting off the turquoise ocean, and sunlight brightened the white coverlet on the bed. I closed my eyes and dozed off a bit more, waiting for my husband to wake up as well.

We were planning on attending a resort tour that morning, so instead of heading across the resort to the French restaurant we have liked to dine at during our other Sandals stays, we instead ordered room service.

I had a fresh fruit plate and a fruit-and-yogurt parfait, and Nate ordered the breakfast sandwich. I can't say that it was the best breakfast I've ever had, atypical from other Sandals resorts we've been to, but we ate it overlooking sparkling waters that reached to the edge of the horizon, so I don't think I'm allowed to complain.

We took a tour through the resort and then put on our bathing suits, and I was so excited to finally wear my new suit from Victoria's Secret. The perfect mix of leopard print and turquoise, I had oggled at this swimsuit for no joke two years. It was too expensive though, so it was always on the wish list in the back of my mind. Now that VS had decided to discontinue their swimwear line, *tear* I was able to get it on sale.

We rested on the beach for a little while and then grabbed a lunch of fried shrimp rolls, which were delicious, and then decided it was time for a little activity. We walked to the water sports area and signed out a kayak.

Rowing the yellow craft, I tried to remember the lessons I had learned in previous years --- Don't try to steer, that's the back person's job; don't work to hard, let the paddle do the work; don't dig in too deep with the paddle, it should skim the surface.

"Lily dipper," Nate said from behind.


"You're barely putting the paddle in the water."

"I thought that's what you were supposed to do."

"If you're racing. We're not, dig in."

So I did.

We rowed past the Sandals Plantation resort next door to our resort. This is a butler-only resort, with quiet rules and fewer restaurants. Being so much more expensive, the guests there have the option of using both Sandals Plantation and Sandals Ochi, so they could walk over to our resort to have more restaurant variety. We were not allowed at that resort though...

Next to that were brightly-colored houses and hotels, painted in pink and turquoise hues, almost matching the colors of the ocean and the ocean sunset.

We rowed out quite a ways, and then hung our legs over the side of the kayak, enjoying the slight coolness of the clear water. Waves crashed against an old tree log that had floated out to a bed of coral and gotten stuck.

We just floated.

The blue skies. The relaxing wind. The gentle roll of the waves.



That evening, we had somehow gotten last-minute reservations at the hardest-to-get-into restaurant on the resort, which meant we had to get there right when it opened.

We were exactly on time for dinner, dressed to the nines, with Nate in khakis and a crisp blue shirt and tie and me in a black lace backless dress.

We sat down, and the waitress came up to fill our water glasses.

"You look nice; where are you headed tonight?"

"Here," I said with a smile.

"Really? Wow."

I guess we were dressier than she had been used to seeing, but it's not very often that we get to dress up where we live so we take advantage of it on vacation.

As we ate the different courses for dinner, night began to fall on Ocho Rios. From sun when we started to pink and purple skies as evening arrived to darkness with dessert. Even in the dark, the place was absolutely gorgeous, with the sound of the waves beating against the rocks on the pier creating a soothing tone.

It was early when we finished our meal, and we wanted to go see the jazz singer's whole show that evening, so we went to the other side of the resort and waited at a bar before heading down to the Rabbit Hole.

"Jungle juice," we told the doorkeeper. (I think that was the password...)

We were allowed inside and headed right upstairs to claim the same overlook seat we had the night before. Unfortunately, the upstairs was booked by a private party from China --- we are assuming someone important since they allowed that --- and had to find a spot downstairs.

Most of the seats on the main level were already taken, except for one loveseat. That was right in front. Like three feet away from the singer.

Nate looked at me.

"That's really close."

"I know, but there's no where else."

"But that's really close."

"Oh well I guess."

He went to get a couple of drinks, while I sat down, trying to figure out how to not look awkward when the singer stood right in front of us.

Dressed in a tight black frock with white pearls, silk gloves and a 1920s floral headband, Mama started her show. Yes, it was a little awkward at times when she looked right at us and we could about feel the heat of her breath, but her powerful voice was so awesome that we looked past the uncomfortable part.

We would have paid a lot of money to see that show. But we didn't have to. Perks of an all-inclusive resort.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Vacation 3: Going down the rabbit hole

Both our eyes blinked open at 2:57 a.m., three minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

I reached under my pillow to grab my phone, and clicked the home button to light up the screen.

"Good morning sweetie," Nate said from the other side of the bed.

"Good morning."

I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom to take a shower, trying to be quiet enough to not wake our nieces asleep in the other guest room at my in-laws' house. I showered and got everything else packed up in minutes, and I could hear Nate talking to his mom downstairs.

It was only 3:35 a.m. and we were ready to head to the nearby airport. Nate had packed our bags into our car, and we set off for the short drive. At the airport, we said our good-byes, and Nate's mom headed back home with our car.

