Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Crafty Christmas Ideas

I might be trying to jump start Christmas a bit early this year. I am already humming Let It Snow while getting ready for bed or taking a shower. I have started tuning my internet radio stations to Holiday hits. I bought peppermint creamer for my morning coffee. I watched The Muppet Christmas Carol (my all time favorite Christmas movie). I pulled out the Christmas decorations and started sorting through them. I am impatiently waiting to get a Christmas tree and have had to really resist getting one before Thanksgiving. This year I have really needed the holiday spirit in a big way. I need for Christmas to feel magical because between crazy busy days at work and the daily stress of running a home, I am a little overdone and exhausted these days.

Last year I spent all my time leading up to Christmas finding the right presents for everyone on my list. I spent so much time shopping I never got around to baking cookies or doing some DIY Christmas decorations or even really enjoying the holidays. Not to mention with the record heat wave, picking out a tree in 80 degrees just sort of sucked the joy I usually get while picking out a tree. By the time Christmas rolled around I was burnt out, broke and cranky as all heck. I had lost the whole idea of why I loved Christmas in the first place. But this year I don't care about presents, I care about feeling the happiness that comes with it being the most magical time of the year. So the husband and I agreed, instead of presents we will bake cookies, craft and make our favorite dishes together on Christmas day.

So what crafts am I dying to try this year...

1. A stocking holder:

(Source and directions)

I don't have a fireplace mantel (though my next house will have one), so usually we just hang the stockings on the wall by the tree somewhere. But I stumbled upon this beauty on Pinterest the other day and about swooned. So simple. Some particle board, some stencils, some paint and some hooks. Voila, stocking holder. Boo ya!

2. A Christmas Card Holder:

(Source and directions)

Last year I hung my Christmas cards up on wrapping paper that I hung on the wall. Festive yes, durable no. So this year I stumbled upon this on Pinterest and loved it. Again, simple enough, some particle board, paint, some ribbon, a fun stencil, small clothes pins and a way to hang the sign.

3. Merry Christmas Jute Garland:

(Source and directions)

I thought this would be cute to hang on the tree or on the door or with a wreath. It is simple and easy and cheap. Who wouldn't want this cute little garland hanging around?

4. Burlap Garland:

(Source and directions)

I love garlands. I just haven't found many that I really really like. But this year I really want a garland for our railing outside, as well as for the area above the kitchen entrance. So when I found this burlap garland, I got really excited. Just the kind of look I was going for. This project will probably be the most consuming and frustrating. I have never worked with burlap but I have heard it unravels so you have to glue or tape it.I just need a fake garland, some lights and burlap. Wish me luck.

5. Pine cone candle display:


Above is not the exact picture. To be honest it is in my head more than anything but the idea is for me to gather together some pine needle bunches and birch wood branches and maybe some red berries, than arrange them in a basket or vase or wooden box with candles for a festive table centerpiece for my table.

Also on the list this year is adding fun stickers to my Christmas cards and baking lots of cookies to give out to the coworkers. Not to mention knitting of socks, a sweater for Bella and a stocking. I might even knit a few ornaments as well!

What arts and crafts do you have in mind for Christmas??

Monday, November 24, 2014

Increasing My Mileage

As you have probably figure out about now, November around the FASM blog has been all about the miles. Whether it be running or walking or shuffling or cartwheels. I challenged myself to 30 miles and invited you all to join if you wanted too. My whole goal was to build my endurance to eventually work up to run training again and I got to tell you, it is really working. I might not be losing massive amounts of weight (which is more about my eating habits lately but one step at a time) but I am building back a lot of strength I lost when I got overwhelmed and stopped doing any kind of exercise a couple months ago. I even did some slow running on Saturday and I was amazed at how far I could go. Way better than when I started run training at the beginning of this year. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting off small, like vowing to walk around the block or walking 30 miles in a month like me. Nothing wrong with it at all because all healthy habits have to start somewhere. Especially when you have a health condition like PCOS. Most days I am fighting fatigue and after a long day at work I don't want to spend two hours working out at the gym nor do I have anywhere near the energy I need to do that (which is why I burned out a couple months ago). It is much easier for me to grab my dogs and go for a fun walk in the crisp evening air. Did I want to be able to instantly run? Hell yeah, but I almost killed my joints last time I just started running without building my endurance first. I know better now. My husband always says to me "if you can't walk a 5k, how do you expect to run one?"

Yesterday I added up my miles so far and I am getting super close to 30 miles (Did you read my tips for making a walk fun yet?). I decided that meant that it was time to once again increase my mileage.

I started off at the beginning of November being proud to be able to walk a mile straight. That mile hurt. My ankles would be sore, my left hip hurt like hell (the one I injured in a freak jammed copier accident) and my very tight IT bands would scream. The woes of sitting at work all day and being someone who has the habit of tucking my feet under my butt. By mid November I had increased my long walks to a little over two miles. My speed increased and I was able to do 2.66 miles in 1 hour. My hips and knees and ankles complained a bit afterwards but nothing unbearable. Slowly my body got stronger and that felt amazing to see that progress in just a couple of weeks. 

So yesterday I yet again increased my mileage. I felt great in the beginning. The husband and I were gathering spruce and red berries to do some DIY Christmas decorations and the dogs were doing their usual sniff everything bit.

