Penultimate trip to Utah

After our cruise, we decided to head south to Utah to visit our kids. Because we’re planning to serve a church mission very soon (but not sure when), we figured we should get in some quality family time before leaving them for a year. We expect to go down once more, so I suppose this is our penultimate trip.

As always, we had a grand time. We celebrated my birthday by hanging out with Tara and her family, including a gaggle of grand-nieces who are (roughly) the same ages as our kids. They’ve all grown up together– hanging out from time to time– so everyone has a good time together. We played a few big games of Catch Phrase but the real party was when we played Secret Hitler. Accusations flew in a myriad of directions, and no one knew who was what. It was hilarious and exciting. Ollie, who isn’t really into strategy games just yet, just enjoyed some time with Tara’s dog Cody.

Later, at the Villa, I introduced Alex to Dicee, which Zack and I had invented during the kids’ Christmas visit (but after Alex had left). He said he liked it, and we had fun playing a few rounds.

Speaking of Alex, one morning we noticed we had matching shirts. It was totally an accident, and it was even better when Alex said “hold on” and pulled out one of Ollie’s shirts… that matched as well. We sat down for a photo, but Ollie refused to smile for the picture and instead insisted on biting his shirt sleeve. When in Rome…

Speaking of Ollie, he’s much more into books these days. He laughs and reads along and points out things on the pages. It’s a blast– I love reading books with little kids.

Alex is enjoying his job as a process engineer for the Purple mattress company. One of the perks they offer is for employees to receive a free mattress. He and Kaitlyn haven’t chosen theirs yet, so we decided to head over to the mattress store and pick one. Ollie saw a wonderful opportunity to “test” the mattresses by jumping on each of them.

Although we’re not really in the mattress market right now, we’ve heard a lot of good things about Purple, so we tested a few ourselves.

Alex and Kaitlyn worked through a few before deciding this one was the best. I have no idea what model it is, but they know and that’s what matters. They’re planning to order it soon, and also pick up a “power base” that adjusts the bed via remote control (Alex can buy one of those units at a steep discount from the factory).

Since we were in Utah, where church temples are almost as common as billboards for accident lawyers, we visited the Draper Temple and enjoyed some family time there.

The next day, Pepper and Kyra went to the newly-opened Orem Temple, which is less than ten minutes from the Villa. Imagine that! The temples we visit from Montana are all over three hours away: Cardston Alberta, Spokane Washington, and Helena Montana. It’s nice to be in Utah and have so many nearby options.

While the two of them were being spiritual and holy, Zack and I hit the slopes. We went up to Sundance ski area, where I strapped on my skis for the first time this season, and Zack pulled out his trusty Dewalt snowboard.

He told me every time he goes boarding (at least weekly), someone comments on his board. At one point during the day I was waiting at the bottom of a run as he made his way down. Dewalt’s colors are yellow and black, so his board is easy to spot. Sure enough, a guy standing near me shouted to his friend, “Check out that guy– he’s got a Dewalt board!”

The weather was… interesting. At the start of the day it was raining, which then turned to enormous snowflakes. The clouds rolled in over the mountains, and visibility at the top was terrible. It was hard to see the terrain, and the mix of wet snow and fresh powder was unlike anything I’d been on before. Later, the skies cleared above us and the sun came out, and the conditions were amazing. Here’s a shot where you can see the cloud bank rolling over the tops of the mountains, about to engulf us once again in fog and snow.

After the mountain, Zack and I had some pizza. They messed up my order not once but twice, and as a result we got two free pizzas and an apology coupon for another free one later. Zack was thrilled because it meant he didn’t have to cook meals for a few more days. Then we headed over to the pinball arcade and had a blast playing pinball and a few ridiculously cheesy video games.

As always, the visit was a ton of fun and seemed to end too soon. We finished with a night at Tonyburger, where we said our goodbyes.

We’ll miss these yahoos, but we’re excited to see them once more before our mission. Now we just need to know when and where our mission will be…


I was riding with Zack on the interstate today, and some guy zoomed past and cut us off. I made some comment about how that guy must really be in a hurry… I wonder why. Zack replied that whenever that sort of thing happens, he invents a reason for the other person’s behavior.

His grandma just won the lottery, and he’s rushing to her house to help her claim the prize.

