My Quest to Run a Half Marathon (and not die)

For anyone who doesn’t know, Aaron asked me to run a half marathon in the same sentence that he asked me to be his girlfriends three years ago (“yeah!……SURE” was my response).  In the meantime I managed to marry him and celebrate 1.5 anniversaries without actually having to run one.  I’ve run a pretty impressive 5-K, and a pretty impressive 10-K, but at this point in my life, 6.2 miles is the farthest I’ve ever run at one time.

Running a 7 minute, 45 second mile at Will Run For Beer

But a deal is a deal, and I did give my word.  I am officially a registered participant in my first half marathon.  But, if I have to torture myself with running 13.1 miles, at least I will have the San Francisco Bay as a beautiful backdrop to distract me!

I am CRAZY about San Francisco.  I was introduced the this spectacular and foggy city at the age of 7 and immediately feel in love with the tall buildings and the Japanese Tea Garden and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I loved it so much that when it came to college selection time, I chose a school only a short 30 minute drive away from the city.  For 4 wonderful years I had the ability to spend the afternoon browsing Union Square and birthday dinners usually involved a restaurant in North Beach.  And then I graduated in 2007, at the start of California’s economic downfall, and had to return home in order to actually get a job.

Alas, I am 4 years removed from the Bay Area and close to 2 years removed from my last visit.  I am long overdue for a fresh piece of sour dough bread.  So, when it came time to decide on a half marathon to run, even though we looked at several options in several states including Florida, Oregon, and Louisiana, we stumbled upon a race in San Francisco in November and we knew that was the one we wanted to do.  PLUS, at a much lower elevation than Albuquerque, it should be far easier to run.

davehodson.com

 

The US Half Marathon (http://www.ushalf.com/) is a 13.1 mile course along the San  Francisco Bay, and over the Golden Gate Bridge.  According to the website, my relatively inexpensive fee includes a t-shirt (yes!), a finisher’s medal to prove I actually went though with the crazy adventure, and a post race festival that best be including some mimosas and donuts (I think running a half marathon at least warrants a nice fatty cheat meal).

Jessica R. on yelp.com

 

I don’t officially have to start distance training until August when temperatures start cooling down from the 99 degrees that we’ve been seeing, but I’m planning on  doing some local races ahead of time including the Duke City Half Marathon in October (so the US Half won’t technically be my first official half marathon, but at least I get a practice run in).

adymarathon.wordpress.com

 

Do I even have to mention that without any training Aaron will be able to run that race and STILL probably place in the top 10%?  If only I were so talented.  I’ll be lucky if I can make it through the race without passing out on the side of the road (or having the speed police come and pick me up because I’m going too slow).  Either way, come mid-November I hope to add a 13.1 bumper sticker to my car, having officially fulfilled my relationship obligations!

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Dog Days of Summer

My baby puppy is turning 11 weeks tomorrow, and he has been in our home for 2 weeks.  I’m amazed at what an amazing little creature he is turning out to be, and Aaron and I are having a blast with him.  COMPLETELY amused at his ability to remain entertained after 30 minutes of fetch.  Thus far he is not at all destructive (happy to report that all my shoes, curtains, power cords, and rugs are still intact), and he is very sweet and playful.  We are making very SLOW progress toward housetraining, but it is still a work in progress.

He is growing so fast, and even though I know Westies turn into adorable adults, I’m sad that he won’t be a puppy forever.  All I can do is take lots of pictures and enjoy his cuteness and curiosity.   And wonder how real mothers deal with their sweet babies growing up. 

Trying to eat the camera

One Final Thought on Jamaica

Exactly 4 weeks ago I was fresh off the plane in Jamaica.  It never ceases to amaze me how fast time passes by.  I looked forward to this vacation for months and it has already been a month since we were there.  I’ve been holding on to this post for awhile, mostly because I have a little white furball who consumes my life, but also maybe a little because once this is up, then Jamaica is over.  I’ve already developed the pictures, but up the souvenirs, and finally had to get a pedicure redo after my little toe flowers started to peel off yesterday.

As a recap, my other Jamaica posts are about what to pack, staying at a Sandals Resort, and a guide to all those fruity Jamaican cocktails.

So, here is my last post on Jamaica….our very small venture into Montego Bay.