It wasn't till we hit the 2.76 mark that I started to really feel it. Suddenly my knee hurt and my ankles hurt. It became all about wanting to give up or sit on the sidewalk and cry. Odd, I usually can muscle through most things, so it seemed odd that I was getting so cranky and dramatic. Mostly it was in my head. You ever do that to yourself? Tell yourself you are going to increase your mileage and then because you built it up so big in your head it seems really hard now? Now don't get me wrong, over 3 miles is not easy feat and my body is still hurting today, but I was making it a lot harder with my negative mind state. Some days it takes a lot to get out of my own head. But I did it.

As a reward for pushing through to over 3 miles, I got some quiet time to paint my nails and the husband made a wonderful beef stew for dinner with fresh homemade cornbread. Mmm mmm. 

Little by little I am getting stronger. This walking challenge has been a great motivator in getting out the door and moving every single day. I am already thinking of new ways to challenge myself in December. Small goals are sometimes the best way to move towards bigger goals! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

How to Make a Walk Fun

When I challenged myself to 30 miles in November, I was simply trying to build my endurance back up so I could start run training again around December. I have a few mud runs, obstacle course runs and fun runs that I want to sign up for in 2015. The challenge has been a great motivation to me this month but every once in awhile I didn't want to walk because it felt boring. So with only 10 days left of the 30 miles in November challenge, here are my tips on how to spice up a walk so you can get those miles in!

1. I bring my minions with me. No not the actual minions from the movie (though that would be AWESOME), it is my nickname for the dogs (and one cat) that rule my home. Most of you know I have 3 of them (a viszla mix who is 12 yrs old, a shiba inu mix who is 3 yrs old and a mini dachshund that just turned 1 year old) but I can't walk them all together. So I alternate them in pairs depending on who they walk best with and also how long the walk will be. Sometimes I even pop home and switch half way through a walk. My point is, they are a ton of fun to walk with and keep me very motivated. I mean, you just can't help but feel peppy when your dog shows so much enthusiasm over a simple walk and smelling ALL THE SMELLS. Plus when they give me that sad face stare, I can't help but pull on my sweats to go on the walk.

2. For my long walks I pick new places to explore. My old neighborhood was horrible to walk around in. Unsafe, no nature area and it was just a little scary. So we found a wetlands park to walk around instead. When we moved two years ago we were super upset about not being anywhere close to the wetlands area anymore and kind of made it our mission to find other places to walk. I love nature. I hate walking city streets endlessly. So when I discovered that there were a lot more places to explore around my new house, I was super excited. This month already I have found many long nature trails, the old railroad tracks go both ways, I can walk to the river, there is the short walk through the park and the list goes on. As I walk more and more, I discover new trails and fun things to do. Like climb trees and take pictures of cacti.

3. I try to push myself each walk to go a little further. I keep track of all my walks with Map My Walk, that way I know how many miles I am averaging each weekend. So each walk I try to push myself a bit further. During the week that is harder because by the time I walk it is dark but on the weekends I do my long walks and that is when I try to challenge myself. Last weekend I decided to walk the old tracks towards the park at the end. It is roughly 1.20 miles one way. Not a big deal lately with how many miles I have been adding on but last year I couldn't do it. Okay that isn't true, I did it once. It took me 4 hours to walk there and back. I needed breaks. I was really sore afterwards. So I would only walk half way there and back from then on out. But last weekend I got it stuck in my head to make it all the way to the park and I did, then I turned around and made it back home, total time.. 1 hour. That is a big deal to me. I even stopped to climb a tree which ate into my time a bit. The weekend before that I climbed a huge hill I had always avoided before. These are the small challenges I give to myself each long walk.

4. My husband and I play the house game. We created this game when we lived in apartments and would get stir crazy in our small space. Usually during the winter months. So we would head to Starbucks or the gas station, buy some hot chocolate and put a few bucks of gas in. Then we would pick a fancy neighborhood and spend some time driving through it. The point was to point out the houses we liked and imagine what they would look like on the inside. We would imagine how we would decorate and how we would hang our holiday lights. It was fun but now we live in a house within walking distance of the neighborhoods we used to love. So when we decide to walk the streets instead of the nature trails we play the house game. We point out houses we love, imagine what they look like on the inside and even grab flyers if they are for sale. Keeps things fun and interesting when you are walking the city streets. We have even started heading in different directions to get to new neighborhood areas to explore.

5. I write down all my miles where I can clearly see them. I have a white board on the fridge and currently it is tracking my miles. One of the silly but motivating things I do is write down each day how many miles I walked. I have it all broken down into separate weeks so I can see how much I am averaging a week as well. It might sound funny but knowing that when I get back, I will be able to pull the dry eraser marker down and write down my miles for each walk gets me out the door most days. 

So what gets you out the door? How are you doing on getting 30 miles in November??

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Perfect Long Walk

I knew I needed to grab some extra miles on Veteran's Day to make up for not walking at all the first week of my 30 miles in November challenge. So after I dealt with emails, phone calls and other miscellaneous stuff that stacks up around the house, I pulled my tennis shoes on and headed out the door with my husband plus two of the furry minions (aka dogs). We have three little monsters but when you walk them all together it can be a handful. So most walks we alternate who gets walked and when. This time miss energetic mini minion (aka Bella Rue) and old lady dog (aka Red dog) got to get out and get some fresh air.

Some days the only thing that gets me out and walking is the weather. It was perfect. Cool. Crisp. Cold breeze. Overcast. I could wear a long sleeve light sweater comfortably with my baseball hat. The air smelled fresh and clean. It felt like rain was coming.

