Thursday, April 30, 2009

Almost there!

I swear there's not much more. :-) Actually, I'm not too much of a picture-taker on vacation. I mean that totally relative. I know other photographers how plan their entire vacation around photography, and their poor families are just along for the ride. I'm not one of those people who plans the vacation day around sunrise and sunset. I don't limit my activities to those where I can take my fancy camera. We're on the go like crazy on our vacations. In and out of water, doing active things, wanting to run around w/out the weight of my camera and lenses. 

Our last few days in Playa del Carmen were unlike any that we've had on a vacation. We RELAXED. I can safely say we've not ever done that. In fact, our last full day in PDC we paid a whopping 70 pesos a piece (about $4) for super comfy chairs on the beach at the Kool Beach Club. We laid there for hours being served drinks, listening to crazy techno music that was oddly soothing, and staring out at the turquoise Caribbean (oh, and staring at all the topless ladies. I know). I have no pictures of this. None. I thought about running back to the hotel for my camera, but oh.... it was just too heavenly. (and windy, which is not good for a camera near the ocean) Ryan and I just kept looking over at each other shaking our heads. How in the world were we THAT lucky.

Playa del Carmen was amazing.  5th Avenue is the place to be.  The entire street is closed to cars so every night the whole street fills with people looking for food, looking for fun, looking for a crappy souvenir.  We walked it every night and had the most amazing (cheap!) food.  

The entire Rivera Maya is so lush and jungly.  It is just like you'd imagine it would be, but more beautiful.  Our hotel was even a little jungle oasis:

The whole trip wasn't perfect.  We had a few hang-ups, like poor Ryan who broke his tooth the second day we were there.  The jellyfish stings.  The mosquitos (omg the mosquitos!) who ate us alive in the jungle.  And to top it off:  the tank on the toilet in our hotel room cracked and the whole room flooded one day.  But do you think any of that even registered with all the amazing stuff we were doing?  Not even one bit.  We loved every minute of this trip and it's making being back at work in my not-so-exciting job impossible.  

Oh yeah.  And my poor body is missing all its cerveza.  

Next post:  the drive to go see amazing Mayan ruins on the whole other side of the Yucatan peninsula.  A drive we made through teeny tiny jungle villages, through police and military stops, for 4.5 hours, all with no radio.  Let me tell you, we got a bit sick of the sound of each other's voices.  OK..... we didn't!  We loved every second together.  More tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sharks, jellyfish, and monkeys oh my!

So after that insane first morning in the Yucatan, we headed down to Tulum where there are ruins right on the cliff overlooking the Carribean.  The water in this area is so insanely beautiful it's hard to describe and even harder to capture on a camera.  These are all from the little point-and-shoot I took with, and I was pretty happy with them!  

The next day we took a ferry to Cozumel, which we were totally excited about.  Sadly, this turned into possibly the least fun day of the trip.  First, the snorkel trip was a bust.  We heard how freaking insane snorkeling as in Cozumel, but we were stuck on a boat with another couple who were SCUBA diving, and it was obvious that the boat captain was catering to them.  

They dropped us off on a reef but it was about 40 feet below us so the only things we saw were big things.  One shark, 3 sting rays, not much else.  

Oh wait, we did see one more thing:  jellyfish.  Lots.  The night before we went snorkeling the current changed and came up from the south and carried with it lots of baby jellies.  We got stung by those little guys the whole time we were out there.  

It mostly felt like someone rubbing their feet on the carpet then touching you, but we were totally freaked out.  And when the SCUBA divers came up the boat didn't take us to a good snorkel spot during the hour those people needed to take a mandatory break, the crew went FISHING.  I kid you not.  Then it was more snorkling in crappy water for the SCUBA people.  I did get to see a giant sea turtle on the surface, but that was the only cool thing about the trip.  Oh, and then the crew fished on the way back so they took their time getting us back to shore.  

On to day 3!  This was Ryan's favorite day of the trip.  Monkeys!  We went to a place called The Jungle Place. 