As recent at 2005, Jamaica had the worst crime rate in the world.  In fact, most travel sites recommend that tourists stay safely within the walls of their resort after dark.  This is not only recommended in the country’s largest city, Kingston, but also in Montego Bay.  As Jamaica’s third most populous city, Montego Bay has a population of under 100,000, but has the busiest airport thanks to the tourist industry.

Despite the risk, Aaron and I made the decision to leave the safe compounds of the resort and venture into the real world for a bit.  TIP: Instead of taking a taxi in, we took the free shuttle to another Sandal’s resort (Sandal’s Carlyse) and walked from there into town.  The half mile walk from the hotel to the main street, “Hip Strip” was more of an inner city experience.  Lots of people sitting on the porch outside drug stores and businesses, lots of people driving erratically, and lots of people gawking at me in my big floppy hat.  Hip Strip is the “tourist approved” spot of Montego Bay.

Bobsled Cafe

To say that we really explored the city would be like saying that we explored Las Vegas without making it off the main strip.  We were in a highly tourist centered area.  For example, we walked by the Jamaican Bobsled Café (owned by Margaritaville), Harley Davidson Jamaica (come on…really?), and Margariataville itself which we had seen from the backside the day before on our Catamaran Cruise.

Harley Davidson Jamaica

Even that small venture into the real world was kind of stressful.  Jamaicans are amazing sales people.  Every person wants you to come inside their Jamaican store and they will offer you a special price.  Men wait on the side of the road offering their taxi services.  If you say no, then they suddenly become tour guides wanting to show you around Montego Bay.  People sell CD’s out of their backpack.  We were asked if we “Bob Marley,” which I can only assume was a reference to smoking pot.  We got lured into some back alley flea market where I learned about what the colors of Jamaica (and the colors of Rastafarian) represent.  The back alley itself and the people in it turned out to be ok, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend going off the beaten path.  With all of the interesting characters out there,  I didn’t want to pull my camera out too much though, so I didn’t get a lot of great pictures.

One of the main reasons we wanted to go into town was to get some good deals on souvenirs and folk art.  In all our travels, rather than bring back souvenir spoons or shot glasses or t-shirts, the Lavenders like to decorate our home with reminders of the places we’ve been.  We were in search of something less mass produced and more authentic.

Our artisan giraffe, Jethro

Jamaicans are a bartering culture, which I LOVE.  You get to name your price on anything.  It is like a 25% off sale wherever you! Obviously the resort store and the airport stores aren’t negotiable, but any street vendor or even drug store is willing to work with you in order to make a sale.   We did our research by stopping by the resort store and pricing items, so when we were bartering, we knew the estimated retail value of each.

For example, a similar version of this vase cost $40 in the resort shop (plus 17.5% sales tax), but I got it from a street vendor for $30, no tax.  Another great thing: everyone takes American currency! They name their prices in American dollars, and they give you back change in American dollars.  I don’t know if this would be the case further into town, but Jamaicans are well versed in the exchange rate.

We did exchange some of our currency as souvenirs.  Imagine our surprise when our $10 USD converted to $865 Jamaican dollars.  While the exchange rate seems to fluctuate, you can get anywhere between 85-90 Jamaican dollars to every US dollar. This explains why we saw lunch advertised for $1500.

Another glaringly apparent aspect of Montego Bay is the poverty.  Stepping outside the beautiful, luxurious resort is a wonderful reminder that while I see this place as paradise, other people live in abandoned buildings with no doors or windows.  I’d like to think that by buying merchandise straight from the artisans and local shop owners, I’m helping support the local economy.   This island depends on tourism to survive, and it is a little heartbreaking to realize that when our economy suffers, they suffer and they have very little control over the situation.

I'd like to think these cannons fought off pirates...

Right in the middle of Hip Strip...a beautifully peaceful cemetary

Red Stripe!

So, there it is.  My Jamaica vacation has been photographed and documented.   I’m glad I went, though I don’t know if I would go back unless I had a reason.  With all the places in the world that I haven’t seen, I think I can check this little piece of paradise off my list and head to the next destination.

Summertime!

It is safe to say that I REALLY hate the cold.  No matter how much people try to argue with me, I would much rather be uncomfortably warm without a way to make it better than cold and wearing 10 layers of clothing.  As a matter of fact, I turned on my office space heater yesterday when it was 95 degrees outside because I was a little chilly.