I really love that there are so many walking areas around our house. There is the path we nicknamed the dog path, mostly because everyone treats it like an off leash dog park though it isn't officially. It is technically three sections of tracks that are now unused but fenced in so the dogs can't go anywhere. There is the tracks going the other direction that tucks into a path behind some really nice houses. There is never anybody walking back there, so often we let the dogs run around off leash. There is the library path for when we need to drop off or pick up books. The main street if we want to grab something from the local 7/11 or if it is too dark to walk anywhere else. There is the around the block route for the quick walk days. The through the park route for when I want to mess around on the equipment. And sometimes we take a short 5 minute drive to explore the duck ponds at the big park. But on Veteran's day we decided on a new route. We decided to head into a neighborhood we hadn't really explored much yet. 

Something the husband and I love doing is looking at homes. We don't need to go inside, we just love looking at the outside and picturing what they look like on the inside. We are fine with being renters right now since we aren't 100% settled on staying where we are at. The house game started back when we lived in an apartment. We would get stir crazy and need to take a drive. So we would grab hot chocolates from Starbucks and put some gas in the car. Then we would drive around the nice areas, the fancy areas and the middle class areas we liked. Picking out homes we loved. Picking up pamphlets from for sale signs if we saw one. Our favorite time is still to walk or drive around during Christmas, there is some epic decorations around our area and nothing beats warm peppermint hot chocolate.

During our walk, I am sad to admit that we were disappointed to discover only a few houses with giant weird looking turkeys in front of them. There were far too many people who already have Christmas tree's (what the what??). My favorite part though is the sidewalks full of colorful leaves.

I am also loving the pops of green that are returning to our area with the bits of rain that we have gotten after a very long and hot summer. 

We even stumbled upon a giant lemon or lime or mystery citrus tree?

It was the perfect walk with our dogs. Especially when I looked at my Map My Walk app and saw that we had walked 3.76 miles all together. That is over a 5k and I didn't struggle at all. I was even managing hills without any issues. Slowly my endurance is returning and that makes me super excited. It is also the reason I challenged myself (and others) to 30 miles in November.

So what beautiful walks have you taken recently? Got any great fall pictures?

Join Amazon Prime - Listen to Over a Million Songs - Start Free Trial Now Shop Amazon - Create an Amazon Wedding Registry Join Amazon Prime - Watch Over 40,000 Movies & TV Shows Anytime - Start Free Trial Now

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November Miles Challenge

I love being outside once the weather turns cold. Everything about fall and winter makes me extremely happy. I just love the cold. I have always been sad that it doesn't snow here.

One of my favorite places to go to around here is Apple Hill. It is colder there. Romantic even. If I was given the chance I would buy a farm up in Apple Hill, live in a cute farmhouse overlooking the valley and light a fire in my fireplace every evening.

My whole point is I love getting outside and walking or running in the cool air. Since it appears we are finally getting cooler temperatures this year I wanted to do a miles challenge for November. Now I know I know it is already one week in. Whoops. I am still behind from my vacation and I have been dealing with a few stressful situations. No excuses though. My point is, I wanted to see if I could rack up a certain amount of miles in November as a way to encourage me to get out and moving every single day. The magic number I came up with was 30 miles total in November. Not to mention Thanksgiving is at the end of November and it would be nice to rack up the miles before I stuff my face full of good food!!

I started off yesterday with almost a mile. We walked all around the duck and goose pond at sunset before it got too dark to even see outside. Unfortunately the dark cut my walk short just before a mile. The sun seems to set so fast lately.

So if anyone would love to join in on my November miles challenge, I would LOVE to have you join in. The point is to get in as many miles as you can in November by walking or running. Outside is preferable but I understand it is snowing already most places these days. I use an app called Map My Walk to track my miles and GPS my location when walking. It also keeps track of previous walks and mileage. 

So if you would like to join, track your miles this month, get at least 30 miles of walking or running and enjoy that beautiful fall scenery out there as much as you can. I will post a blog at the beginning of December about my own miles and I would love if you all joined in by commenting to tell me all about yours as well!!!

So let's get out there. Let's enjoy the cooler season!! 

You in?? 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Stress Monster

Last night I fell asleep with my face on my Kindle and the light on. The husband has grown accustomed to waking up at 3 a.m. to turn the light off now because it seems to happen every single night lately. If the main light isn't on, the bathroom light is. I always tell myself I will turn it off in a second and then I push myself so far past exhausted I end up passing out while doing whatever I was doing (usually reading or playing a game on my Kindle to quiet my mind). I swear it is giving my husband a wrinkle on his forehead from that worried look he gets when I start to do odd things. Stress makes me do odd things. Mostly because it peaks my anxiety and my anxiety makes me do odd things.

I am one of those people that clings to their bad habits in times of high stress. I really like control and calm. I hate feeling chaotic or out of control or like I don't know how to deal with something/someone. So when things turn chaotic, I stop sleeping and eat a ton of sugar and I stop participating in my daily chores and don't exercise and as I always gently put it, unravel at the seams.

Why do I do these things? Well because that is how I have always dealt with tough situations I was avoiding and changing that habit now would suck. It would make me uncomfortable and I am not different from all the other human beings avoiding being uncomfortable. That is why we lie and cheat and eat bad food and cling to terrible habits.