It was not what we were expecting at all. I think we sort of both thought that we would be going to a rehab place and they would introduce us to some nice, tamed monkeys.  But oh no.  These were rehabbed monkeys, but they were still totally wild.  

They ushered 6 of us into this huge enclosure.  They told us that we had to sit very still and just let the monkeys do what they wanted.  They did give us some treats to ply them with, but anything the monkeys claimed as theirs (including flip flops, jewelry, treats, etc.) we had to let them have.  

It was so amazing and insanely wild.  The only scary part was when I got up (with permission from the owners) to help the guy with my camera.  When I was walking back to my seat a monkey jumped on my head and claimed my hair bun for her own.  She was yanking so hard!  Thank goodness she got bored with it.  

So there ya go, the first few days of our trip in Playa del Carmen and the areas around it.  More pictures of AMAZING Mayan ruins (which are all now closed due to that silly flu thingy) and Cancun to come.  Thanks for hanging tight.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


First, to preempt any questions: nope, no flu-like symptoms yet! And no I didn't feel the earthquake. But then again, I might have just thought it was swaying from the copious amounts of alcohol.

This trip was hands down the best we've ever had. Ziplines, mayan ruins, monkeys, Cozumel, dolphins, snorkeling, rapelling, massages, beach laying... It was the most amazing trip ever. But the best part was all the time with my hubby. How about a few pics of our first day there?

Our first day there was spent mostly at a park called Hidden Worlds. It's in the middle of the jungle (omg the mosquitos!), and the activities all involve cenotes which are underground caves filled with fresh mineral water. These cenotes are all over the yucatan and you can actually just go find them on your own in the jungle and go for a dip.

The first thing we did was the Sky Cycle. (btw, some pics are mine, some the park took)

So yeah, it was terrifying (the scariest thing I did the whole trip!).  As you can see from that second picture, we were above the trees for most of it.  Eek!  The half hour bike ended in a cenote where we geared up for a snorkel.

Let me tell you, it was a tad terrifying.  I had a tiny panic attack going through the itty bitty tunnel into the cave.  But once we got in there it was insanely gorgeous.  It was called La Iglesia (the church) because there were stalactite formations hanging from the ceiling everywhere and you could look below the surface and see matching formations below the water.  

It was all lit up from below so the water glowed in there.  I've never seen anything like it.  

Next was a zipline through the jungle.  SO fun I had to do it twice.

Next we rappelled into a cenote.  This was freaky too.

And the last thing was the MOST fun.  We did a super fast zipline ending in a splash in a cenote.  First forwards, then backwards.  WEEEE!

Yeah, that's a lot of stuff, but we ALSO did some Mayan ruins that same day!  But why should you have to look at any more of my vacay pics today?!  :-)  

Friday, April 17, 2009

Viva Mexico!

Well, we're off to the beach! Promise I'll take mucho pictures in the Yucatan. Until then, a picture to start the weekend off right:

Weekly Planner

The big event of the weekend is, of course, the Scottsdale culinary festival. How about a more laid-back foodie event, like the Great AZ Picnic, or Grill at the Mill in Queen Creek? And why not join one of the fun athletic charity events this weekend to counteract all those calories.

• Scottsdale Culinary Festival - Uber fancy events with amazing food
• Great Arizona Picnic - Poor man's version of the Scottsdale Culinary Festival. This one's more fun and less floofy
• Grill at the Mill - Sunday. Went to this event 2 weeks ago and it was GREAT. Here's a second chance to hit this Olive Mill event.
• Phoenix Pride - Festival, Parade, party and more!
• Tri for the Cure - Sprint Triathlon! Sunday, Chandler
• Locks of Love Cut-a-Thon - Sunday, 10am-3pm at The Root (6315 N. 7th St, Phoenix). Call 602-277-4072 for appt
• Pat's Run - Pat Tillman's Memorial Run, Saturday, Tempe
• 3 Mo Tenors - Mesa Arts Center, Saturday
• Women's Adventure Race - If my pregnant boot camp teacher can do it, so can you! I'd be doing it if I wasn't going to be LAYING ON A BEACH! Woo!
• Jack Hanna - Chandler Center for the Arts, Sunday
• Gaelic Storm - Chandler Center for the Arts, Saturday
• Power Ranch Community Garage Sale - Saturday starting early
• Maricopa County Fair - Today through Sunday, AZ State Fairgrounds