My bedtime outfit this past winter (taken by Aaron without my permission)

So, it is with extreme pleasure that I announce the arrival of SUMMER! Granted, it has been pretty warm here for about a month (don’t get me started on the freezing early May temperatures), and also granted that I’ve already had my summer beach vacation to Jamaica, but there is something so satisfying about knowing that for the next 3 months, I won’t have to worry about getting cold.  I will not be confined to my living room in order to stay warm, and leaving the house won’t involve putting on 10 layers of clothing.

Alas, summer only lasts so long, and I want to make sure that I take full advantage of the sunshine and fresh air.  I usually make a season “to-do” list.  In fall, I have to make sure I buy insane amounts of gourds to decorate with.  In winter, I have to make sure to do last-minute Christmas shopping.  Here is what I hope to accomplish this summer:

1)      Dine al fresco as much as possible.

I don’t care if it is in my backyard or at a restaurant patio.  Food tastes better outdoors.  The bugs agree with me.

2)      Spend an afternoon on a lake.

This might be easier said then done seeing as how I live in the desert and lakes are hard to come by.  And we don’t have a boat.  But nothing says summer like enjoying some chips, salsa, and margaritas in the middle of water…even if it is on a floating noodle.

I'm jealous of Washington Lakes.

3)      New Mexico Wine Festival

Every Labor Day Weekend the winos of New Mexico unite to sample the state’s finest vintages.  Since the age of 21, I have happily partaken in the festivities.

4)      Fireworks.

I am a sucker for fireworks.  I told Aaron I don’t care what we do on the 4th of July as long as I can see a firework show, preferably orchestrated to music while eating a giant funnel cake.

5)      Accomplish gardening success

We were waiting to come back from our vacation before we started doing some gardening, but now that we’re back, its time to start getting some flowers in those flower boxes. And I am determined to prove that palm trees can in fact survive in a dry, dry, dry climate.

 

6)      Go on a road trip

Nothing says summer like cruising down the open road with the windows down.  I don’t know where we’d go, but I’d settle for a trip to California.  

7)      Go whitewater rafting

The rivers nearby aren’t exactly brimming with excitement right now because we haven’t had rain in about a year.  While this should indicate a nice leisurely float down, in reality this means getting stuck on river rocks.

8)      Go to the Zoo

I actually think Albuquerque has a decent zoo.  I haven’t been in about 5 years, so I think I am long overdue for a visit.  Bring on the Koalas!

9)      Practice my golfing skills

Or rather, acquire some golfing skills. 

10)   Practice my tennis skills

Or rather, acquire some tennis skills

11)   Crash a pool party

I don’t have a pool.  I don’t have friends who live in apartment complexes.  We aren’t quite at the socio-economic level to afford a membership at the country club (trust me, I looked), and the nearest hotel pool party is a couple of hours away (and not really in a town I’d want to go to for a pool party…Google Espanola).  We may have to be strategic about how we get our pool fix.  It may or may not involve being “guests” at another hotel.

Photo by Paul Nguyen. I wish I had this pool at my disposal all the time

12)   Get my puppy potty trained

This needs to happen soon or else I will lose my sanity.  I’m definitely looking forward to the day that Giuseppe can indicate his need to go outside rather than me spending half my day out there with him, or cleaning up his little surprises.

I know you're cute...but can you just pee already?

So, Happy Summer! May you have 3 months of sunshine, BBQ’s, and pool parties!

Plethora of Puppy Pictures From a Proud (and very tired) Dog Mom

Trying to respond to my emails at work

I truthfully don’t know how women work and have kids and manage to get anything done.  These first few days with Giuseppe have validated the stay-at-home lifestyle.  And wine.  If possible, I am a bigger believer in the powers of wine than I was 5 days ago.  And I don’t even have half the obligations of a real mom. 

For me, the next month at work is going to be a doozy.   Meanwhile, I get up three times a night with Giuseppe (welcome to the stereotype:  Aaron doesn’t even wake up while all this commotion is going on), and spend every non working hour outside with him in an attempt to house train, or following him around trying to teach him the difference between good chew (Martha Stewart bone) and bad chew (rugs, plants, puppy pads, paper, toes, clothes, leashes, power cords, etc. etc. etc.).   Westies are known for their intelligence, their independence, and their intense stubbornness, and I completely agree on all counts. 