My point is not to whine and gather together pity. Or to vent about everything going on in my life. Or to lecture. Or to say my stress is so much more important than yours. It isn't. I am overwhelmed at work and home and with this crappy PCOS. BUT I have a job and I have a home and I am still able to get out of bed each day. Yes I am dealing with dark circles and exhaustion and a constantly messy house (I hate a messy house) and almost daily mini panic attacks as a result of stress, BUT I am not drastically sick or bed ridden. Those things right there are worth being grateful for. We all have stress. We all have problems. We shouldn't feel ashamed to talk about them or ask for help or for feeling a bit out of control. We are human.

But my mind has been thinking a lot lately about bad habits and de-railing. I have had a really tough year and I noticed a few patterns emerging. During the moments of calm, when nothing was going on and I felt like everything was balanced,  I noticed I would work out and eat right. I didn't have to talk myself into working out or being healthy, it all happened naturally when I was feeling good. But the minute I was stressed out, I would drop all those good habits and revert right back to old ways of dealing with stress. Suddenly I no longer wanted to work out or make the right food choices. Suddenly I had to force myself to do those things and most of the time I lost the battle. I watched it happen time and time again. My eating healthy and exercising had nothing to do with self control or being a lazy person. I simply have a habit of using bad habits as a coping mechanism during times of stress. It is just what I have always done and it became my automatic response to stress.

It has been a tough year for sure but one full of self reflection. So I have been working on facing these bad habits, taking them on, acknowledging their presence. By doing this I can actively work on alternatives to snapping and obsessing and eating and not sleeping. I am not someone who does chaotic or feeling out of control of a situation well. I know this. I know it can get ugly when I feel this way. But I recently had to ask myself, wasn't I creating more chaos by taking on my bad habits and clinging to them? Yes. The answer is yes I am.

So what am I going to do??

I am going to stop avoiding the bad and the bad news. Avoiding it gives it immense power. But if I acknowledge it is there, acknowledge that it makes me feel crappy because it is there and give myself permission to not fix it right now but actively work on it, I think that will help a lot. I make problems bigger and badder than they are by avoiding them. Time to stop avoiding and start acknowledging.

I am going to stop letting food be my anti-depressant. Food is a way to survive, not a cheap form of therapy (or not so cheap in some cases). I am going to actively work on making better eating choices, whether I am stressed or not. I am going to ask myself when I eat, am I hungry or just wanting to stress eat? I am going to make sure to keep healthy options on the house and not bring in sugar or loads of carbs.

I am going to stop hiding behind anger. There is a huge difference between anger and stress. I don't need to be angry just because I am feeling chaotic. 

I am going to stop sitting on the couch every night watching T.V. in my PJ's. I am going to take the dogs for a walk and clean up the house and run those errands and knit that dog sweater for Bella Rue. Life doesn't stop just because I am stressed. It has to keep moving forward. Plus having a clean house and getting fresh air are two things that really help me when I am over-thinking about a problem.

I am going to count my blessings and see the good in the bad. I don't have it all but I haven't lost it all either.

I am going to start up my bed time routine again, yoga with a little meditation, shower, cool bedroom, no electronics and lights out. I can't keep lying in bed giving myself panic attacks over-thinking about everything going on. It doesn't help. When I am exhausted I am less capable of coping or sticking to good habits or even fighting the panic attacks. I need sleep. It is really important.

I will stop feeling ASHAMED of my stress. It doesn't do anything but lead to guilt. I have worked hard in my life, I am fiercely independent, I am not a victim but that doesn't mean that every time I am stressed I deserve to feel shamed or guilt tripped about it or even silenced.

I am going to go back to yoga and train to run again. Both things made me very happy and helped a lot with the panic.

I am going to stop obsessing. Just because I am not talking about it or actively thinking about it doesn't mean I am not working on fixing the problem.

I am going to laugh because laughter should always happen whether I am stressed or not.

I am going to remember to enjoy the small things right now. I am going to run that bubble bath and drink that glass of tea and read that book. I won't feel guilty for enjoying things while I am stressed.

So how do you keep from de-railing during times of high stress???

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Carnival Cruise Review

Okay, as promised, I am writing about my Carnival Cruise experience for other new cruisers out there debating whether to go on a cruise or not. I found it super frustrating that there wasn't certain advice on websites when I booked my cruise and actually I ended up getting my best advice from seasoned cruisers on the day we sailed out. But I was still pretty shocked by some of the things and it was definitely a learning experience. So I thought, what better way than to do my own review so other newbies like me can gather a little more information about their first cruise BEFORE they head out.

We booked a 4 day cruise to Ensenada Mexico. The ship we were on was called the Carnival Imagination. It left Long Beach, CA on Sunday, arrived at Avalon, CA (Catalina Island) on Monday, arrived at Ensenada, Mexico on Tuesday and spent Wednesday out to sea for the whole day.I figured the best way to sort of break things down was day by day. Bear with me, it is a longer blog post because there is a lot to cover, so skip the parts that don't mean anything to you basically. At least it has LOT'S of pictures to keep it interesting.

We spent basically most of Saturday in Long Beach with my cousin, eating good food, exploring and laughing a whole bunch. So it was a great pre-cruise treat and I would suggest it. There was no rushing Sunday morning and no feeling like our vacation started out hectic at all. Plus Long Beach was a lot of fun. The only bummer was the Queen Mary was having this huge haunted Halloween thing and all the tours were booked up. I will one day get a tour of the Queen Mary.

We did stay at the Marriott 5 minutes away from the cruise port. I was pleasantly surprised by how great their rooms were, the staff were super friendly, I got a free bottle of champagne because it was my birthday and the breakfast was huge with lots of options. It was a good choice and not that expensive either.

