December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

Christmas this year began with the Open House at the governor's mansion and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas Concert, both of which were amazing. We had a nice dinner before the open house and then took a picture by one of the many trees in the mansion with the governor and Greg. I have never been to the Governor's mansion before, but let me tell you, it's breathtaking in it's ornate-nous and beauty. It was built in 1902 and is mostly untouched from that time. There are beautiful murals on the walls with scenes from around Utah and the furniture is so classic and elegant. It was such a huge and stunning home. The Christmas Concert with David Archuletta and the MoTab was equally as amazing. The Church does such a fabulous job making things like that so nice. David was so cute- like a little teddy bear and the audience loved him. There were great dancers and the music was beautiful and we got treated to awesome front and center seats. We also got to meet Pres. Uchtdorf before the concert began. He was so nice and has such a beautiful wife!

Helping Daddy put the angel on the tree.

Enjoying the finished product.

Dinner before the open house at the Governor's Mansion.

Amelia and Belle giving each other loves at the open house.

Some of the sweet Bell grandkids (Molly, Oliver, Amelia, Lucy, Belle, and Rex).

In front of the huge Christmas tree in the foyer at the mansion.

We had a really nice, low-key Christmas this year. We went up and stayed at the Bells for the weekend. The kids got one present from Santa and a couple from Mom and Dad and then one each from all their grandparents. They were in heaven. But, for some reason, Oliver (now 4 years old) still kinda doesn't get it. He woke up at his regular time on Christmas morning, walked upstairs and started playing with some old toys. When Grandma asked him if he thought Santa had come to visit last night, he said, "No, why would Santa come here? Where is he then?" We try and explain to him every year, but don't want to make too big of a deal out of Santa, but it looks like we still might have a couple more years before he starts waking up at the crack of dawn and tearing in to his toys. Hallelujah!

Christmas Eve present. Oliver LOVES to draw and spends at least an hour every day doing it.

Some of the Bell grandkids singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Sooo cute.

On Christmas morning (at about 9am) getting ready to open their presents.

A puzzle for Oliver.

A stuffed tiger for Amelia, our animal-lover.

Breakfast after opening presents (a Whatchamacallit bar).

Oliver playing with his new "car road" which is all he wanted this year.

All the Bell grandkids waiting to tear in to their gifts from Grandma and Grandpa.

Amelia got a very authentic grocery cart from G&G Bell that she LOVES.

We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas. We're so grateful for this time of year and the special spirit that accompanies it. And, we're especially thankful for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