The laundry went unfolded for a few days.  The house is a mess.  I haven’t exercised since getting back from Jamaica, but I’m losing weight because I don’t have time to eat more than a slice of cheese, a handful of peanuts, and 3 glasses of wine a day.  I have 2 other blog posts that I wanted to post but both are only about half way done.  I’ve been responsible for another creature for 4 days and I already feel like I’ve lost all “me” time.  At least in a couple of months Giuseppe should be relatively self-sufficient and I should be able to leave the room without causing him to have  a major crisis.

 

Meanwhile when I’m not discussing organizational budgets and parliamentary procedure, all I talk about is the puppy and all I do is take pictures of how cute the puppy is.  I will never again judge moms who ramble about their newborns as if they are the first newborn to ever take a bath or burp or whatever.  I feel like my puppy is the cutest and the smartest and the most well-behaved.  Luckily, he is also starting to become quite the model.  Despite all the long nights and tired, often frustrating days cleaning up puppy pee from the kitchen floor, all I have to do is look at this cute little guy, and I am completely happy with our decision to welcome him into our family.

Asleep with his tongue hanging out

 

 

Under the dishwasher

 

Our first bath

 

Wet puppy

 

I don't know if he walks around the block as much as he is carried

 

 

Providing a ride to his froggy friend

 

Fell asleep in his water bowl

 

Cannot handle the cute. This is why I can't get mad at him

Welcome Home, Giuseppe!

Yesterday evening, after a 9 week wait, we drove out to the middle of nowhere (like cows everywhere and dirt roads with no name middle of nowhere) to pick up our little puppy, Giuseppe, aka Seppter.

Giuseppe is a 9 week old West Highland Terrier (Westie for short).  All week we’ve been reading about Westie rearing because it is very important to us that Giuseppe is a good dog citizen and we want to make sure we help him be the best little Westie he can be.  This book, “The West Highland Terrier” comes with a training DVD and is written by a lady with a sense of humor (watch out that your Jimmy Choo’s don’t become Jimmy Chews) so it is actually enjoyable to read.  We got it at PetsMart, and they have similar books on a lot of different breeds.

About 18 hours in, our thoughts on Giuseppe so far:

 

Trying to eat the camera

He is GREAT with people: He has met my family (my mom LOVES this dog and may steal it if I leave him unattended), he was fine in PetsMart, and this morning we took him on his first al fresco dining experience at Flying Star Café (check out other Albuquerque Pet Friendly businesses at www.abqdog.com) where he was literally the star of the morning. A nice worker lady actually came outside to see him and gave him a bone on the house.

 

Playing with my dad

Being good at Flying Star

He sleeps a lot: In fact, he found himself a corner in the kitchen with a little entourage of toys and is sleeping right now (as is Aaron, even though I was the one who got up with the puppy last night).  He is still very much a baby, and he tires out after about an hour of excitement.  Aaron took him for a walk this morning and he made it to the end of the street before laying down on the sidewalk.  He also managed to sleep through the night and didn’t ask to be let out of the crate until 4:30.  We were worried about separation anxiety since he’s lived his short life in close proximity with his mom and sister (named Martini!), but he barely whimpered at all thanks to a blanket we brought back with mom’s scent on it.

 

He pees a lot: His record so far is 4 times in one hour.  Unfortunately, we have yet to get him to go in his designated places.   Good thing he is cute, because we can’t get mad at him. Oddly enough he doesn’t seem too interested in relieving himself outside.

 

Squirrel!

Barking dogs scare the living daylights out of him: He is fine with dogs….until they bark.  Then he gets petrified.

He likes to eat wood and paper: He especially loves the redwood chips we have in the backyard.  He is more interested in eating his puppy pad than using it for its intended purpose. He likes the bacon treats too, but I’m sure he’d be perfectly satisfied with paper towel rewards.

 

He likes his t-shirt: Wearing his t-shirt increases his cute factor by 10000, and he didn’t have a problem with us putting it on him or taking it off, so I have a feeling some stylin outfits are in Giuseppe’s future.  I also found a Burberry inspired collar at PetsMart for $9.99, so he is on his way to becoming quite the dapper dude.

 

 

We are mostly just excited that 18 hours in he seems to trust us and like us, and he does really well in social situations.  He is picking up good habits very fast (we’ve already made tons of progress in the “sit” department), and the transition is going much smoother than I ever imagined.  Now if we can just get him to pee where he’s supposed to, we will be all set!