Sunday- Boarding Day:

(We had the best view of the ship from our hotel room)

We didn't know how early exactly we could board, but our passes said 1 p.m. and the ship sailed at 5:30 p.m. We got there around 12:30 p.m. and there were already tons of people waiting to get on board. Now getting to the actual cruise terminal was hard, the road wasn't clearly marked and there was only one way to enter. Annoying as heck but after many mishaps we managed. Anyways, once we got there, we learned that there had been people there as early as 10:00 a.m. The only problem with being super early is your room might not be clean. We were dropped off in the unloading zone, gave our big bags to the porters with our stapled room number on them and then headed to the entrance. Now the problem I had with our porter was he was super pushy about tips, he basically demanded a tip and to me that was just rude. He made it sound like if he didn't get a tip, he would not get our bags in our room in a timely fashion, he was that rude. We luckily had cash. So bring cash to tip the porters. AND that was just the beginning of the tip demanding we would see throughout our whole trip.

The line to get on the boat was pretty long but it wasn't unbearable. We showed our boarding passes (we pre-registered and printed everything, I am super organized when it comes to paperwork) and ID's to get into line for the metal detector. Ladies be careful, if you are wearing shoes with metal on them, they will require you take them off. One lady I swear had to walk through 5 times before she realized it was her shoes setting it off. Once you get through that line, they usher you into another line where you wait to show your passports or in our case birth certificates and boarding passes. This is where they will take your picture and give you your cash and go card. Don't lose that card, it literally is used to get ANYWHERE and purchase ANYTHING. One couple didn't have the right documentation and they weren't allowed to board. So bring the right documents. We had everything, birth certificates, marriage certificate (to prove name change) and ID's. She only needed copies and didn't care about my marriage certificate. Now a big tip we got in line while waiting (about a 25-30 minute wait standing, so be prepared to stand for a bit and wear comfy shoes) was from another couple who had cruised many times, they told us to put down cash on our cards never our debit card. Turns out the cruise ships holds a certain amount and it takes a bit to release it after the cruise. So we put down $200 cash on our accounts and we were good to go. They of course insisted we snap a picture before we could get in another line to board the actual ship.

Once on board it was great. We had lunch at the buffet, basic stuff, hamburgers and hot dogs. Every two seconds someone tried to get us to buy a drink for $7.95, ouch, we got one to share but resisted anymore.

By the time lunch was done, our room was clean. Our bags were even there already. We unpacked. There isn't a ton of drawers to place things in but we made it work and then stowed our bags under the bed. The husband explored the ship (he loves getting the lay of the land basically wherever we are so he doesn't get lost) and it was a great idea. I was always getting turned around on the ship, I would think I was heading towards the front but it was the back and to get to certain areas you have to walk through others. So having the husband explore the ship in advance and know his way around was a great idea. He basically led us everywhere till about my 3rd day when I finally learned the boat. While he explored, I read on our balcony waiting for the ship to depart. I was able to finish 2 books during our vacation, whoop whoop!

Our room: Junior suite with a partial ocean view.

It was small but honestly we didn't need a lot of space with just us. We had a great balcony we could walk out on and sit on, it wasn't a huge balcony but it was nice to have the fresh air whenever we wanted. The bathroom was about the size of a water heater closet, so I used the mirror and desk in the room to do any make-up/hair stuff. I got a little claustrophobic in the shower at times but it wasn't too bad. The floor was weird though, it floated and you could really feel the rocking of the ocean on it.

I actually wouldn't sail in anything smaller or without a balcony simply because I needed the fresh air/freedom.

When the boat launches on that first day it is a big deal. All these people pile on the front of the boat. Ours was during the sunset, so it was beautiful and we had the added bonus of a fireboat, you know, the one's that spray water everywhere, leading our exit from the port because it was our captains last cruise. It was comforting to know we had a very experienced captain (30 years). It was great. That first night out at sea was downright beautiful with the sun setting. We had a drill for learning where our emergency station was and life boats we would need to use. That took roughly 30 minutes of standing and listening (unless you were on the lower floors, than they made you walk up a ton of stairs to your muster station). It was freaky and boring at the same time. After that, the Broncos were playing and we ended up watching the game in our room before eating dinner. Since we were late getting to dinner, we ended up heading to our formal dining room because a lot of the buffet options were closed up. We had the anytime dining and so we were in the Pride. It was nice to have our options open for dinner, so I am glad we chose the anytime. The formal dinning was good that night. We got a lot of attention but it also wasn't busy. We were allowed to order as many appetizers, main courses and deserts we wanted. There were items that cost money but we stayed away from those. The menu changed each evening and the choices were very limited. Also they are constantly asking you to smile for pictures in the formal dinning room. It can get annoying while trying to eat.

(Calamari as an appetizer, was surprisingly great)

Later on we headed to the Serenity (adult only) deck to sit in the hot tub and watch the stars before bed.

Monday- Avalon, CA (Catalina Island):

What was really great is they give you the option of hanging out your breakfast request on your door before 5 a.m. and you can have it delivered whenever you request. This was a GREAT idea for if you wanted to get off ship at the ports. It made it so we could eat breakfast while getting ready and not have to waste time leaving to go to the buffet. They didn't have a ton of options but basically every morning I ordered coffee, fresh fruit, a bowl of cereal, a bagel and cream cheese. The husband basically ate cereal and coffee (not a big morning eater).