December 13, 2010

Virgin Islands II

Just for all of you that have asked: No, we did not go to Magen's Bay. We drove by and it was $10 to get in and from what all the locals said, it's just a tourist trap and there are much better beaches. I'm regretting not going now. We went to so many amazing beaches, but I would have liked to have said that we visited the most famous beach, Magen's Bay. Also, you're probably going to start wondering why we are both still so pasty in these pictures. Well, we slathered ourselves in 50 spf every day. I'm not the sun worshiper I once was... On another note, did you know that I have curly hair? Well, you're about to see it in all it's humid and frizzy glory. Do try and look past it. Anyway, back to our adventures...
On Monday, we went to a beach that a local told us about on Sunday, Secret Harbor Beach. The snorkeling there was awesome even though the beach wasn't that great. We saw tons of fish and some nice coral, but as we were heading back to the sand after about an hour of snorkeling, Christian grabbed me and said, "Look, quick!" I looked down and there was a sea turtle, about a foot and a half long. People told us those are really rare to come by, so we were really excited. Christian chased it for a while, trying to "pet" it. He said he got a little hand on it, but it was unexpectedly fast. We laid out on the floating dock for the next couple hours at the resort there and we met a nice couple from Wisconsin.
On Tuesday, the weather turned a little crummy. It was cloudy, gray, and kind of windy. We were determined to get out, though, and so our first stop was at Coki Beach. It's a major tourist trap and people were trying to sell us stuff the whole time we were there. It took me a while to get in the water because it was a little colder and windy, but I did eventually get in and I'm so glad I did because the snorkeling was INCREDIBLE! The coral was so pretty and colorful and fishes were swimming right a long side me. The water was so clear and blue, despite the choppiness from the wind. I could have stayed out there all day. Christian saw a HUGE lobster hiding under a rock in the coral. He tried to get it out for a while, pulling on it's long antennae, but to no avail. He was convinced that we could have just brought it home and cooked it up at our hotel. Crazy kid. After Coki, we stopped at Point Pleasant Beach and then decided to move on to Sapphire Beach, where we had heard the snorkeling was great as well. By the time we got there, though, the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was windy and chilly and the water was really choppy. So, we just hung out for a bit on the pristine beach and met a cute couple from Texas who gave us some tips for our trip to St. John the next day. We went back to the hotel and jumped right in to the hot tub and listened to the live music for a couple hours at the pool area.
Wednesday was probably the highlight of our trip. We got on a car ferry to St. John Island, just a few miles from St. Thomas. We were told that St. John is everything that St. Thomas is not and that is so true. Most of the island is a national park so there are almost no homes and the commercial area is very limited. The whole place is rolling green hills and mountains. It's like out of a movie for it's green and jungle-like appearance. We drove on steep, winding roads with the jungle draped all around and above us. It was gorgeous. There are nature trails all over the place. We would have loved to explore this island for a week. We both said that if we ever came back, we would like to stay on St. John. It's just so much more of what you might imagine a tropical island to look like. Our first stop was Lienster and Waterlemon Bay. It was a little hike to get to it, but we finally got our snorkel gear on and got in. We had to hurry whenever we were on the beach b/c both of us just got attacked by what we assumed were sand fleas. They were everywhere at this beach and we were constantly swatting at ourselves. We're both still suffering the effects of these bites. Again, the water was so beautiful and clear. I could reach out and touch all the fish swimming around me. They were swimming in schools of hundreds or thousands and would change directions in an instant, all in unison. Christian has an eye for finding sea life and he called me over to see a little octopus. It was what appeared to be black and white spotted but then Christian tapped it and got it to move and it opened up its tentacles and it was like this florescent purple. It was so neat. Then, I swam off again and Christian caught up to me after a while and said that he had seen a shark! It was 4-5 feet long and was about 30 feet from him. He guessed it might have been a reef shark but it swam away pretty quickly. He saw it for about 10-15 seconds. Let me just tell you, that shark made Christian's dreams comes true. I can't think of anything he would have liked to see more than a shark. He was on cloud nine and wanted to tell all the passing tourists on our way out about it. Next, we stopped by Maho Bay, but there was no beach at all and the tide was a little high b/c of the weather, so we decided to move on to Cinnamon Bay. The beach there was also pretty short b/c the tide was up, but we found a place and got right in to the water. I tried body surfing, but was quickly taken under by one of the first big waves and swallowed enough sea water to convince me to take a little break from the ocean. Anyway, so after lunch we headed out to the most famous beach on St. John, Trunk Bay. People say this is where they shoot the Corona beer commercials and I see why. It was absolutely the most gorgeous place I have ever been. The water was clear blue/turquoise and the beach was white, soft sand and off in the distance were beautiful, green islands. The palm trees and jungle carved a perfect beach. It was about 4pm before we got in the water, so the tide was now quite high and it even rained a bit so even despite those less than perfect conditions, the beach was still amazing. We just enjoyed swimming in the warm, clear water for an hour or so before we had to leave to catch the ferry back to St. Thomas. I could have stayed there all day, though, and wish we would have come earlier.
Thursday was our last full day in the Virgin Islands, but both of us just felt like taking it easy. We picked up some souvenirs at the local cruise ship dock and then spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool at the resort.
We had such an amazing time. We miss it, but are so glad to be back with our little ones. Life just isn't complete without them. I'm so grateful that we got to go and I would LOVE to be able to go back some day.

Coki Beach

Sapphire Beach.

Sapphire Beach

Overlooking Cruz Bay in St. John. This is the town center and the ship dock.

Cruz Bay

Caneel Bay

Trunk Bay

Cinnamon Beach

Cinnamon Beach

There were all these beautiful homes on the hill above Cinnamon Bay.

Showing us how big the shark was that he saw at Waterlemon Bay.

Trunk Bay

Trunk Bay

Trunk Bay

Trunk Bay

Last pic of Trunk Bay:)

Beautiful sunset at our hotel.

December 12, 2010

Virgin Islands I

If you've been wondering where we've been (probably not) we took a long-awaited, much needed vacation to the Virgin Islands. It's the first time since our honeymoon that Christian and I have been on a vacation without the kiddos. My parents gave us one of their timeshare weeks for Christmas last year, so we planned this trip to the the US Virgin Islands. We stayed at the new Marriott resort there, Frenchman's Cove. I wrote a really detailed journal of it all, but will spare you some of the boring details. I'm just copying and pasting here from that. Oh, and I'm going to do it in two or three parts for those of us with ADD.