 

But Why Is the Rum Gone? A Guide to Jamaican Drinks

Through all the vampires, ninjas and zombies, I have remained a devoted Pirate Person.  I know  in real life pirates were (and still are) very bad, violent people, but from my first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean at age 5, Disney has convinced me that being a pirate might be a pretty cool lifestyle.

One of the ways I got to live out my Pirate life was of course to fly to the Caribbean and drink rum.  Jamaica has no shortage of rum or rum drinks.  Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! Plus, the house wine was Beringer, so switching to rum was kind of a necessity.

RUM BY THE BOTTLE

Sandals carried El Dorado rum.  It was served at the bars, it was the bottle in our in-room stocked bar, and it was given away as prizes for all sorts of contests.  I even won my own bottle! I won’t tell you what I had to do to win it.  What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica.

El Dorado tastes like cheap rum.  Luckily we were clued in by another guest and started asking for the “top shelf” version….El Dorado 12 Year Rum which was waaaay better.  Because Sandals is all-inclusive, you pay the same for the cheap stuff as you do for the top shelf stuff, so why not get the better of the two?

We did our Rum shopping at the duty-free stores at the Montego Bay airport.  It was cheaper there than at the resort shop, plus you don’t have to pay that pesky UNREASONABLY HIGH Jamaican sales tax rate of 17.5%.

You can get rum that is more of a souvenir than drinkable:

You can get really expensive fancy rum:

Or you can spring for some Appleton’s like we did.  Appleton’s is probably the most iconic Jamaican rum, and is actually available at our corner liquor store (which we didn’t realize until we came back).  But it is tasty, and cheaper to buy in Jamaica than here.

NOTE: You are only allowed to bring back 1 litre of alcohol per person back into the US.  I suggest if you win a bottle of the cheap stuff, pass it off to some appreciative resort guest who doesn’t have the fully stocked bar, and then buy 2 bottles of something better.  ALSO: Once you get back in the country, you will have to go through security again if you have another flight, so if you do buy duty-free at the airport, remember to stash your bottle in your checked luggage that you get back at customs.

RUM DRINKS:

Going to a tropical location and not getting a fruity cocktail seems rather counterintuitive.  Sure they have about 500 calories each and will rapidly cause you to lose your bikini abs by the end of your vacation, but nothing says “vacation” quite like a colorful drink topped with an umbrella or pineapple slice.

We obviously weren’t thinking about much of anything including watching the bartenders make our drinks so we could steal their secrets and make our own at home, but here’s what we’ve come up with.

Miami Vice:

This was by far my favorite of all the drinks we tried.  We figured out that it was strawberry daiquiri and pina colada topped off with dark rum.  The day after we got back from our trip, we immediately bought the supplies and made our own.  The transition back to reality is a tough one.

 

American Flag:

As far as we can tell, it is a Miami Vice with Blue Curacao mixed in.  Curacao makes everything cooler.

Jamaican Hummingbird:

This was my first drink at the resort, and apparently it is a Sandal’s specialty.  It is like a smoothie with rum.  I liked it, but I don’t think I had another.

 

Purple Rain

I don’t know what this is, but it was recommended to us by a New Yorker.  It was also disguising unless you like the taste of cough syrup.  I drank half and then let the nice man take it away.

 

Sex on the Boat:

This was the specialty cocktail of our catamaran cruise.  It tasted a lot like Sex on the Beach but it apparently is a lot smoother.  The Rum Runner seemed to be similar in taste.

 

Margaritaville Rum Smoothie Thing

First off, I will say that if our catamaran cruise didn’t stop at Margaritaville I would NOT have gone.  I did not go all the way to Jamaica to go to Margaritaville.  That being said, jumping on a giant trampoline in the middle of the bay was pretty cool.  Anyway, I don’t remember what this was called, but the rum is Appleton’s, and the drink was tasty.  Unfortunately we paid $37 for 2 of them.  You best be giving me the souvenir glass for that price.  Yikes.

Steel Bottom

I did not try this, but the guys seemed to give it high marks.  It is a glass of Red Stripe with a shot of rum.  Sounds yummy.  NOT.

Jamaican Coffee

Like Irish coffee, but with rum cream instead of Irish cream.  Rum cream is also good on the rocks.  Or drizzled over the buffet dessert selections.

Red Stripe

This is not a rum drink.  And it isn’t exactly exotic seeing as how you can probably pick it up at your local 7-11.  It is also not the world’s best beer.  It is the Budweiser of Jamaica.  But for some reason, in Jamaica, it tastes AMAZING.  They also have the lite version for those girls (and guys) wanting a break from the 500 calorie rum drinks.