We were really confused about how to un-board the ship to get to Avalon, but eventually they announced it over the loud speaker (we had to open our door to hear the announcements though since there was no speaker in our room). We met down on a lower deck, grabbed a number and waited for it to be called. Once it was called, we piled down roughly 4 flights of stars as one big group (so if stairs are hard for you, you might need to mention that to them when you want to un-board) to get to a ramp that took us out to a little boat. The cruise ship couldn't dock, so little transportation boats had to take us back and forth. Of course they ding you out with your card and take tons of pictures of you before letting you sit on the boat. The little boat got rocked around a lot and was a little sickening, but we made it on shore with no major issues. Once on shore the husband and I decided to rent bikes for $8 an hour. We rode all around Avalon, exploring everything, had a lot of fun too and then walked the water front shops to get souvenirs, ice cream and Mexican food for lunch. We didn't have any excursions planned. We had wanted to snorkel but it was really cold that day, so we decided not too.

One of the things that really helped us when wanting to carry our money on and off the ship was our waterproof pouches we bought. So handy. We had them around our necks, could fit cash, our cards and ID in there perfectly. They cost barely anything on Amazon. It was just a great purchase and we used them at every port to keep our money/ID/cards safe. Often times we tucked them under our shirts so no one could see them. Trust me, great purchase for a cruise for stashing handy money that can't be slipped out of your pocket on accident.

We got back on the ship a few hours before we were supposed to. Now you will go through metal detectors and everything before you can get on board. We brought on 3 bottles of soda though and they didn't say a word. Another tip, bring a backpack or a big purse to place purchases in. My husband brought an empty back pack and it was a life saver. After we got back on board, we explored a bit, took a long nap in our room and watched the sunset again as we sailed from Catalina Island.

This night also happened to be the formal dress night. So I curled my hair and put on my fancy dress I wore to my college graduation. It was fun. I even wore glittery make-up. We went to the formal dinning again, a lot earlier this time and the wait staff did a fun dance for everyone. The food was good. But it was busier, so it took a lot longer to get simple things like drinks and food. The husband got a baked potato and had to bug our waiter to bring him sour cream. It was a little bit chaotic, loud and a mess. They really do shove a LOT of people in the dining areas. After that, we walked around a bit, watched all the crazy people dressed in literally prom dresses and taking formal pictures. It was a little silly. We got our picture taken in the formal dinning room and ended up buying it (for $14.99 again OUCH) but we weren't about to pay out tons of money for fancy pictures. Eventually we made our way to the family friendly comedy show and laughed our butts off. There was plenty of seating even though we were late but we had to tuck ourselves on the side. I discovered a drink called the BBC, coconut AMAZINGNESS, order one, thank me later. We decided to grab better seats for the adult comedy show happening in 45 minutes and drink our drinks. We ended up sharing a big booth with another couple. One thing about cruises is THEY ARE SOCIAL events and most of the people are drunk. Every time we left our room we ended up talking to other people and talking about where we were from etc. As well as dealing with drunk people being far too loud and far too crazy. While smoking on the day out at sea my husband was flashed like 3 times. You just have to laugh it off really. Anyways, the adult only comedy show was good. Short. I was disappointed by how short the skits were. They were literally like 30 minutes long and then you had to wait sometimes over an hour for the next comedian. While we waited for the next comedian we ran to our rooms, changed out of our formal gear, into jeans and caught the tail end of a dance/singing group that was actually pretty amazing. We ended up back at the comedy club after that for the last comedian and we were sound asleep by 1:30 a.m. The comedy club was in the back of the ship so we definitely felt the ocean a little more back there but it wasn't bad. I had moments where it felt weird but they lasted short periods of time.

Tuesday- Ensenada Mexico:

We ordered breakfast in again. Breakfast in bed ROCKS and I miss it already. The night before our amazing room attendant (she did everything, she cleaned our room twice a day, made us towel figures, chatted with us, answered our questions and was just a great attendant) left us a really cool towel figure (swimmer, dolphin, something?), some chocolates and our itinerary for the next day. Those itineraries were a life savor. They basically laid out all activities happening on the ship, instructions for de-embarking at the ports and just everything we needed to know. We would read them every night and circle the things we wanted to do the next day.

Mexico was easier to de-embark because the ship was in a port. You first walk through a little market square but everything there was expensive. So we paid the $2 per person to have a shuttle take us to town and you have to pay $1 per person to get back to the ship. You could walk but it was a lot of ground to cover. To tell you the truth Mexico shocked me, all the streets had huge cracks in them, huge cracks with tons of trash shoved down the cracks. All the cars were busted up and dented like they played roller derby in them. You had to pay for bathrooms but we found a Starbucks with a great bathroom that was free thankfully. All the store keepers are constantly in your face. They are practically trying to drag you into their stores. You want to be polite but really you have to say no and keep walking. There are elderly begging on the streets. Kids trying to sell you handmade wares and the men run the stores. We stayed on the main streets. Wherever there were other cruise goers we stayed with them. The back streets looked unfriendly. We walked up and down the shopping area. It was exhausting though telling everyone no all the time. We ended up bartering for two big handmade blankets, one shot glass (my husband buys a shot glass from everywhere we go), two hats (one for the husband and a Fedora for me), a watch for my husband and a handmade purse for me. There is a language barrier there when bartering and you will soon learn that some stores are more willing than others to drop their prices. In the end we only spent like $40 all together for everything, which you know isn't possible here in California where we live (the blankets alone here would have cost roughly $30-$40). The husband also had two fish tacos (he was dying to try authentic fish tacos and wasn't disappointed), I had a beef taco and we shared a Coke, that was only $8. That I think shocked me the most, so cheap for two people for lunch, I can't even get lunch for me for that cheap here.