His cat just had kittens, and he wants to see them right away.

He’s running late for an interview for his dream job.

And so on. It was kind of cool to stop for a moment and think that maybe, just maybe, that rude driver had a legitimate reason to be rude. After all, there have been times in my life when I’ve been rude, and naturally it was always for a good reason.

Perhaps I need to adopt this Zacklosophy in my life, and it’ll keep me from judging others quite so much.

Another fun day at sea

It’s a long haul from Cozumel to Galveston, so we had another “fun” (cough) day at sea. Unlike our first day, by now we’ve learned all the spots on the ship where it’s not as crowded, the right time to get meals, the best desserts to choose, and so on. We felt like experienced seafarers, masters of the Norwegian Prima.

Much of our day was spent simply enjoying the sun.

Except for a bit of rain in Roatan, the weather’s been amazing this week. Sunny, blue skies with a smattering of clouds, wonderful warmth (but not too hot), and cool, refreshing evenings. A guy could get used to this.

After one last deviled-egg snack, we called it a night. We woke up to a foggy morning in Galveston.

After a long Uber ride with a lovely Somalian woman named Marye, we flew from Houston through Denver and back to Kalispell. We’d amassed a healthy collection of inside jokes, and laughed about some of our adventures (and mishaps). It was a grand time. We’ve already decided to do it again in a few years…


We cruised back up the Yucatan coastline for a stop in Cozumel. After breakfast, we watched another cruise ship ease into the dock right beside us.

Brandon had booked an excursion to swim with dolphins, and the rest of us didn’t feel like doing that, so we decided to explore the town a bit. We headed off the ship.

I think the square mile right by the cruise ship dock is nothing more than tourist shops. We walked along the main drag, looking down alley after alley filled with storefronts.

We stopped in at many of them, admiring the way some of the displays claimed the items were “handmade by local craftsmen” when I’m pretty sure they were shipped in bulk from China. Luchador masks were a popular item, and I tried one on while I thought of my wrestling stage name. How about Revenge de la Rojo?

There were some cool stores where the goods were definitely handmade. Pepper bought a really nice leather fanny pack (is there a fancy name for those?) and some earrings. She collects earrings much like I collect ties: both of us probably have far too many, but it’s okay. I stumbled upon a cool hat that says COZ and it felt appropriate.

Both of us enjoyed using our pidgin Spanish as we chatted with the store owners. My Duolingo training hasn’t exactly made me an expert, but I could understand many of the signs and notices, and was able to have halting conversations with patient vendors. At one point, while Pepper was haggling with a vendor– a girl who looked to be about fourteen– I noticed a mural painted on a nearby wall. The closer you look at it, the stranger it gets.

We spent a few hours wandering the streets, and Pepper and Kricket were starting to complain about the heat.

We decided to head back to the ship for some food (of course) but it was a long walk back. We went along the shore, where there were some odd statues. It all began with a Derpy Fish, which I encouraged Kricket to emulate.

From there we passed the Happy Octopus…

The Bucktooth Snail…

Another (identical) Derpy Fish…

And even a Dancing Turtle…

Our last stop before the dock was a statue of General Rafael Melgar, who was famous for… something, I guess.

As we headed out of Cozumel toward Texas, we noticed a massive ship in the distance. It’s a bit hard to tell the scale in the photo.

Looking closer, we noticed it was the Icon of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. She has a capacity of almost eight thousand passengers, with a crew complement of over two thousand. This happened to be her maiden voyage. On the left of the photo above, there are three other cruise ships. One is a Carnival ship that had followed us from Roatan (and is actually visible in the selfie of me and Pepper in that post). That means a total of six ships had docked in Cozumel that day! There were almost certainly more than twenty thousand people who left those ships to do some shopping or take excursions or explore the area. It must be a crazy life to work and live in Cozumel and have those ships pull into dock.

Late night snack tonight: deviled eggs.


Today we landed in Honduras. Our port of call was Roatan, and we’d booked a trip on a catamaran to go snorkeling. But first, we enjoyed our usual buffet breakfast, which provides around a thousand calories to start our day. The bacon here is amazing, and each time I return to the buffet to load up more eggs, pancakes, or cinnamon rolls, I grab another few slices of pig.