By tomorrow I will hopefully have come to the full realization that the blue Caribbean will not be outside my window when I wake up.  I will conclude my Jamaica series with a look at Montego Bay the city, or at least what we saw of it on our brief adventure outside the resort gates.  And then I will revert to talking nonstop about my new puppy, Giuseppe who we will get on Friday!

I Had The Time of My Life (Cue Cheesy Commercial)

Part 2: The Sandals Experience

When friend Katie suggested Sandals for our group vacation, my first thought was of Michael from The Office being excited about his all-inclusive Sandals vacation.  That, and the overly cheesy “Time of Your Life” commercials that tend to play every few minutes on early morning Bravo programming (I get my Housewives fix when I can).

So, even though I try and live my life by “What What Michael Scott NOT Do,” we ended up at Sandals Montego Bay.  After stalking the resort page on tripadvisor.com for 4 months, I was worried.  There were a lot of mixed reviews.  Some people have great experiences, some people would rather coat themselves in sugar and stand in a room full of blood thirsty mosquitoes then spend another in another night at a Sandals resort.

A little background on Sandals:  The Company operates several resorts around the Caribbean including Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Turks and Caicos.  Their family friendly version is called Beaches, but Sandals is adult couples only (in Jamaica, couples is restricted to heterosexual couples only.  I didn’t know this at the time of booking).  The big gimmick is of course the all-inclusiveness.  Anyone who has spent $10 for a Heineken at a Hawaiian resort can appreciate ordering drinks from a bar and not getting a tab.  Was this resort as nice as those Hawaiian resorts? Heck no.  But it definitely wasn’t a hole-in-the-wall, and we never ran out of things to do. Our experience wasn’t bad at all.

Sandals has three levels of packages.  We went with Concierge service which is the midrange package.  You can get the basic package, or you can upgrade to Butler Service (which we think is worth it after seeing it in action).  Concierge service allowed us to check-in faster, make reservations easier, and have a fully stocked bar in our hotel room included.  Apparently staff was also more willing to help us out than people who didn’t upgrade to concierge.  The room also came with a 4 poster bed, bathrobes, and a Jacuzzi tub. You can check out www.sandals.com for more specifics.

If you are considering Sandals or Montego Bay, here are some of highlights.

The Good:

Airport Lounge:
While we waiting for a ride to the resort, we got to sit in comfy couches, got complimentary Red Stripe (the official beer of Jamaica), and got to hang out with Cookie Monster! The resort itself was only about 5 minutes from the airport which was pretty convenient considering some other resorts were a 2 hour drive away.  Unfortunately this also made for some brief, loud, plane moments.  You also get complementary transport to the resort but you are expected to tip the driver and baggage handlers who are not Sandals employees.

All-Inclusiveness:
Food (from cheeseburgers to Sushi and caviar), drinks (including top shelf liquors if you request them), entertainment and activities (like beach volleyball tournaments and concerts), and water sports including water skiing, kayaking, hobie sailing, and snorkeling are included.   This means never having to carry cash or worry about waiting around for a bill.  Tips are included too.  NOTE: excursions, room service (unless you get a Butler), resort shop products, photos, and spa servicesaren’t included.

HUGE Beach:
We always got a beach chair, and we always had our own ocean spot. The beach was immaculate and staff made sure that cups/plates were picked up promptly, and that the sand was combed multiple times per day.

The Staff:
Jamaicans are such wonderful people.  Funny, outgoing, and full of personality.  We noticed that the resort staff tended to be a young, attractive bunch probably hired as much for their appearance as for their personality.  Many people at the resort developed friendships with staff members and we even saw some newly arrived guests greet staff that they obviously met on a previous visit.  That being said, service is SLOW.  There were times when we had to wait annoyingly long between courses, not to mention the hour and a half we had to wait before getting our luggage delivered to our room after check-in.

Other Guests:
I don’t know how much this changes from week to week, but the resort was full of beautiful, young, friendly people.  There was a good mix of ages including a great couple we met celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, but I would say the crowd was younger (20s-30s) and full of energy.  Everyone was extremely friendly, and actually pretty clean and respectful.  Public toilets were flushed, nobody stole our stuff when we were off splashing in the ocean, and nobody cut in line or acted entitled.