We soon got tired of walking around and it was exhausting to say no constantly, so we headed back to the ship. The one regret I have was not going to see the blowhole. I really thought that would be cool and it wasn't that expensive but we ended up skipping it to get back on board early. It is my only regret about Mexico. 

Getting back on the ship meant more metal detectors and scans of your bags. They took all alcohol and held it till you reached Long Beach again. But they didn't question any of our purchases. Once back on the ship, we laid out by the pool, I read and then we took a swim. The pool is FREEZING on the ship and really salty. After that we played some miniature golf, wandered the ship, had a second lunch and took loads of pictures of the port. 

Once we headed out to sea, we decided to have dinner at the buffet instead. One of my BIGGEST complaints is they close down the buffets at different times and some of them close down at like 6:30 p.m. So frustrating. The pizza place is always open though and the pizza wasn't half bad. We went to a weird Hasbro game show, where families on board competed to win board games. Sort of amusing. I wasn't impressed with the entertainment that night. There was pretty much not much going on in the earlier hours and I was too sea sick to go to the one thing I did want to go to that night at 10 p.m. As the night wore on, the boat started moving a LOT. Turns out when we started heading for open waters, we had 19 mph winds and the boat was a rocking. Like really rocking. It was the first time I had to use the hand rails and hold on. I got really sea sick. I spent most of the night being so uncomfortable because every time I tried to lay down the whole bed moved. It was really frustrating and I at that point wanted to go home where my bed didn't move. I spent a good hour out on the balcony and that helped a bit. In the end, sleeping with the balcony door open and propping a lot of pillows around me (they don't skimp on pillows, I slept with 5 each night), I was able to sleep a bit. The next morning I was just as sick. Headache, light headed, woozy feeling and completely anxious. I took a hot shower. I watched the front of the ship on the T.V. (they had a TV channel that showed different parts of the boat), I laid in bed falling in and out of sleep. I kept the door wide open to the balcony. When I later talked to our room attendant (who was the room attendant for our whole floor), she said there was do not disturbs on almost every room door because so many people were sea sick. Great. At least I wasn't the only one. I was really done though. I wanted to go home or have the boat stop rocking.

Wednesday- Day Out At Sea:

Like I said above, I ended up in my room half the day being super sick. The husband would periodically bring me food and water. He would spend some time hanging out with me before wandering the ship. I felt bad but I felt so horrible physically. Eventually the waters calmed down and I got really stir crazy. It was the first time I realized I was stuck on a boat in the middle of the damn ocean. It made me a little claustrophobic to be honest. I really think they should do the day out to sea the first day, seriously, it would help people like me not feel crazy. I ended up leaving the room for dinner. We sat outside in the freezing cold, it helped me eat and not feel so crappy. The husband wanted to try all the food on his last night on board, so he got almost everything in the buffet that was still open. I wasn't impressed. Most of the stuff was mediocre and most of the deserts were nasty (how do you mess up on deserts??). One of the cakes was so dry I about choked on it and the frosting tasted like a cheap powdered sugar mess. Yuck! For how much money we paid, the food choices could have been better.

After dinner, we went to the full dance/singing show, they did hits from the 70's and 80's, it was a great show actually, a lot of fun. They were my favorite act. I happen to have a soft spot for dancing and singing acts, but they were truly amazing. 

We also went to check our card balances with guest services on the last night. Now let me tell you something about guest services, the line is LONG no matter when you go, which is annoying. We stood in line for 20 minutes. It was the last night and you would think they would have been a little more prepared for a long line. But they only had two people working, one of which kept having to pop over the priority line (Grand Suites). They require the main account holder is there to sign everything. We got a tip from season cruisers that they pull out tips for EVERYONE for all days from our cards automatically unless we ask them not to. Which meant we tipped for the formal dinning staff for two nights that we didn't eat there and we tipped the buffet staff for the two nights we didn't eat there. Also my husband had purchased one unlimited soda sticker for the entire cruise ($28), which we shared but they charged .14 cents each time. Ridiculous. Not to mention we tipped the bartenders a crazy amount per drink. They take out a lot of automatic gratuity, be careful. We ended up leaving the room attendant tips fully on there because she earned them (and we left her an extra $10 on the counter in our room the first night). We did want half of the formal dinning tips taken off and half of the buffet tips taken off (we tipped room service with cash). The guy was super rude about it. But we explained calmly that we didn't feel it was necessary to tip for services we didn't use. I was really upset how much grief he gave us, I mean, we only ate at formal dining twice and the buffet twice for dinner. Come on now. Plus the buffet was constantly closing down early and the formal dining the second night was terrible service. It was a pain. He acted like tips should just fall out of the sky. Nope, I am not tipping for a service that wasn't provided, not after paying a huge amount for my room and giving out cash tips to the few people that went above and beyond. Eventually he did it. Rude or not. We ended up with a little extra cash on our cards, so we wandered the ship to shop a bit. The prices were HUGE when we first got on but the husband ended up finding me a birthday gift for super cheap the last night because all the prices had drastically dropped. We also bought one picture (they had taken so many) as a souvenir and got a few more drinks. It was easy enough to get re-imbursed for any cash left over after the cruise but it was also nice to splurge a bit on the last night when we knew we were going to be alright.