Note: the Chihuly exhibit is still going on at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

FREE/Cheap Stuff
Next Tuesday, the 21st, go to Dunkin' Donuts for CHEAP iced coffee, and a portion of the money goes to Homes for Our Troops

Restaurant of the Week
Cafe Boa. I've featured this restaurant here before, but I FINALLY got to go (Ryan took me for our anniversary this week!). I can attest that the food is out of this world. I highly suggest sitting on their pretty patio for people watching. Also, Monday is half off bottles of wine. And for a great date, why not head over to The Big Bang dueling piano bar afterwards.

Hike of the Week
I forgot how pretty the Papago Park area is. The temps are creeping up to the 90s, so why not head out to Papago for an easy hike and a great view of the Valley?

***As always, if you have an event or a new restaurant to try, let me know!***

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy (?) Tax Day!

Hey all! The ONLY good thing about tax day is FREE STUFF. Whether you are celebrating a return or comfort-eating over having to pay, here's a few places offering free stuff to celebrate being done with your taxes tomorrow:

Free Cinnabon Bites - Fiesta Mall, Chandler Mall, Supersitition Mall, Arrowhead, and Metrocenter. Just ask!
PF Changs - 15% off your meal
Dunkin' Donuts - first 250 customers tomorrow get a free donut!
Papa John's - discount code "1040" when you order online gets you a Large, 3 topping, for $10.40
Taco del Mar - for their "Taxes Suck. Tacos Don't" campaign, register on their website for an email coupon for a free tax day taco
T.G.I. Fridays - get a $5 Bonus Bites gift card if you spend $15-$25, get a $10 card if you spend over $25
Free Massage! - make a reservation for a FREE HydroMassage

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Today's a holiday?

The weird thing about losing someone you're close to is that it doesn't ever feel better.  "Time heals all wounds..."?  I think whoever first said that wasn't talking about heart hurt.  

This week has felt worse then usual.  It started when I stumbled on to Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye on Animal Planet.  I remember when this short-lived show about a deaf woman starting a career with the FBI first came on TV.  My mom was so excited!  She was so passionate about the advancement of disabled people (she was actually one of the creators of the longest running deaf television show in history), and like she often did with shows she was excited about, I remember her calling me and telling me she hoped I'd watch it too.  

I started watching the show this last Sunday, crying.  It's silly, there wasn't anything going on sad in the show.  It's just that I know if my mom was here I would have immediately picked up the phone to tell her it was on, and she would have been so excited.  

Today is Easter for some.  This is the first year that I don't have a special Easter egg from my mom.  As soon as we were old enough to lose interest in dying eggs for the holiday, she took over.  She kept my old crayons for the sole purpose of drawing on our eggs, then dying them.  We each got one with something she'd drawn on it specifically for us. Even our puppies got their own eggs with the likenesses drawn on them.  My mom was a closet artist.  We also got Easter baskets until last year, even though we're not kids anymore.

My life is missing something big with my mom gone, and I feel it the same today as I did the day she died.  And when you lose someone, it feels better to just pretend that holidays are just the same as every other day.  

Friday, April 10, 2009


When I was in junior high and high school, my parents were secret shoppers for Applebees. It was bad ass. The company sent money and at least 2 people had to go to the restaurant and had to first sit at the bar and order something, then ask to be moved to a table and you had to order at least 2 courses (appetizer, meal, dessert). We were given more then enough money to cover the food of two people, and all we had to do afterward was fill in a very specific questionnaire. You had to time each item ordered, verify that you were greeted within 2 minutes of being seated and that they put a drink napkin in front of you, you check the bathrooms, check the out back trash area...