There’s a group of three crew members who walk around the breakfast area delivering coffee and pastries. I guess if you’re too lazy to get your own muffin, you can sit and wait for them to come over. They sing songs together, all related to coffee and pastries. They’ve rewritten the words to a few well-known songs, like the Earth Wind and Fire classic September. Yes, imagine a song about doughnuts that sounds like September. Anyway, they’re a smashing hit– always garnering applause from whoever’s around– so of course we had to take a picture with them.

After our hearty breakfast, we disembarked and headed for the marina. It involved a ride through town in a small bus, whose driver navigated the narrow, crowded streets with a beautiful combination of skill and recklessness. The traffic was crushing, and there weren’t any stop lights, stop signs, or even road signs in general. You’d just merge when you felt brave enough, and other drivers would stop and grudgingly let you in, giving you a few inches of clearance and honking a few times to let you know they were irritated.

We made it to the marina, though, and boarded a sixty-foot catamaran. I’d call it more of a “party boat” because the captain– a huge dark muscled Honduran with a thick accent– would steer with a loose half-hearted grip on the wheel while blasting American party rock on the stereo. We listened to everything from Sweet Home Alabama to YMCA to Firework. We got some instruction about the snorkel equipment (nothing complicated) and jumped into the water. It wasn’t as warm as Harvest Caye yesterday, mainly because the skies were grey and stormy and threatened rain. Brandon and I headed out while Pepper and Kricket figured out how to jump off the ship.

There were big schools of fish rushing around, many within just a few feet of me.

As I followed another school, I headed over to a drop-off where the coral suddenly ended in a rock cliff that descended into the dark depths.

Beyond that, it was impossible to see what was below. Suddenly a mass of bubbles floated up, and a guy wearing scuba gear ascended from the deep. Pretty cool! I’m not particularly interested in scuba, but snorkeling was fun. We spent about an hour wandering the area, and then climbed back aboard the party boat.

The captain opened the bar, and there were free drinks for everyone. As songs like American Pie and Gangnam Style blasted, several of the passengers who’d had a bit more to drink than most were dancing on the deck. Well, staggering might be a better description. An hour later, as we returned to the marina, one had to be helped off the boat because he was so sloshed. Sigh.

That night we enjoyed another Caribbean sunset.

Looking for something to do other than a raunchy comedy show, we went up to the racetrack and inquired about the cars. It turned out the rules require close-toed shoes, and I was wearing sandals (of course). I went back to our room and donned my Keens, which are absolutely close-toed, but was told they weren’t good enough because they still had open air vents. Apparently the shoes have to be entirely closed, “for safety reasons”. So I wasn’t allowed to race the cars. Brandon, who had regular old tennies, took to the track.

It looks like he’s zipping past, but in fact he’s going at about the speed of a brisk jog. The cars were horribly slow. I can understand the concern about shoes… you’d hate to somehow run over your own foot at such a glacial speed! We cheered him on nonetheless– only he and one other guy were “racing” at the time. Every time the other guy came meandering past, we shouted for him as well. He seemed confused, but hey, no one else was cheering for him. After a few laps Brandon was directed back into the pit by a crewman. He took to the victors’ podium to celebrate his decisive victory in the two-man race.

Even though the racetrack turned out to be a bust, we had more fun playing games and chatting on deck in the cool evening air. We also decided to get some deviled eggs.

Harvest Caye

Several cruise companies own private islands in the Caribbean. In Norwegian’s case, they own one they call Harvest Caye. It’s not very large, but it has a nice beach. So we decided today would be our Beach Day. The weather was perfect for lounging.

It was a little strange to think it’s February 5 and we’re lathering on sunscreen and hoping we don’t burn too badly!

We spent the day lounging in chairs and wandering into the ocean (there weren’t really any waves, which was nice but not much fun). We enjoyed it so much that we were the last people to board the ship. The onboard time was 4:30, and around 4:15 we decided it was probably time to head back. It was a longer walk than we remembered, but there was a guy driving a golf cart toward the dock and we talked him into a ride. Pepper enjoyed the free trip.

Back on our balcony, we watched as the ship pulled away. We snapped a shot with the island behind us, admiring our beautiful seawater-soaked hair.

Back at sea after another amazing dinner, we enjoyed a sunset together. Life is good.