Thursday- De-embarking to go Home:

We did the easy de-embarkment according to the flyer they dropped off in our room the night before. No one told us which one was fastest, so we went what they said was the easiest route. That meant tagging our luggage the night before, packing up all the big bags and leaving it outside our room by 11 p.m. that night to be taken out of the ship by the crew once we reached Long Beach again. We filled out our customs forms. We had everything ready. We had thought we could wander the ship, have breakfast and waste some time before our flight. We were told it would take forever to get through customs, so we purposely booked a later flight (5 p.m.). Turns out they wanted us out of our rooms by 8:30 a.m., stuffed us all in a big area to wait (for what seemed like FOREVER and in reality was like an hour or so) while the people who were bringing their own luggage off the ship went through customs first. We finally got in line for customs, it was literally a 3 minute process (showed birth certificates, yet again didn't need marriage certificate, ID's and our form claiming what we bought). We were off the boat by 10:00 a.m. We had hoped they would have lockers for our luggage so we could go see the Queen Mary but they didn't. Come on Carnival, make it convenient for those of us that have later flights please. There was no lockers, no activities, nothing to do but head to the airport. Luckily there was taxi's there and it only cost $30 as a flat rate to get to the airport. We ended up sitting at the airport from 11 a.m. all the way till 4:40 p.m. when our flight boarded. CRAPPY! Seriously. It was so freaking boring. We were so exhausted. We just wanted to be at home with our dogs. It was like 85 degrees. We needed showers. We had been traveling for 4 days. It was the longest 6 hours ever. So my suggestion, book an earlier flight. It won't take THAT long to get off the cruise and you can always take your own luggage off for an earlier de-embarkment time. 

Random Tips:

Drinks are expensive. Bring your own. You can bring one bottle of wine and a 12 pack of soda. I would do it. We won't waste our money on an unlimited soda card again.

There will be lots of drunk people. So if you don't like drunk people, a cruise isn't for you.

It is all about socializing. Literally every time you leave your room people will talk to you. The husband is super social and I am only partially social. So he LOVED it and made friends everywhere he went. I struggled with it a bit because it was exhausting to constantly tell people where I was from, make small talk etc. But all in all, usually everyone is super nice.

People don't watch their kids. Most parents set their kids loose on the boat and don't watch them closely. So you will have to deal with them running around, taking over the pool most nights and cutting in line in the buffet. Go during the off season. There will still be kids but not as many.

Buy waterproof pouches to wear around your neck for your money and ID.

Learn the ship and wander around with the mini maps they give you at first, it is super easy to get turned around.

Limit your drinking if you are smart. It can really add up fast. We only drank a few times but it still costs us a bunch. Beers were $5.75 and mixed drinks were $8.95.

If you are a smoker, there are designated areas to smoke and don't buy your cigs on ship, they will cost an arm and leg (I am not a smoker but my husband is).

The pictures they take are great, but they cost $14.99 each, that is a huge amount, so my suggestion is only pick one or two out that you want on the last night after you have seen all the pictures.

All in all it wasn't a bad vacation. The room service food sucked, so I wouldn't suggest EVER ordering that unless it was for breakfast (the breakfast was great). The lunch buffets and dinner buffets were about Homestyle quality (not amazing, not terrible). They will nickle and dime the heck out of you. Make sure you don't order or do anything that has a dollar symbol next to it. We were smart about our money and really watched what was being charged to us. Some people sat at guest services in shock over $600-$700 bills. Alcohol costs a LOT. I felt rushed at each port because we had time limits, so I didn't book excursions for that reason. Not to mention the excursions were grossly expensive for what they offered. The entertainment was actually pretty disappointing. They didn't have nearly enough shows schedules or diversity. I thought there would be. The last night and a half of sea sickness was terrible. I know for a fact I couldn't do anything longer than another 4 day cruise. I was going crazy after 3 days. I was ready for solid ground and the freedom to move around more. I was very disappointed in how they basically didn't care about us once the morning of de-embarkment showed up. Once they couldn't get anymore money from you, they were done with you.

After Cruise:

Something no one mentioned to us was how you would feel after the cruise. While we were sitting at the airport we noticed that we kept feeling off balanced randomly. It got a lot worse at home. We had headaches and it still felt like we were out at sea. Bad. We both ended up in bed really early because it felt horrible. At one point I woke up convinced the bed was rocking and had to place both feet on the ground to steady myself. Something about the inner ear thinks you are still moving and overrides what your eyes are telling your brain (which is that you aren't moving). This doesn't go away right away. The next day we still had it BAD. While we were in the car it was fine but the minute we stopped driving, we would wobble. We thought we were going to bonk our heads. Being in the shower was the worst, I had to sit down at one point while washing my hair. The land sickness, as they call it, lasted a few days. The first two were the worst with headaches, feeling light headed, the world tilting and even stomach aches. Our bodies were really out of whack. I am so glad I had a weekend to recover before heading back to work. I still feel it at really random moments (in the shower or when I am bending over) but it isn't as bad anymore. Just be warned, it takes a bit to get your land legs back underneath you and the feeling can be pretty yucky. 

So there you have it, my very long drawn out review of my cruise. Will I take another one in the near future? NO. I think they are great for cheap vacations and a great way to see multiple ports in one shot (without having to drive) but the sickness on that day out at sea, the wooziness afterwards, the amount of decent shows and the quality of food wasn't worth it for me. Maybe down the road I will take another one, probably with another cruise company to see if the other one's might be better or worse. It wasn't so bad I would never go back. But not again in the near future.