Basically, aside from the luggage delivery incident, I have nothing to complain about.  If you are used to higher end accommodations, you might find some of the amenities subpar, or if you are looking for a secluded, peaceful vacation without noise you will probably get annoyed by the party people.  If you like huge, lush poolscapes, you might think the ones here are small and boring.  If you are looking for a culinary experience, or even some authentic island cuisine, you aren’t going to get it here (though the food was really good and diverse…just not 5-star cooking).  I would definitely recommend this place, and we are absolutely looking into celebrating Aaron’s big 3-0 next year at another Sandals resort on a different island.

What to Pack on Your Jamaica Vacation

Welcome to Paradise

So, I realized that I haven’t updated or even obsessively looked at the stats on my blog for over a month.  Since this probably isn’t the best blogging practice, I figured I better hop back in the game and start writing again now that the Jamaican vacation is 48 hours over and I don’t have to work out quite as much or scramble around trying to get ready to leave the country.  Plus, next week we get our puppy, Giuseppe (!) and I may have to fall off the planet while I play responsible dog mom for a few weeks.

So I spent the last week in Jamaica.  AMAZING.  There really is too much to write about for one blog post, so this is the first in a series of travelling to the land of sun and reggae.

PART 1: What to Pack on Your Jamaican Vacation

I am of the “always be prepared” school of thinking.  While this doesn’t apply to say leaving, 15 minutes early in case of unforeseen circumstances like car accidents or unusually long security lines, I do always try and have any necessary products that might come in handy.  This is why the bags I carry are usually bigger than I am.

Before cramming everything into my suitcase (which Aaron graciously uncrammed than packed again in organized fashion), this was my inventory.  I had shoes for walking on the beach, shoes for walking around the airport, shoes for casual evenings, shoes for more formal evenings, and shoes for working out (which I did once!).  I had several outfits to match each possible
scenario including sweaters in case it got cold, 5 days worth of workout clothes, and of course more than enough bikinis which did come in handy for morning swimming and evening hot tubbing.

Here are my other “must-have” items for vacationing on in the Caribbean.

1. Sunscreen: The sun is brutal.  Even after multiple applications, we still got a little red.  We fared far better than the average sunburn person we saw walking around.  Tan is cute.
Peeling Lobster is not.   Bringing it from home is cheaper than buying it at the resort shop.

The drink is pretty...and the manicure is intact!

2. Gel Manicure: after hearing rave reviews, I got one myself and I am a devoted fan.  It dries almost instantly, and looks just like regular polish.  After
a week of splashing in the ocean (not to mention an intense pre-vacation house cleaning), my manicure is still completely intact!

One look down, and these are lost at the bottom of the sea!

3. Cheap Sunglasses:  My $80 Coach Outlet sunglasses got submerged in the pool, were worn in the middle of the ocean, got rained on, were left in the sand, and in general got a good beating.  If I had worn an expensive pair, I might be pretty mad about the damage that was done.

4. Underwater Camera: I found them for about $11 at Target while they were $20 at the resort.  This ensures you can have some crazy underwater pictures OR some good pictures of your snorkeling adventure. Equally awesome: Friend Katie lent us her camera sleeve protector thing that she found on Amazon.com which allows you to take your regular camera
underwater.

5. Dramamine:  4 out of the 8 people who went on boats got motion sickness.  Granted, we are a pretty landlocked bunch, but this little pill made the very bumpy Catamaran
Cruise much more enjoyable.

6. Curl Enhancing Mousse: The air is humid.  You are on a beach.  If you are trying to comb your hair, you will not only waste valuable beach time, but you will also have curly/wavy/kinky hair in minutes anyway.  I use Herbal Essences Totally Twisted, and my straight hair transforms into kind of wavy hair with the help of the humidity.

7. Insect Repellant: Paradise has a price, and in this case it is mosquitoes.  I didn’t use insect repellant, and 37 itchy little bites later, I kind of wish I had.

8. Snorkel Set: Yes, they have them at the resort, but I can’t help thinking of the yucky person who bit down on that mouth piece before I did.  We got ours at Costco for about $40 each.

9. A willingness to try new things and have a ton of fun!: During this trip I conquered my fear of snorkeling and water tubing, learned how to sail, and made friends with people from all over the country.  I had an absolutely wonderful time, and we are already dreaming of our next Caribbean vacation!