Costa Maya

Finally! We arrived in port at Costa Maya, Mexico. It seemed like all three thousand passengers needed to leave at once. Many of us had excursions planned; the rest were probably just funned out from their fun day at sea yesterday and ready to stand on land. The process was surprisingly fast, and we found ourselves in the midst of a big marketplace right off the dock. The vendors were pretty pushy, and we just had to mumble “No, gracias” as we pushed our way through to the street beyond. We walked a few blocks to the gathering spot for our excursion, an ancient Mayan site at Chacchoben.

We hadn’t booked through the cruise line, because we found a private tour that was half the price. When we arrived at the spot, we laughed a little at the setup. It was a couple of Mexican guys with a couple of run-down white vans. But hey, what’s a trip to Mexico without a little adventure? Hoping we weren’t about to be kidnapped, we climbed into the van and rode for about an hour into the jungle of Quintana Roo. We eventually arrived at Chacchoben, where our guide, Octavio, led us through the various ruins. There were a bunch of big groups with obviously more “professional” guides, but frankly Octavio was a lot of fun and interesting to talk to. He’d been an aerospace engineer for many years before deciding he wanted less stress in his life, when he opted to run this little tourist agency.

The ruins were pretty cool. They’re about 1,300 years old, and when you consider the dense jungle surrounding them, it’s not surprising we’re still discovering Mayan sites throughout Central America– they’re overgrown and buried so deeply in the trees that even satellites have a hard time picking out these ancient cities.

Even after a millennium, the stonework and masonry endures. Apparently these larger temples were originally covered in smooth clay, but over the years it wore away and left only the original stone framework.

We learned a bit about Mayan culture, and Octavio even explained some Mayans mathematics. They invented the concept of zero, which was unknown in Europe at the time. Although it’s hard to understand how you wouldn’t have zero, it’s more about using a placeholder to represent it in equations. Their temples incorporated math, often using numbers the Mayans considered sacred, like seven and thirteen.

In places, the jungle is slowly devouring the ruins. Or, perhaps, the ruins haven’t been fully excavated. Either way, it was really interesting.

I don’t think Pepper enjoyed it nearly as much. It was hot, and there wasn’t a lot of shade. We’d seen ruins at Tulum (in the same area of Mexico) on our Cancun trip back in 2015, and those hadn’t excited her much either.

After our excursion and the ride back to Costa Maya, we had some time before we needed to be back onboard. The port was more interesting than the ship, so we hit a few of the local shops. As usual, I found that the hats for sale were too small for my head. Alas.

We made our way back to the ship, stopping for a quick shot on the dock.

Once again we enjoyed some time on the deserted deck. And had some deviled eggs.

A fun day at sea

Not really.

When cruise ships spend a day (or more?) plodding from their origin port to whatever their first destination is, they seem to advertise them as “fun days at sea”. The truth is, they’re not very interesting because the outside world looks like this:

The weather was beautiful: sunny, warm, and a little breezy. The decks were completely stuffed with people enjoying the pools, hot tubs, beach chairs, loungers, and everything else. It was tricky to find a spot the four of us could sit together.

My suggestion for the cruise lines: on these fun days at sea, make sure the shipboard entertainment is top-notch. Get a hilarious stand-up comic. Host a little play. Show a movie or two. Have trivia games with fun hosts and interesting questions. Offer bingo where you don’t have to pay twenty bucks per card. Host a Spades tournament. And so on. The four of us came up with dozens of ideas about things the ship could offer that were better than the trivia game with confusing geography questions from a host who seemed like he’d rather be sleeping in his cramped bunk in steerage. Or the “couples’ game” with random married couples which could’ve been fun if it hadn’t been absolutely inappropriate and lewd. Or the comic who did a “clean” show that was moderately amusing– we assumed his best jokes were heavily adult-themed and saved for his “18+ show” late at night.

That said, sometimes you just have to make your own entertainment. I’d brought several quart games, and Brandon and I pulled them out to play. We had delicious food and plenty of snacks; I’m guessing we put away three or four thousand calories today. We enjoyed late-night deviled eggs (go figure). We roamed the deck. We lounged in the chairs when most of the passengers had retired to bed, watching the stars above the empty darkness of the ocean. So it wasn’t all bad.