Our flight left really early on Friday morning and we got in to St. Thomas, Virgin Island around 9pm, so we were pretty worn out and hungry. On the drive to the hotel, we were both a little surprised by how 3rd world-ish it seemed. I mean, it is technically part of the US. At the hotel, the guy at the front desk recommended a place to eat that was close so we headed straight there. When we looked at the menus, we were shocked to see how much the food cost! It was $14 for a chicken burger at this little restaurant. And, we would soon discover that this was one of the cheapest places on the island. So, we both went for the special that night at $8-10 for a burger. I couldn't even eat half of it being that I haven't consumed that much red meat in almost 2 years. And, the last time I ate a hamburger that size, I got sick. Anyway, our waiter was awesome and sat down and wrote down all the best beaches and all the other worthwhile things to do on the island.
After dinner, we went back to our hotel. I knew that it would be nice, but I had no idea how big and nice it would be. The kitchen was all granite, there were 2 big bedrooms, and dining area, a sitting area, 3 TV's, 2 big bathrooms, and 2 porches. Everything was SOOO nice and cozy. It was going to hard to leave the room! When I woke up the next morning, I went straight to the window. Wow. Wow. Wow. Not only did we have an incredible view, but it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! We were surrounded by beautiful beaches, with green, rolling, tree-covered hills everywhere. I could see straight through the water at the beach from our hotel room, more than 5 stories up. This place was stunning and I wanted to see as much of it as possible. You have to know that I have always dreamed of going to a place that has white sand beaches with clear, blue water. You might think this is crazy, but it seriously was on my life checklist so it was that much more gratifying for me. After we got the essentials (food and snorkel gear) in town, we went back to the hotel and got into our swimsuits and headed down to the pool and beach. The resort pool was nice, but the ocean was too incredible to pass up. We started snorkeling right away. I just could not get over how clear the water was. I could see straight down to the bottom as if I were swimming in a pool. The water was so warm, too. The snorkeling right next to our hotel wasn't the greatest, but we still saw some coral and fish and Christian got a conch shell for Oliver. We spent the rest of the day lounging in the pool, hot tub, and beach. After a day of swimming, we got dressed and headed out to explore the entire Marriott complex (which included our resort, a hotel, and beach homes along with more pools and restaurants). We ended up at Havana Blue, a famous restaurant on the island that's also been featured in Gourmet magazine and other places. We decided to splurge and eat there. It was good, but nothing to write home about. The atmosphere was so nice, though. It was open-air and right on the beach with these pretty drapes flowing in the wind and blue lights everywhere.
The next day was Sunday so we found the local branch about 20 minutes away and went to church. It was such a sweet, spirit-filled branch. It was Fast Sunday so we heard the sweetest, most humble testimonies from the members there. There's nothing like being in a place like this that reminds me of how blessed I am. These people have very little and live such simple lives and I have so much and still find reasons to complain. Everyone there was so welcoming and nice and I could tell that they loved having visitors. Christian and I were both so touched by the spirit we felt there.
After church, we decided to drive around the island to look at all the beaches so we could decide how to spend our time the rest of the week. It was really neat to drive around almost the whole island (it's only 32 square miles) and really get a better feel for St. Thomas and the culture there. We saw some amazing, picturesque beaches. We drove through Charlotte Amalie (the capital) and learned a little about the history there. The US bought the Virgin Islands (well, about half of them, Great Britain owns half) from the Danes in 1917 during WWI. Blacks were brought here in the slave trade and so they mostly occupied the island. Now, it's a melting pot of people from all over the world. They speak English and there's a lot of Spanish-speakers as well, but the people that live here kind of talk like Jamaicans. They definitely have their own dialect. We were told that it's a relatively safe island if you stay out of certain areas, but that the locals know better than to mess with tourists b/c that's the main source of income for the people on the island. So, we felt safe the whole time and people were VERY nice. After our island tour, we came home and read for a few hours as we watched the sun set out by the beach. Christian found some crabs and was trying to determine whether they were connected to the shells they crawled around in. Don't worry, I wouldn't let him go too far in his testing. He was sure to boil all the shells he brought back to our room b/c a lady scared us out on the beach with her tales of bringing shells home with things still living in them!

Our kitchen in our room.

One of the bedrooms.

The sitting area.

The view from our room.

The view from one of our patios.

The dining area.

These little critters were all over the place and had no fear of humans.

See what I mean?

Sunset view from our room.

Getting ready to head out. View from a balcony in our resort.

All the lights to the right in the distance is where Charlotte Amalie is. See the big cruise ship coming out of the dock? The people there live by the cruise schedule.

View from a balcony in our resort down to the beach below. The dark areas in the water is where the coral was.

I've never been on a cruise before, so I was blown away by how big the boats were.

One of the beaches we visited on our Sunday drive. This is Sapphire beach. Off in the distance is a key off of St. Thomas and then behind that is Jost van Dyke (a British Virgin Island).