About an hour later, we were sitting and looking at our phones when we glanced out the big windows of the airport. It had started to snow.

This was one of the reasons that we had decided to vacation in December this year. We had gone to the Bahamas two years prior in January, and as nice as it was to get out of the Midwest during the winter, it was terrifying to know if we were really going to get to leave due to weather. The following year, we played it super safe and headed to Jamaica at the end of April, but the weather was so hot there we decided to change back to winter again. That put us with the safety of traveling at the beginning of December.

But our carefully laid plans weren't working out.

By the time we all boarded the plane, enough snow had built up that it needed de-iced. I dozed off as we waited for the de-icing truck and then was awakened with the captain telling us over the loudspeaker that the truck didn't have the right fluid for our aircraft.

I dozed again.

"I'm so sorry. The de-icing truck has the fluid now, but it needs to be warmed. We will be about another 15-20 minutes," the captain's voice floated through the cabin again.

Once the orange fluid was running down the windows, the time was creeping up to 7 a.m., an hour after our flight was supposed to depart.

Everyone around was starting to do calculations. Are we going to make our connection? Nate and I figured we would cut it close to boarding time but should be fine for take-off in Atlanta.

However, by the time we landed in Georgia, we were so late that the airport wasn't ready for us.

"We are waiting for a parking unit," the captain's voice said on the loudspeaker as we sat on the tarmac, the gate within easy walking distance. "We know most of you have connections to make. I don't know why they weren't ready for us." The frustration was obvious in his voice.

We piled off the plane, now 15 minutes past when our next flight started to board. We all rushed into the airport and searched for our next gates. We found the flight to Montego Bay, but no passengers were standing in line anymore. We were late.

But not too late. We got right on board, thankfully.

Now relaxed, we searched for our seats on the huge flight.


That wasn't me calling my husband. Nate turned to look at me and pointed ahead of us. I could see a hand waving, a few rows back.

It was his cousin's wife.

His cousin from Omaha just happened to be on the same flight! We almost couldn't believe the randomness of it all. They started messaging each other and we found out they were headed to Negril, while we were on our way to Ocho Rios. We promised to meet up when we disembarked to get a photo before we went our separate ways.

We landed in Montego Bay a few hours later, and with the help of Club Mobay made it through the airport, immigration and customs easily. Soon, we were on the bus heading toward Ocho Rios.

Ocean views. A potty break. Check-in. A room with a view.

It's always hard to know what to do when you first arrive on vacation. It's almost dinner time, and you're starving from having nothing but a granola bar and some airplane pretzels during the day. You want to eat, but you don't want to just snack and ruin your appetite. However, we were starving, so we decided to go grab a small wood-fire pizza that we've had on other resorts and shared the seafood special.

Then we got ready for dinner and headed to the closest restaurant on the resort.



Nate ordered the surf and surf, yes, that's right. Who comes to Jamaica for steak? You don't. You come to the Caribbean for seafood, and when you don't have to pay anything extra for your meal, you substitute the grass-fed steak for another lobster tail.

For me, it was red snapper and clams.

Oh what a way to start vacation.

We were smiling and drinking pinot grigio and munching on our appetizers and bread with seafood spread, and then the entres arrived. Mine was served in a delicious broth with a hint of scotch bonnet peppers, and you can tell when I love food when I begin to dance.

After the first few bites, my hands went up to chest height and I started swaying back and forth in my chair.

A meal worth dancing for.

We decided to go down to the beach to a bar there, and met a really fun bartender. He served us his signature cocktail, called "Looks are Deceiving." He called it that because it's this dirty blue color, but it tastes delicious. Looks are Deceiving is kind of a long name, so we instead called it Dirty Water.

Nate had a ball talking to people while we sipped on our drinks and suggested the bartender's special to everyone. He was just a kid, and he lit up every time someone ordered his concoction. We chatted with people from Canada and Mexico, and Nate loved getting to talk Brexit with a couple from the U.K.

We also wanted to experience what the resort was known for, a bar called the Rabbit Hole. It's a 1920s speakeasy with a jazz singer that is supposed to knock your socks off. We got on the bus that would take us to the other half of the 100-acre resort.

We found a cozy spot in an upstairs alcove and watched as the singer and her band wrapped up their show, which had started an hour ago. The entertainment would have continued, but by 10 p.m. we were exhausted.

Time to go to bed after a full day.

Good-night Jamaica.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vacation 2: Time with our nieces

The Saturday before we were to leave, we decided to follow through on an idea of my mother-in-law's and have some time with our nieces.

Home Depot was hosting a workshop where kids could make their own gingerbread man candy dishes, so we invited my sister-in-law with her three girls and took my brother's oldest while my other sister-in-law got her house ready for a showing.

We arrived at Home Depot with E, and signed her in. She received her package of supplies and her own little orange Home Depot apron, which she did not want to wear.