The coolest thing about this (besides the free food) was just how strict Applebee's customer service guidelines were. There's no way they could have known that we were scoring them, so to them we were just regular customers. And STILL, if any part of our meal took a second longer then their internal specified time limit, we got our meal free. FREE! Sounds great, except we had to submit receipts to the company to show we'd spent all the money, so when they unwittingly gave us free on TOP of free, we had to order MORE FOOD. omg.

When my parents couldn't go, they let me take my friends. I was one popular girl! :-)

So imagine my surprise when I open a letter in the mail and it's an invitation to be a secret shopper. WITH a check for $4984.00. A cashier's check. It can't be true! I need that money so badly right now!

Hold up, it CAN'T be true. Of course it's not. It's a scam that's been making the rounds here in the Valley, and it landed in my mailbox.

I can see how people get sucked in. I mean, I'm holding RIGHT NOW a REAL check for almost $5000. Oh so tempting. D*mn it.

Did you get your 'check' in the mail yet?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Chihuly Exhibit Pictures- Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Woah.  I just realized that I've turned into a bit of a camera snob.  Yikes!  What did it take to get me to that point?  One trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens to see the Chihuly exhibit.

Stupid me, I thought because the Gardens sold a finite amount of tickets it would be a calm experience with people who could linger and enjoy the gorgeous art placed among the desert plants.  I was wrong.  I was SO wrong.  The place was elbow-to-elbow and everyone was a photographer.  

I'm not the greatest photographer, but I work really hard to learn my camera and to make smart choices to get the picture I want.  I can't tell you how many of the pictures I took last night were thrown out because they either: a) had someone else's flash in them, or b) someone walked through my long exposure creating a fuzzy ghosty thing.  Frustrating!  

I just know I could have done better if I wasn't up against all the point-and-shoot photogs.  My advice to someone who wants to be a better photographer?  Here we go:

1)  Don't be a slave to your camera.  When you let the camera make choices for you, lots of times you'll be frustrated that your pictures didn't turn out how you wanted.  In this case:  turn off your flash already!  When you use a flash with a lit-up object in the dark, you totally lose the effect of the object being lit up.

2) Get a tripod.  Tripods are totally essential for night photography, landscapes, self-portraits, and any time you need to interact with your subject to get them to look at you.

3)  Think of your digital camera as if it was a film camera.  More does not equal better.  Instead of taking 50 pictures of the same thing trying to get a good picture, try to figure out how to get it good in one shot.  

Tips for people who want serious pictures of the exhibit here in Phoenix:  don't go on a Saturday.

(side note:  my hubby took the following picture!  Look who's figured out effective use of depth of field!  yay!)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sunflower seeds, and he may have peed in my yard

That's right internet, nearly 3 months of living in squalor and our last project, the floor tile, is almost done! That means there may be a day in the not-so-distant future where I'll come home and all my appliances will be plugged in! I can almost do laundry again!

Not that any of it went smoothly. Of course the cabinet guy was a nightmare (thank goodness they look awesome!), and the tile is a little jagged/eschew in some places (but for real, I'm just so DONE with this whole thing that I just can't bring myself to care that much). And I have about 200 little sunflower seed shells spit all around my yard that I'm going to have to pick up. (who DOES that at someone else's house?!)

I can tell you, it's going to be a long time before I do anything like this again. And when I do, we're springing for the expensive guys in the hope that they actually do the work a tad speedier. (Have I mentioned the tile project for a mere 400 sq ft of tile has been going on for 2 weeks now and it looks like it won't be done until the end of this next week? I get that the guy has a weird schedule, but it's making living in our house difficult) We still have carpet to do, but we can't afford it now, and it's almost a blessing because I just cannot deal with this for much longer. I'd love to have a day where I come home without the worry about which major appliance I won't be able to use for the next 3 days. As it is right now my fridge is in the living room and the washer and dryer are unplugged in the garage. That stench? Oh, it's me and my unwashed clothes.

I just want to be able to live in my own home again.
Now how would you deal with this?

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    Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

    I'm Amanda. I'm an engineer in an industry full of men, a professional wedding and family portrait photographer, a firefighter's wife, a traveler, and a dogMa.

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