We started putting together her candy dish, but after about three taps of the hammer, I remembered how much E hates loud noises, and all the banging around her just made her cover her ears. Of course, it's hard to use a hammer when your hands are on your head, so after some unsuccessful coaxing for her participation, I nodded at Nate.

"Why don't you just finish it and then we can go paint?"

A couple taps here and there and he had whipped together the project, and I took her to the paint section as my sister-in-law entered with her little brood.

We went to say hello, and I smiled as I saw that her middle child, who had opened her birthday present from us the night before, had on her Frozen crown and braid, and her big smile was still on her face. Gotta love it when your gifts are successful, I smiled.

Nate got the other girls settled while I worked with E on painting her project. She lifted her hand with a dismayed expression on her face, showing me that she got some paint on one of her fingers. I wiped it off on her apron, and then almost immediately proceeded to sticking my finger in the paint as well. I smiled and held up my hand for her to see.

"See, I got paint on me too! No big deal," I said.

We finished up, and then watched as my sister-in-law's girls worked on their projects. E and I made a trip to the bathroom to wash her hands, and then when we got back my middle niece looked at me and held up her hand.

The entire thing was painted. The classic middle child, Em had decided that the best way to paint her project was to squirt paint on it and then rub it around using her hand instead of the paint brush. Her mom just shook her head and laughed.

Another trip to the bathroom for messy girls.

It made me smile as the oldest pair raced ahead, holding hands like they were best friends, and the middle child ran behind asking to join in. E just yanked her hand away, she didn't want to hold hands with the baby, she wanted to be with her friend.

"Hold my hand," I said to Em brightly, and she joined in. A line of four, we trotted down the hardware store aisle back to the rest of the group.

Not wanting the fun to end, we suggested going to a local garden center that has some fun stuff set up inside for kids.

"Do you want to go to Wallace's?" I asked E, and a smile lit up her face.

We all piled into our cars and then piled back out of them at the garden center, making another hand-holding line as we walked through the store portion and into greenhouse area. The girls had all been there before and knew just where to go, but we did have to stop along the way and get a picture of them all with a Santa statue.

Arriving at their favorite place, a giant square "sandbox" filled with corn, they stripped off their shoes and socks and hopped in. Tractors. Buckets. Hands were flying through the yellow kernels, and some stuck to their clothes.

They buried each other. They dumped corn all around. They found beads hidden in the corn. They smiled. They laughed. They had an absolute ball.

And so did we, just watching them.

There's something awfully sweet not only about spending time with your nieces, but about your nieces from different sides of the family coming together and having fun. It was an absolute treasure to behold.

We finished off our time together with a train ride, during which my sister-in-law was told "We don't need an adult, Mom," and then we parted ways.

That afternoon was filled with presents and the evening we met up again for a Christmas Walk downtown, but that morning is what sticks most in my mind. Those smiles. I'll cherish that for a long time.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Vacation 1: Stopping for the night

We were on our way back to the Quad Cities the first Thursday in December, our SUV filled to the absolute brim with Christmas presents, dog supplies, vacation baggage and bags of clothes for us to wear prior to and after vacation.

It started to mist a couple of hours away from home, but the temperatures hovered just above freezing so it wasn't any big deal until we turned on to the first major highway that would take us straight across the state.

At that point, Nate and I both could feel the tires starting to shake a little bit. We had put on our snow tires a few weeks prior and then had to take a tire off again to change the battery --- the stupid design by Dodge --- and I automatically started to think that maybe our lug nuts were loose.

We pulled off to the side of the road, with people flying past us, and Nate went out to check. He circled the vehicle twice, and I could feel him bang against the tires to see if they would budge, but everything seemed secure.

He slid back onto the black leather seat behind the steering wheel and told me everything looked fine, so we got back onto the road.

A little red Dodge Neon flew past us going at least 70 miles per hour, while we were cautiously driving around 55.

"You feel that don't you?" Nate asked me.

"Yes," I said, the tires were definitely shaking.

"But people are flying past us; are they really driving that stupid in this icy weather?" He asked if maybe we should stay the night somewhere.

I got onto his Orbitz app, where we luckily had about $40 in credits, and I found a Super 8 hotel about five miles in front of us, and thankfully it was dog friendly since our adorable Olde English Bulldog was laying in the backseat during this ordeal.

The right clicker turned on as Nate signaled we would be exiting at this small town, and when we reached the intersection at the bottom of the ramp, he got out of the car again. He looked at the tires, and then bent down to put his hand to the pavement.

"It's solid ice," he said when he got back in the car. "People are crazy to be driving like that in this weather."

We had left a night before we had to, so we had plenty of time to be cautious.

Times like this always remind us of the time that we braved roads that were not only slick but literally solid sheets of ice to get back to the Quad Cities for Christmas. From college students to adults, from foolish decisions to safety first, I guess we've grown up a little bit.